Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Some Christmas Fun!

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all readers of this blog!

Here's a light-hearted Christmas holiday game for you to play, if you do that sort of thing, called WHICH FANTASY/SCI-FI CHARACTER ARE YOU? I found it today whilst researching a fantasy fiction short story I've been considering. It's amusing, takes a couple of minutes and you can play it by clicking on this link:

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

By the way, I am apparently Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek.

"Make it so!'

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Fantastic Weekend

I'll be dropping into the Tin Angel tonight for the launch of SHERB, new writing from Coventry, published by the Heaventree Press. For those able to make it too, that's the Tin Angel bar on Medieval Spon Street, Coventry, and the event kicks off at about 8.30pm for 9pm, I should imagine. Here's the official stuff ...

SHERB: new urban writing from Coventry: edited by Jonathan Morley and Anthony Owen, and including poems by Jane Commane, Colin Dick, Jane Holland, Barry Patterson, George Ttoouli, Claire King and Michael McKimm, with photographs of the River Sherbourne by Jane Commane and cover artwork by Paul Blakemore

and then on Wednesday night, I'm pleased to report that I'll be joining a cast of top coffee-sipping poets at Starbucks, Martineau Place, right in the heart of central Birmingham. I was asked to perform there by their new poet in residence, Roy McFarlane, and I'm even going to drag my husband along on this occasion, who rarely comes to hear me read. But I don't fancy driving back from Birmingham alone, late in the evening, with the caffeine jitters ...

In completely unrelated news, I've just spent a fantastic weekend away from home and all the dreary responsibilities that children bring, seeing my poetry publishers at Salt just outside Cambridge and also spending a large number of smokey disreputable hours at WTs and Mickey Flynns in Cambridge itself, which are both pool halls. I prefer WTs personally, as it boasts snooker tables as well as American tables for 8 and 9-ball pool, and also because it just feels right on the skin, at least before night falls and the kids roll in: a darkened hall in the afternoon, that sepulchral hush and the occasional click-thud of balls, hidden away up a flight of creaking stairs from the shopping streets ... mmm, like coming home ... and there at the bar, oblivious to the pool tables, an earnest young man reading a book on Quantum Psychology. Only in a city like Cambridge, huh?

Friday, December 01, 2006

New Readings!

For those who take an interest in such things, I'll be reading from BOUDICCA & CO. several times next week.

The first of these occasions will be on Tuesday 5th December at Night Blue Fruit, a poetry event at the Tin Angel in Coventry, with open mic slots available for those who might like to turn up and read their own. I like this venue so much I've actually written a long poem about it, entitled NIGHT BLUE FRUIT AT THE TIN ANGEL, part of which found its way onto this blog the day after I wrote it, I seem to recall, way back in late 2005 when this blog was very new indeed. It was one of my first ever posts.

Then I'll be headlining at Starbucks Poetry Night in Martineau Place, Birmingham, on Wednesday 6th December. This will be the first time I've ever read in a coffee bar. Poetry & Pints, yes. Hundreds of times, in fact. But I think Coffee & Couplets is a first!

Finally, I may also be reading on Thursday 7th December at a special dinner & poetry event in Stoneleigh Village Hall, which is near Coventry. However, this gig has not been confirmed, as the lady who invited me to read about three months ago has not been back in touch about the details. Sheila, if you're reading this, perhaps you could drop me an email?

Copies of BOUDICCA & CO should be available at each of these readings.

In completely unrelated news, I've just got hold of the PUMP IT UP! workout on DVD and tried it today. A full hour and twenty minutes of dance aerobics from warm up to chill down, with some incredibly hard work in between. At one stage my face was glowing bright red and I was worried I might not actually survive the attempt. Not aching too much tonight -- but perhaps in the morning the full extent of my foolishness will be revealed!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Readers of Raw Light - Thank You!

It's now well over a year since I launched this blog - 14 months, to be precise - and I thought it would be nice to say a big Thank You! to all those who have been reading and browsing Raw Light. I know from my visitor stats that I get quite a few browsers from the States, some of whom come back at regular intervals, a smattering of other readers from as far away as Australia and India, plus of course my many British-based readers.

It's always fun to post to my personal writing blog, though I often find it hard to make the time now that my other blog, Poets On Fire, has grown so popular. But it gives me added pleasure and motivation to know that I have regular readers from the UK and beyond who come back time and again to see what I've written.

So thank you ... and do keep coming back!

My latest news?

I've finished what I've been working on for the past three months and am now free at last to consider my next novel. I'm still 'launching' my Boudicca & Co. collection of poems from Salt, of course, with some more readings coming up in the next few months. Plus I have a non-fiction How To book on poetry to write in 2007, but the deadline for that isn't until late summer. Which leaves me plenty of time to get cracking on another novel between poetry projects, plus hopefully write some new poems. That's the theory, anyway.

Here I am at the Tin Angel in Coventry earlier this year, testing out a tentative new poem of mine called 'Gawain's Horse' - now published in the latest issue of The Nail, an Oxford-based poetry magazine, and in my second collection, Boudicca & Co.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Jen Hadfield & Almanacs

I've been having some email conversations recently with a poet called Jen Hadfield, who lives some 600-odd miles north of London in the remote Shetland Islands, so I thought I'd post something up here about her work as she is only just beginning to make her mark on the UK poetry scene.

Jen Hadfield was born in Chesire in 1978 and is half-Canadian, as I understand it. She's published one full-length poetry collection with Bloodaxe, entitled 'Almanacs' (you can buy it here on amazon.co.uk), and is also an artist - click here to find some of her work at the Peedie Gallery, Orkney. For samples of Jen Hadfield's poetry and more about her life and various preoccupations, you can visit her website Rogue Seeds.

Her poetry is both delicate and muscular, which is an odd combination; I think it's the form which seems delicate to me, and the language which comes across as muscular. Living in the Shetlands, Jen is obviously influenced by that rugged scenery in terms of language and imagery, yet the forms she chooses tend to dance around, refusing to be pinned down and often inhabiting odd parts of the page, reminding me of some avant-garde work I've read, though rarely as opaque!

In spite of the rural Scottish connection, these are not poems about wild flowers and seascapes, although those can be found in her work, naturally enough. Instead, there's a sophisticated world-trekking mindset behind her poetry which requires a far larger - and wilder - canvas than the simple mainstream lyric, and the characters she adopts in her narrative-style poetry suggest an eccentric novelist or playwright working in a tighter form. Which is not to say that poetry isn't her form, just that she appears to be doing something very different and more ambitious with it in comparison to many of her peers. Basically, Jen Hadfield's first collection of poetry is Gordon Wardman's Hank meets Alan Warner's Morvern Callar meets High Plains Drifter. Confused? Well, that's what Google is for.

She's at work now on her second collection, Nigh-No-Place, amongst other things. Definitely one to watch ...

Monday, October 30, 2006

Reading in Cheltenham this Sunday

This Sunday evening, November 5th, I'll be running an hour-long poetry workshop in Cheltenham, followed by a reading from my new collection BOUDICCA & CO with open mic session. It's being held upstairs at the Beehive Pub, at "Buzzwords" which is a regular poetry event, from 7pm onwards.

For those only wishing to hear me read, or to read their own work, the poetry reading and open mic session begins at 8pm, upstairs at


I'm keeping my fingers crossed there won't be too many loud bangs - November 5th being bonfire night! - during my reading, but if there are, the atmosphere will probably suit my poetry, many of the poems from the Boudicca sequence being concerned with war!

If anyone browsing this blog can make it, I'd love to see you there!


Friday, October 27, 2006

The Nail, Autumn 2006

A new issue of THE NAIL is just out and lying on my desk. THE NAIL is an eclectic magazine coming out of Oxford - edited by Dave Todd - which looks in particular at the live poetry scene in Oxford and beyond. This new issue of THE NAIL features spanking new poetry by, well, me, plus many talented live poets such as AF Harrold, Alan Buckley, Rob Gee, Peter Wyton and Nina Davies.

Besides its vibrant cover, the magazine is also illustrated throughout, with photographs and some highly atmospheric line drawings.

