Monthly Archives: January 2015

Sunday Poem – Roz Goddard

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I am so relieved this week is over.  It has been filled with the misery of the annual tax return.  I think I’ve spent about three full days on it.  Every year at this time I make a resolution to keep my books up to date, to file both my expenses and my income from my writing as I go along, to file my receipts according to month and not just throw them into a shoebox in the corner of the room.  I said all of these things to myself last January when I was in the depth of despair and by February I’d forgotten.  But this time I really mean it!  I have even labelled envelopes month by month and I am slowly sorting through the receipts I have so far for this year.   I have to get more organised about this because this coming tax year, my third working as a poet will be the year I make a financial profit from my writing.  The first year I made quite a substantial loss and got a lovely tax rebate.  This year I just about broke even, and next year, I will be in profit.  For the last two years I’ve had the same amount of expenses, which shows that I’m doing the same amount of poetic stuff, but maybe getting paid better, or at least more often.  This is amazing to me still, that I can earn money from doing something that I love so much.  I hope I never take it for granted.

This time of year reminds me of why I started this blog as well, which was to document what it is like to be a poet, as well as other things.  The best paycheques are always the small amounts from magazines – the £20 note from the lovely Rialto.  The more hefty cheques from the TLS, Poetry Review and Poem.  At the same time as feeling excited and happy for getting £20 or £50 for a poem, (a poem!) at the same time, I’m aware that if I divided the amount by the hours it took to write it, I’d probably be on a minimum wage of about thirty pence an hour but it doesn’t matter.  These are the best paycheques because they are directly related to the physical act of writing.

But there are other things you can earn money for as  a poet – thank goodness.  Running workshops and residential courses, writing reviews and articles and of course performing have all added up to mean I’ve broke even this year.  The cost of being a poet – buying books, magazine subscriptions, going to readings and attending workshops runs into the thousands, but I would do all of this if it didn’t earn me a bean.

The only break from the tax return this week has been rehearsing with my junior band  on Monday and rehearsing with my quintet on Tuesday, and then finishing off the last few edits of the collection.  It is now with the proof reader ( I think) and is starting to feel more and more real.  Some exciting and welcome news for me is that the residential at Grange Over Sands in April has now officially sold out.  If you are devastated by this news, it is worth contacting the hotel and putting your name down on the waiting list as sometimes there are cancellations.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Roz Goddard who was one of the wonderful poets taking part in the St Ives residential poetry course.  Roz read this poem on the last night and I found it really moving.  It is a deceptively simple poem but it has a big heart.  It strikes me now that a lot of the poem is centered around movement and journeying – the emotional journey of the speaker of the poem from ‘cracking jokes on the terrace’ to holding the hand of Gwen, the physical movement from a ‘little club of the well’ to the ‘circle of the dying’.  The heart of the poem is for me in Stanza 3 – for such a quiet, self-contained poem I find this stanza shocking – although shocking isn’t quite the right word.  Maybe surprising, or arresting is closer.  It is the ‘circle of the dying’ that brings me up short and the hospice patients described as ‘serious gods’.  Perhaps the most telling phrase though is ‘when I’d grown up’.  Think what the poem would be without it – it would be completely transformed – the ‘I’ of the poem would be too satisfied with themselves.  But with it, it becomes powerful, it becomes not just a poem about learning something about the world outside ourselves, but also about learning something about your own self.

I think I’m right in saying that this poem was highly commended in the Bridport Poetry Prize in 2014 – it is easy to see why – it has an emotional truth and a directness and is quietly powerful.

Roz Goddard co-ordinates the West Midlands Readers’ Network, an organisation that works extensively with libraries and readers’ groups, produces reading events and commissions new work from regional writers. She is also a poet and short-fiction writer. She has published four collections of poems, the most recent The Sopranos Sonnets and other poems (Nine Arches Press) featured on R3’s The Verb and her work is on permanent display in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.   If you would like to find out more information about Roz Goddard you can check out her rather funky looking website

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

Touch – Roz Goddard

That first morning at the hospice
I hung out with the ambulance men
cracking jokes on the terrace.

We were on the sunny side
a little club of the well with our
smiles and grand summer schemes.

Inside, I was afraid to step into
the circle where the dying sat.
Serious gods with their own laws

and freight of terrible plans. As if in
their territory there was no love
or laughs or splashes of gin.

Months later when I’d grown up I
held Gwen’s hand and found
her skin like mine, warm, craving touch.

Draft Timetable for Residential Poetry Course

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Hi All – below is a draft timetable for the residential poetry course that I will be running with Jennifer Copley in Grange over Sands at Abbot Hall Hotel from the 30th March to the 3rd April.  There are only two places left now – so please contact the hotel if you would like to book 015395 32896 or have a look at the hotel website at http://www.christianguild.co.uk/show-holidays.php £370 includes accommodation for the week, breakfast and three course dinner, mid-morning tea/coffee break and all tuition.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Monday 30th March 3pm-5pmWorkshop with Jennifer Copley and Kim Moore
Narrative in Poetry

During this workshop we will read and discuss some well-known and not so well-known narrative poems, before we have a go at writing our own.

