Poem published in The Clearing

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The Clearing is a fascinating and beautiful online journal published by Little Toller Books that “offers writers and artists a dedicated space in which to explore and celebrate the landscapes we live in”. I’m really delighted to have just had one of my poems – “Spit” – posted in the journal, alongside fine pieces by three other poets, Garry Mackenzie, Mark Howarth Booth and Oliver Southall.

You can read all four poems here.

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Drawing trees

Drawing Trees


Drawing trees

 

I thought I was doing them properly, the way

you’re supposed to, crayoning out raw shapes

that were, if not quite exactly lollipops, then

certainly something lickable, perhaps clouds

of candy floss wound onto sticks, or ice cream.

I filled them in with a pistachio green to avoid

any ambiguity, ticking in a circle of birds above,

a butterfly the size of a moose. A sun, smiling.

 

Those, she told me would lose their leaves

in the autumn, spend fingerbone winters naked

and heartless. She didn’t say why. I didn’t ask.

Hers were drilled brigades of triangles, isosceles,

getting smaller towards the top of the page

to suggest distance, within which you could

see each and every Starbucks needle, every

chocolate-coloured cone a dangling reproach.

 

first published in Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine Anthology, 2017

Saltmarsh thoughts #2

IMG_1493Niggling away amongst the thoughts and notes I collected recently up at the Solway estuary – in addition to those about careful observation, and where poetry comes from – have been some insights into what I choose to write about. And what I’ve realised is that no matter where I am, whatever I’m looking at, the thing I’m interested in is people.

This might seem like an obvious conclusion to reach, but wouldn’t always have been. I can recall a time – back when I first began writing “seriously” – when I was more interested in reflecting on what I would’ve considered “nature”, meaning land- and seascape where human beings were either absent, ignored or unwanted. I was always trying to look beyond people and lose myself in these places, or feel inspired by them with my ego at arm’s length, if possible (reliably not).

I find people and what we do far too fascinating now. I’m one of those irritating creatures you see in art galleries who – after about twenty minutes of wandering around – occupies the most advantageous seat in the biggest room and spends their time looking at what everyone else is doing. It’s not that I don’t like art. It’s just that I find our interactions with art and public spaces more intriguing. Admittedly, art is a human business anyway, but the ways people interact with and imprint themselves into landscape is of equal interest to me.

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I live in a relatively crowded country, where it’s pretty much impossible to find yourself in a landscape that hasn’t been engineered to some degree by humans. The Solway estuary is a beautiful place, but people have been living here for thousands of years – farming, fishing, mining, extracting whatever we need – and helping to shape it, for better or for worse. These days I’m far more likely to be drawn by traces and consequences of these activities, and find inspiration for writing there.

Saltmarsh thoughts

IMG_1487It’s been a week or so since I journeyed up to the Solway coast to take part in a creative writing day organised by Cumbria Wildlife Trust at RSPB Campfield Marsh. As you might be able to tell from these images (easier with the colour one, admittedly), it was a glorious late-spring/early-summer day of high pressure weather, sunshine and stillness. A real blessing. With the tide wholly out, exposing the saltmarsh and mudflats to their fullest extent, the sense of openness and space was remarkable, and the beginnings of the Galloway hills across the border loomed almost reachable on the horizon.

Writer and blogger Ann Lingard, who was running the event, encouraged us to spend plenty of time out in the estuary amongst the mud and the marsh, exploring, observing and making notes, before gathering us again to compare findings and take part in a couple of writing exercises. She also took the time to share her extensive knowledge of both the microfauna that calls the place home, and the history of the immediate area. I doubt I could identify again (or even find) any of the critters we were introduced to, but at least I have no excuses anymore.

I’ve found myself regularly revisiting and reprocessing the experience in my head ever since. It would be untrue to say that I’ve used the notes I made to create anything of substance – poetry, fiction, whatever. It’s still just a jumble of notes. Had I expected it to be otherwise? I can’t honestly say. But I do know that something far more valuable has occurred to me in the meantime.

