HOW TO FAIL AT POETRY No.1 How to be Rejected Jan/Feb 2024

This is how it feels to be back on the poetry pitch….

I creating a useful guide on How to Fail at Poetry as so many seem to effortlessly succeed these days going by the drivel being pumped out by little presses invented by poet’s mates so here how to avoid all that and really fail properly.

I will soon be creating a poocast where you can learn to fail and offering workshops in a whole range of How to Fail areas including How to Fail as A Working Class Writer, How to Fail as a dreadlocked eco warrior writer and last but not least How to Fail writing about being a mother although this is by far the hardest one to fail at right now.

Two months have passed and here is the scoreline for my first batch of poetry submissions. Treated as a Football League Table where after Mag name 1 = received reply and number after my name = 0=rejected 1=accepted and P means postponed no reply yet. X = Too bad to bother submitting or demographics against me. i.e. wrong genre, sex, colour, attitude or not specifically writing about trees or animals or whatever stupid bloody theme they came up with this time….Waves, Dolphins or Feelings…

Butcher’s Dog 1 – Shaun Belcher 0
The London Magazine – 1- Shaun Belcher 0 ( I sent outwith their guidelines so not surprised but was turned down nicely)
Strix – 1 Shaun Belcher 0 Nice sense of design and probably good as from Leeds.
The North 1- Shaun Belcher-0
Allegro 10 ( so fast and rude it seemed personal) – Shaun Belcher-0
Amsterdam Quarterly 1 – Shaun Belcher 0
Bell Ombre – X (Goth Rubbish)
London Grip 1-1 – Shaun Belcher Almost 1 but 0 (suggested re-sending)
Mechanics Institute Review -X see Strix above this one a nest of academics who not overtly Goth so may be ok..missed deadline.

So January stats are Poetry Mags 7 – Shaun Belcher 0 although VAR checking for possible goal in March… that it for now…..a glorious Faber future awaits.

This month easy I only remembered to submit to one American magazine ‘Leon’ with both poetry and short story receiving the ultimate accolade of rejection in fairly prompt manner for both.
Hats off to our former colonial chums for being as rejection orientated as us Brits. They took to the trees when the redcoats came…old habits die hard.
So to date one submission as foillows

Leon 1- Shaun Belcher Poetry 0
Leon 1- Shaun Belcher Poetry 0

Nice to be rejected by same mag in two different genres makes one feel that one is offering a wider portfolio of failed material…

Rest as follows

Artemis X Wimmin Only
Pennine Platform X Total luddite why waste time setting up a submittable account when one can use a failing postal service to send your damp with rain manuscript like in olden times….for fuck sakes just close yourselves down it no longer the 1990s…
Carmen et Error XXX North east Goths hated the graphics dont have to really go past that do I…for people who think ‘Uncanny’ is a new thing..e.g. academics who bought Cure records. Ignore with venom. Only true word is Error.
Couplet XX – only couplets an easy ignore X2
The Alchemy Spoon X Missed deadline as last in list. Uses a alternative system to Submittable which I had not heard of called Duosuma? May try again when next window opens. Website confusing but they do at least keep updated and on to AI. I also not a fan of ‘themed’ issues but give them the benefit of doubt. Do provide free online issues which positive.

Green Ink Poetry X – Looks like the kind of poetry magazine a hedge monkey would have invented after a bad acid trip. Too many druids not enough reality. Julian Cope would love it…..maybe it him in disguise.

Poetry Wales X – At last fundamentally a decent magazine but oh dear what a fucking awful theme..Wave..what like the Severn Bore……..pass to druids.
I have a tendency when facing crap themes to try and twist the objective hence I was rejected once for a ‘generation’ theme by suggesting it could benefit by being about energy generation….rejected but always amuses me.

Gutter X – Gutters are useful for displacing showers of shit and this no exception looked quite good until i forgot closing date and now the website turned into a giant pink and green splodge so one for the future then ..

Stats for February

Magazines 1 – Shaun Belcher 0

Opening 1st March

The Common
Ink Sweat and Tears
The HIgh Window
The Shore

Open Book reading Tuesday 3rd October: Organ Grinder


Tony Challis has been writing poetry since the 1980s, as well as short stories and memoir. He has had poems published in magazines local to Nottingham, has had a poem commended in a national poetry competition, and is Chair of Nottingham Poetry Society. Tony is also keen on performing his poetry at spoken word events and at poetry gatherings. He is a member of a number of poetry writing groups within which he hones his skills. He now has a substantial  body of poetry written which he is keen to share with the world.