Even if you don't usually buy the smaller poetry magazines, THE NAIL is useful because it has two pages of live poetry and performance listings at the back of each issue, letting people know what's on where in the Oxfordshire and Reading areas. You can buy THE NAIL from Dave Todd - pictured left in MY hat! - by contacting him for details: davetodd @hotmail.co.uk or send contributions with SAE for return to Dave, Hammer & Tongue, 16b Cherwell Street, Oxford, OX4 1BG - though you really should buy a copy first to see the sort of work he prefers.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

On Fame

Tidying my book shelves in advance of an influx of my own slim volume, in largish numbers for selling, I found a beautiful little green-backed 1897 edition of ‘The Lyrical Poems of John Keats’, heavily ornate, decorated with gilt flowers and leaves both on the spine and front cover.

Though I have several other editions of his works - letters as well as poems - I had forgotten that I owned this particular nineteenth century edition. Very much a pocket Keats, and unashamedly lovely.

Picking it up, the book fell open at the following poem; wonderfully serendipitous, given that I have just published a new collection of poetry myself and am wondering how well - or poorly - it will be received.


Fame, like a wayward girl, will still be coy
To those who woo her with too slavish knees,
But makes surrender to some thoughtless boy,
And dotes the more upon a heart at ease;
She is a Gipsy - will not speak to those
Who have not learnt to be content without her;
A Jilt, whose ear was never whisper’d close,
Who thinks they scandal her who talk about her;
A very Gypsy is she, Nilus-born,
Sister-in-law to jealous Potiphar;
Ye love-sick Bards! repay her scorn for scorn
Ye Artists lovelorn! madmen that ye are!
Make your best bow to her and bid adieu,
Then, if she likes it, she will follow you.

John Keats, 1818

Sunday, October 22, 2006

BETA BLOGGER -Time to Swop Formats

Okay, I swopped POETS ON FIRE over to the new advanced Beta Blogger system last weekend. Now it's the turn of my Raw Light blog.

If the site takes ages to load once the switch has happened, or if you spot any other problems like dead links or whatever, or even if you just love or hate the new look of Raw Light, please let me know by emailing me or leaving a comment below this post.

Here goes ... abracadabra!

PS. Just to add to this, having now switched over to Beta Blogger, there are some teething problems. Like not being able to post poetry up in the sidebar except as a list (posting it backwards, one line at a time, which is an odd but very interesting procedure!) and also having some trouble getting the new layout to load fully.

So please forgive any strange things going on for the next week or so, as the new format beds in. Hopefully, all will come right in the end.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Boudicca & Co. is now out there and available to buy!

Nine Years On

Friday 13th may be unlucky for some, but for me, it's an immensely important occasion and one I refuse to be superstitious about. Today, my second collection of poetry Boudicca & Co has gone live on the Salt Publishing website, which means it's now in print and available to buy!

It's nine years since my first poetry collection was published by Bloodaxe, amidst a flurry of exciting publicity. It seems an incredibly long time ago, yet some of the poems I wrote immediately following the New Blood tour in October 1997 - just after Brief History of a Disreputable Woman was published - are in this new book, and they still feel and sound as fresh to me as they did the day I wrote them.

So why did I wait so long before publishing my second collection? Well, it certainly wasn't because I'm a slow writer! I must have written nigh on three hundred poems, at least, in the interim between that first book and Boudicca, but I was advised that the vast majority of my poems were not up to scratch and so I dumped many of them soon after they were written. Possibly the wrong move, but I guess we'll never know.

Some of the rest I also eventually binned out of sheer lack of interest, others I stupidly lost in a wearying series of house moves, still others were eaten by dead computer drives. An entire verse play called Umbra disappeared. I stopped writing in the end and only began again, very tentatively, towards the end of 2004. The individual poems that remain from that dark time, the ones I kept copies of and refused to stop believing in, are true survivors and I'm very happy to see them in print at last.

I shall not be waiting - let's hope so, anyway! - another nine fairy-talesque years before producing my next collection. New poems are already simmering in the 'possible' pile. But in the meantime, I have a new and extremely handsome book of poetry to sell and I sincerely hope you will all consider buying a copy of Boudicca & Co ... before the first print run sells out!


Here's the link to BOUDICCA & CO.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Poets-I-Used-To-Know, Poetry-Magazines-I-Still-Miss

Well, the Ancient Greek exam is finally behind me - results at Christmas, I'll admit to them only if I pass - so I now have a small amount of time free each day for writing poetry.

But is that what I do, first day 'out of school' - write some poetry? Of course not, that would be too sensible. No, instead I spent a few hours tonight trawling the net in search of amusement. Not the porn stars on pink lilos type of amusement - I used to bother with that sort of thing when I was single, but now the pop-up ads just drive me insane - the poets-I-used-to-know type of amusement.

Here for instance is KM Dersley, who may have said hello to me at the Small Press Fair one year in Newcastle, possibly 1996, after we had been corresponding on a poetry matter.

As I recall, he came shuffling up to me in a duffle coat, heavily rucksacked and looking at me sideways. I was on a stall flogging, or trying to flog, copies of Blade, the poetry & critical magazine I used to run before my brain ran out of energy for such adventures. We talked and then he moved on to the next stall. And here I find KMD again, ten years later, still poeting and online at the Ragged Edge website and writing about precisely that experience; the 'Magazine Rigmarole' as he calls it in his poem of the same name ...

I wouldn't get on very well at committee meetings,
would rather be at home
reading Scarlet Pimpernel stories
or one of Rider Haggard's soap and tsetse fly sagas

Later in the same poem, he quite accurately - if cynically - describes the motivation of poets to part with hard cash in exchange for poetry magazines they despise on the off-chance that this purchase may somehow enable them to get their work in too, since

If that shit counts, then maybe their crap does too,
and everyone can then sit on the dung pile and
smoulder together.

Nada the Lily. What a classic. And Umslopogaas. They don't make tragic heroes like that anymore.

Everything I know about tsetse flies I learnt from H. Rider Haggard.

But not all (small press) poetry magazines are/were unadulterated rubbish.

What about Joe Soap's Canoe? The Wide Skirt? Sunk Island Review?

The poetry world seems to be shrinking even while the magazines proliferate ... shrinking down, down, to the few that still matter (to me, that is).

When will any of us get excited by a new magazine again? By which I mean the sort of little magazine that spurns the establishment whilst making its strong new ideology heard above the wastepaper-bin fodder.

Ah, those heady days of wide-eared poetry innocence ...

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Second Prize and a Poetry Reading!

This National Poetry Day (Thursday 5th October) I found myself in the stately Great Hall at Warwick Castle, surrounded by suits of armour and sitting three seats away from the Mayor, as the winner of Second Prize in this year's Warwick Words Festival poetry competition, judged by former Birmingham Laureate Julie Boden. My poem was called 'The Sound of Guitars' and after reading it to the assembled dignitaries - it was the launch ceremony of the 2006 Festival - I was then awarded my various prizes: a generous book voucher, a copy of Andrew Motion's new memoir of his childhood, In the Blood, which I can't wait to read, a recording of Julie Boden's poetry called Beyond the Bullring, and a copy of her poetry collection Through the Eye of a Crow (Pontefract Press), which seems, at first glance, to be heavily inspired by my own favourite poet, Ted Hughes. All in all, quite a treat for a cold and rainy Thursday night in October!

The winner, Helen Yendall, was crowned as new Poet Laureate for Warwick, taking over from Brenda Tai Layton, with her winning poem 'Kettle'.

Today, Saturday 7th October, I'm reading at the Thomas Oken Tearooms near Warwick Castle as part of Brenda Tai Layton's Poetry Cafe event, which runs throughout the Warwick Words Festival.

If you're in the vicinity, my particular performance slot runs from 1.30pm to perhaps 2pm. But I should imagine that's a moveable feast! I'll be reading poems that will appear in my brand-new book, Boudicca & Co., which is due out from Salt Publishing in a matter of weeks. Also a few poems from my first book, The Brief History of a Disreputable Woman, which is now available for sale at a considerably discounted sum!

Hope to see you there!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Warwick Words Festival

Just to let folks know I'll be reading some poems of mine at the Warwick Words Festival next weekend, on Saturday 7th October.

It won't be a lengthy reading as it takes place in the Thomas Oken Tea Rooms next to Warwick Castle and is part of the 'Poetry Cafe' which is running there throughout the Festival. If you're in or around Warwick next Saturday and would like to hear me read - and maybe stick around afterwards and say hi - then I'd be pleased to see you there.

The reading should take place between 1.30 - 2pm and is free, though their tea and scones probably won't be. There'll be other local poets performing or reading their work all that day and on Thursday and Friday too, if you're interested in coming along for the whole Festival.

