Monthly Archives: December 2012

2012 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 7,800 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 13 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Sunday Poem – Melissa Lee-Houghton

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Hello everyone – This will be my last update before Christmas Day – tomorrow we are off down to Leicester to my parents for Christmas.  I don’t know what the drive is going to be like, as looking at the news it seems like we would be better to load up a canoe and paddle down – I’m hoping that the M6 is fairly ok! 

This last week of term has been really busy – lots of Christmas concerts with various schools and with my band and lots of extra rehearsals as well.  Normally I have to admit, the last week of term is a bit of a write off, as the children are normally going on trips or doing more exciting things than having a trumpet lesson, but this year it hasn’t been like that at all.  I’ve also, with the help of a couple of parents moved the Junior Band to a different venue – from now on we will be rehearsing at Ormsgill Primary School – I can’t wait to start rehearsing in the new venue – I think the kids will really like it – for one its not freezing cold, or in an archery range, so that’s an improvement right?

Christmas is going to be a bit weird this year because my twin sister is going to her husband’s parents house for Christmas and we are all meeting up in a cottage in Wales for New Year – but this will be the first Christmas Day without her.  My oldest sister and three of her children and her husband have gone to Australia over Christmas as well, so they won’t be around in Leicester, so I think it’s going to be a quieter Christmas than usual. 

So I thought I would post this beautiful poem up by Melissa Lee-Houghton which I imagine is about sisters, althought it could just as easily be brothers I suppose.  There aren’t many poems about sisters, or a sibling relationship – I think this poem is unusual in its honesty – it looks unflinchingly at its subject – that reoccuring line ‘Our parents loved us in different ways’ is heartbreaking – yet holds a universal truth.  And does she mean each parent loved them differently, or does she mean the parents loved the two of them differently?  I don’t know, the line is ambiguous, which is part of its strength.  In fact the whole poem is mysterious – but the circularity of the lines keep the reader grounded – it is one of those poems which throws up lots of questions every time I read it – but I don’t want to know the answers. 

I met Melissa when we were both reading at an Inpress event in London in the summer and I’ve really enjoyed reading her collection ‘ A Body Made Of You’ from Penned in the Margins which can be ordered from www.pennedinthemargins.co.uk .  I’ve been meaning to ask her for a poem from this book, but then I spotted the poem that I’ve chosen in the Estuary Anthology which I’ve blogged about before on here – this poetry and art anthology with lots of writers and artists work can be ordered from www.moonandmountain.org/Estuary.html

Melissa also has a fantastic blog which can be found at http://melissaleehoughton.wordpress.com

I hope you enjoy the poem, and I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas – I’ll be doing my round up of the year in between Christmas Day and New Year!

How We Are The Same – Melissa Lee-Houghton

We have different skin types.
Our parents loved us in different ways.
Your hair is darker, your greys pushing through
and I’ve started dyeing mine just to feel different.
Our parents loved us in different ways.
We have different skin types,
different eyes, different mouths,
there’s always a tension in mine, a shy smile.
You always had the confidence.
Your chestnut hair is starting to grey.
I’ve started dyeing mine.
We’re both short, but you ‘re thin and I’m plump.
You’ve always been there in a crisis.
Our parents loved us in different ways.
It’s cold, and I’m thinking of you, how you
wear flip-flops in Autumn.
We both have different skin types.
We’re both pale, but you tan better.
We do not know where our father is.
Our parents loved us in different ways.

Sunday Poem – Carola Luther

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Evening everybody.  Today’s Sunday Poem is by Carola Luther.  Carola is the first poet to feature twice on this blog – but I had to – because she launched her new pamphlet ‘Herd’ from the Wordsworth Trust recently and this poem is not only my favourite poem of the last month or so, but I think will take its place as one of my favourite poems ever.  I love how this poem wends its way along, following its own thoughts in a sprawling kind of way, and then at the end she suddenly pulls the rug from under you with that last one and a half lines of

‘And I realise
of course, I am talking of theft.  I am talking of the snake at the water trough.’

I felt like something had punched me in the chest when I heard that line, and I got that longing to write it into a poem of my own.  So it had to be a Sunday poem.  And order the pamphlet if you are at all interested in how a contemporary poet can possibly write about a landscape that has already been so famously written about (Wordsworth etc etc).  Although the pamphlet is not just ‘landscape’ poems. It can be ordered from here www.wordsworth.org.uk

In a rare flash of organisation, I think I have my Sunday poems sorted out till the end of the year which is quite exciting. 

