Monthly Archives: December 2013

2013 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 19,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Sunday Poem – Andrew Elliott

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This week poet Andrew McMillan tweeted “If people couldn’t TELL other people they were a poet but could only sit and write poetry, would they still want to be a poet?” This first of all made me laugh, but I think it touches on important things.  And then I read a wonderful post today from Helena Nelson about being a publisher, but more than that, about what it means to be a poet.  You can find the blog post here, and it really is worth reading
http://www.happenstancepress.com/index.php/blog/entry/send-me-your-poems-iv-the-relationship
Helena Nelson is currently deep in the submissions window for Happenstance, which closes on Tuesday.  The blog above is Number 4 on this subject and you should read them all and preferably, I guess start with Number 1, but Number 4 made my heart soar today – in a strange way.

These two things – Andrew’s tweet and Helena’s blog are connected in my mind – although I haven’t quite worked out how yet.  Regular readers (or my friends) will know I put no thought really into these blog posts – I think as I write, in a similar way to when I write poems actually.

This means my thought process isn’t always particularly well thought out – but the poet I’ve chosen to feature for this Sunday fits nicely between this tweet and Helena’s blog, both of which, I think are trying to pin down what writing poetry is, or should be about.

Andrew Elliott is an elusive poet – I couldn’t track him down online to ask him directly whether I could use one of his poems for my Sunday Poem, so I got in touch with his publisher Charles Boyle of CB Editions, who incidentally, also keeps a very interesting blog at http://sonofabook.blogspot.co.uk/

Charles very graciously said I could use Andrew’s poem from his book ‘Mortality Rate’.  I ordered this book because I have developed a bit of a crush on CB Edition poetry books.  I have bought four this year – Dan O’Brien’s ‘War Reporter’ and two by Dennis Nurske – ‘Voices Over Water’ and ‘A Night in Brooklyn’ and of course this one by Andrew Elliott – which came to my attention because it was part of the Inpress Christmas Sale.  So at the minute I have a 100% hit rate with really enjoying this publishers’ books – CB Editions has a brilliant hit rate of winning the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize as well by the way…

It turns out Andrew Elliott doesn’t really engage with social media or the internet – there are not even any pictures of him, which explains why I couldn’t track him down.  It’s a good way not to get poetry stalkers I suppose.  Not that I am one of course.

But I respect him for this privacy – although I couldn’t do it – I enjoy being around poets too much – I like going to readings – I like talking about poetry – I even like Facebook and Twitter most of the time apart from when people moan about stuff that actually has nothing to do with the act of writing – or when people over share not fond of that – but I’m going off the point – I respect Charles Boyle even more – for publishing a poet whose work he loved, probably knowing that it would be difficult to sell copies because he wasn’t active on social media.  Then again – I still managed to buy the book!  So the moral of this tale is to go to CB Editions website – don’t bother with Amazon.  Order any of their poetry books – or even their fiction actually (although I haven’t tried any of those) http://www.cbeditions.com/

But first of all you need to read this poem by Andrew Elliott – which I think is representative of the rest of the book – the poems are full of these long twisting sentences which turn back on themselves.  I would finish reading each poem and then give myself a shake and have to go back again to the beginning – which is a good sign isn’t it?

I love the long lines of this poem – and the mystery of it – when the man exclaims that the holes in the poem ‘inexplicably move’ him – I feel the same way about this poem – except it is not inexplicable – it is that last verse that touches me.  It also reminds me of the Elizabeth Bishop poem ‘Monument’ which you can find here http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-monument/

Not in the syntax of course, or the rhythm, but in that close and unflinching attention to detail – the same kind of poetic gaze that cannot be distracted – and they both have those exclamations in them which are like little bursts of emotion…and the lightbulb ‘like the soul of a man so twisted’ – isn’t that great?  I do like poems that have the word soul in generally – especially as it is one of those ‘taboo’ words that you get told not to use – not quite in the same league as ‘shard’ but coming close – this makes me want to use it more though –

If you would like to read the rest of ‘Mortality Rate’ by Andrew Elliott pop over to CB Editions and make an independent publisher very happy for the new year!

