Sarah James

the possibilities of poetry…

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Reflections/poem biography for through glass
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“That changeling inside her,
its stained-glass feathers clinking…”

This sequence is another third-person narration which is not strictly autobiographical yet is based on my personal experiences with depression.

The chapel in the fourth part is actually the chapter house at Worcester Cathedral, where that section of the poem was written in response to a Worcester Cathedral Poets workshop.

Again in this poem, there is my pull towards water, and purpose.

Discussion Point

Does this poem successfully focus on two things (glass and water) that reappear significantly at various points in the main character’s lifetime?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Imagine that instead of living in the world directly, you see and experience everything through something else. This might be water, glass, rose-coloured spectacles, cellophane, mist, a mirror… How does this change you/your experiences?

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

After what’s felt long a very long, bleak winter, and despite the recent rain, I’m chuffed to start the spring with several pieces of exciting news. This month I’ve been longlisted in the New Welsh Writing Awards 2018: Aberystwyth University Prize for an Essay Collection and also have a poem shortlisted in the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine 2018, with another poem commended.

More about the New Welsh Awards longlist (shortlist announced in May)and my longlisted manuscript This < > Room can be found here. The final winners of the Hippocrates Prize here are announced on May 11, along with an anthology of winning, shortlisted and commended entries!

I was also pleased to discover yesterday that I had a poem shortlisted in the Plough Poetry Prize 2017 short category.

HOW TO GROW MATCHES – REVIEWS & INTERVIEW

Receiving the first issue of The Hedgehog Poetry Press‘s magazine A Restricted View From Under the Hedge brought triple delight – a beautiful parcel of arty poetry goodies, the magazine complete with one of my poems in it and…complete with a fabulous review of How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press) and interview with me about by editor Mark Davidson.

How to Grow Matches front cover“From the off, I have to say that I am a big fan of S.A. Leavesley, finding her work consistently brave and challenging in all the right ways, with a forensic ability to turn all of your preconceptions on their head with a single syllable. There are quite literally no throwaway or wasted words in this collection, with every one of them considered and placed precisely to engender exactly the response, emotionally, intellectually, that the author requires.

“This is powerful stuff, but it is Leavesley’s ability to use the form of the pamphlet as part of the work that is particularly impressive.” Mark Davidson, A Restricted View From Under The Hedge.

With Mark’s permission, Against The Grain Press have a copy of the full review and interview over on their website here. Poetryfilms of three poems from the pamphlet can also be enjoyed here. (Obviously, hint-hint, nudge-nudge, you can also buy the pamphlet from the ATG online shop there…)

I’m also very excited to share details of my local launch for How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press) and my forthcoming novella Always Another Twist (Mantle Lane Press) with a general live literature celebration in aid of the local charity St Paul’s Hostel, Worcester.

More details about this can be seen below, including details of the fabulous guest readers and open mic comp and poetry judge, but it takes place at Park’s Café in Droitwich on Saturday, May 19 at 7pm. Free entry and everyone welcome!!!

OTHER PUBLICATIONS

Zen and the Art of Cycle Maintenance (poem) published in A Restricted View From Under the Hedge in April 2018;

How wet is wet? Why Rain Matters (CNF essay encompassing poetry, depression, exercise, nature, climate change and environmental work/eco-protection) published on Riggwelter on 11 April 2018;

P1070329I was especially delighted to read this month’s issue (12) of Breathe as it has my article ‘Tea, Poetry and Peace’, a photo-inspired haiku written especially for the magazine and inspirational prompts.

You can order it here. Individual copies can also be found in various shops. Locally to me in Droitwich, I think this includes WHSmith, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, and other petrol stations and newsagent outlets.

EVENTS

Thursday, April 26 – V. PRESS STABLEMATES, The Poetry Cafe, London

Jill Abrams has invited V. Press poets Stephen Daniels and David Clarke , and V. Press editor and poet, Sarah James/Leavesley to share poetry (& maybe a few words on running the press) from their recent pamphlets and collections: Tell Mistakes I Love Them, Scare Stories, plenty-fish and How to Grow Matches.

