So this month is an author feature and I would like to introduce the brilliant Wendy Steele. I met Wendy at a little book festival recently and then joined her fab Witch Lit group on Facebook which is packed full of support, advice and fun for all magical writers.
Wendy and I swapped questions regarding our writing practice and influences etc and below I have all the answers to the questions I gave her for this blog post. Some really good advice and information about Wendy, who she is as an author and her writing practices and so on and hopefully it will inspire you witch lit/magical creatrixs’ out there!
Thank you Wendy!
1. What is the first book that made you cry?
I’m not sure which was the first book that made me cry. I didn’t finish Watership Down because it was sad, I know that, and I remember really struggling with L’Etranger by Albert Camus, during A level French, because I found the subject matter upsetting, gave me nightmares a number of nights, but I’m not sure either of them were the first.
2. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I would tell my younger writing self not to rush, but to take my time and enjoy every second of committing thousands and thousands of gorgeous words and sentences to paper to create perfect stories. Ideas were never a problem to me, they aren’t now, and I was always keen to get a story finished to move onto the next one, rather than taking time to perfect it. Learning grammar would be good too, rather than just memorising it for exams, though I thank my English teachers every day for instilling decent spelling in me!
3. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Publishing my first book gave me the confidence to believe I could be an author. The first novel I published, Destiny of Angels, wasn’t the first one I’d written, but was the best at the time. Under my bed sits over 100k words of Hubble Bubble, waiting for me to revisit great characters and interesting scenes, to turn it into a novel.
As far as process is concerned, with Destiny ‘out there’, I was keen to write the sequel, and juggled my time in order to create more hours in the day to write. I rose at 6am each day, but had a power nap around 1.30pm, in order to keep me going to be able to teach dance, sometimes to 10pm at night.
4. What does literary success look like to you?
Literary success means readers buying my books and enjoying my stories. I remember the first book fair I took part in, standing behind my table as a lady unloaded all my books out of her backpack for me to sign. She was my first fan, and it was so rewarding to hear how much she enjoyed my stories.
5. What’s the best way to market your books?
The publishing industry changes from day to day, so stating ‘the best’ way to market my books is a tricky one. As an indie author, I’m learning the balance of interacting with readers as opposed to marketing to them. A wide range of options are available, and I try to be present where I can. Book fairs are a great way to meet the public, interact with fans and engage with other authors, learning from them and being inspired by their achievements. Promotions, newsletters, blogs, videos and posts on social media, keep me in touch via digital methods, and I’m learning new ways to engage all the time.
6. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I love research! Before I chose my A levels at school, we were sent to the Career’s Officer (actually the Latin teacher!) and I walked in excitedly clutching my chosen card, declaring that I wanted to be a BBC researcher. I was dismissed out of hand, told I’d only end up making tea, and as my English was good, I’d do better to learn shorthand and typing, become a secretary and then get married. It makes me smile that I research every day for my writing.
I never go anywhere without a notebook and pen, so I’m always scribbling notes about overheard conversations or ideas that strike me. I’ve folders of notes about gods, goddesses, archaeological sites, magic and spirituality. The internet is a great starting point, or can answer odd questions when I’m in the middle of writing a new story.
Tricky to say how long I spend on research, but it’s often an on-going process while writing, especially if a character leads me somewhere I didn’t expect.
7. Current writing projects?
I’m currently writing book four of the Lizzie Martin Witchlit series, The Eloquent Witch, but it’s almost complete and my intention is to keep writing, book five and book six, while I edit number four. I’ve recently submitted a ghost story for an anthology, a Witchlit short story and a steampunk/Egyptian one. Anthologies are a great way to introduce readers to your writing style. The ghost story was also a steampunk one, so I’m contemplating a YA steampunk/time travel/mystery series that would follow on from that.
So, as all of us are aware, Halloween or Samhain is approaching us yet again and I have been researching, learning and delving into the world of witchcraft and magic, nature and goddesses, gods and mythology and it has been a feast for my soul.
I have been reading and researching voraciously for my novel and I’ve come across some awesome books at my local library, so the blog post today is dedicated to ‘WITCH LIT,’ a term I have only encountered very recently at a sweet little book fair I attended in Llandysul. There was a lovely lady there called Wendy Steele who has written three witch lit books entitled ‘The Naked Witch, The Orphan Witch and The Flowerpot Witch,’ all part of her Wendy Woo Witch Lit Series. I haven’t got around to reading the books yet but I will do and I’m looking forward to it but check her site out and indulge in her lovely books!
