Unlocking Creativity with Claire Trevien

For my first post from an artist, I had a conversation with poet and artist Claire Trevien  earlier this month to discover how she is approaching creativity in lockdown. Claire has kindly donated an image as a  writing prompt and I invite you to post your poems in the comments below.


Each week, over the next few months poets, editors and artists will tell you their stories  offering guidance to assist you with your writing and wellbeing. I asked Claire about a comment she made:

“During the first lockdown of 2020, I found that words wouldn’t come, but paintings did.” Why do you think this was the case?

I have puzzled over this a few times – I was incredibly burned out in the first lockdown for reasons I can’t quite understand. After all, I wasn’t home-schooling children as so many of my peers were. In some ways my family & friends were in more regular touch with me than before lockdown, and my work pattern hadn’t changed radically… But I suppose, words are a part of my day job and when work and homelife are already fused to that extent, you want a more drastic change to keep a balance.

I started drawing towards the end of a relationship in the middle of the first lockdown. He was very dismissive of my doodles, which just made me want to spend more time doodling and less with him! As I healed from the breakup and dealt with various health issues, drawing, and then painting just took up a larger and larger part of my life.

I found painting akin to meditation, except I’ve never managed to get on with meditation. You start with a blank page and “wake up” in essence an hour or two later with something created out of a chaos of paint. You have a vague notion of how it got there, but also not really. Painting is just magic really.

I’ve had those moments with writing poetry – and that woosh is wonderful – but it’s not as systematic as with painting. So, in that period of time, I guess it made sense for paintings to take over during periods of stress.

Does the written word feed into your paintings?

It has started to. I have tentatively started playing with incorporating poems into paintings. This was the first experiment and the most recent one involves printing poems inside scallop shells. It’s an interesting process, in every case I have found myself editing the poem – finding what is essential to it. I don’t think my writing & my paintings are properly conjoined yet, but it’s a thread I am following casually as I go.


What have you found helpful during lockdown that you would recommend to writers and artists?

Getting rid of the “should” and the guilt. It’s been a tough year for everyone, no need to beat yourself up.

When it comes to writing, we all know that sitting down and writing is only part of it. So if the writing isn’t happening, indulge in writing-adjacent tasks: read up on things you find interesting, make moodboards, go for meanders.

If the inspiration is there but in practise it’s not happening, then try time blocking, i.e scheduling a set time for creativity, which you’re not allowed to schedule over. Kim Moore does a #writinghour every morning on Twitter which others can join in on, which is helpful.

Perhaps you could have a little ritual to help you get in the mood? Brew a special tea, light a candle, signal to yourself that you have permission to be creative.

For painting, spending time organising my material so I can literally sit down and paint has really helped. It’s just a small corner of my living room with a trolley of paint and brushes, an easel and an apron, but it does the trick.

What are you currently working on (art or poetry)?

I’m trying to finish the manuscript of my third poetry collection, currently called Our Lady of Tires. It’s inspired by a village perched on a cliff near me that held off riot cops for six weeks in the early 80s to prevent the building of a nuclear station. They called going to the barricades going to mass, hence the title. I’ve been wanting to write about it for so long and it’s been slow going but I’m getting there!

Painting-wise, I am just keeping going without pressure, painting when and if the mood strikes.

I have asked you for an image of your artwork for a writing prompt. What have you selected and why did you choose it?

So I hesitated but in the end I chose a painting that I finished last night, because it’s a wild interior, and I think we all need more of those!

It’s based on a photo I took a few years ago inside a Bed & Breakfast on the Isle of Wight. It was run very eccentrically by a couple who were obviously navigating a tense marriage. I loved the headboards enough to photograph them, they were wonderfully kitch.

PROMPT: Do post your poems in the comments below. Selected poems will be published later in the spring.


Claire Trévien is a British-Breton writer currently living in Brittany, France. She is the author and editor of several poetry and non-fiction books including The Shipwrecked House, which was longlisted in the Guardian First Book Award, Astéronymes (Penned in the Margins, 2016) and Brain Fugue (Verve Poetry Press, 2019). She founded Sabotage Reviews and its Saboteur Awards and currently resides in Brittany, France.


