Poetry Carousel News

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Another quick blog post with some updates about the Poetry Carousel residential course I’m running from the 7th-10th December 2018 with co-tutors Sean O’Brien, Andrew McMillan and Fiona Sampson.  I’m very happy to announce that we have the fantastic poet Rishi Dastidar as our Guest Reader.  Rishi will be joining us on the Saturday night of the course for dinner and a reading.

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Rishi Dastidar is a fellow of The Complete Works, a consulting editor at The Rialto magazine, a member of the Malika’s Poetry Kitchen collective, and also serves as chair of the writer development organization Spread The Word. His debut collection Ticker-tape is published by Nine Arches Press, and a poem from it was included in The Forward Book of Poetry 2018.

Below you will find news of the workshops that we’ll be running over the Carousel weekend.  As you can see from the workshop blurbs, they are the usual eclectic mix, so participants really will feel like they’ve been on a carousel!

The Poetry Carousel is currently sold out – however we do sometimes get last minute cancellations.  If you’d like to be put on a waiting list, please ring Abbot Hall Hotel directly on 01539 532896.

Poetry Workshops, 2018 Poetry Carousel

 

The Long and the Short of It
Fiona Sampson

Does size matter? Of course not – poems come in every imaginable length, from haiku to epic. And yet of course it does – those forms do very different things. We look at scale, structure, and ways to use proportion and other numerological devices in order not to constrict but to release a poem. But don’t worry. No algebra: only music. Which as it happens is some of the theory I’ll be bringing to our workshop too.

 

Inbetweentimes
Sean O’Brien

Think of those times when you’re walking around a city, or drinking a cup of tea, or staring down into a dim back yard. You’re doing more or less nothing, being nowhere in particular, with nothing much in mind. The world seems to be on a break. And then a door is left ajar, or a light comes on in a room seen across rooftops, and the quiet seems to listen to itself, and for no apparent reason two and two make five. We’ll be considering some poems that touch on this terrain, and writing poems of our own in order to explore it.

 

Making it Queer
Andrew McMillan

If we trace back the roots of a word which is now being reclaimed by the LGBTQ community, we find its origins in ideas of that which is ‘oblique’ or ‘off-centre’, that which might be ‘pervese’ or ‘odd’ and in older ideas of ‘to twist’.

During this workshop we’ll consider not the queer content of a poem, but what it might mean, more broadly, to make a poem queer, to take our poems off-centre, to make them perverse, to twist them, just slightly, so that the reader encounters them in an utterly different way.

 

To Look Is An Act of Choice
Kim Moore

In his book Ways of Seeing, John Berger wrote ‘We only see what we look at.  To look is an act of choice.’  During this workshop we will be exploring what happens when we change our perspective by focusing on the finer details or zooming out for the bigger picture.  What do we choose to look at in poetry, and what do we choose to avoid, and how can we explore in poetry the relationship between the things we look at and ourselves?

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Poem and a Pint Competition

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Just a quick message to pass on news of a new Poetry Competition! I am on the committee of ‘A Poem and a Pint’ and we run bi-monthly poetry events, hosting guest poets, musicians and open mic slots.

To raise money for next year’s programme of events, we decided to hold our first poetry competition! Our judge is the fabulous Clare Shaw (who was herself awarded a Northern Writers Award this week).

It’s £4 to enter one poem, £7 for two and £10 for three poems and the closing date is July 16th.  First prize is £150, second prize is £100 and third prize is £50.  If your poem is placed in the top 3 you will also be invited to give a ten minute reading at our next Poem and a Pint event, on September 29th, alongside the judge Clare Shaw.

For further details, just follow the link to the Poem and a Pint website http://www.apoemandapint.co.uk/competition.htm

 

 

 

June News and a poem by Martin Kratz

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June News and a poem by Martin Kratz

I’m writing today’s blog post from my back garden in blazing sunshine.  I keep thinking longingly of my hammock but I don’t think I’ll be getting it out of the shed.  The problem with a hammock is that it’s impossible to do anything in it other than relax.  It’s even hard to read in a hammock because the book has to be held above you – and I’ve still got far too much on to be able to justify lounging about doing nothing.

It has been a really busy month for me since I last wrote.  One of the projects I’ve been working on is a commission by The Sage in Gateshead to write some poems about what it means to be northern.  This is a huge project of which I’m only a small part of – there are two other poets that have also been commissioned to write some poems – Degna Stone and Andrew McMillan, and then four or five amazing musicians.  I’ve been over to Newcastle again to be interviewed for a Sky Arts documentary about the project, although i doubt very much my ramblings will end up being used and to have a short rehearsal with the musicians.  This was really interesting as I’d sent a recording of myself reading one of my poems over and they’d managed to compose music to go with it which chugged along in perfect time – who knew I was reading poems in a steady tempo of about 100 beats a minute?  And it wasn’t even a poem in a particular form or rhythm – what people would call a ‘free verse’ poem.  So we rehearsed that and I felt briefly like a bit of a rock star.

It’s not all been work though – I had a weekend holiday to Scotland with the husband at the beginning of June which was really lovely.  We stayed in a nice B & B and the weather was really hot.  I don’t think I’ve ever been in Scotland when it hasn’t rained so this was a novelty! We got a ferry down Loch Katrine and then decided to run the 13 miles back.  It was very hot and we took our time but it was still really hard work.  I felt fine but in the middle of the night woke up and was sick everywhere – I don’t know if I got too hot, or too dehydrated or just pushed it too much on the run but it wasn’t much fun.   We were supposed to be going up a mountain the next day, but as we’d both had about three hours sleep due to me being ill, and I was a bit shaky still we decided to amend our plans and we went to New Lanark instead and had a look around the old mills before coming home.

I also found time to see the Rolling Stones in Manchester! I went with my dad, my twin sister and my brother in law.  My sister and I succumbed to the over-priced T-shirts and even bought matching ones, which is kind of funny when I think of how much we hated wearing the same thing when we were younger – now I quite enjoy it! Here we are before the concert.  The Stones were amazing – I felt I had to dance non-stop seeing as Mick Jagger is over twice my age and was skipping up and down the stage without a care in the world.

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I’ve also had a few poetry readings this month – in Kendal at Brewery Poets with John Foggin, in Bradford at Beehive Poets  with Nick Toczek and in Hawkshead at a cat cafe called KITTchen with various open mic-ers and managed to sell a few books along the way.

I’ve had a busy time PhD wise as well.  I had my Annual Review at the beginning of June and it all went well.  Even I can see my critical writing has come on a lot since last year’s review.  I even submitted some of my PhD work to the Ivan Juritz prize and got longlisted – sadly I didn’t get any further than the long list but I’m going to have another go next year, when hopefully my thinking (and writing) will be that much further on.

I also gave a paper at a poetry art symposium called ‘I See You Seeing Me – Engaging the Female Gaze in Visual Art and Poetry.  organised by Kathryn Maris to raise funds for Poetry London.  I got really anxious in the run up to the day writing my paper with the usual imposter syndrome stuff and then when I got to London was freaking out when I realised I’d forgotten to bring any ‘smart’ shoes with me and would have to give my paper in my trainers which in my panic the night before, seemed like the worst thing to happen in the world.  However it all turned out fine, and as someone on Twitter pointed out, as I was giving a paper about The Female Gaze, I really just needed to turn up and not worry about how I ‘looked’.  Kathryn Maris was so lovely when I turned up as well a bit flustered that I felt much better.

