Autobiographical Healthcare Marketing

On waiting and waiting rooms

An old man with a flat cap and walking stick sits, head bowed, on a bench in a Barcelona park. Spain 1985. Photo ©Innis McAllister

I think about medical matters lots, and not just because I am a hypochondriac. My sole scientific qualification is an A level in biology (my degree was in philosophy and literature) but in my twenties I worked for a charity fighting for compensation for those with industrial diseases such as asbestosis.

Around that time, one of my best friends contracted HIV. Reluctantly, I had a front row seat as that tragic epidemic unfolded and I visited many people who were losing their fight against the disease in hospital.

For the last twenty years most of my paid work has been about creating concepts and copy to be read by medical professionals and patients who are facing disease and illness.

A year before the pandemic, I spent a day in a series of waiting rooms with the late Dr Janet Summerton, a dear friend and mentor who became seriously ill not long after. Together we had hours to talk about the impact of waiting.

I’d like to stress that the following is absolutely not intended as an attack on the NHS. The hospital we were visiting was enduring a difficult day of staff shortages combined with an unusually inundated A&E department. But the experience of waiting is replicated around the country — and has only been exacerbated as we continue to deal with the aftermath of the covid pandemic.

In a nutshell… I think we need to rethink waiting, and focus on what happens in waiting rooms.

‘High noon,’ Janet says, arriving for her appointment.

I can tell she is scared, so I am pleased I turned up in good time to support her. A nurse takes us to a windowless examination room, with an adjustable couch, two or three chairs and blank beige walls. The registrar enters. I notice his blade-like trouser creases.   

He begins firing questions.

‘Is your appetite poor?’  

Janet provides context. She says said she had called her GP in the first place because she felt panicky after her sister’s death. Her husband’s dementia means she feels isolated. There is no one to talk to—  

‘Is your appetite poor?’ repeats the registrar. He is treating Janet as if she were confused. I bristle. Janet, my mentor for years, is 79 and remains one of the smartest people I have ever met.    

He examines her briskly. Yes, he can feel a lump on her liver. He orders an immediate CT scan and blood test. 

We wait again. This time in the corridor. 

I tell Janet how much I disliked the registrar’s manner. But then he proves me wrong, reemerging from his office to kindly lead us to the waiting room of the Emergency Ambulatory Care Unit (EACU). 

So what’s the big problem with waiting?

‘Nothing to be done.’ The first line of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot encapsulates the problem.

The play’s aimless, shambolic characters, Estragon and Vladimir, wait forever for the mysterious Godot, a figure whose arrival will somehow change everything. Famously, of course, Godot never arrives.

The big problem with waiting is that it puts our lives on hold — there is nothing to be done. At its worst a waiting room can be a limbo of boredom and anxiety. Janet has no control, no power over when she will be called. But, after all, she is waiting to be helped, so why does it feel like torture?

Hospitals units, particularly A&E and EAC, must adapt to dynamic demand, epidemics, RTAs, even boozy nights in seaside towns can all cause a surge in cases. 

Post Covid-19, the NHS faces many challenges: an aging population, difficulty hiring staff post-Brexit, and so on. Waiting room congestion is still commonplace. 

For patients, powerless in the face of often-unexplained delays, boredom and anxiety are rife and feelings of frustration can boil over into arguments and violence. 

As for the staff… The busier waiting rooms become, the more they feel besieged by escalating numbers of queries and interruptions.

Not just healthcare

Being compelled to wait is a fact of life. Listening to music while you’re waiting to speak to someone at the bank or utility company. Waiting for planes or trains. Waiting for bureaucratic wheels to turn, waiting to get a job or have an invoice paid… Waiting is built into society.

Some people, who tend to be wealthier, are able to reduce waiting in their lives: think private medicine, private jets, even tables in restaurants and so on.

But all of us know what it is to wait. In certain contexts – such as in hospitals – the negative effects of waiting are particularly detrimental. 

The waiting room as a ‘non-place’

A waiting room is an example of a ‘non-place’ where social interactions are fleeting, and people have no emotional attachment to the physical space around them. 

