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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Residential Poetry Course in the Lake District 10th-14th April

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Residential Poetry Course in the Lake District 10th-14th April

Breaking news! En-suite rooms now available at the next residential that I’m running in Grange Over Sands April 10th-14th with co-tutor Jennifer Copley.

En-suite rooms are available for £448.  I know there were  a couple of people who were put off by the idea of not having an en-suite room, so the hotel have managed to shift things around a little and we now have a limited number available.

You could also come with a friend and share a luxurious lodge (my favourite place to stay in the hotel) for £476 per person.

Or if you are feeling a bit strapped for cash, there are non en-suite rooms available for £396.

Please spread the word about this course if you can and here is a picture of the aforementioned lodge and the lovely swimming pool at the hotel to tempt you…

Telling It Slant 

Join us on the edge of the Lake District to spend a week reading, writing and discussing poetry.  Emily Dickinson said ‘Tell all the truth but tell it slant’ and we will be embracing her advice during this residential course.   We’ll look at how poets can work in the space between truth and lies and along the borders of reality and imagination.  Come prepared to try out new techniques which will produce poems that may surprise you!  This course is suitable for beginners and more experienced poets.  We will be joined mid-week by a special guest poet.  The fee of £396 includes accommodation in a non en-suite room, cooked breakfast and three-course evening meals, workshops, tutorials and readings from tutors and a guest poet. There will also be a chance for participants to read their own poetry on the final night.

To book please contact the hotel directly 015395 32896

Sunday Poem – Ruby Robinson

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Sunday Poem – Ruby Robinson

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged – I’ve missed two Sundays in fact, due to being away from home and with limited internet, and even worse, no computer.  I couldn’t face trying to write a blog post on a phone so I decided to just give it a miss.  Having said that, I’m writing this at Stanza Poetry Festival, at my bed and breakfast, where although I have a computer, the internet keeps disappearing, so who knows if this blog post will ever be finished.

It feels like so much has happened since the last time I blogged, which I think was around the 12th February.  First of all I’ve had three full-on days at Stanza Poetry Festival, sharing a room with my friend Manon.  Manon and I met on the first residential poetry course that I ever went on, at Ty Newydd.  We worked out that this must have been about ten years ago now and we’ve been friends ever since.  We used to have a tradition of picking a poetry event to go to in a random part of the country, and then going out clubbing afterwards.  We haven’t done that for a while, but Saturday night, we did stay up till 2am with a few other poets, chatting in a whisky bar.

There have been lots of highlights at the festival and so many readings that I’ve enjoyed, but if I had to limit myself to two highlights it would be Katharine Towers and Vahni Capildeo.  I saw Katharine read on Sunday morning as I dragged myself to the venue at 11.30am on about five hours sleep and feeling very sorry for myself.  Katharine’s read from her new collection The Remedies.  It is beautifully lyric, quiet poetry, often very short but carefully observed and was the perfect hangover cure! It felt so different to what I’m writing at the moment – I feel like my own writing is getting longer and more narrative so it was great to see a different approach.  I’m looking forward to settling down with her collection and working my way through it.

Vahni Capildeo writes in a completely different way not just to the way I write, but I would say to the way everybody writes.  She is definitely ploughing her own furrow, and I can’t think of anybody else that is writing in a similar way to her at the moment.  A complete original, and although I admit I don’t understand all of her poetry, I don’t think understanding everything is entirely the point.  She gave a wonderful performance last night – very funny and at the same time managing to hold the audience spellbound for the whole 45 minutes/an hour.

During the festival, I also bumped into Gerry Cambridge, and got my subscriber and contributor copies of The Dark Horse.  I have two of my All The Men I Never Married sequence in there this time, which I’m very chuffed about.  I’ve now had two of these in Poetry Ireland Review, four in Poem and now two in The Dark Horse, so I feel like they’re slowly starting to make their way in the world.

So now to account for my near three-week absence.  My first missing weekend was spent at Verve Poetry Festival in Birmingham.  I read there on the Friday evening, alongside Katrina Naomi and Mona Arshi, and then I ran a workshop on Saturday afternoon.  This was also a great festival, taking place in Waterstones in the city centre.  Many people have been commenting on social media on the diversity of the lineup at the festival, but as well as having this in its favour, there was a great atmosphere over the weekend.  I even managed to get out for a six mile run along the canal with the poet Matthew West.  Then on Sunday, I was reunited with David Tait, after not seeing him for nearly three years, met up with poet John Foggin, and we all headed off down to St Ives in John’s car, but with me driving.  David and I talked all the way down to St Ives, and John listened to a Terry Pratchett novel on his headphones and every now and then chortled away to himself.

David now lives in China, but was awarded a one month residency at The Wordsworth Trust, which he managed to coincide with coming to St Ives to be my co-tutor.  It was lovely to work with David again, and just to be able to catch up.

