Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Sunday Poem 3 – Roy Marshall

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This Sunday poem is again slightly late, Sunday being very close to turning into Monday.  However, I’m hoping that it will have been worth waiting for… Today’s Sunday poem is from Roy Marshall, a poet from Leicester, my home town, who I met, rather confusingly on a Sheffield Poetry Business Writing Day.  He has just had his first pamphlet published by Crystal Clear Creators (www.crystalclearcreators.org.uk).   Roy’s pamphlet was one of a series of six pamphlets published at the same time – the other poets published alongside him were Jessica Mayhew, Charles G Lauder Jr, Andrew ‘Mulletproof’ Graves, Hannah Stevens and Aly Stoneman.  You can order Roy’s pamphlet or any of the others from the Crystal Clear Creators website. 

I’ve read through the pamphlet quite a few times now, and it is full of poems you will want to come back to.  This is what I call ‘quiet’ poetry, in that it is not flashy, it does not shout, it is very self-contained, poised and graceful writing, as you can see from one of my favourites from the pamphlet, which I’ve posted below, with permission from Roy.  I would definately recommend ordering the pamphlet – it’s called Gopagilla, which is a word that Roy’s son made up, and at four pounds you’ve got nothing to lose!  Anyway, here is Roy’s poem – please feel free to comment and tell me if you have enjoyed reading or not!  I have the sneaking suspicion this blog is becoming like the diary I kept when I was 14 i.e nobody reads it apart from my mum when I leave it lying around!

I Dreamt of Smoking – Roy Marshall

the long abandoned sense of time
measured and slowed to a cigarette’s length;
necessity and luxury, the sparked up camaraderie
of bus shelter, fire-escape, a doorway in the rain.

My dream was not a pining for breath given substance,
for jellyfish pulsing in a projector’s beam,
nor for rituals of unwrapping, tapping and rolling,
or buried addiction, risen again.

But I know the source; it was you of course,
it was the two of us, smoking.

Women’s Poetry Festival

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Last weekend I was in Grasmere for the Dorothy Wordsworth Women’s Poetry Festival.  I was taking part in a panel discussion, hosted by The Poetry Society http://www.poetrysociety.org.uk  hosted by Judith Palmer on the subject of competitions and prizes.  Also taking part were the poets Ann Gray and Vicki Feaver.  It was an interesting discussion, and I think I managed to come across coherently enough apart from for one question.  Judith asked me what I thought about the fact that more male poets are given prizes for collections, which obviously are not anonymous, compared with the National Poetry Competition, which has had a pretty even split of prize winners, and what I thought of the winners of the big prizes this year for collections.  Obviously at this point my mind chose to go blank.  I was quite suprised actually by the disparity in the figures, first of all.

Now I’ve had time to process this information, I’m starting to wonder.  Does this mean male poets can sustain ‘greatness’ over a whole collection, whilst female poets struggle to do this for more than the one great, competition winning poem?  I don’t think so.  I think there is still a long way to go before things are equal. 

But why didn’t this annoy me more, I wondered.  And I realised afterwards, that I don’t really buy poetry on whether the book has won a prize.  I buy poetry at readings, I buy it on recommendations from friends, I buy it from reading a review in a magazine that really sparks my interest.  I’m an obsessive poetry book buyer – so whether the book has won a prize or not is slightly irrelevant to me. 

However, I can see how people can get frustrated – obviously the book that wins the prize gets the oxygen of publicity. 

Over the weekend, I bought Jane Hirshfields ‘Come, Thief’ by Bloodaxe which is one of my new favourite collections this year because I really enjoyed her reading.  She was the discovery of the weekend for me.  I had not read her poetry before and it absolutely blew me away.

I also bought Ann Gray’s ‘At the Gate’ an elegiac sequence of poetry, full of raw passion and loss.  I read this cover to cover on the Saturday night, and again really enjoyed it. 

