Monthly Archives: April 2016

St Ives Residential Course 2017

St Ives Residential Course 2017

After a sell-out course in 2016 in St Ives, I’m really pleased to announce that I’ll be co-tutoring another residential poetry course at Treloyhan Manor Hotel in St Ives, from the 20th-26th February 2017.  I’m very excited to announce that my co-tutor this year will be the fabulous poet David Tait.  The price of the course is £430 and this includes accommodation, breakfast, three-course evening meals, workshops and evening readings, including a mid-week reading from a mystery guest poet. I’m expecting the places for this course to be booked very quickly, as David is on a rare visit to the UK from his current place of residence in China.

David is a good friend of mine, and I’m really looking forward to working with him.  Just in case you don’t know anything about him, David Tait was a winner in the 2010 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition with his pamphlet Love’s Loose Ends.  His first full-length collection Self-Portrait with the Happiness was published by Smith/Doorstop in 2014 and was subsequently shortlisted for both the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and The Polari First Book Award.  His most recent pamphlet Three Dragon Day won the 2015 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition and was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award.   He was “House Poet” at Manchester Royal Exchange for the Carol Ann Duffy & Friends poetry series between 2010 – 2013 and is a recipient of an Eric Gregory Award.  He lives in Nanjing, China, where he works in Adult Education.


I’ll be announcing the theme of the residential week and the timetable very soon, so please watch this space!

If you would like to book a place on the course, please contact Treloyhan Manor Hotel on 01736 796240.  If you have any questions about the course, you can contact me via my Contact page.


A Review of the 2015 Poetry Carousel

A Review of the 2015 Poetry Carousel


The poet Elisabeth Sennit Clough was one of the 32 participants on last year’s sold out Poetry Carousel.  I asked Elisabeth to write an account of what the experience was like.  If you’ve been debating about whether to come, this is a must-read! Elisabeth is a fantastic poet, and has a pamphlet forthcoming after winning the Paper Swans Pamphlet Competition in 2016.

This year’s team of tutors are myself, Clare Shaw and Dutch poets Saskia Stehouwer and Tsead Bruinja.  You can find more information about the 2016 Carousel here

2015 Poetry Carousel

by Elisabeth Sennit Clough

Cumbria is about as geographically and aesthetically distant from my present home in a West Norfolk village as possible, but a current obsession with poetry retreats compelled me to abandon my husband and three children and travel to Grange-over-Sands for the weekend.

As I trundled my case along the short distance from Kents Bank Station to Abbots Hall Hotel, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I couldn’t remove the definition of ‘carousel’ from my mind: 1) a merry-go-round at a fair or 2) a conveyor system at an airport from which arriving passengers collect their luggage.  

On the first evening, we were assigned to groups and stayed in those groups as we rotated through the four workshops (the premise of the poetry carousel being to move around four workshops, each with a different tutor). Like the merry-go-round, it had the potential to be great fun while it lasted – or, like the baggage carousel, it could just go round and round monotonously and I could end up right back where I started (I have an ambivalent relationship with airport carousels). 

My first workshop was with Kim. In my group were fellow MMU student Hilary Hares (whom I’d met on a Teaching Creative Writing Course) and Helen Kay – whom I had never met – but had corresponded with about the Nantwich Festival. Given how small the UK poetry world is, it was somewhat inevitable (and lovely) that I would bump into familiar names and faces.

The coincidences continued: Kim is a huge Philip Levine fan and I used to live in Fresno (where Philip Levine ran the MFA Programme at CSU). Kim adopted the title of Levine’s award winning collection What Work Is, articulating the lives of Detroit factory workers, for her workshop. What exactly is work? Our ice-breaker involved trying to answer that deceptively hard question. Having read poems such as ‘My People’ and ‘A Psalm for the Scaffolders’ in Kim’s The Art of Falling, I could see why work as a subject matter was important to her.

I learned that many people on the carousel had attended previous poetry workshops with Kim – a testament to her engaging teaching style and ability to put people at ease. For example, her workshop helped me find a way into writing successfully about a subject I’d been battling with for years; that is, my own experiences as a teenage factory worker.

Kim describes the carousel as promoting ‘a festival atmosphere in the evening, when we come together for dinner and readings from the tutors and invited guest poets.’ This is a very accurate description: in the evening, Kim read some of her work, along with guest-readers, Jennifer Copley and Lindsay Holland. Lindsay is co-editor of The Compass and one of six poets shortlisted for the 2015 Manchester Poetry Prize. After reading, each poet discussed aspects of her work: Jennifer, for example, has published collections with several different imprints and spoke about that experience, while Lindsay discussed long poems and the significance of thoroughly researching your subject matter.

My next group workshop (the following morning) was with Andrew Forster, the other editor of The Compass. Andrew’s ‘Encounters Workshop’ involved writing about ‘an encounter that made you see things differently.’ This inspired me to write a poem about a migrant farm worker that went on to be accepted by The Rialto. Andrew commented on the strength of voice in the poem and this gave me the confidence to continue developing the poem in the same tone.  

My third workshop was with Ian Duhig. His latest (and seventh!) collection, The Blind Roadmaker (about the incredible Jack Metcalf), is one of those books that I read initially because I was interested in the subject matter, but then found myself reading again and again just to admire the exceptional craft of it.

