Mr Sheen

I was thrilled when Brittle Star accepted my short story Mr Sheen, and even more thrilled when my complimentary copy arrived this week. I’ve only browsed through it so far, but there’s some fantastic writing (poetry, short fiction and essays).
In her introduction, one of the editors, Jacqueline Gabbitas, makes an interesting point about skilled work and low pay (copied below).DSCN2774

I had a run of luck with poetry competitions a few years back. I thought, for a while, it might be possible to give up the day job and make a living out of writing. However, I started to notice that the quality of my work was suffering. Subliminally, I think I was trying to write the ‘prizewinning poem’ (whatever that is), rather than being true to myself and my work. After that, I spent a lot of time experimenting, producing work that only appealed to the very fringes of the poetry scene, the avant-garde if you like. I had work taken by the likes of Streetcake and 3 am magazine, online journals that take risks, that are constantly seeking to challenge our notions of what poetry is and what it can do or be.  Since then, I’ve never thought about payment. I write to satisfy my creative impulse,  and to somehow translate my experience of the world into art. Payment is wonderful when it happens, but I never expect it. Writing for money doesn’t motivate me, because writing gives a sort of value to my time that can’t be quantified in monetary terms. I gain a great deal of satisfaction from that – in the areas I’m working in, writing can’t be ‘bought’.
I am influenced. I create. I edit. I send work out (in every sense I submit). For me, the process has its own rewards. I hope at least some of you feel the same.



Lockdown reading

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Here’s a few of the poetry books I read during lockdown. Some took longer to arrive than others, but I liked the wait, the feeling of anticipation when something new is on its way. The Penguin Book of Haiku was one I felt I should have read a while ago. Here’s a lovely haiku from it, by Socho:

in the riverbreeze
a cluster of willowtrees
spring revealed

And then there’s the wild imperfection of Kerouac, and a haiku that sums up those days during lockdown where I waited for the books to arrive, and felt fully imersed in both my reading and my writing:

Big books packaged
from Japan –
Ritz crackers

I tend to nibble on oat cakes, not Ritz crackers, but I identified with the sense that really all you need are some good poems and a few snacks to keep you going.

It’s hard to pick a single poem from any of the collections I read, especially from Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, which is a gem. I’ll quote this one by Max Verhart for now:

out of the haze
the dog brings back
the wrong stick

Isn’t it wonderful? Precise, evocative, profound.

There’s some brilliant nature poems in Matthew Paul’s The Lammas Lands. Again, one poem doesn’t do it justice, but here goes:

wild ponies
mooch along the sandbar –
a godwit’s breast

It’s the way those images collide and expand in your head that makes me read and reread this poem.

Lastly, I read Maitreyabandhu’s pamphlet, A Cezanne Haibun, from which I’ve taken the following extract:

The first bat
the evening together

with a cotton thread –
jammy dodger,

This feels really loose and open and confident. The whole pamphlet’s a treat.

In tandem with all these haiku, I was also working on the second draft of my novel, so I’ve included a shot of my prose reading below.

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It’s a fairly varied pick of books, some bought in charity shops before lockdown that I’d never got round to reading, others that were on my radar, such as Benjamin Myers The Gallows Pole. I want to do a final draft of my novel over the summer, so it seemed important to ‘keep my hand in’, as it were, reading prose.
However, I’m finding haiku more rewarding at the moment, both in terms of reading and writing, so I’m not going to overload my summer reading pile with novels, especially as I have one of my own to contend with (I’ve told myself that this will be the third and final draft, no matter what).
Thank you to Dave Bonta for his haiku recommendations. I’m still interested to know what other people consider essential haiku reading, so let me know.


Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (ed. Kacian, J., Rowland, P & Burns, A., Norton, 2016, 2013)

Jack Kerouac’s Book of Haikus, ed. Regina Weinreich, is published by Penguin (f. pub. 2003)

Maitreyabandhu’s A Cezanne Haibun is published by Smith/Doorstop, 2019

Matthew Paul’s The Lammas Lands is published by Snapshot Press, 2015

The Penguin Book of Haiku, trans. and ed. by Adam L. Kern, 2018







to the militant, identity is everything


Luckenwalder Strasse, Berlin 2018

Today I’d intended blogging about the books I read during lockdown, but after reading  Lesley Wheeler’s post, ‘Why you should be reading about menopause‘, I decided to post the poem below – first published in Tears in the Fence, issue 70. It’s a poem that uses found text, and I remember editing it a few times, each time condensing it a bit until I arrived at what I wanted, or as near as.
I was over the moon to have this poem accepted, as I’d submitted to Tears in the Fence on a number of occasions and not been successful. Then, oddly, I forgot about it. However, reading Lesley’s post brought it to mind again, so thanks Lesley for sharing your story and your reading list.
I’ll share my lockdown reading next week. In the meantime, here’s the poem:

