Monthly Archives: August 2015

Poetry Carousel 11th-13th December 2015 – Workshop Blurbs



There are a handful of places left on the Poetry Carousel – a residential poetry course with a difference that is running at Abbot Hall Hotel, Kents Bank, Grange Over Sands from December 11th-13th, 2015.  Tutors are myself, Amanda Dalton, Ian Duhig and Andrew Forster. All participants on the course will take part in a 2 hour workshop with each tutor over the weekend and there will be readings in the evenings from the tutors and guest poets.  Workshop groups will be limited to 8 people per workshop! For those of you who have been tempted to come, but haven’t quite made your mind up yet, have a read through of the workshops that each tutor will be running throughout the weekend.

If you would like to book, please contact the hotel directly on 015395 32896


Wallace Stevens wrote to the effect that we don’t live in places, we live in descriptions of places. On courses like these we find ourselves investigating new territory unusually subject to such words, from directions to introductions, conjuring up who we are and where we are, where we’re from and where we’re going. This workshop will look at these almost-magical processes with reference to contemporary poetry you may be unfamiliar with, due to its newness or strangeness, so that it may act as a catalyst in the alchemy of creating your own new work and new directions in your work.


Heaney’s phrase celebrates the wonders encountered in daily existence. Our lives are made up of tiny encounters , with animals, people, places, objects, ghosts even, that leave us changed in large or subtle ways. In this workshop we’ll look at the way poets have handled some of these meetings, and try some strategies to get started on encounter poems of our own.


In this playful, practical workshop we’ll utilise some of the contents of the theatremaker’s toolbox to explore what happens when we apply them to making poems. Working with everyday objects, scraps of found text, and fine art prints, we’ll make a start on creating some of our own story-poems, finding new voices along the way.

WHAT WORK IS – with Kim Moore

Effort, toil, task, job, labour, slog, chore, drudgery, exertion. In an article published by Jeremy Seabrook in The Guardian in 2013 he argues that “Words indicating labour in most European languages originate in an imagery of compulsion, torment, affliction and persecution”.  How has our concept of work changed and have contemporary poets tackled this subject? During this workshop, we will set off writing our own poems about work in all its different guises.

Sunday Poem – Wayne Price

Sunday Poem – Wayne Price

I cannot say that I’m not relieved to have got to the end of this week – two four hour rehearsals, two readings and one gig, all while I’ve had the most awful cold.  In fact to call it a cold is like calling a tiger a house cat to my mind.  There should be another, more accurate name for a cold because it is truly awful to get one, isn’t it – but the word cold makes it seem like something that you can have and just keep getting on with things.  Which I suppose you can, in a way, but it doesn’t describe how dreadful you feel.  I’m over the worst of mine now although I’m still having the odd, sporadic coughing fit.

I’m on an enforced day of rest today and am keeping away from the running trainers.  I’m not even looking longingly at them. Ok, I am, but I’m trying to be sensible and try and recover from what has been a bit of a heavy week. So I’ve been sat in the garden looking at my new plants and watching the bees coming back and forth to the flowers.  Bees have become my new obsession at the minute.  I haven’t quite had a blanket over my knees and milky tea but it’s been close.

I did go for a run on Monday morning along the beach which was really lovely, beautiful weather and a fairly steady pace.  We did nearly six miles and I actually felt better when I got home and more energised.  On Tuesday I went for a run with a few friends and we decided to have a go at some Strava segments, which probably wasn’t the best idea, seeing as I had a sore throat and was feeling a bit rough, but I thought it would perk me up.  I think what it did was force the virus to move from my throat up to my nose and my head and by Wednesday I was talking like Darth Vadar and feeling awful.

So I haven’t ran since Tuesday! On Thursday I drove to Todmorden to do a reading at the monthly poetry night ‘Kultura’ at Kava in Todmorden.  I was in two minds about whether to get in touch with Anthony Costello, the host and cancel because my voice was not good at all but I thought it would be quite harsh to cancel with such short notice. I thought as long as I made sure I had water with me I would be ok.  Unfortunately, the water had no effect at all.  I started reading my first poem, and only got half way through before I started coughing uncontrollably.  It was the most horrible feeling – to be standing in front of an audience and feel your throat slowly tightening and trying not to cough.  The audience were really lovely and kind about the whole thing.  In the end I had to ask my friend Keith Hutson, who I was staying with that night to read my poems for me – he knows my work very well so I knew he wouldn’t feel too put on the spot.

Despite struggling with my voice – and there is something truly ironic about not being able to speak poems that I’ve worked on, that I know inside and out and back to front – I still enjoyed the evening.  The event takes place in the basement of the cafe.  It feels very cosy, like a little cave and it was really well attended.  The audience were very supportive, not just of the guest readers, but also of each other, later on at the open mic.  I managed to sell four books and two pamphlets despite choking on all of my poems.

I went straight to bed at Keith’s house and managed my first good night’s sleep in about a week – only woke myself up a couple of times coughing so I felt a lot better on Friday.  We went to Hebden Bridge and had cake and tea and then went into the bookshop where I bought The Handless Maiden and The Book of Blood by Vicki Feaver – two books I’ve read library copies of but have never had my own copies.  I also bought Small Hands by Mona Arshi which I’ve been meaning to get for a while.  I also bought a load of lovely postcards which I put in with my pamphlet if anyone ever buys one through this blog – so if you would like a copy of If We Could Speak Like Wolves for £5 plus postage and packing, you will also get a nice postcard in with it as well – just click here to order it.

On Friday night it was my friend David Borrott’s launch of his pamphlet Porthole.  I’ve featured David a couple of times on this blog before but for those of you that missed it – David was chosen as one of four poets to feature in a new ‘Laureate’s Choice’ series of pamphlets, published by Smith/Doorstop.  You can find out more information about the project at the Laureate’s Choice blog, with details of upcoming readings.

