Tag Archives: poetry

Learning to Spell Annaghmakerrig

An autumn blue sky at Annaghmakerrig. I know, right?

I’m at the end of a week’s writing retreat at the lovely Tyrone Guthrie Centre in County Monaghan.  Annaghmakerrig, that’s the place.

Lucky me to have such privilege, to have been here three times this year, each time with a huge creative burst which I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Autumn mushrooms – magic or what?

I came to try to finish the novel I started in February, and while I’ve done a lot more than I expected, I’m  managing not to put too much emphasis on daily word counts. The story is all done now, the characters and plotting sorted, I’m just filling in gaps and editing. And I have a title: ‘Three Ways to Lie’.  I’m not sure if talking about it will jinx me or spur me on to finish? We’ll see.

But while novel-writing is going on, my poet head keeps getting in the way. I’m not sure what prompted me to bring five years’ worth of notebooks to look through, but I’m glad I did.  I found unfinished poems I’d written about my childhood relationship with Catholicism, and they are now turning into a sequence of poems about religion. Bit serious for me, but there are a few light touches. There has to be if it’s my writing.

Then there has been wildlife to distract me.

A glass act

An enormous wasp paid a visit to my room not long after I arrived. It was probably already there, lying in wait. I’m not quite as terrified of wasps as I used to be (and I’ve no idea why I should be afraid of them, I’ve never been stung) but I’d rather they didn’t get up close and personal.

When normal rules apply, I just shriek for assistance and move myself to another room while someone else deals with the invasion. This time I was on my own with no-one to call (I’ve been going it alone in the self-catering cottages).

Keeping my nerve, I found a large (empty!) Guinness glass in the kitchen and used a stray copy of some battered poetry book, ‘Beyond the Green Bridge’, to urge the wasp into captivity before releasing it outside (in the rain – ha!). I don’t kill creatures like that unless they are threatening the general well-being of me and mine, me being of the live-and-let-live persuasion (with the notable exception of certain parasites, like tape worms and fleas – and rats who try to take up residence in my house).

Spot the heron. Did I mention it is autumn?

The wasp was the first of several wildlife encounters. A little wren flew in through the open window, landed on the writing desk (not the one I was sitting at), looked at me and flew out again. Then I went for a walk and surprised a lovely big grey heron fishing for his dinner. I was slow to get the camera out so he’s just a shadowy blur on the image as he took flight, but I know he’s there.

I’ve also seen jays, lots of other birds I can’t identify, swans in flight, a flock of teal, and best of all, three red squirrels burying beech nuts. They didn’t see me at first and I was afraid to move and switch on the camera, so I’ve not much photographic evidence.

Just as well really, because I should be writing, not looking at photographs, even squirrel ones.

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Not Quite Bananas

Just when my nerve starts to waver and I wonder what the hell I’m doing with my life, my muse knocks on the door and presents me with a cup of Earl Grey.

Or he sends a WhatsApp message with an old photo to encourage me out of hiding from under the table (again).

It doesn’t stop me wondering what it’s all about (oh boy, do I have a lot of poems about the meaning of life?) but it allows for satisfying recall of some of the thrills and spills of a life (so far) well lived. A life I’m especially grateful to be living right here, right now, with someone who gives a damn (OK, pass the sick bucket).

That lap cat look

So. Hot beverage, lap cat and poetry pamphlet proofs to hand. What else should I be doing on a sunny afternoon, other than proff reading? (Dammit, I hate proof reading.)

Here’s a Kinks song that comes to mind.  Nothing to do with proofs. You’re welcome.

How about baking an apple and cinnamon sponge pudding when I should be writing/reading/proof reading? Obviously, because I’m a such a soft touch (more of that later).

My recent journals are groaning with the weight of angst about what is the point of everything/anything?  But a quick flick through past personal journals shows me nothing’s new. I’ve been fretting about being a human bean for SO long.

It helps if I can turn some of my experiences into poems, of course. Then the satisfying bit is finding a connection with readers who get what I’ve written.

pub lou
No, it isn’t Photoshopped

When I sat down to write a poem about how my mother never listened to me, I had no idea the words would take me as far as they have. The poem, ‘Fur Coat and No Knickers’, has had several incarnations, but I think it still resonates with a lot of people who have relatives in care homes, particularly parents who once might have had notions of grandeur.

That poem is included in a new pamphlet due out in February 2019, when I will be published as one of Dame Carol Ann Duffy’s Laureate’s Choice poets (OMG that still sounds so amazing for me to write!). It’s the one I’m supposed to be proof reading right now.

