Monthly Archives: May 2016

Sunday Poem – John McCullough

Sunday Poem – John McCullough

I’m writing this in the garden this week, in dazzling sunshine, so if there are more spelling mistakes than usual, you will have to excuse them – I am slightly blinded by the light.  I’ve also had some visitors this week – I’m looking after two of my sisters terriers, so there are four terriers currently running around the house.

My main news this week is I’ve been awarded full funding for 3 years from Manchester Metropolitan University to do a PhD in Poetry.  The PhD is full-time and when I went for the interview, I’d already made the decision that if I got it, I would hand my notice in as a brass teacher.   So, although I’ve known for about 2 weeks, I’ve spent those 2 weeks handing my notice in at Cumbria Music Service, telling my schools and the staff that I work with, and then finally, telling the 300 odd children that I teach.

It might sound strange, but it feels like this is the first time in my life I’ve committed to just one thing.  I think this is why I keep myself busy, I like to have lots of things on the go – teaching trumpet, conducting bands, playing in bands, writing poetry, reading at festival, running workshops, because then if any of them go wrong for whatever reason, something else that I do will catch me and be my safety net.

When I was 21 I auditioned to to a post-graduate degree at various music colleges.  I didn’t get in – I wasn’t ready, having spent my years at Leeds College of Music playing transcriptions of Chet Baker solos instead of the orchestral excerpts I should have been learning.  An amazing trumpet player, John Holland who was the Principal Trumpet of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (as well as teaching at Birmingham Conservatoire) said he would take me on privately and get me ready to audition the year after for a post-grad.

When you are 21 a year seems like a lifetime, and although I went to John for lessons for a year, and although at the time I thought I had committed my whole heart to it, looking back now I think I was deluding myself.  I decided I would do a PGCE in Birmingham at the same time, as a safety net, so I would always have something to fall back on.  As anybody knows who has done a PGCE, they are really hard work, and very time consuming.  When I look back now, it kind of breaks my heart.  I was 21 and should have believed I could do anything,but I bottled it, and did the sensible thing.

I did my PGCE in Secondary Music, specialising in Instrumental Tuition and I enjoyed it.  I only practised maybe one or two hours a day instead of the three or four I should have been doing.  At the end of the year, I didn’t audition to do a post-grad, although there was nothing I wanted to do more.  I decided to get a job as a full-time brass teacher instead, telling myself I could go back and do a post-grad, once I’d earned some money.

That isn’t the full story, of course.  There were other things going on as well.  I was in an abusive relationship while I was in Birmingham, and maybe it is not surprising that I didn’t have the self-belief or confidence to audition to do what I wanted to do.  Looking back, I can’t believe I finished the PGCE under those circumstances.  I wanted to teach as well, of course.  I enjoyed teaching, and even if I’d got onto a post-grad course, I probably would have taught eventually, most musicians do.  My point is, I bottled out of trying.

When I was between 16 and 18 I had a lovely brass teacher called Paul Bennett.  He had long hair that he tied in a pony tail and he was always rushing around between schools and gigs.  He gave me my first paid gig playing 2nd Trumpet in Singing in the Rain when I was 17, and then I’d regularly play 2nd trumpet with him in shows.  His life seemed very glamorous and I remember thinking I’d like to do that.  I’d like to rush around teaching and going through the drive through at McDonalds because there was no time to eat anything else (yes, McDonalds did seem glamorous to me age 17)

So I left the abusive relationship behind, far behind and moved up to Barrow and began teaching brass full time.  I don’t know why I’m writing all of this, except it all fits somehow, with finally committing myself and not leaving myself a safety net.  Maybe I wouldn’t have started writing if I’d done that when I was 21, and I know things happen for a reason, but if I could go back to my 21 year old self, I would tell her – what would I tell her? Maybe not to plan for the future so much.  To chill out a little bit, and just do what you enjoy at the time.  To not be afraid of what you really want to do.

I’ve loved the 13 years I’ve spent teaching.  I am a completely different person to the 22 year old who moved up here, alone and not knowing anybody.  I want to say that I was damaged and traumatised when I came here, after that relationship, which sounds melodramatic.  I was damaged and traumatised, and an expert at hiding it.

Somewhere in all of what I’ve just written, is the reason why I am finally leaving my teaching job, after gradually reducing my hours for years, after trying to juggle music and poetry. I haven’t worked it out myself yet, and it is not just about time, or feeling guilty that I’m not giving enough.  It’s something about finally, irrevocably admitting what I really want to do, and going for it, without a safety net, or a Plan B to fall back on.



I’m sure I’ll be writing a lot more about this in the future – and about my PhD.  My working title at the minute is Poetry and Everyday Sexism.  I’m interested in writing poems about annoying small acts of everyday sexism, and what happens if we elevate this into poetry.  I went in and did a voluntary workshop in a men’s prison this week and had an amazing afternoon – thought-provoking, challenging, and moving.  I’d love to go in again as part of my PhD and work with the prisoners on ideas about masculinity, which I think would work really well with the poems I’ve started writing about sexism and interrogating my own reaction to it.

