Archive for the ‘ONS Featured Poem’ Category

This week’s Featured Poet Daniel Watkins interviewed.

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

Tell us about your poems.
I’m going to make myself really unlikeable straight away by beginning with quoting Ernest Hemingway. He once said “my aim is to write down what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way” and that just about sums it up for me too. I’ll confess that sometimes when I read contemporary poetry I haven’t got the faintest idea what the poet’s actually talking about, and that’s influenced me to try and make what I write as accessible as possible, so that even people that don’t like poetry might glance at one of my poems and think “actually, that one’s alright”.

How long have you been writing?
I co-wrote a story about a silly sausage when I was four, if that counts.

Do you have any publications to your name? What’s the next stage for your work?
There’s Read This!, and that’s about all so far. The next stage is yet to reveal itself, but if I happen to ever write a line or come up with an image that makes someone think “yes! That is exactly what that’s like”, then that’d be a big box ticked in the creative checklist of my imagination.
Yes, I just answered a straightforward question with a weird metaphor. You’d never guess I wrote poems, would you…

What do you think is your biggest poetic achievement to date?
Through Read This! I had a poem featured in a newspaper in Edinburgh. Other than that, it’s probably the feeling you get when you read something in a workshop and everybody else there agrees about liking a particular bit of it – it’s always nice to hear that you got at least one part as right as it could be.

What’s the best thing about writing poetry? And the worst?
The best thing is that it sorts out my head – whether I’m writing about a situation or a thought or a feeling, once it’s down on the paper (or the screen) then … I don’t know, I just feel like it’s been sorted, and it doesn’t need to confuse, frustrate or concern me anymore. Worst thing is probably when I have a brilliant idea that I just can’t turn into anything half-decent. I know that it should be this amazing, wonderful thing, but what I have in my head just won’t translate itself into real words. Argh.

Got any suggestions for young, upcoming poets?
I’m a young, upcoming poet myself, but I’d probably just reiterate my first answer and say write as accessibly as you can – if what you’ve written can resonate with someone who doesn’t usually read poetry, while retaining appeal (even if it’s just an image or two, or an interesting structure) to someone who does, then you might be on to something…

My other tip is something I picked up from Sean O’Brien. It is, essentially, this – when you have written a poem and typed it up and printed it off, no matter whether you think it still needs a bit of work or think it’s all done, do this – leave it for a few weeks, then come back to it and write it out again by hand. Little things that you would never otherwise have noticed come leaping to your attention. Scribble the changes then write it out by hand again. Make any further changes that have become apparent, then write/type it up properly again. You’ll have a much more finished-feeling poem.
I was sceptical of this approach myself, to be honest, but I tried it out recently and it bloody well works! I am now using it for every poem. Sometimes it’s just an odd word or comma that’ll be changed, but sometimes that’s all a poem needs. Sometimes huge changes occur, and again it’s what the poem needs.
Hey, it worked for Andrew Motion – he does this for all his poems, and he became Laureate…

Who/what influences your poetry?
Well, in terms of what, it’s really just the everyday – stuff you might see, think about for a couple of seconds, then move on from. In that couple of seconds, I’ll probably scribble down a little note before I forget, and then later on I look back at it and see if it can become a poem. I explain it a bit better in my bio. For who, the best (well-known) poet who comes to mind is Matthew Sweeney, but if I’m honest, prose writers actually influence me more – mostly for their use of language. I find Cormac McCarthy’s style of writing incredibly powerful and poetic (if you haven’t read The Road, please, please, read it), and I also find myself influence by the likes of CS Lewis and Terry Pratchett, who both seem to have the knack of explaining something through metaphor using very straightforward, everyday language, but getting the essence of that thing absolutely, perfectly, that’s-exactly-how-that-is spot-on. Which brings us all the way back to the Hemingway quote. If I can try my best to live up to that aim, I’ll hopefully be on the right track.

