Posts Tagged ‘poems’

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.”

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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?)

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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.”

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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!

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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!

Procrastination Station #127

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

take it easy

Average earnings in the UK were around £26,500 in 2012. To make this amount on a book contract for a paperback edition selling at £7.99 that pays 10% a writer would need to sell 33,166 copies a year. And that’s if the book isn’t discounted as part of a 3 for 2 promotion, for example. That is a lot of books! To put it in perspective to get to number one in the UK paperback chart last month you’d have needed to sell almost 20,000 copies a week. This means that going to number 1 doesn’t even earn you the national average wage (and that book may have taken the writer months or even years to produce). The odds of making a mint are very long - writing is a risky profession. And like most jobs in the UK there is a glass ceiling. Female writers on average earn only 77.5% as much as their male counterparts. Their books are also less likely to get reviewed in the traditional press or for that matter win awards.

Can’t believe I forgot to link this in my last PS. If you read nothing else from this post, read this: Sara Sheridan being real about what writers earn.

Nic Cage wants you to READ, and other hilarious and shocking moments in literary history.

OMG Julianne Moore has been cast as President Coin in the Mockingjay movies and look, she’s perfect.

[Paterson] is counselling against navel-gazing, against writing for the precious few, but his notion of the poor, undoted-upon general reader is a vision of himself in the throne room of every individual’s brain.

Jon Stone of Sidekick Books called out Don Paterson on what can only be described as some major bullshit. And it’s amazing.

The habits of highly sensitive people. aka, writers.

Muriel Rukeyser had some extremely smart things to say about poetry.

I’m only a year or so into an MFA. I stop by the office of a friend, an older white poet in my department. Publication to me feels impossible then, and the friend means to be encouraging when he says, “With a name like Jaswinder Bolina, you could publish plenty of poems right now if you wrote about the first-generation, minority stuff. What I admire is that you don’t write that kind of poetry.” He’s right. I don’t write “that kind” of poetry. To him, this is upstanding, correct, what a poet ought to do. It’s indicative of a vigor exceeding that of other minority poets come calling. It turns out I’m a hard worker too. I should be offended—if not for myself, then on behalf of writers who do take on the difficult subject of minority experience in their poetry—but I understand that my friend means no ill by it. To his mind, embracing my difference would open editorial inboxes, but knowing that I tend to eschew/exclude/deny “that kind” of subject in my poetry, he adds, “This’ll make it harder for you.”

Freesia sends me all the best links. This essay is called Writing Like A White Guy, and it is brilliant.

Here’s a big list of feminist literary resources. You’re welcome.

And here’s a nice poem I liked.

THAT THIS IS WHAT BEING A TEENAGE GIRL IS MEANT TO FEEL LIKE. I wanted to make them write out those words a hundred times each day. Embroider them on cushions. Have them printed on a t-shirt. Instead I started writing YA novels.

YA author Sarra Manning, defending “difficult” teenage girls in fiction.

Ever been ’splained at? 10 simple words all girls (& if you ask me, women) should learn.

Terrible real estate photos: one of the most fun parts of house hunting, I thought.

Aaron wrote me a very lovely email saying that Toby is one of his favorite characters he’s ever written, and he talked about our relationship building that character. He said, “I’ve heard what’s happening to your character [Toby was fired and faced years in prison during season seven but ultimately was pardoned] and I’m so sorry.” And that’s how I felt: very sorry that they had chose to do what they did. They didn’t tell me in advance like Aaron and Tommy would have. Clearly they didn’t want to tell me because they were scared of my reaction to it. I would have talked them out of it because it was not in line with the six years of work that I built with that character. I was very, very hurt by it.

^ That’s Richard Schiff talking about his role as Toby in The West Wing (my all-time fav TV show). It comes from this amazing TWW retrospective which only makes me love the show (& oddly, hate Aaron Sorkin) all the more.

The 100 Most Important Dog Pictures of All Time is a Friday must-see.

So is the brilliant Saving Room For Cats.

Calling Beyoncé a terrorist in a moment when 300 Black girls from Nigeria are being raped and otherwise terrorized daily and can’t nobody seem to come up with a strategy to get them back is not only intellectually and politically irresponsible – it’s ill. bell hooks knows Beyoncé isn’t a terrorist.

bell hooks is a heroine of mine, so I was pretty disappointed by her recent comments on Beyoncé. Thankfully, Dr Brittney Cooper created this brilliant response.

