Monthly Archives: November 2014

Sunday Poem – Myra Schneider

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Evening all – I’m writing this feeling very sorry for myself.  I started writing it about 5.30 in a burst of enthusiasm and determination not to be up till all hours finishing it off, but I went upstairs to get something, sat down on the spare bed and the next thing I knew it was 7.30 and I woke up with a sore throat and feeling that special kind of rough that happens when you fall asleep during the day.

It is my own fault I fell asleep for two hours – yesterday we had Poem and a Pint with guest poet Zaffar Kunial and instead of going straight home afterwards and sorting my life out I went to the pub and talked non-stop for an hour.  In fact maybe that is why my throat is sore.

Zaff is currently Poet in Residence at the Wordsworth Trust – it was great to hear him read his poetry from his new Faber pamphlet as well as some new work that he has written during his time at the Trust.

When I got back from the pub I realised that I hadn’t sorted out the band folders and had visions of the 38 children in the band rifling through the folders on stage, pages blowing away in the breeze and decided to put the music in order.  It might seem like a simple thing to leave the children to find their own music, but if you think that, you obviously haven’t met my wonderful band, who have many strengths but the ability to find their music quickly is not one of them.  Sorting the folders out took me till about 2.30am and then I couldn’t get to sleep afterwards, the set list for the concert kept running through my mind and then when I did sleep I kept waking up, thinking I’d over slept.

The band played really well, especially considering that half the band was on the stage and half the band was in front of it which meant they were really spread out.  The half of the band on the stage told me afterwards they couldn’t really hear the other half and were just following the drummer and my amazing conducting skills.  Ok, I may have added in that last adjective.  Before the junior band, I played trumpet with the South Lakes Brass Ensemble which went great too.

Here is a picture of the junior band.

ban

Saturday was a bit manic – as well as Poem and a Pint I did park run in the morning and beat my last time of 23.36 – this time I got 23.09 so I was very happy.  I don’t think that is an adequate description of the dancing, star-jumping and general bragging that the poor husband had to put up with when my official time came through.  I was also third woman which I’ve never been before.  I have been fourth a couple of times and I suspect that there were a few women missing which explains my elevated position.  Not that I’m obsessing about it or anything.

Afterwards, I went second hand furniture shopping, after discovering that the type of writing desk that I would really like that will enable me to write amazing poems and never be distracted by Facebook again costs about £400.  I found a ‘double pedestal’ writing desk, that apparently used to live in a school and bought it for £60.  I’ve bought some paint and handles as well – have never painted furniture before but have decided the desk should be purple…I might even put some before and after photos up.  Unless I completely ruin the desk in which case I will never mention it again and don’t ask about it…

On Friday I did a session with the Dove Cottage Young Poets.  I decided what the group needed in their life was a sestina and I took along Kathryn Maris’s wonderful sestina ‘Darling Would You Please Pick up Those Books’ which you can read here.

I’ve never tried to write a sestina before.  In fact, I will admit to a dislike of them, apart from Kathryn’s which I think is fabulous.  I hate it when someone tells me before they read a poem that it is a sestina – I don’t really want to know – it either sounds like you’re apologising for the repeating words or showing off that you’ve written one.  Anyway, I had a go and I think it could work!  If it does work, it fits in with the sequence I’ve been working on and should really go in the collection, but if that’s going to happen, then I need to work on it quickly.

On Monday I had Soul Survivor rehearsal straight after junior band and then Tuesday I had a lovely chat with Sasha Dugdale about a project I’m working on to ‘translate’ poems by a female Burmese poet, Moon Thueain. I say ‘translate’ in inverted commas, because of course, I can’t speak, write or read Burmese.  I’ve been working from a literal translation and have been sending various emails back and forward asking questions of both the poet and the translator.  It is a really fascinating thing to do, and I’m really grateful to Sasha for giving me the opportunity. Sasha is the editor of Modern Poetry in Translation and if you have a spare five minutes, have a look at the MPT website.  It’s one of my favourite websites because they have a page where you can have a go at posting your own version of a poem from a literal translation.  As well as the literal version of the poem, there is a short essay from the translator which is always really interesting.

On Wednesday I had meetings straight after school in my new role as Music Service Liason Teacher.  I met quite a few teachers from various Barrow schools who were responsible for music.  Some of them I already knew and worked with, but some I hadn’t met before.  I was heartened by the enthusiasm for music that the teachers showed and disheartened by the same concerns that are always voiced which are how schools can afford to pay for quality music provision.

Last week I said in the balance scales of music and poetry, music was definitely winning.  This week I would say it’s an even draw, mainly because I was able to have the whole of Thursday to sit and read some poetry, as well as catching up with some admin like emails and invoices.  I had a really lovely day and spent most of it in my pyjamas.  I read two collections for the second time – I won’t tell you what one was, because I’m featuring a poem from it next Sunday, but the other was ‘The Door to Colour’ by Myra Schneider.

Myra has been featured on the blog before but I thought it was worth celebrating the publication of her tenth collection, ‘The Door to Colour’ published by Enitharmon.  You can order ‘The Door to Colour’ directly from Enitharmon or email Myra at myrarschneider@gmail.com if youw would like to buy a copy directly from her.

The collection, as you may have guessed by the title, is full of colour.  I’ve picked a poem that I hope shows this, but one that also demonstrates another preoccupation in the collection, which is the object poem.  Object poems are so often done badly, being the stock exercise that is trotted out in workshops, but Myra is a genius at them.  Her object poems are often held together by a thread of free association.  The poem is not really about the object – the object is merely the doorway or the path to a deeper concern.