Ian’s workshop prompted me to take an imaginative leap with my subject matter (it’s the first poem I’ve written that’s set in space!), but this freed my poem from the constraints that were constantly working against me as I wrote. Another useful device for my toolkit involved possibly turning a negative outcome in a poem into a positive one. This inspired me to change the ending of one of my poems to great success. Now, when struggling with an ending, Ian’s voice pops into my head, asking, ‘what would its opposite be?’

My final workshop was with Amanda Dalton. Amanda helped me to focus on the drama in my poetry: where should I place the tension on my dramatic arc, for example? We used postcards as prompts and placed emphasis on movement (or not as in the example of my poem below from Amanda’s workshop). I wanted to capture the idea of stark animal nakedness, the sense of unpleasantness inside and out that I interpreted from Freud’s work.


Sleeping By the Lion Carpet

After a painting by Lucian Freud

Like the lioness, I am alert
to the alpha in this female, feigning sleep
in an armchair: how her flesh demands
attention from the artist’s brush.

I know the mind of a woman
like this – the way she plants
her ego on the floor, stands back
and laughs as you trip over it.

Her milk contains so much venom,
her thick-ankled daughters will grow up
to puncture the limbs of prettier girls
with the points of school compasses.

She has named them Immaculate
and Conception. She has no sex –
the artist has painted her:
a fat child with breasts.

Far from ending up right back where I started, the carousel took me to unexpected places. I learned a lot of new techniques, resulting from a combination of different teaching styles melding over the weekend. Several months on, I am still developing poems inspired by the carousel weekend and re-reading my notes. And yes, my head does still spin from time to time with all the new skills and poems I brought home.

Clare Shaw at Kendal Poetry Festival — Kendal Poetry Festival


When we applied for Arts Council funding last year, our venue, the Abbot Hall Art Gallery had a small cafe on site. However, Kendal suffered terribly in the floods, and the cafe at Abbot Hall is now unusable. Pauline and I have been working hard to research alternative arrangements for food and Blackwells have come […]

via Clare Shaw at Kendal Poetry Festival — Kendal Poetry Festival

Sunday Poem – Anna Lewis

Sunday Poem – Anna Lewis

I’m writing this very late at night, because instead of getting on with my blog post, I distracted myself with watching the highlights of the London marathon.  This is the first year I’ve not watched it on the television.  I’ve never ran a marathon, but I always like watching it.  I like watching the elite runners, the people who make it look easy and effortless.

I’ve been in London this weekend, and at one point this morning I was standing on the Southbank and could see the heads of the runners bobbing along across the river. I didn’t go across though – I was heading for my train, and wanted to go and investigate the poetry book section in Foyles.  The race had been going for a couple of hours at this point, and it felt a bit like going along to a party that had already started.

This week has been very eventful.  I was in London because I was on Cerys  Matthew’s show on BBC Radio 6 Music.  Although I was obviously very grateful to be invited, I’ve also been spending the last couple of months being absolutely terrified and winding myself up into a frenzy about the whole thing.  My main worry was that I would embarrass myself terribly.  I didn’t tell many people about it, and certainly didn’t announce it on social media, as I thought that would put more pressure on.

As it happens, it was a really good experience, and I’m glad I went out of my comfort zone, and pushed myself into doing it.  Cerys Matthews was really kind and enthusiastic – and seemingly effortless in her presenting style and the producers were really kind.  As an added bonus, I saw Jason Donovan as well, who was in the building recording an interview for Radio 2.  Anybody reading this who went to Leeds College of Music with me will remember that legendary night of our youth when Jason Donovan played at Branigans night club..sigh.  It was one of those nights that run into the morning without stopping. I’m sure Chesney Hawkes was performing there as well, but maybe I’m making that up.

If you would like to listen to the show (I can’t bear to) then you can find the show here – I think my bit starts about 30 minutes in.

On Thursday I had a reading in Sunderland as part of the Read Regional events.   It was nice to read with Andrew Forster as part of this event.  Here is a picture of the two of us posing with some Shakespeare quotes at the library in Sunderland.


I drove straight from Sunderland down to Leicester, to see my Dad, as he’s been ill last week, and spent most of it in hospital.  Anyone who knows my Dad knows he doesn’t like sitting still, and he doesn’t like not being able to go to work, so it was a shock to think of him being in bed all day.  I couldn’t come back before Thursday because of work but by the time I got to Leicester on Thursday evening, he’d been allowed out of hospital.  It has been nice to spend time down in Leicester and catch up with my parents, my nieces, great-nieces, nephews, sisters and brother-in-laws..

I went to London on Saturday afternoon and met my friend Jill.  We went to see a play called ‘The Hand of God’.  It was very bizarre – I definitely haven’t seen anything like it before and I’m still turning it over in my mind.  If I tell you there were puppets having sex on stage, you might get an idea about the kind of bizarre I’m talking about…

My good friend and excellent trumpet player Dave Boraston was playing in Poppies Fish and Chip Shop in Camden on Saturday night – if you are ever in Camden at the weekend, do go and get some fish and chips and listen to the live bands that they have playing every Friday and Saturday night.  Jill and I went and caught the last half-hour of the band and then I restrained myself from drowning my nerves in beer and whisky, and we headed home.