Doors open 7pm, poetry starts promptly at 7.30. Venue: The Poetry Café, 22 Betterton St, Covent Garden, London, WC2H 9BX. Tickets are £6 in advance from Buy Now button on the Stablemates website here or £8 (cash only) on the door.

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Saturday, 28 April, 2018 – Mantle Lane Press Spring Showcase at Birmingham Literature Festival Spring 2018

Based in Coalville, Mantle Lane Press is the publishing arm of Mantle Arts, specialising in fiction and factual historical books, usually with a Midlands connection. As part of this Spring Showcase event, editor Matthew Pegg will introduce us to Mantle Lane’s new and upcoming publications including The Music Maker by Liz Kershaw and Always Another Twist by Sarah Leavesley. We will hear extracts from seven Mantle Lane writers – Sue Barsby, Jennifer McLean, Liz Kershaw, Mary Williams, Nick Fogg, Sarah Leavesley and Tim Franks.

Venue: The DOOR, Birmingham REP
Tickets: £6 / £4.80 (concs)
Information and tickets here

Thursday, 10 May – Worcester SpeakEasy Guest Poet

Sarah is guest poet at May’s Worcester SpeakEasy, the monthly spoken word event of Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe. At Cafe Bliss, Worcester Arts Workshop, 21 Sansome St, Worcester WR1 1UH. 7.30pm start.

Launch 19 May 2018 updated version page 1

Saturday, 19 May, 2018 – Park’s Cafe, Droitwich – How to Grow Matches – A Live Lit Celebration

A launch that’s more like a celebration – for How to Grow Matches (poetry), hopefully Always Another Twist (novella) and spoken word, strong women and fabulous writers generally. More details on this to be revealed in April – featuring guest poets, an open mic with prizes and more!

Time & venue: 7-9.30pm, Park’s Cafe, 4 Victoria Square, Droitwich WR9 8DS

Launch 19 May 2018 updated version - page 2

V. PRESS

This post is already long, so I won’t reduplicate V. Press news here. But simply to say that there has been lots of exciting news for V. Press authors and V. Press poetry designer Ruth Stacey lately. V. Press is also currently open for poetry submissions. More on all these things and more on the V. Press website.

MICRO-REVIEW

Recently, I’ve been enjoying Michael Bartholomew-Biggs’ The Man Who Wasn’t Ever Here (Wayleave Press). I love the quality of the press’s pamphlet production and cover artwork (by Mike Barlow), and I found the pamphlet gripping in terms of character and narrative. My ‘I’ll just dip in’ turned into my completing an initial reading of the whole pamphlet in one go – which for me is a sign of a collection that is way more than a sum of its parts. Both the characters and settings are beguiling vivid – from the striking and moving imagery in the questions at the end of the opening poem (‘Birthright’) with its initial hereditary “quart of blood”, through painfully beautiful poems like ‘“Died From Scalds”’, the dramatic and strange facts juxtaposition in ‘Press Reports’and many other wonderful poems… back round to “that quart of blood again”and Thomas’s Postscripts speaking back at the writer. So much that I enjoyed here and so much that I admired.

My ear (the music of the lines), thoughts and imagination have also been caught recently by Nicholas Murray’s The Museum of Truth (Melos Press). I couldn’t encompass the whole in one short micro-review. But particular personal favourites include ‘Ars Poetica’ – one I can very much identify with though would never manage to phrase it so concisely and strikingly. ‘An Appointment With The Devil’ had me particularly gripped and intrigued, with an intake of breath at the end. The title poem ‘The Museum of Truth’ is sharply beautiful/beautifully sharp. I was also caught by ‘Flood”s cinematic vividness and God – thought-provoking, moving and haunting. It’s a poem – and pamphlet – that I’ll keep returning to!

