Monthly Archives: July 2018

The Artist’s Way

At Ty Newydd on the Writing Retreat the other week I talked with one of the people about books that might be helpful for dealing with “blocks”. I mentioned Julia Cameron’s bestseller The Artist’s Way. They hadn’t heard of it.

The book was recommended to me by a good friend who was a musician/painter. It had helped him work through blocks about being an artist and he thought I might benefit too. The Artist’s Way was first published in 1992 and it is A Course in Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self.

The book is based on the creativity workshops Julia Cameron had been running. In the book she briefly introduces Spiritual Electricity: the Basic Principles, then outlines the Basic Tools. Each of the 12 chapters addresses a major block. You’re expected to work through a chapter each week, by completing various exercises. Most pages have one or two short quotes about creativity in the margins. I found many of these very uplifting and supportive.

the-artists-way.jpg

I have just found the Contract which I signed on 30 June 1997. I had also highlighted a quote by Oscar Wilde: The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.

In sequence the chapters are Recovering a Sense of: Safety, Identity, Power, Integrity, Possibility, Abundance, Connection, Strength, Compassion, Self-Protection, Autonomy, Faith.

I found several of the exercises, tasks, questions extremely challenging and even very painful at times. Julia Cameron had warned me about the process in her initial chapter, that working through the course would be peaks-and-valleys, that I would experience anger, grief, defiance, want to give up the whole thing before I came to the creative U-turn from which there would be choppy growth.
She was correct! But I stuck with it and I have kept up with the Basic Tools since then:

1) Morning Pages – the main purpose is “to get to the other side” – of the critic, it’s a “brain drain”, just stream-of-consciousness dumping, angry, whiny stuff. Cameron suggests three pages in long-hand and she says “you shouldn’t even read them yourself for the first eight weeks”. After that period, it’s okay to read and see if there are things that could be used in your creative work.
2) The Artist Date – a block of time, perhaps two hours a week, set aside to nurture our inner artist. It doesn’t need to be expensive; it could be a solo walk on the beach, a visit to an art gallery, seeing an old movie. It’s the time commitment that is sacred. This is all about “Filling the Well, Stocking the Pond”.

If I was compiling that list of books that changed my life, The Artist’s Way would be on it.

Illness poems

Emma Press have recently put out a call for submissions of poems on Illness. The closing date for your submission (maximum of three poems and up to 65 lines each) is 31 August. To be able to submit you must have bought one printed book or e-book in this calendar year. Emma Press is an active small publisher with a range of anthologies, individual pamphlets and collections. So that one book could pay for several submissions. I will be submitting and have ordered Postcard stories, mini-stories about Belfast.

The editors are looking to “express the experience of illness right across the spectrum” and are “keen to uncover invisible symptoms, as well as unravel the stigma of mental illness”.

Signs and humours cover0001

I have Signs and humours: the poetry of medicine on the shelf. This anthology holds 100 poems written over the last 2,000 years and it includes subjects such as autism, infertility, pancreatitis. It was edited by Lavinia Greenlaw who commissioned 20 poets to write on a topic of their choice. The poets were then introduced to medical specialists on that subject (for example, PTSD, glaucoma, malaria, psoriasis). Since 1982 I have had tinnitus in my right ear, so David Harsent’s poem Tinnitus spoke to me; a short extract:

A single note drawn out
beyond imagining,
pitched for a dog or a rat
by a man with a single string
on a busted violin.

There are also poems about how we respond  when faced with a diagnosis. The first few lines from Raymond Carver’s What the Doctor Said:

He said it doesn’t’ look good
he said it looks bad in fact real bad
he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before
I quit counting them

There is Sharon Olds who accompanies her father to a meeting with the doctor who says that nothing more can be done: My father said /‘Thank you.’ And he sat motionless, alone,/with the dignity of a foreign leader.

Around AD 842, when he was paralysed, Po Chü-I wrote a short poem that ends:

All that matters is an active mind, what is the use of feet?
By land one can ride in a carrying chair, by water be rowed in a boat.

