Poet and visual artist Helen Ivory discusses her latest collection The Anatomical Venus. The poems explore how women have been portrayed as ‘other’; as witches; as hysterics with wandering wombs and as beautiful corpses cast in wax, or on mortuary slabs in TV box sets.
Helen discusses the historic texts which inspired the poems written in the course of six years extensive research. She also invites listeners to explore historical texts as a source for new poems.
There are many places to find primary texts: Libraries, books, newspapers, archives and online. Enjoy reading at first and see what you can discover. When something captures your imagination try writing a poem using some of the phrases and tone of the text. A good site to browse is www.eyewitnesstohistory.com
Helen Ivory edits the webzine Ink Sweat and Tears and teaches creative writing online for the UEA/WCN. A book of mixed media poems Hear What the Moon Told Me is published by KFS, and chapbook Maps of the Abandoned City by SurVision. She has work translated into Polish and Ukrainian as part of the Versopolis project.
Any serious poet knows the importance of redrafting. A poem can go through numerous drafts and change beyond recognition from the first jottings in a notebook to final published piece. It is also a difficult practice which takes time and effort to develop. It can be hard to see how to improve poems which either seem to be finished or failed attempts.
Choose two existing draft poems that aren’t quite working – find one where you like something about the form and another where you like something about the content/subject matter and try to combine them somehow into one. There should be an element of surprise that they’re not both about the same thing, but there is some way of making the two subjects speak to each other.
Alternatively, if there is a subject you’ve been trying to write about for a while but haven’t got where you wanted, review your existing draft poems on that subject, note down a few of the best lines/phrases/images and then try to combine them to make a new poem. Or take a set form (a sonnet, rhyming quatrains, a ballad) and write a completely new poem on the subject, but being led by the form.
This podcast regularly invites you to try writing new poems so this is a great opportunity to develop something you have already written. Maybe there is a poem you started in response to one of the other prompts which you can develop using these ideas. If you don’t have any draft poems take some of the poems you think are finished and play around with them. Whatever comes up, you’ll still have the previous versions so you’ve got nothing to lose.
As always, do share your poems. They could be featured on the blog or a future podcast. You can send them here.
Haiku may be short but the best are finely crafted with no excess words. Award-winning poet Paul Chambers has made this succinct, beautiful and often misunderstood form his specialty.
On this podcast he explains how the form works and shares some of his own haikus as well as explaining why it took three years to write the haiku above. He also offers a masterclass to get you started writing haiku. See below for details.
I think it is important to centre your focus primarily on the subject, and not on form or syllable-counting. Haiku poetry is the sharing of a sensory experience, usually set against the backdrop of the seasons. This exercise allows you to explore this:
Write the words ‘summer night’ at the top of the page. In your mind, place yourself in a familiar location on a summer night, such as your garden or on a beach. Then create a bullet-point list of everything you can experience through your senses (see, hear, touch, taste, smell) in that place on a summer night. Begin with obvious things, such as waves crashing or the moon shining, and then start to notice the smaller things, such as the taste of salt on the breeze, or sea fleas running over stones. Then, using ‘summer night’ as the first line of your haiku, write lines two and three using imagery from your sensory list. Such as:
summer night sea waves crashing through moonlight
summer night sea fleas running over moonlit stones
You can repeat this as many times as you like, and you can explore different seasonal settings too, such as ‘winter morning’, or ‘departing spring’.
As always do share your haiku for possible inclusion on the podcast or blog. Please send submissions here.
Thanks to Le Pub in Newport for providing a quiet, Covid-secure venue for the first face-to-face recording in over six months.
Paul Chambers is an award-winning haiku poet and the Editor of the Wales Haiku Journal. To date he has published two full-length collections of poetry, and has had work appear in some of the world’s most prestigious journals and anthologies, including Modern Haiku, Presence, Frogpond, the Heron’s Nest, the Atlanta Review, and the Red Moon Anthology. A selection of his haiku has also been published in the celebrated North American poetry series, A New Resonance.
Paul’s haiku has been described as ‘a poetic spell’ (Modern Haiku), and he has contributed creative and critical material to the Times Literary Supplement, the BBC, NHK World, the Arts Council of Wales and the Wales Arts Review, as well as national Japanese newspapers, the Mainichi and the Asahi Shimbun.
He has won the Museum of Haiku Literature Award, the NHK Haiku Masters Award, the Golden Triangle Haiku Award, and has been shortlisted for both the Haiku Foundation’s Distinguished Book Award and Distinguished Poem Award – the most prestigious prizes in the field of English-language haiku.
Jonathan Davidson has been writing poetry for 30 years. He also likes to read other people’s poems for entertainment and inspiration and share the joy they bring. His latest book a Common Place is more than just a poetry collection. It contains favourite poems by other poets, a commentary, gazetteer and lots and lots of footnotes.
In this interview Jonathan talks with passion about poetry and his other interests including apples and bricks. He is generous with his advice from his long writing career.
The podcast is in two parts. In the first Jonathan talks about one poem from the book Printing. He explains the background and his writing process and invites listeners to take inspiration from other technological processes: “Identify a technological process – it could be ancient like windmills or recent like open heart surgery – and write a poem in response to this process but about your own life.”
Jonathan recommends learning about the process you’ve chosen and the language around it and build some of this language and knowledge into your poem.
In the second part Jonathan talks about A Common Place and why he chose to break with convention to produce a poetry collection with various other bits added in. He also shares a couple more poems from the book.
As always it would be great to read the technological poems you write and share them on the blog or podcast. Please submit them here.
