Review: Bone Antler Stone by Tim Miller

Riggwelter

Miller, Tim, Bone Antler Stone, High Window Press, 2018. ISBN: 9780-2440-0959-5. £9.99
As the title might suggest, (pre)history and nature feature strongly in Tim Miller’s collection Bone Stone Antler (The High Window Press), but also song, fire, life.

The collection has four sections: Landscapes & Rituals, Burials (which I found particularly moving), Artefacts and Orkney. It also ranges geographically and temporally – across Europe and from 35,000-12,000 BC to AD 200, then present-day walking in Orkney.

While museum artefacts do feature in poems, this isn’t a collection set behind distancing glass. There are cave paintings – as they’re being painted. Similarly, customs and traditions, gods and goddesses, burial sites and bog bodies aren’t just described and dated; they’re brought back to life on the page.

The collection opens with the line ‘All the old stories have their fire houses’ and the three parts of this sequence Fire Houses (featuring destruction…

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Add comment October 20, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Poetry Cafe Refreshed with Guest Poet Sarah Leavesley

Poetry Café Refreshed

IMG_6561 Sarah Leavesley

We had a fantastic Poetry Café Refreshed at Smokey Joe’s in Cheltenham on 17 October,  with guest poet Sarah Leavesley aka Sarah James, whose superbly read poems were a masterclass in making every word count and earn its place. We were treated to a rich variety of multilayered poems which spoke (in my interpretation) of disarming dress, listening to the landscape, remaining relevant across generations, net etiquette, art, love, myth, lessons from home and heritage … and, one of our British obsession, the weather. So much depth and so much to enjoy in terms of imagery, wordplay … and warm humanity.

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The open mic was of a high standard with super contributions from:

David Clarke, Jennie Farley, Cliff Yates, Chris Hemingway, Belinda Rimmer, Ross Turner, Gill Wyatt, Michael Newman, Annie Ellis, David Gale, the host of Refreshed, Roger Turner.  I also read a couple.

IMG_6683 Sarah with Refreshed’s hosts, Sharon…

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Add comment October 18, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Featured Publication – How to Grow Matches by S.A. Leavesley

Our featured publication for October is How to Grow Matches by S.A. Leavesley, published by Against the Grain Poetry Press.

Uncomfortable, powerful, and compelling, these poems demand to be read. And to read
them is to ride a discomfiting turbulent current expressed in images of clocks with disparate rhythms, clouds that dissolve into “dark angels of rain”, piles of spent matches that might make a bonfire. And burning is what these poems do: searing through skilfully controlled anger at the invisibility of women, their lack of a powerful role model to follow, they are ready to burst into flame, urging women to “reclaim their share”.’ Gill McEvoy

‘What immediately strikes me in Leavesley’s poetry is that sense of being spoken to directly, forcefully. The anger – at impossible advice, at the hidden and neglected work, at mere survival against the odds – is always balanced with craft and an…

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Add comment October 7, 2018 sarahjameswrites

S. A. Leavesley, Spiders, Pools, and Stories: A Flash Fiction Collection

DODGING THE RAIN

Spiders and Oranges

The crate of clementines was a conundrum for Amy. She hated spiders, cobwebs and dark corners. But she loved oranges.

“Go on!” In her head, she could hear her brother, Tom, urging her to plunge her hand into the box’s shadows. If he were here, he’d trap any spiders with a glass, their legs furiously tapping the invisible sides unable to understand why they couldn’t escape.

Tom wasn’t here. However, Amy did have a big bug-bashing torch. Gripping this tightly, she shone the flashlight down and picked up the smoothest, shiniest clementine. It was perfectly palm-sized and bursting with juice. She started munching.

By the fifth clementine, Amy’s pace had only slightly slowed, she was so hungry for their sweetness. The sixth was slightly misshapen, though still no sign of spiders. Registering the rind’s different texture brought back childhood Christmases: the orange at the bottom of their…

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Add comment October 4, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Short Snippets of News

IMG_1725 with petal haiku for social media image 2

I’m delighted to have my photo-poetry essay ‘photo syn thesis: an eco exploration of future light earth water’ on Molly Bloom, September 2018.