Ps – I haven’t said anything about Christmas because I can’t be bothered.  It happened.  It was windy.  There you go!  Have a great New Year’s Eve if I’m not back before then!

Installation – Andrew Elliott

In a plywood partition that stops six inches short of the ceiling
a number of holes have been bored as if in preparation for plumbing.
Each two inches in diameter, they appear to be awaiting delivery
of a consignment of urinals from China, stainless steel ones no doubt.

Let’s count how many there are…There are nine, if I’m not mistaken,
and in almost every case such pride has been taken in the work –
perhaps the bit was tungsten-tipped? – that it’s only the hole in the middle
where – due to excessive vibration? – the cheap plywood has ragged

and left a fringe of splinters which should be easy enough to make good with the help of a Stanley knife and some sandpaper, were the fitter
to feel the need though that is to make the assumption that the urinals
will arrive when they’re supposed to, the job not abandoned,

the fitter not to be told and so turn up with all his gear to find exactly
as we’ve done a plywood partition down the middle of a room
whose walls are tiled white to the top and which, having had no windows
to begin with, is supplied with light by a long-life bulb which hangs

from the ceiling on our side like the soul of a man so twisted
that he might have had something to do with the holes, been either
the man who had bored them or the man who had had them bored for him –
though when I say our I mean only the side that we’re on; we could as easily

be standing on the dark side and, standing there, find it more interesting,
the effect of the light being let in through the holes, the sense of
encroachment on the ceiling where the partition stops short, as I’ve said…
But then again partition? It tolls a bell to which another bell answers.

The holes! They inexplicably move me. I feel a great need to worship them.
I want to get down on my hands and knees.  I want to crawl towards them.
I want to put my mouth to each one of them, in particular that horribly
ragged one.  I want to whisper such things as I’ve never told anyone.

Sunday Poem – River Wolton

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This week was the last week of term – and it’s been a bit strange.  I can often be found counting down till the end of term – especially the Christmas term – I sometimes feel like I’m hanging on to my patience and my sanity with my finger nails.  Then term finishes, and I get a bit down and fed up and – well my husband would say grumpy but I think that is a little unfair! I have no idea why I get like this – I find it hard to relax and do nothing – I feel guilty so maybe this is something to do with it…

On Monday I went and played some carols with Barrow Steelworks Band for an hour in Morrisons from 4-5 then drove pretty sharpish over to Tescos for 5.30 to conduct my junior band playing carols.

On Tuesday I stood in for a teacher and conducted St Pius School Band at a concert at St Marks Church in Barrow.  It was a lovely concert – but I found it quite stressful – the kids knew how many repeats they were doing and when they were meant to be singing and dancing (!) thank goodness, but a couple of children turned up late so there I was trying to find chairs for them after the first piece, then another turned up and didn’t know where she’d left her instrument etc etc – made me realise that not only does playing in a band teach musical skills but it also should teach organisational skills and punctuality! Saying that, I went to a gig in Kendal (45 minutes drive away) and realised I’d left my trumpet at home once and I was an adult – and the children did cope very well with me conducting them instead of their usual teacher – they were not shy about correcting me either before we were about to start (“we normally play this one fast”) (“this one starts off with the drums”) etc and it is Christmas, so what I am trying to say, is that on balance, I forgave them their tardiness!

On Wednesday I spent most of the day driving round to various schools and there were no kids to teach – they had gone to the cinema or were having a party but I was still out and about most of the morning and then by 3.45 on Wednesday I was finished and that was when instead of feeling harried/tired I started to feel grumpy…

In my free time since then I have read Clare Pollard’s ‘Ovid’s Heroines’ (it was very good – very interesting as well – as in, gripping in the way a novel is gripping), done the Christmas shopping (on a strict budget this year which I have managed to stick to), done a leaflet for my school poetry workshops (I ran these through Cumbria Music Service last year – but this year I will be doing them freelance) and I have plotted to set up a brass quintet.

