“Leaves are letting go”


leaves pic


 Welcome November, embrace dark nights,   settle yourself for the year’s end,                         the chaos, commerce,  melancholy                     and all hope it brings.




The National Poetry Comp deadline has passed and your best bet might be tied up for a few months as we await a result. There are plenty of other competitions open (see the Poetry Library website for a pretty full list ) but it may  be time to look inwards and start writing again. Allow the poems that are ‘out there’ in the world to do their thing, like leaves scattered, and start tapping into your root system to begin again.

My next writing task is to come up with the biog/dedication for my chapbbook            Being Present – due to be published at the end of this November. See my page from Aug 2015  for more on the perils of this deceptively simple sounding task – https://neilelderpoetry.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/the-process-of-pamphlet-publication-2/ 

Then I shall try and discover what lies buried in the mulch of my mind – start the process of putting leaves back onto the tree.

Here is a poem from my pamphlet Codes of Conduct reflecting on this time of year and that nagging feeling that things are left undone as the year runs down.



In the hard flat light of November

nothing is forgiven.

Leaves are letting go, 

and the year is running out;

at his time all that you’ve achieved

or failed in is exposed

like leaf-bare branches.


Around you, deep-lodged rhythms

have kicked in. Migrating geese

in V formations leave

you fixed on your position.


On high ground frosts have taken hold,

to making waters still,

send animals to ground.

But you have no soft burrows

to be safe in.


The reckoning is slamming in your mind:

a gate that will not shut.


(Codes of Conduct, Cinnamon Press)




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

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?


The Process of Pamphlet Publication pt 1

Had I really won?


This year I was a winner of the Cinnamon Press Poetry Pamphlet Prize. Part of the prize is a publishing contract; my pamphlet will be published in 2016. I thought following the process, from hearing I had won through to publication, might be something worth following in occasional blogs. Here is the first piece on following ‘Codes of Conduct’ through to publication.

In May of this year I returned from holiday to the following email:

The longlist for the pamphlet competition was very long, but we whittled it down to … (poets and titles listed)

The four winning pamphlets were: Louisa Adjoa Parker – Blinking in the light; Neil Elder – Codes of Conduct; Kevin Mills – Stations of the Boar; Louise Warren – In the scullery with John Keats.

Congratulations to the winners, whose pamphlets will be published in February 2016.

I was (still am) delighted, though somewhat dazed, and I hastily sent a response to Jan Fortune, the editor of Cinnamon Press, expressing my sentiments. Despite my excitement I told only my wife and a friend; I wanted to be certain there was no error before I made a noise about my news.

Then doubt crept in. I became convinced that the fact that some of the poems in my pamphlet entry had been published elsewhere as single poems would be a problem.  I scanned the rules of the competition again and again but there was no mention of the matter concerning previously published poems (there are publishers and competitions where previous publication will be a problem). Even though the comments from Ian Gregson, competition judge , were on the website, I still fretted about things.

I was keeping quiet about the win and waiting for something more solid from Cinnamon when I received congratulations via Facebook and by email from Hannah Lowe and Mona Arshi.  Wait a minute, I thought, if they know about the win (and I still don’t know how they knew) then perhaps I better get proactive and contact Jan at Cinnamon myself, telling her some of the poems had appeared elsewhere.  I would soon know if I could relax and celebrate or feel sorry for myself – either way I’d know if congratulations from other poets were due.  Jan’s response was wonderfully positive and I finally had pleasure in telling people about the pamphlet.