Well, well, well – that was quite something last night, and I am a little lost for words today!
To be paired with a poet possessing the experience, inventiveness and skill which Phil Vernon has in abundance, in a poetry presentation format which enables viewers to see the text of the poem as the poet reads. To be hosted so skilfully, enthusiastically and insightfully by Florrie Crass on the very professional Home Stage platform.
That was a dream for any writer, and I feel truly blessed that last night happened.
As I expressed at the start I am somewhat lost for words at the moment but we all had a fair bit to read and say during the livestream. So, if that interests you, please click on the YouTube link and savour some of last night’s flavour. If you want to view the video recording of the livestream the YouTube link for it is here https://youtu.be/hFESWt62dag
Finally, if you wish to order a copy of Art of Insomnia it can be obtained from Hedgehog Poetry Press, Amazon or from my Art of Insomnia page here https://peterawriter.com/art-of-insomnia/ (the only way to get a signed copy if that is what you require); and if you wish to purchase Phil’s Poetry After Auschwitz it’s available on Amazon.
Following a break from blogging I shall return to posting fairly regular blogs this month. In the meantime, I take this opportunity to Reblog from my Drop-in with Nigel Kent published this morning. Next Saturday his review of ‘Art of Insomnia’ will appear on the Nigel Kent – Poet website
Drop in by Peter A
Today I have great pleasure in inviting Peter A to talk about a poem from his moving Art ofInsomnia (Hedgehog Press, 2021)
My debut chapbook Art of Insomnia is personal in a way that is not very typical of my poetry to date. That said, in much of my previous and ongoing work I have tried to deliver an emotional punch where it is justified by the subject matter or theme of the poem.
Art of Insomnia comprises 22 poems written in the nine month period following the unexpected death of my wife; in it I attempt to express the impact of incomprehensible loss and signal the potential for a bearable way forward. The chapbook is divided into four sections and the poem I have selected is the second poem of the third section. Following the second section, which describes a temporary escape from familiar surroundings and people, this section [RETURN TO WHAT REMAINS] is about coming back to the inescapable reality of loss.
In the poem selected here, I mainly use a fairly conventional, uncomplicated, almost-conversational form of address direct to the reader, with many of the same words repeated in each of the nine-line stanzas.
The words which are unique to each stanza set out two issues which may arise when well-intentioned people try to offer comfort and praise at a time when the recently-bereaved person is at the stages of grief where he feels only guilt and powerlessness. These lines of the stanzas arrive in a form which is more poetic or dramatic in style leading the reader to pathos at the end of each stanza.
The title comes from the word ‘better’ at the end of the first line of the poem, and the word ‘fail’ at the end of its last line. Any resemblance to Samuel Beckett’s ‘Fail Better’ is fortuitous but also somewhat fortunate.
Thank you, Peter A. Next week read my review of this exceptionally powerful collection.
This is a very short post, mainly for the purpose of introducing a very short film I have just made for a poem recently written, called Unauthorised Use.
The poem is short, and fairly straightforward I think, so there is no need for me to speak about it at all, except to tell you when and where it will appear, so I’ll do that in a moment.
Before giving you the publishing information, however, I simply want to recount that I have just spent 100 minutes (no special significance in the number – it just worked out that way) in my back garden. Though I was ostensibly doing some rough weeding and digging, I spent some of the time attempting to commune with nature in the form of one bird initially, then that bird and its mate.
They were a pair of robins as it happens. Each individually, then as a pair, came fairly close to me. Cautious, but apparently confident I meant them no harm. When I whistled, attempting to imitate their song, they cocked heads to one side, listening but unimpressed. Their focus was more upon the earthworms my digging had uncovered but they showed me friendliness at the level of casual acquaintance before leaving.
I was reminded of my dad whistling to starlings when, as children, he took us on long walks. His whistle, as I recall, was much more musical than mine.
Anyway, all of that is relevant only to the extent that Unauthorised Use relates, at its simplest level, to the perception of birdsong by humans. It will appear in a massive poetry anthology called Summer Anywhere due to be launched, appropriately, in the summer. However, it can be pre-ordered now from hybriddreich.co.uk. (Click on ‘LATEST BOOKS HERE’.)
