Review: joy ride by Jessica Mookherjee

Riggwelter

Jessica Mookherjee, joy ride, The Black Light Engine Room 2017. £7 including P&P.

Right from the start, the title alone of Jessica Mookherjee’s joy ride has me excited – temptation, exhilaration, rebellion, breaking the rules… All these aspects are also covered by the poetry in the pamphlet, with the striking opening artwork by Jane Burn preparing me too for the darker elements of fear and danger that inevitably come with this.

Birds, nature, flight, loneliness, love and loss, belonging and place in the world feature across the pamphlet, as well as relationships of various kinds.

There is joy in word and idea play, such as the pamphlet’s opening line: ‘I’m struck blue, bottle-green wings unfolding’ (‘The Father’). It’s there in the sound of close-placed rhymes, as well as the imagery and deft line breaks, of stanzas like: ‘Now outside, I watch the river bend like a girl, | unfurl…

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Add comment August 18, 2018 sarahjameswrites

False Eyes and the Myopic of Me by S.A. Leavesley

Riggwelter

false eyes 1

It’s 2018 and a long time now since I was a child, but my young self is written into my adult life like a secret I can’t shake off…

1982

I watch my first episode of Popeye at home on a black and white TV. Dad laughs more than Mum and I do. Olive Oyl makes me think of the sadness of mown flowers, while Popeye’s can-like muscles remind me of Dad’s rhyme about Jim, the softness of tomatoes and how they don’t hurt a thing unless thrown while still wrapped in a tin![i]

Though life changed after my diabetes diagnosis last year, I think I still love laughter. But I know already that I see things differently to other seven year olds. I decide that I must be adopted and my real name’s Penelope.

I don’t realise it yet, but subconsciously I’ve started to construct my identity in…

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Add comment August 14, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Rubery Book Award 2018 – How to Grow Matches shortlisted

With thanks to Against The Grain Press and the International Rubery Book Award judges:

Against the Grain Poetry Press

Congratulations to Sarah for making it to the International Rubery Book Award 2018 shortlist – a great achievement for Sarah and for our press. To quote from the Rubery Book Award web site –

How to Grow Matches S. A. Leavesley

Leavesley’s poems have clarity and directness, and she writes with a great eye for significant detail. Matchsticks are “pink tipped bullrushes” in the title poem, for instance, and “Blackpool’s shops are metal secrets” in another lovely piece, First Thing. In Fashion Chains, mannequins are glimpsed in shop windows at night with “chemo flesh revealed/in the glare of strip lighting”, and the “bald realities” of “moon heads”. This poem becomes a sly metaphor for the fashion industry and the way this exploits women via the spurious notion of “true shape”. Her themes are varied: there are ekphrastic poems, political poems, feminist poems, myth based poems, but all have flair, characterised…

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Add comment July 19, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Wednesday Reflections/Smile!

Smile!
Sisters Together 72dpi 1024pixels-005

Once upon a time there was a little girl, a little girl of about six or seven, a little girl of eleven or twelve, a little girl of 39, going on 40. Poetry pulsed through her but her heart was lined with spikes, arteries thick with icicles.

Every day, the little girl said, “When I grow up, I want to be happy.”

Every day, a wise man whispered back in the wind’s howl, the sea’s leap and crash, the sand’s sift and shift, the river’s rush and ebb, the leaves’ crackle and settle, petals’ blow and drift, loose feathers’ lift and sigh. Sometimes this whisper was so hushed that it was impossible to hear clearly. But, when she listened carefully, there was a sense of meaning.

What the wise man said, sometimes softly, sometimes sharply, was:

“First, you must learn what happiness is.

“If you cannot laugh, start by practising a smile.

“Slowly

     “– day by day –

          “curve your life to this.”

Writing Prompt

Write a poem/story inspired by the picture above/on the previous page. Smile as you do this!

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.

