This is probably a great segue from Sarah’s piece on Exquisite Corpse, going from collaborative word vomit to then, editing and refining. In the beginning, writing is simply about itself. But it’s also about the way a poem looks at you and this is just as important as looking at a poem. Both are essentially the same deal but you need both for the poem succeed on some aesthetic level. The poem is innately a printed thing, so it serves us best when it’s looking good. If a poem were a person, it would need to be clothed, buttons done up properly and pants on the right way. Sometimes poetry comes out in a kilt and other times it comes out in a towel and sometimes it’s just not pretty. What I’m getting at, really, is that it’s important to have style, or to at least grasp style. You need to know what works and what doesn’t.  Poetry is also a lot like many other things, including eating. You need to expand your palate to know what you like and what you don’t. So read widely. Read all the things. Discover what you connect with and why and then put that into yourself, I assure you it’ll come out in your work.

I think the pull of poetry lies in separation of stanzas; the way lines break and give more than just their intended meaning. Not only this, but the way that you can utilise a poem’s shape, space and landscape to reflect imagery. I prefer terms typography or white space, but this style is also referred to as concrete poetry. Read more…

I quested into the darkest recesses of twitter for something like verse. Now, I like twitter. But the results, friends, were disappointing….

**— 2  stars
Five retweets, twelve favourites. I don’t like the juxtaposition of ‘under’ and ‘over’, side by side. It might have been deliberate or it might have been clumsy inattention to detail, I couldn’t say. The only imagery is the ‘rip-current’. I don’t know much about the muse. I dislike any “the [concrete noun] of [abstract noun]” phrase except in comedy. 

***– 3 stars
With no retweets or favourites, this poem is much more interesting from the point of view of imagery, although I can’t imagine why there would be cotton in a smoky mouth nor  how cotton or salt relate to the original potholed street.  Read more…

Sarah Kay & Phil Kaye

I’d never heard of Phil Kaye, but I did discover Sarah Kay some weeks before receiving word that she was in Australia touring PROJECT VOICE. Having been taken by the way she translates stories into spoken word and small moments into significance, I instantly booked tickets for myself and a friend. Dumbo Feather (a magazine about productive people) kindly hosted Sarah and Phil, who brought their semi-collaborative show Project Voice to the Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne. The project was founded in 2004 and is an acronym for “Vocal Outreach into Creative Expression” which supports teens, encourages spoken word as a way of self-expression which, they believe is the key in understanding the world and the self. Sarah and Phil employ theatre, storytelling, slam poetry, song and humour in their performances.

I had happened upon Sarah’s work BROTHER and ASTRONAUT but was particularly enamoured by FOREST FIRES. She performed ‘Brother’ but adjusted the story to how old her brother is, current time. I love how she carefully weaves imagery with the same accuracy as you’d hold a conversation. So, it felt like such a blessing to receive that email that one of my best made discoveries was actually going to do a show in my city. My poetry blood-beat hopscotched against skin. Read more…

Louisiana State University Press

The word “Ephemeron” itself refers to an object of a transitory or impermanent nature, from the same word root as “Ephemeral”. The book is split into 3 parts via Roman numerals. The thing that most distracted me and was most difficult in navigating the book was its e-book formatting. If only the publishers had made more of an effort here! This is why my review only centres closely around 2 of the poems which can be found in Part I.

“Those are windflowers glowing in the outer darkness just beyond the gateposts” is the first line of Ephemeron sharing the same name of the collection by T. R. Hummer. The line sets up both the natural world and the other, steeped in the beauty of fauna and body, these first lines begin their meditation. The reality of being pregnant at fifty ties in well with the literal voice of nature as perhaps an ally. It also echoes the perceived insanity of such an immeasurable task at half a century of living.

“I smell them gather above me like ravens


Over the promise my body makes. Black

hearted godhood has left them hungry”

 These lines capture well the strange loss of time and sense when birth is unexpectedly factored into retirement. What I make of this first poem is its innate approach to loss and grief, whilst still being able to “see” the things that do beauty well. There’s a quasi-awareness in both language and subject. The poem addresses “zygote” in a tone reminiscent of an open letter.

 “Listen, zygote. The windflower’s
true name:
anemone. It’s true vocation: to be blowing
Against a wooden gate at 6 a.m.”

