Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Cataloging my one-a-day poems and some sad news

Now I am into week 41 of my write-a-poem-a-day-for-a-year I have realised that to track down certain poems is difficult because there is no record of what is in each week. I just have a folder with files numbered by week  so I have to search through each file to find what I want. I have in fact submitted a few poems, but the task of searching is becoming silly. So, today I decided to sort this. Not being a person with a liking for spreadsheets I have resorted to old fashioned pen and notebook. In fact I am using the one but last school exercise book once used by sons. This one is a Year 8 Spanish exercise book!  Once the used pages are ripped out there is plenty of paper left for the purpose. I have a few columns and enter by week the title of each poem written. At present the amount of ticks in the submitted column indicates how many times I've sent it out (where to is entered in another book). There aren't many ticks yet, but one is on it's third submission. This will help a great deal for now. I've written about half the year's poems in so far and noticed a few things, like how awful some of the titles are, and how I love some of the others, how some poems move on from the last written. I can also see by their titles around the time I wrote them in the year, the influences I had to write them. It's quite interesting. There are a mixture of quite silly things that will never see the light of day, a lot of climate stuff later on and I noticed a few poems ended up with titles I'd used already!

I came across some poems I'd forgotten about and were a nice surprise, some cringe-worthy, some laugh out loud and some deep stand out poems. I also realised that some weeks I had more than seven poems and a couple with only six poems (I did add to one to make up the seven, though I shall more than 365 poems when I've finished. That sounds a great deal, but possibly only a handful will be good enough to submit. However, there are others I will edit when I've finished if I think they are worth the effort, even if I have to re-write them.

This has been a useful exercise and the start of the next phase. I hope to have the remaining poems entered in the next few days, though of course I'm still writing, but I see the end of the tunnel now.


Ollie making himself at home in the new cage
I have written about my son's pet rats before. Having failed to bond the rescue rats with Rizzo, it was time to buy a new cage for Charlie and Ollie. The temporary one was hard work. The doors opened inwards and frequently the hooks caught on clothing, it took two of us to clean and it wasn't easy to get the two boys out. The new cage is identical to Rizzo's and is just ideal. The two settled into their new home, and while we still tried bonding Rizzo with them, Charlie particularly would end up fighting with chunks of fur being pulled from Rizzo. It has been stressful for us to watch and while some fighting is normal we separated them many times to avoid anything worse. Rizzo seems very at home alone these days. I get him out in the mornings and we share breakfast. Well, he would steal my cereal, so I gave him his own breakfast of oats, soya cheese and a dollop of soya yogurt. Sometimes I'd add blueberries and carrot, but the soya products were pounced upon first! Often Rizzo comes out at night too. He appears to like whistling and my singing. He had a rendition of the Bee Gees Staying Alive the other morning!

Charlie and Ollie have been out just together lately, but sadly little Charlie died on Friday. I found him lying in the bottom of the cage. There was no warning. He'd been out in the morning, taken food and seemed perky. So this was a bit of a shock. I don't know the cause. It could be related to his start in life, the infection he (and Ollie) had before they came here, or age, though he was only just over a year old (life span of a rat is around two years).

Because it was already dark when I found him we wrapped him in kitchen roll and put him in a small box and left it until the morning to bury him in the garden. I did what I did for the guineas pigs when they died....I put some food with him for the afterlife! (Me and my pagan/Christian ways! - I made a cross too).

Now Ollie is alone and wondering where his friend is. We are trying to lavish love on him. It's not good to have lone rats, but Ollie has always been the biter and aggressive one. I am not sure what we do. I can't see him accepting another rat. Oh, and he bit me on Sunday. Blood everywhere and the bite was tricky to stop bleeding. It's getting better now, though. I should have known better than to stroke him in his cage. Once he's out he is much better, but we are always wary. We are teaching him to go inside the pouch so we can lift him out of the cage. My son is very good (though he's been bitten three times!). Oh, the trials and tribulations of pet keeping!