Last morning

In the distant centre of my mind
I see it approaching
like headlights on the other
side of the road.

Routine, normality,
everything we got away from
for a few days
is rushing back,

waiting to wrap us up
like a worn-out towel.

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More from Featured Poet Daniel Watkins

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Daniel’s poem from yesterday was Stalemate — interview and the final poem tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy!


A room in the dark. Like the finger that finds the best track on the album, the eyes that locate the best passage of the book without the mind’s assistance, a room in the dark is work for the arms that commit it to memory in light. Outstretched like the living dead (as comfortable in the black), the hands of a pianist move past chairs and electronics to the pointing digit of the door. Push. Pull. Out of the dark.

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This week’s Featured Poet is Daniel Watkins

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

Daniel Watkins has just finished an MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle. He likes writing, but is sometimes unsure about whether writing likes him. He tends to write poems concerning trivial and ordinary things because quite often they turn out to be the most interesting.


A dog sees himself in glass.
He has never seen himself before.
He does not recognise himself.
A first half-second of curiosity
lowers his head and heightens his back,
lowers the other dog’s head
and heightens the other dog’s back,
before commanding instinct
releases frontline barks.
The enemy barks equally,
and he retreats,
the other dog retreats,
skidding backwards over tiles
with a sound like
vehicles driving over stones.
He approaches again.
The other dog does likewise.
A second wave of courageous attack is
returned with still equal veracity.
A leap back this time
– looks almost playful –
but no fear.
He stares defiance at the other dog.
The other dog stares too.
Nose to nose
their eyes match,
an unending

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This week’s Featured Poet Suzannah Evans interviewed.

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

Suzannah’s bio and first poem are here, a second poem is here. Below, she talks a bit about her creative process and what inspires her…

Tell us about your poems.
I think that the best poems make you feel something as soon as you hear them, whether it’s joy, sadness, fear or nausea. They bypass thought and go straight to your emotions, like a good piece of music, and the understanding and thinking follows later. This is what I try to achieve in my writing.
Someone said that a scientist tries to convey something nobody knows in a way that everybody can understand, and that a poet does the opposite. I believe that poetry makes the everyday more mysterious and beautiful, but I think everybody should be able to understand it and have access to it.
I have always written more comfortably in free verse. I use formal structure as a writing exercise but always end up cutting most of it and only using the lines I like. I try to say as much as possible in the smallest amount of words.

How long have you been writing?
I can always remember writing; when I was little I used to make little books out of scrap paper and make my mum sew them in the middle, and make up stories about animals in the style of Farthing Wood, Dick King-Smith etc. I started to take poetry seriously in my last year of school, when I was about seventeen or eighteen.

Do you have any publications to your name? What’s the next stage for your work?
I have had some work published online at and in a couple of independent magazines. I am making 2009 the year of many submissions, so hopefully a lot more will follow. I am also determined to arrange my work into a collection by the end of the year.

What do you think is your biggest poetic achievement to date?
I find reading my poetry in public very nerve-wracking so my greatest achievement to date is finding the courage to do so! I read at an event at Ikley literature festival in September 2008 and I am proud to say I survived.

What’s the best thing about writing poetry? And the worst?
The best thing is the finished poem, when you know that you can finally leave a piece of work alone. I love feedback, as long as it is constructive. It’s also brilliant when someone discovers a meaning in a poem that I had never intended. It makes me look at my own work in a different way and makes it feel new.
The worst thing is that infuriating time when you know something is wrong with a piece of work but you can’t quite work out what. It usually means you have to cut the bit you like the best. And of course, rejection letters are rubbish.

