02 September 2023

Lune has landed!

I'm over the moon to be on the launchpad with The Red Ceilings Press! Lune is here – and doesn’t it look swell? Perfect in the week of a once-every-ten-years supermoon… The fabulous cover shows the moon from Georges Méliès’ amazing 1902 short film sci-fi adventure “Le voyage dans la lune” (“A Trip To The Moon”), as spotted on telly on Monday (moon-day, Lundi en français) in the University Challenge picture round. You should watch it (“Le voyage dans la lune”, and p'raps also University Challenge).

Here's a bit of blurb... Lune is a mini collection inspired by rivers and seas. Three short sequences dive into erosion by water (“Lune”), the effects of the moon on mariners (“Moon”), and weather happenstances, shipwrecks and lighthouses (“Juxta Mare”). Currents might collide, but go with the flow.

Here’s some blether wot I wrote for the e-missive that went out to announce Lune’s presence in the world: “I’m inspired by nature and the North, and curious about place and places. I’m fascinated by dialect and language, and the way my work sounds is as important as how it looks. I’m influenced by Oulipian and experimental ideas, and love playing with constraints and concrete, forms and found text.” All true.

Here are a couple of lovely quotes, and thanks to Zoë and Vik for provision!

“At the heart of this playful collection is a deliberate unsettling of place that allows the reader to set off on multiple journeys.” Zoë Skoulding

“In Lune, Conlon captures the atmosphere of language with Blue Lagoon highballs and aqueous ice-pancakes, navigating storm surges with excitement and glee.” Vik Shirley

And here’s a link to order Lune from The Red Ceilings Press – and big massive huge thanks to publisher Mark Cobley for giving the book the nod and for his patience in the face of having to typeset concrete poetry (not to mention a bunch of other right daft ideas I had but subsequently scrapped). 

Alternatively, order direct from yours truly and I can supply a *signed* copy in the next couple of weeks. You can even order some of my other titles. Look at them here together, four mates, all lovely. All out in just one year after producing nowt in the way of books for fifty years previous.

28 August 2023

August readings

The Sealey Challenge encourages folk to read one book of poetry a day for the month of August – a massive 31 titles, which is no small feat. As I mentioned on FB, this isn't quite how I like to consume poetry, which is usually more of a dripfeed affair, but it’s been making me try lots of new stuff (I got quite a bit out of the library, which ended up altering the original pile pictured above) and also stuff that has been on my to-read pile for ages and I’ve not been getting round to.

I will admit something, which is that some days I haven't read the full collections (I have my own work to write – with more deadlines now I'm part of a poetry group that meets online at regular intervals – and I've been proofreading and signing off the manuscript to my latest book; aside from which, I do actually have to work for actual money), although I have done so for the library loans.

nature + gardens > watery words + blueness

To be honest, on the whole, it's some of the books I got out of the library that I've found the least rewarding. I suppose when I'm buying stuff, I'm going for poets I've read before or I've seen perform their work or they're on a publisher I rate or someone I know has recommended them.

more nature wanderings + seashore ponderings > fab folk wot I know on indie presses doing good things

Of the books I own, where I've enjoyed them but not managed to get them fully read – sometimes because I want to do the dripfeed thing and not guzzle them all in one sitting – they have been placed in a special pile on my poetry bookcase (see above), from where I can in future just grab one and go when I'm leaving the house and am public transport bound.

"collections in sections" > months & years

Aside from the books in the various photos here, I've also continued my usual practice of consuming poems shared on Twitter, looking at the Poetry Foundation website when I want to find out more about a particular poet, dipping into anthologies to look at certain people, scrolling poems sent via enewsletters and wotnot, and reading the stuff in The New Yorker, cast-off issues of which are donated to me by David. (That habit started because I originally expressed an interest in doing the crossword, but even the beginner's puzzles are proving to be on the challenging side to anyone not immersed in US culture.)

England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales > me me me

Anyway, I've been reading in groups of four loosely linked tomes, to give the project some structure, and posting the photographic evidence to X. The final group is just three because that's how the maths of dates works, so to save myself too much homework on this bank holiday-abridged week, I'm posting a picture of my own three books to date, while we wait for the fourth to drop (imminently!). One of my poet pals actually picked Using Language as one of her Sealey Challenge selections, and called it "a brilliant collection that made me feel excited about visual presentation and sounds", which is rather nice.

