The weather cannot make up its mind today. I spent most of my morning standing on Walney Island as a marshal for the Walney Fun Run with the wind blowing (although maybe not as hard as it could have done) and pouring rain. I had waterproof trousers on, which I quickly discovered weren’t really waterproof and my outdoor hiking coat which did save the top half of me at least from the rain. I must admit, I longed to be running around in the wind and the rain- at least you are warm when you are running!
Despite this, I’m glad I volunteered – it’s nice to give something back and I do enjoy seeing the different ways people run, the different ways they react to the marshals. Most of the runners at the front were completely focused and gave no sign whether they heard us or not. When I’m in race mode (although I’m not at the front) I hear the marshals but I don’t look at them or acknowledge them – not because I’m not grateful to them, but more because I’m conserving energy, and I’m concentrating, but it does make a difference to have people there cheering you on.
As you get further and further back in the field though, people smile and are happy to see you. One man even had enough breath to say ‘thank you for coming out marshals’ which was nice! The children often pick up the pace if you cheer them on, going from a walk to a trot, or a trot to a little sprint. So from 9.15am when I arrived until about 12 it was raining and spray was blowing in from the sea. Then suddenly the sun came out and it is now a glorious day with blue skies. By that time though I’d had enough and felt all damp and cold and bedraggled and decided to go home, but I have been sat in the garden for a little bit this afternoon at my new table and on one of my new chairs which I bought yesterday. This is an exciting event for me because I’ve never owned a garden or a table and chairs to go in a garden.
I’ve also been having great fun picking plants to go in the garden and have rather irresponsibly just been picking ones I like the look of and randomly sticking them in the garden. Yesterday I spent a couple of hours pulling up bindweed which grows so fast – it is a bit like that plant in Little Shop of Horrors – it seems to have a mind of its own. I left a stick propped up against the fence about a week ago and yesterday there were tendrils of bindweed growing up it – how is that classed as a plant and not an animal with a mind of its own?
I have some weeks where I have to accept that I’m doing lots of music teaching and poetry has to be put on one side but this week it feels like I’ve been yanked from one world to the other. On Monday I had a 2 hour rehearsal with my junior band to get ready for our end of term concert on Thursday. This was to go through the music with my friend who had agreed to play drums for us. Disaster struck on Thursday as my friend had a family emergency and couldn’t play in the concert. I had two hours to find another drummer and heard that an ex-pupil of mine was back from university, so he came along at the last minute and played brilliantly.
The concert was made up of the Barrow Shipyard Junior Band which is pupils ranging in age from 8-18 (about 30 now) and my other band Brasstastic, which has 14 primary school pupils in it. They both played really well and to finish off the night we played a mass piece which we’d not rehearsed together before but which they managed brilliantly. I couldn’t believe how well my ex-pupil played the drums – he is also a talented cornet player and singer but he followed every single tempo change – I was really impressed with him.
On Saturday I was at another rehearsal with the Barrow Shipyard Junior Band at Furness Music Centre because we have one more concert on July 4th where we are playing with an orchestra, wind band and choir at the Coronation Hall. Again, the kids were really good and it was nice to not have to conduct and to sit and play along with them a little bit.
I also did Park Run on Saturday and managed to get a new PB – 22.49 which I am really, really pleased about. I’ve wanted to go under 23 minutes for a while. I think it will be another couple of months before I can shave anything more off that time – this is the problem though, as soon as I achieve one goal, I start thinking ‘hmm wouldn’t it be nice to go under 22 and a half?’ Anyway, we shall see!
On Friday morning I was still buzzing from the junior band concert but I had to force myself to settle down and plan my workshop for Dove Cottage Young Poets which was Friday afternoon and then I drove straight back from Kendal and went to Bardsea for A Poem and a Pint’s collaborative night with ‘The Quiet Compere’ aka Sarah Dixon. Sarah Dixon is travelling around the UK, putting on an event made of ten poets reading for 10 minutes each. It was nice to have the chance to hear a lot of local poets read – it made me realise how much talent there is in the local area. I enjoyed hearing everybody read but the most exciting set for me was David Borrott, whose new pamphlet Porthole has just been published by Smith/Doorstop as a ‘Laureate’s Choice’. David was very funny and read really well. I know how hard he has worked at writing and I’m really happy that his work is now going to get a wider audience.
