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Turning my back on Spring by Claire Walker in response to Claire Trevien’s art prompt

Today’s response poem is from Claire Walker and is based on artwork from Claire Trevien. You can read the full interview HERE

The artwork “is 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 kitsch”.

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Turning my back on Spring

She was made in the softness of goose down, with love
already floating around the shell of this bed.

There was safety in it, this love that knew nothing
but growth – buds forming then opening

like the cherry tree that blossomed across the wall
while I lay pale through first trimester days.

Such soft pink hope.
I imagined her the same:

the pads of her feet growing, brushing the roof of my stomach
as she eased into her limbs under cover.

I’d known nothing but love until petalled branches fell,
have grown to hate the paper that is always in bloom.

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Bright with Ice by J.V. Birch in response to Helena Nelson’s prompt

Today’s response poem is from J.V. Birch inspired by Helena Nelson’s interview.

In Creativity in Lockdown with Helena Nelson she spoke of 2awe walks” :

” I heard a radio talk about ‘awe’ walks as a way of boosting the spirits, and realised I’d been doing them without knowing. On an ‘awe’ walk you deliberately look for one thing to marvel at, on a walk of any length. I usually photograph whatever it is. Sometimes it’s cloud formations. Sometimes weird fungi. Sometimes the colour of new grass. Or frost melting on a leaf. Snowberries on a bare twig. Today, swans on the ice. There are amazing things around you if you’re looking for them. What could be better for a person, and a poet, than an active sense of wonder?”

Bright with ice

A cold cap is tugged onto my head
chin strap tightened so the fit is as snug as it can be.
I try to smile, feel it pull.

Buttons pressed bring a creeping freeze
and a desperate scream I swallow.

The blood in my scalp slows.
I picture its tiny paths becoming bright with ice
like a wintered web.

A warm blanket is tucked around me
to still my uncontrollable shiver.

The fifteen minutes to acclimatise eventually pass
then everything blissfully
turns into nothing.

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Stuck-down Acerbic – Joan Byrne’s response to Caleb Parkin’s Recycled Poetry prompt

Today’s poetry response comes from Joan Byrne who is responding to Caleb Parkin’s recycled poetry workshop. This LINK will take you to his prompt and film clip. The video is from a series of introductory writing for wellbeing sessions he recorded for Cheltenham Festivals, during Lockdown 1.0. This session invites viewers to create ‘recycled poetry’ – encouraging us to play, experiment, have fun and enjoy the material quality of words, to become their curators.

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Death in a Time of Corona by Peter Wellby – based on artwork by Sue Vass

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Fragility by Sue Vass

Sue chose the matches piece as a prompt because it attracted a lot of attention when it’s been in exhibitions so it holds some fascination even if it’s just to ask the question, ‘how did you do that?’

“I called the piece ‘Fragility’. There’s a melancholic feel to the piece. To me, it’s suggestive of where we’re all at at the moment. The world is in a fragile state (not just because of Covid) and we’re all feeling fragile. Some if us are breaking, some are bending and no one is untouched by the current circumstances.”

DEATH IN A TIME OF CORONA

Yesterday
in our hamlet
we stood,
a bit self-conscious,
at our gate.
A smattering of gossip in the sun,
neighbours, some close,
some to nod at,
strung out,
keeping a
social                        distance,
a living kerb to the grey road.

12.58 PM.
a reassuring drawing-in of breath.
Punctually death comes
in his slow hearse,

in which, black, mirror-buffed,
we see a drowning image of ourselves.
The coffin pale oak,
a Union Jack stretched trimly over it.
Ray was a Brexiteer.

Three cars follow
holding the few the government permit
to mourn a body’s passing.
Following the hearse
Ray’s widow, very upright, very still,
blindly registering friend and acquaintance.
A dismal moment,
a poor farewell
but all that times allow.

The cars vanish up Rosemount.
Stationary,
we track
the slow three miles
to Horam Crematorium.
Obsequious drapes
purr open, close,
a curtain call on life.
The coffin slides on rollers
its own volition,
towards the intense
roar of eternity.

Six days ago
sunbrown, burnished by holiday,
fresh home from Tenerife,
the dead man and his widow
had been embraced home by the village,
back to the jolly bonhomie
of the Six Bells.

Now he is ash
in a wrought urn.
Who cannot hear
time’s whetting scythe?
Who in the Six Bells that evening,
does not feel the earth
less constant underfoot?

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Unlocking Creativity with Helen Ivory

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Have you found it easier to motivate yourself as an editor, a poet or an artist during lockdown?

