Sarah James

the possibilities of poetry…

Smile!
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Once upon a time there was a little girl, a little girl of about six or seven, a little girl of eleven or twelve, a little girl of 39, going on 40. Poetry pulsed through her but her heart was lined with spikes, arteries thick with icicles.

Every day, the little girl said, “When I grow up, I want to be happy.”

Every day, a wise man whispered back in the wind’s howl, the sea’s leap and crash, the sand’s sift and shift, the river’s rush and ebb, the leaves’ crackle and settle, petals’ blow and drift, loose feathers’ lift and sigh. Sometimes this whisper was so hushed that it was impossible to hear clearly. But, when she listened carefully, there was a sense of meaning.

What the wise man said, sometimes softly, sometimes sharply, was:

“First, you must learn what happiness is.

“If you cannot laugh, start by practising a smile.

“Slowly

     “– day by day –

          “curve your life to this.”

Writing Prompt

Write a poem/story inspired by the picture above/on the previous page. Smile as you do this!

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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A PDF VERSION OF THE WHOLE OF WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS/SOMETIMES I SMILE IS AVAILABLE HERE: Sometimes I smile for website 08-07-17

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.

hedgehog & festival firsts highly commended

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.

Reflections/poem biography for Oil and Water

oil & water

“the black spot is on our hands.”

Initial inspiration for this poem came not from the news, politics or environmental concerns but sheer appreciation of Earth’s beauty when viewed from above.

The opening details come from observations that I jotted down while on a plane back from Cork after I was chosen for the Coventry-Cork twin cities poets exchange. This trip to Ireland had made me think a great deal about history embedded in the land and, from the plane windows, I could imagine the world below set out in archaeological layers.

But it’s hard for me to write about landscape and nature without considering what is happening in terms of wars, pollution and environmental damage. The T.S. Eliot framework from The Waste Land, drawing on older Fisher King legend, seemed inevitable.

Around this time, I read a newspaper article on the effects of fracking in Texas. Fracking has always concerned me. Scientific figures about its safety may be cited, but statistics in politician’s hands often seem to be wielded like dangerous weapons. My common sense and instinct say that submitting the land to such immense pressure and not expecting it to have potentially drastic effects is folly. (I have seen documentaries on the possibilities of supervolcano eruptions in the Yellowstone Park and how far away the impacts of this might be felt. In a way, fracking feels like the physical, geographical equivalent of a panic attack – but on a worldwide tectonic-plate scale!)

Within these considerations, I chose to play with a shifting ‘they’ to explore the way modern western society seems to pass blame and avoid taking responsibility wherever possible. But ignoring the reality has to end somewhere, we cannot wash our hands of everything. Ultimately, it’s our world and we all have to play our part in it and the state we leave it in for future generations.

I’m also very grateful to James Byrne for his editorial suggestions when he accepted this poem for The Wolf magazine.

“The black spot is on our hands.”

“The black spot is on our hands.”

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Points

1) What contrasts are used in this poem and to what effect (history/current news, line lengths, punctuation/not…)?

2) Consider the different possibilities and restrictions offered by poetry as protest and poetry as a witnessing.

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Take a recent news story or current political situation that you’re not happy about. Are there any historical or literary precedents that brought to mind by the current state? In what way? What might happen if such a historic/literary character met his modern counterpart?

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 Endurance

“Stubborn roots draw up strength
from the land’s glacial inheritance.”

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As an adult, my gardens have never been landscaped lawns, weeded flowerbeds and neat paths. Mostly, they have been patches of land and grass where nature is allowed to do nature’s thing so long as it doesn’t impinge on foundations or safety.

When we lived in Lichfield, fox cubs used to visit. In our current Droitwich home, birds sing, grey squirrels play and blackberries thrive. We also had a one-metre tall dandelion.

I suspect this dandelion was forced to grow so high in order to get enough light for growth. As such, it became the inspiration for this poem about family heritage and nature set alongside man, both enduring.
The dandelion is now gone. The poem survived, but only after drastic pruning. I’m particularly indebted on this front to my masters portfolio tutor, Jean Sprackland, and to her suggestion that I take Ted Hughes’ ‘Thistles’ as an exemplar in expanding my initial inspiration.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

If you hadn’t just read about ‘Thistles’ as inspiration, could you have guessed this from the poem? How/why?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Choose a plant from your garden/a nearby natural area. Start by simply observing and noting down what you see. Then research about it. How does the world look from the plant’s height/perspective? If it were a person, what kind of person? What human qualities might it embody/evoke? Imagine this plant now in an unexpected setting. How did it get there and why? What would a passer-by do or think if they suddenly stumbled upon it?

