He Do Christmas

(I’d like to attest that my design skills are much better than the header image shows, and the poorly cut out mistletoe/tinsel are not the peak of my design abilities.)

But in other news… it’s December 1st!

A Dancer and a Spy - Christmas with words

Yes, even down to a tacky snow-based font, a dancer and a spy is doing Christmas.

Over the course of this month I will be trying to write a ‘Christmas poem’. I’ll be sharing some of my drafts (maybe) and my process (probably), and the finished product will be on here whenever it’s done. If it gets done. But you’re welcome to come along for the ride and find out…


(still the best moment of any Doctor Who Christmas special imo)


Birthday Letters

As today (8th October) is both my birthday (20!) and National Poetry Day (21!), I thought I’d share a little poem with you all.

But, firstly, an update… Recently I’ve been combining my poems into collections that I’m planning to release somehow at some point, but aside from that the poetry output has decreased a little bit. I feel like putting them into collections has closed the chapter on the Poetry Frenzy a little, and now I need space to write occasionally and to try new things.

The next poetry books I’m about to read are Sylvia Plath’s Ariel (can you even read Birthday Letters if you’re not reading Ariel at the same time?!), Nayyirah Waheed’s Salt and I Wrote This For You: Just the Words, which is a collection of anonymous poems from something called pleasefindthis.

This is from the Poetry Frenzy (which would be a good name for a poetry book actually), and it’s called Leaf Water.

Make me tea in the rain, for a change.
I won’t drink it.
But it’ll sit there on the side going cold,
Like the memories of the person who brought it.
And when I look at it I’ll remember you,
I’ll make tea your symbol; it feels new.
The cup feels like everything we’ve gone through,
Smoothed out into one.
I try not to sip from it.
I let you be untouched.

Until someone else comes along and you make tea for them.
Well that’s okay,
For a little while I had you, tea-maker, hidden gem.

For the record, I don’t drink tea, but I guess that’s sorta the point.

One final thing before I leave you to celebrate my birthday (I’m envisaging a scene like the edited end of Return of the Jedi, where’s there’s loads of planets throwing parties across the galaxy), I’m going to be on my student radio! You can listen to me here, Livewire 1350, on Sundays 1.30-3. It’ll be an hour and a half of wonderful music, probably, and some poetry stuff.

Now go party x


Usually You Are, That’s What Poetry’s For

“I can only contend with the power of men.”
Pablo Neruda – Every Day You Play

This summer I’ve read a fair bit of poetry, as may already be clear, and so I’m going to give some thoughts on the stuff that I’ve read. There’s a slight issue in that, for a couple of these, I’ve started them, left them a few weeks, then come back and finished them. The thoughts on these ones may be a bit vague – but here we go. (My review of Kate Tempest is here, and is lengthy enough to not require anything on this post.)

Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations 3/5

In short – this is gonna need some more reads. I reckon about fifty or so should do it. Some of it is undeniably beautiful, and some of it is way too difficult to grasp anything. Because of this, some of it did kind of feel like well-written nonsense, and the rereading will be important. Beautiful moments are scattered throughout, though I don’t know if I’m a convert to prose-poetry. I feel poetry would’ve said a lot of this very differently – these individual pieces encompass much more, but they often spend too long or not long enough focussing on certain things.

I’d recommend ‘After the Flood’. It opens the collection, and it stayed with me throughout the whole thing. The closing poem ‘Genie’ is lovely too. It’s definitely encouraged me to read some Rimbaud though.

James Baldwin’s Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems 3/5

It’s hard to pinpoint my thoughts on this, much as it was with Rimbaud’s Illuminations. It’s very powerful and often very political poetry. It’s easy to read, it’s honest, and it’s occasionally funny. It’s also very bold. But it’s not quite ‘Giovanni’s Room’ – Baldwin’s stripped down language is less effective than his prose, which has eloquence akin to poetry itself.

Ultimately, I can appreciate the power of this poetry, and I enjoyed much of it. However, it comes down to the fact that I know I’ve enjoyed other poetry more. Maybe this just wasn’t ‘me’ enough.

Kevin Reid and George Szirtes’ Wordless Yet Another 3/5, Though Hard To Rate

I feel like it’s cheating to give this book a review. Or even to call it a book. Yet it’s a bit grand to call it an ‘experience’. It’s more just… something that’s happened. In fact I’m not sure it’s even happened. It’s just sped past, leaving nothing really to grasp onto, except something faint, like a smell. This photo-poem book wasn’t on Goodreads until I added it, and there’s probably a fair reason for that. I found it in an obscure place in The Book Hive in Norwich, where it looked a little like someone had just left it to be found. Maybe it was.

