Friday 29 June 2012


I received my copies of my new poetry book on Saturday Blessed by Magpies, it is now out there in the big world of books. If I am honest it feels like an anticlimax. The process began over a year ago and reached an ending when the postman handed me a box of books.  Please don’t think I’m complaining I am not. I know I live a privileged life and I give thanks every day.

In a way I know that it is just the beginning,  the ideas, images and metaphors have journeyed from my head, via scribbles in notebooks to end up contained in a book. Each smoke-ring idea fixed in words and fastened onto the page. This thought to object process reminds me of the old days when you would have a roll of film developed and you first look at the photographs to find split seconds of your life frozen, recorded, some in focus, some blurred and the occasional classic composition that makes the whole process worthwhile. The poems now begin their journey into other people's heads and lives.

So on to the important stuff, you can buy the book from me, £10-post free, just drop me an email. From the publisher ( ), if you have a kindle or similar device you can download it from Lapwing or at Google (

Here is the poem which gave the book its title, actually it was the other way around. I had the title but could not fit it into a poem until in creative writing class one evening everything fell into place. The title of the poem is taken from a line in an Edward Thomas poem.

Edward Thomas

Tree-veined thought, leaf wrought wonder,
Deep, cool roots, dream
The earth in slumber.

Gods conjure us in passing,
Shadow on their eyelids.
Brief as clouds in the skies.
I shall step soundless with respect,
Blessed by magpies.

There are worse ways of living your life. Continuing the magpie theme here’s another poem.

Magpie Maps

The magpies’ maps are not on paper,
They hang from certain synapses,
Motion/location tapestries.
They hold the history of her every heist:
These were the best times I stole
And the more secrt times
When she would simply look.

Every magpie has such treasure.
A gallery in each head,
Look closely, you may find your own.

Enjoy your week. 

Tuesday 26 June 2012


Genista is one of my favourite poets. I have known her for many years, she is a member of a local poetry group The Fire River Poets ( I myself was a member for a number of years, it is where we first met. I have always liked her work, there is a sophistication to her use of language that appeals to me greatly. She brings a painterly eye to her writing and her humanity shines through. She has always been an inspiration to me, and  has been very supportive of my own writing. 

Genny has published one book of verse, Cat's Cradle and it is available here ( I have found myself returning to it time and time again over the past year. Today Genny and I are offering you the chance to win a signed copy of Cats Cradle, all you have to do is post a haiku about a cat's cradle on the comments section of this post by 2nd of July to qualify. What could be easier than that!

I recently interviewed Genny for this post and I am going to let you read her own words rather than mine.

When did you start writing?
Poetry has always been part of my life – as a child I was constantly read to – nursery rhymes of course, but Lewis Carroll figured frequently and my father would recite reams of poems he had learned as a child.  I suppose I have always loved the sound of words and what they can do.    At my school we had to learn a poem a week and had to recite it to the class.  Not always so enjoyable, as among 30 girls, not everyone was as appreciative of poetry as I was.  A lot of prompting went on as you can imagine.   By teenage years I was writing myself and this developed over the following years as a drama student, as I was interested in performance by then.   From then on, I wrote on and off throughout the years of working and bringing up three children.  Once they had found lives for themselves, there was more time for me, so I joined a local poetry group in 1988, The Fire River Poets, and my output went up dramatically, as we met once a week for many years.  Working with a group is incredibly helpful in terms of broadening horizons and gaining feedback.  By this time I was adding many more poets to the list of poets I admired and was trying to emulate.  The odd person would turn up, proudly announcing that he or she never read any one else’s poetry - a dead end in my opinion, as reading not only opens up a vast world of differing approaches to your writing, but it forms your critical facilities and underpins your choices of form, use of metaphor, assonance, subject matter – all the tools that a practising poet needs.

