Posts Tagged ‘claire askew’

Seven pieces of writing advice from the speakers of The Business

Monday, May 26th, 2014

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (1)

Last week, I was extremely flattered to be invited to speak at The Business, an event run by the University of Edinburgh and hosted by their Writer in Residence Jenni Fagan. The event was designed for budding writers who were keen to know more about the ‘business’ side of being a writer. I was asked to speak alongside publishing megastars like Francis Bickmore and Jenny Brown (!!!), and my topic was, essentially “is a Creative Writing PhD right for you?”

I think my talk went OK: the best part about it was definitely making my supervisor, Alan — who was hiding at the back of the room — blush quite a lot as I talked about what a brilliant mentor he’d been. But much better than my barely coherent ramblings were the talks of the other speakers. I hand-picked some useful advice from each of them for your reading pleasure…

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (4)

1. Jenny Brown of Jenny Brown Associates, literary agent:

“Don’t write to trends.”

I’ve seen Jenny Brown speak on many occasions, and she always manages to make her advice to writers fresh and relevant to what’s going on in the book world at that very moment. However, this piece of advice is always in there and I think it’s something a lot of young novelists (in particular) need to hear. “You can never get on top of a trend,” she says, “because by the time you get your novel out there, you’ll have just missed it.” Instead, she advises, you should concentrate on writing a great novel that you love, and that your agent will love. “I don’t pick books based on genre, or based on whether or not I think they will be commercially successful,” Jenny said. “I mean, those things are factors, but at the end of the day if I love your book, that’s the main thing. All the books I’ve picked to represent, I have loved.”

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (6)

2. Chris Hamilton-Emery of Salt, publisher:

“We need more narrative non-fiction.”

Did you know that the market for non-fiction is far larger than the market for fiction? “Fiction is declining,” Chris revealed, and he picked up on a point that Jenny had made about her love of nature writing. “Jenny said she was disappointed not to see more nature books. I agree. I wish more young writers would break into non-fiction earlier.” He said that for every fifty novels that landed on his desk, he’d see only one non-fiction work. (He also mentioned poetry’s market share: less than 1% of the entire book market. But then, we knew that, right?)

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (8)

3. Francis Bickmore of Canongate, publisher:

“The hair shines with brushing.”

Francis gave his own seven rules for writers, all of which were great, but this was by far my favourite. He said it came from a friend of his, another publisher, who’d been listening to one of their writers moaning about how many edits they were needing to do on their novel. “The guy’s response was, ah yes, but the hair shines with brushing. The hair shines with brushing. I think it’s Flaubert or something, and it’s so true.” In other words, edit, edit, polish, edit, polish and then edit some more. Make your writing shine.

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (9)

4. Stuart Kelly of The Guardian and many other places, critic:

“If you’re not interested in writing a novel that changes what the novel is capable of, get out of the business.”

This was probably my favourite piece of advice from the entire event. It’s something I might nick, except I’d replace the word ‘novel’ with ‘poem.’ What Stuart was saying is that the best novels are the ones that really push the boundaries of the form: one of the audience members gave the example of Jennifer Egan’s Visit from the Goon Squad, which happens to be my favourite novel ever, and really does do what Stuart’s talking about. “It’s not enough to just mention Twitter here and there,” Stuart said. “I’m talking about really experimenting with what this form can do.”

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (10)

5. Peggy Hughes, of Dundee Book Festival, promoter:

“Perform your work in public.”

Peggy, aka the most-loved person in Scottish arts administration (no joke, she’s awesome) was in attendance to talk about the role of literary festivals in the writing business. She revealed that she routinely attends poetry readings, open mics and other literary events in order to scout for potential talent to book for her festival. “Go and read at these things,” she said. “You never know when someone like me might be sitting in the audience thinking, I should book this person.”

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (11)

6. Kevin Williamson of Neu! Reekie!, promoter:

“Embrace the improbable.”

