Category Archives: Art

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.

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.

What a waste!

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Hardy’s Well is a pub at the end of Manchester’s famous Curry Mile. The building is 200 years old. As a bet with the landlord in 1994 Lemm Sissay wrote the poem that is on the side wall: a rebellious shout. The pub closed in 2016 and is at risk of being demolished. A planning application has been submitted for a block of 26 flats with shops. The wall with the poem will be retained inside the new building. Below is my reply to Lemm Sissay.

What a waste!

What a waste of wise, witty words, wholly wild, worldwide; wicked, wanton, willful, witless wickedness.
When the watering hole Hardy’s Well is without water, wine, whiskey, whisky,
without Wienerwurst, Wi-Fi, whitebait, wontons, wedges, waffles;
without waiters, white witches, widows, widowers in wellingtons,
women, wheeler dealers, wastrels, wino’s, woodworkers in winklepickers,
white wicket keepers, weightlifter with whippets whining at the window;
Welsh welders in woollen woven wetsuits.

Wretched, wretched, wretched! Wrong, wrong, wrong!

We who wave at weddings, whisper at wakes, we wish to wave wands,
write wry words as ways to wound those wealthy windbags with their weasel words.
When we wander away towards Withington, walk against whipping wind
we weep, watching weeds, wear and tear on wooden wheelbarrows
in a wasteland, we who wage war against wrongs, let’s have a whip round.

Poet Lemm Sissay is philosophical about the development: Things change, and new poems emerge. It’s all part of the march of time. (Manchester Evening News).

 

Living below sea level

Living below sea level is the title of Kathleen Kummer’s debut poetry collection (Oversteps Books Ltd, 2012), as well as the title of a short sequence in the book. Kathleen and I met at the beginning of the century on a week’s writing workshop with the poet Lawrence Sail. She had been married to a Dutchman and lived and worked for 14 years in the Netherlands, teaching French and German.

We kept in touch as poets and then became friends. When Kathleen moved to Devon to be nearer her two daughters, I suggested she submit her work to Devon publishers. Kathleen only started writing poetry seriously in her late sixties and had immediate success in competitions and acceptances in quality UK magazines.

I’m featuring Kathleen as this month’s poet, with three poems from the collection. That day is the second poem in the sequence. The cover picture is by Shirley Smith, Society of Wood Engravers.

News item

Let it be hard to write this poem.
Let it be hard to listen to.
Its words should lie flat and grey on the page,
ugly, as befits the vocabulary of war.

He had no alternative, said the surgeon,
but to amputate the festering hand
of the baby, nine months old.
Did you, like me, hear the news over dinner

in a comfortable chair, in a comfortable room,
and wonder how you could go on eating,
go on living? But did, having no
alternative. Let that child, I asked –

without knowing whom I asked it of –
still have a mother and family to rock
and cradle it. For how many lullabies will it need
to sleep, how many bedtime stories?

 

ii That day

A kind of delousing: hours later,
I’m still finding rice and confetti in your hair,
but no trace of the cobalt-blue, vermillion
and burnt umber which dappled your face
and your dark hired suit, as the sun streamed on us
through the stained-glass windows. And that cascade of notes
‘Handel’, you whispered. I was proud of you
for knowing and didn’t let on I knew.

Image (6)

Boat on my windowsill

Forgive me for not using the pine cones you gave me
to light the fire. They look good on the hearth
in a wooden bowl. Among them, I found
a piece of bark, two-sided, V-shaped.
On my windowsill, upside down, it becomes
whatever boat I want it to be:
The Oseberg ship, chattels, carved wagon
on board, moored in its burial ground;
a Viking longboat, cutting through
the Baltic and Skagerrak as though they were butter;
a rowing boat, sturdy enough to take me
out to the ships which stand so still
on the firm line of the horizon; in the coracle,
I’d be snug and safe as a walnut in its shell
for the short crossing to the other side.

