This week on the blog, Rebecca Goss discusses one of the primary influences behind her new collection Girl – artist, Alison Watt. ‘All you know for sure is how a painting makes you feel inside, and that can be incredibly powerful.’ – Alison Watt… 732 more words
Six weeks ago, after a twenty two year gap, I became a student again. I’ve begun a PhD by Publication at the University of East Anglia. I’ll be focusing on my body of published work, the poems in Her Birth particularly, and looking at the consequences of projecting a personal narrative into the public sphere. I could have written a blog post about how I feel. I could have written a newspaper article about what it’s like to publish a personal narrative on the subject of grief. I chose this particular route because it gives me the scope to explore and research in more detail things that have been bugging me for some time now. I want to examine the shift that took place. Her Birth began as a love story to my daughter and a testimony to loss that I wanted, almost urgently, to take into the public arena. Within three years of publication I was unable to open its pages, wanting only to retreat. Something happened. I want to look at back at that period of time, to understand it. Hopefully I’ll have something interesting to say about life-writing and memoir. Hopefully the result will see me being able to engage with the book in a new and enlightened way. I have some demons to sort out. But I also need to remind myself of the good that book did. It’s a short, intense period of study. I’m reading some fascinating stuff. I have terrific supervisors. Onward….
It’s publication day for Carousel. The book is the result of a very gentle and enjoyable eight year collaboration with my friend, the writer and photographer Chris Routledge. It started as a blog, with posts published erratically. The project experienced long dormant periods, but I’ve always loved every photograph Chris has ever sent me, and loved the conversations we had, resulting from seeing our work placed side by side.
Luke Thompson, editor of Guillemot Press approached us last year, interested to see the work, with the option of turning it into a publication. Luke was aware of my poems having commissioned me for his unique Triptychs project in 2017. I knew that Guillemot Press made very lovely books. Luke’s interest made Chris and I sit up and sort ourselves out. We returned to look closely at the work we already had. Chris took more photographs, I wrote more poems. The collaboration gained some coherence.
I’ve spent eight years looking at this project on a screen. Now I can hold it. Guillemot Press has made a beautiful, tangible thing and I thank them very much. It’s being produced as a limited edition, only 200 copies. Do take a look at Guillemot’s site to find out more about it. Thank you.
Throughout all my varied experiences of teaching creative writing, I always knew I liked giving feedback. To look closely at someone’s work and be able to give constructive, critical advice enabling a poet to move their work forward is incredibly rewarding. I don’t set about telling my mentees what to write, or how to write it. The mentor and mentee instead enter a conversation about the work. From that conversation come so many things: insight into the writing process, themes in the work that are starting to make themselves clear, how to free a poem if that poem is stuck. We discuss wider reading and recommend texts to each other. There is focus on the contemporary poetry scene. I consider long and hard where my mentees might want to submit their work.
I offer ‘sessions’ looking at batches of poems over a short or extended period of time. With each session, mentees get extensive written feedback from me, the time to submit rewrites and then a Skype call to discuss rewrites and any questions they may have. The Skype contact really cements the mentor/mentee relationship, especially if I’m working with that poet for several months. Getting to know the writer a little helps me to understand their work more. Providing an online mentoring service has enabled me to work with poets, regardless of their location. My mentees have come mostly from the UK but also Germany and China.
