Monthly Archives: April 2015

Sunday Poem – Terry Quinn

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Today I’m writing this with pleasantly aching legs and shoulders after completing a 13 kilometre run in the sunshine with the husband and my two long-suffering dogs, Miles and Lola.  Chris and I are planning to run the first Hoad Hill Half Marathon together in August so we are very gradually building up the distance we run on our long run we do each week.  Next week I will probably do another 13 kilometre run as today I really struggled for the last two kilometres.  When Chris gets tired he talks more to distract himself and when I get tired I talk less so it works out ok.

We went for something to eat at Low Sizergh Barn and then had a look in the shop and I got very excited when I spotted some of Mike Barlow’s books in there, and some of the pamphlets that he publishes from Wayleave Press as well.  I bought William Gilson’s new pamphlet after reading the first poem, which is very good.  I also like to buy poetry if I see it out in the open and in an unexpected place, like a gift shop in the hope they will continue to stock it!

Yesterday I did Barrow Park Run, and after a couple of good runs recently and all the hill running I’d been doing in Crete, I thought I would push myself to see how close I could get to my PB.  I managed 23.27 which is only 18 seconds of my PB so I was very chuffed and feel full of beans and ready to have a go at the Dalton 10k this Friday.  I’d like to try and get close to 50 minutes but I have no idea if this is a bit unrealistic, as it is a pretty hilly course but I will have a crack at it anyway!

Last night was Poem and a Pint with guest poet Beatrice Garland and my very own South Lakes Brass Ensemble as the musicians.  It was at Greenodd Village Hall and at 7.25, five minutes before it was due to start there was about four people in the audience, not counting the brass ensemble.  We were also dressed in our customary black which I realised looked like we’d come from a funeral, but never mind.  Anyway, my heart was beginning to slowly sink as I thought about Beatrice (who also hadn’t arrived by that point) coming into a rather large village hall and being greeted with four people and a funeral party.  Then suddenly, people started arriving and we ended up with a full room!

Lovely Danny, who is the singer from the Soul Survivors turned up with his wife when I told him I’d be playing which I was really touched by.  I don’t think either of them had been to a poetry reading before but they seemed to enjoy it.  Rather bizarrely, our local MP, John Woodcock also turned up and read a very short limerick about the election which you can find on his twitter page if you are so inclined.  I admired him for getting up and reading a poem and I also felt a bit sorry for him as he got collared by various people and complained at, or told that they were voting Green, or asked about this or that.  It was Saturday night after all – and he had read a poem which I think should have given him a free pass out of politics for the evening.  Then again, it is his job!

The really weird thing was that even though the open mic performers and Beatrice didn’t know he was there, they read quite a few political poems.  Beatrice read a great poem about working in the NHS.  I was suprised how much politics seeped into people’s poetry in a way I haven’t noticed before. Another strange thing – Beatrice read quite a few poems about falling and then came and told me she’d just written a poem called The Art of Falling, inspired by Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘The Art of Losing’.  Maybe falling is going to be one of those things that everybody writes about like bees were a couple of years ago!  Thank goodness my book is out already!

After the interval I had to switch into musician mode and I performed with the South Lakes Brass Ensemble.  The most popular piece seemed to be Pastime with Good Company which we played to start off, and ‘The Nearness of You’, which is a Hoagy Carmichael number arranged to feature the French Horn.  Someone came up to me and said that it had made them cry, which my sister as the soloist was very pleased about.  I was doing the introductions to the pieces and I couldn’t believe how out of breath I was from playing – it was like I’d been for a run.  I don’t know why I keep being suprised lately by what a physical thing it is to play the trumpet.

The rest of last week was all given over to rehearsals – Monday night with the junior band, Tuesday night with the South Lakes Brass Ensemble, Wednesday with the Soul Survivors and Thursday with the South Lakes Brass Ensemble.

Poetry-wise, I spent Thursday finishing off a review I’m writing for Under the Radar magazine.  The two books I’m reviewing are The Years by Tom Duddy and Common Ground by D A Prince, both published by the marvellous HappenStance.  I really enjoyed writing this review and I also love working with Maria Taylor, who is the Reviews Editor.  She is always very patient with me, and finds a way of correcting my sometimes rather silly mistakes without making me feel silly or stupid.

