Tuesday, 14 January 2020


I overuse the word "but" in both poetry and prose. I'm not the only one - when I read Margaret Drabble's "Jerusalem the Golden" I noticed on page 10 that it has a sequence of sentences which hinge on "but", "but", "but", "but", "but", "but" ... "nevertheless", "however, though", "though", "and yet".

I looked up alternatives ("although", "despite", "however", "yet", "nevertheless", etc). Using them helped a little. I then resorted to using alternative phrases in my work ("Having said that", "on the other hand", "even so", "for all his wealth, he was still sad", etc).

In a book about therapy I read about the technique of replacing "but" by the non-judgemental "and" - e.g. using "he's cute and he's a scientist" rather than "he's cute but he's a scientist". This challenges the underlying thought-pattern - the root of my stylistic problem. The underlying thesis-antithesis rhythm's ok for representing disappointment and dashed hopes (which is why Drabble uses it, I guess). It needn't be used at the sentence level so often though, even if the piece as a whole is structured along thesis, antithesis, (then maybe synthesis) lines.

Using "and" instead of "but" reduces structural detail and contrast, but opposition is the most simplistic of structures. Using "and" to make lists lets the reader decide what the contrasts are.

Monday, 6 January 2020

Xmas and after

I usually manage to defeat post-Xmas tristesse by writing or working, but this year writers block has kicked in early. So I've been out and about instead. With our new National Trust ticket we've started visiting places. This one, Ickworth, is being repaired.

I haven't sent many pieces off either, because I don't want to encourage even more rejections - I've already had a few this year. But at least in our household my name is up in lights.

It's become a family tradition to make a gingerbread house with windows created by melting sweets. Once we'd finished eating the gingerbread and the other left-overs it was time for me to make literary plans. I'll go to the Free Verse event in February. My recent blog posts have listed the places where I'll submit poetry and prose. Priority will go to getting my longer stories published, or on competition short-lists. My New Year's resolution is to try some simultaneous submissions. I've a few poems that are worth sending off again. At the moment I don't feel like writing any new ones. Nor do I feel like entering pamphlet competitions.
Maybe it's going to be one of my prose years ...

Monday, 30 December 2019

A UK poetry submission schedule for early 2020

I shall try to submit to several of these (mostly UK) competitions and submission windows -

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

A UK/Eire prose submission schedule for early 2020

As more magazines introduce submission windows, and competitions increase their significance, it's worth planning ahead. I shall try to submit to these (mostly UK) competitions and submission windows -

Monday, 16 December 2019

My writing year

It began so well. I amassed 5 acceptances in January. By July I'd had 18 prose/poetry acceptances. But in the second half of the year I managed just one acceptance. Rejections have been pouring in.

I wrote 11 poems. 4 might be ok, though some of those are slight. One's been accepted by "Fenland Journal". I wrote 12 stories (about 13,000 words), about half of them decent, amongst them some Flash. In spring I wrote a 3,000 word story which pleased me. Nothing's been accepted yet.

Below are my updated poetry stats -

Other people's stats include

My reading was more fruitful. As usual, I managed to read about 100 books -

  • I'm glad I finally got round to reading short story collections by Claire Keegan, Courttia Newland, Eley Williams and Janice Galloway.
  • It's been a year of flash collections - K.M.Elkes, Meg Pokrass, Gary Duncan, Paul Beckman, etc.
  • Among the poets that impressed were John McCullough.

As much as anything it's been a year when I've given some writers another chance and they've let me down again - Jackie Kay (poems), Tim Dooley, Penelope Lively (her stories), Douglas Dunn (his stories), Tessa Hadley (her stories).

Monday, 9 December 2019

Curate's egg poetry

A poem's rarely full of "good" lines. For a start, few lines are good or bad in isolation - their value is affected by context, and their purpose may be to increase the value of other lines rather than be important in themselves. They may provide continuity or background information. A poem needs pacing. It needs lines that act as sounding boards (material for the effect of the good lines to permeate into, in preference to white space).

However, while developing or critiquing a poem we often underscore "bad" lines. If these lines form most or all of a stanza, the stanza's vulnerable. A recognisable unit is easier to delete than part of a whole. This is why short-stanza'd poems are risky - they offer easy targets. Even more so list poems - each item can be individually ticked or crossed.

Readers might gloss over lines they don't like/understand, especially if they adopt a holistic top-down approach. Alternatively, bottom-up readers might assign penalty points or be distracted by lines they perceive as weak. Authors vary too in their attitude to their less good lines. Sometimes their policy is "if in doubt leave it out", taking no risks. Others assume the reader (each according to their own tastes) will do the editing. Avoiding the use of stanzas (or writing a long poem) is a way to stop the weak lines being isolated and picked on.

"Safety first", reader-centric poetry doesn't suit all readers. Nor does daring (aka hit-and-miss?) poetry. I vary in my preferences when reading - though I don't ignore duff lines, I'm prepared to turn a blind eye if there are adequate compensations elsewhere. When writing I'm more of an "if in doubt" person.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Keeping books and magazines

As regards writing, it's been a quiet autumn. Instead, we've been refitting the bedroom with a floor-to-ceiling wardrobe that has lots of book space. I look up old collections quite often (most recently I looked for Chrissie Williams' "Flying into the bear" pamphlet having bought her "Bear" book) so it's useful not to have my books and magazines boxed away. The photo shows about half of what I have.

The classifications are "publications I'm in", "magazines" (my most recent issue of each. I added "n+1" to the collection recently), "poetry monographs", "HappenStance", "prose monographs", "poetry anthologies","prose anthologies", "other". I'm beginning a "flash" section. Strangely sized magazines have a section too. I've hardly any novels.

I use the "magazines" most often, to show fellow writers places they might want to send their work to. It's the anthologies that I most often re-read. Since most of the books are small-press they contain material that's not on-line, and is probably out of print. I find them a useful resource. For example, when checking on the modern use of sestinas I found many examples I wouldn't have found elsewhere.

I don't think I'm hoarding. I've kept only one complete set of magazines, namely "Panurge".