Sunday Poem – Kate Wakeling

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Sunday Poem – Kate Wakeling

I had beautiful clear-white pages in my diary this week.  It has been the first week in ages I’ve not been gallivanting around the place.  I spent a large portion of it doing my tax return, or more accurately, filling in my spreadsheet so that I can work out what to put in my tax return.  I usually wait till the last possible moment to do my return as I hate doing it so much.  However, this year I was motivated by the possibility of getting some money back, now I’m a student.  I’ve pretty much finished it, but it took me most of the week, and I’m just letting it all settle before I file it on Monday.

So that hasn’t been much fun – on the other hand, it is heartening to know that I can make a living from poetry and that my freelance income has steadily increased over the last five or so years of working as a poet, without having to go out and look for work.  I feel very lucky that my work doesn’t feel like work, and I suppose filling in the tax return does bring that home.

I have managed to fit some PhD reading in though.  I’ve worked through three chapters of a book called Reading Poetry: An Introduction by Tom Furniss and Michael Bath.

The first chapter asks the reader to think about different poems about poetry and to articulate the theory of poetry they are promoting.  In the chapter Keats ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ and Blake’s ‘The Tyger’ are used as different examples of theories about creativity or poetry.  Other poems that I like that they ask you to read are ‘The Author to her Book‘ by Anne Bradstreet and Archibald MacLeish ‘Ars Poetica‘.

It reminded me that when I first wrote my poem ‘The Master Engraver’, Ann Sansom said something about the poem being really about writing poetry.  I remember being doubtful at the time – I’d listened to a program about engraver Graham Short on Radio 4 in my car, when one of my schools cancelled the lesson because the children were on a trip.  I was sitting in my car, wasting time before driving to my next school and it felt like my heart moved when I heard Graham’s description of his work and when that happens I have to write a poem.

When I wrote the poem I just wanted to write a poem about Graham Short.  In this textbook I’ve been reading though, the authors talk quite a bit about the problem of the ‘author’s intention’, that when we read poetry, we assume that the purpose is to discover the poet’s intention when writing it.  They talk about T.S Eliot and the New Critics differing approach to this, and quoting from the textbook here they argue that ‘a poem should be read on its own terms rather than in terms of author’s statements about his or her intentions when writing it’.

They then go on to outline four problems with the notion of authorial intention – the problem of access, the possibility that poets might deliberately mislead readers about their intentions or forget what their intentions were, that there may be meanings they did not consciously intend or were aware of, and lastly why the author’s intentions should be privileged over what the text itself says.

I’m quoting or paraphrasing briefly Reading Poetry: An Introduction here. The third problem, that there may be meanings they did not consciously intend or were aware of is the one that interests me at the moment, in relation to my own poem.  When I read it back now, it feels like my own theory of poetics or theory of creativity, which I wasn’t aware I was writing.

When Graham Short talked about waiting, of working late at night, of being completely alone, of this complete commitment, of requiring both the body and the mind to be controlled and focused, of it being hard work without it feeling like work, it was something I found deeply moving.  I never really thought about why, until now, but Ann’s comment has always sat in the back of my head, waiting to be unpacked and thought about, like all comments from the best of our teachers.

Does it matter that I didn’t write the poem meaning it to be a statement about writing poetry? I don’t think so -I think if I’d set out to write about writing poetry, it probably would have been a terrible poem.  My ignorance is probably what saved it!

You can find ‘The Master Engraver; in my pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves and my first collection The Art of Falling (available from Seren at a discount of 50% till midnight tonight) or over at The Ofi Press magazine, where it was first published.

My one poetry outing this week was to the annual Simon Armitage reading in Grasmere.  It was a great atmosphere, I think people were really happy to be at a contemporary poetry reading again at The Wordsworth Trust, and obviously Simon Armitage was brilliant.  So brilliant in fact that due to chatting, I got to the book stall too late to buy his latest collection which was annoying. One of my Dove Cottage Young Poets read as well, Heather Hughes and went down really well.  She didn’t seem fazed at all by the large audience, and Simon even told her that his favourite line of hers ‘She claims to have slipped’ might end up in a poem of his.  Simon was one of my tutors on the MA and this moment of generosity towards a young writer didn’t surprise me, but I did think it was really lovely and I know it meant a lot to Heather.

Today’s Sunday Poem is from a fantastic pamphlet called The Rainbow Faults by Kate Wakeling, which was published in 2016 by The Rialto.  Kate kindly sent me a copy of this pamphlet in March.  I usually skim-read or speed-read things through once, and then if I like them, I put them to one side to read through at a slower pace, so I have two piles of books – ones to read and then ones to read again, which I acknowledge is a complicated way of running things, but I’m a very impatient reader when I read things first of all, especially if I like them straight away, I want to get to the end so I can read them again at a more leisurely pace.  So that is why Kate’s pamphlet has been languishing on my ‘read-again-more-slowly’ pile.

The poem I’ve chosen is ‘Looking Glass’ which just resonated with me straight away.  It picks up on a lot of the things I’ve been reading about form and content in this large textbook I’m wading through, and the more I pick at this poem, the more I like it.

First of all, I love the clever use of verbs in this poem.  The woman ‘sees’ a skeleton.  She ‘sees the beggared skull’.  The skeleton ‘watches’ the woman, and ‘watches her glazed cheek.’  I know ‘sees’ and ‘watches’ are very close in meaning, but for me ‘sees’ is much more passive, whereas ‘watching’ implies action, I think it also implies a kind of knowing or judgement.  This fits with the next line when the woman ‘startles at her blank-boned future’ but the skeleton ‘Wonders at the fallow of her peachiness’.  The skeleton seems detached and in control, the woman is reacting, as if she is one step behind.  I suppose this also fits with the idea of the woman looking toward her future (the skeleton) whereas the skeleton is looking back.

