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Redrafting a Poem – curiouser and curiouser …

When we think of editing and redrafting we often think about paring down, getting rid of extraneous words. We look at word choice, layout, structure, titles, and opening lines. The main purpose being to ensure our poem is as strong as possible – to look at it closely and interrogate each line – and we make edits that bring out its natural power.

But before I write about editing down (a later post) I thought I’d share the journey of one of my commissioned poems which grew with each draft. You may prefer the early version, the ultimate, or one of those in between, but I plumped for the last (or at least stopped there). The penultimate and final version differ only in the ordering of one line which I realised was crucial but it took me this long to spot it!

Commissions are hard, and this one for the Alice in Wonderland centenary was especially so, for two reasons. Firstly, I was kind of commissioning myself for an Ekphrasis project (see here) and secondly, as it was in an anthology it would rub alongside 60 others, so I needed my poem to be “mine” and not to sound as if it could have been written by anyone. So I “uniqued” it – brought in a favourite band from my youth and put Alice in the heart of 1980s Woking. I love specifics in poems too, so threw in the name of a pub (and yes I Googled it to make sure it was real).

The image of Alice I had stuck in my head was by Brian Moser:

Picture1.png

So, a bit like Alice herself my poem grew…

.

The trouble of getting up and picking daisies

Because there’s still mud smudged down my dress
by hands too small to contain soil in its creeks

and rivers, I draw lines, as if to cross myself out,
with the stub of each finger. I ought to be ashamed

of myself. But am not. Sometimes I think I can undo
everything like a trick unravelling itself until

something unlost is tragically found. For one time only
I untelescope limbs, listen to clocks untick ‒

nothing is lost as I do it. I meet my arms in parallel lines
halfway down to the uninvited place ‒ femurs jolt.

You can date me by the scattering of bones, scraps
of fabric, the shape my heart makes as it stops.

*

Daisy-chains and downers
Well the brass bands play and feet start to pound
Going underground (going underground) – Paul Weller

Because there’s still mud smudged down my dress
by hands too small to contain soil in their creeks

and rivers, I draw lines, as if to cross myself out
with the stub of each finger. I ought to be ashamed

of myself. Sometimes I think I can undo everything
like a trick that unravels itself until something

unvanished is magically found. For one day only
I untelescope, listen to clocks untick; nothing is lost

as I do it. Time slackens, parts its lips. I go under;
arms skitter halfway down to the unwelcome place ‒

legs shimmer their image in a mirror’s cockeyed curve,
femurs jolt at rock-bottom, the pits, blue funk.

You can date me by the scattering of bones, scraps
of fabric, the shape my heart makes as it stops.​

*

Daisy Chains and Downers in a Town Called Malice
Well the brass bands play and feet start to pound
Going underground (going underground) ‒ Paul Weller

Because there’s still mud smudged down my dress
by hands too small to contain soil in their creeks

and rivers, I draw lines, as if to cross myself out
with the stub of each finger. I ought to be ashamed

of myself hanging out on Stanley Road after dark,
like a groupie, struggling to get in the Birch & Pines ‒

but I’m not. I think I can undo everything on
the Sheerwater Estate, like a trick that unravels itself

until something unvanished is magically found.
Tonight I untelescope, listen to clocks untick,

nothing is lost as I do it. Time slackens outside
the working men’s club and Walton Road parts its lips.

My arms skitter, halfway down to the unwelcome place,
Underground my name’s uncomfortable in my mouth,

legs shimmer their image in the mirror’s cockeyed curve,
femurs jolt at rock-bottom, the pits, blue funk.

You can date me by bone density, scraps
of fabric, the shape my heart makes as it stops.

*

Daisy Chains and Downers
Well the brass bands play and feet start to pound
Going underground (going underground) ‒ Paul Weller

Because there’s still mud smudged down my dress
by hands too small to contain soil in their creeks

and rivers, I draw lines, as if to cross myself out
with the stub of each finger, drop daisies in the gutter.

