Slow progress and wide heart lead

Seven items from the imaginary news desk at Kenny Towers.

  1. A nice, not to mention speedy, review of TRUTHS A Telltale Press Anthology in London Grip. If you’d like to buy a copy, simply get in touch with me through this site. In other poetry news, I have a poem called Commuted appearing on the Amaryllis site at the end of this month, and another War Diary in 1/72 scale accepted by Arachne Press anthology provisionally called An Outbreak of Peace.
  2. And talking of self-puffery, here’s a conversation I had with the multi-talented Louise Tondeur about marketing.
  3. Two books of poetry are currently lighting up my life. Eleni Vakalo, Before Lyricism, translated by Karen Emmerich, which drips with timeless vitality and sheer Greekness which I love. One day I must post more about the riches of Greek poetry since Cavafy.  And Janet Sutherland‘s Bone Monkey, which was recommended to me by my poet pal Charlotte — I have the sense in reading Janet’s poems that she sees the world a bit like I do, except she has words for what I’ve not been able to say, so for me her poems are revelatory. I am just about to order her other two books now. Some writers make you fall in love with reading all over again, and Vakalo and Sutherland are two of those.
  4. I think I have started a new play, but I don’t want to hex myself by saying more. It seems to want to be another black comedy.
  5. I have lost count of the number of agents I’ve approached with my children’s book. Not a glimmer so far, and the majority are so swamped they simply don’t reply. As the book has been read to actual schoolchildren who have lapped it up, clearly lateral thinking and persistence must now be deployed (after a brief spell of shaking my fist at the indifferent gods of publishing).
  6. In the other part of my double life as a creative, I found out a concept I’d done with my pals in the Paris agency, Life Animal Health, about the animal disease rinderpest, has won a prize in the French Empreintes awards.
  7. I have been learning how to make stained glass windows. My class on a short hiatus before restarting. The design part I find fairly easy, but the practical stuff I find a bit of a ‘pane’. Cutting different thicknesses and types of  lead (I love the name of one – ‘wide heart lead’), cutting glass, sometimes overlaying two lots of glass one on the other, grinding glass, soldering (I’d never done this before), and generally getting my finicky hands dirty, have all challenged me. I love it though. My design was quite complicated, so despite working on it for weeks every Friday morning, it is still not finished. The tutor, Ben Conti, a very patient and skilled man and has not let me compromise my vision. My fellow students all lovely. I’m planning a bench at home.

Below… A workbench snap a few weeks ago. Ben seems to think it will be done one day, but stained glass is, for me, a work of glacial progress…. But once the mammoths have thawed out, it could look nice all buffed up and completed.

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Posted in a writer's life, Greece, Marketing, Peter Kenny The Writer Ltd., Publishing, Stained glass, Telltale Press, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Telltale Press finishes on a high

Robin Houghton and Sarah Barnsley and I co-edited TRUTHS: A Telltale Press Anthology,  and we had our big launch. All kinds of marvellous poets who were in the anthology came and read. Sarah, Robin and I introduced the night and also read. Our guests were amazing.

It was emotional, as we are wrapping up Telltale and wanted to do it in a celebratory way and on a high. Telltale now has lots of friends, and I have met some amazing people through it since Robin first approached me with the idea in 2014. I feel I’ve learned how to ‘be’ a poet again from my friends in Telltale, Robin, Sarah, Siegfried and Jess — and Catherine Smith our associate editor. We’ll all do stuff together at some point again, but the experience has been enriching in all kinds of ways.

Below is a photo my wife Lorraine took of the chaotic poet posse in Lewes on 25th April. Deep breath… l to R Louise Tondeur, Jeremy Page, Clare Best, Catherine Smith, me at the back, Sarah Barnsley (kneeling) Jess Mookherjee, Mike Bartholomew-Biggs, Abigail Parry (kneeling), Janet Sutherland, Abegail Morley (with Charlotte Gann hidden behind her d’oh), Stephen Bone, Marion Tracy, John McCullough, Robin Houghton, Judy Brown.

A night to remember.

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Launching Truths: A Telltale Press Anthology

7:30 Wednesday 25th April
Venue The John Harvey Tavern
Bear Yard (off Cliffe High Street),
Lewes BN7 2AN.

