Sunday Poem – John Mee

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Sunday Poem – John Mee

Technically it’s not Sunday anymore, but having spent the whole weekend running Kendal Poetry Festival, and as the days have blurred and lost their usual boundaries, I figured I would just post this weeks Sunday Poem anyway, and depend on my readers patience and forbearance.

Kendal Poetry Festival, the culmination of a year of planning from myself and Pauline Yarwood has been and gone this weekend.  I can’t quite believe it’s all over. Tomorrow, I’m meeting up with Pauline to have a look through the feedback forms from our audiences, and then we are going to look through the photos and choose which ones we’d like to go up on the website.  So the work hasn’t finished yet, in fact, we’re already starting to think tentatively about next year.

The best thing about the weekend was the fantastic audiences.  All of the readings were sold out in the end, and there was a lovely atmosphere at the festival – energetic, enthusiastic, friendly.  I was very proud of my Dove Cottage Young Poets as well who all read so well over the weekend, and it was lovely to see them talking with the Festival Poets and the audience members about their work.

I am obviously bias but I think that the programming of the festival was a work of genius from myself and Pauline! It’s hard for me to pick out highlights, but I was really happy to hear Tim Liardet, whose work I’ve admired for so long.  Kathryn Maris’s reading made me laugh the most, and Linda Gregerson made me cry.  I also loved the infectiousness of Malika Booker’s demonstration of her celebratory dance when she got the call from Penguin to say she was going to be in a collection with Warsan Shire and Sharon Olds, two of her poetry heroes.  It was also lovely that lots of the Festival Poets came to other readings at the festival and hung around for the whole weekend.

Apart from festival stuff, in the last two weeks I feel like I’ve really got into a bit more of a rhythm with the PhD.  After my meeting three weeks ago and setting a target of writing 5000 words to show to my supervisor at the beginning of July for a meeting mid July, I’ve been steadily writing away.  It feels like the reading I’ve been doing all year is paying off.  I’m approaching the critical writing a bit like writing a poem at the minute.  I’m just trying to get down the words without worrying too much about whether they are rubbish or not, and then worry about quality when I’m editing.

I went on a Facilitated Writing Retreat for university staff and postgrads on the 15th June at a hotel in Fallowfield in Manchester.   This came at the perfect time for me as I’d already done 4000 words and my target was to write another 1000 by the end of the day which I managed.  There was no internet, and we had to write for an hour before having a short break, and then writing for another hour and continuing this all day. There was no sharing of work, it was literally just turning up and writing.  It was great to have no distractions, and be unable to answer emails even if I wanted to.  I finished my 5000 words which made me feel better about having a few days off working on my PhD whilst Kendal Poetry Festival was on.

I also took part in a poetry reading on the 13th June – organised by the ‘Feminisms in Public’ network in association with Bad Language.  Each poet or writer was given six minutes to read something around the theme of gender and sexuality.  It was a great event, and I got to hear Natalie Burdett’s work – another PhD student whose poetry I haven’t read before and I met a fantastic writer, Sue Fox whose work was visceral, shocking and powerful.  It was a great event to be part of, and there is obviously a real appetite for work around feminism and gender, as we read to a sold out audience of about 70.

Apart from this, it has been a lovely two weeks of getting up in the morning, working on my PhD and staying in my pyjamas until I have to get up and walk the dogs.  Contrast that with the madness this weekend of the festival.  It was a really brilliant weekend – packed out readings and enthusiastic audiences, conversations in the sunshine and I got to walk around with a walkie talkie which gave me an exaggerated sense of power.

There will hopefully be some photos going up on the Kendal Poetry Festival website very shortly – so do keep an eye out for those, and sign up to follow our blog! We are already starting to think tentatively about next year.

This is going to be a short blog post today, basically because I’m still absolutely knackered.  I slept till 10.30am this morning but I’m still tired! This week’s Sunday Poem is by John Mee from his debut pamphlet From The Extinct, published by Southword Editions.

I’ve had this pamphlet on my ‘to read’ list for a while where it has sadly languished, but I’m glad I finally got round to it! John was a student on one of my Poetry School courses, and then kindly sent me his pamphlet after it was published.

I love the image of what I think of as a little boy climbing up into a tree and getting stuck (why do I assume it is a boy actually – there is nothing in the poem to indicate this).  I imagine that this is an older brother speaking who has been charged with looking after a younger.  I like how the active words of ‘finding’ and ‘trusting’ are at the end of the line, driving the poem forwards.  The line ‘where I always turned back’ is interesting, shedding light on the character of both siblings.

I love the image conjured up by ‘a bird-eyed ghost’.  It makes me think of a pale face, peering through leaves, with wide eyes.  But what is ‘bird-eyed’.  Is it eyes that are wide and can see more than most, like an owls, which would fit to some extent with the word ghost? Or does ‘bird-eyed’ mean quick, and never resting? Do birds have good eyesight at all?

This poem is actually full of pairs – and pairs that contrast as well.  There are the two siblings of which ever gender,one with daring, and one with caution.  There is one out of sight, and one in full view ‘on the path’.  There is the mother, and Queenie Daly, who appears to be a neighborhood gossip, full of unhelpful stories in a time of crisis, and then finally ‘young Quinn’ is paired with the sibling in the tree.  It’s strange that the speaker of the poem is the one who calls out at the end, the mother doesn’t speak in the poem.  This feeling of the speaker, the child being in charge has been there since the first line.  We don’t find out what happens to the ‘bird-eyed ghost’ in the tree, so we’re left with the image of him, peering down from the branches of the tree, peering out from between the lines of the poem.

Thanks to John Mee for letting me publish his poem here.  John won the Patrick Kavanagh Award in 2015.  His poems have been published in The Rialto, Prelude, The SHop, Big Wide Words, Poetry on the Buses (London), Cyphers, Southword and The Cork Literary Review, as well as in various anthologies.  He was selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series in 2008.  He was born in Canada and has lived in Cork since he was seven years old.  He is a professor in the Law School at University College Cork.

If you’d like to order his pamphlet, you can do so here.  If you’d like to find out more about John Mee, check out his website here.

Michael – John Mee

Out of my sight
in the big tree, finding
a way past the fork
where I always turned back,
you rose calmly, trusting
the thinner branches,
ruffling the sky.

And there you froze,
a bird-eyed ghost.
I ran for our mother,
stood with her on the path.
Queenie Daly stopped to talk
about young Quinn’s fall
that broke his back.

I called up to you
to stay where you were.

Sunday Poem – Arthur Broomfield

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Sunday Poem – Arthur Broomfield

I’m writing today after last night’s terrible events in London.  It feels like there isn’t anything I can say that would mean anything.  The 24 hour news cycle, the constant speculation, the grilling of obviously traumatised eye witnesses by news reporters, live on television doesn’t feel healthy.  Probably like a lot of other people, I can’t stop thinking about the families of those injured or who have lost their lives, and how they probably don’t know for certain whether their relative or friend is alive.  And following on so closely from the Manchester atrocity, a lot closer to home for me, it all feels relentless, and heart breaking.

But a friend today posted a picture of himself on a bike ride out in the sun, saying after everything on the news, it makes him appreciate being alive, and I think this is true.  This morning I went out and walked the dogs in the fresh air and the sunshine and I felt lucky to be able to walk around without fear.

Blogging every two weeks has really taken the pressure off.  I find myself looking forward to it, and feeling a little frustrated as I’ve read so many good books recently and the two week gap means it takes longer before I can tell you all about them (assuming you’re all still there, and you’ve not wandered off in the two week hiatus).

I’ve been looking forward to the end of May for a long time, as my schedule eases up a lot now.  Although I’ve still got quite a lot on, I can do a lot of it from home, rather than dashing around the country.  Over the last two weeks, I’ve been very gradually building my running up again, after another injury setback.  I started doing just ten minutes, and then every other day I’ve been adding two minutes on.  I’m now up to 22 minutes, so I’m hoping in maybe another two weeks I will be fit enough to be back out running with my friends and able to be a bit more relaxed about how far I go.

On the 26th May I went to have my tattoo, which I’ve been looking forward to for ages.  I’ve always wanted a tattoo on my stomach/ribs but always talked myself out of it, mainly in case I put weight on and the tattoo stretched.  I finally decided that I’d spent ten years worrying about this, when I could have been enjoying having a tattoo, so I booked myself in.  I am now the proud owner of a flowery tattoo thing.  I won’t put a picture up yet, as it’s not finished.  I have to go back in mid-July and have the colour put in.  I was there for about five hours though, and it was so painful – much worse than having one on your shoulder or your arm.  I’m still getting used to having it, but I like the way having a tattoo makes you think differently about the body.  The body becomes art, but also something that I own and have control over.  This is my fourth tattoo, and I can honestly say, for someone who cares too much about what people think of me, with my tattoos, I don’t care at all! When I had my first tattoo, it was so liberating to realise I didn’t care if anyone else liked it or not.

