Ten Years Ago,

my first pamphlet was published by Arrowhead Press.  I’m so grateful to Joanna and Roger for that.

As a way of marking the moment, I made an audio poem: here’s a version of ‘What’s the Matter’, written for and about – and recorded in – E11, London, UK.  The wood in question is Bushwood, the marsh in question is inside it.

It’s tempting to read your earlier poems and disavow them; you’ve changed since then, you’ve (hopefully) developed as a writer.  But here, in this poem, still: this standing askance from the notion of a ‘self’, this pull exerted by a specific place, this awareness of its other creaturely inhabitants, this tug between ‘escape’ and ‘home’.

‘Theme isn’t something which you can impose on your writing; it’s something that writing imposes on you.’ (W N Herbert, in his excellent book for the OU)

And ten years later, it’s kind of lovely that I find myself working on the edits for my first, full-length collection, due out in early 2018.  It’s been quite a long road to get here, but so worth every step.  You can’t rush these things, I don’t think.  And I’m utterly delighted that my ragged writing and thinking from the PhD has coalesced into a book.  So, huge gratitude to the wonderful Penned in the Margins for giving Natural Phenomena a home.


A sound piece

I’ve made one and you can hear it here.  The track still has its lumps and bumps – it’s a first attempt and I’m still learning this new language of EQ and frequencies, gain and handling noise, windjammers, foamies, fluffies, omnis …

Piecing this audio file together has felt a bit like writing a poem.  There’s the same listening to what is already there in order to work out what the next movement or appearance should be, the same sense of ‘feeling’ your way forward although you’re not walking or climbing, actually.  There’s the same sense of ‘hearing’ what comes next, before you have written or placed it, and the uncanny idea that you’ve made an entity that is starting to talk back to you.

And the collaging technique, guided by sound, that I’ve used in a lot of my more recent poems, is absolutely what I’ve been using in this sound work.  It’s been really exciting, discovering these links between the two art forms.

There’s a long poem for sounds and voices, ‘Transit’, in the collection (my first, full one – still very excited about this!) coming out with Penned in the Margins in February.  When I wrote it, I included a narrator, binding the fragments of speech together and commenting on some of the sounds that would swirl around the voices if the poem were ever performed.  This was because of the poem’s double life, as something on the page and potentially out in the air.   But I think what sound art is teaching me is just how much less necessary I am finding that commenting ‘voice’ and how much more I can trust a reader, a listener.

Much to think about.  My next step is to work with one of my old poems, chop it up, add it to the mix.  I have caught some lovely sounds around E11 where I live, am itching to do something with them.  Watch this space.

To learn how to do all this, I’ve been doing an excellent short course down at Goldsmiths on field recordings and soundscapes. Sherry is a brilliant teacher – and her own work is really interesting.

Free drop-ins at the Wellcome Collection!

I’m really excited about these!  I’m giving a series of free creative writing and poetry workshops in the Reading Room at the Wellcome Collection.  They’re drop-in ‘pop ups’,  so  won’t appear on the Wellcome’s website, but will be advertised in-house on the day.

All the sessions run from 2 pm to 5 pm, and you can stay for as much or as little as you like – and we’ll definitely take a break half way through the session, to help percolate ideas.

The sessions are on the following dates:

Friday 3rd March

Thursday 9th March

Friday 17th March

Saturday 25th March

Thursday 30th March

Saturday 1st April


In them, I want to think about the idea of discovery with you – how it happens, what different forms it takes, what it means to different people, who gets to do the discovering and who gets ‘discovered’ – and the idea of hiding and being hidden – why it happens, how it happens… as well as making use of the art and objects and books in this lovely space.  We’ll be doing plenty of writing exercises and a bit of talking.  Maybe see you there?


Ugly Q & A

Ugly Questions

Do you act like a hot girl or an ugly

girl? Do ugly girls ever get any boyfriends?

Do ugly people have any value? Should you

fuck ugly girls to improve your game? Should you

keep on being with an ugly girl

when there are no alternatives? Should you

hire ugly people? Are you hot, pretty,

average or ugly? Are ugly girls easy?

Are You Ugly, Cute, Hot, Or Head Turning

Sexy? (girls Only!!!) I am an ugly girl –

does that mean I will never get lucky? I

am an ugly woman. What chance do I have? Why are

the babies in medieval art so ugly?

Why are the emojis so ugly? Why are

the British so ugly? Why do engineers

use big old ugly computers? Why do foreigners

tend to marry women that are ugly?

Why do ugly boys get gorgeous girls?

