Sunday Poem – Lizzie Briggs and Beth Latham

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It feels like I’m writing this in a completely different country to the country I was writing in last Sunday.  I’ve gone through all kinds of emotions since the election – I stayed up till 1am to watch the first couple of results coming in but decided to go to bed when my hands started shaking strangely from tiredness – does anybody else get that?  Friday was so depressing – I’ve never felt this upset about an election result.  I suppose the few good things that have come out of it is that Nigel Farage has lost his seat and the Tories will now have to shoulder the blame for their policies instead of the Lib Dems taking the fall.  I shudder to think what Michael Gove is going to do to the Justice Department after the impact he has had and is still having on education.
Anyway, I don’t want this whole post to be about politics although it will wind its way back there by the end.  I’ve actually, apart from the horrible election had a nice week.  It was a bank holiday on Monday of course so I spent the day preparing the first assignment for my Transformation course that I’m running for the Poetry School.  It’s an online course which means that all the things I waffle about in a face to face workshop have to be written down and made to sound like I know what I’m talking about.  I’ve used extracts from Ovid and poems by Liz Berry and Wendy Pratt to illustrate points I’m trying to make for this first assignment.
On Tuesday I went to Grasmere to see Paul Muldoon read.  This was the first of this year’s readings at the Trust.  They are putting on a few readings whilst they wait to hear about the outcome of a grant application.  I would urge any poets in the area to do their best to show support to the Trust by attending the readings and showing how much the reading series is valued.  Apart from that, the readings are excellent  I’ve never seen Paul Muldoon read, or heard him read, I should say and I thought he was wonderful.  I wouldn’t say I’m really a fan of his work, although I like the earlier stuff, but his performance and his engagement with the audience completely won me over, and I’m returning to his collections now to have another go, now I’ve got his voice going round in my head.
My lovely friend Lindsey Holland has been staying over this weekend.  I’m trying to persuade her to move to Barrow and live in my spare room and cook me dinner every day but so far she hasn’t given in and agreed.  I suppose I could kidnap her.  We went for a Thai in Ambleside after the reading – only just nipping in before they shut because we practically fell on our knees and begged them – a little dramatic I know but these things have to be done.
On Wednesday I had a rehearsal with the Soul Survivors but Lindsey made an amazing pasta and meatball concoction, thus securing the lifetime offer of my spare room for free in exchange for meals.  On Thursday we went to Dove Cottage Poets, run by Andrew Forster which was a great session.  The theme was writing about strong emotion and Andrew brought an interesting selection of poems by Rebecca Goss, Tim Liardet and Imtiaz Dharkar.  I had rehearsal with my brass ensemble on Thursday night.

I haven’t done much running at all this week – I did a fifteen minute blast up and down the hill on Tuesday before leaving to Grasmere – purely because I was in a bad mood and I wanted to get rid of it and physically exhausting myself seems to be a good way to clear my head!   I also went for a run with Chris yesterday – only 6 kilometres but at a pretty good speed and I beat him up the hill – these things are important to me!  I’m planning on getting back into running this week when I will hopefully have a bit more time.