For more information on all the other workshops and poetry/literary events available that weekend, try the Warwick Words website.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Who else should you be reading?

I have just, whilst trying to avoid writing my novel, found this great website at www.literature-map.com where you type in the name of a favourite author and the website will instantly generate the names of other authors read by people who like that author's books. It sounds a little dull, put like that - it's not, damn it! - but just go and try.

Personally, I think it's rather cool, especially the way the names sort of starburst and jiggle about on the page as they spread further and further away from the original named author. It's like a bomb going off and the bits flying everywhere. But in slow motion. And without hurting anyone. Hard to explain, better just go see what I mean - here's the link: www.literature-map.com.

I'm not listed by the way. Sob.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Autumn Launch dates for BOUDICCA & CO.

Here are some forthcoming performance dates for the autumn launch of BOUDICCA & CO., to be updated nearer the time. Please see the News page on my website for full details.

Copies of my new poetry collection BOUDICCA & CO. should be available at most of these events, but if you want one and can't make it to a reading, you can buy it online at a discount by visiting Salt Publishing.

Thursday 5th October NATIONAL POETRY DAY
Rugby Library
Afternoon Reading at Poetry Cafe, with Q&A session

Saturday 7th October
Warwick Festival
Lunchtime cafe reading, guest poet

Friday 13th October
Electric Cinema, Birmingham
Finale to the Birmingham Book Fair
& End of Laureateship Party
36 performers through to last 6

Sunday November 5th
Buzzwords, Cheltenham
Evening workshop
followed by guest poet slot with open mic

Date to be finalised (Saturday nights)
The Cellar, Poetry Society Cafe, London
Guest poet


Thursday, September 07, 2006

First Day at School

My youngest started nursery school for the first time this week. She looks so cute in her little outfit - sparkling clean for once - and Bang-on-the-Door bag. (Which is apparently a lunch bag rather than a school bag proper, but I've never been terribly good at getting these minor details right. A bag is a bag is a bag, right?)

Anyway, here she is, never to be the same again, bursting with cuteness and first-day-at-schoolness. Those other kids won't know what hit them ...

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The "Apples" Poem

I've been trying to place this poem of mine, entitled 'Apples", for over a year now. It takes months to get replies from most poetry magazines, of course, but all the same, I do love this particular poem and am really quite disappointed that none of the editors I tried took a shine to it. Though perhaps I like it too much and therefore can't see if or where it fails as a piece of writing. Or maybe the editors just weren't the right type for this poem. Whatever.

There is perhaps an air of late fifties and early sixties' nostalgia about this poem, as if it had come straight out of that era, and perhaps it did, in a way, with echoes of other famous poems about horses written about that time. It has an unusually gentle and domestic feel to it, which is rather out of step with many of the poems I've written over the past ten years.

Maybe I'm mellowing at last ...

Anyway, 'Apples" will be published soon enough in my new poetry collection, BOUDICCA & CO., due out from Salt in a few months' time - which basically means I can't submit it to a magazine now, with book publication so close at hand. So I'm posting the poem up here on my blog instead, with this photograph of last year's apples in my own back garden to accompany it.



The horses come here for apples twice a day,
nudging the fence and rubbing themselves
against trees, trampling earth
with their hunters’ hooves while they wait.
At first we fed them with palms held flat,
away from the substantial teeth and those warm
brownish lips lifting up to reveal them.
But one always dropped his apple
into white-flowered nettles under the fence
and the other would stoop
to retrieve it, thick sinewy neck supple
as a giraffe’s. So now we roll them into the field
or throw them, over-arm, so they bounce
and split soft apple everywhere.
Some days the children are outside playing
and I lift them up, let the baby
grab at a sleek nose with her clumsy fingers
while the boys stare, mesmerised
by the moist brown eyes and those lashes -
like false ones! - seductively curling.
The gentler one comes on his own sometimes,
whinnying and snuffling at the fence.
He turns a wide circle under the horse-chestnut
before moving on, apples
just out of reach and no one in the garden.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Last of the Salad Days

It's nearly the end of the summer holidays, the weather is beginning to drift back into autumnal unpredictability, and I'm coming up to my hundredth post ... I can't believe I've been blogging on Raw Light for nearly a year now. Incroyable!

But at least this means I can stop nibbling on rabbit food every other meal and dig out the slow cooker for some nice thick warming stews. What a summer we had though, so blooming hot it was almost impossible to sleep some nights. And I only made it to a beach once, for one delicious hour, on a day trip down to Cornwall - all the way from the Midlands, can you credit it? - but it was worth the long drive just to listen to those waves rolling in and watch the gulls wheeling about overhead, making their mad gull noises. I'm not meant to live this far inland, even though I was born several hours' drive from the coast. It feels so unnatural, especially for a water sign, being constantly surrounded by earth and earth and yet more earth.

This is a photograph I took of my youngest daughter a year ago, on a trip to one of my spiritual homes (I have several) - the Isle of Man. Now this is what I call a beach ... known as the Ayres, a long isolated stretch of shore on the northernmost tip of the island, often deserted, about half a mile shy of the lighthouse.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Boudicca & Co.

Here's the cover of my new collection, BOUDICCA & CO., out in November from Salt Publishing. Hope it hits the bullseye ...

Monday, August 21, 2006

thought for Monday

"The race belongs not to the swift but to those who keep on going ..."

Who said that?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

gecko tattoo

Should I get a tattoo? My eldest daughter has come to stay for the summer, as she has nowhere else to go while college is out, and though we have no room for her in the house - my other four children are all in residence, plus a visiting step-daughter - she's camping out in our back garden, pictured above. She's brought with her a small green gecko in the form of a tattoo on her wrist. Rather lovely, I thought.

Should I get one myself? Maybe not a gecko like hers, but perhaps a discreet little Scorpion on my upper arm or shoulder?

I hate pain though, such a coward ...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

If you go down to the woods today ...

Just before the weather broke last week in a spectacular lightshow of lightning, thunder, and torrential rain - during which our inflatable paddling pool flew over the roof of our house into the road opposite - we took the kids for a walk in some very ancient woodlands about twenty minutes' drive from where we live in rural Warwickshire.

This particular area of woodland is called Old Nun Wood and is on the edge of a much larger and newer piece of woodland, but is itself extremely ancient and atmospheric, especially in those dark tense moments before a storm.

In we go ...

It seemed such a bright day when we set out, hot and sunny, the perfect day for walking in the shade of ancient woodlands.

Quite suddenly, the woods began to darken; here the gleam of fallen silver birches provides the only glimmer of light at ground level.

The first sinister rumbles of thunder are heard in the distance.

Time for a sharp exit, reaching the car only minutes before a violent downpour engulfed the Warwickshire countryside!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Not Dead, but in Hiding

I know it's been a long time since my last confession, folks, but hold onto your kidney bowls, pictures are coming soon of a lovely trip to the woods. Bears and all.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Blog-o-mania out of control!

In case people have been wondering why I so rarely update my Raw Light writing blog these days, I'm afraid it's not good news. I have over-stretched myself - every bit as painful as it sounds - and now have more time-consuming blogs to maintain than is healthy for my mental state. To prove this, here is a selection of the various online journals and resources I administer:

POETS ON FIRE daily listings

My Ancient Greek OU course blog

An irregular blog in memory of my mother, the popular novelist Charlotte Lamb

My local CE parish site, which I maintain for the church

To add to the above, I also have two other blogs under different pseudonyms, which I wish to keep anonymous for all sorts of dreadful and scandalous reasons, and I run a fun but infrequent blog for one of my four year old twin sons, who likes to make up his own poems and post them on the net, plus, of course, my Raw Light blog which you are currently reading.

I also run the POETS ON FIRE forum, which can't be left to run wild and needs daily attention, rather like a dog.


Is it any surprise I'm exhausted!?!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

It's All Happening!

Boudicca & Co.

Yes, it's official, I now have my own author page at Salt Publishing and the new cover of my second collection Boudicca & Co. has finally been revealed to the public in all its Titian glory. Drum roll, please!

It really is a fun, sexy cover for a poetry book, everything I could have hoped for and more, and I'm very pleased with it indeed. The book itself is not due out for a few months yet, but there's some biog. and an interesting description of the book available online now, plus an extract and a recent photograph of me - which is unusual enough to merit a visit to the site, I think, since I usually try to hide behind pictures taken in my twenties!

