Update, September 2021

Pleasant news this time, despite the pandemic and more than one emergency in the world. You might already know about the Art Trove because there’s a separate page this year (see above) and I’ve mentioned it in earlier posts (scroll below). But I was wondering what to do with the rest of the works, seeing as how they’re available to be sold, yet I don’t have the right platform to do it. Now, I knew the name of the gallery which used to sell Dad’s work, but I hesitated to contact them because times have changed and art fashions are not the same. I was also concerned about rejection and the resulting idea that my options were already limited enough. Imagine my surprise therefore, when a photo showing the very same gallery came up on Twitter from one of the northern poets (@ianduhig). The next day would have been the artist’s 96th birthday, so the timing was pretty good. How many hints did I need? So I wrote to the gallery on Dad’s birthday, and (to cut a long story, etc.) a week later I was heading up the A1 with a packet of watercolours and a selection of unused frames. It was a joyful time, handing them over to an outlet which had a real link with the artist and far more business nous than I’ve got. So, if anyone is interested, see: www.headrowgallery.co.uk and look under any criteria like watercolour, original, landscape, or the artist’s name. As I drove back down the A1 with an emptier car boot, I closed a trapdoor on most of the bereavement period too. Earlier in July, I delivered a painting to @thekettlewell as a community give-back to the village which inspired a lot of art and consequently a lot of cheques during the 1970’s. It seemed like the right thing to do, and there will be plenty of viewers as visitors stay in the hostel!

I’m sure most of you will have seen the debacle/literary frenzy which occurred over a certain British poet’s book and the attitudes expressed therein. I’d read the online extracts and thought yep, this is a clear case of patrician attitudes as the saviour from an upper level descends and ultimately profits from the less fortunate sectors of society. Think Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolittle and you’ve got the idea. I’ve seen those talented pupils’ poems online and admired them – but what’s not admirable is seeing the classmates described in prejudicial terms, all of them signalling that these are othered and disadvantaged ‘types’, so different to the fragrant life enjoyed by their privileged writer/editor. This book will have gone through the in-house editors of her publisher, and all of them were asleep on the job. Each issue could have been picked up and rewritten at first submission stage, and the author herself could have corrected it, given adequate perspective and empathy. Some observers have shown sympathy for the author; she has fallen off her pedestal, and that’s not nice for anyone. But those children have been betrayed by the professional who was supposed to have a duty of care towards them. Beware the middle-class project leader who parachutes in and seeks to develop your talent.

And what’s happening in the literature department, given that I’ve had a summer break to achieve summat solid? Well, the Jongleur collection is about to leap forward as the editorial people at @BookTypesetters get to work (I’m in a holding pattern behind other books) so we’re looking at an Autumn release if things go well. The cover is wow, so if you think the poems are a lot less flowery than medieval verses should be, these are offset by the multicoloured psalter effect of the jacket. Submissions are also taking place: a novella window opened at a Manchester-based press, and I think I have something ready that fits their specifications. I like that the publisher keeps things simple – instead of entry fees and hurdles, one buys any book or e-book from their site. This is a good way of getting around the writers v readers imbalance, and I end up with something I want. While that submission is being looked at, I dragged out the hardcopy folder I keep for the most recent novella, the one described by the Free Reads consultant as having ‘never seen anything quite like this’. I reckon that’s reason enough to carry right on, and I have finally typed up the whole of the second draft so that I have a good working platform for the revision phase, which comes next. I was thankful to finish on the last available day before having three nights’ hostelling in the Dales again. As I didn’t have much time exploring the area in July, I was back there again in August, walking round some of the places I remembered from growing up in Leeds. Linton in Craven was probably the most atmospheric one – it has a William Blake/Samuel Palmer vibe, and it really was ‘where I used to play on the green’! The YHA had an old hostel in the village, and we stayed there regularly.

Only one reading on the horizon, but it’s early days in the late pandemic wasteland. It feels as if we are picking ourselves up after a living a plotline by John Wyndham or HG Wells. But I’ll be near Huntingdon on 10th October, at the the Hollow Palaces launch in Kimbolton Castle, 2.30pm – 4.30 pm. This is a fine old venue, perfectly suiting the subject matter of the anthology, which is – crumbling towers and all things manorial and castellated. The book is published on 1st September, edited by @GreeningPoet and @KevinGardner520. It is available from Liverpool University Press, £19.99.

