Archive for the ‘Poems’ Category

Frances Presley on How She Writes a Poem

‘See if the draft poem has thematic and technical substance or throw it away. Subject it to all the tests you can think of.’ 

In September’s instalment of ‘How to write a poem’ Frances Presley shares her lovely and instructive wisdom for approaching a poem:

1. Write a sequence of poems with a theme and a form, such as Neolithic stone settings and visual poetics. It means you don’t have to constantly think about how to write the next poem, but should be flexible enough to allow changes of direction.

2. Be in a landscape. Take with you a pre-determined poetic. See what happens when it is subject to land slips and torrential rain. Abandon conscious control and note what happens around you and inside you.

3. Try ‘blind writing’ which like ‘blind drawing’ focuses on the thing seen rather than the page and allows the lines, the words, to emerge. Use all your senses and remember that the referee with peripheral vision is no use if her brain is blind.

4. Be in a source text. Lift the language of other writers, both good and bad. Look in the archives of forgotten women, such as Exmoor historian Hazel Eardley-Wilmot, for their letters, unpublished manuscripts and diaries. Rewrite and redesign source texts to reveal their concealed meanings.

5. Collaborate with artists, musicians and, for a real challenge, other poets. Through collaboration you create something that is neither one nor the other but a third entity. The best collaboration is simultaneous, non-hierarchical and feminist, as well as an act of love.

6. See if the draft poem has thematic and technical substance or throw it away. Subject it to all the tests you can think of.

Frances seaweed



Frances Presley is a poet whose writing is widely published. Most of her work up until 2009 can be found in Paravane (Salt, 2004); Myne (Shearsman, 2006) and Lines of Sight (Shearsman, 2009). Since then she has produced An Alphabet for Alina with artist Peterjon Skelt (Five Seasons, 2012) and Halse for Hazel (Shearsman, 2014) which received an Arts Council award, with its companion volume, Sallow (Leafe, 2016). Her work is in the anthologies Infinite Difference (2010), Ground Aslant: radical landscape poetry (2011) and Out of Everywhere2 (2015). She has translated Salt on the eye: selected poems, by Hanne Bramness (Shearsman, 2007); Outside the Institution: selected poems by Lars Amund Vaage (Shearsman, 2010) and No film in the camera by Hanne Bramness (Shearsman, 2013). She lives in London but also writes in Somerset with the visual poet and performer Tilla Brading. You can also find Frances’ poems in Poetry Wales Spring 2016 Vol 51.3.

Sallow cover with textWeb

Sallow was published last year by Leafe Press. It continues a long sequence of poems about the languages of trees, Halse for Hazel (Shearsman, 2014), especially those used by women, including local dialect and botanic classification. Halse for Hazel began on the hills of Exmoor and Sallow explores low lying wetland areas, mapping political and environmental pressures. ‘Crack willow’ is a collaborative text with Harriet Tarlo from a walk near her home in Yorkshire. The poems are juxtaposed with images by the artist Irma Irsara.

Sallow, by Frances Presley with images by Irma Irsara, 24pp, published by Open House editions, an imprint of Leafe Press, £4.50 (inc. postage), £6.50 RRP.

‘I found her work a highly pleasant revelation, at once thoroughly alert and judged yet delightfully manic and far-reaching in its wildness, risks and resultant freedoms’ David Morley, Poetry Review

 ‘Presley’s work sleights the relationship between landscape and language, each deploying (or deployed) as markers for the human eye.’ C. Waldrep, Kenyon Review

Sophie McKeand on How She Writes a Poem

‘As the years roll by I feel I am no longer waiting at a dried-up riverside, instead I’m slowly metamorphosing into the river, and that is as much as I can hope for.’


Since discovering the mental landscape existed over a decade ago I’ve realised how important it is to cultivate this space when creating. For years if I’d have been asked to look inward I’d have told you there was nothing, just blackness; a void. Now I realise I was looking with my eyes closed – I was never taught how to open them. I don’t think many of us are.

