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Creativity in Lockdown – poets and editors advice during these uncertain times

The Poetry Shed

How do we find our muse in these dark times? For some, I know that lockdown has deadened their creativity which is having an impact on their wellbeing, as they are also coping with isolation from friends and family. For those home schooling there’s no head space or time to write, and those working from home need a break from their laptops, they need to be doing back exercises, not crouching over editing.

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Over the next few months, with the help of various poets and editors, I’ll be posting articles to help you with your writing and wellbeing, to take away the loneliness and provide inspiration or just a kind, understanding word. The poets/editors who are supporting me in this project are: Deborah Alma, Robin Houghton, Sarah Leavesley, Jane Lovell, Cheryl Moskowitz, Helena Nelson, Caleb Parkin, Sarah Salway, Claire Walker.

I will also be having dialogues with artists to discuss…

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Writing in extraordinary times – Jane Lovell

Jane Lovell’s Metastatic came out from Against the Grain Press in 2018, a time when we took live, in-person, in-touching-distance-launches for granted. Jane performed from Metastatic at The Poetry Café, along with Timothy Ades, in what was billed as, Traversing a Dark Uncertain Landscape. Something that certainly resonates with us all just now.

TRAVERSING A DARK AND UNCERTAIN LANDSCAPE

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We’re catching up with Jane, in these current uncertain times, to find out about her writing process.

What I am Doing in Lockdown

Because I’m shielding, I’ve been hiding away since the end of last February. I suppose I’m lucky that most of my interests – writing, cooking, photography – take place at home. I thought I’d write more during lockdown but I haven’t. I started to learn Italian instead! I’ve also had much more contact with friends and family and, although it’s on a screen, I feel it’s brought me closer to people.

My writing in extraordinary times

Perhaps as a reaction to the increasingly unsettled world of lockdown, I have been editing poems more than writing. I have been storing up work for decades and now enjoy arranging them into possible pamphlets and collections. The writing I’ve been doing has been mainly to develop these collections, to add to them or replace work I’m not happy with.

Thinking back to the first lockdown how did it affect you and your writing?

During the first lockdown, I began writing a sequence on Inuit wayfinding and the history of Arctic exploration. Although this tilted very quickly into environmental themes and the horrors of hunting and whaling, researching for this project has been fascinating. Incredible stories have come to light: the giant meteor that gave rise to an early Iron Age in Greenland, the skeleton of an Inuit man displayed in the American Museum of Natural History as a curiosity from the far North, Caruso’s voice ringing out across the icy wastes from a gramophone left by an explorer. It’s so important, when you can’t get out much, to have stories and to experience new landscapes, even if they are imagined.

In relation to your Indigo Dreams publication – when did you send the manuscript to them and how long was it until it was published?

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I had tentatively put together a collection based on the experiences of living in rural areas – in Wales, in France and now in Kent. Poems that explored the hidden side of the natural world, its wildlife, traditions and lost landscapes. I really wasn’t sure if any editor would be interested in this but then I saw IDP’s competition and, having had work in Ronnie’s anthology to raise money for The League Against Cruel Sports ‘For the Silent’, I thought I’d send it off. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Amazing news came through a couple of months later in March: my collection had won the Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize. ‘The God of Lost Ways‘ was published in November.

How was launching in lockdown?

I’m an absolute fan of Zoom launches! Anyone can attend regardless of where they live. Audiences are generally bigger, although strangely silent until you finish and everyone is unmuted! And the chat comments are lovely to look back on. It’s wonderful to have live feedback in that way.

Have you been sending work out since your publication and do you have work coming out in magazines?

Although it seemed very quiet in spring and summer, the last few months have been especially busy. I’ve had poems published in, amongst others, Agenda, Magma, Reliquiae, Dark Mountain and The High Window, and work is forthcoming in the anthology ‘Women on Nature’ edited by Katharine Norbury. In December, ‘The God of Lost Ways’ was Black Bough’s Book of the Month and I was their featured poet on their Silver Branch site. Last week I had the exciting news that one of the poems from my Inuit sequence, ‘Gallery of the Sea’, has been nominated for the a Pushcart Prize. I think this manuscript will probably be the next one I submit to a publisher.

Are you working on a book or pamphlet now?