The form of this poem fits brilliantly with the content as well.  The stanzas are a slanted reflection of each other as well.  It’s significant that the poet chose not to put them side by side on the page – they are disjointed.  This is a looking glass, but it is not reflecting reality.  A woman looks into a mirror and sees a skeleton.  A skeleton looks out and watches a woman.  Each line also reflects a later line in the poem, the same but different, an example of parallelism, not exact repetition, but repetition with difference.

The last two lines of this first stanza make me think this poem is about anorexia, which fits with the looking glass not reflecting reality – the wanting of ‘this scrubbed fossil self’, and the creepiness of the ‘sticky breath’ of a demon.  That disgust in the ‘sticky breath’ also fits with concerns of eating or not eating, as does some of the words used in the second stanza, the ‘fallow of her peachiness’ and her ‘glazed cheek’.  There are a few words associated with food here actually.

And the last two lines of the second stanza are just as disturbing.  The skeleton is ‘quick with fatigue at the slog of her pulse’ – so being alive is exhausting.  The last line I’m still puzzling and turning over in my mind.  The implication is that it is the skeleton who ‘looses thrilled surrender across vacant ribs.’  Again this makes me think about eating, or not eating, this emptiness of the ‘vacant ribs’.

If you’ve enjoyed this poem, you can buy a copy of Kate’s poem from The Rialto here

Kate Wakeling grew up in Yorkshire and Birmingham.  She studied music at Cambridge University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, and works as an ethnomusicologist at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance and as writer-in-residence with Aurora Orchestra.  Her poetry has appeared in magazines and anthologies including The Rialto, Magma, Oxford Poetry, The Best British Poetry 2014 (Salt) and The Forward Book of Poetry 2016.

 

Looking Glass – Kate Wakeling

Woman looks at mirror
Sees skeleton
Sees the beggared skull
Startles at her blank-boned future
Is dense with want for this scrubbed fossil self
Feels sticky breath of demon at her elbow

L

))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))
))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))Skeleton looks out of mirror
)))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))Watches woman
))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))Watches her glazed cheek
))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))Wonders at the fallow of her peachiness
))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))Is quick with fatique at the slog of her pulse
))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))Looses thrilled surrender across vacant ribs

Tŷ Newydd and That Report

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Tŷ Newydd and That Report

Last week, I saw via a post on Facebook that an Independent Review of Support for Publishing and Literature in Wales had been published.  Within those pages the Tŷ Newydd Creative Writing Centre had received damaging criticism, which is so at odds with my experience of Tŷ Newydd that I feel obliged to write this in support of Tŷ Newydd

You can find the report here

The paragraph below is taken directly from the report.

Tŷ Newydd seems to be mainly aimed at ‘retired hobbyists’ but it was unclear who Tŷ Newydd caters for and why it is receiving public subsidy. It was also unclear how many individuals, who have attended a course at Tŷ Newydd, have gone on to publish a book. This kind of residential literary course is viewed by many to be outdated in the current creative writing boom in the digital age . Tŷ Newydd offers little for professional writers or disadvantaged areas  [despite being located in a convergence area where GDP is low which should provide opportunities for it to do so]

Where do I start with this? It seems strange to me that in a comprehensive report, the writers didn’t bother to find out from Tŷ Newydd who they cater for – surely this question would have been answered with a simple conversation? I’ve since found out that nobody visited Tŷ Newydd, prior to publishing the report, which perhaps explains this.

I first went to Tŷ Newydd in 2007.  Back then I was 25 years old and working as a full time Peripatetic Brass Teacher for Cumbria Music Service.  Hardly a ‘retired hobbyist’ then, but I take umbrage with that rather offensive term anyway – do they want retired people to stay at home and not engage in creative activities, despite the widely recognised health benefits?

However, I was definitely a ‘hobbyist’ – I had not published anything anywhere or even thought about publishing.  I hadn’t read a poetry magazine, or even many poetry collections.  I had a career as a music teacher and I was performing on and off in orchestras and shows. I was also extremely unhappy. Teaching was (and is) a difficult and stressful job.  I’d always wanted to be a professional musician, but anxiety and low self-esteem were making any professional work I did get as a trumpet player extremely painful.  I joined a poetry group, Fourth Monday Poets and one of the poets there, Jennifer Copley, gave me a brochure for Tŷ Newydd and told me I’d enjoy it.  So I booked a week’s residential with Sarah Kennedy and Nigel Jenkins in the summer holidays of 2007.

I was also quite poor after years of being a student, and the staff at Tŷ Newydd let me pay for my course monthly which was a huge help.  That week at Tŷ Newydd completely changed my life.  I’ve written before about the impact of the tutors, Nigel and Sarah, and how their encouragement and enthusiasm and kindness made a huge difference to me.  But Tŷ Newydd is a magical place, it has the same magic that Lumb Bank has that I wrote about last week.  That magic is hard to explain, but there is something special about going to a place that is dedicated to writers and writing and being creative.

So when I first went to Tŷ Newydd I was a ‘hobbyist’.  I remained a hobbyist for another five years or so, except I was an obsessive hobbyist, and poetry became this huge and important thing in my life.  Over the years I carried on going to Tŷ Newydd on other residentials and each one was the catalyst for other events.  I went on the Masterclass with Gillian Clarke and Carol Ann Duffy.  After this week, I decided to take the plunge and apply for a place on the MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University which I was accepted on to.  I went on a course with Ian Duhig and Ruth Padel and wrote many of the poems which made it into my first collection, published in 2015.  I went on a residential with Alan Jenkins and Fiona Sampson, which again, was a life-changing week which pushed my poetry further and gave me the confidence to raise my ambitions for my own work.