I also took two advance orders for my pamphlet! My first advance orders – it is becoming more and more real every day. 

While all this was going on, down in Leicester, my uncle was dying.  My parents, his wife and daughter, and his brothers and sister kept a four day vigil at his bed over the weekend.   My aunty (his wife) didn’t want any of his neices/nephews to see him in this last part of his life, and I’m mostly grateful for this.  I can selfishly keep my memories of him intact. He died on Monday morning, surrounded by his close family.  I’m currently writing a poem for him to read at the funeral, or I may be reading someone else’s poem  – don’t know yet.   Either way, the poem is made up of stories about him, and it has been lovely to remember him in this way. Rest in peace, Pete.

The Sunday Poem – Mike Barlow

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Getting the Sunday poem in pretty close to the wire!  But I’ve been at the Dorothy Wordsworth Festival of Women’s Poetry all weekend.  More about that in a later post.

I went to Mike Barlow’s book launch last Thursday.  His new book, Charmed Lives is published by Smith/Doorstop.  You can order it from http://www.poetry business.co.uk

It was one of the few poetry readings I’ve been to where the organisers had to get more chairs out!  People had turned out in force to support Mike.  I think this was for two equally as important reasons.  Firsly, he is  a great poet, as you will see from the poem below, which is one of my favourites in the collection, but secondly, he is such a lovely guy, in fact he is reknowned for being generally nice.  You’ll know what I mean if you know him!

Anyway, it’s a great book with a fantastic cover, which I’m told is one of Mike’s paintings – he is a visual artist as well.  His website is

Let me know what you think of the poem!

Holding the Door – Mike Barlow

I held the door for my daughter
who waved and disappeared
before I’d had a chance to smile.
I held the door for my grandmother
still ramming her trolley
against the heels of the person ahead.
I held the door for a couple arguing,
I knew their words by heart.
I held the door for a pair of trainers
and a tiny muscular dog which sniffed my toes.
I held the door for a scar of scarlet lipstick
pursed in permanent disapproval>

I held the door for the verb ‘to love’
declining itself endlessly
to strobe lights and a drum machine;
for the colour red, it wore a mini-skirt
on a pale exhausted body;
for faith, looking straight ahead,
eyes fixed on the vanishing point;
for famine, trying to explain itself
again and again with the sound turned down;
for silence, its white sheet smoothed
and tucked into crisp hospital corners.

I held the door for childhood.
It flickered like an old newsreel
played in the daylight.
I held the door for history.
It swung through with a funny walk,
a punter in a hall of mirrors.
I held the door for tomorrow.
Blind fingers felt the furrows
on my brow, the creases down my cheeks.
I held the door for my shadow
but it seemed reluctant to go in front.

Arvon and the Writing Process

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The Arvon foundation has just posted a call for contributions from writers on how the writing process works.  These contributions may end up in a book called ‘Gists’ , along with pieces by famous writers.  The questions can be found here:  www.arvonwritingroom.org/

I was pointed to this by the poet Roy Marshall.  There is a link to his blog on the left.  I have a feeling some of my answers sound quite pretentious, but I did as Roy advised, and answered quite quickly without thinking.

 

How does a book or piece of writing begin to take shape in your imagination? Do you feel your writing is a process of inventing or discovering?

I write poetry and I definately feel that writing for me is a process of discovery. I often don’t know what I want to say, or what I want to write about, but feel a compulsion to sit and write. I often get a strange feeling which I can only describe as a kind of ‘stillness’ when I’m writing. Writing is a way of finding out the questions I want to ask. When I get to the end of a poem, if it’s a good poem, it won’t have answered any of the questions.

What things trigger your imaginative process (for example, significant personal experiences, particular people, places, objects, dream imagery, myths, history, etc)?