So the Sunday Poem today is by John McCullough.  I came upon this book by chance, when I was in London a couple of weeks ago, and having a look in the Waterstones (or is it Foyles?) on the South Bank.  The poetry section there is quite impressive and I bought John’s latest book, on the basis of the beautiful production values of Penned in the Margins (the publisher) and the first two poems, which I read there and then in the bookshop.

This is what bookshops should be for – to make new discoveries like this.  The first poem in John’s book is simply titled ! and explores the exclamation mark.  It is clever, and moving and original, but I kind of fell in love with this poem when I read it.  Wordpress is evil to format when there are spaces in the poem, so the fact that I’m going to try tells you how much I love this poem!

Flittermouse – John McCullough

That old English word for bat returns
******to me at sundown, beneath a screeching cloud.
Shapes zigzag while the moon watches, thirsts.
******I think of you with Samuel Johnson’s dictionary
beside a shelf, your long fingers splayed
******across the spine.  Unable to swallow
one entry, you squealed and burst the library’s
******hush, then froze, astounded by the echo.

You fled town three weeks later, disappeared
******without a text or email.  Flittermouse,
what happened? In which rooms do you track
******down words like insects now, combing books
and specialist websites, open-eared,
******as you wait for your own strange voice?

Maybe I love this poem because one of my favourite emotional states to read about in poetry or to try and capture in my own writing – a kind of mixture of longing, or regret, but not quite either of those things.  Not even yearning.  A word for the moment when life could have gone one way but went another.

I love the word ‘Flittermouse’ although I’d never heard it before reading this poem.  I also like that I felt like I knew something important and true about the ‘you’ of the poem, without knowing their name, or anything that would normally be considered important.  We know that the ‘you’ has ‘long fingers splayed’ and in excitement will squeal.  I wonder now if this poem is really all about knowing, or not knowing a person.  By the end of the poem, we read that the you is surprised by their ‘own strange voice’.

John McCullough’s first collection of poems The Frost Fairs was published by Salt in 2012 and won the Polari First Book Prize.  It was Book of the Year for The Independent and The Poetry School and a summer read for The Observer.  He teaches creative writing at the Open University and New Writing South, and lives in Hove, East Sussex.  This poem is taken from his second collection Spacecraft which is published by Penned in the Margins, and you can buy a copy here at support a fabulous independent press at the same time.

Thanks to John for letting me use his poem this week.

Sunday Poem – Jonathan Humble

Sunday Poem – Jonathan Humble

I’m back to my old habits of late-night blogging today and I suspect most of you will be reading this on Monday morning.  I’ve had a better week than last week health-wise, although I didn’t really start eating properly again till Wednesday. I’ve done two Read Regional events this week – one in Gateshead on Monday afternoon, with a lovely group, who were really a dream audience, very engaged and astute, and then on Thursday another Read Regional event in Hull, again with a great audience and a lovely librarian.

I decided to stay over in Hull rather than doing my usual thing of hacking back home through the night, as I was reading in Lancaster the next day at Lancaster Spotlight.  Spotlight is one of my favourite events – it’s the first place that ever paid me to read poetry, and you never quite know who is going to get up on the open mic.  I was reading with Ron Scowcroft and Rachel McGladdery.  I always enjoy Ron’s poetry, and it was nice to hear some of his new work.  I haven’t seen Rachel for ages, and again, I’ve always loved her work, but to me it felt like the new poems had really moved up a couple of gears.  The discovery of the night was Kriss Foster – a comedian/musician who was just fantastic – very funny and entertaining.  I think I remember someone saying he is doing a show at the Edinburgh Fringe, so if you get a chance to see him, go! The open mic slots were a really high standard, and in fact the Sunday Poet this week, Jonathan Humble was one of the people who performed on the Open Mic. He read this week’s Sunday Poem on the Open Mic and I managed to nab him and get permission to post it up this week.

I should say first of all that the lovely Helen Ivory has published a slightly shorter version of this poem up at Ink, Sweat and Tears, a great online magazine which is well worth checking out.


A Happy Ending For Petrologists
By Jonathan Humble

A pebble sat upon a beach and thought, as would a stone,
Of whether in the Universe it was a soul alone.
For it could see no evidence to otherwise disprove
That rocks had not the wherewithal to think or talk or move.

And there with countless coloured stones, all smooth and weatherworn,
Supressed its angst, lay motionless, stayed quiet and forlorn.
Through summers and through winters, it endured its solitude;
In pebbly reflection, existentially it stewed.

It watched the sun, it watched the stars, endured the rain and snow.
It contemplated life and death until it felt quite low.
In sad and sorry state it grew despondent day by day;
For company it yearned more than this poem can convey.

And as its hopes diminished with each wave that crashed the shore,
It worried that it might be quite alone forever more.
Until it sighed aloud and solitude came to an end;
A fellow pebble turned and smiled and asked to be its friend.

I really liked this poem when I heard it on Friday – you all probably know my weakness for poems with souls in them.   I also think this poem has something of the air of a Stevie Smith poem – it is playful and light, and has a childlike rhythm to it, but I think there is also something else at work on another level.  I found it funny and oddly moving at the same time when I heard it, although I can’t quite put my finger on exactly why!  I do love the last line though, and the galloping rhythm of the line ‘It watched the sun, it watched the stars, endured the rain and snow’.  I think there is a bit of the spirit of Emily Dickinson in this poem as well.