Who would you say had influenced you?
In the 1970’s there were far fewer women poets around or given prominence than nowadays, and it’s wonderful to see so many talented people coming to the fore and a woman Poet Laureate no less! The 70’s turned out to a very vibrant time in terms of so called ‘feminine’ themes becoming acceptable or I might even say allowed, but there was still some way to go before a less male oriented outlook dominated by the elite modernist canon gave way to women writers who felt entitled to talk about their perspective on the world as well as more political social issues.   So inevitably I was more influenced by the ‘dead poets’: Shakespeare, for language and theatricality. Keats for his language and evocative voice; Wordsworth, mostly for his nature poems; Tennyson for his intensity and rhyme and a certain amount of gloom! Houseman for his yearning and nostalgia; Yeats, for his musicality and imagination; Gerard Manley Hopkins for his extraordinary effects and assonance; Dylan Thomas for his humour and volatility and sheer power. Eliot for his rigour.  But I leaned towards D H Lawrence’s sensuality in my teens, and later discovered Edward Thomas and Wilfred Owen writing at the same time, but with very different preoccupations.  Some American poets became favourites: ee cummings in particular; his quirky way with language and form; Denise Levertov and a host of US women writers too numerous to name – Sylvia Plath figured hugely of course. So quite a list, but as the years have gone by many of the middle European poets have become favourites albeit in their translated versions, mainly for their ability to transcend repression and fight back.  I’m also very fond of Scottish and Irish poets – Paul Durcan for his humour especially. At the moment, John Burnside is favourite, along with Alice Oswald, Carol Ann Duffy’s earlier work,  Jackie Kay, Rose Flint, too many to mention all offering something to aspire to.
Other important influences on my writing:  In the early1990’s I attended Selima Hill’s advanced writing workshops in Exeter – a great experience for me to experience her zany, uncensored style. I then went on to study for an MA in Creative Writing with Plymouth University gaining a Postgraduate Diploma in 1998. 
All aspects of life influence me, things I hear, see, smell, experience, politics, friends, relationships, pretty well everything feeds in at some stage I’d say.  Music is influential, all kinds, but mainly classical.  I wanted to be a dancer once, so rhythm and melody is part of me. Most forms of literature and of course all forms of the visual arts as I worked as an Art History lecturer for over 20 years.

How did you get a publishing deal?
Publishing is a knotty issue and it took me much longer than I’d hoped to get my first collection in 2007.  Up to then I’d mostly performed my poetry in various festivals and literary events around the West Country.   This probably helped me to establish myself as a poet.  Ideally you need to get a track record with the Small Press publishers of magazines or in the more prestigious poetry magazines.  Winning competitions – the major ones, like the National and the Bridport, can provide status and a huge leg up in the poetry world, and lead to well established publishers such as Faber taking an interest.  I had published in several anthologies and been placed in competitions and had poems in magazines and on radio by the time I was published.  I’d also begun writing reviews for Stride Magazine and Odyssey.
I was fortunate in having met Anne Born on several occasions and she’d heard me read and placed me in a competition she had judged.  She ran ‘Oversteps Books’ in Devon and put me on her list to publish.  It seemed to take a long time before I actually got to the top of that list, but suffice to say ‘Cat’s Cradle’ came out in 2007.  So I would say persistence is all. Self publishing is more of an option these days, but ideally it’s better to have a publisher who will back you up and organise publicity, readings and find ways of promoting your book.  But, you have to be prepared to collaborate in their promotion – Festivals, charitable events, readings in book shops and elsewhere. 

What is your working pattern?
This of course varies for everyone, but I have been lucky, in that poems have always come to me pretty frequently I say come to me, as I’m not terrifically disciplined and have a busy life. I write first of all in pencil and rubber in a notebook, then work on it on the computer   They can strike at any time, often at totally inappropriate moments and require that I write them. The first drafts of some of my poems about art and artists have been written whilst present at an exhibition or in an art gallery. 
What I know for certain, is that pretty well every poem will need to be thought about, worked on, checked for accuracy, spelling, grammar and historical accuracy if that applies.   I often work through more than eight drafts maybe more and even then am not quite satisfied.   It’s really helpful to leave a poem for days, even weeks before coming back to it and being able to print the final version. It can take years to see what you should have said but weren’t able to at the time of writing!
My work as a Creative writing teacher  has for many years has been enormously helpful to me in terms of extending my own knowledge, reading, researching and generally benefiting from my students contributions. 

Any advice for those beginning to write
Read any worthwhile writing magazine and they will recommend that as a beginner intent on writing your first poems, you need to serve an apprenticeship as it were.   Finding a writers’ group to attend, whether formal or informal is going to be incredibly helpful for finding your way through the pitfalls to positive ways in how you want to develop.  From more experienced writers you will learn how to make positive comments and also to suggest improvements for others’ work, and of course for your own. Paying close attention to a poem, teasing out meaning and seeing whether it works or not, will give you invaluable insights into making progress.  I can’t stress enough how reading widely – not just poetry, but all different kinds of literature, are going to feed into your fund of ideas and stimulate your imagination.  