David had organised a reading to launch his own pamphlet, and to launch two of the other Laureate’s Choice poets, Wayne Price and Nichola Deane.  It was a really lovely event.  Two of David’s sons were there and were very cute and well behaved, and his lovely wife as well, who I’ve heard lots about but hadn’t met before.  I’d read Wayne and Nichola in magazines and competitions but haven’t heard them read.  I asked them both if I could pick a poem for my blog once I’d read their pamphlet after hearing them read as I really liked their work.

I read Wayne’s pamphlet Fossil Record in one sitting today, out in the garden, which felt very apt, as his pamphlet is full of poems about animals and the natural world. In fact he even has a poem called Suburban Gardens at Night which I was very tempted to put up.  There isn’t a dull poem in the pamphlet.  Sometimes I read books and I wonder why the poet felt the need to write that poem – rather cruelly of me, I think, what is the point, or where was the drive, the compulsion to write it.  This never happened reading these poems – I enjoyed all of them.

You know you are in safe hands, for example, when the first two lines of the first poem in the pamphlet are

‘Hand and mind are fishing the river after dark
for the slow, heavy old ones that rise at night’

from ‘Nightfishing’

I think those two lines are so beautiful, and almost a poem in their own right – but the rest of the poem, and the pamphlet is just as good.  The poem I’ve chosen to use as this week’s Sunday Poem I loved as soon as I read the first four lines – again it gave me that feeling that the poet knows exactly what they are doing, that the poem is in safe hands.  I like the specificity of the title and this is continued with the detail that is drawn out in the poem.  There is something wonderful in the aptness of the comparison to the body of the hawk with a balsa plane and the way the comparison is drawn out over eight lines.  Not only is it lighter than a balsa plane, it is lighter than the balsa planes launched from a bedroom window into Welsh rain.  Those eight lines give us a lot of information – it sounds like a lonely activity – there is no mention of doing this with friends.  The garden is a ‘bare strip’ but we are not told why.  The rain is not merely rain, but Welsh rain.

My favourite part of the poem is in stanza five though – the recording of the insect life that has been going on inside the hawk, around its death: ‘it has only been/troubled from within,/and all the hidden turmoil/that churned there is done.’   I love this use of the word ‘troubled’.  I’ve heard it used in this way before in a poem by David Tait – I think he writes about his mother ‘troubling the latch’ and I think it is a fantastic twisting of this word.

I also love the image of seeing the ‘dusty green/leaves’ and the ‘clean blue sky’ through the skull of the hulk.  Those last four lines alter the whole perspective of the poem, so it seems as if you are lying in the grass with the skull looking upwards.  In fact, this change of perspective happens quite a lot in this poem – it is a bit like a film.  At first we see down the bare strip of garden from a bedroom window.  Then we are holding the skull in our hands, then we are at the same level as it, in the ground.

Wayne Price was born in South Wales but has lived and worked in Scotland since 1987.  His short stories and poems have been widely published and won many awards.  His debut story collection Furnace (Freight, 2012) was shortlisted for the Saltaire Scottish First Book of the Year and longlisted for the Frank O’Connor Award.  His first novel, Mercy Seat, was published in February 2015.   He was a finalist in the Manchester Poetry Competition in both 2013 and 2014.  He teaches at the University of Aberdeen.

You can order Fossil Record here if you would like to read more of his fantastic work.

Hope you enjoy the Sunday Poem and thanks to Wayne for letting me use his poem.

Dead Hawk, the Anglican Churchyard, Tangier – Wayne Price

It is lighter at the tips
of my fingers than
the snap-out balsa planes
I made as a boy

and launched from
my bedroom window
on afternoons of Welsh rain
to a bare strip of garden.

Days of sun and wind
have whittled it clean
to stiff pinion
feathers and bone.

Cats stalk the dessicated
grasses between
the graves, but none of them
have dismantled it;

it has only been
troubled from within,
and all the hidden turmoil
that churned there is done.

The ebony crescent
of its beak is still
precise and fine.  I can
see clean through

the empty house
of the skull,
like the quality
of a memory

the mind has refined,
to the gardener
with his combing rake,
who like the cats

has let it lie, and to the dusty green
leaves above, and the
clean blue sky.

Sunday Poem – Mary Noonan


I’m feeling very sorry for myself today because I’ve had a sore throat and a headache for the last couple of days.  Chris (the husband) had a cold and now has sinusitis and is in a bit of a state and I think I’ve definitely caught the cold.  Mr C has been ill for the last four days or so and my throat and headache started on Friday so we are having a bit of a rubbish weekend.  We are both trying to take it easy but we both hate taking it easy, so it doesn’t create a particularly relaxing environment!

I was in Holland from the 13th August and got back on the 18th August, last Tuesday.  I was reading at a Poetry and Music event in Vlieland, a small island off the coast of Holland.  I was invited over by Tsead Bruinja, a fantastic poet who writes in Friesan and Dutch.  I met Tsead about four years ago at a poetry festival in Ireland, along with his wife Saskia Stehouwer and my lovely friend Jan Glas.  We all got on really well, so I was very excited to be invited to read in Vlieland, because I would get to see them all again.  I was also excited because it is an amazing thing, to travel because I am a poet.  I still sometimes can’t believe it – when I think back to getting my first poem published in a magazine, that I’m now getting to go abroad and read my poetry.  I know I’m very lucky, and even writing this makes me feel less down in the dumps about my cold.

So if you are going to travel and read poetry, Vlieland is definitely the place to go.  When I got to Amsterdam, I met up with Tsead and Sas and then we had to take two trains and two buses to get to Harlingen.  We had a quick walk around Harlingen and I was persuaded to try some fish from a stall.  I wasn’t brave enough for the raw fish that Sas liked so I got some pieces of cod in batter which sounds very ordinary, but they tasted nothing like cod that we eat here.  For a start, the batter wasn’t covered in grease – it appeared to be quite healthy, although I have no statistics to back this up.