Dinner

8pmEvening Reading in the lounge
Bring a favourite poem to share with the group, written by somebody else.

Tuesday 31st March

10am-1pm – Morning Workshop with Jennifer Copley
Cluedo

Using a playful approach to writing, Jenny will guide you through a morning of fun and creativity. By the end of the session you will have a clutch of poems inspired by board games, photographs and mystery objects!

3pm-5pmAfternoon Workshop with Kim Moore
Transformation Myths

During this workshop we will look at the great tradition of transformation in poetry – using Ovid as our touchstone, we will explore how poets have responded to this myth and how we can make it new.

8pm – Poetry Reading in the Lounge with Kim Moore and Jennifer Copley

Wednesday 1th April

10am-1pm Morning Workshop with Kim Moore

Fencing in Our Poems
During this workshop we will explore how we can use structure and traditional form to harness our narratives. How can we use form to reflect and enhance the content of our poems?

3pm-5pmAfternoon Workshop with Jennifer Copley

Once Upon A Time

During this workshop you will write your own fairy story using all the tricks of the trade. You’ll need a villain, a hero and possibly a princess! In the second half of this workshop we will be looking at how we can use biblical stories in our work.
8pm – Poetry Reading in the lounge with two Mystery Guests

Thursday 2th April

10am-1pm – Morning Workshop with Kim Moore and Jennifer Copley

My People

Who are your people? During this workshop we will explore our own family stories and myths, filling in the gaps, exaggerating the gloomy and glorifying the excesses!

Free Afternoon – Tutorials available – participants to sign up at the beginning of the week

8pm – Poetry Reading in the lounge by Course Participants

Friday 3th April

10am – 1pm – Critiquing workshop in the lounge

1pm – Course finishes

Sunday Poem – Allison McVety

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This week has gone by really quickly – it’s been pretty busy but in a manageable way, rather than a manic way.   On Monday I drove to Kendal to pick two of the young writers, Ellie and Lizzie who attend Dove Cottage Young Poets which I run on behalf of the Wordsworth Trust.  We then drove to Manchester to the Royal Exchange where I was standing in as House Poet for the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends Reading Series.  Liz Venn, the usual House Poet, was off on her holidays.  Although I’ve done the House Poet job before, it was a long time ago. I think I stood in once for David Tait when he was ill, but it is all rather hazy in my mind now.

Ellie and Lizzie were great fun on the journey and I was treated to recitations of Spike Milligan, Christina Rosseti and the first half of the first chapter of Pride and Prejudice.  I kid you not.  I also had a go at reading my Thomas Hardy poem which I’m learning off by heart, and although I had a couple of stumbles I got through it.  It has made me more determined to learn some more poetry to amuse myself whilst I’m driving now.

The star poet on Monday night should have been Kit Wright, but he had to cancel due to illness, so Adam O’Riordan stepped in at very late notice to fill in. It was a great evening over all and lovely to meet lots of students who are currently on the MA at Manchester.  I will admit to a surge of jealousy – I absolutely loved doing the MA and wish I could do it all over again – but I suppose that would be a bit sad, to keep turning up every year to do the same course…

Apart from Carol Ann Duffy and Adam O’Riordan and myself, there were two other readers, Martin Kratz and Paul McGhee.  Paul is a current student on the MA and is just starting his writing-up year.  I hadn’t met him before so it was great to hear some of his poetry.  Readers of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of Martin Kratz’s poetry – you may remember one of his Skeleton Man poems which featured on this blog quite a while ago.  Martin doesn’t have a pamphlet out yet, but I will be first in the queue to get one when he does.

I managed to sell ten pamphlets as well which I was very happy about – not sure if this was due to my sparkling delivery, or thanks to Ellie and Lizzie who positioned themselves near the book stall and whilst waving my pamphlet about, said in very loud voices ‘wow, look at this book it’s amazing’ etc before the reading started.

By the time I got back to Barrow on Monday night after dropping Ellie and Lizzie off in Kendal, it was about 1.30am so teaching classes of trumpets on Tuesday seemed to be particularly loud to my slightly foggy brain.

This week has also been shaped by the fact that we are having our bathroom completely redone – it is taking about two weeks because everything is being ripped out.  This has meant I have had to be creative about where I get my showers after my runs – on Tuesday night after a 12 kilometre run with the Walney Wind Cheetahs, I went and imposed on my friend Janet and took advantage of her lovely power shower.  I also had a brainwave later on in the week and went and did a spinning class at the gym and used the shower there as well.  It has actually been fun coming home from work and seeing the bathroom slowly change from being full of an avocado green suite to being completely empty and stripped down by Tuesday, to what it looks like at the minute with the bath plumbed in, and the sink and toilet in place but not connected.
I’ve got quite a few writing jobs done this week. I’ve been working on the proofs for my collection by email with Amy, sending it back and forward for most of the week.  I’m looking forward to the moment when I’m not allowed to mess about with it any more, because until then, it’s quite hard to think about anything else.  If you would like to have a look at the cover you can find it over at the Seren’s blog as well as information on other collections that are forthcoming from Seren.  I’ve also been working on the blurb for an online course that I’m running with the Poetry School and with the help of the ever patient Will Barrett finally got that finished this week.  I won’t say too much about it, but it will be running in the summer and is based around Transformation in poetry, referring specifically to Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  I’ve been taking the first tentative steps towards putting together a project combining a brass band and poetry.  I can’t really say too much about this either at the minute, mainly because I haven’t actually got too far with any concrete planning, but I can say that one of the best brass bands in the country is potentially interested in being involved.  My next job for this is to arrange a face-to-face meeting with the Chairman and the Musical Director to talk through what the project could entail, so that is one of my jobs for this week.  The residential poetry course which I’m running at the end of March is filling up nicely.  I have the timetable ready to go and I will remember to put it up tomorrow night – I was meant to put it up last week but with everything else going on it slipped my mind.   At the last count there were only two places left on the course, so if you are thinking of coming, please book to avoid missing out.  You can find a general overview on the ‘Residential Courses‘ page on this blog or you can go to the Abbot Hall website.