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 Snatches of the Rivers and Moors

A Glance

“In stubbled grass, stags arch.
Sparked clouds held high, patches
of sky hang from their antlers.”

The Hope Bourne Poetry Competition, run by the Exmoor Society, was an annual prize for poems featuring Exmoor. Although my parents have a place in Somerset, my visits to Exmoor as an adult were mainly around the Minehead area. When I decide to enter the 2012 competition, I had no personal memories to draw upon, so I started by researching on the Exmoor Society website.

This is the resulting poem. The three-line stanzas are all based on photos I found on the Exmoor Society website. The right-aligned two-line stanzas are an emotional response to them, with the aim of creating a poem that carries myth, landscape, and the peace and wonder of stepping back to admire nature in the area.

I love reading this poem aloud, and was delighted when it won second prize in that year’s competition.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

1) Do you recognise this form as similar to the structure used in ‘From Grasmere’? Do you hear the alternate stanzas as two different voices?

2) What sense of time do you have in this poem, and why?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Pick a landscape that you know well. Think about the people you associate with it. Take two of them, or imagine two fictional characters, and use a conversation between them to evoke the landscape. If writing a poem, try left aligning one voice and right aligning the other. If writing a story, use the conversation to imply a narrative as well as evoking the setting. 

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.

Reviews

I’m very pleased to share another lovely review of How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press):

“​…Leavesley moves through a series of womanly speakers in a way that is both hard-hitting and memorable, making for a wonderful collection overall.

“The poems move from the personal and intimate – ‘Atomic’ – through to the universal – ‘Facts of/for/against survival’ – and with each stroke Leavesley contributes towards a well-rounded and cohesive image that holds the individual together as a whole…

“Leavesley’s work, while well-crafted and distinctive, is also packed with standout stanzas that stick with you long after the poems have been read through, and that is one of many reasons why her work is so (re-)readable.

This is a poignant and powerful collection overall, and it’s a fine addition to Leavesley’s growing catalogue of poetic achievements; a worthy investment for anyone looking for a good book to sink into this weekend.”

Charlotte Barnes, Mad Hatter Reviews, full review here.

Publications

My sequence From The Heart’s Diary published on Bonnie’s Crew here on 16 June 2018.

Poem Awkward Silence accepted for Marble.

Interviews and Events

Only four days now until An Unconventional History of Maidenhood, Mothering and Mistresses at Wolverhampton Artfsest, so earlier this week I had a quick chat about the event with Jason Forrest for his The Milk Bar podcast. This can be enjoyed here, with my fun ‘grilling’ about the event about 18 mins 35s through. The interview was also featured on 101.8 WCRfm, the Community Radio service for the City of Wolverhampton. (It can also be played through the embedded soundcloud track at the end of this blogpost.)

advert-collab-finalgrad2Thursday, June 28, University of Wolverhampton Artsfest – An Unconventional History of Maidenhood, Mothering and Mistresses

When: 28 June 2018 – 28 June 2018, 7.30pm

At: Tilstone, Arena Theatre, Wulfruna Street, Wolverhampton,West Midlands, WV1 1SE

Writers Katy Wareham Morris, Ruth Stacey and Sarah James draw on history, literature and art for their poems and narratives about women’s roles and experience in society – now and in the past.

Tickets: FREE – reserve your place at www.wlv.ac.uk/artsfest

Booking link: https://www.wlv.ac.uk/about-us/our-schools-and-institutes/faculty-of-arts/artsfest/registration-form/

Sunday, 22 July 2018 – V. Press showcase at this year’s Flash Fiction Festival at Trinity College, Bristol

For more information and to book tickets for the weekend-long festival, please visit the website here.

Thursday, 26 July 2018 – Motherhood, Birth and Women in Conflict – Waterstones, Leamington Spa

Waterstones are proud to introduce four critically acclaimed award-winning poets to share their versions of Motherhood through poems celebrating the strength, resilience, and both internal and external conflicts of the human spirit. These poems span honest portraits of everyday experiences of contemporary and historical mothering, the suppression and strength of British queens, and survivors of the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Featuring Antony Owen, Katy Wareham Morris, Ruth Stacey and Sarah James.

