Posts Tagged ‘amwriting’

Dear poetry newbies: are you ready to workshop?

Monday, January 6th, 2014

A version of this post first appeared at One Night Stanzas in October 2008.

What does workshopping involve?
Basically, workshopping is about testing your work out on other writers to see how successful it is, and getting an idea of how your audience will approach it. It’s a tool used by writers of all kinds - from people who pen corporate business documents to playwrights and even musicians. Usually, you get together with a bunch of other poets, and you each read a sample of your work to each other (often, the rest of the group will already have read and thought about your chosen pieces - most workshops I’ve been in have circulated a ‘reading list’ by email a few days before the workshop itself). Each member of the group then offers feedback and constructive criticism on your work, and in turn, you give your thoughts on their work. It may sound a bit scary, but workshops are generally small, relaxed groups were just about anything goes, and they create a safe environment where you can test out poems you’re not too sure about before you unleash them onto the general public!

How does workshopping benefit my poetry?
Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do about your poems once you’ve finished them. Editing is a tricky business - the more you look at a poem, the less you can see how to change it (you know how you never notice your own typos? It’s a bit like that). You become so familiar with your work that the only thing you can really do is squirrel it away for a couple of months in an attempt to then come back to it with fresh eyes, but this is tricky and takes a long time. The other people in your workshop can provide those fresh eyes for you.
Your workshop group can tell you exactly what about your poem “needs work” when you can’t see it yourself. It might be your handling of punctuation, a dodgy rhyme scheme… whatever. Your group can offer in-depth criticism, right down to the smallest comma. Workshop groups are also useful when it comes to keeping your poems clear. It’s easy to get caught up in your own head, where every image in every poem makes perfect sense to you. However, workshopping provides a handy reality check - your group may well turn around and say “I didn’t understand what was going on in this poem.” That may sound like a harsh comment, but it’s important that your readers feel able to get involved with and relate to your poems. Your workshopping group is your barometer when it comes to things like this - they’re like a small panel of poetry readers, only better. They write too, they suffer from typos and mess-ups and rejections too, and they want to help you… for free!

How do I know if I’m ready to workshop?
This is a tricky one. If you’ve never workshopped before, your first time can be rather weird, intimidating and even a bit disheartening. You have to bear in mind that you’re putting your work into the hands of other people and essentially saying, “here’s my poem - do your worst.” You’re laying yourself open to criticism, and whilst it should all be constructive, when several different voices are all pointing out issues in your work, you can end up feeling a bit like you’re under attack.
Many young, inexperienced poets are very bad at taking criticism, simply because they don’t get very much of it and when they do, it comes as a bit of shock. I used to be dreadful - hearing someone criticise my poem, I’d just think “what do you know? I like it how it is so get lost!”, regardless of how constructive or useful the criticism was. If you have a similar attitude, you need to work through it. Constructive feedback is your friend, and workshopping will never be helpful to you until you learn to take it on board.
The best thing to do is just get in there and try it. Try to join a relatively new group if you can, or wait until they re-group after a break, say after the Christmas holidays, for example. Joining a really established group who are already very used to each other’s styles and voices can leave you feeling a bit left out. If you can’t avoid joining an established group, at least try not to be the only newb. Take along a friend or two so you’re not the only one who feels out of the loop!
Just go along for one workshop and see how it goes, see how you feel about the treatment your poems get. Bear in mind that each of your fellow workshoppers is just a reader like any other, regardless of age or experience - they’re just like you, and the points they make will often be based on nothing other than personal opinion. Some people will like your work and others won’t, and all the advice you get is just that - advice. You can take it or leave it… just make sure you give all of it fair consideration!
If, at the end of your session you think you’ve picked up some useful tips, you’re ready to get stuck into workshopping - so sign up! If you come out feeling angry, upset or disheartened, however, you may need to a) try a different workshop (some take a lighter approach than others) or b) wait a while before you commit to workshopping. Try getting one-to-one feedback from friends or family first, as practice. Think carefully about how you react to criticism, and try to move away from the fact that your poems are your babies and you need to protect them, and more towards the idea that your poems are babies that need to be nurtured - and sometimes disciplined! - in order to grow. Once you’re able to see criticism as a positive thing, then you’re ready to workshop.

How do I start workshopping?
Finding a workshop can be tricky, and will depend on where you live, who you know and how literary your local community is! However, you’d be surprised - even in the most unlikely places, workshops exist. Do some research online, or ask local literary organisations or establishments if they know of the existence of a creative writing workshop in your area. The local library, bookstores, the University or college closest to you - these are all good places to go to ask for information. If all else fails, get yourself over to Gumtree or Craigslist and place an ad. Be sure to check out the existing ads too - someone else might be doing the very same thing!
Once you’ve found a workshop, make contact - don’t just turn up at a meeting. Find out who runs the show and drop them a line; let them know a little bit about yourself and get as much info as you can about the workshop. Make sure they’re cool with poets, they’re OK to take on beginners and you don’t have to pay too much (workshops sometimes as for a small weekly/monthly fee for buying tea/coffee, renting the room they use or whatever. If for any reason the fee seems unreasonable, look elsewhere.). Ask them what you’d be required to do, and if you’re feeling super-nervous, ask if you could come to your first workshop without contributing - just to sit in and see what it’s like. Most groups should be cool with this… and as I say, if you’re the only newb or you just need some moral support, ask if you can take a friend!

*

Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo by NuageDeNuit)

One Night Stanzas Poetry Contest: the winners!

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

I’m very proud to announce the winners and runners-up in the 2013 One Night Stanzas poetry contest!
Grab a cup of tea, get comfy and have a read…

G-VLIP

RUNNER UP:
Branson’s Brother
by Joshua Seigal

Have you heard of Branson’s Brother?
He lives on an estate in Southgate, London,
owns no car nor hint of a career,
and scratches a living from a part-time job
in the grounds of a local school.
Branson’s Brother doesn’t have a wife
and, whilst not quite a virgin, enjoys
no intimacy with any other living soul.
He lingers awhile reading books at night,
quoting Kafka to the kids
in the playground the next day,
and stops to tie his brown suede shoes
on the steps of the local kebab shop.
From the window opposite his bed he sees
pigeons in the morning trees.
Branson’s Brother considers these:
flight means nothing and everything to him.

