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.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Climate change

Magma's Climate Change Issue is out now and has some stunning and thought-provoking pieces - looking not just at the possible impact of climate change, but the relationship between this and poetry. There are some remarkable poems here - David Tait's 'Beijing Parakeets', Yvonne Reddick's 'Brent Crude', Harry Man's 'Up in the Woods' and my particular favourite, Nan Craig's 'The loss of birds'. But there are so many I could list.

When the call for submissions to this issue of Magma came, I had just read an article in The Guardian about mass mortality events (MMEs). There are many causes of these, but they can be related to extreme temperature or temperature shifts. In one of the biggest of these MMEs, hundreds of millions of starfish along the coast from Mexico to Alaska were affected by sea star wasting disease and began to 'melt into white gloop'. White cuts appeared on their bodies and some ripped off their infected arms and tried to walk away. But for most the disease was deadly. Some of the species most affected were morning sun stars, giant pink stars, purple stars, sunflower stars and rainbow stars. 

Something about this particular case moved me. I wrote a poem and submitted it, but it didn't get accepted - which is fine (not least because it needs seven lines of introduction) - just look at the ones that did! But it still means something to me, so I thought I'd share it anyway (now it has got the intro):

Sea star MME

the sunflower
tore off its petals,
the rainbow
the pink and purple
cut to white,
the morning sun
and when night came
the stars
had lost their reflections 

And to be honest, anything that inspires us to think and to create, rather than destroy, has to be good - so thank you to Magma for prompting me to think more and for the brilliant issue.


Saturday, 29 September 2018


Sheppey celebrates its place in the history of aviation - open spaces are punctuated by sculptures that surprise - and flight is a key theme for the island - planes, birds, people.


it's a place of flight
to and from - a place to hide
to soar or to crash -
as the vapour trails vanish
so too all hope of escape

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Off track

I thought it a good idea - a happy, positive idea - to map the wonderful place I live - its nature and wildlife - in pictures and poetry. Thank you so much to those who encouraged me in the idea.

But Sheppey, where I live, is a complex place, both in itself, and for me. When I first arrived, around five years ago, I found myself in the odd position of both feeling at home, and a complete outsider. It has a mixed reputation. Birders, and many others, love the marshes, the sea and the open spaces - it is a haven for waders and raptors in the cooler months. In the summer they are overtaken by flocks of holidaymakers. People come here to live and to work. And people come here to escape and hide. It is not just one place - it is a lot of small places linked and yet strangely separate. There is not just one landscape, there are myriads. And sometimes they overlap. It is a strange place.

I've spent time over the last few weeks - as I have done ever since I came to the island - walking, looking, taking pictures. There is a great deal of beauty on the island, even in unexpected places, but when I come to write, there appears to me to be an underlying sadness, or sense of loss, which is both real and imagined. And not what I hoped this project would be about. But that happens.To me, anyway.

I've looked back at pictures and poems and notes I've built up over my time here, and found this, which I scribbled about four years ago, coincidentally (!) sitting outside the local caff.

The Outsider

She lived down by the sea, they knew,
and she was always on her own,
but she would smile at passers-by.
That worried them.

Her hair was long and grey and loose,
and round her neck she often had
a camera and snapped away.
That worried them.

She'd sit outside the caff most days
and write things in a little book,
then tuck it safely in her coat.
That worried them.

She'd stand down by the sea and watch
the tide, the sand, the birds, the sky.
The weather didn't bother her.
That worried them.

They didn't know where she'd come from
or what she'd done before she came,
or where she went - just that she'd gone.
That worried them -
but not for long. 

All of which is a very long-winded way of saying I've gone a bit off track with my new project. But I have some interesting pics and I'll be tweeting them, and possibly blogging them, sometimes with words, sometimes not, and I'll keep scribbling and see what happens.

Let me know what you think.

Monday, 23 July 2018


I've reached a point - having stood back and looked again at what I was doing, and why - where my 'collection' of poems has resolved itself into a pamphlet, which, if not perfect - could it ever be? - is at least what I intend it to be - and may even venture out into the world.

And another idea, which has been in my mind for a while, is also taking shape. It has been helped on its way by discovering 'Mapping' by Mark Totterdell (Indigo Dreams Publishing). It includes some wonderful poems about birds - and I'm always fascinated by descriptions of birds:

'If the swifts knew how,
they'd build their nests in air,
of air, to float unanchored.'