Got any suggestions for young, upcoming poets?
GET OTHER PEOPLE TO READ YOUR POEMS! Not your mum, because she will love it even if it’s illegible. Someone who you trust enough to be enthusiastic and critical in the right amounts. Writer’s circles or workshops are a good idea if you have access to them.
Also READ OTHER PEOPLE’S POEMS. This blog is an excellent place to start, and there is so much available online, in the library and in second hand bookshops that you really have no excuse. I think you can tell a mile off when a writer doesn’t read.
Reading your work out loud to yourself will always show you any lines that don’t make sense or fit.
Make time to write and do as much of it as possible, not necessarily a routine, but make sure you spend some quality time with your notebook at least a couple of times a week. For a long time I was against having any schedule for writing; I still don’t like the idea of deciding that ‘I am going to be inspired today’ but I do sit down to write more regularly these days to help me keep focused.

Who/what influences your poetry?
I moved to Leeds in 2007 and have fallen in love with it. A lot of the poetry I write is inspired by urban environments, particularly graffiti, which I find fascinating — it’s the most immediate form of literature that exists, it comes out from walls and trees, finds you and smacks you around the face.
I am inspired by people, all kinds of people — lovely ones, bastard ones, those I know well and total strangers. I don’t have a car, so public transport and walking feature unintentionally in most of my poetry!
I very much admire the following poets, writers and lyricists: Raymond Carver, Angela Carter, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Ted Hughes, Roy Fisher, Kurt Vonnegut, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Kevin Barnes, Tim Kasher, Jesse Lacey, Matt Berninger, John Keats.


On Buslingthorpe lane
where they’ve dug up the road, at last,
for the gas leak,

among the skulls of dumped fridges
and last summer’s stiff hemlocks

A mare gallops
in the circle her chain allows.

She is far enough now
from the rag-and-bone man’s cart
to dance on rimed grass

with shoes that flash like knives
on kicked-high feet.

By noon she’ll be gone —

cantering the streets
with the peg she worked loose;

its metal chirrup
repeating at her heels.

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More from Featured Poet Suzannah Evans

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Hopefully you’ve already seen Kate’s first poem — here’s another, her interview will be up tomorrow. Enjoy!

You think you’re Ian Curtis, but you’re not.

You’ve got problems, you said. You’ll let me down
woefully. And yet I am prepared
to listen to your teeth grind shut all night
like a sad latch to your sleeping jaw.

You’re the cliché that I tried not to expect —
rolling up your skint, thin cigarettes
with dirty-handed glamour; and the bands
without lyrics, that I’m never going to like.

You left me at the bus stop with a kiss
in sunlight, wondering how long I’ll be waiting.
Autumn strolls on, like you, elegant —
Its hands in the pockets of a second-hand suit.

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This week’s Featured Poet is Suzannah Evans

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

I am really pleased to announce this this week’s Featured Poet is Leeds’ own Suzannah Evans, whose work I absolutely love. Her poems have recently featured in Pomegranate VII and The Cadaverine, and she has two blogs, an old one here and a newer one here, where you can read some of her poetry and other musings. Here’s her bio and the first of three poems. Enjoy!

Suzannah Evans is a writer who lives and works in Leeds. She is inspired by cities, birds, trees, dreams, sleep, graffiti, friends, strangers and gin. She has a Masters in Twentieth-Century Literature and loves to read especially the work of Raymond Carver, Angela Carter, Donna Tartt, Allen Ginsberg, Ted Hughes and Kurt Vonnegut. She works as a debt counsellor so is rather busy at the moment. She is currently working towards a first collection of poems.


I wonder if it’s for me, my benefit,

whether there are short splinters of hair
which dropped, and escaped
beneath the collar of that ice-blue shirt,

that will buzz on my lips
when I press them hard
into the hot soft skin
of your neck.

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Featured Poet Amy Blakemore Interviewed

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

You’ve seen Amy’s poems… now find out a bit more about her life, work and creative process!

Tell us about your poems.
My poems are about being a hungry animal. I write free verse.

How long have you been writing?
Since I was fifteen. The joke I repeat everywhere (actually true) is that I read some Carol Ann Duffy for my GCSEs and thought it didn’t look at all hard. So basically, I began writing poetry out of spite. Bet you’ve never heard that one before!