The anthology Signs and humours was published in 2007. It will be interesting to see the similarities and differences between this and the Emma Press Anthology. Will there be poems about eating disorders, body dysmorphia, internet addiction?

Writing retreat with yoga

The writing retreat with yoga at Ty Newydd last week was very productive. I drove through torrential rain to North Wales, but it cleared as soon as I arrived, and we had three gorgeous days – warm and sunny.

TN house

Ty Newydd, North Wales

Ty Newydd, the National Writing Centre of Wales is a Grade II listed building. Part of it goes back to the 15th century. It was extended into a more upmarket three-storey Georgian residence in the mid-1700’s. A full renovation with new additions (such as that curved library window) was undertaken in the early 1940’s. The client was David Lloyd George, the politician and PM, who died in the house only a few years after moving in.
I didn’t know this, but the architect was Clough William-Ellis, better known as the creator of the nearby Italianate fantasy village Portmeirion. His motto was Cherish the past, adorn the present, construct for the future.

garden through librarygarden and sea 2

 

I had been apprehensive about the yoga, but Laura Karadog, our tutor, was reassuring. I managed three of the four morning sessions, 7am start, lasting for a full 75 minutes: grounding/breathing book-ending an active sequence of movement. Laura was excellent and very generous with her time, offering an afternoon and evening close-down, and individual slots. After the sessions I was grounded, focused and hungry!

My goal for the retreat was to go through all my poems and select enough to form the basis of a submission. After yoga I parked myself on that blue settee and spread my white papers around, then read or relaxed in the garden in the afternoon. Meal times were an opportunity to chat with the others. A nice and interesting group, writing diverse material: short stories, flash fiction, performance poetry, non-fiction, plays. And then there was the young woman composer from Colorado, US who had come to work on the libretto for an opera!

library

DRYING HER PRAYERS

Kasane

DRYING HER PRAYERS

As the rains of spring
Fall, day after day, so I
Fare on through time
While by the fence the grasses grow
And green spreads everywhere.

                           Izumi Shikibu (late 10th C)

Mother, you are hanging out prayers on the willow
but the ink hasn’t dried;
little flies scenting sweet gum embellish
your latest calligraphy.

I breathe on my hands, it is March,
My fingers are white as bamboo.
On the bridge, I hear the sisterly
slop of our sandals, still wait

for the god, hiding behind our gate,
to give chase, tap me on the shoulder,
offer a pale green scroll
with your name written there, words

golden, scattered like pollen.

 

This is a poem from Parting the Ghosts of Salt, a sequence of 15 poems. They are a series of letters exchanged between a mother, Tamiko, and daughter, Kasane, both of whom are married to sumo wrestlers. Each poem starts with a striking quote, from medieval and modern Japanese poetry. All the poems are entirely imagined, but they ring true. And it’s an interesting form.

Pam Thompson

Pam Thompson, this month’s featured poet, has published several pamphlets and her second collection Strange Fashion was published by Pindrop Press last year. Pam and I met on the Poetry Business Writing School in 2012. Pam has recently completed her PhD in Creative Writing. She is a free-lance writer, lecturer, writing tutor and reviewer. Her poems travel widely. There may be humour, but this is always combined with a clear eye for the telling detail and with compassion. Pam blogs at https://pamthompsonpoetry.com

Near Heaven – a journalist encountering Virginia Woolf is at once surreal, humorous and poignant. In the Abecedarian for Liam Pam uses the form – which can be tricky – in a natural way to tell a family story rich with detail.

 
Near Heaven

The lift doors open
on the wrong floor but she’s perfectly cheery.
Ms Woolf, I begin,
and she gives me that haughty, beady-eyed stare
like an intelligent red setter,
What is it you’re reading?
She pats a huge leather holdall,
her voice trails, … Of course … in my day we …
and sunsets … Eliot, with his green-powdered face
smiled like a girl
She’s drifted off my point.

To bring her back I say
that what the reader wants is
your favourite pen, coffee or red wine.
Your top ten diary writing tips,
what to do when the novel gets stuck.