I have an obsession with including bowler hats and masks in my writing, and me and my other bowler hat-obsessed friend felt that it would be criminal not to buy a book that was basically our imagination made flesh. But it doesn’t really add anything to my obsession, and I feel remarkably unchanged by it (the man who provides the cover quote, which is the book’s blurb, clearly was not though). I haven’t found my purpose for it yet – and it doesn’t provide an immediate one (which is not a bad thing). It’s closer to art than literature.

The book lies in how you interpret it. What is the bowler hat? What is the mask? Clearly the bowler hat and death are linked (Death’s Bowler Hat? Is the hat Death? Why is ‘death’ never capitalised if it has a bowler hat?) and there’s a link between the mask and ourselves. Also, there’s something about dreaming in there. Like the poems are accessing thoughts we didn’t know we had and couldn’t quite formulate. It needs a lot of looking at – but even then, it would be hard to come up with an interpretation that didn’t sound over the top and pretentious. Still – it would be a good book to give to a class of A-Level or Uni students and say, ‘go’. Cos I can’t work it out on my own.

On a simpler level – some of the pictures are really cool, and some of the poems did make me think. The majority, on first reading, just flew past me. I think it’s trying to be something by not really being anything – and it just comes off as not feeling like anything. Wordless is probably the most apt title for it. Because that’s how I am about it, currently.

Pablo Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair 4.5 Stars

I didn’t think this was going to be my kind of thing. Initially, the repetition of the same metaphors and imagery seemed a bit boring. Each poem said something different but was using the same techniques to do it – and they sounded lovely, but they didn’t sound dynamic. They weren’t something that appealed to me.

And I’m not sure quite why it changed. But around the 13th poem, I noticed something else in them. Suddenly, the metaphors and imagery that were being repeated were being used in a different way – they seemed much more alive. And I found this kept going until the end of the book, meaning its second half is a strong and beautiful collection of poems. Some of the lines in these are utterly breathtaking and some of the poems are amongst the most beautiful I’ve ever read.

If I re-read the first half, which I will, I might well find that these are as strong as the second half. It may have just taken me a while to get use to Neruda’s style before I could appreciate it. But this collection really does house some stunning poetry, amongst the best I’ve read, and I’m keen to reread it to see if I can move the rating up to five stars.

Richard Siken’s Crush  4 Stars

This is the most intense poetry I’ve probably ever encountered. It’s brutal and unrelenting, its passion comes across in a suffocating force – for both the reader and the people involved in the poems. It’s fascinating to read, especially for someone who is a writer, to see how the poems are constructed, but also how they deal with the ideas. Many phrases and ideas are repeated across, the same events told, restudied, developed. The language is very powerful, and the last poem ‘Snow and Dirty Rain’ unexpectedly builds a breathtaking force towards its close. The collection is full of brilliant phrases, and the whole book uses language masterfully. There are moments of passion pushed down into memories, which are brought up to the surface, and lived with the same force in which they happened. It’s pretty incredible.

It’s not the kind of thing I can say I would read for enjoyment. It is the sort of thing you would read for the experience – but you can’t sit down and read it all in one, because it will leave you a wreck. The second section is particularly intense. But the language is worth experiencing, despite the fact that there are barely any moments of pause or hope in a sea of violence and intensity.

It’s not quite the poetry I was looking to read – nor is it the type of poetry that I could say is a favourite – but it’s showing how powerful and amazing poetry can be, and it puts a large number of other poets to shame. Even though it’s not always my sort of thing, it is totally deserving of its rating.

What is interesting about this, though, is that about a week after I read it, I can remember fragments of events and I can remember its intensity – but I can’t remember how it made me feel. If I think about Rimbaud, or Baldwin, I can feel a general gist of what the poetry was, and where I was when I read it. Crush, amazingly, hasn’t left this. Because of its intensity, its impact is perhaps a short lived thing. It happens in the moment, and then it goes. It definitely warrants a reread at some point though.

and some other poems I’ve read/collections I’ve started…

Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters

I’ve not got very far with this, and I think it needs a bit of the Neruda Magic ™ to keep me going. It’s a very large collection of poems and they are all very similar – in structure and content. It’s not doing a very good job at keeping my attention, unfortunately, and it needs to kick into gear to keep me interested. It’s looking to be one of those collections I dip in and out of, which is no bad thing, but it’s too samey to read like I’ve read those above.

Ted Hughes’ ‘Lovesong’

I’ve become a little bit obsessed with this. There’s something about it that’s stayed with me, and cropped up again this summer, and I’m not sure what it is. But it’s an interesting contrast to the other poetry reading I’ve done.

No one tells you how to read poetry. Should you read it, or listen? Is it there to be dipped in and out of? Is it there to read in one? I think each collection, each poem, is probably designed to be slightly different, and I think I’ve approached the things I’ve read in roughly the right way. I’ve got Philip Larkin’s Complete Poems – I’m not going to sit and read that in one go, but I don’t dip in and out of it, which I should. The disadvantage of reading poetry in one go, or in several stages over a short period of time, is that individual poems rarely stand out.

