Resolutionary Road

I tend to make New Year’s goals, not New Year’s resolutions, on the grounds that if you aim to do something starting from 1st January, and then you fail to do it on 2nd January, you already feel like you’ve irredeemably fallen short and you may as well give up, whereas if you aim to have achieved something by the end of the year, if you get to September and you still haven’t done it, there’s still three months left to turn it around.

My main goal this year is to be published by magazines that have previously only ever rejected me, preferably those that have rejected me multiple times. Perhaps the bullshit SMART-target, spreadsheet culture of my part-time day job in education has gone to my head here, but it seems to me that success in something I have previously failed at will be hard evidence of progress.

Of course, that isn’t necessarily the case – I have to stop taking the Groucho Marx approach to submissions, where I wouldn’t want to be published by any journal that would have me as a contributor, the Aesop’s Dog approach, where I assume that the journals that haven’t published me yet must be much more prestigious and alluring than the ones that have, the Stockholm Syndrome approach, where I feel a closer bond with the badboy journals that treat me mean than the loving ones that treat me right.

This really isn’t being fair or grateful enough to the many fabulous magazines that have published me in the past. I shall definitely continue to submit to and support them, including subscribing to some of them, and also submit to journals that I haven’t given a try yet.

In some cases, my failure to get into a magazine is surely a case of stylistic dissonance, not proof that that mag is too good for me. In some cases, I am not comparing like with like, as the rejections occurred several years ago, while the acceptances happened more recently, when I’m a better writer.

I also aim to read, write and submit much more (read published contemporary poetry and write my own every day, if possible). Many poets I know get more published in a year than I write in a year, so even if they have a 100% success rate (which they can’t – nobody does!), I could still narrow the discrepancy by just getting off my arse a bit more.

But, for what it’s worth, here is a list (possibly inaccurate, as I’m doing it from memory, as I don’t keep records of rejections, only acceptances) of journals that have rejected me on at least two occasions and have never, to date, accepted any of my work:

Acumen (x 4, although I have been shortlisted twice), And Other Poems (x 2), Antiphon (x 2), Butcher’s Dog (x 2), Magma (x 2), The Rialto (x 3 or 4), Poetry Review (x 2)

Let’s sneak something into one of these buggers by 31st December 2018, yeah?

And here (again, from memory, and probably, therefore, not complete), journals that I have only submitted to once and was rejected by (in a minority of cases, there is a reason why I have never resubmitted): Atrium (but they were lovely about it), Bare Fiction, Brittle Star, Cake, The Compass, Iota, The Lake, Tears In the Fence, Under The Radar

Journals I have submitted to more than once and had a mixture of acceptances and rejections: Clear Poetry (2/3), The Frogmore Papers (1/2),  Lighten Up Online (1/2), Monkey Kettle (1/2) Prole (2/4), South (1/2)

Journals I have submitted to at least twice and had at least one poem accepted on every occasion: Algebra of Owls (2 submissions, 3 poems in total accepted), Amaryllis (2 submissions, 3 if you count the Christmas competition), Ink, Sweat & Tears (3 submissions), The Interpreter’s House (2 submissions), Message In A Bottle (2 submissions, 6 poems in total), Obsessed With Pipework (2 submissions, 6 poems in total accepted), Snakeskin (2 submissions, 3 poems in total)

Journals I have only submitted to once, but had a poem accepted by: Clockwise Cat, The High Window, Light, Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis, Your One Phone Call (x 3 poems)


Failing To Cope Well With Failing

I’ve always thought I was a reasonably good loser, but more and more lately I’ve not been, and I’m trying to work out what that’s all about.

