“Refractions” Kevin Morris ebook – poetry review

Refractions by [MORRIS, K.]Kevin Morris writes from familiar, everyday situations in rhyme-led, usually short verses, e.g. in “Dog and Ball” which ends,

“My introspection.
How can I suffer dejection
When I recollect your playful snort
And the ball you caught?”

He poses questions about his readers, in “Composed More or Less in Real-time While Sitting in a Liverpool Garden”

“The wind has dropped now,
And I wonder how
My poem will be understood
By those who would
Try
To find meaning in words that erratically fly
From one who sits listening to a barking dog, who cares not
A jot
For what
I have to say
On this sunny, wind swept day.”

Does Kevin Morris have something to say? There is a small group of poems which touch on the subject of prostitution provoked by a newspaper article that argues that sex workers should not be criminalised but those who pay for the services offered should be. “Waltz” offers a metaphor and less direct approach,

“It takes a couple to waltz.
With beauty charming
And character disarming,
She does dance
And romance
Until the sun’s rays lance
The comforting dark
And a new day starts.

Both parties are willing;
But does the payment of a shilling
To the girl
Who does so seductively twirl
Render their interaction
An exploitative transaction
And the waltz false?”

Ignoring that schillings are no longer legal tender in the UK, the poet’s approach takes the simplistic view that if someone freely chooses to go into sex work, then it shouldn’t be criminalised. At face value, this is a position that can’t be argued against. However, it does not take into account that not all sex workers freely choose their line of work. It conveniently ignores the problems of trafficking, the influence of drugs, including alcohol, and desperation that means that sex work isn’t a choice made without influence from other factors. Kevin Morris lends what he sees as a business transaction – a man buys a service from a woman – a romantic view that is misplaced.

Elsewhere, he acknowledges all lives come to an end eventually. In “Corridor”

“A door must open
And a word be spoken
To the figure from the gloom
Who vanishes soon.

Things remain
The same.
The empty corridor
And sadness reigning evermore.”

To lighten the load, there are a set of limericks. I confess to not being a fan of limericks so I will quote one as a taster, “There Was a Young Lady Called Suzie”

“There was a young lady called Suzie
Who said, ‘I am extremely choosy
About the men I date,
But it is getting late
And I am very boozy!’

“Refractions” is an ebook available from Amazon.

My review of K Morris’ Lost in the Labyrinth of My Mind is here.

Posted in Book review. Tags: . 2 Comments »

Leicester Poetry News

I’ve been caught up in typesetting “Welcome to Leicester” so I’m listing poetry related events taking place in Leicester during September and the beginning of October.

9 September 6 – 8pm Sanctuary Radio

Co-editor Ambrose Musiyiwa and I were interviewed by Marilyn Ricci for Sanctuary Radio’s book club programme and this will be broadcast on Friday 9 September between 6 – 8pm at www.sanctuaryradio.co.uk. We talk about “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” (Five Leaves, 2015) and “Welcome to Leicester” (Dahlia Publishing, October 2016).

17 September 2pm South Leicestershire Poetry Stanza

Meet at Leicester Language Academy on New Walk. Friendly workshop.

19 September 7.30pm Shindig

Western Pub, Western Road, Leicester. Featuring readings from Alison Brakenbury, Shruti Chauhan and Lydia Towsey.

25 September 2.30pm Enchanter

Film poem with live music accompliment at Phoenix Arts. Seating is limited.

1 October Journeys Poems Pop-up Library at Leicester Railway Station

October sees the Everybody’s Reading Festival in Leicester which runs from 1 – 9 October. During the Festival there will be a pop-up library at Leicester Railway Station featuring poems from “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” available as postcards for communters to take away.

3 October 7pm You Are Here Poetry Workshop led by Maria Taylor

Friends Meeting House, Queens Road, Leicester. Booking essential – see brochure. Workshop will look at generating new poems based on memory, places and how abstract emotions can be turned into raw material for poetry along with opportunities to read and learn from poets who write on these themes. Maria has a new pamphlet forthcoming from Happenstance and is Under the Radar’s Reviews Editor.

4 October 2pm Central Library Deborah Tyler-Bennett

Bishop Street, Leicester. Deborah Tyler-Bennett reads from her recent collection, “Napoleon Solo Biscuits,” a volume full of icons from popular culture, from the “Man from UNCLE” to Private Walker in “Dad’s Army” … The reading will be followed by Q and A about writing using popular figures.

