On 1 December the Emma Press launches the book I edited for them, Best Friends Forever. It’s a book of poems on female friendship. I say I ‘edited for them’ but in truth I put my heart on my sleeve and asked them to publish it for me. It’s a book I had to will into being, not being able to find anything that does what I wanted it to do. From my intro:
“When I was younger, I wanted to be part of the cult of Best Friends. I wanted the necklace, the endless telephone talk and the secret pact. I wanted to be able to name the girl in that coveted spot. I wanted that certainty both emotionally (my own dear heart) and practically (someone to eat my lunch with).
Then, when I was 14, the riot grrrl movement connected me to other women and girls and gave me a worldwide cohort of sisters. This was a massively emboldening thing for me and the idea of The One BFF became less important, as I began to understand friendships as more elastic, complex and various. While the count-on-one hand friends are steadfast and have become like sisters, there have been others who were very present in my life for just a little time – the right time – and who will always be special to me. Knowing this also makes me wonder about the friends I’ve not yet made, who will become important to me in future years.”
It’s with this in mind, it feels quite auspicious that in a few days time Julia Scheele will launch Double Da Ya – a riot grrrl inspired superzine. I contributed two pieces to it. For one of them I invited some women writers I admire (Katherine Angel, Chrissy Williams, Livia Franchini, Martha Sprackland, Sophie Mackintosh, Rebecca Perry, Francine Elena, Amy May, Kathryn Maris), to the pub to taste kids’ sweets and review them for me. I asked them to come along by email, an email with the subject line ‘will you be my friend’ (inspired by Kathryn Maris’s poem from Best Friends Forever). I’d not met one of the women I invited, a couple of others I’d only met a few times, some I invited are good friends already. We sat in the back of the Princess Louise, making ourselves sick on swizzle sticks and Haribo.
I organised it in the spirit of/it reminded me of when me and my sister Rebecca held a riot grrrl tea party, sometime in 1992 or 1993 probably. We made fairy cakes iced with spider webs and plotted the revolution. One of the girls that came along was in a band called Pussy Cat Trash. I remember seeing her play a song at a dingy club in Sunderland, a song for a friend. I forget what is was called but the essence of the song was a wish that her ‘arms could stretch to be there for you now’. It was a love song, a song of regret felt for not being there for someone, for letting them down, for being too far away. It’s always stayed with me and was in my mind when editing the book – especially the section called ‘I let your hand go’.
Some of my ‘best’, most enduring friendships have at times made me very sad, or caused pain. It was important for me that Best Friends Forever wasn’t overly sweet, that it reflects real friendships and that is what I want to celebrate. We’re having a launch party on 1 December at the Vauxhall Teahouse Theatre. It’s free! Come along and hear some of the wonderful contributors to the book and raise a glass to friendship.
Meanwhile, I saw a group of my BFFs last weekend in Edinburgh and gave them all copies of the book, which I made in part as a tribute to them and I’m sending copies to my other BFFs.
Love you forever.
Really excited to have two new poems in POETRY’s October edition. It’s an all-UK poets issue and features some beautiful work taken from Poetry Review (Liz Berry’s poems being particularly great) and new poetry from lots of people I admire including Kathryn Maris, Sophie Collins, James Brookes, Sam Riviere, Claire Trévien and Hannah Lowe. It’s such a brilliant magazine and great value, so subscribe!
It’s nice to publish poems that feel different to the work in my book – I have this feeling that I need to ‘move on’ somehow…there are a few more coming up in Poetry Review and Poetry Wales.
I’ve contributed two pieces to this amazing project Double Dare Ya: A Riot Grrrl Inspired Super Zine, edited by the amazing artist Julia Scheele. I was super inspired by riot grrrl when I was a teenager and ended up in tears watching ‘The Punk Singer‘ recently. Huggy Bear and Bikini Kill were the first band I went to see at the Newcastle Riverside. My pieces are inspired by Skinned Teen’s fanzine Drop Babies and Kathy Acker. There is a brilliant crowd-funding deal to be had for the zine and associated artwork here.
