Archive for December 2017




Wednesday Reflections/Bagging Up

Reflections/poem biography for Bagging Upline 10 pic 10-001 beach footprints smaller

“You should be grown tall by now.
But I can still hold you: fossilised
fragments from the scan…”

This poem was one chosen by Kate Clanchy for her Guardian Poetry Workshop in 2008. In this now sadly defunct series, poets set a writing exercise or prompt, then chose a selection of the responses for publication.

For me, the poem was initially written as a personal acknowledgement that, with two boys, I was unlikely now to have a girl. Although I was never bothered whether I had girls or boys, for the first few weeks of pregnancy with my elder son, I thought he was girl. I suspect this is because I’d no experience of boys then, and just couldn’t imagine how to talk or react to a boy. (I have no brothers, just a younger sister and knowledge of my elder sister who died only hours after her birth.) In essence, I was probably talking, or writing, to an imagined version of myself as a baby.

Anyway, the ‘you’ in the poem was my baby that I’d imagined as girl and then later found out was a boy. But the poem is also tinged by the early days of my first pregnancy, when I had various scares. This included an incredibly early scan after I was rushed to hospital in France (in a fire engine of all things)! I was diabetic with food poisoning/gastroenteritis, and I couldn’t stop throwing up. Fortunately, my son and I were okay. Just as we finally emerged healthy and (comparatively) undamaged from later precautionary heart-check scans and an emergency c-section. But both pregnancy and early motherhood were particularly anxious times.

All of this put together though is quite a complicated experience to share, and perhaps very personal to me. The workshop feedback made it clear to me that readers were more likely to react to the poem as being one about the loss of one actual baby, something which still sadly affects many people. I’m quite happy for readers to interpret it in that way. If that is how it resonates, then it has a purpose.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

Which is more important – the writer or the reader’s interpretation of a poem? Does it matter if the two readings of one poem are very different?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Imagine you are clearing out and can only keep five things. What would you hold onto, and why? Which would be the hardest thing to get rid of?

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.

December 27, 2017

Wednesday Reflections/Coffee Break

Reflections/poem biography for Coffee Break

IMG_8428 double version 2emallercopyrighted

“Flutter-fingered, my son drops
an unopened sachet of sugar
into his cappuccino froth.”

This often feels like one of the most debated poems in plenty-fish. Professional critical feedback was that I could develop this poem more. Yet audience reaction to an early airing of it at my Cheltenham Poetry Festival 2013 reading was very pleasing. It was commented on as a favourite from the set, published on Nutshells and Nuggets and also picked out in a Mad Hatter Reviews’ review of plenty-fish.

Initially confused by such different reactions, I have since found a way of resolving the conflict. They are all right, in their own way. Partly, it is a question of audience, partly it is a question of intent. Some poems loved by critics will fail to move a more general audience. Others that are easily enjoyed by the public in performance or the screen environment (rather than printed page) may not meet the tastes of a more poetry-on-the-page palate looking for more layers. But, as collections are often sold at readings and to a variety of readers, a book needs some poems that will hold a listening audience’s attention and meet the criteria of easy accessibility.

In terms of intent, yes, a very different, strong page poem might be achieved by developing this starting point further. But it would be an entirely different poem.

‘Coffee Break’ with its haikuesque style is a snapshot, a short reflection, a pause in life’s flow. Inspired by a real instance in a café with my son, at a much younger age than he is in the poem, its lightness is symbolic for me. It marked my recognising the need sometimes for a light touch and that the time would come when I would need to be able to step back as a parent, so that my son could become independent.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

If you were developing this poem into something longer and more involved, where would you start? And why?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Take a food or drink that you enjoy. Savour the flavour and experience of it. What does the taste evoke – feelings, memories, dreams…? Follow the thoughts and see where they take you. 

 

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.

December 20, 2017

Wednesday Reflections/Coffee Break

Reflections/poem biography for Coffee Break

IMG_8428 double version 2emallercopyrighted

“Flutter-fingered, my son drops
an unopened sachet of sugar
into his cappuccino froth.”

This often feels like one of the most debated poems in plenty-fish. Professional critical feedback was that I could develop this poem more. Yet audience reaction to an early airing of it at my Cheltenham Poetry Festival 2013 reading was very pleasing. It was commented on as a favourite from the set, published on Nutshells and Nuggets and also picked out in a Mad Hatter Reviews’ review of plenty-fish.

