Monthly Archives: October 2012

Strange search terms and last minute readings


It’s half term week this week, and I’ve been lounging around for a lot of it.  On Monday, I spent the day editing the Holland Haul Anthology, which is the anthology that comes from the course I went on with Second Light.  Each course member can contribute a poem to the anthology.  On Tuesday, I started to plan my first poetry workshop that I’m going to run in a school – it’s on the theme of Riddles, and I’m really starting to look forward to it, especially now I’ve got a basic outline in my head of what I’m doing. 

  I’ve now read 83% of John Burnside’s ‘A Lie About My Father’.  At the very beginning of the book, he talks about Halloween being a time that ghosts find their way home – and today, as I was walking the dogs round Millwood in the rain, it was easy to see how he could believe that.  The path was carpeted with leaves, and it was just starting to become dark – the type of dark that it feels like it’s trying to fool you, and arrive without you noticing.  There was nobody in the woods today – maybe they were all getting their halloween costumes on, or sensibly didn’t want to get wet – and there were these crows or rooks going crazy in the trees across the railway line.  They would fly around in a circle and then land in the trees again, and then take off, shouting and swearing at each other.

I love the way Burnside writes, but the last part of the book is taken up with talking about his drug and alcohol taking, and I’m starting to feel my attention wandering, but then he brings it back with something interesting.  For example, at the minute he is talking about how long it takes a person to fall, and how if you find someone who is ‘falling’ at the same time as you, you get on well.  He also talks about this ‘other’ who he feels has walked next to him all his life – and this idea really opens up his poetry to me – his poetry is full of a strange ‘other’. 

Bookings for the Abbot Hall Residential Course are going well – we’ve already got the minimum number of participants, which is a relief as that means the course will definately go ahead – so if you are interested, please get in touch. 

I also got an invitation today to read at a ‘Young Writer’s Festival’ at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield tomorrow night so I’m really looking forward to that.  If you would like more information the link is

Friday night I’ll be at the Brewery Poets reading at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal, introducing Patricia Pogson and Carole Coates – really looking forward to that event.

And then its all day rehearsal Saturday and Sunday at Phantom of the Opera at The Lakes school.  We had a rehearsal last weekend and I really enjoyed it.  My twin sister is playing French Horn and we haven’t played together for ages.  It reminded me that I do love playing. 

And next Tuesday, I’m really looking forward to because it’s Carola Luther’s launch of her new pamphlet ‘Herd’ at the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere.

And finally, strange search term of the day that brought some poor lost soul to my blog ‘where do you get dismantled bits of rocking horses’.  Hope whoever it was found a bit of horse somewhere.

Sharon Olds and late night driving


Last night I drove to Sheffield because Sharon Olds was reading at the ‘Off the Shelf’ festival there.  I was meeting the lovely Carola Luther there – who just happens to have a Sunday poem on this blog – Grasmere poet in residence – and then driving her back to Grasmere. 

I love Sharon Olds – she is one of my favourite poets I think – I find her poems heartbreaking and uncomfortable.  I thought it was worth the drive from Barrow to be able to hear her read – the publicity said it was a ‘rare visit to the UK’ and I thought I might not ever get the chance – so I went. 

I left Barrow at 3 and got to Sheffield about 6.30 – due to traffic and the stupid sat nav taking me over the mountains instead of directing me round on the motorway, so there were times in the journey when  thought, what am I doing?  Am I crazy? 

I got there and asked this nice student for directions, who then said I could park on her drive for free…isn’t that just lovely?  And then inside the rather huge student union I asked another group of three students how to get to the auditorium – and they escorted me there!  Tesco staff could learn a lot from these guys.  And even better, one of the rather young, fresh-faced boys/men said ‘Let me guess-are you a fresher?’  I told him I loved him, which shocked him somewhat, and then said ‘ I haven’t been a fresher for 13 years’  He looked suitably shocked.  What a lovely young man. 🙂

Anyway, the reading was amazing.  Sharon Olds was lovely – she flung her arms about, knocked a bottle of water over (twice) and spread her books out to dry.  There was a question and answer session in the middle which I usually hate because it is full of people who just want to hear the sound of their own voice in a big space, and they often don’t ask a question, but instead make a statement, leaving the poet often floundering with what to say other than ‘yes, I agree’ or ‘no, I don’t’.  However the questions were more sensible than usual, and Sharon Olds was so funny. 

When asked what advice she would give to young writers she said ‘Take your vitamins’ and then went on to elaborate ‘Bend, stretch, dance, exercise’. 