Update, July 2021

Well, dear reader, I got there. Half term coincided with the best weather so far, and it was 4 nights in Northumberland at last. Believe it or not, a socially-distanced holiday is as good as any other when you’re in the right place and you’ve brought enough entertainment with you! I walked the endless beaches at Lindisfarne, climbed the vertiginous staircase at Preston Tower, explored the delights of Chillingham, and wore out my shoes on the streets of Berwick -on-Tweed. So many mysterious castles and early medieval churches up there, and thanks to having forgotten my OS maps, I have only discovered a fraction of them. I stayed at Wooler YHA, which has shepherd’s huts as well as individual rooms this season. I usually go economy class and get a dormitory bunk, but Covid has halved the bed capacity and everyone had their own room instead. I hope all these excellent places survive the pandemic; any hostel managers who haven’t falsely raised their prices or slapped an enormous ‘weekend supplement’ on their normal rates deserve to be supported. But it is bad enough seeing the effect of lockdowns and no tourism on the small towns. Empty shopfronts and closing down sales, opening hours cut to the minimum, and no choices left in the bakery takeaways when formerly, the chalkboard menus would have everything available. The weather says ‘Summer’, but the local economy says ‘Winter’. It’s going to be a long haul out of this dreadful time.

I’ve been preparing for the next real-life Newark on Trent Book Fest. which happens over the weekend of 10/11 July, shortly after this update has gone out. As the Literature Village has shorter hours on the Sunday when I’m going, I ought not to take so much stock that I’m bringing it all back with me at the end of the day. Realistically, poets only sell a few of each collection at these events. Last time – in 2019, a world ago – I also had open-mic instruments and sound effects with me, things I’d rescued and restored from junkshops and sales during the time when I worked in community arts. Needless to say, these proved more popular than my books… so I’m doing the same again. If I find that restored instruments produce more ‘result’ for a second time I’ll know what to bring in future. Generally, a mainstream novelist or a local historian can sell a shedload of copies locally – but poetry is always a slow seller unless one is fully backed with big performance credentials, or premiering a latest collection with other people at the same time. My next opportunity for the latter won’t arrive until later this year, when Jongleur is released. No details on that one yet!

Jongleur took up the project time I would normally spend on my own poems, which means I’m back on default setting now, i.e. writing assorted material which still doesn’t fit a particular group of themes. I am therefore on two pamphlets at the same level and wondering which one will take the next leap towards completion. As if confirming that problem, I can’t think of a title yet for either of them. Earlier publications came with a readymade title: Candleshoe was written to a design, and so was the earliest pamphlet, Newborough County. No such luck with the current two, although the place and landscape atmosphere continues in one of them and it looks like being the governing idea. Meanwhile, online journal 192 has published a poem in its number 3 issue: thanks to the editor Colin Bancroft for that. He also runs the Poets’ Directory, listing loads of outlets and opportunities. It’s a valuable resource, recommended if you never know where to look and where changing editorships mean that you have to change your outlets. The latter point can’t be emphasised enough. Sometimes it really isn’t your poem that’s wrong; new associates and interns always like to make their mark, and sometimes they are opening a new direction for a mag which isn’t you.

And by the end of June I am rattling with antibodies like a badly co-ordinated jingle stick. After my first jab in March, which produced a spectacular range of side effects similar to all of the menopause symptoms in one go – a more harmonious second jab sends me confidently into the summer. I hope those nasty little covid balls bounce right off. Solidarity to the poets out there, managing dayjobs and home lives as well as creativity throughout the pandemic.

Stop Press!

Two fine paintings from the watercolour legacy are going back to Yorkshire in July: one of Kettlewell in springtime is re-homed at an independent hostel in the village where it was painted, while the same view in autumn is joining the permanent art collection at Craven District Council. Big thanks to the Museum team for their interest and enthusiasm.

