Monthly Archives: June 2013

Sunday Poem – Sasha Dugdale

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Hello everyone.  This is a very late blog – I have been busy all day today.  This morning I was working on a workshop that I’ll be delivering tomorrow in a secondary school in Oldham – I’m doing five sessions spread over the whole of year ten.  I’m a bit nervous but I am looking forward to it as well.

This afternoon I went to a friend’s hen party, which was afternoon tea at a very posh hotel in Bowness.  We had sandwiches, scones, tea and cakes and it was very nice – most of the people there were from a school I work at in Barrow – so it was nice to be included-my second one this year – after working for eight years without going to one!

Then I got back, walked the dogs round the slag bank and then watched Game of Thrones, which I have been obsessed with this week but I have got to the end of Season 2 so I’m hoping I can now get back to doing some actual work!  Season 3 has only just come out and it’s far too expensive to buy at the minute!  I’ve been watching it all week and finding it very hard to do anything else.

On Saturday I took my junior band to see the Haffner Orchestra.  For many of the children it was their first classical music concert.  It was interesting how many conventions I take for granted – one of the very young children started clapping after the orchestra had finished tuning up!  They now all know not to clap between movements in a symphony, and to clap when the conductor and the principal violinist comes on.  Lots of audience members came up to me in the interval and at the end and said how well-behaved the children were – so I was very proud of them.

This week I also had a concert with one of my schools and a concert with the band so it’s been pretty full on.  In between concerts and watching the Game of Thrones I’ve been working on a poem for a project in association with St Oswald’s Church in Grasmere – there is going to be a art and craft exhibition in response to poems written about the church – the deadline is Monday and I got my poem sent off yesterday – it’s only the second time I’ve written a poem ‘on purpose’ i.e with a purpose in mind, rather than just letting my mind wander..the first was written in response to a photography exhibition at the Theatre by the Lake…

We were shown around the church by an amazing guide who knew so many stories and facts about the church – but he mentioned the women who come and lay the rushes as part of the rush bearing festival and there is a man in the village who climbs to the top of the church tower to hang the flag.  He also winds the clocks and services the hotel pools in the area – so I guess my poem is about the people that are associated with the church – the saints and the local people who help out in the church now.

I’ve also sent my collection out to a few friends whose opinion I trust and I’ve had some really useful feedback that I haven’t had time to look at properly yet, but after I’ve got this workshop out the way tomorrow, I’m going to print their comments maybe  and go through it all again.  At the minute, if I had to use a metaphor to explain what stage I’m at, my collection is like a house with all the furniture not set out properly, or maybe a house with non-load bearing walls that need knocking down to make space…so that is what I shall be doing this week and the next week…

The next time I blog shall be Tuesday night.  By then I will have been to the Lakeland Book of the Year Award ceremony to find out if I’ve won, and I would also have heard Simon Armitage at the Wordsworth Trust – so I should have lots to say!

This week’s Sunday poem is by Sasha Dugdale, who ran the workshop which I previously raved about on here at the Wordsworth Trust.  I already had Sasha’s most recent collection ‘Red House’ published by Carcanet and after enjoying the workshop so much, I decided to re-read it.

As a workshop tutor, what struck me about Sasha was how much she listens to people, how interested she was in the way people’s minds worked.  As a poet, this quality of listening carries over into her writing.  When I wrote to her to ask her if I could have ‘Plainer Sailing (Alzheimer’s) for the blog, I wasn’t suprised to hear that this poem had been set to music.  I think her lines have a very clear, pure quality – it is the type of poetry that makes me think ‘yes, that is it exactly’.  The first two lines for instance – comparing someone suffering from Alzheimers as being ‘Frail as a cloud’.  But she doesn’t stop there, she pushes the image further so we see the person with Alzheimers’  is not just a victim – they are beautiful in their frailty – she says ‘filled with a cloud’s watered light’.

The other thing I really enjoyed about Sasha’s poetry was her rhyme which is never allowed to control the poem, but instead sits in the background of the poem, like a well trained servant…In ‘Plainer Sailing’  the rhyme scheme of abab never intrudes but it holds the poem together.

If you would like to buy Sasha’s collection, you can get it from the Carcanet website at http://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781906188023

Sasha is also the editor of one of my new favourite magazines, Modern Poetry in Translation.  The magazine has a fantastic website where you can have a go yourself at translating a poem as well as subscribing!  This is at http://www.mptmagazine.com/

And here is the poem!

Plainer Sailing (Alzheimer’s) – Sasha Dugdale
for A.W

She walked then: pale and unbent
Frail as a cloud, filled with a cloud’s watered light
And all the ropes were gone, and the language unlearnt
And vital knots of past and future long untied.

There was once no sailing without the augur on board,
Who shaped each day and told what tumbled past,
Who sought the truth in feathered gore
Whilst others watched from the crow’s nest.

She too surveyed the calm, and was concerned:
What to make of all the signs, for the sea is rarely blank.
And there was a circling, a moment returned
When daughter was mother, and there the sun shrunk

And bent and was narrow at the line of sky
And still the clouds twisted and birds flew
All above at that time there was no end to life
And no end to other brightnesses at least as true

That seem like mirages now.  For signs were massing
To display themselves in a common light:
They did all surely point to the one passing
Of pale day into paler night.

