Monthly Archives: January 2016

Sunday Poem – Fiona Sampson


This week has been taken over by finishing off my tax return.  I finally got it done on Thursday night and it felt like a huge weight had lifted from me once I pressed submit, even though this meant I also had to pay a rather large tax bill.  I’m trying to look on the positive side with this.  It means I’ve made my living as a writer this year for the first time ever, which is something to be happy about.

I have been slightly freaked out by the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety I’ve had this week.  I’ve not experienced anything like it before.  I’ve had sleepless nights, nausea, headaches and the worst (although it doesn’t sound very bad) was the whole of my face tingling and burning, which I mistakenly thought was a tooth infection or something.  It wasn’t – it was a symptom of stress, but when I went to the dentist, she said I’d actually damaged my jaw from clenching and grinding my teeth while I was asleep.

I’ve paid my tax now, with some juggling of overdrafts but it has really been a wake up call to get myself sorted out and organised for next year.

Apart from tax adventures, I’ve taken on some tutoring work with The Poetry School and I did the first of three tutorials with my mentee on Monday.  I was wondering how easy it would be to talk for an hour about someone’s poetry, but of course it was incredibly easy – in fact we ended up going over the hour without noticing.  I feel really lucky to be doing this work – it is very satisfying to work with someone who is talented and motivated to improve.  I’m looking forward to the next batch of poems which should be arriving some time today.

I went with the Dove Cottage Young Poets to see the Picture the Poet exhibition this week which is at Tullie House in Carlisle.  I’m working with the young poets for six weeks in collaboration with Apples and Snakes to produce work around the theme of identity.  The young poets wrote some amazing poems in response to the exhibition.  We’ve got two more sessions before they perform the work they’ve produced on the 4th March alongside the wonderful Ian McMillan at Tullie House.

I’ve also been working this week on a review I’m writing for Poem magazine which leads me nicely to this week’s Sunday Poem by Fiona Sampson, who is the editor of Poem.  I’m really excited about this week’s poem because it is from Fiona’s as yet unpublished collection The Catch.  The collection is officially published on the 4th February so I am feeling very pleased with myself that I managed to get an early copy and a poem for the blog!

I knew I was going to like this collection right from the first peom ‘Wake’ which starts

‘Wake again to first light
it’s like a slim cat
coming home through Top Field’

These lines reminded me of the William Carlos Williams poem Poem (As the Cat), more because of the way both poems echo the delicate movement of a cat through their line breaks than the obvious similarity of them both containing the word ‘cat’.

Here is the Sunday Poem ‘At Bleddfa’.


At Bleddfa – Fiona Sampson 

Back and forth
all morning
through the door the dogs
wander like clouds

nudging each other
a long dream

of the kitchen
as of the wet and sunny grass
they settle things
into place

chairs in order
boots by the door
all sachlichkeit
and they remind me

how when I was
still a child
my father took me
to a friend’s house

empty attics
wooden stairs
and a garden slung
between elms

where rooks called
I was afraid
and not afraid
of how the day hung

above the still house
how in my mind
there was nothing
but a stilled sky.

I chose ‘At Bleddfa’ for the Sunday Poem with great difficulty because there were so many lovely poems in the book to choose from.  However, this one won the day because it has dogs in, and more importantly, they ‘wander like clouds’.  I know well that restlessness that dogs sometimes exhibit – although mine usually just sleep all day, sometimes they get into a strange mood and just drift about.

The poem is also a good example of the formal concerns that Fiona is exploring in the collection.  There is hardly any punctuation throughout the whole book.  There are usually full stops, but only at the end of a poem, apart from one exception (the poem ‘Field’ which has a full stop right in the middle.  I also found a couple of commas and a question mark or two, but on the whole, the breathing and pacing of the poems are given by the line breaks.  The lines are often fairly short ones as well, as in ‘At Bleddfa’ which slows the reader down.  The lack of punctuation also serves to stretch the syntax and the sentence to its limit, sometimes meaning that certain lines become pivots with double meanings.

I did have to look up sachlichkeit and Wikipedia tells me that it is ‘a term used to characterize the attitude of public life in Weimar Germany as well as the art, literature, music, and architecture created to adapt to it.  Rather than some goal of philosophical objectivity, it was meant to imply a turn towards practical engagement with the world’.  Later on in the Wikipedia article there is another quote which I thought was a bit easier to understand and get my head around, particularly in the context of this poem which was by Dennis Crockett from a book called ‘German post-expressionism’.  Crockett writes

Sachlichkeit should be understood by its root, Sach, meaning “thing”, “fact”, “subject”, or “object.” Sachlich could be best understood as “factual”, “matter-of-fact”, “impartial”, “practical”, or “precise”; Sachlichkeit is the noun form of the adjective/adverb and usually implies “matter-of-factness”

This seems to fit with the meaning of the rest of the poem – the dogs drifting about and how they ‘settle things into place.’

