Sarah James

the possibilities of poetry…

Aviary“Through its poetic script, The Magnetic Diaries shows how wondrous and creative life can be despite living with depression, but also how exhausting and relentless.” Helen Babbs, The Sick Of The Fringe – full article on this Edinburgh Fringe performance here.

Another review, picking up on the play’s structural design and the differing perspectives between Emma and Charles, can be enjoyed here. It also hints at the Romantic versus Realism worldview elements/illusions that remain very relevant in today’s television/film/celebrity/marketing-driven society more than 250 years after Flaubert wrote Madame Bovary.

The Reaction Theatre makers production of The Magnetic Diaries, starring Vey Straker and directed by Tiff Hosking, with music composed by Joanna Karsellis, continues at the Aviary at ZOO until Aug 27.


The Magnetic Diaries at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Aug 15–27
Aviary at ZOO, 140 Pleasance, Edinburgh EH8 9RR
1pm – 2pm
Tickets: £9 (£8 concessions) from ZOO venues on 0131 662 6892 and or from Fringe Box Office on 0131 226 0000 and

Aviary1-P1030536August has been an exciting month for me. Yes, partly the sun, holiday fun and triathlon training going to my head. Also, this week…the Edinburgh Fringe.

It was amazing to see the Reaction Theatre makers production of The Magnetic Diaries, starring Vey Straker, at the Aviary at ZOO on Wednesday as part of its 2-week run (until Aug 27).

Although I’ve seen it at Ledbury Poetry Festival and Worcester Litfest & Fringe, as well as the original performance at The Courtyard, Hereford, one of the beauties of live theatre is that every performance feels unique – be that in the acting interpretation, the different venues’ stage setting or the audience ambiance. The intensity of this Edinburgh Fringe performance made it a particularly special and moving experience for me, which I’m still taking in now.

The Magnetic Diaries at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Aug 15–27
Aviary at ZOO, 140 Pleasance, Edinburgh EH8 9RR
1pm – 2pm
Tickets: £9 (£8 concessions) from ZOO venues on 0131 662 6892 and or from Fringe Box Office on 0131 226 0000 and

Also exciting this week was news that my poem ‘Ye Olde Tavern’ has been nominated by Three Drops From a Cauldron for the Best of the Net 2016 anthology.

Meanwhile, exploring the city of Edinburgh in the sunshine was so fantastic that I’m going to sume it up with photos instead of words…





SAD  CoverIn my fourteenth interview for In the Booklight, I talk to Kirstin Maguire (poet) and Jane Moore (artist) about their poetry/art collaboration and book ‘Sketch a Day Poetry’ (Alba Publishing)…

Could you say a little about the impetus behind your online ‘Sketch a Day Poetry’ project, how it came about and how easy it was to meet and keep going with the need to create a new poem or drawing every day for a year?

Jane: The Sketch A Day Project was the product of a New Year’s resolution I set myself in January 2014, to draw a sketch every day. Every year I make a New Year’s Resolution and I usually stick to them until about March. They normally consist of giving up chocolate or starting a new sport! I decided to make a New Year’s Resolution that I knew I would be dedicated to. One that I knew I would love and throw myself into, and that was to keep a Sketch A Day journal. It wasn’t easy keeping it going but I had plenty of ideas and by posting on social media I began to get many followers, which gave me encouragement to keep drawing. The Sketch A Day Poetry book came a year later when my good friend and poet Kirstin Maguire started her Sketch A Day Poetry project. We decided to bring the two projects together to create the Sketch A Day Poetry book.

Kirstin: I was blown away by Jane’s collection of a year’s worth of daily sketches, how they evolved and how the process enabled creativity. I was curious how that might translate in poetry. I liked the idea of exploring the spontaneity of getting a piece out daily, not necessarily polished and final, but a contribution to an overall work in progress.

Early on, I noticed writing a poem a day created a real shift in my day to day living. Everything I came across seemed to be fresh content. I started noticing small things more. I even started having more vivid dreams, memories surfaced, the whole experience was really powerful. Then, a few months in, that all subsided big time, I hit a wall, it seemed a tall order, I drew a blank, it felt like something extra on the To-Do List and I wasn’t too satisfied with the poems I was writing either. At that point, it became more an act of discipline than anything to keep going writing a poem each day. Then, something would happen, a huge global issue would hit, or a personal experience, or a theme would come to mind and there would be endless ideas. I couldn’t get them out quick enough. This became a cyclical process throughout the year. Altogether, it increased my discipline in writing and allowed me to experiment with different writing styles in a way I don’t think I would have tried otherwise.