My poetry is not autobiographical, but I would say it is composed of bits of my life. Strange things happening to me trigger me to write, and then I embellish to get to the real truth – a couple having a three course meal in a Weatherspoons pub, going to a spiritualist church with people who are training to be mediums -both of these events have sparked off poems.
But maybe the thing that inspires me the most is reading other people’s poems. Often I read something and a line will stick in my head, and that will start me off on my own poem. Reading is just important to me as writing, and just as enjoyable.

How do you work – do you plan carefully or explore in the dark, trusting the process?

I don’t plan at all. It’s strange because I had a conversation about this with the performance poet Tony Walsh, who (and I hope I’m recording his opinions faithfully, but maybe he will contribute to this too and clarify) spoke about how he constantly has the audience in mind when writing a poem, and is constantly thinking, how can I make this clearer, how can I communciate what I want to say, and I was struck by what opposite ends of the spectrum we came from, as when I’m writing, I don’t know what I want to say, and I have no thought to a reader really at the drafting process. I’m writing to find something out. When I’m editing, that’s different, and of course, then I do think about a reader, and making sure the poem is communicating.

Do you feel in control of your writing or are you responsive to the requirements of the work as it unfolds?

I write very quickly at first, great big chunks of stuff, and then I often put it away for a day or two. When I come back to it, it’s often as if someone else has written it, so no I wouldn’t say I felt in control of it. I like writing when I’m really tired as well – I think this knocks down a few walls in the brain and often produces some interesting stuff.

Do you write a first draft quickly and then revise it, or build carefully from the start?

Whoops, already started to answer this question. I write a lot in the first draft, and a lot of it is dross, and then I chip away at it. My poet-friend David Tait, often mocks me for how awful my first drafts are, but I feel the need to get everything down and then lose whatever I need to lose.

How do you deal with blocks in the writing process?

If I don’t feel like writing, or I can’t write, for whatever reason, I read poetry. If I don’t feel like reading poetry, I read novels. I sometimes get slightly anxious if I’m not writing, but reading other people’s poetry calms this down.

Do you write in service of any particular values?

I don’t think so. I’m very interested in gender politics. I’m interested in psychotherapy as my husband is a psychotherapist. But I don’t write to communicate these things. They find their way in whether I want them to or not.

What have you learned from the practice of your craft?

1. To notice things
2. To think consciously, as in, to question, to discuss, to try and find humour in absurd situations
3. To listen
4. To write without thinking
5. The importance of drafting
6. The importance of having friends you can trust to help you with drafting

What is the relationship between the writer’s imagination and that of the reader?

I think the best poems for me, are when I feel a connection when I read the poem, that moment when you think, I wish I’d written that, I wish I’d noticed that the world is that way or yes, that is exactly how it is for me too. I think that the imagination of the writer should take the reader on a journey with no prescribed end, but to an opening of many possible endings..

Do writers have any moral responsibility in their work, wider than fidelity to their personal vision?

I don’t really know the answer to this. I feel a responsibility to write poetry that has truth in it, but it may not necessarily be truthful.

The Sunday Poem – Carole Coates

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I’m going to post a poem each Sunday on here – and I thought I would start with a poem by Carole Coates after hearing her read last night at A Poem and A Pint. 

I chose this poem after finding it in a folder dating from five years ago when I was having a clear out earlier in the week.  The folder was entitled “My Favourite Poems’ and inside there were poems by various people that I’d written out by hand.  The very first one was this poem ‘Stalker’ by Carole Coates. 

Carole has two collections out with Shoestring Press, ‘The Goodbye Edition’ and ‘Looking Good’.  She also has a third collection coming out in June with Shoestring called ‘Swallowing Stones’ which we heard her read from last night.  This collection is set entirely in a fictional country – if you are into fantasy fiction, as I am, you will enjoy it. 

