Monthly Archives: October 2015

Poetry Workshop, Barrow-in-Furness


I will be running an all day poetry workshop on the 14th November at Hawcoat Park Community Centre, Skelwith Drive, Barrow in Furness from 10am-4pm.  The workshop costs £15 and beginners and experienced poets are welcome.

The day will consist of writing exercises to inspire participants to write their own poetry, and there will also be time to share a poem that you’ve previously written and receive feedback from the group.

If you would like to book a place on the workshop, please email me at with ‘Poetry Workshop’ in the subject line.  There are about four places left at the moment.  I hope to see some of you there!

Sunday Poem – Katherine Stansfield


Hares I have seen – Katherine Stansfield

The first crashed a fence in a field near Shrewsbury.
It was after lunch of lamb slow-roasted for a night
and a day, its grease still slick on my fingers when she broke
from the stubble.  I forgot her later when I sat on a swing
and cried.  That time it was for loneliness.

The second raced the train taking me to Edinburgh.
A break in the hedge revealed for a blink the reach
of her stride, the gathering of feet beneath belly before
the hedge snapped back.  I forgot her later when I cried
into moussaka.  That time it was for loneliness and drink.

The third hung from a hook in a butcher’s in Ludlow.
Her legs were primly crossed and bound, her head
shrouded in muslin but there was no mistaking
the checked spring, the white flag beneath her tail.
She was too big that close though her ears were shorn
because what good are ears when paying by weight?
I couldn’t forget her but by then I’d given up crying.

That night she was in the mirror.  She pulled off muslin
to parade her holed skull, rolled her pale eyes and –
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<worst of all –
flashed a stiff grin of yellow teeth bared to chip any dish
I’d try to jug her in.  I went to bed without flossing.  I cried
into dry fur.  That time it was for everything.

Last Sunday I was at my friend Lindsey Holland’s house and we took her dog for a walk in the fields.  The landscape with the flat fields and the wide open sky reminded me so much of Leicester, where I’m from that it was a little bit painful, in that way that homesickness is painful.  Anyway, as we were walking along, we looked right across another field, and saw two hares, one disappearing into a hedge, and the other sat for a while before making off into the undergrowth.

They were far away and could have been rabbits, except it is impossible to mistake a hare for a rabbit. This unmistakable quality about hares does come through in Katherine’s poem.  In Stanza 2 we read about the ‘reach of her stride’ and in Stanza 3 she says there ‘was no mistaking/the checked spring, the white flag beneath her tail’.  This poem is about so much more than hares though.  It made me cry the first time I read it, which doesn’t happen very often.

This is a poem where what is not said is as important as what is said.  We don’t learn the nature of the loneliness that has the power to make the speaker cry.  By the second stanza things have got worse – the tears are for loneliness and drink. Something terrible is happening in the background of this poem, behind closed doors, while someone is eating, traveling on a train, shopping at the butchers.

The speaker in the poem cries for loneliness in the first verse, for loneliness and drink in the second, and finally, and heartbreakingly ‘for everything’ by the end.  What happens to bring this about? I don’t think it’s too dramatic to call it despair by the end.  What do the hares have to do with this?  Nothing and everything. The wildness of the hare in the first and second stanzas – crashing through a fence in a field or racing a train is partly tamed in the third stanza, with the ‘shorn ears’ and the ‘primly crossed’ legs but it isn’t erased by the end – the hare still has the ‘stiff grin of yellow teeth’.

This poem comes from Katherine’s first full length collection ‘Playing House’ which was published by Seren in 2014.  ‘Playing House’ has been on my shelf of books to be read for a while now and I finally got round to it this week.  It’s a great book with poems that cover a wide range of subjects – you will not be bored reading it!  You can order it from Seren and get 20% off as well.

