Tuesday, 31 March 2009

A little postcard from me...

Here is a sneak preview of the postcards that Flax Books has designed to launch the online anthology Unsaid Undone... which is due to be launched this Thursday 2nd April.

The launch is at The Refreshment Rooms at Carnforth Train Station on Thursday at 8pm. I will be reading alongside short story writers Marita Over, Andrew Michael Hurley and Brindley Hallam Denis (sadly John Siddique can't make it.) Details of the launch here

In celebration of the launch, I am going to send out a postcard to the first ten people to get in touch with me. Email me with your address, any preference to which postcard you might want, and I will send you a little message.

Each postcard has a short short by one of the five writers in the anthology, with a picture of each of our gorgeous faces.

interview at peony moon

I have been interviewed about my writing by poet Michelle McGrane on her wonderful litblog peony moon

She asked me all kinds of questions, about growing up in a Lancashire milltown, my work as a social worker, my creative space, my chapbook Winter Hands, the collection of short shorts I'm working on, and other little curiosities.

It is so interesting being an interviewee... some of her questions made me reflect and dig deep for answers, especially about the differences between flash fiction and prose.

I have only been interviewed once before (on The Short Review), so it felt very freeing knowing that I haven't been asked these questions before...

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Prose Poetry:some definitions...

As so many people seem to struggle with the notion of the 'prose poem', I thought I might start a series of blogs exploring, what is prose poetry?

I thought I might start with a few quotes from other writers about how they define the prose poem:

'an impossible amalgamation of lyric poetry, anecdote, fairy tale, allegory, joke, journal entry, and many other kinds of prose. Prose poems are the culinary equivalent of peasant dishes, like paella and gumbo, which bring together a great variety of ingredients and flavors, and which in the end, thanks to the art of the cook, somehow blend. Except, the parallel is not exact. Prose poetry does not follow a recipe. The dishes it concocts are unpredictable and often vary from poem to poem.'
Charles Simic ~ 'A Long Course'

'A good prose poem is a statement that seeks sanity whilst it's author teeters on the edge of the abyss. The language will be simple, the images so direct, that oftentimes the reader will be torn with recognitions inside himself long before he is conscious of what is happening to him.'
Russell Edson ~ 'Portrait of the Writer as a Fat Man'

'On the map it is precise and rectilinear as a chessboard, though driving past you would hardly notice it, this boundary line or ragged margin, a shallow swale that cups a simple trickle of water, less rill than rivulet, more gully than dell, a tangled ditch grown up throughout with a fearsome assortment of wildflowers and bracken. There is no fence, though here and there a weathered post asserts a former claim, strands of fallen wire taken by the dust. To the left a cornfield carries into the distance, dips and rises to the blue sky, a rolling plain of green and healthy plants aligned in close order, row upon row upon row.
Campbell McGrath 'The Prose Poem' in No Boundaries: Prose Poems by 24 American Poets, edited by Ray Gonzalez.

'Writing a prose poem is a bit like trying to catch a fly in a dark room. The fly probably isn't even there, the fly is inside your head, still, you keep tripping over and bumping into things while in hot pursuit. The prose poem is a burst of language following a collision with a large piece of furniture.'
Charles Simic ~ 'The Poetry of Village Idiots'

He he. Does this help?

Saturday, 28 March 2009

A Review: Stroking The Air

I want to write something about a free book I was sent by Bluechrome Books, one of their giveaways as part of Free Book Fridays on The Blue Blog. The deal is that in exchange for a free book, the recipient writes a short review…

So, for the past two weeks I’ve been dipping into Eileen Carney Hulme’s debut poetry collection, Stroking The Air.

At first glance I felt it might be a rose-tinted collection with its optimisms and breathless romance; a romance that at times feels stereotypical with its rose petals, rainbow kisses and shooting stars.

Reading deeper into this collection, I realised that the collection explores more complex emotional states, and delves into what happens when romance or the illusion of romance, or love itself has gone, and we are left with loss, anger, bitterness, or yearning. Perhaps captured in lines like ‘the salt-sea scars / of your tangled existence’.

Many poems explore the transience of love, particular in ‘The Man with the Plan’ and other poems which allude to a traveller/tinker passing through a seaside town. The following poem, Loss, seems to capture this sense of transience and loss.


The path seemed longer
then before –
the years had gathered
it up
moved it.

I scrambled over rocks
that had forgotten
the lightness
of my touch

and where
once upon a time
you would have been waiting

restless as the wind
that carried us beyond forever

there is only grey
swallowing the day.