According to philosopher Marc Augé (b. 1935) in his 1995 publication, Non-Places – An Introduction to Supermodernitypeople spend increasing amounts of time in non-places such as supermarkets, airports, train terminals, waiting rooms and so on. Places we pass through without wanting to stop. 

Augé suggested that the new kind of alienated solitude these non-places create in people should be studied. 

“…non-places are there to be passed through, they are measured in units of time. Itineraries do not work without timetables, lists of departure and arrival times in which a corner is always found for the mention of possible delays.”

Marc Augé, Non-Places An introduction to supermodernity

In other words, we experience a waiting room as a place where time passes. And in waiting rooms the passage of time is glacial.

Janet is anxious and upset. I try to distract her with conversation. Attempting to joke, I remind Janet that Sartre’s hellish play No Exit, famous for the line ‘hell is other people’ has been staged with the set replicating a waiting room. I soon wish I hadn’t.

To pass the time, we people watch. I think of the kinds of specific worries people have in waiting rooms. What happens if I am called when I am in the toilet? Why is that person being seen before me? Will I be called next so I can escape? 

Janet is full of dread. Not every health problem can be cured. Two hours elapse, then there is some activity. 

A senior health assistant leads Janet and I off to take her blood. He says the blood results will take up to an hour and a half to arrive, but the CT scan will be done shortly.  

The catheter is making Janet’s arm sore but we are buoyant. An hour and a half is a finite amount of time. We visit the counter down the corridor to buy a snack, and return to waiting room. We chat about mutual friends, about books, politics and the news. We look ironically at The star of the month, a smiling unit staff member, and smile at the Offensive Waste bin.

But other than a poster about sepsis, there is nothing else to look at. If you stand up, however, you can at least glimpse the sea through the window, a reminder of how beautiful the world is. We feel exiled from it already.

The hours drag by. Intermittently, Janet becomes distressed. I try to make her laugh, persuade her to help me invent a board game, The Waiting Room, (a.k.a. Nothing To Be Done) where the boot, scottie dog and top hat tokens of Monopoly are replaced by miniature busts of Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka, and George Orwell. The board itself has a baffling design by Escher. You will never pass Go.     

After four hours of waiting, Janet becomes furious. At the desk she demands to know what is happening about her CT scan. 

‘Ten minutes,’ they say.  

No Exit

The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre thought that it is only by making decisions that you can prove to yourself and others that you exist. The waiting room, of course, is a place where decision making is reduced to: Shall I risk losing my place in the queue if I get a cup of coffee and if the machine is still working? For many this inability to do anything means drifting into a state of anxiety and dread.

For Sartre, the reason we experience anxiety is to make us feel so wretched that we are forced to decide to do something about it. One problem with waiting rooms, of course, is that there are no decisions to be made and we remain in a state of anxious non-existence. In an early novel, Sartre described this feeling as a kind of ‘nausea’.

If there is a choice it is a bleak one.

Janet can only wait for the treatment she needs, however damaging this is to her mental health — or she can leave. But leaving is, of course, self-defeating and potentially harmful.

So the waiting room is a no-win situation.The longer we wait, the more powerless and anxious Janet becomes.

These are a few of the words I associate with being in waiting rooms: anger, anxiety, boredom, depression, desperation, dread, ennui, hope, need for reassurance, panic, staff-pestering, rage, resentment towards others in the room, unfairness, violence and worry.

After five hours of waiting, we fall silent. Janet is silently crying with anger. ‘Why are they lying to me?’ she says. 

The staff are overstretched. She has been fobbed off.  Now nobody knows how long it will be before she is called to Radiology.  

Eventually, in our sixth hour of waiting, we are led to the Radiology department waiting room. 

‘You should be first,’ the senior health assistant says, ‘you’ll be done in ten minutes.’ 

We are not first. We are not done in ten minutes, because another patient, an amiable but confused elderly man, had arrived just ahead of Janet. 