My poem Small Questions of Great Height is currently featured on the Poetry on Loan website.

Forthcoming publications accepted recently: Ensemble (poem) on Words for the Wild in October, Aerial Landscapes (poem) on Amaryllis in November, His Wives (illustrated flash fiction) for Riggwelter 21 (May 2019), three poems (Woodland Walk, Bark and Wearing real mist) and an essay ‘Looking Up to the Sky: trees as inspiration, resource, lifeline’ accepted for The High Window spring/summer 2019.

LITWORLD2

More immediately, I’m looking forward to the first Pic Pocket a Poem poetry and photo collaboration going live on LitWorld2 on Friday. There are one-a-week poetry and flash photo combinations scheduled for the online journal up until Christmas, with submissions open if anyone wants to send in some poems or short (100 word maximum) flashes for this. LitWorld2 journal is here, the submission guidelines are here. The journal is on social media as LitWorld 2 on instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/litworld2/, on twitter at: https://twitter.com/LitWorld2 @LitWorld2 and on Facebook as LitWorld2 Journal here.

Structuring a Pamphlet Cover image

STRUCTURING A PAMPHLET

Following on from various discussions with poets and writers, I’ve put together a short (eight A4 pages) guidance sheet on ‘Structuring a Pamphlet’. The advice and points to consider are based on my own experience as a writer putting together my pamphlets and collections, as well as my work as V. Press editor reading and working on other writers’ manuscripts. This guidance sheet is mainly intended for those putting together a poetry pamphlet. But some of the points on it may also be useful for flash pamphlets and full collections.

This guide is free, though a voluntary Tip-jar donation of £2 is invited.

For a pdf copy of ‘Structuring a Pamphlet’, please either email me at vpresspoetry@hotmail.com or click on the paypal Tip-jar donation button on my Editorial Services page or below.

September 23, 2018 sarahjameswrites

How north is north? Or a strange sense of belonging.

Light on dark: photo shot in Macclesfield

Light on dark: photo shot in Macclesfield

It’s not unusual for poets and other artists to feel like outsiders, or long for a place to call home. Perhaps restlessness runs through a lot of people who don’t write too. Maybe it’s an essential element of being human. Certainly, belonging and not belonging threads through a lot of my work, in every one of my poetry collections.

I was born in Hampshire, then brought up on the south coast for ten years before moving to the Midlands/Worcestershire. Over the years, I’ve lived in various places for various amounts of time, including Oxford, Cardiff and France. Meanwhile, I’ve one parent from London, another from near Monmouth, but now living in neither of these places, and a sister in California.

The truth is that the sense of belonging comes from inside though. Mine was at least partially upturned when I was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition/disability when I was six. Diabetes, all the small adjustments to life and outlook resulting from this, and my childhood diagnosis have become part of who I am. I accept that this includes the fact that it’s probably not in my personality to ever feel truly part of a group or welded to an area, much though I love currently living in Worcestershire.

I don’t have a second home as such, literally because of the finances of that, metaphorically because I only have a nomadic or shape-shifting ‘first’ one. For me, home is where the heart is – so spread across the world. Or it’s where I lay my head – always transitory and where I happen to be at that given moment, like life itself. Two places that I have strong attachments to outside of where I live now are Wales and the North. (If I tried to summarise this as objectively and concisely as I can, Wales because of family history on my Dad’s side and a yearning for established, historical roots to tap into. The North is more about making my own new and independent connections.)

I like to think the North might be classed a kind of second home, but this while also knowing that a strong part of my link with the North is the warm acceptance I’ve felt as a stranger. It’s often said familiarity breeds contempt, but, also, that support and acceptance are part of friendship, so hopefully a given at home. What amazes me about ‘the North’ is how friendly people have been to me, how easily I feel accepted and part of things every time I’m there.

But exactly how north is north? Where does it start and where does it end? This question is one of many explored by the ongoing (6-month-long) Poem of the North, where I had a poem published last Sunday as part of the second canto. Britain hasn’t got the North Pole, North Wales isn’t North England or North Scotland. The title for my 8 2 1 (stanza-line length) poem, “On the eyelid of the north”, is taken from a Dylan Thomas’ line in ‘a Dream of Winter’. I read this poem for the first time when it was published in Manchester-based PN Review.