The hotel announced that they were going to make scones with jam and cream every afternoon for the course participants, which was rather exciting, as this was a ‘hidden extra’.  I’m hoping that this is a tradition that will continue next year.  I can report that I managed to eat a scone with jam and cream every day.  The course sold out – 16 people, and I think 12 of them had already been on a residential week with me before.  The wonderful poet Penelope Shuttle came to read as the guest poet – she is not only a fantastic poet, but is also a lovely person to talk to.

At the end of the course, John and I drove all the way back from St Ives to Birmingham, where I hopped on a train north, and we managed to talk all the way as well.   I got on the train at Birmingham and eventually got back home at about 8pm, completely shattered.

Just before I left for St Ives, I finally got the email to say that we’d been awarded full funding from the Arts Council towards Kendal Poetry Festival.  Pauline (my co-director of the festival) is currently on holiday in Australia, but I got a text through to her to tell her the good news and she promised me she was dancing round the room to celebrate.     

I had my first proper poetry tutorial as part of my PhD with Michael Symmons Roberts last Tuesday.  We looked at two poems and Michael straight away homed in on one area in each poem where I knew there was something that wasn’t quite right, but I didn’t know how to fix it – and nobody else had seemed to notice, so I just decided to ignore it.  So not only was it a brilliant tutorial because it made me realise I need to start listening to that voice in my head when it says ‘hmm are you sure about that’ but it was also a masterclass in how to edit a poem.  I came out really happy and excited about the prospect of the next three years and feeling like I’m really going to learn something about editing poetry that I can use in my own teaching, but that I’m also going to be challenging myself as a poet, which is a great place to be in.

This week, I’ve also started teaching my face-to-face poetry school course ‘Brief Encounters’ in Manchester.   There are ten people booked on this time, and it’s on a Thursday, which means I finish my university teaching and then have time to go to my favourite Thai restaurant, before heading down to teach the course.  I’m also currently teaching a feedback course for the Poetry School as an online course which I’m really enjoying.

I also found out one of my poems made the longlist of the National Poetry Competition, which was – I was going to say exciting, but I don’t think that’s the right word.  Maybe comforting is better – comforting that a new poem, written post-book, got as far as it did is good news.  I’ve also been nominated to apply for the Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship – which is a year’s worth of mentoring and a £15,000 bursary.  250 arts specialists were asked to nominate people to apply for this fellowship – sadly, I’m not eligible to apply, as I’m a full time student.  Still, it felt really lovely to be even in the running for it, and maybe my time will come round another year.

So on to the Sunday poem, by the fabulous Ruby Robinson, who I hoped to see read at Verve, but sadly I had to set off for St Ives before her reading.  I bought her book instead to compensate myself for missing out, as I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to get hold of it.  In fact, I’ve been waiting for her book to come out since I saw her poem ‘My Mother’ in an issue of Poetry Review a couple of years ago.

The poem I’ve chosen ‘Past’ kind of took my breath away when I first read it. I love the way it seems to start mid-sentence or mid-conversation, but I also like that the poem seems to be directly addressing the reader, as if we are part of that confession, as if we are the one being spoken to.  The form of the poem is great as well – and securely fastened to the content of the poem, set out a bit like a chess board, which gives some great line breaks (‘shooting up/with the other pawns/beside a black-lacquered castle’.

The idea of unpacking a cliché or worn out phrase is something that is often done in poetry, but I think it’s extremely hard to do it well.  The way this poem unpacks the familiar phrase of ‘a chequered past’ works really well as it swings from a visual image of a chess board and its chequered squares to the past like a ‘huge cloak’ or a ‘deep/hole you fall into sometimes’.

I also like the way the poem makes its own argument with complete conviction and uncertainty, all at the same time.  It felt like one of those poems that the poet had to write to work out what they thought, a poem that surprises you by the time you reach the end of writing it.  It’s one of those poems, or truths, that I wish I’d written or worked out, the way we carry our past with us, and the way it affects both the present and the future, that the past can be both ‘squares of light’ and ‘squares of something like a deep/hole you fall into sometimes’.

The poem comes from Ruby’s first collection Every Little Sound, published by Pavilion Poetry/Liverpool University Press. Ruby was born in Manchester and lives in Sheffield.  She studied English Literature at the University of East Anglia and has an MA from Sheffield Hallam University, where she also won the Ictus Prize for Poetry.  Her poems have appeared in The Poetry Review, Poetry (Chicago) and elsewhere.   Every Little Sound was shortlisted for the 2016 T.S Eliot Prize and the 2016 Forward Prize for Best First Collection.  If you’d like to order Ruby’s collection you can find it at https://liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/products/73653

Hope you enjoy the poem, and thanks to Ruby for letting me post it here.

Past – Ruby Robinson

When I said chequered
I didn’t mean Alice in Wonderland
wandering on a massive chess board
mounting plastic horses, shooting up
///////////////with the other pawns
///////////////beside the black-lacquered castle.
///////////////I didn’t mean bars and grates
///////////////snatches of sunlight and third rate
exam papers or clouds of time
like an accidental watermark on the
‘story of my life’
I didn’t mean guilt or anything
////////////////to be guilty about.  I didn’t mean
////////////////an unhinged head, secrets and dark eyes
////////////////black eyes, shoplifting, addiction, assault
////////////////or any other crime.  I don’t know why I said it –
and landed behind me like a huge cloak,
squares of light and squares
of something like a deep
/////////////////hole you fall into sometimes
/////////////////on a dark night
/////////////////on your way back from the shop
////////////////or some bright miraculous party.