I’ve worked with a variety of writers, at different points in their careers as poets. Some are at the exciting, early stages of getting published. I also work with established voices, poets who have published books, and my role is to edit a forthcoming collection. I want to continue to build my reputation as a mentor. I keep in touch with all the poets I have worked with, on a regular basis. Many of them have provided great testimonials for my teaching page of this blog, for which I am very grateful. It has been wonderful to see them thrive. They’ve all worked so hard and achieved great things, so I thought I’d focus on each writer here, in order that the poetry world can see what they’re up to:
In 2014, artist and performer Liz Hall was beginning work on her Arts Council funded performance, ‘This New Land She Has Reached’ focussing on her experiences of being a mother to a young woman with Down’s Syndrome. Hannah, who was 28, performed with her in the piece, which involved the spoken word, projection and movement.When Liz approached me the project was still in development. Liz wanted some creative direction for both the written and performance aspects of the piece. She worked with a director regarding the performance, and with me regarding the spoken words. I loved working with her. I’ve never forgotten the poems. Her writing was bold and moving and Liz was feisty. She often disputed some of my suggested edits, and I loved our conversations that came from that. The finished performance of ‘This New Land She Has Reached’ was very well received. An artist and performer based in Sheffield, Liz blurs the boundaries between visual art, poetry and performance. She has an MA in Fine Art and has been shortlisted for the Bridport Poetry Prize and the Pighog Pamphlet competition. She is now working on a series of poems extending her interest in female familial relationships that she also intends to take through to a future performance. Find out more at: www.lizhall.co.uk
Victoria is a bit of a force in poetry. Dynamic, knowledgeable, engaged in the contemporary poetry community, her work is imaginative, elegant and poignant. It was a pleasure to work with her over a period of six months, seeing her become sure of her voice, and the poems she was writing. Victoria Kennefick’s poetry pamphlet, White Whale, (Southword Editions, 2015), won the Munster Literature Centre Fool for Poetry Chapbook Competition and the Saboteur Award for Best Poetry Chapook. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Prelude, Poetry News, The Irish Times, Poetry Ireland Review, The Stinging Fly, Ambit, Copper Nickel and elsewhere. She is a recipient of a Next Generation Bursary from the Arts Council of Ireland and most recently her poems have featured on RTÉ Lyric FM’s Read Victoria’s poems: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/victoria-kennefick
Jo came to me at the start of 2017, with a manuscript for a prospective pamphlet. We ended up working on over 70 poems together. I know her work well, and I’ve said before that to read Jo’s work is to feel exhilarated and enthralled. Incredibly easy to work with, wise and astute about her own creative process, Jo is an intelligent, important new voice. I’ve enjoyed watching her achieve much success since we met. Jo lives in Germany. Her poetry has been published widely in journals such as Acumen, Oxford Poetry, The Stinging Fly, Southword, Popshots, The Tangerine and Magma. She won the McClure Poetry Prize at the Irish Writers Festivalin Los Gatos, CA and the Magma Judges Prize Poetry Competition 2018. Her pamphlet Circling for Gods was published by Eyewear Publishing in March 2018. Turas Press will publish her first full-length collection, White Horses, in November 2018. Helena Nelson’s review of Circling for Godscan be read here: https://www.sphinxreview.co.uk/index.php/688-jo-burns-circling-for-gods
Simon approached me at the beginning of 2018. Beginning to get published, he was considering applying for a place on a Creative Writing MA but wanted to hone his work before he applied. From his first submission, I was impressed by Simon’s obvious skill and creative energy. I always sensed that Simon really enjoyed writing. He’s conscientious and well-read, good traits in any writer. We worked together for 8 months. In that time Simon matured as a poet, gaining conviction about what he was writing and how. Simon’s poems are published in Rattle, The Stinging Fly, And Other Poems, The Galway Review and elsewhere. In 2017 Simon was one of the winners of the Ekphrastic Poetry Challenge & editor’s choice for US poetry magazine Rattle. Next month he begins an MFA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. It was a high point to conclude our work together knowing he had gained that place at MMU. https://stingingfly.org/product/summer-2018/