I’ve been to a couple of great readings in the last few weeks or so – Hannah Hodgson, one of the Dove Cottage Young Poets  was the guest poet at Verbalise, hosted by Ann Grant, and Ann had also written a play based around one of my poems, and some young actors performed it, so that was an interesting night – Hannah read brilliantly, and it was interesting to hear one of my poems changed into another art form.

I also went to Katie Hale’s pamphlet launch this week.  That was also a lovely night with lots of food, and Hannah Hodgson read there as well, along with Emily Asquith, another Dove Cottage Young Poet, who actually performed for the first time.  I was very proud of them both. Katie has been working really hard at her writing for a long time, and it was lovely to see this hard work and effort being recognised.  The pamphlet is called ‘Breaking the Surface’ and is published by Flipped Eye.

I also had a meeting with my PhD supervisors.  I feel a lot calmer now about the overall shape of the PhD, and we’ve agreed that I should write 3000-5000 words by mid-July time to show my supervisors, and I also need to keep writing poems, which has actually been going ok recently.  So I have a clear way forward, now all I have to do is sit down and do it.  I spent some time looking back over my notes for all the things I’ve read this year, and I’ve actually done a lot of reading, which really surprised me.  I now just need to start reflecting on it properly and write something down.

Last Wednesday, Katie Hale and I went into Kendal with the Dove Cottage Young Poets to give out free poetry to random people in the town.  Lovely poet Caroline Gilfillan came as well in case we needed an extra adult, although as it turns out, Caroline and I sloped off to get a cup of tea from the cafe and left the young poets to it.  As well as giving out free poetry, it was also a way of trying to get the word out about Kendal Poetry Festival, and I think it worked as we had 4 times as many hits on the website as we usually do.  Some people were very suspicious or just not interested in getting a free poem, but lots of people were very lovely and friendly.  We even persuaded one of the armed policeman to take a poem, and he tucked it behind his bullet proof vest!

This week’s Sunday Poem is ‘Assumpta’ by Arthur Broomfield, who I met a few years ago at Torbay Poetry Festival.  Arthur has featured on the blog before, but since then, his first collection Cold Coffee at Emo Court, published by Revival Press has been published.   I read this collection in manuscript form because I agreed to write a blurb for Arthur and I think it is a good introduction to his work (even if I do say so myself!).  I wrote:

There’s a warmth and tenderness at work in these clear-eyed poems, laced with a shot of dry humour.  Arthur Broomfield is as likely to be inspired by a visit to a hurling match as an art gallery – these are poems that live in the real world, rooted in the everyday, with a commitment to the importance of language.

‘Assumpta’ seems particularly apt for a day like today.  It’s not a political poem.  It’s a love poem, or maybe more accurately, a poem written about that time when you can be poised on the edge of falling in love.  I know that Assumpta is Arthur’s wife, but you don’t have to know this to enjoy the poem.

The poem is a direct address to Assumpta – starting with the pronoun ‘You’.  It’s interesting that the poem starts off with phrases like ‘in your element’ and ‘laid eyes on you’ which I suppose could be classed as cliches. However, the poet unpacks both of these ideas in the poem.  The line ‘laid eyes on you’ becomes fresh because of the specific detail that is outlined, the lovely touch of ‘Mrs Dermody’ and the ‘spruce up’ of the sitting room.  It is not just the speaker who is laying eyes on the ‘you’, it is the reader as well.  By the end of the poem, the first line of the last stanza returns to the line ‘in your element with the line ‘I just remember you poised in the elements’ which gives a fresh twist to this phrase.  The ‘you’ becomes like a bird poised in the air, or a fish poised in water.

Another unusual thing about this poem that just struck me, is that although it is very much in the tradition of a ‘male gaze’ poem, i.e a male poet writing about a female,who is gazed upon, with no sense of being looked back at, it does subvert this tradition, because the females in this poem are not passive, sitting to be looked at.  They are the ones with agency and action in the poem.  Mrs Dermody ‘spruces up’ the living room, while the ‘you’ or Assumpta is ‘measuring up the wallpaper’ and ‘cutting it to precision’.  The females are not looking back because they are busy, rather than passive.  I also really like the ending, both because of the double meaning of ‘focusing on how it could turn out,/wondering if you’d fall;’ which could refer to the relationship and the decorating, but also because of the vulnerability in that last line and a half ‘thinking you were too busy/to notice me’.

Dr Arthur Broomfield is a poet, novelist, publisher and Beckett scholar from County Laois.  His previous works include When the Dust Settles (International University Press), The Poetry Reading at Semple Stadium (Lapwing), The Empty Too: Language and philosophy in the works of Samuel Beckett (Cambridge Scholars’ Publishing) and Mice at the Threshing (Lapwing).  He is editor of the online poetry journal Outburst and delivers occasional lectures on the works of Samuel Beckett.  Cold Coffee at Emo Court is his first full collection.

If you’d like to order Arthur’s collection Cold Coffee at Emo Court, you can order it here.  Thanks to Arthur for letting me post his poem today.

Assumpta – Arthur Broomfield

You were in your element
the first time I laid eyes on you,
as you helped Mrs Dermody
spruce up her sitting room

you dished out know how
stepping back and forward, hands on hips,
across the improvised kitchen table,

measuring up the wallpaper
cutting it to precision
matching it, even into the corners
where the nosey might
hope to find a flaw.

I wasn’t drawn to the design,
if the paper had a design at all,
didn’t care if the paint had a silk finish,

I just remember you poised in the elements
focusing on how it could turn out,
wondering if you’d fall;
that your eyes were a special blue
and thinking you were too busy
to notice me.

Sunday Poem – Polly Atkin

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Sunday Poem – Polly Atkin

I’m writing my blog in the garden today.  Our ‘half a hawthorn’ tree (the neighbour chops it in half because it hangs over our fence) is valiantly putting out blossom on our side of the garden, just in the lower branches, so I’m hoping it will survive the assault on its dignity for another year.  This morning I woke up to the consequences of two dogs who were determined to eat sheep poo for the whole day yesterday – lets just say it took a good half hour to clean it all up and was not particularly pleasant!  I feel slightly guilty about all of this as I clearly didn’t keep a close enough eye on them yesterday when I was out walking with a friend in the Lakes.  I think we talked non-stop for about six hours, and clearly the dogs took advantage of our riveting conversation and cleared the fell of sheep poo so they could deposit it all over the kitchen floor.  All I can say is THANK GOD the husband was here to help clear it up.

Since I last wrote, I did a reading at The Square Chapel in Halifax alongside Alison Brackenbury and Roy Marshall and some great open mic readers.  I ran my Barrow Poetry Workshop last month – I think there were 10 people there from Barrow, Dalton, Ulverston, Kendal and Penrith, so all Cumbrian writers this time.

I signed up for some training a while ago at the university.  MMU has some great opportunities for continuing professional development if you are teaching there, and I can study part time to get a PGCE in Higher Education if I want to.  I went to the first training day on a 15 credit unit that would go towards a PGCE a week and a half ago.  At the end I spoke to the unit leader and she has advised me to speak to the course leader to try and get some academic credit for my previous teaching experience and my PGCE in Secondary Education, so I’m meeting the course leader next week.  This will hopefully give me a bit of a head start towards the qualification.

For the last week, I’ve been down in Ledbury as I’d been given a place on their Voice Coaching course.  The night before I stayed at a friend’s house.  The friend is a poet, and her husband is also a writer.  We had a long late-night  conversation about poetry and PhD’s, and confessionalism and lyricism and lots of other stuff.  I felt like my head was buzzing with ideas, so much so that I could hardly get to sleep.  My friend’s house is perfectly set up for being a writer.  She has a beautiful office filled with books and an acre of land with some very cute and friendly sheep and two large dogs bounding about the place, and a friendly cat that came and sat with me last thing at night before it got bored and went out of my room.  There are beautiful views over the countryside – and did I mention the books? It made me feel less guilty about my over-the-top book collection anyway.  On Monday we went to see a beautiful old church and  went for lunch and then they dropped me off at Hellens, where the voice-coaching course took place.

I must admit I was quite nervous and apprehensive about the course.  Although the poets I’ve spoken to have all been very positive about it and said they found it really useful, quite a few of them said that it was ‘quite intense’.  I know when I run writing workshops that when ever I set up a writing exercise about the voice or the body, it can quickly stray into some very personal and powerful material.  I’m also slightly wary about ‘voice coaching’ – anything that might involve drama work is basically my worst nightmare.  But I applied because I wanted to do something different and take myself out of my comfort zone and it certainly did that.

The tutor, Francoise had incredible energy and enthusiasm.  She was also incredibly kind and generous and astute.  It’s hard to sum up what the course was like because if I tell you about the parts of it that I can name – like the deep breathing, the using different parts of your voice, the stretching and bending, those parts don’t add up to what it was really like, or what it all really meant.  I have never spent lots of time with my self – just breathing.  I find it incredibly hard to do nothing.  I have a mortal fear of being bored – but I wasn’t bored, not once.  I learnt that when Francoise asked us to say something, to use our voice to make a sound, I was waiting until someone else spoke first.  What was that all about?  I learnt that I was constantly self-conscious, and thinking I know what people are thinking, when in fact, and obviously, I don’t.  I learnt that I use SO MUCH energy trying to make people like me, and I don’t want to do it anymore.  I obviously want people to like me, but I don’t want to waste all my energy on it – they either like me or they don’t.  I learnt lots of techniques about performance and energy and breathing as well and there were lots of opportunities to read our poems out. We actually went and read at one of the Ledbury Salons on the second night and listened to the poet Gregory Leadbetter who came to do a reading and then we all got up and read two poems on the Open Mic.