Anyway, it's real, it's happening, and I'm very excited to be launching my second poetry collection with Salt.

Here's where you can find out more about Boudicca & Co. which is due out 1st November 2006.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

"If you love your books, let them go" - The New York Times on the new global phenomenon of BookCrossing

This is Summersault, a cafe in the heart of Rugby, a market town in Warwickshire, whose chief claim to fame is that the game of rugby was invented there. I live within ten miles of Rugby, so visit the town frequently.

When we first moved to the area about three years ago, I checked out Rugby and was enchanted by this charming cafe with its outside tables, lavish flower displays and the arts & crafts materials and jewellery for sale inside the restaurant. It runs to three floors, with a lovely atrium-style top floor for those long winter afternoons, heavily planted with greenery and glowing with light. It's always marvellous to find a good place to write and it helps if the food - and especially the coffee - is excellent too.

But in recent months, Summersault has become even more special in my eyes. For it has joined a rapidly growing worldwide 'sociology experiment', as Book Magazine has dubbed it, and become an Official BookCrossing Zone.

Okay, you may be asking, what is BookCrossing? Well, basically it's about passing on your used books to other people for free. But anonymously, to complete strangers, instead of to friends and family. The three 'R's of BookCrossing are

Read it!
Register it!
Release it!

This is how the system works. You read a book, you visit www.bookcrossing.com and register that book, giving it a unique number which is attached either on the cover or on the inside cover, using your own book labels or one specially downloaded from the website, then you just release the book ... leave it on a park bench, on a cafe table, at a bus stop, in a church. When it's found, the person who takes it home with them will hopefully read the label, visit the bookcrossing site, and notify them that the book has been found. Then they read it, and release it again. Simple as that.

Naturally, it's NOT as simple as that. Many books are released into the wild, as it's called, and never heard of again. Very depressing for the releaser. But many are registered on the site as having been found, and are then passed on again, all over the world. Pretty neat idea!

To facilitate book exchanges, some places have been designated as BookCrossing Zones. And to come full circle, Summersault Cafe in Rugby is just such a place.

As you can see from this photo, the books are kept in a small bookcase near the door, with a sign explaining the process and letting people know that these particular books are FREE and can be taken home. You go in, browse the books, take one home, register it, read it, take it back and pass it on again.

I've just picked up a cookery book there today, a Dan Brown novel for one of my teenage daughters, and a couple of younger reader books for the kids. On the BookCrossing site you can find out if there's an Official BookCrossing Zone near you or who's registered on the scheme in your area, when the last books were released there and exactly where. This scheme is global, of course, so your books can travel anywhere and you will be notified by email when someone finds them, even if they end up in Peru! It's an amazing network of leads and book stories for you to follow and the BookCrossing worldwide discussion forum makes fascinating reading ...

Here's a link to the Bookcrossing site. Why not join them and register one of your books today, then release it ...

n. the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.

(added to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary in August 2004)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

My Murky Past as a Secondhand Bookseller

The other day I came across some old photographs of my ill-fated secondhand bookshop venture in Camelford, North Cornwall, and decided to post them up on the blog, to share them with you. They made me come over all nostalgic for a moment, so I had to remind myself that I ploughed the last of my capital into this secondhand bookshop, launched it in 2002 with no business acumen or experience - and almost no advertising - and that it sank hopelessly into a pit of debt and despair before the first year was even up.

An old and sadly only too familiar tale for anyone who's ever been in business, I'm sure. But even reminding myself how I came to be so grindingly poor does not eradicate the little spark of nostalgia and fondness which leapt inside me as I viewed the photos of my old bookshop.

It really was a curiosity shop too, as you may be able to see from these photographs: strange prints on the wall, of nudes and who knows what else; a pair of elephant stools, hand-carved and painted; an exotic carved wooden wall-frieze; books sprawling everywhere, from cheap 60s & 70s 'Confessions of a Window-Cleaner' pulp fiction, to Modern Firsts of well-known twentieth-century poets, to antiquarian editions of Milton and Darwin; an impressive collection of occult literature - a local preacher came in one day and bought The Witch's Bible in order to burn it; an antique dark wooden settle for readers to relax on whilst browsing, and a large centrepiece table with an assortment of chairs for writing workshops and other social events.

Camelford was not ready for a bookshop, however. Rather like the bare platform in the poem 'Adlestrop', nobody came and nobody went for the first six months. A few local browsers would drop by in their lunch hour, engage me in idle talk, then disappear without parting with a penny. Once, a man in a weary-looking suit came in, poked around for a while, then smiled over the desk and told me that nobody reads books on the Cornish side of the Tamar. He was a bookseller from Devon.

One of my most serious problems was that I had little money for advertising, running a few poetry events instead to raise the shop's profile in the community, yet still failing to make enough in sales to cover the rent, rates and other outgoings. But I still maintain the shop failed because it was in too tough a location to draw regular custom - beyond the main body of the village, on a steep and dangerously busy hill, with almost no pavement. Even the Indian King Arts Centre, situated almost directly opposite, was struggling at the time and later closed down.

After I left, there was an art gallery there for a while. When we last drove past the shop, on holiday in Cornwall about a year ago, that too had gone.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Salt Publishing: new poetry collection for 2006

Great news! This week I signed with Salt Publishing in Cambridge for the publication of my second full-length collection of poetry, entitled Boudicca & Co., which is more or less ready to rock'n'roll and should be out on the shelves by late 2006. This is me pictured in Cambridge a few weeks ago with head honcho for the British side of operations at Salt Publishing, Chris Hamilton-Emery - whose poem 'Salt' I published in my magazine 'Blade' about ten years ago ...

As the title suggests, my second collection contains a long sequence of poems written in the voice of Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni, plus the best individual poems from the past nine years. Many of the poems included in this collection, however, were written over the past twelve months and reflect new changes in style and direction.

You can find my first poetry collection The Brief History of a Disreputable Woman, on the Bloodaxe Books site.

As the launch date approaches, I shall keep you updated about readings, performances and one-legged spoon races. And if you'd like to book me for a poetry event either later this year or in 2007, you can find all the right information and contact details for that on my Jane Holland website.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

My Mother and Other Romantic Novelists

My goodness, the days do pass quickly when you're meant to be keeping your blog updated on a regular basis, don't they?

Okay, I've got some FABULOUS news for you on the poetry front, but I am not yet able to reveal it in all its fabulousness, so you will have to wait just a few more days for that! Be patient, be strong, have another muffin ...

MEANWHILE, back at the ranch --- and it does feel like a ranch here at the moment, as Steve's not been able to get out to mow the lawn for a few days - preparations for Ofsted inspections at his school! - and the grass has grown almost to thigh-level in some parts of our garden, waving beautifully in the breeze with leggy buttercups and graceful seeded grassheads under the apple tree --- MEANWHILE, I have been extremely busy creating a brand-new blog.

Groan, not another blog!?

Yes, for I have bloggy fingers and am unable to prevent myself from creating new blogs almost every month. But this time it's all in a good cause, for I have created a blog in memory of my dear mama, whose writing name was Charlotte Lamb and who wrote over 150 novels, most of them romances, but some historical novels and a few big thrillers in there too, and who died in October 2000.

I miss my mother dreadfully most days, as she doted on her two granddaughters Katie and Becky, and very tragically died before she could meet her other three grandchildren, my twin sons Morris and Dylan and my youngest daughter Indigo. So almost every day my kids do these odd amusing little things and I say to them 'Your grandma would have loved that!' and I show them her photo and tell them about her. Which makes it hard to forget ...

I don't have much material to do with my mother, alas, not even many photos, as my siblings and father have most of that sort of thing. But I do have copies of nearly all of her M&B romances and some of the thrillers and historicals, so I shall be posting up information about them, and about re-releases of her books in places like Australia, where she's still a very popular author, and some new graphic novels that have been made using her stories, and other titbits either about my mother or about romance in general.

If that sounds like your sort of thing, or even if you're just a little bit curious about my mother and her work, do please come and see what I've been up to at charlottelamb.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

We're going to the Zoo, the Zoo, the Zoo ...

For those who believe I do nothing but sit in front of a computer screen all day, here are some photos of my recent trip, with the kids, to Whipsnade Zoo just north of London. If you're planning to go there yourself, go early in the day and expect to spend a long time there. We were there nearly five hours and saw maybe a third of what was going on there.