Do you have any publications to your name? What’s the next stage for your work?
I’ve been published here and there. I was one of the winners of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year competition in both 2007 and 2008, so I was published in the winners anthologies and the poetry society website. My work has been in Rising, Pomegranate, Iota, Cadaverine and Young Writer magazine.
I’m being published in an anthology by Bloodaxe next year – that’s pretty next-stagey. I suppose I should really be thinking about a pamphlet or a chapbook or something, but I don’t want to rush myself.

What do you think is your biggest poetic achievement to date?
I was well pleased with being chosen for the Bloodaxe anthology. To be honest, though, it was probably writing something, sitting back, and thinking ‘yes, this is good, this has some worth’ for the first time.

What’s the best thing about writing poetry? And the worst?
Damn. The worst thing is the frustration of thinking that no matter how much exposure you get, and no matter how good your work gets, it will always just be poetry, and for this reason you’re audience will probably always be limited. But I think you need to resign yourself to that, and write on. Writers’ block is up there, as well.
The best thing(s) are the people you meet. Mad, erudite people who you will love who write excellent things and help you write better things. You’re keeping something alive together. Then it’s the fact that you’re doing something that’s important. I’m making it sound like being a power ranger. It’s not, but writing poems is good and essential and should be done. It’s good to be part of that. Erm, so, writing poetry is the best part of writing poetry.

Got any suggestions for young, upcoming poets?
The way you write is going to be different from the way everyone else writes, so don’t feel obliged to take advice from other writers. Not that you shouldn’t listen to it, just don’t feel you ought to be doing things the way she does, or he does. That’s my number one suggestion.
After that – always write things down. You think you’ll remember that awesome line that came to you when you were in the bath but you won’t. So carry a notebook. Read – if you feel like it. Find time to watch stupid TV and fall in love and that. Carpe diem. Don’t be too precious about your poems. They’re not a mineral resource. Let them go out and play.
Most importantly, feel free to discount above advice. But not this advice; read, and submit to, magazines and blogs. Enter contests. Don’t stop.

Who/what influences your poetry?
Pop culture, interesting newspaper headlines, natural disasters, violinists, boys, girls, drunks, New Cross, makeup counters, the river Thames and reading other peoples poetry. Specifically Yehuda Amichai, Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath, and the vast number of excellent young poets out there.

Death At A Party

I’d never met death before,
only been to two funerals,
(great grandmothers — you deal- – never knew them)
but there he was in that
disordered deck of lethal

where the hour-glass and garden
went to bed with japanned spades and aces and the queen
and the priestess dropped acid
with pictures of pikachu on the tabs.

Keeping to himself, in the corner.
Not grim, but without that historical gumless grin

and a six-pack of stella later
he was flickering like an admiring eye,
crusted green with photophores

and dancing, dancing, a skull in bug-eye shades with day-glo vertebrae,
flicking like the eye that cautiously admires,
bending hands around my shoulders —

making sure we all knew he was famous.

Be a Featured Poet: send a few poems to… that simple!

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More from this week’s Featured Poet Amy Blakemore

Friday, February 27th, 2009

I’ll be back tomorrow to interview Amy, but in the meantime, you can check out one poem and her bio here, and enjoy this little beauty…



a bridge that bursts with wanting
the glifting water running under its ribs.

I dreamt about you last night,
damp and insidious
behind my throat.

A mouth aching for the river.

(Photo by Nicolas de Fontenay)

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This week’s Featured Poet is Amy Blakemore

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Amy Blakemore first began writing poetry when she was fifteen, after reading some Carol Ann Duffy and thinking it didn’t look that hard. She was named a Foyle Young Poet of the Year in both 2007 and 2008, and was commended in the Torbay Open Poetry Competition in 2008. That same summer she interned at the Poetry Society, and they taught her to photocopy and do other useful things. Her poetry has been published in a variety of magazines and journals, including Pomegranate, Cadaverine, Iota and Rising. She has also had the good fortune to have read her work on BBC London Radio and Radio Europe. She is now 17, and studying for A-Levels in History, Philosophy and English Literature at a funny little school in south-east London.

