Sunday Poem – Sarah Littlefeather Demick

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Sunday Poem – Sarah Littlefeather Demick

I’m tentatively starting this blog post by saying I’m feeling a lot better this week.  It’s been two weeks and 5 days since my emergency operation, but I’ve been gradually getting back to normal for most of this week.

I’m the first person to admit I’m not the best at taking it easy but I’ve been left with little choice after my recent adventures.  The strangest thing has been limiting myself to doing one, or at the most, two activities a day so I don’t get too tired.  Normally, I just charge about from one thing to the other, but this level of normality is not possible yet.

Monday was supposed to be a day of working on the RD1 form, but I got distracted by a poem.  It’s been sitting in my folder for a while now in first draft form, but it suddenly felt ready to be worked on.  I had loads of fun with it – it is a bit of a rant poem but it does fit with the theme of my PhD so I suppose I was kind of on task.

The poet Tony Walsh posted that he was running a poetry workshop in Barrow at a primary school a week or so ago, so I messaged him and offered him somewhere to stay for the night.  It was lovely to see Tony again – last time I saw him would have been in 2012 when we worked together on a 12 week poetry project in a men’s prison, so it was nice to catch up again and hear what Tony had been up to.

On Tuesday I spent most of the day doing a bit of PhD reading.  My lovely friend John Foggin sent me a brilliant book called ‘Man Made Language’ by Dale Spender.  It was published in the 80’s but it is kind of blowing my mind.  The first couple of pages talk about insults when directed towards men and women – that the word ‘tramp’ about a man might make you think of someone who is scruffy or dirty, possibly homeless, but the word ‘tramp’ about a woman could mean all of these things, plus negative sexual connotations.  The word ‘bachelor’ – we don’t have an equivalent word for it in English to describe a woman – the closest would be spinster, but again that has negative connotations in the way that bachelor doesn’t.

I am curious about why these observations are not more widely known – as they have been around since the 70’s/80’s.  I can accept that I am quite naive about feminist research.  I’ve only just read Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics for example, so I know I’m playing catch up all the time.

I talked to a few of my friends from my running club about it (men), and my mum (not a very representative sample I know – but you have to start somewhere) and they all said they’d not thought about it before.  I suppose it’s the problem of disseminating research into the wider society and how you go about doing this, and then what do you do with this knowledge?

I’m three quarters of the way through Man Made Language now, and really enjoying it.  On Wednesday I went to Manchester to meet the subject librarian at MMU and she showed me some techniques for more advanced searching around my subject.  I’m in a bit of a mini- panic this week about the PhD.  I reckon I’ve had nearly three weeks off with being in and out of hospital and then recovering from the operation, so I feel like I’ve got to get a move on.

On Thursday I went to Manchester again to do my teaching.  It was nice to see my students again after missing the last two sessions.  On Friday morning I decided to try a little jog down the Furness Abbey path with a few of my friends.  It was very slow – in fact it took us about 40 minutes to run what would normally have taken me about 18, but I didn’t want to jolt my insides up and down too much.  I didn’t have any pain when I was running and woke up the next day without any, so I’m pleased with that, but still a bit nervous about doing anything more strenuous.

I had my Dove Cottage Young Poets session on Friday afternoon – four of the new poets from last week came back (out of eight) and one completely new poet who hadn’t been before, plus Hannah Hodgson, who has been coming for a year to the sessions.  This week’s session was a lot easier – the young poets seemed more confident this time and read out a lot more.  They also wrote some fantastic stuff during the session.  I’m getting excited already about working with them towards their performances at Kendal Poetry Festival next year.

On Saturday it was the end of year Barrow Poetry Workshop session.  I’ve been running these sessions for a year and a half now, and decided it would be great to make the December workshop more exciting by inviting someone else to take the session instead of me, so Peter and Ann Sansom from The Poetry Business came down.

I’ve been really looking forward to being in a workshop instead of running it for ages now, but I don’t think I was quite with it yesterday.  My whole face on the right side was tingling in a disturbing fashion and I found it really hard to concentrate.  It was a great workshop though, and I enjoyed hearing everybody else’s contributions.  I also took my poem which I’d been working on and got some feedback on it in the afternoon session which I think will definitely make it stronger.

I think the tingling face was just a symptom of being over tired as I woke up this morning and it was fine – another reminder to take it easy!

Two pieces of good news this week as well – this blog was included for the third year in a row on Rogue Strands ‘The Best Poetry Blogs of 2016’.  Matthew Stewart at Rogue Strands had this to say about my blog:

Kim Moore’s Sunday Poem feature is a bit like Marks and Spencer’s Dine in for Two deal: imitated by countless competitors but never matched. What’s more, its timing is perfect: a lovely read at the dog-end of the weekend.

Josephine Corcoran also included my blog on her roundup of her favourite poetry blogs as well – you can read her post here – so lots of new blogs to look up over the holidays if you’re a bit bored!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Sarah Littlefeather Demick who is a wonderful poet who lives in Ulverston, not far from me.  Sarah is a fantastic singer as well and performs wtih her husband Rod as a folk duo called The Demix.  She has a completely unforgettable voice and often makes me cry when I hear her sing.  She started writing relatively recently, in the last couple of years but I think her poetry is completely unique – very lyrical but often unsettling, as you will see from the Sunday Poem.

Sarah is an Ojibwa Indian.  She was born in Toronto, Canada and raised by adoptive parents in London, England.  She travels around the country working as a respite carer, mainly for people with dementia.  Sarah has recently published a pamphlet called Another Creature.  The production of this pamphlet is really beautiful – you can see a photo of it here.  I think Sarah has actually sold out of the pamphlets already and it was only published a few months ago, but if you’d like one, you could comment below and it might persuade her to print some more!

I’ve decided to use the title poem of the pamphlet for this week’s poem.  It’s the first one in the pamphlet as well and I think it is a brilliant poem to put at the front of a pamphlet because it introduces a lot of the themes which occur later in the book – the importance of animals, self-discovery, power and memory.

This poem also has a slightly surreal feel, or as if things are slightly off kilter.  I think Sarah establishes this straight away with the use of ‘I recall’ instead of ‘I remember’.  I think the word recall distances the speaker a little – it makes the memory a little more formal and less personal somehow maybe.  Yet this contrasts with the content of the poem – and makes the first sentence of the poem ‘I recall being given away as a child’ very shocking.

The recollections in the poem feel very spontaneous – almost like stream of consciousness memories because of the lack of punctuation.  I really like that effect – it felt like each memory or image unfolded seamlessly after the next one.

Some of my favourite lines are ‘how I came to live with goslings when I was another creature’ and ‘I recall how most of my life was an untamed forest’.  I think they are beautiful lines, and have a ring of authenticity and truth about them, and yet, they are strange and slightly surreal at the same time.  The line ‘I found a person who was my mother’ is heartbreaking – again, there is that distancing effect, but there is also something interesting in the assertion of the mother being a person, a person in her own right.

I hope you enjoy this week’s poem.

Another creature – Sarah Demick

I recall being given away as a child and how I came to live with
goslings when I was another creature

when I had walked for nearly a dozen years I recall riding on the back
of a motorcycle from outside our house I recall being free and feeling
the heat of a summer evening on my skin as I was taken into the
night

and roundabout that time I recall a hospital ward with the heads of
dying men silently queuing for their final journey and my father was
there with them

and two years later I recall being in my room and being in there with
amplified solitude and when I was asked why I was crying I recall
being unable to answer but tearing out my hair with grief and with
rage

I recall how most of my life was an untamed forest where I was
hunted and brought down by men whose temptation was tempered
only by lust and no one told me there was another way

and I recall how any other way eluded me for a very long time but
when I found it my shadow became an eagle

and when I was thirty-five I found a person who was my mother but
she didn’t know me and was only glad I’d been raised up good and
wasn’t fat

I recall thinking that being raised up good was not so easy

Sunday Poem – Laura Potts

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Sunday Poem – Laura Potts

It’s been a whole two weeks since I last posted – so apologies to anybody who was waiting for the Sunday Poem.  I didn’t feel up to writing anything last weekend so decided to give it a miss.

I had another gall bladder attack the day after writing my last blog.  I went to rehearsal on Monday with the soul band but didn’t feel quite right.  I sat down for the whole rehearsal and was getting a few sharp pains, which then got worse, so I ended up back down at A & E at midnight with my husband.