The other rather exciting thing that happened this weekend was that my book was reviewed in The Daily Mail.  It was a lovely review by the writer Bel Mooney, and I think it’s great that poetry reviews are getting into newspapers which will be read by the general public.  Plus I was reviewed next to Don Paterson and Shakespeare which is nothing to be sniffed at! You can find the review here.

So today’s Sunday Poem is by Anna Lewis, who I read with a while back at a reading in Leicester.  Her book ‘Other Harbours’, published by Parthian in 2012 has been languishing on my ‘books that I haven’t read yet’ bookshelf for a while now, but I finally got round to reading it last week and really enjoyed it. Her most recent pamphlet The Blue Cell, which contains poems on the lives of early medieval Welsh saints came out with the excellent Rack Press in 2015.


Lights Off – Anna Lewis

“Attention!  Dear comrades!  The City Council informs you that due to the accident at Chernobyl atomic power station in the city of Pripyat there are adverse radioactive conditions… For these reasons, from 2pm today buses will be sent in… Comrades, temporarily leaving your residences, please close all windows, switch off electric and gas devices, and turn off water.  Please observe calmness, organisation and order during this temporary evacuation.”
(Evacuation notice, Pripyat, Ukraine, 27th April 1986)


There was no flush of sea, no flames or ash,
no rats keeled over in the street.
An ordinary dawn and a southerly breeze;

we drank tea on the balcony,
watched the boys pedal figures-of-eight
in the courtyard below.  Cars burred and
dogs lolled by the fountain, long-tongued –

it was that kind of morning: Sunday, spring.
Later that day, of course, we wedged holdalls
and rucksacks between our feet, and sat back
on black-and-brown tiger-print seats

as the coach eased away from the kerb,
with a faint stink of ashtray, sawdust
and trapped, rattled sun.  At every corner
more coaches were boarding;

we lifted the kids to our laps to wave at
the windows, their lagoons of mirrored cloud.
And that was that.  Taps tightened, lights off.

Keys turned and dropped in hip pockets
and one by one lost, or thrown out, or stowed
in dressers and chests in Kiev, in Malyn,

in Lutsk: reduced, as the locks they had fitted
rusted and froze, to a small shock of cold
at the back of a drawer.

I think this poem is wonderful.  The evacuation notice at the beginning of the poem really helps build that sense of how bizarre the whole situation must have been, and then the poem goes on to capture that sense of the extraordinary happening on a very ordinary day.  There are some fantastic images in the poem as well – I love the image of the boys turning figure of eights in the courtyard and the black and brown tiger print seats.

I think the ‘voice’ of the poem is very believable as well.  There is a colloquial tone which holds it all together ‘It was that kind of morning’ and ‘Later that day, of course’.  Some poems feel as if they are speaking directly in the ear of the reader, and I think this is one of those poems, even though the subject matter lifts it from a personal anecdote to something universal and important.

There is something incredibly sad in the idea of those people carefully locking up houses, leaving with only ‘rucksacks and holdalls’, not knowing that they would not return.  And then there is that wonderful final image of the keys as a ‘small shock of cold at the back of the drawer’.

If you would like to order Other Harbours, you can buy it directly from Parthian Press for a mere £7.99 which strikes me as a bargain!  If you’d like to find out more about Anna Lewis, you can head over to her website.

Thanks to Anna for letting me use her poem, and do feel free to comment below and let me know what you think.


Sunday Poem – Katrina Naomi

Sunday Poem – Katrina Naomi

Today has consisted of an 11k run in the morning, and then stripping wallpaper from a ceiling in my living room.  We started stripping the wallpaper off the actual walls in this room a while ago, which wasn’t too traumatizing, until we got to the ceiling.  Why would anybody wallpaper a ceiling anyway?  And why would they do it 5 times??  The husband decided to use the washing line pole and gaffa tape it to the steamer so that I could steam while he stood on the ladder and scraped.  I can’t stand on the ladder as I get vertigo so his ingenious invention meant the end of my excuses as to why I couldn’t possibly help with this most boring of jobs.  I told him that every time I steamed another patch of wallpaper, a poem was dying, but he was deaf to my complaints.  We have finally finished and now await the whims of the plasterer to sort out the various holes in the ceiling and walls of the room.

So I haven’t done any writing today, apart from catching up with emails.  I’m busy planning for the Poetry Carousel , which will be happening very soon (August 16th-19th).  In case you’ve just started following this blog, the Poetry Carousel is a residential course with a difference.  It ran for the first time last December and was a success, with all 32 spaces being filled.  I hope we can replicate that again this year with guest tutors including the wonderful Clare Shaw, from Hebden Bridge, and international poets Tsead Bruinja and Saskia Stehouwer from Amsterdam.

Each participant will take part in a 2 hour workshop with each tutor over the four days.  There will be readings in the evenings from the tutors and guest poets.  Workshop groups will be limited to 10 people per workshop.  I will be releasing information about the workshops that we’ll be running next week.  The carousel is a bargain at only £330.  This includes all workshops, accommodation, and breakfast and evening meals.

