Creating a poem

Creating a poem

Yesterday I submitted the final draft of a commissioned poem. This is a 3 minute film poem – I’ve done the writing and now it will be performed by a number of people at various locations and recorded by a professional film-maker.

It feels great to submit ahead of a deadline and I’m happy with what I have produced, but the reason for this post is to talk about what it takes to deliver a commissioned piece.

As I look back I find 10 pages of notes and plans, notes from two meetings, emails, index cards for some of my research, a good number of google searches and a dozen handwritten and word processed drafts.

A photo of a notebook and pens

Writing poems is fun and very rewarding. Occasionally a poem comes along without really having to work at it, for example one of my most recent was drafted, using my phone, on a bus and refined just a couple of times afterwards. Most of the time poems, even very short ones take a bit more development until they feel and sound right, and that development is a big part of the joy of writing poetry.

Once a commission is involved then things are a bit different, some of these are;

  • there will be a particular theme
  • the poem might be required for performance, for recording in audio of video media or it may be required to be printed in a particular format
  • there is usually a defined length in terms of lines, words or time
  • the commission will usually have a purpose which will define the mood or feel of the poem
  • there may be a requirement to collaborate with others
  • draft versions of the poem will generally need to be shared before the piece is finalised
  • there will be a deadline for the final submission
  • usually your work must not be made public until the time and place agreed with the comissioner

In short writing a poem for a commission is a project and needs to be planned and managed like any other project – but as a poet it is a really good discipline. Taking on occasional commissions is a great way to keep on developing your writing, it helps you to choose what messages a poem will end up giving and it helps you to keep your writing sharp and succinct.

Ideally it should also be financially rewarding. In the case of the recent poem I am pleased that the organisation commissioning it understand the work that goes into a three minute poem and pay a realistic rate.

Only in the creative arts are people expected to work “for exposure” and I strongly support the notion that artists should never be asked to work for free – exposure doesn’t pay the bills.

Time

Mono photo of an old pocket watch without hands

Lately I’ve been writing about time and it seems the ideal topic for a creative writing workshop, so….

tomorrow I will be delivering a workshop for Number One Writing group at Rochdale Central Library.

All welcome to this session from 2pm to 4pm.

There is a small charge of £2 for each attendee to help cover the cost of running the group.

Latest Writing Projects

Over the next couple of months I’m excited to be involved in several writing projects in Rochdale borough.

Photo of Seamus with projection of Van Gogh painting


Firstly I will be working with Cartwheel Arts to deliver a project for Deeplish Community Centre as part of their 35th anniversary celebrations. I will be working alongside local artist Rahela Khan and am looking forward to seeing the work we can produce.

Secondly I will be delivering a workshop for a group of young people as part of the same project in Deeplish.

Thirdly I am starting prepations for some brand new creative writing sessions for young people aged 5 to 11 themed in the Paris Olympics taking place this summer. These will be delivered with Your Trust, and i will be bringing a completely new slant to the topic.

Finally I am working on a special commissioned poem for release in the summer – as yet I cannot divulge more, but it is Rochdale focused and I look forward to working with the commissioning organisation. Its a big one and I’m really excited to develop and share it when I can.

A busy few months but there will still be time to continue with my own writing projects and working with young people at Vibe Rochdale.

The significance of place

Do places become significant because of what happens there, or do things happen in places because those places have significance?

A photo of my desk with iPad, keyboards, pen, pencil and lots of notes on paper - plus coffee.

The weekend is a time I set aside for work on the longest piece of writing I have yet undertaken. It will become a book, and the papers and notes on my desk are all connected with research and planning the plotting, along with notes and text to be included.

The book is much more concerned with asking and considering questions than finding definitive answers.

The narrative tells a story of a journey through time and geography and Thin Places. “Thin places” is a term used in some cultures, particularly Celtic culture, to refer to special or significant liminal spaces. The question exercising my thoughts at this stage is:

Do places become significant because of what happens there, or do things happen in places because those places have significance?

I’m interested in your thoughts on this one….

If you have any thoughts, including experiences about the importance of place, please leave your comments below.

2023 was a year for….

Writing, Editing, Compiling, Drawing, Painting, Designing, Illustrating, Facilitating, Photographing and of course lots and lots of thinking.

