Episode 40: John Hegley – Odes to John Keats and Fishy Acrostics

Picture: Polly Hancock

It’s a pleasure to welcome John Hegley, a poet who never fails to entertain with his words, wit, music and audience participation. In a career spanning over 40 years John has appeared on Radio 4 and Radio 1, been a regular at the Edinburgh Festival and been an inspirational tutor running creative writing classes and activities up and down the country.

He has recently published a collection of poems inspired by the life and work of John Keats with Caldew Press called A Scarcity of Biscuit. On the podcast he talks about how he came to know and appreciate Keats’ life and work starting with a residency at Keats’ house. He has continued to explore and write about the great romantic poet using his playful style of writing to reveal a lighter side to the tragic bard’s life.

John’s fish acrostics exercise

Make a paper fish and write an a poem on it with each line beginning with the letters of the word FISH and/or POISSON. See the video above for a demonstration and a couple of examples by Patrick below.

Please share your work as always. It would be great to see pictures of your fish on social media. Please post and tag @poetrynonstop. You can also send them by email here. Let’s create a shoal of poetic paper fish!

Handfish acrostic by Patrick Widdess
Poisson acrostic by Patrick Widdess

You can purchase A Scarcity of Biscuit from Caldew Press here. For John’s other work and activities, see his website: www.johnhegley.co.uk

Books by many of the poets featured on the podcast are available from the Poetry Non-Stop bookshop here. All books purchased via this link help to raise money to keep this podcast going.

Episode 38: Beth Hartley – Make Space for Poetry

Picture: Ken Cumberlidge

Beth Hartley shares poems from her debut collection, What if Stars, published by Allographic. She discusses the role poetry has had in her life and the joys of bringing her first book into the world. She also shows us how we can find poetry in our most familiar surroundings.

Beth’s Writing at Home exercise

Go into a room in your house or garden if you have one. Be still in it and allow it to talk to you. What is it giving your different senses? What is it telling you? Is it telling you about something that it likes or that needs doing? Hold yourself open to the influences of your place – even and especially as these places are the things you see every day. We tend to neglect what we see most often. Set a timer for a free write – then afterward, go back into that free write and work from that.

Beth shares her poem Before on the podcast, written using this technique. She says: “Before” is something I wrote about being up earlier than the rest of my household, a time I often use for writing, or planning, to be still. Senses also heighten memory and experiences and it’s good to explore those things in our work. I often use poetry to process experiences – like this, or sometimes dreams or performances. It helps my brain to make sense of all the things and also to remember things.

As always please share what you come up with for a chance to feature on the blog or podcast. You can submit poems here.

For more information on Beth Hartley and to buy her book visit: linktr.ee/PoetryBees

Books by many of the poets featured on the podcast are available from the Poetry Non-Stop bookshop here. All books purchased via this link help to raise money to keep this podcast going.

Episode 37: Ken Cumberlidge – Abracadabra

Many budding poets are put off by forms with complicated rules restricting what they want to say and how they can say it. In this episode Ken Cumberlidge explains that working within rules and limitations can give your creativity a boost and help you find new ideas and original ways of expressing yourself. The more restrictions you have the better!

Ken also talks about how he discovered poetry at a young age with the help of a wonderful English teacher. Performing at poetry nights in Liverpool in his teens helped him overcome a stammer and he went on to have a long career as an actor. It’s an inspiring story for anyone interested in writing or performing.

Ken’s abracadabra and bibliomancy exercise

While listening to the podcast and doing the exercise you will find it useful to refer to Ken’s poem here.

The abracadabra form was created by another former podcast guest Fay Roberts. It is based on the abracadabra sigel with the first line having 11 syllables (one for each letter) then going down by one each time to end with a single syllable on the last line.

But this restriction alone is not enough for Ken who combines it with with another technique for generating material to work with – bibliomancy. This involves randomly selecting passages from two different books (non-fiction works best) and using them as a starting point for a poem. As a further restriction Ken limits himself only to the words in the two passages to construct his poem with all its syllable restrictions.

Try to write an abracadabra poem. You can use as many of the other limitations as you want. It is certainly a good idea to give yourself a few rules for the first draft or two. If, as the poem develops, you feel it would work better with other words or a different form that’s OK. The rules are there to inspire and challenge, not hold you back.