to the militant, identity is everything
(Susan Sontag)

the older female body is needful of respect/ modes of representation must be consciously transcended/ I formulate this observation as movingly and concisely as I can/ Collette knew the sovereignty of the woman of a certain age/ drawn-out voluptuousness framed by darkness/ so powerful and indelible/ we are expected to perform the commodity we were invented to be/ in novels the older woman imparts etiquette/ the younger falls in love with a sugar beet baron/ grand salons were nothing more than a conceptual image/ depression and gonorrhea were the reality/ these days fulfilment means being obsessed by the question of your own authenticity/ when exactly does a woman achieve the menopause/ when should she stop dying her hair?


For the last couple of weeks, a single peony has held my attention. I’ve watched it as the bud strained to open, then been amazed by the flower’s sudden unfurling. I was almost late for work one morning as I tried to photograph a raindrop on one of the petals. And then I was saddened as it shed its petals under the weight of rain. It’s a strange experience to try and give your attention to just one thing, when daily life is constantly tugging you in other directions. As for the haiku I’ve written about it (below), well, I’m not sure they come anywhere close to my actual experience of the peony, but I’ve been trying to explore what the form can do and be a little looser in my interpretations. Reading Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (ed. Kacian, J., Rowland, P & Burns, A., Norton, 2016, 2013) has expanded my understanding of what’s possible within these short poems. It’s a great book, full of little surprises, and it has an enlightening overview of haiku in English by Jim Kacian at the end, which I can thoroughly recommend to anyone who is interested in the development of the form. So, in the spirit of sharing, here are the poems, with accompanying photographs.
peony ver 2

spent peony
peony cloudburst

A changing world


Installation at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park 

I seem to be having lots of conversations about how the world is changing as we emerge from lockdown, about how our lives will never be the same and yet at the same time we  are supposed to carry on as ‘normal’. Of course, many people are still isolated, cut off from friends and family, the wider community.  My experience of lockdown has been much easier. In fact, now I’m back at work I’m missing all the free time I had.
Then there are those conversations I only have with other writers, about what poetry can and can’t do, about how we should respond to current events. In terms of creativity, I tend to try and carry on regardless. The world is a fascinating place, even in times of hardship, even in times of great trauma. It will always provoke a creative response in me, although the form of that response is ever-changing. I have a second draft of a novel that still needs more work, I have a short story that I know I must go back to, if only to satisfy myself that it can be finished, and a file of haiku of which a handful are probably good enough to send out. Oh, I also have a few sketches that are embarrassingly bad and are unlikely to ever see the light of day! What I’m getting round to is that being creative has helped me through lockdown. It’s given me a purpose. I like to be active, to be doing something. Writing is a great way of ‘doing’ because it doesn’t require much space or many resources. A pen and a piece of paper and you’re away. It’s affordable and portable. It does, however, make demands on your time. You have to commit. And there’s no guarantee of success. Time. Commitment. Failure and rejection. Small moments of success. These are constants.
We are living in a very unsettling period. There’s a general feeling of apprehension. And yet the impulse to write is still there. And for that, I’m grateful.




Just a short one (both poem and blog post) due to time constraints. I’ve not been able to write much this week, but I’ve had a short story accepted by a small press magazine, which has given me a bit of a buzz, and I’ve had the most generous acknowledgement ever from a magazine editor who emailed to say he’d received my work. Of course, that’s absolutely no guarantee that he will want to publish any of the poems I sent him; in fact  his reply passed no comment on my work at all. He simply thanked me for sending the poems in the most thoughtful way, allowing me a little insight into what was happening in his part of the world, in that moment, and somehow including me in it. I understand that replies are often generic because editors haven’t got the time to respond individually. Ah, I hear you say – your editor was having a quiet day. He was bored. No, I don’t believe he was. There are people who care about poetry, yes, but there are people who just care. I think he falls into this category. It would be crass of me to name him, so on this cloudy evening I’ll just send him some sunshine.
Stay safe.



Sunset in lockdown

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You can view the sunset video haiku here.

