Poem: From the Heart’s Diary by S.A. Leavesley

So pleased to have this poem up on Bonnie’s Crew this weekend. Many many beautiful poems on the website! And an important cause too!

Bonnie's Crew

From The Heart’s Diary

i) Her first kiss

I am a Chinese lantern:
lifting, drifting, lifting.

View original post 464 more words

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Add comment June 17, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Reaching your audience…

Reaching your audience – questioning who, where and how

I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘how to reach your audience?’ after being a panelist on a discussion about this question at the National Creative Writing Graduates Fair in Manchester earlier this month.

To be or not to be online at x/y/z…is not the answer. Or perhaps it is. In truth, I don’t think there is any one or even several definitive answers, just lots of possibilities waiting to be explored – with each individual writer finding, or creating, their own way based partly on who they are.

The breadth of the actual topic ‘reaching your audience’ is nothing to the potential breadth of a writer’s audience. But in reality, as in other areas of life, we all have to work within the limits of our resources and time. In this blog post then, I’m going to concentrate on a few of the many possible aspects, just as writers in practice are likely to have to choose where, how and when to focus their audience-reaching efforts.

Some of my thoughts here were inspired by questions asked at the graduate fair, and by the excellent advice and examples offered by my fellow panelists Tom Ashton (from Kate Nash Literary Agency, Kate Feld (director of Openstories) and panel chairman Joe Stretch. But this post – along with any unappreciated advice herein! – is of my own devising.

One early consideration for a writer might be to look at how and what they write, in order to decide whether they’re going to start with the audience or the written words. By this, I mean, are you a writer who knows what they want to write but then need to find the audience for it? Or a writer who, having identified a target audience, can then write directly for those readers? Or perhaps you can combine a mixture of the two?

When I write, for example, it’s often in response to particular inspiration or creative spark. In these cases, once the poem or flash is written and properly edited, I will then try to find the ideal home (audience) for it, such as researching magazines and websites that might publish it. This may involve some editing or tweaking to perfect it for that market (audience) but I’m not writing directly for that audience.

Other times, I might respond to a submission theme or competition call out or a commission brief. In these cases, the audience (although not guaranteed) is implied. Another version of this is, for example, writing this blogpost. I am writing it specifically for other writers interested in this topic, for people who’ve already shown an interest in this through Comma Press and the National Creative Writing Graduates Fair. (Once written, I will therefore be linking it back to Comma Press and the fair in the hope of ensuring that it reaches as much of that audience as possible.)

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While publication through a press, magazine, website…hopefully helps to connect with an audience – the readers of these books and journals – there are lots of other possible options for linking more directly with an audience.

Twitter, Facebook, blogs, youtube, vimeo, instagram, flickr, linked in, soundcloud, personal websites…maybe you’ll recognise all of these, maybe you’ll know about something about a few of them but be perplexed by the rest. They’re all various kinds of social media networking and micro publishing sites but only just a very limited sample selection of those available in different areas of the world. (China for example has its own versions of many western sites that aren’t allowed in China.) The range of such sites is potentially overwhelming and this just the internet. There are also more traditional avenues to audiences such as bookshops, libraries, spoken word events, poetry/literary groups and literature festivals.

These all have certain things in common though. They all involved interaction or engagement with a potential audience ( as individuals or through online writing/reading literary sites or groups on Facebook or # tags on twitter identifying common interests or themes such as #poetry, #flash…). This might be summed up as networking. But it needn’t feel or come across that way if it’s an activity that’s focused around a genuine shared love/interest in writing/reading/creating and one that works reciprocally/brings mutual benefits.

So, given limited time, how do you choose which of these routes to explore?

Try, try and try again

Part of finding what works for you and your audience may be research to identify which of the possibilities are more likely to reach your target audience or the widest selection of your target audience. I’ve mentioned ‘target’ and ‘market’ a few times now – these terms may be starting to sound a bit more business or marketing orientated rather than writing for the love or art of it. If so, don’t let this language put you off. If you don’t have a background in web analytics or marketing research, it may actually simply be a case of personal trial and error, of spending a little time looking at website or blogs, going along to a few spoken word nights, reading what other people tweet etc.

As you start to meet and talk to people, word of mouth is likely to come in to play. People will be talking about other events, where they go as readers/audience members or writers trying to reach an audience. At some point then, the trial and error method will probably move from simply researching/watching/reading/listening to actually actively engaging or trying out some of these things as a way of reaching your own audiences.