Katherine Stansfield grew up on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. She moved to Wales in 2002 to study at Aberystwyth University where she worked as a lecturer in Creative Writing for several years before deciding to concentrate on writing full time.  Her novel The Visitor was published by Parthian in 2013. It went on to win the fiction prize at the 2014 Holyer an Gof awards.  Playing House, her debut poetry collection, was published by Seren in 2014. It includes ‘The woman on my National Library of Wales library card’, winner of the 2014 PENfro poetry competition, and ‘Canada’, Poem of the Week in The Guardian.  You can find more information about Katherine at her website here

Apart from reading Katherine’s book, this week has been another week of trying to catch up with myself.  On Monday I went to Manchester for the prize giving for the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competition.  It was lovely to meet the winner, Alex Toms and the other prize winning poems and a privilege to hear them read the poems.  It felt like meeting old friends again when I heard the poems and I will admit to being chuffed with myself for finding them amongst the 500 odd poems that were entered.  I thought reading that many poems would be hard work, but actually it was a real honour.  It felt like I was being given a window into 500 different lives – it was actually quite a moving experience, which I didn’t expect it to be.

This week I’ve been rehearsing with the South Lakes Brass Ensemble.  We have our next gig at Brewery Poets on November 13th, where we will be providing the music in between poetry readings by David Borrott, Kerry Darbyshire and Barbara Hickson.  I’ve had my Young Writers Group this week as well, a performance management meeting with my manager and my big sister, her husband and my lovely niece and nephew were up from Leicester for a brief visit.

We had a day out and got the steam train from Haverthwaite to Lakeside and went to the aquarium.  My niece spent the whole of the train journey writing a poem and apparently she carried on writing poems when she went to stay at my twin sister’s house as well.  My nephew has apparently written a story as well! Ha! My work here is done.  My big sister might possibly kill me if my niece or nephew become poets and she has to go to lots of poetry readings.

On Saturday I ran a workshop at Kendal Wool Gathering. It was a small workshop group, but it was actually really nice – there was lots of time to talk about poetry, to listen to what people had written and I met some really interesting writers.  Afterwards there was an open mic – again a small group of attendees but interesting people.

Throughout this week I’ve been cutting my milage back.  I’ve had sore shins, probably due to building up my milage.  I’m doing a half marathon next Sunday and every time I train for a half marathon I pick up some sort of injury.  I’ve been for two massage sessions though and I think I’ve got on top of it.  I ran 14 kilometres today with no problems, so I’ll just be cutting back now until next weekend.

If I have any readers that are within striking distance of Barrow, I’m running an all day poetry workshop on the 14th November which you would be very welcome to attend.  Please get in touch for more information, or have a look at the ‘Readings and Workshops’ tab.  There are about six spaces left.  The price is £15 and it includes tea or coffee and chocolate biscuits.

Sunday Poem – Hubert Moore


Boy’s Name – Hubert Moore

The wooden post in the pond
where the kingfisher perches
is a bare post, and indeed
when they asked you your name
you couldn’t say anything.

You knew it of course.  You’d answer
if somebody said it.  Kingfishers
come back, they don’t abandon
their ponds.  Look, it’s there
staring into the water.

You lost everything, home, family,
country.  How did you bring
that totally warm smile
through immigration? Or did it come in
hanging under a lorry?

So much is closed down now,
barricade on the narrow streets
of your memory.  It would be good
if, in its quite un-English plumage,
there on its post was the kingfisher.

But it’s not.  There’s only a post.  Enough
that your lost name – its kingfisher
colours I still can’t really pronounce –
flits between blackened houses
and comes laughing back to you.

The more observant among you may have noticed that I began with the Sunday Poem last week.  ‘The blog post was upside down’ one reader tweeted.  I’ve been wanting to give more prominence to the Sunday Poems for a while now, feeling that I’m doing poets a disservice by leaving them to finish off my ramblings, which were very long.  Was anybody getting through said rambling to the poem, I wondered? And after all, the poem is the whole point of the thing.

So the Sunday Poem is now the head of this blog, and my discussion of the poem is the belly, and my rambling about my week is the tail.  Except this week, the head, the body and the tail are mixed up, making my whole metaphor useless!