Neruda’s ‘Every Day You Play’ has stuck with me and I know I love many things about that specific poem – but I couldn’t reference any off the top of my head. Maybe reading poetry in one go takes the edge of its individuality. Who knows? I read Tempest’s Hold Your Own in five stages (there are five sections), and I suppose the individual poems only stood out when I’d gone back to them.

So maybe that’s it. Poetry requires both reading and rereading to work (not a ground breaking statement, I realise). But as I often say on this blog, it’s a bit like an album. You listen to it through the first time, then you listen to the songs on shuffle to learn their differences (that may just be me). I think that’s what I’ll do.

I think my Summer of Poetry has been pretty damn successful. I am a bit lost that I now don’t have any new books waiting for me. (But then, I think a second year of English Lit at Uni will take care of that…)

Post-Summer Fatigue | A Recap

“Just to get it all out,
What’s in my head.”
4 Non Blondes – What’s Up?

It’s the end of the Summer. Apparently, it’s Autumn. In a couple of weeks, I return to uni and this blog probably begins to collect the dust that will cover it forever. I’m hoping I keep going with it, but we’ll see how I do. I’ve got some half-formed ideas for future posts, so fingers crossed they see the very small audience I collect.

But I was flicking back through this blog, and stumbled across the first post. In it I set out my 5 book related aims for the summer, as part of the Between Two Books challenge. I also talked about how I sort of had ‘word fatigue’, and wasn’t sure what to write about any more. So this is a bit of a recap on the summer, an evaluation of how well I did with the challenges I set myself.

(1) I wanted to read more non-fiction. This didn’t happen. I have looked for a non-fiction book to read, but in the end I didn’t find one that interested me enough.

(2) To read Tempest’s “Everything Speaks in its Own Way” and to read more poetry. Done! I’ve read the collection, which I’ve reviewed on this blog. I’ve also read more poetry (a lot more than I expected to as well). I’m going to write mini-reviews (or probably adapt the ones I’ve posted on Goodreads) of the poetry I’ve read, and that post should be coming as soon as I’ve finished some Pablo Neruda.

(3) To read something from a new genre…. Nope. It’s just been a lot of poetry. Which has been lovelier than prose, imo.

(4) To finish something. Well…. I didn’t finish Watchmen, but I have finished every collection of poetry I’ve bought this summer, which for me is something of a miracle. But unfortunately I’ve not finished or even made significant progress on anything else.

(5) To read ‘Disclaimer’ by Renee Knight. To be fair, I did try. I got a fair way through it, for me, but I just found myself getting increasingly brought down by it. I don’t know what made it a bit of a depressing read, but it was, and it wasn’t exactly the summer read that I was excited and ready for. I probably should’ve given it a bit more of a chance, but I didn’t feel like coming away from it thinking ‘ugh’ every time. I’m a little disappointed that it wasn’t more like I’d imagined.

So what about my word fatigue? Well, between the date I wrote that entry and today’s date, I’ve typed a total of 56 poems. That’s not including the very small number I’ve handwritten and written on my phone, unless I’ve later typed these. Clearly, my word fatigue didn’t last long. But did I experiment in this poetry? Um…. Maybe not as much as I intended to, but I did also complete some poems I’m very proud of. I’m not sure my style has developed or altered in that at all, but reading other poets has been interesting and useful in a way. I’m still searching for exactly what my style is, although I think the less I try for a style, the better my poetry turns out. I also think that the more honest I am in what I write, the more passionate I am, the better the result. Though I suppose that’s obvious. I am looking forward to seeing how my style develops over the year though.

I have undoubtedly wittered on and often repeated myself on this blog, though, and very glad I am about this too. Also thank you to those who have liked my blogs, or told me that they’re enjoying them. You two people rock.

(My next post, ‘Usually You Are, That’s What Poetry’s For’ should be out within the week all being well.)


Writing Poetry

“Her smiles were spiderbites”
-Ted Hughes; Lovesong

I thought it might be good, as this is both a reading and writing blog, to talk through how I go about writing poems. I’ve already mentioned that I don’t really handwrite them, and despite buying a book in which to do so, the results have been minimal. I’m still choosing to write on my computer, or, increasingly, on my phone. It does help me a lot more with structure, and I feel like I’m organising my thoughts, rather than throwing them about all over the open page.

The quote above (which, in quite a drastic change, was originally Lana Del Rey) seems appropriate at the moment. When sitting down to write one of my recent poems, I had the words ‘spider bites’ in my head, and rediscovered them in Hughes’ ‘Lovesong’. I think I’d originally found the poem because it’d influenced Florence Welch. But it’s not often that a poem sticks in my head so much, and is reawakened at certain moments. I often find myself infusing song lyrics into my poems (the phrases ‘take shelter’ and ‘hold you down’ appear line after the other in one of my poems, inspired by Years & Years), but poetry meeting poetry feels a bit different.

