Monthly Archives: October 2016

Sunday Poem – Penelope Shuttle

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Sunday Poem – Penelope Shuttle

 

 

Back to my bad habits of writing my blog late at night! My excuse today is that I’ve been in Lancaster running a 10k race.  I’m not even going to play it cool, pretending to drop this in casually as part of the usual run of the mill blog post…

I ran 45 minutes and 1 second for 10k!

My last ‘personal best’ time was 46 minutes and 17 seconds, about seven months ago, which is why I’m so chuffed.  I’ve been doing a bit more training though, in the last few months, so I knew I would beat my PB, but didn’t think for one second I would be at the 45 minute mark.  I was also 5th woman back, and I got the V35 prize (first time I’ve ever won a prize in a race!) and won the Ladies Team Prize along with my two friends, J and K

This race was called the ‘Jailbreak 10k’ and you signed up to do the race inside a cell in one of the prison wings.  The prison is now shut down of course, but I was actually quite freaked out by the cells.  They were very small and there was a toilet in the corner with a board at the side of it, presumably to give a bit of privacy, and that in itself was shocking – that this tiny space was for more than one person.  It was also really cold in there – and the prison wasn’t shut down that long ago! I couldn’t believe that people were kept in there, that people would have lived in there.  It definitely gave me goosebumps.  I thought the prisons I’d been into were pretty brutal, but they had nothing on the Lancaster Castle prison!

So two photos, and then I promise I will say no more about it.  The first is at the start – I did eventually get away from the unicorn.  (It was optional fancy dress for the race – only three people wore fancy dress – a Ghostbuster, a Witch and the Unicorn).  The second is at the end of the race, having just got to the top of the hill – so am in a bit of pain here, and pulling my famed ‘running face’.

 

This week has been relatively quiet apart from today! I decided I needed to get organised and make myself a timetable, to ensure I’m getting enough PhD work done.  So I did that on Monday, and did manage to make some progress.  I ordered 2 poetry collections by Marie Howe, who I’ve only just discovered.  I absolutely love her work, but this hasn’t helped with narrowing down the possibilities of poets to focus on.

I’ve also been carrying on reading Kate Millet’s ‘Sexual Politics’.  It’s a pretty big book.  I’m now over half way through though and still enjoying it.  The RD1 form is my next big hurdle, and my supervisor gave me an example one to look at.  So I’ve read that through and had a go at writing the first part of mine, just to see how it went.

I’ve also been reworking a review from last week after some feedback, and on Saturday night I had a gig with the Soul Survivors in Ulverston.  I guess it doesn’t sound that quiet now I look at it, but there hasn’t been as much rushing about as there usually is.

I’ve got a few dates coming up of readings and workshops – on Thursday I’m reading at Brantwood with Geraldine Green and Kerry Darbishire.  There is also an Open Mic – tickets are £12 and include food.

On the 4th November, the Brewery Poets are putting a reading on at The Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal.  I’m the MC, and guest poets will be Pauline Yarwood, Jennifer Copley and Ian Seed.  These nights usually sell out, so if you’d like to come, book a ticket quickly!

I’m also running my Dove Cottage Young Poets group on the 4th November, and am recruiting for new members! If you know any young people (from the age of 14 to 25) who would like to come to a free fortnightly writing group, please get in touch.  We have lots of fun, and the young poets get lots of opportunities throughout the year to perform (if they want to) and to work towards Arts Awards.

And lastly for now, on the 12th November, I’m running an all day workshop for Lancaster Spotlight.  You can find details here, but to book a place, just email spotlightclub@btinternet.com

Today’s Sunday Poem is by the wonderful Penelope Shuttle. I’ve always loved Penelope’s work, right from when I first started writing eight years ago. Penny has featured on this blog before – you can read that post here.

As you will see from this previous blog post, Penny is one of my favourite contemporary poets, so I’m quite excited that she has sent me a poem from her forthcoming collection with Bloodaxe to put up on the blog this week.  I’m even more excited that Penny has agreed to be the guest poet for the Residential Course that I’m running in St Ives next year with co-tutor David Tait.  Penny will be coming to the hotel to have dinner with the course participants, and then she will be reading from her work on the Wednesday night of the course.  There are only four places left on this course, so if you’d like to book, please get in touch with Treloyhan Manor Hotel on 01736 796240.

