Firstly, apologies that this week’s Sunday Poem is late, but it will be worth it! I’ve had a busy week but my ‘days off’ (my writing days) have been full of driving and poetry and more driving. As well as being at work and conducting my junior band, I spent Monday night writing the last assignment for the online course that I’ve been running for The Poetry School. I’ve really enjoyed being a tutor on the course – it has been amazing seeing the different poems that have originated from the exercise. On Tuesday I went to a reading by Simon Armitage at The Wordsworth Trust. Simon did a great reading as usual, but it was a sad occasion for me, the last of the Tuesday night reading series. Michael McGregor, the Director at the Trust announced that they had not been successful in their second Arts Council funding application. So I will have to get my poetry fix elsewhere.
There are other, more positive things happening though. I think I’ve mentioned befoe that I’ve taken up the post of Reviews Editor for The Compass, a new online magazine with Andrew Forster and Lindsey Holland as the Poetry Editors. The first issue went live on Friday. The content of the magazine is released bit by bit over the next two weeks, so do go and check it out. The first review is up now – written by Penny Boxall who reviewed Englaland by Steve Ely, ‘Bones of Birds’ by Jo Colley and ‘The Midlands’ by Tony Williams.
I’ve not had anything to do with the poetry submission side of things so it has been really interesting reading the poems as they’ve gone up. I haven’t read it all yet, but my favourites so far have to be the Matthew Olzmann poems. I’d not come across him before but will be seeking his work out now.
Choosing books to review has been good fun but it has made me aware of how many books there are out there. I’m finding it particularly hard with the first collections – there are so many good ones, or maybe I’m more aware of them all because that is the stage I’m at as well – but we can’t review them all, much as I would like to.
On Wednesday I spent half the day at work and then half the day at a Women’s Poetry Celebration at the Wordsworth Trust. I came straight from work and drove through my dinner hour which left me about five minutes to scoff a sandwich before my reading. I read with Penny Boxall, Emily Hasler and Eileen Pun, all of whom had been inspired by living or working at the Trust. I came home with only two books as I had to borrow £20 from Polly so I had to exercise some restraint, which was a good thing I think, as my shelf of books to be read is now starting to overflow.
I sold five Falls and two Wolves so I was pretty pleased with that and then I had to dash off home to get ready for the fourth live chat of the Poetry School course.
On Thursday I left at about 11am to go to Cardiff as I had a reading at First Thursday, which my editor Amy Wack runs and hosts. Amy had invited me to stay for the night and I was planning on arriving mid-afternoon with time to get something to eat before the evening. However, the M6 was clearly planning otherwise and I eventually pulled up outside Amy’s house at about 6.15pm. I was stuck in traffic all day – thank goodness I had a really good book on my phone to listen to – The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, which I managed to listen to from start to finish this weekend, yes the whole 15 hours of it. That is how much time I’ve spent driving about and stuck on the cursed M6!
I met lots of lovely people in Cardiff though, which more than made up for the marathon drive. I read with Robert Minhinnick who was reading from his new novel ‘Limestone Man’, which is written in a beautiful poetic prose. I really enjoyed the open mic afterwards. The lovely Emily Blewitt read a poem – I got to know Emily last year when she was a participant on the Grange over Sands residential course that I run. I’m really excited about her first collection, which will be published by Seren in 2017. I read the proposed manuscript for Emily a couple of weeks ago and wrote a supporting statement for her, and I think it is already a very special collection of poems. By the time she has had a couple of years to work on it, I think it will be amazing. I found the whole open mic really interesting though – lots of good poets and everybody was well behaved and stuck to time.
After the horrors of the traffic on Thursday I decided not to leave anything to chance and left early on Friday morning – maybe about 9am. I had to be in Kendal by 3.45 to run Dove Cottage Young Poets so I thought this left me plenty of time. Again, the M6 defied me – there were accidents, roadworks and I eventually got to Kendal at 3.15pm, just in time for my workshop and feeling quite sorry for myself and my poor bottom, which had been sat in a car seat for over six hours.
On Saturday I played at a mass at Our Lady of Furness Church in Barrow. I played at the church for the first time last year. Anthony Milledge, a talented local musician wrote a rather complicated fanfare for trumpet and organ. We played the same thing this year and I was slightly worried that after sightreading it last year without a problem, I wouldn’t be able to do the same thing this year, which would mean my playing had actually got worse over the year but it was all ok and went off without a hitch.
I then had to jump into the car and drive to Ulverston to an afternoon rehearsal with my junior band and Furness Music Centre. Richard Bagnall, the conductor of Furness Music Centre was conducting so it was nice to have the chance to listen from the back of the hall, rather than in the middle. I stayed for the first half of the mass concert and then had to jump in the car again to go to my own gig with the Soul Survivors.
I spent most of the gig feeling like I was going to pass out from the heat. I must remember to get myself a water spray before the next gig because throwing water on my face is the only thing that seems to help and it is probably not that advisable with all the electrical equipment.
