Sarah James

the possibilities of poetry…

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With the Winter Solstice fast approaching I’ve been stocking up on as much light and outdoor time as I can, squirrelling it into my indoor hibernation hours, along with some seasonal decorations.

In terms of metaphorical, writing, light, I was very delighted to find out that my poem ‘Circles and Sandcastles’ won the POSITIVE IMAGES PEACE FESTIVAL POETRY AWARDS 2018. This year’s theme was ‘safe places’ and it was great to hear the wide variety of poems inspired by this at the awards’ reading and ceremony!

This month, I’ve also had my contributor’s copy of The Creel anthology (Guillemot Press) with my eel-inspired poem ‘From Wild Sargasso Seas’.

My poem ‘Ensemble‘ was the 100th poem on Words for the Wild, my poem ‘Aerial Landscapes‘ was published on Amaryllis and my photo ‘& where, then’ selected for Burning House Press’s Facing Up to the Future issue.

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I’m super pleased to have the poetryfilm of ‘And his open mouth is an olive grove’ (first published in Synaesthesia and included in my pamphlet How to Grow Matches) on Poetry Film Live!!! This also includes some background information on the making of the poetryfilm. You can watch and read it here.

 

Finally (for now!), I’m very chuffed to have a poem selected for Carers UK’s creative writing anthology volume 5, out in December, and a prose poem/poetic flash fiction ‘Like a bird’ accepted for Unbroken Journal next April!

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy editing forthcoming V. Press publications, with 2019 looking set to offer even more titles than V. Press has before!!!

The poems and flashes lined up for LitWorld2 have been bringing me much happiness too. I love finding and pairing a photo with the beautiful words that come in. You can check those published so far online here and watch them revealed weekly for #photofriday on instagram and twitter. (Nina Lewis has also sorted an FB page for them too.) And if you haven’t sent in a submission yet (or want to send me some more), the submission details are here.

MICRO-REVIEWS

I’ve had Aquanauts (Sidekick Books) for a while. It’s one of those anthologies that I find myself picking up and dipping into again and again, each time finding something new or different to explore. The thing about Aquanauts and Sidekick Books’ publications in general is that they’re are all very beautiful, striking and totally unique. For me, this anthology is also a good example of printed poetry as way more than just words on paper; it’s poetry as an experience, an experience that unlike poetry readings/performances can be enjoyed at home (in a more introverted way) without losing any of the ‘live’ atmosphere. In fact, reading this underwater-themed anthology in this way is part of the experience – it’s like having an aquarium in my living room. Both the poems and images inside are beautiful, and varied. The book also invites interaction with prompts and spaces for the reader to add their own words/drawings, actively making them part of the creative process and each individual copy of the anthology even more unique. As it turns out, the pieces in the book are so beautiful that I’m happy just to let them be and watch/feel them be. But the invitation to swim with them is inclusive, and beguiling, like the book itself. I know this is an anthology I’ll dip into again and again!

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How to Wear Grunge (Knives Forks And Spoons Press) might not sound like the material for poetry, but it is, and not just poetry but beautiful poetry. In this pamphlet by Ruth Stacey, grunge most definitely isn’t a fashion statement or adopted look but an all-encompassing way of life. Stacey threads elements of memoir and biography, fiction and ‘fan/groupie’ style research into a beguiling narrative of questions, answers and more questions. This way of life is far from painless; it has its high points – youth, beauty, young love – but also the sharpness of addiction, rape and death. The poems call and echo to each other through use of select repetition, creating a sequence of poems that is incredibly moving, as well as rich with the mystery and appeal that celebrity musicians often generate. There’s humour too, the kind of humour that comes with hindsight and surviving. I’ve mentioned addiction already but How to Wear Grunge is as much about other addictions as it is grunge, alcohol and drugs. The characters here are also hooked on the music and personalities…on words, punctuation, maybe even poetry. How to Wear Grunge is an addictive read.

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The past few weeks it’s become harder and harder to miss that winter is coming – shorter, darker, days, sudden switches from 16 degrees Celsius to 8 degrees Celsius, and, yes, my first cycle ride of the year in full waterproofs!

But although the lack of light tends to send my body and mind towards hibernation mode, it also makes for more time at home, reading and writing, as well as making me appreciate the small burst of sunshine even more!

This at a metaphorical level as well as literal – my publication, events, reviews and reading highlights from the past month or so below.

