Warning: contains a poem

Poems seem to be natural subjects to podcast: they’re generally short and how a poem sounds is just as important as how the words or ordered on a page.  However, podcasting runs into the same problem as posting a poem on a blog in that neither captures the duality at the heart of every poem; that they have to work on the page in and in performance.  Here, then, is a very experimental trial in video casting (a podcast with sight of the words; no image montage or video of poem), an attempt to capture both page and sound.

Miranda’s Warning

Hey Mum, you’ve the right to remain silent
about the time you (quietly) threatened to put me on the shelf
when I wanted the pram’s motion to rock me to sleep
and you wanted to stop and actually pay for groceries

Anything you say can and will be used against you
in my “so famous I only need my first name
despite my unsupportive, inadequate mother”
theme in my future bestselling autobiography

You may have a nutritional expert present
when I blame my eating disorder and body dysmorphia
on your rewarding me with pacifying chocolate
instead of encouraging me to eat my greens

If you cannot afford a lawyer –
having funded my pocket money and your Mother’s day bouquets
– when I sue you for genetic proof you’re my parent:
that’s just tough

You know, Mum, anytime you wish,
you can decide to stay silent and not answer any questions.
Could you consider this really, really carefully,
especially at Parents’ Evenings

Bearing the above in mind, do you still want to talk to me, Mum?

(click on the title to see the whole poem, click on individual stanzas and the poem starts at that stanza)

It’s rare I instantly like a gadget.  I’m warming to Kindle which is still not available in the UK.  Last time it was my mobile phone – I can text, it tells me the name or number of whoever’s phoning me, takes pictures, plays music, has a web browser and is probably due an upgrade.

I did take to the Flip digital video camera.  The downside: it doesn’t use a rechargeable battery.  The upsides:- 

1.   You take the Flip out of the box, put the batteries in and use straightaway;

2.   A very slender instruction booklet – brilliant for people like me who can only do things in concentrated bursts of time and don’t have a solid block of several hours to sit and read a very thick instruction booklet;

3.   Flip is largely intuitive and simple to use – watch through the viewfinder, press record, zoom in or out if required, press record button again to stop, playback;

4.   Playback videos on a TV or computer;

5.   Edit if required and upload to a video sharing site.


I’ve not fully played with all Flip’s editing facilities – you can add music to videos as well – and the picture and sound quality are good enough.  It is not intended for keepsakes and memorable events where you’d use something more substantial and with a thick instruction booklet.  But for short videos uploaded to a social networking site where quality of picture and sound is somewhat reliant on what equipment people are using to view it, Flip’s hard to beat.  And it’s good for video casting poems and that’s a major plus.


Do most people ignore poetry or does poetry ignore most people?

Most people ignore poetry because poetry ignores most people.” That may have been true of the 60s when the late poet Adrian Mitchell was quoted, but is it relevant now?

Mitchell wanted poets to tackle the great subjects and it is true most only turn to poetry at times of great emotion. But after centuries of love poems, who can write another that doesn’t say what’s already been said somewhere before? Occasional verse, as most Poet Laureates have proved, is tricky and often forgettable. Great war poems were written when poets were amongst the conscripts and had no choice but to write about being in the trenches and what they witnessed. Difficult to do that after acres of newsprint or when your experience of war is watching it on TV and when the ongoing “war on terror” creates bereavement rather than hands-on experience of combat.

New Year’s Eve

Thx 4 txt. Luvd gift.
2007? Gotta B over 2006 –
thinking: didn’t kiss him that am
cos I’d just put my lipstick on.
Put a vodka on the bar,
C U L8r.


Got the flat.
New phone’s gr8.
Downloaded her song
as my ringtone.
Still got her photo,
the 1 taken b4…
I’ll light a candle 2nite.
4 her.

Although contemporary poets don’t ignore contemporary events, you can’t write a good poem as fast as news gets broadcast.

School did a very good job at trying to put me off poetry. We only studied male poets and got the message poetry was “male, about war or nature” none of which I wanted to write about. Either than women didn’t write poetry – when I was living proof that they did – or that women didn’t write poetry worth studying. Hardly an encouragement to someone who was writing and happened to be female.

So how did I find poets who were women? Not at the bookshops full of anthologies and collections by dead white males. Anyone who suggests I could have ordered collections by women has clearly not encountered “the computer says it doesn’t exist” attitude of staff who find it easier to say “can’t do.” Not through exposure to poems in newspapers and magazines as poetry magazines don’t get shelf-space. Not through Poems on the Underground either as the scheme doesn’t extend beyond London.

And this is really the problem. Poetry doesn’t ignore most people. Most people ignore poetry because they don’t get exposed to it and the rare occasion they do they expect it to be difficult or to be so multi-layered with meaning they won’t “get” it. So they ignore it, because that’s easier. But are they right to?

Poetry at Amazon

Performance versus Page in Poetry

Bemused recently when a poetry editor suggested the poems I’d sent him were “more suited to performance than print” and wondered what he actually meant.