The film poem for Unauthorised Use is available on You Tube at this link:
This strange photograph, which to my eyes has the appearance of two fluffy poodles competing in a race against each other, was taken by my hairdresser following my recent appointment for a lockdown-style haircut. The photo captures the hair gathered up following that event.
It took me over nine months to grow those luxurious lockdown locks. They gave me great comfort during that period. In a school magazine decades ago I had a piece of prose published which described my slightly long hair at that time as ‘nature’s scarf’; my detached locks are now useful only for stuffing a couch (if they still do that kind of thing these days).
I genuinely have felt very much colder during the last eight days, and I’m conscious I’ve been a bit quieter too. There’s many reasons for my reduced volume but the chill has felt like a physical weakness.
Though I have never imagined myself as any kind of Samson (who got his strength from his hair), I have gained a little understanding of the way he must have felt when a treacherous Delilah arranged for a trim so that he could be handed over to his Philistine enemies without offering resistance.
Confidence is a strength and I feel that the removal of my Covid comfort blanket of hair has left me feeling exposed, naked and, as I mentioned before, kinda cold.
Before continuing, I should clarify that there was no devious Delilah involved in my story, that I arranged the appointment myself and the hairdresser followed my instructions.
More than that, I even brought my Irish passport with me to give the hairdresser an idea of the style I was looking for. On looking at the passport photo, my hairdresser remarked that there is no way in the world passport control would have accepted it as an accurate likeness of the way I looked pre-haircut!
You will notice that I have not attached a photograph of my newly-shorn head and so far very few people (some on Zoom) have seen the shock transformation.
Speaking of Zoom, this would be an appropriate time to mention that Dragonflies present…are supporting the launch of my debut chapbook Art of Insomnia at their event on Tuesday 4th May. I have three brilliant support stars, whose names I’ll reveal in a post closer to the date. There are also three other poets publicising new publications on the same evening.
Dragonflies events are very relaxed, friendly and welcoming and that’s why I’m delighted they offered me this opportunity. I know that if you come along you’ll find the evening enjoyable, and comfortable even if you’re not in the habit of attending literary events.
On that page you’ll find a link to register and book a digital ticket. There are also links to individual pages relating to each poet, so if you want to find out more about each of us and our books, and see a sample of what you will find therein, you can.
I hope you can make it and look forward to seeing you there.
Here we are. It’s a sunny Friday, it’s 9th April and it’s National Unicorn Day!
As a Scot I am delighted that King James II endorsed this mythical creature, representing purity and power, as my country’s national animal but I have also learned that it has a lengthy history in other parts of the world.
In Ancient Greece it was spoken of as existing in far-flung India, to them an exotic place about which very little was known at the time. The writers of that time and place characterised it as an animal of power and ferocity.
In mediaeval times it was thought of as one of the creatures spoken of in the Bible, to which was attributed not just strength but the purest kind of love, a suitable pet for the protection of virgin women.
Unicorns have featured in more modern times in the writings of Lewis Carroll, J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis.
However, I have discovered that the modern invention of Unicorn Day boasts the objective of celebrating the positivity which can be achieved by allowing magic into our days from time to time, the sort of thing adults forget to do.
In recognition of the day, I have concluded this short post with the only poem I have written featuring a unicorn. As it does have a political message, perhaps at odds with the idea of pure fun and fantasy associated with Unicorn Day, you may be choose to ignore it.
Instead you may wish to grab the spirit of the day – bake and eat colourful cupcakes, for example, watch a fun fantasy movie, or indeed read a fantastical book. The main objective, apparently, should be recalling the magic of our childhoods.
So, in your own personal way, I trust you enjoy Unicorn Day!
[I have a half-formed draft of a poem on the topic of the joy of childhood perspective but it’ll be some time before it is ready for exposure, so in the meantime, if you wish it, here is flight, published last year in A Kist of Thistles ‘An anthology of radical poetry from contemporary Scotland’, (pub. Culture Matters http://www.culturematters.org.uk)].
so fearsomely beautiful
and innocent and pure
he scares the proud lion
according to folklore
it may be dangerous
to unchain the unicorn
but as desire for
will at time of re-birth
be the first priority
let us unleash and bareback ride the beast
making myth reality
while breezes from infinity
refresh us to the core
we shall hurdle every boundary,
healing as we soar
on a flight of the seemingly impossible
our hearts at last will sing of freedom
and Alba Gu Bràth the land of compassion
First of all, welcome one and all to Peter/A/Writer blog post number Forty, the first of the astronomical Spring, 2021.