The virgin of Guadalupe

From the playground to the park,
she tore indiscriminately,

her hair wide behind her like a
flag; dripping with catholica,

purple and gold rosaries
at her snakey body’s every juncture;

velvet ribbon and scraps of lurex,
blue Mary’s and Theresa’s.

Through the city she blazed a trail,
her mouth became a lovely firetrap;

she smelt of men
with motorbikes and vintage ephemera.

They called her The Virgin Of Guadalupe,
for all her nailgunned roses, her weeping messiahs;

though the name was ironic.
You heard she mothered

noisily behind
the bus shelter at dusk.

In the summer her hair would burn
and the shrines she kept behind her ears would melt,

she’d tear through the city in ankle socks
and not much else;

It won’t be long you see,
before she tears no more –

becomes a legend
for the sewer’s glitterati

and perhaps
cleans rooms in a hotel somewhere.

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Featured Poet Charlotte Runcie Interviewed

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

You can find Charlotte’s poems here and here… and you should definitely also check out Pomegranate, her zine (my write-up here!). But for the time being, here’s a bit of info about Charlotte, her poems and her creative process.

Tell us about your poems.
My poems are my babies! They are my best friends and, until I’ve finished them, my worst enemies.
Because I’m only 19, I think I’ve still got a lot of experimenting to do before I settle down into any one style that could describe all of my poems – if that ever happens. At the moment I seem to go through phases of writing in different styles. I’m just emerging from a painful and prolonged dramatic monologue phase. It seems easier to write about some subjects when I assume the voice of someone else. For example, I’ve written quite a few poems from the point of view of men, or from people with strange experiences and occupations, just because it’s interesting to find out what my voice sounds like coming from a completely different kind of person’s mouth. My friend Dan says that my work drives him crazy because I keep using asyndeton in all my poems. I never even realised I did it before, but now I’m very aware of it every time I do it, and it’s a habit I’m trying to break. I’m not sure yet what the next poetry phase will be – I’ve had a sonnet phase, a love poem phase, a fantastical creatures phase… But I’ve certainly become more interested in fiddly formal poetry lately, so maybe some villanelles and sestinas are on the cards. I like the idea of exploring weird situations and fantasies within tight formal constraints; it’s like strapping a unicorn into BMW and watching what happens.

How long have you been writing?
There were lots of cheesy and sentimental poems I wrote for my school magazine, and I wrote some abysmal songs for a band I was in when I was about 13. I only started writing poetry a bit more seriously when I read some of the poems written by the winners of the 2005 Foyle Young Poets of the Year competition. They were so original and different from anything I’d read before, and I was amazed by how honest they were. Then I started thinking that maybe I could work up the courage to make poems out of all the weird things that went on in my head too. So I gave it a go and entered the competition. I ended up being one of the fifteen winners, and the Arvon creative writing course run by Paul Farley and Kate Clanchy that was the prize was an amazing experience, and it made me write more and more. That was nearly two years ago, and I’ve been writing solidly since then. I owe a lot to the Poetry Society.

Do you have any publications to your name (apart from this one)? What’s the next stage for your work?
I’ve been published in magazines like Read This, Shit Creek Review, Magma, and Brittle Star, which are all run by lovely people and to which I’d encourage everyone to submit. Hopefully I should have a pamphlet coming out later this year, so I’m working on that at the moment. I also spend a lot of time going to readings (including loads of open mics) because you never know what you might hear or what sort of people you might meet. Hopefully the next stage is just to do more readings, keep improving, and meet more great people writing and publishing poetry.

What do you think is your biggest poetic achievement to date?
Setting up the Pomegranate ezine. It started out as just a “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…” conversation with some poetically-minded friends, and it just grew and grew. I’m so proud of everything we’ve done with it.

