Tuesday, 26 January 2010


They came back so quietly. Together in as much as they shared the same air, rushing over the same turn of the earth. But this isn't together. This is being born at the same point in time when a bible doesn't get written, or an extinction doesn't occur, even in the undergrowth quietly. They are togther as two continents tearing apart slowly. She circles the ground looking to land, running out of fuel and banking into the wind. He stares up too busied with others, fuelled every night. But the answer why is never clear - waving hands dismiss it, sideways glances demarkate the no-fly zone. I raise my hands to the air everytime as if to say swans don't divorce, but it seems these days they do.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

When I'm successful, I will....

Everyone has their aspirations, their writing goals, what they believe will make them feel like they've succeeded - mine is to earn enough money from it to fund a trip to this cave of crystals and to be able to walk around it alone without screaming kids, bored tour guides or women in inappropriately high heels. This would be heaven.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

blogging from bed

Marie Laurencin - Portrait of Mademoiselle Channel

I saw this painting last week and was really mesmerised by the eyes of the woman. They look so full of emotion. A real stand-out feature of the picture. The colours are nice too, but those eyes! I wish I could write with as much emotion as Marie Laurencin could paint with a few brush strokes.

I have no justification for blogging from bed. But it's cosy and I can admire the hoovering I did yesterday and the picture I framed - an Art Nouveau exhibition poster from Musee D'Orsay bought last week - lovely.

While I am here I will read Luke Kennard's collection The Harbour Beyond The Movie which I bought yesterday from Preston Waterstones. Seems it has quite a good poetry section and my sadness about Borders can now be alleviated slightly.

I have also been reading Annie Clarkson's blog featuring today, her cat! I've always considered myself a dog person though I've never had one, and have had cats (!) but this post made me wish I had one pressed against my legs right now. Typical Annie blog, uplifting and thought inspiring even when she's talking about challenging personal stuff (except for the cat post which is out and out adoration for her cat) From what I've read she's in the right job.

Right now, I am very much in need of finding some angle for the prose poetry. I write it but with no idea what to do with it and if it's any good. I think I could tighten it up a lot more if it had some general direction. That's me, always a slave to purpose, in need of a solid route.

Friday, 15 January 2010

The Weather etc.

Last night after slaving over a new poem, I had a look at Pomegranate and the Christopher Tower poetry prize. What amazing young poets there are in this country! How heartening for them and thoroughly depressing for me. Still, I've been alive longer. Top trump!

Today I have been wondering about re-engaging with the geology roots in writing. I think I've been a bit reluctant, maybe even a bit embarrassed. I don't know why. When I say Geology I don't suppose I really mean it - I mean things that interested me in my first degree: microfossils, earthquakes, tsunami's, oil, pipelines, field locations, fast winds, circulations...not really rocks at all in fact. I suppose Meteorology features more. Anyhow, maybe I will stop fighting the urge and just go with it, we all have our influences after all.

Today the snow has gone. I don't think there will be any more snow themed writing. It's one of those things that is inspiring while it's there but once gone is forgotten in my mind and the only residual memory is of white. Just white. I don't have this with rain which is indelliby stained on my memory. No one loves rain unless it's tropical and warm or you're being kissed in it. Maybe I will campaign for rain from now on...give it some due.

The continuing horror of Haiti takes me back to how I felt after the Boxing Day Tsunami. One of the affected areas was one of my fieldwork locations and I wrote about it after. But it was a really awful piece of writing that didn't do justice to the aftermath. How can any writing really do a tragedy justice? I don't think it can. It can probably only 'document'. Whenever these stories happen I rush to find out the size of the earthquake, read some of the journal papers that are quick to be released giving specifics of epicentres etc. There is some pull to need to know, tally and record. Compare. The long days of news watching, taking in all the photos and testimonies. I always wish I could do more because giving money never feels like enough. At the end of the day I go to bed and am just so grateful that I don't live on a plate margin, or over the Ring of Fire, embarrassed that while hundreds of thousands sleep in the streets, we can't even find ways to make our roads less slippery. We can prepare for nuclear fallout but we grind to a halt when there is frozen water. Our world makes no sense.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

random complaint that has become unavoidable now

Why does every poet feel the need to use the word...


I have read it so much recently. I hate the word. It's overused. What's wrong with 'sideways'.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Making a tiny book and a bigger book

What a lovely idea this is by Jill Magi. I would love to try this, but who would I give it away to that wouldn't laugh and roll their eyes? I can only think of about two people. Is two ok I wonder.

