How to Grow Matches front coverIt’s been a busy but exciting fortnight here – a forest of excitement in fact. But before I move on to woods and seeing trees, my big writing news: How to Grow Matches has been shortlisted for the poetry category in this year’s International Rubery Book Awards!!!

The judges’ lovely comments are: ‘Leavesley’s poems have clarity and directness, and she writes with a great eye for significant detail. Matchsticks are “pink tipped bullrushes” in the title poem, for instance, and “Blackpool’s shops are metal secrets” in another lovely piece, First Thing. In Fashion Chains, mannequins are glimpsed in shop windows at night with “chemo flesh revealed/in the glare of strip lighting”, and the “bald realities” of “moon heads”. This poem becomes a sly metaphor for the fashion industry and the way this exploits women via the spurious notion of “true shape”. Her themes are varied: there are ekphrastic poems, political poems, feminist poems, myth based poems, but all have flair, characterised by a contemporary experience which is always convincing and original.’

I’m delighted about this on so many scores. Firstly, I’m really pleased for my publishers Against The Grain Press. Secondly, I’m chuffed to see the chapbook pulling its weight alongside such wonderful full poetry collections and the Fairacre Press Diversifly anthology (a great Midlands presence in the poetry category!). Thirdly, on a personal level, my debut poetry collection Into the Yell won third prize in the non-categorised awards in 2011 and my Nine Arches Press collection plenty-fish was shortlisted in 2016. I’d love to see How to Grow Matches go even further, of course, but simply to see it on the shortlist is amazingly inspirational and encouraging! I’m trying not to bite my nails too much now as I wait for the final results…

Meanwhile, this week I had another welcome confidence and morale boost finding out that my poem ‘Patient N, diabetes mellitus‘ was highly commended in this year’s Festival of Firsts poetry competition.

My gratitude and thanks go to the judges and all those involved in the admin and organisation making both these competitions happen.

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Alongside this, it was also amazing to read Melissa Fu’s ‘live with a poet for a week’ response to How to Grow Matches in Tales From Prickly End (Hedgehog Poetry Press). Melissa talks about it being a response rather than a review, I think it’s actually both, as it’s a lengthy and detailed article about her interaction with the poems in the pamphlet/chapbook. In fact, it’s so wonderfully generous and in-depth that I hope to share more of it in a specialised blogpost as soon as I can…

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Although I don’t perform or read as often as I’d like because of the extra strain and need for care that it places on managing my diabetes/blood sugar levels, I really enjoy the different spark that this can bring to poetry. So I was delighted to read my Hippocrates Prize poems and others from my pamphlet How to Grow Matches and collection plenty-fish as part of ‘An Unconventional History of Maidenhood, Mothering & Mistresses’ with poet friends Ruth Stacey and Katy Wareham Morris as part of Wolverhampton Artsfest.

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None of this news is directly related to my reading in the Helen Dunmore Tribute at Ledbury Poetry Festival this year. But How to Grow Matches is very much about female voices and experiences, and Helen Dunmore is one of a number of female poets and writers whose work has been inspirational to me over the years. This is one of many reasons why I chose to read her ‘Domestic Poem’ for the event, which was one of the most moving poetry readings that I’ve been too in a long while. The audio of it is now online here.

MORE REVIEWS

Collaboration is another thing that I absolutely love and don’t get to do enough of at the moment. It was absolutely fabulous to see a new review of my collaborative poetry duet Hearth, written with wonderful poet Angela Topping (Mother’s Milk Books, 2015) over on Caroline Hardaker’s website this week. (Incidently/serendipitously, the themes of womanhood, family life and relationships fit well with all the other collections, poems and readings that I’ve mentioned so far in this blog.)

“…What follows are songs, sung from the heart. None of the lyrics are over-complicated with flouncy language, as it’s never needed. Sometimes the simplest lines can sing the clearest tune…

“This is skilled poetry, crafted with years of expertise. Classical, and timeless.”

Caroline Hardaker, full review of Hearth and other Mother’s Milk Books poetry pamphlets here

OTHER PUBLICATIONS

REVIEW of So Long the Sky for Riggwelter on July 4, 2018. (Unfortunately, the Riggwelter wordpress coding/template has lost some of the formatting from my quoted lines of poetry – yet another reason to go and buy the collection itself!)

The Grape-Face (flash) in Spelk on July 13, 2018.

Hedgehog Kind (poetry sequence) in A Restricted View From Under The Hedge in July 2018.

