Tag Archives: poets

A poem about poets

The Poets have Gone Out


The Poets have gone to the hills

Free from domestic nuisance and noise

They can speak of deeper, manly things:

Literature, philosophy, their own most recent work.


Later, in letters they will reflect on

Each other’s excellent, worthwhile thoughts.

Later again, academics will delve,

Ponder these exchanges, write papers on

The insights, teach students, build careers.


All the while, the wives of The Poets

Feed mouths, clean, mend, sew and tend.

Darn the socks of Poets

Make the breakfast of Poets

Raise the offspring of Poets


No record remaining of what they say

Once The Poets have gone out for the day.


(I was thinking very much about Victorian and early twentieth century writers when I wrote this. And a line from T.S. Eliot’s literary criticism that haunts me about how poetry should be dry, hard and manly, and Robert Graves’ obsession with the idea that men are poets and women are to embody the Goddess and be muses, and an array of other such annoyances in that vein.)


Accessible Poetry

I don’t know the figures, but it’s pretty obvious that far more people don’t read poetry by choice, than do read it. People obliged to read it for school can’t be counted in this. By and large, the people writing poetry are people who read poetry. After all, no one does poetry for the fame and glamour, the only realistic motivations involve love or catharsis, or both. Often (but not always) people who write poetry seem to assume that they are writing only for the small number of people who habitually read poetry, and this tends to make poetry less accessible.

I read a collection recently that had a lot of classical references in it. Now, it’s one thing if you’re a Hellenic Pagan writing about Greek Gods for fellow Pagans – this is not about you! Pagans aside, access to ‘classics’ tends to come with a certain kind of education – grammar school, or private. Anyone under forty will probably not have studied Latin at state school. Anyone who went to a secondary modern, or even a regular comprehensive won’t have done much on classical writing. There is a definite class aspect to this, and as most of us are working class, most of us are excluded from any poetry that assumes the reader has had a certain kind of education. I know people whose poetic education was about verse – rhyme and beat, which means everything of the twentieth century ‘classics’ is unfamiliar to them.

Yes, we can self-educate and many of us do. Yes, we can read around, and read widely, and as voraciously as the local library and time will allow. But, if you read alone and for the love of it, you probably won’t find your way to all the literary poets other poets may be inclined to reference. You may well be totally put off long before that happens.

Now, if your poetry includes waves to ancient Rome, or T.S. Eliot, but makes perfect sense to someone who doesn’t know about those things, you’re golden. Those who know can enjoy it, those who don’t know can enjoy it and you may even help someone find their way into other things they hadn’t read before. However, if the sense of the poem depends on knowing who Eurydice was, or being able to recognise what God said to Noah without the context, or something of that ilk, it becomes a locked box for which many readers will never have the keys, and that’s just annoying.

When a poem assumes knowledge the reader does not have, the poet is saying ‘this is not for you.’ I don’t think poetry should be a largely inaccessible thing written by and for a particular kind of educated elite. I think poetry should be for everyone.

Poetry and poetical things

After my recent rant about bad poetry, here are three poetic titles I’ve read in the last week or so that I can heartily recommend. All are accessible, and offer rich, rewarding reading experiences that draw you in rather than leaving you confused and/or alienated.

See With Heart – Janey Colbourne. This is a small collection of poems and photographs reflecting a deep love affair with the natural world. Clarity, simplicity and soul – this is a lovesong to life, joyful and reflective in tone.

More about the book here – https://heartseer.wordpress.com/publications/

And do potter around Janey’s blog and read some of her writing – there’s a great deal of poetry there freely available.



Grief is the Thing with Feathers, by Max Porter

A bit mainstream by my usual book hipster standards, but at the same time, this book gives me hope for the publishing industry because it is so good, and so surprising. It is a novella, by length and narrative shape. Most of its ‘chapters’ sit on the page like poems and deploy language in poetic rather than prose ways. I expect if you’ve studied Ted Hughes, there are lots of literary eggs to enjoy, but if you barely know anything (me) it’s still perfectly readable. It is a deeply emotional book about loss and grief that directly challenges all contemporary notions of how fast we should get over it. Alongside this, is the thing with feathers, the shamanic presence of Crow, helping, hindering, participating… It’s an incredibly powerful piece and it does not swing round to reassuring us that all is well. Death hurts. Death continues to hurt. We learn to live, again. And again.

(Thanks to my father, who gave me this as a birthday present.)

More about the book here http://www.faber.co.uk/shop/fiction/9780571323760-grief-is-the-thing-with-feathers.html

The Immanent Moment, Kevan Manwaring

I probably do get book hipster points for this, because not only is it a poetry collection, but it may not be in print right now – I can only find second hand copies online. It is however an excellent poetry collection – doing all the things I want poetry to do. It’s passionate, intense, and emotionally engaging. the wordcraft is beautiful, but you don’t spend your time thinking ‘gosh that’s terribly clever’ – this is wordsmithing that does not draw attention to itself. Some of the content is deeply personal, but Kevan shares it in a way that creates feelings of empathy, shared humanity and intimacy, rather than casting the reader in an awkwardly voyeuristic role. Alongside this, there’s a love affair with the natural world, with poetry and the work of other poets, and with landscape. Specifically my landscape of Severn and Cotswold, which of course I find especially persuasive!