I have never entered a slam not intending to win it and I always feel painfully disappointed if I don’t, but usually I’d like to think I hide it well and get over it quickly. There have been a couple of times when I’ve been a bit arsey (well, actually, one of them, fuelled by far too much alcohol, I was very arsey, which I’m still mortified about two years later), but on the whole I am Not That Guy. Either the judges wouldn’t know good poetry if it slapped them in the face, in which case their decisions are no reflection on my skills and thus not worth getting upset about, or they do know good poetry when they see it, in which case the sensible response is analysing what the higher-scoring poets did better than me and doing it next time, not throwing a tantrum and sulking. Usually, if I leave a slam angry and upset, it’s at myself for fucking up, not at anyone else.

Similarly with journal submissions: yes, rejection is never pleasant and we’ve probably all regressed to toddlerhood and grumbled, “Well, I wouldn’t want to be in their stupid magazine, anyway! The stuff they publish is shit” at least once in our lives, even though that is a patently illogical, sour grapes response: if they really do publish shit, why did you submit to them in the first place? And if it’s a prestigious magazine and the poetry in it seems rubbish, the chances are there’s something about it you’re missing, so it’s either so stylistically removed from you that you and they will never be a good fit, or you’re not as good as you think you are and don’t even understand what the properties of quality page poetry are.

But thinking uncharitable thoughts is one thing – actually contacting the magazine and telling them that you wouldn’t want to be in their stupid magazine, anyway, as they publish shit, is putting on the T-shirt with the “I Am An Arsehole” logo emblazoned across it and, thankfully, I have never done it. Yet.

Then there’s gigs I’m turned down for, lukewarm reviews, lukewarm audiences….

I used to think that the more I got used to the poetry scene, the less failure would hurt and the more mature I would be about it, but, actually, the reverse is the case. When I started out, I expected to fail. Failing is what beginners are supposed to do. I expected it to take a few years to get to the stage when I was Good Enough and had earned the right to success, so there was absolutely no shame in failing right at the beginning. Now, though, failure at things I was failing at three or four years ago feels like lack of progress, especially when I see people who took up poetry later than me succeeding at them. It feels like it’s not just lack of experience and the need to work a little bit harder – it raises that possibility that I don’t want to think about: that I might not, actually, be that good.

Increasingly, I find myself taking longer to get over disappointments, feeling childishly jealous of my colleagues and friends (and then I feel the double pain of both the jealousy AND the guilt of being resentful and disloyal to people I genuinely love and admire, as well), whining to my friends about it all, being uncharitable and sour grapesy. I think it’s a response to fear that I’ve plateaued, that I’ve reached my ceiling, that this is as good as it gets, that actually I’m a good amateur, rather than a nascent professional, that I’m an also-ran. “It’s not fair! Why has he/she got that, when I haven’t? They’re not as good as me!” is  more ego-protecting response than, “I’m scared. I’m not asgood as them and that means I might not be good enough.”

But then I look around at friends and it’s the ones who don’t give into these kinds of feelings who are succeeding, often against the odds. Friends who remain resolutely chipper (at least, in public) in the face of setbacks, who use them as educational exercises showing them where they need to improve or as helpful career pointers of the kind of poetry that’s not for them, who try not to compare themselves to others, but just concentrate on ploughing their own furrow, are the ones who are making career progress.

I’m feeling frustrated about a couple of goals in poetry that I keep missing and don’t appear to have moved substantially closer to succeeding at over the last year or two. I know that there are only two mature ways forward with them: either keep going and work even harder to hit them or accept that that area of poetry is not one of my strengths and give up, to concentrate more on areas that are.

When your best work isn’t…

A friend recently said to me, about my recent book (£8 + £1.50 p&p from Oversteps Books. Ideal Christmas present for single, pissed-off, middle-aged women!), “I really enjoyed it. But why did you put all the best poems at the back?” This stumped me, as I didn’t think I had. In fact, I had deliberately put what I thought were my best poems at the front.

Another thing that happens to me quite a lot (and I don’t think I’m alone in this – it’s a bit of a poetry cliche) is that I send off a submission to a journal, include three or four pieces I am really, really proud of, that I slaved over and crafted, that I privately think might go down in history as groundbreaking classics and be included on ‘A’ level syllabuses in fifty years’ time, and then I stick in one bit of any old crap, just to fill up the envelope. And it is always, every single time, the “rubbish” poem that I threw together in five minutes that gets accepted (by journals which say in their submissions guidelines that they are looking for poems with signs of craft!), while my prized creations get spiked.

