Monthly Archives: August 2014

Sunday Poem – Neil Curry

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Evening all – I am so tired writing this – all self inflicted as yesterday I went for a night out in Blackpool.  There was about 25 of us who went out last night to celebrate the 18th and 21st birthday of two of my neices – all different ages because their mum (my oldest sister) came too with a lot of her friends.

I had a great time – I haven’t been out for ages, and although I used to love going out dancing and I’m afraid to say drinking when I was at university, the practicalities of teaching has over the years, calmed me down a lot and I don’t really enjoy drinking now to be honest – I seem to always get a hang over or feel really ill, so I don’t drink a lot anymore.

The good news is that now I’m older and care less about what people think, I don’t need to drink to go and dance and throw myself around the dance floor like a crazy person! So go me – it’s only taken me 32 years to chill out and enjoy myself without the aid of whisky.

So even though I only had two and a half bottles of Budweiser last night, I was out till 2am and thank goodness I was sensible and dragged my twin sister home at that point – we were wavering about going on to another club but then I imagined dear friend Andrew Forster’s face if I turned up to the poetry reading at 11.30am the next morning in a state and decided a good and sensible course of action would be to go home at 2am and go to bed.

Two things I noticed about my night out compared to when I was 18

1. The music was too loud.  I actually thought I wouldn’t be able to bear it at first.  It was impossible to carry on any kind of conversation, even a shouted one.  I don’t remember that from when I used to go out – but cannot give a definite answer to whether the music/speakers have got louder or whether it is a sign of me getting older…

2.  You still get told to ‘Smile’ by random men when you walk in a club.  Grrr.  One of my pet hates and when this happens I have various murderous images running through my head.

But overall I had a great time.  Today didn’t go quite so smoothly though.  As I said before, I was booked to read with Andrew Forster and Mike Barlow at Prom Art, a free arts and craft fair set up along the prom in Grange Over Sands.  The first reading started at 11.30 and the second one at 2.30pm.  I got up at 8.30, had breakfast and left Blackpool at 9.30am which should have given me plenty of time to get to Grange.  However, rather stupidly I had left my debit card with my sister, and halfway up the M6, as I was pulling into the services to get badly-needed petrol, I realised this fact.  I also realised I had no recollection at all of what the pin was for my various credit cards, which rendered them absolutely useless.

I went into the petrol station and begged the attendant to help me – and eventually he let me pay as if I was paying over the phone with useless credit card.  The first thing I will do on my day off this week is to sort out the stupid credit cards so I actually know my Pin and can use them. Anyway, even though disaster and breakdown on the M6 due to lack of petrol was narrowly averted, this meant I arrived in Grange at 11.15am, with only 15 minutes to leg it down the prom to find Andrew and Mike.

Performing on the prom was quite a strange experience and completely different of course to performing in a venue when the audience have paid to come and hear you.  It was interesting to see which poems seemed to make people stop and listen and which made them drift away.  The most important thing seemed to be to get a couple of people standing and listening, which then attracted more people as they thought they might be missing out on something interesting…

I even managed to sell a couple of pamphlets which was great, because I had no money due to debit card fiasco so was then able to pay Mike back for lunch.  Today I met poet Michael Farry, who is over on a mini holiday from Ireland – we went for a cup of tea and a cake and a gossip after the readings.  Maggie How also turned up so I felt well supported today…

This week I’ve also had poet Lindsey Holland staying with me – we had a great time – we went over to Piel Island and saw seals, and then went to Whitehaven and saw dolphins swimming just outside the harbour, we swapped poems, read poems and talked about poetry pretty much non stop so it has been a lovely week.  I feel very lucky today with all the great friends I’ve made through poetry.

I also went to the Wordsworth Trust to see Kei Miller and Liz Berry read – one of the best readings I’ve been to this year – both wonderful performers as well as writing knockout poetry.

So today’s Sunday Poem is by Neil Curry, a poet who lives very close to me in Ulverston.  I first met Neil at Fourth Monday Poets, the first writing group I attended and consequently the first people I actually showed a poem to.  Neil has been very encouraging of my work in the past, and when I was first starting out I used to send him a poem in the post and he would write back to me with feedback – I think this started because we were both talking about how we liked to get letters.  Or maybe it came about because Neil was at that time writing the book that today’s poem comes from.  The book is called ‘Some Letters Never Sent’ and it was published by Enitharmon this year.

The book is what it says on the tin – a series of letters to a wide and varied range of people – the blurb on the back of the book says that the letters are ‘addressed to people who, for various reasons, have been of importance in Neil Curry’s life.’   The book made me wish that all poets would do a series of letters like this to people that have been important to them.  Neil Curry’s letters are an intimate and detailed portrayal of a life that has been dominated by the act of reading – I found this immensely satisfying and interesting and fascinating.  There is a letter to Miss Emily Dickinson and the Venerable Bede, Sir John Barrow and the author’s younger self to name a few.  The collection as a whole is probably one of my favourites that I’ve read this year.

