Monthly Archives: September 2013

Sunday Poem – Maitreyabandhu


Evening folks.  It looks like I’m back into my old bad habits of posting very late on Sunday night!  This week has been so wonderfully full of poetry, I feel like I might burst at the minute.  On Tuesday I headed over to Grasmere to the Wordsworth Trust to see Michael Schmidt and Peter Sansom read.  I must admit, I was mainly going to support Peter – who is my lovely editor and as well as being a really great guy, is also a brilliant reader and performer of his work – he is funny, droll, relaxed – he engages with the audience and clearly enjoys reading.  He was clearly on form on Tuesday and had the whole room eating out of the palm of his hand.  But what was suprising about Tuesday was that Michael Schmidt was also a really good performer of his work – and I really enjoyed his reading, so much so that I bought his book.  It was actually one of my favourite readings of the season I think.

On Tuesday I also sold a pamphlet through the blog which is always exciting, especially as I now have ten different colours of tissue paper that I can choose from to wrap each pamphlet up – little things and all that!  On Wednesday we had a planning meeting for Poem and A Pint and I now have the list of poets that I really need to get cracking on with inviting for 2014 – so I’ll probably do that towards the end of the week.

On Thursday I drove over to Cockermouth to do a reading at Castlegate House Gallery, organised by Solways Arts.   It is a beautiful art gallery which has a really exciting exhibition being shown at the minute.  The gallery website is and there is a retrospective of the work of Michael Bennett – Steve Swallow, the gallery owner, did a short tour around the gallery and a talk about Michael Bennett’s work, which I found really interesting, as I know nothing about art and it did provide a way in to the paintings – I think hearing somebody talk about something with enthusiasm and passion will always do this.  There was a musician as well who I am ashamed to say I can’t remember the name of – maybe it will come back to me before the end of this post!  Anyway, he played guitar and I was impressed with the variety of different styles – from flamenco to jazz and all sorts.  I really wish I could remember his name to tell you all to look out for him! It was a shame that there was only a small audience, because it was a really wonderful event.  I hope they have another poetry/music/art event there.

On Friday was a real highlight of the week – over the summer ten local poets were asked by Andrew Forster on behalf of the Wordsworth Trust to write a poem about St Oswalds Church in Grasmere.  A group of local artists  – the Lakes Collective would then respond to our poems by creating some art.  It was the preview night of the resulting exhibition ‘Holy Detritus’ on Friday night and we all read our poems and heard the artists talk about the work that they had created.  The poems and art work are spread around the church – it feels like a bit of a treasure hunt looking for them all.  I was really touched to think that someone had created something real in response to my poem – that sounds cheesy, but I found it really moving.  The exhibition is on till the 8th October – so if you can get to Grasmere, do go and check it out.  There is a website with more information here:

Straight after the reading me and the hubby were driving down to Leicester – we got to my parents house at 1a.m.  On Saturday afternoon we went to my best-friend-from music college’s wedding – I read a poem, which I’ve been trying to finish off for the last two weeks and finally finished at about 4pm on the Saturday.  I think the bride and groom liked it.  Then it was off to a marquee for the reception with lots of food and alcohol and a hired photo booth with hats and stuff to dress up in, which was a stroke of genius.

It was lovely at the wedding to see some very old friends from my time in Leeds – I used to play in a band called the Yorkshire Volunteers and three members of the band were at the wedding.  I haven’t seen them for about ten years and it was lovely to catch up – and it left me feeling sad about the way we all lose touch with people.  I loved playing in the band and if I lived nearby I would love to play with them again.

