Monthly Archives: December 2014

2015 Residential Poetry Courses


It is quarter past midnight and once I’ve finished writing this, I’ll wake up and it will be the morning of New Year’s Eve. Tomorrow I’ve somehow managed to make my day quite busy but filled with nice stuff.  I’ll be going on my last run of 2014 at 10am in the morning (I really should get to bed).  Then I’m meeting lovely poet Jennifer Copley for lunch.  More about Jenny in a minute.  Then I’m going to meet the other 8 members of Soul Survivors to have our photo taken for the local paper to promote our first big gig on January 30th.  That’s at 3pm.  Then I’m going round to my friend’s house who is pregnant and due any day now.  I’m having a quiet New Year’s Eve this year apart from all that, probably just staying in with the husband, who is currently ill and has spent the last couple of days languishing on the sofa with post viral fatigue syndrome.

On Sunday night, after posting my last blog post, I realised I’d forgotten to tell my lovely poetry news in all the excitement.  Poetry Review arrived and it has two of my poems in – one poem ‘The World’s Smallest Man’ which my lovely friend John Foggin helped me with when I sent an early draft to him, and ‘How the Stones Fell’ which is a rewrite of Ovid’s Creation Myth, again linked to John Foggin.  We both became a bit obsessed with Ovid last year.

I felt really annoyed with myself for forgetting.  I originally started this blog to document what it was like to be a poet and do everything else alongside, and last weekend I forgot the important parts.  I’m not talking about being published although that is lovely, but the process of being a poet.  I’m not sure I’m explaining what I mean properly.

It has something to do with not reading enough which leads to not writing enough, to being too busy to go to my regular writing groups.  It’s something I want to (am going to) change in 2015.

Anyway, I know this is a stupid time to blog.  It’s gone midnight, most of you will be in bed I’m guessing.  And I’m doing my proper round up tomorrow where I look back through 2014.

But first I want to look ahead and draw your attention to the residential course I’m running in Grange Over Sands in 2015.  Details are below.  I’d love to see some of you there.  Half the spaces have gone already, despite me forgetting to publicise it with everything else going on.  It will be a week of nothing but poetry.  Maybe a bit of wine and good food as well actually.  But there will be time to read, write, talk, think about poetry.  It won’t break the bank.

You’ll be glad to know that myself and Jennifer Copley, although we forgot to really publicise the darn thing, have planned it meticulously.  There will be a detailed timetable going up at some point in the next two weeks with a short summary of each workshop.

I’m also going to try and get some testimonials from previous participants, just in case you needed any more convincing.

Here is the most up to date information about the course

Residential Poetry Course – ‘The Stories We Tell Ourselves’
Monday 30th March – Friday 3rd April Abbot Hall Hotel, Grange Over Sands

£370 includes accommodation, breakfast and three course evening meal and all workshops and readings

During this week we will explore how to use narrative in our poetry.  Using fairytales, myths, legends and your own family history we will start to create our own untold stories.  Suitable for all ranges of ability – come and join us for a week of workshops, discussions and readings. We will be joined by two mystery guests mid-week.

Booking is now open – please ring the hotel directly on 015395 32896.

If you have any questions about the course please get in touch via the Contact Page.


2014 in review by WordPress


The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 22,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Sunday Poem – Louise Karlsen


Evening all!  I hope you’ve all had a wonderful Christmas, what ever you were doing.  I spent the first half of this week finishing off shopping for Christmas presents.  Normally I’m still buying them on Christmas Eve but this year I’d finished by the 23rd which I was exceedingly proud of.  A TK Max store arrived in Barrow this year which was a godsend – I bought most people’s presents there.  The husband got a box of fancy herbal teas – I wouldn’t touch the stuff, but he likes them.  I also bought him a globe which he mentioned he wanted a couple of weeks ago – he loves maps but his other two presents I bought by mistake. I went into a small independent clothes shop in Barrow and picked a T-shirt and then the assistant started offering me a discount if I bought jeans as well so I caved in and just bought them.  I think she must have seen me coming…

My main present from the husband was a satnav.  Not very romantic, but very practical and I’ve been moaning for ages about having to use my phone as a sat nav.  The first Christmas we were together I remember he bought me a Cumbria A-Z map so I could find my way around my schools easily.  And an ice-scraping kit for my car.  I think one of us being practical works well.  And I still have the ice scraper, ten years or so later and it came in most handy this morning when the car was frosted over.

On Tuesday we drove from Barrow to Egremont to my twin sister’s house, a four bedroom bungalow that comes as part of the new job that she has just taken up, managing an animal rescue kennel.  Jody had to stay on site so she didn’t come down to Leicester to my mum and dads so she volunteered to look after my two dogs, along with the three she already has.   Which sounds like a nightmare, but they all get along ok, and my dogs are quite boring really, they usually just sleep a lot.