It was a different pain to last time – it kind of came and went.  When it was here, it was bloody awful.  Then after about ten minutes it went.  I was so tired and just wanted to go to sleep.  I kept saying to my husband ‘I think it’s gone now, maybe we should just go home’.  Then it would come back again and I would be trying not to scream.  Luckily my husband refused to let me go back home.

We were waiting for four hours in A & E this time.  It was absolutely manic when we got there – not just adults waiting to be seen, but quite a few children and people being brought in by the police.

I thought my last time in hospital was pretty awful but this time the pain was much worse.  I eventually went up to Ward 4 again at about 5.30am.  I don’t remember much about that, except it seemed like the bay, as I was wheeled in was very shadowy.  I was really upset because I couldn’t stop being sick – in fact the poor people in the same bay as me had to put up with me being sick while their breakfast was being dished up.

There were four women in my bay and they were all really friendly and kind to me as soon as I got there.  The other women were a lot older than me, but I had some lovely conversations with them, and even had a good laugh with them on occasion as well.  One of the women had dementia, but most of the time, she wasn’t aware that she had it, and was in good spirits.  She always came out with some brilliant lines – she said to a doctor ‘Ooh, haven’t you got a big bottom?’ and to a nurse:’What are you going to do about your boobs?’  ‘What do you mean?’ said the nurse.  ‘Well, one’s up and one’s down.’

I put my earphones in at this point because I was laughing so much I was crying, and at this point, I’d had my operation as well, which made it immensely painful to laugh.

One night a woman was bought in who had obvious mental health problems, and she was getting up in the middle of the night and creeping around the ward, which was very frightening.  I lay until about 2.30am with my buzzer in my hand in case she came near me.  She ran out of our bay and ripped a fire extinguisher off the wall and tried to attack the nurses with it, then she ran back in shouting that we were all dead, as in she thought we were all dead bodies!

Eventually she had to be removed by security.  Even throughout all of this, the hospital staff were brilliant.  They protected everybody else, but they were kind but firm with the woman, even after she’d attacked them.  I think it was pretty normal for them to have to deal with stuff like this.

One of the other women on the ward passed out, but at the time, a nurse who was with her didn’t know what had happened and pulled the alarm chord.  Within seconds there were maybe ten or fifteen doctors and nurses with her – I don’t know where they all came from.  I think they suspected that she’d died because the ECG machine was set up – I think it’s an ECG machine.  They pulled the curtains around our beds but you can still hear the ‘Stand clear’ of the machine.  I sat there and sobbed and felt – I don’t know how to explain it – selfish for crying, when I didn’t really know her.  It felt like I didn’t have a right to be upset.  But when I’d been down having my operation, this woman who I will call M, had kept asking when I was coming back, and whether there had been any news, because the op took twice as long as it should have.  I honestly thought death was in the room, and the sight of the nurses rushing towards it, rather than freezing, or crying like I was, I will never forget it.

I had my operation on Tuesday morning.  I didn’t expect it to take me so long to recover.  I’ve never been in a situation where my body won’t do what I want it to do.  I was in agony getting out of bed – even now, I have to do a sideways roll to get up without any pain.  It has just been the most bizarre experience ever. This sounds cheesy as well, but I do feel changed by the whole thing.  Not by the operation, which is just one of those things that you have to get on with, but by witnessing acts of kindness and compassion, basically non-stop for four days.

My parents came up to see me in hospital and stayed until last Saturday night.  I’ve basically been resting since then and trying to take it very easy, but by Friday, I felt well enough to see my friend perform in the show ‘Made in Dagenham’ at Form 28, which I really enjoyed. It was a bit embarrassing moving around at the speed of a snail, but I hoped people would just think I was terribly hungover.  On Saturday, I went to see my friend Keith Hutson perform at A Poem and a Pint.  For the first week after the operation I worked out I could manage one thing a day i.e going to see a show in the evening, and then my body would basically shut down and refuse to do anything else.

I do feel a bit sad about having to cancel things again – I had a Soul Survivors gig two days after my operation. One of my students stepped in and covered for me. I had to miss Keith’s Manchester launch, and miss my teaching at university for two weeks in a row.  I had to cancel my reading at Maryport Literature Festival last Sunday.  I’m really hoping now that it is all over and I can get back to my normal life.

I’m feeling a lot better now – pretty much back to normal – except it still hurts if I have to pick things up from the floor so I’m trying not to do that at the minute.  And I’m still getting tired a lot easier than I usually do, which has been very difficult to get used to.

I did my first bit of work since the whole thing happened last Friday – just a two hour workshop with Dove Cottage Young Poets.  Eight new young poets turned up which I’m really happy about, as all of the group apart from two have gone off to university now.  I was shattered when I’d finished though, but they seemed to enjoy it, so fingers crossed they come back to the next session.

Yesterday I did a bit more work – Peter and Ann Sansom have asked me to put together a selection of poems from the original Dove Cottage Young Poets to publish in The North, after hearing the young poets performing at Kendal Poetry Festival.  So each of the seven who sent poems will have two poems each in the magazine which I think comes out in January.  I finished off editing the poems and writing a short prose piece to go with them yesterday, a little bit late for my original deadline, but luckily in time for the issue.

I’ve also had some good news today – Gerry Cambridge has accepted two poems for The Dark Horse magazine.  I subscribed to the magazine last year, and kind of fell in love with it.  Gerry Cambridge wrote an editorial which included some thoughts on the prize-giving culture, and then there was an essay by Kathryn Gray on this subject, which was really interesting.  I’ve not been in the magazine before, so I’m really pleased about this one.

This week’s Sunday Poem is by a poet called Laura Potts.  I only heard about Laura’s poetry through my friend John Foggin.  Laura sent me some really interesting poems to consider for the blog and I’m very happy to be posting ‘Sweet Autumn’ this week.

Laura Potts is a Yorkshire-based poet and is currently an English Literature student at The University of York. She has twice been named a London Foyle Young Poet of the Year and Young Writer, and in 2014 became a Lieder Poet at the University of Leeds. In her spare time she is editor of creativity at The Yorker, promoting spoken word and emerging writers around the UK. Laura has just returned from studying at The University of Cape Town, South Africa, and from working at The Dylan Thomas Birthplace, Swansea.

One of the things I really liked about Laura’s work was the way she uses sentences.  The first sentence seems as if it starts mid-thought, but then the next three, are very definite statements.  She pins the image down to one line, and then moves onto the next line, allowing the reader to bring something of their own to the poem.

I also like some of the verbs that Laura uses.  It reminded me of a lecture I had when I was at MMU doing an MA.  Carol-Ann Duffy said that ‘verbs are the engine of the poem.’  Well, look at stanza 2 – Laura could have used ‘washed’ in the third line, but ‘Rain argued away the grass-stained/fingerprints’ is so much more interesting than ‘Rain washed away the grass-stained/fingerprints’.

At the start of the poem, I wasn’t sure whether the ‘you’ that is addressed has actually been seen at the bus stop.  As I read onwards, I became convinced that the poem is a recollection of a childhood, or teenage love, that the ‘you’ is only seen ‘at the curb of my sleep’.  In fact the poem says that the speaker only meets the ‘you’ in sleep, when the ‘you’ is as they used to be.

It is a fantastic poem, full of little twists and turns that keep it interesting. There is obviously tenderness for the ‘you’ still – the use of ‘Darling’ and ‘Sweetheart’. The ending was very surprising as well – and gives the addressed ‘you’ a kind of seediness, that the rest of the poem doesn’t hint at.

Thanks to Laura for allowing me to post her poem, and for being patient with the various delays before this has been posted.

Sweet Autumn

And years later, you at the bus stop.
Yesterday’s leaves in your hair.
The seat where we laughed.
Our words in the air.

Sweetheart.  The years threaded up
our names scratched on the grass.
Rain argued away the grass-stained
fingerprints, the love turned over

on clumsy tongues, the moonbows,
the flimsy suns.  My skin soft-tossed
in sheets, hard-kissed.  The taste
of your words. The clench of my fist

in the deafening dawn.  Oh day,
when the pavement rolled beneath
our feet.  Bubblegum from the shop.
My Monet mouth, your Friday chips –

Stop.  Darling, how we used to crease
at the waist. Pink and white laughter
poured from our lips.  And when I meet
you at the curb of my sleep it is when

we were here, my heart in your hands,
your hands on my dress. They said you
spilt your filth down telephone wires.
Cheap love. Sex.  I wouldn’t know.

