Tag Archives: poetry

The Walking Unread

A selection of the anthologies and journals I need to get around to reading…

I’m not usually looking for something to read – my bedside table groans under the weight of many  books, and I’ve often my nose in several tomes at once (I’ve the right shaped nose for such feats). And I admit to being swayed by the hype from social media when there’s something new everyone’s talking about (hello Booker longlist), so the to-be-read pile is ever-growing.

Twenty poets in here, including me!

But one day last week I plucked from the heap of unreads an anthology I have a story in. Not a recent one, but one from last year which I hadn’t bothered to finish before. And wow! What lot of lovely new writing. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but…

I’m probably not the only writer who opens a newly-arrived anthology to check what the publisher has done with my work. I’ll then run through the other names in the index and if there’s no-one familiar, set the book aside for another time. Which often never comes (mea culpa).

In the last five years I’ve appeared in 29 print anthologies and journals, which adds up to a lot of reading material. I’ve put myself forward for publication like this because its great to see my work in print, and it is supposed to be good for the writing CV, that magic thing known as ‘exposure’, supposedly what publishers look for when they’re considering a writer as a viable investment.

Here’s a recent anthology I’ve nearly finished reading – intriguing stories chosen by Billy O’Callaghan, including one by me

There’s the public validation thing going on as well –  it’s great to know someone likes my writing, someone who isn’t related by blood or marriage.

So, here I am blinking in the bright light after (nearly) putting the final touches to a new collection of poetry, looking for something distracting to do. It has to be something related to the written word of course, although I also enjoy walking, gardening and baking (not all at the same time though).

So what? So I have now tasked myself with getting down to read every word of all the multi-author publications I’m in, a bit ashamed to admit I’ve not done it before, I’ve just dipped in and out.

So here goes. With a following wind, I should be finished by Christmas.

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Concerning the Chopping of Onions

Louise G Cole and Billy Collins
The look of disbelief is hard to disguise. Louise G with Billy Collins

You might know the ‘G’ in my name covers Giddy, Gush and Gabble?

No wonder – I’m trying to decide which part of yesterday’s memorable birthday was the best. Maybe all of it? Coffee and a chat with legendary American poet Billy Collins, then being showered with wonderful gifts when I got home, one of which was a canvas print of a photo from last year’s Hennessy Award.

Even if you don’t like poetry, you’ve gotta be impressed that I had a Dublin pub named after me, if only for a weekend! My lovely family had heard me claiming I was giving up the writing (I lie a lot, that’s what addicts do), and they wanted to remind me what happened last year.

And if you do like poetry, you might be impressed that Billy Collins bought me a coffee and talked to me about poetry, onions, mothers, and other stuff.

This week, alongside another 11 writers, I won a place at the Billy Collins Poetry Workshop at the John Hewitt International Summer School in Armagh, Northern Ireland. Well, just being there was enough to make me giddy (it is easily done) since he’s a former US Poet Laureate and I’ve loved his work for several years now (I’m a late starter here, forgive me). The poem of mine we workshopped was about chopping onions, my mother, and grief (the last two being common themes recently), and that was enough, I was happy to have had my work read by such an iconic modern poet.

Workshop participants were asked what they hoped to get from the session, and I think I gabbled something about wanting advice about being stymied by first winning the Hennessy last year and then being chosen for publication by Carol Ann Duffy (when she was UK Poet Laureate). I’ve hardly written anything since (well, anything I’m ready to share). How to get past that? Later, I was surprised to hear this is not an uncommon experience, and in the Irish idiom, I need to get over myself.

That aside, the workshop taught me a lot about poetic titles, endings and pace, which was invaluable. The next evening was a demonstration of how all that works, as Billy Collins read to a packed, appreciative audience.

I’d never been to the John Hewitt International Summer School before – I’d never been to Armagh either, and discovered it is lovely, even in a heatwave!

The week-long festival was a delight of all things literary, with talks, workshops, performances and readings. There was a pop-up bookshop that accepted plastic (which everyone knows isn’t like spending real money), and I networked my ass off (to coin a phrase). Brilliant!