The poem is a beautiful, almost peaceful description of a morning and a place and a home, but to me it felt that there is something darker moving underneath the surface as well.  One of my favourite lines, the ‘garden slung/between elms’ is both a wonderful image but also a slightly uncomfortable one as well but I can’t exactly put my finger on why.  Maybe it is because it is followed by the sound of the rooks calling, which sounds ominous, or lonely.

The word ‘still’ is used twice in the last four lines and reinforces that idea of the calm before a storm, but the storm is never mentioned.  It is present only by its absence.  Those lines ‘I was afraid/and not afraid’ are also interesting.  How is it possible to be both?  How can you be afraid and not afraid of ‘how the day hung/above the still house’?  How can you be afraid and not afraid of ‘how in my mind/there was nothing/but a stilled sky.’  It gives the impression of time, of that moment at the father’s ‘friend’s house’ being frozen but we are never told why it is frozen.  This fits back with the word ‘Sachlichkeit’ though.  If something awful did happen, it is being dealt with by carrying on, by turning to practicalities, by getting on with life.



This does feel like it could have multiple meanings though, and maybe I’ve taken it in one direction and ran with it and I’m completely wrong – who knows? Please feel free to comment and tell me what you think about the poem.

Thanks to Fiona for letting me use this poem for the blog this week.  You can find out more about Fiona at her new website but I would like to tell you a bit more about her before I finish. Fiona has been shortlisted twice for the T.S. Eliot and Forward Prizes.  Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages, and awarded a Cholmondeley Award, the Newdigate Prize and the Ziaten Prsten (Macedonia) among others.  A Fellow and Council Member of the Royal Society of Literature, she is Professor of Poetry at the University of Roehampton and is the Editor of Poem magazine.  If you would like to buy ‘The Catch’ you can do so here or here

Sunday Poem – Tom Cleary


I’m writing this feeling very delicate as I went out last night to a friends 50th birthday party.  Lady C, as she shall be called on this blog had no idea her husband had planned a surprise party and thought she was just popping round to the bar where the party was for a quick drink before being whisked away to enjoy a slap up meal at a restaurant.  As the room of about 150 odd people fell silent so we could all shout ‘Surprise!’ as she opened the door I did think how terrible it would be if Lady C fell over with the shock.  She is made of sterner stuff though and soon recovered.  It was lovely to see such a large amount of people turning out for Lady C’s birthday.  There was a great band on as well called The Sidecars who got everybody up dancing.  I only drank three bottles of lager but then I was up dancing all night and now I feel like I drank ten bottles.  Does anybody else get that?  When I used to go out drinking and dancing when I was younger, I used to get horrible hangovers but that was because I drank like an idiot.  It felt like a fair exchange – drink and stay out all night and pay for it afterwards.  Now however, I only drink a little bit and I still feel terrible in the morning.

I broke off from writing this blog to go for my Sunday run.  I normally go at 10am but everybody was at Lady C’s party last night as well so we decided to go at 12pm instead.  We went for a run along the beach but nobody had remembered to check the tide times which meant risking running over the stones and possibly breaking an ankle or going up and down the sand dunes.  I was all for risking broken bones but nobody else agreed so off we went, up and down the rather steep sand dunes.


This week has felt like the week I learnt to prioritise things.  I often make lists of jobs to do, but then I waft about from job to job on the list and then I have a panic because I’ve left something to the last minute.  This week I went through the list, helped by my trusty husband and put things in the order they needed to be done.

Hanging over my head this week is the dreaded tax return which isn’t helping things. When I look back over my spreadsheets that I’ve kept over the last few years I do feel quite proud.  2011-2012 I made a loss as a writer.  This was the first year I really started working as a poet.  2012-13 I managed to break even and 2013-14 I will be making my first ever profit – not enough to retire on, but enough to consider it a viable part-income, at least.

So Monday will be the day the tax return gets finished, even it kills me, even if I don’t see the light of day ALL DAY etc etc.  Not that I’m being dramatic about it or anything.

My first and most pressing deadline this week was to write out the first assignment for my Poetry School online course ‘What Work Is’.  I managed to get this finished on Thursday so that was one job ticked off the list.  The course doesn’t start till the 28th January, but the Poetry School are doing some work on the website and the assignment needed to go up this week.

My second job was to ring the lovely Clare Shaw to have a chat about a course that we are tutoring together at Ty Newydd in a couple of weeks time.  We will be spending a week with a group of girls from a school in Manchester.  I’m really looking forward to the week.  We did get slightly distracted from planning by catching up on various bits of gossip but never mind.   I haven’t been to Ty Newydd for a couple of years now, but it is a very special place to me.  I went on my first, life-changing residential poetry course there and then went and did a course every year for the next three or four years so the house and the area mean a lot to me.

