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.