So, witch lit is what it says on the tin, witch literature, like chick lit, but for me more intriguing, sexier, sometimes darker and highly emancipatory. Witches have captivated and terrified humanity for hundreds and hundreds of years and literature has captured some of the most iconic witches. Think Macbeth, Roald Dahl’s Witches and who can forget Harry Potter and his mates. However, I am going to suggest some other witch-array delights as we approach the pumpkin, graveyard and apple bobbing time of year. If any of you love witchcraft, magic, grimoires and spells then take a look at the 13 books below, some I have read, some I haven’t but they are on my TBR pile (which is humongous by the way) and some are just pure nostalgia for me. Click on the links below if you want to buy these fabulous books. Be warned, you will be tempted!
1. The Witches of New York- Ami McKay
I LOVED this book. Just a random pick from my local library but it is one of the best witch based books I have read, probably in part because of its commentary on the treatment of women at the time and the sceptre of witch persecution still looming over them. The book is set in 1880 where Eleanor St. Clair and Adelaide Thom own a tea shop in Manhattan, serving tea to high society and also providing secret remedies to ladies of affluence. An advert is placed for an assistant who arrives in the form of Beatrice Dunn, who is the ‘special’ one. Throw in a sadistic, misogynistic priest, prostitutes, Ouija boards and Dumb Suppers and you have a beautifully written and thoroughly researched narrative. Detailed, evocative and throwing up questions of same sex relationships, definitions of beauty and feminism, this book was devoured by me in record time.
2. The Casquette Girls/The Romeo Catchers- Alys Arden
I read these while on a novel research/holiday in Fishguard last year and really enjoyed them. Located in New Orleans and with a rich historical background, I was witch-ified. The narrative also includes vampires and real life NOLA locations. Set in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane, the protagonist Adele uncovers her past, her powers, who her estranged mother really is, a mysterious attic at a convent and a new coven. I love a bit of history and the titles of the books peaked my interest- a casquette girl, also known as a ‘fille a la casquette’ were young women sent over from France to the French colonies to marry. They carried with them, casquettes, which carried their clothes and were sourced from convents or orphanages, pure and innocent. ‘Romeo Catcher,’ was a real tidbit of historical trivia, if a bit gruesome and they refer to spikes that stick out of columns underneath balconies. They were to stop young boys climbing up onto the balconies to see their ‘Juliet’s’ and there is a famous legend that tells of a boy who was fatally injured by a Romeo Catcher when trying to escape from a girls enraged father. Anyway, aswell as these fascinating facts, both books are pacy, interesting and fun. Who doesn’t like hoodoo, voodoo, telekinesis, vampires, love triangles and witches?!
This is my current read and it’s funny and contemporary, I love the main gal Holly already, she is cynical, sarcastic, independent and the book very much resides in the 21st Century. She meets the mysterious Welsh (lush to see a distinct Welsh character) journalist Kai, a broody Heathcliff type, living in a pseudo Gothic cottage near York, and her friend also persuades her to join a ramshackle ‘coven’, a group of women under the novice tutelage of Vivienne who is looking for revenge. Joining her is her best friend Megan who wants to be treated like a goddess, Eve who wants to meet the man of her dreams and Isobel who wants to be the centre of someone’s world, and Holly, she wants excitement, and she gets that in shovelful’s with Kai, his pregnant daughter, her brother who has mental health issues, some random blokes being all enigmatic in the forest and some serious snow. I’m loving it so far, it’s funny, real and warm with a big dash of magic starting to simmer underneath the surface.
4. Toil and Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft- Various Authors
I spied this book on IG where I follow quite a few witches and writers, and the cover captured me at first. Who doesn’t like a beautifully designed cover! Again, an enchanting and often dark collection of short stories, centered predominantly around young girls and their powers. Wonderfully curated and written, some of the stories with really modern approaches and some with a more traditional, mythological feel, the anthology is enticing and a page turner. This book encompasses one of the reasons I am attracted and interested in witchcraft and that is because like The Witches of New York, it is very much a book about women in control, girls embracing their ancestry, it spans the breadth of witchcraft and bounces from light teenage romance to revenge and fire. I’d recommend you read it, it is stunning.