I’m certainly not complaining about this (I’m glad to get anything accepted, at all), but it does mystify me why what I think are my best poems are often what other people think are my worst poems, and vice versa, and I’ve been pondering possible explanations for this phenomenon:

1. When I think I’m writing well and crafting my language, I’m overwriting, trying too hard, self-consciously being “poetic”, which is always cringey. In particular, I know I have a weakness for overembellishing with puns and (often mixed) metaphors. Just saying what I have to say seems to me to be cheating and not really poetry, at all. It’s too easy.

But poetry is about saying something in the most concise, concentrated way, not about overworking language or constructing a cryptic crossword clue. When I do this, at best, I sound stilted, at worst, what I think is clever ambiguity means that my writing is so impenetrable, nobody other than me can work out what I’m going on about.

2. Sometimes the poems I like are good, but the subject matter is judged too obscure by the editors and unlikely to resonate with their audience. Poems about e.g. history, mythology, linguistics etc can sometimes be difficult to place, especially if they assume knowledge thereof on the audience’s part, and can even piss editors off as “elitist” (there’s a whole other blog entry in this, but, while I can totally understand an editor thinking a poem on an obscure topic is not for their audience and rejecting it, I take issue with the attitude that I am being snobbish, pretentious and deliberately trying to exclude people by writing on an “intellectual” topic. Poems about science and rap music and football and married family life go totally over my head, but that doesn’t mean people who do know about those topics shouldn’t be allowed to write about them. No poem is really for everyone.)

I didn’t rate the poem I was surprised got accepted because I judged it to be “too obvious” or “on a boring topic”, but familiarity can sometimes be good. People like poetry that “speaks to them.”

It’s always a hard one, riding the line between accessibility and cliche. I don’t see the point in telling people things they already know and which everybody and his dog has already written about, in language so bald it has all the poetry of a shopping list, but I can also see why that great poem I wrote about the declension of the definite article in Old Norse, using a complex series of extended metaphors about early 16th-century courting habits, wasn’t as big a hit as I’d hoped.

3. The poem that got rejected was one of those wafty descriptive poems that’s vaguely “about” something, but doesn’t clearly have anything concrete to say. I used to write these a lot when I first started submitting to (and being rejected by) journals – poems about my feelings, poems about my cat, poems about the weather, poems about places. They were interesting exercises in using language and definitely helped me develop as a writer, but they didn’t go anywhere. They painted a very vivid picture of my cat, but they didn’t, ultimately, convey anything more urgent than “I have a ginger cat.” They were elaborate doodles.

Good poems tend to move on from “This is how I feel”, “This is what X looks like” to tell a story or to draw some universal conclusion that can be applied to something other than my feelings or my cat. I find poems that have a strong, but elliptical and concise, narrative tend to do very well, even if the language is a bit flat.

4. This is maybe a subsection of 3, rather than a point on its own, but the “good” poem didn’t have a strong ending and could have done with a subsequent redraft. It was potentially a better poem than the “bad” poem, but the “bad” poem was more coherent, more complete, and ended on a bang.

5. The poem that got rejected wasn’t born of genuine feeling. It was clever, it was ingeniously constructed, but my head was in it, not my heart, and it showed.

6. It’s not me, it’s them. By this, I don’t mean they’re idiots who don’t recognise great poetry when they see it, but just the style of my poems that got rejected and their journal are not a match. It happens. Just as Shostakovitch doesn’t get played on Radio 2 and you don’t tend to see Pam Ayres in Poetry London, my “good” poems will not fit the house style of some journals, while my “bad” poems will. Send the “good” poems somewhere else, and they may get a much better reception.

And similarly, maybe it was just my friend’s taste was different from mine.