I’ve been thinking, talking and writing a lot about anarchy lately. As I become more deeply involved with the process of creating it teaches me that the very act of dreaming any artform is pure anarchy. Anarchy is the antithesis of ‘doing as you are told’, or being a well-behaved cog in the machine. To create is to be autonomous; to think for yourself; to better understand the self. To truly explore another’s art is to be fully aware of your own ideas and opinions.

A river of inspiration flows through my mental landscape. I have yet to discover her source but nevertheless she sends various objects downstream for me to shape into language. When I first began working in this way I would try to control her direction and speed, or I’d ignore the latest offering if it wasn’t something the ego wanted to write about and wait for the next, or the next-but-two thing to come along. Invariably this just caused a horrific log-jam and I’ve spent months in the past bereft and crying when downriver dried up.

Now I write things as they come and have faith that, even if they’re not meant for the world in the sequence in which they arrive, they’re meant for me in that order. I have endless files of work I’ve not used, or may never use, but it all has to be written so that the thing I do use can materialise, and I learn from every piece written. The subconscious knows this. I think I’m finally grasping what it is to ‘know not-knowing’, to quote Lao Tzu.

When I was younger my grandfather wanted me to write with the right hand and encouraged me away from being my natural left-handed self. He meant well, but it has just left me with terrible left-handed handwriting and a preference for typing work straight onto a MAC or, as I’m doing now, an iPad.

To a very organised writer I must appear horribly unstructured when working. I keep the iPad next to my bed (all social media apps have been removed and the phone remains downstairs), and when feeling balanced I’ll often wake naturally around 5am with the remnants of a dream or beginnings of a poem. Sometimes I don’t write for days, but when I do I have to get it all down quickly and, if I don’t have workshops to get to, will work like this until around 10am then get up and face the day. This is my favourite method of writing but I can write anywhere. I often stop in the middle of the street to write something on my iPhone and I’ve synced the apps so I don’t lose any work. When I’m working on a piece it’s constantly running in the background of my mind – like a film playing in another room. At home, sometimes I don’t start writing until 4/5pm and then I might keep going until 9/10pm. I write in intense bursts of around 5hrs at a time, and try (but often fail) not to let that be disrupted by workshops, emails, social media and life. An early run or evening bike ride are also good for generating ideas.

When I’m facilitating and dreaming workshops and community participatory projects I cannot write the same because then the creative energy, quite rightly, belongs to the community. The river changes course and I’ve handed over a number of ideas, titles, themes and poems to these projects that I might have liked to keep for myself, but that is not the nature of community work. You have to give them everything.

I say I look horribly unstructured but it has taken over a decade to get to the point where the inspiration flows freely, unblocked and untamed. Learning to let go control and allowing the wilderness to take over has been painstakingly difficult because that isn’t who I was. The problem with a new ecosystem taking root and flourishing is accepting that a number of years will be spent in the hinterland as a natural balance slowly evolves.

Am I fully there yet? No.

But as the years roll by I feel I am no longer waiting at a dried-up riverside, instead I’m slowly metamorphosing into the river, and that is as much as I can hope for.

Sophie McKeand is an award-winning poet, TEDx speaker, and the current Young People’s Laureate Wales. She was listed as one of 30 people ‘shaping the Welsh agenda’ over the next 30 years by the Institute for Welsh Affairs, and is a Literature Wales bursary recipient for 2017. Sophie has performed internationally, in Ireland and at the Kolkata Literature Festival, India. Her poetry collection Rebel Sun is published by Parthian Books. Sophie’s poetry can also be found in the Summer 2016 volume 52.1 of Poetry Wales.

RebelSun_CVR_artwork_1500pxW_large                        PW 52.1 Cover_pw cover.qxd

Emily Blewitt’s ‘How I Write a Poem’

With April comes spring and so does an exciting poetry collection by a fresh new voice. Emily Blewitt shares her thoughts on how to write a poem with us.

‘The poem has to have time to settle before I edit. I have to trust that whatever cul-de-sacs or corners I’ve written myself into, I’ll be able to escape.’