5. The Line, The Source, The Void and Jilo (Witching Savannah Series)- J.D Horn
Nabbed from my Kindle Unlimited Subscription I read the first three in this series pretty quickly. What is it about the South and Southern Gothic? Muggy, mossy and magical, crickets and dark underbellies. The protagonist in this book is Mercy and she comes from a prominent lineage of witches who protect what is called ‘The Line.’ Massive twist fairly early on which I loved and betrayal and people who aren’t what they appear to be is a huge theme in this series and I think that makes it more realistic and human. Jilo is a fab character and hoodoo is one of my favourite branches of magic, bloody, dark and powerful. I found the books reminded me slightly of The Netflix series ‘The OA’ with it’s leanings towards sci-fi and spirituality, there is also a sliding doors element which was cool. You’ll be immersed.
An apparent big hit on Sky at the moment is ‘A Discovery of Witches’ which I watched but I have to say, I wasn’t that enamoured by it 😦 However, I am an optimist and while I haven’t read this series yet, I hope to get around to it, the age old adage is that the books are always better than the film so fingers crossed. What I do like about the premise is the mix of history, science and witchcraft which I find always makes stories more layered and interesting to read. After I get through my current TBR pile, I will give these a go.
My daughter has recently come home with one of these books from school and I was beyond excited as these were some of my favourite books as a kid, I still have about three well worn and read copies, one of which we are reading right now. I also loved that the author had the same surname as me! Ahhh Mildred Hubble was like my human spirit animal (bit of a contradiction I know) but she resonated with me so much as a little girl that I loved reading about her and her adventures. Clumsy, lovable but ultimately plucky and intelligent, she is a great heroine for kids everywhere. Way before Harry Potter appeared, Mildred Hubble was making waves in her school uniform and battling sinister teachers long before Mr Potter and Hogwarts. I’m loving revisiting Mildred and Miss Hardbroom.
I am ashamed to say I have never read the book but the film is in my top ten. Sally and Gillian are my favourite sisters and I would love to have aunts to drink naughty margheritas with in a farmhouse looking kitchen and chocolate for breakfast. If the book is the same as the film then a sexy, dark, heartwarming and magical novel set in an idyllic New England town sounds good to me. With abuse, murder, outsiders, an intrepid cop and fearful local residents, the Owens sisters weave a great adventure.
Oooo, oooo, oooo, I’m well excited for these. Only just unearthed these two beauties and I’m eager to read them but as you can see from above, I’m already reading two at a time! I’ve only recently stumbled across the term bruja (witch) and even the word is enticing. From what I can gather, these books are about the Mortiz sisters who hail from a family of brujas and all have different powers. Reviewers have said that the author immerses the reader in the Latinx influence of the novels and introduces a fresh, rich take on a story told a thousand times over. The third in the series is yet to be titled and is out in 2019. Can’t wait!
10. The Bone Witch and The Heart Forger- Rin Chupeco
This is getting dangerous, I haven’t had the pleasure of reading this duology either, I will be spending all my money on these books. Anyway!…I’m getting serious cover envy here, these two books look so beguiling, I feel an aesthetic coming on…These novels are about a young girl named Tea who is a necromancer, a power feared by the rest of her magical community so she leaves to concentrate on becoming an elemental instead but ends up having to make a serious choice and then the second book is centered around revenge. This TBR pile is getting massive mun…
11. As Old as Time- A Disney Twisted Tale by Liz Braswell
Remember I said about my affinity with covers? Well this is what drew me to this series in the Teen section of the library. I really enjoyed reading this, it is a book definitely aimed at the younger audience and I was obviously already highly familiar with the tale but I liked the twist and it began quite darkly and offered an intriguing angle on the story by using Belle’s mother as the enchantress who put the original spell on the Beast. Very pleasurable little read on a Autumn afternoon.
Cover, cover, cover, cover…I’ll shut up now. This book is simply gorgeous and a wonderfully crafted retelling of Circe, the minor goddess, the witch, the nymph and man manipulator. She is the original witch for me, a misunderstood icon and woman with feelings. This book is about that woman and the choices and life she has to face and lead alongside the enchanting and cursing and mythology. An exquisite read.