NEW REVIEWS OF HOW TO GROW MATCHES

P1080021“…each piece finds her opening the floodgates at a precise moment, her delicately controlled releases of anger bringing about effects many miles downstream.

“…Anger often implies and involves the loss of control, but S.A. Leavesley shows that its impact is actually far greater when used with a deft touch. How to Grow Matches is an excellent pamphlet…”

Matthew Stewart, Rogue Strands, full review here

“Vivid and jarring, the 24 poems in this collection delve into the cultural constraints attached to “your office / as a woman.” While many of the pieces focus on a speaker’s growing dissatisfaction with a romantic partnership, other factors—such as family ties and consumer culture—are also probed for the way they influence contemporary women’s self-awareness…

“…although the amusing piece “All the women left” imagines the sudden absence of women at a concert as an emblem for unappreciated female power, these poems in general depict women’s unfinished struggles against unhealthy expectations.”

Jayne Marek, The Lake, the full review, including detailed analysis of some of the poems and themes can be found here

I’m chuffed too to have a new 5-star review of How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press) on Amazon from Sue Johnson, where she says:

“Intriguing and compelling – don’t miss this unusual collection!

“I found the poems captivating and intriguing. I read the collection and then went back to the beginning and read it through again. Several of the poems still resonate – particularly ‘Family Trees’, ‘Her cumuli collector’ and ‘Bowl of oranges: a still life.'”

How to Grow Matches is also now on the Poetry Book Society website/available from the PBS shop here.

PUBLICATIONS

I’m absolutely delighted to have a short feature about ‘photo-poems’ including four of my photo-poems showcased in a The High Window Supplementary Feature here.

(A more in-depth 1900-word article on this theme has also been accepted for publication in The Blue Nib in December).

This week has also seen one of my pieces of photographic art, ‘Night Mare Visions’ published by Nitrogen House in their Halloween issue. The full issue can be found here, and Night Mare Visions here.

My article ‘Pairing Poems’ on a Worcestershire UK and Worcester, Massachusetts, transatlantic call-and-response that produced new inspiration and poems was published in Poetry News, autumn issue.

I have a new essay up on Riggwelter, ‘Wardrobes, Fairy Tale Family Trees and the Power of Re-imagining‘, that looks at my writing inspiration in terms of characters. It particularly focuses on the way female characters have featured in literature in the past and how I feel as a woman writer now tackling female character portrayal, settings and relationships. There are also a few links to some character-writing resources.

I’m also delighted to have two poems ‘But’ and ‘The Tything’ accepted for Atrium in December and January – a New Year’s Day publication for my first published piece of 2019!

INTERVIEWS/WRITING LIFE

I’m delighted to have a short blogpost, ‘Elbow Room – contributors speak part two’ up at Elbow Room, celebrating all 20 issues of the journal, its live events and other projects across the past six years.

Recently, I was also interviewed for The Wombwell Rainbow. This can be viewed here and a longer adaptation of this with more links to others’ work to enjoy can also be read here.)

POETRY CAFE REFRESHED, CHELTENHAM

It was wonderful to be guest poet at Poetry Cafe Refreshed, Cheltenham earlier this month – great venue, cracking atmosphere, and lovely poems from everyone – including Sharon Larkin, who runs the event and whose review can be found below.

“A fantastic Poetry Café Refreshed at Smokey Joe’s in Cheltenham last night with guest poet Sarah Leavesley/Sarah James, whose superbly read poems were a masterclass in making every word count and earn its place. We were treated to a rich variety of multilayered poems which spoke (in my interpretation) of disarming dress, listening to the landscape, remaining relevant across generations, net etiquette, art, love, myth, lessons from home and heritage … and, our Brit obsession, the weather. So much depth and so much to enjoy in terms of imagery and wordplay.

“The open mic was of a high standard with super contributions from David Clarke, Jennie Farley, Cliff Yates, Chris Hemingway, Belinda Rimmer, Ross Turner, Gill Wyatt, Michael Newman, Annie Ellis, David Gale, Refreshed’s host Roger Turner (and I read too :-;)”

More about Poetry Café Refreshed, including pictures from the night, can be found on the event blog here, and Sharon’s blog here.

Next month’s Poetry Café Refreshed is with guest poet Pat Edwards on Wednesday, November 21, 2018, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm at Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Bennington Street, Cheltenham.

