Sarah James

the possibilities of poetry…

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.

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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.

Reflections/poem biography for Too Modest

“A rhythm river trimmed
                        with reeds,
             silver fish & light slivers”

Essential symbiosis 1024pixels
 
Lorine Niedecker
                     was a great
             American poet

Paring back
                     language
to its skeleton

                    This spare frame
graced with
                    natural music

Please read her
                    & feel yourself
reeled in

by each line

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

How spare can a poem get before it is too spare? Why? What functions might the white space around the words fulfil – in this poem and in general?

Inspiration/ Writing Prompt

Choose a writer that you really admire. Can you create a poem or story that reflects this admiration – either by directly drawing on their life and work, or by using a technique, theme or style that is characteristic of their writing? Alternatively, imagine you’re in a room with them. What would you talk about? You could present this piece in a faux-interview style or using conversation only.

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.

mm-coverIn my latest interview for In the Booklight, I talk to Liz Kershaw about her novella The Music Maker from Mantle Lane Press…

Where did the inspiration for the characters and plotline of ‘The Music Maker’ come from?

I wanted The Music Maker to be have a Gothic feel and placing it within that specific genre and tradition influenced the setting. I’m not sure how the concept of Kai and his malign intentions came about – I was playing with ideas around the Pied Piper when the Elgar piece came to me, and after the odd sort of alchemy that sometimes happens, everything fused.

Can you tell us a little about the writing process, and both the trickiest and most fun parts of writing ‘The Music Maker’?

The worst part of the process by far (apart from the final editing stages) was trying to get the prologue right – I must have written about fifteen versions. The most fun part was the first ‘let’s get it all down fast’ stage, when I was completely immersed in the world of the story.

Whom should we be most afraid of – Kai, the first person narrator or Stella in the novella, or ourselves? And why?

Kai is a catalyst for the release of the dark side of human nature, and although the narrator has her peculiarities, she has managed to live an ordinary life until he arrives to disrupt it. I like the idea of ambivalence: the reader does not have to buy in to Kai’s ‘otherness’ to believe in the effect such a man might have on two repressed and impressionable women. So perhaps, the answer is ourselves as humans, and what we might be capable of.

Photo by Paul Lack

Photo by Paul Lack

Who or what would you say is the strongest influence in/on your life and writing? And where and how can this be found in the novella?

I have always been drawn to mysteries and characters that leave questions and resonance after the book is closed: Cathy’s ghost in Wuthering Heights, for example, or Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Sarah Waters does this brilliantly as well, especially in Affinity. Reading has been one of the biggest influences and joys in my life from the moment I could decode words and turn them into pictures, and an early desire to write my own stories grew from that.

mm-coverWhat haven’t I asked that the novella would absolutely insist that I should question? And what is the answer?

Whether the narrator of The Music Maker is unreliable and whether we should question whether any narrator can be said to be ‘reliable’. The unreliable narrator is a well-known literary conceit, but as we are all narrators of our own stories in life and fiction, who can say whether there is ever a truly objective truth?

Where can people get hold of a copy of ‘The Music Maker’?

From Mantle Lane Press https://www.mantlelanepress.co.uk/The_Music_Maker/p1998877_18580281.aspx

Or Amazon
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Music-Maker-Mantle-Pocket-Book/dp/1999841611/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1526593008&sr=8-1&keywords=liz+kershaw+the+music+maker

Thank you, Liz, for these insights into ‘The Music Maker’, and the themes that run through it.

To read more In the Booklight interviews with authors, please click on this link. My review of this addictively mysterious novella can also be found on the Amazon link above.

Reflections/poem biography for Raindrop on a Red Leaf

P1050378 raindrop on red leaf smaller“His hand cupping a spider, wrist trembling;
a thin branch in the wind,”

The main story behind my plenty-fish poem ‘Raindrop on a Red Leaf’ starts with a photo of such a raindrop on a leaf. I took this picture on a walk across a local park in September 2011.

But this 10-line poem has an unwritten epilogue that starts much further back in time. This pre-poem story has two angles. The first is the literary influence of Jacques Prévert, whose work first got me hooked on poetry. (This influence also features more explicitly in my plenty-fish poem ‘The je ne sais quoi of it’.) That Prévert was a screenwriter as well as a poet can be seen in his poems’ imagery.