Bookings for the St Ives Residential poetry course that I’m tutoring with Steve Ely are going really well.  We now have just two places left, if there is anybody who has been swithering about whether to go or not.  It will be a fantastic week in beautiful surroundings.  I’ve managed to book my train ticket to Crewe where I’ll be getting picked up by John Foggin and Steve Ely before we head down to St Ives.  I’m looking forward to this week as well – I went on family holidays to Cornwall every year when I was younger so again, I get the chance to feel all nostalgic when I’m there.

I am also doing my first bit of mentoring for the Poetry School tomorrow, which is really exciting.  In fact, after I’ve finished writing this blog, I’ll be reading through the poems I’ve been sent, ready for the skype chat with my mentee tomorrow.  If anybody is interested in a tutorial or extended mentoring with me, please get in touch with The Poetry School or contact me directly by email (you can find this on the Contact page)

This doesn’t sound like I’ve had that much to do actually – but it has definitely felt like it!  In between the above tasks I’ve been answering emails, gathering content for the website for Kendal Poetry Festival, inviting a set of poets to come and read for A Poem and a Pint in 2016.  One evening was spent sending emails out about St Ives to get the last few places filled.

So today’s Sunday Poem is by a lovely man called Tom Cleary.  I first met him when I did a reading in Hebden Bridge bookshop a couple of months ago. He bought my book and asked me to sign it, not mentioning that he also wrote poetry until I asked him and then he didn’t say anything about the fact that he’d had a pamphlet out in 2014.  I only found that out a month or so ago, when I was the guest poet at Puzzle Poets and Tom got up to read and read a few poems from his pamphlet.

I thought his poetry was really special on first hearing, but I didn’t manage to catch him to buy a copy as he whizzed off as soon as the reading finished to give someone a lift home.  I am nothing if not determined though, and the kindly Bob Horne agreed to pass on the money for a pamphlet and my address so that Tom could post it out to me.

Tom’s pamphlet is called The Third Miss Keane which strikes me as a promising title anyway and it does hint at what is to come in this pamphlet, which is a host of really good, and interesting stories.  The poems often feel slightly surreal, or fairy-tale like, but they always have their own inner logic.

Like Rose Cook, the poet I featured last week on the blog, I hadn’t heard of Tom Cleary before.  It just proves how many fantastic poets there are, writing brilliant poetry and not being noticed enough for the good stuff they are writing.  Or maybe it proves that I am losing touch with the poetry scene, and not keeping up…


Gobstoppers – Tom Cleary

On our way home from school
we bought boiled sweets in paper bags,
bright red gobstoppers highlighted with flecks of black,
gumballs, lemon drops, toffee slabs on a stick,
flavoured with aniseed, sherbet or mint.
We sucked and sucked until our mouths
glittered like lipstick.  Our tongues
burned with the sweet acid
and we stuck them out of our mouths
and fanned them with our hands.

We bought them in a grey shop
on the corner of nowhere, on waste ground,
in front of rows of cream and white pebble-dashed houses.
Behind the yellow of its misty window,
dead flies lay scattered and limp flags of cobwebs drifted.
A sickly young man in an advert behind a cracked frame
was scarved in drifts of smoke.

The owners were two elderly sisters, who could have been twins.
Their hair was scraped back in buns
with loose straggly wisps.  They stood awkwardly
like shy guests waiting to be introduced.
Their eyes reminded me of my aunt,
and I imagined them to be the lost wives of farmers,
abducted from their homes and carried away
over great distances, to spend their lives
exiled in this bare shop, selling sweets
to small boys for their hot pennies.

Behind the counter they were ill at ease,
standing at an odd angle to one another,
as if they’d been set there in place,
figures in an installation.  I sensed a yearning
in them, as though they’d never stopped wondering
what had become of the chickens that used to peck
at their ankles and their shoe laces.
When they handed us change
with a delicate bend of the wrist,
were they remembering the butter churn?

I think this poem is a good example of the work you can expect to find in the pamphlet. Throughout the pamphlet, and in this poem, ordinary circumstances become slightly surreal and strange.

It also gave me a lovely feeling of nostalgia – although we only bought sweets from the rather ordinary corner shop when I was young, which sat at the top of our road next to a chinese takeaway and a hairdressers, there was one long hot summer when my sister and I and our friends would put our money altogether and buy five or six paper bags of sweets and sit on the park, eating sweets all day, being bothered by wasps because the sweets were so sticky.  I remember watching the newsagent as he weighed out the sweets on a large silver scale and squeezing the bottom of the bag to check how much sugar had gathered.

