Posted onOctober 19, 2021|Comments Off on Sentinel Champions Stories #1 – Miles Salter
In July 2009, Sentinel Literary Quarterly launched a new poetry competition series. It was fiercely contested. Judged by Andy Willoughby and Bob Beagrie, Miles Salter (then writing as Miles Cain) emerged winner of the first and second prizes with “Coffee” and “Enemy Funeral” respectively.
Of ‘Coffee’ and ‘Enemy Funeral’ Willoughby and Beagrie wrote in the adjudication report; “…we were both deeply impressed by the way “Coffee” makes new a well visited theme that is sadly all too contemporary, the control of its language, the personalisation of the universal, its emotional impact and the social punch that it packs as a poem. Similarly we were able to pick out “Enemy Funeral” next – its specific intensity of imagery, its movement and precision of editing, the fact that it has immediate relevance but maintains a sense of timelessness – it would be recognisable to a participant or observer of any modern war but it still has the feeling of a lived moment.”
Lip to neck and arse by thigh, we almost choked on each other, our breath ferocious in a war to stay human. I was starving for home.
The smells stayed immobile in groaning air. Human debris and the reek of coffee.
We murmured in darkness, creaked with the timbers, craved a hard breeze. When they let us on deck we filled it like flies at the eye of a horse. Tongues swollen, eyes shrunk, the waves were tempting.
After docking, we were shoved, bossed, dressed up, starched.
Groomed for parlours, we stood in shadowed rooms, kept tight in cuffs and collars. I waited near tables, poured coffee into pale cups and thought of skin and coins.
I served it with silver spoons to giggling ladies with small and pretty eyes. I saw the floor, remembered my fine brother, his bold face. His big hands. I thought of winds twitching at the shore, the heat in the plantation, the sun on bare leaves. The distance between covered truth and blinding sorrow. Who fetches coffee and who drinks it.
After the planes had gone, and the supply trucks skidded north towards the city, we arrived and gathered what remained amongst the charcoal and ash, cradled them in our arms, and pushed them into a neat pile.
The sergeant swamped fixed mouths and bleached navels with gasoline, spat and flipped his lighter.
We shuffled back a little as eyeballs clicked and bones boomed. Otherwise, they kept quiet.
We were grateful for the pure heat of the desert afternoon. With some of the ashes that remained the sergeant brewed coffee and we passed a cup around.
We licked our lips and looked at the horizon. There were piles like this one in the distance – bent spirals of smoke marking a border of a kind.
Miles Salter writes fiction, journalism and poetry. He has written for english newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Independent and Daily Telegraph. His first book, A Song For Nicky Moon, was published in 2010 and shortlisted for The Times / Chicken House children’s writing award. His poetry collections include The Border and Animals – both published by Valley Press. He also worked on a series of picture books for a research project by Queen Mary University London. His latest book for children is Howl: A Small and Heavy Adventure, published by Caboodle Books in 2015. His latest poetry book Fix was published in 2020. Miles is visiting lecturer in Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University and is Director of York Literature Festival. He likes Marmite, early Bruce Springsteen albums and Philip Larkin’s poetry. Find out more at www.miles-salter.co.uk and follow him on Twitter: @MilesWrites.
We are thankful for the continued goodwill and support the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition enjoys from poets across the world.
The January 2021 competition closed last night and received a total of 734 poems by 342 poets from 16 countries. All of these entries will be read by the judge. No filtering. We look forward to celebrating the top 12 on the 10th of March.
The April 2021 competition will start accepting entries on the 8th of February. Get writing and polishing those poems already. Together we will build more poetry.
Our appreciation goes to the individuals and organisations that help us with publicity on their websites including:
Posted onOctober 25, 2020|Comments Off on Mark Totterdell in conversation with Nnorom Azuonye
Poet and copywriter Mark Totterdell is the author of two poetry collections; This Patter of Traces (Overstep Books, 2014) and Mapping (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2018). His poems have also been published in The Interpreter’s House, Acumen, Agenda, Ambit, Envoi, Orbis, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, The Rialto and Stand, and in anthologies including Bridgewatcher and Other Poems and Poems for a Liminal Age (SPM Publications). This interview by Sentinel Literary Quarterly editor Nnorom Azuonye is taken from a feature on Totterdell as the SLQ Monday Writer on 26th October 2020.
writing poems as a child. What got you interested in poetry in the first place?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t
interested. There were always loads of books at home. Both my parents were
librarians. My mother sang us songs and told us stories, my father told jokes. I
was a bookish child and poetry was part of that.
Why did you study
English Literature at University? What did you plan to do with that?
It was simply what I was interested in
and good at. I had no career plans. I still don’t, and I think it’s a bit late
Apart from poetry
and your work as a copywriter, have you tried your hand with prose or drama?
I have never attempted drama. I may
try a short story some time, but anything longer seems unlikely. I have tried
magazine articles but I think my focus will always be on poetry.
So, Mark, what is
your own definition of poetry? Why does the world need poetry at all?
Nice easy questions! Many claims are
made for the importance of poetry and its ability to say things that couldn’t
be said another way. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. I think for me, though, it
is at heart simply something like ‘language at play’, using words to do more
than communicate their dictionary meanings, putting them together in patterns
so they somehow ‘mean’ more than they mean. Or something like that. Ask me
tomorrow and I might say something different.
Does the world need poetry? I don’t
know. This year I have read and written poems that deal seriously with our
current concerns, but at the moment I’m reading and writing light-hearted
limericks in a Facebook group. What can I say?
Offer a brief
review of the poetry practice in the UK today.