The second influence is part-literary – the “What is this life if, full of care, |We have no time to stand and stare?” of William Henry Davies’ ‘Leisure’, and William Blake’s “To see a World in a Grain of Sand…” (‘Auguries of Innocence’). But it is also part-mindfulness and the notion of living in the moment as a way of dealing with, or reacting against, the otherwise generally fast pace of modern society. Writing the poem, I set out to capture snapshots of some of those moments in life that cause an inner gasp and leave a lasting mark in the memory.

The resulting poem was one of three chosen, along with corresponding spectrogram (sound wave-forms) art that I created from their lines, to be displayed on Worcestershire buses as a Worcestershire Arts Partnership/CBS Outdoors/First Capital Connect commission in June-Aug 2013.

The poem, based on emotionally moving moments, and physically moving when on the buses, also has another element of movement. It is one of a few poems in plenty-fish where lines move, or shape-shift, according to their medium.

‘Raindrop on a Red Leaf’ concludes with a couplet circling back to the title image metaphorically. On the page, in the collection, the final line is: “on the wet leaves of two tongues.” But, read aloud without the words on the page visible, “tongues” is easily misheard as “tongs” or “tonnes”. Fortunately, the poem is free verse and not welded to a fixed metre. So, in readings, I often add an extra two-syllable word right at the end, to help clarify on the sound front and also make explicit what lies between the lines of the page version: “on the wet leaves of two tongues, kissing.”


Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Points

1) How closely does the central image in each couplet link to the other couplet’s images/moments? Does the poem leave enough space for the reader to make their own connections?

2) What relationship does the title ‘Raindrop on a Red Leaf’ have with the poem’s contents? Is a connection between the two clear when you first start reading? If not, when does some linking/interpretation become possible? And does it take on new meaning(s) by the end of the poem?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Imagine a photo album of five important snapshots from your/a fictional character’s life. Can you use these to create a narrative, or a bigger snapshot of your/their personality? Try to use either the final image or the title alone to hint at the most important snapshot or a way of reading all these snapshots.

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.

CHARITY LIVE LIT & LAUNCHES

IMG_2231 cropped

Forget the royal wedding or football on May 19, I was pleased to celebrate live lit and raise funds for St Paul’s Hostel, while launching my latest novella Always Another Twist and poetry pamphlet How to Grow Matches.

The night started with Sylv Coultier reading a Spanish translation of the pamphlet opening poem Matryoshka Portrait. This was followed by an intermingling of poems and a novella extract from me, as well as poems from fabulous guest poets Holly Magill and Jenny Hope, and Liz Kershaw reading from her newly launched novella The Music Maker.

Charley Barnes MCed the evening, while Worcestershire Poet Laureate Nina Lewis judged the prize open mic section, with a most majestic poem prize awarded by Paul at Park’s Cafe. I have to admit that I didn’t tell Nina I thought she might have the hardest job of the night…and she did! The open mic was amazing with stunning sets from everyone, including some the talented creative group at St Paul’s Hostel. It was an amazing, amazing night – and a big thank you to everyone who came along and made it so!!!

(from left to right) Charley Barnes, Nina Lewis, Jenny Hope, Liz Kershaw, Holly Magill.

(from left to right) Charley Barnes, Nina Lewis, Jenny Hope, Liz Kershaw, Holly Magill.

REVIEWING

Over the past few weeks I’m delighted to have reviewed:

losing interest in the sound of petrichor by Kate Garrett over on Riggwelter;

Yuki Means Happiness by Alison Jean Lester over on Goodreads;

The Music Maker by Liz Kershaw over on Amazon.