On Thursday night I read at April Poets in Lancaster alongside Lindsey Holland, David Borrott, Hubert Moore and short, open mic style sets from the committee of April Poets.  It was a really lovely night.  Carole Coates read a tribute poem to Elizabeth Burns, who recently passed away, which made me cry.  I got to see Lindsey Holland, a good friend of mine do an longer reading for the first time.  David Borrott is a good friend as well, and he did a great reading – he has a very quirky sense of humour – he is one of those poets whose introductions and poems can make you laugh out loud.

I met Hubert Moore two years ago in Aldeburgh.  I spent a little bit of time with him then, and although I don’t know him very well, I went away with the feeling that he had a gentle soul, and very kind eyes! I didn’t get to see him at Aldeburgh, because I was doing an event at the same time as his reading, so it was great to be able to read with him on Thursday.  He completely charmed the audience, and I bought his most recent book ‘The Bright Gaze of the Disoriented’ and extracted an agreement from him that I could feature a poem of his here.

I read his book cover to cover on Friday and thought it was really wonderful.   It’s published by Shoestring Press and I am enthusiastically recommending it to you!  Let me talk about the poem that I’ve picked for this week though.  Hubert has spent nine years as a writing-mentor at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture and I think it is a safe guess to assume that it is from this experience that this poem is drawn.

This poem is both subtle and simple.  It is walking many tightropes at the same time – between both subtlety and simplicity, between the kingfisher and the boy’s name, between what is said and what is unsaid, between what we know and what we don’t, between what the speaker knows and the speaker doesn’t know.  Hubert has taken two disparate things – a kingfisher and a boy’s name and set them against each other and somehow, one illuminates the other.

The statements about the kingfisher ‘where the kingfisher perches/is a bare post’ or ‘kingfishers/come back, they don’t abandon/their ponds’ – these certainties, are set against everything we don’t know about the boy, the questions that are left unanswered, the boy’s silence about the thing that defines us, our name.  I would also like to add in here that usually I don’t like poems with the word ‘memory’ in, and just look at how terrible that line would have been if Hubert had put, in Stanza four, ‘barricaded on the narrow streets/of memory’.  Instead, he writes ‘barricaded on the narrow streets/of your memory’ which changes it from being abstract to concrete.

Hubert Moore deserves to be more widely known than he is.  As another poet said when I raved about his work on Facebook recently, he is very self-effacing and humble and maybe this is why he isn’t better known.   The Bright Gaze of the Disorientated is Hubert’s eighth full collection, and his fourth to be published by Shoestring Press.  

Apart from reading in Lancaster on Thursday, my week has consisted of dashing up and down the country.  On Monday I read at Cafe Writers in Norwich.  Sadly, due to my having had quite a few Tuesdays off teaching to go to various prize ceremonies, I didn’t feel that I could have another one, so I decided, in my infinite wisdom, it would be a great idea to drive back to my mum and dad’s in Leicester after the reading (2 and a half hours ish), sleep there for four hours, get up at 4.30am and drive back to Barrow in the early hours of Tuesday morning to get back for trumpet teaching at 9am, because that is the kind of dedicated teacher I am!

I made it as well, feeling slightly zombified and in my first lesson, the teacher Mr M was very nice and made me a cup of tea, probably out of pity because I looked so terrible.  The reading in Norwich was lovely, and Helen Ivory and Martin Figura made me a really wonderful meal before hand and were great hosts and the audience were enthusiastic, the open mic was great.

My ever generous husband had booked us tickets to see ‘Waiting for Godot’ at The Forum on Tuesday night as a welcome home present, and to be honest, I thought I would fall asleep, as I decided to go out for a Thai before hand, instead of getting the planned hour’s snooze.  However, it was utterly compelling, and even running on four hours sleep and after eight hours of brass teaching, I really enjoyed it.

On Thursday I was in Queen Katherine Secondary School in Kendal all day.  The timetable was pretty intense – 3 x 40 minute poetry readings to 100 GCSE and sixth formers each time, and then two 50 minute workshops in the afternoon.  Although it was hard work, it was actually a really fun and pleasant way to spend the day – mainly due to the pupils being really polite and interested, and the lovely English Department, who made me feel really welcome in the staff room.  Mr B, the Head of English, had even thought to sort out a school lunch for me which was nice.