I’m also going to try and do a round up before the end of this year, in the same style as you can find here at Roy Marshall’s blog.  I really enjoyed reading Roy’s roundup of his writing and reading year, so it’s definately inspired me to have a go myself.  http://roymarshall.wordpress.com/2012/12/08/a-review-of-the-writing-and-reading-year/  It feels like time to do a round up because for me this is nearly the end of the year, because I finish school on Thursday! Hurrah!

And before the end of year, I’m going to have a go at typing up some of the lovely reviews that I’ve received – at the minute there are just links to the magazines that they have appeared in – but I’ve had a look at other people’s blogs, and it seems common practice to type up the relevant section of the review.

Anyway, here is Carola’s poem. 

Theft – by Carola Luther

The first blossoms are caught in the slow-motion act of bursting
their scabbards.  The timid will survive, not these flamboyances

blowing out their innards, shaking out pleats from their whites too early
not to be nipped in the first snip of frost, or unfrocked by the forecast snow.

Today has been full of such sorrows, regrets felt as motes of perfection
breaking, something important breaking, a pod, a contract,

contraction of the heart.  If I let myself be flamboyantly open, I feel them
these miniscule mistakes, as well as my own betrayals of the trees,

the birds, the animals.  For example, what does it mean to walk in, again
and again, on that young heron?  I say walking in, as if the bird is human,

as if its long pond floating with weed and the single-track road laid down
like carpet before it, were the boudoir, the bedroom, the madre

chambre of a tender king in which only the beloved is allowed.  A mallard
sieves green with its beak.  Everything else is quiet in the aftermath,

outbreathing relief, it is easter holidays, dusk, and at last the people
go home.  Trees wait.  Blossoms hold tight.  Breath.  Beat.  All clear. 

The woodpecker grinds open its gate and the evening rituals begin:
the deer lips the earth, the mallard dips, the birds call and chunter

as if before doorways of shops, squirrels running along branches
doing chores like the branches are streets, and the breeze shaking

brand-new canopies, their signs of new leaves, buds, little white flowers.
And then here I am.  Each evening, this week I have come, walking into the fright

and scattering of animals interrupted while doing their thing, disturbing
the sheep, disturbing everything, especially the young heron who feeds here,

drinks, looks at himself, looks at, and into himself with a concentration
that could be creating.  Yesterday when I came, he turned to stone

to wait it out.  But with the evening pull of hunger and disappearing
light, at last he risked it, dropped his head to puncture water, sup, sip,

try to concentrate, to ignore me, get the depth back.  It didn’t work.
He opened wide his resignation, flew.  Immediately I missed

the grey-white body, his ponytail, his tribal, inner-city Manchu queue,
I missed the pharaoh eye out-lined in kohl, his neck-tube, narrow, vulnerable,

and down the throat-front, the long, punk zip, as if in the past his throat
had been slit, lengthways, then stitched back together in hurry and remorse, suture

upon suture in thick black thread.  On the dead heron’s chest two dreadlocks
of sorrow, the hunter’s own hair, I imagined, sewn as a sign, a message

to sisters and brothers to leave this bird alone, he has died once
for no reason, and should not die again. 
I did not shoot or even throw a stone,

but here I was nonetheless, staring at his wounds, demanding as my right, ownership
of looking, and only now asking, do creatures and trees not need

what I need, to be left alone, to be unseen, sometimes, in order to be
themselves, and what I write becomes a question to myself, about privacy,

when have I had my allotment of looking, when is it enough?  And I realise
of course, I am talking of theft.  I am talking of the snake at the water trough.

Sunday Poem – David Borrott and Carolling in the Supermarkets…

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I’ve had a really lovely weekend.  And its not over yet!  On Saturday morning I met with about 15 members of the Barrow Shipyard Junior Band and we went carolling in Morrisons to raise money for the band funds.  I haven’t counted it up yet properly, but I know that we raised over £200 pounds, which is amazing for two hours playing. 

I was really proud of the band – they played really well and it sounded really good, which is not necessarily a given! 

When I was younger – I used to go carolling nearly every night of the week in December with the brass band I used to play with down in Leicester, Unity Brass.  I used to absolutely love going.  We would play in Asda at the weekends, and in the evenings, we used to go round the streets and stand underneath lamp posts and play whilst our parents went and knocked on doors and collected money. 

I knew all the carols off by heart, because I didn’t like turning the pages of my carol book in the cold.  And part of carolling that I loved, was the socialising in between, which is so important. 

