MY PROJECTS FOR 2019: I have been fortunate in being given two commissions this year. One is for an artist’s book, and the second is to write a script or libretto for a work of performance art. Both are intimately concerned with trees and their survival in a time of ecological emergency.
At the same time I am working on preparing for publication two chapbooks for the San Francisco poet Beau Beausoleil. And in August my daughter and I will be joining the crew of the tall ship Bessie Ellen to sail for a week around the Inner and Outer Hebrides. I shall have my notebook with me at all times, as usual! I have just (Jan 20th) finished reading, with great interest and pleasure, Peter Reason’s account of his eco-pilgrimage around the west coasts of Ireland and Scotland, In Search of Grace. It is beautifully written, and deeply relevant to much of what I hope to be doing this year.
MY PROJECT FOR 2018: to sail to St Kilda at midsummer aboard the tall ship Bessie Ellen, and to write about it during and after the trip. This is a place I’ve wanted to go to for forty years but have never had the means until now.
UPDATE June 2018: Due to a death in the extended family, the good ship Bessie Ellen sailed from Oban without me. So instead of reporting on this journey on 26th July, I shall be reading a sequence of poems inspired by the Odyssey.
MY PROJECT FOR 2017: To write a poetry review a month during 2017. I realise a few of the pitfalls – it seems an excellent way to make enemies – I risk missing the point – I risk exposing my ignorance of both subject-matter and poetic terms – and do I pick a book by someone I know or by a stranger (perhaps a dead stranger would be safest), a book I admire or one that leaves me cold? The up-side is that the quality of my reading will improve, and that whatever I read is likely to improve the quality of my own writing.
QUOTE: “I would rather be attacked than unnoticed. For the worst thing you can do to an author is to be silent as to his works.” (Samuel Johnson)
ANOTHER QUOTE: “It was only when I switched to unlined paper that the poems began to come without being called.” (Dave Bonta) This is just too delicious not to share!
ANOTHER QUOTE: “If you know what you are going to write when you’re writing a poem, it’s going to be average” – Derek Walcott, born 23 January 1930; died 17 March 2017.
PROGRESS REPORT 17 November: the poem I wrote in response to Arnold Bocklin’s painting has been placed in the Battered Moons competition. Here it is.
PROGRESS REPORT 1 September: the book commission is finished and delivered, after two months of concentrated work. The writing was done outdoors in blissful weather, the editing, layout, printing and binding indoors when I would rather have been outside. Part-way through the printing I had to start again with a new and far more sophisticated printer. The learning curve has at times felt almost vertical. Here it is, Between Two Moons: 136 pages, 209 three-line stanzas, 15x15x4cm. More photos here. The book can be seen and handled during Somerset Art Weeks (23 Sept – 8 Oct, Thursday to Sunday only) at The Tree-house Library, Venue 21, Dove Studios, Butleigh.
PROGRESS REPORT 2 July:
Is my poetry improving in quality, or is this realistically as far as I can expect to go?
My daughter told me recently that, at 71, I’m at peak vocabulary. Good thing I’m a poet and not a pole-vaulter, I said!
At the July meetup yesterday, we discussed some points raised by Rachael Clyne’s Project statement. This included the question above, and led to a Damascene moment for me: I realised that I had peaked about 2008-9 with a couple of significant prizes. Since then I’ve had poems published in print and on-line, I’ve won a few small prizes and been short- or long-listed for more prestigious ones. I wrote what I feel to be my best poem, or perhaps the poem I identify with more than any other, two years ago. As recently as last week I was still writing, and enjoying writing. I have a writing commission to complete by the end of August. After that, I think it will be time for me to take stock and perhaps find a new direction. I’ll be 72 by then …
Yesterday was another packed day of stimulating activities and conversations. Michael gave us a trio of brief but richly inspiring writing exercises. Rachael skilfully prepared and led a sub-set of six of us in a spirited performance of Tessa Strickland’s long poem “The White She-wolf” to a small but appreciative audience of the other six! We had a brief critique of some unusually interesting new poems by our fellow-participants. And Sue Boyle, as usual, asked all the right questions and kept us on track!
This is my last workshop in the current series, but I’ll continue to report back here.
PROGRESS REPORT 25 June: what a stimulating and challenging day we had yesterday at BRLSI! Lively discussion on writing about art, memoir-writing, writing a novel, whether or not to illustrate, concrete/typographic poetry and handmade books, including one entirely handwritten and hand-drawn in the span of twelve hours by Sarah Gregory. I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to show some of my handmade books. For those who would like to see more, here is an invitation. I’ll be stewarding on 2nd August.
