Book review: Perennial, by Ben Armstrong

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In science fiction, space and time warps are a commonplace. They are used for rapid journeys around the galaxy, or for travel through time. But there is an integer at which fact and fiction collide – where the relativity of space-time comes into play – and it at this point, the writer suggests, we might find poetry.

Ben Armstrong’s searing debut poetry collection, Perennial, is laced with this relativity; a sense of warped perspectives as different narrative voices walk us through different places and different times – with different poems separated within themselves and sometimes from each other by a clear sense of distance. Distance between one object and another; between one lover and another; between the past and present; between a remembered thought and feeling and a prediction of a future life.

Yet while the idea of the space (either physical or fourth dimensional) between two set points helps drive the core narrative of the collection, Armstrong’s poetry stridently ignores rules of Euclidean geometry – embracing instead the science fiction (or fact – as Hawkin and Einstein would insist) of space-time warps and jumps. Shifts in tense, and perspectives, blur lines, all the while experimental formal structures breakdown boundaries and conventions, helping the reader rearrange language in unique and surprising ways.

And by jove does this surprise you. From the greeting that opens the poem to the sad vision of a remembered goodbye, Perennial takes us on a ride infused both with comedy and tragedy, seeped with allusions and allegory that are literary, modern, classical, punk, political and pop-culture, using faux-satirical homages to classical literary figures and Homeric journeys, as well as very specific moments in scenes that collide together like atoms in a collapsing neutron star.

Take, for example, the shift in tone and style between ‘old bar’ and ‘Coca Cola Focus Group’. The former: a rather beautiful meditation on loneliness and the risks of being consumed by one’s memories. The latter: an extremely fun, engaging, and wry skit on the failings of modern capitalism. Both are excellent – but what the hell are they doing beside one another? In the large hadron collider that is Perennial, Armstrong challenges the reader to embrace the unpredictability and recognise the order within the otherwise apparent disorder. As Dr Ian Malcolm would say in sci-fi classic Jurassic Park, “it doesn’t obey set patterns or rules […] it’s chaos” (to be clear: in Perennial, the chaos is very much a good thing – not one likely to involve the risk of being eaten by dinosaurs, though probably best never to rule that option out completely).

In short, Perennial sets the highest of high bars as a debut collection and firmly marks Armstrong out as a poet to keep an eye on. Not least because his work reminds us just how damn fun poetry can be.

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54 Writing competitions for 2019

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2018 has been lots of things to lots of people. For the Prime Minister of the UK, Theresa May, for example, it was an opportunity to see just how terrible a job one could do and still remain employed – even going to the extent of deporting her own citizens for no reason other than the colour of their skin. And, while May’s corpse-like grip on power continues to hold – amid a world increasingly descending into chaos and catastrophic environmental breakdown – many writers have been feverishly attempting to finish their masterpieces before the world officially ends.

As things currently stand, however, we are still alive (we think), and so that means we’re rapidly hurtling toward another year and another suite of opportunities to get your writing out there and published.

For our part here at Nothing in the Rulebook, we’ll endeavour to ensure 2019 is filled with a multitude of writerly insights and discussion, and (just for you) we’ve compiled a list of upcoming writing competitions scheduled for the year ahead.

So, in addition to our list of places that are always open for submissions, as well as places to submit flash fiction, we are thoroughly chuffed to bring you this valuable writing resource you can use to get your writing into the right places.

Included below are details about word counts, deadlines and direct links to each event.

If you’d like to add a writing competition to our list then please feel free to contact us!

1. The James Knudsen prize for fiction

US$1,000 in prize money awaits for writers of short stories no longer than 7,500 words in length. There’s a US$20 entry fee.

2. The Fresher Writing Prize

This year’s Fresher Writing Prize invites you to send in poems and short stories inspired by their theme of Peace.

There is an entry fee of £7 and a maximum word limit of 3000. Winners receive a £200 cash prize and feedback on their work.

3. Bath Novella in Flash award

Your novella-in-flash submission must be in between 6,000 and 18,000 words long. Individual flashes (or chapters) within the novella should not be more than 1000 words long.

£300 prize for the winner, two runner-up prizes of £100 plus publication in a one-volume three-novella collection. Each published author receives five copies.

Deadline for entries is January 14th 2019.

4. The Cambridge Short Story Prize

International short story competition with a £1750 prize fund. Submit short stories between 2000 – 3000 words. It costs £8 to enter and is free to residents of Bangladesh. Deadline is January 15th 2019.

5. Fiction Factory short story competition 

All types of writing are welcome for this writing contest with prizes up to £150 for the winners. 3000 words max and a fee of £6 to enter.

6. The Caine Prize for African Writing

For published African authors of fiction. Must be over 3000 words in length and written for adults. Advisable length for the stories is between 3000 and 10,000 words. There is a cash prize of £10,000 and works must be written in or translated into English.

Deadline for submissions is January 31st.

7. Masters Review Winter Short Story Award

The Masters Review Winter Short Story Award is prize that recognises the best fiction from today’s emerging writers. The winning story will be awarded US$3000 and publication online. Second and third place stories will be awarded publication and US$300 and US$200 respectively.

There is an entry fee of US$20 and a maximum word count of 7000. Deadline for entries is January 31st 2019.

8. The Screw Turn Flash Fiction Contest

This contest seeks the finest work that incorporates the uncanny. Ghost stories are welcome, of course—but your submission may involve any paranormal or supernatural theme, as well as magic realism. What they’re looking for is superb writing, fresh perspectives, and maybe a few surprises.

The maximum word count is 1000 and there is a US$10 fee to enter for your chance to win US$500.

9. The Fantastica Prize

Fantastica invites Australian and New Zealand writers to submit science fiction manuscripts for consideration.

Manuscripts must be at least 30,000 words in length and a publishing contract will be offered to the winners along with $2000 in prize money. Deadline for entries is January 31st.

10. New Welsh Writing Awards 2019

The New Welsh Writing Awards 2018, run by New Welsh Review in association with Aberystwyth University and AmeriCymru is open for entries.

Now in its fifth year, the Awards were set up to champion the best short-form writing in English

Each category winner will receive £1,000 cash, e-publication by New Welsh Review on their New Welsh Rarebyte imprint and a positive critique by leading literary agent Cathryn Summerhayes at Curtis Brown. Subsequent prizes include residential courses and weekend breaks.

Entries close at midnight on 4th February 2018.

11. Newcastle Short Story Award 2019

One for Australian writers. First prize is AU$2000. The deadline for submissions is  4th February 2018 and the entry fee is AU$15. The maximum word limit is 2000 words, which includes both titles and any subheadings.

12. Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2019 Short Story Competition

First prize receives £500 and a place on an Arvon residential writing course of your choice, as well as publication of your story on the W&A website. Closing date for writing submissions is Tuesday February 13th 2017 and all submissions must be unpublished prose of 2000 words or fewer.

13. Desperate Literature

The aim of the Desperate Literature Short Fiction Prize is both to celebrate the best of new short fiction and to give winners the most visibility possible for their writing.

Max word count is 2000 and there is an entry fee of €20 to enter. Winners will receive €1000.

14. Spotlight Books Competition

Inventive. Hidden. Compelling. Unrecognised. Challenging. Unheard. Beautiful. Ambitious.

Creative Future, Myriad Editions and New Writing South seek the best poets and fiction writers from under-represented backgrounds—those who face barriers due to mental health, disability, identity or social circumstance.

Six writers will be selected and given one-to-one editorial support to shape their manuscript. The six writers will be published in individual small books with international distribution.

There is no fee to enter; winner received publication. Deadline for entries is 24th February 2019.

15. The Margery Allingham Short Story Competition

The Margery Allingham Short Story Competition is open until February 28, 2019.

Submit stories up to 3,500 words. Your story should fit into crime writer Margery’s definition of what makes a great story: “The Mystery remains box-shaped, at once a prison and a refuge. Its four walls are, roughly, a Crime, a Mystery, an Enquiry and a Conclusion with an Element of Satisfaction in it.”

Prize: £500 plus two weekend passes to Crimefest 2019 and a selection of Margery Allingham books.