I chose this poem to feature today because it was one of my favourites in the book, with its quip about the murder of Vivaldi by call centres.  I love the tone of the poem – the familiarity with which Neil addresses Vivaldi, as if he lives just down the road and he meets him every day.  This familiarity of course, is a useful tool because the reader also becomes the recipient of the letter, the receiver of this familiar, friendly tone.

I also like the content of the poem – the flight of thought that the poem takes off with, exploring all the unforgettable sounds that have been heard throughout history and then asking the question of what sound would Vivaldi like to hear echoing back.  Which of course makes the reader (i.e me) think about what sound, if I could hear any, would I most like to hear.  I think it would have to be the first trumpet sounding.

Neil Curry has lived for many years in the Lake District and his poetry collections include Ships in Bottles, a Poetry Society Recommendation, Walking to Santiago in which he recounts his 500 mile walk along the medieval pilgrim route and Other Rooms: New & Selected Poems.  He has also published The Fable of the World, translations from the French poet Jules Supervielle.  You can find out more information about Neil here  on his website.

I hope you enjoy the poem.  If you would like to buy ‘Some Letters Never Sent’ please visit the Enitharmon website at Enitharmon. 

To: Antonio Vivaldi, Ospedale Della Pieta, Venice – Neil Curry

I’ve long had it in mind to write to you
About the trip we made to Venice
Earlier last year, of how quite by chance
We came across San Giovanni in Bragora,
That doleful little church you were christened in.

Then I’d meant to go on to say a few words
About the way your Four Seasons have been
Brutalised by Call Centres.  Instead though,
I want to share with you something
I’ve just read: Marconi – the name means

Nothing to you, I know, but bear with me –
Marconi had come to believe that no sound,
Not one single sound ever dies completely,
But fades into the infinitesimally
Faint, the way starlight does.  So I wondered,

What if, when a sound gets to the end of whatever,
It were to come bouncing back at us,
Like an echo, but an echo that comes
Gathering up its decibels again
On the way? What then would we not hear?

The dawn chorus of the pterodactyls?
Krakatoa drowning out the songs
And lamentations of lost languages,
Their airs played on instruments, the names
Of which you and I could only guess at.

If we were lucky we might just catch the end
Of the Sermon on the Mount, or those
Explosive opening chords of your Gloria.
But mostly, I suspect, it would be feral
Howlings and the vain harrumphings

Of politicos.  And amid it all,
Coming to us from the narrow streets
Of a fetid and forgotten city,
The cry, ‘Bring out your dead!’ followed by
The fall of buildings and the crackle of fire.

But if you’d the choice – come on, Antonio,
Play this game with me – which one sound would
You choose to hear out of all this cacophony?
Me? I’d opt for Wordsworth, as he sat
On that ‘straggling heap of unhewn stones’

Reading Michael out loud to Coleridge.
But all this would soon get wiped out by more
Recent sounds: The Somme, Treblinka, Nagasaki,
Even the hushed and smothering snow that fell
So softly down over Stalin’s gulags.

Oh, listen, quickly now, listen before it engulfs
Us all, listen with me to the rattle and clatter
Of that pert cock blackbird out there on our garden fence,
Warnings its gormless young of the ominous
Pad-padding nearness of next-door’s ginger cat.

Sunday Poem – Philip Morre

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Tonight’s post might be quite long.  Lots has happened this week – on Thursday I spent a lovely day in Ilkley and met up with the team behind the Ikley Literature Festival to talk through my events and stuff that I’ll be getting up to at this year’s festival.  It was a really great meeting in that I came away feeling even more enthusiastic about the residency, less terrified and ready to get down to some serious planning for the various workshops I’m doing.  If you would like to have a look at the programme, you can find it on the festival website as a PDF here.

One of the slightly bonkers things that will be going on in Ilkley is a run followed by a writing workshop.  I met up with poet Keith Hutson and we went for a run to work out a suitable route.  Before I arrived at the hotel where we will be setting off from, I had it in my head that it would be a road run, just because that is what I’ve been doing a lot of, but then I realised (I don’t know how this passed me by) that of course we are right on the edge of Ilkley Moor, and unless there are gale force winds, it would be criminal not to get up onto the moor.  So the first 2km of the run will be pretty steep, and up hill all the way – but it will be worth it when we get to the top because the views are really amazing.  And going up means you have to come down, so after the hard work it will be a nice easy run back.

I’m also running a workshop where participants will be writing new work inspired by poets at the festival.  Lorna Goodison is coming and I haven’t come across her work before so I broke my book ordering ban (I’m currently trying to save every penny to help with house move) and ordered her book from Carcanet.  And then I thought I might as well order Louise Gluck’s new book as well – I don’t know her work very well but she was featured in the Poetry Book Society bulletin and the poem that was in there was really beautiful.

The other exciting thing that happened this week was that Amy Wack, my editor at Seren, sent through a draft copy of the cover of my book which made it seem really real which was actually much less terrifying than when it didn’t seem real, if you get what I mean.  Having a cover helps me to think of it as a book, a proper book and it is a can’t-sleep-because-it’s-too-exciting experience.

