The Craft 3: Paul Brookes

I’m really pleased to have Paul Brookes here. He’s a lovely poet – his poem Our Spired Unicorn was one of my favourite advent calendar poems. He’s also immensely generous to other poets – he regularly opens his blog for ekphrastic challenge months and for themed days, and supports other poets on Twitter.

Paul is a shop assistant, who lives in a cat house full of teddy bears. His first play was performed at The Gulbenkian Theatre, Hull.  His chapbooks include The Fabulous Invention Of Barnsley, (Dearne Community Arts, 1993). The Headpoke and Firewedding (Alien Buddha Press, 2017), A World Where and She Needs That Edge (Nixes Mate Press, 2017, 2018) The Spermbot Blues (OpPRESS, 2017), Port Of Souls (Alien Buddha Press, 2018), Please Take Change (, 2018), Stubborn Sod, with Marcel Herms  (artist) (Alien Buddha Press, 2019), As Folk Over Yonder ( Afterworld Books, 2019). Forthcoming Khoshhali with Hiva Moazed (artist), Our Ghost’s Holiday (Final book of threesome “A Pagan’s Year”) . He is a contributing writer of Literati Magazine and Editor of Wombwell Rainbow Interviews. Had work broadcast on BBC Radio 3 The Verb and videos of his Self Isolation sonnet sequence featured by Barnsley Museums and Hear My Voice Barnsley. He also does photography commissions and his family history articles have appeared in The Liverpool Family History magazine.

Here he is, talking about his craft:

I was really excited to see your Alice poems – I love the way you approached them. How did they come about? 

I am not a Martian. Their poetry is too much like Anglo-Saxon riddles. In my collection ‘A World Where” the reader knows from the title what is being turned upside down. They are not riddles. I wanted the same for my Alice poems. When choosing classic texts I am always surprised what I find when I alter the titles: “The Wonderland In Alice” immediately had the narrative shape of young woman finding herself. I have no problems with accepting absurdity in my writing, or in life, increasingly so as I get older. Absurdity is a different way of looking at the world, but it must have some relation to everyday life. Too often, when absurdity shifts into riddles and puzzles it becomes too clever for its own good. That stuff puts me off, Big time

And what are you working on at the moment?

A pamphlet of sonnets

Have my pamphlet of serious whimsy, to be called “A Wonderland In Alice”, or “A Bag Of Mashings” published

Finishing my detective novella whose styles vary from gritty realism to wildly surrealistic.

Completing my life and laughter confirming companion pamphlet to “Port Of Souls”

Assembling poems and artworks for a pamphlet about my late mam and dad and family history.

Completing the story of my ancestor Captain Charles Teft Laurence, each chapter deals with a ship in which he was a nineteenth century Merchant Mariner.

Assembling an exhibition of my photos.

And a few things in preparation I can’t talk about now.

You are very active and generous to other poets on social media. How did your “theme days” come about? What has been your favourite so far?

It is an idea that arrived in my head as a carrying on of the campaigning work of the late Jamie Dedes and Reuben Woolley. I have no favourites. I am lit up by theIr imagination and creativity of others that I love to enflame. All writers should be encouraged and supported in as many ways as possible.

You’ve been writing for a long time. What does poetry mean to you? If you had to define a poem, how would you define it?

I have a Youtube site called “Poetry Is My Bag For Life”. While other sensible school children played football, I sat on the side with a big green book of empty pages and filled them with pale imitations of William Blake and Dylan Thomas. My dad made sure I imbibed the Burton version of Under Milk Wood from an early age.

Kate Clanchy describes writing poetry as being part of a conversation with other poets. Are there particular poets you feel you respond to?

All poets I correspond with are part of my conversation with poetry. Each provides something new and refreshing.

If you could only read 3 poets for the rest of your life, who would you choose?

William Blake, Dylan Thomas and the sadly missed Peter Reading

Do you have a writing routine? 

No. I wake up and go to sleep with a constant stream of voices in my head asking to be heard.

What about editing? How do you go about it?

I call it “mulling”. It happens subconsciously, most of the time. After writing for so many years your brain kicks into editing abd proof reading mode. Mistakes glare out at you like mirror stains.

What sort of response do you hope for from your readers?

I hope to engage their imaginations so they have confidence to write themselves. 

How do you find your inspiration?

In all and everything. Walking helps me mull over stuff. Working in a supermarket introduces me to the stories folk tell. Engages me in confrontations and makes me a witness to the life of the High Street.