4 October 8pm Word! with Malika Booker

Y Theatre, East Street, Leicester £7/£4. Open mic sessions available (arrive at 7pm to book).

5 October 7.30pm Gobsmacked

Upstairs at The Western, Western Road, Leicester £8/£6 booking recommended. Brand new show from performance poet and psychiatric nurse Rob Gee. From the bus driver who gets kidnapped by his own alter ego to the hazards of goalkeeping on tranquillisers, Gobsmacked explores the world of chaos and adventure that lurks behind the veneer of everyday life.

6 October 7pm Leicester Writers’ Club presents Writers breaking out of the Box

At Phoenix Arts, Midland Street, Leicester. £5 for non-members. Finding the words to tell our own stories is always a feat. It can be a game we enjoy playing. Authors from Leicester Writers’ Club discuss how they work creatively with various challenges such as dyslexia, English as a second language or visual impairment. Hear how their stories turn out and join in a Q & A. Guests are most welcome. Light refreshments will be available.

7 October 10am Poetry for Beginners with Karen Powell

Hamilton Library, Maidenwell Avenue, Hamilton, Leicester. Free but booking required – see brochure. No experience necessary, this workshop will show beginners short writing exercises to turn ideas into poems-in-progress and will explore poetic techniques and forms.

7 October 7pm Launch of “Welcome to Leicester”

At the African Caribbean Centre, Maidstone Road, Leicester. Event for the Welcome to
Leicester anthology to be published by Dahlia Publishing featuring readings from the anthology. Poems have been submitted by writers who want to share stories about Leicester to tie in with National Poetry Day’s theme of messages. We will be encouraging you to read the poems alongside the performances so sharing stories about a familiar area and encouraging you to discover more about your neighbourhood.

8 October New Walk Museum

Day of writing-related events at New Walk Museum, including ‘Walls’ and poetry and rap.

8 October 7.30pm Burning Eye Books

Upstairs at the Western, Western Road, Leicester. £8/£6. Burning Eye Books Presents: Ash Dickinson, Lydia Towsey and Andrew ‘Mulletproof’ Graves join us for a scintillating evening of high quality spoken word, comedy and entertainment.

8 October 7.30pm Under Milk Wood

The Guildhall, Guildhall Lane, Leicester. Free, booking essential – see brochure. Performed by Stage Left Theatre Workshop.

9 October John Hegley

at the Guildhall for two events, one child-friendly starting at 4pm and one evening event starting at 7pm.

Throughout the Festival, the Exchange Bar is offering a free cup of tea for a handwritten poem.

The full Everybody’s Reading Festival brochure is available at: http://www.everybodysreading.co.uk/

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Resident Poetry Night, Leicester Writes @ Bru

Hamza Bodhaniya from Bru gave a brief welcome and said the cafe were happy to support literature events. Farhana Shaikh, of Dahlia Publishing, talked about the poetry commission she had organised where the commissioned poet was to write a sequence of five poems inspired by a residency at Bru that would be published and performed during the Leicester Writes Festival. She had been very impressed by the quality of applications and had been pleased to announce Jayne Stanton as Bru’s resident poet.

The cafe, however, is a noisy venue: customer chatter and kitchen noise drifted from downstairs and background music (presumably to muffle/mask crockery and cutlery clatter) was turned down but still audible. Bru is also all hard surfaces with no carpet or soft wallpaper to absorb sounds, noise echoes and rebounds. So a microphone was necessary for performers and the audience have to work at listening.

Jayne explained her poems had arisen from a combination of observations whilst visiting Bru and some online research. She’d focused on the area from the Railway Station and the Clocktower, because the most direct route takes you past Bru. Her first poem, “Time Traveller” was based on the statue of Thomas Cook by the station. “No Fixed Abode” mentions homelessness in the city and how these problems aren’t simply solved by opening empty houses. Some of the characters she met near Bru provided inspiration, one being Maria who sold copies of “The Big Issue” which provided the poem with its title. “Money Talks” looks at the changes in Gallowtree Gate, one of the main shopping areas, particularly after Highcross shopping mall opened. Her fifth residency poem, “Street” was inspired by watching people in Granby Street outside Bru where “a balloon holds its breath.” Then Leicester City Football Club won the premiership so Jayne was asked to write a bonus poem capturing the mood of the city. “The Art of Winning” was inspired by Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Art of Losing”.