In between all this, on Thursday actually, at the reading in Cockermouth, I found out I’d been awarded runner up, or second place in the Buzzwords competition, judged by David Morley.  This is tremendously exciting and I was rather pleased to find I’d won £300 which is definitely better than a poke in the eye.  There were quite a few names on the list of commended that I know from Facebook etc and the winning poet is Angela Topping.  You can read all the winning poems here

I decided to buy myself a pair of Irregular Choice shoes whilst I was down in Leicester with my winnings which will be getting an outing to a poetry reading near you at some point!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Maitreyabandhu – after his wonderful reading last weekend at Poem and A Pint.  I am very pleased to get one of my favourite poems of all time on the blog from Maitreyabandhu’s new collection from Bloodaxe ‘The Crumb Road’.  You can order the book from

Maitreyabandhu has won the Keats Shelley Prize, the Basil Bunting Award and the Ledbury Festival Poetry Competition.  His first pamphlet ‘The Bond’ won the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition in 2010 and was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award.  ‘Vita Brevis’ his second pamphlet was a winner of the Iota Shots Award and was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice and was published by Templar in 2013.  You can order ‘The Bond’ from and ‘Vita Brevis’ from

Maitreyabandhu was ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order in 1990.

The poem I’ve chosen is ‘Visitation’ which was first published in Poetry Review.  It then won the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, awarded to a poem by a poet without a full collection.  It seems to start in mid-thought, and continues to be perfectly poised and balanced – the line breaks seem so sure footed.  I love in Stanza 2 when we read ‘the tree outside my window/doesn’t wait, nor the ocean-wedge’.  And I love in Stanza 4 the line ‘a diagonal of pure Bodmin Moor’.

I think this poem also encapsulates a lot of what the Crumb Road is about – it is a ‘Visitation’ of a memory, or a ghost – it also seems to be a meditation,which the book is full of.  It is full of uncertainty, the back and forth searching of memory trying to make sense of things.  It ends in fact, in uncertainty ‘Call it ‘dust’ then, or the bloom/of leaf-smoke from an autumn fire’.  It is also the precursor to a powerfully moving sequence called ‘Stephen’ about a relationship between two boys which ends tragically when Stephen is killed in a car accident.  The sequence is full of the quest for a ‘true’ memory and by the end we realise there is no such thing.

There was a comment on Facebook today that ‘Forgiveness is giving up all sense of looking for a better past’ which I found strangely moving and jumped into my head when re-reading this poem, and the Stephen sequence – maybe the sequence is trying to find ‘a better past’ that doesn’t exist – maybe this is what gives the sequence its power and energy and poignancy – we slowly come to understand how unreliable memory is, and that a ‘better’ past will not exist, not even if we make sense of it…

Here is the poem!

Visitation – by Maitreyabandhu

Strange that you should come
like that, without any form at all,
carrying no symbolic implements,
without smile or frown
or any commotion,
as if you had been there all the time,
like a pair of gloves left in a pocket.

As if I had been looking that way,
into the wide blue yonder, and you were
beside me, enduring my hard luck stories
with infinite patience.  Not even waiting –
the tree outside my window
doesn’t wait, nor the ocean-wedge
with its new, precise horizon – just there
like the shadow of a church

or a quiet brother.
And how I saw you, in the mess of things,
was as a slant of grey,
the perfect grey of house dust,
an absolute neutral, with no weaving,
no shimmer of cobalt
and light-years away from Byzantium.

Grey.  And I want to add, like light,
as if a skylight opened in my skull,
and into the darkness fell
a diagonal of pure Bodmin Moor.
But even that’s too bright,
too world-we’re-busy-in.
Call it ‘dust’ then, or the bloom
of leaf-smoke from an autumn fire.

Anyway, before I go any more philosophical – I’m going to sign off!