One highlight was a reading by Kevin Barry, newly longlisted Booker nominee, interviewed by Jan Carson. I’ve just read ‘Night Boat to Tangier’ and found it great entertainment. If you know me, you’d be surprised to hear recommendation of a book I’d described on Twitter as being ‘seedy, sexy, foul-mouthed, intriguing – poetic’. It isn’t for the feint hearted, but oh, the language, the clever turn of phrase, the needle-sharp Irish expressions, the humour. Vile characters so deftly drawn, I found myself caring about what happened to them, which is quite a fiction-writing feat.

I’m probably not going to get sick of this image 🙂

And the other highlight? Yep, as I left yesterday, revealing to Billy Collins it was my birthday, and having him invite me for a coffee and spend 40 minutes chatting about my work. And unexpectedly, him asking me to inscribe a copy of ‘Soft Touch’ for him. No idea if the book is heading America-wards (I appreciate travellers have to carry luggage), but hey, how about that? No wonder I’m giddy and gushing.

And just in case you’ve got this far, the ‘G’ is really for Gillian.

Watch Billy Collins on Youtube here . My favourite bit starts at 12.53 when he reads ‘To My Favorite 17-Year-Old High School Girl’, which you’ll appreciate if you’ve ever had anything to do with teenagers 🙂   

A Gloom of One’s Own

Annaghmakerrig rhododendrons are inspiring, right?

Inspiration is a funny old thing – one minute it is there slapping you in the face, insisting you write, write and then write some more, next it has disappeared into the ether without a trace and you are left wondering what on earth to write about. And whatever made you (me) think writing for publication was a good idea?

The secret is of course, to carry on regardless, ignoring the helpless feeling of being uninspired, and just empty your head onto paper. Messy, I know, but the muse often has a way of creeping back to take a look at what you’re up to – and then suddenly, you’re an item again, inspired.

There, I sound like I know what I’m talking about, yet recently I’ve been beset by doubts and have found it difficult to get anything much down on paper.

Rejections and disappointment will do that to you, but I know they’re part of a writer’s life. Social media has a lot to answer for – watching other writers blossom, while I seem to have disappeared under a stone. I shouldn’t compare myself to anyone else, but it can be difficult not to sometimes…

Success and failure are frequent bedfellows for a writer, everyone will tell you that. I’ve had quite a few writing knock-backs recently, plus some personal sadness to deal with, which has left me a bit gloomy and uncreative.  That’s despite having had a great year as a poet (which was unexpected – I didn’t know until fairly recently I could write poetry anyone else wanted to read).

Mind you, it is good that rejections for a writer can stay mostly private. I don’t need to tell you which magazines and journals have turned down my work, or which competitions I’ve failed to get shortlisted for.

But I can tell you about the ones who like my writing. And I’m very, very happy to report that a story of mine has surfaced as a success. It’s been a while since any of my short fiction was published, but a new short story is due for publication in a Cork Libraries anthology. It didn’t win but was shortlisted in the ‘From the Well’ competition judged by author Billy O’Callaghan, resulting in publication. I was in a similar anthology back in 2015.

Meanwhile, the journal The Ogham Stone is about to be published (in June) and this time includes a poem of mine, which I’m thrilled about.

And then there’s another anthology published this week in the UK, Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Laureate’s Choice’, featuring the 20 newcomers she chose to champion as Poet Laureate. I haven’t seen it yet, but it looks like an exciting project to be part of… yes, me, I’m in there!

And while all that’s going on, I’m hiding away in County Monaghan trying to be creative, without distractions, enjoying another writing retreat at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre (and I’m grateful for the promised support of County Roscommon Arts Office which enables me to be here).

Now. Here, muse, muse, muse. Are you here? There? Anywhere?

Filling in the Gaps

I was reading a story in this occasion. I am using poetic licence here…

Trying to find new ways to say old things can be a bit wearing. In my case, wearing on the old computer keyboard.

My laptop was bought with the winnings from a short story competition in…damn, was it really three years ago? Anyway, I’ve worn the face off some of the keys. A R E S T to be precise. I don’t touch-type, but I know my way around a keyboard, so it is no real bother for me.

I’m even trying to squeeze a poem out of the scenario, all about naked keys, worn to the bone. I think the concept needs a bit of work (because I could always re-label the keys if I wanted).

Some poems jump out of the ether and hit you between the eyes, they just have to take on a form. Others have to be coaxed from a vague idea, some can be prompted by workshop triggers. I’ve even dreamt some words of poetry before now. Mostly, it’s a single good idea seeping into my consciousness, which is then worked and worked at until it takes shape as a poem. Easy!