MY REVIEWS OF OTHERS’ WORK

My fairly detailed review of Tim Miller’s Bone Antler Stone (The High Window Press) is now live at Riggwelter.

MICRO-REVIEW ROUND-UP

The following don’t come close to doing full justice to the pamphlets and collections mentioned, and not just because any summing up can’t replicate actually buying, reading and experiencing the poems directly. However, hopefully these short micro-reviews will give an essence of what’s excited me about these titles.

Suzannah Evans’s Near Future and Roy McFarlane’s The Healing Next Time are very different Nine Arches Press collections yet both full of very striking, powerful and thought-provoking poems about the society we live in and might want or not want to live in looking ahead.

The Healing Next Time‘s poems of witness with a political edge are forcefully moving, making me gasp with emotion but also as a writer in admiration at what Mc Farlane gets the lines to do, their sounds, their details and their shapes on the page.

Meanwhile, Near Future is full of the fizz of humour, language and lively linguistics, including ‘ghuzzles’, ‘applecharge’, ‘writersblox’, the ‘fatberg’, roboblackbird and robobees. As these examples hopefully suggest, the collection is brimming with a wonderful blend of imaginative near-reality and the beauty of what may soon be lost, with the playful edge deepening the darker side of what such a ‘near future’ might actually mean.

Raine Geoghegan’s very atmospheric Hedgehog Poetry Press pamphlet Apple Water: Povel Panni has brought a sense of summer back to the currently mostly grey near-winter days and reminds me of so many things I personally would hate the world to ever lose. The poems are lush and warm with sounds, language and the sense of important family, nature and Romany tradition. There are moving moments and memories presented so vividly that it’s almost as if I’m there in the making of them – tasting the plum pudden, smelling the apples and earth, and discovering the feel of the Romani ‘jib’ words.

The poems in Carrie Etter’s The Weather in Normal (Seren) are powerful compressions, beautifully whittled onto the page, where the white space allows each line to unfold to way more than its literal size and force. Family, place and climate change are all set in even sharper focus by the crafted space between the lines – for thought, emotion, linking – that gives each image, each word choice, each evoked emotion that much greater impact. And that’s without even touching on the narrative arcs across the collection’s three sections giving further depth and meaning!

Sean Magnus Martin’s Flood-Junk (Against The Grain Press) is a mesmerising read, and re-read. Even after several re-readings, it’s hard to put it down and I suspect I’ve still only scratched the surface of the full beauty (and emotional impact) of each poem. This pamphlet is a world of washed-up and damaged things, evoked with vivid and atmospheric imagery. There are striking narratives, dreamlike elements and very human emotions. And for all the sharp edges, the beauty these poems create from damaged nature only cuts deeper as a reminder of what’s being lost, and at risk of even worse loss, in the world around us right now.

Jane Lovell’s Metastatic (Against The Grain Press) is another very different yet absolutely beautiful and moving pamphlet. Wonderful vivid details from nature are set alongside, and give extra edge to, a haunting sense of threat: ghosts, lost paths and landscapes folded away like closed maps. This background narrative of illness, the body’s vulnerability and loss is sharpened both by that contrast and by the way this narrative is implied, rather than directly and explicitly voiced, into and onto everything else. Intensely moving and beautiful poems.

As ever, these micro-reviews are just a sample sample from my recent reads and ‘finds’. Loads of other new titles have joined the bookshelves that I’ve also loved reading but at a time when I’ve not been able to put words together to share that enjoyment.

Last week’s National Poetry Day has marked the start of a busy month for me.

A quick round-up of features, publications, acceptances and events can be found below.

Publications

I’m thrilled to be able to share that my Rubery International Book Award shortlisted poetry chapbook How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press, 2018) is this month’s featured publication (with four sample poems) at Atrium here. A big thank you to Holly and Claire at Atrium for choosing it!!!

I also have three flash fictions featuring haunting pasts – Spiders and Oranges, Dark Pools and a Pink Beret, and A Story – published by Dodging the Rain.

My poem ‘Awkward Silence’ has been published in Marble Poetry issue 2.

I’m also absolutely delighted to have two photos accepted for Bonnie’s Crew: ‘Warning’ issue 1 of the web journal in February 2019, and ‘Adrift’ for the cover of issue 2 in April 2019.

Events

Monday, 8 October 2018 – Licensed to Rhyme – Guest Poet

Sarah will be guest poet at Licensed to Rhyme, Cafe Morso, 16, Hewell Road, Barnt Green, B45 8NE. Headliner: Brenda Read-Brown. Start time: 7.00.p.m (finish about 9.30-9.45.p.m).

