Chapbooks, Poetry and Pen-Pals

Pages of my letters to my new pen-pal!

Welcome back to my blog!

My god, do you realise we’ve been on this lock-down for several months now? Since March? I cannot believe it myself – have I really been working at home for that long?
Yesterday I got to see one of my colleagues (and friends!) for the first time in all that time, and we just picked up where we left off. I complained to her about my problems and she sat at her desk laughing it off with me and offering sage advice. I’ve missed that a lot. We were 2 metres apart of course – the office is taped up and desks moved to force us to keep apart, even if we’re just popping in.

On the house-moving front, we hit a predictable snag – our buyers had to pull out. I was prepared for this, so I didn’t get upset – I’ve been remarkably and uncharacteristically good lately at not exploding into tears when inevitable bad things happen. I don’t know if my personal traumas have toughened me up or if it just comes with age. Perhaps they’re the same thing?

Pen-pals

Anyway, one lovely development is that in one of the groups I frequent on Facebook (Cottagegoth – I know, it’s perfect. A mixture of all things Cottagey, gothy, and witchy – Imagine if Stevie Nicks and Andrew Eldritch had a baby. We’re an eclectic bunch!) a thread was created for those who wanted a pen-pal! Now, I’ve always longed for someone to write to and never actually went about getting a pen-pal. Luckily, this group is full of like-minded people who all love the idea of sending actual, physical letters to one another, just like in the Bronté days. My pen-pal lives on a farm in Texas! How cool is that? I can’t compare to that excitement, but hopefully she’ll enjoy hearing from a tea-loving-English-girl who lives in a rickety old seaside town. I’ve written my first letter and included a photo of me, plus a few links to my blog and insta (though I’m not much of a poser – you should see the astonishingly beautiful photoshoots people do of themselves now-days. Actually, I’m sure you have). I’m hoping to include a postcard of Southend-on-Sea too, so she can get an idea of where I am and what it’s like, of course.

Writing

On the writing-front, I’ve actually got two novels on submission! One is a completed children’s novel, which I’ve only sent to 5 agents so far and will be sending to others, and the other is a romantic gothic YA – only the first 16,000 words. The latter is actually for a mentorship programme run by a literary agency in the UK, offering representation to an author they see great promise in, but who needs a little help guiding their book along. As I had a finished book and a work in progress, I decided I had nothing to lose in submitting my plans and chapters of the work in progress. Of course, as always, I don’t expect to get anywhere – but I’m giving myself a fair chance by trying anyway.

In the meantime, I’ve taken a break from novels and been working on some poetry. Did you know that poetry doesn’t sell to agents? Well, yes, of course you did – but that’s because poetry is meant for sharing, and it’s hard to sell poetry books to a publisher. Only the biggest and best poets get their works published with the ‘Big Five’ and that’s because they’re so renowned. This isn’t including the new wave of “Insta poets”, of course – these are people who had an enormous platform and they did make whopping amounts of money off their poetry and got on the NYT bestsellers lists. That’s rare of course – most average poets, even moderately successful ones, don’t see their work make particular bank – not in and of itself, anyway. People who have press appeal and become famous can of course sell anything, and there are some very famous modern poets like John Cooper-Clarke, Simon Armitage, Jackie Kay, etc. Some of the world’s most beloved historical writers and artists (in fact most of them actually) were not rich or famous while alive. It’s just that their work lasted longer than they did.

Anyway, because of the fact that new poetry rarely sells to the big agents and publishers, one thing a lot of poets do is create chapbooks as a way of sharing at poetry readings or even selling their work. Chapbooks tend to be no more than 20-30 pages and are self-published and usually self-printed and bound, which makes them wonderful little oddities and works of limited-edition art. Chapbooks are usually confined to a small print-run, which is hand-numbered, to make them extra special. I think that’s a beautiful way to get to know someone, certainly – to buy or receive a small collection of their poems, all printed and bound by their own hands.

So, naturally, I want to make one of my own! I decided to work on poems about my journey through diagnosis, surgery, and my time in hospital, encapsulating those thoughts and feelings into a small chapbook. I’m still working on it now, but I plan to illustrate, format and print it myself. The lovely thing about chapbooks is you can use creative licence; they are what you make them, and they are a little piece of you. So far my chapbook has about 14 poems and is under the working title “We Found a Shadow“. I can’t decide whether the subtitle should be ‘Poems from a hospital bed’ or ‘Poems about my tumour’, though both are totally accurate.

Chapbooks!

Look at these gorgeous cover illustrations!

Naturally, research means I need to buy a load of chapbooks! These are all from Analog Submission Press, whom I discovered on Instagram. They publish small, limited runs of beautiful chapbooks from all sorts of poets, and each can be purchased for the humble price of £4.00.

How can you say no to that? A piece of art that you can enjoy and read over and over for just £4.00!

I had a look through their collection like a kid in a candy shop and settled on the four above, having only their beautiful covers to go by. I’ve read three of them so far, and I’m really impressed. Chapbooks are less about writing technically-clever or technically-masterful-arty-farty-poems of the kind you often find in literary presses, but more about conveying a sense of the writer themselves. It’s one “hot stink” of the writer, as Ted Hughes would put it (The Thought Fox).

