Thursday, 31 July 2008

About the blog

I know I said I'd write about my launch party next but it's all been a bit crazy here and there's been no time to think in any kind of organised way so instead here's a post I've been half-working on for a while. I thought maybe today was its day...

Starting this blog wasn't my idea, you know – like all good ideas it was my hi-tech Beloved's. 'You should have a blog', he said some years back, 'everyone's got one'. That argument has never worked with me (and if you looked in my wardrobe you'd know that already..) so I ignored him and did something else. Then eventually I found myself looking at a blog here and there and got round to saying to him 'you know, that thing you said about having a blog...' I think he made a 'oh, shock, horror, was I right?' face. I see that face a lot.

By this time blogs were fairly pass̩ so I felt it was OK to proceed (or something...anti-fashion or fashion...which is the bigger illusion? Discuss). Also I had been thinking that maybe, finally, it was time to communicate with other writers and that this might be a way to do it. As I may have said before I don't do writers' groups, creative writing courses, hanging out with writers Рit's just never appealed to me and the times I have tried...oh gee (as Hope would say), it hasn't really been my cup of tea. Still it was something that I kept thinking about and I wondered if maybe this might be a way to give hanging with my writer homies another go Рwithout the train journeys and the babysitting and the sitting through hours of (some) tedium. My offline, so-real-I-can-touch-them-sometimes friends these days include pretty much everyone but writers...I've got several artists, quite a few people in vague hard-to-define occupations, lots of musicians, a masseuse, a longterm Phd student (History), an environmental protection officer, various people in administrative jobs they do or don't like, a very musical cleaner, a couple of I.T. experts, a youth work manager, a couple of people retired from some type of teaching, a couple of people who would love to retire from some type of teaching, a civil servant or two Рall these (lucky me) but no writers so I just had a nagging feeling that it was time to give writers another try.

Now here I am and I can't believe I've been writing this blog and reading others since April 2007 (but it's there in the archive so it must be true). It's been a strange experience so far but good overall...I think. I have read some interesting essays and articles and diary pieces online, I've picked up all kinds of information, made some invisible friends and found out that writers can be just as annoying and know-it-all in blogs as they can anywhere else but that I must learn to cope with that (and face up to the fact that I am just as guilty as anyone else...at times...no, no, it can't be true...well, now and again...).

So what do you think of the show so far? For me, the best of this blogging experience to date has been:

The interchange between interesting human beings РColin Will, Hope, Jim Murdoch, Sorlil, Hugh 'Shug' Macmillan, other people now and again. I think blogging has to be an interactive thing or it's just another of life's disappointments, another missed opportunity for maximum communication. And if all you're going to write all the time is that you're too busy to write then please...go and do the other things and stop annoying people with you're 'I'm so busy's. (Clich̩-that's-true alert Рdo something properly or don't do it at all...).
Humour – Is there anything more important in life? I've enjoyed the online humour of Ken Armstrong, Jim Murdoch (again), Shug (again), my old friend Sean Smith at Expletive Undeleted...that's all men...where are the funny girls? There's a couple on MySpace I like – they're quite rude though...
Great writing - I read a lot of good writing on and in blogs...young Fiendish in Ireland, for example, she's pretty amazing at times.
Interesting lives – I am one of those people (and writers) who thinks that everyone's life is interesting in some way. Of course, that said, not everyone can make the details of that life into an interesting blog! One of my favourite fascinating life blogs is Lemn Sissay's. His online diary is a wild wander through performances, projects, perceptions and people. He's one of the first poets I heard read poems live and I still love his passion for the word (written, spoken and in all its forms) and his passion for people and life (despite/because of some the crap life has passed his way). His spelling's pretty crazy at times so that will put some readers off...I am quite anal about my own spelling but I can bear Lemn's for many reasons but mainly because there's so much to get from what he writes that it would be a shame to miss it all because of a wrong 'their' here and their. I also love reading about Colin Will's travels and varied activities. Like Lemn, Colin sees through the wide eyes of a child but writes with the wisdom of a well-travelled thinking man.
Honey, just teach me something – if only all teachers were as good as some of the bloggers I read. I've learned a lot from the likes of Dave King, Jim Murdoch and Ms Baroque/Katy Evans Bush (though I disagree with the latter quite a bit too – see accessibility, song lyrics and political correctness. We have very different hobby horses, she and I...different ends of the toyshop at times). Still, all of these bloggers appeal to me when they pass on information and ideas with knowledge and enthusiasm. I'm not the most erudite literary blogger (it's just not my natural area of strength!) but I'm all for learning as many new things a day as possible.