Finally, I had a nice surprise yesterday when the Brotherton Poetry Prize Anthology arrived in the post. I'd not won the prize or been a runner up. In fact I'm not in it at all, though I did enter. Maybe it was part of the entry to receive a free copy when published. Whatever, it was good to have a copy and see what I was up against. I guess I can see why I got nowhere! I've only read a few poems so far but I really liked the poems by the overall winner, Dane Holt, especially the first few. I think I've finally realised that these winning poets are in another league to me. I'm not sure how I will ever get to that level, perhaps never.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

How not to feel so alone

Although I have never met the Banksy of the poetry world, I feel we have a great deal in common. I realise I have posted one or two of his poems on Facebook without knowing much about him, but he seems to like being elusive. Who am I talking about? Brian Bilston.

I picked up a copy of his first novel in Foyles last week while killing some time before attending a concert at the Royal Festival Hall, and I began reading it the next evening. I just loved it. The humour is just my thing. Brian (the name of the character in the book...how much is auto-biographical?) belongs to a book club, a poetry group, is divorced from his wife, has a 16 year old son and lives in a road next door to a rather crazy lady and a bunch of students. Brian's new years resolution is to write a poem a day. That last part rings bells with me! Reading this book made me feel less alone in the world of writing.

Brian is jealous of Toby Salt who has a book of poetry published - poetry Brian can make no head nor tail of. When Toby goes missing Brian becomes of interest to the police. This is an hilarious journey through Brian's year (he never finishes the book club read, he falters on his one-a-day poems and he belongs to the 27th Club with his brother-in-law, a club to take themselves out of their comfort zone listening to obscure live music - they are the only members).

The poetry is funny and worryingly (or maybe not) some is very like mine. He does things like writes a poem in the form of a spreadsheet. I wrote one in the form of a Sudoku puzzle. He writes alternative words to pop songs....er...yes, I've done that! I just felt I knew this man.

There is a love interest, but the socially awkward Brian gets it wrong so much. On the back cover of the novel the Sunday Telegraph describe the book as 'the midlife answer to Adrian Mole'. I'd agree, but I was peeved because I once described my humorous novel to an agent as a cross between Adrian Mole and the Rose Project only to be told Adrian Mole is in the past, you need something modern. Pff! See, what do these people know? Now I'm sounding like Brian!

I did a little research and found that Brian Bilston's book of poetry is published by Unbound, a crowdfunding publisher. I seem to have become a bit of Brian Bilston groupie, but reading his book has really cheered me up. Recommended! Go read it!

My own efforts of one-a-day poetry is going well. I'm coming to the end of week 40! Some days it is a struggle to find subject matter, which is why I was so pleased to read that Helen Cox has a free download of 100 poetry prompts. They came at the right time for me.

I had a final email from Live Canon which also perked me up. They were so encouraging about my poetry and said such lovely things. Sometimes us struggling poets need to hear those words. As I said to my friends, it sometimes feel like I'm swimming in a stagnant pool and no one wants to fish me out.

The ghost story I wrote over Christmas was sent out and rejected within weeks, but I have submitted a few poems and I wait to hear on them. Meanwhile because my story output is about nil and I have no desire for them at the moment, yet I miss writing about something, I have finally taken WordPress by the horns to begin a new blog about my travels around London and beyond. Admittedly the horns were goring, and there was much hair pulling and Googling, until I finally realised that Gutenberg is the new Classic (the older style dashboard I was used to). I've stuck with it and now have a handful of posts and photos up there. This is filling writing need and draws on my love of being a tourist in my own country. I've even mastered (with a great deal of Googling) the art of wrapping text around a photo. I'm so proud of myself. It's not perfect, but this is for pleasure - mine, and hopefully my readers! Should you want to take a peak you'll find it here.

I shall now end as I started, with a tip of my hat to Brian Bilston and sharing with you this remarkable poem (!) I wrote this morning about a subject me and my veggie/vegan friends get rather annoyed about. If you are a veggie/vegan you will understand. If you are not, take note! (The poem still needs work!!!)

Plant Based Woe

The veggie section is always small
at parties and functions and barbecues,
yet meat eaters go and scoff it all
by the time we reach the front of the queue.