We met Tsead and Sas’s friend Tamar at the dock and then got on the ferry.  I had every intention of sitting on the top deck and looking at the view but by now it was midday on Thursday and I had slept for about an hour in my car at the airport so I went inside the boat and managed to find a sofa that I could lie down on and go to sleep for a few hours. I will be forever grateful to my early trips as a musician when I learnt to sleep on pretty much any form of transport.  I remember once going with Dearham Brass Band to Germany on a coach and sleeping stretched out on the floor between the seats.  I didn’t wake up until we got to the island.

Only residents are allowed to have vehicles on the island and most people hire bicycles to get around.  It is really well organised, and you can pay a couple of euros to have your luggage dropped off at the tents, which we did.  I’d been feeling quite smug at having a suitcase on wheels up to this point, as opposed to a huge hiking bag, but my smugness evaporated when I had to drag the stupid case across the sand to get to my tent.

I won’t give you a blow by blow account of the week, just selected highlights.  I met some lovely people there – Bas Kwakman, who runs Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam.  I put my foot in it at one point with Bas because I realised I hadn’t accepted his friend request on Facebook, due to my rule of not accepting requests unless I’ve met the person in real life or unless they send me a message telling me how wonderful I/my poetry/my hair/my shoes are.  The crisis was averted after the request was accepted.  Bas is a fellow hat wearer and lover of hats, or at least his own hat and had lots of interesting gossip about the terrible behaviour of famous poets at his festival.

Rindert was another of Tsead and Sas’s friends.  He was also very lovely, although I did have to threaten him with a spider to stop him chasing me down the beach with a dead crab.  Thank god Tamar told me about his phobia otherwise I’d probably have been covered in dead crustacean.  If Rindert had known me better, he would have realised there is no way I would pick up a spider and insert it into somebody’s tent, not even for revenge purposes.  I’m too frightened of them myself.  Apart from chasing people with corpses, Rindert’s other talent is cooking – he made the most fantastic meals for everybody while we were there.

Tamar was lovely as well.  I got to know her better as the week progressed and became more and more fond of her.  She doesn’t write poetry, just likes coming to Vlieland to listen and hang out – one of those rare specimens, a true audience member!  We are hopefully going to meet up in London in a couple of weeks time when I go down for the Forward Prize reading.

Tsead and Bas arranged for some of my poems to be translated into Dutch by Willem Groenewegan and my lovely friend Jan Glas came to the island to read the translations.  It was so lovely to see Jan again – he is one of my favourite people – and always has been.  I haven’t seen him for a couple of years, but it was soon like we’d never been apart.  We spend most of our time together randomly hugging and clutching each other or laughing about something.  Or sometimes bitching about something, but not that often.

I went swimming in the sea twice while I was on the island – we had about three days of what I consider pretty good weather (i.e it wasn’t raining) and two days where it was quite hot (well the sun was out).  It is not usually like me to throw myself into a cold sea and I actually was planning just to paddle a bit, but then I looked at everyone else swimming and thought I would regret it if I didn’t, so I did.  The water was cold at first but once you start swimming it feels amazing.  I am resolved to swim more in the sea if I get the chance.

I went running on my own twice on the island as well.  The first time I ran 5k out towards the dunes.  It was so beautiful I kept going for a bit longer than I should have.  It was warm, but quite windy when I was running out.  When I turned around, there was no wind at all, and I started to get really hot.  It felt like the sun was reflecting off the road, and I’d stupidly come out without a water bottle.  I started to panic, imagining myself collapsing at the side of the road, dehydrated and delirious and having to crawl back as there wasn’t even a car to give me a lift.  Lots of Dutch people kept sailing past me on bikes, smiling kindly and serenely as I willed one of them to offer me some of their water or at least take pity on me and give me a croggy.

Anyway, after 9k I got back into the camp and went to the very first shower block and drank lots of water and splashed water all over my head and then hobbled back to the tent.  Lesson learnt – don’t go out without a water bottle!

The next day Tamar, Jan and I went on a bike ride – you can go all the way around the island on cycle paths – about 18km.  Although cycling is not my favourite thing – I have a bony bum and consequently am usually in pain within five minutes of sitting on a bike, I felt fairly confident I could keep up with Tamar and Jan – now I am a super fit runner! But no – seemingly with no effort at all, I got further and further behind.  Part of this was to do with the fact that I slowed down every time somebody went past me on the cycle path, not trusting in my own skill at keeping in a straight line, but it was mostly to do with the fact that my thighs were burning.  Whether this was from the run yesterday or just because I’m not used to cycling I have no idea.  I came to the conclusion that Tamar and Jan were in fact cycling geniuses and they had just hidden this fact from me.

The day after that I had a rest from all physical activity but the day after that I went for a 5k run by myself again and had a go at a circular route, which was very daring for me, as I live in mortal fear of getting lost.

I nearly forgot to tell you about this huge insect that I found in my tent on the first night.  I went to bed a bit earlier than everyone else and left them in the pub.  When I got into my tent and switched the light on there was a huge beast on the wall of the tent.  It was beetle shaped with what looked like a barbed tail and it was as long as my thumb.  I was cursing it for a couple of minutes.  If I walked back to the pub and asked Tsead to get it out for me, it could vanish by the time I got back and then I’d have to sleep with it possibly marauding around the tent.  If only Chris was here I wailed (quietly) to myself.  I have never, never, never removed an insect from a house.  I’m honestly terrified of them.  Being left with no choice though I grabbed a loose poem and my hat and after a couple of goes, knocked the Tent Beast into my hat and flung the hat and Beast out into the night and zipped the tent up.  After a short victory dance where I felt very proud of myself, I then realised it was due to rain that night, and my hat was out, unprotected and alone against the elements.  So I unzipped the tent, shone my phone into the hat, checked that the beast had made off into the night and brought the hat back in.

