A coppice of poetry

Three Seren poetry titlesI recently experienced the joy of arriving home to a package full of poetry collections from the inestimable Seren Books. It got me wondering what a collective noun for poetry collections should be. A library seems too literal, so I began thinking about what poetry offers – how it provides the space to pause and reflect before carrying on with the busy act of living. So, a poetry collection is a coppice, in the forest of everyday life.

Each of the collections on my doorstop hummed with its own resonance.

Footnotes to Water cover

Footnotes to Water by Zoë Skoulding immediately rose to the surface, in part thanks to the quirky duck feet displayed on the cover as though glimpsed through ice. This quiet collection shines with Skoulding’s finesse – she plays with shape, form, punctuation and alliteration to paint an impression of rivers’ movements against your skull. Throughout, we’re invited to view water in its relation to human feats of engineering, and to compare our own dances and dalliances to that of a river, as in Observation Chamber, “where no light falls surface/ except * in pin-pricks on red water*” Gorgeous.

Skoulding writes of our attempts to confine and control rivers, and of the floods that follow rainfall: “wicking up cracks in plaster/ where the houses drink it in.”

Her rivers mirror our bodies; each striving to speak and make themselves heard, and each craving to explore beyond their outer edges. There’s something ancient in the descriptions surfacing here, even as Skoulding’s sculpted lines tether modernity: “There are/ three days of gathering clouds/ and the cheapest is free.”

The collection is divided into three parts too, with Adda, focused on Bangor’s covered river, followed by Heft, a word meaning, Skoulding explains in Notes & Acknowledgements, “localised knowledge passed on through generations of sheep” or “habitat”. At once, we’re redirected from webbed feet to hooves, celebrating the “twitching flanks”, “wild primrose eyes” and “the silences between.”

Part three is Teint, dreamt up during a Paris residency where the theme of habitat and hidden rivers is continued with the idea of movement, of sound and repetition carrying us back and forth and forth again, so that progress towards our conclusion is barely discernible yet inevitable. Each of these begins with what Skoulding is not describing: “Not flooded marsh but ice/ with skaters engraving/ continuous serifs/ on the halted waters.”

Skoulding examines how we sit against the world around us, as well as how we strive to make it fit around us.

A Second Whisper cover

A Second Whisper by Lynne Hjelmgaard takes us on a different sort of journey: “It opens with the sweet lapping/ of water on a rock/ and closes gently where the tide/ has nowhere to run.”

A deep tenderness ripples through evocations of quiet intimacy. Examinations of time, memory and seasons thread stanzas with subtle fragrances – the smell of yellow autumn leans and the scent of old paper anchor hints of a richly sensuous life. There is humour in the fondness captured here: a baby magpie described as a “little trollop”, daffodils are “still hibernating”, and rats leave teethmarks “on apples and soap.”

Simultaneously, seemingly light lines shiver with feeling: “whenever it rains/ now or anywhere the rain/ stops everything/ to think of you.”

In Once, Hjelmgaard remembers a long friendship: “Now we write careful letters/ as if they are to lost versions/ of ourselves.” To me this describes the entire collection of thoughtful, inward-reaching poems, and we are privileged to be privy to them.

The Black Place, titled after Georgia O’Keefe’s name for a beloved yet desolate strip of land, is Tamar Yoseloff’s unflinching look at the subjects we shy from. Beginning with The C Word, “Not to be confused with the other c word/ that cuts at both ends”, the poet lets us know at once that the contents may challenge and delight in equal measure.

Touching on fairytales and mythology, Yoseloff treads a line where glib and godly rest side by side: “There is a God,/ at least a guy who’d buy a round/ for the lads outside The Pineapple.”

Elsewhere, in Darklight, Yoseloff harnesses words like the shooting stars she describes as making “a sound like a scratch in vinyl”. “Our lives are brief”, she reminds us, “like the bank of candles in cathedrals, each a flame for someone loved.”

It’s a comfort to cling to those stanzas as Yoseloff draws us onwards towards Cuts, and has us consider the bleakest of prophesies: “I’m an open book/ I want to close.”

There’s beauty in this collection, trussed to hope and a hunger for life. Perfect for days when dusk insists on arriving early.

All three titles are available to buy from Seren.

Seen or read anything interesting recently? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com. Likewise, if you’ve published or produced something you’d like me to review, get in touch.

Writing prompt – fallen leaf

Fallen leaf by Judy DarleyThe beauty of this fallen leaf stopped me in my tracks. This November has been particularly exceptional, with drifts of gold, rust and crimson leaves appearing in every street.

Imagine if no on had seen this phenomenon before, so that the cascade of leaves was the sign of something bigger. Use this as the starting point for a tale, or turn it into a metaphor for what happens when someone dares take a leap into the unknown.

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

An evening of flash fiction

Rose chafer by Judy DarleyI’m excited to be sharing some of my tiniest tales at Flash Fiction, an event on Tuesday 3rd December.

