Finding dead things and writing about them

I have finally found a groove in which I can happily manage the demands of the MA and the PhD alongside my work life. I have even managed to take a few days off, here and there, from necessity really as I was starting to feel unwell. I think those few days of, pretty much, sleeping and watching films have really recharged my battery and rather than everything poetry related seeming to be insurmountable alongside running the business, it now feels like I am actually doing what I wanted to do. I love the MA because it pushes me to read poets I have’t come across before, I get to spend two hours chatting about poetry on a Tuesday night and I also get help and support in putting the next collection together. I have the core of what I want for the MA collection, the poems are still slow to appear though. But that’s what poetry does with me. It’s very much about a very wooly, root feeling that I want to express, the way something connects me to it,before it is ever a poem. For example, the way that reading about religious fertility rituals make me think of the rituals of IVF, and then placing myself inside that connection and making a poem out of it, that’s how it works. It can take months, years before somewhere at the back of my skull, an alarm rings and the poem is ready to come out and be worked on, like a cake. The MA collection is very much in the mixing stage and that’s OK, I can feel my brain sorting it out like an eightees teenager with a  Rubik’s cube, somewhere in the back of my head.

I also started  working towards the PhD in earnest, with a working title of: The Lost Voices of the North Sea:
A practice-led poetic exploration of the identity of the North Sea. 

The PhD is like nothing I have ever been involved with. I feel completely free within it. It won’t always be like this, at some point the pressure will kick in and I will likely drown, but right now I am free to make my own choices, to explore options, write poems and generally chip away at my own path through it. I am going very much by feeling in this initial stage, focusing on what I  enjoy more than what I think I ought to be doing. So I have been letting the sea decide on what I should be writing about. Basically I am trying to give the sea a voice without anthropomorphising it. That’s not exactly true, because I don’t think we can help but anthropomorphise the sea, how else would it give it a voice in the first place, a voice being such a purely human concept. I am trying to imagine how we give voice to the sea, based on what it washes up and what it washes away. It’s fascinating. At the moment I am keeping a diary of my own reactions to the sea, and how the sea feels whenever I visit. I am lucky enough to have gained a dog walking client who lives right next to the sea and I walk the beach almost daily, in all weathers, watching it change. And when something washes up that is interesting, I photograph it, write a description and free write what feelings I have around that and I write a series of poems about it, in different voices. This week a Thornback ray washed up, in pieces. I have one of its bones on my desk as I speak. I was disgusted and enthralled by it. And the more I researched it, the more I became quite moved by it. My poems around it are in the voice of myself, or a narrator, the sea’s voice, a fisherman’s voice and the ray’s voice. It’s challenging, interesting. I love it. This is what it is about, for me. This is what poetry is, it is searching, just beneath the surface, always searching out those connections.

Wendyisms: Whilst trying to appear as a competent, intelligent  PhD student, I have so far:

  • Been unable to work out how to open the door into the English building (the wiley devils had made it an automatic door, I didn’t need to be pulling and pushing on it for twenty minutes.)
  • Sat through a review meeting and walked right around campus with my flies down
  • Sent a hurried message to my supervisor, asking to rearrange our meeting, only for autocorrect to change it to ‘Can we grab big pony later, I should be free at three’


I’m also still working on my two pamphlets which I am hoping to get into competitions and submitted to publishers soon. I’m wondering if I should hold out and work on another full collection, but I love the pamphlet form, It’s a little package in itself, a different sort of collection to a full size collection. I want to think about illustrating the Selkie one, but not sure how to approach publishers with the idea.

What I am reading: This week I’m reading Karen Solie’s The Living Option. I can’t give too much of an opinion on it as I’ve not gone very far, but I do find the poems powerful, quietly so, there is a building of significance in small details before the punch in the face, a punch in the face that seems to be done from behind a cushion. It’s a good book, I love its honesty.

In other news, I have now finished travelling to give readings for this year. I hate travelling in the dark and I am out of money, but I am helping to launch York literature festival in January, so that will be nice, a nice start to the year.

That’s enough of me babbling, here’s a link to Solie on the poetry foundation.


Karen Solie


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