Monday, July 6, 2015


This week, my fellow poets, we are visiting one of our newer members, the enchanting Ms Claireylove, who wields her mighty pen at Clairey Love Learns. Scrolling through her site to prepare for this visit, I found a wealth of intriguing posts, a rich mix of poetry, prose and photos to delight visitors. To find her, we have to fly the skies once again, this time to the United Kingdom. I am certain Claire will have some Earl Grey tea waiting when we arrive. 

Sherry: Claire, this is going to be such a pleasure. I am so happy you found Poets United. You write so beautifully! Let’s dive in.

You describe yourself as a lifelong writer. Tell us about the beginning of this journey, how old you were, what you wrote first, poetry or prose, was there someone who encouraged and believed in you?

Claire: My first memories of creating stories was through drawing.  My nan always had a reporter’s notebook and a biro tucked down the side of her chair, and she would tear sheets out of the notebook for me and my younger sister.  We would spend hours drawing pictures of idealised girls and women, and the whole time I would have an inner narration going on about the back story of the characters I was creating.  As I learnt to write, I would annotate these drawings to remind me of important details.

Once I started school, I loved any lesson that required creative writing.  At primary school I remember winning prizes for my story about the day in the life of a school kid in Ancient Greece (it was on topic, so not that weird), and for a play I wrote about the Easter story.  I didn’t write poetry then, although I did start dabbling with the guitar at a young age and wrote lyrics, which for me are closely related.

At secondary school, I continued to excel with creative writing projects, but not much else!  I had a difficult time transitioning through the teenage years and poured myself into friendships.  Canteen breaks were spent with me creating stories about my friends and their famous crushes, and what might unfold if they met.

I started writing poetry at 15 when a friend decided she wanted to put an anthology together of all her friends’ work.  Mine started off as riffs on lyrics I liked, (The Wonder Stuff, Carter USM), but I found I had a flair for poetry and I loved the ambiguity of it.  The wonder of metaphor is that it contains so many possibilities.

I’ve never had a mentor or a teacher who said that I should work at my writing.   I’ve had great encouragement from friends and family who have read my work, and I think I’ve just got on with it.  I don’t think I’ve ever worried if I’m good enough or not.  With the writing I have done, I have just enjoyed pouring all of my creativity into it and experimenting.

Sherry: I think many of us can relate to your experience. Where did you grow up, Claire? Were you a bookish child? What do you see, looking back, that contributed to your being a writer?

Claire: I still live in my childhood city of Birmingham, UK.  (Do you watch Peaky Blinders on Netflix?  Yes, there!)  We lived on the outskirts of the city, in council housing that was built to accommodate a growing population which replaced the demolished slum housing of the inner city.

My first book memories are of Ladybird classics.  Thursday evening was grocery shopping and the store where we shopped had a carousel of these books: The Princess and the Pea, The Magic Porridge Pot, Little Red Riding Hood.  Every week my mom would buy me a title from this magical carousel, and once we were home I would sit on the sofa enraptured by the illustrations and waiting for Mom to put away the shopping so she could read the story to me.  Sorry, Mom – I could have helped!

I built up quite a little library and I would spend hours poring over the stories.  I don’t remember getting bored from the repetition – it was part of the world I inhabited, as comforting as bed socks and cuddles from my nan.  I think if one thing contributed to me being a writer it was this.  I puzzled over the stories.  I believed the stories.  The stories were a cornerstone of my life.

A pre-school book that sticks in my mind is ‘The Song of the Shapes’ by Charles Causley.  It introduced me to the idea that each shape had emotions and a story that related to their essential square-ness or circle-ness.  Looking back, I think it was the first time my imagination was captured by metaphor – although, of course, I had no idea that’s what it was back then!

Sherry: Books in childhood and writing seem to go together. Now let’s bring us up to today. With whom do you share your life (don’t forget the cats!)  Is there a favourite place you love to walk near your home? 

Claire: I still live in Birmingham, with my husband, Pete, our two sons, James (18) and Xander (13), and our three tabby and white cats, Jimi, Ripley and Rio, who love to scrap! 