Some questions about waiting rooms

  • Is waiting really inevitable? Something we’re all so accustomed to accepting, that we don’t imagine there is another way?
  • Shouldn’t care start in the waiting room?
  • Why isn’t the management of waiting seen to be more important? I don’t just mean trying to speed the time people wait for operations, I mean thinking of waiting as an opportunity for therapy.
  • What if actively reducing waiting became a goal?
  • How do power imbalances relate to waiting? Why are we made to wait?
  • Why don’t we directly address the cause of anxiety and help people feel in control in medical waiting rooms? When I go to see the vet with my cat, the waiting room is full of cat-soothing pheromones. That’s because feline wellbeing has been taken into consideration. So how about us humans?

Some things that appear to help the waiting room experience

  • Being expected
  • Friendly reception staff
  • Good staff morale
  • Hygiene
  • Magazines and reading material
  • Natural light
  • Pictures on walls
  • Punctuality of appointments
  • Playing on your phone
  • Reading a book
  • Taking a friend
  • Ticketing systems

Twenty minutes pass. It seems Janet has been forgotten. I go to the office and flush out a radiologist. She agrees to talk to Janet.

 Janet cannot understand her.

‘Put in your hearing aids,’ I say.

‘Your blood test shows that your kidneys are not working well today,’ says the radiologist. ‘Did anyone tell you to drink water?’

‘No,’ says Janet. 

‘The dye will put a strain on your kidneys so we can’t do it unless you’ve drunk half a litre at least.’

Luckily, as it is a hot day, Janet has drunk enough water. 

‘Good. Just wait a bit longer, you’re next unless we get an emergency from A&E.’ 

In the seventh hour of waiting there is no emergency from A&E. Janet receives her scan and we return to the EACU waiting room. 

Ten minutes of waiting, then Janet is — at last — discharged. We are free to go.

I believe that care can start in the waiting room in every hospital. 

I am a lifelong supporter of the NHS. I think it is one of the UK’s finest achievements. But it faced unprecedented challenges during the time of covid, and has come through at enormous cost to the wellbeing of its staff. This achievement is even greater when we consider that it is being stealthily undermined by a government ideologically opposed to its continuation.

The difference money makes to the waiting process is astonishing.

Two weeks after my day with Janet in an overstretched NHS hospital I am in the reception area of the Montefiore Hospital in Hove, graced by Brian Eno’s 77 Million Paintings for Montefiore, a slowly-mutating light installation, accompanied by soothing ambient sounds.  

I pick up the comments book and read, ‘you can feel your blood pressure calming by the minute. It made me think of cells and change and the beauty of life.’ I turn a page. ‘The best waiting room experience I’ve ever had.’  

This waiting area is welcoming, even uplifting. It has smiling reception staff, flowers, natural light, help-yourself coffee and tea. This is definitely not a non-place. It feels human, and permanent. It could not be more different to the waiting rooms Janet and I had been in, where slow time was filled with depression, anxiety and anger. 

The Montefiore Hospital is private. There is no A&E department, and no need to respond to unpredictable influxes of the patients that can cause crowded waiting rooms.   

I am shown to another Eno installation downstairs. It is inspirational. The Quiet Room for Montefiore (below) is used by patients after chemotherapy. Lights softly change colour as ambient music drifts and soothes. Both installations contribute to a therapeutic, humanising tranquillity. But even if we could put an Eno installation in every waiting room in the UK, there is much more to do. 

The Quiet Room for Montefiore, Brian Eno

Soothing people is not enough

People feeling extremely panicky or angry are not always going to be calmed down by a picture or even a tranquil Eno installation.

Creating a calm environment helps, and changing the way the waiting room is organised. But why not address what causes the anxiety and help people process it?

Staff morale is critical. Cheerful, efficient reception staff can set the tone for the whole room. Small things like natural light, pictures, enough seats, and pleasant colours contribute too. While simple ticketing systems help people understand where they are in the queue, so they can at least decide if they have enough time for a pee or to buy a cup of tea.  

We have to better manage the psychology of waiting, to alleviate patient anxiety and stop the pestering of overstretched staff. 

How can we help people feel more in control when they are waiting?