Tom’s shop is a little more exciting though, and a little less hygenic than the one I remember from my childhood.  I love the detail of the shop window with its ‘dead flies lay scattered and limp flags of cobwebs drifted’ and of course the strangeness of the scene is set up before then.  The shop is ‘in the middle of nowhere.’  The portrait of the two elderly sisters who run the shop is also very cleverly drawn.  That detail of the way they stand ‘awkwardly/like shy guests waiting to be introduced’ gives you a picture of them straight away.  The best detail in this third verse though, is the ‘hot pennies’ at the end, again, as soon as you read that, you know exactly what he means.

The idea that they remind the speaker of the poem ‘of his aunt’ which he then goes on to develop saying he imagines them to be ‘the lost wives of farmers.’  He never implicitly says that his aunt was the lost wife of a farmer, but we are left to infer this.  It is such a strange idea, which he then develops brilliantly in the last stanza.  We are left not knowing if the aunt was the lost wife of a farmer, and she was full of ‘yearning’ or whether the two elderly sisters were or maybe nobody was, and it was all in the boys imagination.  I don’t mind not knowing though and I think this is what makes it a good poem – not only the brilliantly drawn details, but also the mystery we are left with.

In 2011 Tom won the Writers Forum/HappenStance Competition and in January 2014 he was featured poet in Orbis 166. I was interested to read that The WF/HappenStance prize was to have been the publication of a sampler. But there were too many good poems so HappenStance published a pamphlet instead: The Third Miss Keane which you can buy from the HappenStance website for the bargain price of only £4 plus postage.  In 2015, Tom was also a winner of the prestigious Northern Writers’ Award, one of six New North poets.  You can find out a little bit more about Tom on his profile page at the HappenStance website.

Hope you enjoyed the poem, and please do let me know what you think of it! I know if you wanted to order the pamphlet it would make a hard working publisher and a lovely poet very happy, which for just £4 seems like a Very Good Thing To Do.

Sunday Poem – Rose Cook


I had every intention of starting my blog this morning but was foiled by my laptop and its strange insistence on updating itself without my permission.  It updated itself for about 2 hours so I gave up in the end and read half of the book that I’m going to be reviewing for Poem magazine.

I got a slow cooker for Christmas and decided to try it out today – it came with a recipe book.  Anyone who knows me knows what a terrible cook I am, but one of my running friends swears by her slow cooker and is always saying how easy they are to use.  Anyway, I made potato and leek soup and it actually tasted pretty good! I know this isn’t exactly a difficult dish for anybody else, but it is like rocket science for me, as I don’t have much common sense when it comes to cooking. I am now filled with probably mis-placed confidence and am going to make a batch of soup up for next week, which will hopefully stop me spending all my money in cafes at lunchtimes.

Today I’ve also been for a run – we had lots of snow in Barrow over night and it was really icy this morning, so I went with a few friends at 1pm down to the beach which was cold, but did have the advantage of not being icy.  I’ve also been stripping wallpaper.  The husband and I have got carried away in a wave of enthusiasm after our decorating triumph in the front room.  Over Christmas we took the front room carpet out which had been there since 1950, re painted everything and it looks great.  We then decided to start on the other downstairs room.  The carpet in there is even worse and needs to be banished to another land, never mind the skip.  We got away with just painting over the wallpaper in the front room, but the middle room the wallpaper was trying to make its own getaway so it has had to come off, which has bought some of the plaster down.  Sigh.

On Monday my friend Pauline Yarwood and I found out that our application to the Arts Council to run the first Kendal Poetry Festival has been successful – we were awarded the full amount, so the festival will be taking place from June 24th-26th 2016 at Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal.   Quite a few people have got in touch to ask for reading slots at the festival.  Sadly, we had to plan the programme quite far in advance and submit the names of the poets we wanted to read at the festival to the Arts Council as part of the grant application, so our programme is already booked up.

I would like to put a plea out for poets to come and support the festival though – poetry funding is being decimated in the north at the moment, particularly in Cumbria.  For the festival to be a success, and for our accounts to balance, we have to get a good audience at each event, so please, make a note of the date in your diary.  We’ve got some fantastic poets reading and running workshops and it will be a brilliant weekend.  We’re currently starting to work on a website, but there will be details of the programme very soon.

I’m really glad that I’m working on the festival with Pauline.  She is good at the things I’m a bit rubbish at so I think we will make a good team.  I sent four panicky emails the other day listing all the jobs we had to do, and Pauline managed to calm me down and talk some sense into me.  So far, we’ve managed to confirm with all the poets who had provisionally said yes that they can still make the weekend and we’ve got the times and room of each event.  We’re liasing back and forth with the person who is building the website and creating a brochure for us.  That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s pretty much taken the whole week to get to that stage – but it has been really exciting.

