Friday, 21 October 2016

The Pennies: a poetry post

I seem to be thinking in iambic pentameter at the moment. I have a poem to write, which must be in well-formed iambic pentameter, and I want it to be perfect, so I'm practicing, although I'm not sure if that's making me better, or just giving me more reason to think I'm rubbish!

Anyway, the metre in this one is not right - not enough stresses despite the right number of syllables, but I like it anyway, so I'm sharing it with you lovely people. I wrote it about one of our favourite little acts of kindness, although you might call it littering!

The Pennies

You know when something is 99p
and that pointless penny enters your purse?
That penny that must cost more to just be!
That penny that makes holes in pockets worse?
I save all those pennies up in a box:
the ones from coffee, the ones from our tea,
the ones from buying emergency socks;
all of the pennies that find ways to me.
I save them up, then take out a handful
to pop in pockets and give to the kids,
to drop on pavements and on windowsills,
where they'll be spotted and fingers will pick
them up, and have good luck all the day long,
but best luck for us, with our pennies gone!

© Cara L McKee 21/10/16

Prose for Thought

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Red: a poetry post

I have just been for a long weekend at Ilkley Literature Festival. I went to loads of things, wrote loads of poetry, and even performed! I entered an open mic competition and didn't even get placed, but that was probably because I couldn't remember the poem and was shaking like a leaf! The judges were Andrew McMillan, Mark Pajak and Helen Mort, so I was totally star struck!

Anyhow, one of the things I did was a poetry workshop with Daljit Nagra, and there we were challenged to write narrative poems, generalising poems and list poems, amongst other things - things that I would never have thought of before. So I've been writing lots of these, and also pantoums (which I came across for the first time over the weekend, and which have been a revelation), as well as lots of iambic pentameter poems. I spent the morning yesterday typing up and printing out - it's amazing how productive you can be with more time on your hands! Now to turn quantity into quality, maybe, or just leave it to ferment for a little while during NaNoWriMo (I've added a badge on the right to say I'm taking part again this year - writing 50,000 words of first draft of novel in one month, bring it on!).

Anyway, The Prompt over at Mum Turned Mom is RED this week, so I'm using that as inspiration for a list poem. I've recorded it for you, although I can't seem to stop tripping over the word 'pheomelanin', which should be pronounced like melanin, but I keep wanting to pronounce like Mannannin!


For it is the first, and is primary.
For it is the longer wavelengths, 
but is not quite infra-.
For it is burning and toasty warm
and be-gloved fingers on snowy days.
For it is everything from baby's blush 
to wicked queen's wine.
For it is left wing and Labour 
and is under the bed.
For it is the rose of Lancashire and the cross of St George, 
and places we do not belong.
For it is both a cross and a crescent 
and the tent of medical aid.
For it is sacrifice and courage.
For it is a mist of furious anger.
For it is the passion (and the lust).
For in rocks and blood it is rendered by iron.
For it lies upon the battle field and grows into the poppies.
For it is in the blood of labour! The blood of the fallen! The blood on the cross!
And, thanks to Rayleigh scattering, it is the sunrise and sunset.
Thanks to authocyanins after chlorophyll, it is the Autumn leaves.
Thanks to pheomelanin it is the rarest hair.
And it can be joy, happiness, good fortune.
And it can be danger and hazard, and stop.

© Cara L McKee 19/10/16 

Personally, I've avoided red for years, probably because I had an overdose of it in my mother's house, as her husband is obsessed with the colour. But I'm having a red moment now. I just bought a red dress in the Navabi sale, and I'm toying with the idea of red hair... We shall see.

Prose for ThoughtWriting Bubblemumturnedmom

Friday, 14 October 2016

Hope: a poetry post

Yesterday I travelled away by myself for the first time in eleven years!

I enjoyed sitting on various trains, secure in the knowledge that the kids were having lots of fun. My lovely mother in law even sent me photos. She knows what I'm like.

I arrived in Ilkley and met my mum,  wandering back to her house along familiar streets. Once there she stuck the kettle on, and I called my husband to let him know I had arrived safely. Only we didn't discuss my journey.

