Journeys in Translation – update

but one country Rod Duncan showing English original and Shona translation by Ambrose MusiyiwaJourneys in Translation is seeking translators to help translate 13 poems from “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” (Five Leaves, 2015) from English into other languages for an event being held in Leicester on International Translation Day, 30 September 2017, as part of Everybody’s Reading. During the event the original poems and translations will be read and displayed.

So far the 13 poems have been translated into Bengali, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Shona, Spanish, Turkish and Welsh with assistance from 16 translators (translators working in a group have been counted as one translator) who have translated at least one poem each. The most popular poems to be translated have been Pam Thompson’s “Dislocation” and Rod Duncan’s “but one country”. Translators have said they picked these because they felt it would be challenge, particularly because “but one country” is a verbal mirror image poem and, like the original, translators have been ensuring their translations also work in a mirror image.

One translator has commented, “The process of translation always involves a certain degree of what is known as ‘translation loss’. There are certain ideas, objects or experiences that can never be satisfactorily translated because they simply do not exist in the target language’s culture. For example, the phrase ‘a present from Skegness’ in the poem ‘Framed’ by Marilyn Ricci carries connotations for the UK-based reader, but will be lost in translation for the German reader. I imagine that sometimes when refugees try to describe the lives they left behind, the equivalent words are simply not available, which therefore means that on top of all the others losses there is a further loss on a linguistic level… this sense of powerlessness through the loss of communication tools can feel extremely uncomfortable. I found that when focusing on the words and stories within the poems I started to really focus on the human aspect of the refugee crisis, which I had not perhaps really appreciated until this point. Suddenly all those news images and statistics took on a more personal meaning.”

At the start of the project, coordinator Ambrose Musiyiwa held a workshop in Leicester with further workshops planned at the Soundcafe and local community centres.

We look forward to more translations into more languages and to working with people from everywhere.

Anyone who would like to have a go at translating the poems can join the Journeys in Translation Facebook group ( or contact one of the organisers.

“Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” is being sold to raise funds for Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Leicester City of Sanctuary and Nottingham Refugee Forum. Copies of the anthology are available from De Montfort University Bookshop (Leicester) and Five Leaves Bookshop (Nottingham).

A Poet’s Biography

Following my article on dealing with rejection, you decided that sending out some poems (after following submission guidelines) was a good idea and managed to get some accepted. Now you’re been asked for a writer’s biography…

  • Check any word count you’ve been given. If there isn’t a word count, use 50 words as a guideline (that’s 50 words maximum)
  • It’s worth having a look at the publication’s current ‘notes on contributors’ to see if there’s a general format followed (that doesn’t mean you have to follow it but it gives you a starting point)
  • Always write in the third person so that your name appears in your biography (“I” could be any of the contributors and editors don’t have time to rewrite your biography)
  • Mention your best achievements to date: these could be your most recent collection, a reading, an award and your blog. A list of magazines is repetitive so stick to one or two and mention other things you’ve done.
  • A year of birth is better than your current age (which may be out of date by the time the magazine appears), but bear in mind that age is only interesting if you’re very young or very old and often best left out.
  • Take care when mentioning personal details. You may love your children to bits but they aren’t going to be taking a copy of the poetry magazine to school boasting about how their parent named them in the biography so stick to “has two children” or leave them out.
  • You need not mention your cat/dog/goldfish either, unless they happen to be relevant to the accepted poem.
  • Be wary of giving an exact location. Lives in City A is fine but if you mention a specific district, people may recognise where you live or combine with other information you’ve posted online or elsewhere and figure out where you live. It’s unlikely you’ll get fans camping on your doorstep, but exercise a bit of caution as to how much information you give out.
  • Quirky hobbies can add interest, but keep it relevant and make sure it’s not something you’re going to be embarrassed by in 10 years’ time.
  • Humour is difficult to carry off successfully. It works in a poem because the poem has its own context. A funny phrase or joke in a biography can just look odd.
  • If you stick to a format of name, a couple of publication credits, blog/website address, notable writing achievements, location and any interesting/quirky information chances are you’ll have met the word count before giving anything potentially embarrassing away.
  • Do tailor your writer’s biography to the publication you’re appearing in. It is easy to use the same wording each time you’re asked for a biography, but that gets very boring for readers.

A writer’s biography is a way of giving readers a chance to find out more about you and your work so one that points readers in the direction of your publications or where to find your blog/website is going to be more successful than one that tells readers when you were born, where you live, contains a joke and fails to mention anything else.