I think this worry about ‘looking the part’ is a symptom of wider anxiety around class – whenever I move through these spaces there is part of me that feels I don’t belong there.  I feel ‘working class’ when I am in spaces/places that are not working class.  The times when being ‘working class’ rubs up against the surface of my life are always the times when I am in a space that has been traditionally shut off to people like me.

The first time I was aware of it was when I joined the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra when I was 17 – this was after 9 years of playing in brass bands and never thinking about it or even being aware of it.  And ‘joining an orchestra’ doesn’t sound very working class does it? But this was after receiving nine years of free lessons at school, and a free instrument from the brass band, and I joined the orchestra with my teacher’s second hand trumpet, which I’m sure had bits of gaffa tape holding various bits of it together.  I then got a job selling double glazing over the phone (horror of horrors) and saved up £1800 to buy myself a new trumpet.

Anyway, the symposium was great – my highlight were Katharine Engel who gave the keynote speech.  She wrote an amazing book called ‘Unmastered: A Book on Desire Most Difficult To Tell’ which is brilliant.  Her talk covered pornography, female desire, the difference (or not) between the body and the mind – it was really fascinating.  I also really enjoyed Ruth Padel’s thoughts on ekhphrasis and managed to get a copy of her new collection ‘Emerald’ which I haven’t read the whole of yet, but am enjoying so far.

I’ve also just found out that a slightly extended version of my paper is going to be published in Agenda magazine which I’m very happy about.  So most of my PhD time this month has gone into writing my paper, and then working on it to make it suitable for publication in Agenda.  It doesn’t sound like that much when I write it out like that but it has taken hours and hours!

I am also looking forward to the rest of 2018 which will be filled with me being extremely judgemental about poetry (wait for it)

I’m judging the Primers Volume Four Mentoring and Publication Scheme along with Jane Commane from Nine Arches Press – an amazing opportunity to have your pamphlet published by The Poetry School and Nine Arches as well as receive mentoring from yours truly. I’ll also be judging the National Poetry Competition alongside Kei Miller and Mark Waldron which I’m really excited about.

My other big news is that I was on Private Passions on Radio 3 yesterday being interviewed by Michael Berkeley.  I did the interview a couple of months ago and it was one of the nicest and least stressful experiences I’ve had on the radio! You can listen to the interview and my amazing and trumpet-filled choices of music here  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b7dqmy

I think that is all my news for now – phew.  A month’s worth takes a while to type up! Underneath all of that is Kendal Poetry Festival of course – still humming along with only 3 Festival Passes left now.

I will leave you with a poem from one of my favourite people Martin Kratz.  Martin’s first pamphlet A Skeleton’s Progress has just been published by Poetry Salzburg.  As well as being an excellent poet, Martin has also kept me sane throughout my PhD, offering advice and also being terribly English and pretending not to see when I have had the odd crying fit in my favourite cafe (Eighth Day in Manchester if you’re wondering)

Every poem in the pamphlet starts ‘Skeleton Man’ – the speaker of the poem is always talking to him, but really the speaker is addressing us, the audience and reader, telling us things through the conduit of Skeleton Man.  I’ve chosen this poem because I think it’s a great example of how Martin manages to ask big questions about the world but the poems wear those big questions really lightly.

Skeleton Man has various adventures throughout the pamphlet, including being elected to be prime minister and shot into space in a rocket before appearing again in another poem, as if nothing has happened to him.  He swims with sharks, goes into a pub and inexplicably hangs worms all over himself.  Lots of these poems are funny, but they’re also very moving as well.  There is something vulnerable or innocent in the character of Skeleton Man, but he also seems to possess more wisdom than the rest of us somehow.

If you would like to order A Skeleton’s Progress you can buy it from Poetry Salzburg here: http://www.poetrysalzburg.com/skeleton.htm for the measly sum of £6.50 plus postage and packing.  Thanks to Martin for letting me use his poem!

Skeleton Feelings 
Martin Kratz

Skeleton Man,
00000Where do feelings come from?
Here you are
00000Where you think no one watches
Reaching down under your ribcage
00000And back up past false
Ribs towards true.  To make a fist
00000Where a heart should be.

Skeleton Man, this muscle
00000Click-clacks when it should b-boom;
Grinds when it should m-murmur.
00000This is no centre for your pain, but
Take it away and I say
00000Something real remains.  Hand on heart.

Bursaries Available for Kendal Poetry Festival

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I think in a former life I must have been some kind of creature that was active at night. Maybe an owl or something, as I seem to become much more energised at night. I’m writing this post at midnight, although I’ve scheduled it to go up at 9am in the morning as I’m guessing most people will be asleep by now.

First of all, I wanted to say thank you for the outpouring of support for my last post. The support that you gave in comments below the post and on social media was really overwhelming, and was just what I needed to bring me back from the feeling of loneliness that was threatening to take over. I was really nervous about speaking out again, about posting the blog but I’m so glad I did now, so thank you to everyone that read and commented.

Below you will find information about a new project that Kendal Poetry Festival is piloting this year called Opening Doors. Information is below, but I would really appreciate it if you could share this opportunity amongst your networks, or maybe you would like to apply! There are only a few days left to get your applications in as the closing date is the 31st May, but it is a simple application process.

Opening Doors will enable us to offer a bursary for three writers who are in need of financial assistance and wouldn’t be able to attend the festival without financial support. One of the bursaries will be specifically for a writer who identifies as disabled.

All three writers will receive a ‘Festival Pass’ which would enable them to attend any of the readings and discussions during the weekend.

Two writers will be hosted by a member of Brewery Poets – please note you will need to have your own transport or be physically able to walk. We have received an offer of help with transport, but this cannot be guaranteed throughout the whole weekend. The festival venue is a 40 minute walk from the accommodation. You will be sharing a bathroom, but will have your own bedroom, which is at the top of a flight of stairs. Your host will provide breakfast but you will need to cover your own lunch/dinner. Travel to and from the festival is not included. Accommodation is offered from Thursday 6th September to Sunday 9th September.

One writer or poet who identifies as disabled will be accommodated at the Castle Green Hotel for two nights (Friday 7th September/Saturday 8th September). Breakfast is included but you will need to cover your own lunch/dinner. Travel to and from the festival is not included. The hotel room is an accessible room.

To apply email the following in ONE document to team@kendalpoetryfestival.co.uk

1. Please send in one document with your name, date of birth and email address and a short biography (100 words)
2. A 200 word statement outlining why it would be difficult for you to attend without a bursary and how you would benefit from the opportunity.
3. Contact details of a referee – someone who knows your work and knows you personally.
4. If you are applying for the place at the Castle Green Hotel, please make this clear in your application, and outline your specific access needs. This place is open for writers who identify as having a disability as defined by Disability Rights UK: A physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Deadline for submission is May 31st. Decisions will be made by mid-June and results announced on this website.

For more information about the festival, including a full programme, please see www.kendalpoetryfestival.co.uk

When you expose a problem you pose a problem

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The title of this blog comes from the book Living a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed. I made the mistake this week of posting in a public group about my disappointment that the local paper, the Evening Mail, failed in its report on the recent Keswick to Barrow 40 mile run/walk event to name the top three women finishers, despite naming the top three men. To be honest, I didn’t think I was saying anything particularly controversial – just pointing something out that could be addressed by adding one line of text to an article. I didn’t, and still don’t feel that anything negative could possibly come out of including women’s names.

You can cause unhappiness by noticing something. And if you can cause unhappiness by noticing something, you realise that the world you are in is not the world you thought you were in.