Sunday Poem – David Wilson

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Sunday Poem – David Wilson

I have been in hibernation mode this week.  After my marathon day of outdoor activity last week, I started to feel a little bit unwell on Sunday night.  I put it down to too much activity, but by Monday I felt like I had flu – I was going alternatively hot and cold, had a really awful headache, sore throat.  I basically took to the sofa from Monday to Wednesday and didn’t move – a wonderful luxury now I don’t have to drag myself into school feeling awful. Tuesday I still felt pretty rough, but Wednesday I was a lot better and it felt more like a normal cold that was on its way out.  So I’ve spent much of this week feeling sorry for myself and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I felt particularly sorry for myself that yet again, I was stuck on the sofa instead of being out running.  But as I could hardly stand up on Monday it was probably a good idea to stay indoors.  I have been this morning for a ten mile run – my first one all week.  It was hard work – I felt quite tired and my legs felt heavy, and then there was the cold and the wind of course – but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  I’m glad I got out there now and did it.

On Thursday I had to go to Manchester for my teaching at MMU but I was nearly back up to normal by then.  I have been getting some writing done this week and working on some poems, despite feeling rough, so I’m pleased about that.  I’m steadily working my way through reading Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex – it is such an important text, and so many other feminist texts refer to it that I need to read it and have it as part of the background for the next lot of reading.  The problem is every time I read one thing, it leads to something else.  I think I could spend the three years of this PhD just reading without even getting to the writing part.

On Friday I spent the morning planning the workshop for my Dove Cottage Young Poets session, which was running in the afternoon, and my Barrow Poetry Workshop, which I was running the next day. I managed to get them both sorted out and printed out, then I went to Kendal for the young poets workshop and then off to Brewery Poets in the evening.

Barrow Poetry Workshop went really well yesterday – 13 poets from all over the place, Barrow, Dalton, Ulverston, Kendal, Preston, Lancaster, Shap.  I also managed to get the heating going properly this time as well – and people wrote some amazing stuff.  In the evening it was A Poem and a Pint with guest poet Rita Ann Higgins.  Rita had made a mammoth journey from Galway – bus, plane and train to get to Ulverston to read.  I bought her latest book Tongulish which I’m really looking forward to reading when I get some spare time.

I felt a bit sad – one of my ex-students, David Griffiths, who was Young Musician in Residence at Kendal Poetry Festival was the musician for the night, but Anthony Milledge, who was going to be his accompanist for the evening, died very suddenly last week.  I’ve known Anthony since I moved to the area and played with him a few times at church, when he composed a fiendishly difficult trumpet fanfare for the visit of a bishop a couple of years ago.  He was such a good musician – so good in fact, that we were unable to find a pianist who had the technical skills to play the pieces that he’d been practising with David.  So David just did some unaccompanied pieces – a very tough thing to do, but I think Anthony would have been proud of him.

Next week, I’m determined to get a bit more reading done for my PhD.  I’ve got more workshops to plan as well – I’m heading off to Birmingham on Friday to the Verve Poetry Festival and I need to plan the workshop that I’m running there on the Saturday, and plan my workshops for the St Ives residential which starts a week on Monday.  I also need to fit my running in – I cannot afford to take more than two hours to do the Coniston 14 in a few weeks time, otherwise I will have to stand on stage at Lancaster Litfest in my sweaty running gear because I haven’t had time for a shower.  So I’m gearing up for a full on week next week, and then the usual full on week of a residential course.

If you’re interested in residential courses, the St Ives course has sold out now, but I’m running three more this year – you can find information on the ‘Residential Courses‘ tab.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by a lovely poet and friend of mine, David Wilson.  I met David when we were both students on The Poetry Business Writing School course.  I was really pleased to hear that David had a pamphlet out last year with The Poetry Business.  The pamphlet is called Slope and many of the poems in it explore climbing and mountaineering. David lives in North Yorkshire and has been an active climber for many years.  As well as poetry, he has written a novel, Love and Nausea, published by Abacus, Little Brown in the 1990’s which was praised by The Times as a ‘tour de force’.  In 2015 he won the Poets and Players Competition, judged by Paul Muldoon with his poem Everest.  

It’s worth buying Slope for this poem alone, a tiny eight-liner where David manages to compare Everest to Elvis (I’ll let you buy the pamphlet to work out how he manages to pull that one off – but pull it off he does!).  The poem I’ve chosen for the Sunday Poem this week though has always been one of my favourites of David’s, maybe because of the bolt of recognition after reading the first line – no, my parents didn’t use that phrase either! I liked the line at the end of the first stanza as well.  I think my parents are similar to the parents in this poem – they do everything together as well, and find it quite strange that my husband and I have separate holidays, or are often off on our own somewhere.