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So just a quick note here about the launch of TRUTHS – A Telltale Press Anthology, edited by Sarah Barnsley, Robin Houghton, and myself.  Expect the anthology’s launch to contain readings, a few drinks and much optimism. Frankly this Anthology is far better than I had dared hoped — and it looks beautiful too, with cover art by Hannah Clare.

It is the fruition of conversations Sarah, Robin and I had last Summer about life in a post truth age. Ever since Plato banished poets from his Republic, poetry has had a complex relationship to truth. Poems often arise out of an honest attempt to explore and engage with the world and they express truths that are uncomfortable, because poets have always been in the business of confronting shallow thinking with far a deeper truth.

We have drawn on friends of Telltale to create an enviable list of contributors: Siegfried Baber / Sarah Barnsley / Michael Bartholomew-Biggs / Clare Best / Stephen Bone / Judy Brown / Rishi Dastidar / Helen Fletcher / Charlotte Gann / Robin Houghton / Peter Kenny / Martin Malone / John McCullough / Jessica Mookherjee / Abegail Morley / Katrina Naomi / E.E. Nobbs / Jeremy Page / Abigail Parry / Sue Rose / Catherine Smith / Janet Sutherland / Louise Tondeur / Marion Tracy / Rebecca Violet White.

For more, simply read the Telltale Press blog about it here.

I can’t wait. If you’re able to join us, please do.

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Keeping Guernsey Legends vibrantly alive

Guernsey Legends by Jane Mosse & Frances Lemmon, Blue Ormer Publishing

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Jane Mosse and Frances Lemmon

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 14.53.39The stories in the gorgeously-produced Guernsey Legends by Jane Mosse and Frances Lemmon are not remote reconstructions from some antique past. One story, about an enormous spectre of a nanny goat, played a real part in my own island childhood. Le Coin de la Biche was a stone’s throw away from my family home on La Rue des Grons. My grandfather always accelerated past this corner at night. Although we used to laugh nervously about La Biche as we sped past, by night a fiery-eyed giant nanny goat leaping out of the hedges certainly seemed possible.

The book’s introduction also mentions Jane Mosse and Frances Lemmon’s debt to the peerless Marie De Garis, the author of Folklore of Guernsey (1975).  But the text of Guernsey Legends, contains stories collected by Sir Edgar McCullough and Edith Carey, which were first published in 1903. These stories are then responded to in poetry, by Jane Mosse, and visually, by Frances Lemmon.

It is a huge relief to see we are in such safe hands. Writer Jane Mosse is well known on Guernsey not just as a fine poet, but for championing Guernsey literature, and the memory of G.B. Edwards and The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, the best book written about the island. In this collection Jane Mosse’s poems are typically playful, engaging and full of a folkloric darkness. The effect is often that we are reading rediscovered poems, and Jane Mosse’s conscious use of  anachronisms is particularly effective and sympathetic in rooting themselves into the soil of the original stories.

The Cuckoo is one of these examples, where the poem is almost like reading an old Guernsey spell.

The Cuckoo

When you hear the cuckoo call
Sew you then your wedding shawl.

Count the months before you wed
Head thee to thy marriage bed.

Wedding ring already worn?
Count the years to your first-born.

When you’re agèd list her cry,
Count the years before you die.

This poem about finding a witch caught up in thorns works its magic in the same way.

The Witch in the Hedge

Thorns
tore
at the silken skirt.
Fine tatters
fluttered in the furze,
as the juice of the sloes
leached into her bodice
staining the fragile lace of her shawl.

When old Nicolette
espied the gentlewoman
ensnared by blackthorn,
bleeding midst the brambles
her gentle hands reached
to pluck
barbed spines
from grazed flesh.

Pride wounded,
raven scoop askew,
the hag
spat
out her warning.

‘Hold though thy tongue
speak to no one
lest a single word
of this tale be heard.’

Frances Lemmon is the pre-eminent painter on Guernsey, who unfailingly manages to get to the symbolic heart of the island, with striking compositions that somehow mythologise features of the island. Her style is deceptively simple, employing planes of vibrant colour, and simplified depictions of people and animals. The book is worth its price alone for having collected Lemmon’s stunning and mysterious pictures.