I caused a whole world of unhappiness by noticing this. Lots of people – men and women objected to the suggestion that the efforts of the top three women should have been acknowledged. Over and over again people told me that talking about naming women distracted attention from the fact that it was a charity event (doesn’t seem to harm the London Marathon), that the top three finishers just happened to be men (and they always will be unless we get an Olympic athlete rocking up to Barrow who just happens to be female).

Eventually, I had to turn off the comments on my post, and turn off the notifications.

We make things bigger by refusing to make things smaller

One friend posted a seperate post in support – that post was still going three days later and coming up to nearly 40 comments now with people telling her how wrong she is.  My twin sister is enjoying arguing with these people – my beautiful brave twin sister who would not stand and listen and say nothing, even though I told her not to get involved.

I’m too upset to look back at any of the posts now. Does how it felt to me matter? If I use words like bullying, like ganging up, is that an unfair accusation or is that my lived experience? I’m unsure now. If you are one person speaking up about something, and nobody else agrees, then maybe it will always feel like you’re being ganged up on. But thinking back now, without looking back at the post (because I can’t) one man offering his services as a lawyer to sue the paper was a way of getting me to shut up, a way of trying to humiliate me, a way of saying what you are pointing out does not matter. Men (and women) sharing pictures of their daughters saying ‘X did the walk for charity, not to get their name in the paper’ was designed to imply that I was merely interested in glory, and not in the more noble cause of raising money for charity, despite the fact that it wasn’t, was never about my name.  And this is another shaming technique.  Men and women asking why couldn’t I just be happy to be part of a great event – and look how happy we all are just to be here.  And this is another shaming technique

Happiness as a form of emotional labor can be condensed in the formula: making others happy by appearing happy.

There are ways to be a woman, and complaining about a system is not one of them. Complaining about injustice is not one of them. And having an opinion on social media and being a woman is a dangerous thing. It can end with having to turn your phone off because the constant comments are making you feel ill and anxious. I know that everything gets magnified on social media, that people say things they wouldn’t say to someone in person.

My friend N. pointed out to me that it was only thirty or so years ago that the first woman Kathrine Switzer ran the Boston marathon and was verbally and physically attacked because it was thought that women weren’t capable of running a marathon.

She pointed out that sport and the world of sport (and the pursuit of hbbies/interests/passions) have always been created for and dominated by men. I think about my hobbies/my interests – when I was younger, I played in brass bands.  One of the top bands in the country, Brighouse and Rastrick, finally appointed a female cornet player for the first time in their 130 year old history in 2011.  The brass band I grew up in had plenty of women in it and I would never say that brass bands don’t welcome women now (although I would say in my experience you have to be twice as good as the men to be thought of as half as good) but the world of brass banding (and running – my other hobby) was never set up for women, although women move through these worlds now, because of their tenacity and insistence.  And no, we are not told that we cannot join, we cannot run, not in so many words, but the fact that women’s achievement is ignored is one way of making our way through these worlds feel like wading through quicksand.

And what does it matter anyway? There are bigger things to worry about in the world. But how can we talk about rape when we can’t even agree that women should receive the same acknowledgement in a sporting event? How can we talk about domestic violence and helping victims when we can’t stand up for our friends online? How can we talk about sexism when we can’t even agree what it is?

This blog post has sat in my draft folder for over a week now.  At first I thought I wouldn’t post it at all.  Then I started  looking through Twitter today, following the #hometovote tweets from women travelling from across the world back to Ireland to vote to repeal the eighth amendment.  There is something beautiful in these women (and men) coming back home with welcoming parties at the airports – the reverse of the journey many women have to make to have an abortion abroad.  So this is one of the bigger things – bigger than speaking out about a stupid newspaper article – but you know and I know that everything is linked.  Women having autonomy and choice over what happens to their bodies is linked inextricably with women’s bodies being ignored, written out of history.  The silencing of women’s achievement is linked inextricably with the silencing of women’s voices.

I return again and again to Sara Ahmed, who sometimes feels like a lifeline. All of the quotes above are taken from her book Living a Feminist Life.  She talks about ‘Feminist Survival Kits’. This poem, from one of my dearest friends, and a woman who continually inspires me would be in my survival kit, because this week I’ve finally realised that I don’t believe in silence either.  And no, I won’t shut up.  And no, I won’t stop noticing.

To buy Head On, the collection of poetry that this poem comes from, head over to the Bloodaxe website http://www.bloodaxebooks.com/ecs/product/head-on-1046.  Clare also has a third collection Flood, coming very soon.

 

I Don’t Believe in Silence – Clare Shaw

Because, tonight –
however I try – I cannot get downstairs
without waking my daughter
I do not believe in silence.

Because of the Worboys enquiry,
because of the one hundred-plus women he raped –
because of the policeman defending the findings
unable to utter the word –
‘this (herrrm) crime, this (ahem)
assault, this category (cough)
of offence’ –
I do not believe in silence

because of the stairs and the banister’s crack;
the sound of the lock
and my hand on the door – the fifty-tone creak –
the magnificent echo of light-switch and click –
I do not believe in silence.

Because of Neda – and everyone’s sister –
and the man who said ‘Don’t be afraid’;
for the sake of my daughter, because of the burka,
because of the patter of rain;
because of two hundred thousand years of human history,
thirty-seven of them my own –
I do not believe in silence

for the sake of my arms, the wrists especially.
With respect to my legs
and my belly and chest
and the comfort long due to my throat

because of nightclubs at one a.m
and shouts in the street and feet in pursuit
and shops that don’t shut;
because of sirens and the dealers downstairs;
because of Levi and Akhmatova;
because of the itch of the blue-lipped prisoner;
the itch and the scratch of my pen;

I believe in the word.
I believe in the scrabble of claws
on uncarpeted floors.
I believe in my daughter’s complaints.
I believe in the violin, the E-string,
the see-sawing bow; the cello
straining its throat.

I believe in the heart and its beat
and its beep and the dance of the trace
on the screen, I believe in the volume
of colour turned up, and my blood
which was always too loud.

Because of the nights, and the sweats,
and the same rowdy thoughts;
because of that one afternoon
when I nailed my own voice to the air
and because there was nobody listening
and through it all
bird song
and the sound of cars passing –

I do not believe in silence.

Because, tonight –
however I try – I cannot

April/May news and the Occasional Poem

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I can’t believe it’s been so many weeks since I last blogged! Arrgh…where does the time go etc etc?

I’m currently sat on a train but unusually for me it is not the train from Barrow to Manchester across the bay.  Today I’m going to Newcastle which means the slow train along the west coast of Cumbria – one of the most beautiful and bleakest train journeys in the UK I think.  We’ve just pulled into Seascale and on the beach are various dogs running around in a state of excitement, apart from one rather sedate St Bernard, walking calmly along next to his owner who had one hand on his back as the train pulled up then pulled away.

The photo is the view from just outside Barrow from the train.

I’ve got a couple of hours until I get to Carlisle and then I change there for the last bit of the journey. I’m going to Newcastle to meet up with other artists who are working on a project called ‘The Backbone Of Our Land’ which will be a performance piece about what it means to be northern.  I have been worrying and worrying away at this for weeks without coming up with anything, but I’m hoping inspiration will strike during the train journey.

As soon as I start to talk or think about the North I find myself sliding into cliches and it is hard to pin down what it is that I loved about the north from the moment I set foot in Leeds in 2000 and felt like I’d found somewhere I could feel at home.  Maybe it’s something to do with unpretentiousness – but that is a huge abstract word and I can’t use that in a poem without questioning its purpose there.  The people seemed friendlier and more open, more down to earth – but again, here I am slipping into stereotypes and abstractions.  Tomorrow is a R & D day with the other artists so I hope being around other creative people will jolt something poetic into existence.