Normally on residential weeks they seem to fly by, but at this one, it felt like time really slowed down.  We were in workshops for the whole day every day, and it was both physically and emotionally intense, but it was also incredibly sustaining and thought-provoking.  So when the applications open again, I would urge you to apply.  It was a brilliant, life-changing experience.  I think the only pre-requisite is that you have to have a pamphlet or a book out.

So it was a great week, and I met some really lovely poets, and got to know their work really well, which was brilliant.  It was back to reality with a bump however – the train was late from Birmingham to Preston, which meant I missed my last train home to Barrow.  The train company put me in a taxi from Preston and I eventually got back home at just before 2am on Friday morning.

On Friday I had to get up early to get to Kendal for a consultation at the tattoo studio – I’m getting a new tattoo next Friday and then in the afternoon it was Dove Cottage Young Poets.  Then back home to catch up on as many emails as possible before collapsing in a heap.  Which brings us to Saturday and the walk and the six hour chat and the dogs eating sheep poo which I won’t go into again.

I found out whilst I was away in Ledbury that I’ve been given some funding from MMU to go to the  English:Shared Futures conference in Newcastle in July, which means I can stay for the three days and go to some of the other panels and events, as well as taking part in the Round Table discussion about creative writing as research alongside Emily Blewitt and Carolyn Jess-Cooke.

I haven’t mentioned running because I haven’t been doing any.  I had knee pain when I did a 5k run last week and it still isn’t right so I rested while I was in Ledbury.  I’m going to have a week of swimming next week and try and get into the physio if I can.  This knee is costing me a fortune!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Polly Atkin, who lives not far from me in Grasmere.  I’ve known Polly for a while now and I’ve been looking forward to the publication of her first collection Basic Nest Architecture for a long time now.  I really enjoyed reading the collection, particularly as I’ve heard a few of the poems over the years at readings or open mics, so it was like meeting old friends again.

Polly grew up in Nottingham then lived in East London for seven years before moving to Cumbria.  Her second poetry pamphlet Shadow Dispatches won the Mslexia Pamphlet Prize and was published by Seren.  Her doctoral research was in collaboration with The Wordsworth Trust, and the departments of Sociology, and English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University, where she then taught for several years.  She currently teaches English Studies at the University of Strathclyde.

The collection is full of poems about landscape and animals, so it’s no surprise that an extract of the collection won the 2014 Andrew Waterhouse Prize in the Northern Writers Awards, given to a collection that engages with landscape.  There are also poems about living with illness and a body that doesn’t do what it is supposed to do, and it is one of those poems that I asked Polly if I could feature here.

‘The Invisible’ is a fantastic poem.  It comes towards the end of the collection and it explores ideas around a shadow self, named as ‘Croneshadow’ in the poem.  ‘Croneshadow’ seems to have her own will – she ‘stumbles ahead of me’ and ‘Her mouth/twitches down at the creases’.  Croneshadow is both the speaker, and her shadow.  Croneshadow is the body that will not do what it is told.  The speaker says ‘I try/to right her but she will not straighten’.

By the end of the poem, we are left with the haunting image of the speaker walking along, her breath melting ‘the frost on the empty road’ and the Croneshadow walking ahead.  The feel of the poem is that the speaker will be left behind, and the Croneshadow will walk onward, into her life, leaving her behind.

At first I thought Croneshadow was quite an ominous, or frightening figure.  She is made almost grotesque in the poem by the physical description of the way she walks, and the description of her face.  However, the speaker obviously has sympathy for her, because she tries to straighten her.  Two thirds of the way down the poem we learn

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>She knows
more of pain than your charts can trace
but you will not acknowledge her>>>>>>hear her.

I then started to wonder who the ‘you’ is that this poem is addressed to?  Is this poem addressed to the medical profession, to doctors, hospital staff? There are only four uses of the pronoun ‘you’ in the poem.  I tried changing them to ‘they’ but it doesn’t work – it makes the poem feel more distant.  Is the ‘you’ people who are healthy, people who don’t understand?  The use of pronouns in this poem is very interesting, because at one point it feels like the ‘I’ and the ‘she’ are merging into each other (‘Her edges are blurring./ My legs are unravelling’.  But by the end of the poem, there is a definite distinction and separation between the two identities.

It feels like a poem that I will continue to puzzle over, and the other thing to say is that although I think it works really well on its own, the other poems in the book about the body add another dimension to this poem.  The landscape/animal poems are wonderfully lyrical as well.  In ‘Heron/Snow’ the first line is ‘You carry worlds in the cipher of your feathers;/sky and water woven together’.  Another favorite poem was ‘Jack Daw’ which is up there with the best animal/bird description poems.

If you would like to order a copy of Polly’s collection, you can order it from the Seren website and get a 20% discount.  If you’d like to find out more about Polly, you can visit her website which is https://pollyatkin.com/

The Invisible – Polly Atkin

‘The secret is to walk evading nothing’
???????????????????????– Alice Oswald

Croneshadow stumbles ahead of me>>>>>catching
erratic feet on the tarmac>>>>>ruched
as it is by roots>>>>>her left foot sticking
as if in mud>>>>>her stoop cranked up
by the pock-marked skin of the drystone wall
she is thrown on>>>>>the angle of light>>>>sickish
orange in the early night.>>>>Her mouth
twitches down at the creases>>>>>Bitchy
Resting Face>>>though you cannot see it
dark on dark.>>>>You could say she exists
in relief>>>>except there is none>>>not
for a structure like her>>>>misbuilt>>collapsing
inward with each jolt forward.  I try
to right her but she will not straighten.  The more
I struggle the more she looks broken. She knows
more of pain than your charts can trace
but you will not acknowledge her>>>>>>hear her.  Her name
is a slur.  Her body is carrion.  It is
too late for this.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>My blood too sticky.
Her edges are blurring.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>My legs are unravelling.
Her gown of bones is clacking>>>>>>clacking.
Will we ever reach home?
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>I sink in my clothes
till my breath melts the frost on the empty road.
She pushes ahead of me>>>>carries on walking.
Carries on walking.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Carries on walking.

December Poetry Carousel Workshops

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Below you will find information about the workshops that will be running during the December Poetry Carousel.  A third of the places are already gone for this residential weekend, so if you’re thinking of coming, I would advise you to book sooner rather than later!

The Carousel runs from the 8th-11th December 2017 at Abbot Hall Hotel, Kents Bank, Grange Over Sands.  Participants will take part in a 2 hour workshop each day with one of the tutors.  They will have the afternoon free to write, before coming together in the evening to be entertained by readings from the four tutors and special guest poet (to be announced).

I asked David Morley, Steve Ely and Hilda Sheehan to design a workshop based around something that they were passionate and excited about – I’m sure you will agree that the four workshops below are four exciting and different ways of looking at writing poetry.

If you’d like to book a place on the Carousel, please get in touch with Abbot Hall Hotel on 015395 32896.  If you have any questions about the content of the course, you can contact me directly – details on my Contacts page.

Natural Magic – David Morley

I trained as a freshwater ecologist in The Lake District not far from where our workshops will take place. I enjoyed the fieldwork! Being out in glorious landscapes – paying close attention to the natural world – made me wake up as a writer. My apprenticeship as an ecologist was also my apprenticeship as a poet. It trained me to attend to what is often overlooked: ‘to see a world in a grain of sand’. It helped me sense patterns in the natural world that could be translated in language, images and poems. It made me sound out the acoustics of birdsong, the flow of rivers, of silence even, and how these could also be the sources for a natural poetic language. In our workshop we will explore and write poems that take their language, power and magic from the world around us. The first thing we shall do is bring the world into the room.

 

Writing the Dead  – Steve Ely

Death – and the dead – have been a resource for poets since the dawn of poetry and song.  However, in this workshop participants will go beyond elegy, eulogy and  personal writing about bereavement (for example) to write from the points of view of the dead, engaging them in post-mortem dialogue and deploying their voices and perspectives to explore and develop their own thematic obsessions.  Participants will consider a range of modern and contemporary poems that utilise the dead in this way, in doing so achieving a paradoxical, life-affirming utterance.

 

Consequently the Tongue is a Chair* – Hilda Sheehan

Consequently the Tongue is a Chair*: exploring surrealism and absurdist writing to create poems that are alive, exciting, and strange.

Through the realms of play, freedom and possibility,  we’ll explore new ways of seeing reality to bring about an element of surprise and perhaps more humour to our work. We’ll look at several techniques that can spark the imagination and lead to new creative strategies in the absence of any control exercised by reason!

