Earlier this year, my poem, ‘The Passing Year’ was published in issue 16 of Pomona Valley Review. It was both gratifying and reassuring for me that editors Clem and Whitney chose to use the poem, as I’m particularly fond of it and had already been rejected by eight other publications. Had I not been so attached to it, then I may have decided to abandon the pursuit to publish and leave it on the proverbial backburner, while I concentrated on submitting other works. However, my persistence paid off on this occasion, and I’m so glad that I continued to enter submissions!
Even without the upheaval and turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic in the past few years I still think it’s fair to say that, when we all look back on our lives over any given year, we experience and bear witness to an incredible range of highs and lows during that short timespan. It’s this bittersweet sense that I’ve tried to encapsulate with ‘The Passing Year’.
It observes the struggle and hardship caused by adversity and how we try to keep going until we encounter better times ahead, but for me it’s also a reminder that when those good times arrive they must be enjoyed and savoured. The places we go to in our lives can play host both to experiences of love and happiness, or hatred and sadness, so our memories of those places can become bittersweet as well, which is something I’ve tried to reflect with the lines:
"These different worlds all in the same space, In transience, come and go from your sight."
Read Issue 16 of ‘Pomona Valley Review’ here, where you’ll find ‘The Passing Year’ at page 228.
When I first started out on my poetic adventures amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, I didn’t consider that drifting into the airwaves with my poems would be one of the consequences, but it seems that writing breeds an unending quest for an audience, especially in this genre, where most of the platforms for publication aren’t immediately obvious, nor particularly mainstream. So, it was a refreshing surprise when I discovered BBC Upload.
I’d often enjoyed listening to Lucy Clark’s Sunday Afternoon Show on BBC Radio Humberside, especially during the pandemic, and so when she announced that she’d be covering Martha Mangan’s ‘No Filter’ programme, showcasing local creatives, one Monday evening in May 2021, I made a point of tuning in. I already knew, from listening to her shows, that Lucy was a poet herself and had a keen interest in poetry, so it piqued my interest when she put a callout for people to send in their poems via the BBC’s‘Upload’ feature online. I was enjoying the programme, which was playing the work of local musicians and writers in the region, and thought to myself that I would give it a ‘bash’ and send something in, as it seemed like a good vehicle for reaching more mainstream audiences.
The topic for my entry was climate change. I was in the middle of writing a poem reflecting on the climate emergency, and given this is one of the most talked-about issues, I felt it might stand a better chance of being selected. I think the poem was also experimental in the sense that I tried to use rhyming ‘sextets’ as opposed to couplets, which had the effect of laying on the rhymes quite thickly. After hovering over the ‘Send’ button for a while on the Upload site, stood on the proverbial precipice, I found the courage to click it and my work shot into the BBC Upload ether, possibly never to be heard of again.
However, incredibly, I heard back in under 24 hours and on Monday 21st June 2021 at 7pm, I was on the ‘No Filter’ programme, talking to Martha Mangan about my climate change poem! I’d literally just started writing full poems so didn’t feel at all qualified to answer Martha’s very respectful questions about my ‘creative process’, but gave it my best shot anyway.
Feeling More At Ease
I don’t know how other writers feel but, for me, the prospect of being ridiculed or laughed at is probably the biggest source of anxiety in showcasing my poems. I think this is what makes ‘Upload’ such a great initiative, because it encourages and celebrates people who come forward with their creative forms of expression, giving everyone a safe space to air their work.
So, it was lovely to chat with Martha, I felt very welcomed and encouraged about what I was writing, to the extent that I decided I would have a go at sending in some more poems. At this point, I think various shows and schedules were being re-jigged in local radio, as it took a bit longer this time before I heard back, but as we emerged into Spring 2022 I was contacted by the Upload Show for BBC Radio York to see if I wanted my poem,‘Everyone’ , to be featured on their programme. At the time, they were also broadcasting to the BBC Radio Humberside catchment as well, so I guess this was broadening my reach, so to speak. I appeared on George Smith‘s programme in the evening on Wednesday 9th March 2022 and had a great time talking to him about how I started writing poems during the pandemic, and was working on a website called ‘Poet In Verse’!
After this latest feature on Upload, I had to do a little double-take on myself as I realised I was starting to feel oddly at ease with the idea of sending in poems for them to be played on local radio – because this sort of thing is counter-intuitive to my nature! Whilst I still do feel a little daunted and nervous about doing it, I’m not overwhelmed by those feelings to the point where it prevents me from taking the plunge and submitting my work.
On reflection, I may have found the reason why this is the case: As part of my day job, I occasionally need to promote local history and heritage projects through local media, which sometimes involves giving interviews for local radio, including BBC Radio Humberside. For me, I think this has gradually had the side-effect of normalising the idea of speaking on the radio. In particular though, this is due to having had the opportunity to meet brilliant reporters such as Caroline Brockelbank, whom I feel ultimately have really helped to give me the confidence to approach BBC Upload, by making the organisation as a whole seem more warm, friendly, and less intimidating to me.
The opportunity to chat with Caroline, with her charismatic, yet down-to-earth and approachable manner, has meant that any mystique, or nervous preconceptions I may have had about the BBC have been eroded and this, combined with the positive and encouraging nature of the Upload platform itself, has left me feeling much more inclined to share what I create.
For my next Upload submission, I chose to send in the latest poem in a quartet I was working on about the seasons. I’d decided to write about each season as it began during the year, so that I could draw a little inspiration to begin the poems, although they’re mostly based on our stereotypical imagery of the seasons in the UK, in order to create a vivid scene. I was invited to take part in George Smith’s Upload Show on BBC Radio York on Wednesday 21st April 2022 to talk about the Spring edition of this quartet; ‘Springtide Bright’. The show is a section of George’s main four-hour programme from 6-10pm on Wednesday evenings when, between 7 and 8pm, he showcases one or two submissions, which can include the full range of creative works such as songs, poems, short stories, comedy sketches; basically, anything creative.