On Friday I spent the day at South Walney Infant School, running a poetry workshop for two Year 2 classes.  It was my first time working with Key Stage 1, as a poet anyway.  I have done curriculum music teaching in Key Stage 1, but not poetry.  I think it went well and I think I probably learned as much as the children did.

On Saturday I decided to have a go at Park Run so I could put a figure on how much fitness I lost in my three weeks off due to illness.  The official number, I can now report is about 36 seconds, which is how far I was away from my PB.  Afterwards I walked home because the hubby had taken the car and I felt half fed-up because I’d ran as fast as I could and was way off my PB, and half pleased that it was only 36 seconds I had to make up.

On Saturday night my friend Rodolfo arrived for a visit.  I met Rodolfo in Ilkley where he was buzzing around organising events and authors and we got on straight away.  It’s been lovely to see him again – last night we went to the pub with the hubby and Jeff, who I go running with quite a lot and today we’ve been for a walk near Coniston and a Sunday roast at The Black Bull.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Allison McVety.  As soon as I read this poem, I knew I wanted to feature it here.  It is the title poem from her latest collection published by Smith/Doorstop. 

I heard Allison read at Torbay Poetry Festival a couple of years ago, and in my head, I’m convinced that I heard her read this poem.  I don’t think the book was out then, but I’m sure I remember hearing her read this first line, which I think is one of my favourite ever first lines.  It feels so beautifully balanced to me in its rhythms, but also in its meaning – it makes both perfect sense and no sense at all.  I’ve always been a sucker for lighthouse poems – in fact, the first Sunday Poem on this blog was a lighthouse poem by Carole Coates, so a collection called Lighthouses is always going to be a winner, and a collection haunted by the spirit of Virginia Woolf, one of my favourite writers can’t really put a foot wrong in my eyes.

Many of you may know Allison’s poem To the Lighthouse which won the National Poetry Competition in 2011.  The poem is a interrogation of the writer’s relationship with the novel ‘To the Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf.  The poem has so many quotable lines.  Lines like ‘I learned/everything big happens in parenthesis’ which is so true, and so wise that it stopped me in my tracks when I read it.  Or the line ‘If not/the stew what was the woman on about.’ finishing off stanza 2 in exasperation.  You can find this poem here.

But back to our Sunday Poem and that beautiful first line, which leads to a row of trees described as a ‘beam of dark light’ which is so accurate it makes me stop before I read on again.  I love the echo of the fourth line and the shift to the ‘I’ instead of the you.  What is built up in this poem is the complicated dynamic of a relationship with the ‘you’ as a tree in a row of trees, and the ‘I’ as one bird in a flock of birds.

I really love the line at the beginning of the third stanza describing the trees as ‘lighthouses swallowing the sun’.  Although the title of the poem is ‘Lighthouses’ there are no real lighthouses in the poem – the trees are compared to lighthouses, something that guides travellers home to safety, but in this poem, the birds don’t seem to be interested.  Because they are together there are ‘something more than ourselves’.

I think this is one of those poems you can get more out of every time you read it.  It has a lot of mystery.  There is enough room around its edges for the reader to walk around and look at it from every angle – my favourite type of poem.  And a good one to be reading in bed at midnight, when your eyes are tired and drooping, if you are still up by now.  But also a good one to read tomorrow morning, instead of getting up and de-icing the car.

If you would like to order the collection, you can buy it from Smith/Doorstop.  Allison has also published two previous collections with Smith/Doorstop – The Night Trotsky Came to Stay in 2007 which was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection.  Miming Happiness, her second collection was published in 2010 and work from this book was shortlisted in the Manchester Poetry Prize.   Lighthouses was published in 2014.  Her poems have appeared in The Times, The Guardian and many other poetry magazines and her work has been broadcast on Radio 3

If you would like to find out more information about Allison you can find her website here. 