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.


Wednesday, 17 October 2018 – guest poet at Poetry Cafe Refreshed, Cheltenham

The evening at Smokey Joe’s, 16 Bennington St, Cheltenham, GL50 4ED runs 7pm – 9pm, and also includes open mic slots.

LitWorld2 Launch

My new online journal for photo-poems (Pic Pocket a Poem) and 100-word flashes (Snap Up a Flash) has got off to a great start with these two pieces featuring poems by Kathy Gee and Nina Lewis.

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Journal submissions details here.

Poetry Society Worcestershire Stanza

Next year, I’ll have been stanza rep for 10 years – and I’ve finally added a page about the stanza to my website. You can find out more about our meetings and various poetry projects here.

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I’m delighted to have my photo-poetry essay ‘photo syn thesis: an eco exploration of future light earth water’ on Molly Bloom, September 2018.

My poem Small Questions of Great Height is currently featured on the Poetry on Loan website.

Forthcoming publications accepted recently: Ensemble (poem) on Words for the Wild in October, Aerial Landscapes (poem) on Amaryllis in November, His Wives (illustrated flash fiction) for Riggwelter 21 (May 2019), three poems (Woodland Walk, Bark and Wearing real mist) and an essay ‘Looking Up to the Sky: trees as inspiration, resource, lifeline’ accepted for The High Window spring/summer 2019.

LITWORLD2

More immediately, I’m looking forward to the first Pic Pocket a Poem poetry and photo collaboration going live on LitWorld2 on Friday. There are one-a-week poetry and flash photo combinations scheduled for the online journal up until Christmas, with submissions open if anyone wants to send in some poems or short (100 word maximum) flashes for this. LitWorld2 journal is here, the submission guidelines are here. The journal is on social media as LitWorld 2 on instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/litworld2/, on twitter at: https://twitter.com/LitWorld2 @LitWorld2 and on Facebook as LitWorld2 Journal here.

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STRUCTURING A PAMPHLET

Following on from various discussions with poets and writers, I’ve put together a short (eight A4 pages) guidance sheet on ‘Structuring a Pamphlet’. The advice and points to consider are based on my own experience as a writer putting together my pamphlets and collections, as well as my work as V. Press editor reading and working on other writers’ manuscripts. This guidance sheet is mainly intended for those putting together a poetry pamphlet. But some of the points on it may also be useful for flash pamphlets and full collections.

This guide is free, though a voluntary Tip-jar donation of £2 is invited.

For a pdf copy of ‘Structuring a Pamphlet’, please either email me at vpresspoetry@hotmail.com or click on the paypal Tip-jar donation button on my Editorial Services page or below.

Light on dark: photo shot in Macclesfield

Light on dark: photo shot in Macclesfield

It’s not unusual for poets and other artists to feel like outsiders, or long for a place to call home. Perhaps restlessness runs through a lot of people who don’t write too. Maybe it’s an essential element of being human. Certainly, belonging and not belonging threads through a lot of my work, in every one of my poetry collections.

I was born in Hampshire, then brought up on the south coast for ten years before moving to the Midlands/Worcestershire. Over the years, I’ve lived in various places for various amounts of time, including Oxford, Cardiff and France. Meanwhile, I’ve one parent from London, another from near Monmouth, but now living in neither of these places, and a sister in California.

The truth is that the sense of belonging comes from inside though. Mine was at least partially upturned when I was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition/disability when I was six. Diabetes, all the small adjustments to life and outlook resulting from this, and my childhood diagnosis have become part of who I am. I accept that this includes the fact that it’s probably not in my personality to ever feel truly part of a group or welded to an area, much though I love currently living in Worcestershire.

I don’t have a second home as such, literally because of the finances of that, metaphorically because I only have a nomadic or shape-shifting ‘first’ one. For me, home is where the heart is – so spread across the world. Or it’s where I lay my head – always transitory and where I happen to be at that given moment, like life itself. Two places that I have strong attachments to outside of where I live now are Wales and the North. (If I tried to summarise this as objectively and concisely as I can, Wales because of family history on my Dad’s side and a yearning for established, historical roots to tap into. The North is more about making my own new and independent connections.)