This is what happens when I have time on my hands you see!  But I am really excited about the brass quintet .  We have our first rehearsal booked in for early January and we will be performing at weddings and other occasions as required – once we have a name (which we don’t at the minute) I will be setting up a blog and a facebook and twitter group – but in the meantime, if you know anybody who would like a brass quintet for any occasion then get in touch!  There will be a special poets rate 🙂

So today’s Sunday Poem is by River Wolton.  River’s second collection ‘Indoor Skydiving’ has just been published by Smith/Doorstop and it is very good – completely rooted in the modern world  tackling issues such as human trafficking and assumptions about gender and identity.  River also has a pamphlet with Smith/Doorstop called ‘The Purpose of Your Visit’ and a first collection ‘Leap’.  You can buy all of these publications by going to http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk

The poem I’ve chosen was one of those rare poems that you read and instantly connect with – I loved it straight away.  I have no particular love for rats to be honest – when I lived in Leeds because of the students in the top flat bombing their bin bags into the rubbish yard we had a period of time when there were rats living in the building, and they weren’t particularly shy.  I remember coming into the entrance hall of the flats and a rat sitting on a bin bag, and when the light from outside fell on it, it just looked at me and watched me as I scampered past. This poem rests in the journey the reader takes – the poem unpacks the statement the poet makes in the first line and the reader changes their mind about rats by the end of the poem as well.  I really liked the movement in this poem – nothing is still – the floodwater flowing, the quick movement of the rat as she picks the babies up in her mouth and we can picture the rat in the water because of the description of her swimming against the current and that lovely ending of the young rats not knowing whether to fear the water or being in their mother’s mouth… I realise this is not a very festive choice but it does go with last weeks choice of a cat poem!

Rat – by River Wolton

I changed my mind
after a documentary:
floodwater in a sewer.

She took them one by one
scruff of their necks
as if to eat them.

They shrieked,
didn’t know where they were going,
couldn’t see

the torrent forced
into a lethal channel by
excellent Victorian masonry.

Against the flow she swam,
her snakey tail, her bead-black nose,
her children in her mouth,

then scampered to a higher ledge,
and dropped them.
Back again

to where those remaining quivered,
not knowing what to fear most,
the cold thickening around them.

 

 

Sunday Poem – Katha Pollitt

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In the precarious balance of music and poetry, music has won this week – every day apart from Thursday has been filled with playing carols in various places.  On Monday I took some of the band to Asda to play Christmas carols to the lucky shoppers – we made £135 which will go towards providing uniforms, music and instruments to the children in the band.  The children in the band seem to love playing in the supermarkets – I ussed to love it as well – it was when I made a connection between doing something I loved and the ability to get money for doing the something – it was when I realised it was possible…

On Tuesday I took a different group of children from the band to Anchor Court Sheltered Housing in Dalton, which provides supported housing for older people.  They kindly provided us with pop and tea and chocolates so I sent the children back to their parents all sugared up…

On Wednesday we played for Ormsgill Primary School’s Carol Concert – the school choir sang with us which was impressive as we’d had no rehearsals together – we nearly came unstuck in ‘We Three Kings’ as the band and the choir decided to do the ‘oh….oh….’ bit at different times but I was relieved to see that we had five verses to practice getting it together! I did get a bit hysterical at this stage and nearly got the giggles, the type of giggles there is no coming back from –  but managed to hold it together.

On Thursday I spent the day in Grasmere running a ‘Real Live Writers’ workshop with some Year 7 and Year 10 pupils from a school in Workington – it was a lovely day and we got some great feedback from the teachers.  On the way back from Grasmere I stopped off at Newby Bridge to meet Grenville from John Packers, an instrument manufacturer and picked up a brand new flugel horn for the junior band which saved on delivery costs…and then Friday I was playing at a school fete with Barrow Steelworks Band, did some brass teaching in the afternoon and then went to Brewery Poets, my critiquing group in the evening.