Entry free. Signed copies available on night.

Time: 6.30pm-8pm.

Venue: Waterstones, Leamington Spa, 1 Warwick St, Leamington Spa CV32 4QG

Monday, August 20 – Tales Between the Ales night at The Two Towers Brewery, Birmingham

AT: The Two Towers Brewery, 29 Shadwell Street Birmingham B4 6HB

TIME: 7 -9.30pm.

Sarah will be reading at this night of themed poetry (and fiction) celebrating all things to do with the summer: myths, legends, folklore, mischief, magic, and/or personal remembrances etc, with a twist on the subject of summer. Other readers include Colin Ward, Stephen Maguire and Ray Bradnock.

Eventbrite link https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/tales-between-the-ales-tickets-46115874823
Facebook link https://www.facebook.com/events/173541293344629??ti=ia

Reflections/poem biography for Against Candlelight
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“As marbled wax melts, flickers
of unknown lives beckon
from fire’s hypnotic chaining.”

‘Against Candlelight’ is a poem that has several particular significances for me. It is typical of my use of the first person and it is the plenty-fish poem that went through the most changes post-submission of the collection to Jane Commane at Nine Arches Press.

In poetry, there seems to be a greater tendency for readers to link the ‘I’ of a poem to the writer, where they wouldn’t make that connection between a novelist and their first-person narrator. Perhaps because I wrote short fiction before I wrote poetry, I tend to use first person in a poem as I would in a short story. That is to say, I choose first, second or third person as a technique, because of the different relationships they can build with the reader, rather than as a choice of, for example, writing in a confessional style.

Over the years, I have written first-person poems in the voices of shells, seed-fern fossils, a barmaid mermaid and a grief-stricken father, amongst others. There is something of me in all of my poetry (in first, second and third-person narration) but few of my poems are fully autobiographical or confessional.
‘Against Candlelight’ is quite typical of my first-person poems in taking something from my life and then playing with it in a fictional way. The poem, then entitled Wicks, started life as observations of a candle on my desk. The wick had burnt down to nothing, so I had to use a piece of string as my makeshift wick in order to use it. Early versions of the poem had descriptions of the candle as magma and the wick as like roots threading down through cracked rock. Alongside these, I had various abstractions drawn from my brain’s metaphorical connections.

The poem being fairly newly written when I had to submit my full manuscript to Nine Arches, it was sent in this still unfinished state. I cringe about that slightly now. But it was a poem which I knew meant something to me, even as another part of my brain knew that I hadn’t yet quite worked out what that ‘something’ was. I don’t recall exactly what Jane said, but I know it was one of the poems that most needed work, and that her feedback really focussed my mind.

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The poem already contained the hypnotic nature of flames linking to past generations that have fire-gazed before us. The root connotations led naturally to similar thoughts, but were themselves too obvious. The poem also needed to lose some abstractions, then find some specifics that would help it connect and hopefully carry more emotional resonance.

The June 2014 version of ‘Against Candlelight’, then entitled Wicks.

The June 2014 version of ‘Against Candlelight’, then entitled Wicks.

Family trees seemed to be the answer. But this is where fiction mixes with reality. I’ve never researched my family tree. My mother has, and through her I know a little of our likely Welsh, German, Belgian…roots. For me though, it’s enough to feel that general sense of ancestry behind me. I’m more interested in how history lives on through the present, and general changes in society and attitudes over the centuries than my own specific family background. But this poem was a chance to explore some of the things that might be discovered in my or anyone’s family tree. And to think of the black sheep or family skeletons which could be revealed.

The poem ‘Against Candlelight’ that I sent back to Jane Commane in my revised manuscript was very different from the original ‘Wicks’. Later, in the final proofing stages of plenty-fish, the last amendment. The poem had finished with the line: “then pinch out its heat.” But I was aware that I had used a similar phrase in a poem in The Magnetic Diaries (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press). As I was writing about an unwed mother in ‘Against Candlelight’, the fact that “burn” is very similar to “bairn” seemed to provide the sadly appropriate final word: “then pinch out its burn.” 

(‘Against Candlelight’ in its final printed form is also a poem that usually shape-shifts when I read aloud to an audience. Its ellipsis, which is hard to signal clearly off the page, is replaced by ‘perhaps’ and extra emphasis added with an ‘All’ before ‘Bones’ at the start of the sixth stanza.)

