I’m very happy to have some new poems out in print this year (after a lean 2015!). Earlier this year I had a poem in New Walk magazine. Most recently I have three poems in Under the Radar and two poems in Poetry Wales. It’s the second time I’ve been in Under the Radar and my first time in Poetry Wales.
Reading Ruby Robinson’s debut collection Every Little Sound (Liverpool University Press, 2016) in the early days of the EU Referendum result, my ears were still ringing with one of the Leave campaign’s key slogans: “Take back Control,” an imperative phrase masquerading as a promise of freedom, and a reminder of the power dynamics at work in language and communication. We humans are susceptible to exploitation through our own miscomprehensions and Robinson’s poems alerted me to such vulnerabilities, and to the risks we expose ourselves and others to, in the relationships we form and in the relationships imposed on us, from birth to adulthood.
The opening poem invites us inside the book by addressing us directly:
come in. I’m opening my door to you – the trap
door of a modern barn conversion with lots of little rooms.
An invitation, then, but also a warning: that welcoming gestures, and homes, can be traps; that a person’s ideas, hopes and expectations (a modern barn conversion to me conjures up images of light and space, a sense of freedom within solid walls) can lead to disappointment and can even put you in danger (the restriction, claustrophobia and messiness of lots of little rooms).
‘Home’ is a signifier of safety, care, love, nurturing, and in the opening poem there is bread, soup and spare socks on offer to prove it. But we have been allocated a silent role in this home we’ve been ushered into. Someone else has defined our identity for us (reader, listener) in the same way that a child has no choice about the circumstances of the domestic space they are born into and live their early lives in. Although there are outward signs of welcome, this is not a consensual, mutually respectful relationship – how can it be when one person is issuing another with orders (Take back control!):
Take off your shoes. Take some spare socks –
when there is no room for the other to speak so they remain silent, or when someone purports to know what another person wants or needs:
…………………………………………… – I know your own feet
offend you. I know your deepest thread, like a baked-in hair.
At what point does love become a trap? At what point does an act of caring become an act of control? The walls here don’t have eyes we’re told, indicating that this could be a place of freedom but could, equally, be a place to experience neglect or abuse. In another poem, ‘Unlocatable,’ self-harm, seemingly induced by a psychotic episode, unfolds
……while no-one was watching
(so I may or may not have existed)..
There was fire and fantastic smashing of chandeliers, sirens
and the petrified calls of wild animals.
There was dust in everyone’s eyes
although no-one was there to actually see
In ‘Listen,’ a speaker tells us
…….. I daren’t speak my mind.
The man comes. I don’t
speak my mind
although, earlier, we have been told the speaker is
Beside a sleeping child
whose womb aches. I wonder
how I know this?
We think back to lots of little rooms, to houses were doors click, where years pass, where it rained for many years and she forgot about things growing.
No man is an island wrote Donne, another slogan from the EU campaign, adopted by the Remain camp, and Robinson’s poems address the interconnectedness of people, how the consequences of our actions are often played out for generations, if not indefinitely. The poem ‘Hush’ draws on ideas from sound technology to contemplate how experiencing trauma can reverberate through time:
Get up, drop
into a well
lumps of sound
you cowl from.
some other child
These are taut, vibrant, intimate poems, structured in a such a way as to replicate the complicated manoeuvres our brains make as we try to understand human behaviour. Repeated images and associative ideas resurface across poems like memories, suppressed memories, and false memories. In this way, a gathering narrative is grippingly revealed in this tightly bound, cohesive collection.
No person is an island however much they believe they are alone. Children who experience neglect and abuse grow into adults who form relationships with others, who become parents, who have children who grow into adults who have relationships with others.