This poem comes from her first collection ‘The Goodbye Edition’.  I think it demonstrates the kind of poetry Carole is known for – it’s quite dark, we never really know whether the voice of the poem succeeds in getting away from the ominous male figure, but the claustrophobic atmosphere of the poem is lifted, I believe by the singing quality of some of the lines:

I gave you the desolate road on and on
and the collapsing stars and I said Now
you try to live without air or a skin

Anyway, Carole’s website, if you would like to know more about her poetry is www.carolecoates.org.uk and Carole’s publisher’s website is www.shoestringpress.co.uk

Here is the poem

Stalker by Carole Coates
from The Goodbye Edition, Shoestring Press

I told you to go
over and over
but you had to follow me
dragging the horizons too near.

You would be waiting always.
You crept behind the rail of the station
you crawled like the clock’s hands
up to my carriage, you held my skirt.
You put your hand palm flat against the glass.

When we went to the pub there was nowhere
else.  It was the end of all possibilities, nothing
was left, the stars were going out, light shrinking,
the fog nearer, my breath almost gone. 

I telephoned.  You patrolled the box.
You looked at me through the glass.
You put your hand palm flat against the glass.

(The only road on – the desolate road
the road where the light fell desolate
the road that led to the sea
the road to the lighthouse.
The lighthouse eye – its endless look
and long finger of light.
I went through the darkness and the long
finger of light crept after me
and the little bushes on the cliff didn’t hide me
and the little cabins in the fields didn’t hide me
I was on the edge of the cliff
and the air was gone and the stars were gone
and the look of the lighthouse found me.)

And we were walking to the pub and there was nothing
but the long look of the light and the long finger of light
and we walked by the simple shop windows framing simple things
which I could no longer understand because I had gone
beyond all those simple things and I wanted nothing
just to go from this one moment to the next moment.

I was walking to the pub with you and I was dying.
I said over and over I will save my life and knew
how to save my life again and I told you to go
and I gave you the eye and finger of light
I gave you the desolate road on and on
and the collapsing stars and I said Now
you try to live without air or a skin.

I told you to go.  You still come to my window
to place your hand palm flat against the glass.
You write your name on the scraps of paper
that blow down the street.  If you could
you would suck the air from my house.
You would blow it down if you could
with your breath.  You would sow
my roses with maggots to speak your name.

You would crawl without skin through the airless dark.
You would place your hand palm flat against my heart
if you could.

                                                                            I told you to go.

End of the Holidays and other stuff…

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I’ve had a great week so far – feel slightly sad that the holiday is about to come to an end, but looking back just over this week, lots of lovely things have happened.   Tuesday was my last session in the prison and the group of prisoners that Tony Walsh and I have been working with did a performance to about forty other prisoners.  Because of the size of the library, the prisoners and I sat facing the audience at the front.  Tony Walsh was coming in and out from the stacks of books to introduce each person before they read, so he may have had a slightly different view to me, but I thought the audience looked quite scary.  I think this has something to do with the fact that at most poetry readings I’ve been to, the audience is dominated by women.  Obviously, it being a male prison, they were mainly men, although there were a few female guards or education staff there.  I don’t know if this is true of performance poetry nights, I’ll have to ask Tony if there are more men than women or vice versa.  Anyway, even though the audience looked quite scary, they didn’t make a sound while the prisoners were reading.  They listened to every word they said, clapped in the right places and seemed to generally enjoy themselves.  I hope when our group get out of prison, they start to engage with the poetry community. They have a lot to offer, not just their talent and life experience, but the respect and support they showed for each other during the ten sessions.  They would be an asset to any poetry group.

Then on Wednesday, my good friend Manon came to visit with her two daughters.  It was a flying visit, they were off again on Thursday.  I met Manon at the first ever writing residential course that I went to at Ty Newydd, which I think must have been four or five years ago.   The tutors were Nigel Jenkins and Sarah Kennedy, and I can safely say that course completely changed my life.  Nigel gave me the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given, which was to write every day, and read every day.  He told me to think of it as being the same as practicing a musical instrument, which I could relate to.  As much as I can, I’ve followed his advice to the letter.  By a spooky coincidence, exactly a year after he first said that to me was when I had my first poem accepted for publication. 