I chose the title ‘Soft Touch’ because it sums up my view of myself, but it is also the title of a poem in the pamphlet in which I wax lyrical about the sensual feel of knitted cotton. The knicker gusset and tight-fit men’s boxers kind.

apple sponge
Heck, now I’m taking photos of my food I’ll have to turn to Instagram. And that’s (vegan) custard btw  Its too cold for ice cream

Last week I wrote about the trick to eating a banana in front of a man, a poem which isn’t included in the pamphlet. Just as well really. My muse gets first taste of most of my poems. He said that one definitely isn’t a soft touch…

Now, apple and cinnamon sponge pudding – served with custard or ice cream?

 

Rolling Stones

For the day that’s in it: Happy Halloween.

Musicians, artists, dancers, writers – there are goodly numbers of creative types who can’t get it together until they’ve a few drinks taken, or smoked something, or popped a few pills. Or at the very least, taken on  board a gallon of coffee to get the creative juices flowing.

A piece of purple amethyst is said to banish headaches and promote sleep. But it won’t write your novel for you, no matter how nicely you ask.

In my case its crystals.

There I’ve said it. I am a (sometimes frequent) user of healing crystals to enhance my creative prowess. I know, I know – Dumbo and his feather.

Actually, I’m not sure crystals do anything more than focus my mind on what’s already there – but I like to think they help with the transference of head-stuff onto paper. And at the very least, they’re attractive to look at, and nice to handle.

I rarely suffer from writer’s block – my problem is how to finish a project before I’m on to the next thing. Which is one of the reasons I like poetry and short stories so much – perfectly formed pieces of writing, complete in their brevity, and possible to finish in a limited time-frame.  I’ve come to this conclusion as I struggle to complete the novel or two I’ve been working on for way longer than is seemly. But that’s another story (ha!).

My own collection of crystals and gemstones was started back in the last millennium when I ran ‘Rock of Ages’ (way before Tom Cruise made a film of that title).

Amethyst for insomnia, jet to fend off  emotional vampires, amber for general protection, aventurine for good fortune, quartz for clear thinking, lapis lazuli for creativity, blue lace agate for communication, carnelian for grounding. Lots of different crystals, and just as many theories as to what each one has in the way of power.

No, I don’t know, either

It sounds a bit far-fetched, but apparently, when our forefathers found life too fast and furious, they took time out with clear quartz – rock crystal – finding it beneficial to clear the mind for meditation and prayer.  That was before the rhythmic pulsing of quartz was recognised and then harnessed to make quartz watches and clocks.

And who would think that a piece of purple rock could help beat insomnia? That would be amethyst, known for its relaxing qualities,  useful for soothing tension headaches.

I know scary, right?

Amber, 60 million-year-old fossilised pine tree resin, is one of the earliest materials used by man to carve sacred amulets to guard against illness and misfortune, still a favourite crystal for protection against ill health. Many asthma, rheumatism and arthritis sufferers swear by amber’s anti-inflammatory abilities. I confess that I haven’t experienced this effect of amber myself, although my late father (a card-carrying sceptic) wore a big chunk of polished amber on a cord around his neck in his battle with arthritis.

My favourite of all though is jet, another fossil, this time the 180 million-year-old remains of Jurassic monkey puzzle trees.  Jet was popularised by the Victorians, who made jewellery and artefacts from this light-weight, shiny black material, copying the Romans before them who carried jet to banish evil.  Many people nowadays have discovered how effective jet is at warding off psychic attack.  Emotional bullies and those exhausting people who can leave you drained after only a few minutes’ contact, no longer have effect if jet is carried for protection.

I’m rarely without a piece of jet on my person – most of my favourite pieces were collected on the beach near Whitby in North Yorkshire and painstakingly polished by hand.

Back in the day when polishing stones was something I did when I really should have been writing.

 

Say It Again, Sam

In memory of summer, since the clocks went back today and evenings are now SO long…

Some writing is best heard rather than read.  That goes for poems, too. Especially mine. Some of them work out loud, others don’t.

I’ve been fortunate this week to have had the opportunity to read my poetry to large enough audiences, first at The Word in Sligo Library (an open mic) and then in Galway at the launch of the Crannóg Magazine.

Same poem. Different audiences. Same response (a puzzled silence before the polite applause).