*from ‘The Domestic Stones’ by Hans Arp (Translated by David Gascoyne)


Veiling the Narrative – Kim Moore

What are the different ways of ‘veiling the narrative’ in poetry and should we try and do this at all? During this workshop we’ll be looking at different ways of telling a story in our poem. Using techniques such as fragmentation and repetition, we will experiment with the idea of holding back or telling all.  We’ll look at the use of images to create a narrative, and how we can construct a narrative arc in poetry.

December Poetry Carousel

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Sitting here listening to the birds singing, and the sun vaguely shining, and after days of beautiful weather, it feels like December is very far off.  It feels strange to be planning for winter when summer is starting.  However, this December, I’m really excited to be running another residential again.  This time it’s the Poetry Carousel, back by popular demand.  The Carousel came about when I was trying to think of a way to utilize the uniqueness of running a residential course in a hotel – all those bedrooms, but we were only using 16 of them.  I also wanted to try and combine the best bits of a residential with a poetry festival – so I came up with the idea of the Poetry Carousel. The course will take place at Abbot Hall Hotel, Kents Bank, (nr Grange over Sands in the Lake District)

One of my favourite parts of running residentials is working with the other tutors.  The process of selecting tutors to work with is really exciting – I always choose tutors that I’ve either worked with before so I’ve seen them in action, or that I’ve been in a workshop with as a participant.  They also have to be great performers, and they have to be poets that really care about teaching.  And for the Carousel purposes, they have to have three different approaches to poetry – this is one of the reasons why it feels different to a traditional residential.  There is no unifying theme for the weekend.  I just ask the tutors to run a poetry workshop on a theme or idea that they feel passionate about.

The 2017 team consists of David Morley, Steve Ely and Hilda Sheehan.  I ran a residential down in St Ives with Steve last year, and I was really impressed with his level of preparation for the workshops, and his kindness and generosity towards the participants on the course.  I’ve known Hilda for quite a few years now – we first met when we shared a room together on a residential course.  Hilda is great fun, very energetic and I’m sure she won’t mind me saying, slightly bonkers.  She runs the Swindon Poetry Festival and both her energy and her humour are legendary!  She runs fantastic workshops and is a great performer of her work.  I went to a workshop run by David Morley at The Wordsworth Trust quite a few years ago now and I’ve never forgotten it.  It was completely different to every other workshop I’ve been to.  There were lots of different strategies for taking us all out of our tried and tested methods of writing poetry, and again, David’s energy and enthusiasm was infectious.

So those are some of my reasons for assembling this team of tutors – now all we need are the participants! The hotel tells me that a fifth of the places are already booked for this course, and the nicer rooms are always booked out first, so if you are thinking of coming, I would book sooner rather than later.   If you would like to book, you need to contact the hotel directly on 015395 32896.

If the course sells out (as I’m expecting it to) there will be 32 people booked on.  Those 32 people will be divided into groups of 8.  Each group of 8 will have a 2 hour workshop with one of the tutors on the Friday afternoon at 4pm.  We then all come together for dinner, and an evening reading from two of the tutors.  On Saturday morning, each group of 8 moves on to the next tutor for another two hour workshop.  There will be free time on Saturday afternoon, then the whole group of 32 comes together for dinner and an evening reading from a guest poet.  On Sunday morning, each group of 8 moves on to another workshop with another tutor.  There’s free time in the afternoon again before we meet for dinner and evening readings from the other two tutors.  On Monday, the group moves on to the last tutor and their last workshop of the weekend.  We meet for lunch before everyone heads off home.  The course officially finishes at 12 and lunch is straight after this.

So that’s the general outline – so although there are 32 people on the course, giving the weekend more of a festival feel in the evenings, the workshops are actually very intimate.

The cost of the weekend is £360 and this includes accommodation, workshops, breakfast, lunch and three-course evening meals.

Below is some biographical information about the tutors.  Towards the end of the week, I’ll be sharing information about the workshops that will be running over the weekend -so keep an eye out for this!

David Morley

David Morley won the Ted Hughes Award for New Poetry in 2016 for The Invisible Gift: Selected Poems and a Cholmondeley Award for his contribution to poetry.  His collections include The Gypsy and the Poet, a PBS Recommendation; Enchantment, a Sunday Telegraph Book of the Year; The Invisible Kings, a PBS Recommendation and TLS Book of the year. A dramatic poem The Death of Wisdom Smith, Prince of Gypsies has been published by The Melos Press. David is known for poetry installations within natural landscapes: ‘slow poetry’ sculptures and poetry films. A Professor at Warwick University and Monash University, David is also a National Teaching Fellow.

‘Like opening a box of fireworks; something theatrical happens when you open its pages, and a curtain is raised on a tradition that has been overlooked…Ted Hughes wrote about the natural magical and mythical world; The Invisible Gift is a natural successor…’. – Ted Hughes Award Judges

Steve Ely

Steve Ely has published four collections of poetry, most recently Werewolf (Calder Valley Poetry) and Incendium Amoris (Smokestack).  His biographical work, Ted Hughes’s South Yorkshire: Made in Mexborough, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2015.  He lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Huddersfield.

Hilda Sheehan

Hilda Sheehan has been a psychiatric nurse and Montessori teacher. She has a collection of poetry, The Night My Sister Went to Hollywood,  published by Cultured Llama, and a pamphlet of short fiction, Frances and Martine from Dancing Girl Press.  “Like a firework set off in the heart of the culture’s kitchen”. William Bedford. Hilda is the founder and organiser of Poetry Swindon Festival and works as an education officer at the Richard Jefferies Museum.

Kim Moore

Kim Moore’s first collection The Art of Falling was published by Seren in 2015.  A poem from this collection was shortlisted for the Forward Prize.   Her first pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves was a winner in the 2012 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition and went on to be shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award and named in The Independent as a Book of the Year.  She is one of five UK poets chosen to take part in Versopolis, a European funded project to bring the work of UK poets to an international audience.

Sunday Poem – Ina Anderson

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Sunday Poem – Ina Anderson

It’s been three weeks since my last blog.  I was under the delusion that it had only been two – time apparently flies when you’re not blogging.  Since my last blog, I’ve done a lot of swimming, which started as replacement activity for running, but I’m now quite enjoying it.  I used to be in a swimming club and swum competitively when I was younger.  When I started playing the cornet, band concerts started to interfere with swimming galas, so I gave up swimming completely.  I’m not sure what age – maybe I was about 13 when I stopped.  Since then, I could probably count on one hand the number of lengths of a pool I’ve actually swam.

As I wrote that, I realise this is a bit of a pattern with me.  I do something obsessively, sometimes for many years, and then when I stop, I stop completely, and it’s like it never happened.  Regular readers of this blog will know I also did this with trumpet playing when I stopped playing completely for about seven years.   However, I seem to be breaking this habit, as I’m now playing again with a soul band (The Soul Survivors) and we do between 1-2 gigs a month, and I’m now swimming twice a week.

I try and do 40 lengths of a 25 metre pool, alternating between breast stroke and front crawl.  I haven’t quite got the hang of doing more than one length of front crawl at a time without feeling like I’m going to drown.  I go with the husband early in the morning – we normally get into the pool by 8am and are done by 8.45am.  I’m convinced the swimming has helped with my IT band/knee injury.  I can feel every muscle stretching as I’m plodding up and down the pool.

In the last week I’ve managed four 4-5k runs at a very steady pace, but it is so good to be back in the outdoors, and with no knee pain! I was supposed to be running the Coniston to Barrow yesterday, but I decided not to in the end.  I think I could probably have walked it, but I know my injury would have flared up again, and then I would probably not be able to run for another five weeks which would have driven me up the wall.  This week, I’m going to try and limit myself to 6k runs, and just try and build up very slowly, and try not to trigger the injury again.

So instead of running the 21 miles between Coniston and Barrow I was in the support team for both the Coniston to Barrow and the Keswick to Barrow team.  Towards the end of the day I ended up dashing about between limping walkers in various states of injury. I had to get some trainers to a walker in my sisters team and I managed to blag a ride on the back of a quad bike to get to them as cars weren’t allowed on the road.  Here’s a shot of me posing on said quad bike.

quadrescue

Last weekend I headed off to Petersfield, or actually East Meon, near Petersfield to run a poetry residential for the South Downs Poetry Festival.  This is my third residential this year, and it actually felt very different as I was only responsible for the tutoring side of things rather than doing all the organising.  It felt much easier to have someone else taking care of that side of things! Hugh Dunkerley was the other tutor, who I hadn’t met before the weekend, but we got on great, which was a big relief! We all stayed in rooms in The Sustainability Centre, and Tim Dawes, the South Downs Poetry Festival Director, cooked for us all weekend, and put up with my raids into the kitchen to get more food.  For some reason I couldn’t stop eating that weekend, maybe it was something to do with the fact that I’d started running again.  There were some lovely participants on the course, and the last night where they all read was as good as any poetry reading I’ve paid to go to.

