Monthly Archives: July 2012

Sunday Poem – Andrew Forster


Today’s Sunday poem is by Andrew Forster, a good friend of mine.  Andrew is the Literature Officer at the Wordsworth Trust and has his own blog at where you can find more poems and information about what he is up to.

Andrew is definately a force for good in the poetry world – although that sounds like we’re in Star Wars or something!  But he is unfailingly generous to other writers, and always offers very good advice.  He works extremely hard to bring poets to our corner of the world through the contemporary literature program at the Wordsworth Trust, and I suspect his own work is often overlooked because he is so busy promoting the work of others. 

But not today!  I’ve chosen ‘Damselflies’ as the Sunday Poem.  This poem comes from Andrew’s most recent collection ‘Territory’ and is very representative of this second collection, published by Flambard – lots of close observations of landscapes and the natural world.  His first collection ‘Fear of Thunder’ also published by Flambard was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and he has recently published a beautiful pamphlet ‘Digging’ with amazing illustrations by Hugh Bryden, published by Roncodora Press. 

If you would like to order any of these collections, you can go to Andy’s site –

Damselflies – Andrew Forster

They come in from the whispering rain
each time the door or window is opened:
dozens of them, sparks in the scratched dark,
riding the warm air into the kitchen.
Legs crackle with electricity, clumsy
as puppets.  They closet themselves in corners,
clinging to plaster, or follow each other
in a linked chain like a pagan dance
around the hot glow of the lightbulb.

Is this their heaven? Perhaps they dream
of somewhere just like this, from their hatching
by the burn, throughout their month-long lives;
drawn here like salmon, against all odds,
by an innate, mysterious pull.
We leave them in peace.  Later, empty shells
of them will litter the kitchen, brittle
and breaking at a touch, mere signs of something
that passed here, light and elusive as breath. 

Olympic Run Down


Today I am ashamed to say that I’ve spent the whole day in my pyjamas, watching the Olympics on the sofa.  I haven’t moved.  I love the Olympics – always have done.  I suppose the thing that draws me into it is watching people who are at the top of their game, completely dedicated, completely obsessive.  I find it quite compelling.  I don’t really like the team sports, or anything that has a ball in it really, but everything else – I’ve been watching the swimming and gymnastics, and today I watched the whole of the women’s cycling road race.  I also sat and watched the whole of the Olympic Ceremony, which I’ve never done before.  There was obviously lots of activity on Twitter and Facebook throughout the ceremony – the saddest thing I heard – apart from the Tory MP who referred to it as ‘multicultural crap’ and who has been rightly lambasted for his comments, were people accusing a German official of doing a Nazi salute – to me it just looked like he was waving his athletes on – and would people have thought that if he wasn’t German? I don’t think so.  Anyway, it has emerged now that he was the Mayor of the Munich Olympic village and offered himself up in exchange for the Israeli hostages.  A sobering thought, and one that warns of the dangers of just blurting out things on social media. 

Going back to the Tory MP – even giving him the benefit of the doubt (which I actually don’t – I think he is showing his true colours – this is the same man who was present at a Nazi themed stag party after all)  but lets be generous and say that he is not racist.  All the time on this blog, on my Facebook, on Twitter, I constantly ask myself – is what I’m putting on here suitable for any pupils or parents of pupils, or headteachers to see?  This is because young people are much more savvy than I am – if they wanted to find anything I put on the internet they could.  As well as this, I run a Facebook group for my Junior Band, so I am ‘Facebook Friends’ with a lot of the young people I teach.  This means that I do think before I speak, I consider things – I ensure I am not setting a bad example. This is not onerous or hard work – it’s just basic commen sense.  And surely we should expect this from the people who represent us.  The mind boggles – and more fool us for voting in someone like that. 

In other news, the BBC seem to be obsessed with Britain winning medals, almost as if there are no other countries taking part and we should expect to get one just for turning up!  It is very tiresome, and negates all the amazing work that the athletes have done just to get to this point. 

Having had a good moan, I should reiterate that I’m loving sitting on the sofa watching it all!

HEART Cafe, Leeds, 25th July


Last night I drove over to Leeds to read at the Heart Cafe alongside Jim Caruth, Andrew Wilson Lambeth, Cora Greenhill, Mike Barlow and Jane Routh.  This event was the last in the series for this year, the organisers are having a break in August and recommencing in September. 

It was a great night – it’s always reassuring to arrive at a venue and find the place already pretty full, and by 7.30 there were no spare seats in the cafe.  I volunteered to go first – for purely sefish reasons.  I often find it hard to concentrate on the other readings before I’ve done my set, as I spend the time worrying about it, so this way I thought I could get my reading out of the way and then settle down to listen to the other poets. 

