My Favourite Things

Last day of February, and starting tomorrow there will be no more poetry until the start of April. The burnout really is real, and it has been a very long time since I threw myself into something that worked as wish fulfilment before anything else. Enter Ternary which is a writing project which is likely to be familiar already to those of you who have been here for a while.

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This used to be The Sayers which began as weekly fiction. Now it’s been amended, extensively edited and is in the course of being completely re-written from scratch. That’s what I’m going to do with my free time in the next few weeks, as well as the other stuff that you’ll have seen in Monday’s blog post. It has a soundtrack Spotify playlist (under construction) and I keep writing bits of dialogue down as stuff occurs to me and in that regard, it’s already a success.

The ultimate irony however is that it begins with a poem.

Progression and development means different things to different people. For me, even if I can’t stand the sight of it right now, poetry’s become part of my psyche. It is also remarkably important in the alternate history I’m writing, that the piece which starts the book pretty much underpins everything that takes place during the first part of what, on reflection, was always going to be a trilogy. How I decide to publish it remains to be seen. This year’s submissions elsewhere will probably determine that path.

For now, there’s the unbridled joy of a new thing to do, and that honestly the last thing I care about now is how other people get to read it when it’s done. All that matters is the telling: we have a beginning, middle and end, with all points in-between covered. That in itself is a glorious state of affairs that’s not taken place for quite some time.

Hard Habit to Break

Okay, it’s official. I need a break from poetry.

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That’s not strictly true, but it’s close. It’s become impossible to throw my brain into poetry mode at present, and the last time this happened a month’s break was EXACTLY what was needed to reset the gauges. A lot of this is wrapped around the two major submissions I’m now finishing up, both of which have poetry as their core. It is time to return to fiction as my life for March, which means the following:

  • No new weekly Haiku or Micropoetry until April, but we’ll repost some of my Greatest Hits whilst also trailing upcoming projects for the rest of 2019,
  • #Narrating needs a break too, so I can stock up some better ideas going forward. #Soundtracking however will celebrate the upcoming 14th birthday of my daughter with a list of bands I think she’ll appreciate going forward into adulthood,
  • The Short Story continues unabated. Because DUH. 

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That leaves a gap for content here which I’ll fill by getting EX/WHI up to date whilst simultaneously filling in details of some of the things I’d like to do with my writing and this site by the end of the year. It also allows the much-needed opportunity to get Gumroad up and running, so I can sell stuff to you to allow that journey to more comfortably take place. That’s probably the most important thing of all to get properly organised next month.

Thank you for your support and understanding during the first two months of this year, and here’s to the next ten.

You’re History

We interrupt our normal Thursday WiP Day (decorating my daughter’s bedroom in lieu of actual work) for an important question from the lovely people at The Poetry Society:

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If you put a pile of straws in an art gallery, does that make it art? When we went to New York a couple of summers ago, that was the question my daughter threw at me after we saw just that in the Museum of Modern Art. There were cardboard boxes too, arranged as buildings, random shapes that made little sense to her. Only a few pictures were on the walls that might be considered as ‘conventional’ in their approach. ‘Perth Amboy’ was an exhibition that started a dialogue I’ve had many times with others, but never a family member. My conclusion was straightforward.

If you present something as art, it’s art.

So, if that’s the case, why do I feel the need to disagree in this poll?

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There was an extremely interesting exhibition in London a while back, which I went to see with a friend, on the back of an unrelated talk about early photographic pioneers. This told of how the Victorians, in a position of relative affluence and security as a dominant societal force in the late 1800’s began to look back to Renaissance art as inspiration, reviving works of artists which had, in many cases, simply been lost to the march of time. Because enough people decided something was worth remembering, it happened.

That’s why William Carlos William’s poem becomes important: it’s less about the actual words themselves, more around the context in which they have now been placed by those who have come after.

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How many people were poets between 1883 and 1963? How do we define them as such: did they need to have been published at the time? Is it important that their work was linked to world events (such as the World War One poets) or that their work has become famous through the dissemination of their craft in academia? Could there be other W.S Graham’s out there, whose work is only widely known because of what took place after their death? Is it the words that create poems, or the containers we place them in?

Many of my friends will tell you that ‘real’ poetry has to rhyme, because that’s the only way you truly understand that it isn’t prose. Except subjectivity is the bigger issue at play. What one person hears as poetry might be somebody else’s noise, or poor attempt at being clever. It’s why the straws in Rachel Harrison’s exhibition might draw derision from those who don’t grasp the importance of expression in this equation. It is the step between ignorance and enlightenment that a famous Hans Christian Anderson fairy story so elegantly exploits.