Here are some photos taken by daredevil Russian dudes who climb skyscrapers for fun. Beautiful and terrifying.

Last week I went to visit the lovely Jill Calder at her studio, and she made me these. AS AMAZING AS THEY SOUND, folks.

I find women fascinating. I adore men, however, I really sometimes try to observe particularly how, when women talk to me about something, we both begin to hear the whole story. There are layers and levels operating in any conversation: protection mechanisms, what she does say, what she doesn’t say, to a lover, friend or boss. All these things become part of the story. How she responds and doesn’t respond. How she tells me. She might have started talking about one song, but now she’s part of an emotional relay, a baton-passing. It’s a circular giving. There’s the woman in a song, which tells a story, which touches someone, which becomes another song. It’s so powerful—a woman finding the strength to confront her situation because of another woman’s story.

Tori Amos? Total badass.

& finally, here are three amazing animations of Charles Bukowski poems:

Have a great weekend!

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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)

You should come to this: Shore Poets MAY with Jacob Polley

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

Jacob Polley, headline poet at Shore Poets MAY!

So, as you’ve probably noticed, I don’t promote literature events all that much on this blog. That’s mainly because I am bad at keeping up with when they are… for this reason, I also miss a lot of literature events and end up kicking myself. But this right here is one I am absolutely not going to forget to go to.

I am a massive, massive fan of the Cumbrian-born, Scotland-dwelling poet Jacob Polley. I first discovered his work with his second collection, Little Gods, which I loved so much that I immediately went out and bought his first, The Brink, which was just as good. Though it was still amazing, I wasn’t quite so enamoured with his most recent book, 2012’s The Havocs — but what do I know? This one was shortlisted for a bunch of prizes and won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award that year.

Now, Jacob is coming to read at Shore Poets, and I am super excited to hear him perform his work. As The Havocs happened two years ago now, I’m hoping the lovely SP audience will get a sneak peek at some new work. He’ll be reading alongside the lovely, lovely Pippa Goldschmidt — best known in these parts as a novelist but also a secretly great poet — and SP’s very own Hamish Whyte, who runs Mariscat Press and has edited many a fine anthology, too. Hamish’s band, The Whole Shebang (cool name) will also be providing some live music. It’s going to be excellent, I tell you.

So in short… you should come along. Shore Poets: MAY with Jacob Polley happens on Sunday 25th May at Henderson’s at St John’s (word to the wise: they have vegan cake). Doors open at 7.15pm and seats disappear rapidly! It’s £5 to enter (£3 for all the usual concessions), but trust me when I say it is worth every penny.

But this time
he took a book, broke its spine
and slung that on instead:

his diaries,
year by year,
purred as their pages burned…

In case you’re not convinced, here’s a poem of Jacob’s, ‘Smoke,’ from the Poetry Archive. You can read, and listen to his performances of, some others, too: The North-South Divide, The Weasel, Decree, and The Prescription.

I hope to see you there!

Scottish Book Trust

(Photo from jacobpolley.com)

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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!

Procrastination Station #126

Friday, May 9th, 2014

scrap vomit, close up of quilting

In my workshop the default subject position of reading and writing—of Literature with a capital L—was white, straight and male. This white straight male default was of course not biased in any way by its white straight maleness—no way! Race was the unfortunate condition of nonwhite people that had nothing to do with white people and as such was not a natural part of the Universal of Literature, and anyone that tried to introduce racial consciousness to the Great (White) Universal of Literature would be seen as politicizing the Pure Art and betraying the (White) Universal (no race) ideal of True Literature.

Junot Diaz on the race problem in creative writing M[F]As, in The New Yorker. (Thanks, Freesia.)

This poem by a small child is amazing. What a last line!

Brand new zine! Seeking submissions! Get on it!

I remember one situation, when we lived in a village, when a woman asked me what I did in the prison and when I said I was a teacher she patronisingly asked what was the purpose if they were criminals. This view holds in general, sadly.

Prisoners — and those who work with prisoners — respond to Chris Grayling’s disgusting and utterly absurd ban on books behind bars.

Here’s Marina Warner being super smart and fascinating. You know, as always.

