Sunday Poem – Kathryn Maris

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I have a feeling that this may be a bit of a long blog post – this week has been full of lovely happenings.

On Monday I got the train to London and read at the Troubadour.  If I lived in London, I would be at the Troubadour for the readings all the time.  Next Monday, Paul Stephenson, a fantastic poet who is on the Writing School with me is reading alongside Simon Armitage and Frieda Hughes – what a fantastic reading that will be.  You can get information about the readings from the website http://www.coffeehousepoetry.org/

Anyway, on Monday I was reading with six other poets – Claire Dyer, who I went on a course at Ty Newydd with once.  Claire has just had her first collection ‘Eleven Rooms’ published by Two Rivers Press.  Also reading was Janet Rogerson, who has had a Sunday Poem on this blog, Kathryn Maris, Joshua Weiner and Margot Farrington.

I really enjoyed the reading – I’d only heard Janet read once and was looking forward to hearing her again – all the other poets I’d not heard read, which is quite unusual for me – most poetry readings I go to now, I’ve heard the poets before or at least read their books, but I hadn’t read any of Joshua Weiner or Kathryn Maris.

And I loved both of them!  I knew I’d love Claire’s poetry because I’d heard her poetry on a course, but Kathryn and Joshua were a new discovery.  Isn’t it nice when that happens?  I immediately kind of fell in love with their poetry – so went home with three new books that night.

A friend of mine from music college, Andrew Lines even appeared!  We haven’t seen each other for about ten years – Andy was on the guitar making course at Leeds College of Music whilst I was doing my degree there but we met because we worked behind the college bar together.  It was really nice to see him, and for him to make the effort to come to a poetry reading as well.

We were trying to work out when the last time was that we’d seen each other and Andy said ‘I think we were in the Atrium ( a nightclub in Leeds) and you were snogging some bloke in a beanie!’  Eh hem.  Yes, well.  Oh to be young again!

I stayed up with Jill till 2am then I remembered that I had to get up at some ungodly hour the next day to get back to work.  When my alarm went off at 6.30am the next day I was kicking myself.  Anyway, I got my 7.30 train from Euston and by 11am I was back in Barrow for an afternoon of teaching recorder and a music concert at one of my schools involving about 100 children.

Tuesday night I carried on my poetry obsession and went up to Grasmere to hear Hannah Lowe and Bill Herbert.  I must admit I was a little tired by Tuesday evening and I did think about not going, but I’m so glad I did.  It was one of the most entertaining readings I’ve been to for a long time – Bill and Hannah were on great form.  I’m also really looking forward to this Saturday when we are having Hannah read for us at Poem and A Pint at Rampside Village Hall in Barrow.

I also got a really exciting email this week as well from the Alligator Club.  They are a group of North West playwrights who have been putting on pop up productions in theatres around the North West.  A couple of months ago I went up to Keswick for a meeting/idea sharing session with the Alligator Club and some other local writers – mainly playwrights.  The Alligator Club wanted some local writers to work with to put on their next pop up production at the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick.  It was a nice day and we had to send our work to them afterwards.  I didn’t really expect anything to come from it – because I thought I was slightly disadvantaged – not being a playwright – but apparently not!  I’m going to be on the project – I don’t know much about it at the minute – other than it is paid and it is going to be exciting and the production will be taking place in September – I will update here when I know more.  It’s the first time I’ve done anything like this, so I’m really excited about it – even though I don’t know exactly what it is going to be like yet.

So today’s Sunday poem is by Kathryn Maris who I read with on Monday.  Kathryn is an American poet who now lives in the UK.  Her first collection over here ‘God Loves You’ is published by Seren.  Her first book was published in the US by Four Way Books and is called ‘The Book of Jobs’.  She has won an Academy of American Poets University and College Prize and a Pushcart Prize.    Her reading was really, really good – she is funny and dry and I could have listed to her for double the length of time.