Aileen: Deep Blue

RUNNER UP:
Village of the Mermaids
by Penny Shutt

They come in droves, flopping
out of fearful waters;
smooth bellies against the shore
of the village.

In lustrous gowns, their salty tresses
combed out, they wait
for sailors,

their boats guided inland
by the eternal flames of the chimaera
ablaze against the darkening mountainside.

They sit, uniformly lining
The village’s only street,
hands primly folded
on gowns that hide the glint of scales.

Enfolding their fish-flesh
as they stare ahead,
hoping to be chosen
by sailors made uneasy

by the scaly replications
of their lustre.
Not knowing which mermaid to take
to the room behind, to be lain

like a pike on a slab;
globular eyes pointed at blank ceilings.
Except they will not flounder or thrash,
or bare jagged teeth.

But will lie disquietingly still
in silent pursuit of a soul,
to later return to the glistening waves,

as silvery water rises to immerse
opalescent eyes
whilst unreturned souls
burn bright on the hillside.

Shimano

HIGHLY COMMENDED:
My Bike Squeaks Like an Old Bridge
by Dan Dowe

My bike squeaks like an old bridge,
some wooden planked arch,
that drivers must pray while driving over.
And the clack when I shift gears,
just like the old typewriters when the keys,
tired from years of striking,
would bind up together in a metallic jam.
But it’s red and shiny, a Schwinn,
like the one my brother ditched in the cellar,
only this one is new, from L.L. Bean.

I have difficulty riding it slowly.
My legs always want to pump faster.
I want wind and yards passing by,
like I’m always late for supper,
and I’m still blocks from my mother’s voice.
My hands leave the steady handlebars,
With a teenage casualness or summer confidence.
With arms like a crucifix, I’m balanced,
a graceful cowboy or skier,
Leaping off a jump into blazing whiteness.

Rabbit Run

SECOND PRIZE:
Running
by Tracey S Rosenberg

When the dog ran past
we were in my front yard –
Jimmy, Lizbeth-Ann, Ketchum and me.

Jimmy was standing on his head, forcing
the world upside-down with ground for a sky.
Lizbeth-Ann’s skirt hiked up as she bent over
to plant blades of grass in a dirt garden.
I kicked and kicked the porch steps
wondering if you could make a road stretch forever
by making your feet never stop.

The dog loped by, tongue flapping,
a stinky happy goldeny kind of dog.
It never looked at us, just swung its matted tail
like it was running to be someone’s dog
and if it was one minute late they’d know it was a deep down bad dog
and beat it with a wooden spoon
so hard they’d splinter
the spoon across its back.

Ketchum started to cry.

Jimmy flipped himself up, grabbed his hunting knife.
Was that Old Man Graham’s dog?

Naw, I lied. Old Man Graham’s got a mean old dog with three teeth.
Two more teeth than Old Man Graham’s got.
I never saw that dog before.

Lizbeth-Ann stumbled out to the road – a little slow, like her mother.
She stared like she stares when she thinks
maybe her daddy’s coming home.
Someone make that dog get back here right now.

Jimmy pointed his knife.
It’s my dog.
I’ll kill anyone who hurts it.

We all squinted till the shadows down the road
stopped looking like a dog.

Lizbeth-Ann decorated her garden with stones.
Jimmy stabbed his knife into the dirt.
Ketchum dropped down on all fours and howled.

I watched the road,
praying that dog would never turn around,
wondering how it ever got away from Old Man Graham
and when it would ever stop running.

260 creepy woods

FIRST PRIZE:
We Find A Severed Thumb In The Woods
by Michael Conley

The thumb nestles
in a pile of wet leaves,
real as a joke thumb.

Lying either side of it,
we play
who dares get their tongue closest.

Interesting, this cleanly carved flesh,
this pea sized dot
of crosssectioned bone.

It mightn’t be a thumb after all;
could be a stubby finger.
It’s hard to tell

without the context of a hand.
You are winning; your tongue
is practically touching it. Why

do we always end up
competing like this?
We are grown men.

*

(Photo credits: one, two, three, four, five)

*

Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Typewriters: they’re awesome and you should get one.

Monday, November 11th, 2013

A version of this post first appeared at One Night Stanzas in December 2008. (Back then the first line said “at this moment I have five manual typewriters.” Erm…)

Guilty secret: I am obsessed with typewriters. At this moment I have thirty-one manual typewriters, including my latest acquisition, a freakin’ gorgeous Olivetti Valentine. Why am I so obsessed with typewriters? Well, they’re noisy, heavy, impractical and difficult to use, but they’re also the ultimate poet’s accessory. Allen Ginsberg hauled a massive Underwood 5 around with him; William Burroughs typed on his own namesake, and was The Good Doctor ever without his trusty IBM SElectric…?

Why should I get a typewriter?
Well, I’ll be honest with you… if you think you’re going to be sitting down to write a 600 page novel on your manual typewriter, you might want to think again. It doesn’t matter what you do (Margaret Atwood apparently used to sit her typewriter on top of a wad of newspapers), it’s going to be noisy. It’s also going to be a pain in the butt to type on, particularly if you’re used to the feather-light keys of a laptop! Around about 1950, typewriter manufacturers started to advertise “noiseless” and “light touch” typewriter models, but even these are pretty cumbersome. You also have the typo issue - there’s no room for error with a manual typewriter, unless you’re cool with crossings-out and tippex! So if you’re planning on doing any serious writing, you might want to consider an electric… quieter, zippier and generally easier to work with.
However, electric typewriters are nowhere near as cool, and in a world where everyone has some kind of word-processor, a typewriter’s main appeal is its cool factor! Personally, I think manual typewriters are incredibly beautiful — I have mine sitting around my house making the place look pretty. They’re also a serious feat of engineering… try opening one up some time and inspecting all the weights and springs. A manual typewriter makes a laptop look boring.