Many of these are quite beautiful. ‘Between’, explores the relationship between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, without explicitly saying who the couple is in the poem. It explores facts/fictions of their relationship, how:
Vultures scavenged for the meat,
still they scrap over the bones

There is a wonderful poem about homeless people in a creative writing class: ‘pavement souls/ graze on poetic grassland /and I pick up the crumbs.’

And the poems I was most drawn to, relate to family and a past life/past lives: ‘Work in Progress’, hints at a life before the romance, a flat in Glasgow where ‘I was constantly sheltering /under an umbrella, black’; In ‘Childhood rituals’ an Uncle is ‘resting his lungs from long hours down the pit’; and there are poignant poems about the poet’s relationships with her parents, particularly when they were old/ ill.

I feel, perhaps, this is a collection about how romance and love can take distract us from the harder realities of life, by allowing us to be swept along by optimism, hope and awe. But, perhaps also Stroking The Air reflects on a lost past, tinged with loss and struggle, and this is why the poet treasures now, and takes comfort from immersing her spiritual connection with people and the land.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

A short short: PO Box 332, Salford. Tell me your secrets. I will respond

I have another new short short published on Pygmy Giant. PO Box 332, Salford, Tell me your secrets, I will respond..

I'm having a little run of acceptances at the moment, hurray.

Friday, 20 March 2009

rancho weirdo

My review of Rancho Weirdo by Laura Chester is in the March issue of The Short Review...

Quirky and darkly funny short fiction exploring life on the US/Mexican border with more than 50 beautifully weird drawings by Korean artist Haeri Yoo.

Have a read...

Sunday, 15 March 2009

she imagines... a writing prompt

I had a wonderful afternoon at Formby with artist Gemma Lacey. We collaborated on some poetry and images last year and created a small hand-made book Dusk, which you can see on her site. We are working on a new secret hush hush project involving words and pictures.

I am posting one of our photographs as a writing prompt, and offering a prize for the short short or prose poem I most like.

The prize will be a copy of Catherine Eisner's inventive novel/connected short fiction Sister Morphine.

So, prose poems and short shorts of around 150 words or less in response to this photograph...

Friday, 13 March 2009

oo poems and shorts...

It's been a busy week with not much time for writing or reading. I have had a few snatched minutes here and there for online poems or short shorts.

I liked this funny little short on six sentences by Melanie Browne. It made me laugh.

There are so many journals, writers, blogs with shorts written to a specific remit. Six sentences, 30 words, 50 words. There is something very appealing about reading a piece of short fiction that has been written within some kind of constraint. It forces a certain discipline on the writer that can stretch the imagination, reach for something extraordinary yet keep to a trim word or sentence limit. Writing a perfect little story with contraints takes more creative skill to be successful

Those I have been enjoying are:

Clare Grant's Once Around the Park - She no longer seems to be writing this blog, but I have only just discovered it. These are 30 word prose poems inspired by her walks in the park.

Sarah Salway's 50 word stories which I'm so enjoying.

Drew Gummerson's fifty words. I notice he has a monthly fifty word competition... and might try writing a few of my own 50 word shorts. The theme this month is 'Recession'. He says on his facebook group 50 words that, James Joyce famously once said, 'If I could have done Ulysses in 50 words I would have done. That is my biggest regret.' Oh how this made me laugh.

The other brief read I have sneaked into my week has been Ouroboros Review. I wanted to browse it specifically to read the interview with poet Michelle McGrane. I have read many of Michelle's interviews with writers, and wanted to see how she shaped up as interviewee. She gives some honest, rich and interesting answers to questions in the interview. Quite inspiring.

In response to a question about writing poetry to capture moments of posterity, she says:"My father died on the second day of this year; I wrote the three short poems, 'Father', 'Grief', 'Grace', which comprise 'January Triptych' in the two weeks following his death." - These poems are printed in the magazine after the interview. I remember reading them when they were first posted on her blog. Such beautiful poems, capturing difficult feelings.

I was pleased to discover Ouroboros Review. It's a beautiful online journal containing some wonderful poems. I especially loved the almost breathless poem Spinning by Kelly Cokerham, Rebecca Gethin’s two beautiful poems, Frontier and Chestnut Trees , and the two poems by New Zealand poet, Iain Britton.

In fact I liked Iain Britton's poems so much, I had a browse around the internet and more of his poems in Jacket Magazine and Snorkel.

This happens to me sometimes, I find poems that resonate with me so much that within minutes I have dropped a book into my amazon shopping basket. In this case Iain Britton's Hauled Headfirst into a Leviathan (Cinnamon Press) which I can't wait to get my hands on.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

a prize poem and a short short...

My prose poem After the Accident is the prize poem for February at Applehouse Poetry Workshop.. This is a double excitement, as 'Recovery' was the prize poem for January. I urge people to keep looking in on Applehouse, as Lynne Rees sets some very inspiring writing exercises and prompts.

