Follow the link for an interview with me on my first day in the job as Digital Poet-in-Residence…
It feels like it is only mid-morning but it is actually 1.30pm at the time of writing – I had a lovely long lie in this morning after a slightly full weekend. I have lots of news this week – and those of you who are friends with me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter will probably know all of this already, so you may want to skim over the next couple of paragraphs.
My first exciting news is that my first full length collection is due to be published by Seren in April 2015. For the last couple of weeks I have been copies of contracts have been flying back and forth from Barrow to Cardiff. My editor, Amy Wack has been fantastic – supportive and enthusiastic and encouraging – I couldn’t really ask for more at the moment, so I’m really happy about that. It still doesn’t feel quite real, and I don’t think it will feel real until the book is in my hands but I’m determined to try and enjoy the whole process – it will only happen once for the first time after all!
My second exciting news which I’ve known about for a little bit longer is that I’m going to be the new Digital Poet-in-Residence over at the Poetry School. No, I am not, as one of my friends helpfully suggested, going to be turned into a hologram, but I will be lurking about at CAMPUS, which is the Poetry Schools’ social media site – it is a bit like Facebook but with specially written articles, interviews and features about poetry. It is completely free to sign up to and there is lots of free content – it is also the place where the online courses that you pay to take part in are run from – but it is well worth checking out, and it would be lovely to see some familiar faces. My residency starts on Monday and I will be part of an online webchat with Amy Wack from Seren, Neil Astley, the editor of Bloodaxe and Hannah Lowe, Bloodaxe poet extraordinaire on May 7th. May 7th is also the Poetry School’s first Digital Open Day and there are lots of free activities going on all day and even through the night into the small hours! If you would like to get involved, head on over to http://campus.poetryschool.com/
At the minute, I am feeling a little overwhelmed with everything that is going on – it is all exciting stuff, but physically fitting everything in to each day is getting a little unmanageable! On Friday I went over to Ossett and stayed at the lovely John Foggin’s house – John is a reliable commenter on this blog and is never short of something to say 🙂 John’s house was amazing – no wonder he writes so many poems – he has amazing little objects all over the place – his wife is a talented artist and has paintings and pictures displayed on the walls – I didn’t spend much time looking through his book collection because I was too busy snooping at all the interesting things he has collected over the years. John and his wife Flo really looked after me – making me lots of cups of tea and feeding me home made pizza – their son, visiting for the weekend even gave up his room and slept in Flo’s studio — reminded me again of how lucky I am to have found poetry, which in its turn led me to make such generous and interesting friends.
On Saturday John and I made a little convoy and drove over from Ossett to Marsden – I was the Guest Poet at the Cuckoo Poetry Jam, run by Write Out Loud http://www.writeoutloud.net/public/index.php
There was an open mic and it was lovely to hear John read some of his poems. I also got to hear Louise Fazackerly who has just been awarded a commission by New Writing North and The Verb to create new work and the lovely David Coldwell who has a blog over at http://davidcoldwell.co.uk/ – it was nice to meet him in the real world after conversing on Twitter. Michael Brown started off the event and I enjoyed hearing more of his work, after meeting him at the Poetry Business workshop a couple of months ago. Michael B is definitely one to watch out for – his first pamphlet is coming out with Eyewear soon. I would have liked to have heard more of Michael Stewart, the other guest poet but time was running out – he read some interesting poems from his collection ‘Couples’ which is apparently full of poems that face each other or talk to each other across the page. The highlight of the event for me though was Steve Ely – a new poet for me to be obsessed with. Steve’s poetry is completely different from anything else that is being written recently. He is a good performer as well – but it is the poems that I was impressed with – he writes about politics and social history without resorting to preaching. After he finished reading, I felt I had learnt something that I didn’t know when I entered the room. I am very much in admiration of him, and have his first collection ‘Oswald’s Book of Hours’ published by Smokestack Press, next to me as I write, in the vain hope that I might get some time today to actually reread it again.
After the reading I hotfooted it back to Kendal ready for a reading at the Brewery as part of the Quiet Compere Tour, organised by Sarah Dixon. Apart from spilling a bit of water on the floor after kicking my glass over, which in true comedy fashion rolled slowly towards some of the audience it went well and was an enjoyable evening. Highlights were probably the lovely Ann Wilson, Polly Atkin’s poem to her chronic pain which used biblical language and Mark Mace Smith’s ‘found’ poem made from the testimony of a policeman.