More on the author’s website – http://www.kevanmanwaring.co.uk/the-immanent-moment.html

Lunatic wandering poets

Ivor Gurney was the first mad poet in my life, a man of dubious mental health long before the First World War (although I can’t imagine being a soldier helped him!). He wandered my native Gloucestershire, taking epic long walks. Laurie Lee’s mad walk across Spain inspired me greatly as a young person. John Clare, another poet who went mad was also a walker, including an epic walk after he escaped from an asylum, and ended up eating grass. Tennyson clearly spent a lot of time out in nature and was seriously depressed, Wordsworth wandered lonely as a cloud (although in practice was walking with his sister and cribbing from her diary). I read a thing a while ago about the frequency of creative people suffering from depression, and I notice that ludicrous walking shows up as an issue for a few of them.

There is something about the rhythm of walking, when you’ve done it for hours, that takes the troubled mind into a trance-like state. Step by step, it knocks destructive rage out of the body. If poetry is one of your vices, then hours of rhythm, moving through landscape, can influence the pattern of your thoughts and align words with movement.

Lunatic walking, as I am increasingly inclined to describe the process, is about going far beyond your comfort zone, in terms of distance, time, energy used, conditions endured and so forth. That’s very personal and so a little restorative lunacy is probably available at whatever level you can just about cope with. For me there is something profoundly spiritual about stepping out of my normal life habits to walk and walk until my mind is entranced and my body exhausted. Moving through landscape, moving with it, affected by its every curve and contour, its every texture and surface, encountering what lives there, learning and speculating about its life and history.

In terms of feeling insane, drowning in stress or depression, thoughts tangled or overworked to incoherence, walking is a balm. It brings life down to one step after another, and after long enough, when tired enough there’s only enough space left in the head for where to put the next foot. This can bring considerable relief. With sun, wind, hills, water and birdsong for company, perspective shifts, everything slows to walking pace and it becomes possible to breathe again. All I have to do is outwalk my own mind, walk it beyond what it can overthink, beyond what it can stress over until I am seeing the trees, the views, feeling the ground at each footfall and not lost inside my own mind. I usually come back calmer, and inspired.

For me, the whole process of excessive and unreasonable walking raises questions about the mad poets. The cause and effect isn’t simple, and what looks like madness – walking ludicrous distances, may in fact be a solution to problems that are less visible. Perhaps there is something in some of us at least, that needs to be pushed to its limits, and that lunatic walking expeditions answer something in that. I have been drunk on an excess of landscape, and the chemistry of a body pushed beyond its limits. I have staggered onwards, thinking about Baudelaire’s instruction to always be drunk, with wine, with poetry or with virtue as you choose. In a mind too trashed for poetry, too angry for virtue and too prone to addiction for wine, being drunk with sky, with exhaustion, and with the rhythm of moving seems like a viable array of good alternatives.

Moon Poets – a review

Reviewing poetry is something I find tricky – poetry is inherently a lot more personal and subjective than other forms. With non-fiction you can say ‘this is solid’ or ‘this is full of dodgy logic’ with confidence, but a poet either speaks to your heart, or they don’t. And if they don’t, they might be able to speak to someone else’s. There are six poets in this literary gathering, four of whom I am entirely enchanted by, and the other two I rather liked.

So, here are some subjective reactions…

Robin Herne’s introduction raises the important question of how we even define Pagan poetry in the first place. For the purposes of this collection, it’s definitely Pagan authors with Pagan themes, but it is interesting to ask how we individually apply the term.

Tiffany Chaney writes intense, personal, emotionally charged poems full of evocative and enticing imagery. Something wild runs through her work. It probably has hooves and there may well be leaves in its hair.

Robin Herne is the master of poetic structures and a true wordsmith. His section includes commentaries on the poems, introducing the stories he’s drawn on. There’s a broad range in his source material and this exquisitely crafted array opens a door into myth.

Lorna Smithers is a poet deeply rooted in the landscape of Preston. In these verses, Paganism is not an abstract concept, but something lived in proximity to the soil. Eco-consciousness has her looking towards the uncertain future as well as reaching towards the mythic past.

Romany Rivers offers the poetry of ritual and devotion. There are inner dramas reflecting more psychological approaches to Paganism. She presents an earthy, tough reality of the mother archetype to counter the more usual over-romanticising of this figure.

Martin Pallot captures details of the natural world and the cycle of the seasons. There is something luminous about the world as seen through his eyes, something inherently animistic and full of life. This is lyrical, musical writing rich with insights.