Sunday Poem – Mike Di Placido


Evening everybody!  I’m writing this from the finish line of my poetry marathon weekend, accompanied by the lovely Ben Johnson, who in fact had a poem on the blog a couple of weeks ago.  Ben was visiting all the way from the New Forest to take part in my self designed poetry marathon – he obviously didn’t get enough poetry in Fermoy when we were there a month or so ago.  Ben got stuck in traffic on Friday, but by 7pm and after 7 hours or so of driving managed to reach Barrow, having conquered the M6.  We took part in ‘Culture Night’ in Fermoy, via Skype – unfortunately we had started on the second bottle of red wine by the time it was our turn, and apparently, my house was too dark for the audience in Fermoy to actually see us – this was despite me running round the house with the laptop trying out various rooms, live to the audience.  Thank god the cleaner had come earlier that day that is all I can say.  I should explain we have a cleaner because the hubby is very tidy, and I am not – without our cleaner I doubt we would be married!  Anyway, I digress.  So we managed to skype successfully and held a torch pointing at each other as we read as a home made spotlight which worked beautifully, even if I do say so myself!  It was great fun (for us anyway – not sure what Fermoy made of it!) and it was nice to see my favourite Dutch, Texan and Irish poets reading as well.

On the Saturday, we got up fairly early, had breakfast and then set off to Manchester in Felicity (my little car) to meet Rachel Davies for lunch ( who has also had a poem on the blog – I was slightly hung over, but steak and chips at Cafe Rouge sorted that out.  Then we went off to Poets and Players at the Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester to see Jane Yeh and an amazing cello and violin player who were also performing.  I would highly recommend Poets and Players – it used to be at the Whitworth Gallery but they are having to move around a bit at the minute as the Whitworth is being refurbished -so do check the website.  The strength of the event lies in the excellent quality and variety of poets that they book and they also have strong links with the Royal Northern College of Music which means they always have wonderful musicians.  Rachel was the MC for the event – it was great – I bought Jane Yeh’s first collection (I’ve got her second) and then we had to skidaddle back up to Ulverston for Poem and A Pint – this time with Rachel in tow, who also for some strange reason wanted to be part of the poetry hardcore marathon.

I was very paranoid about being late as I was MC and that just Would Not Have Done.  But we were in plenty of time – arrived by 6.45 and by 6.55 all the floor spots for the open mics had been taken – in record speed!  There was a small part of the evening at the beginning when we thought we had lost Maitreyabandhu, our guest poet, somewhere on the northern rail service.  However, he was just delayed, so it all turned out ok.  I think it was one of the best Poem and a Pint nights ever – we had an absolutely packed audience – I think we did actually run out of chairs.

Me, Ben, Rachel and the hubby then went out for a curry, as we hadn’t factored in time to eat in between getting from Manchester to Ulverston.  And that brings us up to today, Sunday when we got up early again and drove over to Wakefield to go to a Poetry Business workshop ( at the Wakefield Literature Festival ( run by lovely Peter and Ann Sansom.  I really enjoyed the workshop and although I haven’t looked at my notebook I think I’ve got maybe one or two things I can be working on.  Straight after the workshop there was a reading with Cathy Benson,Simon Currie, River Wolton and Geoff Hattersley.  I tried out some new, slightly dark poems which was a good, if nerve racking experience for me.  I loved Geoff Hattersley’s poetry and bought his latest pamphlet from Smith/Doorstop.

And now, I’m sat typing this – I got back from Wakefield at about 10.00pm – so I’m a bit shattered.  But today’s Sunday Poem is so good that it has to go up tonight (even if I fall asleep dribbling on my laptop!)

Today’s poem is by Mike De Placido who I met at Albert Poets in Huddersfield a few weeks ago.  He did a very funny set – he has a very dry sense of humour which I really like, but his poems can also be poignant and moving.  He is a poet based in North Yorkshire and used to be a professional footballer.  His debut pamphlet of poetry ‘Theatre of Dreams’ was published by Smith/doorstop in 2009, but this poem is from his brand new collection ‘A Sixty Watt Las Vegas’  which has just come out with Valley Press

This poem is one of a set of three poems about meeting famous people that Mike has in ‘Sixty Watts’ – one is about meeting T S Eliot, one is about meeting Ted Hughes and the one I’ve chosen is about meeting Simon Armitage.  Mike made lots of people laugh out loud when he read it at the Albert.  It is also interesting to note that although this poem is very funny (especially if you know Simon Armitage) it does assume a level of knowledge from the reader.  These are poems soaked with literary culture, as well as popular culture, and I think their relaxed tone may somehow hide  the fact that there is a lot of reading standing behind these poems.

