Muse Tuners

Glad to be a part of this great initiative – Muse Tuners. I am offering one-to-one mentoring in poetry publishing. As an experienced editor and practising poet, I can help you to shape a manuscript and take it to its full potential, as well as offering advice on placing individual poems for magazine and book publication. I can also help with troubleshooting on individual poems and sequences. I offer honest and supportive feedback, and there will be a strong emphasis on creativity and development for pleasure as well as purpose. I aim to help students enhance their critical and creative confidence. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, you can find details here.

Muse Tuners also offers other services, guaranteed to improve the quality and enjoyment of your creative practice from some wonderful writers and teachers. So, even if poetry publishing isn’t what you’re after, there’s much more again.

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Mapping Poetic Emergence 1.0

We’ve been mapping poetic emergence over at Devolved Voices –  unpacking the stages of emergence in a poetry career (as distinct from poetic development). Helena Nelson of Happenstance blogs about it here. You can find the document here.

We’d be interested in your thoughts. You can comment on our blog, and we warmly welcome you to do so. We’re interested in general perception, as well as your own experiences within the poetry community, if you’d like to share these. This is a working document, and it will be developed over time. Input helps to inform our thinking. If you’d rather contact us directly, via email, then you can at devolved.voices [@] aber.ac.uk

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Devolved Voices website now live

Please find us and bookmark at http://www.aber.ac.uk/devolvedvoices.

The Devolved Voices website will be regularly updated. We intend that the website will be a great resource for all those with an interest in contemporary Welsh poetry in English, as well as the British poetic scene at large. You can also share your comments and questions by contacting us directly at devolved.voices [@] aber.ac.uk. We look forward to hearing from you.

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How life begins

I will turn forty at the beginning of next month. A major milestone – or should that read millstone –  in anyone’s life, and I’ll admit freely that it has taken some coming to terms with. For a woman, ageing is, of course, more complex than it is for a man. I don’t need to revisit here the reality of our society, that men acquire sophistication and gravitas as the years progress. In mainstream cinema, the great and underestimated shaper and reflector of society’s values, the women they romance appear to become steadily younger with each passing year, while their female peers in the industry must, in the main, assume the role of character actress or perish.

Character.

I remember well turning thirty. Now that felt like a terrifying milestone. And yet. My thirties were revealing and definitive. Until I entered them, I had not recognised the misery of my teens and twenties. All that time dedicated to the mirror, desperate to secure the affections and approval of men. There was little time to find true community and affinity with other women. For all my friendships, there was a shadow hanging over them, a sense that we were all somehow in competition. Everything was comparison. It is strange now to think that the pleasure of a friend looking beautiful could wound. And there was even less time still to focus on the inner workings of the mind. I might well have occasionally managed to be decorative, but, I gradually discovered – in my case through the revelations of motherhood and the modest satisfactions of my career – I had probably failed to be useful. And one’s degree of usefulness is, I think, a pretty good measure of personal happiness. I think it’s come to be my kind of success.

Yes, ageing is more complex for a woman. My perceived sexual appeal – well, whatever’s left of it – will undergo a shift. The default heterosexual male gaze will settle on other, fairer and younger faces. But there’s genuine liberty in a paradox. The less interested the world is in us, the steadily more interesting we, as women, become. As I journeyed through my thirties, I became less concerned with how men considered me. It’s made me braver, truer and more insistent on what it is that I really want.

Recently returned from India, I’ve reflected on the great riches of experience – the heartbreaks, follies, failures, and truths of my earlier years. That trip was meaningful not simply because of its intrinsic extraordinariness. It came before a momentous birthday. And I was there alone. Me, myself and I. Complicated, contradictory, but, finally, self-accepting. (I think this needs to be filed under ‘Personal Growth’.)

When I looked in the mirror this morning, I had to admit it: I am not the girl I was any longer. More worryingly still, I realise I haven’t been that girl in decades. I was just too busy to notice. As the great Helen Reddy had it, I am woman. And not even the brutality of gravity can take that away from me.

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Back from India…

It was marvellous. And I’ve written this small piece about my time in Santiniketan and Kolkata for Wales Literature Exchange. Many thanks to Literature Across Frontiers, Wales Literature Exchange and our kind hosts at Kolkata Lit Meet 2013 for making it all happen.

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And the winner is…

Tonight the Eliot Prize for 2012 will be announced. Back in January 2005, a new mother carrying the whiff of Eau de Johnson’s Baby Lotion and nappies about her, I stood in Senate House, London, representing for my other child: a passionate, brittle, little book I had written over a period of a few years. It had been shortlisted for the 2004 T S Eliot Prize. I was trembling. I was still heady from the night before. I had read before a packed house with the other shortlisted poets in the Bloomsbury Theatre.

Backstage, in a dressing room before that reading, the poets were quiet. It was a surreal experience, lining up with poetry greats. I had felt small and vulnerable. Not at all the way I had imagined when I had stubbornly toyed with the grandiose notion that something wonderful might one day happen – back then, starting out, in my perennially freezing bedsitter, composing poems on a little electric typewriter that had prompted my neighbour to bang with genuine feeling on the wall. Stop. But I couldn’t. And here I was. In the audience, my husband sat next to Derek Mahon.

But we rise to challenges. There is a wonderful interplay in adrenaline and the prospect of making a prize eejit of oneself. I probably gave the best reading of my life. And it was certainly the most enjoyable reading I have ever given. Having an audience brings out the best in poets. Poetry is, after all, more frequently like speech day in the school of hard knocks. Up there, looking out to faces captured in the half light, I had felt it was, in some ways obvious and in some ways still inscrutable, a defining moment.

People do like to knock prizes. And, no, they are not the last word in quality. To be overlooked in the prize culture is not to be insignificant. To be lauded is not necessarily to be the best. Yes, people do like to remind people of this, even though we are all perfectly aware of it.

The night of the announcement, in Senate House, the room was positively a-flutter. For that moment, as I looked around the room, I knew I had something in common with all my fellow shortlisted poets. We all wanted to win, with both a sense of impossible delight and real trepidation. The prospect of great honour; the prospect of great scrutiny. The prospect of money. Unfamiliar prospects for poets. I knew, however, that I would not win. And I didn’t. George Szirtes won, for a brilliant book, Reel. The applause was heartfelt. We were all pleased for him and his terrific achievement.

But, in another sense, I had won. All those nights back then, in that bedsitter, had brought me to an exciting place – and from there, it continued with surprising reach. Doors were opened. These doors led directly to readings and opportunities; indirectly, they led me to rich friendships and unexpected collaborations. But the wonder of the experience also left me blocked for many years. Self-conscious, self-critical, unable to put a foot down for fear of it being the wrong one. The fault was my own. Treat success and disaster the same, the wise have it. Strange and surprising moments like this matter more than we can anticipate.

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Resolutions

So, the New Year. Chesterton memorably remarked that the object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul. I have scratched my head as to how this may be possible. Instead, my resolutions for 2013:

  1. One French poem read aloud to myself, with passion, in my notorious A-level accent, every day of the year.
  2. To repay every single act of kindness towards me with two acts of kindness towards someone else.
  3. To stop looking down at my hands as I play the old keys of life with my cloth ear.
  4. To dust more frequently.
  5. To cease and desist with the belief that every creative act has to result in something.
  6. To stop worrying about being original. One is always original – except when one is trying to be.
  7. To learn to cook. Anything.
  8. Fail better.

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