I’ve spent this week trying and failing to get to sleep at a reasonable hour. I don’t usually struggle with sleeping – so this has been a whole new experience for me. I am blaming this on over-excitement – I had my first meeting with one of my supervisors for my PhD – Michael Symmons Roberts, who will be my main supervisor for the Poetry part of it. The meeting could have been a disaster – we had awful flash floods and rain up here which meant I was an hour late getting to the meeting,because various trains were delayed. Anyway, I eventually made it and Michael was very nice about me arriving late and dripping rain water all over the table.
So I feel like I know a bit more now about what the PhD will involve. Michael suggested a list of poets to look at and advised me to get a Kindle so I can read books and use the highlighter function etc. So on Monday or maybe Tuesday I ordered myself a Kindle Fire and spent the next day haunting the doorstep waiting for it to arrive. The postman seemed quite alarmed when I dashed through the backyard gate and shouted ‘Huzzah!’ as he came through the front gate, but never mind.
I’ve decided to use the Kindle for prose books and continue buying hard copies of poetry collections. I ordered ‘The After Party’ by Jana Prikryl, ‘Our Andromeda’ by Brenda Shaughnessy and ‘The Beauty of the Husband’ by Anne Carson. And Alice Oswald’s new collection – not for the PhD – that one was just because I love Alice Oswald and needed her new collection in my life.
When I get a poetry collection, I usually do a speed-read first – and I’ve done that with the Anne Carson. I’ll go back in a couple of days and read it properly but I really enjoyed this first time through. I’ve been re-reading a book called ‘I Love Dick‘ by Chris Kraus which i read while I was on my holiday. I absolutely love this book – and would recommend it. It is genre-bending – part memoir, part fictional account, part, art critique – it traces the failed falling in love of a woman with a man she has a chance meeting with. That isn’t a good description of it either, because mixed up in all of that is an exploration of ‘who gets to speak and who doesn’t’ and in depth critiques of conceptual artists.
One of the artists she discusses is Hannah Wilke and she quotes Hannah as saying
“If women have failed to make “universal” art because we’re trapped within the “personal”, why not universalize the “personal” and make it the subject of our art?”
When I read this, I felt like I’d been hit between the eyes with something. The poems I want to write as part of the PhD are attempting this, I think. To take personal experiences of sexism and universalize them. And what happens when these small, personal stories, these sometimes petty annoyances are transformed into art – what happens to them then? Do they shrink and become even smaller – or do they take on a significance of their own?
Two of my poems that are exploring sexism and my own reactions to it will be in the forthcoming Poetry Ireland Review, which is due out, I think in about two weeks. It’s my first time in the magazine, so I’m quite chuffed about it. The poems are from the sequence I’ve been working on ‘All The Men I Never Married’.
Anyway, all of these ideas have been buzzing around my head, and I’ve been reading pretty much non-stop all week, so instead of getting to sleep at a reasonable hour, my brain has been going round and round in a circle, thinking about PhD’s and poetry and feminism, and it all feels so exciting that it is basically impossible to sleep.
Other things that have happened this week – I did another reading to 70 teenagers at a National Citizenship Scheme week in Ambleside on Tuesday night. I had a meeting with Pauline Yarwood – the co-director of Kendal Poetry Festival, to plan for next year’s festival. I ran 11 miles on Wednesday night and absolutely loved it. I ran a Dove Cottage Young Poets session on Friday and then went straight from Kendal down to Leicester, as my big sister got married on Saturday. So the weekend has been full of family stuff – dancing to Time Warp at the wedding, going to see my niece and great-niece dancing with a dance group in the city centre, hanging out with my sisters, aunties, parents.
Next week is a lovely, quiet week. No readings. No workshops to prepare for. No gigs. My parents are visiting till Tuesday, but I’m planning to spend the rest of the week reading, writing and running, not necessarily in that order. So maybe my blog next week will be nice and short.
Today’s Sunday Poem is by Andrew Hopkins. I’ve met Andy a couple of times as a participant in workshops that I’ve ran, and then I heard him read a brilliant poem on the Open Mic at Kendal Poetry Festival called ‘evil’. When Andy gave me a copy of his pamphlet Dark Horse Pictures a couple of weeks ago, I was expecting to ask to use that poem on the blog, but there were lots of poems in the pamphlet, which were as good, so I was spoilt for choice really. In the end, I chose ‘Yes Michael No Michael’ because it made me laugh, and feel sad, and I like poems that can do that. It also seems to fit with the time scale, as it is about school, and everybody, apart from me will be going back next week.
The poem is spoken in the voice of a teacher to ‘Michael’. Michael’s responses are not recorded, but we can often guess them. One of the things I loved about this poem was that I believed in the voice of the teacher, full of exasperation but caring, calm but not a pushover. And I love the bit at the beginning, when the teacher is interrupted: ‘Now if you cou.’ and ‘Can we j.’
It made me smile and remember all the times I’ve done that – stopped mid-word because I’ve been interrupted. It also made me think of the Catherine Tate sketch with the teenager ‘Lauren’ who interrupts constantly…
I think the poem is wonderfully honest as well about the realities of being a teacher:
‘Yes, I do cry sometimes at the end of the day
when the classroom and school are empty,
but, no, not because of what you say.’
and very moving: ‘Yes, all the praise for you in genuine’ as well as very funny
‘Yes, that’s a paradox, Michael. No, look it up, Michael’
I hope you enjoy the poem – and do feel free to comment below! Lots of the Sunday Poets check back to see if anybody has read their poem, and I know they’re always pleased to hear responses to their poems.
Andy Hopkins has worked as a teacher in London and Cumbria. He has two pamphlets to date: Dark Horse Pictures, published by the now defunct Selkirk Lapwing Press, and It Will Always Be Like This, which was published as an e-pamphlet by Philistine Press. You can hear poems from Dark Horse Pictures read by Andy here. There are also more examples of spoken word pieces with post-rock accompaniment here.
Thanks to Andy for letting me use his poem this week.
Yes Michael No Michael
By Andrew Hopkins
Yes, if you could just sit there, please. No. Yes.
No, just. Just. Yes, in y. No, on the s. Yes.
Now if you cou.///////////Can we j.
Listen pl.///////////////////Ok, i.
No, knowing about Macbeth isn’t going to get you
the job you deserve.
Yes, I know you think I wrote you off
when you wrote ‘DIE HOPKINS DIE’
in six inch letters on the wall. Without any punctuation.
No, I never told you I knew.
Yes, I knew about the things that you stole off me, too.
No, I am not paid to be insulted,
and no, your mum won’t be coming to parents’ evening;
yes, I will spend an hour on your report,
trying to turn the phrase ‘vindictively ignorant’
into empowering standard English.
No, I don’t mind that you can’t stand me;
yes, I hear everything.
No, corporal punishment is a bad idea;
yes, it would mean that your attitude improved.
Yes, that’s a paradox, Michael. No, look it up, Michael.
Yes, I do cry sometimes at the end of the day
when the classroom and school are empty,
but, no, not because of what you say.
Yes, you have made a lot of progress this year;
no, I don’t think you’d believe me.
Yes, I agree with you, your dad is a radgeful prat.
not to his face, Michael.
Yes, all the praise for you is genuine;
no, I didn’t think it would change your life.
Yes, I do believe in you, I just don’t think that you do.
Now then, wh.///////////Could you p.
Please can y./////////////Alright, one l.