Claire Trévien

100 poems in one day & other oddities

My year in poetry (and other stuff)

I have the memory of a goldfish so I decided to trawl through my social media activity and paypal balance to try and work out what happened in each month of 2016. It turns out there are gaps in my knowledge, and books that should be in this list that somehow aren’t.

It’s easy to get the wrong impression of someone through social media – we tend to share the highs rather than the lows, and, frankly, I’m still guilty of that here, though I have tried to be honest about some of the stuff that went on this year!


I spoke at Inpress Festival as part of a panel on ‘full-frontal blogging’, had some of my poems set to a baroque orchestra in New York as part of Body Untied. I also visited South Africa for the first time as part of an Arts Council Artists’ International Development Fund. I was sick for most of the month, including in South Africa, so I had to cancel a couple of gigs, which was frustrating….

Soundtrack of the month: George Michael’s Faith
Books of the Month: Genna Gardini Matric Rage and Les mains fertiles: 50 poètes en langue des signes

Final edits to my second collection Astéronymes before it was sent off to the printer. On the whole this was a month dominated by the wedding of my friend Lucy, and the death of family friend Violette Verdy, as well as my continued quest to collect all the bugs lying around.

Soundtrack of the month: Joséphine Baker’s Don’t Touch my Tomatoes
Book of the month: Sarah Frost’s Conduit

Astéronymes was officially published! Another family friend died, but there were also highlights, such as finally seeing Hannah Silva’s Schlock in Oxford, meeting Leah Umansky, and reading Fiona Moore’s audit of poetry and sexism in the Guardian.

Soundtrack of the month: Janelle Monáe’s Tightrope
Books of the month: Leah Umansky’s Straight Away the Emptied World, Akwe Amosu’s Not Goodbye, Jack Underwood’s Happiness, Zoë Skoulding’s Teint, Heidi Williamson’s The Print Museum.

Death went into overdrive, killing my step-uncle one week after I’d buried my grandmother. I lived out of a suitcase for a fortnight through a mix of funerals in other countries, a pre-planned trip to Dublin, and book launches. It was wonderful launching Astéronymes alongside John McCullough and his Spacecraft in London, Brighton and Oxford. I was also happy to read at the Oxford Literary Festival with Sarah Hesketh and Harry Mann. Outside of poetry, I went to the fancy CIM Marketing Excellence Awards where I was somehow shortlisted for Marketer of the Year (did not win but did drink plenty of bubbly)

Soundtrack of the month: L’Internationale, sung by the Communistes en France choir
Books of the Month: Curtis Sittenfield’s Eligible, John McCullough’s Spacecraft, Noel Duffy’s In the Library of Lost Objects.

No deaths (though one more funeral to attend)! Instead the Saboteur Awards were upon us – probably my favourite yet. I was determined it’d be the last but the enthusiasm of the night is carrying me through to at least another year. I was also privileged to read at the launch of Luke Kennard’s Cain, and to have one of my poems appear in the Sunday Times.

Soundtrack of the month: Boogalox’s Chez les Yé-Yé
Books of the month: Camille Ralph’s Malkin, Kiran Millwood-Hargrave’s The Girl of Ink and Stars, Luke Kennard’s Cain, Abi Palmer’s Alchemy, Tania Hershman’s Nothing Here is Wild, Everything is Open.

Some highlights included reading and delivering a workshop in Swindon, travelling to Leeds to chat about place with Daniel Bye, Dominic Grace and Zodwa Nyoni. Best of all though was treating myself to a DYI writing retreat at home with Tori Truslow, and remembering the joys of freewriting.

Soundtrack of the month: Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s Higher Ground
Books of the month: Seanan McGuire’s Chaos Choreography, Daisy Johnson’s Fen, David Attwooll and Andrew Walton’s Otmoor. Anne Carson’s The Albertine Workout.

Spent a lot of time putting in final corrections to my monograph Satire, prints and theatricality in the French Revolution. Eighteenth Century Escape Tales: Between Fact and Fiction, in which I have a chapter on Marie-Antoinette and Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, was finally published (too expensive for me to buy, alas). I visited Lyon and bought more books than I’ve had time to digest in its glorious Bal des Ardents bookshop.