Jonathan Humble is a deputy head teacher in a small rural primary school in Cumbria. His poetry and short stories have appeared in The Big Issue In The North, Poems For Freedom, The Caterpillar Magazine, Stew Magazine, The Looking Glass Magazine, Paragram, Dragon Poet Quarterly, Lighten Up On, Ink Sweat & Tears and on BBC Radio 4 and Radio Cumbria. Through TMB Books, he has published a collection of light verse entitled My Camel’s Name Is Brian. He appears regularly at Verbalise in the Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal and occasionally at other spoken word events in the North-West.  If you’d like to find out more about Jonathan, he has a blog:
So after a great night at Lancaster Spotlight, I got home at just after midnight and then couldn’t get to sleep because I was too wired from the event. I eventually stopped dancing around to Mick Jagger (don’t ask) at about 2am in the morning.  Then I was up again and leaving for Bradford at 10am on Saturday morning.  I read at Bradford Literature Festival on Saturday afternoon alongside Ian Duhig, Peter Riley, Anthony Costello, Tom Cleary and Natalie Rees.
I went to a poetry event in the evening with Carol Ann Duffy, Imtiaz Dharkar, Jo Bell, Sudeep Sen, Selina Nwelu, Avaes Mohammed, Rehana Roohi and Ralph Dartford – all in one event – that is a lot of poets! I didn’t know the work of Rehana before and I couldn’t understand any of it because it was in another language, but I loved her performance – members of the audience joined in and repeated lines back to her, or asked her to repeat lines again and I wondered what it would be like if we did that in English poetry – it certainly felt less staid than a lot of poetry readings! She finished her set off by singing one of her poems and it was really beautiful – worth going for her performance alone.
After the reading, I went back to the hotel bar and sat chatting with various poets until 2am, which seemed like a good idea at the time, and necessary, but this morning I was cursing my inability to put myself to bed at a reasonable time.
I had a bit of a ridiculous journey back as well – all my own fault.  I assumed I was travelling back from Forster Square train station in Bradford, and I wasn’t – so I missed the train, and had to wait an hour before getting it from the Interchange.  Because of this, I had to wait for an hour in Preston, but I was sitting in the sunshine on the platform reading my book, and the train basically pulled up in front of me and left again without me realising, so then I had another hour to wait.  What a muppet I am! I did finally get home in one piece without any more mishaps.

Next week I’m running a voluntary workshop in a prison, which I’m really looking forward to, running my Young Writers workshop, and hopefully getting back to some running now I’m feeling better.

One more thing to mention – sadly, one of the tutors on the August Poetry Carousel, Saskia Stehouwer from Holland, has had to pull out due to ill health.  William Letford has agreed to come and tutor on the Carousel instead, and I’m really looking forward to working with him.  He is well known as a fantastic performer and inspirational tutor.  So the full line up of the tutors will now be myself, Clare Shaw, Tsead Bruinja and William Letford.  You can find more information about the carousel on the ‘Residential Courses’ tab:
Spaces are starting to fill up on the Carousel, so if you’ve been thinking about booking a place and haven’t got round to it, I would advise doing so before all the best rooms in the hotel go.
Thanks again to the wonderful Jonathan Humble for the use of his poem on the blog this week.


Change to the Poetry Carousel

Change to the Poetry Carousel

Due to ill-health, Saskia Stehouwer will not be able to take part in the Poetry Carousel this year.  I hope she will be able to come and  tutor on a future course, and wish her a full and speedy recovery.

The gap on the Poetry Carousel tutoring team will be expertly filled by Scottish poet William Letford, who has  agreed to join us on the residential course this year. The full team of tutors will be William Letford, Clare Shaw, Tsead Bruinja and myself.

William Letford’s debut collection Bevel was published by Carcanet in 2012. He has received a New Writer’s Award from the Scottish Book Trust, an Edwin Morgan Travel Bursary, and a Creative Scotland Artists’ Bursary, which allowed him to travel through India for six months. He has taken part in translation projects through Lebanon, Iraq, and Palestine, and in 2014 a chapbook of his poetry Potom Koža Toho Druhého was translated in Slovakian and published by Vertigo. His work has appeared on radio and television and his second full collection Dirt will be published by Carcanet this August.

Bevel was one of the best first collections I’ve read for a long time, and I’m not only excited about working with Billy Letford on the Carousel, but also that he may have the first copies of his new collection with him, hot off the press!

You can find more information about the Poetry Carousel here.  To book a place, please ring the hotel direct on 015395 32896


Here are the details of William’s workshop

Workshop – William Letford
The beauty in the mundane 

I keep a journal, nothing fancy, just a notebook I can turn to whenever I see fit. No pressure, I don’t force myself to fill the pages but over the years the journals have built up and now I have quite a collection. Looking back over the books and entries has convinced me of one thing. I am boring. And I’m sure I’m not alone. In between the birthdays, marriages, rollercoaster rides and funky dance moves our lives are mostly mundane. But that’s where the beauty is. I’d like to invite you to a workshop on exploring the poetry of the everyday. Bring all your boring bits with you.