Creativity in Lockdown: In Conversation with Deborah Alma


What I am Doing in Lockdown

This one? I’m swinging back and forth between small bursts of energy and creativity and deep level procrastination because of a tricky and monstrous tax return. We’ve had some family members really unwell, so I’ve been managing my anxiety with walks with friends and mindless TV. I’m also working on improving our café space here for when we’re fully open again and working on an Arts Council bid…I may be procrastinating with that one as well…

Thinking back to the first lockdown how did it affect you and your writing?

I feel a terrible fraud; despite having had a collection with Nine Arches Press in 2019, all my creative energies have gone into the Poetry Pharmacy and I’ve barely done any writing this year. I am on one level strangely grateful for this slow time and I can feel some writing bubbling up again somewhere. It hasn’t got as far as pen and paper.

Have you found it easier to motivate yourself with your work in the Poetry Pharmacy or as a poet?

It’s much easier to motivate myself for the Poetry Pharmacy. It’s demanding and exciting; but also my job, so things must be done. It has too much potential and I can’t realise it all! Plus I am really bad at giving myself permission to write. I always love it when I’m doing it, but it feels too much like play and needs the good energy I feel should be better applied elsewhere…I know, I know…

 What relationship do you see between creative writing and wellbeing?

The answer to this one is a complicated one for me. I have written from a place of needing the catharsis, from a somehow necessary exploration of the self; but also from a place of playfulness…so to write, is like talking to a good friend who understands me and might show me something I hadn’t spotted before, or who might build the sandcastles with me… That what it seems to me to be, (I had to come up with a metaphor), the relationship is like that of friendship. And to write, to have that companionship, is necessarily good for mental health, at least for me. I have neglected it in myself.


 I find myself reaching for your Hope Pills during this time. Can you explain what they are to others and the range of “pills” you offer?

This is the description on the bottles:

‘Poemcetamol’ handmade at the Poetry Pharmacy for all manner of Emotional & Spiritual ailments. No bitter pills. No adverse reactions. Easy to swallow (metaphorically). These are pill capsules filled with poetic solace on strips of paper.

There are bottles of pills for various ‘emotional ailments’; here are a few of them…Broken Heart, Carpe Diem, Courage, Compassion, Existential Angst, Exhaustion, Indecision, Insomnia, Happy Pills, Hope,  Chill Pills, Mindfulness, Resilience, Writer’s Block, Wild Remedy…

I used to give them away in the Pharmacy under the awning when I was working as Emergency Poet but I’ve been really pleased to see them selling from the shop!

If it weren’t for lockdown I’d visit your consulting room. How can we get a consultation from you and what can we expect?

I really wish you could Abegail! I’ve been really enjoying giving email and telephone consultations and they are available via the website. The ‘patient’ can expect some interesting questions designed to be intimate without being invasive, positive and gentle; and then I will ‘prescribe’ some poems in response to your answers. Then they will become part of a little parcel of lovely things in the post,

How will you focus on your writing during this current lockdown and do you have any tips for other poets?

I am a terrible hypocrite! Early last year I had fun writing 200 writing tips and prompts for The Literary Consultancy called Creativity Pills- for all Manner of Ailments and Afflictions to the Muse  and we sell bottles of Writer’s Remedies to help too…I have loads of advice for other writers…I will endeavour to take some of my own advice.

It’s often a good idea to list the things that are getting in the way of your writing and making it hard to focus? Establish some challenges to them and come up with practical strategies for overcoming them. See each one as a path of small stones, rather than an immovable object, and make some notes about the small steps towards change.

Make a list of a few things that you’re curious about. When you find that you are in the doldrums with your writing, step away from the writing and find this list and enjoy doing some research. And remember that working as a writer is not simply writing. You will come to a dead-end in your work unless it is replenished by other art, by connecting to other people, by looking after your physical and mental health, by paying attention to the quality of your sleep. Sometimes what you believe to be procrastination is a necessary replenishment of the self.

Thanks Deborah.


Use the image of the Hope Pills as a prompt for your writing. What does it make you want to say?

debDeborah Alma is a UK poet, with an MA with distinction, in Creative Writing from Keele University. She taught for 3 years at the University of Worcester and now lectures part-time at Keele University, where she is also an Honorary Research Fellow. As well as teaching part-time at Keele, she works as a writer in the community, especially in schools and with vulnerable groups.