On Friday morning I finished off the review and then planned my workshop for Dove Cottage Young Poets which I was running in the afternoon.  I left at lunchtime to have a quick meeting with Ian at Abbots Hall Art Gallery.  On the 15th May the art gallery are having an event called ‘A Night of a Thousand Selfies’.  There will be lots of stuff going on – music, a photobooth, a temporary tattoo artist, free pizza and drinks and an open mic, which I will be running.  I’m looking for more poets to read on the Open Mic, so if you are interested, please get in touch, or have a look here for more information.

I’m feeling more and more excited about next Wednesday, which is the first public reading from The Art of Falling.  The reading is in Leeds at the Heart Cafe in Headingley and I’m reading alongside John Foggin, Andrew Forster, Keith Hutson, Peter White and Mark Connors.  It would be great to see any of you there if you happen to live within striking distance of Leeds.  It has been a strange feeling, having a box of my books living underneath my desk like some sort of hibernating pet.  So many of my friends have got in touch to say that they have bought copies already that I’m beginning to doubt the wisdom of buying a box of 100 – am I being too optimistic?  We will see – I’ve got a few readings coming up, and although I know how fast my pamphlet sells, I have no idea how fast the book will sell – it is going to be a bit of a learning curve.  At the minute there are no plans to sell the book through this blog, as you can get a copy with 20% off direct through Seren.  If you would like a signed copy, make your way to one of the readings on the ‘Readings and Workshops’ page or email me!

So today’s Sunday Poem is by Terry Quinn, who I met quite a few years ago now.  I can’t actually remember where we met – probably at an open mic in Lancaster actually.  I’ve been meaning to ask Terry for a Sunday Poem for at least two years.  His collection ‘The Amen of Knowledge’ came out with Indigo Dreams Press in 2013 after he won the Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize in 2012 and I read it, thought ‘ooh, I must ask Terry for a poem’ and then forgot to actually ask.  Well, I never claimed to be organised!

Terry Quinn was born in Birmingham and settled in Preston in 1995. He retired in 2012 from his career as a Medical Engineer in the NHS.

Terry has been active in the local poetry scene for over 15 years and is Vice President of Preston Poets’ Society.  As well as his Indigo Dreams publication which you can get hold of a copy of here Terry also published another collection in 2010 called ‘Away’ published by Poetry Monthly Press.

He has been published recently in The North, South, French Literary Review, Acumen and Ink, Sweat and Tears.  His poem is featured on the BBC Poetry Proms website as a runner up in the competition and if you find yourself in Guernsey, you will see one of his poems on a bus!  Terry also has a blog here if you would like to find out more about him.

I’ve asked Terry for two poems, because they are only short ones and I liked them both too much to choose between.  ‘Wishful Thinking’ makes me laugh because my husband really did once come home and say ‘I almost bought you some flowers today’.  But there is also something really sad in the last verse – if it was being read out, it is probably one of those poems that would make you laugh in the first verse and then feel guilty for laughing in the second verse.  ‘Couples’ is so completely right with its description of one of the tribulations of being alone that I had to ask for that one too.  I like the linebreaks in ‘Couples’ as well, especially the words ‘One’ being on a line by themselves – it has a William Carlos Williams feel to it as it falls down the page.

Thanks to Terry for letting me use two of his poems, and apologies that it has taken so long to put them up!

 

Wishful Thinking – Terry Quinn

Have you still
got the dress
I almost
bought you

or did you
throw it out
with all
the other stuff

 

Couples

One
Gets a table
One
Joins the queue
Leaving me
Standing
With a tray
And a terrible
Sense of injustice

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Sunday Poem – Greg White

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Evening all – this week has been another busy week (is there any other kind?) It feels like I’ve been in non-stop rehearsals.  On Monday I had junior band rehearsal as usual and then Wednesday I had a rehearsal with the Soul Survivors, the nine-piece soul band that I play in.  It’s the first rehearsal I’ve been to in a month because I’ve been away.  On Thursday I had a rehearsal with the South Lakes Brass Ensemble – we are the musicians for the next Poem and a Pint on April 25th, held at Greenodd Village Hall.  The event starts at 7.30pm and it would be great to see some of you there.  The guest poet is Beatrice Garland.  Traditionally, our numbers go down when we go out into the village venues, so I hope any Cumbrian admirers of brass music, poetry or open mics will come and support us and Beatrice, who is travelling all the way from London to read in South Cumbria.

