Nail Varnish // One Year On… (sort of)

Today marks one year since I wrote the first two poems from Nail Varnish, my debut poetry collection. The poems, ‘Phoebe’ and ‘The Bloggses’, felt like a change to my usual style, and by 5th April, I’d written the titular poem, and decided on a possible new direction for my poetry.

Nail Varnish is concerned with the idea that poetry is not biographical. I mean, there are plenty of things in the book that can contradict this, most of them deliberate, but hopefully there’s enough ambiguity in the book that I keep a sort of ‘distance’.

It’s probably not going to seem like the poems are all written in one voice, but I certainly approached them all with this ‘voice’ in my head. This is, even if just for me, the connecting factor between all the poems: they are all spoken by a rag-tag nail-varnished man.

Or woman. Even though it’ll be my version of the Nail Varnish persona on the cover – it doesn’t mean he has to be yours.

There are two main themes of these poems. If one of them is the idea of anti-biography, then the other is the end of a relationship (or something close to being one). Lots of the more narrative poems, ‘Greek Gods’, for example, are concerned with this; as well as poems like ‘Friends’ and ‘Not really a poem about road trips’, which don’t have a character in them, as such.

I hope, though, that Nail Varnish is appealing to people who don’t read poetry. I hope it’s fairly easy to follow, because that’s the sort of poetry I enjoy reading. I know some of them are more than a little weird – but just make of them what you will.

To have them hanging around with me for so long has been a privilege, and it’s been so exciting to hear people’s reactions, people’s confidence in me and my work, and the poems spoken aloud. They exist in the world more than any of my poetry has before – and I couldn’t be prouder. (Until my next collection comes out, of course. I’ve already got about ten ideas for that competing in my head 24/7.)

These poems may have been spoken by me, through the kaleidoscope of somebody else, but now they’re yours.

You can listen to the poetry on Spotify below, stream on other streaming services including Google Play, Apple Music and Tidal, or buy on iTunes, Bandcamp.

You can also listen to my playlist, ‘Songs I Painted My Nails To’, below. It contains some of the songs that inspired Nail Varnish (and there were a lot), some of the songs I’ve found later that fit well with it, and some of the poems from the album.

Much love x

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National Poetry Day

It’s weird, this blog.

Since it started with the ambition of documenting the writing process of some poetry, I’ve been promising, continuously, that soon some actual poetry would enter the world. It’s happened a few times, and since July 1st this year, it’s been steadily increasing. This has now culminated in the release of “Chipped”, an EP with four poems, acting as a preview to a 17-poem collection, coming 2017.

At some point I’ll blog about “Chipped”, and shed some light on how it, and the forthcoming collection, came to be.

But today, National Poetry Day, I wanted to reflect on other poetry. This blog documents my love of Kate Tempest, and my journey through various poetry books, old and new, but I wanted to recommend some poetry that would hopefully appeal to people who don’t really read it. I want to demonstrate that there’s more to it than Carol Ann Duffy and Benjamin Zephaniah.

Frank o’Hara “Having a Coke with you“: my fave.

Melissa Lee-Houghton “i am very precious“:  unashamed, powerful and engaging; to me it shows what poetry can do.

Kate Tempest “On Clapton Pond at dawn“: just a really beautiful poem.

John Donne “The Triple Fool“: I really enjoy Donne’s poetry, and I relate to this one a lot.

Christopher Soto “All the Dead Boys Look Like Me“: a response to the Orlando tragedy earlier this year, this astounded me when I first read it.

WB Yeats “The Second Coming“: an utterly addictive rhythm and amazing images.

I’d also recommend anything by Andrea Gibson (her “Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns” collection is worth a look), and for some more traditional (but still awesome) stuff: Thomas Hardy’s “The Voice”, Wilfred Owen’s “Strange Meeting” and Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”.

There’s a brief selection of old and new favourites above, and I hope that someone finds some good stuff in one or two of them.

Very soon, I’ll have some details on “Chipped” and what’s to come. You can find some stuff on my poetry blog here, but I’m very proud to say I’ve finally released something for National Poetry Day.

 

1959

I’m super proud to share the next poem from my upcoming collection. This is 1959.