Soundtrack of the month: Sister Nancy’s Bam Bam
Books of the month: Rowena Knight’s All the footprints I left were red, Bridget Minamore’s Titanic, Ito Naga’s Je sais, Penelope Shuttle and John Greening’s Heath

Both dads in hospital – one undergoing a quintuple bypass, the other getting the diagnosis of prostate cancer. I ended up working remotely from France for a few weeks to be nearby. The operation for the former was a resounding success, the latter was successfully (as far as we know) operated in October. In other news I returned to South Africa and had a wonderful time reading and interviewing poets in Grahamstown and at the McGregor Poetry Festival.

Soundtrack of the month: The Knack’s My Sharona
Books of the month: Ingrid de Kok’s Terrestrial Things, Harry Owen’s Five Books of Marriage, Antje Krog’s Skinned, In the Heat of Shadows: South African Poetry 1996-2013, ed. Denis Hirson

September was full of events, and I was very happy to read at the Poetry School Autumn Launch, the inaugural Kenilworth Arts Festival, and Jill Abram’s Stablemates event for Penned in the Margins. All wonderful events in their own rights, run with the right blend of passion and savvy. Pretty fab to read alongside poets such as Dante Micheaux, Jo Bell, David Morley, Sarah Howe, Luke Kennard, Jonathan Edwards, Charlotte Newman, and Ross Sutherland.

Soundtrack of the month: Christine and The Queen’s Tilted
Books of the month: the Diane Fallon series by Beverly Connor, Ben Parker’s The Amazing Lost Man, Melissa Lee-Houghton’s Sunshine.

To celebrate the year that had passed since publishing Susie Campbell and JT Welsch’s pamphlets as limited editions – I released them digitally for them to be freely available. You can find links here. My monograph Satire, prints and theatricality in the French Revolution was published at last, after eight years in the making! I visited Coleraine in Northern Ireland for the first time to read alongside Harry Giles and Liz Lochhead – my roadtrip with Liz to the Giants’ Causeway on National Poetry Day was a definite highlight for me! I also read at the memorial service for the family friend who had died earlier that year.

Soundtrack of the month: Jennifer Lopez’s Let’s Get Loud
Books of the month: Helen Ivory’s Hear What the Moon Told Me, Liz Lochhead’s Fugitive Colours, The Good Immigrant, ed. Nikesh Shukla

I enjoyed teaching a repeat of my Deep Diving Poetry course for the Poetry School, as well as getting stuck into various commissions. I returned to Lyon and managed to avoid buying too many books this time…. Otherwise it looks like my time was mostly eaten up by work, and nanowrimo – which I embraced for the first time this year. It was going pretty well until Trump got elected, I swear.

Soundtrack of the month: DNCE’s Cake by the Ocean
Books of the month: Laura Seymour’s The Shark Cage, Jodi Taylor’s My Name is Markham

I gave myself the challenge of creating one videopoem a day in December, a mixture of poems by me and by other poets including Pam Thompson, Wendy Pratt, Lou Sarabadzic, Catherine Ayres, Susie Campbell, Mab Jones, Zoe Brigley, Lynn Pedersen, Kallie Falandays, Milla van der Have, Karen Paul Holmes, Alex Dally MacFarlane. I made it to day 20 and then decided to allow myself a holiday! You can watch the full playlist here.

Soundtrack of the month: Jain’s Makeba
Book of the month: Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist, Genevieve Cogman’s The Burning Pge



I began my December videopoem accidentally. I did one, enjoyed the process and wanted to push myself to work out how different elements functioned, so I made another. And then I invited a few people to send me their poems. That was a different kind of challenge, as taking liberties with your own poem is one thing, translating other people’s poems into a video, is quite another. I decided to stop on the 20th, rather than 24th because I felt I was getting into a rut that could only be solved by accessing better technology (or a bit of a break).

You can watch all 20 videopoems here in order of creation.

Here are 5 of the videopoems I’m proudest of:

  1. Catherine Ayres’ Leaving at Day Break

I’m really proud of how this one turned out, and it’s evidently been the one most people have been attracted to – it’s had over 1,300 views on Facebook, and been featured in Moving Poems as their own standout.