Stupidly I didn’t take a photo of the creature, but Sas looked it up and we think it was most likely that it was a Devil’s Coachhorse Beetle.  The Dutch had to put up with me going on and on about my heroics all week so it was probably lucky for them that I didn’t get a photo of it.

The reading on the Sunday night was a really nice event.  Although I couldn’t understand the poetry as it was in Dutch, I find it very easy to sit back and just let it wash over me.  Sas had been working on a translation of one of her poems into English – it was a beautiful poem and it made me want to read more of her poems in English.

I read three of the poems from my sequence about domestic violence and afterwards a woman came up to me with tears in her eyes and said that it had also happened to her, that she had never told anybody about it, that she had never cried about it until now.  Every time I read from these poems, a woman comes up to me and says the same thing, but I was really moved by this occasion, by the woman saying she’d never cried about it.  It nearly made me cry.

I am slightly embarrassed to admit that over the last couple of weeks I’ve been worrying a bit about prizes and shortlists. My close friends will know this already because I’ve spoken to them about it.  It is exposing to have a full collection published, much more so than a pamphlet.  I remember thinking when the book came out that I didn’t care about shortlists or prizes, I was just so happy to have a book.  Of course that euphoria wears off pretty quickly and I started to worry about my book not getting on any shortlists and vanishing into oblivion.  I am nothing if not dramatic.

But that moment with the woman in the audience, whose name I don’t know put shortlists and prizes into perspective.  To connect with another human being, maybe to express something they have felt unable to express themselves is one of the things that poetry is for, and it is easy to forget that when you are worrying about prizes and recognition, but that moment gave me a bit of a wake up call.  Don’t get me wrong, it would be lovely to be on a shortlist, but every time I feel myself getting a little envious I’m going to think of that woman who came and spoke to me.

I also feel in a good place with my writing at the minute, as in I’m doing lots of it.  I don’t know if it’s any good or not, but I am at least finding it easy to sit down and do it.  It feels like I’m back to the way I used to write before I started editing the collection and I’m really enjoying it.  I even sent two submissions off to two magazines last week for the first time in ages.  I got an invitation a couple of days ago to read in Amsterdam at the beginning of October as well, at the ‘Reading the World’ festival which I’m really excited about and looking forward to and then November I’m off to Cork to read there, so I’ve got lots to look forward to.

This week’s Sunday Poem is by a fabulous poet called Mary Noonan, who I first met in Ireland, the same time I met Tsead, Sas and Jan.  She’s also been to Vlieland a couple of years ago I think and loved it as much as I did.  I met her again in Fermoy last month when I was reading at the Elbow Lane Inn.  She read some beautiful and moving poems about her father, who has dementia.  I will never forget sitting in Elbow Lane a year ago and hearing her father sing – he had a beautiful voice.  When Mary read the poem that I’ve chosen as the Sunday Poem, it made me cry a little.  Both my nanna and Chris’s mum, my mother in law had dementia so in that respect it is easy to identify with it.  Mary was kind enough to send me her limited edition pamphlet ‘Father’ which has just come out with Bonnefant Press.

The pamphlet only has six poems in, all exploring the experience of her father having dementia.  I’ve chosen ‘No More Goodbyes’ to feature here today.  Even if you’ve not had experience of caring for someone with dementia, these poems are so beautiful.  They are about relationships and language, and how far language can take us, and where it fails.

In ‘No More Goodbyes’ there is a real gentleness of tone and I was trying to pinpoint how Mary achieves this right from the outset.  The title throws you off I think, because it is almost a cliche until you read the poem and realise that she doesn’t mean there are no more goodbyes because of death, there are no more goodbyes because language is failing.   It also has echoes for me of the Annie Lennox song ‘No More I Love You’s’.  I’ve just looked up that song and the next line is ‘The language is leaving me’ – maybe that is why it is chiming in my head, because this poem is really about language leaving.  There is no death in the poem, apart from the death of language, that the word goodbye doesn’t work anymore.  Maybe the gentleness is achieved with starting with ‘We’.  The loss of language in one affects the other. Neither can say goodbye.  The father lives in a ‘world of compartments’ and the idea of the dead moving freely between their world and ours is such a striking image.  I love the way she says ‘the farewell word’ instead of using goodbye again and the originality of that thought, of trying to imagine what it must feel like for the father to have visitors that arrive ‘without/announcement or appointment’.  The last thing I wanted to say about the poem was to draw attention to the line breaks.  I’ve had a few interesting conversations about line breaks at writing groups recently.  It is one of the things I love examining in poetry and Mary has made some interesting choices in this poem, which I really like.  The first line break is fairly conventional but then in line 2 she breaks between ‘each’ and ‘other’.  The reader thinks for a split second the second line is complete because you’ve been led to think that by the first line.  Then you realise the gap between ‘each’ and ‘other’ fits with the subject of the poem, and it sets up the little disjoints later on that are created when she finishes on small words like ‘and’ and ‘be’ and ‘of.  The poem ebbs and flows ‘Now I must slip in and/’out of the compartments of your/world, where the dead move freely’ – I think they are fantastic line breaks – completely unexpected but they work.  The last one I want to waffle on about is Line 13 ‘appearing before you courtesy of/a complex of sliding panels and’.  Imagine if she’d broken the line ‘appearing before you courtesy/of a complex of sliding panels’.  It doesn’t work, it sounds clunky that way.  That is why line breaks matter.  (This is what my interesting discussion about line breaks was about).

Anyway, I should tell you a little about Mary Noonan.  She lives in Cork, where she lectures in French literature at University College Cork.  Her poems have appeared in numerous magazines including The Dark Horse, Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry London, The Spectator, PN Review (forthcoming), New Hibernia Review and The Threepenny Review.  She won the Listowel Poetry Collection Prize in  2010.  Her first collection – The Fado House (Dedalus Press, Dublin, 2012) was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize and the Strong/Shine Award.  In 2014 she was awarded an Arts Council of Ireland Literature Bursary.