Kevin’s talk was mostly about his whirlwind experience at the helm of the Creative Scotland-funded cabaret sensation that is Neu! Reekie! He talked about having his face put on a new whisky brand’s label, meeting Richard Hell and somehow managing to get Primal Scream to play at one of his gigs. But it wasn’t just half an hour of how cool Kevin Williamson’s life is: he also talked about how rewarding community work can be for writers, talking a bit about his experiences teaching the poetry of Robert Burns in Scottish prisons. “All the things that have happened to me have been pretty improbable,” he said. “When Neu! Reekie! started we had no idea where it was going to go. So just embrace it, just go with whatever comes to you.”

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (12)

7. Jenni Fagan of the University of Edinburgh, writer:

“Pace yourself… and get off Facebook.”

Jenni is in the middle of developing her novel The Panopticon (which is good and you should read it, by the way) into a film script, so she fielded a lot of questions from the audience about that side of things. However, she warned that “98% of all films never get made,” and pushed the importance of focussing on the writing first and foremost. “I got off Facebook because I found that I was looking at things like the best way to peel a banana, and then from that I clicked on to a really cute photo of a koala bear… and then before I knew it I’d spent a whole hour and all I’d done was surf a bunch of crap.” She says writers ought to focus on removing anything from their lives “that takes you away from words,” but she also noted the value of pacing yourself, and knowing that everything does not happen at once. “I have this idea for another novel,” she said, “but I am pretty sure I won’t start writing it for maybe another five or ten years. You just have to let things take their course.”

Incidentally, if you have any questions about Creative Writing PhDs, keep an eye out for a post on the topic in the next little while!

*

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!

Where is Claire?: talks, readings, happenings for Spring 2014

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

Happy Birthday, Allen Ginsberg!

OK, it’s not quite Spring yet, but I am trying to be optimistic.
I’m doing some events, and I would like you to come to them, because it seems no matter how many readings etc I undertake, I still get deathly afraid at every single one. So please come to some of these Things and make me feel better.

*

Greenlight presents New Scotland: New Culture?
Friday 7th February at Summerhall, 7pm. £5 and ticketed

“What is the role of culture in Scotland, now and in the future?
What can politicians and the state do to support culture and the arts while guaranteeing creative freedom?
As Scotland’s democracy evolves, should we seek to redefine what culture means in a national and international context?”
So, those are some big and scary questions, and I have been given a 15 minute TED-talk-style slot in which to try and answer them. Except erm, instead I am going to go slightly off-piste and talk about my personal favourite cultural issue: diversity and inclusion. I might also read a poem or two.
There will also be a bunch of other excellent speakers, who I imagine will stick to the brief a little better than me (sorry, everyone). There’ll also be music. And there’ll be Summerhall, which is always good. Please come along to this one, folks — my terror levels are significantly more elevated than usual for this event!

*

Rally & Broad: And The Beat Goes On
Friday 21st February at The Counting House, 7.30pm. £5.

I’m pretty sure you already all know what the literary juggernaut that is Rally and Broad is all about. If you don’t, I’d like to know exactly where you’ve been hiding. Basically, it’s a massive monthly night of literary and musical delights; a cabaret-style set up showcasing some of the best creative talent from across Scotland and beyond. And if you only know one thing about it, you’ll know it’s hosted by Jenny Linsday and Rachel McCrum. From what I’ve seen on Flickr, they each wear a different fabulous frock every month and always look rather nifty.

I’m chuffed to have been asked to read at the February R&B, and I am already eyeing my wardrobe nervously, because what shall I wear?! More importantly, what shall I read, in order that I am not eclipsed by the very impressive humans appearing above me in the line-up?! Seriously, look at this — and then tell me you don’t want to be there. I’m pretty sure that’s the most EXCITING STUFF you can get for a fiver anywhere.

*

Shore Poets: February
Sunday 23rd February at Henderson’s at St John’s, 7.15pm doors. £5 / £3 concessions.

