Monthly Archives: March 2013

Sunday Poem – George Szirtes


Evening folks!  It’s the holidays!!! Yippeee!  Yes it is slightly unseemly to rejoice so at two weeks off from the teaching that you all know I love – but still…yippee again I say.

So last week was a mixture of madness and things gradually slowing down – I did an all day music workshop on Monday with the theme of ‘Animals’ and honestly, if I never sing another animal song again it will be too soon.  I had no idea so many existed!

And then Monday night I had the last rehearsal with my band before our concert the next night.  It went terribly – and I went home with a headache, and hoping that all the parents were as tired as I was and wouldn’t notice the dodgy sounds emanating from the band.  It wasn’t the band’s fault – we’ve been rehearsing so hard for the music festival and we basically had a night to put together a 45 minute programme.

Anyway, as usual, the kids pulled it out of the bag and proved me wrong again.  We had a fantastic concert – one of our best ever I think so it all turned out well in the end.

Then Wednesday I managed to drive around ALL DAY to my six different schools, and was not needed at five of them.  Quite annoying, but this is the usual pattern for the end of term.

Thursday I went out on the first ever works do I’ve been on – seeing as I don’t actually have a work place I don’t normally get invited, but one of my schools that I work in invited me along.  This caused me to be in bed nearly all day Friday, as I didn’t react very well to the two halves of lager and the whisky and coke that I drank.

Saturday I went to Ann Wilson’s open mic night at The Brewery in Kendal – read a poem, but also got to listen to the lovely Mark Carson do a turn as star guest poet.  I had a cracking poem of his on the blog a couple of weeks ago as a Sunday poem.

And tomorrow I’m off to Halifax to read at Puzzle Poets – well more accurately Sowerby Bridge.  I’m staying with the lovely Gaia Holmes and then its straight from Sowerby Bridge to Leicester to read at the Y theatre – my own very mini poetry reading tour…

Writing news – I got the proofs through for a review that’s going to be in Acumen of Myra Schneider’s pamphlet, proofs through for the electronic pamphlet for the Penning Perfumes project, I’ve been working on an article that’s going to appear in Mslexia and I got a really exciting invitation to read later in the year that I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about yet! I also didn’t win the National, but I’m not too disappointed about that – it’s nice to see Patricia McCarthy winning.  I’ve had some dealings with her with an article that will be appearing in Agenda and she has always been very lovely by email, very approachable, and its great to see an editor getting some recognition for their poetry.  And the lovely Jane Draycott coming second as well – Jane was a mentor of mine  a couple of years ago and she really was fantastic.

And some very good poetry news is that George Szirtes has agreed to let me steal a poem from his new book ‘Bad Machine’ for the Sunday Poem.  I gushed about the reading at Headingley Lit Fest with George in previous posts and I am now an Official Fan.  So I am very happy to have one of his poems.

I’ve chosen one of his Canzones – he has quite a few in the book and I’ve found them fascinating.  I even had a go at writing one this week – it probably won’t ever see the light of day – but it was fun to have a go.  It felt like being in a dark room and following a thread to find out where you have to go.

He also has lots of poems that are not Canzones – just in case that is not your thing.  You should definitely get the book – you can order it here at

I don’t think George Szirtes really needs any introduction – he is one of most respected poets but just in case you’ve somehow missed him…

He was born in Budapest in 1948 and came to England with his family after the 1956 Hungarian Uprising.  He was trained as a painter and has worked as a translator of Hungarian literature.  His other Bloodaxe titles include Reel, which won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2004  and well as The Burning of the Books and other poems (2009)

George Szirtes also has a fantastic website and blog where he writes about poetry, politics, art.  This is at

I chose this poem because I love the tender atmosphere that is evoked,  I like the way that the double meanings of words are brought to attention, I like it’s obsessiveness, it’s circularity and I think the form fits the content beautifully – they are both intrinsic to each other.  I like how this form forces us to slow down as readers – how the narrative unfolds slowly yet the meaning is elusive – it kind of dances just out of sight when you think you’ve grasped it.

Canzone: The Small of the Back – George Szirtes

He who has numbered the hairs on your head and knows
precisely the finite number of blades of grass
in the open field and the grove full of flowers, knows
to perfection each little part of you.  He knows
the elements, how they are composed, how small
and perishable they are and we are.  He knows
our limits, our beginnings and endings, knows
days and minutes, counting them forward and back
and forward again as in dreams.  There’s no going back
for us, but for him it’s the same either way.  He knows
about forward and back, has counted the grass in the field
that stretches forever, a closed yet open field