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Sunday Poem – Billy Letford

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Evening everybody.  I am writing this at the other side of a pretty full on weekend – even for my standards, it was a little hectic.  My mum and dad arrived on Friday from Leicester and I immediately dragged them off to Lancaster Spotlight (http://www.spotlightlancaster.co.uk/) as I was a guest reader.  To my delight, Sarah Fiske, one of the lovely organisers of Spotlight greeted my dad with ‘Oh, are you the scaffolder?’  His face was a picture!  Fame at last!

If you haven’t been to Spotlight before – it is really worth a visit.  Although it’s a long night, it is a really friendly event, lots of open mic spots and you get a mixture of poetry, comedy, music.  I was really happy to be reading with Ron Scowcroft.  I heard Ron read recently at an open mic but it was great to hear a longer set from him.

On Friday I was reading at Lancaster Spotlight along with various other readers, including Ron Scowcroft.  It was really nice to hear Ron do a longer set of poems – I think it’s been a while since I’ve heard him anywhere else apart from at the open mic.

Anyway, due to my uncontrollable urge to talk afterwards and gossip, we didn’t get home to after 1am.

Then on Saturday I went to a workshop at the Wordsworth Trust.  Ever since going to Poetry Parnassus last year I’ve been reading a lot of translated poetry – so when Andrew Forster told me that Sasha Dugdale was coming to Grasmere to run a workshop on Translating Poetry I knew I had to sign up!

And it was amazing!!  At first I wasn’t sure – we were ‘translating’ bird song from recordings but once we started I started to think about how we use consonants to define the rhythm of the bird song i.e ‘tikki tikki tikki’ but actually, birds don’t use consonants – I think their ‘song’ is made of vowels, and when humans use vowels, they come right from the body.  The use of consonants brings the sound up to the mouth, or more specifically, the tongue – but we do use vowels when we are in pain or when we are scared – think of if you hit your thumb with a nail – if you are Billy Letford you ‘roar like a lion’ – I would probably shriek but I think both would be made mainly of vowels…anyway…

After the bird song, Sasha read a poem in Russian and we had to write down a translation of the poem from the sound and from seeing the transliteration of the poem on the page – which was interesting – especially when Sasha gave us the literal translation.

Then we got another Russian poem, this one was by Boris Pasternak but this time we had a literal translation to work from.  I really enjoyed this – I don’t think I really understood before that there is no ‘right’ answer when you are translating – and it was so interesting seeing how the other people dealt with the tricky bits in the poem.

So then I hot-footed it home, this time without stopping to gossip, as I’d left my poor mum and dad at home to amuse themselves all day.  When I got back we drove up the west coast to meet my sister and her hubby for dinner.
And today I’ve been recording a CD with my junior band.  The band was brilliant – they played pretty solidly from 9.30-3.00.  They were shattered by the end of it – if you play a brass instrument you’ll know, or maybe you can imagine this is like running a marathon!  I can report I also had a very tired right arm from all that conducting –

We got ten tracks done so soon we will have our first album to flog to unsuspecting parents.  I might even put a paypal button on here for it, just in case there are any poets reading this who have always wanted a CD of a brass band playing Abba and other pop hits!

So marathon weekend is over and although it’s been good, I can’t say that I’m not relieved to have got through it!

Today’s poem is by the lovely William Letford – last Tuesday I went up to Grasmere to see him read along with Fred D’Aguiar.  It was a great reading and he kindly said I could use one of his poems from his first collection ‘Bevel’, published by Carcanet ( http://www.carcanet.co.uk).

William Letford has worked as a roofer, on and off, since he was fifteen .  He received a New Writer’s Award from the Scottish Book Trust and an Edwin Morgan Travel Bursary which allowed him to spend three months in the mountains of northern Italy helping to restore a medieval village.  He has an M.Litt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow.

You can buy ‘Bevel’ from http://www.carcanet.co.uk

William came to read for us at Poem and A Pint a couple of weeks ago – and he was brilliant – but it was great to hear some new poems at Grasmere as well – I’m already looking forward to his next book!

If you haven’t seen him read, you need to.  It is a masterclass in how to present a reading – he does everything by heart, always looking directly at the audience and it helps that the poetry is really good as well!   As you will see from this poem which I have appropriated from his book!

So here is the Sunday Poem – I hope you enjoy it.

Be Prepared – William Letford

wear three T-shirts and one hooded top
layers are important
they can always come off
remember your oilskins
it’s always raining somewhere
wear a scarf
cold air moves down from the neck
wear gloves
they’re useless when wet
but handy if you hit the wrong nail
pay attention to the moment
the way water drips
the way a spider scuttles
have a healthy fear of heights
when working from a ladder
know which way to fall
railings and slabs are unforgiving
flower beds and fuchsia bushes are better
practise your scream
if you strike your thumb with the hammer
don’t squeal
roar like a lion
when the pain subsides and you look around
you’ll know exactly what I mean
acknowledge the moon
it was part of the earth once
its loneliness can make you feel beautiful
lift properly
you’ll need your back to make your money

Andrew Forster – the path from First to Third Collection

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A rambling interview/conversation over the last couple of weeks with Andrew Forster about the path from first to third collection – hope you all enjoy.

Andrew Forster’s first collection ‘Fear of Thunder’, published by Flambard Press in 2007 was shortlisted for a Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2008 and a second collection ‘Territory’ was published by Flambard in 2010 and later in 2010 a pamphlet ‘Digging’ came out with Roncodora Press which consisted of ten new poems accompanied by drawings by Hugh Bryden.  He is currently working on his third collection.