The distinction between a “page” poem and a “performance” poem is false and does not exist.  All poems have to work in both mediums: that’s one of the things that differentiates poetry from prose.  Prose need not be read aloud.  Obviously prose has a rhythm: a country stroll will be described in long, meandering sentences whereas a narrator being chased by a serial killer will use terse, tense sentences.  However, a poem doesn’t just have a prosaic rhythm, but also a musicality.  It could be that the sounds of the words, the rhythm – shaped by line endings and verse breaks as well as grammar and punctuation – and the meaning complement.  It could be that rhythm and sounds run counter to meaning and create a tension that a writer can’t do in prose.  A poem that’s too difficult to be read aloud is a failed poem.  A poem that is easily performed but doesn’t have sufficient layers of meaning to sound to satisfy on the page is a failed poem.

The distinction then is not the poem, but the poet.  Some poets are natural performers and perfectly happy with poems in an oral medium, reading aloud to audiences.  That’s not to say that their poems don’t work on the page, but that they’re happier with poetry in a social setting.  Other poets are happier in the intimacy and privacy of reading poetry from a page (or aloud to themselves only).  That’s not to say that they don’t make good readers, but they’re happier surrounded by paper or alone with a computer screen.

I’m definitely a page poet, so the idea my poems were “more suited for performance” is a surprise.  But I don’t get the qualification “than print”.  The poems still have to work in both mediums.

How do you choose a poetry magazine to submit your poems

You’ve polished off your poems, run them past a trusted reader (ie someone who will criticise and not just unconditionally tell you “they’re brilliant”) or writers’ group, double-checked your files for typos and are ready to send your poems to editors.  But there are plenty of poetry magazines out there (Carrie Etter has kindly listed some American poetry magazines), how do you choose?


1.   Buy (or borrow) a copy of the magazine.  If you like it, subscribe.  Poetry magazines desperately need subscribers as subscriptions are often their only income.  Check the contents – what sort of poems does it publish?   Would you poems fit alongside what it publishes?

2.   Keep a list/database of magazines with editor’s name, address, and type of poems published, where you think your poems would fit.  There’s no point in sending your carefully crafted sonnets to a magazine that only publishes experimental poetry as you’ll be wasting your postage and the editor’s time.

3.   When you have list of poetry magazines your poems stand a good chance of getting published in, check the websites or magazine for any submission guidelines.  Some magazines operate reading periods and sending poems outside the reading period means the poem will be returned unread.  Some magazines will accept email submissions, some have an on-line form and some will only accept postal submissions.

4.   Decide which poems you want to send to which magazine.  Unless the submission guidelines say otherwise, send three to six poems to each magazine.  There’s no need to keep to a theme or to send only sonnets, but if you’re sending a seasonal poem, send it at least six months ahead of the season (ie send a summer poem in winter) as editors plan ahead and poetry magazines usually publish quarterly.

5.   Keep a record.  Generally magazine editors do not like simultaneous submissions (ie where one poem is sent to more than one editor) as they prefer original, unpublished content.  Try and avoid sending a favoured poem to more than one magazine at any one time.

6.   Prepare a covering letter offering the poems for consideration.  Use the covering letter in the body of an email if sending by email.  It’s not necessary to list poetry publishing credits or competition placing within the covering letter, but consider adding one or two particularly worthy acceptances.  Do not send a brief biography unless specifically requested in the submission guidelines.

7.   Send the covering letter with the poems and a stamped self-addressed envelope (SSAE) which has sufficient postage for the editor to return the poems.  If posting abroad, use sufficient international reply coupons or state that you are sending a disposable manuscript and send an email address as well.  Each poem should be sent on a separate sheet of paper with your name and address on each sheet so that, if the sheets become separated, the editor can still trace the poet.

8.   Wait.  Editors are generally snowed under with submissions and are often editing around jobs, family commitments and their own writing.  Six months is not an unusual waiting time.


Keep writing in the meantime.  The more poems you submit, the higher your chances of getting published.

Related Articles

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How to take criticism at a writers’ group

Ready to self-publish your poetry?

Vending Machine Poetry

Smoking has been banned in England in enclosed spaces, including pubs. There’s an opportunity to use the cigarette vending machines to vend… poetry?

M-m, I can see the logic and generally I’m in favour of innovative ways of getting poems to audiences, but I’m uneasy about this.

1. Who reads in pubs?

I do, but I don’t drink or smoke and have more books than friends, so it’s safe to assume I’m the exception rather than the rule. Pubs are for socialising, chatting with friends or tolerating a monologue from the loner at the end of the bar. Yep, sit in a pub long enough and someone will talk to you. Hardly the environment to inspire ‘could do with something to read, oh, look I’m in luck a poetry vending machine!’ type thoughts.

2. Small Print.

Cigarette packets are the ideal size for haiku and related verse forms, triolets, limericks and government health warnings. Anything sonnet-sized is longer isn’t going to fit. Unless the print is miniaturised or the paper is folded. Folds are weaknesses: several re-readings later the poems will have disintegrated, the buyer will feel robbed and will never buy a vending machine poem again. Layout is vitally important in a poem. Readers need to see where the line end and stanza breaks are.

I don’t see the fag-packet format lasting.