I love the description in the second stanza of the father ‘taking ten minutes to stand up/straight, always the military man’.  It’s only in the second stanza in fact, indicated by that little phrase ‘Near the end’ which begins this stanza, that we realise that the father is dying, and this makes that effort of getting out of bed and standing to speak to his wife very moving.

I always think it is hard to get dialogue in a poem, and especially a poem like this without it sounding cheesy, or maudlin, or too over the top.  Especially a poem called ‘I love you’.  But then the strength of the poem is that these three words, the title are completely missing from the poem, yet it is a poem about loving and how to give and receive love.  Or maybe not just about love, but about marriage, which is different.  The portrayal of a long marriage with ‘whispered rows’ in the first stanza is very honest. And I think that is what I like about the dialogue as well – it has the ring of authenticity, of honesty about it.  And to say ‘Thank you for loving me’ seems so much more meaningful than saying ‘I love you’.  I was thinking about why that is, and maybe ‘I love you’ is always about the self, the ‘I’ reaching out to another.  It demands a reply.  But to say ‘Thank you for loving me’ is to say, I’m grateful, and happy with what you’ve given me, and I don’t need anything else.  Hidden in that sentence is ‘Thank you for loving me’ even and despite of ‘whispered rows’.  l love the little turn of the poem at the end as well, when the mother is transformed by his words, or her voice is transformed to the ‘voice of a young girl’.

You might want to order Slope after reading this poem – if you do, you can order it at http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/shop/925/slope for a mere £5 and show your support to another fantastic independent publisher.

“I love you” – David Wilson

My parents didn’t use this phrase,
talked in terms of work to do, and weather
and how they were bringing us up;
despite whispered rows at night
stayed together, held in place by good form.
They were not much given to using ‘I’.

Near the end, my father asked a nurse
to bring my waiting mother
to the side-room of his suffering,
having taken ten minutes to stand up
straight, always the military man,
nearly losing his footing.

One has to be brave at a time like this,
he said, taking her hand,
Some journeys must be made alone. 
And then, Thank you for loving me.
A slight bow and turn, while she cried
in the voice of a young girl,
‘Oh my darling’.

Sunday Poem –

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Sunday Poem –

Another Sunday rolls round again – and I spent most of this one outdoors.  This morning I went for a 12 mile run with some friends.  I know for some people the idea of running 12 miles would be a form of torture, but I absolutely love it.  I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing on a day like today, which was cold, but with blue skies and snow at the top of the mountains in the distance.

I rashly promised the husband I would go for a walk with him in the afternoon so once I got back from my 12 mile run and 300 metres of climbing, we went out for lunch in Broughton and then off we went on our walk – 3 hours later and another 300 metres of climbing and I’m officially knackered.

Last night I had a gig with the Soul Survivors at The Nautical Club on Walney Island.  After having a rehearsal where I felt that my playing was not up to standard, I’ve been practising for the last couple of weeks, building up from 20 minutes a day to about 40 minutes a day.  And it paid off! I know, having been a music teacher for 13 years, that I shouldn’t be surprised when practising actually works, but there you go.  I managed to play my solo bits, and my lip held out right till the end of the night which was a relief.

I decided to have a lazy day yesterday so apart from soundcheck in the afternoon, I spent the whole day in my pyjamas watching TV – a rarity for me, but my week up to this point had been pretty full on.  On Monday I attended the first session of a course as part of my PhD personal development in Manchester, and decided to hang around so I could go to the protest march against Trump’s idiotic travel ban. I’ve never been to a protest before, so didn’t really know what to expect. There were thousands of people there, so many in fact, that we couldn’t hear what the speakers were saying.  I met poet Clare Shaw and her daughter Niamh, and poet Rachel Davies and her partner Bill.  We marched through Manchester, and there was lots of chanting, all very good-natured.

I spent the first half of the week watching a lot of news about Trump, and in the end I had to stop, as I was getting really upset about it all.  I did write a Trump poem though – well actually, it’s about Melania Trump and the video of her at the inauguration, when Trump turns round and says something to her, and her face completely changes.  We can’t know what Trump said to her, but I think anybody that’s been in a violent relationship might recognise the look on her face, and the video has haunted me.  So I wrote a poem about Donald and Melania Trump and abuse and complicity and victim blaming and perspective and identity. I started the poem at the Poetry Business workshop last Saturday, and then finished it off on Monday/Tuesday of last week.  It’s going to be in The Morning Star on Thursday, which I’m really pleased about.  I don’t usually publish poems so quickly, but I felt like I wanted to get it out there.

I’m still waiting to hear back about my RD1 but having it off my hands and out of my control seems to have uncorked my poetry as I’ve written three other drafts of poems this week as well.  These three are much rougher, and might not even be poems to be honest, but I’ve really enjoyed writing them.  I keep feeling guilty that I’m not getting on with any ‘work’ and then remembering that writing poems is work now and doing a little dance.

