Category Archives: poetry

Comments on Rejection

I had a rejection email a couple of days ago, which was quite good as it had several notes with it. In general it gives me plenty of information about what the editor is thinking, though actual “improvements” are not quite so plentiful. I will act on the suggestions, as they took time and effort to produce, but like several other of my published pieces, I will also write the one i want to write and try again. Poems are, after all, only words and, as I have said before, I have plenty of words to write another one. It’s not like every poem published depletes the stock of words for the rest of us.

The three main points are that I should show, not tell. Last time I sent something to that magazine the comment was that I should have shown the house being built. There was, in the entire poem, no mention of a house being built, and in real life no house was built. The editor imagined it as a result of the poem. This is both good and bad, and after reading up I found that telling is sometimes necessary. It’s one of those things you find when you have contact with editors – inconsistency, grey areas and matters of opinion. Usually, I tell too much and gradually edit it out as I condense the poem. However, this can take months and I wrote the poem in question in three days. The problem wasn’t so much telling not showing – it was rushing things and  not editing properly. I’ll hold my hand up to that one.

Then there was the question of certain phrases and whether they were “poetic” or necessary. One of them was a metaphor that linked with other things in the poem, but that wasn’t noted. I’m obviously too subtle. Another was a phrase that most of you would have recognise a my speaking voice. I tend to write as I speak and I don’t always sound like Shelly or Frost. This irks me slightly a it’s like I’m being edited out of my own poems. It’s happened with others too, so this isn’t unusual.

Finally, the suggestions seem to have reduced the poem to a short paragraph with a tanka at each side. Whether this is by accident or not, I’m not clear. Over the years haibun have become shorter. I presume the same is true for tanka prose, though I admit I didn’t pay much attention to them until I started to write them. It seems to be a particularly American thing – a few lines of prose and a quick poem, usually with a tangential connection to the prose, referred to as “link and shift“. What they don’t tell you is that there are other ways of connecting the two elements.

I will stop there, lest I go on to explore other areas where editors may have blind spots dictated by fashion. I’m very close to 500 words now, which is a long post on a subject that is mainly of interest only to me.

My Orange Parker Pen

A Haibun about Jigsaws and Dementia.

This is my entry for the British Haiku Society Haibun Competition. It was either successful (because it was  honourably mentioned), or unsuccessful because it didn’t win. It has been mentioned on the website and is in the latest edition of Blithe Spirit, and the final haibun is quoted, so I presume it is now OK for me to reprint it. It is the second haibun I have written, featuring Dad and jigsaws. As some people have written books and plays about such things I suppose two haibun is not excessive, but it does worry me that I go back to old subjects – at what point does it become boring. That’s the reason I’ve generally (but not entirely) avoided COVID – we are all living through it, how many poems do we need?

Falling Into Place

years pass
children become strangers
—his new world

Jigsaws became an important part of our lives. First, as conversations became more difficult, we used them to pass the time. Later we used them to stimulate Dad’s thinking and slow the progress of the condition. Finally we used them to measure his decline. A man who once ran a company struggled with a jigsaw designed for a toddler. My sister bought new ones as they were needed, each with fewer pieces than the one preceding it.

He had been an active and successful man, and thousands of events had formed his life. Gradually they faded away. This frustrated him in the beginning but as he sank into the strange new world of dementia he came to accept it as a comforting place. I was happy to see him become contented. Then, one day, he asked me who I was.

the mirror cracks
a fractured smile
released


When we cleared his room my sister picked up the nine-piece jigsaws and suggested we donate them to the care home. She checked with me.

You don’t want them, do you?”

Not yet.” I say.

Haiku and Haibun

I have had a couple of pieces published online recently.

One was a haiku in Wales Haiku Journal Spring 2021. You can either go down from the top – I’m about 154 down, or work up from the end – I’m about 35th if you start at the bottom. Ther are so many

The other is in Drifting Sands, and is available here.

I like being in online journals because I can share the links and show off.  I also like being in printed journals, because I like seeing myself on a page, and admire the editors who keep the tradition of print journals going. In the next month or two I’m going to sort out my subscriptions. I think the least I can do is subscribe to 12 different journals. It’s not as if I smoke or drink anymore. All I need to do is spread them out a bit so that I don’t land myself with a big bill one month. Christmas is always a bad time because so many subscriptions to different things fall due at the end of the year. Don’t they ever stop and think about this? Why put all the subscriptions at the most expensive time of the year?