The Pity Of It

As I am running out of things on the spoken word/poetry scene to moan about, I may start an occasional series where I discuss poems I love. The following example, by the mighty Thomas Hardy (yes, the same one who wrote all those brick-sized, gloomy, 19th-century novels, like The Mayor of Casterbridge and Tess of the D’Urbervilles), is an anti-war poem written about the First World War, but is also oddly topical for Brexit.

I walked in loamy Wessex lanes, afar
From rail-track and from highway, and I heard
In field and farmstead many an ancient word
Of local lineage like “Thu bist,” “Er war,”
“Ich woll,” “Er sholl,” and by-talk similar,
Nigh as they speak who in this month’s moon gird
At England’s very loins, thereunto spurred
By gangs whose glory threats and slaughters are.

Then seemed a Heart crying: “Whosoever they be
At root and bottom of this, who flung this flame
Between kin folk kin tongued even as are we,
Sinister, ugly, lurid, be their fame;
May their familiars grow to shun their name,
And their brood perish everlastingly.”


This poem takes the classic form of a Petrarchan sonnet: an octet (8-line stanza) with an ABBAABBA rhyme scheme describing something the poet has observed (in this case, the dialect spoken in the most isolated rural parts of Dorset and how it preserves old Anglo-Saxon pronoun and verb forms which Standard English lost centuries ago, making it freakishly similar to German, the language of the people England is currently at war with) and then a sestet (6-line stanza) with a CDCDCD rhyme scheme commenting on what he has just observed (in this case, that whoever instigated the war between the England and Germany has done something so unnatural, almost fratricidal, in forcing nations so closely related linguistically to fight and kill each other, that he hopes that they forever have an ugly reputation and that their descendants all come to a sticky end.)

As aficionados of my poetry will know, I am obsessed with linguistics, in general, and grammar, in particular, and studying the mediaeval Germanic languages which eventually gave birth to English formed a large part of my BA English degree, so this poem is right up my street.

I find this poem so clever in its construction, from Hardy’s pointed choice of an Italian sonnet form (rather than the English alternative) to discuss his outrage at the discord which has fallen between the English and their Continental European neighbours, to his use of words of Anglo-Saxon origin, such as “loamy”, “kin”, “folk”, “brood”, “shun”, where Latinate synonyms might have been more obvious, alongside Norse- (“gangs”, “ugly”, “slaughters”) and French- or Latin-derived words (“ancient”, “glory”, “sinister”, “lurid”, “lineage”). The irony of the fact that he describes Germanic-derived words  as “many an ancient word/of local lineage“, when “ancient”, “local” and “lineage” are not words of local lineage, but borrowed from French or Latin, is almost certainly deliberate. Everything about the poem is subtly pointing to how huge a contributor Continental Europe has been to our culture, language and history and how we cannot extricate ourselves from it and stand alone without damaging the very core of ourselves.

The imagery works on so many levels, e.g. his metaphor of the Germans attacking England’s “loins” (genitals), expresses both how vulnerable England has made itself in this most painful of wars, but also makes the war between the twin nations sound as monstrous and unnatural as incest. His choice of the obscure verb phrase “gird at” (meaning “mock” or “jeer at”) is interesting, because he is punning on the common phrase “gird one’s loins”, where “gird” has almost the opposite meaning – to encircle or protect -again highlighting that the natural, obvious thing for these nations would be to protect each other, not to mock and attack each other.

His description of the warmongers as “gangs” is evocative – the authorities are depicted as chaotic and anti-social, while the ordinary people are civilised and responsible.

The sound structures are amazing – in Hardy’s use of “f” alliteration (“field and farmstead”, “flung this flame”), you can almost hear him spitting with anger.

I’m aware I have virtually written an ‘A’ level poetry unseen here, but I hope it’s given some idea of why I love this poem.

ETA: forgot to say – the poem is called “The Pity of It”.