And Sarah was brilliant as well – warm, funny, encouraging, supportive.  Sarah is an American poet, and I would recommend anybody to look her poetry up. 

And of course, I met one of my closest friends on this course as well, Manon.  After the course had finished we started a tradition of meeting up in random places (Hull, Bristol, Manchester) and going for a night out.  Sometimes this would coincide with a literature festival, but mostly it would just be an excuse for a night out.

And yesterday, Friday I went to meet Ann Sansom, who is my editor for the pamphlet.  She was really brilliant to work with,  and had asked me to send her some new poems to look at as well.  I think I’m going to replace a few of the poems in the pamphlet with a few new poems on her advice – and save the ones I take out for the first collection, whenever that happens. 

It was interesting to discuss the poems with Ann in that much depth – a poem that I had bought to the last writing day which I thought was what I call a ‘something and nothing’ poem Ann thought should definately go in, because ‘it couldn’t have been written by anybody else’.  The poem is about teaching the trumpet.  I haven’t met any trumpet playing poets yet, but now I’ve written this, and agreed the poem should go in, I’m sure one will pop up!

And tonight is Poem and A Pint with Carole Coates, one of my favourite poets.  When I hear her tonight, I might ask if I can put one of her poems up on here from her collection.  She is a fantastic writer, and probably not as well known as she should be.

News…

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The end of the first week of the holidays – well almost.  I’ve had a great week, deliberately not planning anything, but it seems to have flown by all the same.  I’ve had the dogs to walk of course – most days I’ve managed to get out twice a day, and the weather has helped this too!  I started to clean out all my paperwork from our spare bedroom.  I’ve filled a huge box with old lesson plans and schemes of work that I haven’t used for years – I file them away, thinking that will save me replanning stuff, but then I can never find what I want anyway.  So out it has all gone.  Me and Chris are planning to have a room each, to stay true to the spirit of my new tattoo!  I’m getting the large room, as I teach in there sometimes and Chris is going to have the small room.  Then he can keep the small one ridiculously tidy, and I can let my creative energy spread over the large one, which is my way of saying I can leave my stuff where I like!  I still have two large boxes to sort out though – so we have a way to go yet….

In poetry related news, I’ve had a really exciting week, although I am very aware of something a friend, and excellent poet Holly Hopkins told me about on a recent writing retreat about ‘poetry related stuff’ that is all very good and exciting, like readings, competitions, prizes, publications etc that you can get caught up with.  However, this poetry related stuff is not ‘poetry’.  It’s not the same as that buzz that you get when you sit down to write and it is working and you know you are on to something, and it is important not to be seduced by it!  Maitreyabandhu did a brilliant article in Poetry Review about this and another, equally as brilliant in Magma recently.  I think he used a different definition, but I think he was talking about essentially the same thing. 

This week, I’ve really not written anything.  I’m giving myself a break now I’ve got the pamphlet coming out, but I’ve also been doing lots of ‘poetry related stuff’.  Which needed doing, but I am aware that it is not writing!

Saying that, I’ve had a poem accepted at an online magazine based in mexico, The Ofi Press.  The website address is www.theofipress.webs.com

I’ve been asked to write a review for the Cadaverine: www.thecadaverine.com

Poetry Review and Stand arrived with a poem in of mine

and this week a few readings came in: the 25th May with Ian Parks at Heart Cafe in Headingley and the same venue on the 25th July with Cora Greenhill and James Caruth with three more readers to be announced. 

I also found out one of my poems ‘Hartley Street Spiritualist Church’ got a runner up prize in the Kent and Sussex Poetry Competition, which was very nice.  The Kent and Sussex was the first competition I got placed in when I first started writing – I got a runner up prize then as well – don’t know what that says about my writing!

And I’ve been reading all the National Poetry Writing Month entries and secretly wishing I’d joined in – but now, due to my obsessive personality I will have to wait till next year, so I can do it properly – can’t join in half way through!

