Sunday, 5 July 2020

Ploughing Forward

This blog seems to have slipped my mind over the last few weeks. It's summer holidays here, so I've been busy with the kids, but no more than usual. We're following a much slower pace here. No travelling abroad, no visiting lots of public places. We've gone to the beach, the pool, the woods.

I'm taking it easy with writing as well. I'm not trying to write a poem a day, but working on something every day; submissions, editing, reading. I'm still not focussed on what I want to do next. I've looked at my novels and dropped them again. I can't see an idea for a new collection and with my to be published chapbook on hold because of the Corona situation and now word for any of the publishers I've sent my next collection to, it feels kind of futile to organise a new one. 

To find a sense of direction, I've been applying for jobs. I'm not sure primary or middle school teaching is for me, so I applied for a creative writing university post back in the UK and as expected didn't even get a look in, but it made me think about what I want to do. So on a whim I applied for a publishing job and received a positive response, so hopefully will have an interview soonish. It's a short-term contract to begin with, so it's a good chance to see if I want to get back into publishing. I've been missing it over the past year or so, but I'm not sure if I'm wearing rose-coloured glasses of my time working as an editor for an established press and for my own small company.

Even the change of direction with just applying for jobs has given me a wee jolt of adrenaline and more focus. I love teaching, but I think I love teaching creative writing more than mainstream teaching. I'm still trying to do my course and am learning a lot about teaching children with SEND, which will help me with my own children even if I don't go into teaching. I know I want to work with words and encouraging people to write and share their work, so publishing hits those goals for me as well. 

We'll see what the next few weeks hold. I'm miles away from where I was last year this time; newly separated, shell-shocked with no clear idea of what I wanted to do. I've been working as an editor and a substitute teacher, I've started a Uni course, I've had a chapbook accepted for publication. It's all forward motion, even if I've hit some rocks along the way. At this point, that's all I can ask. 

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Apologies for My Lack of Response to Current Events

When I decided to go quiet,
was the time I should have been speaking out.
When the screens started going dark,
black voices said to offer lifelines.
When I wanted to write,
I knew my voice wasn't one that needed to be heard.
I couldn't watch the violence any more,
but can't turn away any longer.
Frozen with indecision,
I've crawled back into my corner,
no safer, no more sheltered than anywhere else
for people of colour, for immigrants
to listen to what is needed of me. 

I had a chance to hear this poem read last night by the author Catrice Greer at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival's online Only Connect with Ankh Spice and it was so hard hitting and beautiful that I'm so happy that it's available online to share. It says more than I ever can.

The Heights

By Catrice Greer

It's been years
I think of you often 
And I remember 
You sitting on the stoop

With your boys,
your cousins
Doing what you knew
But wanting more

One day
After arrests, adventures, girlfriends
Missteps and babies
You turned 21

The sun was shining
It was your summer
And your joy drove in circles
around Wilton heights in your car
your favourtie music blasting
lyrics reverberating
from every corner, fence post, doorknob,
and amplified in the hollow
of the only quiet nook in the horseshoe turn

Your girlfriend and babies
Just dropped off at your mom's
Everyone waiting for you
To come inside
To celebrate you

A flurry of rattled off shots
From a fast swerving car
Spilling the life out of your sunshine
Cutting-off your sunbeams
slumped over a car steering wheel
All the hope seeping in puddles

I think of you often
choking back tears, holding my breath
So I don't scream out - why????
I miss
Your smile, young bravado, intelligence, questions

What ifs, and how comes?
Your joy
Wanting more out of your life
Making plans to be your best
And we'd talk

Second chances, new plans
Brother to sister, friends
You'd ask me how come I am so different

And I couldn't understand how come you couldn't see
We were the same
Just people living

I saw your heart
Beautiful gem
Miles away from weathered boards on windows

Misperceptions, Spaulding, Palmer, Blevedere and 
Street wars just to stay alive and feel alive in a world that didn't
Understand your value
Stunted short
By gunshots, rivalry, and misdirected youth
3 strike rules, missed opportunities, and poverty that
Brutally entraps, forced by pressures unseen but well known,

Making decisions that bright little brown boys rarely grow up with dreams of making
their lives less than the greatness they deserve

Wishing you a happy birthday,
Seems like
I had just seen you yesterday, Gone, gone
And we miss you
Every minute of every hour of every day
It's been years

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Changing Gears

I've taken some time off from the blog, it was one too many thing to remember and with school ending, two kids' birthdays coming up, something had to give. I've stopped writing a poem a day as well. I'm reading, writing when I want, gardening, baking birthday cakes, crocheting like a mad demon (one square left to finish this beast, I'm not going to think about the joining yet). It's nice to take a break from the things I've pressured myself to do.