I walked away.  Like this.  Yes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Poem – Alison Brackenbury

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Sunday Poem – Alison Brackenbury

I’m happy to say I’m in a bit better shape than I was last Sunday when I wrote.  I’ve not had any recurring gall bladder attacks.  I’ve managed to stick to this wretched diet now for 11 days, although I did have a mishap two nights ago.  I was googling ‘healthy biscuits’ and read that Rich Tea biscuits are the healthiest.  So I cracked open the packet and ate six in one go..  When I saw my running buddy the next day, he helpfully pointed out that they are only healthy in relation to other biscuits, they still have loads of fat in.  So I was a bit annoyed at myself for this, and spent the night worrying that I was going to end up in hospital and I would have to confess I’d scoffed loads of biscuits.  Anyway, it hasn’t happened so far, so I think I will be ok.

It is strange and kind of exhausting having to worry about what I’m eating all the time.  I feel like I’m thinking about food every minute of the day at the minute, as if I’m hungry all the time.  I have now got an appointment at the hospital for the 24th November to see the consultant, so I will know more then hopefully about when the operation is going to be.

I haven’t ran all week, which has been awful.  I actually feel less mentally stable when I can’t run.  This week, I’ve burst into tears at absolutely nothing about five times, which has been a bit embarrassing.

I’ve been working quite hard on PhD stuff – trying to get my head around this RD1 form that has to be handed in mid-december, probably just about the time I will be recovering from this operation!  I’m really struggling with the RD1, with knowing what I want to do, with articulating what I want to do, with making it into a research project – all of it.

For the first time this week, I wondered what I was doing, starting a PhD, as in what have I let myself in for, and why did I have the cheek to think I could do a PhD? I feel like I’m just playing at doing a PhD, and soon someone will find me out and I’ll be in trouble.  I guess this is what they call imposter syndrome.  The logical and rational part of my brain is telling myself that this is just a wobble, that it is happening because I’m feeling vulnerable because I’ve been to hospital, because I’ve got to have an operation etc etc.  But the other part of me is basically having a silent panic attack about it all.

So apart from this existential crisis about food, life and the PhD, it has been a pretty quiet week! I’ve been taking it easy, getting some work done but no physical exercise.  I did my day of teaching at the uni on Thursday.  I even spent a whole day where I just edited some poems, which I really enjoyed doing.

I regularly ring the hotels that I run the residentials at for a bit of a chat and a gossip with the staff.  I rang Treloyhan Manor Hotel last night to see how numbers were going for St Ives.  There are still 3 rooms left, and there is an option to have a non en-suite room (so with a shared bathroom) for £365.  I think that is a bargain! Included in that price is breakfast, three-course meals and workshops and readings all week.  An en-suite room is £420 for the week.  The course is running from the 20th-25th February 2017.  If you’d like to grab one of those last few places, you can book by ringing the hotel on 01736 796240.  Or if you’d like more information about the theme for the week, you can have a look here.  If you’d like more information about the hotel, you can have a look at the Treloyhan Manor website.  The hotel is about a ten minute walk away from St Ives, and is perched on a cliff next to the sea.

In April, I’m running another residential course with Jennifer Copley as the co-tutor at Abbot Hall Hotel in Kents Bank (near Grange Over Sands).  This hotel is in a beautiful location as well, on the edge of Morecombe Bay, and there is a lovely walk along the prom to Grange, which people often do in the afternoon.  There is also a swimming pool at the hotel, which is good, as I wouldn’t advise swimming in Morecombe Bay because of the quicksand! The April course runs from the 10th-14th April and costs £448 for the week.

One thing I am looking forward to this week is a trip to Manchester to go to my friend Keith Hutson’s book launch.  He’s reading with Helen Mort, Carole Bromley and Mark Pajak, so that will be a great night! The reading is taking place at Waterstones on Deansgate.  More information here

This week’s Sunday Poem is by Alison Brackenbury – a great poet whose ninth collection Skies has just been published by Carcanet.  I managed to get hold of a copy of Alison’s book when I was down at Swindon Poetry Festival recently and I’ve really enjoyed it.  The poetry in the book is beautifully crafted and many of the poems, if not most, have intricate rhyme schemes which both draw out meaning, and hold the poems together.

alisonbrackenbury

The poem explores the unexpected arrival of a letter from an ‘old lover’ (quoted from the back of the collection).  It’s unexpected, but I wouldn’t say, unwelcome.  Let’s be honest here, there are some ex-partners you really don’t want to get a letter from after thirty years, but this poem is a tender exploration of the past, full of acceptance, not bitterness.

Alison’s poems, all the way through the book are full of strong images.  She has a number of short, four-line poems, which are really imagistic, and kudos to Carcanet for giving them a full page and the space they deserve.  There is even a two-line poem in the collection, which I can’t resist quoting to show you what I mean, about her talent with this imagistic writing.  It’s called ‘November Began’

And the fieldfares blew
over the hedgetops, like grey leaves.

Isn’t that beautiful?

I think it takes confidence to pull something like that off. And in the poem I’ve chosen as the Sunday Poem ‘January 7th’ there are images that stay in your mind as well, because they are perfectly observed: ‘My cycle coat blows on the line’ and ‘The old cat paws the door’.

There is also mystery in this poem – we don’t know what happened to the child that the speaker cries for in the third stanza, and in the fourth stanza we read ‘But now my child is married/the ones who fought me, dead,’.  There are whole other stories behind these two lines that are dropped into the poem that left me wanting to know more.

And of course, there is something unbelievably sad in admitting that you will not a person again, a person that you shared history with.  This is a complicated poem.  This is a choice the speaker makes, to not see this person again, and yet the last line, with the image of the night turning to rain, is a great portrayal of sadness or regret without referring to the abstract words.

Alison Brackenbury was born in Lincolnshire but has lived in Gloucestershire for the last forty years.  She has won an Eric Gregory Award and a Cholmondeley Award.  Previous books include Then (published in 2013), Singing in the Dark (published in 2008) and you can find out more about her other 7 collections (7!) over at her website www.alisonbrackenbury.co.uk

If you’d like to order Alison’s book, you can buy it over at the Carcanet website.

Thanks to Alison for letting me use her poem this week! I’m spending this week choosing the next set of Sunday Poems – always a fun, if time-consuming job.

 

January 7th – Alison Brackenbury

There is a low glare in the sky
sweeps to a rainy night.
The planet’s wrong, the house unsold,
and, after thirty years, you write.

My cycle coat blows on the line.
The old cat paws at the door.
I tell you I am badger grey,
but wiser than before.

I do not tell you that I cried
since it was not for you
but for a child, since they break hearts
as no mere man can do.

But now my child is married,
the ones who fought me, dead,
and I am moved by your hands’ grace
besides my clumsy head

although I cannot see you
and will not again.
My yellow coat flies like a flag.
The long night turns to rain.

Sunday Poem – Cliff Yates

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Sunday Poem – Cliff Yates

How much can change in a week! After my copious amounts of bragging on last week’s post about getting a huge PB for 10k, I was brought back down to earth with a bump this week.

On Thursday morning I woke up with abdominal and back pain, and eventually ended up in A and E at about 12pm.  The doctor who saw me in A and E said that it was probably my gall bladder, so I was transferred to a ward and given a bed for the night.  It was too late for any tests by then, so I was given lots of painkillers and then I had an ultrasound on Friday morning, which confirmed that I have an inflamed gall bladder and lots of gall stones, which are probably what caused the pain.

The pain was absolutely horrendous, and I would like not to ever experience that again! The doctor has told me to go on a low-fat diet, as fat can irritate the gall bladder and trigger another attack.  In six weeks time, I see the consultant again, and if the inflammation has gone down, I will have my gall bladder taken out.

So, this is the second day of my low-fat diet.  I think my diet was 70% healthy anyway – I eat lots of fresh food now, lots of vegetables, I don’t get takeaways any more.  However, I do have a weakness for pain au chocolats ( I was having two every morning) and scones with jam and cream.  I probably had a scone every other day at least.

