I never know how to start these blog posts, not because I don’t know what to say, but I often don’t know where to begin. Should I start with what is freshest in my mind, which is what’s happened today, or start at the beginning of the week and proceed in a logical order? I’ll start with today, because nothing particularly interesting happened at the beginning of the week.
I can now declare (in case you were interested) that I am injury free! My rather inconvenient and very annoying inflamed tendon in my leg has left the building and I am very happy about it. Today I did my longest run since being injured, nine miles at a relatively steady pace with the Walney Wind Cheetahs and my tendon didn’t have anything to say for itself. My leg muscles in general were really sore from the training I’ve been doing this week, but it was kind of a sweet pain, rather than an injury pain. The kind of pain that comes from working your muscles rather than destroying them. At least I hope that is what it is!
After the run I came straight back, no dallying at the cafe for me today because I had lots of work to get on with. I had two friends that have been waiting for email replies regarding poems they had sent, I had an invoice to send and Sunday Poets to hunt down. I normally write to people in small groups to gather Sunday Poems so today I wrote to four poets and got their permission to use their poems on my blog so I now have four weeks of grace where I know whose poem I’m going to use on the blog. This is all quite time-consuming – but it is probably my favourite part of doing this blog. Most poets are so happy that someone, out of the blue has said that they like not only their work, but a particular poem, that it makes it completely worth it.
Apart from these smaller jobs I also had three larger jobs to get done today – this blog being one of them. The other is printing out and making notes on the poems that have been submitted for Week 1 of the online Poetry School course I’m tutoring and the third job was editing reviews that have come in for The Compass magazine and then writing to the reviewers to check that they are ok with suggested changes. I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself for managing all of this today, and remembering to feed myself (boiled egg and toast at lunchtime, thai takeaway in the evening!).
I’m going to jump back in the week now to Wednesday, which was the open mic at Zefferelli’s in Ambleside, run by Andrew Forster and the Wordsworth Trust. For the second week in a row I’ve had a house guest – lovely Lindsey Holland has been staying at my house since Wednesday evening because there are lots of poetry events in Cumbria that she wants to go to – open mic on Friday and a reading on Saturday.
There was a great turn out at Zeff’s this week – probably because Pauline Yarwood was the featured poet. Pauline can often be found in the audience of various poetry events and workshops so it was nice to see her being given the chance to read her own poetry and lovely to be able to listen to her doing a longer reading of her work.
On Thursday I spent the morning writing references for two people who are applying to do an MA in Creative Writing and then I had to go to a meeting to do with work in Milnthorpe. On the way back I came as close to dying as I ever have before when a complete idiot was overtaking a caravan on a corner and driving straight towards me on my side of the road. I have no idea how I missed hitting him because that stretch of road is not narrow enough to get three cars past, let alone a caravan but somehow I did it. I didn’t even have time to be scared, I just had to wrench the wheel to the side, and then it was done. It should have been a head-on crash and I don’t know how anyone would have walked away from it. This sounds a little dramatic, and as it happens, nothing happened. Everyone was ok, I was ok, I wasn’t even that shaken really but I was trying to think if there was anything I would have regretted not doing if something had happened and I couldn’t think of anything, so that was quite reassuring!
I went to my first interval training session in about 15 years on Thursday evening, hence the sore legs all day Friday and the still sore legs today. On Friday Lindsey and I drove to Manchester. I was meeting Rachel Mann, poet and vicar to talk through arrangements for the judging of the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Prize. I think a lot of people might be put off entering this prize because they think you have to enter a ‘religous poem’, but I will be interpreting this broadly! The most important thing is to find some excellent poems. I don’t know if Rachel knew how obsessed with tea I am but we met in Propertea, which is just next to the Cathedral. When you order your cup of tea you get a little timer to use which tells you when your tea has brewed perfectly. I would have quite liked to steal the timer, except I realised I would have to steal all the paraphenalia, the two teapots, the tea strainer, and some tea leaves to make it worth it. I don’t think the timer would have worked with a PG Tips teabag. Of course this is a JOKE. I would never steal a tea timer.
After that, I went to the glorious bookshop that is Waterstones on Deansgate with its fabulous poetry section. Sadly, I couldn’t find a copy of my book in there – maybe it sold out by the time I got there! However, I did go a bit crazy and buy lots of other poetry books: Here Comes The Night by Alan Gillis, Paralogues by Evan Jones, Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe and Maninbo: Peace and War by Ko Un. I’ve been wanting Loop of Jade for a while but the other collections I didn’t specifically go in for, I just brought them after browsing, which proves that bookshops need to keep their poetry sections stocked up for hopeless addicts like me who will spend far too much money if the books are there to look at.