Thursday was university teaching day – a 2 hour seminar on Wordsworth and Coleridge.  My students are still lovely – I’m still loving the teaching, and feel like I’m learning loads through teaching.  Next week is Victorian poetry, which I’m really looking forward to, as Tennyson is one of my favourite poets.

On Friday I went to the Theatre-By-The-Lake in Keswick to attend the Cumbria Life Cultural Awards.  Kendal Poetry Festival had made the shortlist for Festival of the Year and Brewery Poets had been shortlisted for Artistic Collaboration of the Year.  The festival’s Young Poet in Residence from 2016, Hannah Hodgson, came as well, as well as the poet Jennifer Copley.  I’d been asked to do a five minute reading, so I read a poem in the voice of Furness Abbey, that I wrote for a BBC commission last year, a poem about leaving teaching, and one of my ‘All the Men I Never Married’ poems.  Sadly, neither the Festival nor Brewery Poets won their categories, but we had a nice night out, and it was inspiring to see all the amazing artistic work that is going on in Cumbria.  The highlight for me was seeing Jess Gillam play – she is an amazing young saxophonist who lives in Ulverston, who got through to the finals of the BBC Young Musician of the Year last year I think.  Anyway I saw her play last year and thought she was brilliant – but this year she was really, really good.I didn’t get back home till 1.30am, hence the need for the lie-in on Saturday!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Maria Taylor from her new HappenStance pamphlet  Instructions for Making Me.  I’ve always liked Maria’s work, and have been meaning to get a copy of her new pamphlet for a while, but hadn’t got myself organised, so I was chuffed to be able to get one from her in person at the Poetry Business Writing Day last Saturday.

Maria Taylor lives in Leicestershire.  Her first full collection Melanchrini was published by Nine Arches Press in 2012 and was shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize.  A Greek-Cypriot by birth, she has been Reviews Editor for Under the Radar magazine since 2015 and blogs at Commonplace.

If you haven’t bought any HappenStance pamphlets before, head over to the website now.  Order Maria’s obviously, but take a potshot on a poet you haven’t heard of.  I can promise you, you won’t be disappointed.  I’ve never bought a HappenStance pamphlet and regretted it, and this one was no exception.

The pamphlet is full of surprises – surrealism probably isn’t quite the right word, but the world is definitely portrayed at an angle in these poems.  There were lots of favourites -I liked Poem In Which I Lick Motherhood which is as good as it sounds and The Horse which unpacks that old cliche and annoying bit of advice of ‘getting back on the horse’ after an upset or disappointment.  And Maria is the only poet to my knowledge who has a poem about Daniel Craig and not only does she have a poem about Daniel Craig it is a good poem! There are lots of funny moments in this pamphlet,but as you will see from the poem I’ve chosen, it isn’t all fun.

The Invisible Man is a strange and slightly disturbing poem.  Is it only me who finds the whole concept of an invisible friend really creepy?  The image of the daughter pushing an invisible man ‘on a swing/under the apple tree’ is a little bit disturbing.  Then Maria develops this further – the voice of the poem, admits to knowing the invisible man – to having a relationship of sorts with him.  This relationship is not like any normal relationship though – she says ‘I carried him in my book bag’ and ‘He fooled me at kiss-chase’.  The darkest part of the poem is in stanza 3, nearly the centre of the poem where she says ‘Now he’s back.  He wants my girl.’  The use of the word ‘girl’ and the possessiveness of ‘my’ makes us aware of the vulnerability of the daughter, and also of the power of the invisible man.  The description of him continues to develop the sinister feel of him – his arms could wrap around them ‘like twine’ and his ‘long toes’ skim the leaves – definitely an unsavoury character! The use of the word ‘we’ is interesting as well in the last stanza – it highlights and develops the complicity of the mother in the creation and sustaining of the invisible man, or the story of him.

I hope you enjoy the poem – and if you do enjoy it, you can buy Maria’s pamphlet Instructions for Making Me from the Happenstance website here for the mere sum of £5.  Thanks to Maria for letting me share this poem here.

The Invisible Man – Maria Taylor

My daughter pushes
the invisible man on a swing
under the apple tree.

I’ve known him for years.
I recognise him by the dust motes.
I asked him out.  He stood me up.

I carried him in my book bag.
He fooled me at kiss-chase.
Now he’s back.  He wants my girl.

We think of him as very tall,
so thin and stretchy he could wind
his arms around us like twine.

We sing to him as we push
an empty seat back and forth.
His long toes skim the leaves.

Sunday Poem – Matt Bryden

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This has been a strange week – each day I’ve woken up to stories about more of Trump’s executive orders, and this morning, before I went out for my run, I watched videos of the protests at American airports against his ban on refugees/muslims entering the country with tears in my eyes.  There was one in particular which showed a woman who had finally been released after being detained, and the crowd cheered as she appeared.   There is a protest against Trump tomorrow in Manchester.  I’m going to be in Manchester for the afternoon as I’m booked on a training course to do with my PhD so I’ve decided to go along to the protest.  I’m kind of ashamed to say it will be my first time at a protest but everybody has to start somewhere, and at the minute it feels like my heart breaks a little bit when I read another news story about the attacks on women and refugees and anybody else Trump disagrees with.  The picture of him signing an order about abortion and women’s bodies and funding, surrounded by men, made me feel a bit sick.  Friends have said to me that what Trump says doesn’t affect me here, so why am I getting upset about it?  It sometimes feels like a difficult thing to explain, but it is actually really clear.