Combining Writing and a Day Job

The clickbait headline, “As celebrity books boom, professional authors are driven out of full time work“, isn’t an accurate portrayal of the article where novelist Donal Ryan explains why he is returning to a day job in the Irish Civil Service despite having three bestselling novels in five years. It’s not actually the fault of celebrities and the article does point out that the average earnings for writers is polarising – as with with most wages – the gap between the high earners and lower earners is getting wider. Nearly 10% of writers earn as much as an MP (£74692) and 50% earn less than £10500 (the average wage in the UK is £26500 to put those figures in context). In a world where celebrities can fall out of favour quickly, it’s hardly surprising that agents urge them to make money while they can and I’ve not seen anyone suggest that celebrity perfumes are putting perfumers out of business.

Consequently Donal Ryan isn’t the only writer with a day job. Ultimately, does it matter?

T S Eliot and Wallace Stevens are frequently trotted out as poets who held down day jobs whilst writing. Search engines will find reams of articles on “good” day jobs for writers. Some argue for a writing-related job such as teaching creative writing or working in advertising. Others suggest jobs should have as little to do with writing as possible but offer life experience such as customer-facing jobs (although most customer-facing jobs offer little time to interact with customers and, in some cases, penalise workers who deviate from a standard script). Others suggest physical work as a counter to time spent sitting and writing. Some writers like the structure offered by having to work around a day job. Others point out that applying for bursaries, grants, funding and writers-in-residence opportunities is almost a full-time job.

Let’s not forget that Wallace Stevens got his secretary to type out poems that were either dictated or scribbled on scraps of paper. T S Eliot had lengthy lunch breaks where he could organise literary meetings and didn’t have to work in an open plan office. These points are not insignificant. Writers who successfully combine day jobs and writing do so because:

  • They have some control over the hours they work. Those who write in the morning negotiate a later start or pick a job that starts in the afternoon/evening. Those who write in the evening do the opposite.
  • The job offers space to think either in breaks where a writer can find a quiet spot or in the commute.
  • The job offers a regular salary that covers the bills. Freelancing or applying for frequent short-term jobs with all the associated insecurity creates stress and anxiety which are not conductive to writing. Short term stress, such as meeting a deadline, can be a useful counter to procrastination and help get the writing done, but prolonged, ongoing stress isn’t just bad to writing it creates ill-health.
  • Their jobs offer the chance to meet people without having to stick to a script who might provide inspiration for writing.
  • They operate strong boundaries between work and writing, albeit with some flexibility, so that one doesn’t overlap with or interfere with the other. That might still mean sacrificing some writing time to meet a work project deadline or being able to book time off work to attend a literature event.

The obvious disadvantage combining a day job and writing is less time to write, less time to research and less time to practice writing skills. There’s no time to spend an afternoon writing a sestina just so a poet can really understand the form. Research has to be disciplined and focused so there’s less time for interesting side lines and diversions. Time spent writing really has to be spent writing and not frittered away on cat videos (although cat videos are useful if they are a way of breaking through a tricky plot issue or figuring out whether the third stanza should really be the fourth stanza. Social media is not evil.)

When you’re juggling a day job and writing or struggling to make enough from writing to pay the bills, it’s easy to become envious of celebrities who have no writing experience yet manage to pick a book deal. But they are the wrong target. J K Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” (UK title) was published in 1997 alongside Philip Pullman’s “The Subtle Knife”, Jacqueline Wilson’s “Girls in Love”, Rick Riordan’s “Big Red Tequila” and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York’s “Budgie the Little Helicopter”. Guess which of those writers isn’t writing today?

Write On a Leicester Writers Showcase February 2017 Lost and Found

Dealing with Rejection for Poets

All writers get rejections, even Pulitzer Prize winners. The reasons for rejection vary, but they should be worn as a badge of honour. You don’t get rejections unless you’ve taken yourself seriously enough as a writer to submit your work.

Rejections are rarely about the quality of work submitted

Unless the editor has specifically said so, rejections aren’t about the quality of your work. Often they’re because the editor already had 10 cat poems that week and yours was the 11th, or the editor receives more poems in a week than they can publish in a year or because the editor liked your subject but not the way you wrote about it or liked your style but not the subject.

Rejections can help you as a writer

If an editor’s taken the trouble to handwrite a rejection slip, no matter how illegibly, take note. Give it a few days and then try and decipher the writing. Editors only bother giving a handwritten note for writing that nearly made it into the acceptance pile. It is worth editing your poem and trying again (but give it a couple of months at the very least).

