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Rules are made to be broken

18 Apr

About three and a half years ago, when I decided to seriously take up poetry again I also decided that I would only perform on stage when asked.  How so?  Well, like many page poets, I (secretly) hate performing.  I get incredibly anxious, I spend hours worrying about how to order my set list, I worry that my voice won’t come across, I worry something unfortunate will happen with the mic stand, I worry that I will get tounge tied, I worry I’ll be shit, I worry that I will be the worst poet reading, I worry, I worry…  Yes, you get an adrenaline kick from a good performance on stage, but after doing some performance poetry years ago I realised that the adrenaline kick wasn’t enough to make it worth it, for me anyway.

So I’ve only performed when I was asked.  Which means that I haven’t performed a lot.  However, the fact that I will have a pamphlet published sometime in the near future by Red Squirrel Press means I will have to step up my self-publicity game.  So I am performing, I even volunteered, I felt slightly enthusiastic for a whole half an hour after.

And whom would tempt me out of my performing retirement?  Inky Fingers.  To “celebrate” the dullest event of the year (the Royal Wedding in case you’re wondering) they are hosting a spoken word night themed To the altar! To the block!  With  a lot of  poems on the subject of my recent separation, how could I resist?  Hope to see you there.  I think.


Denounced by the Pope

7 Feb

Every writer has to at one point think about what constitutes success for them, to be published by a certain publisher, have your work praised by certain peers or win a coveted prize.  In my early days of writing I used to idly dream of having my work denounced by the Pope.  I am pretty sure that even the most religious of my readers will agree, and there are a few, that having the Holy See cast me in the shape of sin would do wonders for book sales, as well as assuring my place as a footnote in literary history, and obscure quiz questions.

However, having mellowed as I’ve grown older I’ve also become a little more realistic, and decided that my ambition is no longer to be denounced by God’s representative on earth.  So who do I want to be denounced by now?  Well, it could only be Jan Moir, or indeed the Daily Mail in general.  I find it hard to put into words how much I despise the Daily Mail, mainly because I am locked in a destructive relationship with it, where I feel compelled to read it every day while inside seething with disgust.

So how am I going to achieve this – well, I took the first step this week, by having work accepted to Forest Publications erotic anthology Bed Time Stories:  The Second Coming.  I can just feel I’m slowly turning into a threat to family values.

The best conversations you’ve had all week

2 Feb

Me:  So, what are you doing Tuesday?

You:  The 8th?

Me:  Yeah.

You:  Not much, did you have something in mind?

Me:  Well, I will be reading my poem from the new Red Squirrel Press anthology “By Grand Central Station We Sat Down and Wept“, at it’s Scottish launch.

You:  That sounds great.

Me:  Yes, it’s the first time my writing will have appeared in an actual book, so I’m quite excited.  I’ve been assured it has a spine and everything!

You:  Well, I was planning on washing my hair.

Me:  There are free “refreshments” (wink).

You:  I suppose I could wash my hair another night.  Where is it?

Me:  It’s at the Fruitmarket Gallery, near Waverly Station (Edinburgh, Scotland).  And before you ask, it starts at 7pm.

You:  Well, I shall really look forward to seeing you.

Me:  There will be a host of other talented poets reading as well.

You:  Even better.

More small stones

14 Jan

8th – Exhaustion of a 3 year old

Instead of sitting large

the eyes narrow, until

they are as thin as the sun

before it dips behind the world

9th – Realisation

My mind widens, then saddens

at the gap between

what I should do, and what I want.

10th – Anticipation

A tight jaw and a hard heart-beat.

Sunday evening before

Monday doom.

11th – Hands

The flap of skin between thumb and index

stretches and holds the same creases

as dragon hide.  White, pink and blue shadow,

no iridescence.

12 – Tantrum

A tiny fury of muddy rolling.

Tears, red cheeks and a constant mantra “NO”.

Behind my eyes

weary water wants to rise.

13 – Inside

There is a mess

below the heart

(above the stomach).

Black rubber and wire.

It’s spoor is tears.

14th – Annoyance

An irritation spreads

’till all the nerves

and each muscle fiber tenses

to the repetitive, high-pitched strain,

of an actively angry brain.

A trickle of stones

7 Jan

It’s nice to have a project to start the year with.  As I blogged last week I am starting the year by taking part in the A River of Stones project run by Fiona Robyn.  The project sees bloggers writing a small observation from each day, their stone, and posting it online.  I decided not to post everyday, mainly because I wouldn’t want to annoy my subscribers (bless them), so I am posting in batches – and these are my stones from the first week of January.


1st – Vapour Rub

The greasy stick of Vapour Rub

sits on my skin convecting it’s scent.

Reminding me of hot-water bottles, nylon sheets and home.


2nd – Beer

At first they ferociously dance

until my tounge becomes their root,

to hail against the roof of my mouth.


3rd – Whoops, got rather caught up in a game of Trivial Pursuit and forgot to write.


4th – Running

Like the bud of a stump

which was meant to be wing,

the fat glutted border between arse

and thigh flaps and shudders

with every step.  Not keeping time with my heart.


5th – Bed.

Skin shrink wraps and slips in to find a pool of heat.

The mattress sinks to hip and shoulder

the duvet sausage rolls me ’till morning.


6th – migraine

Pain ricochets between an iron band

round my head and a throb at the eye.