This is probably the healthiest I’ve ever been in my whole life, so it’s a bit gutting that this has happened now.  These last two days though, I have noticed when I get hungry, my first idea for a snack is something sweet – a chocolate biscuit, or a chocolate bar.  So I’ve been trying to eat something healthy instead.  It’s been easy so far because I can still remember the pain, which is a good motivational factor.  But it has made me realise that I need to change the whole way I think about food.  I’ve always thought of sweet food as a treat, or reward for myself.  So now I need to find other ways of rewarding myself.

I got out of hospital on Friday afternoon and I spent most of Friday evening eating as I was starving – I’d been ‘Nil by mouth’ since Thursday lunchtime.  Yesterday was a good day because my sister and her husband came over with their three dogs, so there was lots of distractions.  Today I’ve been a bit fed up, because I was supposed to be running the Lancaster half marathon.  I’ve been training for it for ages, with a few friends and one friend in particular.  The 10k last week had given me loads of confidence that I’d got the build up right, and I was expecting to knock five minutes off my PB from last year.  And to go from whizzing around the 10k to being in hospital and unable to walk was a bit of a shock.

So today has been a bit miserable – the logical part of my brain knows that there will be other half-marathons, but it still doesn’t stop me being gutted about this one.

So before I turned into a medical emergency this week, I spent the first half of the week doing lots of reading.  I finished two collections by Marie Howe (my new favourite poet) and finally finished Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics.   

I also ordered a new anthology called ‘Women who Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence’.  I haven’t read many of the poems in the anthology, but in the introduction, the editor, Laura Madelaine Wiseman talks about the use of the terms ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’.  She proposes a third term of ‘resister’.  She says:

To be a resister is more than surviving violence, because one has taken an active step to call into question the violent act and to rally demands for change

I love this idea – I don’t like thinking of myself as a survivor, or a victim of domestic violence.  Surviving was the thing I did at the time – resisting was the poetry, the sequence at the heart of my collection The Art of Falling.  Writing poems about it does call into question the violent act – whether it rallies demands for change is another thing – I would be happy if it made one person feel less alone, which is maybe a big change in itself.

I’m not quite sure how this all relates to the PhD.  The type of everyday sexism I’ve been writing about is like a tiny pin prick of violence rather than a brutal act.  But I do think poetry is a great way to call into question not just the violent act, but my acceptance of it, other people’s acceptance of it, the normality of it.

On to today’s Sunday Poem, which is by the wonderful Cliff Yates, who I’ve met on a few occasions, but finally got to hear him read at Swindon Poetry Festival last month.  I’ve always been a fan of Cliff’s work, so it was great to hear him read.  The poem is from his Smith/Doorstop collection Jam, which came out this year.

jamcliffyates

I think the poem I’ve chosen for this weeks Sunday Poem is representative of many of the qualities you’ll find in his work. His poetry is often laugh-out-loud funny, often tender, but always manages to invite the reader to look at the world slightly differently.   His poetry also manages that difficult thing of saying something important, without sounding self-important.  It wears its philosophy lightly.   Those two lines towards the end of the poem: ‘Middle age is a walk through the woods/without your parents.’  is a great aphorism, dropped lightly in, and then effortlessly extended ‘Your children have run ahead’ but the real lightness, and art come with having the courage to finish on that lovely line which floats away ‘The sun is out, there are so many trees.’

I also like how the poem is about a private family ritual, or joke, although joke isn’t quite the right word, it is almost like a good luck tradition.  The family always ‘walk through the gate.’ and never around it.  This idea of gates and doorways nods to all the old stories of passageways into other lands and worlds.

And the importance of the gate is always without question, despite the fact that you can walk around it, despite the fact it doesn’t keep anything out, or in.  It is so important in fact that it was once ‘painted cream/ so that she could see it.’

Cliff was born in Birmingham and now lives in Gloucestershire.  His various collections include Henry’s Clock, winner of the Aldeburgh Prize and Selected Poems, a Smith/Doorstop ebook.  He wrote Jumpstart Poetry in the Secondary School during his time as Poetry Society poet-in-residence.  He is a tutor for the Arvon Foundation and Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Aston University.

If you would like to order Jam or any of Cliff’s other collections, you can get them from the Smith/Doorstop website or if you’d like to find out more information about Cliff he has a website and blog here

 

 

Gate – Cliff Yates

A gate, halfway up the garden,
a wrought iron gate she once painted cream
so that she could see it.

You could step around the gate,
if truth were told, there’s plenty of room
on either side, but always

we walk through the gate, careful
not to latch it. Her fingers, at eighty-eight,
can no longer manage the latch

and her legs can barely manage the step,
‘Mind you shut the gate,’ she says,
as she always says, on the way back down,

turning round, just to make sure:
‘Pull it to. Keep out the draught.  That’s it.’

Middle age is a walk through the woods
without your parents.
Your children have run ahead.
The sun is out, there are so many trees.

 

 

Sunday Poem – Penelope Shuttle

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Sunday Poem – Penelope Shuttle

 

 

Back to my bad habits of writing my blog late at night! My excuse today is that I’ve been in Lancaster running a 10k race.  I’m not even going to play it cool, pretending to drop this in casually as part of the usual run of the mill blog post…

I ran 45 minutes and 1 second for 10k!

My last ‘personal best’ time was 46 minutes and 17 seconds, about seven months ago, which is why I’m so chuffed.  I’ve been doing a bit more training though, in the last few months, so I knew I would beat my PB, but didn’t think for one second I would be at the 45 minute mark.  I was also 5th woman back, and I got the V35 prize (first time I’ve ever won a prize in a race!) and won the Ladies Team Prize along with my two friends, J and K

This race was called the ‘Jailbreak 10k’ and you signed up to do the race inside a cell in one of the prison wings.  The prison is now shut down of course, but I was actually quite freaked out by the cells.  They were very small and there was a toilet in the corner with a board at the side of it, presumably to give a bit of privacy, and that in itself was shocking – that this tiny space was for more than one person.  It was also really cold in there – and the prison wasn’t shut down that long ago! I couldn’t believe that people were kept in there, that people would have lived in there.  It definitely gave me goosebumps.  I thought the prisons I’d been into were pretty brutal, but they had nothing on the Lancaster Castle prison!

So two photos, and then I promise I will say no more about it.  The first is at the start – I did eventually get away from the unicorn.  (It was optional fancy dress for the race – only three people wore fancy dress – a Ghostbuster, a Witch and the Unicorn).  The second is at the end of the race, having just got to the top of the hill – so am in a bit of pain here, and pulling my famed ‘running face’.

 

This week has been relatively quiet apart from today! I decided I needed to get organised and make myself a timetable, to ensure I’m getting enough PhD work done.  So I did that on Monday, and did manage to make some progress.  I ordered 2 poetry collections by Marie Howe, who I’ve only just discovered.  I absolutely love her work, but this hasn’t helped with narrowing down the possibilities of poets to focus on.

I’ve also been carrying on reading Kate Millet’s ‘Sexual Politics’.  It’s a pretty big book.  I’m now over half way through though and still enjoying it.  The RD1 form is my next big hurdle, and my supervisor gave me an example one to look at.  So I’ve read that through and had a go at writing the first part of mine, just to see how it went.

I’ve also been reworking a review from last week after some feedback, and on Saturday night I had a gig with the Soul Survivors in Ulverston.  I guess it doesn’t sound that quiet now I look at it, but there hasn’t been as much rushing about as there usually is.

I’ve got a few dates coming up of readings and workshops – on Thursday I’m reading at Brantwood with Geraldine Green and Kerry Darbishire.  There is also an Open Mic – tickets are £12 and include food.

On the 4th November, the Brewery Poets are putting a reading on at The Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal.  I’m the MC, and guest poets will be Pauline Yarwood, Jennifer Copley and Ian Seed.  These nights usually sell out, so if you’d like to come, book a ticket quickly!

I’m also running my Dove Cottage Young Poets group on the 4th November, and am recruiting for new members! If you know any young people (from the age of 14 to 25) who would like to come to a free fortnightly writing group, please get in touch.  We have lots of fun, and the young poets get lots of opportunities throughout the year to perform (if they want to) and to work towards Arts Awards.

