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,