In the recent warmer dryer weather there has been much to enjoy of nature, though I did not during that balmy time see any hedgehogs or dragonflies.
Now in the windswept and wet days of late March, though I have ventured out less, I have received within my home alternative manifestations of the hedgehog and dragonfly variety. And I have to tell you they have both been very welcome visitors.
I can now release the breath I’ve been holding. I can tell the news I’ve received and perhaps permit myself to experience a little nervous excitement.
This weekend a hedgehog called past to confirm that in April there will be a book – a chapbook of twenty two poems bearing the title Art of Insomnia, a book showing me as the author of all of these little works, a book published by Hedgehog’s very own Poetry Press. It has been in the offing for a wee while but it is actually happening for real within weeks.
As if that wasn’t sufficiently exciting, there have been dragonflies too; dragonflies who flew through my window bearing a kind invitation requesting I join them at a special event on 4th May 2021 to read a number of poems from Art of Insomnia.
The Dragonflies present…Zoom event on 4th May will also feature two other poets, Margaret Royall and David Bleiman, who have work coming out at around the same (April/May) time.
Each featured poet has also been encouraged to select at least two poets to share a ten minute ‘support slot’. I am delighted that the three poets I asked all agreed to come along to be my ‘support stars’. I’m bursting to tell you who they are but have decided to keep it a surprise… just get yourself a ticket (free of charge, praise the Dragonflies!) and come along virtually, with a drink from your free home bar, or a camomile tea, to enjoy what will be a genuinely varieties evening of poetic expression.
I’m so confident you’ll have a great time that I offer you this promise -money back if not totally satisfied!
This is the link to the Dragonflies present page, where you can secure your free ticket.
It also has links to author pages kindly provided by Dragonflies for each of the featured poets, where you can get to know more about the author and his/her new publication and other work. There’s even a short poem sample from each of the new publications to provide a flavour of the book and hopefully whet your appetite.
Though somewhat nervous about all this, I’d be honoured if you decide to come along to join the evening.
Today I have to depart from my general plan to post weekly. For various reasons, I feel compelled to include an extra short one but make no apology for that. At the end of a week which included International Women’s Day, I think Mother’s Day is as good a day as any to do this.
In the last few days the murder of a young woman at the hands of a predatory male has shocked me, but not surprised me. We are living in a world in which incels, players and other entitled males are exercising unequal power damaging society in a way similar to the behaviour associated with white superiority. Both must be corrected but today the treatment of females must be the focus.
It is a matter of shame that women are having to hold vigils in memory of Sarah Everard (and others previously affected), and a scandal that they are being told they have to take additional steps to keep themselves safe, precautions which men do not have to take. Men are to blame for this.
Men have an obligation to address their own behaviour so that women do not walk in fear. Women I know, including my young sister, are afraid to walk alone through countryside or woodland, even in the daytime, and city parkland at night.
I, and all other men, have to accept that apart from possessing greater physical strength, they have been nurtured by a society which convinces men they are entitled to more – whether that be higher salaries or freedom of movement. There is also the trite ‘boys will be boys’ label which starts in childhood and tends to carry on into adulthood. In addition to those features, there is constant male peer pressure fuelling the continuance of toxic masculinity.
In the early hours of this morning – all of these things on my mind – I scribbled this first draft of a short poem:-
That is all
I am a man
Not that man
Of whom I am
I truly am
- That is all
Not about love
Nor about lust
Not about any
- That is all
I am a man
Not that man
Of whom I am
I truly am
- That is all
When I first check the time, it is 1.00 a.m. on 5th March. Now that’s earlier than I have been going to bed in recent times, so this is my chance. In an attempt to alter my upside-down lifestyle, I must go to bed NOW.
Okay, I’ll do it just as soon as I check Twitter, Facebook and my email inbox. So I do that two or three times and leave a post on Facebook that I won’t be interacting there for a few weeks, for personal reasons – and they are very genuine personal reasons which will keep me quieter than usual until mid-April.
Good. All satisfactory, and it’s still well before 2.00 a.m. So get yourself into the bedroom, Peter. Sure, no problem.