She is editor of Emergency Poet-an anti-stress poetry anthology, The Everyday Poet- Poems to live by (both Michael O’Mara), and #Me Too – rallying against sexual harassment- a women’s poetry anthology (Fair Acre Press, March 2018). Her True Tales of the Countryside was published by The Emma Press in 2015 and her first full collection Dirty Laundry was published by Nine Arches Press (May 2018).

Deborah believes strongly in its ability to engage all audiences in the relevance and therapeutic nature of poetry, through one to one consultations, the poetry pharmacy and workshops and delivered this experience in festival settings, libraries, schools, city centres conferences and at various other events.


Creativity in Lockdown – poets and editors advice during these uncertain times

How do we find our muse in these dark times? For some, I know that lockdown has deadened their creativity which is having an impact on their wellbeing, as they are also coping with isolation from friends and family. For those home schooling there’s no head space or time to write, and those working from home need a break from their laptops, they need to be doing back exercises, not crouching over editing.


Over the next few months, with the help of various poets and editors, I’ll be posting articles to help you with your writing and wellbeing, to take away the loneliness and provide inspiration or just a kind, understanding word. The poets/editors who are supporting me in this project are: Deborah Alma, Jane Commane, Robin Houghton, Sarah James/Leavesley, Jane Lovell, Cheryl Moskowitz, Helena Nelson, Caleb Parkin, Sarah Salway, Claire Walker.

I will also be having dialogues with artists to discuss their approach to their work during lockdown and share their artwork to inspire ekphrastic poetry, and will post other prompts along the way. The artists involved are: Sheena Clover, Karen Dennison, Martin Figura, Mark Gilbert, Daniel Goodwin, Helen Ivory, Claire Trevien and Sue Vass. Do post your responses in the comments pages below each post. I am wondering what to do with all this advice, the prompts and the work you will produce. I think there’s scope for a publication further down the line. I will keep you updated.

Watch the following clip.

Tina Seelig is Executive Director of the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program, Professor of the Practice in Stanford University’s Department of Management Science and Engineering, and a faculty director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. She teaches courses in the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school) and leads three fellowship programs in the School of Engineering that are focused on creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Dr. Seelig earned her PhD in Neuroscience at Stanford Medical School, and has been a management consultant, entrepreneur, and author of 17 books, including inGenius, Creativity Rules, and What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20. She is the recipient of the Gordon Prize from the National Academy of Engineering, the Olympus Innovation Award, and the Silicon Valley Visionary Award.





Creativity in Lockdown – A Film Poem by Helen Dewberry

TheUnmappedWomanCoverWEBBack in April 2020, in the first lockdown, my collection, The Unmapped Woman was launched by Nine Arches Press on Zoom with great support from the fab poets Katie Griffith and Robert Peake. I didn’t know at the time that Jane Commane was in conversation with Helen Dewberry about a variety of film poems including one for a poem of mine. Helen is an Associate member of the Royal Photographic Society and has worked with a variety of poets on film poems which have screened at festivals. You can find a number of them at Elephant’s Footprint Film Verse. I have my favourites, but dip in and see what appeals to you.


It was later in the year that Helen and I had a chat on Zoom to discuss which poem had all those visual qualities just crying out to be shown in another medium. It was interesting that both Helen and Jane had selected Neap Tide as one of their favourites and it is one, which when Helen ask me questions about, I realised, as I unpicked the poem line by line, I had a very clear image of place and people without having made that conscious decision when writing it. I am hoping to catch up with Helen later for an interview, so will keep details of the process for that post, but working with her on this collaboration renewed my interest in my work during what had felt like a very fallow furlough.

Over the next couple of months poets, editors and artists will be discussing their creativity during these lockdown periods in order to support and inspire those other visitors to The Shed. I hope you will join us as they discuss creativity in lockdown.


The Thought-Fox – Veronica Aaronson

The Thought-Fox
(after Ted Hughes)

A man’s imaginings
Call to me from midnight’s
Starless black. I stir,
Bring myself together,

Flesh out my bones
With muscle and fur.  I arise,
Take in air through nostrils.
Lift my head, mouth ajar.

My eyes jerk from
this to that, that,
Then that.  I nose leaf,
Loam through snow.