Andrew Wilson Lambeth was the only complete stranger to me – and what a wonderful discovery his poetry was.  He told us he had only written 12 poems  – but has already had two shortlisted in the National Poetry Competition last year.  I was impressed with how he used rhyme to make the poems hang together, without hitting you in the face with it – I think he is definately one to watch – someone who is doing something interesting and different with language. 

Cora Greenhill was on the MA with me at Manchester, but I’d never heard her read, again I really enjoyed her reading and poems that travelled from Crete to Sheffield and back again.  And of course, Mike, Jane and Jim were fabulous as usual.

I sold five copies of my pamphlet – bringing my total copies sold up to 116.  Four were bought by complete strangers, which always feels nice. 

I tried something different in my set last night – I read at the Heart Cafe not long ago, and I’ve got in the habit of starting my set with the same two poems ‘The Wolf’ which I can launch into without any introduction, followed swiftly by ‘Tuesday at Wetherspoons’.  However I decided not to last night just in case there were members of the audience that had heard me read previously, so I started with a brand new poem, that I wrote at the Poetry Business workshop on Saturday.  It was quite nerve wracking, breaking out of my normal routine, but I think, ultimately good.  I think the time when you get so comfortable with the poems that you’re going to read is probably the time to shake things up a bit. 

All in all, a great night, and lovely to catch up with friends from Leeds I don’t see very often.  I bought David Agnew’s new collection ‘There Are No Such Things As Seagulls’ available from Valley Press ( and am now looking forward to settling down to read that today. 

I have my sister’s dogs staying with me at the minute while she swans off to a wedding in Portugal, so at the minute, have four terriers in the house and one very disgruntled cat, so how much relaxing reading I’ll get done I don’t know!

Sunday Poem – Maria Taylor


Today’s Sunday Poem is by Maria Taylor.  Last weekend I went down to Leicester Shindig (see previous post!) and heard Maria read to launch her new collection, ‘Melanchrini’ published by Nine Arches Press (

I’m really enjoying ‘Melanchrini’ – my other favourite poem is ‘Merman’ which I would have loved to post on here as well where the speaker of the poem captures a merman and tries to keep him happy by keeping him in the bath, and ‘Felling A Maiden’ which explores the conflicting feelings of a woman changing her name once she is married – a subject close to my heart!

I loved Maria’s set in Leicester – and ‘Larkin’, this week’s Sunday poem, had me laughing out loud in places, so I thought it would be a great one to have for the blog.  Maria is an interesting poet in a variety of ways, not least because she has Greek heritage, moving to London at the age of six, and this dual heritage adds a unique presence to her work.  Her poetry and reviews have been published in a variety of publications including The TLS. 

Not only do Maria and I have Leicester in common (I’m originally from Leicester and she now lives there) but she also has two lovely twin daughters – who I met a couple of weekends ago, very briefly.  And of course, I’m a twin…

Anyway, here is the poem.  Enjoy.  Let me know what you think.

September. Someone hands me a copy of Larkin,
thirty eager teenage faces search me for clues.
I will love teaching Larkin, I will embrace Larkin,
‘A’ Level Syllabi, York Notes, Spark Notes;
we’re going to crack this Larkin like a walnut.
October. Larkin has moved in. My photographs
are all of Larkin, the face on the television
belongs to Larkin. In the crisp mornings
birds are tweeting Larkin! Larkin! Larkin!
It’s Sunday lunchtime, thirty essays on Larkin
scream at me.  Was Larkin a misogynist?
Was Larkin a misanthrope? Was Larkin a joker?
I give up and go in search of food. Larkin passes me
the leeks and compliments me on my choice of wine.
The term ends. We have done our Christmas quiz
on Larkin. ‘I hate Larkin,’ says a small girl with eczema.
‘Tis the season to be Larkin. I go home with a suitcase
full of Larkin. On Boxing Day I drink brandy
and salute Larkin. I think I’m going Larkin.
Last night when I was asleep, Larkin was on top
of me again, grunting. His lenses were all steamed-up,
he enjoys the feel of the living, the way we move.
I fended him off with a hardback of New Women Poets
and woke up, relieved to see someone else.
You may turn over and begin. Mr. Larkin is your invigilator for today.
I raise my hand, ‘How do you spell MCMXIV?’
He clips the back of my ear with a shatterproof ruler.
I draw a Smurf in the margin, I have forgotten everything
there is to know about Larkin. He gives up on me and leaves.
Larkin’s shoes echo noisily through the gym.
August. Twisted. They’re opening little envelopes,
some smile, some cry. A photographer from the local paper
takes photos of students throwing Larkin in the air.
I’m better now, cured of Larkin. The girl with eczema
has a lighter. I find a charred copy of High Windows
behind the gym with a used condom and a can of Lilt.
Never such innocence, as I think someone once said.

