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Handing out words

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February 2017

PRODUCT SPOTLIGHT #1: ‘The Owls’ Bespoke Collection

My bespoke collections have been performing very well of late! With over fifty sales since mid-December, the books seem to be reaching a wonderfully wide audience, ranging in age, experience, race, gender and background. Nothing could possibly make me more excited than the fact that such a diverse group of people are coming together around poetry. It is a bonus that the poetry happens to be written by me!

One thing I have noticed, however, is how much people want to buy for their children. Although I am really pleased with my other collections, and feel they deserve to be read, not all of them have language accessible to young children, (though I think many could be enjoyed by teenagers!) and so, donning my poet’s hat and hitching up my poet’s ego, I set about writing my brand new bespoke collection, ‘The Owls’ aimed specifically at young readers between the age of six and eleven. Although there is undoubtedly some complicated language in these collections, it is written as a challenge and will function as a discussion point between parents and their youngsters. The special thing about this collection is its layout. It features poems about four of Britain’s owl species: The Barn Owl, Tawny Owl, Little Owl and European Eagle Owl (though the last is a slightly contentious issue!) Each own is granted its own section, with a short description of the animal in question, a stamped image to support the description and two poems for each owl. Throughout the collections are short ‘Did You Know?’ sections that offer new information about the owls and serve to support the experience of the reader.

As is often clear in my mad, nature-based, animal-related and heavily metaphorical poetry, the animal kingdom and natural world is hugely important to me. We are, as a species, born from it and we rely on it to live. Many of our issues as human beings are mirrored in the natural world: the need to belong, finding shelter and home, love and relationships, territory and boundaries, social expectation, even otherness and individuality can be seen within the natural world. Just like us, animals can be kind and they can also be cruel. They can be vastly accepting and they can turn their backs on their own young. They can show remarkable love and forgiveness and they can be vicious and dangerous. So, it follows that understanding the natural world can often help us understand ourselves better, empathise with one another and learn the value of respect. These are important lessons for young people, and children begin these lessons young, without us even knowing.

It might appear only to be a book about owls, but this collection has far more to it: stories of friendship, loneliness, hardship, incarceration, cruelty and connection between human and animal. If you are fumbling around for new and interesting reading experiences for your youngsters, may I recommend this little book. Not too heavy, but enough to make you think; not intimidating, but enough to empower; not too adult, but enough to challenge.

‘The Owls’ is available at my shop, PoeticalTreasures along with the other six bespoke collections, and the link directly to the listing for this collection can be reached here.

Poetry in all its forms is here to be enjoyed. As adults, we must not be afraid of it. It is intrinsic to our cultural and historical experience. If you, as an adult reader, do not feel confident as a reader of poetry, please try reading this book with your children. Hopefully, it will inspire you to read more widely too. These collections are designed as short ‘injections’ of poetic experience. They can, if necessary, be read in a single sitting. They are not intimidating and are designed to live on your bedside table, something to provide comfort, inspiration and a platform to dream on. Enjoy them!

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The Roving Poet Part 11: A Gift Given in Honesty

Valentine’s week draws to a close. The sickly pink love hearts are now crammed into back boxes with a ‘50% off’ sign attached to it, the cards have been returned to the warehouse, those adverts with beautiful, white, heterosexual couples smiling banally at each other are gone for another year.

And yet, despite my facetious attitude towards this time of year, on which our consumerist culture has thoroughly capitalised, it has actually been one of the most lovely weeks of the year so far. On Tuesday, Valentine’s day itself, I co-hosted an alternative ‘Indie-Valentine’s’ event at the Nomad Bakery in Reading. The magnificent owner and chief baker of this lovely, independent little bakery, is Laura Gonzalez, a human being who works magic with food unlike anything I have ever experienced before. So, alongside her incredible bread, chilli and a pudding to die for, I read poetry to the eleven guests, wrote bespoke poems for three of them and parted with several of my bespoke collections, which I am confident have gone to good homes and are being enjoyed.

It was not like a traditional valentine’s day. There was no expectation beyond good food and good conversation. The thirteen people in that room (including myself and Laura) had not all met each other before that evening. Yet, by the end of it, we were sharing photos of pets, stories of the future and political opinions over far-too-much-prosecco and laughing over the most ridiculous poetry games. There was no exchange of flowers, no gifts beyond that of conversation and connection. And I remembered why it was I loved poetry so much: because of people. People are inherently interesting; ridiculous, charming, infuriating, hilarious, wonderfully unique in their awkwardness. There was not a single person around that table I disliked. Do you know why? Because no one was pretending. They had come to this event because the commercialisation of Valentine’s day was not something they wished to buy into. Whether heterosexual or not, single or not, these eleven individuals wanted something more than the traditional dinner-for-two and a dozen roses.

I read three poems from one of me new collections, ‘Keys to the Microcosm’, a pamphlet of seven alternative love poems, dealing with forms of love often rejected or neglected on valentine’s day. The collection is available here. After the reading, the conversation turned to all forms of love: the love between a father and his beautiful dog, the love between a girl and her enormous (but clearly wonderful) cat, and many more besides.

After a few drinks, some of the guests came over to have a look at the range of bespoke pamphlets I had for sale, bought some copies and made their way home. We hugged goodbye like old friends, despite the fact we had known each other only for a few hours.

Then, a day after the event, I received an email. It was from one of the guests, who had bought a copy of one of the collections. She professed that she had really enjoyed it, but had felt awkward about asking me for a poem of her own. I won’t share the details of her request here, but we exchanged a few emails before I wrote her a poem and emailed it.

What’s interesting to me about events like this is how much complete strangers are willing to share with a poem about their life; their inner-most vulnerabilities, the things most important to them, the people they most want to please. I don’t kid myself that it’s me they’re telling, it’s the poem: the potential for words on a page or in the air that will say the things they most want to say. The thing is that we’re all poets. There are always those needs to express ourselves, to tell those who mean most to us that we cannot do without them. But, as I learned, there is an awkwardness. I rarely take what someone says and ‘make it into a poem’, I just write down what they say. There is no need to change very much because their words are the most sincere.

I haven’t heard how the father of one of the guests liked his poem about his dog, or whether the girl who emailed me liked her poem. I’ve had no angry emails denouncing my ability or integrity. And actually, it’s not for me to know how those poems were received.

My grandfather is often incredulous that I write poems that I give to people and never see again. “But don’t you want to collect them?” he asked, “publish them? Wouldn’t that be lovely?”

Well, for me, yes. But I didn’t write them for me. They were gifts. I wrote them as offerings of human connection, or friendship and understanding. I’m often told it is an act of real selflessness, but actually, that is a downright lie. I need to connect with other people just as much as everyone else. I may not get to keep the poem I write, but that is a small price to pay for such connection with another person. There are always other poems, other books, other opportunities. But what we get from the simple act of conversation, an exchange of words whether written or spoken, is far more special than an exchange of flowers, of jewellery, cards or wine. Some things are more precious than currency can measure.

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