The challenge of this one is that I kept second guessing myself: is it too on the nose? If I were writing a poem, I wouldn’t include the sound of birds chirping to illustrate the presence of a bird, but with videos, you can take liberties with this kind of layering, as they all work to help you take in the words flashing up on the page.

2. Lynn Pedersen’s How to Speak Nineteenth Century

My general rule when asking for poems to turn into videos, was to ask that they be under 12 lines long, to make it more achievable. I made an exception for this poem, which is not simply longer, but also packed full of brilliant images and terms. Translating it was quite the challenge and I’m thrilled with how it turned out.

3. Charles Baudelaire’s Enivrez-Vous

This one is a bit of a wildcard in this top 5 list. I did it very rapidly whilst heavily hungover, and there’s all sorts of things I’d like to correct now – a new voice recording, better audio control, etc. Yet I’m really quite fond of its simplicity, and I think my hungover voice adds a certain je ne sais quoi.

4. Pam Thompson’s Gibbous Sonnet

This was the first video where I tried out some new text techniques, and I love the way the words ally to the music here to create something quite whimsical and hypnotic.

5. Susie Campbell’s Tennis Ball Maker

This was another challenging one to transform – so many elements in this tennis-ball shaped poem. I wanted to somehow bring forward the factory side, the pregnancy, and the tennis balls themselves without feeling preachy. The result is this contraption, mixing together various footage and sound effects.



2014 in Poetry (and other things)

Ah yes, the inevitable end of year list. Like last year I thought I’d do a month by month list of books I’ve enjoyed, and personal things achieved, but it turns out of course to be even trickier to track the former, as I’ve been increasingly buying directly from publishers and authors, so I’m afraid I’ll have to rely mostly on my memory.

I’ve been saying a fair amount that I can’t wait to get rid of 2014 and move on to 2015, but looking through my timeline and order histories, I realize that’s rather harsh. In many ways, 2014 has been very good to me, allowing me to cross off numerous things off the bucket list, including:

and one or two things I can’t yet share but am very excited about. So yes, 2014, you may have been very difficult to deal with at times, but you’ve definitely had your ups too!

It’s also been a great year for reading with numerous works of high quality getting published. Not everything that I read this year was published this year though, I belatedly discovered and loved works like Mani Rao’s Echolocation, Charlotte Bronte’s Villette, Mia Mckenzie’s The Summer We Got Free, Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s Nettles, Jemma L. King’s The Shape of the Forest, Susanne Ehrhardt’s Rumpelstiltskin’s Price, Marie Ndiaye’s Hilda, Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga, Anne Charnok’s A Calculated Life, Richard Fortey’s Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of Animals and Plants that Time has Left Behind. I make no apology for mixing together all sorts of genres in that list, from poetry collections, to plays, to fantasy to pop science.

Here is a more orderly list of some other highlights from this year (published this year), to which I’ll add the recommendation to susbscribe to the never disappointing Modern Poetry in Translation.

10 Poetry Highlights

Aimee Herman’s meant to wake up feeling (Great Weather For Media, 2014). I discovered Aimee’s work at a poetry reading in Brooklyn this November. What I love is that she is not only a great performer of her work, but that the poems are formally exciting on the page too.  It’s a really fascinating exploration of gender, of the body, of identity, that I found very inspiring.

Ten: The New Wave, ed. by Karen McCarthy Woolf (Bloodaxe, 2014). Now here is one exciting anthology in a year of exciting anthologies. It features some of my favourite poets and the framing of each poet with a fist-bump from their mentor is pretty charming too. Standouts for me were Warsan Shire and Rishi Dastidar, for completely different reasons, but really, there’s hardly a dud note in the entire anthology. I look forward to seeing where these ten poets go next.

Kei Miller, The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion (Carcanet, 2014) and Liz Berry’s Black Country (Chatto and Windus, 2014). It feels a bit boring to champion two lauded collections, but frankly they deserve the attention and kudos. I’ve been waiting for Liz Berry’s first collection for an age, after gushing some praise on her pamphlet back in 2012.

John Clegg’s The True Account of Captain Love and the Five Joaquins (The Emma Press, 2014). Loved this pamphlet so much that I used it in a poetry school workshop, leading to a six-handed Tripadvisor-style review!