The editing goes on the same as usual as we publish something new every day, and the motivation is that I must keep up with submissions or the bears will get me! The nature of the work submitted has changed, of course, as people are writing about what has been happening to them and the world over the past year.  The quality of those poems is quite variable, as I think it’s difficult to write about such a huge thing when you are right in the middle of it – everything is just so raw and overwhelming.   We have also received around double the number of submissions because people have been grounded, so have more time to write and send work out.   This means I have to turn down a lot of good work, which makes me sad.

As a poet, I am ‘between books’ and it’s always a bit of a struggle for me to find the next project.  I always need a project to work on and usually have a book title from the outset.  Before the pandemic, I wrote Maps of the Abandoned City, a chapbook which SurVision published. It imagines a city which humans built up, and then just left after some apocalypse.  It was, I thought a work of the imagination, and I had just started to think in terms of developing it into a full collection.  And then the streets of the city I live in began to resemble too closely the one I had imagined, so I needed a bit of escapism and took to my studio.

As an artist, I have learnt how to needle-felt over the past couple of years with a view to make faux taxidermy dioramas.  Having shared pictures on Facebook and Instagram of creatures and poppets I’ve made, I have spent the past five months or so making commissions for people.  I think we have all needed some kind fuzzy edges, and it’s been a pleasure to make people happy.  The poppets I make have red felt hearts, they are for me, representations of love, light and hope – the spirit of Spring.

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How would you describe the link between your art and your poetry?

I have come to the conclusion that I am an artist and I use whatever media feels right at the time.  I originally did a foundation course in art and design and left English behind at O level.  I didn’t do an English Degree as many poets have, so  have always felt I’ve come into the poetry room by the wrong door.  But it’s the door I found, so here I am.

I began to write poems in the late 90s at Norwich Art School, whilst on the BA (hons) Cultural Studies degree. I found I could more tangibly create images with words than I had been able to do with paint, and learnt to use metaphor more subtly through reading and writing poetry. Poetry became my prime focus and I left my visual practice behind.

My visual work was rooted in the theatrical.  I toyed with the idea of designing for theatre, but was quite protective of the little sculptural environments I was making and having them scaled up for actors to act in didn’t appeal to me.   I found that through poems, I could fulfil my megalomaniac urges to create the scenery, the lights, the actors and the drama.  I think of my poems as little theatres.

When we moved house ten years ago, I gained a studio space.   I started collecting the kinds of strange objects that have always interested me, but never had the storage room for.  Mostly found, or more like, foraged objects, from flea markets and so on – the kind of objects that arrive with their own stories.  I like to put them alongside other objects and try to invent new stories for them.  Most of my practice involves play.  I place things together in the same enclosure to see how they will get on.  I need some kind of logic before I reach for the glue-gun to make their relationship permanent.  Often that logic is a dream-logic, and sometimes this is cemented using words cut from old books and encyclopaedias, or my own whole poems. I am interested in the way that words and images play against each other and shift their meanings and connotations.

I have always been fascinated by Cabinets of Curiosity, the way unrelated objects are gathered together in a microcosm of the world and think this aesthetic has unconsciously crept into my work.  I have a fetish for boxes, and tend to see poems as boxes – methods of containment that offer a semblance of order.

HEAR WHAT THE MOON TOLD ME COVER

Can you tell me something about your Cut-ups and Collage eg Hear What the Moon Told Me?

The poems are made in the play of word and image.  Materials are sourced from flea-market foraged photographs bought for a song; from women’s magazines of the Forties, Fifties and Sixties – their drudgery and pragmatic glamour; from the magic and innocence of vintage fairytale books and from the marvel at the glory of the world found in the 1950’s Arthur Mee children’s encyclopedias.

Hear What the Moon Told Me grows from the same family tree as the assemblages of Joseph Cornell and the imagining, singing mice who live with Bagpuss, stitching new stories from discarded threads.  Meanings and connotations are shifted in the juxtaposition of tone, by the wit and mischievous imagination of placing them into the arena of a contemporary reading.  I chuckled a lot making those poems – the surprise of the juxtapositions gave me a lot of pleasure.  I love the way you can alter the course of events by adding a snip of fairytale into a scientific explanation of how the human eye works.

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The poems are far more than a simple ironic take on an earlier age; they inform where we (and women in particular) find ourselves now – there is a strong feminist thread running through them.  There is heartbreak in the innocence of the dreams of women who wrote into The Housewife magazine, and beauty and strength in the weight and imbalance of societal expectations.