in which numbers alone constitute the field.
And what do we constitute?  The doctor knows
what lies within his own professional field.
I see his ginger hair, his black bag, the broad field
of his back as he crosses the street and over the grass
verge, up the drive with its gravel.  His field
is comprehensible, part of a bigger field.
He copes and prescribes for a body of small
disasters, for a self that has shrunk to a small
map of the world.  His numbers cover the field
entirely.  I only know the small of your back
in my hands, the hour of night that will not come back

to greet us.  I move to touch the small of your back
where it narrows before widening.  My field
of operations is narrow.  I stroke down your back
then up it again.  It is ageless.  As if time could look back
on itself while moving forward.  The body knows
time as movement: as rise, crest, fall, then back
to where it started.  So my hand knows your back.
It is marble and milk and summer and smooth grass.
We were stretched out together, lying on the grass.
It was summer in London.  You lay on your back.
Below us the hill rolled away.  The traffic was small
creases on a vast map, we ourselves distant and small.

He who has numbered the hairs on your head, the small
god we imagine moving through grass at the back
of our minds, counting the seconds, the god of small
comforts, of minutiae, of all the vast small-
ness of the universe that is this field and that field,
the god of the moment – that god knows the small
of your back better than I do.  He comprehends the small.
We want him to number us, want someone who knows
what number is and means, someone who knows
the time, who binds us to a world that is always too small.
We want him to number all the blades of grass.
We ourselves want to lie out on that grass.

We know the words.  We know all flesh is grass.
We’re handfuls of dust, breathing in dust.  Our small
numbers are divinities of dust and grass.
There’s nothing better than dust and the fresh grass
on which you lie – I feel the small of your back
smooth under my hand, the field of grass
rolling away.  Here is the image of grass.
The image of time lies somewhere in the field
where people are running beyond our visual field.
They are, like us, a movement in the grass.
They are familiar names that no one knows.
They are the moments everybody knows.

Grass is a cloud of green.  The god who knows
each blade is counting them up.  Beyond the field
lie houses and chairs and beds.  Still further back:
the road down to the coast, the beach, the small
waves nudging over the scree, the dunes, the grass.


Review of Astronaut Zine


So, quite a while ago now I promised Charlotte Henson I would review her brand new mag ‘Astronaut’ in return for a free copy.  I’m always interested in poetry magazines and especially new ones.  Poetry magazines were (and are) extremely important to me and my development as a writer.  I feel part of a community when I read them (even if I’m not in it).  I like meeting people that I have only previously known on the page.  I like coming across new writers that I’ve not heard about before, but I also like seeing what more established writers are doing, and reading their new work.  So, I was very happy to hear about  a new, print-based magazine starting up.

Now, I’ve decided to be very HONEST and say I’ve been a bit slack about writing this review.  I think there have been a couple of reasons for this.  I’ve been busy, it’s been the end of term etc etc and also I had to go and pick the magazine up from the post office because there wasn’t enough postage.  I get very grumpy about this – and I’m using the word grumpy because I think my reaction is over the top to this very slight inconvenience.  So I decided to leave reading the mag for a few days until I’d stopped being grumpy.  And then of course life got in the way, and now I’m late writing this – in fact Issue 2 (I think) is on its way, so technically Charlotte Henson (the editor) could be very grumpy with me back!

However, I figured it is useful feedback, because if I was a subscriber and I had to go and get the mag, I’d be even more hacked off.  Or maybe it is just me.  Anyway, on to the real review!

Astronaut has a fantastic website/blog at and I would urge you to go and check it out.  The sole editor is Charlotte Henson, a young London poet, originally from Greater Manchester.  The blog has some great tips about submitting and some nice work from submissions posted up there as well.

The actual magazine is very neat looking – the cover is black and white, it is staple bound but I think it’s really professionally done, and I would not be ashamed to have my work published in it.  Whether I’d pass the criteria as a ‘young’ poet I don’t know – but Helen Mort is their featured poet in the first issue – so maybe I’d get away with it!

Anyway, I was very happy to see Helen Mort’s interview in the first couple of pages.  She is one of my favourite poets, and I thought it was a well thought-out interview, with a good mix of humour and interest and it was a great way into the magazine.  Helen also has a lovely poem in the mag, which was one of my favorites in the issue.   I also enjoyed the poem ‘Scott’ by Betty Doyle which is next to Helen’s particularly and Jon Stone’s as well – I wondered if his poem ‘Benevolence’ was a disguised metaphor about writing poetry or blogging and opinion writing – , which Jon Stone, I think is known for – I often enjoy reading his articles which are always interesting and thought provoking.  I could be on completely the wrong track.  The poem starts

‘How easy it is to be kind to those you could trample’

and I suppose it could be about any sphere of life, which is why it’s a good poem.