OK, I am not performing at this one, but I will be floating around behind the scenes, supposedly helping out, but probably just being awkward and starstruck around the brilliant performers. This month, Shore Poets brings you the one-and-only William Letford, of whose work I am a major, major fangirl. Look him up on Youtube and see what I mean! And Mr Letford is only the start of it… we have not one but two headline poets this month, honorary Shore Poet Diana Hendry, and honorary Shore Poets president Stewart Conn. Both have brand spanking new books either just out, or coming very soon, so come along to hear (I assume) some exciting new work! On top of all this, we’ll be presenting the annual Mark Ogle Memorial Award, which this year went to the excellent Meg Bateman. AND there’ll be live music from The Whole Shebang, as well as our infamous lemon cake raffle. YOU can also read at this event, by bringing a poem, putting your name in the hat at the door, and then, if your lucky, getting picked for one of our two wildcard slots. Yep, you. Come along already!

*

TenRed: April
Wednesday 2nd April at The Persevere Bar & Function Room, Leith, 7.30pm. £3.

Alright, I know this is still a little way away, but I am so excited that TenRed is back among us, and I’ve been asked to perform at it for the third time! April has a great line-up, which excitingly, includes Lovely Boyfriend (billed here as Stephen Welsh)! Never mind me, come and hear him. He barely ever performs anywhere, so take the opportunity to get a rare sighting! Look, there’s even a trailer:

*

Photo by Chris Scott.

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!

Things I Love Thursday #88: Edinburgh details

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

2014 will be my tenth year in Edinburgh. It’s not a big city — you can walk around most of it in a day. So every so often I convince myself that I know it inside out now, that I’ve seen everything. Not so! There are always little details to spot, which is one of the things I love about it.

1384564

1384563

1384559

1384557

1384556

1384554

1384553

<3 Edinburgh

<3 Edinburgh

<3 Edinburgh

<3 Edinburgh

If destroyed, true.  If not destroyed, still true.

<3 Edinburgh

Help ma boab!  (Edinburgh)

Bunny, Edinburgh

Pasty ghost, Edinburgh

What are YOU loving this week?

*

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!

UPDATED! Where is Claire? Some Book Week Scotland events you should come to!

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

claire at wpm
Photo by Neil Thomas Douglas

Well folks, the PhD is submitted. It’s in, gone, there’s no longer anything I can do with, at, to, or about it. Which means I have to start doing poetry events again, because I no longer have an excuse not to. Here are a few you should come along to. Not (only) because of me, but because Book Week Scotland, Making It Home and Inky Fingers are all super fabulous, and need your support!

Monday 25th November 2013
Making it Home for Book Week Scotland: words against violence

The Glasgow Women’s Library, 1200–1400, FREE

Book Week Scotland is a totally amazing initiative — and I’m not just saying that because I’m paid to. I’m so happy that BWS have recognised the amazingness of the women of Making It Home, and teamed up with us in order to showcase the work we’ve been doing. At this event, I’ll be facilitating a showing of the Making It Home project films, and reading the poems that inspired those films. There’ll also be a discussion around the power of poetry and writing to conquer violence (especially violence against women). Very excited about this one.

Tuesday 26th November 2013
Talking Heids for Book Week Scotland

Sofi’s Bar in Leith, 1900, FREE

Talking Heids is a brand spanking new monthly poetry night invented and hosted by the magical Mr Colin McGuire, who as you probably know by now is my #1 favourite Scottish performance poet. This month he’s joined forced with Book Week Scotland to bring you feature slots from Rachel Amey and Rob A Mackenzie. There’s also an open mic, at which yours truly will be reading, and which you can sign up for at the Facebook event.

Wednesday 27th November 2013
Making it Home for Book Week Scotland: “Writing Home” creative writing workshop

The Scottish Poetry Library, 1800-2000, FREE

Come along and see the Making It Home project films, then write your own poem inspired by one or all of them. The lovely and talented Jane McKie will be on hand to encourage discussion and thought on the topics of home, belonging, identity, nationhood, sanctuary and displacement. Come along with a pen, leave with a poem.