Are you working on a book or pamphlet now?

After a year of not writing anything apart from a really rewarding and enjoyable collaboration with George Szirtes, published in the Magma collaborations issue, I feel finally able to return to The Abandoned City. I am toying with the idea of a full collection called The End of the Pier Show, which will take a handful of those poems and build on them.  I don’t want to say too much as I will jinx it, but I do have a title and some of the building blocks and a plan of the floor space, which seems like a start.

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

I originally made a collage for people to add some cut up words to, to complete the poem.  I scanned it in and looked at it on my screen, and it looked way too flat!  Collage for me, is a lot about the layering of paper and the history of the materials.  If anyone did the exercise, it would involve them printing the image and the quality of the image would be more about their printer and their paper, rather than the original paper. I am such an annoying purist!  So, I invite people to, if they have a mind to, make their own cut ups.  Collect some materials and play.

Gather things that use different registers such as instruction manuals and children’s story books – you will be attracted to different phrases like a very individual magpie.   Because we are sense-making, story-making creatures, some kind of logic will appear. I usually go into an out-of-time trance-like state when I am searching for words.  It’s a brilliant cure for writer’s block – and such a liberating feeling to know you don’t have to come up with any words yourself!

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Alternatively, you could use this image as a starting point.  It’s one of my foxes and one of my poppets, needle-felted and out on their own. When I first put this on Facebook, there was a general agreement that it would make a good writing prompt.  So here you are . . .

boxHelen Ivory is a poet and visual artist. She edits the webzine Ink Sweat and Tears and is tutor and Course Director for the UEA/National Centre for Writing online creative writing programme.

She has won an Eric Gregory Award and her fifth Bloodaxe Books collection, The Anatomical Venus was short-listed for the East Anglian Book Awards (2019) and won the East Anglian Writers ‘By the Cover’ Award (EABA 2019). The Anatomical Venus examines how women have been portrayed as ‘other’; as witches; as hysterics with wandering wombs and as beautiful corpses cast in wax, or on mortuary slabs in TV box sets, is available here: www.bloodaxebooks.com

Fool’s World a collaborative Tarot with the  artist Tom de Freston (Gatehouse Press) won the 2016 Saboteur Award for Best Collaborative Work.  Hear What the Moon Told Me, a book of collage/ mixed media/ acrylic painted poems was published in 2016 by Knives Forks and Spoons Press, and a chapbook Maps of the Abandoned City was published in January 2019 by SurVision. She lives in Norwich with her husband, the poet Martin Figura.

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Unlocking Creativity – in conversation with Cheryl Moskowitz

Lockdown means confinement, and that word brings up many negative associations with imprisonment, loss of freedom and so on. For me however the experience of lockdown this past year has been more akin to the kind of confinement I associate with a pregnancy, a spiritual retreat or even, I imagine, living in a hermitage. And for that, it has been an unexpectedly creative, revelatory and productive time.

I am aware of course that it goes against the grain (so to speak!) to say so and there must be certain shame in suggesting that this past year of the pandemic has been anything like a positive one but there have certainly been gains, plenty of good that has been generated, including writing, that would not have happened without it.

I work as a freelance writer and educator and, even in my former incarnations as an actor and therapist, I have been self-employed all my working life. The importance of grabbing opportunities when they are there and having to initiate my own projects is not unfamiliar territory.

The beginning of the first lockdown was bittersweet. My poem ‘Hotel Grief’ had just been commended in the 2019 National Poetry Competition. The award ceremony was to have been a swish affair with wine and canapés in central London but went ahead as an online ceremony instead. A year ago, the staging of virtual gatherings like this was still uncharted territory. Judith Palmer at the Poetry Society was determined to make it work and enlisted the help of my husband Alastair who is primarily a musician but always up for a technical challenge. Far from being a disappointment the event was wonderful and a huge learning curve for all concerned – for a celebration of poetry to happen with such joy and aplomb, at this important juncture, made all things feel possible.

Alastair and I also had an All Saints Session (#14) coming up which was due to be performed live in our usual setting, the magnificent 15th century All Saints Church in Edmonton, North London.

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We had our guests booked, poet Lisa Kelly, and cellist Kate Shortt, and had already begun to collaborate on material. The event was billed for early April but by then the country was on full lockdown, public spaces, including churches, were closed and it was clear that physical performance couldn’t happen as planned – if we were going to do it at all, we had to find another way.

