Thursday 30 October 2014

An example of my writing process

This morning I sat down in front of my computer to transfer "a first final draft" of a six-line poem from my A4 notebook to a Word file. This was after a dozen pages of handwritten drafts since an initial idea arrived in July.

These records are crucial to my writing process. If I'd typed directly on to a screen, I would have lost all the blind alleys and red herrings that I often later pillage for other lines in the poem, juggling the components until they fall into place. The physical act of marking a blank page, meanwhile, is also significant. There's no delete key in my notebook!

And so 59 words are now typed out and placed in a folder, yet that's far from the end of the process. I'll read the poem a few more times over the next few days, but then I'll force myself to put it away and slowly fall out of love with it.

Once a couple of months have gone by, I'll look through the poem once more. That's when previously unnoticed faults tend to show up. I'll try to sort them out back in my notebook, often referring again to those records of my first set of notes, before typing up "a second final draft" and stashing it for a further period. And so on and so forth. This process continues until there comes a point where I go back to the poem and feel no more changes are necessary. On a few occasions, this occurs quickly, but it usually takes at least a year from start to finish.

And then there are the poems that simply refuse to click, poems that keep dodging attempts to make them work even though I'm dead sure there's decent verse in there somewhere. How to deal with them...? Well, that's what friends are for...

Monday 27 October 2014

Not a negative review in sight

There's certainly a place for negative reviews, so long as they are constructive in their criticism and not just a drawing of battlelines. No poet enjoys taking a hit, but reflection follows the initial surge of hurt if a decent discussion is to be had.

However, you won't find a single negative review on Rogue Strands. That's not because of any sycophantic attitude. Instead, my aim is for this blog to be a celebration of the new verse that I enjoy. My intention is to help readers discover poets and books, each review attempting to provide a flavour of the collection under scrutiny. I've written critical pieces for magazines and journals on several occasions, but Rogue Strands will continue to share terrific verse and encourage people to read it!

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Overlapping margins, Lydia Fulleylove's Estuary

Estuary (Two Ravens Press, 2014) is Lydia Fulleylove's first full collection. It displays many of the virtues of Notes on Land and Sea, her 2011 HappenStance Press pamphlet, but the longer format provides her with more room to build and develop connections and tensions, not just within poems but between pieces and even genres.

This last point is especially significant in the case of Estuary, as the book intermingles verse with diary extracts and prose monologues, while also featuring artwork by Colin Riches. The aim is not simply to evoke a place. Instead, a dialogue is established between self and place, together with a gradually evolving attempt to map inner as well as outer landscapes.

In this context, a consideration of Fulleylove's perspective is pivotal. Points of comparison and contrast might be found in Hilary Menos' collection, Red Devon. Both poets have much to say about modern farming methods and their effects on traditional life and nature. However, Menos writes from within, as a farmer in Devon. Fulleylove, meanwhile, is an outsider, always keenly aware that she only has one year to capture the Yar estuary on the Isle of Wight. As a poet in residence there, as a guest, she's invited on to the land and along to events, and many such margins are at play throughout this collection.

The estuary is on the border between land and sea, each impinging on the other. For instance, Fulleylove's work in a prison and her father's illness inform her visits to the estuary, while this illness and work are then informed in turn by the estuary. Different worlds overlap. As a consequence, the poet's use of diary extracts alongside poems is very successful: the diary contributes to the verse and vice versa.

For example, here's a snippet from a diary extract:

"Sun floods through wintry trees and then a scud of rain. Yesterday my sister collected my father who has been staying with us and today he's an emergency admission to the hospital's psychiatric wing. I walk on steadily, Causeway Cottage ahead. What would it be like to live there by a tidal river? You could watch the continual uncovering. You would begin to know the river by heart."

The above prose is then followed by a poem titled "The call of the water rail":

"What you do when he's been admitted
is go to work as usual, the group waiting for you
in the café, coffees already frothing, words buzzing.

What you do is explain the plan of action,
advise warm coats, gloves, woolly caps,
lead them out towards the marsh

where if you sit still for long enough
you may hear the call of the water rail,
though this shy bird is seldon seem..."

Lydia Fulleylove's Estuary is not yet another collection of nature poems that revolve around the sea. It's a profound meditation on the enriching internal and external tussles that take place when we spend time both in such landscapes and in contemporary society. This book invites us to reflect on how we are leading our lives. It really is poetry for our times.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

The Next Review

I'm now back in deepest Extremadura, having met some terrific people in Shrewbury and Oxford. Over thirty of my pamphlets flew into the hands of new readers, but their weight in my rucksack was replaced by numerous books and mags to be devoured over the coming weeks.

Chief among my new possessions is my contributor's copy of The Next Review Vol.2/No.1:

The Next Review (see website here) is a relatively new print-based magazine. This issue features a wide range of poetry and reviews, but I'd especially highlight Richie McCaffery's verse and an interview with Don Paterson.

There certainly seems to be something of a nod towards Ian Hamilton's The New Review in that title and in much of the contents. I'll be following its development with great interest.