In ‘Apology’, a five page poem at the centre of the book, past and present collide as the poem’s speaker directly addresses her mother, who has experienced terrible familial abuse:
I’m sorry for resembling your relatives and captors and the man
who penetrated you…
In apologising for being born
I’m sorry I’m here
the speaker movingly acknowledges that her very existence has extenuated her mother’s mental illness which has, in turn, been triggered by previous events. Unflinchingly and insightfully, the speaker also admits
I’m sorry I had, logically, to think of my own self first / simultaneously,
‘Apology’ is an expression of extreme tenderness and humanity by a blameless person who has the compassion to truly acknowledge a wounded person’s pain, even though they have, shockingly, experienced grievous pain themselves.
The poems in Every Little Sound encompass uncertainties, unreliable communicators, narratives of confusion, and misinterpretation, while simultaneously creating a feeling of movement, growth, renewal, development and evolution. In part, Robinson achieves this through her exquisite observations of the natural world, recorded in the midst of chaotic times: new tomatoes in a greenhouse are baubles; there is a smash glassed sea; an ash tree is shown sloping its nude shoulders to the night. Overwhelmingly, these poems transmit hope and a sense of the human capacity for resurgence beyond desperate damage.
The final poem ‘To My Family’ acknowledges
we are all little gods in our own worlds,
tearing ourselves away from unbearable closeness.
Certainly, the poems in this collection show that where there are little gods there are also little subjects, vulnerable to exploitation, who will painfully struggle with issues of trust when endeavouring to form subsequent relationships. But this is also a declaration that even the most broken of us has the potential to thrive.
Every Little Sound is a strong collection and a fantastic choice by the Forward judges for the Best First Collection shortlist.
Every Little Sound by Ruby Robinson, published by Pavilion Poetry, Liverpool University Press, has been selected for the 2016 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection Shortlist.
I am extremely sad that Gareth Lewis, editor/publisher at the tall-lighthouse, the independent small press that published my pamphlet The Misplaced House, has died at the age of 41. We only met once, at the London launch of my pamphlet, but we corresponded regularly via email, particularly while we were editing my manuscript. I was so grateful to Gareth for choosing my poems from the open submissions window at tall-lighthouse and offering me a publishing contract. He was a talented editor and a meticulous proofreader and he had an incredible capacity for hard work, as well as a wonderful sense of humour. He will be missed and remembered by many.
The deadline for the competition is midnight on Sunday, 31 July so you have just under three weeks to send in your poems. This is a fantastic opportunity to win a generous cash prize, read at a special prize-giving event at Winchester Poetry Festival on Sunday 9 October 2016, and be published in a competition anthology to be launched at the festival.
Winchester Poetry Festival is a biannual event and this is the first year of the prize so it will be a really special occasion to be involved in. The entry fee is £5 for your first poem and £4 for each subsequent poem.
First Prize: £1000
2nd Prize: £500
3rd Prize: £250
All entries will be read by judge Mimi Khalvati.
Winning and Commended poems will be published in the anthology.
Wishing you good writing and good luck!
Anthony Wilson has written about my poem ‘You say drone’ from my pamphlet The Misplaced House in his Lifesaving Poems feature.
I first read You say “drone” on the Poems in Which website, Issue 4 (2013). What struck me then, and still amazes me now, is its controlled fury while retaining its central identity as a made artefact, with layers, subtleties, and allusions, all of the things which separate art from propaganda. How appropriate, for a poem that skewers the ‘drone’ of 24/7 ‘news left on’ to which ‘nobody’ listens, to draw our attention to the way in which words are used, in plain sight as it were (‘pass away, drag out‘), to obfuscate and deflect from horrors we would rather not look at. I have wanted to write about it for at least a year. Each time I readied myself to confront its truth (about the world, our media, about me, about how I use language) it seemed another atrocity occurred: Gaza, Paris, Paris again, Brussels, Lahore, Orlando, Istanbul. I’m tempted to call it prophetic.
You can read the poem and Anthony’s full post here.
Huge thanks to Anthony for taking the time to do this.