Lisa and I were already generating written material in a distanced way – we had decided to send each other, in the post, three musings on ‘mothers and loss’. We wrote responses and mailed these and repeated the process one more time.  Alastair and Kate managed to have one physical rehearsal before lockdown and Alastair set about gathering field recordings to capture some of the early sounds and sense of being in lockdown, early morning bird song, quiet streets, sound of being indoors, Thursday night applause for the carers. With our iphone we filmed the daily walk we did from home to Alexandra Place and sent this footage to our filmmaker son, George, in New York who added footage of his own and made a film.

We got on our bikes and delivered hand-held digital recorders to Lisa and Kate’s doorsteps so they could record their parts separately and send back the recordings. We did the same at home. Alastair managed to weave everything together ready for a live broadcast on April 9th. I say ‘ready’, we were still uploading everything minutes before the broadcast went live but both Alastair and I had been missing theatre dreadfully, so this gave us the rush we needed!

‘Milk Opera’, our 14th All Saints Session had more people attending than we’d had at all of our previous All Saints Sessions put together. You can see and hear the piece here:

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All Saints Session #15 was live-streamed from our living-room for the Poetry in Aldeburgh in November and this month, on March 27 at 8pm All Saints #16, recorded live at the British Schools Museum in Hitchin, will be broadcast. Both these Sessions involve poet and fellow Magma editor Isabelle Baafi, another of my lockdown gains and new poetry friend! Isabelle is also my guest poet at the ATG pamphlet launch, 3pm on March 28th.

Almost all the paid work I had scheduled for last Spring involved school visits which were either cancelled or postponed. I’d been full of plans for those visits, many of them to special schools in Kent. When schools closed in March 2020 there was much concern raised in the news about what the effects would be on vulnerable ‘at risk’ children. It seemed that despite schools remaining open for children of key workers and those most in need, many places were not being taken up. This made me anxious and prompted me to initiate conversations where I could, at a safe distance outside on the pavement or in school playgrounds, with children, teachers and parents to find out how they were coping and what were their hopes for the future. I wrote poems in response and this became The Corona Collection a collection written and printed in record time, distributed for free to children and schools around the country last June.

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Based on The Corona Collection I gave presentations, ran in-person and online workshops including one in Pittsburgh and one in Hong Kong. I began to work with other organisations including the Poetry Society and the Stephen Spender Foundation on initiatives to support the mental health and well-being of young people in and out of school through the pandemic. I ran training sessions for Artis and wrote resources for BUPA in conjunction with the National Literacy Trust and MIND.

For a time, it seemed, I’d never been busier. This had begun as self-tasked busyness, out of an initial concern for children and their adults, but also possibly my way of warding off anxiety for myself and my own family, and assuming some measure of control amidst all the uncertainty.

I was supposed to have been in New York twice last year, in May and in October – two of my adult children live there and I wanted to see them and also take a few weeks to ‘retreat’ myself and spend an uninterrupted period of time writing. New York may be the city that never sleeps but it is also a place where no one has a particular ‘call’ on my time. Travel wasn’t happening either in May, or in October when George, Alastair and I were to have been on a residency at Bethany Arts Center, Ossining, NY. We’d been granted time to produce a piece involving poetry, film and music on the on the theme of ‘Isolation, Entrapment and Emergence’. Because of COVID restrictions what should have been a 3-week residency at BAC using their facilities and connecting with other artists had to be reconfigured as a one week virtual from home. In London, Alastair confined himself to his recording studio in the attic, I shut myself away in my writing shed in the garden and in Brooklyn, George captured footage from inside his Brooklyn apartment. We worked separately but together, coming together on zoom at the start and end of each day to feed in ideas from our own place of isolation. I felt myself extraordinarily lucky to be collaborating so creatively with my close family members. The week resulted in a film we were truly proud of.

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I don’t know if I have actually been writing more this past year, if feels as if I have, but I do know that I have been sending out more frequently than I ever have. Perhaps it feels safer to do that somehow from the fortress of home, but I also think Lockdown has been like a wake-up call. The pandemic is long and the effects of COVID, vast, but the virus also reminds us that time is short and the shrinking of worlds through lockdown allows us, at least it has for me, to find joy in small moments, do-able things. I grew my own vegetables for the first time and was especially proud of this patty pan squash.

