Category Archives: Θ Poetry

Experimental III – adventures in publishing

I want to write about experiments in poetry and poetic form. This isn’t going to be a comprehensive history of experimentation in poetic form. That would be a very long blog post, maybe a book – and not one that I want to write (just yet anyway!)

Instead, this is a personal story about being inspired by the experimental in poetry. I have written before about City Lights Books – and my experience of reading Frank O’Hara’s “Lunch Poems” (yes he did write them on his lunch breaks from working at the Museum of Modern Art in New York) whilst studying my degree. I found his style of writing hugely inspiring. Each poem looked effortless, conversational – and yet, clearly there was more art and craft behind his work than at first appeared. My favourite poem from this collection is called “The Day Lady Died” and is about the death of Billie Holiday. The poem begins with this:

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine.

And ends breathtakingly with this:

she whispered a song along the keyboard
…and everyone and I stopped breathing.

Other work by more experimental poets that I found inspiring would include ee cummings, a poet whose work was a huge influence on my early writings. His voice probably echoes in mine as I played with his particular approach to word play and experimentation with type-written words. I also loved the work of John Cage, known more as a composer for works like those I mentioned in the earlier blog post in this series. His writings are fascinating too.

My own experiments in publishing poetry began in the mid 1980s when I was working as a Community Artist. At the time, I was working with groups of adults. This was pre-computer days. Having spent about 10 years trying to find my own voice through experimenting with the styles of poets who I admired, I wrote the first sequence that felt like my own voice was coming through. It was a turning point – 1984 and “sharp blue / breath” appeared. Over the years that followed, I threw away most of the poetry I had written up to that point. It felt immature, practise for what was to come. Once this collection was written I set about turning it into a booklet. The cover was a lino-print with letraset words (remember those sticky letters!)  and the inside was hand written. It was bound with cotton. There was only one copy made – you can see from the photo that I still have it.

Much later, in the late 90s I started buying poetry books and booklets from Peter Riley who was selling new and secondhand books from Cambridge via a mailing list. I came across some wonderful books which were published by Randolph Healey from Wicklow in Ireland. Wild Honey Press is on hold at the moment. The website is still there – Randolph has produced a beautiful collection of booklets. I bought a handful which contained some terrific experimental verse presented in hand-printed booklets which were bound with wool. Wonderful things to own!

My own experiments continued in 2003 when I launched the first iteration of BlueWater Books with two collections of poetry called “zen words” and “Umbrian Images”. These collections were hand-printed booklets produced on an old Canon printer with plain paper inserts and textured paper covers. I spent many happy hours trawling through paper and stationery supply shops looking for papers to use for these booklets. And that was followed by many frustrating hours battling with the printer to get the layout right, avoid paper being chewed up and find seemingly endless supplies of patience to produce 50 copies of each booklet. Was it successful? Depends what you call success – I still have copies left (looking for a good home, if you are interested!) Those that did find readers were well received.

Fast forward more than a decade to 2016 and I decided to re-activate BlueWater Books, this time with the help of the Editor whose name was given to the press, Alice Bluewater. The first book to launch was “It Begins Like This” and the second one came out last month – “Blue: experiments in sound”.

In some ways it is so much easier to publish books these days. Thanks to print on demand and online design anything is possible at minimal cost. The days of authors looking at the ceiling nervously, aware that there are a thousand copies of their book in boxes in the attic – are long gone! But there are still challenges – finding readers, working out how to format and set a book so that the published copy looks the way you want it to. All of this is do-able! A set of new skills to learn or tasks to find someone else to do. The end result is an experiment that has been well worth the patience. Enjoyable? Definitely!

 

——

Whilst you are here: have you seen my two books released this year?

Values Count is available from Amazon or directly from my website. It’s a book about values based approaches to work. Essential for anyone who wants to work with a strong sense of purpose.

Blue: Experiments in Sound is my latest collection of poetry with illustrations, the latest stories about Blue, the misanthropic 21st century man in search of a meaning. It is available in a limited edition from my website.

——

Sparks of Metal Hammer

A couple of weeks ago I published my second book of the year. It is called “Blue: Experiments in Sound”.