I like to keep busy, need to have projects, but with the summer holidays starting, it's nice to take a break before shifting into a new direction. I have my course assignments to work on this summer, so need to get reading for those. I want to keep writing daily if possible, I've always got a mess of unfinished prompts from courses if needed.

I feel like I should be doing something bigger, though. My pamphlet is on hold because of the Corona virus situation, my other collections are sitting in publishers' slush piles. I don't know what I want to do yet, but feel restless. Maybe because I've finished painting my kitchen cabinets and my stairs and sorting my allotment, but it's more writing-wise. I need a new goal. I have no idea what though. So maybe this changing of gears will help me think of something. I even opened one of my novels, messed with the first page and then closed it. 

Suggestions on a postcard welcome.

A very new poem published this week. On the website Pendemic that features poetry written during the pandemic, my poem 'Reading 'The Waste Land' Before My Residence Permit Renewal Appointment'. Nothing like a lengthy title. 

Thanks to all the editors and staff for working on during these difficult times. 

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Corona Virus: Week Nine: Back to Semi-Normal

The kids in Finland went back to school on the 14th for about two weeks before the summer and I started subbing yesterday for 4 of the last 7 days. I'm not going to get into the wisdom of that decision as I'm not sure where I stand on it, but regardless, we're all looking forward to a break from this new normal.  

On the days I'm not working, I have plenty of things to keep me busy with my course, my writing and other things on my To Do List. They're opening the libraries to pick up reserved books, so that's something to look forward to. As I've said before I'm used to social isolation, it's the strain of home-schooling 3 kids on my own that's been getting to me. 

My focus has changed, so I've struggled to keep up with this blog. I'm back on my course work, trying to get my allotment sorted before my birch allergy gets so bad I can't go outside and I've finished painting my stairs, so I can focus on the kitchen cabinets next, if I'm not going back to work. I'm still trying to write my poem a day, but usually late at night, so I barely remember what I wrote in the morning and it feels like a new poem. 

The High Window has published three of my poems in their early summer issue. 

The Winnow has also published two of my poems in their summer issue. 

To be honest, I haven't had a chance to check out either of these issues, but will try at the weekend or summer break for us is after next week, so I will have more time then. And a pile of reading to catch up on. 

Things feel kind of back to normal. We can't go out to eat or go to the pool, cinema or amusement places for the kids, but basically life is continuing on with some adjustments. We're not a terribly social family anyway and have few friends here, so staying at home didn't affect us much. We'll see how the infection levels react and whether we have to go back to a form of lockdown again over the summer.

I hope everyone's adjusting and keeping well. 

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Corona Virus Week Eight: Distracted

I've been too busy to keep up with this. I can't believe it's May already.

Richie McCaffery has included two of my poems on his website The Lyrical Aye. I'm honoured to be on the site with Scottish poets such as Mario Relich, Sally Evans, Bashabi Fraser, Morelle Smith and Chris Powici, names I knew when I worked in Scottish publishing.

I've also had a poem appear in From Glasgow to Saturn which features writers who are alumni of the University of Glasgow. They've done a virtual launch of this issue with readings from many of the writers. Here's mine, not something I'm comfortable doing, but it was a good challenge. They've also decided to offer this issue for free due to the Virus situation. They were fun to work with and I wish the new editorial team good luck with their future projects.

I've finished Nan Shepherd's A Living Mountain. I love her sweeping language, totally caught up in her place. As a sweet coincidence, my copy of A Scots Dictionary of Nature by Amanda Thomson has arrived. I knew the author as an artist before I left Scotland, so I was surprised to see there's not a lot of illustrations in the book and they seem to be photographs. But I'm looking forward to rummaging through the book with ideas for writing. I don't write in Scots often, but I love the feel of the words I do use. I mean, curl-doddy for a pine cone just screams 'write a poem about me,' doesn't it?

I also ordered Moder Dy/ Mother Wave, a poetry collection by the Shetland writer Roseanne Watt. The poems flit between English and Shetlandic, sometimes as translations, sometimes within the same stanza. I can't wait to have a look tonight when the craziness of home-schooling and kids has passed. I just had to interrupt writing this to help a child understand his math lesson and because another dropped a laptop on her lip?! But even the first poem pulls me in.


The day your mapped your bonhogas
out for me, we saw it
curled like a question mark
at the lip of the hill -

I totally forgot about GloPoWrMo in my last post and didn't get this posted last week, but I have been keeping up on my own. I have written a rough draft of a poem for every day of April. It's become a mini-challenge to myself. Even slightly tipsy on Friday after my writing group Zoom session I pushed myself to write something about the third half of the session which we usually spend in the pub, but we now just break out a glass of wine while online. I haven't gone back and looked at any of the poems after I've posted them in my course's space, but will have a look later and see if there are any worth moving forward.

