good things to read

billboards, poetry, Micah Purnell, Manchester, meditation

Billboards for… poetry

Dear progress is a series of word art/poems written by Micah Purnell and displayed on billboards around the city of Manchester, England.

The video explains both the wording and what Micah is thinking on.  He describes this work as:



Poetry of Resilience – Irina Ratushinskaya

Poetry can inspire by acknowledging a person, telling their story, celebrating their life’s witness.  I just came across a poem by Luci Shaw, which tells us another poet/person’s story, their persistence through harsh circumstances.  Encouraging.  Luci’s poem begins with her introduction to Irina, in italics.

Irina Ratushinskaya
—Russian poet and physicist who was sentenced
to seven years in a Soviet labor camp for writing about
freedom and God. We met at a conference in Oxford
and gave a joint poetry reading.

In the gulag, denied paper, she wrote her
words on soap, then rinsed them off into the icy air
like breathing hope into the world. The words
she held safe in the wide freedom of her memory.
They were words of faith and love and outrage.
They were like her children, held in her mind’s
embrace for all those years until she could
speak them aloud and own them without fear,
un-silenced and un-cowed.

I have her little gold pill box, a love gift, still
holding in its minor space a breath of her courage.

Luci Shaw

Irina Ratushinskaya

Irina Ratushinkaya‘s account of her gulag imprisonment and how she and the other women survived, supporting one another, is published in her book: “Grey is the Colour of Hope” (resissued Hodder and Stoughton, 2016, Sceptre imprint.  ISBN: 9781473637214 available as paperback and e-book/Kindle)

Part of Irina’s poetry, in the poem “I will live and survive” is quoted in the Guardian’s fascinating obituary:

And I will tell of the first beauty
I saw in captivity.

A frost-covered window! No spy-holes, nor walls,
Nor cell-bars, nor the long endured pain –
Only a blue radiance on a tiny pane of glass,
A cast pattern – none more beautiful could be dreamt!
The more clearly you looked the more powerfully blossomed
Those brigand forests, campfires and birds!
And how many times there was bitter cold weather
And how many windows sparkled after that one –
But never was it repeated
That upheaval of rainbow ice!

If you’d like to read more of her poetry, its books are titled:

  • “No, I’m not afraid”
  • “Beyond the Limit”
  • “Pencil Letter”
  • “Dance with a shadow”
Bookjacket "In the Beginning"

early formative memoir: Irina Ratushinskaya

She has written the memoir of her earlier years as: “In the beginning: The formative years of a dissident poet”.

Her novels are “Fictions and Lies” and “The Odessans”

Creative Takeaway

Do you know someone who you deeply admire for their persistence through life, despite great difficulties?  Perhaps they could be a theme to inspire your song/poetry/visual art/dance/craft.  You may find this an encouraging exercise, which strengthens your own resilience in life.

Amateur Hour tips for Weight Loss

If you’re feeling the need to lose a few pounds for the new year, you have my sympathies. I am very amateur at this process, but have found a few useful hints along the way. I am not a medical doctor nor qualified to be a weight loss counsellor – any weight loss programme should only be undertaken through consultation with your doctor – these are just things I’ve found personally helpful.


  1. I decide that I’m in it for the long haul – I’m thinking of it as a year’s project to eat more healthily
  2. I decide what I aim/need to lose and then break it down into smaller goals
  3. I expect to be more energetic as I lose weight
  4. I realise that I may get support from friends, but I myself am my best encourager and coach
  5. I am aiming to do a Personal Best, not be the Slimmer of the Year
  6. As I’m overweight, I owe it to my body to decrease the load on it, especially as I get older
  7. A trusted friend read in a science report that every one pound of weight you lose, takes 4 lbs of pressure off your knees. So when I have a time when I ‘only’ lose one pound, I remember that my knees are happy
  8. I will have a more exciting choice of clothing in shops and look better in them
  9. I’ll look younger



I’m not going to obssess about food but instead make it a small part of my life

I get unhelpful foods out of my sight and have helpful foods to hand

I get rid of thinking about food as much as possible by having a week’s list of what I’ll eat each day for breakfast, lunch and tea. Also, a matching food list, so I buy all the ingredients ahead of time. This takes a lot of time to work out at the start.  But once I’ve done it for a few weeks, I then reuse the weeks’ menu plans and shopping lists.  If I have 3 weeks of such, I will have enough variety to not be bored.

Helpful things I do:

  1. I find someone who has lost weight successfully, gradually and kept it off, on a well-known, sensible weight loss programme which is medically unquestioned. I join that programme. Having that person’s success before me is a role model and encouragement to keep going.
  2. I weigh myself only once weekly.  My health programme has scales more accurate than home scales: digital and to the half-lb.  Also, the weight doesn’t wobble as you lean over to see the result.  However, I have a friend with enough iron self will to not join a class but lose it alone, and weigh herself (works for her).
  3. I try to drink 2 litres of water a day. I find it helps having a bottle of water beside me as I work, especially when at a computer, where I’m not really aware of what I’m eating and drinking as I’m looking at the screen.  The week when I don’t keep up my water intake, my body panics and tries to hold onto liquid = liquid weight gain on the scales
  4. For maximum healthy intake, in hot weather I can eat salads, in cold weather, I rely on soups.  But they have to be exciting and with a huge variety of ingredients.
  5. When I cook a healthy diet meal, I freeze extra. That way, on a day when I’m too time-squeezed or uninspired to cook, there’s a slimmer meal ready to defrost and reheat in minutes
  6. I get a wineglass with the measures marked on it, so I can have my favourite tipple as an occasional treat, but measured accurately
  7. I only cook healthy meals – if other people sharing the house with me want to eat something unhealthy, they have to cook it themselves. Usually, for simplicity, everyone in the house then eats healthily (and eats unhealthy snacks privately)
  8. I get a life apart from food! I refuse to think about it as much as possible
  9. I brace my wallet – buying more fruit and vegetables definitely increases my food bill – but it’s a payoff to get better health
  10. I find a healthy but genuinely enjoyable in between meals treat – e.g. I have found a fat-free yoghurt in a flavour I absolutely love