Sunday Poem – Steve Ely

Sunday Poem – Steve Ely

I’ve discovered this week that I’m not very good at being ill.  I have quite a few friends who live with chronic pain or illness and they always seem to be cheerful and full of good humour, and to just get on with things.  I was ill on Thursday with some kind of stomach bug.  It only lasted one day – by the time I woke up on Friday, I felt much better, just very weak from not eating the day before. On Thursday though, it felt like I would never get better, and that I was in fact, mortally ill.  I told you I’m not good at being ill.  I get very dramatic and imagine that I’m dying.  I also get bored very easily because I felt too ill to even sit up  and watch TV, I couldn’t concentrate on a book, and I couldn’t go to sleep.  Anyway, very luckily it didn’t last long.  I cancelled my workshop on Friday with my Young Writers Group and didn’t go to Brewery Poets in the evening and spent Friday trying to take it easy.

On Saturday I had my Barrow Poetry Workshop.  It was only a small group this month – for the last four months of the workshops, the groups have been getting steadily bigger, peaking at 20 last month.  This month there were only six! Lots of  the regulars on holiday or gallivanting off elsewhere.  Those six wrote some brilliant poems though, so it was well worth the effort of running the workshop.  We looked at poems by Judy Brown, Hubert Moore, John McCullough and and J O Morgan today.

We’ve got the plasterers in this week, much earlier than expected as the plasterer had a cancellation and rang up to see if he could fit us in earlier.  So  at the minute we have two rooms worth of furniture in the front room, and we’re living between the front room and the garden.   Everything in the kitchen is covered in a film of white dust and there are radio stations playing all day which I wouldn’t normally listen to.  I’m sure the plasterers think I am completely idle.  The first day they were here (Friday) I was recuperating in my hammock in the garden for a lot of the day, which felt particularly lazy as they were obviously working quite hard. Then Saturday I was sat around having breakfast and didn’t go to work until 10.30 – they’d already been working for nearly two hours by that point! Then again, I was sat up until midnight, working on an assignment for Carrie Etter’s online course which I’m taking at the minute.  I have to analyse sentence structure in a prose poem, which I’m finding really hard.  It is interesting, but hard, and it feels like I understand what a compound-complex sentence is, and then the knowledge slips away from me again.  This is probably basic knowledge that I should already know but it feels like my brain just isn’t wired up that way, to label these things.

The first half of the week I spent whizzing around doing my usual things.  I went to Bowland Bridge on Monday to spend the day with a group of friends on a writing retreat before heading off to do my junior band rehearsal.  I went for a run on Tuesday after work.  On Wednesday, I was teaching till 6.30 and then I drove to Ulverston to host an Open Mic at Natterjacks.  The friends I spent the day with at Bowland Bridge had been in touch to see if there were any poetry readings happening in Cumbria in the week they were here.  There were none, so I decided to organise an open mic for them.  Rob and Valerie at Natterjacks offered the venue for free and I advertised it with a minimum amount of effort via Facebook and emails, so I was really pleased when we got a good turnout and managed to fill the cafe.  I think there were about 18 people signed up on the open mic, but everybody was well behaved and stuck to their time slot.  Rob and Valerie’s son, Connor, who plays in my band, recited my ‘Trumpet Teacher’s Curse’ – he’d already won his category in a poetry recitation competition at the South Cumbria Music Festival but I couldn’t believe how many laughs he got – much more than when I read it!

Then Thursday morning I was stopped in my tracks.  Which is probably a good place to introduce today’s Sunday Poem, by Steve Ely.  I had the pleasure of working with Steve last year in St Ives on our residential and he was great to work with, very hard-working and conscientious with the feedback he gave to people on the course about their poetry, and he runs as well – what more could you want from a co-tutor?

Here is Steve’s poem, taken from a brand new pamphlet Werewolf, published by Calder Valley Poetry.

The Death Dealer of Kovno

Lithuania, land of heroes, 
Thou our Fatherland that art, 
From the glorious deeds of ages, 
Shall Thy children take hear. 
May Thy children ever follow 
Their heroic fathers 
In devotion to their country 
(The Lithuanian National Anthem)

Duffy we hated, for his stink and snivelling
and strawberry birthmark, and when Mr Dowland
named him as the pen thief, the football team
rose in incredulous outrage that one
so contemptible, so negligible, so low,
would dare to place his scrubber’s hands
on our Papermates, Schaeffers and Parkers.
I chinned him at his desk in front of the teacher
to the raucous approbation of my peers
who swarmed over tables to land righteous blows
of their own.  Dowland, who knew
exactly how we felt, bollocked us
back to fractions and told us such conduct
had no place in school, though come four
it was none of his business. When we got him
in the ginnel even the first years joined in.
Hey-fatty-bum-bum could neither fight nor run.
He hedgehogged to a foetal and curled tight
till we sickened of booting.  He screamed
like a babby and bled like a pig:
fat-bastard, pen-thieving, beetroot-face bummer.
His Mam kept him off, until the school bobby
knocked with a summons.  We were warned.
Sitting at his desk, he’d lost weight
but his wounds had healed.  When he whispered
‘Yes Sir’, to his name on the register,
Dowland looked up from his careful herringbone,
and pointing with his Papermate,
asked if he’d learned his lesson.