Rhetoric Literary Society took to the stage starting with the Guy in the Green Beret, aka Boston ‘The Orator’ Williams who was too shy to give his name this evening, who read “Common Practice” where “words swarm and worm their way into structure” and “Oh Ye Purveyor of Fine Lies” after the audience suggested the EU Referendum as a theme. He confessed to struggling to concentrate when one of his favourite songs was played as background music. “Mind Time” asked “why can’t we enjoy the present for a bit?” which was followed by a satire on the stop and search practices which profile potential offenders based on lazy, racist stereotyping, and ended with the line “I killed the stereotype/ and I dare you to take me away.”

DTP Haughton began with “Rae Town” about whether the place where he was born would remember and honour him in due course, “Am I not Jamaican enough? A little too English?/ I wonder if my name will be remembered.” “Rae Town” was followed by “Too Red”, “Perfect Teeth” – self-deprecatingly “I never had perfect teeth…” so perhaps he is a “little too English”. DTP finished with a poem about keeping up with the Joneses which might be titled “Badges”.

A open mic session rounded off the evening. Jayne Stanton’s calm, measured delivery contrasted with the enthusiastic energy of the Rhetoric Literary Society but all read quality poems that were prepared to look at their subjects with compassion and acute observation.

Poem or Photograph, is there a best response?

A friend commented that he struggled to write a poem in response to an event that he was able to photograph (and here photography is used as a documentary witness, not a deliberately staged photograph such as a model’s photoshoot or promotional photography). It prompted me to think about an occasion where I wanted to take a photograph of a scene but my camera was at the bottom of a rucksack so I committed the scene to memory and wrote “Sunlight: North Dublin” based on the scene instead. I suspect the choice between taking a photograph or writing a poem will be influence by personal preference and whether an individual feels more comfortable/skilled at photography or poetry, but either approach has advantages and disadvantages.

Immediacy

A photograph is contemporary to an event, making it an immediate response. A series of photographs can follow the unfolding of an event. A poet can scribble observational notes, but writing a good poem takes time, so a poem can lack the immediacy offered by a photograph.

Context

A photograph offers a limited view. It is dependent on the stance of the photographer in relation to the event and the limitations of the camera. Does the photograph choose a wide angle to capture a whole crowd, thus losing some of the detail, or zoom in to a specific person or group and lose the sense of scale? A poem can do both. A poem can also move backwards and forwards in time, mentioning what happened before and after a photograph was taken.

Colour

A photograph’s colour can be enhanced or subdued, reduced to monochrome, filtered or given a sepia tint, thus influencing how a viewer sees the event. A poet also acts as an editor, guiding a reader towards a specific response to the event. But when a poet says “cobalt” you know exactly which shade of blue to visualise. Getting two viewers to agree on what specific shade of blue the sky in a photograph is will be a harder task.

Memory

A photograph is both a creator and trigger of memories. It records a scene and later acts as a reminder. A poem is written from memory (whether notes scribbled at the scene or images remembered afterwards) and in creating the poem, some elements of the scene may be omitted or the centre of focus shifts to the sidelines in order to make the poem.

Here’s my poem (from “Yellow Torchlight and the Blues”):

Sunlight: North Dublin

Squint-inducing sunlight
stops me here momentarily
looking up at a tenement block.
Damp babygros, teenagers’ jeans,
mums’ skirts hang on improvised
washing lines on thin balconies.
Each floor sinks into the one below.
Each wall home to graffiti tags.
Rubbish stirs in the breeze.
The sunlight seems stronger
for being squeezed in the gap
between this block and a stark silhouette
of a city-grime encrusted church
putting these lives in shadow.

Would you have preferred the photograph?

“Over Land Over Sea poems for those seeking refuge” launch 7 December 2015

The launch took place on 7 December at the Secular Hall in Leicester from 6.30pm. This event was part of the Human Rights Film Festival. Ambrose Musiyiwa, one of the festival coordinators, started the launch by talking briefly about the festival, one of the highlights of which had been the previous day’s Music Without Borders that had raised funds for MSF.

Rather than give a lengthy introduction to “Over Land Over Sea poems for those seeking refuge,” I began with a selection of the poems because that’s what everyone had come to hear. Poems read (I read for those who weren’t able to be there on the night):

“Song for Guests” Carol Leeming
“Come In” Lydia Towsey
“My Neighbour” Richard Byrt
“What’s in a name?” Penny Jones
“We Walk Together” Sally Jack
“Children of War” Malka al-Haddad

I wanted to start with these poems because the first two were about welcoming. One of the key themes we found with many of the poems submitted was neighbourliness, reaching out to meet refugees as fellow humans. Malka al-Haddad’s poem is a powerful reminder of why people are leaving their homelands.

