Sunday, 26 January 2020

Burns' Night 2020

I'm recovering from a Burns' Night blast, so this will be short, but sweet. 

Bindweed has published two of my poems in their 10th online issue. Lovely issue, check it out. 

Burns' Night was so much fun. For those of you who don't know, it celebrates the poetry and life of Robert Burns, Scotland's bard. The Finnish Scottish Society here in Finland have an annual event, this year held on Suomenlinna, Finland's fortress island just off Helsinki. I was involved with the creating and cooking of the haggis from scratch and the kitchen is such a good place to be.

We had the traditional 'Address to the Haggis', bagpipers, a musician singing Burns' songs, a game where guests are invited to read selected lines of the poems, either those a bit racy, with a touch of Scottish humour or those a that might be difficult for the non-Scots speaking. It's was a great laugh and there might have been a bit of drinking. No whisky for me though. 

Sunset on Suomenlinna.


I'll leave you with a Burns song I particularly like. Here's a link to a version that explains some of the Scots words. 


A Man's A Man For A' That

Is there for honest Poverty
   That hings his head, an' a' that;
The coward slave—we pass him by,
   We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that.
   Our toils obscure an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
   The Man's the gowd for a' that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
   Wear hoddin grey, an' a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
   A Man's a Man for a' that:
For a' that, and a' that,
   Their tinsel show, an' a' that;
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
   Is king o' men for a' that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
   Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
   He's but a coof for a' that:
For a' that, an' a' that,
   His ribband, star, an' a' that;
The man o' independent mind
   He looks an' laughs at a' that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
   A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest man's abon his might,
   Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
   Their dignities an' a' that;
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
   Are higher rank than a' that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
   (As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
   Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
   It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
   Shall brothers be for a' that.


Saturday, 18 January 2020

Too Tired to Think of a Title

This week consisted of subbing four full days, the fifth day I had a meeting at my son's school because he's been struggling since we moved him to mainstream and chasing up information and applying for a course or two or three. I managed to get one application in and I think I've decided against one of the courses. It's full time, my son's needs and appointments are obviously going to increase, so I won't be able to commit to going into Uni every day. The new plan is to apply to the other two and see what happens and continue to work as a substitute.

I graduated with my second degree in 1996. I've done a few language and creative writing courses since, but I haven't written an essay or done academic research for over 20 years. I've edited essays for other people, double-checked their bibliographies and facts, but I've not been a proper student. And now I've decided to apply to two one-year courses while working part-time. I'm not sure I'll get into either of them, but I'm getting a bit worried that I'll be able to handle even one of them.

I swore I didn't want to go back to studying. I'm 50 this year and I wanted that part of my life to be done. But needs must. I will get paid more, have more opportunities if I do some training. I don't think I'm ready to be a full-time student again though.

I'm already feeling my age and out-of-placeness, struggling with the online application system, but, honestly, who thought that it would be a good idea to not allow people to go back and double-check, proof-read their details and that if you tried, you'd crash your application. I've discovered even some of the students I've worked with submit essays written on phones without doing more than a spell check. Crazy. Yes, I've complained to the University, being a mature student-hopeful means I won't be willing to sit back and just accept things.

My writing has gotten very little attention until this weekend, but I've found a bit of time to do some writing and editing.

I've also had four poems published in the morphrog 20 issue this week, the online version of The Frogmore Papers. It's nice to have a few poems in one place, to read the other writers and also for myself.

I've also received the new Hedgehog Poetry Press Cult bundle, a big pile of pamphlets that come with my subscription. I was especially looking forward to Raine Geoghegan's new collection they lit fires: lenti hatch o yog, monologues, songs and haibun about her family's Romany life. I had read her previous collection Apple Water: Povel Panni and was really taken by the mixture of poetry, culture and language woven into her writingIt was actually some of Raine's poems on Chris Murray's Poethead website that led me to Hedgehog. I was so taken by her writing and thought the house that published her would be worth looking into and it definitely was.

The new collection doesn't disappoint. I love the colours, the sound of the Romany words her writing evokes. Each piece makes me feel as if I was by those fires listening to those stories, travelling down the roads with a warm, tight-knit family. Raine Geoghegan's writing offers a different and welcome insight to the Romany culture than most popular media offers these days. 

It's sad seeing my writing taking a backseat to so much, but I'm trying to keep myself connected with poetry however I can.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

A New Direction for 2020

It's been a bumpy return to the real world this week. Struggles getting everyone back into routine, but luckily there was no work for me until Friday. It meant I could pop into my women's group on Thursday and catch-up. I haven't been able to attend for months because of the randomness of my job, so it was nice to have a bit of me time.  