We stayed at my sisters over night but we didn’t get much sleep – someone had bought a puppy back because it was crying at night.  The puppy was staying in the room next to ours and it didn’t just cry.  It whined, howled, barked and made a variety of other noises.  It also had an upset stomach and at about 2.30am my sister was fetching new bedding and cleaning out the crate it slept in.  I tried to clean the crate out but I couldn’t do it.  My sister just got on with it – maybe she has a stronger stomach than me.  Then it cried for maybe another hour before eventually falling asleep.

At lunchtime the next day we set off for Leicester but we were so tired, not just from the crying puppy, but also from work and weeks of being ill.  I managed to get to the first services on the motorway near Penrith and we pulled over and got something to eat and I felt a bit more awake.  I drove to the next services and had to pull over because I was so tired I felt like I was falling asleep.  The husband drove the next twenty or so miles to the next service and then he had to pull over because he was falling asleep.  Then I drove about fifty miles, missing out one services and stopping at the next one because I was falling asleep again.  At this point we decided to admit defeat and go to sleep for an hour in the car.  After that I managed to drive the rest of the way to Leicester.

Christmas has been great, although it has been weird not being with my twin sister, but it has been nice to see my two older sisters and their families and spend some time with my mum and dad, although the extent of their obsession with their border collie is slightly worrying.  It even has a mat in the kitchen with its name on.  And its crate is upstairs in the third bedroom, so the dog basically has its own room!  I blame my twin for this, as they adopted the dog from her rescue kennel last Christmas.

Yesterday my sister was walking her three dogs and my two dogs and one of my dogs, Miles was attacked by another dog.  The dog was a Patterdale Terrier and its owner had it on a lead.  Apparently Miles was just walking past and the owner allowed his dog to lunge and it locked onto Miles’ throat.  It took ten minutes to get the dog to let go, and the whole time, the man’s four other dogs were running around off lead and out of control and growling at my sisters dogs.

Afterwards he didn’t apologise, just walked off as quickly as he could.  My sister and her husband got Miles to the vets and although there was a lot of blood, the dog had only managed to grip the skin rather than his windpipe so his injuries were fairly superficial.  Poor Miles was in shock though and shaking a lot.

He seems ok now.  I think he’s a bit subdued but the husband thinks I’m imagining it.  I went and bought him a lovely comfy bed today to replace the old, rather thin one, and a new collar to replace the one that is now covered in blood.  I can’t understand why people walk around with dogs unmuzzled that are capable of doing something like that.  Maybe they get off on it, maybe they enjoy seeing their dog hurt another living creature.  In a satisfying twist, the dog bit its owner when he finally managed to get it to let go of Miles.  My sister says this is called redirection and is apparently quite common when splitting up a dog fight.  Redirection or karma – I hope he thinks twice before letting his dog attack another dog.

I would like to say I’m not talking about the usual type of feathers flying when two dogs have a bit of a growl and a dance around each other and show their teeth.  When that happens, it sounds horrible, but both dogs walk away unscathed and I think it’s the equivalent of two humans swearing at each other or having an argument.  This dog was going in for the kill and was locked on.  I’m lucky – in nine years of having Miles nothing like this has ever happened to me.

So that has been on my mind quite a bit today but I know I need to stop thinking about it now.  My lovely sister and husband did the best they could do in a horrible situation – it must have been really scary for them.

Today I’ve finally convinced the husband that he needs to rest after being ill for a week and not resting and he has finally agreed to do as he’s told.  I decided to have a week off running over Christmas because I still didn’t feel right, but this morning I went for a run with the Walney Wind Cheetahs – it was a bit dicey because of the ice but we managed to get round 9km without anybody falling over.  The rest of the day I spent food shopping, making lunch and unpacking, so a fairly chilled out day.

My next post will be, as in previous years, a round up of my year.  For the past two years, I’ve done this in the first week of January, but this year I’m aiming for New Years Eve.

This weeks Sunday Poem is by Louise Karlsen, a lovely poet lady I met at Ilkley Literature Festival.  Louise came to one of my workshops at the festival.  I suspect this was not due to my immense fame as a poet, but more due to the lovely Rachel Davies, who bought a whole host of poets along to my workshop, one of whom was Louise.

One of my favourite poems is ‘A Curse on Heptonstall’ by Ian Duhig which I’ve featured as one of my Sunday Poems before.  It’s a great poem to use in a workshop to break the ice and at Ilkley I asked everybody to write their own curse poem.  We had some great curse poems in the workshop but I really liked this one because of the way Louise has taken on board Ian’s rhyme scheme but made it her own.

In Ian’s poem he repeats the ‘all’ sound at the end of each line until he reaches the punchline at the end.  Louise has used the same sound for every four lines but I think the rhythm, which she controls so well, can be traced back to Ian’s poem.  I think Louise’s rhymes are really clever and funny as well – they don’t seem forced.  I particularly like the rhyme of nectar and spectre!

