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My love affair with prose and poetry goes back seven decades, encouraged by visits to a local library and the Concise Oxford Dictionary. My other diversions in the early days were a radio and a piano, encouraging both listening and playing. I discovered a facility to mimic voices and to remember tunes. Later I taught myself to type, which served me well when of working age. I read avidly from Plato to Peter Cheyney, from Enid Blyton to Graham Greene.
My fondness for poetry in particular was mainly with the 20th century poets, not forgetting Edward Lear and Ogden Nash, both of whom chimed with my sense of the ridiculous. It has been tempting to overcrowd poems with descriptive vocabulary, but I discovered that it is often better to be concise and economical rather than too florid.I took up photography as a brief career and have always been committed to express myself through that medium. I have recently self published a book of 1960s photographs and followed that up with one of ink sketches based on some of them plus poems on railway themes.
My career as a musician has sharpened my awareness of timing and rhythm and I will often use the voices of the famous if it helps give humour to a poem. Experiencing the pandemic lockdown has given impetus I believe to express inner experiences at zoom meetings. Though there is no substitute for a live audience, it has been of great benefit to bring a wider readers and listeners together.
My wife Lynn has been a constant support and critic of my work, whenever I have had the humility to involve her. I must also thank Janice and Donall Dempsey who have been so instrumental in the fostering of my efforts.
Ray Pool is the author of A History Nailed Down (2017) and Tales of the Unacceptable (2018).
Richard Hawtree: Why I Write
When Beowulf and his men arrive in Denmark to help Hrothgar defeat the murderous monster Grendel we read: ‘Stræt wæs stanfah, stig wisode / gumum ætgædere.’ (ll. 320–21a). This sentence from the great early medieval poem Beowulf can be translated: ‘The road was paved, the path guided the men together.’ These words are not celebrated lines from the Anglo-Saxon epic, but they encapsulate what I admire when I read poetry and what I aim for when I write it. They possess a rhythmic balance and linguistic economy reflecting the confidence and purposefulness of those warriors. The men do not simply march along the road, the mysterious stone path itself guides them.
To my mind, writing a poem can feel very like walking that road in Beowulf: a path that is absolutely practical and yet somehow magical too. When I write, I’m keen to engage with the literary traditions and languages of the past (those ancient paving stones) but I also want to arrive somewhere new and to take readers or listeners there with me. I don’t expect to reach the radical clarity of George Herbert’s summation of prayer as: ‘The land of spices; something understood’ or the precise simplicity of Sylvia Plath’s opening line in ‘Morning Song’: ‘Love set you going like a fat gold watch.’ Yet the more I read the greater nourishment there will be for the journey.
As well as hunting for linguistic clarity in my reading, I try to relish the sheer difficulty of the writing process. I find the act of translating poetry from Latin especially helpful in this struggle. In a wonderful poem by Catullus (68) we hear the sound of a long-awaited lover’s sandal (her ‘arguta … solea’) squeaking on the threshold in language that powerfully combines wit and eroticism. Literary moments like this motivate me to read and write poetry.
And now I must return to that stone road. In Beowulf it leads to the hall of Heorot, the poem’s great symbol of light and hope in the face of overwhelming violence and evil. At line 311 the Beowulf-poet says of this hall: ‘lixte se leoma ofer landa fela.’ (‘Its light shone over many lands.’) This is what necessary poetry sounds like. I’m off to read some more.
Richard Hawtree is the author of The Night I Spoke Irish in Surrey
HOW I WRITE
Peter Ualrig Kennedy writes on his work
What an opportunity to contribute to Janice and Dónall’s new blog, with “no pressure and no deadline”! Sometimes people have indeed asked how do I write a poem. A question for which I have had no ready answer, except to say that when an idea pops into my head, I write it down. No pressure, but the first morning after receiving the invitation, I woke up and grabbed a sheaf of scrap paper – mostly the backs of old envelopes – and wrote down roughly what follows.