On Friday I spent the day with a group of children at Dent Primary School.   This is part of an extended project which The Wordsworth Trust and Tullie House are running.  I’ve already done one workshop with this group at Tullie House a week or so ago, so this was the second time I’d seen the children.  Dent Primary School are very lucky because they have an amazing and enlightened head teacher, who thinks it is a perfectly acceptable use of school time to take the children on a train journey and write poems on the way.

I asked the children to write down secrets that they noticed on the way, things that nobody else had noticed.  I’m convinced this is the best way to get children writing poems.  We also listened to some Michael Rosen before we left and W.H Auden’s ‘Night Mail’ when we got back.  It feels like a real luxury to have this huge amount of time to spend with the children and I can already see their confidence growing in their own abilities and their imagination – I feel very lucky to be part of it.

I’ve already gone over my word count terribly by now, but I would like to finish by saying that today I’ve been at Nantwich Words and Music Festival and I had a lovely time.  I got to meet some of the competition winners for the Nantwich Poetry Competition, and to hear some of the winners read their poems.  I did a reading, and the audience were really lovely.

The other exciting thing that happened this week is that Seren have ran out of the first print run of my collection, and have done a reprint.  I still have a few copies left of this first print run, so if anybody would like a signed copy for £11 (£10 plus p +p) please use the contact page and get in touch.

Tomorrow I’m off to the prize giving for the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Prize – where I’ll hopefully be meeting some of the winners and giving a poetry reading.  I hope to see some of you there!

Sunday Poem – Jack Underwood


Inventory of Friends – Jack Underwood

I run through the grass-topped lives of my friends:
I would like to have his body that is so slender
it looks sponsored by a company from Switzerland,
or that guy’s gliding youth, his hopeful wardrobe:
I could use a transfusion of shyness to my voice.
I know ten people who are blessings: good people
for long car journeys, good people for talking to
on steps outside before we go in; or that twentieth
century seriousness that he has: I’d like a slice
of proper prowess.  And I try to imagine having
her mind: funny, smart and odd as twenty
emperor penguins filing through the door
of a black limousine.  But with a predictability
that would be cuteness if it weren’t honest first,
my thoughts turn to you and what it might be
like to be so quietly impressive as a morning, or
a factory in the distance; what it might be like
not to have a great clumsy self always knocking,
what it might be like to be you, coming home
in four hour’s time with no inkling of the way
my insides groan and click like a tired, old
galleon when you take off your coat like that.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Jack Underwood and taken from his first full-length collection Happiness, published by Faber this year.  I read the collection when I was on the train on the way to the airport last weekend.  I normally like to speed-read through collections at first, and then go back to them a couple of weeks or months later and take my time reading through them.  When I really like the poems though, I end up having to stop after I’ve read one and let it sink in, so the book lasted me all the way to the airport and then for another couple of hours while I was waiting for my delayed flight to take off.

I love the idea behind this poem and the impetus behind it, to write a poem to celebrate the qualities in your friends that you admire.  Implicit in this poem is the unspoken assertion that the speaker does not posses these qualities, of course, so as well as telling us something about the friends, it tells us something about the speaker.  There are some lovely observations about people in here: ‘I could use a transfusion of shyness to my voice’ and ‘I know ten people who are blessings’ – as soon as I read that, I thought, yes, I know people who are blessings as well, although I’d never thought to describe them that way.  Also implicit is the fact that we can’t know what it is like to be another person, we can try to imagine it, but ultimately we fail: ‘And I try to imagine having/her mind: funny, smart and odd as twenty/emperor penguins filing through the door/of a black limousine’.  The strangeness that you find in this poem can be found throughout the collection – they are often funny but also wistful.  It’s one of my favourite first collections that I’ve read this year, although I seem to think that when ever I read one – the year seems to be full of fantastic first collections.

Jack Underwood was born in Norwich in 1984.  He graduated from Norwich School of Art and Design in 2005 before completing an MA and PhD in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths College, where he now teaches English Literature and Creative Writing.  He co-edits the anthology series Stop Sharpening Your Knives and reviews for Poetry London and Poetry Review.  He won an Eric Gregory Award in 2007.   If you would like to buy a copy of Happiness, head over to the Faber website.