I couldn’t write this post without including this book by the master of black humour, satire and social commentary. For me, these are the scariest bunches of witches of them all, hidden grotesqueness and clawed fingers and noses for smelling children. If you haven’t read this book, don’t watch the film first (even though Angelica Houston is awesome) please read this delightful slice of innocent darkness. One of my chosen few.
That concludes this long-ass post but I really hope you found it interesting and you find the books worthy of a read because I did, and they were time well spent. What I love about these books is their feminism, their power, their reclamation of the term witch as a symbol of their sexuality, spirituality, power and command of themselves. I love the transformation and insight into the protagonists and I love the magic, we can’t forget the magic….to all the witches out there, you’re badass and I love you all.
I was compelled to write this blog today as I have been leading workshops all week with fellow Poets on the Hill. We have predominantly been working with people suffering from varying degrees of mental illness and learning difficulties and one of the plans for Pulpworm is to reach people like this on a regular basis and advocate for the power of literature and poetry as a carthartic process and a life changing journey.
The reason for me being compelled?
The sheer joy and purity I have experienced this week from the participants has been incredible, eye-opening and I only have admiration for them. They have embraced the activities wholeheartedly and without question and have almost seemed grateful that we’ve spent time with them which makes me sad. They are, after all one of us, they are after all human beings with beating hearts and deserve quality of life.
The title of this blog is from one of my favourite Anne Sexton poem’s ‘The Poet of Ignorance.’ She was famed for her personal, confessional style of poetry and had well known mental health problems. While the poem seems to be focusing on her doubt and her questioning of her dreams, thoughts and what she sees and feels around her, the beauty of her language and imagery demonstrates to me that people with mental illness, and to maybe put a more positive spin on their lives, just see the world in a more distinctive and insightful way.
So, rather than be labelled negatively for their rather, quite wonderful perspective on the world, I think they should be lauded for bringing something different to the table. We can all learn from each other. They are no less or no more. The creation I have witnessed this week has been breath-taking. Evocative images, honest and heartfelt words and comedic verse.
My featured image is a quote from Twyla Tharp and I think it encapsulates the last three days and I would love the ladies and gentlemen I’ve been working with to believe this about themselves. Their differences are their power, their voices are their power, their experiences are their power and these experiences bring an authenticity, a warmness and a sadness that a lot of artists would crave to portray in their work.
During my research for this blog I came across the term ‘Outsider Art’ or ‘Intuitive Art’ which is a medium that is generally attached to children or people with mental health issues.
“Outsider art was a term coined in 1972 by British art historian Roger Cardinal. It was a roughly equivalent but more inclusive coinage for art brut (raw art), a 1940s label by Jean Dubuffet for work by inmates of insane asylums, which the French artist described as “unscathed by artistic culture … and the conventions of classical or fashionable art”.
This substantiates my thoughts on the purity of the words that have been created this week, occurring naturally, not concocted as such for accolades or public consumption but just for their own sense of achievement and also their own personal worth. All of the people who have attended haven’t had any faith in their poetic abilities which has been unfounded. After seeing they could and indeed did, create, some amazing work you could almost taste the sense of achievement and confidence that they felt.
I am not for one moment suggesting that their illnesses be used as fodder for artistic works and recovery is paramount for them but their way of seeing the world and society can bring a highly individual and novel outlook. We all have things that we can teach each other and that we can exchange. Everyone has personal experiences and insights into how things work in our world and the participants of the workshops have certainly brought that plus spades of spirit and support for one another. It has been an absolute pleasure to witness and I have gone away from these workshops realising that my life isn’t really a struggle compared to what they go to sleep knowing they will face the next day.
I thank them all for sharing their inner most thoughts and having the courage to put them onto paper. As all writers know, as soon as that pens hits the paper, you are exposed.
Keep safe readers and love to all the wonderful, brave people I’ve met so far this week ❤
*Photo taken at Connect Mental Health Support Service. Photo was taken with Susan’s permission.*
So…I have a story to tell before I move onto the real reason for this post…but it is integral to this month’s blog.
I first properly fell in love at the age of 14.