In my head it seems that I am always speaking to myself, building word pictures, looking for allusions, searching for similes, words tumbling over themselves. Such trains of thought are frequently evanescent, they fade as a dream fades on waking – unless there is pen and paper to hand. Which is exactly what is happening to these present thoughts which I am writing down while they are fresh and new. If I do not write them down, they may disappear, floating away downstream to wherever forgotten thoughts go to, leaving no trace. In trying to describe what happens when I write, I am attempting to make concrete that which may not be something that can be made concrete; in sculpting my thoughts into some semblance of solidity I may be manufacturing a chimera. Is this truly how my thought processes and writing work in practice, or am I making solid a fantasy? Perhaps everybody thinks in this way, but how am I to tell? Perhaps I am a muddle-headed romantic. Perhaps I have been fooling myself that my thoughts and my writings are of some significance when in fact they are the empty droolings of a literary naif. Here begin to crowd in the anxieties, the self-defeating worries that these musings – or more importantly the verses, the stories, the poems that I write – are of little interest, of no merit. Why should anyone wish to read them? Other writers, other poets, I suppose, may feel this way some of the time. Or most of the time. But we still plough on, bringing our words into the lives of others.
And here, gentle reader, I can vow solemnly to you that the preceding paragraph has turned out to be almost exactly as I set it down early that morning. A real life demonstration of how it’s done …
Peter Ualrig Kennedy is the author of Songs for a Daughter and the lead organiser at POETRY WIVENHOE http://poetrywivenhoe.org
WHY I WRITE: Kathryn Southworth
Why I write
My mother had a way of finding things
dropped, discarded, somehow lost
or disregarded –
necklaces in the street, sometimes, or rings.
I call it rescuing,
recognising, making radiant,
a warming into life, an issuing forth,
a birthing, realising when
to let go
when it truly lives,
the flow leading to somewhere else
you didn’t know
be it a place, a person, you yourself,
the face that meets you
every now and then
when you pick up a pen.
Kathryn Southworth's pamphlet No Man's Land was published by Dempsey & Windle in 2020, and she collaborated with Belinda Singleton on Wavelengths in 2019.
Jenna Plewes: Why I write poetry
My father was always quoting poems and fragments of poems. I started with his four volumes of the Georgian Poets, his Walt Whitman, Other Men’s Flowers. I read more widely, found poetry that moved me, made me see the world afresh, that glowed on the page - Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, Mary Oliver, Yeats, Seamus Heaney, Robert Frost.
I’d always written poems for special occasions, and Christmas letters. When I retired a friend persuaded me to join a creative writing group and take writing seriously. The course was for prose and I wrote short stories and a novella. However, I found that I preferred the discipline and economy of poetry, the hunt for the right word for right place, the cutting away to find the essence of the poem – like a sculpture chiselled out of a block of marble. I’m a potter, when a poem begins to take shape it’s like feeling the clay becoming centred on the wheel; there’s the same excitement.
I enjoy poetry courses and workshops and belonging to poetry groups. I’ve learnt by reading a wide range of contemporary poetry, sharing poetry with generous poetry buddies who give honest criticism and encouragement, by just doing it.
Over the last 10 years I’ve had 7 collections published. I love shaping a collection, working with an editor, holding the finished book in my hands.
I get itchy if I haven’t written anything for a few days. Worries and problems around me fade away; it’s an escape into another world. I can find an hour has gone by and I’ve a page of crossings out and one line worth keeping. I’ve a pictorial imagination and began by writing about the natural world, unspoiled, wild places I’ve visited. This led on to writing about my childhood, and family relationships, about being a wife and a mother. I was a counsellor and psychotherapist working in General Practice for many years and this has always coloured my writing; the stepping into someone’s shoes, being with them as they find their way forward, sharing their journey for a short while. In my latest book I’ve wanted to celebrate courage, resilience and kindness, the unexpected, unspectacular joys that are there if we stop and pay attention.
Why do I write? it’s time consuming, frustrating, addictive, my poems are never good enough but it’s fulfilling, makes me happy.
Jenna Plewes' collection The Salt & Sweet of Memory was published by Dempsey & Windle in 2020
Portrait or Landscape, Art or Life?
Photographs by Douglas Duke
It’s really no surprise if I tell you that I love words. Words are my tools for painting the pictures that I always longed to paint and somehow never could. The first examination I ever failed was art. My love of artworks endures, however, and I have produced a collection of poems inspired by them, ekphrastic poems as they are now called. Word portraits of family, friends and unsuspecting passers-by also flow from my pen; my first poetry pamphlet, Conversations, published in 2021 by Dempsey & Windle, is full of them. But landscapes tempt me too. The natural world calls to me and I struggle to capture it in words, preferably in situ: ‘Life, stand still here’ to quote Virginia Woolf, one of my favourite authors.