How can I get hold of one?
Manual typewriters are ten-a-penny if you’re not fussy about make and model, so you don’t need to look to far to find one. Try checking out thrift stores or flea markets and see what you can find, or click around on eBay. There’s a whole load of choice out there so have a look around and find a typewriter you love — if you’re into the older, clunkier ones, eBay might be the place. But post-1960 typewriters turn up regularly in charity shops and at jumble sales and the like. I inherited my Smith Corona from my Dad, but all my other typewriters have come from junk shops and thrift stores.

What should I be looking for?
Well, when I buy a typewriter I’m usually after something that looks nice, and if it’s in its proper case and works that’s an added bonus. But you might want to check that all the parts are there — sometimes typewriters can be missing covers, bases, feet, or bits and pieces from the outer bodywork. It’s not necessarily a tragedy if these things aren’t there but you can sometimes haggle the price down a bit. If you want the typewriter in full working order, you need to check a few things:

- The space bar. On manual typewriters, the space bar is often operated by a weight system which pulls the cartridge along on a string. If you press the space bar and the cartridge doesn’t move along, it might be that the string has snapped. This is tricky to fix yourself (trust me, I’ve tried) and you might have to get an expert to take a look. So bear in mind that this could cost money!

- The ribbon feeder. Second hand typewriters have often been sitting unused for years, so more often than not their ribbons dry out. However, even if the ribbon has no ink in it, you should try typing a few words and pay attention to the ribbon movement. Does it move along through the spools? If it sticks or clogs, you can usually fix it yourself, but it’s worth checking. If your chosen typewriter has no ribbon fitted, you’ll need to find out what ribbon it takes, either by asking the seller or by doing some online research. It’s hard to find a replacement ribbon if you don’t know the right type.

- All the keys. One of the most common faults on old manual typewriters is the ‘capslock’ key, which is usually just connects to a little hook in the mechanism that locks the shift key down. This hook can wear out and stop sticking on. Other keys to check are the lesser-used ones - the numbers and symbols, but also the tab key, which should shuttle the cartridge along. But the best thing to do is just to try them all!

- The cartridge itself. Just check that it does move back and forth and doesn’t stick anywhere. Again, the movement of the cartridge is directly connected to the string-and-weight system, so if it doesn’t work it might cost you £££ to fix.

- Other things you might want to do: pick the typewriter up (sometimes the bottom will drop off or parts will drop out!), feed a piece of paper through (the rollers can be very dirty or can stick), test the carrying case (the last thing you want is the case breaking open and the typewriter smashing on the way home!) and look into the mechanism (sure, you might not know what you’re looking at, but if there are springs, strings or shards of metal sticking out, you might need to worry).

Obviously if you’re buying from eBay, you can’t do this stuff yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask your seller for all this information, and if you’re even slightly worried about the condition, look elsewhere! (I’ve found that eBay sellers tend to be sincere and honest and quite willing to deal with queries like this, so don’t worry too much about asking.)

Ginsberg & typewriters
Some of my babies.

What should I be paying for a typewriter?
Prices vary massively with manual typewriters, but if the typewriter you’re looking at is post-1960, chances are it is not rare or expensive. You have to remember that typewriters were the laptops of the 50s, 60s and 70s — everyone had one, so if anyone tries to tell you that they’re “rare,” you might want to be suspicious. Wartime and pre-war typewriters are less common and perhaps more valuable, but again, you shouldn’t really be paying too much unless your typewriter is something really special. Things you might need to pay more for include:

- Wooden casings. Typewriters with wooden bodies are quite unusual - metal, bakelite or plastic is much more common so a wooden typewriter is a rare typewriter.

- Unusual colours. Some typewriter manufacturers brought out special editions in weird and wonderful colours. In pre-1960 typewriters, colour might be an expense factor (but post-1960 it was pretty common for typewriters to be colourful, particularly if they were plastic) — look out for dark green or dark red casings.

- Leather embellishments. Another feature of special edition typewriters.

- Iconic typewriters. The Underwood 5 is reasonably common but it’s also iconic. People will part with quite a lot of cash for a nice one. Similarly the aforementioned Valentine, which is a coveted design icon… though I got mine for fifty quid in a charity shop!

- A foreign language. If you come across a typewriter whose keys are cyrillic or in another language, it might be worth a bit more.

Just be careful - don’t be ripped off. For just about any post-1960 typewriter, you shouldn’t be paying more than £30. I’d even say that in 99% of cases, you probably shouldn’t be paying more than £20. The most I’ve ever paid, apart from my Valentine, was £15 for my blue bakelite Imperial, and I think I might even have been ripped off a bit there! For a pre-1960 typewriter, keep a limit of £30-£50 or so, unless your typewriter is something special.
If you think you might need to spend money on renovating or cleaning your typewriter, try and haggle the price down! I once found a wartime metal typewriter in a charity store which had a £50 price tag on it, but which had been sitting in a chicken shed for decades… and it was full of feathers and chicken poo! I told the store that I’d need to spend money on cleaning it and I’d give them £35, but they wouldn’t haggle. It certainly wasn’t worth £50, so I left it… don’t be conned!

What if I’m buying on eBay?
eBay sellers can be a bit cheeky with their prices, and on eBay you can’t haggle. Just don’t get carried away in a bidding war — you really don’t need to pay over the odds. Bear in mind also that you’ll have to pay to have the typewriter delivered, and this can cost a huge amount, as typewriters are heavy things! They’re also fragile things, so if you want yours in proper working order, you might want to think twice about having it flown across the world… particularly if it doesn’t come with its own carrying case. Many people will opt for surface shipping rather than airmail with an item like a typewriter, too - it’s cheaper and gentler, but it does take a lot, lot longer… we’re talking months! And there can be problems when it comes to getting typewriters across borders — many older typewriters have keys made of or containing ivory, and if you try to ship ivory into the USA for example, it can end up just being destroyed by customs officials. So online shopping is a bit of a minefield… don’t be afraid to do some research and ask your seller questions about these issues!