You can find out more about Jonathan Davidson via the link below and you can buy A Common Place here.
John McCullough discusses his poem Stationery from the Costa Award shortlisted collection Reckless Paper Birds. He talks about the various elements that influenced the poem: From his love life to social media posts. He invites listeners to write a poem using items of stationery as metaphors for life and relationships.
“Though the voice of ‘Stationery’ is quite anxious and manic, the poem is subtly structured not only through the jaunty, indented stanzas like steps but also through a series of images taken from the world of stationery. I’d like you to write a poem which uses one or more items of stationery as a metaphor for either a relationship or for society at large. What does it mean to be written in pencil rather than ink or to be stapled? There’s inevitably immediate potential for humour here but I’d also like you to think about how this strange perspective might be used to probe deeper territory, how adopting this unusual angle might allow you to investigate the different ways that people interact with each other.”
Pick up your pen and notebook and see what inspires you. Send your poems here and you could be featured on the blog or in a future podcast.
This podcast features a selection of poems sent in by listeners. We have heard many talented and accomplished poets in the last year. But Poetry Non-Stop was always intended to inspire everyone to write poetry and give new poets a platform.
Alexander Rhodes found his way into the poetry scene through a combination of chance, hard work and raw talent. He has performed up and down the country and taken his award-winning verse play One Foot in the Rave to the Edinburgh Fringe and on tour. It tells the story of how he was thrown out of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and became a rave DJ.
In this podcast he talks about how he became a poet and performer in a conversation rich in anecdotes and great poetry.
For a writing prompt Alexander responded with:
Transhumanism for dummies
“I like the subtle inferences of those words, and also we are accelerating towards Superintelligent AI with very little discussion among the artistic community – so now would be a good time as any.”
You can hear how Patrick and Alexander responded to this topic, and it’s an area Alexander is researching for a forthcoming novel. Do share your own responses to the prompt here or in the comments for possible inclusion on a future podcast or on the blog.
Alexander will be touring One Foot in the Rave again when lockdown is lifted and has a new show due to start touring in 2021.
Katherine Stansfield talks about poetry and place and how language intersects the two. Her second collection, We Could Be Anywhere By Now, is inspired by her life in Wales after growing up in Cornwall. Katherine wrote the collection over seven years and it covers her experience of moving Wales, a country with its own official language, and memories of her childhood in Cornwall, an area with its own distinct history, geography and a language that is almost forgotten. From this starting point it moves to Italy and ends up in Vancouver.
For a writing exercise Katherine reads Klonjuze, a poem about a word her sister invented. She invites you to write about a family word, a word that has gained a new meaning or special significance or make up a word and write a poem to define it.
I’m putting together an ‘open mic’ episode featuring listeners’ poems and would particularly like to receive submissions inspired by this or any of the other writing prompts from previous episodes. Full details of how to submit here.
Katherine Stansfield grew up in Cornwall and now lives in Cardiff. Her poems have appeared in The North, Magma, Poetry Wales, The Interpreter’s House, And Other Poems, Butcher’s Dog, and as ‘Poem of the Week’ in The Guardian. Her debut collection, Playing House (2014), a pamphlet, All That Was Wood (2019) and her second full-length collection, We Could Be Anywhere By Now(2020), are all published by Seren. She teaches for the Open University and is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow. Katherine is also a novelist. Her latest title are The Mermaid’s Call, and Widow’s Welcome (co-written with her partner and published under the name DK Fields).
Olly Watson is a thatcher not a poet so has absolutely no clue how he has managed to convince loads of people to put him on stage. He has gigged all over the country including four solo shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, often to crowds in the tens of people, runs his own poetry night in Norwich and was a 2017 National poetry slam finalist. It is true that he’s a much better thatcher than he is a poet, but he is a damn fine thatcher.
Olly Watson introduces himself in typically modest fashion but his poetry is worth hearing along with his philosophy on being creative and happy, and praise for the various people who have influenced him.
Olly’s writing exercise is to write a new version of an existing poem. He gives Philip Larkin’s poem Sad Steps a twist and Patrick rewrites Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art from a different angle. Please share your own efforts by email or in the comments.
Bristol-based poet David Hanlon began writing poetry after recovering from depression. He was inspired by previous podcast guest Christina Thatcher to explore past experiences through poetry. Christina became his mentor and he has been widely published.
On this podcast he discusses his debut publication The Spectrum of Flight. In it he explores themes such as sexuality, homophobia, bullying, toxic masculinity, depression, love, resilience and, ultimately, recovery. Delving into deeply personal terrain, Hanlon exhumes an adolescence pummelled by name-calling that grew a beast of shame inside him and rendered him silent. In revisiting these painful experiences, and a resulting adulthood charred by the fluctuating and precarious nature of his mental health, he battles to reclaim his voice and grasp self-acceptance; to prize open the metal bars of his caged body: ‘a moulting of the internalised’, to spread his wings and soar: unleashing, and finally embracing, the spectrum of his identity.
David’s writing exercise
As David’s collection is all about flight as a metaphor for rising above and overcoming hardship write a poem about flight. Try using personal experiences as inspiration. The flight could be literal or metaphorical. It may dominate the poem or be one detail. Try free writing until your imagination grows wings, then see where it takes you.
As always we’d love to hear what you come up with. Please share via email or online using #poetrynonstop.
David Hanlon is a confessional poet from Cardiff, Wales, now living in Bristol, England. He is a Best of the Net nominee. You can find his work online in over 40 online magazines. His first chapbook Spectrum of Flight is available for purchase now at Animal Heart Press. You can follow him on twitter @DavidHanlon13