I hope you enjoy the poem

Lighthouses – by Allison McVety

when you were a tree you were one tree
in a row of trees – a beam of dark light
reaching from a fixed point far across the snow
and when I was a bird I was one bird
in a flock of birds – parcels of night

folding unfolding – I added data to the air
the air was a white noise of many voices
all who looked saw the pulse of my wings
saw the world grown bigger

the trees were lighthouses swallowing the sun
asking the birds to come home and when their leaves arrived
when they spoke they were persuasive –
all calling out to the birds and the birds
were sky-ships answering back

build your nests in the crooks of our arms
sang the trees let us keep you from hawks and kites

the air lifted to the swoon of their song
we listed to their flightless words
but we were something more than ourselves
by then and – no! – we didn’t want to land

 

 

Sunday Poet – Gill Nicholson

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With the thought of some of my readers who assure me they look forward to the Sunday Poem and often sit up waiting for it with matchsticks in their eyes to keep them awake, I am determined that this post will arrive at a reasonable hour and not on the stroke of midnight.

This week has been the first week when I’ve felt like I’ve finally got back to full health and feeling like myself.  I’ve also been all fired up this week with getting lots of jobs done that I’ve been putting off.

At the beginning of the week I finally sent my Author Questionnaire back to Seren, which I’m told is very useful for the Marketing Department.  I’ve been holding onto this for about a year, putting off filling it in because I didn’t know how to answer the questions, but I’m relieved now that I’ve finally done it.

I also had a chat with the manager at Abbot Hall Hotel at the beginning of the week and found out there were only five places left for the residential poetry course that I’m co-tutoring in April with Jennifer Copley – this has now reduced down to three places, so if you are considering it, I would advise booking quickly – please get in touch if you’ve got any questions as well, I’d be more than happy to answer them.

I had a meeting with Jenny on Thursday and we now have the timetable finalised and a brief description of each workshop which I’ll put up here mid-week.  As well as a meeting, I went for a six mile run on Thursday and we had a quintet rehearsal, which I really enjoyed as we had some new music to practice and my pupil who plays in the quintet, had a brand new piccolo trumpet, which clearly needed ‘blowing in’.  It’s the first time in about 12 years I’ve played a piccolo trumpet – last time was in music college, when I split my lip trying to do the Brandenburg Concerto and couldn’t play anything for a month or so…anyway, it felt much easier playing it this time around.  Maybe I’m better than when I was 18.  Although to be fair to my 18 year old self, I wasn’t playing the Brandenburg Concerto this time, just Pastime with Good Company.

The whole of Friday I spent doing poetry stuff – planning my Young Writers workshop in the morning, then driving to Ulverston for a meeting with the committee of ‘A Poem and a Pint’.  I now have the names of two poets that I will be inviting to come and read for us this year – I’m just waiting for the venue to be booked and the dates to be confirmed before I write to the poets.

On Friday morning I planned my Young Writers workshop for Friday afternoon.  I’ve made a rule that I plan the workshop in the morning, which means I don’t spend all week doing it and it seems to be working ok so far.  We also had a new member this week in the group – I’m really hoping the numbers start to build up this year.

Afterwards I went to a Thai restaurant in Kendal and had some food whilst reading through a friend’s manuscript for her new collection and then drank tea until it was time to go to Brewery Poets in the evening.

I spent most of Saturday working through a second set of electronic proofs for my collection.  This is definitely one of my favourite things to do.  I don’t like making decisions at the best of times.  Part of me wishes that time had ran out to mess about with it.  I know what people mean now when they say they are sick of the book by the time it is published.  This didn’t really happen to me with the pamphlet because it was so quick, from learning I’d won to it being published, I think it was only three or four months.  This has been a year and a half since the collection was accepted and I know that is a pretty quick turnaround for a full collection, compared to other people’s experiences.

Today I went for an eight mile run with lots of hills and then came home and spent most of the day planning for a workshop that I’m running at a local school for their Year 2 classes.  Although I’ve taught music right down to Reception and Year 1 and 2 right up to A Level students, I’ve only ran poetry workshops for Key Stage 2 before – that’s Year 3 and upwards.

The teaching assistant at the school is also a runner so I agreed to run the workshops for half the usual fee to build up my experience and have the chance to work with the teachers and discuss what works and what doesn’t.

I’m hoping to build up the amount of poetry workshops I run in schools this year.  I’ve not really actively gone out looking for them before, I’ve just done them as and when they turn up, but some leaflets to hand out to schools is on my list of jobs to do this week.  In fact, here is my list of jobs to do

1.  Blurb for online course (am hoping to get first draft of that done after I’ve written this blog post)

2.  Prepare for tomorrow night (I’m House Poet at the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends Reading Series, standing in for usual House Poet Liz Venn, who is off on her holidays)  I need to write out the biographies of the two poets I’ll be introducing and decide what I’m reading

3.  Tax (yawn, but am determined not to do it on the 30th January and have a heart attack as the whole online system crashes, as it did last year)

4.  Burmese poetry – (I need to send off a set of questions about another poem to the translator so I can get started on this)

5. Post timetable up for residential course (midweek, I’m on it, I’m on it)

6.  Leaflets for poetry workshops in school

So there you are -there’s my list of writerly jobs which I would love to get done this week, most of which have to be done this week. In between all of that lot, I’m reading in Manchester, doing three days of music teaching and various runs around Barrow, and of course delivering the workshop in school.