Chapbook poetry collections are supposed to tell a story or convey a particular time, emotion, or thing the author was distracted with at the time of writing – they should be poems on a theme, even if that theme is the poet themselves. They shouldn’t be a random assortment of the poet’s favourite pieces. Some of the poems amongst this lot are fantastic, funny – and some of course are hit and miss – but they build up parts of an overall tapestry. I definitely do have a feel for the poets in ways you couldn’t create in a Twitter feed or a Facebook post. I’ve got a little piece of them and best of all, it’s from a limited run! I find that very exciting.

I enjoyed these poems on the final page of Little Irritants by Darcy Isla.

Do you collect chapbooks? Ever made one of your own? I’d be very interested to hear from you, so get in touch.

That’s me for now folks – see you next week!

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

Covid-19, the arts & me

Well, we never saw this coming for 2020, did we? A global pandemic that put our most vulnerable people in critical danger and left us all in turmoil.

You may or may not know that I work in comms for a wonderful national charity to do with gastrointestinal health.

Just today I was in a conference call, excitedly discussing hashtag campaigns and possibilities with our PR manager and our social media managers, when it hit me that we were dancing merrily around some pretty serious stuff here. How could we start a #justoneholidaytip when travel has been halted? How could we start a #travelingwithmystoma campaign if people weren’t boarding planes to sunny locations?

Our discussions pretty quickly changed to buddying schemes, encouraging our members to look after their old and more vulnerable friends in their local groups. We came up with campaigns about staying indoors, getting exercise at home, or how patients can make the most of their garden or window-box. Conversations soon meandered once more to mental health campaigns and how to deal with anxiety in such uncertain times.

Just today, only 3 of us were working in the office. By 10.00am we were down to just 2, when one of our staff decided it was too risky to come in to work. I’ve been feeling unwell myself for a few days, though I don’t believe I’m symptomatic of coronavirus. Still, I did attempt to buy a thermometer and found that the pharmacies in my area had all run out.

I have a surgery booked at St Bart’s Hospital, London, for April 1 – this will no doubt be cancelled. I have tickets booked for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the O2, and Shortparis at The Lanes in Bristol. My parents are supposed to be going to Amsterdam next month. All will probably be cancelled or delayed.

My boyfriend and I are in the midst of selling his house and buying a new one together. We may end up having to cancel the open-house viewings and put all this on hold, depending on whether we have to go into proper lockdown. Living hundreds of miles apart, it’s already tough to get to each other.

These measures are necessary but it really, really sucks.

My thoughts are with the sick, vulnerable, and older people who are most at risk during this terrible outbreak. A flu virus that spreads on this scale and is said to be twice as deadly as ordinary flu can be fatal to people with compromised health, and I can only imagine their families are terrified. My dad has asthma and that’s enough to put a knot in my belly.

I wish everybody the best of health and I hope and pray that this terrible virus disappears soon.

Poetry

With quotes from Stephen Fry and Adam Kay, you know you’re in for an amazing read – not to mention poems by Michael Rosen, Lemn Sissay MBE, and other celebrated poets!

So how has this affected me and the arts? Well, the exciting book launch for the phenomenal NHS anthology These Are the Hands had to be cancelled or postponed until further notice. I was nervous about attending this, but now that it’s been cancelled, I realise how much I was looking forward to being part of such an enormous achievement and the celebration of the work we’d done together.

The book is still being released and can be purchased on 21 March and can be pre-ordered now online. The anthology will be available on Amazon, and in all book stores including Waterstones and even your local indie bookshop. The poems inside are absolutely beautiful and include contributions from some famous poets, including Michael Rosen, of course, who provided the foreword and was to be attending the event.

Lemn Sissay MBE is also a contributing poet, and he was also filmed reading some key poems from the anthology, which will be released after the launch. (A little birdy told me that he read one of my poems, but I will wait and see! The thought of that is far too exciting).

Here he is reading his own poem, titled ‘Making a Difference’.

Knowing that I played a part in this inspiring anthology makes me proud beyond belief. Please do buy a copy – all proceeds go towards NHS Charities Together.
With the strain on NHS services and the extra burden of the coronavirus outbreak, they could use every penny they get. Your purchase would be contributing towards the most important cause in the UK right now: our NHS.

Mookychick

In other poetry and writing-related news, I will once again be appearing at the amazing feminism-centric online magazine, Mookychick! Recently their non-fiction editor accepted my submission of an article about one of my favourite thriller novels/movies: Jaws by Peter Benchley/Steven Spielberg.

It’s a rambling piece about differences between the film and the novel, because I just had to tell the world how much I loved Jaws. Amity, as you know, means friendship.

When I know more about when that will be released, you’ll be the first to know, for I shall share it all here.

I also submitted my poem, entitled The Wild Women, for their amazing upcoming multi-arts anthology called The Medusa Project. Fingers crossed! This anthology will be released online as an ebook, free of charge, to share all the amazing work they’ve collected about, and by, women. Submissions are still open until early-mid April I believe, so please go ahead and send in your contributions!

Until next time, stay safe, well, and creative.
Best wishes,
Ashleigh