How NOT to lose weight

Now, in this area, I am an expert, sadly. Here is how to fail to lose weight:

  • Think wistfully about it but do nothing
  • Compare yourself to someone else and give up.  One programme I crashed out of was when I joined a programme with a co-worker, who had only a little weight to lose. Result: she achieved her target loss, celebrated and I was still slogging along, hungry, discouraged and with more to lose.  I gave up.
  • Decide that weight programmes work for everyone else but not you
  • When you do lose weight, ‘reward’ yourself with food
  • Eat a meal later than usual, when you’re almost fainting with hunger – your plummeting body sugar means your body sends emergency messages to your brain to eat lots of anything, so you find yourself eating vast quantities of unhealthy stuff
  • Run out of healthy food options in the fridge
  • Talk about food all the time with other people
  • Become a diet bore – you will, eventually, bore yourself
bookcovers by Dobby Gibson

A poet recommends….

American poet Dobby Gibson (featured in blog posts on previous 2 days) took time during his New Year to give us the low-down on what poetry book inspires him to write poetry.  Also, a personal note on how the writing of his next book is progressing….

Question: What are you reading now?



Dobby Gibson: The book I’m reading now is a 2017 book I’m rereading for probably the tenth time already. It’s called “There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé” by the American poet Morgan Parker.

This book is a total delight. Parker combines the unpredictable swervy-ness of a New York School-style of poetry with a wit, urgency and voice that is contemporary and completely her own. It was the most exciting book of poems I read in 2017. It’s a book that makes me want to write poems (the best kind!).


Dobby Gibson: A poet, a press, an editor

Having met Dobby Gibson in yesterday’s blog post, we get more of a sense of a practicing poet’s world with today’s video, including an interview with his editor (Jeff Shotts), his publisher (Graywolf Press) and Dobby reading at the book launch.  (This is his third book of poetry).

*CommandCo Exclusive Tomorrow* We’ve been in touch with Dobby, and found out his favourite poetry book of 2017 – the one which makes him want to write more poetry.  Also, the latest progress on his next book….  All this coming on tomorrow’s blog post!


More about the poet

If you’d like to find out more about the poet, his website will give a good indication of what books he has read, poems of his on the internet, and audio and video recordings and interviews.  In fact, it’s a good example of a poet’s website, for those of us in at the beginning of life as a published poet, or working towards that.

Screen shot 2017-12-29 at 12.03.53

Booklaunch Reading: Dobby Gibson reads “it becomes you”, his third book

Writing a Poetry Book

In today’s video, Dobby is honest about the time taken to write this third book – even though it was a book with his usual publisher, he began by sending the editor about 8 poems, and then taking 3 years to accumulate enough other poems to make this book.

Useful to hear that kind of realism, to budget for the time it will take.

poetry, writing, tips, Andrew Motion

Tips for writing good poetry – Andrew Motion

Andrew Motion was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom for 10 years – and he’s come up with 10 tips to help you write good poetry.

You’ll find the full 10 in the original BBC article here.

Here are a few tips (in my words)

  • write from life, about real life as it’s lived now
  • what are you truly interested in? write about that
  • get skilled in the craft of poetry writing and use all those tools
  • read a lot, keep revising, keep writing
  • find your own best time of day to write

and a huge observation in Andrew Motion’s original language:

Reading your poetry out loud is crucial and absolutely indispensable because wherever we reckon the meaning of a poem might lie, we want to admit that it’s got as much to do with the noise it makes when we hear it aloud, as it has to do with what the words mean when we see them written down on the page.

In a really fundamental way, I think poetry is an acoustic form and we’ve slightly forgotten that in the last thousand years. Since the invention of the book, the aliveness of poetry has been perhaps slightly pushed to the edge of things.

For 5 minutes, he was interviewed with a string of questions – watch this for quick transfer of information:

In the short video above, he answers some big questions on (deep breath):

  • what is the difference between prose and poetry
  • how important is rhyme? does it have to be there in poetry?
  • what are you trying to achieve when you write a poem?
  • how did you come to writing poetry (answer: inspiring English teacher)

If someone isn’t ‘into poetry’ – where could they begin?

Andrew Motion: “I think they should buy a big fat anthology of poetry, and when they hit somebody that they like, they should persevere, go and get that person’s individual collection – and when they don’t like it, they should turn over the page and wait until they get to someone they feel is more sympathetic to them.”

Creative Takeaway

Expand your experience of poetry – read wider – by applying the same principle as for the beginner to poetry – get an anthology, and from it find new names/styles which fascinate you.  Then check out those individuals.

Try writing early in the morning – at one point, when Andrew Motion was writing a novel, he wrote from 5.30 am to 9.00 am.




“How to be a Poet” published this week

If you’ve ever wanted advice on “How to be a Poet”, there’s a book with precisely that title, by key UK poetry publisher Nine Arches press, published in a few days’ time (20th December 2017.)  It’s written by Jo Bell and Jane Commane – who are poets and editors in their own write (right).


The book is a sizeable 200 pages long, on sale for about £15 (depending whether you’ve buying in a real bookshop or an online retailer) and as well as Jo and Jane’s insights, includes articles by “special guests”.

How will this book help my writing?