I suggest one way is to give the patient a feeling of agency, and a way of taking decisions. If we accept that waiting rooms will always exist in hospitals, why not help people find a way to make some decisions?

While we were waiting, Janet and I invented an imaginary app to help people in the room. It asks people how they are feeling in the waiting room? Panicky? Then here are some techniques you can choose to take control — give them a list of mindfulness techniques. Anxious? Tell them feeling anxious is normal, let’s address what’s worrying you. Irritated? Ask what’s bugging them. Is it missing their turn? Is it the time? Tell them what can be done and why these delays are likely. Help them calm down. Bored? Here’s a game to play. Here’s something interesting to read. Happy? Have you thought about chatting to someone who looks like they need help? And so on.

Janet spent well over seven hours in hospital that day. The registrar conversation, the procedure of blood test and scan, took less than 30 minutes. This means that just over 92% of her experience was spent waiting, feeling scared about what was happening and in the dark about when she would be seen.

I’m not suggesting the simple idea for an app that Janet and I dreamed up (maybe it’s wall mural or a z-card brochure with the same information) is any kind of a silver bullet.

But addressing the problem of waiting rooms seems to me a huge opportunity to improve the patient experience.

The first step, of course, is to believe with seriousness that better is possible. Anyone want to help?

a writer's life Blowing my own trumpet Planet Poetry Podcast Poetry

The wizard and the birdcage

It has been a while since I updated this blog. I like to lead a double life, and my commercial work with my favourite art director Keith Hardy has taken up lots of my time and energy.

Luckily, I have made time to continue to present and produce the Planet Poetry Podcast with my pal Robin Houghton. Being able to interview unusually excellent poets is really stimulating. Not only does hearing their stories make for a good listen, but these conversations have helped me think about my own creativity and methods anew.

Behind the wizard’s curtain, working with Robin is effortless and I think this comes across in our conversations. Most of what we do — interviews and conversations with each other and our guests are conducted remotely and we use Squadcast to do our recordings. Like a zoom or microsoft teams meeting, we can see each other’s faces but we only make an audio recording. I have earned lots from Robin as well as hearing from the poets (in recent episodes we’ve chatted to Joolz Sparkes and Hilaire, J O Morgan, Sasha Dugdale, Janet Sutherland, Jeremy Page and others).

Naturally doing the podcast means I read more poetry than I might have done. It is sobering how often I have been forced to revise my opinion on certain poems and poets. My first impressions are often wrongheaded but I am, at least, prepared to admit it!

As for my own work in poetry, I am herding the cats of my poems and trying to make them into a collection. I have, after many false starts, finally arrived at a shape and subject and am now writing additional poems to join the dots. I am enjoying the process and the work is surprising me. Should this collection see the light of day, I will be happy. I have, however, grown fairly Buddhist over the years and simply try to do the best work I can, and not be too attached to outcomes.

I recorded two poems for the launch of Ireland’s excellent Channel magazine. You can see this below. I was very subdued in my reading, but it was a day before I started testing positive for Covid so that might explain it.

One was a recent poem, Snow on the Hillfort, which I wrote about walking to the iron age hill fort at Hollingbury on the northern outskirts of Brighton. And as the magazine has an ecological bent, I read a poem I wrote after my trip to see the effects of desertification on the population of a village in Chad several years ago.

I also had a couple of poems in Black Nore Review. I have been writing about memory, and researching a good deal about the subject. Memory is one of the foundation stones of how we build our identity, but it is very unreliable. One of the poems here ‘Little Bastard’, is one of my earliest memories, but the story is told not from my perspective but that of the person who was supposedly looking after me.

One of my favourite metaphors for memory is from Plato who, I discovered, suggested the memory could be thought of as a kind of birdcage. As you live, you store your memories in the aviary. In later life perhaps, when your birdcage has become very full, you reach in and pull out the wrong bird — a pigeon rather than a wood pigeon for example. And get your memory wrong. There are lots of reasons why this is not an adequate description of the memory process, but it’s at least easy to remember!

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Now, where was I?