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When the small boy is the only one to admit he sees the king in nothing at all, he’s the part of our brain admitting that what other people grasp as truth is as much dictated by the collective mindset than it ever is of actual fact. Poetry, in essence, is storytelling, and how you choose to do that has been strictly defined since the Greeks assigned three muses to deal with particular branches of poetry. The key to understanding why poems ought to be a certain way therefore could be less about how they sound, and more about how they’re built.

Humanity loves definition, because without this structure… well, lots of people feel uncomfortable. It’s part of your social contract, in essence: in exchange for allowing people to take away a portion of your basic liberty to allow co-existence with everything else, there’s a measure of acceptable definition. It’s why me being able to type ‘I am bisexual’ into a sentence might seem a really pointless diversion to daily life, but being able to pronounce this without fear continues to be a huge deal.

It is the incredibly subtle combination of expression and labelling which makes poetry poetry, an ability to express without fear or recrimination, an outlet for pure, unadulterated creativity. The more ‘experimental’ poetry becomes, the more difficult it becomes for those whose lives are defined by structure and definition to grasp… except these writers understand how words work. It is abundantly apparent they have learnt the basic skills of verbal communication to begin with.

It’s a rite of passage for anyone who feels prose is never enough as expression.

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The reason why I disagreed with the initial comment is two-fold: some works that others present me as poetry I disagree with, because when it is read I cannot discern a poetic voice. In most cases, there’s a distinct disassociation that takes place: it is entirely possible that my unique mental makeup is to blame. Only by writing what I feel is poetry has it been possible to create anything that sounds like other things that have been read, and that is subsequently accepted as poetry.

Secondly, and most crucially, to be the best artist you can be, there really ought to be a nod to experience and history in training and progression. How much should poetic past inhibit the future? Is it right to define poetry in the more rigid formats? Do we need modern day versions of ancient texts to truly understand what is written, or should these forms of communication only ever be acknowledged as part of a past long dead and irrelevant?

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If the container in which a piece of work is placed is marked ‘poetry’ it is up to us to respect the wishes and desires of the person who provides that packaging. Then, it is up to us as adults to either accept that, or provide reasoned or articulate rejection of the claim. In essence, this is what happens every time I send a poem off to a contest or an award: somebody else, based on their definitions, decides whether my work is the ‘poetry’ they wish to consign to history or not via publication.

The second reason why I disagreed is more significant: the choice isn’t mine to make. It could be argued that simply being presented as a poem is not enough. If the question had been ‘if it’s PUBLISHED as a poem, it’s a poem’ then there’d be no hesitation in saying yes. Sometimes, as poets, we don’t get the choice to be remembered. That decision is passed to others, whose definitions may never mesh or overlap with our own. In those cases, I could scatter the Scrabble letters across the board and present the same image above, and if someone published it…? 

My legacy is a moment of madness that someone else defines as genius.

The Last Time

I’m getting schooled quite a bit during this journey into poetry. It’s probably no surprise that I was rooting for e.e.cummings in the Poetry Society ‘Romantic Poetry’ World Cup: his work is pretty straightforward in my mind when it comes to style and approach. All this stuff about metrical feet and disyllables does my brain in: there is just no way it all sticks. Haiku I can manage, my own takes on micro-poetry is about the limit of experimentation. One new thing, every few days, is likely to at least be recalled at a later date.

Thanks to Killing Eve, villanelle is pretty well embedded now.

I’m getting a bit grumpy about having to wait for people to tell me poems have not been successful: it’s understandable, on reflection, considering the amount of things entered for. There’s likely to be a bit of a meltdown at the start of March because at least two things that matter quite a lot are going to get thrown out and then, not gonna lie, probably gonna be a bit of a cry and some stuff thrown about in frustration. At least I know its coming.

To future proof myself, there are two alternate paths to greatness being laid: fairly impossible bursary, slightly more possible but no less bonkers residency. Both involve stepping WAY out of comfort zones and, quite frankly, this is what is needed right now. Not just the same throwing words at places and hope some of them will stick. This involves me making a CV, and coming up with serious, believable proposals and not just vague possibilities. It’s already making my head hurt.

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The key, of course, is not to give up. Every experience gives a different end result: some stuff sticks, other things don’t, and the cycle of life continues. If I want it badly enough, then that is the path going forward.

If it matters, you find a way.

The Day Before You Came

Yesterday was, without doubt, one of the most difficult days I’ve ever had as an adult. ‘Yeah yeah, it’s all hyperbole,’ I hear you mutter BUT THAT IS WHERE YOU ARE WRONG. It was apparent, going into this year, there would be points where everything could topple, but what wasn’t expected was the opposite to take place. The permanent, ongoing assumption is that things get better with time. Except, sometimes there’s a release of pressure, and amazingly everything just improves.

How that happens is often a cause of considerable surprise.

