Journeys in Translation now live

but one country Rod Duncan showing English original and Shona translation by Ambrose MusiyiwaThe Journeys in Translation blog is now live. This was the project that took some poems from “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” (Five Leaves, 2015) and translated them into languages other than their original English. Visitors can look up poems and translations by language, poem (from the main menu) or translator. The initial selection of poems was not meant to be restrictive, but a means to keep the project manageable (project coordinators and translators all worked on a voluntary basis). The blog is flexible and other poems/translations can be added.

On 30 September 2017, we held the Journeys in Translation event on International Translation Day and during Everybody’s Reading, where poems were read in English and one translation and posters were on display showing further translations. There was also a discussion about some of the challenges and discoveries in translating the poems. Some translators chose to do a literal translation, others chose to make their translations more poetic. It was intriguing to see, where two people had translated one poem into the same language, the differences and similarities in the choices of phrasing because not all translators were translating into their mother tongue. Some differences were down to colloquial choices or regional variances in the translated language.

Personally, I’ve found being involved in “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” and its offshoot projects worthwhile. I contributed and co-edited the anthology, was involved in organising readings and launch events in Leicester and beyond, did a several radio interviews, designed and arranging for printing postcards to be given out at the Journeys Poem Pop-up Library at Leicester Railway Station during Everybody’s Reading 2016, coordinated the Journeys in Translation main event and blog as well as doing some of the translations. I will be happy to be involved in any future events or activities linked to these projects, but I will not be initiating any further events or activities. I wear several literary hats and for the foreseeable future, I’m hanging up my co-editor of “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” one.

Rod Duncan launches Queen of All Crows at Leicester Writers' Showcase


Looking forward rather than back

I don’t do ‘books of the year’ round ups: after all the selection process is subjective and a different mood or change in circumstances will influence choices. I do keep a rough tally of achievements though and my 2017 in numbers: 45 poems accepted for publication, I wrote 42 reviews and was longlisted for the Saboteur Reviewer of the Year Award, 36 blog articles (including 2 guest posts). Last year I had 44 poems accepted for publication and wrote 55 reviews. Reviews fluctuate according to requests and I don’t want to review every book I read otherwise reading will become a chore. The level of poetry publications is more consistent. But I did two things in 2017 that I’d not done before. I presented a paper, “Poetry and ‘the Jungle'” at the Jungle Factory Symposium at Leicester University in March and I have an essay, “Spoken Word as a Way of Dismantling Barriers and Creating Space for Healing” forthcoming in “Verbs that Move Mountains” (Sabotage, 2018).

So I don’t look backward, but I do look forward, which means making plans or resolutions. Here are some general guidelines I always use:

Don’t start resolutions in January

The mornings are still dark, the weather’s usually damp and, even if you’ve dodged the post-Christmas lethargy, it’s not an ideal circumstance to create a fresh, new you. Instead use January to plan and prepare for when the mornings are lighter and it feels more natural to start new resolutions. Instead, jot down ideas or try and note one observation each day and keep these notes to one side to use as ideas to kickstart poems during NaPoWriMo in April. Winter nights are more conducive to reading and editing.

Ensure you are in control

“Get more poems published” might seem like a great resolution, but you don’t get to decide whether your poems are published or not. What you can do is submit more poems for publication or better research poetry magazines so you don’t send your sonnets to an editor who is looking for sestinas.

Embrace Rejection

Rejections are part of being a writer, but there are ways of mitigating them. You can thoroughly research poetry magazines and submission call-outs to check that you are sending your work to the most appropriate outlets. You can join a workshop or writers’ group to ensure you’re sending out the best version of your poem. And you can ensure you are sending out more than one submission at a time. If you send out one batch of poems to one editor, a rejection means 100% of your poems have been rejected. If you send out 12 submissions and 1 is rejected, there are another 11 with a chance of acceptance so that 1 rejection doesn’t sting as much.

Be Flexible

Rigid resolutions are less likely to be kept and may prevent you exploring new opportunities that may arise. Be realistic in your time scales too. If you plan to write more each day, don’t beat yourself up if a family emergency prevents you from writing.

Keep an eye on trends, rather than exact numbers. I know I’m likely to write approximately as many new poems this year as last year. I don’t know if I will get more poems or fewer poems accepted, but I know I’m going to try just as often.

Read More

You can’t be a writer if you don’t read and don’t just read in your genre. Occasionally pick up a book out of your comfort zone. Staying within your comfort zone means you won’t develop as a writer. Getting out to readings also means you’re supporting your local literary scene (and if you think your local literary scene isn’t worth supporting, perhaps you could do something about that).