If you can’t make the Poetry Carousel, then I’m running another course at the hotel with tutor Jennifer Copley (October 24th-28th).  This is a more traditional residential course, limited to 16 participants.  The theme is ‘From Ordinary to Extraordinary‘ and costs £424, to include workshops, accommodation and breakfast and evening meals.

Places for both courses have been selling steadily over the last couple of months, and the hotel have advised early booking to get the nicest rooms!

Although today has been devoid of any poetry, last week was filled with it.  I went to a reading in Grasmere on Wednesday, organised by the wonderful Deborah Hobbs.  Six Cumbrian poets reading – Nick Pemberton, Mark Carson, Jennifer Copley, Mark Ward, Polly Atkin and Deborah – all very different, but very enjoyable to listen to.  Then on Wednesday I went over to Lancaster for an April Poets reading – Carole Coates was launching her fabulous collection ‘Jacob’ which I read yesterday afternoon and couldn’t put down – more on that next week.  Meg Peacock was also launching her New and Selected, which was also very interesting.  One of her poems, ‘Thirteenth Night‘ is one of those poems which is enjoyable no matter how many times you hear it, like listening to a favourite song, so I was really happy when she read it to finish off.  The musician who was playing at April Poets was absolutely fantastic, and it would have been worth the hour and a half drive from Barrow to hear him alone, although sadly  I can’t remember his name now.  Mike Barlow and Ron Scowcroft, the organisers of April Poets also read, celebrating a successful series of events, before they handed over the organisers baton to the new April Poets team, David Borrott and Sarah Hymas.  It will be interesting to see what direction David and Sarah take the April Poets event next.

The highlight of my week this week was reading in Chorlton for Manky Poets, run by Copland Smith, another great organiser-poet.  The event started off with an open-mic, where nearly everyone in the 20 plus audience got up and read one poem, the only rule being that the introduction couldn’t be longer than the poem.  The readers were so well-behaved that there was time to go around again – it was a really varied and interesting open mic.

When Liz Berry was here last weekend, we talked a lot about performing, or reading your poetry.  It struck me when I saw Liz read that she really ‘inhabits’ her poems.  I can’t really describe what I mean by this, except to say I know it when I see it.  Clare Shaw does it.  Helen Mort does it, Steve Ely does it.  It feels impossible to put my finger on exactly what I mean – something to do with commitment to the poem, sitting inside the skin of the poem, speaking from within the poem.  Anyway, I want to inhabit my poems more – I think I do it sometimes, but maybe not enough, and maybe it is dependent on circumstances, whether I feel comfortable or confident on that particular day.  I think I must have done something however because I managed to sell 12 books and 3 pamphlets, which I was very pleased about, and I’m sure it is connected, the sales and the inhabiting of poems when you read them I mean.


I got a lovely package in the post this week from my editor Amy Wack.  She sent me copies of new collections by Ilse Pedlar, Judy Brown and Katrina Naomi.  I’ve managed to read all three this week and would recommend all of them. I’m hoping that I will be able to feature a poem from all three poets on the blog in the next couple of weeks, so you can judge for yourself.

I read Katrina’s collection first which is called The Way the Crocodile Taught Me.  I’ve been looking forward to this collection coming out for ages, as I knew that Katrina has been working on a Phd on violence in poetry, which I’m assuming this collection is part of. Katrina’s PhD thesis is very readable, very interesting, and available online!  You can find a link to a PDF of the thesis here, on Katrina’s website.

I am interested in the way that violence, particularly domestic violence is explored and portrayed in poetry.  The statistics on domestic violence are grim – 1 in 4 women in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. 1 in 4.  That means of the 16 girls in my class of little trumpet players, 4 of them will experience domestic violence.  That is heartbreaking

I’m glad it’s being written about more now, although I can count the poets who have written about domestic violence one hand.  Katrina explores how childhood can be impacted by domestic violence in her collection.  The poem that I’ve chosen for the Sunday Poem is heartbreaking – the violence is both subtle and explicit.  The controlling behaviour of the stepfather is detailed in the middle of the poem, but the atmosphere of threat and tension is set up right from the first line,  when we read ‘You lie underneath him’, and later, this is elaborated on: ‘his 17 stones/pressing down on you’.

The sadness in this poem is unbearable – the line ‘I can’t talk to you,/knowing he’s also there, listening’ contrasts with the beautiful image at the end of the words ‘in a flotilla of paper boats’.  I love this image, the idea of words being the thing that you send to communicate, and the feeling of moving on created by the idea of the boats.

When I got to the end of this poem, with its lines about forgiveness, I had to put the book down and catch my breath. The idea of forgiveness, of blame, responsibility and guilt is something I’ve tried to explore in my own poems about this subject, and there is something complicated being explored here about responsibility and blame, and victims and perpetrators.

If you would like to know more about Katrina, you can have a look at her website here. She has a background in human rights, was the first writer-in-residence at the Bronte Parsonage Museum and holds a PhD in creative writing from Goldsmiths.  Her debut collection The Girl with the Cactus Handshake received an Arts Council Award and was shortlisted for the London New Poetry Award.  She has also published prize-winning pamphlets.  Katrina is a Hawthornden Fellow and a lecturer at Falmouth university.  She is orginally from Margate and lives in Cornwall.

If you would like to order the collection, you can get 20% off if you order direct from Seren here.  I hope you enjoy the poem, and thanks to Katrina for letting me use it this week.

