Ink Pantry interview with Mike Johnson on visual poetry

An interview with Mike Johnson, on the subject of visual poetry, was published in the Ink Pantry blog on 14 June 2014.  Ink Pantry Publishing was founded by a group of former students ‘whose paths crossed while studying Creative Writing with the Open University’.

In discussion, Mike explains that ‘visual poetry draws upon both visual and verbal semiotic modes’, making it ‘an example of multimodality’.  As an illustration, he cites his visual poem entitled ‘Sunset’, in which ‘variations in the word ‘horizon, and the letter ‘O’, which feature in a different position in each line, … are potentially verbally, visually, and kinaesthetically meaningful, as they simulate the sun’s movement caused by the earth’s rotations.’

Mike is currently revising and assembling work for a crossover collection, challenging genre and generational boundaries, for publication later this year.

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Joanna Barnden’s novel trilogy to be published by Pan Macmillan

After years of trying, Joanna Barnden, tutor on A215 and A363 has just signed a deal with Pan Macmillan for the publication of her trilogy The Queens of the Conquest under the pen name of Joanna Courtney. The first book, The Half Year Queen, is about Edyth, wife of King Harold of England in the fated run up to 1066 and will be published in October 2015. The second two are yet to be written but should (with some ferocious research and writing) be published in 2016 and 2017. Book Two of the trilogy will be The Last Viking Queen about Elizaveta, Russian Princess and wife of Harald Hadrada who was defeated by King Harold at Stamford Bridge just 2 weeks before Hastings. The final book, The Conqueror’s Queen, will be about Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the Conqueror, the ultimate victor in 1066. The books seek to look at life in these tumultuous times from a woman’s perspective and are aimed as commercial fiction. Indeed, in the press release, published in The Bookseller on May 14th, Joanna’s brand new editor Natasha Harding described the trilogy as “hugely impressive with a strong commercial appeal – perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory”. 

Joanna has written short stories and serials for the women’s magazines for over 10 years but has always sought to publish novels. She secured her agent, Kate Shaw of The Viney Agency, 4 years ago but despite some wonderful feedback, two books were rejected by the industry before this one, finally, found a home. She puts much of this final success down to sheer bloody-mindedness and a refusal to give up honing her craft and trying to find someone to love the Anglo-Saxon period as much as she does. Now Macmillan are backing her all the way and the next battle is reaching an audience who will love The Queens of the Conquest too.

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Heavenly Bodies – a constellation of poetry

During the first three weeks of 2014, eighty eight poets around the world started writing a poem – some were veterans with several collections to their name, some only at the start of their careers, some were writing with English as their mother tongue, others writing it as a foreign language…all writing under the same sky with eighty eight constellations as their inspirations. Some of the poems are formal, some are freewheeling but what they all have in common is that all are rooted on earth looking up to the stars.
This is the third collaborative anthology from the innovative poetry press Beautiful Dragons and, so far, the most ambitious. Previous collections – Solstice (2012) and The Witching Hour (2013) have focused on the summer solstice and Walpurgis Night respectively. Beautiful Dragons anthologies are unique collections, created in the spirit of collaboration with all poems being written, wherever the poet is in the world, at the same time.
A handful of the poets are OU Creative Writing tutors – Joanne Reardon Lloyd, Morgaine Merch Lleuad, Nessa O’Mahony and Anne Caldwell – and one of the poets was a student in creative writing at the OU, Dan Stathers. The founder of Beautiful Dragons and editor of the anthology is a former OU tutor herself, the award winning poet, Rebecca Bilkau whose first collection Weather Notes was published by Oversteps Books in 2012. The anthology was launched in Lancaster on Wednesday 30 April 2014 and will be available to buy very shortly…..
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Romy Thomas wins flash fiction mini-competition

Romy Thomas’s short story ‘Wings’ is the joint winner of the recent Cinnamon Press mini-competition – based on the theme of ‘changes’.

The competition judges described Romy’s story as follows: ‘Romyanna Thomas’s piece is a succinct and powerful narrative; from its shocking first sentence to the raw poignancy of the ending the whole piece sustains a single metaphor with superb control.’

You can read Romy’s story here:

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Debut poetry chapbook from Shanta Everington

Shanta Everington’s debut poetry chapbook, Drowning in Cherryade, is published this month by US-based independent publisher, bedouin books, ( after winning their annual poetry chapbook competition.

Editor Michael D’Alessandro says, ‘Drowning in Cherryade conjures candy-colored scenes of youth mirrored in an examination of memories. Overwhelmed by first experiences, the poems are at once told with a resignedness to their outcomes, while maintaining a perspective of awkward fumbling for an anchor. This parallax affect helps complete the pictures presented here with a quick wit, a rooted voice and a few playful surprises.’ 


Founded in 2003, bedouin books’ publishing philosophy is to give emerging and established writers legitimate quality collections of their work in bound form as a springboard to their careers.