Kim: Hi Andrew.  Thanks for agreeing to be my first ‘writing my third collection’ poet.  I have this idea in my head that the third collection would be the most difficult to write – I am thinking this for reasons based entirely on speculation as I’ve not finished my first yet – how has the process changed for you from first to second to third?

Andrew: Hi Kim.  Many thanks for asking me to do this. I’d  be interested to hear why you think the third collection would be more difficult.  The process has certainly changed for me. Like most first collections I suspect, ‘Fear of Thunder’ was a selection from poems written over a long time period (in my case, around 15 years from the earliest poem in the book to the most recent) and any coherence that it had came out through the structure of it rather than the writing.  I divided the book into sections according to things the poems had in common  and it was interesting to see the way narratives emerged.

I was much more conscious of my second collection as a book from early on.  While I was working on ‘Fear of Thunder’ I moved to a small village in the hills in South West Scotland, 1500 feet up. It was a former lead mining village, an interesting place to live as it felt very much like being on the edge of wilderness, with the many and varied implications of that. I
wrote a few poems out of the experience and originally intended them to go into ‘Fear of Thunder’ but I held onto them, feeling that they were a little different and that there was potential to mine the seam further. After I had finalised the contents of ‘Fear of Thunder’ I realised there was a book in the experience of making a home in Leadhills. It did widen
out a little in the process of writing  but as I wrote poems I was conscious of their place in the larger scheme.

I’m still working on the third book so what I say here may change. The process has surprised me in some ways. It has been more like the second book than the first and I didn’t ecessarily envisage it would be. After working on a themed collection I felt like I wanted to just write poems for a while, and not worry about where they were going, or about an overall shape. But then my friend the artist Hugh Bryden, who collaborates with poets through his Roncadora Press, and who did the cover of ‘Territory’, said he’d like to illustrate some of my poems with a view to collecting them in a pamphlet. I was very keen on this but hadn’t written anything since ‘Territory’ was finished. We basically agreed we would see what
happened and I would send Hugh poems as I wrote them.

While finishing ‘Territory’ I had actually moved to Cumbria, and taken up the job I still have as Literature Officer with the Wordsworth Trust. I was trying to make a home in another new area and very aware of the rich literary heritage that I was spending my days engaging with. Perhaps not surprisingly, what emerged were poems that engaged with the landscape,
history and natural history of Cumbria, but there were also poems that were specifically about living and working in the shadow of Wordsworth.  A number of these appeared in the pamphlet ‘Digging’.

As with the Leadhills poems, I felt there was more to be explored. The pamphlet really kicked off the next collection. Once I had 25 -30 poems I tried ordering them into the skeleton of a manuscript to see what it looked like. I think this is an important part of the process – it helps me see whether it holds together but also whether there are any gaps.

What has emerged is largely a Cumbrian book, with Wordsworth encountered fairly randomly in the landscape in the way you do encounter him when you are working in the Lake District. There are a few other themes within this and I guess the third collection is a little more flexible than ‘Territory.’ Moving to Cumbria marked my return to the North of England, and sparked of memories of growing up in industrial South Yorkshire, and these play off against my life in Cumbria. I’m also getting older, and some of the poems have an awareness of this: of the body not quite able to do what I might like it to, but also of feeling content with the way life is going. These elements have their echoes in Wordsworth’s life too so it all ties together. I think it’s what I’ve heard described as a ‘mid-life book’!

Kim: I love the idea of encountering Wordsworth randomly in your collection!  I guess I think the third would be more difficult because there seems to be a lot of support geared around writing your first collection and it is easy to ask for help when you are writing your first collection as you’re not meant to know what you’re doing!   I  would be interested to hear about the types of support you got with the different collections.  I get a lot of advice from more experienced poets all the time – I’m constantly picking their brains.  Have you found yourself relying on other poets for feedback/support with all/any of the collections? What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given about putting a collection together and who gave it to you?

Andrew: I think that everyone, no matter what stage they are at, needs someone who will both support their work and give an honest opinion. I have a reciprocal relationship for sharing work with the poet Vicki Feaver, who I’ve known for about 12 years, and Vicki was really instrumental in helping me shape ‘Fear of Thunder’ from a fairly haphazard group of poems to a coherently structured collection. We literally took them out of the file and put them into separate heaps according to things they might have had in common. This included themes such as landscape and childhood, but it was also according to things like modes of address. For instance there were a number of poems addressed to a second person. These weren’t in fact even addressed to the same person but when we put them together they read like a narrative.

I think the key piece of advice came from Vicki, which was to think of a collection as a book. This actually meant leaving out poems that had been published in significant places becuase they didn’t seem to fit with the others.

Vicki has contnued to comment on all the collections, though the order of poems in Territory’ seemed to come more naturally because it had themes. As I wrote the poems I slotted them into place.

Much of ‘Territory’ was written while I was doing the MA in Creative Writing at MMU and an earlier version of it was submitted as my portfolio. I did the MA as an online student so I had a more distanced relationship to it than many others seem to have, and I always saw ‘Territory’ as the next book rather than just as the portfolio. I had a fairly close relationship with Michael Symmons Roberts but it was more at the level of commenting on poems than on the manuscript as a whole.