I enjoyed reading the magazine and I found a lot of the work in it exciting and fresh.  The production quality is excellent, and I would definitely recommend any young writers that I know to submit and subscribe.  As for the larger question of whether we need a print mag aimed at young writers, I think we do.  Young doesn’t necessarily mean new – as in the case of Helen Mort who is an experienced poet but I think it is a Good Thing that young poets have a place to meet, both on the page and on the pages of the excellent blog.  Oh and one more thing that impressed me – Astronaut is linked up to Facebook and Twitter as well – and I think this savvy social media publicity will serve it really well in the future.  I would like to wish Charlotte good luck with issue 2 and all the issues to come in the future!

I meant to add somewhere in here as well that Charlotte has been very modest in the mag and not laid claim to her role as editor in its pages!  I hope she puts her name in big letters at the end of her next editorial and claims some glory….

Sunday Poem – Terry Jones


Evening everybody.  Ta daaaa!  The Sunday poem has arrived at last!  It has been playing on my mind all week – guilt that I didn’t write it up last week – wondering whether I should put it up in the week etc etc.  I know it will be worth the wait though.

I don’t have much news this week – I was at the music festival again conducting Year 3, 4 and 5 classes from one of my favorite schools in the ‘Class Music-Making’ session.  There were nine different classes in and we didn’t come in the top 3 but the kids didn’t seem to mind too much.  It was quite sweet afterwards actually, listening to their conversations.  I distinctly heard one boy (Year 4) say ‘Well it’s the taking part that counts.  And we’re all superstars just for getting up on that stage’!! Hee hee.

Today I’ve been getting ready for an all day music workshop that I’m running in a primary school tomorrow.  The purpose of it is to give the teachers ideas so that they can carry on and do music themselves as non-specialists, so I’ve been trying to cram in as much as possible.  I’ve nearly finished now – just have to write the last plan to go with the powerpoints and then I’m done.

I have no other extra schools workshops booked in for this year – it’s Easter Holidays in four days, and I’m feeling pretty cheery.  I even found some postcards in Barrow yesterday for a project that I’m involved in at the Poetry Business – – both the project and the poems.  The postcards are quite funny – I have a few of Cavendish Dock, where the submarines are built/stored/not quite sure and Piel Island, taken on a very grey day and looking much grimmer than it actually is (I love Piel Island) and a couple of Furness Abbey and one of the Town Hall.  I have to write a poem about one of these pictures on the back of the postcard and then send it off to Bank Street Arts.  I think David Tait is sending one from China so my Barrow one will sit nicely beside the more glamorous locations!

I’ve met Terry Jones twice – the first time was at Martin Malone’s book launch at The Bluebell Bookshop in Penrith.  Neither of us had pamphlets then, but we had a nice chat and I thought nothing more of it, except I kept noticing Terry’s name cropping up in various places – as winner of the Bridport Prize in 2011 for starters, judged by that lady of exceptional good taste, Carol Ann Duffy.

Then I met Terry at the recent launch of the Firecrane, published by New Writing Cumbria

I bought his pamphlet because I enjoyed the poem he read at the launch, and the way he delivered it, and because I like to support local poets, and because it was only £3.  I don’t know if it was on special offer for that day.

Anyway, I started leafing through it one night, and accidentally got engrossed and read it cover to cover.  It is one of the best pamphlets that I’ve read in the last couple of years for consistency of quality and exciting use of language, and I really would recommend getting over to and ordering yourself a copy.  It’s called ‘Furious Resonance’.  I think I like it so much because it is so different to how I write – the poem that I’ve chosen to post is thick with language – it feels like the sentences are coiled around each other.  And I like how he has managed to write about politics without bashing us round the head with it.

You will have read Terry’s work before because he’s been in lots of mags: Agenda, Brittle Star, Envoi, Iota, Obsessed with Pipework, Poetry Review, The Dark Horse, The London Magazine, The Observer, The Red Wheel Barrow, The Rialto and Under the Radar.  Terry also has his own website where you can find out some more about him:

Here is the poem

Precious Jewel – Terry Jones
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall…

Shakespeare, Richard II, II.i.48-49


The rat-ship has landed: it came in with filth sails,
set of sun dusk sails, rag sails, grey shirt sails;
came in with its moon-slime wake, wet rudder tail in the water,
withered ghost-tree masts; came in with chewed sails,
alive and swaying, beads of water rats running down the hawser
with baby hands, with flea ears, leaving flapping washing sails,
sweat and flesh sails; coming in hand over hand, star-eyed,
all its twitching cargo sniffing the land-fall;
see them flop from the dirty pockets, hop ashore teeth bared,

see them swarm grey stone, skitter through the car-oil,
duck under the shadows of cranes, dart and double
through the razor fences and the hedges and the gates,
and behind them the dirty ship weeping its flag;
they sprint to A-roads, flea-cargoed, spreading and certain.
London and Birmingham, Sheffield and Bradford,
Glasgow and the towns, villages, hidden dreaming hamlets,
buy paint for the cross on your door, buy black paint
and listen for a bell now the rat-ship has landed.