Other than festivals, this week I’ve been writing my novel.  I got up to 15,000 words and then came across a problem and I’m now going back over those 15,000 words, rewriting some bits and adding other bits in so I can solve the problem and keep going.  One of the main issues, I think is that I’m not planning it out.  I’m writing it like I would write a poem, just writing and seeing where I go with it. I have tried to plan a bit ahead, but I find it hard to come up with ideas, unless I’m in that kind of writing fever.  Anyway, 15,000 words, even if they are a bit rubbish is not too bad.

On Thursday I spent some time editing two reviews that came in early for The Compass (thank you lovely reviewers!).  I spent the rest of the day and evening, apart from nipping out for a run, planning for the workshops I’d be running on Friday.  I left home at 7.30am to get to Dent Primary School for 9am, where I was running an all day workshop, the last in an extended project that I’ve been working on with the school on behalf of The Wordsworth Trust.

The children wrote poems about identity in the morning, then in the afternoon we looked at how to edit a poem.  The children were really focused all day, and worked really hard.  The day seemed to go really quickly.  Over the next couple of weeks they are planning on doing some Poetry Bombing – they will be posting poems around Dent and in the wider area and I’m hoping to have a Dent Primary School takeover of the blog, where I will publish some of the work they’ve created over the three sessions I’ve had with them on here, so watch this space!

After I finished at Dent I drove to Kendal to run my Young Writers workshop – 6 very high-spirited teenagers.  I’m currently running these workshops on behalf of Apples and Snakes and their ‘Picture the Poet’ exhibition.  The Young Writers will be performing some of the work they’ve created at Tullie House on the 4th March alongside invited published poets (no news yet on who – but will post on here when I hear anything!)

After we finished our workshop, I drove two of the young writers to Grasmere with me, where I was reading as part of Richard Skinner’s Vanguard Reading Series on Tour.  I was reading with Richard, Mark Ward, Geraldine Green, Deborah Hobbs and Josephine Dickinson.  I felt really nostalgic driving to Grasmere – I haven’t been up there since the Trust lost the literature funding, and it made me realise how much I used to love the drive, especially in the dark, and how exciting it was to be going up there to listen to amazing poets..

I didn’t get back till about 2am due to a diversion on the A590 so I had quite a lazy day yesterday.  I didn’t get dressed till about 4pm when hunger drove me out of the house to eat scones with my friend.

So, today’s Sunday Poem is a little unusual, in that I have never met Rose Cook, and I haven’t read her book, although I plan to change that when I get paid again.  My friend Mike Kidson, who is the drummer in the Soul Survivors (the ten piece soul band I play with) sent me this poem as a hint I think but I absolutely loved it! I think Mike saw it on Facebook – anyway, I managed to track Rose down and ask if I could feature it here, and she very kindly agreed.

Although I’d not come across Rose’s work before, I have heard of her excellent publisher Cultured Llama Press.  My lovely friend Hilda Sheehan is also published by them and they are a brilliant example of a small, independent publisher quietly going about publishing fantastic work.

When I read this poem, which Mike sent in a private message, I felt really moved.  I know why he sent it me – because he thinks I do too much, and is worried I will one day fall over and not get up.  The tone of the poem is so lovely though.  It is not accusatory, it is not demanding.  What it is full of is love,care, understanding – which sounds incredibly cheesy when I write it like that, but when the poem says all that in the second stanza it is like a little bit of magic.

It seems like a simple poem, but it is beautifully balanced – the line break after the first line and the repetition of the heart of the poem, the instruction or the plea to ‘Be still sometimes.’ Of course, I’m also a sucker for any poem that has something about falling in it, so the last line had me straight away.

I read a lot of poems that I love, a lot of poems that I like, a lot that I feel a bit indifferent about.  This is the only one I’ve copied out and put in my wallet.  I’d like to say that I’m going to listen to the poem, to try and be still sometimes, but I don’t think I’m quite ready to do it.  But I like the idea of having the poem with me.  It feels like carrying the poem around means I’m carrying round a little bit of stillness, a moment of quiet with me.

Thank you to Rose Cook, for allowing me to post this poem here.  Rose Cook is a poet, who has been published by HappenStance with Everyday Festival (2009) and by Oversteps Books Taking Flight (2009). Her latest collection is Notes From a Bright Field published by Cultured Llama.  You can find out more about Rose by heading over to her website here

*Update – after looking up Rose on her website I decided I couldn’t wait till pay day to order her book, so hopefully it will be winging its way to me some time next week.

A Poem for Someone Who is Juggling Her Life – Rose Cook

This is a poem for someone
who is juggling her life.
Be still sometimes.
Be still sometimes.

It needs repeating
over and over
to catch her attention
over and over
as someone who is juggling her life
finds it difficult to hear.

Be still sometimes.
Be still sometimes.
Let it all fall sometimes.