The first book, “Values Count“, is a non-fiction book about values based working. It is available on this website as well as through Amazon. Sales in the first few months have been steady – it has been fun to learn how to market a book and attract sales. I’ve also had some really positive feedback and reviews, including this:

“This is a very readable and practical book, which has been crafted in the workplace and not from a vantage point far removed. Use of words like inclusivity and humility would never feature on the Apprentice, and that in itself is a good enough reason to read this book…if you think the world needs fewer people chasing pounds and treading on heads to do it, and more people applying values in the work they do, then this book is for you.”

A lovely review from Tom Bell (thanks Tom!)

This new book, a collection of poetry, has been illustrated by Phillip Kingsbury. Thanks to Phillip’s work, the book looks and feels absolutely beautiful. I thought you might like to read a poem from the collection:

Sparks of Metal Hammer

“Diving for pearls”, he said,
“will be the death of me!”
and he chuckled into his beard, old coyote
the bane of the village, bitterly sweet

When there used to be a blacksmith here
you could see the sparks from the metal hammer
iron hot and pliable, steam heating the winter air
open overcoat just keeping the wind out

He didn’t mean literal pearls, of course –
since the curse from that crossroads deal
he had looked for every treasure he could find
mostly in the souls of the travellers

He would take them with him,
ride on horse back until the sky was filled with stars
then let them on their way
he had caught all he needed, their stories of pain.

If you are interested in buying a copy of this book you can order it here.

I’m working through a brilliant online webinar series at the moment. I came across this quote in it:

“All growth exists on the other side of fear”

The process of learning how to publish, sell and market a book is a big learning curve. I’m learning all about it and will post in the next few weeks about my reflections on the journey. It’s been a huge learning – loads to understand and plenty of mistakes to make along the way(!)

kingfisher’s turn

ItBeginsLikeThisA poem from the collection “It Begins Like This” (2014)

 

 

 

I remember that tree, struck by lightning before I climbed it.
The absolute shock of the bark, bitten by electricity
And the beat of wing as it caught the night air along the river bank,
Nocturnal bird seeking partner as the seasons fall.

But those memories don’t take away the emptiness of the truth,
That death will take us all, will shape us into insignificance
And remind us that we are just one
Micro-dot in the millions of years of existence.

(November Challenge 12/31)

A Paper Thread

There’s a paper thread, a trail, a trace
that leads all the way back to the government

We wondered why we had not been called upon
felt slightly queasy, a little on edge

Then realised that it was all up for grabs –
specious, she said, a waste of voice

And there were protestors too, thousands and thousands
making their voices heard in the frozen city air

Nowhere to be seen in the newspapers, they were busy
photographing the heir to the throne sitting on a chair

We get the media we deserve, so the wealthy owners tell us
and the misgivings of governments are washed away by distraction

Nothing to see here, pass along now, look at that bright shiny story
and as if we were goldfish, we swim off, mouths open in disbelief.

Update: apparently you are never too old to release your first album

On Friday I publicised the release of an album through Bandcamp. It comprised 15 tracks, using spoken word and music. The words come from “Blue: experiments in sound” which is the fourth poetry sequence about a misanthropic, lone-wolf character called Blue. I will be releasing this as a book in the next few months. In the meantime, last week saw the album in digital form.

I was really surprised by the reaction through social media over the weekend. There was plenty of attention, 115 listens on Bandcamp already – which is probably 100 more than I thought there would be, and some really lovely emails from people who enjoyed what they heard.

So, it’s probably never too late to try something out!

The challenge isn’t learning how to do things, or coming up with ideas, it’s overcoming that inner critic that chunners away in the background telling us that what we have done isn’t worth sharing! That’s why it has taken me since last summer to press the publish button and get this material up online.

Was it worth it? Yes, the objective has been met – something shared with the world (or a little piece of the world), and sharing things creates the space to move on to the next project.

Bury the Meaning

One big unsustainable move
Is all it takes to topple the dictator
Repeal all laws that have been passed
And repel the revolution before it takes hold

Empty vessels make the loudest noise
When struck with a stick
People in glass houses should not throw
Their voices even when they think
They know the answer

Closeness and impact are a moot point
When it comes to affairs of the art
Bury the meaning, and place a large
Sculpture as far up the hill as it will drag
But don’t forget to let it cool!

All times are approximate
No-one can be certain how we came
To be planted here, realising
That every opening is another closure
And we wait in pain for another resolution.

