Posts Tagged ‘writers’

Dear poetry newbies: “why is my work always rejected?”

Monday, January 20th, 2014

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

1. The standard isn’t high enough.
And by this I just mean that your poems aren’t “fit” for publication yet… but not that they never will be! If you’re sending out first drafts, poems that have only been hastily redrafted or edited, or poems that even you don’t think are all that amazing, then it might well be that you haven’t done quite enough to catch the eye of an editor. It’s easy to write a poem and then be overcome by a fervent desire to get it sent out immediately, but resist! Never send first drafts, and always devote a good chunk of time to redrafting and editing your chosen pieces. If possible, put them away for a while (a week, two weeks…) and then come back to them. And never send anything you’re not sure about. Work on it til you ARE sure about it, or send something else.
(NB: One of the best ways to get your poetry up to publication standard is to read the stuff that poetry magazines actually do publish - and if you can get hold of a copy of the specific magazines you want to submit to, even better!)

2. You’re not following the submission guidelines properly.
Some editors are happy to chuck a submission onto the slush pile for the slightest thing, so it’s always important to read and follow the submission guidelines carefully. Make sure you do everything according to the guidelines wherever you can; it can be a total pain, but it can also make the difference between acceptance and rejection. And don’t assume that one magazine’s guidelines apply to all! Read everyone’s guidelines, and follow them every time!

3. You commit minor - but deadly! - submission crimes.
A lot of poets reckon they can get away with sending the same four poems in the same email round to a whole load of editors at the same time - don’t do it! This suggests to editors that you don’t really care who picks up your poems or whether they’re published simultaneously. You also shouldn’t send “speculative” emails out before sending a submission. It may seem like politeness, but if an editor receives an email saying “check out my website and then maybe I’ll submit later”, they’re going to think a) you’re arrogant and b) you haven’t read their guidelines. Just put your submission together and send it! And don’t send snotty or pushy emails to editors until at least three months (yes, really, I’m afraid!) after the date you sent your submission. If you haven’t had a reply, there’s probably a reason, and going “oi, what are you messing about at?” after only a week or so is not going to make you any friends. Basically, when it comes to submissions, put in the work, follow the rules and be patient - that’s all there is to it!

4. Your cover letter needs a rewrite.
Have a good look at your cover letter (if you have one! If you don’t - write one!) and see if there are any of these common mistakes in it: heaps of biographical information (3 - 4 lines should do it); anything that could be interpreted as dishonest or boastful (”my work has appeared in 300 journals worldwide,” or the like); excessive negativity (”you’ll probably just reject me, but…”) anything that criticises or questions the publication or editor you’re writing to (”I found your website really hard to navigate” — keep it to yourself for now!); and of course, typos, grammatical errors or any unnecessary rambling! Exorcise all these things! It may leave your cover letter very short, but a couple of lines is all you need.

5. You’re submitting to the wrong magazines.
There are a lot of creative writing magazines out there and most of them are open for submissions for at least part of each year… so technically, you can submit to any of them. However, if you’re new to the whole submitting thing (or even if you aren’t!), it can be hard to know which are the best to choose. The sad fact is that a lot of editors are wary of publishing people who have never been published before, but fortunately, there are more and more magazines out there whose mission-statement is to provide as many writers as they can with their first publication opportunity. Many others specify that they welcome “unknown” or “emerging” writers, and you’re probably better off submitting to these if you can. You do get “unknown” writers in, say, Poetry Review, but if you want to give yourself the best chance of being accepted, it’s better to walk before you run, as they say!

6. You’re not ready to publish yet.
Only you can really know whether or not you’re ready to publish, but if you’re trying to get your work out there and the rejections are getting you down in a big way, then maybe you’re not 100% ready for the submission process. This might be hard to accept, but it’s better to wait until you’re better prepared than to make yourself suffer every time one of those pesky rejection letters lands in your mailbox. Give yourself six months, even a year. Spend that time writing - and more importantly, reading! - and then try getting back on the horse. You might find you still feel the same and need more time… if so, no worries. Or you might suddenly find that there’s the odd acceptance letter among those rejections; or that the rejections don’t bother you so much. Either way, the “time off” will have been well spent!

