Shindig Live Poetry Leicester 30 January 2017

Poster for Shindig poetry readingsShindig is organised by Nine Arches Press and Crystal Clear Creators and the former usually lead the first half while the latter take over after the interval. Tonight Nine Arches Press was launching Under the Radar #18 and Crystal Clear Creators featured readings from Deborah Tyler-Bennett and Andrew Button.

Each half starts with open mic slots. Will Coles took the first slot with a sonnet from a series of ‘delinquent sonnets’ looking at rubber-neckers gathered after an accident, “he’s moving so he’s not dead” ending on the line “We’ll feed on him another day.”. Thomas Irvine gave us another sonnet about Icarus. It was third poet Richard Byrt who hit on the novel idea of giving the audience the title of the poem about to be read, here “Motivating Millie”, a darkly humorous list of suggestions of things Millie could do, gradually revealing that elderly Millie’s relatives are thinking of a care home for her and these ideas are to “Stop them deciding they have to put you away.” Ambrose Musiyiwa rounded off the open mic slots with a topical poem about Martians (and the aliening of refugees) of which I know the title because I saw it published in “The Journal.”

Jane Commane of Nine Arches kicked off the Under the Radar launch by reading two poems, “Hail” by John Challis and “The Way Queenie Smokes” by Edward Long, confessing that the latter poem gave her cravings for a cigarette,

“The way Queenie smokes is why they call him Queenie,
ballet-poise along his whole arm out to his held fingers.
Long sensuous drawing up of the smoke into his lungs,
a gentle letting forth of smoke from his mouth.

The rasp to his laugh rattles his belly
squashed tight into his stained t-shirt.”

Reviews editor, Maria Taylor, picked Catherine Ayres’ “Solistice”

“Perhaps I’ll find you in the valley’s bruise,
the jolt of your eyes in a seam of light;
I have my plans these winter nights
when the spent candle stumbles, gone,”

This was read before Joe Caldwell’s “Transmigration.” Deborah Tyler-Bennett picked both of Josephine Shaw’s poems “On the Banks of the Aude” and “Mum and Dad enjoy a Cocktail.” Cathy Whittaker read “St Jerome” where she wonders if his wife viewed him in quite the same way as those who laud him, and “Message to My Grandfather” (not featured in the magazine). Reviewer D A Prince selected Ramona Herdman’s “Wake Up: Time to Die” which takes a quote from “Bladerunner” as its source inspiration, explaining “It grabbed me and I went straight back to the beginning to see how she did it.” Her second selection was a short extract from Martin Figura’s “Shed” which she had reviewed. Fiona Theokritoff read her poem “Cartographer” and another, “Wrong Turning.” Although availability played a big part in selections, in a issue which includes poems from Sarah Barnsley, Giles Goodland, Josh Ekroy, Fran Lock, Jessica Mookherjee and Rory Waterman amongst others, a mere two poems would have been a tough choice.

Maria Taylor was back, this time in her Crystal Clear Creators role, to get the second half underway. She read her own poem, “Don and the Age of Aquarius”, imagining someone like Donald Trump meeting a hippy angel in 1967’s Summer of Love. Jim Kersey had three short poems, “Inheritance,” “Inspiration” and “Dawn” forming part of an “Autumn Verses” sequence. The first two had a serious tone, exploring rich autumnal shades and colours. The third was light-hearted, starting “Shall I compare thee to a maple tree/ though thou are more temperamental.” More humour from John Lloyd’s “I Believe” based on the foundation that if he’d signed up to the university of life, “it enrolled me on the wrong course.” Most open mic slots were taken by Shindig regulars, but both Johns were reading at Shindig for the first time and got a warm welcome. Dave Tunnley kept up the autumnal theme in “Imagine Travel.” I read “The Shoemaker’s Walk” from “Welcome to Leicester“. Angela Bailey read “Rania’s Story”, a woman fleeing Syria with her children but leaving her elderly mother behind and the guilt, “as close as a sapling to its roots.” Rob Jones wrapped up the open mic session with a poem about a house shared by three humanities students living in “nostalgic tribute to ‘Black Books’ or ‘Withail and I’,” a poem apparently without title.

Featured poet, Deborah Tyler-Bennett started with three poems, “Ways Home,” “North’s Street” and “Sutton-in-Ashfield” from “Napoleon Solo Biscuits” which I reviewed for London Grip here. She then read new poems from her forthcoming collection “Mr Bowlly Regrets”, “Overheard on the Threes”, eavesdropping a conversation on a long bus journey. “No Relation” inspired by the discovery that some soldiers who served in the First World War had put down employers as their next of kin because they had no family to return to. “Then” inspired by a grandmother, looking at “Superstitutions” shared by her grandmother and her grandmother’s sister who saw “sleek magpies not as thieves but portents.” “Upstairs at the Trading Post” where a down-to-earth woman is wary of a ghost “lurking upstairs while she did the cleaning.” A star of the silent film era is recalled in “Popping By” where a “soldier hubby’s specs matching those of Harold Lloyd hanging on to that clock face.”

