Category Archives: writing

Etiquette and Editors and Lifestyle Changes

I’m never quite sure about how to treat editors. I treat them politely, but it’s difficult knowing exactly how to do that. I was brought up not to use first names until I knew someone, but the simple use of Mr or Mrs or Miss or any other simple title is now a politically charged minefield with the capacity for causing great offence, so I try to avoid it.

Talking of that, did you know that the Post office had a set of stamps in 2002 that included a rabbit and the words “a new baby”. I have nightmares about using them on a parcel that goes to someone who, for one reason or another, finds it upsetting. It’s a great stamp for someone who just had a healthy baby but there are are a number of circumstances where it could cause offence.

Anyway, back to editors. Apart from the problem of how to address them, there is the problem of how to reply after they have either accepted or rejected something. I’ve seen mixed advice on this, including several opinions that editors have enough to do without extra emails.

I took that advice to start with, as I don’t want to cause extra work, but after a while it began to seem rude.

Several editors, including one who turned me down this week, go out of their way to tell you that they can’t, or won’t, offer help or advice on your work. Others do offer some comment, which is always a happy extra. I’m happy that they don’t comment (as it isn’t their purpose). I’m not so happy with the ones who make a big thing out of not commenting, as it seems slightly aggressive and negative. Which leaves us with the ones that do comment – it seems rude not to thank them. so I now do that. In general, the most helpful comments seem to come from people who are turning my work down.

That just leaves the question of whether writing anything but a submission looks like an attempt to suck up to an editor. I don’t have a clue about that one, and would be interested to hear from any editors or ex-editors out there who have a view.

I’ll stop there as I am planning a drive North and a pub lunch. They were things that I used to do without thinking eighteen months ago. Now, I’ve had to book, which means I need plans and timings, and I have had to read the website. We can now have a party of any size we like, don’t need to wear masks and don’t need to use track and trace. I have looked at the menu on line and see that they do vegan Fishless Fish and Chips with Crispy Quorn fish style fillets.

Why oh why oh why, as I so often find myself asking, do the producers of vegan food have to align it with meat? Why not just advertise battered slabs of tasteless crap served with chips and peas. Vegans are hardy souls, I’m sure they could take it on the chin with a description of what they are about to be given. Mentioning fish three times in a vegan menu description doesn’t make the Quorn sound better, it just makes me think of succulent flakes of fresh fish in crisp golden batter.

Stone on the Floor

 

 

The Results Are In

This is not really a post, just an exercise in procrastination. I started writing it last night and left it for completion but had an idea for another post before returning to it.  I should be writing some haibun at the moment, but that isn’t going well. I started writing but wandered off to search Gray’s Elegy for a title, and ended up reading Lowell’s For the Union Dead, which is a fine poem but isn’t going to move my haibun forward. On the other hand, twenty minutes of staring into space and chewing a pen didn’t move it forward either.

I am now going to complete the post so that I don’t need to think about actually writing poetry.

It is now twelve months since I decided to take poetry seriously and I am in a position to discuss my 12 month rolling average.

Fifty six submissions made. Twenty eight have been successful, twenty one have been rejected and seven are awaiting a decision. Three of those have very little chance but I have a reasonable chance with the others. Even if none of them are accepted I am still on 50%, which everyone tells me is a good proportion.

This year it’s safe to say that I have written more, managed a publishable standard and have moved slightly out of my comfort zone by venturing into ordinary poetry and tanka, whilst trying a few new magazines.

In truth, I’ve done a little ordinary poetry before, though I did aim reasonably high with my choice of magazine, so I’m happy there. The tanka seem quite successful too, so I need  anew challenge. This year I will consolidate what I am doing (no need to get over-confident) then look for new challenges.

I also have to work on becoming more productive, but for the moment I am off to read about writing better tanka. It beats bashing away at haibun that won’t come, but is all about self-improvement so doesn’t count at procrastination.

 

 

 

Ten Minute Burst

I’m going to try a Ten Minute Burst (TMB). I just read a few blogs on freshening up my writing, and this is what I came up with. I’ve noticed that I can do a post in a short time if I get my head down, so this is really nothing new, but the idea of actually using it as a writing tool is new. I could do two of them in an hour and I reckon that would produce more than many of the hours I spent looking at a blank screen and filling it word by hard-won word.

I think I may already have failed, as I forgot to note my start time. Plus I don’t actually have much of a plan. “Write” is not, it seems, good enough.

A big problem with this plan is, of course, that I have to prevent myself wandering off on the net. True to form, I have spent most of the last hour doing bits of research and rambling off. It’s been fun, but it’s not been much use from the point of view of working on my Ten Minute Burst technique. Clearly tomorrow will be a sterner test as I have a number of things to rewrite before I submit them. If all goes well I have three or four submissions to make in the next week.