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You can view smiling skull here – this one was inspired by the Modern Poetry in Translation workshop (thanks Josephine Corcoran for the link to this workshop – I loved it, especially the amazingly detailed translation notes by Alan Cummings). Not sure if the film actually made it onto the MPT website as it was very last minute. It wasn’t past of my ‘lockdown’ series, but if I include it, it makes a total of 10 video haiku, which seems a good number to stop at (for now at any rate).  Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to view the films. Now I’m off to catch up on some reading before the sun sets.



P is for …

P for phrenologist


after Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

When all this is over, said the phrenologist,
I shall spend my days at Walden Pond
where white rocks line the far shore
like so many discarded skulls.

I will hoe the yellow loam and plant rows of beans,
walk to Concord in my own company
to buy a bag of rye or Indian meal, forget
the rag-stoppered bottle of yeast
spilling in my pocket.

I intend to live on pine nuts huckleberries,
test my constitution
in the daily chopping of firewood,
wield my borrowed axe with tenderness,
free from the troubling cartographies
of other people’s minds.

As for neighbours, I shall visit only the Irishman
in his turf hut, stand for want of a chair
listening to the fishhawk’s cry,
the distant laughter of the loon.

Come winter, I will lift the largest rock
and hurl it to break the lake’s glassy surface,
gather ice and retreat to my cabin,
wet my razor in thawed water,
find my face in the broken mirror.


Great to read my poem (above) on John Foggin’s blog today – thank you John for coming up with this brilliant idea for an anthology and for all the hard work you’ve put in.

Also, thank you Josephine Corcoran for sending me the link to Modern Poetry in Translation’s haiku workshop. With a very tight deadline I nearly gave up, but I’ve managed to put a haiku video poem together which I’ll share in the next post. For now, here’s a collage Josephine has produced, inspired by an original haiku by Enomoto Seifu (literal translation by Alan Cummings):

Falling blossoms
Beneath, lying happily
A skull

josephines pic

My lockdown ends in a week and a half, but I feel privileged to have had so many online activities to see me through. A thousand thanks to everyone.  X



Write where we are now

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Carol Ann Duffy and the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University have brought together poets from around the world to write new poems about the recent days past and the weeks ahead. The poets were invited to write directly about the Coronavirus pandemic or about the personal situation they find themselves in right now.

Great to be part of this project. Click here to view the poems.

I submitted a selection of  what I loosely term haiku, which you can access here. Rereading them, they somehow seem quite remote from the crisis. There again, that’s probably a reflection of my response: to walk, to distance myself, to meditate.

Another online project that has been a joy to be part of is John Foggin’s ‘When All This is Over’ anthology. It began as an invitation to respond to Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem Swineherd and snowballed from there. It’s currently up to day 8, which covers letters K and L. My poem is the Phrenologist so, as they’re being presented in alphabetical order, I’ll have to wait a little longer. In the meantime, I’m enjoying reading the variety of poems the brief has generated, and the way they’re being presented (as an illuminated manuscript).

I know how much time it takes to collate and process writing online, so many thanks to everyone who is making these projects happen. I value, more than ever, the sense of community they engender.

Now I’m off for a short walk – round to my parents to drop some shopping off. It’s breezy out there, quite fresh. I’ve just gone out onto the patio to check. There’s a wood pigeon in the birdbath, listing side to side to get water under his wings, and there’s a starling perched right next to it, waiting its turn. Such are the small details of life I’ve come to cherish in lockdown. I hope I retain some of this attentiveness as restrictions are lifted.




Haiku/ lockdown #3

Screenshot (16)View this video haiku here.


Screenshot (15)View this video haiku here.

This is third haiku/lockdown post I’ve done and I’m beginning to realise I need to hang on to some poems, otherwise I won’t have anything to send out to magazines!

Still, I love the video poem format, no matter how cack-handed I am at it. Poem plus visual image gives such a neat little hit. Also, it’s made me focus on my surroundings and re-instilled a sense of place into my writing. Of course, the lockdown has done this too. I’ve had to stay local and I’ve had to stay in the moment. Form and content have come together in a way I hadn’t thought of as being my sort of thing. I tend to worry if I sit down to write (whether at home or in one of the excellent online workshops the Poetry Business have been running) and don’t produce a sizeable wordcount. Haiku force all that to one side. I’m tempted to sum it up as quality over quantity, except to put a ‘quality’ judgement on work that’s so recent is probably unfair, and not really in the spirit of the endeavour, which is simply this: to remain creative in these strange and difficult times.

I understand that many people’s lockdown experiences will be far more difficult and claustrophobic than mine, so I hope my focus on creativity doesn’t come across as shallow or selfish. It’s just my way of coping, and maybe it’s yours too.

Be productive and stay safe.