Elsewhere in the collection we have ‘The Black Glove’ which conjures up a childhood memory of a mother lugging coal.  In the poem ‘Spoon’ we read ‘How easy to Thumbelina my body/into this bowl smooth as butter – the fit/is perfect’.  The poem carries on imagining shrinking to be small enough to fit into a spoon.  This impulse to explore the life of things is explored further by a short sequence called ‘Seeing into Things’ which I think is a great title.

There are also lots of poems about music – both Mahler and Beethoven feature but perhaps my favourite part of the book was a long sequence at the end called ‘The Minotaur’ which explores an alternative view of the Minotaur and Theseus, the Greek hero who comes to kill him.

I thought this sequence was as readable and as action packed as a novel – obviously not as long, but it had that same forward momentum and drive.  I would have loved to have posted the sequence up but it is quite long, so if you are interested I would recommend buying the collection.

The poem I’ve chosen, another one of my favourites is called ‘The Throw’.  I liked this one for many reasons – the careful details in the second stanza of the ‘minute gold elephants’ which ‘walk in perfect lines’ along ‘the embroidered roads of the fabric’.

I like that I was suprised by the ending, that last line ‘where I wish pain, all pain to vanish’.  Until this point, I thought the poem was just a really beautifully written poem about a gift from a son to a mother.  The last line, which brings in pain took me by suprise, but when I went back to the beginning of the poem again, I realised there was a shadow of this pain in the very first stanza, when the throw ‘becomes and extra skin/ one that’s kind to my uncomfortable body.’

This quiet phrase slipped by me on first reading, but now I find it quite shocking.  Or maybe shocking is the wrong word.  It makes me realise that I’m lucky, to not be uncomfortable in my body, to not have ongoing pain.  Despite this dark shadow in the poem, I think it is overall a very positive poem – full of colour and imagination and life – the mind in this poem continues to free associate and think and dream, even whilst the body creeps into bed.

Myra has her own website if you would like to look up more of her work which you can find here.   As well as ‘The Door to Colour’ Myra’s five collections with Enitharmon include ‘Exits’ in 1994, ‘The Panic Bird’ in 1998, ‘Insisting the Yellow’ in 2000, ‘Multiplying the Moon’ in 2004 and ‘Circling the Core’ in 2008.  Her poem ‘Goulash’ was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for the Best Single Poem in 2007.  Myra is a generous and enthusiastic teacher and currently tutors for the wonderful Poetry School.  Myra has recently co-edited an anthology of contemporary women’s poetry called ‘Her Wings of Glass’ with the fabulous poets Penelope Shuttle and Dilys Wood. The anthology is published by Second Light Publications.  You can find out more about the anthology here and get a special introductory rate if you would like to buy it.  The Second Light network is well worth checking out -they also publish a magazine for women’s poetry called Artemis, edited by Dilys Wood

I hope you enjoy the poem – looking forward as always to reading your comments.

The Throw – Myra Schneider

my son brought me from Thailand is magenta,
a royal marriage of violet and pink.
When I lay it on my bed over the quilt
from India it becomes an extra skin,
one that’s kind to my uncomfortable body.

How I love its minute gold elephants, each
the size of the top segment of my little finger.
They walk in perfect lines, head to tail,
along the embroidered roads of the fabric
and when I stroke one an elephant god appears,

becomes the memory of riding in a high place
on a huge blur of animal, becomes the elephants
living in Mimi’s flat.  My son has elaborated
on the heat in Thailand but here winter is trying
to sneak into the house and steal its warmth.

I creep into bed, invite the elephants to tiptoe
across my body’s pathways.  When snowflakes
begin to float whitely down I close my eyes
and they melt into the soft purplish mystery
of nothing where I wish pain, all pain to vanish.

Sunday Poem – Rebecca Gethin

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Sunday Poem – Rebecca Gethin

Evening all – you may all be relieved to know that I’m in a much better mood than I was last Sunday and am predicting that there will be no moaning in this blog post, or hardly any moaning anyway!  I would say music has won over poetry this week on the balance scales of my life which seems to be happening quite a lot lately.

On Friday night the brass band that I conduct, the Barrow Shipyard Junior Band had their autumn concert, which was a joint concert with the Barrow Steelworks Band.  All of the money raised was split between the Junior Band and the Barrow Foodbank.  We pick a different charity each year to work with and I try and pick a charity that has a direct impact on the children that we work with as well as having a wider impact on the community of Barrow.  Last year, for example, half of the money raised went to the Furness Branch of the National Autistic Society.

So because the concert was on Friday I got the children to stay for a longer rehearsal on Monady – 6pm-8pm instead of the usual 6-7.15pm.  Even though we had longer, and I made the children work really hard and didn’t let them have a break (what a cruel task master I am) we still didn’t get through all of the programme for Friday, so I had to trust in the magical power young musicians seem to have which enables them to pull something amazing out of the bag on the night.

On Tuesday I had work as usual and then a rehearsal with Soul Survivors – getting ready for our Top Secret gig in December.

On Wednesday I did a live Online Chat with Poetry School students who were signed up on a course called ‘5 Easy Pieces’ which involves 5 different tutors setting an exercise, one after the other.  The students have a week to write a poem in response and then the tutor has a week to read all the responses.  I spent the week reading the poems once a day and then on Tuesday night after I got back from Soul Survivors, I read them in earnest, and made notes on the pages ready for Wednesday.