He had got in from a nice day out with the kids to find Katsuma very unwell. It seemed that he'd thrown another blood clot, and I talked K through how to check, and where I had secreted the supply of cat morphine for just this situation.

After that I drank tea with my mum while K took Katsuma to the vet for the last time. 

He was a fantastic cat, and I wish he could have stayed longer, but at least we got to love him for a while. 

Here's my hope for him now... 


I hope that there is some great hall of Bast:
a final resting place for fearsome cats 
where days are spent in hunting mice and birds 
and lying in the grass with sun-warmed fur;
where evenings bring fresh tuna and the treats 
that cats with heart disease don't get to eat. 
I hope that cushions suitable are found
and time can well be spent lazing around. 

(c) Cara L McKee, 14/10/16

Goodnight pudding. I'll miss you. 


 Prose for Thought

Wednesday, 12 October 2016


So yesterday I was talking about some of my recent successes, and successes are good. I am very fond of them, but of course, they come with a downside. Every time something I write is accepted somewhere I can't send it anywhere else!

It's not the worst downside ever is it? But I really feel it. I use little post it notes to remind me that I've submitted a poem for possible publication, and while that note is on it it can't go anywhere else... but once that note comes off then the possibilities are endless.

That said, of course I want people to take my work and pay me for it! That's kind of what I'm here for, but I don't get very sad about rejection, because it's a chance to try again, and also, because I kind of love the wording they use for standard rejection letters.

You know how when you're dating there's all that 'it's not you, it's me' stuff, which basically means 'go away.' There's a whole lot of that in rejection letters, and I mostly believe it. I am a good writer who should try elsewhere, I'm just not a good fit for that particularly agency/magazine/whatever. But I also know in my heart of hearts that they're never going to say 'it's shite, fuck off.'

Anyway, I thought I'd share some of my most recent rejections with you, so you too can enjoy the delicious words they use. I shall not be naming names of course, that would be rude. This is the most recent rejection I've had, and one of my favourites:
Thank you for your submission, which we have read with interest. Unfortunately we did not feel enthusiastic enough about it to offer to take it further. We are sorry to give you a disappointing response, but thank you for thinking of us in connection with your work. 
I wish I had dumped a boyfriend with the words "I do not feel enthusiastic enough to take it further." Oomph. Here's another one I quite enjoyed:
Although I quite enjoyed these poems, I'm afraid they're not quite right for [this magazine]. I hope you find good homes for them elsewhere.
I didn't enjoy it much, but it wasn't awful.

More often they're like this:
Unfortunately, this is not right for us. We receive over 300 submissions a week and can only take on a handful of new writers and illustrators every year. The result is that we have to be incredibly selective, so please do not be too disheartened. Another agent may well feel differently. 
That's OK isn't it? Everyone's busy, no-one can do everything.

Sometimes of course, I do get attached to pieces, and long to see them do well. Then any rejection can feel more like a personal insult, which can only be recovered from by a slow dawning realisation that they are idiots. I don't send these precious things out often. But I remember those that reject them. These were idiots:
We have made our selections for the upcoming issue and we're sorry to say that we didn't choose your piece, but we really appreciate you sending it in. We hope you keep in touch and hope to hear from you again. 
They won't be hearing from me for a while. Perhaps eventually I'll decide they were justing having an off day/month/year and try again, maybe. But maybe not, after all, sometimes it's just my style that doesn't fit with theirs and that's fine, no-one likes everything.

Steven King spoke about getting a rejection which had a little note scribbled on it, advising him to try again. That one, he said, gave him hope. Now most rejections are sent by email, but I did get one which had a personal mention, and I would send stuff to them again:
I enjoyed reading your submission, especially [one poem]. I have to make some tough decisions for this issue, and this is one of them. I am declining inclusion of your work in [the magazine]. I do, however, hope that you keep [us] in mind for future reading periods. I would love to read more.
That is an awesome rejection. Of course, I understand that lots of people don't feel they can send out personal rejections, no doubt worried about where things will go if they offer any constructive criticism, or get something wrong, so I don't mind form ones, but personal rejections are nicer.

