Susan Jane Sims*

WEBSITE : www.poetryspace.co.uk

MEET UPS : January, February, April, 24th June Words & Images, July, August

PROJECT: to continue to work on a second full collection of poems ( Bearing Gifts) telling the story of being a mother over the past couple of years since my son Mark’s diagnosis with Stage 4 malignant melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer. The aim is to tell both the personal story and address the science. 

QUOTATION:  You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.  (Mary Oliver, from Wild Geese, 1986.)

A birthmark on Mark’s scalp developed aged 15, into a rare nodular malignant melanoma. After surgery we were told Mark had a 45% chance of surviving 5 years. A genetic fault was discovered. Mark went on to study medicine and graduated from Leicester University in 2013. Half way through his second year as a doctor Mark was diagnosed with Stage 4 malignant melanoma, the cancer having metastasised to lung, liver, spleen and gall bladder. The prognosis was 4 to 18 months. He was almost 27. He returned to work briefly in April 2015 to finish his FY2 year, then in October further tumours were discovered in his brain; later in his brain lining, his tonsils, neck and recently his right ureter threatening the kidney. He now has over 20 tumours and has had a series of innovative therapies. From his bed at The Royal Marsden in February 2015, Mark began fundraising for Cancer Research UK. The total stands at £72, 840. He has told his story on social media, at schools, universities and conferences, received local and national awards, been featured in the press, on radio and on television, and his doctors have presented his unique case study at conferences. Telling his story also resulted in him meeting the love of his life, Georgie and becoming engaged.

PROGRESS REPORT

MARCH 19th 2017

After some useful discussion in the past month,  I know now that I want the message of Bearing Gifts to be hopeful even though its theme is terminal illness in a young person and with the core of the collection roughly complete I am now rewriting and indeed beginning some new pieces to address the science behind Mark’s disease. This has always been a core concept for me. I have a science background and also a literary one and this project brings the two together. For the narrative to make sense though I am  having to think carefully about where the more scientific poems should be placed and figure out how to present hard science as ‘poetic’ and accessible to the general reader.

Inspired by Sarah Gregory’s ‘Islands and Stories’ project  presented to us in February, as a series of drawings with poems as an integral part of a whole, I have also begun to think about creating a more visual and dramatic effect with a few of my pieces.  One; initially conceived as a simple list of synonyms for an important word  is now coming to life by experimenting with different presentations on the page.

Interestingly the juxtaposition of words and images is an emerging theme this month. My husband, Chris is compiling photographs for his OCA (Open College of the Arts) photography assessment and has taken photographs of  both written and printed words in the landscape, and I have come across the concept of  book spine poetry by artist Nina Katchadourian. It has led to us both having interesting talks and I plan to set this as my latest online workshop prompt for Poetry Space.

February 26th 2017

It was good to attend my first meeting of the year, having missed January due to being at Mark’s bedside. Sharing two poems yesterday felt cathartic as did talking to people in the group. Many handled the situation by simply giving me a hug and that was fine. A hug says it all. I am already following up yesterday’s workshop by trying Claire Dyer’s experimental technique of an anagram poem. I chose a disease related word but won’t give that away just yet. It was not possible to make an anagram from it but it lent itself well to finding words within it  which worked and consequently I wrote a poem I had not intended to write. I am a firm believer in these sorts of challenges or techniques as I feel they bring unconscious thoughts into the realm of awareness and have run workshops on free fall writing which is a brilliant way to access the unconscious. I will be interested to see what others think next time.

Feedback on two of my poems Call and In the Doctor’s Room was very encouraging. Call will remain as it is but I am considering making a change to the other poem as a result of a comment.

Oh and importantly, Mark’s fundraising appeal is now at over £120.000.

FEBRUARY 24th 2017

Many will now know that Mark died on Thursday 19th January after spending the final sixteen days of his life at The Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea. I never thought that these final days could be beautiful but they were, thanks to the person Mark was and to the hospital acting as safe haven for all of us at that moment in time. We have since then held two wonderful memorials for Mark, one family orientated and one with a much wider reach and we have not had a traditional funeral. Other events are planned for this year, a memorial walk from Bath Abbey to Swineford, starting at 12noon on Saturday 10th June. All welcome. Sometime in the Summer we’ll scatter Mark’s ashes at sea.

