Poetry review – In Her Shambles by Elizabeth Parker

In Her Shambles by Elizabeth ParkerI recently had a conversation with poet Elizabeth Parker in which I mentioned that post-it notes are a reviewer’s greatest ally. They’re a tool that can work brilliantly, but also have their fallibilities. With In Her Shambles, I ended up needing almost as many post-it notes as pages, as every poem contained lines to call me back, and make me want to re-absorb their power.

Parker is a master of shimmering last lines, drawing you quietly to a crescendo – a moment of thrill or unease. In each case, the final few words lie in wait, ready to tilt you off kilter, steadied only by the surety of Parker’s pen.

In Lasagne, the making of a meal represents a deeply rooted love affair, in which the ending stanza speaks volumes: “I peg pasta/ between fingers and thumbs/ lay it down for him.”

In Lavinia Writes, a eulogy of sorts to Shakespeare’s ill-fated character from ‘Titus Andronicus’, that ultimate declaration is a shout of rebellion, as the silenced victim, her tongue cut out, finds a way to share her anger by unpicking the stitches of her wound: “I tear more, free more/ until I am fluent.”

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A Poem to Remember competition

Red poppy by Judy Darley

Enter a new national poetry competition to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

You’re invited to breathe in the spirit of the Great War poets, and write a poem that honours those affected by service while paying tribute to humankind’s capacity to overcome adversity. The winner will receive a £2000 cash prize. Deadline 9th April 2018. 

The competition has been launched by the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre (DNRC), itself a new organisation designed to become one of the world’s best clinical rehabilitation centres for the armed forces and potentially civilians too. Inspired by the war’s famous poets, including Wilfred Owen, Muriel Stuart and Siegfried Sassoon, they’re seeking poetry “that honours those affected by service and pays tribute to humankind’s capacity commemorate the moment the guns fell silent in the First World War. It will honour the fallen and those who took part, remembering that many survivors suffered very serious injury which affected the rest of their lives.”

The best five entries will be chosen by a panel of judges, chaired by historian Dan Snow, and then go to a public vote.

The winning entry will be read out by Prince William at the opening ceremony of the new Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre near Loughborough , and will be displayed prominently in perpetuity at the Centre.

The overall winner will receive a £2,000 cash prize, with four runners-up receiving £500. Only one entry is permitted per person. Poems must be no longer than 25 lines.

Closing dates for entries is 23.59pm GMT on April 9th, 2018.
For inspiration, read more about modern day soldier poets.

Find the full competition details, rules and terms and conditions here.

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at judydarley(at)iCloud(dot)com.

Taf – a poem

Walking to Dylan Thomas' home in Laugharne with Dad 2016 cr Judy Darley

Walking to Dylan Thomas’ home in Laugharne with Dad, November 2016

I’m thrilled that my poem Taf has been published in issue 3 of DNA magazine. I wrote it while visiting Laugharne in South Wales with my mum last summer. It’s a place we’ve often stayed as a family, and this was the first time I’d visited since Dad became too unwell with Alzheimers to travel.

The issue hinges on the theme Locations, so a poem written with such a strong sense of place felt like the right submission. The town, its woods and the tidal estuary are full of reminders that Dylan Thomas lived there for a while, and this time it felt as though Dad’s ghost and Dylan’s were strolling together through every view. It’s a strange thing to grieve a person whose heart still beats.

My poem Taf aims to capture some of that emotional conflict, as well as the beauty of Laugharne. You can read the poem here.

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Poetry review – Sax Burglar Blues by Robert Walton

Sax Burglar Blues by Robert WaltonA verve for life rollicks beneath the poems in Robert Walton’s first collection for Seren. Pinned to the page, they jostle in place – I have the impression of them being eager to flurry off downstream, seeking new sights and new adventures.

Perhaps it’s the tumult of years inside them that’s caused this. Walton’s debut came out in 1978, and while the intervening years included plenty of publications of individual poems and even a chapbook, this, emerging 39 years later, is the second full book from the accomplished poet.

Walton refers to the expanse of time as an effort of procrastination, but I suspect his delight in actually living, rather than pondering, is part of the reason for the lengthy gap.

His appetite for the world ensures even the most ordinary sighting can be reconfigured, and through Walton’s eyes, a man with a double bass on his back becomes a Kafka-esque “armour-plated coleoptera.”

Elsewhere, an evening’s ironing is laced with tenderness and grace. Memories redrafted are rippled through with uncommon beauty, as a teacher’s words transform into “red kites playing the thermals over the Teifi.”