What can I do with my typewriter once I’ve got it?
Well, despite the fact that they’re noisy and heavy, they can still make pretty sweet writing machines. If you just want to write letters, or the odd short, sweet poem, they’re perfect. They also make awesome ornaments and I often use mine to stick photos or paperwork in. I have a friend who used to use a heavy old typewriter (don’t worry, it was in a fairly serious state of disrepair when she got it!) as a doorstop. If you want, you can dismantle your typewriter (just make sure it’s not worth major £££ first!!) and turn it into all sorts of stuff… look around on Etsy and you’ll find jewellery, mobiles, paperweights, bookmarks, sculptures and artwork, all made out of typewriter parts! Typewriters are also useful things to have around if you’re into Steampunk.

Something I always like to do when I buy a new typewriter is get on the internet and do some research. It’s great to find out when your typewriter was made and what it might have been used for… maybe a famous writer used the same kind of typewriter as you, or perhaps it was popular among chic 50s office workers. I’m always fascinated by this stuff and there are heaps of typewriter-related sites to help you find out all about your typewriter!

What kind of typewriter(s) do you have? How much did you spend, and where did it come from? Anyone have a cool typewriter tale to tell? I want to hear it!

*

Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

Can YOU give a typewriter a good home?

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

I am a typewriter. Please be my friend?

Hello. I am a Remington Standard 12 manual typewriter, and I am looking for a new home.

So guys, Lovely Boyfriend and I bought a house (…I KNOW). And although there is probably technically just about space in it for my collection of over 30 manual typewriters (yes, really), I decided that now might be a quite a good time to have a bit of a clear out. And as a result, the Remington Standard 12 here is in need of a new home (I have two of these guys. One really ought to be enough, right?).

I am a typewriter. Please be my friend?

As you can see, he’s a lovely big old desktop machine with classic handsome looks. You’ll also be able to see that for his age, Remington’s condition is pretty decent. A few knocks and scrapes, but nothing serious. (I got this typewriter about a year ago and have been meaning to give it a darned good clean, after which it’d look a whole lot better, but I didn’t get round to it. A bit of brasso and some warm soapy water and it’ll look fab.) The main thing is: this machine still types! It doesn’t currently have a ribbon fitted, but the carriage moves freely and all the keys work. The shift lock sticks a little, but a bit of WD40′d soon sort that.

I am a typewriter. Please be my friend?

Remington here has been a display piece, rather than a working typewriter, since he came to me. I think he looks rather fab just chillin’ out on a bookshelf, coffee table, or somewhere else where he can be (and is, trust me) adored by members of the public (or at least, the ones I invite over for coffee). However, there’s no reason why he can’t be turned into a working word processor.

I am a typewriter. Please be my friend?

Remington would like a new home. He would NOT like to be broken down and turned into tacky typewriter jewellery (the kind I used to make way back in 2008, before it became tacky, obv). If you’re a writer or enthusiastic about writing machines or you just want a really freakin’ cool doorstop, please get in touch. Offer to cross my palm with silver (just a wee bit will do), and if I reckon you’ll be a responsible typewriter owner, then he’s yours!

I am a typewriter. Please be my friend?

If you’re interested in adopting Remington, please email me via claire[at]onenightstanzas.com, or you can catch me on Twitter. You can leave a comment here if you prefer, but it sometimes takes me a while to wade through the moderation queue!

Tick tick ding!

*

Budding writer? Creative person in need of a fun job? Check out the various resources and services at Bookworm Tutors. Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Dear Poetry Newbies: to blog, or not to blog? That is the question…

Monday, May 20th, 2013

A version of this post first appeared at One Night Stanzas in September 2008.

I recently met a writer who was super, super keen to get people reading his work, and wanted my advice. One of the first things I said was, “do you have a blog?” He looked horrified at the very thought! However, I was keen to persuade him. I’ve been writing at One Night Stanzas for nearly five years now, and this blog has brought me publication opportunities, paid work, connections to cool people and all sorts of other amazing stuff. However, I know that if you’re coming to blogging for the first time, it can seem a bit like handing copies of your secret diary out for everyone in the world to read. Sound about right? If so, I wrote this for you!

PROS

- If you choose to, you can make your blog visible to everyone on the web. That means a potential audience of hundreds of millions of people - probably more readers can you could ever get publishing in more traditional ways.

- Because so many poets already have blogs, signing up for a blog gives you access to a giant online community, to which you can quickly and easily get connected. You can link to and write about other poets’ blogs and get links to yours in return, thus directing readers back and forth.

- Having your own blog means you don’t have to rely on social networking sites or subscriptions to display your work online. You also have full control over your content, layout, whether you run ads, etc.

- If you have a blog, you can give the address to anyone who’s interested in seeing your work… without having to give them print outs, write out emails or mile-long URLs, or direct them to third-party sites.

- Putting your name to a poetry blog means that people can Google you and find your poetry with just a click.

- Regardless of what some people may say, blogging is a form of self-publishing and can make a good addition to your literary CV.

- If you want to, you can make money (usually only a little) by posting ads on your blog.

- You don’t just have to post your own poetry on your blog - you can use it to promote other sites and fellow poets that you like, or tell people what you’ve been reading and what you thought of it.

- You can use a blog to provide information on where your poems have been accepted for publication, where and when you’re doing a reading, or which poetic events you’re thinking of attending.

- Some poets have even turned their blogs into fully-fledged e-zines!

CONS

- A lot of new bloggers worry that by putting your work on a public blog, they’re laying yourself open to plagiarism. The risks are small, but they are there… even if you make your blog visible only to friends or subscribers.

- Blogging is essentially like writing a journal, and journalling is generally a very personal thing. Bear in mind that, if you put your deepest secrets and most radical thoughts onto your blog, people WILL be able to read them. If it’s on the web, it’s practically public in every way!