I also thought it would be great to post this poem up after Christmas.  From where I’m sitting, I can see two selection boxes, a tin of Quality Street, a tin of Heroes and a tin of shortbread biscuits – all Christmas presents.  How much running I’ll have to do to justify eating all of that doesn’t bear thinking about!

Louise, a retired local government art galleries and museums curator and service manager, has developed several historic public buildings and pioneered programmes of contemporary visual art and art interpretation. Collaborating with the hugely successful Bete Noire poetry readings in Hull, Louise brought together the visual arts and literature in the innovatory cross disciplinary programmes of Hull’s award winning Ferens Art Gallery throughout the 1990‘s. A notable guest then was Douglas Dunn, who was married to Louise’s predecessor as Principal Keeper of Art at the Ferens, Lesley Dunn, after whose tragic early death Douglas wrote his now famous “Elegies“.

Louise also sings blues and folk, and once sang both in choirs and semi-professionally as a soloist, but now enjoys writing both poetry and prose in several writers’ groups in the Greater Manchester area. As one of “The Seven Spelks” poetry group she has recently begun to read her work in public and looks forward to further readings with them in the near future.

I hope you enjoy Louise’s poem, and thanks to Louise for letting me host the first publication of this poem!


A Curse – Louise Karlsen
(after Ian Duhig)

A plague on biscuits, wine and cheese
and nuts and savoury things like these
that rob me of my will to slim
and make my future health look grim

Damnation on that last, fast bite
and all those designated light
that stop me in my endless fight
to lose the pounds and put me right

May all that’s fearsome come and fall
upon my cupboards, smash them all
and bury crumpets, jam and honey
trim my waist and save me money

Smash the bottles full of nectar
ferments, brews and make a spectre
of my current massive size
make me sylphlike, thin and wise

Blast these tempters and the gin
curse these foods and help me win
burn the breads and crusts delicious
sear them black and, hags, be vicious

Sunday Poem by Pascale Petit

Sunday Poem by Pascale Petit

Evening all – this will be my last blog post before Christmas Day unless something immensely exciting happens between now and then and I can’t keep it to myself.

I’ve already had one very exciting thing happen to me this week though, so it seems unlikely that anything else will happen.  A couple of months ago, I was invited by Ledbury Poetry Festival to take part in a EU funded project they are running in conjunction with 8 or 9 European Poetry Festivals.  I think it is a kind of exchange program – Ledbury have chosen 5 young/emerging poets to take part.  I had to send poems, biography etc to Ledbury and they pass all this on to the other festivals and there is the possibility that we might get an invitation to read.  I say possibility because it was made clear there was no guarantee – and because of this, I put it to the back of my mind and kind of forgot about it.

And then this Thursday an email drops into my inbox and I’ve been invited to read in Croatia in March 2015.  Cue much jumping about and dancing in my living room.  I hope I never stop feeling amazed and thankful and grateful about the wonderful things that poetry has given me.

Other lovely, but less dramatic things have happened this week as well.  I finally felt well enough after this long, drawn out cold that I’ve been moaning about for a while to get back to running.  I’ve returned slowly and it’s been quite painful in some ways.  I’m having to run slowly because I feel tired and run down still.  My legs feel heavy and I haven’t yet managed to recapture the feeling of effortless movement, the feeling I keep trying to write about when I write about running, when you feel that you are merely a passenger in your body.  Still, there are other things about running that I love – the conversation, the sympathy and knowing afterwards that you have just done something wonderful, if a little slower than usual.

Feeling better also meant I was up to driving over to Ambleside for the open mic last Wednesday, hosted by Andrew Forster and the Wordsworth Trust – although this was tinged with sadness as well.  I couldn’t stop worrying about what will happen next year at the Trust when their funding runs out – no more open mics, no more Tuesday readings.

Despite this, it was this night, which came before the email that invigorated me.  I’ve not read much poetry for the last couple of months.  Or at least not much for me.  I’ve hardly written any, apart from two that went into my sequence and my running poems, which I’ve been filled with self-doubt about.  I’ve not been going to my regular writing groups much because I’ve been so busy, and I haven’t been to any open mics for ages, so all the old outlets where I used to try new work out have been closed.

Wednesday was great because there were lots of poets that I enjoy spending time with – Jennifer Copley, Mark Carson, Andrew Forster, Lindsey Holland, Polly Atkin, Kerry Darbighshire, Barbara Hutson, Pauline Yarwood – I’m sure I’ve missed somebody out and if I have, I hope they’re not too offended.  The combination of these people and their commitment and enthusiasm for poetry, and just their general companionship I found so invigorating.  I read two of my running poems out and then tried my sestina out and got some lovely supportive feedback and went home and wrote till 1.30am in a burst of enthusiasm.