I met Ross Edwards at a local school disco. We were together on and off until we were 17. He was my first love. We were intense, silly, mature, immature, hopeful, romantic, close, tempestuous and in complete love with each other. Then I broke his heart thinking I wanted something else and the last time I saw him was on Swansea beach in 1996. He enlisted in the Army a year later. I thought about him over the years and in 2013 I found him on Facebook. I friend requested him and he accepted. I was married, he was newly divorced. My marriage wasn’t good and hadn’t been for a long time. I was in a very dark place and felt very, very alone. In August 2014 Ross and I got talking and we’ve been together ever since. The first night we met up again was complete and utter magic. . He makes the ground under my feet just that little bit more sturdy and he’s made my journey brighter. I know now that he is not only my first love…but my true love. So…enough of the soppy stuff!
We’ve now set up a business together and I couldn’t be more excited to work with someone who shares the same vision, passions and values as me.
I’d like to introduce you to ‘PULPWORM’ our new company. We set Pulpworm up last year with the aim of becoming a used bookseller, which has been ticking along quite nicely but since then we have expanded our ideas and as the title of my blog says, opened a huge can of worms. We will be doing all things literary and I will be changing the name of my blog to ‘ZOETRY FOR PULPWORM.’
We have lots of plans which include publishing our own books, written by us, publishing new authors, providing a pulp fiction renaissance, delivering workshops and providing new authors with autonomy and ownership over their books and royalties.
It’s a risk, setting up your own business. Murky, undetermined waters. However, I feel along with my fellow ‘worm’ confident, supported and excited for our journey together.
We will be releasing our social media presence soon and hopefully you will all like it!
Feeling super enthusiastic and hopeful for the future now.
These beautiful words and print were on a derelict building in Swansea city centre and immediately caught my eye as I passed. I squeezed my hands through the fence to take it because I was really captured by the message.
This idea of strength from pain has been something I’ve been interested in for a few years and is actually a running theme in my poetry and will also feature in my novel. The quote that made me have a ‘ha ha’ moment regarding this subject was an excerpt from a poem by an American poet called Mary Oliver. It is beautiful, honest and true in my opinion and made me think that dark times can fortify you, give you a more resilient heart and a brand new perspective on life. Mary Oliver lost her partner and wrote a poem called ‘The Uses of Sorrow’ a short poem from her collection ‘Thirst’ and the following quote is from that poem;
‘Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness it took me years to understand that this too was a gift.’ ~ The Uses of Sorrow by Mary Oliver.
This passage is often quoted and when I first read it I felt awakened, like I hadn’t realised that sadness can be of benefit. Tragedy and upset in our lives, in my opinion, can lead to enlightenment, a sense of purpose, a driving factor and it can also connect you to other people. The world at present could do with heeding these words and the words I photographed tonight are a way to realise that darkness and shadows will give way to light and illumination.
From personal experience my shadows and dark times have made me a better, more nuanced and sympathetic person. One who is less likely to judge and one who wants to give hope and help to people who are in the shade. I have written a poem about what poetry signifies to me and one of the lines is relevant to this post I think;
‘Poetry is unhappiness, a darkness that doesn’t shift, but propels your voice and allows your truth to exist.’ ~ Poetry Is by Zoe Murphy
Out of the darkness I have risen and I feel like my overall mental state, while still sometimes fragile, has been reinforced. I feel more confident, I feel like I have learned things, have become more authentic, more multi-dimensional and maybe purporting the ‘tortured artist’ image, more inspired and with something valuable to say.
I guess what my point is that, not all bad things are eternally bad if you can channel them in the right way for a higher intention, or even to pass on to someone who needs to know that you’ve been there. I think you can derive some sense of achievement by coming out of an unhappy situation by rising like a warrior on the other side. You should hold your head high knowing that you survived and as I’ve heard many times lately ‘I am a survivor, not a victim.’
The world is a dichotomy, black and white, good and evil, happy and sad and then all the other things in between. Experiencing the bad also makes you appreciate the good.
‘You are a warrior.’
Take on board these quotes by Buddhist Meditation Master- Chogyam Trungpa;
‘To be a spiritual warrior, one must have a broken heart; without a broken heart and the sense of tenderness and vulnerability, your warriorship is untrustworthy.’