So in answer to the sentence in the report that asks how many individuals went on to publish a book after attending Tŷ Newydd, well I’m one of them, and surely as the writers of this report, they could find out this information fairly easily? I could put a Facebook post up and find out.   But this question kind of misses the point of Tŷ Newyddand of residential courses for me.  They are not there to make sure that all participants publish a book.  Residential courses are physical and mental spaces where like-minded people can come and escape from the stress and pressures of their everyday lives and put themselves and their own creativity first, not with the aim of publishing something, maybe not with any purpose at all except to be creative.

I didn’t go to Tŷ Newydd to become a published poet.  I went because I loved poetry and I wanted to sit and read and write and talk about it for a week.  I went because I felt like I was suffocating in my life and I needed to do something different.  Other people go to improve their writing.  Other people go because they are lonely and it is a holiday.  Other people go because once a year they like to go and write poetry and then forget about it until the next year.   Other people go because they want the chance to study with a poet they’ve always admired.  Other people go because they desperately want to be published.  Who is to say which reason is more valid, and one of the things I love about residentials is that there is a whole mix of reasons of why people are there.  If there was just a whole cohort of people desperate to be published it would make for a rather miserable week.

I’ve also met some wonderful people on these courses – call it networking if that makes it more ‘measurable’ in terms of report writing, I prefer to call it friendship.  I met one of my best friends  on a residential, who was then my bridesmaid at my wedding years later.  I met some fantastic poets who I’ve worked with and read with since then.  Living in a geographically isolated area, this is another aspect of going on a residential that is really important to me.

Fast forward ten years, and I’ve been working as a professional poet for about the last five years, gradually reducing my music teaching and building up my freelance writing career.  I’ve performed at festivals in Croatia, Ireland, Holland and all over the UK.  I’ve ran workshops and residentials.  Two years ago I went back to Tŷ Newyddand tutored with the poet Clare Shaw on a schools course. Last year I went back as a guest poet on a course run by Jonathan Edwards and Patience Agbabi.  I’ve just got back from being a guest poet at Lumb Bank on a residential week with Peter and Ann Sansom as the tutors.  It felt pretty amazing to be sitting and giving a reading, knowing that my journey as a writer really started on a residential course.

As for the sentence in the report

This kind of residential literary course is viewed by many to be outdated in the current creative writing boom in the digital age

says who? Who are the many?  This sentence made me laugh out loud.  There is no evidence that I know of to support this.  I run my own residential courses now at hotels in the Lake District and Cornwall, and I never have trouble with filling the places.  This sentence shows again, a distinct lack of understanding about the atmosphere and magic of a creative writing course, which as brilliant as digital courses are (and I tutor on those as well) cannot be replicated online, no matter how good the course is.  And online courses are not trying to replicate residential courses anyway, nor should they try to – they are fulfilling a completely different need.  In my experience, again of tutoring on online courses and taking part in them, they are great for people who can’t put their lives down and go off for a week, so it is like comparing apples with oranges as the saying goes.

I would also like to say that there was a year when I couldn’t afford to go on a residential course I really wanted to go on. My husband had finished his full time job to start his own business and we were living on my salary alone.  I  wrote to Tŷ Newydd, explained my situation and they gave me a bursary for half the amount, and again let me pay the other half off monthly.  I wouldn’t class myself as a disadvantaged writer, but when I have struggled financially they have bent over backwards to ensure I could access the courses.

Lastly, I would like to say that over the years of becoming and working as a professional poet, Tŷ Newydd has been a sustaining and enriching force in my life.  I don’t think I’ve ever told them this.  I can imagine the staff are feeling pretty devastated by the report.  I wanted to write this blog post to let them know that they and the work they do has had a huge and immeasurable effect on my life.  Everything I’ve written about changing jobs, becoming a writer, everything that has happened to me since then are measurable things.  I’m now a full time PhD student and I get to read and write and think about poetry all day.  The immeasurable things – my mental health, my happiness, my feeling of finally realising what I wanted to do, the friendships I’ve made – I can’t quantify those things.

I haven’t got many photos of Tŷ Newydd (too busy at the time having fun to take photos) but I did find these ones.

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The group one is of the Gillian Clarke and Carol Ann Duffy masterclass.  I am hiding at the back. The next one I think is a course I went on with Jo Shapcott and Daljit Nagra where I was bullied into playing the trumpet in the evening.  This was 2010 – the rest are all of the CAD and Clarke course.  .

Sunday Poem – Pauline Yarwood

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Sunday Poem – Pauline Yarwood

This week I’ve spent a bit of time planning my summer holidays.  In  August, I’m off to Macedonia to read at the Struga Poetry Festival, as part of the Versopolis project.  I’ll be at the festival for nearly a week, and then my husband is meeting me in Skopje and we’re going on our own holiday.  We’re going to stay in Ohrid for one night and then drive down to northern Greece and walk 17 km up Mount Olympus,  stay in a refuge near the summit for one night, before walking back down the next day.

I’m also going to Benidorm at the beginning of the summer holidays, on what is turning into an annual holiday with some of the women I run with.  This will be my luxury, sit around the pool and generally laze about holiday.

On Monday, Pauline and I finished the obligatory report on Kendal Poetry Festival for the Arts Council.  It took us five hours, but we were determined that we wanted to get the thing handed in and finished, so we can start work on next year’s festival.  Filling in the after activity report is not one of the fun things about running a festival so I’m glad that over with.

