Back on track with the Sunday Poems now after a two week hiatus. My life is still slightly chaotic, as the end-of-term approaches. The end-of-term and end-of-school-year is always crazy, but this time it has been compounded by the fact that this is my last ever end-of-term, end-of-school-year as a trumpet teacher, as well as my usual freelance work, all piling on top of each other and threatening to bury me underneath it.
There have been times in the last couple of weeks when I’ve felt on the edge, on the edge of what, I don’t know, I only know the feeling, which is as if I’m going to tip over and fall, and rather than landing anywhere, just keep falling. I’ve got one more week of running around and chaos, and then things (I’m hoping) will get easier.
It has probably all been compounded by the fact that last night, I had my final concert as a conductor of Barrow Shipyard Junior Band and my two beginner bands, St Pius School Band and Brasstastic. I was feeling quite calm as the hall started to fill up, but when my mum and dad turned up to surprise me, I burst into tears. My parents came to every single band concert I ever played in when I was young, and supported me financially while I was at music college, so for them to turn up now, to support me as I finish that part of my life was enough to make me cry. It made it all real as well somehow, as if up to that point, I could have changed my mind.
So, although it was a lovely concert, and the band gave me some great presents – my favourite was a notebook with messages from each of the kids, I’m relieved it is over. I’ve got one more rehearsal with Barrow Shipyard Junior Band on Monday night and I’m already feeling emotional about that, so that is the next thing to get through!
Other stuff going on next week – I’ve got Soul band rehearsal after junior band rehearsal on Monday and then on Tuesday I’m reading in Ambleside at a kind of summer school for teenagers, and hoping to recruit some more teenagers for Dove Cottage Young Poets. On Thursday I’m meeting with the Course Director at MMU so I should find out some more about the unit I’ll be teaching there – on the way I’ve got to run a workshop at a primary school in Penrith. A year 6 child was the winner of the Cumbria School Games competition this term, and part of the prize was a workshop at their school. I’ve got my Poetry School course on Thursday evening – the last session, and then I’m going to Lancaster Spotlight on Friday with my Dove Cottage Young Poets to watch them have a go on the Open Mic.
Last week I went to the Lakeland Book of the Year Awards and although I was on the shortlist I didn’t win. I wasn’t too surprised as I don’t think poetry has ever won, and my book isn’t really about the Lake District as such. Cumbria is more like a supporting character in the poems so it seemed unlikely I was going to win. The winner overall was a young bloke who’d written a book about Cumbria’s waterways and he worked on the ferry on one of the lakes and came in his uniform to the awards which was very refreshing. Maybe he was going back to work afterwards?
My friend Karen Lloyd won her category and was a runner up for the overall award with her prose book ‘The Gathering Tide’ so it was nice to be there to see that, especially as poor Karen was in agony with back pain, and it had been touch and go whether she would make it to the awards, or just stay in bed.
Straight after the Lakeland Book of the Year Awards I went and ran the Endmoor 10k race – one of my favourite races. It has 195 metres of ascent in the middle and then a great downhill section in it and cakes for afterwards – a perfect 10k in my book! I managed to knock 2 minutes off my PB from last year so I was pleased with that. I have had no time to run for the last two weeks but maybe the enforced rest has been good for me!
I also ran a poetry workshop on Shakespeare in Barrow Library and my Poetry School course in Manchester last week, my Dove Cottage Young Poets workshop in Kendal and my all day poetry workshop in Barrow, and although they were all lovely, I’m kind of glad that week is over.
I’m really happy about this week’s Sunday Poem. I don’t often get to publish new work from poets I admire on this blog – I usually read a poem in a book that I really like, and then write to the author and ask if I can use it, so it is a real treat to have a poem that hasn’t appeared in print.
Billy’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.
Billy sent me a poem from his forthcoming collection Dirt. This is a beautiful poem that unfolds gradually. The reference to the short story ‘The Moor’ feels important here too – this story, about a chance encounter between a middle-aged man and the 80 year old woman who had been his lover three decades before echoes through the poem. There is nothing in the poem about the ages of the lovers, but the reference certainly makes a disparity in ages a possibility, and also reveals it as unimportant. There are ‘all kinds of bodies’. The poem is working out what the ‘it’ of the second line is, and this working out is tender, slow-paced and sensual.
In a bamboo shack on the edge of a beach
He read her ‘The Moor’ by Russell Banks.
It wasn’t the story, although the story is good,
and it wasn’t the way he read it. The Scottish
accent couldn’t quite grasp the Americanisms.
The sures and yeahs became parodies that
brought humour to beauty that didn’t need it.
It was the fact that she lay with her head
on his chest and he felt the rumble of his own
voice and a vibration of words gone before.
The story he read ends full of snow, and they
lay very still, but what to do? how long could
they remain there? So he traced patterns on
her skin with his fingers. And the patterns
became circles and the circles became words
and these actions have a tendency to progress.
He lifted her T-shirt over her shoulders and
we know the rest. There are all types of bodies.
If you’re lucky you’ll find someone whose skin
is a canvas for the story of your life.
Write well. Take care of the heartbeat behind it.
Billy’s new collection Dirt will be out in August, and you can pre-order a copy from Carcanet here.
Billy is also one of four tutors on the Poetry Carousel this August, so if you’re booked on to this, then you’ll be able to get a signed copy while you’re there!
There are currently six places left for the Poetry Carousel – so if you know anybody who might be interested, or you’ve been thinking about coming along yourself, my advice is to book swiftly.
I will have news this week about the guest poet who will be reading for us on one night of the course. If you’d like a clue, I can tell you she is published by Bloodaxe, and has a new collection coming out very soon. Answers in the comment section below!