Kirstin Maguire

Kirstin Maguire

Did you always intend to bring the poems and art together in a book at the end? If not, where and how did that idea spark? Also how did you select which pieces should be included in the printed version? And are they all still in their original ‘sketch’ (not necessarily entirely finished, as you explain in the book’s introduction) form or were some edited and polished further first?

Kirstin: The idea for a book came up about half-way through 2015 when we started to see a synchronicity in the collections we had each created. We are delighted that Alba decided to publish the book. Kim Richardson at Alba was really supportive and also allowed us a lot of autonomy over the selection and editing process too, which was amazing. We each individually selected favourite pieces and then came together to look at key themes in the selection. We drank a lot of coffee coming up with it!
Designer and Curator of Poetry Brothel, Jeyda Yagiz worked with us on the final book. She put in endless hours designing, formatting and matching individual pieces. The connections she made between sketches were really quite something. We so appreciate all the work she put in and her keen eye, it really made the final book.

The published pieces; both poems and artwork, are in their original form. We thought it was important to not edit or polish further and to print them in their raw format.

Jane: We decided about halfway through Kirstin’s Sketch A Day Poetry project to bring the two together and produce a book. We started looking for a publisher and found Alba Publishing, who were incredibly supportive from the initial concept to the final product. Selecting the sketches took quite a bit of time beginning with Kirstin and I selecting our individual choices and then editing together. We then brought in a book designer and friend Jeyda Yagiz to help with the final edit. It was great to get an outside eye and she paired the poems and sketches beautifully. The sketches are kept in their original form as they were drawn in 2014.

Jane Moore

Jane Moore

I’m struck right from opening the book about how well the poems and illustrations seem to go together. How did the collaboration work in practical terms? Did you have set themes, respond to each other’s work or craft your pieces entirely individually and separately, with common themes and links later emerging as if serendipitously?

Kirstin: Early on, we decided to explore the project independently. Otherwise, it ran the risk of becoming a bit contrived or forced. Common themes naturally emerged. There were also coincidences in our personal lives e.g. we each travelled in Europe during our year of creating a sketch a day, as well as our common experiences in London.

The idea in the final collection is that art can really capture a moment in time unlike any other.
The sketches; both in art and poetry, reflect the spontaneous images we constantly encounter. Some seem disparate, others even jarring and then moments of complete synchronicity that cumulatively create a constantly evolving picture.

Jane: It is quite magical how they do pair together as I started the Sketch A Day Project in 2014 with Kirstin taking it into a literary form in 2015. There are common themes in both projects, for example we both spent time in France and Spain and both live permanently in London so naturally similar works were created. We also took inspiration from similar subjects such as family, nature, politics and public figures. The two projects were independent of one another, however both captured similar thoughts and moments in time.

Dapper Duck by Jane Moore

Dapper Duck by Jane Moore

It feels to me that the process of creation can be very different when a sharing outcome is already defined ie when one knows right from the very start that a piece will go up on a blog, as opposed to working from an initial spark of inspiration that might or might not become something, which may or may not then later be published. Did you feel this, and was it pressure or motivation? Also, when you were creating, who were you creating for, yourself, each other or your blog audiences?

Kirstin: I think working from the stance of knowing it was a sharing outcome created a sense of urgency I hadn’t previously encountered. It reduced inhibitions because it meant I didn’t really have time to be self-conscious or to write in a way that aimed to be perceived by the reader in a certain way, or even to really target who it was aimed at. In many ways therefore, it led to more authenticity and a genuineness in the pieces. It meant there was continuous momentum which was incredibly motivating.

Jane: For me it was a completely free project in that it was solely for myself and I didn’t know what shape it would take and how big it would become. The Sketch A Day Project was a daily drawing challenge to help improve my skill and allow myself creative freedom, drawing whatever I wanted and not adhering to client briefs etc. I was very motivated and excited to see what path it would take as the year went on. The Sketch A Day Project 2014 ended with an exhibition of all 365 sketches funded by a Kickstarter campaign, through which the original drawings were sold.

What were the triumphs and challenges, or restrictions and freedoms, for you of ‘Sketch a Day Poetry’ itself?

Kirstin: The challenges were in balancing writing a poem a day in the context of wider work. I particularly enjoyed the times where I could invest longer periods in writing. I found it really was a case of the more you put in, the more you get out of it. The freedoms of the project had a deeper effect than I anticipated. My writing style has changed since it, because I’m now more excited by playing around with the parameters of poetry and exploring language than necessarily having one distinct tone. A triumph for me personally, was that it resulted in our book being published (my debut collection) and I couldn’t think of a better partner for that than Jane. I was also delighted that an excerpt from my Grandad’s memoirs made it into the final cut at the start of the book.