I ought to be ashamed of myself hanging out
on Stanley Road after dark, like a groupie

struggling to get in to the Birch & Pines ‒
but I’m not. I think I can undo everything

like a trick that unravels itself until something
unvanished is magically found. Tonight

I untelescope, listen to clocks untick, nothing
is lost as I do it. Outside the working men’s club

time slackens, Walton Road parts its lips, exhales.
I slip down to the unwelcome place –

underground my name’s uncomfortable in my mouth,
I was a different person then. Arms and legs skim

their image in the mirror’s cock-eyed curve,
femurs jolt at rock-bottom, the pits, blue funk.

You can date me by bone density, scraps
of fabric, the shape my heart makes as it stops.

*

Daisy Chains and Downers
Well the brass bands play and feet start to pound
Going underground (going underground) ‒ Paul Weller

Because there’s still mud smudged down my dress
by hands too small to contain soil in their creeks

and rivers, I draw lines with the stub of each finger
as if to cross myself out. Drop daisies in the gutter.

I ought to be ashamed of myself hanging out
on Stanley Road after dark, like a groupie

struggling to get in to the Birch & Pines ‒
but I’m not. I think I can undo everything

like a trick that unravels itself until something
unvanished is magically found. Tonight

I untelescope, listen to clocks untick, nothing
is lost as I do it. Outside the working men’s club

time slackens, Walton Road parts its lips, exhales.
I slip down to the unwelcome place –

underground my name’s uncomfortable in my mouth,
I was a different person then. Arms and legs skim

their image in the mirror’s cock-eyed curve,
femurs jolt at rock-bottom, the pits, blue funk.

You can date me by bone density, scraps
of fabric, the shape my heart makes as it stops.

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Power of Poetry and Memory Loss

As part of the National Memory Day project, poet Karen Hayes created a poem using lines contributed by people whose lives have been touched by dementia; read here by researchers, poets and supporters of the National Memory Day Project.

The first line was contributed by Sir Andrew Motion, President of National Memory Day and former Poet Laureate.

Please do contribute your poems on the subject of memory via the comments box below.

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The Frogmore Prize – closing date 31st May 2017

frog

The winner of the Frogmore Poetry Prize for 2017 will receive two hundred and fifty guineas and a two-year subscription to The Frogmore Papers. The first and second runners-up will receive seventy-five and fifty guineas respectively and a year’s subscription to The Frogmore Papers. Shortlisted poets will receive copies of selected Frogmore Press publications.

Previous winners of the Prize have been David Satherley, Caroline Price, Bill Headdon, John Latham, Diane Brown, Tobias Hill, Mario Petrucci, Gina Wilson, Ross Cogan, Joan Benner, Ann Alexander, Gerald Watts, Katy Darby, David Angel, Howard Wright, Julie-ann Rowell, Arlene Ang, Peter Marshall, Gill Andrews, A K S Shaw, Sharon Black, Emily Wills, Lesley Saunders, Sarah Barr and Eve Jackson.

maggie

 

Adjudicator: Maggie Butt

She is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Degrees of Twilight (The London Magazine, 2015). She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Cardiff University and is currently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Kent.

 

 

FULL DETAILS HERE

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Two poems from Claire Walker

The Fishwife

They say I was not born to this,
my voice soft as sun-warmed sand,
lost to the fetch of a wave.

He rises before dawn,
throws his nets to the daybreak sea,
works his bones on the water.

I walk the markets with his catch,
a haul all gleaming scales and ice,
framed in quiet harbour light.

Love doesn’t pack neatly into crates –
and he loves me, the hushed
ripples of my words.

At night, I bathe the salt from his hands,
moor his deck-worn body with shanties
that whisper a sea’s beat.

.
Lone Stag

I see him, as I tie the beans to bamboo,
secure our supplies against twilight.
Lone stag, antlers open to fading sky,
only the low, splintered fence between us.

I move slowly – intrigued, sliding my feet – and there we are,
faces close, his nose jutting over the divide.
He smells food, but his eyes rest on me,
gentle brown irises weighing his provider.

My hand finds his coat, soft against muscle,
the mottled baby-back long outgrown.
Reaching his neck I touch cool antlers,
feel the even planes that fork to weather.

.
Claire Walker’s poetry has been published in magazines and on websites including The Interpreter’s House, Prole, Ink Sweat and Tears, And Other Poetry, and Clear Poetry, and in anthologies such as The Chronicles of Eve (Paper Swans Press). She is a Poetry Reader for Three Drops Press, and her first pamphlet, The Girl Who Grew Into a Crocodile, is published by V. Press.