- Blogs are usually open for comments, and that means that some people are bound to disagree with you. There’s a common misconception that it’s OK to be rude to other internet users (especially if they’re trolling you) because you’ll never meet them and it’s fairly harmless. However, you never know who’s reading your snarky responses or watching an ongoing fight between you and an anonymous commenter (the same goes for YOUR comments on other blogs, too). A potential new boss or a magazine editor might well change their mind about you even based on something as trivial as this - so tread carefully!

- You have to be careful what you say in your blog posts, too. When it comes to putting up your poetry, you should maybe avoid things like “if you don’t like this poem then f**k you”, and take a more “I appreciate comments but please try to be constructive” approach.

- Once you start a blog, it may be forever. If you don’t want people to read your adolescent scribblings 10 years down the line, then make sure that your blog provider offers you a get-out option, and that you know how to get rid of your content should you need to.

- The same principle applies in a more general way, too - as I said before, you don’t know who’s reading, or how long their memory is. Just about everyone knows how to use the Print Screen function!

DOs and DON’Ts

- DO sign up with a reputable blog-provider and, if you’re going to be posting your work, read up on their copyright policies. Do they claim the copyright of anything you put in your posts? DO shop around.

- DON’T part with any cash to set up your blog. You can definitely find a good blog-provider who’ll host you for free. Anyone who asks for money is scamming you!

- DO look around at the blogs of other poets and writers to get an idea of how other people run their blogs.

- DO ask folk for their advice on finding your audience, writing content etc. DON’T feel obliged to act on it if you don’t want to, though. Your blog should be as much your personal creation as your poems are.

- DO be prepared for the fact that, once you put your blog “out there,” anyone can see it and comment on it. Even if you have closed comments, there’s nothing to stop people from writing their own blog post about you. Responses to your blog may not always be positive, so DO make sure you have a thick skin and a whole load of patience before you take the plunge.

- DO bear in mind that many people get bored of their blogs after a while and just let them fall by the wayside. If this happens, DON’T leave your poems posted on your disused blog - people may think that makes it OK to nick them. You might also be the victim of spam attacks if you leave your blog unattended for too long.

- DON’T feel pressured into putting ads on your blog unless you really want them there. Yes, they make you money, but you can’t always control their content, or know where they lead to when clicked.

- DON’T be afraid to tell other people about your blog. Blogging is all about connecting to other people and sharing your thoughts and ideas! However, DON’T feel obliged to link to someone else’s blog or site just because they’ve linked to yours.

- DO include your blog in your literary CV, if you feel it’s relevant.

- DON’T feature other people’s work on your site unless you have their permission.

Final note: I love blogs. I could probably spend my whole life reading blogs, geeking out on Tumblr, and tweeting cool stuff I’ve found… if, you know, I didn’t eventually get motion sickness from too much screen time, or have to pay rent. If you do decide that blogging is for you, I can highly recommend Wordpress. I’ve written in a ton of Wordpress blogs — the lovely One Night Stanzas of course, but also Bookworm Tutors, Girlpoems, Shore Poets, The Peripatetic Studio and others — and I always find it the cleanest and most user-friendly platform.

Good luck!

*

Budding writer? Creative person in need of a fun job? Check out the various resources and services at Bookworm Tutors. Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Procrastination Station #120

Friday, April 19th, 2013

u.f.o.

A poem! By Kevin Cadwallender! At Bolts of Silk! A hat-trick of awesome!

I love Kim Addonizio, and this is SO the perfect book cover for her work!

I am so happy to see some of Stephen Nelson’s work over at Fit for Work — an anti-ATOS anthology you should, by the way, really check out.

Have you guys seen the Books and Nerds tumblr? Wall to wall bookish escapism!

The lovely, lovely Chris Scott (who once told me he’d “be the Testino to [my] Diana” if ever I become super famous, and I plan to hold him to it) recently took this brilliant, smiley photo of great poet and great bloke Andrew Philip. I really like it! Chris’ work is generally great. Check out his Author Portraits and his Flickr for more!

Life in Authoring, you totally get me through the day, SRSLY. I also just discovered Life in Publishing and Life in Small Press Publishing and now have so much less free time.

I’m always fascinated when Caustic Cover Critic points out how often the same images are recycled for book covers. Here’s a sad and elegant lady who seems to crop up awfully often…

…and speaking of covers, I just discovered Lousy Book Covers. Part of me feels super sad for the poor authors, but some of these really are lousy.

Is anyone else as into typewriters as me? If so, you should check out clickthing. It is basically typewriter p0rn.

I believe I have mentioned before that I LOVE DAVE COATES’ REVIEWS OF POETRY BOOKS. LOVE them. His review of The Great Billy Letford (as he should always be known) is an absolute cracker. But he’s at his best when bitchy: “poems to be printed on Cath Kidston merchandise.” DOES CRITICISM GET ANY HARSHER? A review to cackle gleefully at.

Apparently, “dear blank” is something EVERYONE has seen now, but it was new to me, and I loved it!

Two Beat Generation tattoos! Ginsberg and Kerouac! I approve! Also, I have been crushing on thigh tattoos lately and love these.

To be serious for a moment: you should probably read more bell hooks.

How much do you wish you’d been at this party?

Adverts are often better “edited” — some great examples here!

I can has one of these?

It wouldn’t be Friday without CAT GIFS!

Have a great weekend!

*

You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

Dear Poetry Newbies: what’s the deal with poetry readings?

Monday, February 4th, 2013

microphone

A previous version of this post appeared at One Night Stanzas in September 2008.

If you write poems, or if you’re interested in poetry, chances are you’re aware of the phenomenon of live poetry readings at some level. However, many young poets – even if they’ve been writing for ages – are fairly clueless about these events (because getting up and reading your own words to a room full of strangers can seem like total insanity!). If you’ve never performed at a poetry reading, and if you’re unsure about what they entail, take a look at this list and get yourself involved! The sooner you start reading your poetry to audiences, the better: fact. Why? Because live readings = four major advantages!

