About Me

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Bristol , United Kingdom
I am co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Thursday, 25 February 2021

A Road Trip to Portishead

The Northerner's phone needed fixing and all the Apple shops are shut, but he came across someone who could repair it in Portishead, and suddenly we were going on a road trip and packed the dog, so we could have a walk along the coast path and she could have her first glimpse of what you might laughingly call 'the sea'. 

These days you have to take what you can get. 

But it was a mild and dry day, the light was lovely, and the path we walked very sheltered, judging by the size and shape of the trees that line it. 

Upstream, the new Severn bridge was visible, and just beyond I could make out the pylons of the Aust Severn powerline crossing, but the beautiful older bridge was invisible in mist.

I haven't been able to find out the name of this cove we passed, so maybe it's regarded as the far end of Sugar Loaf beach. Anyhow, I really liked it, with its neat tideline of bladderwrack.

Shortly afterwards we reached our destination, Black Nore lighthouse, which was built in 1894 and decommissioned in 2010. 

By now storm clouds were sweeping up the Channel, and although it was darker on the Welsh side, we decided nevertheless that we should probably head back to the car. 

We did pause for a bit at Sugar Loaf Beach proper to wander down the slipway and show Cwtch 'the sea', but to be honest, she didn't much care for the mud. 

A brief postscript this morning, in the shape of a return visit to retrieve the phone, now in full working order, and the chance of a wander up to Battery Point. Cwtch enjoyed exploring the warth in weather that wouldn't have disgraced late April.   

Battery Point lighthouse is still in use, although its two-tonne fog bell was removed in 1998 for fear it might cause the structure to collapse. 

The Severn bridges were even harder to make out than yesterday ... 

... though it was interesting to glimpse Avonmouth from a different angle ...  

... and Denny Island, midway between England and Wales and marking the boundary between the two, looked positively Mediterranean. Roll on spring and summer. 

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

The art of critiquing poetry

It’s been nearly a year since we held our last monthly Leaping Word poetry group meeting in the light and airy music room in Bristol’s Folk House, before the first lockdown was implemented. I don’t believe even the most pessimistic of us there that day imagined that we would still be living and writing in varying degrees of isolation all this time later.

 We’ve kept our poetry groups going by email and Facebook group, with the occasional Zoom meeting for good measure. When we first came up with the idea of weekly prompts and feedback for the duration of our exile, again I don’t think we anticipated the situation lasting to the point where we have now received and critiqued several hundred poems. But it has kept us and our poets busy and out of mischief.

 In the summer I had a rush of blood to the head and have now embarked on an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Writing School, and one of the modules requires us to … yes, critique each other’s poems. And because you can never have too much practice, here’s one written just for fun.

Hi Bob

 Thank you for sending us your poem, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’. We think this is a promising early draft.

You set the scene well. The narrator is making a journey, accompanied by a horse pulling a sleigh. It is evening and there is snow. Nearby there are woods, and at a distance a village. The narrator pauses and then considers continuing his journey.

 You capture this opening scene with such precision that it is a surprise to the reader when the poem fails to progress beyond it. We wonder if you have been struck by writer’s block or had a particularly busy week? Have you considered having something happen in the poem? Maybe there could be an attack by a highwayman, or a chance encounter with a young man and his heavily pregnant girlfriend, who are from out of town and need a lift to a nearby inn? Who knows where the story could go from there.

 We have a few specifics to draw to your attention.

First, the title. We don’t think it’s working hard enough for you. You could use it to locate your poem more precisely, as in ’Stopping by Michael Wood just outside Thornbury on the M5 northbound on a Snowy Evening’, or add an air of mystery by calling it ‘The Numinous Snow’.

In the opening line, the inversion feels very archaic to us. It would sound far more natural if it read ‘I think I know whose woods these are’. Of course, you would then have to alter the entire rhyme scheme of the poem, but it needs attention anyway, as ‘though’ at the end of the second line is clearly there just to rhyme with ‘know’. In fact, end rhymes are rather old-fashioned, as is the tum-ti-tum metre of the poem. You could really add interest by breaking the poem up with some enjambment and the addition of internal and half-rhymes.

 In line 1, stanza 2, ‘queer’ is a somewhat problematic choice of word. At best, you risk wrong-footing your reader; at worst, it’s cultural appropriation. And of course, making assumptions about what the horse is or isn’t thinking is an example of anthropomorphism and best avoided. 