Her new book ‘Stag’s Leap’ I read today in between schools.  It is a wonderful book – the whole thing is about her divorce, but it is also an exploration of what marriage means – and she is so generous to the husband, who I felt angry with throughout the book.  She writes it with real love and compassion.  I want to read it again now, more slowly so I can take it in, but I think it is going to be one of my favourite poetry books of the year.  It’s also just been shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize.

I wanted to write something about driving home late at night – how I love driving on my own and listening to music or the radio – but then there are also people that I love driving with as well.  The hubby of course – we’ve talked all the way from Cumbria to Leicester before.  My lovely friend David Tait – my lovely vicar-poet friend Manon Ceridwen – and I’m adding to the list Carola now – the drive home was as interesting as the reading. 

Other news – there is a lovely write up on David Birkett’s blog about the Inpress event that I read at recently and my pamphlet.

The link is here and was brought to my attention by Inpress books on Twitter:

On David’s blog there is a picture of my pamphlet – sitting on a nice cloth-shaped background.  It feels so strange that my pamphlet is in someone else’s house – I know it obviously is, because I’ve been selling them, but it still feels weird!

Going to sign off now – I am way too tired – rehearsal in the morning tomorrow, two classes of thirty odd trumpets, trombones, baritones and cornets and then I’m off to see The Sound of Music at the Forum.  One of my pupils is playing Von Trap…

Sunday Poem – Elizabeth Venn


Getting the Sunday poem in close to the wire today!  I have no excuse really other than that I’ve been reading all the books that I bought at yesterday’s Litfest in Lancaster.  The outstanding readers for me were  William Letford, Robert Crawford and an Armenian poet Razmik Davoyan, published by the wonderful independent publisher Arc, which specialises in bilingual editions of poets.  I heard Davoyan at Parnassus, and remembered him because of one particular poem with the line ‘the mountain doesn’t kneel in fear of the wind’.  I’d love to reproduce the whole poem on here at some point – but I want to get permission first obviously!  Anyway, it was a great day – I think I went to five readings and I enjoyed all of them – but William Letford was a brilliant performer of his work, and he definately has an interesting perspective on things, as the blurb on his book says, him being a roofer and all.  I think my dad would like his poety.  And Robert Crawford was a new poet to me – he’s published six collections but I just hadn’t come across him before, but again, a good performer of his work in a completely different way. 

Anyway, on Tuesday I’m off to see Sharon Olds in Sheffield so I’m really looking forward to that and on Saturday I’ll be reading as a guest poet for Ann Wilson at the Brewery in Kendal.  I’m looking forward to this reading – I haven’t managed to get down for a while now to Ann’s poetry nights so it will be nice to get down/up there.

Today’s Sunday poem is by one of my favourite poets and people – the lovely Liz Venn.  I met Liz on the MA at Manchester.  Liz is one of the most intelligent women I’ve met, but she wears it very lightly.  I also think (and I don’t think she’ll mind me saying this) that she was the person who made the most improvement throughout the course – it was scary sometimes how much her poetry changed and grew. 

Now Liz and I are on the Advanced Writing School with the Poetry Business so I get to see her a little bit more again which is great.  Anyway, I hope you enjoy this week’s Sunday poem – I think it illustrates Liz’s unusual take on life! 

Liz now lives in Glossop, on the edge of the Peak District,   Her poems have been published in magazines including Smiths Knoll, Iota, The Frogmore Papers and The Interpreter’s House. 

Glass Case-Elizabeth Venn

Then there’s the time I dated a curator,
who bought me a tattoo. The parlour
was crouched behind Victoria Station,
between a porn shop and a pawnbroker,

but sterile. I flicked through the mags:
women colourful like temple walls,
flexing with the names of lovers,
wearing hearts for sleeves. It hardly hurt.

Just a thin band round my wrist that reads:
Twenty-first century female, hominid.
Good specimen. Found near Derby.
Undressed, I’m a museum of myself.

Abbot Hall Residential Course


Good evening folks!  Bookings are already starting to take off for the Residential Course at Abbot Hall, Grange-over–Sands in February next year (11th-13th)   I’ve just been speaking to the hotel manager, the lovely Amanda Fogg, and she has agreed that if any course participants would like to extend their stay either side of the course she will give you a special heavily discounted rate – please ring 01539532896 and ask for Amanda Fogg to book the course and any extra nights.   If you would like any more infomation on the course, please just click on this link which will take you to the page on this blog with all the info:

I’m getting really excited about the course now – really looking forward to it.  Yes it will be cold, yes it will be February – but – no cooking for three days!  Magic. 

This weekend I’m possibly going to go to Lancaster Spotlight for the Open Mic Slam ( haven’t decided yet) and I’m definately going to the ‘Poetry Shindig’ at Lancaster Litfest on Saturday.