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Brotherhood by Mark Greene

Brotherhood

You phoned in the amber hours of the night
to tell me of your latest love, and how –
if I didn’t mind the extra hassle –
you hoped I’d play a part at your wedding.

It stung like a snowball hitting my face
when you asked: “How ‘bout being my best man?”
because, in truth, all my speech could suggest
was that tales of youth are best left unsaid.

There was the time we tried playing Star Wars –
with you a Jedi, and me as Darth Maul.
But things quickly took a turn for the worse
when your head went clang on the kitchen sink.

And that time we went the police station
after fighting over the PlayStation.
or when mum told me I had to leave home
after I made you eat lumps of charcoal.

Most of all, I recall that day in spring
when I locked you in next door’s back garden;
and how I watched through the iron gate
as you got nipped by Felix, the dachshund.

But a few nights later you phoned again,
telling me in a voice which creaked and groaned:
“All that was once true love has turned to dust!”
and then you filled the line with bitter tears.

It wasn’t because your heart was broken
or that I wouldn’t need to buy a suit,
but I gave a smile on finding out
that your big day was well and truly kerplunked.

Looking back, I understand my relief
at not having to give a best man’s speech:
there should have been more to show from those years
than just the slow rot of our brotherhood.

.

Mark Greene is a poet, short-story writer and novelist. He was born on the Wirral but now works and lives in Sheffield. Mark has previously been published in Now Then, Platform for Prose, STORGYThe Cadaverine, Clear Poetry and Ink. magazine.

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Summer’s End by Belinda Rimmer

Summer’s End

Near summer’s end
we came to race boats
across the ford at Kineton.
We carried nets, Thermos Flasks,
wore red to deter wasps: family rituals.

Today the valley thrums with insects.
Ants, like magnetic particles,
draw to the surface;
I tread them back into the earth.

Vulnerable to drought,
the ford is a cobble-stoned puddle.
A belly full of silt will slow its journey
to the Thames.
No sound; no trickle or gush.

Two horses gallop over;
a faint smell of grass and peppermint.
Sensing fear, they shy away.

In this moment – birdsong,
ox eye daisy among dandelion,
variegated light –
it’s the way someone has fixed the rotten gate
with blue twine that captures me.

This one thing: the impermanence of wood.

.

First published by the Gloucestershire Echo for their Poetry Page, 15th October, 2016

.

Belinda Rimmer has been writing poetry for several years. Her poems have appeared in magazines, including, Brittle Star, Dream Catcher, ARTEMISpoetry and Obsessed with Pipework. Other poems have appeared on-line: Cloud Poetry, Picaroon Poetry, Ground, Writers Against Prejudice, along with others. A few poems have been accepted for anthologies too. To her surprise, she recently came second in her first ever Poetry Slam for World Book Day. She is studying for an undergraduate module in Poetry Writing at the University of Gloucestershire with poet Angela France. Her website is: www.belindarimmer.com

 

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Challenging As Is by Joe Balaz

CHALLENGING AS IS

Christine no can do it anymoa

visiting and trying to help out
wen she’s not even wun relative.

She feels kinnah bad
and hates to sound distant

but she knows
she gaddah tink about herself.

It must be wun very confusing
state of being

wen da sun is blotted
out of da sky

and all da familiar faces
no longer have any names.

Sitting deah
wit her ailing acquaintance

and observing da restless sea
from da surface

Christine fully realizes

dat she has no idea
wat is going on beneath da waves.

She’s struggling wit her compassion

and by no means can she imagine
wun halo above her head

cause lately she feels
as if she’s drawing inward.

Her world is hectic
and is challenging as is.

Dere’s no silver spoon
in her purse

dat she can fling at da clouds
to induce wun rainfall of plenty.

Christine has given everyting she can.

Wen she gets back to her own place
and accesses da new reality

she rationalizes and lets go
like many people eventually do.

Opening her refrigerator

Christine finds
dat wit all of her recent running around

she needs to get some fast food again

cause da only ting worth eating
is wun box of uncooked chicken

but da pieces are frozen solid
harder den her newly changed heart.

.