Lines 3 and 4 of this stanza are superfluous. You have already mentioned the woods, and the frozen lake is irrelevant to the action of the poem as it stands currently.

It is frustrating that although you return to the horse in stanza 3, its potential is not fully explored. The harness bells add a picturesque, almost whimsical touch, but we know nothing of the animal itself. What colour is it? Does it have a name? There is so much more interest that could be added at this point.

 In the final stanza, the repetition of the last two lines makes for a slightly weak finish. We suggest you substitute line 4 with something like ‘in a Berni Inn that’s clean and cheap’.

 Finally, Bob, we hope you don’t mind if we point out that you’ve been writing rather a lot of these little New Englander poems lately. They can only ever be of local interest. Have you thought of writing something more culturally appealing, such as a riff on Love Island? Or a poem on a theme everyone can relate to, like picking up a prescription on a Saturday with the kids in tow when they’d rather be flying their kite? You could call it ‘Shopping in Boots on a Blowy Morning’.

All the best with it, Bob. We think you have the makings of an interesting poem here, and look forward to seeing a much later draft.

 Warm regards

 Colin and Deb


If you write poetry and are interested in feedback for your work and/or help with getting a collection together, do contact us on admin@theleapingword.com.

Friday, 5 February 2021

First warmth of the sun

Winter's not over yet, but in terms of duration - if not weather - it feels like we might have broken the back of it. During the last few weeks, we've had the run of the golf course as well as the meadow, wood and common on the far side of it, on account of there being no people hitting little balls at great speed, which has been great. Here are some photos of it in its soggy winter majesty. 

Is all this ours? 
No, not really, Cwtch. 

One of the things that has been quite striking is how wet the ground is. The smaller pond is always quite full ... 

... but even the larger one, which is often little more than damp, looks very watery. 

The meadow's really sodden too, especially down the bottom end, and it makes me wonder whether the amount of water underground was a factor in the distinct drop in temperature when walking down the footpath that I noticed last summer. I sank up to my ankles the last time we were there. Just as well we've been wearing wellies for the last couple of months. 

Always on the horizon is Southmead Hospital, and I often find my thoughts wandering that way while we're out, although it's only when I'm back home and watching the little videos I've made of our puppy, Cwtch, that I realise how omnipresent the sound of sirens is. 

One of the pleasures of this time has been revisiting the old trees we first got to know last spring, when the course was closed for the first time. The fairy tree on the fairway is loaded with the fattest haws I've ever seen. There has to be something uncanny about it for the birds not to have had them.

Around the northernmost edge of the course, where there's a sort of moat with huge trees in it, some of the paths that lead down into it have been cleared of brambles.

The path down to this ash tree looked far too steep and slippy for me to attempt, but not so the one leading to the magnificent oak I watched the sun set in a few times last summer, so I ventured down. It was good getting up close to it. 

Visitors have included this buzzard, which the Northerner confidently identified as a kestrel (but then he is from Barnsley) ...  

... the first drumming greater spotted woodpecker of the spring (the one in our garden just chases all the smaller birds off the feeders), and this February ladybird. 

But the most tangible sign of spring has been the first faint warmth of the sun, and the oak tree in the meadow, which is unchanged yet somehow giving the impression it knows the season is turning. 

One of the two feathers I tucked inside it last October, at the beginning of a long winter without our dog, Ted, is still there, looking rather the worse for wear but unbroken and recognisably itself. A bit like the rest of us. 

Monday, 1 February 2021

A winter wander around Ashton Court and Arnos Vale Cemetery

Apart from last week's bleak trip to Weston for a vaccination, we've been confined to Bristol. (No surprises there.) But there have been a few bright days, and a couple of them coincidied with rather less busy schedules and we were able to get out for a walk. So here's some photos of Ashton Court and Arnos Vale Cemetery, the former famed for its magnificent trees.

The Domesday Oak on the right

The dew pond and a view of Bristol

The Fattest Oak - 700 years old and a girth of 27 feet

Velvet shanks

Arnos Vale was the most crowded I'd ever seen it - and very noisy. Poor pup Cwtch was quite alarmed by all the barking dogs. I wonder what the residents make of lockdown.

My grandparents' grave being displaced by an ash tree ... 

... many of which are being felled as a result of ash dieback

Steep, stony and muddy

In the winter you can see the graves down in the vale, which disappear into shadow in summer. 

View of Bristol

Horse chestnut with bracket fungus

Raja Rammohun Roy's tomb lit by winter sun

The memorial to stillborn babies