Today I have discovered chocolate Yop and a load of competitions I should really try for. I have also been wondering about poetry collections. If you have an overarching theme which is a bit, shall we say, taboo - how do you go about doing it in a manner that is subtle and reflective rather than reactionary and cathartic?

Post Paris

I had a lovely short break in Paris. Paris is my Paris. But I am tempted to submit something to Preston is My Paris, because I have a lot of time for Preston. The loss of Borders is keenly felt. My clandestine trips to Deepdale for copies of Magma, Poetry Review and The Rialto were real treats after a long day at work in Lancaster. Anyway, I go on about this too much. Back to Paris trip. Trains are great (well, except the Eurostar) because you see all sorts. I was much inspired by a man on the train who talked endlessly of Shoreditch. A girl with Mickey Mouse ears crying in to her boyfriends Kappa track suit. A lady putting on surgical gloves and then opening Le Monde. You just can't predict it. I am thinking of getting a train from Preston to Lancaster and doing something weird for sport. It's a perfect 15 minute journey. I shall give this some thought.

I have been reading all sorts recently: Legend of a Suicide by David Vann, The Migraine Hotel by Luke Kennard, Sunday at the Skin Launderette by Kathryn Simmonds, Another Place by Mike Barlow, The Passport by Herta Muller, The Missing by Sian Hughes. Still going on A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving. Got Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel) in mind, as well as Solace of the Road ( Siobhan Dowd). Too much, too much. I'm not good at writing reviews so tend not to bother, as I am never sure what people want to hear, or whether I am fair to say what I do. I therefore go for a 'yes, read it' or 'no, life's a bit too short'. All of the above are a 'Yes, read it' except for Owen Meany as it's too early to tell and Herta Muller which for me at the moment is a bit hard going despite (or perhaps indicated by) the Nobel prize

Right, I am off to think about Preston.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

2010...how futuristic that seems

No resolutions for me. I beat myself up on a regular basis as it is. I'll be glad to just get through with no major illness, having written a little and still in possession of all my loved ones.

2009 was a great year for female singer songwriters. Bat For Lashes and Florence + The Machine are high on my most often played list. Long may they wail. I have discovered Amazon wishlists finally for all my booky wants. This is keeping my mind clearer from the panic of forgetting which books I would like to read. I have developed an engrossing new pastime of doing Jigsaws. This is quite embarrassing but I don't have enough followers to worry about widespread exposure. I have been drawn to finish one featuring Siberian Tigers. Consumed all my free moments. Given me eye strain and my dream fragments on waking are now jigsaw shaped. Then I am told it's Chinese Year of The Tiger, and suddenly it all feels ok. I have, however, just discovered that you can get Victoria Frances artwork as jigsaws. This will invariably turn me fully into an addict within the next month or so.

Ah, the creative ways I have found to distract myself from the business of writing! The MA new term starts next week, and I am grappling around for something to workshop. Prose poems I think. But are they any good? I honestly don't know, but best find out now. I also need to write an 800 word travel writing essay in the hope of winning a 10-day safari to Zambia. Worth a punt. I even have an idea! Shock.

I am going to set myself one writing target for the new year - to draft at least one new poem and prose poem every two weeks. I tend to work in flurries, writing 3 in a week and then nothing claiming it's just the way i work best but I want to get serious and write regularly regardless, I should be doing this for classes anyway, but I have been able to rely on my 'back-catalogue' to prop me up in quiet weeks, but I don't want to have that dependency this year. It's lazy. I also must submit more work. I keep saying I will and then I don't. How long will I keep making excuses.

Monday, 14 December 2009

First half of December going already.

I haven't done much writing recently. Mainly reading. I have been much toying with the idea of writing a crossover novel for young teen women and as such have been devouring any Siobhan Dowd or Meg Rosoff I can get my hands on. I have a long list of others, there are so many after all, and it's just as well they are quick reads. I haven't yet decided on my story, I just know it's an idea I have been thinking about for a long time. Long before I started writing, before poetry, before evening classes, before MA.

I did however start a poem last week at a conference. It started after a few drinks in the company of strangers, and grew on my phone as I had no paper to hand. When I looked at it the next day (sober) I wasn't sure if it would work but I may revisit and see if there is anything salvageable.

It's the end of the MA term now and I need to start writing again for next year, it's all about time really, of which I seem to have none. I also need to write about 500 words on a winter theme for a gathering on wednesday. Isn't christmas hard to write about without being cliched or like Scrooge? I have an idea but no idea how to execute it.