Second featured poet was Andrew Button whose “Dry Days in Wet Towns” has just been published by erbacce press. He introduced us to a selection of dryly observed humour. “Glasgow Hotel” could have been drawn from Edgar Allan Poe’s imagination. “The Only Clue” ends “roving extraterrestrials will still find a shopping trolley in a canal.” “after the drive-thru refusal (no fence involved)”, a woman takes her horse into McDonalds in “We’re Lovin’ It”. “Two Dickies” is about a statue to the cricket umpire Dicky Bird. “Turner in his Grave” muses on a Turner Prize entry. “Light of Wonder” was a tribute to Ray Bradbury who “coaxed my fledging pen to write on” and ending “your books will never burn.” Andrew Button is a collector of news stories, not unlike Marcel Proust, and the quirkier the better. “Navel Pursuit” takes inspiration from a story about a man who collected navel fluff. “Microphone” was a nod to childhood where he and friends would past the time recording made-up jingles. The final poem “After the Rain”, the name of a bubble bath, a tender tribute to his wife.

“Under the Radar” magazine is available from Nine Arches Press.

Deborah Tyler-Bennett’s collections are published by Kings England Press.

Andrew Button’s “Dry Days in Wet Towns in available from erbacce press.

 


 

The importance of beginnings

I love that the opening line of the first poem in “Welcome to Leicester” starts “Leicester is alive”.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read each poem in “Welcome to Leicester” prior to publication. Each poem submitted was read at least three times – once on receipt and twice (once silently, once aloud) at editorial meetings. Those that we thought were maybes where spread out on my table and arranged near poems they seemed to fit best with. This involved several re-readings as new poems were added to the maybe pile and poems were rearranged. All maybe poems were read again at our final editorial meeting as we decided which poems were actually going to be accepted. The accepted poems underwent several more re-readings as the typesetting was done. Some of these readings were detailed, checking spelling, grammar, whether commas were justified. Some readings were of the overall shape of a poem or how it sounded when read aloud. Since the anthology has been published, one thing I’ve not done is read it from cover to cover.

At the launch, I’d asked which contributors were available to come and read their poem. If everyone who said they were had turned up, the poetry readings would have taken 1 hour and forty-two minutes. Naturally on the day, some weren’t able to be at the launch so the readings part took an hour and twenty minutes. It was wonderful to hear the poems read in the poets’ voices and to hear audience feedback that they appreciated the range of subjects, styles, approaches and stories about Leicester arising from the poems.

The invitation to hold a “Welcome to Leicester” event to start the “Write On, a Leicester Writers’ Showcase” series which take place in Leicester’s Central Library on the third Wednesday of each month was a great opportunity. It was an informal, relaxed evening with a good turn out. Around 10 poets read their poems and, to keep to the agreed time slot, I read a poem from the anthology in between readings. This gave audience members time to absorb each poet’s reading and allowed some of the themes explored in the anthology to be teased out.

What was most intriguing was seeing the audience react, sometimes with nods of recognition, but mostlly with that stillness that suggests people are absorbed in listening. I had to remember that some were hearing the poems for the first time and those who were contributors hadn’t necessarily read all the poems so were hearing some poems for the first time too. My job was to introduce poets but, more crucially, also to allow a space between each poem, rather like the space around a poem on a page or that pause when pages are turned, so give each poem a fair hearing and not to rush the audience into the next poem. It was a privilege to do so.

The very last word of the final poem in “Welcome to Leicester” is “home.” That was not a happy accident.

“Welcome to Leicester” is available from Dahlia Publishing.

The next “Welcome to Leicester” event is at De Montfort University’s Clephan Building from 6pm on Monday 27 February as part of the Cultural Exchanges Festival.

The next two “Write On, a Leicester Writers’ Showcase” events are:

15 February “Lost and Found: stories from home” (Dahlia Publishing, 2016) featuring readings from writers whose short stories are in the anthology.

15 March Carol Leeming will be reading from “The Declamations of Cool Eye”. I reviewed “The Declamations of Cool Eye” here.