Writing is Not Lonely unless you make it so

There are two myths in writing that are not true. The first is “write what you know” which is limiting, restrictive and should be “know what you write about”, i.e. do your research. The second is that writing is a lonely business.

It isn’t. Sure, you have to actually have to put the words on the page yourself and that’s generally done when you’re alone. But “alone” is not necessarily “lonely”. Even when alone you write with the knowledge of what you’ve read, you turn to other writers for inspiration, suggestions and advice. You join writers’ groups, either online or IRL. You don’t have to be alone when you write either. You can write surrounded by people (providing they don’t become a distraction), e.g. in a cafe.

Once you’ve got the words on the page, formed them into a poem and edited it as far as you can, you start thinking about beta readers, workshops, editors. You might take your work in progress to a writers’ group or post it in an online forum for comments. When you’re ready to submit, you read magazines and try and find the right place to place your poems.

Writers now are expected to get involved in promoting their work, particularly poets. Most poetry books are sold at readings rather than in bookshops. That means getting out and giving readings. A local open mic slot is a great way of meeting other poets and getting feedback on your work. But if you just turn up, read your work and leave afterwards, you might find that slots become unavailable because no one wants to listen to your performances if you won’t stop and listen to others. If you turn up unprepared, either mumble or shout into the microphone and make your audience uncomfortable, you’ll also find you’re not invited back. By all means, tackle uncomfortable subjects but poor presentation can ruin the best of poems.

But what if you want to set up your own events? You book the venue, do your own publicity, figure out your own set list and turn up hoping for an audience. But you don’t do that in isolation from others. If you want your event to be a success, you check local listings to ensure you don’t clash with a similar event. After all, giving an audience a choice of two events on the same date and time usually means they won’t go to either. You liaise with the venue to get the booking that suits you and to get the equipment you need. Obviously having the venue staff on your side by being polite and clearly communicating what you want gives you a better chance of a successful event. Being bullish and making unreasonable demands risks loss of cooperation and assistance, which will negatively impact on your event. When you do your own publicity, you rely on others to use your press releases, display your leaflets, share your event on social media and tell others about it. They will only do this if you have written your press release professionally, your leaflets are attractive, you have made it easy to share on social media (and not guilt-tripped people into sharing) and your reputation is such that people are willing to tell their friends and contacts about your event. The audience will only turn up if they’ve enjoyed previous readings by you or they trust the venue or they trust the person who shared your event. If you’re unrehearsed or show your audience contempt, they won’t be back.

What if you decide you want to do a reading with other poets, e.g. a festival event, a reading with a group with the same publisher or a themed event, e.g. to raise funds for a cause or to draw attention to a campaign? You can’t do it alone. You need to see who is available to read with you (reputation will take you a long way here), check availability of venues, check what other events are taking place, be sure who is doing what to avoid duplication or worse that some key task is not undertaken because everyone thought someone else was doing it, be clear about who is doing what publicity and whether there are any restraints on publicity (some venues will insist they do the publicity for certain channels, if you use a venue owned by a local authority you may need to do publicity through their press office). When deciding on a reading order, it’s best done collaboratively. A reader might need to leave early, another reader might prefer to read later in the order. If one person dictates the reading order without reference to others and hasn’t taken into account readers’ needs, upset and friction occur. A good team works towards a consensus with sensitivity towards the needs and approaches of individual members. If one team member assembles publicity material, they should check with other team members that the material is agreed by all and be prepared to make amendments. If two team members simultaneously produce material, a positive team will work to merge the best ideas from both. If a team is already discussing material produced by one member and, during the discussion, another member produces new material, suggests this new material is an alternative and is not talking about merging ideas, this member is not working collaboratively. When team members are asked to choose between material A and material B, they should refuse because they are actually being asked to choose sides, which divides a team.

For the event itself, everyone needs to be clear about the part they play. Someone running late without notifying or apologising (or having a good reason to be late) or someone failing do to what they’d agreed to do (without good reason; emergencies occur) puts stress and pressure on the remaining team members who may still be able to put on a smooth event or may find it impossible to put on the planned event. The disruptive team member(s) will find themselves isolated.

That isolation will come about through lack of invitations to join readings, other poets declining to join events organised by someone with a reputation for being disruptive or showing a lack of respect for others, audiences staying away and people no longer making recommendations and shares on social media. That’s when a writer becomes lonely.

Repercussions and #metoo

Poem originally published in “Your One Phone Call”. TW: sexual assault.


Please, it’s not you,
it’s me.

She curls, turns away.
He slips his shirt around her shoulders.