I should add I was teaching Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as well of course – I didn’t only teach on Friday afternoon 🙂

But this weekend has been nice – I’ve done nothing but read poetry.  I’ve actually been making my way through Ovid’s Metamorphoses which I started last weekend – I’m now up to the bit where the raven has told the truth which means his feathers are turned black.  I’ve written two poems that have imagery from Ovid since I started reading – that is more poems in the last week than I have probably written in the last month – which is quite exciting.

Oh – and other exciting things that happened this week – the new Poetry Review arrived with two of my poems in it. I read the whole of it cover to cover yesterday as well – in between reading Ovid – favourite poems so far from Jack Underwood and Liz Berry – both have first collections coming out next year I think – from Faber and Chatto respectively – so I will be buying as soon as they appear…

But the most exciting thing this week is to have a poem by Katha Pollitt for the Sunday Poem.  I met Katha at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival – she did a fantastic reading so I bought her latest book which is out with Seren called ‘The Mind-Body Problem’ which you can order from http://www.serenbooks.com

Katha Pollitt is the author of six books of poetry and prose and is a widely published journalist, essayist and critic.  For many years she has been a columnist at The Nation magazine.  She has won many awards and prizes including the National Book Critics Circle award for her first book of poetry, fellowships from the Guggenheim and Whiting foundations, two National Magazine Awards and an American Book Award for lifetime achievement.  She lives in New York City, and as far as I know, ‘The Mind-Body Problem’ is her first UK publication.

There was a slightly mortifying moment in Aldeburgh when I was doing my Close Reading on a poem by Edward Hirsch (one of my fave poets) and I said that I hadn’t researched into him because I didn’t want to be disappointed by anything I found out and that I was just going to concentrate on the poetry – not realising of course, or maybe forgetting that there were American poets in the audience and of course they would know Edward Hirsch – me and my flappy mouth! Anyway, Katha was very nice about it and came up to me and told me ‘You wouldn’t be disappointed – he is a lovely man!’

So there was that…anyway, I was very happy when Katha said I could use a poem from her book as my Sunday Poem.  One of my other favourites in the book is the title poem actually which starts ‘When I think of my youth I feel sorry not for myself/but for my body.’

The book made me laugh out loud on lots of occasions – but it is also poignant and feisty as well – there  is a section of poems called ‘After the Bible’ and the first poem is called ‘Expulsion’ and begins ‘Adam was happy – now he had someone to blame/for everything: shipwrecks, Troy,/the grey face in the mirror.’

The poem finishes with the Tree of Knowledge mourning the passing of its one moment of being the centre of attention.  But the poem I’ve chosen fits in nicely with my Ovid reading and it is one of those rare things – a wonderful poem about cats! I chose this poem because I love how Katha gets into the skin of what a cat is, and manages to put her finger on the fundamental difference between human and animal.  This poem is funny, but it is also wise – ‘grace is/only a cat’s way/ of getting without fuss from one place to another’.  I think this poem also is beautifully lyric and measured – the line endings keep the movement going through the poem.  I like the turn in the middle of the poem ‘Two cats together are like two strangers’ which feels like a hinge or a corner in the poem where it goes off again in a different direction.  I also like cats as well and this poem made me think yes, this is exactly what it is like – which is what a poem should do, I think.

I hope you enjoy – and do go and buy the book from Seren or Inpress rather than Amazon!