This week I’ve been pretty busy – on Monday I was running the first in a series of workshops with Dent Primary School in association with The Wordsworth Trust and Tullie House.  I spent the whole day in Tullie House musuem with a lovely group of kids from Dent Primary writing poems about objects that they’d seen in the museum.  This is the first in a series of three workshops that I’ll be running with the same children so it feels very luxurious to have this amount of time with the same group.

I also wrote my judges report for the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competition as the prize giving is coming up very soon, and read the poems entered for the Nantwich Words and Music Festival Poetry Competition and sent the results through to the organisers.  I’m judging one more competition this year – the Maryport Literature Festival Poetry Competition which is still open for entries. *competition now closed!*

My lovely friend Mark Carson, who featured recently as the Sunday Poet had the launch of his new pamphlet on Thursday.  My brass quintet played and Mark read poems, sang with a local choir, Braddyll Friends and played his guitar and sang a song! There was also lots of food and a huge cake.  A cake baked by Jo Stoney will soon be compulsory for any book launches in Cumbria! There was wine as well of course but I didn’t partake as I was driving back and working the next day.

It is a slow business breathing life into a poetry festival, but it feels that Kendal Poetry Festival is slowly staggering to its feet, and looking around the room.  We’ve got a venue, we’ve put a small application in for some local funding, and we’re now part way through applying to the Arts Council.  We’ve got our dream list of poets drawn up that we’d like to feature, and I just have to write to them now.

Today I’ve spent the whole day watching Orange is the New Black in my pyjamas.  I’m driving to Leicester tonight and staying over at my mum and dad’s and then I’ll be driving from there to Norwich tomorrow to read at Cafe Writers.   Sadly it will be a flying visit, as I have to be back in work at 9am on Tuesday morning to do my trumpet teaching, so if you see me looking a bit rough next week, you’ll know why!

Sunday Poem – Peter R White


It is not Sunday, it is not Sunday.  It’s barely still Monday.  And yet.  Better late than never I suppose! This week has been slightly bizarre.  There was the come-down from the high of the Forward Prize ceremony.  The night of the ceremony I felt incredibly zen-like and calm and the difference between poetry and the private act of writing which means everything to me and the excitement and anxiety and hoo-ha of prize giving ceremonies and readings never felt so clear cut and this was a relief – to know that winning both matters and doesn’t matter.

I was worried beforehand about being onstage and not looking suitably happy for the winner – I know I am terrible at hiding my real emotions and I kept imagining the whole of the festival hall noticing that I was annoyed/devestated/weeping as my face contorted into some hideous grimace.  However, by the time we got to the evening readings, I’d spent about five hours with the other poets who were shortlisted, as we had to arrive in the afternoon for rehearsal and photographs and interviews, and they were all so nice that it wasn’t hard at all to feel happy for Claire Harmon, who was a deserving winner with her poem ‘The Mighty Hudson’.

Anyway, the week started going a bit crazy once I got back from London. The actor Sam Heughan who stars in the TV series ‘Outlander’ saw my poem in the Financial Times and shared a photo of it on Twitter, simply saying ‘Love this’.  After that, the poem was retweeted on Twitter 580 times and ‘favourited’ 2545 times and a rather long conversation can be found about the poem on Twitter from Sam’s numerous fans underneath his original tweet.

The next day I got the train to the BBC at Media City in Salford and recorded a podcast with Ian McMillan, discussing one of the poems on my book.  I was so stressed about doing this before hand, and cursing myself for not saying no and saving myself the trauma of it.  However Ian was so lovely and kind and friendly, as was the rest of his production team, that I think I managed to conquer my nerves most of the time.

From there, I went straight to the airport and flew to Amsterdam, where I was reading at a fantastic festival called Read My World.  I got the chance to work with a fantastic Dutch poet, Dennis Gaens and musicians Zea and The Valopian Solitude all day on Friday to create a performance for the Friday evening, with Tsead Bruinja directing and organising us.  It was a brilliant experience and there was something incredibly moving about trusting other artists with your work and them being able to trust you with theirs.