After the rehearsal with South Lakes Brass I went straight to the Nines Nightclub in Barrow for a soundcheck with the Soul Survivors, ready for our gig on Friday night.  The soundcheck can be a frustrating process and it is so different to playing in a quintet, where the players control the volume that they play at, or at least they are supposed to!  At the soundcheck the sound engineer has control over the sound of the band, having to mix everything that he gets through the speakers to get the right balance of sound.  Sometimes there is random feedback with no logic as to why it is there.  It is like there are little ghosts in the wires and the speakers that like to make mischief when they feel like it.  Luckily we have an excellent sound engineer and it all got sorted in the end – but we were rehearsing there till 11.30 when the bar staff let us know that they wanted to go home!

The gig on Friday night was amazing.  It sold out within a couple of weeks of the tickets going on sale.  We were playing to over 350 people at The Nines nightclub in Barrow but there was a great atmosphere in the room – it being Barrow most people seemed to know each other.  It was lovely to see so many of my friends there as well – poets, runners, teachers, teaching assistants amongst many others.

I’ve played in lots of different bands in the last twenty years – orchestras, chamber orchestras, new music ensembles, big bands, jazz bands, brass quintets, brass ensembles, brass bands but I think playing in the Soul Survivors is both the most challenging and the most rewarding.  For both of the gigs we have done so far we have done two sets which are about an hour long.  It is physically hard work.  You have to play in the same position because you are playing into a microphone so after a while your shoulders and your arms start to hurt.  It is always too hot on stage with the amount of bodies in the room and the stage lights, which often feel like what I imagine it must feel like in a tanning studio.  The music is not usually technically difficult, but it is usually quite high.  I woke up the next morning after the gig feeling like I’d done a half-marathon again – I was aching all over.  This might sound like I’m moaning, but I actually really enjoy playing in the band, but I guess I’m learning now how physically different it is to the other types of playing that I’ve done.  The other thing that is enjoyable is the other people in the band are really great – we have such a good laugh at rehearsals.  We have quite a few gigs coming up over the next few months so I will keep you posted.

My friend, the poet Keith Hutson also came up on Friday to the gig and then stayed for the weekend to help me and Chris with the garden.  We also had my running buddy Jeff and Chris’s friend Eddy helping out to.  I am normally very squeamish about insects but I don’t know if there are less about or if I was just not noticing them, but I only saw one slug which fell onto my arm from a bit of chopped down tree I was carrying and a worm when I was sitting on the floor eating my lunch.  Apart from that the insects didn’t bother me and I really enjoyed working at something which I didn’t have to think about too much – my job was getting rid of a huge pile of chopped down hedge from the bottom of the back garden to the front garden so the council can hopefully come and pick it up next week, so I could just get on with it.  Keith has rotovated the lawn and put down grass seeds and the fence has been concreted in.  I can’t wait for the grass to start growing – at the minute it looks like a bit of a wasteland.

Today me and Keith had a poetry day – it has been ages since I’ve sat down with a friend and looked at each other’s poems which was really useful for me as I’ve been telling myself for ages that I’m not writing and that what I am writing is rubbish.  To get a more balanced view on it was really useful.  Keith has a really exciting pamphlet in the making, exploring the lives of Troupers – artistes from the past but he is also writing about masculinity and what it is to be a man and also what it is to play a role.  It’s really interesting stuff.

This morning before our poetry marathon we went for a run with the Walney Wind Cheetahs and did the Dalton 10k route.  I am absolutely chuffed that I managed the distance without my injury flaring up and at a pretty good pace as well which I’m really pleased about.

This week writing wise there have been lots of exciting things happening.  I have been interviewed on the Seren blog and you can read the interview here. 

Seren also made ‘A Psalm for the Scaffolders’ their Friday poem and you can read it here. 

I’m also running an online course for The Poetry School called ‘The Act of Transformation.’   If you’re interested in transformation or Ovid or bodies and souls and illness and birth and death and aging, then this is the course for you! Please have a look on the Poetry School website – there are only a few places left so you will have to be quick.  You can find a recent blog post that I wrote about the course detailing the areas I’ll be exploring here and information about the course here

So today’s Sunday Poem is Greg White.  It seems like years ago that I met Greg but actually it was only last October at Ilkley Literature Festival.  Greg read some beautiful poems about dementia and also some very funny poems as well.  I bought his book ‘best before’ which is a beautifully made thing with lovely paper and a cover, but also it is jammed full with fantastic poems, so much so that I asked Greg if I could use two of the poems for the Sunday Blog this week.