On Tuesday I had my meeting with my supervisor about my first attempt at 5000 words.  I feel so much better about the PhD.  We had a really good conversation about what I’d written and where I needed to improve, and also a frank discussion about the nature of a creative PhD, and that a lot of the critical writing will need to be directed by my creative writing, and that this way of working is going to be a challenge.  My supervisor also said she felt really excited about my project though which was really encouraging.   My main job over the summer is to get some reading done of writing about poetry.  I thought I would ease into it gently and start with Glyn Maxwell’s On Poetry as I’ve been wanting to read it for ages.   

I really enjoyed reading this book – perhaps the thing that has stayed with me the most, or given me the most to think about are his thoughts on stanza breaks.  He refers to W.B Yeats ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ to discuss what happens in the white space between stanzas.  He asks what happens in between the stanzas and then answers ‘A change of place, a passing of time.’  He also talks about comparing stanza breaks to scene changes in a film, saying that ‘Some stanza breaks are cuts, some are fades, some are dissolves’.

This has given me lots to think about in relation to my own work but I’ve already started to use some of this in the workshops I’ve ran this weekend with Dove Cottage Young Poets and my Barrow Poetry Workshop.

On Wednesday I drove over to Lumb Bank in Heptonstall.  I was the guest poet on Ann and Peter Sansom’s Arvon course.  I can’t tell you how excited I was to do this – I’ve never been to Lumb Bank before, and it really is a magical place.  The scenery is so beautiful and it was such nice weather, I basically dumped my bag in the cottage and went straight out for a run through the woods and then back along the fields.  I only did 2 miles as I’d been out on Tuesday night and done a 7 mile run and I didn’t want to overdo it.

Then I got back, had a shower and then went for dinner with Ann and Peter and the course participants, and Jill, the assistant centre director, and then did the reading after dinner, sold lots of books, had a cup of tea with some of the course participants and then collapsed into bed! It meant a lot to me to be invited to do this because my whole journey as a poet and a writer started on a residential course, not at Lumb Bank, but at Ty Newydd in Wales.  That first residential that I went on completely changed my life, so it feels pretty amazing to go and be a guest poet on one.

The next day I got up early and went for a run with one of the people booked on the course who I will call D, as I forgot to ask permission to mention him here.  It was a great run, through the woods again but this time crossing the river.  I needed to be back in half an hour, however we got a bit lost and whilst D was bounding up and down the hills to find the right path I was puffing and panting behind trying to keep up.  D was a lot fitter than I thought, which was lucky really as it meant he could scout ahead.  It was a bit like that scene in Lord of the Rings when Gimli the dwarf is puffing along and Legolas speeds on ahead.

I needed to be back in half an hour so I could get to Kendal for 10.30am because I had an appointment to get my tattoo finished.  I managed to get there on time with minutes to spare, and I don’t know if it was because I was exhausted from the run, but the pain was nowhere near as bad as the first session on the tattoo a couple of weeks ago.

This brings us up to date with this weekend which I spent running Dove Cottage Young Poets on Friday, Brewery Poets on Friday night and then running my Barrow Poetry Workshop all day Saturday.  Next week I have a fairly quiet week, so I’m hoping to get lots of reading done and some poetry writing.

So today’s Sunday Poem is by Pauline Yarwood, who as well as being the co-director of Kendal Poetry Festival, is also a very good poet in her own right.  Her first pamphlet Image Junkie has just been published by Wayleave Press and her official launch was a couple of weeks ago.  It’s a great pamphlet and available from Wayleave Press for the bargain price of £5.

Reading through the pamphlet again, I realised that although a lot of the poems are concerned with visual themes (unsurprising as Pauline is a potter) many of the poems also explore the problem of speaking out, not speaking at all, speaking too much, who gets to speak and who doesn’t.  In ‘The Left Wing Coffee Bar, Manchester’ the ‘ex-POW fathers/told us you understand nothing,/nothing’. There are lots of other examples of direct speech in the poems, such as in’La Flaneuse’, ‘Basking Shark’ and ‘The Hare’ and often people are talking too much or not talking enough. 

The poem I’ve chosen  for the Sunday Poem this week is called’Put-downs’.  The hurtful things people can say to other people is something that seems to be on my mind a lot recently.  Helen Mort has just written a great blog about the effect that unsolicited advice and comments can have, which you can read here where she writes back to a male writer who offered some unnecessarily cruel and personal unsolicited remarks.  In the blog, Helen says

I’m sorry for writing an essay back in response to a short email. But sometimes, a few words online can spill over into someone’s life and have quite a profound effect, so I thought it was worth trying to put that into words

This really struck me when I read this.  Maybe it’s something that we all forget too often, that what we say and do can have a profound effect on other people.  Pauline’s poem discusses the effect that words and comments by family members can have on the self, not only as a child but as an adult as well.

The familiar phrase of ‘You’re a sight for sore eyes’ becomes unfamiliar in the poem as the gran gets it ‘the wrong way round’.  There is something funny in this misuse of the phrase at first, and the descriptions of the speaker ‘scratched and bleeding from climbing trees’ or ‘once hiding in tall grass being shown how boys pee’ has real energy and life to it.

By the end of the poem, this humour is wiped out.  There is a sense of something left unsaid with the description of the gran as ‘A woman wrapped in loss’ but this untold story is quickly moved on with the introduction of another familiar phrase.  The last three lines of the poem I found completely chilling, and in particular the last two lines: ‘She could destroy you six different ways with this/depending on where she put the emphasis.’ These two lines send you back to the line before with the phrase ‘who do you think you are’.  I couldn’t help myself but try and put the emphasis in different ways.  When you do this, when you practice saying ‘Who do you think YOU are’ or ‘Who do you think you ARE’ or ‘Who DO you think you are’ it is almost like the Gran emerges and forms, in the white space around the poem.