Why do they do that? It's not only me
who complains at the way they think it's their right
to eat pork pies and then if you please
the crudities, without a care for our plight.

I take my box of handmade delights
just to be sure my hunger is sated,
but they still crave my goodies, my bites,
as alternative cheese sandwiches are plated.

Oh no, I couldn't do without my meat,
they cry, snatching the last veggie spring roll,
so stick to your meat carnivores, hand off our treats,
and leave us the plain crisps in the bowl.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

New year, new beginnings

The first colour in the garden
This year I intend to do things differently and that means writing will be taking a back seat. It's been coming for a while, the winding down process, but I have to admit that right now the passion for writing is not as strong.

Having said that, I did write a Christmas ghost story. I think this was inspired by reading some in Jeanette Winterson's book about Christmas. That was a jolly good book, by the way. I wrote my story in one go and edited it over the next two days. It now sits on my laptop waiting for the right place to send it.

My poetry challenge moves on and I'm now in week 37. I had a period where I was stuck and asked my Facebook friends for some random words. Two friends came through and I've ended up with a love story poem involving a tandem and a poem about the Australian bush fires, the latter I share with you at the end of this post.

On the climate subject I am reading Extinction Rebellion's Handbook. I knew they were organised just from being around them in London last year, but I never realised just how much thought and planning goes into everything. I bet not many know that at their safe zones they feed anyone who needs food - commuters, homeless, even the police. There is a lot of sympathy from those who have to intervene due to their job. I think before people slag them off for being a nuisance they should read this book. I think they will be surprised.

I have no courses booked this year, which has come as a great shock to my friends! I aim to walk more, visit places, read lots and experience new things. Last year was a particularly tense one and I'm looking to see which way the wind blows this year, go with what seems right and be a bit more impulsive. I feel I might be on a new path, or maybe its just a break from the usual I need. I am, as they say, going with the flow!

The Design Museum, Kensington High Street.
Went to see Moving to Mars exhibition here with my techie son
who made it more interesting because he could answer my questions!

Tip of the Iceberg

And still there were doubters and deniers
as the inferno licked at walls of houses,
destroying everything before it.
Some said it was normal, just a blip
in the season. This was Australia, after all.

And as the fires raged through the bush,
smoke could be seen from space
edging towards New Zealand,
while masked people walked the city
of toxic fumes, praying for rain.

Fires swept people towards the coast
where they waited for boats
to take them to safety,
while ninety-five per cent of Koalas
perished. Bodies of Australia’s
wildlife lay scattered by roadsides,
charred and scarred.

And unbelievers still deny
as the world carries on
imploding around them
in floods and wildfires.

The tip of the iceberg
is melting.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

New Laptop and review of my writing year

The Jigsaw put together in one day
In the last few days I have been getting to know my new laptop. Times have been fraught, especially for my techie son who has had the job of putting right what I've done wrong, answering my queries and basically losing it. I fully understand. Everything about this laptop feels different, from the keyboard to the way the start up screen looks and functions react. The mouse is super sensitive...to match my mood!

But I am getting the hang of it slowly and yesterday I did lots of typing. That's helped a lot. This morning I have loaded up some photos from my phone for the first time. My son said it will be exactly the same as the way I did it before. Er...not quite. Once the device was ready to go (as it told me) I couldn't find it! Then once I did find it I copied the photos I wanted and went into pictures but couldn't find the tab for 'create new folder'. It was stuck at the top in tiny print. So it has been successful. Besides which my son is still in bed and even I haven't the nerve to wake him over this!

I've been slow to get to my laptop because there was so much to do before Christmas and during Christmas but now I have loaded my writing folder onto it (with a lot of help and distress....from me and son!). However, I've not transferred everything from my old laptop and don't intend to unless I need it. I'm trying to start afresh and be better with my filing system. Let's see how long that lasts!