My favourite kind of rejections are the ones where you get something accepted, and its brethren who accompanied it to that fair shore are simply never spoken of again. Of course, it is understood that those ones have slipped back into my pool to try another day.

The rejections that really bug me are the ones from folk who claim to be so incredibly busy that they don't even have time to send a form email letting you know you should give up hope. If they are so busy they don't have basic manners then it's a gift from the gods that I'm not getting to work with them, but a heads up about it would be nice.

Anyway, today an agent did not feel enthusiastic enough. Hopefully tomorrow another person will (and hopefully on Sunday, everybody will love me and I will win the Ilkley Open Mic competition - get your tickets here). Meanwhile I am going to keep hold of the notion that it's not me...

                                 ...It's them.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

what I'm writing

So the other day I had a poem accepted, but I couldn't yet say where, and now I can! It's in the new magazine 404 Ink, which has now named me along with a host of other "brilliant new writers". It's so exciting being in at the beginning with an interesting project like this, I'm feeling rather lucky and can't wait to see it in November. You can pre-order, find out more about 404 Ink, and get links to their Patreon page (and also top tips for using Patreon if you're interested), here.

I've also been lucky enough to have a poem accepted for a forthcoming edition of Allegro Magazine, which I'll let you know about when it comes out, and I've got two poems coming out in Forward Poetry anthologies, and one in a local writer's group anthology later this year.

I'm hoping to add to these little fledgelings flying the nest with more poems getting accepted in more places, so I'm submitting them all over the place. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Other writing related news is that I'm going to be taking part in the Open Mic event at Ilkley Playhouse on Sunday 16th October. If you're likely to be in the Ilkley area you can get tickets for the event here. Please come. I get judged on audience reaction and could really use the support. I am only slightly terrified! The mad thing is that I'll be on just one day after Hollie McNish!

Writing Bubble

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Mirror Games: A poetry post

Hello all

I'm loving October so far, pleasant weather, and I'm getting lots of ideas, and getting the hang of the wobbly days (talking about the good stuff really does help to remember it's there, and there's been lots of good stuff of late.

This month I will be going away by myself for the first time since I had Mr 11, and I cannot wait! I'll be going to Ilkley Literature Festival, and taking part in the Open Mic (come and support me, buy your tickets here), which I'm choosing to see as exciting... 

Anyway, I've not taken part in The Prompt in what feels like ages, so I'm putting that to rights today with a poem about playing games in the mirror. It starts off with the statement that I can see myself in the mirror now my hair is brown, and I can! It's great! While my hair was green I seemed to be forever checking if my hair was alright, when I looked at my face it was only to make sure it went with my hair, which sounds ridiculous, but I've realised how true it is since going back to brown. Now I'm back to staring at myself in the mirror, which I'm kind of loving.

I've been writing in iambic pentameter lots lately (there's a competition coming up), and so today's poem is a sonnet. Here goes:

Mirror Games

And now my hair is brown I can see me
and stare into my eyes within the glass
or plastic, or whatever it may be.
I concentrate to widen my iris,
to deepen the black pool that lies inside
the greenish blue of eyes sketched 'round with black,
and does it widen? Or did cloud pass by?
My daughter, seeing my reflection, laughs.
"What are you doing?" She demands to know.
"I'm trying to make my pupils dilate."
"OK." She nods. Approaching for her go,
like some mad creature on her soul fixate.
I kiss her rounded cheek, stay by her side
and in the mirror our eyes open wide.

© Cara L McKee 8/10/16 

Do let me know if I've made you want to try doing this... and if you can!

Prose for Thoughtmumturnedmom

Friday, 7 October 2016

in pain: the ongoing tale of shoulder impingement

Back at the end of January I did a post about the shoulder impingement I gave myself in September (by pointing at an aeroplane!). Go read it if you want to know lots more, but basically I'd damaged some tendons in my shoulder and it hurt a lot, and wasn't wanting to get better.

