Blog tour

Egad. I find myself on tour, of blogs.

My friend and fellow student Liz Lefroy – a fine poet who you can actually google – asked me to do this. She’s a very good poet so I said yes. I mean, maybe by doing what she says, I’ll catch some of the sensitivity and precision of her language.

I can catch viruses online, so why not good things, or virtuous viruses? You see? Already I have a lot of alliteration. This makes savvy sense, no?

For this blog tour I have to answer questions. They’re quite hard.

What am I working on? I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. As I have about a quintillionish readers, tracking you all down would take a long time and might get in the way of my top secret project.

Suffice to say ‘gaze’ and ‘perception’. Sort of like esse and percipi with a bit of digital topspin. But I’m keeping the tree, yeah, no what I mean?

How does my work differ from others of this genre? Um. All poets are special and unique. We’re sort of like people in that regard, but with rhymes. And alliteration.

Why do I write what I do? Because I like doing it and doing it makes me feel happy.

How does my writing process work? It’s not clear yet that it does work. It might be broken or malformed, something to do with switching in the worker files, I gather, which is, horribly, a reference to one of my very own poems. Which Liz says might not be a poem.

I’m having a little tut at that idea, Liz.

I write when something nags at me or interests me strangely, as they say. Then I try to be exact. Then I fall in love with what I’ve written. Then people I trust say it could be better. So I have another go.

Then it gets published. Okay, one thing has got published in Verse Kraken. Or two if you count my poem on womenpoetswearingsweatpants.com which I only submitted to because I misread it as women poets swearing – wet pants and then I found out they took all submissions, which spoilt it a bit for me.

And it is all about me.

If you’re completely perplexed, then so am I. You can be in my perplexed poets posse.

Yes! I’m catching it, I’m catching it.

Anyone who wants to have a go – go for it. It’s really, really fun.

 

 

Posted in Writing

POETRY SPECTACULAR IN WANTAGE SUNDAY OCTOBER 20th

Yes!

It’s that time of year again – the Wantage Literary Festival is bringing you another glorious Sunday afternoon and evening of Poetry (with a capital P).

Jenny Lewis, Fiona Sampson, Peter Wyton and Robin Gilbert will all be reading their work.

Please book now on the link below as last year some events sold out.

I took the following text from the website:

“Now as Then: Mesopotamia-Iraq”

Jenny will discuss her exploration of her father’s role as a soldier in the South Wales Borderers in Iraq (Mesopotamia) in WW1 and read from her new pamphlet, Now as Then: Mesopotamia-Iraq

Arising from a series of readings and workshops at the Ashmolean Museum in April 2013 to mark the 10th anniversary of the 2003 UK/ US invasion of Iraq, Now as Then: Mesopotamia-Iraq celebrates the history and culture of ancient Mesopotamia and modern Iraq as well as denouncing the devastation of wars ancient, historic and contemporary. Each of the poems, by British poet Jenny Lewis and Iraqi poet Adnan al Sayegh, appears in both English and Arabic.

Fiona Sampson (Professor of Poetry at the University of Roehampton) reads from her new collection, Coleshill, and talks about a special kind of “writing home”.

Peter Wyton, former Poet Laureate of Gloucestershire, and Cheltenham Poetry Festival co-Director Robin Gilbert come together to celebrate the joys of history in verse.  From the god Apollo to Ivor Gurney, from the Creation to the 1950s, from Saxon Gloucestershire to 19th century New Zealand, from the comical to the poignant, they offer a feast of poems commemorating deities, people, artefacts and places throughout the ages.Join them for a rumbustious progress down countless millenia! You’ll go home much the wiser about our planet’s amazing and sometimes perilous past.

In the evening there’s a slam and somewhere in this rich mixture, there’s also a chance to see yours truly strutting her versal stuff. For five minutes in the local poets and enthusiasts slot …

Here’s a link to the events and listings page:

http://www.wantagebetjeman.com/store/

It is going to be worth any amount of effort to see these accomplished poets share their human beingness with us.

Please book now. Last year some slots were sold out.

The venue, the Vale and Downlands Museum, is at Church Street, Wantage OX12 8BL.

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Posted in Writing

Don Paterson

ANYONE who can should come and see Don Paterson reading his poetry on May 22 in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

The indefatigable team at Woodstock Bookshop have just arranged for this leading contemporary poet to come to Woodstock and give a reading on 22 May at 7pm in Woodstock Methodist Church which is across the road from the bookshop on the main drag.

Although the reading has been arranged at short notice, anyone who wants to go probably needs to book. Email Rachel Phipps on info@woodstockbookshop.co.uk .