The collection I’m currently working on has been a little different. Flambard, the publisher of my first two books, ceased publishing when they lost their Arts Council funding a couple of years ago, so I’ve been in the position of not really knowing if the new one would find a home. Because of this I started corresponding with a publisher when the book was still at an early stage –  I think my logic was that I would find it easier to complete if I knew someone was interested in it! Nothing is signed and sealed yet so I won’t say who but it has led to a much closer editorial relationship than I’ve had in the past, which is exhilarating if a little nerve-wracking! I think from this experience I’ve being reminded of something that may appear to contradict what I said earlier- every poem needs to be able to hold its place as a poem. Sometimes with collections there’s a tendency to include things because they fulfil a narrative function or add to the theme in some way. It has to work as a book but every poem has to stand on its own merit.

Kim: I’ve just read a blog post from Antony Wilson in his ‘Life Saving Poems’ series.  Talking about Gerard Manley Hopkins he says

“It seems inconceivable to me that any poet starting out now in contemporary Britain would opt for the conditions Hopkins lived under, namely: solitude verging on loneliness; periods of intense depression; and, worst of all, complete lack of recognition for his art. Think of all the things we take for granted in the connection economy, the prizes, the mentoring schemes, the festivals, the networking on Facebook and Twitter, the blogs (!), and now think of a life without any of that save one man you occasionally dare to send your poems to, your champion and curator of your reputation, which in any case you will not live to see. It is insane, isn’t it?”
You can find the full blog here http://anthonywilsonpoetry.com/2013/05/11/lifesaving-poems-gerard-manley-hopkinss-no-worst-there-is-none-pitched-past-pitch-of-grief/

I think the poetry ‘community’ that I feel part of is so important for me – the people I send poems to for their opinion, the writing groups, the readings.  And it is crazy to think even about not being able to email poems across to people – having to print them out and post them seems like madness!

Your mystery publisher also sounds very intriguing – and as we are conducting this interview via an email conversation over a couple of weeks – it might be that you can reveal all before we get to the end!

What is the title of the third book?  I know that you did a lot of work on it when you went on retreat to Hawthornden – I’m interested to know how the rules at Hawthornden of silence and no internet may have affected your writing – do you think the very different atmosphere that this book was written in compared to writing the other books around the demands of a full time job will be felt by readers?

Andrew: Yes I think we all take the poetry community we are part of for granted. One of the few things I felt as hardship at Hawthornden was not being able to e-mail poems to people for an opinion. Everyone else who was there was writing prose, and I think writing so intensely it’s hard to see it objectively. One day I did actually go out to Bonnyrigg Library and e-mail some stuff to a couple of friends from there, but the positives of that uninterrupted time were so many that I quickly accepted its limitations.
The obvious difference between the poems written at Hawthornden and the rest is that they were written in a much more concentrated period. My poems usually take 6 or 7 drafts before I feel they are ready for a second opinion (and then any number of drafts after that!) but usually these drafts take place over a period of a month or so. At Hawthornden I was
doing  4 or 5 drafts in a day, and I realised how important it is to get the distance over the poems that my usual routine gives me. Something that seems important one week can look redundant a week later, so I used the Hawthornden time to get a lot of poems into a basic shape, knowing I would have to do some fairly intense editing later. It’s hard to say if this has resulted in a different kind of book, as I think each book moves on anyway.

I did go to Hawthornden with lots of impulses for poems in my head, and I think that’s important with this kind of retreat, otherwise you risk a lot of time staring at the blank page. Still there were some poems in the new collection that surprised me, that came from territories that I felt I’d long since finished with, and I think this might have been because I did have the luxury of playing around a little, which I don’t always have when I’m writing around a full-time job.

The collection doesn’t have a title yet. With ‘Fear of Thunder’ the title was one of the last things to come, and with ‘Territory’ it came very early on. I suspect this might be another late one but I’m trusting one to emerge!

Kim: Hawthornden sounds idyllic but I’m so addicted to my phone and email – I don’t know if I could stand it! Could you talk about the themes in this book – your previous book ‘Territory’ was firmly rooted in the landscape – what are the main themes that have emerged in this collection?  Have the themes helped you to structure it, or is it structured in a different way entirely?

Andrew: A lot of the themes pick up where ‘Territory’ left off: how to make a home in a place that’s your own and the relationship with the environment that implies, but the new collection feels more personal to me, deeper. I think with the poems in ‘Territory’ the voice of the narrator seems to be almost a peripheral presence, reflecting the marginal, temporary nature of life in Leadhills. The new poems feel to me to be more ‘committed’, delving further into the history of the landscape, as well as the myth associated with it. They also continue my interest in how we can bring in environmental concerns while still keeping the integrity of the poem, and not sounding preachy.

The structure isn’t necessarily final at the moment but so far it’s been dictated by my own chronology. At the moment it begins with a poem called ‘At Carstairs Junction’ which is about a moment that, looking back, seemed to be a turning point when I began to think about leaving Scotland. It then follows my own explorations of Cumbria before settling, and then reflecting on where I am now and thinking back over my youth in Yorkshire. That’s so
far anyway.

Kim: It is interesting that you say that the first poem in the new book is an important one because it signifies a ‘turning point’.  Could you give any tips for picking the first poem in a collection?  Should it be the title poem, or is that putting too much weight on one poem?  What about the last poem?  Is this as important?  I know you’ve said every poem has to hold it’s own – so assuming they do, how do you choose which ones should go first?  Has your technique for this changed over the course of the three books and the pamphlet?

