December is the time when many authors try to put their year into into perspective, and I’m no exception. It’s been a remarkable year for me in many ways, and I’m still trying to come to terms with the changes in my life that have happened since January.
It began with a decision to revise and edit a number of previously unpublished poems, and by the beginning of 2013 I started to send them out to magazines – print and online. In that first month I sent out over forty poems, and the acceptances and rejections started to come in. My acceptance rate has been fairly constant for several years now, but this year it started to rise. When poems were not accepted, I looked at them again to see if they could be improved, and then sent them out again to different magazines. I always keep a careful note of which magazines I’ve sent poems to, using a spreadsheet, and I don’t ever do multiple submissions. That maybe slows the process down a bit, since I have to wait to hear from editors before submitting elsewhere, but I don’t mind that – I’m in no hurry.
My March highlight, as in every year, is the StAnza poetry festival, and this year I was honoured to be asked to read with Andrew Forster in St Andrews Town Hall. Like many others, I had been stunned by the sudden closure of the Byre Theatre just a few weeks before the Festival, but I was amazed by the resilience and hard work of the StAnza team in organising alternative venues and ticketing arrangements so quickly. Later in the year its Board, which I chaired from 2006 to 2009, asked me if I would come back on, as their previous Chair had stepped down, and I took this up in November.
April was NaPoWriMo, and the challenge of writing a new poem each day during the month. I hadn’t done this before, but you can be sure I’ll be doing it again, because I managed to keep on schedule, and I was pleased not only with the number of poems I wrote, but also with the quality of some of the poems. They joined the consistent flow of send-outs I managed to keep going throughout the year.
April also saw the launch of three Calder Wood Press titles by Dunbar authors, and the challenge of editing and producing three publications simultaneously was, in retrospect, crazy but exhilarating. In June I published Janette Ayachi’s pamphlet, A Choir of Ghosts, and in September Amy Anderson’s Night’s Fresh Velvet and Jane Overton’s Short Term Parking. They’re all available through the Calder Wood Press website. I’ve taken the decision not to publish new titles in 2014, but to concentrate on the promotion and marketing of existing titles.
I took part in several local events in the summer, part of the North Light Arts’ Walking the Line Festival in Dunbar, and I found working with visiting artists really inspirational. I’ve made several new friends through the project. I’ve also delivered collaborative projects with the Peter Potter Gallery in Haddington. I took part in four renga sessions this year: at Dawyck, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, at Dunbar, and a scorching one at Peffer Sands. I also did a solo one on a walk from West Barns to Belhaven Bay. They were all different, all stimulating, and the resulting poems were reflected the seasons and the places they were written in, and also the diverse inspirations of the writers.
I entered three poetry competitions this year, and was long-listed in one and short-listed in another, so I feel a bit more confident about entering competitions next year.
The biggest writing event of the year for me was taking up the Hawthornden Fellowship in October/November. I wrote 53,000 words in the four weeks I was there, a total of 112 haibun. It was the most intense writing experience of my life, and I’m so grateful to the Hawthornden Foundation, to the Admissions Committee, the staff, and to my fellow writers, Thaïs Miller, Pippa Little, Elisabeth Olin and Susanne Stephan. The haibun collection, which I’m calling The Book of Ways, will be published next year, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it. My publisher, Sheila Wakefield of Red Squirrel Press, has been a wonderful source of encouragement and support, and I value her friendship so much.
I’ve continued to send poems out throughout the year, and I’ve been astonished to have had around sixty poems published or accepted in the year. This compares with my average of seven or eight. A large part of the increase is accounted for by publication in online magazines. I only send to e-zines I personally read and enjoy, so I’m selective, but that’s also true of the printed magazines I send to. As long as the editorial standards are high they deserve to succeed, and I think a larger proportion of magazines will become online in the years to come. I’ve had poems in Ambit, Envoi, Gutter, New Writing Scotland, Northwords Now, the Flodden anthology A set of ribbons, Mandy Haggith’s Into the Forest anthology, and acceptances for the forthcoming New Voices Press anthology. Online publications include And Other Poems, Bolts of Silk, Contemporary Haibun Online, Every Day Poems, Far Off Places, Haibun Today, Ink Sweat & Tears, New Linear Perspectives, Notes from the Gean, The Passionate Transitory, Snakeskin, Verse Wrights, and the Walking With Poets website. I’ve also had a poem projected at StAnza, one on a Burns Window in Dumfries, and one due to be painted on a wall at the Belhaven Community Garden.
My own contribution to online publication, The Open Mouse, has become very popular in a short space of time, attracting an eclectic mix of contributors from far and wide. The number of ‘followers’ increases all the time, and I usually aim to post two or three new poems from contributors every week. It originally started as a feature of the Poetry Scotland website, but the spin-off is now entirely separate, and hosted on a WordPress site.
On the musical front, I bought myself a tenor sax in August, and I’ve been practising as regularly as my schedule permits. While I was away at Hawthornden I decided to get a soprano sax, so I could ‘double’ as so many tenor players do. Both instruments are in the key of B flat, so there’s no issue of transposing. However, as I made that decision I thought I’d like to replace my old alto sax, since I enjoyed playing it so much from the 1960s to the 1980s. So I’ve ended up with a whole family of saxes. (I’m not getting a baritone, much though I love the sound, they are seriously expensive). Although the fingering is mostly the same, they are each different to play, and I’m gradually extending my repertoire and ‘getting back my chops’, as we used to say. My early playing, from around 1958 on, was strictly by ear, but this time I’m learning to read music at the same time.
2014 won’t be the same as 2013, but I’m determined to keep up the momentum of writing, revising, reviewing and promotion as long as I’ve got the energy. I’ve not written so much since November, but I’ve started to revise and edit again, so I can start a new round of send-outs in January. As my sax playing improves, I’d like to explore poetry and jazz, so I’ll look out for possible collaborative opportunities. One already pencilled in is for an event during Dunbar’s Festival of Words next June.