Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Update and a New Year's Resolution

After a long period of self doubt I started sending poems to magazines again in October (see my post on 4th November). And I have been amazed how quickly they started being accepted for publication. Already I have had five poems accepted (by The Curlew, Obsessed with Pipework and Dawn Treader). What was I worried about!

My next task is to start going to poetry groups, which will mean getting over a problem with crowded confined places. There is a good poetry group, Buzzwords, in nearby Cheltenham. So my New Year's resolution is to get out there. Wish me luck!

Friday, 23 November 2018

Muscovy by Matthew Francis

Here's another review that appeared on my magic realism blog.

Like his acclaimed Mandeville (2008), Matthew Francis's fourth Faber collection explores a world of marvels, real and fantastic. A man takes off for the moon in an engine drawn by geese, a poltergeist moves into a remote Welsh village, and a party of seventeenth-century Englishmen encounter the wonders of Russia - sledges, vodka, skating and Easter eggs. The scientist Robert Boyle basks in the newly discovered radiance of phosphorus (the noctiluca of the title) and the theme of light in darkness is taken up by the more personal poems in the book: phoneboxes, streetlamps, moonlight. 
Goodreads description

Another lovely poetry book for you. Not all the poems are magic realism, but most have that magic-realist sensibility that I have written about in the past. 

The collection opens with The Man in the Moon, an account of a trip to the moon powered by geese. It made me think of Calvino, although it is a based on a 17th century fantasy by Francis Godwin. Many of the poems in the collection are influenced by the past or by historical accounts. Some are realistic such as the title poem, which is based on an account by Andrew Marvell of an embassy to Russia. Others have a more supernatural  element e.g Corpse Candle and Familiar Spirit.  I have written before that historical novels (and poetry) that include the supernatural are presenting the world of the past realistically.

My favourite poem in the book is The Walker. It is a beautiful and subtle poem. It of course has a magic-realist angle, but also evokes its mountain setting accurately and in wonderful language:
And the sheep carried on, canted to one side,
    trotting on their adjustable legs

and the narrator's response to it:
I was an inkwash of myself, wet on wet, 
  among the limp vertebrae of ferns
  and the fuzz of bilberry. 
One stroke would smear me into a blur.

The natural eeriness sets the scene for the twist at the ending of the poem.

Wonderful stuff.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

"The Worst Enemy to Creativity is Self Doubt"

Well I have done it, at last. I have started sending my poems to magazines again.

When I was younger I was regularly published in  magazines, including South West Review, The Rialto, Aquarius, Pennine Platform, and others. I was probably on the point of getting my first collection, but something happened.

I lost confidence. I have since discovered, this is not uncommon among women poets. Jo Bell and Jane Commane write about it in their excellent book How to be a Poet  And I had a similar conversation about the issue with Briony Bax (editor of Ambit) at the Poetry Book Fair.  My loss of confidence was ridiculous really. I had two great poets saying I was good (Michael Horovitz, Philip Larkin) and still I gave up submitting.

There were some mitigating circumstances I suppose. Looking back I was struggling with depression, something neither I nor my husband really confronted. My way of dealing it was to stop being a full-time mum and taking on a demanding job, which meant I was balancing motherhood, career and poetry. Poetry was what suffered. It was not so much the writing, but the promotion that was the hard part for me and the easiest to give up. My poetry was increasingly taking the form of long sequences or indeed long poems and so not exactly suited to magazine submission, and I used that as an excuse for doing nothing. Then of course the longer I left submitting poems, the harder it was to get back into doing so.

But that is behind me now. I have restarted submitting poems and already in a just a month I have had three poems shortlisted for publication, so that is good for my confidence. Fingers crossed the poems make it to publication.

In case you are wondering about the quote in the title of this post - it is from Sylvia Plath.

Friday, 12 October 2018

The Girl Who Forgets How To Walk by Kate Davis

This review first appeared on my magic realism books blog.