Hosted by author and Flash Fiction Festival queen Jude Higgins, the event at Bishopston Library in Bristol features KM Elkes, Alison Woodhouse, John Wheway and me.

You can find out more and buy tickets (a bargain at just £3 each!) here.

Jude has invited me to read a handful of fairytales, so I plan to open with Invertebrates, my follow-up to the Hansel and Gretel story, from my short story collection Sky Light Rain. It focuses on an unusual dinner party where the guests include an assortment of creepy crawlies, hence the picture at the top of this post.

As far as I’m aware, no beetles will be in attendance at Bishopston Library…

Writing prompt – rain

Rain by Judy Darley. ColourThis is the third in a trio of writing prompts instigated by my new short story collection, Sky Light Rain. You can find a black and white version of the artwork in the book.

Part three of the collection is Rain, drawing together a selection of water-inspired tales prompted by explorations of pain, beauty, and resilience.

How might your character reveal their heartache without discussing it? How could you portray their resilience through showing, rather than telling?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

A silent space

Rhythm of Silence #2 (close up) 44 x 56 cm by Johannes NielsenAn artwork that cries out to be caressed is a potent object. Sculptor Johannes Nielsen appears not only to understand this power, but to harness it, with sculptures that all but shiver with a desire for a human hand. His latest works are sleek and solid, yet with a suggestion of belonging to dreams, and even in their stillness they suggest a vigour that’s deeply alluring.

And yet, in the opinion of Johannes, these works are all about space.

“In my art there is no real story to be revealed or statement to be told,” he says. “It’s more Iike I want to create a silent space for rest and relaxation. In that space I believe we can get in touch with our own inner voice that may communicate something much more of value that I ever can express through my art.”

Same Body Different Day #1 by Johannes Nielsen

Same Body Different Day #1 by Johannes Nielsen

Born in 1979 in Falkenberg, Sweden, Johannes graduated in Fine Arts from the Lunds Art School in 2003 and worked as an artistic assistant in Dublin before returning to Sweden in 2007. Currently, he lives and works in Beijing.

His motivation to seek calm through his work stems from within. “I have a strong need for clarity and to understand things, often at the beginning I have a question in the back of my mind, then, throughout the creative process I find answers and solutions,” he says. “And I find a way to communicate that without saying anything. Later In the result, I have all of that recorded in to my sculpture. Finally, when I look at my own creation it reminds me of my inner discoveries and the journey during that time.”

Same Body Different Day crop_by Johannes Nielsen

Same Body Different Day #2 (crop) by Johannes Nielsen

His words make sense of the energy his figures and animals exude. The process of creation allows Johannes to empty his own emotions, and so it’s perhaps only natural that his sculptures resonate with the buzz of unspoken emotion. Despite this, the pieces seem open to welcoming more – to soak in human anxiety and replace it with quiet.

Contrary to the perfection of the completed sculptures, mistakes are a crucial part of Johannes’ methodology. “My creative process is often about giving myself permission to fail,” he confesses. “For each finished sculpture there are several failures behind it. I keep trying and trying, modeling and carving in the sculpture: sometimes it crashes, other times it fails. At the end I try to save the best accidents and throw out the bad ones. And often the original idea and the finished result are two completely different pieces of art.”

Echo From the Soil by Johannes Nielsen

Echo From the Soil by Johannes Nielsen

He adds: “I rarely have a previous image or a vision for a new piece of art. Often I only know how large I want the finished sculpture to be, and then I see my creative process as a way to sketch and daydream. It’s then I feel there can be magic moment captured in the result.”

Johannes believes he is growing ever closer to his creative goals. “In general I feel more and more happy for each new pieces of art I create, I feel my recent work hold more and more of my own language and truth.”

The Edge of Silence (side) 16 x 14 cm by Johannes Nielsen

The Edge of Silence by Johannes Nielsen

Johannes describes his motivation as the urge for “a finished piece of art (to) somehow reveal an timeless experience. One way I do that is by sourcing my inspiration both from classical as well as contemporary art, from eastern as well as western culture. I also like to work in bronze for this reason; it’s a timeless material that only becomes more beautiful as it changes with the passing of time and the touch of people’s hands.”

There. I knew it. Art created to be touched.

Find more of Johannes work at DegreeArt.com.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley(at)iCloud.com. I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

How stories can change the world

Mackerel skies over Temple Meads cr Judy DarleyGot an idea for a project that aims to boost civic involvement in government decisions? The Commonwealth Foundation is seeking submissions for their grants programme. The Foundation in interested in supporting a pool of ideas for advancing societies and offers grants to help make these concepts a reality.

The Foundation believes in the power of stories and storytelling for social change and will award grants for creative approaches that have the potential to influence public discourse.

