Today I was supposed to be running the Great North-West half marathon. However, with my dodgy inflamed tendon and random hip pains I decided it probably wasn’t sensible. In fact, yesterday, after doing 5k at Barrow Park Run and having to slow down after the first three kilometres I decided I’m going to have a week off running this week, give my body a complete rest and then slowly start building up again. This week I’ve only done three short runs of between 3-4 miles each time, and although it feels like it’s better, it still doesn’t feel right. It’s a strange pain because it doesn’t feel bad enough to stop running, it’s not that painful, more uncomfortable, but I have a feeling that if I just rest it completely it might repair itself a bit quicker. In between the short runs I’ve been doing Pilates and exercise classes, which I reluctantly admit probably haven’t helped things to be honest.
Looking on the bright side though, I have lots of work to keep me occupied so I’ve decided to use this week where I will be literally sitting on my behind to get on with all the things I didn’t do last week because I was gallivanting round to various exercise classes.
The weather has been so awful here and in Blackpool where the half marathon was taking place that I was kind of relieved not to be going – they have apparently had gale force winds and hailstones. Here, the husband tells me that it is very cold and raining. I can see the rain but I haven’t felt the cold because I haven’t been out at all today – just lounged around the house in my pyjamas. Last day of the half term holiday and all that.
I have, however, managed to get some emails answered that were overdue and to plan one of the workshops for the residential course that I’m running in April. The hotel tells me it has now sold out and they have started a waiting list! Rather than starting at the beginning of the week and working my way through, I’ve decided to start in the middle and plan the ‘Fencing In Your Poems’ workshop.
Yesterday I started reading ‘What have I ever lost by dying’ by Robert Bly which is an amazing, amazing collection of prose poems. ‘The Starfish’ is the second in the collection and it was when I read this poem that I realised that’s it, I’ve found another poet to be obsessed by, I need to buy everything he’s ever written etc etc. You can find ‘The Starfish’ on The Writer’s Almanac. All of the poems in the collection I have are prose poems, and in all of them he is looking out at the world and writing with incredibly careful details but then he uses the observations to launch off – so the colour of the starfish is ‘old carbon paper, or an attic dress’.
At first when I was reading the collection I felt a mild sense of outrage – why had none of my poetry friends told me about him before? And then I remembered the lovely Hilda Sheehan enthusing about him at Swindon Poetry Festival a couple of years ago – I’m sure I do, which is probably what made me buy the collection at Aldeburgh this year from the second-hand bookshop.
So this is the answer to the question of why aren’t more people buying poetry books, I’ve decided. We need to enthuse about our favourite poets more to each other. Yes, I know, I bought Robert Bly from a second hand bookshop, which isn’t going to help his sales very much. BUT I have such an obsessive nature I will now have to go and buy more of his books brand new – I can’t wait for them to turn up in second hand bookshops any more…
One of my favourite things about writing this blog actually is when someone likes the Sunday Poem enough to go and seek out a book by the author and buy it. Especially if you don’t get it from Amazon – so please keep letting me know if you liked the poem enough to buy the collection.
I’ve had quite a nice week this week – I’ve been doing a lot more reading. I’ve got a shelf of poetry books that I’ve not read yet, or only read once and very quickly, so I’m making my way through those. I’ve read ‘Smith’ by Don Paterson, which discusses the poetry of Michael Donaghy (really interesting), two first collections for the second time – Arundhati Subramanium’s ‘When God is a Traveller’ (very good) and Mir Mahfuz Ali’s Midnight, Dhaka (excellent) and ‘The Customs House’ by Andrew Motion which I bought back at Ilkley Literature Festival last year and haven’t got round to reading yet. I really enjoyed it, especially the first half which consists of ‘found’ poems and poems made of reported speech from soldiers.
On Monday I went to Manchester Metropolitan University to talk to some soon-to-be graduates about employment after graduation, the irony not being lost on me that this is the least ’employed’ I’ve ever been in my life, down to only three days a week teaching and freelance stuff the rest of the time. There were only a few students there, and no writers, so I’m not sure if they found it relevant or not as there was me and a lovely novelist there, Sarah Jasmon, who graduated the year after me and is about to have her first novel published this summer.
Kate Johnson, who is the Post Graduate Student Experience Tutor, told us that her job at Manchester Met was advertised as a full-time job but she emailed the head of the department and said could she apply for it as a job share and the head of department told her to put an application in and then she got the job. I would never do that – I often see jobs that I’d love to do but then I think it won’t fit around my other commitments and I don’t bother applying. So that kind of taught me a lesson to not assume that I can’t do something – the old cliche about putting up your own barriers is so true. Over and over again, what came up during the workshop was having confidence to go for something.