In 2015 Penelope published (with John Greening) their exploration in poetry  of many aspects of Heathrow airport and Hounslow Heath upon which the airport now stands:  Heath (Nine Arches). She also published a pamphlet titled Four Portions of Everything on the Menu for M’sieur Monet! (Indigo Dreams Publications). Penelope has given many readings of her work, and has been a tutor for many organisations.  She is currently a mentor for The Poetry School.

This poem comes from Penny’s forthcoming collection Will You Walk A Little Faster? which will be published by Bloodaxe in May 2017.  It was originally published in The Manhattan Review.

I love the idea of this poem – to be able to talk to your Life, to make your Life a person, rather than a collection of events.  I love that the poem seems to start mid-conversation with Life.  There’s something unbearably sad about this poem – of course, Life is addressed and personified as a seperate thing, but the whole time, we know that Life is also the speaker.

The language that is used seems deceptively simple, but the poem is full of surprising turns of phrase: ‘I’m sad of myself’ and ‘days live me in vain’ and then at the end ‘the walls are spells’ and ‘the roof’s a star’.  Maybe just because I’ve been reading a lot of Emily Dickinson but the capitalization of Life and the short lines made me think of her.

The sounds throughout the poem – all those repeated ‘L’s’ string the whole poem together.  I also love the intermittent address to Life, that comes back throughout the poem, as if the speaker is turning to Life and making sure they are still listening.

The line breaks are very effective as well, particularly at the end with the line ‘I know you so well’ which then carries onto the next line to say ‘My Life, not at all’.  I was left trying to puzzle out whether Life is known or not, and maybe that’s part of the point. Until I read the poem more carefully, I thought the ending was a repeat of the beginning and then I thought it was a straightforward reversal of the beginning, which says to Life: ‘you know me too well’.  This statement is supported throughout the poem.  What is questioned is whether the Speaker knows Life as well as the Speaker thinks they do, and just writing that I realise that of course they don’t.  We can’t know our own Lives without distance, and time to reflect, and we can never do that while we are still living them.

I hope you enjoy the poem – and please keep a look out for Penny’s collection, coming out next year.  If you’d like to find out more about Penelope Shuttle, you can go to her website here.

 

 

My Life – Penelope Shuttle

My Life, I can’t fool you,
you know me too well,
I’m sad of myself,
days live me in vain,
you test me
but bin my answers,
you’re so busy, so tired,
evenings in the glass,
drink them, My Life,
but you won’t,
driving your bargains
of years gone by,
promising me
this and that till
the walls are spells,
the roof’s a star,
and
I seal the hour
in a tear,
a mortal tear,
I know you so well,
My Life, not at all

Sunday Poem – Alan Buckley

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Sunday Poem – Alan Buckley

I’ve been training since the summer to take part in the Lancaster half marathon and Sunday is one of the days I do a long run.  Today I did 20 kilometres with a group of friends, not particularly fast, but for the first time I didn’t notice when we went past 12k.  Usually at this point my mind starts telling me to stop, and my body starts aching, but this didn’t happen today, so I’m quite pleased- in fact I forgot to look at my watch until we’d ran 15k. The half marathon is in two weeks time and I’m hoping to run under 1 hour 45 minutes, and hopefully by then, I will have shaken off this cold which is still hanging on a little.

Apart from slowly getting back into running this week, I’ve spent a lot of time reading. I’m reading as much as I can in preparation for filling out an RD1 form as part of my PhD, which is basically a three-year plan of what I’m going to be doing.  A few people have asked me if I like reading the critical stuff and I have to say, I absolutely love it. My problem is that I keep going off on a tangent.  One tangent that I’m really enjoying is reading Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics from the 70’s.  I feel like I need to read these huge feminist texts before I can strike off on my own.  I’ve just got to a chapter where she talks about a Thomas Hardy novel and it is taking all my willpower to not go off and read the Thomas Hardy novel.