I like to think the North might be classed a kind of second home, but this while also knowing that a strong part of my link with the North is the warm acceptance I’ve felt as a stranger. It’s often said familiarity breeds contempt, but, also, that support and acceptance are part of friendship, so hopefully a given at home. What amazes me about ‘the North’ is how friendly people have been to me, how easily I feel accepted and part of things every time I’m there.

But exactly how north is north? Where does it start and where does it end? This question is one of many explored by the ongoing (6-month-long) Poem of the North, where I had a poem published last Sunday as part of the second canto. Britain hasn’t got the North Pole, North Wales isn’t North England or North Scotland. The title for my 8 2 1 (stanza-line length) poem, “On the eyelid of the north”, is taken from a Dylan Thomas’ line in ‘a Dream of Winter’. I read this poem for the first time when it was published in Manchester-based PN Review.

Outside of the arctic, north is always relative; for me, it’s also friends. When I wrote and submitted my poem “On the eyelid of the north” for the Poem of the North, celebrating fifty years of the Northern Poetry Library in Morpeth, Northumberland, my concise personal statement was:

“My north is a landscape pulsing with connections, with people I’ve met, the places I’ve stayed and the familiar haunts I return to. I never intended to give part of my heart to the north. It just happened. From my masters at Manchester Writing School, to becoming a member of North West Poets, being published by Merseyside-based Knives Forks And Spoons Press to the Wordpool Festival and having a poem animated for the Blackpool Illuminations. I’ve friends born in the north and friends who’ve moved to the north. Through them, it feels like a second home.”

I could have added so much more (as this post shows)! Other specific examples include the friendship of Cheshire-based poet Angela Topping, who made me welcome in her home while we were working on our commissioned Mother’s Milk Books’ poetry duet Hearth. My commission for artist Adinda van t’ Klooster’s important StillBorn project. As publisher and editor at V. Press, I’m also very proud to have some great titles on our list by northern writers. And I’m delighted to have poems published by PN Review, The Butcher’s Dog, Stand and other northern-based journals, to have been reviewed in The North, to have read in Carol Ann Duffy and Friends Series 9 at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, as well as various Liverpool and Merseyside readings, to have been interviewed by and done podcasts with Manchester-based poet Andy N… I’ve found the northern literary scene alive, thriving and exciting. And this is without mentioning non-writing-related friends and family in the North! I could go on, but instead I’ll stop here and hope people will go and enjoy the North for themselves, in person and through the Poem of the North.

Essential symbiosis: photo shot in Edinburgh

Essential symbiosis: photo shot in Edinburgh

GUARDIAN POEM OF THE WEEK

I’m delighted to start this blog with my big news that’His Secret Daughter’ from How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press) was Guardian Poem of the Week on July 30. Carol Rumens’ wonderful, detailed consideration of the poem can be found here. This has been a real poetry highlight for me at a personal level for so many reasons!!!

DOUBLE DELIGHT REVIEW NEWS

I’m really chuffed to also be able to share review news for both my poetry pamphlet How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press) and my short novella Always Another Twist (Mantle Lane Press).

How to Grow Matches front coverAlex Josephy’s review of How to Grow Matches for London Grip is so thoughtful, informed and concisely comprehensive that I could easily quote the whole thing. I’ve picked out a few paragraphs below, but please do go enjoy the review (other reviews and poetry) in full on London Grip.

“I admire the sure-footedness of S.A. Leavesley’s writing, her attention to injustices against women, and her delicate use of the imagination to outwit, to ridicule, to leap forward. How to grow matches is an exciting addition to the published work of this accomplished poet.

“In these poems women appear in many different guises – as dolls, as mannequins (with a clever erasure of Plath’s poem ‘The Munich Mannequins’), as matriarchs, and as characters in stories, paintings and a photo-shoot. Their visibility is problematic; Leavesley’s women are conscious of being at times observed too closely, at other times invisible…

“For me, Leavesley has an irresistable way with imagery…

“This is a collection for our times. The pared-back elegance of the poems is as powerful as the writer’s commitment; while staying well clear of preaching, Leavesley conveys both the limitations and humiliations women continue to face, and the many faces of resistance…”

Alex Josephy, London Grip, full review here.

ALWAYS ANOTHER TWIST-Final I’m really delighted to share news of a lovely podcast review of my short novella Always Another Twist (Mantle Lane Press) on Reading in Bed with Andy N & Amanda Steel. It’s hard to pick highlights from any review, especially a podcast, but particular soundbitable snippets include Andy Nicholson’s “A very clever little book” and “It really was a great thing to read, I recommend it completely.”