You can order Mary’s first collection from her publisher, Dedalus Press.and read more of her work at Josephine Corcoran’s site And Other Poems or over at Southword

No More Goodbyes – Mary Noonan

We can no longer say goodbye,
no more take our leave of each
other.  Now I must slip in and
out of the compartments of your
world, where the dead move freely
in the antechambers, where to go
through a door is to be erased
forever and long-dead fathers
are always just a staircase away.
I will pace now in the salle des pas
losing my way, entering
by one door, exiting by another,
appearing before you courtesy of
a complex of sliding panels and
vanishing again without saying
the farewell word, vaporising
into the great waiting hall where
all doors lead.  What do you make
of these random comings and goings,
your visitors always arriving without
announcement or appointment,
and leaving by the same slippery
method? How does it feel to be
the still centre of these revolving
portals, you, the empty waiting-room
where only ghosts stop, on their way
to Heaven knows where?

Sunday Poem – Penny Boxall


I’m writing this from a motorway services station at midnight on Wednesday night.  It is a very strange place to be.  There are two men who are sitting in front of the slot machines – they’ve been there for the last half hour.  They probably think I’m just as strange though, sitting here with a laptop cursing at it because it won’t connect to the internet.  A family has just walked in who are using the baby feeding station to warm up a pizza which seems strange, but then it’s that or paying a ridiculous amount of money for a cake or a limp sandwich.

It is my sworn oath this year that no Sunday shall pass without a Sunday Poem being unleashed onto the world.  Unfortunately for my sworn oath, I only remembered at about 4pm today that I would be in Holland on Sunday, at a campsite, maybe in the middle of a poetry festival, and it would be an absolute pain to try and find a computer and an internet connection.  So I am trying the whole scheduling a blog-post to publish in advance.

But what a strange thing to write this on Wednesday when only half the week has happened! By the time you all read this, I will have been in Holland for four days and I’m hopefully having a great time.  Although I might be a little sad because my lovely friend Jan Glas will be leaving on Sunday to go home.  But I will be happy because it will mean only two days till I see Mr C, the husband.

Anyway, of necessity, today’s post is going to be short.  My flight is at 5.55am on Thursday morning from Manchester, and tonight (Wednesday) I had another reading to sixth form students who are on a trip and staying at the university campus in Ambleside.  The reading went ok – this week only a third of them stayed for my bit of the poetry reading and I was slightly thrown when I saw another one of my ex-pupils who used to play in the band. After the reading finished, I went for a Chinese in Ambleside and then drove here – it wasn’t worth me going back to Barrow as I’d just have to set off again, but once I’ve finished this I’m going to try and get a couple of hours sleep in the car.

I’m really excited about this trip.  The poetry festival is in Vlieland which is a very small island off the coast of Holland.  There are not many cars there apparently, but lots of cycle paths, which means lots of paths to go running on and nothing much else to do apart from read and write and hang out with people – sounds like my ideal weekend!

This week I’ve had my friend Lindsey Holland come to stay and we’ve had a really nice time.  We decided to have a poetry day on Monday and spent the whole day in our pyjamas, writing and reading.  I managed to get two submissions sent off for the first time in god knows how long.  I had to finally admit to myself that I have in fact been hoarding poems, not sending them out and thinking they were all rubbish.  Precisely what I tell other people not to do.  So twelve are now out in the world seeking their fortune.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Penny Boxall, who I met when she was an intern at The Wordsworth Trust, but more recently at a Canada Poetry Day, organised by Polly Atkin.  I really enjoyed Penny’s reading and bought her book ‘Ship of the Line’ published by Eyewear Publishing.  I’ve read the book today while I was eating my Chinese and I really enjoyed it.  The poems, on the whole, are very outward looking, taking their inspiration from objects and interesting stories, so when you arrive at a poem that is in a more personal vein, like ‘The Advantage’, describing a tennis match between a father and daughter, it provides a great contrast.

There is a huge range of subject matter in the collection.  One of my favourite poems was the very first one ‘Taxidermy Outpost’, full of striking images and finishing ‘here is a chipmunk/paddling a canoe/ his little fist/just like yours’.  I also liked ‘Common Use’, ‘The Old Magic’ and ‘Halfway Up an Elephant’ in particular – but I read the book start to finish and was never bored.  It’s actually another of my favourite first collections I’ve read this year, along with Jane Clarke’s ‘The River’.

I’d have loved to have posted ‘The Old Magic’ but as I still haven’t worked out how to do indented lines on WordPress, I’ve decided to go with another wonderful poem – ‘Williams, Who Lived’, which is just a great example of the interesting stories you can find in the collection.  The notes in the back of the collection tell me that ‘Three men – each named Hugh Williams – were the sole survivors of three separate shipwrecks in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.’

I’m not going to say too much about this poem, it being nearly 1am now, but I do want to draw your attention to the lovely use of the verb ‘hauled’ in the first line – it could have been pulled, or dragged, but hauled is so much better.  The line breaks all the way through the poem are really deftly handled but my favourite line break (yes I do have them) has to be in the penultimate stanza, in the third line, when Penny breaks after ‘did’, so we get ‘did/or did not like onions’.  I also really like the fourth stanza with ‘Williams married Susan, married/Mary, married Anne’ – another good line break at married! I like the repetition of ‘and died – and died’ in this stanza and the headstones which ‘read the same, like yesterday’s paper’.

The poem is also a good example of what I talked about before, the way that Penny draws inspiration from stories and objects outside herself, rather than looking inward.

Penny was born in 1987 but already has an MA with Distinction in Creative Writing from UEA.  Her work was commissioned in 2012 for the WEYA festival on the theme of ‘Treatise’.  She won the 2010 Frederik van Eaden poetry competition and has been shortlisted for an Eric Gregory Award.  You can order Penny’s book from her publisher here.  Penny also wrote a brilliant and thoughtful review for The Compass magazine recently for our inaugral issue which you can find here.