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Yesterday was the day I submitted probably the most important piece of work I’ve ever completed. Sitting mentally exhausted in front of my PC and Mac, I became really very angry. That same day’s events hadn’t helped, as came an understanding that all of this, countless revisions and  rewrites and polish plus everything else are not contributing to my happiness, but serve to attain a standard other people set. There needs something that is my standards alone, or else slowly, everything will begin to suffer.

Then, I remembered the Gym. Those numbers after weigh in today, let’s be honest, are a revelation. Most people exercise to get lighter, but that’s not me. I’m here, gaining muscle mass, and becoming something a world away from the woman who thought ‘thin’ would solve all her problems, which of course is so patently untrue as to be funny. For the record, there’s less fat than ever before in my makeup, but this journey is no longer about dieting.

My road to success just took a massive detour.

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All of this is a complex cocktail of emotions to add to the general state of mental health, which pretty much relies on there being more to life than writing and submissions. Once upon a time, of course, writing was the therapy in itself, but that has now become the job. Therefore, I need a new means to cope, and exercise has become that means not only by which events are in my control, but that destiny is allowed to throw up some interesting possibilities.

I’ve learnt an awful lot about myself in the last month or so, and that’s set to continue. The lesson to learn, if it were needed, is that the best way to improve is often the least obvious route offered. I’m sure someone’s said that better, but that’s not the point. Talking about mental health isn’t just dealing with the issues, it’s finding the means by which you better communicate all the other stuff about your existence that matters just as much, sometimes more.

I’m really looking forward to travelling this way going forward.

The Grand Tour

This has taken all day to write. It should be obvious shortly as to why.


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This is by some way one of my favourite GIF images, for several reasons. Uppermost is the sense of calm and contentment I gain from watching doughnuts get coated. This is the kind of mental relaxation that, after a hard day having to cope with being on the same wavelength as the rest of the world, is sorely needed. It’s not just eye stimulation that’s required either…

This piece of music has an amazing, regenerative effect on my brain, in much the same way as the doughnuts, but is far more subtle. There are points in the music where it is almost as if parts of disparate subconscious come back together, fusing into a stronger and more capable version of myself. It could almost be considered a version of ASMR were it obviously not something far more significant.

In preparation for going into autism assessment, there’s a lot of thought being given to what makes me calm and relaxed, countered with the things that can (and inevitably do) trigger a sensory overload. That means looking at triggers, which has not been an entirely pleasant experience to sit down and recount. There’s a list now, the things that will undoubtedly push me over the edge. If you want to know what that feels like in my brain, this is a pretty accurate visual representation.

As to the triggers themselves, mine are a fairly complex bunch, and no I’m not going to share them. However, there are lots of notes, far more than ever existed before. Sitting down and admitting to yourself that something can cause you mental anguish is not an easy admission. This blog post was significantly delayed because of that very epiphany, realisation there’s more to be gained from not sharing everything.

Needless to say, this is significant progress, and is allowing an expansion of my consciousness into situations that were previously inaccessible. However the biggest single change is in writing: being able to accurately convey the issues, using language that makes it easier for other people not only to interact but react to my issues… this is an amazing place.

This truly feels like a step forward.

Sympathy for the Devil

It’s almost time for me to set up my charity page for Time to Talk Day. For the last few years I’ve used my own experiences with mental health as the means by which participation is presented, but this year we’ll be doing something different. In my role as a poet, there’s new ways to put the point across that you’re not alone, and that many more people than you realise understand the issues at play.

This year, therefore, Thursday will involve a great deal of music and verse.

I’m going to take you on an audio-visual journey of what its like to be Inside My Head.

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I’ll be firming up the last of the details for this early next week, but you can expect to see at least some of the following:

  • Observations on how anxiety can still control existence, and what I do to deal with it
  • The fact I’ve decided to return to therapy in my 50’s
  • Music that helps keep me happy, focused and even affects the means by which my brain can help body become stronger
  • Micropoetry and Haiku on the feelings and experiences ‘Inside My Head’

Basically, the whole of next week for me will built around mental health, what its like to deal with the issues and how you can find help and support should you need it most. This will culminate on Friday with my poetry performance, a major step forward for efforts to be less anxious and more outgoing and confident. In tandem with this, I’ve become a Time to Change Champion this week, and will in future be looking to interact with my local community as well as continuing online to raise awareness of mental health issues.

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Helping other people ought to be the default setting for everybody, but so often these days its just easier to ignore the issues, especially if you have problems of your own. My issues have become an important, almost vital part of the writing process, and bearing this in mind it is probably the right moment to open myself up to a little more scrutiny than has previously been the case.

I’d like to promote more honesty, and make it clear all this isn’t done as a means of generating revenues or trying to encourage a following. That’s now what any of this should be about. Helping each other feel happier, confident and stronger in our daily lives matters more than anything else. If there’s the means by which this can be achieved though words? You absolutely bet I’m gonna be all over it.

I’ll see you bright and early on Monday morning.