At the moment I’m working on a collection based on the Hereford Mappa Mundi. It’s a wonderful resource and allows a huge diversity of poems – religious, geographical, historical and mythical. Great fun to research and write! I’ve decided to incorporate related art works so I have Giotto’s Final Judgement and Bruegel’s Tower of Babel alongside poems about Jerusalem and Mary Magdalene. The map itself was drawn on a single calf skin. The process of preparing the hide is described in the opening poem ‘Vitulus’, recently shortlisted for the Aesthetica Writing Prize.

Of Hearts – available to pre-order now

Karen Dennison

OfHeartsMy pamphlet, Of Hearts, is available to pre-order at Broken Sleep Books – Of Hearts where you can also read two of the poems, At Point Nemo and Winter’s story.

“Karen Dennison’s Of Hearts opens with a poem about Point Nemo, the ‘spacecraft graveyard’ and furthest place from land in the ocean. The poem sets the tone for a pamphlet which explores our tiny place in a vast, overwhelming universe. It is full of crisp, lucent, technically agile and clever poems of cosmic longing. Of Hearts is a deeply enjoyable pamphlet from a poet with her eyes pressed to a telescope, searching until ‘the stars switch off’.

Published by Broken Sleep Books, Michael Marks Publishing Award Winners 2020

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“A document of 2020 with a voice of its own, each small word precious in its articulation” by Sarah Westcott

SarahWescott_02_byMatthewPull copy 2Sarah Westcott‘s first collection Slant Light was published by Pavillion Poetry, an imprint of Liverpool University Press, in 2016. A poem from the book was highly commended in the 2017 Forward Prizes. Her debut pamphlet Inklings (Flipped Eye) was a Poetry Book Society pamphlet choice in 2013. Her second collection Bloom is due with Pavillion Poetry in April 2021. Sarah is one of 97 poets whose lines are featured in Arrival at Elsewhere, a book length long poem response to the pandemic, curated by Carl Griffin.

Sarah Westcott on Arrival at Elsewhere

When Carl first got in touch requesting fragments written during the pandemic, we were deep in the strange spell of the first lockdown. Our children were untethered from school, blinking in an unsettling freedom. April was opening in an exquisite, almost mad way with an inevitability and momentum unmatched by any other season. The immediate, greening world made me think of Jean Sprackland’s ‘machine’ of spring with all its ‘levers thrown to max’. Something in the spirit of openness in Carl’s invitation appealed, the sense of finding something not yet written.

IMG_6654Years before, my mother had given me a small, hand-made notebook with a pigeon on the front. It lay, quietly, in a drawer. One evening, feeling a desperate need to set something, anything, down on paper, I took the notebook out and began:

I write to keep near
As close as a bird in your head
As close as a child in your arms

Each day the number theatre was played out. Death hung at the edges of things, a pink pall in grained evening skies. Pear blossom frothed and fell, elderflowers glowed like saucers of cream when I woke at 3am, unease rising. I felt deeply, alertly alive. Our neighbour’s wife, Yvonne, died with the virus in her body. The street came out and clapped as her husband was driven to the funeral. My partner’s great aunts died, in New York, where they buried the dead in mass graves. The walnut tree put out soft floppy leaves. The sun’s warmth was beneficent, excessive. The first swifts arrived. The road was quiet, then quieter.

The street came out of our houses today and stood in silence then clapped as the widow was helped into a car and driven away.

IMG_6656I knew how privileged we were with a garden, and good health, paid work. Yet, some days I felt a part of me going under. In the evenings, once nobody wanted anything more, I would look out of the window, be still. I would open my pigeon notebook and write, just ten minutes, write for the pleasure and joy of writing, looking for something and nothing at all with my pen. Fragments, the tangible, insistent present. Me, in there, my small blue flame. Each entry long or short as I liked, each day a different pen, a different woman. The book filled up and I collected the fragments without evaluation. I knew they would build into something I could send to Carl, that they were a small articulation of being alive.

To write without pressure or expectation is where we can encounter a deeper more playful self, and this is where the work with breath in it, or light might emerge. When I think back to that writing time there was something of the joy of being a teenager again, a preoccupation with the self and its movement through an uncertain, dynamic world.