So, how is everyone's Christmas going so far? We had the girlfriend of my younger son staying for two nights and between them they put together the 1000 piece jigsaw in one day! I never got a look in. I received some nice presents - books, of course, earphones, a pen that lasts a lifetime...wow! Two friends remembered my eco-friendly lifestyle and bought me a box of pens made from recycled card, plus a notebook made from recycled plastic, a soy candle, a string bag (which I first thought was a ball of wool, and I wondered what does my friend think I'm going to knit?!) and some bee bombs for the garden. My husband bought me the Dairy Diary that I asked for. I love this diary and I used to buy one every year. Then I swapped to cheaper options but they weren't the same. A friend bought me one two years ago and I realised how much I'd missed it. These days it comes with little stickers to highlight birthdays and special occasions. Oh, such fun!

Books for Christmas!
Now we come to the part where I look at my writing successes and otherwise during the year. Otherwise is very high on the agenda this year. Anyway, here goes:

Short Stories - submitted 13, successes - none
Flash stories - submitted 7, one published (Paragraph Planet)
Poems - submitted 44, successes - 4 (all published by Visual Verse), 1 consolation prize! 4 no replies (assumed dead), 3 waiting (assumed dead)
I have one poem accepted from last year's batch which will be published at the end of next year!
Novels - one submitted for a competition - no go.

During the year I attended Mslexia's writing conference in Leeds, took an online novel writing course, enjoyed author events locally, and a couple of poetry events in London. The biggest and best move was joining the writing group which meets in Hammersmith. There I found friends and a relaxed atmosphere to try new, and often, wacky things. I'm off there today.

I don't want to dwell too long over this year. It hasn't felt great writing-wise, but support from friends helps. As to the future, I don't have much planned. I shall finish my year of writing one poem a day and I want to re-visit some of the poems I have written about climate change and try sending a few out. I've decided not to go to any writing conferences in 2020, and I'm not sure about general submitting either. Competitions just feel a waste of time and money. The only workshop/conference I would consider next year is one about self-publishing. I'd like to publish some poems, but don't feel confident enough to go it alone. Just getting to grips with my laptop has been stressful enough without the thought of tackling book covers, formatting text etc. for publishing.

To end with I thought I'd share this poem I wrote over the dilemma of whether to use the candles I was given for Christmas. Did I? Er.......

The Santa Candles

A row of Santa candles waxed red
and white, I’m sure they will burn
nice and bright, but in my heart
I know this to be wrong.
It can't be right to burn Santa Clause
even for the cause of Christmas,
to light the wick will rip my heart
apart, to see him melt from the 
red of his hat to his shiny black boots
taking with it his suit all trimmed
in white, and for what, a light?
If I strike the match, see his sacrifice
flaming, will my fingers tremble
as this terrible deed is done?

Oh Santa, pick up your sack and run!

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Live poetry, an exhibition and Christmas

I have been without the internet for three days. You never quite realise how much you miss it until that happens. Some workmen drilled through the Virgin Media fibre optic cable, near me, along with some gas pipes and it affected a large part of south west London. The priority was to get the hospital back on line and then everyone else. I'm not sure if everyone has been re-connected but ours came back at eleven o'clock last night.

At one point I used the internet via my son's mobile so I could do some essential things, but his data was going so I was quick. Even our local coffee shop had no wi-fi! While there is something to be said for getting away from social media for a while, the internet has become an everyday essential.

And now I'm back I can do a catch up. Last Sunday afternoon I went along to the Boulevard Theatre in Soho again. This time Live Canon presented an event with Valley Press - four of their poets were reading. I came across Valley Press some years ago and have bought books from them. Recently they started a subscription service and, liking what they do, I have signed up for a year. So I was keen to support them at this event and I got to see the theatre itself. It is a small and very intimate space. I booked a seat in the second row. I hadn't expected to be so close to the stage. This is an excellent space for poetry. Helen from Live Canon introduced Jamie McGarry from Valley Press who then went on to introduce each poet. The four performing were Ralph Dartford, Cherry Taylor Battiste, Adham Smart and Julia Deakin. I had not come across any of these poets before but their poems were powerful and very different. While I enjoyed all the poets my favourite was Julia Deakin for her variety.

