March: John Atkinson – Poet Interview

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Today I welcome John Atkinson as our guest poet of the month. I have known John for six years. I met him first at the 80th birthday party of a mutual poet friend. I was immediately struck by John’s depth of thought and application of the word. I have enjoyed countless roundtable sharing sessions with John and, to me, he ranks with the best of the ‘nature poets’ I have ever had the pleasure to read. John is a quintessential  Yorkshire man and his ability with envisioning nature is enticing.

Enjoy ‘Lepus Becoming’ after the interview

Welcome John:

What inspires you to write poetry?

No doubt you’ve heard the saying – ten percent inspiration and ninety per cent perspiration. I’m not sure that this is true all the time, and it does not take into account the little bit at the end, when you sit back, satisfied with a piece of work you feel ready to share with the world. However, before this can happen the first bits of the thought process have to make themselves known – the ideas needed to show the direction to take, searching for the poem – so even the perspiration can be enjoyable. Also I have a desire/ambition to write something that comes as close as I can muster to the writing of my favourite poets. And finally, sometimes I just want to have a communication with as many people as possible about how I have seen some aspect of ordinary life in a non-ordinary way.

What is a measure of success as a poet?

Can I widen your question to include the successes of individual poems. Being published by a well-known publisher, getting work out to a bigger audience, being in demand, these are things to be desired. But how do we measure our own success? Hard to say really; speaking as a little fish in a little pond I think it is important to write for oneself. Be true to your own experiences, keep working on the language as the poetic journey leads you from poem to poem, and look on each step forward as a series of small successes. Like so many things in life it is a journey of discoveries.

I have changed several of my early poems, poems I was pleased with when first I wrote them. One reason for this is, as I try to improve my skills as a writer of poetry, I hope to find better ways of saying – describing – finding the best sounds – and interesting, or unusual metaphors. Of course there can be a danger of overworking a poem. Some poems are started full of enthusiasm and then become difficult to resolve. We need to know when to put something down; come back to it later. And then some poems – hopefully not too many – will be destined for the bin. Norman MacCaig had his two fag rule. He would spend his summers walking in the Western Highlands, taking notes on the nature and places he visited. He took these back to Edinburgh to work into poems. If he couldn’t get the poem as he smoked two cigarettes he threw it away. I suppose any non-smokers who like this approach could boil two eggs. It would be no good for me however, Mr MacCaig was much cleverer than I am; I plod along at my own, rather slow, pace.

However, every once in a while, a poem seems to come out of – what, thin air, the recesses of the unconscious – wherever they come from, for me, these kinds of poems usually come as a piece, are written quickly and you just know you’ve captured something. This is the great payoff for me; it gives such a sense of satisfaction it’s hard to describe. When we create a thing that others relate to, and the words present a new view, a different way of understanding; that is when we have succeeded.

Who are some of your favourite poets?

Dylan Thomas was my first inspiration at age seventeen. I like Seamus Heaney and Sylvia Plath very much, also the above mentioned Norman MacCaig. Simon Armitage is a wonderful northern voice and I think Carol Ann Duffy has done great things, a first class poet laureate.

Nature appears in many of your poems. What inspires you to write about it?

I was brought up on a farm in the fifties, so I grew up steeped in a countryside more ancient than that of today. I am also knowledgeable about the ways of things natural. When I first read Dylan Thomas’s Fern Hill I too became the boy who, had the trees and leaves trail with daisies and barley down the rivers of the windfall light. Even now I am unable to read that poem without a great lump of emotion welling in my throat and seeing him/me revelling in the light on the magical waters.

What makes a poem good?

A hard question, isn’t it in the eye of the beholder? I envy those writers who come up with ideas I would never have thought of in a million years, but really wish I had.

What was the inspiration behind ‘Lepus Becoming’…could you say a bit about it?

The hare is one of my favourite animals, they have unusual proportions, their massive back legs enable them to gallop at great speed. They also have a sense of mystery: the moon-gazing hare, the March hares, boxing and chasing each other round and round – are they mad, or are they just revelling in the joy of being alive? A creature doesn’t have to be aware of an intellectual concept to be able to live it.

The writing of Lepus Becoming started with a little sonnet I wrote about a leveret (baby hare) that I found in a field many years ago. I never forgot the inky blackness of its eyes, or the softness of its fur as I touched it. I wanted to expand on it, build a few sonnets into a theme; at the time each one had its own title (please note; although the three sections of the poem have the correct number of lines for sonnets, and line breaks in places for the so-called turn, or volta, they do not have the strict rhyme scheme of the traditional sonnet form)

For the next one I delved into history: the Romans bringing rabbits, the hares natural enemy, to Britain(archaeology has now proved this as fact) then I went back to the end of the last ice age, when Britain was joined to the European land mass, then a reference to the mythology of Eostre, a Celtic fertility goddess whose name, and Spring festival, were taken over for the Christian festival of Easter (the same date, which, interestingly, is still fixed by the phases of the moon)

I stayed with the historical slant in the next section but brought it up to a more recent period, touching on the history and mechanisation of agriculture. At this point ,I realised that my little leveret sonnet didn’t fit into where I was going with the poem so I took it out. It is now a separate poem that I am very fond of.