Other things I’ve been up to – I’ve finished my marking for the unit that I taught at Manchester Met this year, so that feels really good to get that over and done with.  I am doing some cover marking, so I have a meeting next week with the lecturer to go over the marking scheme and then I will have another 20 or so to do.  Pauline Yarwood and I have been getting on with stuff for Kendal Poetry Festival – there are quite a few new blog posts up about the various poets that are coming to the festival – please head over and sign up and then you won’t miss any updates.  At the minute, Hannah Hodgson, our Young Blogger-in-Residence is doing a series of 5 Minute Interviews with the Festival Poets.  So far she has interviewed Chrissy Williams, Kathryn Maris and Katrina Naomi and up next is Pauline and I on the process of putting a festival together – this post will be going live tomorrow.   If you feel like a poetry festival is missing from your life, please consider coming along to Kendal Poetry Festival, 16th-18th June.  Although we are a small festival, there is lots going on and some fabulous poets are reading and giving workshops and leading discussions.  There are also opportunities for you to read your own work at the two Open Mic sessions at the festival.  You can book tickets at The Brewery Arts Centre

I have two pieces of good news – firstly, as some of you may know, Clare Shaw and I have been writing poems back and forward to each other for the last couple of months.  We performed these poems together at the Feminist Poetry Jambouree, an event we put on together in Ulverston.   I’ve absolutely loved working with Clare on these poems, and I’m really pleased that The North  poetry magazine have agreed to publish all six of our poems, in the back and forth format in their next issue.

I’m also relieved that my RD1 has now been passed and signed off for my PhD.  Relieved is a bit of an understatement, as I’d got myself worked up into a bit of a frenzy about it.  I think I found out on Thursday that it had been signed off.   One of my friends thought this meant that I’d passed my PhD! Sadly not, but I have passed through the first doorway. I’m now going to be moved onto a more creative PhD (not sure when) and I’ve got a meeting in a couple of weeks with both my supervisors to discuss the next steps forward.  In the meantime, I’m going to carry on writing poems – if in doubt, write poetry, seems to be the best way forward.

So today’s Sunday Poem is by Ina Anderson.  I organised a launch for Ina to celebrate the publication of her first collection Journey Into Space a few months ago now.  It was lovely to hear Ina read at the launch, alongside Carlisle poet Malcolm Carson.  I’ve really enjoyed the collection – Ina knows how to tell a good story in her poetry, and she has had interesting and exciting experiences in her life to draw on.

The other thing I really enjoyed about the collection is that a lot of the poems are set in Barrow-in-Furness, where Ina lived until she was twelve, and where I live now.  I recognise a lot of the places she talks about, some of the pub names are still the same.  When she was twelve she moved to Kirkby-in-Furness, which is about a 20 minute drive from Barrow.  The biography at the back of her collection says

Her first work was in her father’s tobacconist shop, weighing out snuff that made her sneeze.  Soon she set off to London and joined the staff of the Town Planning Institute as an editorial assistant.  That experience stood her in good stead when she came to the United States, where she worked as a technical editor on several professional journals.  Tired of being a literary janitor, she took to teaching, spending over twenty years at the Community College of Vermont as a faculty member and student advisor, teaching writing, speaking and literature.  Ina’s poems have appeared in several publications, including Poem Town Randolph, Mountain Troubadour, Red Fox Poets and a recent anthology Perhaps It Was the Pie.

The poem I’ve chosen is ‘Turning Back’ which I think is representative of much of Ina’s work.  There is a strong narrative and story-telling arc that drives the poem forward.  The language is colloquial and straightforward, but the poem is full of telling details and images – the precision of the jumper ‘with a little striped front piece’.  I think it is an interesting poem because I feel mixed emotions when I read it – I feel sad for the boyfriend whose ‘grin was wide across his face’, and I also feel relieved that the 17 year old speaker didn’t run away to Gretna Green to get married!  The story is extraordinary – to just jump off the train without saying anything.  I must admit, when I heard Ina read this, I had to go and ask her if it was true, and what had happened next.  Which I won’t divulge here – I will leave you to read the poem and make your own minds up.

I also really love poems that are about significant moments in a life, and this poem is about one of those moments or memories that we carry around for ever, that when we look back, seem lit up, or illuminated, they have stayed with us for so long, when a life is suspended between going one way or another.  Most of the time we don’t know at the time that we are in that moment until it has passed and we’ve made the decision.  Most of the time we don’t realise until we look back, years later.  The magic of this poem, or part of the magic anyway, comes from the fact that the speaker realised that she was in a life-changing moment while it was happening, and then ‘opened the door/and jumped to the platform.’

If you would like to order Ina’s collection, you can order it from her publisher Antrim House Books here or from The Norwich Bookstore in Vermont.  I’m also reliably told that Suttons Bookshop in Ulverston has a few copies, which they can post out, which will probably be cheaper than ordering it from the USA if you’re based in the UK.  Their phone number is 01220 588858 – I couldn’t find a web address!

Thanks to Ina for letting me post her poem here.

Turning Back – Ina Anderson 

My jumper was blue
with a little striped front piece,
the first I knitted all myself.
My case was small
to hide that I had gone.
He wore his tweed suit
like he always did.
He’d got on at Barrow,
and he already had us seats.
No one else but me
got on at Kirkby station.
The carriage was crowded,
full of men laughing together,
all headed for the jobs
up at Dounreay.

He was so nervous and so happy.
His grin was wide across his face.
I knew he had a ring in his pocket.
The ride up there would be a long one,
all the length of the Cumberland coast,
cross the border, through
the lowlands then the highlands.
But first we’d stop at Gretna Green.

I don’t know when my doubt set in.
I knew I loved him,
loved his loving too.
But perhaps it was the look it would bring
to my dad’s sweet face,
and my mum, she’d feel such shame.
Perhaps I thought seventeen
was a bit young too.
Getting close to Whitehaven,
almost an hour on,
I said I’d go to the loo,
and I took my little bag
but not my case.

I took a while in there,
deciding, deciding,
hardest choice I’d ever made.
Just before the train
started out of Whitehaven station,
I opened the door
and jumped to the platform.
Off went the train
with him and my case inside.

I don’t know how long it took him
to see that I had gone.
By then I was across the lines
and hiding in the station.
In half an hour I was
on the next train back.

It was Mum that night
said I was a bit quiet.
It was years until
she and Dad knew.

Sunday Poem – Jennifer Copley

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Sunday Poem – Jennifer Copley

I hope you haven’t missed me too much in this three week break (how did three weeks just fly by?). I’ve been hibernating from blogging, and getting through my last ‘busy period’.  In the intervening three weeks, I’ve spent a week running a residential in Grange-Over-Sands, at Abbot Hall Hotel.   It was a lovely week, with the opportunity to work with some fantastic poets from all over the country.  I was a bit sad because one of my regular course goers, who has been on every residential since I started running them had to cancel because of an unexpected hospital stay.  I know from personal experience how completely frustrating it can be, so I hope she is better soon.  It wasn’t quite the same without her either – she is a great laugh, and usually has the whole table at dinner in fits of laughter.  So get well soon Bernice!

It was perfect running weather in Grange, but I’ve been having problems with my IT Band, giving me pain at the side of my knee since I did the 14 mile race round Coniston, so I managed to resist, and went swimming in the hotel pool instead.  It’s not the same as running, but I enjoyed it still.  I used to swim at a club when I was younger, I think I swam nearly every night for quite a few years so it bought a few memories back.  I’ve been keeping the swimming up as every time I try to run, my knee hurts again.  I did parkrun yesterday but I can still feel the niggle there, so I think I’m going to have another two weeks off to see if that sorts it out.  I just want to get it right ready for the summer, I don’t want to be stuck indoors unable to run!

I’m waiting to hear back about my revised RD1 now as well, but I’ve carried on with my reading.  I bought a book called After Confessionalism: Poetry as Autobiography which is a collection of essays by American poets about confessional and lyric poetry.  I started to wonder whether my poems about experiences of sexism are actually confessional poetry.  The thing about these poems is that they have to be true.  They have to be a ‘lived experience of sexism’.  If I made them up, or appropriated someone else’s experience of sexism as my own, I think the reader would rightly feel manipulated, or annoyed.  Their power needs to come from the fact that they are an individual experience, but that they reach out into a wider social context, that they are recognisable by other women.  I felt uncomfortable and worried about having the confessional label applied to my poetry, and then started to wonder why that was.  I think it gets used as a dismissive/disparaging term still.  Like most labels, it’s not actually very helpful, and I’m halfway through this book of essays and haven’t found a definition of ‘confessional poetry’ that I agree with yet.

Joan Aleshire, in an essay included in the book called ‘Staying News: A Defense of the Lyric’ writes that

“In the confessional poem, as I’d like to define it, the poet, overwhelmed or intoxicated by the facts of his or her life, lets the facts take over.  To say that a poem is confessional is to signal a breakdown in judgement and craft. Confession shares with the lyric a degree of self-revelation but carries implications that the lyric resists.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines confession as the declaration or disclosure of something that one has allowed to remain secret as being prejudicial, humiliating, or inconvenient to oneself; the disclosure of private feeling; a plea of guilty, an admission of what one has been charged with,; a formal confession made in order to receive absolution.  I see the confessional poem as a plea for special treatment, a poem where the poet’s stance is one of particularity apart from common experience.  Confession in art, as in life, can be self-serving – an attempt to shift the burden of knowledge from speaker-transgressor to listener.”