The link above includes Ken’s poem and the source texts with the words and phrases highlighted that were used in the poem.

As always please send in your poems. It would be great to share them on the podcast or blog. You can submit poems here. Thanks to everyone who submitted great supermarket poems in response to John Osborne’s prompt on the last podcast.

You can find more of Ken’s poetry on Soundcloud and Youtube via the links here. His final poem in the podcast “Contactless” was first published in June 2021, in Issue 7 of “As Above So Below”, edited by Bethany Rivers. You can read it here.

Books by many of the poets featured on the podcast are available from the Poetry Non-Stop bookshop here. All books purchased via this link help to raise money to keep this podcast going.

Episode 36: John Osborne – Poetry in the supermarket

Picture: Katie Pope

Everything’s in the supermarket so you can write about death and sadness and love and romance.

John Osborne

Norwich-based poet John Osborne reads from his latest collection A Supermarket Love Story and discusses the potential for poetry in the setting of the stores we take for granted.

John’s supermarket writing prompt

Choose an aisle in a supermarket and write a poem about it OR write a poem with the title ‘A Supermarket Just Before Closing’.

Tips:

  • Visit a supermarket you don’t usually go to or go at an unusual time
  • Make a list of words associated with supermarkets
  • Write down memories, observations and other experiences associated with supermarkets
  • Think about how these experiences relate to other parts of your life

We’d love to read any poems you write so please send them in here for a chance to be featured on the blog or podcast.

John Osborne writes stories, poems and scripts. His poetry has been broadcast on Radio 1, Radio 3, Radio 4, BBC 6Music, XFM and Soho Radio. You can purchase A Supermarket Love Story here with illustrations by Katie Pope

http://www.johnosbornewriter.com

Episode 35: Wendy Hind – Tiny Poems

Wendy Hind from Lincoln, Nebraska, turned to poetry when her son was born with critical health problems. As her interest developed in poetry as narrative medicine for the soul she started the Tiny Poetry project, writing and sharing poems that deliver small but potent doses of hope, resilience, compassion and empathy. She shares some of the poems and talks about how the power of poetry is being increasingly recognised in the medical world.

Wendy also shares a poem written in response to Abbie Neale‘s writing exercise on clothing.

Wendy’s tiny poetry exercise

1. Think of a time when you or a loved one was ill. Take a few moments to write down five to 10 words that come into your mind when you think about that experience.
2. Next write a corresponding word next to each of the words you have just written. Maybe it is a descriptive word, maybe an action word, maybe a metaphor.  
3. Now read through the group of words circle those pairs that resonate the loudest with you. Add one more brutally honest word to each pair.
4. Take these words and attempt to compose a poem. The poem may be long at first. Often tiny poems are the result of paring down a longer poem – much like taking your initial list of words and taking out those words that are the least powerful. 
5. As concise brevity is the point of a tiny poem, every word must work towards the meaning of your poem.

Notes for a tiny poem

This is a great exercise for focusing the mind and writing about experiences that might be difficult to address. As you can see from the notes above, the initial list of does not have to be particularly creative or original. The words may or may not end up in the final poem but can help to pinpoint the one concise thing you want to say about the subject you’re writing about.

As always, submissions are encouraged. Please send you poems here to be featured on the blog or podcast.

You can find out more about Wendy and the Tiny Poetry project at www.tinypoetryproject.com

Books by many of the poets featured on the podcast are available from the Poetry Non-Stop bookshop here. All books purchased via this link help to raise money to keep this podcast going.

Episode 34: Michelle Marie Jacquot – Poetry in the Digital World

LA-based poet Michelle Marie Jacquot’s new pamphlet DETERIORATE, which criticizes and questions the digital age and the effects our modern world has had on humanity. She reads from this and her other collections and discusses her no-nonsense DIY approach to publishing and promotion.

Michelle’s predictive text poetry writing exercise

Has technology ever corrected something you meant to write into something completely different? What did it change? How did you react, feel? Maybe not even a word, perhaps a name? Someone you love to someone you hate? Did it make you angry? Make you laugh? Or was it a silly word? One you never use? Did it change the meaning entirely? Maybe it just made you annoyed at your phone? Who knows. Think on one time autocorrect has changed your words without permission. If it hasn’t, congratulate yourself and write about being precise or lucky, or both.