“If you are involved with the intensity of crescendo situations, with the intensity of tragedy, you might begin to see the humor of these situations as well. As in music, when we hear the crescendo building, suddenly if the music stops, we begin to hear the silence as part of the music.” ―Chögyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism
‘The effect of music is so very much more powerful and penetrating than that of the other arts, for these others speak only of shadow, but music of the essence.’
Silence for me is distracting and I would rather have noise while I write. I always feel slightly awkward when it’s quiet, except in a library, I have an inbuilt reverence for libraries and genuinely think the silence there should be obeyed. I regularly throw a cheeky side-eye at anyone who dares disturb me with a noise in my church!
I’m going to talk about the importance of music to me and specifically its importance to me when I write. Hopefully some of my musical choices will inspire other writers/artists/music lovers etc. This post is in direct correlation to my novel, my poetry is a different kettle of fish, my book is very atmospheric (at least I hope it’ll be!) as I am in the process of writing an urban fantasy based in my beautiful home country of Wales.
Music has been an integral part of my process since the inception of my book. The first track that sang to me (pun alert) particularly, was ‘I Remember’ by Deadmau5 and Kaskade. I had just flirted with who my character was going to be and heard it on a CD in the car and I could see her in my head, plain as day, travelling on a black horse in North Wales, free as a bird with her head thrown back and her arms open wide. This actually made me a bit teary because as a character she is extremely lost, isolated and feels trapped inside her own anger, so this feeling of freedom was the antithesis of how she felt daily. The track is dreamy and has an aura of yearning about it and feels like you’re falling into a deep sleep. This is probably why I think it lends itself so much to the fantasy genre. Magical and ethereal and as Schopenhauer says above, it has an essence and that essence captures my hero’s essence (yes she’s a hero, not a heroine.)
Most of this ethereal feeling comes from Haley Gibby and her beautiful voice- akin to Enya I think, and as much as the beat gives me an atmosphere, it’s her voice which really provides the lifeblood of the track and the lyrics resonate with me personally and my character. They encapsulate her world, her hopes, her desires and what her heart really wants- new beginnings, reconciliation with herself and her past and future and support and love from someone. Something which she feels she lacks.
This track was really the birth of my affinity with the character and while my novel has undergone several manifestations this song is still at the core of her. Or at least at the point of her transformation. This song has so many ties to my novel and the writing of it and it has afforded me a vehicle with which to write her with perfect clarity. Check out the track on the link below:
There are so many more artists that I listen to while writing and I usually select the songs based on how they make me feel and how I think they’ll fit in with the novels themes. Another pivotal song for me is Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ and the lyrics relate to my character right at the beginning of the book. The song captures torment and anguish and the raw physicality of Sia’s voice pierces my skin down to the bone. At the beginning of the novel, and if my character was personified into a song, this would be her.
The songs I’ve discussed above would be the signature songs if my novel had a soundtrack but my playlist is reasonably eclectic. I have Celtic music, a couple of tracks from Rihanna’s Anti album, Ella Henderson, Kwabs, Years & Years, Kiesza, James Arthur, Christina Perri, Seinabo Sey and my new gems- Rag ‘n’ Bone Man and Anne-Marie. The one thing that all these artists have in common is their lyrics and their voices. The sheer power of Rag ‘n’ Bone Man is breathtaking and his song ‘Human’ has just made it onto my playlist.
I could go on forever haha and while my novel is a fantasy it is very much grounded in reality, the girl lives in a very real world, lives through very real things and has some very real issues. To be completely honest, while the magical themes of the book are super important they are supplementary to her very human journey. And this is where the music comes in. I can’t think of any other such immediate inspiration for writing.
I hope you guys will listen to some of the tracks and the artists I’ve mentioned and see if they open any doors to your inspiration. I know that without music I couldn’t live and I certainly couldn’t write 😉
I’ll leave you with some lyrics from Rag ‘n’ Bone Man’s ‘Human.’
Maybe I’m foolish Maybe I’m blind Thinking I can see through this And see what’s behind Got no way to prove it So maybe I’m blind But I’m only human after all I’m only human after all Don’t put your blame on me Don’t put your blame on me
‘The greatest poet in the English language found his poetry where poetry is found: in the lives of people. He could have done this only through love-by knowing…that whatever was happening to happening to anyone was happening to him.