Or at least, it does in the lines. The overall style of my poetry, mostly written for spoken word now, is hugely Kate Tempest inspired. Ted Hughes’ ‘Birthday Letters’ has the same kind of line structure/capitalisation that I use (this more a coincidence than an influence, but still). But to have one of Hughes’ phrases pop up was quite refreshing. The poem that came out of it is pretty good too, imo.

But all this is sort of repeating what I’ve said in other blogs (so, if you are a new reader, welcome, I’ve saved you most of the bother of reading the old stuff). The plan for this entry is to talk about what I do specifically when writing a poem. So to do this, I actually need to share a poem with you. There’s about three poems I’ve only ever shared to more than about two people, but aside from that my work tends to be very private (for now). But below is a poem called ‘Debut Album’, a poem about my poetry. It’s not one of the best ones I’ve written, but what it talks about is useful.

I try not to write pretentious poems,
I try not to write about birds and sunset.
If a heart is breaking,
I write the fact of its break,
I try not to describe the image
Of it crumbling apart in my hands.

If I could write love songs I would,
If I could write a novel I’d try,
But I’ve taken poetry to my heart,
I try to do it my way,
But sometimes it just crumbles in my hands.

I tend not to like poems that try to hard, and I don’t really go in for big metaphors when I’m writing. This is indicative of the simple and direct writing I try and go for. (Ironically, I do always think I sound pretty pretentious in these blogs, writing about writing without sounding like a dick can be tricky.) So, I’m going to have a go at deconstructing the poem. Which could be tricky, as I’ve picked one I can’t actually remember too much about.

  1. I wrote this on my computer. It’s a sort of ‘pre-poetry collection’ poem, and I’m trying to avoid the phrase ‘mission statement’ but that sort of gives the write impression. Think of it as Sam Smith’s ‘Money On My Mind’. Actually. Don’t.
  2. The title reflects this – it’s a track from a Debut Album, a poem for a first collection. It’s one of the many ‘Track One’ sort of things I’ve written over the years (I used to write a lot of ‘Final Track’ poems, but to be honest, I’ve no idea now how I’d end a poetry collection, and what with).
  3. I’m quite big on rhyme, which this poem is not. My rhyming poetry tends to be either very short (eg four lines) or very long (eg, over 60). This poem is written to be read. It’s not making a point, telling a story, reflecting on a feeling – it’s just saying what it is. It’s a small piece of catharsis, whereas a fair bit of my poetry is used as catharsis much more strongly.
  4. I’m not big on structure. I occasionally write sonnets, and I’ve written a vilanelle, but that’s about it. My haikus used to be haikus and now they just sort of hit three lines. I think vilanelle’s are beautiful forms of poetry, and I am super proud of my one, even if it is so unlike everything else I’ve written. I approached the vilanelle with the idea of looking at different perspectives on one event, and I think the rest of my poetry tends to have a progression within the poem. It tends to go somewhere, story-like. It was also more symbolic, more focussed on imagery, and again the poem you see above is just not. But ‘Debut Album’ does show my approach to poetry in its subject, as well as demonstrating how I generally tackle structure.
  5. There are a lot of commas in the poem, and this tends to stem from writing spoken word poetry. To get the energy up in writing, and for when I read it, it tends to be comma after comma after comma. This doesn’t work as well in written poetry. Kate Tempest (again) said something at the Edinburgh Festival this week about being taught the power that the semi-colon has on the page. If it is for the page, use the page. I haven’t learned that yet.
  6. So, does poetry crumble apart in my hands? Often. I think the disadvantage of computer-writing it is that I don’t always get what I’m trying to say out, and I’m not inclined to go back and fiddle. Poetry is in the moment, for me. I will edit in the moment, and this is more the case when writing it by hand or writing it on my phone, but I don’t like going back to it. It is a moment preserved. Poetry is more personal than perfect. If you hit perfect on the way though, a perfect you are happy with, then great. I think that’s when poetry becomes yours, and can become everyone else’s.

So, in summary: no structure really, multiple attempts at saying the same message, an inability to use punctuation, and all shown in a poem that’s not really typical of what I write. Poetry not for the spoken word is probably less favourable to me than the stuff I can speak, but I do get some good results, and ‘Debut Album’ is not a bad one. There are definitely better. I don’t feel it demonstrates any sort of skill – but I guess that particular poem is not meant to. It’s there to say. It’s not there to be interpreted. It’s a poem written into stone.

If you’re looking for poetry that someone doesn’t mind publishing online, and you’re a fan of more structured poetry, then I’d highly recommend checking out Poetical Delusion. George, the poet (not to be confused with ‘George the Poet’), writes with structure and rhythm and language much more in mind than I do. His poetry is redrafted to get it perfect, and he finds it easier to write in a more ‘traditional’ and structured way. It’s a very interesting contrast to my own work. There’s also quite a lot of imagery and metaphor in his work, and it’s lovely to read, so I would definitely go and check it out.