Entry Fee: £12

16. 1000 word writing challenge

1000 words on a set theme. £5 to enter for a chance to win £100. Deadline for entries is February 28th 2019.

17. Scottish Arts Club Short Story Prize

First things first; you DO NOT have to be Scottish to enter this writing contest. Stories should be 2,000 words or less and may be on any topic.

There’s an entry fee of £10 and a maximum word limit of 2000. Winners receive £1000.

Deadline 28th February 2019.

18. An Axe to Grind Flash Fiction contest

Write a story in fewer than 1000 words for a chance to win US$200.

US$5 to enter. Deadline is 28th February 2019.

19. The Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize

The Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize is a writing competition sponsored by the stage and radio series Selected Shorts.

Submissions must be no more than 750 words long and there is a US$25 fee to enter.

The deadline for entries is March 1st 2019.

20. Ginosko Literary Journal 2019 Flash Fiction contest

You can submit two pieces of flash fiction of no more than 800 words each to the  Ginosko Flash Fiction Contest, which closes on the 1st March 2019.

Prizes include US$ 500 and publication on the Ginosko Literary Journal website.

The entry fee is US$ 5.

21. Bridgend Writing contest 2019

Stories on a theme of your own choice, between 1500 to 1800 words.

Winner receives £200.

The deadline for entries is March 1st 2019 and there is a £5 entry fee.

22. Eyelands 2nd International Flash Fiction Contest

The theme for this year’s Eyelands flash fiction prize is: Spring

 The contest runs from January 10th through March 20th, 2019

First prize: A week holiday at Three Rock Writers resort οn the island of Crete

Other prize winners and shortlisted entries receive publication. There is an entry fee of €10.

23. Nelligan Prize

International writing prize for writers of all stripes and nationalities. Deadline is March 14th, 2019 for submissions of 12,500 words or less. Entry fee is US$15 and first prize is US$2000.

24. The Killer Nashville Claymore Award

Every year, the Killer Nashville Claymore Award assists new and rebranding English-language fiction authors get published, including possible agent representation, book advances, editor deals, and movie and television sales.

The contest is limited to only the first 50 double-spaced pages of unpublished English-language manuscripts containing elements of thriller, mystery, crime, or suspense NOT currently under contract.

The entry fee is US$40 and the deadline for submissions is April 1st 2019.

25. New Deal Writing Competition 2019

The New Deal Writing Competition is a short story competition where the writer is asked to use a painting chosen by the staff of GVCA as inspiration for their short story.

This year’s painting is “Fountain, Central Park” by Jacques Zucker.

There is an entry fee of US$5 to enter and a maximum word limit of 10,000. Top prize receives US$200.

26. The Bath Short Story Award

An award for local, national and international writers. Closing date for submissions is April 15th, 2019. Short stories of up to 2200 words in all genres and styles are welcome – there is no minimum word limit. First prize receives £1000 and there is also a local prize for Bath residents, as well as The Acorn Award of £50 for unpublished writers of fiction. Entry fee is £8.

27. Momaya short story competition

Any subject and style is welcome for the annual Momaya Short Story Competition.  While entries for the Momaya Competition.

Submit your short story (3,000 word limit) and entry fee of £12 /US$15 by 30 April 2019 in order to compete for prize money and publication in the Momaya Annual Review 2019.

28. Adventure Writers Short Story Competition 2019

This is an international competition and there is just one category: Adventure. The organisers accept traditionally published, e-published and manuscript novels. There is a US$1000 cash prize. A $25 entry fee is charged, and all proceeds go to promoting the contest, the finalists and the winner.  The deadline for entries is 30th April 2019.

Adventure is out there!

29. Adventure Writers Writing Competition 2019

Adventure Writers are an international writing competition now in their ninth year, and have just one category: Adventure.

They accept traditionally published, epublished and manuscript novels. There is a US$ 1000 cash prize for the winners.

A US$25 entry fee is charged, and all proceeds go to promoting the contest, the finalists and the winner.

Deadline for entries is 30th April 2019.

30. The Bristol Short Story Prize

Entries are welcomed for unpublished stories written in English. The deadline for submissions is 1st May 2019 and stories can be on any theme or subject. Maximum length of 4000 words. An £8 entry fee and first prize is £1000. There are also 17 further prizes of £100 for all shortlisted writers.

31. Writer’s Digest Competition

The winner of this annual award will receive US$5000 and an interview in Writer’s Digest. There are a variety of different award categories so it’s best to check the website for details. Deadline is May 6th 2019.

32. Raymond Carver Contest

The Raymond Carver Short Story Contest is one of the most renowned fiction contests in the world. Featuring prominent guest judges and offering US$1500 across five prizes, the contest delivers exciting new fiction from writers all over the world. The contest opens each year April 1 – May 15 and prizewinners are published in their annual fall issue in October. Usual entry fee of US$17.

33. Lorian Hemingway Short Story Prize

Writers of short fiction may now enter the 2019 Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition. The competition has a thirty-nine year history of literary excellence, and Lorian Hemingway and her small judging panel are dedicated to enthusiastically supporting the efforts and talent of writers of short fiction whose voices have yet to be heard.

Deadline is 15th May 2019. Max word count is 3500, entry fee is US$15 and a prize of US$2500 is available.

34. Bridport Prize

International open competition founded in 1973. Four categories in poetry (max 42 lines); short story (max 5,000 words); flash fiction (max 250 words) and the Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award for a First Novel (max 8,000 words from opening chapters plus 300 word synopsis).

Deadline usually looms towards the end of May each year.

Entry fees and prizes vary depending on category. Full information about this world-renowned competition can be found online.

35. Bath Novel Award

The Bath Novel Award 2018 is an international prize for unpublished and self-published novelists. The winner will receive £2,500, with manuscript feedback and literary agent introductions for those shortlisted. In addition, the writer of the most promising longlisted novel will receive a free place on an online editing course with Cornerstones Literary Consultancy.

Submit your first 5000 words along with a one page synopsis by 2nd June 2019.

There is an entry fee of £25.

36. Narrative Prize

The Narrative Prize is awarded annually for the best short story, novel excerpt, poem, one-act play, graphic story, or work of literary nonfiction published by a new or emerging writer in Narrative.

Deadline is mid June 2019 and there is no entry fee. Maximum word counts of 2000 and prizes of up to US$4000 available.

37. Impress Books prize for new writing

This is a manuscript contest for unpublished writers. Winners receive a print and eBook publishing contact with Impress, as well as a £500 advance.

The deadline for entries is usually around the end of June each year.

You need to submit 6000 words of your manuscript, along with a synopsis and publishing proposal, as well as an author bio.

38. William Van Wert Award for Fiction

US$1,000 and publication in Hidden River Review of Arts & Letters is offered to the best unpublished short story or novel excerpt.

Competition opens in February 2019 and deadline for entries is 30th June 2019.

Any previously unpublished short story or novel excerpt of 25 pages or less is eligible to enter.

There is an entry fee os US$17 and winners receive full manuscript publication and US$1000.

39. The Brighton Prize

The Brighton Prize offers cash prizes for new short and flash fiction. If you’re a writer with a brilliant short story that will both challenge and excite the judges; this is for you.

Submissions are currently open for flash fiction up to 350 words, and short stories of 1-2000 words.

The winner of the short story prize will receive £500, and the winner of the flash fiction prize will receive £100.

There is an entry fee of £8 for short stories and £6 for flash fiction.

The deadline for submissions is 30th June.

40. LuneSpark Young Writer’s Short Story contest

LuneSpark are looking for talented young writers to submit their work for their 2018 short story contest.

Stories must be below 1650 words (they recommend 1500 as a standard).

There is a US$ 15 registration fee (plus an additional US$ 1.82 processing fee) and first prize will receive US$ 500.

The deadline for entries is July 31st 2019, although you’ll need to register before then (check out the website for details).

41. The Sean O Faolain Short Story Prize

The competition is open to original, unpublished and unbroadcast short stories in the English language of 3,000 words or fewer. The story can be on any subject, in any style, by a writer of any nationality, living anywhere in the world. Translated work is not in the scope of this competition.

First Prize: €2,000, a week-long residency at Anam Cara Retreat and publication in the literary journal Southword.

