Remembering Tara on her birthday

I’ve missed her irreverence and her wisdom this year – and her encouragement to not take yourself too seriously.

She died in the August night, and we scattered her ashes beneath a rowan tree on the side of a hill near the reservoir.  These poems didn’t make it into the book, but I’m glad to share them now.  She’d probably find them too oblique – ‘just SAY IT’, she wrote on one of my drafts, once.




Fog, this morning, at the window

mild in its inquiry.

Yes, I say, it’s true.


River in spate, trees taking on her colours.


How is it the news has reached you only now?


Back then, we missed the Perseids crossing.

There was cloud. We were asleep.




to slake the thirst of a city: this reservoir

roots anchor a hillside


our slow party proceeding, we help lift a buggy

the children: I’m mad for mermaids




wet through but still we stand

the open face of water chopped rough by rain




the catch on the gate, slippery    then sun    the air

moves freely down the valley


a train, a chimney cap, a railway bridge

dual carriageway




it’s done    wake to the blur of daylight, the room

a hand on the face or arm


the curtain, the chair, the books and piles of paper

allow the cup of coffee




up there: sapling rows in uncut grass

the great loaves of cloud



Tara Louise Few

22.03.68 – 11.08.13




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.