This week I also booked in three readings for 2015, my first three readings from the book which is also pretty exciting – one in Liverpool, one in Halifax and one in Cardiff.

I’ve had a nice weekend as well – yesterday I was up in Grasmere at Ian Duhig’s workshop who was brilliant as usual and was incredibly kind and supportive and interested and interesting.

The only other things I’ve been doing this week include a rehearsal with ‘Soul Survivors’ – the soul band I’ve recently started playing trumpet for on Monday, teaching a tuba lesson on Tuesday and my new business cards and flyers arrived for the brass quintet I’m running – the South Lakes Brass Ensemble arrived on Wednesday.  If you know anybody who would like an amazing brass ensemble to play at their wedding – send them my way – more information at our rather sparse (at the minute) blog here

Related to the brass ensemble I’ve also spent a bit of time this week sending emails to hotels to try and get in to play at a few wedding fayres.  I’m waiting to hear back from a couple of wedding fayres – I find this bit of time intensely interesting – the time when you are getting something off the ground, just putting hooks out and seeing what will catch.  I’m not a Marketing or Publicity expert of course so I just have to do what I think and learn from what works and what doesn’t.

Apart from all this, I went running on Tuesday (about six miles), to a spinning class on Wednesday and Friday and today I did about 8 and a half miles – very slow but my first time doing over 7 and a half miles so am pleased that I did it.  I’ve also been battling with house stuff.  I don’t know how anybody manages to actually buy and sell a house in this country.  I’ve never known anything like it.  Everyone I deal with seems incompetent and inept.  I don’t know how people don’t just give up.  It is too depressing to go into, but suffice it to say, we are still not in our new house and who knows when we will be.  Probably just as I go back to work they’ll give us the keys to the house which has a condemned boiler, needs rewiring, damp proofing, a new bathroom, pointing etc….I already have some friends lined up who have said I can use their bathroom so at least I won’t smell when I inflict my presence on all the children again!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Philip Morre, who I’ve never met, but who made contact with me rather randomly by email after seeing my poem ‘The Fall’ in The TLS.  He wanted to know if he could translate it into Italian and had a couple of questions about the poem before he could do so.  He also brought my pamphlet and then sent me a copy of his fantastic book which was a lovely surprise to receive in the post, and this is where I found the Sunday Poem.  Philip lives and works as a translator in Venice.

I have also just discovered that Philip has a website and a delightfully outspoken blog – I’ve just read the last couple of entries and laughed out loud quite a few times.  You can find this here

In fact the blog is called ‘Blogrant’ and when you click on ‘Blogrant’ you will see that the title at the top of the page says ‘The unwelcome opinions of Philip Morre’.  Anyway, read the poem below before you get to the blog.

This poem is one of those poems which has a line which I kind of fall in love with – the very first line.  It is one of those lines that you could use to start people off on a free-writing exercise – I don’t mean that it sounds like a workshop poem – I mean the line has the lovely climb and fall, a pivoting movement to it that seems to work very well in workshops to encourage people to spin off on their own writing – another example of this to show what I mean was a line that Ann Sansom once gave as a free writing exercise ‘It was the beginning of Spring’ which to me has a lovely falling quality to it – as if it is inevitable that you just carry the line on.

This poem is deceptively simple but right from the first line I think it wrongfoots the reader in an enjoyable way – I thought it was going to be sad, then by the end of the first stanza I realised the poem had a touch of humour to its voice.

In stanza 2 there are the lovely sounds of the ‘saddled stallion’s faraway eyes’ and I think that touch of humour, or wryness is in this verse too.  By stanza 4, the poem throws us back into the tone of that first line with another cracking line ‘it assumed all the sorrows of the ocean’.

I think the last stanza is my favourite – that lovely wistful ending with its unanswered question is paced perfectly – a deceptively simple poem that is rather clever and very sure footed.

If you would like to order Philip Morre’s collection ‘The Sadness of Animals’ which is a kind of selected, compiling new work and previously published work from pamphlets copies are available from John Sandoe, Heywood Hill and Slightly Foxed in London, the Albion Beatnik Bookshop in Oxford or directly from sanmarcopress@googlemail.com.

 

The Sadness of Animals –  Philip Morre

Surely we imagine the sadness of animals:
the hangdog  dog in the piazza less likely
in mourning for a late selfish mistress
than concerned who will look to his dish,
or at his age whether sex is history.

And the saddled stallion’s faraway eyes
are not seeking that track through the hills
to rampant savannah where, carefree,
his sisters cavort in cabals.  He can just see
(and then vaguely) the roofs of the stables.

But once off Waisai and its soft-coral reef
a gloomy medusa, draped purple and pink
on the current as if tossed on a chair-back,
loomed over us, barely in motion.

For that instant, though we knew it a
rubbery insensate processor of plankton,
it assumed all the sorrows of the ocean,
in a glassy precipitation of grief.

I swear that the tears fogged our masks.
This morning the colt jumped the whitewashed
rail.  And the dog? Oh, the dog still mopes
in the piazza – who can say if he weeps?