I don't know why, but I haven't finished many poems this year so far, I have a 'Roughs' file full of half-finished poems, but it's rare that I decide one is good enough to send out to magazines or even just move to a finished file. But the rough drafts keep stacking up.

I'm too unorganised and just want to get this posted.

Monday, 20 April 2020

Corona Virus Week Five: Isolation After Isolation

I missed posting this weekend. I was too busy painting my stairs and making use of some child-free time. Oh well. I'll keep it short. 

What I've been thinking about this week: for most people, this isolation is new and frustrating. For some of us, we've been isolated for longer, either geographically, physically because of illness or disability or because of mental health issues. We've missed out on chances to attend events, take up opportunities because we can't get to them due to work or child care commitments or lack of money or cannot cope with the large amounts of people and social pressures. Some have even been unable to work for whatever reasons.

Some of us have tried to reach out to organisers, employers, friends and family across the emptiness, tried to explain the issues we're facing and no one has answered back. We have tried to arrange activities, talk to more people online, request to work or study from home, but most people are busy and caught up in their own lives or unwilling to even consider changing the way things are done. 

Now that so many people are social distancing, dealing with the consequences of cancellation of events and activities, world suddenly hears and comes up with solutions. Various groups and organisations join together to find a way to include people who cannot be physically present. Online festivals, classes and get-togethers, the ability to work and study from home enhanced. People I've been sending messages suddenly are lonely and write back. No one heard us before because it didn't affect them and they couldn't comprehend the loneliness and frustrations. 

The world is changing, reaching out, but when the entertainment venues are open, the ability to meet up returns, will anyone remember that there are still those of us who can't take a weekend off to go to a conference or have the money to get public transport into a bigger city for an event, who physically can't travel to do a 9-5 job?

I hope this new online, distance-friendly, open culture will continues after the dust from the Corona Virus settles. That my kids can still pop into a friend's birthday in Australia, even if it's only to watch him blow out the candles. That I will be able to 'attend' an AGM or conference via Zoom. That I will be able to read my work at a magazine launch, even if it's only on their website afterwards. 

I hope that we remember that ways exist to include those isolated in our worlds and that we are allowed to continue to use technology to build an even wider community, as inclusive as possible. 

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Corona Virus Week Four: Filling Time

I almost forgot about this. I haven't lost track of time due to the kids' schooling and their obsession with Easter, but it's trying to keep all the new things I'm juggling. To stay on top of so many projects, my studies, little jobs around the house and my daily writing.

I've managed to keep up so far with my poem of day challenge for GloPoWriMo. I've written eleven first drafts, some about our Corona Virus isolation, but a few other subjects have popped up. It's strange how you can sometimes fine a new way to approach a familiar prompt. I've had the prompt 'green' about four times now in various challenges and I've usually managed to come up with new subjects to write about, sometimes hitting it in a roundabout way like the green-eyed monster of jealousy. It's nice to get back into the flow and it is just that. I often don't have the time and head space to try and write until the evenings, but they just come, lumpy and rough, but I've managed to get the shape of a poem down every day so far.

I need to make a video reading of one of my poems for an upcoming online journal launch. It's nice that the magazine has found a way to launch in this situation and that for once I can 'attend', but I'm not keen on recording myself reading a poem. The audio one I made last week for my poem in Not Very Quiet was difficult enough. I'm not a comfortable reader, so trying to appear natural and calm while I record myself and try and remember my poem will be nerve-wracking. And also finding a quiet space to do it with a houseful of inquisitive and noisy kids will be almost impossible. If the wind would stop blowing so hard and cold, I'd consider doing it outside. I'll link of course once the launch happens. Try not to laugh.

For my poetry writing month poem for this week I thought I'd stick with women from Scotland. I came across Kathleen Jamie through her nature writings before I found her poetry. Her book Findings introduced me to a different side of Scotland while I was first living in high-rise flats in Glasgow. Her poem 'The Tradition' taken from her collection The Bonniest Companie finds a connection with me on many levels, not only it's connection to the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014.

The Tradition

For years I wandered hill and moor
Half looking for the road
Winding into fairyland
Where that blacksmith kept that forge

Who'd heat red hot dragging links
That bound me to the past,
Then, with one almighty hammer-blow
Unfetter me at last.

Older now, I know nor fee
Nor anvil breaks those chains
And the wild ways we think we walk
Just bring us here again.

I'm dreading going back to school work on Tuesday, it's been a nice break with the kids, working in the garden, on crafts. I think we're all tired of the isolation and I've seen a lot of people easing themselves out more due to the nice weather and holiday. The shops were jammed when I went for my weekly stock-up and to the hardware store for repair supplies. I'm afraid we'll see an upturn in infections and deaths in two weeks time. Listen to the guidance and be safe.