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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…..
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: http://www.cinnamonpress.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/wings-by-Romyanna-Thomas.pdf
Shanta Everington’s debut poetry chapbook, Drowning in Cherryade, is published this month by US-based independent publisher, bedouin books, (http://www.bedouinbooks.com) 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 http://www.shantaeverington.co.uk
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.
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’!
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.
PHASES OF THE MOON
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.
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!’
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.
Found Plays was part of the Royal Court’s ‘Open Court’ season which ran throughout June and July this year, taking mini plays developed from overheard conversations, images, magazine stories and putting them on the theatre’s website or scattering them all over the building to be ‘found’ by the casual visitor. The only proviso was that the short script had to fit on to the back of an envelope – a great challenge then for a writer’s editing skills!
I wrote a short script developed from a conversation I overheard not that long ago one Bank Holiday weekend in my home town and sent it in. A few days later I was thrilled to see ‘Tweet’ up on the website in the company of other little plays which had been ‘found’ just about everywhere including some from familiar names like the great Caryl Churchill. The plays are great fun, some are two lines long; some a page in length and some have just one image which tells a whole story. A simple but wonderful idea.
‘Tweet’ was then chosen as one of a few of the Found Plays to be performed by Uncommon Nonsense at the Royal Court on 11 July – not quite the main stage but hugely exciting all the same!
Hi folks I’m pleased, proud and chuffed to bits to announce that the spring issue of Northwords Now is now available online (and on your e-reader). The print version will be in the usual venues in a few days so, one way or another, some fine reading is heading your way. You’ll also be delighted to hear that short stories by two former A215 students, LM Morgan and Lyndsay Marshall, are featured in this issue. Current students (and ALs) may also be keen to read Mandy Haggith’s article on the joys of self-publishing in the digital world. www.northwordsnow.co.uk