PROGRESS REPORT mid-June: I have a new project! I’ve been very fortunate to have been commissioned to write (and make) a book on some aspect of the piece of land known in feudal times as Butleigh East Field. So far I’ve spent two days immersed in meadows, woods and gardens, making notes, drawing and taking photos. The book has to be delivered by the end of August and will be on show during Somerset Art week. It will then form part of the Tree House Library at Dove Studios. The writing-in-progress now extends to about 100 three-line stanzas. I have not given up on my original project but it’s on the back burner for a while. I’m looking forward very much to next week’s “Word and Image” session at BRLSI.
PROGRESS REPORT mid-May: I’ve just finished my third review, for sharing with the group on May 20th. I’ve also been busy re-writing and re-ordering two manuscripts (potential pamphlets) for re-submission. And I’ve just read this, which I found in the wonderful, quirky Submishmash newsletter from Submittable, and which asks serious questions about “the literary community” and especially its subset, “the poetic community”. Food for thought.
PROGRESS REPORT late April: my first two reviews are now on my blog. Mslexia have accepted a poem, and I have sent five more elsewhere. I don’t routinely submit to Mslexia because it excludes half the population. But when they call for a particular type of submission and I have a poem that fits, I do send one. I’ve been lucky on both occasions.
PROGRESS REPORT for April: I’m not keeping up with my target of a review a month, but twelve poems have gone out to magazines and two were long-listed for The Plough Prize. I am trying to decide which word-and-image piece to bring along. One of them is 3-dimensional and one wants to be incarnated as a quilt …
PROGRESS REPORT for March: I have written a short poem prompted by “The Isle of the Dead” and am working on several word-and-image syntheses. Two poems have been accepted for two forthcoming issues of Obsessed with Pipework.
PROGRESS REPORT Feb 26. What a brilliant day in Bath yesterday! Fourteen of us round the table, lovely people, masses of poems and useful generous feedback. Now a rather hefty homework assignment, which I made a start on at 3.30 this morning. Insomnia has its uses.
PROGRESS REPORT for February: My second review is of Dave Bonta’s just-published Ice Mountain – an Elegy. I received my pre-ordered copy last week from Phoenicia Publishing in Montreal.
I have three manuscript pamphlets of various lengths doing the rounds. I am collecting rejections, but an extract from one manuscript was long-listed for Primers in 2015. A fourth, in the final stages of editing, concerns a close relative who died last year, and I look forward to hearing what Michael Loveday has to say about the conflicts that writing about the family can raise.
PROGRESS REPORT for January: I have written a review of Robin Thomas’s pamphlet A Fury of Yellow. I found it difficult because I felt impertinent commenting on the work of someone much higher up the poetry ladder! But it was an exciting and satisfying process reading the poems with close attention and Googling all the things I didn’t know about – I am especially grateful to Robin for prompting me to look online for Marie Jalowicz. The review is about 700 words. I could easily have written twice as much, but I do realise I’m not likely to be writing for the London Review of Books!
Bath Poetry Cafe Short Poem Competition 2015 : Judge’s Report
Good writing has the power to take us to times and places we cannot visit and convince us that the experience we are reading is our own.
The background to Ama Bolton’s powerful poem, The Capitalist Dogs, is the collapse of the economic and social structures in Russia after the violent confrontation between Boris Yeltsin and the Russian Parliament in 1993. The communist system crumbled. The capitalism which followed was unmediated and ran unchecked. Ama provides all the necessary factual information in her bold title and epigraph so that her ruthlessly pared down poem can focus on the horrific emblem of all this change – the feral dogs who haunt the space beyond the boundary of the city, the dogs who are worse than wolves.
It is one of the many strengths of this poem that the dogs never become metaphors. They keep their animal identity throughout. Dangerous because they are starving, they are more dangerous than wolves because their situation is out of nature – they have been abandoned by their human owners, who have now perhaps become their prey. The Capitalist Dogs gives a brilliantly understated picture of the fragility of human systems and societies and of the vigilance that is required to keep violence and disintegration at bay. Beyond ‘the perimeter fence’ of civilisation lies a truly terrifying world. And yet, to borrow a thought from Don Paterson’s wonderful poem Two Trees, ‘dogs are all this poem is about.’
originally published on Sue Boyle Poetry