Mr Paterson has been in Oxford this term, as Weidenfeld Visiting Professor of Comparative Literature at St Anne’s College, Oxford, where he gave a series of four lectures on different aspects of poetry. This will be a reading of his own poems – his Selected Poems is about to be published in paperback by Faber and there should be advance copies available to buy.

Don Paterson is a wonderful poet – for information about him see his website, here.

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Posted in Poetry

Me, Andrew Philip and a fish

ONE of the reasons I haven’t been updating this blog very much is that I have been taking online poetry classes at the London Poetry School.

In our hyperbolic age, I find it hard to characterise the course that I’m just finishing – Andrew Philip’s On The Line – adequately.

I have learnt so much.

Andrew is, as are all the tutors at LPS, an accomplished poet. His second collection, The North End of the Possible, is just out from Salt, and already critically acclaimed. I have ordered it but I’m ashamed to say I don’t know his work well. Anyway, I wouldn’t presume to comment.

As a tutor, he’s been a ladder up, at least to my mind. You can make up yours about that here, until the end of the month. The first poem Fifteen-hundred-year-old colander in the museum was written as an assignment for Andrew. I wrote it on a family holiday, having been abandoned to my uncoordinated fate on a sofa by my ski-fab family.

Andrew is unusually categoric for a teacher of poetry, although in a field which can be vague, he’s only relatively categoric. He and his meticulous course materials have given me new ways of thinking about lines of poetry and new tools to enrich my words.

When I wrote the colander poem I was sitting with pen and paper, concentrating hard. After some hours, I had one of those wonderful moments of doing a double-take at what I saw on the page before me. I felt like I’d regurgitated a fish. I didn’t know I’d eaten a fish, I thought, as I stared. The fish thrashed about a bit but finally stopped moving. When I looked again it wasn’t quite as beautiful and iridescent as I’d thought, but I still love it.

Now, of course, I want that feeling again. I’m addicted.

Thank you, Andrew.

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Posted in Poetry, Writing

GUEST POST: On course, with Sarah Watkinson

Today, my good friend Sarah Watkinson, an eminent scientist (and a woman of such modesty she’ll hate me for saying it) has agreed to share here the secrets of novel-writing she has gleaned on recent creative writing courses. Sarah, who has been writing her exciting novel for a little while now, is also a writer of beautiful poetry.

Thank you very much for writing this valuable piece, Sarah:

“I recently took the Oxford Diploma in Creative Writing in order to see if I could write a novel.  I knew I could write engagingly about fungi.  That was a start.  I knew I could construct an unambiguous and elegant sentence.  Often, I could even arouse an interest in fungi (yes – really!) and lay a trail of connected ideas for a reader to follow.  So surely a novel would be a doddle.  For fiction you don’t even need an EndNote library of references before you begin.

The professional critique of my first 32,000 words was humbling. Not devastating:  some of the settings and dialogue were quite good. And the plot was excellent (so it should be – it’s adapted from an old story, re-told many times by some of the greatest minds in history).  But that was my problem.  I had assumed the plot should come first, with a proper plan from the start.  But the result was a set of characters like puppets dancing to a complicated tune. Who would care?  Writing came to a stop as I wondered how real novelists create that marvellous illusion of a person, living their life.

So two weeks ago I went on Julie Cohen’s course for beginning novel writers, to learn about creating characters.  Julie is a successful and engaging novelist with fifteen published books. I downloaded ‘The Summer of Living Dangerously’ and was immediately hooked by the laugh-out-loud opening in which her protagonist leaps off the page.  Julie generously shared techniques for conjuring up believable people and facing them with gripping problems.  Using her carefully-designed exercises (I hope former school pupils realised how lucky they were!) I produced a character in a mere ten minutes who came to life in my imagination to the extent that I could almost feel responsible for his continued existence and happiness (Kevin Zacharias aged 65. His greatest fear? That his long-lost extrovert wife will reappear and disturb his frugal and ascetic existence in reduced but refined circumstances.  Shall I visit and offer to lend him books, take a bottle of something vintage?)

I came away from the day with new hope for my characters. Also, they now have an interesting series of plot points rising in front of them, like an attractive range of walkable hills concealing a series of hair-raising hazards.  I am back on track with my tale.  I’m also fortified by Julie’s advice to let myself write crap when stalled. So I now think I will finish my first draft. Parts will be excellent – they were graded as such by my fantastic teachers on the Oxford Diploma.  The purple passages will probably stand out from slurry pits of stuff churned out on off-days, but I WILL have a complete typescript by 15th June. That’s when Julie gives her advanced course, designed for hopefuls with a first draft to work on.  I’ll edit out my crap then.  I can’t wait.”