My book was the No. 6 bestselling title in America for a while, right behind all the different “50 Shades of Grey” and “Gone Girl.” It was selling more copies than “Hunger Games” and “Bossypants.” So, I can sort of see why people thought I was going to start wearing monogrammed silk pajamas and smoking a pipe.
But the truth is, there’s a reason most well-known writers still teach English. There’s a reason most authors drive dented cars. There’s a reason most writers have bad teeth. It’s not because we’ve chosen a life of poverty. It’s that poverty has chosen our profession.
Even when there’s money in writing, there’s not much money.

How much money an Amazon bestseller really makes. (Spoiler: not a lot.)

Hey, are you a teacher of literature, at any level? Scottish Book Trust has made you some reading resources that fit with almost any book imaginable! You’re welcome.

Edinburgh realised you can never have too many libraries: it now has a Library of Mistakes.

The literary novel as an art work and a narrative art form central to our culture is indeed dying before our eyes. Let me refine my terms: I do not mean narrative prose fiction tout court is dying – the kidult boywizardsroman and the soft sadomasochistic porn fantasy are clearly in rude good health. And nor do I mean that serious novels will either cease to be written or read. But what is already no longer the case is the situation that obtained when I was a young man.

Will Self: the novel isn’t dead, but it might be undead.

Yes & Yes is looking for travel writers!

I’m speaking at this event (& billed as “Scottish Book Trust’s Claire Askew”!) next week, and all are welcome. It’s free, too!

My writing devices are a laptop and a green Princess Standard typewriter and a variety of notebooks, each filled less than a third and then jettisoned in favour of new notebooks that will be The Perfect Notebook—the one that will inspire all the words to come.

Jane Flett feels the same way about notebooks that I do.

I just completed a day-long public speaking training with these folks, and I love this advice from them on fielding hostile questions.

Haven’t found yourself a typewriter yet? You can use this typewriter text editor in the meantime!

“How are you so confident?” “I’m an asshole!” Okay? It’s my good time, and my good life, despite what you think of me. I live my life, because I dare. I dare to show up when everyone else might hide their faces and hide their bodies in shame. I show up because I’m an asshole, and I want to have a good time.

Gabourey Sidibe is so freaking great. So great.

I loved these photos of Whitby Goth Fest 2014. Going there is definitely on my bucket list.

I’m obsessed with peeking inside these tiny apartments.

Universal veganism would reduce agriculture-related carbon emissions by 17 percent, methane emissions by 24 percent, and nitrous oxide emissions by 21 percent by 2050. Universal vegetarianism would result in similarly impressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. What’s more, the Dutch researchers found that worldwide vegetarianism or veganism would achieve these gains at a much lower cost than a purely energy-focused intervention involving carbon taxes and renewable energy technology. The upshot: Universal eschewal of meat wouldn’t single-handedly stave off global warming, but it would go a long way toward mitigating climate change.

So screw you, carcass-eaters.

Destroyed UKIP billboards… is what UKIP billboards were made for.

DID YOU SEE WHAT JANELLE MONAE WORE TO THE MET GALA?? So going to my high school reunion in this outfit.

& finally…

I hadn’t watched this for years, and I thought that was a damn shame:

(Photo credit)

I never really paid much attention to Adele… not because I didn’t like her or anything, I just sort of never got round to it. Then Sonia shared this with me the other day and wow, Adele is awesome!

Have a great weekend!

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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!

Featured Magazines #17: The Bugle

Monday, May 5th, 2014

The Bugle

Most of the work I do is with “reluctant readers,” and I am used to having to warm up my audience, convincing them that poetry is not a scary thing and actually, anyone can write it. However, the Bugle team were way ahead of me – several of them regularly write poems for inclusion in the magazine, and reading the creative writing pieces intended for the Bugle’s pages is an important part of the editorial process. In a world where arts columnists are mourning poetry as a supposedly “dead” artform – while poets themselves bemoan the lack of dedicated readers – The Bugle is wonderful. Its editorial team are not only reading and writing poems – they’re also helping to keep this supposedly-dying breed of writing alive, by putting it into their publication and sending that publication out into the world for free.

I wrote a blogpost for the great social action blog Common Good Edinburgh last week, all about the amazing work being done by the team of The Bugle, Bethany Christian Trust’s Edinburgh-based zine-style magazine. It’s made entirely by homeless and vulnerably houses BCT service users and it’s brilliant. Click here to find out more!

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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!

