Sunday, 29 March 2020

Corona Virus Week Two - Facing Isolation

As so many of us are stuck at home in these crazy times, I've become part of The Stay-at-Home Online Literary Festival. It runs from 27 March to 11 April and will have readings, book launches, discussions, all those things we're missing with social distancing in the literary world. Some of the writers included are Maggie O'Farrell, Louise Welch, the writers of Butcher's Dog, Molly Brown and Tania Hershman.

I'm offering two poets a chance to receive feedback on up to ten poems or to discuss their next moves. If you're interested feel free to contact me via my website www.grimalkinpress.co.uk or via my Twitter handle @grimalkingerry. 

On a personal writing side, E. Christine Murray has included 5 of my poems on Poethead her collection of women poets from Ireland and abroad and there is a link to this blog in her Index of Women Poets. I've mentioned Poethead on here before, I catch up with it regularly to get a taste of what's going on in women's poetry. It's a heady mix of linguistic acrobatics and seamstresses of imagery and styles, every click something new and undiscovered. I usually end up in a rabbit hole of following links to other blogs or publishers sites or looking for more of the writers' work if I find one that really hits home. It's really worth spending some time wandering through.

On a smaller personal scale, everything that's going right now on seems so momentous, but I haven't been able to write about it. I edit unfinished poems, but I can't write more than a few notes about the self-isolation. I have one poem I started just as this began to take hold where the virus is beginning to work its way into. It was supposed to be just about the drama of beginnings and endings at a hospital, but I can't help to see the impact of the virus in the stanza. In everything, I read, watch, think about the virus seems to overwrite itself. 

I started scribbling the previous paragraph last night, far too deep into the wee hours and followed up by rewriting another half-finished poem so that it looked at home isolation. So I guess it will find a way to write itself. I can't approach it head on. I'm uncertain of where to start, worrying whether my view is worth speaking. I feel so insignificant, locked away, protected by the privilege of being able to wash my hands, stay off work, protect my family. Our lives feel on the verge of a huge change and I'm just holding my breath, waiting to see what will happen, how we will be affected, what will remain.

We are all uncertain and waiting. Be safe.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Corona Virus Isolation - Week One


On the poetry front, I've written a few rough drafts, edited a lot, submitted to a few journals and received a lot of rejections. Nothing new really. For not working, I haven't had a lot of time which I'll explain below. 

On a positive note, I've recently had a poem appear in the latest issue of Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal. I can't wait to get my copy, the cover is amazing. They've been great to work with. Their previous rejections have always had a personal touch, but this acceptance has been lovely. They edited my poem which I always love, to get an outside view of my work, but they suggested changes without making me feel I'd done something badly. It felt like they really cared about how the magazine and my poem worked together.

I wish more magazine editors believed, "Line-editing, specifically, deserves recognition as the essential part of the editor-poet relationship, and therefore must be preserved practice in the publication cycle of literary periodicals," as editor Suna Afshan of PBLJ does. She made my little poem seem important.

I have always dreamed of that sort of relationship with my eventual editor. That was what I was trained in when I started working with Joy Hendry at Chapman in Edinburgh. She spent time with each issue of the magazine, line editing, talking to the writers about her suggestions. Even more so with the poetry collections we published.

Another magazine Porridge has recently published my poe'Yötön Yö' on their website with a lovely image. Midsummer seems a long way off now, but it's important to remember that time keeps moving on, summer will be here soon enough. I've enjoyed following the links at the bottom to other poems, discovering random gems with that method.  

But back to the Corona Virus outbreak: we've been social distancing for the week, me and my 4 kids stuck together, home schooling. It's been pretty tough. I keep seeing memes and advice from people telling me I should teach them to sew buttons or make homemade playdough or don't bother with home schooling, to let kids be kids. Finland doesn't work that way. They expect kids to long online in various methods for certain classes, to do specific work everyday. They all assign work for their classes. Every teacher is using different apps for notifications and collecting work, I'm exhausted from juggling it all. 