At the time I wrote I'd just had a cortisone injection and started getting physiotherapy on the NHS. I was feeling super optimistic.

After I wrote that the local anaesthetic wore off, and the cortisone turned out not to help after all. The optimism took a bit of a battering.

The NHS physio is a lovely woman who gave me exercises to do (after doing nothing for a bit to let the cortisone work) and reviewed my complete lack of progress at regular intervals. To start with my shoulder still hurt like hell several times a day. I had pain radiating down my arm, and my shoulder felt swollen inside all the way around (although I'm told it didn't look swollen).

I spoke to the doctor about managing the pain better. I was absolutely worn down with it, and so I started taking amitryptaline.

This was a big decision for me, and I'm glad that I've got a good doctor who keeps up to date with research and is great at communicating with people to talk through the options sensibly. Last time I had pain problems (you can read all about that deep joy here) I used gabapentin to try to tackle it. I don't know if it made me feel spacey or not, I was already pretty spacey with the pain... but I did feel increasingly distant from my own life. I felt increasingly useless, and started thinking that suicide was probably rather sensible. Thank goodness I said something about this to my husband (and that took a lot to do - I didn't feel like I deserved to be listened to about feelings like that, and I was sure he'd be angry with me, even if I did really feel that he'd see the sense in it). He insisted I go straight to the doctor and tell him how I was feeling. He made me promise I would even though I really didn't want to, and so I did. I was lucky, I got the nice doctor with Doc Martens, and I felt safe to tell him I'd been having some dark thoughts. "How dark?" He wondered. "Really, really dark." I told him. He told me that it was probably because of the gabapentin and I needed to start reducing my dose straight away. I didn't believe that he could be right, but I reduced my dosage and came off, and started to feel hope again. That pain stopped.

I am hopeful that this pain will stop too. But I am really scared of going down the rabbit hole that gabapentin sent me on, so I had a long chat with the doctor. He had seen in my notes that gabapentin 'really went for me' (as he put it), and that's why we decided on a low dose of amitryptaline.

It's working. The pain isn't radiating down my arm any more. That's made me feel so much more capable, even though I have less movement in my shoulder than I did before. The physio has kept me busy with my trusty yellow theraband, and mostly it doesn't feel like she's just keeping me busy.

The movement in my shoulder isn't getting better, in fact recently it's got a little worse. I still can't cuddle very well, or lift stuff, or get dressed. The swollen feeling has improved, but I still can't lie on my back, front, or on that side. It is still blooming annoying. But the pain has decreased, and not just from the painkillers. The moments when it gets really blooming sore have gone right down too, and the physio has added stretches to my strengthening exercises. Those stretches already feel like they're doing something and it's only the second day... they might just be improving my confidence, but that in itself is amazing.

The physio has also referred me to another more senior physio. Apparently this is where they send the cases that don't improve when they should do. In part, I'm taking this as a vindication that it is a REALLY blooming annoying shoulder, but mostly I'm looking forward to moving along the administrative ramps of the NHS. It's a few weeks until that appointment, from which I'm likely to get referred to someone who might (probably) operate to widen the gap the tendons go through as they've probably got thickened by all the damage done, and also to de-calcify the tendons if an X Ray shows that's needed.

Bring it on. I want to move on from this.

Update - October 2016

So, what happened next? Well, the fact is that I didn't write about it because initially it was too boring. Pain just keeps on giving doesn't it? Anyway, after I got referred to the senior physio I got a cortisone injection, and a break from exercises, and then another one. An X ray showed that there was no need for an operation. It took a long time, and I'm still working on it. A long time of boring physio, however, the pain decreased dramatically after this second round of cortisone, and I decided to take myself off the painkillers, possibly foolishly, because it did still hurt, but I felt that factoring them in to my everyday was making me feel like an ill person, and I wanted to feel like a strong person with a problem to overcome.

I've come a long way. I have reclaimed the dresses that tie at the back for my wardrobe, but I'm still spinning my bras around. I have graduated to a red theraband, but I'm still using one. I can wave my arms in the air like I just don't care, but only if I raise them thumb first.

