Tag Archives: Red Squirrel Press

Hygge Feature #16 hyggekrog

A hyggekrog is a small nook where one can feel safe. Maybe a window seat or a cosy reading corner, an inglenook fireplace or a small room. My study at home, for example, is quite a small, book-lined room with a real fire and a sofa to snuggle up on. It’s a burrow for humans, and may go back as an instinct to our cave-dwelling days where ancient humans were safe from wild beasts. Small children, and I was one such, love to make tents from blankets indoors, or play under the table, hide under the bed.


Photo by Angela Topping, of the wonderful lounge at Gladstone’s Library. There is a window seat in the bay to the right, and a bookcase full of books to the left, and in the winter, they light the fire. I loved this room when I was Writer-in-Residence in 2013. Cosy up with these poems:

Places to Run Away to Without Leaving Home
Leave Sunday-afternoon homework,
stealthily climb the stairs.
Snug into the linen cupboard, pull the door to.
Leave just a crack of light to pierce the cosy nest.
Daydream in muted light of burrows and bunnies,
hedgehogs and birds, under pillows and quilts
like warm snow, become a forest creature.
Snuggle in and doze.
Steal into your big brother’s room.
Sit in silence, touch hands-off things:
Delve into that realm so different from your own.
Gain clues from LP’s. Aftershave, big shoes.
Make roars through a black -rocket clarinet
Become a jazz man in a sleazy dive.
Read his diary, gather ammunition
for when blackmail might be a good idea.
Lean back against a fence, under a hedge,
where fairies flit and their mushroom tables
rise from dark soil beneath.
Catch flickers of sky from leather –shiny leaves,
spin dreams of adventures to come.
Smell sunshine on your tucked-up knees.
Let a caterpillar walk your finger.
Ignore Mum’s call, stay quiet and hidden.
 MIki Byrne
Lydia heard the wind outside.
It roared too loud; she woke and cried.
The great ash rocked, the clouds raced by;
how dark, the February sky.
Night and north wind rage around.
Sleep tight, Lydia, warm and sound.
No wind shall ever breach this wall.
The bough won’t break, your cot won’t fall.
Merryn Williams

My Own Address

This oak roof comforts me whenever
Mother drives the hoover monster close;
I see its snarling metal teeth. The house is
my own address, my damask walls.

Under this table, I have kissed feet:
they are gone now, these people I love.
It‘s just me and my doll, and she
is no company at all. Her eyes are empty.

When my mother’s house is full again
I will emerge, be given sweets. My daddy,
home from work, will invite me
to sit in my other place, the house he makes

between his back and his chair’s back.
I do not know why hiding is needed
or why when I‘m sad I go under the bed
where balls of grey dust scut like rabbits.


Angela Topping


from The Five Petals of Elderflower (Red Squirrel Press 2016)



Filed under Hygge

Call for Submissions: Hygge Poems for January and February 2017

IMG_0788.JPG I have become very interested in the idea of Hygge, the Danish term for cosiness, intimacy and taking pleasure from simple things. It’s about candlelight and cosy throws, knitting, sharing comfort food with good friends, reading, country walks,and enjoying everything in the present moment. It’s a hug for the soul. With all that happened in 2016 on the world stage, and the consequences we might face in 2017, we need this concept just to keep going through the drear months. The poems don’t have to be all sweetness and light. I am interested in the darkness and how poetry can shine a light in dark corners.

So I have decided to do a blog feature of hygge poems and am seeking contributions. You can email them to me on anji.topping@gmail.com. I can’t pay you anything but my blog does have a good following. I am looking for poems in any style, that speak to me about hygge, and the things it represents. If you have a photograph that you own copyright for and would let me use, do send those as well. Credit will be given for any images I use. Please include your name at the bottom of your individual poems, as that really helps.

I will reply to everyone who submits, and I aim to start posting poems very soon. I don’t mind poems which have been previously published, but please include a credit to the first publisher. If the poem is in a collection, include the publisher’s details – they will appreciate that.

Here is one of my poems from The Five Petals of Elderflower, first published on InterlitQ, which expresses the concept of hygge (though I had never heard of it when I wrote the poem). The collection of the same name was published by Red Squirrel Press in September 2016.


The Glass Swan


January midnight, a numbness of winter,

not for the first time, I am last awake.

The house is silent except for the hum

of the coal fire, the blue song of the fridge.


All the winters I have been alive, the weather

has been teaching its hard lessons:

those who lived so intensely are gone.

I shall not see them again, though I speak with them


in all the aching chambers of the mind.

Ice has hold of the earth, as those things

which are true but unwelcome, grip memory.

Look at this fire in the hearth, feel it.


Bank it up against the night. It is all we have, these

corporeal things: these candlesticks, this glass swan.