Tom Chivers’ Flood Drain (Annexe, 2014). I suppose it doesn’t get much more biased than that: written by my publisher/director/producer and published by a long-time collaborator of mine, but hearing Tom read this dream-sequence poem at the Museum of Water with a perfectly timed projector behind him, was one of my favourite performances. Yes, it’s technically fascinating, creating at times some gorgeous soundscapes, but it’s also very funny, ‘can you give a horse an ASBO?’ will never not make me laugh.

David Attwooll and Andrew Walton’s Ground Work is a gorgeously produced collaboration between a poet and a painter based around Port Meadow in Oxford. What I love about it is how Attwooll debunks nature poetry while at the same time creating some of the most exquisite nature poetry I’ve ever come across.

Hannah Lowe’s Ormonde (Hercules Editions, 2014). Hercules Editions is fast becoming one of my favourite micropresses with their gorgeously crafted pamphlets, each one really is a work of art. This is no different. Based on the first post-WW2 ship to carry a significant number of Jamaican immigrants to the UK (including Hannah Lowe’s father), this pamphlet is part historical document part poetry pamphlet, and the combination creates a very special object indeed.

W.N. Herbert’s Murder Bear (Donut, Dec. 2013). I was really chuffed when Murder Bear won the Saboteur Awards for best pamphlet as it is a complete delight to read if you’re into grim humour. Another gorgeously produced chapbook from the sadly now closed Donut Press, though it looks as if it can still be bought here.

Wendy Pratt, Museum Pieces (Prole Books, 2014). I ended up reviewing this collection almost accidentally, and I am so glad I did. As I said, ‘You would think we’re about to reach peak-museum, yet Pratt’s gorgeous control over form, and unexpected images manage to make the genre, like the best kind of exhibition, still feel alive and relevant.’

Pascale Petit’s Fauverie (Seren, 2014). My inclusion of Petit on this list will surprise exactly no one. I have a review of it coming out in the next Poetry London, but suffice to say I found it ‘taut and dangerous’ and ‘the whole painted as recklessly as any fauvist painting’.


5 non-poetry books from this year that I recommend:

No Christmas by Evangeline Jennings (Pankhearst, 2014), a novella on teen pregnancy set in the near, bleak future. It will anger you in all the right ways hopefully.

In the Catacombs by Chris McCabe (Penned in the Margins, 2014), I’m cheating a bit as this could count as poetry too. I can’t remember the last time I read a book so fast. A fascinating exploration of West Norwood cemetery in search of a lost great poet.

Girly and Things to Make and Break by May-Lan Tan (Future Tense, CB Editions, 2014). Two perfectly formed books by the super talented May-Lan Tan. The first is a chapbook, the second a short story collection shortlisted in the Saboteur Awards. I’m so glad I nominated Things to Make and Break for a Guardian First Book Award as it led to her being shortlisted for the prize (as well as the Bad Sex Awards!) and brought wider attention to a highly talented writer.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. I’m a latecomer to Mitchell’s work and furiously catching up now. I absolutely loved his playfulness with genres here, each one given such detailed attention, and the whole binding together beautifully. Master storyteller.

The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman. If you like stories about women boxing in the eighteenth century then this is perfect for you. I missed my bus stop because I was so engrossed in the story, and desperately rooting for characters with plenty of odds stacked up against them.


100 Poems 2014: the aftermath

Many thanks to everyone who has supported me once again in writing 100 poems for Refuge. My JustGiving page closes today and I’m £5 short of £1000 which is incredible! As a group, with Cat Conway, Hel Gurney and Tori Truslow, we’ve managed to raise £2000, which is staggering! Their donation pages will remain open for longer if you’d like to donate.

The poems are now offline, but you might see them again, either as a postcard if you claimed one, or published somewhere, almost certainly after a good edit!

As before, it’s been both exhilarating and daunting  to publish such unpolished poems online – I’m looking forward to a more leisurely pace of writing now though!

Thank you again,

Claire x


Have you claimed your #refugepoetry postcard?

Hi everyone!

A little over a week has gone by since the challenge and I am preparing both my return to England and the posting of the postcards to those who want them. As a reminder, you can claim any and as many as you want (as long  as you’ve donated here). I’ll be claiming postal addresses soon, and the online versions will disappear after 27th….