If you can afford the parking actually within the Zoo complex, go for it (about £12!), otherwise wear sturdy walking shoes, take a buggy for the kids and plenty of water/umbrella shade and/or sunhats if it's a hot day. Whipsnade is a very LARGE place ...

The boys trying to get up close and personal with the big fellas

I did mean to bring extra wipes ...

The closest any human has ever been to this particular species

Indigo in her natural habitat

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Pure & Good & Right

This week I was at an Open Mic poetry night in Leamington Spa - PUREandGOODandRIGHT - which is held in a very chic bar-restaurant on Warwick Street called TOYK. Sean Kelly is the promoter and MC, a man famous for his poem about penguins and his song about Spiderman - if you ever meet Sean, get him to do the Spiderman song for you, it's genuinely hilarious and deserves to be aired on national television - and he was in fine form this evening, managing not to introduce me as a snooker player (unlike last time) and even forgiving me for hitting him in the face with the microphone. (An accident, I should add. I'd have hit him a lot harder if I'd intended to.)

Like the first PUREandGOODandRIGHT it was a star-studded evening, a sort of 'Who's Who' of West Midlands poets.

We had Julie Boden, former Birmingham Poet Laureate, though she was being part of the audience for once rather than shaking her booty at the mic. Dreadlockalien - aka Richard Grant - current Birmingham Poet Laureate, was also there, giving us his honey-tongued 'I wanna hear poetry' vibe. (Yes, mellifluous.) Plus Andy Conner, one of the 'Six of the Best' artistes from this month at the Birmingham Library Theatre, who gave us more of his long poems from memory - an impressive talent for memorising, this guy, and a quirky style of delivery.

To my great pleasure Roy McFarlane, gifted performance poet from Wolverhampton and a central member of the New October Poets, gave us an excellent ten minute set after the interval; ignore the quiet unassuming manners of this very polite man, Roy McFarlane is one of the most talented and politically motivated poets I've heard in the West Midlands and deserves to be more widely known in the UK. Then there was Jus B, a new talent and smooth groover from somewhere round the Birmingham area - didn't quite catch where - who laid it all on the line for us. Several new faces too tonight - new to me, that is - including Sue and Cherie, both of them very confident and impressive.

Oh, and I did a short set myself, and was accused afterwards of not reading any 'rude' poems. I thought I'd gone too far last time with my rudery so chose a slightly tamer selection this month, thinking the older members of the audience would appreciate the gesture. Shows how wrong you can be.

I will be MCing this Leamington open mic night myself on July 17th, while Sean Kelly is away on his hols, which is something I'm looking forward to, in spite of the ribbing I know I'll get at the hands of dear Dread & Co. I'm just arranging a few guest poets at the moment, so watch this space for further details.

I can highly recommend PUREandGOODandRIGHT if you live anywhere in the West Midlands; the restaurant and bar are excellent, the clientele appear to be well-hooved young professionals who are quite happy to listen to a spot of live poetry whilst unwinding with a large glass of Chardonnay, and the atmosphere is intimate, friendly and encouraging to new performers.

The next PUREandGOODandRIGHT will be held on Monday 19th June at 7.30pm. TOYK, Warwick Street, Leamington Spa.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Poetic Ducks and Drakes under Fire

I'm afraid a predator - probably a fox - came in the night a few days ago and did for those poor duck eggs in our back garden. We think the duck got away. The nest itself was decimated but no sign of duck feathers, so hopefully she lives to lay another clutch even though her unfortunate offspring perished before they could be hatched. So that's the end of that. But here are the first few eggs which I managed to capture on camera before their sad demise ...

Talking off the tribulations of sitting ducks, we've been having a humdinger of a fight in recent weeks on the Poem forum on the contentious issue of sexism in British and Irish poetry.

Needless to say, I am on the team which believes sexism still exists, and sometimes in spadefuls ... it's just a little more subtle now than when it was not punishable by public beheading. But the opposing team - all men, except for one woman - mostly believe it's outdated and unfashionable to see sexism at work in contemporary poetry, some even claiming it doesn't exist at all and that we must be hysterical feminists with chips on our shoulders about men - and the rest - to claim something so ludicrous as women being discriminated against in the dear old liberal utopia of British poetry.

Clearly nettled by our arguments, one well-known male poet cited a recent anthology by a major editor to demonstrate that person's lack of sexism. Another gentleman - on our team or perhaps just acting as a referee - quietly pointed out that 135 of the post-1945 poems in that anthology were by men. Only 16 were by women.

Hmmm ...

So here are some sitting ducks to accompany that topic, all of them poets and female, being treated with dinner by the Heaventree Press - the out-of-focus guys at the far end of the table - before performing at the Herbert Gallery in Coventry last month, to celebrate International Women's Day. That's a major poet Pascale Petit there with her eyes rather unfortunately closed, Kimberley Trusty opposite laughing, I think that might possibly be Helen Ivory beyond Kim with all the flowing golden hair, and we also had Esther Morgan, Zoe Brigley and of course myself, Jane Holland, hidden behind the camera as usual. The event went down very well, the large gallery was packed with standing room only within minutes of the start, and Jenny Ousbey was the compere. Excellent stuff.

However, although I believe expenses were paid for some who had travelled a long way, dinner seemed to be the main fee. Certainly that was all I got for performing that night. It was a very nice dinner in a lovely Coventry restuarant called Brown's, but cash would have been even nicer. Would that have been the case with a reading of six reasonably well-known male poets?

Somehow I doubt it ...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

New 'Live Poetry' Discussion Forum - have you joined yet?

Oh yes, there are yet more Jane Holland projects in the mix this month ...

If you've been wondering why I haven't been posting as regularly as usual on Raw Light - and I'm sure you have! - here's the reason; a few weeks back, I launched a new discussion forum for UK poets who are into performance and spoken word, and it's been eating all my spare time since then.

This new discussion forum is a place where performers and poets can exchange views, make friends, advertise new or regular gigs, open mic nights and festival performances, see what's on in live poetry right across the UK on a daily basis, play quizz games, and generally network. Naturally, it's taken a fair amount of time to get the forum up and running, and encourage people to register as members and begin posting new topics for discussion, so I haven't been able to keep posting to this blog as often as I'd like.

Anyway, you can visit my new 'live poetry' discussion forum here - POETS ON FIRE FORUM - and why not become a member, while you're there? (Hint, hint!) It's all completely free, and takes less than 3 minutes to register a username and start posting.

Maybe see you there?

Here I am on stage at the Birmingham Library Theatre last week:

Saturday, May 06, 2006

"First performed on stage at the age of three ..."

Here's my three year old son Dylan, checking the microphone before my SIX OF THE BEST performance last week, who got up on the stage of the Birmingham Library Theatre as one of the warm-up acts and recited the opening stanza of John Masefield's famous poem 'Sea Fever' to an audience of nearly 100 people.

Now there's something unusual to tell the other kids at nursery!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Charade Project: Friday 28th April 2 - 5pm

Is this the end of the age of the book?

On Friday 28 April, between 2pm and 5pm, a group of people will congregate in Birmingham's Victoria Square to recite their chosen song, play or novel while wandering together, as a conscious re-creation of the final scenes of Truffaut's adaptation of Bradbury’s novel, 'Fahrenheit 451'.

Charade is a work by artist Simon Pope which mirrors the futuristic 1950s novel ‘Fahrenheit 451’ where Ray Bradbury writes of an age when books are illegal and screen based media dominates society. The role of the fire service is no longer to extinguish but to start fires and to burn the books it finds.

Since January 2006 Charade has recruited participants from the West Midlands to save their most cherished piece of media history. Through a series of open workshops and online communities the volunteers have been assisted through a process of memorising and internalising their chosen item, working towards a final event in Birmingham’s city centre.

It's not too late for you to join in. Register online at Charade or tell us on the day.

Charade has been jointly commissioned by BBC and ACE as part of ‘Private View’ a programme to demonstrate “outstanding innovation and vision from visual artists experimenting with live technologies in the public realm”.

You can visit Charade to follow new developments online.