Something I’ve found useful as part of this trial and error process is what in more formal/business/planning terms amounts to the first two parts of SWOT analysis – identifying your strengths and weaknesses. (The O and T are opportunities and threats, which are also worth being aware of, and actively looking out for the former.)

When I talk about strengths, I don’t just mean writing talents but also personality features and wider skills. I also mean the things that you enjoy. Then play to your strengths, and either try to convert your weaknesses to strengths or find a way around them. (After all, when it comes to getting creative in finding ways around things, as writers, we already have a head start!)

Readings & Performance

every-book-leaves-its-traces-crossFor example, these days, if you consider yourself a ‘page poet’ (I use the term loosely) and/or an introvert, the thought of connecting with your audience through a live reading may feel daunting.

Having decided to face the fear and try it anyway, you may find that you actually love it. In any case, there are a range of techniques that might make the experience easier, as well as other alternatives to live readings.

For example, I’ve found distancing techniques can sometimes be helpful – so that when I read the person up there performing or reading isn’t me, it’s a donned reading/performing poet persona. Another ‘trick’ might be to think very carefully about what type of setting you’re most comfortable reading in and only do those that work for you. Considerations here might include the ideal size of event (and audience) to the potentially very different atmosphere of reading at a highbrow literary festival compared to a local open mic or a small reading staged for friends and family rather than the general public. Smaller audience events may mean you’d need to do more of them to potentially reach the same size audience, but better a good reading that you enjoy than a larger reading at which you’re uncomfortable and therefore don’t engage with the audience. And choosing select events rather than reading at everything may help make your readings special and encourage people to attend as it may be a while before they get the chance to hear you again.

For some people, arriving early to allow time to chat to people before the evening starts might help turn that event from a reading in front of strangers to a reading for new friends. Many audiences, particularly perhaps at open mics, tend to appreciate and respond more after the warmth of laughter. If, like me, you rarely write humorous poems, there are other ways round this. The first is to have the few or only humorous poem with you as a back-up. The second is to build humour into the short introductions or spiel between sharing your actual poems.

If you’re still nervous, then, on top of these possibilities, there are other ways of playing to your strengths/bypassing your weaknesses. If you’re reluctant to read your work but don’t mind talking about it, are their opportunities for taking a more Q & A style event to local writers/readers group or interest groups, if you’re writing on a particular theme. Alternatively, instead of live performance, perhaps try some recorded audio, a podcast or video performance. This could even become a collaborative project with a filmmaker.

Or perhaps there’s an element to your work that would make it interesting to a local acting group or someone who likes performing or entertaining. When I originally sat down to turn my poetry collection The Magnetic Diaries into a solo poetry show, I envisaged it as a festival-slot-length reading with a narrative thread. Having turned it into a script, and submitted it to the Write On Festival at Hereford’s The Courtyard (awareness of an opportunity!), I eventually ended up with a director and actress willing to take it on as a full piece of poetry theatre (taking it on an ACE-funded tour and two-week run at Edinburgh Festival Fringe)! (Thank you Reaction Theatre Makers, director Tiffany Hosking and actress Vey Straker).

So, the internet…

a-sunlit-heartI’ve spent a lot of words so far on poetry and performance. But the same considerations of audience size, the atmosphere/environment that you’re most comfortable in and finding ways of adapting yourself to that environment or potentially that environment to you are also relevant when it comes to exploring the web and how different internet sites and options might work for you in reaching your audience. Likewise also with finding extra ways of catching your audience’s eye. I’ve already mentioned audio and video as options for engaging with an audience beyond the page. Combining images with words is another possibility that can work well on the web – whether the artwork is yours or something produced in collaboration with another artist.

The theory behind trying things for yourself and playing to your strengths is that a) these things can be very personal (and a two-way relationship between the individual writer and their audience members) so there is no black and white ‘this is the way to do it’; b) life is too short for doing too many things that you don’t really enjoy unless you absolutely have to. The second is that I know it can take me ages (and be very draining) to get round to doing things that I don’t want to do, whereas I have almost unlimited energy, motivation and focus for the things that I enjoy doing. This makes them much easier to sustain and fills them with a natural genuineness and enthusiasm.

Thinking even further out of the box

I love writing. I started as a journalist, moved into writing short fiction (2000-8000) words, then poetry, my poetry-play, The Magnetic Diaries, flash fiction and finally a novella, Kaleidoscope, due out early 2017. In audience terms, this might also be considered hedging my bets!