Jane: Challenges were coming up with a sketch every day and finding time when working on other projects and earning a living. It was also a challenge when I was feeling poorly or travelling to another country. However, it was fantastic to have that creative freedom for 30 min or sometimes 4 hours every day. The triumphs were running a successful Kickstarter Campaign, having my first solo exhibition in London of the 365 drawings and of course collaborating with the talented Kirstin Maguire and producing our first published book.

And what were the highlights, and the more tricky things to handle, in the collaborative nature of this project?

Kirstin: The Sketch A Day Project really allowed the best of both of worlds in working through a process under my own steam and coming together to share and explore ideas with Jane. The collaboration element with Jane was really the reason it all came about, and working together was an endless, energising source of support and motivation. The final book reflects this collaboration in that it isn’t a conventional illustrated poetry book. It’s two art forms coming together equally to explore key experiences and themes.

Jane: It was great to have a partner to help with all the practicalities of finding a publisher, producing and launching a book. We were able to bounce ideas off one another when editing and of course celebrate together when it all came together! Kirstin is a dream to work with so luckily we didn’t face any tricky situations.

SAD  CoverWhere can people get a copy of ‘Sketch a Day Poetry’?

The book is available to purchase on the publisher’s website at

Jane’s links

Kirstin’s links

Thank you, Kirstin and Jane, for these interesting insights into the Sketch a Day Poetry project and book – the highlights, the challenges and the other elements in between.

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

1-å1020355-002The past month has been a whirlwind of work and wonderful news.


I’m delighted to have:

two poems, ‘Beautiful’ and ‘Holidaying’ published in PN Review;

a flash fiction, ‘Of the liver’ published in under the radar;

I’m also very pleased that my application for the Disappear Here poetryfilm project accepted. The commission is for 2/3 poetry films inspired by Coventry Ringroad and I’m delighted to be working with Coventry film-maker Ben Cook on this project.

It’s fabulous too to see the Paper Swans Press anthology The Chronicles of Eve reviewed on Sabotage Reviews;


Meanwhile, August 15 sees the first performance of ‘The Magnetic Diaries’ as part of its 2-week run at Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Aug 15 – 27, 2016 Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Aviary at ZOO, 140 Pleasance, Edinburgh EH8 9RR
1pm – 2pm
Tickets: £9 (£8 concessions) from ZOO venues on 0131 662 6892 and or from Fringe Box Office on 0131 226 0000 and


As part of ‘The Magnetic Diaries’ tour, I have been running a series of From Pain to Poetry/From Anguish to Art workshops, not just using writing as therapy but also looking at how personal experiences (even if painful) can be shaped into a polished piece of poetry/prose.

A free workshop for the public will take place before the MAC Birmingham performance of ‘The Magnetic Diaries’ on October 22. The 90-min workshop takes place in Hexagon Room at the mac birmingham,Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, B12 9QH. Ticket price for the production will be £10, available from MAC Birmingham or on the door. Sales & Information: 0121 446 3232 (Open 9am – 9.45pm throughout the week).

To book a place for the workshop, please email me on lifeislikeacherrytreeATyahooDOTcom. There are 15 spaces for this workshop.


And a Bloodaxe video of my reading from the Hwaet! anthology celebrating 20 years of Ledbury Poetry Festival can be found below.

slant lightIn my thirteenth interview for In the Booklight, I talk to Sarah Westcott about her poetry collection ‘Slant Light’ (Liverpool University Press)…

Animals, flowers and other elements of nature feel like quite a strong theme and thread through this collection. Are there any particular places or other inspiration sources that lie behind these poems?

The natural world in its multiple forms inspired most of the poems in this book. Although a coherent theme of ‘nature’ is not something I was consciously aiming for, I have always been preoccupied with getting close to living things and really looking at them, especially the apparently lowly or insignificant.

There’s a delight for me in engaging with the specificity of things, and later trying to approximate it into words.

I find there is a gulf between observation, which can be a wordless absorption, and description and poetry helps make the leap between them – but words are always a rough approximation of ‘the thing itself’. It’s a paradox really trying to get into the voice of a living thing when all we can do is be human. Les Murray and Alice Oswald are two poets who inspire me and often capture the essence of some animals and plants.

My surroundings are also a strong influence – we live on the edges of suburban south east London – an area crossed with roads and rail – and I’ve found inspiration in beautiful flashes of wildness – a kingfisher, or vigorous cow parsley. There is ancient patch of woodland that I’ve walked through countless times, across all weathers and seasons. The incremental changes each day in this small, quite scruffy patch of wood inspired the poem Spring Wood.