I hope to return to the Boulevard in the future and hear more poets. There is something going on there every Sunday afternoon. There is a lovely bar/restaurant area, which was quiet by that time. I had a nice pot of tea, but I had to smile. With all the drinks machines around these days huffing and puffing through frothy coffees and different teas, my tea was made by boiling a kettle. How quaint!

Since that event I have received my first newsletter and book from Valley Press as part of the subscriptions service (you get to choose your books). I have a book of short stories by Judy Darley, and I think next time I will choose Julia Deakin's book.

Now Christmas is upon us and I've been baking biscuits and making my marzipan sweets. It's something I used to do to you use up left over marzipan after covering a Christmas cake. I no longer make a Christmas cake as only I eat it. There is a limit even for me! But I adore marzipan. I cover glace cherries with it and roll them in icing sugar. There are variations and this year I've covered some in chocolate and cocoa.  My elder son is going to make a non-Christmas cake (an orange cake) and I've still to make mince pies.

These Amaretti biscuits are the best! First time making
them. Going fast. Everyone loves them.

Cranberry Thumbprint Biscuits

Marzipan sweets (first layer!)
In between the cleaning, baking and shopping I'm still writing my one-a-day poems. I went along to the British Museum on Tuesday to see an exhibition. Inspired by the East shows how we fell in love with tiles and ceramics and copied them. Paintings, sculptures and sketches of objects and costumes were also on show. While at the museum I looked at an art exhibition in room 90 featuring contemporary art from the 1970's to the present day, with art from Tracey Emin, David Hockney, and a favourite of mine, Anselm Kiefer. I found the day inspirational especially when it came to some poetry writing.

Anselm Kiefer

I also managed to get back to writing group in over in Hammersmith yesterday afternoon. I've really missed it, though it took me a while to get my head into gear. I'd not had a lot of sleep and felt quite tired. But it was fun and good to see everyone. The cafe was almost deserted. I guess everyone was off Christmas shopping.

Finally my new laptop has arrived and my son has been setting it up for me. I used it briefly yesterday but I need to transfer some files over (my writing ones) so today I'm using the old one as it's quicker and easier until I get to grips with the new one and have everything I need on it. I was amazed at how quickly it boots up and shuts off. This one takes about ten minutes!

This will be my post until after Christmas, so I'd like to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I do hope you'll come back now and then.


Thursday, 12 December 2019

Poetry, Dear Earth, singing, and ratty news

I am shortly to submit my last climate change poem to Live Canon for feedback, but it won't be the last poem of that nature I will be writing.. In fact this morning while I was sinking my first mug of tea of the day I had an idea for another so I wrote a few verses. I liked the start of it but struggled over the end verse. I put it aside and went back to it later and re-wrote some lines and found a way into the final verse. Now it's set aside to rest.

I've just signed up to Satya Robyn's free e-course For Dear Earth, 28 daily emails to bring you in a closer relationship with earth. Satya is a Buddhist Priest and some years ago I took part in her monthly Small Stone Poems. I am only on day two of the e-course but I am finding it challenging to my emotions. I watched a half hour video made by Extinction Rebellion which was both very informative (fact wise) and scary. This course sits well with the work I've been doing with Live Canon and is making me think about what I do next. While I am making changes in my life, should I be doing more and getting out of my comfort zone? I am certainly still taking small steps in my plastic free life (though I haven't managed to stop other members of the household from buying bottled water yet). I'm trying to lead by example and am working on a solution to my bottle buying son who reckons tap water tastes awful.

One of things that bugs me is the amount of cartons I end up with for my soya milk. Oh for it to come in glass bottles! I'm considering trying to make my own oat milk, but I fear it won't taste the same and then do I have to time to make enough? I recently bought some silicon baking mats in order to reduce the amount if aluminium foil and baking parchment we use, and I've bought a reusable sandwich bag. The other day I used a shampoo soap bar for the first time. However, my hair felt rather sticky. I'll give it another go but I might have to find an alternative. I wish there was a refill shop near me. These things are still taking time but I'm hopeful I can find something nearby soon.