I can write anywhere, more or less, but I must have space: head-space; space on the page. I like to write in notebooks, first. The notebook must be good, but not too good to spoil.

The initial idea niggles, humming in the background. Sometimes, a single line appears first. I take it for a walk, test its stamina. There are lines that haunt. There are texts I read that enable writing because their rhythm is infectious. I see something, or remember something, in a different way because of them. I notice the world and its potential. I witness – look at this, this. This here is true; this is important. It usually happens when I’m supposed to be doing something else.

I handwrite first and then move to the laptop to write through the initial draft. And it is through – there is no way but through. My ideas shift and transform; the trick is not to be disappointed. If I’m lucky, there’ll be a tipping point – a point at which the words take on a momentum of their own, quickly and surprisingly. The words become a poem, and this poem often has very little to do with the original intention of writing a poem. The stabilisers come off; we’re free-wheeling down the hill; it feels like flight. The poem sings. It almost – but not quite – writes itself. Perhaps it gives the impression of writing itself, but I have to run to catch up with it. I do catch up with it.

The poem has to have time to settle before I edit. I have to trust that whatever cul-de-sacs or corners I’ve written myself into, I’ll be able to escape. This calls for faith – though not the religious sort. I have to stop tinkering for a little while, to trust that the poem will find its shape. That I’ll find the balancing point again. It becomes intuitive, to know when to press the thing and when to leave it.

Emily Blewitt was born in Carmarthen, Wales. She studied at Oxford and York, and has a PhD from Cardiff University, where she specialised in poetic representations of pregnancy in nineteenth-century and contemporary women’s writing.  She has published poetry in The Rialto, Ambit, Poetry Wales, The Interpreter’s House, Furies, Hinterland, Brittle Star, and Cheval, and was Highly Commended for best individual poem in the 2016 Forward Prizes. Her debut poetry collection, This Is Not A Rescue, is published by Seren Books. Emily’s poetry featured in spring 2016 issue of Poetry Wales, 51.3.

TINAR cover_quicksand cover

Poem: Menna Elfyn, translated by Robert Minhinnick

English translation below by Robert Minhinnick





Yn blentyn, ni ddeallwn y llythyren X,
ai Crist yn cario ei groes ar oledd oedd?

Wedyn, ei weld fel llythyren ddieithr–
llifolau uwchben y gair lle cuddiai

nefoedd anwel a chartref Duw
lawr ar y lôn a wenai’n rasol at lewyrch sgrin.

A chyn i’r ffilm droi’n fendith, byddai rhai
yn ei gloywi hi, heb gilwg yn ôl .

A thra byddai rhai’n dewis y drws tenau–
ffoaduriaid ar wasgar heb wybod eu cyrchfan,

synhwyrwn mai’r X a rodd ganiatâd
i ni ddiflannu, rôl clecian ein seddau.


Alllanfa—cerais ei fod
yn pelydru gobaith , y dôr drwyadl

nes deall mai myfi oedd ceidwad
yr awyren, yn waredwr wrth ddrws

wedi holwyddoreg a own yn heini?
Estyn gweddi a wnes na ddoi’r alwad

na’r un ecsodus o’r ffurfafen,
a’m profi yn wrth-arwres.

Yr eicon coch, gwared y gwirion,
ofnusrwydd yn reddf sy’n X bob cam

yn groes ar dro, ac yno, dychmygwn
ing yn yr awyr, heb ddihangfa.


Nawr, yn y lle hwnnw sy’n X i bawb
Croes ymgroes i rywun, daw’r suon

Yn ôl im wrth wylio un yn ymadael
drwy’r porth ochr, yr allanfa

hwnnw lle nad oes dychwelyd.
Angau yw’r groes sy’n hongian

uwchben mor ddilychwin ei X,
wrth in ganu’n anfoddog am y sawl

a sleifiodd allan , a chyn in adael mae’n bygwth
glaw a ddaw i sisyrnu XXX yr holl ffordd adre.


Translated by Robert Minhinnick



When I was a child I never understood X.
Maybe X was Christ carrying his cross askew?