I discovered Rachel’s work when co-judging The 2017 Flambard Poetry Prize. As I said in my judge’s report, her winning poems portrayed early motherhood with startling originality, exploring the natural world in new and sensual ways. I was very taken by it. Rachel approached me several months after the prize giving about mentoring and I’ve loved having the chance to explore her poetry further. Rachel is a Leverhulme Research Fellow at the University of Leeds. She is the author of Moon Milk (Valley Press, 2018) and Epistolarity and World Literature, 1980-2010 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). Rachel is the editor of Verse Matters (with Helen Mort, Valley Press, 2017), and various special issues of academic journals. Rachel’s poems have been published in Stand, The Interpreter’s House, Frontier, Popshot Magazine and many other places, and broadcast on BBC radio. Her poems have won several prizes, most recently in the 2018 York Literature Festival Poetry Prize and the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize 2017. Website: https://rachelbowerwrites.wordpress.com
Wendy French is an established poet. She plays an important role as a writer working in the field of medical humanities, and for the past twenty years has worked with children and adults with mental health problems. Wendy was Poet-in-Residence at the Macmillan Cancer Centre at University College Hospitals NHS Trust from 2014-15 and wrote a collection of poems resulting from that residency. You can read my review of that book here. Wendy won the Hippocrates Poetry and Medicine Prize (NHS section) in 2010 and was awarded second prize in 2011. She demonstrates great scope as a poet, with three collections, two chapbooks, and a collaborative collection, Born in the NHS, with the poet Jane Kirwan. She is co-editor of three poetry anthologies, including Fanfare, published by Second Light in 2015. Each of her collections is unique, inventive and able to address difficult subjects with grace and unsentimental restraint. Her new work skillfully explores form, language and complex personal histories. It’s been fascinating to see how she is continuing to evolve and challenge herself as a poet. Read recent work here: https://andotherpoems.com/2018/06/22/two-poems-by-wendy-french/
An established poet, active on the contemporary scene, Nancy wanted me to edit the full-length manuscript of her fourth book, Vision on Platform 2 which will be published by Shoestring Press in November 2018. Nancy and I both have early collections published by Flambard Press but have got to know each other more latterly. It was a privilege to spend time on her forthcoming collection. Nancy wanted me to look closely at sections of the manuscript, whilst considering the order of poems and the ultimate arc and focus of the book. I loved immersing myself in this manuscript. Nancy has written a book of rich reflections on nature and love and childhood, and it is very accomplished. Nancy Mattson moved from the Canadian prairies to London in 1990. Her most recent collection, Finns and Amazons (Arrowhead Press 2012), begins with poems about early 20th century Russian women artists but moves to a search for her Finnish great-aunt who disappeared in Stalinist Russia. Nancy’s previous collections are Writing with Mercury (Flambard Press 2006) and Maria Breaks Her Silence (Coteau Books 1989; shortlisted for Canada’s Gerald Lampert Award). She co-organises Poetry in the Crypt in Islington, north London. See also http://www.poetrypf.co.uk/nancymattsonpoems.shtml
Current mentee Rosemary Appleton lives in Suffolk. Her DPhil (St Cross College, Oxford) was on medieval women’s contributions to manuscript poetry anthologies. At this early stage of her poetry writing career, she has already seen her poems published in Mslexia, The Fenland Reed, Spontaneity and #refugeeswelcome (an Eyewear Press anthology). Commended in the Four Corners Poetry Competition and Highly commended in the Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival Poetry Competition judged by Alison Brackenbury, Rosemary is starting to enjoy competition success. Her poems are full of tender observations and sensual description. I look forward to seeing more of her work in the future. Read poems here: https://verse.press/author/rosemary-appleton-3552037586280371894
ELISABETH SENNITT CLOUGH
Elisabeth approached me after receiving an Arts Council grant and used some of the funds towards mentoring costs. We are currently working on her next full-length collection, At or Below Sea Level and will soon be coming to the end of a five-month mentoring plan. Dedicated and extremely hard working, Elisabeth has been great to work with. I had come across Elisabeth’s work before, when I taught for The Poetry School and I’ve loved seeing the bold, new direction her work is taking. As I say in my endorsement for her book, her poems dissect physical and emotional landscapes with a captivating intensity. The poems will stay with you long after reading. Elisabeth Sennitt Clough’s pamphlet Glass (2016) won the Paper Swans inaugural pamphlet competition. It became a Poetry Society ‘Top Pick’ (2016) and was ‘Best Pamphlet Winner’ at the Saboteur Awards 2017. Her debut collection Sightings was published by Pindrop Press and won the Michael Schmidt Award. Her poems appear in the Forward Prize Anthology, The Rialto, New Welsh Review, Mslexia, Poetry Salzburg Review, Magma, Poem, Stand, and The Cannons’ Mouth. She is an alumna of the Arvon/Jerwood and the Toast Poets mentoring schemes. Her second collection At or Below Sea Level is forthcoming with Paper Swans Press and is a Spring 2019 Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Website: www.elisabethsennittclough.co.uk