Humour shines throughout, making the moments of poignancy all the more striking. In The Only Medicine we meet his powerhouse Nanna. Elsewhere we get more of an insight into his own inner life. In Man and Boy, an utter sense of comfort and safety surfaces, while in Up the Bluebirds!, an effort to please is revealed through the simple detail of a scarf that: “lies folded in the dark.’

I’m pretty sure there’s a double-meaning on the word lie – a child’s treachery perhaps built on the love of and for his father. There’s a subtle shame behind the subterfuge, but also a faint self-mockery, not for failing to gain a fanaticism for football, for so yearning to do so. Walton is a man riddled with self-awareness, in both senses of the word, and blessed with an ability to take himself admirably lightly. Just as he sees the glory in everyday occurrences, he recognises the qualities in the paths he’s chosen, and of those he’s turned from.

There’s a fondness for those distant paths, however, which shines up brief flashes of appreciation into something powerful enough to stop you in your tracks. Under Robert’s gaze, the world is full of wonder.

This never more apparent than in his beautifully weighted poem Greenland, in which the scope widens then narrows with breathtaking skill as we take in a snowbound steppe that was once pulsed with life. Robert gather us up in his wings and swoop inwards to deposit us into a moment of dizzying intimacy, beside the white pillow where his mother’s head rests and he is willing her eyes to open.

Sax Burglar Blues by Robert Walton is published by SerenBuy your copy from Amazon.

Read my review of A Watchful Astronomy by Paul Deaton.

Read my review of In Her Shambles by Elizabeth Parker.

What are you reading? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

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Poetry review – A Watchful Astronomy by Paul Deaton

A Watchful Astronomy by Paul DeatonIn his first full-length collection from Seren, Paul Deaton eases us into the depths of his life, awakening us to the complex constellations of families. Carried through months and years, we take in moments of sorrow, wonderment and self-depreciating humour that seems to sum up both the experience of one individual in a moment, and of the scope of human existence on Earth.

The key relationship here is Deaton’s uncertain navigation around his late father, but his sister, mother, friends and rivals populate his journey, along with the moon, weather systems and unexpected flurries of flora and fauna. These latter, from Starlings’ “tall-tree trumpeters” to Sea Bream Dinner’s “wholesome, silver sea thing” reveal a quiet observance of the natural world that borders on reverence.

Despite casting his net occasionally into the sky above, to me Deaton’s poems resonate so powerfully because they are rooted in the earth, drawing our attention to the cumulative marvels of minutiae that could seem mundane in other hands. It’s here that Deaton’s fluid metaphors gleam. A reference to the central heating’s “dull milk shed moan” in Late Hour sketches parallels to other lives we could have lived, while Voices draws back the curtain on what comes after as well. The loss of his father ripples throughout, most poignantly for me in DIY: “He turned up at my house too, when I hadn’t asked.” The recognition and faint irritation of unuttered love is spine-tinglingly palpable.

Throughout the collection, momentum builds as Deaton urges us to contemplate the unstoppable force of time and mortality. Our planet rotates, seasons change and we age, seemingly without mercy. Yet in the midst of this, plants and wildlife flourish, offering echoes of beauty and wonder that lift Deaton’s poetry and illuminate the gloaming.

At his launch in Bristol, Deaton described his poems as “an attempt to make the darkness visible.” He certainly achieves that, but at the same time this poet reveals the light shining amongst shadows, and what could be more human than that?

Read my review of Paul Deaton’s Black Night.

A Watchful Astronomy by Paul Deaton is published by Seren and is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Buy your copy from Amazon.

Read my review of Black Knight by Paul Deaton.

Read my review of In Her Shambles by Elizabeth Parker.

Read my review of Sax Burglar Blues by Robert Walton

What are you reading? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

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Poetry review – Take This One To Bed by Antony Dunn

Take This One to Bed by Antony DunnIn an homage to rural and suburban living, and the creatures that live among (and, in one case, within) us, poet Antony Dunn examines human nature by setting it alongside, well, nature.

We meet spiders, newts, frogs, slugs, sheep, mice, bats and crows startled to “beating black”; unborn children, born ones, and, most evocatively, lovers, all sensuously laid out in deceptively simple verses that summon up the world.

For me, Leaving: vi Two Mohitos in Bratislava, feels plucked from my own memory; causing my mouth to flood with a craving for the zing of citrus and mint. The word choices are crisp and visceral – happiness is sucked, a quartered lime fished, an ice-cube shunted. It’s deeply, satisfyingly, envy-inducing.

Even in a poem about a solo journey, Dunn conjures flavour and texture by mentioning “the woman with her honey in mis-matched jars” and  “sunlight quickening/ the dust and tar/ and rosemary”.