I’m always pleased when I’m selected for an Upload Show as it’s one of the main ways in which I can try out my poems on a mainstream audience. George has a great ability to maintain light and humour in his on-air conversations, and I guess that’s fortunate because I weighed in with a really heavy poem for my latest one, all about war and conquest through the ages, called ‘Heart Of Power‘, which had just been translated into Chinese by Poetry Lab Shanghai!
Having by now had three of my poems featured on BBC Radio York’sUpload Show, I was definitely feeling in the groove with things. I began to look through my work for other upload-worthy material and realised that I’d written some about specific places other than where I live, so wondered if these might be of interest to the relevant Upload Show for that region. Ever since first visiting Northumberland around ten years ago I’ve loved the place, and in between COVID-19 lockdown restrictions it became a peaceful retreat for me. Following a week’s holiday there in 2021, I wrote a poem in homage to Bamburgh, one of the many beautiful places that I visited on Northumberland’s spectacular coastline. The nearest local radio station on the Upload website was BBC Radio Newcastle, so I submitted it there and, sure enough, was invited by the show’s presenter, Tamsin Robson, to chat about the poem.
Entitled ‘Atop The Dunes o’ Bamburgh‘, it’s a kind of postcard poem drawing out all of the key features that stand out for me when visiting there. On Wednesday 3rd August 2022, Tamsin pre-recorded a chat with me that aired later in the evening, in which we both reminisced about the area; Tamsin on her childhood visits, and myself talking about recent holidays. I also declared my affection for the North East in general, having been a student at University of Sunderland!
Tamsin had previously asked if I’d written any other poems about the North East, and it so happened that I had a similar sort of poem for the town of Seahouses, about 3.5 miles south along the coast from Bamburgh, written during a visit earlier in June 2022. It’s called ‘Around Seahouses’ and Tamsin very kindly played this as well.
To be included on the Upload Show for BBC Radio Newcastle was great for me as it was a way of getting my poems out to even more people in the mainstream via a different local radio catchment, and I also loved chatting about the North East, which has played a big part in my life (perhaps at some point I’ll do a ‘Days Of Sunderland’ poem!).
At time of writing, the show is still available on BBC Sounds and you can listen to our chat (at 1:11:38 in the recording) here.
Looking back, all the poems I’ve sent to BBC Upload have been contemplative, reflective works, which isn’t actually representative of everything that I write, as I also cover silly, trivial subjects as well. My chats with George on his show have revealed that the latter is where his own preferences may lie, as my poem ‘Bin Day’ has stood out for him here on the ‘Poet In Verse’ website.
So, I guess that my mission now is to mix things up a bit with a light poem for my next submission! My thanks to BBC Upload for this platform, which I recommend to anyone out there who is creating something and wants a positive and encouraging environment in which to share their work. Long may the initiative continue.
As anyone who writes and seeks publication of their poetry will tell you; the process of submitting your work to various journals and online ezines can be a test of resolve and commitment. Most people have to endure far more rejections than acceptances and, although a relative newbie to this game, I’d already read about the exploits of others on social media and was, to some extent, prepared for rejection.
I tried to prepare myself for the inevitable “no thanks” or “sorry but we don’t think this is the right fit for us at this time.”, and when those rejections eventually came in, I found that the editors were, thankfully, very sensitive and polite in their approach. However, when you’ve yet to break your duck it’s hard to resist self doubt and I was anxious to get off the mark. It’s all good and well writing poems, but as far as I was concerned, I needed that affirmation from other people in the poetry world that my writing was acceptable, bona fide poetry, to get the nod from an editor that ‘yes, this is ok, and we’re going to publish it‘.
I can’t remember exactly how many “No’s” I had before my first “Yes”, I think it was about 30, but I dealt with it by not dwelling on any of them at all. I just focused on the enjoyment of writing my poems and tried to dismiss each rejection with a shrug of the shoulders. I told myself that perhaps it was something to do with the volume of submissions received; or that the editor was reading mine at a bad time; maybe it was the wrong type of poem for that journal. I was happy to tell myself anything that would allow me to dismiss the rejection in my mind and continue writing – I dread the creativity shackles that would inevitably follow if I thought too carefully about why I get rejections!
When you look at it, it’s a brutal process, but on reading about others going through exactly the same thing, you realise it’s just a part of it, and that you need to hang in there and keep rolling the dice.
My own moment of first acceptance came in March 2022, with the Wildfire Words online ezine run by Howard and Marilyn Timms of Frosted Fire Press. Until 2021, Howard and Marilyn were heavily involved in the organisation of the Cheltenham Poetry Festival , so it was real thrill to have one of my poems accepted and published in their ‘Open Submissions’ section of Wildfire Words.
The poem is called ‘Everyone‘ and I wrote it the previous October after feeling inspired by Brian Cox’s Universe documentary on the BBC. The explanation of how space and time are connected as ‘spacetime’ (in Einstein’s theory of relativity) provided me with the opening motivation and first lines:
“Everywhere is a moment, Every time is a space“.
From there it developed as a simple reflection about everything and everyone. I’m so pleased, and indeed grateful, that Howard and Marilyn accepted this poem for their ezine, and I’ve since continued to receive other acceptances elsewhere (as well as rejections of course!), news of which will follow on this blog, so hit the ‘Subscribe’ button below for updates.