Monthly Archives: March 2016

Sunday Poem – Maurice Riordan

Sunday Poem – Maurice Riordan

A couple of my friends have been saying to me for a while that I need to slow down and start taking it easy and I’ve pretty much been nodding, agreeing but ignoring them.  It all caught up with me this week though and when I finished teaching late on Wednesday night I had a headache.  I didn’t think anything of it – it kind of comes with the territory being a trumpet teacher, but when I woke up on Thursday I felt terrible – dizzy, headaches and just generally exhausted.  So I spent the whole day in bed which was nice but I still carried on firing off emails and working so I probably didn’t rest properly.

I felt a bit better on Friday so I went for a five mile run with some friends in the morning and then Chris and I went for a walk round Ulverston.  I raided all the charity shops for poetry books – there weren’t many but I did get a collection by Paul Auster (haven’t heard of him but think I should have), an anthology of ‘happy’ poems edited by Wendy Cope (I like anthologies like this – useful for getting material for workshops), a small book of Japanese haiku, the Oxford Book of Prose and Newborn by Kate Clanchy which I’ve always wanted to read, so not a bad haul.

When I got back home I felt terrible again and went back to bed and slept.  I don’t do sleeping in the afternoon, so I had to concede defeat by this point, and admit that I was ill.
We were supposed to be going camping this weekend for a friend’s birthday but we called it off.  I feel guilty about not going, but the thought of driving there and putting a tent up when I felt like I couldn’t stand for more than five minutes was too much.

So we’ve stayed at home.  It is rare for me to have the whole weekend off with nothing to do, and for Chris to have nothing to do either.  I’ve behaved myself and done nothing strenuous yesterday or today.  I’ve even (mostly) kept off the laptop and have limited myself to reading and I’m starting to feel better.

I am very relieved it is now the Easter holidays.  A whole two weeks off teaching, and I feel like I’ve earned it.   I’ll never forget when I had my first work experience student following me around – by Thursday, he was sleeping in the car as I drove around between schools, and he wasn’t even doing any teaching, just observing..

I’m planning on catching up with friends for the next two weeks and doing lots of running.  Tomorrow I’m seeing my twin sister. She has managed to escape from the animal shelter where she is the manager and is having a day off, her first in a couple of months as well.  On Tuesday morning I’m meeting up with Pauline Yarwood to go through some social media stuff for the festival, and then our website designer is coming to give both me and Pauline a lesson in using the website.  I’ve got a plasterer coming to give a quote to get the middle room of our house sorted out and I’m seeing Clare Shaw this week to plot and talk poetry.

On Thursday I’m reading in Leeds at the River’s Meet Cafe as part of the Read Regional Scheme I’m involved in.  Linda France is running an Exploring Poetry session as well.  I’m considering whether it would be a bit stalker-ish to bring Linda’s collection to get it signed as I’ve not met her before.  I will probably stow it in my bag and see if I can do it unobtrusively!

On Friday I’m running my Young Writer’s workshop – it’s been a while since I’ve seen the Dove Cottage Young Poets so I’m looking forward to seeing them all, and then I’ll go straight from there to Lancaster where I’m reading at the North West Literary Salon, held in Waterstones

Then on Saturday I’m running my Barrow Poetry Workshop – 15 people signed up, so room for one more if you know anybody that is interested.

That might sound a lot, but I haven’t got four junior band rehearsals, 2 days of brass teaching and 3 private pupils to fit in this week, so this is a walk in the park!

Today’s Sunday Poem comes from Maurice Riordan’s latest collection The Water Stealer, published by Faber in 2013.  Maurice came to read for A Poem and a Pint in February, and I bought a copy of his book. I loved this poem as soon as I read it and was captivated from start to finish.

I like the story of it, of course, but I also like the way one thing leads to another, how one pond reminds the speaker of a pond in childhood. In The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, the two main characters find themselves in a ‘Wood Between the Worlds’ filled with hundreds of pools, each one leading to a different world.  This has nothing to do with Maurice’s poem, but it is what jumped into my mind when I read the poem, and the memory of the second pond entered it.

The poem is rich in allusions and associations – the italicised sections recall the children’s son ‘There was an old woman who swallowed a fly…she swallowed a spider to catch the fly..’  There are lots of doubles in this poem as well – two ponds, two foxes, two men crying at the sight of something destroyed.

I also love the images in this – the fact that the absence of the pond is noticed because its reflection on the ceiling is gone, the saucer of streetlight and that wonderful line about the fish possibly being ‘ferried into the dawn by the cormorant’.  It strikes me that there are a lot of wise fish in poems or maybe I’ve just come across lots recently.  Karen Solie has a cracking poem called ‘Sturgeon‘ which you can hear her reading and her fish has the same ‘streetwise’ attitude, as Maurice calls it.