And it also includes 'one individual's erratic journey with maps through Britain's landscapes'. These are snapshots of different places and the poet's response to them:

'From the motorway, he glimpsed a village,
saw his minstrel self stride into one much like it.
He dreamed of finding, between the sheets of maps,
whole lands free of blue roads, whole green realms of romance.'

And so do I. Recently I've been actively involved trying to preserve some of the 'green realms' near where I live. Others have their own plans of what to do with these areas and as fast as we fight off one destructive idea, they come up with another. The natural beauty and wildlife of the area are of no concern to them. This may be a long fight.

This area provides a backdrop to my poetry and often inspires it directly. It has helped me to map a life. It also features widely in my photographs. I am now looking at how I can celebrate it more fully in my new project - mapping this wonderful place I live and its amazing wildlife with photos, poems and art. 

Wish me luck!

Monday, 4 June 2018

Finding joy

Because I've not been sure where I'm going with things recently, I haven't been posting any blogs. This one is a bit random - illustrating my flitting between one thing and another - looking at the things which bring the most joy.

I've been to Leeds Castle again. I love it there - it makes me happy, there's so much to see and it makes me feel safe. It is one of the places (Oare, Dungeness and the seafront on Sheppey are notable others) where I can sit still, but can also walk and walk and see new things and familiar things - birds,butterflies, plants, water - beautiful things. It inspires me.

It's also a wonderful place to take pictures! Just for the fun of it.

What else? 

Springwatch is on - and I love that. 

Lev Parikian's book 'Why do Birds Suddenly Disappear?' leapfrogged up my list of books to read and I loved that. If you like birding, great writing and want a good laugh, let it leapfrog up your list too.
I've also gone back to some of my favourite poets. Wendy Cope's new collection 'Anecdotal Evidence' and Simon Armitage's 'Flit' are both as brilliant as I just knew they would be. Which is a joy.

I am still loving The Countryman magazine - I can even do the puzzles in it!

I've been exploring parts of Sheppey which I only half-knew, played Bowlingo (arcade bowling) and won, and played crazy golf and lost, but still loved it.

Can you sense a 'but' coming on? 

I said at the beginning that I've not been sure where I'm going with things. I don't mean those things which have to be done but aren't much fun - generally I'll just get on with those, though obviously muttering and cursing as I do. I mean that category of things which I thought I wanted to do, but which haven't been making me happy. And I'm torn between persisting with them and giving them up. Taking a break, which is what I've been doing, is fine, but... (oh there it is)

So I'm taking a different route. I'm looking closely at these things and I'm trying to put the joy back into them. And stepping back and seeing what really makes me happy has helped with that. One of these things is writing poetry. I can now see that I've got lost somewhere in other people's views on what poetry should be and its processes and its vanity/insecurity. And I'm going back to where I started, where I know for certain that I was enjoying it, and wasn't trying to fit in with others or please others and where actually it felt good - not easy, but good, and it actually did, incidentally, seem to please others as well as me. 

And I shall apply the same process to other things I want to do but have got lost in - so that I eliminate the 'shoulds' - suggested/inflicted by others or self-imposed - and try to rediscover the joy in them.

Friday, 11 May 2018

When a poetry reading really works

I've written in a previous blog that I can struggle with poetry readings - partly because I like the words in my hands.

Chrys Salt read some of her poetry from 'The Punkawallah's Rope' at the Indigo Dreams Showcase, part of the Cheltenham Poetry Festival. Chrys is an experienced and well-established poet, and that rare thing - a poet who can read her written poetry exceptionally well - in fact the best I've heard.

I didn't just understand what was being said - I could feel it. It came alive. Ironically, I had the words in my hands because I had just bought her book, but obviously I wasn't looking at them. But I could take the words away with me and not just read them now, but really hear them too.

The poetry itself - and I have got to know a lot more of it since the Showcase - is so well-observed, lightly drawn, with humour and humanity. It is touching and beautiful. It has that deceptive simplicity which is so hard to achieve. It tells stories and brings people and places to life. It '...puts its hand out and is understood.' ((for RM), from 'Grass')

You can find out more at  

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Iterations & Amy Kinsman

Everyone is on a spectrum - or more than one spectrum, not at a fixed point - but at different points at different times. We have different iterations of ourselves.

I saw Amy Kinsman perform at the Indigo Dreams Showcase at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival. Amy performed (among others) the poem 'iterations of self' from the pamphlet '&'. To quote the blurb on the back of the pamphlet: 'these are poems... where everything hangs in the balance and we must decide who we are and what that means.' 