After this poem, I read an extract from Sir Martyn Poliakoff’s introduction, “…most of my adult life has been spent living in Beeston and being part of the community. So it is hard to ignore the plight of families who are going through traumas today similar to those experienced by my father and grandparents nearly a hundred years ago. This book is a really impressive collection of poetry and prose put together by a group of East Midlanders who care passionately about the lives of others and who are determined to help those less fortunate than themselves. Everyone who has contributed has done so free of charge and all of the proceeds from the sales are intended to help refugees. It is a great demonstration of the spirit which exists in our region. It also shows that compassion is still alive in the UK and that we are willing to welcome new families into our country so that they too can contribute to our communities as soon as they have overcome their dreadful experiences. Until then, we need to help them.”

It is often the case that small kindesses are more memorable than grand gestures, which introduced the second set of poetry readings:

“Blue Folder” Lily Silverman
“Birthdays, May 2015” Merrill Clarke
“The Whiteness” Mariya Pervez
“The Humans are Coming” Siobhan Logan
“What we know” Kerry Featherstone
“Hayride” Roy Marshall
“Yalla” Trevor Wright
“Stories from the Jungle” Emma Lee
“The Man Who Ran Through The Tunnel” Ambrose Musiyiwa

Some of the poems in “Over Land Over Sea” contrast our relative privilege with the little the refugees had and what they’d left behind. Space was also a recurring theme in submissions. Some used the idea of exploring space and alien lands as a metaphor for refugees arriving in foreign lands and being regarded as different. Siobhan Logan’s poem was based on a story of a teenaged refugee who dreamt of becoming an astronaut. Another theme was the journeys undertaken by refugees, and understanding how it must feel to make that journey and the motivation to keep going.

I paused here to talk about editing the anthology which I’ve already blogged about. The poetry readings continued:

“Waiting” Kathleen Bell
“Through the Lens” Liz Byfield
“The Devil and the Deep” Diane Pinnock
“In a small boat” Louisa Humphreys
“Outside the Photograph” Emma Lee
“but one country” Rod Duncan.

Rod Duncan’s poem is a wonderful unifying poem which uses a verbal mirror image to transform a negative view into a postive one. That’s primarily what we were looking for in “Over Land Over Sea poems for those seeking refuge,” a sense of connection, an acknowledgement of tragedy and trauma but without unremitting doom and gloom and a note of hope.

Thanks to all the poets who came along and read their poems and to Ross Bradshaw of Five Leaves who helped run a bookstall on the evening.

“Over Land Over Sea poems for those seeking refuge” is available from Five Leaves Bookshop. The proceeds of sales will go to MSF, Leicester City of Sanctuary and Nottingham Refugee Forum, charities working with refugees. Printing and distributions costs have been paid via a crowdfunding project before publication.

Listening to Music and Writing Poems

Someone recently asked if I listen to music when writing. They knew I used to write music reviews and were looking at a poem called “Analysis of a radio song”. It’s certainly not the only poem I’ve written influenced in some way by music. I’m still in the habit of listening to what I’d told is a lot of music.

However, I prefer not to play music when I’m writing:

Poems have a rhythm and musicality of their own

It’s hard to pay attention to that when you’re listening to another piece of music. It takes a fair amount of discipline and practice to tune out the influence of the music in the background and let the poem find the rhythm that’s right for it.

If I’m reading poems that are not sufficiently engaging and music is being played in the background, I find I end up trying to read the poems to the rhythm of the music. If the poems engage me, the background music is tuned out.

Poems have their own vocabulary

If you’re listening to music with lyrics, it’s not easy not to absorb a word or a phrase from the song you’re listening to. I have very few instrumental pieces. But even an instrumental piece can suggest imagery, which writers instinctively convert to words, and rhythm which might influence a poet to choose a short, staccato word when a longer, smoother one is needed.

Music influences mood

It might help playing the right kind of music to set an ambience before you write, but it’s not sustainable while you write. You might be trying to write a fast-paced thrilling chase, but you need to slow down and get the wording, rhythm and sound-patterning right. Loud, repetitive noise can induce stress: no one writes well under stress.

Repetition

Poems are rarely dashed down in ten minutes flat. Repeatedly playing the one track or album on a loop that suits the mood, rhythm and even vocabulary of the poem will bore you, frustrate the poem and you’ll never finish it.