Guernsey Legends is divided into five sections: animals, fairies, magic, rocks and stones, and festivals, and the subject matter is incredibly rich. We learn about an invasion of murderous fairies from the west, drunken (and untrustworthy) Jerseymen who tried to steal Guernsey by hitching a rope to it to, to shape-changing witches and shape-changing rocks and all manner of other matters.

This is a beautiful book. The original stories wonderfully enhanced by Jane Mosse and Frances Lemmon who have gone about teasing out new approaches to the legends with consummate skill. In their hands Guernsey Legends are vibrantly alive, and bring authentic Guernsey folklore to a new generation of readers. This is another timely and excellent publication from Blue Ormer.

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Between beauty and terror

Thus the blue hour comes by Tess Jolly, Indigo Dreams Publishing 

I love Tess Jolly’s poems, and I posted my look at her first collection Touchpapers here. Her latest, Thus the blue hour comes  from Indigo Pamphlets confirmed the promise of her first pamphlet with what is, in my view, a beautifully coherent and even stronger collection.

I saw the collection before it went to print, and was asked for a quote for the back cover. I still stand by what I said then, which was:  The mysterious, almost unnerving, quality of Tess Jolly’s poetry carries a cold fire into recesses of the imagination — and when we dare look with her, we glimpse treasures gleaming in the dark. For, as I noted with her first collection, Tess Jolly’s poetry contains magic. In her poems you will find yourself stumbling into wonder. Frequently too, you’ll encounter a mood of genuine gothic creepiness, where objects are supercharged with a magnetic significance.

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In this collection, Tess Jolly employs some traditional symbols, but in a way that makes your hair stained on end. The moon, a symbol freighted with associations and often traditionally associated with the feminine, fertility, and the subconscious mind, is here compared to bone.

                        Moon is no longer moon.
It is a spinal cord of light pulsing dark water

in which the counting sheep have drowned.

(The Night Light)

Bone-shadow, skelton moon,
echo of the beat breaking through me

she settles into the eiderdown –
a bird on its nest – opens
the ragged canopy of its wings.

(Thirteen)

The ‘She’ of the poems takes on many forms, she observes the act of vomiting,

Her favourite view
is of the back
of my head
as seen from above.
Something about the way
my long hair
parts at the neck
movs her
and the sounds I make
when bowed like this –
acidy, guttural –
mothlight catching
the dark little hairs
on my nape
which shines
like cut glass.

(The back of my head as seen from above)

She is intimately aware of changes in the body.

She strokes the bloom of hair on my back.
Praises the absence of blood.

(Little Gannet)

This accumulation of physical details and gaunt, skeletal imagery, strongly suggest that we are dealing with the experience of anorexia. The word anorexia never appears in the collection, however, and the poems achieve a kind of universality in their depiction of a battle for survival and control over a subtle enemy. For there are temptations of this gaunt other:

She throws me diamonds, pearls,
glittering scraps.
Teaches me the art

of make-believe

(Jewels)

The poem The Cliff Path, which I quote in full, is chillingly brilliant. The temptation to follow the path till the end is so evident.

The Cliff Path

She tells me it’s my turn.
I follow her down long corridors
past scapula, clavicle, pelvis, rib

woven into wreaths hanging
on every door, through the trees
onto the cliff path.

Shadows lengthen before us:
creatures disturbed in magic mirrors,
genies summoned from bottles.

I can see the house in the distance,
the ghosts lingering
like breath on its windows.

In my opinion Tess Jolly is one of the UK’s most exciting poets, writing in a way that is full of otherworldly beauty and terror. Her poems remind me of Rilke’s lines from the first of the Duino Elegies:

                                                   For Beauty’s nothing
but the beginning of Terror we’re still able to bear,
and why we adore it so is because it serenely
disdains to destroy us.

(Tr. J.B.Leishman and Steven Spender)

In my view, Tess Jolly walks the tightrope strung between beauty and terror with absolute bravura.

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Poetry omnivore

For me, it’s all been about poetry so far this year. Sarah Barnsley, Robin Houghton and I have been putting together an anthology from Telltale, about which there will be more news shortly. Meanwhile I’ve been editing my own 24-poem, pamphlet-length collection, and have been lucky enough to receive excellent advice and a good deal of encouragement from Robin, Sarah and Charlotte Gann.