Sunday Poet – Pascale Petit

Sunday Poet – Pascale Petit

For the past couple of years, I’ve kept the mystery guest poets that come to read mid-week on the residential courses that I run a secret.  The main reason for this has been that it is fun for me.

Over the years at the residentials at Grange-Over-Sands we’ve had Mike Barlow, Jane Routh, Andrew Forster, Carole Coates, Jennifer Copley and Lindsey Holland as our guest poets.  Last year at St Ives the fabulous Katrina Naomi came to read for the participants on the course.

This year, I’ve decided to break with tradition,and to announce the guest poet for St Ives.  There are still a few places left on the residential and I’m hoping this will tempt those last few poets who might have been wavering between taking the plunge or staying at home.

This year participants of the residential course in St Ives will get the opportunity to hear the fabulous Pascale Petit on the Wednesday night of the course.  Pascale is on her way down to London tomorrow to judge the T S Eliot Prize, a prize that she’s been shortlisted for a total of four times – in 2014 for her sixth collection Fauverie, published by Seren, for her fifth book What the Water Gave Me: Poems after Frida Kahlo in 2010 and for her two previous books The Zoo Father and The Huntress. Bloodaxe will be publishing her seventh collection Mama Amazonica in September 2017.  Pascale has had three collections chosen as Books of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement, Independent and Observer.  She received a Cholmondeley Award in 2015.

The residential takes place from Monday 15th February – Saturday 20th February 2016, Treloyhan Manor Hotel, St Ives.  The cost of the course is £395 and this includes your accommodation, breakfast, three course evening meal, workshops and the evening readings from the tutors and Pascale, as well as a chance for you to read your own work.  If you would like to book to come on the course, please get in touch directly with the hotel on 01736 796240.

If you have any questions about the content of the course, you can contact me on here or by email via the Contact page.

For once, I’m writing this in daylight, although it probably won’t still be light by the time I’ve finished.  Today the husband and I went for a run on some very quiet roads around Grizebeck.  It was very windy and very hilly – 8km and 200 metres of ascent but it is one of my favourite places to run, especially when we’ve had bad weather and lots of rain.

Yesterday I had the second in my series of monthly workshops based in Barrow.  My quest to get more people involved in poetry in Barrow and the local area seems to be progressing nicely – at the first workshop in November there were ten participants: 2 from Barrow, 2 from Dalton, 2 from Ulverston, 1 from Kendal and 1 from Lancaster. This time there were 3 from Barrow, 3 from Dalton, 2 from Ulverston, 1 from Kendal, 2 from Penrith and 3 from the Lancaster/Preston area.  There was also five people who had never attended a poetry workshop before.  It was a great day and seemed to go really quickly.  The next workshop is booked for February 13th and I’m expecting this one to sell out, so if you know anyone who might be interested, ask them to get in touch or they can join the Barrow Poetry Workshops group on Facebook.

I’ve had quite a few readings this week – on Monday I read for a luncheon club at Abbot Hall Hotel. The luncheon club meet each month during the winter and they have a different after lunch speaker each time on a variety of topics.  Although they were supposed to have a talk on ‘Gun crime in Manchester’ they didn’t seem too disappointed when they got a fey poet instead.

went over to the Puzzle Inn in Sowerby Bridge.  The venue had thankfully escaped the horrible floods from last week.  The readings are organised by John Foggin and Bob Horne who did the MCing between them.  Bob has also set up a new press – Calder Valley Press, and their first publication is a pamphlet by John called ‘Outlaws and Angels’.  I got my advance copy on Monday night which was very exciting but John is launching the pamphlet next Tuesday at The Blind Pig in Sowerby Bridge.  I would love to go, but three hours there and three hours back is probably realistically too much on a school night.

On Thursday I was back over in West Yorkshire again reading in Wakefield at the Red Shed reading.  I really enjoyed both readings, both had a very high standard of open mic poets, and Elaine Borthwick did a grand job with her longer slot at the Red Shed.

So I had two late nights this week but I got to see lots of my favourite poetry people and sold some books (7 If We Could Speak Like Wolves and 14 of The Art of Falling. 

One big project that kicked off this Friday was in association with Apples and Snakes.  I’m working with them to deliver six poetry workshops to the Dove Cottage Young Poets group on the theme of Identity and in response to the Picture the Poet exhibition, which has been touring the country and is currently at the Tullie House Museum in Carlisle.  The young poets will be performing the work they have produced on the 4th March at Tullie House.  The first session of the 6 was this Friday, and I think it went really well.  As usual, the young writers always come up with amazing work in response to the exercises.

So back to the Sunday Poem – Pascale has featured here as a Sunday Poet before – I’ve always loved her work, and you can find another poem from her by following this link.  However, she’s kindly agreed to let me post another of her poems up.