Thinking about Christmas I'm trying to be as eco friendly as possible. I'm giving one friend a Kilner Jar with ingredients for a cake. All she has to add is an egg, water and butter. I've written the recipe out. We always try to re-use Christmas wrapping (my husband spends ages peeling off sellotape), and I often make tags out of old cards. This year I'm making my own Christmas crackers - just enough for one each on the day. I used to do this years ago. I'm just waiting for the pack of 'snaps' to arrive.

This week has all been about singing, but I think this will be the last year I sing outdoors in winter because after a two hour stretch at Waterloo station the cold made me feel so ill. It's not the first time this has happened and I think I need to take notice now. Yesterday was our end of term concert which went well and was fun to do. We had our regular band for some numbers. Our last performance is at Kingston Parish Church on Saturday as part of their Christmas Tree festival.

And back to writing.....I was pleased to see that my poem Milkers was published by Visual Verse on their website this month. It was a prompt I could not refuse!

Oh and we successfully managed to get both Charlie and Ollie out on the sofa together without Ollie Bear (he looks just like a polar bear) biting anyone. He seems to feel less threatened out of the cage. Still not sure whether bonding with Rizzo will happen. The only time Rizzo and Charlie met there was a stand-off, a bit of sniffing and then Rizzo chased Charlie over the sofa and Charlie yipped. Not sure if Rizzo bit him, but certainly there were no marks. Still a way to go!


Ollie Bear and Charlie


Concert day - taken from the first floor of the Rose Theatre looking
down into the cafe where we performed.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Not quite poetry but still art

Imperial War Museum, London
I hadn't intended to go to the Imperial War Museum yesterday, but I was a little early for the Morley College Winter Fair, so I nipped over the road just to kill some time. I ended up spending about an hour there taking in the free exhibition Culture Under Attack, which is split into three sections - Art in Exile (the choosing of which art works in museums and galleries to store away during World War II), What Remains (why culture and heritage is attacked during war) and Rebel Sounds (how musicians used music to resist and speak out against war and oppression).

I found these exhibitions really interesting. The first thing of note was whose paintings were saved. Mainly William Orpen as he was highly thought of. Paul Nash (a favourite of mine) had just three paintings saved (his prestige is higher these days and it was admitted that more of his work would be saved now!). What's in a name one might ask!

I'm sure we all remember seeing artifacts and historic buildings being smashed by Isis. I still remember how that made me feel. This was what was looked at in What Remains along with other war destruction like Dresden in WWII. History and culture are important. It's where we come from, our roots and can leave us devastated at the sheer mindless destruction. At the end of each exhibition is a chance for visitors to vote on different questions, like is it important that buildings should be restored? Even...would you die to save a building? When you vote you get to see the percentage of people who agree or do not agree with you. It's a nice interactive task.

In the Rebel Sounds exhibition there are videos and info about various conflicts and the part music played to rebel. From the Hot Club in Frankfurt during the war, The Undertones (Teenage Kicks) from Belfast in the Troubles, Public Enemy and a group from Africa. The Taliban banned music but people still listened despite the consequences of being beaten. I certainly remember when my hubby and I were in Belfast our guide talked about the Punk era in Belfast. Our guide was friends with the DJ Terri Hooley (featured in the exhibition). Punk was a backlash to the Troubles.

The room where you can sit and listen to four tracks is great. It has the sound of the stylus making contact with vinyl (you can't beat it). The bass notes vibrate through the benches so you really feel the music! I loved it. I did my voting in the end room and I heard Teenage Kicks playing again next door, and yes I did do a little dance (I love that song and I have it on vinyl). It probably gave the CCTV security guy something to smile about! I just can't keep still when music is playing.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, certainly a lot of poetry was written during the wars. Like the war artists I'm sure some was censored. Many paintings were rejected because they didn't want the folks back home to see what war was really like (not good for morale). Poets and painters told it like it was. It was their way of expressing their emotions. Sometimes writing poetry is the only way you can do that. It's cathartic.

Anyway, this turned out to be a nice little diversion yesterday. A good hour well spent. The exhibition is on until 5th January if I've whetted your appetite.

The collection to save during WWII

Paul Nash - The Ypres Salient at Night  (1918)

Outside the Imperial War Museum