Taking a New Year’s Eve look back at 2023, a productive year. Among the most memorable are the following:

  • Collating, editing and designing the anthology “Poetry in the Park” including illustration for the cover
  • Leading a series of workshops for “Poetry by the Canal”
  • collating, editing and designing the anthology “Poetry by the Canal”
  • Cover illustration and design for “As You Were” an anthology from Falinge Park Writing Group
  • Delivering 15 creative writing sessions, based around my story “My Wild Wolf Adventure” for children aged 5 to 11
  • Delivering a range of new creative writing workshops to local Creative Writing Groups
  • Selling art alongside my wife selling vintage at Hand and Treasure in Hebden Bridge Town Hall
  • working with young people to create new poetry at Deeplish Primary Academy
  • Creating graphics for use in an excellent short film by Harry Wheeler
  • Reviewing a range of events and performances for All Across the Arts
  • Writing and sometimes plenty of new poems
  • Working on a brand new personal project, a narrative book length piece regarding liminal spaces with poetry and illustrations – this may take some time….
  • Creating new artworks including, and sometimes combining, traditional and digital techniques
  • Supporting the creativity of young people with our recently registered charity Vibe Rochdale

Imposter Syndrome

What is it, why do we get it and what can be done about it?

Giclée print of Pelican - shown in frame for illustration only
Giclée print of Pelican – shown in frame for illustration only

Almost everyone will at some time suffer from the thing we call imposter syndrome.

In strict clinical or psychological terms it is specifically used to describe a situation where the person with the syndrome has a persistent internalised fear and it can often be accompanied by other mental health issues.

In common language the definition is not so rigidly applied and it is essentially the feeling that we are somehow not sufficiently suitable, capable or qualified enough for the situation we are in. Suffering from imposter syndrome makes you feel like a fraud. I believe that it is perfectly possible to feel confident and competent in some areas yet feel the opposite in others. This is the definition I am using in this article.

One of the side effects of this type of imposter syndrome is the need to excessively prepare; for example if you are going to make a presentation to a group of people you would run through it again and again, you might well practice later into the night to be sure you are ready, you might spend the journey to make the presentation running through it in your mind. You may be tired and stressed by all the preparation yet the presentation will still go well but you are then sure that it only went well because of all the preparation that you did.

At a lesser level the feeling might prevent you telling people what you can do. As a professional freelancer you need to tell people what you can do, you need to promote your own abilities; that is tricky when the syndrome keeps telling you that you aren’t good enough.

Among the wide variety of work I’ve done is SOME illustration. I’ve designed a handful of book covers, I’ve been commissioned to produce drawings, I’ve edited books, I’ve created illustrations for instruction manuals and for training courses ranging from photography, digital imaging to bicycle maintenance. I’ve made illustrations for cards etc. Yet when asked to make some illustrations for a film my head shouts at me “you’re not an illustrator, why don’t they get a real illustrator?”

So I tell myself that “people have paid me to do illustrations for them, I’ve made illustrations for various jobs, therefore I am an illustrator” but in my head that nagging voice stills says “What if you can’t do it? What if they find out that you are a fraud?”

Illustration for book cover

As a poet I’ve performed in little open mic venues and on festival stages. I’ve learned how to work the room, how to use a microphone and how to pace my performance. I have run numerous workshops for all ages from 5 to 80+, I’ve led poetry writing projects and produced books.

I’ve had poems published in books and online and I’ve been interviewed for radio programs. I’ve been commissioned to write poems and am paid at a proper professional rate. With all of that I can call myself a professional poet, BUT there is that voice again; “you’ve not had a book in Waterstones, you’ve not been on television, you’ve not Amanda Gorman, Tony Walsh or Alfred Tennyson….”

That voice is sometimes hard to ignore. That voice is the imposter syndrome.

Feeling the need to produce good quality work is not imposter syndrome.

Feeling pressure to do better is not imposter syndrome.

Wanting to be the best you can is not imposter syndrome.

Those things are about ambitions, but handle ambition with care because it can lead to making unhelpful comparisons. Every poet is different, we each have our own styles, our own interests and create our own unique work. Whilst ambition to be better is good, ambition to be the next Armitage, Sissay or Duffy is not so good.

I don’t want to be the next Seamus Heaney, I want to be Seamus Kelly. I want to write, draw and create as Seamus Kelly. One place where I cannot possibly be an imposter is in being Seamus Kelly.

You have to be yourself. You have to stop comparing yourself in a competitive way to others. You have to stop putting yourself down. You have to stop undervaluing yourself, your skills, your work and your creativity.

You have to do all that whilst that voice says “fraud”, and you have to credit yourself for successes. The voice may never shut up, but using facts, actual things you have and can do, to tackle it can make things better.

Don’t be the next Picasso, Mozart, Wordsworth or Neruda – be you, look for the value there.

I’m not suggesting its easy, or that it can be done without help. My help comes from fellow creatives and from my wife. It comes from the person who comes up to thank me after a performance because a poem reminded them of their mother, it comes from faces listening for the next words. It comes from the workshop participant eager to share what they’ve written. It comes from the requests for me to produce creative work. All of those things are needed to quieten that voice, to confidently say “I’m not a fraud”, (and at least most of the time to believe it).