I’m trying to narrow down to two or three poets that I want to concentrate on for the critical part of the PhD but I’m finding this quite difficult.  I keep falling in love with poets.  In fact, two weeks ago, I taught a session at MMU where the group got a number of poems and they had to decide the gender of the author and the publication date of the poem, and one of the poems that was included was the one that starts ‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun’.

This poem has haunted me for the last two weeks – yet when I read it for the first time, I was completely unmoved.  I hadn’t read a lot of Emily Dickinson’s work before this – although I’ve always loved “Hope” is the thing with feathers – and it has been disconcerting this week to become completely obsessed with it.  I’m starting to realise that although I want to write poems about everyday sexism, and coping mechanisms, and ways of negotiating it without going mad, it is hard to find other women writers that are tackling it directly.  I think it is going to be much more interesting to look at how female poets negotiate their way around a patriarchal system. I’m starting to become fascinated by the choices Dickinson made – to hardly leave her room – but then to write such a disturbing poem as  ‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun’.  To feel like a loaded gun, to be full of energy and power,that you cannot use without someone else to assist you.  To understand that you are both powerful, and powerless.

Emily Dickinson may of course, be another tangent, and maybe too much has been written about her already for me to add anything new.  But I am enjoying reading about her.

On Monday there was an Induction Event at uni and all the new English PhD students were invited to come along and meet each other and talk for one minute about their PhD.  As I was walking from the train station, I started to mildly panic about this, and then to laugh at the ridiculousness of panicking about speaking for one minute about something I’ve spent the last year at least thinking about and talking about with other people.  Anyway, panic aside, I did manage to talk about the PhD and it was interesting to hear what the other PhD students are doing as well.

I had a moment of sadness about leaving trumpet teaching this week as well.  I think I was standing at the photocopier before starting my workshop on Metre and Rhythm at uni, and it hit me how much I’ve learnt from being a brass teacher for 13 years.  Not least how to operate any photocopier under the sun.  I think it’s taken this long to realise how much it has given me.  Maybe up to now, I’ve been in recovery, recovering from how much I gave of myself to the job – and as a teacher you do have to give of yourself.  But this week, I realised how much I’ve learnt, how transferable it is and maybe the sadness was from realising how long it has taken to get to this point.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Alan Buckley, who I met in July this year at Ledbury Poetry Festival.  Alan’s pamphlet The Long Haul had just come out with HappenStance so I took the opportunity to get a copy from him.  The pamphlet is full of beautiful poems – I knew I was going to like it right from the first poem ‘Flame’, inspired by an instruction on the front of a matchbox  (Use matches sparingly).  This poem starts ‘Not meanness or thrift/but wisdom; respect/for each small torch/that’s kept in there.’  I love that this poem comes from a line written on a matchbox, and each four line stanza of the poem is set out like a small box.

Alan Buckley is originally from Merseyside, but moved to Oxford in the 1980’s to study English Literature and has lived there ever since.  His first pamphlet Shiver was published by tall-lighthouse and was the PBS pamphlet choice in 2009.  The Long Haul is his second pamphlet, and you can obtain a copy for a mere £5 from the wonderful publisher HappenStance. You will also find the poem ‘Flame’ that I mentioned in the previous paragraph, if you follow the link to HappenStance

The poem I’ve chosen for this week ‘Pastoral’ is that most elusive of poems – an original and compelling poem about roadkill.  There are lots of excellent poems about hitting an animal whilst driving – but this poem takes as its central concern an animal that has already been hit, that is already dead, and which is glimpsed only for ‘a second or two.’