As well as all that there has been:

Something completely different - I read blogs by some writers and/or poets who sometimes think so differently to me that it can be... awkward at times. About once a week I hear Don Paterson's voice in my head (disturbing, I know...) saying 'I fucking hate blogs' (remember that quote from a while back?)..and I want to agree. Then I switch back on, read something else that's fascinating, end up back at the blog that wound me up last time and find myself reading again...even if they don't read me (because I'm too... what? Too lowly? Too unheard of? Too slack? Too annoying? Or maybe I'm just too lowly for them to be seen commenting chez me...is that possible? Anything's possible...). Whatever... it's healthy, I think, to read about other people's points of view and not just stick to what my friend Verona refers to as PLU (people like us). I am a disgusting optimist on the subject of whether humans really can all get on together (even if, at the same time, I am well aware that it is the mother of all lost causes). Sometimes reading and getting involved with some of these blogs has had me...well, OK...close to tears ('why do people have to be like this!')...but, you know, on certain days I cry very, very easily. And sometimes I get an idea or even a whole poem out of the process. And in the end...it's only blogging. No-one gets hurt. Not really. Not for long. It's not like real arguments with friends or family where your very soul is ripped out by the carefully-judged attack!

So on I go...on we go...here we go, here we go...sorry...football chanting intermission. I'm not sure how long I'll be doing this but I'm really pleased about some of the people I've 'met' and some of the things I've learned and had to think about. So it hasn't been all pain and no gain has it, my friends?

Saturday, 26 July 2008

What do dead men wear?

One has been tagged. First time. By Sorlil (see Poetry in Progress). This is all a bit thoroughly modern for me but here we go with 'My most recent purchases of a book, a film, and a sound recording (with accompanying information)'. I will not be tagging anyone but if any of you want to add your list in comments...be my guest, as ever.

1. Book
To be honest I get books out of those crazy old things called libraries most often. I do buy quite a lot of books as presents for other people but the last book I bought for me was the Richard Brautigan 'Willard and his bowling trophies'(1976) that I picked up second-hand and wrote about a few blogs ago. At the moment I am mainly reading books that I have swapped with bloggers and myspacers and other writers for copies of mine. It is a veritable literary swapshop (but Edmonds free) and it's been really interesting - some people are keen to swap, some aren't (their loss, hah!). Speaking of books, I had my Montrose launch party last night and it was fantastic (full report later...I think...may even put a photo up).

2. Film
This one's easy. I very rarely buy DVDs but the other week I had a craving for 'Cabaret'(1972) - old Liza Minnelli and all. It was a weird thing...first I'd done that life-summed-up-in-7-words and discovered that one of my words was 'cabaret' (I was a bit surprised by the realisation at first but then it made perfect sense). Then I was thinking about the film 'Rich & Famous'(1981) that I used to love when I was a teenager (it's about two female friends who both end up being writers - one critically successful, one commercially). I was considering 'Rich & Famous' for that tag list of films (see Ken Armstrong a while back) and and when I looked it up on t'internet I was reminded that it was a remake of a film called 'Old Acquaintance'(1943) and that that in turn was originally a play by one John van Druten (1901-1957). Van Druten also wrote the play 'I am a Camera' that was one of the texts used to create the wonder that is the musical film 'Cabaret'... so that was a weird old pattern of belinked lovely things.
I watched 'Cabaret' with my Mum the other night (one goose step too far for my beloved, I'm afraid) and we loved it (why wouldn't we?). 'Come hear the music play...' Yes, please.

P.S. If anyone is a film expert...I have been wondering for ages about a black and white film I remember watching as a child. It was about a woman who was so obsessed with her husband (I think it was her husband) that she killed everyone else in his life. At one point she pushes a boy (a disabled boy I think) into a lake from a rowing boat and near the end of the film she pushes a pregnant woman (her sister?) downstairs and ends up in court. Does anyone know what this film is called? It made a really strong impression on me but I have never come across it since. I'm hoping it wasn't a dream...