ALWAYS ANOTHER TWIST – audio & reviews

Extract 2: ‘He called, Julie smiles, the gorgeous guy from the library called her…’

Extract 3: ‘“It can’t be!” Julie closes her eyes, then looks again at the pregnancy strip. A blue line. She shakes the white plastic, the line is still there…’

 
Review:

ALWAYS ANOTHER TWIST-Final“…Initially chapters follow the nursery rhyme “Ten Green Bottles” with each chapter presenting a new break, a new problem for Julie to solve. Some are simple: you lose a job, find another. Others more complex…The bottles start increasing when Julie discovers her pregnancy, implying what is broken can be rebuilt, but a rebuilt bottle carries its fault line…

“At the heart of the story is how we allow the views of others to distort the view we have of ourselves. This can be positive when we question decisions and check we’re on the right path. However, it can be negative when we prioritise how our decisions affect others and change them based on unchecked information which may be false.

“Julie is easy to sympathise with: the independent sister prepared to take responsibility and do the right thing, even at personal cost…”

Emma Lee, full review here.

HIPPOCRATES PRIZE

I was delighted to hear that my poem ‘At breaking point’ has won Second Prize in the 2018 FPM Hippocrates Open awards for Poetry and Medicine (generously supported by the UK medical society the Fellowship of Postgraduate Medicine).

My poem ‘Postpartum’ was also commended in the competition and both poems published in the The 2018 Hippocrates Prize Anthology. The anthology can be purchased here, more on the anthology poets and poems here, and the prize announcement here.

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V PRESS SABOTEUR NEWS

Lots of fabulous news from the Saboteur Awards this year – check out my V. Press blogpost with all the great V. Press related news here.

OTHER PUBLICATIONS

IMG_0004-002 skimming petals 1 smaller size
I’m delighted to have:

The Life of a Fish published in The Dark Horse issue 39 in May 2018;
 
And the words disappear and Skimming Petals published in A Tale of Two Cities Special Edition Contour WPL Magazine Issue 3. (The poems are part of a twin city project linking poets in Worcestershire, UK, with poets from Worcester, massacusetts, USA. I was delighted to work with Susan Roney-O’Brien, with my poem ‘And the words disappear’ inspiring her ‘We loose our thoughts into the space between us, then wait’, and her ‘Landscape’ inspiring my ‘Skimming Petals’;
 
From The Heart’s Diary (poetry sequence) accepted for publication on Bonnie’s Crew on June 16;
 
The Grape-Face (flash) accepted for publication on Spelk on July 13;
 
From Wild Sargasso Seas accepted for Guillemot Press‘s #eel suitcase anthology. (I’m particularly pleased about this because the poem feels the closest I’ve ever come to being able to incorporate experimental elements with a more mainstream style poem in a way that hopefully allows each to also work independently, so that those readers who only enjoy one of these approaches can enjoy the poem without the other more experimental/mainstream elements distracting or interfering with that enjoyment.)

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NEW 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.

Reflections/poem biography for The Philosopher’s Magnum Opus
Magnum opus smaller
“Strangely, no real effort is required,
only time, and the sea’s tidal wisdom.”

Alchemy is a mysterious, ancient philosophical and protoscientific tradition to draw upon. It was also the prompt for this poem, written specifically for the art and poetry anthology Drifting Down the Lane.

In alchemy, the magnum opus is a term for the transformational process of changing raw materials into the philosopher’s stone or the efforts to discover this stone. The philosopher’s stone itself is a legendary alchemical substance capable of turning base metals into gold.

Translated as ‘the great work’, magnum opus has also been applied metaphorically to artists’ greatest achievements. The philosopher’s stone too has many other metaphorical meanings and values, including symbolising perfection and enlightenment.

But perhaps true pearls of wisdom don’t require so much effort. Maybe awareness of our effects on others and using words with care is the real philosopher’s stone.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

How well do the conversational snippets fit into this poem? Do you think this is helped or made harder by the poem’s rhythm and couplet structure?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Where might you/a fictional character find a modern-day philosopher’s stone? What would you/they use it to transform and why? What unexpected effects might this have?

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 Looking Back In Fragments

line 48 pic 48
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

“The echo of his whispers       fills your mind with snow;
a blizzard of thoughts                        swirled
to red-edged numbness.”

Now one of the most experimental pieces in the collection, this was once just a straightforward, mainstream, free-verse poem combining landscape and lost love, based in part on the photos on the photos below. As such, there were many lines and images that I was attached to, but nothing to lift it above this.