A Quick Queerbashing

It was only a five minute walk
across the main road to his ex.
Well-coiffed, in leather jacket,
fresh, smart and bouncing.
It was on the way back that it happened.

Times come when the search for words is dry,
when it is hard to maintain a dribble of chat.
He could not reply, only smile with his eyes.
The frame firmly placed over his face prevented
replies; bolted in place to help his jaw heal.

I had to keep a conversation going, talk
about my doings, mutual friends, shows….
He could write brief notes on paper, just.
If I had had a companion there might’ve been banter,
cross talk, jokes shared to liven his time.

I had read reports, how he had walked
in amongst a group of five, innocent,
blind to their baseball bats, uncomprehending
of their anger, of how they had failed to find
a victim at the hill-top water tower.

He would do; he was clearly queer.
They gifted him a metal plate in his leg,
a problem kneeling to unhelpful gods.
Did their own hearts scare them as they struck?
I recall the gratitude in his warm gaze.


Shaun Belcher is a multimedia artist and poet, originally from Oxford, now a retired teacher in Nottingham.
He has written poetry since his mid 20’s,  influenced by his rural upbringing as well as wider themes of dislocation and global technologies.

He will be reading from new volume SUBSTITUTE

GRASS CLOUDS: Twenty Years on the Poetry Bench.

I have been collating a selection of poems written since coming to Nottingham in 2002. It hasn’t been a particularly inspiring location for my poetry and hardly anybody realises I actually published in 2010. I surprised to find 96 poems in 20 years which was my yearly output back in the 1990s. So once I thought of an appropriate title and found an image for the cover I will release a pdf of the ‘Nottingham Years’ 2002-2022 in advance of my 20 years in waiting reading at Neil Fulwood’s fine poetry event at the Blue Monkey in August when he will be the main act.

Perhaps I should crowdsource a title..’Dark Tarn’..Guntown… Wordy Poet Hood? Forest and City :-)…..’Play on the Grass’……maybe that it …


job done son…now go have a shower..

30 years a poet – I may be gone some time

July 1991 I had just completed an interesting but fruitless temporary post at The Poetry Library on the South Bank through 1990 and had my poems and songs illustrated by my sadly deceased friend Laura Stenhouse at St. Martin’s College of Art in the old building on Charing Cross Road.

My brief tenure as a photocopying assistant and customer service adviser (weekends only) didn’t do much for me financially as I travelled up from Didcot for several months but it did introduce me to poetry and poets which I had dabbled with in a thoroughly modernist way since discovering William Carlos Williams in my early twenties.

In six short months in 1990 I met( and served) a whole gaggle of new generation poets ( Dooley, Shapcott, Greenlaw, Donaghy all great and one Maxwell who was a rude prick) and also met some greats like Ivor Cutler, Bob Cobbing ( who equalled Maxwell for rudeness showing that manners and avant-garde no guarantor) as well as seeing a whole host of great readings.. C.K. Williams, William Trevor and best of all Raymond Carver’s widow Tess Gallagher.

Thus inspired I self-produced a small poetry pamphlet ‘Towns on Shallow Hills’ which I remember Ivor Cutler reading but not buying on account as he said he had read it…said pamphlet I sold to various friends and poets ( I still have a list) and I am pleased to say still in the National Poetry Library collection. See HERE.

It didn’t launch me into contention as a new generation poet that honour had been carved out almost exclusively for acolytes of the Poetry Review editor Peter Forbes who I had the misfortune to hear read one of his dull longer form poems out once and who was an arrogant SOB who virtually controlled poetry in those days. He loved Maxwell which figures ..birds of a feather etc.

Remember in those days Oxbridge white middle class was a defining factor and only Simon Armitage broke through that and that lead to some tokenism in the New Gen list but overall the power base remained intact which not good for a politically orientated writer like myself. That Oxbridge dominance is still true to a high degree. If you want a current assessment of political make up of the poetry audience go see David Coates research here which overly academic but is telling.

I myself come into the category of his category of cishet white men which ironic considering he neatly leaves out the ‘middle class’ bit of that definition which handy as if as he is you from Northern Ireland studying a PhD on Macneice you pretty much tick all the boxes of those you attacking…..but at least he trying to flag up the inequalities for which I have to say well done.