This isn't easy in light of the way we constantly change, and are not just one thing, but many. Is there a 'core'? Something which is fundamentally 'me'? Amy is genderfluid. Does this make it harder to answer? As it says in 'iterations...' : pray tell, which of us is you? But then, doesn't the same question apply to us all in our different iterations?

Amy's performance was both reassuringly nervous and very strong - thus showing the ability to be at more than one point on a spectrum at the same time. I'm very glad I heard it, and got a copy of '&'. And I went away thinking.

And overthinking - about iterations of my self. And in which iteration(s) I'm happy. And is self as poet one of them? 


Monday, 16 April 2018

Mind the gap

Among the many things I've been thinking about through reading 'How to be a Poet' (Nine Arches Press) (see also earlier post 22/1/18) - is the potential gap between writer and reader - a gap of understanding or preference - or a failing of writer or reader. I'm aware that it has made me insecure at times, both as writer and reader. I started to play with the idea:

I wrote a poem about love.
You hated it.
I wrote a poem about strength.
You said it was weak.
I wrote a poem about sickness.
You hoped I got better.
I wrote a poem about you.
You said I should keep the 'I' out of my poems.
I wrote about my uncertainty.
You said I was getting cocky.
I stopped writing. 

I flipped it to see what happened: 

You wrote a poem about love.
I hated it.
You wrote a poem about strength.
I said it was weak.
You wrote a poem about sickness.
I hoped you got better.
You wrote a poem about me.
I said you should keep the 'I' out of your poems   
You wrote about your uncertainty.
I said you were getting cocky.

You stopped writing?   I stopped reading?

I took the 'I' out:

He wrote a poem about love.
She hated it.
He wrote a poem about strength.
She said it was weak.
He wrote a poem about sickness.
She hoped he'd get better.
He wrote a poem about her.
She thought he was taking the mick.
He wrote a poem about his uncertainty.
She said he was a loser.

He stopped writing?   She dumped him?

Amazing how big the gap can be between people. Amazing how things can change when you play with words. And for real advice, see How to be a Poet.

Postscript. It occurred to me that this blog could be taken too seriously. I also like the idea of adding 'He dumped her' to the last set of options. I should add that nothing written here represents the views of the authors of How to be a Poet. Or is in any way sensible advice on reviewing one's own or other people's poetry.


Thursday, 12 April 2018

The Gifts of Reading

I recently read The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane (author of, among other books, the mind-blowing Landmarks - 'the language of landscape and the landscape of language'). The Gifts of Reading is a wonderful little book and a gift in itself - which keeps on giving. If you read it you'll see what I mean - it just leads you on to more.

I won't give away the secrets of the book and I can't give you the gift of an actual book - because, unlike Facebook, I don't have access to your data, or their vast amounts of money - but I thought I'd at least share the names of some of the books I've enjoyed reading between bouts of poetry:

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty

Tin Man by Sarah Winman 

They're easy to get hold of and the reviews will tell you far more than I could here, and much better. 

Despite there being no end of fiction out there, I sometimes struggle to find the right book at the right time. I would be happy to accept the gift of any recommendations. (I am not currently accepting submissions of poetry or nature books as I already have a huge backlog of those!)

Saturday, 31 March 2018

The Countryman

The Countryman magazine has been around for longer than I've been alive - and I've only just discovered it! (Apologies to all who already know it.) What caught my eye among the million other available magazines was the stunning photo of a yellow wagtail on the cover of the April issue.

The photography throughout is wonderful, from glorious landscapes to birds in close-up.

Its articles include 'Listening out for the dawn chorus', Stephen Moss on the return of migrant birds, 'Engaging with the natural world' (and its importance in mental health care) and 'The UK's waterworlds'.

The last of these is by James Lowen. It is beautifully written and illustrated. Here's just a tiny flavour of it:

'Throughout it all, the collective of reeds - whether winter's brittle gold or summer's flexible blue-green - whispers enticingly of the secret waterworld in their midst.' 

It also has poems, both old and new. Next to a mesmerising photo of a Little Owl by Ian Watson, is the poem 'Owls' by Alison Brackenbury. I really like the way the poem spans time and country/town.

'What can night bring me now? I sleep in town.
Through the last trees, winter's last dusk bears down
fresh wind.'

It's a moving poem - even without thinking of Sheffield's last trees.

This magazine brings together so many of the things I love. It's amazing what you can discover by accident. For me this was a real joy.