Maurice Riordan was born in 1953 in Lisgoold, Co.Cork.  His first collection, A Word from the Loki (1995) was nominated for the T.S. Eliot Prize.  Floods (2000) was a Book of the Year in both the Sunday Times and the Irish Times, and The Holy Land (2007) won the Michael Hartnett Award.  He lives in London and has taught at Imperial College and Goldsmiths College, and is currently Professor of Poetry at Sheffield Hallam University.  Maurice Riordan is Editor of The Poetry Review.

You can order The Water Stealer here from Faber and Faber.

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

The Water Stealer  – Maurice Riordan

came to the pond in the night and emptied it.
I woke in the unwonted quiet
and noticed its reflections on the ceiling
absent this bright morning,

the fire outside quenched, the lilies
collapsed in a muddy heap, the neon
of damselflies, the skim of darters and fleas,
of skaters and water boatmen – gone.

Where were the carp? Sunk in the mud
or ferried into the dawn by the cormorant?
Or was it a town fox that chewed
through the tarp so it bled while I dreamt,

while my brain worried old scars,
the saucer of streetlight grew brighter
overhead and neared the huddle of carp
– who’d have jumped and bitten in terror,

gorping helplessly in the poisonous gas.

I mend the leak,and watch the basin fill,
the water not the same water: clear, drinkable,
the year’s clock too far advanced to be reset,
to remake the soup of eggs and insects.

Even so, the lilies untangle and lift
their cumbersome pads off the mud –
weightless and free, like the dancers in the loft
at harvest, when I watched as a child.

But no fish…the fish that came
with the pond that came with the garden
that came with the house that came
with the care that came with the children

And the pond, which no child fell into,
recalled our old pond back in Lisgoold
and heat-struck hours with my cousins
pawdawling in the duckweed and ooze.

I’d begun, since my days are freed up,
to love its little creatures, to scoop
for springtails and ‘water bear’ – the minuscule
tardigrade I’ve seen only on Youtube.

But now a fox has come as a thief in the night
– not the fox that squeezed through the mesh
to the hencoop (which our father tracked and shot),
no, some miscreant, with a taste for fish.

It’s time to cry – to pour tears like my father
in his old age, hammering the armrest
with an arthritic fist till he broke it (the armrest)
crippled because of a cur, a mongrel cur

the dog that barked that scared the mare
that carried the man that reared the foal 

that loved the rider that rode the mare 
that flung the rider headlong into the road 

my old man, as they were galloping home
from Midleton Show, their jaunt every June
without fail till the fall…which would shame
and shackle him, and send him to the grave.

And now I’ve a fox, or worse, for adversary.
I’ve a night of pillage and ruin to bemoan,
robbed of my pond and its innocent creatures,
dead fish to bewail – when lo and behold

a half-dozen or so are scooting here and there
among the lilies (those long gone country dancers)
the streetwise ancient carp, yea risen out
of the mud, and me in floods at the sight.



Kendal Poetry Festival

Kendal Poetry Festival

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you will, by now, know that the website for Kendal Poetry Festival has finally gone live!  You can find us at  The festival will take place from the 24th-26th June 2016, at Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal.

The full programme is now up.  Over the weekend we have two open mics, four main readings, three discussions about poetry and two workshops.  There are a few free events as well, all taking place in the beautiful surroundings of Abbot Hall Art Gallery.

Please head over to the website and have a look at the programme – we have some fantastic poets reading at the festival.  This has been the culmination of about a years worth of planning between myself and Pauline Yarwood, the co-director of the festival.

We found out in January that we’d got funding to go ahead with the festival, so it has been pretty hectic trying to pull the website and marketing together since then, so the website finally being live and kicking is a massive milestone for us.

We’ve got our wonderful poets for the programme, we’ve got a beautiful venue.   We’ve got a limited number of weekend passes at only £33 which will get you in to all the readings and discussions at the festival.  All we need now is an audience to make the festival a success.  We haven’t got a huge marketing budget, just enough to build a website and print our brochures.  We’ve got our Twitter account (@KendalPoetry) and the Facebook group but what we are really relying on is word of mouth, and the support of the poetry community.

The cuts to the Wordsworth Trust Contemporary Literature Programme hit writers in Cumbria hard.  This will be the first summer that we don’t all head up to Grasmere on a Tuesday evening to hear poets read.  The loss of the programme has left a huge hole, and in all honesty, a weekend festival can’t fill that summer long gap.