I’m not going to drag the kids out every night carolling this year – I’m easing them into it gently.  We have our christmas concert on Friday 14th December at the Hawcoat Park Sports and Social Club, and then I’m taking the other half of the band to Tesco’s on the 17th to do some carolling there. 

So after Morrisons, it was a quick change of clothes, and then straight down to Leeds for a reading at the Flux Gallery with Gaia Holmes and Helen Mort, with Ian Parks introducing.  It was a really lovely night, my throat held up (afterwards I had a bit of a coughing fit in the Indian restaurant) and I got to meet up with Manon Ceridwen and her soon to be hubby Dylan, who came especially from Wales to hear me read. 

I sold a couple of books, swapped one with David Cooke, and then went shopping with Manon and Dylan today (shopping with Manon = fatal mistake) and bought a dress that cost far too much money for Manon’s hen night, when we are hitting the streets of Liverpool. 

And yesterday I was mentioned in the Independent’s round up of Poetry Books of the Year – which I am ridiculously excited about – you can read the article here http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/books-of-the-year-2012-poetry-8390321.html

But enough about me!  Today’s Sunday poem is by David Borrott.  I met David on the Manchester MA.  David is a very humble person, who like many of my poet friends, does not send his work out enough, and consequently, does not have the recognition he deserves.  He is a great poet – I recently read a draft of a pamphlet manuscript which I found really exciting – he writes what I am going to call ‘domestic’ poems – although I am aware this label is problematic – one of the few male writers I know who are doing this – one of my favourite poems in the manuscript, which I thought I would hate because of the title is called ‘Emptying the Dishwasher’ but his unique perspective on this very simple act makes the poem sing. 

I’ve chosen to share ‘Self Portrait with Fiddling Death’ because I think it shows David at his best – wry sense of humour, beautifully observed detail, but with a strangely detached eye. 

Self Portrait with Fiddling Death – David Borrott

(After Arnold Bocklin)

 

Death stands behind me fiddling,
by fiddling I mean playing the violin.
Death is his usual skeletal self,
imaginatively thin but a palpable symbol
and stark: the drumlins of his old skull,
the darkness flowing through his ribs.

 His music is lascivious, sad,
tempting, bitter as a root.
The violin is curved like a scorpion’s sting.
Death has no haste, the blonde bow
cradles the strings, drifting over
the strange ocean it is pulling in.

 Surely he misses some notes his fing-
er-bones jar on the chords or pluck
an off string, though he trips off glissandos.
As the darkness behind us ferments
how similar we become, our open smiles,
after a while it’s only the violin
that distinguishes us.

The Next Big Thing

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Iwas recently asked by Sarah Hymas http://sarahhymas.blogspot.co.uk/to take part in a blogging project call The Next Big Thing.

It entails a whole bunch of writers answering a set of questions about a book they’ve either recently published or one they’re working on. And then asking more writers to answer the same questions. I decided to write about my recent pamphlet ‘If We Could Speak Like Wolves’ because – well, it’s the only one I’ve done.  And the first collection doesn’t exist in the same universe as the rest of us yet. 

I’ve been a bit disorganised with tagging my writers but so far I have got the lovely Helen Mort on board to answer these questions.  You can check out her blog here http://poetryonthebrain.blogspot.co.uk/ and poet Holly Hopkins here http://hollyhopkins.co.uk/

When I find some more writers I’ll tag them in here, so keep checking back!

So here are the questions

Where did the idea come from for the book? 
There wasn’t really a specific ‘idea’ for the book.  Some of the poems in the pamphlet are about four or five years old – the poems were written over a five year period.  I guess the poems started to come together as a pamphlet when I wrote ‘If We Could Speak Like Wolves’.  This became a kind of ‘magnet’ poem, which drew others that I’d written towards it, and made it easier to shape them into something bigger than themselves, if that makes sense.  It was only when I looked at the final manuscript that I realised there were a lot of poems with Cumbria in them – I didn’t realise place was so important to me – but the ideas for specific poems come from all sorts of places – train journeys, spiritualist churches, teaching, arguing, walking the dogs…

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry.  Definately poetry.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

There would have to be quite a fiery couple to play out the love poems.  It can only be the actors who play Buffy and Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

I could only think of the title – maybe with an emphasis on the ‘could’

If we COULD speak like wolves….