A rat has come to my window, scab-pelted, hard-eyed,
a black rat has come with his wife ferocious and true,
her naked babies hang on her tits; at the double-glazing
with one old language they cling on the ledge, peer
through the glass blinking in the unusual light: ‘Safer for you’,
he says, ‘and more simple if our shared blood ran thin as water
and you could forget the pests you create us to be:
just to be here tonight we have endured the unendurable, war,
faring through thirst, chased into corners with bloody clubs,
in an existence of darkness forced to eat history’s shit, condemned
if we bared a tooth, despised if we wept.  Is it that our voices
are pitched too high for you to hear, our movements
between the lines so sharp your fictions miss us?
Crouched hidden and dying, eaten by salt and moonlight

we saw your lights from the water: spread along the frowning coast
they were like precious jewels that turned then to finger searchlights
pointing us back to sea.  Neither I nor those with me I love
carry any identification, but we see and hear actutely
and our time in the shadows of the rotting ship is finishing.
Come here.  In a single reflection towards us
put your face to the glass, ears to the scratching at your borders.


Another School Poetry Workshop and other stuff….


Evening everybody.  For those of you waiting with bated breath for the Sunday poem, I’ve decided to post it up this Sunday, so you’ll just have to wait.  But it will be worth it, I promise.  Because if I posted it now, it wouldn’t be a Sunday poem, would it?  It would be a Tuesday poem, and that’s no good at all.

I’m still very tired, and actually having trouble stringing words together, or thoughts in fact.  I slept really well Sunday night after the festival, woke up feeling pleased but exhausted, and then went off to do a poetry workshop at a school in Barrow with 15 children in a very small but perfectly formed Year 5 class.

15, I’ve discovered is a great number to run a poetry workshop with.  This is the smallest group of children I’ve worked with and they were fantastic.  That amazing thing happened again – the lesson flowed from one thing to the next – they started to become excited about language, and unafraid of it.  We talked about cliches and how to ‘push’ at them and open them up so they are not cliches and the children were shouting out ideas, bouncing off each other.  This started when one child said ‘as fast as lightning’.  I explained about cliches and asked them to push this further and another child shouted out ‘as fast as lightning, rummaging across the sky’.  ‘Rummaging’.  Isn’t that a brilliant word?  And all the other kids clapped when he said this – they recognised it was good.

The teacher and TA were really pleased with what the class had come up with and they are going to read some of the poems in their class assembly this Friday apparently.  So I really enjoyed running the workshop  – I could definately get used to this 🙂

And then I had a couple of hours off and it was off to Barrow Shipyard Junior Band rehearsal to celebrate our win with the kids.  I bought 38 easter eggs in a well known supermarket for a pound to say well done to them all.

We had a great rehearsal – we only have one left to get ready for a concert on the 26th at Ormsgill Primary School so we got out some music we’ve played previously and I could hear straight away the progress they’ve made this term – responding to dynamics and their confidence is just so high at the minute – it is lovely to be around and to be a part of.

My band made up of primary school children ‘Brasstastic’ came third in the Brass Ensemble section of the festival out of six and I saw some of those kids today as well and they were absolutely buzzing from the competition.  I hope they remember the feeling that I saw them with today.

My friend Jennifer Copley has the launch of her pamphlet ‘Mr Trickfeather’ alongside Ian Seed’s launch of his pamphlet from Like This Press at The Gregson Centre in Lancaster tonight. I fully intended to go, but I’m just too tired to make the hour and a half drive.  I do feel guilty about not going, as I promised I would, but I know for a fact that she got some VERY exciting news, as she was going out the door, so I feel less guilty now, as I think she will be floating to Lancaster on a little cloud.

So instead I’m sat here with my feet in the foot spa!  Tomorrow I’m back at the music festival again, this time for the ‘Class Music-Making’ competition.  I’m there with three classes: Year 3, Year 4 and Year 5 and they’ll be singing and playing their brass instruments.  Last year, the year 4’s got third place – but who knows?

None of this is getting any poetry written of course, but I’ve booked to go along to the Poetry Business Writing Workshop on Saturday – I’m meeting the lovely Holly Hopkins there and possibly the equally lovely Liz Venn so that should be good fun.  In fact that has reminded me – I could also hassle David Borrott and Martin Kratz and see if they are going to show their faces…

South Cumbria Music Festival


For anyone that’s interested – Barrow Shipyard Junior Band won the Junior Band section – 1st out of 6 bands!  This also means we get a £100 bursary as well as a shield.

And ‘Brasstastic’ my new group made of primary school pupils came 3rd in the Brass Ensemble section, again out of six bands.