If an ugly girl marries an ugly boy,

will the children too be ugly? If your child

were to be boring, stupid, or ugly, which one

would you prefer? Why didn’t evolution

get rid of ugly people? Why are ugly

paintings so expensive? Why is LA

so ugly? Why is train seat fabric so ugly?

Why is gravel ugly? Why are models

ugly? Why are feet ugly? What is an ugly

stick? What are ugly tomatoes? What is ugly

crying? Is your current PowerPoint template

ugly? How do ugly people find love?



Ugly Answers


Twenty-two ugly girls with hot bods. Thirty-

five pretty girls who became fat and ugly.

Five key things that ugly girls know that pretty

ones don’t. There is nothing worse than an ugly

girl who thinks she’s hot. An ugly girl

will usually harbour resentment towards

the hotter friend. No one takes pictures with

or of the ugly girl. No one writes books

about ugly women. Most people in

America are pretty damn ugly.

There’s not one ugly girl in Whistler village.

There are a lot of ugly female athletes.

Teenage girls. Some are really ugly.

Being around ugly women is bad

for your health. Fat girls are ugliest of all.

Ugly prostitutes exist. Here’s why

writers are ugly. The mood is ugly. Your baby

is ugly. I’m ugly, I know it and I have proof.


Two poems derived from using a search engine with ‘ugly’ as the key word, both attempting to hold a pentameter line (very variable feet!).  Being slightly hasty / lazy / ignorant, I’ve let WordPress put a lot of space into what should be very squashed-together, breathless lines, but the line breaks are where I want them.

Such richness of material, I might write an Ugly Ghazal as well – but there’s only so much misogyny I can digest in one go, so that might have to wait.  Happy Halloween.


When you ask me, Where do you come from?
how do I answer? How does anyone?
All of us sound different on my street.
In each of us, so many of these crossings
– and in this city, so many crossings meet.
Say ach y fi. Say bore da. Say croeso.

(from ‘The Unicorn’, The Bridle, 2011, Salt)

25 years ago London said croeso to me.  I’ve been a ‘Welsh-sounding Auckland pakeha’ , a ‘Kiwi-sounding East Anglian’, a ‘rural-sounding Cambridge undergraduate’, a ‘posh-sounding Forest of Deaner’.  I’ve been ‘Welsh’, I’ve been ‘English’, I’ve been ‘Wenglish’. I’ve been a ‘tomboy’, I’ve been’butch’, I’ve been ‘femme’, I’ve been ‘straight’, I’ve been ‘bi’, I’ve been ‘queer’.  However I’ve chosen to identify – however hazily, with whatever imperfect knowledge, (and no matter that these days I find these identity labels for myself less and less helpful and don’t bother with them*) – London has made room for me.

We’re all descended from migrants if you go back far enough.  Why wouldn’t we welcome more of our own?

(* but that’s my privilege speaking, of course, that I can evade them.)

Katrina Naomi: The Writing Process Blog Tour continues!

Following on from my contribution last week, I’m lucky enough this week to be hosting Katrina Naomi‘s contribution to the Blog Tour.  Over to her!


What am I working on?

I like having a project of some sort on the go. I’m working in response to a series of short films by the visual artist Tim Ridley. I really enjoy collaborating with other art forms/artists and this is the first time I’ve worked with film. It’s good to try something new. Having some sort of project makes me feel quite purposeful, I suppose. I recently wrote a set of poems inspired by the Suffragettes* and I find having to keep to a theme can urge me on and I push myself further than I might do otherwise. Also, I’ve recently moved to Penzance in Cornwall and I’ve been writing a lot – not on any obvious theme (or not one that I can see emerging just yet), I’m not placing any restrictions on myself. The move’s been really good for my writing, it seems to have given me a lot of energy and I feel up for taking risks in my work, so I’m enjoying myself. I’m also in my final year of a creative writing PhD, teaching for the Poetry School and the OU, and mentoring several poets, so it’s important to keep my energy levels up.


How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Blimey, what a question. I think that’s for others to answer rather than me. I feel I write several different sorts of poems – every now and then I think ah that’s an x type of poem, that’s a y type. Do you know what I mean? And then sometimes a new type of poem appears, one that seems to have a different style or theme or subject matter – and I’m always intrigued by those. This makes me feel as though I might be shifting in some way. Moving on.


Why do I write what I do?

Ha! Sometimes I wish I knew. Last year I was writing quite dark, sometimes quite violent poems. I’m not saying what I’m writing now is light and fluffy, but it is a little different. It’s going to be interesting, well to me at least, to see how this new sense of place, culture and language filters down into my writing. But in terms of why do I write? Well, I feel out of sorts if I don’t, it’s quite physical…


How does my writing process work?

