Inhale

Taken from Bristol Sounds interview with pet Shimmers, January 2020.

As a Friday bonus, have this song by Anna Meredith.

I was lucky enough to see her and her band last night and they were incredible. 1 So much energy and joy. It’s the most interesting and exhilarating music that is unable to be defined. It goes in so many directions and all of them are excellent. Plus at the gig they finished with a medley of cheesy songs, including Daniel Bedingfield and ABBA. What’s not to like?

On the radio

I was very lucky to have a poem on BBC Radio Bristol’s Upload show. The poem is called Encrypted and was written for Tonic, which is an amazing night. You get given a prompt and you have a month to write a piece for it.

The prompt I got was “threw postcards in the shape of airplanes hoping they get to where they meant to”. It pushed the poem in strange new directions I never would have thought of if I was just sitting down to write without a prompt.

Thanks to Chris Beale for recording it and Upload for broadcasting it. It is nationwide across the UK and is a fantastic initiative. I’d really recommend sending something in.

Listen here. My poem is about an hour and a half in. It’s on BBC Sounds until 23rd February.

(Now this song is in my head.)

2019: year of contradictions

I’m late to the party with my year wrap up. It’s already the roaring twenties. 1 But I still think it is worth looking at where we have been so we can look to the future.

In many ways, the last year of the decade was a contradictory one. There seemed to be such hope in the air with the protests against injsutice and climate emergencies, yet people routinely voted for selfish, narrowminded parties. Brexit seemed a hopeless prospect and yet people were determined to push it through. There was so much joy and within the same moments, so much panic and sadness.

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We’re here

John Green’s podcast The Anthropocence Reviewed has been a consistent highlight this year, but the latest episode on Auld Lang Syne is particularly moving. The reworking of the song and reclamation of it is joyous.

It made me think about why we celebrate New Year. The answer John Green gives is an elegant one; because we are all still here. Another journey around the sun, another year passing into history.

Hold each other tight and revel in each other’s company. No matter what happens, we have these moments of joy and closeness. We have each other for a little time on this strange planet.

Happy new year everyone. I hope 2020 is better for us all.

This election

I’ve been avoiding the election cycle because its just so depressing. Lies after misinformation after racist dogwhistles after lies. It’s disheartening to see people support the Tories, who have messed everything up over the last ten years. At this point it feels more like Stockholm syndrome.

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NaPoWriMo Lessons

I’ve done NaPoWriMo for the last three years. I’ve found it hugely useful to create new poetry and improve my craft. The process of writing thirty poems in thirty days is not a great achievement, but it is a useful one. It highlighted a couple of things to me:

Pushing Through Resistance

Each time I work on this challenge, I get sick of it. There comes a point where I feel I have nothing left to write about. This generally happens around the third week, where I have lost the initial momentum and the end seems far away.

This year I also struggled with the arbitrary rules I had set myself. Towards the end, they felt constricting. I was increasing the line count day by day. My poems tend to hover around 15-20 lines, so stretching them to a longer length seemed difficult. On day twenty or so, I thought that I couldn’t write longer poems at all, I had lost anything I wanted to say and might as well give up.

As will be obvious, I didn’t give up. I kept on pushing through, writing increasingly long poems until I reached the thirty lines. Some of the longer ones became my favourites. The resistance and fear I felt were because I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone. It was something new and I didn’t know how to do it. But the limits I set myself pushed me forward and helped remove the fear. No matter how good it was, I needed to get x number of lines written and published by the end of the day. The deadline and limits allowed me to push myself, even though they were completely self-imposed and arbituary.

The power of the subconscious

Most weekdays I would write on my lunch-breaks. I only had an hour and by the time I ate and did general life business, there wasn’t many minutes left to actually write. I learnt to trust my subconscious and just go with my instincts on what to write. There simply wasn’t enough time to find an idea that I knew would go somewhere.

If I didn’t have a clear idea of what to write, I would flip through my notebook, choose a phrase almost at random and just start writing around whatever it was. Before I realised it, I had a poem. Writing in this way over a number of days made me feel like I wasn’t in control of the process, the writing was coming from my subconscious. It sounds strange to say but I think this is when I produced my favourite poems when I barely knew what it was I was writing about. Poetry as a form is all about the half-glimpsed images, the moments that floor you emotionally and you never quite know why. Digging in deep threw up unusual images for me. Often I would understand a poem halfway through writing it. This process can be hard as it feels like giving up control, but it is worth it. Trust your gut instincts and your feelings to guide you.

Time to write

Life continued around NaPoWriMo. I started a new job and adjusted to a new life. But every day, there was always at least half an hour where I could squeeze in writing. This process has highlighted I can always write in the cracks or the quiet moments of the day, even if it’s only for ten minutes. Despite this constant impression I have of being busy, there is almost always a few minutes that can be carved out and reclaimed. And a few minutes is better than none at all.

Next year

I’m going to do this again next year. The whole process is extremely beneficial to my work and always throws up interesting poems. I’m undecided about whether to post them up online next year as I may want to start sending poems out to magazines. But whatever I decide, I find it useful to exercise to work on something intensely for a month, every day.

You can download all the poems I wrote for NaPoWriMo 2018 for free here.

Napowrimo 2019 day 30

Faster Than Light

Let us wander around the symmetry
and geometry of narrow alleys
that shift around us as we meet
ourselves walking towards us
smiling as we will do soon.

Streets flicker. Buildings are destroyed
then rubble flies upwards and they are
newly constructed. The moon slams into
the welcoming ocean and the planet grows.
Somewhere we are briefly under stars.

It’s hard to see anything when
we bend the light around us,
cocoon ourselves in the silence
beyond possibility as our bodies
bruise and age and grow younger.

I smile and say goodbye then
we meet. I am walking away and
saying hello while you stand still
but already you cross the street
to shake my hand once again.

Hours become dropped slides
out of sequence, corrupted videos
playing at random. Time was always
optional, causality was always
a sweet lie to keep us sane.

At some point we reach an edge
or so we think. We bend backwards
finding our weary feet at the start
having not moved an inch. Odysseus
is always leaving and arriving at Ithaca.