However, on a personal level, the loss of the readings at the trust galvanised me into action, to stop talking about running a festival, and actually go and do it.  It was a happy coincidence that I bumped into Pauline Yarwood and we got talking at Brewery Poets one week and I discoverd that Pauline  had already been making enquiries about running a poetry festival in Kendal.   I hope we can go back to the Arts Council next year and show them something astounding – audience figures much larger than what we predicted, and a festival that needs to become a yearly fixture in the calendar.

Kendal has been devastated by the floods recently.  In January, we didn’t have a venue, as much of the gallery was under water.  Coming to Kendal Poetry Festival will not only support poetry and writers in a rural county, which can feel quite isolated at times, it will also support the local community of businesses and cafes who have been flooded sometimes two or three times in as many months.

Finally, I hope you consider coming to the festival because there is something on the programme that inspires you, something that makes you want to travel from where ever you live to sit in a room and listen to poetry.

My Express Column

My Express Column

Sad to read this story from Ian Clayton about writing for the local paper and then being laid off.

Ian Clayton


In the autumn of 2010, I was approached by the then editor of the Pontefract and Castleford Express, a lady called Rebecca Whittington, and asked if I might care to contribute a weekly column to the newspaper. We sat at my kitchen table and I asked, ‘What should it be about?’ Rebecca told me that I could write about local culture, but put an Ian Clayton twist on to it. I liked the idea, I have long been a supporter of the local press and advocate on its behalf at every opportunity.

We drank a second cup of tea and then Rebecca said, ‘We can’t pay you, but feel free to advertise any of your projects or books in your piece.’ I felt a bit deflated by this and so said, ‘If you think I’m worth having, you should pay me and you’ll get a good professional job, because…

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Sunday Poem – Heidi Williamson

Sunday Poem – Heidi Williamson

trumpet bag

This is a photo of my triple gig bag, which is now 15 years old.  I bought this bag in my first year at music college.  Sometimes it did have three trumpets in, my Bb, my D/Eb trumpet and a cornet, but most of the time it had one trumpet and then various mutes and music and a metronome and a tuner and my purse and maybe a couple of changes of clothes, a spare pair of shoes, in case I stayed out at a friends or went to the pub straight after work.  When my dad fell thirty feet from a scaffold when I was about 21, one of my teachers came to fetch me from the lecture I was in, and I got straight on a train from Leeds to Leicester with this bag, which happened to have enough clothes to last me for a few days.

I haven’t used this gig bag for years – in fact I lent it to one of my pupils to test it out before he bought himself a triple gig bag, but this week I’ve been playing in a show for the first time in years and I remembered the bag, searched the house for it, remembered I’d lent it to someone, got it back and voila! Here it is, in all its glory.  I’ve been trotting round Barrow with it this week, filling it with clothes and music and my trumpet, just like the old days, except without the terrible hangovers and having to catch a bus with it.

Abbey Musical Society’s production this year was ‘White Christmas’ so I’ve been playing in that all week.  It has been good fun, but I’ve been exhausted! I’m usually not in bed before midnight, but this week I’ve been getting home at 10.30pm and going straight to sleep.  I can’t remember trumpet playing being that tiring!

I should introduce you all to my new carpet- inspired by John Foggin’s own stripey carpet on his stairs.

Despite feeling kanckered at the end of the show, I’ve felt pretty good for the rest of the week and have managed to get a long run in again this week – 12 miles on Thursday and today the husband and I went running up on the fells.  It was all going great until we ended up going down what I call a cliff.  The map and the husband insisted it was a path, but there was no path to be seen, just mud and gorse brushes and scree and it was so steep, we were basically climbing down, if we weren’t sliding down.  I pointed out that the husbands walks/runs often turn into these epic adventures but he is in denial.  I can write this safely as I know he doesn’t read my blog!

On Friday I had my next Read Regional event in South Elmsall Library in Wakefield.  The staff were lovely and I gave a reading to a book group there, and then drove back as quickly as I could to get back for the show in the evening.

The other thing that has preoccupied my time this week  is an application for something that I really want to do.  It has taken every spare minute I’ve had to put this together, and I’ve been obsessing about it all week.  I don’t want to say too much about it at the minute for various reasons.  It has been a bit stressful pulling this application together but the lovely thing is that it has made me realise how many amazing friends I have who have helped me with it, read through my application, written references for me,talked to me on the phone and stopped me panicking.  Another lovely thing is that through writing the application, I’ve had to really think about what I want to do next, and how I’m going to do it, and that is definitely a good thing for me, as I find it hard to admit to myself, let alone anybody else what I want.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Heidi Williamson, who has featured on this blog before, in 2013, with a poem from her first collection, which you can find here.  I was slow on the uptake last time, as her first collection came out in 2011, but I didn’t feature a poem on here until 2013.  I don’t make the same mistake twice however, or not very often anyway.  This week’s Sunday Poem comes from Heidi’s new collection The Print Museum, which is officially published on the 24th March by Bloodaxe.  I managed to get my hands on an advance copy however and read it in one go in one of my early morning readings.  It is a fantastic book and I really would recommend it.