The Family

Jimi, Rio and Ripley

It’s very much an urban existence in the sense that we live in a suburb four miles outside of the city centre and we have all the cultural privileges of a city life.  However, we are blessed that we also live within walking distance of a 26 acre Nature Reserve.  In less than half a mile I can disappear far from city life!  Walking in nature is a cornerstone of my prayer and meditative life.  This dual existence is very important to me: one supports the other.

The Nature Reserve

Sherry: It is lovely that you have wild nature so close to where you live. The best of both worlds!

Claire: My lovely in laws moved to Perthshire, Scotland seventeen years ago, and since then we have been crossing the border three or four times a year, soaking up a more rural existence.  It’s our second home, really.

Pete and I were young when we started our family and we have always appreciated the support we have living so close to my family in Birmingham.  However, as our boys advance towards adulthood, I foresee a move out of this city for adventure’s sake.  We’ve not decided where yet, though!

Sherry: It all sounds lovely, Claire. Tell us a bit about being a teacher in training. Do you encourage your students to explore the joys of books? Of poetry?

Claire: I wish!  This year’s placement has been at a vocational construction college, mainly teaching the Functional Skills of English, although there has been some exploration of literature in the GCSE courses.  These are learners who, in many cases, have for years felt that they are ‘no good’ at English and they feel cheated that, due to government legislation, they must continue to study a subject they had hoped to put behind them.

In the short year that I have taught them, other than getting them through exams, my ambition has been to make them feel a little more confident about their ability to express themselves, in speech and writing, and to hate English a little less!

Next year my placement is at a more academic sixth form college and, alongside Functional Skills, it is my hope to assist in teaching creative writing.  It’s where my heart lies.

Sherry: That sounds like a really good fit for you. What do you love about poetry? What makes a poem sing for you? 

Claire: For me, poetry is about connections and their ambiguity: how meaning, sounds and images create associations, and how these associations are interpreted. 

Consciously or subconsciously, the mind puzzles over what effect it has that the words rhyme/ share a consonant/ share a vowel. It ponders over how describing the eclipse as a keloid scar adds to the understanding of what the eclipse is.  It wonders how it adds meaning to have a line break in the middle of that sentence, so that the sentence now seems to have two endings (the line break and the full stop).  Poetry suits my mode of thinking: it rambles and it thrives on free association.

A poem that sings for me is Julia Darling’s ‘Two Lighthouses’ from her collection ‘Apology for Absence’.  Its central image is two companions (clearly in love, though it is ambiguous whether they are platonic or romantic), of whom the narrator states, in the opening line ‘I would like us to live like two lighthouses’.  This image develops throughout its fourteen lines and deepens my understanding of how we can be twinned with those we love and share much, but essentially we stand alone in the sense that much of our identity is ‘dangerous, and uncrossable’. 

Again, it is the ambiguity that sings for me.  It is a poem that skillfully uses the image of two lighthouses to describe an aspect of companionship.  But equally it is a touching micro-story about two people who live in two lighthouses.  All story is essentially metaphor.  Some are applied more skillfully and knowingly than others. 

There is an honesty at the core of poetry that recognises all language is essentially metaphor, and not the thing itself (to paraphrase Nietzsche).

Sherry: I am so enjoying this conversation! I adore your quote “I write poetry only for love’s sake.” Tell us about this.

'I write poetry only for love's sake.'

Claire: What else is there to write it for?   I won’t make a living from it, it’s unlikely to win me acclaim and only a handful of poets will ever find a mainstream audience.  But in writing, I get to explore my love affair with words, my love affair with living, my love affair with exploring who I am and what I am here for.  And where there’s enough of this love, it might just spill over and connect to a reader, and they’ll feel as if they are reading words from a friend who knows them well.  I can’t think of any better reasons to write!

Sherry: Absolutely! Might we look at one or two of your poems, and have you tell us about them? 

Claire: The two poems I am sharing both came about as responses to Poets United's ‘Midweek Motif’ prompt.