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Poetry review – Woven Landscapes

Woven Landscapes coverThis slim, blue volume from Avalanche Books brings together the words of six strong poets with a shared love of the world around us. Selected and arranged by editor Deborah Gaye, the affect is of attending an evening of readings, with each poet’s work presented as a mini collection within the book. It’s an unusual approach for an anthology, but it works beautifully, giving you the chance to absorb each writer’s tone and rhythms before drifting into the companionship of the next.

And each one truly does have a clear, resoundingly individual voice. Section one, from Roselle Angwin, is a sensual tangle of the intimate and universal, beginning with Apple Tree and a wassail in an orchard that offers up memories of rural customs even as the poet urges us to rest “your palm to the trunk, tell you how to open/ the eyes and ears of your hand” to experience the “journey between earth and star.” It’s a powerfully enticing beginning. Each poem conjures the same magic, elevating the ordinary details of life while contemplating big issues – politics, mortality, pilgrimage and migration, all elegantly laid out in vivid verse.

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Submit short stories on Change and Stasis

Windmill Hill City Farm pigs cr Judy DarleySubmissions are now open for issue #2 of The Ham Free Press. The themes for the issue are Change and Stasis – a great start to your writing year!

“The world, and its inhabitants, seem to be going through a period of profound change at the moment, physically, socially, and politically, and we want to explore the creative response to this change in our next issue,” say the editors. “On the other hand, we might be wrong, perhaps things aren’t changing that dramatically, perhaps things just happen in cycles, maybe we’ve been here before? Are there certain constants, unchanging and stable, whilst the world around us seems to transform?  We don’t know, we’re very confused, but we’re awfully excited to receive your submissions based on this prompt.”

Send up to three short stories or flash fictions up to a maximum of (4,000 words max for short stories, 1,000 max for flash fiction) and poems up to a maximum of 60 lines (the shorter the better). “We will accept up to five poems per submission and if we think they’re good enough we’ll publish them all, so go mad.”

Intriguingly, The Ham also accept any work of an epistolary nature, whether it be letters from readers, real life correspondence, “or fictional correspondence. Make us laugh, make us think, make us question our very existence.”

Send all submissions to thehamfreepress@gmail.com, but before you do so, take a moment to visit The Ham’s website and read the full submission guidelines.

The why, what and how of writing poetry

Coriolis Effect by Sarah Dncan

Coriolis Effect by Sarah Dncan

Poet Paul Deaton explains how he came to write Black Knight, his debut poetry pamphlet for Eyewear Publishing’s Aviator Series.

Writing for me has been an intuitive adventure. It first kicked off when I was a teenager; the need and struggle to place myself and where I was; to find something in my life to hold on to. Sounds a bit dramatic, but that was the genesis.

Why I write

Words can offer us a means to place ourselves within our own worlds, when perhaps you don’t feel well placed. Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis calls this a “sacred place, where I allow myself to express my true feelings.”

Poetry offers this self-private room, where words are the outlet and the poems can find balance, meaning and say things that might seem ordinarily, in one’s daily life, unsayable. The words become a mirror to your life.

Talking specifically about my pamphlet Black Knight, all those previous years are in it – many, many years of clandestine writing.

It started taking real shape around eight years ago after I’d done an adult learning poetry course through Bristol University with Totnes poet Julie-ann Rowell. That was actually the point when I started to take my own writing seriously, because someone else, who I respected, took it seriously.

I’ll use that word again and I realise now, without good mirroring it’s quite easy to neglect those things we might have a talent or gift for.

The course in 2008 with Julie-ann was a moment of change. Finally I took some self-responsibility towards my writing. Sadly, I’ve been very good at self-sabotaging, a bit of an expert, which is, to put it another way, and again drawing on poet Gwyneth Lewis from her Sunbathing in the Rain, “I do have a responsibility for the maintenance of the gift.” Previous to 2008 I’d never quite respected my responsibility towards the gift. I’d let the writing flounder as much as I’d let it happen.

Black Knight really is the result of me responding to the ‘call’, and finally embracing it and actually working at it before it’s too late to do something about it.

I decided I couldn’t carry on letting it sleep lifelessly in me and then die. The poems for Black Knight come from this period when I started to graft and push beyond beginnings. It was about the writing and also a personal thing, a statement and a commitment saying this is what I’m about.

In that sense I think the pamphlet is declarative. There’s a new relationship hidden in there too amongst the scenery and also an acceptance of bloodline; a painful one with my father.

Parallex by Sarah Duncan

Parallex by Sarah Duncan

What I write

In terms of themes, the collection draws on two preoccupations or prisms; relationships and then my deeper sense and need for geographical topographical location which draws on a sense of place and the natural world. For me there is very much an interaction between the two, but this subject matter hasn’t been arrived at deliberately. It’s just the way it is for me.