It was written on the 26th April, a week or so before I wrote Felix, which was my first release, and can be found here.

The artwork for 1959 is Edward Hopper’s Summer Evening.

I hope you enjoy it, share it and/or stay tuned for more updates. I’ll be releasing details about the collection here soon, and the next poem will be released in August.

 

Who’s Felix?

“A sycophantic, prophetic, Socratic, junkie, wannabe.”
The Sound – The 1975

Felix was written on the 1st May 2016.

Sometime around the 30th March, which is when I wrote the first poem in my upcoming collection, I was talking to my Mum about poetry and music. I was saying how I wanted to write a poem that would behave like a song – where you wouldn’t get all the words on the first go. That re-reading, or re-listening, would highlight more of it, would plug in the gaps.

This isn’t exactly the mindset in which I began Felix, which certainly doesn’t have the subtext or intellectual depth, or even Hamilton-esque speed, you might need to fulfill my ambition, but it’s the closest I’ve come so far. When I read the poem for the first time to my friend Rebecca, who’s since recorded her own version of it, I read it ahead of the other sixteen poems I will eventually release with it. I knew, then, I wanted it to be the ‘lead single’. When I read it to her, she described it as the lead single. When I sat down to write it, I had that in mind.

I knew I needed something long, something wordy and probably narrative, that could introduce the upcoming collection. The character of Felix, inspired by Felix Dawkins of Orphan Black, but not the same person, has had his own life in my head for quite some time. I’ve always wanted to write something about this character, but it wasn’t until May 1st that I realised he could be, in a way, my leading man.

I realise that the poem sometimes veers towards a ‘comment on modern society’, and, to a certain degree, it might appear relatively sceptical about fame and art. Whereas other poets might have had this as their intention, for me it was the by-product. The collection I’m going to release is constantly concerned with the idea of who the “I” is in poetry, and what roles truth and identity have in it. The voice of the Felix poem might be sceptical about fame and creativity – indeed, its reader or listener might be – but hopefully it’s just one of the many options that the poem opens for someone who hears it.

I’m very against explaining what poetry means, or even writing about it, and so I’ve tried to steer clear of addressing specific things about the poem in this. But Felix contains various themes and ideas which you’ll find repeated over the course of the next few months, as I unleash more work from the depths of my poetry folders.

The next poem will be out towards the end of July, and I hope you enjoy Felix.

You can follow me on Twitter or Instagram at @jmortimerpoetry, and my Poetry WordPress here.

1st July

Tomorrow, I’m going to be releasing something very special.

I’ve been working on some new poetry over the last few months, and I’ll be using this blog to reveal some of the thought processes behind them over the summer.

You can listen to the first of these poems from 1st July on my new Soundcloud. I’ll also be putting information about future poems on my new poetry blog, which you can find here.

I’ll still be updating this one with lots of random thought pieces on the poetry I’m releasing, for anyone who’s interested.

I hope you enjoy the new poetry; I’m super excited that it won’t just be fading into nothingness somewhere on my laptop forever.

 

Caesura

It’s taken me three months but I’m back!

And I did question whether I would come back to this blog, whether I actually had things to say or the desire to share them with my no-doubt vast audience. Think of me as Adele, hesitating before making 25. Except, nothing like that.

This blog post follows on from a conversation I was having last night. Last night, I did my third reading of poetry at an event my university holds every month. I did the first this time last year, the 19th March apparently, and the second in October. The first time, I had poetry I’d written for a fair few years to pick from, and I wanted to share the very best of what I’d written. That is still, to this day, my best and happiest performance, for a number of reasons. But at the second reading, I also had a good selection to pick from. My poetry had progressed a lot, in some ways it had become more lyrical, and there was a much bigger emphasis on spoken word poetry. I was excited to share the results of that, and it went down very well.

So when I signed up to yesterday’s reading, I was at odds. I’d written more poetry – a small collection dedicated to one theme (more on this soon, I promise!), and I’m currently veering towards more sentimental poetry that focusses on how poetry is on the page. I’ve been experimenting with form and structure – which are hard things to convey when reading aloud. The focus on written poetry, and also having a number of poems submitted for various competitions that I didn’t want to read, I was left with a slightly smaller choice. I, essentially, wasn’t sure what I wanted to convey. The poems I picked were, for the first time, very recent, some only a few weeks old. They were gentler, slower, quieter poems. But reading them felt like I was reading the equivalent of a poetry-limbo. I was reading because I had decided to read – but had decided without any real purpose or need to show what my poetry was doing. I ended up showing the poetry between Poetry, which tends to be more emotional, and as a result I read three very sentimental poems.