The first is a poem called ‘Waves’.  It’s about a rather indelicate subject – feeling queasy after drinking too much alcohol!  I wrote it to try and explore both the physical sensations of this sickness and also to think about the reasons why I have over indulged.  The idea is that the narrator felt that there were things that could only be said once the tongue had been loosened with booze, once the day to day inhibitions had lifted.  But the sickness with which she pays is too high a price to pay!

The bed is an ocean, my body
a spinning raft.  Oh my.  What washed
out as the champagne rushed in to my
shingled mouth?  Bubbles rise in my blood.
The moon draws towards the tide
of my body, wave after wave.  What had
I thirsted for? Hope that a new language would
bubble from my lips, leading its own meaning?
I’ve swallowed the sickness of the sea,
the widow’s grapes are as good as a bellyful
of salt.  My mouth bubbles with saliva
before bringing back the undigested night.
Sherry: Oh you have captured the feeling so well. I like "What had I thirsted for?"
Claire: The next poem, ‘Prunus Avium,’ (named for a species of wild cherry tree native to Europe), explores one of my favourite subjects to write about, the waxing and the waning of the seasons. In the poem, I wanted to explore my personal growth as a natural phenomenon, like the dying back and the flowering of a tree.  I believe there is a time for growth and a time for lying fallow in all our lives.  A forecast of growth, growth, growth is a recipe for burnout.

Two teeth plucked like cherries
are last year’s memory.  This is the year
the sapling becomes a tree.
In January, my bare branches
thickened with the chilling, drawn
through frost-bitten roots
to the warmth of my heart. Now
I am tight with the buds of resolution,
my eager muscles shortened.
By May I’ll be adorned
with the blossom of myself, almond-
sharp and a waving veil,
forward with fruit.
Sherry: I can feel how purposeful the flowering! Lovely, Claire! How has the world of blogging impacted your writing? Are you content with online exposure? Do you have any dreams or goals for your writing, such as a book? 

Claire: These past few months haven’t been my first foray into blogging.  I first started 2006/7.  I used to post poems, pictures, memes, take part in community prompts.  I had a screen identity based on my family nickname.  I made friends.  I became published in the literary press with ideas that had begun on my blog.  It was fun.  It was meaningful.  At one point, it’s fair to say I was living for it.

But somewhere along my blogging journey, I began to put pressure on myself to be professional in some way which I judged that I was not. The thought of having to perform made that performance dry up. By the end stage, blogging was a way of beating myself up for not being able to grow enough, reach out enough and be enough.

So I stopped.  I chose learning about myself away from the screen. I chose healing the way I thought about myself.  I chose becoming stronger.  I chose living.

So fast forward to 2015 – what has changed?  I think the main difference is that I have come to the point where I see that poetry blogging can be done for its own sake – it doesn’t have to be a means to an ends of a more professional writing career.  I can enjoy sharing on my blog and being in conversation with readers, without worrying about the merry go round of submission and rejection, tempered with the occasional acceptance of the literary presses.
Sherry: I completely resonate with what you are saying, Claire. I think many of our members feel exactly the same way.
Claire: I think there is the possibility of self-publishing a collection of my poetry and photography.  Those Ladybird Classic picture books just keep exerting their influence over me, even after all these years! 
And then there’s the novel dream too.  I completed a draft once for NaNoWriMo, and there have been several other versions in various states of undress over the years.  Which writer doesn’t think they’ve got at least one great novel in them?  I think I’ve got some life lessons about perseverance and stamina to learn first, though.
Sherry: So now the question becomes, what other activities do you enjoy when you aren’t writing?

Claire: Well, belonging to my local church (St Mary’s, Pype Hayes) is very important to me.  We live in a commercialised and self-promoting world and I think there needs to be a place in every community that exists for love’s sake.  I also think that it’s through this love that we show each other that we can begin to understand our relationship to a Creator God, and live more deeply and truthfully.

And part of this is music.  I dabble in singing, guitar, keyboards and song writing.  I sing in church.  I’ve played a few open mike slots in my time with different song writing buddies.  The song writing is seasonal though.  If I’m deep into poetry then I tend not to write songs, and vice versa is true too. 

