Monday, 14 October 2019

Some thoughts on loss

It's always fascinating to me how one thing can spark off another - how you read one thing and it makes you think of another and then that leads to another and so on...

In the latest issue of Poetry Review there's an article by Rebecca Goss which tells her story of how the loss of her baby daughter led to her poetry collection and how the work itself and her performing the poetry affected her grieving process. It's a moving and striking account. It made me think about my own poetry, and also about the effect of making your poetry public.

A great deal of what I write is about loss - the loss of people I've loved, the loss of relationships, health, the life I used to have, the anticipation of loss, the inevitability of it. It's a common enough theme for poets, but handled in so many different ways - and with different effects. When the poem is no longer just in front of you, but out in the world, what effect does it have on others, and how does that affect you?

I scribbled in the margins of the article: 'sometimes you need someone to put an arm round your shoulder and take you home' - and I thought poetry can sometimes give you that.

Helen Dunmore's last poems, written when she had received her terminal diagnosis, reminded me of someone close to me who, while having to deal with her own pain and her feelings about her imminent death, managed to extend an arm to others to help them deal with it too.

I thought too, of this, from 'The Hours' by Michael Cunningham:

'There's just this for consolation: an hour here or there where our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we've ever imagined...' 

(I should, perhaps, say that the rest of that particular passage is a lot less positive.)

In Dunmore's poems, and In those of so many others - Mary Oliver, Elaine Feinstein, Hugo Williams - to just randomly name a few I have been reading recently - the pain is not hidden, the loss is not denied, but there are moments that are conjured  - those 'hours' where life seems to burst open - that offer consolation.

These may seem, or even be, little things - which reminded me in turn of a line I remembered from a poem from long ago :

'A man whose life was made of little things that mattered.'

I then spent ages trying to find the poem. It's actually from 'These are facts' by Ruthven Todd - and is an incredibly powerful poem - angry, and not at all designed to console. But the line had stuck in my head (actually for over 40 years, as the book I finally found it in was one I had at university), because of the importance of those 'little things'.

One other thought I had. We do the best we can to deal with loss, and indeed to deal with life. And at the end, we want people to know that, I think - to know we did our best.

Elaine Feinstein: 'forgive me, I did all I could'.

Sorry if that's not totally coherent - just a few sparks perhaps.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Poetry plus

A quick round-up of the very best of my recent discoveries, in no particular order (some tweeted about previously):

Don't Read Poetry - A Book About How to Read Poems - Stephanie Burt (Basic Books)
A really readable approach to what poems can mean for different people at different times - and it has some brilliant examples.

Spotting Capybaras in the Work of Marc Chagall - Simon Williams (Indigo Dreams Publishing)
A little gem - clever, funny - an absolute joy.
'I see you want to call attention.
Should you not do that with the poems?
You could put a crocodile in the last line.'

Giraffe - Bryony Littlefair (Seren)
Funny, desperately moving - stunningly good.
'When you feel better, you will not always be happy, but when happiness does come, it will be long-legged, sun-dappled: a giraffe.'

Pamper me to Hell and Back - Hera Lindsay Bird (Smith/Doorstep)
Because it's just brilliant.
'A poem should never be a tourniquet
You have to let the blood go where it wants'

Hugo Williams - I Knew The Bride (Faber & Faber)
Dry humour and subtle anguish.The sequence of poems 'From the Dialysis Ward' is particularly memorable and moving.

Common People - An Anthology of Working-class Writers -  ed Kit de Waal (Unbound)
Writing at its best. Helped me to reconnect with my childhood and all the questions and doubts I've had since. 'Yes, it's tough, we've had enough. And we are coming.'

A magazine that I've just discovered that I think is well worth a look is Confluence - A Literary Magazine from Wordsmithery. Wonderful poetry, prose and illustration.

I also wanted to mention Bird Therapy - Joe Harkness (Unbound). This is an honest account of how one man found a way towards mental wellbeing through birdwatching. It seems to be selling well and has endorsements from respected people and organisations. There is an ironic twist though: the pressures of publicity and some responses to his book, through Twitter, etc, have not helped his mental health, even though there is a huge amount of support for him and the book. 

Even when we feel at our best, we are still vulnerable. Poetry can help. So can birdwatching. Just be wary of social media.



Tuesday, 30 July 2019

It's been too long...

... so what's been happening?

Well, I've been busy letting people locally know about my little book 'You can see it from here - Views of Sheppey'. It's been in the local paper and I was on the local radio, and boy did that boost sales. No. It didn't. But they were very nice, and I really appreciate that. I've also met and had a lot of support from lots of really nice people - and I don't just mean friends and family, though they've been great.

I've sold 51 copies so far (in less than 3 months) - is that good? Methinks not.Though possibly not too bad for a first-time hard-to-categorise self-published book of words (poems) and pictures with a very localised focus. And copies are still available at the Aviation Museum in Eastchurch and Blue Town Heritage Musuem, The Little Shop of This & That and now at Rose Street Cottage of Curiosities. And from me. And I've got plans for more venues and events...

