Ink, Sweat and Tears: two poems and an interview // prayer and poetry in Monastic life

Earlier this month, I was interviewed by Ink, Sweat and Tears. It was wonderful to hear from them, and share news of our respective years – it’s been a strange, busy, and wonderful year post-masters, and I’m only just starting to accept that I am no longer a student. My studies are more informally focused on theology at present, and I’m still fascinated by devotional and spiritual poetry.

If this doesn’t scare you off, you can read two of the devotional poems from my master’s dissertation, as well as the interview, here – these are two of my favourite poems and I am very proud to share them with the world.

As I write this, I’m brainstorming potential workshop ideas, and thinking about the practical applications of poetry (and yes, I’m aware of the heavy burden of critical theory surrounding those words…) Ten days ago I was commissioned as a member of the Holywell Community, a new monastic community in Abergavenny, South Wales. Over the next year, I will live an adapted version of the Rule of St Benedict, praying, living in community, and working with the churches here. Abergavenny is surrounded by the Brecon Beacons, and every morning I walk to prayers in an ancient monastic church, through an old glacier-carved landscape rich in language and culture and faith.

The reality of monastic living is that as poetic as it sounds on paper, day-to-day life is often more prosaic. Dinner has to be cooked, bins taken out, hymns chosen, chairs stacked. If you look for poetry, you may be disappointed in its absence. It must be grown and lived and breathed. Made an office of the day. If I learnt one thing from long nights before deadlines, it was that blessed few can hear poetry on angelic tongues in the air like Rilke; most of us have to work at it. And all this, being true of poetry, is also true of faith. These days, I find to talk of one is to talk of the other. Prayer and poetry are the same motion. I only hope that the pattern of daily prayer here will also inspire me to write.

I’m still interested in freelance editing and developing my critical practice, but for the moment these aspects of my work will be focused on the Holywell Community; our blog can be found here if you are interested in following our work in Abergavenny. I also occasionally edit pieces for the excellent Cam Writes blog, run by writer, podcaster, filmmaker and critic Cameron McCulloch-Keeble; Cam reviews and writes about film, gaming and other media, and his blog is well worth your time.

Until next time, may words serve you well, and you serve the Word…

(shhh. I’m trying)


Moving the (rugby) posts

Apologies for the long absence – it’s been a year of change so far, adapting to life post university. But I’m starting to get back on my game with writing, and discovering new interests. Having focused on poetry over the last few years, I’m enjoying diversifying my reading at the moment, especially in non-fiction. I’m writing for myself, and although I don’t have the *encouragement* of grades and deadlines, it’s great to be able to pick up and put down projects, and try out new ideas.

Having lived in Northampton for around a year now, I’ve been trying to make it feel like home. Driving lessons are a surprisingly good way to get a feel for a place. I now know that Duston is pronounced Dusson, that the area around the rugby ground is Jimmy’s End (for St James, the patron saint of the local parish church), and that the only place I can afford to eat in town on a lower-end salary is Greggs. I’ve been exploring beautiful old churches (St Sepulchre’s), been converted to Gilbert and Sullivan by the talented Northampton Gilbert and Sullivan Group, and met and talked to so many wonderful, and kind people. I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few months waiting for buses in the town centre, and I noticed that if someone falls over, people here will have picked them up and bought them a cup of tea in the space of time it takes most people to say ‘Oh dear!’. Sometimes Northampton feels a little unloved, but not by the people who live here.

And so I was delighted to discover the The NeneQuirer, a local magazine which is driven by the same love and excitement for everything Northampton has to offer. It’s informative, intelligent and slightly sarcastic (but with a deep reverence for the things that matter, such as in their article on the great Tim Piggott-Smith’s death whilst performing in the town).

The NeneQuirer have also been kind enough to publish my article on the Saint’s Academy side, the Northampton Wanderers, and their cup game against Gloucester United, which you can find here. Being a Northampton Saints supporter has made me feel at home here more than I ever imagined was possible, and wherever I go next, I’ll take my love for the Saints and Northampton with me.

In other news, I’m really enjoying editing at the moment, and am looking or more opportunities to edit or proofread. If you’re looking for some freelance editing work, including poetry editing, academic proofreading, and blog/online content editing, I would love to hear from you. My contact details can be found here, or you can contact me on twitter @joanna_hollins . I’ll hopefully have some links up to editing work in the future, so watch this space!

Poetry on

and my first post, officially, as Joanna Hollins MA. I’m so proud to be a graduate of the Literature, Drama and Creative Writing department at UEA, twice over, and will miss Norwich and the university tremendously.

LDC run a website for UEA student and graduate writing, #NewWriting, and this week they have been featuring pieces by this year’s graduates. If you visit the site, do browse – it’s full of vibrant and exciting goodness. I’m grateful that they have published three of my poems, written around the beginning of this year.

[…] and I’m dreaming of the shrivelled thing
in Room A, of crayon Pharaoh heads,
my brain hooked out of my nose and sealed

in a jar and the lid shutting on my arms
and the musty breath of the Pharaoh
in the sarcophagus with me – and after […]

        […] Guards shooting at bombs
and landlords stuffing letters
aggressively through their doors […]

[…] my ballet teacher
tilts back my chin […]


Thank you so much for reading, and thank you everyone who has been so supportive of my writing over the last year, especially my workshop group, my ever patient housemates, ‘the hoover’ (you know who you are), and my family, who suffered many one-sided conversations on 21st century religious poetry, my feelings about Wordsworth, and exactly how I think libraries should be laid out. You made this possible.

MA Anthology

A brief update! I have now finished my course and will hopefully be sharing some of my writing here over the coming months (after dissertation marking…)

The annual UEA Masters anthologies were launched earlier this month, and they look fantastic. There are three anthologies: Prose (incorporating the prose fiction and non-fiction strands), Script and Poetry. I was honoured to read at the Norwich launch for the anthologies. It was the perfect way to end the course, and I’m very proud to be included in the poetry anthology with such a variety of exciting new poets, and friends.

If you’re interested in buying the anthology (or just curious!) they can be bought from our dedicated publisher, Egg box, here, from Waterstones here or Foyles here.


The 2016 UEA Poetry Anthology