I really enjoyed the online chat – not only because the poems were of a good standard, and the students seemed very open and willing to learn and listen to each other, but also because I found myself discovering more about each poem as it was under discussion.  Sometimes I ended up changing my mind – other times I would have defended my opinion – well not to the death, because that would be a bit extreme, but I would have stood by it in the face of everyone else disagreeing.  I think there is something very special created in the online chats which is that there is time (albeit a very short amount of time) to discuss poetry and words without distraction, as if, for those two hours of the online chat, there is nothing more important in the world.

This week I also had two anxiety dreams.  One was about my first collection.  I had a really vivid dream that there was a pile of bound proof copies waiting for me on the doormat downstairs, but when I opened the package and the six proofs fell out, they all had awful pink covers with various versions of flowers and a note from Amy Wack, my editor, saying I had to choose from one of those six, and as she was giving me such a lot of choice, she didn’t think this was unreasonable.  You know those dreams you wake up from when you are sweating a little bit and you are crying and you wake yourself up by crying? Yeah, that was me.  I woke the husband up and demanded he escort me down to the front door to check the package of books was not in fact there. He dutifully did, too sleepy to be able to present a reasonable argument about why this was not a good idea.

They weren’t of course, and I went back to sleep but I did tweet about it the next day and then got the Marketing Department at Seren, who clearly have a great sense of humour sent me this lovely example cover as a joke…

joke cover

On Thursday it was my day off (yes, may have mentioned that before) and I drove to Grasmere to go for a cup of tea and a catch up with lovely Andrew Forster from the Wordsworth Trust.  I was hoping that there would be some amazing good news about the Wordsworth Trust’s lack of funding for the poetry program from next year, but unfortunately not.  I drove to Skipton from Grasmere to meet up with poet Keith Hutson about a possible project that we are hoping to put together along with Clare Shaw.

My other anxiety dream of the week was about the Junior Band Concert.  It probably wasn’t surprising that I was having anxiety dreams.  My manager and the manager of Cumbria Music Hub was going to be there, escorting the Mayor and Mayoress of Barrow, as well as all the parents of the children in the band, as well as my Mum and Dad.  And then there was the managing of the 54 brass players of course.  I dreamt that nobody turned up apart from the Mayor, Mayoress and my manager.  Of course this didn’t happen – the concert was a sell out – we had to find more chairs and put them out at the back.  The kids played really well as usual.  Maybe they just enjoy torturing me in the last rehearsal.  I got lots of lovely, positive feedback from the audience so that kind of blew all the cobwebs and negative feelings of last week away.

We made £508.60 from the concert which is fantastic for both the Junior Band and the Foodbank.

Yesterday I was at a workshop all day which was run by Foden’s Band and organised by the South Cumbria Music Festival.  It was an interesting day and it was nice to spend time with some of the band in a different setting.  And then today I’ve spent most of the day with the South Lakes Brass Ensemble in Grange over Sands, playing for their Prom Arts Day.  We played a mixture of carols and ‘normal’ music, but by the time we got to the end of our set, we were all really cold so I was quite relieved to come home.  Here is a picture of us all trying not to look cold.

south lakes brass ensemble

When I got home I found the husband hard at work putting a light up on the front of the house so that we are not fumbling to open the door in complete darkness.  He’d also tidied the front garden up as well so after a cup of tea I went out to the back garden or the ‘hayfield’ as John Foggin calls it and got to work snipping brambles which have managed to snake their way across the garden underneath all the dead grass.  The husband chopped down about a sixth of the hedge in the garden – you can see him brandishing his saw in this picture.  As you can see, still a lot to do.  But the pile of branches next to the shed is what he has cut down so far, and the green bin is full of my snipped brambles.

hayfield

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Rebecca Gethin, who was one of the participants on the residential poetry course I ran with Clare Shaw.  Rebecca showed me this poem on the last night of the course and I liked it straight away.  I like the whole conceit of the poem which explores how the body is the receptacle of a personal and a social history.

I also love poems that try and write about the gap between the body and the self, so I love the first couplet with the body compared to a vehicle that the father and mother are inside.  I think the opening couplet also lulls the reader into thinking that this is going to be a celebration of parents, but by line 4 it has started to turn a little ominous ‘thinking thoughts, knowing mine’.  By stanza 3 the speaker in the poem is trapped: ‘I can’t extricate myself from the bones I’ve been born into’ and it is this point that the body changes from being a vehicle to being a cage.  I also love the ending to this poem – until this point, we have assumed that the parents are together but the last three lines puts heed to that notion by telling us ‘as far as I know/they haven’t met each other for decades’ – this is funny as well as sad.  The poem has a great last line as well and I love how the reference to the ribcage made me think of Adam and Eve, and Eve being made from Adam’s rib.  In this last line, the image of the body as a cage is made even more explicit by the use of ‘ribcage’.

I should also say that this is a brand new poem and has just been published in The Interpreter’s House, a great magazine edited by Martin Malone and well worth checking out.

I would also recommend Rebecca’s collection ‘A Handful of Water’ published by Cinnamon Press which I’ve really enjoyed reading.  Many of the poems are careful observations on wildlife and animals.  One of my favourite poems in the book is ‘Familiar’ which records a dream of searching for a horse.  Here is my favourite couplet from that poem

‘When the horse lay down to rest I lay with her, leaning against
the timpani of her belly, the sound of violins tuning up inside.’

That is so lovely, and so well-written.

Rebecca is very widely published and writes novels as well! Her first novel was published in 2011 after winning the Cinnamon Press Novel Writing Award.  Her first poetry collection ‘River is the Plural of Rain’ was published by Oversteps Books in 2009 and her second poetry collection was published by Cinnamon.