Procrastination Station #125

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Bitty

When subjects looked at the Spanish words for “perfume” and “coffee,” their primary olfactory cortex lit up; when they saw the words that mean “chair” and “key,” this region remained dark. The way the brain handles metaphors has also received extensive study; some scientists have contended that figures of speech like “a rough day” are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more. Last month, however, a team of researchers from Emory University reported in Brain & Language that when subjects in their laboratory read a metaphor involving texture, the sensory cortex, responsible for perceiving texture through touch, became active. Metaphors like “The singer had a velvet voice” and “He had leathery hands” roused the sensory cortex.

What your brain does while you’re reading. This is totally fascinating!

Are you based in Canada or the USA? You have a couple of days left to apply for this super amazing travel writing contest!

Scottish Book Trust is currently offering a fantastic opportunity to one so-far-unpublished fiction writer aged 40 or over. Does this sound like you? Check out the Next Chapter Award for details!

…speaking of Scottish Book Trust, I’m part of their Young Adult team, and we just finished work on this brilliant graphic novel about the great Scottish polymath John Muir (what, I hadn’t mentioned it? Pshaw!). You can now see a cool video of the artist, William Goldsmith, doodling, sketching, inking and chatting, right here!

And in another handy link, I’m now working on a new project where I’m communicating lots and lots with the lovely folk at Glasgow Women’s Library. Right now, they’re looking for talented women to join their team. Could you be their Young Critics Project Worker, or would you prefer a publishing internship?

In other news, congrats to friend of ONS Emily Dodd, who’s just found out her first children’s book is being published, and going to the EIBF! Emily also runs this great blog about community spirit and positivity in Edinburgh, called Common Good. Check it out!

And congrats too to friend of ONS Theresa Munoz, shortlisted for the Melita Hume Poetry Prize. Rooting for you, T!

Anyone concerned at all about domestic violence might find it chilling that this homicide, which Burroughs committed publicly in Mexico before returning to the US to escape legal repercussions, has been woven into his public legend in a way that enhances, rather than detracts from, his mystique.

You should know who Joan Vollmer is.

Do you think you have a novel in you? (Sounds painful.) Grazia, of all people, want to read it. You have til 6th May to send them your first chapter!

You guys’ve heard about WoMentoring, right? It’s awesome.

It’s nearly time for the Bridport. Hoping not to forget it yet again this year.

My friend was having a hard time finishing his first book, so to help he started thinking about finishing the manuscript like fixing the sink. When you are fixing the sink you do not say oop, this is so hard! I’ll come back in a year. Or geez wait, is this actually a washing machine? Have I been doing dishes in the washing machine? Nope, you just work until the sink is fixed.

Wise words.

Buy a t-shirt, send a child to school.

Hand gestures you think are totally benign, but which are super-problematic in other countries!

I love the Pacific Northwest and have been there three times now. This is a great travel guide though it should’ve made more of a fuss about the San Juan Islands!

If you click nothing else in this post, click this: the story of a little girl whose best friend is a bulldog. So gorgeous. I love stories of humans fully respecting other creatures! Doesn’t happen often enough!

This is my kinda DIY project. Now I know what I can do with all those Norwegian krone I have lying about!

This Middle Class Problems twitterfeed is hilarious… and disturbing.

House-spiration.


You may’ve seen this already, but it bears re-watching because it is so. darned. true.


And it wouldn’t be Friday without a kitty! (Thanks, Joan!)

Have a great weekend!

(Photo credit)

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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!

You should read this: “Aquarium” by Michael Conley

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Aquarium

OK, that name sounds familiar.

It should! Michael is a ONS regular — I’ve been a big, big fan of his work ever since I first saw it years ago in my submissions pile for Read This Magazine. Since then, he’s had work appear in Read This Press’ 2011 anthology Starry Rhymes: 85 Years of Allen Ginsberg (and read at our launch!); been a ONS Featured Poet, and won the inaugural 2013 One Night Stanzas Poetry Contest. (I promise it was anonymously judged… just in case this all feels a bit too much like favouritism!)

So who is this dude?

He lives in Manchester, where he works as a teacher. He recently finished his MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University, which is, I think, the department where Martin Amis teaches, meaning Michael here is pretty brave. He lists Kurt Vonnegut, Selima Hill, Elizabeth Bishop and John Berryman among his writing influences.

Aquarium

And what’s so great about “Aquarium”?