On 25th June, 1941, the day after invading Nazis had driven out the Soviet occupiers, Lithuanians nationalists herded fifty Jews onto the forecourt of the Lietukis garage in Kovno.  In front of a cheering crowd, the Jews were marched at gunpoint to the centre of the forecourt, where they were beaten to death with an iron crowbar by Algirda Antana Pavalkis, a Lithuanian national in his late teens or early twenties.  After killing the last Jew, the Death Dealer of Kovno posed for photographs amongst the corpses before fetching an accordian and leading the crowd in a rendition of the Lithuanian National Anthem.  A 1950 photograph of Pavalkis seemed to indicate that he was working as a doctor in the USSR.

Phew.  So this poem, and indeed the pamphlet that it is taken from, is pretty dark, although I wouldn’t say unremittingly so.  It explores a world of male violence and I think this poem certainly sets out the ideas for violence being a spectrum or a continuum.  The violence that is meted out by both the children and the teacher, is compared to the deadly violence carried out against the Jews in the epigraph that follows.  There are copious notes at the back of the pamphlet, and the notes for this poem say that this is a ‘fictionalised version of an incident that took place in my middle school in 1978’ leaving the reader to wonder which bits are fictionalised and which are true.

Leaving aside questions of truth, and the uncomfortable feeling I’m left with when reading this poem as I remember incidences from my own childhood when I was complicit to violence or cruelty against others, or the victim of it, and going back to the poem, it is a masterclass in creating a believable voice.

The fact that Duffy was hated for his ‘strawberry birthmark’ – a completely arbitrary thing fits with my memories of all the things that children get bullied for.  I love the way he uses ‘hedgehogged’ as an action and the line ‘bollocked us/back to fractions’ – the teacher tells them off and makes them do fractions, but also the double meaning, of these boys being only fractions, only partly human.  That idea of them not being ‘human’ also happens, I think, because there is only one use of the personal pronoun ‘I’.  The rest of the time, the poem uses ‘we’ and ‘us’, as if the football team moves with one thought.

This is a brilliantly executed poem, and technically, I don’t think it puts a foot wrong.  It’s interesting to consider it without the title or the epigraphs that precede and follow it.  It’s still a strong poem, which explores childhood brutality and brutality wielded by someone in a position of power, but with the epigraphs, it opens it up to a wider consideration of violence in society and how it starts, and is allowed to take place.

If you’d like to read more of Steve’s work, you can email Bob Horne at Calder Valley Poetry at  Calder Valley Poetry is a relatively new publisher, already producing beautiful pamphlets.  I’ve still got a pamphlet that Bob sent by Peter Riley that he has published recently, which I’m looking forward to reading.

Steve Ely is a poet from the West Riding of Yorkshire. His book of poems, Oswald’s Book of Hours, is published by Smokestack and was nominated for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2013 and the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry in 2014. Englaland, his second book of poems, was published in April, 2015, also by Smokestack. His novel, Ratmen, is published by Blackheath Books. Ted Hughes’s South Yorkshire: Made In Mexborough, a biographical work about Hughes’s neglected Mexborough period, was  published by Palgrave MacMillan in July 2015.  If you’d like to find out more about Steve, you can go to his website at


Workshops at the Poetry Carousel

Workshops at the Poetry Carousel

Tuesday 16th August 3pm – Friday 19th August at 12 midday
Abbot Hall Hotel, Grange-Over-Sands, To book ring the hotel direct on 015395 32896

This year’s Poetry Carousel will take place from the 16th August -19th August at Abbot Hall Hotel, Grange Over Sands. The cost of the course will be £330 and this includes workshops, accommodation, breakfast, lunch and three-course evening meals.

The Poetry Carousel is different from the usual residential course in that there are four tutors and up to 32 participants, divided into groups of 8 to have a two hour workshop with each tutor.  This year, there will be time in the afternoons to go for a swim in the hotel pool or a walk into Grange along the prom.  In the evenings, the whole group meets for dinner and poetry readings.

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

Below is a brief summary of the four workshops that the tutors will be running.  As you can see, they are very different!

The Poetry Carousel is suitable for beginners or more experienced writers.  Please get in touch for more information.

Clare Shaw
Workshop: Flood. Fire. Storm.
Disasters happen, sometimes on the grandest scale. Poetry offers one of the most powerful forms of language for documenting the experience and impact of natural calamities – at a global and individual level. Likewise, poets have long drawn on the flood, the fire and the storm as powerful metaphors for their own troubles. In this workshop, we’ll draw from examples to inform and inspire us to document natural events we have lived through; and to explore their potential for expressing a truth about our individual lives.

Kim Moore
Workshop: Illuminated Moments
All of us carry moments of experience which stay with us for the rest of our lives. How do we write about those moments without slipping into sentimentality or melodrama? Writing a poem about a moment that is important to us can capture it forever, reaching beyond the bounds of our own lives into the universality of human experience. During this workshop we will be looking at different techniques for using our own lives, and our remembered moments, as material.