Update, May 2021

For anyone still hesitating about vaccination or worried about the media surrounding AstraZeneca, I’d say – don’t wait. Yes, I felt a bit rubbish for a while; but I had a much worse reaction to the tetanus booster jab I once had, when working for an archaeological site. Every day (until 2020, that is) people were getting all kinds of crazy jabs just to go on holidays and work placements abroad. By having your anti-Covid shot, you can help save the lives of whoever you come into contact with, until the general nightmare is over. On with the literature, then.

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W.H.Davies finally turned up – Essays on the Super-Tramp Poet (Anthem, 2021). It’s a good one for a college library, bearing in mind that the cover price is £80 and this is how academic publishing works. And maybe I ought to explain at this point why I’m not publishing in academic circles more often, given that I have a PhD. (Sometimes I’m asked about this, as in ‘why haven’t you done X or Y’ as though I haven’t already tried) It’s assumed – if you have a lecturing job – that you’re willing to write for free; your institution carries on paying your salary as normal, and any publication adds to your research credit score, which gains your institution better marks on the national listings. That’s fine when writing is your job. But look what happens if you’re not a lecturer on the same contract. If you’re a semi-detached freelance worker, or doing a different job entirely, with research journeys on your days off. You end up scrabbling for information while shut out of relevant libraries, and you’re up against tenured folk who can call on research grants and fellowships from their own employers. You are going less than half the distance while your research takes twice as long, and you receive no benefits unless the publisher throws a free copy of the book at you, like a bun to a circus elephant. I’m glad I am in this Davies book; the invitation came at a very welcome point. But I knew after previous efforts that continuing with much academic work was a fast route to negative equity, given that the university jobs scene had collapsed by 1997. There’s other issues too, which come up now and then: the cost of these books, which is clearly unwarranted and can be done more cheaply by any publisher – and the copyright, which some institutions claim for themselves as part of your employment ‘deal’. The moral of this story is of course, be careful who you sign up with… and know which type of essays you are prepared to write.

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My reader’s report came back, hurrah! Weirdly, the report told me how uncommercial the prospect was and how hard it is to get published, which wasn’t on the list of questions I sent in. I think I already know enough about how hard it is to get published, thankyouverymuch. What I needed to know was whether it worked, as a storyline, as a style, as text. They should at least give me the benefit of the doubt over a) maybe not having started writing yesterday, and b) maybe being quite committed, leastways, committed enough to finish something I started a year ago. Heck, guys, just sign me up and I’ll be one of your panel readers, how about that? But on the whole, it was a useful-to-positive response, and I loved the sentence declaring ‘I have never seen anything quite like this’. What, not in all your born days, mister? I can point to at least one 20th century novel where I took a conscious influence. Oh well, on with the show; I can always release sections of it on here once I’ve finished. Thanks anyway for the attention from the organisation behind it all, and I would certainly recommend that anyone should take up a Free Read or its equivalent, if their local literature org. operates this scheme. We need these routes and suggestions, particularly in a time when writers’ groups are not happening in real-life and real-time.

The troubadours are still in Development Hell – I’ve had the collection back, with many edits suggested, and I’ve been batting my way through them like a good ‘un. I was very happy that some versions found their way onto @TheHighWindow, because the editor there has a background in languages and he would have rejected the lot if I’d been wrong. Thankfully, his reactions gave me a great deal of confidence, and I am able to go ahead with the collections edit while feeling on solid ground. There is something about the Middle Ages which editors can’t place – these far-off knights and literate peasants seem to behave like people we can recognise, and yet – there’s the elaborate conventions, the non-standard phrasing, and a distressing attraction to waging war. But their songs are still haunting – there’s plenty of the music available on You Tube – and we owe such mind-boggling cathedrals and decorative arts to their vision and talent. I’m hoping the collection I provide can bring more readers towards an appreciation of their spoken-word literature. Moreover, it will be affordable – remember the £80 academic book above? Well, in searching out material for Jongleur, I came across editions of individual troubadours costing from £250 – £500. You’ll be able to get mine for less than £10.

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Stop Press! Good news. One of the Bernard Parkers (shown here) has gone to a new home in the North West.