3. CD/Music
I buy so many CDs that it's hard to keep track of which was the last one I bought. Again I've been getting a lot of swaps (and some great ones!) but I was involved in the purchase of a Bob Marley CD the other day ('Legend - the best of Bob Marley and the Wailers'). I've never owned any Bob Marley recordings before (though I used to listen to my brother's double vinyl LP 'Babylon by Bus' many years ago) and I thought it was time I did something about that. When I did all that blogging about singers a while back Marley was one of the names that a couple of folk mentioned and I remembered that I really liked his voice but hadn't listened to it for years. Plus I try to listen to a good variety of music but in the last couple of years I have gone a bit UK/USA/Canada folk music crazy and I wanted to try and keep things... mixed-up. It's such a recent purchase this CD that I haven't even listened to it yet. There have been a lot of visitors and trips out and it hasn't quite seemed like Marley time yet. I will get to it. I will be jammin' before the week's out.

So that's my three - talented (but dead) men involved in all of them. Over to you.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Light of the silvery...

Well, that's it. I am officially a poet now. I have just written a poem about the moon.

I'm fairly short-sighted so when I don't have glasses on or lenses in even a marvellous big full moon just looks like a very messy, yolkless fried egg in the sky and it really annoys me (stupid eyes!). And of course it makes a person think...about sight, about vision, about the days before contact lenses, about everything. I'm also reading John Baker's 'Shooting in the Dark' which has a blind main character and is very interesting in many ways. I wouldn't have come across John or his books without blogs (specifically Jim's) as I don't look in the crime section usually (too much of a wimp! Too much of a LitFic reader - even when it drives me crazy) but I'm glad I branched out as it is a good book. On a related note Jim is on the subject of genres in fiction this week - get yourselves over there.

But back to the moon. I wrote the poem below last week. I wrote four poems in a day actually which was great as writing time has been a bit limited of late - what with days at beach, family visits, childcare, dogcare...The line about 'moons that fill the sky' just popped out and I really like it - just my kind of line - and then bizarrely a couple of nights later I did dream exactly that! It was a very 'Close Encounters' type of dream and it involved driving and being able to see the moon (the surface and everything) just as if it was on the other side of the street or something, as if we were in a spaceship flying by. I was very excited as these days my nocturnal dreams are usually either forgotten by morning or predictable, dull anxiety affairs (whereas Small Girl of course has fantastic epic dreams about cartoon characters and all sorts). I know some of you (mentioning no names) will tell me it's something to do with the chemistry of the brain but I don't care - I'm calling it magic. I was a very cynical child (never believed in Santa - not for one minute!) so I'm quite enjoying growing into a daft old grown-up who believes in the magic of poetry. Hell, I may believe in fairies by Xmas (though don't hold your breath for Santa)...here's the poem.

Moon lines

The moon will get more blurred, not less
And more and more I'll look in vain
For edges
And reasons

Old errors lose their lines and shapes
Leave flashes, not whole cycles
There are peaks
And troughs

I see how all is blending thick
Mixing, slurring, soup-of-lifeing
Is it done yet?
Is it right?

I stir, I eat, I look, I sleep
I dream of moons that fill the sky
With brightness
With courage


RF 2008

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Birthday love

I wasn't planning on a post today but I was just making a birthday cake for my beloved and listening to the lovely cd by Kathryn Williams and Neill MacColl 'Two' and I thought maybe a birthday love poem was in order. My beloved is (a) long-suffering, (b) as near perfect as a human being can be and (c) not at all interested in poetry (except mine, obviously). He is interested in most other things but literary he is not. Hence the following poem...

Poetic love

You might say my eyes were green like fresh new leaves
You might write a phrase to praise my skin
You might stroke my hair
When I've just dyed it
You might marvel at its feel and sheen

You might stay up all night just wondering to yourself
How it is this angel came to be
You might try a sonnet
You might try an ode
You might shed a tear or two or three

If I had chosen poet this might be my life
It might be my golden cage of yore
With you I'm flying free
But still feel treasured
All those compliments could be a bore

You help me understand how mobile phones work
You pick me up and sometimes make my tea
You hold me close
Whenever possible
I don't need odes
You're it for me


RF 2005

Happy birthday, lovely man.
xxx

Thursday, 17 July 2008

More love

So...here's another thing I love - the work of William Lamb. Lamb was a sculptor, a painter....an artist...and a great one. He was born in Montrose (that's Montrose in Scotland, people) in 1893 and died in the same Montrose in 1951. During the summer his studio is open to visitors (and it can be visited at other times by arrangement). It is well worth a visit - a small building housing a huge collection of fantastic sculptures in different media (as they say these days...) and some lovely watercolours (my favourite type of paintings) and beautifully-made drawings. I took an artist friend to visit this week and she was suitably impressed. So it's not just me - proper visual people like him too.