Tsead Bruinja
Workshop: Going Dutch
Together with Dutch poet Tsead Bruinja you’ll be discovering the poetry from the low lands by reading, listening to and discussing ten of Bruinja’s favourite poems. This workshop will take a look at different strategies used in modern Dutch poetry. We will focus on ways of using characters in your poems, playing with repetition and how to deal with distraction. We’ll try to include the thoughts we normally try to keep out of our poems, like “ what do the fly and I mean to each other?”

Saskia Stehouwer:
Writing from space
Paradoxically, being in a state of stillness can be very helpful for writing. Quieting the chatter in our minds provides space and stimulates a receptive attitude, so that our own words can come to the surface. By focusing on the breath, the body and our imagination, as well as by being in nature, we can enter a more open, effortless state from which writing flows more easily. In this workshop, we will explore mindfulness, visualisation and other creative exercises to guide ourselves into this space. We will also take a short sensory walk in nature to stimulate the senses and become more perceptive. And from that space, to paraphrase Natalie Goldberg, we will “walk into poetry with our entire bodies”.

Sunday Poem – Ilse Pedler

Sunday Poem – Ilse Pedler

I’ve just got back from a run with the dogs.  I decided to run through the dunes and then back along the beach.  It has been a beautiful day here in Barrow – very hot and sunny.  I was running as the sun was going down and the sky turning red.  Although it was beautiful, I still didn’t enjoy it as much as I do when I go with friends.  Why is running alone so much harder than running in a group?  Is it because you are left to your own thoughts?  If I didn’t know I’ve ran 13 miles in three different races, I wouldn’t have believed it, from how tired I felt running along that beach back to the car.

I normally go running in the morning with the Walney Wind Cheetahs, but couldn’t go today as I had family visiting this weekend.  My twin sister and her husband were doing the Keswick to Barrow 42 mile walk yesterday, along with my husband so they came over on Friday night, and then got a coach up to Keswick, leaving at 3.30am on Saturday morning.

I must admit in the preparations for the Keswick to Barrow, I was quite relieved that I had a reading booked at Keighley Library at 3pm so I couldn’t take part.  I was even more relieved when they all started stomping about at 2.45 am and I could stay in bed.  I got up to go to Park Run and decided I would jog round and not push myself. Instead, I ended up running round with my friend J.  J hasn’t been running for a few months so decided to do my bit to get him back into the peak of physical fitness.  Think of the White Orc driving the other Orcs in The Hobbit, and you will have an idea of how Park Run was.  I’m sure I heard J sob at one point, but as I said to him afterwards, if you can sob then you clearly have too much energy!

After Park Run, I got a phone call from the husband, who had developed blisters.  Husband never gets blisters and had done lots of training so the sudden appearance of the blisters was a mystery.  I helpfully suggested that maybe he’d put his shoes on the wrong feet, but this didn’t go down too well.  I drove to Lowick with a spare pair of shoes, dumped them with my parents, who were one of the support cars for my sister’s team, and then drove like a slightly crazed person to Keighley.

There was a great crowd at Keighley, and a lovely friendly librarian running the show.  Carole Bromley had been running an ‘Exploring Poetry’ session beforehand, and I managed to get a copy of her new book ‘The Stonegate Devil’ which I’ve read a bit of in the sunshine this afternoon.  I did my reading, and a Q and A session and then drove back to Barrow in the hopes of seeing the husband and my twin sister and her husband finishing.

Sadly, Chris was too quick for me and had already got to the end by the time I got back to Barrow.  There aren’t even any photos of him – he is like the Scarlet Pimpernel.  I walked back from Dalton to Barrow with my sister, waving like the queen and stealing some of her glory for walking forty-odd miles, which she couldn’t complain about, as she knew I would bring up the time she pretended to be me at my book launch and was thinking about signing my book!

Poor Matt, my sister’s husband, got really dehydrated and collapsed dramatically against a wall about two miles from the finish.  My dad was with him and threw some water down his throat and got him going again and he managed to finish. So, whilst beforehand I felt no great urge to do the Keswick to Barrow, yesterday was such a great day that I did feel that I’d really missed out not doing the walk, so I’ve put my name down for next year.  My sister was raising money for Animal Concern, where she is the Manager, and will be looking for some more people to make her team up, so if any poets are interested in walking 42 odd miles from Keswick to Barrow, do get in touch!

I also did the Kendal 10k on Wednesday, which was really hard and hilly, but I’m aware that a) this blog has been too full of physical exercise already and b) complaining about the difficulty of Kendal 10k after talking about the Keswick to Barrow is probably not going to work!

Other than running, I’ve been doing other stuff as well.  Poetry-wise, I’ve been catching up with my submissions.  I’ve submitted some poems to the Mslexia Poetry Competition and the Bridport Poetry Competition.  The closing dates aren’t for a while yet, but I decided to just get it done.  I’ve also been working on a poem about my time working in a prison as a poet a couple of years ago.  I’ve tried to write this poem before, and gave up because it didn’t work, so it is interesting to revisit the memories of that time again.