Do you think you have particular themes that recur?

My adoration for the rude and ribald. My delight in Yorkshire dialect. My love of fantasy, science fiction and thrillerish gritty realism. My abhorrence for inhumanity.

Do you ever feel blocked? How do you deal with it?

To coin a phrase I have a poem about that:


Nothing to write down,
I wake up, pay attention
to life around me.

How is she dressed?
Why is she here?
How does she move?
Where is she going?

This fly, this ant, this cat,
this woman with a child.

Who should I interview next? And why?

Tough question. Ankh Spice, Tim Fellows, Laura Potts, or choose any of those I have interviewed over the years.

Here’s a poem from Paul:

In World

without corners the curve becomes an edge.
Go so far over the roundness and you
will fall. Nothing is sharp, just rough, aged.
There are no thorns, nothing to catch, cut through.

No scissors or other ways to open.
The world seems padded, coddled. Comfortable.
If something breaks, examine the broken
bit to find roundness like a fresh bubble.

All windows are spherical. No pins,
needles. Bowls, cups and plates have rounded
rims. You can’t impale anyone, anything.
There are no nails, no staples. This grounded

world is to us a well kept taxi, all
soft sounds, clunks and clicks, bouncy, a soft ball.

If you want more of Paul, you can find him here:

Twitter: @PaulDragonwolf1




He’s a lovely reader of poems. And he’s doing an ekphrastic challenge for NaPoWriMo – starting tomorrow, on his wordpress site. There’s still time to sign up.


The Craft 2: Siobhan Mac Mahon

Introducing Siobhan Mac Mahon. I’ve known Siobhan for many years – she’s a great friend and a wonderful poet. However, we only really know each other in real life! I’ve got a blog and I do Twitter. Siobhan is on Facebook and YouTube and Instagram. There’s not much overlap!

Siobhan Mac Mahon (MA Creative Writing) is an award-winning Irish  poet who has been writing and performing her poetry for over twenty years. Siobhan has collaborated extensively with other artists to create Spoken Word projects, combining poetry with music, dance and with film and has been awarded Arts Council funding twice for her collaborative projects. Much of her work celebrates the Sacred Feminine and our deep connection to the Earth. Winner of WOMAD Open mic and the Ilkely Lit. Open mic, she has performed widely in the UK and in Ireland, some highlights include: the Southbank Centre, London, Stanza Poetry Festival, Wicklow Arts Festival – Ireland, The Brigid of Faughart Festival, Mountshannon Arts Festival, University of Vienna – Austria, Artemis International Festival – Spain, 100 Thousand Poets for Change, Italy, as well as numerous venues in Yorkshire. Shortlisted for the Hennessey New Irish Writing Poetry award 2018, She has been published both online and in print, most recently in a Bloodaxe/ Raving Beauties Anthology – Hallelujah for 50 Foot Women, the Irish Times and in Skylight 47.

I was lucky enough to do a live workshop with her just before lockdown started last year, and did a second one over Zoom during lockdown. Her workshops are very much like her – warm, inspiring, nurturing and a little bit wild. 

Let’s start with a poem:

Advice for my Daughter

They will try to keep you small.
They will warn you about the dangers
of being too loud, too clever,
too wise, too ambitious.
Too much.
They will mutter words,
darkly, under their breath, such as:
strident and over-emotional,
hormonal and over-sensitive.
They will threaten you
with ancient memories
of asylums and burnings,
they will issue dire warnings
about upsetting the apple cart,
about gaining a few pounds,
about dressing like a tart.

Ignore them all.

Don’t play by their rules;
you’ll never win.
Make up your own rules –
tip the whole feckin cart over,
make cider from its sweet juices,
throw a wild party,
invite your sisters
and your brothers,
put your red dress on
and dance until dawn
on the dying embers
of the Patriarchy.
Speak your beautiful mind,
flaunt your wild wisdom,
be a brazen hussy
with the truth
that you know,
encoded in your DNA.
Hear generations of women rising
from their forgotten graves
applauding you;
clapping their bony fingers in delight.

Go on girl get up
on your high-horse –
you’ll have a magnificent view from there.

I haven’t seen you since just before lockdown! In terms of writing, what have you been doing over the last few months?