The Sunday Poem today is by Hilary Hares – who I first met over two years ago at a workshop that I ran at Ledbury Poetry Festival. Hilary came on the weekend residential course that I ran at Grange last year and was there again this year – it has been great to see how Hilary’s poetry and I hope she wouldn’t mind me saying, her confidence has developed over the last couple of years and I asked her to send me some poems to choose from for the Sunday poem.
I chose this poem because Hilary wrote it on the course at Abbot Hall a couple of weeks ago – it is a beautiful poem, very measured and under control but full of a strong emotion as well. I love the uncertainty at the start of the poem that develops into complete certainty and accuracy in the descriptions of the pigeon which then opens out into that mysterious ending to the second stanza but my favourite part of the poem is that ending – and I’m really hoping the line break on the last line has come out on this pesky WordPress blog – because I think that illustrates what a line break should be for really.
Hilary is currently studying for an MA in poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University. She won first prize in the Christchurch Writers Competition in 2013 and has been published in magazines including First Time, South, Obsessed with Pipework, Orbis, Maine Magazine (USA), The Interpreter’s House, The New Writer, Writing Hampshire (website) and Elemental Dialogues (website) part of Ten Days in Winchester 2013
If you would like to read about other people’s experiences of the course there are two blog posts from participants Emily Blewitt and Gill Garrett here http://gillgarrett.blogspot.co.uk/ and here http://emilyblewitt.wordpress.com/
Kents Bank – Hilary Hares
I may have been awake
or in that place
that isn’t land or sleep.
I heard a pigeon
on the mossed slate roof
outside my window
and sensed it was the world.
Somewhere beyond is sea
leaking into the wounds
of the salt marsh,
present but undiscovered.
Here, before I move,
I feel your shoulder.
I know it cannot be
but here it is,
An account of the residential writing course that I co-tutored last week by one of the victims….I mean participants!
Morning everybody! I have had a few messages this week wondering where the Sunday Poem was last week – so my apologies first of all that it did not appear. I think only for maybe the second Sunday ever I didn’t have time to put a Sunday poem up – or more correctly, last Sunday I didn’t have any energy left over after a day at the South Cumbria Music Festival and after getting back home I just collapsed into a heap in bed.
The South Cumbria Music Festival is actually a competition – it runs for just over a week with hundreds of different classes for every instrument you can think of but last Sunday was the Brass Day. I got to the Coronation Hall in Ulverston at 8.30am loaded down with music and books in case I got bored – as it turns out the day went so quickly I didn’t open my rucksack once to get a book out – there were solo classes all through the day and quite a few of my pupils were playing so I knew I would be camping out for the day. So for most of the day I was just watching and listening which doesn’t sound too exhausting and it doesn’t feel exhuasting at the time.
At 4.30 in the afternoon all of the kids from the two bands that I run started to arrive – Barrow Shipyard Junior Band is my band that I have been conducting for eight years – we won the festival last year and are the biggest junior band in the county with 36 players. My other band, ‘Brasstastic’ is a beginner band made up of primary school children and they have only been playing together a year and a half.
On the Saturday before the music festival, I went to the Poetry Business Writing Day and started writing a poem about my old band conductor Rob Boulter who still conducts Unity Brass Band down in Leicester. This got me thinking about doing competitions when I was younger. I remember that I was never nervous when I did band competitions – something about being part of the group but also because of the way Rob behaved – he was never nervous, never stressed. He acted like we were the most important thing – not the adjudicator or the competition administrators – if he had to make them wait because something wasn’t right with the band then he would. He would also wear these very loud shirts – some with billowing sleeves – all of them very colourful – he would only wear them for concerts or competitions. I never knew why – but now I think maybe it was to take our mind off the competition, to distract us, or make us smile.
Anyway, after thinking through all this, I realised that I often appeared stressed at the music festival or at concerts and I think this feeds to the band and makes them nervous. So my secret weapon this year was to print off some silly pictures. After we got the nod from the adjudicator to play, I held up this picture:
and then after that I held up this one.
It nearly backfired when one of the more excitable younger players got a bit hysterical but he managed to hold it together. The younger players thought it was funny – the older ones looked at me the same way we used to look at Rob Boulters’ shirts in all our teenage wisdom – with a mix of pity and amusement – but it worked – they played the four pieces the best they’ve ever played. I was so pleased with them when we came off the stage – last year when we won, they messed up the beginning of one of the pieces and even though we won, I’m so mean I was really annoyed with them and told them all off at the next rehearsal but this year I couldn’t have cared less if we won or not.