30 July 2023

July ramblings

July's been a busy old month. First, there was the premiere of my brand-new "Flight Patterns" commission at Didsbury Arts Festival, as mentioned previously. Completely sold out, we couldn't have fitted anyone else in the room – and there were even pictures of some feathered friends on the wall. Plus, the performance, complete with birdsong and church bells and Ladybird books and poetry map, and the new sequence of 12 poems seemed to go down well, with lots of lovely comments.

Partway through the month, I was to be found at Saul Hay Gallery interviewing Dave Haslam at his sold-out event promoting his new Confingo book, Adventure Everywhere: Pablo Picasso's Paris Nightlife. We chatted art, poetry, records, cancel culture, Montmartre versus Montparnasse, hidden histories, place as character and much more besides. Again, lots of lovely comments. And I remembered to wear my cool heels and Barbara Hepworth earrings (we were in an art gallery, after all).

Then, a hop, skip and a jump up to Edinburgh, and straight out of the car and into Portobello Books to hear from Kirsty Logan, then on Monday ourselves (me and David Gaffney) reading in the lovely Typewronger Books (also well worth seeking out, this gem at the top end of Leith Walk), alongside Edinburgh-based poets Vik Shirley and Nicky Melville. Here's the blurb: "In a journey through both poetry and prose, from the joyful Oulipian and conceptual, through to film noir and moribund miniatures, whether surreal-absurd, dark, uplifting or comic, play is at the core of all of this writing." Lots of lovely comments once more! David and I shall be hosting Vik and Nicky in Manchester in the near future – watch this space.

06 June 2023

Flight Patterns

I'm busy working on a brand-new sequence of poems – "Flight Patterns" – that is a special commission for this year's Didsbury Arts Festival. Last week, I met up with Linda from the Friends of Fletcher Moss Park & Parsonage Gardens, and spent a very pleasant hour or so sitting on a bench in the new "spiritual space" (I'm not sure what it's officially called, but that seems apt) near The Croft, watching the birds (a jay, a magpie, a parakeet, a heron, and more, since you're asking) and chatting about all things nature – our feathered friends, seasonal plants, unusual trees, butterflies, all sorts.

I also popped to Didsbury Parsonage, having decided to focus one of the poems on stained glass, prompted by my online poetry group's latest writing exercise, which was to write about someone else's job, inspired by Paula Bohince's "Among Barmaids". My fascination with stained glass was piqued when I was writer-in-residence at Victoria Baths, and I had the opportunity to visit the studio in Lancashire where they revamp the "amazing glazing" – it was such a privilege to be able to see the craftsmen at work and witness the sounds and sights and smells. Anyway, I spent some time at the Old Parsonage (where I'll be performing the poems) admiring the acorns and brambles and other flora and fauna and also the Luna and Sun depicted in the windows. I was also at Manchester Cathedral for a creative writing workshop, when we were invited to study the architecture in relation to metaphysics and I got drawn into the misericords and, of course, the colourful glass, dappling the paved floor. This follows a detour on the way home from our Frodsham trip, nipping to Daresbury, where Lewis Carroll grew up, to see the Alice in Wonderland panes at the church there. 

Emily Williamson and birds. Pic: Claire Huntley

Here's the brochure blurb for my Didsbury Arts Festival project: "Flight Patterns is a unique performance, premiering poems inspired by legendary local resident Emily Williamson and her Wear No Feathers campaign, created especially for the Festival by Didsbury-based writer Sarah-Clare Conlon. Join the poet in the atmospheric Old Parsonage as she reads the new work and shares the process of making it, exploring the life and legacy of Emily who co-founded the Society for the Protection of Birds (now the RSPB) at The Croft in neighbouring Fletcher Moss Park, where a statue is set to be unveiled in her honour."

I have half a mind to turn the pieces into a poetry map, not dissimilar to the sequence I wrote last year for my Ilkley Literature Festival residency (and which you can read here), inviting the audience to join me on a journey, this time around Fletcher Moss Park. Whatever happens, I'll be reading the new work on Saturday 1 July, 2-3pm, at the Old Parsonage, and you can now get your hands on tickets here. I'm really excited to share it, so do join me!

