I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog in the last couple of weeks. I’ve been getting a bit weary – not with picking the poems, which I love doing, but with writing about my week, which seems to become a bit of a long list. People come up to me and tell me how busy I am. I don’t think I’m busier than anyone else – it’s just that I’ve been documenting it all in minute detail. However, I have worn myself out with it all, so I’ve decided from this week that I will be limiting myself to 1000 words for each blog post (excluding the poem) Which is still quite a lot. I’m also going to write up the bit about the poem and the poet first, and then come back and do the bit about me afterwards, with whatever words I’m left with. This week I was left with, excluding the poem, 469 words.
I’ve already used quite a few of them to explain this principle so I want to use the remaining words I have left to tell you about the fantastic reading that Steve Ely did for ‘A Poem and a Pint’ last night. If you get a chance to hear Steve Ely read, go. For me he is up there with the best poet-performers – people like Clare Shaw, Kei Miller and Alice Oswald. His poems slip between the past and the present and his reading, particularly the moments when he read in Old English were really spellbinding. The reading made my week – and he was a very amenable house guest as well, and didn’t even mind when he came down in the morning to find one of my naughty terriers had left a present on the carpet.
Before you go on to read about this week’s Sunday Poet, the wonderful Malcolm Carson (not to be confused with the equally wonderful Mark Carson from last week) I would like to tell you all that I spent all of Sunday morning trying to work out if the series of prose-poems that I’ve been writing, are in fact prose poems at all. I thought the best way to do this would be to put line breaks in and see if they fitted and if it added anything. The breaking news, as of 11.07pm is that I think they are still prose poems.
I met Malcolm Carson at the Borderlines Literature Festival in Carlisle. I was reading with Jacob Polley and Malcolm was introducing us both. I got a chance to talk to him before the event and instantly decided that I liked him – we have the same sense of humour and we like and dislike the same people! So, I was hoping that I would also like his poetry as well – there is nothing more terrible than meeting a kindred spirit and then finding out that their poetry is a bit rubbish.
However, I shouldn’t have worried! Malcolm kindly sent me a couple of his latest books which I’ve really enjoyed reading. Rangi changi was published by Shoestring Press in 2010 and Cleethorpes Comes To Paris is his latest pamphlet, published in 2014, also by Shoestring Press. His first collection Breccia was published by Shoestring in 2007. I decided to pick a poem from Cleethorpes Comes To Paris as this is his most recent work. The pamphlet is a sequence of poems recounting and recalling the first trip to a foreign country and encounter with another culture.
If you have any grasp of French you would be expecting a poem about hitchhiking when you read the title of the poem that I’ve chosen for this week’s Sunday Poem. Sadly, I have a tentative bit of french that I’m hanging on to with my fingernails rather than grasping. Luckily the poem is self-explanatory and after I finished it, I googled the title just to double check because that’s the kind of thorough reader I am!
The poem is full of astute and pointed observations. I particularly like the idea that being in someone’s car is like being in their sitting room – it tells you just as much about their personality and the way they live. I also like the idea of the hitchhikers feeling that they were obliged to talk ‘to pay them back’. I think the sentence ‘Or else/we’d learn of problems/only strangers learn’ is brilliant as well and captures those occasions when a stranger tells you something that they probably haven’t told their own family. I think the poem captures really well the tension of hitch hiking – ‘each phrase assessed, developed/or let drop if conflict was foreseen.’
It also made me think about my husband who used to hitch hike all the time in his youth, and in America got into someone’s car and sat next to a fully loaded rifle, laid out in between the drivers and the passenger seat. He was careful about what he said as well!
Malcolm Carson was born in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire but now lives in Carlisle with his wife and three sons. He studied English at Nottingham University and then taught in colleges and universities. He has his own website here and you can order his books from Shoestring Press if you would like to read more of his work – although you do have to download an order form. An easier way of getting a book might be to go through Books Cumbria. This way you will also be supporting the marvellous independent bookshop Bookends as well – the place of my £80 spent on second hand poetry books.
Here is the poem – I hope you enjoy it.
Autostop – Malcolm Carson
We’d wonder who we’d get,
as no doubt did they
in their approach,
a moment to suss us out,
pull in. Destination settled
we’d start a conversation
as though to pay them back,
each phrase assessed, developed
or let drop if conflict was foreseen.
It was as if we’d entered
their favourite sitting room
or just as intimate
at any rate, where taste
and manners, predilections
and prejudices were on
display as they might parade
their new-bought suite. Or else
we’d learn of problems
only strangers learn,
their secrets safe in our rucksacks.
Sometimes resentment stirred,
their chances lost to do
the same as us. Others though
were content with silence,
the hum of company enough
until we’d disembark
and leave their lives, our brief
down the fast receding road.