I’ve been doing a few different things over the last few months. During the lockdown before Christmas I began really using Instagram as a platform for my poetry. I am very much a Spoken Word poet and Instagram is a great way of getting my poetry out there, especially in these times when we can’t perform to live audiences. I filmed the first poem from my local woods and said I would post a poem every second day during lockdown – from the woods. So, that was that! – hail rain or shine I filmed all the poems from the woods, which added a whole other lovely dimension to the videos, bringing nature and the changing season into the project.

And are you working on any projects at the moment?

For the last few years I have been travelling to Dundalk in Ireland to perform my poetry at the wonderful ‘Brigid of Dundalk Festival’ which takes place around the Celtic Spring festival of Imbolc, meaning ‘in the belly/womb’. Much of my work is a reclamation and celebration of the Sacred Feminine and of our deep connection to the earth. Brigid is revered in Ireland as both Goddess and saint. She is Goddess of  healers, poets, smiths, childbirth and inspiration. Her name means “exalted one” This year, of course we can’t gather in person, so I am in the middle of getting some new poems finished and working out how best to pre- record the poems for the festival, to make it feel as ‘live’ as possible – so I’m going to have to master a few tech. skills!

What does poetry mean to you? If you had to define a poem, how would you define it?

Poetry to me is a way of trying to express the magic and mystery of this extraordinary world we live in, to bring back stories and wisdom from, what the Irish would call  ‘the other worlds’ It is a way to wrap words around the invisible, the sacred, the numinous so that we may catch a glimpse of it.

Kate Clanchy describes writing poetry as being part of a conversation with other poets. Are there particular poets you feel you respond to?

There are so many poets I respond to and I have shelves of poetry books! I’m also involved in a very lively poetry scene in Leeds (online atm) and I love to hear poets read/perform their own work.

And if you could only read 3 poets for the rest of your life, who would you choose?

It would be very hard to choose only 3 poets – but, if I had to, I would have to include Paula Meehan, David Whyte and Mary Oliver.

I don’t have a writing routine– I keep thinking it might be a good idea! 

Do you have a writing routine? 

I don’t have a writing routine– I keep thinking it might be a good idea! 

What about editing? How do you go about it?

I am a very slow poet and will usually do numerous drafts. I find I need to leave poems ‘to rest’ for a bit in between drafts. If I begin editing a poem too soon after the first draft, my critical mind can be too forceful. I have learnt, over the many years I have been writing, to have a delicate (but rigorous) touch when editing. I find if I ‘go at’ a poem too much I can ‘kill it’ The final decision for any line or verse is always made by speaking it out loud, often recording the poem and listening back.

What sort of response do you hope for from your readers?

First and foremost, I hope to connect with the reader/listener.. I would hope that a poem will touch a chord inside the reader/listener, perhaps bringing them closer to something they already know deep inside themselves. I would hope that the reader/listener may feel moved: to tears, to laughter, to outrage at some social/moral injustice

I know you’re a great performer of poetry. Is performance poetry different to page poetry? 

Yes, I think performance poetry is different to page poetry. With performance poetry you are really dealing with energy, with sound, with rhythm and silence as much as you are dealing with words. It’s more like music and it is also a two-way thing, between you, the performer, and the audience, you both participate in the live experience. 

How important is inspiration? How do you find your inspiration?

Inspiration comes when it comes. It’s a gift, not something I can make happen. It’s more a process of clearing out the busyness of my mind which can then make space for inspiration to arrive. I find being in nature and trying to be present, rather than thinking, is often conducive to a poem ‘arriving’ Or taking a lovely long bath, or making soup! A poem usually arrives with just a few lines and I like to write it down right away and then leave it for a bit before I begin making a poem from the initial inspiration. 

Do you think you have particular themes that recur?

Yes, I definitely have recurring ‘themes’ I write mostly about the Sacred Feminine. Initially (over 20 years ago) I was I was trying to ‘find’ any hint or trace of the Sacred Feminine, I was scrabbling around in the dark trying to even language what I intuited deep within; that She even ‘existed’ So much of the Sacred Feminine has been banished and obliterated from our consciousness, let alone our culture and any of the patriarchal religions. So, my work was an unpicking of much of what I had learnt and imbibed. It was also very much a reclamation of the sacredness of the body, and of the earth and our deep connection through the body and through nature to the Divine.

Do you ever feel blocked? How do you deal with it? 

Sometimes I feel blocked and it’s often when I am trying too hard or when a new ‘voice’ is beginning to appear in my writing, which I am not yet familiar with. To unblock I walk in nature, make soup, garden in the Summer – just let it be for a bit….