And lastly for now, on the 12th November, I’m running an all day workshop for Lancaster Spotlight.  You can find details here, but to book a place, just email spotlightclub@btinternet.com

Today’s Sunday Poem is by the wonderful Penelope Shuttle. I’ve always loved Penelope’s work, right from when I first started writing eight years ago. Penny has featured on this blog before – you can read that post here.

As you will see from this previous blog post, Penny is one of my favourite contemporary poets, so I’m quite excited that she has sent me a poem from her forthcoming collection with Bloodaxe to put up on the blog this week.  I’m even more excited that Penny has agreed to be the guest poet for the Residential Course that I’m running in St Ives next year with co-tutor David Tait.  Penny will be coming to the hotel to have dinner with the course participants, and then she will be reading from her work on the Wednesday night of the course.  There are only four places left on this course, so if you’d like to book, please get in touch with Treloyhan Manor Hotel on 01736 796240.

In 2015 Penelope published (with John Greening) their exploration in poetry  of many aspects of Heathrow airport and Hounslow Heath upon which the airport now stands:  Heath (Nine Arches). She also published a pamphlet titled Four Portions of Everything on the Menu for M’sieur Monet! (Indigo Dreams Publications). Penelope has given many readings of her work, and has been a tutor for many organisations.  She is currently a mentor for The Poetry School.

This poem comes from Penny’s forthcoming collection Will You Walk A Little Faster? which will be published by Bloodaxe in May 2017.  It was originally published in The Manhattan Review.

I love the idea of this poem – to be able to talk to your Life, to make your Life a person, rather than a collection of events.  I love that the poem seems to start mid-conversation with Life.  There’s something unbearably sad about this poem – of course, Life is addressed and personified as a seperate thing, but the whole time, we know that Life is also the speaker.

The language that is used seems deceptively simple, but the poem is full of surprising turns of phrase: ‘I’m sad of myself’ and ‘days live me in vain’ and then at the end ‘the walls are spells’ and ‘the roof’s a star’.  Maybe just because I’ve been reading a lot of Emily Dickinson but the capitalization of Life and the short lines made me think of her.

The sounds throughout the poem – all those repeated ‘L’s’ string the whole poem together.  I also love the intermittent address to Life, that comes back throughout the poem, as if the speaker is turning to Life and making sure they are still listening.

The line breaks are very effective as well, particularly at the end with the line ‘I know you so well’ which then carries onto the next line to say ‘My Life, not at all’.  I was left trying to puzzle out whether Life is known or not, and maybe that’s part of the point. Until I read the poem more carefully, I thought the ending was a repeat of the beginning and then I thought it was a straightforward reversal of the beginning, which says to Life: ‘you know me too well’.  This statement is supported throughout the poem.  What is questioned is whether the Speaker knows Life as well as the Speaker thinks they do, and just writing that I realise that of course they don’t.  We can’t know our own Lives without distance, and time to reflect, and we can never do that while we are still living them.

I hope you enjoy the poem – and please keep a look out for Penny’s collection, coming out next year.  If you’d like to find out more about Penelope Shuttle, you can go to her website here.

 

 

My Life – Penelope Shuttle

My Life, I can’t fool you,
you know me too well,
I’m sad of myself,
days live me in vain,
you test me
but bin my answers,
you’re so busy, so tired,
evenings in the glass,
drink them, My Life,
but you won’t,
driving your bargains
of years gone by,
promising me
this and that till
the walls are spells,
the roof’s a star,
and
I seal the hour
in a tear,
a mortal tear,
I know you so well,
My Life, not at all

Sunday Poem – Alan Buckley

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Sunday Poem – Alan Buckley

I’ve been training since the summer to take part in the Lancaster half marathon and Sunday is one of the days I do a long run.  Today I did 20 kilometres with a group of friends, not particularly fast, but for the first time I didn’t notice when we went past 12k.  Usually at this point my mind starts telling me to stop, and my body starts aching, but this didn’t happen today, so I’m quite pleased- in fact I forgot to look at my watch until we’d ran 15k. The half marathon is in two weeks time and I’m hoping to run under 1 hour 45 minutes, and hopefully by then, I will have shaken off this cold which is still hanging on a little.

Apart from slowly getting back into running this week, I’ve spent a lot of time reading. I’m reading as much as I can in preparation for filling out an RD1 form as part of my PhD, which is basically a three-year plan of what I’m going to be doing.  A few people have asked me if I like reading the critical stuff and I have to say, I absolutely love it. My problem is that I keep going off on a tangent.  One tangent that I’m really enjoying is reading Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics from the 70’s.  I feel like I need to read these huge feminist texts before I can strike off on my own.  I’ve just got to a chapter where she talks about a Thomas Hardy novel and it is taking all my willpower to not go off and read the Thomas Hardy novel.

I’m trying to narrow down to two or three poets that I want to concentrate on for the critical part of the PhD but I’m finding this quite difficult.  I keep falling in love with poets.  In fact, two weeks ago, I taught a session at MMU where the group got a number of poems and they had to decide the gender of the author and the publication date of the poem, and one of the poems that was included was the one that starts ‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun’.

This poem has haunted me for the last two weeks – yet when I read it for the first time, I was completely unmoved.  I hadn’t read a lot of Emily Dickinson’s work before this – although I’ve always loved “Hope” is the thing with feathers – and it has been disconcerting this week to become completely obsessed with it.  I’m starting to realise that although I want to write poems about everyday sexism, and coping mechanisms, and ways of negotiating it without going mad, it is hard to find other women writers that are tackling it directly.  I think it is going to be much more interesting to look at how female poets negotiate their way around a patriarchal system. I’m starting to become fascinated by the choices Dickinson made – to hardly leave her room – but then to write such a disturbing poem as  ‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun’.  To feel like a loaded gun, to be full of energy and power,that you cannot use without someone else to assist you.  To understand that you are both powerful, and powerless.

Emily Dickinson may of course, be another tangent, and maybe too much has been written about her already for me to add anything new.  But I am enjoying reading about her.

On Monday there was an Induction Event at uni and all the new English PhD students were invited to come along and meet each other and talk for one minute about their PhD.  As I was walking from the train station, I started to mildly panic about this, and then to laugh at the ridiculousness of panicking about speaking for one minute about something I’ve spent the last year at least thinking about and talking about with other people.  Anyway, panic aside, I did manage to talk about the PhD and it was interesting to hear what the other PhD students are doing as well.

I had a moment of sadness about leaving trumpet teaching this week as well.  I think I was standing at the photocopier before starting my workshop on Metre and Rhythm at uni, and it hit me how much I’ve learnt from being a brass teacher for 13 years.  Not least how to operate any photocopier under the sun.  I think it’s taken this long to realise how much it has given me.  Maybe up to now, I’ve been in recovery, recovering from how much I gave of myself to the job – and as a teacher you do have to give of yourself.  But this week, I realised how much I’ve learnt, how transferable it is and maybe the sadness was from realising how long it has taken to get to this point.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Alan Buckley, who I met in July this year at Ledbury Poetry Festival.  Alan’s pamphlet The Long Haul had just come out with HappenStance so I took the opportunity to get a copy from him.  The pamphlet is full of beautiful poems – I knew I was going to like it right from the first poem ‘Flame’, inspired by an instruction on the front of a matchbox  (Use matches sparingly).  This poem starts ‘Not meanness or thrift/but wisdom; respect/for each small torch/that’s kept in there.’  I love that this poem comes from a line written on a matchbox, and each four line stanza of the poem is set out like a small box.

Alan Buckley is originally from Merseyside, but moved to Oxford in the 1980’s to study English Literature and has lived there ever since.  His first pamphlet Shiver was published by tall-lighthouse and was the PBS pamphlet choice in 2009.  The Long Haul is his second pamphlet, and you can obtain a copy for a mere £5 from the wonderful publisher HappenStance. You will also find the poem ‘Flame’ that I mentioned in the previous paragraph, if you follow the link to HappenStance

The poem I’ve chosen for this week ‘Pastoral’ is that most elusive of poems – an original and compelling poem about roadkill.  There are lots of excellent poems about hitting an animal whilst driving – but this poem takes as its central concern an animal that has already been hit, that is already dead, and which is glimpsed only for ‘a second or two.’