Editors don’t owe you an explanation for a rejection

Don’t be tempted to write back and ask the editor why they rejected you or for clarification and definitely do not reduce yourself to the level of insulting the editor. Stay professional.

Don’t self-publish on the rebound from a rejection

There are valid reasons for considering self-publishing. A very good one is when editors or agents are rejecting your work because it’s good “but not quite right for them” or they “can’t see a market for it” (and you can). But before you self-publish, take time out to draw up your marketing plan otherwise your self-published work will sink without trace.

Did you self-sabotage and cause your own rejection?

Read the submission guidelines, follow the submission guidelines, double check your submission conforms to the submissions guidelines before sending. If you don’t follow the submission guidelines, rejection will automatically follow and it will be your fault.

Don’t send all your poems to one editor

If you only send out one submission at time, then one rejection is 100%. Send out 12 submissions and one rejection is 8%. Don’t increase your rejection rate by shooting out submissions randomly to editors, but do have several submissions out at any one time. That way one rejection is tempered by 11 potential acceptances.

Have a plan B

When you send a batch of poems to magazine A, have in mind a back-up that you can submit them to if they are rejected. If you don’t need Plan B, write more poems that you can send to magazine B anyway.

Write more Poems

Don’t wait around for rejections, always be working on another project. Writers write and you don’t need the validation of publication to keep writing. If you can’t face writing another poem yet, write reviews, blog articles, attend open mic evenings and develop an audience for your work.

Accept you cannot control rejections

You don’t get to chose whether an editor selects your poems or not.

Focus on the parts of the process you can control: write, read, improve your writing, read submission guidelines, present your poems professionally, keep submitting.

If you’re thinking of writing some New Year’s Resolutions: see New Year’s Resolutions for writers.

Journeys in Translation: translating poems

Stories from the Jungle by Emma Lee poem postcardJourneys in Translation is intended to build on the success of the Journeys Poem Pop-up Library which took place during Leicester’s Everybody’s Reading last October. We took 8 poems from “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge”, printed them on postcards and gave them out at Leicester’s Railway Station. We had allocated an hour each day but ran out of postcards on the fourth day. Doubtless some would have taken a postcard thinking it another promotional leaflet and less hassle to accept and move on rather than try and refuse, some of those postcards may have been read before being recycled. The library was about sharing poems. One of the drivers of the original anthology was to reach out and share stories, hopefully enabling others to share theirs.

The practicalities of a quick publication turnaround – the call for submissions went out on 3 September and the anthology was launched on 1 December – meant that we had to request poems in a language common to all three co-editors so the poems could be selected, typeset and proofed in a timely manner for the printers to deliver by the launch date. Raising funds towards practical help was given priority. I feel that was the right decision.

Journeys in Translation gives an opportunity to overcome some of the disadvantages of the monolingual “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge.” The 8 poems have been expanded to 13 and the idea is to encourage people to have a go at translating one (or more) of those poems into another language. There is a Facebook group and a couple of Journeys in Translation workshops have been held in Leicester where participants were encouraged to have a go at translating one or part of one of the poems and discuss any obstacles to translations or the nature of translation itself. We’ve asked for literal translations so there is no pressure to make a poetic translation (i.e. to try and shape the translation so it reflects the original rhythms and/or sound patterns/rhymes in the English poems). We are also exploring how to translate the poems into British Sign Language – this will probably be done as a video with someone reading the original poem alongside another signbut one country Rod Duncan showing English original and Shona translation by Ambrose Musiyiwaing it.

We plan to have an event on 30 September 2017 (International Translation Day) in Leicester where the original poems are read along with some of the translations. There will also be posters on display showing original poems and translations. Most of the original poets are based in or near Leicester. However, it is open for translators not local to Leicester to hold similar events or workshops in their own locality. Our focus currently is on our Journeys in Translation event but we are thinking about how to make the poems and translations visible after the event.





This blog is included in Matthew Stewart’s Rogue Strands’ Best Blogs of 2016. Do have a read of his article and explore the listed blogs – all worth a read.  With thanks to Matthew for listing this blog.


Voice Projection at Poetry Readings and A Poetry of Elephants

Anyone who regularly attends poetry readings and open mic nights will have met Poet A who shuffles on stage, fails to look at the audience and mumbles into the mic or reads as if the audience is less than an arm’s length away. Equally irritating is Poet B who yells like a stereotyped sergeant major who leaves listeners feel as if they’ve been flattened by a steam roller.