I would like to see a cockchafer

IMG_6673My four-year-old son became fascinated by a wooden cross in the grounds of the local church. Some evenings, we would walk up the road to ‘see the cross’, the grass below it thick with clover and dog violets. I started to pick wild flowers and take them home, to study and to write ‘through’ their alterity. I was careful to only take one or two, as much as I needed. I watched them wilt and fade over time. I thought of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s idea that plants can be ‘eloquent in their physical responses and behaviours’. Plants, she writes in Braiding Sweetgrass,’ answer questions by the way they live, by their responses to change.’

There was hope in that engagement with each flower, attention well ‘spent’ on its intricacies and mysteries. Arrival at Elsewhere is full of plants and flowers and I find pleasure in the sense other poets were drawing comfort and some kind of meaning from their presence too.

I remember the wooden cross in the church grounds with a crown of barbed wire. We approach it across wet grass – the shape is atavistic – four points like a body – the raised head and still legs. I think my son cannot tell between real cross and apocryphal. I think we all enjoy entering these uncertainties.

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Under the cross are dog violets in various stages of growth. I take three to study at home. I put my glasses on, there is a pale, striped opening in the middle lower petal, the stripes like veins in the back of the throat, drawn by the cell’s inheritance, leading in to the back of the slipper, the heel, the spur which when pinched is surprisingly firm.

Our dog began to die. I painted a bunch of sunflowers, with my daughter drawing too. We sketched flowers, bodies, trees and graves. Death moved in and out of the corners of our lives. There was a constancy and a guilt. A loved one started radiotherapy. I followed the progress of Michael Rosen on Twitter, I watched Grayson Perry and Chris Whitty, I watched the actors behind their podiums, in front of the cameras. I thought of my sister working on hospital wards and the tens of thousands of others knitting our fragile society together and I felt remote and close and privileged and afraid.

… How dependent we are on the light, the chains. The air we inspire is nothing more than one person away …

When I sent my fragments off to Carl, I was interested in the mass of them and how many there were. They felt like small samples or missives from a receding past but they were also unwieldy, indulgent. I felt no sense of ownership and yet they were mine; they had come from me. I liked the sense of giving my lines over to another mind, for them to be cut and stitched into a larger flow of words and perceptions and feelings. Arrival at Elsewhere is a complete poem, a shifting, lyrical voice. Its lines and voices press against these edges of freedom and constraint. The whole poem pulses with a kind of bound, shifting energy that I think we all know in our bodies. Like my notebook, it is a document of 2020 with a voice of its own, each small word precious in its articulation.

Arrival at Elsewhere is available to buy here in aid of NHS Charities Together.

The following extract features lines from Sarah Westcott, Rachel Hadas, Richie McCaffery, Gerard Smyth & Julian Turner –

I remember the wooden cross
in the church grounds with a crown

of barbed wire. We approach it
across wet grass – the shape is atavistic,

four points like a body,
the raised head and quiet legs, still.

It’s a long, slow wrinkling we walk on.

I think my son cannot tell between
real cross and apocryphal –

I still enter these uncertainties.
The longer the trail behind,

the less it stays behind. It curves –
not social distancing, not that

awkward choreography of swerve,
no, but as if a tuck is taken in fabric,

a sudden loop, a little lateral leap.

Inside the church, mass is cancelled,
one contagion yielding to another.

Recent looks far away
and long ago. Far away turns

into here, now, so you leap back.
Distant conversations surface.

If memories can live in an element
that lets them dive and sink,

these rise like swimmers.

Under the cross are dog violets
in various stages of growth.

I once took three to study
at home. Indoors, with my glasses on,

I noted the pale opening
in the middle lower petal, the stripes

like retinal veins. An organ
sits idle in its moorings,

its music dormant in the pipes.

Becoming Noah – Imogen Downes

The Poetry Shed

Becoming Noah

Prologue

Hell knows all hiding places.
Hell invented them.
That’s what makes it Hell.
When the rain comes, and it will,
the sand will not shelter your head.

1.

There was something godly about it.
Something definite
about the way everything starting to drip,
how all the good china started to run and
the animals became unusual.
People were pinning bed sheets to the sky
and coughing to hide the rumble.
The sky was painted biblical.

2.

I dreamt there were waves
lapping at my bedroom window.
We, dry as a strong face
quietly watched the world rush by.
The flood pulled back into a beast
and lunged at our house –
we’re going to die, I thought
we’re going to be crushed and drowned –
but the walls didn’t quaver
and we held each other madly.