Leicester Shindig, Sales and Other Adventures


On Monday, I finished work in Ambleside at 3.00pm and jumped straight into the car to get to the Leicester Shindig poetry night in the evening, where I was a guest reader.  I knew that logically, I should easily make it.  The sat nav told me it was 180 miles away – so if I averaged 70 miles an hour it should take about 2 and a half hours right?  Which meant that I would hit Leicester at about six o clock, in time for a cup of tea and something to eat with the folks. 

However, what place does logic have on the M6?  None, I tell you!  It was raining, which slowed things down.  I got stuck behind a wide load at one point, with traffic taking ages to get round it.  I came to a complete stop in some sections, for no obvious reason, other than a sheer volume of traffic.  Anyway, I eventually rolled into Leicester at 6.45, which was in time for half a cup of tea.

It was great to get to the Western Pub in Leicester and see it slowly starting to fill up.  I had guilt tripped lots of my family into being there – my mum, dad, two older sisters, one brother in law, two neices, one nephew, neice’s boyfriend and auntie. 

None of them had ever been to a poetry reading before (apart from my mum and dad) so they were entering a completely different world.  It made me realise how strange the poetry scene is, seeing it through the eyes of outsiders.  But I think they enjoyed themselves, although as I said on the night, it was like trying to keep a group of unruly cats in order. 

Anyway, by the time the night started, the pub was absolutely packed, with just standing room at the end.  It was nice to catch up with Maria and Jonathan Taylor – Maria was launching her first collection “Melanchrini’ published by Nine Arches Press ( I have appropriated a poem from her new book for the Sunday poem next week – it’s called ‘Larkin’ and is very funny. 

In preparation for Maria’s poem next Sunday, which is about teaching Larkin, I have put my own poem about teaching the trumpet on the Poems page of the blog – please go and check it out.  If you have the pamphlet, you will have read it already!

I’ve just found some links to various blogs with reviews of the night in Leicester – and all saying lovely things about me!

Here is Matt Merrit’s blog – a Nine Arches press poet

Jayne Stanton’s blog

A link to Gary Longden’s blog

I also said I would keep you all updated on pamphlet sales.  I don’t know how many my publisher have sold, but I’m now up to 110 sales, and about forty given away as review copies or copies to people I’m related to, or that have mentored me throughout the last few years. 

I’m quite pleased with 110 copies sold.  I sold nine copies at the Shindig – which is the most I’ve ever sold in one reading – beats my previous 8 sold at Manky poets.  I hope I don’t sound like I’m obsessed with selling – but then again, maybe I am a little.  It’s not the tiny bit of money that I make that obsesses me – but I do like the thought of my pamphlet being read by people I don’t know…and I like having something to measure – I’m not sending out much stuff at the minute, so my usual obsession with submissions and filling in spreadsheets has had to focus on something else.

The end of this week signals the start of the summer holidays.  I’ve got a really exciting summer coming up – I’m reading in Leeds on the 25th July, then I’m off to Ireland to the Fermoy poetry festival – just found out I’ll be giving a half hour reading right before Matthew Sweeeney – gulp – one of my poetry heroes!  Then later in August I’m off to Holland House on a residential course with Myra Schneider and Mimi Khalvati, and hopefully in the last week of the summer, hubby and I are going to try and go away somewhere…

In between all of this, my lovely friend David Tait is coming to stay, and I’m looking after my sisters dogs while she swans off to Portugal, so I’ll have four terriers running round the house.  But it WILL be a holiday!

Sunday Poem – C.J.Allen


Today’s Sunday Poem is by C.J. Allen –  a poet who I’ve often noticed appearing on the list of winners and runners up of various poetry competitions.  Clive is the reviews editor for Staple magazine – ( which is where I first made contact with Clive – but we recently swapped pamphlets. 

Clive’s pamphlet is one of my favourite that I’ve read this year actually.  It was very hard to pick a poem to put on the blog – I enjoyed the whole pamphlet, but there were five or six that were my favourites and which I wanted to put on but I decided I should really stick to my rule of one poem so I decided to go for ‘The Missing Moon’ because I just loved the ending with the wolf in it!  But I also really liked ‘The Man Who Fell in Love With His Wife’ (what a good title), ‘Allure”, ‘Poem’ and ‘The Neighbours’. 