I'm always surprised Lamb is not better known but he's not very well known in Scotland, never mind beyond. I go every summer to visit the studio and cannot recommend it highly enough. He was commissioned to make busts of the young princesses (Elizabeth and Margaret) in the 1930s and that, in a way, is his claim to fame...which is a shame! Who gives a monkeys about royals who are just born into their privileged way of life? Not me. But an artist like Lamb who spent his life making amazing work for people to enjoy...now that's worth celebrating. He was injured in the First World War and had to retrain to work using his left hand. It's quite a story.

I wrote a poem about the Studio a couple of years ago. It's a plain little poem but I like to have some like that - they can't all be big fancy affairs and Lamb was not a fancy artist (though no wife, no children, lots of statues of pretty, pouting young boys...here's hoping...).Anyway, libellous comments aside, here's the poem. It rhymes. Reclaim the rhyme!


A visit to the William Lamb Studio, Montrose

Everyone is always fishing
And the wind so often blowing
Bits of some of life are missing
If not fishing then they're sowing
Wood is twirled and softly curving
Brass is firm and treacly browned
Faces, bodies, looking, learning
Hands of Lamb, so right, so sound

RF 2006

Monday, 14 July 2008

A couple of things

Firstly! We went to a concert in Stonehaven on Sunday night that was part of the very fine Stonehaven Folk Festival. We saw and heard the very marvellous Rachel Unthank and the Winterset and what an excellent band of lasses they are. Consisting of two singing geordie sisters, a pianist and a fiddler/accordion player, they may have opened the show on Sunday but they are so, so, SO a headline act. There was beautiful, really quite perfect singing, excellent songs, some clogdancing and some great playing. They played for 45 minutes and every one of those minutes reminded me why I am such a huge music fan. A spell was bound and I sat on the edge of my seat like a kid at the pantomime. Joy on earth. Joy in the air. Just joy.

Also last week I read 'Willard and his Bowling Trophies' by Richard Brautigan. I had never heard of Brautigan before reading about him a while back in Jim Murdoch's ever informative blog but I couldn't help but be interested for several reasons - some of the comments on his writing were so enthusiastic and then, of course, there was the suicide issue. Having my own family suicide history does mean I can't help but be interested in suicide stories...I keep a weird mental list of people with suicidal parents for example...and I have lots of odd little opinions on the subject...like 'least favourite suicide comment' = 'I don't know how they can do it to the children' (when someone who also happens to be a Mum or Dad dares to kill themself). That one always makes me want to scream 'if they could think about killing themselves that rationally chances are they wouldn't get round to it you moron!' But anyway...back to Brautigan...

I loved the book. I picked it up in Aberdeen's second-hand bookshop Books & Beans when I was up there in June. The price on the back says £1.25...I love those old prices...and I love a lot of things it seems because I loved Brautigan's wonderful eye and ear for detail. What I didn't understand was the quotes from reviews on the back cover...'funny', 'enjoyable', 'comic dignity'...is my sense of humour so odd? I thought it was really, really sad. Any thoughts?

Thursday, 10 July 2008

More on book reviews (I know...)

What do you know...more book reviews. Today a friendly review from a myspace 'friend' on the music site folking.com and a great recommendation from The Skinny's Keir Hind. I sent a book to 'The Skinny' on a whim really so I was pleased to get such a result there! I know I'm unlikely to get mentioned in 'Poetry Review' so I've just had to try and think of alternative places and largely I've gone for publications and websites that I read myself. An odd collection, perhaps, but an interesting one.

So thinking about words...as you do...I was looking at the words that have been used so far in reviews of my wee, green book. I've had a 'quirky' (of course...I'm learning to love that one), a couple of 'powerful's (like those!) and a handful of 'enjoyable's (good to know). There's been a 'biting', a 'decent enough collection', a 'stoater' and a few comments on my surprising depths (hurray!)! I've been 'quiet, simple, truthful', 'natural, unforced and unpretentious' and 'wise' and 'witty' - it's all quite encouraging. I am thinking maybe I'm not such a waste of space after all...