One: Live readings build better poems.
Reading your poetry to an audience can be extremely helpful when it comes to developing your personal poetic voice. Sometimes, what works on the page does not necessarily work when read aloud, so a reading can help you polish up a piece that you previously felt was finished… always a good thing! Reading aloud – and observing the reactions of your audience – also helps you to ‘inhabit’ a poem more fully; you’ll be better able to judge whether the poem’s tone or mood ‘works,’ for example, or whether your audience are convinced by a particular character you portray or a story you tell. Audience members will often seek you out afterwards to tell you what they loved about your stuff, too – make sure you listen to this feedback, because it can be extremely helpful! And even if you can’t use your audience to judge a poem’s ‘performance’ quality, you’ll often see and hear the best and worst bits of your poems much more clearly when you have to take them from page to performance. Reading aloud builds better poems and so I’d always encourage you to do it – audience or no audience!

Two: Readings help you conquer the world.
Reading your poetry in public – particularly the first time – can be very nerve-wracking. It doesn’t matter if you’re a daredevil extreme sports junkie or a budding thespian in your spare time; you’ll probably still find the idea of presenting your personal poetic creations to a potentially critical audience fairly terrifying. BUT! Don’t let the nerves stop you from going ahead with it, because once you’ve felt and conquered that fear, you can probably find the confidence to do anything! If you can step up onto a stage and read your stuff to an audience, then chances are a school presentation or daunting job interview should be a walk in the park! Reading your work builds your confidence massively, and gains you serious respect! The first time is always a scary prospect, but there are ways around this fear.

Three: You get your name in lights!
OK, so maybe not in lights, necessarily, but you get your name “out there.” In poetry, unfortunately, a big part of being successful is knowing and being known by the right people, so getting involved at readings can be the best way to make an impression. Even at small open mic gigs, there’s a chance you might run into a local magazine editor or poetry blogger, who might well give you a positive write-up or even ask you for a submission of work. Readings are fantastic for networking so make an effort to chat to people… and who knows? You could meet a future agent, editor, writing partner or publisher!

Four: Readings provide the three essential Cs.
Constructive criticism, contacts, and craic, of course! As I mentioned in point one, after you’ve got up and given your all, chances are you’ll get people coming to tell you what they thought. Don’t worry! You’ll rarely hear anything negative – even if you don’t feel like you did very well, you can guarantee that there’ll still be people who’ll want to tell you “that was great.” And why would they lie? This positive feedback is great for building your confidence, and improving not only your future performances but also the poems themselves. If you’re feeling extra brave, you can even ask people for details. Which poem did they like in particular? Which one was weakest? Was there anything they’d have done differently? Listen carefully to the answers you get, even if you don’t act on them.
The ‘contacts’ part doesn’t just apply to the editors and agents I mentioned in point three, either. Obviously, the people you’re most likely to meet at poetry readings are other poets! These are people who are into the same stuff as you, doing the same thing as you (and, you never know, possibly just as nervous as you, too!)… get talking to them, listen to their work, get their feedback. That’s where the ‘craic’ part comes in!

*

You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

Dear Poetry Newbies: how do you know when you’re ready to send out your work?

Monday, January 28th, 2013

A previous version of this post appeared at One Night Stanzas in September 2008.

A while ago I received an email from an uncertain emerging poet, asking if I could help him figure out whether or not he was ready to start sending his poems out to magazines. As I looked at his stuff, I realised that — although I could see his work definitely had potential — I had no way of knowing either way. Unfortunately, no one else can tell you when it’s time: YOU have to be truly ready before you send your poems out to be seen by readers and editors.
I do realise that this leaves a lot of people frustrated - how do you know when you’re ready? Well, here are some tips. Try these, and then see how you feel about your poetry. Hopefully, it’ll help you reach a decision.

Shelve your work.
A ONS reader happened to mention once that this is something he always does before sending work out for publication, and I think if you’re uncertain about the quality of your stuff, it’s a really good idea. Say you’ve written five new poems that you think would work really well for a magazine, but you’re not really sure if they’re good enough. Print them out or type them up, and hide them away somewhere safe. Stick a reminder in your diary for a date, say, a month or two down the line, and don’t read those poems again until that date. It seems like a long time, but it’s necessary to leave them for that long to make yourself “forget” them. Read them over again, and you’ll see them with totally fresh eyes. You’ll be able to see typos and mistakes more clearly, and you’ll also have a better feeling for lines that work and lines that don’t. Read the poems aloud, and see how they sound. Sit down and edit anything that feels a bit clunky - and don’t be afraid to edit as much as you need to until you’re happy. Also - though it might feel like you’ve wasted a whole load of time - don’t be afraid to chuck the poems in the bin and start all over again if your fresh eyes tell you they’re not all that good. And if you make a rewrite, or any changes that you’re not sure about, repeat the hiding-away process. Yes, it all means that it takes a while for your poems to reach publication stage, but it also means you’re submitting stronger poems which are less likely to be rejected.

Read other people’s work.
This is my standard answer to any poetry-related question: if in doubt, read. In this case, seek out literary journals, creative writing publications and online zines. Don’t just look at the big obvious ones - nose around for little niche websites, small-scale hand-stapled chapbooks and blogs that accept daily poetry submissions from unknowns. Read as many poetry publications as you can get your hands on, and support the ones that publish stuff you like. Check out poems by hugely successful poets, and poets you’ve never heard of before in your life, and don’t be afraid to emulate any of them in your own writing. Pay attention to the kinds of things magazines tend to publish - often you’ll see that patterns emerge. This magazine likes alt-lit-type poems with heaps of pop-culture references, while that one likes traditional poetic form and meter, etc. Read submission guidelines, too - take note of the things editors don’t like to see, and ask yourself: do your poems do any of these things? Paying attention to what magazines like and don’t like, what published poets do and don’t do, can really help you edit your work into a publishable shape. Make a list of any publication you come across that you think might like your work. Once you think you’re ready, start sending your work out to them… and keep reading, always. Keep adding to your list.