It’s a funny thing – I meant to read up on more writing techniques, but then I started writing so much that I forgot to do it. Just one of life’s many ironies.

Web, Mesh or Net?

After a week or so of opening on a different page WP has now gone back to opening on a page I can actually use. By the standards of modern doublespeak this is probably the “new and improved” version. Take something away at random, reinstate it, and, if asked, tell people it is an upgrade.

I had an email about a similar thing. I can, it seems, pay for Jetpack to give me a search function. I already pay enough for a product that is worse than it was when I started, and I thought I already had a search function. First we had lying, then we had marketing, now we have people on the internet who try to sell you stuff you used to get for free. It’s a gradual decline to moral bankruptcy that we already see in our politicians and TV stations (you know – the ones that now call it “Plus 1” when it used to be called “repeats”).

It’s 8.36 and I decided I would have  ago at starting my day with some focus. It nearly worked. I have read my emails and a few blogs but mainly fixed my mind on writing this post. Later I will send a couple of submissions off and then do some housework. Yes, there is so much debris on my writing table that I can’t see the lower edge of the computer screen. I don’t need month old blood test results, used padded envelopes or notebooks from last year. The results will be recycled, the envelopes taken to work (for reuse as packaging) and the notebooks can go into a box until an American University puts in an offer for my papers. Or until Julia makes me throw them out.

That’s good, 8.53. The advantage of having no structure and no research is that blogging (by which I mean dumping the contents of my head on a page) can be quite quick.

This is in contrast to submitting poetry, where I am about to spend twenty minutes deciding whether to use “web” or “mesh” or “net” . . .

It’s not easy being a poet.

A Worse Thing than Being Accepted

I didn’t realise there was anything worse than being accepted, until yesterday.

I’ve just had an acceptance and I am very annoyed. In fact at one point I was filled with rage. I sent in three haibun, each one elegantly and interestingly crafted and probably some of the best work I have ever done. I also sent in seven tanka to make the numbers up and see how the tanka are going. I’ve only just started writing them and have had one accepted, so they seem to be hitting the mark. However, they are just lightweight 5 line poems compared to the more serious business of writing haibun. They are also, let’s face it, a lot easier than haiku – two extra lines and fewer rules make for a more relaxed writing experience.

You can see where this is heading already, can’t you?

None of the haibun were required and one of the tanka was accepted. My first reaction was disbelief, then, as read the email again (because I’d clearly missed something first time) extreme annoyance.  I’d just spent the best part of a year on the haibun, editing, cutting, polishing and letting them mature (all the stuff you are supposed to do), and they were tossed to one side in favour of something that took me five minutes.

However, after sleep and breakfast I’m looking on it as just one more manifestation of the mystery of interaction with editors. I will put it down to experience, use it for the basis of a blog post and, eventually use it in  a magazine article about rejection. But most of all I will look at my work critically and try to work out why it took a year to produce a bad haibun. I used to be able to that in twenty minutes. I’m getting slower  . . .

 

When Alliteration Goes Bad . . .

I’m not sure what I’ve done, but I seem to have a new page when I start WP, giving me the chance to savour the whole WP experience. I don’t just a blog to write and people to see, I now have a few extra buttons and the sense that something random just happened. Good old WP, always something new and confusing.

We will be starting Numismatic Society meetings at the end of the summer, unless, of course, we have to cancel them again. It has been tricky organising speakers but the Secretary has done a sterling job (he is also the shop owner, so I have to say that) and some of the talks do look quite interesting. It will be nice to get back towards normal. It’s a big room and we don’t usually have more than 12 members attending, so social distancing won’t be a problem. The Banknote Society is also starting meetings but their Secretary has decided that they should limit it to ten members, and they have to apply for a place. I can see that causing some annoyance.

As I have said before – people who like making rules have loved  lockdown.

And that brings me onto the subject of alliteration. Apparently I have to practice it if I want to be a poet (another gem from that book I was telling you about). Unless you want to be a haiku poet, where alliteration and poetic devices are frowned upon. Well, that’s what they tell you. In fact some haiku editors are quite happy with alliteration. I’ve even seen it mentioned favourably when they have been picking their favourites. There is no consistency.

Anyway, as i left Julia at work I spotted two magpies in the road – clearly parent and child. The words “fat, fluffy fledgling” came to my mind, but they don’t work well, they are not alliterative, they are just  tongue-twister about a flat fluffy fledgling or, more confusingly a fat fluffy fedgling. I really don’t know what’s wrong with it, but I can’t make it fit a poem, there’s just something wrong with the words. Strange, isn’t it?

Magpie

 

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.

 

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.