My son with special needs seems to have the most work, but this may be just because it takes him so much longer to do the work. He's been very good about it, but the stress of being out of school's comforting routine, fighting with the unfamiliar software and my new teaching methods and poor grip of Finnish is showing. I've already said to the two middle kids' English teacher that her homework is not a priority as their English skills will not be the ones that slip during a month of isolation, it will be the Finnish language. We're still reading in both languages and will maybe start a Virus Diary, pictures and wee notes about their lives at the moment, but I'm not going to worry too much.  

Overall, if we have time I'm giving them a chance to do what they want. I make sure we go out in the fresh air every day and have put up the trampoline to give them an outlet for their endless energy. They help with chores and making dinner, but I'm not trying to fill the day with educational or fun activities. We all need time to unwind. Hopefully, this upcoming week will be easier because we now have the schedule and a vague routine. 

I'm struggling to keep up on with my own course work. I'm a week behind in the work and  have very little time to do things for myself during the day. I spent all day yesterday, watching presentations and reading articles. I don't want to do anything today, but I have a 35-page mental health article I need to browse.

So my hopes of writing a King Lear-type masterpiece as the memes are suggestion is not happening. But I know all this adventure, stress and upheaval will collect in me, compost into some beautiful poems at a later date. I'm keeping my own journal and making notes. Something good will be created from all this. I'm trying not to stress, worry or pressure myself or the kids. We'll get through this. 



Sunday, 15 March 2020

Interesting Times

'May you live in interesting times.' I wrote this quote in a notebook once, not knowing where it came from and what that would mean in the long run. It's possibly a curse and sometimes it feels just that.

I finally started my course, got some days back in work and then the Corona virus hit Finland properly. My sons have heavy head colds, so we're having to self-isolate for a week. I'm not worried, but it does make you think how our lives can change so quick. A year ago everything in my life was different. I'm happy to have moved forward and will continue to do just that, in my writing, in my career, with my kids, but sometimes it just feels overwhelming and inexplicable.

We'll spend the week doing homework together, going outside to enjoy the changing spring weather, keeping busy and getting through all this strangeness. Hopefully, without killing each other. 

The Corona Virus is going to require a lot of change, compromise, innovative thinking. A lot of writers will be losing out on work and money because events like readings, workshops and book launches will be cancelled. The writing community on Twitter is trying to support each other, offering to post information on each other's books and other threads to build camaraderie. Poetry Ireland is posting daily prompts, yeah! Bookshops are offering online sales, the Toledo Poetry Museum is doing an online open mic and I've even heard the suggestion of an online festival. Hopefully, by being isolated we can develop more connections.

This week, our writing group has moved online to avoid gathering in a very public venue. It was a fun change, but we all missed being together. I hope this is a short change and that those who are in self-isolation can find ways to get through. We're in this together. 

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Wandering the Words

It's been a strange week. I still can't get on my course that started last week due to technical issues. My whole application has been wiped from the system. I have no clue what's going on. I haven't had any teaching work this week, so I feel like I'm on hold. I had hoped to do some writing, but I only managed to work on finishing poems, nothing new.

I did get to visit a lot of people I haven't seen in months because of work which was lovely, but I just felt restless. I'm hoping this week will be better. I need to move with some purpose.

There's an American poet in my writing group, the first poet we've had besides myself in a while. Last week she read a poem and it was so American. I can't explain why, the strong rhythm, the long line breaks, the subject, I don't know.  I clumsily tried to explain to her after her reading that it was like being back in my creative writing classes in Idaho or out in nature there with my fellow Forestry students.

It's odd, I liked the reading style, but again I didn't. Like most of America, it doesn't fit me anymore, but it's familiar and slightly comforting. Maybe too much so, I knew that poem, that voice as soon as she started, it took me somewhere I'd been. It made me understand why I struggle to get accepted by American magazines, my poems don't sound like that, don't have that feeling anymore. I want to explore more, I don't want to go back on that mountain path I'd walked before.