I’m also just finalising the introduction to Best Friends Forever, the anthology of poems on female friendship that’s coming out from The Emma Press in December. Contributors to the book include Rebecca Perry, Annie Freud, Karen McCarthy-Woolf, Martha Sprackland, Camellia Stafford and Brenda Shaughnessy. I’ll be getting the proofs for the book any day now, and I’m feeling very excited about seeing it in book form for the first time.
Next weekend (Saturday 11 October) I’m doing a super short reading as part of the London Lit Crawl, which is being held in Peckham for the first time and then on Sunday 12 October, heading to the Lichfield Festival for an Emma Press reading on love and friendship with Liz Berry, Jacqueline Saphra and Francine Elena. There will be scones and tea! You can book here.
On Thursday 16 October I’m reading a few poems alongside Alex MacDonald, Crispin Best and Joey Connolly at the Archway with Words festival/Video Strolls screening. It’s at The Hideaway 7-9pm and it’s free!
On Saturday 8 November, I’m reading at the Reading Poetry Festival with Ian Duhig and Kate Clanchy, then co-hosting with Emma Wright, a pre-launch preview of Best Friends Forever with Fran Lock, Kathryn Maris, Rebecca Perry and Camellia Stafford.
Poems in Which
Poems in Which 6 will go live very soon. It has brilliant new poems from Joey Connolly, Holly Isemonger, Jon Stone, Becky Varley-Winter, Amy Blakemore and, err, many more. Nia and I are cock-a-hoop that Wayne Holloway-Smith, Alex MacDonald and Rebecca Perry are joining us as co-editors from Issue 7 onwards, so we should be able to get through our submissions somewhat quicker than we can manage at the moment and hopefully publish at least 4 issues a year.
I’m writing a piece on Rosemary Tonks’s collected poems, just out from Bloodaxe. I have been reading it with a kind of terrible excitement and anxiety. I’m pretty enchanted & slightly intimidated by the requirement to get my response down on paper.
Finally, I’ve taken on a trustee role at fabulous The Poetry School. I’m so happy they want to have me.
I recently helped to judge The Koestler Trust’s poetry award scheme. The Koestler Trust is an organisation that uses the arts to engage offenders, to channel their energies towards positive ends, to build their self-worth and help them learn new skills. Over two days Declan Ryan, Anna Robinson and I read many hundreds of entries at The Koestler Trust’s headquarters next to Wormwood Scrubs. What is fantastic about the scheme is that it doesn’t just reward a handful of poets. We were able to recognise around 200 of the poets who entered, either by awarding one of the main awards (platinum, gold, silver and bronze) or through a commendation. Many of the entries come from people in prison. The subject matter was often brutal and bleak. It was terribly sad at times and left me even more uneasy than I already was about our criminal justice system. But there was also something incredibly joyful and inspiring about The Koestler Trust’s work and being able to see all the amazing artworks people had submitted – categories including matchstick modelling, watercolours, sculpture, dance…the building was a total treasure trove. It was a total honour to be involved. An exhibition of winning works is at the Southbank Centre from 24 September.
Since last writing I’ve seen three more reviews of my book in Poetry Review, Poetry Wales and The Warwick Review. I’ve found reading what others think really fascinating, though it’s uncomfortable at times. I’ve summarised my favourite quotes from the reviews here. After reading all the reviews so far (and reviews of Camellia Stafford’s book Letters to the Sky) I feel like there’s something I want to say about queasy attitudes to femininity, girlhood and young womanhood in poetry but I’ve not quite stewed on it long enough. I hope to blog about it in future.
I also took part in some events for The Emma Press as part of the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love. I kind of adore the festival-mania of the Southbank. To be honest, I’d move into the Royal Festival Hall if they’d let me – I’m sure it would take a while before they’d notice and I have some nice mid-century furniture that would fit in just dandy. My role was to sit in a booth for a couple of hours and read saucy poems to strangers. Personally speaking I’d NEVER go into a booth to have a sexy poem read only to me. I’d be completely embarrassed, but so many people are up for it and it was lots of fun. Later in the evening I read along with other poets from The Emma Press’s Poetic Primer to Love and Seduction. Given my poems are made up of advice from a terribly dated self-help guide by Helen Gurley Brown I’d not recommend people listen to anything I say. It was a great reading though, and I especially enjoyed Ruth Wiggins’s wry and knowing poems.