1-The Emptiness of Uncut Diamond-001 panormaicsometimes I smile

A PDF VERSION OF THE WHOLE OF WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS/SOMETIMES I SMILE IS AVAILABLE HERE: Sometimes I smile for website 08-07-17

July 18, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Wednesday Reflections/Smile

Smile!
Sisters Together 72dpi 1024pixels-005

Once upon a time there was a little girl, a little girl of about six or seven, a little girl of eleven or twelve, a little girl of 39, going on 40. Poetry pulsed through her but her heart was lined with spikes, arteries thick with icicles.

Every day, the little girl said, “When I grow up, I want to be happy.”

Every day, a wise man whispered back in the wind’s howl, the sea’s leap and crash, the sand’s sift and shift, the river’s rush and ebb, the leaves’ crackle and settle, petals’ blow and drift, loose feathers’ lift and sigh. Sometimes this whisper was so hushed that it was impossible to hear clearly. But, when she listened carefully, there was a sense of meaning.

What the wise man said, sometimes softly, sometimes sharply, was:

“First, you must learn what happiness is.

“If you cannot laugh, start by practising a smile.

“Slowly

     “– day by day –

          “curve your life to this.”

Writing Prompt

Write a poem/story inspired by the picture above/on the previous page. Smile as you do this!

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.

1-The Emptiness of Uncut Diamond-001 panormaicsometimes I smile

A PDF VERSION OF THE WHOLE OF WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS/SOMETIMES I SMILE IS AVAILABLE HERE: Sometimes I smile for website 08-07-17

July 18, 2018 sarahjameswrites

All the Women Left – S.A. Leavesley

All the women left

Velveteened seats sprang back
like the thud of plush dominoes,
leaving the symphony hall quieter
than a shell which has forgotten
the sea, never dreamed of ocean
moonlight or the tide’s swell
and ebb. The auditorium’s
open mouth now missing half
its teeth. One man muttered,
“What the hell?” Others stared,
glanced around at each other,
shuffled their feet. Some shrugged,
then settled back in their seats.
The conductor rose, slowly,
unsteadily, began to move his arms
in a jolting black and white semaphore:
a violin started, stopped, started…
performance marked by an absence
of high notes and many silenced parts.

S.A. Leavesley is a poet, fiction writer, journalist, photographer, editor. Her latest books: ‘plenty-fish’ (Nine Arches Press, shortlisted in International Rubery Book Awards 2016) ‘Lampshades & Glass Rivers’ (Overton Poetry Prize 2015 winner) and a novella, ‘Kaleidoscope’. Her website is at: www.sarah-james.co.uk.

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Add comment July 17, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Forests of Excitement!!!

How to Grow Matches front coverIt’s been a busy but exciting fortnight here – a forest of excitement in fact. But before I move on to woods and seeing trees, my big writing news: How to Grow Matches has been shortlisted for the poetry category in this year’s International Rubery Book Awards!!!

The judges’ lovely comments are: ‘Leavesley’s poems have clarity and directness, and she writes with a great eye for significant detail. Matchsticks are “pink tipped bullrushes” in the title poem, for instance, and “Blackpool’s shops are metal secrets” in another lovely piece, First Thing. In Fashion Chains, mannequins are glimpsed in shop windows at night with “chemo flesh revealed/in the glare of strip lighting”, and the “bald realities” of “moon heads”. This poem becomes a sly metaphor for the fashion industry and the way this exploits women via the spurious notion of “true shape”. Her themes are varied: there are ekphrastic poems, political poems, feminist poems, myth based poems, but all have flair, characterised by a contemporary experience which is always convincing and original.’

I’m delighted about this on so many scores. Firstly, I’m really pleased for my publishers Against The Grain Press. Secondly, I’m chuffed to see the chapbook pulling its weight alongside such wonderful full poetry collections and the Fairacre Press Diversifly anthology (a great Midlands presence in the poetry category!). Thirdly, on a personal level, my debut poetry collection Into the Yell won third prize in the non-categorised awards in 2011 and my Nine Arches Press collection plenty-fish was shortlisted in 2016. I’d love to see How to Grow Matches go even further, of course, but simply to see it on the shortlist is amazingly inspirational and encouraging! I’m trying not to bite my nails too much now as I wait for the final results…

Meanwhile, this week I had another welcome confidence and morale boost finding out that my poem ‘Patient N, diabetes mellitus‘ was highly commended in this year’s Festival of Firsts poetry competition.