Angela Topping

Photo credit: artwork by Maria Walker

Submissions for this feature are now closed.


Filed under Hygge

How to put together your poetry collection

There are as many ways to do this as there are to do anything worthwhile. I have done it different ways in different books, because the material one has often dictates the structure. Just as, in the writing of a poem, one has to listen to the poem itself, then with a book, one has to listen to the poems and allow them some say in choosing their own order.


Like a lot of other poets, I think it’s vital to print off the poems one hopes to include. It’s a good idea anyway, to have a hard copy of each completed poem; that’s the best way, other than having them published in book form, to guard against computer crashes and lost discs. I’m not always the best at taking my own advice here, I must confess.


My latest collection, The Five Petals of Elderflower, takes both its name and its structure from the title poem, which won first prize in the 2013 Buzzwords national competition. It is a poem in five parts, which can be read as the five stages of life. I divided the poems up into five sections according to the themes of each petal. I am indebted to my editor for this book, Elizabeth Rimmer, who saw at once the structure I was going for, and helped me cut down the manuscript I originally submitted, which was bursting with far too many poems. She had a very good eye for what worked well with those themes; some poems were cut because they will fit better in a later book. When working with an editor, one does fight one’s corner for the poems one loves, so there was some negotiation between us. I am enormously grateful for her acute sensitivity to what I was up to. The Five Petals of Elderflower is now available from my publisher, Red Squirrel Press.




My previous collection, Letting Go, has a different thrust. Because it is a selection of poems, some from out of print collections and some new, but all on the theme of childhood and parenthood, It is divided up into sections and runs chronologically, so it reads like a narrative, if taken in order, which people don’t always do with poetry. They dip, or start at the back, which I often do myself. But the narrative is there if people want to find it. The book doesn’t include every poem I have on those themes. With this one, I worked with Teika Bellamy of Mother’s Milk Books. She knows my previous collections very well and made suggestions as to what she would like to see included. Making the book at all was her idea in the first place, and it was her idea to use named sections, titled by quotations from the poems, which I had also done in an earlier book, The Fiddle (Stride 1999)



Paper Patterns, published by Dennis Greig of Lapwing Press, was structured more thematically, without editorial help. It includes two sequences which I separated by half the book, because readers need space and shorter poems after such lengthy ones. Themes include travel and curiosities, places, elegies, food, the brevity of life, seasonal poems, flower poems, literary references and responses, politics and ageing. Each poem speaks to its companions. This 2012 collection is still available.


I Sing of Bricks (Salt 2011) was a set of poems which were put together as a sample of my work, following my return to full time poetry. It was my first adult publication for four years, and I was asked to send my best poems at the time. What I hadn’t realised, but was pointed out by a very perceptive reviewer, James Roderick Burns, that it was all about work. “For this is a book about work—actual work, be it drudgery or stimulation; the work of starting and sustaining relationships; the dreadful work of mourning, remembering the (many) people who have died, and moving with their memory into something new; the work, in short, of life. “ It’s a very smart reviewer who tells you something you didn’t know about your own work. The point I am making here is that your own obsessions and themes will show themselves wherever your work accumulates.


In summary, here are my tips for putting your own collections together.


  • Print off all the poems you want to include. Re-read them as you do.
  • Spread them individually on a surface like a floor or large table to begin to assess them.
  • Discard any you feel uneasy about or which need more work. Or do the work on them needed.
  • From your re-reading you will have some idea of how they work together. Start to look now for themes, common topics or contrasts.
  • Find a really strong poem to start and end with.
  • From that starting poem, find another one that speaks to it, either by contrast, similarity, different angle on the same topic, or any small link like a word in common, or a place.
  • Repeat until you have picked up all the poems, and making sure the run of poems up to the last one lead nicely to it.
  • Listen to the work. Your order might be chronological like some of my books, grouped in themes like others of mine. There should be some kind of internal logic that facilitates flow for the reader.
  • Pile the poems up in your chosen order, slide on one of those plastic binders to hold together. Go and have a cup of tea, a walk outside, a sleep. Then come back to it and read from start to finish. If it feels right, you are nearly there.
  • If you are not lucky enough to have an editor, and not all collections do, show it to a few people whose judgement you really trust. Listen to what they say. Make necessary adjustments.


Filed under Poetry Collections, Writing challenges

Another Titanic postscript

This must be the final posting about Titanic, at least for this year. It comes from Carolyn Richardson. We started with a poem by Rosie Topping about the Unknown Child, whose body was much later identified. Carolyn’s is about the same child.

Carolyn says this about the story behind the poem:

The name of the Titanic Unknown Child found floating in the sea 5 days post the iceberg hit the ship, has been revealed by dna analysis.