It is Poetry Day Ireland next week (May 2nd) when people far and wide are encouraged to dive into poetry, with the theme of ‘Truth or Dare’. I’m doing my bit by running a short poetry workshop: ‘Finding a grain of truth in the fiction of poetry’.

This will be taking a look at how you can bend the truth to suit the occasion and leave your readers guessing as to which bit of the poem is true.  I do this all the time, confident that if I’m challenged, I can just say writers don’t lie as such, they use their imagination and call it fiction. In particular, I’ll be pulling apart one of my own poems, ‘Fur Coat and No Knickers’ to demonstrate my point, and also I’ll be looking at some other poets’ work.

Then there’ll be a brief reading (me gasping through a few of my recent ditties) followed by an open mic for anyone to come and share poetry, their own or someone else’s. There’ll even be tea and coffee and a few biscuits. Its free of charge, is from 10.30am to 12.30pm, in Charlestown Arts Centre in County Mayo, Ireland, (above the town library in Barrack Street) and there is no booking required – just turn up with a pen and paper.

I’m looking forward to this event, not least because it is exclusively poetry. At the writing groups I run, there’s often a collective groan at the prospect of poetry. Anyway, we like to chop and change genres to keep things interesting as a lot of the members like to write memoir, prose and short stories. I’d love to inspire them to enjoy writing poetry though, and I’m working on it…

Meanwhile, my big break is a few days after this workshop when I’ll have a reading in Strokestown Park House at 3pm on Sunday, May 5th when I’ll share the stage with Iggy McGovern. Its part of Strokestown Poetry Festival, which takes place in County Roscommon over the Bank Holiday weekend. More details here. There’s an anthology out, too – with a new poem of mine. Last year’s anthology poem was about my father, so I thought for balance I’d better have one about my mother. It’s called ‘Learning to Sew’. You can buy the book here.

Better still, come along to Strokestown Poetry Festival and head for the pop-up book shop where my books (and a goodly number of others) will be on sale.

A Bolthole for Writers

Retreat. The word conjures images of battle-bashed battalions backing off, or of a cowed religious heading for the caves of a hermit life. Or even tea-and-dry-toast navel-gazing and prayer on an island for a weekend.

But a writer’s retreat? Well, that’s different. Think stylish, distraction-free space and time to write.

So, in need of just that, some creative headspace away from home, I headed for County Down in Northern Ireland last week. I could have chosen a remote seaside cottage from Booking.com, but it is unlikely I’d have enjoyed it as much as my stay in the River Mill Reading and Writing Retreat, Downpatrick.

I’ve had my eye on the place since it opened last year, and I’ve read the reviews, which are rightly of the glowing persuasion.

Well, what’s not to like about a former 18th century flour mill now a five-bedroomed country bolthole for writers looking for peace and quiet? Small, but perfectly formed, the River Mill is run by Paul Maddern, who is an accomplished poet himself, so he understands what a writer needs: comfort, good food, space, tranquillity – and a library stuffed to the gills with an eclectic selection of books and literary journals. Paul has a long list of writing accolades and is a former creative writing tutor for the Seamus Heaney Centre, so he’s a good person to have running a retreat.

I realise my homeplace distractions are of the trivial kind, precious, pampered, privileged person that I am, but it is still a marvellous creative boost to be able to get away from the daily grind with the sole intention of writing. I had a lovely time and would highly recommend the River Mill. I even did a good bit of writing (maybe even a bit of good writing?).

Check out the River Mill  here.  And if you go, tell Paul I sent you. But don’t blame me if you gain a pound or two because the food he cooks is delicious and plentiful. Just saying.

Writers’ Groups? What’s the Point?

Writing essentials

I’ll cut to the chase here and tell you I attend four different writers’ groups. I also turn up at workshops, seminars, lectures, readings, any event with writing as the theme.

Some are fun, some aren’t, but I invariably learn something – or more pertinently, I write something I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

You might wonder how I have time, but two of the groups are fortnightly, and only one of the others meets weekly.

For me, this is all about mixing with ‘my people’, the ones who get it, the ones I don’t have to explain the writing compulsion to. I love to talk the talk and share writing-related news and information with people as keen as I am to write.

Here’s me looking a bit worried at response to my new poetry book during a reading at Books Upstairs, Dublin

I’ve recently dipped my toe into the business of getting my work critiqued by fellow writers’ group members.