There’s one more thing I want to consider – and that’s something else Kate Tempest has said. She said that poetry is much more for the listener/reader, whereas music is much more for the singer. Considering poetry is almost my music substitute, I guess for me, it provides both. Poetry is very personal to me, and the words I have chosen are the words I have chosen. That’s partly why I bother less with structure and things, because it’s a way of getting out my thoughts, making them sound like they’re mine, rather than fashioning them into anything. But other people get out their thoughts by fashioning them, and it works just as well. Either way – poetry is personal, and although other people look for their own meanings and experiences (that’s how someone decides they like a poem, after all), I believe it’s very much a shared experience. So for me, in that sense, poetry really is my music substitute, and the poem on this entry really is the opening track to a Debut Album.


Kate Tempest’s “Everything Speaks In Its Own Way” | Review

This is from my Goodreads account, but since I have a total of about 8 friends on there, I thought I’d post it here as well, so another 8 people can see it.

A quick note – this review reveals the format and tone of the overall collection, discussing the language, more than the subjects of the poems. But if you don’t want to know anything, don’t read this review.

I’ve now read all of Kate Tempest’s poetry (and I devoured this collection in 24 hours). If I was to read her plays, she would be the only author I have ever read all the existing work of. I don’t find myself disappointed, however, that all her poetry is read. I’m happy to have absorbed it and experienced it all, and I feel I can understand a complete side of her writing. As seems to be the case with me and poets, I started at the end, and have worked backwards. This means there will be constant comparisons with her latest collection ‘Hold Your Own’, but I hope these comparisons aren’t unfair, and are a way of looking at how she changes as a poet. I do wonder whether I should have read this first. I don’t regret reading her work backwards at all, but maybe coming to this fresh means that you can see her language and its power even more clearly.

As her first collection of poetry, I expected a naive and developing Kate Tempest. I think I expected to watch as she found her form, picked up her themes, and chose what to run with. In one sense, I found this. The collection has a couple of references to “ancients”, there’s the word “mancub”, which is developed and repeated in ‘Hold Your Own’, and the collection is split between poems about society, and poems about love. The naivety is shown in herself, in her insecurity, but it is not in the language.

Because in another sense, I was surprised at how strong and confident this collection of poetry is. I was delighted to find that she talks about writing; when she writes, how she writes and why she writes. These are poems that acknowledge the time in which they are being written and the reasons they are written for. Writing isn’t new to her, but it’s something she’s still trying out, wearing in. This is a recurring theme in a collection which runs off recurring themes. I didn’t find much diversity in what she writes about. Her society poems, which are quite cover broad themes, yet are lithe in ‘Hold Your Own’, are generally boiled down to being about the City. All of her poems have a strong sense of London, or escaping London. If she escapes the city, it is often to Paris, where she talks about her and love sitting on pavements. (I suppose in this sense, she is quite Joycean, and the title of this collection comes from Joyce.)

The love poems are almost exclusively revolve around mornings. Waking up, looking at the sun on the body of her lover. These occasionally stray into poems about the night before, rushing away from the city to meet them, or sitting in cafes and bars waiting. There’s a lot of doubt and a lot of waiting in her love poems – many of which are about love that is waiting to be given and felt. The key thing about this collection is that the poems are all of a similar tone. I have only read it once, however, and it is much heavier than her other work. It is very possible that the nuances in tone become larger and more developed when I reread and rediscover them, and the poems will become more individual over time. It’s similar to listening to an album for the first time and thinking that all the songs sound the same.

On the subject of an album – these poems have a strong rap element to them. Tempest is first and foremost a rapper, and she sinks into poetry as she develops. In this collection, however, stanzas are repeated, as if the poems have choruses. I was initially put off by this, and scan read many of the repeats. It wasn’t until ‘Patterns’, the mammoth poem at the end (which I was delighted to find she re-used in the song she did with Bastille, ‘Forever Ever’), that I noticed the advantage of the repetition. She repeats a stanza three times in this, and on each repeat I picked up something new. Or phrases that meant something to me the first time meant more. It’s an effective technique, and it may not work in all of her poems (something a reread will show me), but I can see why she has done it. (The book also comes with a CD and DVD, both of which I’m yet to sample, and I imagine these repeats will benefit her spoken performance well.)