Well, as I say in the wee blurb that appears on the back of the book (look Mum, I’m famous!), Michael’s poems can be incredibly dark — but they’re also, at times, extremely funny. Usually both at the same time, which shouldn’t really be possible and clearly takes a heck of a lot of skill. One of my favourite poems, “Cartoonist,” tells the story of a political cartoonist, living in the midst of some unnamed conflict, listening to her door being beaten down. “Last time, they broke almost all of her fingers,” the poem tells us, whilst also letting us know that the cartoonist’s most famous work is called “The Emperor Of The Soiled Underpants. / The Insurgency had them printed on t-shirts.”

There’s also poignancy in these frightening-but-funny vignettes: in the pamphlet’s title poem, I found myself actually feeling sad about the fate of a goldfish. The poem is about a man whose stomach somehow turns into an aquarium, complete with “a tiny sandcastle.” One of the resident fish, Sylvia, disappears through a crack that opens up: “He is sent home with a roll of masking tape.” It’s hilarious, but also genuinely tragic.

OK, you’ve convinced me. Where do I get this book?

Right here! I believe you can also contact Michael directly via his Facebook to request a copy.

Aquarium

So I suppose you’re going to tell me that young Michael here is the Next Big Thing In British Poetry, aren’t you? A Distinctive New Voice? One Of The Most Exciting Voices In Britain’s Latest Crop Of Blah Blah Blah?

I hate those icky soundbites as much as the next person, trust me. These days, I see them on the backs of people’s books and wince — or laugh, depending on how good a mood I’m in. And yes, they get attached to poets whose work doesn’t really deserve it, or to poets whose work is only so “promising” because they went to Cambridge and made friends with all the right people. However! Mr Conley is the real deal. There are no airs about his poetry. It’s not trying to be trendy, it hasn’t been in Poetry Review, but that’s what makes it awesome. It’s genuinely original and properly engaging — it’s poetry that pretty much anybody could enjoy. It’s also deftly edited, thoughtful, and self-aware. And if you ask me, that makes it Rather Fucking Special. There. Take that soundbite and stick it on something.

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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!

Dear poetry newbies: you need a mentor!

Monday, April 28th, 2014

from "Asphodel" by WIlliam Carlos WIlliams

My advice to new and aspiring writers has always been: read, read, and then read some more. Wanting to be a writer without first being a reader is like wanting to be a Formula 1 driver without ever having sat in a car. And yet, time and time again I’ve heard new writers – my students; the people who used to submit to Read This, the magazine I edited – say that they don’t read because they don’t want to be too heavily influenced. They don’t want to feel like they’re “copying.”

This is garbage, of course – you sit down and try to write like Allen Ginsberg, or Emily Dickinson, or Sapphire, or any other writer with a distinctive style that might creep into your writing. You’ll always end up with a pale facsimile. Whatever you write will always contain more of you and your voice (however much that voice still needs to develop) than anyone else’s. And believe me, it’s much better if your voice sounds authoritative and well-read than if it sounds green and uncertain – which it will, if you don’t study other people’s good writing.

However, I do know what it’s like to feel afraid of “being influenced.” Almost exactly two years ago, I was lucky enough to win a 2012 Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award – a prize that offers a full year of creative mentoring along with its nice wedge of cash. Obviously, I was hugely grateful that my work had been selected, and very glad of the money, which I used to fund a brilliant writing retreat on the island of Hydra, Greece (to this day, I have never been so productive). However, I’ll admit: I was uncertain about the mentoring. Having had creative writing tutors in the past whose style of critique I totally disagreed with (no one learns anything from soul-destroyingly negative notes), I was worried I might not get on with whoever was picked to mentor me. And just like those new writers whose refusal to read had exasperated me in the past, I started to realise I was also worried about influence. What if this mentor was also a poet? What if they had their own ideas about what poetry ought to be like? What if they were an amazing writer, and I found myself changing my own writing in order to impress them? Reader, I was worried.

However, that was nuts. It turns out? Creative mentoring is utterly amazing, and everyone – I mean literally every creative person – should do it, if they get the chance. I mean sure, you have to find a mentor you can get along with as a person, but I’d like to believe that most people who are willing to take on the role of mentor are probably pretty nice. (There are roughly a dozen SBT New Writers Awardees every year – I have now met many of them, and so far none of the various alumni have had a bad word to say about their mentor.) Otherwise, all you need to do is find someone who’s an expert in your field, and who – of course –wants to take on the job.