The poems published in the pamphlet were pretty hastily written but I left the Library confident that I as good as the above mentioned careerist poets (not knowing a thing about careerism) and wrote some much better stuff which through 1991-2 I started submitting to journals and lo and behold started to be published. I was pretty much unemployed and broke all the time so it lead nowhere. I did some unpaid reviewing for the Arts Council met a lot of people who supportive but too busy providing themselves with opportunities and funding and ended up meeting a lovely Spanish woman and buggering off to Edinburgh where I continued and flourished as a poet.

Today is pretty much 30 years to the day since I received my first publication letter from John Harvey at Slowdancer Magazine ironically based then in Nottingham. I still have a copy. This in retrospect was the high point of my poetry career until the retrospective ‘greatest hits’ pamphlet Last Farmer from Salt in 2010.

So 30 years on I starting to look at the poetry world again. A lot of the magazines and editors who published me have disappeared or simply died. Some I happy to see like The Frogmore Papers still going and poets who supported me in Edinburgh like Stewart Conn still alive which amazing. I do not know what kind of poetry I will write or if there even a poetry world that cares in a era of selfie PR and diversity tick boxing. Even the working class ticket has been abused and moulded to generate support and funding. It is a more visual, less middle class landscape but the powerful still lead at Faber and Faber , cape etc. It reminds me of a late Larkin poem about a mind folding under snow feels a chilly climate to walk out into poetry land…..

I am just going outside and may be some time

Two new poems

A Tiny Spider

A speck
crawling from under Acrimony
seen under the spotlight

A metaphor
for the last ten years
crawling down the hard shoulder

A tiny spider
picks its way through books
and is gone

I stare at the rain
The stationary cars
The Middle of England

Wonder how she’s doing
What webs lay ahead
What sticky yarns

The Lost Decade

Travelling on the Manx electric railway
In Fog
One minute coasting
Could see to Ireland
The next all blank like a page

Then a screetch as foot on brake
Bad news from abroad
Then silence
Mist rolling seaward
Beginnings and endings
A horse on a cliff
Cold black sea

The line ended
We sat silent
At a Victorian station
Overhead cables fizzing in the rain
Then a tired horse pulling
Us along the esplanade

Ten years before dirt rained down
On your sister’s coffin
Even then I felt the cold wind blow
In from the Irish sea
Eating into our bones
Then into our souls
Until we could not find our way home

Backwater – New Poetry?


I have spent years listening to other people’s voices and learning it is time to here is the first product of my new ‘writing’ life….prose poem/short fiction who knows…This is a Berkshire boy rendering Raymond Carver’s ‘Deschutes River’ I make no apology for that. I cannot go round him so I will have to go through Carver he such a seminal influence.

It is the first draft of a new prose poem from hopefully a full new collection to be called ‘Backwater’…


It started again……I last seriously wrote anything in 2006 so a big leap of faith or as here slide into the unknown again.

Written on an old Sharp electric typewriter ..I cannot write on a pcsharp or tablet.





Tied to a flat land
Of reclaimed pits and winding river
The railway has gone
Coal blackened tracks have grown over

Every wind caresses its absence
The silent factories know their part
But cannot speak, chains hold fast
Beyond pale gates and security huts

Poppies and cow parsley, ragwort and buddleia
A necklace of flowers around the empress lines
The slag of the steel rails is buried deep
Rusting wires rippling with plastic

Where prisoners of war once huddled
Now euro-workers assemble market stalls every Sunday
Chatter into cheap mobiles, pocket loose change
Against backdrops of power station, Tesco and trains

Midnight and bodies tumble from white van crates
In the empty parkway
Duck and dive and gulp clean air
Before swimming beyond the broken chainlink

The Shipstone Star


Red lead rain lashed to pink
hangs like a soviet star
on the left side of Nottingham’s tunic.
Always east facing, a towering symbol.
The dawn of a century personified, rusts
above a city of casual workers, bicycles
and the hard slogging dutiful dead
who fleck fields from the Rhone to the Rhine.

Never facing the river, that westward
leaches mud from peak and meadow.
The dried, limed stench of rutted tracks
lining the willow barks of Derby and Leicester.
Gables glossed white upon lace-curtained
suburban fuchsias, trimmed lawns and empty trailers.
Safety in numbers as the suburbs huddle
into its coat from Bramcote to Beeston.

Cattle slide into ditches, barges grind
at their moorings as floods flow on toward
dry fens gasping for this summer downpour.
The star remains firm, but tatty.
A remnant of a fading imperial industrial glory.
Cheap imports in containers trundle round the ring-road
headed for Poundland, Primark and Ikea.