I read The Road last week by Cormac McCarthy (very dark and stark and compelling) and have just started A prayer for Own Meany by John Irving after being inspired by Radio 4's Bookclub.

I feel bereft as the loss of Borders Deepdale in Preston. It was my constant source of poetry journals and books you can't get from Waterstones. Because as much as I like Amazon I like to feel a book first. It also had a paperchase. I will miss it terribly. Just please don't shut down Foyles. It's the reason I still go to London.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Cost-Benefit Analysis on poetry?

(Copywrite R. Allen 09)
Throwing the obscure and redrafted poem into the bear pit this morning was pretty useful. I had been convinced everyone would prefer the latter as it went a lot further in addressing the narrative problem of the first attempt. But in the end, there were those who preferred the more obscure version. It was decided that by redrafting, the new poem has lost some of its lyricism and flow, despite having more clarity in the meaning. I had also taken out some imagery and they wanted this back in, the answer to this being I'll save it for another poem. It seems that in trying to meet the reader half-way I had sacrificed some of what makes my writing appealing, yet in return I'd delivered accessibility and gained readers that struggled with the original. In truth, the first version was more 'me' but it was refreshing to see people openly understand my writing for a change and I think I prefer that feeling than the feeling that I've successfully scratched my own head.

I will redraft (version 12) at some point, to try and get it to flow again like the original and to perhaps take out the words that were hang-overs from trying to tie up the narrative. Maybe I'll write every poem with a CBA in mind - what am I losing but what am I gaining? Is something lost, lost forever. If I hadn't redrafted I wouldn't have seen the possibility of getting a second poem out of it - pouring all of my arsenal in to one was perhaps a waste of resources.

This was a new method of writing and drafting that I have not tried before. I usually try and be a bit more organic (hate that word) but for those of us who tend to the obscure then I think it's a good idea to find a method for making sure the story is there and not clogged with ideas.

Monday, 30 November 2009

All sorts of busy

This week I have been focusing on writing more accessibly. This is because it has been levelled at me that I sometimes disappear off into obscurity and risk losing the reader. This made me quite sad for a while. I took it really personally and at the same time thought sod-off I'll write how I damn well please! But then once I had simmered down I realised that the critics were probably right, at least part-right, and that some of my writing would benefit from being less puzzling. I worked on one particular poem, writing out in long-hand next to the poem what the story was I was trying to tell. I then compared it to my poem and did realise that a lot of the images/lines I had used were surplus to requirement, and more importantly muddying the water. So I took it all out and rewrote the poem in a very dry obvious accessible way. At this point it was too dry and so i tried to take it back to where there is a little mystery. I have no idea how it will be viewed now. perhaps too obscure still? Perhaps I went to far and now it's just dull? This time I will remember that there will be people who like things that require a bit of work as well as those that don't. I'll find out tomorrow.

I have also been trying, with unknown success to juggle writing for pleasure (see above) with writing for work. I have two academic papers to write and three presentations. These are all required by mid-December. I don't mind the volume, but I'm finding it increasingly difficult to separate my two brains and write for these totally different purposes, in totally different styles. it's quite a challenge. In my academic work, prose wouldn't be too appropriate and in poetry the word-hoard I have developed from my work has led to the obscurity issue. Finding a balance between the two at the moment is the challenge. As is generally finding the time to write and work and read and critique and be original and be inspired and all that! I can't remember the last time I had a thought to myself. Don't get me wrong, I love writing and I love work but the two are too far apart at the moment, yet I can't really see a way it could be any different.

I do now however have my beloved desk back at home. No longer in the garage. It's now in the living room with printer, tablet, scanner, laptop books etc. The problem will be the TV directly behind me. We also have new shelves for the books that are breeding like rabbits. This has to be it though - in a small flat, 3 bookcases and 4 shelves is plenty and I may need to have a clearout next time. Although how do you grow a library when getting rid of books. Is it like the idea of having your hair trimmed regularly if you want to grow it long? Hmm.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Another new week starts soon

A dubious 48 hours this weekend. But I have been busy critiquing work for the online conference. Since I started writing poetry, I find it hard to string together full sentences. This is exacerbated by the frantic emailing I tend to engage in: broken thoughts, quick sends. Anyhow, the intention to improve is always there. Everything I have to say tends towards niceness, and I don't think this is approved of - I get the feeling that what staff want is a bit of blood sport. Curious, how they forget that we still have to see eachother when the conference is over. The fact it's online is really just to make the dept. feel like they're doing something innovative. In all likelihood we'll get together in the pub and talk about it, as we've already done before it started. I doubt it'll get vitriolic and argumentative, requiring us to 'take it to the (online) cafe'! But what do I know? I just think I like these people. I like their writing. I like my own fragile sense of self esteem, please don't crush me - there's always hare coursing if you really must.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

From Ty Newydd to the bay

Monday, 16 November 2009

Retreat! Retreat!