Thanks to Penny for allowing me to use her poem.

Williams, Who Lived  – Penny Boxall

When this man was hauled from the foam
and, shaking, asked his name, the news spread fast.
They skimmed him back to shore –
a talisman, breaking the waves like eggs.

Hugh Williams had lived before.  The name
confounded shipwrecks, made men float
through salted depths towards the aching
light.  Williams was a lonely but a living sort.

It seemed the surest way to last gulp air not water,
to die dry, was to be him; or if not him
another of his kind.  The parish registrars
scrawled Williams upon Williams as though they kept

forgetting.  Williams married Susan, married
Mary, married Anne; and when he died,
(and died – and died -) the headstones
read the same, like yesterday’s paper.

Williams stayed at home and picked rocks
from the binary of ploughed earth.
Or travelled, wrote a book, did
or did not like onions; wet the bed.

And when he went to sea – as captain,
passenger, stowaway – he kept himself
to himself; threw his name around him,
vein-strung, tenuous as a caul.

Sunday Poem – Louis Mulcahy


Poor John Foggin is going to have to read the Sunday Poem on Monday morning instead as it will be well past midnight by the time I finish it.  This morning I went to run the Hoad Hill Half Marathon.  It’s the first time the event has been held and as well as the usual 13 mile distance, the organisers thought it would be fun to add in climbing up to the Hoad monument right at the end.

I’ve been feeling a bit upset for the last couple of days and a little bit lonely.  Mr C (as my husband will be known hence forth) flew to Australia to be with his family – his mum died at the beginning of the week.  Sadly, he didn’t get there in time to see her before she died, but he was there for the funeral and has been spending some time with his family.  So he’s been gone just over a week now and I’m really starting to miss him.  At first I quite enjoyed leaving the washing up and not having to worry about offending Mr C’s more enhanced levels of tidiness and being able to scatter my books about the house – but the novelty of that has worn off now.

We were both supposed to be doing the half marathon together today so this morning I felt really down, getting up my on my own, making my own porridge (can you imagine! having to make my own porridge) and then turning up to the race on my own.  I did know people there but I felt very teary before the race started.  Once I got going it was fine.  The weather was not good – it rained all the way round and I was soaked before we even started.

Last time I did a half marathon in Lancaster last November, I really didn’t enjoy it.  By the time I got to the 12k mark, every muscle in my body was aching.  This was my own fault of course.  I hadn’t done enough training.  I think with a 10k race, you can basically blag your way around it.  If you haven’t done lots of training, you can still run it without causing yourself an injury, but with a half-marathon, if you haven’t done enough training, you’re basically screwed.

This time around, I’d done a lot more running and I had a lot more miles in my legs.  Ideally, I think I should have done some more long runs but I was coping really well throughout most of the race.  Some of my lovely running friends from Walney Wind Cheetahs were waiting at the top of Birkrigg Common to cheer us on and my running friend KP had even brought jellybabies.  I actually thought my running bestie, who will from now on be called The Flying Duchess was there, but it turns out I was hallucinating as she was on her way to Turkey.

Anyway, there I am, running along, feeling fairly smug with myself that I’d been averaging around 5.15 and 5.30 a kilometre until the 19th kilometre, when we got to the Hoad Hill monument which we then had to run up and this was where I became undone.  I think I ran about half of it and then had to walk, which I was gutted about.  It’s the first time I’ve ever had to walk up a hill and at one point, I thought I would have to stop!  Up to this point, I think I would have had a chance at beating my personal best time for a half marathon which was 1 hour 52 minutes, but it all went pearshaped as I staggered up the hill and then had to take my time coming down so I ended up coming in at 2 hours and 3 minutes.

So that was this morning.  I had to get back home pretty quickly, jump in the shower and then get straight back into the car again to go to a Rewilding Bowland event which I was due to read some poems at.  The event was to raise awareness of the plight of Hen Harriers and I was shocked to learn that the organiser had been visited by the police at home just for organising this event, which I found really shocking – there was a harp player and face painting for children as well as poetry – hardly a hotbed of anarchy and rioting or an event that would cause any trouble at all, and certainly nothing to warrant a personal visit from the police.

The poet Lindsey Holland has come for a visit and arrived yesterday evening.  As soon as she arrived I dragged her out for a meal so I could stuff myself with spaghetti bolognese ready for the race today.   We have also made a solemn vow to do some writing tomorrow so if you see any of us on Facebook or Twitter tomorrow give us a telling off!

Being on my own in the house this week has meant I’ve got loads of jobs done in a much quicker time than usual.  I’ve sorted out the books that will be reviewed for Issue 2 of The Compass and found four fantastic reviewers.  I’ve sent a course outline and a blurb to The Poetry School for a new online course that I’ll be running in Spring 2016.  I’ve done lots of work on the various Residential Poetry Courses that I’ll be running this year and next year – you can find more info here including the timetable for the Poetry Carousel which takes place from the 11th-13th December 2015.  There are only a few places left on this, so if you are thinking about coming, do get in touch with the hotel and book your place.

On Tuesday I went for a lovely afternoon tea with my friend The Wedge who writes a fantastic Afternoon Tea blog, which I am predicting will one day be made into a bestselling guide book to the afternoon tea land of the lake district.  Although a blog about afternoon tea doesn’t sound like the most auspicious start, it is actually very funny because of The Wedge’s insistence on strange rules to do with her afternoon tea eating.

On Wednesday I went to the university campus in Ambleside with Zoe from the Wordsworth Trust and we both read poetry to about 70 sixth form students.   The tutors gathered them all in one room and Zoe read them a Wordsworth poem and a poem by Neil Rollinson and then gave them the option to leave if they wanted to.  I expected a mass exodus at this point but none of them moved!  Zoe read them two more poems, one by Wordsworth and one by Carola Luther and then I read them some poems.  They were really nice kids and they even laughed at my jokes, so they will all clearly go far in life.