Andrew: This is an interesting one and I’m curious to see other answers to this question. I know some people advocate putting your strongest poem at the beginning of the book but I wonder if that just encourages disappointment with subsequent poems! I guess what I’ve been trying to say about structuring books is that I’ve put them together according to narrative principles. I don’t think of myself as a narrative poet particularly, and each poem needs to have a life beyond its role in the narrative, but all the books have had some kind of
thread running through them. Even with ‘Fear of Thunder’ where there are a number of very different sections, each section is put together into a narrative, and the individual sections are ordered into another narrative, although this isn’t of course a conventional story. Because of this though it’s been relatively easy to pick an opening poem – I’ve started at what I think is the beginning!

‘Fear of Thunder’ began with a poem that went back to my early childhood and it marked out the landscape of much of the book. ‘Territory’ begins with a poem called ‘The Leadhills Road’ which literally takes the reader to the village where much of the book is set. Similarly with the final poem I tend to go for one that seems to summarise the book’s preoccupations in some way, or find some kind of ending.

The last poem in ‘Territory’ was prompted by returning to the landscape of the book and finding the road re-routed so I couldn’t find my way back to the village, which seemed apt. The poem which is currently last in the new book is similar. Hawthornden Castle is quite near where I used to live and work, and while I was there I went to an Inn where my partner and I first went about 25 years ago. Not long before we left Scotland it was demolished when a truck driver ploughed into it. It’s now been rebuilt and I went there with a friend when I was at Hawthornden. Such revisitings interest me, and the poem it prompted seems a suitable closing point, though this might change.

The poem that closes ‘Fear of Thunder’ is a poem called ‘New Years Day’ that belongs in some way to ‘Territory’ since it’s set in that landscape and I occasionally wish I’d kept it back , but in ‘Fear of Thunder’ it represents a turning point, a new start, and I think that’s probably okay.

Kim: That’s really interesting – It makes me want to re-read the collections now, concentrating on narrative between the poems!  I’m feeling very smug today because I’ve just managed to finish a small sequence.  I have a love-hate relationship with sequences – my heart sinks at a reading when a poet says ‘I’m going to read from a sequence about…..’  I don’t know why!  Even if it’s a good sequence my heart sinks.  However, I’ve always wanted to write a sequence.  I’ve had some failed sequences too but this one is just three poems about the body and memory and they are linked by a narrative that is ambiguous.  The poems worked fine on their own, but when I finally realised they were three parts of a whole, it felt like something slotted in place inside me -which sounds a bit precious I know.  I also know that this little sequence needs to be in the middle of my collection – and the other poems need to lead away from them..  I was wondering if your new book has any sequences, seeing as narrative seems to be the thing you are saying is holding it together.  It has occurred to me writing this that I think that it will be themes that hold my book together as opposed to narrative – although the poems in themselves are often small narratives.  I’m wondering whether every book has to have some sort of glue like this – narrative, themes – are there any others?

Andrew: I have a couple of sequences in the new book. My sequences have fallen into two types I think. The first is where you have a poem that seems to fall into separate sections. The poem ‘Wanlockhead’ in ‘Territory’ is one of these, and there are a couple in the new book. I’m never sure if they are sequences of short poems or one poem in a number of short parts! The other is where, as you say, you are writing poems that seem to belong thematically together. I’ve got a few poems that all have their starting point in music, and relate mainly to growing up in Yorkshire, and they seem to make more sense within the collection as a sequence. There may be more of them too.  Recently I haven’t set out to write sequences, they’ve just developed from the act of writing a poem.

In terms of what holds a collection together, I think there are all kinds of things. My second book, and this new one, certainly have themes but within these there’s a narrative, although it’s not necessarily a conventional story that will be obvious to a reader. For some poets a book is simply the poems they have written since the last one, and that’s okay too. Some poets set themselves formal structures. Michael Symmons Roberts gave himself a formal challenge with ‘Drysalter’, to write 150 15 line poems, and it’s this that binds the collection though there are themes within it.

Sometimes the structure is conceptual. I’ve been reading Bill Herbert’s ‘Omnesia’. It’s a wildly varied collection, which is divided into themed sections, but the sections talk to each other within the two volumes, and it’s all held together through this idea of ‘Omnesia’, the tension between our need to know everything and our inability to retain very much, which colours the way the poems are read.

Kim: Finally, Andrew, could you give one piece of advice for a poet putting a first collection together.  What is the one thing that it is really important to remember?

Andrew: I’ve already talked about seeing it as a book, and thinking about the poems in terms of their role within it, but apart from that I  think probably the most useful piece of advice is not to rush into a full-length collection. That probably goes for any book at any stage, but the first book particularly. It’s the rite of passage that we are all so keen to achieve but it’s also our best chance of making an impact, so it needs to be as good as we can make it.

Let it take the time it needs, and if it takes a while to place it then don’t get too frustrated. Let it get better in the meantime

Sunday Poem – Jane Routh

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Evening everybody! This week has mainly been about recovering from last Sunday – the all day workshop left me completely knackered – most of Monday I spent on the sofa watching rubbish TV which was about all my brain could cope with.  I didn’t expect many of the kids to turn up for junior band on Monday – I thought they would be as tired as I was and would probably have a night off – but I was wrong.  We had nearly a full rehearsal and the workshop seems to have enthused them even more – and it was the rehearsal that woke me up and got me moving again really.  Next weekend we are recording a CD – so tomorrow we are having an extra long rehearsal so we can go through the music.  After that, we are playing at Ormsgill School Fete on the 28th June, going to see the Haffner Orchestra on the 29th, and then playing in Barrow Park with St Pius School Orchestra on the 7th July.  I am getting slightly panicky when I think about this succession of dates – but trying to do one thing at a time.  So the next thing is the CD.