For the full flavour though, Andy and Amanda’s full discussion and review of this and other ‘reads in bed’ can be heard here, with Always Another Twist in part one (around 3-9 mins through).

My big thanks to Carol Rumens, the Guardian, Alex Josephy, London Grip (and editor Michael Batholomew-Biggs), Andy Nicholson and Amanda Steel for these reviews.

Nature Caring & SharingFEATURES

My Nature Caring & Sharing #100kindsofhappy article published in National Association of Writers in Education magazine, with one of the photo-poems on the cover, July 2018. Article topics include: journalling in the internet age, nature writing, social medial sharing and audience reach.)

Every year has new highs as well as a good share of lows. For me, both are great reminders not to forget life’s overall path as well as the individual twists and curves in the writing journey. This is very much the theme of my article up on the The Literary Consultancy blog this month. Always Another Twist – Journeys, Outlooks & Curves in the Path features some of my personal surprises along the way to becoming a published writer, particularly when it comes to my novellas and poetry-play.

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‘False Eyes & The Myopic of Me’ – this condensed extract from my memoir/essay collection ‘This < > Room’, which was longlisted in the New Welsh Writing Awards 2017 and 2018, published on Riggwelter here.

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NEW PHOTO-POEM/FLASH JOURNAL

I love new projects, collaboration and creativity. All the more so when I can combine the three together. I’m very excited to have tentatively started a new online photo-poem/flash journal Pic Pocket a Poem. The journal is on social media as LitWorld 2 on instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/litworld2/ and twitter at: https://twitter.com/LitWorld2 @LitWorld2

Information on how to submit short poems/flashes to Pic Pocket a Poem can be found here.

POEMS

‘A Planet Where’ published in the Words for the Wild anthology in July 2018.

‘Heart’ (from my unpublished ‘This < > Room’ longlisted in the New Welsh Writing Awards 2018) published on Ink, Sweat & Tears here.

VINDICATION

I’m also very pleased to have a selection of poems in Vindication – a six-poet anthology from Arachne Press as one of the press’s three #WomenVote100 Anthologies: a showcase for poets Arachne has previously published in anthologies, giving an opportunity to explore their writing in greater depth. Featuring Elinor Brooks, Jill Sharp, Sarah Lawson, Anne Macauley and Adrienne Silcock, as well as myself, these are poems made of myth and family, origins and anger, journeys and home: witty, clever, beautiful and sometimes harsh. Whilst not directly reflecting on the experience of women fighting for the vote, the concerns of women are foremost and are passionately addressed.

Vindication isn’t in shops until September 27, but it is available on the Arachne Press website here now.

MY REVIEWING

My latest review for Riggwelter – Jessica Mookherjee’s Joy Ride – is now online here.

MICROREVIEW

Flambe front coverThe Becoming of Lady Flambé (Indigo Dreams Publishing) by Holly Magill is a gripping poetry pamphlet, infused with an addictive sense of mystery as Magill gradually reveals many things hidden below the surface in this spectacular circus world. Individually striking poems are combined with a background narrative (and characters reappearing in different poems) to create a sum that is greater than its parts. But it’s not just the narrative that makes this a pamphlet that I wanted to read in one go. Both atmosphere and characters are also very beguiling. Magill’s vibrant characters are simultaneously quirky and very empathetically human, while even the humour is accompanied by hints of darkness and/or danger.

The poems are moving and funny, often simultaneously: ‘Avoid reversing elephants’ and ‘Multi-tasking is easy – I can juggle and cry | at the same time, even in the dark’ in ‘Things I learn’ (p.13). Both aspects are given an extra edge by the conversational tone and colloquial language in many of the poems. As reader, I’m brought closer to and made part of this world by a sense of being spoken to as if a confidante, the poems’ truths whispered in my ear like secrets. The monologue nature of some pieces feels like a comfortable or voluntary intimacy – as if the characters are speaking to their own reflection in the mirror or one of the circus animals, perhaps.

I also found the pamphlet a very thought-provoking read. The mesmerising power of flames and the image of a circus tent collapsing are two details that will stay with me. Also, a recognition that of all animals (circus or otherwise) in this world, sometimes humans are the strangest, family maybe even more so. More widely, it also makes me question the prejudgements that society makes, how we value people and how an implicit worth/lack of worth shapes our personalities and the lives we lead.