Two Cats – Katha Pollitt

It’s better to be a cat than to be a human.
Not because of their much-noted grace and beauty –
their beauty wins them no added pleasure, grace is
only a cat’s way

of getting without fuss from one place to another –
but because they see things as they are.  Cats never mistake a
saucer of milk for a declaration of passion
or the crook of your knees for

a permanent address.  Observing two cats on a sunporch,
you might think of them as a pair of Florentine bravoes
awaiting through slitted eyes the least lapse of attention –
then slash! the stiletto

or alternately as a long married couple, who hardly
notice each other but find it somehow a comfort
sharing the couch, the evening news, the cocoa.
Both these ideas

are wrong.  Two cats together are like two strangers
cast up by different storms on the same desert island
who manage to guard, despite the utter absence
of privacy, chocolate,

useful domestic articles, reading material,
their seperate solitudes.  They would not dream of
telling each other their dreams, or the plots of old movies,
or inventing a bookful

of coconut recipes.  Where we would long ago have
frantically shredded our underwear into signal
flags and be dancing obscenely about on the shore in
a desperate frenzy,

they merely shift on their haunches, calm as two stoics
weighing the probably odds of the soul’s immortality,
as if to say, if a ship should happen along we’ll
be rescued.  If not, not.

Sunday Poem – Isabel Bermudez

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If feels as if time is accelerating since the start of December – maybe it is because December gets very busy for music teachers and the pressure is now on to get Jingle Bells sounding like Jingle Bells before Christmas in my normal teaching – which is more complicated than it sounds!

I am taking the Barrow Shipyard Junior Band caroling next week – on Monday we can be found playing carols in Asda, on Tuesday we will be at Anchor Court in Dalton and Wednesday we will be at Ormsgill Primary School playing in their carol concert.  On Thursday I’ll be in Grasmere running a schools workshop for the Wordsworth Trust and on Friday you will find me in a heap somewhere…next Monday the band will be caroling in Tesco.  This is our main chance in the year to build our coffers up to enable us to do exciting things throughout the year – last year the money we made caroling meant we could make our first album – which was launched on Tuesday last week.
We sold 44 copies on the night of the launch – I think we need to sell 120 to break even on production costs so if you would like one please get in touch.

Apart from the launch night the other thing I got up to this week was driving over to Darlington to work on a project with New Writing North which is based around the idea of working with newly qualified teachers and helping them to teach more creatively..I was just observing in this session but next time I go over in February I will be teaching part of the session – Anna Woodford led the session this time – a lovely lady who was great fun.  I offered her a lift back to the train station and we nearly got lost – both of us paying no attention to our surroundings when we had arrived at the school a couple of hours later and then mishearing the directions we were given – but we got there eventually!

In other news I went to Sheffield yesterday to the last Writing School meet up at the Poetry Business.  I think I wrote at least one poem which I think will go into my sequence – so that takes me up to 14 (if I keep them all).  I also picked up two copies of The North magazine yesterday with my two poems in ‘My People’ and ‘The Dead Tree’.  There are lots of great poets in this issue – and if you are looking for  a good poetry magazine to subscribe to you can’t go wrong with The North.  You can order it at http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk

If you haven’t already – do have a look at the ‘Residentials and Workshops’ tab – there are details there of the next residential I’m running in Grange Over Sands with poet Jennifer Copley in April 2014.  You will also find dates for a residential I’m running in October 2014 with poet Clare Shaw down in St Ives – both are now open for booking – the Grange one has 8 places left – the St Ives one is ok for spaces as I’ve only just put the dates up.  Both are £350 and this includes tuition, accommodation, breakfast and dinner.  And my amazing company of course!  A bargain…

Today’s Sunday poem is by a lovely poet I met at Torbay Poetry Festival in October – Isabel Bermudez.  Isabel  was born in Bogota, and came to England as a child. She has been published in various magazines and shortlisted in a number of competitions, including twice for the Bridport. She was Highly Recommended in this year’s Torbay Open Poetry Competition.  Her documentary film  El Corazon de la Basura, was shown on Colombian state television and at the Cuban International Film Festival in 2000.