12 May 2023

Words colliding

It's all go here, as April flashed by in a deluge of wet weather and culminated in a rather splendid book launch at Peste bookshop-cum-bar or, more accurately, bar-cum-bookshop. Plenty came and listened so intently some of the photos look like they're taken during a church service (there are embroidered kneelers and lots of incense on the go, so it's not too inappropriate an observation), and tomes and money swapped hands – thanks to David for manning the bookstall and introducing the acts. I was ably supported by wonderful words from Jazmine Linklater – with whom I revived our European Poetry Festival collaboration that ended up in PN Review for extra amuse-bouchement – and Philip Terry, so it was a right proper Oulipian knees-up. 

So yes, my third book, Using Language, is out in the world, and currently being perused by reviewers, so I hope they like it as much as I do! As well as agreeing to hotfoot it up to Manchester from Essex, Philip provided a cover quote for the book (which you can order from Invisible Hand Press here), as did the rather marvellous Helen Mort and Joe Carrick-Varty. Here you go (below)...

"Using Language is an exploration of sound and speech. At one moment chatty and colloquial, the next deeply insightful and telling, the work here interrogates our ability to know ourselves through the noises we make. These poems stayed with me long after reading." Joe Carrick-Varty, More Sky (Carcanet Press)

"Sonic joy. Images that give you goosebumps. Infectious energy. Expect the unexpected: these poems will take you on a wild journey." Helen Mort, The Illustrated Woman (Chatto & Windus)

"Moorland fog as a wipe-clean canvas to conjure with, shape-shifting concrete poems where word becomes sculpture, poems that function like echo chambers where words collide and rebound metamorphosing as they do so, creels and crabs, Oulipian hi-jinks – whatever you’re into there’s something here for you. Using Language is a scintillating collection that reminds us what is possible in poetry today." Philip Terry, ed. The Penguin Book Of Oulipo & Extinctions (The Red Ceilings Press)

Just before UL came out, I also got word that my fourth pamphlet, Lune, has been accepted for publication by The Red Ceilings Press, so Philip and are publisher stablemates for a second time (we both have books with Contraband). That'll be out some time later this year, and one of my jobs for next week is to draw some illustrations for it, so I'd better get on and do the online art course David bought me for Christmas... I also need to cobble together a set list for next Saturday, as I'm reading as part of a Confingo showcase at Chorlton Arts Festival (you can read all about it in my CAF round-up on Creative Tourist here). That will be followed by a couple of performances on home turf at Didsbury Arts Festival, including a special commission, currently in progress (I scrawled the bare bones of a piece for it the other day at a creative writing workshop run by the writer-in-residence at Manchester Cathedral, Tom Branfoot; sat beside me, by chance, was another former European Poetry Festival collaborator, Lydia Unsworth, also published by Red Ceilings, as it happens, with a cover quote from yours truly, no less). A week ago, I was on old home turf, filling the role of guest poet for the Word Weavers event, alongside my old primary school teacher Andrew Rudd, at Weaver Words Literature Festival in Frodsham, which is where I moved aged 10 from the Wirral in order to have the Scouse accent grappled off me. 

Talking of which, last night saw a flying visit to Liverpool, amid more downpours and much Eurovision audience-member activity. Twas the European Camarade, when duos of poets are thrown together as if in a writing version of the large hadron collider (as with Jazz, and Lydia, aforementioned) – and for the final night of this year's European Poetry Festival, I was teamed up with Robert Sheppard, Emeritus Professor of Poetry and Poetics at Edge Hill University... so obviously we made a brand-new back-and-forth influenced, at least at the outset, by our rather hallucinogenic dreamworlds. It's about rivers and seas, and is, as yet, untitled. There's a video of us performing "Untitled" here

20 April 2023

The Journey Continues...

Well, March whooshed by, in part because of my mini residency at Saul Hay Gallery, popping in every Sunday afternoon to join painter Jen Orpin in situ at her easel. I chatted to visitors – a number of whom I knew and who had swung by because they'd seen my socials – and discussed different pieces in the show. I met some of the acquirers of the artworks and heard the whys and the hows and even the wheres. I sat quietly on a sofa in the corner near the bay window, taking down snippets of conversation and observations in my notebook. I quizzed Jen and Saul Hay's Ian about everything from paints and particular brushstrokes to signing front, back or side and when it's appropriate to frame. I found out lots of new things, unearthed various coincidences, disappeared down plenty of rabbitholes when reading around some of the subjects, and generally had a very jolly time. I hung out at a very busy PV (private view, natch), and I partook in my very first hang (the bit at the start) and my very first finissage (the bit at the end, complete with a flute of fizz). This had me in tears when Jen announced that she'd decided to name the piece she'd been working on throughout the show after the closing line in the first poem in my debut pamphlet. And here is "Distance Means Nothing And Everything"...