At this rate we’ll never make the launch
The Wings? Waving at the Lighthouse?
These days I never even read the press release,
just take along fizz, their favourite fags
or something stronger; usually they’ll give
me all I want, sometimes a little extra.

So, Ms Woolf, the most dangerous place you’ve ever …?

I’m thinking she’s not heard the question
when our lift bell dings –
This must be your party, dear, she says, in the voice of my mother
and there they are, uncles, aunts, my father, all my cats,
two hamsters,
and I’m about to greet them, waving fizz, posh ciggies.

A hiss of words …a Schaeffercoffee … then fainter,
write before breakfast, garden, then write again,
take a little float down the river

the river

then she presses the button, the doors close, she ascends.

 
Abecedarian for Liam

All those years you had blonde hair –
back in Hong Kong they considered it lucky.
Cake in a posh hotel, you were six, born in the Year of the
Dragon, old people touched your hair, no inhibitions,
even when we were at your side, you were golden, a charm
for locals. Remember how you wondered if the Sikh doorman was
God? The photo shows him laughing, me
helping you blow out your candles,
I hope I made you wish, then you and the other kids
jumped all over the beds and the settee in our room,
Kowloon was a day or so away, and getting
lost, both of you so little – Derry only three – to be
meandering along the wrong road, away from the lights, with
Nanna too, Derry tired and crying, I was crying inside but kept
on pretending, and I’ve blanked it, but Henry
probably got us out of it, then the day we
queued for the tram to Victoria Peak and I’ve just
remembered Stanley, the shanty town we all mentally
stepped over, physically routed ourselves around,
the tee-shirts painted with your name in kanji,
up late eating Pringles, on a speedboat with Derry, Rosie and Lisa,
visiting a Shinto temple, posing outside with Nanna,
with Tom and Fauna, your favourite smoked salmon, scrambled eggs,
Xmas breakfast with champagne, and I could lie to
you when I’m telling you twenty-one years later, that the
zoo trip was on Boxing Day when I think that was the speedboat.

Seven ways of dealing with rejection

This year I have been sending far more poems out and so it follows logically that more will be rejected. Of course, more will be accepted by magazines and successful in competitions. That’s all about “hit rates”. So far this year, ten poems have been published or accepted for publication – anthologies, magazines, competition anthologies.

But the rejections sting. The other day there was a terse two-line email from a magazine: Not what we’re looking for at the moment. Contrast that with the editors of Strix. The magazine was nominated for the prestigious Saboteur award: more sales, more submissions. They went to the trouble of sending separate emails to the people whose work had been shortlisted for issue 4. From 926 pieces submitted, 44 were shortlisted. I had made it that far and it was good to know.

Reframe

Before I retrained as a psychotherapist, I worked in various consultancies. A rejection was always reframed as getting closer to an acceptance. We needed reminding that a day of paid work typically went with two or three days of unpaid work: marketing, PR, admin, training and development, travelling, etc.

My poems are “tied up” when they are out with editors and competition judges and “free” when they’ve not been chosen.

Keep things moving and don’t fret

I have a simple Word table with poems in alphabetical order, a To Do list with details of magazines and their submission windows, and a list of magazines that are new to me. I also have an A4 folder that holds competition leaflets in plastic wallets, organised according to deadlines.

As soon as I know that a poem is “free”, I make the decision as to where it will go next. I aim to send it out within one or two days. Many submissions now are by email or the Submittable portal, so it’s easy.

Yes, I allow myself a bit of a moan in my diary, but that’s in a separate room from where I write.

Persistence

All the research on what makes for successful Sales people quote the P-word. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance clocked up 121 rejections and Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected 144 times. The American poet William Stafford wrote a poem a day for many years. Apparently, he had a hit rate of 1 : 7, so that’s a poem a week.

Compare yourself with yourself, not with others

Many years ago I read some very interesting NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) research. Modelling has always been at the heart of NLP. What is that successful people do? What are their attitudes, values, beliefs? What do they say to themselves?

This research looked at sportspeople who had been seriously injured (during practice, performance, or outside of their sport, e.g. traffic accident). The group examined were those who after their operations, stay in hospital, rehabilitation, etc. were stronger and fitter than before the accident. They did two things: they took it a day at a time and they compared themselves with themselves, not with others.