Sarah Watkinson

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Posted in how to write a novel, Writing

Welcome to the age of the digital readeur

TO AN interesting talk at the Oxford Literary Festival this morning.

The three speakers were talking about publishing online and I was especially interested to go as I will be talking about my other blog, SHORTCIRCUIT, at the Vale and Downlands Museum in June.

I found the first speaker the most engaging. Ivy Alvarez, a poet and teacher, smiled, a lot, and like she meant it. She gave us her personal history of moving from physical print books to the digital world. ‘The internet is a new country,’ she said and talked about the possibilities for contact between people that could never have taken place without our new digital passports.

The next speaker, Alexander Smith, is one of three students who run a publishing portal, mainly for students. I’m incredibly impressed that he and his friends have started DEAD BEATS.

Finally a French intellectual, Philippe Aigrain, spoke and made some interesting comments about the different ways the digital tools have been used in different countries. In China, the digital landscape for literature is dominated by one site on which writers post original work. In England, authors tend to use their personal websites, or blogs, to advertise their wares.

In France, writers have individual websites which they use to publish their projects including experimental collaborations (I’m sure they use them to advertise their books too). He showed us his very interesting piece, inspired by some music, which was, among other things, a demonstration of how a digital presentation can be used to slow down the reading of, in this case, a poem, the words becoming legible in time to the music. This, he saw as an interesting experiment in countering the speed culture which dominates so much of life, not least online. The poem and its digital presentation had been put together for an informal swap, in which he made something for a friend’s blog and vice versa. This is a common, often weekly, event in France, a sort of ritualised guest-blogging.

Both Aigrain and Alvarez talked about the blurring of the distinction between readers and writers. And it’s something I’ve noticed myself. Almost all the people who follow me either on twitter or facebook, are writers. We are a new type of writer though, many of us being unpublished, in the traditional, professionally-filtered, sense. Yes we want to read your work, but we want you to read ours too. We are readeurs, readers with our own voices, our own authorial intentions.

This is on one reading simply a symptom of our narcissistic age. But it’s also democratic and educational. Readeurs can be very sophisticated in their understanding of writing, on and offline. It’s an extension, a massive, oceanic expansion, of the truth that learning to write, for example, poetry, is also learning to read it.

There was some anxiety in the audience about plagiarism and copying. Plagiarism, said Aigrain, is rare, mistakes (misattributions) common (and far more easily corrected online than off) and if you don’t want to be copied, then don’t put your stuff online. His view, if I’ve understood it correctly, is that with so much content out there, indifference is more of a problem. Being copied, I think he said, is a huge compliment.

(They way I see it, the internet is porous and democratic. You can rub up against the very famous and those who will vanish without trace in your life and everyone in between. This is great, in terms of access, but it can also, in my experience, be enough rope. It’s easy to annoy the famous. They can be touchy, lack a sense of humour and feel very entitled to put over their views as the word of law. The internet is democratic, yes, but not without hierarchies.)

There was some discussion of whether or not digital practice changes output, changes the way we write. No one seemed quite sure. They mentioned ‘immediacy’ and ‘rawness’. They talked about personas. How do we know who anyone is online? There was some consideration of time. Is what we put on the net ephemeral, or there forever? Again, the answer seemed to be er, perhaps. Aigrain did say, interestingly, that the French authorities who are trying to archive online content have to be quick. There’s a lot of revising that goes on.

Anyway, I came home and looked at my blog and felt instantly unsatisfied. I don’t want pictures of leather-bound books anymore. I don’t want to try to write a novel in 10 minutes anymore (10 years is more likely). But I can have a lot of fun online in 10 minutes …

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Posted in creativity, feedback, friendship, links, literature, Poetry, reading, Writing, writing novels

sLINKY SUNDAY friendship is more powerful than racism; spider shock; upworthy

These are the links I’ve been loving this week.

Moving film – if someone sprayed your car with racist graffiti how would you respond? For the two people in this film, it’s taken for granted that they will respond creatively. That’s almost what I love most about this film. The second thing I love is the message, or at least what I took from it which is that friendship can drown out racism. I find it hugely redemptive and comforting that someone wants to assert this and does it in such style, so effectively. I also think the film is pursuing a very interesting genre of faction, which works perfectly here. More from these two please. (11 minutes)

Shocking film - another film I really enjoy watching. It is very shocking and caused my entire writing class to gasp and cover their mouths. So don’t watch it if you’re a sensitive petal or need a pacemaker but haven’t had it put in yet. Very tightly written and shot.

Upworthy - the website that I got the first film from and a couple of other things I’ve watched. I like their liberal sensibility and their taste in short films. Followworthy.

 

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Posted in links

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