Alison Binney is an English teacher from Cambridge who has recently created more space in her life for writing poetry. A current mentee, I really like Alison’s work. She’s skillfully economical with language, able to reveal so much in a short poem. The work is candid, clever and touching. Alison is at that exciting stage of starting to get published, and is doing extremely well. You can find her poems in recent issues of such established journals as The North and Magma. She has poems forthcoming in Under the Radar and The Fenland Reed. http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/shop/992/583/north-60
If you would like to know more about being mentored or have any questions about working with me on your poems, a full manuscript or a creative project, do get in touch: email@example.com
Ten years is too long, a fear that to others she may be fading
Ten years is her imagined height, and length of hair; the clothes she would be wearing this summer
Ten years is as an overwhelming bout of crying, when returning to the hospital to plant a flower
Ten years is like digging in the ground
Ten years is driving away from a commemorative rose and fretting it will die
Ten years is sometimes not thinking about her
Ten years is understanding that
Ten years is the time it’s taken to include her when asked how many children I have
Ten years is not a shameful secret
Ten years is her first sleep suit still under my pillow
Ten years is two books, a baby, a new house, another dog
Ten years is not feeling her let go of my hand or take hold of it again
Ten years is tomorrow
The Suffolk Poems are coming on, at a Suffolk pace I admit, but I am loving the whole process. I do my research. I may intentionally seek someone out whose working life I want to observe, or sometimes it can happen a little more serendipitously. I found my farrier when he was carrying out an emergency shoe repair in the car park of my local supermarket – horse, hammer and all. On the day of observation, I spend anything from a few hours to a whole afternoon. I take a small notebook, a pencil and a phone to take photographs or film the odd short video. I have a dedicated Instagram account documenting each of my visits, but mostly it’s about watching and talking. The encounters are gentle, slow, memorable. I strive not to interrupt the ‘process’ as much as possible, asking questions while each person works and it always feels more like conversation, a revelatory exchange. I don’t necessarily want each resulting poem to be a pure description of the trade being carried out. The poem ‘about a thatcher’ has ended up being about his ladder, made bespoke, to the measurements from thatcher’s foot to knee, so as to ensure comfort whilst working. I like the personal stories I am gathering. The farmer I spent a glorious July day with, touring the square mile of land he works, has an avenue of English Oak trees between his and his brother’s farm. Planted to mark a centenary of ownership and link the two families, I have written about those trees and what they signify. The lime plasterer, busy on the scaffold that curtained a 15th century former pub, was keen to tell me that ‘these old buildings are full of stories’ as I watched him apply a creamy sludge to laths. Tools down, he leaves more than just a repair, he has added to that building’s narrative and leaves a legacy lasting (another) 500 years. I’m exploring other occupations too – those who may not be using their hands so explicitly, but whose livelihoods depend on being in East Anglia, being inside its ancient buildings. I interviewed the vicar of a small, remote church, its simple frame tucked behind a mere, out of sight from the road. Meeting under rafters, Reverend Liz Law and I slid into a pew, and talked about that building, its importance to her tiny parish, how it exists in the modern age. The Hadleigh bell ringers were a joyous bunch: gathered like excited bees in the tower until their Captain called them into silent concentration and the physically demanding task of practice. My day with the blacksmith could almost be a favourite so far. I spent two hours at his workshop, situated on a farm just outside the village of Framlingham, observing the sheer skill of what he does, learnt many new words, discovered that sparks can be ‘read’, felt heat rise from the anvil, and listened to a hammer’s bounce on metal. Let me tell you, there is music in that moil.
