Sunday, 17 May 2020

The Skylark's Call

I’m delighted to say that my second collection of poetry will be published this autumn by Dempsey & Windle. The launch is planned for late October or November and I very much hope that such a gathering will be permitted by then. This will make it almost ten years since my first collection, ‘Latch’, was launched in Belfast by Lagan Press. Just a few months later, I was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer and had to cancel my reading tour of Ireland and England from my hospital bed.

All of the poems in ‘The Skylark’s Call’ were written, on and off, during my years of treatment for, and recovery from, cancer. The poems don’t seek to address the cancer experience directly; I did that in this blog. The poems probe the memories and meanings that surround a cluster of places, people and artefacts. Together, they explore the vitality and impermanence of everyday life. These are complex issues, which, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, many more people are having to address.

‘The Skylark’s Call’ is my working title. I began work on the manuscript almost two years ago and it has gone through many iterations and a series of different titles. My manuscript is now finalised apart from the title. However, the only poem in which a skylark appears is the second to last one, ‘Birdsong’, a eulogy for my younger brother, Robert, who died of cancer in 2010. The thinking behind my choice of title is to bring together two very contrasting meanings that are evoked by the skylark in poetry: on the one hand, symbolising hope and inspiration (eg Wordsworth, Shelley); on the other, symbolising earthly suffering and death (eg Ted Hughes). These difficult contrasts describe the territory I have been inhabiting since 2011 and that of this collection of poems. I’d very much appreciate any thoughts and comments people may have on my working title. There is a short while before it has to be finalised.

All writers experience rejection from publishers. I began submitting early versions of my manuscript about 18 months ago, without success. Since then the manuscript has been transformed, with many new poems alongside many revisions. I’d very much like to thank all of the people who have helped me to improve this collection, in particular, the late Ciaran Carson, Moyra Donaldson and of course my dearest T. Working drafts of most of the poems in the collection have been discussed in the Queen’s Writers’ Group over the past six years and I am very grateful for the constructive feedback I’ve received from members of the group.

For those who may not have come across them, Dempsey & Windle are an independent publisher based in Guildford, England. They have been publishing poetry for the best part of a decade. They specialise in debut pamphlets but have also published a number of full collections from well-regarded writers during this time. I’m very much looking forward to the launch of ‘The Skylark’s Call’ this autumn and I shall be sure to invite all of my friends to join me at this celebration.

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