Archive for the ‘Poems’ Category

Ailbhe Darcy on How She Writes a Poem

We kick off 2018 with the marvellous poet, Ailbhe Darcy, on how she writes a poem:

First, invest monstrously in your own personal mythology. Novelists build a fictional world for the space of a volume or several volumes, but the poet builds a fictional world across an entire life.

Then, disagree. A poem is a disagreement. You have a quarrel with yourself or someone else or the world or history or, most often, poetry itself. You make a poem because you’re ornery.

Sometimes you’ll carry around the vehicle of a metaphor for months without its tenor. Like a fidget spinner, it’s there and you can’t help fiddling with it. For a while my pockets were full of knotweed, with its femaleness and monotonous leaves. Another time, that damn umbrella. When the metaphor finds its meaning, it’s all used up and you’ll miss it.

Your job is an intense negotiation with language: you head into the poem with a list of demands but find you must compromise. Poets writing in rhyme can’t avoid knowing this, but it’s true for all of us.

Every poem is an argument about how a poem should be written; each poem has a bone to pick with the last poem. So the answer to ‘How do you write a poem?” is always going to be: ‘it depends.’

In any case, writing a poem isn’t the problem. Even writing better poems isn’t the problem. Not an intellectual problem anyway – only a practical one. Writing the poems you want to write takes more time than you have, that’s all: time to read all the other poems in the world, time to practice and practice and practice, and time to walk around in fresh air and comfortable shoes with an empty head for half infinity.

No, the real problem is what’s between poems. How do you get from one poem to the next? How do you survive those vast chasms when you seem to be nowhere near a poem? How do you maintain any faith that there’ll ever be another poem at all?

1. Write critically, unpicking the poems of others and putting them back together to see how they worked. I see this as a form of required service for the poet, anyway. If you expect anyone to read your poems, you owe it to the universe to respond to the poems sent out by others.

2.Write collaboratively with another poet. It’s a whole other way of being solipsistic and absorbed and bewildered.

3. Make a thing that isn’t a poem. Bake. Try this Amish cinnamon quick bread.


Ailbhe Darcy is an Irish poet living in Cardiff. Her first collection, Imaginary Menagerie (Bloodaxe, 2011), was shortlisted for a Shine Strong Award. Her second collection, Insistence (Bloodaxe, 2018), is due out in May. Poems from it appear in Poetry, Poetry Ireland Review and Poetry Wales. She has also written a book in collaboration with S.J. Fowler, called Subcritical Tests (Gorse, 2017).  Ailbhe’s poetry appears in FUTURE/NO FUTURE, Spring 2017 Vol 52.3 of Poetry Wales.

insistence cover

From the Archive: Joseph P Clancy

Elan Grug Muse reads Joseph P Clancy in Poetry Wales, Summer 1967

It’s the musicality of the lines that first grab your attention. The way the consonants bounce and roll against each other. It is strangely familiar, but you can’t quite place it. Joseph Clancy called it a cywydd, and although it is ‘inspired by’ rather than ‘based on’ the Welsh form, it retains a similar rhythmic musicality. Take the line “True entity without you”. Like a line of cynghanedd, it is seven syllables long, and there is a natural split in the middle;

True entity / without you.

This creates two natural stresses in the line;

True entity / without you

Then the alliteration of the ‘t’, falling both sides of the split on the same side of the rests (the ‘n’ in ‘entity’ somewhat swallowed by the dominant ‘t’) creates the percussive effect. It is this mimicry of a Groes or Draws consonantal cynghanedd that gives the poem its rhythmic lyricism.

Clancy developed this form of cynganeddol mimicry originally in order to translate Welsh Cywyddau into English (for his book Medieval Welsh Lyrics, 1965), later using it as a verse form in its own right. Although his form lacks rhyming couplets and full cynghanedd, he has maintained the syllabic meter, and at the end of each line he varies between stressed and unstressed syllables.

In Absence then is a cywydd with a small ‘c’. Split into five parts, it is the tale of separated lovers- a long distance-relationship in today’s parlance. The poet is alone and lustful on a cold Welsh coast, possibly the Aberystwyth seafront, a couple of miles west of the birthplace of Dafydd ap Gwilym (another Cywyddwr for whom the words ‘lustful’ and ‘alone’ can be used to describe the contents of his work, albeit in a slightly different sense).

