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…
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.
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.
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
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.