As for creating, I knit a mean pair of bed socks and I go through phases of knitting whole menageries of woolly critters.  I’m hoping that the discipline of stitch by stitch will eventually teach me what I need to know about novel writing. 

There’s photography too.  I enjoy capturing images for my blog and I post on Instagram too (though I might be the only person left yet to post a picture of their lunch!)  I like to gift my photography.  In the past year I have captured two weddings and a surprise 70th birthday celebration for friends and family.  It’s nerve wracking at the time but it’s the final edit that really gets my creativity flowing.

And of course, as for every dedicated writer, there is reading!  I set a Goodreads challenge of 48 books for this year, and so far I’m on target, but with the teacher training and the blogging renaissance it has been more challenging than I anticipated.  Favourite reads so far this year have been Amanda Palmer’s ‘The Art of Asking’, Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’ and for a classic read, Zelda Fitzgerald’s ‘Save Me the Waltz’.

Sherry: It sounds like a full, rich and rewarding life, Claire. Thank you for letting us get to know you better.  Is there anything you would like to say to Poets United? 

Claire: You are a fabulous, supportive community and I’m very grateful to the whole team for the well balanced content they continue to produce.  What is writing without an audience?  And at Poets United we get a chance to read and be read.  What greater gift could there be for us poets?

Sherry: It is a gift, isn't it? Thank you once again, Claire, for a most enjoyable visit. We are all so happy you made your way to Poets United and we look forward with anticipation to reading much more of your work as the months go on.

Well, my friends, wasn't this the most delightful visit? Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Poetry Pantry #259

Independence Day - 2015

Good day, Poets!

Hope each one of you is enjoying a good weekend.   We in the United States just celebrated Independence Day on July 4. We celebrate with parades (one I went to is pictured above) & family picnics (we had one on July 4) and fireworks!   I know that Canadians celebrated Canada Day last week.  Are there any other holidays that you are celebrating where you live?

Do any of you have photos that you would like to share, ones that I could use in the Pantry?  If so, let me know!

Tomorrow Sherry Blue Sky is interviewing another relative newcomer to Poets United.  We do hope you will make a visit and leave a comment.

And for Wednesday, be thinking about Sumana's theme of 'night' for the  Midweek Motif. You can take it i so many different directions.

If you haven't read the poem "The Sea Change" for Rosemary's "I Wish I'd Written This," please look at it.  It is a poem that is so very current with its thee.

With no further delay, hope that you will enjoy the Pantry today.  Leave a short comment when you post; and be sure to visit the links of others.  I will look forward to reading what you share.

Friday, July 3, 2015

I Wish I'd Written This

A Sea-change
By Paul Mortimer

from Ariel’s song in The Tempest

Newspapers roared ‘sunbed slaughter’
but it was also the death of
a particular innocence.
Those seaside holidays
with their buckets and spades,
sandcastles, ice creams,
brightly coloured deck chairs,
children darting in and out
of ankle deep water.
The black world of terror
broke through to a level we
thought was cocooned.

It tainted every photo album
all the way back to 1953.
Mum riding a donkey on Rhyl
beach. Everything was
so black and white then.

This was written very recently — so much so that readers at Paul's blog, Welshstream, didn't need to be told it was written in response to the terrorist attack on holiday-makers on a beach in Tunisia. 

I'm sure it doesn't need much commentary from me, except to remark how well he hit the nail on the head with his focus on that 'particular innocence'. How many of us had those carefree seaside holidays as children? I certainly did!

When I asked him about himself, Paul told me:

'Much of my poetry is inspired by nature and urban landscapes. I am a member of the 8-strong performing poets group Juncture 25 based in Taunton and we have featured at a number of events and literary festivals in the past 12 months. We have recently had an anthology of our work published. Born in St Asaph, Denbighshire, I am something of a nomad having lived in over 40 different places. Now happily settled in Devon.'

(As you might guess from the name of his blog, his birthplace, Denbighshire, is in Wales.)

The photo I have used is from his facebook writer's page.

His book, Fault Linepublished by Lapwing, is available here.

Personally, I'll be following his blog from now on!