I am absolutely exhausted – I’ve been at the music festival all day listening to soloists, and got back at nine and finished off the final plans for poetry workshop tomorrow, so too tired for the Sunday poem I’m afraid.

I am very happy – but maybe too tired to feel it properly.  St Pius Brass Ensemble came 1st in the brass ensemble session – beating off competition from much older bands.  The kids all stepped up and delivered.  Very proud.






Reading at Headingley Lit Fest


The last time I read at the Heart Cafe in Leeds was  the 25th May 2012.  I know this date without having to look in my diary because it was the day before the official launch of my pamphlet in Grasmere at the Wordsworth Trust.  Peter and Ann (lovely editors) managed to get a box of my pamphlets up to the Heart Cafe, and they were waiting for when I arrived.  David Tait had appointed himself my book seller and had already sold some by the time I got there, frazzled and slightly stressed from being stuck in traffic for four hours.

The lovely Peter White was the first person to see the pamphlet and came up to get it signed as soon as I sat down, and I don’t think I will ever forget that lovely feeling, of finally believing that they existed.

So I’m quite fond of the Heart Cafe  for these reasons alone  and that’s discounting the fact that it is a really nice venue to read in.

So last night I was there again, reading alongside George Szirtes which I was really excited about, and the hubby and I got back at about 1am so we’ve had a bit of a lie in, but I’ve woken up with my head buzzing full of poetry thoughts.  This is unfortunate as today I have to get everything ready for the South Cumbria Music Festival tomorrow and plan a poetry workshop on ‘Rivers’ for Monday, which is why I didn’t stay over in Harrogate with lovely David Thom and Sam as planned – I knew I’d need the whole of Saturday to get myself sorted, and didn’t really want to go rushing off on Saturday morning.

It was a really wonderful night.  George Szirtes read from his older books in the first half.  The range of his subject matter is humbling and there is something quite captivating about the way that he reads.  Normally I find it hard to concentrate before I’ve read but I was completely hooked.

One of George’s old tutors, Doug Sandle introduced him which was a lovely way to start the evening.  He read two fine poems in memorium to Martin Bell and Ken Smith.

I don’t want to gush too much about George Szirtes – for one, it’s a bit creepy – but I think he is really excellent.  I like the rhythm and obsessiveness of his writing,  I like the sharp intellect and wit that underpins his poetry and I think (although I’ve only met him once) that he seems a true gentleman – by this I mean someone who is unfailingly generous, highly intelligent and this is the best bit – utterly passionate about poetry, and language.

Anyway, that was a bit of a gush but never mind.  George Szirtes SOLD OUT of his books last ngiht.  How often does that happen at a poetry reading!  There were no more copies of his new book ‘Bad Machine’ left .  I already had one because I’m a member of the Poetry Book Society and it is their Choice for this quarter which means I get it for free, but I cannot recommend it enough and you should go and order it from Bloodaxe immediately! (

The lovely Ian Duhig was in the audience as well along with the equally lovely Zaffar Kunial – it was nice to see them and the fact that they looked like they were enjoying my set made me less nervous…and thanks to Headingley LitFest for putting a stonking evening on and Richard Wilcocks in particular for inviting me along.

So now I need to stop gushing and start getting spare music ready, photocopying, going through my list and making sure I’ve got everything.  The Sunday poem will appear tomorrow evening along with an update about the Music Festival – whether you want that bit or not!





Sunday Poem – Amanda Dalton


Evening everybody.  I have been quiet again this week but this time it was just because I was busy.  On Monday I drove up to Keswick to the launch of the Fire Crane, produced by the unstoppable Mick North of New Writing Cumbria.  I have a poem in the magazine and read this out but there were about 15 other Cumbrian writers reading as well – and it was great to hear and see – a mix of prose and poetry.  I didn’t know that Cumbria had so many writers! Any Cumbrian writers out there who would like to get involved in the next issue of Fire Crane go to the New Writing Cumbria website which is

Unfortunately I had to leave before the second half because I had to get back to Barrow for junior band at six o clock so I missed the launch of the ‘Dark Mountain’ anthology which I would have liked to find out more about.

Tuesday was back to work and then straight off to Kendal for an inset session after school for a couple of hours and then back home again to collapse in a wobbly heap on the sofa.