Then I thought X an alien letter *
and the Exit’s neon was hiding

heaven where God lived
down that beam of light that lit the screen.

But before any film finished some of us
scarpered without glancing back;

and while seeking light through a side door
others scattered like refugees,

sensing X permitted us
to tip our seats and escape.


That exit was a dazzling
azimuth, fateful door.

It was little me led the charge to deliverance.
We must be fit, I prayed, which is how

I thought God would wish to welcome us.
In every film (except the scary ones)

I was the saviour of an unruly tribe
and between myself and that mysterious door

glowed a red icon.
Anxiety’s the story of my life,

as yes, it was I urged exodus through perplexing
dark, dreading someone might smell fire.


Now, in the Crematorium’s surround-sound
all the Xs come whispering back

as we watch a loved one depart
through a side door, that exit

from which there’s no return.
Death is the cross that hangs above

and immaculate is its X
as we sing to the one who has just slipped out,

and then depart through threat of rain,
X scissoring us away.



*there is no x in the Welsh language


Menna Elfyn is the author of 13 poetry collections in Welsh by Gomer Press, and bilingual collections by Bloodaxe who will be publishing her next collection Bondo Feb, 2018.

Robert Minhinnick’s second novel, ‘Limestone Man’, appeared from Seren in 2015.

Concrete Poem: Childe Roland

The B-Line by Childe Roland

The B-Line is inspired by the shape of the letter B which has not changed since its Egyptian hieroglyph origins. It still depicts the floor plan of a two roomed hut. It was called BETH. It can be found even in Welsh place names like Bethel. Inclined on one side I found that the letter B takes on some of the characteristics of a heart. When constructed into a 3-D object, using for example a strip of card or plastic, it becomes a spring loaded object that may fly apart.


Childe Roland is the pen name of the experimental poet Peter Noel Meilleur. His journeys across the landscape of the blank page, his inspiration, are documented in his collection of prose poems The Six of Clubs. He writes in English, French and Welsh.

Childe Roland has other concrete poems in the latest issue of Poetry Wales – Jones the Poem and The Barcode Kiss which is on the front cover of the issue.


Poem: Palatine Hill by Wanda O’Connor

Palatine Hill


Find me not in the Pantheon but with the aviaries of
Palatine Hill

&nbsp‘mark yourself foreign’

Remnants of copper wire pierce the earth, my own flesh
and blood leaves me

I’m inflicted
with Caesar’s sensations of fullness1 __(two solitudes: one a secret fault)

a life I could not live
for lack of mapping at the start and rummaging through the middle, peaking at

&nbspI live in errands, in ends and joints. Shedding,
make that puffing,
as a single sheet hanging
from a wire,

&nbspmore figuring than balancing.

I have a secret river I call Rubicon
&nbspand collect fragments of hoof, nets and stream.

To walk the river is to slip.
To walk the river is to to ache &nbspnostos altos (pain-return).
To walk the river is to whisk surface into the harbor that is body.
To walk the river is to recur.

I hope to find the remnants of a Roman street ____carnelian-cast
an object I can wear around my neck.

Least of all
I want the field
where I stood staring at the voice of my grandmother shouting for a parent as I stroked the workhorse repeatedly.




1 falling sickness


From Spring 2016 V51.3 Poetry Wales

Sound enhanced poem: Mark Goodwin

Gulls and Jacks, A Gower, A July 2013

Poetry, vocals, field-recording, & production: Mark Goodwin.

Published in Poetry Wales Spring 2016.

Photo: Nikki Clayton.

Poems: Geraldine Monk

Geraldine Monk reads poems from a new series ‘They who saw the deep’ at a performance last year. These poems are written after the shipping news and include themes of and references to migration, sea travel, displacement, the Epic of Gilgamesh and the cooking of roast dinners. Four of these poems appear in our Winter 2015 issue.

Gelynion: Joe Dunthorne & S J Fowler

Joe Dunthorne and Steven J Fowler perform their collaboration at Gelynion – Enemies London in June 2015. Their poem Iceland vs Iceland is published in the Winter issue of Poetry Wales.