The virgin white invites me
From the shadows
Towards open ground.
Man’s fingers are poised.

A clock stutters its
Tock, tick, tock, tick.
I pause, sniff wind,
Walk into the clearing,

Place paws deliberately,
Leave a smattering
Of prints across white.
My image is captured.


Veronica Aaronson’s first collection Nothing About the Birds Is Ordinary This Morning (2018 Indigo Dreams) was put forward for the 2020 Laurel Prize.  One of the poems from the collection was chosen for the Scottish Poetry Library’s Best Scottish Poems Anthology 2019.  Emily’s Mothers was published by Dempsey and Windle in November 2020. One of these poems was nominated for the Forward Prize for Best Individual poem in 2019.

poetry shed


Kent and Sussex Poetry Society Open Competition 2021 – international call for entries

Kent and Sussex Poetry Society Open Competition 2021 – international call for entries

The deadline for the Kent & Sussex Poetry Society’s annual Open Competition is fast approaching. The international contest is being judged this year by Rishi Dastidar, the renowned poet and editor, whose most recent collection Saffron Jack is published by Nine Arches Press.

The competition is open to anyone aged 16 and over and the deadline for entries is January 31. There are seven prizes up for grabs: 1st Prize: £1000, 2nd Prize: £300, 3rd Prize: £100 and 4th Prize: 4 x £50.

The entry fee is £5 per poem but for three or more poems the fee reduces to £4 each. Poems must be in English, unpublished, 40 lines or fewer, not accepted for publication, and must be your own original work.

Open Competition organiser Phil Vernon said: “We receive entries from all over the world – last year’s winner was from Brisbane, Australia. It’s fantastic to read all the great poems from a huge variety of poets. In these turbulent times reading and writing poetry is a great source of pleasure, solace and entertainment.”

For full rules and regulations, and details of how to enter poems by email or post, click here.

About the Kent & Sussex Poetry Society

The Kent & Sussex Poetry Society is a lively local group with an international reach and reputation. Many of its members are published poets, with collections to their names. The group been going for over 70 years in based in Tunbridge Wells on the Kent and Sussex border, but remain as friendly and supportive and open to newcomers as ever.

The Society was founded by Vita Sackville-West who created the famous gardens at nearby Sissinghurst Castle. Vita was herself a literary prize winner, gaining the prestigious Hawthornden Prize in 1927, and again in 1933.

Group activities include monthly open poetry readings from a wide range of contemporary poets. These evenings also include a short ‘open mic’ slot for readings from the floor. The Society runs monthly poetry workshops for writers looking for feedback on their poems and an annual, members only, Folio competition. Any surplus accrued from running the Open Competition helps fund these activities. In 2020, the Society had planned to organise a Tunbridge Wells Poetry Festival, intended to be an annual event. However, this was put on hold due to COVID-19. Nevertheless, monthly poetry events continue to be held online, and we hope to put on the festival in 2021.



Poetry South 2020

CaptureBack in the halcyon days of South East Arts, an annual anthology of poetry from the region was published. The contents tended to reflect both the character and the proclivities of the editors, who collectively constitute a very heterogeneous (though almost exclusively male) group. Howard Sergeant, redoubtable editor of Outposts magazine, oversaw the first anthology in 1976. Poet and critic Laurence Lerner edited the second, and John Rice, founder of the Kent Literature Festival, the third. Patricia Beer was responsible for the 1979 edition and, by way of contrast, Barry MacSweeney edited Poetry South East 5. Patric Dickinson, Roger Crowley and Anthony Thwaite served as editors for the last three anthologies, which concluded with Poetry South East 8 in 1983. Numerous established and emerging poets from the region (and occasionally elsewhere) featured in their pages, among them Elizabeth Bartlett, Judith Kazantzis, Peter Redgrove and Ken Smith.

In 2000 the Frogmore Press, then based in Folkestone, revived the series with Poetry South East 2000, which launched in Lewes with readings by Ros Barber, Catherine Smith and Dan Wyke. A second anthology appeared ten years later, edited by Jeremy Page and Catherine Smith, and this year saw the publication of Poetry South East 2020, which includes work by poets from across Kent, Surrey and Sussex, including John Agard, Brendan Cleary, Sasha Dugdale, Patricia McCarthy, John McCullough, Grace Nichols and Jackie Wills.