Also, I have a short short called Mr Ali on Pygmy Giant. It is a while since I had any new shorts published, so am very pleased. They accepted two shorts so the other one should be there soon, as well.

Mr Ali is a short I wrote in February at a Paper Planes workshop which take place at Fuel Cafe/Bar in Withington, Manchester. The next Paper Planes workshop is Saturday 14th May 12-4pm.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

life coaching

Perhaps it's time for me to write about the coaching session I had a couple of weeks ago.

Flax Books, as part of their writer development programme, offer a coaching session to the writers they publish, and as my work is going to be in Unsaid Undone I went to Lancaster for my second meeting with editor/writer and life coach Sarah Hymas.

I've never had any coaching so was unsure exactly how it would work or how it might help. I was sent a questionnaire a couple of weeks before about my writing, what I want to achieve in the next five years with my writing, what strengths I have, what hurdles there might be, and what help I might need. This was fairly easy. Bullet points. Lists. Ideas.

The coaching session itself pretty much followed this format, although there was more focus on me actually making some commitments with myself about what I was going to do, how, and when (for example, exactly how many short shorts I am going to write a week over what period of time). And this was the part I found difficult. Making commitments. Identifying exactly how I might do what I want to do.

This was surprising. I always view myself as a writer who knows where she wants to be and has the means to put this in place. Yes, some confidence issues and some doubts about exactly where and how (and in some cases) exactly what I might achieve. But, all the same, a writer with direction, a (flexible) plan and an understanding of what needs to be done.

But, sitting in a room being asked about the specifics of this and having to write a plan of exactly what I will do. I found this surprisingly hard. I found myself asking internal questions that I couldn't answer:
Exactly what do I want to do with my writing?
Do I have an exact goal(s)?
Are they achieveable/realistic?
Can I plan in a logical/left brain way what for me is mostly illogical/right brain creativity?
If I want to achieve these things why haven't I already done them?

It was interesting. I found it very difficult to plan beyond November, never mind a five year plan.

I made some good minimal commitments with myself about what I will do until November: writing short shorts, getting feedback, keep sending work to magazines, anthologies and competitions, write reviews, approach other magazines I want to write reviews for, carry on with my collaboration with artist Gemma Lacey, see if I/we can branch out into running a workshop or two around combining art/poetry, assess again in November.

I felt a little disappointed in myself that I couldn't give more. I found myself feeling vague.

And have since been reframing this, buy trying to understand my relationship with writing.

I value my writing time as seperate from my work time. It's not essential to earn money from writing. It's about enjoyment and feeling challenged, but not compromised into writing certain things/in a certain way in order to earn money. I like 'seeing what happens'/seeing what opportunities come up as they arise. I want to write a novel at some point/have a brilliant idea for a novel/but am not ready to write it (for whatever reason). There is nothing wrong with this. I feel like writing is an apprenticeship, and I want to enjoy the slow journey, I don't want to rush, be over-ambitious, over-reach myself. I want to be ready to enjoy each stage of my journey, wherever that might lead me. At the moment I love short fiction, short shorts, prose poetry, small presses. I feel at home with them. I don't feel in a rush to write a long and sustained piece of work/get an agent/a big publishing deal with a major publishing house. Yes one day (perhaps). But, it is not about end-goals for me. It's about all the little successes along the way. It's about learning to be a better writer, exploring what I want to write about, and different ways of doing this. It's about small steps.

I want to focus on today and tomorrow at the moment. Not five years time. It feels as though there are many paths to five years time, and I'm not sure exactly how I want to get to five years time or what kind of five years time I actually want.

So, having a life coaching was an interesting process for me. I perhaps realised that even though writing is an absolutely essential and significant part of my future, I'm not ambitious in a particular direction, and am not in a rush.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

and the winner is...

Thank you to the wonderful writers who responded to my writing prompt

I loved all four responses, but decided to give the prize to Charles Carver. I liked the twist in the piece. I also liked the self-conscious narrative, the different strands in the story, and thought it was a brilliant response/interpretation of the photograph.

Broken Pictures

Kids don't want them these days, too old fashioned, too permanent, unlike me. Knocking on the door in the cold, waiting for it to open, I don't even get Saturday's anymore. I'm listening to Hank Williams - My Son Calls Another Man Daddy. You get the picture. Standing outside the park, looking at other people's children, I didn't realize. Someone shouted, I dropped the present. Jesus, I need to get the hell out of here. I need to write something.

The Beast Outside the Park

At the rails, by the road, he sweats and shivers inside his jacket. He's dropped something by his feet. He's shaking. He must go away, but he feels it, always feels it, can't help himself. He turns and runs away, trying to break the pictures in his head.