My results arrived for my language test. I passed two of the four sections, I needed three. I was gutted that I didn't pass the writing section which seemed to be my strongest skill on the day. I felt crap for a bit and then added the next sign-up date into my calendar. We'll see how I feel in a month. Then I tried to watch a Finnish language programme. I have to push on.

I'm now looking at updating my skills by taking courses. I don't think I'm going to be able to make a go as an editor here, there are too many people competing for the same kind of client, so I've decided to focus more on my teaching. It's not my dream job, but at this point in my life I have to do what's the most practical and immediate though I will try and make the most of what I need to do. 

I've found an online Special Educational Needs course that I'll probably apply for. Helping my son with his needs and subbing at schools where there are so many SEN kids and not enough teachers with the training or experience to help them has really heightened my interest in this area. 

I've already been trying to sort my application for a Vocational Teacher's Training course which I could use to get jobs at high school level and above, but then I talked to a friend about a course that would allow me to teach primary school to high school level at English schools which is what I'm doing as a sub, so I'm now thinking that might be better. Both of these are local, part-time and free, but highly contested so I'm going to apply for both and see what happens. I'm up to my eyeballs in applications and contacting the various universities in my life to prove I worked or studied there, writing personal statements and chasing up former supervisors for references. 

I've always needed some sense of direction for my life and I think last year was mostly about me getting my feet under me so I could make that decision. So now that I have decided I feel stronger and I can take a bad blow like my test results without totally giving in. One step back isn't the end. 

I haven't had much time for writing, but I've started a couple of poems that I want to work on. One is about wild skating, skating on lakes that are just frozen, from a video I saw. Yesterday I had a chance to visit such a lake, so I want to adapt the notes I've made to that experience. I wasn't skating, but the sounds the ice made are amazing, so I want to try and capture that. I'm scribbling here and there still. 

I'm glad I had such a productive and positive year in 2019. 2020 is going in a different direction and while I'd still like to work on the poetry, I hopefully won't feel as bad if I can't write every day because I have a lot of poems to work on from last year and my pamphlet coming out. I just want to keep producing when I can and make the most of what work I have already done. 

The Green Light Journal has published my poem 'When I Saw Her Standing There' in its latest issue, so good news keeps trickling in from my submissions. Onward.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Writing Stats for 2019

I'm always amazed how busy poetry editors are in the break between Christmas and going back to work in the new year. I've had yet another rejction from Granta which came as no surprise, but I've had three acceptances and two publications in the first four days of 2020.

My poem 'Saltshine' has been published in Barren Magazine's Issue 12 and my poem about early photographer Sarah Anne Bright 'The Quillan Leaf' in Lucy Writers' Funky Women Issue. Can't wait to have a bit of time to browse through both issues.

I've finally sorted through all my own submission records for 2019.

2019
155 new poems
221 submissions to magazines, 7 to book publishers
170 magazine rejections, 6 book rejections
27 acceptances, 1 win pamphlet competition
41 poems were published in 25 magazines or other venues, 21 online
45 blog posts, 1 guest blog post

Compared to last year:

2018
73 new poems
94 submissions to magazines, 8 to book publishers
65 magazines rejections, 9 book rejections
10 acceptances
15 poems were published in 7 magazines or other venues, 5 online
48 blog posts

I've upped my acceptance rate from 10 to 12% and had a pamphlet accepted for publication. In order to do that I've had to more than double my submission rate which in truth was easy as I had so many more poems to work with. With going back to work I probably won't be able to keep up those numbers, but I know what's possible and I hope to be able to build on these contacts once my pamphlet comes out.

I have a lot of poems I need to finish for 2020 and Angela Carr has published her prompts for her newest course (without all the cool poems and more details she includes if you take her course) so I'm going to also try and write a few new ones as well. I've decided against taking a course this month because I want to focus on getting more work and catching up on things like the final edits of my pamphlet. I've been going over it this week, fine tooth comb kind of thing. I love it, but I need to draw a line in the next day or so and send it off. I could over-edit if I'm not careful. 

So January 2020 is off and running. We'll see what my momentum is like once the kids are back at school and I'm available for work. 

Saturday, 28 December 2019

A Messy End to 2019

I should do an end of year review, but it's a big job and as much as I had hoped to have lots of time to get things done over the holiday, having the kids around means I don't focus as much as I would like. 