My collection is now up to thirty poems, the majority I consider finished and some still works in progress. As a full collection my aim is approximately fifty poems.The title poem Bearing Gifts was published in Reach magazine (IDP) back in June 2015  and I had a more recent success with another poem The Arrival, which was shortlisted by Alison Brackenbury for Second Light’s Annual Poetry Competition in 2016. I am pleased with this as it reassures me that the standard is high. With Mark’s death I have had a couple of poet friends ask whether the collection will include poems written in the aftermath of losing Mark. I don’t plan it to go much beyond his death as the intention was always to cover the period between his diagnosis and either his death,  or his recovery should that have happened.  But where exactly to stop is a question that needs addressing. I know I’ll write poems that explore the time after his death yet the place for these might be in future collections rather than this one. For now I plan to go back and write more material that can be placed between what has already been written, particularly the more experimental poems I am writing that explore cancer related terminology and science.

Alongside writing this collection I am also editing Mark’s own memoir based largely on his blog. The aim is to publish this through Poetry Space in the Autumn with profits to Cancer Research UK as Mark requested. Naturally having privileged access to Mark’s material will feed into my own poetry. I don’t think the two can be entirely separated. In fact whenever we write I know that it always from where we are right now and it was inevitable that the latest review I wrote for Robin Thomas’s collection, A Fury of Yellow should be influence heavily by the experience of being with Mark in his final days.

My own reading at the moment is a quest for an answer to how I continue giving my life meaning with one son dead and another always close to mental anguish. Drawn to Zen, I am currently reading Sue Blackmore’s  Zen and the Art of Consciousness (One World Publications, 2011). I realised quickly that I remembered Sue as she led a course in psychology that I chose to complement my English studies at UWE during the nineties. Prior to that I picked up a copy of L’art de la Simplicité: How to live more with less by Domenique Loreau at Paddington Railway Station. It is a very liberating book. Amongst the poets I am currently exploring are contemporary American poets, Kim Addonizio and Joanna Fuhrman. Both are strong female voices.

file-30-12-2016-18-25-19

At The British Citizen Awards, July 2016

Mark’s fundraising page

Mark’s blog

POETRY

ColIections:

 A number of things you should know, Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2015

Irene’s Daughter, Pamphlet publication, Poetry Space Ltd, October 2010

Magazines:

The Journal (Sam Smith ed)

Obsessed with Pipework (Flarestack)

Reach (Indigo Dreams Publishing)

Sarasvati (Indigo Dreams Publishing)

Go to Poetry Magazines Website to read How to Eat an Avocado

Competitions

Second Light Poetry Competition, 2016, shortlisted with The Arrival

Poetic Republic Competition 2015, commended with The Gift

Poetry Pulse, 2012 Honourable mention with Learning to Draw Hearts

Poetry Kit 2012, Commended with My Father’s Hands

Bardic Circle Writers Competition, 2011, First Prize for Outside

susan-jane-sims

Anthologies

Fanfare (eds Wendy French and Dilys Wood) Second Light Publications, 2015

The Book of Love and Loss (eds Rosie Bailey and June Hall) 2014

The Listening Walk  (ed. Sue Boyle, Bath Poetry Cafe) 2013

When the Tramp Met The King: an anthology celebrating Elvis Presley and Charlie Chaplin (ed. Andy Willoughby, Ek Zuban Press) 2013

Heart Shoots (Indigo Dreams Publishing) 2013

Soul Feathers (Indigo Dreams Publishing) 2012

Landscapes on the Edge: poems of the Wye Valley and Welsh Borders  eds. Margot Miller and Sue Sharp, Fineleaf editions, 2010

ROLES:Poet in School for Threshold Prize from 2008 to 2015

PUBLISHING AND EDITING

Over thirty titles for Poetry Space Ltd. Poets on my list include Moira Andrew, Jade Anouka, Margaret Eddershaw, Johanna Boal, Roger Elkin, Philip Lyons, Elizabeth Rapp, Neil Leadbeater, Julia D. McGuiness.

6 comments on “Susan Jane Sims*

  1. It’s terrific to be able to follow your journey through the month, Sue. You capture the dynamic of creating a collection extremely well. Thank you for sharing so generously with us.

    Like

  2. michael loveday says:

    Sue, I thought your poem-homage to Wallace Stevens was sensational – such striking language, coupled with understated depth of emotion. I’m sure it will be a key poem in the collection.

    Like

  3. Mark sounds like such a fantastic man, such a loved and loving son. I’m sure your poems will create a real tribute to him. Looking forward to working with you soon. Chrissy

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Looking forward to hearing some of your work, Chrissy. I am impressed at how this great personal trauma has inspired you to write.

    Like

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