Update, March 2021

The collection of Troubadour versions went off to the publishers at last – the title is Jongleur, and I’ll post details on here when there is some solid news on its appearance. At the moment, it’s gone into what the film-makers call ‘Development Hell’, or in medieval terms, a non-specific period of wandering around an unfamiliar landscape, expecting something to happen at any moment, but with no idea when. Meanwhile, several of the poems are available on The High Window’s website edited by David Cooke, who linked it back to an earlier set of translations/versions by Peter Sirr (from Sway). There are also, I believe, soundclips: but not by me, as I was busy finalising the pamphlet text at the same time as the website was being devised. And I pronounce Occitan like someone from the north with a grade 1 CSE in French and a failed German O level (yes, those were my real results). As you can tell, the teachers didn’t put me off Europe; and I’ll be doing some rehearsal effort then I can deliver a stanza in the original once the work is in print. So, if you’d like to read about Na Castelloza’s problems with her boyfriend, or Giraut de Bornelh’s lament for his best mate Raimbaut d’Aurenga (d.1173) head across to The High Window, where the poems will be listed under the Supplementary Posts tab now, after being frontpage news during February.

I did indeed qualify for a TLC Free Read – hooray! Any day now (‘development hell’, remember?) I will receive a report back from their august mandarins, who will be able to advise me on the best way forward with the script. It is no good being under a misapprehension that the novella is publishable or funny or atmospheric, or any of those other desirable things, if it is predictable and cliched and unlikely to go anywhere. I know that writing tutors often say ‘write for the love of it’, and this might be the case with poetry, where you don’t expect to sell hundreds of copies. But I have always believed in taking a more robust attitude to other forms of writing, and if you are spending years on a project that might end up in the bin, I would bin it sooner rather than later. My characters usually feel ‘real’ in that I can imagine their lives beyond the page and the conversations they’re having – I know what their homes and workplaces look like even though I haven’t been there myself. But no matter how real the people might seem, they will just have to sit it out in the world of Otherwhere if no publishers are willing to take a chance on them.

Meanwhile we are all still living in lockdown with nowhere to go and nobody to see it with. I can’t wait to restart the things I was aiming to do last year, and I regularly check the re-opening dates for the YHA network. But I hope they’re not charging £60 for a bunkbed, which is what they attempted last year in the brief period between the covid waves. In these arrested times, it helps to do any kind of creativity no matter how modest – sewing brighter buttons onto an old tunic, turning a collection of beads into a wearable necklace, doing yet another exercise in de-cluttering. I’ve never made so many carry bags out of recycled fabrics. Ironically, this is what people were doing in the evenings before TV and the internet. Quite likely we are all travelling backwards to the time of the Troubadours again, where a metal-plated poet might ride out of the forest on his battle-horse, asking if anyone has seen his manuscript. Stay well and safe, everyone – let’s all be there at the poetry parties and the packed festivals in future, sharing the food and talking across tables without a care in the world. Until then, make every day count.

Update, January 2021

I’m glad to be rid of 2020 and here’s to a better time for all in ’21! Vaccines are on their way at last, and while live events are pushed ever further back as lockdown succeeds lockdown, it has to end at some point, yes really. Be hopeful that we can all get back to hearing our writers at events, and playing our parts at open mics and regional festivals. I’m lucky that the East Midlands ‘scene’ is welcoming and inclusive, with organisations that make it easy to get involved. And when nothing is happening, there’s a wealth of heritage and landscape to help with achieving the right frame of mind for creativity.

If you’re a regular visitor on here, you’ll know I don’t often adopt the hard sell – this site is one of the free WordPress templates so it doesn’t have any e-commerce tech in the background – but anyone who wants a book or a workshop can contact me through the Shop Stop page or leave a comment on the frontpage here, and I’ll be in touch shortly afterwards. Now, thanks to acquiring the arts ‘estate’ which was my late and much loved father’s, I have several watercolours for sale this year, some of which are also available as posters. I’ll be running a proper real-time exhibition (subject to Covid regulations) but anyone who’d rather be ahead of the curve can consult the new page on here, Bernard Parker Watercolours, and I can arrange a sale and delivery as needed. I can send different images too, since not all the available artwork is shown. I’m leaving this page up for 2021 or until I’ve sold the work, whichever is sooner – for although I don’t mind my dad barging in on my site, I’d rather it didn’t become miscellaneous and like someone selling off the contents of the family attic.