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I’m fascinated by the creative process – by what it is about us that makes us creative and makes us create (or else allows us to think we aren’t and stop ourselves). And how the germination of ideas takes place. What I’ve realised is how rarely I grant myself the gift of spending time simply looking at things, at what’s really there. Not only looking, but also using every other sense in a deliberate, conscious way. It’s an incredibly precious gift, but for me, it has to come without any hint of agenda. There must be no pressure, no compulsion to write about the observations – the sensations – as a result.

I either write or think about writing every single day (the latter occurs much more often!), but I almost never see or experience something and then sit down to try and write coherently about it straight away. Instead, whatever seeds have been sown usually have to sit there and fester first – for years, even – before a thing I might think of as ‘poetry’ happens.

But I have to gather those seeds, raw materials. I’ve never known precisely where poems and their ideas originate (I have a clue…) but I know that in order for the whole process to keep rolling, I need to continue to be as open and receptive to the world as I can. So I’ve made a promise that I’m going to give myself the gift of taking a look around much more often.

 

 

Capturing a saltmarsh in words

TidelineI’m taking time out this weekend to do something a little different. Cumbria Wildlife Trust is running a creative writing day this Saturday, 19th May, led by writer, novelist and WordPress blogger Ann Lingard.

The day is taking place at RSPB Campfield Marsh in north Cumbria, where England and Scotland face one another across the Solway estuary. Cumbria is usually thought of in landscape terms as a place of mountains and high moors, The Lake District, and the inspiration for the likes of Arthur Ransome, John Ruskin and William and Dorothy Wordsworth. But this part of the Solway coast is a very different prospect, a flat expanse of saltmarsh, mudflats and creeping tides, with its own special atmosphere and wildlife.

The purpose of the day is to spend time in this environment, being and observing, before translating these observations and impressions into words. Not only have I never visited this part of the world before, I’ve also never taken part in this kind of immersive creative writing event. I’m really looking forward to the experience, and to working with Ann, and meeting some other enthusiastic writers. And to seeing what I’m inspired to write by being in what sounds like an amazing place.

Flood

Flood


Flood

 

We did not see the swollen river

overtop its banks, failed by the

modest bow of its channel, its

traffic doubled by the bludgeon

of three consecutive moonrises

under rain, waters earth-brown.

 

Instead, we passed a day later,

taken by the bleached streamers

of torn-up grass, stretched like

comet-tails from the lowest boughs

of thornbushes, calm swirls of sand

making fish-loops across our path.

 

 

first published in Southlight Magazine, issue 22, 2017

Widow

Widow

Widow

She’s now happy to give in, let the weeds
win over at least a corner of the garden,

over there, between the blue clapboard shed
and the fence, too lazy to hold itself up,

furthest from the back porch, where it all
happened. No-one else sees, she supposes.

The rosebay willow herb fills up the view
every July, with its clamour of firework spikes,

more reliably than the delphiniums ever did;
the hoverflies love the nettles, the ragwort,

and bees spoil themselves on crowns of clover.
The redundant sickle hangs from a thick nail.

 

first published in The Cannon’s Mouth, Issue 61, 2016

 

Cinnabar moths

Cinnabar Moths

Cinnabar moths

Up here is where I’m sure it was, all the
muted fluttering, on the ledges shouldered
beneath the newly-converted mills, lording it
over the gritted teeth of the stone-dark town.

I followed her, behind by a breath that still
tasted of kiss, enjoying the view, through a
chain of fields thigh-deep in flowers, the sky
both scrubbed blue and punched with bruises

at the same time. She seemed to know
all their names, the cornflowers, loosestrife,
pointed out the ragwort – poisonous to cattle
and the liquorice-striped caterpillars urgently

stripping its leaves. I fell back, now winded
with the effort, rolling their names on my tongue.
She seemed to know everything that mattered,
all except what was hatching away inside her.

 

first published in Firefly Magazine, issue 10, 2017