I’m pretty disciplined about writing. I write morning pages with a cup of tea first thing, I hardly ever write anything creative in them, I’m usually just clearing my head of junk. Then after breakfast, I sit at my desk most mornings. I’ll often start with reading a few pages of a collection, I’m currently reading Dylan Thomas’s Selected Poems, and then hope that something will spark in me, then I write. I usually write three drafts by hand, with a fountain pen, brown ink, stay with it as long as I can…then I go off and do something else. I try to leave that draft alone for at least a month, then I’ll type it up, redraft a few times, and if I think it’s got anything at all, I’ll share it with two poets I work with, and/or one of the poetry workshops I’ve joined in Cornwall. Once I have their feedback, I’ll put it aside for a while longer, then redraft and redraft. It takes a while…


* These poems, entitled Hooligans, will be published by Rack Press in 2015.


The three writers that I’ve nominated are:

Tiffany Atkinson is a senior lecturer in English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University, and has lived in Wales since 1993. She was winner of the Ottakar’s and Faber National Poetry Competition (2000) and the Cardiff Academi International Poetry Competition (2001). Her poems are published widely in journals and anthologies, and her first collection, Kink and Particle (Seren, 2006) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and winner of the Jerwood Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. Her second collection, Catulla et al (Bloodaxe 2011) was shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year. So Many Moving Parts, a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, was published by Bloodaxe in January 2014. She gives regular readings and workshops across the UK and internationally, and is currently the poetry editor for The New Welsh Review.

Hannah Lowe is a poet and prose writer. She has published two pamphlets – The Hitcher (The Rialto 2011) and Rx (sine wave peak, 2013). Her first full collection Chick (Bloodaxe, 2013) was shortlisted for the Forward Best First Collection Prize and the Aldeburgh Fenton best first collection. Her memoir Long Time, No See is forthcoming in 2014. She is currently studying for a PhD in Creative Writing.


Gemma is a writer working online, live and in print. Her digital writing projects include ‘5am London’ (2012), collaborating with a photographer to document the city during the early hours, and ‘Look up at the Sky’ (2011), charting the quiet parts of the Thames through walking and writing. She is also the author of the daily fiction blog ‘Speak to Strangers’ (2009) about random interactions with Londoners, subsequently published as a book by Penned in the Margins, 2011. She likes to think she’s a kind of cartographer, finding alternative ways to capture the world that surrounds her. www.gemmaseltzer.co.uk

The Writing Process Blog Tour

Julia Webb nominated me for this.  Do have a look at her site and follow the tour backwards (as well as forwards, of course); it makes for really interesting reading.  Or at least, I have found it interesting, but maybe that’s because I am desperate for anything that reassures me I’m not the only person sitting alone and trying to get something out of my head and onto a page and feeling like a failure half the time and a lazy git the rest of the time and veering between thinking ‘I’m a freakin genius’ and ‘I’m a fraud’ and … well, you can see how it goes.  To the questions, then.

 What am I working on?

I laughed rather bitterly when I saw this question, because for a while I wasn’t working on anything.  I should have been: I’m in the last year or so of a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing at UEA, and I’ll need to submit my thesis if I want something to show for it.  But one of my closest friends died suddenly in August 2013, and it has, frankly, stopped me in my tracks.

For a long time, I couldn’t see my way back to the short, lyric poems I’d been writing before.  They explore the notion of a ‘self’ and the difficulty of relating to the ‘things of the world’ (a phrase I might have nicked from Heidegger, whose work I’ve been reading for the critical element of the PhD with extremely imperfect understanding).  And I couldn’t look at their companion piece without crying all over it.  It’s a long poem for voices and sound, set on the public transport system in London, where a narrator is constantly looking for a lost loved one.

But quite recently, I found myself turning the pages of my poem drafts again, making annotations here, getting the thesaurus down from the shelf, trying out consonances…..  It looks as though I might be able to keep writing poems after all, though I can’t go back to writing the way I did before Tara died.  If these drafts are to become finished poems, they will have to be cracked open, remade.

Strange, too: into that poem-silent gap – after the immediate shock of her death, after the first few weeks of hollow dislocation – prose stepped.  I started writing about Tara in this blog.  Then a short story started in my writing notebook one morning (coffee, pyjamas, stinky breath).