Lately, a couple of people have asked me if I would like to do something with a worried look on their faces, saying ‘I know you’re really busy’.  I always feel guilty then, because I know they’ve probably been reading this blog.  And yes, I am busy, but I like it that way.  I don’t like sitting and doing nothing.  I get bored.  I like buzzing about the place.  And I’m also sure if anybody documented their week like I do on a blog, they would sound busy as well…

Today’s Sunday Poem is by my good friend Gill Nicholson.  I mistakenly thought I’d already featured a poem by Gill but when I made my list of Sunday Poets a week or so ago, I discovered she wasn’t on it.  Gill lives near me and was one of the members of one of the first poetry groups I went to and she was very helpful and encouraging towards me when I was first starting out as a writer.

Gill published her first collection, the rather wonderfully titled Naming Dusk in Dead Languages in 2010 with Handstand Press but her most recent is a pamphlet called The Buoyancy of Space, published by Hen Run, which is an imprint of Grey Hen Press.  You can find out more about Gill from her website

Gill has lived in South Cumbria for fifty years.  She taught in mainstream and special education and had her own pottery studio.  The Buoyancy of Space is a slim volume but it ranges widely.  Many of the poems show the author’s life-long love of music, but one of the more prevalent themes is aging and illness and how to deal with it.

Gill’s wonderful husband David died last year, and although we all knew he had been ill, it was still a terrible shock. I suppose every death is a shock, but it is still shocking to me.  It often catches me unawares.  David had such a distinctive voice, a rich bass voice, the lowest voice I’ve heard, and Gill and David together were very much a double act, in that way that a couple who have been together a long time and know each other inside out often are.  David was a talented poet as well – I miss both him and his poetry.

This poem was read at David’s funeral, so for me it has its own poignancy, but looking at it coldly, without the personal connection to the words, I still think it is a lovely and moving poem.

I like the way it starts as if in mid-sentence with that ‘and’ at the beginning of the poem – as if we have just joined the poet in the middle of a conversation with a friend.  The poem is full of the energy of Dudley Moore.  Because it is nearly all in one sentence it gallops down the page with its own bravura, and on first reading, you could be forgiven for forgetting that tell-tale first line, until we grind to a halt when we read

‘and then I wept to think of him/in later life reduced/to speechlessness’.

This is a poem with a hook in its tail though and those last five lines tell the truth of the poem, that the poet weeps not only for Dud, but also for the unnamed ‘you’.  The lovely rhyme of do/you at the end neatly finishes the poem off, almost in a childlike, or sing-song manner, but this disguises the heartbreak in the ending, in the same way that the poem has been disguising heartbreak, or attempting to.  And then I come back to speechlessness and back to the absence of David’s voice.

I wouldn’t like to give the impression that Gill’s poetry only deals with sadness and elegy.  What really suffuses her poetry is love, which sounds cheesy, but I don’t think that it is a coincidence that on the back of the pamphlet there is a quote from the poem Of Steps on Snow:

This love’s enough to make you shake –
you want to pick it up, press it
to your heart, but know how it could fall
apart, drop through your fingers;
how its settled flakes will melt, a trail
of footprints mark its brittle skin

I hope you enjoy the poem – please feel free to comment below

Dud by Gill Nicholson

and if they catch me weeping
I can say I’m weeping over Dud –
today I saw him play
Beethoven Bogey on Utube,
revealing every classical cliche
with wicked eyes
and flashing grin.
He kept on glancing up at me
knowing I would marvel
at his technical bravura,
thumping out the coda
till you thought he’d burst
or that the keys would fly apart,
the dampers split their sides,
the body of his Grand collapse,
and how he said to Terry,
I can’t speak but I can play,
sliding mock exhausted to the floor.
I laughed and laughed,
and then I wept to think of him
in later life reduced
to speechlessness.
So if they catch me weeping
I can say I weep for Dud
and yes, it’s true, I do,
but really, who I’m weeping for
is you.

Dudley Moore CBE 19th April 1935-27th March 2002

Sunday Poem – John Foggin

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This week has been a strange one – in some ways it feels like the laziest Christmas/New Year period I’ve had for a long time.  The husband has post-viral fatigue syndrome – which I had a couple of years ago and is truly horrible.  It basically means you’re exhausted all the time but he has had other symptoms -feeling sick, sore throat, not eating (first time in ten years I’ve ever known him not to eat) so to show solidarity with him I have been sitting on the sofa for hours re-watching Game of Thrones.  But also because I was tired as well – it felt like I was hovering on the edge of getting better so I decided I would start running again and do some jobs but spend most of my time sitting/lying on the sofa.

Apart from lying on the sofa watching TV and cooking – how we have both survived my cooking all week is anybody’s guess – although the thought has just occurred to me that maybe it is my cooking which is making the husband ill – anyway, apart from all that, I’ve started running again.

I went last Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.  I think every single one has been painful, frustrating and has felt like such hard work.  I’ve had three weeks off due to being ill but it feels like three months.  It feels like starting again, although of course I’m not.  I haven’t lost that much fitness, but every time I run, part of me is in a complete sulk that the speed I’m running at is much slower than what I was doing, and what is worse, feels hard.  My legs feel heavy, I’m getting out of breath at a pace that I could have easily carried out a conversation at before.  I think a lot of it is psychological as well and I just need to push through this slightly rocky patch now.