Today’s Sunday Poem is going to be a little bit different because I’m featuring Lizzie Briggs AND Beth Latham – two of the young writers from Dove Cottage Young Poets.  These poems are very fresh – they only wrote them last Friday at the Dove Cottage Young Poets workshop – the day after the election.  I was feeling upset, angry and depressed about the results – and frightened, for those of my friends who are vulnerable for whatever reason.  I think life is going to get harder for them.  However, this is not a political blog, and you already have to put up with me wittering about running when you signed up for poetry, so I won’t say too much on it except to share these two poems by Lizzie and Beth.  I loved Beth’s poem as soon as I heard it.  You can hear how well-read she is with the nod to the famous Wilfred Owen poem in her title, but I also love it because it confounds our expectations in the middle – we think it is a sympathetic poem for Ed Balls – and in a way it is.  Perceptively, she points out ‘the set of his mouth gave him away’ but then she reverses this and finishes with a good dose of cynicism and a dash of humanity thrown in.  I’m always suprised by the level of awareness that the poets I work with in the young writers group show – mainly because I was completely politically unaware at that age – I had no interest in it at all – but they are completely clued up.
I’ve just spent the day with the group in Westmorland Shopping Centre in Kendal in a pop up shop to try and recruit some more members for the group so we’ve had a whole day of writing poetry.  We also spent time (or they did) typing up the many, many drafts of poems that they’ve been hoarding in their notebooks and it was really exciting for me to read the next stage of poems that I remember them writing in a workshop.
Lizzie’s poem has her trademark sense of humour in it – we are already referring to this as her ‘jim poem’.  I love the character of Jim and the way he is created purely through his speech.  I like the sarcasm in ‘no jim that’s the scottish jim’.  In fact I can see a whole set of ‘jim’ poems developing.  Again, there is a lot of knowledge in this poem which I certainly didn’t have age 17 – how to vote, the voting age in Scotland and England, the resignations that happened after the vote – all worn very lightly and I know she didn’t have to google any of it because she wrote all of that in the workshop.  Lizzie is however, the queen of random facts so it shouldn’t surprise me at all that she is clued up on politics.  Apparently, in their school, the election was the hot topic of the day, which I think is wonderful.
As far as I know, these are Lizzie and Beth’s first published poems, although last year Lizzie was Commended in the Foyle Young Poets Competition, meaning her poem was placed in the top 100 out of 7000.
Here are Lizzie and Beth’s poems – hope you enjoy them.
The Great Lie – Beth Latham

Ed Balls lost his seat today.
He tried to look OK about it,
even shook the hand of the Tory who’d won,
but the set of his mouth gave him away.
It just goes to show:
Politicians are liars

Last night – Lizzie Briggs

I sat and played with next door’s children
as their father walked out of the door
with the words
do you need id to vote

I lay and let them tickle me
innocent hands unaware of election fever
as he asked
did you vote

I stroked the dog behind the ears
small feet on wooden floors
no I said jim
i’m seventeen

can sixteens not vote
no jim that’s the scottish jim

I took out a maths paper
grades to match tuition fees
as he said
so you didn’t

I smiled as the kids danced
laughter and attention and pure innocent joy
no jim
i’m not scottish jim

I put the kids to bed
paddington bear in his perfect world
heard the footsteps of a returning man
did you remember to register jim

Today

I woke to an inevitable government
went to school and waited for resignations
walking home I saw him
bloody tories said jim

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15 responses »

  1. Love the poems, love the politics Kim. I can even take vicarious pleasure reading about the running. And I’m enjoying The Art of Falling. My regular poetry tutor, Sally Baker from Mytholmroyd, looked at my copy and I think will buy it too.

    • Thanks very much – glad you are enjoying the poems and my book – lovely to hear. Maybe I should pay you commission for selling it to your tutor 🙂

  2. So hard to write good political poetry and these two achieve that. Beth’s is very punchy, playing on the cliche at the end that there is more than one way to lie. I love Jim and that the too-young-to-vote babysitter is more politically astute than the voting Jim. Good stuff.

    • Thanks Rachel – yes, I agree that it is very hard to write good political poetry. I actually set them the exercise as a bit of fun, not expecting them to get any good poems out of it! Shows what I know though

  3. You say Beth’s poem references Owen. Here am I, 72 and didn’t notice. I liked it in the way I love Woody Guthrie. It’s got that beautifully timed sign off line. Great one for an open mic.
    Lizzie does something fascinating. I think it’s the non-punctuation…she manages to nail down that thing teenagers do of simultaneously seeming disconnected and actually processing everything at once. Emotional and existential multitasking. You’re lucky to have them as students. They’re lucky to have you to mentor them. Envious, me.

  4. Lovely to see poems by members of your young poets’ group on here, Kim. Two great poems!
    I like the succinctness of Beth’s poem: the way the final line brings us back to the title, leaving us to ponder, post-election, the greater political lie; also the sound echo of today/OK/away. I know I’d enjoy hearing Lizzie’s poem read aloud, so I could hear jim’s voice. Perhaps we’ll be hearing more of his home-spun politics/wisdom, too.

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