Outside of the arctic, north is always relative; for me, it’s also friends. When I wrote and submitted my poem “On the eyelid of the north” for the Poem of the North, celebrating fifty years of the Northern Poetry Library in Morpeth, Northumberland, my concise personal statement was:

“My north is a landscape pulsing with connections, with people I’ve met, the places I’ve stayed and the familiar haunts I return to. I never intended to give part of my heart to the north. It just happened. From my masters at Manchester Writing School, to becoming a member of North West Poets, being published by Merseyside-based Knives Forks And Spoons Press to the Wordpool Festival and having a poem animated for the Blackpool Illuminations. I’ve friends born in the north and friends who’ve moved to the north. Through them, it feels like a second home.”

I could have added so much more (as this post shows)! Other specific examples include the friendship of Cheshire-based poet Angela Topping, who made me welcome in her home while we were working on our commissioned Mother’s Milk Books’ poetry duet Hearth. My commission for artist Adinda van t’ Klooster’s important StillBorn project. As publisher and editor at V. Press, I’m also very proud to have some great titles on our list by northern writers. And I’m delighted to have poems published by PN Review, The Butcher’s Dog, Stand and other northern-based journals, to have been reviewed in The North, to have read in Carol Ann Duffy and Friends Series 9 at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, as well as various Liverpool and Merseyside readings, to have been interviewed by and done podcasts with Manchester-based poet Andy N… I’ve found the northern literary scene alive, thriving and exciting. And this is without mentioning non-writing-related friends and family in the North! I could go on, but instead I’ll stop here and hope people will go and enjoy the North for themselves, in person and through the Poem of the North.

Essential symbiosis: photo shot in Edinburgh

Essential symbiosis: photo shot in Edinburgh

August 26, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Reviews, Publications & A New Journal…

GUARDIAN POEM OF THE WEEK

I’m delighted to start this blog with my big news that’His Secret Daughter’ from How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press) was Guardian Poem of the Week on July 30. Carol Rumens’ wonderful, detailed consideration of the poem can be found here. This has been a real poetry highlight for me at a personal level for so many reasons!!!

DOUBLE DELIGHT REVIEW NEWS

I’m really chuffed to also be able to share review news for both my poetry pamphlet How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press) and my short novella Always Another Twist (Mantle Lane Press).

How to Grow Matches front coverAlex Josephy’s review of How to Grow Matches for London Grip is so thoughtful, informed and concisely comprehensive that I could easily quote the whole thing. I’ve picked out a few paragraphs below, but please do go enjoy the review (other reviews and poetry) in full on London Grip.

“I admire the sure-footedness of S.A. Leavesley’s writing, her attention to injustices against women, and her delicate use of the imagination to outwit, to ridicule, to leap forward. How to grow matches is an exciting addition to the published work of this accomplished poet.

“In these poems women appear in many different guises – as dolls, as mannequins (with a clever erasure of Plath’s poem ‘The Munich Mannequins’), as matriarchs, and as characters in stories, paintings and a photo-shoot. Their visibility is problematic; Leavesley’s women are conscious of being at times observed too closely, at other times invisible…

“For me, Leavesley has an irresistable way with imagery…

“This is a collection for our times. The pared-back elegance of the poems is as powerful as the writer’s commitment; while staying well clear of preaching, Leavesley conveys both the limitations and humiliations women continue to face, and the many faces of resistance…”

Alex Josephy, London Grip, full review here.

ALWAYS ANOTHER TWIST-Final I’m really delighted to share news of a lovely podcast review of my short novella Always Another Twist (Mantle Lane Press) on Reading in Bed with Andy N & Amanda Steel. It’s hard to pick highlights from any review, especially a podcast, but particular soundbitable snippets include Andy Nicholson’s “A very clever little book” and “It really was a great thing to read, I recommend it completely.”

For the full flavour though, Andy and Amanda’s full discussion and review of this and other ‘reads in bed’ can be heard here, with Always Another Twist in part one (around 3-9 mins through).