Reflections/poem biography for Pied
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“Night digs at the sun, buries its dirt
in her nails. The music’s bruise turns…”

One of the few good things about diabetes is that it has made me wary of drugs. Low blood sugars (hypos) are unpleasant enough without the worry of substances that might bring on a hypo, make the experience worse or mask the important symptoms of a dangerously low blood sugar level.

That said, I’ve been to Amsterdam, have had my fair share of alcohol over-indulgence, watched ‘Trainspotting’ and also read articles and real life accounts of sex trafficking/exploitation. A drug-toxic abusive, squat-set relationship seemed perfect, therefore, for a contemporary poetry version of the Pied Piper tale.

Outside of the poem with its bleak antecedent, I’m almost sure that the heroine eventually escapes, though inevitably not without the experience leaving its traces on her character and outlook on life. I have great admiration for all the individuals, human rights campaigners and charities that offer practical help to those in such situations.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

Does using myth/folklore as a framing backdrop for this contemporary scenario add depth and weight? Does referencing this fictional element distract from the gritty reality or add a necessary protective/distancing layer for anyone reading it who has experienced something similar?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Take a traditional fairytale/myth/urban legend and create your own modern real-life version. For an extra layer/twist, consider giving the main role to a character who only plays a minor part in the original.

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

AH Spools of Thread front cover final scaledIn my latest interview for In the Booklight, I talk to Angi Holden about her poetry pamphlet Spools of Thread from Mother’s Milk Books…

‘Spools of Thread’ is a very vivid and evocative pamphlet making full use of all the senses right from the first poem, ‘I Measure My Mother’s Love’. Here, we have sight and touch in “brushed Viyella for winter nightgowns, | grey twill for press-pleated skirts’, as well as the sound of the Singer sewing machine. The following poem ‘Memories of a Good Plain Cook’ is a pantry stocked with different tastes, including hot Mexican Tabasco “lodged like a single thought amongst the jumbled gelatine | and Maraschino cherries, the olives stuffed with garlic cloves”. Do you have a favourite or more dominant sense – and if so which one and why?

I’m very aware of each of my senses, and couldn’t pick a ‘favourite’. However, family history is an important theme in my writing and I find smells extremely evocative of memory. The smells of Christmas cakes and bubbling chutneys transport me to my Grandmother’s kitchen, a whiff of pipe tobacco or the scent of L’Aimant remind me of my parents preparing for an Officers’ Mess ball, a trace of woodsmoke takes me back to childhood gardens and the excitement of bonfires.

Smells can also have negative associations of course; just as the ferric smell of spilled blood can recall the trauma of a serious accident, so an acrid burning smell can recall a house fire. These associations can provide a useful approach to exploring violent and distressing incidents in our lives, or in the lives of others.

A friend recently thanked me for ‘I Measure My Mother’s Love’, saying ishe recognised it as a poem about her mother. It is of course a poem about many women of that generation. I think including sensory detail allows space for the reader to bring their experiences to the poem, and to relate to the content on a visceral level.

The pamphlet includes some very moving poems of role reversal, where the daughter ends up caring for the mother. They also feel very much rooted in personal experience – the depiction is so strong. Some of these are written in the first person, but also second person and third person. How did you make the choice of perspective for each particular poem? Were some easier or more difficult to write and why?

I’m seldom conscious of the decision-making process when it comes to point of view in writing poetry. Usually my poems ‘need’ to be written from a particular angle and in a specific voice. I have prose pieces which I’ve deliberately rewritten from a different point of view or in a different tense to see if it makes them more immediate or engaging, but I haven’t done that often with poems.

‘All You Need To Know’ is perhaps the exception. After a workshop discussion I tried to rewrite that in first person (it was, after all, a description of my own wedding) but its structure as a series of vignettes seems to require the distance of third person, as if it were being viewed on a screen.

There is a difference between the poems I found the most difficult to write and the poems that were the most difficult to share. ‘Son’ was easy to write. The words came with indignation and candour in immediate response to an incident, but my anger was sufficiently contained that it didn’t spill over. Sharing the poem was a difficult decision.