A visit to a grander wood – a grove of ancient giant sequoia trees in the Yosemite National Park in California also set going a small sequence of poems in the book, The Mariposa Trees. The rangers gave each group of trees a name such as Bachelor and the Three Graces and The Faithful Couple and it was irresistible not to anthropomorphise them.

For me, reading, there’s also a beautiful mythical quality to many of the poems. In part, I take that from the subject matter, such as the series of charm poems inspired by Anglo-Saxon texts, but I also think that it’s something that’s in the language of these poems too. How important do you think myth or mythical qualities are – and why?

Thank you. I don’t feel particularly well-informed in myth but there is something enduring deep in the soil and in the natural rhythms and seasons that lives in myth and its stories. I am interested in the places where myth and biology intersect.

The hare, for example, has been a fertility symbol in disparate cultures, as a shape-shifter and even a witch, and is behind a poem in the book.

I have a sequence of charm poems which are loose translations of metrical charms from a time where paganism was still prevalent, alongside nascent Christianity. People had a belief (faith?) in the power of herbs and plants to ward off evil – in the form of demons and diseases – and these metrical charms were meant to be spoken and heard as physical and spiritual cures.

I liked the idea of trying to draw these living myths into a modern register because there is something uncannily prescient about them and their rich language.

So I think myths bind us as humans. There is also something inherently true in their telling – telling something ‘slant’ that has been told many times before and shaped over the centuries. A privilege really to reach back to these loaded words and stories and have a stab in the dark at playing with their music and meanings. Perhaps that is what each re-telling of a myth is and what keeps them alive.

Sarah Westcott - photo by Matthew Pull

Sarah Westcott – photo by Matthew Pull

The collection’s title, ‘Slant Light’, puts me in mind of Emily Dickinson’s “Tell all the truth but tell it slant” – and reading the collection, the poems seem to take unusual and striking slants on their subject matter. Was that quotation in mind when you chose the title and are there any other ‘slants, or ‘light’, that come into play for you?

The collection didn’t have an obvious title for a while and when my editor Deryn Rees-Jones suggested the phrase, it seemed apt. Slant light is used in the opening line of the opening poem, Bats. I like the sense of spiritual questing Dickinson’s work may prompt in the reader.

There is also something mysterious and off-key in light that is not direct, but slant – coming in at an angle and reaching unusual places, perhaps.

At best, poetry liberates us from a single, blinkered point of reference – telling the truth but telling it “slant”.

I also wanted to write about environmental peril without being didactic and the best way for me to do that was to write about it obliquely. For example, drawing on the voracious appetite of the snail in ‘for the love of green leaf’ and how that might translate into an OTT poem.

How did the collection come together as a book? Were you writing to a set of themes from the start, or did you find that the natural flow of this collection arose later, as you were picking the poems that you wanted to include?

The natural flow arose later.

I had a mass of poems that I initially had ordered into three sections but it made a lot more sense to pare it down and make the book continuous.

To that end, a lot of poems were taken out leaving hopefully a more coherent whole.

We also tried to order the collection so it ranged in scale from the micro-scopic to the cosmic without being too linear or prescriptive.

I’m very struck by the wonderful use of sound in this collection. I’m wondering how much this comes naturally to you or whether it’s something that you have to work at or craft? And are there any rituals of inspiration, or editing processes and techniques, that you use to help with this?

Thank you! I guess like most poets I love music and sound and I’m drawn to the sounds and textures of words, particularly obsolete or scientific words.

Quite often I play with lines or phrases while I am walking or running in a gentle rhythm and I can let my thinking brain switch off. Mostly it is instinctive but I always run the poems again and again like a spool of tape, hearing their music and trying to ensure there aren’t words that jolt unless that is part of the poem’s design. I like smoothness and flow but maybe that is something I will experiment with disrupting in the future.

What slant on the collection have I forgotten about in my questions so far?

None that I can think of ! But I’ve just found this quote from William Blake, in a letter to Reverend Dr Trusler, written in 1799, which I wondered if I could share here, because it encapsulates something of the impulse behind the poems in Slant Light.

Blake writes: “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.

“Some see Nature all ridicule and deformity … and some scarce see Nature at all. But to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination, Nature is Imagination itself. As a man is, So he sees.”

slant lightWhere can people get hold of a copy of ‘Slant Light’?

From me – or from the LUP website below

It is also available here –,sarah-westcott-9781781382929 and amazon as well.

Thank you, Sarah, for sharing the inspiration and influences behind the nature, myth and sound in ‘Slant Light’and that thought-provoking quotation.

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

I’m absolutely delighted to be able to share some of the wonderful work created as part of my second From Anguish to Art/ From Pain to Poetry Workshop. The ‘inter-act’ group at the Malvern Cube on July 12 came up with some amazing responses to the writing exercises focussed around specific objects, the senses, mindfulness and our questioning powers. Some of these pieces can be enjoyed here.