Then I remember a couple of ideas that were spinning around in my head earlier, when I was out walking…just in case I forget, better do something about those.
Right, suddenly it’s nearly 3.00 a.m; I have written one complete poem, started a second and written lyrics for the chorus of a pandemic-related bluesy song which (let’s face it) will never see the light of day. That last item was prompted by an exchange I partly overheard when I was on my walk. A young woman talking to her friend as they passed by me “…not starting a relationship during lockdown”; her pal responding, “I’m the same…”
So there you have it, for what it’s worth; just a brief insight into my disorganised life and creativity, feeling compelled to respond to the prompts of a brain that sparks when you’d prefer it to rest.
On a positive note, by the following day other ideas had inveigled their way into my anti-social hours and suddenly there were four fresh poems ready to send off for an approaching deadline.
Even more positively, one of those was accepted surprisingly quickly (on 10th March).
I really would prefer to have a more regular lifestyle but when things seem to be working as they are, it is difficult to change.
As the date finally approaches for publication of my debut chapbook Art of Insomnia (ironic, I know!), the first quarter of 2021 has started well in the writing sense.
Some things I am not permitted to mention yet. However, I hope to be in a position to tell you a bit more soon.
That Feverfew, the sixth and latest poetry collection from Anna Saunders, is laced with quality – at times luxury – is easily evidenced. What is more difficult to explain, though ironically it may be inherent in its stylish packaging, is the exquisite economy and value to be found in this publication.
In large part this may be attributable to the presence of forty one poems within a physical book-space of proportions which seem incapable of holding such an amount of treasure. Yet there is nothing cramped or cheap about its presentation. I guess the publisher Indigo Dreams must be due credit for the practical side of this, the design and typesetting, as indeed must the poet for composing poems which fit so well to the page.
Of greater importance, however, is the discovery that this collection has a literary and sensory quality which (like the divine accused characterised in one of the collected poems, The Prosecution Builds up a Case Against Jupiter) takes various forms. Some clues may be found in the cold and hot of the striking cover design; the proof is found in the assured crafting of words found within the covers.
Mythical references inhabit a number of the poems. Some of the named characters and creatures from Greek and Roman mythology will be familiar to non-scholarly readers, some not. Where I was unsure about the myths associated with a featured character I found it intriguing to read the poem first of all without research and enjoy it for its sounds and feel and discernible purpose; enjoy it purely as a poem. The nature of the myth would sometimes be revealed in a general way by this exercise, subsequent googling being largely confirmatory. In other cases, discovering the mythological root was an essential key.
In all those referring to myth the poet’s skill and imagination re-works the ancient to make it relevant to the modern reader, and to the contemporary message the poem is meant to convey.
As well as those which reference mythology there are works here which use the characteristics of wild creatures to tell the stories of humans, those which feature the nakedness of humans themselves, and those which feature spirits who have thrown off the flesh which formerly clothed them.
It is important to point out that, while this is a collection with serious intent making full use of grown-up literary techniques and devices, it possesses humanity, occasionally shows vulnerability and employs humour too (often in the guise of satire and/or the entertaining titles of certain poems).
Whether your mood calls out for reflections of love, lust, loss or consideration of abuse of power and animalistic instincts, there is something here for you. I have found the collection pleasing, rewarding, surprising and affecting to read and re-read.
Given the space I permit myself for Blog reviews there is not room to give examples of the many poems in Feverfew that touch or tickle my intellect, anima or shadow. So, as a discipline I have decided to look briefly at just four, hopefully providing a soupçon of the flavours of the collection.
What I Learnt from the Owl, the first poem in Feverfew, has something of Emily Dickinson in it. Its unflinching true depiction of an owl as bird of prey sets the reader up for some of the cold reality-checking which will emerge in subsequent poems and is also the perfect appetiser for the collection’s second poem – the first one I wish to discuss here – Time after Time the Same Bird is Born from the Flame.
In this piece, the phoenix of Greek mythology is transformed for the modern world. No longer is it the positive motif, eagerly adopted over time to represent renewal and in due course Christian resurrection. Anna Saunders’ phoenix is viewed as an unwelcome regeneration. The opening lines tell us that:-
Here it comes, … /a feathered doppelgänger of the last,/ an identical gold-eyed genesis/scattering a surplus of silver plate from his claws.