I finally got to sleep at about 1am on Saturday night – it took me an hour to slow down after the gig and my ears were buzzing from the loud music. When I woke up on Sunday morning, my arms and shoulders were aching from holding the trumpet in the same position and although I had time to go running, I felt too tired, so instead I had a rather lazy morning of eating choocolate croissants and drinking tea. I did manage to type a poem up and enter it for a poetry competition – my first submission in absolutely ages.
If I write a poem that I think is any good, I always like to enter it into one competition. It feels like buying a lottery ticket for me. It gets one chance to earn me lots of money and then after that, I usually put it in a group and send it to a magazine. Having said that, I haven’t got enough poems to make a magazine submission yet…
I set off for the Ted Hughes Festival where I was reading yesterday evening. Yes, I got stuck in more traffic – how unlucky can one person be in one weekend? I managed to find an alternative route with the sat nav but at times it felt like it was sending me down some farm track into the middle of nowhere. I eventually got to Mexborough and managed to catch a few of the other readings – including the first half of Helen Mort’s set. Her new poems are amazing and I was really excited to hear that her second collection will be out from Chatto some time in 2017. I also heard the first half of Matthew Clegg and Ray Hearne’s collaboration. I loved Matthew’s poetry and bought the book just before I left and am determined to read it this side of Christmas.
I had something to eat at a Wetherspoons before I left – the Wetherspoons in Mexborough is much classier than the one in Barrow. We sat in a booth with a frame full of photos of Ted Hughes – one of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath on their honeymoon, another with Ted Hughes standing with W.H Auden, T S Eliot and some other rather famous male poets. Can you imagine what that would have been like – to be standing there having a drink with them all? I knew this before, but looking at that photo, it really struck me how difficult it would have been to have been a woman writing in those times. I know that might sound like an obvious thing to say, but it felt like I hadn’t known it till then, that looking at that photo made me suddenly know it.
I finally got back to Barrow at 2am and I have spent the whole day feeling like a bit of a zombie. I knew I was in trouble last night when I decided to go into the garage and buy the cheesiest compilation album I could find (Rock Ballads for Driving) and sing at the top of my lungs to stop myself falling asleep.
This trick worked brilliantly though and set me thinking about all of the family holidays when we used to drive to Cornwall, listening to the same songs. I remembered sleeping in a caravan with my sister, our beds so close together I could reach out and touch her. In the morning the seagulls would wake us up, tapping away on the roof as they walked about and whoever got up first and opened the caravan door was the one to scare away the wild rabbits, busy eating the grass in the drizzle.
All of this just from listening to some songs. Now I think about it though, this is where I get my habit of enjoying reading the same books over and over again or watching the same TV series over and over again. It was those car journeys, listening to the same album on repeat, knowing not only every word, but also what song would come next and what would come after that, and after that, and no matter how drawn out the ending of the songs were, how repetitive they were, my parents would never forward to the next track. Each song must be endured until the end.
Anyway, this is all a bit of strange tangent and nothing at all to do with today’s Sunday (Monday) poet, David Borrott. I’ve known David a long time now, maybe six or seven years. I met him on the MA at Manchester and he has been on nearly every residential that I’ve ran. He is a lovely man and a great poet and he has been long overdue a pamphlet in my opinion.
I suppose he is glad that he waited now though because his pamphlet is published by Smith/Doorstop in a new series of pamphlets called ‘Laureate’s Choice’, which are basically poets selected by Carol Ann Duffy.
David’s pamphlet is very beautiful and the poetry is fantastic. It is called Porthole and I would urge you all to buy it. Regular visitors to this blog will know that David has already been a Sunday Poet a while ago with his poem ‘Self Portrait with Fiddling Death’ and so has now gone into blog history as one of those rare poets invited back a second time.
I’ve chosen the poem Boggart for this week. I love poems that create a believable world that is not quite reality. I like poems that have little creatures in them, like boggarts. poems that make me see the thing that is not real, like this line about the boggart: ‘the crowing mouth sipping the crack of light’. I like poems with philosophical questions thrown in, as if they are an afterthought: ‘Are we not all held down by a rock?’ and poems with commonplace details that ground us: ‘I remember brambles, a spider on a gate/a mud path looping the field’.
I think this is a strange and beautiful poem, very poised and with lovely line breaks which make reading it aloud like reading a musical score.
David was born and grew up in Ilford, Essex and now lives in Lancashire with his partner and their three sons. He has an MA in Poetry from Manchester Metropolitan University and his poetry has been anthologised in Watermark by Flax Books and in CAST: The Poetry Business Book of New Contemporary Poets.
I hope you enjoy the poem.
Boggart – David Borrott
The rock, in fact, was somewhere down a lane,
I went the wrong way but still got there.
I remember brambles, a spider on a gate
a mud path looping a field, then I found it.
And under it the ghoul, held by its weight,
nobody at the farm, nobody in the fields.
Are we not all held down by a rock?
I thought and touched the stone, which had no
markings except what time had laid on it.
Of course, this is a thing of the mind,
one has to tune the thinking to unveil,
the lank fiend in his burrow, his furred limbs
the crowing mouth sipping the crack of light
as I prise the boulder up – he sizzles free
and I take in that hatred of imprisonment.
Imagine the surge, I can’t control it yet but when I do
havoc will stampede through my skull
and such mad words will rocket from my beak.