Charles Carver

Monday, 2 March 2009

Review: Night

By the way, I have a new review on Bookmunch... Elie Wiesel's Night

Quick snippet:

It’s not an easy account to read: murder, brutality, starvation, extreme cold, back-breaking work, illness. It is a short, intensely difficult book to process. The only way I feel I can tackle this review is to give brief insight into what makes Night so important to read.

Bookmunch is a great review site. The editor, writer Pete Wild, is in the process of moving Bookmunch from its main site to this brand new lovely wordpress site. So mine is one of the first reviews to be appear on there. Have a read and let me know what you think.

flannery o connor

Gosh o my gosh. I have just read this amazing article in the New York Times Sunday Book Review. It is a review of a new biography of short story writer and novelist Flannery O Connor.

The review begins:

'Flannery. She liked to drink Coca-Cola mixed with coffee. She gave her mother, Regina, a mule for Mother’s Day. She went to bed at 9 and said she was always glad to get there. After ­Kennedy’s ­assassination she said: “I am sad about the president. But I like the new one.” As a child she sewed outfits for her chickens and wanted to be a ­cartoonist.'

It is such a good read. It is one of the best written reviews I've ever read, the biography sounds fascinating, and Flannery's life... she sounds like such a crazy, eccentric character.

I've never read any of her writing (shame on me) so her Collected Stories is now top of my list.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

my weekend reading

So much to read, not enough time. Certainly not enough time to write about it.

This week I have finished Tania Hershman's wonderful collection The White Road and Other Stories. I have been slowly savouring it over the past two weeks. I love the way she take stories from The New Scientist and explores them in fiction, in a way even the a non-science person can understand. Many of these stories are about strong women, determined women who through their losses - whether these be a husband, their eyesight, their memory, or a pair of Bergdof shoes - find new freedoms. There is surprise, a disturbing edge, and a touch of fairytale in these stories.

Beautifully written, I was most drawn to the short shorts in the collection. Heavy Bones is just beautiful, and made me smile. I am a camera is achingly sad. Mugs is just gorgeous, I love the end image of a couple standing in a back street amongst shards of pottery. And then there is Plaits which I adore. 'My knees said, Marry him. Don't turn round, just decide'.Tania's short shorts capture brief moments that resonate with a lifetime of meaning.

I have also been reading Patricia Debney's collection of prose poemsHow to be a Dragonfly. Anyone who knows me, will be well aware that I'm completely smitten with prose poetry and short shorts. How to be a Dragonfly has been waiting on my bookshelf for a long time, saved for a rainy day perhaps. It was such a delight to read. For a start I love the way these poems sit on the page, a small delightful amount of words surrounded by white space. Then, these prose poems with their intense focus on how human emotion and experience can be explored as a dragonfly, Occam's Razor, a wild orchid, a Japanese beetle or Honeysuckle, for instance.

'Your mother, always in the sun, has died and come back to life who knows how many times, her frugal sweet smelling blooms a constant echo of fuller days' (Honeysuckle

I feel as though I skim-read through the poems, even though I paid attention to each one. Such is the depth in them, I want to give them time to sink in, read them in different lights, experience them grow in me.

Then, Absent Kisses by Frances Gapper skipped to the top of reading pile this week. I read Slippery her short short in Cella's Round Trip last week, and decided to order a copy of Absent Kisses for a bargain 1p from amazon. It arrived almost immediately with a short hand-written note from Frances herself saying 'I hope you like it!' It has taken me an afternoon and a morning to devour it, not able to stop turning the pages, immersing myself in her stories. They are magical, quirky, crazy, disturbing, sad, funny. There are stories about: the relationship between a woman and her lawnmower; a quirky exploration of identity in Pink and Blue; a couple who need to go to marriage guidance on their honeymoon; a mermaid who discovers the joys of mobile phones; a woman who falls in love with her boss who is actually a slug;and stories from the points of view of slugs, seagulls, soon-to-be vampires and she-wolves. Friendship and love, is explored in all its incarnations: heady, obsessive, dangerous, boring, tender, romantic. It is a collection mostly about women, women in love with women, women hating women or men, men who are actually women and it is beautifully written, so real, even the fairytale elements seem real. Magical in a most down-to-earth way.

Absent Kisses has a good 200 pages of brilliant short stories, a complete bargain at 1p plus p&p (go to Amazon if you don't believe me).

So, what's next on my list... more short fiction of course and a little bite of poetry: Edgar Keret, Charles Lambert, Peter Hobbs, a collection of Chinese short shorts, and a lovely free book from Bluechrome that I won in their free book friday...