My gratitude and thanks go to the judges and all those involved in the admin and organisation making both these competitions happen.

hedgehog & festival firsts highly commended

Alongside this, it was also amazing to read Melissa Fu’s ‘live with a poet for a week’ response to How to Grow Matches in Tales From Prickly End (Hedgehog Poetry Press). Melissa talks about it being a response rather than a review, I think it’s actually both, as it’s a lengthy and detailed article about her interaction with the poems in the pamphlet/chapbook. In fact, it’s so wonderfully generous and in-depth that I hope to share more of it in a specialised blogpost as soon as I can…

P1080396-002 - Copy

Although I don’t perform or read as often as I’d like because of the extra strain and need for care that it places on managing my diabetes/blood sugar levels, I really enjoy the different spark that this can bring to poetry. So I was delighted to read my Hippocrates Prize poems and others from my pamphlet How to Grow Matches and collection plenty-fish as part of ‘An Unconventional History of Maidenhood, Mothering & Mistresses’ with poet friends Ruth Stacey and Katy Wareham Morris as part of Wolverhampton Artsfest.

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None of this news is directly related to my reading in the Helen Dunmore Tribute at Ledbury Poetry Festival this year. But How to Grow Matches is very much about female voices and experiences, and Helen Dunmore is one of a number of female poets and writers whose work has been inspirational to me over the years. This is one of many reasons why I chose to read her ‘Domestic Poem’ for the event, which was one of the most moving poetry readings that I’ve been too in a long while. The audio of it is now online here.

MORE REVIEWS

Collaboration is another thing that I absolutely love and don’t get to do enough of at the moment. It was absolutely fabulous to see a new review of my collaborative poetry duet Hearth, written with wonderful poet Angela Topping (Mother’s Milk Books, 2015) over on Caroline Hardaker’s website this week. (Incidently/serendipitously, the themes of womanhood, family life and relationships fit well with all the other collections, poems and readings that I’ve mentioned so far in this blog.)

“…What follows are songs, sung from the heart. None of the lyrics are over-complicated with flouncy language, as it’s never needed. Sometimes the simplest lines can sing the clearest tune…

“This is skilled poetry, crafted with years of expertise. Classical, and timeless.”

Caroline Hardaker, full review of Hearth and other Mother’s Milk Books poetry pamphlets here

OTHER PUBLICATIONS

REVIEW of So Long the Sky for Riggwelter on July 4, 2018. (Unfortunately, the Riggwelter wordpress coding/template has lost some of the formatting from my quoted lines of poetry – yet another reason to go and buy the collection itself!)

The Grape-Face (flash) in Spelk on July 13, 2018.

Hedgehog Kind (poetry sequence) in A Restricted View From Under The Hedge in July 2018.

From the Other Side (poem) – a Hedgehog Poetry Press fauxlaroid/poetry postcard in July 2018. (The fauxlaroid postcards are only available as part of the Cult package – one of many reasons for taking out this subscription. This also includes prompts and other poetry initiatives/extras, including the Vapour Trails handwritten booklets circulating across the country/world, leaving an online vapour trail as they go. My fauxlaroid poem is on there now, though not the beautiful photo that inspired it.)

P1080406

TIMBER!!!

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Last weekend saw me heading down to the woods, and memory lane. The Timber Festival at Feanedock near Moira was a delight for many reasons. The trees, the sustainability, and cultural elements and the fact that it was set in The National Forest on the Leicestershire/Derbyshire border very near to where I used to work for the Burton Mail group as a reporter 15 years ago! I was based in the Swadlincote office specifically for a while and this area of Leicestershire, near Measham, was right at the edge of my patch. The picture above gives an idea of how much the area has changed over the years, with former landfill sites in the process of being reclaimed/repurposed back to a more nature-friendly/managed nature areas!