Anyway, if you would like to find out more about Rebecca you can have a look at her blog which is here

or you can order Rebecca’s book ‘A Handful of Water’ from her publisher, Cinnamon Press .  Rebecca also has an Author page on Facebook here

I hope you enjoy the poem.

Cryptic – Rebecca Gethin

Sometimes I find my father and mother
walking around inside me, as if my body were their vehicle.

They look through my eyes at the hedges flashing by,
thinking thoughts, knowing mine.

I can’t extricate myself from the bones I’ve been born into –
neither the shapes of my arms in their sleeves of skin

nor my wrinkled hands on the steering wheel.
Nothing seems constant any longer.

The expression of their frozen faces is melting
in the heat of my blood…as far as I know,

they haven’t met each other for decades but they’re talking
together inside my ribcage – as if I’m not here.

Sunday Poem – Peter Sansom

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Last week I had quite a tough time at work.  Maybe it had something to do with spending last weekend at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival and having about 5 hours sleep before being thrown back into my other life of being a trumpet teacher.  I know it had a lot to do with three instances when I could have put my head in my hands and cried – when I was doing over and above what I am expected and paid to do, and it wasn’t appreciated and in one instance, actively obstructed.  And it has something to do with being asked to do more over the weekend, more than what I’m already doing which is already over and above what I’m paid to do.  I can’t really go into many more details without being unprofessional but I was in a foul mood this afternoon.  I wrote and re-wrote a vitriolic email ten or fifteen times.  I’m quite glad now I didn’t send it.

Instead I posted something on Facebook about feeling unappreciated and was then overwhelmed, to the point of tears by the lovely comments and responses that people posted.  Parents of children that I teach, ex pupils, people that have been in poetry workshops that I’ve ran, friends, people I’ve only met online. It’s so easy to focus on the small, negative things that grind you down instead of looking at the bigger picture and it was lovely to be reminded that I am making a difference to the people that matter, my pupils.  So Facebook in the balance of good and evil, was very much a force for good today, for me at least.

So apart from all of that which has been going on, there was Monday – joint band rehearsal with Barrow Steelworks Band in the evening after I finished teaching and collapsing into bed not long after.  On Tuesday I conducted my other junior band ‘Brasstastic’ without my trusty teaching assistant who comes to help out (another example of teaching staff doing unpaid labour!) Trusty sidekick teaching assistant has recently undergone surgery so is in no fit state to be playing a baritone but I do have three teenagers from my other Junior Band who come to help out with the younger children.  After that I scoffed dinner and then went for a run and then went to Soul Band rehearsal.

On Wednesday I went for a run with the husband and the dogs and popped round with soup to ailing teaching assistant friend who I found sitting with a flask of hot water and some instant mash.  Thank god I got there in time!  I’ve been asked to write an article for The North – the Blind Criticism section – where two poets are given a poem with no author’s name and have to write about 600 words responding to it.  I really enjoyed looking closely at the poem and the other poet is Michael Laskey who I’m sure will have something interesting and useful to say about it!

On Thursday which is my writing day I actually got some writing done and sent some admin stuff off to a new, rather exciting project I’ve been asked to be involved in which I can’t say anything else about at the minute but I will give more details when I can!  I

My sister Jody came round at lunch time and I waited on her hand and foot (ok I made her a sandwich and a cup of tea). In the afternoon I went round to Jennifer Copley’s house for a cup of tea and a catch up on poetry gossip, nipped home, did some private teaching and then went to quintet rehearsal.  I drove from there up to my sister’s new house in Egremont – at the minute she does the same teaching job as me on the west coast of Cumbria but she has recently handed her notice in and is now going to be a kennel manager for an Animal Rescue charity.  The job has a house attached to it which is an amazing 4 bedroom bungalow, surrounded on all sides by green fields.  This is her last term of full time teaching – from January she will be completely changing her life.  I am full of admiration for her first of all for knowing what she wants to do and secondly going for it.

I stayed over on Thursday night because I was running an early morning workshop in Maryport the next day   only four people booked on, so it was pretty intense, probably for them as well as me.  Then I drove straight to Kendal to run my Young Writers group – again a small group and quite intense.  Then I went to the Brewery in Kendal and had something to eat with another broken friend – this friend slipped over while walking my dogs and broke her ankle a couple of weeks ago before going to Brewery Poets, the critiquing group that I go to.

I took a poem that is going to be in the collection – a late addition.  In fact I only wrote it at St Ives but it is another poem to go in the sequence and it’s been bubbling away for years I think.  It is about the flat I lived in ten years ago – I’ve written poems and poems about it that I’ve thrown away but it finally came together in a visualisation exercise that Clare Shaw did in a workshop.  Taking the poem to a group workshop helps me look at it more objectively and detach myself from it which is exactly what I need with these poems.

Talking of my poems, I met Peter Raynard a couple of weeks ago when I was reading in London.  Peter is the proprietor of Proletarian Poetry, In the blog, Peter is looking at how poets write about the working class, and he asked me if he could feature my poem ‘My People’ on his blog.  You can find my poem here with a video which I’d forgotten even existed, of me reading at the Eric Gregory Award Winners reading in London in 2011.  I’ve signed up to get Peter’s updates for his blog after being impressed with his considered and detailed reading of my poem – I’ve spent some of today having a look at some of his other posts as well, which are really fascinating.  One for my neglected blog roll if I could remember how to work the cursed thing.