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Discussion Point

Compare the two versions of this poem. What has been done to improve it? Is there anything you would have changed differently?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Use either fire or stone as your theme. Draft a poem that is either all in very short lines (to create a wick shape) or in very long dense lines (creating a boulder shape). If you’d like more guiding structure, try to include the following words/ideas in your poem (perhaps one per stanza): crater, chaining, exist, makeshift, thief, feed.

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.

forest hinges haiku

 
First and foremost, Happy Father’s Day to all fathers out there, including the many literary fathers/male writers/editors/publishers who’ve encouraged and inspired me, and whose work I’ve admired over the years.

Although I’ve been posting quite frequently the past few months, many of my posts are scheduled some time in advance so I’ve been slow catching up with recent news. Hopefully, this post is the last of my news-in-waiting but…

ALWAYS ANOTHER TWIST – REVIEWS

ALWAYS ANOTHER TWIST-FinalI’m absolutely delighted to share some snippets from recent reviews of Always Another Twist!!!

“…Dripping with descriptions, it would be easy to mistake Leavesley’s fiction as prose poetry on occasion, such is the richness of detail that appears on near enough every page. The imagery of this world is rich which only adds further to the overall authenticity and believability of these women and their stories…

“While Kaleidoscope struck a disturbing and unresolved chord – in a good way, I stress – Always Another Twist promises something lighter, more hopeful…

“…Overlapping narratives, beautiful prose, and more questions without answers, Leavesley again does a fine job of hooking a reader by the heartstrings…This is another fine publication and it is worth grabbing yourselves a copy, whether you have read Kaleidoscope or not – Julie’s story is certainly one worth reading.”

Charlotte Barnes, Mad Hatter Reviews, full review here.

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Meanwhile over on Amazon, there’s a lovely 5-star review of Always Another Twist, ‘A novella that packs an emotional punch’ from Renaissance Woman, also touching on my prequel/companion novella, Kaleidoscope:

“…Kaleidoscope paints a brilliant portrait of a disordered mind, a mind scattered into ever-changing pieces much as a kaleidoscope fragments and reforms. The narrative skips around in time, and the reader begins to create his/her own picture of events from the fragments Leavesley gives us.

Always Another Twist works well both as a standalone, and as a companion piece…

“Sarah Leavesley brings a poetic sense of rhythm and word choice to her fiction whilst always keeping her prose realistic and believable. The dialogue flows, the psychology rings true. The images ignite: of a kiss – ‘every cell in her body shimmers with this warm glistening.’”

Renaissance Woman, Amazon review, full review here.

OTHER PUBLICATIONS

Five by Five alone
I’m very very delighted to share news of the publication of Five by Five, an Arachne Press anthology of five short fictions by five female writers: Joan Taylor-Rowan, Katy Darby, Cassandra Passarelli, Helen Morris and myself. My pieces -The Trouble with Honey, Our Skinny Dragon, Not Running, Out of the Box, The Last Red Cherry – feature strong women is a variety of scenarios, including fragile friendships, caving drama, facing up to hard truths and out of this world cli-fi. As the Arachne Press blurb puts it: “elliptical poet’s sensibility of elegant twists and restraint brought to flash fiction.”

The collection as a whole tends towards fantasy and magical realism, alongside unforgiving reality tempered with warmth. It can be ordered from Arachne Press here.

Also: Heart, a poem from my New Welsh Writing Award 2018 longlisted This < > Room, accepted for Ink, Sweat and Tears.

Listening to Seashells blue background
 

INTERVIEW

The Mad Hatter Reviews review is also accompanied by an interview with me about the novella, writing more generally and future fiction plans. It can be read here.

Meanwhile, the novella and poetry, laughter and lyricism, are just a few of the features of a recent podcast interview I did with AndyN for Spoken Label. This chat with Andy (via skype for this recording), also gives a hint of how discursive my mind can be, as well as a few insights into what it’s like running V. Press. The podcast also includes readings of some poems from How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press) and plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press). It can be enjoyed here.

EVENTS

P1080151 -performance very closeI had a great time at the Worcestershire Litfest & Fringe launch and poet laureate finals last Sunday. I don’t perform all my poems from memory but it’s always an amazing buzz when I do. So I had one performance piece from memory and one poem written for reading on and from the page. Nina Lewis’s performance as outgoing Worcestershire Poet Laureate was very moving and it was great to see Betti Moretti take the title for the coming year.