Go cliché-spotting!
Something that puts off pretty much all editors is the old cliché. Clichés are so abundant in our everyday speech, so everywhere, that we often slip them into our writing without noticing… I do it, famous poets do it, we all do it. Have a look. Have you put “beady eyes” or “pitch black” or “back of my mind”, or anything else that makes you think ‘I hear that all the time’? Whip it out and put something more imaginative in there… and remember, editors are looking for originality, so don’t be afraid to be a bit wacky.
It’s not just common phrases that constitute clichés, either - you need to be on the lookout for more subtle things. Using terms like “bleeding heart” etc can make your work sound rather ‘emo’ (even if it’s not supposed to be); and to an editor, that can be shorthand for ‘immature.’ If they come across something that makes them think ‘cliché!’, it can make the difference between the ‘yes’ pile and the ‘no’ pile.

Join a workshop.
Workshopping can work wonders on your poems — so often, total strangers see things that you’d never see, no matter how much shelving, reading and editing you do! You get to find out how your work looks to an impartial reader without having to go through the whole submissions process, and having a couple of people in a workshop say “I don’t think this is ready to be sent out” is way less stinging than getting a rejection letter from an editor. Workshops are also a brilliant way of meeting other writers and like-minded people, and you can often do some networking, too. My very first magazine publication came from chatting to someone in a workshop group, for example.
Be careful though: workshop members won’t critique your work in the same way that your friends and family will. Because they don’t know all your foibles, they’ll just give their honest assessment of your work, regardless of your personal feelings. OK, people are seldom rude, but they can be very direct, and if you’re new to the workshopping progress, it might come as a shock. Remember, your workshop group are doing you a favour by saying “this part doesn’t work for me” - they’re giving you feedback which you can use to improve your work. If you do go along to a workshop, don’t let it knock your confidence - be polite, take feedback on board, and offer critique of other people’s work in return. Workshopping is a really beneficial exercise and it can also be loads of fun too… try it!

Seek advice from a pro.
If you’ve got a poem you’re really proud of and you think you want to send it off to a magazine, try asking for the opinion of someone in the know. Perhaps you have a writer-friend who’s had their work published already? Maybe one of your teachers or tutors seems to know their stuff? It might be a bit embarrassing, but try asking them - the worst they can say is “I don’t know”, or “sorry, I’m too busy.” Chances are, they’ll be happy to give your poem a quick read and to give you some feedback… which you should always try to take on board, even if you don’t actually act on it.
You can also send your poetry off for professional critique, but beware! There are a lot of scam artists out there offering critiquing services on creative writing, so be careful who you go to. You almost always have to pay for this kind of thing so first and foremost, make sure you can afford it… and before you send anything, read all the small print (if there is any) and make sure you’re not committing yourself to paying more than you bargained for. If you decide to go ahead with it and pay for critique, make sure you check out the person or company who’s providing the service. If you’re even slightly unsure about it, walk away. The Poetry Society offers a costly but reputable feedback service, for example. Alternatively, you can seek feedback via free sites like deviantART, but beware: the kind of feedback you receive on these sites can sometimes be more harmful than helpful. The best option is undoubtedly to seek advice from someone you trust and respect, if you can… so don’t be shy — ask!

Hopefully these tips will help you to seize the moment when you finally feel ready to publish. The last thing I’d say is: if you’ve tried all these things and you think you’re ready, the don’t be scared; just go for it. Be ready for the rejections, because they’re inevitable, and when you get them, keep going. It doesn’t matter as long as you keep reading, writing, editing and improving. If you do that, you’ll get there eventually! Good luck!

*

You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

The Next Big Thing: my first collection

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

huge_typewriter

You’ve probably seen this meme/questionnaire thingy doing the rounds of literary blogs lately? I have, and was kind of dreading my inevitable tagging. However, I found that filling in the answers below actually made me feel quite uplifted and hopeful about the scattered, half-finished MS that is my forthcoming first collection of poems (it has a working title, but it has a kind-of rude word in it. I’m not sure if I’ll have the bottle to keep it, or if a publisher could stomach it, so I’ll keep it secret for now). Thanks very much to Andy Philip for the nudge! You can see his answers here, at his blog Tonguefire.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
It’ll be my first full-length collection, so I feel a bit like I’ve been working towards it ever since I began writing. However, the central themes that are coming to define the working MS really started to emerge last summer, when I did a writer’s retreat on the Greek island of Hydra. It was July, and much too hot for me to be outside between the hours of about 10am and 5pm, so I was almost literally walled inside this one-room cottage with the Selected Poems of Adrienne Rich, and a notebook. I think it’s the most productive I’ve ever been.

What genre is the book?
Poetry. I’ve been experimenting, writing much longer poems than my usual, but I’m still not sure of them. They may yet end up on the cutting room floor.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I’d love to see a poetry collection — though not necessarily mine! — become a series-of-vignettes movie, like Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes, one of my favourite movies ever. Like The Mermaid and the Sailors, this book is going to contain a lot of strong women. I can totally see Annette Bening “playing” one of these poems, she’d be great.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Oh dear, I’m really crap at this. I remember people sending blurbs for The Mermaid and the Sailors that said things like, “these are poems about x, y and z,” and I thought, “are they? Oh yes, I suppose they are.” So you may have to wait until the book exists properly, and ask someone who’s read it. The closest I can get right now is, “a collection of poems about women… and maybe anger.”

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
See my first answer! There are some poems going in here from as long ago as 2010. But there are also still some to write. I never, ever think anything’s finished. I’ll probably need someone to prize it out of my hands at some point and say, “for goodness sakes, it’s done.”