I will be taking part this Friday afternoon in Birmingham's Victoria Square, having memorised some scenes from King Lear - rather imperfectly, I'm afraid, but perhaps that's part of the project, how each person must reinterpret memorised works of literature or art because of their different ways of remembering them.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Duck in the Catmint

In spite of an absence of water, this little duck has built her nest right under our noses, a few yards from the back door in our garden, in a dried old clump of last year's catmint. Her mate, we fear, was the drake last seen dead at the side of the road a week or so ago. So she's all alone in the world but ignoring our tentative efforts at help - apart from nibbling on some bread - with a quiet warning hiss whenever we get too close.

When I first put down a frying pan of water, in the hope that she might drink a little, she was scared enough to leap up from the nest and reveal eight or nine large blueish-white eggs keeping warm there. Beautiful. But our biggest fear is that a fox or wild cat may find her unprotected one night and devour the eggs, or the poor little ducklings when they eventually hatch out.

She might have done better nesting by the village pond about a mile down the road, next to water and clustered with good hiding places for young ducklings, but for some reason she chose our isolated house in the middle of rolling sheep fields to hatch this year's brood. Perhaps there are too many cats in the village now, or maybe this is a territory issue and some other more combative duck has taken the best nesting spot by the pond ...

Lovely, isn't she?

Friday, April 07, 2006

Woods etc., Rejection, and Elementals

I feel dreadful because I've been so busy posting on my POETS ON FIRE blog that I haven't been posting here on RAW LIGHT. This is not very good and accordingly I shall make amends by writing the following:

a.) Having finally got hold of a copy of Alice Oswald's Woods etc., I've been reading it with, at first, incredulity and, after a while, great interest. Although it seems at first glance like a collection containing all the usual suspects - stone, river, moon, stars, woods etc. - this book actually indicates a huge progression by Oswald as she swings even further along the line Hughes was beginning to take in his later 'nature' books, for want of a better description, such as Cave Birds and River, both of them marvellous books which slipped restlessly and ambitiously away from the mainstream wherever possible. It's a line I suppose could be described in places as working within the modernist or avant-garde traditions, but which in strong and rather eccentric hands like those of Hughes and Oswald becomes something uncategorisable. I wasn't sure of it, as I said before, at first, but then I think you get used to the voice and begin to trust it, allowing Oswald to lead you into darker and less obvious waters where you - or at least I - can see new possibilities for language and old possibilities given a new twist.

There are moments in Oswald's latest book when I want to kick her - a slavish homage to Hughes' Wodwo, for instance, which seems to add nothing new and should never really have got past the editor - but there are other moments, too numerous to mention, when I was fascinated enough to want to stop reading Oswald's poems and start writing something of my own. And when that happens, you know this has to be the real thing - poetry.

Perhaps that's the real test of poetry; not Astley's hairs rising on the back of his neck, or Schmidt cutting himself shaving, but a restless urge to write, to test yourself against that reaction, to go one better. That's certainly how Harold Bloom would see it ... if you believe in that sort of thing.

b.) After a silence of nearly five years, my work has at last appeared again in the pages of a poetry magazine - this quarter's issue of Poetry Review, in fact, just published this week. This five year absence from publication was due to a combination of writer's block - which seemed at the time more like writer's death than block - and an abrupt failure of nerve, which went hand in hand with the block and effectively prevented me from submitting even previously written work to poetry magazines. The poem that's just appeared in Poetry Review is a direct response poem to a magazine rejection - 'Deciphering the Rejection Letter' - which is sort of ironic, I know, but it does make me feel better to know I've finally broken the silence.

c.) And to finish off this blog entry, and make up for so many days of not bothering to post, here is a four poem sequence of mine, inspired by the elements and published in the excellent poetry magazine Acumen back in the late 90s:



West Kennett Long Barrow

Stone womb under an earth belly
too ancient for light.

Rain condenses its euphoric mass
to a single blessing

filtering through
the intestinal silence of rock.

Flies cling
to the mossed edge of a crevice.

She devours their small bodies like offerings.

Once, she could hold her face
up to the moon, watch it

screwing a thin silver bolt
through the deadeye.

Now she eats beetles
and hunts with the night-train

passing the lit windows of women
anxious for conception.


Almost Iceland

The house was a standing stone
on the edge of annihilation.

It sat there uncomplaining
while acres of wind

pummelled and rattled windows
and floorboards.

The sea birds shunned it. The bees
rarely came so far north.

The sheep called out to it to move
but it didn’t.

It just sat there.

Its single chimney grinned up at the sky
like a maniac.

For miles around, whole islands lay down
and withered. Stones

stunted themselves in its shadow.
And always the wind

hammering for the house
to be absent.

Finally, its inhabitants packed up
and left.

The house remained,
folding its arms and gritting black teeth.

It had no intention of surrender.

The wind blew on
battering its ram’s head repeatedly

against lintels and uprights

its high battle-cry
prising tiles from the roof

the senseless resistance of doorways.


Holy Island

after the genuflection of causeway

salt water puckers a scar
the width of her belly

creased abdomen
folding a damp cloth into sand dunes.

Whatever she gave birth to
dragged itself beyond these coarse grasses

then sloped into wind-blear

turning its back
irascibly on civilisation.

Yet the marks remain. Twice a day
they etch themselves out

along the chevroned gold
of a mackerel stomach.

The sea staggers across here on stilts

ridiculous headdress bouncing
and swaying

exhausted by cold
yet making the pilgrimage.

After it kneels and kisses the earth
sacred light flattens sand

to a blind haze
magnetised by the crawling bodies of cars.

Bare steel hulks
dredging the sun-dust

hump-hump-hump themselves

over her consecrated skein
of striations.


The Stone Henge

A perfect ice-rimmed crucible
tilts itself

against the first geometry of stars.

Vast scalded pockets of fire
empty themselves

through miraculous peepholes.

Obsidian heaven
volcanised light to this glittering sacrament

that drilled ancient fires
through the eye

suggesting bears and archers

the twin shafts
of a ceaseless plough.

Now a wind-blackened cauldron
pitches its song

through these wide openings
to weather

each isolated furnace

by the furious tweak
of identification

the hot craned neck of naming.

Friday, March 24, 2006

At the Lighthouse - a retrospective

The poem below, At the Lighthouse, was written about six years ago and is about the break-up of a long-term relationship which affected me very deeply. (It wasn't written until about six months after the event, of course, since it's always hard in the immediate aftermath of such things to get them clear enough in your head to make reasonable poetry with them.)

I'm not sure this is a particularly good poem though, but I do think it was a necessary thing for me to write, something which moved me on stylistically as well as emotionally. To explain that remark, I wrote a few more in this vein around that time - half-bitter, half-nostalgic, after-the-break-up retrospectives - then left them behind, hopefully for good. I've never been very good at 'personal' poetry. I prefer to look at larger themes in my poems, to at least touch on the bigger picture where possible, and this constant narrowing things down to personal specifics, to the mundane, seems to give my work a sort of cloyingly 'fashionable' self-awareness which I dislike.

Not that I like an utterly abstract approach either, the cold clear line of some postmodernist poetry, or the deliberate intricacies and complexities and lateral jump cuts of some avant-garde work. I suppose the poems I like best - of my own - tend to be a bit on the simple side. Overly simplistic, some might say. But not this poem, At the Lighthouse; this is more superficial than simple, I think, whilst not wishing to be too harsh on myself, this poem having been written at a time of great personal despair - hard to believe now, on the far side of it - when poems were wrung from me only with immense difficulty. And soon after, indeed, I stopped writing poetry altogether for several years.

For those who might be curious, the poem is set in the South of France, where we used to holiday together most summers. To be even more precise about the location, it's actually the lighthouse above Cap d'Antibes. To get there, you have to navigate these narrow winding dusty lanes, what the French call 'lacets' as I recall, meaning tight bends like shoelaces. And at night, this powerful beam of light sweeps the Cap, crowded with red-roofed private villas and swimming pools, and the glittering bay below. Marvellous when taking an evening swim, to lie back in the black water and wait for that beam to sweep across the Cap. I've actually managed to find a few daytime shots of the lighthouse and views of the bay online, which you can hopefully see by clicking here, if interested.

In spite of my reservations, there are little touches I like in this poem - the opening image of pine trees envisaged as 'bald old men', the atmospheric dust, the quasi-religious overtones long in advance of my own brush with organised boredom, the silver fish of the bay seen from a distance and at height, and lastly - my own twinge of nostalgia, probably only audible to myself - the cigarette, also described in another poem of this period, entitled 'It was cool inside the chapel', as 'your ubiquitous cigarette'. I was a chain-smoker too, don't get me wrong. But cigarettes - and booze, actually - were a major part of that relationship, over eight long destructive years, and since I'm now a smoke-free zone, the mere mention of a cigarette, in the right context, can flash me, both uncomfortably and with affectionate regret, back to that time ...