What a week. My daughter turned 17 on Thursday, 23rd June, so was too young by one year to be eligible to vote in the EU Referendum. Early on Friday morning I found her in tears, reading online news sites and trying to absorb the reality of a Leave vote.
If she had been allowed to vote, she would have voted Remain, as would her 15 year old brother, as would the majority of her friends, as would the majority of her A Level History class who took a vote of their own on Thursday. Make no mistake, these young people will be registering to vote as soon as they are able, they will engage with and inform themselves about current affairs, they will not be influenced by one newspaper or one news channel which they will understand has its own ideological agenda. It is almost impossible to imagine them being convinced by simple slogans or by a red bus with an empty and insincere promise emblazoned on its side.
How to reassure my daughter and her friends? Our own immediate situation is alright. We still have a house, a good household income, her school is still functioning, life is going on. And we are able look after each other and support each other so this helps calm us, somewhat.
Beyond our own immediate world, I’m watching post-Brexit time uncurl itself and trying to understand how I, as someone who wanted the UK to Remain, can best function within it. To my mind, now is not the time to be calling out, criticising and mocking people who appear to have voted differently to me. Nor is this the time to blame a whole sociodemographic group because a majority of its members appears to have voted a particular way. I’ve been dismayed by the number of comments on social media criticising the “old”, the “working class,” and those who did not go to university. Better, surely, to put that energy into finding the millions of people belonging to these groups who voted Remain, the ones on our street as well as the ones on our Twitter timeline, joining together with them, sharing information and ideas to help us decide what to do next, to decide who to believe in these uncertain times. At her Saturday job yesterday, my daughter was heartened by an elderly lady who approached her, out of the blue, to say how sorry she was that people had voted Leave. Rather than feeling anger towards her (an old person!), my daughter immediately felt empathy and comradeship.
Similarly, I have felt let down by people proclaiming they are “proud” that the area they live in is an area which voted Remain. Alongside this, are incredulous (and often extremely hurtful) comments about Leave areas which had received high EU subsidies. I would like some of these commentators to consider reaching out to the millions of Remainers living in Leave districts who are currently feeling isolated. They need support, not ridicule.
What a week. What turbulent times. The last thing anyone probably needs now is another blogpost but here it is anyway.
I’m very happy to say that Emily Blewitt‘s prose poem This Is Not a Rescue, first published at And Other Poems (the poetry site I edit), has been Highly Commended in the Forward Prizes for Poetry and will be published this autumn in The Forward Book of Poetry 2017. Huge congratulations to Emily whose debut collection will be published by Seren next year.
This is the first time in the Forward Prizes‘ 25 year history that nominations from online magazines were accepted for the Best Single Poem category. When you think of the huge number of online poetry places there are (hundreds? thousands? millions?) it was brave of the judges to open votes to the digital poetry world and it’s no wonder that entries were limited to the first twenty online sites which submitted.
Admittedly, it was something of a scramble to choose two poems and submit them on time. The majority of poems sent to And Other Poems are previously published (in print) – and therefore not eligible to be nominated by And Other Poems – but, increasingly, new unpublished poems are being submitted. With little time and not a massive selection to choose from, Emily’s poem leapt out as a strong contender and I’m delighted that the judges agreed.
I’m looking forward to finding out how the other online poetry sites have fared. I have no doubt they will be the source of other Highly Commended poems and I was pleased to see that one of the five poems shortlisted for Best Single Poem, Melissa Lee-Houghton’s i am very precious was originally published at an online site, Prac Crit.
You can find more information about the Forward Prizes, read poems from this year’s shortlists, and find information about buying tickets for the awards ceremony and the anthology at the Forward Arts Foundation website.
Before I attend Claire Trévien’s Poetry Reviewing Workshop later on today, I thought, in best Blue Peter tradition, I’d link to some reviews I wrote earlier.
