Poetry Day Interview

Here is a link to an interview I did with Optima Magazine in advance of National Poetry Day 2016, and also in readiness for the Chorleywood Literature Festival where I am reading with Caroline Smith. You will see my piece beneath the interviews with Caroline  and Philip Pollecoff.


optima Go to the end of the item for details about getting tickets to the reading on 15th October.


The How and Why – A Close Reading of Life Just Swallows You Up

One of the nice off-shoots of being shortlisted in the 2016 Saboteur Awards with my pamphlet was the invitation to write about a poem by another shortlisted poet. The Managing Editor of ‘The Missing Slate’, Jacob Silkstone, had the great idea of doing a Saboteur Showcase, which involved writing a response to a poem he sent. All I knew was that the poem was by someone else on the shortlist – the rest was up to me. Here was an excuse to do something for the pleasure of itself – and a chance to test my critical reading.

The poem I wrote a response to was Life Just Swallows You Up by Tania Hershman.You can read my response and Tania’s poem here   The How and Why – Close Reading

What it perhaps has triggered in me (time allowing!) is the wish to do a few more of these close readings – looking at the how and why of a poem – giving my interpretation and reading. It seems a neat way of sharpening one’s own thinking and approach to writing.


Saboteur Awards – Comments by Voters

I have added a page at the top of my blog that will take you to the comments people made when voting for ‘Codes of Conduct’ in the Saboteur Awards, for which I was shortlisted. No gong on the night- but reading the comments was reward enough. Lots of very kind people have shown support for the pamphlet and I value their support.

This link should get you to the comments — https://neilelderpoetry.wordpress.com/saboteur-award-what-voters-said-about-codes-of-conduct/

Poems – This handbook remains out of print

This handbook remains out of print

Swimming uphill with a snow suit on
Is not recommended for beginners.

It can be vexing to find oneself
Trailing in a stickleback wake.

The safest approach is to lie on your back
Letting the current take over.
In time you will note the point
Between silt and shore.

Intermediate persons may jump
From the bridge in order
To determine the size of their splash.

An instructor may be bankside
To offer assistance.

(This poem appears in ‘The Journal’ #40)

The Joy I’ve Learnt From Codes

A Tale of Two Readings                      Badges

My pamphlet ‘Codes of Conduct’ has taught me something – friends can be lovely.

I’ve done a few readings in recent months, the key ones for ‘Codes of Conduct’ being at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden, and a second one with two other Cinnamon Press poets at a venue that shall remain nameless. There’s no point discussing the bad gig for any length of time; for we three Cinnamon poets it felt a bit like we were intruding (despite the invitation to Cinnamon Press from the venue), it all felt rather lifeless, the organiser did seem not interested and poets from the floor (regulars, I guess) simply wanted to read their piece rather than listen to each other. The plus side was meeting and hearing Louisa Adjoa-Parker and Louise Warren from Cinnamon (wonderful poems and lovely people – find them on the Cinnamon Press website), and having a trio of good friends come and cheer me on. And here we reach the positive aspects of readings … friends.

I am not about to have a significant birthday or get married, but I have had a pamphlet published (I may not ever have another), so surely I had some excuse for shindig …

The ‘good’ reading at the Poetry Café was a full house. What made it so enjoyable was the sense of good will and humour that friends and family lent to the evening. Having the pamphlet published has been very nice, but this particular evening made me realise that what I had really gained was the affirmation of friendship. The launch had given me an excuse to use social media to contact a few old faces and to spread the word at work. On the night I had people there whom I had not seen for more than 19 years, along with numerous friends and colleagues, not all particularly interested in poetry as a rule.

I was lucky enough to have a few Herga Poetry friends who were willing to read – and they were well received, demonstrating that the folk who were there were a  positive crowd  and not simply there out of duty to me. It seemed that goodwill spread around the room as people who didn’t normally mix out of work or who rarely found an opportunity to meet came together on the back of the poetry.


The Poetry Café on Betterton Street is a terrific venue.                Poetry cafe      Centrally located, very affordable and I found staff always wanted to help make the event work. Let’s not forget that there is also a bar.


The generosity of spirit and the feeling that people are genuinely chuffed at my own little success has been the highlight of being published for me. I’m not talking about being praised – put ego to one side. I am talking about a sense of celebration and a sense of camaraderie.  We can of course use our poet persona and pretend that we write because we have to and we wouldn’t care if nobody read our work – it’s the poem that counts. But the truth is I have been hugely encouraged by the reaction of others, and I’ve learnt that poetry is far more fun when the social element is added to it.