It’s not really me.
It’s him.

He pulls the bedcovers over.
There’s more to tenderness than touch.

It’s him.
It’s wrong it’s like this

He waits for her to turn and let him in,
let him help her move from victim into survivor.

Please, it’s not you.


Someone, browsing through photos of bands playing live, asked me if I felt safe when I’d gone to review live bands.

I hesitated. The expected answer was “Yes.” But my answer wasn’t going to be “Yes.” In fact, the question itself struck me as strange. Giving an unexpected answer would mean having to give an explanation and giving the explanation meant delving into compartments I keep shut. Opening those compartments gets messy. As various songs suggest, anger is an energy and energy doesn’t die. The smart way to deal with anger is to turn it into something positive, a campaign or a poem, which takes effort. Right then, I didn’t feel like making that effort. I knew if I said, “No,” the unexpected answer, the next question would be “Why?”

Why wouldn’t you feel safe amongst a community of music fans?

I reviewed bands playing smaller venues with audiences from 50 to 500. It wasn’t about being the only woman (which wasn’t unusual), it was knowing I was the only one in the venue who deliberately picked a spot to stand which gave a view of all potential exit points. Of the zines I reviewed for, I was the only one who’d turn up to a venue, tell the band’s personnel I was reviewing and be accused of wanting to sleep with the band. The other reviewers on the team didn’t get that. The other reviewers were male. I’d be the only one at the venue who watched the band during the encore, alert to signals that would mean they would be another encore or this was absolutely the last song, so, while the final chord was still reverberating, I could duck out of the venue and get clear of the crowds. I’m not particularly tall so being in a crowd limits my vision. It was a mistake I made once. Once.

Don’t you feel safe amongst other music fans?

I used to walk home. Home was 20 minutes away and not only does a taxi fare feel like a tax on going out, anyone who suggests I should have got a taxi has clearly never heard of John Worboys, the “Black Cab Rapist” and the way his first victims were brushed off and disbelieved. That’s the problem: there was no safe route home. How many of you have learnt not to alter your speed when passing cat-callers and wolf-whistlers? How many of you have learnt to counter your instincts and not run? The problem isn’t the first cat-call, the wolf-whistle or the proposition; the problem is you can’t predict what will happen next: will a cat-call become a grab by someone bigger and heavier than you, will a cat-call become a grab and then a grope and then what?

Don’t you feel safe?

I stuck to the better-lit streets, always alert. Even once you’ve moved past the cat-callers, wolf-whistlers and those who think it’s OK to proposition any woman they see on her own after dark “because she’s up for it, right?” Never mind that it gets dark at 3pm in the winter and women have bills to pay too. There have been times where I’ve had to walk past my home and round the block to be certain that I’ve got rid of one pest before I can return to my home so I can reassure myself the jerk doesn’t know where I live.

Every journey took me past a certain street. A street where the body of a woman was found. She’d been garroted by electrical wire, stuffed in the boot of her own car which her husband had driven and abandoned on this street because he wanted to be with his lover but didn’t want the stigma of a divorce. The car’s long since gone, he’s in jail. But the memory lingers: a woman wasn’t safe in her own home with the person she should have been able to trust.

Was I supposed to feel safe?


Literary Events Leicester November and December 2017

A list of forthcoming literary events in Leicester up to the festive season:

Margaret Penfold at Leicester Writers' Showcase15 November 2017 6.45pm Leicester Writers’ Showcase features Margaret Penfold
Central Library, Bishop Street Leicester LE1 6AA.

15 – 18 November 2017 Literary Leicester
Leicester University – see Leicester University for full details. Most events are free but require advance booking which can be done through the website.

23 November 2017 The Venus Papers Lydia Towsey
Attenborough Arts Lancaster Road Leicester

25 November 2017 5.20pm Launch Peacebuilders Anthology
Waterstones, Nottingham – not in Leicester but worth mentioning this poetry anthology as it includes work from Leicester poets.

27 November 2017 7.30pm Shindig
The Western, western Road Leicester LE3 0GA

5 December 2017 10.30am Leicester WritersShindig Leicester  Bru Cafe and Gelato, Granby Street, Leicester LE1

5 December 2017 8pm Word! with John Hegley
Y Theatre, East Street Leicester

12 December 2017 6.30pm Novel Exchanges with Rod Duncan
Exchange Bar Leicester details:

13 December 2017 6.45pm Leicester Writers’ Showcase Literary Activity in Leicester
Central Library, Bishop Street, Leicester LE1 6AA.