In our home we have a superfluity of things. We are amazed how they accumulate. But in my heart I am a minimalist. The problem is that sometimes I love words too much. My prose writing tends towards the verbose. As Woolf once said, ‘The truth is only to be had by laying together many varieties of error.’ Nothing is black and white in my world. I am a colourist. There is always another shade but I am not keen on grey.'
Poetry is my way of exploring minimalism. Aberystwyth University’s Lifelong Learning programme introduced me to both imagist poetry and haiku. The Imagist movement lasted only a few years but reading poems by T.E. Hulme, William Carlos Williams, Richard Aldington and others had a lasting effect on my own writing. Released from formal rhyming patterns and rhythms and learning to create sharp, bright images with a minimum of words, I was in my element. An exploration into the Japanese form of haiku took me further, allowing me to combine my love of nature and the seasons with the necessity to pare down language to an absolute minimum. Three lines, comprised of only seventeen syllables, focusses the mind! A friend introduced me to a haiku challenge she was following—one haiku a day for a month. Joining in, I was hooked. A year — and a lockdown or two — later I was still writing and had completed an entire Haiku Journal of 366 haiku (2020 was a leap year). That discipline of making every word count has stayed with me.
Julia Duke is the author of Conversations (2021, Dempsey & Windle)
For further information:
MARK G. PENNINGTON
What, why and how I write
Thinking about the question of what I write – the message, hoping I have something to say, then the question of how I write – presenting the idea, even though it is probably only a reimagining of an event, in explanation: the same story but from a different perspective or another angle, leads me to the question of why I write. I suppose it is this very challenge mostly – the reimagining of events or some grotesque act of nature, or it is finding words or a place for things that were previously neglected growing up. It is the naming of things – a creature, bird, an object, a rock, a river, and so on.
I always admired the writers who produced a great quantity of work as well as quality. Take Bukowski with forty plus books or the sheer weight of Ginsberg’s howls, as well as the romantic ideas of terror and pain of Plath – so turbulent and wonderfully beautiful, confessional and visceral. I like to write in this way – with the addition of nature’s war against us – the us being the occupiers of Earth always posing questions and figuring how we both fit in it together.
A motivation is perhaps a new way of seeing. I read as much as I write or think about writing, every day for hours on end. After a mid-morning walk I tend to read for a few hours, absorbing the language, the word play, the ideas until it sparks something. I find rereading after a break can surprise and motivate a rewrite. I have to say that rewriting is the most important part of the process. Working the rough draft into something publishable is the part I gear myself up for. Imagining an audience reaction – a writing group, an editor – works to situate the writing into a belonging and reading aloud helps work out issues.
I write for those aches in life, the itch that couldn’t be scratched previously, the places that never left me, all reimagined in a poem or a novel.
I’m currently writing new work drawing on one specific event, one place that haunts me like no other has. But it is purgative to breathe all this in and expel it to the page, and wonder what is coming next.
Mark G Pennington is the author of Barren Stories for Moonlit Mannequins (2017) and That Summer they broke the Birds (2019), both availible from him, from amazon.co.uk, from bookshops and from https://www.dempseyandwindle.com/markgpennington.html
Patrick B. Osada: My Poetry
I suppose poetry has always been with me. As a small child my mother taught me nursery rhymes and read poetry to me. Looking back, I realise how wide a choice of children’s poetry I enjoyed.
However, as an early teenager, I was only interested in sport, any kind of reading – let alone poetry – was viewed as a chore and imposition. My saviour was a teacher called C.A.Broome who introduced me to the poets of the First World War as part of my “O” level English course. Suddenly the poems of Rosenburg, Thomas, Blunden and, particularly, Owen, Sassoon, and Henry Reed totally captured my interest and imagination. I realised that poetry could move me in a special way…and, by my late teens, I was hooked and starting to write poetry of my own.
In the first instance, I write for myself – to satisfy this strange compulsion to express myself in a written form. A lot of my early poems were not shared with anyone. Eventually, I mustered the courage to show my work to family and friends, then to seek publication.
I don’t write poetry on a daily basis. I am not one of those writers who works to a timetable, I only write when inspiration and compulsion demand. For me, poetry is a bit like a major illness – stopping normal life and demanding my full attention when it strikes…
Anything can act as a prompt to write. Usually a thought, idea or experience will work away in my mind (like grit in an oyster) and start to form the basis for a poem. When this happens I need to quickly jot down words, phrases or lines that come to mind, together with notes (a “storyboard”) of what I want to say. Once this is done I can usually translate this material into a poem… but if I fail to undertake this process the poem evaporates! Consequently I have been known to get up in the middle of the night to write…
I agree with Philip Larkin’s excellent description of what motivates the writing of a poem, it is …”to construct a verbal device that would preserve an experience indefinitely by reproducing it in whoever read the poem.”