Thanks to Pauline for letting me post this poem! Here’s to a week, no even better a life of no put-downs and kindness to wash over us all.

Put-downs 
Pauline Yarwood

My gran got it the wrong way round.
You’re a sight for sore eyes, she’d snap,
sharp, when I snuck in through the back door.
I’d be grubby from digging pits for dens
or scratched and bleeding from climbing trees,
red-faced from riding my bike a few feet
further than I was allowed to go,
then a sweaty race back hoping not to be seen,
and once hiding in tall grass being shown how boys pee.
It was years before I realised that being
a sight for sore eyes was a good thing,
a joy to behold.  But I was never that,
just a scruffy kid hoping for toast and marmite
and a bit of a welcome.  She could, I suppose,
have meant that me looking like something
the cat dragged in cheered her up, made her smile.
But that wasn’t my gran.  A woman wrapped in loss,
her other favourite phrase, which never leaves me,
was who do you think you are.
She could destroy you six different ways with this
depending on where she put the emphasis. 

 

Sunday Poem – Katie Hale

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Sunday Poem – Katie Hale

This morning, my lovely husband said ‘Let’s have an easy Sunday today and not go for a long walk’ (which was what we’d planned).  Ok, I said, thinking longingly of the multiple episodes of Love Island I have to catch up on, having been away most of the week (more news of that later).

I decided an easy Sunday meant I would go for a run with the Walney Wind Cheetahs to make up for not going for a walk.  It was a bit of a rush as I went out last night for a meal with friends and then to see a band.  I got back home at about midnight, so I decided not to set my alarm.  I woke up at 9.30am and somehow got to the meeting point by 10am, even managing to be in appropriate running gear rather than pyjamas.

When I got back from the run, which was very hilly and my first seven mile run since I’ve been injured, the ever-inspired husband asked me to come and walk the dogs with him.  Two hours later, having trekked over fields with cows that eyeballed me ferociously (husband said they were just curious) and a sheep that sneezed and scared itself and me, causing us both to run in opposite directions and numerous stiles covered in nettles we finally arrived back home.

The easy Sunday wasn’t over yet – husband then decided he was going to paint the garden shed, so I felt obliged to do some weeding.  I’ve just escaped, using my blog as an excuse (knew there was a good reason to do it every Sunday).  Luckily for me he never reads it so I can say what I like!

My twin sister once quite rightly pointed out a while ago that I hate doing anything I’m not already good at, which is completely true.  In the last few years she has learnt to scuba dive and ski on various holidays, whereas for me, that would be my worst nightmare – the potential of embarrassing myself in front of people by being rubbish far outweighs the benefits of being able to ski or scuba dive.

This PhD has been really challenging for me this year for lots of reasons.  Being ill and taken into hospital and an emergency operation didn’t help.  But probably running deeper than that is this mortal fear of embarrassing myself by being rubbish. I never had this feeling when I showed people my poetry for the first time, but I’ve definitely had it worrying away at me as I’ve been writing the 5000 words for my supervisor.  Despite this, I’ve really enjoyed writing it, and although I’m a bit nervous about the meeting next Tuesday to discuss it, I’m also looking forward to it as well.

One thing you aren’t told before you start a PhD is that you will know yourself a lot better than you did before you started.  I didn’t agree with what my twin sister said to me at the time, but I do now! I also didn’t know how much I need goals to work towards, not to make sure I’m doing some work, but also so that I feel like I’m doing some work, so that I’ve got something to show for it.  I’ve also learnt that to be a successful PhD student you need to ask for things, like meetings with supervisors and people’s time and advice.  I find asking for things excrutiating, so again another thing I’ve had to get over and just get on with.

Although I’ll just keep going with the PhD over the summer, it does feel like the end of the year.  I had my end of year review last week which went really well.  My report from my Director of Studies (Michael Symmons Roberts) was really positive and encouraging, so I feel more confident about the PhD.

On Wednesday I got the 5.23am train from Barrow to Newcastle (who knew there was such a thing as a 5.23am train?).  I spent Wednesday to Friday at the English: Shared Futures conference, my first academic conference.  The lovely poet Emily Blewitt invited me to take part in a discussion about Creative/Critical practice, and on the Wednesday night I gave my first mini, 15 minute academic paper! It was perfect timing really as I took some of what I’d done as part of the 5000 words and included three poems I’ve written during the PhD.  Kate Fox also talked about her own work – she is at the end of her PhD so it was really interesting to hear her thoughts.

I had some really great feedback as well, so much in fact that I’m in danger of believing  I did ok.  I loved being at the conference as well.  I went to an event with Hannah Lowe, Mary Jean Chan and Jennifer Wong about borders and place in poetry, and then a Salon with Helen Mort. I wanted to go and see how poets moved around in this academic setting, and I’m glad I did, because I really enjoyed the papers, and it made me a little more confident that I could do the same thing.

It felt wonderfully decadent to spend three whole days learning things, listening to people talk about something they felt really passionate about. My other favourite moments of the weekend were hearing the plenary speech from Deborah Cameron.  The title was ‘Language, and the Problem of Female Authority’. She said that a better title might have been ‘Language, and the Problem WITH Female Authority.’