It’s interesting using the word ‘stanza’ for this poetry, because only one or two poems have traditional stanzas. The others are organised into paragraphs, with what would be a line of a poem becoming a sentence. I suppose this is ‘prose poetry’, but it doesn’t feel like that. It feels like the choice was made for the formatting of the book, more than anything else. The rhyming scheme in this is carried across the majority of the poems (probably another reason why the tone feels so similar), and so each sentence is essentially a couplet, and this is subverted by extending the sentences beyond the rhymes, time to time. I’m not a great fan of prose in any form, but the rhyming and the rhythm did make the poems a joy to read, regardless of their format. For me, though, with the repetition of theme, tone, and often events, the paragraphs made the poems seem quite heavy. It’s a short volume, only 37 poems (I think), and the length of the poems is fine. But they seem to have weight – the paragraphs mean that so so much is packed in together. This can make the rhythm and the poetry all the more impressive, but it also means that it doesn’t have the lithe, free and more relaxed feel of ‘Hold Your Own’. Naturally, as a first collection anyway, there will be differences. In her latest work, she delves into new areas and shows things in different ways. This collection has poems that are glimmers of the moments I love in ‘Hold Your Own’, but this collection is more likely to produce them as poems with a more regimented structure (not that this is at all detrimental to them).

The words in this collection are magnificent. There are key phrases, brilliantly worded lines that reflect small parts of human emotion and experience, and it’s these I love. It’s these I read her poetry for. I prefer her love poems to any others, and although they are quite samey (for now, anyway) within this collection, she presents an undeniably personal way of writing. There are intense poems, but there are also pauses that she reflects on, and that she fills with words. Everything here is her though. A defence of hip hop, a poem about her sister, and discovering her writing. It’s a pleasure to read something that looks full on her own life without blinking. Yet they’re written in a way that never says too much, and allows a reader to find themselves.

Tempest has confidence in this collection, and a huge amount of pride in her own achievements (interestingly contrasted with the many doubts she feels about her love life, which is constantly fraught with insecurity). The confidence is bold and surprising, the insecurities are sort of what I was looking for. But, unlike I expected, there are few to be found in the language. Tempest knows she has the language in her control and she shows this. With this gained, she can then push further, be more brave, and most importantly, be more free in the future.

This is a bold and exciting start for her poetry, showcasing the beginning of all the themes she will explore. Tempest is like Picasso. She can write like a genius when she starts, but as she grows, she can use that genius to write in new ways and find her own styles. Her language is an incredibly powerful force in this collection, whether in louder of quieter moments, and it is a joy to read and experience.

The one thing I feel that this collection misses out on, though, is showing just how sprightly and rhythmic her words are. The formatting doesn’t help this, but I’ve no doubt the performances of her poetry will show just how these are meant to sound.

Poems I’d recommend: ‘Laura’, ‘The Mouse Hiding Out in the Lion’s Hair’, ‘Patterns’ and probably loads more. Best to buy the book.

Tempest’s first novel, ‘The Bricks That Built the Houses’, is released in 2016.


The Lyric is a Lonely Hunter

“In Belarus she was a vespertine,
She danced the go-go for the bourgeoisie,
Now she’s here and she is on her knees.”
Hurts – Rolling Stone

This blog seems quite infused with music so far, and my writing is similar. I tend to think of my poems as songs, I guess – it’s the closest I can get to them without being able to sing. This sort of fits in with trying to write poems for speaking and performance as well. But I’ve noticed a couple of songs recently that have either developed from novels or would work well as one.

The first of these (and they’re in no particular order) is Florence + the Machine’s Demo “Which Witch”, from their latest album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. Written after imagining witch trials in LA, it’s a wonderfully visual idea. It makes you wonder how Florence envisaged these trials, how much she envisaged them, and how developed the idea is. At the risk of sounding too obsessed, the lyrics are really powerful, and work well on lots of levels. But their original idea, and the thought process that went on behind them, is fascinating. I really hope we get to find out one day (if not I might just write it). (Also, while on the subject, Florence wrote a beautiful poem for her Queen of Peace/Long and Lost video, that is read in between the songs. It’s worth watching the video, or finding the handwritten lyrics on her Instagram. And another also – Florence has her own book club, where she sets books for her fans to read. It’s well worth checking it out.)

Another song that could easily inspire a story is Hurts’ latest release ‘Rolling Stone’. I was one of the first to hear this at their intimate gig at Scala, and it’s the song that me and my friend were most excited to hear again afterwards. Not only is the song as good as we remember, but it comes with an amazing second verse, which I don’t remember at all from the performance. The song is so well written, and the whole idea is visual and would work so well as a graphic novel. Also, it’s a song that blends existing literature, beginning ‘in fair Verona where we lay our scene’.

Another new release here in the shape of Years & Years’ Communion. There’s not a particular song that I can pinpoint as being inspired by a book, or indeed one that would strongly inspire a book. But, inside the handwritten lyrics book, is a quote scribbled down by Olly Alexander, from p.209 (he marked that, not me) of ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’. It doesn’t appear in the songs, and I haven’t found a reason for it, but it’s really cool to see it there. Anyone who writes song lyrics or poems with quotes beside them is off to a good start, and it added extra hype to the Super Hype that I already had for the album. I should probably read the book now.