Of course, there’s a certain amount of self-interest at work here, and I will be supporting journals that I’m in, or want to be in. I’m a realist, not a saint…

Meanwhile, I have a few pieces from print journals that are probably old enough to be reprinted on the blog. I’ll sort them out in the next week or so.

 

Me and Roger McGough

I’ll go back a couple of days for this one.  I had an email yesterday. As is customary I have had three haibun rejected by the editor who always rejects me.  He thinks there were some interesting points but they aren’t quite there yet. He has been thinking that for around two years. I have submitted to him half a dozen times and have failed to find favour every time.  Two years of being “not quite there yet” seems like a long time – in that time I have had haibun published in six other journals.

I don’t mean I should be accepted very time I submit, or that the rejecting editor is wrong. Even the magazines that generally accept me don’t do so without the odd rejection, and once in a while I get a hard time from one of the editors demanding changes I don’t always want to make. When that happens, I get annoyed with myself for not writing to a high enough standard. That’s not difficult to cope with.

However, when you are consistently turned down by one editor you reach a point when you have to wonder if it’s worth the effort, and whether he is looking for something I can’t produce.  I’ll probably try a few more times, because each rejection is one more for the year’s list. I’m supposed to be aiming for 100 rejections and have only made 22 submissions so far this year. I’ve been a bit lazy recently, so need to up my game. It doesn’t do me any harm to get a few rejections because it does make me sharpen up, the only proviso is that I want to send stuff out that has a chance of success, and that takes time. Recently it has been taking longer than usual.

Anyway, that’s a rejection, and the lessons to be learned from it. I will now go back by another day.

My copy of Acumen arrived. I has two of my poems in it. They were shortlisted in February and accepted in March, so it’s been a while. I have become so used to the rapid internet world of most haibun magazines that this seems a long time. It’s the 100th edition and is bigger than usual, and is very glossy. To say I was pleased with myself would be an understatement.

When I opened it I found there were quite a few famous poets in there, Mimi Khalvati was on the opening page and Roger McGough was about half-way through. I’m right at the back, but it doesn’t matter, I’m still in a magazine with some famous poets. I’ve been in magazines with some notable haibun writers too, but none of them as famous as Roger McGough.

It took a while for me to calm down after that, which is why the Saturday rejection bounced off me, and why I’ve had to wait until now to write about it. It’s probably very un-Zen to be too excited about this sort of thing, so I also had to watch out I didn’t upset any passing haiku practitioners with my unseemly showing off.

Reading, writing, wittering on…

This is a post I wrote this morning. I arrived at work slightly earlier than usual and found there were only two parcels to pack, so that was soon done. I don’t access WP from the work computer, as I don’t want to blur too many lines, but I do sometimes check my emails, so I emailed this to myself.

After posting last night, I spent some time looking at poetry to see what I could do to improve. First stop was  a magazine that usually rejects my work. The editor does give me advice from time to time, which only increases my confusion. I don’t always understand what they say to me, and I definitely don’t understand why things identified as faults in my work are acceptable in the work of others. I found several examples and spent half an hour studying them for clues as to what makes them publishable when I am not. I looked at all sorts of things apart from the writing and the content, including subject, voice and style, and I couldn’t se what the successful pieces had that I didn’t. I’ll have a go in a few months and see what I can see.

Better informed, but mystified, I moved on. If I keep seeking, I am sure I will find something to explain it, and even if I don’t , I am bound to learn something and improve, simply by looking at things in greater detail.

It’s that pond again. The haibun that it inspired was eventually split in two. One half was published. The second half formed the basis of another haibun I am still working on.

I found two by someone from the UK and decided to look him up. I do that sometimes. He writes in several forms and has published nearly a thousand pieces in 20 years. He belongs to two writers’ groups, reads in public and plans all his poems out. I’m already sensing several differences in our approach. I don’t like the idea of writers’ groups, don’t like speaking in public, and although I do think of planning I rarely do any. I say “rarely” but if you were to pin me down on detail, I may alter that to never. But I do sometimes thing of planning, which is nearly the same. However, despite the differences there is one similarity – we keep writing, learning and submitting.

My normal planning process is to think “I’m going to write something.” I may have to look at that again.

At that point, or some defined point in the future (generally after eating or watching TV) I write. Then I write some more and try to add something at the beginning that is also mentioned at the end. If you do that it looks like you had a plan. Then I take all the bad words out – long words because they are just showing off, adjectives because they are frowned on in poetry, and clichés – shards is one of the main ones that people go on about but myriads, hosts and cerulean are also unwelcome.