Connie’s poem inspired by a glove:

I viewed the soft, dense, darkened shape
weighing it in my mind

Drawing my thoughts into the
yesterwen of my abyss, my endless friend

It feels infinite, within & without
Reminds me of the everglades
chasing in the wind
gone on the breeze
like my lover’s embrace

Remembrance sword slicing me thin
Hurricane alley thundering in

Nadeem’s poem:

The shape of the heart
might be hard to start.
The word is revealing
but if the feeling is as real
then what’s the deal.
If u feel the same then this is no game. To show I want this
I can show you happiness and peace. I could even take you
to beautiful Greece to finish our masterpiece. You’re my
lover and it will never show the cover. People will say you’re
my mate though do you think we should go on a date.
If that is true then I should make you a brew. Because I want u
and I love u. (An’ I give you a kiss because I don’t want it to be
a miss.

Sam Shooter’s poem inspired by a starfish:

Stars on the shore
are like stars in the night
to view a star is great
but not so good to taste
the smell is wet like the sea
but its touch is dry like the sand
it rises my soul
this little fish from the shore
stars on the shore
are like stars in the sky
give me my light
as I do start to cry

Sam Shooter’s question poem inspired by a lamp:

Where is he going?
Where is he going
your son with a lamp
where is he off
to Nasa at night
to rob a bank perhaps
I knew he wasn’t safe
perhaps he’s going to Rome
to find the long lost brother he never had
or perhaps
“Wait, wait! You twit,
he’s only going to the shed!”

Sam Shooter’s poem:

I stand waiting for her
then I hear a door slam
her face mad with fright
my body blooded and tight
I rush over to help
but then I scream and I yelp
I am down to the floor
right beside the car door
I see a tall figure
walk up with a snigger
She drops me a white flower
while I’m still without power
She is my ex, her lips are all red
She points her gun at me
and says “You thought you were free!”
then she leans down with joy on her face
and she kisses my cheek
saying “It was meant to be, you little freak!”

TDOS coverIn my twelfth interview for In the Booklight, I talk to Kate Garrett about her poetry pamphlet ‘The Density of Salt’ (Indigo Dreams Publishing)…

If I’m reading correctly, the pamphlet title is a quote from one of the poems, ‘Following the River Exe on a Wednesday Afternoon’, which has beautiful lines, including “This river remembers smugglers, | the density of salt” Could you say a little about the pamphlet as a whole and how it came to be fit together under the title ‘The Density of Salt ‘?

The pamphlet actually came together as a result of that line! I was reading through some poems when putting together journal submissions, when it struck me that part of the line would make an interesting title, and I had enough new poems to make another pamphlet. Thematically it seemed to make a lot of sense as well, with recurring imagery or motifs that relate back to salt – the sea crops up a bit, but there is also the stuff of physical human life: blood, tears, sweat, sex.

The Density of Salt’ directly references, among other things, Hans Christian Andersen and a selkie (‘A Selkie Seeks Truth on Fascination Street’). You also run the web journal ‘Three Drops from a Cauldron’, which publishes flash fiction and poetry involving myth, legend, folklore, fable and fairytale. What role do these elements have in your own poetry?

My favourite things as a child were fantasy films (spoilt for choice as an 80s kid), choose your own adventure books, Greek mythology, the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books, and my grandpa’s storytelling. He would tell folktales of rural Tennessee and I used to believe every word – some of them I realise now in typical “urban legend” style, e.g. ‘My oldest brother and his friend went hunting’. Some of his stories were true, but the important thing was always the story. So the combination of all of those things led to a love of myth, folklore, storytelling, legends that I will never shake. Of course that was the driving force behind creating Three Drops. And with a lot of my own poetry, particularly in The Density of Salt, the poems are either taking a mythical subject and making it contemporary, more grounded in reality, or attempting to make a very real moment or situation into a more ethereal tale. For example ‘When I think about Hans Christian Andersen’ is about my struggle with PTSD. I had an abusive childhood, and at times I do feel compelled to write about how that sticks with me – but I don’t want to do it in a sentimental, overdone or clichéd way (because what writer would!). So in this example, rather than make my mother a specific fairytale villain, I reference a fairytale that doesn’t have an antagonist, and sort of make her into a new one. In ‘Kitten’, the mother is a larger-than-life goddess-form, but the speaker, the abused child, is something of a shapeshifter. It’s much better than an angry rant about cruelty to children or how miserable I feel. By extension the myth/folklore elements end up flavouring most of what I write.

kate newThere are many poems in the pamphlet that feature strong female characters, these persona often with striking voices that ‘tell it how it is’. Would you say that there’s a deliberate feminist angle to some of your work, and is this something that you feel is an essential characteristic to your poetry, or one of many other roles, aspects and aspirations you have in mind during the writing process?