Joe Balaz writes in Hawaiian Islands Pidgin (Hawai’i Creole English) and in American-English. He edited Ho’omanoa: An Anthology of Contemporary Hawaiian Literature.  Some of his recent Pidgin writing has appeared in Rattle, Juked, Otoliths, and Hawai’i Review, among others. Balaz is an avid supporter of Hawaiian Islands Pidgin writing in the expanding context of World Literature.  He presently lives in Cleveland, Ohio.

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In a universe of infinite possibilities… by Jane Sharp

In a universe of infinite possibilities…

1.

I am a green budgerigar trapped in a metal cage,
I flap my green wings in frenzy, flustered, flightless: fearful
of that other bird head that continuously attacks,
as though I were Prometheus. It’s eternal torment.

I know that this flapping, this fidgeting, this hopping from
perch to perch, draws attention to my plight, in this open
box, swinging from the top of an up-cycled lampstand.
I’m thirsty, I’m hungry, come on, Joey’s a pretty boy.

2.

In this universe of infinite possibilities,
I am an alien flying a pre-war, post concord
paper aeroplane. Gliding in to land on a cornfield,
up to my ears in corn, reborn, fearing nothing, my wing
feathers tickling , settling down, smooth, green as a parakeet.

I know my arrival might draw attention from earthlings
so I pull a Bruce Willis (I’ve done my research) vest down
over my head, slide my legs into a pair of tight tights
till I resemble an Olympic gymnast, chalk my hands
my face, my feet – white, I am told, being better than green.

3.

In this universe of infinite possibilities,
I am the person sitting here writing this poem, green
as the greenest of poets, flexing invisible wings,
calm as a cross-legged yogi, quiet as the space between
semitones, unruffled as a well fed budgerigar.

Yet I feel like an alien in a pair of tight tights,
just landed on earth after being regurgitated
out of some black hole of the universe. I am bespoke,
modified, evolving into the space of my future.

.

Jane Sharp lives near Barnsley; she has been published in The Yorkshire Anthology, and The Dalesman. Her work has been read on Radio 4. She is a member of the Poetry Society Stanza North Kent group, and Shortlands Poetry Circle. Her novel Tears From the Sun – A Cretan Journey was written during her 18-year adventure in Crete. She has just completed her second novel (not yet published). Her blog can be found at: janesharp.org

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SW12 by Robert Ford

SW12

See it skulk away beyond the stewing river, failing
to hide its fraying underclothes, its grey jigsaw
of rooftops, ventilator pipes and rusting fire-escapes.
From the window seat of a coast-bound train, it
seems made from a sheet of crumpled foil, floating
across the looming skyline, punctured randomly by
chimney stacks and humourless towers, Victorian
attics studded with satellite dishes and praying mantis
aerials. Defunct white goods collect like bewildered
sheep in backyard pens ringed with brambles.
Even above the barking of the wheels at the rails,
its mutterings are audible, its fists shaking angrily at
midwinter stratus, forgetting yesterday, when every
single slate shone like a pilgrim, after the morning’s rain.

.

Robert Ford lives on the east coast of Scotland. His poetry has appeared in both print and online publications in the UK and US, including Antiphon, Clear Poetry, Whale Road Review and Ink, Sweat and Tears. More of his work can be found at https://wezzlehead.wordpress.com/

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The Gross & Fine Geography/New & Selected Poems by Stephen Bett reviewed by E. E. Nobbs

Nick Laird in a March 2017 Guardian article  [https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/17/donald-trump-poetry-nick-laird-don-paterson-zoo-of-the-new] reminds us that …

[r]eading poems, embodying in words a chain of apprehensions, is to know something of a particular writer’s way of being in the world. It says, “And there’s this.” We experience some part – lexically, chemically, electrically, emotionally – of what the writer felt. What knowledge could be more consoling – or more difficult to bear in mind?

