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.

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2 responses »

  1. Thank you, Kim, for mentioning Neil Curry, a name new to me. His book of letter-poems sounds wonderful and yes, it’s a brilliant idea. There’s something quite liberating about writing a poem in the form of a letter.

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