Equinox

I was out walking the dog this evening, clear blue skies, still warm enough to be wearing a t-shirt, when I came across this spider’s web, tatted with thistle and rosebay willow herb seeds. It felt like I’d stumbled on a miniature piece by Andy Goldsworthy. Early this morning there was so much mist across the fields I would hardly have seen it. Of course, tomorrow is the Autumn Equinox, and the weather is set to turn colder by the middle of the week. This was part of the reason I took my camera with me today. I wanted to capture a few images before the weather changes. Hopefully they give a sense of the summer’s end.

crossing the brook
lark song seeding
the fallow field

Blackberry moon

I’ve been trying to take things a little slower lately. Maybe it’s the shortening days, maybe it’s a hangover from lockdown when life slowed almost to a standstill and I was actually able to notice the small things for the first time in ages. As I write this, there’s a wasp crawling up the pane of the patio door. It does this busily, zithering about (zithering, if I remember rightly, is a word I picked up from Jacob Polley’s Jackself – he uses it to describe greyhounds I think, but it suits wasps equally well). Of course, the wasp is trying to find an exit, in order to survive. Everything it needs is out there, beyond the glass, easy to see, hard to reach. If the wasp slowed down a bit, it might realise how close it is to freedom. As it is, it continues to buzz frantically, getting nowhere. Eventually it will burn out and drop to the floor exhausted.
Okay, I’m not the wasp. Not exactly. But I know that feeling of trying too hard to get to something that seems close, tangible, achievable, having to work like fury to get there. Poems that come out of that state of mind generally don’t please me, and neither does the process of creating them. I’m not saying that I now intend to sit about and do nothing in the hope that poems arrive unbidden. Most likely they won’t. But I have promised myself I won’t be so anxious about ‘doing’ things and overloading myself. Hence the photograph above. We spent Sunday picking blackberries to make some wine. I had a hundred other things I needed to do but I gave myself over to picking this humble fruit. It was slow work, but the sun was out and the fruit was ripe and I felt like I was doing something important. The blog didn’t get done on Sunday because of this. It didn’t get done yesterday because I had a heavy day at work. I’m writing it today because I feel like it. This is as it should be.
I’ve had a haiku published in Heron’s Nest this month. When it was accepted, I was incredibly excited, so much so that I sent a rush of other stuff out almost immediately. On reflection, those poems weren’t very good. I was being that wasp. I was zithering.
So, this blog might become more sporadic over the next few months, but hopefully it will be the better for it. I’m giving myself space to breathe, to create freely.
The wine won’t be ready until late next year, and it will taste even better if we leave it another year or two after that. It’s a case of being patient, of enjoying the wait …

haiku friendly

startled by horses
the dog careens through wheat fields
startling horses

I realise my photographs don’t quite match the poem, but I wanted to do a quick post to try out the new version of WordPress – and I have to say it’s taken me a while. I preferred the old version – so much easier to use. One of the things it won’t seem to let me do is add returns/ line spaces – and if there’s one thing a haiku deserves it’s space. Come on WordPress, make your editing tools haiku friendly. Or at least make them easier to use!

Blizzard books

A massive thank you to Ama Bolton for posting about blizzard books on her Barley Books blog the other week (see her post for 3rd August). As soon as I saw the phenomenal work that appears on her site I knew I wanted to have a go. And it struck me that these little folded gems are ideal for housing a few haiku.
I made the one above out of some left over lining paper (good quality – I begged it off my Mum). The paper’s quite thick for folding but great for wet on wet watercolour. My illustrations are … well, let’s just say abstract! I wrote a haiku beside each tiny painting and slotted the cards into the folds. I’m no artist, but I do like that feeling of being absorbed in the work, the sort of feeling you get when you’re creating something new. I’m not sure I experience quite the same thing when I’m writing, possibly because it’s less physical somehow.
It’s worth mentioning here that the more haiku I write, the more present I feel – in contrast to the ‘zone’ or ‘mind space’ I need to enter when I’m writing longer poems, or prose. And because haiku are short, they seem to leave more time for actual living. My daily observations and experiences feed directly into the writing in what seems to be a perfect circle/ cycle of life-writing-life. Of course, this is an oversimplification of the process, but hopefully you get my drift. Haiku are less dependent on the imagination, more engaged with reality. Anyway, I digress.
The other blizzard book, below, is made out of gift wrap, with haiku printed out to save time. I can see how double sided paper would work even better. As I’ve said already, there’s some brilliant work on Ama Bolton’s site, so do take a look and see how it inspires you. I’ve linked to the same tutorial as Ama, in case you can’t find it – just click here.
Happy folding!