Like audio, video or combining words with pictures, trying a different genre can be rewarding as a writer, as well as potentially engaging further with your existing audience or finding new audiences for your work.

But if trying a different kind of writing doesn’t appeal, you know where you are with performance and the internet, then why not look at more unusual ways of bringing your work to people. Where does your audience go in their spare time? Can you reach them in routine places, even the most mundane from bus/train station to office to supermarket noticeboard?

Over the years my poems have featured on buses, poetry trails, phone apps, screen savers, poetry films, a café mural and in the Blackpool Illuminations. Of these, I can only truly claim the phone app as my own idea. The rest all came about either as opportunities discovered or opportunities offered to me through being part of online and real-life writing communities.

Other more unusual projects that I’ve heard of include poems in pub windows, guerilla posted on lamp-posts and trees, or turned into beer mats. Innovative and fun ways to reach audiences can also be found at festivals, such as poems written on demand for take-away or in portable sheds. Meanwhile, the Emergency Poet, Deb Alma, brings other people’s poetry to new audiences by making poetry prescriptions for passers-by stopping for a consultation in her 1970’s ambulance. What other interests drive you besides writing? And can you combine the two to create a striking and fun way to reach your audience?

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Go compare.sarah

See below, for some example of what does, and doesn’t work (!), on various different internet sites – as I have learned through trial and error!

Website (profile building; content on writing & actual writing): www.sarah-james.co.uk

Website blog (active; content on writing; being hosted on a personal website, it lacks the interaction possible on blogsite where you can follow other bloggers): http://www.sarah-james.co.uk/?page_id=7

WordPress blog (redundant; content on writing/life & interaction possible through following/commenting): https://sarahjameswrites.wordpress.com/

Linked In (profile-building): https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-james-2127521b

Twitter (public, content on writing/life; micro-writing/taster snippets/photo-poetry; interacting): https://twitter.com/Sarah_James ; twitter handle @Sarah_James

Facebook for Sarah James (mostly automatic posts forwarded from twitter, therefore currently limited interaction, posts public): https://www.facebook.com/sarahaleavesley

Facebook for Sarah Leavesley (content on writing/life, interacting, posts mostly restricted to viewing by friends only): https://www.facebook.com/sarah.leavesley

Facebook for 21stcenturypoetsmakeitnew (public, no longer active collaborative poetry project): https://www.facebook.com/21stcenturypoetsmakeitnew-172744752744607/

Tumblr (public, writing in picture form, currently not active here): http://sarahjamespoetry.tumblr.com/

Instagram (public, photos & photo-poetry; intermittent usage currently): https://www.instagram.com/s.a.leavesley/ (NB posting of photos done through mobile phone app not website.)

You Tube (poetryfilm, interaction is possible but currently mostly unused by me): https://www.youtube.com/user/SarahJamespoet

Vimeo (similar to You Tube but possibly considered more ‘arty’): https://vimeo.com/sarahjamespoet

Soundcloud (audiopoetry): https://soundcloud.com/lifeislikeacherrytree

This article was first published on Comma Press: part 1 and part 2.

June 17, 2018 sarahjameswrites

‘Emotional Punch’

forest hinges haiku

 
First and foremost, Happy Father’s Day to all fathers out there, including the many literary fathers/male writers/editors/publishers who’ve encouraged and inspired me, and whose work I’ve admired over the years.

Although I’ve been posting quite frequently the past few months, many of my posts are scheduled some time in advance so I’ve been slow catching up with recent news. Hopefully, this post is the last of my news-in-waiting but…

ALWAYS ANOTHER TWIST – REVIEWS

ALWAYS ANOTHER TWIST-FinalI’m absolutely delighted to share some snippets from recent reviews of Always Another Twist!!!

“…Dripping with descriptions, it would be easy to mistake Leavesley’s fiction as prose poetry on occasion, such is the richness of detail that appears on near enough every page. The imagery of this world is rich which only adds further to the overall authenticity and believability of these women and their stories…

“While Kaleidoscope struck a disturbing and unresolved chord – in a good way, I stress – Always Another Twist promises something lighter, more hopeful…

“…Overlapping narratives, beautiful prose, and more questions without answers, Leavesley again does a fine job of hooking a reader by the heartstrings…This is another fine publication and it is worth grabbing yourselves a copy, whether you have read Kaleidoscope or not – Julie’s story is certainly one worth reading.”