Initially confused by such different reactions, I have since found a way of resolving the conflict. They are all right, in their own way. Partly, it is a question of audience, partly it is a question of intent. Some poems loved by critics will fail to move a more general audience. Others that are easily enjoyed by the public in performance or the screen environment (rather than printed page) may not meet the tastes of a more poetry-on-the-page palate looking for more layers. But, as collections are often sold at readings and to a variety of readers, a book needs some poems that will hold a listening audience’s attention and meet the criteria of easy accessibility.

In terms of intent, yes, a very different, strong page poem might be achieved by developing this starting point further. But it would be an entirely different poem.

‘Coffee Break’ with its haikuesque style is a snapshot, a short reflection, a pause in life’s flow. Inspired by a real instance in a café with my son, at a much younger age than he is in the poem, its lightness is symbolic for me. It marked my recognising the need sometimes for a light touch and that the time would come when I would need to be able to step back as a parent, so that my son could become independent.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

If you were developing this poem into something longer and more involved, where would you start? And why?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Take a food or drink that you enjoy. Savour the flavour and experience of it. What does the taste evoke – feelings, memories, dreams… Follow the thoughts and see where they take you. 

 

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.

December 20, 2017

Wednesday Reflections/Imprints

Reflections/poem biography for Imprints

imprints smaller

“Absence is required at the school gate;
my kisses less than a wisp
of mist on the morning’s
laughter-strung air.”

As a fledgling, this poem did exactly what toddlers often do – dressed up in Mum’s jewellery. For jewellery, read symbols here. I love symbols – metaphors, analogies, conceits – albeit that they don’t seem particularly fashionable right now. Of course, as a mum, I do advise my children not to pay too much attention to fad’s fickle foibles. (Yes, that might also be pushing alliteration past current taste levels!) At the same time, this poem was hugely overdressed in its earlier drafts. I had to let go of some of those embellishments, just as I’ve had to let go of my children, so they can discover their own feathers and flight path.

It’s hard not to see children as tiny birds loosed by tree branches, or a mother’s hug, into the big, cold world. But as well as softness, children do have claws, with which to stand alone and grip on when necessary. As my boys grow older, the love is still there, even if sometimes in a form that has to be looked for in order to be seen (window-sill flowers and claw-mark kisses).

As a mum, I hold onto the good memories for those times when fear has me in its grasp and options seem frozen. I also keep them close for the days when the sky is darkened by those inevitable differences of opinion that exist between teenagers and their parents.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

How do the images presented in this poem work together to evoke emotion and hidden narrative?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

What has been the hardest person, habit or desire that you’d had to let go. When and how did you do this? How did you recover afterwards? Write a poem or story about being trapped, letting go and/or freedom. 

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.

December 13, 2017

Wednesday Reflections/Evolved

Reflections/poem biography for Evolved

evolved smaller
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

“Pikawotsit’s an electric creature. This much
I’ve gleaned, I think. I’ve asked –
but Pikadespeak’s faster than light-speed.”

Pokémon is an internet game, a television show, a collector card series and many other things that companies can make money from. It was also a fad that my boys went through – briefly, but intensely. I knew nothing about these cartoon characters, and still can’t claim to be hugely informed about their exploits. What interested me was the language, the fact that overnight my children had started talking in words that made no sense to me.

Of course, now that they’re 12 and 14, this is not uncommon. Only the other day, I learned for the first time about rickrolling – duping people into clicking a hyperlink for something that seems logical and relevant but then turns out to be Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. (On the plus side, it was relief to know that the reason they knew this song from my teenage years was not because they thought it was great!)

But Pokémon was the first time this different language phenomena had happened to me, so I thought I might as well have some fun with it, and language more generally.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

Does the use of word play humour in this poem help to stop it from becoming too nostalgic or didactic?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Take an area of modern life that has developed its own slang – text speak, tech terms, cool kids’ chatter… Try contrasting this with everyday or even old-fashioned language for humorous effect. Is there a poem or story which can be created from such juxtaposition, or from the space that jargon might leave for confused communication or misunderstandings?

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.

December 6, 2017

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