I may well add more to this post over time, so I’ll let you know if it gets updated. I’m hopeful I’ll discover lots more, but all I could contribute now would be the majority of Florence + the Machine songs, so I should move on.

As I said above, I think about lyrics and music quite a lot when I’m writing, and my poems often turn out to be song-esque. Since I should be sharing some of my own writing here, today I’ll share the song lyrics that I’ve currently written down next to the poems I’ve been writing. (The notepad is going quite well now, and is slowly feeling less daunting.)

“The ones you see the less are the ones you love the most.” – Lucy Spraggan, ‘The Tourist’
“And my love was no good, against the Fortress that it made of you.” – Florence, ‘Queen of Peace’
“When I sleep I never dream of you, as if the dream of you, it sleeps too, but never slips away.” – Florence again, ‘Caught’

But other lyrics I’m just really enjoying at the moment include:

“Someone is playing a game in the house that I grew up in, and someone will drive her around in the same streets that I did.” – The Killers
“How could I have known, you’re a universe?” – Years & Years, ‘Without’
“And I slept in last night’s clothes and tomorrow’s dreams.” – Fall Out Boy, ‘Uma Thurman’

and of course
“You’re a dancer, well I’m a spy, it’s so beautiful to see you lie.” – Years & Years, ‘Ties’

Love/Hate Literature

“I refuse to tread the line”
Years & Years – Ready For You

I should probably do some sort of post about Go Set A Watchman, the ‘new’ Harper Lee novel, but I’m not the best person for the job. I’ve not read Mockingbird, and have only ever really made a half-hearted attempt at it, so it doesn’t make much sense to read this new one. It’s very exciting that everyone is so excited about it, and very exciting that there’s been such debate about Atticus Finch (personally, I’m all for interesting and realistic character development, so woo). Queuing up at Midnight for books is always fun to hear about (and I’d like to actually do it one day), and it’s great that there’s such a buzz around it.

But I’m more interested about another aspect of it – and that will lead me onto discussing other love/hate relationships I have amongst literature.

The US cover of Harper Lee’s “Go Set A Watchman”, compared to the UK cover.

The Go Set A Watchman cover (that is, the UK Edition) is both clever and awful. The US Edition is just beautiful, and it beautifully echoes the cover of it’s prequel/sister/ghost/predecessor. The UK Edition, though, is orange. Vibrantly orange. Which is no bad thing really, but it just doesn’t work that well with everything else. The font seems a weird choice and definitely over-sized, and the cover bares no relation to any previous editions of Mockingbird (except that there’s a bit of a tree with a bird). I love that they’ve tried to shadow the original title, and that’s a really clever idea.

But I’m not sure it works. The actual title becomes too split up, and it almost makes the book like it contains both novels. The ‘By the Author Of’ is so small and red that it’s hard to read, and you have to squint to see just what relevance TKaM has. (After all – it’s prominence in this cover does imply it has a little more significance than just being a prequel/etc.) The size of the title dwarfs anything else and squanders any real chance for imagination, so they settle for a tree and a bird, distracted by the horrible spiky font. The US Edition, however, is arty and beautiful, as well as well thought out. It’s maybe not as eye-catching, but it looks much less modern and garish. Their trust in understanding that we know who Harper Lee is is also good, and it means that the novel can stand alone as well.

Frankly I could write a whole blog post on those covers. But to step aside to other things I have a love/hate relationship with, well. I probably have one with reading. I’m not very good at all at finishing books (and I tend to only finish ones that I have really really enjoyed – that does make it easier to pick favourite books though I suppose). I’m also not very good at picking up or indeed choosing a book. But sometimes, it is very worth the wait. And I do enjoy reading, and I love talking about and debating books. Just often, I don’t enjoy the reading enough to keep going with it. I’m fussy.

But specifically, I seem to have a love/hate relationship with Ian McEwan. I mean, not literally, I’m sure he’s a lovely man, but with his writing. His ideas and books interest me despite the fact I’ve never really come away thinking they’re my favourites. I’ve read On Chesil Beach (the edition of that I read is Beautiful) for A-Levels, and I read The Cement Garden for me. I finished both, although skipped large segments of On Chesil Beach, which was both heartbreaking, hilarious (accidentally) and not really worth my time. The Cement Garden was clearly gripping, and I wrote a review here a while back. I’m also slowly working through The Comfort of Strangers, another intriguing read. The appeal is the short novels, the nice editions (although The Children’s Act looks different to the others and this annoys me). He has interesting ideas that I like. But his prose is weighty and often dry. There’s a lot of sex, in various forms, and thinking about sex. (I’m leaving you up to decide if that’s a love or a hate aspect, or indeed either.) But I am fascinated by his books, even if I claim to not enjoy them as much as I enjoy others. Maybe I just ‘like’ some, or bits of some, of them. Maybe that’s enough,