Charlotte Barnes, Mad Hatter Reviews, full review here.

kaleidoscope-cover

Meanwhile over on Amazon, there’s a lovely 5-star review of Always Another Twist, ‘A novella that packs an emotional punch’ from Renaissance Woman, also touching on my prequel/companion novella, Kaleidoscope:

“…Kaleidoscope paints a brilliant portrait of a disordered mind, a mind scattered into ever-changing pieces much as a kaleidoscope fragments and reforms. The narrative skips around in time, and the reader begins to create his/her own picture of events from the fragments Leavesley gives us.

Always Another Twist works well both as a standalone, and as a companion piece…

“Sarah Leavesley brings a poetic sense of rhythm and word choice to her fiction whilst always keeping her prose realistic and believable. The dialogue flows, the psychology rings true. The images ignite: of a kiss – ‘every cell in her body shimmers with this warm glistening.’”

Renaissance Woman, Amazon review, full review here.

OTHER PUBLICATIONS

Five by Five alone
I’m very very delighted to share news of the publication of Five by Five, an Arachne Press anthology of five short fictions by five female writers: Joan Taylor-Rowan, Katy Darby, Cassandra Passarelli, Helen Morris and myself. My pieces -The Trouble with Honey, Our Skinny Dragon, Not Running, Out of the Box, The Last Red Cherry – feature strong women is a variety of scenarios, including fragile friendships, caving drama, facing up to hard truths and out of this world cli-fi. As the Arachne Press blurb puts it: “elliptical poet’s sensibility of elegant twists and restraint brought to flash fiction.”

The collection as a whole tends towards fantasy and magical realism, alongside unforgiving reality tempered with warmth. It can be ordered from Arachne Press here.

Also: Heart, a poem from my New Welsh Writing Award 2018 longlisted This Room, accepted for Ink, Sweat and Tears.

Listening to Seashells blue background
 

INTERVIEW

The Mad Hatter Reviews review is also accompanied by an interview with me about the novella, writing more generally and future fiction plans. It can be read here.

Meanwhile, the novella and poetry, laughter and lyricism, are just a few of the features of a recent podcast interview I did with AndyN for Spoken Label. This chat with Andy (via skype for this recording), also gives a hint of how discursive my mind can be, as well as a few insights into what it’s like running V. Press. The podcast also includes readings of some poems from How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press) and plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press). It can be enjoyed here.

EVENTS

P1080151 -performance very closeI had a great time at the Worcestershire Litfest & Fringe launch and poet laureate finals last Sunday. I don’t perform all my poems from memory but it’s always an amazing buzz when I do. So I had one performance piece from memory and one poem written for reading on and from the page. Nina Lewis’s performance as outgoing Worcestershire Poet Laureate was very moving and it was great to see Betti Moretti take the title for the coming year.

P1080125Meanwhile I’m now gearing up for a whole range of other events and reading, including Nine Arches Press’s 10th Birthday Celebrations on June 23, where I’ll be sharing three other poet’s poems for the evening’s The Nine Arches Press Birthday Mixtape. (Trying to choose poems from this is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in a long while. The photo is me going through and trying to narrow down choices, also realising that I couldn’t find four collections I wanted to go through, as well as having stored one of the signed pamphlets in a box that I can’t get to. I ended up putting favourites from each book into a hat and drawing at random, hoping others will be reading some of my other favourites.)

I’m also very pleased to be reading at the Tribute to Helen Dunmore at Ledbury Poetry Festival on June 30.

Other full readings from my own work over the next few months include:

advert-collab-finalgrad2Thursday, June 28, University of Wolverhampton Artsfest – An Unconventional History of Maidenhood, Mothering and Mistresses

When: 28 June 2018 – 28 June 2018, 7.30pm

At: Tilstone, Arena Theatre, Wulfruna Street, Wolverhampton,West Midlands, WV1 1SE

Writers Katy Wareham Morris, Ruth Stacey and Sarah James draw on history, literature and art for their poems and narratives about women’s roles and experience in society – now and in the past.

Tickets: FREE – reserve your place at www.wlv.ac.uk/artsfest

Booking link: https://www.wlv.ac.uk/about-us/our-schools-and-institutes/faculty-of-arts/artsfest/registration-form/

Sunday, 22 July 2018 – V. Press showcase at this year’s Flash Fiction Festival at Trinity College, Bristol

For more information and to book tickets for the weekend-long festival, please visit the website here.