Here is the website if you would like to order Mike’s book.  Which I would recommend  – it is dry, funny  and I read it in one sitting, cover to cover, without stopping!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the poem.

Meeting Simon by Mike Di Placido –

The Oak rooms, Byram Arcade, Huddersfield; 13th June 2008

We were getting on famously ’till I started to choke –
too many fluffy nibbles and not enough tea.
It’s Italian, I croaked as he queried my surname,
but I don’t usually sound like the Godfather!

Thank God he laughed (even if he didn’t mean it)
adding (and perhaps it was the pin stripe)
that I did have a look of the Al Pacino
about me.  This I took as a compliment

and not some marker of perceived threat.
Then he was gone, Time to melt into
the Huddersfield air, he said, poetically,
leaving me wondering if he ever took a night off

and if I’d upset him somehow? Pictured him
padding up the darkening lane to Station Street,
nervously checking over his shoulder
as he made his way back to his golden life.

Sunday Poem – Andrew McMillan


Afternoon folks.  This is the first Sunday for a while that I’ve not been writing this at two minutes to midnight!  Today we have gale force winds and awful rain in Barrow though, so I’ve not even bothered to get dressed!  I’ve just been lounging around the house and not really doing very much.  Although, to be fair, I have been on the phone to a friend of mine from music college – I’m writing a poem for her wedding which is happening in a couple of weeks time so I was gathering information for the poem – but that is the most energetic thing I’ve done all day!

Last week was my first week as a three-day-a-week teacher – so I got to Wednesday and then that was me done!  It feels really nice!  I still feel like I’ve been busy because on Thursday I got the train over to Huddersfield to read at the Albert Poets.  I was reading alongside Sarah Corbett, Mike De Placido and Andy Robson.  I was last up and I was starting to get quite nervous as each reader got up because they were all good, and Mike in particular was very funny – so I was starting to think that maybe I should have bagged an earlier spot…

However, it went fine – and I managed to sell ten pamphlets!  I’ve never managed to sell more than ten at one reading – that is my record which I want to break this year – but ten was pretty good – I have to say thank you to lovely poets Peter White and John Foggin who bought second copies to give away to people I think – Peter bought the very first copy of my pamphlet when it first came out so it was nice to see them both there.

I got to feed Carola Luther’s chickens before the reading and stayed in her attic room at the top of the house – it felt like being on a ship and then came back to Barrow on Friday.

Earlier on in the week I went to the Wordsworth Trust to see Rebecca Goss and Deryn Rees-Jones read – it was a really, really good reading, probably one of my favorite of the season actually – and I would recommend both collections – ‘Her Birth’ by Rebecca Goss – I read cover to cover when I got back home – as Rebecca said, the poems are not a barrel of laughs – but then why should poetry be always easy or funny?  The book is about the death of a child – but I think the poems as art transcends the personal – I felt quite choked up when I was reading some of it, and I’ve never had children, so I didn’t think I would necessarily connect with it so much, but it is so beautifully, and honestly written that I did.  And by honestly, I don’t mean the truth of facts, but truth of the human condition, I think.  And Deryn Rees-Jones ‘Burying the Wren’ – this collection has been an interesting one for me – because I’ve gone through a variety of stages with it ranging from ambivalence to admiration – this was the third time I heard her read and I finally felt like I got it this time – these poems are poems to read over and over again, and get something different out of each time.

Other exciting things that happened this week were that I have now got a definite date for my reading over in Ireland! I’ll be reading in Cork at the O’Bheal readings on the 26th May 2014 which I’m really looking forward to.  I’m hoping to organise some more poetry readings or workshops, or both in Ireland the weekend before so if anybody hears of anything or would like to book me to come and read/lead a workshop, please get in touch!