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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)

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.

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<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?

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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 don’t choose your literary heroes: they choose you.

Monday, January 13th, 2014

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

I’ve just revisited this article on the Guardian Books Blog, in which Stuart Evers talks about his seemingly rather misguided admiration for the protagonist of George Orwell’s Keep The Aspidistra Flying, Gordon Comstock. He notes that Comstock is really not a nice guy… and the fact that he truly admired this man when he first read the novel makes him feel rather uneasy. Evers admits that upon finishing the novel for the first time, he actually started to emulate Comstock - he started smoking the same cigarettes, spending his money on the same things, and getting interested in the same politics. He ends bitterly, sending out a “thank you so bloody much” to Orwell and Comstock, as though realising with hindsight that, by getting so “involved” with this not-actually-real person, he has somehow done something wrong.

Has he done something wrong? Are we only supposed to like, admire and emulate the “good guys” in literature? Sure, there are a lot of admirable goodies out there - I’d be the first to stand up and say that I truly love and admire Atticus Finch, for example. But surely, as normal human beings, it’s OK for us to be drawn to the “bad guys” - the flawed characters, the dishonest characters, the downright nasty characters… right? Hamlet, for example - arrogant, selfish, murderous and slightly insane, and yet he’s a big favourite. I personally rather like Milton’s Satan, and perhaps even worse, Alex DeLarge. I know for a fact that the normally sugary-sweet Gala Darling has a dark side - she’s forever in love with Patrick Bateman. It’s not necessarily logical - you don’t choose your literary heroes: they choose you. They reach out to something within your personal being and speak to you. Just because they happen to be a “baddie,” that doesn’t necessarily make you one too!

At the end of Evers’ article, I felt like standing up and cheering, because the other day I experienced exactly the same discomfort that Evers feels, talking with some friends about Beat-Generation-era literature.
As many of you will know, I am a huge Allen Ginsberg fan. I first encountered Ginsberg about halfway through my four-year Masters degree, when I had to read “Howl” for class. My first reaction was “what is this absolute rubbish?”, and when I read some background information about Ginsberg, I was even less impressed. Loud, arrogant, misogynistic… he did not seem like a nice guy at all. Who does he think he is, I thought, this man who wrote this epic, spiralling, meaningless poem that everyone seems to love? It’s garbage!
But then I had an epiphany - I heard a recording of dear old Allen reading “America.” I loved the poem, and his reading - with all its humour and seriousness and liveliness and weariness all at once - and decided to give him another chance. I read about Ginsberg’s life, I read his annotations on “Howl” and discovered what every cryptic line really meant (and every line really does have some correlation to his life, things he experienced, or things that were going on at the time), and probably most importantly, I read “Kaddish.” I bought an album of readings which included all these poems, and more, and listened to it from beginning to end, which exhausted but thrilled me. By now, the poems had turned on me, and they’d convinced me that this man - who I’ll freely admit was still loud, arrogant and misogynistic - was one of the greatest American writers of all time. He was not always nice, he was not always fair, and he wasn’t even always all that good. But he was brilliant, and in spite of myself, I will love him forever and ever.

So imagine my horror when, at a party a few years ago, a friend of mine came out with this:
“I don’t get it with Ginsberg. I’ve read ‘Howl,’ which was… ridiculous, and then everything else just looks like a poor imitation of ‘Howl.’”
I won’t lie to you - I felt like I’d been slapped. I couldn’t believe the enormous feeling that welled up in me. This was my friend, and I found myself wanting to grab him and shake him and scream, “why don’t you read ‘Howl’ properly and then you’ll see it’s not ridiculous, like I did?! How can you say everything else is a poor imitation of ‘Howl’?! Have you even read anything else?! Have you read ‘Kaddish’?! And how can you say that anyway?! The man wrote for 50+ years in a million different style on a million different subjects! Saying you don’t like Ginsberg because of ‘Howl’ is like saying you don’t like the Beatles because of ‘Hey Jude.’ Aaaargh!”
Obviously, I did not do this. I tried to express myself in a quieter way, and just said that actually, Ginsberg was my all-time favourite writer and I loved him very much. All I got was (quote), “well, good for you,” which didn’t make me feel much better.