Pastoral – Alan Buckley

Glimpsed for no more than a second or two
(I was pushing eighty-five near Stokenchurch Gap)
but enough for a thought to surface: the possibility

that the heft of snout and fur by the central barrier
belonged to a creature that was deaf and asleep,
having nodded off in the morning sun as it looked

for a chance to cross; and this was why it lay there,
oblivious to the cars and lorries bouldering past.
Deaf and asleep, its belly filled with a slither

of worms as it dreamed its brockish dreams,
in which it was busy reliving the night just gone,
when it scuttled through fields of silvery grass

beneath an avuncular moon.  And beyond the black,
hard river that carves its way down Aston Hill
a hole in the earth was waiting – a small darkness,

ready to fall back behind this animal’s tail, like
the heavy curtain at the entrance to a private room,
shielding from view a silent, untouchable space.

We can infer as the poem progresses that the creature is a badger – the main clue comes halfway through the poem when we read ‘Deaf and asleep, its belly filled with a slither/of worms as it dreamed its brockish dreams’.  The words ‘deaf and asleep’ come twice – once in the second stanza, when the speaker imagines it has ‘nodded off in the morning sun as it looked/for a chance to cross’ and then again in the third stanza, when we read about the ‘slither of worms’ and the speaker imagines that the badger is ‘reliving the night just gone.’  The description of this night is wonderfully lyric as well – lines that when I read them, I wished I’d written: ‘when it scuttled through fields of silvery grass/beneath an avuncular moon.’

This poem seems to be balanced between different extremes to me. The difference between life and death, between sleeping and waking, between movement and speed and complete stillness.  The poem allows us to feel a connection with the animal, but then by the end of the poem, makes us aware that feeling connected with another creature is ultimately doomed to failure, that another being is always unknowable.  We’re left with the image of the badger re-entering its hole, and the darkness ‘shielding from view a silent, untouchable space.’

I hope you enjoy the poem – please feel free to comment – I do love reading the comments, and am endeavouring to make sure I remember to reply, rather than just smiling and reading them, and I know the poets that I feature here are always very appreciative of having readers that engage with their work.

News about St Ives February Residential

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News about St Ives February Residential

I’m really excited about the next residential that I’ll be running in February with one of my best friends David Tait, who also happens to be a fabulous poet and tutor.  David and I have been working on the theme of the residential, and I hope you like what we’ve come up with!

Below you will find the blurb describing the overall theme of the course.  Each workshop that we run during the week will focus on poetry from a particular country or continent.

There are now only four places left on this course, so if you’d like to come, I would advise booking your place as soon as you can.

If you’d like to book, please ring the hotel directly on 01736 796240

If you’d like more information about the course, you can look here, or please get in touch via the Contact page, or comment below.

Panorama: Poems from Around the World!
Residential Poetry Course, February 20th-25th 2017
Treloyhan Manor, St Ives
Tutors: David Tait and Kim Moore
Guest Poet: To be Announced
Cost: £430

Are you interested in diving deeper into the wide world of poetry? Well then, come and join us for an internationaltastic course in the wonderful setting of St. Ives, where we will be exploring poetry from across the world to inspire our own work. Expect to be introduced to unfamiliar names, and to discover new and exciting approaches to poetry. We will be joined mid-week by a special guest poet. This course is both suitable for beginners and more experienced writers. Join us for this panoramic view of world poetry, our very own poem-arama!

Sunday Poem – Keith Hutson

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Sunday Poem – Keith Hutson

I’ve had a rough day today.  I’ve spent most of it in bed with a horrible cold.  I’ve been ignoring this cold since Thursday but I succumbed today and spent the morning feeling very sorry for myself.  I didn’t get to do my usual Sunday run this morning, and I’d planned to go to Keswick to meet up with my cousin but I couldn’t drag myself out of bed.

I’m feeling a little bit better this afternoon.  I’m terrible at being ill – I’m impatient, and I get bored easily, and I feel guilty when I’m not doing something useful.  So spending a whole morning in bed was awful.

I’ve been in touch with Treloyhan Manor Hotel in St Ives and there are only 6 places left for the February 2017 Residential Poetry Course I’m running there with co-tutor David Tait.  Our guest poet who will be reading mid week is the fabulous poet Penelope Shuttle.  If you have been thinking about coming, I would suggest booking sooner rather than later – places will be limited to 16 and they seem to be selling quite fast.

Last weekend I was Poet in Residence at Swindon Poetry Festival which involved running two workshops, giving a poetry reading and then just generally hanging about and chatting to people (yes that really was in the job description!)  If you are looking for a small, friendly, slightly madcap poetry festival full of quirks, whacky ideas and things you probably won’t find at any other festival in the UK, then I would recommend Swindon.  It’s run by my friend Hilda Sheehan who is a brilliant poet herself, and whose enthusiasm and humour gives the whole weekend a unique and wonderful feel.

On the Friday night of the festival, I was released from my Poet in Residence duties as I had a reading at Winchester Poetry Festival.  I was reading with Ian Duhig and Sophie Hannah.  I loved reading with these two poets – I’ve read with Ian before, and he is one of those rare poets who actually has ‘Greatest Hits’ poems – like his ‘From the Irish’ poem – it doesn’t seem to matter how many times I hear it, I still enjoy it.  It was great to hear him read from his brand new collection of course, as well.

And Sophie Hannah – I bought one of her Carcanet collections when I was first starting to write poetry.  She has a wonderful and funny way of looking at the world – one of my favourite poems of hers that she read was about ‘people who flounce off’ – her premise being that there are people that flounce off, and people that don’t, and she is one of the people that don’t flounce off.  And where, she asked do the people who flounce off go to?

I went to a fascinating Close Reading by Frances Leviston on a John Berryman poem and a brilliant talk by Sinead Morrisey about researching her grandfather’s life as a Communist in Belfast.   I was also really pleased to meet up with a poet who I first met on a residential poetry course that I ran in St Ives.  We went to a stall and got some thai food and sat on a bench in the town centre to eat our food before going to the reading.  This was a new experience for me as I usually like to sit in a cafe and drink endless cups of tea whilst eating, but I quite enjoyed it and it meant we got to the reading in time.

I got up nearly every morning at 7am when I was in Swindon and went for a 5k run around Coate Water Park.  There is a lovely old diving board in the middle of the lake which I’m told nobody uses anymore and a path right round the lake which was perfect for running.  I don’t really like running on my own though and it was a relief to get back this week to going out for a run with my usual group of friends.

One of the highlights of Swindon Poetry Festival for me was seeing a few close friends perform.  I saw Roy Marshall read from his new collection, and was really impressed, both with the poems and his delivery, and then my friend Keith Hutson did a fantastic hour long show using material from his new pamphlet Troupers, published by Poetry Salzburg.

I must admit to being slightly worried about Keith when I heard he would be reading for an hour, but he was fantastic.  He managed to hold the attention of the audience, and it was a really entertaining hour.  The pamphlet is a sequence of thirty one sonnets celebrating famous Music Hall and Variety performers. As Keith was reading the sonnets out, there were lots of appreciative oohs from the audience who were old enough to remember the performers he was talking about (sadly, I am way too young to know any of them BUT I still enjoyed it!)

I asked Keith if I could post up the first sonnet here this weekend which he kindly agreed to.  I think this is a lovely poem, and the way Keith handles the rhymes, using half rhymes, and slant rhymes is great.  This poem is funny – look at that line ‘Some critics called it/nothing but self injury with rhythm’ and the mention of the character called ‘Tom Platt and his Talking Pond’ is great – what on earth was the Talking Pond and how did he get it on stage? We’ll never know – well not unless you ask Keith, who probably does know.

My favourite bit about the poem though is at the end, with the mention of running, not just running but running ‘on joy alone’.  When I read that, I thought, yes, I’ve done that, I’ve ran on joy alone.  In fact, only a couple of weeks ago, I was 8 miles into a hard, tough, hilly 12 mile run, and I got to the top of a hill and the view made me spread my arms wide as I ran down the hill, and it felt like I could take off, even though I was exhausted,that was joy.

So, below, you will find this joyful poem, by my mate Keith Hutson, whose enthusiasm when he is performing is infectious.  Keith used to write for Coronation Street and his poetry has been widely published in journals such as The North, The Rialto, Stand, Magma, Agenda and Poetry Salzburg Review.  He delivers poetry and performance workshops for The Prince’s Trust and The Square Chapel Centre for the Arts.