Friday 29th November 2013
A Philosophical Football Match for Book Week Scotland

Transmission Gallery 2000–2300 (doors 1930), FREE

What is a philosophical football match, I hear you cry? Well, you get some philosophers, they sit around a table, and a Muse drops in and gives them a topic to debate over. Whoever comes up with the best argument scores a goal, and the philosophers move onto the next topic, until time runs out or the Muse gets tired or the philosophers run out of arguments or… something. And a trusty poet is on hand to record all of it, and create a great work of literature at the end. Sound intriguing? Well, it’s happening on Friday night in Glasgow, and guess who the aforementioned trusty poet is? Please come along and cheer on your favourite philosopher!

Saturday 30th November 2013
Inky Fingers & Book Week Scotland Revenge of the Dead Poets Slam

The New Bongo Club at 66 Cowgate, 1900–2200, FREE

OK, so many things about this event are exciting. One: all the performers are reading poems by dead poets. Two: all the performers will be dressed as dead poets. Three: I get to dress as a dead poet BUT NOT PERFORM! Four: the dead poet I will be dressed as will be DAME EDITH SITWELL (Oh. hell. yes.) Five: I’m one of the judges, along with Alice Tarbuck and, er, Jane McKie (we are each others’ friendly poet-y stalkers), so I have ALL THE POWER MUAHAHA. OK, just kidding. I am a nice judge. Anyway, it’s going to be totally fabulous, and you should really come along, and you should really dress up. Really.

*

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!

Things I Love Thursday #82

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Getting ideas for my new garden...

What are these?  They're about the size of my head.  I would like some.

Peonies!

Peonies!
Dreaming my new garden
So, along with our new, slowly-emerging-from-a-wreck house, Lovely Boyfriend and I have also obtained two small patches of garden. Right now, they’re basically scruffy little lawns with some weedy borders around them. But I plan to turn these two little spaces into a garden of edible delights (plus a few pretty flowers here and there). I’ve never understood why anyone would have a lawn when they could have a veggie patch. Anyway, I’m pawing through books and beginning to learn a bit about plants… and in the process, I’ve suddenly become excited about garden centres.

Grumpy gargoyle

Slightly scared-looking lion,

The Toucans & Maccaws Fountain at Larch Cottage, Melkinthorpe
…but not all garden centres are the same.
Larch Cottage, at Melkinthorpe (WHAT A NAME) in Cumbria, is no ordinary garden centre. It’s basically like a magical secret garden inhabited by thousands of weird and wonderful statues, all of which come to life at night and grow huge and amazing plants. If that sounds a tad creepy then yeah, I guess it’s a tad creepy. But it’s also amazing. I mean… grumpy gargoyles everywhere, a life-size bronze lion, and a fountain covered in cheeky toucans? If ever you’re in Cumbria, seek it out (it’s hidden down a series of narrow, high-hedged roads) and see what I mean. (There’s also a cool restaurant, an art gallery and a shop full of jewellery, furniture and strange nick-nacks. Woo!)

DREAM CAR RIGHT THERE.

Pretty.
Spotting my dream car(s) EVERYWHERE
I’ve had this silly daydream for years: one day I will own a vintage Land Rover Defender. It’ll have a crappy tape-deck and bench seats in the back and rattle like a bean can. On the other hand, I also dream (well, who doesn’t?) of cruising around in a beautiful vintage Ford Mustang, preferably wearing a very, very long scarf that billows in the wind…
(But until I win the lottery, and/or get a massive concussion that causes me to forget how much I care about carbon footprints, I guess I’ll stick with the bus!)

Moomins!

The Uselessness of Everything

Pretty pretty poetry book, up soon at Edinburgh Vintage!
Cute books
I’ve been lucky enough to become the proud owner of a series of late 1960s and early 1970s Penguin paperback editions of the Moomin books. I loved the Moomins as a child and have had so many flashbacks, flicking through these super cute books and being jolted about 15 years back in time by so many of the illustrations! As I’m moving house, I’ll be parting with the series (with a tiny tear in my eye) over at Edinburgh Vintage very soon.
Meanwhile, already for sale at EV is the beautiful, minature, leather-bound collection of Burns’ Songs pictured above. My favourite part about it is the gorgeous cover with its tooled image of Calton Hill. Amazing!