As many of you may know already, I’m currently running an online course for The Poetry School called ‘What Work Is’.  We’ve been looking over the last eight weeks at various poems about work and the poems in this book would have been perfect for many of the assignments. I’m running the course again as a face to face course in Manchester in the summer term, so I’ll definitely be using some of these poems then.

Heidi Williamson is the daughter of a printer, and this knowledge obviously comes through in the book – the poems ring true, and the collection is, of course about printing, the art and the industry of it, but it is also about work and the place it has in our lives, it is about family, about how things are learnt and passed down, how we communicate.  It is about the body.  There is a beautiful poem that I wish I’d written called ‘My Father’s Hands’.  It is about how things change.

I’ve chosen ‘Letterpress’ because I love the tone of it – I like the imperative, the no-nonsense feel of it.

Letterpress – Heidi Williamson

>>>> A print is properly a dent on the page.
>>>>The whole history of letterpress
>>>>is the abolition of that dent.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Eric Gill

Your first challenge is how to read
upside down and left to right.
When you’ve mastered this, compose
your chosen letters on the stick.
Don’t fret at impenetrable text:
your fingers are pure muscle memory,
their movements to and from the case
will let you know what’s out of place.
Employ your shooting stick and mallet
to add leading strips and knurled
furniture to make a page.  Lock it
tight to form a chase.  Then place
your caged lead in its letterpress bed.
Next, the ink: essentially as Caxton used.
It quakes gelatinously.  You want it even,
but know its greasy mass responds
to its surroundings.  On certain days,
you need to roll it out repeatedly.
There’s peace in doing this,
though deadlines may be ticking.
You need it tacky and malleable.
Now, make ready.  This takes time,
as the type is worn: certain letters
take a beating.  Twists of paper, tissue…
use anything to build an even surface.
Prove until you have the perfect print.
Check for literals, the spread of ink,
then set it going, hell for leather.
Mind out the flying fingers flinging
paper in and out.  You mustn’t rest.
The ink will lesson, the type will stress.
You’re alert for tiny variations
creeping in.  A certain tolerance,
then you have to intervene.
Stop everything.  Begin again.
Remember, it’s impossible to render
the same way twice.  But you’re no
wet-behind-the-ears apprentice,
running off for stripy ink and a long
weight.  By the time the run is done,
you’ll be covered in ink and sweat,
cuts, bruises, burns and scars.
Your ears will sing with pain,
your lungs retain microscopic
remnants of paper, metal, chemicals.
Your back will creak, your knuckles
crack, your eyes will strain
from too much looking.
Remember too, that it takes time,
after.  To diss the type back
in its case, clean down machines,
yourself, your space. Unmaking
takes almost as long as creating.
Each element of every day
will take your mind, your body
and enduring soul to complete.
And if you do your job just so,
they’ll be no sign of you at all
in any sleekly finished sheet.

I love the physicality of this poem – the physical details keep piling one on top of another.  I wouldn’t have thought, until reading this poem that printing was a particularly physical job, but this shows how much I know – ‘By the time the run is done/you’ll be covered in ink and sweat,/cuts, bruises, burns and scars’.  What a great way of describing tinnitis as well – ‘Your ears will sing with pain’.

After my week spent waking my trumpet brain up again, and slowly remembering all the things I used to be able to do, reading the line near the beginning of the poem about the ‘muscle memory’ of fingers made me smile.

I also really like all the language in this poem that comes from the world of printing – the shooting stick, the mallet, the chase.  Heidi has a useful glossary in the back of the book – a shooting stick is a ‘Tool of metal or wood used to tighten the wooden quoins that secure the forme’.  A ‘chase’ is a ‘Frame holding type and furniture together while they’re printed’.  I don’t think you need to know what these things are though to enjoy the poem.  I didn’t realise there was a glossary at the back, the first time I read through the poems, so I just let the words I didn’t understand just wash over me.

I did take myself off to Wikipedia to discover that the Caxton referred to in the poem is William Caxton, credited with printing the first book in English after visiting Cologne and seeing the German printing industry.  The fact that the poem tells us that ink is ‘essentially the same as Caxton used’ is really interesting, as Caxton printed his first book in 1473.