I’m also in Issue 2 of Riposte Magazine, with a 16-page monograph of my poems, illustrated by the wonderful Giada Ganassin. I adore this magazine because it celebrates amazing women (the latest issue features an interview with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie no less), it is beautiful visually and in the writing and it’s the labour of love of Danielle Pender, who is a total inspiration.
This month I’m doing two things. On Thursday 24th I’m reading at The City Pride, Farringdon, as part of The Summer Season series of readings (8 poets each week). It’s free and starts at 7.30pm. Then a Q&A with my friend and mentor Annie Freud at the London Review of Books cakeshop on Sunday 27th. There’s only a couple of tickets left so book fast! Annie is always fascinating and particular and there is a promise of tea, cake and dry sherry!
On the Poems in Which front, I’m so pleased Mark Ford has selected some poems from recent issues for this year’s Best British Poetry. Nia and I are reading for the next issue until the end of the month, so if you’re thinking of submitting now’s the time. (On a related note, I’m so proud of and excited for Nia – her first issue as editor of Poetry Wales is out now!).
There are so many deadlines for things I’d like to write about coming up: Lana Del Rey, Riot Grrrl, the gurlesque. For me it seems the more I want to write about something the harder it is. I’m off to listen to ‘The More You Ignore Me The Closer I Get’ in the hope it switches a gear in my brain.
Oh, and I’m reading these two poems by Sophie Robinson and this magnificent poem by Alice Notley. This wonderful essay by Dorothea Lasky in Poetry and Katherine Angel’s Unmastered, which has just come out in paperback.
The latest from me is that Clare Pollard has reviewed my book Luxe in Poetry London‘s Summer issue. I had a fantastic time going to the launch and hearing one of my all-time favourite poets Matthea Harvey read from her new book. Discovering that Matthea, like me, has two sister cats made my night – see her compelling Instagram.
Poet and critic Dai George has written about the poetry of Heather Phillipson, Camellia Stafford and me in the Boston Review. He’s coined our work as representing a ‘new wave of sad pizzazz‘ which complements the ‘pink noir’ tag Patrick Brandon gave Camellia’s book.
I’m also super pleased to say The Emma Press has been invited to showcase Best Friends Forever at the Reading Poetry Festival, with readings from Fran Lock, Kathryn Maris, Camellia Stafford and Rebecca Perry. I’ve also been invited to read at the festival on 8 November.
Last but definitely not least, Nia Davies and I were absolutely thrilled to win ‘Best Magazine’ in the Saboteur Awards, announced on 31 May. The team behind the awards sent us some of the comments people made about the magazine, including “because it is consistently publishing among the very best in contemporary poetry under a unique constraint” and “they already have contributors most magazines would die for and it’s all knitted together with charm and pizzazz.” There’s that pizzazz word again! I’m thinking of getting a ‘Carrie’ necklace that says ‘pizzazz’ on it.
Thanks to all our readers and contributors, plus anyone who voted for us! We’ll be reading for Issue 6 between now and July so do submit. Details over on the Poems in Which website.
My friend of multifarious talents Sophie Herxheimer, invited me to take part in ‘the writing process blog tour’ – a sort of chain letter connecting writers’ thoughts and ideas about how and what they write. You can read Sophie’s blog here and my response below.
What am I working on?
I published my first book last year and I’m now seeing reviews coming out. It feels scary to be back at the beginning somehow, and not know if another book is even within my reach. I want to write something that feels different to the book – subject matter is one consideration, but also I’d like to play about with form and genre a bit more. I’d really like to create a poetry comic, for example, inspired by Bianca Stone and through taking part in Chrissy Williams’s Poetry and Comics group. Reading a lot is really important in this context. If I’m to write something that feels new I need to have something new in my head. I’m reading Noelle Kocot, Rae Armantrout and Oli Hazzard, plus the manuscripts of Mark Waldron, Crispin Best, Nia Davies and Rebecca Perry. Reading has gently disrupting effect on my thinking, creating a new kind of orderliness as though I’ve dusted down the book shelves and selected a new sweep of ornaments to draw the eye.
