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Winter by Bill Greenwell

Sheena2

Artwork: Sheena Clover

February 1963

Groundsmen like lead; the snail’s tinsel
frozen over; the tongue stuck to the cheek

by a rush of breath; fifty stiff lashes
around a startled eye. This must be

the aftermath of water, the asphyxiation:
that sacred moment when saints faint

because they have been starved. The dog
digs for hot coals, the cat for the memory

of a toddy. Grandmothers wave away fans,
call for the spirit of ’13, when the air

blazed for weeks, when the gas bills stopped.
Not as now, the coins solid in the socket,

the keenest schoolchild sprawled out,
pigtails at angles, cap-peak caught

by the last blizzard, nothing left to do
but watch the sleet on the television, the way

announcers say, without apology,
without flinching, their bow-ties rigid,

normal service will be resumed
as soon as possible
.

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Rebecca Gethin’s shed

whimsical-garden-shed-amp

 

In a disused game-keeper’s hut

A stream dashes past in a deep cleft. From inside,
all she hears is waterfall. Dark as the garden
at night, a mesh covers the grimy window.

No-one will guess. She sweeps the dust, runs outside
to gasp. It settles back like things she’s heard said.
She pokes feathers she’s found into cracks between planks.

Outside, a jay cackles. The woods are as green
and gold as pheasants. There’s nowhere else.
For company she borrows a glass bowl, fills it with water,

puts in stones and water weed, scoops up frogspawn
from a pool – the jelly clings to her fingers,
the pulsing specks eye her. Placing this beside

the light she shuts the door behind her, leaving it
exactly as it was. She can’t answer what she can’t hear.
All that summer the dust leaks must.

In winter she shoves the door open to find a bowl
of dried tadpoles – when they slide around
they clink, like small beads.

Rebecca won her first writing competition at the age of ten with an essay on rabbits for the Wharfedale Naturalists’ Society. Early precocity was swamped by children, work, the fever of everyday life and she forgot what she had originally wanted to be: 45 years were to pass before she won the Cinnamon Press Novel Writing Award with her first novel, which was published in 2011. Her first poetry collection, River is the Plural of Rain, was published by Oversteps Books in 2009. Her second, A Handful of Water is published by Cinnamon Press. She has worked as a creative writing tutor in a prison and currently works as a freelance creative writing tutor and writer. Rebecca blogs at http://rebeccagethin.wordpress.com/

Edward Ragg

Edward Ragg: Featured Poet

Edward Ragg (3)

Anthem at Morning
 
How wonderful it would be
in this brightest of mornings

to walk in the clear light
not of possibility

but purpose and to sing
in that same clear light

of the purpose that
in all possibility is today.

 

Chongwenmen Market

Its doors are winter coats, dressed for the season
like dumpling wrappers: the snapped dough
rolled in wafer rounds, deft hands cupping
pork mince and scallion into ear-nipped jiaozi.
Ahead, river trout squirm on wet marble
like sprung bows as fresh as a definition,
flipping alongside crates of blue crab;
and, fresher still, whole tanks of catfish
plucked from the water in barely a cleaver’s drop.
I intone in snail Mandarin the prices of eggs,
pork belly, mutton, counting change in the abacus
of a new speech and would like to say more:
something about the colours of the aubergines,
the less recognized fruits, the tastes of them.

[Note: jiaozi are Beijing dumplings, pronounced for an English speaker, roughly, as ‘jow-sir’]

 

Edward Ragg was born in Stockton-on-Tees in 1976 and, since 2007, has lived in Beijing, China. He won the 2012 Cinnamon Press Poetry Award and his first collection of poetry is A Force That Takes (Cinnamon Press, 2013).

Selections from his work are anthologized in the 2014 Forward Book of Poetry (Faber & Faber, 2013), Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam (Eyewear Publishing/Cinnamon Press, 2012), Jericho & Other Stories & Poems (Cinnamon Press, 2012), Visiting Wallace: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Wallace Stevens (Iowa University Press, 2009) and New Poetries IV (Carcanet Press, 2007).