The Day Bowie Died

david bowie

– a poem written yesterday for the new collection called “Blue: experiments in sound” which will be finished by the end of this month. Seemed appropriate to share it today… 

 

Blue was a big fan –
the day Bowie died, he wore black, was on Facebook early that morning
telling everyone how devastated he was
and then…
when the outpour of emotion had faded, he realised
that he hadn’t actually had a cup of tea with his hero,
he hadn’t shared a conversation,
nothing had happened that wasn’t one way.
The emotional flow was unreal,
like any feelings we have for someone we have never met –
not the emotion that comes from someone we love, lost
but the emotion – all mixed up – that comes from experiences that mean so much.

 

Blue takes the emotions he pouted out onto social media
wraps them up in a great big silk scarf – puts it in a box
and climbs the ladder to hide it in his loft
safely away from prying eyes.

What Colour is 2016?

Can a year be a specific colour? Is this some sort of synaesthetic experiment?

Well, not exactly. I have written several posts about BlueWater Books and also about the new creative project “Blue: experiments in sound”. So, the nearest I get to a resolution for the new year is to say that this is the year when these two things come to fruition.

I am at the late stages of editing “Believing in what we do” which was the book I wrote the first draft of last August when I did a weekend writing marathon. It’s a book about the importance of values based working. It traces my own journey in developing a values-based approach and looks at other approaches. There are also descriptions of techniques that can be used to develop a values-based approach. I’m at the stage now of looking at layout and best platform to publish on (ideas always welcome). As part of this, I have been extensively researching self-publishing through books and online courses. Udemy is a particularly good site for short courses using video and PDF.

When this book goes live that will be the launch of BlueWater Books which has been dormant for at least 10 years now.

The other project – Blue: Experiments in Sound – which will also appear through the same channel is the creative project. It is a writing and sound project. I have almost completed the album comprising 15 tracks and have a short book of poetry to accompany it. This will be another instalment in the long running series of books about a character called Blue. I am thinking of producing different editions of this project. The basic edition will be an mp3 album and PDF, the deluxe edition will be a CD with a booklet. I am also wondering whether to produce a limited edition with the CD and booklet plus short run editions of the previous 3 booklets about the same character.

I will let you know when this venture goes live.

So, if you ask me what colour is 2016, I would have to say it will definitely be blue: and a bold and brave blue at that!

Bounded peace

IMG_0133This is the latest poem written in the sequence I am currently working on. The sequence is called “Blue: experiments in sound” and it includes a sequence of poems and accompanying sound pieces. It should be finished within the next month or so:

BOUNDED PEACE

Of understanding I know nothing
even when the wind blows through these concrete buildings
whistles and screes, to my pulse it distends

 

Not the outer journey, the quest of miles travelled
not that, not the dialogues, the meaningful conversations
not that, nor the endless study through dusty books that catch the breath

 

None of these will make a difference, it is the inner journey
the eight levels of consciousness, the depths of inner work
the subtle signs, and emptiness of breath

 

Whatever we want, we will find, if we give –
whenever we speak, we have lost that inner journey
creating distraction that bounds our peace.

Oblivion

IMG_0187A new poem today – from a forthcoming publication without a title as yet. It’s the fourth sequence of poems about a character called Blue. The first one was written way back in 1985. You could say this character has not let me go:

—–

“Alone is the only way to be” thinks Blue
Misanthropic in his black jeans and rock tour T-shirt

Every time he holds the audience at this party, speaks out as though it’s a crowd,
someone finds an excuse to leave the group

He can’t see the connection, wants to rant about the election
like some rabid poet with nothing to do but squeeze the views of people

In time, he will leave, drunk and ill at ease, head for home
thinking as he passes these darkened streets, “What could have been”

Time passes, alone now in his room, hotel of convenience that no-one knows
He thinks, he could die and no-one would know he was here

How long would his body lie and atrophy before he was found –
especially with a “do not disturb” sign on the door

And he is not sure whether he feels good about this, or filled with horror
the thought of oblivion, of nothing, no consciousness, nothing.

Emptiness is a feeling that comes before epiphany, he read that somewhere
he sits and waits, wonders when it will come…

A great state of magnanimity, he read that too
all bound in a need for meaning, let go and out to the furthest boundaries.

Beyond the sense of purpose there are boundless worlds,
lost in the shadowy reaches of a conscience.