Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Making Space for the Poet Within - Susan Jane Sims

I always tell people that I have written poetry since childhood and that is absolutely true and yet my output was low for many years because I did not really create a space for it in my life. The people around me were not interested in poetry I felt, and so I largely kept my poet self hidden beneath all my other personae: being a wife, being a mother, being a dutiful daughter, a diligent worker, all these roles got in the way of being a poet, because writing poetry does necessitate actually sitting down to write somewhere, at some time of the day or night. I'd write so many poems in my head throughout these sparse years and sadly very few ended up on paper.

Becoming ill in 2002, with  a thyroid disorder brought about a complete change in my priorities. I had been doing too much, I'd studied full time for a year to gain a PGCE with four children still at school and I'd gone into a busy job as a teacher without thinking about the possible consequences. Finally I had no choice. Health had to come first and I stopped work and study for a period of recuperation. This didn't last long and I soon started to train as a counsellor however I embarked on this with the idea of having my own practice and structuring my own days.

The concept of space; having space to develop as a person myself, and providing others with the space to grow too became a very important part of who I was and still am. The counselling practice when I started it was (and is still) known as Your Space Counselling, a creative writing newsletter I began at around the same time for a small writing group I was facilitating, became Space to Write.

Finally Poetry Space was born - just a modest website at first with the same host as my counselling site. I experimented by putting a few of my own poems on there and enjoyed the feel of looking at them in the lovely uncluttered space the website page enabled me to create. It felt as good as a crisp white page in a published book and I was so excited. I started another page and started  inviting others to send in poems and I put those on, again ensuring they were presented beautifully in a clear uncluttered space. I also encouraged readers to send in feedback and passed it on to the poets.I gradually started including images that poets  and artists sent in and some of my husband Chris' too. He's a great photographer.Poetry Space was growing and becoming valued. Many people began commenting that this was the very best poetry site they had ever come across.

Today, only two years later, Poetry Space is a small independent publisher of poetry books and the online activities have grown as well. The company is loved by most people who comes across it and naturally I'm thrilled by that. I only get the occasional disgruntled poet annoyed that their work has not yet appeared there. I even had one this week who copied in some well known poets who have appeared on our site or reviewed books for us, into a venomous tirade against our policies, including a complaint about how we are spending Arts Council funding!!! I think the chief executive of the Arts council was amongst those copied in. I should imagine it went straight into the said person's recycle bin.

 I patiently explained that we don't receive any Arts council funding, never have, and never intend to apply. The aim is for Poetry Space to be self sufficient with commercial  activities like the competition and gift shop supporting the publication of superb quality poetry books for people to enjoy and at the same time helping poets like Philip Lyons and David R. Morgan achieve wider recognition. The output for 2012 will include three children's books (the first by previously unpublished poet, Fiona Murphy and her artist friend Michelle Last) and at least one individual collection by a poet yet to be selected. I receive so many wonderful manuscripts and it is hard to choose. Even harder to reject people who have clearly spent a lot of time and effort in the preparation of manuscripts.

On November 26th this year (this month even) we shall have our first Poetry Space at the Poetry Cafe event at Covent Garden with Philip Lyons and David R. Morgan and on February 4th 2012 we shall be bringing together poets from our past two competitions and our anthologies. Invitations will go out by e-mail and via the websites and blogs, so look out for that and get in touch if you have had poems published in our printed anthologies or been successful in our 2010 and 2011 competitions. Plans for 2013 include a "New Voices" project where I shall be bring together 4/6 poets new to print in one book.

We have received over forty thousand visitors this year. Some drop in to read poems by new voices and more established ones, others to buy books or gifts from the online bookshop and many submit to our online showcase of poetry, others to enter our competition. Our online Facebook open poetry group now has 70 members and whenever I look in there are poems being posted and poetry being discussed which is wonderful to see. Today I noticed a poem posted in  Greek (I think), in honour of a  poet from Ghana (Michael Somuah) who had his first exposure on Poetry Space and is now well known in Greece after winning a Poetry Peace award presented in that country.

 Well done Michael, you have made great use of the space.

To every one reading this, enjoy the space, enjoy the writing and enjoy the freedom it gives you to be yourself on the page.

(Susan Jane Sims)


  1. Now be honest Susan, am I that far from the truth. There you go again -- can you please let others have an opinion.

    Count Kinkinski, Doctor of Philosophy

    1. ? What's that about ? Your opinion could have been your comment. This just seems snide to me, Count K.