Both events start promptly at 7pm. Doors open at 6.30pm.
Welcome to Leicester poetry anthology book cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

“The Swell” Jessica Mookherjee (Telltale Press) – Poetry Review

The Swell Jessica Mookherjee“The Swell” is a fourteen poem pamphlet that explores growing up in Swansea with a Bangladeshi heritage and moving away from a childhood home, most notably in “Red”

“When I first wore red lipstick, smacked across
my face, she said it was inappropriate
for a girl of six, wash it off, she said.
When I first wore that red silk skirt
it mesmerised me by the way it moved
around my legs. It made you smile at me.
Now your face is red, too much sun, too much
beer, too much butter.
I tell you not to wear that red shirt,
it doesn’t flatter.
There’s blood in the bathroom again,
this month.”

Each time the colour appears, it is as a warning sign, a little girl not understanding the significance of lipstick, learning how to dress appropriately in a long skirt, a complexion reddened by excesses, an unflattering shirt and the mark of transformation from girl to woman. The repetition lends a sense of weariness as the girl recognises that her mother has been through this and her grandmother before that.

The title poem looks at the pregnancy of her mother from a child’s viewpoint, noting her father “made a fuss of her for a change” and ends as he

“made milk-dribble jokes for the cameras,
said storms with girls’ names were the deadliest.
Then she emerged, fresh with her slake
of new flesh as the town lugged sandbags,
trying to stop her.”

Even dad can’t upstage mum and older sister is left observing these changes without yet having the words to describe her own reaction. In another poem, A non-mother receives flowers on “Mother’s Day” intended for someone else. She alerts the florist and keeps the flowers in water,

“I didn’t touch them until one week after Mother’s Day.
Wondering if the son, the daughter the mother
would fetch them away and
just as they began pushing out everything, she came.

Heartbroken, relieved, not forgotten. She muttered
polite complaints on my doorstep, told me
her son in the States spent seventy-five pounds
and left, clutching my wilted flowers to her chest.”

Jessica Mookherjee gives readers enough detail to wonder at this relationship between a mother and son where the son has moved to another country, sends an expensive bouquet to his mother but fails to get the address right. That’s where the strength of these poems lie: in the precise details given with enough space for the reader to draw their own conclusions. “The Swell” is a delight to read.

“The Swell” is available from Telltale Press.

 

Write On, A Leicester Writers’ Showcase

18 January 2017 from 6.30pm at Central Library, Bishop Street, Leicester.

poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Review of Jessica Mookherjee’s “The Swell” will appear on 18 January 2017.

“The Immigration Handbook” Caroline Smith (Seren) – poetry review

The Immigration Handbook Caroline SmithCaroline Smith has drawn on her experience as an asylum caseworker for an MP for her second collection of poems, exploring migration through the lens of bureaucracy. It’s a timely reminder of the barriers and labyrinthine hurdles those seeking asylum have to bend through and also of the inhumane delays the system has built in. The opening poem “On Hold” has the epigram, ‘There is no timescale for dealing with this application.’ It concerns Arjan Mehta who was aged 23 at the start of his application,

“He is now forty.
The sealed-up phone box
long out of service,
the black cradle
within its sepulchre,
silent as an obsidian urn.”

The two lines just before the quoted section, “Seventeen years have passed/ with no answer” I didn’t feel were necessary. The gap between the ages of 23 and 40 is more telling: it’s the gap when careers are established and families started. It’s the bureaucratic denial of humanity, leaving a man in limbo: without an answer, he can’t work (legally), if he starts a family, he does so with the risk of separation. Picking up this theme again, “Delay” is a Home Office letter (any identifying details redacted) with the line “I apologise for the delay in processing your clients application.” – the apostrophe is missing in the original. The letter is dated 2015 and refers to an application made in 2006. It goes on to inform the recipient that due to the delay, her client will have to resubmit the form which is now out of date. The correct form is not sent with the letter but the client is directed to the website (without a direct link to the required form) where she will have to find the form, download, i.e. print it, complete it (again) and send it in a provided envelope at her own expense even though she was not responsible for the delay. The provided envelope doesn’t even have prepaid postage.

The inflexibility of forms and their inability to give space to describe lives is explored in “Fault Lines” which asks how two parents would know

“That there would be nowhere on the form to explain
why they had to move to Swaziland
and register his birth at the Portuguese Consulate
in his father’s name and when the work permit
ran out, no choice but to go back,
a mixed race couple to South Africa
where his mother would give him her name
and an Identity card where ‘Father’
was left blank.”

Forms are only part of the process. There’s also the “Asylum Interview” where “she says only what will help her case.” The interviewer notes she says she has a cold.