The Vogrie Park Greyhound Meet!
The Vogrie Park Greyhound Meet!
Basically about 50 greyhounds all together in one place being SUPER CUTE. Lovely Boyfriend and I each got to befriend and walk one of them — his was Sam, mine was Neville. (Neville’s at the front left of the pic, wearing a blue cape!)

Found poetry on the streets of Edinburgh

At the Canny Mans

Brush your teeth, say no to drugs, say yes to marker pen graffiti

Super cool old door, Newington

I love long Edinburgh evenings
Edinburgh…
Edinburgh on a warm sunny day is basically THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD BAR NONE. This past week I have seen so many of its millions of moods, as evidenced by the photos above! Found poetry, flickering neon, juvenile graffiti (but with a social conscience!), crumbling elegance, amazing long evenings full of swifts. THANK YOU, MAGIC CITY.

I want this dog.

Snooty tall giraffe made the small fat giraffe sad.
…and Edinburgh window displays. Giving me ALL THE FEELS.
I love the grumpy, sassy-looking dogs at Pink on Castle Street. I really, really want one. Just, yaknow, to sit in my living room. They make me super happy whenever I walk by.
But oh… then there’s this INCREDIBLY SAD window display in a Morningside toy shop. The tall snooty giraffe being sniffy about his friend! And the small, fat giraffe looking so ashamed of himself! Call me infantile if you like, guys, but it’s enough to make me want to run in there, buy both of them, take them home with me and talk them into being friends again.

What are YOU loving this week?

*

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!

Call for entries: the One Night Stanzas poetry contest

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Typewriter

Sorry, the poetry contest is now closed! Winners will be notified by 1st December 2013.

DEADLINE FOR ENTRIES: 11.59pm GMT on 1st September 2013

PRIZES
First prize: £100 prize money and a free ten-page poetry critique from Bookworm Tutors (critique optional)
Second prize: £50 prize money and a free ten-page poetry critique from Bookworm Tutors (critique optional)
Two runners up: A contemporary poetry goodie bag, and a free five-page poetry critique from Bookworm Tutors (critique optional)
The two prizewinning poems and the two runner-up poems will also be published at onenightstanzas.com

Promo shot

ABOUT THE JUDGE
Claire Askew is a poet, poetry promoter, editor and creative writing teacher. Her own work has appeared in numerous publications, including Where Rockets Burn Through: Contemporary Science Fiction Poetry from the UK; Fit to Work: Poets Against ATOS; and Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam. She has won numerous accolades for her poetry, including the Lewis Edwards Award for Poetry, The Virginia Warbey Poetry Prize, and the International Salt Prize for Poetry. Claire’s debut pamphlet collection, The Mermaid and the Sailors, was published by Red Squirrel Press in 2011 and shortlisted for an Eric Gregory Award. She is also a Literary Death Match Champion.
Claire is the founding editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Edinburgh arts zine, Read This, and has therefore read and selected for publication literally thousands and thousands of great poems. She has also judged many a poetry contest, including the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (twice!), and the BBC Edinburgh Fringe Festival Poetry Slam. She likes original narratives, striking imagery, verbed nouns, and people who follow the submission guidelines very, very carefully.

ENTRY DETAILS
* Poems will be judged anonymously. Therefore you must send your work as an attachment, not in the email itself.
*Please make sure your name does not appear anywhere in your attached file, as this could lead to your entry being disqualified. (Also make sure there are no other identifying marks on your attached file.)
*Please put all the poems you’re entering into ONE FILE. Do not send multiple attachments as this may cause your email to bounce, or land in a spam folder.
*Please make sure poems are clearly titled, even if their title is “Untitled”!
*If you’re entering multiple poems, please make sure that it is very clear where poems start and end.
*All entries must be made by email, following the instructions above. Entries received by post or other means will not be considered.