I’ve always had a love of musical instruments, so imagine how delighted I was when I saw this construction-kit hurdy gurdy. It turned out to be the best way of spending a lockdown Christmas – it wasn’t possible to visit anyone, which meant a radical change in routine. So I forgot about the turkey and instead, spent my time sticking wooden pegs into pieces of plywood. And it did a great deal to take my mind off the kind of stuff we’re all worrying about; and after three or four days of effort, I had this beautiful item complete with working keys and lots of cogs. It’s about a third of the normal size and the sound is consequently small, but I’m assured that suitable modifications will turn it into more of an instrument. For now though, it’s a lovely piece of decorative art and I’m glad I took the time to build something instead of doom-scrolling and watching DVD’s.

OK, so what’s happening in the Literature department for 2021? I’m nearly at the end of completing the troubadour translations, and this will be delivered over the next couple of months – whereupon I’ll be waiting anxiously for the readers’ report. Meanwhile, I have one of my typescripts already out there in the field, and results are also due in. I’m hoping they don’t all come back in the post on the same day – because believe it or not, I once had a massive rejection on my birthday no less, when I was sitting happily on the Yorkshire moors checking my emails (note: big mistake). At least I had a lot of space to run around screaming in. Then, there’s the TLC Free Reads scheme, which I should be eligible for this year – and an enjoyable (to write!) novella I’ve been engaged on might find its way onto that scheme if I’m lucky. I would love an impartial considered opinion on where it’s at and how it should progress – largely because it’s a new departure for me in terms of style, and while I might think it has an audience, other people might think otherwise. It’s as well to find things out before I sit down to write the next draft.

Update, November 2020

It’s a gloomy season for me, since a relative died and I’ve been occupied with organising the funeral, plus all the other things that come with it: bills, refunds, what to do with the furniture. Handing back the council house was particularly bad, for I must have been one of the last generations of children to grow up feeling not only secure in terms of tenancy, but with space, gardens, and free access to all sorts of education. There were definitely areas of deprivation in the mix, but I never felt that I was underprivileged or locked out of what the ‘richer’ kids took for granted. This is what security means – the rock-solid foundation where you know you are not less than the other people, no matter how hard they try to shake your tree. Handing a council house back means that some other family can benefit the same way I did, although it means I lose the final link with the area I come from. I wish people not only grass, like the speaker in the Douglas Dunn poem, but council houses and bus stops, and public services; proper ones, run by local authorities which aren’t contracted out.

The night before the handover, I walked past all the buildings I’d known, past the Green (the estate is on the edge of Leeds, with a village-like centre) and sat on a bench looking out over this Green to the shiny big city beyond. It looked like a dream-city, with its lit up skyscrapers in the distance – but when I left the area in 1981, the local economy had been wrecked by Government policies and it was impossible for any young person to get a job or aspire any further than the end of the street. My parents had lived through a boom time, walking out of one job on a Friday and straight into another one, better paid, on Monday morning. It never occurred to them that life could be any different; but times changed, the future looked bleak, and I was forced to leave. Now, we’re culturally averse towards providing enough of the low-cost housing which gives other people the foundation they deserve. I estimate that the period of ‘working-class’ security in housing and education only lasted around 50 years in Leeds, from the time when estates replaced the inner-city slums to the de-centralising of services and facilities in the 1980’s. Imagine, only 50 years’ grace when any Kid Average could get a life, after more than a century and a half of campaigning for rights.

It’s business as normal on the artistic front, however. The marvellous iambapoet website went live, attended by much ballyhoo on Twitter: you can soon join the fun yourself, because open submissions will start in early 2021. I’m on there reading three poems, but you’ll have to scroll to the end of the list to find me, because I come in at number 20. The project can be followed @iambapoet, for the latest news and updates. Meanwhile I’ve spent much of Lockdown translating medieval poetry – as a former medievalist, I’ve always been interested in the connection between music and literature which the poets experienced back then, and I knew a bit about the troubadours of southern France. More time at home meant I was able search out my dictionary of medieval Occitan and put in several hours’ effort each day, taking a couple of samples from a range of poets and by no means using all the same examples as previous translators. The repertoire is enormous, and there is a great deal of repetition: the poets were using a specific vocabulary, with the same terms and phrases reappearing. But it is impressive to see how often the best lyrics bear comparison with what happened later in the English Renaissance – because back then, as always, literature travelled further than the place where it was made. I’ll mention the end result again on here, if the project is a success….otherwise, my translations will join the great pile of paper in the cupboard behind me.