My New Year’s Resolution this year is to spend at least one hour every day reading and writing poetry.  I promised myself I would do this after coming back from tutoring with Clare Shaw on our residential poetry course but if I’m honest, I didn’t really stick to it.  So far, this year, and bearing in mind we’re only on the 4th January, I have stuck to it.  I was inspired again to have another go after reading Josephine Corcoran’s blog in which she is promising to write for an hour every day.

I don’t want to write for an hour every day because I don’t work like that, in concentrated periods of time.  I like reading poems and then writing a bit, reading a bit, writing a bit, so that’s why I’m saying I’m going to read and write.   They are so bound up together for me anyway.

So in my hour a day since New Year I’ve finished off The Deep North by Bronwyn Lee which I’ve really enjoyed and have just finished today a book by Ron Egatz which I bought at Aldeburgh as well.

The other thing I’m doing which I suppose is shaping up to be a New Year Resolution, although I only decided to do it yesterday was to learn a poem by heart a month.  Here I am with my Poetry Promise

poetrypromise

Have a look on the Poetry by Heart website if you would like to find out more information – it is basically a national competition for school children to encourage young people to learn poems off by heart, but this week on Twitter they were asking for people to make a ‘Poetry Promise’.  You can download the piece of paper I’m holding from their website and fill in your own goal here if you like.  I can’t claim the credit for this – the poet Ben Wilkinson made me aware of it first and even came up with the goal and I know a bandwagon when I see one!  BUT if anybody wants to join me, I would love to hear what poem you are going to learn this month.  I’ve decided to go for a poem I’ve always loved and one I would like to know by heart – ‘The Voice’ by Thomas Hardy.  I’m guessing that I can copy it out below, for those of you who might not know it and that I won’t get in any trouble as it is out of copyright…

The Voice – Thomas Hardy

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed, from the one that was all to me
But as at first, when our day was fair.

Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you then.
Standing as when I drew near to the town.
Where you would wait for me, yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!

Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?

Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.

I loved this poem as soon as I heard it – the yearning in that first line – and the lovely repetition.  And to rhyme wistlessness and listlessness.  And I love the commas and the faltering, stop, start rhythm of it…So far I have managed to remember accurately the first two lines…

This week I’ve also been working on a translation of a Burmese poem – the poem is by Moon Thueain.  I’m working from a literal translation and then emailing back and forward between Moon, her translator Pandora and the lovely Sasha Dugdale, the editor of my current favourite magazine Modern Poetry in Translation.  Last night found me trying to find a replacement for the line ‘We are not fools’ which was first translated as ‘We are not lemons’.  The original Burmese used a fruit whose name translates as ‘to be insulted’.  Of course we don’t have an equivalent in English – so at first I went for ‘We are not fools’ but Pandora asked me to try and find a metaphor that would encapsulate what Moon wanted – the word ‘fools’ was too direct.  So at the minute I have

‘We are not here
to stand like donkeys,
silent at your words’

which is not a literal translation.  It could be argued that it is not even a translation! There is no donkey in Moon’s poem – but I think it captures the intention of the poet.  Maybe this is hard to explain as well without showing you the whole poem, and I can’t do that, because it will hopefully, if I can get it right, be published in Modern Poetry in Translation at some point.  I should reassure you all that the poem I’m writing will be a version of Moon’s poem – it won’t be presented as a direct translation.

I have been enjoying the process, and am gearing myself up to have a go at another one of Moon’s poems.  The first step is to have a look at the literal translation and send a long list of questions and queries to Pandora, so I may do that in my hour of reading and writing tomorrow!

Would you believe me if I said I started writing this blog at 7pm? I did have to stop about 8pm and make dinner but still – I have no idea why it takes me this long.  But here we are, at this week’s Sunday Poem.  John Foggin wrote a great post today, talking about form and how he doesn’t usually use form-

“What I can’t do is sit down and plan to squeeze an idea or a feeling into a terza rima, or a sestina or a sonnet. I can’t see the point of it. I’m not saying there isn’t one, but I find it quite hard enough to find out what I think I’m thinking or feeling, and what it might mean, without things being edited out by form or rhyme.”

I would have completely agreed with John until a couple of months ago when I ran a workshop for the Young Writers I work with on sonnets, and sat down to write one myself.  But I want to talk about writing a sestina, which happened more recently and was more extraordinary to me because I hate sestinas.  I wanted to do a session with the young writers though, and reading about sestinas, and making some notes that I could give to them about the form, I wrote that sestinas normally tackle obsessions, which fit with the obsessive nature of the form.  When I read this to the group, I suddenly knew what I was going to write about, the thing that obsesses me, the thing that I don’t stop thinking about, which is the domestic violence that the sequence I’ve been working on for my new collection deals with.  The sestina has turned out to be the title poem of the sequence.  I’ve always had the title, I just didn’t have the title poem.

I would never, ever start with a form usually, but I just wrote the first stanza, and then whatever words ended up at the end of each line, I just went with them.  It was like following a meandering path around and above and over and under this thing that has haunted me for years.  So I think that is what form can do – it doesn’t do it for me personally very often, but when it works, it works.