Before that on Friday 21st June, I’m reading at Lancaster Spotlight at The Storey, Meeting House Lane in Lancaster.  There are lots of other readers and musicians, including local poet Ron Scowcroft, so I’m looking forward to it, and hopefully seeing some Lancastrian folk as well!

Then on Saturday, I’m off to Grasmere to a all day Translation workshop with Sasha Dugdale – which I think there are still spaces for – get in touch with The Wordsworth Trust if you are interested.  Sunday is the CD recording.  My mum and dad are also coming up to visit for a while so it’s going to be pretty full on this weekend.

I found out yesterday that my pamphlet has been shortlisted for the Lakeland Book of the Year award.  I am one of three books shortlisted in the ‘Art and Literature Category and the awards ceremony is on July 2nd – so I’ll let you all know then if I win.  I’m very happy to be shortlisted – it’s not a specific poetry prize – it’s for books about or that reference the Lake District – so it will be interesting to see how my wolves get on…

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Jane Routh.  I’ve been meaning to ask Jane for a poem for ages now, but I wanted to wait until I heard her read, and then pounce on her and hopefully get my favourite poem of the night.  My opportunity came a couple of weeks ago in Ambleside when Jane was the guest poet at Zefferellis’ open mic slot.

Jane is based in Lancaster but I often bump into her at events in Grasmere.  Jane’s first poetry book ‘Circumnavigation’ was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, and her second, ‘Teach Yourself Mapmaking’  was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation.  Her third book ‘A Gift of Boats’ has come out very recently – all three from Smith/Doorstop.  You can buy one or all three by clicking on the link http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/jane-routh

I’ve chosen a poem from her second book ‘Teach Yourself Mapmaking’ because I heard her read it on the night and I knew one particular line would haunt me

‘tell me about your sly animal self/
among the dry ochre grasses of winter’

It is that ‘sly animal self’ – I think it is a wonderful turn of phrase – a wonderful truth.  I think this poem also encapsulates what a lot of Jane’s poetry seems to be about – our relationship with the environment and with animals and how we manage this.   I like that the tone of the poem is confident, almost an order, yet the voice of the poem contrasts to this because it is asking for knowledge, knowledge of another person – the speaker wants to know what another human being thinks, really thinks about things but it is clear from the tone of the poem that the speaker has very definite opinions of their own as well!  I think the curiosity displayed is another hallmark of Jane’s poetry.

After typing the poem up – which means that there is the possibility of typos, but I like doing it, unless the poem’s really long, because I like to try and inhabit the poet’s voice as I’m typing, I wondered if this poem, as well as addressing another, was actually about the act of writing.  Maybe it is a poem addressed to the self as well – asking the poet to tell the truth of things –

In the middle of the poem it says ‘No more about roses or snowdrops’ which could be seen as being typical poetry subjects – the poem is asking the poet to tell about things that are important – the ‘sly animal self’.  Anyway!  Maybe I should stop thinking.  Maybe it is neither of these things.

Anyway, here is this week’s Sunday Poem – I hope you enjoy it.

Tell Me What Else – Jane Routh

Now tell me why.  Tell me about greed.
Show me how to think about infinity.
How far does war go down with you?
Make me  a list of what counts.  Explain
why you think the moon’s the same size
as the sun: your answer’s who you are.
Say how three brothers trouble sleep,
turn, and draw their brown cloaks close
as they approach the arch – whether
they visit from another life, or whether
they’re already dreamed and something
in your brain has named them wrongly.
No more about roses or snowdrops
but tell me about your sly animal self
among the dry ochre grasses of winter.
Or tell me about the moment when you sit
on a boulder in the river and you are the river,
you are the alders and the early morning air
and the deer who doesn’t see you, high-stepping
among cobbles at the crossing place
on such thin legs.

Sunday Poem – Claire Dyer

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Evening folks.  This is pretty late today – I’ve been at an all day brass workshop with about 70 children today.  This came about because of this blog – I’d written about how sad it is to see adult brass bands dying out in my area, and Grenville Moore, who works for John Packer, who make and supply brass instruments, got in touch and said he’d like to run a workshop to try and build links in the area between the very successful junior bands and the adult bands.

So, in conjuction with Cumbria Music Service, who donated me and my manager as voluntary staff, John Packer who donated Grenville and Ewan Easton, a world class professional tuba player to conduct all day and St Pius School in Barrow who let us have the venue for free this rather huge workshop came into being.

The worst part about the workshop? Constructing the spreadsheet last night with everyone’s names on and contact details and random allergies and medical problems – it took me hours.  And I don’t find organisation easy – it doesn’t come naturally to me – I guess it’s good for me to do this sort of thing.  I would much rather write a 3,000 word essay than construct a spreadsheet register of people’s names.  Strange isn’t it, what we find easy and challenging.  I’d rather conduct a band than collect parental permission slips.  But there you go – that was last night.