16 December 2017 2pm South Leicestershire Poetry Stanza
Leicester Language Academy, New Walk Leicester.




I’ve been very busy with preparations for the opening of Scraptoft’s New Community Hub and got knocked out by a bout of sinusitis so hopefully normal service will be resumed by next week. The new Community Hub will be a suitable venue for poetry readings, book launches, workshops, book groups, author talks and similar literary events.

Scraptoft Community Hub

Scraptoft Community Hub rear view






Email Marketing for Poets

Yes, you’d like the world to know about (and hopefully buy) your book. However, the UK publishes more books per capita than any other country so making your book stand out is tough. Poetry publishers’ marketing budgets are such that poets themselves get to do most of the marketing themselves.

You receive an email from a mailing list you’re on. You’re on that list because you gave permission to the sender to join. This point about giving permission is crucial, without it the sender cannot send you emails without breaking the law.

Wouldn’t it be easy to hit ‘reply all’ and send information about your book to everyone on that mailing list? A substantial number of people will now know about your book.


  • You’ve potentially broken the law by breaching the Data Protection Act (a lot of those emails were private emails, not business emails, and people on the original list only gave permission from the sender to use their emails, not you.)
  • You might see it as “information” about your book but it’s actually promotional material and you cannot send people promotional material without their consent.
  • All those people on that mailing list have now blacklisted you as a spammer
  • Those on that mailing list who might have considered reviewing your book had you approached them individually are now definitely not interested in reviewing your book
  • People on the mailing list who have had to deal with threatening emails or online trolls do not see your email as a mere inconvenience.
  • Under English law, ignorance is no defence.

From experience, I’ve found that those who are tempted to use email lists in this way are people who have not had to deal with threatening emails or online trolls and see no harm in getting an email from someone they don’t know. When I’ve pointed out that I’ve received an email that I shouldn’t have received and asked to be removed from the sender’s email list, I’ve been accused of “making a fuss” or “exaggerating the problem” and in one case was told I should be “grateful” as the sender thought I wouldn’t have known about the release had I not (illegally) received his email.

As a reviewer, extensive reader of poetry magazines, someone already on mailing lists from several publishers and a social media user, it’s pretty rare I wouldn’t know about a book that I’m likely to be interested in. I get plenty of unsolicited emails asking for a review, which I’m fine with because, if I don’t know the sender, I usually know the publisher. I am not “making a fuss” when I tell someone they’ve used my email address without consent and potentially illegally.

So how can poets use email marketing without falling foul of the law or gaining a reputation for being a spammer?

Collecting Email Addresses

Essentially any personal email addresses collected for the purposes of marketing should be collected on the basis of opt-in consent, e.g.:-

  • through a website contact form or web subscriber service where users send an email address on the understanding they are subscribing to an email marketing list or newsletter;
    through a competition where entrants give consent to further mailings;
  • do not automatically add the email address of someone who emailed a query. By all means ask if they want to be added or give them a link where they can sign up;
  • do not automatically add an email address of someone you approached for advice, even if they were willing to give you advice – ask if they want to be added to your mailing list;
  • do not automatically add an email address of someone you approached for a review, even if they agreed to review your book – ask first;
  • don’t add anyone who stated that they did not want to be added.

Corporate or commercial email address holders do not need to give consent.y

Sending Emails

  • If sending an email to more than one person, use the bcc (blind carbon copy) option instead of To or cc. This way, you can see who you’ve sent the email to but recipients can’t. You’ve taken away the temptation for a recipient to hit ‘Reply All’ and spam your list;
  • Check you have news to send – don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need to send an email newsletter according to a fixed timescale or that you will lose subscribers if you don’t keep in touch;
  • Ensure your news is useful – poet writes poem is not news. Poet has new book that can be ordered from publisher or poet is doing a series of readings with date and venue information is news;
  • Check your email has unsubscribe information on (each email needs this information, not just emails to new subscribers);
  • Check your email has a bricks-and-mortar address on – this can be a publisher’s or business address – if sending from within the European Union (not necessary if you use a web service based outside Europe);
  • Don’t include unnecessary links – ‘click here to order’ is fine, summarising an article and including a link to the full article is fine if you’re including more than one. Linking to your website or blog in the main body of your email because you’ve been told it’s “beneficial for search engine optimisation” is not (it’s also not beneficial for search engine optimisation.)