Then it was Thursday and the excitement of being invited to read in Croatia gave me another burst of confidence and I sat down again to try and finish the bloody sestina once and for all.  The ending had been eluding me for days, but I think I’ve finally finished it now.   I sent it to lovely Amy at Seren and she thinks it should go in the collection so in it goes – it is part of the sequence – the obsessive structure of the sestina fits the topic of the sequence well and my way of thinking about domestic violence, which is very circular and repetitive so I think it works.

This week work has really eased off in regards teaching as many of the schools I work in spirited the children off to the cinema or threw Christmas parties for them.  I have done two sessions of playing carols with my junior band this week – once in Tesco’s and once at Barrow Football Ground in the cold and the wind and the rain but apart from that, it has been a relatively easy week and I’ve had the time and the inclination to get back into reading again.

This week I’ve finished off the Thomas Lux ‘Selected’ that I talked about last week and I’ve read ‘Bright Travellers’ by Fiona Benson, which is a wonderful, wonderful first collection.  I’ve also read Karen Solie’s first collection ‘Short Haul Engine’ which I enjoyed as well.

On to the Sunday Poet – the lovely Pascale Petit – who I’ve met a couple of times when I’ve been to see her read.  I’ve been eagerly waiting for Pascale Petit’s new collection for a while now.  She is a really interesting poet, tackling difficult and challenging subjects in her poetry, but always with grace and precision of language.

I’ve been trying for the last ten minutes to sum up in a short paragraph the territory that Fauverie explores and have found it impossible.  I’ve started and restarted this paragraph six or seven times.  I think the reason I’m finding it tricky is that Fauverie covers so much ground – childhood trauma and family relationships, in particular parent/child relationships, an exploration of art and colour and throughout all this, a connection to the natural world, in particular big cats.

Pascale Petit is a poet who has her eye on the long view.  Her collections clearly stand alone and on their own two feet – she’s been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot prize four times now – but I can’t think of another writer whose seperate collections seem to enrich each other and the reader.  The concern with animals, art, trauma and violence thread through all of her collections but in each book she circles back to these same themes and tackles them in a different way.

Fauverie explores a connection and relationship with a dying father.  There are poems threaded throughout the collection which are portraits of the father – ‘Portrait of My Father as a Bird Fancier’, ‘Portrait of My Father as Saint-Julien le Pauvre’, ‘Portrait of My Father as a North China Leopard’.  Animals and birds are used as a way at getting at an emotional truth throughout the collection.

I was on my way to Aldeburgh Poetry Festival when I read this poem, on the train between Barrow and Preston.  It made me sit back and take a breath and hold it in.  And then breathe out again when I got to the end.  I found it so moving.  Looking back now, I think it’s the combination of the clear, precise instructions at the beginning and then that beautiful image: ‘Let/the sun burn the top of your head/as if it’s a candle, a whole day/for it to ignite’.  It was that line that made something move inside my chest.

There are so many beautiful, gentle moments in this poem.  How about ‘You’ve laid your feast across your lifeline – /a galaxy of mixed seeds from the bird market’.  I love the use of the word ‘galaxy’ – it could have been a heap, except it isn’t.  A galaxy is so much more accurate and describes the way the seeds are spread out.  It even captures in my mind, their different colours.

In the centre of the poem, and I’m sure this is deliberate, there is the line ‘Rilke is just a shade’ and again, this made me stop and catch my breath.  I love poems that have other poets, or other people’s poems standing like shadows behind them.  I’m not talking about plagiarism here, I’m talking about influence, and poetry conversations which can go on between the living and the dead.

I don’t know Rilke’s work half as well as I ought to, but a quick Google on my phone led me to ‘The Bird-Feeders’ by Rainer Maria Rilke.  This is one of the reasons I like poems that reference other poets or poetry, because I would never have found this beautiful piece of writing by Rilke if I hadn’t been reading Pascale’s poem.

It is interesting to see the angel in Rilke’s poem is transformed into a seraph in Pascale’s and then our gaze is transferred to the stone angel on the nave of the Notre Dame.  The solitary man in Rilke’s poem by the end is called an ‘old weather-beaten doll’ and this is picked up in Pascale’s poem when the father is instructed to stay still ‘until your flesh is stiff as wax’.

I love the ending of Pascale’s poem as well with its ‘messengers of darkness and fire’ and then the return to that beautiful image of the candle, which appears in the Rilke, but is developed and explored by Pascale to remind the reader that the poem is an instruction to a dying man:

‘They are hungry, and you
have only one hour left of that wick
in the centre of your being.
Let it burn down to the soles of your feet.’

Fauverie is currently shortlisted for the 2014 TS Eliot Prize and a portfolio of poems from it won the 2013 Manchester Poetry Prize.  Pascale Petit has published six collections, four of which were shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize – surely that is some kind of record? Three have featured as Books of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement, Observer and Independent.  Her previous book, What the Water Gave Me: Poems after Frida Kahlo, was shortlisted for both the TS Eliot Prize and Wales Book of the Year.  Pascale was born in Paris and spent her early childhood there.