Also found out this week who is going to be my mentor as part of the amazing package that Ledbury Poetry Festival have put together as part of my Young Poet-in-Residence experience.  I don’t know if I’m allowed to say anything yet, so I won’t blab, but I am pretty happy about it – it will be a brilliant experience…

And the MOST exciting thing is that I have my editorial meeting with Ann Sansom from Smith Doorstop next Friday to work on my pamphlet.  Now that is happening, it actually feels real, and I’m really looking forward to it.  Any suggestions for cover colours are welcome.

Poetry Workshop

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Poetry Workshop, Barrow Library, May 5th, 1.00pm – 3.30pm, £10

I’ve been wanting to set up a poetry workshop in Barrow for ages.  We don’t really have many poetry readings or workshops happening in Barrow.  A Poem And A Pint (www.apoemandapint.co.uk) which is a poetry organisation of which I am a committee member organises various readings in South Lakeland where we bring guest poets to the area and we have ran events in Barrow, but most events tend to be around the Ulverston area.  Audiences have generally been smaller in Barrow as well for the events that we have ran there.  Maybe this is why not much is going on in Barrow, poetry wise. 

 Kate Davis, a local poet is setting up a new open mic night in Barrow – the inaugral one will be at The Haven Cafe in Barrow on May 4th, so it feels like there are things that are starting to happen.  I’ve also had a couple of enquiries about poetry workshops for beginners, and realised there isn’t anything of the sort in Barrow – there is Fourth Monday poets in Ulverston, where you can bring a poem to be critiqued by the group, but there are no reading/writing groups for poets that are just starting out. 

So I’ve been down to Barrow Library today and hired a room for the afternoon of May 5th.  I’m going to run a workshop from 1.00pm till 3.30pm.  It will be aimed at beginner writers, or less confident writers but I think more advanced poets will get something out of it too.  It will cost £10 per person.  This is to cover room hire and to pay me, as I’ll be the tutor. 

Places are going to be limited, so if you are reading this and think you would like to come, please contact me on here and book your place. 

The workshop will consist of relaxed, fun exercises to get people writing and there will be time to share work that is produced during the session.

Let the holidays begin!

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The start of the Easter holidays.  I have deliberately planned absolutely nothing this holiday.  This is mostly due to being ill in the last two weeks of term, and then not really recovering in that last week of term, due to the usual madness and chaos of the last week. 

The hubby went away to Scotland on Friday for five days of walking and sleeping in a tiny tent at the top of a mountain with his friend, which leaves me with the house to myself for the first time in absolutely ages.  So far, I’m quite enjoying it! 

On Saturday, I went to The Beach Hut gallery at Kents Bank, Grange over Sands with the wonderful poet Jennifer Copley www.jennifercopley.org.uk , to organise running a workshop at the gallery.  Her husband, Martin Copley exhibits his sculptures there.   It is a very small gallery, I think we should be able to get ten people plus the two of us around the table, but they have some really lovely things there and Ithink it’s definately worth a look for a birthday or christmas present shopping spree.  The workshop will be 15 pounds per person and will run from 2.00pm till 4.30pm on National Poetry Day which is Thursday 4th October.  Which is also my birthday!  If anyone reading this would like to book a place, please get in touch via the contact page. 

In the evening, we are going to have a poetry reading at Abbotshall Hotel in Grange Over Sands, which is just down the road from the gallery.  It will be four pounds to get in, unless you’ve been to the workshop, in which case you can come in for free, and we hope, will read something that you’ve written in the workshop that day in an open mic slot. 

Jenny and I will be reading for 15-20 minutes each, and the rest of the time will be open mic slots. 

I’m really looking forward to the workshop – the gallery is perched next to the train station, right next to the sea, so there are stunning views, as well as lots of quirky art work which I’m hoping will prove to be an inspiration. 

If you are interested, please get in touch!