And finally, I got an acceptance from Poetry Review this week!  It is my first submission since Fiona Sampson left as editor so I’m very happy that Maurice Riordan has taken two poems.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Andrew McMillan who is a lovely guy and a great poet – he is disgustingly young and talented.  He was born in South Yorkshire in 1988 and currently lectures in Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores University.  His poetry is collected in three pamphlets, most recently ‘the moon is a supporting player’ (2011, Red Squirrel Press) and the forthcoming long poem ‘protest of the physical’ (October 2013, Red Squirrel Press). He has held residencies and taught workshops nationwide, and completed numerous commissions, including for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad which saw his work featured on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. He is currently working on a first collection.  You can order his pamphlet from Red Squirrel Press at

I’ve always known of Andrew’s work since I first started writing as a mutual friend of ours, David Tait, introduced me to his excellent pamphlet ‘the moon is a supporting player’.  But I’ve seen a bit more of Andrew recently as we are working on a project with the Wordsworth Trust and met up for the training day at Grasmere and he is one of my new fave poets.  Partly because of his poetry, but also because he is lovely.

Today’s Sunday Poem illustrates one of Andrew’s main concerns which he explores in his poetry – male physicality, which is normally illuminated by references to Biblical stories or Greek mythology.  I enjoyed this poem because I think although it is ostensibly referring to a biblical story, it also feels somehow Greek as well – maybe this is because the poem is so visual and I imagine the scene and Jacob seems as if he would be in profile – and also the description of the physical contact between the two men has unmistakeable sexual overtones, which along with the reference to the stock market at the beginning root it firmly in modern times…quite an achievement to do all that in one poem – but from the other poems Andrew has shown me it seems that he achieves this often.  So yes, another pamphlet I would recommend – and look out for his first collection, because i think it’s going to be amazing.

I should also say that this poem won the Live Canon Poetry Competition 2012 which there is still time to enter here

and it will be appearing in a forthcoming anthology of religious verse by Eyewear

Jacob with the angel – Andrew McMillan
for O.N.

taken literally    it just happens   in the way the weather
or the stock market   happens
tangling in the unpierced flesh of one another
grappling with the shifting question of each other’s bodies
until the morning breaks across them and   still   their strength
no soft parts of stomachs   no inch of them hung loose
like old sacking from the muscle
and burning afterwards      or barely able to walk afterwards
or not giving a name because names would add a history
and the tasting of the flesh and blood of someone is something
out of time

taken allegorically      he is beating on himself
until the point at which the inner river of the word grace
runs passed and everything lays down in calm
and walking back across the stream to his possessions
he feels the bruise that is staining his thigh
and he wonders at the strength of one so smooth
and his wives and womenservants and his sons are sat waiting for the story
but he sleeps without speaking      and on waking isn’t sure if he has dreamt it
but his youngest  notices the thresh marks of wingbeats on his back
and he asks for ink to be brought    he says writing something down
keeps it alive


Review and Preview


There is a great review of ‘Cartographers’ written by a journalist called Alan Cleaver on this website:

I’m looking forward to this week because I have three poetry treats lined up!  Tomorrow (Tuesday) I’m going to Grasmere to hear Rebecca Goss and Deryn Rees Jones at the Wordsworth Trust (

and then Thursday I’m off to Huddersfield to read at the Albert Poets at The Albert Pub, Victoria Lane, Huddersfield (opposite the Library).  I’m reading alongside Sarah Corbett, Mike di Placido and Andrew Robson and I’m going for a catch up with the lovely Carola Luther as well which will be great.

On Saturday I’m going to a workshop with Julia Copus at the Wordsworth Trust which is about putting a collection together.  As far as I know there are still a few places left on this workshop…

Looking forward to seeing some of you at one or all of these events!


Sunday Poem – Gene Barry


Evening folks.  This is going to be a very short post today – towards the end of last term I lost my pen drive which had all my resources on.  I remember vaguely thinking it would turn up over the summer – unfortunately it hasn’t and tonight I’ve been cutting and pasting various powerpoints, trying to get ready for tomorrow when I’m back at work.  I always get slightly anxious about going back to work after a break but I have excelled myself this time!