"Distance Means Nothing And Everything"

I'm afraid I've still only managed to write one poem in response – which Jen and Ian kindly decided to put up on the wall next to its inspiration for the duration of the exhibition (see below); how amazing! – but I have a ton of notes and a lot of ideas, and once various things with deadlines are completed, I can't wait to get back to thinking about motorways and bridges and shadows and skies. This week, I went up the M6 to northernmost Lancashire, with a wee step into Cumbria. I was guest star on the ML2 Route A mobile library – or travelling library, as Alan Bennett calls it in "A Common Reader", or bookmobile, to quote someone else – and we toured lots of villages I've never set foot in prior, including Carnforth (where Brief Encounter was filmed), Warton, Yealands of different colours and the hinterland of Burton-in-Kendal. We brushed the lower reaches of the Leighton Moss RSPB reserve, and I spotted my first swallow of the year. It also meant I got to glimpse two Jen Orpin icons (and email them to her as a birthday present): the Snowhill Bridge, which I've already written about, and Forton Services, which I intend to write about, Jen's two takes of the space-age tower in The Journey Continues featuring birds (my next project).

Jen and me at the finissage

02 March 2023

March + Art = Martch

Martch is here, or March + Art. With it comes the very first issue of Outcrop Poetry, a new literary quarterly that is both printed and perfect bound, which is rather nice. It also has a lovely marbled cover (see below). Issue 1 launches on Monday 6 March – and if you're in Edinburgh, you're in luck as the event with readings and wine and all manner of lovely things is taking place at Typewronger Books from 7pm. The blurb tells me that Typewronger Books is Edinburgh's smallest bookshop and Scotland's only typewriter repair shop, so, really, what's not to like? 

So the reason I'm telling you all this is that I have a poem in issue 1 and also a picture. Yes siree. The submission guidelines encouraged including "images relating to your work", so I thought huh... My poem, 
about Barbara Hepworth and the Yorkshire landscape and other stuff, is one from my poetry map of Ilkley Moor, part of my commission written for and read at Ilkley Literature Festival 2022. My picture is a charcoal sketch what I did when I was researching my poetry map and wandering amidst heathers and bilberries and wotnot (actually, at that point, I was sat at a picnic table with a tipple, trying not to let my papers and pressed leaves blow away in a stripping wind). The sketch is of the formidable Cow and Calf Rocks, and the poem's shape mirrors the craggy outcrop – and that's how I thought Outcrop Poetry would be the perfect home. Best of luck to editor Haig and the other contributors for the launch!

Next up in Martch news, and poems meet paintings at Saul Hay Gallery, where I've landed myself a month-long residency, responding to "
The Journey Continues, New Paintings by Jen Orpin". Ian Hay generously hosted my book launch in October (above), so knowing that this spring the gallery was to welcome Jen's magnificent motorway work, with baited breath and fingers crossed, I dropped him a line... and the upshot is that Jen has very kindly agreed to let me go wild with my pen, grill her about process and paintbrushes and wotnot, and generally get in her way, which I began with aplomb yesterday as she and Ian cracked on hanging the 31 pieces (below).

Here's a bit of blurb: "exploring the importance of the journey – how it connects us to those we love and the emotions it provokes" [...] "
the exhibition celebrates the journey by car – looking at its motorways and landmarks and how it forces us as individuals to confront memories and let our minds travel beyond concrete confinements."
This is Jen's first major solo exhibition and the private view is tomorrow (Friday 3 March 2023), 5-9pm. The show of her fantastic road paintings runs until Sunday 26 March and she'll be in the gallery painting on all four weekends of its duration. I will be popping in on Sundays to take notes and photos (some might not be blurred, who knows), and ask questions and maybe do some actual writing. Why don't you pop in and bother us both? Find out more about Jen Orpin Paintings here.