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given? What advice would you pass on to others? 

I think one of the most useful pieces of writing advice I have been given was by my tutor during the MA in Creative Writing I did. I had written a strong poem which very much pushed my point of view on the reader and he asked me whether I could ‘allow space for the reader to enter the poem…?’ At first I disregarded what he said, thinking that I didn’t want to dilute the ‘passion’ of the poem – but then I began to grasp what he had said; the gift and value of inviting your reader in rather than bludgeoning them over the head with your words! And I discovered that  poems are, paradoxically perhaps, much more powerful when the reader is given space to ‘enter/participate’ in the poem.

If people want to read more of your work, where should they go? 

The best place to listen to/read my poems is probably on my Instagram account or my YouTube account (my website is currently down) I am so much more a performance poet than a written poet. Or just google Siobhan Mac Mahon poet and you’ll find links to my work/performances.

Instagram :Siobhanmacmahonpoet

Who should I interview next? And why?

Kathleen Strafford is a wonderful poet up here in Leeds (though she is American) and she runs a regular poetry night (now online) –  Runcible Spoon. I don’t have her e mail, but if you want to contact her I will get it for you.

The Craft 1: Jane Dougherty

PENTAX Digital Camera

Welcome to The Craft, my new monthly series. It’s partly a way of celebrating and uplifting some of my favourite poets, and partly a way to justify being really nosy. I’m interested in how people write, in why they write, and in what inspires them.

I’m so pleased that Jane is my first guest. Jane was one of the first poets I came across when I started my poetry blog, four years ago now. At the time she was putting out some great prompts and offering generous and helpful feedback. Through those prompts I met a group of poets who led me to my favourite sites. I feel I owe a debt of gratitude to Jane for really taking me seriously as I took my first poetic steps – like Bambi on ice, clutching at a pen for support. And now she’s here again, supporting me as I take my first steps in interviewing someone else.

Jane has written a series of YA fantasy novels, and has just published two books of poetry, birds and other feathers and thicker than water. She is a product of the Irish diaspora. She was brought up in Yorkshire and educated in Manchester and London before moving to France to work in the wine trade. She spent fourteen years in Paris where she married and had four children, studied Irish for a year and taught herself Italian. Next move was to Laon in Picardy, a medieval gem of a town set in beautiful countryside, where her fifth child was born. She spent four years in Bordeaux, and now lives in a meadow in rural Lot-et-Garonne with her family, a Spanish greyhound and a posse of cats.

To give you a flavour of Jane’s writing, here’s a poem from her collection birds and other feathers. It’s about her mother’s mother.


She walked with the Eagle, my gran,
not the thin-lipped bishop
with his pointing finger.

She walked the Reek alone,
no ghosts to take her arm,
but the dark, roiling presence of the mountain stone
and the ocean waves that swelled in her heart,
with the voices of the loved and lost.

Her sorrow is part of me still,
though she flies now, eagle-high.
I was born with her tears in my blood,
like rain in the wild Mayo sky—
they will run in its tide till I die.

So, welcome, Jane – and thank you for being my first guest!

What does poetry mean to you? If you had to define a poem, how would you define it?

That’s a difficult question for starters! There are so many kinds of poem, different styles and written for different reasons. I would have said that a poem ought to transcribe an emotion to the written or spoken word using as many of the senses as necessary. Story poems that have protagonists who aren’t the poet still use emotion to set out the story rather than dialogue or prosaic scene-setting. But there are also poems that don’t convey any emotion at all, that rely on surprise, humour, shape or an unfathomable element for effect. Whatever the style, the common denominator is the message. I see a poem as a form of communication, a two way effort between poet and reader.

You’ve written plenty of prose – flash fiction, short stories, novels. What brings you back to poetry?

The music. In both reading and writing prose I ‘see’ the story, like watching a film. Poetry though, I ‘hear’, which probably explains why I am drawn to lyrical poetry rather than ‘witty’ poetry which often has no melody. I can’t sing, but I love music. Writing poetry is the closest I get to making it.

Kate Clanchy describes writing poetry as being part of a conversation with other poets. Are there particular poets you feel you respond to? 