What’s the best thing about writing poetry? And the worst?
The best thing is being able to create something small and whole and succinct. If writers were carpenters, novelists would spend years making big beautiful pieces of mahogany furniture, while poets would spent a week at a desk whittling a tiny, perfect little sculpture of a mouse. You could spent a day just carving its little whiskers. Okay, so that allegory falls apart very quickly if you think about it too much, but what I mean is, I love the detail you can get with a poem, and the art of saying something immensely complicated using just a few words and a careful structure. That’s one of the more obvious attractions of poetry I suppose, but it’s worth repeating.
The worst thing is that everyone thinks you’re a pretentious emo kid. Such is life.

Got any suggestions for young, upcoming poets?
Yes! Submit to Pomegranate! And to Read This, where the lovely Claire and her pals will give you great feedback [editor’s note: this is not a paid endorsement!]. Read proper poetry – Wordsworth and Auden and Shakespeare and Eliot but also Luke Kennard, Paul Farley, Jean Sprackland, Frances Leviston, Inua Ellams, Ciaran Carson, Jen Hadfield… Everyone on the shortlists of the big poetry prizes. Read things you hate, work out why you hate it, and then make sure you don’t make the same mistakes. And don’t be afraid to party with the grownups – it can seem like Andrew Motion and crew run the show, but there are plenty of opportunities for upcoming poets if you look hard enough. Your poems are no good to anyone if they’re kept in a notebook under your pillow, so get them out into the light – show them to friends, go to open mics, and send them to magazines. And listen to advice – I showed one of the first poems I ever wrote to my friend Amy, and she told me most of it was rubbish. I was disappointed at the time, but she was spot on. It was horrendous. I ended up using one tiny phrase from that poem in something else I wrote later, and scrapping the rest. Did I mention submit your poems to Pomegranate?

Who/what influences your poetry?
I’m actually really influenced by songwriters. Owen Pallett, Colin Meloy, and Joanna Newsom have influenced me a lot. I have some lyrics from Newsom’s song “Emily” taped up above my desk: “I dreamed you were skipping little stones across the surface of the water, / Frowning at the angle where they were lost, and slipped under forever / In a mud-cloud, mica-spangled, like the sky’d been breathing on a mirror.” I wish I could write like that.
Music and art are big influences – I love to write poems about people in paintings and who they might be. Or sometimes a phrase of music will stick in my head and I’ll want to turn it into words. Something else that sparks my writing is finding out about stories and characters from history, or just from family legends – people with unusual lives. For example, I wrote a poem about Chung Ling Soo, the magician who was killed when his bullet catch trick went wrong on stage, and the Chinese persona he had assumed all his life was revealed to be a fake when he cried for help in English. Stories like that are just crying out to be told as poems, and they can also serve as useful vehicles for exploring an idea that at first seems difficult to tackle.
As for actual poets who influence my writing, at the moment it has to be Norman MacCaig, Charles Simic, Paul Farley, Luke Kennard, as well as all the medieval and Renaissance poets I’ve been studying at university.
The young poets I work with on Pomegranate influence me a great deal too. Everyone on the team takes turns to workshop each others’ poems, and we write each other anonymous poems as Christmas and Halloween presents. It’s geeky but it really gets the creative juices flowing; I think being part of a poetry circle improves the work of everyone in it. It worked for the Romantics…


I have learned to hold a star on a post.
I can spin one end of an axis,
control a magnetic north of a creature
as slow and hot as a nebula,
create and shape cages for tiny suns.

And when I comb the sands for scallop shells
I find one mist-green stone licked soft
by rocks and storms. Maybe one
of mine, a shattered spirit bottle
beaten out of sharpness, lost its clarity.

I sense we’re both a long-rung note that wanted bells
and vespers, to sleep in arches and to stain
a monastery floor with weightless day,
forever holding up our faces to the light.

Want to be featured here? Drop me a line to with a few of your poems… it’s that simple!

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