On Saturday the husband and I trailed around furniture shops looking for a sofa for what is going to be my writing room and then trailed round looking for a gas fire.  It took us hours to decide to not buy any more furniture until we replace mouldy old carpets in new house.  And there is no point replacing the carpets until the bathroom is done and the gas fire is fitted because of the dust and the dirt etc.  It is like one of those circular nightmares!  Anyway, we gave up and went for a run on Kirby Moor instead with the dogs – four miles and 800 feet of ascent.

Which brings us up to date.  Today I’ve been for a run (11 and a half kilometres), came home, had a lukewarm bath (for some reason the hot water was defying me and refusing to work, or more accurately, working when it felt like it).  I’ve worked on some poems, rewrote a stroppy email ten times that I then didn’t send, complained on Facebook, been cheered up by my lovely friends, worked some more on my collection and sent new version to Amy at Seren and finally, here I am, washed up on the shores of this blog.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by the wonderful Peter Sansom, one of the driving forces behind Smith/Doorstop and The Poetry Business.  Peter and Ann Sansom are the editors of The North and publish pamphlets and collections under the imprint of Smith/Doorstop.  They run brilliant writing workshops in Sheffield once a month.  If you haven’t been to one, you should go.  You can find more information about Peter’s activities as an editor and tutor at The Poetry Business website.

But Peter is also a great poet in his own right and has had numerous books published by Carcanet which are available from the Carcanet website.  His Selected Poems came out with Carcanet in 2010 and a new collection ‘Careful What You Wish For’ is due out from Carcanet in June 2015.  This poem is a new poem which I really hope is going to be in the new collection.  I heard Peter read this poem a couple of months ago when I read with him in Hebden Bridge and I loved it straight away.

I know I’m obsessed with running at the minute, but I don’t see how you couldn’t love this poem, even if you hate running, and the only reason you run is if something is chasing you.

I love the first sentence ‘You didn’t ask anything of me,’ I’ve been thinking a lot about tone in poetry recently and how the tone of a poem is set right from the beginning and those starting words sound as if the poet is in the middle of a conversation with the thing being addressed.  Of course we know that ‘Cross Country’ can’t talk – it is a thing, or not even a thing, it is an event.  We know the poet is looking back into the past because of the past tense, but the poem has tremendous forward moving energy straight away.

I like how the poet has not been afraid to use repetition in the poem which kind of fits with the subject ‘Every day was training’ which comes back later in the poem as well and of course the wonderful, lyrical repetition at the end.

The poem is funny as well, all the way through.  I like the lines ‘You weren’t exciting though you hurt’ and ‘Even the dog said give it a rest’.  I remember sitting next to Peter while he read this poem and not being able to stop smiling. But the thing that makes this poem for me is the lovely ending ‘I ran with a little song in my heart for years’.  I love the use of the word ‘little’ in this instance – although I often feel that it is a word that can be done away with in poetry a lot of the time – in this instance it is perfect.

I like that the poem is trying to work out something about running as it goes along, and can only do so by saying what it is not, until that lovely repetition ‘The earth went round the sun/The earth went round the sun/And I went after it’  I think it captures something of what I love about running ‘You were a lifestyle along the byways’  or ‘You were your own purpose’. The more I read this poem, the more I think that running and poetry have lots in common.

I hope you enjoy the poem, and thanks to Peter Sansom for letting me use it here.

Cross Country – Peter Sansom

You didn’t ask anything of me, just head-down ahead
Of the tortoise, somewhere in the first forty
The sport of also-rans, I never stepped
From the crease to find the boundary
And the winner hammered home in the last gasp of extra time
That wasn’t me, that wasn’t mine

I slept your miles
A number pinned to my chest
You weren’t exciting though you hurt
You had no rules to stay alert for
You were a lifestyle along the byways
Of couch grass and abandoned railways
And every day was training
Dumble Woods, bluebell woods and the dripping
Ploughed field in between,
Every day was training
Even the dog said give it a rest

Drizzle in the desert of fresher’s week
You were meek and not sexy
Though you were your own purpose
You were midweek even on Saturday

When we got off the coach in Derby
Not the cinder tracks of Helsinki
With no thought of winning
We lined up at the back and stayed there
In our own beginning
I ran through those days like water
Through mud

I ran with a little song in my heart for years
And my heart in my ears
The earth went round the sun
The earth went round the sun
And I went after it

Sunday Poem – Liz Berry

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Evening all.  Yes, yet again, it’s not Sunday.  I’ve been away all weekend at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival – it was amazing but there was no internet in the cottage where we were staying, and I got back to Barrow at 2am this morning and there was no way I was going to be writing any blog posts at that time in the morning!

People have said to me before that I should prepare the posts in advance and then schedule them to be published on Sunday and I have thought about this, but because I witter on about my week this wouldn’t work because I obviously wouldn’t have had my week by then!

So last week was busy before I even got to Aldeburgh – two nights of rehearsals with the soul band I’m playing with as we start to get ready for our first gig which we don’t have a date for yet but there are vague indications that it will be sometime in December.

Of course there was teaching as well Monday to Wednesday and then I went for a run on Wednesday evening with my pal Jeff – we managed 11k at a pretty good pace and got to see all the fireworks going off as we ran round Barrow.  Coming up the hill toward my house it became apparent that the population of Barrow were stupefied by the sight of the fireworks and I don’t think one person stepped to the side to let us pass – even the cars were randomly stopping in the middle of the road while the driver gawked at a firework, forcing us to run round them.  I thought about running over one but decided knowing my luck it would be a headteacher of a school I work in or a parent of a child I teach so decided against it.