ELIGIBILITY
*Each poem must not exceed 40 lines (the title and stanza breaks are not counted as lines. Epigraphs are counted.)
*Entrants must be 16 years of age or over.
*The contest is open to anyone from anywhere in the world. Entries must be in English (this includes dialects of English) or Scots.
*Poems which have been previously published or broadcast (this includes personal blogs) should not be entered.
*Poems which are under consideration for publication or broadcast, or which are currently entered into other contests, should not be entered.
*Poems must be entirely your own work. Sorry, translations will not be considered for this contest.

FEES
*Entry fees: £3 per poem, or £10 for five poems. Each person may enter as many poems as they like, but poems received without entry fees will not be considered.
*Entry fees must be paid via Paypal. Cash, cheques and other forms of payment will not be accepted.

AFTER YOU ENTER
*The deadline for all entries is Sunday 1st September 2013 at 11.59pm GMT. Any entries received after this time will not be considered.
*Poems cannot be edited or changed after entry, so please proofread carefully.
*One Night Stanzas withholds the right to disqualify at any time any entrant who is found to have breached the terms of eligibility given above.
*Winners and runners-up will be notified by email by 1st December 2013.
*Unsuccessful entrants will not be individually notified. If you have not heard from One Night Stanzas by 1st December, you should assume you have been unsuccessful on this occasion.
*The judge’s decision is final, and no correspondence will be entered into.

By entering the contest, the writers of the winning poems grant One Night Stanzas permission to publish them at the onenightstanzas.com website. Full copyright of each poem remains with that poem’s author.

(Photo credit)

Dear Poetry Newbies: read more poetry.

Monday, July 1st, 2013

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

“People who never read poetry don’t write poems that are worth reading,” says Wendy Cope in this article about the importance of reading. I daresay that a lot of you will resent this statement, but I’m afraid it’s absolutely 100% true.

In 2007 I set up a teeny tiny little DIY literature zine called Read This Magazine. Although our print run was only 150 copies per month, as ed-in-chief of RT, I saw thousands and thousands of poems by young and emerging writers. When it came to picking out the best work for publication, about 80% of everything went immediately onto what the industry calls “the slush pile” - in other words, the “definitely no” pile.

This may seem incredibly harsh - particularly as so many of these submissions were accompanied by cover letters which stated “I’ve never had my poems accepted and I don’t know why” or “I want to know how to make my poems better.” Was I just rejecting them out of hand? Did my editorial team and I not read them with as much care as the other 20%? Basically, the truth is painful: you can tell immediately, sometimes from the very first line of the very first poem in a submission, whether or not the poet in question reads poetry. And if it’s clear that they don’t, you can basically guarantee that none of their poems will be good enough for publication.

You can leap down my throat if you like - because yes, sometimes, rarely, a poet who doesn’t read anything does get lucky, and writes something insightful or interesting which deserves a closer look. However, bear this in mind: Read This was a lot more accomodating than most magazines… we did read everything through at least once before consigning it to the slush pile (just in case), and we responded personally to everyone - particularly those people who’ve asked for help and advice in their cover letters. Furthermore, giving 80% of submissions an “immediate rejection” is nowhere near the 95%-97% mark of most major magazines and publishing houses - you think we were harsh? Try Poetry Review!

You can dress it up any way you like, but as Wendy Cope says: if you don’t read, you are not going to be a successful poet, and the earlier you allow yourself to accept that fact, the better! Defiantly refusing to read other poets’ works will not endear you to the poetry community (as Kenneth Patchen said, “people who say they love poetry but then never buy any are cheap sons-of-bitches”), and chances are your work will remain stagnant and always sound, look and read in the same old way (so if it aint getting published now, the future doesnt look good). However, if you open your eyes to the great wealth of poetic material around you, and start taking it in, then you’ll soon begin to see and feel the benefits. It’s like the old adage ‘you are what you eat’ - you are also what you read.