I also listened to some poems by Angela Carr on her website. She has a little Sound Cloud box at the bottom on the right hand side. Her style of reading also felt familiar, but more what I heard in university in Scotland where I really got into writing. Treading familiar boards of long halls rather than walking in the woods. 

It was lovely to experience both again, I don't listen to enough poetry. I've visited the Poetry Foundation website several times and they often have audio of their poems, many times read by the poet. You can hear their way they read it, where they place the emphasis, hear their way of walking through their words. I need to wander back. 

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Dipping Back into Poetry

Some weeks, I feel myself moving further and further away from poetry, in order to earn money and care for my family. This isn't a lament. I've been very lucky to be able to take time off to raise my young kids when they needed me, to have a partner who supported me and to be able to use that time to write and build up a publishing record.

But occasionally I do see a ship I'd like to be on sailing away in the distance, a writing course I'd like to attend, an opportunity I cannot even consider. I wave to those lucky enough to take part and I turn back to my substitute teaching, my editing jobs, my attempts to re-train so I can improve my chances of finding work. There's a shadow of regret, but I have always liked a goal, moving towards a purpose, so I hope to make the most of this change of direction. And hard work, I relish a challenge, physical or mental, especially one with people on the sidelines saying I'm crazy for considering it.

I've been accepted into my SEN course, but I can't enroll properly because of someone technical glitch. It doesn't bode well for taking an online course. I'm still waiting to hear about my other course. I also need to figure out if I can teach, study and keep up with the kids. 

But I'm still keeping my toes in the poetry waters, writing occasionally, submitting, attending my poetry group. I've had a group of poems accepted by The Blue Nib this week, so I have that to look forward to. I could never give up writing completely. It always finds a way into my life. 

I've written the starts of two new poems this week. I feel like I'm writing in slow motion. I haven't finished any poems I've started this year and only finished 10 from last year. After writing everyday for so much of last year and writing so many poems, it's harder to get back into the flow. Once I actually clear my desk of work and admin, it's difficult to turn my head towards writing. The less attention I give it, the more I have to work at making time for it, to remember to take out my notebook rather than my phone, to not give into the tiredness on Friday night after work and go to my writing group where I usually have a bit of time beforehand to write. 

I'm back to where I was a year and a half ago when writing was work. Not that I didn't enjoy it, but it didn't come naturally, each line had to be pulled from me and shaped, rather than just me falling into a rhythm of writing as soon as I sat down.

Difference is, I know what is possible now. I couldn't believe then that I could write a draft of a poem daily, that it could be easy. Now, I know I need to make the effort to slot it in on days when I'm not teaching. I should also try to adapt to writing in the evening when the kids are in bed, but it's never been a natural time for me to work. But I've proven that this old horse can learn new tricks, so it won't hurt to try. 

I need to take advantage of the kids being out for another hour or so and do some proper writing. Enjoy the beginnings of spring. 

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Teaching Kids and Creative Writing

My poems 'Hare Moon' and 'The Postscript' have been published in issue 89 of Obsessed with Pipework. Thanks so much to the Charles and Katerina for making such a lovely issue and for taking the time to ship it to my far corner of Europe. My kids were excited to see my name in the issue and hear me read one of the poems out, they don't usually get to see my writing. Though my son said it didn't rhyme, so I'll need to spend some time working on his poetry knowledge.

I've had a couple of chances to teach creative writing to kids here in Finland as part of my substituting. I recently had to whip up a quick lesson when a teacher accidentally made a mistake in her lesson plans and asked me to teach the same lesson I had taught her class the week before. I gave them three vague prompts about aliens, sports, holidays and asked them to focus on 'to be verbs' which our lesson was covering. Some students wrote their one page dutifully, but showed very little excitement because it was just another assignment, but the wee group of boys who had been keeping me on my toes all week took a while getting into it. I forgot how much I enjoy watching kids enjoy writing.

