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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‘Tweet’ by Joanne Reardon Lloyd

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!

Royal Court – Found plays

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Northwords Now Spring Issue

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

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Emily Bullock’s short story to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4

Emily’s short story ‘My Girl’, which won first place in the Bristol short story prize in 2011, is due to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Friday 29th March 2013, at 3.45 pm.  It opens a short series of stories celebrating the range of writers and talents attracted to the prize.

In ‘My Girl’, a mother watches from the corner as her daughter fights in a brutal boxing match: ‘My job is to stop the blood, cool her off, wash her down’.  As the punches land, memories come like blows.

Reader: Lynda Rooke
Producer: Sara Davies

Since winning the Bristol short story prize, Emily has been finishing a novel as part of her Creative Writing PhD with the Open University.  Set in 1950s London, it also has a boxing theme.  she is also currently working on a collection of short stories.


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Word on the Street

My novel ‘Word on the Street’ will be out in paperback and ebook in September, published by Cillian Press. They are a new independent based in Manchester and they’re a great team. I was allowed in on a meeting with the cover designer, which is probably every writer’s dream. It was so interesting to be part of a meeting between the three parts of the process – writer, publisher and designer – all working together and looking at things from the different angles. ‘Word on the Street’ is about homelessness, life writing and dermatology. It’s dark comedy, and that was one of the hardest elements to convey in a cover. We didn’t want it to look like a crime or mystery novel, even though it is both of those, and we didn’t want it to look like a romance, even though it is. I’m looking at book covers with new eyes now.

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Mike Johnson’s career in poetry writing

 My poetic praxis principally stems from PhD studies on twentieth-century kinaesthetic and otherwise experimental poetry (e.g. visual poetry, sound poetry, Merz, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E) – what could be called avant-garde Modernism or Postmodernism.  Making it new, both in terms of structure and content, predicated on an unambiguous acknowledgement of living in a scientific epoch, with the machine achieving ubiquity (for good and ill), are significant factors. A chunk of my thesis was published by Routledge and can be found at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/36374179/KURT-MERZ-SCHWITTERS-AESTHETICS-POLITICS-AND-THE-NEGENTROPIC-PRINCIPLE-Mike-Johnson

Early success in being professionally published (including Macmillan and Oxford University Press) was simultaneous with these studies and I found equal amazement and amusement in the fact that the most fecund outlet for my poems began to lie in the general area of children’s  poetry! Naturally, pieces were increasingly targeted to a young and/or crossover audience (which additionally prevented a degree of self-indulgence) and the use of intriguing layouts on the page and an enchantment with language play turned out to be highly effective. So fruitful, in fact, that for much of the 1990s I was regularly asked to contribute poems for anthologies and I had something like 220 poems published. Anthology work has lessened in the twenty-first century, though I still get requests e.g. for a collection celebrating the Olympics, last year. Performing my poems in schools to an eager audience and then getting them to write their own, has been an supplementary joy, over the years.

According to the ALCS (Authors Licensing and Collecting Society) my poetry has  frequently been used in various ways and for diverse purposes, from Canada to Finland to New Zealand and places in between – I’m global! Details of much of my writing can be found at http://poetryzone.woodshed.co.uk/johnson1.htm

An agreeable concomitant of being in so many collections has been that I have subsequently had work selected for educational publications in UK, China, Germany and North America with Ireland forthcoming. I also had a poem published in The Times and I have appeared on several radio stations.

Enjoying the challenge of being inventive is still a major drive. I seek publications and competitions all over the English-speaking world and I recently had success in the Age UK Poetry Competition, eventually performing to Royalty – details of this can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBAwx-K8pLY

I have been lucky with my poetry in that my passion for the imaginative is shared by a number of editors, adult readers and especially children.  In teaching for the Open University and elsewhere, I try to project this passion (within module parameters). To date, I have seen 19 students published professionally – I would dearly love to reach 20 soon.

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Northwords Now on Kindle

Despite my best efforts to keep at least one foot planted in prehistory (I’ve yet to send a text to anyone, let alone work out the nuances of textspeak), it isn’t just my occasional OU blog (and all the online tutoring) that’s throwing yours truly into the bright, digital future. The new edition of Northwords Now is now available in e-reader form as well as good old fashioned paper. It won’t roll into a ball quite so easily but it does mean that there’s now a solution to that annoying moment when readers realise the last copy of Northwords Now has vanished from their local bookshop. Also, we get to extend the reach of the North further still.
The new Kindle edition has been specially put together with an e-reader screen in mind and boasts the same fine mix of fiction, poetry, articles and reviews as the paper magazine (Tom Pow, Kona Macphee, Liz Niven and Ian Stephen all feature in our latest issue). What’s more, we remain free of charge, which these days is no bad thing.
If you’re in any way vexed by how e-readers work and whether you’ll have to fork out precious lucre on a special contraption (you don’t) just visit the Northwords Now website where there are really clear instructions on how to download the magazine to an e-reader, PC, tablet or smartphone.
Cheers and happy reading!

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‘My Mind’s Eye’ short story by Joanne Reardon Lloyd – a collaboration between art and fiction

Joanne Reardon Lloyd was commissioned to write a short story My Mind’s Eye in collaboration with the award-winning artist Iain Andrews as part of the Mythopoeia exhibition running at Warrington Art Gallery and Museum.  The paintings for the exhibition were commissioned in direct response to some of the historic works on show at the Gallery.  The story, published in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, was written in response to both the original paintings and their contemporary responses.   The exhibition is part of the Warrington Contemporary Arts Festival 2012.                    

Here’s how it happened:

In February 2012 I was approached by Iain Andrews to collaborate on a project which involved him creating a series of paintings in response to historic works in the Gallery’s collection.  He asked me to write a short story in response to both his paintings and the original inspirations.

We had originally discussed the idea of writing a fairy story because Andrews’ work is influenced by the idea of ‘myth-making’ and, in particular, the work of Tolkien (the title Mythopoeia is taken from a Tolkien poem).   However, many of the images tended to lend themselves to a more literary and realistic approach and the resulting story became a story about awakening and being in touch with the land as well as a spiritual search for lost things (in the story a bereaved mother searches for her daughter).  This does, in many ways, echo some of Tolkien’s themes but ultimately it is intended to be a story about healing and the tentative first steps towards recovery.   The paintings act as entrances to the story, the characters and images released to start a journey and become narrative. The writing isn’t based on one single painting; it’s based on several images and ideas which recur in each of the paintings – a half glimpsed shadow becomes a ghost, the remnants of a long lost city are a retreat where people come to be healed, musical instruments and voices find their way into the character’s working lives, and water, trees and earth become the elements that sustain them.

All of the original paintings are from the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many of them display dark almost lifeless images. The new paintings breathe life and colour into their stories and the journey is picked up in the short story, a conversation between painter and writer working in reverse in the way that an illustrator might bring their interpretation to a written narrative.   The exhibition forms a dialogue between the paintings and the story in which the viewer is asked take part in the conversation.

Mythopoeia runs from 28 September 2012 to 13 January 2013

Details of all the paintings in the exhibition are available here: BBC News North West

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