I just finished another freelance job last night. And feel like a young otter released back into the wild. Is it just me, or do you do this too? As soon as I create a clear and focused plan about what I am going to do in my life, something else happens. My noble literary plans this year have been swept off the table by the Mr Hyde of my commercial writing alter ego. One of the downsides about leading a double life, along with those mysterious bloodstains, is that I often have had to ration the time I spend on things that give me joy: writing poems, fiction and making the Planet Poetry podcast with my pal Robin Houghton, to focus on filling the echoey Kenny coffers with a few doubloons.

In a few lucid moments, I have written several new poems and many of them sparked by diagnosing a fault in my writing: wanting to be likeable. So I have begun writing poems that do me no credit as a human being, but are at least honest. In my own mind I find writing about my ‘unfinest’ hours is actually quite liberating. One of these new-for-me poems was accepted by Richard Skinner for his stylish 14 Magazine which only prints poems of 14 lines.

Here’s the poem…

This is not exactly confessional poetry. But at the poem’s heart is a real death of a former friend and my own shabby response to it. Remembering this makes me physically squirm as I sit at my desk. In fact I have decided that if the new ‘unfinest hour’ poem I’m working on isn’t making me cringe, then it just ain’t working.

I also had a poem in Jan Heritage’s excellent Finished Creatures magazine. And even attended a reading organised by Jan in Lewes. It was great to go there, hear poets read poems and bask in the sunshine having beers with some of my favourites. This poem was about the Mezquita, which readers of this blog may remember me banging on about here.

Meanwhile my stealthy and malevolent progress in horror continues. My tale The Grieving was published in Supernatural Tales 46 — edited by David Longhorn. Suitably gruesome cover art by Sam Dawson and crammed with excellent tales — from Kathy Hubbard, Sam Dawson, Jane Jakeman, Michael Chislett, Tim Jeffreys and Jon Barron.

The Grieving is about an art piece that sends the nephew of the artist mad with grief, and is underpinned by anxiety, and unpleasant feelings about family. Which is all good stuff if you are trying to write weird fiction. You can buy a copy from the supernatural tales site (link above) or download a copy here.

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Doctor Spotlight

I don’t know exactly where I first heard the term ‘Doctor Spotlight’ to describe the way that being in the spotlight can momentarily conceal, for example, the terrible hangover or malaise you might be experiencing.

In the early nineties I was knocked off my bicycle one morning cycling down Chiswick High Road, and sustained quite a nasty injury to my hand. I stood in shock and dripping blood. I wandered over to a policeman who said, ‘you’ll live’. He was right.

After being stitched up in Charing Cross Hospital, I made off to my evening engagement. I was doing a poetry reading at the Commonwealth Institute in support of a mental health charity. The star was Spike Milligan who had generously asked for some local poets to be involved in the reading. Of these was a young Mario Petrucci (who second to the great Spike rather stole the show), Rosemary Norman, and I was one of two or three other poets Rosemary had called on.

I arrived early, and made straight for the bar to add booze to the shock, adrenaline and anaesthetic cocktail I was running on. The show opened with Rosemary, Mario and the other poets reading before Spike Milligan. He asked not to be last, so someone was needed someone to finish off. Weirdly, this was me. Sat behind the curtain, in the order of reading, I wound up next to Spike for a couple of hours. He was lovely, but distracted and clearly did not want to talk much.

As the audience, in the hundreds, filed in the PA began playing an interview the great comedian had given the BBC about his depression. After five minutes of this, he leant over to me and asked who it was speaking. I said, ‘It’s you Spike,’ which seemed to surprise him.

Every now and then he tried to escape. He sprang up and wandered distractedly into Kensington High Road, followed by a panicking stage manager, who would shepherd him back.

As the evening wore on, I was left with Spike alone. To me he seemed too distracted and ill to even walk to centre stage, and absolutely not able to perform. Perhaps it was just nerves, I thought, but I was seriously worried about him. But as his name was introduced, he got up, straightened out and strode onstage. Suddenly he was the wonderful entertainer and comedy genius the audience had come to see. He delivered a dazzling performance. For me watching that instantaneous transformation was unforgettable.