I’m not sure the feminist thing is intentional. I would definitely say I am a feminist, and the strong female voices are deliberate. However, when someone says ‘feminist poetry’ I think of icons like Adrienne Rich or Audre Lorde, or in a contemporary sense I think of Hollie McNish, or my local Sheffield-scene poet friends Sez Thomasin and Carol Eades, or Marina Poppa from A Firm of Poets – writers and performers who have a clear message. My messages, such as they are, are there for interpretation by the reader. It might be difficult for them to be interpreted as anything but feminist, but even so, they aren’t openly political or anything. My main aspirations as a writer are to tell interesting stories and hope readers feel something. But because I am a feminist, as well as a wife, a mother, an abuse survivor, someone with ptsd/anxiety/depression, a person on the autistic spectrum, bisexual, American-born but moved to Britain in my late teens – so many things make up our identities, they are bound to come out in various ways when we write.

Which character or poem in the pamphlet is most important to you, and why?

Well. It’s ‘Nest’, if I’m honest. A lot of the poems are important to me, but ‘Nest’ is a sweet little poem I wrote for my husband after we’d been together a few months. I knew I was in love with him, he was in love with me, we’d openly talked about where our relationship was going, but it was hard to get across just how much he’d opened my heart. My love poems for Rob – despite being the happiest love poems I’ve ever written – are nonetheless usually tinged with worry, because in dark moments (from which so much writing comes) I find it tricky to accept how good things are in that respect. But ‘Nest’ has a air of awe blended with triumph. I read it out at our wedding reception. People who don’t even care about poetry cried. That’s always a mark of success.

Outside of myth, fairytale and folklore what subjects, people or landscapes inspire you most?

Landscapes – the city, woods/forests, the sea, rivers. Music moves me as well. People in general are interesting, they don’t have to be my own family, friends, etc. I find relationships with others intriguing, sexual/romantic or otherwise, just the way people interact. History. Anything with a story, or an event, however subtle. Strange connections. I’m working on my next pamphlet, which is a lot more grounded in gritty realism, but there’s still an edge of the odd or unsettling to the poems.

What aspects of writing and influence haven’t I asked about that ‘The Density of Salt’ really wants to talk about?

Journeys, whether literal or metaphorical. The poems in The Density of Salt contain a lot of movement, and that was intentional.

TDOS coverWhere can people get hold of a copy of ‘The Density of Salt’?

It is available from Indigo Dreams Publishing:, or contact me via my Facebook page ( for instructions to purchase a signed copy.

Thank you, Kate, for talking to us about fairytale, landscape and more in your fabulous pamphlet.

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

I’m absolutely delighted to be able to share some of the wonderful work created as part of my first From Anguish to Art/ From Pain to Poetry Workshop at St Paul’s Hostel, Worcester, on July 1.

Chosen item: Green marker pen by Claire Badsey

Glow in the dark green, head of black
When you’re extremely sad there’s no coming back.
It leaves an indelible, unshakeable mark
It remains as a permanent scar upon your heart.
It leaves a stain that you cannot ever clean
Unlike the colourful glow in the dark fluorescent green.

I suppose life is like a permanent marker
We`re always searching for a permanent happy ever after.

Claire Badsey’s questions based on a bottle of perfume:

-Do you enhance a lady’s charm?
-Do you have to caress a wrist, neck & arm?
-Do you look elegant on the dressing table?
-Are you a favourite scent of Auntie Mable?
-Are you a sleek, elongated shape?
-Do you settle & nestle on the neck’s nape?
-Do you exist if nobody can smell you?

Claire Badsey’s Questions based on the Rubik cube:

-Is that shade of orange the only one you could have had?
-Do nine squares on each side make sense to you?
-How is it to be cuboid?
-Are you comfortable being mixed up?
-Do you feel like a toy or a puzzle?
-Is it puzzling to twist & turn?
-For what Rubik cube do you yearn?

P1010961Claire Badsey’s thoughts on a reindeer tea light holder

Things that get left out long after they are needed
Stuff around, has to go up the stairs
Reindeer tea light holders smoulder
Scrunched up dove pictures
Tea towels with holly on shouldn’t be there
Not now, not in July.
Let me breathe before Christmas comes again
Let me learn & grow & forget before I remember it all.


Rubik cube chosen by Adam:

It’s confusing
A Brain teaser
1 in 5 people
Solve it.
Spend hours
Twisting squares
Finding combinations.