The poems that I found the most difficult to write, including one about a paedophile, were mostly the ones that found themselves on the cutting room floor. It felt like an important poem, but its tone was inconsistent with the overall selection.

Photo by Chris Holden

Photo by Chris Holden

Letters feature in different ways and with different significances in some of the poems in ‘Spools of Thread’. I love letter-writing myself, the personal individuality of them in particular as hand-written communication becomes rarer and rarer. I wondered how important letter-writing is or has been generally both in your life and your writing?

Letter writing has been very important throughout my life. As an RAF family, our links to family ‘back home’ were through letters and photos, as even when we were not abroad there was always the geographical distance imposed by forces postings. As a child I had penpals too.

When I was at university I once wrote to my Grandmother during a particularly tedious maths lecture, apologising for my use of lined exercise paper. She was of that generation who had lived through the war, for whom a letter was indescribably precious, a lifeline. So she wrote back saying she didn’t mind what I wrote on, so long as I wrote. Taking her at her word, my next letter to her was yards long… written on a continuous strip of crisp Izal toilet paper. My father found it after her death, carefully secreted in her roll-top desk.

When my Mother died my sister and I sorted through her possessions and I came across a large carrier bag full of letters which I’d written to her. They were chatty, newsy letters, full of school trips and days out with our children, coughs and colds and dental appointments, new jobs, burst pipes and rainy afternoons. As a reminder of the Mother with whom I’d had a happy relationship before she was stolen by Alzheimer’s, it was a great comfort. It’s also a fascinating glimpse into a world before mobile phones and emails and Whatsapp.

I find it interesting, particularly given the ephemeral nature of our communications these days, that both my Grandmother and my Mother kept so many letters. It’s unlikely that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have such a rich variety of resources to explore.

Who or what would you say is the strongest influence in/on your life and writing? And where and how can this be found in the pamphlet?

My grandmother was a strong independent character, known for being frank and outspoken and a woman who didn’t suffer fools gladly. By contrast I am non-confrontational by nature, often to my detriment, and I sometimes envy her forthright nature. I did however inherit from her, and from my father a love of books. She was a voracious reader. She was also a great story-teller, with an endless supply of ‘Granecdotes’. Both she and my father were also passionate gardeners and I have inherited their love for gardening, if not their expertise. Her pale pink cyclamen bloomed in my father’s garden; they still bloom in my garden, and now in my daughter’s too. They were both interested in genealogy, tracing back the family tree for several generations, and I wonder what they would have made of today’s online resources.

Family stories, inheritance and the tracery of genealogy are stitched though this pamphlet and the final poem is an expression of my interest in etymology.

My grandmother and father were strong believers in what we now label ‘lifelong learning’. My father would consider a day in which nothing was learned a day wasted. He went to evening classes long after he had any career need for qualifications, studying economics and learning a variety of languages. I became an undergraduate again when my youngest child went to university and when I was awarded my doctorate in creative writing he was the first person I thought about. Several of the poems in this pamphlet were previously included in my thesis.

Without the influence of my father and grandmother, I doubt I would write; certainly Spools of Thread wouldn’t be the pamphlet it is. And of course, I wouldn’t have that ‘forehead that could have been my grandmother’s’.

What haven’t I asked that the poems would absolutely insist that I should question? And what is the answer?

The poems in Spools of Thread are very much about family and inheritance, threads that can be traced back through the generations and strands that flow forward through children and grandchildren. Are you ‘written-out’ in terms of family writing, and if so, what topics might you turn your attention to next?

I don’t think I’m ‘written–out’ in terms of family writing. Relationships are dynamic and there are always new additions to a family, just as there are departures. Also I think our perspectives change as we age – growing older provides different insights and interests. However, I wouldn’t want to be known as a writer who is limited to family themes and I’ve recently responded to a number of political call-outs, which has taken me by surprise.