Maintenance of your Email Address List

  • If someone on your address list unsubscribes, actually unsubscribe them. A confirmation is polite, but not necessary;
  • If someone changes their email address and notifies you, change their details;
  • Don’t take email addresses from websites of people whom you think might be interested in your news;
  • Don’t automatically add email addresses from people who contact you – check they are happy to subscribe first;
  • Don’t allow a publisher access to your email address list – take the information the publisher would like to send and include it in your own emails by all means, but the marketing mail must come from you, not your publisher as subscribers have signed up to your list;
  • Don’t sell your list on – you may make a quick buck, but it will be at the expense of your longer term marketing strategy as people will unsubscribe and tell others not to subscribe.

A Brief Guide to Email Marketing for Writers Summarised:

  • Have a strict opt-in only policy on collecting email addresses;
  • Use bcc rather than cc or too so that recipients can’t see the email addresses of other recipients and aren’t tempted to spam your email list;
  • Never assume someone who contacts you or responds positively to a review request is happy to be added to your mailing list – always check first;
  • Ensure your emails are useful and contain information subscribers need to know;
  • Action updates and changes to email addresses or contact details as soon as possible;
  • Ensure you include unsubscribe and clear identification on every email.

Leicester Writers Showcase Ella @ 100Leicester Writers Club Everybodys Reading event flyer

Journeys In Translation Leicester 30 September 2017

Journeys in Translation Event during Everybodys Reading“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Nelson Mandela

With the Journeys in Translation event on the horizon, I’ve been thinking a lot about translation and in particular the challenges in translating poems. Journeys in Translation took 13 poems from “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” and via a Facebook Group and local call-outs asked people with knowledge of one or more languages than English to translate one poem into another language. Some translators were happy to translate more than one poem. So far the poems have been translated into 22 different languages, Arabic, Assmanese, Bengali, British Sign Language, Chinese, Danish, Farsi, Filipino, Finnish, French, Gaelic (Irish), German, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Shona, Spanish, Turkish and Welsh. Not all poems have been translated into all 22 languages, but every poem has an Italian, German and Portuguese translation. At the Journeys in Translation event, the original poem will be read along with one translation. There will be displays of posters featuring original poems and translations.

One translator commented that usually she translates into English rather than from English (her mother tongue) which put her outside of her comfort zone. She felt this led her to understand the frustration of not being able to instantly find the words she needed which gave her a “sense of powerlessness through loss of communication tools”. This prompted her to think about refugees trying to describe the lives they’d left behind, particularly where equivalent words aren’t available, and the further loss this creates. However, the close reading needed to translate a poem prompted her to think about the human aspect of the refugee crisis and how normal and comparable the refugee’s stories were.

There were examples of words for which there was no equivalent in the target language. For instance, apples are not native to Bengali so there is no word for ‘apple’, which led to a discussion about whether to leave the English word in the poem or use a Bengali word for another fruit, e.g. pomegranate instead. Did the original poet intend the focus of the line which was being translated to centre on the apple or on the act of a brother and sister sharing food? Would losing the word ‘apple’ create any loss of cultural significance? In the Biblical story, apple was the fruit that Eve ate so, in some contexts, an apple isn’t simply something to eat. In Shona, there is no direct word for astronaut, which presents a challenge when translating a poem about a girl who wants to be an astronaut.

Some poems presented other challenges. “but one country” is a speculum or verbal mirror image poem and some translators deliberately chose it to see if they were up to the challenge of recreating the form. Some translators altered the title from “but one country” to “only one country” which is more grammatical but ignores the way the original title makes the reader sit up and think because it’s not the expected word order. Translating the poem is not as straightforward as translating one line and moving on to the next, because each line has to work in both stanzas. The shape offers an additional test because the lines have to fit into their place in the poem’s shape otherwise the shape is distorted. In some translations, the original globe shape became more like a mountain looking at its reflection.

Some translators stuck to literal translations but others wanted to try and use the rhymes, internal rhymes and other sound patterns from the original poems into the translations. Occasionally that meant substituting alliteration and assonance in one place with alliteration and assonance in another.

Colloquialisms presented another challenge – did the translator use plain language as in the original or try and poeticise the language to make the translation look more like a poem? Metaphors need care in translation. Even though tigers don’t make dens (they take over a cave or hollow or smiliar natural shelter), one translation used “den” rather than “cave” to sustain an animal metaphor. The English sense of “alien” for “other” frequently doesn’t have a direct equivalent in other languages. In prose, there is space to offer an explanatory translation rather than a direct one, but poems don’t offer that space. However there were also benefits when translating some words: the Spanish word for ‘waiting’ includes the concept of hope, which enhances its context in the title of the poem “Waiting”.

After the Journeys in Translation event, there are plans to display all the translations on a blog.

Leicester Writers Showcase Ella @ 100

Leicester Writers Club Everybodys Reading event flyer