P1080125Meanwhile I’m now gearing up for a whole range of other events and reading, including Nine Arches Press’s 10th Birthday Celebrations on June 23, where I’ll be sharing three other poet’s poems for the evening’s The Nine Arches Press Birthday Mixtape. (Trying to choose poems from this is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in a long while. The photo is me going through and trying to narrow down choices, also realising that I couldn’t find four collections I wanted to go through, as well as having stored one of the signed pamphlets in a box that I can’t get to. I ended up putting favourites from each book into a hat and drawing at random, hoping others will be reading some of my other favourites.)

I’m also very pleased to be reading at the Tribute to Helen Dunmore at Ledbury Poetry Festival on June 30.

Other full readings from my own work over the next few months include:

advert-collab-finalgrad2Thursday, June 28, University of Wolverhampton Artsfest – An Unconventional History of Maidenhood, Mothering and Mistresses

When: 28 June 2018 – 28 June 2018, 7.30pm

At: Tilstone, Arena Theatre, Wulfruna Street, Wolverhampton,West Midlands, WV1 1SE

Writers Katy Wareham Morris, Ruth Stacey and Sarah James draw on history, literature and art for their poems and narratives about women’s roles and experience in society – now and in the past.

Tickets: FREE – reserve your place at www.wlv.ac.uk/artsfest

Booking link: https://www.wlv.ac.uk/about-us/our-schools-and-institutes/faculty-of-arts/artsfest/registration-form/

Sunday, 22 July 2018 – V. Press showcase at this year’s Flash Fiction Festival at Trinity College, Bristol

For more information and to book tickets for the weekend-long festival, please visit the website here.

Thursday, 26 July 2018 – Motherhood, Birth and Women in Conflict – Waterstones, Leamington Spa

Waterstones are proud to introduce four critically acclaimed award-winning poets to share their versions of Motherhood through poems celebrating the strength, resilience, and both internal and external conflicts of the human spirit. These poems span honest portraits of everyday experiences of contemporary and historical mothering, the suppression and strength of British queens, and survivors of the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Featuring Antony Owen, Katy Wareham Morris, Ruth Stacey and Sarah James.

Entry free. Signed copies available on night.

Time: 6.30pm-8pm.

Venue: Waterstones, Leamington Spa, 1 Warwick St, Leamington Spa CV32 4QG

Monday, August 20 – Tales Between the Ales night at The Two Towers Brewery, Birmingham

AT: The Two Towers Brewery, 29 Shadwell Street Birmingham B4 6HB

TIME: 7 -9.30pm.

Sarah will be reading at this night of themed poetry (and fiction) celebrating all things to do with the summer: myths, legends, folklore, mischief, magic, and/or personal remembrances etc, with a twist on the subject of summer. Other readers include Colin Ward, Stephen Maguire and Ray Bradnock.

Eventbrite link https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/tales-between-the-ales-tickets-46115874823
Facebook link https://www.facebook.com/events/173541293344629??ti=ia

Reflections/poem biography for From Grasmere
 
Grasmere acorn in air“fisticuff birdsong
cold creeps through cracks, rattles doors
ice hardens edges”

I’m not a Wordsworth scholar. What interests me about William and Dorothy Wordsworth is as much the siblingship as the literary. But, given that they both wrote – albeit in different ways – this necessarily spills into the nature of their siblingship.

I’ve read, but not scrutinised, The Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals by Dorothy Wordsworth. That she may have been behind or involved in the formation of some of William Wordsworth’s most celebrated lines haunts me.

The renga* – or my adapted version of this – seemed perfect for the poem because it is a collaborative form. The words in italics may be viewed as Dorothy’s voice and the unitalicised lines part William’s viewpoint, part outside narrator considering the relationship between them, its impact on William Wordsworth’s writing and a more generalised glance at women’s perceived roles at the time.

I deliberately chose not to incorporate actual lines from Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals into the poem because I wanted to capture the idea that there might have been passing words, conversations or jottings from Dorothy Wordsworth that fed into her brother’s work but weren’t preserved or haven’t yet been found.