Thursday, 26 July 2018 – Motherhood, Birth and Women in Conflict – Waterstones, Leamington Spa

Waterstones are proud to introduce four critically acclaimed award-winning poets to share their versions of Motherhood through poems celebrating the strength, resilience, and both internal and external conflicts of the human spirit. These poems span honest portraits of everyday experiences of contemporary and historical mothering, the suppression and strength of British queens, and survivors of the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Featuring Antony Owen, Katy Wareham Morris, Ruth Stacey and Sarah James.

Entry free. Signed copies available on night.

Time: 6.30pm-8pm.

Venue: Waterstones, Leamington Spa, 1 Warwick St, Leamington Spa CV32 4QG

Monday, August 20 – Tales Between the Ales night at The Two Towers Brewery, Birmingham

AT: The Two Towers Brewery, 29 Shadwell Street Birmingham B4 6HB

TIME: 7 -9.30pm.

Sarah will be reading at this night of themed poetry (and fiction) celebrating all things to do with the summer: myths, legends, folklore, mischief, magic, and/or personal remembrances etc, with a twist on the subject of summer. Other readers include Colin Ward, Stephen Maguire and Ray Bradnock.

Eventbrite link https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/tales-between-the-ales-tickets-46115874823
Facebook link https://www.facebook.com/events/173541293344629??ti=ia

June 17, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Wednesday Reflections/From Grasmere

Reflections/poem biography for From Grasmere
 
Grasmere acorn in air“fisticuff birdsong
cold creeps through cracks, rattles doors
ice hardens edges”

I’m not a Wordsworth scholar. What interests me about William and Dorothy Wordsworth is as much the siblingship as the literary. But, given that they both wrote – albeit in different ways – this necessarily spills into the nature of their siblingship.

I’ve read, but not scrutinised, The Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals by Dorothy Wordsworth. That she may have been behind or involved in the formation of some of William Wordsworth’s most celebrated lines haunts me.

The renga* – or my adapted version of this – seemed perfect for the poem because it is a collaborative form. The words in italics may be viewed as Dorothy’s voice and the unitalicised lines part William’s viewpoint, part outside narrator considering the relationship between them, its impact on William Wordsworth’s writing and a more generalised glance at women’s perceived roles at the time.

I deliberately chose not to incorporate actual lines from Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals into the poem because I wanted to capture the idea that there might have been passing words, conversations or jottings from Dorothy Wordsworth that fed into her brother’s work but weren’t preserved or haven’t yet been found.

* Simplifying greatly, a renga is a Japanese collaborative poem which takes the form of a haiku (traditionally explained as a stanza with lines of 5, 7, 5 syllables/sound units) followed by a stanza of two lines with 7-syllables/sound units.

grasmere autumn acorn smaller

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Points

1) Although it might seem ironic to use a Japanese form when looking at an English poet and his sister, does the chosen form help the poem achieve what it sets out to do?

2) Does this poem’s adaptations of the tradition renga enhance the poem/form in this context? How much adaptation of an existing form do you feel is acceptable and why? When is a form changed so much that it becomes a new form? How can forms developed in one language retain their whole essence when put to work in an entirely different language? (In such circumstances, is some compromise/adaptation inevitably required?)

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Take nature/daily life as your inspiration. Record your observations of an outdoors scene or your own activities in a series of condensed images, using just five or seven syllables (or words if you prefer) in each line or sentence. Either continue using this 5/7-word structure as you turn these into a poem/story, or try alternating these short lines/sentences with some that are much longer. Notice how this alters rhythm and pace. Try to use these different effects carefully to enhance the overall story/poem.

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

June 13, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot!!!

‘Where to start?’ is a perennial question in literature, life…and yes, on a small scale, in this blogpost.

With the recent publication of both my poetry chapbook How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press) and my second novella Always Another Twist (Mantle Lane Press), the twists in my own writing life have been many, with news, reviews and interviews flowing fast and thick.

First up, I’m delighted to share news of my shortlisting for Worcestershire Poet Laureate 2018/2019 – along with Peter Sutton and Betti Moretti. It’s been years since I’ve felt I might be in a position to apply for the role, so I’m delighted to be in the running for this. I’ll be performing my two poems this afternoon at the launch of this year’s festival, at The Angel Centre, Worcester, when the new laureate will be announced. More info on this and other festival events here.