I have three OPOI reviews at Sphinx Reviews, edited by Helena Nelson. OPOI stands for One Point of Interest and these are 300 – 350 word reviews of poetry pamphlets. I’ve reviewed: The Great Vowel Shift by Robin Houghton, White Whale by Victoria Kennefick and Goose Fair Night by Kathy Pimlott.
You might also like:
How to Write a Review by Emma Lee.
Why Write Reviews? by David Clarke.
Two of the poets reading at this year’s Winchester Poetry Festival have been shortlisted for The Forward Prize for Best Collection 2016. Choman Hardi has been shortlisted for her collection Considering the Women (Bloodaxe Books) and Ian Duhig has been shortlisted for his collection The Blind Roadmaker (Picador Poetry).
Choman Hardi will read at the festival on Saturday 8th October in The Music of Uproar event along with poets Sinéad Morrissey and Bernard O’Donoghue. Ian Duhig will be reading in an event called In Full-Throated Ease on the opening night of the festival, Friday 9th October, along with poets Kim Moore and Sophie Hannah.
Festivalgoers will, of course, be able to buy signed copies of the shortlisted books at the festival bookshop, as well as hear the poets read from them.
In further good news for Winchester Poetry Festival, creative director Sasha Dugdale’s poem Joy, first published in PN Review, has been shortlisted for The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem.
Congratulations to the Forward Judges for an exciting shortlist. Full details on the Forward Prizes website.
From The Guardian: ‘Forward prizes reveal shortlists of poems from ‘the age of migration’
From The Bookseller: ‘Female poets strong on Forward Prize shortlists’
One of the interesting things about writing a blog is that you notice when certain posts are hitting the big time in the stats department. Some posts are forever ignored by readers but, for the last month or so, a post I wrote last July ‘What are your writing plans for the summer?‘ has been receiving more traffic than usual.
So, hello, if you’re here because something about that post piqued your interest. I’m guessing that if you’re someone who likes the sound of making plans you might also be a list-writer. In which case you might also be someone who likes notebooks and pens. In which case you’ll probably enjoy Anthony Wilson’s post ‘The stationery thing’ and I don’t mind waiting here while you have a read of that and meander away to other articles linked in Anthony’s post before you come back.
It’s easy to scoff at plan-makers and list-writers and call us procrastinators but that doesn’t stop both activities being deeply satisfying and a lot of fun, especially if you use a statement notebook and a beautiful pen. I’d be lost without my notebooks. My only rule seems to be that I keep fact and fiction separate. That isn’t to say that there isn’t some merging of the two, in autobiographical writing, for instance, but I use one book for diary writing, blog post notes and plans, and I have several notebooks on the go for actual creative writing, poetry, prose or scripts (since 2010 it’s been poetry). Writing things down helps me sort out my thoughts. I have so many ideas swimming around in my head I would feel I was drowning if I couldn’t write them down and try to order them. I find writing things down very calming.
Anyway, I have to say that you are probably many steps ahead of me this year, if you’re already making plans for your summer writing projects. I’m not quite at that stage. I’m still reading through poems submitted to And Other Poems during the last open window (massively helped by my co-editor Rishi Dastidar to whom I’m hugely grateful). I’m working on completing a collection of poems (might be a pamphlet, might be something longer….) but I can’t do much planning and plotting about that. These poems are arriving when they’re ready and not a moment sooner. No list, plan, gorgeous notebook or luxurious writing implement is going to help me write any faster. That’s just the way it is.
For now, though, I would love to hear from you if you’re planning something, writing-wise, for the summer months. For people working in education, or studying, summer can mean more free-time. Parents and carers might be more restricted than usual but might be able to squeeze in writing during the hours usually spent ferrying children to and from school and extra-curricular activities. Lots of firms experience a quieter time in the summer months as clients put off making decisions until everyone’s back from holiday. Whatever the reason, if summer promises to lend your calendar some more writing time, I’d love to hear about it.
Of course, you might be planning on diving into a swimming pool rather than a writing project. Hope that goes smoothly, too.