I love that image of the otherworldly anemone on the wind. The sense of arcane follows through later in the poem “Interrogations”:


about the way water moves, about light. But the child
pulls her skirt, crying time, time.”




This image is both destructive and striking. The poem features animals to show passages of time: horse, weasel, “fossilized skeletons of dolphins”, boar and even the rifle has a “muzzle”. I have been told I often employ the use of animals as metaphor, this may be why I was taken with this “Interrogations”.  There is a nice twist in:

  “In pinewoods at midnight the trapped weasel, gnawing
its own leg, stops to consider its bitter self-taste”

The contrast between these two moments is lovely. What is most evident in this collection is Hummer’s seemingly effortless expression of grief, absence and ultimately how loss transforms. Like its title, these losses are collectibles. The crises that surface leave remnants of death and disease and Hummer turns these aspects into poetic turbulence. These poems almost stand as proof of existence. Our biology says we exist, our physiology says we exist but this kind of existing goes beyond the carbon imprint. The people in these poems co-exist with the gods. These poems read almost like prose, but are undeniably fluid in movement and breadth. So the poems seem to evaluate, collect and catalog scenarios and crises. Like a stamp or coin collection, each piece (moment) feels immemorial. The sense of déjà vu here is uncanny.

The poem talks about the mother as “the old woman” and muses on the knowledge that “Death” is close and closer. The child constantly brings both nature of life and responsibility back into focus. Other characters that feature are the astronomer: “circle of blood on the eyepiece”, the geneticist who is cut open like an alien, the ever watching man as presumed “husband”, the blind girl “…pass[ing] her hands over / dusty spines like a pianist, like a pickpocket”. What pulls all this together is the bare, wild landscape of the country, “impossible now to understand how familiar it was”. The poems, whilst singular feel like they carry one another with their similar voices and subjects. Part of what makes Hummer such a superstar is that he approaches subjects which confront and inquire into the reader’s conscience. The subjects he chooses are both political and personal. They’re “big” subjects that shout and cry, they get your attention and they waver between strong and weak, brave and wild.


T. R. HUMMER was born in 1950, Mississippi. He is an American poet, critic, essayist, professor and editor. He has published poems in The New Yorker, Harper’s Atlantic and the Paris Review. He has 10 poetry collections and 2 essay collections and 2 Pushcart Prizes. Previously, Hummer has taught at Oklahoma State University and guest edited The Cimarron Review, Middlebury College where he guest edited New England Review and the University of California at Irvine. He is a past editor at The Kenyon Review and currently teaches at Arizona State University, where he lives with his wife and his daughter.


My new vocation as a performance poet is going stonkingly. Two gigs in, I’ve already achieved three lifelong dreams:

1) Make someone laugh.
2) Get nominated for Poet Laureate.
3) Get over 100 youtube views.

A Good Old Yarn

Parabola Arts Centre, Cheltenham
Hay Brunsdon in her natural condition

Hay Brunsdon in her natural condition

Hosted by outrageously drunk and bawdy poetrix Hay Brunsdon, ‘A Good Old Yarn’ makes the obvious link between spoken word and nautical textiles.

I’m pretty nervous. Unfortunately I haven’t had time to think about what to wear or how messed up my hair is, which makes me feel a fraud since in my experience all performance poets don outrageous outfits and hairstyles. I just want to fit in.

I get to the venue – one of those tiny rooms up lots of stairs,  its walls draped in ropes and boat-patterned material – with just enough time to grab something alcoholic. Only I can’t find anyone to serve me alcohol, anywhere, in the whole theatre, and I feel like weeping in a corner as I realise I’m going onstage stone cold sober. Instead I squash myself onto a seafaring beanbag at the side of the stage and quake.

Dan Holloway looking eccentric and bookish

Dan Holloway looking eccentric and bookish

The first poet is Dan Holloway. He’s a big guy with ringlets, trouser-braces and fingerless gloves, and he beats me hands down in the ‘outrageous clothes’ competition going on in my head. Dan pulses out metrical tales of love under Hungerford Bridge and lonely people locked in houses waiting to Let go. What I particularly like about Dan is the way, in the interval, he so quickly corners me and asks me to perform at events he hosts in Oxford. That’s the sort of networking I like – especially from talented poets.