I’ve also read loads this week and one of the books I managed to read was Louis Mulcahy’s second collection, The Clogher Quartet, Book Two.  I really enjoyed his first collection and I’d actually already chosen a poem from this first book, but then I got hold of a copy of the second when I was over in Ireland so I thought it would be better to feature a more recent poem, plus I found this cracking poem in the book.

There were actually a lot of poems in the collection that I really enjoyed, but this was the one that I got to that made me stop reading and put the book down for a minute.  It is a very direct poem but whilst telling a fairly straightforward story, it also manages to pack a lot of backstory in.  There are actually quite complicated attitudes and emotions going on in the poem, which is really exploring the status of the mother in a family – at first the children play ‘a simple prank’.  The fact that this prank is played as sh sits back ‘to her share of the family meal’ makes me imagine that she has just served everybody with food and is finally sitting back to relax herself, which says one thing about her status or her position.  The lovely thing in the poem is the ‘curious/rage of our father,beside himself with something’.  First of all I love the ‘curious rage’ – as if the speaker of the poem still doesn’t quite understand why the father is so angry.  Then I also really like the way Louis has played with the cliche of being beside yourself with rage or anger – instead the father is ‘beside himself with something’.  There is also a real feeling of shame in the poem, and although the poet says the memory or the realisation comes back with less force as the decades heal, saying this and writing a poem about it leads the reader to believe that the opposite in fact is probably true.

Louis is a potter and ceramic  sculptor as well as a poet and in 2004 received an Honorary Doctorate from the National University of Ireland for his pottery and his contribution to the community.  He has been published in many Irish literary magazines including Poetry Ireland, The Stinging Fly, The SHop and Stoney Thursday.  His first collection ‘The Clogher Quartet, Book One’ came out in 2014 with An Sagart and his second collection ‘The Clogher Quartet, Book Two’ came out in 2015.  ‘Taken Aback’ is from this second collection.  You can find out more about Louis here

I hope you enjoy the poem and thanks to Louis for letting me use it.

Taken Aback – Louis Mulcahy

It was one of those realisations
that resurface with diminishing force
as the decades heal; a simple prank,
pulling the chair from under our mother
as she leant forward, awkwardly,
to sit back to her share of the family meal.
Four of us five children born by then; it took
some years to understand her strangely muted
plea not to attempt that again, and the curious
rage of our father, beside himself with something.

Sunday Poem – Arthur Broomfield


Evening folks – it feels like much more than a week since the last time I wrote on here, so much has happened.  Sometimes it is difficult to write exactly what has been happening, especially if it concerns other people.  I am constantly thinking about whether what I’m writing about will upset anybody else, whether I’m revealing something that I shouldn’t.  However, if I don’t say anything, I would feel like I was blithely carrying on without acknowledging what has happened, which is uncaring and unfeeling.

So, I think for now, I will just say the bare minimum, which is that due to a family emergency, my husband had to get a flight to Australia yesterday.  We spent pretty much every minute together in Ireland for nearly a week, and now I’m suddenly not going to see him for three weeks or so.  It feels very strange to be unexpectedly on my own.

I promised that I would write another instalment about my time in Ireland.  Two Fridays ago I was staying at my friend Ita’s house in Fermoy.  I ran a 2 hour workshop for the Marketplace Poetry Group with 20 participants.  The workshop was great fun and they were a lovely group to work with.  In the evening I did a reading and there was an open mic afterwards.  The pub was full of poets – not only the workshop group, but a whole contingent of poets that had come from Cork with the fabulous Paul Casey, who runs the O’Bheal night there.  Other poets that I’ve seen every year I’ve been in Fermoy – Louis Mulcahy, Noel King, Kevin Griffin, Matthew Sweeney, Mary Noonan had also travelled over for the open mic – it was a fantastic night and finished with people playing violins and singing – as most nights in Elbow

Pat O’Connor who is known as the Bard of Fermoy, a talented musician, poet, and artist is doing a series of paintings of poets and he showed me a painting of me that he’d been working on, which was lovely and moving and surprising.  The painting is going into an exhibition soon.  Pat is one of my favourite people in Fermoy – he is not on social media – I don’t even know if he does emails actually, but he is such a big part of the community there.  He is such a good poet and performer that at the open mic, people were shouting for him to perform poems that were their particular favourites.

We went to bed very late on Friday night and we had quite a relaxed Saturday.  We got up late and had a late breakfast and then an even later lunch.  I’m sure I left Ita’s house a stone heavier than when I arrived. We drove to Killarney after leaving Ita’s and after much knocking on doors, managed to find  a really cheap but lovely B and B which I think was called Greenacre.  Although the room was small, it was spotless and the landlady was very kind and wouldn’t hear of taking the tip we tried to leave her the next day.

On Sunday we drove to Dingle to see the lovely poet and potter Louis Mulcahy and his equally lovely wife.  He has an amazing and famous pottery studio and he showed us all around the workshop and called us eejits when he found out we had ordered lunch in the cafe instead of coming to the house to have lunch.  We bought two vases, one for Lindsey Holland, who has been staying at our house looking after our dogs while we were away, and one for us.  I also tried to buy Louis’ latest poetry collection but he’d told the girls on the desk to give me a copy so I wasn’t allowed to pay for that either!

We’d booked into an expensive hotel in Dublin – much more than we would normally have been able to afford called No.39 or No.31 – something like that.  The problem with expensive hotels in Ireland is that it would be hard for a hotel to top the level of service you get where ever you go and I didn’t think it was really worth the extra money we shelled out for it to be honest.  We spent the day seeing the city on an open top bus and eating in cafes – we had a great time.

