Monday, 24 June 2019

Writing Your Life

I used to run a memoir/ autobiographical writing class called 'Writing from your Life'. I loved reading the stories my students wanted to share, a 90 year-old writing for his family, a woman coping with chronic pain, a man involved with the quest to prove life on Mars to name a few. They learned to open up and share their passions through words, real bravery. 

My own poetry is rooted in my life stories; joy and pain, discovery and regret. But when my tutor asks me to focus on myself with her prompts; to examine ourselves in a mirror, to label my personality, to greet myself as a friend head on, I find it immensely difficult. I can write about aspects of my life, pick them apart, but looking at myself clearly, recognising who I have become is painful. Not even because of the pain of recent events, just that up-close scrutiny. It is easier to treat myself as a character in my poems, to allow that distance before facing difficult moments. Am I who I want to be, am I a good person, a good friend, do people want to be with me? That microscopic analysis of my personality, of my self is uncomfortable. It may only be my weary view, others will see me differently, but we never like ourselves when we examine too closely.

Not sure where I'm going with this. While I'm comfortable writing about my life, I'm not comfortable with opening my self to being explored in my writing. Cracking open a nut to find the insides too bitter. I'm trying not to shy away from the challenge these prompts are placing before me, but I can feel myself resisting. My writing is too pat, contrite lines trying to sum things up when there's no exact answer. 

It all depends on my mood, what's happening around me, a multitude of things that can tip my attitude one way or the other. Writing daily on a variety of subjects can capture this, the wildly swinging up and down of my moods, my opinion of my self.

I've been meeting online a few writers who write a daily haiku or short poem and post them as a kind of diary. My daily writing works in the same way, I guess, though I don't always share them. It's interesting to see the ebb and flow of my thoughts. This blog written over the last weeks also shows that flitting. 


I've been talking on here about struggling to find outlets and my support for my work. I find sometimes when you complain about something out-loud, verbalise the frustration or pain, the knot eases in some unexpected way. I started this blog originally to lay out some of the issues I was having with conceiving my last child, the guilt and grief, but shortly after starting, I conceived after years of trying. So the blog eventually changed to be about writing.

I thought writing here and speaking to other writers at the Lahti conference would help me in practical ways to find out about resources I was unaware of. It was kind of helpful, but the group I was pointed towards is aimed at supporting writers working in languages other than Finnish and Swedish, the two national languages of Finland, but the group is primarily focussed on languages that aren't English as they feel languages such as Arabic, Russian, Spanish, etc, have less support than English here. While again, I understand and agree to some extent, it does leave writers such as myself out of the loop. I'm going to meet up with one of the organisers after my holidays and see what they can offer or suggest. 

But after the slight disappointment of contacting this organisation, I woke to an email from Hedgehog Poetry with the results of the 'Neglected or Selected Competition' I entered. I had won, a total surprise. I don't usually enter competitions, especially ones that require a fee, but the Press has intruiged me for a while. I was hoping to join their Cult which gives members special challenges, but also allows them to enter competitions for free once I had some money, a great deal, but now it looks like my collection Totems, which is a smaller version of my huge Scottish collection, is coming out with Hedgehog Poetry in 2020. I can't wait to begin the whole process. 

So it's worth plodding on, seeking out new opportunities, pushing past your reservations and speaking out even in small ways. 

Monday, 17 June 2019

LIWRE, Writers in Lahti, Finland

This weekend, I attended the Lahti International Writers Reunion LIWRE in Lahti, Finland. A collegue from Scotland contacted me on all the various social media I have recently joined and finally I noticed, so I arranged to go up for the last session and the poetry reading in the evening. The theme was Nature and Writing and it lead to an interesting and varied discussion that talked about the Death of the Author and distancing the author from their work, the role of social media, the difference between nature (ie the world around us) and nature (our character) and how they come together and are kept apart in writing. 