There is a fee of €15 per entry and the deadline for submissions is 31st July.

42. To Hull and Back, writing competition 2019

To Hull And Back Short Story Competition is an annual short story contest with a humorous twist that celebrates the most imaginative and amazing short stories from writers all over the world.

First prize is £1000 and publication.

Max word count is 2500 and the deadline for entries is July 31st 2019.

The fee for entries is £11.

43. The Preservation Foundation’s 2019 contest for unpublished writers 

The Preservation Foundation are a non-profit organisation aiming to “preserve the extraordinary stories of ‘ordinary’ people.”

Stories must be non-fiction in one of four categories: General, Biographical, Travel, and Animals. Submissions must be between 1000 – 10,000 words in length.

There are no entry fees and prizes of US$ 200 for winners, US$ 100 for runners-up, and US$ 50 for finalists in each category.

Deadline for entries is August 31st 2019.

44. The Caterpillar Story Prize

The prize is for a story written by an adult for children (aged 7–11). The judges are looking for stories that will inspire, delight and move our young readers. The stories can be on any subject and in any style, as long as they are age appropriate, and the word limit is 1,500.

The 2019 competition will open from May 2019.

The winning story will receive €1,000 and appear in the winter issue of The Caterpillar.

Entry fee is €12 per story

The closing date is the end of September.

45. Bare Fiction Magazine Short Story Competitions

Any style/genre of writing in a variety of forms, including short stories, flash fiction and poetry. An annual competition with submission deadline of October.

Short story submissions must be below 3000 words and the associated entry fee is £8. Winners of each category receive £500.

46. Early Works Press

Annual writing competition accepts entries of any style or genre. Winners are published in anthology containing 10 to 20 stories (length dependent). There is a £5 entry fee for stories up to 4000 words in length and £10 fee for stories up to 8000 words long. Deadline is October each year, though the publishers also run other competitions throughout the year, so it’s worth keeping an eye on their site for details.

47. PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

For American citizens with books published in the calendar year (or scheduled to be published) – no self-published books will be accepted. No submission fees, with a deadline of October.

48. ServiceScape short story award

For this award, any genre or theme of short story is accepted. All applicants should submit their original unpublished work of short fiction or nonfiction, 5,000 words or fewer, to be considered. Along with receiving an award for $1,000.00 USD, the winner will have his or her short story featured within the ServiceScape blog, which reaches thousands of readers per month.

There is no entry fee and the deadline for entries is 30th November 2019.

49. Cinnamon Press Writing Competitions

Any style or genre of writing is eligible for their rolling competition deadlines, which fall throughout the year between September and July. Entry fees vary according to form of writing, such as poetry, novels, short stories and flash fiction.

50. Manchester Writing Competition 2018

There are two prizes – one for fiction and one for poetry. Both competitions offer a £10,000 first prize. Deadline for entries is September 2018 and the competition will open in February 2018. The fiction prize will be awarded to the best short story of up to 2500 words, and is open to international writers aged 16 or over. The poetry prize will be given to the best portfolio of three to five poems (maximum length: 120 lines). The entry fee for each competition is £17.50.

51. F(r)iction contest

Literary publisher and resource for writers Brink Literacy project (formerly Tethered By Letters) run this tri-annual publication, F(r)iction, – an art and literature imprint that is distributed around the world. It features short fiction, flash fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and even a selection of graphic stories. It also showcases amazing artwork.

First prize for the short story contest is US$1000 and there is an entry fee of US$18. The first prize for both the poetry and flash fiction contests is US$300 and there is a US$10 entry fee.

Visit the website for information about upcoming deadlines

52. The Short Story ‘Monthly 500’ Flash Fiction competition 

The Short Story was established in 2015 and has quickly developed into an influential platform for short fiction. They champion short stories, flash fiction, and micro-fiction.

Every month, they invite submissions for their flash fiction competition, the winner of which receives publication on their website and £50.

The deadline for each month’s contest is midnight on the last day of each month.

There is an entry fee of £2.28 and entries must be no longer than 500 words (including title).

53. Reedsy Short Story Contest(s)

Every Friday, Reedsy kicks off a weekly short story contest by sending out a newsletter that includes five themed writing prompts. Subscribers have one week (until the following Friday) to submit a short story based on one of the prompts. The winner receives US$ 50 and publication on Reedsy’s Medium blog.

There is no entry fee.

54. Austin Film Festival competitions

Austin Film Festival 2018 is offering a number of different writing contests for you to sink your teeth into. In their 25th year, the Austin Film Festival (AFF) have helped many writers break into the industry of film and television.

AFF currently offer writing competition categories for screenplays, teleplays, short screenplays, digital series scripts, stage plays, and fiction podcast scripts.

Deadlines for the competitions vary, with some differences in entry fees depending on whether you enter before, early, regular, or late/final deadlines.

Prizes include cash awards and the opportunity to meet famous figures from the industry. Check out their website for information

Open for submissions – where to submit your writing

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You there, writers! Wordsmiths and expression explorers! We can see you, hunched over your laptops, feverishly searching the annals of the internet for places to submit your work. You’ve done the hard part; you’ve spilled your soul on the page, edited and re-edited, torn apart, rejigged, stitched back together, you’ve gone round the houses entreating on friends and relatives and bemused bystanders to please have a quick look at the story you’ve written and – finally! – it’s finished. All you need now is a home for your writing that isn’t your cluttered desktop.

First, the good news: there are literally thousands upon thousands of places where you can submit your work.

Now, the not so good news: there are literally thousands upon thousands of places where you can submit your work. How do you know which one’s for you? And how can you possibly have time to go through them all?

Back to some good news: inspired by @coffeeandpaneer’s helpful Twitter thread, below you can find a not-exhaustive-but-still-actually-pretty-extensive list of places that are open for submissions (and the even better news is that these places don’t have deadlines for you to worry about missing).

So, in addition to our writing competitions lists, and our list of places to submit flash fiction, we are thoroughly chuffed to bring you this valuable writing resource you can use to get your writing into the right places.

The list*

After the pause: A small independent press and experimental journal of poetry, flash fiction, and art; always accepting submissions. Max 1000 words.

Blanket Sea: Take poetry, art, and creative fiction and fiction up to 2000 words from writers and artists living with chronic illness and disability, and also take previously published pieces.

Brixton Review of Books: Fantastic literary magazine based in South London, styled after other great titles including the Paris Review and London Review of Books. Email direct to find out more information about contributing.

Cabinet of Heed: The Cabinet is hungry for submissions of fiction no longer than 4000 words. You can prevent a terrifying furniture-based rampage by feeding it quirky, off-centre fiction or poetry that might astound and inspire! Please note: All well-crafted work will be considered, quirky or not.

Cotton Xenomorph: Flash fiction up to 1500 words and 2 pages of poetry. Into inspiring language. No creeps allowed.

Ellipsis zine: Flash fiction up to 1000 words. Want to publish stories that make us forget where we are, stories that introduce us to people, places and things we’ve never seen before and stories that stick with us long after we leave them.

For Books Sake: Accept stories between 2000-6000 from self-identifying women for their weekend read.

Jellyfish Review: Take flash and creative non fiction up to 1000 words, and essays up to 2000. Team behind this awesome project also get back to you very quickly (and their non-acceptances are extremely helpful, too).

Laurel Magazine: Take poetry, flash fiction, art, photos and short stories up to 6000 words.

Ghost parachute: Submissions of flash fiction up to 1000 words. Seeks to publish writing that is unapologetically bold.

Mojave Heart: Online literary/arts journal based in the Mojave Desert: poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, memoir, art, photography. Up to 3000 words.

Monkey Bicycle: Submissions up to 2000 words. They are open to all genres, as long as there is a strong story and a great narrative. If you have experimental work you’d like to send, they’ll consider that as well.

Moonchild Magazine: Various word limits depending on genre and style. MM is an experiential online journal that publishes dreamy visual art, poetry, translations of poetry, flash fiction, mixtapes, collaborations between writers and artists, and more.

Moonpark Review: Quarterly journal of short prose (750 words max).

Long long journal: Submission guidelines vary. Generally publish poetry and fiction.