I refer to the collection as The Suffolk Poems and there are many more people, and poems, to come: boat builder, brewer, artist, woodsman. Suggestions are always welcome. But in the summer, watching John the blacksmith begin to make a Suffolk latch, I decided that’s what I’m going to call the book: Latch. These poems are about people’s significant connections to this county; how their presence graces land and loam. There will also be a personal thread included in the collection about my daughter. I have loved watching her grow up in our very old house. Her interaction with the ‘history’ she encounters under its roof and the small part she plays in the building’s story. My childhood roots are here in Suffolk, my daughter’s are forming. She is beginning to make her own associations with this place, no longer an infant in my clasp, but still running the same rural tracks that I did.
July saw the publication of the Triptychs from Guillemot Press. I was one of twelve poets asked to write for the series, the brief being just that – the word ‘triptych’. We were however, told how the poems would be produced. As a small, three-sided pamphlet, hand printed on a 1920s letterpress. The result is beautiful: all twelve triptychs presented in a striking black, limited edition box – only 52 made. My triptych contains three poems responding to the work of artist Alison Watt. I’m managing my slight obsession with her work, specifically her paintings that address the ‘erotic connotations of fabric’, by writing a sequence of poems that will be included in my next collection. Now in possession of a triptych boxset myself I have loved reading how we all interpreted the commission. There are poems inside from Peter Riley, Mona Arshi, Toby Martinez de las Rivas, Isabel Galleymore and others. Our respective offerings are fascinatingly varied. Luke Thompson, editor of Guillemot Press has written a piece about the Triptych project’s gestation and production for the forthcoming issue of PN Review. I have great respect for the press, and what Luke is doing, and hope to work with Guillemot again in the future. Watch this space.
I have always been a long admirer of Candlestick Press. I often buy their books as gifts. Even though I’m sure they would have preferred wine, I bought my daughter’s teachers a copy of Ten Poems of Kindness at the end of term. My daughter has just about got into the swing of school, and her teachers recognised her anxieties as well as her enthusiasm with patience and, well, kindness. Later in the summer, my daughter received a handwritten letter from one of her teachers, thanking her for the book and also explaining what kindness meant to her, as a grown up. It made me a bit emotional I have to admit, but what a good, gentle correspondence for that small book of poems to spark. I have always loved the idea of featuring in one of Candlestick’s anthologies, so it made my day when I was asked if my poem ‘Pigeon Love’, from my first collection, could be included in their new edition of Ten Poems About Birds. Out now and including poems from Katrina Porteous, Paul Farley, Emily Bishop, it is a very lovely thing – and each purchase includes a donation to The Owl’s Trust.
‘…my telephone is my joy. It tells me I am in the world and wanted’
– Edward Field, source: Poetry Foundation
We are addicted to our phones, you don’t need me to tell you that. Our phones allow extensive access to everything and everyone. I believe there is still pleasure to be gained from receiving a call (and I mean a call, not a text, not a whatsapp, not a snapchat) from someone we care about. But I have never thought anything good comes from a phone call made in the middle of the night. Everything about the Grenfell Tower tragedy is harrowing. The news that some of the telephone calls from trapped residents lasted more than an hour has haunted me, as has the knowledge that people made ‘last calls’ to the people they loved. However distressing, it made me recognise that need to hear, and be heard, ‘hungry…for the human voice’ (Edward Field again). I felt angry and ashamed that people have been allowed to live in such inadequate, dangerous housing. With so many people still missing, the grieving process is involved and complex. I know my ‘reach’ out there is slight, but I wanted to post details of a charity that can offer help and support – and is available at the end of a phone. Whether affected directly by the tragedy, or if that terrible night triggered difficult memories, The Child Death Helpline is there help to anyone affected by the death of a child ‘whether they are parents, grandparents, siblings, family members, friends or involved professionals’.
Their confidential helpline is open every day of the year.
Monday to Friday 10am to 1pm
Tuesdays 1pm to 4pm
Wednesdays 1pm to 4pm
Every evening 7pm to 10pm
Freephone on 0800 282 986 or 0808 800 6019 if calling from a mobile.