Letter to my Mother – Katrina Naomi

You lie underneath him,
a measure of mud between you.

This was our final argument – his and mine –
your husband/my step-father.

I’m told of a double headstone,
which I haven’t visited,

since I held my neice’s hand,
threw a lily and a tablespoon of chalky soil

on your lid.  I can’t talk to you,
knowing he’s also there, listening,

as he always did: the click
of the extension by your bed, the reading

out of my letters and your replies.
All these years, his 17 stones

pressing down on you, crushing
the soil between you.

I talk to you when I cross the Thames,
looking right to Shooters Hill –

Kent’s north edge.  I send you my words
in a flotilla of paper boats.  I forgive you,

I always have.  I forgive you
for marrying him.

Sunday Poem – John Foggin


Last week has been unusual for me because I’ve managed to get some writing done.  It’s not a surprise that this has coincided with the school holidays.  Although I only teach two days a week, which doesn’t sound like very much, it has made a difference not teaching. I have felt less stressed, less rushed, less guilty (about not doing enough), less pressured. When I think about the various things in my life – working as a music teacher, working as a poet, and actually writing, I know the writing time always gets squeezed.  It is always the thing that is sacrificed, if something has to give.

This hasn’t happened this week though, and I’ve got lots done.  I’ve edited some  poems that have been sat waiting for me to take a scalpel to them and managed to get a submission of six poems to send to a magazine that I haven’t tried before.  I’ve got another set of six that I want to work on and get sent out at some point this week.

I found out in the last couple of weeks that I’d been longlisted in the National Poetry Competition, the last 138 out of 13,000 poems so that was a confidence boost for my new work.  I’ve sent that poem to another competition now to see if it can get any closer.

I don’t know if anybody else has had this experience but after my collection came out, and I had a gap of not writing, and then eventually started writing again, it feels like I’m having to relearn how to write, edit, and submit poems.  I’m having to go over all the old tricks to get myself to send the poems out into the world instead of hanging onto them.  I feel much more protective of them now than I used to.  When I was first starting out, I used to send poems out as quickly as I could.  It was like shooting arrows over and over again into the dark.  Nobody noticed what I was doing and I had a whole load of arrows to throw about the place.  Now I feel like I’m heading out in broad daylight, cradling one poem at a time in my arms.

Last week I told you all I had an interview but couldn’t say what it was for.  Well, I had the interview and it was terrifying, although the people interviewing me were lovely and friendly and actually very encouraging.  I still can’t say what it is for, as I don’t find out whether I’ve got it or not until May. Since the day of the interview, it’s been taking me ages to get to sleep as well – this usually happens when I work myself up – my mind goes round and round, worrying away at things.


I’ve done quite a bit of running this week as well – a six mile beach run on Monday, ten miles around the country roads on Wednesday, five miles on Friday and five miles today.  I also did my last live chat for the Poetry School online course which I’ve been running on Thursday.  I’m running the same course face-to-face in Manchester in the summer term for The Poetry School.  It sold out online, so I’m hoping it will be as popular face to face.  I’m looking forward to getting the train to Manchester and being able to read and write on the train on the way there – it will be just like the old days when I was doing my MA at Manchester Met.

The brochures for Kendal Poetry Festival were printed and delivered on Friday, so it was a very exciting Brewery Poets session this Friday when we all got to see the brochures.  They are beautiful! And they smell really good.  I haven’t been able to stop looking at them this weekend.  Organising a festival is a bit like that game where you hit the things that pop up and then another one pops up somewhere else.  Pauline and I sort one problem out, and another one pops up.  Pauline and I like to let out our stress by ringing each other and swearing down the phone – not at each other, just at Life.  Anyway, so far, we are keeping the wagon that is the poetry festival running smoothly down the road.

Last night was A Poem and a Pint with the wonderful poet Liz Berry.  Liz arrived on Saturday afternoon and we managed to squeeze a visit in to Piel Island before we went to Ulverston for the reading.  If you haven’t seen Liz perform, make it your business to this year.  She is a fantastic reader, and seems to really inhabit her poems when she is reading.  Right from the first poem, a silence settled over the room.  It sounds cheesy, but it really was like a spell being cast.  We had a great turn out at the Laurel and Hardy museum, which must get the prize for the quirkiest venue for a poetry reading!

So today’s Sunday Poem is the lovely John Foggin, who often can be found commenting on this blog, or writing his own blog over at The Great Fogginzo’s Cobweb.  I’ve been meaning to feature one of John’s poems for ages, as he had a new pamphlet Outlaws and Fallen Angels, published by Calder Valley Press a couple of months ago.

I’ve known John for a few years now and he has been a good friend who is always full of enthusiasm for poetry and poets.  He lives in Osset, West Yorkshire, and organises the Puzzle Hall Poets in Sowerby Bridge.  He’s won first prizes in The Plough (2013 and 2014), the Camden/Lumen 2014 prize, the McLellan 2015 poetry prize and the Ilkley Litfest 2015 competition.  This list is probably out of date already – knowing John he has won something else and not said anything.  He has some other pamphlet out as well Running Out of Space, Backtrack

This latest pamphlet concerns itself with responding to works of art and sculptures, and the poem I’ve chosen for today ‘Miss Muriel Foster’ is one of three poems in the pamphlet which explore the life of the artist J.W. Waterhouse.  A note in the pamphlet tells me that Waterhouse died of inoperable cancer in 1917, by which time his work had become unfashionable, it declined in value until the 1950’s, although it has since sold for millions at auction.  Waterhouse painted scenes from myth and legend, and from the poetry of Keats and Tennyson.  The next poem is in the voice of Waterhouse and the poem after that is in the voice of his wife – but you’ll have to buy the pamphlet to read those two.