Update, September 2020

How intimidating are the submissions portals, when I’m reading through rules and halloween spiderprovisos on the relevant website beforehand. I feel these sharklike editors chopping down on each trembling entry, yelling ‘Nooooo! This one has used the wrong emm-dash! And OMG, is that someone who cannot operate the essential four-dimensional page-alignment program-space? Fie on them and their mimsy 18th century useless-poety weakness!’ Ohhh, I think, now here’s another outlet who won’t take my stuff; and I miss the deadline date as usual. So what about it, editor? Are you making your entry points good-to-go, or are you throwing down the hurdles for no particular reason? Do us a favour, editor, and practise what you preach, you and your level playing fields. A couple of years ago I asked a small press about why their website was so visually busy that I couldn’t find the submissions portal they had recently opened. They replied it was deliberate; if I could not navigate the site, I was probably not their kind of writer. Their site design, apparently, was done messy like that to discourage people. It lost them a sale too, since I was looking to buy one of their pamphlets at the same time. Anyway, here I am looking at yet another place of that ilk, scrolling through the rules…..

typewriter with messageMeanwhile a well-known outlet could see in excess of 2,000 poems coming in, which is a heavy load for a volunteer. One of the things which mag editors don’t want you to know is that their public-facing shop window can be made to look very high level indeed, but ultimately it’s still one or two unpaid people, a kitchen table, and maybe a friendly local printer who can offer a discount. It’s worth remembering that, when you feel so intimidated by the ultra-cool graphics and lists of requirements and provisos. There are always places where you can send stuff, thanks to the number of helpful poets who list opportunities on Twitter and elsewhere: but I feel that many of the outlets have very specific targets or wish-lists which are never made clear.

…..eventually I sent a submission off. Ironically, the website form wouldn’t accept my doc. even though it was in the format asked for; and the numpty that is me was being hindered by the numpty that was them. Later, in going over a previous submission for a press whose attitude I rather like, I discovered an inadvertent blank page inserted between pp. 1 and 2 of my work. I was sure I had sent in a page-perfect version. How on earth did that get there? If I had done this as hardcopy, I would see that a blank page had gone in. There is something to be said for old-tyme paper submissions, and if I was running a project in future, I would accept paper versions from anyone who cannot get on with the tech. I’m sure I am not the only person who turns into a complete wreck when they are trying to get a submission out. And this is why poet associates are so valuable, dear reader! When you are having a crisis of confidence and hiding under the carpet seems like a sensible decision, your associates are the ones who keep you sane and in the game.

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It didn’t matter anyway because all the stuff I was sending out [as described above] was rejected. Thank goodness for other outlets where I was able to make a contribution, and simple email access where all you have to do is press ‘send’. One of last years’ projects delivered a fine paperback to my door: The Meeting, Reading & Writing through John Clare (ed. Simon Kovesi, John Clare Society, 2020) Various poets including Clare Shaw and John Gallas, Sarah Corbett and Karen McCarthy Woolf, give reactions to aspects of Clare’s life and work, with generous selections from their workshop attendees during 2019. There is a website dedicated to the project at http://www.brookes.ac.uk/the-meeting.

Update, July 2020

Yes, a ton of events have gone online and I’m sure the workshops by Zoom are perfectly adequate for these times. However, I don’t have unlimited data here, so I couldn’t join in with any of the readings or projects once the whole of British poetry had vanished into the e-space over the rainbow. I saw a constant stream of Twitter bulletins telling me about the next great reading I could join, and there I was with not enough GB to last the month. In the end I felt defeated by the sheer number of not-opportunitienotices which I couldn’t access during deep lockdown time. So I eagerly await the re-opening of the library wifi network then I can log on and enjoy some of what my colleagues have been putting out there.