Joseph Clancey was not the first magpie to take old Welsh verse forms and transform/bastardize/adapt/improve (?) them for his own use; Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dylan Thomas and Anthony Conran have all been accused of the same. In fact, two works titled Cywydd and Englynion by Conran appear in the same edition of Poetry Wales. However, Clancy is possibly one of the few Americans to have drawn inspiration from the Cerdd Dafod tradition, being a professor of English Literature at Marymount Manhattan College, New York at the time of publishing this poem in PW.

And so we come to the cywydd, the form that Clancy drew from so liberally in his work.  If maybe not developed entirely by Dafydd ap Gwilym into its modern form, it was certainly popularised by him; a poet whose socio-economic position in fourteenth century Wales meant that as a man of independent means he did not depend on poetry and the sponsorship of the nobility to earn his crust. He also seems to have received a broad education and was exposed to French chivalric and romantic poetry. His economic independence gave him the freedom to experiment: to combine his exotic influences with his cerdd dafod training in order to compose work that can still seem fresh to a modern ear. He wrestled a form more used to elegiac and epic expression into a form fit for romance, comedy and nature writing. Like a magpie, he took bits of the Welsh tradition, and bobs from continental romances, and gave us something new and beautiful.

In Absence is a sensual poem, where we don’t see the landscape he describes as much as smell it. You can nuzzle the words like a cat, and feel their warm breath on your cheeks. Joseph Clancy died this May at the age of 88, fifty years after these poems were originally published in Poetry Wales.


In Absence




Fifteen years between letters.

A marriage away from that

Stuttering adolescent

Who poured out page after page.

Poor boy, bursting with language.

What he never guessed, I know.


I lack his faith in language.

Those words were actions to him.

My fifteen years of knowing

Your dear body, mind and heart

Reduce my letters to dull

Impotent scrawls in absence.


Yet I write as much as he,

Using words he would blush at

To speak of the flesh we share,

The ache of this apartness.

I show, love, by these letters,

Thin ghosts of my hands, lips, voice,

That no more than they have I

True entity without you.






Afternoon.  A Welsh Sunday.

Cold light on the ruined keep.

The waves assault the sea-wall.

The seagull circle and mew.


Some girls parade on the prom,

Few pretty, but the sea-wind

Flirts with their skirts and raises

My lust with their mesh-laced legs.


Pure hunger, this, no faces

Move through my mind, even yours

Whose absence starves my senses,

Nothing but nude, nameless flesh,

Valleys and mounts to pasture

And ride my bare need to rest.


Nightfall. The girls have all gone.

Tide-ebb. The soft sea mutters.


I turn to go. A seagull

Confronts me. His eye is cold.

I speak your name to warm me,

And make for my single bed.




The brown gives way to green on

Pen Dinas and Tan-y-Bwlch,

And I walk the other way,

Through bridge street and Great Darkgate

And Terrace Road to the prom.

I’ve no heart for the quiet

Hillsides we walked together

Sunday two summers ago.


Better to walk by the sea,

The tide-ebb on the shingle

The mirror of my hiraeth.

Tra bo d?r y môr yn hallt . . .


Better still if the winter

Had not loosed its barren grip,

If brown hills, cold winds, and ice

Had remained the heart’s mirrors

Till home again i hold the

Spring and summer in my arms.




If I seem, dear, too merely

Obsessed with the itch of flesh,

That hunger is a haven.

Tonight, as I sat at ease

In an armchair near the fire,

My eyes refuse to focus

On my book, or on the fire

Radio, wallpaper, table,

Or my hand when I held it up.

No, it was not your image

My dead eyes saw, but myself,

A nothing held in nothing

That felt nothing but terror

Of the nothing that it felt.


And I drove my mind to dwell

On memories of stroking

Your nipples, belly, and cleft

Until my body trembled

And I and your dear image

And the room were real again.




Fourth month apart. Far fewer

Nights awake with nerves on edge,

Less and less often the flesh

Unfurls the flag of hunger,

And the heart, so long fevered,

Like a lost, exhausted, starved

Explorer in the Arctic,

Sinks to icy, torpid peace.


No memories of murmurs

After love can wake it now,

But the rough words, harsh silence,

The drum-beat of pulsing blood,

The wrath of love- who else can

Matter enough to rouse rage ?

These rubs and frets of marriage

Now hurt the heart into life.


Joseph P. Clancy

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.

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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.