Wednesday, 21 March 2018

For World Poetry Day

daybreak's dew-dropped web
laced interlocking stocking
ladders purled with pearls 

Sunday, 11 March 2018

And in the news this week...

I've been sorting through some old notes and found this:

he's never hit me
and he's OK with the kids -
setting the bar low 

It was based on a conversation overheard years ago. Things are so much better now.


Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Diversifly - Poetry and Art on Britain's Urban Birds

Edited by Nadia Kingsley - Fair Acre Press

Having moved out of London to Sheppey, I recognise that my view of birds in an urban setting is different from that in the country.

In London, I got up early to go to work, walking at 5.30am to the bus-stop. Blackbirds sang each morning as I waited for the bus and helped me face the day. A robin sitting on the wall of the small garden cafe below my office cheered me up when work was getting stressful.

Out here, by the sea and on the marshes, there is a freedom and a space which I share with the birds - it is a different feeling entirely. Out here it is nature in the wild - nature in the ascendancy. In town, it was much more about moments of nature within a man-made place - with people in the ascendancy.

This is very much reflected in Diversifly. It is about birds - very much so, but the people of the urban places still dominate - less so in the art, but certainly in the poems. In the interactions between poets and birds, the 'I' - the human 'I' - still stands out. That's not a criticism (look how I described my experience of birds above) - the relationship is fascinating.

Diversifly captures this relationship between urban life and nature beautifully. Matt Merritt, in his blurb for the book (see Fair Acre website), captures its content superbly, leaving little to add. It is a wonderful book, my only regret being that it would have been even better in a larger format.

As a bonus - and it really is a bonus, if you go to there are blogs and podcasts to complement the book.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Holding on

I have realised that I want things written down on a piece of paper that I can hold in my hands. This does not mean that I can't, for example, enjoy listening to someone reading or performing their poetry. It just means that at the end of it I want a piece of paper with the poem on it. Which, of course, may not be what the poet wanted, unless they are selling their book, in which case I am the ideal customer.

Why do I want that? Partly because that is my way of taking things in. Partly poor memory. But I think there's more to it than that.

I have been trying hard to watch birds, rather than automatically reach for my camera. I know that, however good the photo may be (but in my case, rarely is), it cannot match the bird itself - the feeling, the joy on seeing it, but it can sometimes evoke something of it, perhaps help me see it better, or differently - or perhaps just help me to remember the moment.  

And in that, I think I recognise one of the reasons I want things in writing - which I have now extended to mean in any form which I can hold on to : I have not really come to terms with transience. I want to capture feelings and moments and keep them. More, I have a fear of losing them. (I know - hardly unique.)

I love poetry which captures something worth holding on to - and when it does, I want to hold on to it. It's also why I still take photos - and even print them - and it's what I try to achieve when I write poetry.

Not everyone can hold on to things this way. Many have found other ingenious ways to do so. I hope that everyone finds their way.  Or perhaps finds a way to come to terms with transience?

I have just read Helen Dunmore's 'Inside the Wave', which moved me to tears, and I thought, yes, perhaps it is possible to come to terms with it. But I'm still not sure. If I write a poem which helps me understand, capture, hold on to something - is it just for me, or do I want someone else to read it, and not just respond to the feeling or moment evoked, but also remember me? To hold on to me. 

Friday, 2 February 2018



 the goldfinch jitters 
a child's painting of a bird
burbles it's alive


Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Poetry overload? Clearing my head

I may have over-immersed myself in poetry recently - reading poets previously known and many new to me, reading books about poetry, thinking about poetry and also looking at poetry blogs and writing my own. I may take a break - but not before writing this, if for no other reason than to get it out of my head.

Things that have occurred to me as a result of the above - in no particular order. (I've already spoken a bit about it in earlier blogs.) 