INTERVIEW

Fiona McVie’s extensive author interview with me here for Author Interviews features not just my recent publications, but also highlights from previous collections, writing inspiration, many people and organisations I’m grateful to and a few secrets about what makes me tick as a person as well as a writer.

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HOW TO GROW MATCHES REVIEW/ESSAY NEWS

I’m very pleased to share news of Amy Deakin’s review of How to Grow Matches for The Feminist Library.

“…Leavesley wields her power with the tightly controlled precision of surgeon. Each poem seems to spark and crackle with energy and not a line is out of place. I am reminded of Carol Ann Duffy’s 1999 collection The World’s Wife, as Leavesley tells and retells stories of old paintings, unknown female perspectives on political events and characters forgotten by history, continually harkening back to the fairy tales and mythology. Yet despite these old themes, this collection has a modern relevance…

How to Grow Matches is a raging flare in the dark that commands our attention and refuses to be put out.”

Amy Deakin’s full review for The Feminist Library can be found here.

My own essay/article, Can you hear her, me, us?, on some of the inspiration and motivation behind each poem in How to Grow Matches can also be found on Against The Grain Press here.
 

ALWAYS ANOTHER TWIST AUDIO

And another audio extract/taster from Always Another Twist:‘While Dan’s at the sink, Julie pulls out her diary from the kitchen drawer, the one with the letter and number for Claire’s place. Beside it, a short note in Claire’s scribbled handwriting…’


 

Copies of my pamphlet How to Grow Matches and my novella Always Another are available direct from the publishers. Alternatively, email me at lifeislikeacherrytreeATyahooDOTcom if you’d like a signed or review copy of either.

 

MICRO-REVIEWS

20180526_092410Following a fabulous bank holiday weekend in Hay, I returned with many thoughts and ideas from the How the Light Gets In festival, hennaed hands, wonder at the beautiful book art in the British Red Cross shop window and four fabulous books from The Poetry Bookshop.

I’ve also been happily dipping in and out of Deb Alma’s wonderful collection Dirty Laundry (Nine Arches Press). The poems are striking, moving and addictive. I’ve had to force myself to pause between them so as to enjoy the full flavour of each one. Summing the collection up as whole could never do justice to all the parts. The poems are full of wisdoms and warnings. Observations of human life and light, love and lust, loss and longing are found in the smallest yet startlingly encompassing details. Sounds, metaphors and scenarios are also weaved together beguilingly.

“I am a mother, a field     a house.
 Without me, windows darken,
 no-one else knows how to put on lights
 just to bring the house to life.

“I am each of the processes of laundry…”
(‘She describes herself like this’)

Re-reading consecutive poems in Dirty Laundry, I was moved by a sense of restlessness sifting and settling, then sifting again, shape-shifting in and out of something like peace. Softness is tempered by sensual secrets, sexual sorcery/saucery and strong stances that sing of surviving darker truths and violence. In ‘Seeing It Coming’, the poem’s main character, Francine, starts to use rear-view mirrors for walking, though she finds the glass distorting:

“Finally, late night blanket-stitch,
 cross-stitch tight, she fastened
 white van mirror, angel’s wings,
 into the seams of her great-coat…”

There’s so much in just this one poem that I could say a lot more about in terms of women’s experience, what Francine might want/need to see coming, and what the distorting glass shows here…for this micro-review though, I’ll simply say that the lightness of touch here, as elsewhere in the collection, heightens the thrust of the very real human emotions that power this poem. This conceit is also an ideal metaphor for what this collection does – revealing what’s often hidden in life’s blind spots. For Francine, there’s a sense of fear and the need for safety/control. But I’m also reminded that blind-spots needn’t only be about dangerous vulnerability, they can, and should, also be places where the most beautiful surprises arise – in life and in these poems. I loved this collection!


 
Another pamphlet that I’ve really enjoyed recently is Carol Rumens’ Bezdelki (The Emma Press). As a reader and person, I was moved. As a reader and writer, I was admiration-struck. For no logical reason, I ended up reading the pamphlet backwards – something that seems undeliberately apt in retrospect, as these are “Poems and Translations in Memory of Yuri Georgievich Drobyshev (Rumens’ late partner), 1932-2015”.

Reading then, and re-reading since in different orders, I have to keep stopping because the poems are so achingly beautiful. Among my favourite images: loss as “I’m two ruined overcoats” in ‘Vidua’. Also the mix of myth and modern-life, and nature’s enduring presence behind, above and beyond human absence. As in:
“Souls clatter like wings,
like netted marsh birds, blind
to everything but their sky.”
(‘King Taharqa’s Last Thoughts’).