The last event I went to was about Sexual Misconduct in Universities which is basically at epidemic levels.  This event completely blew my mind.  It was really upsetting, but also very inspiring as well.  It made me think differently about things that have happened to me in my life and how to name them.  This blog post is already way too long, so I think I will probably return to this subject another time when I have got my thoughts a little bit clearer about it.

So it has been an exhilarating week! I got back from Newcastle at 6pm and then went straight out to the launch of Pauline Yarwood and Katie Hale’s pamphlets at Crosthwaite Village Hall.  I was pretty shattered by the time I got there, but it was a great event and I didn’t feel tired once the poetry got going.  Three of my Dove Cottage Young Poets read as well, which was great.  There was a fantastic turnout in the hall and it looked like Pauline and Katie sold lots of pamphlets!

paulinekatielaunch

Next week I’ll be posting a poem from Pauline’s pamphlet, but this week, I’ve got a poem from Katie’s to share.  Katie has had one amazing year with her writing.  Her pamphlet Breaking the Surface was published with Flipped Eye about a month ago.  She recently won the Jane Martin Poetry Prize and the Ware Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize.  She also came second in the Tannahill International Poetry Competition.  Her poetry has been published in Poetry Review, The North and Interpreter’s House, among others.  Katie also writes fiction and is currently being mentored for her first novel, ‘My Name Is Monster’ by Penguin Random House on their inaugral Write Now scheme.  Her musical The Inevitable Quiet of the Crash, co-written with composer Stephen Hyde will premier at Edinburgh Fringe.  I did say she’d had a pretty fantastic year – a lot of these successes have happened quite recently.  I did wonder, but forgot to ask Katie whether it coincided with her decision to give up full time employment and become a freelance writer.  There is something powerful I think about giving your time and energy to something – good things happen!

The poem I’ve chosen ‘The Raven Speaks’ is one of my favourites in the pamphlet. The raven in this poem is the one let out by Noah from the ark to find land.  I really like the creation and development of the raven’s personality throughout this poem – it’s sense of independence: ‘is it any wonder I didn’t come back?’ and it’s disdain for the stink of the ship, but mostly for the ‘lily-winged dove’ and its understanding, or interpretation of the dove’s true nature as being ‘pampered’ but also deadly.  In fact when you get to the surprise of the end of the poem, and return again to the beginning and the quote from Genesis, you realise that it is not the dove which is deadly, but Noah, and by representation Man, who will conquer the earth again, once the flood waters recede.

One of the things Katie does brilliantly throughout the pamphlet is description – she has pin-point accuracy.  You can see this in the ‘mad tessellation of wood’ and ‘the lift and slump of horizon’ and the ‘chorus of sunlight’.  I also loved the ‘drowned fish’ which made me stop and think – the use of that phrase makes the reader realise the speed with which the water receded, meaning fish were stranded on the ‘rocky/dump of mud’.

You can hear Katie reading the poem at her website here and you can buy her pamphlet here for the bargain price of £4

 

The Raven Speaks – Katie Hale 

/////////////////‘All the animals, birds and fish will live in fear of you. They are all placed ////////////////under your power.’
//////////////////////////////////////////////// – Genesis 9:2

For a month or more, he kept us
in the dark, locked
in his mad tessellation of wood.

Through a slip of it, we could see
the lift and slump of horizon,
and on rougher days
shards of air forced themselves
through the gap

When he took me
from the hull, led me up
and out towards the day…

to feel the chorus of sunlight on my feathers,
the freshness of salt
scouring from me the greyness of captivity…
when they unhooked my claw
from the metal ring, and made me soar –
is it any wonder I didn’t come back?

I found land: a rocky
dump of mud and drowned fish,
the single resilient
olive branch. It stank
fierce as the ship I’d left behind.

I saw her coming,
that lily-winged dove. Hid.
Watched her pinch that little spurt of green
in her petite, pampered beak,
and promptly nip it, dead.

Sunday Poem – Emily Blewitt

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Sunday Poem – Emily Blewitt

It’s been a pretty full-on week this week!  Yesterday I had a lovely poetry marathon, like I used to in the Olden Days.  I started off doing 5k at park run – I thought I would have a good go and see how much fitness I’ve lost because of this ridiculous IT band injury which is hopefully (touch wood) gone now.  I did 23 and a half minutes which I’m pretty pleased with – and more importantly no knee pain! Hurrah etc.

After park run I went to Grasmere to the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition reading.  Three of the four winning poets were there.  I enjoyed the reading, but it was bloody freezing in the Jerwood Centre, to the point where I actually found it hard to concentrate.  I haven’t been there for so long I forgot how cold it is – good for Wordsworth’s manuscripts but not good for poetry audiences.  I bought all of the four pamphlets though so I will peruse them in the warmth and comfort of my own house.

In the evening we had our June Poem and a Pint event at Greenodd Village Hall.  What a brilliant night it was.  We had lots of people turning up to read on the Open Mic, brilliant music from Bradyll Friends, an acapella choir and Emily Berry, our guest poet was absolutely brilliant.  Her first set was quite funny, she uses a dry irony in her work which I love.  The second set from her latest book Stranger, Baby I found really moving.  I’ve just reviewed Stranger, Baby for the next issue of ‘Under the Radar’ magazine,  along with another fantastic collection by Sabrina Mahfouz called How You Might Know Me.  

I went on a training course to learn how to use EndNote at the beginning of the week at uni. This software will hopefully make doing the bibliography and referencing side of things for my critical work much easier.   I’ve got to hand in 5000 words to my supervisor next week, and I’ve been steadily progressing with it.  This is a bit weird, but I’ve actually really enjoyed using EndNote to do my references.  I’ve also really enjoyed writing the 5000 words.  If I take out of the equation my anxiety about whether I’m doing it ‘right’, if I forget about worrying whether I’m any good at it or not, if that has nothing to do with it at all, then I’ve absolutely loved doing the writing.