First of all, I don’t think this definition works when applied to the original poets like Lowell, Plath, Berryman etc that the term was coined for, although later on in the essay, Aleshire looks in detail at some of Lowell’s work to illustrate her point.  I just don’t buy that bit about being ‘overwhelmed or intoxicated by the facts of his or her life’.    I don’t buy the ‘breakdown in judgement and craft’.  Surely that’s just a bad poem, not a confessional one?

The term ‘confessional poetry’ was coined by the critic Mack Rosenthal in 1959 in a review of Robert Lowell’s collection ‘Life Studies’.  He defined confessional poetry as ‘poetry that goes beyond customary bounds of reticence or personal embarrassment.’

Both of these definitions are problematic.  The original definition of confessionalism assumes that there is a generic boundary of reticence/embarrassment that we all share, which is obviously untrue – although I guess that we are still bound by convention in some ways, there are some things that there is general agreement shouldn’t be talked about, but since 1959, this boundary, this border has shifted massively.

Going back to my own work, I’m not sure my poetry fits this 1959 definition.  It kind of does – it is uncomfortable to point out sexism still or to talk about it.  It’s often the ‘elephant in the room’ that doesn’t get acknowledged, but whether it crosses the boundary of ‘personal embarrassment’ – I’m not sure.  Doesn’t every poem cross the boundary of reticence to be heard?

So back to Joan Aleshire.  I’m not ashamed to say that sometimes I’ve been overwhelmed when writing a poem.  Sometimes I’m writing so fast in my notebook it feels like I’m riding a wave.  However, this is only in the moment of first getting the ideas down.  Once I start editing, it is a very cold, hard and calculating process.  The part about the ‘facts taking over’ is interesting.  Because of what I’m writing about, a lived experience of sexism, there has to be a contract between myself and the reader, that what I’m writing is true.  Otherwise the whole thing becomes pointless.  At this point in my reading, I’m distracted by looking up ideas of truth in poetry, and the idea of there being only versions of the truth anyway, but I won’t go into that here.  The rest of the definition, which centers on the premise of ‘confession’ kind of fits but doesn’t.  The poems are not an admission of guilt, although I have felt ashamed when I’ve examined my own reaction/collusion with sexism.  I don’t want to receive absolution though, or give it.  I want to hold transactions that I have made in the society we live in up to the light to see exactly what is going on.  Finally, the idea of shifting the ‘burden of knowledge’.  This doesn’t work for me either – as often when I start writing these poems, I’m writing about a memory that I’ve carried for a long time, without even knowing why I’ve carried it for so long.  I’m writing to find something out.

So maybe I’m not writing confessional poetry, or maybe the term is undefinable.  Maybe it never worked in the first place.  So what am I writing? I like Joan Aleshire’s definition of lyric poetry much better.  She says

the true lyric poem – can, through vision, craft, and objectivity toward the material, give a sense of commonality with unparalleled intimacy.

Joan Aleshire tells us that

T.S. Eliot in “The Three Voices of Poetry” defines the lyric as “the voice of the poet speaking to himself, oppressed by a burden that he must bring to relief.”

These definitions feel much more comfortable to me.  I love the idea of intimacy juxtaposed with commonality, a reaching outward.  If the poems about experiences of sexism are working, if they are living breathing things then this is what they will do.

The good thing about this book is that the essay writers often disagree or outright contradict each other.

I’ve really enjoyed reading this book, and I’ve not reached the last chapter yet, which focuses on women’s poetry, which I know will be interesting, because I think the term ‘confessional’ is applied to women poets much more frequently than to men.  What I’m not sure about is whether what I’m doing now, is actually what ‘doing a PhD’ is.  Is reading the book on the train and making notes ‘doing a PhD’.  Is writing my thoughts out on this blog, which has helped make them a lot clearer ‘doing a PhD?’  Why hasn’t someone written a handbook about creative writing PhD’s which would have a chapter that defines what ‘doing a PhD’ actually is? If this is ‘doing a PhD’ then I’m bloody loving it.  If it’s not, then I’m a bit screwed, because I’ve spent the whole week doing something else entirely.

Apart from PhD work, I’ve also managed to finish a review that was overdue for Under the Radar magazine of two fantastic books by Emily Berry and Sabrina Mahfouz, played second trumpet in a duet piece for one of my remaining trumpet student’s GCSE performance, worked with Pauline Yarwood to finalise proofs for Kendal Poetry Festival brochures, had a filling (completely traumatising) and organised with Clare Shaw a ‘Feminist Poetry Jambouree’.  What an amazing night that was.  We stopped counting the audience at about 70.  It was such a great thing to be part of, and lots of the audience were new to poetry as well, and had come because it was a feminist event, or because it was political.  I’m sure themed poetry readings are the way forward! We also raised £200 to be split between The Birchall Trust (a local charity that works with survivors of sexual abuse) and Let Go (a charity that works with victims of domestic violence).

My exciting piece of news is that I’ve been invited to read at Struga Poetry Evenings, a poetry festival in Macedonia in August, as part of the Versopolis project that I’m currently part of.  Versopolis is a funded project to help emerging poets reach a wider, more international audience.  Through Versopolis, I went to Croatia at the Goran’s Spring Festival in 2015 and had a brilliant time, so I’m really looking forward to Macedonia.  I’ll be at the festival for a week, and then the husband is going to meet me there on the last day of the festival (he is doing some epic and ridiculous bike ride to get there) and then we’re going to have a holiday together.  As long as he doesn’t expect me to get on the pushbike!

In December, I’m running my ‘Poetry Carousel‘ residential course again for the third year running.  As far as I know, nobody else is doing anything like this in the UK.  The basic premise is instead of the usual two poetry tutors on a residential, the lucky participants on the Poetry Carousel will get four – myself, David Morley, Hilda Sheehan and Steve Ely.  You will be in a group of no more than eight, and your group of eight will get a two hour workshop with each tutor.   There will be a maximum of 32 people booked on the course, but the workshop groups will be small and intimate.  In the evening, we all come together for readings from the tutors and guest poets, and it feels more like a festival than a residential.  It’s taking place at Abbot Hall Hotel from the 8th-11th December 2017 and costs £360 for the weekend.  This includes all of your meals (breakfast, lunch and three course evening meal) plus accommodation and workshops.  If you are interested, please give the hotel a ring to book your room on 015395 32896.  The best rooms always go first, so if you like a bit of luxury, please book early!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by my good friend Jennifer Copley, who I tutored with last week on the residential course.  We shared a lodge together for the first time and it was a bit like living with a small bird.  Jenny trilled her way round the lodge, singing snatches of Methodist hymns and other tunes.    Jenny’s new pamphlet was published just in time for the residential course.  It’s called ‘Some Couples’ and does what it says on the tin, exploring the world of coupledom in Jenny’s usual surreal style.  It is a HappenStance pamphlet, so you know it’s going to be good! You can order it direct from them HERE, and make a hardworking, independent publisher very happy.

I love this poem for it’s childlike, wide-eyed tone at the beginning.  Jenny’s poems always have their own inner logic, and I love how the reader goes with the idea of a mouse having a favourite corner, but then she pushes it further and convinces us that the corner has an opinion and worries of its own, and then even further still, with the introduction of the idea that the corner has a mother.  The poem doesn’t give us all the answers however – what would a corner’s mother look like? For me, the whole poem lights up in the third stanza, with that direct interjection from the author.  The use of the word ‘little’ works really hard for such an innocuous word to illustrate the fondness of the author for the corner.  And then finally there is that lovely image of the mouse returning to finish off.

The Two Friends – Jennifer Copley

A small mouse sits in a corner of a field.
It’s his favourite corner
where he feels safe.
The corner is happy to have him.

Sometimes the mouse has to go away.
The corner worries he won’t come back,
that he’ll find a better corner elsewhere.
A long time ago the corner’s mother did just that.
The corner had only a few cold-hearted stones to turn to.

Don’t worry, little corner! I am the writer of this poem
and I can reveal the mouse will always return
though his fur be more and more bedraggled
going through all those hedges, brambles and nettles.

Kendal Poetry Festival

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Kendal Poetry Festival

I’ve been a bit quiet on here recently – but just wanted to draw your attention to one of the things I’ve been getting on with while I’ve been away.  Last year, Pauline Yarwood and I decided to set up a poetry festival (as you do) from scratch.   Kendal Poetry Festival took place at Abbot Hall Art Gallery and was a great success.  We decided to do it again this year, and we’ve been awarded funding from the Arts Council, the Hadfield Trust and the Sir John Fisher Foundation.

Tickets have been available for a couple of weeks now and sales are going well.  We’ve decided to offer 10% off 5 or more tickets bought before May 6th, so if you’d like to come, and want a bit of a discount, head over to the Kendal Poetry Festival website to have a look at the programme.