I’m second. The audience is right there, and there’s no mic to hide behind. I do a spiel about emails that I don’t think comes out too rehearsed and launch into:

And it works! I fly through Thing in the Kitchen with only one glitch on ‘gobbling’, my five minutes are up and I retreat to my beanbag.

Lucinda Murray, a co-conspirator in the Writing Circus project reads a funny-sad poem about sorting through her hoarder grandmother’s possessions. Wrongly, she is all self-deprecating and angsty and stuff. She is also beating me clothes-wise, henna-haired and leather-jacketed.

Then it’s the interval.

It’s the interval. There is still no one at the bar and no alcohol to be found anywhere. I linger so long waiting for someone, anyone, to serve me a drink I miss half of the next poet’s act.

This ‘poet’ wears a grey v-neck and a shirt. That is all you need to know.

Joel Denno is Joel Denno.

And last Joel Denno, a guy I first saw flying his way through the Cheltenham Literature Festival Slam with poems about suited businessmen emerging from the mouth of hell for their lunch break. Joel sports a mohawk, blazer and fabulous green eyeshadow; ladies and gents, we have a winner. His first poem is political, pleading, movingly, for the humane euthanasia of farm crops and weeds. He finishes with a love poem to, well…






Myth: the essence of a poem is expressing emotion.

The Word Vomit Technique. Illustration by Chris Giles of My Beautiful Paintings.

Before I get all grr on “emotional poetry,” I want to say this: I’m all about poeming in the diary, discussing heartbreak and daily doings, but that doesn’t make a poem great.  And great poems can express big feelings.  In fact, any good piece of writing should evoke emotion in the reader.  It’s what connects the reader to the work.  But just as in novels and essays and all that prosey stuff, a good poem has a story first.

A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  A story uses sensory detail, characterization, setting, and narrative to work its magic on the reader.  And why should a poem be any different?  A story is all the good stuff that brings us around to the feelings.  It has to come first.  It’s like Step 1.  And much like Ikea furniture, it’s a good idea in poetry to perform step 1 before trying to install step 2.

So my theory is this: A good poem isn’t about emotions, it makes the reader emote.  It evokes emotion in the reader by using emotive imagery.  And to achieve this, you’ve gotta start at ground level or else your whole poem is going to fall apart just like a poorly furnished college apartment.

Now, emotional poetry is definitely a thing and a lot of writers love it and it’s where a lot of us start as poets.  There’s a reason I recommend Sylvia Plath to many beginning poets trudging their way through the perils of high school.  I think she is the original emo kid — she’s got her heart on her sleeve and she’s not afraid to use it.  But the thing that Sylvia has that a lot of journal poetry doesn’t is the sense of story that I already mentioned, the imagery and sensory detail.  Plus, you know, that haunting voice.  Here’s an example:

“April 18″

the slime of all my yesterdays
rots in the hollow of my skull

and if my stomach would contract
because of some explicable phenomenon
such as pregnancy or constipation

I would not remember you

or that because of sleep
infrequent as a moon of greencheese
that because of food
nourishing as violet leaves
that because of these

and in a few fatal yards of grass
in a few spaces of sky and treetops

a future was lost yesterday
as easily and irretrievably
as a tennis ball at twilight

–Sylvia Plath

SO.  Love or hate Sylvia Plath, we can all agree on a two things:
1. She tells a story with her poem.  It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
2. She makes us feel things.

Sylvia Plath leads an emo band. Illustration by Chris Giles of My Beautiful Paintings.

Imagine if the poem were simply a list of feelings, though.  Would that be interesting?  I don’t think so.  Anyone can list feelings and use a thesaurus to come up with a few extra S.A.T. words for “grumpy” and “tears” and throw in some linebreaks and call it a poem.  What I want from a poem when I’m reading is a reason to feel for the narrator, a sense of what the narrator feels and why.  And, duh, I want that story.

So, Sylvia Plath nails it with that  #2. She makes us feel things.  And she uses all those tricks that I believe make a poem work.  I mean, wow, that first couplet?  It’s dark.  It’s creepy.  And it’s so, so sad.  Even better, in this and in so much of Plath’s poetry, there is space for the reader to go in, suck in the words, swirl them around in his mouth, and taste what he needs to taste.  He may or may not like the poem, but he hasn’t just had to consume word vomit.  Which, really, is what happens if you just let your feelings dance around unhinged while writing.