In Tales From Prickly End (The Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2018), Melissa Fu writes a lovely article about her experience of living with the poems in How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press).

With Melissa’s kind permission, her thoughts on some of these poems are reproduced here, along with Sarah’s commentary on them. Hopefully, together these will create a new dialogue – a combined reader and writer conversation with the poems that opens up inspirational, interpretational and other read/writer possibilities.

Copies of the poems discussed are included here, but it should be noted that where this in the form of a poetryfilm, Melissa’s actual ‘conversation’ is with the written versions in the pamphlet.

‘How to grow matches’

Melissa: “Invisibility and appearances. I loved this powerful stanza: ‘Note how easily the wood splits / after years of hidden anger./ A felled forest at your feet,/ and still the pile grows!’ It is the accumulation of so many aggressions, ‘each jibe or slight’, that makes for a tinderbox. Here, the ‘hip-sways and lip expressions/condoned for your office/as a woman’ contrast the appearance of smooth acceptability with a fire and matches ready to ignite and explode. The power of accumulated rage may be invisible, but that just makes it all the more deadly.”

Sarah: “The pamphlet’s title poem was first published in the ‘revolution’ themed edition of Magma magazine and is written in an imaginary female revolutionary leader’s voice. It imagines how, matchstick by lit matchstick, years of sexual bias in the work-place might build up to a fiery backlash. (A bit like the #metoo campaign, though this poem was written before that, and workplace gender politics feels a perpetual concern.)

‘Her cumuli collector’

Melissa: “Relationship mismatch. The opening metaphor of clouds as washed shadows is really compelling. I also liked the idea of sucking out the darkness within and appreciate how the metaphor continues to develop through the poem. Initially, the second stanza may appear to undermine these more striking metaphors with imagery of clouds as soap suds, candyfloss, sheep and polar bears, but it takes a curious turn by ending with mention of dark angels. Within the context of the full poem, the second stanza serves as engine and contrast, showing how the couple’s love progresses from the startling beginnings of love (opening metaphor) to something that appears conventional (second stanza) to an aftermath characterised by a darkness within and a cold empty clarity without. By the end of the poem, a sense of a shared external weather has shifted to unseen inner storms once the ‘he’ is absent and the ‘she’ is left with ‘non-stop inside her: heavy, / pounding — the rain of dark angels.’”

Sarah: “‘Her cumuli collector’ recycles age-old romantic notions of ‘a knight in shining armour’, though this particular modern myth is my own creation. The voice of first love and fairy-tale happy endings gives extra power to the emotions, and drama. Because so much becomes pinned on this first relationship, its failure is heart-breaking – as failed love or idolisation usually is. Behind this story though, the fact that this young woman gives control of her moods and happiness to another person rather than taking charge of them herself. If carried past young love into adult life and relationships, it might become a dangerously unshakeable core belief, undermining personal self-esteem.”

‘All the women left’

This poem can be read on Atrium here.

Melissa: “Invisibility as agency, bestowing or removing one’s presence as a manifestation of power. ‘All the women left’ imagines what would happen if all the female audience members and musicians stood up and left during the interval of a packed symphony concert. Invisibility is often associated with silence or powerlessness, but this poem posits one of the most powerful kinds of invisibility I can imagine. Via the squeaks and absences that are revealed as upturned ‘Velveteened seats sprang back/ like the thud of plush dominoes,’ we begin to fathom the gap-toothed emptiness that would result if all the women left.”

Sarah: “‘All the women left’ was written after a visit to Birmingham Symphony Hall, not for a concert, simply passing through the building. At the same time, I was thinking about apocalypses and women-only tribes. The poem title came to me first, wondering what if there were only women left in the world… But I liked that this also had another potential meaning: what if, as a protest, all the women left an event? Essentially, this is a poem imagining the latter happened for a concert. A potential added irony with this scenario is that, if all the women left, half the audience might leave the concert but if all the female musicians left would that only leave half the performers?”

matryoshka 3 for Rachel P1010430 with poem quote version 3 no web link‘Facts of/for/against survival’

This poem can be found on International Times here or in an article about writer voices (‘Voices – Varied, Various and Vocal’) on Created to Read here.