"We never speak of it, but here we know the land
can t be trusted"

The debut collection from Cumbrian poet Kate Davis tells a personal narrative of contracting polio as a young girl, her subsequent disability and slow rehabilitation. A book of things known and not known, of untrustworthy ground and unsteady bodies, The Girl Who Forgets How to Walk finds comfort in the ancient limestone of her home county as she teaches herself to move again along its hills and coastlines. Inspiring, funny and deeply personal, with this book Davis creates her own map to navigate the wild landscape, demonstrating a unique connection to the earth beneath us.
Amazon description

After 278 posts, the vast majority of them reviews of magic realist books, I have rather run out of steam as evidenced by the low number of reviews this year. I don't want to stop posting on this blog, as I get great pleasure from sharing with you. But I have decided I need to make some changes - one is a bit of a break from reviewing novels. I will still review a magic realist novel when I read one, but I want to diversify. I have already reviewed an exhibition and a theatrical production, but there is one literary form which I have yet to review and yet it is ideally suited to inclusion in this blog and that is poetry. Of course this will require me to gain new skills and approaches, but then I need something new. I just ask that you bear with me as I find my way. 

The back cover of Kate Davis' poetry collection states Kate Davis writes magical realist poems, born of the hills, marshes and coastal edgelands of south Cumbria. And she does so wonderfully. 

The suite of poems The Girl Who Forgets How To Walk is the central section of the collection. It focuses on the story of the girl with polio. The beginning and concluding sections are made up of poems which complement it, being more focused on the landscape, its history and archaeology of Cumbria. These poems, while providing a setting to the girl's story (before and after her illness), do so much more.The girl's body afflicted by polio and the landscape mirror each other - 
We never speak of it, but here we know the land can't be trusted.

But the relationship between the Cumbrian landscape and the girl is a complex one. She wants to find the footpaths for herself. When she is shown geological maps she sees what is inside herself instead of seeing what is in the earth. In one of my favourite poems the members of the family are described as different rocks - 
Our mother was a stony outcrop,
our father a cobble chucked in a pond
and sunk.

A few poems, such as the one where she sees people floating in mid-air, are very obviously magic realist. But as I have written so many times magic realism is a sensibility and nearly all these poems share it. 

One of the joys of this work is that while Kate David deals with a highly personal and difficult issue she does so in a way that is joyous and even at times humourous. 

I recommend this collection to you.

Monday, 1 October 2018


(To my unborn son)

Refracted by water
like a silver fish,
not pausing beneath sounds,
turning which way.
Through darkness,
through warm waters,
and the constant beat of my heart,
you flash fast.

We’ve a wriggler here,”
she said,
seeking you out
like a shoal of cod.

The suddenly you are still
and stand clear
upon the screen
a small child
with head and flickering heart.

We measure the circumference
of your skull,
your femur and spine.

It is not time yet
to draw you in,
into this cold airbound world.

This poem was first published in The Rialto

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Czech fox

I have just submitted my poem Midday Fox for possible inclusion in an anthology. 

I have often blogged about my local fox in my Czech blog. I will see our local fox making its way across the fields as I walk up from the bus or down from the woods. And I have come to associate it with creativity. One of my favourite poems is Ted Hughes' Thought Fox, which is for my money the best poem about the writing process I know. 

As some readers of this blog will be aware one important reason why I bought my Czech house is that I needed somewhere to write. It is so to speak my den, my dark hole, built into the hillside, a hill called Fox's Lair. Over the last year I have indeed started to write again, and not just this blog, and superstitiously I have partly put it down to my fox companion. Even when I do not see him, I hear him in the woods above the house, tormenting the village dogs. "Ha!" he seems to be saying, "You have sold your freedom for a bowl of meat. I have the woods, all the roots and dark places as my kingdom." And at this the village dogs go mad with vain barking.

I have put his face on my door in the form of a brass knocker, he hangs on the wall as one of a set of horse brasses, I have drawn him in oil pastels. And the more I find out about him and his place in folklore and superstition, the more I think I have found the right familiar. A month or so ago I was telling my husband about this, and how strangely although I had been writing almost continuously, my fox had kept out of sight. My husband stopped me at this point "Look, look," he said. There in broad daylight no more than a metre away from the window my fox was strolling across the grass in the direction of the neighbours' chickens.

Thursday, 10 May 2018



Through the walls
my neighbours
make love.
Her cries
like the trail of snails
upon the kitchen floor,
clear, transparent,
hard to brush off,
as I lie
empty in the night.

This poem was first published in Joe Soap's Canoe and was included in the Grandchildren of Albion anthology. It was performed on BBC Radio 4 for which I received a cheque for less than £10. I didn't cash it, but kept it as a souvenir to show my grandchildren.