Poetry on NewWriting.net

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.

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To The Estate of W.H. Auden: Please don’t sue me

There are two months between me and the start of my Master’s degree in poetry, and one year between me and the Great Post Master’s Degree Lull where I will either be brimming with shiny ideas and applying for PhD’s, or more likely, sitting in my parent’s house, browsing the internet for something to do which will combine earning money and avoiding telephones. I’m hoping for the former and preparing for the latter.

But before then there’s the Master’s. So I have to a) start writing more poetry and b) start trying to get it published, because only poets with pre-existing reputations sell or get invited to do anything, and currently my entire reputation is ‘goes to UEA’. I’m pretty damn proud of that, but on it’s own, it’s like trying to get a job by announcing that your mother/father is in the House of Lords. (Unfortunately not true. Oh, this would be a different blog if it were.)

I tried preparing some poems for submission earlier, but chickened out. I refuse to submit anything older than six months because I feel like I’m nicking someone else’s writing when I do (‘What were you thinking when you wrote this?’ ‘No idea’) and in all honestly, the best stuff I’ve written this academic year were the poems for my dissertation last Autumn, with the exception of a sequence I’m still working on. (Meaning: started and haven’t finished.)

However, as self-punishment for failing to submit to any journals, I have to publish something here. This is a draft from earlier, and like pretty much everything that I put on my blog, I’ll probably take down and repost with a revised version in six months’ time. One of my problems is that the stuff I tend to write – or at least, the better stuff – is intensely personal ,whhich makes it hard to submit to magazines.

I’ll give you some explanation on this, even though it is deeply frowned upon in Serious Poetry Reading Circles. This poem uses elements of Auden’s Musée des Beaux Arts, not because I think I’m worthy so much as to kiss his carpet slippers (n.b, pamphlet title? ‘Auden’s Shoes’?) but because some lines from it popped into my head when I started writing and I wanted to see what would happen if I tried bouncing off them. The rough point of the original poem is that no-one notices Icarus falling; as I got towards the end, I realised it was a way of coming to terms with the subject matter of the poem, i.e., my fatness: declaring that it didn’t really matter and getting on with Everything Else. Thanks, Auden, although I think this poem might weird you out a little bit.

Anyway. Poem.

In Which I Address The Anonymous Speaker Who Feels The Need To Make An Anonymous Comment Concerning Themselves About Someone Else’s Weight

About being fat, they where never wrong,
the Old Masters: how its rolls and bumps
would touch awkwardly when you walk, or
rub gently in the soft confines of a good skirt;

how strangers would flick their eyes over you twice,
or not at all, and either look
would be a little disaster – how even just walking
up the stairs, as other people do,
would play the lungs like organs. Or how

in the mornings, the tired naked stumble
would end in arrest at the mirror: those thighs,
you think, that stomach. On the scales
the little obnoxious numbers declare

it’s two stone more, even tried after
new batteries have been dug out and the dusty back
cracked open and swapped. No good, still fat.

And so there’s this poem. Pissing on Auden,
whose elderly cousin once wished me well
at church. Uneven stanzas like curves.
So: I’ll drop this poem into the water,

with Icarus’s skinny legs: I’m fat, no disaster,
this ship has somewhere else to be and is definitely sailing on.

Dissertation Update // Kayak // Beloved

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this, so here are two poems – the first is a few months old, and the second a few minutes. I’m about to start work on a poetry dissertation (a short selection of poems with a critical essay) based around ideas on the relationship between poetry/people and landscape, and how it’s changed in the last couple of decades.

Beloved

Not dead, as such; she was no longer here,
gone on, departed, headed up and out
to the blue yonder, or perhaps some heaven where
she would wear wings and dance with her mother –
he didn’t know, except it still seemed right
to bring flowers and talk solemnly
to the ground, to her – the nearness
still meant something, as it always had,
the nearness they’d shared for forty years of nights,
days tucked into her sleeve like discarded tissues.
And flowers seemed right. Perhaps the scent
would lift upwards to her star, or pearly seat,
and she’d stir, send the message he so wanted –
although her silence now was like her,
the solidness of her presence living
through forty years of silence.

Kayak

Knee-deep, I tack
boots to the kayak’s straps
and wade,

barefoot,
spread skinny feet
taut to the skim floor

tack my weight against the pebbles shifting.
I’ve given stable ground
before –

given it to drunkenness,
easy tides I’ve pulled and called
for fun –

made ground for myself
in strange places,
stone-picked pebble beaches

for the kayak’s soft belly.
Now knee-under and still
I go on walking

waiting for a catch,
the water’s nod of permission,
blessed with the salt

drying on my arms,
my cheeks, my hair,
all tease

the salt says you cannot grip
the ocean
the boat lurches forward

says now

Underworld – UEA Undergraduate Anthology

A quick update on poetry stuff! I now have an author page on newwriting.net, and my poem ‘Body’ (published in the UEA Undergraduate Anthology) can be found on their site here

When I go back to university in a few weeks, I’ll be starting my dissertation. Hopefully I’ll be able to share bits with you now or later, but I need to check whether that’s legit with my tutor first, so possibly later. The plan is to write a sequence of poems exploring the relationship between poetry and landscape, with a focus on the physicality of the poem as reflection/in relation to landscape, using the poems as a way to discuss my ideas on the subject. I’m very excited to be starting it – I think I’ve come up with something which brings together a lot of my academic interests, the poets I’m reading at the moment and the direction I want to take my writing in, so this is a big thing for me. 

I don’t have much to share at the moment, but I do have this from a few weeks back. It’s a rough first draft of some thoughts on the archaeological dig I’ve been working on over the summer, which has been a great place to mull over thoughts on landscape and people. (Also swearing and blisters, but mostly deep thoughts. Mostly.)

Excavation

No greater place than this:
to watch a topless squaddie flick
ash in absent lines down
his rooted hoe to ground,
and hear those few new human voices
call kestrel over the site:
tea’s up, diggers, come
from the spreading pit with aching arms,
share your spoils.
To her a pot-fragment;
it’s turned over, talked of like
a new baby. Here a coin,
here wall, here just sweat and tread
patting the new-turned earth back
to concrete, hoe’d, searched,
earthed again in the slag-barrow ride
to the pit where it’s dumped,
with the stony bores who tell
long dull stories of pressure,
time passing in fields’ lardy seams.

Call kestrel: in this pocket place
we’re jumbled together, old men
walking through the fields with girls
and soldiers, old diggers
and young hands all thumbs
and pinkness in the August sun,
swooping over dry trenches
between verdant swathes of barley,

and it’s in the looking, the place
we’ve seen on technical drawings,
in words and waves of knowing arms,
and yet

I don’t know where to look –

the stony ground, speckled with brick & tile,
the mud, the slag, the earth –

or aside, the old man’s scars from titanium knees,
the dusty shorts, the boots, the burns,
the squaddie smoking as he sieves for finds.