This is fine, and I’m happy with my choices and I’m very happy with the poems. I would be proud to show them and share them, and I was. But I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I’m between-poetry. That I was reading between-poetry. (Maybe, on a side note, that’s part of the reason that this blog has fallen quiet. My interest and dedication to poetry has slumped a little bit, and it’s not really going in a specific direction.)

Also interestingly, I didn’t feel my poetry *needed* direction until recently. I reached what felt like a natural end point, a point to stop and look back and do stuff with the vast number of poems I’d written. That’s in progress – but it was from that point that I wanted to start writing ABOUT things. I wondered whether that was possible, because previously I’d conceived of poetry as an in the moment, off the mark, reaction. I was against endlessly redrafting for this reason. But now I seek purpose, and I will redraft. I won’t write ten poems trying to figure out one thing, I’ll just change the one poem til it says it. And I suppose it’s in moments like this that I realise how far my poetry has come along.

But the conversation that I had last night made me realise for sure that I had nothing, really, to say. I had no new style to showcase. That I need to find a new style. Reading poetry will help with this, and I haven’t done that for a while. Now I know what I need, and want, to do, I can focus on it, and I can bring myself back to poetry. I can make, as it were, Poetry. (I use the word ‘make’ not ‘write’ because it does feel like I am creating something.)

I have a few thoughts floating around of things I want to try and capture, whether they be characters or moments. I’m just not sure how best to do this yet. And I don’t know if that will be my focus – I may end up discovering theme through style, rather than starting with a theme. I don’t even know if they’re going to HAVE a theme.

And that brings me back to this blog – because this was designed to explain and explore my writing process, and I thought I would share the fact that I’m at this pause. I’m going to share one of my pause poems below, and at some point I will write a post about the redrafting process. One of my pause poems (Pause Poems? pause-poems?), was altered before I read it aloud because I felt like reading it aloud didn’t serve it as well as reading it on the page. (There’s a whole argument there about what poetry should do, whether it should work on both or if it’s ‘allowed’ to work as either read or spoken. And what about listening? That’s something that is implicit in all my poetry – it should be easy to listen to.) I’ll share that redrafting, and thoughts on why I changed things, at a later date. If I get round to it.

But hopefully, this is the end of my poetry pause. This is, if nothing else, the marker for the beginning of the rise out of it. The first word after the caesura.

I’m going to leave you with this…

Art Installation

On a thousand screens, across the tiny dark room,
There’s a pixelated blue.
Every one of them shows you.
They hold close ups of your face,
Hands resting by your side,
And a glint in your eyes that’s you
But not a you I recognise.
And there’s strings up from the screen
But it looks like they’re suspended.
You might have brushed past me already.
I could look you in the eye
as someone else
And feel mended.

Cos the problem is
The you on the screens in the art installation
Isn’t you next to me, your mind full of flirtation.
And neither are the you that you are.
I don’t know where you went but now you’re

distant.

Too far.

5

2015 | A Recap

Since I started this blog in the summer, I’ve written much more than I thought I would, and, much to my surprise, actually regularly updated it. In case you missed anything, want to relive it, or are new, this is a recap of everything that I posted in 2015.

I originally started this blog to document the process of writing poetry, and how I went about it. I’ve gone through various creative peaks and troughs, but I’ve talked about writing poetry in many places. I’ve shared my word fatigue, looked at my word fatigue in hindsight, and analysed a poem I’ve written.

I rarely publish actual poetry that I’ve written online, but I wrote a Christmas poem, a process which I (sort of) shared from the beginning of December. My Christmas process can be relived here and here. I also published a poem called ‘Leaf Water‘. I’m hoping there will be more writing poetry posts, and posts containing actual poetry, next year. There is a very exciting poetry-based project coming in January which I’m looking forward to sharing.