Pastoral – Alan Buckley

Glimpsed for no more than a second or two
(I was pushing eighty-five near Stokenchurch Gap)
but enough for a thought to surface: the possibility

that the heft of snout and fur by the central barrier
belonged to a creature that was deaf and asleep,
having nodded off in the morning sun as it looked

for a chance to cross; and this was why it lay there,
oblivious to the cars and lorries bouldering past.
Deaf and asleep, its belly filled with a slither

of worms as it dreamed its brockish dreams,
in which it was busy reliving the night just gone,
when it scuttled through fields of silvery grass

beneath an avuncular moon.  And beyond the black,
hard river that carves its way down Aston Hill
a hole in the earth was waiting – a small darkness,

ready to fall back behind this animal’s tail, like
the heavy curtain at the entrance to a private room,
shielding from view a silent, untouchable space.

We can infer as the poem progresses that the creature is a badger – the main clue comes halfway through the poem when we read ‘Deaf and asleep, its belly filled with a slither/of worms as it dreamed its brockish dreams’.  The words ‘deaf and asleep’ come twice – once in the second stanza, when the speaker imagines it has ‘nodded off in the morning sun as it looked/for a chance to cross’ and then again in the third stanza, when we read about the ‘slither of worms’ and the speaker imagines that the badger is ‘reliving the night just gone.’  The description of this night is wonderfully lyric as well – lines that when I read them, I wished I’d written: ‘when it scuttled through fields of silvery grass/beneath an avuncular moon.’

This poem seems to be balanced between different extremes to me. The difference between life and death, between sleeping and waking, between movement and speed and complete stillness.  The poem allows us to feel a connection with the animal, but then by the end of the poem, makes us aware that feeling connected with another creature is ultimately doomed to failure, that another being is always unknowable.  We’re left with the image of the badger re-entering its hole, and the darkness ‘shielding from view a silent, untouchable space.’

I hope you enjoy the poem – please feel free to comment – I do love reading the comments, and am endeavouring to make sure I remember to reply, rather than just smiling and reading them, and I know the poets that I feature here are always very appreciative of having readers that engage with their work.

News about St Ives February Residential

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News about St Ives February Residential

I’m really excited about the next residential that I’ll be running in February with one of my best friends David Tait, who also happens to be a fabulous poet and tutor.  David and I have been working on the theme of the residential, and I hope you like what we’ve come up with!

Below you will find the blurb describing the overall theme of the course.  Each workshop that we run during the week will focus on poetry from a particular country or continent.

There are now only four places left on this course, so if you’d like to come, I would advise booking your place as soon as you can.

If you’d like to book, please ring the hotel directly on 01736 796240

If you’d like more information about the course, you can look here, or please get in touch via the Contact page, or comment below.

Panorama: Poems from Around the World!
Residential Poetry Course, February 20th-25th 2017
Treloyhan Manor, St Ives
Tutors: David Tait and Kim Moore
Guest Poet: To be Announced
Cost: £430

Are you interested in diving deeper into the wide world of poetry? Well then, come and join us for an internationaltastic course in the wonderful setting of St. Ives, where we will be exploring poetry from across the world to inspire our own work. Expect to be introduced to unfamiliar names, and to discover new and exciting approaches to poetry. We will be joined mid-week by a special guest poet. This course is both suitable for beginners and more experienced writers. Join us for this panoramic view of world poetry, our very own poem-arama!

Sunday Poem – Keith Hutson

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Sunday Poem – Keith Hutson

I’ve had a rough day today.  I’ve spent most of it in bed with a horrible cold.  I’ve been ignoring this cold since Thursday but I succumbed today and spent the morning feeling very sorry for myself.  I didn’t get to do my usual Sunday run this morning, and I’d planned to go to Keswick to meet up with my cousin but I couldn’t drag myself out of bed.

I’m feeling a little bit better this afternoon.  I’m terrible at being ill – I’m impatient, and I get bored easily, and I feel guilty when I’m not doing something useful.  So spending a whole morning in bed was awful.

I’ve been in touch with Treloyhan Manor Hotel in St Ives and there are only 6 places left for the February 2017 Residential Poetry Course I’m running there with co-tutor David Tait.  Our guest poet who will be reading mid week is the fabulous poet Penelope Shuttle.  If you have been thinking about coming, I would suggest booking sooner rather than later – places will be limited to 16 and they seem to be selling quite fast.