I hadn’t actually thought about it this way, but I’ve had a writing mentor of sorts for the past eight years. In 2006, I hit the third year of my degree in English Literature, and one of the Honours courses on offer was Creative Writing (Poetry), taught by Alan, contemporary poetry specialist, writer-editor of huge academic tomes, and established poet. Turns out my first Creative Writing seminar was the first class Alan taught in his new post at the University of Edinburgh, and from that class until I finished my PhD a few months ago, I was the one pesky student who just refused to go away. When I finished my MA (Hons) and went straight on to the Masters in Creative Writing (Poetry), Alan was my course tutor. When I leapt straight from the Masters into my PhD, he was my first and most obvious choice for a supervisor. Alan has seen more of my creative work than anyone else (more even than Lovely Boyfriend, who’s only been around a measly four years; more than my parents, who only see the poems that don’t have swears in them). If Alan isn’t a creative mentor, I don’t know who is – he has shaped the way I write more than any writer I’ve read or workshop I’ve attended. And I mean that in a really good way.

(NB: Do I write like him? Absolutely not. I mean obviously, he’s a billion times better than me – and in both form and content we’re kinda like chalk and cheese. Again, I tell you, folks: the whole “fear of influence” thing is total garbage.)

Then last year, I was assigned my SBT Award mentor. Although it’s taken me until now to realise that I already had one in the form of Alan, I was a bit worried that the two might contradict one another. I was still under Alan’s supervision for the PhD, after all. However, I needn’t have worried. Apparently, the only thing better than one creative mentor is two creative mentors.

I was assigned to a lovely freelance editor named Sarah – a poetry specialist who’d mentored many a new poet before I came along. It became apparent pretty quickly that Sarah wasn’t interested in doing the same job as Alan was doing. I’d spent the last three years writing poems and having Alan help me to make them better. Sarah’s job was to take the huge pile of largely-finished material I had lying around as a result, and turn it from a random stack into that truly mystical and terrifying beast: a manuscript.

The best thing about working with Sarah? She totally got what I was trying to do. In fact, she “got it” far better than I did. She told me that in order to tie my manuscript together, I needed to think about the major themes that ran through my poems. I panicked, telling her I hadn’t really written the poems with any larger themes in mind – I just wrote what wanted to be written. “Oh, there are themes in there,” she assured me. “Print out all your poems, spread them on the floor, and start putting them into piles – put the ones that speak to each other together.”
Sarah said she’d do the same thing, and then we’d compare results. I found the exercise hard-going. I had a lot of poems about women and written in women’s voices (my PhD thesis is about contemporary female poets using the confessional mode, so this was a no-brainer), but it turns out, that’s not a theme. Seeing the poems Sarah had put into piles, however, was genuinely eye-opening. “Your main theme is place and space,” she told me, as my jaw hit the floor. “Look how many of your poems take place in domestic spaces. Look how many of them are liminal, travelling poems. This is a collection about trying to find your place in the world.”

It is. Loads of my poems are about ghosts – about the hours and days immediately after death, as they try to find out where they belong now. Loads of my poems are about travel, but never fun travel – they’re about being lost or getting robbed or generally being a clueless white middle-class person who doesn’t really know where they are. And so many of my poems are about women in houses – but scary houses, houses that are “wrong,” in some way. All my poems are about trying to find a place or space to belong, and I had never even noticed that. That’s the epic power of the mentor: when they’re really good, like Sarah is, they can make you see your own work objectively – a thing I always thought was impossible.

Other great things about working with Sarah? I wanted to make a book, I didn’t know how to do that, and she taught me. She taught me how to put my poems into an order that both showcased each one nicely on its own, but also created an arc across the manuscript for the reader to follow. Like Alan before her, she pulled no punches when it came to making me edit – she explained clearly why I needed to lose that line, switch those stanzas around, come up with a better title or even ditch that poem from the manuscript entirely. Perhaps most importantly, she made me write. She recognised early on that I’d come to the end of the creative section of my PhD, that I was focussing on slogging through the last part of a thesis I’d long since grown weary of, and that I was using this as an excuse (a good one, I’d thought!) not to write new poems. She set me a deadline, created a public Google Doc and then made me post in it every day to show her what I’d written. It turns out, she didn’t check it every day – but I didn’t know that. It sounds cruel, but it was so utterly what I needed. Like I say, she just really “got” my writing.