 

 

 

 

Sunday Poem – Carolyn Jess-Cooke

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Afternoon all!  Seems strange to be starting writing this in daylight but I’m parked on the sofa for the rest of Sunday now.  In fact I’m feeling so lazy I can’t even be bothered to go and get anything to read, so thought I would do my blog instead.  I’m parked on the sofa because I’ve been for my first attempt at a fell run with the husband today instead of my usual hour run with Walney Wind Cheetahs on the road.  It probably wasn’t the best weather conditions to have a go at our first fell run – blustery winds and incessant rain, but most of it was fun, although I prefer the running part to the picking your way over really slippy rocks part.  I seem to be at one extreme or the other in terms of physical activity at the moment – either running lots of miles or spending the whole day on the sofa.

This week I’ve had a great time doing some runs – on Wednesday it was the Hoad Hill Harriers 10k in Ulverston and previously-featured Sunday Poet Keith Hutson came all the way over from Yorkshire to have a go at running it.  We had a great time and I managed to get my new best time for 10k which was 51 minutes and 12 seconds – I managed to knock over three minutes off from my previous time and Keith was just behind me after I rather rudely overtook him in the last hundred metres or so.  And then yesterday I ran 5k at the Barrow Park Run and got another new personal best time – 23 minutes and 39 seconds.

Anyway, I won’t go on about running any more because I know that most of the readers of this blog came to it because of poetry.  Unfortunately I’ve not been doing much poetry to be honest.  I’m still running the weekly Dove Cottage Young Poets group for the Wordsworth Trust – this week the teenagers brought some of the poems they’ve been writing and hoarding so that made a nice change.

I also went up to Grasmere to the Wordsworth Trust to see Paul Farley and Owen Sheers read.  Owen Sheers read from ‘Pink Mist’ which is a verse play drawn from interviews with soldiers who were injured in Afghanistan and their wives/girlfriends/mothers.  I’ve just finished reading Pink Mist and I think it’s very good – very ambitious, shocking, moving.  I’d definitely recommend it as something a little bit different – I think it is as readable as a novel.

The programme for Ilkley Literature Festival arrived today – you can find it online here but I would recommend ordering it by post as it is very long!  I’m really looking forward to all the events I’ll be doing – I’m running quite a few writing workshops, including one where people have to sign up to do a 4-5 mile run first before they’re even allowed in the workshop!  I am running workshops when you can just slink in without having to worry about doing anything more energetic than pick up a pencil.

I’m also reading with the amazing Michael Laskey and Matthew Sweeney one evening and taking part in an event with Otley Brass Band which I’m really excited about.  I have a couple of weeks left of the summer holidays, so I’m going to start steadily planning the sessions I’m doing at the Festival – even though it’s not till October, I think it will be here before I know it and in between now and October I have to move house and hand my first collection in so I definitely need to keep on the ball.  The other thing that is happening in October is the residential poetry course that I’m running with Clare Shaw down in St Ives – when I checked a couple of weeks or maybe a month ago there were four places left, so if you’ve been thinking about it and not got round to booking your place now is the time!  More information here if you would like it, or please feel free to email me if you have any questions about the course.

I will also be back in work in September so I have a feeling the Autumn term is going to be busy.  There is one other thing happening – I’m one of FIVE tutors on this Online Poetry School course – I’m really looking forward to this – there will be five different assignments from five different poets followed by a live chat about the students poems.  Another occasion when I thank whoever is listening that I learnt to touch type when I was 17 – best thing I ever did! Anyway, if you would like more information on the course, ‘5 Easy Pieces’ you can find it here.

So today’s Sunday Poem is by Carolyn Jess-Cooke – Carolyn was due to be next week’s Sunday Poem but her publisher Seren are running a promotion on the kindle version of her poetry collection ‘Boom!’ – you can buy it for £1.99 instead of the usual £9.99 if you click on this link here.  I’ve only bought poetry a couple of times on Kindle because I like having the real book – but I think this is a very good offer and you can’t really go wrong for £1.99.

I first heard Carolyn Jess-Cooke read at the Women’s Poetry Festival in Grasmere as part of her ‘Writing Motherhood’ project which is currently touring the UK.  She read alongside Rebecca Goss whose poetry I’m also a big fan of and Sinead Morrisey who was fantastic.  In fact, I don’t mind admitting that I had a little tear in my eye by the end of the reading, which took me completely by surprise – as I don’t have children, it is not a subject that I would have thought I connected with easily – but the poems were wonderful.  As you can see from the Sunday Poem, as well as being about Motherhood, it is also about marriage and love and transformation.

I like this poem because of it’s physicality – the baby that is coming is likened to a hand grenade which changes everything.  The baby seems to have all the power in the relationship ‘threatening to explode’, ’emitting endless alarm-sounds’.  The baby ‘blew us to smithereens’ but by the end of the poem, we realise the end is not the end ‘We survived, but in a different state:’ I think this poem is interesting because of the way it explores change in relationships as well – I think it goes against the grain of the version of relationships that we listen to in love songs and observe in films – you get married and live happily ever after and that is the end.  This poem goes beyond that and explores what happens afterwards – ‘We held on, expecting each day to be our last.  We did not let go’.