But I hate reading!
OK, that’s fine. Some people will say “well, why are you a poet?”, but I understand. My sister is an artist, but finds many art shows and galleries a total snooze-fest. Forget what you learned in school - poetry is doesn’t have to be boring, and it does’t have to be difficult. I genuinely believe there’s a poem out there for absolutely everyone.

Read as much or as little as you want. Break yourself in gently. If you’re really struggling, try to read just one poem per day (there are heaps of resources out there to help you with this). Buy yourself a book of haikus and absorb one or two in a spare five minutes. Check out Poetry Archive and listen to a poem. Ask other people what their favourite poem is, and start a to-read list. Soon enough, you’ll find that you feel inspired; you might notice that you’re writing more, or that your writing looks and sounds different. This is poetic influence at work - embrace it!

What should I read?
Read what you enjoy. If you check Paradise Lost out of the library, get three lines in and want to kill yourself, stop reading. Read something that excites you, that inspires you, that makes you think “I want to write like this.” It doesn’t matter whether that’s The Waste Land or Tom Leonard’s This Is The Six O Clock News. There is poetry out there that you’ll love - but it might not be what you think. Keep reading until you find it.

What shouldn’t I read?
Basically, any reading is good reading - if you prefer novels to poetry, read novels: they can help you to write better poetry, too. Read anything; stage plays, memoirs, the phone book. Immerse yourself in words and look at how they’re put together. Absorb ideas.

(The only thing I would advise against is reading the poetry of other poets who don’t read. This will get you nowhere. It may be cheap and convenient, but avoid reading amateur poetry and try to read people who are published in some form or another. This may sound like snobbery, but it isn’t: if you want to get published, reading published poetry is the best way to understand what “makes it”, and the best way to turn your own poetry into something publishable.)

But if I read other people’s work and then start writing like them, isn’t that copying?
This is a tricky issue, and one that comes up a lot. As Wendy Cope says, a lot of non-reading poets claim that they don’t read “because they don’t want to be influenced.” However, these people are missing a massive trick: all poetry is, at least in part, stolen. Frank Zappa once said, “Adam and Eve made all the great records: everyone else just copied,” and that really applies to poetry. Every successful poet is influenced by someone - usually by a huge variety of other poets who came before him or her. Being influenced is a good thing… and it is totally possible to read and still be original. Try reading a few poems. Read until you come to a line, a stanza or a whole poem that makes you think “I could have done that better,” or “I’d have examined that idea differently” (it’s OK, you’re allowed to think this, even if the poet you’re reading is Whitman or someone equally famous and revered). When that thought arises, act on it: go away and write that line, stanza or poem the way you’d like to see it written. I bet it comes out looking nothing like the original.
You’re not copying, you’re borrowing; you’re sharing. Try it: it’s what poets do.

But there’s so much poetry out there. Where do I start?
Wherever you like. If you’re totally clueless, go to a bookshop or library, find the poetry section, and pick out a book with a cover that catches your eye. Go for a cool title, or a poet with an unusual name. Search the net for poems in a style you like or on a subject that interests you - science fiction, for example - and take note of the published authors who write in that style or genre… then hunt them down in a bookstore.
Just read any poetry you can get your hands on: if you like it, find out what’s similar to it, and read that too. If you hate it, find out what the opposite is, and try that. Dabble, mess around, feel free to loathe some poets and love others. Just read as much as you can, as often as you can. Then write.

*

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!

(Photo by Emchy)

Featured Poem, ‘When There Is No Other Way,’ by Melissa Fry Beasley

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

top of the world

When There Is No Other Way

I have come
with the same heat
as the sun,
same cold as emptiness.
I am those before me.
This soil is my ancestors
and I am made of secrets,
things we become
when the light has gone.
Black and blue
like butterflies on fingertips
or birds eating some dead thing.
Men are made of consequence.
The world will give you reproaches,
but not relief.
We have risen from that
fearful bed,
the slime of it
clinging to us still.
Strong hands will close
reluctantly into fists
when there is no other way.