P1010962Paul: A Gift Bag

Gift bag to me is a way of expressing
Joy & happiness
And to say thanks.
And it`s made someone’s day
By making it as a design.

Paul: The glass

The glass it’s a control on my behalf
If I want to go down that road
Or not down that road
That’s how I see the glass
Whether I want to put beer in it or not.

Paul: Questions on a Pen

-Would the doctor think I’m mad speaking to a pen?
-Is it best to be half full or half empty?
-Does the actual pen know the actual power it holds within human beings?
-Why can’t you ever find one when you want one?

Paul’s Poem:

The Pen

What I would mean “Is a pen mightier than the sword?”
A very famous saying, but what does it mean?
Is it in relation to my definition?
Is it best to be half full or half empty?
I’d leave that up to personal opinion.

P1010787croppedPhil’s response to the gift-bag question ‘What do you want to be when you get recycled?’

Answer: Artist’s paper for an exhibition
When the artist’s finished the painting & done creating someone will buy & be appreciating.

Phil’s thoughts based on a Rubik cube:

Rubik cube is very simple yet so complicated. A logical game that challenges you. Has a celebrity status that’s created celebrities because a lot of people love the Rubik cube.

Phil’s Questions based on a glass

-Are you heavy?
-How much drink can you hold?
-How did you get that shape?
-Why are you shiny?
-How are you clear?

Tom: Poem on a Balloon

Blow, blow the balloon blows
The intake of air
The stretching of rubber
The pressure of life
In a small little bubble.
Bang, there she goes
No one knows
Up into space
Vanished in a trace.
Let’s all say grace.

Nathaniel’s Thoughts on a remote control:

A remote control, it can take you to people. discarded lives & how they suffer.
It can take you on your travels to far flung places of the world from the comfort of your sofa, & I can take you under the sea to see plenty of fish without getting wet.

Tony’s Thoughts on a pen:

It’s a bit like my life at the moment
As in it’s all mixed up & not fully stable as my life at this moment
As I have a lot going on.
It’s like a PC hard drive
All full of fragments & it takes time to apply & sort out. But it all dries in the end & turns into a hard fresh surface.

Tony’s Questions based on a pen:

-What is it like being a pen?
-What do you do to pass the time?
-Do you go out much?
-Do you have partners?
-Do you work?
-Do you have a hobby/
– Do you drive?

Gerry’s poems:

The Pen

The pen, creator of happiness & misery
A tool so powerful it can sway minds & emotions.
What pain have I caused by my gift of writing?
I can only guess & imagine & wish the hurt away.
Once written, never forgotten.
We live in a world of the instant
Facebook, email & technology
Instantaneous regrets
Ah – the message has gone
Never to be undone!
Can I explain, will they understand fully
What I meant to say, what I meant to reveal?
All will be settled one day in the final score.


You pulled your heart out in your poetry
Inspired by images from the news
Of young lives blighted by the horror of Aids
Long before treatments were discovered.
You were all heart & feelings & love for everyone
With special love for children who adored you in return.
You had so much potential, born one of twelve children
Sharing shoes & taking turns to go to school.
Passing the 11+ to go on to higher education
Not able to, like so many of your generation.
Unable to fulfil your potential
You brought all your energy, love & enthusiasm
Into bringing up your children
Ensuring they had the best possible chances you could give them.
You wore yourself out & left us too soon
A void impossible to fill, a heartache too big
Unending after all these years.

Charley’s poem based on a starfish:

I’m shining up in the sky
Way up above nice & high
Twinkling like a shining star
Just like the fame of my lyrics
That have come from afar
That I’m a lyrical magician
Cus I’m a unique person with a unique personality
That rises up from tragedy.


plentyfish cover (1)“Plenty-Fish Sarah James
Full of piercing and original imagery, Sarah James’s Plenty-Fish shows a mature and erudite poet, unafraid to explore a variety of poetic forms and fascinated by the elusive quality of words. There are cross references to popular culture, science and literature here, which give a wonderfully rich texture to James’s poems. In addition she demonstrates the wonderful ability to take risks and the courage to tackle painful as well as joyous personal experiences.”

The collection can be purchased directly from Nine Arches Press (where there may be special offers available for those buying several Nine Arches Press collections), or on this website.

REVIEW NEWS – The Magnetic Diaries at Ledbury Poetry Festival

THE Magnetic Diaries is an incredible piece of work: a long poem, essentially a one woman play, a tour de force of modern times, a contemporary tragedy with one dominant, inspired yet unhappy voice…

The main character, Emma, played brilliantly by Vey Straker, was the only character on stage. All other characters were off-stage voices: from the dry tone of the doctor to the hurt, confused questions from a husband severely challenged by the serial adultery and alcoholism of his depressed wife.