So after the workshop I felt so inspired I applied to do some freelance work that I suppose, publishing wise, I’m on the cusp of being ‘published enough’ but teaching experience wise, I’ve got more than enough. So I will see what comes back – so far I’ve not heard anything but then it’s only been less than a week.
I entered two competitions this week as well – not because I’ve written two amazing masterpieces – they are definitely not that, but more to get back into the swing of submitting after having quite a long break.
So this week’s Sunday Poem is by Lindsey Holland, who I met a couple of years ago when she was one of the editors/publishers of an anthology called Sculpted: Poetry of the North West which I had a poem in. Since then, Lindsey has become a good friend. Where ever she goes, seals and dolphins appear – ok, maybe not absolutely everywhere she goes, but when she came to visit me a couple of months ago, we went to Piel Island and sat and watched a seal bobbing up and down looking at us for about fifteen minutes and then the next day we went to Whitehaven and saw a family of dolphins swimming up and down outside the harbour.
Lindsey sent me a few poems from a new pamphlet that she is working on called ‘Bloodlines’ which explores her family history, focusing on her great great grandmother Catherine, who was born in Greencock and moved to Liverpool where she married a mariner. This poem comes from about midway through Catherine’s story, just after she has given birth and her baby has died. Catherine’s cousin is looking after her.
I’ve read a few poems from Lindsey’s pamphlet and they are incredibly ambitious. I picked this poem because I really enjoyed the ambition of it – it left me wanting to know what happens next, and also what happened before, and because it is a really interesting story – the idea of a pet ape being buried in consecrated ground is interesting but this is a secondary story behind the story of the birth and the mother so the poem has quite a few layers.
I like how the poem starts right in the thick of action with that intriguing first line ‘You were still torn up after the birth’ which refers to both physical and emotional pain. I think it’s also interesting that we get a sense of the time that the poem is set in without it being overtly stated – from the attitude of the men, from the list of medicines before we even get to the introduction of Jacko.
The desecration of Jacko’s body is drawn really vividly – a lot of the physical descriptions surround the description of his body after he is exhumed – ‘his body thrust out like a carnival dummy’ and the sympathy of the reader is centered on the ape and it is not until the last stanza when we read ‘she boils your herbs’ that the lost baby is suddenly brought back into focus. I think the emotion of this poem is translated by the precise use of language and description – this is a harrowing story but it is told without sentimentality.
You can read two more of Lindsey’s poems at fab online magazine B O D Y . Her first book Particle Soup was published by the Knives Forks and Spoons Press in 2012. She’s the founder of the network North West Poets and she also co-edits the new online magazine ‘The Compass‘. As well as editing Sculpted: Poetry of the North West she also edited another anthology Not On Our Green Belt. She was Poet in Residence at Chester Zoo in 2014 and is currently working on a full collection based on her family history. She has an MA in Writing from the University of Warwick and she now teaches poetry at Edge Hill University.
Thanks to Lindsey for letting me use her poem
Poor Jacko – Lindsey Holland
You were still torn up after the birth. A grief in clots
that stuck and swelled until they overflowed in the hush
of your rooms on Broad Close. You stuffed a fist
in your mouth so the women next door wouldn’t hear
and sympathise too well, the gossips, or their men complain,
‘it was a weak bairn anyway’. She heard you, stifled,
and being a good friend, didn’t tell you what she saw
whilst shopping for remedies — speedwell, figwort, lavender —
and cloth for bandages. She talked about the medicine
and not about the monkey even though, years before,
you’d have sniggered together at those boys’ antics:
how they watched old Cockin’ Kirsty, a spinster mocked
for her frills and limp, bury her darling ape
in consecrated ground. Poor Jacko, the lads exhumed
and lobbed his corpse over the fence, paraded him,
his body thrust out like a carnival dummy, targeting
the most well-laced pedestrians. How they hoisted him
to see, unseeing, through windows where workers
stooped and sallow, blinked at his crooked gape,
uncertain they were sober. How they ran, those boys,
his carcass trailing, cracking behind, knocking his ribs
and skull on the cobbles. How he broke so easily, his eyes lost,
jaw smashed. She boiled your herbs, and didn’t mention
the shapelessness. How quick it was. How fur can rip.