My desire to shake my friend and scream in his face rather troubled me. After all, I knew all this stuff, and I’d thought it and said it myself once upon a time. But it also brought home to me the fact that you really can’t choose your idols - and when they choose you, they can really cling on, dig in. I’m sure the friend in question has literary heroes he’d gladly defend by shaking and screaming at me, if I were to criticise them. I know one guy who deeply loves Iago, and gets the same strange rage when people try to tell him “but Iago’s a really bad guy.” I know someone else who is a big fan of William Carlos Williams, and nearly had to walk out of a seminar recently when one woman in the group said “but it’s all just rubbish really, isn’t it? The Red Wheelbarrow - my children could write poetry like that!”
The fact is, Stuart Evers seems to be worried about admiring Gordon Comstock. Why? Because he’s worried that he’s going to be judged, probably. But I’d be interested to know what his reaction would be if anyone were to actually turn around and say “Comstock’s the worst character I ever came across,” or “that book’s crap, Orwell couldn’t write to save his life”. Personally, I am not worried about admiring Ginsberg for fear of judgement. It’s the defensive rage that’s the truly worrying thing…

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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)

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!

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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 by NuageDeNuit)

Procrastination Station #122: Christmas edition!

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

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I haven’t done a PS post in ages, but I have still been saving up cool and interesting links to share with all of you. So this one goes out to all the folks who’re stuck in work on Christmas Eve. Have a cheeky gander at this stuff and the time will fly by! Merry Christmas!

The conversation about money (or privilege) is the one we never have. Why? I think it’s the Marie Antoinette syndrome: those with privilege and luck don’t want the riffraff knowing the details. After all, if ‘those people” understood the differences in our lives, they might revolt. Or, God forbid, not see us as somehow more special, talented and/or deserving than them.

If you read nothing else in this post, read this: on writers, money and lies.

Buildings inspired by books.

You pick one store. Make it an indie. Maybe the one closest to your house. Make sure they have a website. Make sure your book is available on their website. Make sure the store is willing to ship books to customers. Link to your book through the store’s page. Tell the store you are doing this. If you have a big enough following and sales result, they will surely notice in a hurry anyhow. Even if not a single customer finds them through you, they will be happy. They will be happy with you.

from There Are Exactly Zero Defensible Reasons For Authors To Link To Amazon. Teaching you how — and why, though you probably already know — your should team up with indies and save bookselling!

An old train transformed into a bookshop. Yep.

Intellectual Lisa, with her penchant for museums and libraries, is an outlier in her family, in her whole town. But her basic brain power could easily have come from Marge. Although, unlike her mother, Lisa would never put her dreams aside. (Oh, Marge, your life of quite desperation depresses me so. How could you throw so much away, no matter how hot that Mr Plow jacket is?) How did Lisa manage to escape the domestic trap that ensnared her bright, brittle mother?

I am Lisa Simpson. You are Lisa Simpson. We are all Lisa Simpson.

Why we abandon books.

As a child, the island seemed so vast and full of wondrous possibility. Today, it’s just another beautiful, yet remote location. I know there are no mythical beasts tromping through its forests. The people living across the bay on Sandy Hook Drive are just normal folk with lives that are probably as mundane as mine. There is no more mystery, and very few days dedicated to discovery.

On wonder and creativity: There’s Bigfoot in Them Woods

This gorgeous e-book is beautifully illustrated with portraits of, and full of facts about, amazing women who’ve changed how we look at the world.

The images on this page would be unsatisfying to most horror fans, as the hallmark of modern zombie films is now life-like, over-the-top gore. It will serve us better, though, to first explore the origins of this time-honored creature that began as an obscure Haitian folk myth but is now one of our most revisited horror archetypes. It may first seem that history has little connection to our fictional flesh-eating friends, but they have complex origins, too little discussed and too often ignored by historians and horror fans alike: here we hope to provide the first step in the exploration of the phenomenon.

Find out where the shuffling, blood-spattered Walking Dead zombie really came from in Haiti & the Truth about Zombies.

The twenty most spell-binding university libraries in the world.