The 19 month baby boy was named as Sidney Leslie Goodwin, whose parents were Frederick and Augusta Goodwin.

Thanks to Clarence Northover, a police officer attending the burning of the clothing of those lost to the tragedy to thwart souvenir hunters, saved a shoe.

Northover couldn’t bring himself to accept the burning of the tiny shoe, so he put it in his drawer at the police station. After retirement he brought it home where he packed it into a drawer

After his death, his grandson found it, donated it to the maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax  & where it was turned over to forensics to reveal the owner of the shoe.

Sidney had five other siblings whom, with their parents on the same liner, were hoping to start a new life in America. They had switched to the Titanic from the SS New York after it became possible for the eldest child, 16-year-old Lillian, to join them. They switched to third class from second to save money and give themselves a faster start when they arrived.

Sadly none survived.


Tiny Shoe


frozen bodies,
stiff as a board


acrid police piles
souvenir hunters

sadly cruel
for the lost
who double

embers are
not remembrances
nor embraces

one tiny shoe
soft as your heart

sea-secrets of
six siblings swept
wash into


salt tears
sea to
no longer

Carolyn Richardson is a poet, painter with work in the Public Catalogue, now re-branded as ArtUK, a maker of filmed poems and a guerrilla poet in the wilds of Dumfries & Galloway. Carolyn has been a Director of the Scottish Writers Centre and long listed for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work, both 2015 & 2016. She spends some of the year abroad in the National Booktown of Montolieu in the South of France. http://www.poetrykitchen.co.uk

Her pamphlet Scots Rock is recently published by Red Squirrel Press.



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How to Build a Poetry Community

Poets love to gather together and talk poetics. It is something we need; it’s like oxygen to us, to find others who care about the same things and are happy to share ideas for magazines to submit to, places to read, courses, who’s up for prizes, which new collections have blown them away etc. We hunger for it. Social media has played a massive role in facilitating this kind of talk, but it can be ultimately dissastisfying to be typing on threads and encountering offensive and irritating people who love to stir things up negatively. I have made many poetry friends through social media, but nothing beats meeting them face to face and having conversations with them.

Here are some ideas for building your own network of poetry friends.

1) Go to poetry festivals. Many have a central space where poets can meet and mingle. StAnza at St Andrews every March is particularly good for this, as The Byre acts as a hub as well as a main venue. Wenlock has its cafe where anyone can obtain snacks and drinks and bump into guests and punters alike. I’ve never been to Aldeburg Festival but from the comments I see, it appears to be great for meeting others. Sally Evans’ Poetry Weekend in Callander is excellent for meeting others – I have made many friends there – because there is only one event on at a time and only one venue, with lots of readers doing short slots.

2) Run your own open floor night. All you need is a venue and some people who’d like to come and read. Often poets who don’t live too far away and have a new book out are willing to come and do a guest slot for the chance to sell some books. Or if you make a small charge or pass a jar round for a collection, you can pay a small honorarium. If they come from a little further away, offer to put them up for the night and feed them. A poet staying overnight has often given me a great opportunity for poetry talk with them. I’ve  made friends by running my own local group and by helping to run Zest! in Chester.

3) Depending what stage you are at, join a local writers group. The danger with these is that they can easily become cosy and turn into ‘praise groups’, which is not going to develop you as a poet, but rather keep you stuck in your comfort zone. But they can be great for finding some fellow beginners and making initial friendships. You can always meet up with like-minded friends aside of the group meetings for in-depth discussion.

4) Go along and support open floor nights in your locale. You can find out about these from Facebook, flyers, or searching Write Out Loud and other similar sites which offer listings. There are often email lists you can subscribe to as well. If people like your poem, they will often come and speak to you about it. Friendships grow that way, especially if you return when you can.

5) Offer to read at open floor nights who feature guest readers. Sometimes organisers can be wary of asking you, if they cannot pay a fee, but are only too grateful if you approach them. The worst that can happen is a ‘we are fully booked for the foreseeable future’ but it could be a gateway to a new friendship.

6) Accept that the poetry community is scattered, but make the most of any trips you are making to other parts of the country to ask if you can meet for a coffee while you are in the area. I recently made a new friend this way, whom I had only known from facebook previously. She was actually staying in my village for Christmas and we had a smashing two hours chatting in the local pub.

7) Connect with The Poetry Society Stanza groups. Information is on their website. You do not have to be a member of the society to join one of these outreach groups and it’s a great network to be part of. If there isn’t one near you, consider starting your own. Contact membership secretary Paul McGrane to find out how to do that. He will give you contact details for Poetry Society members in your area so you can let them know about your plans.