Boom! explores the experience of raising four young children but there are also poems about the body and physicality explored in an honest and direct way.

Carolyn Jess-Cooke is an award-winning poet and novelist published in 22 languages.  Her latest novel ‘The Boy Who Could See Demons’ published by Pitakus in 2012 is being made into a film.  She lectures in Creative Writing at Glasgow University.  If you would like to find out more information about Carolyn head over to her website at http://www.carolynjesscooke.com

 

Boom! – Carolyn Jess Cooke

There was this baby who thought she was a hand grenade.
She appeared one day in the centre of our marriage
– or at least in the spot where all the elements of our union
    appeared to orbit –
and kept threatening to explode, emitting endless alarm-sounds
    that were difficult to decode.
On the ridge of threat, we had two options.
One was attempt to make it to the bottom
of the crevasse slowly, purposively, holding hands. The other
      was see how long we could stand there philosophizing
      that when she finally went off we’d be able to take it.
But then the baby who believed she was a hand grenade
      was joined in number: several more such devices entered our lives.
      We held on, expecting each day to be our last. We did not let go.
As one might expect, she blew us to smithereens.
We survived, but in a different state than before: you became
      organized, I discovered patience, shrapnel soldered the parts of us
      that hadn’t quite fit together before. Sometimes when I speak
it’s your words that come out of my mouth.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Poem – Wendy Pratt

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This week has been a bit of a strange week.  When I sat down to write this blog, I had no idea what I was going to say because I couldn’t remember what I’d done all week.  I’m hoping this is just because I’m on holiday, and not because I’m just losing the plot…

For most of the week I’ve been working on my collection.  I sent it to Amy (my editor at Seren) before I went on holiday to Scotland and she emailed me back with some suggestions on the order and a request for me to put back some poems that I’d taken out and to not worry too much about it being too long at the moment.  I’d been frantically counting pages and poems – I think this is a tangible thing that enables me to get a hold on the collection – it is a bit like my preference for stanzas with the same number of lines in – it is a constraint that I can put on myself to get control of something that is not very controllable.  So I’ve done this and sent it back again, knowing there is a lot more work to do still.

The problem is, as my husband pointed out today, I’m not good at little, fiddly jobs.  When we were decorating our house, I liked getting the paint and the huge roller out and painting the walls.  I hated doing the edges because they were time-consuming and boring and I wanted to paint the next wall instead because that had the biggest impact.  Often when I’m washing up, or tidying a room, I won’t finish off – I’ll leave something out or forget to wash a plate.  This must be a highly annoying habit to live with – but I just get bored, and once I’ve done most of the work, I can’t be bothered with finishing off the last little bit.  I also don’t like things that drag on too long – I like to do something, complete it and move on to the next thing

But I can’t be like this with this collection.  I have to keep going, I have to do the fiddly bits which is rearranging the poems and editing and thinking about the order.  The worse thing is, this could go on indefinitely! Putting a collection together and working on poems are both tasks which could be never ending.  There will always be something that could be better.  When I think about the collection in an abstract sense, without reading it, I’m terrified – in the same way I was with the pamphlet but ten times worse, about the poems being pinned down and committed between the covers of a book.  I have to force myself, or talk myself into sitting down and working on it.  Three times now, I’ve typed the whole thing out, poem by poem.  When I do this, I find it really enjoyable.  I love doing it.  I think I’ve got something.  I know I’ve got something.  I can’t wait for it to be out there.  It soothes me, typing the poems out – I can tell they’re good enough.  Some of them are even better than good enough.  The other worse thing of course is that it can’t go on indefinitely because there is a deadline.

I would be interested to hear what anybody else’s experience is of putting the collection together – it seems like this shadowy process in a writers life that people don’t talk about very much – so please feel free to comment below if you would like to share!

Anyway, so apart from my wild mood swings about the collection, I’ve been doing lots of running, and really enjoying it.  On Saturday I took part in a 5k Park Run – you can find more information here about these runs, which take place all over the UK.  I wanted to beat my previous time which I got a couple of weeks ago which was 24.46 and yesterday I managed to get 24.08, assisted by Ian Jones, who paced me all the way round.  Ian helps to run the local running group that I go to, the Walney Wind Cheetahs,  So I was really chuffed yesterday – once I got over feeling like I was going to be sick straight afterwards of course.