The Beginner’s Guide to Journal Submissions

Occasionally people ask my advice about how they should go about submitting to journals, so I thought I’d do a blogpost about it. I don’t claim to be an expert (I have been serially rejected by some of the biggest journals) and am happy to be corrected by anyone who knows more than me, but, based on my (limited) experience, this is my take:

Why should I submit poems to journals?

You don’t have to and it doesn’t make you a lesser poet if you don’t! If you’re happy writing purely for your own pleasure, there’s no need. If you’re a spoken word artist, you really don’t have to, as promoters don’t usually care about page poetry success and the specialist spoken word publishers, like Burning Eye and Outspoken Press, also take on poets on the basis of their performance record, not their publication record. Also, most of the journals are looking for poems that are written in a very different style from that popular with spoken word audiences, so you may find that you have to write in a way that’s alien to you to get accepted. It can sometimes be very disheartening for performance poets when they try to move into page poetry (and vice versa), as success and praise in one sphere counts for very little in the other, and it can sometimes feel like you have gone back to square one.

However, if your main poetry goal is to have a book published, journal submissions are important as, other than the specialist spoken word publishers, most poetry publishers usually only take on poets with a proven track record of publication in reputable journals.

More importantly, the process of researching, reading and submitting to journals can really help to make you a better poet, as it forces you to engage with what other people are writing, to understand current trends and poetic schools, to be a more prolific and disciplined writer (there’s nothing like a looming submissions deadline to force you to write) and to set yourself ever higher goals. Rejection is also good for you (if painful), as it shakes you out of complacency and makes you reassess your work from a more objective standpoint and identify how you can improve it.

Finally, if you’re a performance poet looking for gigs, a track record in the journals can potentially help you double your number of bookings, as you can target page poetry nights, as well as spoken word nights.

How do I find journals to submit to?

There are a number of online lists of reputable literary journals. The poet Robin Houghton keeps a list which she regularly updates and will e-mail to anyone who asks. The poet Abegail Morley has a great one on her blog. The lovely pamphlet publisher Happenstance Press has a really helpful one on their website (with more excellent advice, besides). These blogposts (here and here) by Tim Love are really helpful, too.The godfather of journal lists is the Poetry Library’s list and online magazine database, which also includes free, online copies of back issues of most magazines, so you can see what kind of poems they publish.

The only downsides to these lists are:
(a) the ones I’ve linked to really only cover the UK and the Republic of Ireland. There are also numerous reputable journals in the US, Canada, India, Australia etc that English-language poets can submit to.
(b) sometimes the sheer number of journals out there can be daunting and confusing (especially on The Poetry Library site, where there are so many magazines listed, many of them now defunct, that it can be hard to find the wood for the trees)
(c) they can quickly go out of date, as poetry journals (especially online ones), frequently close or start up. Always check that a journal is still in existence before sending poems to it and keep your ears open for new journals that are making an impact
(d) no list can ever be complete and there will be excellent journals they’ve somehow missed

Anything I should bear in mind when submitting?

Read the submission guidelines carefully and adhere to them. If they have a submissions window and you send your poems outside it, if they ask for a maximum of five poems and you send them 20, if they ask for postal submissions only and you e-mail them, they will almost certainly ignore your submission and may actually remember you as that annoying moron who can’t read.

In particular, check the rules on previous publication and simultaneous submissions. Many journals do not want you to send them poems that have already been published elsewhere (this normally includes on Facebook, Twitter,your own website etc, although if your privacy settings are tight and/or you delete before submitting, how will they know?) or which you are sending out to other journals at the same time.

Many poets are inordinately worried they will get the covering letter wrong, but no reasonable editor will expect you to be a mind reader and no reasonable editor will reject excellent poems just because you called her “Ms” or “Jane” when she prefers “Miss”. Do write some kind of covering letter. If it says anything in the submissions guidelines about what kind of covering letter you should write, follow those instructions. If the editor’s name is clearly displayed on the website, I’d use it, rather than opting for “Dear Editor” or “Dear Sir or Madam”, but don’t lose sleep over the letter – it’s not that important.