In Keir Hind's review I was especially pleased with 'frequently clever' - which is odd considering I wrote the lines 'Worry less about the cleverness/Worry more about the song' in a poem and even took part of it for my title. Ah, the irony...at least I think it's irony...I think my point was 'worry less' not 'don't worry at all'...

Anyway, my question for all of you is...when you get reviewed in some way which words do you long to hear or see about your writing (or other creative work)? And which words do you dread? Which words make you happy and which make your heart sink? I got 'trite' once in a poetry magazine rejection letter and that's one of my least favourites...although I did what I usually do in these situations...I used it in a poem not long after ('Not tonight, Radiohead' as it happens) and it was perfect, it really came in handy. So thanks to that annoying editor-person that poem came together and is now one of the poems that people comment on the most.
Creative writing 1 Snipey critics 0. Aha!

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Told you I was natural...

Short but smashing review of one's book on ink-sweat-and-tears.

They publish a really good range of poems on the site and it's well-worth emailing your stuff off to the editor Charles Christian.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Write this way?

This could well be the mother of all rambles.

Jim Murdoch was writing about line breaks in poetry this week and it turned into an exchange about rules in poetry and in turn into a discussion about each poet's own rules for him or herself. Jim came up with a list of rules for him and suggested some of us others have a go. I managed to sneak some thinking about this in amongst the summer vacation acitivities and, as Mike Yarwood used to say, this is me...

I started off trying to write a proper list of rules (and please remember 'trying' was in my 'life in seven words' last week...I'm always trying...). So - I tried to be neat and tidy and theoretical and sensible but it didn't last very long. There is a bit of a list in here somewhere but there's lots of other stuff too. It's no good me trying to be too organised when really I'm just a big lump of thoughts and feelings and experience and ideas and instincts and huge hormonal surges that almost knock me over sometimes. My head is messy and, like most poets, I am something of an extremist (aren't poets so often the most of something – the craziest, the most anal, the weirdest, the most obsessive, the cleverest, the funniest, the most serious, the most withdrawn, the biggest drinkers, the most eccentric, the most erratic, the most pedantic..? No wonder there's so much disagreement!). All I know is I can't keep down a day job (and night jobs were tricky too) and yet I want to try and live out there with the rest of the folks so writing rules are not exactly my priority I'm afraid. First I have to get my daughter to school (during termtime, obviously), feed my family, clean up a bit, get to places (my weak link), not cry too often in unsuitable situations, treat people well, try not to be a pain to everybody else...all these things are my first rules and poetry rules come quite a long way down after those. Writing is one of the things I personally do to get some freedom and to get away from constraints (I know for some this might sound vague or affected but it really is true for me). I find writing easy, reading poems out to an audience even easier. I am good at communicating – pretty much always have been (even when everything else went AWOL) and I love moving words about...hearing them do their work...getting them into rhythms and patterns. I write poems...quite naturally. Some are quite straightforward, some are not at all. I don't rewrite a lot or plan or come up with theories - I just write and it feels good (and on the whole people seem to like reading and hearing what I come up with - I get a lot of good reactions – even from poets sometimes). The whole business makes me feel so elated that the last thing I want is to spend too much time analysing it or weighing it down with rules and regulations. Some people find rules and principles reassuring (and I can see the need for them when you're performing heart surgery or building an aeroplane) but my brain just refuses to think about poetry in this way. I have tried to read more about feet and metre and so on but every time I do my brain just refuses to take it in (honestly!). It puts its fingers in its ears and chants 'la, la, la, la, can't hear you!' And I'm not stupid...I was, like most poets, extreme at school - the cleverest kid in the class (most of you reading probably were too...in some way or other, even if the teachers didn't know it) but when it comes to poetry structures and so on my brain just says to the poet bit of me 'you don't need this, you're doing just fine as you are'. And, honestly, I think I am. All this will mean some poets think I am stupid...but that seems odd to me too. I don't write for them or live for them. Can poets only be odd in the way that suits other poets? All this instinctive behaviour is my personal kind of odd. I worry about pretty much everything, pretty much all of the time but, strangely, I don't worry about line breaks. I worry about violence and cruelty, about life and death, about moving and staying still, about sadness and happiness... but writing is something I just get on with. For me it is a job...a strange one with odd hours but a job all the same. '18,000 women and children trafficked into UK sex trade' they reported in 'The Independent' last week...and here am I pissing about on the computer and thinking about line breaks. I think about that and then I just can't get too worried about literary matters. I know some people might say 'just don't read the papers' (and sometimes I don't) but overall I think ignoring the rest of the world and concentrating on punctuation is not the way I personally can proceed. It's priorities again. I don't think being a writer has to mean getting into a cocoon away from those poor little common people who can't enjoy our finer lives. I am just as crap as the next person (one minute) and just as not crap (the next...if I'm lucky). We are just people, people!