Other themes? Well, when I was at school, studying history meant learning lists of wars and dates. I gave up the subject as soon as I could. Later in life I became interested in social history, the lived experience of people in the past, and I’ve started writing about the individuals from whom we’ve inherited our landscape. Who were the men and women of our mill towns and of our farming communities? Who were the women who fought for suffrage? Who were the men who were jailed as conscientious objectors? Who were the families who set sail on the ill-fated Titanic? And most importantly, what do their stories have to tell us about our lives now? There is a wealth of material to explore.

Instead of ‘wars and dates’ I chose to study geography, and this still fascinates me. There has recently been a resurgence of writing about place and landscape and I’m interested in exploring these in poetry. The best of the new non-fiction writing about place goes beyond the observational or illustrative. It has something to say as well as something to describe, and for me poetry should do this too.

AH Spools of Thread front cover final scaledWhere can people get hold of a copy of ‘Spools of Thread’?

Spools Of Thread can be purchased from Mother’s Milk Books, an innovative independent press which celebrates motherhood, femininity and empathy through images and words, with a view to normalising breast feeding.

https://www.mothersmilkbooks.com/index.php/shop/product/221-spools-of-thread-by-angi-holden

Thank you, Angi, for these wonderful insights into ‘Spools of Thread’, and the various threads that run through it.

To read more In the Booklight interviews with authors, please click on this link.

Reflections/poem biography for Van Gogh’s Other Mistress

Van gogh van goghed triple smaller

“she hears his ear unspiral;
her teeth crunch on bone.”

This poem started as a play with ideas and images. On the one hand, the intrigue of imagining if Van Gogh had had a secret mistress undocumented by history. On the other, the fact that an obsessive artist’s art often claims as much time as any lover would. Painting is the queen of all mistresses.
Obviously, Van Gogh’s ear had to play a role – it would be betraying his artistic myth/celebrity to leave it out. The images I chose are a mixture of details from some of his most famous pieces and synaesthetic indulgence of my own. This is a poem that I really enjoyed writing.


Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

How acceptable is it to mix fact and fiction in a poem about a real person, even if they’re dead? What are the moral obligations when presenting such work to readers? How does a writer balance imaginative freedom with factual accuracy?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Choose a painting or series of paintings by a dead artist. Research the painter’s background. Imagine the undocumented daily details of their life. Can you write a poem/story combining factual details about them, actual aspects of/images from their art and how you personally imagine their life?

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

HOW TO GROW MATCHES – A STRIKING LAUNCH & REVIEWS

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I had an amazing time in London on Saturday for the Against The Grain Press launch of my new poetry pamphlet How to Grow Matches. Big thanks to the team at ATG – Abegail Morley, Jessica Mookherjee and Karen Dennison. Big thanks too to Hilaire, Joolz Sparkes and Linda Black for reading at the event, and to everyone who came. It was lovely to combine the launch with catching up with a friends, and hope to also catch up with those who were away for Easter soon.

The Cloud Appreciation Society has featured a poetryfilm of one of the pamphlet poems ‘Her cumuli collector’ on their home page and here.

I’m also very pleased to share two reviews of How to Grow Matches.

The first on Goodreads: “Leavesley’s poems challenge each of us to choose our paths in life with care, and courage — and to treat our fellow human beings with compassion and respect…These are polished, intelligent poems. Five stars.” E.E. Nobbs, Goodreads, the full review here.

‘This collection looks at everywoman through myths, legends, art and the everyday such as shopping lists. It looks at timeless, classical women and those who post selfies on social media. It refuses to define a woman by her status as a mother or singledom. The title poem is timely for the #MeToo era, starting with an instruction to take a match…

‘“How to Grow Matches” is a timely pamphlet that explores the roles and expectations foisted on women along the with reams of unsolicited advice which also restricts and places limitations on women. The pamphlet also looks at women in story-telling and myths. The poems highlight without complaining and touch on potential role models, enabling women to move from victimhood to survivors who can take control.’ Emma Lee, the full review with wonderfully detailed analysis of several poems in the pamphlet can be found here.

Another lovely snippet also from The Hedgehog Poetry Press

How to Grow Matches is available to pre-order now from the Against The Grain Press shop here!