I'm getting there, and so much more positive. And now I'd like a break from pain thanks. 2016 has enough on.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Messengers: A poetry post for National Poetry Day

I'm in between books at the moment. My Rose book is going out to potential agents (and I know I should expect rejection, but it's nice when they get back to you and you can turn it around and get it out somewhere else, and what if no-one likes it because it's rubbish? I know I've read plenty of rubbish books in my time, so some-one will surely take it anyway? What if it's not rubbish, but no-one wants it anyway?)... BREATHE! And I'm refusing to start rewriting Chaptershill until November, because I have already invested too much effort, time, and LOVE into it to start over (and it needs a start over) without quite deciding what to do. Is the reason why I can't think of another book like the one I'm thinking of writing because it's a terrible idea? Should I attempt to write it as a TV series? Who would want that anyway? If only I could draw I could render it as a series of graphic novels, which would be wonderful. Anyway...

In between that I am obsessing about poetry. Writing lots at times, and other days, like today, feeling like a fraud who couldn't write a poem if you hit me with a poetic stick. I've got a list of poems I should be writing here beside my computer, and I am working on it... although mainly keeping things in my notebook until I feel like I'm better at this.

I'm also thinking about this blog, and whether I should be writing it (I mean, I like writing it, but am I devaluing my work?), and whether 'Oh we do...' is the worst name ever...

What I'm figuring is that I'm being over critical. I'm reminding myself that I have had some poems accepted recently, including a sonnet in the first issue of 404 Ink, coming out in November, and pre-orderable (that's a word, right?) here, which I'm really excited to be in at the beginning of. 

Yesterday, I spent the day in my kids' school, doing poetry workshops in all the classes, which was a bit mad. I did rhyming with the little ones, who were baking cakes with snakes and flakes and filling Mr Fox's smelly socks with rocks. The middly ones were doing haikus about Autumn and animals, and breaking rules about grammatical structure but keeping the meaning. The older ones were doing some really tricky stuff, thinking about old English poetical structure and assonance, using examples from Beowulf, and fighting hard to avoid rhyming! Some of the poems were utterly brilliant. Some were heartbreaking - one boy stood up in front of his class of P6s and 7s and read a poem about how much he loves his sister, but he isn't sure she loves him back. And the kids demonstrated that they were brilliant too, congratulating him on his courage and on the poetical structure (which didn't quite do what he'd been asked, but worked brilliantly anyway). Some kids seemed to accidentally bring structure out of nonsense. All of it was amazing. 

There was a note of discord though. The kids were working on their poems on their white boards, but sometimes, when a kid wrote something, and then decided it wasn't perfect, they rubbed it out. I saw some of what they wrote, and some of it was fantastic, but it wasn't good enough for them. I was saddened that they didn't have  the courage to share, and that good work was lost for lack of faith.

That's what is inspiring me today, to go ahead and share the poem I've written for National Poetry Day, even though I've tried lots of times to write it and nothing seems quite right. I felt like I was waffling and boring and just rubbish. I nearly rubbed it all out, but instead I decided to cut my thoughts down to a haiku, which I'm going to share.

I've been watching a lot of Vikings lately, and loving the portrayal of religion, with the Christian English condemning the barbaric Pagan Vikings, and then going ahead and being barbaric themselves. Being open minded seems to be the way ahead, and yet there are aspects of the Pagan faith that call to me, and that's inspired this poem.

© Cara L McKee 6/10/16 

Update: 18 Nov for The Prompt

The prompt this week is 'messenger' and this haiku was too easy a hit not to share. Obviously, since I wrote this I've changed the name of the blog, which is a good thing, and I've decided that the blogging community is too important to me to stop, but I am trying to make sure my output here is good! Fingers crossed!

I'm also half way through NaNoWriMo and making good progress on the Chaptershill rewrite, although it's hard at the moment, and feeling like it might not come right. I don't want to give up though. I'd be letting my characters down. 

I'm still waking up thinking of poetry though. Perhaps that is where my heart currently lies. 

Prose for ThoughtWriting Bubble