I feel like I have a love/hate relationship with a lot of things in literature, and even in life. Maybe everyone’s like that, maybe there’s an element of that in everything anyway. But I feel like the GSaW covers and Ian McEwan are pretty solid examples. I maybe have the same thing with comics, I’m not sure. I don’t really go in for comics, though I am trying more recently, though they seem to be very hit and miss. Some are very exciting, they’re easy to get through. But I really am not up for following a Marvel continuity that gets rebooted every five seconds (not even including on screen). I think I have a bit of a love/hate with William Empson. Some of his poetry is really beautiful and stylish, but Seven Types of Ambiguity belongs in a Hell the colour of Go Set A Watchman. He also got me my lowest first year mark (though someone had to take the blame I suppose. Sorry Will).

I should probably write a poem about this. If I hadn’t written enough already. Though I have bought myself a ‘poetry notebook’ following yesterday’s post. And if I ever do publish anything – I’m praying to someone that it’s not blood orange.


Word Fatigue

“You’re a dancer, well I’m a spy,
It’s so beautiful to see you lie…”
Years & Years; Ties

I feel like I should set out some kind of mission statement for this blog, but in all honesty, I’m not sure what it’s going to cover.

Primarily, books, and stuff about writing, and thoughts about writing from a writer who shouldn’t be calling himself a writer yet (that’s me). The ‘dancer and the spy’ of the title is from the quote above. It has no significance to the blog as such, but it’s a lovely phrase, and Years & Years are very good.

I was thinking about a piece on The Guardian the other day, where famous writers and journalists talked about what they’d be reading this summer. I read it last year as well, trying to find something to fill the space before university, and using books to fill the void a little bit. They didn’t do a great job, if I’m honest, but it’s very interesting reading what others read. I considered my own list, and I considered something that I’d posted on Instagram a few days ago.

“Between Two Books”, the Florence + the Machine book club, asked people to post pictures of what they’d be reading over the summer. I only had very vague ideas, but they were (1) to read more non fiction (2) to read Kate Tempest’s first poetry collection ‘Everything Speaks in Its Own Way’ and to explore more poetry (3) to read something from a new genre (4) to finish something (I’m thinking Watchmen – not to be confused with Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, which I don’t plan to read) and (5) to read Disclaimer, by Renee Knight.

Out of these, (2) is of a particular interest to me. Kate Tempest’s poetry and music fascinates me, and her poetry ranges from social commentary (something which works incredibly well in her music, and worked incredibly well with the Glastonbury crowd this year) to poems about romance and life, that are always straight-talking and refreshingly honest. It shows poetry can be beautiful without the metaphors, and words we use every day can be beautiful in themselves. “Hold Your Own” is a near-perfect collection of poems, and “Brand New Ancients” is a very impressive narrative poem.

Tempest has changed the way I write poetry too. Just before I read her work, I tried to write a poem that didn’t conform to structure, and was more focussed on speaking about issues I wanted to, in a witty way. My friend likened the result to a slam poem. With this seed in my head, I then read Kate Tempest, and her approach to poetry combined perfectly. I’m now much more focussed on rhyme and rhythm, and much more interested in writing in a way designed to be spoken. Most of my poetry is driven to this – and I’ve written even more. I turn out a ridiculous amount of poetry, but that’s more because I tend to write then move on, rather than fine tuning just one piece to figure out what I want to say. Maybe I’d be a better poet if I did that.

But because I turn out more poetry, I seem to have turned out a bit too much. So what did I do? Write a poem about it.

“Word fatigue” talks about how I’d been turning “everything into poetry” and that “my emotional history becomes a pit that’s been excavated”. The smaller feelings are “expanded” in order to just create something. It’s draining. Part of this, I think, is that Kate Tempest is currently my only real poetry inspiration. I love TS Eliot. But he’s not an influence. I need to read more of him anyway, and more of other poets. I need to expand, to play around with style and form, and language. To see how others do it and to how they work with me.

The other thing I must shamefully admit, is that I wrote poetry on the same keyboard that wrote this. I type it. Which means the structure, the rigidity of thought, is already there. It can’t be free and all over the page – I can’t experiment with ideas for lines. One has to replace another, mostly. I also think it might help write about things that matter to me, and that I feel, rather than just looking for something to write about.

So there’s two main targets for the summer. I need to read the rest of Tempest (until her novel comes out next year!) and with that read more poetry. I then need to write poetry – but experiment with it.

And that’s what this blog will be really. Me wittering on about writing, about books, sometimes music. And this will probably gather dust eventually, but, it might be fun while I remember.

I’ll leave you (imaginary reader, hello) with this. It’s slightly different to how I remember it, but the message stuck with me ever since I saw it. And then I chose to ignore it anyway.