My big thanks to Carol Rumens, the Guardian, Alex Josephy, London Grip (and editor Michael Batholomew-Biggs), Andy Nicholson and Amanda Steel for these reviews.

Nature Caring & SharingFEATURES

My Nature Caring & Sharing #100kindsofhappy article published in National Association of Writers in Education magazine, with one of the photo-poems on the cover, July 2018. Article topics include: journalling in the internet age, nature writing, social medial sharing and audience reach.)

Every year has new highs as well as a good share of lows. For me, both are great reminders not to forget life’s overall path as well as the individual twists and curves in the writing journey. This is very much the theme of my article up on the The Literary Consultancy blog this month. Always Another Twist – Journeys, Outlooks & Curves in the Path features some of my personal surprises along the way to becoming a published writer, particularly when it comes to my novellas and poetry-play.

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‘False Eyes & The Myopic of Me’ – this condensed extract from my memoir/essay collection ‘This Room’, which was longlisted in the New Welsh Writing Awards 2017 and 2018, published on Riggwelter here.

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NEW PHOTO-POEM/FLASH JOURNAL

I love new projects, collaboration and creativity. All the more so when I can combine the three together. I’m very excited to have tentatively started a new online photo-poem/flash journal Pic Pocket a Poem. The journal is on social media as LitWorld 2 on instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/litworld2/ and twitter at: https://twitter.com/LitWorld2 @LitWorld2

Information on how to submit short poems/flashes to Pic Pocket a Poem can be found here.

POEMS

‘A Planet Where’ published in the Words for the Wild anthology in July 2018.

‘Heart’ (from my unpublished ‘This Room’ longlisted in the New Welsh Writing Awards 2018) published on Ink, Sweat & Tears here.

VINDICATION

I’m also very pleased to have a selection of poems in Vindication – a six-poet anthology from Arachne Press as one of the press’s three #WomenVote100 Anthologies: a showcase for poets Arachne has previously published in anthologies, giving an opportunity to explore their writing in greater depth. Featuring Elinor Brooks, Jill Sharp, Sarah Lawson, Anne Macauley and Adrienne Silcock, as well as myself, these are poems made of myth and family, origins and anger, journeys and home: witty, clever, beautiful and sometimes harsh. Whilst not directly reflecting on the experience of women fighting for the vote, the concerns of women are foremost and are passionately addressed.

Vindication isn’t in shops until September 27, but it is available on the Arachne Press website here now.

MY REVIEWING

My latest review for Riggwelter – Jessica Mookherjee’s Joy Ride – is now online here.

MICROREVIEW

Flambe front coverThe Becoming of Lady Flambé (Indigo Dreams Publishing) by Holly Magill is a gripping poetry pamphlet, infused with an addictive sense of mystery as Magill gradually reveals many things hidden below the surface in this spectacular circus world. Individually striking poems are combined with a background narrative (and characters reappearing in different poems) to create a sum that is greater than its parts. But it’s not just the narrative that makes this a pamphlet that I wanted to read in one go. Both atmosphere and characters are also very beguiling. Magill’s vibrant characters are simultaneously quirky and very empathetically human, while even the humour is accompanied by hints of darkness and/or danger.

The poems are moving and funny, often simultaneously: ‘Avoid reversing elephants’ and ‘Multi-tasking is easy – I can juggle and cry | at the same time, even in the dark’ in ‘Things I learn’ (p.13). Both aspects are given an extra edge by the conversational tone and colloquial language in many of the poems. As reader, I’m brought closer to and made part of this world by a sense of being spoken to as if a confidante, the poems’ truths whispered in my ear like secrets. The monologue nature of some pieces feels like a comfortable or voluntary intimacy – as if the characters are speaking to their own reflection in the mirror or one of the circus animals, perhaps.

I also found the pamphlet a very thought-provoking read. The mesmerising power of flames and the image of a circus tent collapsing are two details that will stay with me. Also, a recognition that of all animals (circus or otherwise) in this world, sometimes humans are the strangest, family maybe even more so. More widely, it also makes me question the prejudgements that society makes, how we value people and how an implicit worth/lack of worth shapes our personalities and the lives we lead.

August 19, 2018 sarahjameswrites

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

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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

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