I did the same with Brasstastic -a risky move because they are much younger and less experienced but it seemed to work for them too – they played as well as they have played before except this time I didn’t have to tell them to stop talking between pieces which was what had been happening all term in rehearsal!
Alan Fernie the adjudicator was great with the kids and when he was giving the results gave lots of detailed feedback. This was really useful for me because it gives me an indication of what I need to work on for the next year. So the targets for this year are not to play so loud for the Shipyard Junior Band – this was great to hear him say this as I have been banging on about them playing quieter all year and for both of my bands to build up the lower end of the band. I’ve historically always had a lot more trumpets and cornets in my bands – probably because it is the instrument I feel most confident with but after hearing Alan Fernie bigging up the trombone I’ve had three children from Brasstastic say that they would like to join the Shipyard Band on the trombone – which is great by me as I only have one trombone player at the minute!
So the top three bands were Barrow Shipyard Junior Band who won for the second year running, Holborn Hill Youth Band came second and St Pius School Orchestra came third. After that, I stayed to listen to a few of the adult bands and then ended up getting trapped in the hall and staying longer than I meant to which meant I got back at about 9.00pm at night – which doesn’t sound very late but when I got back my legs felt like jelly and I went straight to bed – hence no Sunday Poem.
I’ve kept running this week – I did 2 miles on Monday on my own and then Wednesday I had to have another operation on my head to remove the cyst that decided to pop up again so no running until Friday when I went on my own and just did another 2 miles. Yesterday I did the 5k park run for the first time and had a brilliant time – I was aiming for 36 minutes going on the time that I was running on my own but I ended up running 28.49 which I was very pleased with! I’d love eventually to run under 40 minutes for 10k but I’m a long way off from that at the minute.
The other thing that has been happening this week is our house is finally on the market – or at least there is a board up and we had our photos taken yesterday.
This weekend I’ve been at the Dorothy Wordsworth Festival of Women’s poetry. The highlight so far for me has been seeing Rita Ann Higgins read – I’d not heard of her before, even though she is published by Bloodaxe – can’t understand why she isn’t more known over here – she is fabulous. Today I’m off for a workshop with Gillian Allnutt and then the reading tonight will be Gillian Allnutt, Sinead Morrisey and Carol Ann Duffy. The moment that has really touched me this weekend is Carol Ann standing up and clapping Rita Ann Higgins, Emily Berry and Patience Agbabi – she looked so supportive of them and admiring and pleased – I think that is a wonderful thing – the way she does support and encourage other poets.
So I have to go and actually get ready to go to Grasmere – but I will leave you with a wonderful poem by the poet Kathryn Simmonds. I met Kathryn at another women’s writing festival in Cardiff. Her new book ‘The Visitations’ is published by Seren and it is a fantastic collection. Her first collection ‘Sunday at the Skin Launderette’ won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and was shortlisted for a heap of other prizes – I think her new book is just as good. She writes about motherhood in a way you can enjoy even if you don’t have children (like me!) and her poems are often poignant but also laced with humour. I’ve said before that I don’t often find myself laughing out loud when reading poetry but she has a sequence in the book called ‘Life Coach Variations’ which did make me laugh out loud.
I’ve chosen ‘When Six O’clock Comes and Another Day has Passed’ which I think is a beautiful poem and as well as being about motherhood, is also about the life of the writer. I hope you enjoy it – and if you would like to buy Kathryn’s book go to the Seren website at http://www.serenbooks.com or if you would like to find out more about Kathryn she has her own websit at http://kathrynsimmonds.wordpress.com/
When Six O’clock Comes and Another Day has Passed – Kathryn Simmonds
the baby who can not speak, speaks to me.
When the sun has risen and set over the same dishes
and the predicted weather is white cloud,
the baby steadies her head which is the head of a drunk’s
and holds me with her blue eyes,
eyes which have so recently surfed through womb swell,
and all at once we stop half-heartedly row, rowing
our boat and see each other clear
in the television’s orange glow. She regards me,
the baby who does not know a television from a table lamp,
the baby, who is so heavy with other people’s hopes
she has no body to call her own,
the baby who is forever being shifted, rearranged,
whose hands must be unfurled and wiped with cotton wool,
whose scalp must be combed of cradle cap,
the baby who has exactly no memories
softens her face in the early evening light and says I understand.