What’s Next?
Encouraged by the reception of ‘Cat’s Cradle’ and by subsequent public readings I am gradually accruing a collection of poems for another book. Also I’m thinking about possible themes, as this seems to be the growing trend for poetry collections and pamphlets just now.   Sometime themes simply appear once you see a whole lot of your poems in one place, so   maybe that is the way forward.   The bar is set pretty high these days so it’s my aim to be quite rigorous in the selection process for my second collection.  For the moment, more Readings, more listening, more reading, generally enjoying poetry for itself as a fulfilling part of my life...

If you were a poem what poem would you be?

If I were a Poem

If I were a poem
I’d relate my story     
in free verse   

so you could
fill in the airy spaces
for yourself

if I were a poem
I’d leave aside the general
replace it with the particular

draw you a picture
Genista Lewes

I would like to thank Genny for taking the time to talk to me and for the opportunity to run a competition. Here are a couple of reviews of Cat’s Cradle.

Like the lines in the last stanza of the title poem, ‘you bring me yards off tangled wool to unpick,/expect me to knit some revelatory pattern,’ Genista’s work explores the knots and tangles of life, and tries to make sense of ‘those strands that can somersault and twine.’  This she does with a lucid intelligence but also with a perceptive instinct: ‘I only know what my fingers tell me.’
 ‘Cat’s Cradle’ is a rich and satisfying collection.   Karen Hayes

In Genista Lewes’s book she has a range of subject matters...on daughters, on death, on works of art – yes, the usual, but with some refreshing approaches. Take works of art: ‘Art History Lesson’ opens conversationally:
‘No-one quite likes to ask what the swan is doing
the slow insinuation
of his outstretched neck
between those ivory breasts...

managing to leave everything unsaid, until the understated: ‘Leda smiles’.
Jane Routh   Stride Magazine  2008

Get your poetry hats on and write a haiku and win the book. You can find examples and information on haikus here ( &

Friday 22 June 2012


Readers of this blog will know that I use experiences, snippets of overheard conversations and anything else I can as a basis for writing poetry. So what? Everyone does that. Today I want to share some poems that were provoked by memories. This first one for example came almost fully formed after I dropped a glass, Anne Briggs was singing on the stereo and in that second I was back in Wigan, at the White Horse Folk Club, July 1976 buying the album. Anne Briggs was a traditional singer in the 1960’s who retired from singing in the early 1970’s. She only released three albums and one of those only came out years after it was recorded (here is Anne singing Blackwaterside: her version of this traditional song has influenced everyone from Bert Jansch to Led Zeppelin. Here is the song I was listening to, one of the few she wrote herself:


Cava (pronounced Ka-Ba)
Catalan, Rose, Vintage
Like Anne Briggs on the cd,
I had the vinyl original
(Bought it for £1.80 at the White Horse Folk Club, Wigan, July 1976).
Events converge,
You say something,
I jump, startled,


The glass falls,
Shards cover
The black and white tiles,
My eyes are now,
My mind elsewhere.

The explanation is longer than the poem, but then that’s like real life. This next one was written seven years ago on holiday with my children in Crete. I think this one is self-explanatory.

CRETE 2003

Sat in some harbour bar,
Below the Battle For Crete Museum sign
That provokes my daughter to ask:
“Was Grandad here in the war?”
I look at my glass, swill the wine,
Reflect on his story second hand,
“No. Africa then Italy,
Alamain through Monte Casino.”

I remember one night he talked
Of the push after Alamain.
Driving a three ton truck
Along twisting mountain roads,
Shelled by the enemy.
Bulldozed blazing trucks
Rolled down the mountainside.
The road had to be kept open,
He grips his glass as he speaks.

Next day was home,
I dial his number,
Over the phone he tells me
That it has been so hot here,
But he could not open the windows
For the smell of all the barbeques,
And he has never liked that smell,
And he has always hated it.

This is a straight forward free verse, narrative poem. I just wanted to tell the story, as simply and as economically as I could, I suppose the only embellishment is the semi-repetition of the last line.

This next one is another poem about my father, I have written many poems about him over the years, but this is the only one that made him smile when he read it. A word of explanation; the Ivy Benson Big Band were an all female big band that toured entertaining the troops during the war. My father served throughout World War Two, he was a D-Day Dodger and proud of it (Nancy Astor an MP visited France soon after D-Day and referred to the men of the Eighth Army- who had fought in Africa then in Italy as D-Day Dodgers, implying that they had had it easy. Here’s a song that some unknown Eighth Army man wrote in response: ).