This, then, is a play about depression; it’s about being self-absorbed and intensely alive at the same time. Emma is both those things…

That weird set, with those step-ladders and the plank, is a feature of Emma’s universe: her inner life which, at times, is simply everything to her. She climbs those ladders, she takes up her Magnetic Diaries and she sets them down again. There’s simply no space for anyone else, not even for her little daughter, Beth.

At times, Emma is not a likeable character. Even when magnetic pulses are passing through her head, as part of the therapy, it’s difficult to really like her. This, I think, is part of the plot. Her depression is the plot, in that we start to care, despite ourselves.

It is hard to see how anyone so beautifully alert to the everyday could ever be so depressed. A train “angles its snout through daisied fields and wounded earth”. Emma observes how “we race the shadow selves trying to pass us”…

…the streams of powerful language and the insights at her command provide much-need evidence that unique, challenging voices can still find a place in modern English poetry and theatre.”

Gary Bills-Geddes, Worcester News and Ledbury Reporter, full review of the Ledbury Poetry Festival performance here and here.

1-The Magnetic Diaries staged picPrize-winning composer Joanna Karselis’ score for the 2016 ACE-funded tour of The Magnetic Diaries can be sampled and purchased here.

The Forward Prize highly commended collection can be bought here, or from The Knives Forks And Spoons Press.

More on the tour, which goes to the Edinburgh Fringe in August, here.


1-P1010888‘How to Grow Matches’ poem published in Magma Revolution issue;
‘From His Uncoy Mistress, 2016’ accepted for Poetry Salzburg review;
Ideas from the History of Graphic Design by California Institute of the Arts certificate earned June 2016;

Exclamation Marx - COVERIn my eleventh interview for In the Booklight, I talk to Neil Laurenson about his poetry pamphlet Exclamation Marx! (Silhouette Press)…

How did the pamphlet and its title come about?

The title comes from the poem, which was first published in the ‘Rogues’ edition of Here Comes Everyone magazine. I started with rogue apostrophes and went from there. The pamphlet came about after I spotted a request for submissions from Silhouette Press. Everyone dabbling in poetry wants to be published, don’t they?

‘Exclamation Marx!’ makes me think of politics, word play and humour, which is extremely appropriate for this book. Could you say something about these three aspects and how they fit together in your poetry?

I’ll only share poems that I think are funny, and if puns are included then that’s a bonus. I don’t set out to write political poems – poetry is often my escape from politics because it makes me happy, and politics is often depressing and hard work.

I know, from hearing you read, how well your versatile and quirky humour goes down with audiences, and across a wide range of subject matter. Where do you find your inspiration?

Thank you for your kind comments! I find inspiration in things that happen in my own life (such as shrinking my wife’s clothes) and by reading stories (real ones, mostly) and the work of other poets.

Neil Laurenson photoMy next question follows from the previous. Do you write first and foremost for the page, for performance or always for both? And what are the similarities and differences between these two arenas that most came into play for you when creating the poems for ‘Exclamation Marx!’ and more generally in new work?

I write for the page mostly. I try to make mine funny and I try to be funny on stage. Sometimes I’m surprised by the ones that get the big laughs and the ones that don’t get the laughs I had hoped for. I like what Byron Vincent said: ‘I’m a stand-up poet: I’m not funny enough to be a comedian and I’m not good enough to be a poet.’

I want to ask what your thoughts are on line-ends and rhyme. I guess I’m thinking in terms of how and why they work, of using them to build anticipation, to make – and break – expectation, to give lines a dynamism, energy and pace…as these seem to be a few of the techniques you work so well in these poems. Are these effects that you craft into your poetry or are they there naturally right from the very early drafts?

Again, thank you for being so kind! Sometimes I know right from the start that I’m going to write a poem with a clearly defined rhyme structure because it will make the poem funnier. Sometimes the rhymes reveal themselves in a 2nd, 3rd or 4th draft. I’d like to try more internal rhymes, as they can add pace and I like the repetition of sounds. A local poet, Charley Barnes, is wonderful at this, and so is Gerard Manley Hopkins!

So how many exclamation marks are there in ‘Exclamation Marx!’? (I had to ask that one!) More sensibly, do you have a favourite punctuation mark when it comes to poetry? What is it and why?

I don’t know! I’m going to have to count them all now – thanks for the homework! My favourite punctuation mark is the full stop because no one wants a poem that goes on forever.

Where can people get hold of a copy of ‘Exclamation Marx!’?

Exclamation Marx - COVERFrom the lovely folk at Silhouette Press:

Thank you, Neil, for sharing these thoughts on your pamphlet and punctuation, rhyme and humour.

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

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