I also reviewed poetry, on the realisation that reading prose was time-consuming in a world where my University degree involves reading prose. Lots of poetry reviews are here, and I did a lengthy Kate Tempest review here. But I did write a piece about wider literature that I loved and loathed, and that can be found here.

The other main theme of this blog has been discussing the use of lyrics in my poetry, and the place of lyrics as poetry. I’ve looked at this a few times, and it weaved itself into discussions about my Christmas poem as well. I went through the lyric/literature relationship here, and probably in everything linked above as well.

I did try and maintain the one image/one gif per post format that I begun, and it’s wained a bit throughout the Christmas period, as finding images and gifs became, surprisingly, harder. As did finding quotes to open the blogs. I’ll hopefully start all of this again in the New Year, along with my very small and overly-hyped redesign. But there is one gif that I feel truly sums up the year, everything I have written (here and creatively) and everything that I am going to write.

And it also sums up a question I am yet to answer about me.

I’ve written a hell of a lot of poetry this year (250+), and I’m very proud to have written so much. I really hope that next year is just as productive for me, and I’ll hopefully be sharing a lot of the processes with you. Also, I hope that I’ll be sharing and publishing more of my poetry, and in more places too.

See you in 2016; wishing you all a very Happy New Year x

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Christmas Eve | A Poem

I succeeded in my mission to write a Christmas poem, and below you can read the finished product. It’s called Christmas Eve, and I’m very happy with it.

Christmas Eve

You should’ve given me the key.
You could’ve found me waiting inside,
But the snow’s starting to fall
On another Christmas Eve night.
I’m sitting on the doorstep,
Waiting for your streetlamp headlights
To speed through the road by your house.
There’s no other cars about.
You’ll cut through the fog and climb out your car,
And look at me knowing my eyes are saying

I told you so

But you’ll sigh and smile and let me in.
I’ll watch the night trip into Christmas morning.
You told me the sunrise looks different
From behind snowblanked skies.

An hour passes, my feet find the wall,
And I tuck myself inside the snowfall.
I watch the flakes melt into my skin;
Drift down to the sound of my phone ring

And it’s you

And you’re saying you’re sorry you’re late,
You’re sorry you didn’t leave me a key,
It’s not the Christmas Eve you thought it’d be.
You tell me you’ll be home soon,
So I sit til your streetlamp headlights
Speed through the road by your house.
No one about.

I feel like some of it reaches more into lyrics than poetry, but my lack of distinction between the two has probably been the main point of this blog so far.

I wish you all a very merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year (which will bring both a redesign, and a brand new poetry project I’m very very excited to share with you all).

Snow on Snow (& Things to Come)

“Snow had fallen
Snow on snow.”
Christina Rossetti – In the Bleak Midwinter

Snow on Snow

The Christmas poem has been written!

After a lot of thinking and a couple of drafts, I’ve finally written something that I’m happy with. It will be with you between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. (A Happy Christmas Eve Eve Eve, by the way. I think the Christmassy is finally starting to set in.)

I didn’t keep you updated on my Christmas poem progress, because, honestly, I had nothing to share. The most exciting development has been that the poem was written and finished. But now is a good time to share some drafts and ideas behind the poem with you before I post it, and also to fill you in on what’s to come on this blog in the lead up to New Year.

‘Drafts’ might imply that the finished poem reflects them, or that they show a stage in development to the final piece. But honestly, the final piece is different to these drafts, which it might be more appropriate to call ‘previous attempts’. Below I’ve shared and discussed some ‘previous attempts’, in what is probably my first time ever sharing, to anybody, poems that I would never intend to be seen or published.

Christmas – Poem Construction (implying I was hoping to go back and build on this one, but that didn’t happen)

We fall in love at Christmastime,
But I spend it away from you.
We tick off time on a calendar,
Snowblanked days to get through.

There will definitely be the emergence of bittersweet themes throughout the drafts and the ultimate poem, and the idea of snow is one that I was keen to use. ‘Snowblanked’ is something I’m really fond of (it’s very possible it made it into the finished piece), and is inspired by Andrew McMillan’s physical, where he regularly combines words in order to avoid the use of hyphens (since he uses no punctuation). It’s possible I abandoned this because I didn’t know where it was going, or because of the rhyming structure, which feels a little too traditional. It’s often a good place to start, having a structure like that, but I try and deviate from it if I can.