And today – the only thing that went wrong was me forgetting to thank my boss for driving all the way from Blackpool to support the workshop and forgetting to thank the music service.  I thanked everybody else.  I’m telling myself it was tiredness but I nearly started crying when I thanked the children for giving up their Sunday.  I don’t know what was up with me.  It has never happened before – I don’t think anybody noticed.  Ewan was full of praise for the children and the way they behaved, how enthusiastic they were – and I am very lucky to be working with them.   The band is my best achievement as a teacher – but here I am getting soppy again.  So it was a great day – no calamaties, no accidents, no fires, just lots of music making and learning – I feel like my own teaching has had a shot of enthusiasm injected from Ewan and Grenville and can’t wait to try out some of the things Ewan demonstrated.  His two mottoes for the day were ‘Rhythm is King’ and ‘Air is Sound’.  He repeats things over and over again but not in a boring way – and it was interesting to hear his story of becoming a professional musician – and watch the kids faces when he told them he was practicing six hours a day by the time he was 16 – always satisfying when an ‘outsider’ comes and reiterates what I’ve been saying!

So that was today – I am absolutely shattered – even though I wasn’t actually running the workshop – I think it’s the strain of responsibility!

And yesterday was a full day – it was the launch of the North West poets anthology ‘Sculpted’ which I read for.  I have two poems in it and we were asked to pick a poem from the anthology to read – so I read lovely David Tait’s poem as he will definitely not get along to a North West Poets launch, being in China and all.  It was a great event and a nice chance to meet in person some poets I’ve only ever met in Facebook world.

And then Anthony Christie and I sped back to Barrow – well after we’d had a cup of tea at Wilf’s and lovely hubby had made us dinner – quiche, jacket potatoes and salad with icecream and fruit for pudding and then we hot footed it back out to Rampside for Poem and A Pint with Hannah Lowe – who was in fine form and read two new fantastic, fantastic poems.  Well she read more than two fantastic poems – but it was great to hear the new ones which I really liked.

This week I went down to Grasmere again for their poetry series – this time Clare Shaw and Jacob Sam La Rose – which might have well have been renamed as a masterclass in how to perform – both different, but utterly compelling in their commitment to performance and connecting with an audience.  It helps that their poetry is very good too.

I’m too tired to write any more!  I am being very wimpy I know, but my whole body is aching, and my feet are killing me – I still have this plantar fasciitis which is set off by standing around which is what I’ve been doing today so I’m going to finish here, rather abruptly and leave you with a wonderfully optimistic poem – this is my last poem gathered from the readers I met at the Troubadour a couple of weeks ago.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Claire Dyer, a lovely lady I met on a writing course at Ty Newydd a few years ago.  Claire is having a really exciting year – she has just had her first poetry collection published with Two Rivers Press, which is called Eleven Rooms.  You can get a copy direct from her publisher at http://tworiverspress.com/ and you can find out some more information about Claire from http://www.clairedyer.com/

But she also has a novel coming out which is pretty exciting too –

I really enjoyed Claire’s poetry collection – there is wonderful stuff in there – although I don’t think the poem I’ve chosen is necessarily indicative of the rest of Claire’s poems in its themes – as in – there are not lots of poems about dragons!  It stood out as really different to the rest of the collection.

When I read the title – I must admit I did think – how is she going to pull this off – but then by the time I got to the second stanza and the line that begins ‘Footsteps in heartbeats’ that was me, won over completely.  I also love the last couple of lines: ‘the heft/of their hearts beating huge in the dark of their chests’.  I like how it is so fantastical – but it escapes being whimsical because of the crafting of the lines – all that inner rhyme going on is lovely –

Something about this poem affected me – but I can’t quite put my finger on why.  Anyway – here we are –

Flying With Dragons – Claire Dyer

Last night in my dream there were dragons.
A zinc sun smote the wild grasses,
the air was purple, filled with pollen and dust
and, at the end of land above a shifting
sea that breathed spume, breathed blue,
I heard them come.

Footsteps like heartbeats, they ran in formation behind me –
a squadron of heat, flame, and bright burning eyes.

They lifted, a skein, were green and steel,
each wing-beat was language, myth,
pause and repeat.  I clamoured to catch one,
feel his neck-flex, ride him out hard
to the thin curve of the earth.  But they flew fast,
flew high, left me empty of sky,

left me nothing but red and the heft
of their hearts beating huge in the dark of their chests.

Poem for Emily Davison

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Here is a poem that was first published in Poetry London in Issue 71, Spring 2012.   It’s a fab magazine – so if you are looking for one to subscribe to, you can’t go wrong with this one! You can subscribe by clicking on http://www.poetrylondon.co.uk

It’s been a while since I posted one of my own poems on here – so I thought it was about time and now seemed a good time to commemorate the centenary of her death – which is actually on the 8th June.

I think I listened to a radio programme about Emily Davison – I’d never heard of her before and started to write this poem.  It was the best kind of poem to write – it was an act of discovery for me and I remember really enjoying writing it, and being humbled by her story, which tied in so closely to History, with a capital H.  I hope you enjoy it!

 

Suffragette

 

And if you saw her hiding in the air ducts of Parliament
it was only to listen to the speeches.

And if she set fire to post boxes and burnt letters,
it was only certain envelopes she put pepper in.

And if she threw a rock or two, at one carriage
or another, they were, at least, wrapped in words:

rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God.
And if, being imprisoned, her and a thousand like her

went on hunger strike, at least no one died –
the Cat and Mouse Act of 1913

sent the starving women out on licence,
and brought them back when they were well again.