I started on what became the third section, changed the title to Lepus Becoming, one poem in three parts, starting with the Romans. Another thing that happened at this stage, I came across a book called The Leaping Hare by George Ewart Evans. I can’t recommend it enough to anyone interested in hares and the folk-law surrounding them. As the final section took shape I used the names of the hare, from Evans’ book, coupled with my partial knowledge of the constellations and some interesting ideas, slightly modified, from Gnostic Christianity, to form a mythological synthesis about the beginnings, becomings and endings of my trains of thought on the splendid creature that is hare.

What advice would you give aspiring poets?

Read as much good poetry as you can, even poets you find difficult to begin with – I’m not very good at this – must try harder. My friend John takes his favourite poems for walks. When he visits a special place he will have selected a poem to read there – a special poem in a special place – what could possibly go wrong? One thing which we may find hard is criticism. It can be very useful if done well, so don’t be too precious about your “darlings” Poems, like everything in the perceived world, exist in a state of change, until they’re published that is. Just keep on reading and writing. Good luck.

Lepus Becoming

The Glory that was Rome marched north and westward,

boarding boats to reach these shores. In addition to carnage

and death the legions carried a living larder of rabbits

and snails; also an idea there was one God only to rule

over Heaven and Earth, but he had a son made of flesh.

Hare, on the other hand, arrived before the North Sea gave rise

to shores, or a need for boats, so he loped across the lost land

from God knows where. Later, famously moon-struck,

becomes the favourite of Eostre, and who can blame her?

 

Beneath the face of a paschal moon he tries to forget

his many sorrows: the rabbits, who – like Romans –

permit no competition, kill and eat the brains of his young;

and equally multiplying, the followers of God’s son,

stealing his mistress’s birthday to mourn a singular death.

 

*               *               *

 

The swish of keen scythes could be heard when hand

followed hand, cutting swathes in successive arcs, each

described by the snaith’s wooden curves, bent around

the three dimensions. And gritty against peened edges, a rub

of carbide stones on thousands of blades, ends worn thin

by long summers of the mowers’ measured strokes; once

their grating sounds scraped across the fields of England.

Then the clatter-clat song of a reaper’s cutter-bar, then

the thrum of the combine’s deafening drum. All have sung

and turned about the falling stands of corn, where shapes

of men waited down the ages with sticks and guns.

 

Deep in a cover of crop concealed ears quiver.

A nose twitches to windward, smells the scent of danger.

Soon my timid friend your time to run will come.

 

                  *               *               *

 

Owd Sally, Grimalkin, Moll, Mawkin, Jack-o-the-stubble

Furze-cat, Swift-as-wind; there are places where his names

are not spoken lest it bring ill luck on those whose auguries

place him badly. Orion would invoke him, invite him

to the hunt, to race celestial hounds, outrun them if he can.

He’ll make a maze of his own scent in turns and sweeps,

retrace his steps, jump walls, dykes, hide in flocks of sheep

until the dogs have lost him. Chased and chasing across

the meat-eating Earth, his great heart pumps, to arteries,

muscle and lungs. But he must tire, and when he does, go

fetch a cooking pot, build a fire to roast a body,

mix blood and wine; after this feast he will become man.

 

If there is a familiar to guide us at our end I would like

mine to be hare, running beside me, leaping between worlds.

 

Rejection and Self Publishing.

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What keeps you back from writing, or even worse, from submitting that manuscript?  As writers, many of us experience the fear of rejection. Losing confidence, we assign our manuscript to the file drawer or worse, the rubbish bin.

Believe it or not, many of the great writers whose names and titles roll off our tongues have faced the same fears and ultimate rejection. Here are just a few of them:

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

A Time to Kill by John Grisham

Dubliners by James Joyce

Chicken Soup for Soul by Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen

Dances with Wolves by Michael Blake

Jaws by Peter Benchley

Dune by Frank Herbert

Gone with The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence

Recognise the famous names? Imagine if they had given up, suffered a loss of confidence, threw their work in the trash can…literature would have suffered a severe loss and we would be the poorer for it.