I’ve only quoted a small part of John’s blog as well and it is a fascinating read and I would urge you to read the rest of the post where he goes into more detail about his thoughts on writing and reading and resolutions – the link is further down the page but I would like to meander, finally to the Sunday Poem which is by the lovely John.

This poem seems to me  a poem to be read at the beginning of a new year, which is also, of course the end of an old one.  It is a poem of crossroads, of being between things, of being nowhere that has a name.  I love how each stanza creates an image, like a freeze frame from a film.  The poet gives us just enough information to be able to picture what he means exactly, but enough room to be able to bring our own imagination to it as well.  I’ve just read the Introduction to Don Paterson’s ‘Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets’ and it he quotes Antonio Porchia who says ‘I know what I have given you; I do not know what you have received’.  This articulates for me what a good poem is and I think this poem illustrates it beautifully.

This poem is the title poem of John’s new pamphlet Larach.  Larach is published by Ward Wood Publishing  and was part of John’s prize for winning the 2014 Lumen Camden Poetry Competition, judged by Andrew Motion.  The winning poem in this competition, ‘Camera Obscura’ was also Highly Commended in the Forward Prize.

I could have picked any of a number of poems in John’s pamphlet to feature here.  He ranges widely, exploring Greek mythology, but with a tenderness and a searching whilst doing so, as in the opening lines of ‘Hephaestus’

‘ugly and lame, whose mother threw
all down the sky; you know how falling feels’

but you will also find some beautiful poems of landscape in the pamphlet, very carefully observed.  Probably my favourite poem of the pamphlet is ‘Our David’s Pictures’, which describes a son who has died and the pictures he drew when he was alive.  Each stanza is so carefully controlled and contained but the emotion behind this poem can’t be contained.  I haven’t put this poem up because you can find it on John’s own blog The Great Fogginzo’s Cobweb . You’ll also find another one of John’s Greek mythology poems ‘Dedalus’ in the same post as well.

John Foggin’s poems have appeared in The North, The New Writer and The Interpreter’s House.  He organises and comperes The Puzzle Hall Poets monthly readings at The Puzzle Inn, in Sowerby Bridge.  In 2013 he won The Plough Poetry Competition and in 2014 he won The Red Shed Competition.  His first two pamphlets Running out of space and Backtracks were published in April and August 2014.

I hope you enjoy the poem, and do pay a visit to John’s blog, where you can buy his first two pamphlets, and to Ward Wood Publishing if you would like to buy Larach.

Larach – John Foggin

On O.S. maps, the Gaelic
for a place that isn’t anymore.
The ghost of a place.

Like that road in Spain; a hot night wind,
the churring of cicadas.  Cactus;
salt in the air.

The little white-harled place, somewhere
in the Borders, prim and discreet
as a cough in a chapel.

Cut-down oil-drum drinking troughs
in roadside dust.  Goatbells,
olives, stone.  That place.

And where the stag stood in the yellow
of the headlight, the dark swirl
of blown snow.  There.

Or one grey dawn where
a flurry of buzzards flapped off
a sop of a sheep in the turf cut.

Larach.  A pibroch for places
passed by, passed over;
for the ache of forgetting
or not forgetting.

2014 Review

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Last night I got one of my many empty notebooks which live in my house and started to write down the name and date of all the Sunday Poets I’ve featured on this blog.  I wanted a record of these names to check I hadn’t missed anybody off, but I was also curious to check the gender balance of the Sunday Poets as well.

I’ve had a little twinge of guilt every now and then because I felt like my enthusiasm for individual poems was driving the selection of the Sunday Poets – which is good, but the downside of this is that I had no idea whether I had an equal number of male and female poets.  And I really want to keep an equal number really – so going forward in 2015 I will be keeping this at the back of my mind as the poems go up.

It was really interesting, and it was strange how some of the poems I posted in 2012 seemed as if I’d put them up only last week, I could remember them so well.  The Sunday Poem feature started on the 15th April 2012 with Carole Coates.  In that year I featured 33 poets, 16 male and 17 female.

2013 was the first full year of doing the Sunday Poem and featured a grand total of 46 poets.  This time there were 23 men and 23 women.  I felt quite pleased with myself before realising that really, this should just be a given, not something to be pleased about!

In 2014 I featured a total of 42 poets.  Only 15 were men and 27 were women.  I feel as if I’ve been reading more women’s poetry this year so these figures are probably a reflection of this, but I would like to keep the figures even in 2015, so I’m going to keep an eye on it!

The other thing I’d like to do in 2015 is to feature a full 52 poems and not have any weeks off.  I need to work out how to blog in advance and get WordPress to update itself at a specific time, which will help when I’m gallivanting off at weekends.

However this is supposed to be looking back at 2014, not leaping forward.  Here are a few of my highlights.

Top 5 Non Poetry Things I’ve Done This Year

1.  Started Running Again
I started running because superwomanpoet Clare Shaw asked me if I’d do a Total Warrior race with her.  I decided I really needed to get into some kind of fitness.  It was ten years since I’d pulled on a pair of trainers, but I joined my local ‘fun’ running group, the Walney Wind Cheetahs and started training in April.  Since then I’ve completed the Total Warrior Race, as well as numerous 5k Park Runs, three 10k races and a half marathon.  Running is definitely the best thing I’ve done this year.  I feel so much happier in myself since I started.

