Friday, 20 January 2017

five poems that have caught my attention lately

I haven't shared a fabulous five recently, but it seemed the time for one, considering the other things happening in the world today, so here are five poems that have stopped me in my tracks lately, caught my attention, burrowed into my imagination, all that stuff.

First up is a poem by Mandy Sutter, a poet who won the New Welsh Writing Award last year, I've got her pamplet, Old Blue Car, which you can buy on Amazon here, and from which this poem is taken. Many thanks to Mandy for letting me reproduce it here.

The day - by Mandy Sutter

you hitched home from Woolley Edge
in a van of evangelists going South
saying I won't kiss you to stop me smoking
hiding my lighter inside your shirt
saying small isn't it, Leeds - one bedroom,
one pub - having time for one last coffee
because of the lighter evenings
making me pay because you'd brought me
a bottle of red - what more did I want -
and I was half relieved you were leaving

I didn't know I'd be meeting your parents
at Lewes station, buying red, expensive roses
that would die in the frost but still be worth it,
your dad with dahlias in a pot,
saying there's no roots, just blooms cut off
and shoved in soil and after, we'd order
lunch in a pub and sitting together
in the enormity of it all, smoking, I'd wish
I'd kept all your letter, not just the nice ones,
because only these small things are any help.

I love this poem. I love the stream-of-consciousness of it, I love the intimacy, and the many different ways it can have meaning, and all the meanings it can take, when there is of course only the truths of the ones involved, truths that we can't know. I love the amount of character conveyed in the vignettes given, especially the dahlias. I really like the use of punctuation and lack of a starting capital - we're brought straight in.

A long time ago I destroyed the diaries I had kept for years. Someone had criticised me for holding on to the past, and I had remembered the few times when doing that had caused me hurt, and so had thrown them away. Now all I have is my remoulded memories, I miss the muddiness of the then, everything I remember has a narrative arc. I had letters too, which I got rid of. I wish I hadn't.

For Reading Addicts shared a whole load of little poems by Shel Silverstein, an American poet who is famous for his children's poems. There's this one that really caught my imagination, and also 'Listen to the Mustn'ts, Child' which I really love.

I was looking through some old notes and saw a mention of the poem 'A Poison Tree' by William Blake, which I've recently revisited and been bowled over by. Check it out! It is so pertinent to the division which Britain and America are experiencing at the moment. However, it is an old poem, as you can tell upon reading it, and old poems have the problem that what they say can get lost in the way that it's said. This poem is probably a little too regular and rhymey (although I do love rhyming) to have the impact it ought to have today, it just sounds a little too twee.  So I thought I'd have a go at hacking it to pieces and putting it together again. It is still regular and rhymey, but I've added the element of pantoumishness (a pantoum is a kind of poem which uses rhyming and four line stanzas, and repetition, and which I'm currently obsessed with) to make it go round and round on itself and hopefully bring out the meaning that speaks to me most:

Cut up Poison

I was angry with my friend,
I was angry with my foe,
when I spoke my wrath did end,
when I spake not it did grow.

I was angry with my foe
and I nourished it with fears.
but spoke it not, and it did grow,
nightly watered by my tears.

Yes, I nourished it with fears
and it grew both day and night,
and I watered it with tears,
till it bore an apple bright.

Yes, it grew both day and night
and my foe beheld it shine,
and it bore an apple bright,
and he knew that it was mine.

For he had beheld it shine
came into the garden he,
though he knew that it was mine
and the night did veil the tree.

So into the garden he,
and by morningtime I saw
that the night had veiled the tree
and my foe did breathe no more.

And by morningtime I saw
had I but spoke my wrath would end.
Now a man did breathe no more.
I’d been angry with my friend.

Re-worked by Cara L McKee from the original Blake 24/11/16

Coming back up to date, this poem by Natalie Shapero is absolutely amazing. I am puzzled about the line breaks, although they work, and I keep re-reading it to see if I could possibly unpick it and rebuild it, although I wouldn't, because I'm too busy wondering who it is she's talking about, and what they did, or might have done, or might do from the grave. She doesn't/didn't quite trust them, but she'd name a child after them, so surely it's a relative, but who? And what potential did they have? It's brilliant.

And last up is a song. Songs and poetry, it's all a bit controversial where the divide is, just ask Bob Dylan, but it's the poetic aspects of this song that amaze me (well that, and the overlapping lyrics at the end). I love the amount of character conveyed with the word 'yai' (that's how I'm spelling it), and the huge range of emotion conveyed in the simple repetition at the end. It's an amazing song, well worth considering as a poem:

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Coffee: a poetry post


The prompt over at Mum Turned Mom is History, which immediately makes me think of Herstory, and how History is written by the victors, and there are many stories to explain the same event, and even one person's story changes over time, and memory is malleable and all that stuff.