I find it interesting that the two male heroes of The Hunger Games are so different from one another, and that they embody such different ways of being men. While Gale is the character we might typically think of in a story like this one—a story with plenty of violence, high stakes, and sacrifice—Peeta is not.

This article has uber-spoilers, so if you haven’t yet finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy, steer away. But if you have, read this piece, for it is amazing: Gale, Peeta and Masculinity in The Hunger Games.

Courageous people expose their insecurities for the camera: the What I Be Project is some amazing photographic storytelling.

Atwood is a polymath. She has ideas about how to fix almost everything and takes pride in her rugged resourcefulness – unlike so many namby-pamby authors who wouldn’t have a clue what to do if the lights went out. When she walks down a street, for example, she likes to point out to whomever she’s with what, in the natural world, they could eat, should the need arise. “I just want them to be prepared.”

If you still haven’t read the Maddaddam trilogy, you need to do so right now. (If you have no plans to read it, we can never be friends.) Check out this interview with the sublime Margaret Atwood, and see if you’re not convinced.

You want to read this new poem by Freesia McKee. Trust me.

“My investigation file expanded from one inch to four inches and then to eight inches. The contents included personal data about Moore and his associates, printouts from his website, copies of relevant articles and reams of information on other involuntary porn stars who were featured on his site. I’d found others, and I knew it would be difficult for law enforcement to ignore folks from all over the country.”
Charlotte Laws took on the infamous internet predator Hunter Moore, and, well… she’s a total badass.

Here’s a map of London’s independent bookstores. You’re welcome.

I suspect the vehement dislike of tattoos is really a fear of women’s skin. When a woman makes her own mark on it, she isn’t quite as available to receive whatever fantasies you might want to project on to her. If skin is a screen, and a woman writes on it, she is telling the world (or even just herself) that her own standards of attractiveness are more important to her than the standards of anyone else.

I am violently in love with this Guardian article on women and tattoos. I mean really.

You’ve seen these amazing mother-daughter artistic collaborations, right?

[Beyonce] a work in progress, as are we all. In 2010, she gave an interview saying she was a “feminist in a way,” because she valued her female friendships deeply. Earlier this year, she claimed she was a “modern-day feminist.” Now she is straight up embracing the term in her music and claiming her right to tell women to both bowdown and encouraging them to be self-confident from the moment they step out of bed… in the same damn song! I rock with that because her feminism is complicated, and ours is too. Tell the truth.

I’ve loved reading the various voices rising above the wall of stupid that went up in response to Beyonce’s new record. This might be my favourite.

Life advice from Amy Poehler. Worth passing on!
Speaking of Beyonce: I FREAKING LOVE THIS RECORD SO MUCH.
OMG Watsky. You may have jumped off a lighting rig at a gig like an IDIOT, but I can’t help but still love you.
Cool.

Merry Christmas everybody!!!

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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!

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.

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

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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!

Things I Love Thursday #85: Book Week Scotland

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Dear everyone, but especially those of you I promised a BWS 2013 blogpost to,

I am sorry this post comes nearly a full month after Book Week Scotland actually happened. The fact I did not blog about it immediately after has nothing to do with the quality of BWS 2013 (it was utterly awesome, in fact). It does, however, have a great deal to do with the fact that my PhD viva (yep) came very swiftly after BWS 2013, and went from “that thing I am working hard at not thinking about” to “that thing that is consuming my whole life right now.” Terribly sorry about that. Hopefully, late is better than never. Here’s how I spent my Book Week Scotland 2013. How about you?

xo, Claire

Sunday night: Shore Poets November
OK, so at this point BWS 2013 was still about four hours away from its official kick-off, and I should probably note that SP November wasn’t an official Book Week Scotland event. It did make a nice literary appetiser for the delicious wordy smorgasbord that was about to follow, however.

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The event featured the ever-witty Tracey S Rosenberg in the New Poet slot — among other cool stuff that happened during her set, she wore a great skirt with kitties on it, and read a really excellent poem about and dedicated to the infamous Shore Poets lemon cake. Nice work.

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Christine de Luca was the Shore Poet, and her reading was incredible as ever. She mostly read poems in Shetland dialect, which was a delight to hear. My favourite was her poem about the Canadian First Nations woman who made a purse out of swan’s feet. And me a vegan!