And apart from running and obsessing about the collection, I played with South Lakes Brass Ensemble, which is a new brass group that I’ve set up.  Please go and have a look at the blog and say hello – I’ve just started it, but it is not getting too much activity so far – I’m hoping I will have some more content to put up once we’ve started getting out and about a bit more.  We played at a World War 1 commemoration event – do click on the link to find out more.  I also conducted the Barrow Steelworks Band rehearsal as well, standing in for their regular conductor Ian Bird, who was off on his holidays.  I really enjoyed conducting and realised it was the first completely adult rehearsal that I’ve taken.  Ian said the band would enjoy my ‘thinly-veiled sarcasm’ but I didn’t make anybody cry so that is a Good Thing, and does not as a music-teacher friend suggested, mean I’m losing my touch!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Wendy Pratt, who I read with a couple of months ago in Leeds at the Poetry By Heart reading series in the Heart Cafe in Headingley.  Wendy read from her pamphlet ‘Nan Hardwicke Turns into a Hare’.  The title poem to this pamphlet is fantastic – I loved it as soon as I heard it.  I was thinking today about other poems that I’ve read by poets that are alive that I’ve had this instant reaction to – and I thought of two straight away.  I loved these poems as soon as I read them – I can even remember where I read them – I read ‘Fist’ by Hannah Lowe in The Rialto, and was blown away, and ‘The Visitation’ by Maitreyabandhu in Poetry Review and to this short list I’madding ‘Nan Hardwicke Turns into a Hare’.

From the first line Wendy establishes the character of Nan with that colloquial, confiding ‘I will tell you how it was’, so it feels as if the poem is being whispered in the readers ear. I love how the balance of power is explored in this poem – you can see this in the line ‘so I could settle myself like a child within her’ – the hare is the place of safety and Nan is a child – but then later on ‘An odd feeling this,/to hold another’s soul in the mouth like an egg’ so by this line it seems that Nan is in charge again.  Another favourite line is the description of the mind of the hare ‘Her mind/was simple, full of open space and weather’.  I read that and thought, well yes, of course, what else could a hare’s mind be full of?  I would really recommend buying the pamphlet – it is a moving collection of poems exploring loss and transformation.

You can order the pamphlet from Wendy’s publisher Prolebooks or you can find out more information about Wendy Pratt by having a look at her website here

Wendy Pratt was born in Scarborough, North Yorkshire in 1978. She now lives just outside Filey. She studied Biomedical Science at Hull University and worked as a Microbiologist at the local NHS hospital for some years. She is recently completed a BA in English Literature with the Open University and is hoping to study towards her MA in creative writing this year.   Her first full size collection, Museum Pieces  is also published by Prolebooks.   Wendy is the poetry correspondent for Northern Soul, where she writes a regular column called ‘Northern Accents’. She is also part of the womentoring project. Wendy was recently invited to read at Bridlington Poetry festival in 2014.  Wendy’s next collection, a pamphlet entitles Lapstrake will be published by Flarestack Poets in 2015.

Hope you enjoy the poem! Please comment below and let me know what you think.

Nan Hardwicke Turns into a Hare – Wendy Pratt
in memory of M

I will tell you how it was.  I slipped
into the hare like a nude foot
into a glorious slipper.  Pushing her bones
to one side to make room for my shape
so I could settle like a child within her.
In the dark I groped for her freedom, gently teasing
it apart across my fingers to web across my palm.
Here is where our seperation ends:
I tensed her legs with my arums, pushed my rhythm
down the stepping-stones of spine.  An odd feeling this,
to hold another’s soul in the mouth like an egg;
the aching jaw around her delicate self.  Her mind
was simple, full of open space and weather.
I warmed myself on her frantic pulse and felt the draw
of gorse and grass, the distant slate line
at the edge of the moor.  The air span diamonds
out of sea fret to catch across my tawny coat
as I began to fold the earth beneath my feet
and fly across the heath, the heather.

Sunday Poem – David Tait

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Evening all – first of all my apologies for the missing Sunday Poem last Sunday.  Since last Saturday I have been in Inchnadamph, which is in north-west Scotland, in a small two-bedroomed cottage which we renamed ‘Midge Mansion’.  It’s real name is Riverside Cottage, and it was indeed next to a river as well as various mountains and a loch with a ruined castle and there were lots of red deer, mainly stags, wandering about the place.  In fact I saw more red deer than I did cars – they were everywhere.  And even though I know they eat all the vegetation, and are basically pretty devastating in environmental terms, I can’t help but love them.  They are so graceful – when they jump over walls it looks like they are just stepping over them.  They carry their antlers as if they are carrying a huge, really elaborate bunch of flowers on their heads.  One stag came right up to our window and munched on the grass next to the car, which I guess tasted nicer than the grass on the hills.  Every night we sat and watched them come over the ridge and down the hillside.  We joked that we would return one day and find the deer sitting in the cottage finishing off the Doritos and playing cards – they were so unconcerned about us, not in a tame way, more in a knowing that we were completely irrelevant to their lives because we couldn’t hurt them way.

I say ‘we’ without explaining who I went on holiday with – there was the husband of course, and my two dogs, Miles and Lola and lastly David Tait and Jay-Ven Lee, who were visiting from China.  David is one of my closest friends and he moved to China about 18 months ago and I’ve been looking forward to seeing David and Jay for ages.

It feels like so much has happened in two weeks and it is hard to know where to start.  Maybe I will start with what I would have written last Sunday, if I had signal which is that David did a fantastic reading in Penrith at the Wordsworth Bookshop, that there was tea and cakes, provided by the lovely John who owns the bookshop, that afterwards we went for ice cream and it was so hot that they were melting and dripping all over the place before we could eat them.