After that, we drove to Kendal to Abbot Hall Art Gallery who were having their ‘Night of a Thousand Selfies’ event as part of Museums at Night. As part of the event I was asked to organise and compere an open mic night but this was an open mic with a difference. First of all it was in a gallery and there was something wonderful about reading amongst all the portraits that made up the current exhibition. There was also free pizza from a stand outside, a temporary tattoo artist, a photo booth and a band in different parts of the gallery.
The first two open mic sessions were fairly traditional. I divided the fourteen readers into two groups and half read in the first set and half in the second set. After the second open mic session we had a ‘lets see how many poets we can fit in a photo booth’ session – the answer was five and a half, especially if one insists on wearing a large horse’s head and taking up lots of room! For the third set, I decided it should just be a free-for-all as everybody had already read once and this turned into poetry’s version of The Hunger Games, where poets raced each other to the mic, running up to the front before the audience had finished clapping the last poet. It was great fun and my young writers rather brilliantly and cheekily got up twice to read, which drove the adults to be much more active in their leaping for the stage.
On Saturday I dragged my husband Chris to Barrow Park to take part in Park Run. I still had Thursdays interval session in my legs but I managed to knock a whole second off my PB, taking it down to 23.08. Chris managed 22.44 which is an amazing time considering he has only really been running regularly for the last month or so. Not annoyed at all that he beat me…
After that, we drove up to Grasmere for the launch of the Poetry Business Pamphlet winners. This is always one of my favourite events of the year. It’s free and I like seeing what colour the pamphlets are and seeing Peter and Ann. This year was a little bit sad for me because my wonderful friend and poet David Tait was one of the winners with his pamphlet Three Dragon Day but he couldn’t be at the reading because he was in China, busy working. Peter and David asked me if I’d read David’s poems for him, so I did get to relive what it was like to win the competition, but without having to do any of the work, like actually write the poems.
Reading the poems out was a strange experience, because I couldn’t do any introductions for the poems, because I wouldn’t have known what to say, so I just read them one after the other. It is a little like walking in another person’s shoes. Luckily, I knew David’s poems pretty well, and he gave me a set list of what he wanted me to read. The poems are extraordinary. They conjure up such a vivid picture of what it is like to live as a foreigner in China – they are funny and sad and frightening and moving.
The other winners were Paul Stephenson who has been long overdue a pamphlet, Luke Samuel Yates who I met and read with in Aldeburgh two years ago and Basil Du Toit. I’m hoping to feature work from all four on this blog in the next few weeks or so, but I thought I’d start with David’s work. I didn’t read this poem yesterday at the launch, it wasn’t on David’s list of poems for me to read but it is one of my favourites in the pamphlet.
This is one of those poems that moves from funny to shocking to sad and he does this almost effortlessly. I love the list of different things that the class bring in, and there is something moving about this list of objects. For most of the objects we are not told why they care about them. I laughed out loud when I first read this and got to the line about the lady bringing in her husband, who then sits ‘sipping lemon tea’.
A lot of the poems which seem lighthearted have this sense of menace hanging over them and a sense that history and politics are somehow closer and more vivid in this country, more dangerous. We are left thinking about The Great Leap forward, and wondering if the family survived as well as the photo. I think it’s a brilliant poem and packs in a lot in a short space.
David was a winner of The Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition in 2010 with his pamphlet Loves Loose Ends, judged by Simon Armitage and he then went on to publish his first full length collection Self Portrait with the Happiness with The Poetry Business in 2014. This collection was shortlisted for the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. He received an Eric Gregory Award and now lives in Guangzhou in China, where he teaches English. You can find more information about David on his Author Page on the Smith/Doorstop website.
This week I’ll be reading at the South Yorks Poetry Festival in Sheffield next Sunday night with Ian McMillan and Andrew McMillan which I’m really excited about – I hope to see some of you there.
Writing Class, Guangzhou – David Tait
I ask them to bring in a thing
that they care for. They bring:
a hairpin carved in the shape
of a carp; a policeman’s flask;
young elephants engulfed
by their mother’s trunk, a statue;
a picture of a rabbit, the only toy
they left her after joining school.
One lady has brought in her husband.
He sits in the corner sipping lemon tea.
The others: a silver coin that dates
from the Qing dynasty; a string of pearls
that survived The Great Leap Forward;
the only surviving photo of a family.
She remembers the day it was taken,
her sister crying and not keeping still,
the hesitation she felt looking into the lens,
her father’s hands gripping her shoulders.