Hammer & Tongue Tour! Hackney! Bristol! Brighton! Cambridge! Camden! Oxford!

I’m going on tour TODAY! Seven lovely gigs for Hammer & Tongue all around the country, sharing bills with some of my favourite poets and performers in the WHOLE WORLD! What a lovely job this is. Please do come to one of these if you’re in the area, they will be great!

A letter to a younger poet (or just to myself, five years ago)

Here’s a little thing I was asked to write for a residency I recently did for a lovely project called Word In The West. 

I hope it isn’t too prescriptive, its just a list of things I like to remind myself of occassionally, as a writer.

1.

Being able to support yourself with your art form does NOT validate your art. Emily Dickinson never made a penny from her work. If you can make yourself sit down and start writing a brilliant poem, still wearing your uniform, just after getting home from a ten hour shift in the pub / care home / office where you work, it is still a brilliant poem, and writing it is a worthwhile pursuit, even if no one ever pays you for it.

Having said that- the first time you DO get paid for a performance, commission etc, it will feel really great and that’s completely fine. The fact that doing something you love is earning you a little financial gain is of course really something to be excited about, it’s just not the be all and end all. Write anyway!

I want to make a distinction here between the importance of keeping on writing- experimenting, editing, trying new things artistically- regardless of financial reward, and the importance of not working for free. Performing, running workshops, writing commissions- that is working, and you must try to at least make sure your expenses are covered if you are going to work. Otherwise you are undermining yourself and the artistic community.

2.

I guess this applies particularly to poets who are keen to be involved in the world of performance. There are all different kinds of performers- big, loud, dramatic ones, funny ones, intense and confident ones, theatrical ones… and all these kinds can be brilliant. But what I want to say is- if you are none of these things, if you are not funny or flamboyant or intense, it does not mean that you can’t be a great performer. Poetry also sometimes needs performance that is understated or serious or warm or friendly in a quieter or more gentle way! You can bring these things to the stage and they can be valuable, but you must be clear and confident in your delivery. Your audience must be able hear your words or it is pointless saying them out loud! So, learn them. Say them clearly and honestly. Give them the reverence they deserve.

3.

You can’t – CAN’T – write well unless you read. And that’s not elitist, reading is free. And it doesn’t matter what you read, or what you like, but you’ve got to read in order to decide what you like, and what kind of writer you want to be!

If you find that are struggling to write anything good, put away your note books, get a stack of poetry books from the library and spend a few days reading and ENJOYING them! Think of it as putting petrol in the tank. Writing, and creating in general, is a process that requires you to choose to take part in it. Don’t wait for the muse to come and visit you. Be pro-active in trying things, experimenting, and improving your craft. On days when I feel like I am a terrible writer, I am comforted by the thought that there are almost endless things to read, study, and try out in order to improve my writing, and no limit to how much better I can potentially become with hard work, persistence and a love of words.

NaPoWriMo #21

Sonnet 1

How grief is like you have eaten a stone:
You stare. Once on a train you stared at a
pink baby, grated to the core with sobs,
and wished for both the sobbing and the sleep.

Ankles thickened with lazy, pooling blood.
Body waterlogged, useless sealion-
distended and lumbering but
dry and brittle as some shivering bur.

Scrubbed clean, plain, and bundled into real clothes,
ritual is the ember of control
Visitors try to fan at the thin fire,
their kind faces are a distant alarm

and casting around for something to say,
you find only clods of gravel and sand.

NaPoWriMo #20

Upon Waking

Awaken, then.
My tongue is furred thick with the night
Morning crowds in noisily
Jostling something that I have forgotten

My tongue is furred thick with the night
Hope is spiteful, and relentless
Jostling something that I have forgotten
You are gone

Hope it spiteful, and relentless
Morning crowds in noisily
You are gone
Awaken, then.

NaPoWriMo #19

You at the Window

Yes, throw up the gates
of your cruel castle.
But those snarling pit bulls
are dying of starvation
by the supercilious portcullis.

That song is old.
Is that you at the window,
singing out with dry lungs
that this is your masterpiece?
Proclaiming yourself king?

Make mean eyes at the moat,
check the shipping forecast.
Is that gulf of water
your only plan?
Kindness will find you in the end.

NaPo WriMo #18

Bunk Beds

There was this time,
after the stung sweat of awkward adolescence,
and a spell of staring cold and blank at a world that I suspected I could love, if I could only find my tongue-
there was this time,
where I stumbled (over some slumped, boy-shaped notion of love), into this:

A pile of humans.
A kind of soup of ideas and glory
that sometimes I only remember as a festoon of warm lights
strung across the side of a barn where the friendly noise a band playing inside
gulps you inward.

We tumbled, heart-shaped, and always towards morning.
Someone passed a beer, a spliff, a record for you to peer at its lovely sleeve.
A plate of daal that (although my stomach was still closed for business) smelled of belonging somewhere and was warm on my knees.

And perhaps now, I will always wish for more spaces at bedtime,
always rail against loved ones being spat out the city night towards empty rooms
with alarm clocks waiting and socks laid out for morning.

Will always wish for bunk beds to fold from all the walls in an instant,
and every last blanket put to good use.

Give me a bare arm escaped hot from a next-door sleeping bag, and slung across me in the night.
Give me morning tea for twenty and the intangible affirmation of collective breakfast-
steam rising from us like horses as we settle, shuffle, rearrange
and set our sights on the strange days ahead.
Give me falling asleep in earshot of the steady breathing of someone who taught me to be brave.

Go to sleep,
the grownups will be here soon
to tell us we cannot live this way forever.