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The headline poet was Gerrie Fellows, who I’ll admit, I’ve never seen read before — nor have I read any of her work in print. But she was on fine form and read on a variety of subjects. Her poem about coming across the ruins of a crashed aircraft was especially great, as was her sound poem about pointing out deer to a small child.

I should perhaps mention that I once again reprised my role as Scotland’s most awkward literary MC at this particular event!

Monday: Making It Home for Book Week Scotland, “Words Against Violence.”
Book Week Scotland officially began on 25th November 2013! And I was READY FOR IT.

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If you’ve even glanced in passing at this blog in the past year, you’ll know all about the Making It Home Project, aka Possibly The Best Thing I Have Ever Been A Part Of In My Life Ever. Well, because the Book Week Scotland team are excellent, they decided Making It Home needed its own space at BWS 2013, so we teamed up with Glasgow Women’s Library to create the “Words Against Violence” event. I read the project poems — including some of the poems written by our gorgeous participants — and we watched the project films, then had a brilliant, thought provoking discussion that was supposed to be panel-format, but ended up just being everyone sitting in a circle with a cuppa and having a really, really good chat. So my kind of event! Here are some pics:

Glasgow Women's Library: the volunteer tree!
This is the GWL volunteer tree. I utterly love the concept, and the execution! So lovely.

Glasgow Women's Library: the volunteer tree!
It’s a great way to mark the vital contribution of each volunteer.

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GWL’s Gabrielle kicking off the event. (Thank you so much Gabrielle, for your warm welcome and all your capable assistance!)

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Making It Home’s project manager Esa, aka Wonderwoman.

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Thoughtful faces as the films play…

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Oh, Glasgow. Never change.

Tuesday night: Talking Heids (for Book Week Scotland)
Talking Heids is Edinburgh’s magical new(ish) spoken word night on the block, hosted by one of my all-time favs Colin McGuire (pictured here):

Colin McGuire, the magical MC of Talking Heids

It happens on the third Tuesday of every month (I think? It’s once a month and it’s on a Tuesday night, anyway) at Sofi’s in Leith, and each month two poets are featured. For the BWS event, the two poets were Rob A Mackenzie and Rachel Amey. Rob took us on a brilliant chronological tour through his works, starting with the first poem he ever had published, and ending with brand spanking new hot-off-the-printer work. Rachel, meanwhile, read 100% from memory as always, and as always, blew my mind. Her NHS poem never stops giving me chills.

The lovely audience at Talking Heids November

There is also an open mic at the end, and among the acts at the BWS one were yours truly, and the really great Mr Roddy Shippin, lurking rather suspiciously by the door in the photo above. Also up at the mic was the barman, who read a Philip Larkin poem rather excellently, and then, emboldened, took out one of his own poems and read his work in public for the first time ever. The poem (he insisted it was not a poem, “just some lines I wrote on a train,” but if that’s not a poem then my whole writing career has been a huge lie) was great, and I always love it when such things happen. Things like that happening are why tiny open mics in pubs are awesome, and why people who pay to listen to poetry are awesome, and why Book Week Scotland is awesome. Yay!

Wednesday night: The 2013 Margaret Harris lecture.
OK, this was not a Book Week Scotland event. In fact, I had to not go to a Book Week Scotland event in order to go to this! But it was for work, and it was fascinating, although I disagreed with a whole lot of it and found the speaker, Tom Devine, somewhat maddening. Fun fact: ten minutes into the lecture (at a kind of pivotal moment, too) we were all evacuated and lots of firemen called because some mime artists set off a smoke machine in the next room. Dramz! Also, my first ever trip to Dundee!

Thursday night: night off.
(I needed to regroup. Also I’d temporarily run out of BWS pin badges to give out.)

Friday night: Communal Dolphin Snouting
Probably the less said about the title of this event, the better (there were lots of squeaky inflatable dolphin-shaped fairground hammer things hanging from the ceiling when I arrived, and as one of the performers I felt somewhat nervous. Fortunately, said dolphin-hammers were not used to attack me, so I must have done OK). Mainly because it means I can say more about PhiFA — full name, the Berlin Philosophical Football Association.