Expect a lot of rejection, no matter how good you are. Even the top poets encounter more rejections than acceptances. If you can’t deal with rejection, journal submissions probably aren’t for you.

Don’t wait for a response to your first submission before sending out your second one (just make sure you don’t send the same poems).

How do I keep track of what I’ve sent where?

The poet Jo Bell has a now world-famous system for organising submissions. It is designed to be so easy that even poets, who, let’s face it, are not exactly known for their organisational skills, can keep on top of it. It is so easy, even I can manage it. I cannot recommend it enough.

Does it matter which journals I submit to? Is there a big difference between journals? Are some better than others?

Yes and no. Yes. No, but yes, but no, but yes, but no…..look, it’s complicated.

There is often a big stylistic difference between journals. Some hate metrical and/or rhymed verse, some favour very academic, difficult poetry, others favour a more accessible, populist style, some have particular subject matters they encourage or discourage. For this reason, it is a mistake to submit to a journal you have never read or to one that you don’t particularly like.

A common error many novice submitters make (well, I did, anyway) is to choose for their first submission a journal where they think the work is nowhere near as good as theirs. “This should be easy!” they think. “If this is the standard of the best work they’re being sent, they’re going to fall over themselves to accept mine!”. But either the work in that journal really isn’t very good (in which case, why on earth would you want to be associated with a shoddy journal?!!) or (and this is the more likely reason and it was what happened in my case) you just think the work isn’t very good because you don’t even understand the type of poetry they like, so you and they are unlikely to be a good fit.

My view is that the best journals to submit to are ones where you feel the work is very much like yours, but a bit better.

Going back to the question of “Are some journals better than others?”…

Yes and no. The line between “reputable” and “non-reputable” journals is an important one. Anyone can start a journal and some of the ones around have zero quality control and/or no reputation within poetic circles. If it looks like it’s been put together in someone’s back bedroom, if no-one else you know on the poetry scene knows about it and the contributors are all people you’ve never heard of with unimpressive biogs and the poetry is crap, then it’s not actually going to do you any harm being published in it, but it’s probably not going to help you at all, either.

Beyond the “reputable”/”non-reputable” distinction, well, most poets, if they’re honest, have a league table in their heads. They will not usually speak about this out loud, because they don’t want to offend the editors of journals they haven’t assigned to the Premier League, but most of us have one. Some journals think they are better than others. Some journals, rightly or wrongly, have more cachet with publishing houses etc. Some journals have been around for a very long time and have made a bigger name for themselves, some attract more submissions than others, so have a bigger pool from which to pick, some publish the famous poets, the ones that are on GCSE or ‘A’ level syllabuses or on the telly, some just have an outstanding editor. All of these things and more can influence how good a reputation a journal has and it would be naive to suggest that none of this matters. The more journals and modern poetry books you read, the more poets you engage with, on the page, on social media, in real life, the more you’ll get a feel for which journals have higher status than others.

But it’s not really something to get too hung up on, as any reputable acceptance is something to be pleased about, reputations can be misleading or outdated, and connecting with journals that are on the same wavelength as you is more important than working your way up any notional ladder. Sending your poems out there and to a mix of journals is the main thing. If you are more obsessed with being published by the “right” journals than with writing poetry you feel proud of and supporting journals that publish poetry you love, you may have lost sight of what poetry is for.

Don’t be put off submitting to a “top” journal because you think it’s out of your league, either – nothing ventured, nothing gained, and I know several poets who chose a “prestige” journal for their very first submission and got accepted.

When I first started submitting to journals someone told me that online journals are not as prestigious as print journals, but I really don’t think this is the case anymore. Admittedly, I can’t think of an e-zine that has the clout of the very top print journals, but how many of us get accepted by them, anyway? Certainly, there are some very well-regarded e-zines and some only just about reputable print journals, so you can’t generalise.