And if an angry guard forced a hose inside her cell
and filled it with water, at least she didn’t drown.

And if she hid in a cupboard in the House of Commons
the night of the Census it was only to claim it

as her official residence.  And if her friends delivered
themselves as human letters to Downing Street,

but were sent back, unopened, at least they made
the news.  And, not knowing whether she chose

to die or whether in her dreams, she saw the king’s horse
flying through the line, her sash around its neck,

at least we know of the bruised shins of the horse,
of the jockey, ‘haunted by that woman’s face.’

 

Sunday Poem – Joshua Weiner

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Evening folks!  It’s almost the end of the half term week – it’s my day off tomorrow so I’m not back at work quite yet.  I’ve had quite a lazy week off – I’ve been doing lots of reading.  I’ve been rereading Virginia Woolf’s novels alongside a biography written around the novels as well as various poetry books and magazines that have landed through the door.  Sometimes I’ve only got out of my pyjamas to walk the dogs or because I was hungry.

However I did get out to Ambleside to the open mic at Zefferellis, organised by Andrew Forster from the Wordsworth Trust.  This month’s guest poet was Jane Routh from Lancaster and there was a good turn out again.  I dragged lovely friend Helen along and we scoffed pizza whilst listening to poetry.  Very quietly I might add.

Jane read beautifully – about boats and animals and woods – and there were about ten or so readers on the open mic – all varied.  I tried out a short sequence which I’ve just finished…I’ve always wanted to write a sequence, even though my heart sinks whenever anyone announces “I will now read a sequence…” it doesn’t stop me wanting to inflict MY sequence on people!  Andrew Forster read a cracking poem about sheep on the road..so all in all a good night and worth getting out of my pyjamas for.

And then since very late on Thursday me and the hubby have been down in Leicester visiting my family – again I’ve been very lazy because the weather has been so good!  It has been nothing but s the sunshine here.  We brought the cat and the dogs with us and the cat has been having a great time in the back yard, rolling around in the grass and basically spending all his time out there – it has made us feel quite guilty about not having a garden for him…

We’ve been walking in fields around Leicester and the public foot paths are so much better marked down here!  The hubby has been hiding his disappointment at not having to use his map and compass – there have been no nettle filled stiles to break our way through – it’s all very well kept and orderly.  And of course the fields are all cultivated with crops which you don’t get so much of when walking on foot paths in Cumbria…

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Joshua Weiner, an American poet who I heard read at the Troubadour a couple of weeks ago.  The poem I’ve chosen absolutely blew me away when I heard Joshua read it – it is the sort of poem that I wished I’d written, even after hearing only the first line.

Joshua Weiner is professor of English at the University of Maryland.  He is the author of three books – the first is ‘The World’s Room’, the second is ‘From the Book of Giants’ and the third, which is the one he read from at the Troubadour is called ”The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish’.  Good titles aren’t they?

Joshua has been awarded the Amy Lowell Traveling Poetry Scholarship which has brought him to Berlin for a year.

I really enjoyed the rest of the book as well as the title poem, which remained my favourite – but listen to the first few lines of this poem, titled ‘The Winters’s Tale’

“It’s about jealousy without cause,
a king who thinks his queen deceives him;
or some truth that hides inside
a seeming,”

Isn’t that beautiful?  I don’t see how you could not want to read the rest of the poem after reading that.

However, I decided to ask Joshua if I could use the poem that struck me first of all on that Monday, the one that made me buy the book, which is the title poem of the book.  If you would like to buy Joshua Weiner’s book go to http://www.press.uchicago.edu

If you would like to find out more about Joshua Weiner you can have a look at his website which is http://www.joshuaweiner.com/

So here is the poem – and I hope you enjoy!

“The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish” – Joshua Weiner

is not a man being swallowed by a fish
with eyes like eight-pointed throwing stars
it’s a man being swallowed by a war
a man being taken into the mouth of a woman
or being swallowed by his work

it’s a man traveling far inside a book
a man being swallowed up in smoke
he swallows the smoke, that blends around him like a thought
it’s a man being swallowed by a sound
he shapes it so he lives inside a song

of a man being swallowed by his kin, his skin
a man being swallowed by the State
(Leviathan in 1948)
It’s a man being swallowed by another man
literally, eaten as a pathway to god

it’s a man being swallowed by a sight
he cannot reach, cannot touch, cannot trace

it’s a man who won’t recognize his face
who can’t fit the parts, or find the place

it’s a man in triumph over death
who laughs and beats the dust from his clothes
a man tasting dust inside the laugh

it’s a man who listens to the clock
a man with nothing to exchange
a rude man, his twin he leaves behind
it’s a man who wants to be a bride

a man being swallowed by his fault
with something old to show and new to hide

it’s a man who tries to haul the rope
a man who stooping can’t provide
a man who can’t forget his name

it’s a man who doesn’t know his worth
it’s a man being swallowed by his wrath

his youth, yield, luck, the law, his fear, the fog, his fame

it’s a man being swallowed by a coat
his father’s coat, he smells of the fit
a man being swallowed by his vows
it’s a man softly squeezing for the vein
he never finds it, he’s minding the road

it’s a man being swallowed by a room
in which he finds a man being swallowed by a fish
it’s a man who thinks what’s in a man
who exits into night at closing time
the figure of a man being swallowed by a fish.