Breaking the poem into different fragments made it far more interesting for me. By combining it with the footnote poem, ‘not(e) a poetics of glass/water’, both pieces took on more layers, and became a fragmented narrative with plenty of space, I hope, for the reader’s imagination to wonder and play.

Reflections/poem biography for not(e) a poetics of glass/water

looking back

“6. As water trickles through rock.”

Form-wise, this was influenced by reading the footnote poems in Kristina Marie Darling’s Petrarchan. Originally, my main page was blank above the footnote lines, until I realised that I could add more depth and layers by attaching it to a relevant different poem.

Word play, myth and slights of thought loosely based around water and glass came together to create the somewhat disjointed contents. The resultant piece is close to being an ars poetica or treatise of a poet’s practice and intentions. The observations and ideas contained in the footnotes are meant to have some relevance of their own, to reflect and refract the linked poem and to shed some slanted light on other poems in the collection.

The thoughts are not just about art or living life as an artist though, they are also about human nature more generally. We all have habits, for example. When these work well, they can be a thing of ease, efficiency and speed. But sometimes they can be a short-cut to cliché, damaging thoughts/behaviour and a rut that’s hard to escape.

Some things in life are clear and easy to understand logically, others less so. But where there is no clear semantic or scientific meaning, there may still be understanding through the senses and emotions. Or vice versa, when things have a logical clarity that is at odds with emotional or instinctive responses.

flashes2
Electric Questions - lit version smaller
Discussion Point

What are your underlying beliefs as reader and/or writer about what a good poem should be or do?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Choose a theme that appeals to you. Try writing a poem/story for this theme that deliberately omits great chunks of narrative/detail that you would normally include. Consider using a numbered list or bullet points to do this. (Rather than starting from scratch, another way to approach this might be to apply the technique to a draft version of an unfinished poem/story.)

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 Bewitching

“The porch collects birch twigs, cats
and a spellbinding past…”
Night lines 2smaller“the giant stride of our electric men,
their wired arms flying heat and light
into these cold, dark landscapes.”

Another not strictly autobiographical poem, ‘Bewitching’ was inspired by staying with family in the grounds of Muncaster Castle at Halloween. The crucifix lodge is real but the specific details of cats and mushrooms added to strengthen the poem’s overall thrust.

For me, this is a poem not about magic but perspective. There is the way that unfamiliar countryside traditions might seem strange to outsiders, to the point of herbal cures being labelled magic or sorcery. By contrast, isn’t electricity, which we all take now as an everyday fact, just as magical in its own way? And what about all the phenomena that science and logic still can’t explain?

More about electricity as inspiration and imagery can be found in my Wellcome Collection commisioned feature Creative Energy: how electromagnetic therapy inspired me.

flashes2Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

How necessary is the footnote in this poem? What are the potential benefits and disadvantages of footnotes in general? When would or wouldn’t you use them?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

1) What does your/a fictional character’s porch collect? Are there any secrets hidden in the dark corners, beneath the roof tiles or behind cobwebs?

2) Choose a modern invention that has become so much of your/a fictional character’s everyday that you/they take it for granted. What happens if this lost? And if it had never been invented at all? How would life change? How do you/they adapt? What might be invented instead?

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 The Hummingbird Case

hummingbirdsmaller“This case shimmers with lives
spun from sun, textured
with oceans, forests, skies…”

This poem was inspired by an exhibit at the Natural History Museum in London. I was torn between awe at how beautiful these birds are and horror at them being killed and stuffed simply for decoration.
Mostly, we live in a different world now, though it would be a mistake to think that animals aren’t still slaughtered in some areas of world simply for greed and people’s need to own something beautiful.

To do nothing seems wrong, yet it isn’t always easy to know how to change things. Words are my best tool, though these are nothing without people on the ground actively working to make a difference.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

This poem was published in a Magma issue considering ‘beauty’. What other abstract qualities does this poem illustrate or make you think about? How and why?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Visit a museum – for real or online. Pick an exhibit. Describe it and why you chose it using as many senses as possible. Imagine how it ended up there, the stories it might tell and what wisdoms it might reveal?

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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