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
In the past two or three years, I’ve widened the focus of my life. I’ve forced myself to get out of my comfort zone in my work, in my slowly-growing activism, and also in my cultural intake: what I read, watch and attend. I always used to tell my own stories — old family anecodotes nicked and turned into poems, experiences I’d personally had. Now I want to tell stories about bigger things. I’m really interested in class now, and privilege. I feel a real desire to write more about those things.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The MS isn’t finished yet… I’m still not sure what’s definitely staying in, and what’s going. But there might be a poem about donkeys. There’s a poem about Allen Ginsberg’s mum. There’s a poem where I answer back, quite cheekily, to Carol Ann Duffy. I’ve also written a series of haiku set in the knicker department of Marks & Spencers in Carlisle… but I’m pretty sure I’ll chicken out with that one!

Will your book be self-published or represented by a publisher?
That remains to be seen! To be honest, getting a first collection placed at the moment seems to be a bit of a nightmare, so I’m not really thinking about it too much. I’m keener to end up with a collection I can be really proud of.

The writers I have tagged are:
Colin McGuire
Helen McClory
Char Runcie

*

You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

A To Do List For 2013: Why, how, and what.

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

An earlier version of this post appeared at One Night Stanzas in December 2008.

OK, as regular readers might have noticed, I am an obsessive list-maker. I make time for a Love List and a Link Love List every week, and New Year is my favourite time — it’s all about wishing and hoping, planning and dreaming, as Dusty would’ve said (or rather, mimed hideously!). I’ve been reading a lot of articles recently rubbishing this kind of thing, but forget it — I am a typical dreamy Pisces, and I need to organise myself well in advance. So I will still be making New Year’s Resolutions (though only ones I know I can keep!), and I’ll also be writing a 2013 To Do List.

Why should I write a To Do List for the whole year?

Well, everyone writes To Do Lists from time to time, no matter how well organised they are… usually when they have a lot on, and it’s important that they get everything done. Well, apply that kind of thinking to a whole year — how much stuff will you have to deal with between now and December 31st next year? Surely it’s a good idea to have a bit of a plan before you start, in order to hit the ground running. You can never be too organised.
Also, a year might seem like a long time but as we all know, you get to Christmas every year and inevitably find yourself commenting on how it only seems like five minutes since it was January. This is why it’s not only important to write down all the achievements of the past year, but also to get ready for the next one, to make sure that the 365 fleeting days are well-spent. Here’s a fact for you: if you write down your goals, you are more likely to achieve them, so To Do Lists are NOT a waste of time. If there’s something you really want to achieve in the next 12 months, write it down now… it could make the difference between success and failure.

How should I do it?

Prioritise: Maybe you have some goals that you’re desperate to achieve — getting really good exam results, for example. Maybe there are others that aren’t so vital — you’d really like to get your poetry published in a certain place, for example, but if it doesn’t happen you won’t be totally devasted. And maybe you just have some odd little whims that you can take or leave but might try out at some point…
A good idea might be to write three separate lists, or divide your list into three ’sections’ according to your priorities. Don’t sweat the small stuff — but at the same time, don’t forget it either. Put the biggest want for 2013 at the very top of the list in big letters, and keep the airy whims for the end.

Be realistic: Don’t clutter up your To Do List with things that you know aren’t achieveable in the next year. If you start too big you’ll end up disappointed with yourself at the end of the year when you find you haven’t reached you goal — remember, as I said, a year isn’t as long as it seems! If you have a big goal like saving up for a house or writing and publishing an epic six-part novel, you might want to make a separate list for the next five years, ten years or whatever. You can also put slightly silly goals like “note to self: win the lottery” on a fantasy To Do List if you like… just keep them off the serious list!

Expand: If you have a goal but aren’t sure how you’re going to achieve it, you can turn your list into more of a plan. If your goal is to travel for six months, for example, you can note down the steps you think you’ll need to take to get there… “get job / open savings account / save up and stop buying notebooks obsessively (confession!) / book flights in advance” etc. A great big goal can seem a bit scary and unrealistic, but break it down into smaller steps and it will seem less intimidating and easier to achieve.

Share: You might not want to let other people in on your cunning plan for world domination, but showing your To Do List to someone else can make you more likely to get where you want to be. Proving to someone else that you can do it gives you added incentive, and having someone to talk to if the going gets rough is always useful. If you’re feeling shy, just show your best friend or a family member who won’t snigger at the fact that your ambition for the year is to become a professional Cliff Richard impersonator or whatever… or if you’re more confident, get thee to your blog, or better still, spread the To Do List idea around your friends. If they also draw one up you can compare notes and keep one another going!

Display: Once you’ve written your To Do List, don’t just stuff it in a drawer or squirrel it away in a dusty old file on your computer desktop. Put it somewhere you’ll see it often, and make sure you check back every so often to see how you’re doing. It may sound daft, but crossing another thing off your list brings a real sense of achievement, AND if you get to the end of the year with everything crossed off, how awesome is it going to feel?? If your To Do List is out in the open you can also update it as more ideas and ambitions hit you during the year… and this humble piece of paper will serve as a cool memento of the fabulous 12 months you’ve finally put behind you once you get to New Year 2010!

What should I put on my To Do List?

Anything you want. The important thing is that, if you think you can achieve it in a year, you should put it down, regardless of how daft it might seem. If you’re worried about other people thinking you’re nuts, you don’t have to show the list to anyone… and if you end up not achieving the big goal for the year, you can transfer it to next year’s list instead. Nothing is too small for the list, and nothing is too vague. “Finish reading the last Harry Potter” is just as acceptable as “Conquer Finnegan’s Wake,” and “be more confident,” might seem very general, but putting it down on paper is the first step towards getting it done.

Note! The To Do List you make is there to be scribbled all over, torn to bits and stuck together again or chucked on the fire if you so wish. Don’t write it and then assume it’s set in stone. You can add things at a later date, remove things if you change your mind, and tear it up and start again in August if you find your priorities shifting massively. You’re not writing a personal Bible or anything, you’re just visualising goals, which is the first step on the road to achieving them. If, halfway down that road, those goals don’t seem as appealing anymore, no worries. The whole point of the To Do List is that it can — and probably should — evolve. Happy listing!

What’s on YOUR To Do List for 2013?

*

You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)