The performance of ‘Cartographers’ took place yesterday, despite heavy, persistent rain!  It went really well – both performances sold out last week and god love the british public – they stood there for the whole hour with their macs on and a few umbrellas between the lot of them, without complaining about the awful, awful weather.  The cast were fantastic – one of my pupils played a trumpet solo and then we did a duet towards the end of the show which went really well – I was very proud of him – it was his first paid gig as well so I’m sure he will remember it when he is old and wrinkly – I remember my first paid gig was playing in ‘Singing In the Rain’ (rather appropriately!) with my trumpet teacher.  He said the most important lesson I would learn as a second trumpet was to get to the bar as soon as the last note had sounded of the first half – he even made me do a dry run to make sure I knew the way…I did wish I’d remembered this yesterday when we had to queue for 20 minutes in the theatre bar for a cup of tea and a scone…

Anyway, writing the play has been an amazing, memorable opportunity – completely intense in a taking over the summer kind of way – there were moments when I thought I’d bitten off more than I could chew and I wouldn’t be able to do it – but it all turned out in the end and I’m really grateful for the chance to work with Lindsay and Joe Ward Munrow from the Alligator Club – they were so confident that it would work and it would be great that I started believing them!

It turns out a play is more ephemeral than a poem – a poem can live on in a magazine or a book or a pamphlet – but a play is spoken and then it kind of disappears – strange isn’t it?  Unless you are Shakespeare of course, I suppose.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Gene Barry – the founder and chairman of the Fermoy International Poetry Festival over in Ireland.  Gene’s just had his first collection ‘Unfinished Business’ out with Doghouse Press and you can order it here if you would like to!  Gene Barry is a poet, art therapist and pyschotherapist from Cork City in Ireland.  Gene runs a poetry group on Facebook called ‘Elbow Lane Poetry’ which is bursting at the seams with poetry at most hours of the day and night, posted up by its many members, well worth a look.

I enjoyed trying to work out in this poem how each image, or each line relates to the ‘she’ in question – I also like that this poem has echoes of the rather excellent poem by Michael Hartnett which can be found here and the equally brilliant Norman McCaig poem which can be found here

I don’t know if Gene was aware of these two poems when he wrote ‘She Was’ but I think Gene’s poem uses what I would call the ‘scaffolding’ of these two poems and then leaps off into its own world, piling on image after image and leaving the reader to unpack each one.  I don’t know who the ‘she’ is either – I think of her as a mother figure – I think there are subtle pointers to this – some of the images show someone who cares about other people – the ‘non-stinging ointment’, ‘a bowl of floury potatoes’ and I liked the shortened line of ‘a shoulder’ – I heard the unspoken and unwritten ‘a shoulder to cry on’ when I read this!

I hope you enjoy, and apologies for this brief and maybe slightly terse blog!

She Was – Gene Barry

a penny from the bottom of a couch
a Sunday supplement
a necessary haircut
a ball of malt at a cold funeral
a phlegm spit
a copybook tackle
a shoulder
a nail on the head
a sea that couldn’t take lives
a favourite sister
a below the waist swipe
a found sock
a raw poem
a painful fracture
a perfect insult
a first French kiss
a bowl of floury potatoes
a clean handkerchief
a nettle sting
a non-stinging ointment
a back heel
a fight at a tinker’s wedding
a new flavour
a clenched fist
a child’s hug
a memorable holiday
a beautifully battered ship
a take-me-now confession
a perfect fit
a suitable estimate
an ambush…so she was.