I’m sorry, folks.  But your word vomit — or soul vomit, as I’ve come to think of some of the more, er, emotional poetry that, yes, even I wrote back in the day — belongs in a first draft or in a journal.

And really, I have to wonder, where does this myth that poetry = emotion come from? Is it our schools, where overworked and underpaid teachers are given a single week in which to teach poetry by the Powers That Be?  Is it the fact that contemporary works are physically inaccessible to young people and are, indeed, less read than, say, Shakespeare’s soppy (if lovely) sonnets?  Regardless, I’d say that emotions in poetry is a good thing, and I’d encourage any poet endeavoring to make his readers feel something to use his words to do just that. Make the reader feel it.

I also drew whale-eating-jellyfish to keep myself sane in the dark days.

I also drew whale-eating-jellyfish to keep myself sane in the dark days.

It’s quite simple: Today is May 4th and I am on poem 28.

Assuming I write two more poems in the next few days, I will have done NaPoWriMo five times. By “done” I mean I’ll have written 30 poems, in quick succession, with no regard for their quality, around April-kind-of-time in five separate years. A NaPuritan might say this doesn’t count. They might decree I have to write exactly one poem, every day, thirty days running starting April 1st, or it isn’t NaPo. Someone a little less hardcore might say that I should, at least, wind up by April 30th. And if that floats their boat then I wish them a good voyage.

But I don’t think it matters. It would matter if, come May 1st, all the grist dropped out of my mill and I a stopped writing. It would matter if, among the wasted days of poetic incontinence, I failed to indulge in an occasional verse orgy. But I’m easygoing. And poetically libidinous. And I don’t mind dragging the affair out.

Embarrassment is part and parcel of the NaPoWriMo business. This year I indulged in love poetry and angst like I never did this as a teen. Obviously I was making up for lost time. For instance:


I don’t just want you to be here

Art by Chris Giles of My Beautiful Paintings

I want to make you be here, tie you
to a string round my wrist and drag you,
not like a puppy,
but like an angry rabbit.


If you always head east, head west,
just drive. Turn up the hi-fi
and try not to think.

You’re thinking.
Don’t think, just keep breathing and blinking,
you’re thinking, you’re thinking, don’t think.

No, don’t blush for me, I’ll own my own inadequacies.

But that’s not all! No, this year I wrote about twitter, xkcd, dinosaur comics, Gotye covers and cat videos. I wrote lovingly of the arcane Gloucestershire tradition of cheese rolling, a sport so dangerous it was banned (but has that stopped the free cheese rolling spirits of Gloucester? NEVER).

These are natives of Gloucester chasing a cheese that is rolling down a hill.

These are natives of Gloucester chasing a cheese that is rolling down a hill.

This year I sat on the carpet with my mother at 1:38am watching a storm and discussing matricide, then wrote a poem about sitting on the carpet with my mother at 1:38am watching a storm and discussing matricide. This is how it starts:


I sat on the bedroom carpet
with my mother
discussing matricide.

It continues like this -

A mirth of matricides? she said,
a perpetuation of matricides
would that work?

A legacy of matricides, I remarked.

And concludes,

We were waiting for the lightning
to strike the church opposite,
for the cat to squeal and run for the towel basket,
for grandma to pass on.

So now you know.

(Actually I quite like that one. I guess I’m just lucky enough to have a mum who is insane.)

In all honesty I’ve written reams of total gibberish this month. But I’ve never been one to cling desperately to a dead poem in the hope that a wizard will come along with a spell to make it live. I don’t mind writing a bit of dross to get to the good stuff. Actually most of my best poems I’ve typed hurriedly in a moment of procrastination or in a lunch break, thinking they were awful. It’s only later, sometimes months later, I look back and realise they’ve got something worth redeeming. The poems I labour over always come out laboured.

I expect NaPoWriMo isn’t for everyone. I expect I am exactly the sort of person NaPoWriMo is for. The type of person who gets bored easily; who constantly wants to start the next project, and not worry about perfecting the last one; a goal-orientated workaholic; and the type of writer who only has two settings when it comes to editing, tweak and overhaul.

I will leave you with an inspired piece from day 3:

Pirates! Three of them
on the fo’castle
doing a jig:
knees up knees up
clink hi ho!
Not interested in a
whale like me.