These are the ones claimed so far, if your name doesn’t appear and you thought you were getting one, do comment below the relevant poem/postcard clearing stating that you’re claiming it!

Claimed postcards

#94 ‘Swimming in Sauce’: for Claire S.

#88 ‘Oil on Panel’: for Carrie B.

#87 ‘Something Bit Me’: for Natalya A.

#85 ‘Stories Under the Corset’: for Gillian P.

#82 ‘Take care… the water’s full of sharks’: for Ruth S.

#76 ‘Bigoudenes’: for Kathy P.

#70 ‘The Nurse Remembers’: for Sarah J.

#67 ‘Too large a ghost’: for Mark A.O.

#54 ‘Splendour in the Graveyard’: for Lavinia

#53 ‘A Brick Remembers’: for Hel

#53 ‘On a Forthcoming Marriage’: for Louise L.

#46 ‘The Colour Yellow in post-Victorian Accessories’: for Amy K.

#45 ‘Brain Cake’: for Helen W.

#43 ‘Green Terrapin/Blue Water’: for Susie

#35 ‘Remind me to thank John for a lovely week-end’: for Rhys

#32 ‘Stab Variation’: for Ben

#20 ‘Full Tilt’: for Eleanor T.

#16 ‘Margot’: for Annik C.

#7 ‘La Chevre’: for Clouds




Welcome to the #100poems challenge 2014!

Here is the rundown: I am writing 100 poems on postcards on 15th August to raise money for Refuge (if you’re wondering why, read here). Three awesome poets are also taking part in challenges that day, check them out here. The poems will start appearing below this post tomorrow.

Do you want a postcard?

  • Claim it! Write a comment below the poem/postcard that you like. First come first served. I’ll post it to you once I’m back in the UK (27th).
  • Please donate, even if it’s just 10p!

How can you help?

  • Suggest a title! or a prompt! or a weird constraint! You can do that on twitter, or as a comment here, or when you donate.
  • Help spread the word about what we’re doing! We’re using the hashtag #refugepoetry


One more sleep before the 100 poem challenge begins!

Thank you so much to everyone who has donated so far, either to me and/or to my team-mates, we’re all fundraising for a common cause, and I really hope our efforts can make a difference. If you’d like to donate, it’s not too late, click here.

I’ve got my postcards at the ready as well as some words I’ve cut out from the English magazines I could find here (I ❤ English Junior, in case you’re wondering), plus there’s the leftover of an Ayn Rand I’d already desecrated two years ago by wallpapering part of my wall with it, so that should come in handy as erasure/censorship poetry….

The biggest challenge I think is to deal with the technical side alongside the creative, i.e writing poems on computer, hand-writing them on postcard, taking pictures, uploading them with suitable tags etc to here. I might end up doing them in batches to see if that’s more efficient. It might give my brain a bit of a break too…

Anyhow, just going to create a ‘sticky’ post if I can, with all info on it, including how to claim a postcard, and then settle down for the evening. Thanks again to everyone for their support, and I hope you enjoy my flailing tomorrow! 


As a distraction from my impending #refugepoetry challenge and the realization that we are over halfway into #readwomen2014, an initiative led by Joanna Walsh to change our reading habits, I thought I’d do a haphazard list of suggestions. These are completely idiosyncratic, I just woke up with an urge to share a couple of names, so here they are.

Poetry for a friend going through a difficult time at a hospital

I found myself playing the role of poetry-prescriber on Friday for a friend looking for poetry recommendations for a friend about to undergo chemotherapy. This was an interesting challenge and made me realize how hard it must be to find the right poetry book when you’re not ‘in the know’. Google ‘inspirational’ and ‘funny’ poetry and you’ll get an onslaught of trite rhyming sweets rather than the substance you’re after. If in doubt, ask a poet, eh? If you want to know what she left with by the way, they were: Ruth Padel’s Rembrandt Would Have Loved You, Jo Shapcott’s Of Mutability, and Luke Kennard’s The Harbour Beyond the Movie. I worried that Shapcott would be too obvious, but shared it anyway, and she loved the book, so sometimes obvious is just right. Padel and Kennard weren’t ones I had originally included in my suggestion pile but talking to her about her friend’s dark sense of humour and love of old masters and music made them seem like obvious choices. [Yes, I do realize that Luke is a man, but his collection was the right one for this job].