3.

Once, I ran for the sky without learning to swim

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Memories of You – Eleanor Page

The Poetry Shed

Memories of You

Today I wake to a mass stranding.
They lie there half-dead, gasping,
and it is too difficult to step, to see
anything but their vermilion, spilling.
I try to sweep one away, but can’t bear
the sting of it; can do nothing
but wait, just willing them to die,

gripped by their eyes, coin-wide
and staring. I plead with them
to forgive me, but they just stare
and breathe and breathe and breathe.
I wait for the tide to drag them back;
there is so much I love there, I cannot
bring myself to bury them.

Picture1Eleanor Page is a poet and artist from North Essex. She is currently studying a Writing Poetry MA at the Poetry School, following a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Warwick. She has had poems published in Acumen, Envoi and Brittle Star, and one of her poems was highly commended in…

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New in the shop

ElsewhereCoverFrontPageArrival at Elsewhere is hot off the press and ready to order ahead of the launch on 28th November. Go to the shop and bag yourself a copy. All proceeds to NHS charities.

Shop here

Our recent poets are having some lovely reviews so take a look at our autumn 2020 titles from Natalie Shaw and Benjamin Cusden

Shop here too!

We working hard on our spring 2021 titles from Cheryl Moskowitz and Chaucer Cameron. Such great poets to look forward to publishing next year and spring 2021.

But we mustn’t forget all the great poets we have published over the years. Check out their profiles and books HERE

We hope to see you at the launch of Arrival at Elsewhere…

 

AllPoets

Olga-Dermott-Bond’s winning poem: My daughter’s first eye test

Every year, Poetry on Loan runs a poetry competition for people who live, work or study in the West Midlands. This year’s theme was Vision, and the winner of the adult category was this poem – My daughter’s first eye test, by Olga Dermott-Bond.

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Olga is originally from Northern Ireland and read English at the University of St. Andrews. Her debut poetry pamphlet “apple, fallen” is published by Against the Grain Press. A former Warwick Poet Laureate, she has had poetry and flash fiction published in a range of magazines including Rattle Magazine, Dodging the Rain, MagmaStrix, Cordite ReviewUnder the RadarInk Sweat and TearsThe Interpreter’s House and Paper Swans. She was the winner of BBC Proms poetry competition 2019 and is a commissioned artist for Coventry City of Culture 2021. Olga was selected as one of the emerging poets for Bedtime Stories of the End of the world. She is an Assistant Head in a secondary school in Warwickshire and has two daughters. @olgadermott

olga5‘Olga Dermott-Bond’s superb poems make their way towards searing emotion via craft, detailed observation and a kind of glittering acceptance that the world we have is the world we must write about and the job of the poet is to make art from the flawed things around us. These poems reward rereading and hang around in your mind, delivering phrases and lines back to you at unexpected times that turn out to be the times you need them most.’  Ian McMillan 

‘Vivid and powerful.’ Ana Sampson-McLaughlin 

The Editor’s Wilderness Poem

crack-12-greenby Carl Griffin

When I first invited poets to send me their fragments or poems so that I could stitch them together into one cohesive poem (which became Arrival at Elsewhere), I had a few ideas in mind of the kind of poetry I wanted to see, and the topics I wanted to avoid. However, I left the initial invitation as open as possible. I didn’t want to limit my options. The brief was simply to send work that had been written during the time of the coronavirus, even if the work was not necessarily about the virus. Sometimes we write our best poetry on a subject when focusing on a different subject altogether.

But after a couple of months of receiving work and starting on the long poem, I had noticed a few lines and topics and approaches cropping up again and again. In an update to the poets involved, in case they hadn’t yet sent their poetry in, or were planning to send more, I decided to put together a bit of a list of things I needed and things I definitely did not need. As editors are prone to (if I can get away with calling myself an editor), I rambled on for quite some time. One of the poets kindly decided to turn my ramblings into a found poem. I have kindly turned his found poem into something I feel encapsulates even more what I was looking for, upon deciding on the path I would take with the poem. This short-shelf poem, found by Peter Sirr, and then found again by myself, hopefully gives a good insight into my thought process while putting the Arrival at Elsewhere poem together, although, as the last stanza might suggest, I did break my own rules just subtly enough.EditorWildernessPoem

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