Some of the great authors resorted to publishing their own work, at a time when such a move was frowned upon. Later they came to be picked up by the big publishing houses. Now, self-publishing has become totally respectable and has grown at a phenomenal rate. Many authors who have been rejected in recent years have become successful in terms of sales and followers; Some have been picked up by the main publishing houses, netting them substantial incomes.

When you next sit down with pen and paper or the keyboard and you fear rejection and feel your work is unworthy; remember the greats that have gone before you and become aware of those who have carved out their own path by self-publishing.

You may be the next best seller. Self-publish and have the satisfaction of watching a growing readership. Nothing increases confidence and self-esteem like it.

The House on Argyle Square

ThumbnailThe House on Argyle Square is published.

This collection of short stories is designed to facilitate those who love to read in those short spare minutes that present themselves throughout the day. I had a lot of fun writing this book along with my colleague, Frank Emslie. The title is available on both Amazon and Kindle.

Human beings have an insatiable longing to read. Everyone has their own favourite genre of story, usually for the journey, the holiday, the coffee break or even in bed before going to sleep…we want to read. The House in Argyle Square is a collection of short stories designed to be read during short breaks, or as a book on a longer journey. In this collection you will find stories containing irony, humour, delight, surprise and even the dark side. David and Frank recommend this book as a good read for those short on time. There is something here for everyone. Order here from Amazon

Don’t Invent The Wheel

If you are on the ‘self publishing’ track and finding the going hard…don’t invent the wheel.

Take encouragement and advice from some of the most successful people out there, who are only too willing to help you benefit from their expertise.

‘Let’s Get Digital’ is a book that will take all the guess-work out of self publishing and catapult you to success. I’m not plugging the book because I get a commission (I don’t), but because I am following its instruction as I work towards my own career in self publishing. Here are some insights and recommendations:

“You won’t make any money from self-publishing.”

MYTH!

The internet has revolutionized every business it has come into contact with, and publishing is no different.

For the first time, these changes are handing power back to the writer. It’s up to YOU if you want to profit from them.

Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should.

This guide contains over 60,000 words of essays, articles, and how-to guides, as well as contributions from 33 bestselling indie authors including J Carson Black, Bob Mayer, Victorine Lieske, Mark Edwards, and many more.

It covers everything from how the disruptive power of the internet has changed the publishing business forever to the opportunities this has created for writers. It gives you practical advice on editing, cover design, formatting, and pricing. And it reveals marketing tips from blogging and social networking right through to competitions, discounts, reviews, and giveaways.

If you are considering self-publishing, if you need to breathe life into your flagging sales, or if you want to understand why it’s a great time to be a writer, Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should will explain it all.

Praise for Let’s Get Digital:

“Let’s Get Digital is a must read for anyone considering self-publishing.” — JA Konrath, bestselling author of Trapped, Origin, and Whiskey Sour.

“Even with my background as an indie writer, I picked up several valuable tips…this is simply the best book about the e-book revolution that I have read.” — Michael Wallace, bestselling author of the Righteous series.

“Credible and comprehensive. I’d recommend it to any writer who is considering self-publishing or anyone interested in the current state of publishing.” — Big Al’s Books and Pals – 5 stars.

“It should be THE starting point for anyone considering self-publishing today. This book is a Pixel Pick, and should be considered required reading for any Indie author.” — Pixel of Ink.

You don’t need luck to self publish…you just need to use the wheel…it’s already invented. – Museshack

Here’s to your success!

10 Surefire Ways to Self-Publishing Success

In this post I am going to share with you 10 things you need to put in place to ensure your self-publishing success. These will help you to avoid the stigma that has been traditionally experienced by authors choosing this publishing route. I will be sharing links that you can follow to support you in your endeavours. I have not been offered an incentive to include any links, you will not be asked for money, nor does anyone pay me commissions. Self-published books have often deserved the stigma that is attached to them. So to ensure that your book stands out, is purchased and is read, follow these tips from the very start of your writing endeavours and you will achieve success:

1. Be aware of what you want to achieve as an author and for your book. If you know what you want to achieve, you are more likely to get there. Without a plan the delay in getting your book published may be just as long as if you had submitted it into the Publishing Lottery mentioned in my last post. Worse still, it may never be published.

2. Make sure you have a good book to offer. One of the most frequently asked questions of a reader is ‘is that book good’? That’s what we immediately want to know before anything else. If the answer is yes, we may go out and buy it ourselves. For a book to be good It will need to draw an emotional response from the reader; there will be an obvious level of suspense and the plot will leave the reader wanting to know more; believable characters are essential, your reader wants to identify with the good characters and loathe the bad ones; plenty of action is paramount, with conflict-resolution-conflict driving the reader to turn the page in hope of more. Simple matters are paramount such as spelling, grammar and layout. If it is not good, don’t publish until it is.