The Nasiona: Nonfiction literary magazine, publishing narrative-led work that explores the human condition. Max length 6000 words.

Nothing in the Rulebook: We couldn’t very well not include ourselves here now, could we? We strive to support and publish all new and creative ideas across genres and forms. We’d publish a 10,000 word treatise on the artistic merit of ankle socks if it’s written well and with passion and truth and wit. Also publish non-fiction, short stories, poetry, photography, illustration, cartoons, interviews, book reviews. Get involved!

Open Pen: London magazine seeking fiction between 50-4000 words. After short fiction with something to say.

Pendora Mag: Cool magazine. Takes flash up to 500 words, poetry, short fiction, essays and non-fiction.

Pigeonholes: Seeks your literary, speculative, experimental, or absurdly unclassifiable, just make it bold and beautiful. Word limit for fiction is 1000 words.

Porridge: Max word limit is 4000. Keen interest in academic essays, alongside photography, poetry, flash fiction, short stories, excerpts from novels, original artwork, and other visual media.

Platypus Press: An indie publisher of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Short stories between 5000 – 25,000 words.

Rabid Oak: Online journal of poetry and flash fiction & nonfiction, max 1000 words.

Riggwelter Press: Riggwelter is open to submissions of poetry, short fiction, visual art (of any kind – photography, collage, traditional art etc.) experimental/mixed media, essays and reviews.

The Selkie: These fine folk aim to support and nurture voices from marginalised backgrounds by welcoming submissions and promoting the work of underrepresented writers and artists. Flash fiction and short stories. Up to 4000 words.

StorgyOnline Arts & Entertainment Magazine for those who love short stories, books and movies. Looking for literary short fiction, particularly short stories which challenge literary conventions and experiment with genre, style, form and content. Also looking for essays, reviews and articles. Max words – 5000.

 

*Want to see your magazine, journal or website here? Get in touch and let us know!

Creatives in profile – interview with Laura Potts

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Follow Laura Potts on Twitter @thelauratheory_ 

Laura Potts is twenty-two years old and lives in West Yorkshire. Twice-recipient of The Foyle Young Poets Award, her work has been published by Agenda, Aesthetica and The Poetry Business. Having worked at The Dylan Thomas Birthplace in Swansea, she was nominated for The Pushcart Prize and became one of the BBC’s New Voices last year. Laura’s first BBC radio drama aired at Christmas, and she received a commendation from The Poetry Society in 2018.

In the following interview, we talk with Laura about creativity and inspiration, writing style and poetry, West Yorkshire, Donald Trump, Joan Crawford and hats.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle

POTTS

Laura, 22. Writes much; reads more. Lives in a city that has been largely lost ever since last century coughed and dropped a war (or two). Born in Yorkshire. Bred on books which always took me further. Fond of rain and winter, the solitary nights and the comfort of the dark. Alone but never lonely and content to be that way. Poet and writer of radio plays. Terminal wearer of hats.

INTERVIEWER

Is poetry your first love, or do you have another passion?

POTTS

I have always looked at living like this: life is one great passion, too vast to reduce to the four short lines I just wrote above. My life is many loves. I have never set out to chase just one of them. That would be to exist and not to live. The darkest days and the longest nights; the quiet of a sleeping house; the kindness of another; the seasons, always leaving; anger and its blackness; fire and its warmth; the world unfurling in the hands of ministers and mobs, and all before me. These are just a few of my loves and poetry is their legacy. It has never been art for art’s sake; never poetry for poetry. It is always in the service of my own private chaos that a poem, as the very best medium, comes to be.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

POTTS

Assuming we’re talking poetry, then quite a few haunt me. There’s Dylan Thomas, whose music is truer to ancient verse than winds are to winter; Leonard Cohen, with all the darkness of his heart; John Foggin for landscapes amorphous and Saxon; Clare Pollard for the humour of youth; Peter Riley for Hushings; Ian Parks for desire; Jade Cuttle for what she gives us back; the grace of Phoebe Stuckes; and Sasha Dugdale to the last, whose Joy has stayed with me.

And if we’re not talking poetry, then Joan Crawford. I like her class and taste in hats.

INTERVIEWER

As a Yorkshire-born poet, do you feel that there’s an element of your place of birth and home town in the poems you write? Or do you seek to separate your personal writing from your personal geography? (Is that even possible?)

POTTS

It was Matthew Arnold back in the nineteenth century who famously wrote that the best work comes from the disinterested mind – that is, from those who actively separate themselves from the bright world around them – and I’ve always believed that that ethos should stay firmly in the Victorian era. I disagree with the social ignorance it promotes, nor do I think it is even possible. Such a person would surely be devoid of language and its histories; of human contact and sexual impulse; of feeling altogether? Each poem, whether consciously or not, is the code of my history; each word is the product of past and present. I’ve never thought art can exist in a vacuum. Only a cypher could make that.

INTERVIEWER

Your poetry series Sweet the Mourning Dew for BBC Radio 3 focuses on the experiences of those individuals who have lost loved ones to war. What drew you to this topic?

POTTS

My grandfather, mainly. He was an old war veteran and fiercely proud of the fact. He mimed the memory of war each day in a rigid routine; in a noble walk; even in his Brylcreem slicks and the same old comb from 1940 before the morning mirror. Most of all, he wanted to write his memoirs before the cancer came. In that alone he knew defeat. Sweet The Mourning Dew was my testament to a man who was proud of himself, and who wanted the lost to live on from the page past his own small place in time. It was never a passive claim on the tales that others have to tell. It was simply fulfilling a promise.

INTERVIEWER

How do you view the connection between poetry as performance and poetry as a solitary, personal act of reading poems upon a page?

POTTS

I have always believed that a poem can have many lives. Its life on the page is different to its life on the stage, but both are integral to its existence. It is true to the ancient roots of verse that it should be read and shared aloud; that its metre and music should be known to the ear as well as the eye. I am, however, distrustful of poetry as performativity: is emotion so scripted, so fabricated, so brief? And I am nervous of those who shout too loudly: in the most literal sense, in the beginning is the word and no end of spitting or swearing on stage will ever beat that. That is just a sad failure of the imagination.

INTERVIEWER

As a young ‘Gen Z’ poet who has come of age during years marked by the Iraq war; the global financial crisis and recently years of Brexit and Donald Trump, what is your take on the world around you? How can you use poetry to connect with the world as is?

POTTS

Quite frankly, I think the world is creeping dangerously close to repeating those centuries of war and hatred it said it would leave behind. It makes a mockery of those who died for the sake of democracy; for gender and racial equality; for decency; for rights. It laughs in the face of all those who tried and believed in peace. And all for a headline in the New York Times come morning or, better, a few more followers online. I’ve always thought poets are the quiet scribes of history. Like confessional voices to the past, they can speak with a passion which the history page never will.

INTERVIEWER

What has your personal experience been of trying to break onto the ‘poetry scene’?

POTTS

Well, I never tried to ‘break onto’ it as such. I read and wrote and wrote and read, and found the joy in that alone. I never had a formal plan to stand on stage and tell the world that I, self-titled, am ‘a poet’. It was never as scripted as that. But talent alone will always out, or that is what I’m content to think. And it is mainly due to the kindness of friends – of fellow writers, fellow thinkers – who listened and spoke well of me that others hear my voice today.

INTERVIEWER

In terms of writing poetry, what do you think is most important to keep in mind when writing your initial drafts?

POTTS

Most of all, I’d say that time should be forgotten. Little will come from a hurried mind, and what does is often stillborn. It’s a gift to hold a finished verse but only when it’s right: more joy comes from a well-worked line than a whole verse with no life. Or that’s my belief at least. I can easily spend a week or more just looking at one line. It’s really a very kind process for the mind to let time alone be the catalyst: the thoughts may be intense, yes; but I give them all the open space to grow and romp and play for months, if they need it. It’s a crucial part of my writing style to let the words live with me for hours, or days, or even weeks. If they haven’t settled in by then, I know they’re not to be.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have a specific ‘reader’ or audience in mind when you write?