OTHER POETRY NEWS

‘Life of a Fish’ accepted for publication in The Dark Horse, 39, due out in May.

CREATIVE NON-FICTION and FICTION

I’m delighted that my ‘Love-Affair, Moi?’ was chosen for Litro’s #essaysaturday last weekend. The piece features literary love(s), London lowness and life-saving lyricism – amongst other things!!!

I’m also very pleased to have had ‘How wet is wet? Why Rain Matters’ accepted for publication on Riggwelter in April. This piece is a mixture of essay and creative writing, ranging across topics of nature, outdoor exercise, health, eco-concerns, poetry and photography.

Sticking with my eco-lit/cli-fi interests, my story ‘When it sleets’ has also been accepted for the forthcoming Mantle Lane Press anthology It Came from Beneath the Waves.

NEW EVENTS

Thursday, April 26 – V. PRESS STABLEMATES, The Poetry Cafe, London

Jill Abrams has invited V. Press poets Stephen Daniels and David Clarke , and me, to share poetry (& maybe a few words on running the press) from their recent pamphlets and collections: Tell Mistakes I Love Them, Scare Stories, plenty-fish and How to Grow Matches.

Doors open 7pm, poetry starts promptly at 7.30. Venue: The Poetry Café, 22 Betterton St, Covent Garden, London, WC2H 9BX. Tickets are £6 in advance from Buy Now button on the Stablemates website here or £8 (cash only) on the door.

Thursday, 10 May – Worcester SpeakEasy Guest Poet

I’m delighted to be guest poet at May’s Worcester SpeakEasy, the monthly spoken word event of Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe. At Cafe Bliss, Worcester Arts Workshop, 21 Sansome St, Worcester WR1 1UH. 7.30pm start.

V. PRESS

V. Press is now open to poetry submissions (April/May), with flash fiction submissions open in July and lots of other exciting news, events, reviews and awards. More information on the V. Press website here.

My 500-word blogpost ‘A Flash Guide to V. Press‘ is also now live on the Flash Fiction Festival website, ahead of this July’s festival where V. Press will have a showcase.

INTERVIEWS

I was also very pleased to be invited to answer a few questions about my own writing, V. Press, aching fingers, writing advice, handling success and failure and more over on ZeroFlash. My interview can be found here.

Reflections/poem biography for Shells

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“Now he is hunched emptiness,
face buried in their bed.”

Sometimes, when I’m adopting an unfamiliar character’s perspective in a poem, I will use the first person to help me get close to that experience. Likewise, when I am dealing with things that are very personal, I may use the third person to distance me and provide some objectivity. The ‘sometimes’ is very important here, as it would be a mistake to think every ‘she’ in my poems is me, or vice versa.

‘Shells’ is very much inspired though by trying to look at myself from the outside, when suffering with depression. As I had started considering myself from others’ viewpoints, it seemed important to also consider the effects my depression might have on people around me. I can’t begin to understand how hard the worst times must be for my husband, though he is always so strong.

The practice of putting on a bright face while suffering inside my shell is partly a coping mechanism – habits give life a structure when all other structure seems lost. Paradoxically though, there is a freedom too in letting impressions, feelings, life flow around me without trying to capture them.

A shell is fixed by its own rigid shape if not its contents. Water’s fluidity is dictated mainly by the forces applied to it and the shape of the space left open to it. When I’m with people I trust, there is safety and relief in letting negative emotions flow. Also, a sense that there is still something of me there, albeit very hard to hold still in one fixed state.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

Is this more a narrative sequence, a sequence based on contrasts like brittle fixedness and soft fluidity, a conceit…? If you feel it has various different elements, which is strongest overall? Do the different parts of the sequence perform distinctly different functions? How do these parts work within the whole?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Take an existing poem or short story you’ve written. Keep one word from each line/sentence/paragraph. Let these words work as the shell for a new poem/story. Now fill in the rest. (If you can, give yourself permission to just follow the flow of thoughts and inspiration as they arise. If you’d like extra structure, try a theme such as the sea/beach/holidays/water.)