It’s one of those poems you need to look at on the page, perhaps savour a little. It’s yet another poem inspired by one of my parents (oh yes, they tuck you up, your Mum and Dad…). This one is called ‘Beacon’ (which was the name of our first hot air balloon many years ago, although that’s totally irrelevant here. You’re welcome). The poem concerns a stone I use as a paperweight which reminds me of my late father and wet weather holidays in Wales when I was a child.

The poem appears in Crannóg 49, which is an excellent compilation of contemporary Irish fiction and poetry with work from writers whose work I know, including Kevin Higgins, Mari Maxwell, Ruth Quinlan, Una Mannion and others, as well as some writers I’m not yet familiar with.

The poem ‘Beacon’ is one of those included in ‘Soft Touch’, my forthcoming poetry pamphlet, chosen by Carol Ann Duffy for her Laureate’s Choice series  2019.

Another poem from that pamphlet, ‘Roots’, appeared recently in an Irish poetry anthology that I’m very pleased to be included in, The Stony Thursday Book, again with a stellar cast of contributors, including Louis de Bernières, author of ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’.  I was particularly pleased with my inclusion in this annual anthology, since I’ve tried several times before to be included, but failed.

I’m always banging on to my writing group members how important it is to be able to take rejection with a pinch of salt. It goes with the territory. Just because your work isn’t accepted by one editor doesn’t mean it isn’t any good, just that it wasn’t right this time for that publication or competition. Try again. Re-write and try again.

For a few months I’ve been getting rejection after rejection for work I’ve submitted to competitions and literary magazines. I was particularly sour about one high profile publication I didn’t get into this summer, but I got over it. I only cried myself to sleep once, although I did stop writing for a while (I think it was a whole 24 hours) because my fragile ego could barely cope.

As if.

I’m champion of denial that one size fits all. It doesn’t, and so don’t try to make it. As I just said, try again. Re-write and try again. If you like it, someone else will too, I promise.

One of my Hennessy winning poems had done the rounds, been accepted, rejected, re-written and all, but I had enough faith in it to keep going, and thankfully persistence paid off.  That poem was ‘Fur Coat and No Knickers’ which took third place in the 2016 Strokestown Roscommon Poets’ Competition, and was published in Crannóg Magazine 43, before I read it out at a Tŷ Newydd Poetry Masterclass with Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke last year. I came home and re-wrote it (again), re-submitted – and look what happened.

You can see what here  and here

and (some might say) the best bit? Here 🙂

Fake Muse

Kittens are inspiring, aren’t they? But I said ‘Muse’ not ‘Mews’…

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told I shouldn’t wait for inspiration to strike before I sit down to write. Successful writers just get on with it, regardless of how inspired they feel.

Being precious about having the right pen, desk, light, music et al is all very well, but sometimes, good ideas can be genuinely hard to come by. And that has nothing to do with the so-called ‘Writers’ Block’.

Which is why I’m often to be found in writers’ groups and workshops.

As well as knowing I’m likely to come away with a new take on some aspect of the writing process, I enjoy mixing with like-minded people to get the creative juices flowing. There’s often a valuable exchange of information and a different view of a familiar topic, too.

Sometimes I find the deadlines presented by journal and magazine submission windows, or literary competitions will help focus my writing mind, and I’ll often use the prompts for competitions as inspiration, even if I don’t end up sending in an entry.

All those books waiting to be written…

Like most people, I don’t have anyone cracking a whip to make me write, and I’ve no muse (fake or genuine) to kindle my writing fire, just a compulsive desire to keep on writing.

If you’d like some inspiration and think competition prompts might help, here’s a few links below to start you on your way.

And ‘Fake Muse’? Well,  I think I might have once harboured dreams of becoming a Sun headline writer…

  • Here’s a good one (which I’ve never entered because it takes me longer than a week to polish a poem to perfection, although I’ll often use the prompts): Ó Bhéal Five Words International Poetry Competition. Every Tuesday  until  January 29th 2019, five words are posted on the competition page. Entrants have one week to compose and submit one or more poems which include all five words for that week.
  • If you’re not inspired by SOMETHING on this comprehensive list of writing opportunities by Angela Carr I would humbly suggest you ain’t doing it right (or write?)
  • Another long list of writing opportunities in the UK, Ireland and further afield here
  • Its not wasting time trawling through this site for inspiration. Its called ‘research’ and you’re sure to find something of interest:  writing.ie
  • More essential reading if you want to be a writer – Paul McVeigh‘s mix of opportunities and examples of published excellence

There are zillions more of course, but these are my top five. Good luck!