What I have to show for all this mentoring is a manuscript that I am happy to send out to publishers. It’s out there somewhere, right now – hopefully not in a bin or on a slush pile, but I really have no way of knowing. It may well be that it gets nowhere, that no one else thinks it’s all that good. But that doesn’t really matter. When the lovely folks at Scottish Book Trust (now my colleagues!) asked me what I’d like to have achieved at the end of my mentoring year, I said, “a manuscript that I feel proud of.” Thanks to Sarah – and to Alan – that’s exactly what I’ve got.

My first full length poetry collection manuscript is entitled “This changes things,” and is currently out on submission. If you would like to find out more about it, you can email me via claire [at] onenightstanzas.com

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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!

Procrastination Station #124

Friday, April 25th, 2014

Untitled

“Leave the TV alone, don’t get on the Internet too much because there’s a lot of crap there — it’s mainly male, macho crap. We men like to play with toys. You get yourself a good typewriter, go to the library —live there. Live in the library.”

Thanks, Ray Bradbury via Flavorwire. I may get this tattooed on myself, so badly do I need to remember it.

The secret to self-publishing? Do whatever a publisher would do, but do it better.

Did you know Scottish Book Trust are seeking Readers in Residence? This may be the coolest job ever, so apply now!

…and speaking of Scottish Book Trust, in response to a recent study indicating that men don’t exactly love to read, our very own Danny wrote this great piece on why reading is super, super manly.

It is exhausting that we are still trying to convince a certain segment of the population that women are equal to men, that women deserve respect and fair consideration in all professional and creative and personal realms. It is especially frustrating in the literary community, because I am part of this community. These are my people, or at least, that’s what I would hope.

I cannot believe we need to count and point out worthy women writers like we’re begging for scraps at the table of due respect and consideration.

Roxane Gay being right on, as usual.

Do you live in Scotland? Are you committed to our nation’s “common wealth”? Then YOU should apply to be a speaker at TEDxGlasgow!

And speaking of exciting events — if you’re in the North of England this weekend, you should head to the Scarborough Flare festival. Especially this event, happening tomorrow – you’ll hear one of my poems included among “the finest British Poetry written by authors of the last century”! How chuffed am I? Pretty chuffed.

Cosmo are talking about poetry! & it’s not bad!

Want a private library but think your house is too small? THINK AGAIN!

How to feel better about travelling alone as a woman, from Bust.

Can you be a feminist and wear makeup? Can you be a feminist and eat creamcakes? Can you be a feminist and unicycle to work every day wearing a teacosy on your head and singing the entire Guns ‘n’ Roses back-catalogue? YES YOU CAN NOW SHUT UP ABOUT IT, says Stavvers. Only more eloquently than that.

Thought Catalog have once again proved themselves to be a shower of assholes. Happily, xoJane’s internet superhero Marianne is around to school them.

Why hello there, every single time I try to talk about gender on the internet!

The Mary Sue has a good selection of these hilarious movie posters featuring snotty Amazon reviews (I apologise for the ableist wording in TMS’s headline). Warning: if you click through to the original Tumblr, prepare to lose a lot of your Friday.

& finally, here’s a mellow tune to start your weekend, from ONS favourite Simon Herron:

Have a great weekend!

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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!

Writing advice from Mary Oliver.

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Swanpy

I want the poem to ask something and, at its best moments, I want the question to remain unanswered. I want it to be clear that answering the question is the reader’s part in an implicit author-reader pact. Last but not least, I want the poem to have a pulse, a breathiness, some moment of earthly delight. (While one is luring the reader into the enclosure of serious subjects, pleasure is by no means an unimportant ingredient.)

[...] Take out some commas, for smoothness and because almost every poem in the universe moves too slowly. Then, once the “actual” is in place (the words), begin to address the reason for taking the reader’s good and valuable time — invite the reader to want to do something beyond merely receiving beauty… Make sure there is nothing in the poem that would prevent the reader from becoming the speaker of the poem.

[...] The poem in which the reader does not feel himself or herself a participant is a lecture, listened to from an uncomfortable chair, in a stuffy room… The point is not what the poet would make of the moment but what the reader would make of it.

Mary Oliver, from ‘The Swan.’

…and here’s a poem written using ^these rules. See what you think.

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