POTTS

Yes. Excepting the times when I write for commission and must fulfil criteria, I am the audience I write for. The joy has always been in seeing myself reflected back from the page, and never for the approval of anyone else. If there is a time when that should change, I will put down my pen for good.

INTERVIEWER

How would you define creativity?

POTTS

An expressive quality by which the mind can translate imagination into reality.

INTERVIEWER

What does the term ‘poet’ mean to you?

POTTS

That’s a much-contended one! I’ve always tried to reserve that title for a rather select group: that is, for those to whom writing is the defining constant of their lives. Perhaps it is their living; perhaps they’ve been well-published; perhaps they did a whole lot more than stand behind a microphone that one time in the pub. Otherwise, I’ll just go chop myself some wood and call myself a craftsman. No, that will never be enough. I think of it like this alone: if you want to align yourself with those who could, with confidence, call themselves ‘the poets’ in the epic annals of Literature, you have to do much more than that. You must be worthy of the name before you make the claim.

INTERVIEWER

Since Percy Bysshe Shelley penned the Masque of Anarchy, poetry has been used by writers and artists as a means of revolt against the status quo and to champion causes, giving voices to those who perhaps would not otherwise be heard. What are your thoughts on poetry as protest?

POTTS

I have always believed there is something intrinsically restless to poetry: in its formlessness, its shapelessness and its lack of formal laws, there is a freedom unfound in prose. Unlike most other areas of our lives, rules do not exist. And so the union between poetry and politics is a natural one in which the chaos of the latter can find its freedom. And, of course, it always helps that rhyme makes particularly memorable music.

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about some of the future projects you’re working on?

POTTS

Really, I’m happy enough just to write when I wish and read to widen my mind. But the next natural step is the first collection for which I have a manuscript; for which the time must be right and I must be ready. Other than that, I’m in the early stage of a full-length play for BBC Radio 4 and I’d like to write for the stage someday. But the plan is to be how I’ve always been and just write for the love alone. So we’ll see. When not writing I am reading, and that will be enough.

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 5 tips for writers?

POTTS

  • Always have an accessible medium. Notebook, diary, tablet, phone. The back of your hand will do. Just make sure your mind never meets a barricade.
  • The best writers are the best readers. You’ll find your voice by listening to others and gauging your own place in the annals of literature.
  • Read your work aloud. At its ancient roots, poetry was an oral art form often set to music. By reading aloud you’ll remember its heritage and notice its flaws. A poem has a different life on the page to its life in the mouth, and it’s easy to know when a writer does not read aloud: their rhythm could be markedly better.
  • Be kind to yourself. Writer’s block is a terrible friend but one we must endure. Take your time. Sometimes the mind works best when at rest.
  • The only regrets you’ll have are for the times you didn’t try. So why not send that submission today?

Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, and a poet

As poetry enjoys somewhat of a renaissance thanks to social media, ever more aspiring writers are using platforms like Twitter to get noticed. With over 100,000 social media followers, Birmingham-based poet Maavi Raja writes about his poetic journey so far.

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When you think about poetry and making something like poetry as a career, or as a full-time passion, money or profit is far from the first thing one thinks about when getting into this field. Poetry begins as a hobby, or a natural inclination to beautify things with something as simple as the words we create, the words we speak, the words we think; manufactured and developed from the feelings we establish.

Of course, there is profit to be made, if you become a best seller. But that’s not what it’s ever been about for me. I developed my love of poetry when I was finishing school – this was 10 years ago and, back then, kids my age saw poetry as soppy and something to be looked down on.  But the last couple of decades have always been about fashion trends and pop culture phenomena. Trying to poke your head up in the classroom and make a case for poetry when everyone is obsessed with the latest celebrity trend, video game, TV show or tech gadget isn’t necessarily the easiest way to make yourself extremely popular.

But, still, poetry was something I loved. To begin with – I read and read whatever poems I could find. Then I started to write my own work – though I didn’t write an original piece until I was 18. For a long time, I tried to hide away what I’d written until my friends discovered them and told me I had a talent. They started asking why I am wasn’t sharing my work and writing with the world. Of course, I had no belief in myself or my capabilities at that point. I never went to college or university, so my level of education was no more than GCSEs.

It’s easy to point at statistics that show that our current social model often leads to inequality – for example, that children from low-income neighbourhoods are far less likely to get a higher education than those from rich areas. But the truth is, as someone so minimally educated, I genuinely never believed I could achieve anything. Yet my friends believed in me and pushed me to make a start and, so, I started to share my work on Twitter.

It was 2012 when I received my first accolade and bit of recognition, and to be quite honest, this was what changed my life completely.

I received celebrity recognition from Kim Kardashian (yes, that Kim Kardashian), who tweeted me and told me she loved my work. This resulted in the building of my own fan base and the accolades just continued to come in, year by year. I received much more celebrity recognition, just recently, from Paris Hilton. It’s a little ironic that the same sort of pop culture trends that were distracting all my classmates from poetry were the ones who helped kick start my poetry career.

In 2016, I was invited to do an interview on BBC radio. I was interviewed about my writing and the purpose of my writing, which is of course, to tend to the younger generation on the experiences I write about. This was prior to my first book “A Poetic Life”.
Now, I’ll admit this book didn’t do well. This was my first attempt and I had no idea what I was doing and the formatting was very poor. This motivated me to improve and do better. The following year, I released “The Heart’s Speech”, which sold over 300 copies with minimal marketing. I’m so thankful for all those readers who bought the book, it’s an incredible feeling to see your hard work connect with other people. This year, 2018, I released “Moonlit Verses” which I like to think is my best work (of course I’d say that, wouldn’t I?). I have no idea how well this will sell; but I can only hope that my work will reach the audience I’m hoping it will.

This year, I’ve also started performing at Poetry Jams organised by the BeatFreeks collective. They host a poetry session on the first Thursday of every month at different venues for a set time. Most recently, it’s being hosted at Waylands Yard.

To be quite honest, I never believed I’d be here today. I sit on 140,000+ followers on Twitter. I have my own author page on Amazon, a verified knowledge panel on google which basically means now, that the internet recognises me and acknowledges me as an established author. I’ve dreamt for something like this for a long time, but I continue to dream and I’ll continue to graft as I always have done and see where my writing will take me in the future.

About the author of this post

Maavi RajaMaavi Raja, 25, is a poet from Birmingham, UK. From the age of 18, Maavi has been writing and sharing his works with the social media world. Inspired and influenced by personal and external experiences, Maavi wants to contribute to the world in his own way. Now author of 3 books, Maavi has amassed over 100,000 followers on Twitter, alongside celebrity recognition and various accolades. Maavi’s dreams have slowly manifested piece by piece and continues to hope they do as he continues to write.

How poetry can make you rich

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The treasure chest? Photo courtesy of Forrest Fenn

If more people knew that poetry could make you rich, perhaps there would be fewer bankers and oil tycoons trying to destroy the planet. Yet this is a secret not often spoken: that you really can make your fortune through poetry (well, specifically, one poem).

It all begins with a treasure chest – as so many good stories do – and an ageing octogenarian with a lust for adventure, and literature.

In the late 1980s, Forrest Fenn, a billionaire art dealer, was told he had terminal cancer. Deciding to go out with a bang, he sold his art gallery, many of his possessions, and purchased a suite of ancient artefacts, gold coins, and a Romanesque treasure chest dating from 1150 AD. Within this box he placed his treasure, and prepared to walk into the desert, chest in hand, and end it all with a bottle of whiskey and 52 sleeping pills.

But his cancer never returned. In 2010, Fenn decided to go ahead and hide his treasure anyway (just this time without his accompanying dead body).

He struck out into the wilderness and hid the chest, then wrote a cryptic poem that – if deciphered – would act as a map that would lead one intrepid poetry-loving explorer directly to their fortune.

Eight years later – the chest remains resolutely hidden and unfound. While Fenn claims one hunter came within 200 feet of the treasure, the poem has not been fully deciphered.

If you fancy laying your hand upon an estimated £1.9 million treasure made up of gold coins, pre-Columbian gold animal figures, Chinese jade carvings, a 17th-century Spanish ring with an inset emerald, rubies, sapphires and diamonds, all you have to do is crack the poem, which he included in his memoir ‘The Thrill of the Chase’.