2.  Joined ‘Soul Survivors’
After quite a few years of being a retired trumpet player for various complicated reasons that probably need a whole blog post in themselves, I’ve come out of retirement unofficially.  Which means I’m only playing in the things I want to play in, like soul bands and brass quintets, and avoiding all orchestral gigs.

3.  Moved House
I’m so glad I moved house! I didn’t realise till I moved how lovely it is to hear birds singing when you open the front door!  I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere where I’ve heard that, although in my old house, the seagulls were very noisy outside and would often dive bomb you on your way to the car if their chicks were there.  Moving house was a hassle and as annoying as everybody said it would be, but it was worth it.  No more street fights in the early hours of the morning – at least not yet anyway.

4.  Holiday to Scotland with Jay-Ven Lee and David Tait and the husband
We had a great time this summer staying in a cottage in the north west corner of Scotland with David, Jay and the husband.  Yes, we were eaten alive by midges and intimidated by the red stags.  Yes we were often blown away by the wind.  And yes, there was one time when I may have sulked slightly because I lost at cards.  All the makings of a perfect holiday!

5.  Barrow Shipyard Junior Band
My brass band continue to make up for all the slightly rubbishy parts of my job by being wonderful.  This year they managed to win the South Cumbria Music Festival and the Kirby Lonsdale competition.  This Christmas they have been absolute superstars, carolling in the supermarkets to raise money for the band.

Top 5 Poetry Highlights

1.  Signing a contract with Seren for the publication of my first collection
I still can’t believe this is happening.  A big part of why I decided I wanted to be with Seren was because of Amy Wack, my editor.  Her enthusiasm and generosity, both towards my poetry and me has been overwhelming and it feels wonderful to have somebody who believes in my work.  But I’m also really happy to be with a publisher that publishes so many poets I admire like Carrie Etter, Deryn Rees-Jones etc

2.  Poet in Residence at Ilkley Literature Festival
Getting this job felt like a dream come true.  I gained so much experience and confidence from being poet in residence and there were lots of highlights.  Probably my favourite thing I did during the festival though was the one to one tutorials and judging the Open Mic competition.  Looking back now I think I was slightly crazy, teaching Monday to Wednesday then driving down Wednesday night, staying in Ilkley till Sunday and driving home again.  From this distance, even the exhaustion seems glamorous.

3.  Digital Poet in Residence at The Poetry School
This came before the Ilkley residency and without the Digital residency, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to apply to Ilkley.  Will Barrett at The Poetry School was really supportive and gave me great feedback on the prose that I was writing and helped me to tighten it up.   It combined two of my favourite things – writing and talking to people (online of course)

4.  Residential Courses
I know this is two highlights seamlessly amalgamated into one, but I felt really privileged to be teaching on the two residentials that I ran this year.  The poets who signed up were talented, keen and enthusiastic so we had a great week, both in St Ives in October and in Grange over Sands during April, and it was a privilege to work with Clare Shaw and Jennifer Copley.

5.  Aldeburgh Poetry Festival
Aldeburgh was a huge highlight, as I knew it would be.  My team won the Poetry Quiz!  And apart from that, it was amazing to be back.  I spent all my money on books again – I dread to think how much.  I’m still making my way through them all now, a couple of weeks later.

Talking of Anthony Wilson, in his Poetry Highlights blog he finishes

“But when I think of what poetry did to me in 2014, I go back to that morning at the campsite reading Ilhan Berk, the sky a cloudless blue and somewhere in it a skylark, briefly muffling the sea”

I was very taken with thinking of this idea of what poetry did to me in 2014.  I think for me, I think of those times when I’ve been actually writing, which have been less than I would have liked this year.  I think of that feeling I get, which feels like rushing, like I can’t write fast enough for the words.  It’s a slightly nauseous feeling, like controlled panic, and it is this which tells me I’m chasing the heels of a poem, rather than just writing my thoughts down.  Most of the time this happens to me in a workshop with other people sitting close by, and there is a strange stillness in the air.

So I’m sure I’ve forgotten lots of other things and this has been a hard post to write because I still don’t feel like I’ve summed 2014 up very well.  Whilst doing all of these amazing things, these residencies and working on my collection, I’ve had so many doubts about whether I could do any of it.  What I haven’t mentioned very much are the amazing friends and the lovely husband who often tell me to get a grip and pull myself together when I’m wallowing in insecurity –  people like David Tait and Andrew Forster and John Foggin and Keith Hutson and Clare Shaw and Noel Williams and Jennifer Copley – just doing the things that we do for our friends but it wouldn’t be a highlight post without mentioning them.

I’m looking forward to 2015 – as Roy Marshall posted on Facebook – the year my book is coming out. I’ve already got readings from the book lined up in Leeds, Halifax, Ulverston and Croatia!  So there is lots to look forward to.  I hope to see some of you in the real world during 2015, and thanks for following this blog, and putting up with my meandering thoughts!