Our Festival Dream Team of poets include Jack Mapanje, Hannah Lowe, William Letford, Inua Ellams, Chrissy Williams, Malika Booker, Katrina Naomi, Kathryn Maris, Tim Liardet, Ian Duhig and Linda Gregerson.

I will be writing blogs for the Kendal Poetry Festival website in the run up to the festival, but this year I have a Young Blogger-in-Residence to help me.  Hannah Hodgson will be conducting a series of ‘Five Minutes with….’ interviews with many of our Festival Poets.

The first one, with the lovely Chrissy Williams is already up at the Kendal Poetry Festival blog page.  As well as the short interview, Chrissy has also sent us a poem from her forthcoming Bloodaxe collection Bear.

I hope you enjoy having a look around!

 

Sunday Poem – Julia Webb

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Sunday Poem – Julia Webb

I’m experimenting at the minute with fortnightly Sunday Poems, and I think it’s working! It has taken a bit of pressure off and I’m even thinking of ideas for a different type of blog post, maybe something to do with my PhD, on my ‘weekends off’ the Sunday Poem.

This has been another busy couple of weeks, in fact a rough couple of weeks for me.  I’ve been really busy with freelance work, as well as work for my PhD.  The rest of April is going to be quite full on, as I’m away running two residential courses, but after that, things calm down again, and I’m determined to take things a bit easier now and not take so much work on.   As soon as I decided this of course, I got quite a few offers of work that I would in normal circumstances love to do and which I’ve had to say no to.   I find it hard to say no to things even when I don’t want to do them, so having to turn down things I don’t want to do has been really difficult.  But I think the future me will thank the past me for it.

Meetings for Kendal Poetry Festival are in full swing, and Pauline and I have been writing the content for our programme and for the website, and then checking and rechecking proofs.  We are almost there with it, and hopefully tickets will be on sale by the end of next week.

I’ve been running a Poetry School course in Manchester for the last five weeks.  There were ten students signed up on the course, and I was actually quite sad that it was coming to an end, as they were a lovely group to work with – a mix of people I’d not met before and old friends – people that have been on previous workshops or residentials with me, even one person who I’d been on the MA with at Manchester all those years ago.  I’m also coming to the end of an Online Feedback course that I’ve been running with the Poetry School – I think there are 16 people on that course, and my last lot of feedback will be uploaded by next weekend, so again, another thing I’ve really enjoyed coming to an end.  On the positive side though, this means that I’m going to have a bit more breathing space to think, read and make some progress with my PhD, which is what I need at the minute.

My lovely friend David Tait has been on a months residency at The Wordsworth Trust – we spent a week down in St Ives together running a residential there, and I’ve tried to see him as much as I can in between everything else that has been going on.  Two Thursdays ago David came to Manchester to meet me after I’d finished my Poetry School course and we stayed over at a hotel before heading to Sheffield on Friday to record ourselves reading some poems at The Poetry Business, and to do a reading at Bank Street.  It was great to read with David again and to hang out at Bank Street – one of my favourite places in the world.  If you’e been to the office you’ll know why, books everywhere – not just the ones they publish but review copies of books and back issues of poetry magazines.

After the reading, despite my best intentions of not hanging around to chat with people, I ended up hanging around and chatting with people, so I didn’t get home till 1am.  The next day I had the Coniston 14 race – 14 miles around the edge of the lake with a couple of hills in between.  I’ve been training for ages for this and I’ve been really looking forward to it.  It was unexpectedly sunny and hot on the Saturday but not too hot for it to be a problem.  I ran the first 10k really well – despite the hills, I was averaging 4.45 a km which I was quite pleased with.  However, I started to get a pain at the side of my knee which then felt like a dead leg, and then my hamstring felt really tight, then my calf felt really tight.  I walked a couple of drink stations, and it was really painful running down hill, so I decided to slow down and just get round.  I was really annoyed at the time, but I think it was the sensible thing to do, and I was pleased with my overall time – 1 hour 52 minutes.

My leg still hurts when I walk for too long, so I haven’t ran since last weekend.  My plan is to give myself two weeks off running, I’ve got a physio appointment booked for this Friday, so hopefully that will fix it.

After I finished the race, I then had to jump straight in the car and get over to Lancaster to read at Lancaster Litfest with Hannah Lowe.  I really enjoyed hearing Hannah – there seemed to be a lot of common threads running through our work.  When I was first starting out in poetry I used to hate it when poets read ‘new work’.  I only liked hearing things from their books.  Now, I get really excited when a poet says they are going to read something new – Hannah read two new poems that I thought were brilliant and now I’m already looking forward to her next book, probably a bit too early to be saying that, but still!

The other thing that’s occupying my time at the minute is I’m organising a Feminist Poetry Jambouree as part of a wider network of events, all taken place on the 8th April.  Along with Clare Shaw, I volunteered to organise the Ulverston one.  The venue is the Laurel and Hardy Museum in Ulverston, and the main format of the evening will be an Open Mic session for poets and musicians.  However, there will be invited guests taking longer slots, including Laura Potts and John Wedgwood Clarke.  The aim of the event is to support and champion women’s rights.  We’ll be collecting donations on the night which will be divided between Let Go – a local domestic violence charity and The Birchall Trust who work with survivors of rape and sexual abuse in Cumbria.  Clare and I will also be performing some new work that we’ve been writing in a kind of poetry relay over the last few weeks.  It wouldn’t be exciting if we weren’t leaving finishing this off until the last possible minute but finished, in some form it has to be for Saturday!

I’m also hoping that the night will finish off with a group performance of ‘I Can’t Keep Quiet’  – a song by MILCK which was performed at the women’s marches and which went viral.  We had a rehearsal last Wednesday which went really well, so if anybody else is interested in coming along to the rehearsal at Natterjacks this Thursday, just get in touch, or turn up at Natterjacks in Ulverston at 7.30 where we will make you feel very welcome.  You don’t have be able to sing, you just need enthusiasm!

Clare and I are also running a joint workshop on April 8th from 10.30-4 as part of my Barrow Poetry Workshop series – there are still places available, so if you’d like to come to the workshop, just get in touch.

Today’s Sunday poem is by Julia Webb, taken from her latest collection Bird Sisters, published by Nine Arches Press.  Julia is a poet, editor, creative writing tutor and a creative coach living in Norwich. She has a first class honours degree in Creative Writing from Norwich University of the Arts and an MA in Creative Writing, Poetry from The University of East Anglia. Julia is one of the editorial teamThe Lighthouse – a journal for new writing published by Gatehouse Press.  Her poetry has appeared in Magma, The Rialto, Poetry Salzburg Review,Ink, Sweat and Tears, Other Poetry, Poetry News, The Interpreter’s HouseSouth, Ten Poets: UEA Poetry 2010 amongst others

Bird Sisters came out in May 2016, and I read it cover to cover in one sitting, maybe one of the reasons for this is that it seems really well put together as a collection.  This is not one of those collections which is a disparate collection of poems, there are threads and sequences running throughout the book.  There are page-length prose poems in the voice of a child which use capitals in a really clever way to capture the character of the child.  These are scattered throughout the book and are really effective.

Birds are really important as you can see from the title of the collection, and transformation of the body into some kind of animal or bird happens throughout the poems.  More importantly is the theme of sisters, of what it means to be a sister and to have a sister.  Maybe it is my ignorance, but I haven’t read many poems about sisters, so I enjoyed this a lot.

Sisters can be wonderful (I have three) but it can also be very fraught as well.  How I survived my childhood sharing a room with my twin sister and my two older sisters who were older than me by 10 years or so I will never know.  I’m surprised my older sisters didn’t try and do away with us both, as I think I was quite an annoying child!

In Julia’s poem, the speaker of the poem is in hospital, although we don’t know why.  The sister is an owl sister, but the poem is balanced on the edge of bird and human – the sister has both bird and human characteristics.  She has both wings and a ‘breast pocket.’  She hates hospitals and has a schedule (very human things) but she also carries voles and hoots as she leaves the ward.  The last but one line of ‘turns on her claw’ echoes the cliche of ‘turns on her heel’ and gives us another sense of her character.  What is also interesting is that the sister is an ‘owl sister’ but we get no sense of the speaker being a bird.  So when the sister drops the vole onto the blanket, although in one light this could be a caring act, it can also be seen as someone doing what they think is best, without asking what the speaker actually wants.  This is all done with a really light touch, and I think the inner logic of the poem works really well.  It follows another great poem ‘My owl sister mistakes me for a mouse’ where the speaker is carried by the owl sister and dropped ‘amongst her needle-beaked children.’  I’m not sure if we’re meant to read the two poems side by side as a mini narrative – and whether one follows on from another chronologically – if they do, then the speaker finishes in the first poem in a nest amongst the children (note, not chicks, in this poem) and then in the second she is in a hospital – is there a connection between the needle-beaked children and the reason she is now in a hospital? I’m not sure and I quite like not knowing.

If you’d like to order Bird Sisters, you can do so from the Nine Arches website here.  If you’d like to find out more about Julia then you can have a look at her website here

My owl sister pays me a visit – Julia Webb

She moves restlessly around the room
examining every object, flexes her wings,

lingers by the double-glazed window,
shields her eyes as if the day is too bright.