Shanta has an MA in Creative Writing with Distinction from MMU and teaches creative writing module A215. In addition to Drowning in Cherryade, she has published three novels and two non-fiction books. Visit

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Northwords Now

Hi folks

After the usual bout of editorial stress, I’m pleased to announce that the autumn issue of Northwords Now has now hit the digital highway as well as the streets of Scotland. You can visit our website and feast on some fine stories and poems. As editor I especially recommend the audio link to the poetry of Roseanne Watt. For those of you who’ve yet to listen to a poem in Shetlandic, ‘Saat i da Blöd’ is a real treat for the ears.


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Kevan Manwaring: creating a spoken word peformance to promote a new book

I began performing at the same time I began writing in earnest – back in 1991 – and so it is second nature to me to create a spoken word show based upon my latest publication, Northamptonshire Folk Tales (The History Press, 2013). When I started out I quickly learnt getting folk to read your poetry was like asking them to do your Tax Return (and my early efforts were probably as excruciating), and so I realised that to ‘get my work out there’, I literally had to step up to the mark (or the mic). I started performing at ‘open mic’ events in my old home town, Northampton – badly to begin with, making all the classic beginner mistakes (reading from a text; speaking too low or too fast; avoiding eye contact with the audience; apologising, etc). In a live performance you quickly ascertain what works and what doesn’t. Instant feedback is visceral (clapping, tears, laughter), useful, but nerve-wracking. I learnt (the hard way) that the more effort you put into a ‘reading’, the more the audience appreciate it. Take the effort to learn it by heart, and the audience will generally give you the time of day. Suddenly, your performance has gone up several notches: there’s no paper-barrier between you and the audience; you can make eye-contact; you can use both hands for gesture… All you have to do is remember it!

Fast forward several years – I became Bard of Bath after winning the local eisteddfod in that city back in 1998. I started trying my hand at storytelling – even more terrifying, it seemed, as there’s no ‘script’, no safety net. The storyteller performers extempoire, or completely improvises. I became a professional storyteller in 2000 when I went freelance, getting bookings in schools, libraries, art centres, museums, and so on. I have since performed across Britain, live on BBC TV, and abroad.

After moving to Stroud in late 2010 I worked on a commission for The History Press – a collection of folk tales, as part of their county-by-county series. I opted for Oxfordshire – the ‘bridging’ county between my East Midlands roots and West Country home. For that I collected (and rewrote in my own words) 40 tales – the idea is that each has to be ‘performable’, that is not a verbatim performance script, but written with a sense of orality and aurality. This is where my experience as a spoken word performer cross-fertilised with that of my writing practice. To ‘test’ the material I performed it, whenever possible, to a live audience, before committing it to paper. After the book came out I toured it in venues across Oxfordshire to diverse audiences (Woodstock Bookshop; Alice Day, Guildhall Oxford; Beatnik Albion Bookshop; Oxford Folk Weekend).

Encouraged by the success of Oxfordshire Folk Tales, I wrote a second collection, drawing upon tales from my old home county of Northamptonshire. This was published in October 2013. I am now gearing up for performances based upon this latest book, but I also wanted to offer something different. Looking at my two books I decided I wanted to create a show based upon both. What could link them, beyond the folk tale genre? Earlier this year I took part in a project for Bath Literature Festival – based upon the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (Roud; Bishop 2012), local storytellers were asked to re-interpret them as narratives. The show I performed in was entitled rather memorably as ‘Tales of Lust, Infidelity and Bad Living’. Inspired by this, and by the many theme-based shows I have helped co-create with my Bath-and-Stroud-based storytelling group, Fire Springs, over the years, I decided to find a thematic link for the show, and thus was born ‘The Rose and the Snake’, partly inspired by the flowers associated with the respective counties, but also by the sexual politics which run throughout the material (as symbolised by my leitmotifs). Some stories are based on what are called Murder Ballads – and so love, death, revenge, and bizarre magical shenanigans are common tropes. This new show would be a collaboration with folksinger Chantelle Smith, who would complement my stories with ballads, thereby providing sonic texture, i.e. different registers of voice. Previously, when performing solo, I have achieved this by switching from story to poetry (I am no singer, but I am an experienced performance poet). Working with a musician widens out the appeal of the show tremendously. It is hard work, even for a word-junkie like me, to sit through a whole evening of poetry; or long stories, without variation. At sixty minutes, our show is intentionally lean and mean. With over 80 stories and countless ballads to choose from, the different configurations of material are vast – thus offering the possibility of numerous ‘sets’, differentiated according to the time of year, venue, and nature of the event. The Rose and The Snake is now available for ‘weddings, barmitzvahs and christenings’!

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Mike Johnson’s visual poetry displayed

I recently had a couple of visual poems displayed in a Swindon Art Gallery, under the auspices of ‘Domestic Cherry’ magazine and Swindon Artsite. Sometime before that, I had a number of poems displayed,  for a month, in Corsham Library, under the auspices of the Corsham Poetry Society.  A selection of three of these displayed poems are discussed here: I thought it would be interesting to explore their informing principles, which directly led to their process of composition, with you.