So, gaining a wider audience brings me on to today’s Sunday Poet, who I’d never heard of before my friend John Foggin sent me his book as a present. Gordon Hodgeon is published by Smokestack and was born in Leigh in 1941. He was active for many years in NATE, in Northern Arts, Cleveland Arts, New Writing North and Mudfog Press. HIs previous books of poetry include November Photographs (1981), A Cold Spell (1996), Winter Breaks (2006), Still Life (2012) and Old Workings: New and Selected Poems (2013). He lives in Stockton-on-Tees.
Writing that list of books makes me a little ashamed that I hadn’t come across his work before so I’m grateful to John for bringing his poetry to my attention. I’m going to quote from the back cover of the book to give some context to the Sunday Poem today:
“For the past five years the poet Gordon Hodgeon has been confined to his bed. Following a series of unsuccessful operations on his spine, he is now unable to move his arms and legs, and cannot breathe without the help of a ventilator. In the last few months he has lost the power of speech. Today he can only communicate with the outside world by blinking at a Dynavox computer screen or by dictating to his carers, letter by letter.”
After reading this, I was prepared for a book of poems that felt hard won, laboured, as if every word had been dragged out to lay on the page. I wasn’t prepared for poetry that made me conscious of my own body and consciousness, in the way that running does. I wasn’t prepared for the first poem in the collection which is now the Sunday Poem. I have to warn you that reading this poem may have a strange effect on you. I read it and then I had to shut the book. I couldn’t read any further – someone had just articulated for me the edge between the body and the soul, the difference between feeling powerful and being powerless. It is only a tiny poem but I came back to it the next day, read it again with the intention of going on with the book and had to stop. The third time I read the book cover to cover, without stopping.
Of course the title of the Sunday Poem ‘I Walked Out This Morning’ contains within it a sly nod to Laurie Lee’s ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ memoir of leaving his life to travel through Spain. There is also W.H.Auden’s ‘As I Walked Out One Evening’ but the poem it really made me think of was W.B. Yeats ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ with its first two lines ‘I went out this morning/because a fire was in my head’. I don’t know why this jumped into my head when I read the title of Gordon’s poem, but there you go.
The title and the first line have a fairy-tale feel though, or the air of settling down to tell somebody a really good story. Only yesterday I was telling someone I don’t like poems with the word ‘memories’ in and then, I find it in this one, and it works perfectly. There is also something very subversive going on here. Nothing is quite what it seems. The speaker in the poem ‘walks out’ but in walking out finds a man in his bed with a ‘fly on his nose’. Then that shocking sixth line ‘Only his weeping eyes could move’ and there is something of the fairy tale about this as well and this is continued with that childlike line which sounds like a refrain ‘Oh dearie me, oh dearie him.’ The last five lines are the clincher – look how deftly he turns this around – suddenly the speaker is the one who cannot speak, the walker is the one who cannot move. Even without the background information provided on the back cover, this is a strange and discomforting poem. The writing is skilful and measured and controlled, full of insight and questions.
The collection is called Talking to the Dead which sounds quite macabre, but don’t let this put you off. The second poem is the title poem and what struck me in this one is that even in the act of Talking to the Dead, the speaker wants to learn something new. He says ‘Who can teach me/guide me through their dark palaces/their ungrowing fields?’
This poem reminded me of why I started the Sunday Poems in the first place – that feeling of reading something amazing and feeling like you might burst if you don’t tell someone about it.
Anyway, here is the wonderful ‘I Walked Out This Morning’. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you are moved to buy a copy from Smokestack. You can order Gordon’s book here. It is a short book, only 47 pages, which I’m guessing is why it is only priced at £4.95 but this seems ridiculously cheap for such quality.
I Walked Out This Morning – Gordon Hodgeon
I walked out this morning
from the jigsaw jumble of
dreams and memories
and found a man in my bed
with a fly on his nose.
Only his weeping eyes could move.
I asked if I could help him
but could not understand his reply.
Oh dearie me, oh dearie him.
So I turned away to go and saw
him in the mirror standing
about to leave the room, and me
supine in the bed with a fly on my nose
and only my weeping eyes could move.