Greg says  I wrote poetry at school, but I found my way back to it as an adult by blogging about my Mother’s dementia. Writing was a strategy to help me focus and deal with my fright at witnessing her rapid decline, but it brought me friends from around the globe and I eventually found myself helping support others going through the same experience with their loved ones.

http://wits-endgame.blogspot.co.uk

“best before” is an on-going project, with blog episodes constantly resolving themselves into further poems. The eventual collection is likely to be about 100 poems long, but I can’t say when it will be finished since my muse is always distracting me with more whimsical work about unrequited love, bathroom fixtures and biscuits.

My mate John Foggin does an ‘Undiscovered Gem’ feature on his blog and I think Greg is definitely one of those  He has had poems in three locally published anthologies ‘The Garden’, ‘Spokes’ and ‘How Am I Doing for Time?’ but apart from that he hasn’t had any poems published in magazines.  It is rare to find a poet who writes so well who hasn’t got into submitting poems to magazines yet but I think I have found one!

‘exam’ does its work really well – describing with accuracy the guilt and conflict felt by a carer.  This is good poetry though with lots of rhymes to hold it together not just the subject matter – betrayed and changes as a half rhyme, clue and you as a full rhyme.  I like how Greg is also exploring how the roles of parent and child have been reversed – he is the one anxiously looking after his mother.

I couldn’t resist putting in ‘little stranger’ as well because it is a brilliant poem.  It is very Emily Dickinson in it’s feel with the capatalized Mother and Stranger.  Perhaps my favourite bit of this four line poem is the last line, again, Greg is balancing very deftly, between the two definitons of stranger.  The pamphlet continues to develop a narrative of sorts around the issues of dementia but I wouldn’t want you to think this is a dark book full of depressing things – it is actually really funny in some places

The sad thing for you all is that Greg only has ten remaining copies of ‘best before’ which he is selling for a whole £5, including postage and packing.   If you would like one, please email Greg  nonesuchpoetry@yahoo.co.uk

exam – Greg White

You sit placidly, while you’re betrayed:
I list your failings, your mistakes,
your passivity itself a clue.  I fear I may forget, that I won’t convey
the scale of all the changes
only I can see in you.
The GP listens, and instructs you to retain:
“Candle”, “ball” and “shoe”,
then asks you for the month, the day.
You guess wrongly at these two.
And the season?
August is late spring, you say.

Now for maths, and counting back
from a hundred, it’s clear you can’t subtract.
It’s pathetic and he stops you,
points to his watch, his pen, his desk,
can you name them? Yes.

He draws two squares that overlap,
and handing you the pad, suggests
you copy what he’s done.
You tell him that you’re finished, but you’ve only sketched one.
He reminds you of the list
he gave you at the start,
and you remember “candle”.

*

The exam had ended, and you glow.
Is that satisfaction? I don’t know
how you can think that this went well.
I feel vindicated and ashamed,
because it’s me who’s passed today.
Because I’m relieved to see you fail.

little stranger – Greg White

A little stranger every day,
My Mother has quite gone away.
Who this is I cannot say.
She’s just a little Stranger

Sunday Poem – Elaine Feinstein

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It feels like longer than a week since I last wrote to you all – it hasn’t been, or only by one day, but last week’s post was a bit hurried because I was supposed to be packing to go to Crete so I have lots to fill you in with.  I’ve just worked out I’ve spent one week at home in the last month due to general gallivanting around the globe.  Two weeks ago I was in Grange-Over-Sands running a poetry residential with the poetry marvel that is Carola Luther and then last week I went on a last-minute, quite cheap all inclusive holiday to Crete.

In between all this, my first full length collection was published.  The lovely director at Seren, Mick Felton sent me through one early copy which arrived on the Monday morning, just before I set off for Grange over Sands.  Is it strange to admit that I read my own book on the train on the way to Grange?  Who cares!  I did…you might think me even stranger though when I tell you that I only told my pal John Foggin, who was one of the participants on the course and who I couldn’t resist showing the book to, and Carola Luther and then I slept with it under my pillow.  That is a little weird.

I am blessed with so many lovely poetry friends and the next morning David Borrott got wind of the fact that my poetry books had arrived in Barrow and offered to drive me to go and fetch them so I could have them for my reading on the Tuesday evening. I felt reluctant to do this at first – of course I wanted to go and fetch them and to dance round the hotel brandishing them and shoving them under the nose of anyone who vaguely looked in my direction – however even I could see this would be a little self-centered.  And after all, the course is about the participants.