Anyhow… This is a roundabout way of saying I have a short story on the Horla website, called Doctor Spotlight, which draws on my experience of seeing the magic the spotlight can do. Hope you like it!

I really have to thank again here, the wonderful short fiction writer Matthew G. Rees, who edits Horla, but also was responsible for kick starting my return to writing short stories.

READ Doctor Spotlight by Peter Kenny here.

A Guernsey Double Blowing my own trumpet Planet Poetry Podcast

Learning by listening

Recently my conceptual copywriter alter ego has been roughly shaken awake and made to get on with some work for a change. After a year of freelancer’s famine, I have been scrambling to manage a weird glut of work over the last couple of months.

Not having to commute allows me the odd stolen hour to tinker with my own writing, and I notice that something has changed.

For the last year I have had what I think of as my ‘pandemic anxieties’ going off like a smoke alarm in another room while I wrote. It made concentrating very hard.

I now realise there were two alarms. The other one was ‘money anxieties’. To a certain extent, now that a few doubloons have disturbed my dusty coffers and most of my loved ones (in the UK at least) have been jabbed, the alarms are more muffled, and my ability to concentrate has noticeably improved.

I am even working on my own poems again. Doing the Planet Poetry podcast with Robin has required me to hear amazing work from poets, some of whom were new to me. It has done me the world of good to be in ‘fan’ mode, and just listen and read. The result is that some of my ossified attitudes have received a much needed rattling. I have steadily collected ah-ha! moments as Robin and I have chatted with Pascale Petit, Clare Shaw, Tess Jolly, Charlotte Gann, Jack Underwood, Mario Petrucci, Katrina Porteous, Sarah Salway, Mary Jean Chan, Rhona McAdam, Inua Ellams and Kathryn Maris in our first eleven episodes.

Although a firm believer in a poem being able to stand on its own feet (ah-hem) I am also a reader who loves to understand the context the work sprang from. Who better to learn this from than the work’s originator? One thing that has emerged from this is how hearing the tone in which a writer talks about their work reveals flashes of deep emotion, sincerity and thought. If the conversation were transcribed, much of this colour and insight would be lost.

For me the boon of encountering such accomplished writers has highlighted two all-too-familiar questions. What makes a collection? And how interesting is the story you can tell about your collection?

I don’t know if you are like me, but one of the most tiresome things in life is having to relearn the same lessons time and again. Over ten years ago, I launched A Guernsey Double with my pal Richard Fleming. We had a story to tell: the book was about the island of Guernsey seen from two perspectives. The book was, therefore, in two halves, my half was called The Boy Who Fell Upwards and was a collection of poems about a childhood and exile. While Richard’s side, The Man Who Landed, was about coming to the island to settle and shelter, having experienced The Troubles in Northern Ireland. We had a coherent story, so when we were chatting on local radio and reading at the launch, we knew what we were about. Having a two person collection was also a novelty. So lesson learned, right? Of course not. D’oh!

So relearning all this means I have cast an icy eye on the manuscript I was working on. Now I have a completely new title and focus. Also I need to get a blinking move on because, as we have all been forcibly reminded lately, life can be short. The MS needs some more poems to fill in the gaps but I feel that I have clarified my own poetic mission and that is, in itself, a big win after a year of near stasis.

Finally, as a devotee of the US comedy Frasier, I was delighted to hear it is returning. I have been a fan since it was first broadcast in the 90s, I have always harboured a secret desire to be a radio host. While our wee podcast is not quite the same thing, it certainly feels like I am living the dream sometimes and I couldn’t have done that without Robin Houghton. So here’s to your mates, and learning stuff from other people. Cheers!

a writer's life Family history Music

Jazz Baby

So here is your humble blogger as a young hepcat. My parents were in their teens when I was born in October ’59. My father, last glimpsed by me when I was five, worked for a while as a policeman. My mother had served coffee at Ronnie Scott’s club in its earliest days and was friendly with Stan Tracey whose tune Starless and Bible Black is awesome. When my mother remarried, my stepfather was also a jazz fan, and jazz has continued to be part of the soundtrack of my life.