Codine Phosphate blurs.


7th – sunrise

Subfusc clouds and the orange burn, only there to frame

Edinburgh’s stand to attention skyline.


There are plenty more writers and non-writers who are posting their stones throughout the month, and if you are interested you can access their blogs through A River of Stones, or follow the stones on Twitter with #aros.  If you are interested in writing your own stones, it’s not to late to start, and let me know too.

Enough With Scratch Cards: How to Enter and Win Poetry Competitions

21 Dec

Poet Russell Jones, is becoming a bit of a dab hand at getting a good result out of a poetry competition.  Here he shares his tips with us.

Enough with Scratch Cards:  How to Enter and Win Poetry Competitions

Poetry competitions are strange beasts: half soul-sapping, half ego-boosting, half not good with fractions. While some writers find the concept of competitions to be “against the purposes of art” (and I tend to agree but my moral faculty is a bit inconsistent) they can offer impressive wads of cash to penniless poets, as well as gaining them some recognition amongst The Powers That Be in the publishing world. I started entering poetry competitions three years ago and have either won or been runner up in 12, making approximately £1500 profit from prize money. This article is a guide, of sorts, to entering and (hopefully) winning poetry competitions.

Finding suitable competitions

Competitions are often advertised in libraries and in writing magazines. A quick internet search will also bring up a face-mashing number of results. In particular the Southbank centre poetry library has an extensive list of reputable competitions with links and details for each. It is therefore best to be selective, choosing those which have themes that would suit you (if there is a theme). Another sneaky little trick is to check who the judge is and to see whether the kind of poetry you write is the kind of poetry they like to read (often there will be a comment from the judge on what they’re looking for).

Cost and winnings

Entering most competitions costs money so you have to be prepared to fork it out, Moneybags. Most cost four or five pounds per poem, with a discount offer for submitting several poems to the same contest. The payouts for winning vary from thousands of pounds (Bridport Prize, Manchester Poetry Prize, Eric Gregory Award) to a basket of cheese and condiments (yes that really was the prize for one I entered…and lost). Obviously the competitions which pay out more cash will have more entries and will likely be more difficult to win, so there’s a careful balance between chance, payout and cost. Some competitions offer online entries and payment, others will require postal entries so keep your chequebook handy.

Picking the “right poem”

This is a tough one. Tough as nuts. I’ve already mentioned spying on the judge and checking the theme but there are general tips to follow. Firstly, try reading the work of past winners (often on the websites of the competition) to gain an understanding of the sorts of things which have won. Generally speaking short poems do not win; I think they’re looking for value for money per word or some similar nonsense.  Secondly – and this may seem obvious – but pick your best poems and make sure they adhere to the rules. Some competitions don’t allow “bad” language or “adult themes”, it also seems a waste of time or money to send in poems which haven’t been revised to a point where you are completely happy with them. Very experimental poetry doesn’t seem to do too well in my experience, particularly if it requires difficult formatting or special fonts. Try choosing pieces that stand out as well-written and unique, but not too alienating.

Follow the rules

They all have rules, mainly about not including your name on the poem. If you break a rule your poem won’t count and you might still be charged. Get it right. Be meticulous. Keep a record of the poems you’ve sent out and the dates they’re being judged. Many competitions don’t like receiving previously published poems and they especially dislike it if you submit the same poem to several competitions at the same time…if they find out.

Don’t reach for the bread knife too soon

Competitions get thousands of entries, it might be that you’ve written the finest poem of the 21st century but that the sub-human letter hound who first saw it put it in the “no” pile because it wasn’t their cup of Bovril. Keep trying; see it as a positive thing if you even get a mention in the results, likelihood is that the poem is good enough to win a competition out there if someone else rated it highly enough to be in the final stages.


Only enter your worst poems to the competitions I enter, I need the money, I yearn for the fame. Thanks muchly.

A chorus of poetry loveres tweeted this poem

17 Dec

As my regular readers will know I was the Tweeter in residence for the latest TraVerses evening at the Traverse Theater, which took place on Monday.  Yet again TraVerses proved itself to be a vibrant night with an eclectic mixture of acts, and there is a real feeling of the vitality that is created when people collaborate across art forms, and the audience of perhaps 50 or 60 proves that there is an interest and that poetry is very much alive in Edinburgh.

I was tweeting what was happening on stage live all night, and also creating a Twitter poem.  For the Twitter poem the audience on the night were given paper and pens, so they could add their own tweets to the poem, while others, who were not able to make it tweeted in lines.  I am afraid that I didn’t get everyone’s name, so can’t thank you all personally here, but you do have my thanks for taking part.  The first line, was taken from the first line of the first poem by  Trio Verso‘s who were the first performers.

TraVerses Twitter Poem

The wind holds you up

only as long as you can stand it.


Iorn.  Gold.  Felt.  Fat.  Breeze.  Frost.  Chill.  Ice


Running against the standing force,

but the wall will hold you so long as it stands.


Emily melting those things again,

useless lumps that bubble blue

and red, eventually becoming not very useful,

but a full poet is pretty validity.


Storm Chaser,

perusing air whipped like ice cream,

thinking wind will keep you warm

while my arms hang cold,

my kiss to vanilla.


Even the wind gets a better offer

and secretly withdraws

its sexual grip and loving attention

to your bones, everything ends.  Ever.