However, I hadn’t counted on exactly how lovely and enthusiastic the people are that book to come on these courses.  I don’t know if I’ve just been lucky with this, but that is how it has been, year after year.  They support and encourage not only each other, but the tutors as well!  I’d forgotten about last year in Grange, when I read some of the poems from the central sequence in the book which explores domestic violence for the first time, and how shaky I was.  I know I’ve come a long way from that now – I know how to keep myself rooted to the earth when I read those poems.

I sold my first 19 copies that night and couldn’t stop smiling – not at just selling 19 copies, but at the enthusiasm and excitement that people were showing – I never expected it – only from me – not from everyone else.  So I wanted to say a public thank you to everyone who made that night so special – I won’t name them all, because I haven’t asked their permission to do so, but I know many of them read this blog.  Carola and I were overwhelmed by your generosity of spirit.

The rest of the residential went as these weeks have previously – in an intense blur of poems.  I’m always amazed every year by the quality of work that is produced in the workshops and reassured by the generosity that participants show each other, by the thoughtfulness and engagement with each other’s poetry – this is the poetry world that I love being a part of.

There were other good news stories as well – Jayne Stanton, who has been (I think) on every residential course in Grange that I’ve ran has recently had her first pamphlet out with Soundswrite Press.   I won’t say too much about it now, because I’m hoping to feature a poem from it very soon.  Another participant, Martin Zarrop, who I met when I was a participant on one of the first residential courses I went on has just had his pamphlet published with Cinnamon Press – again – I am hoping to put a poem up from it very soon so I won’t say too much more for now about this.

John Foggin has gone and written a lovely blog about the week and my book which you can read here which made me cry when I read it in Crete.

So The Art of Falling is now officially available! The easiest and probably the cheapest way is to buy a copy through Seren.  If you join their book club you get 20% off the cover price.  Or if you want a signed copy, come and say hello at one of my readings – I’m having three launches for the collection in Leeds, Ulverston and London which you can find on the Launch page, but I’m also reading this year in Leicester, Sheffield, Halifax, Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, Carlisle, Cardiff and Lancaster – you can find details of my forthcoming readings here

I got back yesterday from Crete where I had a self-imposed break from the computer.  In practice this meant that I only checked my emails once a day instead of reading them immediately, because I couldn’t bear the thought of ploughing through them all when I got home.  I went to Crete with the husband – our first holiday just on our own for a couple of years.  I was worried that we might end up wanting to kill each other by the end of the week, but am pleased to report that we are still best friends and didn’t get bored of each other at all.

We spent the first half of the week in sunshine.  We walked in a city, on a beach and up a gorge on three respective days.  Then the weather changed and we spent three days with torrential rain and thirty mile an hour winds.   For the first two days I could see the funny side of it but by the third day I had The Hump.  Of course the day we flew back it was lovely and sunny again.

Lindsey Holland, friend and poet extraordinaire stayed in my house to look after the dogs while we were away and she has somehow managed to transform Miles into a very well behaved terrier and got rid of his annoying habit of sitting at the bottom of the stairs in the morning and crying for us to come down and feed him.  How she did it, I do not know.  We’ve been trying and failing for years to get him to shut up.

I’ve spent today catching up on as many jobs as I could.  When I look at my list, it doesn’t seem that I’ve done that much.  I’ve sent out an email to let people know about my Ulverston launch.  I’ve shared the Leeds launch on Facebook.  I’ve updated my blog so if you have a look around you will find new reading dates on the Readings and Workshops page, dates for next year’s Residential Poetry Courses on the Residential Poetry Courses page, a new ‘Launches’ post, a few new bits of biographical information on the About page and information on where to buy The Art of Falling on the Publications page.  I’ve answered some questions for an interview I’m doing for Seren.  I’ve answered a few stray emails.  I’ve been for my first 9 kilometre run with no pain at all which I’m so happy about that I don’t even care that it was in torrential rain and I got completely soaked and cold and wet.  And I’ve written this of course.

Remaining and outstanding jobs include writing a review for a magazine, reading a pamphlet and providing a quote for the cover, writing a blog post for The Poetry School to advertise my Act of Transformation course, letters for my junior band with the dates for two upcoming concerts.  While I was in Crete and Grange I also managed to start a couple of new poems and it would be quite nice to carry on with them at some point!