________roba
(Photo credit Andrew McCue)

Wait, what? I hear you cry… yep, philosophical football. It’s basically a live philosophical debate, wherein pro philosophers team up with citizen thought-mongers picked from the crowd, and are timed, refereed and commentated upon as in football. A Muse provides topics to be debated, and ninety minutes of debate follows. Free kicks can be given for cliches and sentimentality, while yellow and red cards can be handed out for things like cheesiness or plagiarism. All the while, a match photographer rapidly makes colourful drawings of the participants, or renders their ideas and arguments into visual form. And scribbling away simultaneously is the match poet… on this occasion, you guessed it, me.

The match poet writes up the match report in the form of a poem — in real time, as the debate is going on. The poem must be finished by the final whistle, and performed live in front of the spectators. As you can imagine, the pressure was pretty intense… but actually, the lovely philosophers provided me with plenty of material, and I managed to come up with a two-part poem (for a two-part match, natch) that I was actually pretty pleased with. The audience seemed to like it, too! So thanks, Book Week Scotland, for putting me way out of my comfort zone, but in what proved to be a good way!

Saturday night: The Inky Fingers / Book Week Scotland Dead Poet Slam
One night.
A dozen dead poets.
A time machine.
A stage.
An audience.
One amazing gig…

(In all seriousness: this great event, fronted by the aforementioned and excellent Tracey S Rosenberg, was a slam with a difference. Each competitor had to perform not their own work, but the work of their favourite dead poet, preferably in costume and ideally with props and a funny voice, where applicable. I was one of the judges — dressed as Dame Edith Sitwell in the spirit, if you’ll pardon the pun, of the evening — and let me tell you, this was a TOUGH contest. Finally won by the utterly brilliant Anne Connolly, who, as my fabulous fellow judge Alice Tarbuck pointed out, could become a professional WB Yeats impersonator.)

Here are some pics:

The Book Week Scotland/Inky Fingers Dead Poet Slam: Aphra Behn and Edith Sitwell
Alice Tarbuck and I as Aphra Behn and Edith Sitwell respectively, sitting at the judging table of doom.

The Book Week Scotland/Inky Fingers Dead Poet Slam: Kurt Schwitters!
MC Kurt Schwitters, aka Ali Maloney, aka Harlequinade.

The Book Week Scotland/Inky Fingers Dead Poet Slam: defending champion Charles Bukowski!
Defending champ Charles Bukowski, aka Colin McGuire.

The Book Week Scotland/Inky Fingers Dead Poet Slam: host with the most, Dorothy Parker!
Hostess with the mostess Dorothy Parker, aka Tracey S Rosenberg.

The Book Week Scotland/Inky Fingers Dead Poet Slam: a triumphant WB Yeats!
The new champ WB Yeats, aka Anne Connolly!

The Book Week Scotland/Inky Fingers Dead Poet Slam: performers!
Top secret judging paperwork.

The Book Week Scotland/Inky Fingers Dead Poet Slam: the scary judges, Edith Sitwell, Aphra Behn and Vita Sackville-West
Scary judges Edith Sitwell (aka me), Aphra Behn (aka Alice Tarbuck) and Vita Sackville-West (aka Jane McKie).

Thanks Book Week Scotland, for the words, the books, the banter, and OVER 600 EVENTS SCOTLAND-WIDE! Already looking forward to 2014!

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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!

Colin McGuire’s new book is the most exciting thing to happen to Scottish poetry since Colin McGuire’s last book

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

OK, I don’t actually know that, because I haven’t read it yet. BUT Everybody Lie Down And No One Gets Hurt, published by my own lovely pamphlet publishers Red Squirrel Press, is being launched tonight at Sofi’s Bar in Leith, from 7pm. You should come along, because Colin is excellent, and he will be reading some of his excellent work in excellent fashion.

To celebrate the event, I decided to re-post this small poem of McGuire’s which first appeared at ONS in 2008. Enjoy!