The pamphlet is called ‘Violets’ and is published by Templar Poetry and below is a link if you would like to read more!  ‘Violets’ was a winner in the Templar Poetry Press Competition in 2011.

 He has also published with Nine Arches Press a collection called ‘At the Oblivion Tearooms’.  I’ve put the link in below – apparently you can get the first 25 pages free from the website! Bargain!

 Clive has been published widely in magazines and anthologies in the UK, USA, Ireland and elsewhere and his work has been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4.  His poems have appeared alongisde  several exhibitions and installations.

The Missing Moon – C.J.Allen

I disguised myself as the moon
and went roaming about the skies,
seeing the earth tricked out
in my own light.  The real
moon I’d left behind,
stashed it out of sight
on some derelict trading estate.
But when I returned, the place
had been levelled, bulldozed, razed,
scarcely a trace remained
of the erstwhile satellite.
I trawled my fingers through
the vacant, cratered dust.
It seemed there was nothing
for it but to pitch
myself back up into
the star-shot canopy
and set about the task
of scouring the land
for hints of the missing moon.

So that’s how come I’m here,
catching my heart in my throat
at every glint and glimmer
in the placid reservoir,
each flicker in the rain,
my face an anxious waxwork
of betrayal and despair.
The constellations wheel
like geese.  Meanwhile I sweep
the shore for signs of things
washed up or hunt through quarries
for shadows of lost worlds.
I sail my imitation
over emptied streets,
comb forests in formation
with owls and hope that no-one
notices.  The scarecrows
scowl from frosted fields.
The wolves look up and howl.
They’re on to me, I’m sure. 



Ledbury Poetry Festival


Last weekend I was at Ledbury Poetry Festival as the Young Poet-in-Residence.  I had an amazing time – I went to see loads of events – the highlights were probably Simon Armitage reading from his new prose account ‘Walking Home’ about his journey along the Penine Way.  He decided to see if he could make it with no money other than what he earned by giving poetry readings on the way.  He had the sell-out audience laughing throughout the reading – a great performance. 

I really wanted to get to see the new Eric Gregory winners read, and Nikolai Masdirov, the Macedonian poet who took part in Poetry Parnassus read, but our lovely weather had other ideas.  It took me seven hours to get to Ledbury instead of the estimated four – I did get there in time to see Kay Ryan and Bill Manhire in the evening – who were fabulous.

The rain on the way down was biblical – and twenty miles from Ledbury the motorway was shut because of floods – the signposted diversion kept me on another motorway and the traffic wasn’t moving, so I came off and made my way to Ledbury down some tiny country roads.  I switched the satnav off at this point as she just kept telling me to do a U-turn and I was swearing so much by this point at the satnav that I was starting to believe she was a real person. 

Anyway, I finally got there.  I was staying at David and Ann Tomb’s house, who were just lovely all weekend.  As well as looking after me, they were stewarding various events and making sandwiches for poets – all voluntary – two of the loveliest people I’ve met.  They also have a guest book which all the poets sign – and I got to sign it too!

On the Saturday I had a mentoring session with Neil Astley as part of my young poet-in-residence experience, went for lunch with Amy Wack and her lovely husband Kevin, ran a two hour ‘PutYour Hand in a Poet’s Pocket’ workshop and then went down to meet up with the two poets that I was reading translations for in the evening. 

This was where I met Ribka Sibhatu, the Eritrean poet.  She was an absolute force of nature, and decided that she was going to braid my hair – before I’d worked out what she meant, she’d braided my whole head – anyone who knows how long my hair is will know how impressive this is!

Here is a photo that I took when I got back after the evening reading – this was the first chance I’d had to look! 

Then Sunday I went to the reading with Samantha Wynne Rhydderch – who was ace, and then off to the Simon Armitage reading, then off to run my own ‘Starting to Publish’ workshop, and then I sat in Hospitality for a while, drinking cups of tea with Roy Marshall and Maria and Jonathan Taylor, and then I had to drag myself (literally) to go and pack up the car to go home. 

It was a ridiculously full weekend, full of lovely people.  I would definately recommend Ledbury Poetry Festival – it was a fantastic experience. 

Just found Maria Taylor’s blog about Ledbury :

Tomorrow’s Sunday poem will be by C.J.Allen.

Sunday Poem-Holly Hopkins


Here is your delayed Sunday poem fix folks. This week the poem is by Holly Hopkins, and it is one of my favourite poems of hers.  I love the description of the ducks and the ‘What excellent thrift’ verse.  And then the mysterious ending..