Plays and Poetry


It’s been a mixed week this week – on Monday I went to Keswick to the Theatre by the Lake for the first rehearsal of the play ‘Cartographers’ that I’ve written part of, in association with The Alligator Club.  I met the actors and the production team and then watched the first read through of the whole play and then the first rehearsal of the scene that I wrote.  It was a really interesting process and a strange one – hearing what I’d written being read by someone else kind of felt like someone walking over your grave – a bit shivery – but in a good way!  The actors were still reading from the script on Monday so I’m really looking forward to tomorrow which is the actual show.  It’s on at 1.30pm and 3.30pm but as far as I know it has sold out, although it is worth ringing the theatre to check as I managed to get two extra tickets a couple of days ago that were returns…so by this time tomorrow I will have seen the play performed – the first one or part of one that I’ve written.  I’m quite excited.  I’m also playing the trumpet along with one of my pupils in the show – I have come out of retirement to play!

On Tuesday and Wednesday I had to go to Penrith to go to Inset for my teaching job with the Music Service.  I don’t really like Inset – not a controversial thing to say really – I think most teachers feel the same, but I won’t go into any further detail!  The highlight of the two days though was Ewan Easton, a professional tuba player who I worked with earlier this year who came and gave us all a very inspirational talk on his work in prisons teaching brass.  I was very interested because I worked in a prison early last year as a poet.  A lot of the things he talked about I recognised and it occurred to me that maybe it doesn’t really matter what you go in to a prison and do – as long as you are passionate about it – I’ve seen tv programmes based in America where prisoners have to look after a dog from a rescue and get it ready to be rehomed, and then there are poets in prison and now brass teaching – but it seems prisoners are not just learning about the medium (poetry/dogs/brass) but life skills – listening, co operation with others, trust in others etc etc.

On Tuesday after Inset I went round to my pupils house to practice the duet for the theatre show with him – and then for fun had a go at some quartet pieces with my pupil and his mum who plays tuba – just to see what it sounded like.  Even though we were missing a part, it still sounded pretty good, so we’ve decided we are going to form a brass quintet – my sister is going to play french horn – so we just need to find a trombone player now…..I got carried away playing an arrangement of ‘At Last’ and was nearly late for Barrow Writers – a poetry critiquing group that I go to..but I made it just a couple of minutes was a good night and I was glad I remembered to go!

On Wednesday I went to the theatre in Keswick to practice the trumpet parts with David…

And Thursday I drove over to Newcastle for the first meeting for the job that I mentioned in a previous post.  I’m going to be working with the good people at New Writing North on a project at various teaching schools across the North East.  We are going to be working with teachers on their own creative practice – so running creative writing workshops for teachers.  I’m being mentored on the project by poet Anna Woodford who is a very experienced poet and tutor so I’m looking forward to it –

I also got to see the Mslexia office – which is just down the corridor from the New Writing North office!  I went in to say hello to Debbie Taylor as I’d nearly knocked her over in the corridor in my rush to get to the meeting in the morning…

and then today has been a bit of a stressful, slightly demoralizing day.  I’ve been ringing around my schools trying to sort my timetable out, which is harder this year because I’m only working for three days, so I only have three afternoons and all the schools want to be in the afternoon, because all primary schools do literacy and numeracy in the morning so fitting them all in has been difficult, to say the least.  But barring any great disasters, it’s done now – I’ll be working three days a week starting on Monday!


Sunday Poem – Ben Johnson


Evening everybody.  Am currently sat tucked up in bed, feeling sorry for myself and my aching legs – today the hubby and I along with two friends and three dogs walked up Skiddaw.  The weather forecast said strong winds but we’d already put off going once a couple of weeks ago so we thought we would just go for it as it was the last three thousand foot mountain in the Lake District I had left to do.  Anyway, I quickly realised that swanning around the UK doing poetry readings and swanning around the house reading poetry doesn’t actually get you very fit and there were moments, in particular the last third of the hill on the scree slope when I thought  that I was too wimpy to get to the top.  However, the prospect of sitting in the middle of a gale while everybody else went up the hill was not particularly attractive so I carried on plodding up to the top.