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I entered the pamphlet into The Poetry Business Competition 2011/12, judged by Carol Ann Duffy and it was one of the winners, which meant the pamphlet was published by The Poetry Business in May 2012 and I won 500 pounds!  Which was very nice.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

This is a funny question, because I would count all the poems that got lost along the way as stepping stones to the manuscript.  I’ve been writing for about five years, and two of the poems are five years old – so I would probably say the first draft took three years – then I spent two years taking poems out and putting better ones in.  The final draft took five years. 

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Strange situations inspire me – although I will often exaggerate things or change the facts to get at the truth.  Arguments iwith my husband often end up in a revenge poem – I have a set of poems about people who are obsessive about something or who have done something extraordinary. 

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There is a poem with a rude word in.

Royal Exchange Reading with Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay, Charmain Leung and Carly Hind

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Evening folks.  I have so much to tell you all – don’t know whether to try and squeeze it into one blog post or to try and spread it out a bit….

I”ll start and when I get bored…well I’ll stop!  Last night I read at the Royal Exchange theatre at the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends reading alongside Jackie Kay, Carol Ann, David Tait as the house poet, and two fellow MMU students, Charmain Leung and Carly Hind.  It was great to meet and hear Charmain and Carly – I’d not met them before, as they are in the years below on the MA.

I had such a fabulous night – first of all I got to see David which is always nice, and the lovely Liz Venn who is taking over from David as the house poet when he swans off to China in the new year. 

And lots of other people who it was lovely to see – I did start writing their names, but in a rare moment of editing on this blog, thought that a list of names probably just sounds like name dropping or something and should therefore be Deleted. 

But I did use Michael Symmons Roberts’ pen to sign my pamphlet for someone.  Just saying, you know.  And Jackie Kay was very kind about my poetry – again! 

Jackie Kay was excellent last night – very funny and entertaining.  I was thinking that if one of poetry’s ‘functions’ is to make us all feel a little less alone in the world, when you have that moment of ‘yes, I know completely what you mean’ as you read a poem, then maybe that is the poet’s job at a reading as well – maybe not, it’s a big ask isn’t it?  But I’m sure that is one of the reasons Jackie Kay is so popular, and goes down so well with audiences.  And this is not just to do with her poetry – it’s to do with her personality as well – I feel all warm and less alone when I hear her read…

another theory could be that the lack of sleep is finally getting to me and I’ve lost the plot.  I got back from the reading at 1am and had to be up for work and ready to teach jingle bells by 8.30am….

and I sold 12 pamphlets!  Which isn’t bad going, when you consider who my little pamphlet was next to on the book table…

So other exciting things that have happened that I’m now allowed to talk about…

If you have a look at the Troubadour Poetry Website, you will see a poem of mine was commended in the competition.  The poem is ‘A Psalm for the Scaffolders’.  I unfortunately couldn’t go to the awards night, although I gather from Twitter and Facebook it was wonderful (much gnashing of teeth) but it’s great to be in such good company with such wonderful poets.  I haven’t read them all yet but you can check out the prize winning poems at this website: http://www.coffeehousepoetry.org/prizes

and my copy of this beautiful anthology ‘Estuary – A Confluence of Art and Poetry’ arrived today – there is quite a big preview of it on line, and you can get a soft cover version for slightly less or a hard cover version, but it would make a lovely christmas present!   Agnes Marton, the editor of the anthology is coming on the February course at Abott Hall and there will be a launch of the anthology on February 14th at Abott Hall  – more details to follow!  If you click on the link there is quite a big preview of the anthology online as well  http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/3811083

and lastly in ‘The North’ magazine there are some of my poems and a conversation with me and David Tait – David sounds super cool, I sound like a character from an Enid Blyton novel.  You can buy a copy from www.poetrybusiness.co.uk

Tonight I was at St Pius school in Barrow at the school concert where we had 95 children playing Jingle Bells on brass instruments, which was fun.  But I’m kind of knackered now…

I’ve decided I also need to be more disciplined about my writing on a Monday (the day off) I’m wondering about doing a report every Monday on here about what I’ve done – will that make me stop floating about the house watching Jeremy Kyle and eating chocolate croissants?  I don’t know.  Maybe I’ll give it a try this Monday and see what happens…

Sunday Poem – Fiona Sampson

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Good morning everybody!  Today I am spending the day on the sofa in my sleeping bag, trying to recover from a horrible cold.  Normally I tend to ignore colds and just carry on doing what ever I’m doing however, I desperately need to not be full of snot and wrongness, because I’m reading at the Royal Exchange on Tuesday as part of the ‘Carol Ann Duffy and Friends’ series with the lovely Jackie Kay as the guest poet.  Apparently its sold out as well, so really don’t want to be standing up there in front of all those people with a red nose – and spots!  Spots!  I hardly ever get spots and this week I have five!  A sign if I ever needed one that it is time to loll about on the sofa and make the hubby wait on me hand and foot.  He was doing quite well this morning – he remembered to carry a little table down for me to put my tissues, books, cup of tea etc on and he made my breakfast and my cup of tea, but now he’s gone upstairs and seems to have forgotten his duties. 