Poetry by the Canal – progress update

A line drawn image of Rock Nook Mill on the Rochdale Canal

Six weeks in and the poets I’m our project have been producing some really good writing. Those new to writing poetry and the experienced poets in the group have found inspiration and have shown great enthusiasm, extending to supporting each other, testing out their poems and sharing them with us. It has been an honour to work with such a great group of poets.

We have also had excellent meetings with, and feedback from, the Canal Rivers Trust and with the Poetry Society and Roy MacFarlane, the Canal Laureate. Although it is too early to give details yet, I can say that we have exciting developments coming up.

With over 30 poems already submitted, and more to come, my work in editing and formatting is now underway and it is actually really quite good fun and inspiring.

There will be one final session before the work is compiled ready for production of a large print book which is likely to be launched early in 2024.

Poetry By The Canal

Having recovered from the Covid, that kept me away from the first session of this project, I was delighted to be back at Hare Hill House in Littleborough to lead today’s session face to face.

The project will run for 6 weeks to create poetry influenced by the area around the Rochdale Canal and Calderbrook from the former Rock Nook Mill to Summit in Littleborough.

Today we talked about thinking like a poet and among the props used for a writing exercise was my lovely compact Metronome (pictured here).

The poets then used information provided, about the famous Summit Tunnel and Rock Nook Mill, as inspiration to start crafting some new poetry.

At the end of the project we will publish a large print book containing selected poems produced by all of the participants.

Today it was great to meet some new writers and share inspiration and ideas. This is a very friendly and vibrant l group of writers and I’m very confident that there will be some excellent poetry to publish.

This project comes from an idea from Liz White who has worked on planning and secured funding so that we can bring poetry writing opportunities to Littleborough and produce work which is available to local people including those with visual impairments.

Is writing really work?

An image of a heavy pen, perhaps writing in blood

Poets and writers; I’ve been thinking about what we do, is it really work?

Sometimes writing doesn’t feel like work. Sometimes getting the words down and shaping them is enjoyable and even relaxing. For many writers poetry is a kind of therapy or catharsis, words flow and at the end the poet feels somehow relieved or better.

But, sometimes the things about which we write can change that relaxing idyllic process. To nick couple of words from W.B. Yeats, the process is “changed utterly”.

Yesterday I started work on a poem, inspired by a single line by E Hemingway, “it was coming down the valley even in the early morning”. My new poem contains a few of those words, but the subject bears no other real relationship to Hemingway’s original writing. Thanks to Eileen Earnshaw for putting those words in front of me.

The subject I started writing about was complex, it was about migration and it was about the two-fold tragedies of a growing cultural attitude and the loss of life as people try to find new homes. The hard part is that the poet actually writes not simple statement of facts but expresses how they feel about them, deep down, inside. The first draft took maybe 20 minutes and a second draft started straight after that. After half an hour I was nowhere near finished but I felt completely “wrung out”.

Over the years I worked in many different jobs and I’ve done a range of sports, but rarely have I felt as tired and drained as after those 30 minutes with my fountain pen and a notebook.

The end of a week labouring on a building site, or teaching young people with behavioural issues, crossing the line of a 10k run or finishing a couple of hours training on the velodrome behind a motorbike; those things all feel near impossible to repeat, yet we go back and do them again when we’ve recovered.

So it is with writing. Today, feeling somewhat recovered, I’ve worked on further drafts and edits and have a version of my newest poem, called “Grains”. Once again I feel empty, hollow, my hands are no longer steady and even re-reading it just now is like being dragged out of sleep when you’ve just managed to drift off. To hear a powerful poem can feel like being punched in the senses, to write that poem the poet must keep on battering those senses until it is ready.

The poem is unlikely to be finished just yet (sometimes I think they never really are) but I might give it an open-mic test run on Sunday evening. It won’t be there to entertain, and I almost feel I should apologise to the audience (only almost though) who will end up feeling a little of what I’ve felt writing it.

So what am I getting at? What’s my point?

It is simply this: writing is indeed work.

If something really matters it may be harder it will be to write about. A poem being hard to write, however difficult it may be, is no excuse for not writing it.

What do you think?

What is the hardest to write?

Touchstones Creative Writing Group – an Anniversary

Photography of the entrance to Touchstones, Rochdale

Seven years ago my friend and fellow poet and writer, Norman Warwick, retired to Lanzarote. Norm, part of All Cross the Arts in Rochdale, had facilitated the Touchstones Creative Writing Group every month for some years and the group was going well.

I received an email from the group secretary asking me if i would be able to facilitate their next session in October 2015 as Norm wouldn’t be around. of course I said yes and created a workshop for the group.