I love the details in this poem as well ‘certain letters/take a beating’ and I can almost hear the letterpress in the line ‘then set it going, hell for leather’. And I love the wisdom of ‘Unmaking/takes almost as long as creating’.  Sometimes I feel like that if I have had a day of writing.  It feels like I’ve been swimming along underwater, and then coming back up to the normal world, and having to go shopping, or wash up or speak to somebody feels like a wrench. Maybe it is not the same, but there is something in that line, which fits with what you do when you create something, to get yourself back in a fit state to be in the world.

You can order Heidi Williamson’s new collection ‘The Print Museum’ from Bloodaxe from the 24th March onwards.  Her first, ‘Electric Shadow’ (Bloodaxe, 2011) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry. She works as a mentor, tutor, and writing coach for organisations including Writers’ Centre Norwich and The Poetry


Sunday Poem – Martin Reed


I am writing this post quite bleary-eyed again – not because it is particularly late – it’s only just gone 10pm but just because I’m exhausted.  I’ve spent the day at the South Cumbria Music Festival today conducting three of my bands in the junior brass band section of the competition – Barrow Shipyard Junior Band, Brasstastic and St Pius School Band.  The bands all played brilliantly – they did everything I’d asked them to do in rehearsals, remembered everything I’ve been going on and on about for months! Holborn Hill Brass Band won – not one of mine, but although I’m usually competitive, I’m not too disappointed.  I always say to the bands that I would rather they play the best they can play and come second, then play badly and win and they did play as well as they could, so I’m happy.  After the competition I had to rush off to get to rehearsal – I’m playing in a show called White Christmas next week at the theatre in Barrow.

So I’m finally home now and kind of looking forward to going to bed.  I have a new regime at the minute which I’ve stuck to for the last two weeks, which is to get up at 7am and read for an hour in the front room.  Our front room at the minute is the only nice room in our house – well the bathroom is nice as we decorated that when we moved in, but I can hardly sit in there.  The front room has been decorated and the hubby uses it as the room that he practices as a psychotherapist in, so it is always neat and tidy and we inherited a wonderful rocking chair from a friend that is my favourite place to sit.  Anyway, every morning from 7am-8am I sit in my rocking chair and read.  I’m getting through lots of books, and it’s started me writing again.  I’m really enjoying the discipline of it.


One of the books that I’ve read this week is published by today’s Sunday Poet.  I met Martin Reed on the course at St Ives, and he was kind enough to give me a copy of his pamphlet.  It’s called The Two-Coat Man and was published by Happenstance in 2008.  You can order a copy of Martin’s pamphlet here, directly from his publisher.  I knew I would enjoy the pamphlet because I loved the poems that Martin wrote during the week in the workshops.

I really like the premise of this poem describing a painting, while not really being about the painting at all.  We know that the poem is addressed to a lover or a partner, or at the least someone who the speaker lives with because of the use of the words ‘our old front room’ which are in the first line.  Something sad has obviously happened – a death, or a failed relationship – because the painting has been removed from the shared space in the front room and placed in the speaker’s bedroom.

The two lines that really move me are ‘No-one else’s work could say/the things your painting says tonight’ which I think is a really lovely, balanced couplet. This is a strange little poem, because I think it is really about art as witness.  The poem does describe the poem, but for a poem about watching and seeing and noticing, we don’t get much information about the ‘you’.  The ‘you’ disappears  the more that the detail of his painting is discussed and I think this is why it is effective, why it is sad and strange all at the same time.

I’m off to bed now.  It is the most bizarre experience, but when I’m tired and falling asleep, my fingers keep writing out things – just now I fell asleep while I was typing and wrote ‘my fingers keep tapping the music stand.  Yes!’

So this is far too weird for me – so I will leave you to enjoy Martin Reed’s expert handling of form.  Form and end-rhyme are a preoccupation in this pamphlet.  Martin really does handle it well, often his rhymes are so clever that it is the second or third read through before you realise they are there.  If you would like to buy a copy and make Helena Nelson/ Martin Reed/ the world/the known universe very very happy please order here 

If there are any sentences in this post that make no sense, please skip over them! Thanks to Martin Reed for letting me publish his poem here. Here’s a bit about Martin in his own words:

Martin Reed grew up in Somerset and now lives in Malvern, Worcestershire near his children and grandchildren.  He has recently discovered the joy of writing workshops, including Kim’s in St Ives in February 2016 and would recommend them to any developing writer (i.e. all writers).  He won the National Poetry Competition in 1988 and has had work published in 2Plus2 (USA), Agenda, Anon, Assent, Encounter, Envoi, Frogmore Papers, The Interpreter’s House, Iota, London Magazine, Magma, Other Poetry, Orbis, Owl, Prole, Poetry Wales, Poetry Nottingham, Poetry Review, South, The Spectator, Stand, Under the Radar and by other small presses in the UK and USA.   He has read some of his work on Radio 3.   He has a Happenstance collection in print: The Two-Coat Man (2009).  He is also Vernon Scannell’s literary executor. 