Please share whatever poems the exercise inspires. Submissions can be sent here for possible inclusion on the blog or future episodes.

For more information about Michelle Marie Jacquot and to buy her books visit www.michellemariejacquot.com

Books by many of the poets featured on the podcast can be purchased via the Poetry Non-Stop bookshop here. All books purchased via this link help to raise money to keep this podcast going.

Episode 33: Ted Sherman – Children’s fantasy poems

In this episode we look at children’s poetry with Bristol-based poet Ted Sherman. He reads from his book for eight to 12-year-olds Dungeon Days which reveals the hidden lives of the mythical creatures living in a typical Dungeons and Dragons dungeon. He also provides a masterclass in writing similar children’s fantasy poems.

We encounter a dwarf in search of a hobby outside his deadly day job, a skeleton with an unusual afterlife and truly monstrous school dinners served by a minotaur. Patrick also shares a poem about a very athletic crab.

Ted’s children’s fantasy character creation exercise

There might seem like a lot of steps to this but each one is quite easy and together they provide a good foundation for a poem that children will love.

  1. Choose your character’s species. Is it a witch, a mermaid, a giant or dwarf. It could be a superhero or some kind of animal.
  2. Describe the characters appearance including things like gender, age, size
  3. Name your character.
  4. What is your character’s job? Try picking something not typically associated with fantasy – i.e. a milkman, the prime minster, a train driver etc.
  5. Create a short, one or two sentence, back story in which there must be a twist, such as the goblin train driver can’t see the controls of the train because he is too small so has to find another way to drive it.
  6. Create a brief story plan – a starting point, a midpoint and the end, so that there is a strong narrative through the poem.
  7. Decide on a rhyme scheme and brainstorm rhyming words that you can use in your poem.

This should give you all you need to write your poem. You don’t have to stick to the plan – things are sure to change along the way. When you’ve written your poem please send it in. It might be featured on the blog or podcast. Poems can be sent here.

Ted Sherman is a father of 3. His poetry has been read on BBC Bristol Radio and has been performed as part of the Echoes and Edges Collab’ Sessions, He has been published in several haiku journals (including Modern Haiku and Seashores), and during lockdown he undertook a project to display the Dungeon Days poems in a woodland area of Bristol during lockdown (this was nominated for the Radio 4 All In The Mind awards).

You can find my poetry at

Books by many of the poets featured on the podcast can be purchased via the Poetry Non-Stop bookshop here. All books purchased via this link help to raise money to keep this podcast going.

Episode 32: Adele Cordner – Poems from the pandemic

Black and white portrait of poet Adele Cordner
Photo by Pixels in time

Adele Cordner’s debut collection The Kitchen Sink Chronicles was written in the last year. It captures the fear, uncertainty and strangeness of lockdown while also finding moments of hope, resilience and joy.

Adele shares some poems from the book and offers an exercise to write poems of hope and resilience in response to the poem Swallow Chick below. They do not have to be about the pandemic but we can all do with some more positive and hopeful poems at this time. I hope you will be inspired to write something and share it. Please send submissions here.

The book is illustrated by Adele’s daughter, Florence Cordner, including this image from the poem Swallow Chick.

Swallow Chick by Florence Cordner

Swallow Chick

23rd April 2020

I ache for my daughter through these lockdown days
wandering the garden, taking photos on my phone
of first daffs then roses to send to her,

when, suddenly, there she is, my swallow chick
perched high on the aerial, so proud to be home.
I’d recognise those bright eyes anywhere.

Last June, I found her helpless on the garage floor,
her nest a mess of soil and feathers around her,
her parents darting frantically about my head.

I was nervous, but I knew she needed me,
cupped her heart in my hands and placed her
gently in a tree, her elders shrieking all the while.

But, straightaway, she launched herself to the ground,
hopped around my feet, brave and unaware
of the lurking cats anticipating a snack.