Deep breath, thick skin activated, biro at the ready.

It wasn’t quite as painful as I expected – a 250-word piece of flash fiction I intend entering into a competition, deadline months away. Flash fiction? The week I had a poetry book published? Yes, I know.

I will often re-draft stories or poems dozens of times and this little tale had been tweaked, re-written, reimagined countless times before I sent it off for scrutiny. But in the latest version I have taken into consideration some (but not all) of my readers’ comments.

After all, the point of most writing is to share (with the exception of private, vitriolic journal entries of course) with other people, ideas, opinions and stories isn’t it? So it’s a useful exercise to get out an early draft to people who will (hopefully) give an honest opinion, let you know if you are going in the right direction, point out the bits that don’t work. Sometimes, the writer is just too close to their words to see mistakes, so Beta readers are invaluable.

I’m probably not going to get sick of this image 🙂

I help to run two writing groups in County Mayo (Ireland) . But they are creative writing groups rather than writers’ groups. And there’s a whole can of semantic worms opened. Writing? Writers?

In my groups, I try to encourage new writers, people who may not have written anything more than a shopping list or message in a greetings card since they left school. Everyone has a story to tell, their own or someone else’s, and it is usually a revelation that almost anyone who can read can write. Good or bad, the results are subjective. And it often turns out amongst these beginners are some very talented scribes. Then we’ve got a writers’ group, not just a writing group.

Our meetings include prompts (pictures, words, phrases, objects) to start us off, with writing time to get our ideas down on paper, and we drink lots of tea and coffee, discuss publication opportunities and competition deadlines. Sometimes we will share these first drafts, read out loud, but there’s no obligation. My first attempts are usually rubbish, so I often pass.

If you are near the Mayo/Sligo/Roscommon border (we’re not far from Knock Airport) consider joining us. No booking required, just come if you can. Meetings are held fortnightly Monday morning 10.30am to 12.30pm – February 4th and 18th and March 4th . Or in the same week on Wednesday evenings, 7pm to 9pm. The venue is Charlestown Arts Centre above the town library in Barrack Street.

Or if you’d rather just read the book, here it is: ‘Soft Touch’

Trumpets (Own, and the Blowing Of)

screenshot (74)So here’s some cracking news for  what would otherwise be a miserable day (rain, and the first of my mother’s birthdays without her): ‘Soft Touch’ is now available to buy (well, to order before its proper publication date of February 1st). Ta da!

Soft Touch is my book of 20 poems chosen by the UK Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy in her Laureate’s Choice series for 2019.

I’m not hiding my light under a bushel here (although I might be found hiding under the table after the book is launched). Here are some of the endorsements it has garnered so far:

From Jane Clarke, poet: “Louise G. Cole captures the world around her with humour, tenderness and lyrical panache. Her poems fizz with vibrant detail. She uses language assuredly to create a resonant soundscape that is as moving as it is playful, as compassionate as it is exacting, as fresh as it is wise.” 

From Dermot Bolger, author, poet and playwright: “Sharp-edged and sharp-witted; richly humane and darkly humorous, Louise G. Cole’s voice does not just demand our attention but hijacks it with rich vignettes of human life, shot through with wry, cleared-sighted insights which weave the everyday into striking poems. These poems manage the deft feat of being both crystalline and subtle, remaining utterly true to the original experiences that shaped them, reshaping those experiences into deeply original poems which often make the reader catch their breath, seeing the familiar transposed in a fresh light.” 

From Rita Ann Higgins, poet: “Louise G Cole has a strong sense of place, an even stronger sense of mischief. She meanders into her poems quietly, but always finds some intricate detail to keep us hooked.  She is an accomplished observer of ordinary people and the little things they let slip. She weaves them into unforgettable poems.”

So, if you’d like to hear me read some of the poems from Soft Touch there are two upcoming events in Dublin, open invitation, free to attend (and there’s probably a complimentary glass of something included by way of encouragement):

Poetry Ireland event, January 17th 2019, 7pm

Books Upstairs event, January 27th 2019,  3pm

Meanwhile, Carol Ann Duffy’s tenure as Poet Laureate ends this year, and to mark the occasion there’s an anthology coming out in May, featuring me as one of 24 ‘promising’ poets she’s showcased over the past four years.

Phew! Now I think I need to go and practice lying down under tables…