 

 

 

I love books …

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Although we’ve only been back a week and a half, the holiday seems a long time ago now. It was a great time for browsing and buying books as we started off by camping in Hay-on-Wye, ‘the world’s greatest book town’. Here I managed to pick up two haiku pamphlets/ magazines from 1980 and 2003, containing poems by writers I’m starting to become more familiar with. In this sense, both pamphlets felt like a real ‘find’, Lit from Within contains haiku by Cor van den Heuvel:

watching the rain
from a small town hotel
in the detective novel

Isn’t that wonderful? And HIGH/COO contains this by Chuck Brickley (whose haiku were recommended to me by Matthew Paul):

my father
somewhere in America
this Autumn night

I love the backstory implied in this poem, the way it conveys mood through the seasonal reference, the way it feels contemporary in its subject matter of (possible) estrangement and the questions about masculinity that arise from that.

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I’d recently bought Chuck Brickley’s Earthshine from Snapshot Press, and it’s worth mentioning here that they have an August offer on their books for mailing list members. I reckon there’s still time to sign up to the mailing list and get an order in before the end of the month. Like all small presses, they need people to buy books in order to keep publishing.

As I love walking, another holiday read was Simon Armitage’s Walking Away. I’d had it a while and had been meaning to read it but just never found the time.
Hay-on-Wye is on the Offa’s Dyke path and there are a fair amount of walkers passing through. So, when I’d finished the book,  I did my bit for the book town by donating it to the book swap under the bridge, in the hope that some weary traveller might pick it up and get as much pleasure out of it as I did.

Whilst in Hay, I also bought Albert Camus’ The Plague.  I’d heard a dramatised version on Radio 4, recorded during lockdown, so I knew the main story, but reading it was so much more enriching. It’s a terrifying but redemptive story about an outbreak of plague in an Algerian coastal town, and life during the subsequent quarantine. The book reflected so much of what we have already been through, and are likely to continue to experience, putting human behaviour, both good and bad, right at the centre of the story (although mainly through male characters, I have to say, but that’s a minor quibble and no doubt reflects the time it was written). It might sound like a morbid read, but in the current situation, I found it oddly reassuring. It had the feeling of being important, of being necessary. That’s not always the case when you read a book. It made me question my own novel, and how ‘necessary’ it is. It remains as a second draft, which is to say there’s a fair amount of editing still required!

After Hay-on-Wye we had a short drive up to Bishop’s Castle, a small Shropshire market town where we spent the second week of our trip in the blazing heat, admiring the amazing bursts of lightning flickering away over the hills at night (fortunately we managed to avoid most of the heavy downpours which seemed to hit just over the border in Wales).
Bishop’s Castle has two excellent bookshops, Yarborough House, famous for its classical music CD stock  as well as its books, and the more recent Poetry Pharmacy, which is the most beautifully curated bookshop any poet could wish for.