Also at the beginning of the week, I had a meeting about the 2018 Kendal Poetry Festival.  Yes, it actually never ends, and although we are still finishing the report for this year’s festival, we are already having to start thinking and planning for next year’s festival! It was a really positive meeting however, and I’m already feeling a little bit excited about next year.  Last week, I was full of what I am going to refer to as festival fatigue – this week, I feel much better, more myself and almost ready to do it all again.

Mid week I had my Annual Review Meeting with the lovely Helen Mort.  Helen was so enthusiastic about my project, and it was great to have a chance to talk through how the year has gone. As part of the review, I had to upload evidence of what I’ve been doing, so I gathered together the poems I’ve written this year – I think there were about 27 of them, which I’m not sure if that sounds like a lot or not.  Helen is probably the first person to read them all together and she was so positive and encouraging about them that I came away feeling a lot more confident in my own work.

I found out last week that I’ve had four of my ‘All The Men I Never Married’ poems accepted for publication in the next issue of The Rialto, which I’m really pleased about – and I think that’s about it for my news!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by the fabulous Emily Blewitt, who I met when she came on a residential course that I ran quite a while ago now at Abbot Hall in Grange Over Sands.  I thought she was a fantastic poet back then, so I was really happy for her when I found that my publisher Seren were publishing her first collection.

Emily was born in Carmarthen, Wales.  She studied at Oxford and York, and has a PhD from Cardiff University, where she specialised in poetic representations of pregnancy in nineteenth century and contemporary women’s writing.  She has published poetry in The Rialto, Ambit, Poetry Wales, The Interpreter’s House, Furies, Hinterland, Brittle Star and Cheval.  Her first full-length collection This Is Not A Rescue was published by Seren a few months ago.  The title poem of the collection was Highly Commended in the 2016 Forward Prizes in the Best Published Poem category.

I took this poem to a session I ran with Dove Cottage Young Poets and it went down really well.  The young poets really liked the poem, and they wrote some fantastic response poems to it as well.  I really like the one line statements, and the way the voice of the dance teacher is both sustained and developed throughout the poem.  As the poem goes on, the personality of the teacher and the relationship between the teacher and the student becomes more apparent.

Everything seems professional until the sixth line ‘If you don’t like me smoking, sit over there’ which says so much in so few words! We know the student doesn’t like smoking.  We know the dance teacher doesn’t care, but not in a horrible way.  I think we get a sense of the time period as well – some time in the 80s perhaps, when smoking teachers could still get away with it.

That line ‘You’re blushing again’ is wonderfully understated as well, showing the growing awareness of the student of her own body.  I think the use of phrases and cliches here works really well, such as ‘If you don’t use it you lose it’ and ‘It takes a bit of grit to make a pearl.’

Although there is a level of inappropriateness here in some of the lines, things  I wouldn’t say as a teacher, such as ‘You’re as flat-chested as I am’ – for me there is still a deep level of affection there, particularly in lines such as ‘You remind me of me when I was your age’.  There is also humour as well of course ‘If I had my time again, I’d be a historian.’  The teachers seems like a real character, who both uses well worn phrases and cliches, and then comes out with unexpected and random things.

I would really recommend ordering this collection.  If there was any justice it should be on a First Collection shortlist but even if it doesn’t make it on to one, buy it anyway! You can get it with 20% off from the Seren website here.


Things My Dance Teacher Used to Say – Emily Blewitt

Chassés are chasing steps

To spiral, you spin slowly and trail your pointed foot

Practise standing on one leg

Use contrary body motion

Your arms should show control and musical interpretation

If you don’t like me smoking, sit over there

It shouldn’t burn

Keep your eyes up

You’re blushing again

You’re as flat-chested as I am

If you don’t use it you lose it

If you don’t click this time, there’s something wrong with you

You’re too naive

You’re not afraid to swing those hips

I was a loose cannon

I used to sprint barefoot at school

You remind me of me when I was your age

If I had my time again, I’d be a historian

Use resistance

It takes a bit of grit to make a pearl

Sunday Poem – Ayelet Mckenzie

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Sunday Poem – Ayelet Mckenzie

I’m writing this in the back garden today – it’s vaguely sunny here in Barrow, and now I’m running again, I like being outdoors most of the time.  I’m not sure if it’s to do with circulation or what, but basically, if my running is going ok I just want to be outdoors all the time, and I don’t feel the cold.  If I’m not able to run, I revert back to how I’ve been for the first thirty odd years of my life, which is sitting indoors with blankets and the fire on full blast.

I am breaking my self-imposed rule today of writing my blog only every two weeks.  Basically I miss doing it! And also, quite a few people have sent me pamphlets, or I’ve bought their book or pamphlet and really enjoyed them, and I can’t keep up with them all doing the blog every other week.  So I will see how it goes – I might lapse again but I miss the discipline of writing every week.

I feel like myself for the first time since Kendal Poetry Festival finished.  I’ve had quite a difficult week, and I know Pauline, my co-director has had a hard time this week as well.  I think (for me anyway – can’t speak for Pauline) that it’s a combination of being on full adrenalin all weekend and then all the excitement is suddenly over.  So there is a bit of a come-down to start with.  I have felt so mentally tired this week though – like I couldn’t be bothered to read anything and certainly not write anything.  Sadly, in the world of putting a festival on, things don’t completely stop once everyone has gone home.  We have a report to write for the Arts Council, we have to ensure everyone gets paid, so all of that is carrying on when all I really wanted to do this week is collapse in a heap!