3. Gain the skills of self-publishing while you write. Self publishing is a process that can be learned alongside your writing. Be aware of the pros and cons and assess whether or not you have the time, skills and finances to self-publish; don’t be put off, thousands of authors are choosing this route for the cost-effective opportunity it provides. Don’t wait until the book is finished to find out what to do next. Be ahead of the game and prepared to publish when your book is done. If your book is already written then take time to research and implement the skills required for self- publishing.  There is no need to invest in an expensive course since information abounds on-line and at Amazon.com.

4. Set a budget. Some writers have been so enthusiastic to get their work into print that they have spent thousands of dollars and even bankrupted themselves. Beware of sharks; there are plenty of people out there who are happy to separate the author from her money. The good news is that in today’s word of Digital Publishing, you can self publish on a budget. Even though self publishing can be inexpensive, the last thing you want is that you run out of finances halfway through the process.  There are numerous books on the subject and If you link with other writers through social networking, you will be able to gain realistic forecasts of what you need to expend throughout the life of the publishing project.

5. Consider what form of self-publishing you will opt for. Traditional routes will prove time consuming and expensive. If you decide on Print-On-Demand (POD) then consider using the services of a POD printer that has inside connections with Amazon such as createspace.com. Digital publishing is now a respected enterprise and publishing an e-book is the most cost effective route of all to reach the widest market.  Kindle reaches a vast market offering Authors up to 70% royalties. It costs nothing to have your book published in Kindle format. The self- publishing route you choose will depend on the goals you have as an author.

6. Source the help you will need to self-publish without a great deal of expense. In the process of self-publishing you will become, or need, a copy editor, proof-reader, cover artist and marketing director. It is possible for you to be all of these, but do not overlook social networking and all the assistance that is out there. There is no need in today’s writing world to feel isolation and lack of support as you make those final steps toward your writing goals. You will be surprised how much help is available when you offer to give something back.

7. Become competent at Social Networking. It is easy, fun, supportive, energizing and cost-free.   I met a woman last week at a lecture with author Jack Mapanje. She informed me that she was going to write her life story and had bought a computer and booked on to courses for word processing and networking skills -she was 81 years old. There are four things that you need to succeed on-line, A Website, a Blog, a Twitter account and a Facebook account. There are many others to choose from, but a trawl of a few blogs and websites will soon reveal that the successful independent publishers are using these. Also consider joining Author Networks, these assist networking and give that wonderful sense of being part of something dynamic – great for curing feelings of isolation.

8. Ensure that you have a striking cover. This is essential even if you are publishing electronically. I refuse to buy an e-book that does not have a cover; to do so is like having photocopied sheets stuffed amongst books on a regular bookshelf. My e-reader bookshelf is as important to me as my bookshelf in my home. A great cover sells a book (all my life I have bought books on their covers). Networking on Twitter has allowed me to find and to communicate with good artists who can provide professional artwork for books, blogs and websites at affordable prices.

9. Make sure your book is for sale through several on-line providers. Your goal may be to solely sell through Amazon.com, but since Amazon will compete with other online booksellers, it pays to have your book listed with booksellers such as Barnes and Noble and others. Make sure you are on Smashwords who distribute e-books to retailers such as iBooks, Sony, Diesel and other retailers. Listing your book is free and they will convert your book to e-reader format for no charge, though they do take a percentage of sales.

10. Book reviews, book reviews, book reviews. Use every opportunity open to you to get book reviews that are well written, preferably by readers and writers of your genre. Sign up to goodreads.com and become familiar with fellow authors. You will find that there is a great deal of goodwill and reciprocity between writers online and a polished review that ends up shared through Social Networking, is priceless publicity. I buy the majority of my e-books as a result of reviews and I am seldom disappointed. Use as many review opportunities as you can find time to manage and be sure that you use Amazon for free reviews.

Finally, (yes, this makes 11 tips) and I use it to reinforce my insistence that you – keep writing. Your fan base want to see more work…they really do! So capitalize on your next books success by following all these tips from today. I’ll be watching for your work and if you have followed these ideas, I’ll most likely be buying some of it too!

Meet the Author:

David McLoughlin has been writing since childhood. His work comprises lifestyle articles, short stories, counseling courses, speeches, lectures and poetry. Later in 2011 his first book of poetry will appear ‘No Perfect Reason – No Perfect Rhyme. He is working on ‘Aftershock’ a novel describing the descent into chaos of one life after a bomb blast. David has has been a mentor to authors and writers since 1992 and runs events for the performance of poetry and readings. You can follow David on @veryshortpoetry or drop into the Muse Shack – There is always a cup of something to drink and he will introduce you to the Muse who may offer you some ideas.