Also in the closing poem:
“I could no more believe the sap insensible
than I believe the dead are broken branches,
and all their self-songs censored or extinguished.”
(‘Nant y Garth’)

There are so many striking lines and images in Bezdelki that I now carry with me, with both emotion and literary awe.

OTHER NEWS

I’ve not had much time for submissions lately. But I’m delighted to have a poem being produced as a ‘fauxlaroid’ photo and poem postcard by The Hedgehog Poetry Press. Things like the postcards – and plenty of inspirational prompts, interaction and writing prompts – are part of the extras offered by the Cult of the Spiny Hog subscription/club/collective membership, which I’d thoroughly recommend.

EVENTS

advert-collab-finalgrad2Thursday, June 28, University of Wolverhampton Artsfest – An Unconventional History of Maidenhood, Mothering and Mistresses

When: 28 June 2018 – 28 June 2018, 7.30pm

At: Tilstone, Arena Theatre, Wulfruna Street, Wolverhampton,West Midlands, WV1 1SE

Writers Katy Wareham Morris, Ruth Stacey and Sarah James draw on history, literature and art for their poems and narratives about women’s roles and experience in society – now and in the past.

Tickets: FREE – reserve your place at www.wlv.ac.uk/artsfest

Booking link: https://www.wlv.ac.uk/about-us/our-schools-and-institutes/faculty-of-arts/artsfest/registration-form/

Monday, August 20 – Tales Between the Ales night at The Two Towers Brewery, Birmingham

AT: The Two Towers Brewery, 29 Shadwell Street Birmingham B4 6HB

TIME: 7 -9.30pm.

I will be reading at this night of themed poetry (and fiction) celebrating all things to do with the summer: myths, legends, folklore, mischief, magic, and/or personal remembrances etc, with a twist on the subject of summer. Other readers include Colin Ward, Stephen Maguire and Ray Bradnock.

Eventbrite link https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/tales-between-the-ales-tickets-46115874823
Facebook link https://www.facebook.com/events/173541293344629??ti=ia

Friday, 12 October 2018 – Evesham Festival of Words Meet the Authors event with Sarah James, Alex Lee Davis and Richard Vaughan Davies

AT: Evesham Library

TIME: 11am-12.30pm

The Evesham Festival of Words event includes talk, readings and Q&A is open to the general public.

June 10, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Worcestershire LitFest 2018 The Launch

Poet Laureate

WLFNext week is the 8th WLF! We kick off this Sunday afternoon at The Angel Centre with the Launch and Poet Laureate Finals. 

32956642_1734839963219760_862596090652786688_nJoin us for the Launch of the Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe 2018 at the wonderful Angel Centre in the centre of Worcester. 

During the event we will be celebrating the amazing talent of our Worcestershire Young Writers, announcing the winners of our international Flash Fiction and of course crowning the new Worcestershire Poet Laureate for 2018/2019! 

Tickets are just 6 pounds and include a drink on arrival. There will be a well stocked donations bar for the rest of the event and some nibbles. 

We hope you can join us for this exciting event, jam packed with brilliant performances from Worcestershire’s finest writers!


https://worcestershirepoetlaureateninalewis.wordpress.com/2018/05/26/and-the-worcestershire-poet-laureate-shortlist-is/

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Add comment June 6, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Wednesday Reflections/Too Modest

Reflections/poem biography for Too Modest

“A rhythm river trimmed
                        with reeds,
             silver fish & light slivers”

Essential symbiosis 1024pixels
 
Lorine Niedecker
                     was a great
             American poet

Paring back
                     language
to its skeleton

                    This spare frame
graced with
                    natural music

Please read her
                    & feel yourself
reeled in

by each line

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

How spare can a poem get before it is too spare? Why? What functions might the white space around the words fulfil – in this poem and in general?

Inspiration/ Writing Prompt

Choose a writer that you really admire. Can you create a poem or story that reflects this admiration – either by directly drawing on their life and work, or by using a technique, theme or style that is characteristic of their writing? Alternatively, imagine you’re in a room with them. What would you talk about? You could present this piece in a faux-interview style or using conversation only.