Enough about me now – I have half an hour to get this post published before it is midnight and I turn into a pumpkin.  Today’s Sunday Poem is Elaine Feinstein.  I met Elaine quite a few years ago when I travelled down to London for the launch of one of the issues of Poetry Review.  I doubt she would remember me, although she gave me a rather snazzy business card, which I managed to lose in the interim, so to get permission to use this poem I had to write to her publisher Carcanet.

In my book buying frenzy at Stanza this year, I spotted Talking to the Dead by Elaine and snatched it up, convinced it was her latest collection, which I’d heard about and heard that it was good.  I’m glad my brain was confused though because I ended up with Talking to the Dead which is really excellent and was published in 2007.  It has also convinced me that I definitely need to buy the actual latest collection which is called Portraits, published this year.

Elaine Feinstein is not only a poet but a novelist, translator and biographer.  If you would like to order any of Elaine’s books, have a look at the Carcanet website – you can find Talking to the Dead here. 

I’ve chosen to feature this poem this week because I think it explores beautifully the concept and contradictions of marriage, which I’ve been thinking a lot about this week.  The whole book is a series of elegies to the poet’s husband, but I wouldn’t want to give you the impression that these poems are depressing or dark.  They are full of light, and humour and discovery, as well as sadness.

In the poem I’ve chosen, you can see the poet is not afraid to directly address the deceased with a question that cannot be answered, or at least not by him.  I love the description of the husband as an ‘acrobat’ and the detailing of the morning ritual in the second stanza.  At the end of the third stanza, we get to one of those contraidictions, those beautiful moments in a marriage – ‘you argued like an angry man’ and we know instantly that he wasn’t an angry man.  Then there is another at the end of the fourth stanza – that line ‘when I brought myself to say’ – and this is the first hint of any strain or tension caused by the illness of her husband. I also think the pieces of dialogue are beautifully handled in this poem, and interesting that we only get to hear what he said to her – these little captured pieces of speech are like frozen moments in time.  Those touches of humour – the reference to ET, the way her husband speaks to the nurses bring in that light I was talking about, or maybe I should describe it more accurately as a lightness of touch.  The collection is probably one of my favourites I’ve read this year – I’m sorry it has taken me so long to find it since it was published, but I’m glad I did eventually.  The directness of the poems, the way they talk to somebody who has died without any expectation of a reply, but exploring memory and personality and what did or didn’t happen I find utterly compelling – can’t recommend the book enough!

I am now out of time, it is midnight – I would like to say thanks to Elaine Feinstein for allowing me to feature this poem and to Carcanet as well of course.

Home – Elaine Feinstein

When was it you took up that second stick,
and began to walk like a cross country skier?
Your glide developed its own politics.
Last July, you were able to stretch over
like an acrobat, to oil the garden table.
The patio faced south.  It was high summer.

Coffee and grapefruit was the breakfast ritual,
or boiled eggs eaten from blue terracotta.
Our paradise, you called it, like a gite
we might have chosen somewhere in Provence.
Neither of us understood you were in danger.
Not even when we called the ambulance:

you’d been inside so many hospitals,
ticking your menus, shrugging off jabs and scans
talking unstoppably to visitors –
your long crippling made you bitterly clever.
Humped on your atoll, and awash with papers
you often argued like an angry man.

This time, however, you were strangely gentle.
Your face lit up as soon as I arrived;
smiling, you shooed the nurses out, and said
Now go away, I’m talking to my wife.
You liked it, when I brought myself to say
seeing you was the high point of my day.

The nurses, pushed for time, hauled you about
and fixed the bed without much ceremony.
You spoke of home, as if you were ET,
and wanted me to fetch you in the car – as
I would have, if the staff nurse had concurred.
Darling, they brought you in like a broken bird.

Your shoulder blades were sharp beneath your skin,
a high cheekbone poignant against the pillow.
Yet neither of us spoke a word of death.
My love, you whispered, I feel so safe with you.
That Monday, while I phoned, you waited loyally
for my return, before your last breath.

Launches for The Art of Falling

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Below are details of three launches for The Art of Falling.  It would be great to see you at one, two or even all three if you are feeling particularly keen!