He is introduced as a privileged creature, a royal bird which feasts on incense, whereas we pick at seeds and stringy meat.
The ‘we’, presumably the ordinary folk, wonder How did he earn the spokes of sun that ascend from his head…?
We ache for change, yet each creature that rules the court/is a rooster’s brother with jaundiced eyes.
Not even death will bring an end to this.
It quickly becomes clear that this poem, which on its surface references the exotic re-generating bird of myth, in its gut speaks of inequality and the apparent impossibility of bringing about necessary change in the cycle, the system.
How wrong we are to think that fire/can cauterise corruption, it continues. That could hardly be more plainly expressed, especially when followed by the line which gives the poem its title, Time after time the same bird is born from the flame.
A number of Ms Saunders’ poems deal with love and relationships, some tinged with eroticism, others with various difficult aspects and issues; each one is worth the reading and imbibing. For my second arbitrary choice I have selected one of the less obvious depictions of a controlling relationship, I come back as a Horse.
Ostensibly, it features a horse (probably a gentle mare) considering how it is treated by its human master and begins with what appears to be a sad acceptance that true freedom is no longer an option: –
My owner leads me in from the cold. /His heating makes my flanks steam, my breath plume and cloud. He shouts/as my skittering hooves crescent mark his shiny floor.
Next, we discover the extent of the horse’s value to the owner: –
He has pictures of the races all over his wall/strained mares taking jumps/ or being brushed down savagely/until their rumps blaze like precious stones. The mares, it seems, are there to win trophies, or be trophies, and the next stanza tells us of further restrictions of liberty –
We have to wear our harnesses all night./It is compulsory and our necks burn.
The narrator horse speaks disparagingly of humans choosing inappropriate names. I am not mine, she says unhappy with her naming, before going on to describe in a similarly sanguine voice the more shocking truth of what happens to horses who do not match expectations: –
A young one never came back. If your legs buckle,/if your back is too weak, there’s a bullet for you.
The implication of controlling threat (and a point where a familiar association may be drawn with hair-pulling abuse and assault) continues in the next two lines –
I love my mane, even when he winds it round his hand/to make a boxing glove.
Finally, following a statement of preference for the freedom of the fresh air, the poem concludes with the subtle but poignant –
Once, a child passed me, said I had kind eyes,/felt pity for me.
The third poem I wish to feature, Floundering, is one of exceptional tenderness, and admirable skill.
In it a poet speaks to her mother, who has recognised the reality that poets do not make money from their art and is offering her poet-daughter money from her purse. But there are other things going on and it is the skill of linking all of these threads and carrying all themes through to the end in a very naturalistic way which shows Ms Saunders’ deftness here.
To explain here the detail of how this is manifest, all its conceits and devices, would in my opinion spoil the pleasure of those I hope will go on to read it hereafter. However, as I must give you something, I’ll give you these two connecting elements as a tease and assure that there is much more taking place in the poet’s mind and in the physical environment surrounding mother and daughter:-
It reminds me of the tulips dad planted/so we’d have colour after he had gone.
This casual observation prompted by the shape of a heron’s head from behind appears early in the poem and is one of the themes echoed in the velvet glove punch of the final stanza, which runs as follows:-
Mum, you have your purse out again,/and that worried frown that dad used to have/when he was looking at the tulip bulbs,/wondering if they would come out in time.
The fourth and final poem I draw to your attention is one which is simultaneous easy and very difficult – So much Blood around my Name. I say easy because it is written in terms which are easy to understand even on first reading, not requiring much interpretation. The subject matter, however – as in many of the collection’s poems – is raw, visceral, uncomfortable, confessional.
There is much blood and guts within Feverfew but what we have here is quite different. This is not the remote blood and guts of mythology or that associated with the regular behaviour of the animal kingdom.
In this poem the first mentions of blood arise in a specific recollection, written in past tense, of a blood commitment symbolised by a fresh tattoo of the narrator’s name on her former lover’s arm (How deeply I’d been etched into your skin,/you bloomed blood.), a commitment which ended (…we needled each other,/until I left). The second reference to blood is in the present tense and comes with consideration of implied guilt which some would wish to place beside her name. It also echoes skilfully the blood which formed around her name at the time of the fresh tattoo :-
‘Years later I hear about your death.
He couldn’t go on without you. I am told.
