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.

Friday, 29 October 2021

Poetry changes lives

You hear it a lot. Poetry changed - or saved - my life. And it's not just me saying it, though I do have cause to be grateful, since this month marks ten years since my first collection, 'Communion', was published by Indigo Dreams and my life's ambition - to occupy a few millimetres on a bookshelf somewhere - happened. Since then, I've had three further collections published by the wonderfully generous Ronnie and Dawn, as well as a now suddenly topical coming-of-age novel set during the Black Death. 

Good things continue to happen for me where poetry is concerned. I'm currently more than half way through an MA in Creative Writing at the Manchester Writing School. Recently one of my poems was shortlisted in the 2021 Bridport Prize. And in February 2022, my next collection, a series of poems about my home city, Bristol, entitled 'Learning Finity', will be published.

After my children, my poems are my best things. I could never have dreamt I would be writing this post a dozen years ago, when I was at my lowest ebb. 

Talk to most poets and you'll likely find some sadness hidden not too assiduously in the background. Poetry attracts thinkers, and maybe also over-thinkers. Reading it can be a source of comfort. Using metaphor to shape loss, and come to terms with our unspoken fears, is a powerful way of moving past them. Noli timere, to quote Seamus Heaney.

The Leaping Word is a poetry consultancy established by me and Colin Brown, who for many years was director of Poetry Can in Bristol. We run poetry groups and workshops and offer help with editing poems, putting together manuscripts, approaching publishers with submissions, poetry performance, and putting on poetry events.

Colin is also a qualified counsellor and in addition to general counselling, he offers sessions specially tailored for writers and artists who engage with personal experience in their work. Support can be sought in relation to specific issues that are being explored, or the feelings engendered by such exploration, as well as issues of privacy and self-care. 

You aren't alone. Don't be afraid. 

Thursday, 21 October 2021

A birthday trip to Berrow

It was my 60th year* to heaven yesterday so we went to the beach, we being me and the Northerner and Cwtch the collie, and the beach being Berrow on the Somerset coast. It's a favourite place but we haven't been there much lately, what with work and family stuff and the pandemic and all, so it was good to get out of Bristol on a jolly.

And we were going to do things differently: the plan was to get to the beach and turn left towards Burnham-on-Sea, and not right - as we always do - towards the wreck of the SS Nornen and Brean. And we would walk as far as Burnham's low lighthouse, which has achieved near mythic status as far as I'm concerned, as I've never seen it. 

Except that the tide was just right for the wreck and the fates it was named for were singing, much like sirens, so we diverted in that direction just long enough for a closer look.

See, Mam, I 'as got you a sea doggo for your birthday. Is heckin' smelly

We turned south towards Burnham. It was still very blustery from the previous night's storm and the wind was hitting us full in the face.

Then we hit a patch of sinking ground, except it wasn't mud, which is generally easy to spot and avoid, it was quicksand and pretty much indistinguishable from the slow variety until you're in it. The Northerner struggled to save his wellies, which was a bit daft really as they've seen better days and need replacing, unlike him, though I suspect walking back to the car in socks would have been uncomfortable. 

We made our way back to terra firma. It started to rain, and we realised we needed to get home for sons bearing cake and later, friends in a restaurant on Cheltenham Road, so Cwtch found herself back on the lead and the lighthouse retained its unicorn status. 

Although only marginally more sandy and muddy than us, it was Cwtch too that had to suffer the vigorous towelling back at the car. (And the evening in her crate, but that's a different story.) 

*In fact, having been born in 1961, I think this is now my 61st year to heaven, and that Dylan Thomas probably should have written his 'Poem in October' - or at least the opening line of it - in celebration of his 29th birthday, not his actual 30th, but there we have it: the error must now be perpetuated, much like the entire world celebrating the new millennium a year early. 

Thursday, 14 October 2021

Living by signs

I've always looked for signs, especially time of year when I need to store them up against winter. Last autumn was full of them after our dog, Ted, died; this autumn, which has seen the death of my mother, has been the same: the gift of feathers, including a green woodpecker and jay pinions; the sighting of a kingfisher on an urban stretch of the Frome; and wild Michaelmas daisies - a favourite of my maternal grandmother - everywhere. My mother died on Michaelmas Day and I'm really pleased that her funeral flowers will have Michaelmas daisies in them, though the florist told me they're called the September flower in the trade, which is nowhere near as evocative. 

There's also been a couple of spectacular rainbows lately, like this one over the golf course car park. 

I love the play of light and shadow you get at this time of year. Light that thinks it's still strong and summery in a battle with the encroaching darkness. 

Just as the rising sun is poised to disappear behind the houses at the end of our road, so the setting sun is disappearing beyond the golf course, and we'll catch little more than tail feathers between now and the end of February. 

The above photo shows the sweep of its journey since midsummer, from the hills of South Wales in the far right to its current position. 

What you looking at, hoomin?

There've been some beautiful moon-risings too. 

Other signs have been badger (and fox) poo full of fruit stones. 

Time, then, for a little hopeful foraging beyond and field and the wood and the common onto the open farmland, which is now earmarked for building and bereft of livestock ... 

... where we found rabbit burrows, and two trees dripping with damsons. 

As it was so late in the season, and lots had either fallen or were starting to scrotumise on the branch, we picked as many as we had bags to carry them in. (Did you know you can get nearly three pounds of damsons into one unused dog poo bag.) 

The next day we came back with a low stool, but we still left enough for Richard Osman, and the birds, of course, and any passing mammal after windfalls.

Talking of building work, one of the two cranes on the disused runway has disappeared, and there was something going on down on Henbury loop railway line, which involved generators and a burger van, but I've no idea if it has anything to do with the covering of this land with concrete.

Elsewhere the colours of autumn are upon us ... 

crab apples and haws

hedge bindweed

dog rose hips

spindle berries


... and the rooks and jackdaws are back in the rookery, catching the last of the sun in the tops of the trees. 

Meanwhile, Cwtch has recovered from her operation, and is in the pink. 

She's also found a section of fence she can squeeze under and get into one of the forbidden areas of the factory site, so has to stay on the lead through the Small Dark Wood of the Mind until she either grows a bit or forgets it, which isn't to her liking at all. 

Today, with one arm full of Covid and the other full of flu, I decided to beat the bounds of the golf course, which I hadn't done for ages. 

Hurry up, hoomin with the metal arm

It was good to see the new pond looking a bit more established.

Not so good to see an abandoned Angela Carter book, though maybe it was left for the foxes to read. I think foxes would enjoy her work. 

Under her spell, we wandered through the Small Dark Wood Of The Mind and into Llwyn y Gadair Arian (The Grove of the Silver Chair), where strange things happen to the imagination ...

... only to find an enormous specimen of The Sickener growing there, which was nice. 

(It's actually a discarded safety helmet that's been there for ages.) 

Up in the field something brown and white and feathery flapped up the field - a buzzard, I think ... 

... and a Devil's Coach Horse beetle advanced across the lane pretending it was a scorpion which felt quite timely really