* Simplifying greatly, a renga is a Japanese collaborative poem which takes the form of a haiku (traditionally explained as a stanza with lines of 5, 7, 5 syllables/sound units) followed by a stanza of two lines with 7-syllables/sound units.

grasmere autumn acorn smaller

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Points

1) Although it might seem ironic to use a Japanese form when looking at an English poet and his sister, does the chosen form help the poem achieve what it sets out to do?

2) Does this poem’s adaptations of the tradition renga enhance the poem/form in this context? How much adaptation of an existing form do you feel is acceptable and why? When is a form changed so much that it becomes a new form? How can forms developed in one language retain their whole essence when put to work in an entirely different language? (In such circumstances, is some compromise/adaptation inevitably required?)

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Take nature/daily life as your inspiration. Record your observations of an outdoors scene or your own activities in a series of condensed images, using just five or seven syllables (or words if you prefer) in each line or sentence. Either continue using this 5/7-word structure as you turn these into a poem/story, or try alternating these short lines/sentences with some that are much longer. Notice how this alters rhythm and pace. Try to use these different effects carefully to enhance the overall story/poem.

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.

‘Where to start?’ is a perennial question in literature, life…and yes, on a small scale, in this blogpost.

With the recent publication of both my poetry chapbook How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press) and my second novella Always Another Twist (Mantle Lane Press), the twists in my own writing life have been many, with news, reviews and interviews flowing fast and thick.

First up, I’m delighted to share news of my shortlisting for Worcestershire Poet Laureate 2018/2019 – along with Peter Sutton and Betti Moretti. It’s been years since I’ve felt I might be in a position to apply for the role, so I’m delighted to be in the running for this. I’ll be performing my two poems this afternoon at the launch of this year’s festival, at The Angel Centre, Worcester, when the new laureate will be announced. More info on this and other festival events here.

INTERVIEW

Fiona McVie’s extensive author interview with me here for Author Interviews features not just my recent publications, but also highlights from previous collections, writing inspiration, many people and organisations I’m grateful to and a few secrets about what makes me tick as a person as well as a writer.

P1080024. with words 2 smaller size

HOW TO GROW MATCHES REVIEW/ESSAY NEWS

I’m very pleased to share news of Amy Deakin’s review of How to Grow Matches for The Feminist Library.

“…Leavesley wields her power with the tightly controlled precision of surgeon. Each poem seems to spark and crackle with energy and not a line is out of place. I am reminded of Carol Ann Duffy’s 1999 collection The World’s Wife, as Leavesley tells and retells stories of old paintings, unknown female perspectives on political events and characters forgotten by history, continually harkening back to the fairy tales and mythology. Yet despite these old themes, this collection has a modern relevance…

How to Grow Matches is a raging flare in the dark that commands our attention and refuses to be put out.”

Amy Deakin’s full review for The Feminist Library can be found here.

My own essay/article, Can you hear her, me, us?, on some of the inspiration and motivation behind each poem in How to Grow Matches can also be found on Against The Grain Press here.
 

ALWAYS ANOTHER TWIST AUDIO

And another audio extract/taster from Always Another Twist:‘While Dan’s at the sink, Julie pulls out her diary from the kitchen drawer, the one with the letter and number for Claire’s place. Beside it, a short note in Claire’s scribbled handwriting…’


 

Copies of my pamphlet How to Grow Matches and my novella Always Another are available direct from the publishers. Alternatively, email me at lifeislikeacherrytreeATyahooDOTcom if you’d like a signed or review copy of either.

 

MICRO-REVIEWS

20180526_092410Following a fabulous bank holiday weekend in Hay, I returned with many thoughts and ideas from the How the Light Gets In festival, hennaed hands, wonder at the beautiful book art in the British Red Cross shop window and four fabulous books from The Poetry Bookshop.

I’ve also been happily dipping in and out of Deb Alma’s wonderful collection Dirty Laundry (Nine Arches Press). The poems are striking, moving and addictive. I’ve had to force myself to pause between them so as to enjoy the full flavour of each one. Summing the collection up as whole could never do justice to all the parts. The poems are full of wisdoms and warnings. Observations of human life and light, love and lust, loss and longing are found in the smallest yet startlingly encompassing details. Sounds, metaphors and scenarios are also weaved together beguilingly.

“I am a mother, a field     a house.
 Without me, windows darken,
 no-one else knows how to put on lights
 just to bring the house to life.