Beverly Price shows how the mythic can help us make sense of the personal. Her work honours the darker tides, acknowledging the harsher faces of goddess and experience. This is soul naked writing to confront and engage our shadow selves.

Six distinctive, evocative voices. Six different ways of being a Pagan Poet. There is much to inspire in this collection and I can very much recommend it. If you’re tempted, it can be found here: AMAZON US | AMAZON UK

The joys of bad poetry

Good poetry is not easily written, taking skill, discipline, lots of practice and so forth. Bad poetry on the other hand, is available to all of us. We might be naturally bad, or we might hone it deliberately. Bad poetry has the potential for being really funny, especially in a context where the whole point of the exercise is having a giggle. To this end, I am going forth and perpetrating workshops in how to right atrocious poetry, with a view to having a bit of a slam afterwards, and a lot of laughter.

I’ve long been interested in facilitating creativity. One of the biggest blocks to being creative is disbelief. People are often so convinced that they’re going to be rubbish, that they won’t even try. They are going to be rubbish. We all start out rubbish, and no one gets to be good at anything, much less brilliant, without going through the being useless at it stage first. If no one shouldered their innate inability and tried to do things anyway, very little would happen. However, being crap is a demoralising business. Airing your ineptitude publically is intimidating, and that too is a barrier to learning and progressing. So, the aim of doing a bad poetry workshop is in part to give permission to be useless. Here is a space in which, the more awful you are, the better. You cannot possibly fail. All that remains is exactly how awfully funny your dreadful poetry turns out to be.

There’s safety in comedy. When the aim is to make people laugh at you, then whatever it takes you there is going to do it. I’m confident enough that I can give enough pointers that everyone involved has a shot at eliciting a giggle or two.

By going through and picking out lots of different ways to deliberately make poetry awful, we’ll also be doing a thing. Anyone who comes along will at least end up with plenty of features to avoid, which also gives them a better shot at writing some good poetry, if they get the urge. It’s not easy teaching people how to be good poets, but by teaching how to be dreadful, I can at the same time teach how not to be dreadful.

The first airing of my Bad Poetry workshop will be at Steampunk Doncaster next Sunday (16th June). It’s something I’m very happy to roll out other places, too. Playful, inclusive, entertaining, participatory, I think bad poetry workshops and bad poetry slams have a great deal of potential. If you fancy a bit of this kind of silliness at an event, do let me know. If I can get to you and fit it all in, then I will.

New Awe Writing Initiative

This is a shoutout for a project that really caught my imagination. There are very few houses out there publishing poetry and very few decent opportunities for new poets to share their words in meaningful ways. I am also very happy to be sharing a call for work that wants new, surprising things.

NAWI is a project designed to provide a platform for original new voices, writing in English anywhere in the world. We are keen to promote writing that dazzles and inspires – writing that moves and motivates, be it poetry, prose fiction, life-writing or essay … virtually any written form you can think of – as long as it makes us go ‘Wow!’ We want work which makes the reader look at the familiar in an unfamiliar way; that makes us appreciate the world we live in, who we are, and what we can be. The poems can be a sequence; and the prose certainly needs to be complete (not a fragment). Both needs to unpublished and original. This will be collected into an (which could become an annual initiative if it works). NAWI opens 21 December 2012 and closes June 21 2013. The anthology will be published late October 2013, to celebrate (a special showcase will be arranged). Contributors will be invited to perform at a launch celebration in Stroud, England (and possibly other launch events). Authors who really impress us might be asked to develop a proposal for a single- author project at a later date. Entry to the anthology will not guarantee publication. The judges’ (3 published authors/creative writing teachers, TBA) decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into. We are hoping to present a cross-section of voices, styles and genres. The entry has to be in UK English, either 3 poems (up to 100 lines); or between 1000-3000 words, unpublished, and sent with title, author, address and a 50 word biography to: NAWI, 78 Daisybank, Bisley Rd, Stroud, Glos, GL5 1HG, along with a £10 reading fee (either a cheque made payable to ‘Awen Publications’ or Paypal Transaction ID); and an SAE if you want the work returned. Shortlisted winners will be notified by 1 August 2013. Authors will retain copyright of their work, but will allow their work to be used to promote the anthology. Contributors will receive a complimentary copy, and can purchase further copies at 50%. Their profile will be added to the Awen site. Profits will go towards future NAWI anthologies. Editorial preference will be given to previously unpublished writers (of merit); to daring, new voices, rather than well-established ones.

Follow link here http://www.awenpublications.co.uk/new_awe.html

(If you have a good thing that needs more visibility, feel free to contact me, I’m always happy to give blog space to good stuff, and if relevant will also forward it to egroups or contacts. I want there to be more good stuff, I am dedicating to stepping up in any way I can, to help raise awareness, build audiences for other people, build a market for work with soul and integrity.)