I wasn't going to do it, because I didn't want it to be too big and too heavy, and I've had so much fun working on a short story I'm submitting to a competition, which is weird because I usually hate writing short stories, but this was perfect, so I celebrated that story with a cup of coffee, in a cup my sister gave me which she didn't realise would match my new wallpaper/curtains - I can't remember, I was pretty sure it was wallpaper, but have no memory of wallpapering, although I am still pretty sure there was wallpaper, particularly on the wall with cupboards and a fireplace, because that was a total pain to do. There must have been wallpaper, but there were definitely curtains, three of them, because we still had those when we moved here.

Anyway, all this thought made me think that there's history in all the objects, significant or not, and so I wrote a poem about the history/herstory/mystory I've attached to this coffee cup.


With two blue clicks
and a memory of wallpaper
I am awakened.
And then wonder
if I have a recollection
of wallpapering.
Was it curtains?

How temperamental our memories.
Temporarily mental.
Take out, remoulded.
Wallpaper is better.
But walls and curtains are gone
and the gift remains.

The cup from my sister
holding warm brown
sweetened wakefulness.

Ⓒ Cara L McKee 17/1/17

Prose for Thoughtmumturnedmom

Monday, 9 January 2017

Tories are Wrong: a poetry post

Did you know that I have actually had proper jobs? Not that this writing biz isn't a proper job, but I mean something that people actually expected to pay me for, where I was employed because I was clever and had certificates to prove it. Where people in suits (and people in uniforms) listened to my advice (I'm not saying that they acted on it, or listened particularly attentively, but they were quiet while I was talking, sometimes).

Poems like this are basically me saying "you're alright, Civil Service, I don't really want to come back." (to which the Civil Service would probably say, "and you are?"). I still feel like I shouldn't say it, and I'm not going to argue poetic beauty for this one, it's just something that I had to say, so I wrote it down in my notebook and then realised that even though I'd not written it as a poem, it was one anyway!

So here you go (written as a poem this time):

Tories are Wrong

The Tories were wrong in the '80s
the Tories are just as wrong now.
They gorge themselves on victim blaming
and drink from the capitalist cow.

And I fucking hate the Tories.
I don't see what there is to like
unless you're the kind of person
deciding between them and Third Reich.

I don't care for Theresa's trousers,
they're a statement like Billy Hague's shoes.
Whatever she wears she's a Tory
so giving our country the Blues.

So next time, let's vote out the Tories
let's give other partes a go.
Could they be as wrong as the Tories?
The answer has got to be NO!

© Cara L McKee  8/1/17

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Even Though: a poetry post

Happy New Year! I hope you've had a great Christmas and New Year. We did, although it was a bit quiet. The last week of the holidays dragged, mainly because I got a stinking horrible cold on January 1st, which is making me feel totally rotten. Ugh.

Anyway, things are going pretty well on the writing front. I had two poems out last month, and I also got shortlisted for the Great British Write Off, which was totally unexpected, and kinda lovely. I've also had lots of things rejected, and failed to get placed in my local writing group's competition. I worked really hard on that poem and I'm annoyed with myself for not doing better, I'm trying to tell myself it's all subjective, but the usual suspects got placed again. Maybe it's just not my audience.

I am slightly gutted that Maddy at Writing Bubble is going to be too busy to run the What I'm Writing Linky this year, but so glad that she's got lots of interesting things on. However, Sara at Mum Turned Mom is still doing The Prompt, which I love for giving me weekly inspiration, and an online writing group of sorts. Her prompt this week is: Start and seeing as I've been despairing about getting to be a really good writer this week, while I've been ill, and constantly getting the not-good-enough feels, I thought I'd give myself a talking to... Here it is. 

Even Though

And even though the earth rises mountainous
and even though I am tiny and do not know how small
and even though the way is shadowy
and clouded and to me unknown
I know this: I know the way is up.
I know there is a way.
And if I go wrong I can try again
and the more I try the more I'll know.
And even if I cannot go up beyond the shadow
and through the cloud to the summit
I know this: I can try.
And if I do not know where or how the path will end
I know where it starts...

                                ...with this first step.

© Cara L McKee  8/1/17

Obviously, I am not going to be climbing any real mountains, because they're really quite high up and I'm afraid of heights, but you get what I mean, right?

Prose for Thoughtmumturnedmom

Thursday, 29 December 2016

2016 in review: all about the hair

2016 was the year for regaining a sense of self, and with this in mind I tried to make my hair a gorgeous green, documenting my attempts through Instagram, using several different dyes and different colour combinations. Mostly it was various stages of not-quite-right with this being the best I achieved (it would doubtless have been better with bleaching):

A photo posted by Cara McKee (@caralmckee) on

That was done with Crazy Colours dye, which went everywhere, and I didn't use again.

