Category Archives: Inspirations

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a waste!

hardys-well-2-e1529961469867.jpeg

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).

 

Annoying Utterances

Christopher North has said: To me the ten most annoying utterances from the lectern at a poetry reading are:
1. Have I got time to squeeze in a short one?
2. Now let me see if I can find it…
3. Now if I can just get this thing to work…
4. This is one I wrote on the way here…
5. We were asked to write a villanelle…
6. I know it’s here somewhere…yes. Oh no erm let me see…
7. How long have I got?
8. It’s a load of rubbish but I read it anyway.
9. So all you need to know is that a ‘squawk bogger’ is a New Zealand newt, and that ‘ramping in the dolditts’ is an expression used by Romany folk from the Upper Silesia referring to their annual bean throwing festival, and that Durnstadt-terminum is a Village in Bavaria where they make clay pipes – well you’ll see what I mean when I…
10. (Already 15 minutes over allotted time) – ‘…and here’s one that I have to read. It came about after my son’s first session in Rehab – he’s out now and all seems Ok, Hooray! Hooray! And it’s an important poem for me because it was like a coming to terms emotionally with …blah blah blah.
(in an interview with William Oxley in Summer 2014, published in Acumen, September 2014)

I can tick all of these of on my list of readings that I have attended!

CN

Christopher, who owns the Old Olive Press (Almàssera Vella) in Relleu, Spain is a published and prize-winning poet. His first pamphlet A Mesh of Wires (Smith/Doorstop) was shortlisted for the 1999 Forward Prize. Oversteps Books Ltd published two collections Explaining the Circumstances (2010), The Night Surveyor (2014) as well as a joint bilingual collection with Terry Gifford: Al Otro Lado del Aguilar (2011). His pamphlet Wolves Recently Sighted was published by Templar in 2014.

blue house back view

The Old Olive Press (Almassera Vella)

It does add a special quality to being on a writing week at the Old Olive Press when your host is himself a poet. We were delighted to learn that Christopher is one of the four winners of the annual Poetry Business pamphlet competition. His collection The Topiary of Passchendaele will be launched at the Wordsworth Trust on 22 September this year. The title poem has just been awarded the 3rd prize in the 2018 Poetry on the Lake competition. With Christopher’s permission I’m publishing three poems of the new book below:

Last Word

In 1997 it was calculated that that there are fifty languages on the planet with only one speaker still alive. By 2015 there were just eight.

Lost in distant steppes
of somewhere to the East

there is a bank of evening primrose
beside a mud road with

a centre strip of mayweed,
hardheads smelling of pineapple.

The man at the window
has no word for pineapples.

He has a word for the ‘Via Lactea’,
that nightly glows above his roof.

It is similar to his word
for the blur caused by a stone or rain

hitting a puddle of clear water.
He had a word for evening primrose

but has forgotten it;
now they are nothing more

than his word for ‘flowers’.
The flowers have no words.

They only know their mechanisms:
their stretching upwards

their brief flare
and then a falling back to earth.

Sometimes a jet roars across the sky
leaving a tracer line that fades slowly.

He has never had a word for that.

 

From an Armchair

Beyond the range of the King’s photographer
the forest of the meteorite
and its star of blasted pines;

beyond the islands of the Gulag
and the road of bones through endless forest
where winter is norm, lives pass unrecorded,

epics unfold their progress in silence,
towns work through unknown narratives —
all outside the great conversation;

beneath sky-scapes lashed with stars
and the unfolding green of borealis;
through Sakha, Yakutsk and ice crushed bridges

lies Omyakon between frozen mountains,
where they say in winter words freeze
as they leave your mouth to fall forgotten in the snow.

They make a tundra littered with gossip,
cries of love, argument and greeting,
speeches and shouts petrified in depths of ice

until one midday when larch are greening
and golden root makes a brief smile at the low sun,
words fall into air as if from a door flung open

to fill the town like birdsong and running water

 

(From an idea of John Catanach – originally a story from Colin Thubron)

 

Trestles

Wise is knowing how much
you don’t know, have no conception of.

Unravel ignorance. Cover a trestle
with all those things not known.

The trestle groans, add another,
then more, fill a hall, then an annexe,

spread into the street,
become a neighbourhood,

grow to a city, a region,
a country with unmarked frontiers.

Maintain in a corner, dimly lit,
a timid altar of things you think you know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Poetry as Survival

Last week on a writing workshop with Ann Sansom I read Poetry as Survival during my free afternoons.  In this book Gregory Orr, the author of many highly praised poetry collections, explores how writing, reading and listening to lyric poetry has enabled people to confront, survive, and transcend suffering.

In the introduction, Orr writes: When I was twelve years old I was responsible for a hunting accident in which my younger brother died.  Two years after this accident, Orr’s mother died suddenly, aged thirty-six, after a “routine” hospital procedure. A few years later, he experienced further trauma as a volunteer for the Civil Rights movement, including being abducted at gun-point and being held in solitary confinement for eight days. Orr then discovered poetry: I knew that if I was to survive in this life, it would only be through the help of poetry.

I gained a great deal from the book, especially the first part. Here Orr uses examples from around the world and from all ages to illuminate how lyric poetry helps us to find solace. Theodore Roethke’s poem My Papa’s Waltz was written in the late 1940s, a child’s encounter with violence. Below is my own poem along these lines, dedicated to my father who died in 1990:

Propulsion

When I was a child I was scared
of him – the biting voice,
the it’s never good enough look.

I saw the crack in the cupboard door,
the oak dining chair with kelim seat
that he threw with his right hand.

Over breakfast my parents
flung cutlery at each other,
then the metal teapot.
Wall-paper stained brown.

Tonight, I sift photos in my head,
see a scared young man
alongside the mother
who preferred his dead sister.