Sunday Poem – Amanda Dalton

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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 http://www.newwritingcumbria.org.uk

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 http://www.bloodaxebooks.com

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,

mesmerised
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.

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