I spent the rest of Wednesday night writing an online assignment for a course I’m doing for the Poetry School – I’m one of the tutors on a course called 5 Easy Pieces – 5 different tutors set an assignment, one after the other.  Participants upload their poems by Wednesday and then we have a web chat the following Wednesday about their poems.  I’m really looking forward to this and for maybe the fifth time this year, thanking the Lord that I taught myself to touch type all those years ago.

And then I got an early train to Preston and discovered to my delight that there are shops right next to the train station so managed to nip in with my suitcase in tow and buy some jumpers while I was waiting for my friend David Borrott to come and pick me up.  This, you might think, would not normally be worthy of noting on a blog, except that I haven’t bought any new clothes for ages – I just haven’t had time.  I’ve turned, in fact, into that teacher who wears the same clothes every day.  In fact a couple of weeks ago  a child asked me if I only had one coat…

It took David and I about 5 hours or so to get from Preston to Aldeburgh and it was a great journey.  I thought we might be fed up of each other by the time we got there but we had great fun!  We stopped quite a few times and my attempts to embarrass David by star jumping my way through Starbucks in my excitement at going to Aldeburgh did not work – in fact he joined in.

It was strange because we all arrived within minutes of each other – there was me and David of course, and then the lovely Holly Hopkins, Maria Taylor and Emily Blewitt.  We did a rather shambolic trip to the Co-op where much conversation ensued as to whether to buy communal bananas and bread and then we spent Thursday night (well some of us did) drinking a bottle of red wine and talking.

On Friday I spent the morning writing – yes, I actually did some writing and then went for a rather windy and cold run along the beach with Emily – we did about 6 kilometres and I’m frankly quite suprised that we weren’t blown away and over the ocean – kept expecting to see poets floating away on the gusts every time I looked up.

I’ve been looking forward to Aldeburgh for ages.  In fact since last year, when I got on the train to come home after reading at the festival, and I wasn’t disappointed.  I loved it as much as last year, although in a different way.  This year, I didn’t have anything to do, apart from turn up and listen.

There were lots of highlights for me at the festival.  I loved Dan O’Brien’s reading.  The poems that he read from War Reporter made my stomach churn.  They were uncomfortable to listen to and shocking and sad.  If you haven’t read Dan O’Brien’s ‘War Reporter’ – his first collection which is published by CB Editions, then you really should.  It is not an easy read, but the poems feel utterly essential to me.  Have a look at http://www.cbeditions.com/OBrien.html

I also really enjoyed Selima Hill’s reading.  She was utterly odd, but in a very moving way.  She reminded me of a little bird, the way she stood behind the lecturn and peered at the audience for minutes before she spoke.  Her new book is called ‘The Sparkling Jewel of Naturism’ and is published by Bloodaxe, and although I haven’t read it all yet, I can tell it’s going to be great.

I knew I’d enjoy Kathleen Jamie’s reading because I’ve seen her read before and I love her poetry, but she was really on form at the festival.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen her cracking jokes in a reading before, but she was, and she was very funny. And the audience seemed to love it.  She read quite a lot of new work as well, which was a real treat to hear.  Finuala Dowling was a new discovery – I’d never heard of her before but she read really well.  I bought her collection ‘Notes from a Dementia Ward’ where she manages to write about the onset of dementia in a parent both movingly and with humour.

I also enjoyed the ‘New Voices’ reading, which was one of the events I took part in last year.  The four readers were Suzannah Evans, Chrissy Williams, Jonathan Edwards and Kayo Chingonyi.  I even had a little tear in my eye at the end of Jonathan Edwards’ reading at his last poem which was a football poem.  A football poem – can you imagine! I hate football, so it must have been good.

I also love the ‘Close Readings’ at Aldeburgh.  They are fifteen minute sessions where a poet appearing at the festival talks for fifteen minutes about a favourite poem.  These sessions are free and I think thttps://wordpress.com/post/33642377/newhey are one of the best events at the festival.  I thought Paula Bohince was fabulous in her Close Reading with a really interesting talk on Sandpiper, a poem by Elizabeth Bishop.  It made me want to read more slowly, more carefully.

Of course the real highlight of the weekend was being part of the winning team at Dean Parkin’s and Michael Laskey’s famous Poetry Quiz.  We all got a £10 book voucher which I then managed to lose and then locate again in the pub the next afternoon.

At the end of the last reading it was time for Naomi Jaffa to say her goodbyes as the Director of the festival.  Naomi got two standing ovations from the crowd and huge bouquets of flowers from Dean and Michael.  I am sad to see Naomi go – but I also really admire her bravery for taking a leap off into the unknown.  You can read more about Naomi’s decision to leave here

And WHO will keep Dean and Michael in order? The new Director Ellen McAteer that’s who!  I’m hoping to go back to Aldeburgh next year, and I know a new person at the helm will obviously change things, but I hope they don’t change too much – I think the festival really is something special.

Anyway, it’s now 11pm on Monday night and I’ve spent the whole evening answering emails and then writing this blog, so I am finishing here and leaving you with a wonderful poem by Liz Berry, recent winner of the Forward Prize for Best First Collection.  Liz read in Grasmere this summer and was wonderful.  She is one of the few poets I know who can read with the equally wonderful Kei Miller and hold her own.  A friend predicted that we had just heard the winners of the respective Forward Prizes for Best Collection and Best First Collection and he was right! Liz’s book is called ‘Black Country’ and it is a fantastic collection – full of colourful, crackling poems full of the dialect of the West Midlands.  You can order a copy here from her publisher.