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

June 6, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Burn Whilst Reading – How to Grow Matches by S.A. Leavesley

Against the Grain Poetry Press

Amy Deakin’s review at The Feminist Library of How to Grow Matches by S.A. Leavesley begins as follows

How to Grow Matches is a fiery retort to the silencing of women’s voices and bodies over the centuries. Despite the collection’s undercurrent of passionate rage against this injustice, Leavesley wields her power with the tightly controlled precision of a surgeon. Each poem seems to spark and crackle with energy and not a line is out of place. I am reminded of Carol Ann Duffy’s 1999 collection The World’s Wife, as Leavesley tells and retells stories of old paintings, unknown female perspectives on political events and characters forgotten by history, continually harkening back to the fairy tales and mythology. Yet despite these old themes, this collection has a modern relevance. At a time of #MeToo and sexual harassment culture, the silencing of female voices feels all too ordinary.”

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Add comment May 31, 2018 sarahjameswrites

And the Worcestershire Poet Laureate shortlist is…

Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe

Every year our chosen judges work tirelessly towards choosing a new Poet Laureate for the county of Worcestershire and this year is certainly no exception. Seasoned judges Steve Wilson and Polly Stretton are joined by Nina Lewis, the current Worcestershire Poet Laureate, and Rachel Evans, the current Young Poet Laureate for Worcestershire, to make their decision on who is next in line to represent the literary community of Worcestershire and after much deliberation they have narrowed their options down to a final three…

<insert drum roll here>

Our three finalists for this year’s competition are:

Peter Sutton

Sarah Leavesley

Betti Moretti

A huge congratulations to our three finalists, and commiserations and deep gratitude to everyone else who entered. We were delighted to see the wonderful entries that stacked up this year and we hope that those who entered alongside the three finalists will consider entering again in the future.

Peter…

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Add comment May 31, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Wednesday Reflections/Raindrop on a Red Leaf

Reflections/poem biography for Raindrop on a Red Leaf

P1050378 raindrop on red leaf smaller“His hand cupping a spider, wrist trembling;
a thin branch in the wind,”

The main story behind my plenty-fish poem ‘Raindrop on a Red Leaf’ starts with a photo of such a raindrop on a leaf. I took this picture on a walk across a local park in September 2011.

But this 10-line poem has an unwritten epilogue that starts much further back in time. This pre-poem story has two angles. The first is the literary influence of Jacques Prévert, whose work first got me hooked on poetry. (This influence also features more explicitly in my plenty-fish poem ‘The je ne sais quoi of it’.) That Prévert was a screenwriter as well as a poet can be seen in his poems’ imagery.

The second influence is part-literary – the “What is this life if, full of care, |We have no time to stand and stare?” of William Henry Davies’ ‘Leisure’, and William Blake’s “To see a World in a Grain of Sand…” (‘Auguries of Innocence’). But it is also part-mindfulness and the notion of living in the moment as a way of dealing with, or reacting against, the otherwise generally fast pace of modern society. Writing the poem, I set out to capture snapshots of some of those moments in life that cause an inner gasp and leave a lasting mark in the memory.

The resulting poem was one of three chosen, along with corresponding spectrogram (sound wave-forms) art that I created from their lines, to be displayed on Worcestershire buses as a Worcestershire Arts Partnership/CBS Outdoors/First Capital Connect commission in June-Aug 2013.

The poem, based on emotionally moving moments, and physically moving when on the buses, also has another element of movement. It is one of a few poems in plenty-fish where lines move, or shape-shift, according to their medium.

‘Raindrop on a Red Leaf’ concludes with a couplet circling back to the title image metaphorically. On the page, in the collection, the final line is: “on the wet leaves of two tongues.” But, read aloud without the words on the page visible, “tongues” is easily misheard as “tongs” or “tonnes”. Fortunately, the poem is free verse and not welded to a fixed metre. So, in readings, I often add an extra two-syllable word right at the end, to help clarify on the sound front and also make explicit what lies between the lines of the page version: “on the wet leaves of two tongues, kissing.”


Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Points

1) How closely does the central image in each couplet link to the other couplet’s images/moments? Does the poem leave enough space for the reader to make their own connections?

2) What relationship does the title ‘Raindrop on a Red Leaf’ have with the poem’s contents? Is a connection between the two clear when you first start reading? If not, when does some linking/interpretation become possible? And does it take on new meaning(s) by the end of the poem?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Imagine a photo album of five important snapshots from your/a fictional character’s life. Can you use these to create a narrative, or a bigger snapshot of your/their personality? Try to use either the final image or the title alone to hint at the most important snapshot or a way of reading all these snapshots.

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

May 30, 2018 sarahjameswrites

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