I’ve typed as far as I can with the novella; now I have to work out what the inclusions should be. Either my handwriting is bigger than I thought, or I’ve been working much slower than expected –  because when I checked the number of pages, it totals only half of what should be there. Meanwhile I have all the usual plot problems like: how far to stretch the reader’s credulity and engagement levels, bearing in mind I am writing a modern magical fable in a storyteller’s manner and not everybody likes that sort of thing. Clearly, I have a lot more work to do; and there is a whole new sub-plot which needs bringing out typewriter with messageif I don’t want a plainer, linear narrative. While creating the right kind of atmosphere, two tracks came up on the radio which suited the inner lives of the characters so exactly that I immediately put them on my playlist for inspiration. In case of future difficulty when I can’t re-enter the text, I’ll listen to these until I have the right image for where the next character should be going. So far, I’ve got one person matched up with ‘Very Good with His Hands’ from Diversions by Barry Booth; and another is matched with ‘These Days’ in a haunting version by Nico. Some of my other characters could do with a signature tune as well, but I think these two will get me to the end of the second draft. Both songs are available on YouTube, in case you’re interested in the way music and writing support each other.

There was a whole pile of rejections in late May/early June, which did nothing to alleviate the feeling of lockout as well as lockdown. Once again I had wasted money on entry fees believing I had done the right thing, and I had tied up my ‘best’ poems for an unreasonable length of time in the mistaken belief that one of them would land somewhere. In addition, I couldn’t send the same poems to a different outlet because that’s what the submission rules said. I wonder why so many places still make this request when a poem can be blogged, video’d, or performed all within the same period with no-one any the wiser. Isn’t it symptomatic of old-fashioned editorial godhead, imagining that ‘they’ are in the driving seat? But now there are plural seats, my friends, meadowsweet.JPGand we are all the drivers. I wish more of you forward-thinking journals would state on your submission details that parallel subs are fine, as long as poets contact you when a poem goes elsewhere. Your journal won’t suffer, not with all the writers out here and the size of that in-tray you’ve got. It might speed up some of these waiting periods and your contributors will be happier. However, there is better news: I am taking part in release 4 of  iamb – poetry seen and heard, the new online library directed by Mark Anthony Owen. Details of the project can be followed on Twitter @iambapoet. The third installment is due for release on 1st August, with 20 more poets; I will be in the November installment. One of the nice things about this site is the clean, minimalist interface and its classic, monochrome scheme. Lots of poets already on there, including the engaging Geraldine Clarkson, whose Monica’s Overcoat of Flesh (Nine Arches, 2020) is collecting good reviews this season. Enjoy!

 

 

Update, May 2020

And straight after the flooding came the plague, complete with panic buying and shelves being stripped before some of us could get to the supermarket after work. That is, while the job was still there during term-time. Many of my colleagues in the arts are coping with cancelled programmes and shelved festivals; I had signed up to lead a couple of workshops and take my books around the East Midlands arts fairs this summer, luckily potatowith only one set of stall fees and a workshop ticket as collateral damage. Thanks to all the places who refunded folk on time and dealt in a good-humoured way with the unexpected surge of cancellations and requests. Round my area, Metal at Peterborough, Five Leaves of Nottingham, the Newark Book Festival and the States of Independence at DMU were good, going out of their way to inform people in time. We’ll all be back, sitting in your venues and lining up for tickets as soon as we can. No rural arts centre will be safe from my investigative footsteps once this horror is over.

anthologiesI participated in Tara Skurtu’s International Poetry Circle @IntPoetryCircle sending short videos around –  but instead of my own work, I read medieval verse which is safely out of copyright. I often wonder just how many unacknowledged poems are doing the rounds on the internet with their literary estates being unaware. Sooner or later, an organisation will be raking through that data, looking for used material which wasn’t authorised; I’ve worked with literary estates, and believe me, some of them get mighty mad when one of their works turns up unannounced. Meanwhile, being indoors brought some compensations. I’ve typed up loads of old draft work and prepared newer stuff for poetry journals. I’ve been more accurate over knowing what material is being sent where, and I’ve been in just enough time to submit for a scheme run by the Society of Authors. I had a few rejections, but one set of work has gone forward into the shortlist for a magazine I’ve wanted to publish in for a long while. And, at a second attempt, the Fenland Poetry Journal took some poems; work which had been to other places previously. I hadn’t altered any lines in the meantime…. poems are often revised, but sometimes I know they are finished, and an editor is only a signpost on the way. You really don’t have to accept their opinion as the final word. As you’ll know if you’ve read my blogs before, I don’t do a lot of creative writing advice on here –  largely because I feel I have no right to pontificate over others’ hard-won lines.