You can find out more information about Pascale on her website but she also has a really interesting blog in which she writes about her work as a poet and tutor, often with travel writing and references to art thrown in as well.  You can buy any of her collections directly from Pascale through her website or from Seren, her publisher.

Thanks to Pascale for allowing me to use her poem here, and I hope you all have a great Christmas!


How to Hand-Feed Sparrows
(Instructions to My Father) – Pascale Petit

Stand at the box privet
just in front of Notre-Dame,
hold your arm high, your hand out flat,
the fingers bent back
so your palm is generous.  Let
the sun burn the top of your head
as if it’s a candle, a whole day
for it to ignite.  And when
a sparrow lands, keep stock-still,
even though the flame is lit
and your scalp is melting.
You’ve laid your feast across your lifeline –
a galaxy of mixed seeds from the bird market
and she has chosen one of the elliptical grains;
it glows in her buff and saffron beak.
Rilke is just a shade
but you know he’s there when she
takes off, then returns with friends
who hover and join in.
You can feel the draught from their wings
like a blessing across your cheeks
and the poet’s words have tiny claws
that have gripped your skin.
If the crowd could vanish, in the end
even a seraph would come down and feed.
From your post on the low concrete wall
you can just see the stone angel
high on the western gable of the nave.
Keep your hand steady, support it with
your other arm, until your flesh is stiff as wax
while messengers of darkness and fire
fly down to taste your offering.
They are hungry, and you
have only one hour left of that wick
in the centre of your being.
Let it burn down to the soles of your feet.


Sunday Poem – Pauline Keith


This year I seem to have got off relatively lightly as regards Carol Services or Christmas concerts with schools.  However, I’ve made up for it by booking my junior band in to do a whole succession of busking at various supermarkets in a bid to raise money for the band funds, which have been seriously depleted last year when we had to buy quite a lot of new instruments.  I’ve been out carolling with them three times now and am due to go out another two times before Christmas.  We’ve been to Asda, Morrisons and Barrow Market so far and are due in Tesco and at the football ground next week.

Whenever I take the junior band carolling, it reminds me of going carolling with Unity Brass when I was young.  I absolutely loved going out.  Even though it was always cold and it usually involved standing up – two of my least favourite things in the world.  Most nights in December would involve playing under lamp posts in residential areas while our parents knocked on doors with collecting tins.  I learnt all of the carols off by heart, mainly because I couldn’t be bothered to turn the pages of the carol book.  There was something about standing in the cold together that I really liked.  I can still remember what it felt like to have the carol book rolled up inside my coat pocket.  I remember our conductor, Rob Boulter, showing me how to rock backwards and forwards on your feet to stop them aching, how to stop your lip hurting by putting it on the cold metal of the bell of the cornet.  Now I know I loved all the carols that were in a minor key – Coventry Carol, In the Bleak Midwinter.  I didn’t know that was why I loved them back then though but I always loved the words to In the Bleak Midwinter – although I only knew the first and last verse –

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
yet what can I give him: give my heart.

I didn’t know back then that the words were by the wonderful poet Christina Rosetti – but I remember loving that simile in the second line ‘water like a stone’ and then that wonderful daring third line with the repeat of the word snow, over and over again.

Every Saturday and Sunday the band would be booked to play Christmas carols all day in Asda.  There was none of this two hours business that I do with the junior band now.  It worked a bit like a relay – somebody turned up who could play your part and then you could go home or have a break.  If nobody turned up to take over you just stayed there until they did.  My mum and dad would stand again with the collecting buckets for hours on end.

Lots of parents of the junior band members hold buckets to collect money, or just stand and watch.  It doesn’t seem to matter to them how many times they hear the carols, they just want to support their children – I find this strangely moving as well.  I should say I wasn’t moved by it when I was younger.  I just expected that my parents would do it – and I think this attitude is typical of most of the junior band as well!  You don’t appreciate your parents and all the things they do for you until you get older – this probably isn’t a particularly exciting revelation for most readers of this blog but I rediscover this and realise it over and over again when I’m working with young musicians and I see the parents turning up time and time again. I always feel a little pang of guilt as the image of my mum and dad, sitting at every rehearsal on a Monday and a Wednesday night flashes through my mind – every rehearsal – can you imagine!?