I really enjoyed the reading; eight writers from around the world with very different styles, but at times similar themes. I really enjoyed Kätlin Kaldmaa's singing in Estonian and bear poems and Kári Tulinius's energetic Icelandic poems. It would have been nice to have some kind of social gathering that the audience could also join in after the reading, drinks or something, as the writers all ran off to a dinner and I didn't get much time to speak to anyone, including my friend. I know the event is mostly for the writers, but it would maybe attract more guests if there was chances to speak to the writers.

They did a great job of translating all the speeches on paper beforehand (though some went off script) and translating the discussions and even the poems for the poetry evening were translated into English and Finnish, but all the social media announcements I could find on Facebook and Twitter were in Finnish. It would be good to have someone providing a bit of English social media commentary as I've been struggling to find literary events in English. It's a biennial event, so I hope to be able to see more (and maybe be included) in 2021. 

I did get to chat to an non-Finnish author based in Helsinki who made me aware of a group called Sivuvalo which helps non-Finnish authors, so I will contact them next week and see what they offer. 

All in all, an interesting day and hopefully the beginning of more literary things for me. 

Monday, 10 June 2019

Writing with Monkeys

It's the summer holidays here, kids everywhere and I don't know if I'm coming or going with my writing. We've all been sick with various bugs so I've been too tired or ill to focus much on the Wendy Pratt course I've joined though I'm enjoying the different focus of the prompts. I'm not able to write every day, but I'm trying to grab time here and there. I hate not being able to join in on the Facebook page as much as I would like, though we had a good online group chat last week. Wendy's releasing a new course soon, so keep an eye on her site for details. 

The current course is focussing on 'Writing with a Beginner's Mind,' offering techniques that help you lose that critical voice that often plagues writers, the worries that the work isn't good enough, the guilt that we never will be able to balance our lives and writing. I do struggle with the later most, trying to be a single parent and a writer and find a real job to support my family has more than its share of guilt. I need to try Wendy's meditation and focus excercises more, my monkey brain has monkey brain and I can never turn all the noise off. Even more so with four monkeys climbing around the house. 

One of my favourite prompts so far has been to think about the idea of 'banned words' in poetry, words that are too dated, over-used, purple. I went and found a list of archaic words and wrote a poem playing with them. I love dictionaries and thesaurus and using them to find new words and meanings. It makes you see language in a new light. What do you think, should words like shard and gossamer be banned from contemporary poetry?

My poem 'Dripping Winter' has appeared in Crossways Literary Magazine. I hope you take a wander over and check out the issue and maybe purchase a hard copy.

And finally, Happenstance Press is having an interesting challenge to write a rhyming poem on a wrapper. I'm not very good with rhymes, but thought I could try something short, maybe with some Finnish words. What rhymes with suklaa?

Monday, 3 June 2019

Take the Good with the Bad

I've had five poems published on the Dodging the Rain online magazine. The site is beautifully laid out, but I also like the fact that they publish a larger selection of poems from each poet and the poems I've read seem to flow so well together and it gives a really immersive feel for the poets' work. I'm pleased to have my work included.

I'm feeling even more isolated than with my last post, Twitter may not be good for me. It does have its good sides; finding out about calls for submissions and upcoming opportunities, but often I cannot take advantage of the grants, readings, etc, because I'm in the wrong place. I'm not bothered by other poets' sucesses and actually enjoy seeing them, but my lack of a local writing circle and opportunities being an English poet in Finland means I don't have those chances myself. But I'm trying not to wallow and figure out ways to help myself.

Writing has always been a more solitary occupation which I'm fine with in terms of the actual process, but social media means that writers can connect and share their experiences and opportunities through blogs and places like Twitter. 

I'm enjoying being part of the Poetry Blogging Network, reading different blogs and seeing how we're alike in so many ways with how we deal with issues that affect writers and artists. I enjoy my writing group when I can attend, though that's been more difficult lately and things will quiet down over the summer. I need to find a way to find out about and be more involved in local writing events, readings, book launches, but it's difficult with my toddler Finnish skills. I'm considering organising something myself, but it's still just a thought at the moment.

But enough of the negative, my American Submittable magazine submissions keep getting rejected, but a slow trickle of UK acceptances continue to come in. I've had more acceptances and publications this year than I can ever remembers, so I am thankful and will keep chugging on.