I also have a product diversification plan. I took a stall at the Minster Village Fayre in June, on what unfortunately turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year, meaning only people very resilient to heat were there, and yet still sold three copies - and several related framed pictures and cards, so maybe a reasonable plan. Other Fayres/Fairs are available on Sheppey - a lot of them, loads.

One thing leads to another too. Through people I've met I've heard of other new opportunities - and from them, others, and so on - new poetry books, magazines, events, maybe even a new poetry group? And I've been working on a new poetry pamphlet. And on the photography side, requests for more pictures, cards, calendars...

I wasn't sure how people would react to my little book, but it has been a very positive experience so far and this is just the start!


Wednesday, 15 May 2019

You can see it from here

Readers of my previous blogs will know that I've been working for some time on what I've been calling my Sheppey project. It started out in my mind as a celebration of the natural beauty of the island, but less positive thoughts kept coming into my head, particularly as the island is under threat from developments which could impact on both the natural world and, in quite a major way, on people's everyday lives. 

When I first came here, someone told me that Sheppey wasn't the end of the world, but you can see it from here. It's a negative view, but there is a sense sometimes when you speak to people that they feel Sheppey is not what it was. They may still love it, but also feel it is in danger. 

There are many different views of Sheppey, from the people who live here, those who holiday here, those who remember it from childhood - and from those who've decided they don't want to live here.

I do want to live here, and I wanted to pull together the strands of why I do, and also highlight the threats. There was an increasing sense of urgency as more and more developments were proposed, so I have brought together - in words and pictures - how I feel about the island - and have produced a little book called 'You can see it from here - Views of Sheppey'.

The island is fragmented and the book likewise is fragmented - it's not quite how I envisaged it would be. Hopefully, in its different views, it captures different aspects of the island.

I have been fortunate already, in that the Aviation Museum in Eastchurch and Blue Town Heritage Centre in Sheerness are stocking it, so people can buy it from them. If you would like a copy (£5) and can't get to those two venues, just contact me through Twitter and I'll try to find a way to get one to you.

Monday, 11 March 2019

What I've found

This is a catch-up blog. I've been working on my Sheppey project (see earlier blogs if this means nothing to you) - out and about locally in all weathers - catching the unseasonal sun, getting drenched in the far more predictable rain, and buffeted by the gale-force winds - trying to pull my ideas together - and it is getting there. More on this soon.

I've also been looking for new and different poetry to read. What I've found (again) is that there are far too many poets for me ever to catch up with and I'm running far behind. It is also an expensive business trying to do so. There are resources online, which is great, and libraries can be a good source - but regrettably not locally. I would love to subscribe to more poetry mags but unfortunately, even though they're usually brilliant and really good value, it's just not possible. And there are great deals on poetry books too, but even so... there is just too much good stuff out there.

Actually, if the poets among you could stop writing for a while - say twenty years or so - I could possibly catch up - and also, it would help me get my own stuff published. Just a thought. (I may have suggested it before, but do they listen?)

Anyway, here is a list of some of the wonderful poetry I've discovered recently. I've tweeted about most of these (and the descriptions are as per the tweets), but the more publicity they get, hopefully the more they will get bought and read, and then the poets can all retire early, leaving the field clear (laughs hysterically). On the other hand, it might just encourage them - oh no!

Starling and Crane - Elspeth Brown - Indigo Dreams Publishing - this really resonated with me - there is something of Sheppey, something of me in it.

Heartwood - Alison Jones - Indigo Dreams Publishing - imagery to wallow in, woven with feeling that is sometimes tangible, sometimes more elusive, but always worth pursuing. Beautiful.

Invisibility for Beginners - Helen Pizzey - Cinnamon Press - 'from the humorous to the tragic' - to quote the cover

Please hear what I'm not saying - compiled and edited by Isabelle Kenyon - heart-wrenching, raw, hopeful - the many voices in the stunning poetry collaboration for MIND.

This is not a spectacle - Isabelle Kenyon - raw, intense, with inspired inner strength.

Also just discovered - Kim Moore - If We Could Speak Like Wolves - Smith/Doorstop Books - still re-reading this - it's wonderful. 

And finally, the stunning poems of Eloise CC Shepherd - as featured in Sarasvati (052) from Indigo Dreams Publishing - explicit and tender. (I've found Sarasvati a great place to discover new voices.)

And, having got all that tidied up, I'm now off to finish my Sheppey project, which will turn into a publication quite soon - I'll let you know.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

I fly, settle, fly - Gran Canaria

I've just had a much-needed short break in Gran Canaria:

from fog-grey, sludge-grey, dying-grey,
got to get away grey
to sky-blue, lapis-blue, flying blue,
yes I got away blue 

And it was wonderful:

sand shifts, settles, shifts
sea tumbles, settles, tumbles
I fly, settle, fly 


Friday, 14 December 2018

My Sheppey Highlights 2018

I'm still exploring Sheppey and mapping it with photos and poems - well, photos and some words that don't actually constitute poems as yet. The following photos were taken all across the island, including in my garden. They are some of my personal favourites of the year (and I've tweeted some of them previously, and made a calendar out of them), but they are just a few of many, and remind me just how much natural wonder can be found on this island (and indeed everywhere!)

I will also take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported me throughout the year - I really do appreciate it. Wishing you all happiness in 2019.