Anyway, I didn’t set out at the beginning of this blog to write a nostalgic memory of playing carols when I was young.  I wanted to tell you about this fabulous book I’ve been reading by Thomas Lux, who I heard read at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival a couple of months ago.  He was a great reader – and he said he liked my purple hat when he was signing my book.  And he called me kiddo.  All things that go in his favour.  I enjoyed the poems but I was worried that without the force of his personality they would wilt into nothing when I was reading them on the page – but they don’t! They are so good.  He has just had a Selected Poems published by Bloodaxe which I would heartily, heartily recommend you go and buy at once.  I wanted to draw your attention to these lines from a poem called ‘An Horation Notion’.  In the last stanza he says

‘You make the thing because you love the thing
and you love the thing because someone else loved it
enough to make you love it.
And with that your heart like a tent peg pounded
toward the earth’s core.
And with that your heart on a beam burns
through the ionosphere. And with that you go to work.’

I read those first three lines this morning and I haven’t been able to stop saying them over and over again since then. Like the first two lines of Tithonus by Tennyson ‘The woods decay, the woods decay and fall/The vapours weep their burthen to the ground’ or the first sentence of Prayer by Carol Ann Duffy ‘Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer/utters itself.’ I know those three lines will haunt me…

‘You make the thing because you love the thing
and you love the thing because someone else loved it
enough to make you love it.’

The three things I’ve loved for most of my life – music, running and poetry.   Rob Boulter, my band conductor at Unity Brass loved music enough to make me love it.  Wayne Walker, my running coach, loved running enough to make me love it.  Poetry – poetry is different.  I feel like I found that on my own, although I suppose my dad loved reading enough to make me love it, which led to me finding poetry.  I’d be interested to hear if people think it’s true – think about the things you’ve loved all your life, or found out that you love late in life.  Was there somebody who made you love those things because they loved them?

A few people have laughingly said this week that they were looking forward to hearing about my epic drive to Sheffield on Tuesday but the journey was so awful I can hardly bear to recount it.  All you need to know is that I left Barrow at 3pm after work and didn’t arrive in Sheffield till 9pm.  I missed the reading by the other two poets, Noel Williams and Linda Goulden which I was really gutted about.

Cora Greenhill was hosting and managed to keep everybody entertained and happy in between the first half finishing and my arrival.  I was slightly flustered (to say the least) and relieved to find there was still an audience there.  I sold three pamphlets which I was pleased about as I think two thirds of the people in the room already had a copy.  Cora gave me a lovely, thoughtful introduction and everybody was very welcoming and friendly.  It’s a great little venue and if I lived closer I would definitely be attending more often.  It was lovely to see some poetry friends that I hadn’t seen for a while but it all felt very rushed after the reading, because of course I had to drag myself back to Barrow ready for work the next day.

And then there was the drive back.  Ugh is all I can say.  I was so tired by this point – a combination of this awful cold I’ve had, the awful drive and reading from my sequence which always wipes me out that I had to pull over three times on the way back home to try and wake up a little bit.  The third time I gave in and went to sleep for an hour in the car.  I eventually arrived back in Barrow at 3.30am which gave me time for a bit of a sleep before having to get up and get ready for work the next day.

This week’s Sunday Poem comes courtesy of my adventures last week at the Wayleaves launch of four pamphlets.  Pauline Keith’s pamphlet ‘By the Light of Day’ is absolutely fantastic.  The pamphlet describes Pauline’s childhood experiences of being brought up in the family slaughter-yard.  The poems are utterly compelling, and although they work very well on their own, when they are drawn together, as they have been in this pamphlet, the end result is wonderful.

I first met Pauline in Brewery Poets, a writers group that we both attend in Kendal, and I have come across some of the slaughter-yard poems before so I knew I would enjoy the pamphlet.  I’m sure Pauline won’t mind me saying that she doesn’t send her work out as often as she should so not enough people are aware of what a great writer she is, so I’m really happy that Mike Barlow of Wayleave Press has produced this brilliant pamphlet.

The poem I’ve chosen is called The Old Toll House and it is the first poem in the pamphlet, and really introduces the atmosphere and themes that are worked out in the other poems.  I also think it fits really well with the earlier Thomas Lux lines I’ve quoted, with both of them mentioning the word ‘work’ at the end.

The Old Toll House is so beautifully described in that first stanza.  We can picture the tall arches and the dusk, but it only takes until the first line of the second stanza where Pauline has used the word ‘seem’ to signal to us that this is not an idyllic place, and this is carried on in the next two lines with the ‘tainted river’ and the ‘half-derelict canal’ – both of these are hidden from view.  Things are not what they seem.

From this point on, the poem becomes darker and darker, almost relentlessly.   In stanza 5 the italics are used to good effect for emphasis. I also really like the line ‘Chained dogs rage at strangers.’  The master stroke of the poem comes for me in the last three stanzas.  Here the poem turns on its heel and goes in a completely unexpected direction: ‘lift the house roof like a lid’.  I really love this ending.  It gives us the sense of looking back into a far away past and also the feeling of being larger and more real than this past – as if the house is really a dolls house.  We know (whether we know we know or not) that these poems are going to explore power – who has it, and who doesn’t, family, cruelty, pragmatism and the world of work.  Which there aren’t enough poems about!