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I’ve loved time spent cooking, watching films, reading whole books in one sitting and watching whole TV series, like ‘Call My Agent’ straight through. Also submitting to magazines and publishers and having some of it accepted! Years ago, when I was very green to this business and my novel Wyoming Trail was being sent out to publishers, the first few that received it turned it down and my wonderful agent, Mike Shaw at Curtis Brown (now retired) said to me, ‘Don’t worry, we are only making friends out there, not enemies.’ I took him to mean that it could only be a good thing to have my work read, even if it wasn’t received with open arms by the first editor to read it. I hold Mike’s words in my head, every time I send poems out now to competitions, magazines, and publishers. At least I’m being read, my work is seen and, to that extent, appreciated.

I am co-editing the Anthropocene issue of Magma, out Autumn ’21, together with poets Yvonne Reddick and Maya Chowdhry. The window is currently open for submissions. I get notifications each time a submission comes in via submittable, and whenever I hear that ping, I get a little thrill. I am touched and honoured that poets from all over the world are taking the time to offer us their work. I know there will be far more poems that we love and want to include than space in the magazine will allow but I am grateful for having been allowed to read them. And I know, from past experience that there will be poems and names of poets I will not forget, even if they are not in the end the ones we choose for our issue. In workshops with children, I tell them ‘a poem is never finished until someone else has seen or read it’. As writers we need to have our work witnessed by others. It’s why we write.

One of the joyful results of sending out work this past year has been my pamphlet Maternal Impression coming out with Against the Grain Press. The added bonus has been working with editor Abegail Morley on it. Maternal Impression launches alongside Chaucer Cameron’s In an Ideal World I’d Not be Murdered, truly an extraordinary and powerful piece of work. Not only do I now have a pamphlet to be proud of but in working with Abegail and getting to know Chaucer, I have gained two amazing women poetry friends.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the origins of creativity and the notion of ‘potential space’ as it is defined by the English paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott in his seminal book Playing and Reality (1971). Winnicott insists that ‘It is creative apperception [that is the process of making or taking in of something that is creative] that makes an individual feel that life is worth living.’ In Winnicott’s world things don’t need to be perfect, they just need to be ‘good enough’ in order for something creative to happen.

More and more I have been using the voice memo app on my phone when I am out walking. It is while walking I have the most interesting thoughts, but I am so absorbed in walking I don’t want to stop to write them down and am afraid in any case that it will spoil the magic if I try to do that. Instead, I have taken to speaking my rambling thoughts into my phone, talking to myself without needing to make sense. It is a delicious kind of madness and of course, on the street, no one knows I am not actually having a real conversation. If I’m wearing my mask and keeping a proper distance, no one knows I am saying anything at all. The voice memo app stores the date, the time and even the street location where the memo was recorded. I have hundreds of these stored on my phone and I like to play them back sometimes, randomly at home which gives me renewed curiosity and a desire to understand exactly what it was I was thinking. The urge to create comes directly out of this quest to know, to delve deeper, to make sense of. To indulge that urge is recreation (ie play) which is something we never grow out of needing in our lives.

CaptureCheryl Moskowitz was born in Chicago and raised in Denver, Colorado. She came to the UK when she was 11. Poet, novelist and translator, she writes for adults and children and translates the work of Ethiopian writer, Bewketu Seyoum. Her first poetry collection The Girl is Smiling (Circle Time Press) was included in the Sunday Telegraph’s review of ‘Best New Poetry’ and her novel Wyoming Trail (Granta) was lauded as ‘deeply moving’ (Scotland on Sunday), ‘an extraordinary, powerful novel’ (The Express) and ‘a fearless plunge into the deep pool of family’ (The Observer). Formerly an actor and a playwright, she is trained in psychodynamic counselling and dramatherapy.

In 2013 she was selected as one of the Poetry Trust’s inaugural Aldeburgh Eight and was on the 2019-20 Poetry Business Writing School with Peter and Ann Sansom. She is an editor at Magma Poetry and was a long time member on the organising committee for the European Psychoanalytic Film Festival (Epff) at the Institute of Psychoanalysis. Her poems have appeared in The Poetry Review, The New European, Finished Creatures, The Rialto, Magma, The Saint Ann’s Review and The Manhattan Review amongst others; she has won prizes in the Bridport, Troubadour, Kent & Sussex and Hippocrates poetry competitions; and was a 2018 Moth Poetry Prize finalist. Her poem, ‘Hotel Grief’ was commended in the 2019 National Poetry Competition. 

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Pamphlet launch – Chaucer Cameron and Cheryl Moskowitz: Sunday 28 March 2021 at 3pm BST: Eventbrite

Pamphlet launch – Chaucer Cameron and Cheryl Moskowitz Tickets, Sun 28 Mar 2021 at 15:00 | Eventbrite

 

In an Ideal World I’d Not be Murdered is part memoir/part fiction and is Chaucer’s debut pamphlet. The poems explore the impact of prostitution.  