I stored her safe in a shoe box while I built a little cot,
gathering leaves, petals, feathers from her nest,
then tucked her up high on a garage shelf.

But, in moments, she was out again, put back
again and again, for days and days, until, at last,
from beam to beam, and out, she flew!

Now, she is back, sleek plumes, colours deepened,
tail feathers long and strong.
What was it like, Africa? I’ve never been.

As I take her photo, I imagine her there,
independent, exploring savannahs with her kind,
and the old, now familiar, ache returns.

Adele Cordner

The Kitchen Sink Chronicles is available from Adele’s website. Profits from copies purchased via this link will go to Crohn’s & Colitis UK, a charity close to Adele’s heart. www.adelecordner.com

The Kitchen Sink Chronicles, published by Hedgehog Press in 2021, is Adele’s first poetry collection. It charts her experience of the first six months of the Covid Pandemic. Adele’s poetry has been placed in many international poetry competitions including Poetry on the Lake, The Magic Oxygen Literary Prize and The Welsh Poetry Competition. Her poems have appeared in Red Poets Magazine and various anthologies including Ways To Peace and Poems For Grenfell Tower. She has also won poetry prizes in both Abergavenny and Upper Chapel Eisteddfods. Adele recently gained an MA (Distinction) in Scriptwriting from Bath Spa University. She is a member of Chepstow NaCOT and Newport Stanza poetry workshops, and a performer and director for Newport Playgoers Society and Everyman Theatre Cardiff. She also sings with The Singing Club in Chepstow. Adele, who was born in Newport, is a mum of four children and now lives in rural Monmouthshire, South Wales.

Illustration by Florence Cordner

Books by many of the poets featured on the podcast can be purchased via the Poetry Non-Stop bookshop here. All books purchased via this link help to raise money to keep this podcast going.

Episode 31: Des Mannay – Writing Family History

Unless you enter things, unless you send poems off to get published, enter competitions… It’s by doing that that you make links and you never know what those links lead to.

Des Mannay

Wise words from Newport poet Des Mannay whose poems are reached further than he could have imagined. His raw, witty, personal and often political poems have attracted the attention of editors and competition judges leading to opportunities to perform and publish across the globe and beyond… Seriously – some of his poems are due to be sent to the moon!

On this podcast he reads from his debut collection Sod ‘Em – and Tomorrow, and shares a writing exercise on family history:

“Take a story or myth which is a part of your family history. Reflect on how you fit in as part of that story.”

Everyone’s family background offers rich material for writing. Des talks about his background and how you can learn more about yours to respond to the writing exercise.

You are more than welcome to submit poems written in response to the prompt here. We’d love to read them and they may be featured on the blog or podcast.

Des has also embraced the global community that has grown through poetry events held on Zoom. Here are a few he recommends attending:

Poetry in the Brew

Write and Release

Like a blot from the blue

Live Poets Society

You can buy Des’s book here. Books by many of the poets featured on the podcast can be purchased via the Poetry Non-Stop bookshop here. All books purchased via this link help to raise money to keep this podcast going.

Episode 29: Abbie Neale – Poetry in Clothing

Our relationship with clothing is lifelong and intimate. It defines who we are and can both reveal and hide our character and emotions. Our wardrobes hold our memories and darkest secrets. What poems are woven into the fabric of the clothes you have known during your life?

Abbie Neale shares poems from her debut collection Threadbare in which she uses clothing to address often quite dark and sensitive topics and experiences. She also invites you to write a clothing based poem.

Abbie’s clothing prompt

Think of an item of clothing (real or imaginary) and develop a poem around that – What does it look/smell/feel like? Where is it? Is it ordinary or remarkable? What’s possibly been left in its pockets and what does this tell us about the person it belongs to? Where can the poem go from here?

As always submissions of poems in response to the prompt are welcome and could be shared on the blog or podcast. Please send them in here.

Find out more about Abbie on her website or find her on social media: Instagram @abbie.neale, Art Instagram: @abbie.neale.art, Twitter: @AbbieeNeale

Abbie’s book Threadbare is available from the Poetry Non-Stop bookstore. Bookshop.org supports independent bookstores and purchases made via this link earn commission to support this podcast. You can find Abbie’s book along with many others from previous podcast guests.