Pauline Keith has lived and taught in Turkey, Nigeria, Singapore, Holland and Canada.  She was a founding member of Lancaster’s pioneering Literature Festival in the late 70’s.  She received second prize in the 2005 Bridport Prize and commended in the 2007 National Poetry Competition.

Mike tells me a Wayleave Press website is currently under construction, but if you would like to order Pauline’s pamphlet, or any of the other Wayleave pamphlets, you can email Mike at on  and he will make arrangements to get the pamphlet to you in exchange for a small and reasonable sum of £5.

Thanks to Pauline for letting me use her poem.

The Old Toll House – Pauline Keith

Admire it, done in oils,
set near the viaduct’s tall arches
rising from the valley’s dusk.

Lit windows seem to welcome.
You can’t see the tainted river
or half-derelict canal.

No boats pay tribute here –
the Toll House now a family home
fronting a slaughter-yard

for sick cows and useless horses.
Their flesh, condemned for humans,
feeds the townsfolk’s cats and dogs.

There are few visitors –
no friends.  Just business.
Chained dogs rage at strangers.

Wait till those windows are dark holes
in white walls washed by moonlight –
then lift the house roof like a lid.

Look down on restless sleepers
separate in shared beds: mother
with daughter, father with son.

Replace the roof.  Later, light
will come and the day’s work:
a matter of knives and livelihood.


Sunday Poem – Andrew Forster


This is the first blog post I am writing from my lovely new/old desk which I bought in a charity shop last week for £60. It apparently came from a school.  I quite liked it when I bought it but now I have it set up in my room I love it.

I have had a cold all week.  I think it started on Monday or Sunday evening.  The cold is a lot better but I feel really run down and tired.  I didn’t think I looked that bad, but I’ve just been shopping and the woman at the checkout took one look at me and said ‘What happened to you?’.  I said ‘I’ve had a cold and I still don’t feel great’ and then she looked at me and said ‘I’ll pack your bags.  I’ll take pity on you’.  I feel like I should be offended that she was basically saying I looked terrible, but I actually just feel grateful that she packed my shopping for me!

Today I was supposed to be running the Ulverston 10k.  I was supposed to be running it in under fifty minutes, which clearly wasn’t going to happen the state I was in.  I already decided earlier on in the week that it wasn’t a good idea to do the race but I was planning on going along and cheering on everybody else, but this morning I felt too ill again to stand out in the cold so I stayed at home feeling sorry for myself.

Yesterday was spent putting up a fence  in the backyard.  It is almost done – the last two fence panels are being delivered on Tuesday. I learnt how to use one of those screw gun things and was reprimanded for referring to a ‘screw’ as a nail.  A friend came and chopped down the hedge and various trees in the back garden and we also found underneath the grass, mud and roots a bit of path.  I didn’t really do much apart from float around with the screw gun and walk the dogs very slowly.

On Friday I ran my Young Writers Group and then went straight from there to a launch of four new pamphlets by Ron Scowcroft, Elizabeth Burns, Pauline Keith and Carole Coates, all published by a brand new pamphlet publisher ‘Wayleave Press’ which is run by Mike Barlow.  The pamphlets are really beautiful – I think most, if not all of them have a front cover illustration by Mike.  I was really impressed with the quality of the poetry on the Friday and I’ll be featuring some of the poets on this blog in the coming weeks.

Apart from that, all week I’ve just been trying to hold my head above water whilst feeling rubbish.  Although quite a few of my schools are cancelling sessions, mainly due to rehearsals for school plays, I’m still busy because I’m doing lots of extra sessions with the junior band.  I took 12 children from the band to Asda on Wednesday to play carols for a couple of hours in the evening.

Today I’ve been emailing back and forth with my editor with ideas for a launch for my collection.  ‘The Art of Falling’ is due out in April next year and the date seems to be approaching alarmingly quickly.  Organising a launch is a bit weird as well – it is a bit like organising your own birthday party in a way.

I’ve been trying to think back to all the launches that I’ve been to and what makes a good launch – for both the poet and the audience.  I did have one for my pamphlet which was the reading at The Wordsworth Trust and the thing that made that amazing was how many of my friends were there and the excitement of reading with the other winners.  So maybe for me, the key ingredient of a good launch would be the audience – having enough audience and the audience I get being made up (at least partly) of friends.  I didn’t organise that launch though – it was part of the prize of winning the pamphlet.  All I had to do is turn up.

The launch on Friday was good because the poetry was very good and I enjoyed hearing Mike Barlow talk about setting up a publishing press.  His enthusiasm was infectious and it was so refreshing to hear somebody’s passion for other people’s work.