And that’s how I feel about Stephen Bett’s big 178 page collection. It covers many years (starting with poems from 1983), and includes poems from over a dozen of his previous books. It’s an impressive showcase of how Bett writes about human conundrums and modern life. The book’s title with its multiple puns suggest a broad swath of possibilities —and that’s what Bett gives us , using a wide variety of poetic techniques and an ironic, self-aware sense of humour.

bett

 

Check out Bett’s home page [ http://www.stephenbett.com/ ] where you will find out more about him and his many books. He’s a West Coast Canadian who has “read and written poetry for over 50 years”. He was also a college English teacher for over 30 years. Here’s an interesting 2015 interview with him about influences, methods, likes & dislikes and opinions on the poetry world.
[ http://www.stephenbett.com/chin-wag-at-the-slaughterhouse-interview-with-stephen-bett.shtml ]

The speaker(s) in Bett’s poems often feel like the voice of the poet himself – they are strong, candid and frank in sharing their views on our society’s weird techno-times and their place in it.

A lot of the poems are first person, personal and close to home. There are family poems which address children. A daughter. A son. These are heartfelt, with a parent’s concerns, and the situational irony of life

Many poems are about love and marriage situations – (mis)communications, frustrations, the breaking down of a long-term relationship, and the building of a new one. Bett uses long sequences effectively – the method acts a metaphor for life, life as a journey, a car trip, a journal, how life and relationships never stay the same and how we need to keep our eyes on the road! There is lots of wry humour and “sass”, (a term that Bett likes to use), but also genuine emotional investment. The speaker uses his ability to laugh at himself, and situations as a way to help him get through them. But he doesn’t sugar-coat. In the poems that involve the breakdown of a long term but relationship, the speaker makes no bones about his anger.

But then, the wonder of a new love, how it develops into a new marriage is presented as a kind of miracle which the speaker eventually accepts as reality. And as a reader, I shared in the surprise, relief and the happiness. There are some extremely minimalist poems.

You

You

— just

you

just

there

Do

Such a poem is a bit odd to look at if considered by itself, but gains significance, as a part of sequence. It is preceded by the not quite as minimalist, stand-out titular poem of the collection:

The Gross & Fine Geography

The gross & fine geography
of our hearts

Big sweep
tight corners

I reach
for you

For you

Geographies
that desire

As another example of how a poet can share his world – what’s important to him –Bett writes about his passion for jazz with a series of poems in homage to jazz musicians – who are presumably well known for those who are in the know (I am not one, but now he’s got me wondering what I am missing). Again – it shows Bett’s versatility and I liked the way he used quotes and other source material, and formatted the poems to suggest the riffs and improvisation of the music. And I smiled at the repeated use of “gorgeous”. I got the happy mood even without being an aficionado.

I admire Bett’s use of minimalist poems in sequences, but the piece in this book that I keep coming back to and re-reading, has more conventional rhythms & form, and was the single piece with which he started the book. It feels like an offering.

My reading of it is that — life is strange, but doing the work, making the effort, living as fully as possible in this world — is what life is “about”.

The first poem in full:

Preparation for a Gift

How true it is that we need to be
close to the brink of language when
we speak now. I recall saying to you
at the time I read them
how acute John Ashbery’s remarks on
Pollack were. That the ‘excitement’

lies with the ‘very real possibility’
of the work coming to nothing (the ‘random
splashes of a careless housepainter’).
I watched on film how he would

tack his unstretched canvas on the ground
and walk around it choosing from various
cans of paint; not systemically, it seemed,
and certainly not according to the fixed laws
of ritual — or even chance (that being an art
both the body and will surely deny). But simply
because a particular color was at hand

to what he was doing; whereupon the
success or failure must lie right
at the heart of his having chosen
to do it that way at all. It cannot be
done over. And seeing that, he must have had
a tremendous faith in his materials to go a-
long with his own equally determined and supple
contortions. I mean the ability of the paint to
fall where it will find least resistance, and of
the canvas to absorb it there. (I wanted to call
such faith “ambition,” and — if it could be
divested of the vulgarity of systems —
relate it to a program for language.
Then I’d offer it to you
in place of tedious conversation;
difficult to rely on, perhaps,
but significant in its intractable resolve.

Stephen Bett is a mature, experienced poet, who uses language in a wide variety of ways. He has serious things to say, but says them with a sharp wit. His poems deal with the contemporary. They are pertinent to the lives we live, and have much to offer. I am glad for the chance to review this collection and be introduced to his work.

.

E.E. Nobbs lives in Prince Edward Island, Canada. She won the Doire Press Second Annual International Poetry Chapbook Contest (2013)  which saw publication of her first collection,  The Invisible Girl  which is available here.