I was so looking forward to a week in Northumberland over Easter; I wanted to be there in the Cheviots enjoying rural bus routes into historic towns, coming back each day with a rucksack filled with local produce and second hand books, having walked along the donkeysimmense beaches and seen oystercatchers digging their orange bills into the mudflats. Instead, it was disinfectant, hands like lobster claws, monotonous food, and life lived by email. Instead of checking students’ work, I’m spraying my doorhandles with Dettol and wondering how I can make a facemask out of an old T-shirt without it looking like a bad effort from the village jumble sale. But I hope to ‘spark some joy’ later in the season. Stay strong, everyone! It ain’t over till it’s over. And wash those hands. Here’s some cheery seaside donkeys to liven things up a bit.

Update, March 2020

bishops palace 3Poets! Are you wondering where your income is going, and do you feel it could be better spent? Me too. Last month, I paid up for a writing conference after debating long with myself over whether I should go, and could I afford it anyway. I was drawn in by the promise of time with other writers, and the potential of discussing a prose work with an agent during a 1:1 session. At last I paid up, within 2 days of the closing date. Then, having temporarily no internet at home, I tried to access the submissions portal a few days later. But it was too late – the window had closed on me, even though I still had my unused access code. Meanwhile, writers with money upfront had used an early-booking discount offer which meant that they paid less and they could access the agent scheme. As I couldn’t commit to the ticket price several months in advance, I paid more….and got less than I bargained for. Of course I didn’t realise that the number of agent slots was probably very limited to start with, and that 200 people could be in the same position as me –  even where they had successfully used the submissions portal.

I asked for a refund citing tIMG_1246he above problem with the agent event, and got a partial refund (minus £10) even though I had contacted the organisation with 7 weeks to go, leaving ample time for a resale. On asking for the whole fee back, I was told how they had refunded me as a ‘goodwill gesture’ because they would not normally refund a ticket just because the relevant portal was closed. [note to readers: check those box office return policies before giving them anything.] And, I was forfeiting a 2x booking fee for the operation of Paypal. That’s £10 gone, for the privilege of pushing a few buttons on a third-party payments window.

I hope the visiting writers have a great time. But what this incident suggests to me is: bye-bye opportunities if you aren’t a wealthier writer who can pay upfront straight away to obtain that extra level of access. I love meeting people at events, I really do, but there comes a point where ticket-buying without an improvement in my own progress becomes sterile and unproductive, making me question my reasons for going in the first place. On the other hand, I can choose not to be a Punter in future. My writing is still as valid as the other peoples’, and surely we all deserve not to be on the bottom tier of the creative-writing sales pyramid forever. I learnt a useful lesson from this incident, in that I had fallen victim to the ‘writing community’ promise against my better judgement, a promise which is not borne out unless you are happy about spending more on fees and tickets than you will ever get back in terms of seeing your work recognised or promoted.

20170526_162811On a happier note, I had a poem accepted for the Places of Poetry anthology, based on the crowd-sourced online project which ran last year between May and October. It is a read-only site now, and the resulting book (edited by Andrew McRae and Paul Farley) will be out towards the end of 2020. Another anthology (Hollow Palaces) is in production from a different project, showcasing a tradition of country house poetry across the centuries. I am pleased to be in the same vol. as ‘The Pier Glass’ by Robert Graves, one of my all-time favourite poems. I have two items in this book, both taken from Secret Villages (Flambard, 2001) and it is a welcome re-release of work which is firmly in the past from my point of view. It’s always good to know that poems can emerge by themselves later, when the writer had already consigned them to history.