I’m also editing an anthology of poems on friendship among women – Best Friends Forever (forthcoming from The Emma Press). I’ve selected all the poems and I’m now scrutinising the poems for any edits and working on the ordering of the collection. I loved how Sara Peters grouped poems in her book 1996 and I’m looking at whether that will work for the anthology. I’m also reading poems for the next issue of Poems in Which.
I find I need to have one or two projects on the go at once. One thing I’d love to do is stage a festival of women poets, so once I’ve finished work on Best Friends Forever I’m going to begin looking at how I might pull that off.
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
As an aside, I am interested in blurring of genre – I’m a big fan of prose poems and have become more interested in visual poetry recently. In terms of my own work I guess my work is made distinct by a gurlesque aesthetic, a quite particular syntax and sporadic officious diction to undercut the sugar (which must come from being a civil servant). I’m aiming for tenderness, a naïve directness (“see this heart on my face”), humour and self-admonishment/interrogation of thought. The poem is where I can reveal both the real and the longed-for.
Why do I write what I do?
I explored this a bit in the essay I wrote for Michelle McGrane’s Peony Moon blog. I am afraid of dying and I’m afraid of wasting this life. I am interested in poetry as a way of making a good dream fixed and remaking it again and again till I’m surrounded by all the good dreams. Or of bottling a dark dream and forcing it to sit still till I can look it in the eyes and not turn away. I’m also – even though my ego is both driving this and unhappy to admit it – attempting to make a permanent record of my own living.
How does my writing process work?
I am the least diligent of all the writers. Writing is a particular mood, but I don’t know how to achieve that mood. My ideal scenario is to wake up hungover early on a Saturday morning, my laptop on my lap in bed and when I lay my fingers on the keys something happens. This was the same technique I used when I used to write piano music. I’d say 2 out of 5 times something happens and usually this is a complete poem. I write line by line till it is finished, editing as I go. I save the files every few minutes so ‘v.1 v.2 v.3 >>>>>> v.19’ etc so I can go back and check to see if I edited something out too early. Once it’s done I send to one or two close friends to read, then I’ll think about what they’ve said for a week or so and make any edits. Then it’s pretty much done.
But since my book it’s been taking many months to get to a complete draft of a poem. I think that’s probably a good thing, though I’m terribly impatient so find it frustrating. When I feel as though I’ve not written a poem for an age I usually turn to collage, which I find relatively easy and fun, especially if I find the right text to use (here’s some examples #YesAllWomen and Our Princesses and their Dogs). This helps me get a sense of accomplishment (instant gratification) and relax a bit about the poems that are in my own words. Or I read poetry or prose and take a few words I like and see if something comes of that. And if that doesn’t work I sort through my wardrobe or do the washing up and forget about writing poems altogether.
I find that if I don’t have a free weekend morning once in a while I won’t write full poems at all, but I am writing fragments all the time on my twitter feed. I use it as notebook for images or lines, but I guess I’m also publishing one line poems on there, in my series of ‘unrequited love for’ and ‘poem in which’ tweets. I love getting the bus everywhere because it’s not underground (I don’t like being underground), I get phone reception and I get to see life happening in relatively natural light. Some ideas I don’t tweet, perhaps because they’re not quite fully formed or a bit too abstract, so they go my iPhone notes. I also occasionally get lines come to me in very long work meetings, so they go in the back of my work notebook, and that’s just about the only time I write things out long hand.
I guess overall I don’t feel I have a ‘process’ really, and in some ways writing for me is about liberating me from the process-driven world of my day job. Having said that, while the idea of scheduling time to write has never appealed to me, occasionally it’s worked. When I did the Poetry School’s Shingle Street residency I was terrified a whole week of ‘time to write’ would actually inhibit the act of writing. I came away from the residency with three new poems.
I’ve invited Alex MacDonald, Rebecca Perry and Julia Bird to take part next. Alex and Julia will answer on their own blogs and I’ll host Rebecca’s response here.