No doubt I won’t get around to reading all the books I bought this side of Christmas, and I’m keen to get an order into Snapshot Press before the end of the month too. I don’t like to have too many books on the book pile, but neither do I like it to be empty. I love the sense of anticipation that an unopened book offers.
So, whatever book you’ve got on the go at the moment, happy reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the right to be heard

Woman in suit at microphone

Woman in suit at microphone – Mary Evans Picture Library

It seems to be all about the voice this week. It was lovely to get back off holiday and find I have another poem on the Mary Evan’s Picture Library blog. The poem, the right to be heard,  was inspired by the photograph above and was written a while ago. It uses found text (the Latin prayer), and I remember that I actually cut phrases from my own notebooks too and rearranged them, so the found text is also my own. Many thanks to Gill Stoker for her patience with the layout/ line spacing in the poem. You can read it by
clicking on the link below: https://www.maryevans.com/poetryblog.php?post_id=12284.

There’s a wealth of poems on there, all inspired or linked to pictures in the archives, so it’s well worth a scroll through.

You can also hear my short story, Mr Sheen, on Brittle Star’s Stereoplate podcast (go to episode 2 near the bottom of their page). Apologies in advance for sounding so dour on this recording – muffled as I was between a home made bunker of settee cushions and a duvet, trying not to trip up too many times in what seemed like a long reading (compared to my poems), I do sound quite serious. In fact, what’s coming through in my voice is probably a mixture of terror and self-consciousness. Anyway, thank you to the editors, Jacqueline Gabbitas and Martin Parker, for all their hard work showcasing new writing.

So, once I’ve unpacked the last dusty tee shirts and paired the odd socks, rolled out the tent again and then rolled it back up so it fits in its bag, I’m looking forward to dipping into the books I bought on holiday. We’ve had a fantastic trip to Hay-on-Wye and Bishops Castle, and been incredibly fortunate with the weather. Now it’s raining I’m going to claim some ‘reading time’, so I’m off to make a cuppa and put my feet up with a book.

 

 

the scarecrow

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I’ve scheduled this post to appear while I’m away because I couldn’t wait to share the picture. The scarecrow is in a field not too far away from where I live and I see him on my daily walk. At first, he scared the living daylights out of me (and my dog), although that was partly because it was so early in the morning – low mist across the fields, that eerie silence you sometimes get when the birds can’t make their minds up whether to sing or not. Now I’m used to him, his borrowed jacket, the CD hanging like an oversized medallion around his neck, his handless grip on the bottle.
Richard Wright wrote a number of wonderful scarecrow haiku. Here’s one I love for its simplicity:

A darting sparrow
Startles a skinny scarecrow
Back to watchfulness

It could just as easily have been my darting dog!

 

Richard Wright, Haiku: the last poems of an American Icon (Arcade, 2012, f.pub 1998)

Presence

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I can’t tell you what it means to have my first haiku published this week in Presence, edited by Ian Storr. I’ll temper this by also saying I’m humbled, because there are so many brilliant and memorable poems in this magazine.
Subscribers are encouraged to vote for their ‘best of issue’ poems (up to ten). I’m three quarters of the way through and have already made a note of 19 poems that have made a big impression on me. One of these, I think, is totally stand out and I’m not expecting to find anything better, but there again, every page delivers another little hit.
It’s exciting to be in this magazine, which is excellent value for money – a year’s subscription of three issues costs £16. I also like the policy of simply naming the contributors, rather than having biographical details. After last week’s post, When All This is Over, I replied to a comment by fellow poet Regina Weinert saying that biographies can be entertaining, informative, sometimes intimidating, and very often distracting. What better way to present the work than push the ego gently to one side and  foreground the poem, not the poet.
We’re off camping again at the end of the week, so the blog might be quiet for a while. One of our stop-offs is Hay on Wye – face mask at the ready, bookshops galore. We’ve been to this neck of the woods before and hope to do some walking. Keep your fingers crossed for good weather!