I don’t think I’m capable of writing deliberate poems. In a good way, the poems happened inevitably, which I think is in line with what Seamus Heaney says; you’ve got to write without self-consciousness.

The themes, though, are just a reflection of a sensibility I have that comes to light sometimes, of being alive in the natural universe.

I find the natural world a huge store for correspondences and I’m curious about the interplay between the private subjective and this huge living cosmos, the universe, of which our consciousness is a part.

Like I say, it feels like a sensibility. I try and stay open to that, both of my own processes as a human being and the bigger on-going processes of sun, Earth, seasons, plant, bird life and so on happening around me and outside my back door.

In this way I try and keep the pores open and take it all in – Blake’s idea that we should “see heaven in a wild flower.”  I feel whole as a human being when the two can be brought together in some way; can touch and spark, when the psyche can find those images ‘out there’ in the natural world that can name its sense of itself and the interplay ‘of the big’ that sometimes we can feel a part of.

Undertow detail by Sarah Duncan

Undertow, detail by Sarah Duncan

How I write

In terms of structuring the pamphlet, it was a case of reviewing quite a strong period of new work. It was a bit like I had in my creative garden a load of fallen leaves and I just went about gathering together the ones that seemed most beautiful.

In that sense I wasn’t really writing for the pamphlet – in fact, after having got nil response after a few years’ attempts at pamphlet competitions I’d given up thinking about pamphlets – and this probably helped. I was just writing poems and trying to get them published. And thinking that maybe one day I’d go for the pamphlet or book.

But actually I wasn’t in any rush. For me, when the poems started to get published I worried less about the need for having a pamphlet. Publication felt like its own reward. So Black Knight is really just a bundle of closely connected fallen leaves pretty much off the same tree; that new relationship and the death of my father.

I’m delighted it’s here though, and delighted to be part of Eyewear and Todd Swift’s Aviator Series.

My full-length collection A Watchful Astronomy comes out with Seren next year, and will extend on from this starting point. And some of the poems for that book have moved on too, just as I have.

Paul DeatonAbout the author 

Paul Deaton’s poems appear in The Spectator, PN Review, The London Magazine, The Dark Horse Magazine, Gutter Magazine and anthologies. His debut poetry pamphlet Black Knight was published by Eyewear in March 2016. A Watchful Astronomy will be published by Seren in 2017.

All images in this post (other than the pic of Paul) have been generously supplied by Sarah Duncan. Thanks Sarah! Find more of Sarah’s art at print.sarahduncan.net.

Got some writing insights to share? I’m always happy to receive feature pitches on writing genres and writing tools. Send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Get published by Into The Void Magazine

Wieliczka Salt Mine cr Judy Darley

Into The Void Magazine invites you to submit your finest fiction, nonfiction, poetry and visual art for Issue Two.

The deadline for submissions is September 25th.

They say: “We want work that screams out from inside you and grabs hold of us. We want to hear what you have no choice but to tell. Unpublished and less established writers have as good a chance as any – it’s all about the writing.”

Fiction

Submit stories in any genre and style of up to 4,000 words. “Although literary fiction tends to be our favourite, we love any kind of story that blows us away, from science fiction to speculative to fantasy to horror. The only requirement is writing your little heart out!”

Aim to enthral. “We prize beautiful, unique prose but clarity is a must. The most important thing we can tell you is this: Stories, always, always, always, are about people. Everything else is secondary. Write the story you simply must write – the one that screams its way out of your fingers because it needs to be read.”

Non-Fiction 

Submit essays of up to 4,000 words on any topic whatsoever that conveys passion and truth, be it personal or issue-focused. “We want essays that bite!”

Poetry

Submit poems in all forms and styles of up to 80 lines with no minimum line or word count.

“The key here is two-fold: A clear display of the intention to create a beautiful sounding poem, and an economical use of well-chosen words of powerful meaning and description. Poems can be about anything at all, and of all shapes.”

Art

The magazine needs submissions of cover and internal art, in any medium including photography, provided it is submitted as a high quality jpeg image.

Submit the highest quality version of your work, so the editors can see how big it will be on the page at print quality. Don’t send a lower quality version and tell us we can have a higher one if requested.

Renumeration

All contributors accepted for publication will receive a cash payment of €5 via Paypal, and will receive a copy of the magazine in both print and digital. Contributors will also have the opportunity to be featured as part of the ‘Interviews with Our Contributors’ section.

Top contributors will be nominated for The Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.

Submission fees

There is a submission fee of €1.40 (around $1.54/£1.17) to submit your written work.

For full details on how to submit, go to intothevoidmagazine.com/submissions/

I found out about this opportunity at ShortStopsGot an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at Judy(at)socket creative(dot)com.