My poetry habits have come from all kinds of influences and ideas. I suppose they must come partly from emulating poets I've read and heard and liked ( I did a post about that subject a while back) but I think they also come from doing the opposite to some poets who haven't switched the lights (or the music) on for me personally. Also I do write poems unashamedly for the widest reading public possible. I have always worked this way – it seems the obvious way to me. I've ALWAYS wanted to communicate with as many people as possible. I know some people don't like that idea...they prefer to concentrate on the art of writing (if you like) and let the readers come (if they do). That is one way to work and it is fine but it is not mine. I like communicating and always have done (sometimes crowd-pleasing, sometimes crowd-surprising, sometimes crowd-worrying...the full range). To me poetry is communicating - even with only one other person, even when you're only reading a poem through to yourself. I love it sometimes when one of my own poems helps me understand what I think. They're clever things, poems. Cleverer than us mere mortals.

Like many poets I get ideas from prose and art and music too. I am interested in all the artforms equally (though my visual sense is probably the least developed – see my poem 'Seeing isn't everything'...on website under 'Seeing and believing'). Music, as I've said here before a hundred times, is my biggest influence. The sounds, the lyrics, the broad range of possibilities...I was listening to Nina Simone as I was cooking earlier on...her voice just poured out of the speakers and into my odd little miles-away-from-her world. Boy, did she know how to deliver lyrics!

Anyway, let's try and get to some rules or guidelines or habits...

1. I start every line of every poem with a capital letter. It looks right to me that way – big and bold and proud like each line has something special to say (which it should do...for me...it is connected to the other lines, obviously, but it is also a little unit of its own...a member of a team). When I look at magazines or books with all those lower case letters at the start of most of their lines it looks...wimpy, too shy and retiring, too neat, too 'correct by modern standards'. It's just personal taste really but capital letters are what I like at the start of a line and I don't see that changing. So far only one magazine has changed them to lower case and it bugs me every time I see them. It is their 'house style', they say. I have to say I think 'house styles' for poetry magazines are the strangest idea. So if E.E.Cummings were to rise from the grave and submit they would change his letters too? No, they wouldn't. So it's an imposed style until the poet is famous? That's just bollocks then. To be frank. Celebrity culture. Bollocks.

2. Line breaks....here we go.... The honest truth is I don't fret about line breaks too much. When writing what you might call free verse I fear I really do put them in 'when it feels right' (Jim's least favourite option). All I can say is that I don't have any problem with 'when it just feels right'. Feelings have always been hugely important to me – maybe too important but, you know, I control it as much as I can – feelings are just my extremist subject. I do write from the heart/gut/instinct...all of those places and more. ..those places tell me where to break my line. Sounding right is a huge consideration too. I try various options (in my head and out loud) and one of them usually, in the end, does feel and sound right. I like each line to have some clarity of its own..even if it's only one word... and when a line is complete (for me) I do just know. I read poems out quite regularly to audiences so that helps me understand whether my breaks are making sense and working as I want them to. Obviously when I'm writing a more straightforward rhyming poem the line breaks are easy to call...that's one reason I like writing like that sometimes...it's a break from the break decisions! I like variety in writing – pretty much across all the boards.
I also use the line break to punctuate to a large extent. I have tried using proper, correct, prose-like punctuation in poems but I hate it (especially on line ends). When I look back at the poem with all those commas and full-stops I just hate it and I have to go back and take them all out again. I like my poems as mark-free as possible (though I do leave in the odd question mark here and there) and I can't really explain why this is – especially as the visual is not an expert area with me. Why does it bother me so much how it looks? I have no idea. Despite a good education in many ways I don't ever remember being taught much about punctuation. I certainly never learned about semi-colons in school (or at home) and they are not something I feel comfortable with, for example, even in prose. So I'm sure some of it is ignorance (if you like) but I'm 41 and I'm not going back to grammar school now. So I'm more 'rough and ready' than 'perfectly planned and presented'...so it means some people will never 'take me seriously'...I can live with that. You know, we all have our faults. Faults and weak spots are one of my big subjects - I love them. Some artists yearn for perfection...I dwell on the dirt, the bits that won't work...