At the Lighthouse

Its cold steel eye swung
to dust our heads
below the scruffy creak of pines,
bald old men staring
at the black line
of the Mediterranean.
There was always dust there;
dust in our lungs
and in rope sandals.
We climbed the tilting path
to the lighthouse,
glanced in through the porthole
of the chapel.
From the viewing platform
at two francs a time
the bay was no longer
a silver fish
landed on its side.
You moved off into the dark,
the glowing target
of your cigarette
something to lock onto,
burning the retina.
I should have kept you
shadowy, elusive
as those fairy lights heaving
a half-moon bay.
But we had only months
before we fell apart,
swivelling the lens
to face our hinterland,
each trap at last
revealing what it was,
thick swimming dust
fused in the glare
of that cold steel eye.

This poem was first published in Poetry Review.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Listen with Holland

I've been a busy girl over the past week or so, and one of the things I've been doing is enabling people to listen to my poems online.

Along the way, I've discovered that it's quite a complicated process to load audio files onto websites and blogs, especially if you live in the UK instead of the United States - Blogger does a free down-the-phone Audioblogging service in the States, for instance, which you have to pay for in call charges if ringing from outside the USA - so this has not been easy.

However, I found a way round those problems by thinking laterally. I recently got hold of an MP3 recorder and, whilst the sound quality is not brilliant, have now managed to record a handful of performance-friendly poems and load them onto a free Sound & Image website called Putfile.

So if you like the idea of hearing my poems rather than just seeing them in print, you can now check out the ones I've loaded so far by clicking www.putfile.com/janeholland.

Be warned though, if you visit the site, that the volume is quite loud on some of the audio files, so do check it before the file starts playing - there's usually a short window of 5 - 10 secs while it loads during which you can lower the volume.

It's just poems being 'read out' at the moment - which is never ideal - but I have several gigs coming up over the next month or so, and will be taking along my trusty MP3 recorder to see what sort of quality of recording I can get from a live poetry reading in front of an audience.

Here's that link again: www.putfile.com/janeholland

Friday, March 17, 2006


Found this photograph, taken by Simon Norfolk in about 1996-7, amongst some old papers of mine from my snooker-playing days and decided to post it up too, since I've been blogging recently about snooker and my disreputable past. Odd how the sight of that cue - a beautiful Canon Whirlwind, which is now safely stowed away in an aluminium case and leaning in a corner of my house somewhere- makes me want to play again. My fingers twitch for the baize just looking at it. But that way madness lies ...

Such glorious earrings too. I wonder whatever happened to them?

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Brief History of a Disreputable Woman

I had a hot flush today and decided to post up another old poem, give it a public airing. This time, to temper the rather avant-garde nature of my Umbra pieces - see archived posts for January 2006 - I've decided to post up the title poem of my first collection, 'The Brief History of a Disreputable Woman', which is a long poem about snooker and deals with how I started playing, the progression of my career in the game, and my eventual ban.

If you don't know the story, in 1995, I was banned for life from playing snooker by my local governing body - NOT the World Ladies Billiards and Snooker Association - for allegedly 'bringing the game into disrepute'. I was offered the chance to apologise for various comments I had made in the press about corrupt officials, in return for the ban being lifted.

I refused, and stopped playing competitively soon after that. At the time, I was ranked 24th in the world for women's snooker.

To accompany the poem, there's a photograph below of me practising for the 1992 Women's World Snooker Championships.

The Brief History of a Disreputable Woman

It starts here
as a table
in a small back room;

a busy pub, a sideways look,
the girls all cheering
when I drop the black,

a moment in between the kids,
a breath of silence slow
but true

across a table
in a small back room –
saying yes for once, not no.

Like Lazarus, I walk
from sleep, still stripping off
the winding sheet,

and take a cue from the rack
at the back of the club,
into the darkness

like a somnambulant.
Here hatred
breeds in corners at my step

and whispers fall
like evening
through these hanging lamps,

these gold-fringed shades.
The cloth is a lawn
to lay my head on, listening

to the beat of earth. They stare
from bar-stools, stalk me.
The men close ranks;

their shields reflect
like mirrors
as I clear the slate.

I am unwelcome here.
The door is there, they say,
and take the time to show me out.

But I am back again tomorrow,
sliding the new cue
like a blade from its sheath.

They cannot shut me out.
I have a right, a claim to stake
across this battlefield,

this bed of slate.
Their smiles are baited,
locked in place

until their silence is a war
that I seek out,
no choice of arms.

I play the men.
I lose.
And then I lose again.

I learn to stroke the ball away –
to catch the centre
when I can,

to find that timing
when the going’s sweet,
the baize is running like a race-horse

and the bets are down.
To take the risks
and never cheat.

I watch the best,
mesmerised as body
moves to wrist,

wrist falls to hand,
this silent discipline
of heart and mind.

I hammer home
each lesson
like a goldsmith,

working a delicate grip
into the hit,
the pendulum arm true

as a perfect right-angle
when the cue
goes through.

I start to win;
short sharp burst
of pure adrenalin.

I learn to dodge
those empty shafts of sunlight
in the club

when a woman
who walks alone
through rows

and rows of tables
dares to call them home.
Then others come.

They walk in,
taking the dust-covers
from the baize

with an awkward hand,
learning the touch of the cloth,
the deep furrow

left by a still hand,
fingers spread like a starfish.
First we are two,

then three, then four.
I pull them in from businesses,
supermarket queues,

from raising kids, from streets,
from empty doorways,
darkened rooms.

we are stronger.
We take a name for ourselves

and make it ring.
We play
each competition

in the spirit of the game –
a name engraved
in silver on a cup.

Retribution comes
not from games on baize
but changing truths

to fit the end, till nothing’s
what it seems. And in their lies
I recognise revenge.

I’ll not give them what they want ¬–
a public apology.
This ban is straight and true.

What started as a sideways look
will run for life,
for disrepute.

First published in SNOOKER SCENE and subsequently THE BRIEF HISTORY OF A DISREPUTABLE WOMAN (Bloodaxe 1997). For more on my first poetry collection, click here.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The CHARADE project, Birmingham

One fascinating project I'm involved with at the moment is CHARADE, a project commissioned jointly by the BBC and Arts Council England from international artist Simon Pope and managed by Capital Arts Project in Birmingham. It forms part of 'Private View', a programme to demonstrate "outstanding innovation and vision from visual artists experimenting with live techniques in the public realm" and involves participants in public performance, video diaries, MP3 recordings of their work, plus opportunities to meet other volunteers and share insights.

Basically, you each pick a piece of popular culture - our most cherished books, films, plays, music, TV and radio programmes - and 'become' that item by interiorising it. After participating in workshops and online communities and using other resources to aid the process of memorisation and identification, CHARADE volunteers will then perform their chosen piece in Birmingham city centre at the end of April, wandering about together in the open air in "a conscious re-creation of the final scenes of Truffaut's adaptation of Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451."

"Charade mirrors the key premise of Fahrenheit 451, that rather than providing stable conditions for the storage and retrieval of knowledge, our computer networks become troubled, precarious; the fear of data-corruption forces us to go beyond our electronic systems and we focus back towards the body, the possibility and ability of our memories."

My chosen item is King Lear. An ambitious choice, perhaps, especially since one of the other participants has picked a short definition from the Oxford English Dictionary as her chosen item! But I'm only memorising a few scenes which are of special interest to me.

One of them is Act II, Scene ii, a scene in which the disguised Kent - unjustly banished by Lear earlier in the play yet still doggedly loyal to his old master - encounters Oswald, the cowardly and sychophantic steward of Lear's treacherous daughter, Gonerill. They argue, Kent attempts to fight Oswald, and ends up being put in the stocks by the Duke of Cornwall as a trouble-maker.

This short scene appeals to me on several levels. Firstly, I admire Kent's integrity and the blunt but clear-sighted way he deals with even the most complex emotional situations. 'Let me still remain/ the true blank of thine eye,' he begs the king just before being sent into exile, and later continues to serve Lear in disguise. Secondly, the glorious riot of language in this scene appeals to my love of words. In this scene, Kent famously berates the bewildered Oswald in a long series of breathlessly imaginative insults - a cascade of Shakespearean invective - 'Thou whoreson zed, thou unnecessary letter!' being one of my personal favourites.