So I have lots of news to share with you all because it has been so long since I blogged. First and rather excitingly, the news is now public that I will be judging the Primers Volume Four pamphlet competition.  I really like this competition because the prize includes editorial support and development from Jane Commane and mentoring with yours truly, so it is very much an ongoing support for writers who are chosen.  There are also up to 25 free entries available for low income writers which I think is fantastic news, and I hope is the sign of things starting to change with the problem of working class writers being shut out of publication opportunities.

The Primers pamphlet competition is run in association with the Poetry School and Nine Arches Press – both wonderful organisations and you can find more information about the entry terms and conditions here.  So my July/August is going to be filled with reading poems – which is pretty standard actually, but exciting to be looking for three potential mentees to work with on a longer term basis.

Last Saturday, if you are Barrovian, you were probably either walking the Keswick to Barrow, the Coniston to Barrow, or standing drinking beer at the finish line, waiting for someone you knew to come in.   I decided to run the 21 miles between Coniston and Barrow a while ago in a moment of madness and I am very pleased to tell you I survived and managed to complete the course in 3 hours and 12 minutes which I was pretty chuffed with, considering some of those 21 miles go over Kirby Moor and the rest could kindly be described as ‘undulating’.  I’m not sure where overall I came as the results aren’t out till Thursday so I will let you all know whether you’re interested or not!

I thought I would have a great sleep after running that far, but the muscles in my legs were so sore that I kept waking myself up in the middle of the night, and eventually gave it all up for a bad job and got up at 6am.  I am pretty much recovered now and walking almost normally, and I’ve even bought my trainers to Newcastle in the hope that I’ll be able to get out for a short run around the city once I’ve checked in to my hotel.

Plans for Kendal Poetry Festival have been progressing and the full lineup for the programme is now live and up on the website.  You can book tickets for the Brewery Arts Centre – and they are selling really well.  We have less than half of our Festival Passes left, which is the cheapest way to see all of the readings and discussions at the festival, and workshop tickets are also looking low – so if you have been thinking of coming, do book soon!

We are also offering three bursary places for writers who identify as disabled, or low income writers – please check out our latest blog on our ‘Opening Doors’ project to find out more, and do pass this information on to anyone who you think might be interested.  It is a relatively simple application process but do get in touch via the festival website if you have any questions about it.  One of these places is funded by the generosity of the wonderful poet Christine Webb, so thank you again to her.

Getting the programme up and presentable on the website is a HUGE amount of work – Pauline Yarwood and I have been working so hard on the festival stuff.  We had a few days respite and then got on with the next job – editing the information on the website down so that we can fit it all onto a hard copy brochure.  We are still in the joyful throes of this and due to meet our brochure designer in the next few weeks.

I’ve also been rehearsing with Soul Survivors – we had a gig last Saturday and have another one coming up in June, reading in Manchester with Clare Shaw at an event organised to raise money for Greenpeace by the wonderful Ann Heathcote and going to the pamphlet launch of one of my fabulous Dove Cottage Young Poets Hannah Hodgson. Hannah did a brilliant reading and speech, complete with powerpoint slides – it reminded me of a Ted Talk – she was so professional.  The same couldn’t be said of me however, as I nearly cried in my introduction to Hannah and then nearly cried at the end…

The pamphlet is called Dear Body and it’s published by the fantastic Wayleave Press, run and edited by Mike Barlow.  The whole pamphlet will make you think differently about the body and ability and disability and all the things that can be taken for granted if you are able-bodied.

So although the Sunday Poem has temporarily ground to a halt, I thought that the Occasional Poem might be more fun, as I can post them as and when I feel like it.  It feels rebellious not to be blogging on a Sunday – this is about as rebellious as I get you see – blogging on a Tuesday!

I’m really happy that Hannah has agreed to let me publish the title poem of the pamphlet on the blog today.  I haven’t checked with Hannah, but I’m sure I remember her writing this poem in response to the C.P.Cavafy poem ‘Body, Remember‘.  I think you can hear the echo of that Cavafy poem in any poem that addresses itself directly to the body – but whereas Cavafy’s poem is full of longing and a desire to remember  ‘those desires glowing openly/in eyes that looked at you’, Hannah’s poem is an admonishment to the body, in an almost parental voice, asking it to ‘look over the job description/for a body./Read it over -/ let’s start again tomorrow.’

Even though this is a poem filled with exasperation and disappointment at the body for not doing what it is supposed to do, there isn’t a shred of self pity here – there is even a kind of wonderful  black humour in the first and last stanzas, while the middle of the poem is wonderfully tender: ‘I never learned/how to calm the heart’.

Hannah has been published in literary magazines AcumenUnder the Radarand Poetry Salzburg Review. She has won several young poets competitions and been poet in residence at Lakes Alive and Kendal Poetry festivals. She has a YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/c/HannahHodgson) where she talks about her illnesses and reviews books and poetry collections. She has just been selected as one of the young writers for the next instalment of The Writing Squad.  

You can also find Hannah’s blog here     where you can buy a copy of her pamphlet and make her very happy!  Thanks to Hannah for letting me share this poem and I hope you enjoy reading it

Dear Body – Hannah Hodgson 

I’d be handing you
a redundancy notice
if the end of you
didn’t mean
the end of me.

My brain is filled
with corrupted code –
error alarms
screeching
in my organs.

I never learned
how to calm the heart
how to stop it battering
my chest, acting out
like a child.

I never learned
the nursery rhyme
to quieten it down.
I need to learn how
to parent these organs.

Go home,
look over the job description
for a body.
Read it over –
let’s start again tomorrow.

 

 

News from March and April

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At Penzance Poetry Parlour with Katrina Naomi and Helen Mort

I’m writing this from the back seat of the poet John Foggin’s car. Another poet John Fennelly is in the front seat. I’m telling you these spurious details because John Foggin will be FREAKED OUT when he reads this later and finds out I’ve been writing this whilst he was driving along. I’ve been in St Ives for the last week running a residential course with the poet Helen Mort and 17 participants. I haven’t posted a Sunday Poem on here for a couple of weeks – life has just got too busy, and something had to give. So the Sunday Poem has for now got a dust sheet over it. Since I last wrote on March 19th, which was by my count 25 days ago, I’ve spent 13 of those 25 days in hotel rooms rather than my own house. I was wondering when I got to St Ives why I felt so tired, and now I know!

It has been a lovely week – a really talented group of poets to work with first and most importantly, but there are other things that make the week feel a bit magical – getting to work with Helen Mort was another. Not only is she a brilliant tutor and poet, she also runs, so I had company this time on my excursions round the country roads of St Ives. And the weather has been amazing – which was just what I needed after the miserable cold and rain we’ve been suffering up north. It is so mild down here! Apparently Cornwall has had bad weather as well, but it all cleared off for our arrival.

The week started on Sunday night for Helen and I, as we had a reading at Katrina Naomi’s Penzance Poetry Parlour. It’s the first time I’ve read in someone’s living room, with maybe twenty or thirty people crammed in, sitting up the stairs or on cushions on the floor once the chairs were full. It was such a lovely evening – Katrina is a marvel and it is a testament to her warm personality as well as her poetry that she has managed to gather such a wonderful community of poets around her. One of my poetry heroes Penelope Shuttle was even in the audience – a long time ago when I was first starting out Penelope gave one of my poems a fourth prize in the Kent and Sussex Poetry Competition, the first ‘prize’ I ever won! Her work has always been important to me so it felt amazing to have her in the audience.