I'm still trying to edit my collection, I have a pile of forms I need to fill out for my son's therapy support and I need to go over my numbers for my submissions and publications as I sometimes log things wrong, have to chase up long-held submissions or miss publications like my two poems recently published at Nine Muses Poetry. There's more application forms waiting in the wings.

I started on the forms this morning, but because they're in Finnish they take so much more attention that I can give with the kids hovering about, so I took them swimming and nothing's been done since. It doesn't help I'm in that post-Christmas fog where I don't know what day it is. I don't want to go out, but don't want the kids to stay in all day. I'm fitting in bits here and there, but lots of things are slipping through the cracks, I really just need a whole day on my own to sort through things and finish something or at least get on top of the constant slipping pile. It will all get done somehow, bit by bit, but it won't be pretty or organised or run smoothly. 

Every year for Christmas I make a photo book of favourite pictures of the kids and our year, so I can be reminded of the good things, the fun we had. As soon as I click print, I come across another memory I want to add or I take photos that should be there. I will add them to next year's book, but it's a nice reminder that things keep moving on and that there will always be something more. 

The end of the year, a messy, difficult year. I'm already looking forward to 2020, so many things I want to do, need to do, challenges to face and pleasures to grasp. 

I can't wait to get out of 2019 and say, I've survived it.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Going Home

First day of holiday and the kids and I have started the gingerbread house, made our annual Christmas decorations and I've lost my patience with their fighting, but I haven't written a line of poetry or done any editing on my collection. I've done none of my poetry reading either, so no review this week. This impossible balancing act of life and art. Even when work is taken out of the mix, I can't keep on top of it all. Tomorrow, we need to get out of the house, so I need to try and fit in some work in the morning or afterwards. I must get back into the habit.

When my babies were little and we were struggling with their sleep habits I read somewhere that it takes six times as long to break a habit than to make it. It's so easy to not write a poem a day, not squeeze in the time to write or edit around work, but to build up that habit again is more of a struggle. It requires force of willpower to not take the easy route and turn on the telly after the kids go to bed, to not stare at a screen without writing something useful on it. 

So I've cracked open the collection tonight, stepping into the cold Scottish rain again of my poems, the hard gray stone and cups of tea. The images I draw together for the cover. Wool and sand, loch and Glasgow streets. Touching the words I've written again. It's like going home.

I'm looking forward to seeing this chapbook, but there's a sense of regret to finish it, to close the book on things I've been working on for almost two decades. Also to not be publishing the whole collection, though these are my favourite poems from it. And the poems I'm not publishing are more difficult to face just now, stepping back into the muddied waters of my old relationship which I'm happy not to ford just now.

I'm moving slowly back into the words, to find my way through them again. 

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Getting Through the December Slog

I've been substituting most of the week for a class of first graders with a couple of high need kids and even though it's only half days compared to working with middle school, it's much more exhausting physically and mentally, so you can imagine that I haven't had much chance to write or think poetry.

I did spend some time on the free stock photos sites, trying to come up with images that could be used for my poetry book cover or at least inspire my editor to find a cover. It's strange, I don't have any clear ideas for a cover image, but I do have a mood board type of thing with images I conjure up when I think of my Finnish collection. It has actually been a bit of a time suck, but requires less mental energy that doing a final read through/edit of the collection. I hope to get everything pretty much sorted to send to the editor during the Christmas break.

Except maybe the author photo, I'm chickening out on contacting the photographer who offered to do it, in the hope that she contacts me. I'm out of spoons for that particular endeavour. But it might be easier to organise in the new year after the kids go back to school or so I'm telling myself as an excuse.

My hard copy of Abridged: Kassandra has arrived and it's more beautiful than the virtual copy, each image really accentuates it's accompanying poem and the paper quality really feels good in my hands. It's a pleasure to flip through and read the poetry selected. Definitely worth supporting this venture. 

And this week I've read Melissa Fu's Falling Outside Eden by Hedgehog Press. It's a lovely, gentle collection, a conversation sometimes urgent, sometimes full of acceptance or regret at untenable situations. I founds myself totally lost in those moments, in small beauties of eating watermelon or watching snow fall, the deeper well of watching a relationship fail. The collection allows us to enter Eden, knowing from the beginning it will eventually fall apart. Subtly crafted and weighty with beautiful language, another smashing collection from the Hedgehog.

The last week before Christmas, so much to do and no energy to accomplish most of it. I hope this time of year is not being too tough on you.