IMG_3117-003 Our Time haiku 2 for instagram

One of the first things that struck me was the Museum of the Moon touring artwork by Luke Jerram. Experiencing this stunning (and inspirational!) piece of art is of course different according to its setting, and also according to the time of day. My photo-poem above was inspired by photographing it as a full moon with the near noon-day (full) sun shining on it. I was also taken by the idea of seeing the sun’s shadows on the top of the moon compared to the shadows cast on the forest floor through the moon and the leaves, my own blurred reflection in its surface, and I played with superimposing a clockdial as well as my poem on its surface (as can be seen in my photos below).

IMG_3111 musuem of the moon at timber festival july 2018 scaled for instagram
IMG_3108 horizontal for instagram
IMG_3117-003 Our Time haiku 5

IMG_3209So what else did I enjoy: finding poems, audio readings & artwork inspired by/from The Lost Words (Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris);
Putting on my festival face. The choice was mermaid or unicorn – no real doubt which I’d go for…created with biogradaeable products;
The foraging walk with @foragersam, traversing on the LL Bean climbing wall timed challenge in climbing boots (I was slow but it was fun, and the heat and not having my climbing shoes made for a great speed excuse), a very tasty mushroom burger & savoury muffins from the farmer’s markets, lovely music to dance too, great woodland to walk through, tree-climbing, slack-rope walking (or wobbling) and the evening fire display.

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And this was just what I had time and energy for this year. There was a whole range of other workshops and performances to enjoy, and I hope I’ll get to go back another year and enjoy even more.

I started my festival write-up with poetry, so I’m going to end with it – even if at a slant.

I mentioned the slack-rope wobbling (as in the video below). One thing I was aware of was how much the hesitation caused by fear and lack of confidence undermined what I was doing. I found balance and tried to hold onto it in stillness rather than being brave enough to step out into motion – thereby losing my muscle, energy, firm position etc before I’d even started.

This isn’t a new realisation to me. It’s one of the biggest things that holds me back with my climbing and bouldering too. But I know the same fear and lack of confidence also holds me back somewhat in nearly everything that I do – including writing. My conclusions? 1) Fight the fear and make the most of chances where, when and while I can, in full acceptance that experiments don’t always work but sometimes they do. (Success isn’t guaranteed but simply trying means the chances are higher – if I don’t write it/enter a competition/submit, there’s nothing to share/no way I can win it/have it accepted.) 2) Preparation is important – I could never have got onto the slackline in the first place if I hadn’t started by scoping out the lines and trees to find one where I could use the tree to get to the right height and then support my weight while I got into the right position to balance/attempt to walk. 3) Enjoy it simply for the fun/thrill of the experience itself!

 

OTHER NEWS

I’m also very pleased to have the following poems/articles accepted for/coming up in: about writing voices on Created to Read (17 July, 2018), Heart (poem) on Ink, Sweat & Tears on 17 August 2018, about my writing journey on the The Literary Consultancy blog in September, about the A Tale of Two Cities Worcestershire poetry twinning project in the next Poetry News.

North, south, east, west, home’s best – or so it’s said. For me, home has actually always been where the heart is, so, by my age, spread across the globe! Joking aside though, I’ve never really had a geographical location that’s felt like my one and only home. I was born in the south, currently live in Worcestershire, with strong affinities for various reasons to both Wales and the North. I’ll blog more about this at some point later this year. The main reason for mentioning this now is that my poem ‘”On the eyelid of the north”‘ has been selected for a new living, growing, collaborative artwork-in-progress to celebrate 50 years of the Northern Poetry Library. The Poem of the North brings together the work of the fifty selected poets, in five cantos, published over a period of six months. By the end of 2018, the completed poem will stand as a celebratory artefact: a tribute to the region and acknowledgement of the North’s rich seam of writers and written culture. I’m not sure yet when my poem’s scheduled for, but you can find the poems so far here.