The Child Death Helpline is staffed by volunteers, all of them trained, supervised and supported by professional teams within Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust and the Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust. All volunteers are bereaved parents – offering that much needed connection when you are grieving, isolated and scared. I knew one volunteer personally, in Liverpool. A Health Visitor with her own difficult story, she was dedicated to her day job – providing unerring support to me when I needed it – but was also able to give her time to the helpline. She was a good soul. She was a human voice.
I will write more soon, about various poetry projects in progress, but wanted to update on courses I am teaching locally, in East Anglia. Details here of a new one, at a great venue in Colchester, starting July 1st. Seven places remaining….
“STEALING STORIES: A short creative writing course, exploring narrative and poetry.”
The aim of this course will be to seek out the stories that come from within us, or stories we glean from others. We will explore ‘other voices’ and look at how to use these voices in your writing, paying attention to poetic language, character, narrative – pushing the creative boundaries of truth and lies. Designed to liberate the imagination using a wide variety of stimuli, and an opportunity to work in a small, attentive group, we will focus on how to entwine tales with poetry and turn them into unique pieces of creative work.
Location: The Tree Room, 12 Trinity Street, Colchester, CO1 1JN.
Time: Doors open 2pm, for refreshments. Prompt start: 2.30 – 4.30pm.
Dates: Saturday 1 July, 15 July, 29 July.
Number of places: 10
If you would like to book a place, please email Rebecca for a registration form on: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m lucky enough to live in village with a library. Since moving to Hadleigh in 2013, my daughter and I have spent lots of time there. The library offers many services, including family art and craft days on a Sunday, cinema experiences, a well-organised Summer Reading Challenge and events with local authors. I’ve been thinking for a while about how I could use the space, and offer something to the surrounding community.
I have taught creative writing at all levels, in a variety of settings, at universities, schools, literary festivals, as well as working with bigger organisations such as The Arvon Foundation. I meet people from all across the country who want to write, and I enjoy that very much. I’m discovering that Suffolk is home to thriving creative communities. I have been to many literary events and have been welcomed by several creative organisations since moving back to East Anglia. I’ve also met lots of people who write poetry.
In 2017, I will tutor a poetry writing course at my local library in Hadleigh, Suffolk. Beginning on January 18th, it will run every Wednesday evening, for ten weeks, ending on March 29th. Aimed at intermediate level, I would like to keep the numbers small, with ten writers, so we can work closely as a group. If enough people are interested, I’m looking forward to establishing a weekly slot for writers, where new work can be created, shared and encouraged.
I will be spreading the word locally, but if you know of anyone who may be interested in the region, do pass this information on, thank you. More details about my teaching experience can be found here. More information about the course can be found below.
Writing Poetry – a new course, with tutor Rebecca Goss
Do you write poetry? Would you like to write and work in a positive, constructive atmosphere, enabling you to develop your poetry writing skills? This 10-week course, run by award-winning poet Rebecca Goss, is an opportunity to see your poetry writing progress.
The course will provide:
- stimulating writing workshops designed to create new work
- concentrated time for writing
- development of editing and drafting techniques
- a chance to explore and learn from the work of contemporary writers
- the opportunity to share work with others, helping to develop your critical skills
- regular feedback on your work
- information and discussion of the contemporary poetry scene and routes into publication
Dates: January 18th 2017 – March 29th 2017 (no class Feb 15th)
Time: Wednesdays 6.30-9.00pm
Location: Hadleigh Library, 29 High Street, Hadleigh, Suffolk, IP7 5SD.
Cost: £375.00 For registration/more info please contact email@example.com
About the tutor: Rebecca Goss’s first collection The Anatomy of Structures was published by Flambard Press in 2010. Her second collection, Her Birth (Carcanet/Northern House), was shortlisted for The 2013 Forward Prize for Best Collection, The Warwick Prize for Writing 2015 and The Portico Prize for Literature 2015. It was winner of the Poetry Category in The 2013 East Anglian Book Awards. In 2014 Rebecca was selected for The Poetry Book Society’s Next Generation Poets.