The next night we had great fun staying at Arthur Broomfield’s, who is the Sunday Poet for this week! More on Arthur’s poem later but suffice it to say, his poetry is much better than his direction giving.  If you want to know what I mean, read Kei Miller’s poem ‘In Which the Cartographer Asks for Directions’ and you will get an idea of what I’m talking about, except instead of a big white house and an old woman with only three teeth in her mouth, we were looking for a roundabout with a statue of the Virgin Mary, a row of birch trees and a very slight incline in the road.

Anyway, we arrived eventually at Arthur’s house to find a huge meal awaiting us there as well, cooked by his wife Assumpta (more on Assumpta later as well!) The whole time we were in Ireland, I couldn’t believe how hospitable and welcoming people were.  I know it’s a cliche that Irish people are very friendly but it is true – but what we experienced over the last week was beyond friendliness really – it was complete, no strings attached hospitality.  I think I left Ireland 2 stone heavier than when I went.

The next day, we had a lovely, long breakfast with Arthur and then headed back to Dublin.  We went into the Natural History Museum, full of exhibits of stuffed animals, which seemed very poignant considering what has happened with Cecil the lion this past week.  There are hundreds and hundreds of stuffed animals in the museum.  It made me wonder about the human beings that killed them, whether this would have been their job, to bring animals back for the museum.

In the evening, I read with Arthur and Jane Clarke.  It was a small audience, but a quality one.  I met a couple of readers of this blog who introduced themselves and Una, a woman I was on a course with quite a few years ago, who has gone on to have a collection published with Lapwing and is about to start an MA.  Michael Farry, a poet I first met in Fermoy was also there so it was nice to see him again.

After the reading, once everyone else had gone home, Chris and I went for a run in Phoenix Park just as it was starting to get dark.  At one point some of the wild deer that live in the park ran across the path in front of us – it was great to get out in the fresh air and it’s a lovely place to run, completely flat unlike our local park! We got the overnight ferry back to England after this and arrived back home Wednesday lunchtime.

I’ve been pretty busy since then.  On Thursday I was running a half day workshop with Mungrisdale Writers – another lovely group of people who really got stuck in with the writing exercises.  They also paid promptly on the day – a rare thing I’m finding in the world of poetry freelance work!  On Friday I had my Young Writers Workshop and of course having to help Chris get sorted so he could go to Australia.

Yesterday was my first day alone in the house and I actually got lots of work done.  I emailed invoices through and chased up review copies for The Compass.  Please go and have a look at The Compass if you haven’t already – it’s a really high quality online magazine.  I’m only in charge of reviews, but the magazine is open for poetry submissions. I also drafted the timetable for the Poetry Carousel which will go up tomorrow.  I’ve been emailing back and forth with Clare Shaw and we have our theme sorted for our St Ives Residential Poetry Course in February 2016.  I did a tiny bit of writing as well.

Today I’ve been for a run with Walney Wind Cheetahs and then a concert in the park with Barrow Shipyard Junior Band who were taking part in a project called Floodtide.  They had to play music generated by a sensor in Walney Channel so that was an interesting afternoon! This evening I went to Jennifer Copley’s house and her amazingly talented husband ( I know he reads this – if he hasn’t got fed up by now and given up) took pity on my husbandless state and made dinner for me.  In between scoffing dinner, we also sorted our theme out for the residential week we are running in Grange Over Sands in 2016.

News of the themes for the upcoming courses will be going up on the blog very shortly, so please keep watching this space.

Ok, on to today’s Sunday Poem.  As I’ve already told you, it is by Arthur Broomfield, who I first met at Torbay Poetry Festival a couple of years ago.  Last year, Arthur was a participant on the course in St Ives and it was great to see him again this year and meet his wife, Assumpta.  Assumpta is a professional gardener and is currently writing a book about snowdrops – she is a really fascinating person to talk to and has travelled all over the world in her capacity as a gardener.

I heard Arthur read this poem at the Dublin event and asked him afterwards if I could use it for my blog.  This is a quiet poem, which suits the title, about that most unassuming of flowers.  I like how it starts as if it is in the mdidle of a conversation, and how all the way through, a hidden story is hinted at but not revealed.  In fact this hidden story is hinted at in two lines really ‘after the last descent into alcohol’ and then ‘and for the bleak days’.  The rest of the poem is very tightly controlled and the emotion is held in check by the slow and careful description.  It is a strange and puzzling little poem – puzzling in that it feels very bleak all the way through, until that last image of the snowdrops on the doorstep, which seems to me so hopeful and optimistic.  Those last couple of lines lift you out of the rest of the poem.  The other thing that is interesting is that the ‘you’ in the poem and the speaker are very seperate.  In fact, we don’t ever meet the ‘you’, only her door and her doorstep, yet the relationship between the speaker and the ‘you’ is of great interest.  As you can probably tell, I’m still puzzling away at this poem and enjoying doing so.

Arthur Broomfield is a poet and Beckett scholar from County Laois, Ireland. His poetry has been widely published in Ireland and in Orbis, Agenda and Envoi. His chapbook The Poetry Reading at Semple Stadium (Lapwing) was published in 2012. Arthur is editor of Outburst, an online poetry journal that encourages innovation. His study on the works of Samuel Beckett, The Empty Too :language and philosophy in the works of Samuel Beckett  (Cambridge Scholars’ Publishing 2013) is available through  Arthur also tells me that he has a poem accepted in Acumen today which he is really chuffed about!

I hope you enjoy the poem and thanks to Arthur for letting me use it

Snowdrop – Arthur Broomfield

For Assumpta

And then,
after the last descent into alcohol
I’ll go to your door,
shuffle down the step  stones, your design,
through the beds where in summer
Arum Lilies and Gladioli disguise
the dun earth
and for the bleak days, leave,
on your doorstep,
Snowdrops, gathered that morning,
moist with dew.