So, the writing retreat is over. I didn't write as much as I'd hoped I would. Mainly thought about writing. I also seem to have sold myself on the idea that I could write a novel after all. Well, I was unconvinced but one of the tutors liked the idea and thought it had legs. This was the fatal bellow of gas into the idea. It's now buoyant and tied to me like a helium balloon at the wrist. I am determined not to run with it. Maybe just little bits now and then amongst the poetry and flash. Something to tinker with..... or maybe it'll take over my life. Like new ideas always do.

All in, the week was enjoyable and helpful. Getting to know people better is always good, and time out to indulge yourself in writing is a treat worth accepting. I would like to go again.

I learnt a few interesting things not specific to writing. If you have a scientific background and cannot answer a simple question like 'What's a box?', it may reflect badly on you. Just don't even attempt it. Also, knowing a bit about geology is not the same as knowing a bit about particle physics or the statistical likelihood of a royal flush. Then there is writing with Cabin Fever which is like writing with the Flu. I have reviewed my scraps of paper and firstly they don't amount to much and secondly they don't seem to have been written by me! But this could be a good thing...

Don't go to the seaside if you don't want to write about the seaside again. Simples.

Learn when to socialise and when to write. Trying to do both simultaneously may result in you coming across cold, withdrawn, arrogant and maybe borderline autistic. Never engage in a rocking chair competition before bed or within 12 hours of eating. Likewise, introducing a theory of biscuit ratios should be saved until you've been drunk with these people.

Don't be the only poet in the village. Go write a novel or something. And while you're there be someone else for a change -I find it quite difficult to separate the self from poetry but branching out in to prose allowed for a whole new town of people to emerge from my head. Quite a lot last week, I was a man. How nice.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Rejection - oh, how I will lament

uuurgh rejection again. I know this is the way things go, but really someone needs to write a book on creative writing rejection. In fact I might. It will be structured like this:

The Deflation Period, where you just want to print everything you've written and burn it. If you could be bothered that is. But as it is, you just want to pretend that you never liked writing anyway, it was just killing time and you really have more pressing things to get on with anyway. Like work.

The Post-Denial-Denial Period, convincing yourself that maybe switching writing genres will help. "Maybe I should start writing horror..."

The Alternative Pastime Period, deciding that actually you spend too much time writing anyway and that you've always fancied something a bit different, just not had reason to get round to it, see clay-pigeon shooting or long-distance swimming.

The Rehab Period, it should come sooner but always arrives late in the day when you're on the cusp of lighting the fire, or buying gym membership (the previous stages may come in quick succession).

The Melancholic Poet Period (protracted). Everything is dire. Several denial stages later you concede that it was all a defence and you do like poetry, you like it too much. It's a cruel lover. It's beating you but you want more! So you write-about how melancholy you are. About how life is just one tiresome Lancastrian winter. About the sorrow of the blackbird and your cold black heart. Aside from these crass examples, you may actually find you have written something half decent. Or at least you think so.

The False-Confidence Period. You have re-entered the atmosphere. Breathing poetry again. Someone says you're OK, so you write again, write beyond melancholy. Convincing the cruel lover that you can change, you will be better. Everything is a found poem. Every half-conversation is a story kernel. It's wonderful, it's magic, it's falling in love again....

Then you make the fateful mistake of submitting something. They tell you 'best of luck placing them elsewhere' and like a soggy balloon, seconds after the pinched end is freed and the air has rushed out, you find yourself deflated again, completing the circle, face down on the carpet, drawing in the Hessian!

Monday, 2 November 2009


I've decided to take a brief reprieve from poetry and focus instead on flash fiction. At least for a week or two. I've been anxious to get back into prose for a while but keep wriggling out of it and doing a bad job when I sit down to exert myself. But now seems like a good time with the MA residential coming up when we'll be encouraged to write outside our comfort zone. I have this horrible feeling though that if I abandon poetry even temporarily then I might lose the knack - or the poetry muse may abandon me for deserting her first! I wonder whether having a break will be useful - get me thinking differently. I was certainly running out of topics I was interested in writing about in poems. Somehow, flash fiction allows for more tangents and weird connections across ideas. I could be wrong, but I haven't mastered that in a poem yet. I also like conversational style in flash, but not in poems (where I prefer something a bit....tighter...)