From the Other Side (poem) – a Hedgehog Poetry Press fauxlaroid/poetry postcard in July 2018. (The fauxlaroid postcards are only available as part of the Cult package – one of many reasons for taking out this subscription. This also includes prompts and other poetry initiatives/extras, including the Vapour Trails handwritten booklets circulating across the country/world, leaving an online vapour trail as they go. My fauxlaroid poem is on there now, though not the beautiful photo that inspired it.)

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TIMBER!!!

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Last weekend saw me heading down to the woods, and memory lane. The Timber Festival at Feanedock near Moira was a delight for many reasons. The trees, the sustainability, and cultural elements and the fact that it was set in The National Forest on the Leicestershire/Derbyshire border very near to where I used to work for the Burton Mail group as a reporter 15 years ago! I was based in the Swadlincote office specifically for a while and this area of Leicestershire, near Measham, was right at the edge of my patch. The picture above gives an idea of how much the area has changed over the years, with former landfill sites in the process of being reclaimed/repurposed back to a more nature-friendly/managed nature areas!

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One of the first things that struck me was the Museum of the Moon touring artwork by Luke Jerram. Experiencing this stunning (and inspirational!) piece of art is of course different according to its setting, and also according to the time of day. My photo-poem above was inspired by photographing it as a full moon with the near noon-day (full) sun shining on it. I was also taken by the idea of seeing the sun’s shadows on the top of the moon compared to the shadows cast on the forest floor through the moon and the leaves, my own blurred reflection in its surface, and I played with superimposing a clockdial as well as my poem on its surface (as can be seen in my photos below).

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IMG_3209So what else did I enjoy: finding poems, audio readings & artwork inspired by/from The Lost Words (Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris);
Putting on my festival face. The choice was mermaid or unicorn – no real doubt which I’d go for…created with biogradaeable products;
The foraging walk with @foragersam, traversing on the LL Bean climbing wall timed challenge in climbing boots (I was slow but it was fun, and the heat and not having my climbing shoes made for a great speed excuse), a very tasty mushroom burger & savoury muffins from the farmer’s markets, lovely music to dance too, great woodland to walk through, tree-climbing, slack-rope walking (or wobbling) and the evening fire display.

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And this was just what I had time and energy for this year. There was a whole range of other workshops and performances to enjoy, and I hope I’ll get to go back another year and enjoy even more.

I started my festival write-up with poetry, so I’m going to end with it – even if at a slant.

I mentioned the slack-rope wobbling (as in the video below). One thing I was aware of was how much the hesitation caused by fear and lack of confidence undermined what I was doing. I found balance and tried to hold onto it in stillness rather than being brave enough to step out into motion – thereby losing my muscle, energy, firm position etc before I’d even started.

This isn’t a new realisation to me. It’s one of the biggest things that holds me back with my climbing and bouldering too. But I know the same fear and lack of confidence also holds me back somewhat in nearly everything that I do – including writing. My conclusions? 1) Fight the fear and make the most of chances where, when and while I can, in full acceptance that experiments don’t always work but sometimes they do. (Success isn’t guaranteed but simply trying means the chances are higher – if I don’t write it/enter a competition/submit, there’s nothing to share/no way I can win it/have it accepted.) 2) Preparation is important – I could never have got onto the slackline in the first place if I hadn’t started by scoping out the lines and trees to find one where I could use the tree to get to the right height and then support my weight while I got into the right position to balance/attempt to walk. 3) Enjoy it simply for the fun/thrill of the experience itself!

 

OTHER NEWS

I’m also very pleased to have the following poems/articles accepted for/coming up in: about writing voices on Created to Read (17 July, 2018), Heart (poem) on Ink, Sweat & Tears on 17 August 2018, about my writing journey on the The Literary Consultancy blog in September, about the A Tale of Two Cities Worcestershire poetry twinning project in the next Poetry News.

North, south, east, west, home’s best – or so it’s said. For me, home has actually always been where the heart is, so, by my age, spread across the globe! Joking aside though, I’ve never really had a geographical location that’s felt like my one and only home. I was born in the south, currently live in Worcestershire, with strong affinities for various reasons to both Wales and the North. I’ll blog more about this at some point later this year. The main reason for mentioning this now is that my poem ‘”On the eyelid of the north”‘ has been selected for a new living, growing, collaborative artwork-in-progress to celebrate 50 years of the Northern Poetry Library. The Poem of the North brings together the work of the fifty selected poets, in five cantos, published over a period of six months. By the end of 2018, the completed poem will stand as a celebratory artefact: a tribute to the region and acknowledgement of the North’s rich seam of writers and written culture. I’m not sure yet when my poem’s scheduled for, but you can find the poems so far here.