I'm still deciding which other scene from King Lear to memorise. I think a choice of two would be a good idea at this stage, perhaps deciding on the final one nearer the 28th April, which is our performance date for CHARADE. I think there's still time to register as a participant if you would like to get involved. You can email the producers at info@charade.org.uk or call 08709 316 834.

[If browsing this post as an individual page, the main RAW LIGHT site can be found here.]

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

International Women's Day reading

This was the line-up at Tuesday night's poetry reading at the Herbert Gallery in Coventry, celebrating International Women's Day. From right to left: Kim Trusty, Jane Holland, Pascale Petit, Zoe Brigley, Helen Ivory and Esther Morgan. And I'd just like to say that's water in those glasses on the table. Mainly water.

Kim Trusty is a well-known international performance poet, now living in Birmingham; she read a mixture of old and new pieces in her inimitable style, poems of personal and social commentary, and managed to pack a real punch in the ten minute slot each poet had been alloted.

I was up next and read one poem called 'Sleep' from my first collection 'The Brief History of a Disreputable Woman', published by Bloodaxe, followed by a selection of more recently written poems and three pieces from a long sequence of poems about the life and death of Boudicca, a work I am still developing.

Pascale Petit, one of the Next Generation Poets, read last in the first half of the event. Both her first collection from Seren, 'The Zoo Father', and her latest book 'The Huntress' were shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize. Her poems are powerful and visceral, dealing with her problematic relationship with both parents. Gifted with a highly individual voice, Pascale plans to focus on developing her career as a poet now she has left Poetry London, which she edited from 1989-2005.

In the second half, Welsh poet Zoe Brigley took us into new territory, bravely using music to underscore some of her poetry, with the help of an accompanying musician and her own drumming. Zoe teaches at Warwick University and you can read her interesting teaching blog with useful poetry links here.

Helen Ivory is a Bloodaxe poet. Although published when she was still quite young, her first collection 'The Double Life of Clocks' won critical acclaim, and her newly published second collection, 'The Dog in the Sky' seems to have followed in its footsteps. She entertained the audience with technically accomplished poems of personal experience, filled with wry anecdotal humour. You can read more about her here.

In the unenviable position of having to read last, Esther Morgan nevertheless demonstrated why her poetry has brought her considerable attention. She has two full-length collections out with Bloodaxe, her first 'Beyond Calling Distances' and now 'The Silence Living in Houses'. This last book is themed around ghosts and absences and possesses a strong a sense of history; the poems she chose to read had a strong narrative drive, well-written and intriguing. You can find out more about Esther Morgan on the Bloodaxe website here.

This was a superb Coventry event held right in the city centre, and organised with the collaboration of various parties including the Heaventree Press and the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. The venue was packed out, in spite of the bad weather, and I hope there will be more Coventry events like this in the future.

If you're interested in live poetry events like this, click here to visit my other site listing poetry in performance and readings across the UK, Poets On Fire.

Monday, March 06, 2006

in memoriam Martin Blyth

'Once it was dubbed the new rock’n’roll, complete with youngish New Generation Poets who were going to put it right back in the spotlight. Now it’s being called the new Prozac, following research into its power to improve mental health and wean patients off mind-altering drugs. Then Daisy Goodwin, queen of the coffee-table anthology, caused a stir by suggesting that it was dying, and would become as quaint as Morris dancing.

There is a common thread to most of these comparisons. They seek to depict poetry in terms of something quite ephemeral. Poetry is much older than Prozac or rock’n’roll. It has survived for at least 4,000 years as an art form in its own right, and on its own terms.'

That's the final entry the late Martin Blyth posted up on his own instructive and eclectic poetry website.

An experienced poet and writer, part of the team for the poetry magazine SOUTH, perceptive journalist, fount of wisdom, family man and good-natured all-rounder, Martin died on the 23rd February. Although we had been in contact on and off by snail-mail and email for some years, I only met Martin for the first time at last year's Torbay Festival. I think I still owe him a drink. He will be sadly missed.

Examples of Martin's poetry can also be found on laurahird.com.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


It's always nice to do a 'proper' reading in your local area, especially in a town where you often perform at open mic events or in other informal situations, so it's a real pleasure to be reading in Coventry this week alongside Pascale Petit, Esther Morgan, Helen Ivory etc - see below for the full list - in an ambitious 'Women Poets Showcase' put together by the up-and-coming Heaventree Press, based in Coventry, who publish poetry collections and the poetry/arts magazine Avocado.

Tuesday 7th March

Featuring readings by several noted female poets, to celebrate
International Women's Day.

Reading at the event:
Esther Morgan, Jane Holland, Pascale Petit, Helen Ivory, Zoe Brigley, Kim Trusty, Jenny Ousbey.

7 - 9pm
Herbert Art Gallery and Museum,
Jordans Well, Coventry City Centre.
Refreshments provided.

Friday, February 24, 2006

An excellent day all round

I've just come back from the Burn FM interview - Birmingham University's very own radio station - and it was really fun, I enjoyed it immensely - no nerves this time, or so few that after a few minutes of chat on air with the lovely Tim and Naomi I felt relaxed enough to start putting on funny voices and doing my Elvis Presley impersonation. No, seriously, it was a great interview and I'm delighted they asked me on. If you like radio, you don't need to be in the immediate vicinity of the university to listen to Burn FM. Wherever you are in the world, you can listen live by clicking here. Their poetry and spoken word show is on between 3 and 5pm on Thursday and Friday afternoons.

Plus, when I got home today, I found a very encouraging email waiting for me from an editor, giving me the green light on some work I submitted a few weeks ago. So it's been an excellent day all round!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Burn FM, Birmingham University's radio station

I'll be doing some more live radio this Friday - the ultimate adrenalin-pumper! - here in the Midlands. If you can pick up the station and would like to hear some of my poetry on air, do tune in. 'Burn FM', Birmingham University's radio station, has invited me to come in and chat about my poetry career, plus what's going on with poetry in the Midlands. I'll also be reading some of my new poems.

I always get nervous before doing live radio, imagining I'll dry up or make some dreadful faux-pas on air. But then I find it so friendly and intimate once in the studio, I quite forget I'm speaking to anyone but the person interviewing me, and breeze straight through it. I find stage performances nerve-racking too - not healthy for someone who does so much stand-up! - but live radio is probably the worst for me, in terms of sheer fright five or ten minutes beforehand.

My old drama teacher, the infamous Colleen McHarrie, now sadly no longer with us, always used to say that you could only perform to the best of your ability if you felt as sick as a parrot before going on. So I should be okay ...

I'll be on Burn FM on Friday 24th February, from about 3pm onwards.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

the good news about morris

We had some great news today about one of my twin sons, pictured below. Morris has been undergoing a series of regular hospital assessments for the past eighteen months, trying to discover if the various developmental problems he suffers from are related to autism.

We had the last in a long round of consultations today, and finally got the all-clear from the hospital; in the team's opinion, Morris is not suffering from an Autistic Spectrum Disorder, which was the grim diagnosis we had all been expecting. However, the doctor did stress that Morris is quite clearly having the sort of developmental problems which, at puberty, often lead children like him to be referred back to the hospital - with a diagnosis like Asperger's Syndrome as a future possibility.

So it's not a complete all-clear, but it does mean Morris should be able to overcome his difficulties with special needs help at school, and eventually live a normal life as a grown-up, having a job, relationships etc and children himself.

He's such a darling and we're all very relieved here. Not least Morris, who grinned broadly on our return from the hospital, hearing that the doctor had said he was 'OK'.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

lazy days

It’s been good to spend time with the kids this half term; as someone who works from home, but also has to look after small children for most of the day, there are always times when I find myself saying ‘Go away, I’m busy’ and feeling torn between getting work done and being there for the kids. It’s tough, especially when my commitments as a performer mean I have to go out in the evenings more, often travelling long distances, so sometimes I don’t get to say goodnight to them at bedtime. Because of that, I’ve dropped some work this half term to just hang with the kids and my husband ... that’s one reason I’ve been blogging less over the past few days.

And the kids wanted to see themselves on the net, so here - by popular request - are my twin sons Morris (in the stripey top) and Dylan. They are three and a half now, but these pictures were taken by me last summer in the Isle of Man, when they were just three.