Apart from running this residential course then, one of my trips away from home was a trip down to London to record an episode of Private Passions.I’m saying that as if it is an ordinary, usual thing to do when clearly it is not! I’d better not reveal my music choices as the episode will be aired (I think) on June 10th. It was actually nowhere near as nerve wracking as I thought it would be. Maybe I’m getting better at doing things that are out of my comfort zone. The Private Passions team were so lovely as well, and made me feel at ease. The studio where the recording takes place is quite small, and I sat directly opposite Michael Berkeley with the producers to the side in another room, so it does feel more like just having a chat than being on the radio. The producer, Elizabeth Burke, was really lovely, and this probably sounds a little strange, but I felt first of all as if I’d known her for years, and secondly, I was – I don’t know quite what the right word is – moved? inspired? by the way she carried herself as a woman, how she obviously had authority and expertise, but wore it lightly. Watching the way she interacted in the studio made something shift in my head – I am full of admiration for her. I don’t think I’m explaining it well, but I think that is because I haven’t articulated it to myself yet.

I then got a train back to Manchester and stayed in the Britannia hotel, which is an experience in itself. I arrived and was given a key for a room which had a single bed. I’d paid for a double, and one of the things I look forward to being away from home is to have a double bed, so I trotted back downstairs to ask for double room. There was already a man shouting at the staff and saying ‘this is like bloody Fawlty Towers I’ve already had my room changed five times etc’ so I wasn’t holding out much hope. The rather harassed staff member apologised and gave me another key. Off I went to the top floor this time, a double room, but the stench of stale cigarette smoke that hit me when I opened it was so overwhelming I quickly closed the door. Who knew that hotels have designated smoking rooms now? Not me. I wearily made my way down in the lift again and explained that I couldn’t sleep in this room because of the smell, and the same even more harassed staff member apologised again and upgraded me to an executive suite! And all without shouting.

I had to stay over in Manchester because I had a full day of tutorials with undergraduate students the next day and then from there I had to get the train to the airport to go to Gdansk in Poland to read at the European Poet of Freedom poetry festival. Poland was wonderful! And Gdansk is a beautiful city. I love reading at these festivals, but if there is any stress, it’s always being a stranger and having to get to know people or connect with people. However, my translator Krystyna was there and another poet Sigurbjorg from Iceland, who I’d met in Croatia two years ago at another festival, so it felt more like going on holiday with friends with lots of poetry thrown in. I met some lovely poets there as well who I won’t name because a listing of names is rather dull but Alice Oswald was there, and she was her usual brilliant self – I think she is such a wonderful poet.

Another exciting thing to happen this week is that I had my portrait painted! Or at least the sketches for the painting. The amazing artist Claire Eastgate is painting contemporary women poets from all over the UK, and these paintings will form an exhibition called ‘Painting the Poets’. Claire came and stayed at my house the night before and we had some amazing discussions about the female gaze, which I will probably blog about separately. People often said to me before starting the PhD that it would be conversations with people that would be really important and formative for your research and I didn’t quite believe them – I couldn’t understand how a conversation could be more important than reading a book for example or an article. A year and a half in to the PhD, I get it!

Last week I also had another meeting about my poetry with Michael Symmonsn Roberts, which was really useful and positive. After my mock viva, one of the recommendations was that I have a third supervisor to oversee the creative/critical connective part of the PhD which is really the part I’ve been struggling with, so Nikolai Duffy is now part of my PhD team, and I’ve arranged to meet him on May 4th.

These last few months have been so busy it has been a bit of a wake up call. I’ve decided to really start cutting back on the work I’m doing from this summer onwards really, and try and keep this last year clear for mainly PhD stuff. We will see how easy I find it to stick to that resolution!

I haven’t got a Sunday Poem this week, so I’m being rather self involved and leaving you with one of my own, which was recently published in The New Statesman. I will say, before you click on the link, that this poem comes with a trigger warning – it is about date rape, so please proceed with caution. I was shocked recently, and then not shocked, to read that 1 in 3 women will experience rape or sexual assault during their lifetime. It breaks my heart when I think about women carrying around this pain inside them, trying to act as if nothing has happened.

And if you are wondering, and maybe about to write ‘men experience sexual assault and rape too’ and ‘why aren’t you writing about them Kim’ then I would respectfully ask you not to bother. I know that men experience this as well, but I am choosing to write about women and I’d like to quote the great John Berger from ‘Ways of Seeing’ here – ‘To look is an act of choice.’ I am choosing to look at women and their experiences, and my experiences of sexual assault. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about men, but I am making a political choice. Interestingly, John Berger also writes that ‘It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain the world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it’.

The poem in the New Statesman recounts a story that was told to me a long time ago. Although I carried the story for nearly twenty years inside me, and never forgot it, I didn’t look at it, I didn’t see it until I wrote this poem. I stuffed it down as small as it would go in my own memory because it frightened me. I am choosing to look now, I chose to look through the act of writing the poem, although I didn’t understand what I was really looking at until I finished writing the poem. Our course this week has been about the ‘unsaid’ in poetry, and it felt like the ‘unsaid’ in this poem was something I had to discover, and which I only discover by the end of the poem – not that these things happen, but that these things are a lesson which the world teaches women which then act as a form of control.

If you would like to read the poem, please click on the link below.

All The Men I Never Married No.25 The New Statesman Easter Issue

Sunday Poem – Jean Stevens

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Sunday Poem – Jean Stevens

The end of the week comes round again, and I’m never quite sure why it always feels like a surprise.  I’ve had quite a busy week – endless admin first of all, just the general, run-of-the-mill admin that you get as a freelance writer that sometimes turns into an admin avalanche and threatens to cover everything.

I also spent a large part of this week doing Kendal Poetry Festival jobs.  Pauline and I had a meeting on Monday with our website designer, Claire to discuss a slightly new look for this year’s website and logo.  One of the invisible jobs of organising a festival is writing the copy for websites and brochures.  This takes hours! It involves first of all contacting all the poets to ask for biographies, blurbs for any talks or workshops they are doing and a photo of themselves.  Easy, you might think.  Well, no, as even if the poets all send everything on time (which never happens) the things they send have to be proofread and put into our house style.  I write a short introduction to each event to go on the website.  This is quite hard as I’m trying to summarise people’s poetry  which is inherently difficult. Once I’d done all this, I sent it over to Pauline to be edited and proof-read, then she sent it back to me to have another look at the changes, and then it gets forwarded on to Claire.  Not very glamorous but one of the essential tasks that need doing before we can start selling tickets.

The next step, which is Pauline’s job, is to work with The Brewery Arts Centre, to get the correct ticket information put on their website.  I am very glad this is Pauline’s job, as I would rather write event descriptions than have to deal with people on the phone! This is one of the reasons we work well together I think, as we manage to share the work out so nobody has to do anything they really don’t want to do.

Pauline and I had another meeting on Friday, where we went through all the accommodation requirements for the Festival Poets.  We also went through our budget and made sure everything is still adding up, which again, doesn’t sound like much, but it took a long time.  Another rather unglamorous side of putting a festival on, but it will all be worth it in the end, and Pauline did keep the supply of tea going all afternoon.

My head has been all over the place this week – I had a meeting with the Soul Band to discuss our gig dates for the rest of the year on Tuesday night, and even though it was written in my diary I completely forgot about it.  I charged into the meeting just over half an hour late and in my pyjamas.  Whoops.  Luckily they are a forgiving bunch.

I was teaching my undergrads at MMU on Thursday.  It was quite intense this week as they are due to hand in their assignments.  I had two tutorials and then used the seminars to talk through the assignment briefs and give quick advice about editing their portfolios.  They have to hand in prose and poetry as well as a reflective essay.