The best dye I found was Directions (a mixture of Alpine and Apple Greens): 

But even that was only at it's best when augmented with a bit of filtering (hello Nashville, you were my best friend, and you too, Snapchat Pretty).

I was a little bit worried about my green hair looking like some kind of mid-life crisis, although actually, I think that trying to look normal for a while there had been more of a crisis, it's not me at all!

Anyway, the green was getting annoying, it was taking over my thoughts, it was what I looked at when I passed a mirror! And green has to die down sometime, right? As Autumn arrived I thought it might be fun to go red (I guess I'm pretty leafy when it comes to colours). Obviously going straight to red from green results in a muddy mess, so I went brown first.

I loved it! I could see me again in the mirror (I wrote a poem about it: Mirror Games), and started playing with makeup and clothes again. I started to feel pretty again which is always lovely.

But I still chose to go redder, although not the rubine red I'd thought of, but a reddish, brown instead.

A photo posted by Cara McKee (@caralmckee) on

It's a colour I can play with, something I can augment with crowns like the one above (which I won from the marvellous Crown and Glory, and which everyone needs in their lives), or with roving dreads which I made ages ago with roving given to me from my lovely mother in law, but hadn't managed to wear until recently. Even my father in law thought they looked great :-)

So where will my hair be going in 2016? I've got some black-red hair dye waiting to go in the bathroom, and I'm loving playing with makeup, so I think I'll be staying reddish for a while. Nothing last forever though eh? I'm loving crimping at the moment, and embracing a bit of Christmassy sparkle, but no doubt things will change when the seasons do.

What about you? How has your style changed in 2016?

Friday, 16 December 2016

2016 in pictures

I'm early with my wish to review the year this year, but I am quite happy to see the end of 2016, it's brought the death of both celebrities and of friends. It's brought impending Brexit and Donald Trump (which means that my children are now calling their farts Donald, tee hee). We have terrible situations around the world, and it's easy to worry about what's going to happen.

Victoria of Verily Victoria Vocalises recently took folks to task for whining about 2016, pointing out that there were good things too, here. She has a point. Reviewing the year helps to focus on the good stuff, so maybe that's why I'm drawn to it at the moment.

Anyway, I'm a massive fan of Instagram, for all the gorgeous pics I get to enjoy, and the positive communication that goes on there. Instagram feels like a very inviting coffee shop where you're guaranteed to meet a friend, I could spend all day there. 

If you go here you can get your best nine Instagram pictures of 2016, the 'best' in this case being the most liked, rather than any artistic assessment. Here are mine.

Top left: leaves in the park in Ilkley while I was there (by myself, it was glorious) for Ilkley Literature Festival. I used this picture for the title image of my poem Red.

Top middle: Miss 6 with the neighbour's cat. This cat kept trying to get into the house while Katsuma was still with us, and would stress him out totally, which was not much fun for a cat in the late stages of heart disease, so I was totally OK with Miss 6 bugging him (obviously not hurting though) in the hopes that he'd stay away. It didn't work, and now he, and another neighbour's cat come around to check out the kittens, while Loki does his best Scrappy Doo impression through the window.

Top right: It's me! Standing in front of a bookcase because that looks writerly. 

Middle left: Me again, gothing it up for a friend's birthday party. Gosh it was great to go for the goth thing again. I've been feeling lots more confident about my looks lately, and enjoying dressing again. I know some people try to hide in black and big clothes, but I love to be wafty and dark.

Middle: We get the best sunsets on the West Coast.

Middle right: I don't like cut roses very much, but am just a little bit obsessed with the flowers. I love the way roses are used in fairy tales, and have written a whole book currently called The Rarest Rose (working on getting it published).

Bottom left: this is the road ten minutes walk or so from my house. I can't drive it because you have to reverse lots and I suck at that in my great big annoying car, but I love walking it, up into the hills.

Bottom middle: Yellow Easter bunny rabbit. I love it, and so do you it seems.

Bottom right: The girls decorating gingerbread with edible glitter. Getting on a chair and taking a photo of them is standard behaviour, right?

So that's my most liked photos of the year, but I also wanted to share with you some of my favourite Instagram feeds, because there is so much that is just gorgeous. Here are just a few of those I love:
  • qtndv (no more information) lots of gorgeous textured pics around London.
  • hidden_egg fabulous images from artist and illustrator Hazel Vellacott.
  • tree_magic I'm a little bit obsessed with trees, so what's not to love? 
  • el2dvz more trees! Foggy trees. Honestly, something for everyone (that loves foggy trees).
  • thesmyth It's Em of Terrible Tumbles blog, my go to British blog for clothes.
  • allison_sadler_ runs The People Shop which is happily nowhere near me, because her style and grace are just amazing, and I would leave that shop penniless. You can shop online, but that's more resistable... just.
  • ourfinland I love looking at Finland. More than I'd love being cold I suspect. So I also follow...
  • merjainen a photographer in Finland.
  • 1dogwoof Chi Wei is an amazing crochet designer. We made her gorgeous octopi (I know it's wrong but I have to) for the kids teachers last year. Awesome. Her website is here. She's also learning to knit, so if that's your bag, check her out.