To save you time, we’ve copied the poem out for you here below in its entirety:

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As I have gone alone in there

And with my treasures bold,

I can keep my secret where,

And hint of riches new and old.

 

Begin it where warm waters halt

And take it in the canyon down,

Not far, but too far to walk.

Put in below the home of Brown.

 

From there it’s no place for the meek,

The end is ever drawing nigh;

There’ll be no paddle up your creek,

Just heavy loads and water high.

 

If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,

Look quickly down, your quest to cease,

But tarry scant with marvel gaze,

Just take the chest and go in peace.

 

So why is it that I must go

And leave my trove for all to seek?

The answers I already know,

I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak.

 

So hear me all and listen good,

Your effort will be worth the cold.

If you are brave and in the wood

I give you title to the gold.

Seems easy, right? Well, before you embark on your epic adventure, be warned: six treasure hunters have already died in their respective quests for Fenn’s chest. Some have drowned, others have fallen down cliff faces and sheer drops.

When pushed on this matter, Fenn insists the treasure is not in a dangerous or inaccessible place – and suggests people seek the treasure in the warmer months, when the terrain is less hazardous.

Some treasure hunters have branded the entire exercise “nonsense” or “a hoax” – yet Fenn remains unmoved. He claims the chest is in the Rocky Mountains, north of Santa Fe and around 5,000 ft above sea level. Of people who have gone missing or headed out into the desert, he says they have simply misinterpreted his poem:

“If your solve is in the desert. Get a new solve.”

What is perhaps most interesting about this entire endeavor is not that thousands of people worldwide have struck out in the hope of finding buried treasure – but that even more have attempted to decipher and engage with a simple 24-line poem.

Over the years, Fenn’s poem has inspired Talmudic interpretation. One Searcher on the website Fenn Clues posits that, based on the first line, “We are almost surely looking for a location that satisfies ‘alone.’ So, a Solitary Geyser or a Lone Indian Peak would fit the bill.” Other determinations are more arcane. Some ‘searchers’ – as those who have set out to find the treasure refer to themselves – insist the “blaze” in the 13th line refers to a turtle-shaped tattoo on the chest of a character in Marvel’s illustrated version of the 1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans.

If only Alfred Lord Tennyson and Sylvia Plath had hidden more chests of ancient treasure – perhaps every English teacher’s job would have been made that much easier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Promoting a Book as a Disabled Writer – My Precarious Year, by Peter Raynard

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Peter Raynard’s debut poetry collection ‘Precarious’, is published by Smokestack Books

In a hotel room on a bright August Monday morning this year in Cork, I am near to tears. My wife and I are packing our bags – she to go home to England, me to stay in Ireland and do two readings as part of a poetry exchange programme between Cork and my home town of Coventry. We had a lovely weekend away, eating nice food, and taking in the sites, which included the Pride festival on Sunday. I was exhausted. But I was exhausted before we came away. I felt depressed. But I felt depressed before we came away. I was very anxious, but I was…. Such emotions come in waves, sometimes as a result of events like these, other times just simmering away – they rarely leave me.

Having a book published is an incredible feeling; full of excitement, joy, and fear. Precarious is my debut poetry collection, and so one reason fear raises its hydra head, is the dread that my work is no good. That my publisher was wrong believing in me, and the readers will find that out. Being working class and having never written a creative word until my early 30s, I still have to pinch myself when I say that I am a writer but ‘imposter syndrome’ persists. Luckily, those who have read my book, have really liked it – poetry and non-poetry readers alike. One of the greatest feelings is knowing that my friends, and their friends, have enjoyed it; one even took the book into work and read my poems from the factory floor.

I have poly-endocrine disorder, which means my adrenal, thyroid, and pituitary glands either don’t work at all, or only drip feed me vital hormones when they should be giving me a steady flow. Essentially, I have no fight or flight to life’s stresses, and a weird metabolism (fast, fast, slow, slow, slow, slow, st…). When I am at home, doing the day job of domestic care (a.k.a. househusband), and writing – whether it be features for my blog Proletarian Poetry, or editing another poet’s work, I am better able to manage it, even though it regularly involves retreating to my bed.

Although a publisher helps with the selling of your book, most writers know they have to get out there to promote it, and this is where the problems started for me. Thus far this year I have read in London (three times), Cheltenham, Oxford, Newcastle, Huddersfield, Ledbury, Bristol, Hay-on-Wye and Derby, with Swindon, Merthyr Tydfill and Coventry to come. I love reading to audiences. I have always enjoyed being in front of people. In my previous job, working for a charity as an organizational development consultant, I spoke in front of people from the World Bank, to small community centres in North England, to a group of fishermen on a beach in the Philippines. Before each front-facing event, I would be sick with worry (I would be sick before playing competitive sports at school). But it was not a sickness brought on by a lack of confidence, or that something would go wrong, it just felt, and still feels like a natural reaction to presenting myself and my ideas or poetry in front of strangers – albeit strangers who are nearly always lovely people.

“You deal with depression in a solitary way. You withdraw from people, social media, the news.”

My readings in Cork went well. I was very well looked after by Paul Casey from the legendary O’Bheal and my poetry partner Jane Commane. It was a great experience, meeting lots of new people, talking poetry, mental health and politics. I felt so at home in an ‘Irish’ setting, one I had grown up with in my part of Coventry (known as ‘County’ Coundon). On my return, I was unwell for about two weeks. This came in the form of bed-ridden exhaustion, anxiety, physical pain, depression, and nausea.

This has been a year of extremes. Like sliding into a warm pool with bubbling water, only to be hauled out naked by the throat and thrown into the rain lashed sea. Trying to swim back to shore involves a whirligig of thoughts; each interaction or conversation with another person is gone over endless times – did I listen to the person enough? Was I arrogant, self-centred, unempathetic? So, when meeting lots of people, or having a number of things to do, the swirl of thoughts is overwhelming. I read on that Internet somewhere that people aren’t programmed to interact with hundreds of people in one sitting.

You deal with depression in a solitary way. You withdraw from people, social media, the news. If you can, you seek help – GPs, CBT practitioners, therapists. Measures of improvement are tested by dipping a toe back in. Lurk on social media without comment. Lightly pick over benign news items, or seek out intellectual solace through books and podcasts (I listen to episodes of In Our Time and This American Life). You may then go to another person’s reading. Passing these tests, you start to re-engage.

This is a dangerous time for those recovering from depression. It has been likened to ripping off a scab, you retreat to tend to an open wound, one you knew wasn’t going to go away altogether, but hoped it wasn’t going to be as painful as before.

About two years ago, when I was not out in the world very much, I made the positive move to give up hope. My endocrine conditions were not going to be cured, and their effects would have to be managed. I did this having read the poet, Lucia Perillo’s experience of living with Multiple Sclerosis. This quote from her summed up my decision. “Hope is ravenous like the gulls, and we are being eaten alive.” I am lucky that I am not young and won’t have to deal with this for another forty years. I am lucky that I have family and friends, who although don’t really understand what I am going through, are there to support me. Importantly, I don’t need to claim benefits, as my partner works.

I have done much more than I ever thought I would in my life. I have a great set of friends, travelled the world both with work and leisure (often the two combined), got three degrees, written and edited books, married a wonderful person, have two great sons, a niece and two nephews (three if you include my sister’s dog). That must be what matters now. My health can’t cope with high levels of engagement with folk or issues anymore – I really am not up for the fight, in fact the language of fighting in ill-health terms is very damaging. People don’t lose a fight with being ill, they do as they are advised and treated, and look to a positive outcome.

All of this will happen in the next couple of years – a slow withdrawal. And, despite high levels of anxiety, I am really looking forward to the rest of the readings I’ll be doing over the next six months. But I will also look forward to not doing them, and concentrating on writing. Maybe I’ll write a book of fiction. My poetry brother Richard Skinner, Director of Faber Academy, is the master teacher of novel writing, so I may try my hand at that. I just have to make sure it is never published! Now that is something I can control. Sláinte.