Muriel Foster  was ‘the painter’s famous model, and ‘sat’ for Waterhouse from 1892 until his death.  Trained as a nurse in the late 1890s, she died, aged 90 in a nursing home in St. Leonards on Sea.’

In this poem, John gives Muriel Foster a voice.  As she is rather a mysterious figure, I’m guessing most of the poem is conjecture, but I think John does an excellent job of putting himself into the mind of Muriel.  Also, any poem which mentions the excellent book and subsequent brilliant film The Water Babies deserves a perfect 10 in my opinion.  It’s on a par to getting a sly reference to Watership Down in there.

I know John is as obsessed with Ovid as I am, although maybe for different reasons.  The idea of transformation, and transformation by another runs throughout this poem, although Muriel, the transformed, seems to welcome and enjoy the way she is changed by Waterhouse.  Transformation in Ovid is violent and brutal – here it seems like an escape from a normal and conventional life.

If you would like to order John’s pamphlet, you can do so from Calder Valley Poetry by emailing Bob Horne at  Calder Valley Poetry is a brand new and rather exciting pamphlet press, who have also just launched a new pamphlet Werewolf by Steve Ely.  I haven’t read this yet, but I’ve been told it’s brilliant!

That is me, all blogged out.  Underneath the poem, you’ll find one of Waterhouse’s paintings.  Hope you enjoy the poem!

Miss Muriel Foster – John Foggin

He asked if he might do a pencil sketch;
a simple head and shoulders;
and my hair would grace ‘his mermaid’;
told me of a vision of combed silk,
of autumn-umber leaves against white skin,
a sea impossibly green and cold,
iridescent scales, warm flesh. . .
and it seemed that I could hear the mermaid’s song
and that I sang it.
So, suddenly, I said I’d sit for him.  Unclothed.
That’s how things came to be.  That first time.

You know The Water Babies? Yes?
You see, I thought that as a water child,
like Tom, or Ellie,
I would be unafraid –
no, unaware – of nakedness.
So, I imagined
high grey crags, sweet turf, the limestone beck,
and how poor Tom, all hot and trammelled
became so cool and clean.
It was simply done.
How to put it?
All was loose and lovely.

Stillness? Quiet? I’d always loved the Meeting’s
silences. And, oh, his eyes were grave
and serious. I think I never felt so much
myself before. I think I never felt so real.

So many sittings, so much peace. Such dreams.
So many stories in that steady gaze.
He transfigured me; I was Danae
inaccessible in a tower until Zeus came
in a shower of gold.. and so was set adrift…

Naiad, dryad, temptress, nymph, Ophelia;
so many lives he drew for me to live
in his quiet studio; or even, by a river bank,
La belle dame sans merci; my kneeling knight
in all his heraldry, his armour softly gleaming,
and the air starred with flowers, a heart on my sleeve,
my living hair ensnaring him, there in the dark copse,
and I pulling him close, and his eyes so dark.
Oh my.

In all those years among the weak, the hurt
along the wards,soiled dressings,
starch and metal, antiseptic air, I knew
that there were always other worlds
that only he and I could make.

The last work that I did for him
was never finished.The Enchanted Garden.
There I stoop to prove
the scent of one pale rose.
Never kissed his living face.

He was my Hylas, and I, desire multipled.
See how he painted me. Each nymph
wears a flower in her hair,
but I the only one to wear a rose.
The one who holds his hand, who clasps his arm,
is me. Or who I used to be.



Blog Post From Kendal Poetry Festival

Blog Post From Kendal Poetry Festival

Below is the latest blog post from the directors of Kendal Poetry Festival (myself and Pauline Yarwood)  If you would like to receive regular updates from the Festival Team, please head over to our website, and sign up to our email list using the contact form provided
“Our programme went live just over a week ago, and we’ve been really pleased by the reaction and messages of support that we’ve received over the last week.  Sales are going really well.  The Poetry Business Workshop on Saturday morning has now sold out, but for those of you who didn’t manage to get a ticket for this workshop, there are still tickets left for Jane Routh’s ‘Tuning In’ discussion at 11am.  If you are a hardened poetry festival fan who likes going to everything before passing out from exhaustion, then have a look at our Weekend Passes, which will get you entry into all four Main Readings and the three Discussions.  There are only 15 of these Weekend Passes left, and we won’t be releasing any more once they have gone, so please book quickly if you would like to take advantage of this offer.

One thing that we believe makes our festival unique is the inclusion of young writers throughout the festival.  Members of Dove Cottage Young Poets meet once a fortnight to read and discuss poetry and write their own poetry with Kim Moore, one of the Kendal Poetry Festival Directors.  The group is funded by The Wordsworth Trust and this year they’ve already performed with Ian McMillan at the ‘Picture the Poet’ exhibition.