There is a happy medium and finding that medium where poets can read their poems sufficiently loudly for the audience to hear without yelling at them. Yelling damages vocal chords. The aim is to project your voice without damaging it.

If you have a microphone, you don’t need to project your voice beyond normal conversation. You do, however, need to check that the microphone is at the right height for you so you can speak into it without crouching or without stretching or tilting your mouth upwards. Pay attention to the people who’ve read before you or to the compere: do they get very close to the microphone or maintain a book’s length’s distance? Copy them. When the microphone’s at a comfortable height, read slightly slower than normal (remember the audience may not be familiar with your poems and gabbling through them isn’t going to sell them). It’s worth taking those extra few seconds to adjust the microphone otherwise you won’t be projecting into the microphone but the stand or the air above it and it won’t transmit your words to the audience.

If you don’t have a microphone, you need to project your voice. It’s true that an engaged audience will overcome the struggle to hear you, but you need to engage them first which won’t happen if you can’t be heard. Yelling at your audience is the equivalent of using only capital letters on social media. If your voice sounds flat with a higher-than-normal pitch, you’re yelling. Projection gives your voice a depth which carries it over the distance of the room.

To project your voice, you need to be able to breathe. If you can stand, do so, but even sitting, avoid slouching and ensure you can fill your lungs when you breathe in. Focus on someone in the back row and visualise your voice reaching them. Your voice will sound loud and you will retain enough control to relax into reading your poem because you won’t be expanding the effort you need if you yell.

When I did my very first poetry reading, I had the advance of knowing how big the room was. Part of my preparation involved placing a recording device at a distance slightly longer than the room. I then read and played back my reading so I knew, whatever else went wrong on that night, the audience not being able to hear me wasn’t going to be one of them.

If you think that sounds too much like hard work, don’t invite me to one of your readings. If you don’t respect your audience enough to rehearse and plan ahead, you won’t earn their respect on the night.


A Poetry of Elephants book coverA Poetry of Elephants is now available from: This is a crowdfunded anthology so 100% of the sales will go to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world and one of the pioneering conservation organisations for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa.

A Poetry of Elephants is full of poems that celebrate elephants, some grieving at the prospect of extinction but others showing how their image occupies our everyday life and speech. We hope that it may in some small way help to raise awareness and funds for those who work tirelessly to save these beautiful animals for future generations.

It includes my poem “Mary’s Elephant.” Mary Queen of Scots embroidered an elephant whilst detained, pending execution for treason so her cousin Elizabeth I could further secure her claim to England’s throne. The embroidery is held in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.



Do Something cover image

The launch of Do Something, an anthology to raise funds for Hope Not Hate, at Firebug, Millstone Lane, Leicester LE1 5JN from 3pm on Saturday 3 December. There will be readings from the anthology and a panel discussion. Cake was also mentioned! More details:

When is a Poem Published?

NB: the article below is intended as a guide only. Always check the submission guidelines of any publication or publisher you wish to submit poems.

As a general rule, competitions and magazines look for previously unpublished poems. No one wants to see the same poem win several competitions. Poetry magazine readers don’t want to see the same poems popping up in different magazines.

Anthologies may consider previously published poems and, if you’ve retained copyright on previously published poems, you can include these in a pamphlet or collection. It is a courtesy to mention where the poem was previously published if you do republish a poem.

However, when exactly does a poem become published? It might seem obvious that a poem included in a magazine is published, but what about workshops, online forums or social media?

Generally, a poem is considered published if it has

  • appeared in a magazine/journal/anthology/publication either online or in print
  • appeared on a blog that is open to view (e.g. one like this)
  • appeared in an open forum, such as an online workshop or Facebook group, where anyone can browse the forum contents and posts not just members of the group
  • appeared in a Facebook/Instagram/Social Media site status which is open to anyone to browse and view

Generally a poem is considered unpublished if it has not appeared in a magazine either online or in print and not:

  • appeared on a private blog open only to subscribers (e.g. blog articles don’t show up in Google searches and browsers have to apply to follow the blog before they can read the articles)
  • copies of a poem have been distributed amongst participants in a workshop for use during that workshop only
  • appeared in a closed forum where only forum participants can see posts and participants have to apply to join
  • where copies have been distributed or the poem read to a writers’ group where only members of that group (and guests) can attend and any copies are for the group’s use only
  • appeared on a social media status which is set to private and only viewable by a select number of people (the real life equivalent might be a writers’ group or poetry workshop)

Therefore, before posting works-in-progress or final drafts of poems on social media, stop and consider whether you might be preventing yourself from seeking later publication of the poem you want to post.