Ragg’s poems have also appeared in Aesthetica, Acumen, Agenda, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Cordite Poetry Review, Critical Quarterly, Envoi, Orbis, Other Poetry, Papercuts, Poetry Quarterly, PN Review, Seam, The New Writer, Three Line Poetry and other journals.

Ragg is also a critic: author of Wallace Stevens and the Aesthetics of Abstraction (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and co-editor of Wallace Stevens across the Atlantic (Palgrave, 2008). He is currently an Associate Professor in English at Tsinghua University and is co-founder, with his wife Fongyee Walker, of Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting.

 

 

 

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Online courses – whose do you pick?

I’ve taken a number of online courses, some I’ve really enjoyed, others have been really frenetic and after a busy day at work I’ve found them a bit full on. The slower paced ones where each participant has time to chew over other poets’ work and feel comfortable with what they are able to contribute are more me. I have decided participating in an online chat (with a glass of wine to hand), or giving feedback in a forum on a lazy weekend are the most beneficial to me. The feedback received has always been incredibly useful from both the tutor and the other poets and I hope mine is of value too. Over the next couple of weeks I am going to be asking tutors of online courses what they think about them, why they do them and what they get from them.

billFirst up is Bill Greenwell who was my tutor on the very first online course I did around 7 or 8 years ago. I have subsequently participated in a number of his “clinic”.

What do you think is the appeal of online courses/clinics?

That can vary enormously. Some like the anonymity. Some like the online friendship. Some find them cheaper. I’ve run online courses since 2002 and the ‘clinic’ (I called my course this as a slightly tongue-in-cheek way of making it different), and the attraction does vary hugely from course to course and group to group. But what all writers (if they wish to contribute) want is feedback, or, in some cases, to see feedback, and they want it to be constructive.

But one thing I’m sure of: they are generally better than two hour workshops/ classes in real time. I used to teach (and watch others teach) evening classes, and quite often, everyone was really waiting for their bit of feedback. Suppose you have 15 people, and 120 minutes (not unusual). That means that everyone is waiting for their 8 minutes in the sun, and being nice about the other 112 minutes. Of course that’s a simplification, and there are teacherly strategies to improve that, but I’ve seen it turn out like that. I remember the enormous feeling of liberation I got after 28 years as a classroom teacher, when students could dispense with small talk, and I could focus on the work itself. It was really, really liberating. (The downside – thought it didn’t feel like it – was that, as a teacher, you often worked such weird and long hours that your effective pay became minimal. But that’s my look-out.)

What can a new student/poet expect from an online clinic?

I think I might copyright the word ‘clinic’. I can only really write about my own online course, I mean clinic. But all students can find that a) that they can be heard/ read, and b) that the teacher (me) can respond to them considerately and c) that the work becomes the focus. I always have a part of a forum (or whatever the word is) for chat. If you don’t, it’s just too informal. The main part has to be quite formal, by which I don’t mean stuffy.

Here’s how mine got going. I devised an online course for poets called Poetry Form and Experiment – it was an accredited course at the time – with seven sections (weeks) that had tasks and eight sections (weeks) where imagesCAFTQEZ8writers worked as individuals. The students were international as well as living in the next street. The second group, which had 14 students, was the one where I got the system right (I think). Every time I logged on, it was like a party going on. People were posting generously, and starting to critique each other a little. I found I was able to offer some general and some individual feedback. It was an astonishing group. I was new to higher education and I’d pitched it too low (‘level 1’). Consequently, the final submissions were scoring marks up in the 90s (I thought). My manager was appalled. ‘We don’t go much over 70,’ she said (70 being the normal distinction threshold – the Open University, for whom I’ve worked since 2007, uses 85). So I gave her a piece I’d given 92, and sent her away to read it. She was a bit astonished by the talent. The student (a well-known poet now) kept her mark and won a strange historical prize for being student of the year. I loved that group. They all stayed, they all enjoyed it, there was a lot of humour, and I learned to teach on the web. And 15 of us hit the forum more than 3000 times, a record since broken (4000).