Then I leave it to rest. Some of my published work has been resting for a couple of years, with a gentle nudge and a prune now and again. Sometimes I add a bit, but mostly it’s a process of reduction. Then one day I send it out into the world. It often returns. So I cut, shape and send it out again. If it comes back too many times, I think about reusing bits of it.

It’s sometimes difficult to judge. Some poems go out four or five times and are eventually accepted. Others go once or twice and get parked. It all depends on how much confidence I have in them. One went out five times before being accepted, another was accepted on its fourth attempt (four days after being rejected by another magazine).  As Chuck Berry said ” It goes to show you can never can tell.”

An attempt at artistry

 

Running Like a Hamster

It seems like I’ve been writing all day, and all I’ve done so far is catch up on work that I’d allowed to get behind last week. This morning’s post doesn’t really count because it had mostly been written and was just lying in drafts waiting for me to press the button. I did have a  short break for lunch, but having learnt from past experience, I got back to work before a nap attack had time to occur.

I’ve not done a lot of reading recently, so I apologise for neglecting you all but things have been quite hectic. I’ve slept a little too much time away in front of the TV and I’ve put in four submissions in the last four days and I’m trying to do a fifth, though I’m not doing well on that one as I still haven’t touched it today. This is all made more time-consuming by my poor time management abilities.

I’ve also being doing another Buson 100. I did one before, and tried another which I didn’t complete. I’m now four weeks into the new one. I looked at links for the Buson 100, and you’ll never guess what – one of my posts was the fifth. Embarrassingly, it’s from my second attempt, which petered out. I know other people have done it, because I’ve seen it mentioned on several occasions, but very few people seem to want to admit it.

That is, of course, another reason why I’ve been short of time. I’m writing 70 haiku a week and trying to do a few diary notes each day to put them in context. Some days it takes twenty minutes, some days I don’t get them done. What tends to happen is that I write them down, but don’t get round to typing them up, which can be a problem on days like today, when I have fifty or sixty haiku to type plus some back-dated diary notes. Actually, I’m writing over 70 a week because I often do a few extra and when I’m typing them I often have a couple of ideas for new ones. Some of them are OK, so it’s not a waste. I will tell you more about it in another post. Meanwhile, if you don’t see me about as much as usual, it’s all part of the process. I have just about sorted it out now and am hoping to get back into the swing of things by the end of next week.

Crepuscular rays at Rufford Park

Crepuscular rays at Rufford Park

 

D H Lawrence Wonders What’s For His Tea – A Poem

Here’s the poem I had published in Obsessed with Pipework back in February. It is published in paper form rather than on the internet, which means I can’t link to it at the time of publication. I’m not sure what the precise etiquette is with quoting it after that, but it seems reasonable to do it once the next issue is out. That arrived this week, so it seems as good a time as any.

It’s meant to be tongue in cheek, but I’m worried that published alongside more serious poetry it might look like I’m being serious. This is not a poem about the dietary requirements of a well-known Nottinghamshire writer, it’s a poem showing that even serious literary heavyweights get hungry, and that they just dawdle about waiting to be served. D. H. Lawrence does not strike me as the sort of man who would make his own tea. I know he was considered advanced for his time but I’m not sure that this extended to housework.

I should read up on him, and as Julia’s uncle wrote a couple of biographies of Lawrence, which we have in the house, I have no excuse.

It has the rhyme scheme of a villanelle, but I couldn’t get the lines to the correct length without adding words to pad them out, so I gave up. It’s probably best described as “modelled on a villanelle” but ” a poor attempt at a villanelle” would also be fair. For a good villanelle, try here, or here.

In the end, as has been said by many people, you don’t finish a poem, you just abandon it. After hacking away at this one for nearly three years, I decided it was time to set it free.

D H Lawrence Wonders What’s For His Tea

The kettle sits on the hearth and sings
and Eastwood seems so far away.
He writes of snakes and other phallic things
and wonders what teatime will bring,
coughing gently at the close of day.
The kettle sits on the hearth and sings.
Dusk closes in on phoenix wings,
with thoughts of mothers and mortality.
He writes of snakes and other phallic things,
thinks of muffins, jam and apron strings,
and crumpets laid out on a tray.
The kettle sits on the hearth and sings
as he stretches out his stiffening limbs.
Could life have gone another way?
He writes of snakes and other phallic things,
ponders the fates of men and kings
and wonders where life went astray.
The kettle sits on the hearth and sings:
he writes of snakes, and other phallic things.