The first official reading from The Art of Falling takes place on the 29th April at Poetry By Heart at HEART Centre Cafe,
Bennett Road, Headingley, Leeds LS6 3HN.  The event is free and starts at 7.30pm.  I’ll be reading alongside Mark Connors, Andrew Forster, John Foggin, Keith Hutson and Peter R White.

I will also be launching the book on the 28th May, a bit closer to home at the Supper Room in the The Coronation Hall, Ulverston, LA12 7LZ   After a short reading, I’m hoping there will be enough people to have a party because a nine piece soul band, The Soul Survivors will be playing.

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The third launch will be taking place in London on the 13th June at The King and Queen, 1 Foley Street, W1W 6DL – further details to be confirmed.

Sunday Poem – Peter Jarvis

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Evening all – if I have done this right, this will be published on Sunday at 5.30pm, while I am away in Crete.  The wonders of technology.  I’m actually writing this blog on Friday night just after midnight.  I’ve been away all week tutoring on a week-long residential course with Carola Luther.  We had 16 lovely, talented poets signed up for the course  and it has been a great, if intense week.

My lovely friend Lindsey Holland is staying at my house this week, looking after my dogs and she picked me up from Grange and gave me a lift back to Barrow.  I slept for about an hour and then since then I’ve been packing.  Our flight goes pretty early in the morning – we are having to leave at 2am so it seemed pointless to go to sleep and then wake up feeling terrible.

So this week’s Sunday Poem is appropriately set in another country.  Peter Jarvis was born into an early-settler family in Mashonaland, Zimbabwe and was educated there and in South Africa.  He did postgraduate studies in Scotland at St Andrews and later Stirling universities.  He worked in African education in Zimbabwe, then in Fife for 25 years.  In 2000 he returned to Botswana as part of a team of British Council teachers and enjoyed a thorough immersion in African village life.  There were two further postings in Namibia as adviser and teacher.

I first met Peter at the birthday party of a mutual friend, Antony Christie.  Back then, my pamphlet had just come out, and Peter’s was, I think in the pipeline with Happenstance.  I saw Peter again at Stanza this year, when he introduced the event that I read at with John Dennison and was really happy to finally see his finished pamphlet Nights of a Shining Moon which I read in one setting.

The poems are set in Africa and are beautifully written.  They have a calmness and sureness about them which I think you can see in the poem I’ve chosen.  I like this poem because of its story though, told in the voice of a Lesotho shepherd. I thought I’d post this today because we’ve been looking this week on the course about the different ways we can tell stories in poems, and this poem uses one of the oldest, and best tricks in the book, which is to write the story in the voice of a character.

Although this isn’t a long poem, the characters have real colour and presence.  I like the mother who runs and shouts at the owner, and the kindness of the owners wife.  I like the consequences of the kindness, that the dogs go hungry.  There is also that lovely line about learning to sleep with hunger, and teaching the stomach not to want food.  This poem is not just straightforward though.  It has an air of strangeness to it in that line ‘The lightning means the witches want to kill us’.  My favourite part of the poem though is the list of useful things.  I love that finding water and finding food is given the same importance as making music and taming animals.

If you would like to order Peter’s pamphlet, you can order it through Happenstance and make lovely Helena Nelson, his editor a very happy lady.  Thanks to Peter for letting me use his poem.

A Lesotho Shepherd – Peter Jarvis
(He speaks at his mountain cattle post)

When you are a shepherd
the owner of the animals
must give you gumboots and a kobo.
At the end of the year he pays you
a cow, or two or three sheep.

Once, when I was six, I lost
a sheep in rain.  They ran
and scattered.  Sheep are silly –
cows are not so difficult.
All night I searched.
I was sjamboked.
My mother brought me water
to wash in and she boiled
plants as medicine for my cuts.
She ran and shouted at the owner.

For the next sheep I lost as a boy
I was not allowed food.
The owner’s wife, sorry for me,
gave me the dogs’ food.
That night the dogs went hungry, not me.
But I am used to sleeping with hunger –
I can teach my stomach not to want food.
If you lose a sheep far away at the motebo
you can say a jackal took it.
Your shepherd friends may back you up.

Here at my motebo on the mountain
I leave behind village noises, village smells.
But shepherds fear thunderstorms.
The lightning means the witches want to kill us.

So I wear a rubber necklace.
I’ve learnt in a difficult school.
I know useful things:
where to find water
how to find food
how to make music
how to tame animals

kobo = blanket
sjambok = rawhide whip
motebo = cattle post