Poetry for people wanting to discover the next young thing

I love reading the Foyle Young Poets’ anthologies, not just for the poetry, but also the thrill of guessing who will becoming the next Helen Mort. Among the 2012 winners, Flora de Falbe stood out at first with her amazing name, then with her Kennard-ish poem. It’s been great to see her name pop up since, in Rising, or as the winner of the English National Ballet challenge. In the 2013 crop, the stand-out poem was by Emma Lister, a poet who has already accumulated a fair few awards for her age as a former National Trust poetry competition winner. While a Google search doesn’t elicit much proof of recent activity, I am sure this isn’t the last we’ll hear from her… The art world often puts too much onus on artists’ youth and pressure to achieve notoriety before an arbitrary sell-by date. While I hope these two poets fulfil their potential, I also hope they take the time to lead a varied and interesting life.

Quickfire suggestions

Poetry for culture vultures: Penny Boxall’s Ship of the Line, Fawzia Kane’s Houses of the Dead, Sue Rose’s Heart ArchivesAmy Key’s Luxe

Poetry for your favourite feminist: Sonia Hendy-Isaac’s The Contradictions of Flesh, Sophie Mayer’s The Private Part of Girls, Clare Pollard’s Ovid’s HeroinesAnna Percy’s Livid Among the Ghostings, Salena Godden’s Fishing in the Aftermath.

Poetry for someone going through a weight-loss program: Claire Crowther’s Incense.

Poetry for your favourite midlander: Liz Berry’s Black Country.

Poetry for Bingo-lovers: Maria Taylor’s Poetry Bingo.

Poetry for fans of history of medicine: Kelley Swain’s Opera di Cera.

Poetry for fans of insects: Helen Clare’s Entomology.

Poetry for fans of old-skool video games: Hannah Faith Notess’s Ghost HouseKirsten Irving’s Never Never Never Come Back.

Any suggestions for other categories, or for additions to these?






Second time around: the 100 poems challenge

I am back!

As some of you may remember, I wrote 100 poems in a day last November to raise money for Refuge. You can read my report about it here.

Unfortunately, the situation has been getting worse, not better, for victims of domestic violence with the closure of numerous vital centres across the country.

So I’ve decided to revive the challenge and write 100 poems on 15th August 2014. This time, I’ll be writing the poems on the back of 100 postcards (and uploading the images to this here blog). You can claim the postcards you like by commenting below the posts, or by leaving a comment when donating.

Here is my JustGiving page, please donate! I have a very ambitious target this time, but we raised nearly £700 last time, so I think we can do it!

Here’s what you can do to help:

  • Join in! The more the merrier. Setting up a fundraising page is fast and easy.You don’t have to write 100 poems in a day to join in, you can do something that fits in around your life better. Join our team page here.
  • Suggest titles for poems!
  • Retweet me and others taking part in the challenge (or the Facebook equivalent). We’ll be using the #refugepoetry hashtag.
  • Donate. Whether it’s 10p or £100.

Freelancing (poetry-style)

Well this has been a proper full-on poetry week.


Monday my publisher/producer/director/magician Tom Chivers and I met with Sarah McCartney of niche perfumery brand 4160 Tuesday, who is going to be creating a scent for the show-version of The Shipwrecked House. Sarah was very generous with her time and let Tom & I smell all sorts from her collection, I think my favourite was The Dark Heart of Havana, which I am definitely saving up for. I don’t normally get vivid colours when I smell something for the first time, but this evoked to me the colour of honey. Really, it’s a perfume about the dark side of the night, it’s sugary and dark, and exuberant, what’s not to love really? Me being tangentially involved in perfume thanks to Penning Perfume is quite funny really, mainstream brands tend to remind me of the insides of cars, but working with all sorts of creative and wonderful perfumers has shown me a much more invigorating and intriguing side to that world. So if you are someone who doesn’t think perfume is for you, I do recommend you sample some of Sarah’s wares.