There were also three seperate moments at the top when we all had to drop to our knees when the wind was particularly strong or be blown over – I felt like a balloon tied to the hill with a bit of string – like I was fastened to the earth, but not particularly securely.  Eventually we abandoned dignity and proceeded up the hill like little old ladies, linking arms.  We got to the trig point at the top and clung to it for a couple of minutes – and when I say clung – I mean it –

We did see a family on our way back down sheltering in a small semicircle of stones and they said they were turning back – we told them they were only 200 meters from the summit – but they looked at us like we were slightly mad – I can see now their point – there they were sitting down in a very rudimentary shelter because it was impossible to stand and we emerge out of the mist arm in arm with the dogs just about managing to keep four feet on the ground…it seems a shame that they got that far though and then went back down…

Yesterday I went to Sheffield and met up with some of the other poets from the Writing School course which I’m doing – we did some writing exercises in the morning and then we all took a poem to be critiqued in the afternoon – had a really nice day.

We had a horrible train journey back with a family in the carriage who were shouting and arguing with each other – a mother and daughter and then there was a man (the son?) who was drunk and having a go at the train guard in a very aggressive way.  They didn’t really do anything to any of the other passangers, they were too busy arguing with each other – but I found it really intimidating and almost started having a panic attack when the bloke was shouting at the train guard.  The train was so crowded there was nowhere to move to either – it ended with the police being called and meeting them at Manchester train station.  There was two children with them as well who were witnessing all the shouting and the threats of violence and the insults and I felt terrible for them.  It got me thinking about violence – how we are all violent to one another – maybe not necessarily physical violence, but emotional violence – how probably all children will see some form of violence in their lives.  For example I was reading a poem from Maitreyabandhu’s new collection to the hubby on the way up to Skiddaw and the voice in the poem talks about the christmas turkey hanging with the blood dripping into a bucket.  And I think this could be a violent thing for a child to see, even if it is not intended that way.  The hubby said something interesting – one of the nuns at his old school said  that if an act is not loving, it is violent.  Which I think is a good definition and would definitely make me behave better if I remember it!

So, here is the Sunday poem for today!  An act of love for tomatoes from a lovely, lovely man I met in Fermoy at the poetry festival.  Ben Johnson was one of the winners of the Fermoy International Poetry Festival this year and his prize was a flight to Ireland and a reading at the festival.  Ben charmed everybody with his personality – humble, funny, kind, easygoing AND good with computers!  What more could you want?  I was very relieved when I heard him read and his poetry was good as well!

Ben lives on the edge of the New Forest in England with his wife Naomi. He works as an IT Admin in a small private school and spends his spare time either enjoying the wonderful scenery around the area he lives in or reading and writing poetry. He has been writing since his teens but in the last few years has taken it much more seriously.

Ben attends local open mic poetry nights as often as he can. He also runs an online poetry forum called The Poetry Forum and last year started up a small press called Ravenshead Press. He is also involved with a poetry organisation called Artful Scribe which aims to promote and improve poetry locally. He has been published in various online ezines such as The Ghazal Pages, Antiphon and the Polish magazine Kwartalnik. He was one of three international winners of the 2013 Fermoy Poetry Festival.

I asked Ben to send me a few poems to choose from – and I chose this poem because I really enjoyed the glut of images and similes that he uses throughout the poem.  I particularly enjoyed ‘brave little beacons’ and ‘flush as a wallet’.  I think it has something of the tone of Sylvia Plath’s ‘You’ – and the language used to describe the tomatoes and the imagery is certainly concerned with motherhood and fertility and babies – I hope you enjoy!

Tomatoes – Ben Johnson

They have gorged themselves on summer
and glow with the afternoons we spent
calling forth rainbows from a hose’s mouth.

Plump and content as puppies full of milk
they cluster together and radiate,
like a mother in her first trimester.

Flush as a wallet on the first of the month
or a tongue-tied lad falling over the words
of a well rehearsed speech. They burn,

brave little beacons against an October sky
percolated with milk. We pluck them
from their wrecked scaffolding and bed them

softly in the bottom of a trug, barely able
not to burst them between teeth and retrieve
our summer, acid sweet and burning bright.