Original – Martin Reed

for RR (1944-1962)

Your painting hung in our old front room,
the ‘best’ room I still dream of sometimes.
It’s on my bedroom wall now, the bloom
of your bright manifesto – blues, limes

and purples.  I see how moulded snow
sits in a dip long after the day
has heated rocks to an orange glow
where falls hit the lake in arcs of spray;

how a peak aspires and saplings play
their almost human limbs at twilight.
No-one else’s work could say
the things your painting says tonight.

Art changes us.  We’re taught to see.
You noticed things, like bark where a ray
of sunlight sparked a rain-blackened tree,
the scar where a branch was wrenched away.


Sunday Poem – Mona Arshi


It feels strange to be back blogging again after my slightly unplanned month off.  True to form, I have left it until the last minute, and I doubt very much whether this will be up before midnight, as it is nearly 11.30pm now.  This week has been great because it has been busy, but just a normal level of busy, not a ridiculous, if one thing goes wrong it will push me over the edge kind of busy.

On Monday we had a meeting with the website designer for Kendal Poetry Festival.  We now have a logo and a design for the website, which is being finished off as I write and we have written all of the content that is going on the website.  It should go live either next week or the week after, but if you’d like to have a look at the logo, we now have a Twitter account @KendalPoetry and a Facebook account.  Please follow us on Twitter or ‘like’ our page on Facebook if you haven’t done so already.

I went to South Shields on Friday, to do my first Read Regional event for a writing group at South Shields library.  I sold four books, which is nice, and they were a lovely group.  I then drove back over to Cumbria and hung arond Carlisle for a bit, as I was performing at the Picture the Poet exhibition, alongside Dove Cottage Young Poets and various other poets, including Ian McMillan.

The young poets were fantastic – I knew they would be good, but they were even better than I thought they would be, if that makes sense.  Ian McMillan made me laugh so much that my face started to ache.

On Saturday I ran my monthly Barrow Poetry Workshop.  It was a lovely group that took part, a few new faces, but lots of people returning.  The next workshop is April 2nd at Ormsgill Primary School, if anybody is interested!

Today I went for a 12k run in the morning.  In the afternoon, I edited a poem and then entered two other poems into the Basil Bunting competition, trying to think of it as being like a lottery.  In the evening, I had a band call or rehearsal for a show that I’m playing in next week.  I enjoyed the rehearsal – I haven’t played in a show for so long and I’ve forgotten how much I used to love it.

I’ve done a bit of writing this week as well, which always makes me happy!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Mona Arshi, winner of the Forward Prize for Best First Collection.  I’ve been meaning to ask Mona for a poem for the blog for ages, ever since I met her last year at the prize giving for the Forwards in London.  The poem comes from her first collection Small Hands, published by Pavilion Poetry.

I love the mix of humour, desperation and darkness in this.  I like that it is slightly surreal and completely dramatic.  It reminds me of Kathryn Maris’s poem ‘Darling Would You Please Pick Up Those Books‘ which is one of my favourite poems, and luckily for you if you don’t have her latest book from Seren called: God Loves You the poem was a Guardian ‘Poem of the Week’ back in 2008.  Maybe because of the use of the word darling, but there is also something about the tone, as if they are singing in the same key.  Thematically of course, both address an absent partner who has no idea of the life of his wife.

There are some great lines in this poem – ‘the triplets need constant feeding/ they are like little fires’ is probably one of my favourites.  I also like the other more minor characters in this poem  are drawn  sharply into focus by the detailed description of their actions or the way they look.  The more I read this poem, the more I become convinced that it is really quite dark and upsetting because the speaker of the poem (‘I’) seems to be on the edge of some sort of meltdown.  The speaker of the poem actually seems desperately unhappy with her life and on the third or fourth run through, it doesn’t seem that funny anymore.

The poem does have a slightly surreal edge to it and we are never quite sure who has the power in the poem. At first glance it seems like the speaker is in charge and has all the power, as they continue to list a litany of complaints.  The ‘Darling’ who is addressed in the poem, does not get to speak, which I think is interesting in itself.

Mona Arshi was born to Punjab Sikh parents in West London, where she still lives.  She initially trained as a lawyer and worked for Liberty, the UK human rights organisation, for several years, undertaking test case litigation under the Human Rights Act.  She began writing poetry in 2008 and received an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia.  She won the inaugral Magma Poetry Competition in 2011 and was on the Complete Works Programme, a scheme founded by the Arts Council.

There is lots more I could say about this poem, but I’m falling asleep again, as I’m typing and when ever that happens, I write all kinds of strange things.