Back in January, Robin and I went to see the poet’s AGM; the T.S. Eliot award readings. I love how this reignites my love of poetry every year. Perhaps not a vintage crop this time, but I have since enjoyed the collections by the worthy winner Ocean Vuong, as well as Jacqueline Saphra, and James Sheard.

Omnivorously gobbling poetry, my reading has included Kate Tempest and Anna Akhmatova and, returning after many years, William Blake. I had forgotten how Songs of Innocence seem almost more sinister to me than the Songs of Experience. I must also recommend Nine Gates, Entering the Mind of Poetry, essays by Jane Hirshfield. I can’t remember reading essays about poetry and agreeing so much. I came across Jane Hirshfield on the fabulous Brain Pickings site.

So off tomorrow to the launch of Robin’s Cinnamon Press prize winning collection, All the Relevant Gods and Stephen Bone’s excellent Plainsong pamphlet from Indigo Dreams. With Sarah Barnsley and Antony Mair reading, it will be a really good night.

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Two things the demons taught me

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January and February? Gah! What are they for other than self-flagellation? With festivities just a liver-scarring memory,  the nights long, and the days hatefully grey… I usually use the first part of the year to brood like Milton’s Satan on the vast abyss of my shortcomings. But this year I did something different. I tidied up.

It started with a giant Kim Jong-un eraser. Looking into its plump orange face I decided that the Supreme Leader represented an opportunity to chuck out the half dozen age-hardened erasers I’d hoarded. This was just the beginning. Soon I began to see each item of clutter as a decision I’d not yet made, and a ruthless mood fell on me. I gave bags of clothes and shoes to charity, methodically I decluttered my office, weeded papers from files, organised my computer and took dozens of books to charity shops. I even employed a friend to come and lift up the floorboards and sort a joist problem out. For a few weeks there, there was nothing I couldn’t do. The result is the feeling of having a clean desk, but much magnified.  There are gaps in my seven bookcases for new books, and new ideas, and I can pretty much put my hand on anything I need. Win!

* * *

Last winter, on a train to work, I was tutting over the ‘brand values’ of a new product I had to do some advertising work on. Millions of pounds had been spent on the product, but the generically aspirational abstract nouns pretending to be values were laughable.

Shortly before this, Lorraine, my headteacher wife, had been refining her school’s values too. So it was inevitable that I ask myself this question: what do I stand for? And, then: what are the values of Brand Kenny?

Rattling back and forth to London I had plenty of opportunity to consider what my values should be. Since then I have asked several people what they thought their values were. It is well worth thinking about for yourself. Here are mine:

  1. Creativity – As this is how I make a living, a life without being creative would be unthinkable. But I have met people with Creative in their job title, who are far from creative. I may live my life doing creative work, but am I living my life creatively? Even though I work in advertising, and write poems, plays and so on, there is always room to apply the creative thinking to other areas of your life.
  2. Courage – Life may not always call for heroism,  but there are always opportunities for moments of micro-courage. Having experienced bouts of extreme anxiety, I know that just leaving the house can be an act of extraordinary courage for some. While I was thinking about these values I was planning to take a play to Edinburgh. There were a thousand reasons not to, of course, but deciding to be brave is exhilarating. Even such tiny moments of courage can be life affirming.
  3. Compassion – Wanting to write something to give others comfort drove me to write my children’s novel, currently languishing in slush piles. But I have worked with charities since my teens and done some gritty stuff, as a researcher talking to people with mesothelioma with Nancy Tait, to campaigning against Racism in Children’s literature, to making TV adverts for humanitarian or health organisations such as this experience in Chad.  Compassion is important because, as a writer, life can be very inward looking. Goaded by January and February demons, I realise that compassion can also extend to yourself too. For me, compassion also contains the notion of empathy, and without empathy it is impossible to write convincingly.

But can these abstract nouns, Creativity, Courage and Compassion really change anything practical?

I think the answer is that they can, if you want them to.

Every time I make a new to-do list (on a fresh A4 page of my yellow lined notebook in blue ink) I write Creativity, Courage and Compassion at the top of the page. Having listed the things that must be done, I ask myself what if any of these tasks has anything to do with my values. If not, I ask myself why I am doing them. I’m increasingly relying on my values as a way of prioritising what I do, and working out why I am doing it.

Try it. You might like it. So… What do you stand for?

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