The poem I’ve chosen is taken from Fauverie, which is Pascale’s latest collection, published in 2014 by Seren.  Fauverie is the big-cat house in the Jardin des Plantes zoo in Paris, and the whole collection is set in this city.  It explores childhood trauma and a dying father throughout the collection.  The poems are often shocking, full of myth and animals and pure colour.

I love this poem because I think it is trying to pin down the essence of a human being – the idea that humans can be both good or bad.  The speaker in the poem has seen the father be the type of man that sparrows help with ‘caresses of their wings’, the type of man ‘a nightingale serenades/just because he’s in pain’.  The child-like denial of  ‘not the man/who thrusts red-hot prongs in their eyes’ and ‘He is not the kind to tie their wings’ makes the reader certain that the father has done these things in the past.  I think this poem is powerful though, because the father, who obviously has this violence at his centre, is not capable of it now.  He ‘shuffles along’.  He’s ‘in pain’. He ‘struggles for breath’.   There is even the certainty that the father will die because the nightingale ‘will pine for him’.  At the same time as the father being unable to carry out his previous acts of violence, the speaker of the poem says that she chooses the good version of her father, the one the nightingale serenades.

Having said that, by the time I get to the end of the poem, what I really think it is about is power, and who has it, and who doesn’t.  By the end of the poem, we are suddenly aware that the speaker is one of the birds, and is in her father’s hand, which makes us aware that this violence must have been directed towards the speaker in the past, and the loyalty and love of the birds must have been given by the speaker to the father.

I think it’s a wonderfully clever and balanced poem, walking a tightrope of metaphor and questions about power and abuse and violence.

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

Portrait of My Father as a Bird Fancier – Pascale Petit

The man with an aviary – the one
sparrows follow as he shuffles along,
helping him with caresses of their wings.
The one a nightingale serenades
just because he’s in pain – that’s
the father I choose, not the man
who thrusts red-hot prongs in their eyes
so the song will carry for miles.
He is not the kind to tie their wings.  No.
My father’s nightingale will pine for him
when he dies.  My Papa
with a warbler on each shoulder
and a linnet on his head, the loner
even crows chatter to.  He does not
cut the nerves of their tongues
so they will sing sweeter.
When my father’s bullfinch has a bad dream
only his voice can calm it.
The hoopoe warms itself on his stove.
It leaps in the air when he wakes
and rubs its breast against his face.
It can tell what mood he’s in at a glance
and will raise its crest in alarm
if Papa struggles for breath.
My father’s chaffinch can bring him
all the birdsong from the wood.
He does not glue its eyelids
shut so it will sing night and day.
He does not make canaries trill so loud
that the tiny branches of their lungs
burst.  I am sure of this, though I am just
an ounce in the fist of his hand.

Sunday Poem – Gerry Cambridge


There was a period last year, in the last couple of months when I started to feel a bit worn out and fed up of blogging every week.  I was really busy in October/November and it was a struggle to keep up my reading so that I had a poem each week.

Today, there is something comforting about settling down to write my blog again after all the madness of Christmas and New Year.  I’m pleased to be easing myself back into a routine again.

The more eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that I have changed the format again – I tried out starting with the poem and talking directly about that, but it never felt quite right, so I’ve decided to go back to my old ways of wittering on first, before introducing the poem.

This week we have been decorating the living room and landing in our house.  The carpets, which have been there since the 1950’s have been taken up and we are having new ones fitted tomorrow.  Today has been quite stressful because we have a leak in a pipe, the boiler won’t ignite and the gas fire won’t ignite either, leaving us with no heating or hot water.  I am very glad I have a busy day tomorrow and am hoping to come back late tomorrow night, after my reading at the Puzzle Inn in Sowerby Bridge and it will all be fixed by the husband.

This might sound a little heartless, but today I sat for an hour with my finger over a hole in the pipe so the water didn’t gush out everywhere while he ran about trying to turn the water off and finding a temporary repair kit so I feel I have done my bit!

After the trauma of sitting with my finger over the hole in the pipe, like some character out of a fairy story, I retreated to my writing room and worked on my poems this afternoon.  I’m currently working on a pamphlet, which will hopefully be published late 2017.  I’ve sent the poems to the publisher so will see what they say – they haven’t seen any of them yet, so they could turn around and say they hate them.

The other thing that has happened this week, in between buying curtains for the living room (again, getting rid of the green suede 1950’s curtains was tremendously exciting) was I started writing a novel.  I am quite surprised myself because I’ve never wanted to write a novel before.  Actually, that’s not true.  I’ve always wanted to write a novel, but I’ve always convinced myself that I haven’t got a story that I want to tell, or anything interesting to say.  Anyway, I started thinking about the sort of novels I like reading, and my favourite ones are fantasy fiction, where the writer creates a whole other world.  So that’s what I’m doing.  I’m not going to say anything about it because I don’t want to jinx it, but I will be updating you all with a word count each week, whether you want to know or not.