Patrick B Osada is the author of 'Changes' and 'How the Light Gets In' and other poetry collections. His own website has information and a selection of his poems: www.poetry-patrickosada.co.uk
Greg Freeman: Why I write
After dropping out of university after just one year – 50 years ago! - I didn’t really know what to do with my life, but started trying to write a novel, feeling that I might be better at being an observer rather than a participant, somehow. Within a few months I was lucky enough to land a job as a junior reporter on my local paper. Some years later I switched from being a reporter to working as a sub-editor, hoping that it would help my unsuccessful novel writing.
Sub-editing should involve condensing words to their essence, getting rid of anything that is unnecessary. Very much like poetry. An English teacher notorious for getting benignly intoxicated in the pub at lunchtime introduced us to the Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse in the fourth form. Then there was The Mersey Sound, that inspirational anthology of Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten, that opened up poetry to so many young people. No reflection on those three, but I wrote fairly awful adolescent poetry for two years, and gave it up when I went to uni. I didn’t take poetry up again until joining a creative writing group in 2004.
My latest pamphlet collection, The Fall of Singapore, marks the fulfilment of an ambition to tell my father’s story that stretches back more than three decades. Soon after he died in 1989 I went to the Imperial War Museum and asked to see war veterans’ accounts of the Death Railway. I tried writing a novel, but that didn’t work. I attempted to encapsulate the whole thing in a short story which made the shortlist at a Guildford literary festival competition. I wrote a sestina about the Death Railway called ‘Learning By Heart’ which was commended in a Wilfred Owen Association competition. Around the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, a poet friend suggested I publish a sequence. I thought no more about it until late last year when I realised the 80th anniversary of Singapore was fast approaching.
It’s thanks in great measure to Dempsey & Windle, who have turned it all around with remarkable sympathy and speed, that it has finally happened. At the heart of the collection is the experience of those prisoners of war in Thailand. My book is intended as a tribute to them all – to those who survived, and to those who sacrificed their lives.
Greg Freeman is the author of Marples Must Go! (VOLE Books, 2021) and The Fall of Singapore (Dempsey & Windle 2020)
Trisha Broomfield's INSPIRATION
Other poets have always been a great source of inspiration and support, and being accepted as a fellow poet rather than just someone who writes is a great confidence boost. I have learnt a lot from others about different poetry forms and fallen in love with, amongst others, kyrielles, writing a dozen about our ongoing ill-fated building work. A visiting cat, now almost a resident, features in many, as does an imaginary crocodile (well we were flooded).
What inspires me to write? Memories often float to the surface to be embellished and stretched, or news items (usually misheard as I am busy cooking dinner). I once marvelled at the, ‘Slug Defences’ planned by the Government, thinking that with all the rain on my vegetable patch what a brilliant idea it was, until I heard the item again and realised that they had planned merely, ‘Flood Defences’. Sometimes I overhear things in queues, like the woman who told her friend she was wearing two corsets as one had no elastic left. As a result of this I scribble on anything to hand at the time from shopping lists to the backs of what can be important documents, which then become mysteriously misfiled.
Competitions focus the mind, and my mind needs a focus and usually a deadline otherwise poems sprout and seed like dandelions in my overactive imagination. Humour seeks an outlet and I find a sense of the ridiculous helps.
Recording regular poems for local radio helped me through the first Lockdown and panic of Covid. Knowing someone receives your words is satisfying, why else do we write? As the Zoom days replaced live readings and meeting over a glass of wine became but a misty memory, reaching out and sharing became even more important. Of course Zoom removed most of my pre performance nerves, though when I had to stand up on stage after a year of sitting smugly in front of a screen wearing a smart top and scruffy jeans, nerves returned. What also returned though was the love of live reading I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed sharing my work this way.
I find it hard not to write so please don’t ask what happens on those rare occasions when I can not. Writers’ block, thankfully, doesn’t visit often but when it does, like most writers I imagine, I feel bereft.
Trisha Broomfield is the author of three poetry pamphlets published by Dempsey & Windle. Her facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/TrishaJBroomfield
This is a blog written by Dempsey & Windle poets about their inspiration for writing poetry