Yesterday I turned on the news and there were three white men discussing Trump and the latest developments.  I went to a literary event this week that was high quality and entertaining, but there were three white men again speaking at this event.  When they talked about their literary influences they were all men (apart from one woman who was mentioned as opposed to 8-10 men).  The literary event, the news and Trump are part of a wider continuum that means that women and people of colour are silenced.  Or more accurately, they’re not silenced, they’re not even present to be silenced.  Of course, these are small problems compared to being detained at an airport and not allowed in a country, but they are part of a wider scale, and part of the problem.  The small injustices sow the ground for the bigger and more serious attacks, and they demonstrate at best a lack of thought by the white men who are given platforms to speak.

So in short, I’m going to the protest to do something instead of just complaining about it on here, and to spend some time with my friends who feel the same way.

I also had a conversation with some of my running buddies (men) who were saying that they thought people were making too much fuss about Trump holding Teresa May’s hand.  I went over and grabbed one of their hands while we were walking along and they looked uncomfortable, and I said, now imagine you are in a business meeting – of course it’s creepy and awful and just unprofessional! I don’t know if they agreed with me after my little demonstration.

So apart from Trump, my week has been filled with more running again.   I think I’m pretty much back up to full fitness now, although on Tuesday I had a rehearsal with the soul band and was getting a pain in my stomach when I played in the higher register.  I’m hoping this is just my muscles being a bit weak and the fact that I haven’t played the trumpet for a while.  I’ve decided to do some practice this week – 20 minutes on Wednesday, 30 minutes on Friday and about 40 minutes today.  Wednesday was the worst because it sounded awful.  Today I really enjoyed practising and could hear the improvement already.  However, I don’t have the time to start getting obsessed with the trumpet again, so will have to be careful and limit the time I spend doing it.

Yesterday I went to the Poetry Business Writing Day in Sheffield and really enjoyed myself.  I haven’t been to these workshops for so long that I’d forgotten how inspiring they are.  There must have been at least 30 people sat around writing poem after poem from Ann and Peter’s prompts.  I got to see lots of friends I haven’t seen for ages and I wrote on the train all the way home.  I don’t know if any of it is any good though – I haven’t dared to look yet.

After handing in my RD1 last week I went a bit off the boil with the PhD work and decided to give myself a few days off academic reading.  However, this has given me time to do some writing which I’ve really enjoyed.  I don’t know if any of the poems will be any good, but I’m happy that I’m writing.  And as my friend and colleage at MMU Martin Kratz pointed out when I guiltily confessed to writing poems instead of PhDing ‘writing poems is part of the PhD’.  Doh, of course it is! How exciting is that.  I still can’t get my head around it.

I’ve also been working with one of the Dove Cottage Young Poets Hannah Hodgson, editing some of her poems.  I’ve absolutely loved doing this as Hannah is keen, talented and enthusiastic.  I’ve even made Hannah her own special folder on my pen drive to keep the stuff we’ve been working on together.  There were lots of poets who were kind to me when I was first starting out writing and who encouraged me and gave me advice – if I can do half of what those poets did for me for Hannah then I will be happy.

Today’s Sunday Poem is a bit different to the usual Sunday Poem.  It’s by Matt Bryden.  I think I met Matt for the first time when he came on a writing retreat that I’d organised with some friends – I think he came along with the poet David Borrott.  I’m saying I think because I can only vaguely remember.  The Sunday Poem is taken from a project that Matt has been working on called the Poetry Map.

Now before I continue, I should warn you that clicking on the Poetry Map link may cause you to lose a couple of hours as you poke about on the website.  There is a lot of content there, and it’s a really fascinating site. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  I’ll leave Matt to tell you more about it in his own words below.

About the Poetry Map – Matt Bryden

I first made a prototype of the Poetry Map while at Goldsmiths in 2013. To my amazement, it quickly racked up over 6,000 hits, principally in Canada and China for some reason. This persuaded me that I should develop the idea, but it was not until I was put in touch with web designer Jon Munson II that I could do anything about it. The finished Poetry Map contains 67 poems divided into four themed ‘paths.’ Each poem is located on the map at the place of either its composition or setting. Clicking on a link takes you to the next poem in the sequence.

 

I’ve long been interested in illustrators of poetry such as Reg Lloyd (who worked on Ted Hughes’s What is the Truth?) and why such partnerships are so rarely successful. I think it is because poems need room to breathe. While compiling the map, usual selection criteria did not apply. When I tried to replace one path with a stronger sequence of poems for example, I found that the more fully-realized, perhaps deeper or ‘better’ poems did not work on the screen at all. They seemed flat and not conducive to skipping through to the next poem. So we returned to Plan A. All of the poems have a strong connection to the place they were composed.