Wednesday I took half of the Barrow Shipyard Junior Band (which I run) to the Barrow Steelworks rehearsal.  We are trying to form some sort of link, being the last Barrow based brass bands in the area.  I think the rehearsal in general was a success and the kids seemed to enjoy it.  I could do a whole blog post about how to encourage children as a senior band and maybe I will one day.  It doesn’t come naturally a lot of the time – brass bands have always been a place where you turn up and just get on with things – the musicians are largely self-taught, adult players who grew up through the system learnt self-reliance or they don’t make it – very different to the education system now – and for brass bands to survive, they need to adapt and change.  Anyway, as I said, I could write a whole post on it, and maybe I will, but I don’t feel like it now, so I won’t!  Overall, the Steelworks players seemed to accommodate the younger players well and it all went relatively smoothly and I’m hoping we can continue to work together.  The conductor and chairman are very enthusiastic and supportive, so it’s all looking positive.  I stayed for rehearsal after the kids went, mainly because I find it hard to say no, but I did enjoy it – although I get frustrated with my own playing now because I’m not in practice, so I can’t do some of the things I used to be able to do without thinking.

On Thursday it was another full day at work and then a rehearsal with the ‘Brasstastic’ band after school so another late finish and by the time Friday came, I realised I was running on empty so decided to not rush about and go to my usual poetry group in Kendal.  Instead I stayed in and finalised the plans for my workshop which I ran yesterday at Grizebeck Village Hall, which I think was a good move.

The workshop was organised by Ron Creer who runs a lot of Creative Writing Adult Education classes in the area.  There were 15 participants – a mix of prose and poetry writers and I really enjoyed the day.  It was the first mixed prose/peotry workshop I’d ran and it was interesting to see how the prose writers took the briefs and built a whole story from them with narrative twists and turns.  The other interesting thing (or one of them) was Ron read one of my poems to start the workshop off and it was the most strange experience.  It felt like someone putting my skin on – I know that sounds weird but it really did.  I was very flattered though – it wasn’t unpleasant just a strange sensation!  There were some really talented writers there which always makes the whole thing more enjoyable!

You’ll have noticed in that week there has been no real time for writing poetry and I’ve been moaning about this for a while.  For a variety of reasons (some of which I can’t reveal at the minute) I need to GET MY FINGER OUT!

So I have the Music Festival this Sunday in which I’m conducting three bands (possibly four) and have seven soloists performing and then after that I’m hoping to get the balance of poetry/music back again.  I’ve already done a bit this weekend – I’ve discovered Charles Simic and read the whole of his Selected so I’m kind of on the way there.

This Friday I’m reading at the Headingley Literature Festival with GEORGE SZIRTES *dance* at the Heart Cafe, starting 7.30pm – it would be lovely to see some Leeds folk there!

So I’ve wound my way through the week to Sunday and the Sunday poem which is the gorgeous Amanda Dalton.  Amanda was one of my tutors on the MA course and ran our ‘Creative Writing’ unit which basically meant we took in a poem every week to be critiqued.  Sometimes she set us exercises at the end of each class.  Amanda was one of my favorite tutors on the MA.  She was always fair to everybody, generous, insightful and always good humored.  It was obvious that she enjoyed running the workshops and I loved the way she treated everybody as fellow poets, rather than pupils.

So I’ve been meaning to steal a poem from Amanda for the Sunday poem for a long time – however, somehow my copy of her new book ‘Stray’ had ended up at poet David Tait’s – last weekend, me and the hubby drove over to Lancaster to go for a meal before David went off to China and I was tasked with the awful burden of looking after David’s poetry books.  So now I have two copies of Stray-mine and David’s.

It still doesn’t feel real that David is in China – there is a link here as Amanda is responsible for leading David to poetry as he was a student of hers at Leeds uni apparently.

Anyway – if you haven’t got ‘Stray’ – you really should.  It is a masterclass in how to create your own myths, rather than rewriting old ones.  So this is a longer Sunday poem than usual – but the first time I read this, my breath caught in my throat.  I re-read the book yesterday and today and the same thing happened – so I thought it had to be this one.

You can order Stray from Bloodaxe at

As well as being a fantastic poet, Amanda is also a playwright, and bizarrely, was the Deputy Headteacher at my local secondary school that I didn’t go to, but should have.  Amanda was the headteacher the same time I should have been there as well.  She is currently an Associate Director at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester and her first poetry collection ‘How to Disappear’ was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection.

Here is the poem!

Mapping the Edge: A Sheffield Medea – Amanda Dalton

1. Maddy: a beginning

My new goat dances on the tin roof and unfastens gates;
she leaves me ragged as a cabbage.
Still, each night I walk the three miles to ‘The Feathers’,
drag the heels of my all weather shoes,
flap flap on tarmac, scud along the lane.
Goat weary,

by every glug of water in the washing-up,
the bottled clouds, the pint mugs overwhelmed by flood,
the glasses stacked like fragile towers in cities
that I saw once in a book about the future,
like a city might be now somewhere,
with roads that you can carve out with a fork,
through plates of orange sauce left over, smeared.

He came in when I was clearing tables,
clean and white and golden Nike, Adidas.
Unbreakable and sure.
His three mates and him, but just him really.
Him.  I’m done for.