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McGuire: “A thin Glaswegian man, touch giddy in the head, sometimes poet of mangled form and dirty prose, sporadic drummer, drunken grammarian, waffler, painter using crayons, lover, hater, learner, teacher, pedestrian, provocateur, wanderer, confronter of shadows, irritating whine. Studied global politics at Caledonian University, has worked a colourful mish mash of menial jobs (postman/salmon farmer), has been writing poetry for best part of twenty years. He has previously produced a book of poetry and short stories called ‘Important Nonsense: scraps from a Glaswegian immaturity’ [also known as 'Riddled with Errors.'] He intends to start reading when he gets over his fear.”
McGuire blogs at Notes from a Glaswegian Immaturity.

Chaffinch

Little bird
upon the branch
singing;
you have no
National Insurance
number and that
is beautiful.
You fly, live die
and cannot be arrested.

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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)

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!

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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)

Dear poetry newbies: dealing with negative criticism

Monday, November 4th, 2013

You suck

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

How do I tell the constructive from the negative?
This is tricky - particularly if you’re new to receiving criticism or if you feel particularly proud of the piece of writing being criticised. If either of these things apply, then you’re very likely to see any criticism as an attack. And don’t get me wrong: even constructive criticism can feel that way sometimes, but look out for the positives. There’s a definite difference between “cut out stanza four, it’s no good at all” and “if you cut stanza four, the poem would be better”. The suggestion is the same, but the delivery is crucial. The first statement is concentrating on what’s wrong with your poem, while the second is a suggestion for making it better.

Another way to work out whether something is constructive or negative is to look at how universal the critical statement sounds. Offering a personal opinion is usually fine; making sweeping generalisations isn’t. For example, if someone says “this doesn’t really read like poetry to me”, they’re just offering their opinion. If they say “what you write isn’t poetry”, they’re assuming that all your readers will agree. There’s a big difference between “this isn’t to my taste” and “no one will like this.”

Some negative criticism can be deliberately well-hidden, too. Statements like “I’m sure there’s a good poem in there somewhere” or “I think I understand” are very ambiguous. If it’s ambiguous, it’s not really helpful either way, so give your critic the benefit of the doubt and ask them to be more specific. You should soon be able to tell whether or not this is criticism you should be taking on board.

Someone just made a really mean remark to my face. What should I do?
First of all, step back and try to be as objective as possible. Don’t just tell them to get lost, and don’t allow yourself to say the first thing that comes into your head - you’ll doubtless regret it later. Instead, think quickly but carefully about how you want to react. If the criticism needs an immediate response, buy yourself time by saying “I’m not sure what you mean,” “can you elaborate?”, or even “sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.” (This can be a good tactic, because while it’s easy to say something hurtful once, having to say it again can make people think.) As your critic rephrases their remark, you may come to realise that they didn’t intend to be hurtful in the first place, and you could well be glad that you didn’t just snark them off! However, if you’re still hurt by their comments, come back with a neutral response like, “that’s an interesting angle on it, I’ll think about that”, or “well, I appreciate any feedback.” That way, you can bring the issue to a close and escape from the conversation… or at least change the subject!

Someone’s left a negative comment on a forum/my blog/a poem I posted online. What do I do?
If someone else has written ill of you, that doesn’t mean you should do the same - so don’t take to a blog or forum-post and vent spleen yourself. Instead, try to get the comments in question removed. If this means communicating with the original poster, don’t get personal - just make the request as reasonably as you can. If it means speaking with someone higher up the foodchain, don’t be too long-winded or dramatic… just point them in the direction of the trouble, and explain briefly why you think they need to intervene.

If the negative comments are on a smaller scale - say, if a mean commenter has wandered into your deviantART gallery and decided to leave a few choice words - the best thing you can possibly do is just ignore it. This can be really hard, but an angry response of any kind means that your negative commenter has won. If you’re itching to write something scathing back, snap your laptop shut or turn off your monitor and remove yourself from the situation. Go away and do have a cup of tea, or have a rant about it to someone. Don’t go back to your computer until you’re cool, calm and collected; until you know that you won’t even be tempted to dignify your attackers with an answer. (NB: this is hard. I have not always succeeded in staying nice. However, I’ve always regretted it when I’ve given in to snark!)