After my Kendal Poetry Festival meeting on Friday, I then had to rush off to run a Dove Cottage Young Poets session, and then went straight home to go out for a meal with my friend J and her husband S.  I used to work with J when I was a music teacher.  We worked at a music centre on a Saturday together and we also taught in the same school and did classroom support for each other.  J is a violin teacher, and I learnt to play Twinkle Twinkle very badly on the violin whilst in her lessons.  It was lovely to see them again.  Chris (the husband) reminded me that I had a 7am train to catch the next morning, just before I started on my third beer, which was a very sensible move – I knew there was a reason why I married him!

On Saturday I made the 7am train and headed off to Manchester.  I’m working on a pilot project that MMU are running called the Writing and Talking Saturday Club.   It’s a chance for 13-16 year olds in Manchester to come and study at university for free and work with writers and creative tutors.  Saturday was a taster day, with drop in sessions of poetry on one table and character and plot development on another.  The project officially starts in April, so if you know any young people in Manchester who might be interested, follow the link and email Kaye Tew to register – it’s completely free to attend.

The taster day finished at 1pm and then I got the train back to Lancaster to go to the Lancaster Litfest poetry day .  My highlights were the lovely Kate Fox, who I think is generally fabulous, and Katharine Towers, whose work I’ve loved since hearing her read at Stanza Poetry Festival a couple of years ago and the Wayleave Press reading.  My co-director Pauline Yarwood read from her Wayleave Press pamphlet, as well as some new work, and the brilliant Hannah Hodgson, one of my Dove Cottage Young Poets read from her brand new pamphlet Dear Body.   The pamphlet isn’t officially available yet, I think it’s officially published in a few weeks – I’ll let you know when it comes out.

Today I have been at the South Cumbria Music Festival to watch Barrow Shipyard Junior Band perform.  They came first out of five bands and the adjudicator also said they bought the winning audience with them as well.  I had to whistle when they finished playing the first piece so that they knew I was there!  My brilliant twin sister also came first in the ensemble section as part of the Cumbria Horn ensemble, so overall a very successful day, where I experienced lots of the joy of watching the band do well, without any of the hard work in the run up to it.

It sounds silly, as this is my second year of not being a music teacher, but it felt like it finally sunk in today.  Seeing the band doing so well under another conductor both made me very happy, and very nostalgic.  I suddenly realised what an amazing thing it is, to have created a brass band out of thin air, and for it to continue even after you leave.  My brass band conductor used to always say that nobody is bigger than the band, and that was what I said to the band when I told them I was leaving.  If the band has a heart and is a living breathing thing, then it carries on even when you leave, and this is both painful and wonderful at the same time.

It made me miss brass banding again as well – I’d love to join a band and play again, but where I would fit it in with everything else I’m doing I don’t know.  Maybe that will have to wait till after the PhD has finished.

This week I’ve been doing some work on the overall structure of my PhD, which is going to be quite experimental.  I don’t want to say too much about that at the moment, as I have no idea yet if it is going to work, but I’m quite excited about it.  I’ve also been thinking about the idea of the ‘female gaze’ which seems particularly important as I am writing about men and looking at men in my new collection.  The male gaze typically objectifies or fetishizes – I obviously don’t want to do that.  I’ve been re-reading John Berger’s Ways of Seeing which I think is a brilliant text – it doesn’t feel dated at all.  Some interesting quotes that I think may be relevant to my own work, although he is talking about art, I think a lot of what he says is useful in terms of poetry as well.  He says

We only see what we look at.  To look is an act of choice.

and later on,

The meaning of an image is changed according to what one sees immediately beside it or what comes immediately after it.

I think this will be important in my collection, which is different ways of looking at men, which also becomes different ways of looking at the self, which becomes different ways of looking at society.

Berger also says

We never look at just one thing, we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves.  our vision is continually active, continually moving, continually holding things in a circle around itself, constituting what is present to us as we are.

This seems important as well – that by looking/writing about one thing or person, we are looking at the relation between ‘things and ourselves’.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Jean Stevens, who was one of the participants on the recent residential that I ran in Garsdale.  Jean had just had a collection published with Naked Eye.  It’s called Driving in the Dark and I would really recommend it.  I really enjoyed reading the whole thing.  I started reading it one afternoon and couldn’t put it down.

I’ve chosen the poem Snoring because I found it really moving.  I also thought it fitted in with some of the ideas around the female gaze which I’ve been thinking about, although the man being looked at is no longer there.  It is in fact his absence that is being looked at or examined.

The first section seems to describe the discovery by the speaker of a partner dying, woken by a sound ‘nothing like the usual snoring’.  I loved the snippet of dialogue here – the ‘Wake up you bugger’ and then the repetition of the ‘Wake up’ becomes more and more poignant, as both the reader and the speaker realise something is horribly wrong.

I like how those first two stanzas are in four lines, but as the realisation kicks in, the next two stanzas shrink to just three lines.   We get a sense of the relationship as well – the give and take of it with ‘This isn’t me messing about/saying a marriage can founder/on snores’.

As well as the stanzas shrinking, the punctuation also seems to break down by the fourth stanza, with the line breaks standing in instead for what could have been full stops.  But I think the lack of punctuation works well here for the big realisations that are happening at the end of this fourth stanza: ‘This is me saying forgive me’.

The second section starts off by repeating the last two lines of the first section, which gives them a new emphasis.  Then the poem goes off in a completely unexpected direction, and this is where I think the gaze of the poem is really interesting.  The partner’s body as well as the speakers body is conjured up in all its humanness and shortcomings.  This is a completely unapologetic and frank gaze – and there is something both shocking and moving in this frankness, in the detail of the ‘your sweating stains the bed’ and the matter-of-factness when the gaze turns on the self: ‘when the bags under my eyes/have bags themselves’.

The last stanza is where she brings the self and the partner together through again, a shocking, yet incredibly moving detail: ‘with my bare hands I’ll scrub/your skidmark underpants’.  John Berger has lots to say about the difference between ‘nakedness’ and ‘nudity’.  He says that

To be naked is to be oneself.  To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognised for oneself.  A naked body has to be seen as an object to become a nude’

Of course he is talking about paintings here, but I think it holds true for poetry as well.  The partner and the speaker here are naked – inasmuch as their bodies are described in intimate detail, in a way which allows us as the readers to recognise them as themselves.  They stay as selves, rather than objects, because of the way Jean writes about the intimate ageing process of the body, the intimacies that two people share.

Jean was great fun to have on the residential – she always had a story to tell, having had this amazing life as a playwright and actor.  Her poems have appeared in London Magazine, Stand, The North, Mslexia, The Honest Ulsterman, Other Poetry, Smoke and The Bridport Prizewinners Anthology 2016, as well as being broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4.  She is a past winner of the Yorkshire Post Poetry Prize and the Leeds Libraries Writing Prize and was recently shortlisted for the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition and The Rialto Poetry Prize.  Her plays have been performed at Derby Playhouse, the Edinburgh Festival, Harrogate Theatre and West Yorkshire Playhouse.  Her stand-up comedy script won the Polo Prize at London’s Comedy Store.  As a professional actor she has credits for stage, film and television.  Her website is jeanstevenspoet.co.uk

You can order a copy of Driving in the Dark here  and find out more about Naked Eye publishing here. 

Snoring – Jean Stevens

(i)
I wake to the sound of snoring
nothing like the usual snoring
when I shout Wake up you bugger 
and attempt to turn you over.

No, I wake to a sound that grips
snore, rattle, gasp in its fist
deep and going deeper.  Wake up,
you must wake up.

