Hallelujah

Fire and Ice

This was last year’s attempt at a Christmas poem, and it didn’t exactly come out very jinglebellsy – although it does use the word “Christmas”! With this in mind, I’m keeping it well away from Christmas and posting it in May. Enjoy!

Hallelujah

The angel stood on the patio,

his feathers buttered and heavy.

He was not the angel we’d had in mind.

He was winter with a blown halo.

 

He was the sum of our moods – hot and popping,

spitting in fire like pigskin.

He was white ash and burnt marshmallow,

crick-cracking. His smile was an ice-flow.

 

He turned once. He kept turning.

He was a Christmas fairground.

We threw roasting-nuts. We won nothing –

just the sizzle-spin of his eyebrow.

 

Round and round, wings greasy,

muscles strained, steaming and sallow,

he yelled like a Mexican wrestler

until the hail came. Hallelujah. 

 

Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

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Mother to Mother

It’s surprising how often one or two words can spark a whole poem. In a workshop, I was encouraged to think about or research some wonderful words to do with the shore. It was actually the words “chert and flint” which sparked this poem – and no, they’re not a pair of 1970s detectives, they’re the materials found in pebbles such as these in Seatown, Dorset.

The resulting poem, “Mother to Mother” is told in the voice of that great mother, the sea. She is speaking to a human mother, who may or may not be me. 😉

Beach at Seatown, Dorset

Mother to Mother 

At my shore, where you are drawn to grow lighter,
I load my spring currents with new stones to shine.
I grab steely chert,
pale flint with pleasing speckles,
nuggets of crumby sea-wall.
They are mine. They are mine.

As you lift your teary son from his waterlogged wellies,
you smile at how weighted his jacket now is
with stripey-lined feldspar
and palm-ready axe-heads:
soothing jewels to line his bed with.
They are his, they are his.

Some days, I admit, I take swipes of red cliff-mud,
with or without a caravan thrown in.
But I am a caretaker,
a guardian of mixed treasures.
I smooth jagged edges.
We are kin, we are kin. 

This poem was first published by Reach Poetry (Indigo Dreams Publishing).

The workshop that inspired this poem was run by the very inspiring Anna Saunders.

Photo by me, at Seatown in 2021. One day later, the cliff you can see behind the rocks collapsed in an enormous landslip, hence the “swipes of red cliff-mud”. The boy on the rocks belongs to me 😉

 

 

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“BUT THEY MIGHT THINK I’M A DICK!” Seven words which stand between me and writing success

Writing is easy. Well, OK, it’s not. But for most writers, writing is easier than the other side of being an author – selling books.

This year, amazingly, wonderfully, I have a book coming out. It’s my first. During a workshop last night, I was forced to address the question: what is it that makes me so nervous about publicising it?

Much overnight soul-searching later, the answer is clear. BECAUSE PEOPLE MIGHT THINK I’M A DICK.

Let me give you some examples.

I need to approach journals, blogs, podcasts, in-person events and festivals to try to get myself, and my work, out there. But might think I’m too forward!

I need to organise a launch event, or maybe two, but what if, like, five people come and two of them are my Mum?

I need to get myself out to some poetry nights and open mics, and this will probably involve initially turning up on my own, since not many of my friends are into poetry. But what if they all think I’m Billy No-Mates? What if I fluff it on stage?

I should probably get the sales ball rolling by getting some friends to buy and review the book. But a lot of the book reveals the inner me! There is anxiety and nerdiness and weird humour and sex and oddness! What if they’re all talking about me behind my back?

In summary: BUT THEY MIGHT THINK I’M A DICK!

My challenge to myself: to spot those words in my head. To put them away. To run every doubt through the BUT THEY MIGHT THINK I’M A DICK filter, call it out and have none of it. I don’t think any other author putting their work out there is a dick, so neither am I. And if let these seven words stand in my way… well then, I really am a dick.

 

Last night’s workshop was run by the fabulous Elizabeth M Castillo. https://www.elizabethmcastillo.com/

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Photo by Geralt on Pixabay

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I Think, Therefore I Write

Whether we think in words, images or concepts, does this affect the type of poetry we write? 

