A word is dead
When it is said,
I say it just begins
to live that day.
– Emily Dickinson
Come November 2016 my poems will live, not just in small gatherings at spoken word gigs or in anthologies, magazines and websites but en masse within a real paper and print book.
‘It’s ready,’ Jan Fortune, the editor of Cinnamon Press told me, ‘We would like to publish it, the full collection.’ This welcome news comes around 13 months after the publisher awarded me a bursary to work with mentor Caroline Davies to develop my poems into a coherent collection.
Before talking with Jan, I had prepared myself for the negative by arming myself with questions about who might be interested in the book, about what her other suggestions were for approaching other publishers. I feared I would cry when she said, ‘I’m afraid our list is full.’ But she didn’t. She didn’t! So guess what? I almost cried!
It’s strange, I’ve been writing seriously and working towards bringing out a book since 2002 but, after I received the news, I realised I didn’t know what I would have done if Jan had said no. I don’t want to sound melodramatic and it wasn’t the thought of the rejection as such; after over a decade of them, I am very familiar with rejections. It was that the poems had been tweaked and crafted for 8 years and that the collection felt whole. In 2014, I sent Caroline 70 poems. 48 made it into the manuscript. After the mentoring process was complete, I knew there was very little more I could do with the poems we had selected. They were finished and they were what they were, as good as I could make them.
I’ve been told by talented and well-recognised writers that the way to success is to pick your thing and stick to it. I see their point. If you persist in writing poetry, novels, flash fiction, short stories, children’s stories and plays; in performing poetry and running workshops with as many types of group as you can think of then recognition is bound to take a little longer and it’s likely, although not guaranteed, that it will take you longer to become really good at something.
Although there are thematic links and recurring motifs in the collection, Empires of Clay does not revolve around one specialist theme. I am not knocking this approach – we need experts and many poets do this well – but I have many interests and want to be able to explore as many of them as possible in my writing. This tendency to diversify may come from so many years of managing single motherhood, work, study and the rest: it may just be, as Jan says, that I have that sort of brain.
‘Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer,’ Barbara Kingsolver says and she is a writer I listen to. Other favourite writers include Margaret Atwood and Angela Carter. Carter alone has published poems, novels, short stories, academic essays; she has written radio plays, film scripts and TV documentaries. Sadly she died at 51. Imagine what else she might have done if she’d have lived. Now I’m not suggesting for a moment that I am in their league but I’m happy to follow their lead. It is my material that picks its form, its tone and its diction and I cannot bring myself to shoehorn it into something it doesn’t want to be.
I feel absolutely that this was the right time for the book to be accepted and I am delighted that it is going to be Cinnamon Press who are publishing my first collection. The quality of the work they produce is excellent and, having now met Jan, a very knowledgable and inspiring woman and writer, I feel confident that my work is in excellent hands. A huge thank you again to Jan and to Caroline for all their support in compiling Empires of Clay. Watch out for the collection’s release in November 2016. Eucharist is a taster. The poem was first printed in Versions of The North, edited by Ian Parks and published by Five Leaves Press.
Every morning, the same, her asking,
‘Have you had your breakfast, got your lunch?’
But breakfast wasn’t as important
as zapping zombies or texting Alex back
so, invariably, I lied.
Often, even with her face pale as brume,
her hair shedding like maths sheets from an open bag,
she’d rise and serve me porridge –
a Eucharist of grain and fruit.
‘Threes,’ she’d say, the ladle
tremoring in her hand
and we’d speak our trios –
holy trinities of how the day before had been,
what we’d loved, and why.
I’ll post more news when I have it but, in the meantime, go to Cinnamon and buy one of their fantastic books.