I listened to myself reading some of the poems that will feature in The Shipwrecked House show on the way up in an attempt to learn my lines. It’s slowly working, though poems that have a call and answer (such as Sing Bird) are proving tricky to remember in the right sequence.


On Tuesday, I returned to Oxford to judge and give a short reading at the Martin Starkie Prize, named after the founder of the Oxford University Poetry Society. The last few weeks have been interesting for me, as I judged not one but two poetry prizes for the first time (results of the Iain Rennie competition should be announced soon). I’ve edited before but judging is a very different kettle of fish, you don’t always find yourself rewarding the poems you fall for, you find yourself swayed by a brilliant image here, the promise of future brilliance there, an intriguing concept elsewhere. You find yourself worrying whether the winner is incontestable (whatever that means!), you start doubting your very own ability to judge, you want to reward poems that weren’t afraid to fail a little in their attempt to push boundaries.

It must be very different when you’re part of a panel, more compromises, more debate, other people to blame for your choices. On the flipside it’s also been fascinating to sift through such a variety of voices, some loaded with so much potential. In the end though, I remained pleased with my final choice, Theophilus Kwek’s ‘Ultimate and Penultimate Things’, which subtly grew on me the more I read it. I’m a real sucker for forms going hand in hand with content, and this was an excellent example of it.



Daisy Johnson
Conor McGillan
Sarvat Hasin
Adam Leonard
Nasim Asl


Theophilus Kwek

I was glad to finally put a name to poems, and had a wonderful time both at the readings and at the drinks afterwards… Particularly good to meet the new OUPS president Leo Mercer, whom I’ve been in virtual contact with before, and a previous OUPS president April Pierce.

I made the most of my Oxford visit to also catch up with my Other Countries: Contemporary Poets Rewiring History co-editor Gareth Prior to discuss the current submissions. Our consensus so far is that we need more pre-early modern history poems, and also more non-European voices (which isn’t to say you should restrain yourself from submitting that 18th century Lithuanian poem if you have one).

I also popped into the end of the Hammer and Tongue final to say hello to Salena Godden and catch the winner (the lovely Tina Sederholm), so all in all quite a busy whistle-stop visit.

The wonderful Salena Godden

The wonderful Salena Godden


Wednesday I travelled to the University of Kent in Canterbury to give a talk with Helen Ivory and Kate Birch (of Ink, Sweat and Tears). It’s the third time Helen and I have been on a panel together, all very different experiences (the Poetry Library and the Ivy Club were the first two). I think this was my personal favourite in terms of audiences, which mostly consisted of their MA students. The students were very entrepreneurial and engaging, and I hope that we’ve given them some hope and ideas of what they can do to promote their endeavours. I think it’s drawn home for me the need for students to have access to more help and advice when it comes to things such as social media and arts council applications, and fewer attitudes of gate-keeping. We were wonderfully looked after by Patricia Debney and David Flusfeder, and I came home loaded with goodies to read…

Oh and they took us out to dinner in a place that has a Shipwreck Tart, I kid you not (cf picture).

photo 2 (1)


After travelling in the morning, I spent the rest of my day preparing for my Poetry School course livechat in the evening. This week I’d asked my students to personify a home and while they did admit that it was a challenge, the results were seriously impressive. It’s a real pleasure working with them – they all have different styles and accept this rather than trying to mould each other’s poems into a factory-setting. I’ve just sent out the last assignment, one more livechat to go in a fortnight – I shall be sad when it is over!


No travelling, hurray!

Friday was mostly spent catching up on various pieces of admin that had accumulated while I was away. The Arts Council Grant for The Shipwrecked House also finally came through so I took my brother out for lunch and tried to convince him to let me cut his hair (he said no).

Plans are afoot to maybe visit NYC in the autumn, I have never been to the USA before and hate flying, but it would be wonderful to see in the flesh the backdrop of so much pop culture. I’d love to combine the visit with some readings, so if you have any pro-tips, I’d love to hear them…


So far, writing this, in an elaborate procrastination scheme: I’ve been commissioned to write a poem for someone’s 50th (in French and in English). It’s nearly there, but reaching the stage where I need to print everything out, take out the blue pen, and possibly start again.

This really has been an exclusively poetry-based week, which looks set to continue in coming weeks with the start of The Shipwrecked House rehearsals.