“These poems ring out like gunshots in the night; they will wake you from your sleep. Yet despite its distilled directness, this book is lifted by both mystery and surprise. Listen for the songs emerging from the dark centre of this transformative work of experience and survival.’  Jacqueline Saphra.  

“Every time I have heard Cheryl Moskowitz read “The Donner Party”, strange things have happened – a bell has rung with no-one at the door, candles have guttered in a church setting, and shivers always run down my spine. Moskowitz’s poetry summons spirits and spills beyond the words on the page into a mystical space where we are all connected in body and mind. These are poems that once read or heard, leave their mark. Mesmeric, soul-feeding, uneasy, I come back to them again and again for reassurance, admonishment, and recognition of what it is to hang onto the maternal in our collective journey. Maternal Impression is a call to arms – maternal arms – and all that implies in the Anthropocene. It has a beating heart that needs to be heard, felt, and heeded.” – Lisa Kelly

GUEST READERS: Lucy English and Isabelle Baafi

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Creativity in lockdown – your response – submissions deadline 31st March 2021

Open for submissions based on the unlocking creativity project artists’ prompts. March 15th – 31st 2021.

Remember how we pondered on finding our muse in these dark times? How for some of us, lockdown  deadened our creativity which had an impact on our wellbeing – home schooling gave no head space or time to write, and working from home gave us back ache.

We’re now inviting you to submit your poetic responses to this series of conversations, artwork and dialogues from a whole host of poets, editors and artists.  I am so grateful to them for their generosity. How amazing are poets, editors and artist?! What I have learnt from this is how supportive people in the poetry community are, sending out our work is hard, and rejections are harder. What is wonderful is that everyone who has been part of this project has given their time and words and energy for free so each can create something new. Write better. Write more. I can’t thank them enough. Watch out for Helen Ivory next Friday. We are all eager to read your work. The guidelines are:

Submit one poem based on a piece of artwork from the Creativity in Lockdown series. Include the name of the artwork and artist. 

Send your work to: thepoetryshed@hotmail.com

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The Sarah Maguire Prize for Poetry – in conversation with Leo Boix

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Can you tell me something about the Sarah Maguire Prize and what makes it unique?

The Sarah Maguire Prize for Poetry in Translation has been established in the memory of Sarah Maguire (1957-2017), the founder of the Poetry Translation Centre and champion of international poetry. This prize is unique in that it’s awarded every two years to the best book of poetry from a living poet from Africa, Asia, Latin America or the Middle East in English translation, published anywhere in the world.

What makes this prize really exciting is that it showcases the very best contemporary poetry from around the world, as well as championing the art of poetry translation. It raises the profile of contemporary poetry in English translation. The prize consists of a cash prize of £3,000 divided between winning poets and translators. 

The Poetry Translation Centre will publish a selection of chosen poems in an anthology which will be distributed to English readers and audiences in order to promote the selected poets, translators and their books. Additionally, shortlisted poets, translators and publishers are all invited to a UK award ceremony.

Books are submitted from all over the world – what countries dominated this years entries?

The three judges, Alireza Abiz, Ida Hadjivayanis and myself  read poetry collections from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, with most entries coming from Asia and the Middle East. I was particularly excited to read some fantastic collections from Latin America.

 Robert Frost said, Poetry is what gets lost in translation. How do you translate poetry and how do you judge the best?

For me translation is a complex and intricate art that requires a great amount of care and attention. I read and re-read the poet I am going to translate to better understand the context in which they work, write and live, ie: cultural, historical, social, geographic, and linguistic. I always try to keep the music and rhythm in my translations, for the end result to be as close as possible to the original, to choose and select words that also work well in the English language. I am fascinated by this inspiring process, a process that is a labour of love, by how much is gained and lost in translation, by the possibilities of cultural translations, and by the way the poet’s voice comes across anew in another language.

Judging this poetry competition involved lengthy discussions, debates and conversations among us the three judges. It was never a unilateral decision, we discussed each of the shortlisted book in great detail, analysing not only the quality and standard of the translation, but also how it read in English, the main themes and variations of each book, and the collection as a whole. It was a fascinating process in which we also took into account the individual voice of the poet and how balanced the book was overall. We all had our favourites but at the end the decision was unanimous.

How did you and your fellow judges approach the entries?