More recently, I took down the ‘novel folder’ from my shelf.  I started work on a novel for Young Adults last year: having drafted one about ten years ago and not done anything with it, I was really inspired by an Arvon course I went on and – although I’m having to set it aside until the poems and the PhD get finished – I really, really want to finish this second book and try and get it published.

So, not working on nothing, Meryl.  Just – somewhat interrupted, needing to be remade.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I’m tempted to say that it doesn’t.  How do I answer that question?  I don’t think about it in those terms; that’s for the publication end of the process, and I’m not there yet, with my current work.

I could tell you what what its preoccupations are: sound, silence, form, relationship, climate change and ecological disaster, cities, loss….  I don’t think it’s unique in that.

I could tell you whose work I’m reading and enjoying at the moment:  Jorie Graham, Denise Riley, Alice Oswald, Kathleen Jamie, Marie Howe, W.S.Graham, Bill Manhire, Michael Haslam, John Wilkinson, Zoe Skoulding, Lorine Niedecker (poets in no particular order); Lucy Christopher, Margo Lanagan, David Mitchell, Alice Munro (prose fiction).

Perhaps I should just move on…

Why do I write what I do?

Because there is nothing as satisfying as trying and trying again to use this thing we all share, this language, to make something individual to me.  Because I love trying to write with concision, precision, beauty (whatever that means), emotion – and I love trying to capture something as vague as mood or atmosphere, or pinning down a detail I didn’t know I’d observed.

Because when something provokes me into a response, that response has always involved picking up a pen.  When Tara died, all I had for a while was shock and hollowness, and I was terrified by the thought that this might be all there was to accompany the grief; a nothing saying nothing.  But it wasn’t all there was: I picked up a pen again eventually, set it to work remembering my remarkable friend, recording the effrontery of the world as it got on with its business around her grieving loved ones, leading me back towards the things of the world, the living, my life – all still here though altered.

How does my writing process work?

Ideas chafe at me when I’m washing up, or walking, or sitting on a train or a tube, or when I’m trying and failing to get to sleep.  Then I try to give them a run at the page (a notebook, usually; I’m on number 67 at the moment): Alone, in silence or with ambient soundtracks playing on my headphones, or in the quiet of the morning or the night (I usually work in a back room overlooking a meeting of back gardens), with coffee or tea.  Later, I’ll work at a screen and then write and draw all over the print-outs, with a pen, coloured pencils; editing, adding, and often cutting-up, collaging.  Back to the screen, then back to printing out, reading aloud, adding, subtracting, rewriting….

Often I put things away because they just won’t shift, sometimes for years.  I get feedback from writers I trust, try out their suggestions.  Some of the poems make it to the finished stage, others just stay in the box file, to be cannibalised as ‘material’.  At some point, I can’t shift anything in the piece and I realise I’ve accepted it in its current state.  That’s about as close to finished as I can get.

Next week, three excellent writers of my acquaintance will be continuing the tour:

Rachel Watson will be answering the four questions, on her blog, A Variety of Hats.  Rachel grew up in Bolton, Lancashire and now lives in Cambridge with her family, where she works as a freelance television producer when she’s not writing, or parenting, or staring into space wondering when it will all kick off. She has an MA in Creative and Life Writing from Goldsmiths, University of London and is represented by Sarah Nundy at Andrew Nurnberg Associates. Rachel’s non-fiction work has appeared in the Guardian, the Telegraph and in the Goldfish anthology, and her short story ‘Counting’ was published by Ether books. She is currently working on a novel set in a television newsroom in the late 1980s.

Katrina Naomi will be answering the questions here, on my blog. Katrina is completing a PhD in creative writing at Goldsmiths, with a focus on violence in poetry. She has a pamphlet, ‘Hooligans’, inspired by the Suffragettes, forthcoming from Rack Press in 2015. Her poetry has appeared in ‘The TLS’, ‘The Poetry Review’ and ‘The Spectator’. She is originally from Margate and lives in Penzance.

Anna Robinson will continue the tour from her website.    Anna is a poet, tutor and editor from London. Her first full collection The Finders of London was published by Enitharmon in 2010 and shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Poetry Centre Prize for Poetry in 2011.  Her pamphlet, Songs from the flats (Hearing Eye 2006), was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice. In 2001, she became the first recipient of The Poetry School Scholarship and her poetry was featured in the School’s second anthology, Entering the Tapestry, (Enitharmon 2003). Her work has appeared in several journals and anthologies, including Poetry London, Magma,Brittle Star, the reater, In The Company of Poets (Hearing Eye 2003) and Oxford Poets 2007 (Oxford/Carcanet.