We believe they will bring a unique energy and enthusiasm to the festival, and at least one Dove Cottage Young Poet will be performing at every Main Reading.  If you’re wondering what young people write about, we can tell you their subjects range far and wide.  They’re writing about sexism and feminism, politics and relationships, family and the impact of the media.

When we were putting together the programme for the festival, we considered giving the Dove Cottage Young Poets a separate event but we decided we wanted them to feel part of the whole festival, and part of the wider writing community in Kendal.

This is one strand of the festival that we’re really looking forward to developing and growing over the next few years (assuming we’re crazy enough to do this all again!)  We asked Dove Cottage Young Poets to send in an application to be our Young Poet-in-Residence this year, and friend of the festival David Tait read through their poems and personal statements, and after much deliberation selected Hannah Hodgson, pictured at the top of this post.  Hannah will perform at the Launch of the Festival, and will also perform alongside Clare Shaw and Hilda Sheehan on Saturday afternoon.  She will also receive mentoring from Clare Shaw as part of her residency.

In the judges report David Tait said:

Hannah Hodgson’s poems here are sparsely furnished, small artefacts with odd yet particular details: alphabet spaghetti, a wish that the brain could talk, words slipping through a back gate, Alzheimer’s and what a ring should and shouldn’t mean. I like that the poems tackle big themes but remain small. Each word is weighted just so. There’s a lot of potential here.

We asked Hannah to send us a poem to feature on the blog and to write a couple of paragraphs talking about what inspired her to write the poem.  Here is Hannah’s poem, followed by her own words on the thought process behind the poem.

Hair – Hannah Hodgson

I am a farmer with a plough,
as strands fall like beads of perfume. I notice
it balling up on the brush, and take these
tumbleweeds to see the doctor.
They check my scalp, and I feel like a
weeded garden patch. Each morning I notice my
ponytail shrinking like a sun set, and wonder
how many of us there are. How many
stare at combs like exam results. How many
feel like autumn trees.

The inspiration for this poem is actually very personal. I have an ongoing chronic medical condition that means I have fluctuating health. Recently I had a dip. I noticed that my hair was falling out as I brushed it or as I styled it. Thankfully, this has stopped now, but it did get me thinking. No matter how much you say you aren’t bothered about how you look, you really do. It shocked me that the fact  my hair was falling out upset me more than the fact I was so unwell.

Hair is something that is so personal. You can show your personality so easily, cut it and shape it however you want to, curl it, straighten it, dye it. You can even challenge stereotypes with it. I am toying with the idea dying my hair with pink streaks for the summer. Everyone I have told has been shocked, even going as far as saying it was so unlike me. My hairdresser even refused to do it for me, saying she didn’t think I was ‘that kind’ of person. What does that even mean? My hair belongs to me, and your hair belongs to you.

Losing some hair really put into perspective the emotional impact of illness. People with cancer or alopecia go through so much physically, but also mentally. I think sometimes this part of illness – the personal part – is often ignored. Who would have thought that something as simple as brushing your hair would be a the most anxious part of your day? I never understood how it felt to have that part of your personality under threat until it happened to me. I wrote this poem to try and give people who suffer from hair loss a voice.


Sunday Poem – Meg Cox

Sunday Poem – Meg Cox

I can’t believe it is already the end of the first week of the Easter Holidays.  I’m feeling much better than I was feeling last Sunday which is a relief.  The last week has been a busy one, leaving me wondering how I fit my two days teaching in.

On Monday my twin sister came down.  Last time I saw her she had green hair.  This week she has purple hair – who knows what it will be next week! She was taking a well deserved break from the animal rescue centre which she manages.  I made Beef Bourgignon for Jody and her husband Matt and didn’t poison them.  Or at least I haven’t heard that I have so far.

I had a Kendal Poetry Festival meeting on Tuesday  with Pauline Yarwood and the website designer Claire, which took a good part of the day – mainly discussing website and social media.  I managed to make some sweet potato and carrot soup in my slow cooker and again, didn’t poison any of my guests so was quite pleased with myself.

On Wednesday I had another poetry visitor – the lovely Clare Shaw, who was holidaying in the Lake District and came by to work on a proposal we are putting together for a project.  By this point, I’d exhausted my culinary skills and couldn’t face the thought of cooking again, so it was a great excuse to go to my favourite Thai takeaway.

My writing life has been busy this week as well.  I found out that I’ve got an interview next Tuesday for something that I’ve applied for, that I really want to do.  I’ve not had many interviews – I can probably count the amount of interviews I’ve had on one hand in fact, and I wouldn’t say I’m brilliant at them, so I’m quite nervous.  I do feel different about this one though, more determined not to let it pass me by, so I’m hoping this will be enough to get me through it successfully.

On Thursday I went to Methley in  Leeds and read to a book group. I met the lovely poet Linda France who did an ‘Exploring Poetry’ session with the group before I arrived there.  She had obviously done a good job because the group were very receptive, despite many of them saying they’d never been to a poetry reading before.  I sold 3 books that night and drove back home, getting back  around 1am.

