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
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