I also had my first mentoring session with my new mentee, which was really lovely. So lovely, in fact that I ran over and forgot to go to Barrow Writers afterwards.  Whoops.

Next week is a busy week.  If you’re anywhere near Ulverston, I’m running an Open Mic at Natterjacks on Wednesday 11th May.   It’s a lovely cafe, and the Open Mic is really in honour of some poetry friends who are holidaying in the Lake District, and wanted a poetry event to go to.  There weren’t any, so I decided to organise an Open Mic instead.  The owners are letting us have the venue for free, so I really hope people come out, buy a cup of tea or a cake, or both, which I’ll be doing, and show their appreciation that way.  It’s free entry, and if you’d like to read your own poem, or a poem by someone else, you can just sign up on the door.

Next Saturday is my Barrow Poetry Workshop.  If you know anyone who is interested in coming, there are still places available.  A lot of my regular workshoppers are on holiday or otherwise indisposed, so it will be a small and select group this month I think.  The workshop is £15 and includes tea, coffee and biscuits.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Ilse Pedler.  ‘In the Balance’ is taken from her first pamphlet The Dogs that Chase Bicycle Wheels, which was a winner in the 2015 Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition.  

In the Balance – Ilse Pedler

We walked in silence that day
to Ladram Bay.  Tired of fighting
we threaded our way through the gorse
at the cliff edge, determined to admire
the rusty sandstone spires.

Then we saw it.  A kestrel balancing
on the back of the sea breeze.
A lightness of air infused bone, held.
Only the ruffle of wing tip feathers
revealing the difference between bird and sky.

We found ourselves standing closer
together, mouths open, staring.
It looks so effortless. 
It must be such hard work
we said, almost at the same time.

There are lots of great poems in the pamphlet, but I chose ‘In the Balance’ because I think, although it could be described as a ‘quiet’ poem, in its length, in its understated tone, it is brave in the way it tackles the complexities of relationships.  I think most people will be able to identify with it – the walking in silence after fighting with a partner, the determination to get some enjoyment from a day that has been ruined.  There is a real honesty here, and also a moment of revelation, I think.  This feels like one of those poems where the poet surprised themselves at the end.


In the second stanza and the first line of the last stanza, the reader is tricked briefly into thinking that the kestrel can bridge the gap between the couple but this doesn’t happen, as they both speak ‘almost at the same time’, saying completely opposite things.

At first, I found this really sad, but I think it can be read another way as well.  The couple do stand closer together, mirroring each other’s posture.  Maybe the poem is pointing out that even in the most perfect relationship, we can’t all think the same way, we don’t perceive things the same way, even when we are looking at the same thing.  Maybe the poem isn’t pointing out how incompatible because of their differing perspectives.   Maybe the poem is the beginning of the realisation and acceptance of difference?

I hope you enjoyed the poem.  If you’d like to order Ilse’s pamphlet, you can order it from Seren.

Finally, congratulations to my friend John Foggin, one of the winners of the 2016 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition.  What a superstar he is.  And as an aside, I’ve just heard an owl hoot.


Sunday Poem – Carole Coates

Sunday Poem – Carole Coates

Before I start writing my blog, I always look back through my diary to remind myself of what I’ve done in the week.  On Monday I drove from my parent’s house in Leicester back up to Cumbria.  I stopped off at a Little Chef to get some breakfast.  I used to love Little Chef when I was little – in fact I remember my parents driving down the motorway from home to take us for dinner there and then driving back home again.  However, it isn’t quite as cheery an experience when you are an adult, and you’re driving five hours away from your family, knowing you won’t see some of them again for a while.  I had to move tables because I had a terrible view of a man whose bottom was hanging out of his trousers and it was probably this that pushed me over the edge!

I went back to Leicester because my Dad has been ill and was in hospital for nearly a week.  By the time I got there last Thursday, he’d had an operation and he was out of hospital and starting to get back to normal.  I also got to spend some time with my sisters and my nieces and nephews.  My brother-in-law has started running now as well so I even had someone to go for a run round the park with.

On Thursday I went to my fifth Read Regional event in York – although I’ve loved all of them, I think this was my favourite one so far, mainly because of the audience who were so friendly and interested.  The great thing about Read Regional is that there are often people who have never been to a poetry reading before.  The librarian showed me a feedback card afterwards which said something like ‘Came under sufferance – but I loved it,and bought all the books!’.  I love that someone was FORCED to come to a poetry reading – what had they done for such punishment?

Ok, for those of you who have no interest in running, or trumpet playing, you might want to miss the next couple of paragraphs, as I wax on about my Friday which was, even by my standards, slightly manic.  I drove to Kendal in the afternoon and met Pauline Yarwood for a cup of tea and a stress relieving shout of ARRGGGH about all the annoying things that happen when you are trying to put together a festival.  I then had my Young Writers Group until 5.30 and then drove like a madwoman (whilst always keeping to the speed limits of course) to get to Dalton for the Dalton 10k which I’ve been looking forward to all year.