I’m the little pile of mash
that’s on the edge of Mr Rathbone’s finished plate
and he’s fresh gravy, pouring over me.
I’m drowning in him, salty, comforting as soup,
except I know already he’s not natural.
There’s flavourings and starch in him and E621, E323, E150C.
That’s bad, but much too late already.

Then Mrs Benson shouts at me to hurry
and I say, Please, Mrs Benson…
(think I’m going to vomit, maybe cry)
and they all hear me and they laugh and call me ‘Hedges’
like she’s been through one,
like birds nest in her you-know-where.
Then he says, Jason says, shut up, she’s all right.
They don’t laugh then.

I wish I was a hedge that hadn’t just caught fire.
A still green hedge, quite cool and safe,
enclosing goats and hedgehogs.
Ancient hedge that’s made of many shrubs.
One shrub for every hundred years along a thirty metre stretch.
That’s how you age a hedge.
I almost say out loud, How old am I?

2. Jason: an ending

I know how it looks;
I know it looks really bad
and even worse with the lad
and a second on the way,
but I tell you, Maddy was always mad,
a danger to herself, a curse.

I sometimes think I was under a spell from the start,
still am, when I wake in a sweat in the dark
just knowing I love her
and knowing I’ll love her the rest of my life.
But hey, come on, get married to her?
Maddy, my wife?

She can’t have a drink without spilling it over her chin,
she won’t wear decent clothes,
she won’t eat anything out of a tin,
and she actually weeps sometimes, dead loud,
cos she reckons she misses that bloody goat.

It wouldn’t have worked.  It was always a dodgy one.
Then Caroline comes along.
She’s classy, rich, the kind of girl you know you’ll settle with
and she’s willing to go to court for us to get my kids.
My mum adores her,
s’only dad, who says it’s wrong as snow in August,
wrong in his guts like he’s swallowed something bad.

I guess I’m sorry, yeh, I guess I’m sad
when I think how he was so made up, so set alight
that night I first took Maddy back.
My dad and scissors,
I’d been sick of the sight since I was a lad.
But Maddy, she sat at his feet like he was a king,
kept listening to his talk of forging blades
and grinding on the joint
and how to bore and tap.
Her mouth was hanging open, gob-smacked,
full of respect for every boring fact.

Then she told him how to cut a string without a blade
and how to shear a sheep.
She took the coffee table and my mother’s furry rug
to demonstrate.  And it got late.
And we all laughed.
And it was great.
And Dad was set alight.

Later on that night she talked about her hands and his
and her dad’s hands
and what you learn and what you know inside
and what you honour and respect
and what you pass down time.

She talked about a line of blades, of cutlery,
a river made of steel,
invisible, but flowing
deep and strong through this place.
I sometimes think she came from outer space,
my Maddy.

Now my dad’s not speaking what with Caroline
and her dad buying up the little cutler’s yards.
He’s looking to the future,
nothing wrong with that, but my dad’s took it hard.

And I’m not speaking either, I’m being hard and sharp,
clean cut, cut off from Maddy, like the best blade.
Split, divided, severed through the bone.
It’s best that way.
I’m telling you, she’s like her goat.
She’ll find her own way out of here,
she’ll head off to the hills,
to home sweet home.

Sunday Poet – Rachel Davies


Evening everybody.  I’ve been VERY quiet on facebook, twitter and this blog this week.  I don’t really know why, except to say that I’ve been in a bit of a bad mood all week.  On Monday, I went to a critiquing group and the talk turned to people who don’t speak correctly – the example given was the habit of putting ‘like’ at the end of every sentence.  The term slovenly language was used.  I felt myself getting more and more annoyed – but I also knew my level of annoyance was completely out of proportion to what was being said.  I said that there were worse things to be annoyed about than the way people speak – and anyway, I don’t think that degrades the language – I don’t think language is being degraded, I think it is enriched all the time.  I am also happy to disagree with people who don’t think this – I know a lot of very good friends, including some who were at the critiquing group who didn’t agree.  I’d also just come from a long day at work with children who have a lot of problems, the way they speak being the least of them.  So maybe I was grouchy because of that.

I have lost a lot of my Leicester accent now – I remember being self-conscious of the way that I spoke when I joined the Leicester Schools Symphony Orchestra age 17.  I remember being gently teased about the way I spoke – the other brass players came from a middle-class background and spoke differently.  It wasn’t bullying – I was never afraid, but I did feel self-conscious.  Even now, I find it very difficult to pronounce words beginning with ‘th’ correctly.  My natural instinct is to say ‘f’, as in ‘free’ instead of ‘three’ .  I try very hard not to, but this is the way the people I grow up with speak, or at least I assume it is, I must have picked it up from somewhere!