  • there is so much that I haven't thought about - about myself and others
  • there is quite a bit I have thought about - but I'm not sure now how I feel about it
  • having now thought more about it, I'm more confused than I was before I started
  • I've found poetry unlike anything I've read before, and so unlike anything I've written myself - and I don't have a fixed style of writing - and that's quite exciting
  • it still confuses me that I can really like some poems in a collection and really dislike others
  • there's a limit to how much poetry I can read at one time - and it can begin to blur, particularly if the poet only seems to have one theme or style
  • whether it is deemed necessary or desirable by others, I need to have some understanding of a poem. I don't want it tied up in a bow, but I need something...
  • it's what's common between me and the poet that is important to me - the poet's individual experience may not be something I've experienced, but there's something there which I can relate to - and that is not about specifics - gender, sexuality, trauma... but about human feelings - loss, love, fear...
  • titles can really put me off poems. For example, I'm a woman and not squeamish, but I'm still put off by the title 'Ode to menstrual blood' - Sharon Olds
  • I like it when the form of a poem and its repetitions and rhythms draw me in and hold me and engulf me and I can feel it - all of which is true of the poems in Alice Oswald's Falling Awake
  • I like lines that jump out and grab me - which is also true of the  poems in Alice Oswald's Falling Awake
  • I'm interested in how humour can reveal and disguise so much - and how well similes and metaphors can work with it - Hera Lindsay Bird
  • there is so much out there!
  • there needs to be more joy in poetry
Enough! I'm going for a lie-down on the piles of books and magazines I've read and the copious scribbled notes I've written which may one day turn into poems. And when the weather improves, and the other 'stuff' which is currently invading my life and my poetry allows it, I'm going to go out for a walk and watch birds and take some photographs and return to my perennial quest to capture all the joy that gives me.

My thanks to all those who have given me support online - I really appreciate it.


Monday, 22 January 2018

How to be a Poet - Jo Bell and Jane Commane

So much to read, so little time - but I'm glad I've spent time reading this - and that it will be there for me to return to as I carry on writing. Things I particularly liked/found useful:
  • it's practical, down-to-earth and realistic
  • there are detailed ways to improve your writing - stage by stage - and exercises/ideas to try
  • different perspectives are given - which is refreshing - and although the writers are all very well qualified to give advice, they in no way assert that theirs is the only view
  • progression - it helps you think about where you want to be and how to give yourself the best chance of getting there
  • it gives additional resources for reading, writing and getting your poetry out there
I think it's really difficult to balance encouragement with realism. Certainly if anyone thought this poetry business is easy they'd be in for a shock. The writers do keep reiterating the positive, just in case you were staggering under the weight of the reality and work involved. It's also written with humour and conveys the creative satisfaction poetry can bring - but it's still about the work.

As it says in The Final Word, I'd better get on with it.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back

There are already good reviews of this book available. This is just a personal reflection on it.

I found it a very challenging book - it challenged my perceptions and my own sense of identity. I found myself becoming angry, sad, and scribbling madly about what I read of the poets' different experiences and perceptions, and then - and it surprised me, and shouldn't have - I started to rethink who I was and wasn't, how I identified myself to myself and to others, and why...

Self-identification and the individual experience are the key positive things for me in this book - and the understanding of that experience. Note, I did say for me - because the voices in the collection, and the experiences and perceptions are, of course, diverse, and although there are some common themes, there are also striking differences - in tone, outlook, purpose...

It shouldn't take to the third paragraph to say it (though the book, in a way, does have that effect), but there is some absolutely stunning poetry in this book. I did (slightly) know some of the poets already, but there are other poets who I didn't know, and will now be keenly looking out for. I am not going to specify.

One thing I have not done here is to say anything about my own experiences in the context of this book. But what occurred to me, as I thought about the book, and writing this, is what assumptions would someone make - from what I've written, from my name, and from my photo on this blog? Like the book, it makes you think.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018


If you compare me to a summer's day
or say I walk in beauty like the night
and gather rosebuds for me while ye may
and stay the world enough to make it right

And if you've walked on England's mountains green
and did a stately pleasure-dome decree
and floating high, the daffodils have seen
and thus arisen, gone to Innisfree

 If full of care, you still have time to stare
or walking, take the road less travelled by
and find that the express-train drew up there
and tell me 'let us go then, you and I'

If you are only larking when you wave
and are my moon, my midnight and my song
and wear your slippers in the rain and save
your love for me - my love, you can't go wrong! 

This was posted with a tweet saying that I had been reading a lot of poetry recently and thought it was affecting my own work, ie it was a joke. It originated from my own and others' expressed concern that it was hard not to be influenced by reading other people's poetry - though this wasn't what I, or hopefully they, meant. It also came from someone saying to me that poetry didn't sell - you couldn't write a 'blockbuster' poem - and wondering what did 'sell' well in poetry - at least in the sense that people knew and/or liked the poem. 'If' was the most obvious example I could think of - and the other poems referenced might also fall into the 'known' category. Hope so. It is also an example of me in 'flippant' mood - when I break away from my apparent norm of writing rather darker poetry - see previous post.