 

What’s it like for you when you think? What about when you read? Do you hear words in your head? See images? Both? Or do you experience something else?

 

I love discussing this, particularly with those who are only just realising that it’s not the same for everyone. Frankly it freaks people out. Someone who has a noisy inner monologue, for instance, is often quite shocked when they realise that another person just thinks in wordless concepts. Or that a third person practically watches a movie in their head when they read. 

 

But what about how we experience, and indeed write, poetry? Recently it struck me that perhaps the type of poetry we create may be very influenced by our thinking style. 

 

For example, I’m a very word-based thinker and reader.  I don’t really picture anything at all when I think – it’s all a big chitchat in my head, and all in my own voice. Reading is almost the same, although there is sometimes a little mental “picturing”.  So a poem for me is a platter of sounds, throwing up ideas, connections and the odd fleeting, fuzzy image. 

 

And what type of poetry do I write? Well, I love soundplay and very passionate about sounds that meld and clash. They are a very important part of the poem for me. Not all my poems rhyme, but rhyme is a great love of mine. I enjoy half-rhymes and not-even-that-close rhymes, I love alliteration and I cannot get enough assonance and dissonance. Likewise, I’m slightly obsessed with rhythm, and even if a poem doesn’t have a classic rhythmical structure, I usually need the rhythm to have some kind of shape in order for me to find writing the poem satisfying.

 

Which is all a long winded way of musing: do I write like that because for me the experience of a poem, the way I process the ideas, is almost nothing but words? That, for me, hearing an inner rhyme is as satisfying as looking at a sunset? That I cannot disconnect the meaning of a poem from the sounds that frame it? And, a big question – if I didn’t think like that, would I find wordplay to be just an irritating? A noisy and unnecessary distraction? 

 

Or maybe not. Maybe this is just all nonsense. But if it is, it’s nonsense that sounds awfully good to me. 

 

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It’s National Poetry Writing Month – Need Some Prompts?

National Poetry Writing Month is approaching fast! Here’s a little self-prompting technique that might just help you to write (or at least start) thirty poems in April.

There are three reasons why writing poetry in April is a good idea.

1 – It’s spring!

2 – It’s always a good idea to write poetry

3 – It’s National Poetry Writing Month

National Poetry Writing Month – or #NaPoWriMo* will see thousands of poets challenging themselves to write a poem a day.  For me, the main issue with this is having thirty ideas, when normally, I have a good idea for a poem once every week or two. Thirty in a row is going to be TRICKY!

There will be daily poem prompts up at www.napowrimo.net to help – but I don’t know about you, I’m a bit contrary and find the idea of a thousand other people writing on the same theme off-putting.

So I thought I’d share my most failsafe self-prompting technique, which I’m planning to use when stuck. It’s really simple, and it really has worked for me in the past!

1.  Choose a novel with a similar feel to poems you like to write

If you like fun poems, choose a fun novel. Romantic poems… you get the drift. I like writing surreal poems, so I chose “The Lefthanded Booksellers of London” by Garth Nix.

2. Randomly extract an adjective, then randomly extract a noun

Stick your finger somewhere random in the book, then read on until you find the FIRST adjective. Repeat, but with a noun. Write them down. My first effort brought me “minor path”.

3. Write a couple of lines inspired by that little phrase. 

It can be as directly or indirectly about it as you like. Don’t think about it too hard. Just give yourself a minute or two.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 four more times

That’s it! Ta-da! You now have a little pot of five poem starters, rather like this:

You don’t have to use them all, and you can repeat the exercise with all kinds of different books through the month – maybe include some non-fiction books as well.

I’ve already got most of a poem from my “minor path” prompt. Actually the poem ended up completely going away from the idea of paths at all but… it got me started.

Good luck and happy writing!

 

* This always reminds me of that joke about what Edward Woodward would be called if the letter D hadn’t been invented. #EWarWooWar

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Oxbow

This poem was written for a “Geography” themed issue of the poetry journal Allegro Poetry. And so, living the dream, I was able to write about the profound sadness of a relationship break-up, whilst drawing metaphors from my GCSE Geography days. Awesome.