Keith will be appearing as the guest poet for A Poem and a Pint on the 19th November 2016 at The Laurel and Hardy Museum.   I hope you enjoy the poem!

Juvenile – Keith Hutson
i.m. Georgie Doonan 1897-1973

In time to a drumbeat, Georgie Doonan
kicked his own backside.  Some critics called it
nothing but self-injury with rhythm.
A newspaper dismissed the act as fit
only for idiots with no command 
over their sense of wonder, and went on
to call for Tom Platt and His Talking Pond,
no less, to come back, all is forgiven!

So why, when Georgie booted his behind,
did those who knew no better split their sides?
He must have made an impact deeper down.
And I know I’d have laughed, which won’t surprise
you if you’ve ever run on joy alone,
heels bouncing bum-high; if that’s what you’ve known.

Sunday Poem – Bob Horne

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I’m sat in my writing room looking out at darkness once again.  That isn’t entirely accurate of course.  I can see the edges of the houses whose back gardens lead onto ours.  I can make out the shape of a tree in one of the gardens, although our hawthorn tree is invisible.  To the right, the lights in a conservatory glow and every now and then, I see a car pass between the gaps in the houses.  I know if I opened the window, I would hear nothing until a car made its way up the hill.

I used to live in a street where at night the whole place would come alive. The arguments that had simmered quietly in the daytime would burst out once darkness fell.  Once I was woken up by somebody kicking a front door in across the road.  Once I was woken up by a fight.  Once I was woken up by somebody smashing someone’s car windscreen in.  Once a man who lived across the road, who was an alcoholic opened my front door and stumbled in, then stumbled out again.

In my old house, the morning was filled with seagulls crying.  We were closer to the sea than we are now, although we couldn’t see it.  We lived in an area of Barrow where the terraced houses seemed to make the sky smaller somehow.  Up here, at the top of a hill, the sky seems bigger, and the birds that I hear first thing in the morning are the sparrows. I realise I’ve never lived anywhere where there were birds before.

In Birmingham, where I lived for a year, there was the constant hum of a main road outside the front door.  There was a garden, but I never ventured into it.  In Leeds, the noise outside was of traffic, and a nightclub that held afternoon raves, as well as evening ones.  I’ve never lived anywhere so quiet before as here.

Everything links to everything else doesn’t it? Thinking about Leeds, and Birmingham, in the time when I still wanted, more than anything to be a professional trumpet player.  It’s no coincidence that this is on my mind this week, as I’ve spent more hours than I have in years playing the trumpet.

I’ve been playing in a production of The Wizard of Oz every night in Ulverston.  I started the week in agony – I went to a soul band rehearsal and could hardly play because I had a painful back and neck.  After talking to Julie (the sax player) I’ve really been working to try and keep my shoulders relaxed when I’m playing.  I’ve literally been forcing my shoulder blades down.

Just this simple act has completely transformed my playing.  My lip has lasted for the whole show instead of for 20 minutes.  I’ve been playing the high notes and it has felt easier.  I’m trying to remember now whether my teacher at music college ever said to put my shoulders down.  I can’t remember it if he did.  Maybe he said ‘Relax’ without explaining how to do this.

On Saturday I had three gigs – a matinee and evening performance of The Wizard of Oz and half of a soul band gig to do, and my lip held out! Before this little trick of keeping my shoulders down, I’d have been goosed after the first matinee.

Imagine meeting an ex who you loved more than you loved anybody before, but you met at the wrong time, or you were not ready, your head wasn’t right when you met, and the chances, the ones you were given, passed you by, or you did not reach out and take them.  Now imagine you meet that ex, but you have got older in the normal course of things, but they have stayed at whatever age they were when you met them.  They are unchanged.  That is how I feel about playing the trumpet  – I start playing again, and all the old ghosts that I didn’t deal with in the past, come back again.  I didn’t stop playing because I didn’t love it still, or that I wasn’t good.  I stopped playing because I didn’t feel good enough, because I couldn’t handle the feelings it brought up of doubting myself.

As you can probably tell, I’m still working through all of this in my own head.  I am really happy to be playing again, and there is some sadness as well that I’ve taken this long to get to this point – it feels like coming full circle in some ways, without even meaning to.

So apart from my epiphany (put your shoulders down) and my trumpet angst, and my joy at the feeling of playing my trumpet every day for the first time in many, many years I’ve had lots of other stuff going on as well.  I haven’t done as much running this week because I’ve been busy with other stuff, but I used the opportunity of a low milage week to have a go at Park Run on Saturday and get a new personal best time for 5k of 21.54.  I am very chuffed to be under 22 minutes for 5k.

I’ve also had an interesting week poetry wise.  I’ve been asked to be the ‘Artist of the Month’ in a local paper ‘Ulverston Life’ so on Monday I went to Ulverston and was interviewed by the lovely Helen Shacklady who has promised to turn my incoherent ramblings into something that is worth reading.

On Wednesday I went to Furness Abbey to record a poem that I’ve been commissioned to write for National Poetry Day by the BBC.  The brief was to write a poem in the voice of a landmark. I decided to write a poem in the voice of Furness Abbey, telling its life backwards.  If it is good enough for the story of my niece and her first boxing match, (see my first collection if you don’t know what I’m talking about) then it is good enough for Furness Abbey.  My interview for this was pretty dire – I forgot to mention anything about my publications which would have made me sound like I knew what I was doing and instead told the journalist about how I started writing poems every time I got dumped.  Oh well. It’s too late to worry about that one now as well!  The poem will be broadcast on BBC Cumbria on National Poetry Day and apparently there will also be a Facebook video of me walking around the Abbey looking up at the walls.  What could possibly go wrong with this?  Let’s hope the journalist wasn’t still recording when I did my Kate Bush impression whilst leaping through the Furness Abbey arches…

On Thursday I did my first day of teaching at Manchester Met.  I did a five minute talk in the lecture to about 100 students about a poem that I loved, alongside Angelica Michelis and Martin Kratz, the other lecturers on the unit that I’m teaching on, and then I did my first two seminars with my student groups.  I was really nervous about the lecture part, but once I got going I was fine, and  I really loved the teaching part.  There were no problem behaviours to manage.  I didn’t have to ask people repeatedly to be quiet.  I didn’t have to convince them that my subject was worthwhile and interesting.  I didn’t have to bite my tongue and keep my temper.  I didn’t need any patience.  It was bloody marvellous!

I also managed to get to the library and got out far too many books in one go, but I got a bit over-excited.  Tomorrow, I’m going for my Induction Day for my PhD, and I’m hoping this will kickstart me into getting to work, as I don’t feel that I’ve really knuckled down yet.  Oh and joy and rapture – I also got my staff card sorted so it is in my actual name rather than my married name.

So, on to today’s Sunday Poem.  I hope you’ve managed to read this far.  Bob Horne was kind enough to send me his first pamphlet, Knowing My Place, published by Caterpillar Poetry.  As well as being a great poet (as you’ll see from the poem) Bob is also a publisher, having set up the small press Calder Valley Poetry at the beginning of 2016. Since then, he has published five pamphlets by writers including John Foggin, Peter Riley, Steve Ely, Mark Hinchliffe  and John Duffy, with a pamphlet by Stephanie Bowgett in the pipeline.

I don’t know Bob very well, but when I have met him, the impression I got was one of generosity towards other writers and enthusiasm about poetry.  This has been borne out in the brief email exchange we’ve had, where he was very humble about his own work, preferring to talk about his work as a publisher.  So it is nice to put the spotlight on Bob’s own poetry for once!   Bob did tell me he did a Poetry MA at Huddersfield University in the mid 1990’s but then had a break until three years ago, when he started attending local events at The Albert, Puzzle and other local venues such as Anthony Costello’s Kava Kultura in Todmorden and Keith Hutson’s Square Chapel sessions.