If you would like to buy Mona’s book, please head over to Pavilion Poetry or you can get more information about Mona from her website here

Bad Day in the Office – Mona Arshi

Darling, I know you’ve had a bad day in the office
and you need some comfort
but I burned the breakfast again this morning
and the triplets need constant feeding –
they are like little fires.  And the rabbit ….
the rabbit topped himself but not before
eating the babies and the mother stared at me
as if I was the one who did it!
Everywhere there is the stink of babies and it’s a good job
I can’t smell my fingers as they’ve been wrapped
in those marigolds for weeks.
The mother-in-law has been.  She didn’t stay,
just placed a tulsi plant on the doorstop,
with a nose saying she had high hopes of it
warding off those poisonous insects.
That estate agent arrived for the purposes of the valuation.
He dandled the babies on his lap and placed his index finger
on my bottom lip.  There’s some paperwork somewhere.
As for dinner, well that’s ruined.  Those chillies you sent for
from Manipur? The juice from the curry bored a hole
in the kitchen tiles and I’ve had to move the pot to the stump
at the bottom of the garden, next to the dock-leaves;
it was a short trip but it was good to get some air.
We need to keep reminding ourselves that when it rains
it is not catastrophic it is just raining.
The lady radio anouncer has addressed me on several occasions,
– did you know orangutans are running out of habitat
and we don’t have much time?
I’ve become quite adept at handling the eccentric oranges,
those root vegetables need sweating out . . . but it’s difficult
to concentrate when that sodding bunny blames me
though how could I have done it when all morning
I’ve been next to the stove stirring the damn pot.
The salsify is eye-balling me, it’s lying on top
of that magazine  article – Bored with the same old winter veg?
Give salsify  a go.  We promise you’ll never look back. 

Poetry makes nothing happen

Poetry makes nothing happen

It has been a whole month since the last time I wrote on here – this is the longest time I’ve gone without blogging since I started.  I didn’t plan to take a break, although at first it seemed necessary.  After the second Sunday of not writing to you all, if I am honest, it felt like a weight lifted from my shoulders.  Then the third week cycled round, and I decided to have the whole of February off before I started again.  Last Sunday, the last Sunday in February, my fingers were itching slightly to get going again, but I resisted.  If there is one thing I’ve learnt about writing poetry or prose, it is that resistance is good.  To resist the urge to write, to hold back sometimes is an important thing for me.  Now I’ve started writing the old feeling passes over me again, of enjoyment, excitement.  It is something to do with knowing that people are listening, but also that they might not be, that these words could slip through the gap, or be ignored and it won’t matter to me, because I’ll never know.

Last time I wrote I was recovering from my fright of having to pay an unexpected tax bill.  I’ve recovered from that now, although my bank balance hasn’t.  I’ve only spent two weeks of February at home.  The first week of February, I went to Ty Newydd to be a co-tutor with Clare Shaw.   We were working with 16 teenage girls all week.

Driving to Ty Newydd was actually quite an emotional experience for me! As I got closer to the house, and turned off the main A road onto a quieter, narrow country road, all the memories of my first time driving to Ty Newydd came flooding back.  I think it was maybe 2008 that I went there for the first time, and I got lost, or at least, I thought I was lost, because of this road.  It seemed so long and empty.  The trees and hedges were a brilliant dark green and everything seemed strange and unfamiliar, even that green and the way the world sounded when I pulled over, turned the engine off and listened to the dusk falling.  I was panicking about being away from home, a voice in my head asking me who did I think I was to be paying money to go on a writing course, what was the point, what a waste of money, to spend all of that money for selfish reasons, just because I wanted to etc etc.

Of course, looking back, going on that first course at Ty Newydd was the start of my life lurching off in another direction to the one it had been travelling along previously.  Or maybe I lurched off the road I should have been following way before that, and going to Ty Newydd shoved me back to the road I should have been following.

This time I didn’t get lost and instead of staying in a shared room in the house, I was staying in the tutors cottage, with a bookshelf next to the bed, and a writing desk, which I didn’t have time to use in the end, and a wooden balcony that I did sit out on, a little. The week was really full-on, intense, challenging, exciting, inspiring.  It felt strange being back there as a tutor and watching the Ty Newydd magic work on the young writers.  One of the wonderful things about working with young people is that they make huge leaps in their writing from one end of the week to the next.  I think with adults progress is steadier and more considered.  I’ve seen this happen with many young writers that I’ve worked with – they throw themselves into it, and their writing leaps onward without looking back.  There were many times during the week when I had goosebumps when the girls read their work out loud, or had to stop myself crying – it was that kind of heady, emotional week.  The other side of that was the laughter verging on hysteria with the lovely teachers and Clare of course.  It made me resolve to laugh more when I got back to my normal life, to see the funny side of things.