We read all the entries after a first sift made by the Poetry Translation Centre and then we had to rate each book individually. The second stage involved a lengthy meeting to discuss and compare our markings, when we decided on a longlist of books that we subsequently reduced to the final shortlist of six books: Nouri Al-Jarrah (Syria), Takako Arai (Japan), Fawzi Karim (Afghanistan), Kim Yideum (South Korea), Judith Santopietro (Mexico), and Yang Lian (China).  The shortlist features books translated from Japanese, Arabic, Korean, Spanish and Chinese. The selection celebrates both the best of modern poetry from across the globe and showcases a range of different translation methodologies highlighting excellence in literary translation. In choosing the shortlist, we looked for books which speak to UK audiences, but which maintained the unique spark of their original texts.

We’ve included poets from different geographical and linguistic regions, with a wide variety of voices, themes, and styles. I am very proud of this incredible list and we’re all very much looking forward to announcing the winner on the free online prize giving ceremony on the 25th March at 6:00PM (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-sarah-maguire-prize-for-poetry-in-translation-prizegiving-tickets-138473537077)

 

Leo Boix

Leo Boix is a Latino British poet, translator and journalist based in the UK. He has published two collections in Spanish, Un lugarpropio and Mar de noche, and has been included in many anthologies, such as Ten: Poets of the New Generation and Why Poetry?. His English poems have appeared in PoetryThe Poetry ReviewModern Poetry in TranslationPN Review and elsewhere. Boix is a fellow of The Complete Works program and co-director of ‘Invisible Presence’, a scheme to nurture Latino poets in the UK.

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Creativity in Lockdown: In Conversation with Jane Commane

How did you manage your creativity in the lockdowns?

To be honest, it’s been challenging! I have been writing here and there, but mostly I’ve been working and editing and keeping things moving along with the press. I’ve not found as much time for my own writing as I’d have maybe have expected last spring in the first lockdown, despite no longer spending as much time travelling around as I used to. If anything, I’m now in more Zoom meetings in a week than I would ever have been in ‘real life’ and there are more, though different, demands on my time than before. But I’ve found a lot of positive creativity in other ways – in working on new books with my poets, but also teaching, and other forms of creativity (reading, cooking, knitting, dressmaking, gardening). 

Walking especially has been a real lifeline for me, and the hardest parts of lockdown have been the ones like in this most recent one, when I’ve not been able to go a bit further afield. But I’ve been really fortunate to find lots of very local walks which have been restorative and a good part of my routine – and I do think that connection to place will continue to feed into my writing in future. Walking and being outdoors and much more observant – noticing the signs of changing seasons and wildlife around me, even from my backyard, that I would have overlooked before has been something of an anchor when all else in the world feels disrupted and out of kilter.

I think part of it is I feel a little like I’m in a state of absorption at the moment with regards to my own writing. The combination of constant awful news and all the hopes, fears and shifting circumstances that engenders mean that any writing feels like it is on shifting sands for the time being for me: I know I will hit a writing streak again, but for now I think I’m still taking it all in, weighing it up. Writing will be how I process of the experiences of the last year, but only when the time is right. I really admire poets who can eloquently respond in an immediate, perceptive manner to the events of our current time, but I think I tend to need to ruminate and mull things over – and for ideas for poems to ferment and come into focus over time.

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How were you able to balance your writing, editing and forays into online events? 

There has been a fair bit of readjustment – but I have found a fairly good balance now. Myself and my colleagues at Nine Arches have now been working from home since mid March 2020, and initially we had no idea what to expect or for how long the disruption would be for in those early days. It’s a real testament to my Nine Arches colleagues, Angela and Peggy, and our 2020 intern Sophia, that we kept going, managing to juggle everything and finding ways to adapt and settle into our new circumstances. It helps that up until 2018 I’d operated Nine Arches from home so knew how to go back to that, but I do miss all working together in our office and travelling to meet poets and going to events and festivals! 

The nature of publishing and the way we work, always ahead of ourselves with a routine and plan of action for what needs doing for future books on a continual cycle, has actually been really useful. It has helped in keeping some semblance of time and structure in the strangely unshapen and amorphous days of lockdown and in-between times, and it’s actually been really useful to have this regularity and structure to hold on to. 

The balance has been challenging at times as a poet and an editor – there is less distinction between working, creative and home life as it has all melded into one, but I’ve never been more busy and also, despite the pressures that entails, grateful to have been absorbed in work and the thoroughly positive business of making new books and poetry happen in the face of so much uncertainty in the last twelve months.