Me Going On About My Book Again

So, my book’s been out a month now and some people have even been delightful enough to give me (so far – positive) feedback on it. Many have also told me what their favourite poem is and, surprisingly:

(a) So far, only two people have singled out the same poem (“Uphill”)- the poems chosen have been incredibly diverse

(b) Some of the poems going down best with readers are ones that kept getting turned down by journals.

We’ve had two votes for “Uphill” (got turned down by everybody and his dog, although did make the shortlist for one journal before failing to make the final cut. In a way I can see why – it’s a bit niche, being about a village on the outskirts of Weston-super-Mare, and has a slightly religious theme which won’t appeal to everyone [both the people who chose it were practising Christians]- but I always rather liked it), one vote for “The Chatterton Room” (also unpublished and again the fact that it has a local focus – a room at the church of St Mary, Redcliffe, in Bristol – and is about the poet Thomas Chatterton, with whom not everyone will be familiar, may have been the reason for that), one vote for “Hope” (was published by Snakeskin), one vote for “Unrequited” (published by Amaryllis),  one vote for “Manilla” (published by Clear Poetry), one vote for “Hamelin” (published by Ink, Sweat & Tears), one vote for “Bluebeard” and one vote for “The Gingerbread House” (both turned down by the entire planet, although they have been quite successful as performance poems).

(c) Nobody has chosen my favourite poem yet.

My Cloth-Eared Heart

My debut poetry pamphlet, My Cloth-Eared Heart, was published this week by Oversteps Books. It costs £8, plus P + P.  You can acquire it in the following ways:

(a) You can buy it from me if you see me at a spoken word or poetry event (see Forthcoming Events). I will always have a few copies on me if I’m at a poetry event, whether I’m performing or not, and this is my preferred way of selling.
(b) If we see each other socially or in non-poetry contexts, you can message me and let me know you’d like to buy a copy next time you see me.
(c) You can message me with your address and payment and I will post you a copy (although you might have to keep nagging me about it if I’m busy)
(d) You can order direct from Oversteps

Please note, it is a collection of page poetry, so the poems are shorter, more serious and perhaps a little less accessible in style than my performance poetry (but people have said even my poems that are supposed to be serious are still quite funny, so maybe not too different?)

It feels like a huge achievement and also quite odd to have a real book with my name on the front. I keep opening it, and reading a bit, and stroking it. And taking loads and loads of pictures of it and posting them on Facebook and Twitter. At the age of 5, I already wanted to be a real author, with a published book with a real publisher and everything, so it’s only taken me 45 years!

I sent the manuscript off nearly a year ago and some of the poems in it are 4 or 5 years old. A handful seem painfully overwritten now, a few aren’t where my head is any more, but the vast majority I am extremely proud of and are an uncannily accurate articulation of my present feelings.

I can vividly remember when and where some of them were written: “Light II” was written on the train back from a visit to my friend Lucy in Surrey; the bulk of “Summative Assessment” was written while waiting for a train at Patchway Station after a failed job interview (although none of that is what inspired it);  “Manilla” was written in a cafe in Bristol during a Christmas shopping trip, inspired by the legend on the packet of envelopes I had just bought to send my sister’s present; “The Twilight of the Gods” was composed while I was invigilating a particularly dull exam (in the first draft, it began “The other invigilator is wearing my dad’s shoes”, but I decided that tinkering with the truth just a little would make it more universal); both “Christina Rossetti Ate Pasta” and “No Longer On Offer” came to me while I was shopping in Tesco; “The Chatterton Room” was inspired by a group visit to St Mary Redcliffe. Literally dozens of them were sparked by the monthly topics set by my brilliant local writers’ group, Weston Poets, without whom I would never have written anything, at all.

Of course, I know exactly who inspired each of the love poems. But I’m not saying. I would love to have mentioned them in the Acknowledgements section, but I fear they would be appalled and possibly litigious, rather than flattered, so I left them out.

There were several other people who got left out of the Acknowledgements who should have been in, so let me take this opportunity to thank every one of the hundreds of people who have helped or inspired me in any way. I couldn’t have done it without you.