People left the Poetry Café wearing their Henderson badges. (Henderson is a character in the first part of the pamphlet, a kind of anti-hero, a number of poems revolve around him at work.) We stood in the pub with badges on lapels, and even now there are people at work who routinely display their support for Henderson. Such fellowship cannot be found alone in a garret.

Hedgehogs and Bookshops

Pitshanger front2

Recently I’ve done a few readings as a way of officially launching ‘Codes of Conduct’.
The first was at The Pitshanger Bookshop in Ealing. The shop is close to where I work and Fiona, who owns and runs the shop, is very supportive of local writers. As such, Fiona was happy to stock my pamphlet, but even better she invited me to do a reading along with Mona Arshi, another local poet. (Mona won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2015).

The Pitshanger Bookshop is a lovely place, and the sort of shop where one could easily spend time browsing. However, what elevates it beyond the likes of W.H Smith’s and my nearest Waterstones, is the sense of community and interest that comes from the staff. If you want to know about a book, an author, or want ideas for a nephew’s birthday then Fiona and her team are great at giving you helpful answers. Beyond that, Pitshanger Lane is a lovely place and the inside of the bookshop reflects that. One gets a warm glow just walking into the shop – like that old Readybrek advert. Sadly, like hedgehogs, independent bookshops are in decline, just under 900 are left in the U.K, : places like this need to be cherished.

It was a lovely evening, and for me it had an added twist – I didn’t just read, which I’m always happy to do, but I also had questions put to me in a Q & A style. This part of the evening was interesting, because I was challenged on such things as “Why is there no punctuation in the last poem?” and “How do you come up with ideas?” Some of these questions never get a satisfactory answer, at least from me, and unless Simon Armitage is now so well-rehearsed at dealing with them, I doubt even he is able to really pin-down some of the alchemy that goes on.

Next stop was  The Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden. I’ll write something about that lovely place soon. Oh, and please look out for hedgehogs –  cut a gap in your fence for easy roaming at night, for a start.

Book Pits

The Pitshanger Bookshop is at 141 Pitshanger Ln, London W5 1RH   Tel: 020 8991 8131
Email: info@pitshangerbooks.co.uk

Poems – Arles, 1992

Arles sunflowers

It is almost Christmas but it is wet and very windy out there. So let us rewind to a poem I wrote a while back as we go in search of some heat and romance.
This poem ‘Arles, 1992’ was written in response to a photograph. A group of us from Herga Poets got together with a local photography club and wrote our responses to what they gave us. We worked from the prompt and went our own direction – often to the surprise of the photographer. We were not trying to guess the time and place and intention of the photograph, but instead letting it take us where it wanted to. My picture took me to the South of France on the back of Van Gogh and his paintings.


Arles, 1992

We slept until the sun snagged our eyes.
We poured our days away
in cheap wine beside the pool,
listening to Euro-pop radio
puzzled by voices too quick for us to follow.

The day we made it into town
you argued in the market place
with boys who whistled and made gestures.
You pulled me close
and I stoppered your anger with a kiss.

You always said that you’d go back.
The cartoon colours bring your vivid heat.
I put the postcard on the fridge
and wonder when those flowers turned to seed.


This poem first appeared in The Journal #40

London Launch

On 18th February 2016 at The Poetry Cafe, I shall be reading from ‘Codes of Conduct’ with various guests. Herga Poets are very much part of this, but I hope one or two others might also read. A bar is available and it would be fantastic to see friendly faces to help celebrate the publication. The Poetry Cafe is near Holborn/Covent Garden tubes at 22 Betterton Street. http://poetrysociety.org.uk/poetry-cafe/

Start time is 7.30pm – come and enjoy some or the whole of the evening with a drink, a poem and of course a copy of the book.

The Process of Pamphlet Publication pt3

The Stress of Proof Reading
Hyphen or no hyphen? Centred on page or not? Why did I find the proof reading stage so tense? I guess because it felt like I was about to push the button on something and there was no going back.


