Sunday Poem – Jean Harrison

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Evening everybody – although for most of you apart from the night owls, it will be morning by the time you read this.  I’ve just got back from a lovely weekend in Stratford upon Avon at my friend-from-music-college’s hen night.  My friend-from-music-college is one of my friends I’ve known the longest – since I was 18, and I am now nearly 32!

I like our friendship for a number of reasons, and I also feel sad about it as well.  We don’t speak very much now – she is now a qualified accountant and has a busy job – well – accounting I guess and I’m busy teaching and poeting, as you all know.  But when we do meet up again it is just like before – which is strange as we have both changed but it is just as easy, and interesting, and funny being in her company.

And she knew the old me – the me I was at music college – which is very different to the me I am now – I used to drink a lot more – a lot, lot more – I loved going out and dancing.  I was obsessed with the trumpet.   I was more fiery and argumentative.  I was reading Charles Bukowski secretly in my bedroom.  And listening to Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones for the first time as if it was ME that had discovered them….it felt like they had existed for NO ONE else ever before!

And sometimes it is nice to see the people who used to know the old you – it’s not that I want to go back to being like that – but I like to know that it was real – that it happened.  I got drinking out of my system with the friend-from-music-college.  So did she – I know that a lot of people don’t get it out of their system so I think we were lucky…

Anyway, it was a great weekend!  We went to a spa hotel – I had a facial and I fell asleep during facial until the therapist person dropped a big dollop of cream on my eye by mistake and then rubbed it in whilst trying to wipe it off.  But I survived.  I spent most of the day in the pool or the jacuzzi.  We went out to a night club in Stratford which was pretty ropey – although not much different to nightclubs in Barrow to be honest – I danced to Bewitched and Cotton Eye Joe so that tells you what kind of night that was!

Friend-from-music-college also had lots of other, lovely friends who I got on with really well – even though they were not poets!  I was beginning to worry I’d forgotten how to converse with non-poets but it was ok.  Maybe I will put up a couple of photos from here of hen night, once I get them….maybe the shot of us all wagging the Finger of Shame.  The Finger of Shame is a class act which friend-from-music-college is famous for, as inventor of the move.  It involves wagging your index finger without moving hand with a look of disapproval on face.  It can be used in all situations – for example if there is a ‘lurk’ (creepy man who stands behind you on the dance floor – normally harmless, but persistant and annoying) if the whole group turns round and wags said Finger of Shame at Lurk they normally shrivel up and go and annoy somebody else…

I’m thinking of using it in my teaching if the situation arises, or with hubby if he misbehaves.

The only other thing that I need to tell you about this week is the monthly open mic nigh at Zefferellis in Ambleside.  Due to personal circumstances, Mike Barlow had to swap his reading with Polly Atkin, and Andrew Forster has managed to damage his shoulder so he wasn’t able to attend – but it was still a great night – lovely Barbara from Lancaster read – only her third open mic slot ever – and she did really well – I particularly liked her third poem which had a very philosophical slant…

Judy Brown read some great new poems that came from her jaunt around the west coast of Cumbria – I’m really looking forward to seeing these poems in print.  Judy also read a really good poem about St Oswald’s Church in Grasmere – Judy is one of the poets who have been writing poems for a craft exhibition in Grasmere – I found it hard to squeeze one poem out under pressure – but Judy has three!  And tells me she has now become obsessed with said church and wanders about their at all times of the day.  I imagine her a little like Cathy from Wuthering Heights knocking at the windows of the church saying ‘Let me in, let me in’…..

And it was nice to hear Polly read from her pamphlet again, but also to read some new things that she has been working on.  Also had time for a chat, which we never normally do so that was good!

So, on to the Sunday Poem!  Today’s is by Jean Harrison who read for Brewery Poets a couple of months ago when I was MCing.  I bought Jean’s new book at the time and have been reading through it in the mean time.  Her second collection is called ‘Terrain’ and is published by Cinnamon Press and you can order the book through the website at http://www.cinnamonpress.com

It is well worth checking out the website and signing up to the newsletter.  Jan Fortune-Wood, the editor is a lovely lady – I met her on a course last year.  There are always lots of special offers in the newsletter and Cinnamon Press run various competitions throughout the year as well.  Howevery I know Jean Harrison because we both belong to a writing group called ‘Brewery Poets’ which meet once a month in Kendal.  We bring copies of a poem we are working on and get feedback from the group.

Anyway, back to Terrain.  The first thing that struck me when I was reading the book is that the poems are deceptively ambitious.  I say deceptively because I think this is ‘quiet’ poetry.  It can handle repeated, slow and careful reading.  But the book, and the poems still strike me as ambitious.  An example of this is the first set of poems – there are 28 of them – all originating from Jean being a volunteer steward (is that the word?) at Abbots Hall Gallery in Kendal.

Now I have a confession to make.  I don’t normally like ‘ekphrastic’ poetry.  Mainly because of my own ignorance  – I know nothing about painting so I have a hard time connecting with a poem about or inspired by a painting.  However.  These poems drew me in immediately.  They are very vivid, but in a very precise, pared down kind of way.  It also strikes me as very brave to put such a long sequence to begin a book – but I think it worked really well, because you are kept moving through the sequence.  It does feel like walking through a gallery.  The other thing I like about these poems is that they do stand apart on their own, although together, they do add up to something greater.

This sequence is called ‘Disturbances’ and I’ve decided to choose Number 12 ‘Sunsets’  from the sequence as my Sunday Poem for today – just to give you a flavour of this part of the book.  This poem illustrates what I was saying earlier – I don’t need to know the painting which I presume is called Sunsets because I can picture it in my mind from Jean’s description.  I hope you enjoy it!

12. ‘Sunsets’ taken from a sequence  ‘Disturbances’
Jean Harrison

In her world
people never do well,

always blurred or small, at one side
picking potatoes or loading a cart,

or alone, cycling into wind.
Those forms smudged against a sunset

are probably human.  Round themthe earth’s melting back into lava.

I stand back.
She must have lived with these fears.

Look at this group of walkers on a beach,
how waves curve down over them like tsnamis

I know only from TV, observing tiny figures
in boats, at windows, swept off bridges.

Aid workers struggle in yellow jackets,
water rushes up the street, wind flattens the palms.

Reporters pick out the drama
flailing legs, tears, bodies.

The sun’s taking its revenge,preparing to shrivel the earth, they say

It’s all our fault they say, showing pictures
from the other side of the world

that come up on a screen
framed by curtains and a softly painted wall.

Next morning, no greenfinches in the garden.
There haven’t been any for ages.

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