I am writing about memory at the moment. My own memories date back to being very young indeed. Memory is of course unreliable — especially when you are imaginative by nature. However, because I was moved from place to place, I can remember being in several houses and situations that date back to toddlerhood. I have no recollection of the scene above however (which is what makes it attractive to me) although I vaguely recollect the Police flats in Belsize Park where we lived, especially the bedroom I slept in. It was there I had a recurring nightmare of a man in a hat climbing into a wardrobe. That man in a hat has featured in at least one poem, as well as being a sinister figure in my play A Glass of Nothing.

Having Spotify and Google I was able to track down the LPs and EPs that are in this photo, and then make a playlist of the tunes on it. There are tunes by Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Johnny Hodges and Wardell Gray. I am listening to the playlist as I write. Very cool, and full of saxophones and sophistication. I am hoping a Proustian memory will be triggered by a trumpet run or tune, but so far there is nothing. The Miles Davis EP, however, features Milestones. To this day it is one of my favourite pieces of music in any genre.

I am enjoying the exploration of a soundtrack to my temps perdu. I am thinking of Keats now … ‘Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard / Are sweeter‘. Yeah man.

a writer's life Publishing Short Stories

Proof positive

I want to heartily recommend Tess Jolly. Not only is she an amazing poet but she is also a fabulous proof reader. I asked Tess to proof a few of my short fictions which I am tentatively starting to assemble into a collection.

She found a fair amount to fix: including a regrettable promiscuity with commas and the odd toe-curling typo (including the classic patios when I meant patois) the odd tautology and so on. It was great to feel the MS was now more watertight.

Little bad habits, invisible to you as the perpetrator, being made suddenly visible was a little like having a writing masterclass. I fully intend to use Tess’ eagle eyes on my prose projects from now on. I can wholeheartedly recommend her.

You can find out more on her Poems and Proofs site here.

Planet Poetry Poetry

Twice is a charm

Merry Christmas! With 2020 heading for the dustbin of history, I’m beginning to take stock of what has been — at the very least — a year of thwarted plans.

However, it has forced me to innovate a little. And one of the best innovations was starting the Planet Poetry podcast with Robin Houghton. The latest edition carries an interview with Jack Underwood, and discussions of books by John McCullough, Caleb Femi, Maureen N. McLane, and Ilya Kaminsky. We’ve breaking for Christmas, but we’ll kick off the year with a deep exploration of the work of Mario Petrucci. The Podcast gives Robin and I a chance to chat to poets about poetry. One of the best things about it is that it has turned me into a fan again.

I have been through times this year where I have experienced the kind of anxiety that makes it hard to settle down and focus on reading, or I found I was reading but not giving a text my full attention. So it was only the second time I sat down to read Charlotte Gann’s The Girl Who Cried, that its power really hit me. It is a book I find quietly magnificent, and has moved me to tears on more than one occasion. There is nothing that’s extraneous or doesn’t feel true in these poems, and they hit you in unexpected ways.

Charlotte has agreed to be interviewed for Planet Poetry soon, about her new book, and its predecessor Noir, which I looked at here. The Girl Who Cried is definitely one of my books of the year.

I also reread Joy Harjo’s She Had Some Horses, first published in the 80s. It is one of those mic drop books — so brilliant that if she never wrote another book ever again, it would be enough. It made me download Crazy Brave, her memoir as an audiobook. It is only about four and a half hours long, but it is a fascinating listen, and weaves mythology and dream into the story of her childhood.

Joy Harjo is also the main editor of a new Norton Anthology, called When the light of the world was subdued, our songs came through, which I have just started. It is an anthology of Native Nations poetry and is quietly blowing me away. This, from Joy Harjo’s introduction, was very sobering.

‘We are more than 573 federally recognized indigenous tribal nations in the mainland United States …. We speak more than 150 indigenous languages. As contact with European Invaders we were estimated at over 112 million. By 1650 we were fewer than six million. Today we are one-half of one percent of the total population of the United States. Imagine the African continent with one-half of one percent of indigenous Africans and you might understand the immensity of the American holocaust.’