Writing this from the vantage point of having completed the Dalton 10k, I can’t quite remember why I was looking forward to it all year.  It is that pesky nostalgia again, this was one of the first races I did when I first moved to Cumbria when I was 21 (I ran for about a year before giving up).  I’ve done the race for the last three years – in 2014 I ran it in 56:56 and in 2015 I ran 47:42.  I think I had good memories of the race last year, because I’d knocked such a big chunk of time off.  Of course this year, I knew it would be harder to beat my time but I really wanted to do it.  I’ve been doing a few long, hilly runs lately, and I was hoping they would pay off.

Anyway, what I’ve realised about running is that it never gets easier, and there were moments in the race this year, when I turned a corner and there was another bloody hill that I wanted to cry! However, very pleased to report that I ran 46:16 which I’m absolutely chuffed with. Next target is to get to 45 minutes!

I jumped in a taxi straight after the race at 8.15pm, as Chris had taken car to go camping, went back home, showered, changed and jumped in another taxi at 8.40 and went to the Soul Survivors gig at the Soccer Bar which started at 9pm.  Playing trumpet till midnight was pretty tough going, but I think I was still hyper from doing the race.  The after-effects of pushing it in the race, playing trumpet and not having time to eat anything hit me on Saturday – I spent the whole day feeling slightly hung over but without having consumed any alcohol.   I had another gig with the Soul Survivors last night which was easer playing wise but I woke up again this morning feeling terrible – again, it feels like a hangover, I’m tired, groggy, have a bit of a headache.  So I’m taking it easy again today and hopefully not leaving the house for anything other than to maybe amble round with the dogs.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Carole Coates- I’ve posted a poem from Carole on the blog before – in fact, looking back at the archives, I think her poem was the first Sunday Poem I ever posted.  You can find that poem ‘Stalker’ here – it is still one of my favourite poems.

I went to an April Poets reading a couple of months ago which was the launch of Carole’s new collection Jacob.  This is a book-length sequence of poems following the life of a little boy called Jacob.  The collection is as readable as a novel and I read it cover to cover.  I think Carole is a real one-off – I can’t think of any poets that are doing quite what she is doing – her work is always ambitious and pushing at the boundaries of not only what a poem can do, but what a poetry collection can do.  She is published by Shoestring Press and you can buy Jacob and any of her other collections over at the Shoestring Press website.

I’ve chosen the poem ‘What Is He Like?’ because I thought it was a good introduction to the character of Jacob, although this poem comes towards the middle of the collection.  .

What Is He Like? – Carole Coates

what is he like//////////what is he really like
sometimes he feels like a box crammed with things
and people are pushing more in and sitting on the lid

or he feels like an eye///a lonely eye
set in a wall like a camera to see and remember
(he’d seen a film with that and it was frightening)

but his grandfather says You’re a dark horse, Jacob
which he doesn’t understand and his grandmother says
Still waters run deep – that’s you, Jacob

is he like the pond where the hedge turns a corner
where the water hides under alder branches?
it’s deep there he knows his mother told him

and she says there’s something strange deep down
at the bottom of the pond and it’s quiet there too
(probably a fish) so that’s “still” and “deep”

and he knows there’s something deep down lurking
in himself which he has to keep quiet about
and still as the pond but at school they’re asking

Where is your father? and he says he’s a soldier
but they say the war’s been over for ages 
and he ought to be back like all the others

he’s told Beryl his father’s in Middle-East
but Teddy says HER father is Father Christmas
and he lives up the chimney but this is all lies

One of the big themes that Carole explores is the unjustice of childhood, the unfairness of it, and the lack of power that children have in their own lives.  I love the description in the second line ‘sometimes he feels like a box crammed with things’.  It’s such an unusual way of saying something that a lot of people can probably relate to.   After this brilliant line, most poets would have felt quite pleased with themselves and left it at that, but Carole carries it on, developing it further, pinning down exactly how it feels to not be in control, to not feel part of what is going on around you with that line ‘or he feels like an eye’.  I think there is also something interesting here in the things we say to children, probably without thinking, that they then carry with them and puzzle over.  I also love the question ‘is he like the pond where the hedge turns a corner/where the water hides under alder branches?’  I also love that Jacob tries to make sense of himself in the world by comparing and contrasting himself to other things.

I am aware that I’ve taken a poem out of context here, in what is a meticulously put-together and beautiful book with a narrative arc, so I hope you will feel inspired to buy the collection, and I hope Carole gets the praise and acclaim this book deserves.

There is a great review of Jacob over at the magazine London Grip, which will give you more of an overview of the collection as a whole.  Carole has had three previous collections published with Shoestring Press.  In 2012 she published an extraordinary collection called Swallowing Stones – a verse narrative, set in the far-off imaginary, but very real country of Kor.  In 2009 Shoestring Press published her second collection Looking Good which was an exploration of anorexia, endured at a time when the condition was not diagnosed, discussed or even named.  More recently she has published a pamphlet Crazy Days with the excellent Wayleave Press.  You can find more information about her over at her website but if you haven’t heard of Carole Coates, or read any of her stuff, all of her collections, not just this latest one come highly recommended if you want to read ambitious and exciting poetry.