My last poetry reading of the year is this Saturday (the 8th)  – I’m going over to Leeds to read at the Flux Gallery with Ian Parks and Helen Mort amongst other – I’m hoping to bump into some of my Leeds poetry friends over there – it will be nice to see some of them before Christmas. 

On the 9th December, my lovely friend Jennifer Copley, who is also the co-tutor on the residential course that we are running in February 11-13th 2013,  is launching her new pamphlet “Mr Trickfeather”, published by Like This Press at the Beach Hut Gallery in Grange Over Sands.  She will be reading at 2pm, 3pm and 4pm and in between apparently there will be mince pies and things!  I’ll be coming back from Leeds that morning, so I will stop by on my way back to pick up my copy.

Yesterday, we had our second session with the Writing School, which is run by my publishers, The Poetry Business.  I think we meet 8 times altogether over 18 months.  There are some great writers in the school, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them a bit better.  I didn’t feel really with it yesterday though, because of this stupid cold, but I’m looking forward to the reading tasks this month, which was one of the main reasons I signed up.  With one other person from the group we have to read and discuss Geoffrey Hill, Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage and Billy Collins – ooh and a ‘landscape poem’ from the Norton anthology and with another partner we swap our ‘recommended read’ which we nominated at the beginning of the course – so I’m swapping Nikolai Madzirov with Susan Wick’s translation. 

Other exciting news – I got my copy of The North with three poems from my pamphlet in and a conversation between myself and David Tait.  I rather self obssessively read the conversation on the way back home on the train – awful isn’t it?

And I picked up another 20 copies of ‘If We Could Speak Like Wolves’ so if anyone wants one to hand out as Christmas presents get in touch and I’ll post one out for a fiver!

That was a long read to get to the Sunday poem today!  But I think you’ll agree it’s going to be worth the wait.  Today’s Sunday poem is by Fiona Sampson, from her new collection ‘Coleshill’, published by Chatto, which isn’t even published yet, so I’m very happy that I managed to get this poem.  I first met Fiona three or four years ago at a residential course at Ty Newydd.  Alan Jenkins was the other tutor – and it was one of the best weeks I’ve ever had. 

Fiona was up in Cumbria a couple of weeks ago reading from her new collection for A Poem and A Pint – I might have raved about her very cute puppy which she brought with her as well.  I was a bit of a rubbish host to be fair.  First of all, I nearly poisoned Fiona trying to cook fish for lunch and not cooking it properly.  Then we were talking so much we were nearly late for the reading.  However, I did manage to deliver her to the venue, kind of on time and she got a really good response from the audience, and sold most of the books she’d brought with her, which was nice. 

I really love the new poems – they seem to be taking a completely new diretion from the first two books – they seem to be looking outwards to the world rather than inwards – and I am saying this from hearing them once as well, rather than seeing them on the page – but there are also a few poems dealing with the splitting of the self which I’m interested in.

I love the turn in this poem – the ‘Oh, waking.  I would like to use Oh in a poem.  I think I’ve used ‘O’ in one before, but that is different from ‘Oh’.  And the mysterious girl who is crossing the Green, but also waking up on a pillow ‘barred with light’  and the ‘I’ of the poem is somehow intimately connected with this girl – at first we think it is someone the ‘I’ has seen on the tube, but by the end, I start to think the girl is a split self from the I, or maybe another version of the I, a past version?  I don’t know exactly, and I like not knowing. 

Anyway, here is Fiona’s poem

The Art of Fugue by Fiona Sampson

A curtain brims;
its white lip appears,
dashing and slovenly
like the girl on the Tube
with her bedroom hair.

I miss that girl
crossing the Green
in heels and feather trim,
whom I so nearly
and never was.
                              Oh, waking
is a rising to light;
something humming
deep and dirty
moves through a suspended life,
in the dawning bedroom

the jacket on a chair-back
is a gesture
                       suddenly stilled,
and the girl crossing the Green
turns her head on a pillow
barred with light.