 

I’m happy to say that this free online resource has already been used by a university in California and a primary school in Taunton (which worries me a little, as its themes are occasionally quite adult). It was designed as an online experience, and I have been able to add nuances that hard copy cannot always provide – audio recordings, links to hand-written drafts, newspaper clippings and even a transliteration into phonemic script –accessed through clicking on a series of ‘magic tickets.’ However, I did not want to distract too much from the poems, so these are not allowed to dominate. Other features such as the Random option replicate what it is like to flick through a book and settle on a poem indiscriminately. I like the idea that someone might stumble upon this map and find themselves drawn into a rabbit hole, whether they are regular readers of poetry or not.

 

 

 

I’ve chosen a poem as the Sunday Poem from Path Four on the website.  This sequence of poems is called ‘Singles’.  Although the poem I’ve chosen works well on its own, I think reading the other poems on the Path really add to it.

The first couplet is a surprise and delight after the tone set by the word ‘contention’ which made me think that the poem was going to be more formal in its subject matter.  I also agree with the argument of this poem as I have soup every day, so yes, the best kinds of people eat soup.  I love the description of the Argentininan – it is very well drawn – the ‘delicate hands’ and the ‘fine hair’. I like that we don’t know who Lucie is – is she the Argentinian, or another unseen figure? Each one of the poems in this path has close and detailed observation of people and life going on at its heart.  I haven’t read all the poems on all the paths – but I would really recommend putting aside a couple of hours and immersing yourself in the website.

Matt has published two collections. His first pamphlet Night Porter  was published by Templar in 2010 after winning the Templar Pamphlet Competition.  This was followed by a full collection Boxing the Compass, also published by Templar.

His work is widely published in the UK, while his translations of the work of Taiwanese poet Ami have appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation and (in collaboration with Ingrid Fan) The Desire to Sing after Sunset.

Matt Bryden has an MA in Creative and Life Writing from Goldsmiths College.

You can find out more about Matt Bryden from his website here and you can find the Poetry Map here

It’s My Contention – Matt Bryden

for Lucie

that the best kinds
of people eat soup.

Whether at tables
on the South Bank

lifting spoonfuls
from a cardboard cup –

like this slight Argentinian
with delicate hands,

fine hair and a jacket
which attempts

to lend her figure bulk –
or in a pub, asking

the soup of the day, taking
the time to let it cool,

eating at your own pace.

Sunday Poem – Mark Pajak

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Sunday Poem – Mark Pajak

This has been my best week since the gall bladder saga – I’ve managed to run 45 kilometres this week.  My target for the next two weeks at least is to try and get 45 kilometres in each week.  I was talking to my friend about goals, and the importance of having them.   My next goal is to run the Coniston 14 race on March 28th.  I’ve never done it before, but I paid for it before I got ill, and I’m determined to have a good go at it.  I’m not sure what time to aim for, as it is very hilly, and a bit longer than a half-marathon.  I’m also reading at Lancaster Litfest that afternoon at 4pm, so I can’t take any longer than two hours, otherwise I won’t have time to get home, have a shower and cram some food in before setting off to Lancaster again!  I think I’m slightly crazy for attempting this, and I am wondering now whether going home to have a shower is slightly ambitious.  In fact if I have any friends between Coniston and Lancaster who would be willing to let me use their shower on the way, I would be forever grateful, and am sure the audience would be as well as I won’t turn up all sweaty and smelly.

My twin sister is doing the Keswick to Barrow event which takes place on May 6th.  This is a 43 mile walk that is in its 51st year of running.  I was vaguely thinking about doing the walk with her, but I’ve got a soul band gig that night so I’ve decided that it would be a bit ridiculous to try and do both.  However, there is a Coniston to Barrow walk on the same day which is  21 miles, which I think I’m going to have a go at running.  Or maybe run/walking.  This will be the furthest I’ve ran, so I just need to see how the training goes for it over the next few months.

Anyway, enough running talk as one of my esteemed readers, Martin Copley skips over any mention of running as it brings him out in a cold sweat.  This week I’ve also done a bit of poetry stuff as well.  I went to Manchester on the train to the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends reading series on Monday night.  Liz Lochhead was the main guest reader, but as part of the series, students from the MA are invited to read.  My friends Keith Hutson and Hilary Robinson did ten minute sets each and read really well.  There was another student called Ian Walker, who I hadn’t met before who was also very good.  The House Poet who introduces the readers is now two House Poets, John Fennelly and Mark Pajak, and as Keith said when he got up to read, they were a bit like Ant and Dec with their double act.

While I was in Manchester I managed to get a copy of Mark Pajak’s new pamphlet Spitting Distance, and today’s Sunday Poem is the title poem of that pamphlet, but more on that later.  First I have to tell you about the rather exciting headlong gallop through the streets of Manchester.  I sat in the pub for far too long chatting with people and then my friend B and I realised we only had 15 minutes to get to Picadilly and we were a good 25 minute walk away.  We ran all the way from the bar opposite the theatre to the train station which would have been fine, if I hadn’t been carrying a really heavy bag of books just in case I got bored on the train AND wearing stupid boots that are not designed to run in.   I’d also ran 7 miles that morning along the beach so could have done without another couple to be honest.  Anyway we made our train with a minute to spare which was lucky seeing as it was the last one!