Melissa: “This poem is like a 3-sided pyramid on which the future rests and the weight of the poem shifts depending on which side we slide down. The sides are the prepositions ‘of’ or ‘for’ or ‘against’. By closing with the image of the mother and son, which expands to ‘thousands of mothers/across the world are holding their child’s hand’ we return again to the theme of inheritance and an admonishment to ‘take care of their roots.’ But the picture is complicated by the final three words ‘above all others’. Taking care is a fact of and for survival. But if we do so for only our roots, ‘above all others’ it becomes a fact against survival. This poem, like survival, is finely balanced with hope and despair.”

Sarah: “‘Facts of/for/against survival’ is a mixture of newspaper headlines, unusual facts and a personal moment between a mother and son which hopefully brings together the many disparate threads by hinting at one commonality, in the lines Melissa picks up on. At one level, love and caring for family and children is something that most of us have in common regardless of skin-colour, country, background. The potential problem though with prioritising particular people and places – even friends, family and home – is that this may mean neglecting others outside those groups/areas. Arguably, it’s at the core of many race, religious and territorial wars. As with the poem that opens the pamphlet, this final pamphlet poem is my recognition of the part all women play as individuals not just in defining how women are regarded in the world but the direction of society overall.”

THANK YOU TO MELISSA FOR THIS CONVERSATION ON LIVING WITH THESE POEMS.

Melissa Fu’s website: https://www.spillingtheink.com/
Against The Grain Press website: https://againstthegrainpoetrypress.wordpress.com/
The Hedgehog Poetry Press website: https://www.hedgehogpress.co.uk/
How to Grow Matches on this website: http://www.sarah-james.co.uk/?page_id=9322

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

‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ was my year-long blog project attempt sharing the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection plenty-fish, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. Meanwhile, on instagram I shared a year’s worth of photos with a quote from the poems in ‘plenty-fish’. These can be enjoyed below.

instagram of fences 26 July 2017

instagram journey of the fruit 2 aug 2017

instagram still the apple 13 aug 2017

instagram for her a different skin 16 aug 2017

instagram 23 aug 2017 lets remember

instagram 30 aug 2017 cutting to the bone

instagram 6 sept 2017 the je ne sais quoi of itinstagram 13 sept 2017 i bite down on the memory

instagram 20 sept 2017 elliptic

instagram 27 sept 2017 walking under water

instagram 4 oct 2017 cactus bllgown

instagram 11 oct 2017 throughrose-tintedglasses

instagram 18 oct 2017 on the brink of adultery

instagram 25 oct 2017 small deceptions

instagram 1 nov 2017 This Holy Shrine

instagram 8 nov 2017 wanting

instagram 15 nov 2017 nomadic

instagram 22 nov 2017 all the flowers

instagram 29 nov 2017 wired flesh

instagram 6 dec 2017 evolved

instagram 13 dec 2017 imprints

instagram 20 dec 2017 coffee break

instagram 27 dec 2017 bagging up

instagram 3 jane 2018 against the vacuum

instagram 10 jan 2018 and when

instagram 17 jan 2017 home

instagram 24 jan 2018 losing faith

instagram 31 jan 2018 past acrificial

instagram 7 feb 2018 transplanted

instagram 14 feb 2018 some prayer

instagram 21 feb 2018 meditation on with for

instagram 28 feb 2018 white

instagram 7 march 2018 re composition

instagram 14 march 2018 in the ointment

instagram 21 march 2018 his wife

instagram 28 march 2018 shells

instagram 4 april 2018 van goghs other mistress

instagram 11 april 2018 pied

instagramm 18 april 2018 through glass

instagram 25 april 2018 museum offering

instagram 2 may 2018 the hummingbord case

instagram 9 may 2018 bewitching

instagram 16 may 2018 looking back

instagram 23 may 2018 the philosophers magnum opus

instagram 30 may 2018 raindrop on a red leaf

instagram 6 june 2018 too modest

instagram 13 june 2018 from grasmere

instagram 20 june 2018 against candlelight

instagram 27 june 2018 snatches

instagram 4 july 2018 endurance

instagram 11 july 2018 oil & water

instagram 18 july 2018 smile

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ was my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’, 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.
1-The Emptiness of Uncut Diamond-001 panormaicsometimes I smile

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

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.

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

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!

IMG_3117-003 Our Time haiku 2 for instagram

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).

IMG_3111 musuem of the moon at timber festival july 2018 scaled for instagram
IMG_3108 horizontal for instagram
IMG_3117-003 Our Time haiku 5

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.

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