About the author of this article

Peter Raynard Photo (6)

Peter Raynard is the author of two books of poetry. ‘Precarious’ his debut collection is published by Smokestack Books, and ‘The Combination: a poetic coupling of the Communist Manifesto’ by Culture Matters. He is also the editor of Proletarian Poetry: poems of working class lives – http://www.proletarianpoetry.com

Book review: Ghosting for beginners, by Anna Saunders

Ghosting for beginners

Anna Saunders is haunted by many things: myth, legend, her political concerns, environmental problems and, most engagingly, the ghosts of people she knows, living and dead. This diverse range of ghouls work their way into her fifth and latest poetry collection Ghosting for Beginners.

Haunting can be a tricky theme to pull off, as it’s well-ploughed territory and can lead easily to Gothic melodrama or cliché. However, Saunders avoids this by stretching the theme a long way, using the ongoing theme of ghosts to expose interesting perspectives on other ideas, rather than appearing to write strictly to a gothic or eerie theme. It feels as though the poems emerged organically, united by feeling rather than the need to stick to a particular topic. The book as a whole feels melancholy: the ghost of Saunders’ father emerges gradually over the course of the collection. There is a moving moment in ‘The Ventriloquist Dolls of the Dead’ when Saunders sees a familiar gesture of her father in a stranger. She imagines her father is somehow doing this himself, using the man’s body to reach out, briefly, from beyond the grave: ‘The gestures are identical/and he’s moving as if/he were a dummy/brought out of the box long enough/for your dead dad/to show that even though you can’t see his lips move/he still fancies a chat.’

Brexit, Grenfell and ongoing political turmoil all make appearances in the poetry. In ‘A Murmuration is Seen Above the City’, Saunders imagines the starlings above the city of London as the ghosts of Cabinet Ministers, ‘wishing that in life/they had acted differently/but airborne, and dead, it is too late.’ She doesn’t hold back. Working with an impressive command of language and a rich knowledge of myth and legend, Saunders communicates effectively and efficiently through her poems. There is a touch of Angela Carter about the way she sees people and animals, likes to examine humans through their ghosts. For me, reading Saunders reminded me of studying Carter at school – words like ‘pelage’ and ‘papillae’ had me reaching for a dictionary but, as with Carter, having to stop and take stock to soak in the words on the page didn’t hinder the experience. You’re not supposed to speed through this stuff. The more I read, the more I find some texts are like Magic Eye puzzles. You don’t see it, you don’t see it, you don’t see it and then you see it. And then you have go out and tell everyone, because you’ve done something meaningful.

But there is light in the grief, in the disillusionment. Even at her most political, Saunders has an almost Neil Gaiman-esque twinkle in her eye, bringing characters from myth and legend into our world, having the Angel of Revelation struggle with the bead-curtain hanging at the entrance of the New Age Centre, Jesus spurn the ticket barriers on the London Overground. There’s a fun side to the hauntings – not all ghosts are bad.

The strength of the collection is the portraits of the real people and the glimpses we have of Saunders’ own interiority. In its weaker moments, the poetry spirals into abstraction, tries to do too much – the ideas behind ‘The Ghost Room’ are interesting but rely on sensations too far removed from everyday experience to be profound. We hear the Ghost Room is ‘airy and immaterial as this stanza/but it will occupy your thoughts.’ Far more interesting is the plea of the wife, telling her husband to put on a dark coat so that their neighbours will not mistake him for a ghost and kill him. The poem ‘I said Thomas, There is a Piece of Work About the Ghost’ is based on real events; a man tried for killing a labourer called Thomas that he took for the Hammersmith Ghost. Thomas’ widow had reportedly warned her husband that, in his white overalls, he looked particularly ghostly. Told from the point of view of the wife as she warns her husband, the poem is urgent and moving, tragic yet bizarre. Haunting.

Saunders draws some beautiful portraits in this collection. The pheasant ‘dangling clumsy from string like a plummy yo-yo,’ in ‘Befriending the Butcher’ is startling and real. However, she has a tendency to take poems a beat too far. The lines ‘No longer able to walk, he scored the floor/with wheel chair marks as if ticking items off a list’ would make for a blistering ending, but Saunders goes on to add ‘and the single bar of the fire was a winter sunset;/a thin scarlet line, blazing with its own heat/as it slipped down silently, into the dark.’ Pretty though this image is, I’d stick with the old man, carving his achievements into the ground with the wheel of his chair, to which he is bound forever.

We have the same situation in ‘A Murmuration is Seen Above the City’, returning again to the ghosts of politicians as birds, swirling above Westminster, Saunders ends the poem by saying, ‘We shiver, as we watch them wheel and turn,/Our bones almost through our skin.’ This is haunting; but it would be far eerier if the poem was left to burn at the end of the previous stanza: ‘The sky is bruised with the bloated bodies of/Cabinet Ministers/fat with stolen fruit, they eclipse the sun.’

However, the final stanza of ‘Sowing Seeds’ is perfect. The poem is a meditation on climate change, on Donald Trump’s denial of its existence and the difference we, the little people, can make. Walking with a friend or partner on the beach, Saunders brings the poem to a close with the lines ‘The sea, its salty tongue working/like someone who will not stop speaking,/gets the final word’.

A collection occupied by the idea of what we leave behind, Ghosting for Beginners left me feeling agitated and comforted in equal measure – both aftertastes intended by Saunders I’m sure. The poems are successful in portraying the world and humanity as contradictory; friendly and unforgiving, beautiful and ugly. And who knows what we’ll leave behind.

Ghosting for beginners is available for purchase directly from Indigo Dreams online http://www.indigodreams.co.uk/anna-saunders-gfb/4594255832

About the reviewer

Ellen LavelleEllen Lavelle is a postgraduate student on The University of Warwick Writing Programme. An aspiring novelist and screenwriter, she has worked with The Young Journalist Academy since the age of fourteen, writing articles and making short films for their website. She’s currently working on a crime novel, a historical fiction novel and the script for a period drama. She interviews authors for her blog and you can follow her @ellenrlavelleon Twitter.

Noticing the Journey

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One morning I was given a lift into work by my parents. I climbed into the middle seat of the back and then spent a while leafing through emails on my phone, followed by aimlessly watching the road blur above the dashboard until we arrived. A perfectly average lift, by any means; nothing remarkable about it. Yet in making these unremarkable journeys time and time again, I have begun to ask myself an important question:

                          When was the last time I really noticed a car journey?

I don’t mean just noticing how far I’m travelling and which turnings we took to get there; but being aware of all that we were passing through. How many people driving or being driven right now are actually looking out of their windows and thinking about the landscape that they’re in; about the noises, the shades of colour, the rise and fall of the fields and forests and buildings as they merge? And then how many people are seeing nothing but the blur of the motorway at seventy – an interminable rush beyond a window; hearing only the sound of the engine and the air buffeting small gaps in the windows as if “outside” does not exist at all – as if a journey is only a state of limbo between destinations?

If you were to ask someone who had driven from Birmingham to London yesterday what they had done on that day, they’d probably say something like,

“I went to London”, and then they might tell you what they did there.

Or, just after arriving in London they might say,

“I’ve been driving.”

Driving.

It calls to mind the image of a car interior and wheels rolling by at high speed. There is no place attached to it, no sense of a world it fits into, just an idea of getting somewhere fast. This is convenience – the quickest route from a to b – and in many ways it makes sense that this is what we routinely settle for, in our modern world of crammed schedules and fast-paced living.

But this is not the way that journeys have to be, and it is not the only way to travel.

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The moment you decide to take the scenic route on the train, or choose to cycle through the woods, or boat your way down the winding waterways of a country, you are forced to slow down and look around, opening yourself up to something quite amazing: noticing the journey. Not just noticing the journey as movement, but as a discovery of place, self and mind.

As you slow down, you allow yourself to become more aware of your own thoughts, of the interactions between yourself and your environment, and begin to engage mentally with the full height and breadth of a space as a historic and imaginative pool of potential. Giving yourself this mental breathing room in your day to day journeying is how problem solving is tangled out, how we process our own desires – how poetry is born.

It’s too easy nowadays to neglect making time for ourselves in this way, time for making sure we understand how we are connected to the worlds we inhabit. It’s also time we need for processing and distilling observations and experience into something meaningful, something that lasts in the mind.