Distraction

The second stanza’s tying itself in knots, you can’t think of an alternative description for “orange” that would give you a rhyme and the next track’s your favourite…. Or if you’re listening on shuffle, trying to anticpate the next track might become more interesting…

Familiarity

Even favourite tracks can get boring if played on a continuous loop and bored minds wander… This can be a good thing on a first draft but not when you’re editing. If you’re bored of your poem, your readers will be bored too.

Some circumstances where music can be useful:

Setting the mood

Some writers need a buffer between everyday living and time allocated for writing. Some achieve this with a favourite pen/notebook, getting a desk in order before turning on a computer, a few moments’ quiet to create a break between chores and time to write. For some, it might be playing a track or two to focus. It can be hard writing an autumn poem in midsummer or a love poem when you’re anxiously waiting for news or constantly glancing at a to-do list.

Tuning out distraction

Distracting noises are unpredictable interruptions: a ringing phone, the neighbour’s DIY, an unevenly dripping tap, someone alternating periods of silence and whistling with no consistent duration. These can be soothed out by a constant noise which can be tuned out. Workplaces with a radio constantly playing in the background can be more productive than a ‘silent’ workplace with unpredictable interruptions such as a printer starting, a phone call, someone tapping their fingers, a noisy typist.

One morning I had a poem competing with a pneumatic drill from workmen in the street. I was also waiting for a delivery so couldn’t go and write elsewhere. Music helped poetry win.

 

Extended Play short stories from Elastic Press

(“Extended Play” includes one of my stories)

Poets in Solidarity with Refugees: selecting anthology poems

The task was to select around 100 poems from 204 submitted. The poems that didn’t qualify because they were too long or submitted after the deadline had already been eliminated. It really does pay to read submission guidelines and, no, you don’t get round them by saying “I know my poem’s too long or too late but I thought I’d send it anyway.”

The first part of that task was straightforward: read each poem and select the best. There were three of us on an editorial panel and we each read through all the poems and made a selection independently of each other. The best poems generally selected themselves.

  • They had something to say without preaching.
  • They said it without telling the reader what to think.
  • They said it in an engaging way that demonstrated the writers’ understanding of poetic craft and form and it was hard to take anything out or put anything in without substantially changing the poem.
  • They were also poems that hadn’t jumped on the first, obvious response to the topic.
  • They were poems where the poet had thought around the subject and picked a fresh approach.

We had a remit to select poems that shed new light on the refugee experience, writing that was specific rather than general and which was not unremittingly gloomy, harrowing or preachy. We wanted a variety of work to produce an anthology which would interest, engage and surprise readers.

To ensure that variety, we didn’t impose any arbitrary limits, but to include a second or third poem by the same poet, those second or third poems would really have to work to justify their place. This meant some good poems were excluded simply because their author had entered more than one poem and we were trying to ensure a variety of voices, viewpoints and topics.

Selecting the best was the easy part. As the best were selected, they were grouped by theme and an order of contents began to emerge. There was a core of around 90 poems which all three of us had independently agreed on. When we met we discussed the poems that at least one editor had selected that the other(s) hadn’t. We read poems aloud as well as silently from the page. After discussion, some of these were selected. If we were putting together a magazine or blog, we could have stopped there.

However, we wanted a coherent anthology where poems covered all aspects of the refugee experience: their journey, why they’d left, where they were hoping to go and why, compassion and the media reaction, and the poems worked well alongside each other. Some good poems didn’t fit with others selected. There are times when a brilliant soloist has a voice that doesn’t blend with a choir. Without deliberate intention to stand out, when the choir sings, the soloist’s voice can still be heard and it doesn’t feel to the listener as if the choir is singing with one voice. I know I’ve had some poems published in magazines that don’t fit easily into a collection unless I create a separate section just for one poem which undermines the intention of a collection. Again, some good poems got put aside.

At this stage, we’d selected 101 poems. We went back through the ones we’d put aside to check we hadn’t overlooked a poem that was worthy of inclusion and to ensure that we hadn’t excluded one that we could have made fit. We were happy with our initial choice and went back through our selection to check we were happy with the order. We then gave ourselves a couple of days to independently read through our selections again and check we were happy with the order.

We’d met on a Tuesday evening and by Thursday were in complete agreement over our choices. Emails and letters informing those who’d submitted poems were sent out on Friday evening so that everyone would hear at more or less the same time. The anthology is currently being typeset in preparation for printing.