Poems are an interplay of linguistic and additional semiotic elements e.g. white space, varying where lines start and end, sound  echoes and so on. This entails that meaning, shape and sound all contribute to a poem’s spectrum of effects. I like to aim at quite minimal pieces, to allow the reader maximum imaginative freedom.

I am attracted to poems, then, that stretch the spectrum of elements i.e. when the shape goes beyond  linear norms, making an instant impact, when the sounds move into the realm of noise, including  onomatopoeia (less prevalent in these examples, perhaps, but there). Finally, foregrounded kinaesthetics is usually present my poems – reading a poem, you move along and down in a rather different manner to that in which you read prose and I try to extend this fact. These verbivisivoco effects, then, underlie much of my work.

Sadly (or, alternatively, happily!) children’s poetry has embraced such techniques rather more than adult poetry, though I do feel that the above poems exist in a crossover space, one in which both adults and children can find equal pleasure. I  certainly got interesting responses from adults, when the poems were on display. Additionally, both adults and children like the poems, judging by responses when I have performed them. All three poems have appeared in publications for children and ‘Dad, the amateur hypnotist’ won  the Thynks adult poetry competition in 2012.

To stop this brief exploration becoming too long, I would  briefly like to point out some factors in the above poems, which helped me to realize them.


In this poem I have used punctuation symbols and the letter O to visually represent phases of the moon, in the order in which they occur. The kinaesthetic element of reading  across and down the page is added to by the visual representation of the moon changing shape. The use of blank space as an element of meaning  completes the action of the poem.  I love the idea of nothing meaning something.

There are also quite conventional elements here,  of course, such as alliteration on ‘g’ and full rhyme. 





The visual element here is foregrounded i.e. the poem is set out in the shape of an iceberg, with h being included, to suggest the sea. Both these elements add subtle degrees of kinaesthesis, not to mention the notion that the iceberg and the Titanic have collided. However, the poem could also be set-out in a more conventional manner and, thus, become amenable to more traditional analysis: 






and so on.


This poem takes the kinaesthetic element further still, in that you have to mimic the swinging of the hypnotist’s watch, as you read the poem. There are onomatopoeic elements too, in both ‘click’ and ‘miaow’. When I perform this poem, I actually click my fingers for the ‘click’. Many children and adults have actually supplied it for me, unasked, at performances. 

I hope this very short exploration has been appealing and I would like to end with one final visual poem, which I always send my students, as inspiration, when they start the poetry blocks.

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Hometown tales – forthcoming from Kevan Manwaring

Kevan says: I am excited about the forthcoming publication of my second collection for The History Press, Northamptonshire Folk Tales. This has been a very special book for me to write – as I retrod my old stomping ground, revisiting my childhood haunts, and discovering new treasures in my original home county. I will be touring a set of the tales over the next few months and will be looking for venues and events in Northamptonshire to bring it to.

Publicity from The History Press describes the book as follows: ‘Take a walk through this county in the heart of England in the entertaining company of a local storyteller. Kevan Manwaring, born and raised in Northampton, regales you with tales ancient and modern. Learn how the farmer outwitted the bogle; how a Queen who lost her head; the Great Fire of Northampton; and the last execution of witches in England. Along the way you will meet incredible characters from history and myth: Boudicca, St Patrick, Robin Hood and Hereward the Wake, Captain Slash, Dionysia the female knight, beasts and angels, cobblers and kings. From fairies to wolves, these illustrated tales are ideal to be read out loud or used as a source book for your own performances.

Northamptonshire Folk Tales is a great companion for any visit to the area, for fascinating days out and for discovering exciting treasures on your doorstep. The ‘Rose of the Shires’ will open before you!’

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Emily Bullock’s novel to be published by Myriad Editions

Emily Bullock’s début novel, The Longest Fight is to be published by Brighton-based independent publisher, Myriad Editions, in early 2014.  It is the first signing for fiction editor Holly Ainley, who acquired world English rights from agent Ed Wilson at Johnson and Alcock.

Set in pre-and post-WW2 London, The Longest Fight ‘expertly interweaves the gritty, violent world of boxing with a startlingly poignant exploration of love and family loyalty.  Drawing on influences as diverse as Graham Green, Sarah Waters and F X Toole, this is the story of one man’s struggle to overcome the mistakes and tragedies of his past.’

The Longest Fight is a beautiful and brutal début,’ says Ainley of her first acquisition.  ‘Hailing from a family of South London boxers and inspired by her bare-knuckle fighting grandfather, Emily Bullock’s voice rings with authenticity.  She proudly shines a light on the strength of relationships formed in this violent, ambitious, male-dominated world.  A careful combination of historical research and a natural desire to open readers’ eyes to this moment in time make her an irresistible new talent.’

Emily has an MA in Creative Writing from UEA and teaches creative writing modules A215 and A363 for the Open University.  She has been writing The Longest Fight as part of her PhD with the OU.

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