3. For me every poem should be saying something new that I haven't quite said before in another poem (and hopefully no one else has said it either but I don't worry about that too much). It may be quite a clear message (I have nothing against a poem with a message – poems can do so many things, why limit their place in the world?) or it may be a fairly message-free little picture of something or somebody. Sometimes I may not really even know what it is doing...until quite some time later.

4. I like to try most poetic forms at some point. There are a few I haven't tried yet (the ubiquitous haiku, for example) but I may try one when it's completely out of fashion (just to be awkward). I can't tell you how much I am averse to the whole idea of fashion! I would rather sit through 'Love Actually' again than go to see 'Sex and over-hyped City' (Women love it! Full of shoes!). But back to poetic forms...mostly I know pretty quickly whether the form and the content are working well together or not. If it's not working I switch to a different form and try something else. Sometimes words come right and sometimes they don't but I have never, ever, ever had writer's block. How could you run out of ideas? I just don't get that. There is so much to write about! Being too miserable or confused or just messed-up to write...now I can understand how that might happen... but it doesn't happen to me. I just keep on going...whether anyone's listening or reading or not.

5. I avoid at all costs the very idea of schools of writing. I don't like any of the labels used for writing really and I've never understood the need to put poets into groups and schools (I've certainly never wanted to be part of one). The poor old poet spends all that time busting a gut to say their piece and then we tidy them up into neat little groups with ridiculous names (often once they're dead). Neo this and post that. Women poets very often don't fit into any of the groups (Stevie Smith...where she?) and that is significant perhaps. Go sisters.

6. I write about pretty much any subject matter. If it is very personal (and easy to comprehend) I do consult my nearest and dearest at times to see how they feel about certain details going into the public domain. Only once has someone near to me said 'no, please, I don't want people to know that' and I tweaked the poem accordingly to make it less specific. My loved ones are very good to me and support me and put up with all this poetry nonsense. Their happiness is important. A person can be too selfish and self-obsessed.

7. Personally I have to feel happy with the finished poem – and my poems are finished, generally speaking. I have to feel each poem is as honest as it can be and is not posing or trying to be something it isn't. I must always feel that I haven't tried to paint myself as more intelligent or more honourable or, indeed, more honest than I really am. It can be tricky to work out what is what...I do my best.

8. I try to explore writing as much as I can...I am an experimental poet in my own mind even if I don't fit other people's ideas of what an experimental poet is (it seems to be that if they like it it is experimental and if they don't it is just rehashed crap). I try different things in every poem (different language, different references, different styles, different priorities, different intentions). One reason I fell so far into Raveworld in my twenties was the escape from uptight Britain that it provided – an escape from that place where you had to do things in a certain way, where you had to think in a certain way or you were just unacceptable. Raveworld merriness and freedom had a lot of illusion mixed in with it but it was still a fantastic time and place to be young and alive and not never, ever going to bed. Lots of the records used the refrain 'open your mind' and whilst this did often just mean 'fill yourself with drugs' the phrase still hangs around my head - especially whenever I hear or read someone telling other people how to be or think or write. I opened my mind... well, perhaps a little too much. In fact at one point pretty much everything nearly fell out onto the floor in a heap...but then...I stuffed some of it back in and here I am....doing what I do, doing what I can, doing what feels right. It's messy but effective. My kitchen cupboards aren't too bad – my head is allowed to be a mess. It is my head.

9. I try to shut out other people's ideas about poetry when I am writing. So other poets might sneer at something (I think to myself as I am writing...) but I just have to put that out of my head. It is the poem that matters and it will come out as it needs to – me and the poem will work it out. To me a lot of the stuff that gets talked about poetry is just fluff that spoils the sound on a record player. So pick off the fluff and let the record play for goodness sake! Ah, that's better...

10. I am always ready to change my ways of working if it seems the right thing to do at the time. I don't expect to be the same writer at 60...if I get that far. Changing, progressing, learning, trying...now I'm back where I came in.

This is probably as close to rules as I'm going to get. And it's not very close is it? I am pretty much always better at expressing my thoughts in poetry than in prose so here is all the above in four nice, short, easy lines:



PS

All the games, all the talk
But this much is clear
The words keep on moving
They're freer than we are

RF 2008



See what I mean?