I imagine your pale limbs under the earth. Those four letters extinguished by the dark.
Can love ever be perfect? Can poetry about love be perfect? Can two people living together for a long time be perfect?
In my humble view, those are time-wasting questions because answers to them are virtually impossible.
It would be more useful I suggest to dip into the approach adopted by Darren J Beaney in his debut pamphlet for Hedgehog Poetry Press, HONEY DEW; in a series of twenty one poems he sets out, in a sometimes self-deprecating way, to find ways (some of them very original) to encapsulate in words the various stages of a continuing love relationship without which he feels his life had been, and would be, pointless. That realisation is hinted at elsewhere but disclosed in plain sight in the eighth poem in the book, 32 to the power of 22.
This debut is infused with sincerity as much as it is with originality and vivid Punk-style colour. It is also very relatable.
The opening poem, though it carries the title LET YOUR HEART DANCE, moves with a deliberate lack of steady rhythm, chucks in an occasional internal rhyme – but don’t expect that to happen in a predictable fashion – and employing these devices captures the awkwardness of unexpected love-at-first-sight during a first dance. The designed chaos only reaches an end in the poem’s sublime conclusion:-
As we gasped/ without resting and kissed without breathing and fell without landing.
This is followed by the title poem HONEY DEW, a short but vivid expression of the sweetness of new love :-
A smile/ … that tempted with low hanging kisses/ ripe and ecstatic
The reason for the poem’s brevity appears to be summed up in the final two words – ‘tongue tied’.
The theme of combined shyness and disbelief at the suddenness of what is happening reappears in the reference to his belly hosting ‘a soulful band of butterflies‘ in the third poem, PLAYING BANJO ON BRIGHTON BEACH.
By poem five, LETS START SOMETHING WE WON’T WANT TO FINISH, there’s an admirable statement of ambition reflected in text which combines unconventional with conventional, even old-fashioned, and a little tongue-in-cheek without destroying the sincerity of its intention. For example, Beaney writes: –
Let’s learn to dance – foxtrot, tango/… I’ll …collect/ your falling blushes. When I have them all we will paint/our town, leaving our mark, creating a legend/ bigger than Terry & June.
Let’s take tea at the Ritz. I’ll get dressed up/to the nines with odd socks and no shoes…../You can slurp from your saucer/while I protect you from those uptight stares.
Where Shakespeare would write ‘If music be the food of love…’, Beaney writes and concludes the poem ‘We’ll wake each morning to … an eternal love powered by the energy of three chord guitar riffs’.
In a sometimes uptight world it is good to remember that romance can be fun and rebellious, and Darren Beaney’s writing conveys that in abundance in some of his work.
He is also capable of expressing unabashed praise of continuing love in more lyrical terms while maintaining his personal style, as in YOU AND ME, US TWO:-
Our love is driven by neat engines of persistence/shuddering to the twitch of our touch, firing the luscious/laughter and locomotion of a lifespan together.
I’d happily quote every stanza of this poem in full but will confine myself to the following further few lines as a taster:-
…Our relationship simple/as a new Puritan. Sustained without effort, lazy,/ as wonderfulas bunches of late May daffodils.
Our passion is as exciting as Caxton’s/very first page, printed with a love song for Cupid. Each day/is Valentine’s Day stuffed into our Christmas stocking.
As I now feel I’m in danger of giving too much of the book away for free, I shall curtail my notes and end this review with a brief reference to the last poem in the pamphlet THE MISSING BIT which, amongst other things, touches on the point I made at the start of the review. (A similar point is made by Beaney in the short poem THIS IS A LOVE SONG which appears a little earlier in the pamphlet.) In THE MISSING BIT, he is again concerned that he cannot sufficiently express all elements of the love he feels in order to be convincing. He writes,
And that is the bit/that is missing
And I want our love to mean/as much as Dr King’s dream/with as much passion/as a catalogue of first kisses
because we are so much more/ than love bites and candlelight
If you are looking for an original but relatable, generally schmaltz-free, story of a love relationship in 21 poems, HONEY DEW is available in various formats from Hedgehog Poetry Press http://hedgehog press.co.uk or from Darren’s own site http://djbeaney.wordpress.com . Prices direct from Darren are: UK £7.00 (inc. postage), Overseas £11.00 (inc. postage) and e-book £3.00.