Since then TCWG have called in a number of writers to facilitate their sessions and I’ve delivered brand new workshops every few months for the group.

Yesterday I walked through those doors and delivered a workshop about Time and Place in writing.

Seven years and over 20 workshops where I’ve seen members come and go. We used technology during the pandemic, we’ve met in various rooms including the galleries whilst open to the public. I can honestly say that its been a privilege to work with the members and to see how they’ve developed over the years.

So as Norm celebrates 7 years of retirement in Lanzarote, where he is embedded in the local writing and cultural scenes, I celebrate my own 7 years of working with TCWG.

Norm writes about arts and culture, in Lanzarote, Rochdale, and around the world, on his blog ”All Across the Arts, Sidetracks and Detours” at https://aata.dev

All Across the Arts continues to deliver arts and cultural stories, inspiration and events in Rochdale, curated by Steve Cooke with a twice weekly column in the local papers and online at www.allacrossthearts.com

Save the dates – Altrincham Word Fest returns in May 2019

The second Altrincham Word Fest will run from 11th to 26th May 2019 at various venues in the town and promises to be even more exciting that the first edition held in 2018.

Last year’s festival followed a poetry event created by Anne Early and Yoko Isami as part of the Hidden Arts Festival in 2017. That first festival in 2018 proved to be a great, popular success with demand for new events and bigger venues for 2019 and Anne and Yoko are putting the finishing touches to the schedule of events in May.

So why am I, a Rochdale poet, so keen to promote this event?

  • Is it because I’ve been invited back to Altrincham for the 3rd year in a row (1st year was the Hidden Arts Festival)? Perhaps a little bit….
  • Is it because it has a great line up of talent? Well it does….
  • Is it because it celebrates writing and literature? Well it does….
  • Is it because it is different from other Literature Festivals? Yes, absolutely!

This is a festival that does something different, this is a festival for writers; it puts its energies into encouraging all of us to go out and create, to write our own literature and to share the joy of writing; and it does that through workshops, performances, writer events and of course the open mic (that I’ll be hosting again in 2019).

As a writer I experience and see the benefits people from all walks of life, of all ages and with all levels of experience can gain from putting their thoughts and ideas into words. I know the value in terms of enjoyment, fulfilment, health and well-being that writing can bring and to be involved in a festival that promotes this is both a privilege and a great pleasure.

Dates for the specific events will be appearing soon on the www.altrinchamwordfest.com website and on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

A project to reboot the creative mind

Screenshot of the first image for my challenge - a dried poppy seed head

My first #shaysimageaday challenge image from Dec 2018

Pretty much every creative person will occasionally get stranded in the metaphorical doldrums, we suffer a creative block. The cause can be anything from tiredness, apathy or fear to events in our busy lives overtaking us. The solutions are many and books have been written about how to move beyond the block and regain our creativity.

Six months ago I found myself feeling creatively stymied, I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t drawing and I wasn’t making images. The circumstances that led me to that point are not important, the important thing is how I was able to more on. This post is an initial look at that process and how it has helped me. Should this approach help others then that would be a real bonus.

I decided in late December 2017 that to stimulate my mind and create something new to focus on I would set myself a challenge: every day I would make a brand new image and that image would be posted online on Instagram. The challenge would be called “#shaysimageaday” and I would use that hashtag on my posts. Images can be photographs (most of them are), drawings, prints or images made from words (as long as the words can create an image in the reader’s mind) and there is no target length for this challenge – as long a it is fun and I’m learning then I might as well keep going!

At first I expected the challenge might run for a few weeks. My very first post on the day I decided on the challenge was the poppy head pictured at the top of this article. There was no advance plan for the images and I generally decide on a subject during the day but strangely enough six months later I find myself posting images of poppy seed heads collected in the last few days from our garden. In the meantime there have been images of all sorts of man-made and natural objects and there have been plenty of shots taken outdoors. The latest image is shown here:

An image of a wild poppy seed head with others in the background being blurred

Wild poppy seed heads

The bottom line is that setting myself this challenge has really delivered as I hoped it would and I believe it has gone further than that and the personal and creative benefits have been, and continue to be of real value to me. A nice bonus is that I’ve amassed a collection of over 180 new images with which I am very pleased.

I’m sharing this post partly so that the challenge might offer some value to others as well.

In future posts on this blog I will show more examples of the images created and explain some of the methods I’ve used; meanwhile here area couple more of the images

A photo of my linocut print of Whitby Pier being carved

A photo of my linocut print of Whitby Pier being carved

A drawing from classic cars at Vintage Village in Stockport

A drawing from classic cars at Vintage Village in Stockport