Plans and Haiku

Despite the first part of the day consisting of a mathematically implausible three halves, I did have a plan for the next bit of the day, which I’m going to describe as “bit” because it saves me having to be accurate.

The plan was to go home, write, wash up and make stew for tea. It also included, after my talk with the doctor, eating eggs for lunch and not sleeping in front of daytime TV whilst watching quiz with my lunch. Next time, I’m going to eat lunch at the computer.

It’s has all come to pass, apart from the not sleeping bit, but instead of being 5 o’clock, as planned, it is seven o’clock. As days off go, it has been OK, but not hugely productive. However, I have had another acceptance, this time from Wales Haiku Journal. It will be published in the next two weeks and is a haiku of eleven words. It almost feels like cheating to claim I’m having a poem published when it’s only 11 words long, but as Mark Twain said:

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Brevity can be tricky.

I now have a nine rejected haiku which can be sent out again. Just because they have been rejected doesn’t mean they are bad. I’ve shown that before, with many pieces. As it is, I have ten ready to go to another magazine and if everything goes as it normally does, and they take one, as they often do, I will have 18 haiku looking for a home. It’s amazing how they mount up. That’s how it goes – one day you have nothing, next day you have too many. It’s a shame that the same doesn’t apply to £10 notes.

I’m off to eat stew now, I’ll see you all tomorrow.

The haiku features a robin, so that’s the reason for the picture.

Where Roses Fade – a Haibun

This was first published in Drifting Sands Issue Six, December 2020. I was looking through the book where I print out my published pieces ( a trick my father in law taught me – when you need a boost, you can always flick through it). I discovered I’m actually several months behind with it and started poking around the internet. I quite liked this one when I first wrote it, and I still do. This isn’t always the case.

I probably linked to it from the blog when it was published, so apologies if you have seen it before.

Here is the link to the full issue.

 

Where Roses Fade

Thirty years ago, I rambled through the Leicestershire countryside and saw villages which had collections of crumbling farm buildings and odd nooks of unruly weeds. Stands of tall nettles often concealed rusty machines, and rosebay willowherb blazed in the sun. Now they are tidy, and iron butterflies decorate the fronts of houses built where real butterflies used to feed. They have become development opportunities, and gaps have been filled. Small neat houses and barn conversions proliferate, with block-paved drives and shiny cars. Drinks are taken, and conversations held, where pigs once grunted and chickens scratched. Snouts, though, are still rammed firmly into troughs.

tidy
but the roots of weeds go deep
unnoticed

 

Comma Butterfly

Stirrings of Artistic Temperament

I think I may be developing an artistic temperament. This is not good, as I am not an artist. I am a word mechanic and rely on calm and orderly conduct, plus a large vocabulary and a metaphorical bag of literary spanners – swapping words in and out and tightening things up as necessary. I don’t do art and I don’t do feelings.

I read through the submission guidelines of a magazine late last night and decided, despite previous decisions to the contrary, that I wasn’t going to submit. They just struck me as a bit sloppy and as I have a limited supply of poetry it seemed a waste to tie it up for three months or more when I could show it to people who would give me quicker responses (and allow me to resubmit it elsewhere).

I never seem to have enough good poetry to go round, so I can, to some extent, be selective. It’s not an approach that I want to extend, because I always feel the need to keep opportunities open, and it’s also borderline arrogance. I’m definitely not so good that I can afford to start acting like that.

However, I do remember from my business days that there are sales you don’t want to make, and sometimes you just need to walk away. In this case there are two other magazines that I can submit to. They are not necessarily quicker, but they are more professional and it is all laid out beforehand without any words like “we aim to”.  That’s a bit like saying “we often don’t”.

This attitude, of course, is partly due to my involvement with haiku and haibun – those magazines seem to be a bit quicker and more poet-centred in their approach. Many poetry magazines won’t give feedback, and say so in their submission guidelines, one editor even going as far as to say that if you want feedback you should go to a writers’ group. I can’t imagine anything worse than sitting in a room full of writers and having to read my work out. Even salad and exercise seem more attractive.

Rainbow – Spring Evening

The photograph is of a rainbow we saw tonight,. Julia go a shot with her phone which showed it as a double but I was just too late. Unfortunately I can’t download the photo she took so you will have to put up with mine.