I could see it, the fire behind their eyes as ideas began to grow, as words filled page after page. They didn't want to go out to break, they wanted to continue writing after they finished their required work in the next lesson. One asked if I could publish their work. If only. That's why I used to teach creative writing, to see that excitement. Even my teaching assistant was surprised that these particular kids, who struggled with school, who didn't read according to her, were able to find the imagination to come up with stories that they wanted to write and share. It can be a challenge to find a way to kick start their interest, but there's usually a way if you can take the time to work with them. I hope it get to use my skills more during the rest of this year. 

I found out I can't do the course that would allow me to get a teaching certificate here. I don't have enough credits in Linguistics. So that has whittled my course choices down to the SEN course and the Vocational Teachers certificate which is only good for high school and above. I've applied for both, though the SEN course is being held up as we wait for an approval letter from my main school. I don't know if I can do both time-wise and continue subbing, but I can try. I'll look into a linguistic course too, maybe.

This sort of teaching wasn't my goal years ago, I loved being a Creative Writing teacher and editor, but that's just not possible here. I'm having to adapt to the country and language I live in and to my current abilities and training. Maybe if I can get this Vocational Teacher degree, I can teach some adult classes in Creative Writing. But in the end, with four kids and the need to get myself independent, I need to look at more stable careers. With more and more graduates in Creative Writing, getting permanent teaching positions without a degree in Creative Writing is becoming harder and harder. (Something to consider if you're looking at taking a course.) So becoming a primary school teacher or something similar has to be seriously considered. 

I'm sitting here on another wild, rainy weekend, contemplating what to do next. I've been editing all week, first for paid work and also my own poems. I'm waiting on decisions on the two courses I've applied to and booking classes as a sub. I'm looking at jobs here in Finland and in the UK, though recent immigration laws will make it pretty impossible for me to move back there. I want to write new poems, but my brain has seized up. I'm trying not to worry about the uncertainty of my life because next week will be all new. I want to embrace that potential. 

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Stepping Up

I've said several times on these pages that I needed to be brave and do more poetry readings here in Finland. I've also mentioned the yearly poetry event here in Helsinki, Runokuu, Poetry Moon. I've been unable to motivate myself to actually take any steps forward to organise a reading for myself, so Runokuu has been nice enough to make an online application form for this year's event. 

I'm still trying to convince some of the poets and spoken word writers in my writing group to do a larger event with me, but I've applied individually to promote my chapbook which will hopefully be published this summer. It's not a guaranteed event, but I'm happy that Runokuu has opened this process to make it easier to apply. The form is in English and Finnish which is a relief as I think the one year I managed to write an email in English to the organisation, offering my help in whatever way they saw fit, I never received a response, possibly because of the language. 

Besides my group this week, sketching out the beginning of a poem in one of my breaks and submitting to one journal, I haven't managed much poetry-related. Besides Twitter. I have filled my Twitter feed with a mix of magazines, established and emergent writers. Some just comment on the world, many promote their books and readings, some post snippets of their writing, some post poems written by others that they love. I enjoy the latter most. I don't buy as many poetry collections as I should and getting them in the local libraries here is almost impossible if they were written after Shakespeare. So reading online journals and poems selected by other writers is my way of keeping in touch with the poetry world and the writers I enjoy. I can fit it into small pockets of time or scroll by if I don't want to head down a specific rabbit hole. 

It's the skiing holiday break here in Finland. There's been no real snow in Southern Finland this year and we're getting pummeled by the tail end of Storm Dennis, so it's still a very wet, black winter/ spring here. 

But I'm relieved to not be teaching for a spell. I have two editing jobs to finish this week which is exciting and exhausting. I've spent this weekend reading a virology doctoral thesis out loud to make sure I understand as much as I can and don't miss any grammar issues because I don't understand what is being explained. I'm learning a lot, but my eyes, throat and brain are tired. I've broken the back of both projects, so hopefully I'll be able to turn to poetry a little more as the week goes on.