The kind of poetry that I am drawn to is in some ways like the novels I enjoy the most, escapist, with beautiful language, creating or describing worlds to explore. I don’t get much pleasure out of reading introspective stuff that takes the reader on a meandering/disjointed journey inside the writer’s head. I like the exploration of the natural and the mythical, emotion, writing that makes me weep. I can’t think of a contemporary poet that moves me the way some Walter de la Mare or John Masefield, Francis Ledwidge, or the best of them all, Yeats does. Seamus Heaney comes closest, and sometimes Mary Oliver. There are lines of Byron, Keats, Shakespeare, Donne, Coleridge, Shelley, Rossetti, Stephens that I love too. It’s a question of feeling empathy with what the poet chooses to write about and how he/she expresses it. Kipling might have written some rattling memorable lines, but it’s hard not to hear the jingo in the rhythm. 

If you could only read 3 poets for the rest of your life, who would you choose?

Yeats and Ledwidge because of the beauty of their verse, and Shakespeare both because of the words and because reading his work is a journey into another era. There’s enough there for most lifetimes.

Do you have a writing routine? 

I write all the time. After the birth of my third child, I started working from home and was in the ideal place (sitting in front of a computer) to switch to my own writing whenever I needed a break. Now the free-lance stuff has dried up, I can indulge myself as much as I want.

What about editing? How do you go about it? 

I don’t. I ought to probably, and I’m sure real poets do, but I don’t. I write the poem and that’s it; done. Some poems with a strict form take time to tweak into shape, but I’m usually so pleased that I’ve finally found a world combination that works, that I don’t touch it again in case it all falls apart.

What sort of response do you hope for from your readers?

I hope the reader hears the same words that I hear and that they create an image similar to the one that is the backdrop I see. If I haven’t made others feel the way I felt at the moment of writing, there’s some connection not working.

You frequently write structured poetry, using a form. What do you think a form offers, as opposed to free verse?

As I said earlier, I ‘hear’ poems. I don’t get an acute visual image as I do with prose, but the words make a sort of music. A structured poem has obvious affinities with music, and it’s easier to get that song effect using a form with a regular beat. Most of us accept that when we sing a song, the words have to fit the tune. A poem-song should work the same way. I try to follow the music. There’s no reason why free verse can’t be melodic; we just have to listen to the words and how they sound together. Depends what effect you’re looking for, but that regular rhythm helps to make a line memorable, and a rhyme, I believe, can give it extra force. 

How important is inspiration? How do you find your inspiration?

Inspiration, if you’re alive and curious, is there, in everything. I think we have to let ourselves find something to say about absolutely anything, in the same way that when you’re learning to draw, you should be able to find something interesting in every pebble or bit of junk in the road. I can be motivated by the sight of a kestrel landing in an oak tree on the lane as easily as by an old story, a memory or a family event. There’s always a new angle to be explored of even the most banal subjects.

Do you think you have particular themes that recur?

For the last three years I’ve lived in the countryside and very rarely leave these fields. I’m not sure how long it will be before the view and the cycle of the seasons begins to pall, but for the moment, it’s a fund of interest. The themes of growth and renewal often crop up, obviously birds are ever-present, the changing sky, life, death, but also roots. I think a lot about where mine started and where they’re going.

Do you ever feel blocked? How do you deal with it? 

No. I always have an idea on the boil. With novels, the story is there, the film just waiting to be turned into prose. There will always be sections that feel like a slog, where I have to force myself to keep at it, but I haven’t ground to a halt yet. 

What are you working on at the moment? 

My writing is almost always drawn from or wrapped up in myth, and the myths I know best are the Irish and Norse. Apparently there’s no call for that kind of stuff. It’s Greek or nothing, so for once, much as I dislike the Greek myths, I’ve decided to go with the flow. The story I’m currently working on is based on the Minotaur myth, set at the end of the Minoan civilisation, the fall of Knossos to the Greeks and their new ideas that turned the ancient world upside down. It’s basically the end of lingering matriarchy and the takeover of patriarchy. I hope it’s going to be Greek mythy enough to please someone.  

Who should I interview next? And why?

That’s another tough one. I’m getting to know a lot of new poets, so one of them would be appropriate. Andy MacGregor, for example, whose poems are very much rooted in the natural world. Another choice would be Yvonne Marjot who I knew first as a novelist, so her path has been similar to my own in that way at least. I’d like to hear how she works and why.

If you want to read more of Jane’s work, she blogs at and tweets as @MJDougherty33. And best of all, you can find her poetry collections here:

thicker than water 

birds and other feathers