Saturday, 27 February 2021

Losslit gone

The LossLit site ( has gone bad, so here I reprint my 2017 poem that used to be there -

A short course of treatment

Six walls replace three of scenery.
On the sides, slowly moving faces
sucking at the glass.

They put a colourful ruin in the centre
so they can watch me explore in and out,
questions and answers.

Every so often they add more
complications to avoid -
a plant, a diver, a treasure chest.

Each week while I'm out
of the way they clean, and
I forget everything.

Friday, 19 February 2021

Editing down

I sometimes turn a short story into Flash as an exercise. What I try to avoid is ending up with a piece that has lost weight but is still wearing the same old clothes. I focus on a single scene, lose a side-plot, or lose a character. If I return to the short story I'm usually able to exploit what I've learned when writing the Flash.

Sometimes I've made a page-long poem more episodic, then I've broken it into a few poems. Not all of the shorter poems succeed, but at least I've salvaged something.

Welsh writer Cynan Jones' story “The Edge of the Shoal” began as a 30,000-word short novel but he cut it to 11,500 words because “it didn’t work.”  When he sent it to The New Yorker they liked it but asked him to cut it in half. He took 4 days to cut the story to 6,000 words. In that form the New Yorker published it and it won The 2017 BBC National Short Story Award. The original version was published by Granta as a novella entitled "Cove", which then won the Wales Book of the Year Fiction Prize.

Moral - you may want to keep more than one version of some of your pieces - short and long versions. If you chop, keep your drafts. You may never become famous enough to sell them, but they may have something valuable that gets worn away by rewrites.

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Long shadows

Maybe you can't see the camels' shadows. We set out when the sun was low so that it wasn't too hot, spending a night in the Moroccan Sahara desert. Standing on the dunes, we could use our mobiles. Civilisation was never far away.

Here's me on my bicycle, with the long shadows of a bright February evening. Better to head into the shadows than cycle with the sun in my eyes - and in the eyes of the drivers behind me. Lockdown has brought my bicycle and me even closer together. I really should oil it soon.

The sun sank fast and brightly in the Canaries. The extensive dunes were full of surprises. We weren't so far from Morocco, and camel rides were on offer, but the facilities in the towns (Swingers clubs etc) stopped us confusing the two places.

Still looking north - this time from Fleam dyke (a bank 7m high, plus a ditch, not far from Cambridge). It dates back to the 5th century. There's also a bronze age barrow. You can see for miles.

Friday, 5 February 2021


After over 30 years, Patricia Oxley is standing down as Acumen's editor. Danielle Hope, who's long been connected with the magazine, will take over. I wish them both luck.

I suspect that Acumen's loyal readership is on the older side. I've been a subscriber for a long time. I've had several poems, letters and the odd article in it - worthwhile pieces (in my opinion) that I'd have trouble placing elsewhere, especially nowadays: pieces that non-poets might like.

The extensive reviews section (35 pages in the current issue) is very ably managed by Glyn Pursglove. It doesn't rush to cover all the latest stunning debuts. It also deals with translations and the work of established (though perhaps not fashionable) poets (Etty, etc). Books by, amongst others, Ni Chuilleanain and Longley are reviewed at length in the current issue.

Having a letters section (with maybe 4 months from submission to publication) may seem quaint in this Twitter age. The letters are often mini-articles though.

Sunday, 24 January 2021

TS Eliot prize shortlist

On BBC radio 4's Front Row program on 22nd Jan, Lavinia Greenlaw (chair of the TS Eliot prize judges) had the difficult task of describing each of the 10 shortlisted books in a paragraph or so, justifying each without showing favour. I think she was careful to share out the praise without overusing any particular word. She used "extraordinary", "incredible", "astonishing", and "remarkable" twice each; "powerful", "amazing", "startling" once.

She thought that there's a new stylistic freedom afoot (I can believe that) and that poetry's caught up with the present in a way that other art-forms haven't yet (I'm far less sure about that). The poets have "interrogated the constructs". The quote I'll keep is "when language fails, people turn to poetry".

See also The Guardian's article

Friday, 15 January 2021

USA magazines

Which US magazines are worth sending to? Clifford Garstang's ranked lists are a good source of information -

Note that -

  • a few of the magazines still prefer paper submissions
  • many are University-based, with submission windows aligned to university terms.
  • many make you pay to submit (often $3)

“One Story” doesn’t charge, and it’s one of the best. Consequently they get about 100 submissions a week (the shortest being 3,000 words, the limit 8,000). So they have to read maybe 30 million words a year. Don’t expect a quick reply.