Jan Fortune, publisher and editor at Cinnamon Press, sent me the proofs for my pamphlet, ‘Codes of Conduct’, and I took my time. I read and re-read, and found a couple of small things like spacing between words; the kind of errors where you wonder how they slipped through the net in the previous five hundred times you checked the poem. I re-formatted the poem ‘The Butterfly Test’ and then Jan and I had a little back and forth over whether or not the word touchpaper wanted to be hyphenated. ‘Touchpaper’ is one of the poems in the collection and so ‘Touch-paper’ or ‘Touchpaper’ began to matter. Upon such minutia are minds lost in this game. The red line that Microsoft Word puts under certain spellings can make you doubt yourself!
Here are a couple of the notes I sent Jan – you can see that proofing the work takes time, and just how hung-up on the detail one becomes.

> Page 14 - Should the time appear as 8.45 a.m. or 8 45 a.m. --- the
 > point/dot between 8 and 45?
Page 11 - Amy's Desk - alignment of last line at end of first stanza
 > "and stares"

I was lucky enough to be able to add a couple of poems to the collection at this point too. The first part of ‘Codes of Conduct’ deals with a character called Henderson and his workplace. I had written a couple more Henderson poems in the interim and felt they really needed to be in the collection and Jan was obliging. Thus ‘Clean Windows’ and ‘Out To Lunch’ made the cut and Henderson’s world was a little more complete for readers.

Well, I pressed ‘send’ and the proofs went. I guess proof of how worthwhile the angst was will be in the pudding and the poetry.

Cinnamon logo new

The Process of Pamphlet Publication pt 2

“I would like to thank my goldfish …” 

Writing the poems in ‘Codes of Conduct’, my pamphlet that won the Cinnamon Press Poetry Pamphlet Competition, was tricky, but the real challenge came when I was asked by Jan Fortune at Cinnamon Press to provide any acknowledgements and any dedication that I might want in the pamphlet.

Cinnamon logo new

I have always struggled with those little biographical pieces you see at the back of magazines – it seems to me you can try too hard to try to sound ‘interesting’ so that you simply end up sounding like a pretentious wally . Occasional deviations into humour or the original can work, but it is a fine line and so I tend to play safe and provide a pretty straight piece saying I have been published in blah blah blah and come from North West London.

There is an academic paper waiting to be written on the subject of acknowledgements and dedications, but here are just four excerpts from biographical notes that appear in the same edition of a poetry magazine – obviously I have removed certain identifying parts (some are unavoidable). You decide which works and which does not –

Example 1 – X was born in 19XX. Ex photocopier-salesman, ex-drunk. Highest break in snooker 58 ….

Example 2 -… her adventure sharing her poetry with others is just beginning.

Example 3 – X is an award winning artist and designer, she has exhibited both in the U.K and internationally. Her inspiration comes from the intuitive interpretation of narratives, poetry, memories and observation, she tries to capture the essence of something; a moment in time, a tree, a deer, a melancholic or humorous event.

Example 4 – X lives and writes in Manchester. His poetry has appeared in The Rialto, Magma Poetry, and The Bow-Wow Shop.

Okay, so back to my pamphlet. I’m going to play safe. I look at the pamphlets and first collections I have on my shelves and get a sense of what works as a professional but approachable style. The acknowledgements fall into two halves. 1 – Listing the magazines/journals where the poems have appeared and 2) giving a thank you or two to people who have helped along the way. The second category has its own pitfalls and problems that I might return to in the future. Suffice to say some acknowledgements carry the shadow of the in-joke(thanks to Dave for all the tuna), the sugar of sentimentality (thank you to my wonderful husband Dave. Without your inspiration these poems would never have been written) or there is the cold and lonely type who simply gives thanks to my editor.

Another danger exists in omission – if you list a dozen people in your acknowledgements then you better hope you haven’t missed out the person who really needs to be included.

Rotman dedication Joseph Rotman’s twist on the conventional.

The dedication carries all of the pitfalls of the acknowledgements but perhaps to an even greater extent. The chances are the dedication will have a page of its own – nothing but white space and it. Look through the annals and you will find authors from Salinger to Agatha Christie being witty, while e.e. cummings composed a concrete poem listing the people he gave “no thanks to”. However, in the grand reckoning parents and children are the main beneficiaries of dedications. I do like the twist Joseph J Rotman gave to the process with his dedication “To my wife and my children, without whom this book would have been completed two years earlier.”

Cummings dedication

e.e. cummings makes his feelings clear.

I agonized. I tried to avoid the dangers and then pressed send on the email. It ended up pretty safe but with, I hope, a humorous twist. What did I write? Well in a few months you will be able to see for yourself and then you will know if I missed you out or tried too hard. But then again, maybe I should relax, after all, in the spirit of part one of ‘Codes of Conduct’ how many people read the small print anyway?