Alex MacDonald lives and works in London. He has had his poetry published in The Quietus, Clinic II and English PEN and was shortlisted for the Poetry School / Pig Hog Poetry Prize. He hosted a series of readings at the V&A Museum on independent poetry publishers and was recently the Poet in Residence for the Poetry School.
Rebecca Perry is a graduate of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing and currently lives in London. Her poetry has appeared most recently in Poetry London and The Rialto, and she has work forthcoming in The Salt Anthology of New Writing and Best British Poetry 2013. Her debut collection Beauty/Beauty is forthcoming from Bloodaxe.
for Roddy on his birthday
The sign said GUESS THE ONE WITH THE SWEETHEART TENDANCIES.
Roddy, you sweet, doomed saint:
near the spot the ghost-kitten of a barmaid
kicked off her shoes, your luck will change
by way of love songs, cognac and phantoms.
Let go the raincloud of your former self (which I hear
exists). And as I find myself privy to this information
– the ex-loves, the half-loves, crushes, obsessions –
1993 documents found – 0.440 seconds search time
may you dream of the sweetest hazelnuts.
Terrific heart, summer can’t be far.
Never try to drink the sea, rather ice-water, beer
or dizzying broth. Your mouth is a full pink teacup.
Lime Rickeys and wine are scuttling and gorgeous – you look
astounding! I am sorely tempted to write a poem called hug-me.
When will you dance the one dance in your repertoire?
Tipsy sherbet will decide the night for us. One thousand
thank-yous, poet. There is a lot to learn and far to go.
after Chelsey Minnis’s A Speech About the Moon
I think, “I hate rugby and I hate rugby players.” Then I begin to think, “I have a grimy prejudice.”, “I have an unnatural distaste.”, “I control my taste.”, and “Everything about rugby is dirt.”
Then I plunge my hand into the dirt and say, “I want to soothe playing field!” And, “I want to chew the grass.”
Plus, “I like fickle ritzy sports.”, “Terrible sports with leotards and swords.” and, “I want to cartwheel.”
Then I think about the obstinate length of the grass and the burgeoning foamy flounce of the steam room.
I think, “I am going to cry” and “I am dreaming about thighs.” and I lay very still for awhile. I think, “I can colour the rugby ball in . . .”
Then I start to laugh and my lungs are obscene. I think, “Everyone has to bite their own laugh.”
I constantly try to think, “Rugby balls are lolling on the grass.” or “Some rugby balls are losing their air.”
And I stand very still and tell myself, “. . . In the middle of the pitch . . . it is totally quiet . . . no balls are coming towards you . . .”
Then I sit down and hold my hands over my knees and flick my toes back and forth.
The goals rise up on both sides of me. I think, “I have to die.”
Then I lay in a position for awhile.
The grass is bored and famous around me.
I think clearly, “I have to stand up.” or else “The ball is your jitters all sealed up.”
Then I reluctantly think, “Dominating players.”, “. . . that boulder . . . “, “around”, “. . . and unwilling scrum . . .” and “default rugby jerseys.”, “. . . with their bellies.”
I stand on one leg so that one shoulder is lower than the other.
I say, “I have to invent luxury sports that have never been seen before . . .”
Then I kick the players who are twisted around my ankles and think, “I have to
Then I continue to think things about the grass, like, “The grass is a short back-and-sides . . . sliced . . . off someone’s head . . .”
I tell myself, “. . . late at night . . . a fleshly rugby monster . . . is crawling. . . with beer on its tongue . . . to look at me. . . .”
I think about the grass again, “The grass is a salty condiment”, “My childhood is the colour of school sports days.”
Then I think about the muscular crowd.
I rub my hands on my stomach and think “oh no” and start to cry.
I pull the long blades out of my eyes and look away.
Slow blinks touch down.
Then I hold a ball very tightly and watch my knuckles pale so I become violent in the moonlight.
I think “Grasses are necessarily entitled” and hop around.
I am dragging the anthems around in my mind and thinking of my displeasure. I roll over.
I cry more tears that slink across my face and think, “No, no, no”, “Fans are mauling the impotent grass.”
I think, “The thoughts are terrible drunks pissing in trophies.”