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

Reflections/poem biography for His Wife
Hall of Clocks
“The psychologist stares; tick.
As if eyes are glass openings,
and he’s trying to lift the catch;

click…”

In contrast to the preceding poem, ‘His Wife’ is full of serious intentional attention and gaze.

The plotline is imagining what it must be like to be married to an over-worked psychologist. The conceit this is explored through is the mind resembling a clock in its inner workings and the care taken in observing and tinkering/fine-tuning these.

Conceits aren’t to every readers’ taste, and don’t seem especially popular at the moment. But this one also gave me plenty of scope for word play – such as the line about the brain’s pendulum ending in an exclamation mark before this pendulum is described as like an exclamation, its movement then stopped in a line ending with a full stop. The poem is also full of –ick, -ock sounds. But these don’t sound as regularly as you’d expect from a clock’s normally functioning tick-tock.

Meanwhile, on the narration front, as the psychologist is examining his wife’s mind, the narrator (like the wife, perhaps) is also examining the psychologist’s inner workings.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

Do you notice the –ock, -op, -ick, -its sounds as you read the poem? Do they work effectively to illustrate and enhance the contents?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

You/a fictional character are running out of time to do something important. What is it? Why does it matter? What will happen if it doesn’t get done in time? Use this as a poem/story outline. Alternatively, try imagining your/ a fictional character’s bucket list. What is on there and why? What does the list reveal about personality/lifestyle? Does it suggest a narrative plot? 

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

Reflections/poem biography for His Wife
Hall of Clocks
“The psychologist stares; tick.
As if eyes are glass openings,
and he’s trying to lift the catch;

click…”

In contrast to the preceding poem, ‘His Wife’ is full of serious intentional attention and gaze.

The plotline is imagining what it must be like to be married to an over-worked psychologist. The conceit this is explored through is the mind resembling a clock in its inner workings and the care taken in observing and tinkering/fine-tuning these.

Conceits aren’t to every readers’ taste, and don’t seem especially popular at the moment. But this one also gave me plenty of scope for word play – such as the line about the brain’s pendulum ending in an exclamation mark before this pendulum is described as like an exclamation, its movement then stopped in a line ending with a full stop. The poem is also full of –ick, -ock sounds. But these don’t sound as regularly as you’d expect from a clock’s normally functioning tick-tock.

Meanwhile, on the narration front, as the psychologist is examining his wife’s mind, the narrator (like the wife, perhaps) is also examining the psychologist’s inner workings.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

Do you notice the –ock, -op, -ick, -its sounds as you read the poem? Do they work effectively to illustrate and enhance the contents?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

You/a fictional character are running out of time to do something important. What is it? Why does it matter? What will happen if it doesn’t get done in time? Use this as a poem/story outline. Alternatively, try imagining your/ a fictional character’s bucket list. What is on there and why? What does the list reveal about personality/lifestyle? Does it suggest a narrative plot? 

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

Reflections/poem biography for In the Ointment

In the ointment
“…Always a fly,
the smallest of things,
this full stop with wings”

This poem was directly inspired by a Verse Kraken prompt and call-out for pieces related to The Tantalizing Fly, featuring Max Fleischer’ silent cartoon character Koko the Clown.

My thoughts flew from one film/literary fly to another with as much wordplay as possible in between. This is not a poem that wants or needs to be taken too seriously, more one to be enjoyed for the momentary buzz and dance of language.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

What kind of poem is this? Comic linguistic word play? Whimsy? Or are there more serious observations about language and life underlying it?

Writing/Inspiration Prompts

1) Take a punctuation mark. Think of real things that resemble it in some way. Can these be combined to construct a narrative, create a humorous poem or make a point?
2) Take an existing poem or story that you’ve written which isn’t quite working. Choose one type of punctuation mark in it. Try re-writing the entire poem/story using only that one type of punctuation mark. Alternatively, re-draft the whole piece without using that type of punctuation mark in it at all.

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

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