I asked him not long before he died where he was on VE Day (Victory in Europe), he told me that he was on a week’s leave in Rome, (he said, I think, he was at the Alexandra Club) he added that he had gone to see the Ivy Benson Band but they did not perform that night as everyone was celebrating. The poem came out of that conversation. The six years refers to the fact that my father was in the Territorial Army before the start of the war and was called up before it began, he was away from home for six years.

Charlie Tobin on V.E. Day

Six years;
Seventy two months;
One thousand, seven hundred and twelve days;
And on a week’s leave in Rome,
That final week,
That day he remembers
-Victory in Europe,
And in the Alexandria Club
Charlie parties with the Ivy Benson Band.
They do not take the stage that night
But drink with Charlie.

Perhaps now life can resume?
Leave the chains of duty?
They shuck off their clothes and dance,
Sensing life begins tomorrow.

Have you written anything inspired by a memory? 

Tuesday 19 June 2012


I first saw Annabelle perform in 2007 at the Ilfracombe Folk Festival, she was quite simply the best act I saw all weekend. A standout song for me was The Sioux ( ), which on one level is a reportage song of a train journey she undertook in her native Canada, it describes her journey to the Sioux Lookout and the conversation she had with a young girl she met on the train. On another level it is an eloquent testimony of the impact of European colonisation on the indigenous people of the land we call Canada. Quite simply the song blew me away and after see finished her set I went to the record stall and bought all of her cds. (Here is her website

As you may have gathered Annabelle is amazing live, a multi-instrumentalist and a fine singer, I have never seen her give a poor performance and I have seen her on every tour of the UK since 2007.  

As I drove away from Ilfracombe I listened to her cds and found many other songs as good as The Sioux. Another favourite of mine is A Piece of You, a simple love song that I never grow tired of listening to, it is a delight ( ). I have wanted to write a post on Annabelle for some time and this series, which I have decided to call Tuesday’s Talent, seems the perfect place to do so.

Annabelle first fell in love with performing aged seven when she debuted with the Canadian Opera Company. Since then she has been involved with many types of music, as well as composing music for Drastic Action Dance (2008), she has toured Europe with her new media performance piece The Automated Prayer Machine, a collaboration with Anna Friz. She was also a member of The Wailing Jenny’s writing their most popular song The Devil’s Paintbrush Road, which she had recorded  previously on an ep Burned My Ass. As a solo performer Annabelle has recorded five cds and you can buy them here (

At the moment Annabelle is working on her new album, she is raising the funds for studio time, musician’s wages and cd production from ordinary people like you and me. The album is going to be called Rise and mirrors the movement away from multinational corporate organisations to people doing it for themselves at a grass roots level. This is the website, please take the time to look at it and the incentives that Annabelle is offering if you donate your support (

I can’t end without mentioning a number of my favourite songs by Annabelle, Resilience is both an insanely catchy song, an amazing video and has some beautiful lyrics (

This crush in my body tastes of salt water and blood
The one who tugs the hardest, is the hardest to love
But that’s just it, it’s how  it is
I’ll throw it if you catch it, I got lots more to give

Her version of Peter Tosh’s Equal Rights is excellent ( I’m going to stop there, I can feel that anorak, male, list making default setting getting the better of me. Do yourself a favour, go and listen to Annabelle and be part of the people who are supporting her to make her new album.

Saturday 16 June 2012


I am posting a day later than usual this week, and I would like to begin by thanking Anna for inviting me to the Wychwood Festival to appear as part of the late night poetry event. It was a fantastic show and I felt privileged to be appearing with some really excellent poets.  Anna is also the driving force behind the Cheltenham Poetry Festival (, after watching the quality of the poetry last weekend I can only urge you to buy your tickets now for next year’s Poetry Festival.

It never ceases to amaze me just how much good poetry there is out there. For the next couple of months I am going to be showcasing poets and other creative people each Tuesday so I shall be posting twice weekly.

Staying with creativity, I’d like to know how you create, what makes you write, or draw, or sing? Readers of this blog will know that this is a common theme for me, not that I have any sure fire method of doing so. On Monday I was running a poetry workshop for the people in the group I facilitate here in Taunton, I have to say there are some excellent poets in the group and it is a joy to work with them.
I decided this session to set THEM the task of writing a villanelle, (you can find out information on the poetic form that is a villanelle here: ), to make matters more difficult I left he examples on my work table and had to busk the session- not an uncommon experience. I have to say that the individuals rose to the task and in approximately forty five minutes produced some excellent work. This is my attempt, I make no excuses for its roughness.

This is how it will all end,
You tumble into ignominy
It’s then you’ll need a friend.