This anthology represent a genuine cultural landmark for Native Nations people, and a testament to their survival against all the odds. For that reason alone it seems this anthology has enormous significance.

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It’s uncanny – Tess Jolly and Krishan Coupland on Planet Poetry

Robin and I have just uploaded the latest episode of Planet Poetry. This one dabbles in the Uncanny, and is an overlap in the Venn diagram of my interests, with my interests in dark fiction and black comedy.

Tess Jolly has cropped up severally in this blog. I have always been a fan of Tess’s work — for my first glance at her earlier pamphlets see here and here on this blog, and I am delighted she has been snapped up by the excellent Blue Diode for her new collection Breakfast at the Origami Cafe.

Krishan Coupland is that rare thing, an accomplished editor with a particular vision. I have subscribed to his magazine Neon, and it has marked out a distinct territory for itself both in poetry and prose… And it looks great too.

Listen to the podcast where you normally would get podcasts, or simply click here…

Planet Poetry Poetry

Zoom launches, Planet Poetry, and a spot of horror

England is in its second day of its second national lockdown. The outcome of the US Presidential Election is on a knife edge, but I know readers of this blog will have lain awake at night wondering what on earth has Peter Kenny been doing?

Yesterday Robin Houghton and I — the Smashy and Nicey of poetry podcasting — released another episode of Panet Poetry into the wild. There’s a fascinating interview by Robin with Clare Shaw, who discusses and reads from her book Flood triggered by the flooding of her hometown in 2015. Robin gave me Flood recently, and I can heartily recommend it. In the podcast I also chat with Elizabeth Murtough the thoughtful and highly talented co-editor of  Channel, Ireland’s Environmentalist Literary Magazine. You simply get the podcast wherever you normally get podcasts or go here.

Robin and I have only met twice in person since Covid struck and we decided to launch the podcast in the first lockdown. A couple of days ago, we met up in Lewes, and ended up having a solitary drink in an empty open air terrace on top of a pub in Lewes called The Rights of Man, doing a bit of recording, drinking a couple of drinks, and eating crisps with freezing hands as the November sun sank and imaginary penguins, arctic foxes, polar bears etc. stirred in the shadows. We were outside and there was only one other person there, who left pronto when we started muttering about poetry. Lewes’s famous Guy Fawkes bonfires and fireworks had to be cancelled this year. For enthusiasts of explosions, 2020 was a damp squib.

That said, I am thoroughly enjoying Zoom poetry events, such as the launch of Tess Jolly’s Breakfast at the Origami Cafe from Blue Diode Press. Regular visitors know I’ve admired Tess’s poetry for a long time, and I am really pleased for her. (I have interviewed her for a forthcoming Podcast too). Tess read with Charlotte Gann, another of my personal favourites, who read from her new collection, The Girl Who Cried which is a tour de force — another launch I attended online this year. Also reading was Karen Smith, whose reading made me want to investigate more. Rob MacKenzie from Blue Diode, based in Leith, hosted — and is clearly an excellent and supportive Editor. I got to hang out with some friends in the zoom audience afterwards and talk a little to Ann Perrin who I only encounter in cyberspace.

As for my own poetry, apart from a stonking January 1st, when I had my 24 poem sequence published online at e.ratio in the USA. I have not written or published much this year. I had a small poem The Door in The Wall, which in part refers to the story of the same name by H.G. Wells, in London Grip, and I am very grateful to its poetry editor Michael Bartholomew-Biggs. I began scribbling again last month however, so maybe not all is lost.

As for my horrific side, a couple of days ago I was chuffed to learn that I have one of my new short stories, The Grieving, accepted by Supernatural Tales. As Skelton Yawngrave I also have been writing a sequel to my children’s book Magnificent Grace, but although I have made some progress, I find my elevated anxiety levels, always pretty high at the best of times, makes the prospect of holding a larger project in my head quite challenging. I had been going into schools before the first lockdown doing readings and selling books by the boxload, to try to get momentum going for this self-published experiment. But sadly Covid stubbed that toe too.

All the best to everyone reading this. Stay safe and keep smiling!