Do you have any instagram recommendations? Share them in the comments.

Friday, 9 December 2016

2016 in poems - my top ten!

I wanted to say thank you to all you lovely people who have read my blog over this last year. Since I've made it focus on the poetry my readership has really grown, so I thought I'd take a virtual leaf out of the blogging book of Carol at Virtually All Sorts and do a top ten of my poems from the year (according to my blog stats, because you've got to use something, right?). I'll link to all the poems, in case you missed one, and repost my favourite here. Hopefully your favourite is here too, let me know in the comments.

At number 10 is Mirror Games, a sonnet about looking into the mirror with my daughter, written at a time when it seemed I thought in iambic pentameter!

At 9 is May Sun in Scotland, a poem about that wonderful, tenuous moment when the warmth comes back, and how incredibly precious it feels.

Pig headed, my post Brexit whingeing poem is at number 8. I've gone right off this since then. There's still a (big) part of me hoping Brexit never actually manages to happen, but I guess there are a lot of desperate people looking for change, and no doubt a shakeup will be interesting. 

At number 7 is Painting Past Peppa. Another one I've gone right off since I wrote it. This uses imaginary Peppa Pig wallpaper as an allegory for passing time. Ugh. Still, it's popular, no doubt because of Peppa Pig. She's great, don't get me wrong, but we've moved on. We're all about Legends of Korra now (and there's no wallpaper).

Next up, at number 6, is Children Came a short Spenserian Stanza poem about the huge impact having children has on your life, turning it upside down in a way you probably wouldn't sign up for, but which makes it marvellous anyway. I love the Spenserian Stanza, it's just complicated enough and beautifully flexible, but I'm not sure I could write a whole book in it (should I try? I'm kinda tempted - Edward Spenser wrote his book, The Faerie Queene in it).

At number 5 is the poem I wrote in memory of my friend Rose, who sadly was one of those who joined the great rock n roll party in the sky this year. Your Thread considered the roles of the Fates or Moirai in spinning the thread of our lives and in cutting it, hopefully after squeezing every last stitch out. I love this poem. Rose inspired and encouraged my poetry and I owe her success.

Incredibly excitingly, I'm able to announce that the poem in at number 4, has been shortlisted for this year's Great British Write Off! The winners will be announced in January. It's Clematis Dance, another Spenserian Stanza poem, which is now also coming out in the Great British Write Off book, Whispering Words, but you read it here first.

In at number 3 is the tale of what Macbeth's witches did on their day off, a simple little poem called Trick or Treat.

My poem, Return, is about birth, breastfeeding, and the rest of the physicality of mothering, and it's about my youngest, who pushes me the hardest, and hasn't broken me yet.

Finally, at Number 1 this year is my Villanelle written in memory of David Bowie, Gone. This is also coming out in a Forward Poetry anthology at some point (in the new year I think). Again, you saw it here first. Loads of you read that one, and it's great that you stop by.

Anyway, I said that I was going to share my favourite of this top ten with you, so here it is (for Rose):

Your thread

Long and longer still has Clotho spun your yarn of life. 
Lachesis chose the rich colours for your brilliant tapestry, 
embroidered with tales, and interwoven with others'. 
You were well loved. Your life has been well crafted.

But now Atropos stands with shears in hand. 
The yarn is diminishing in quality.
It will run out.

So Clotho spins her thread with careful fingers, 
making it fine, finer still, 
and Lachesis treats it with gentle delicacy.
Looping lace on the layers of your life.

Atropos sets down the shears and takes the delicate thread
of your life left in her fingers, aching like yours.
'Fine work' she says, and she pulls the thread taut, testing it.
Her sisters pause in their labour, their breath bated.

The thread holds.
Atropos smiles.
Her sisters sigh, 
resume their work.

They do not know that Atropos tugs again,
not until the tapestry falls.

The thread lies broken.

© Cara L McKee 8/4/16

Thank you folks, for a fun year of poetry, even if other stuff has been a little off. Do feel free to buy my pamphlet on Etsy, or make a donation for me to get a coffee (I'm a massive fan of a honeycomb latte), and do keep coming back and spread the word. I'm planning to keep doing this stuff, if you'll keep coming back.

Prose for Thought