Gosh, another easy one! In the ten
years since I returned to poetry I have come to appreciate that there are many ways
of writing poems, from the straightforward, heartfelt expression of emotion, to
a more detached, intellectual concern with language itself; from what could be
prose if it wasn’t chopped into lines, to exacting and precise forms. And so on.
Some well-respected magazines are full of poems that, while I can see their
cleverness, leave me largely unmoved. Others publish poems that don’t seem to show
much evidence of being crafted at all. As in visual art, there is a tendency
for people in one ‘tribe’ to look down on those in another. I think there’s
room for everything. Diversity is good. I just do what I do and try not to pin
For over five
years, I have enjoyed the ‘word of the day’ you share on Facebook. How do these
daily encounters with words inspire and form part of your poetry’s DNA?
I think words are there to be used,
and I enjoy finding new ones with interesting sounds or meanings. When I first
joined Facebook, which I did with some misgivings as I value my privacy, I
chose to do a ‘word of the day’ as a way of posting something regularly that
wasn’t too personal. I have used obscure ‘words of the day’ in my poetry quite
a few times. My view is that, if a poem engages the reader enough, they will
want to check out an unfamiliar word. I kind of assume that everyone has access
to Google. Maybe this is very annoying to some people.
If you were to
write letters to a young poet as Rilke did, based on your own experience what
would you say from finding inspiration, theme development, choice of form and
getting a poem out there?
Just get writing! I wasted many
ridiculous years thinking of myself as a poet without writing any poetry. It’s
like most things, keep practising and you’ll get better. Or if you truly have
no aptitude for it, at least you’ll find out. Keep reading, you’ll be
influenced by other poets but in time your own style or styles will develop.
Write about anything that engages your attention. Pretty much anything can be
turned into a poem, in pretty much any style. There’s the world, there are
words. The possibilities are vast.
In my work as a
literary editor and poetry competition organiser, I receive so many emails from
writers, young and old, who are apprehensive about submitting their work for
publication or prizing. The fear of rejection is immense. You have been there
yourself. Say something to these writers, and if you can, share with us how you
have handled rejections and adverse critiques of your work.
In my mid-twenties I began submitting
to magazines, convinced with the arrogance of youth that I was an undiscovered
literary genius who would immediately find fame if not fortune. It only took a
few rejections to discourage me thoroughly. I didn’t appreciate then that
rejection is part of the poet’s experience. One of my early rejections was from
Martin Bax, then editor of Ambit. As I remember it, it was quite an
encouraging rejection, but at the time, the fact that he didn’t want my poems
I deeply regret the wasted years. I
wish I’d listened to the small part of me that always believed I could write.
When I began writing and submitting
again in 2010, I was lucky enough to have an acceptance very soon. And there is
a degree of luck to it. Editors have their personal tastes, acknowledged or
unacknowledged, in styles and subjects, and have to choose poems that fit with
others as well.
I still get more rejections than acceptances.
I believe that this is true of most poets unless their name is Dylan Thomas. In
a way it’s worse now. I find myself thinking ‘I’ve had two collections
published and have won competitions, how dare you not publish my poem!’ But I
don’t think that’s a useful attitude.
For the record, I
have had one poem accepted that had already been rejected twenty-five times.
But often I’ll ‘retire’ them long before that and try to write better ones. And
I have now been published by Ambit!
First time I saw
the cover of Mapping. I thought it was something cartographic, and I reckoned
that’s what you do when you are not writing. Then I read Steve Spence’s comment
that the book combines “a love of maps and places with flora and fauna and a
taxonomy of pubs.” Why did you write a book like this?
I’ve always been fascinated by maps. I
got this from my father, who stuck together several Ordnance Survey maps to
hang on the wall, centred on where we lived. I enjoyed playing with the idea
that the map is not the reality, but does say something true about the world
(like a poem maybe?). I still spend a lot of time looking at maps, mainly
The maps in the book are very
definitely the ones that were new in my teenage years, so there’s certainly a
nostalgia element too.
Flora and fauna are always likely to
appear in my poems, and pubs, especially old and quirky ones, are some of my
favourite places. Not that all the pub poems are necessarily just about pubs.
So the book is really simply a
collection of poems about different things that interest me.
Covid-19 has not
been kind to pubs, and many are feared not to survive the pandemic. Do you
reckon that Mapping will be instrumental in preserving the stories of
some pubs, especially to the literary types for whom a little drink is muse?
A couple of the pubs in the book
closed before Covid, and I fear for some of the others. Others I’m sure will
survive, though the current situation may have given the pub poems a more
Are there any
recurring themes that can be found in your body of work?
The natural world, in all its
diversity, complexity and fragility. Most of my early poems especially could be
labelled ‘nature poems’, though I like to think that a lot of them say
something about the human condition as well. I find it quite hard to write
directly about, say, love and grief, but with millions of species on the
planet, and the continued destruction of nature being, in my view, the true big
issue of our day, I don’t think I’m going to run out of subject matter any time
Is a third
collection simmering somewhere in your study? Tell us a little about it and
when it can be expected.
A third collection has already left my
study but I don’t know yet when it will appear, so I won’t say anything more
about it for now.
Thank you Mark
for giving me your time for this interview. I am particularly thankful for your
support of Sentinel Literary Quarterly as a contributor, magazine buyer,
regular participant in our competitions with great success. You have also
judged our competition once. I trust that I may call on you to judge for us
again in the future?
Thank you Nnorom for your interesting and perceptive questions, which have certainly made me think. It would be a pleasure to be a judge again some time. For now, I’d better get my entry in for the current competition. SLQ
Comments Off on Mark Totterdell in conversation with Nnorom Azuonye
Enter our on-going poetry competitions held every three months
The Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competitions have been running since July 2009
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