Name That Thing

Lou. No, not that one. The one staying in a room with a chaise longue.

Do you ever wonder how names get attached to things? I mean, who decides?

Obviously, your parents have a bit of a say in your name when you are a child. I went through a phase of shortening my name to ‘Lou’, which used to make my mother cringe. Even now, I have friends (does a husband count as a friend?) who call me Lou, although I tend to introduce myself as ‘Louise’. Lou Cole sounds like some sort of drain cleaner or an energy drink, perhaps. Not a poet who had a pub named after her for a whole weekend (ha!).

And I have that mad thing going on with the ‘G’ in the middle of my moniker.

I don’t know if anyone remembers me more because of the G-string story. You know the one: I Googled myself a while back and discovered Louise Cole is an underwear model.  She’s still there, I checked to save you the bother (you’re welcome).

But if you add in the G (for Gillian, if you really want to know), Google finds me, too. It is a gift of a story to serve as an icebreaker at poetry readings, although I sense some of my friends are getting weary of it now, it’s been done to death.

Meanwhile, I’ve been pondering how objects get names, as do other less tangible things. Like Petrichor. It’s the word used to label the smell of the earth after rain, a word first coined in the 1960s.

I find myself wondering what it was called before then? Surely it is a phenomenon not exclusive to the 20th and 21st centuries?  And it isn’t just a smell, either. Go out after rain and Petrichor is not just a scent, it’s a complete sensory experience, certainly out in the countryside (you might not get the same effect in the city, though). It is everything: sight, sound, taste, touch as well as smell. Petrichor? No, the word doesn’t do it justice. I want to find a new name, something fancier and more majestic, but I’m at a loss to know what. Still, I’ve wrestled a poem out of the notion, so it’s not all bad…

Names, and who they are attached to, have me perplexed this week as I meet so many new people and try to put the right combinations together. I’m getting better.  By the end of the week I might have it cracked.

I opened the windows in case Miss Worby needed more air

I’m on retreat (yes, I know I should be writing. Well, I AM writing, sort of) at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in County Monaghan (thank you Roscommon County Council!). I waxed lyrical about Annaghmakerrig when I was here in February; this is a different experience as I’m staying in the Big House (no, not THAT one).

The surroundings are luxurious, the food lush, the Miss Worby ghost stories hair-raising, inspiration is flowing, and the company is interesting, but my favourite bit has to be walking in the lovely grounds (450 acres of them).

Being August, there are plenty of rain showers, so I’m getting countless opportunities to experience Petrichor first hand. But I still want to call it something else. Yes, but what?

On Shedding Layers of Trepidation

It’s tomorrow. TOMORROW? Eek! I have done all the preparation I can, now I just have to wait and see if anyone turns up. I had no idea a book launch could be so nerve-wracking, or is it wrecking? Or racking? Who cares?

My book of 60 poems, ‘Beyond the Green Bridge’, materialised earlier this year, before I won the Hennessy, and was as much about me getting my name out there as anything. Well, that worked a treat, and I had a first launch at Strokestown International Poetry Festival in May. I’m not sure that many people noticed – there were around 80 poets doing their thing over the course of that weekend, so I was easy to miss. But I was/am OK with that.

This time, it’s just me, at Boyle Arts Festival, introduced by Jane Clarke (and I’m not going to gush, everyone knows what a poetry star she is, and how lucky am I to nab her!).

If you are curious to know more, here’s a link to the event at Boyle Arts Festival. Come along, if you can, 4pm, Thursday July 26th 2018 in King House, Boyle, County Roscommon. Free admission. I might need some folk to make up the numbers. You might even like to buy the book – it’s a snip at a tenner. And like they say in that ad, when they’re gone they’re gone. I’ve half a box left, and that’s the lot, there are no plans to print more.

Meanwhile, if you can’t come along to hear me waffling on about how I came to write ‘Fur Coat and No Knickers’, you may like to watch  a video instead. This is at  Coole Park, Lady Gregory’s place in County Galway made famous by her friend WB Yeats. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to do a reading in such a poetic location, so here I am, sandwiched between some proper poets who haven’t noticed an imposter in their midst… This Water Has Passion  (I’m at about 20:55, if you’re in a hurry. And ‘Fur Coat’ isn’t included, sorry.)

Now. Trepidation. That’s a good word, isn’t it? Sounds like there should be a poem in it.