Isabel’s husband Simon is a wonderful artist and Isabel gave me this poem on a beautiful illustrated post card which Simon had painted…I am always partial to a heron poem but I do like the close descriptions in this poem – and how sure-footed the poem is – each line break feels right.  I also like the questioning or doubt in the middle of the poem and the description of the bird which looks only as if it is sleeping rather than dead – and the unnamed body found in the river that is the shadow behind the poem all the way through…

I hope you enjoy the poem…

Heron – Isabel Bermudez

Flung, her wings collapsed, elbows bent, intact,
as if heaving a huge sigh; her beak wrenched this way or that
brought in by the tide; grey lady, wheezed of life
morning in, morning after.  Bodies too, on this stretch of river
cast up bloated with weeds in their hair,
not pristine as this old lady here.  She’s only closed her eyes,
as if temporarily, only temporarily, forgetting to shake her wings,
take flight, as if any moment, she might…Suicide, murder, accident?
We’ll never know; a picture in the paper – party night,
walking home, last seen saying goodbye to friends;
hunched queen on Eel Pie Island, shriven, mute,
a grey flush of wings flying high over the slatey Thames.
No rescue boat, police cordon, divers, journalists
to document her demise, but for a short time only she’s
foreshore news for Sunday joggers, dog-walkers, wino
and the couples that walk on the towpath down by the brewery;
arms crooked; counting the days till spring

 

Sunday Poem – Robert Wrigley

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Evening all.  I have just had a little dance of glee whilst writing the title of this post – even though I was too cowardly to go and speak to Robert Wrigley at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival a couple of weekends ago, or to get my book signed, the lovely Neil Astley, the editor of Bloodaxe Books has given permission for me to use one of the poems from Robert’s new collection from Bloodaxe after reading a previous post about how I read Robert Wrigley’s poems at 6am on the way back from the Michael Marks Awards.

Bloodaxe have published the first UK publication of Robert Wrigley’s poetry.  The book is called ‘The Church of Omnivorous Light’ and takes poems from nine of his previous collections and you can order it here http://www.bloodaxebooks.com

Before I post the poem though I need to tell you that somewhere in the UK is a missing ‘If We Could Speak Like Wolves’. A lovely poet bought a Wolf from this blog and the envelope arrived with no pamphlet in it.  I frankly find it quite terrifying that somewhere is a postman with a penchant for pinching poetry (you see what I did there?) Anyway, I posted another out to the poet in question and I have been reliably informed (yesterday) that it has arrived safe and sound.  Why am I telling you all this? I don’t know, except maybe the power of the internet will return the wolf to its rightful owner – who will then have two personally inscribed copies – which isn’t much use…maybe it’s better left haunting the back shelves of a sorting office somewhere…

This has been the first week in ages where I have actually been at home on my days off! So on Thursday I went to get my hair cut.  On Friday I spent the day catching up with jobs – I have some more information about the residential course in April 2014 at Abbot Hall, Grange Over Sands and more information about the residential course that I’ll be running in October in St Ives and I’ll be posting that up on Tuesday next week.

On Saturday I went to Grasmere to go to a reading/talk/discussion by the Dark Mountain Project.  The Dark Mountain Project has a website http://dark-mountain.net/ which is full of fascinating stuff.  They have a manifesto, and produce beautiful anthologies but I found this summary on their website

‘The Dark Mountain Project is a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilisation tells itself. We produce and seek out writing, art and culture rooted in place, time and nature.’

I was particularly struck on Saturday by the idea that the language of science and ecology and politics is used a lot to talk about the environment, whereas the language of poetry isn’t – Paul Kingsnorth – one of the founders of the project said that people often discuss the cost benefits of wind turbine and measure what it will save but we don’t really talk about the impact it has on the human soul to see a wind turbine – I’m paraphrasing him here – and he said this in a much more graceful way – but I really liked this idea – partly because I’m not sure what seeing a wind turbine does do – and this does need exploring – and it is different for everyone of course – depending on your political point of view I guess, or whether you live near it or not.  Anyway, I’ve just had a quick scout of the site – it looks like I could easily spend a good couple of hours there…

I was really impressed with the quality of the work that Paul and the other reader, poet Em Strang read from the anthologies.  And I was also impressed by their humility and generosity – both read work from other writers in the anthologies – which left me wanting to hear some of their work – so I will definitely follow this up!