“I am each of the processes of laundry…”
(‘She describes herself like this’)

Re-reading consecutive poems in Dirty Laundry, I was moved by a sense of restlessness sifting and settling, then sifting again, shape-shifting in and out of something like peace. Softness is tempered by sensual secrets, sexual sorcery/saucery and strong stances that sing of surviving darker truths and violence. In ‘Seeing It Coming’, the poem’s main character, Francine, starts to use rear-view mirrors for walking, though she finds the glass distorting:

“Finally, late night blanket-stitch,
 cross-stitch tight, she fastened
 white van mirror, angel’s wings,
 into the seams of her great-coat…”

There’s so much in just this one poem that I could say a lot more about in terms of women’s experience, what Francine might want/need to see coming, and what the distorting glass shows here…for this micro-review though, I’ll simply say that the lightness of touch here, as elsewhere in the collection, heightens the thrust of the very real human emotions that power this poem. This conceit is also an ideal metaphor for what this collection does – revealing what’s often hidden in life’s blind spots. For Francine, there’s a sense of fear and the need for safety/control. But I’m also reminded that blind-spots needn’t only be about dangerous vulnerability, they can, and should, also be places where the most beautiful surprises arise – in life and in these poems. I loved this collection!


 
Another pamphlet that I’ve really enjoyed recently is Carol Rumens’ Bezdelki (The Emma Press). As a reader and person, I was moved. As a reader and writer, I was admiration-struck. For no logical reason, I ended up reading the pamphlet backwards – something that seems undeliberately apt in retrospect, as these are “Poems and Translations in Memory of Yuri Georgievich Drobyshev (Rumens’ late partner), 1932-2015”.

Reading then, and re-reading since in different orders, I have to keep stopping because the poems are so achingly beautiful. Among my favourite images: loss as “I’m two ruined overcoats” in ‘Vidua’. Also the mix of myth and modern-life, and nature’s enduring presence behind, above and beyond human absence. As in:
“Souls clatter like wings,
like netted marsh birds, blind
to everything but their sky.”
(‘King Taharqa’s Last Thoughts’).

Also in the closing poem:
“I could no more believe the sap insensible
than I believe the dead are broken branches,
and all their self-songs censored or extinguished.”
(‘Nant y Garth’)

There are so many striking lines and images in Bezdelki that I now carry with me, with both emotion and literary awe.

OTHER NEWS

I’ve not had much time for submissions lately. But I’m delighted to have a poem being produced as a ‘fauxlaroid’ photo and poem postcard by The Hedgehog Poetry Press. Things like the postcards – and plenty of inspirational prompts, interaction and writing prompts – are part of the extras offered by the Cult of the Spiny Hog subscription/club/collective membership, which I’d thoroughly recommend.

EVENTS

advert-collab-finalgrad2Thursday, June 28, University of Wolverhampton Artsfest – An Unconventional History of Maidenhood, Mothering and Mistresses

When: 28 June 2018 – 28 June 2018, 7.30pm

At: Tilstone, Arena Theatre, Wulfruna Street, Wolverhampton,West Midlands, WV1 1SE

Writers Katy Wareham Morris, Ruth Stacey and Sarah James draw on history, literature and art for their poems and narratives about women’s roles and experience in society – now and in the past.

Tickets: FREE – reserve your place at www.wlv.ac.uk/artsfest

Booking link: https://www.wlv.ac.uk/about-us/our-schools-and-institutes/faculty-of-arts/artsfest/registration-form/

Monday, August 20 – Tales Between the Ales night at The Two Towers Brewery, Birmingham

AT: The Two Towers Brewery, 29 Shadwell Street Birmingham B4 6HB

TIME: 7 -9.30pm.

I will be reading at this night of themed poetry (and fiction) celebrating all things to do with the summer: myths, legends, folklore, mischief, magic, and/or personal remembrances etc, with a twist on the subject of summer. Other readers include Colin Ward, Stephen Maguire and Ray Bradnock.

Eventbrite link https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/tales-between-the-ales-tickets-46115874823
Facebook link https://www.facebook.com/events/173541293344629??ti=ia

Friday, 12 October 2018 – Evesham Festival of Words Meet the Authors event with Sarah James, Alex Lee Davis and Richard Vaughan Davies

AT: Evesham Library

TIME: 11am-12.30pm

The Evesham Festival of Words event includes talk, readings and Q&A is open to the general public.

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