Screen_Shot_2013-05-30_at_16_26_19Later the university in question discontinued accredited online courses, and so I had to re-invent what I did, what I could offer. I did something very simple. I took all the content out. The content became what the students put in. As it stands, what happens is this: a participant (‘student’ is somehow wrong) can post one poem a week for ten weeks. Unless I’m pressed for time, usually a second one is okay, but I make no promises. They upload a poem, and I download it. I don’t read any of their blurbs. In the meantime, anyone who chooses (and they can choose not to) can offer their point of view. I don’t read these till after I’ve commented. What do I comment on? Anything, really, that isn’t (as I think) working. It might be structural, it might be over-writing, it might be a lack of logic, it might be grammar. I am not good at saying how brilliant things are in detail (I do do it, but I’ve set it up so I point at what needs fixing or debating). Sometimes – and this is a bit controversial – I re-write the poems, although it’s not the words I’m changing, just cutting and re-structuring.

What has happened is that the writers – the regulars especially, and I think one person has done it ten times – often make different and often more pertinent points than me. Very occasionally I will say this. Usually not. It has to be democratic: I am not the expert here (inner voice: yes I am mostly). It gets too complex to comment on comments.

I was taught long ago that marking up in red was hostile, so I mark in a restful blue, sometimes pink. I keep red for spelling errors.

How often does yours run?

Twice a year, ten weeks, October and January starts.

How many students are on each course and what do they go on to do?

10-14. Usually 10-12. Some go on to write privately. Some get published in small magazines. More than a dozen have now published at least one collection. Several have won prizes. Some come back for more. Some go on to do MAs in Creative Writing. It’s become a kind of community now. I don’t want to take any credit as such, other than for being a good editor, a good asker of questions, and suggester of alternatives. People in the clinics boost each other, and all I’m trying to do is to reveal their ability. My role is to be honest, straight and polite. Sometimes it’s incomprehensible that they’re too shy to get published. There are some more who must be on the verge of having a collection now.

publishing

But it’s vital that I say that I work with what they write. If there are comic light verse poets, that’s fine; if there are confessional poets, that’s fine. There are no rules other than that I take the poems, and the poets, as they present themselves. I guess what I’m doing is a gentle sort of mentoring. And you do get to know the style of the writers, and sometimes, I’ve said, move on. Mostly I live with their personalities as poets.

How much time (on average) does it take you to crit a poem?

No idea. It can be five minutes, it can be an hour. That’s the beauty of online teaching: sometimes you need to let the poem linger longer in your head. And I don’t really crit a poem, I just comment on it, make suggestions. I can think of more than one poem where I’ve just written ‘so get it published’. The hardest are re-writes, as you have to get your head round the changes.

Do you find it helps or hinders your own writing?

I don’t know. It’s quite hard to write while offering opinions on writing, but if you are part of a community of writers, and that’s how I’d like to be seen, then their talent is going to spur you on later. My writing comes from my mood; I’m sporadic. I’ve written despite teaching/ hosting a clinic, but have also been unable to write. On balance it helps, though not at the time.

Thanks so much Bill. Bill is the author of Ringers and Impossible Objects both published by Cinnamon Press and Spoof from Here Press. He is co-author of A Creative Writing Handbook: Developing Dramatic Technique, Individual Style and Voice, A & C Black Publishers Ltd.

 

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Mentoring with Cinnamon Press

Draft StampThis is my first year as a mentor with Cinnamon Press. Jan did a call out in 2013 asking if anyone would be interested in being involved in the 2014 mentoring programme. Obviously, I said “Yes”! The work so far has involved reading my mentee’s initial manuscript and giving feedback on individual poems as well as overall feedback on the collection at this point.

Having recently put a collection together I found the most amazing editing tool: Ctrl find. I went through my manuscript checking how many times I used a certain word and by swallowing a thesaurus came up with alternatives. It is boring reading the same old same old. This was advice I past on after having checked through this manuscript – it is incredible how we get fixated on a word or two.