Anyway, I moved to Leeds for three years, then Birmingham for a year, then up to Cumbria and I seem to be like a verbal magpie – I pick up the ‘tune’ of accents and somewhere on the way, I feel that I’ve lost my own.  I hear this most strongly when I go back to Leicester and I’m back in with my family, who speak with very broad Leicester accents and I do feel sad about this.

The people at the critiquing group weren’t really talking about accents – they were talking about slang and abbreviations which is slightly different but to me they are intimately related. This is an unfair blog in a way, because I am only voicing my opinion but this is all this can be – and its been playing on my mind all week.  Someone at the group, when I said I thought there were bigger things to be worried about said that they thought language was the most important thing and we should get upset about it.

And I think language is the most important thing as well – but it is not a god-given thing – it is not something we are born with.  We acquire language through socialization and education, and some of us are lucky enough to have a better education than others, some of us will be taught how to speak properly, some of us will change and pick up things as best we can to try and fit into the social situation we are in.  In Barrow, the children often say I speak ‘posh’ and I laugh, because where I’m from, its not posh at all.  I guess what I’m trying to say, very disjointedly is yes, language is important.  But perhaps more important is the confidence to speak.

The Sunday poem today is  a brilliant fit to all this because it is about the loss of language.  Rachel wrote this whilst on the residential at Abbot Hall.  I’ve been meaning to ask Rachel for a poem for ages, so when I heard her read this straight after writing it I nabbed it.  Rachel was a year or two above me on the MA at Manchester Metropolitan University.  She is unfailingly enthusiastic about poetry and writing and is a lovely lady to be around.  Rachel runs the East Manchester and Tameside Poetry Stanza and has recently had a review published in The North.  Apart from this she is busy co-running a poetry project at Manchester Cathedral – but I first got to know Rachel better last year when she came on some of the workshops I ran for the MA students as part of my pedagogy project.

Then I organised a retreat at Cove Park in Scotland.  It was very cheap, and the idea was that we all took it in turns to run a workshop.  It was a lovely poetry holiday and Rachel came along to that – along with wonderful poets like Holly Hopkins, Martin Malone, Martin Kratz, David Borrott, David Tait and Matt Bryden – most but not all of these poets have been on the blog as a Sunday poet already  ( just haven’t got round to the others yet!)

Anyway, apart from Monday when I got grumpy, I did a lovely reading at Maulds Meaburn Village Institute alongside guitarist David Ashworth.  I sold four pamphlets, which takes the grand total of pamphlets actually exchanged for cash to 259.  I’m going to shut up about sales of it now though until I get to 300, when I will make a big fuss.

This week it has been hard to find my way back to poetry through the rush of work.  The South Cumbria Music Festival is coming up in a couple of weeks – it is a big competition and I’ve entered my Monday band (Barrow Shipyard Junior Band), my Thursday ‘Brasstastic’ Band, a brass group from Holy Family Primary School and seven soloists.  I’ll also be playing with St Pius School Orchestra in the competition to help them out.  That’s on the Sunday – the following Wednesday I’ll be taking Year 3, 4 and 5 from St Pius, along with their class teacher Mr Mills to the festival for the ‘Class Music-making competition’.  I enjoy doing the festival, but am starting to have the creeping fear that I may have taken too much on this term with entering quite so many groups.  So maybe that is why I’m grumpy – I often am when my energy is spread unevenly between poetry and music.

Other news – I’ve been asked to read at another festival – don’t know if I’m allowed to say which one yet so I’ll keep quiet.  The editor at Artemis is very happy with my article, so that will be coming out in the next issue.  Today I went to see my best poetry friend David Tait before he flies off to emigrate to China on Wednesday.  I am sad to see him go, but also excited for him and the hubby and I are already planning our trip to see him on the way to Australia, hopefully next year if we start saving.  I also am babysitting his poetry books!  This makes me very happy and they have fitted nicely onto my shelves with his initials in the front cover so he can be reunited with them when he returns.

Anyway – enough of this talk! This is what happens when I’m quiet all week you see… Here is Rachel’s lovely poem which describes the process of a loved one losing language so beautifully.  I think this poem is wonderfully poised and tender – for me it doesn’t put a foot wrong.

Loss – Rachel Davies

The doctor called it a cerebro vascular accident
but we all knew it was a broken heart

and when you came home to that empty house
your speech had also slipped away or

not completely lost, it was holed up there
in the language centre of your brain,

perfectly formed within your own hearing
so you couldn’t understand why we didn’t get

your simplest request: tea, drink, a few more chips
were cryptic clues undecipherable to us

and you, hearing what you couldn’t articulate,
hit out at the fools who couldn’t crack the code.

I nursed you every day while I carried
your grandson like a speech-mark in my womb

so I had time to pick up some of your language,
learn your words for Horlicks, toilet, tablets,  granddad.