On Friday I ran a Dove Cottage Young Poets session in Kendal and then drove over to Lancaster for the North-West Literary Salon, a reading series set up by Yvonne Battle-Felton and Naomi Kruger during their time at Lancaster University as PhD students.  I stupidly got the time wrong, assuming it started at 7.30pm instead of 7pm.  Luckily a friend rang at 7pm to see where I was (stuck on Lancaster’s one way system) and I dumped the car in a side street and ran about half a mile through town, lade down with books.  I eventually arrived at about 7.2opm.   Yvonne and Naomi were very kind and forgiving about it and had taken my late arrival in their stride, inviting the audience to eat first instead of later, so everybody seemed pretty happy when I got there.

The event had apparently sold out and sells out every month. I was reading with Deborah Andrews, a novelist based in Lancaster.  I really enjoyed the extracts from her novel, which is out next month and will definitely buy a copy once it is published.  It was interesting reading with a novelist as well – I’ve never done this before, but I connected with some of the themes that Deborah is exploring in her novel. I went for a drink in the pub afterwards, reasoning that Lancaster practically feels round the corner from Barrow (1 hour and 15 minutes away) after my three and a half hour drive to Leeds the night before.

Yesterday I ran my Barrow Poetry Workshop.  17 people this month – and two cancelled because of sickness so it is starting to get busy.  I like the beginning of the day, before the workshop starts, when everyone is talking and getting cups of tea and spilling sugar and catching up on the news.  I obviously like the rest of the day as well, but the beginning, before anybody has written a word, always seems so full with possibilities.

The quality of the work produced was excellent as usual.  I even did a little bit of writing during the workshop and felt motivated enough to do some more quite late last night.  I typed two new poems up from my notebook.  I haven’t looked at them again yet – I like to leave them in my folder now for a couple of days without looking at them so that they feel new when I come back to them.

As well as whizzing about between Kendal, Leeds and Lancaster I’ve also done quite a bit of running this week – my target is to try and run 40 kilometres each week, which I have managed (40.6 this week). I’ve been for a 13km run this morning which I really enjoyed, then got back, walked the dogs and then sat and obsessed about my interview.

Plans for next week include more Kendal Poetry Festival meetings, meeting a friend I haven’t seen for ages, the last Poetry School chat for my online course ‘What Work Is’, Brewery Poets meeting, a Barrow Shipyard Junior Band concert and A Poem and a Pint with the wonderful Liz Berry as our guest poet.

Today’s Sunday Poem is actually two Sunday Poems.  Although I usually stick to my strict rule of only picking one poem, I figured I could get away with it this week because Meg’s poems are quite short, and usually very funny.  I met Meg for the first time in February down in St Ives on the residential course I ran with Steve Ely.

On the last night of the course, when the participants read their own poems, Meg had the room in stitches with her poetry – not just the words but the dry delivery as well.  I went and bought her pamphlet straight away because I enjoyed the reading so much.

Both of these poems come from Meg’s pamphlet ‘Looking Over My Shoulder at Sodom’ published by Grey Hen Press and available to buy for a very reasonable £4.  The first poem I’ve chosen ‘The Best Medicine’ is one Meg read on the course.   I love the description of the mother shouting up the stairs to get the two children to go to sleep, to stop laughing, maybe because this is something my twin sister and I used to do- try to make each other laugh instead of going to sleep.  There is something wonderfully ridiculous in the mother’s shout towards the children to ‘Stop laughing now’.

The second poem is in a different tone altogether, much more reflective and quiet but it still has the sharp observation and unusual way of looking at things that many of the poems in this pamphlet have.  It is a beautifully optimistic poem – optimistic about poetry and continuity.  The children are surprisingly vivid with that line ‘bare legged in the rain.’
A new website has sprung up, developed by Robert Peake called ‘Poet Tips‘.  The ‘About’ page of the website says:

“Poet Tips is a website for recommending poets. By collecting “tips” about poets that are similar, we create an interface to information about poetry online—a kind of poet-wide web to browse and make discoveries. The goal is to help you find a new favourite poet to read, much like a trusted and knowledgeable friend.”

Anyone can add a poet – so if I look up myself it says ‘If you like Kim Moore you might also like David Tait, Clare Shaw, Helen Mort, John Foggin’ etc etc.  One poet who I think is a little like Meg Cox in the sense of a dry humour running through both of their poetry, is the late poet Graham Austin, published by HappenStance.  I’m going to try and add a Sunday Poet to the Poet Tips website each week, just for fun.  You can also vote on the Poet Tips and say whether you agree with them or not! It’s an interesting website or a brilliant distraction, depending on how you look at it!

Anyway, here are Meg’s poems.  I hope you enjoy them!


It must be genetic
that just lying on our backs
made me and my brother laugh.
When we had adjoining bedrooms
our mother would shout up the stairs
stop reading now and go to sleep.
Later she would shout again
Stop laughing now.

Adult, I went to yoga classes
and at the end we had to lie
on our backs on our mats and relax
doing yogic breathing, but before long
I was asked to leave before that part –
disruptive to meditation.

Come to think of it
lying on my back laughing
has caused me quite a bit of trouble
in the past.



Perhaps my dogs

that sit at the gate
every morning and bark

will live again
some years from now
in a poem by one of those children
who this morning waits
opposite my field gate
for the school bus

bare legged in the rain.