 

When All This Is Over

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I’ve just come back from camping in Hebden Bridge. Four days of walking. A bit of reading. Three haiku written. Happy days and cold nights, especially Sunday when the sky was clear. Having camped on the top of the hill, just off the Pennine Way, it felt like we were that bit nearer the sky than anywhere else in the county. Fantastic.
Walking, even if you’re only out for the day, makes you very conscious of weight and what you can comfortably carry. Poetry pamphlets are ideal walking companions. Slim, lightweight, easy to dip in and out of. I was happy to take When All This Is Over (Calder Valley Press) with me, as it arrived last week. Put together by John Foggin and Bob Horne, with editorial input from Kim Moore, this pamphlet is the result of a project that started in lockdown, where John put out a call for poems responding to Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem ‘Swineherd’. Three months on, here we have a pamphlet that reflects that response, not just to the poem ‘Swineherd’, but to that peculiar time.
It was interesting to be reading these poems whilst out walking, as so many were about a longing for freedom, a desire to hit the open road and get away from it all. ‘I’ll become a nomad and travel/ where everyone goes wild about birdsong‘.
We weren’t on a campsite, but pitched in a farmer’s field (permission granted, I assure you). Roughing it might present some challenges, but it really does allow you to get back to nature. ‘I want to lie on my back in a field/ of black clover under a scarlet sky’. And ‘I long for an open road, a mandolin/ and an apple, snug in my pocket’.
Many of the poems in When All This Is Over refer to giving something up, either the tools of the trade, ‘I’ll give my scalpel/ Stanley knife,/ and cutting mat/ to my red-haired daughter‘, or the way of life that the job demands, ‘When all this is over, I’m not answering any more questions’. Accompanying this need to get back to basics is a commitment to seek out new experiences, sometimes tinged with danger: ‘I want to be stalked by wolves, to be prepared/ to drive on bridges that might not hold’. These risks heighten the senses. We become more aware, more alert, more alive: ‘scent is a language/ I shall relearn‘. Or perhaps we become oblivious to the bigger picture, ‘grant me instead the bliss of ignorance‘.
Many of the poems seem to reflect a desire for Utopia, ‘no more crimes/ no gutting/ being sympathetic/ to the original‘, although I realise I’m taking words out of context here. The poems are about individual experience, imagined yes, but refracted through the lens of a time lived in lockdown. They ‘praise the toil of smaller lives‘ and, in part, romanticise those lives too. Given the climate these poems have been written in, that’s of no surprise. In fact, I was glad there was such a sense of hope and optimism.
On the whole, in these poems simpler worlds are imagined. This, in itself, is interesting, given the amount of information and news (fake or otherwise) that comes our way. I’ve purposely not named individual poems and poets here as the pamphlet really is a collective effort and should be read as such. John Foggin, Bob Horne, Kim Moore, you are all incredible people who have given up many hours of your time in order to bring this pamphlet out into the world. Medals the size of bin lids are in order!

I would however, like to draw attention to Ian Parks’ prologue. This introductory sonnet manages to tap into the unsettling backdrop to the pandemic, the sense that we are, all of us, ‘huddled in our places’ … waiting for the hush that daylight brings‘.
When This is All Over

While we were sleeping they were still awake.
While we were hiding they were in the light.
The cold dark angel passing over us
left nothing but the flutter of its wings.
We huddled in our places, locked from sight
each waiting for the hush that daylight brings.
So empty out the squares and thoroughfares,
make criminal the handshake and embrace.
There is no other future except this:
the bolted door, the window and the face;
all of our journeys cancelled or delayed –
and if we meet we cough instead of kiss.
When all of this is over we’ll creep out
astonished by the new world they have made.

Ian Parks

 

Stereoplate

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Just a quick plug for Stereoplate, Stonewood Press’ fortnightly podcast.

Stereoplate is a brand new podcast bringing excellent fiction and poetry to everyday listeners and readers. Hosted by the team behind Brittle Star magazine, Martin Parker and Jacqueline Gabbitas, the podcast aims to ‘share new writing from around the world, chat with guests and try to shake off some of the mystery surrounding poetry and fiction.’ Episode 1 kicks off with the question: ‘How do you launch a literary magazine in a global pandemic?’

So, have a listen to Stereoplate: Series 1: We Have Lift Off. You can find it at Spotify, Anchor FM, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Radio Public, Breaker and others (and ITunes soon).