Liz is also a primary school teacher and the poem I’ve chosen is called ‘Miss Berry’.  Although I would normally discourage reading into a poem and talking about it as if it is about the poet, I think the use of ‘Miss Berry’ in the title probably makes it safe to do so.

I love how precise it is with the rows of o’s in the first couplet and then the way the second couplet trails away, unable to finish the sentence.  I recognise the clashy-bashy orchestra from my own teaching.  I love the tenderness in the poem – the teachers’ hand curled over a child’s hand, and then the teacher rolling the bodies across the gym floor – I love the celebration of the physical closeness between teachers and pupils, which doesn’t really get talked about – but this poem is unashamed of touch, which I find really beautiful.

The other thing that I really love about this poem is the way it shows how when you are a teacher, you measure time differently.  Time is measured by ‘paper snowflakes,/blown eggs,/bereft cocoons.’  The end of the year is not, in fact, in December.  The end of the year is always the summer.

Liz Berry was born in the Black Country in 1980.  She received an Eric Gregory Award in 2009, an Arvon-Jerwood Mentorship in 2011 and won the Poetry London competition in 2012.  She lives in Birmingham

I hope you enjoy the poem, and thanks to Liz Berry and her publisher Chatto and Windus for allowing me to publish the poem here.

Miss Berry – Liz Berry

I have learnt to write rows of o’s bobbing
hopeful as hot air balloons from the line’s tethers

and watched eight springs of frogspawn
grow legs but never…

and conducted clashy-bashy orchestras
of chime bars ocarina thundering tambour

and curled my hand over another hand
to hinge the crocodile jaws of the scissors.

I have accompanied a small mourning party
to a blackbird’s burial plot

and rolled countless bodies, like coloured marbles
across gym mats

and conducted science’s great experiments
using darkened cupboards, plastic cups and cress

and unhooked a high window on a stuffy day
and heard the room’s breath.

I have measured time by paper snowflakes,
blown eggs, bereft cocoons

and waved goodbye in summer so many times
that even in September my heart is June.

Sunday Poem – Kei Miller

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Evening all.  I’m writing this with aches and pains in muscles I didn’t even know I had after running the Lancaster half marathon today – my first half marathon.  I got a lift with three friends from the Walney Wind Cheetahs, the running group that I go to.  It was so nice not to have to think about parking or getting to the venue in time and just to stumble out of the house at 9am this morning, get in a car and be taken there! I was quite nervous about the half marathon because I haven’t had time to do as much training as I wanted to – the week before last I did my longest run ever of ten miles and I felt pretty good but really I should have been building up and doing some long distance runs for the last couple of months.  However for the last couple of months I’ve been at Ilkley of course and then last week running a residential poetry course, so no time to swan off to do a long run, so I’ve just been ticking over really, doing 5-6 mile runs when ever I can.

So although I knew I would finish (I would crawl rather than not finish) I guess what I was nervous about was being in pain.  My running buddy J got off to a flier and disappeared into the distance and I settled down to trying to keep a steady pace of around 5 minutes 20 a kilometre.  It was a strange experience running on my own – for a start it seemed like lots of people were passing me, even though they were breathing much heavier than me, I couldn’t make my legs go any faster.  Or maybe it takes a special kind of focus to willingly hurt yourself for that long – or maybe I just didn’t have enough confidence to know that I could push it a little bit more and still finish.

Anyway, so there I was, running on my own and my mind was taking this strange journey inwards.  I can barely remember any of the scenery that I ran past, although I do vaguely remember a cycle path and some water.  And I remember running down a road.  That’s it.  I can’t remember what I thought about for an hour and a half but I can remember very clearly my back stiffening up which has never happened when I’ve been running before.  It felt like I was sinking right into my body which wasn’t the best place to sink into, as everything was hurting.  How anybody does a marathon is absolutely beyond me.  90% of me has decided I’m NEVER doing a half marathon again and will stick to 10k but 10% of me is plotting how I can get below 1 hour and 50 minutes next time.  I managed 1 hour and 52 minutes 52 seconds today which I was pleased with.  Here is a photo to illustrate the pain I was in..

run

Enough about running – for the last week I’ve been running a residential poetry course down in St Ives at the Treloyhan Manor Hotel with the wonderful poet Clare Shaw as my co-tutor and fifteen participants.  It has been an absolutely amazing week.  I don’t think I’ve laughed quite so much in one week before or cried on the last day of the course because of the lovely feedback we got from the participants.  I’ve learnt so much from working with Clare who is so dynamic, energetic and has charisma in bucketfulls.  If you are looking for someone to do a reading or a workshop, you could not do any better than Clare.  She is great.  We were very lucky to have really talented writers on the course as well so it was a complete pleasure to work with them.

On the Tuesday, I read for 15 minutes from my sequence about domestic violence, which was really intense.  I guess I just need to keep doing this, and maybe it will get easier.  When I’m reading them, it’s great – I feel  in control and I know they’re good poems.  It’s afterwards when I seem to have a bit of a wobble – maybe it’s realising that nothing has changed just from reading the poems out.  Anyway, afterwards I went down to the beach with Clare and Keith Hutson, one of the participants on the course and ran about in the sea which seemed to help get some of the energy out that I’d been left with.

On the last night we had an impromptu kareoke session in the lounge and then went down to the beach at midnight – this time about six of us and went swimming.  I don’t normally do slightly crazy things like this and certainly not something that is going to leave me cold and wet – so I don’t know what got into me this week – maybe too much red wine.