My second point was about titles. Flicking through Emily Berry’s Dear Boy (Faber 2013) the list of titles is intriguing and beautiful and we must always remember this is the first thing a person reads and it can be a make or break word choice.

Our Love Could Spoil Dinneremily berry
The Incredible History of Patient M.
Everything She Does is Not Her Fault
My Perpendicular Daughter (my personal favourite)
The Tea-party Cats
Hermann’s Travelling Heart (another favourite)
Questions I wanted to Ask You in the Swimming Pool

These are just two of the points I raised (I won’t bore you with them all). We then set a timetable on editing and feedback through the year. There are usually three or four points in the year from when the student sends a completed part of the manuscript and we swap feedback, until the last feedback which gives some pointers on how to move on with the manuscript – it might include structure (such as order of poems) or looking for publishing opportunities or further work they need to do to develop the manuscript.

If this is something that interests you (either as a mentor or mentee) keep an eye on the Cinnamon website for further details.

Jan“Cinnamon Press Mentoring Scheme is an exciting opportunity to work with us in an intensive project to assist authors to improve their work and chances of publication. Several authors repeatedly do well in a competition or send in good submissions to the press or to Envoi. Sadly, we don’t have the resources to offer the level of feedback and editing needed to assist all of the authors who show great promise, but the mentoring scheme allows us to put resources into those whose work we feel could most benefit.

 We consider applications in the autumn of each year with a deadline at the end of October. Those who are successful are asked to submit a major body of work in progress by mid January 2014. Each student has a dedicated mentor who is an experienced writer and/or tutor and who agrees an itinerary for working on particular aspects of the manuscript over the course of the year. We work mostly by email, but some students and mentors Skype or phone or occasionally meet up if it’s mutually convenient and at the end of the year there is an optional residential weekend”.

 

Sue Rose

Featured Poet: Sue Rose

Sue Rose
15B02031929
(from the Heart Archives)

It had been so long since she’d heard
the reassuring pace of another’s heart
at her ear—she pressed her head
here, below my shoulder’s hard
girdle and the soft upper of my breast,
and slipped into the worn rest
of the old, soothed by the serenade
of my heart, its secrets husbanded;

she’d slept alone in their double bed
for years, silence ballooning around her,
but I sat rigid, oppressed by her need,
when I should have hugged this woman
who once listened to my heart’s patter
inside her, I should have stroked her head.

Sue Rose works as a literary translator and has published various novels, libretti and plays in translation. Her poetry has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies and she has been commended or placed in competitions such as the National Poetry Competition, the Peterloo and the Wigtown. She won the Troubadour Poetry Prize in 2009 and the Canterbury Festival Poet of the Year Competition in 2008. She has recently started tutoring for organizations like Oxford University and the Chateau Ventenac in France.
Her debut full-length collection, From the Dark Room, was published by Cinnamon Press in 2011. “This collection is rich with the life of the body, with flesh, seed, sex, blood, birth, family love, all in language that is brave and tender.” (Gillian Clarke).

Reviews here: http://londongrip.co.uk/2011/10/poetry-review-autumn-2011-rose-stein/
and http://sheenaghpugh.livejournal.com/71406.html
Other links: http://peonymoon.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/sue-roses-from-the-dark-room/

The featured poem is from Heart Archives, a chapbook to be published by Hercules Editions in February 2014. For more information and/or to get involved, see: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/heart-archives

A second collection, The Cost of Keys, is due out from Cinnamon in November 2014.

Jo Hemmant

Jo Hemmant: Featured Poet

Jo Hemmant

.

On the occasion of Mayer Samuel Houdini’s 17th birthday

He would be the one to invent a son.
Perhaps his greatest sleight of hand: letters
in that dramatic copperplate, Dear Mrs Houdini,
Mayer has his first tooth, is crawling, can say his name,
in full, our boy, tender anecdotes of bumps and scrapes –
trying to fly before he could walk, of course –
of night-time vigils, lisped funnies, tantrums, slapstick.
………………………………As if I’d have as little say

in my own son as I do in his act: ever the flunky;
the suspension of disbelief; the accessory after the fact.
He did allow him a likeness though – my dark eyes.
Little touches like that, they’re why he’s the success he is.
A locket with a wispy golden curl for Mother’s Day.
A scuffed pair of calf-skin baby shoes. And when the child
would have started school, the reports began, always
in a different hand – outlining academic glory,
popularity, sporting prowess. I’ve even an invitation
to his bar mitzvah somewhere.
 …………………………….He has never mentioned him
to my face; realises that would be too much to stomach.
No, I find the letters on my pillow every month,
about that time; a thoughtless gift.