“He fires questions at her in bursts.
His pen scores the paper
drawing back her cover
like a soft flap of mango skin
exposing her shame
beating yolk orange like a fontanel.
He has realised the truth
but doesn’t correct his notes –
raped by soldiers of the Lord’s Resistance Army:
her immune system has been shot through,
her CD4 count a mere six cells.”

The need to establish the entitlement to asylum is done so without regard for the affect on the asylum seeker of describing their experiences and traumas or the stigma and shame felt. The interviewers can only record what the interviewee says, not what is implied or evident from observation. So the interviewer cannot record she has a badly compromised immune system or that she has been raped, unless she actually puts those things into words. When a language barrier is reinforced with the barriers of shame and stigma, a genuine asylum-seeker may be refused simply because of lack of humane support through the claim process.

Caroline Smith’s strength is in presenting facts, not guiding the reader to think in a certain way. She reveals the processes and leaves readers to decide whether they are fair or not. She doesn’t shy away from difficult cases either. It isn’t widely known that child refugees whose applications are accepted have to re-apply as adults when they turn 18, and can find their applications declined even though they were accepted as children. In “Teenager” a boy was imprisoned after committing a burglary and is now facing release.

“They told him he was now
nineteen and no longer a child
and would be deported with £46.
They asked him which airport
he wanted to go back to
but he didn’t know
what ones there were.
He’d left when he was seven.”

This arbitrary separation of adult and child identities and bureaucratic rules dictating that the adult is regarded as a separate being from the former child, creates injustice.

Caroline Smith doesn’t just look at recently arrived refugees, “Dr Gopal” goes to empty a kitchen bin and discovers “a sudden frost – like the awe of/ seeing her first snowfall in England./ An aubergine had turned old overnight/ a shock of white hair standing straight up/ on a wizened purple-brown head.” It reminds her of dolls she played with at her first English school which leads her into remembering her grandmother making a secret family of paper dolls,

“But Mama had found the box and burnt them.
She didn’t blame her mother.
Now a senior consultant
She lived the model immigrant life –
with a beautiful house in a quiet street:
but she couldn’t stop
the tide of night terrors racing in,
prevent the silhouettes from
curling and peeling in the fires of Entebbe.”

Entebbe is in Uganda and Gopal’s Asian name reveals her as a Ugandan Asian who had to flee after Idi Amin’s declaration in 1972. Even after working her way up to a senior position at work, she cannot leave her children terrors behind. In my review I have ordered the quoted poems into a narrative. In the collection, “Teenager” is much earlier, and the time lines don’t fall into a natural, narrative order. This is a successful approach because it mirrors the difficulties for refugees in telling their stories, the sloughing back and forth as they are twisted and bend through the claims process and the way that, for some, being able to shut away a memory until they are strong enough to deal with it, is an important part of recovery.

The final poem, “Stamps”, is about ignoring the pristine collectors’ sets in favour of the ones postmarked and steamed off their envelopes,

“We wanted the ones
that had made the journey,
that bore the marks of their struggle.”

“The Immigration Handbook” records the marks of refugees’ struggle filtered through the lens of bureaucracy. It shows the stories behind the numbers and reminds us that behind the statistics are humans.

“The Immigration Handbook” is available from Seren.


 

To Review or Not to Review?

On the rare occasions I’ve had to turn down a review request, it’s generally been because I’ve already reviewed the book or poetry collection offered for review. However, news that Milo Yiannopoulos has signed a book deal with Threshold, made me seriously pause for thought. Milo Yiannopoulos is an editor at Breitbart News, led a harrassment campaign against the actor Leslie Jones, which led to him being suspended from twitter, and plagarised Tori Amos’s song lyrics in a book of ‘poems’ published under a pen name, Milo Andreas Wagner. He claimed the quoted lyrics was an intentional artistic statement. I can see why Threshold are willing to take a chance on him delivering a book: he will generate a lot of buzz if not actual book sales.

Why would this be a problem? Why not simply boycott the book?

Threshold are an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Regular readers will have noticed I review Simon & Schuster novels because I’m on their list of book reviewers, i.e. if they publish a book they think will interest me, they send me an ARC. The Chicago Review of Books have stated they will not review any Simon & Schuster books this year. I can sympathise with this.

But it makes me uneasy. I am generally in favour of people having the right to say what they think. However, that right does not extend to the right to abuse and bully others. It does not extend to using a platform to attempt to silence others either. I don’t think it helps other Simon & Schuster authors to refuse to review their books, particularly when they’d already signed contracts (books take a long time to publish) and had no say in the signing of Yiannopoulos or chance to renege on their own contracts if they had known about it.

So I will not boycott Simon & Schuster books, providing I think that the ARC is interesting enough to justify a review. Do you think this is the right decision?

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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.