~ James Baldwin
The mic stands there, waiting for us to go up one by one and let forth a barrage of words which we have fused together to create a poetic vision of our thoughts. But ‘we’ aren’t solitary poets, we are actually ‘we’, a poetry collective, a group of poets brought together by geography and united views and a united voice. I just want to address the idea of a poetry collective in this post, and discuss why I think we work and the benefits of being a ‘poetry family.’
By we, I mean Poets on the Hill, a group formed during 2014 and the Dylan Thomas centenary year. As part of the Dylan Thomas Centenary celebrations we were involved in a television documentary called ‘Ugly Lovely: Poet on the Estate.’ The programme was helmed by Benjamin Zephaniah, who still supports us to this day. You can check us out on Facebook ‘Poets on the Hill’ and our website (address below) for more info on the conception of the group.
Can poetry be a collective endeavour? By collective I mean performing with a group. Not like a choir, as we all maintain our individual voices but, our ethos of ‘poetry for the people by the people’ resounds strong and true within us all. I like to think of us as a movement, constantly changing, evolving, progressing and embracing anyone who would like to join us to advance the group and our poetic practice.
Any form of writing lays your soul bare, your thoughts and feelings divulged and completely exposed, there for everyone to examine and make their judgements on them. Performance poetry takes that to a whole new level, besides reciting what you’ve written, the audience are also summing you up as a person, not just mentally but physically too. The POTH support system is invaluable to this whole experience and integral to our development as poets, writers and particularly performers. It’s my comfort blanket and provides me with courage. We exchange, share, laugh, help, mentor, recite, workshop and this inclusivity, rather than solitude, fosters a strong bond and an impetus to write more.
Charles Bukowski said;
‘The crowd is the gathering place of the weakest; true creation is a solitary act.’
Charlie, I couldn’t disagree more. I value our collective environment highly and I think the mutual exchange of ideas and responses to creative work can spark off ideas and inspiration for further creation. While I completely appreciate, and love, working and writing alone, I find strength and a good vibe when with my poetry group. I have asked a few other writers and poets and the general consensus is that it is an encouraging, safe space with mutual support and can alleviate the loneliness of writing.
We are a group of people who predominantly hail from a council estate called Townhill which is situated in Swansea and our origins and life experiences are prevalent and embedded in our poetry. My childhood and my roots feature heavily in my work, maybe the fact that there is a quite an evident sense of ‘sticking together’ in Townhill is why POTH resonates with me so much. One of our members has said that;
‘We are getting out there, breaking stigmas and challenging perceptions about our community. Somehow this seems far more powerful as a cooperating group than if you were doing it purely as individuals.’
This is us in a nutshell- a movement brought together with solidarity and love. The reason I am dedicating this blog post to POTH is because of the sheer power, energy, strength and stimulation I derive from the group and, the authenticity of us as people. We are an eclectic, boisterous, rowdy (at times haha) passionate, opinionated and loving bunch of writers who share common views and backgrounds.
And also, awesome poets with a lot of heart and a lot to say…
‘Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.’
And that is exactly what I’m going to try to do Aldous, share my experience and thoughts and hopefully someone will go away, after reading my blog, feeling a little bit inspired or happy or thoughtful or may just read the first sentence and chin the rest off! It’s all cool though. As I get older and wiser (ahem) I’m trying to embrace the fact that not everyone wants to hear what I’m going to say or write!
I’m Zoe and I’d like to welcome you to Zoetry where I’m going to mostly write about writing (particularly poetry) and everything connected with it but if something else tickles my fancy then I may write about that too. Ooo…I’m a rebel aye! However, the main aim is to let all you peruser’s out there read about my writing journey, and anything else connected to words, so massive scope, which I like as a huge amount of things intrigue me…
The above is just a little pic of me at a recent poetry gig I performed at, just a little pictorial introduction so you can put a face to the ramblings.
To cut a long story short (first and only literary pun I’ll be using today) I’ve had a hard few years and I’m still on a very long journey, which to be honest, I’ve realised, that most people are. Writing is at the very heart of me though and while trying to juggle my normal grown up life I want to give it the attention it deserves. I’m hoping that what I post here every week will resonate with someone because I’m going through quite a philosophical journey and if just one person connects with my words then I feel like I’m making a bit of a difference.
Annyywwaayyy, check my ‘About’ page for a little bio and I’ll be back next week with what I hope is a scintillating post for you to get your teeth into.