..

Scratch Days

Now and then we have to let ourselves in,
knowing before we’ve unlocked the door
that inside it’s as if no-one’s home —

TV off, radio quiet as the hush
between each tick of the kitchen clock,
the only sound a distant rat-a-tat-tat.

She’s up in the box room
with towers of tins stockpiled
against famine and flood, hunched

over the Singer, feeding swags of polycotton
across its cool, metal plate
while the frenzied needle stabs,

retreats. Pins clamped between her lips
like threats, foot down like a racing driver
accelerating out of a corner’s rubber stink.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Light Knows Cover 1_4.jpegforpostcardJo Hemmant lives in the Kent countryside with her husband and two sons. She is the director of Pindrop Press, a boutique poetry press that has published twelve titles to date. She is involved in local poetry, acting as Secretary of The Kent and Sussex Poetry Society and running creative writing workshops.

Her poems have been published in many magazines and anthologies, including Magma, Iota, Dream Catcher, Brittlestar, nothing left to burn (Ragged Raven Press, 2011), Jericho (Cinnamon Press, 2012). She has also won prizes in various competitions – including first prize in The New Writer Poetry and Prose Competition 2011 (collection category), second prize in the Torriano Poetry Competition in 2011 and runner-up in the Cardiff International Poetry Competition 2012.

The Light Knows Tricks is her first collection and can be bought from Doire Press.

Will Kemp

Will Kemp: Featured Poet

After my father died  

I sat on the bed in my shorts and vest
the way he would sometimes do,
an ocean of darkness outside.

His laboured breathing still there
from the afternoon, times too he taught me
how to ride a bike, swim, bat, pee –

or recalled flying bombers in the war,
his vow to marry my mother, getting into
Cambridge from a northern grammar.

But never the Depression before:
people laughing as he shovelled droppings
behind a cart loaded with scrap,

his dad with the reins, always coughing;
all working back to the morning
it stopped – news he was told

in front of his class – the allotment shed
spattered with blood, the note
he was never allowed to read,

and what he must have felt going to bed
that night, the dark sky without a star,
a boy in a world all at sea.

—————————————————————————————————————————

Will Kemp studied at Cambridge and UEA before working as an environmental planner in Canada, Holland and New Zealand.  He has been published in various journals and well-placed in national competitions.
In 2012, he won the Cinnamon Poetry Award and Envoi International Poetry Competition in 2010.
His first collection, Nocturnes, has just been published by Cinnamon Press.  His second collection, Lowland, will be published by Cinnamon in 2013.
Nocturnes: Review by Susan Richardson

Kemp consistently delights and surprises with his ability to invent fresh and resonant images for darkness, the moon, the stars, while the range of tones – from the humorous depiction of the restive insomniac mind to the restrained grief expressed following the death of the poet’s father – is equally impressive.  It is, however, Kemp’s brilliant evocation of different nightscapes, the focus on sound when visuals are diminished and the degree to which the dark sharpens and enhances memories, that make this collection especially compelling.

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Jan Fortune on Snow Child

Abegail Morley’s Snow Child is a tour de force that moves on from her excellent debut short-listed for the Forward Prize for best first collection (How to Pour Madness into a Teacup, Cinnamon Press). Morley has an uncanny gift for the intense and slightly disturbing, for looking objectively and in minute detail at what might otherwise be unbearable and bringing it into the light.

The clarity of these poems is dazzling, always perfectly controlled. George Eliot wrote, ‘If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.’ Morley approaches such vision, yet also the skill to mediate it with elegance.

 Jan Fortune