Desire lines*

I’d never heard of desire lines until I read this article by Amelia Tait in the Guardian in June. On reading it, I realised that there was a name – and a rather lovely one, too – for the paths I’d seen emerging on the meadow at the bottom of my garden during the lockdown.

Some of the paths over the meadow have been there for many years. But it was curious to see new ones being created. One, for example, runs parallel to a paved path, exactly two metres apart (see above image). Others crisscross the meadow seemingly more erratically – the result of the increased number of people choosing to take their daily ration of exercise in the most scenic spot they could easily reach from home.

My poem ‘Desire paths’ emerged in late June as a result of reading Amelia Tait’s article and then following the desire paths to get a feel for how they took the routes they now so clearly traced, without any conscious planning. I recently entered it into the Daily Telegraph lockdown poetry competition, and was delighted to be selected as one of the four runners-up. The Telegraph article is, unfortunately, behind a paywall, but here’s a screenshot of the poem:

* Since submitting the poem to the competition, my friend Clare Kelly, who teaches navigation,has alerted me to the fact that desire paths are also known as ‘desire lines’, and I prefer that as a title, so I’ve re-named it now, and am grateful to her for the tip.

‘Popshot’ Issue 30: The Protest Issue

I’ve always loved teaching Grace Nichols’ The Fat Black Woman’s Poems. The poems offer rich and diverse material for exploration, and are also great as stimuli for students’ own creative writing.

A few years ago I was inspired by The Fat Black Woman Composes a Black Poem to write my own poem exploring different aspects of gay identity through each of the colours of the rainbow flag. I love the way in which, in such a concise poem, Nichols creates a such a vivid sensory impression of the word ‘Black’, whilst conveying so much about black history and culture.

In my poem, The Gay Woman Composes a Rainbow Poem, I’ve adopted a similar rhythm and rhyme scheme to Nichols, to draw on that same sense of strength in identity that Nichols conveys. It was an enjoyable challenge to try, like Nichols, to reflect on my associations with each colour, without going for the most obvious ideas.

It’s taken a while for this poem to find a home, so I was delighted when it was accepted for the Protest issue of Popshot magazine. It’s an honour to appear in this publication, and owing, as this poem does, so much to Grace Nichols, it was a delight to see a beautifully illustrated quotation from The Fat Black Woman’s Poems just inside the front cover.

‘Brittle Star’ issue 46 podcast

I’m fascinated by all the creative ways in which poetry is finding new homes in cracks during these famously strange times. It was great to have a poem in the latest issue of Brittle Star, and it was even more exciting to hear that, in lieu of a launch party, there would be a series of podcasts.

So, one rainy day in July, I found myself sitting at my desk under a blanket so as to muffle extraneous sounds, reading my poem The Chicken Question, ready to send off for the podcast. Here it is in episode 3, at around 23 minutes in. Do listen to the whole thing, for a really interesting discussion about writing during the pandemic, and then for five other writers from Issue 46 reading their wonderful work.

The Poetry Village: How to conquer nature

I love how poems sometimes spring from most unexpected places. Having to deal with unwanted rats and pantry moths at different points in the past led to me googling ‘Pest control’, which then led to me stumbling upon accounts of Chairman Mao’s ‘Four Pests’ campaign from the 1950s. In an attempt to eliminate pests which were perceived as being a threat to national prosperity, Chinese citizens were entreated to go to quite extreme lengths to kill them. In the case of sparrows, this involved whole communities banging anything they could get their hands on to frighten the birds into continually flying, to the point where they were so exhausted that they dropped, dead, from the sky, in such numbers that their corpses had to be shovelled up with spades.

But the impact of such mass extermination was catastrophic, leading to a plague of locusts which is thought to have contributed to the Great Famine which killed in excess of 45 million Chinese citizens.

That shocking story about the perils of disrupting the delicate balance of natural food chains became the inspiration for my poem How to conquer nature, which I’m delighted to see featured this week on The Poetry Village website as part of their Earth Shadow series, alongside a stunning image.

‘Butcher’s Dog’ Issue 13 launch

So many new possibilities are opening up at the moment, despite the restrictions. Last night, I was able to ‘Zoom’ into the live launch of Butcher’s Dog Issue 13, which I’d probably never have been able to get to in person as the magazine is based in the north east of England. The event was expertly and warmly hosted by editors Jo Clement and Aoife Lyall, with over 100 people attending. I so enjoyed hearing the poems read in the poets’ own voices, and I always love to hear people sharing the stories that inspired their poems.

The whole submissions and editorial process through which my poem, Coming out for Beginners, found a home in Issue 13 has been so friendly and efficient from start to finish, and the magazine itself is stunning, with a beautiful cover designed by Qi Fang Colbert. To buy a copy of Butcher’s Dog, or to take out a subscription, visit here.

‘Brittle Star’ Issue 46

I’m delighted to have a poem in the latest issue of Brittle Star, which landed on my doormat yesterday. In between rain showers, I made an audio recording of my poem, The Chicken Question, for the magazine launch, which will be released as a podcast soon. Although it’s disappointing not to be able to gather for the launch in person, hopefully the podcast will reach a wider audience, and I’m looking forward to hearing the other poems and short stories read by their creators.

Growing poems

A while ago I wrote a post for the What I’m teaching section of this website about writing poems on seeded paper with my National Writing Project Cambridge group. Well, having shared our poems at our February meeting, I planted mine in March. It felt like a hopeful and grounding thing to do at the beginning of the lockdown. For ages, nothing happened. But now, I’m happy to report that I have a pot of baby poems growing on my decking. I’m not sure what they will turn out to be, but I’m watering them faithfully and they’re certainly getting plenty of warmth and sunlight.

Meanwhile, I’m encouraged by signs of new poetry life elsewhere. For the first few weeks of the pandemic I felt unable to write anything more than notes; it seemed to take too much energy and headspace just to know what day of the week it was and to find pasta at the supermarket. But over the last few weeks I’ve managed to write several new poems, and I’ve had good news of poems having been accepted for publication in Under the Radar, The Poetry Village, Brittle Star, Butcher’s Dog and elsewhere. I’m very grateful to all the poetry editors and competition organisers who are working valiantly in difficult circumstances to tend and nurture the poetry community, at a time when there seems to be a growing appetite for poems in the wider world.

Cambridge LGBTQ+ History Month Creative Writing Competition

A huge ‘Thank you’ to the Encompass Network for organising the first ever Cambridge LGBTQ+ History Month Creative Writing Competition, judged by local writers Paulina Palmer and Michael Brown. I really enjoyed hearing some of the winning stories and poems at the prize-giving event on Thursday 27th February, and it was an honour to receive 1st prize in the poetry category. Thanks very much to CUP for sponsoring this prize; I’m really looking forward to spending my book token.

My winning entry, ‘The Devil’s Droppings’, is a found poem which was inspired by a collection of things that have been said to LGBTQ+ people by other Christians. My intention with this poem is not to amplify these hurtful messages, but rather to contain them within the space of the poem, to hold them to the light, and to expose them for the ignorant and bigoted perspectives that they represent – perspectives which, for me, are far from being representative of what a loving God would say.

12 Days of Christmas on Ink, Sweat and Tears

For the last few years I’ve loved following the Ink, Sweat and Tears ’12 Days of Christmas’ feature, which runs this year from 22nd December to 2nd January. It’s fascinating to see different people’s perspectives on this time of year. I was delighted to have my poem Christmas Eve in Dad’s Kitchen featured on 24th December, alongside beautiful, poignant poems by Kathryn Alderman and Carole Bromley.