I can’t remember if I told you all about this last week, but while I was away in Malaga my husband built wall-to-ceiling shelves in our box room, which is now going to be my writing room. Although I’ve had the words ‘A Room of One’s Own’ tattooed on my arm for a couple of years, this is the first time I’ve actually had a room of my own. It is very small, but I love it. It feels like a real luxury to have all my books in one room. Just this morning, Chris put the door back on the frame for me, and when I shut the door it feels very peaceful in here. If I can’t write a PhD in here, then there is no hope for me!
Talking of PhD’s, it is starting to feel a bit more real now. I’m meeting up with Michael Symmons Roberts on Monday to have an informal chat about it all, and then I’m meeting up with Martin Kratz to have a talk through the module I’ll be teaching next term. Even though I’m writing all of this very calmly, I still can’t believe I’m actually doing it.
Last night I decided to pack away all of the leaving cards I got from my pupils. Some of the things they wrote are very funny –
“Thank you for everything. Play that country tuba cowboy!” (a reference to a song we used to sing and play along with)
“Hope you have lots of poem books and a good career”
“I hope you enjoy your future life” (me too!)
and my personal favourite “Goodbye Mrs Alan” (poor Mrs Alan has no plans to leave as far as I know)
My (except it’s not mine anymore sob) junior brass band did a little book for me and they all wrote a message in there – and one of the young people wrote ‘Thank you for the gift of music’. This really struck home with me – that music is a gift. It is only ever something to be offered, something that you hope to pass on. When it was passed to me, it sent my life off down a road I would never have travelled without it, and it has brought such riches to my life – which sounds cheesy, but it is true. I guess it is hitting me now, what it means to have done this for 13 years, and to be finally leaving. I haven’t been teaching for 13 years, I’ve been passing on the gift of music, or trying to, at least.
I’m rubbish at planning blog posts, I like to just ramble on. That way, sometimes it feels like writing a poem, discovering something in the act of writing. As I’m writing this post, I realise I’m looking forward to enjoying the gift of music for myself for a while, which immediately sounds, to my ears, a little selfish, but it is the truth. I’m looking forward to doing a bit more playing in shows. I’m going to have some repertoire lessons with a local piano player. I’m going to be playing with the soul band. I might even have some time to do some practice, so it doesn’t feel like I’m leaving music behind. If anything, it feels a little like coming round full circle, to playing the trumpet, but without the horrendous pressure that I used to put on myself.
This week I’ve been busy running a residential poetry course – the Poetry Carousel. Rachel Davies has done a great blog about the course, which you can find here, if you’re wondering what it was like from a participant’s point of view. I am proud to say that I invented the concept of the Poetry Carousel, after the success of the more traditional residential courses I was running. The Poetry Carousel has four tutors, and the group of 24 participants were divided into groups of 6, with each 6 getting a two hour workshop with each tutor, before moving on the next day to another tutor.
They are different from a traditional course in that there is a real festival atmosphere in the evening, as everybody gets together for the readings. For me as a tutor, it feels like a telescoping effect – you are working very closely with a group of 6 in the morning, and then in the evening this broadens out and you meet the whole group.
We were very lucky with the weather this year – blazing sunshine the whole time and we were lucky with our participants – a real mix of poets with a lot of experience, to poets that had never been to a workshop before and everything in between, but all showing a real commitment to their writing and producing high-quality stuff in the workshops.
I’m running another residential poetry course from October 24th-28th at Abbot Hall Hotel in Grange-Over-Sands. This is more like a traditional course, with two tutors, and a maximum of 16 participants. The other tutor will be the wonderful poet Jennifer Copley, who just happens to be the Sunday Poet today.
The course will consist of workshops in the mornings, a chance for tutorials in the afternoons, readings from tutors and guest poets, and a chance for course participants to share work in an evening reading (if they want t0). Although I love the Poetry Carousels, I also like running these courses. You get to know the 16 people very well, because you are working together all week, and amazing things can happen during this short, but intense amount of time – not just poetry, but friendships, laughter, tame robins…
If you would like to book, there are still some rooms left. You can find more information about the theme of the week, and how to book, by going here. If you know anybody who you think might be interested, please forward on this information -I don’t have a marketing budget, or even anybody to do any marketing apart from me, so I do rely on word of mouth to fill the places on the courses.
My co-tutor for October is Jennifer Copley, who is a wonderful, and I think, not made-a-fuss-of-enough poet. She doesn’t do Facebook, or Twitter, although she does have a website. She is an incredibly talented and widely published poet, whose writing is surreal, playful, dark, funny, poignant. She has featured on this blog before, but I’m posting a poem up today because her new pamphlet Vinegar and Brown Paper has just been published by Like This Press
This pamphlet is completely bonkers in a good way. It is a series of prose poems, loosely based around nursery rhymes. Each poem is accompanied by an illustration by Martin Copley, Jenny’s husband. The pamphlet itself is a work of art. The paper is brown paper, with a kind of raggedy edge. These little prose poems often made me burst out laughing. They are unexpectedly funny as well – twisty to get hold of, and walking a fine line between absurdity and profundity. She reminds me, in this pamphlet at least, of Hilda Sheehan, another favourite poet of mine.
Jenny has had numerous books and pamphlets published – she was one of the first winners of the Poetry Business pamphlet competition in 2001 with Ice. Since then she has published House by the Sea in 2003 with Arrowhead, Unsafe Monuments in 2006 (also with Arrowhead), Beans in Snow in 2009 with Smokestack, Living Daylights in 2011 with Happenstance, Mr Trickfeather in 2012 with Like This Press and Sisters in 2013 with Smokestack.
I could have picked any of the prose poems in this pamphlet, and they are even better when read as a set, but I loved this one straight away, for its strange but believable logic, for the surprise at the end, and of course for the wonderful illustration.
If you’d like a copy of the pamphlet, you can order it through Like This Press, or you can email Jenny at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like a copy, and I’m sure she would be happy to post a signed copy out.
The Robin – Jennifer Copley
was dead but no one knew who’d killed him.
–Snow in the wind, said the sparrow.
–Ice in the water butt, said the wren.
–Frost on the five-barred gate, said the blackbird.
–A poisoned snail, said the thrush.
–God, said the canary who had no respect.
–Then they all turned on each other, shrieking and accusing, although
no one had liked the robin since he’d bullied the goldfinch children to death.