Walking or floating down the canals of the UK, for example, offers up a whole wealth of ideas and stories if you allow yourself to slow down and engage with the journey: in the conversations of passersby, the memories of long lost boats and boaters, the years of trains and wars and disuse, and the rallies that brought them back into being. There is so much there to contemplate whilst the leaves bow in and out of view, and the birdsong and constant running of water set the pace to your thoughts and movements.

This slow time for contemplative thought is, for me, much of what makes poetry and poetic thought possible. It is an opening-up to feeling the sensory past and present of place and moment, to feeling the rhythms that surround us and that we automatically orient our lives around. It enables us to learn how to play off these feelings, pushing and pulling against the pulses and sounds to create something evocative, something that captures the unique way our thoughts fall against one another and gradually coalesce into meaning.

I find that poetry is so often a discovery of new and beautiful ways of seeing. It captures the unexpected in the things that we think we know – life, love, cities, nature, people, words. But in order to access any of those multitudes of perspectives, in order to see the extraordinary within the ordinary, we must allow ourselves time for observation of our surroundings in the first place.

This is what a journey can be, if we let it; this great storing-up of inspiration, a way of focusing the mind and processing ourselves. So next time you’re about to get into a car, think about slowing down and taking a different route, think about getting out of the car and experiencing some new way of getting to and from the places you think you know; think about what you don’t know – what is waiting to be discovered all around you.

About the author of this post

32880562_10208750525599857_7033432400910614528_n.jpgJessica Kashdan-Brown is a poet and writer based in both Bath, where she lives, and Coventry where she studies as part of the University of Warwick Writing Programme. She is currently working on the installation of a poetry route within the Bath flight of locks along the Kennet and Avon canal. This is a large-scale poetry project designed to draw attention to the Bath canal as an imaginative space, and as an alternative mode of transport to cars in Bath. For more details on the project, please follow this link.

 

Creatives in profile: interview with Justin Sullivan

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Justin Sullivan

Justin Sullivan is a singer and songwriter; the founding member and lead singer of New Model Army. Formed in 1980 to play two gigs, 14 studio and four live albums later they are still going strong, releasing Winter in 2016, and currently touring South America. He also has two solo albums, and is part of Red Sky Coven, in which he performs with Joolz Denby and Rev. Hammer.

INTERVIEWER

Tell us about yourself – your background and your lifestyle.

SULLIVAN

I never tell too much about myself. It’s all out there if people really want to know…

INTERVIEWER

Music or writing as a first love – which came first, and how do they coexist in your output?

SULLIVAN

Music always came first. Like many people growing up, music made sense of the world and the mysteries of life and experience when nothing else did. I found that I had an ability to shape ideas and words later. Their coexistence is a tricky issue for me – how much precision and meaning to sacrifice for the sake of the song as a whole is a constant question. I love the ‘ideas stage’ of song-writing; that’s the easy bit – but the actual construction of songs is just a question of ‘putting the hours in’.

INTERVIEWER

Who and/or what inspires you?

SULLIVAN

Anything, everything. Things I see, read, stories that other people tell me. I try not to write too much about my own life and experiences; many songs begin with ‘I’ but really they are other people’s stories.

INTERVIEWER

You have often told of your love of being “by, in, or on the water”, and much of your work details this love. Where does this love stem from, and how does it inform your writing?

SULLIVAN

There is a physical sensation of communion when swimming in the sea or rivers because the water is moving around you, with you, almost like another sentient being. I also think that constant change is the principle of life but while forests and mountains and seasons are changing they’re not really happening in our time scale. The movement of waves and tides is much more something we can relate to.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have a writing practice/system/habit?

SULLIVAN

The way we write songs is to have two cupboards. One is marked musical ideas – like drumbeats, chord sequences, bits of melody, bass-lines, jam sessions, anything collected from all members of the band. The other is marked lyrical ideas and at all time I have notebooks with me in which I write – sometimes just a line or idea, sometimes a whole story or rambling thought. When both cupboards are full I sit down and start to put things together; it’s important to wait until both cupboards are full and not be stuck in a studio scratching heads looking for inspiration. If you’ve got enough in storage the process becomes pretty easy  – again just a question of ‘putting the hours in’.

INTERVIEWER

Your writing work is sometimes cited as poetry – is there a significant difference between the poetry and lyrics in your mind, and if so, what is or are the differences?

SULLIVAN

I think there is a difference. Poetry (or at least good poetry) can have a certain musicality but it doesn’t have to be sung. The rise and fall of words can be altered by the person reading. In song-writing the melodic rises and falls are fixed and have to be right.

INTERVIEWER

Your lyrics are syntactically coherent throughout each song, and many convey full and detailed stories and sentiment. Many musicians write music first, fitting the vocal line, and thus the lyric, to the melody. What is your practice, and how does it affect the writing of lyrics, and the evolution of a song?

SULLIVAN

Mostly (though not always) I write in a recognisable form of structured verses, choruses, breaks etc into which I have to fit lyrical ideas as best I can, which takes more work and involves more hard choices.

INTERVIEWER

You and Robert Heaton worked closely with writer Joolz Denby, putting music to her poetry for several of her albums. In terms of composing music for lyrics/poetry, what do you think is most important to keep in mind?

SULLIVAN

I have done a few albums with Joolz – as have other musicians. These are particularly attractive projects because her poetry usually has a strong narrative, which allows music to be built around it – almost like a film soundtrack. On top of this she has an outstandingly musical reading voice (she once worked with a very famous Canadian jazz pianist who said it was like working with a jazz singer). We begin with the poem of course but can spend so long on the music that it’s important not to forget that in the end it’s still all about the poem…

INTERVIEWER

Do you have a specific ‘reader’ or audience in mind when you write?

SULLIVAN

No, never.

INTERVIEWER

Is language itself a love for you, or just a tool? What are your thoughts on fluidity and development of language in the age of “text speak” and emojis?

SULLIVAN

Yes, language is a fascination and I am in total admiration of certain poets and authors, but as I said at the beginning, it does come secondary to the music for me. I like the way language changes. I love text messages for their brevity and precision. I’m not especially quick-witted in conversation. So the chance to think for a minute before replying is welcome. I don’t hate emojis as some people often claim to. In wider social media (I don’t do Facebook but of course I’ve seen it often), they are essential. In normal every day human conversation we read each other’s faces as well as listen to words which is incredibly important to gauge what people really mean, whether they’re joking or not, whether they’re hurt or upset. Without this communication the possibilities for misunderstandings and the escalation of bad feeling is multiplied many times over; hence the development of emojis.

INTERVIEWER

How would you say your writing has changed through your career, and what have been the major influences on its development?

SULLIVAN

When I started, I felt a need to state positions, emotions. After the first few years, I’d done that and didn’t feel the need to repeat them. Instead it became interesting to tell stories, even those of people whom I don’t naturally agree with or find sympathetic. It goes without saying that Joolz has been the most major influence on my development as a writer but of course there have been many others too. As lyricists I really admire Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, Gillian Welch, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, lots of country and hip-hop artists all for their precision and poetry. Oh and many, many others.

INTERVIEWER

In Song To The Men Of England, you “co-write” with Percy Bysshe Shelly, and the social climate in the West is hugely polarised, monochromatic and angry right now – what are your thoughts on poetry and music as protest and documentation?

SULLIVAN

Well I wouldn’t say we co-wrote it. It was for a straightforward political project – I can’t remember whose idea it was to use the Shelley poem, probably Joolz’s, and we created some music that fit with her reading. Political poetry and music rarely change people’s minds but what they can do is give focus and clarity to a half-thought and, most importantly, make people aware that they’re not alone in how they feel about the World. This is incredibly important. We’ve really felt a new electrical charge at our concerts in the last 5 years or so – as if people NEED this music more than ever and the sense of community that it creates.

INTERVIEWER

When we last met, you were telling me of how you’d found a proper original punk rock recording studio in Bradford, that you were looking forward to going to. Has that bourn fruit, and if so, what and when should we expect?

SULLIVAN

A long time ago now. ‘Winter’ was made there and so will at least part of whatever we do next.