Wayne Gretzky and poetry

You miss 100% of the shots you never take.

Becoming a published poet is all about failure. It’s all about becoming Wayne Gretzky trying to be where the puck is going to be, not where it is. Trying to read the mind of your editor, to know what she wants before she knows it herself. This post could be Kipling and poetry, except RK wrote poetry, and to the best of my knowledge never scored in a game of ice-hockey.

‘if you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same’

The poet needs to keep on keeping on, to allow the mountain of rejection slips to grow, to pin them on the wall, to target a hundred or so a year. As a poetry editor I know that rejection often doesn’t indicate that the quality of the work is unsatisfactory. Often it reflects a poor match between the tastes of the poet and the preferences of the editor. Often it can just be about supply and demand,space, how the work fits in with the contextual settings of a specific issue. Not always of course, a poem can be execrable, trite, offensive-it doesn’t necessarily follow however, that the poet is any of these.

You miss out on 100% of publication in magazines that you don’t send work off too, or competitions you don’t enter. There are caveats here. Most competitions are a money making racket or a ‘prizes for the boys’ gratuitous exercise in clubbable back-slapping. Choose carefully. Magazines too, some charge to inspect poems, some imply that a subscription will facilitate publication. Over the last ten years the racket has expanded incrementally with the growth in Creative Writing degree courses. It’s a murky world where editors sully themselves by accepting work from the bottom of the slush pile for personal remuneration, don’t go there.

So there it is, take your shots, set yourself a target of rejection slips and watch the offers of publication trickle in.


Mischief Night

The weeks when late autumn drifts to early winter has always been one of my favourite times of the year. A season of mists, acrid woodsmoke and,as a child, a time to go roaming under the cover of darkness through the village, exploring the gennels (backalleys) and paths. Mischief Night was more important in the decades before ancient Halloween traditions returned via the USA. The date of it’s application varies across the North and the Midlands but in my home village it occurred on the 4th of November, the Eve of bonfire night. It was a night of transgression, chaos and disorder-the big village bonfires had to be guarded or they would be set off a day early. Pranks were played and risks taken-it had a nefarious edge that sets it apart from today’s more gentle and civilized Halloween festivities. Hopefully this poem captures something of the flavour.

 Mischief Night


One long gone mischief night we slipped out


Full of tricks and lairy for random fun


To tie doors to bin lids, little more


Than knocking doors, down long dark alleyways


Tipping bins, alert for fighting dogs


Dashing back down narrow gennels


Catching our breath in the teeth of night.



You, with your long white legs, your black welly boots


Duffle coat imbued with scents of coal smoke


Your eyes full of fizz like sherbet lemons


Blue as some distant summer horizon


That you were destined never to reach.



There are no consolations, no reasons


Call it fate if you will, the random noise


Simmering somewhere on the edge of space


That would skewer you at thirty five


And slowly squeeze each drop of hope from you


Leaving only vague shadows of your dreams.



This mischief night you are so alive


And furiously reckless with your time


Fuelled with an eclectic mix


Fish bits, big fat mushy peas


Rushing, unknowing, into the future.


Mappin Writers

Had a very positive afternoon working with the Mappin Writers at The Sheffield Institute for the Blind, alongside writer EL Lindley,they are an extremely impressive and talented group of writers who approach their writing tasks with tremendous enthusiasm and originality.

Today we had a superb walk in Derbyshire, walking from Baslow through the Chatsworth estate, enjoying some  outstanding autumn colour and some thin late October sunshine. The classic sharpness in the air and hints of wood-smoke, reminded me of the month’s poetic piquancy-it provides a smorgasbord of intimate sensual experience to inspire all kinds of creativity linked to reflective introspection.