David and Jay came back to Barrow and walked the dogs with me – we walked along the reservoir and saw a rat jump out a bin and then walked into the quarry and I showed them the house that we are in the process of buying – we even looked through the windows because the house is empty and went into the garden because the back gate has fallen off.  When we left the house I thought the cat was acting a bit strange – he was lying in a position he wouldn’t normally lie in but I stroked him and talked to him and he was purring like mad, and he is a bit of a strange cat, so I decided to just go and walk the dogs and check on him when I got back.

When we got back, about 9.15pm, he had collapsed in the back garden.  He was panting horribly, and was making this horrible sound.  Have you ever heard the scream a rabbit makes before it dies? I have, once, when my dog killed one.  It was like that but with more sadness in it, more loneliness.  I thought he had got heat stroke because it had been such a hot day, and since I’ve been off school, I’ve noticed that Simba (the cat) and Miles (my oldest dog) lay out in the sun a lot in the yard.  I wet a towel and tried to cool him down, but it didn’t really work.  I rang the emergency vet and he said to bring him down to the surgery for 10pm.  Chris dropped Jay and David off at the train station because they were getting the last train back to Lancaster, and I just sat with the cat.  We walked down to the surgery with the cat and all the time I was thinking that the vet would put him on a drip and he would be ok – but I don’t know if I really believed it.

When we got to the surgery Simba made that awful noise again, and the vet said ‘I know what it is and it’s not good’.  He said that the cat was in agony, that he would explain later, but he needed to stop him being in pain, and I realised he meant that he was going to have to put him to sleep.  Chris had to help the vet find the vein to inject him because there was no nurse there – and within 15 minutes it was all over and it was just his body lying on the table and I knew he wasn’t there anymore because Simba would never lie in that position, all stretched out and open.  He was always tucked in on himself and neat, like most cats I suppose.  We walked home with the empty cat box – it was all so bizarre – there is part of me, a voice in my head that tells me to stop being silly, it is only a cat etc etc and the rest of me is absolutely gutted.  I can also see how to people without pets, or maybe even people with pets who have never had one die before that this post will seem self-indulgent and over the top, maybe because that is how I would have thought before this happened to me.

Now, I still can’t believe that it happened – because it was so sudden and because I’ve had the cat for ten years.  I felt really guilty for going for a walk, when I knew, deep down, that there was something wrong with him.  Last night when we got back, there was a card from the vet who treated him – he was not our vet, just the vet who was providing emergency care that night.  It said ‘Very sorry about Simba.  Your hands were tied! Take care, kind regards, John’.  When I read that card, I did feel less guilty – there was nothing I could have done, except maybe have got back earlier and got him to the vets a little sooner.  I hate thinking of any living thing in pain.  I’m a terrible hypocrite – this week for example, we went on a boat trip and the guide lifted some creels to show us what was in them- all this skittering, chittering life from under the water, and I felt so sorry for the little prawns and crabs and whatever else was in there – they so desperately wanted to live…and then I go to the pub and order meat…anyway, not to be sidetracked.

Last week I also felt guilty because I thought maybe I hadn’t loved Simba enough – or maybe I hadn’t showed him enough. My lovely husband helped me get all the photos we have of him into one folder and this was my favourite one – although you can’t actually see him very well because he is being cuddled and squashed by the dogs – this was taken when I was spending the day on the sofa after having a minor operation on my head – there was no way the animals were going to let me lay there alone…

WP_20140203_001In lots of the photos he is on my knee or sitting with one of the dogs.  When we got back from the vets they ran up to the basket looking for him.  Anyway, the day after I felt awful – I felt in a bit of a state.  David was coming back to Ulverston to read for Poem and a Pint with Gill Nicholson and Neil Curry and I was meant to be introducing everybody but I didn’t trust myself not to cry if I got up and said anything in public, so the lovely Mark Carson stepped into the breach at very late notice and did the introductions.  It was a lovely event – I sat on the bookstall and had the satisfaction of selling the books for the poets- David sold 11, Gill sold four and Neil sold five which was quite an achievement seeing as lots of the audience probably already had copies of their books.  There was a lovely moment when David’s dad ‘heckled’ him from the audience, saying ‘I loved your book, I’ve read it all, can you finish with ‘Puppets?’

And then on Saturday we drove to Lancaster to pick our hire car up – there was no way two dogs and four adults would fit in my little Hyundai and then picked David and Jay up and then we were on our way to Scotland and I was relieved to get away from the cat-empty house to be honest.  We got to Inchnadamph at about 11pm I think and were immediately eaten alive by the midges when we were unloading the car – they kind of took all of us by surprise, apart from Chris who had been obsessing about them for weeks after past experiences and we had all been ignoring him, thinking how bad can they be??

And there was no internet! The nearest Wifi was 11 miles away at a pie shop/cafe in Lochinver and I will admit now that I did stand outside the pie shop on one occasion that week to pick up my email.

