1-The Emptiness of Uncut Diamond-001 panormaicsometimes I smile

My Wednesday reflections started in the early hours of the early days of 2016. To be precise, it was on January 3 – a Sunday! I was thinking about my poetry collection plenty-fish and poets’ introductions that can give helpful or extra context in live readings. I wanted to do something similar in writing. The result was ‘Sometimes I smile’ a manuscript with a short commentary on each poem in the collection.

These initial thoughts focussed on inspiration, the how and why of writing and a poem’s personal significance to me. However, I’d always considered the possibility of using this on my blog rather than as a printed book. By the time I came to refine the text, I’d discovered the online readers’ guides that many American presses seemed to offer with their titles. I wasn’t aware of British publishers really doing this, outside of actual academic titles. I also knew myself that reading can be a great source of inspiration. I decided then to also include potential discussion points and writing prompts that might arise from each poem. I wanted to release these weekly on my blog, and mid-week seemed as good a day as any to dive into them. Launching these Wednesday Refelctions in July 2017 to mark the second anniversary of plenty-fish‘s publication was the next logical, and celebratory, move!

IMG_2360 colour spot 1 smaller

From Anguish to Art – a short background

When I was six, I was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes (diabetes type 1). When I was 36, I began to realise that my depressions, my life, and, therefore, my poetry were more directly linked to this diagnosis then I had imagined.

However, this is not a commentary about me. Nor is it a commentary about diabetes or even depression or anxiety. I am not these dis-eases, any more than I am my poetry, but everything that is in my life is in my poetry, and vice versa.

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant –” Emily Dickinson said in her wonderfully concise poem opening with this line. But the slants between life and page are many. In looking at how the poems in plenty-fish came about, I wanted to cast light on some of the slants deliberately intended in the writing. This doesn’t set out to illuminate them all, nor to cover the very real and important slants that a reader brings to them in their own reading.

1-The Emptiness of Uncut Diamond-001 panormaic upside down

But, before I start on plenty-fish, I’d like to dip back briefly into my preceding collection, The Magnetic Diaries. For me, The Magnetic Diaries demonstrates one approach to pain and harnessing its effects artistically. With The Magnetic Diaries, I chose to write directly about illness. In doing so, the poems are based on my own experiences of both depression and repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation as treatment. But this is then set within the distancing/objective framework offered by placing it in the context of a contemporary, English, poetry version of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Using this narrative background allowed me to separate the writing from my own pain and also take the resulting poems beyond the limits of my own experience.

Whereas The Magnetic Diaries is moving from anguish to art through a direct if distanced (inward-looking) recording of pain, plenty-fish is almost the exact opposite. In plenty-fish, the creating art from anguish is through focussing deliberately (for the most part) on experiences outside of the pain.

In many cases in plenty-fish, the poems range across current affairs, objects of significance, real and imaginary relationships, literary influences and landscapes. Where depression features in this collection, it is written not in the immediacy of the pain but with a wider lens that covers also recovery, the experience of those around someone with depression, and the very small part this suffering plays in the world as a whole, no matter how encompassing it feels at the time.

The commentaries of Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile… are offered as a companion to those reading plenty-fish, or interested in the biographies of individual poems. But I hope it works too as a companion to anyone who has experienced depression or other difficult situations. Finally, I hope the writing prompts will also bring inspiration.

plentyfish cover (1)‘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.