The problem I am having is a rush of too many characters all at once. Too many scenarios. Too many half-heard conversations and moments to document. This would never usually be a problem, but with so much work on, I barely have time to get to know any of these characters before my confidence in them deserts me and I put them aside while I get on with something pressing like the mountain of reading for class, or cooking dinner, washing, sleeping!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Litfest Bookcase

I forgot to mention a couple of things yesterday. Firstly, Litfest Bookcase - a lovely new bookcase-shop, selling poetry and local fiction that is harder to find elsewhere. It's wonderful, such a great idea! I went for the launch on Sunday 25th, closing day of Litfest, and I frantically grabbed up things that I was keen to get hold of but have not got round to searching for.

I bought:
1) Annie Clarkson's Winter Hands
2) Chris Killen's The Bird Room
3) The North - recent issue 43, because it was easier than Preston Borders or sending off for it! 4) Ian Seed's Anonymous Intruder

Looking forward to sitting down and reading, as well as finding time to write.

Also reading:
1) Robert Lowell's Collected Poems
2) Robert Frost's essays
3) The White Road and Other Stories by Tania Herschman

Learning a lot. Making lots of notes. Wishing some of those notes were my own work.

Apologies, Considerations, Submissions and Cake

OK, so I haven't been true to my word to blog after every class. I have however, been writing in the journal. Which is something, right? But I should try harder. I have had an up-and-down week, wondering whether to continue with the MA. Mainly because I am the only poet in the group and I have been worried that I will be a bit isolated. I have mulled this over a lot, spoken to people - asking if it's usual for there to be such an imbalance, seeked reassurance that my learning won't suffer. Everyone has said the 'right' things. For now I am reassured. The group is clearly committed to poetry as well as their own prose and I am sure I have a lot to learn from prose writers. Maybe it will make my own prose better. So I will persevere for now.

Went to the Cake launch today, the new literary mag published by students of creative writing at Lancaster Uni. Shame they couldn't turn off the musical plants and the distracting video streaming on the monitor while people were reading. Also, the kids running around screaming. But all in, it was a nice launch and I am really impressed by the quality of the magazine and of the writing. It's well put together and presents a diversity of work from a variety of students and alumni etc. I'll certainly think about submitting to Cake in the future, and I would like to get involved with reviews.

What else, I have submitted some poems today. Back in the saddle after making tweaks and adjustments to some older poems. Scouring for cliches.

Friday, 9 October 2009

An actual poem

Let down

It wasn’t enough that you thought of me
someone who would be your unreachable star,
as if I burned phosphorescent in the front
seat of a car that you don’t drive.
Not right that you should bevel at the edges,
drawn as a person to the ledge, remembering
tea undrunk, bags floating like bodies on a lake,
while you uncoupled your life from reality.
Neither is it true that when the finding happened
the galaxy shattered into porcelain shards
embedding in you a hellish luminescence, as now.
There were elements, periodic moments
But nothing like the quiet miracle of a standing wave.
To want a beautiful person to light up a room
transforming dead space into a trophy box,
you wouldn’t accept the nights without mornings
mourning’s without recoveries.
No understanding life of those in the wilderness;
uncoloured paint in a tin, hued on opening.

Copywrite R. Allen 2009

Five things I really must do.

1. Start submitting work again. I haven't submitted anything since Flax, tell a lie, I got a lovely rejection from Magma, great feedback and encouragment to try again soon- but other than that I wound down. I've been in a reading phase rather than a writing phase. This is only useful for so long. I think to be a writer then 50% should be about writing. Not 5%. But I could be wrong.

2. Stop writing down good lines and losing them in the wash. literally. Back of a tissue in my jeans pocket is not a good place for storage. Neither is on my phone in the drafts folder. or on the pen drive that keeps crashing. I bought a journal for a reason (See above - new journal and note book as well as pen that was a lovely gift. Writing with a fountain pen is very 1993 Old Skool for me. I love it. Slows me down in a good way).

3. Start learning something from the authors I like. Be more dissecting. Start being influenced. To be able to say '
it just made me feel nice' isn't good enough.

4. Go to
Litfest and not sit at home being closeted.

5. Get some exposure on my blog. And do this by writing something interesting that shows some sign of progress. Feeds back to No. 1 Thing I Must Do