This week I met my supervisor to talk about some poems that I sent through as part of the PhD.  It feels strange still having the luxury of having a poet I really admire looking at my work, and it’s exciting as well.  Already I feel like I’m pushing myself further.  The poems that I thought were the least finished got a more positive response than the ones I thought were almost there, so that was interesting.  It feels like every time I have a meeting, it creates a little bit of space around the poems so I can go away and push further at them, whereas before the PhD, maybe I would have just left them to sit where they were.

I’ve just got back from the Ted Hughes festival where I read along with Melissa Lee-Houghton and Charlotte Wetton and then took part in a panel discussion about whether Sylvia Plath was relevant to young female poets.  It was interesting to hear the different ways the three of us came to Plath’s poetry – I personally think Plath is important to female poets, but I also think as a female poet, it is uncomfortable to be linked with Plath, because of the term ‘confessional’ which has negative connotations, and because it is so tempting to read her biography through her poetry.  Nobody wants that to happen necessarily with their own work.  This tendancy to review and critique Plath’s work through her biography would have been overwhelmingly done by male critics and reviewers I’m guessing, and I think it’s a way of reducing and diminishing her work.  As Heather Clark, a leading expert on Sylvia Plath pointed out, the poem ‘Edge’ has so many literary references embedded within it, but it is often read as if Plath is speaking from beyond the grave.

It was great to read with Charlotte and Melissa, although following Melissa felt a bit like following a poetic whirlwind – my head was still spinning from listening to her work and then I realised I was going to have to stand up and speak.  I hung around for the next reading and saw Tim Wells perform and Linton Kwesi Johnson, both worth getting back at midnight for.  Linton Kwesi Johnson did blow me away – it was like a poetic history lesson in black history and civil rights in this country, delivered in a rhythm which was as close to music as you can get without crossing over into song.

If you haven’t been to the Ted Hughes festival, look out for it next year.  It has a lovely community feel to it, the volunteers are very friendly and smiley, and they had a great programme of events over this year, which I’m sure they will repeat again next year.

Steve Ely, one of the organisers of the festival, who seemed amazingly calm and chilled out  while everything was going on, is coming to Grange Over Sands this year as one of the four tutors on the Poetry Carousel.  Places for this are selling fast, so if you’re interested, I would advise booking a place sooner rather than later.  The other tutors are myself, Hilda Sheehan and David Morley.  You can find more information about the Poetry Carousel, including biographies of the tutors and information about the workshops we’ll be running here.  The course runs from Friday 8th December to Monday 11th December and costs £360 including accommodation, food and workshops.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by a fabulous Barrow poet, Ayelet Mckenzie.  I went to the launch of Ayelet’s pamphlet a few weeks ago now at Barrow Library, and the place was packed! Ayelet’s latest pamphlet is called Small Bear and is published by Caterpillar Poetry, I wrote a blurb for Ayelet’s pamphlet so I thought I’d quote that here instead of paraphrasing it:

Ayelet Mckenzie is a true original – her poetry never goes where you expect.  In short, meticulously observed lyrics about human nature and the world around us, she manages to surprise and delight the reader.  Her poetry can be both funny and bleak, highlighting small moments and encounters with wit, perception and tenderness.

There are so many good poems in this pamphlet – there is a brilliant one called ‘Flowers’ after Sylvia Plath with the lines ‘Oh how they bother me/presaging their death if/I do not attend./But I am so tired/so sick of things.’  but in the end I decided to post ‘One Of Those’ which I think exemplifies all the things I talk about in the quote above.

I love the formality of the opening phrase ‘On close examination’ which then contrasts with the colloqualism of ‘one of those women’  in the next line.  This contrast between two different registers of tone carries on with the use of ‘proffering’ which sounds strangely formal, compared to ‘Next thing she’d be patting/every dog she saw’ which again, feels very colloquial.  There is also the word ‘burgeoning’ as well, again strangely formal, contrasting with the last line ‘although it wasn’t allowed’ which sounds as if the speaker is repeating something they’ve been told.  I also wonder who the speaker is in the poem – part of me thinks the speaker is the ‘she’ of the poem, reflecting on herself, which makes the slightly disapproving tone of the poem even more funny.  Or maybe not, maybe the speaker is a neighbour, observing this woman through a gap in the curtains.  It’s a great poem, and there are lots more just as good in the pamphlet, so if you do happen to have a spare fiver, email Simon, the editor and publisher at Caterpillar Poetry at caterpillarpoetry@gmail.com  and I’m sure he will be happy to send you a copy.

Thanks to Ayelet for allowing me to post her poem here!

One Of Those – Ayelet Mckenzie

On close examination it was noticed
she was turning into one of those women
who carry bags of boiled sweets in their
handbags, proffering them to strangers
whom she got talking to.
Next thing she’d be patting
every dog she saw,
talking to every cat,
feeding bread to the burgeoning pigeon
population that gathered in the street,
although it wasn’t allowed.

 

 

Sunday Poem – John Mee

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Sunday Poem – John Mee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael – John Mee

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

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

I called up to you
to stay where you were.

Sunday Poem – Arthur Broomfield

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Sunday Poem – Arthur Broomfield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assumpta – Arthur Broomfield

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Poem – Polly Atkin

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Sunday Poem – Polly Atkin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Invisible – Polly Atkin

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

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

December Poetry Carousel Workshops

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

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

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

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

Natural Magic – David Morley

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

 

Writing the Dead  – Steve Ely

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

 

Consequently the Tongue is a Chair* – Hilda Sheehan

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

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

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


Veiling the Narrative – Kim Moore

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