Holly is a young writer based in London.  Last year she was awarded an Eric Gregory and this year she has gone and got herself a coveted place on the Creative Writing MA at Royal Holloway.  She has been published in various places, including Magma and Poetry Review, and is one of the most intelligent people I know.  I think she is already someone you should keep an eye out for…

To find out more info about Holly, check out her blog at where you’ll find more poems! Go and say hi! Introduce yourself!

‘Duck’ was first published in The North No.47.  More information about The North can be found at



You teach children how to give.
They tear bread into damp figured lumps
for you to shovel up in your snorkeling gear.

What excellent thrift
to make your feet from old umbrellas
and to colour yourself with muesli!

To eat the river’s beard
where it sprouts between the cold washed scales
and to clean your own pond as you swim,
trailing a black ribbon through the glazed weed.

But though you can drag yourself up
and pass through the sky like a windscreen wiper,
and your voice is loud enough to fill in the river,
you cannot stop the treading.

The banks grow lush with shame
as they stamp out the fire on your tail.

By Holly Hopkins

Poetry Parnassus Gushing


I am uncomfortably aware that I did not blog on Thursday as promised.  Thursday last week now seems a million miles away – Thursday last week was before Poetry Parnassus, which was this weekend, and was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. 

I stayed with my friend Holly Hopkins, Eric Gregory Award Winner from last year, and poet extraordinaire as well as aimiable host.  She has also let me steal a poem for this week’s (late) Sunday poem – which I am definately, definately going to post tomorrow night.

So why was Poetry Parnassus so amazing?  First of all, for those of you who have missed any info. on this which is quite easy to do if you don’t live in London, it was a gathering of nearly 200 poets from every country taking part in the Olympics.  It was masterminded by Simon Armitage – who was a great host.  Simon was a tutor at MMU, although he is now at Sheffield I think, and is one of those poets who is a Genuinely Nice Guy.  Always friendly, polite, funny, no pretensions at all.  Apparently he was hula-hooping in the bar on the last night, although I can’t verify that story. 

On Friday my train got into London at 6.09.  I got from Euston to Waterloo, ate at the Festival village a lovely chicken in sauce thing, and got my free pass into the reading with Seamus Heaney, Kay Ryan, Bill Manhire, Jo Shapcott et al.  It was wonderful – something very moving about hearing ‘Digging’ read by Heaney as an older man.  I remember studying that poem at school in our GCSE anthology – back when I thought all poets were dead people. 

And Saturday was filled with amazing readings and Sunday was filled with amazing readings – my highlight was Ilya Kaminsky (the poet from Russia) who recited his English translations – I almost wrote sang, it was kind of singing, but it was something else too – absolutely amazing anyway.  I also really loved the poet from Iraq, Saadi Youssef and too many others to count. 

As a ‘Buddy’ my job was to look after a couple of poets.  One of my poets was Taja Kramberger from Slovenia.  She was lovely, although she didn’t actually need much looking after, I heard her read twice over the weekend and she was fantastic. 

My other poet was the Belgian poet Els Moors and I feel so lucky to have met her.  I must admit when she asked if I would read the English translation of her work and then I opened it and it was called ‘The White Shagging Rabbits’  I did quail in my poetic boots. 

However, we met up half an hour before the event, and spent half an hour talking through the english translation.  I made some small suggestions, as Els had asked me to have a look at the translation.  It really suprised me how Els was not at all possessive of her poem and had such an open mind to changes that were suggested – it made me think about language differently, which is what people have always ‘told’ me translations do, but I didn’t get it.  Now I do.

  Now I feel like there is a whole poetic world that has opened up for me – I’m starting with ‘The World Record’ published by Bloodaxe, which contains one poem from every poet that took part in the festival, and I’m determined to branch out from there. 

I should also mention the lovely Bea Colley who was an organisational guru, exuding an air of calm throughout the entire weekend, and the wonderful Swithun Cooper, who works in the Poetry Library, who is perhaps, one of the funniest people I’ve met in a long time – and a poet who I’ve admired for a long time – so it was great to meet him. 

What else was amazing about the festival?  Three times I had a little tear in my eye in a reading – that has never happened to me before.  Maybe it was tiredness from work and commuting to London two weeks in a row.  But I like to think a little bit of my British cynicism was washed away by this huge gathering of poets and languages. 

This is a kind of gushy post, but I’m still high from Parnassus goodness.  I even wrote my first poem in a good couple of months last night when I got back – which I’m actually pretty pleased about. 

I’m now off to plan one of my workshops for Ledbury.