Oxbow

We meet by the river
on a Wednesday lunchtime,
to the disapproval of your dry wife.

Sandwiches are eaten
from square lunchboxes,
and we talk about the shapes we used to make –
but not all of them.

“Do you remember,” you say,
“how you used to come out with my words
before I’d even thought them?”

And I think about the river, and how,
when it curls round and finds only itself,
there is a reckoning.
A cutting of the slack.

 

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Autumn in a Call Centre

 

Just an everyday workplace tale…

Autumn in a Call Centre

 

When the boss gave out autumn in home-made envelopes,

sour yellow and sellotaped,

the Success Team withered.

“But we stuck to the script,” they choked.

 

The boss said nothing, but stood

scratching her back against the photocopier,

her breath a hot slug of paprika.

HR looked up a policy, then shrugged.

 

When they opened the envelopes, November knifed them 

with its stiff north-easterlies,

red maple leaves spreading from their chests.

They dropped to the floor, rotting.

 

The boss stepped over them in her wide-fit stilettos,

her face waxy, like a butternut squash.

“The shoes,” she hissed. “You all wore the wrong shoes,”

and she walked out into the April sky, wheezing. 

 

 

An earlier version of this poem (then called “Autumn in an Envelope”) was published by Snakeskin Poetry.

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Pillowdrunk

These days, on Friday nights, are you drunk? Or are you pillowdrunk?

Pillowdrunk

The last thing you drank was tea,
it bubbles and stews in your centre,
the saucer swings, and you blend to
leaf-patterned fug. You see,
you’re drunk on a breath of dark,
thrown by the shape of your pillow,
skin down to blood down to marrow,
heaving. Blankets start
to swaddle your reeling heart,
snagging you safe for the journey,
but sleep doesn’t come. Too early.
You’ve waves to ride. You are
red sand on a roaming dune
ready to scatter and fall,
a sailor with nowhere to call,
a fish in the cup of the moon
waiting to drown.

 

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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

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Nettle

Ah, nettles. August walks wouldn’t be the same without these special friends would they? Grrr.

Stinging nettle

Nettle

Nettle…
after the apocalypse,
you, with your pain suit and your stealth roots
will survive –
a zig-zag scrap of hope
(at least for the butterflies).
But, though I know you to be
a sleeping saviour,
unwavering in the face of eco-calamity,
I still loathe you.
Viscerally.

There you stand, waist-high,
all shouty trousers,
the glad-swaggering big I,
your two-bit tendrils lunging brashly –
just an overgrown irritant
acting rashly.

And beside you,
the dreary dock leaves
paddle-faced and dead-eyed
clutch their scout badges tight and simper:
We’re really VERY sorry.
Come, crush our worthless bodies
to ease your blisters.

 

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Image by analogicus from Pixabay

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Photophobia

It’s nowhere near Halloween, so time for a creepy rhyme…

Photophobia

The light is like the sound of something breaking;
he waits inside the upturns of the waves.
Don’t touch the switch. The click will find him waking.

The kitchen has the scent of someone aching
to live. Reflections hold the things he craves.
Their light is like the sound of something breaking.

If light consoles you, watch its edges shaking
in bedroom corners, cringing at his gaze.
Don’t touch the switch. The click will find him waking.

I wonder, have you sensed a brightness taking
your vision? Have you felt in recent days
that light is like the sound of something breaking?

You may be free. You may be quite mistaken.
I guess you must believe, for now, you’re saved.
Don’t touch the switch. The click will find him waking.

So come to terms with darkness now. Start making
new routes, believe your senses, and be brave.
When light is like the sound of something breaking,
don’t touch the switch. The click will find him waking.

 

First published by Snakeskin Poetry – www.snakeskinpoetry.co.uk

Geek notes: This is written in villanelle form, which has a very specific pattern of rhymes and repeating lines. You may have noticed there are only two rhyme sounds (although I’ve been a bit loose with waves – craves – gaze – days – saved – brave!) You might recognise this form from this slightly famous poem by Dylan Thomas. 😉

 

Image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay

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