So the residential has been great, but really busy.  I actually had a reading last Saturday night in London at The Poetry Cafe, which I really enjoyed.  I wish I’d written down all the names of the other readers – very remiss of me but the two other main readers were Jo Bell and Hilda Sheehan who were as lovely as expected.  I stayed at my friend Jill’s house on Saturday night and had to leg it for the train on the Sunday.  When I got on the train, I couldn’t find my train tickets to get from London to St Ives anywhere.  It is a 6 hour journey as well so I knew I couldn’t blag it.  I went to confess to the train conductor and showed him that I had the reference number in my filofax.  My opening gambit was ‘I’m not a criminal, I have a filofax!’.  This worked on the first guard but unfortunately he got off at some point leaving me to try and talk around another guard.  At first I thought I was done for, but what he really wanted to do was give me a little lecture.  My next plan was to empty my suitcase to look for them and start flinging my washing about the carriage in a desperate attempt to locate the tickets.  But I didn’t need to resort to this as the second guard let me off as well.  Very lucky I know.

And before that I read in Preston at the New Continental on Friday night with the lovely Judy Brown which was a great reading.  I really enjoyed hearing some of Judy’s new poems as well.

So it has been (again) a busy week.  On the last day of the course, Clare asked everybody to make a commitment to ourselves about our writing.   I decided I was going to dedicate 1 hour a week to my own writing and reading – that is, not reading in order to prepare for a workshop, just reading for my own pleasure.  And writing my own poems or editing them, rather than sending emails to chase up invoices or replying to emails about readings and workshops.  It made me realise that I felt really sad that I wasn’t even dedicating an hour to it every night – to something that is so important to me!  Anyway since I got back, I’ve done 3 hours work yesterday instead of 1 – which I spent working through the proofs for my collection.  And today I’ve done 2 hours instead of 1, working through the proofs and typing up and editing a new poem that I want to put into the collection.

It has felt great as well to do this.  Obviously it will be harder next week because I’m back at work but I’m determined to keep up with it – maybe I can have a system of ‘time in lieu’ for the days when I really can’t spend an hour doing it…

Keith Hutson, one of the participants on the course, told everybody about his ‘5 a day’ which I thought was a brilliant idea, which was to read 5 poems a day.  This doesn’t sound like much either, does it, but it made me realise that there are so many days when I don’t even do this.

So because of this commitment, I’ve managed to get the next version of proofs for my collection emailed over to Amy Wack at Seren, which is such a weight off my shoulders.  I just need to wait for them to come back now!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by one of my favourite poets, Kei Miller.  I don’t make any secret of the fact that Kei is one of my favourite poets and I often use his poems in workshops to get people writing.  The poem I’ve chosen ‘Prayer for the Unflummoxed Beaver’ is from his recent Forward Prize winning collection ‘The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion’.  This book is a really fabulous book, and if you haven’t read it yet, you really should.  You can order a copy from Carcanet at http://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781847772671

All of Kei’s books are full of poems that celebrate things – this doesn’t mean that they are all happy and he doesn’t write about dark or troubling things, but more that he uses the praise song or prayer as a way in to write about whatever he wants to write about – for example, in the poem ‘When Considering the Long, Long Journey of 20,000 Rubber Ducks’ he asks us at the end to ‘hail’ the ducks that managed to escape from the cargo hold of a ship.  It becomes clear that as well as writing about the ducks, he is also writing about slavery.

In this poem ‘A Prayer for the Unflummoxed Beaver’ which I think is about death and how we approach it – in the great tradition of poems like ‘Do Not Go Gentle’ by Dylan Thomas – I think this poem is saying go gently, be unflummoxed.  What a wonderful word ‘unflummoxed’ is anyway.  But the ‘doorway’ into the poem is a prayer for a beaver, a poem praising the place the beaver lives in and the day it was seen.  I love the way Kei uses the repetition of ‘A prayer’ – the poem becomes an incantation.  I also like how he is not afraid to let the poem meander around which means the direction it takes is a real surprise for the reader.

Kei was born in Jamaica in 1978. He earned an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University and a PhD in English Literature at the University of Glasgow.  He is now teaching at Royal Holloway in London.  He has published three collections of poetry -all of which are brilliant and all available from Carcanet ‘There is an Anger that Moves’ and ‘A Light Song of Light’ as well as fiction and essays.  He also has a really interesting blog which you can find here

Anyway, here is the poem.  I hope you enjoy it.

 

A Prayer for the Unflummoxed Beaver – Kei Miller

so unmoved by the boat’s slow approach – the boat
drifting across the flat green acre of water; a prayer
for these acres of water which, in the soft light, seem firm;
the squirrels, however, are never taken in;
a prayer for the squirrels and their unknowable
but perfect paths: see how they run across
the twisting highway of cedars but never crash;
a prayer for the cedars and their dead knees rising
from the water like tombstones; a prayer for the cedar balls
that break when you touch them and stain
your fingers yellow, that release from their tiny bellies
the smell of old churches, of something holy;
a prayer returned to the holy alligators – you owe them
that at least, for just last night when you thought
of Hana Andronikova you asked them to pray
with you, knowing that their prayers are potent;
at night the grass is full of their red eyes; a prayer
for the grass which the alligators divide
in the shape of a never-ending S; you lean over
to pull some into the boat; in Burma
this is called ka-na-paw, and can be cooked
with salt and oil; a prayer for the languages
we know this landscape by; for the French
as spoken by fat fisherman, the fat fisherman
who admit to the water – We are all dying.
You understand? Savez?
A prayer
for the dying that will come to all of us
but may it come soft as a boat drifting across the bayou.
May it find us as unrattled and as unflummoxed as the beaver.

For Hana Andronikova (1967-2011)