10 February 2023

Book news

Two bits of book news as February unfurls. First off, my third pamphlet is out soon (yes, really! Like buses!). Using Language is a collection of some of my recent poetry and consists of three short sequences dériving through the days in ’grams, looking up at the sky from the deep end of a swimming pool, and wandering the streets of Paris under the influence of art, interspersed with musings on place and colour. There's a bit of concreteness, a touch of vispo, and this rather wonderful cover design, courtesy editor James Appleyard. Using Language will be published by East London-based Invisible Hand Press some time probably March, maybe April. I'm gathering cover quotes as we speak and I'll be thinking about organising a launch party at some point, so watch this space...

The second bit of book news is that I just tried and failed to renew a library loan (Thea Lenarduzzi's long-form essay Dandelions, out with Fitzcarraldo Editions, since you're asking; it's very good, but I'm nowhere near ready to return) via the online portal (so modern; I even bought some books via a website this week – Flora Poetica: An Anthology of Poems About Flowers, Trees and Plants, edited by Sarah Maguire, and Sylvia Legris' Garden Physic). I was refused, not because another library user had requested the title, which is the usual problem when computer says no, but because it turns out that my library card expires tomorrow. Expires! Who knew such a thing was even a possibility?

01 January 2023

Happy New Year

A new year, and a happy one to all. I'm a Christmas-born person, so I have a birthday year as well as a calendar year to reflect back upon at this time, along with a whole twelve months stretching out ahead before I add a new digit to my age. Apologies for Insta followers, as some of the following might seem a tad repetitive; some, maybe, but not all – and the point is, as a natural sceptic and cynic (who wouldn't be, joining the world as all around focused on scrambling to bagsy last-minute stocking fillers), I nonetheless try and dig out a bit of treasure, shine some light in the dark, as it were. Think positive thoughts, I suppose. and hopefully spread some inspiration along the way. 

I've spent the last year quietly (mostly) getting on with being 50 and I think it's worth mentioning all the things I've managed to get done at such a ripe old age. I've published not just one debut book, but two, one poetry (cache-cache, out with Contraband) and the other prose (Marine Drive, Broken Sleep Books), with a third (Using Language, Invisible Hand Press) pushed into the spring because, y'know, buses, and the significant makings of a full poetry collection as well as a new short story, and various other bits and bobs writing-wise, to take me across the threshold into 2023. I've also published poems and prose pieces in journals and anthologies, and I've written features for some cool magazines, out soon. I've written a lot of copy, a lot of which I don't shout about because it's kind of my day job, so huh. I've also edited a lot of copy, which offers me a sneaky peek into other topics and thoughts and even worlds besides my own. I've shown work in two exhibitions, in the form of concrete poems. I've started sketching and painting and not being scared to muck about creatively. I intend to do more: David has signed me up for a watercolours course and I'm hoping to sign us both up for a bit of collaging. 

I had an idea accepted for the Lancashire Stories project and was commissioned to create a brand-new piece and read some of it and discuss it at an event in a courtroom in a castle. As an offshoot of that, I got to stay on the Research Vessel Furor Scribendi, a pastel-hued canalboat-cum-library, complete with translations of Georges Perec and a bold as brass desk for scribbling and tennis balls for mugs and shells for plates. Being upon water and so close to it again was soothing. I also applied for a residency with Ilkley Literature Festival, the North's longest-running such event, and spent a good chunk of the year as Apprentice Poet-in-Residence, immersing myself in researching and reading and writing and performing and chatting and workshopping and mentoring. It was a fantastic experience, and you can read more about it in some of my previous posts.

I've taken up ballet, which has contributed to helping me recover from the fractured spine I sustained just before my 50th. It on occasion hurts my arthriticky hip like hell, but it's great for the old posture, and it's really good fun. It took a certain amount of courage to join a new class, but I did. I also joined an online group to discuss writing about place, and that proved fruitful and worth jumping in too, so, I suppose, face the fear, as Susan Jeffers kind of said in 1987. Don't get me wrong, not everything was great, and I had to fight hard to get justice in a couple of cases. I'm currently reading Rebecca Solnit's Recollections of my Non-existence, a suggestion from someone in the place-writing reading group, and she says of the "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" adage (thanks, Nietzsche; see also 'Opportunity To Build' in cache-cache): "what tries to kill you takes a lot of your energy that might be better used elsewhere and makes you tired and anxious." So imagine what else I could have achieved, but maybe that's what 2023 is for...