So I thought I would put up the poem I would have put up last week if I’d had internet, which is a poem by my bestest friend David Tait.  I can’t believe now that I’m not going to see him for another year at least.  He is such good fun to be on holiday with – one of the funniest people I know.  He also did lots of the cooking whilst we were there – and didn’t show the slightest annoyance when on the one occasion I cooked, the meat was ready 45 minutes after the potatoes and vegetables.  There was also the time I overcooked his boiled eggs and undercooked mine – he just thought it was funny.

Last Sunday we went for a walk along the coast up to Stoer Point and managed to spot some seals in the water.  Sunday was the best day for weather – it was hot and there was a breeze most of the time which kept the midges away.  On the Monday we walked up Stac Pollaidh.  It was cloudy on this day and the views kept slipping in and out of the cloud.  On the way down we got a bit eaten by the midges but not too badly – or at least I didn’t – I was feeling quite smug at this point, as the midges seemed to be heading for the guys more than me.

I can’t remember which day goes with which thing for the rest of the week – but we went to Smoo Cave which has possibly the shortest boat ride ever – the guide doesn’t tell you to bend your heads so you don’t hit your head on the rock as the boat passes through, he just silently gestures and then bends, like a tree bowing its head, and everybody just follows his lead, and god help you if you are not paying attention.  We went for a walk to some caves marked on the map which were much better and got caught in the rain on the way back, persistent rain which wouldn’t give up until it had rendered my waterproofs ineffectual, so we ended up skipping down the path singing and splashing in the puddles.  We went to Honda Island and on the 10 minute boat ride over saw porpoises swimming, or at least their fin and tails and we saw puffins sitting on the cliffs.  It was this day when the midges finally got to us all.  My favourite quote of the week was from David, who wrote in the cottage guest book ‘the midges were as vicious as they were cunning’.   We went for a boat trip at Kylesku and saw seals lolling about on the rocks looking slightly outraged that we were watching them, as if they didn’t think we were quite getting their best sides.

I got back last night and spent the day today playing with the Barrow Steelworks Band and rehearsing with the quintet – we are playing some World War 1 music at Barrow Library tomorrow.  Sitting writing this has made me realise how lucky I am to have such friends – friends who I can spend a week with in the middle of nowhere and still have things to talk about and laugh about.  So finally, we come to the Sunday Poem, which is, unashamedly by the wonderful David Tait, who I wished lived closer to me.  I’ve chosen ‘Cesky Krumlov’ because even though it is about another country and another holiday, it sounds a bit like our holiday.  The poem comes from David’s book which has just been published by Smith/Doorstop called ‘Self-Portrait with The Happiness’.  It is a fantastic book and you should all go and buy it – it deserves to win things like prizes, but if not prizes, then at least readers.  David won an Eric Gregory Award this year, not before time and the collection was Highly Commended in the Forward Prizes, which means one of his poems will be in the Forward Prize Anthology this year – I’m not sure which one.

If you would like to order ‘Self Portrait with The Happiness’ you can do so here

Here is a picture of the beautiful cover.

selfportraitdavidtait

And here is the poem! Please comment on David’s poem if you would like to.  I do really enjoy reading your thoughts on the poems.  I think this is a really beautiful poem – capturing that feeling we all get on holiday, the Shirley Valentine feeling, when we think, what would happen if I stayed, if I never went back?  The poem has a strange mixture of tone, dry: ‘photographed the statues, autumn leaves/ and each other’ but it combines this dryness or matter-of-factness or self deprecation with wistfulness, tenderness ‘your whole unlived life breathes on your cheek’ and those wonderful two last lines ‘the long winter stretching out/ its cold grace in front of you’.  Fantastic stuff – and the whole book is like this!  My favourites in the book, and ones to look out for are ‘Puppets’, all of the Self-Portrait poems, which run as a scattered sequence throughout the book, ‘On Being Trapped Inside a Puddle’ – a wonderful specular for those who like such things and for those who don’t.  I also love ‘The Launderette on Autumn Street’ and ‘Unforgetting Paris’ and ‘Sonnet in the Snow’ and ‘Edits’ and ‘Postbox’ and ‘Heart’ and…well, read the book.

Cesky Krumlov – David Tait

There isn’t much to do in Cesky Krumlov
so when you’ve walked around its castle,
photographed the statues, autumn leaves
and each other; when you’ve eaten
a pastry loaded with cinnamon and sugar
you could leave on the first bus for Prague.

It will probably be cold while you’re waiting:
the first snow hovering over you,
and you’ll consider, for a moment
that you could settle here, spend each day
circling the riverside, the souvenir
woodwork stalls, and eat Goulash
at the place they make the cinnamon pastries.

This thought could come to you
in the bus station jumble sale, rummaging
through an old box of gloves, selecting
a grey pair with fingers that don’t fit:
and you’ll learn the piano, and talk
with backpackers and be on good terms
with the local shops.

Not much to live for, no jobs, and yet
your whole unlived life breathes on your cheek:
and snow of course, falling
so it doesn’t quite land on you,
the long winter stretching out
its cold grace in front of you.