I know she hates hospitals,
and I have interrupted her schedule,

she has chicks to feed,
important things to do.

She plucks a vole from her breast pocket,
and drops it onto my blanket,

turns on her claw.
Her hoot echoes along the ward.

Sunday Poem – Geraldine Clarkson

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Sunday Poem – Geraldine Clarkson

Maybe you haven’t noticed, or maybe you have, that there has been a two week break in the blog posts again.  I always feel guilty when I don’t blog, and I get a lot of lovely comments and feedback from people who seem to enjoy reading it, and of course it’s nice to write to poets out of the blue and ask them if I can have a poem.  I know what it feels like as a poet if somebody writes to me and tells me they like my work, and my philosophy has always been that if I can spread that feeling around, without it costing me anything but time, then I’m happy to do it.

However, time has been in short supply in my life recently! Every year I have a period of time, usually a couple of months, where my life becomes completely manic, and I rush from one thing to the other, holding on to my sanity with my fingertips.  It used to be around the end of term and I would blame the end of year concerts.  Now I’m not a music teacher, so there are no end of term concerts, and it is with a heaviness and sense of guilt that I realise I have only myself to blame for taking too much on.

I have had an exciting two weeks however – although it’s been busy, I’m not complaining.  I love everything I do – that is kind of the problem.  Since I last blogged I’ve done two Soul Survivor gigs and a rehearsal, covered a Year 2 poetry class at MMU, taught two sessions of my Poetry School face to face course and given two lots of feedback to my online students with the Poetry School, travelled to Swindon and delivered a full day workshop, travelled to Winchester and read at a night called Loose Muse, taught two sessions of Dove Cottage Young Poets, delivered a taster session at Kirbie Kendal School in Kendal to recruit more Dove Cottage Young Poets, travelled to the Words By The Water festival in Keswick to listen to Helen Farish and Adam O’Riordan read, took part in a Cumbrian poetry reading, sent emails round about residentials, worked on an application for an amazing opportunity, did some reading for my PhD, worked on a  few new poems and sent them to my supervisor, gathered biographies and photos from the poets coming to Kendal Poetry Festival, wrote content for Kendal Poetry Festival website, planned a feminist poetry event for the 8th April, and through all that I’ve been running, trying to keep my training up for the Coniston 14 race which is next Saturday.   It sounds like a lot when I list it like that.  And to be honest it felt like a lot as well.  In fact I feel a bit dizzy looking back at it all now.

So I’ve given myself a bit of a breather with the Sunday Poems, and I’m going to continue to do that – so they may be a little bit sporadic for a while.  I hope you will appreciate them just as much when they do come in.

One of the nicest things about being a freelance poet is the people you meet on your travels.  I met Hilda Sheehan a few years ago now when fate threw us together to share a room on a residential course.  She is one of the loveliest people I know and I had a brilliant time at her house last weekend.  I was down in Swindon to run a workshop, which gave me a good excuse to go and hang out with Hilda and some of her family.  It’s been ages since I laughed so much – a combination of Snapchat and binge watching terrible 80’s music videos and much more wine drinking than I usually indulge in.

After my weekend with the Sheehan clan I then went to Winchester to read at Loose Muse, run by Sue Wrinch.  Cue more drinking wine till late at night,and more amazing food.  I was so hungry when I arrived in Winchester and the lovely Sue had made a chicken pie, which basically means I am her friend for life.  The poetry reading was really good as well though.  People were very friendly and welcoming, a really good standard on the Open Mic, and two poets who have been on residentials with me, Hilary Hares and Patsy showed up, so it was really nice to see them again.  I also sold my last 8 copies of The Art of Falling and one If We Could Speak Like Wolves.  So another job today was to order some more copies of my book from Seren.

After that it was back home to my long suffering husband who hasn’t seen much of me for the last month, but thankfully remembered what I looked like and let me in the house.

One last thing before we get on to the poem – if you’re interested in coming along to a Poetry Reading and Open Mic, I’m hosting such a thing this Wednesday the 22nd March at Natterjacks in Ulverston, starting at 7.30pm.  Malcolm Carson and Ina Anderson will be launching their collections in the first half, and we’ll have an open mic session in the second half.  It’s completely free and if you want an Open Mic spot, just sign up on the night.  Get in touch if you need any more information, but I hope to see some of you there!

So this week’s Sunday Poem is by Geraldine Clarkson, who has patiently been waiting since last Sunday, when she should have appeared.

Geraldine Clarkson lives in Warwickshire though her roots are in the west of Ireland. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Poetry Review,Poetry London, Ambit, and Magma (she was Selected Poet in Magma 58); as well as in the Daily Mirror and The New European. They have also been broadcast on BBC Radio 3, as well as appearing at various times on cupcakes and handkerchiefs, on buses in Guernsey and in public toilets in the Shetland Isles! In 2016 her work was showcased in the inaugural volume of Primers from Nine Arches Press/The Poetry School, and she was commended in the National Poetry Competition.  Her chapbook, Declare (Shearsman Books, 2016), was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice, and her pamphlet, Dora Incites the Sea-Scribbler to Lament (smith|doorstop, 2016), is a Laureate’s Choice. Supported by Arts Council England, she has just completed the manuscript for her first full-length collection.

I got a copy of her smith/doorstop pamphlet a couple of weeks ago when I went over to Sheffield for a Poetry Business writing workshop.  It’s a great pamphlet, and has lots of wonderful poems in it, may of which have won or been shortlisted for various prizes.  The poem I’ve chosen for today though I loved as soon as I read it and it stayed as one of my favourites in the pamphlet.

I have a book called The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, which is a great book, full of exercises to stimulate writing.  I sometimes use it for workshops.  Anyway, there is a great quote there by Robert Hass from Twentieth Century Pleasures where he talks about the power of images:

Images haunt.  There is a whole mythology built on this fact: Cezanne painting till his eyes bled, Wordsworth wandering the Lake Country hills in an impassioned daze.  Blake describes it very well, and so did a colleague of Tu Fu who said to him, “It is like being alive twice.” Images are not quite ideas, they are stiller than that, with less implications outside themselves.  And they are not myth, they do not have that explanatory power; they are nearer to pure story.  Nor are they always metaphors; they do not say this is that, they say this is.

Robert Hass, Twentieth Century Pleasures

I love this quote, although I don’t feel like I’ve completely understood it, or thought about it enough.  But I like that sentence ‘Images are not quite ideas, they are stiller than that’.  I think in Geraldine’s poem this is apparent – the images that are conjured up when she hears a word have a stillness to them, even when they are about movement, like the dancing aunts in Stanza 2, it is movement that has been captured, like a photograph.

The images are always beautifully observed, we can see this in the first two lines.  The harebells are not just ‘wind-flattened’, they are ‘crouching’ which sends me back to the word ‘harebells’ and the animal that is inside this word which conjures up the image of a flower.

Of course, if the poem was made up only of these natural images, it would be a good poem, but by stanza 2 she moves on further, to conjure up this unnerving portrait of ‘Mary Keeley’ standing in her ‘black doorway’ and then on into stanza 3 with the dancing aunts and the father ‘unhinging the kitchen door’ for leg-room for the dancing.

The poem finishes how it started, with beautiful and accurately observed descriptions of nature.   I love the ’tilted cemetery/at the sea’s edge’ and ‘the persistence of rabbits’ is a line I wish I’d written!

I hope you enjoy the poem, and if you’d like to order the pamphlet that this poem came from, you can get Dora Incites the Sea-Scribbler to Lament from smith/doorstop for the mere sum of £5.  Thanks to Geraldine for being so patient, and for allowing me to finally publish this poem here.

When they say Connemara – Geraldine Clarkson

I hear harebells, wind-flattened,
crouching close to the common.
I hear the gorse-clung mountain
and moorland, bruised
with bottomless ink-lakes
A sequinned Atlantic, waving
to lost relatives in America.

When they mention Murvey
or Ballyconneely – or Calla –
toothless Mary Keeley
blinks at her black doorway,
holding out two tin cans
of buttermilk. I catch the whine
of P.J’s piano accordion

at dawn, my dead aunts calling
for Maggie in the Wood and
Shoe the Donkey and two
fine men to dance a half-set.
Mary Davis stoking up 40 verses
of The Cleggan Disaster.  My father
unhinging the kitchen door, for leg room.

When they speak of Ballyruby –
where the monks were –
or slip into the chat news of Erlough
or Dolan, or Horne, my eyes itch
with peat smoke, heather scratches my shins
and I’m barefoot in silt with marsh irises,
hen’s crubes and ragged robin.
I’m climbing again the tilted cemetery
at the sea’s edge, reclaimed by Dutch clover
and the persistence of rabbits.

When word comes from Gortin or Mannin
(and I’d thought they were all dead there),
or from Seal’s rock – setting the curlews
looping and scraping the sky –
I hear the empty rule of wind
on that thin mile
of white sand, the collapsing
surf, the whistle of silence.