The anthology also features a number of survivors from the original series: John Arnold, Ian Caws, John Rice and Derek Sellen. Covid has prevented a launch of this collection of work by some of the most notable poets from the region, but copies are available post free for £7.50 from:

The Frogmore Press, 21 Mildmay Road, Lewes BN7 1PJ. Payment can be made by cheque, or email frogmorepress@gmail.com for details of how to pay byPayPal or BACS.

Jeremy Page


HIS PLANE                                                                                                                  

i.m. Eric Ravilious 1903 – 1942

And as his plane descends
Ravilious knows
Not cold and ice and snows
Now that his short life ends

But a view of the Downs,
A flint wall, the tea set
On a table, sunset
Over Sussex, sees towns

He used to know, a white
World full of his designs,
Those watercolour lines,
His way with English light.

He turns his inward eye
To green hills, blue rivers.
The plane stalls and shivers,
Drops out of the blank sky.

Ravilious flies

Straight into a landscape

Full of colour and shape.

Somewhere a seagull cries.

John O’Donoghue


Stringing the Cards – Jill Munro

Stringing the Cards

After Leonard Cohen, Chelsea Hotel No. 2

I can’t keep track of each fallen robin flapping to the hearth,
each Virgin Mother and child falling to the sparking grate,

the snowmen, coal-eyed and carrot-nosed, scrolling
from the heat of a log-burner, curling to reveal biro blots

of Leonard or Suzanne – the distant, the never-now-seen,
almost tethered by silver pegs, strung across the chimney breast.

I’m reflecting in frosted glass baubles
in a room you have never seen and never will.

You got away, didn’t you babe.
I don’t even think of you that often.

Jill Munro has been published in major magazines including The Frogmore Press, Popshot Quarterly and The Rialto and her work has been anthologised by Candlestick Press and Calder Valley Press. She won the O’Bheal Five Words International Poetry competition 2017/18. Jill’s first collection, Man from La Paz, was published in 2015 by Green Bottle Press. She won the Fair Acre Press Pamphlet Competition in 2015 with The Quilted Universe, published 2016. Jill was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship for 2018. She lives and writes in the depths of Ashdown Forest.


The Shaking City – Cath Drake – Seren

Cath drakeThe shaking city of Australian poet Cath Drake’s debut poetry collection is a metaphor for the swiftly changing precarity of modern life within the looming climate and ecological emergency, and the unease of the narrator who is far from home. Tall tales combine with a conversational style, playful humour and a lyrical assurance.​ The poet is able to work a wide set of diverse spells upon the reader through her adept use of tone, technique, plot and form. She is a welcome new voice for contemporary poetry.

“Cath Drake wants to grasp the world whole. When she looks at the past, it’s with a big rambunctious energy that has implications for the present. These are restless and generous poems, full of the vivid reality of people’s lives. Read them as a guide to staying clear-eyed, combative and caring in unsettled times.” – Philip Gross

“Cath Drake’s poems deftly explore conflict and the future of our changing, imperilled planet – in a poem about climate emergency, the narrator muses wryly ‘sometimes I hold world in one hand, my life / in the other’. This is a collection alive to dilemmas. Her writing is searching, witty and full of compassion, helping us navigate a shifting world.” – Helen Mort

“This joyful, exuberant, wildly imaginative collection exhorts us all to unmoor our minds, to ‘live among the strange and shining.” – Kate Potts

Catch up with Cath HERE


The Frogmore Prize 2021


The Frogmore Poetry Prize (sponsored by the Frogmore Foundation) was founded in 1987 and has been awarded annually since then. The Prize money is currently 250 guineas but the true Prize is the kudos of joining a select band of winners which includes Caroline Price, John Latham, Tobias Hill and Mario Petrucci. Many leading poets – Carole Satyamurti, Pauline Stainer, Linda France, Paul Groves, John Mole, Sophie Hannah, Elizabeth Bartlett and Susan Wicks among them – have adjudicated the Prize and all winners have been published in the pages of The Frogmore Papers.

Adjudicator: Clare Best’s latest collection of poems is Each Other (Waterloo Press 2019). Her prose memoir The Missing List was published by Linen Press in 2018 and her collection Excisions was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize 2012.