I’ve chosen ‘On Returning a Child to Her Mother at the Natural History Museum’ for a number of reasons.  I think it demonstrates one of the main concerns of Kathryn’s work in that it shows how she is playing with and subverting the use of the ‘I’ voice in the poem – she uses her own name in the poem, yet this poem comes after another poem in the collection ‘This is a Confessional Poem’ so I think the whole poem is very tongue in cheek – in that the ‘I’ voice of the poem is not really Kathryn Maris – it is a constructed voice.  Maybe that does not make much sense, or maybe I’m not sure what I mean.

It also reminds me of ‘The Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning – the tone of it – he starts off ‘Here’s my last duchess’ and this chimes with the ending of Kathryn’s poem – ‘Here’s Emily’.  I found that poem echoing in my mind whilst I was reading this one – something about the tone and the pacing and the way the speaker in the poem reveals more about themselves than they mean to.

It is also incredibly funny and I love the rhythm and pacing of the poem.  I love how I feel sympathy and empathy with the voice of the poem, even while the narrator is being cruel, and admitting her failures!

There is also a fantastic sestina in the book called ‘Darling, Would You Pick up those Books?’.  She read this on Monday, but it wasn’t till I read it through that I slowly realised it was a sestina.  I normally hate sestinas – I get very impatient with them and bored – but maybe it is rubbish sestinas that I get impatient and bored with because I’m kind of in love with this poem.

You can buy the book from Seren here  http://www.serenbooks.com/book/god-loves-you/9781781720356

 This poem was first published in the anthology ‘Tokens for the Foundlings’ also published by Seren.  You can get a copy of that anthology here http://www.serenbooks.com/book/tokens-for-the-foundlings/9781854115812

Anyway, here is the poem!

On Returning a Child to her Mother at the Natural History Museum – Kathryn Maris

Hello, my name is Kathryn and I’ve come
here to return your daughter, Emily.
She told me you’d suggested that she look
around upstairs in ‘Earthquakes and Volcanoes,’
then meet you and her brothers in the shop.
You know that escalator leading to
the orb?  It’s very long and only goes
one way, you can’t turn round.  She asked me if
I knew the way back down and would we come
with her into the earthquake simulator –
that reproduction of the grocery shop
in Kobe, where you see the customers
get thrown around with Kirin beer and soy
sauce, things like that.  She told us stuff about
your family.  Apparently you had
a baby yesterday! That can’t be right:
you’re sitting here without one and my God
your stomach’s flat!  She also said she’d had
an operation in the hospital
while you were giving birth one floor below.
I know, I know: kids lie and get confused,
mine do that too.  She talks a lot.  She’s fat.
She may not be an easy child to love.
I liked her, though.  I liked her very much,
and having her was great, the only time
all day my daughter hasn’t asked me for
a dog!  We got downstairs and funnily
enough we found your middle son.  He ran
to us upset and asked us where you were.
But here you are – exactly where you said –
the shop!  Don’t worry: I don’t ever judge
a mother.  Look at me: my daughter drank
the Calpol I left out when she was two;
I gave my kids Hundreds and Thousands once
for dinner while I lay down on the floor,
a wreck.  I know you well!  Here’s Emily.

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6 responses »

  1. this is a delight…one of those that remind you a)that if it looks hard you’re not trying hard enough b) that it’s odd that the more you practice, the luckier you seem to get and c) as Tony Harrison was always saying -and possibly still does- the default setting for the English voice in poetry is blank verse, or at the very least, iambics. And it tells a story you never will forget. And it’s charming. And it makes me smile. And what more could a young man ask for of a Sunday night in May?

  2. Great poem, Kim (almost as good as your blog!) I see what you mean about ‘My Last Duchess’ – it has that ‘between the lines’ mood all the way through, invites me to read it again.

    • Hi Peter – glad you can hear it too. It makes the poem even more interesting as well – the poet uses her own name right at the beginning, but it has that ‘between the lines’ mood which reminds us of ‘My Last Duchess’ which then makes it clear that it is a monologue or a ‘thrown voice’ which tells us the poet is playing with the idea of ‘confession’ or ‘biography’ in poetry. Really interesting poem I think. I want to write a poem with my name in now. 🙂

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