 

The Old Olive Press

Below is a picture of that olive press. Christopher and Marisa North opened The Old Olive Press, which is their house, as well as a cultural centre, in 2002. The press is located on the ground floor which has a sitting area and a large table seating a dozen. The first floor is at street level and houses the library of close to 4,000 books. Writing retreats are available and the Almàssera Vella is also listed in Alisdair Sawdays’s Spain (Special Places to Stay).

The blue house is at the edge of Relleu, a village in the mountainous area of Alicante province, known as ‘Marina Baixa’. It is the perfect location for a writing retreat, just one hour from Alicante Airport, half an hour from Villajoyosa on the coast; the village is large enough to have a bank, pharmacy, several bars and local shops. The Romans established the village on its existing site at the end of the 1st century B.C.

olive presspool JL

bancal

The olive press, the pool, the terraces (bancals) with olive trees.

I’ve just come back from my seventh visit. I’ve attended workshops with poets Mimi Khalvati, Matthew Sweeney and, in recent years, with the incomparable Ann Sansom. A week there is a winning combination of writing in the morning, a buffet lunch, and plenty of free time to write, read, relax, swim in the pool, or walk. Below is a poem from last year.

Relleu, 2017

The church bells do not have twins.
Bells ring twice, so the men working
in the campo can count the second time.

We’re at Pepe’s on the village square,
seated in two long rows at a narrow table.
Down the cobbled street is the blue house
where a white dog barks into the valley.

Maggie is moving along the table reading
aloud lines from a poem written by all
of us on the edge of the paper cloths.

A little Navarra rosé is left in my glass.
The twins of that paper poem are ahead of us.

Refusal of a visit visa (3)

suleman 3

What Dreams May Come (2015) placed between After All It’s Always Somebody Else Who Dies (2017).

Adeela Suleman writes: My work is profoundly shaped by the way in which violence is performed, experienced and remembered. The more heinous the violence, the more beautiful its memorial.  In contemporary Pakistan death surrounds us, nameless, faceless and countless. In Karachi up to 12 people a day die in gangland and politically motivated murders.

The birds are dead. They make a pattern, a simple pattern that silently repeats itself. Silence haunts you, silence is disturbing. The delicate sparrow is a symbol and their shadow on the wall a reminder of the fragility of life.

After all it’s always somebody else who dies

The headless warrior still stands strong, holds his shield,
grips the tall lance, two narrow ribbons flutter.
Reeds, flowers and grasses part for his feet.
A memorial captured in carved wood stained green,
the colour that pleases the prophet.

Hand beaten and hand beaten from behind, through
chasing and repoussé, the stainless steel sparrows
that tumbled to their death. On the left 420 sparrows,
their beaks and feet touching, all held together.
On the right the same number of sparrows,
a shiny, shiny stillness.

My poem was a response to Suleman’s sculptures. It appeared in Building Bridges, an international anthology edited by Bob Beagrie and Andy Willoughby, published by Ek Zuban in 2017.

 

 

 

Refusal of a visit visa (2)

Recent Poetry School workshops have been held in the Manchester Art Gallery. So, we have been inspired by sample poems as well as the works on display. On the second floor there have been several interesting exhibitions of modern art. Dashing back downstairs I missed the display on the foyer wall – an enlarged copy of Home Office form OV51 Visit (NRA). On the first page the staff have given another reason for the refusal. They doubt that the artist has control over her bank account (the application was accompanied by bank statements, as required).

visa 2

Some personal details have been blacked out prior to posting, but the applicant is born in Pakistan and the work in the gallery is by Adeela Suleman, a sculptor and artist and Associate Professor and Head of the Fine Art Department of the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi.

My short “found” poem:

Refusal of a visit visa

Date of refusal decision: 13 September 2017

Furthermore, you have stated that you are single
with no dependents.

I am not satisfied that you have demonstrated ties
to Pakistan that would give you reason to return
there.

a simple pattern that silently repeats itself
               silence haunts you
                                       silence is disturbing

 

Text in italics by Adeela Suleman.