Tonight, I’m going to be reading and writing and not getting distracted by anything else!

Sunday Poem: Niall Campbell


Today’s Sunday Poem is by Niall Campbell.  I met Niall in 2011 at the Eric Gregory Award Night when we all went to London to the Calvary and Guards Club to collect our cheques and swan about being posh.  The winners of the Eric Gregory Award that year were myself, Niall, Holly Hopkins (who has a Sunday poem on here), Tom Chivers and Martin Jackson. 

I still keep in touch with them all – I bumped into Tom the other day at the Inpress Poetry Garden Market and had a nice cup of tea with Holly on the same day. 

Niall is a lovely guy – originally from the Western Isles of Scotland, so to fully appreciate this poem, you need to hear it in his accent!  Niall studied English Literature at Glasgow University and completed an MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of St Andrews.  In the same year he received an Eric Gregory, he was also awarded a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship.  He’s currently living in Leeds.

Even before he won the Eric Gregory, Niall’s first pamplet had been accepted by the wonderful HappenStance press.  Why wonderful?  Well, firstly, the pamphlets are really stunning.  My copy of Niall’s still has the cellophane wrapper that it came in.  They are a lovely cream colour but the first and last page of Niall’s has a dark blue thick card insert.  Secondly, the Happenstance editor is Helena Nelson. 

Helena is a great poet in her own right – she came to read for ‘A Poem and A Pint’ in Water Yeat, Cumbria a year or so ago, and she was great fun.  The night she read, I was doing the music with my friend Liz Wiejak – I played The Trumpet Shall Sound, Carnival of Venice – can’t remember what else.  Anyway, she has a fantastic website and produces wonderful pamphlets. 

I think Niall’s has sold out now – but it would be worth checking the website for this, but I would also recommend Helena’s ‘How Not to Get Your Poetry Published’ if you are looking into publishing a pamphlet or a collection.  She gives great advice in this and it is well worth a read.  The website is

Anyway, here is the Sunday poem


I never knew old rope could rust, could copper
in its retirement as a nest for rats.

The frayed lengths knotting into ampersands
tell of this night, and this night, and this,

spent taut between the surface and the sea-floor –
the water coarsening each coiled blue fibre

and strained, one strand might snap, unleash its store
of ripples to be squandered in the dark

though thousands would remain still intertwined
and thousands do remain, but frailer now.

These hoards, attached to nothing, not seen since
the last tight-rope was walked, the last man hung.

September is the Cruellest Month – Deborah Parkin


A while ago I was contacted by David Ward, the Literature Officer at the Theatre by The Lake in Keswick who had seen one of my poems in “The Weekly Word” which is an email newsletter circulated by New Writing Cumbria ( ) edited by the irrepressible Mick North. 

David was putting together a photography exhibition called September is the Cruellest Month by Deborah Parkin and wondered if I would be interested in gathering some poets together to write some poems to go with the exhibition and writing one myself.  He wanted to call the project September Sonnets and confessed it was mainly because he knew 14 lines would fit in the space available and because he liked the alliteration!

So I gathered some poets together – there was Martyn Halsall, Antony Christie, Gill Nicholson and Jennifer Copley and we set about writing some poems. I was worried that the poets would complain and not write sonnets – I’ve only ever written one rhyming sonnet in my life, which I’ve now disowned but most of the poets produced quite a few poems and some of them were sonnets or sonnet shaped anyway. 

We had a lovely afternoon at the theatre and Deborah Parkin came to talk about her work, which was really interesting.  I’ve never really written poetry to go with art or pictures before and the challenge of this and forming it into something like a sonnet I really enjoyed.

You can see some of the poems that were produced, and the photographs from the exhibition if you click here: 

My poem is quite creepy – about changelings and I felt quite guilty about it and was worried about Deborah being offended, until she spoke about her childhood and  a friend of hers being murdered, and then an intruder entering a holiday home when she had her own children, and how this fear or sense of things being easily lost had somehow found its way into the photographs.  This is all on the blog at the above link – but when she said this, I immediately felt a sense of relief and recognition – nothing so terrible happened or has happened to me, but my childhood was filled with the fear of being taken away or kidnapped.  I used to have recurring nightmares about the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang coming to get me in C & A – to the point where I convinced myself it had actually happened – so I think I connnected with this fear and wrote the odd little poem that I did. 

Anyway, I have been rubbish this week with this blog.  No Sunday poem last week because I went down to Leicester for my birthday and went clothes shopping and saw my new great-neice and my sisters and my mum and dad and my neices and nephews – but this Sunday there will definately be a Sunday poem – and I’m super organised and even have one ready for the Sunday after – well kind of ready anyway.