This poem reminded me at first of one of my favourite poems – ‘Those Winter Sundays’ by Robert Hayden.  It seemed to me as if Bob was tipping his hat to this earlier poem – so I’d be interested to see if he has read the Hayden poem or not! If Bob has read the poem, then I think it is a lovely way of building up the layers of this poem.  The similarities between the two poems lie in the physical action of a ‘he’ lighting a fire, and in the use of the word ‘austere’ which seems, in my mind at least, to link them both together.  Bob’s poem is much more, I think about the self, and looking back on quite a solitary figure, of looking at a small space, and what happens when you move from the past to the present, from small spaces, to spaces without any boundaries, whereas the Hayden poem explores the relationship between a father and son, and the emotional dynamics of a household.

I love the focused concentration on the physical actions in the poem – there are lots of wonderful details that are very carefully observed: ‘Then, a scratch/ and a bud of flame’.  I love both the scratch and the bud of flame.

The title of the poem tells us where we are, and at first there is a narrowness, an inwardness to this poem.  The speaker is looking back to a particular season, a particular year, a particular house and room.  But by the end of the poem, it completely opens out, both to the wider world: ‘a rush of smoke/slid up the sooty/blackness of the chimney/to vanish in faraway air’ but it also opens out from the past to the present with that wonderful ending with the grown up shadow gazing back.

I do think this last stanza is extraordinary – it is both situated in the past and the present, the statue being the thing that time pivots around.  We’ve all been small and had our shadow, larger than ourselves thrown against a wall.  But this last stanza could equally be taking place now, in the present moment.

Thanks to Bob for letting me use his poem.  I hope you enjoy it!

Living Room – Bob Horne

I remember winter mornings
in nineteen fifty-one,
standing on the corner
of a ragged hearth-rug,
austere light from outside
screened by clothes on the creel.

With a hand-brush’s worn bristles
he swept cold ashes
from under the grate,
shovelled them onto paper
to be parcelled and stuffed
in the dustbin.

Then, a scratch,
and a bud of flame
felt along the ends
of knots of newsprint.
As they browned and flaked,
fire flowed through a stack

of sticks and coal from the cellar,
a rush of smoke
slid up the sooty
blackness of the chimney
to vanish in faraway air.

I turned to look across the room,
the heat at my back.
Still, in the middle
of a flickering wall,
my grown-up shadow
gazed back at me.

 

Sunday Poem – Lisa Brockwell

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Sunday Poem – Lisa Brockwell

I’m not in my writing room today – sat on the sofa instead, in front of the T.V because I’ve been watching the wonderfulness that is Gogglebox.  Last time I watched this, I was in Groningen in Holland, curled up on the sofa with my lovely friend Jan, crying with laughter.  It’s not half as fun watching it on my own, although I like the kind of happy/sad feeling I get when I watch it now – happy because now watching that programme reminds me of Jan, and sad because I miss him.

This week I’ve been working on my poem for the BBC and National Poetry Day.  I’m writing a poem about Furness Abbey.  My deadline was Friday, and I pretty much finished it at about ten minutes to midnight, which was quite stressful, but expected.  I always seem to work better under a bit of pressure.

I had a meeting with the committee of A Poem and a Pint, and we put together a list of poets that we’d like to have as our guest poets in 2017.  My job now is to contact them all so I’ll probably be getting on with that next week.

On Wednesday, my friend Jennifer Copley had her book launch at Natterjacks.  As I mentioned in a blog post a couple of weeks back, her new pamphlet Vinegar and Brown Paper is out with Like This Press. Members of Barrow Writers, the writing group that Jenny runs also read and local musicians The Demix provided the music.  Here is a photo of Jenny looking glamorous whilst reading her new poems.

jenny-book-launch

On Thursday I went to Manchester to have another meeting about the teaching.  This one was very useful, and I feel reasonably confident about next week.  As confident as anyone starting a new job I suppose! I had a brief meeting about my PhD following the meeting about the teaching, but we ran out of time, so have rescheduled for a couple of weeks.  My main job between now and then is to get some reading done and start to think about how I want to structure the critical part of the PhD (I think!).

I had my first wobble this week of thinking what on earth have I done, and who am I to think someone like me can do a PhD etc etc.  Imposter syndrome already, and I haven’t even had the PhD induction yet – that is the week after next!  However, I’ve decided I’m going to get started this week, and the first thing I’m going to do is work out a timetable of when I’m going to be working on PhD stuff this week.

After the meetings I met up with poet Emma McGordon and we made our way up to Black Cat Poets in Denton, where we were both performing.  It was a real honour to be reading with Emma – she was one of the first poets I saw perform at A Poem and a Pint and I loved her reading.  Her new work is really, really good and it was worth the trip over from Cumbria just to hear her read.  The audience at Black Cat Poets was small but perfectly formed, and the organisers and hosts were very friendly.   Then it was a late night drive back to Cumbria – I think I got in at about midnight, maybe just after.

I had a Dove Cottage Young Poets session on Friday night.  I only have two Young Poets left now – the rest have all gone away to university.  I feel very proud of them all, but very sad to see them go.  If anybody reading this knows any young people who would be interested in joining a completely free poetry group in Cumbria, do get in touch.

Other writing news – I was very happy that I got a poem shortlisted in the Bridport Poetry Competition.  This means I got to the top 200 out of 5400 entries apparently, so I didn’t win any money, but it is nice to know that my poem made it to that shortlist.

This weekend I’ve not done any writing or reading really.  I’ve just been running and playing the trumpet.  I did Park Run on Saturday (22 minutes 15 seconds – 10 seconds off my PB!) and then I had a Soul Band gig on Saturday night.  This morning I did a ten mile run and then had two rehearsals for a musical I’m playing in next week in Ulverston: ‘The Wizard of Oz’.  So this is why I’m blogging so late today!

I am excited about today’s Sunday Poem.  I can’t remember how Lisa Brockwell and I became friends on Facebook – as we’ve never met.  Lisa sent me a copy of her new collection Earth Girls a while back though, and I read it cover to cover in one sitting.  Earth Girls is published by Pitt Street Poetry, a Sydney based poetry imprint.

Lisa Brockwell was born in Sydney, but spent a large part of her adult life in England.  She now lives on a rural property near Byron Bay, on the north coast of New South Wales, with her husband and young son. You can find more about Lisa at her website: www.lisabrockwell.com

I loved this poem as soon as I read it, and felt an instant connection to it.  It is easy to list the reasons why this might be –  I suppose we all imagine what might have been, what would have happened if we had stayed with this person or that person instead of leaving them, if we had taken that job or refused it.  I also like that thread of regret or yearning, which runs through the poem – as I may have said before is one of my favourite emotions to explore in poetry.

That first line is startling in its directness.  And the second – that ‘startled but not sorry’.  I think that is so brilliantly observed.  I love how marriage, or at least a long-term relationship is described as ‘The Long Haul’, and the term ‘day-to-day dedication’ – again, brilliantly, closely observed, and this is exactly what a marriage is.  The poem is also wonderfully honest: ‘The air between us no longer electric’.  I also love that just at this point when as a reader, I started to forget that what is being described is imaginary, it is then that the story starts to falter: ‘But whose dog jumps/on that bed’.

One of the cleverest things in the poem of course is that it manages to pass comment on two things at the same time.  Through describing the imaginary relationship, what might have been, we start to gain a picture of the real relationship, in all its complexity.

There is something beautifully tender as well in the line ‘But when, sometimes, we brush against/each other on-line I feel it and I hope you/ do too’.  There isn’t a whiff of betrayal or duplicity in the poem.  If there was it would be a less complex poem, a less interesting poem.  This poem has been hauting me since Lisa sent me her book, which is a good few months ago now, so I’m really pleased to be able to post it up here.

I hope you enjoy the poem, and if you’d like to order the book, please head over to Pitt Street Poetry

The Long Haul – Lisa Brockwell

There is another life where we end up together.
We wake in the same bed, startled but not sorry;
the timber frame is warm, hand-caulked
with the day-to-day dedication of the long haul.
The air between us no longer electric, all now
sanded smooth.  But whose dog jumps
on that bed: yours or mine? I don’t plan to think
about my husband or your wife; let’s leave
my son right out of it.  Fantasy, no more dangerous
than eating gelato and dreaming of Mark Ruffalo.
But when, sometimes, we brush against
each other on-line I feel it and I hope you
do too – you could have been my dawn breeze
and me your mast of oak.  There is another life
out there.  I watch it as it goes, a bobbing toy
with a paper sail, jaunty in calm weather; and wince
to see it tacking close to the mouth of the river.