So I suppose that is one of my resolutions – I want to finish a first draft of my novel this year.  I have no idea if it will be any good or not, which is hard for me, but I think it will be a good discipline for me to have to believe in my own writing and to not be able to seek confirmation from other people all the time.

Tomorrow I’m the guest speaker at a luncheon club in Grange-Over-Sands.  Their usual speaker cancelled so they have me instead – as far as I know the group are not into poetry at all.  I get to have lunch with them first so I’m hoping to convince them that I’m normal in the course of having lunch and then win them over to poetry when they are all chilled out after having eaten too much.

From there, I’m going to find a cafe somewhere and sit and write all afternoon and then I’m reading at the Puzzle Hall Inn in Sowerby Bridge in the evening.  I’m really pleased that the venue was not affected by the recent floods, and hopefully there will be a good crowd of people turn up.

On Thursday I’m reading at the Red Shed in Wakefield – there are more details on the Readings and Workshops page on the blog but it would be lovely to see some of you there.

On Saturday I’ll be running the second of my monthly poetry workshops in Barrow in Furness – if you know any Cumbrian poets that might be interested, please pass on the details.  There are a couple of places left, and again you can find more information on the Readings and Workshops page.

So I have gradually wound my way around to the Sunday Poem which is by the wonderful Gerry Cambridge, who not only is a fantastic writer, but is also the editor of The Dark Horse.  Those of you who regularly read will know I’ve recently subscribed to the magazine and really enjoyed the first issue of my subscription.

I met Gerry in March 2015 at the StAnza poetry festival.  Gerry was running a stall and impressed me with his sales techniques – I think he managed to sell all of the copies of The Dark Horse magazine that he had with him, but I also bought a copy of Aves, which was published in 2007 by Essence Press.

I was sat at my writing desk a couple of mornings ago, watching a rather clever carrion crow trying to unhook the bird feeder and drop it onto the ground so that he could eat the bird food.  He, or one of his brethren had already managed it the day before.  When I turned to my rather overloaded ‘poetry books I’ve bought and haven’t read yet’ I noticed Gerry’s book and thought I would start with that.

It is a series of prose poems about different birds – observations and glimpses into the life of birds.  The left hand page in the book has the Latin name of each bird, and the right hand side has the prose poem that goes with it.  Not being an expert on the Latin names of birds I had to look them all up to make sure I was thinking of the right bird.  I do love obsessions though, and you can tell from reading the poems that Gerry is clearly obsessed/fascinated with watching birds – the passion is evident and comes through strongly in the writing.

One of the ideas that really stood out for me which is something that threads its way throughout the book was the idea of birds as thoughts.  The last poem, the title poem of the book Aves finishes ‘thoughts, with feathers on’ which I think is a lovely idea. In Troglodytes Troglodytes the poem finishes ‘And here’s the nest, in November, the empty/cave without a fire’ – again that idea of the birds being pure energy is a really compelling one.

In a way, I feel like I’m shortchanging you all, only posting one poem, as the poems taken together really build up momentum.  You’ve probably already guessed that I went for the poem about the carrion crow. You’ll see from this poem how vivid and energetic the language is – ‘a/black hunch at a skullburst rabbit on distant tarmac’.  This poem also has humour as well – and this is true of many of the other poems: ‘A room with a view: three hundred and/sixty degrees’ to describe the crows nest.  I also love that the nest is described as a ‘blatant noun in a high fork’.

You can order Aves from the London Review Bookshop for the mere sum of £7.  You can find out more about Gerry Cambridge at his website here.  His latest collection was Notes for Lighting a Fire, published in 2012, which you can buy from HappenStance

I hope you enjoy the poem, and thanks to Gerry Cambridge for allowing me to use it.

Corvus corone corone – Gerry Cambridge

Modernity’s favourite.  A pragmatic syllable.  No
troubadour disguising its urge for land with
a lyric tinkle.  Hack-beaked, scale-legged, sponge of
colours, with a blue, brillianteened sheen.  A synonym
for “gloat”.  Sacerdotally unsettling.  The nest of big
twigs, a blatant noun in a high fork, sometimes in
a roadside ash, easy to spot before the leaves’ green
sentences.  A room with a view: three hundred and
sixty degrees.  What vertical is that, for instance,
enlarging across the fields? And there is the mate, a
black hunch at a skullburst rabbit on distant tarmac,
tugging out lines of devastated guts.  Here, on this
April day of all-over cloud, grey but calm, four, a feel-
right number, under the contented high black breast
sunk in the deep cup lined with horsehair and the
wool of sheep, a salubrious cradle to rock bleak beaks.