July 15, 2018 sarahjameswrites

The Grape-Face

Spelk

by S.A. Leavesley

My yoga instructor, Tammy, hasn’t said a word yet. She doesn’t need to, I see her frown. I imagine her tongue twitching like a serpent’s as I lift a small chunk of chocolate to my lips. I put it back down. Its sweetness pokes teasingly from its purple wrapper. I shove it in my pocket — out of sight, out of mind. Unlike Tammy.

“Think about your dream figure, Tina.” Tammy smiles as she sits at my table with the same elegant poise that graces her yoga movements. “That two stone you’ve got to shift.” Only Tammy can place that much weight on ‘two’ and ‘stone’, stretching the syllables like a cobra unwinding. There’s a snakelike sibilance behind everything she says, to me at least.

Forcing myself to ignore this, I pick a purple grape from the fruit bowl Tammy’s holding out. I pop it in my…

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Add comment July 13, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Wednesday Reflections/Oil and Water

Reflections/poem biography for Oil and Water

oil & water

“the black spot is on our hands.”

Initial inspiration for this poem came not from the news, politics or environmental concerns but sheer appreciation of Earth’s beauty when viewed from above.

The opening details come from observations that I jotted down while on a plane back from Cork after I was chosen for the Coventry-Cork twin cities poets exchange. This trip to Ireland had made me think a great deal about history embedded in the land and, from the plane windows, I could imagine the world below set out in archaeological layers.

But it’s hard for me to write about landscape and nature without considering what is happening in terms of wars, pollution and environmental damage. The T.S. Eliot framework from The Waste Land, drawing on older Fisher King legend, seemed inevitable.

Around this time, I read a newspaper article on the effects of fracking in Texas. Fracking has always concerned me. Scientific figures about its safety may be cited, but statistics in politician’s hands often seem to be wielded like dangerous weapons. My common sense and instinct say that submitting the land to such immense pressure and not expecting it to have potentially drastic effects is folly. (I have seen documentaries on the possibilities of supervolcano eruptions in the Yellowstone Park and how far away the impacts of this might be felt. In a way, fracking feels like the physical, geographical equivalent of a panic attack – but on a worldwide tectonic-plate scale!)

Within these considerations, I chose to play with a shifting ‘they’ to explore the way modern western society seems to pass blame and avoid taking responsibility wherever possible. But ignoring the reality has to end somewhere, we cannot wash our hands of everything. Ultimately, it’s our world and we all have to play our part in it and the state we leave it in for future generations.

I’m also very grateful to James Byrne for his editorial suggestions when he accepted this poem for The Wolf magazine.

“The black spot is on our hands.”

“The black spot is on our hands.”

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Points

1) What contrasts are used in this poem and to what effect (history/current news, line lengths, punctuation/not…)?

2) Consider the different possibilities and restrictions offered by poetry as protest and poetry as a witnessing.

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Take a recent news story or current political situation that you’re not happy about. Are there any historical or literary precedents that brought to mind by the current state? In what way? What might happen if such a historic/literary character met his modern counterpart?

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.

July 11, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Review: So Long the Sky by Mary Kovaleski Byrnes

Riggwelter

Mary Kovaleski Byrnes, So Long the Sky, Platypus Press, 2018. ISBN: 978-1-9997736-7-0. £9.00 (including shipping)

HOW TO COLLECT COAL FROM A MOVING TRAIN

While you wait for the whistle, place a penny

on the track. Count the cars

when they blur by, the coal as it flies

out like popcorn. Scramble faster

than the other children—a skirtful can heat

even the flimsiest structure, will make you dream

of islands. From the air over Boston, you can almost touch them.

On each descent, I number their backs,

even the rocks jutting high and lonely,

wishing again for an era of shipwrecks.

For the fogged-out survivors, those rocks

would have been land enough for a hard-scrabble home.

My grandmother made her own rock, her own decades

of lost ships. Slept seven siblings under coats in one bed,

tells me how to collect coal

from a moving train, how to replace its dust…

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Add comment July 4, 2018 sarahjameswrites

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