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You have 12 new titles for 2021. What support did you need to give your poets because of these uncertain times?

This last year has been such a tough time for all our poets as they published new books, and especially in the first six months, as those forthcoming poets lost out on all their planned live events, festivals and bookshop sales. But we also got up to speed very quickly in 2020, including learning a lot of new digital skills. This did help to mitigate some of the impact of those loses, and it has been really vital to keep on reassessing and recalibrating over the last year.

 Where I might have met poets just once in person to work on a book and edit their poems, I now work with our writers over several zoom calls on manuscripts, so we can take a bit more time and have plenty of space to consider our marketing and digital plans and well as our creative and editing ones. This has, I hope, enabled us to spend a bit more focused time which each forthcoming poet, and to have some new opportunities too as a result. For instance, we’ve been able to collaborate with poets and artists on book cover designs, and have short but regular meetings with both parties to come up with some very special designs. Katie Griffiths’ gorgeous cover art for The Attitudes by artist Anna Steinberg, and the beautiful bespoke design by Sophie Herxheimer for Jacqueline Saphra’s One Hundred Lockdown Sonnets are just two examples of this.

In addition, I’ve been really keen we support writers practically. This might be through continuing to commission new work from them, be it for workshops, events, reviewing and critical work or involvement in projects, in the hope it may replace some of the paid opportunities they have lost. But also through making time and space to try and stay in touch, work on new projects and show our continued support for their creativity. Probably the most key thing has been our commitment to keeping going and to publishing their books – though lots of things have moved about in out schedules, I’m really proud that not a single book was cancelled last year or this year, and we have in fact expanded our list in 2021.

We’ve also done a lot of work on staying connected to audiences and readerships digitally, as we know this is so vital for our poets in ensuring they retain a sense of their books reaching out and connecting beyond the current limitations we’ve all caught in.

 

Do you think online events will change the poetry scene in the future?

Yes, I hope so! It’s been a real tonic to be able to join poetry events taking place here in the UK and further afield that I couldn’t otherwise have attended. It’s really broadened the audience for poetry too, and created something both inclusive and more accessible, not least for low income and disabled audiences. At Nine Arches, we have been running a regular programme of poetry events livecast to YouTube since last summer and we’ve had incredible viewing figures on many of those. We have had people attending our events from the US, South Africa, Canada and New Zealand to name just a few. It’s been uplifting to have met with a global audience we never would otherwise have been able to reach. It’s really helped us to keep going and it’s been vital for our poets too, to be able to be present in this way. Of course I miss events in live venues and spaces, and look forward to those returning, but I hope also we can all take a more pluralistic view in future and ensure we have both live and online events on offer to our audiences – there is so much for everyone to gain in that.

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Your submission window for Under the Radar opens in May. What advice would you give to poets who need help to start sending out work again?

Send us your best poems, and don’t try too hard to prejudge what you think we might like. That may sound odd, but I know from my own experience that as poets we can agonise quite a bit over what we perceive an editor or particular journal might like or expect from us. And yet so often, it’s the submissions which dare to be a bit different and forge their own path with confidence that stand out, not least as we are now reading so much new work. Poets have certainly been very busy and getting very well organised in submitting and sending out work in the last year – we have never so many submissions before! Our next submissions window is not themed and I heartily encourage poets to be bold and send us work they feel thoroughly represents them, rather than what they may think we want to read. Stand out, and be daring in what you send out. 

 

janeJane Commane was born in Coventry and lives and works in Warwickshire. Her first full-length collection, Assembly Lines, was published by Bloodaxe in 2018, and is longlisted for the 2019 Michael Murphy Memorial Prize for a distinctive first book of poetry. Her poetry has featured in anthologies including The Best British Poetry 2011 (Salt Publishing) and Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam (Cinnamon) and in magazines including Anon, And Other Poems, Bare Fiction, Iota, Tears in the Fence and The Morning Star. She has been a poet in residence at the Brontë Parsonage in Haworth, and has led many writing workshops in a variety of locations, including in museums, castles, city centres, orchards and along riverbanks. In 2016, she was chosen to join Writing West Midlands’ Room 204 writer development programme. A graduate of the Warwick Writing Programme, for a decade she also worked in museums and archives. Jane is editor at Nine Arches Press, co-editor of Under the Radar magazine, co-organiser of the Leicester Shindig poetry series, and is co-author (with Jo Bell) of How to Be a Poet, a creative writing handbook and blog series. In 2017 she was awarded a Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship.

Author photo: Paul Lapsley Photography