On the way back, someone messaged me to let me know that Cerys Matthews (of Catatonia fame) was about to read my poem about Chet Baker on BBC6 Music.  I met Cerys at the Forwards and I did speak to her a little, but I had no idea that she was going to read my poem out on the radio.  So, all in all, not winning the Forward has not been that bad.  Lots of other, lovely things have happened instead.  I didn’t disgrace myself by sulking on stage and I was genuinely happy for someone else instead of secretly envious and bitter.  I call that a good day, and a good week!

I got back about 7.30pm last night and spent the evening planning for a poetry workshop which I was running today at Tullie House today with some children from Dent Primary School.  After I’d planned the workshop, I then couldn’t sleep because I was too wound up and excited about Amsterdam and Cerys Matthews and that I’d written a draft of a poem while I was in Amsterdam but I was too tired to type it up so at the minute, it is sitting cooking in my notebook.  I eventually got to sleep around 2 but kept waking up so today has been pretty tiring – I left home at 8am and went straight from the workshop to my junior band rehearsal.

So I am having an early night tonight, to ensure I can treat my lovely trumpet students with some patience tomorrow but before I go I would like to introduce today’s Sunday Poem, by Peter R White, who I first met when I was running a workshop at Glenridding Youth Hostel for the Leeds Writers Circle about five years ago.  Peter is a good friend of David Tait and was responsible for running the acclaimed Poetry By Heart reading series at the Heart Cafe in Leeds, which sadly doesn’t happen anymore.  Peter was the first person to buy my pamphlet when I launched it at the Heart Cafe, and invited me back there to launch my full collection.

I was really pleased to hear that Peter was publishing his first pamphlet.  It’s called Ways to Wander and is published by Otley Word Feast Press, whose recent successful anthologies include Spokes, celebrating Le Grand Départ from Yorkshire, and The Garden.  You can order a copy here

Peter tells me that, in his former life as an engineer, he used to write precise specifications and contract documents,  but. since retiring he’s obtained a BA (Hons) in Literature from the Open University and now enjoys the luxury of writing ambiguities and downright lies in the name of art.

It seems a little unseasonal to post a poem about snow today, when the weather has been so lovely for a few weeks now.  However, today there was definitely a wintry chill in the air.  I like this poem as a teacher – I recognise the impossibility of getting children to concentrate on anything else when there is snow falling outside!  I think Peter has captured something that people can identify with – that idea of getting the same feeling when you see the snow, or the sea for the first time, as we did when we were younger.  I like how the first line seems to start mid-conversation, and the voice of the poem seems to grow younger and this idea of the voice of the child coming back through seems to manifest most clearly in the stanza that starts

More than a hundred; more than a million;
more than the sum of all the pale white numbers
Mr Wandless ever chalked across a blackboard.

which is actually one of my favourite verses, I think the rhythm is great, and the innocence of that child like voice coming through and the ‘pale white numbers’ all add up to something special.

I hope you enjoy the poem!

Number – Peter White

It’s the same for me today
as when we were eight or nine,
when Ronnie Smith created a distraction
from Mr Wandless’s addition and subtraction
by bellowing
It’s snowing!

Attention leapt to the window:
we gawped and sighed as pale flakes
dallied, floated down,
while those that drifted near the misted pane
rallied in the thermal lift.
Feathers from an eiderdown
multiplied and blanketed the cold playground.

Not mere dots, but clusters,
maybe half an inch across. They wafted
by the classroom, spangled grey sky;
their lightness glowed,
dividing wintry dreams from arithmetic,
more mystical than magic.

More than a hundred; more than a million;
more than the sum of all the pale white numbers
Mr Wandless ever chalked across a blackboard.
They added four inches to their depth by playtime.

And afterwards, we all — except Mr Wandless —
thawed out blue fingers that tingled
number than pins and needles, stuck deep into armpits.
We grinned at our shivering.

I feel that same grin as I ache by my window today,
quiver at the echo of a distant voice, rejoicing.
It’s snowing.