Christmas – wip (work in progress)

You turn away from me in the snow,
I didn’t expect you to go home.
The statue you brought with you,
Sitting on our windowsill,

That’s as far as I got with that one. I can’t remember where the idea of the statue came from (I’d been reading Lovecraft around that time, but I doubt I’d thought it was Cthulhu), but here we see the idea of snow appearing again.

Surprisingly – those are the only two previous drafts I have. I feel like I thought about the poem more than attempting to write lots of different versions. The finished piece is called ‘Christmas Eve’, and was partially inspired by December 25th by Everything But the Girl (you can listen to it below). There was a line in that which particularly stuck with me. It also reflected the sort of themes I was keen to include; a moment of relatable, sad emotion, wrapped up in a Christmassy image. I was quite keen to reflect Christmas songs more than Christmas poetry, and many of my favourite Christmas songs stem from that sort of idea. (Christmas Lights by Coldplay, or All I Want for Christmas is New Year’s Day by Hurts are two examples of this.)

Ultimately, though, I feel like my final poem is relatively upbeat. There is a tinge of sadness, but a fair amount of optimism. It’s not quite what I intended, but unless I have a brainwave, I shall be posting ‘Christmas Eve’ for you all to see very soon.

(& Things to Come)

There’s a few things coming up on the blog over the next week or so.

I’ll be redesigning the blog (or at least, the header image) for the New Year, and you can see a mini teaser of that below:

A Dancer and a Spy - NY Teaser.jpg

In addition to that, and the “release” of my Christmas poem, I’ll be writing a recap of the year; some of the books I’ve read, some of the things I’ve written and talked about. This will be up sometime before New Year’s Day, I would imagine, so prepare to get nostalgic.

You can listen to ’25th December’ here, and I shall see you soon for my Christmas poem.

 

 

The Christmas Check-In

written 9/12

One summative assessment over, a new one just begun…

The great ambition to write a Christmas poem has been lacking conviction at the mo. What with two summatives (one, at this stage, still in the planning stages) and a creative writing portfolio which made me realise writing poetry for submission is a very painful process indeed, the work on the Christmas poem has been slow.

Actually, nil. My entire poetry output has stopped, aside from ones written for maybe-submission, and writing them for this purpose puts a lot of pressure on, which isn’t fun. Thankfully, I now have a portfolio I’m very happy with, but it means that I’ve not wanted to write poetry, or attempt any further progress on the Christmas poem.

Which is fine. I sort of knew it might be sidetracked, although what I was hoping would be my switch off would have actually done the very opposite. I still have plenty of days in which to present to you, dear reader, a poem for Christmas.

This adventure (let’s be grand) started with the question of whether people actually wrote Christmas poems (aside from ‘Twas the Night). Turns out, they do. In fact, they write lots.

Although, it is mostly older writers. The type of writers who spring to mind when you say ‘poetry’ to a secondary school student. There’s a distinct lack of modern Christmas poetry (and no offerings from any of my faves – Kate Tempest’s December offering being a song called ‘Europe is Lost’, which is a painfully unsubtle account of the wrongs in the world).

Thomas Hardy wrote a few, Walter de la Mare wrote a very Walter de la Mare one called ‘Mistletoe’, which is worth a read. I rediscovered Rossetti’s ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’, which has to be a favourite. There’s also ones by Benjamin Zephaniah (I’ve not read it) and Pam Ayers (I’ve not read it but it has the phrase ‘Give us your money’ in the title, so I can feel my hatred already). And from then on, PoetryHunter begins going into the user-written ones. I’d recommend having a browse though, for what is a pretty good selection of Christmas verse.

The problem with the top poems, the famous ones, being by a lot of old, dead poets, is that there’s little that appeals to me. I enjoy poetry that’s more than ten years old, but it’s not the type of poetry I’m going to write. I guess I was looking for inspiration.

All I know is that my eventual Christmas poem is going to be very different to those by Hardy etc. (who, by the way, was a fab poet), and it’s probably going to be about something else. An angle that I haven’t seen covered.

I just have to find that angel angle…

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