I then drove back from Grasmere, had some chips from the famous Matty’s chip shop in Barrow, and then drove out to Bardsea Malt Kiln.  It was a long evening, but I enjoyed it – Ross Baxter read some poetry – lots of ballads which fitted well with Maz O’Connor – a very talented folk musician who has performed for us in the past at A Poem and A Pint.  I haven’t heard her for a couple of years now, in the meantime she has been at university and winning various awards for her folk music.  Last night she performed some cracking songs she had written as a commission to mark the centenary of the death of Emily Davison – I was really impressed with her originality and musicality.  Alan Franks also performed – a mix of poetry and music and managed to lose his glasses and find them again for the last song – so all in all, a good evening.  I was glad I dragged myself out to do two poetry readings in one day – it was well worth the effort!

So, back to Robert Wrigley (if you’re sensible, you would have skipped all the previous to get to the poem).  There were so many poems I loved in this book – in fact I typed up the whole of ‘Explanatory’ and then changed my mind, because I still can’t get ‘Cigarettes’ out of my head.  I was going to use the poem ‘Explanatory’ which has an encounter with an owl at its heart to show how Robert Wrigley uses encounters with animals to find out truths about the human condition – this happens in lots and lots of his poems – I met Em Strang before the Dark Mountain event started for lunch and she mentioned Robert Wrigley as a great poet of nature and animals…I don’t think I told her I had him in my bag.  Well his book, not him, obviously.

Isn’t this poem illustrating Paul Kingsnorth point about language exactly though?  That all the language of science and the statistics about smoking do not describe the feeling that smoking creates – maybe we are using the wrong language when we try to get people to stop smoking – we use the language of statistics instead of the language of feeling…

I love the line ‘Whoever we would be for the next twenty years/took residence beyond our eyes’ – when I read this it felt like I’d been thumped in the chest – the recognition – we can all look back and remember those moments which shaped us, which we didn’t recognise at the time…then of course, if you’re a poet, you write poems about those moments…

I also like this poem for the way it follows a train of thought – it goes from one thought to the next, linking one to the other – and it does this so effortlessly.   I love the idea that the I of the poem ‘hardly stepped outside myself at all’ as if this is something we should all try and do, that the act of smoking can help you to do this, that a kiss can make you fall out of yourself and into another person..

Here is the marvellous ‘Cigarettes’ in full, with thanks to Neil Astley and Robert Wrigley for letting me post it here.

Cigarettes – Robert Wrigley

All the science notwithstanding, it’s still
a little like a kiss to me,
or what a kiss might lead to.
That first grand expulsion
of breath from the lungs hangs there
like metaphor given skin,
and we almost believe in ourselves
some new way.  Now and then
I bum one, and the rush
of dizziness that results
turns me woman in memory.
Though I lived in the world
I hardly stepped outside myself at all,
and women seemed a miracle of confidence.
Once I crossed the street
to retrieve the still-smoldering butt
a high-heeled, tight-skirted woman had tossed away.
I touched the lipstick-tainted end to my lips,
drew, and the fire burned my fingers,
the fire she’d taken into herself and sent out
into the air around us like a spell.
The first woman who ever let me
touch her, a girl really, only seventeen,
kissed me so deeply I fell out of myself
and became her.  In the moonlit backseat
I knelt upward and beheld my own eyes
in a body of perfection as vulnerable as a child’s.
Quick-witted and foul-mouthed
ordinarily, she was silent now,
even as the moments stretched out toward pain,
even when I reached over the front seat
and took one of her cigarettes and lit it
for myself.  When she moved at last
it was both arms rising toward me,
and absurdly, I handed her the smoke.
Maybe some tatter of cloud passed
before the moon just then
and in that moment her hands ceased
imploring and began simply to accept.
Whoever we would be for the next twenty years
took residence beyond our eyes.
With both hands she eased away the cigarette,
and the drag she pulled into herself
cast a light that left me blind.