8) It’s worth checking to see if any of the poets you know on social media actually live near you! It’s easy to overlook the fact that someone whose work you know might live in easy travel distance. I discovered someone whose work I’d admired for years and who had been in many of the same children’s anthologies only lived 3o minutes drive away. We met up and got on really well, and though she has now relocated 200 miles away, we will keep in touch.

9) Go on a course, a residential one if possible. If you can’t afford a week at Arvon or Ty Newydd (though it’s well worth saving up for or looking into the possibilty of a grant) then consider a shorter course. On a residential course, a community develops naturally, and there are always attempts to keep in touch. Success can vary with the whole group but there are often one or two people who really strike a chord with you.

10) Find some day workshops, for example The Poetry Business offer one day writing workshops in Sheffield, The Poetry School’s workshops can be pricy but I hear they are very good, and they are increasingly offering them outside London. The WEA and LEA often include evening writing courses in their programmes. These can be very reasonable and tend to run for 10 week sessions. I used to tutor several of these locally. You will meet like-minded people while honing your craft.

11) Collaborate with another poet, or someone from another discipline, such as art or music. This can bring deep and enriching friendships, as you nuture each other’s work. I have had a successful collaboration with artist Maria Walker, which is still being shown in art galleries and appeared at StAnza last year (The Lightfoot Letters) and I am currently collaborating with Sarah James, to produce a pamphlet of paired poems called Hearth, to be published by Mother’s Milk Press in March 2015.

12) Contribute to an anthology and attend launches if possible. I’ve got to know a lot of my poetry friends by contributing to Split Screen and Double Bill (Red Squirrel Press), Heavenly Bodies (Beautiful Dragons) and from editing and c0-editing several of my own.

If you want to make more poetry friends, because let’s face it, most of the time we are writing, we look deep within, not outwards and so being a poet can be a lonely pursuit. Poetry friends keep us rooted, we can be warmed by their successes and encouraged by their knowledge. One caveat: avoid those who are only interested in making you a follower of their fame, not an equal. In my experience the best writers are generous and love to encourage others because they are secure in their own skills. Friendship is my its nature, mutually beneficial.

Angela Topping

December 2014



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Split Screen at Manchester Lit Fest

Brian and I reading our Dr Who poems.
Photo courtesy of Chris Keller-Jackson

Featuring: Brian Johnstone, Andrew Philip, Sally Evans, Jo Bell, Julie Boden, Carolyn Richardson, Charlie Jordan, Andrew McMillan and Angela Topping.

Having taken part in two Split Screen readings so far, one at Norwich with George Szirtes, Helen Ivory, Martin Figura and Andy Jackson, the editor, and one at Callander Poetry Festival with Andrew Philip, Carolyn  Richardson, Sheila Templeton, Sally Evans, who performed Yoda with props, in a never-to-be forgotten paper hat, and others, I was greatly looking forward to the Manchester event. Each one has been special in its own way, as different contributors have attended each time, and Andy gives us the chance to choose poems we enjoy reading in addition to our own, to make for a varied show.

The poems in the anthology, from Red Squirrel Press, are placed in juxtaposition, with, for example, Marilyn Monroe opposite Doris Day; Max Miller V Ken Dodd; Pete and Dud, Kirk and Picard. The Manchester launch was special to me because it was the first time my Dr Who poem on Jon Pertwee had been performed back to back with Brian Johnstone’s Tom Baker one. It’s been rare at performances that both of the poets are there.

Each event is chaired by Andy Jackson, the editor, who came up with the quirky idea in the first place and who puts together a workable running order and a slideshow of the relevant characters and shows. All this helps the show to be slick. Andy creates the illusion of an evening’s TV watching at some point in the past, with adverts in the middle and a poem about closedown and the white dot at the end. These poems have been performed at every launch, but at both Callander and Manchester, we were lucky enough to have both their authors, Sally Evans and Andrew Philip, there to read them. Ian Parks’ ‘Flake’ poem and Adam  Horovitz’ ‘Orange poem’ have been chosen at most of the launches, to be read by others. After the ‘9pm watershed’ the poems are more hard hitting, less ‘family’ than the ones before the ads. And the show ends with The National Anthem, which we all stand for with great solemnity, only to be treated to a surprise which I wouldn’t want to reveal here: its delight lies in the unexpected.

The poems are wide ranging. Some are hilarious, some moving, some reflective. The standard of performance has been top notch at every event.  This anthology reaches a wide audience as the programmes and films included are ones that transcend age and generation, and have in many cases become cult viewing. The poets offer new slants on familiar things and a second book is in the offing. I’ve been delighted and humbled to be involved in this project and there are more events to look forward to in the series. Glasgow, Newcastle and Pitlochry are coming up fast. If you can’t get to the show then at least you can read the poems, if you buy the book.

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Filed under Everything else, Festivals