Heroism and Heartbreak

I’m very, very pleased to say that I am officially poet-in-residence (NAY! for I shall capitalise it in my joy! Poet-In-Residence!) at the wonderful online community archive for Hartlepool.

I am featured in the very specific WW1 section, which is excellent because it lets me continue on with writing and research I started last year for the Heugh Battery Bombardment project led by poet Martin Malone. My first poem is now live – called ‘Unspeakable’, it’s inspired by a conversation I had with a contributor to the archive at an open day held at Hartlepool Library in May. You can read it here!

The next open day is at Headland Library at 10am – 1pm on Saturday 10th July, so anyone with maritime links to Hartlepool, especially Merchant Navy, should drop in and chat to Gary and the team. And to me, you never know, I might put your story in a poem…

Some Advice On Editing Poems

None of the advice below is written by me – it was given to me at last week’s Wolf At The Door retreat, by one of the retreat leaders. I have no idea if Vishvantara wrote these points herself, but if she did she’s a genius. I hope and trust that she won’t mind my sharing them on.


Fifteen Ways Of Working On A Poem

  1. Take an unfinished poem of twenty-five to forty lines or more. Remove half of the lines (whichever hand-picked lines you choose). Now cut it in half again. Scream as loudly as you like.
  2. Take a poem of ten or twenty lines and make it forty or fifty. Stretch it, milk it, pad it, free-associate, spider-diagram it and repeat things in Spanish if you have to.
  3. Find the energetic points. Where are the ‘hot’ areas? Put one as your first line. Put another as your last line. Rearrange the other lines or verses in between.
  4. Divide your imagery into ‘heart’ and ‘head’ and cut out everything not heart-felt. Where there used to be ‘head’ imagery, try using simple language that doesn’t compare anything to anything else.
  5. Make sure you consider cutting your last line and the few above it as well. Where does the poem itself want to end? (Beware of the ‘it’s not over until the fat lady sings’ feeling). The end must come as a surprise to you as you write, not be the one you started out thinking you must have. Have you strained the poem into finishing where you want it to go? Poems often delight in stopping midstream, taking off, drizzling away or turning around and biting us playfully. Only rarely do they delight by ‘the moral of the story is’ or ‘so this is how it all ended up’.
  6. Find a phrase or a line or two that you are a bit complacent about, a bit of writing you think is quite good, and rephrase it noticing how attached you are to the previous version. Ask a friend which is the better option.
  7. If you are writing from or about a memory, insert a detail from you present experience. If writing from or about the present, include a memory.
  8. Imagine that at a certain point you rose a hundred feet into the air and looked down at the tableau vivant of the poem. What is its gesture? Can you somehow include this in the poem?
  9. Imagine that at a certain point in the poem you became very tiny and sat within a phrase that you had just written. Write what you see around you.
  10. If you have too many little prosy words, articles or linking words, try re-writing those phrases with fewer small words.
  11. The word ‘of’ is a poetic cliche, so delete the ‘of the’s, e.g. ‘the gate of the mind’. It should be ‘the mind’s gate’. Also beware of any words you wouldn’t use in conversation – e.g. ‘aplenty’.
  12. Try translating your poem for the benefit of someone with limited knowledge of your language.
  13. Try explaining your poem to a philosopher. Add some of this explanation to the poem.
  14. Always keep you original draft – that’s very important.
  15. Put your poem in a drawer for three months and start something else.

Ekphrastic project – James Cowie’s ‘The Yellow Glove’


Oh my dear, it was too, too dreadful!

Mortal mind can scarce conceive –

At least, not yours, darling Vi,

Yours would have shrunk. Violets do shrink,

It’s an immutable law, like death, or gravity,

Or who sits to the left of the Bishop.

“Bother immutability” that silly boy would say,

And therein lies the drastic horror of the thing,

For Pongo positively pushed it this time!

Doubtless the dear old Duchess toot sweet

Snipped him merrily from the Will, singing

“Cold porridge to primogeniture!” So you see,

I simply had to pop back the jolly old ring

And hoof it hotfoot before the bean began blubbing.

It’s a rotten sausage, but there it is.

Now, do try one of mine – they’re Turkish.


I’m very happy indeed to have a poem selected for Deseeded, an online magazine edited by Degna Stone, founder member of the Butcher’s Dog editing team. The call-out asked for work written in response to a prompt from the late Julia Darling, published as a Guardian masterclass in 2005, shortly before her death. It was a lovely prompt, all about instructional poems, which are some of the most fun things to write because they really do ‘tell the truth but tell it slant.’

The overall selection is beautifully curated, and not over-long, so I urge you to just gorge yourself on the whole lot right now.

If you’d like to try writing an instructional poem yourself, here is the prompt , and if you are in the Newcastle area you could go to Live Theatre for workshops and new plays all responding to, and celebrating, the life and work of Julia Darling.

I also strongly recommend you subscribe to the amazing Butcher’s Dog magazine, which will come to you in hard copy twice a year and fill your life with beauty.