Even more exciting than that though is I managed to hand in my RD1! I actually sent it over a day earlier because I couldn’t bear to have it hanging around anymore.  I had to ring the admin guru at the university because I couldn’t find a form that I needed to fill in, and then I had a couple of questions.  I don’t usually like talking on the phone – I have a phobia about it – I come out in a cold sweat! Unless it’s someone I know very well and feel comfortable with and then I’m ok.  Anyway, I usually avoid the phone at all costs, so this may indicate my level of desperation! Anyway D, the university admin guru was brilliant and got me sorted out and now it’s gone, there’s nothing I can do about it which is a great relief. I just have to wait and see if it is passed by the committee now, and I’m not sure how long that will be.

So back to Mark Pajak’s pamphlet Spitting Distance.  I read it in one sitting on the train on the way home, and really enjoyed it.   It was published by Smith/Doorstop in 2016 as part of the ‘Laureate’s Choice’ series.  Mark’s work has been published in The North, Magma and The Rialto and was highly commended in both the Cheltenham and the National Poetry Competitions.  Today’s Sunday Poem is the title poem of his pamphlet, but it is also the poem that won the 2016 Bridport Prize.

It’s easy to see why – the subject of the poem is startling and different.  Perhaps one of the things I most admire in Mark’s work is his ability with simile and metaphor.  He is able to do that rare thing of finding the exact metaphor or simile that is both true to the thing being compared, but also completely surprising.  In Spitting Distance, you can see this in the first couplet, when he writes that the rifle shell he finds is ‘like a gold seed in the earth.’  There is something completely surprising about this, and yet completely correct.  It’s surprising because it is an object that causes death, and it is being compared to something that life springs from.  It also sounds as if the earth has produced the bullet – it is ‘in the earth.’  Later on the bullet is described as a ‘blunt bud’.  A path is described as ‘falling like a braid’ – and I know exactly what he means, although I’ve never walked on that path.

On one hand, the poem is set in a very real landscape.  Mam Tor is named.  We are told about the ‘warped floor of Derbyshire’ and a wonderful description of a chimney which ‘hangs from the sky/on a white string.’  Yet there is also something strange about this poem.  Surreal isn’t quite the right word, but things are slightly odd.  The speaker in the poem has a strange way of thinking about things, and we know this right from the second couplet when he says ‘So I load it into my mouth/and go on walking.’  Again, that word ‘load’ pre-empts the later line ‘So this is what it’s like to be a gun’.  A lesser poet might have just said ‘So I put it into my mouth’ or ‘place it in my mouth’ or ‘pop it in my mouth’ but load fits with loading a gun.

There are no motives offered for the strange behaviour and later on it gets stranger still, when the speaker lies down in the heather to be ‘A body with a bullet/in its head staring at this sky.’  Of course the speaker is pretending to be a dead body with a bullet in its head, but the speaker also is a body with a bullet in its head.   Of course, Mark Pajak isn’t the first poet to imagine life as a gun.  Emily Dickinson’s famous poem ‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun’ starts

‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun
In Corners – till a Day
The Owner passed – identified –
And Carried Me away

In Emily Dickinson’s poem, the gun is carried away by the ‘owner’ and put to use.  The gun is both passive and active.  It is active only in another’s hands.  In Mark’s poem, the bullet is the thing that instigates change – first it changes the body of the speaker into a gun, and then it changes it back into a body, but a dead one.

There is ‘the red dot of a car’ which made me think of looking through the sights of a gun to aim and shoot.  The poem is a masterclass in ensuring that all the language and imagery contained within it is working together and pulling its own weight.  Definitely one of the poems I’ve read and wished I’d written it myself!

If you’d like to order Spitting Distance you can do so by going to the Smith/Doorstop website.  I hope you enjoy the poem.

 

Spitting Distance – Mark Pajak

Near Edale, I find a live rifle shell
like a gold seed in the earth.
+++++++++++++++++++++++
So I load it into my mouth
and go on walking, the sun
+++
breathing down my neck,
the head of Mam Tor rising
++++
and the path falling like a braid.
So this is what it’s like to be a gun;
+++
copper bleeding on the gums,
the domino click in the teeth.
+++
At the blue summit, I look down
with my new perspective
+++
on the warped floor of Derbyshire,
to where a village pools in a valley
+++
and a chimney hands from the sky
on a white string.  And I watch
+++
with hunger the red dot of a car
stop at a crossroads.  I suck hard
++++
on the blunt bud, drawing out
its deeper flavour of powder,
____
smoke down the barrel
of my throat.  Then it hits me
____
that there’s another side to this.
And I lay in the warm heather.
++++
A body with a bullet
in its head staring at this sky.
++++
Its clouds blown open.
Its sudden night.