Foundation grants can add up to a maximum of £200,000 over four years in support of innovative projects and approaches that seek to strengthen the empower of civic voices to engage with governments, with the potential to improve governance and development outcomes through their active participation.

The selection process is highly competitive and rigorous; selected projects will have been designed to undertake work that has the potential to lead to one or more of the outcomes in the Foundation’s strategic logic model.

An internal review process, including long-listing by the Grants team followed by a short listing process involving all programme teams, prepares a final list of applications that is then submitted to the Grants Committee. Final decisions on which projects to support are made by the member states represented on the Foundation’s Grants Committee.

The Foundation is interested in supporting projects that strengthen civic voice so that it:

  • Is more effective in holding governance institutions to account
  • Enhances involvement in policy processes
  • Shapes public discourse

Your project should address one or both of the following, and may include the use of creative expression to achieve project aims:

1. Stronger civic voices engaging in policy processes to hold government to account

Your project will strengthen the capacity of civic voices in contributing to:

  • Monitoring government commitments and action
  • Supporting the implementation of the sustainable development goals or other international agreements, and related local and national policy agendas
  • Advocating policy priorities to government that address gender and other power imbalances, disparities and discrimination
  • Strengthening participatory methods of engaging in regional national and local governance processes
  • Raising awareness and advocating for specific policy issues

2. Public discourse that will support less-heard voices and enable the following:

  • contribution to public discourse on development issues
  • access to policy spaces and/or platforms with the potential to amplify voices and influence public discourse

Find further details.

Fiction on the radio – Fascinate

Slimbridge by Judy DarleyMy story ‘Fascinate’ aired on Adam Crowther‘s BBC Upload radio show on Thursday 7th December at around eleven past seven. It’s one of the shorter, stranger tales in my new short story collection Sky Light Rain.

Adam describes it as being about “an unusual use for animals.”

This image above hints at the story’s last line…

It’s available to listen to for 23 more days. Listen in here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07r0g2b 

Writing prompt – light

Light by Judy Darley. ColourThis is the second in a trio of writing prompts instigated by my new short story collection, Sky Light Rain. You can find a black and white version of this artwork in the book.

Part two of the collection is Light. It explores the darkness within ourselves, and how we can come through it to find our own light. These tales take the form of a series of journeys, escapes and reunions.

Imagine a character who is hiding a disturbing secret. How might they overcome it to find happiness?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

A engineering-themed arts trail

Clifton Suspension Bridge cr JDarleyThe 19th Totterdown Front Room Arts Trail erupts from 15th till 17th November 2019 with an engineering theme – perfect for the city where Isambard Kingdom Brunel made his mark so exquisitely!

Arts Trail organiser Gaily Orr says: “Engineering is the art and science of nuts and bolts. So sign up now with wrench sets and sketch pads at the ready!”

Never been to an art trail? This is a great one to dip your toe (or jump head first) into. The first to appear in Bristol almost two decades ago, it offers a chance for artists to showcase their work within their own homes as well as shared spaces, and for us public to a) enjoy said art, and b) get away with being nosy about other people’s décor to our heart’s content.

Each year the Arts Trail attracts thousands of visitors coming from across the city and beyond.” It’s a fantastic opportunity for local artists to display their work to the public, and it’s also a great opportunity for the public to visit, view, discuss and buy original works of arts and crafts directly from the artist.”

There’s also potential for lots of inspiration gleaning, not to mention a golden opportunity to start the Christmas shopping with some one-off originals.

Totterdown Front Room Arts Trail is on from 15th-17th November 2019. Find full details at frontroom.org.uk.

Totterdown Front Room Arts Trail_cr Judy Darley

A short story – What We Talk About When We Talk About Owls

Egg by Judy DarleyI’m so pleased to have my story ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Owls‘ published in Retreat West‘s Charity Anthology 2019, titled No Good Deed. It’s raising funds to support Indigo Volunteers. This brilliant charity matches willing volunteers with humanitarian projects across the globe.

The photo above is a clue to a pivotal incident in the tale. And no, that’s not the moon.

No Good DeedMy story was inspired by the way discussions can skirt around the real issues within a family, so that the crucial point can be ignored in favour of chewing over less relevant or, frankly, more surreal topics.

It began in my mind as an image very like the one above, being gawped at by two sisters. As I allowed the characters to chat, I realised how little we know of what happens in other people’s relationships, even those where we’re closely related to one of the parties.

In this case the key subject is not really owls at all, although one particular species does feature, as you’ll see in the taster lines below.

“That’s a tawny owl egg,” Sammy declares, holding up the egg identification chart I gave her at Easter. “Did you know tawny owls are ferociously defensive of their young? If it’s just been laid it’ll hatch in 30 days.
Can I have it?”

“No!” My sister’s voice is so loud that my niece and I both jump. “Sammy, go and play, will you? I need to speak to your aunt.”

Buy your copy of the No Good Deed anthology here.