Keep your successes within reach, within sight.

Especially for those of us who’re the “responsible workaholic” type with a perfectionist streak, it’s natural to focus on what’s missing, what’s not right. Successful poems used to get deleted from that Word table to make sure they weren’t accidentally sent out again. Now I have them on top of the table, in bold print. A great reminder.

I also have an A4 folder with letters and emails from editors and competition organisers, certificates. My own work is on a shelf in a bookcase in the room where I write. The picture is of a competition certificate. It was one of my earliest successes (1988) and I was thrilled to receive it. I framed it and put it on the hall wall, at the bottom of the stairs.

Games Certificate

Eggs in baskets

I’ve started writing and sending out flash fiction and I greatly enjoy blogging. Since closing my practice I have more time for and energy for writing and for sending the work out in the world, but I was becoming too attached to the outcome. It’s good for me to not have all the eggs in one basket.

Zen and the Art of Submitting Poetry

Rejection does not make you a bad poet.
Acceptance does not make you a good one.
Therefore, neither should trouble you.

Chase after fame, however, and you put your life
into the hands of others:
They will tip you between hope and despair.

Aim, then, to be aimless.
Seek neither publication, nor acclaim:
Submit without submitting.

The poem is by Cameron Self and it’s on the Literary Norfolk site.

Prose Poems

Submit your prose poems to Anne Caldwell who is editing an anthology for Valley Press. You can send up to three prose poems, each 300 words maximum. You need to be resident in the UK. The closing date is 3 September so there is time to create new work, though submissions may have been published elsewhere.

On https://www.prose-poetry.uk Anne explains what attracted her to prose poems and how this project came about. The site also has a definition of prose poems by Carrie Etter. She sees them as “circling or inhabiting a mood or idea, perhaps remaining in one place (although not static) rather than moving from A to B as a poem does”.

The Poetry Foundation gives their definition as “A prose composition that, while not broken into verse lines, demonstrates other traits, such as symbols, metaphors and other figures of speech”. Other key components are fragmentation, repetition, compression and rhyme.

I rather like the definition by Peter Johnson, Editor of The Prose Poem: An International Journal: “Just as black humour straddles the fine line between comedy and tragedy, so the prose poem plants one foot in prose, the other in poetry, both heels resting precariously on banana peels.”

It was good to see that the Anthology of Ver Poets 2018 Open Competition included two prose poems by Juliet Troy: Gold Umbrella and Meltwater which was Highly Commended.

My collection Another life includes three short prose poems. The maximum page width meant I had to edit two poems carefully to shorten the lines. I was not entirely happy with how one of them finally appeared on the page, but it couldn’t be helped. The prose poem Still casting a shadow is on this site.

 

 

 

Dublin: Day One

At airports my Dutch passport occasionally causes confusion, as it is in my maiden name Köhler, followed by w/v – widow of McDonnell.  On Tuesday the machine at Schiphol Airport struggled to match the name on the ticket with the passport.

Back in the late 90’s I self-published a pamphlet Boxing with the Lobster. The poem is based on my first visit, Christmas 1972, in a house with heating on the blink.  I believe that the area, Rathmines, has since gone up in the world.

Dublin: Day One

A hundred thousand welcomes
my arse.
I wasn’t a Catholic
I wasn’t a colleen
and when our hearts united
the money orders to your Mummy
ceased.
They put us in separate bedrooms
which I called hypocrisy.

Eamon de Valera
The Post Office
O’Connell Street
The Easter Rising.
My temples throbbed
and lunch was Guinness thick as stew.

You promised me a claddagh ring
but ended the day drinking
with Liam and Tommy and Joe.
I waited with them,
talked about cooking colcannon
while they kept the plates warm.

When you all came back
we sat in the parlour swaying
to the Rose of Tralee.
Asked for a Dutch song
I could only muster
a shepherd and his sweet girl.

Next your man Aidan sang
and his eyes glistened:
When they came down the stairs
they shot them in pairs
when they came through the doors
they shot them in fours.