This isn’t me messing about
saying a marriage can founder
on snores.  This is it.

This is me saying forgive me
this is me saying I love you
now when it’s far too late.

(ii)

This is me saying I love you
now when it’s far too late.

I mean, love’s ridiculous
when you’ve lost your hair,
your waistline, your hearing,
and your sweating stains the bed;

when the bags under my eyes
have bags themselves, and my
boobs are moving towards the floor.
But come back and I vow

with my bare hands I’ll scrub
your skidmark underpants
till I grow raddled and sore
immersed in water that scalds.

 

 

Sunday Poem – Peter Raynard

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Sunday Poem – Peter Raynard

I’m writing this post today feeling more weary than usual.  I’ve had a fantastic week away as the course tutor at The Garsdale Retreat but I am completely exhausted now! The Garsdale Retreat is a new creative writing centre, set up by Hamish Wilson and Rebecca Nouchette.  I say new, but this is their second season of running courses there now.

It is a beautiful place, surrounded by hills and far enough away from the nearest village to feel wonderfully lonely, whilst only being a two minute walk away from Garsdale train station.  The unique feature about the courses (compared to other residentials) is the small group sizes – the maximum group size is eight, so participants get a lot more individual attention during both tutorials and workshops.  The food is absolutely beautiful as well – Rebecca does the cooking and pretty much everything was home made.  I don’t think I ate anything processed all week! Every afternoon she made a different cake for afternoon tea as well – I was in food heaven.  Below is a picture of my favourite – scones with jam and cream!

scones

Tutors stay in a cottage next door.  It was one of those cute cottages you drive past and idly think about living in so I am glad I got to try one out! The first night was very cold because the snow was still hanging around on the hills, but it gradually got warmer throughout the week, and Rebecca and Hamish gave me a portable heater so I could make my bedroom toasty!

cottage

Workshops went on till 1pm and then in the afternoons I sat in front of my electric fire in the cottage, and did some writing or prepared for tutorials with the participants.  Two of the days I managed to get out for a run, but I have a slightly sore Achilles heel, probably from too many long hilly runs last week.

The participants were great as well – a real pleasure to teach, and full of ideas and conversation around and about poetry, which was lovely.

So I was in Garsdale Monday to Saturday morning, and then I got the train to Carlisle.  A woman sitting next to me was reading over my shoulder whilst I was working on a poem and asked me if I was a lawyer! She looked disappointed when I told her I was a poet.  It took me a while to realise the poem she was reading was an account of a story that someone told me about a date rape.  She obviously thought it was some sort of witness account or something and didn’t seem embarrassed about the fact she’d been reading over my shoulder without asking.  We got talking then all the way to Carlisle so the journey went very quickly.

I was taking part in an event called Woman Up! in Carlisle, a day of events exploring what it means to be a woman.  There was a variety of events on, including speakers from the Carlisle Refugee Action Group and writers from Wigton Writers group.  I read some of my poems from my collection about domestic violence and then some of my new work around sexism.

The responses from the audience were pretty amazing.  One woman was crying. What touched me the most though was a young girl in the question and answer session, who put her hand up and said

‘I’m going to university next year.  What advice would you give me to help me if I get into a situation I can’t get out of?’

It actually breaks my heart that young women are having to worry about this, to think about this, to negotiate this, to use their energy worrying about how they are simply going to keep safe, instead of putting their energy into learning and being creative.  And there are no easy answers.  Everything I thought of and said sounded so trite.  To speak out and tell someone.  To speak out and say no.  To not let things get bad – to trust your instincts.  To surround yourself with good people, who help you to feel good.  I’d be interested to hear what answers readers would give to young girls to help them deal with sexism and to help them avoid getting into damaging relationships.

I stayed in a hotel, and after being cold all week, I then nearly baked to death in the hotel room which seemed to have the heating up really high.  I got back to Barrow mid afternoon today.  The first thing I did when I got back was to walk the dogs, then I went for a run to test my foot – still a bit of pain there after a couple of miles, so I’m going to rest for another couple of days.

So that has been my week – full on and enjoyable, but also emotionally draining.  Today I’ve been steadily trying to catch up with all the emails I couldn’t cope with answering whilst I was on the course.  This week is a lot quieter, which is a huge relief.  I’m going to spend it catching up with some PhD work because the week after is manic with visits to London, Manchester and Poland.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by a fantastic poet called Peter Raynard.  I first came across Peter via his excellent blog (www.proletarianpoetry.com) which has featured the work of over 100 poets writing about working class lives.  This poem comes from his debut collection Precarious, published by Smokestack Books which you can order here.  He is a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen and is currently completing a poetic coupling of The Communist Manifesto, to be published by Culture Matters in May 2018.

I’ve been reading a few poems from Precarious out aloud each night to my husband, and he is really enjoying the collection.  ‘Scholarship Boys’ is one of my favourites in the collection because it explores something that isn’t talked about – what happens when someone from the working class breaks the mould and gets a scholarship.

At MMU there is a poster advertising a scheme to support students who are the first in their family to go to university – there was nothing like this around when I went to university.  I remember thinking my flat mates were really posh because they bought hummus (I’d never heard of it!).

The poem sets out its stall straight away with that first line, with the first word, which is unexpected following on from the title.  I like the phrase ‘the likes of us’ in there at the end of the stanza.  It almost has a motto-like feel to it – how many times have people told me in tutorials or workshops about parents saying that something isn’t ‘for the likes of us’.

I was puzzling over that phrase ‘claw-crane selections’ for a while until I worked out that I think it is referencing the arcade machines with the claw that you use to try and pick up a soft toy.  What a brilliant metaphor! The idea of it being a game and the boys being the soft toys, inanimate, unable to control their own destiny, and someone playing games with their lives, picking them up and then letting them drop.  Actually, the whole class of boys is part of this arcade game.  The scholarship boys are the ones who are picked up and moved elsewhere, at least for a while.

The threading through of Latin words is really interesting as well here, illustrating that feeling of them being ‘dropped’ into a different world and the ‘pictured corridors’ gives the feeling of grandness, of long corridors stretching into the distance.  I had to look up all the Latin words here – spiritus vicis means spirit time according to Google, although I’m not convinced about that one as I thought it sounded like a school motto, and that doesn’t sound like a particularly inspirng school motto.  And amo, amat means I love/You love (again Google told me this, so apologies if it’s wrong)

There are lots of great phrases in here which seem simple until you start to unpack them.  The head teacher ‘wielding’ his cloak – the cloak is indicative of his status and he is ‘wielding’ it like a weapon. The phrase ‘Mouths swabbed for memories’ – that made me think that the school, or the teachers tried to make them change their accents.  This was something that happened to me – except mine was self-inflicted.  After finally getting into Leicester Schools Symphony Orchestra, I tried to change my accent because the other children took the mickey out of the way I spoke.

The idea that the boys, despite getting scholarships, were always bound for the factory and had just taken ‘the long way around’ is really heartbreaking.  I also like how we don’t know why they left early – the reasons are left unclear.

Thanks to Peter for letting me use his poem this week – do check out his blog, and if you have some spare cash, order his book.  It’s a fantastic, challenging and interesting exploration of class and masculinity and also touches on issues of mental health as well.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

 

Scholarship Boys

Unlucky enough to pass our eleven plus
we were claw-crane selections
from our class dropped into a history
the likes of us had never read.

Inducted with pictured corridors
of Spiritus Vicis spouting opportunity
from the mothballed grammar
of the cloak-wielding Headmaster
and his fountain of Latin characters.