We died for this, these rain-sodden shires
whisper the ghosts in the graveyards
as hooded boys on BMXs spin on street corners.
In a damp bedsit a shelf-stacker from Warsaw
lifts a Samurai Sword from the wall and mimes
the DVD still stuck on play on the monitor.
Star and blade flash for a second and are gone.

The storm lashes the window.
The Shipstone Star shines black on a white sky.

Downland Ballad I :Photo-disintegration


Fully five acres further east
and fifty years on from Harwell’s neutron beam photo-disintegration
a clump of Queen Anne’s Lace* wavers like a bridesmaid’s posy
above the quarried chalk and flint of this erased line.
The track that gravelled and iron girded once
carried trundling freight to Southampton docks and salt air.

Like a distant memory of past expectations
I wander through past journeys, delineations
chew on the fresh air like a discontented Wordsworth
now free, free to roam where I will
But nothing is moving here these days, no air pulses
through the gilded corn, american maize is rigid

All rhythm, rhyme and reason curtailed
but for the hover of Kite and wizz of combustion engines
I’m left standing in a shower of butterflies,
climate driven, wheeling
baffling the constant walkers and their dogs with
showers of atoms, as they spin into extinction.

The land is porous, half soaked with the elixir
and charms of the abandoned plastic barrels concoctions.
A squadron of rooks bank and wheel in tight formation
land and beaks probe at all the matter before them.
Beady eyed they cannot count the consequences
of all that steel now disappearing from the horizon.

In a damp corner of a thatched cottage
an artist* peels Queen Anne’s Lace from the paper
Dips it gently into a brimming tray of liquid
and the fusion of paper and molecules of silver re-arranging
maps a negative of stalk, leaf and stamen.
Up north the furnaces fizzle and peak for the century.

Sheffield steel, Welsh coal, Cornish tin, the land exhausted
pot-marked and reclaimed in a thousand regeneration schemes,
The process of covering the tracks of a century of production
is taken up by rose bay willow herb, buddleia and oxford ragwort,
each seeking to mask the brick and fence beneath it.
In the laboratory the encased hand holding the uranium phial quivers

as an owl is lit by a police cars headlights on the perimeter.
Its flash of white against a wilderness of dark down-land
like that brief explosion, that jolt of life in a vacuum.
The century starts to implode
draws itself as a negative image, trickles, spits and fuses
the image of a landscape removed becomes these islands.

The bromide stains her fingers, the plant collapses into stalk and seed
as she raises its negative to the kitchen window.
She stands looking at it again in the porchlight amidst the blackout
realising that all this movement above and below, these planes, these tanks
hurtling towards the coast and far fields of France are dying already
A moth singes against the candle flame, erupts into vapour, darkness.

* local Oxfordshire name for Cow Parsley which it resembles

** Eilleen Sherwood-Moore artist of Blewbury, Berkshire (1909-1998) experimented with photograms

Harwell Neutron Beam 1959


a crow in barley

The wide white sky was gone. In its place, pale yellow stalks, dry cracked dirt and empty ears of corn. His world had spun seven times and on the eighth his face had come to rest here. He blinked warm blood as it trickled down his forehead and into his right eye. Already dust and flecks of straw were sticking to it. His face was pressed into a tractor track. The rows of v-shaped ruts ran off into the corn. He thought of counting them, then he must have passed out. He came round and the world was moving again. Something was lifting him and pulling him up like a plant as he was dragged free of the field. His bed of chalk, flint and straw fell way. The top of the crop dazzled him as he rode across it. Could have been the sun shaking under him. Then he crossed the remains of the wire fence. A stretch of ten to fifteen feet had been flattened by the impact. Some of the barbed steel wire had snapped and sprang loose in the air. There was a v-shaped swathe through the corn as if someone had taken a scythe to it.

That was where they found him. Later he was told he’d come down like a shot crow, his leather jacket scratched and scarred like his machine. He was covered in celandines and poppies that had tangled around him. Someone said he looked like an angel lying there. He remembered looking up at the sky as it changed from blue to the white of the ambulance ceiling. All he could remember later was white, white flowers, white sky, clouds rising higher and higher and really high up a pair of black wings hovering. A hawk watching the fields below and that ambulance’s shining roof and the black speck of a bike to its right and the figures moving. He wished he was up there too. Could just slip away from all this on a thermal. But things had a way of coming out. Like rabbits dashing away from a combine harvester. Or like the ash floating down on the town when the fields were burnt. It would be all over the place.

to be continued….


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