Melissa Fry Beasley is a Cherokee poet, artist, and activist from Oklahoma. She is proud to have red dirt running through her veins. She is the Literary Editor of Churn: an art, music, & fashion magazine. You can find her work in print and online in numerous publications including Indian Country Today, Working Effectively With Aboriginal People, Big River Poetry Review, Dog On A Chain Press, Yareah Magazine, and others. She has a blog at http://melissafrybeasley.wordpress.com/, and you can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.

*

Want to see YOUR poem featured on ONS? Read this post first: submission guidelines are at the bottom. 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!

(Photo credit)

Where is Claire? Come & hear me read!

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

After the Show

I’m going to be reading some poems in some places — exciting places — over the next three weeks or so. Come and hear me read! I’d love to see your lovely face in the crowd. There will be other amazing poets at these events, too, folk whose wonderful works are an even better reason to come along!

Bletherskites: Scottish Performance Poetry Spectacular

Sunday 7th April 2013, The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh, 3pm (doors 2.30pm) to 5.30pm
£5 admission

Bletherskites is being run by the lovely folks at Inky Fingers. They describe it as: “a showcase of some of the very best of Scottish performance poetry… a big bash for everything that comes out of these brilliant mouths.”

How flattering, then, that I am one of the line-up! But don’t come to hear me — come to hear some of the truly fabulous folks I’ll be reading alongside. Everyone on the bill is great, but I have a particular fondness for The Great McGuire, and the lovely Ms Camilla Chen. Have a look at the Facebook event for more information, and to say you’re coming along!

Rockets for Edwin Morgan

Thursday 25th April 2013, The Scottish Poetry Library, Edinburgh, 6.30pm
£7/£5 admission

Hey, remember back in November when I got all excited about the launch of this brilliant book? Well, I’m really happy to say that its lovely editor, Russell Jones, has organised a second event to celebrate its existence.

“Russell Jones, editor of Where Rockets Burn Through: Contemporary Science Fiction Poems from the UK, and his merry band of sci-fi poets read their work from this genre-busting anthology. This event will also include a short movie by Dan Warren based on Edwin Morgan’s sci-fi poem, ‘In Sobieski’s Shield’”, say the SPL. Sounds good, right?

I’m particularly chuffed to be performing my poems from this anthology (plus a Morgan poem I’ve picked), because I get to do so alongside such wonderful poets as Ron Butlin and Pippa Goldschmidt. It’s going to be out of this world! (…sorry.)

Announce your intention to come along right here at the Facebook event.


The last ever TenRed

Wednesday 1st May, The Persevere Function Room, Edinburgh, 7.30pm
£3 admission

It’s time to play the sad trombones, folks, because TenRed, one of Edinburgh’s best spoken word nights of recent times, is closing its doors. It’s for a happy reason — the wonderful MC, Kevin Cadwallender, is leaving for exciting pastures new. However, he and TenRed will be sadly missed.

I’ve been gutted that I haven’t been able to attend more of these great nights — on Wednesday evenings I’ve taught until 9pm for the past two academic years. Timing, thou art a cruel mistress! However, the TenReds I’ve made it to have been really fantastic. I’ve discovered new poets I’d never have come across otherwise — like the magical Swedish slam-mistress, LouIce — and got the chance to hear the voices of folks who aren’t often coaxed into the open to read their work, like the gorgeous Mira Knoche.

I’ll still be teaching on this particular Wednesday, but there’s also no way I was going to miss out on giving TenRed a fabulous send-off! So, Kevin’s putting me on in the second half and I’ll be running like a mad thing straight from my class in order to catch as much of the rest of the gig as I possibly can. Want to know who else is performing? Why, there’s even a trailer! Check it out!

Want me to perform at YOUR event? Drop me a line at claire[at]onenightstanzas.com and tell me all about it!

*

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)