Well, you can’t buck the trend
But you still can blame me.
This is how it all will end,

When you’ve nothing to give or lend,
That you wouldn’t give for free,
It’s then you’ll need a friend,

To heal the hurt you can’t mend.
As you turn to face eternity,
This is how it will all end,

You will be empty, nothing left to defend,
Your faults they all can see,
It’s then you’ll need a friend.

When the steel in you is broken, you bend,
You’re on your knees,
This is how it will all end,
It’s then you’ll need a friend.

Because I used quite common rhymes, and rhyming does not come naturally to me at the best of times, I ran the sentence over the line break (it’s known as enjambment: ) to try and cover the rather obvious rhymes. But hey, I only had three quarters of an hour and at such times you have to cut your cloth to suit.

When faced with the blank sheet and absolutely no idea of what I would write the echo of an old song came into my mind Your Going to Need Some One on Your Bond, which, after a quick scan of Wikipedia was first performed and probably written by  Blind Willie Johnson, a blues singer, it was his last recording in 1930 ('ll_Need_Somebody_on_Your_Bond ). The song tells us we all will need a “legally binding guarantee to gain access to heaven Jesus will act as our advocate and will provide us with a bond or a guarantee if we follow His ways.” Here is a link to listen to the original recording (

I ran with the idea of that moment when everything falls apart and after writing in the repeats of lines one and three where they would appear on the page I set about writing a list of rhyming words, then tried to weave each line into a whole.  How do you think I did?

Tuesday 12 June 2012


I first encountered Oscar’s work on his blog ( an erudite and amusing read. He has a depth and a breadth of knowledge that discretely underpins his writing and makes his posts a joy to read.
That said I want to talk about his poetry. There is a quiet humour to his work and his love of puns brings a smile to my face, the fact that his blog is entitled A View From the Bridge of My Nose illustrates his easy way with humour.
Oscar has a book of poetry available on line and as a proper book ( I Threw a Stone. I have to say that I found that once I had started it I wanted it to go on and on. This is a very varied collection, unusually for me, I read it over two sittings. This is not normally how I read poetry, I tend to read a couple of poems then put the book aside and let them mull through my brain for a while. Not so with this book, I found myself wanting more, I wanted to stay in the world his words were creating.
Oscar has led a varied life, he has driven a truck, been a boxer and worked in the Art department of Interpol London in Scotland Yard, all the time he wrote and the results of this are worth your attention. He has a love of Edith Piaf and I suspect his moniker of Sparrow is taken from Piaf’s nickname, she was known as “the little sparrow”. I can understand his passion for Edith, I remember the first time I saw her on an Arena documentary on BBC when I was about 16, the power of her performance was mesmerising. I had heard her before, my father was a fan and had a record of hers, that I still own.
Enough of me, back to this poet. In Chanteuse (Edith Piaf 1915-1963) Oscar weaves into his description of Edith singing the history of recorded music, it begins:
Unheard at 78 rrpm
She rolled her Rs
Onto my newborn sands.
There is much here, the audacity of the trope, Edith being caged as technology makes the recordings cleaner, the humour of “She rolled her Rs” and the oblique references to Oscar’s own history as measured by how and where he heard Edith sing.
Oscar’s poem are jam packed with memorable lines, the sort that the rest of us wished we had written. In Winter Starling at a Seaside Cafe we have:
Me-oiled and Mackerelled up for it.
See me tilt my head
With solstice angled questions.
And that is just the beginning, I cannot recommend this poet highly enough to you. Check out his website and buy his book, you won’t regret it.

Thursday 7 June 2012


Before I get too carried away talking about Wychwood, I would like to thank Judy for inviting me to the Fishguard Folk Festival last weekend. I had an enjoyable time and saw some fantastic music and met some lovely people. If you get the chance to go to this jewel of a festival grab it with both hands you will have a whale of time.  I wanted to share this video of the sublime Gaudy Orde singing a song of homage to Brian Cox, who is ever present on BBC those days.
I am at another festival tomorrow, as those careful readers of the blog will realise, the third festival in three weeks. I am looking forward to this one having been before about four years ago as a member of the public. Now I am on the other side, so to speak, running a poetry workshop at 5pm tomorrow and appearing on the poetry stage tomorrow evening and again on Saturday.
Now back to this weekend, here’s the link to Wychwood ( There are over a hundred acts on and poetry as well. Come along and have a boss time.
Oh, yes before I go, due to the pressure of events I was unable to post my Tuesday talent spot as advertised last week, though it will start next week-promise! Must dash and pack. Have a good week.