I came back home exhausted and then by the end of the week I was off again to St Ives, this time to tutor on a residential writing course for adults with Steve Ely.  Again, I had a fantastic week.  It’s the first time I’ve worked with Steve and he was a brilliant tutor – very conscientous, organised and great to work with.  I got the train to Crewe and then John Foggin and Steve Ely picked me up at the train station and we drove down to St Ives.  We had great poets on the course and a real mix this time of people I’d met before and strangers, who are now friends.

Steve and I went for quite a few runs along the beach and the coastal paths.  Everything was wet and muddy and on one run we both fell into a bog up to our knees.  We found a dead gannet on the beach and Steve picked it up and spread out its wings.  Steve also had a jackdaw nest opposite his hotel window.  It was a bit like hanging out with Ted Hughes all week.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if a fox had started loping along next to us.  Pascale Petit came to read halfway through the week, which was a real treat, as she read some new work from her forthcoming collection Mama Amazonica.

I also started my online Poetry School course ‘What Work Is’  in February.  Today is the deadline for the third assignment and the poems are starting to trickle in from the participants.  I’m running this course in Manchester because the online version sold out – if you’d like to join in, you can book a place through The Poetry School here.

I’ve also been editing reviews that have come in for The Compass magazine, which should be going live very soon, and writing a review of Linda Gregerson’s latest New and Selected for Poem magazine.  Last weekend I hosted the Cumbrian final of the Poetry By Heart competition, and again, met wonderful and inspiring young people who reminded me why I love poetry.  It was great to hear some of my favourite poems recited and I could have sat there all night and been read to!

This Friday night I’m reading with young writers from my Dove Cottage Young Poets group at the Picture the Poet exhibition at Tullie House in Carlisle.  Ian McMillan is also reading, and I’m really excited about the whole event.  I’ve been working with the group for six weeks now, writing poems about identity and they have written some brilliant stuff.  It is free to go, but you should book a ticket in advance if you want to be sure of getting a place as I’m suspecting it will sell out.  You can find more information about the event here.

On Saturday, I’m running the fourth Barrow Poetry Workshop. I’ve now got enough people attending the workshop that I’ll be bringing in a second tutor, Jennifer Copley, to help run the afternoon session of the workshop.

I’m now going to break with convention as it is not Sunday, and I’m posting a poem that is one of my own.  I wrote it in Ty Newydd in Clare’s workshop in response to a discussion about the truncated quote ‘Poetry makes nothing happen’ by Auden.  We talked about how this quote is misinterpreted and you can read more about this take on it in an article by Don Share over at The Poetry Foundation.  I wrote this poem anyway, and I think I would struggle to get it published in a magazine because it is ‘about’ poetry.  I think it is walking a borderline between sentimentality and sentiment and it probably falls over on its face into sentimentality a couple of times. Having said that, I like it and I mean every word of it, except of course poetry did all these things and more for me, so it can stand here as a thank you to February, which although I disappeared from view on here, was so full of poetry and poems and young people and enthusiasm.  Really the poem is a salute to the residential writing courses that changed my life, to poetry that continues to change my life, and always for the better, poetry which has led me to such wonderful friends, to standing outside in the garden at Ty Newydd at midnight and seeing stars, everywhere, and the sky blacker than I’ve ever seen it, to laughing so much that I cry, to talking about poetry from Crewe to St Ives, to that moment when a young writer read a poem in the group and looked up and smiled and I said ‘You know that it’s good, don’t you?’ and she smiled again, and said ‘Yes.  Yes, I know it’.


Poetry – Kim Moore

It didn’t make my heart move or tilt or shake.
It didn’t make me cry a hundred times.
I don’t remember sitting in a café or a library
just to write.  If I was ever soothed
by the sound of other people’s hands
moving across a page it was temporary.
It didn’t lead me to a prison to work
with men who moved like wolves,
who carried poems folded in their pockets
or stuffed inside their socks.  It didn’t make
me cry.  It never made me change my life
or change my job.  It never gave me back
my voice or taught me what silence was.
I didn’t learn about truth or balance
abstractions on my palm.  I never sat
and wrote in front of a fire and let it lay
its burning hand across my face.
I never used language to work out
how much the leaving cost.   I didn’t let
someone else’s words push against my chest,
never wrote a poem about a man
I almost loved.  It wasn’t me on the beach
at midnight, my heart feral and full
of the violence I’d just spoken of.
It taught me nothing of repetition,
of circling back to have another look.
If there were wolves I didn’t see them,
if there were birds they did not speak.
I did not listen to my body, I didn’t write
its song. I didn’t set off on a journey,
I didn’t open up the box.