My work got a really negative review, and heaps of people have read it. What do I do?
This can feel like a huge deal at the time, but it really isn’t. If you’re a writer, bad reviews are part of the job-description, and trust me, they really don’t hurt your career as much as people might like you to think. Any review is just the opinion of one person, and them saying “this person’s writing sucks, nobody should read it,” is kind of like saying “rum-raisin ice cream sucks, nobody should eat it.” Sure, rum-raisin ice cream might be an acquired taste, but are people really going to stop eating it because one guy told them to? Nope. Are people really going to totally boycott your site, book or pamphlet just because one guy told them to? Nope. People have brains in their heads, and they want to make up their own minds, so the best thing to do about a bad review is ignore it and move on, ASAP. Think about it this way: this person who hates your writing has just told a whole load of other people that you exist. They might not have known that before. Your reviewer (if they’re even half-decent at their job) may also have sparked the curiosity of a few people. Chances are, even a bad review will get you more readers than no review at all. It really is true what they say: all publicity is good publicity, so really, you should be raising a glass in honour of your evil reviewer!

Argh! I snapped back at someone because they were negative about me, and how it’s got out of hand!
OK, so someone was mean about you so you were mean back, and then all their friends started being mean about you too, and they’ve all written heaps of bad stuff about you and you’re totally out of your depth. Or maybe you responded angrily to a negative commenter and now they’re really upset and threatening to get back at you somehow, and you’re worried about what they’ll say/do. Or maybe you’ve said something you now regret to someone important, and you’re terrified about the consequences it could have. I understand - never fear, it happens all the time, and these things are usually pretty easily solved.

Situation 1: they were mean, then you were mean back, now everyone’s being mean. No one’s in the clear here, but someone needs to take responsibility, and that someone might as well be you. Get in touch with the original negative commenter, and apologise (sincerely - no double-edged comments). Say you’re sorry, you didn’t mean for things to get out of hand, and you want to move on. If they’re even a half-decent person, they’ll accept your apology, and hopefully get rid of any nasty stuff they’ve written about you. If they don’t accept your apology, I’m afraid you’re just going to have to walk away, and console yourself with the fact that you were able to behave like an adult in the end. It may be worrying to think that there is snark about you all over the internet, but trust me, as long as you haven’t done anything actually criminal, it’ll probably never make a difference to your future.

Situation 2: you were mean, and now they’re threatening vengance. OK, realistically, what is this person going to do? Even if they’re threatening to harm your career prospects as a writer, those threats are probably pretty empty (I once had a reasonably well-known poet insinuate that no editor would ever acknowledge me if she had anything to do with it. So far, no evidence of this…), because trying to wreck other people’s chances doesn’t do your own chances any good at all. The best thing to do in this situation is to take back what you said, however hard that may be for you. Remove the comment you made, and apologise. If that doesn’t work, you’ll just have to take your chances. Again, I reckon I can guarantee that nothing drastic will come of it.

Situation 3: you said something you now regret to the wrong person. Easy: get in touch with them, apologise, and explain. If you don’t have a way of contacting them, find out. And if you can’t find out, move on. Yes, unfortunately people do have long memories, but sometimes you just have to chalk these things up to experience. The only thing you can really do is hope that your two paths cross again in the future, and you can make a better impression second time around.

Some stuff to remember:
- Not everything that sounds negative is negative. Read or listen carefully before you respond. Bear in mind that the internet comes without body-language, which makes up about 90% of all communication. Comments that sound rude could just be sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek. If you’re not sure, ask the commenter to elaborate.

- People are entitled to hold an opinion about your work, and they are allowed to say what they think. If you have a problem with this, then maybe you’re not ready to put your work out there to be read. Think carefully about whether or not you want other people to criticise your work - if you’re not confident, don’t feel rushed into submitting to magazines or posting your work online.

- If you think you’re constantly getting negative feedback, then maybe you need to adjust your negativity radar. It may well be that you’re not great at taking criticism, and so everything feels like a personal attack. If this is the case, you have to force yourself to be more positive. 90% of feedback is useful, so try and see the usefulness wherever you can. See all reviews of your work as publicity, and bear in mind that for every person who doesn’t really dig your work, there’s bound to be another person out there who’d like it.

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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!

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