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.
The next guest on the podcast is Helen Ivory. Here she is reading a poem from her latest collection The Anatomical Venus. Helen’s readings are always captivating. The poems contain striking language and vivid imagery and her explanations about where they came from are fascinating. Helen will be sharing some more poems from The Anatomical Venus and discussing how she wrote them along with how to use primary historic texts to write poems.
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.
Here’s a poem from upcoming podcast guest Ramona Herdman. Ramona lives in Norwich and her latest pamphlet, ‘A warm and snouting thing’, was published by The Emma Press in September 2019. It is shortlisted for the 2020 East Anglian Book Awards.
How can we blame you for blurring life with alcohol and barbiturates, when we all want to rub our faces blind on your soft stomach, your breasts,
have you breathe sad bourbon fumes into our mouths, sing a song then sparkle a quip, tap a tune in perfect syncopation?
You were born with one bit of luck (your looks) and you used it like a mountain – years of work, snow-blindness, crampon hooks, and the whole of your life climbing.
They tell your marriages like a fairy tale – the boy next door, the sports star, the sensitive intellectual – like counting to three means happy ever after.
Holly Golightly was written for you: wild animal, living on change for the restroom. The mean reds, the blues. Poor slob, poor cat with no name.
Marilyn, you’re the ghost of trying. Snowfield face and sequinned sheath. Work and wanting and wanting in that white-out smile. You make me hold my breath.
I watch you shimmy, in clothes too tight to walk in – jello on springs, kissing Hitler – in heels that hurt, thigh sliding round thigh, down the platform. Hassled by steam and a wah-wah tune. Perfect.
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.
This week’s podcast guest is Paul Chambers. Paul 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.
He will be be discussing this ancient and often misunderstood poetic form and offering a simple exercise to help anyone write a haiku. Here is a selection of his work:
freeing itself of itself the thawing stream
magnolia scent… sunlight in the hairs along my son’s ear
pre-dawn stars… plumes of breath from a cattle truck
morning coolness the meadow holds the shape of a deer
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.
Jonathan Davidson is the next guest on the podcast sharing poems from his latest book, A Common Place. It is a collection of Jonathan’s poetry and much more. There is a commentary, a selection of influential poems by other poets, a gazetteer with all the places mentioned in the book and footnotes – a lot of footnotes!
You can find out why Jonathan chose to publish in this unusual format on the podcast as well as hearing a few poems. He will also be offering valuable advice and inspiration from a writing career of more than 30 years.
I walked with my invisible father out into the fields on the edge of town. But they are gone now: new roads, new names, new people.
Dad, stay here for a while, I said, and I’ll go and find out what has happened to our lives. He sat on the newly installed bench.
And when I returned, furnished with stories of change, I found him utterly dead, his cold eyes on the cold world closed. So
many years he had lived here and then this: his roads re-named, his fields built over, his people now coming into view as strangers.
By Jonathan Davidson, from A Commonplace (Smith|Doorstop, 2020)
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.
John McCullough is the next guest on the podcast talking his Costa Book Awards shortlisted poetry collection, Reckless Paper Birds published by Penned in the Margins. Here’s one of the poems you can hear him read and discuss.
It’s true: there is a light at the centre of my body. If I could, I would lift aside a curtain of this flesh and demonstrate, but for now it is my private neon. It is closest to the air at certain moments, like when buttercups repair a morning’s jagged edge. Other times, a flock of days descends and my soul flickers, goes to ground. Without light, I’m all membrane; each part becomes a gate. I pour across each margin and nothing has enough hands to catch me, my teeth knocking so fast I daren’t hold any piece of myself near in case I start a banquet. I’m only eased by accident. On the drenched path, I pick up snails and transport them to safer earth then feel a stirring. I watch as rain streams from lopped-back elms, my face teeming with water and―hello stranger―my soul glides to my surface like it, too, belongs there; like a bright fish rising to feed.
John McCullough lives in Hove. His first collection of poems, The Frost Fairs (Salt), won the Polari First Book Prize in 2012 and was a Book of the Year for The Independent. This was followed by Spacecraft (Penned in the Margins, 2016) which was a summer read in The Guardian and shortlisted for the Ledbury-Forte prize. His latest book of poems, Reckless Paper Birds (Penned in the Margins, 2019) was recently shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award. The judges said “This collection – hilarious, harrowing and hyper-modern – offers a startlingly fresh insight into vulnerability and suffering.”