Amo, amas, a matter of opinion
was to know our place. Our mouths
were swabbed for memories.
We were to become
someone else’s nostalgia.

By the time we left early,
five of a seven-year stretch,
we stooped off to the factories
that laughed at us
for taking the long way around

Sunday Poem – Hilda Sheehan

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This week has been a strange and rather full-on week.  Regular readers of this blog will remember that I was slightly panicking last week about my Progression Viva which was on Monday. The journey there was tiresome, annoying and cold.  My train broke down just outside Lancaster, and once it got going again, after half an hour it could only proceed at five miles an hour to Preston, which took rather a long time! I was planning to get to Manchester three hours early, so I could have a leisurely lunch and do a bit more silent panicking before the viva – however, I actually got there half an hour late.  Luckily the scrutineers agreed to wait for me.  By that time I was in such a bad mood it stopped me being too nervous, so it probably worked out well in the end.

It was actually really good to have a chance to talk through some of my ideas around my thesis with the scrutineers, who were really enthusiastic about my project.  Probably the biggest thing I’ve had to come to terms with in doing this PhD is believing that my ideas are interesting – I don’t know if anybody else has this, but because my ideas come out of my head, they don’t feel that interesting! But a PhD – or at least a creative PhD, or maybe even just MY creative Phd, has to be driven by ideas.

So I’m very happy to say I’ve passed, which means I can progress onwards with my PhD but I had a few revisions to make, including writing a paragraph or two about why I’m using lyric poetry as opposed to another type of poetry, some referencing errors and refining my aims from seven (excessive) down to four (manageable).  I resubmitted on Thursday, so that is done and dusted now.

Apart from the PhD excitement, I’ve been to a meeting for A Poem and a Pint – we are still waiting to hear back from our third attempt to apply for Arts Council funding.  In fact we should hear in the next few weeks.  I also did some mentoring on a manuscript of a rather excellent poet and we met up on Tuesday to discuss the suggestions I’d made.  On Wednesday, despite the freezing cold and a thin layer of snow in Barrow, I decided to go out and do a nine mile run – trying to build my mileage up now ready for the Coniston to Barrow event in May.

Thursday was a complete washout because of the storm.  I was supposed to get to Manchester, have two tutorials with two of my undergraduate students, go to a meeting about some teaching at university, then do an afternoon of teaching, and then hang around for a bit before going to read at Lit Up in Manchester.  I got to Lancaster and all the trains were cancelled, so I decided to cut my losses and go home.  Lit Up eventually ended up being cancelled, but it will hopefully be rearranged.

Friday’s meeting about an anthology of Cumbrian poetry I’m editing was also cancelled as the publisher/editor was snowed in and couldn’t get out of her house, and I decided to cancel Dove Cottage Young Poets rather than risk the weather, so instead of two really busy days I had two days of emptiness stretching before me.  It was so nice! I managed to fill them as I have so many jobs I haven’t caught up with – I managed to go for a ten mile run on Friday which I didn’t think I was going to have time for.  I’ve also finished planning the workshops for the residential course I’m running next week with hours to spare which is unusual for me.

A few exciting things that are happening – I’m going to be on Private Passions on Radio 3 soon and all my choices of music have a trumpet in, as you’d expect.  It’s also pre-recorded, so I’m hoping the producer will be able to make me sound intelligent and witty!  I’m going down to London in a couple of weeks to record it – it will be a flying visit though, as I have to get back to Manchester to do my teaching, and then straight from there to the airport to go to Gdansk Poetry Festival as part of Versopolis.  The rest of March and the first half of April is basically a bit manic, then everything slows down a little bit.

I’m also judging a poetry competition for a clothing company called Thought.  All you have to do is write a four line poem about nature and you could win £250! Details here of how to enter.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by one of my best friends, the lovely Hilda Sheehan.  I spent a week with Hilda recently running a residential, and she wrote this poem during that week, in response to a conversation about relationships with musicians.  I couldn’t possibly divulge who took part in the conversation, or what they divulged but this was the result.  You could replace Viola Man with the appropriate instrument for your life experiences, I’m sure!

This poem comes from an extended sequence of poems that all concern themselves with the life and times of two women, Francis and Martine.  You can find more Francis and Martine poems over at Hilda’s blog.

Francis and Martine are probably some of my favourite literary characters.  Hilda often describes them both as saying the things she can’t say or wants to say.  I like how Hilda does away with all the trappings of conventional speech marks and leaves the reader to work out who is speaking.  I also like the slightly convoluted and strange turns of phrase they often come out with, like a ‘disgraceful act of resistance’.  And anyone that has taught a musical instrument I’m sure will smile at the phrase ‘his engaging output of Ode to Joy.’  Ode to Joy is one of the five note tunes in its simplest forms and still haunts my sleep, along with Hot Cross Buns and Mary Had a Little Lamb after 13 years of teaching those tunes!

The whole poem pokes fun at love and obsession and relationships and distraction.  Is it only me who has Viola Man down as a bad ‘un?  And what is a frozen egg anyway?

I am going to break my own rules now and post a second Francis and Martine poem, also written during the residential.  Hilda and I discovered we have the same terrible habits of leaving socks all over the floor to develop into little sock nests, and both our husbands have similar opinions about our tardy ways.  I love this poem as well because it is bonkers.  I also love the way it leaps off into the world of Shakespeare and Desdemona and Othello at the end.  Hilda’s poems are never predictable.

And all those thoughts I’ve been having about mode of address, and who we are talking to in poetry, both indirectly and directly.  These poems are unusual because the speaker of the poem is in the poem, and is addressing another character in the poem.  They are entirely turned in on themselves, but rather than addressing an unseen other, a beloved, or a God, they are addressing themselves, leaving the audience to indirectly witness and overhear Francis and Martine trying to make sense of a world that doesn’t really make much sense at all.

Hilda also runs Swindon Poetry Festival which I would highly recommend – it runs from the 4th-8th October 2018.  Her published works include The Night My Sister Went To Hollywood, published by Cultured Llama, and pamphlets Francis and Martine and more recently, The God Baby, published by Dancing Girl Press.

It is now 1.20am – I decided, rather irresponsibly, to go to the cinema instead of writing this blog at a sensible hour.

I am away next week running a residential at The Garsdale Retreat and then on Sunday I’ll be reading at the Woman Up event in Carlisle at Tullie House – tickets available here

Viola Man – Hilda Sheehan

Martine, it’s a disgraceful act of resistance you display with the viola man.
But I love viola man and nothing you can do, or sing, will change my mind away from his engaging output of Ode to Joy. When he plays it I am in love all over again.
How about cake?
No, not enough ‘ode’.
How about pizza?
No, not enough ‘to’,
How about frozen eggs?
Yes, yes! This is it. Frozen eggs are the ultimate in Joy! I shall construct him a letter with absolute immediacy … it’s all over between me and viola man. Pass me a frozen egg.

Socks

For Kim Moore

If you were a pair of socks Martine, would you display yourself in dirty little piles about this room, sitting about with other dirty socks failing to reach the wash basket in such a demonstration of filthy deeds? How long would you hang about with such vagrant items, itching and holing around, the muck of you an irritant to those who love and care for your well-being, those who share your foul spaces, cluttered moments, inconsiderate escapades of slattery? If you were a pair of socks would this behaviour continue, or would you strumpet and slurf your dirty way to the wash basket with a face like Desdemona in her final moments, waiting for Othello to forgive her in that last leap to the basket, the denial of your love for other dirty socks. O Martine! I can not walk by. This makes men mad, it is the very error of the moon.

O Frances, a guiltless death I die.

#slatternsunite