So far, there are tentative plans for a main launch in Ulverston, which although it isn’t my home town, it is only 15 minutes up the road from me, and from past experience, tends to draw bigger audiences than Barrow.  The soul band I’ve been playing with have offered to play for this, so I think this evening will be a short reading, maybe with some friends reading too and then a break and time to sign books/drink wine and then the band can play and those who wish to can bust some moves.  Or not.  It is looking likely that there may be a launch in London, because lovely friend Jill Abram has offered to help me organise this and maybe one in Manchester as lovely friends Lindsey Holland has offered to help me put this one together.  And that will be enough launching to last me for the rest of the year I think!

It is exciting sorting all this out and I’ve been touched by the offers of help I’ve received just by mentioning it.  Poor Martin Copley who does our posters for Poem and a Pint has been volunteered by his wife Mrs Crabtree aka poet Jennifer Copley to make a poster for my launch.  I bet she hasn’t told him yet but I know he reads my blog so he knows now!

Tonight I’m off to the Hope and Anchor in Ulverston to play with the soul band – apparently it will be a tight squeeze so no room for a chair, but if it’s that tight, at least I should be able to prop myself up against a wall or something.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by the lovely Andrew Forster, who has featured here before a while ago but since then his shiny new collection ‘Homecoming’, published by Smith/Doorstop has been released.  The collection is an extraordinary record of living and working in the Lake District, not just living and working in fact, but also traveling through the landscape as a resident rather than a tourist.

One of my favourite poems in the book is ‘Morecombe Bay’ which is a series of three line stanzas seperated by asterisks.  Each stanza uses a different metaphor or image to look at the bay.  It reminds me of the Wallace Stevens poem ’13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’.  There are only 8 in Andrew’s poem, but they are lovely.  Morecombe Bay is ‘a glass pathway’ in the first stanza, a ‘grey muslin sheet’ in the second, a ‘blue eiderdown’ in the third.

The collection is full of carefully observed poems.  In ‘Lindale Hill’ the poem starts ‘It’s a village of layers, a place/in progress, where houses are messages/from different ages’.  I know Lindale very well, having taught at the village school there for a few years, and smiled in recognition when I read this, but I think if you don’t know the village, you can picture it.

The poem I’ve chosen to feature this week is ‘Dusk in Lindale’.  This is another beautiful, carefully observed poem. I know it’s not November now, but when I wrote to Andrew and asked him if I could use it, it was and I think this feels like a November poem.  Maybe because of the quality of the light that is described in the poem – the dusk is ‘a shabby cloth/which parts as others, coming home,/emerge from shadows in our path.’  Later on in the poem, we can see the trees ‘pastel smudges/holding drums of darkness between them.’

This collection is full of descriptions of light and I think this is one of the hidden themes of the book.  Behind the main theme of place and landscape and  home is a concern with light and shadow which crops up again.  Light is often used to set the mood or tone of a poem – in the first poem in the collection ‘At Carstairs Junction’ we read ‘the darkness hasn’t loosened its hold./Rain slants into the lamps like the grain/of an old film’ and in the last poem ‘Homecoming’ in the last three lines we are left with both light and dark.

‘Just beyond the lights Amanda stands,
with Walter the dachshund, his yips
of greeting rising over the departing engine.’

I’d be interested if you have the collection to hear your thoughts on the way Andrew has explored light in the poems, as well as the more obvious concerns of place.

Andrew Forster is originally from South Yorkshire but lived in Scotland for twenty years before moving to Cumbria in 2008.  He has published two full-length collections of poetry with Flambard Press, ‘Fear of Thunder’ in 2007 and ‘Territory’ in 2010.  Fear of Thunder was shortlisted for the 2008 Forward Prize for Best First Collection.  Two poems from it ‘Horse Whisperer’ and ‘Brothers’ appear in the AQA GCSE syllabus.  He won a Northern Writers Award in 2014.

If you would like to find out more about Andrew Forster he has his own website here

If you would like to order ‘Homecoming’ you can find it on the Smith/Doorstop website

Thanks to Andrew for letting me use his poem, and I promise next week’s post will be full of health rather than coughs and splutters.

Dusk in Lindale – Andrew Forster

By the time I’m home, the sun has slipped
behind Cartmel Fell and the sky holds
its last light in a sparkling grey wash.
The early dark forcing a different rhythm,

I walk the dog before day fades completely.
On the street the dusk is a shabby cloth
which parts as others, coming home,
emerge from shadows in our path.

The last houses shine like orange beacons,
small against impending night.
Cars purr around the bend, headlight beams
thrust out, the road left darker than before.

Woods run parrallel to the path,
the slatted fence almost invisible
so the trees seem closer, pastel smudges
holding drums of darkness between them.

The dog stops, quivering, small legs
braced, scenting the loamy Autumn air,
tuned into a world that exists beside us,
beyond the tangle of nettles and brambles.

Further on, at Castle Head, a roe deer springs
over the field.  Russet, it flickers
like a faint torch in the growing night
before being extinguished completely.