Last weekend I was Poet in Residence at Swindon Poetry Festival which involved running two workshops, giving a poetry reading and then just generally hanging about and chatting to people (yes that really was in the job description!)  If you are looking for a small, friendly, slightly madcap poetry festival full of quirks, whacky ideas and things you probably won’t find at any other festival in the UK, then I would recommend Swindon.  It’s run by my friend Hilda Sheehan who is a brilliant poet herself, and whose enthusiasm and humour gives the whole weekend a unique and wonderful feel.

On the Friday night of the festival, I was released from my Poet in Residence duties as I had a reading at Winchester Poetry Festival.  I was reading with Ian Duhig and Sophie Hannah.  I loved reading with these two poets – I’ve read with Ian before, and he is one of those rare poets who actually has ‘Greatest Hits’ poems – like his ‘From the Irish’ poem – it doesn’t seem to matter how many times I hear it, I still enjoy it.  It was great to hear him read from his brand new collection of course, as well.

And Sophie Hannah – I bought one of her Carcanet collections when I was first starting to write poetry.  She has a wonderful and funny way of looking at the world – one of my favourite poems of hers that she read was about ‘people who flounce off’ – her premise being that there are people that flounce off, and people that don’t, and she is one of the people that don’t flounce off.  And where, she asked do the people who flounce off go to?

I went to a fascinating Close Reading by Frances Leviston on a John Berryman poem and a brilliant talk by Sinead Morrisey about researching her grandfather’s life as a Communist in Belfast.   I was also really pleased to meet up with a poet who I first met on a residential poetry course that I ran in St Ives.  We went to a stall and got some thai food and sat on a bench in the town centre to eat our food before going to the reading.  This was a new experience for me as I usually like to sit in a cafe and drink endless cups of tea whilst eating, but I quite enjoyed it and it meant we got to the reading in time.

I got up nearly every morning at 7am when I was in Swindon and went for a 5k run around Coate Water Park.  There is a lovely old diving board in the middle of the lake which I’m told nobody uses anymore and a path right round the lake which was perfect for running.  I don’t really like running on my own though and it was a relief to get back this week to going out for a run with my usual group of friends.

One of the highlights of Swindon Poetry Festival for me was seeing a few close friends perform.  I saw Roy Marshall read from his new collection, and was really impressed, both with the poems and his delivery, and then my friend Keith Hutson did a fantastic hour long show using material from his new pamphlet Troupers, published by Poetry Salzburg.

I must admit to being slightly worried about Keith when I heard he would be reading for an hour, but he was fantastic.  He managed to hold the attention of the audience, and it was a really entertaining hour.  The pamphlet is a sequence of thirty one sonnets celebrating famous Music Hall and Variety performers. As Keith was reading the sonnets out, there were lots of appreciative oohs from the audience who were old enough to remember the performers he was talking about (sadly, I am way too young to know any of them BUT I still enjoyed it!)

I asked Keith if I could post up the first sonnet here this weekend which he kindly agreed to.  I think this is a lovely poem, and the way Keith handles the rhymes, using half rhymes, and slant rhymes is great.  This poem is funny – look at that line ‘Some critics called it/nothing but self injury with rhythm’ and the mention of the character called ‘Tom Platt and his Talking Pond’ is great – what on earth was the Talking Pond and how did he get it on stage? We’ll never know – well not unless you ask Keith, who probably does know.

My favourite bit about the poem though is at the end, with the mention of running, not just running but running ‘on joy alone’.  When I read that, I thought, yes, I’ve done that, I’ve ran on joy alone.  In fact, only a couple of weeks ago, I was 8 miles into a hard, tough, hilly 12 mile run, and I got to the top of a hill and the view made me spread my arms wide as I ran down the hill, and it felt like I could take off, even though I was exhausted,that was joy.

So, below, you will find this joyful poem, by my mate Keith Hutson, whose enthusiasm when he is performing is infectious.  Keith used to write for Coronation Street and his poetry has been widely published in journals such as The North, The Rialto, Stand, Magma, Agenda and Poetry Salzburg Review.  He delivers poetry and performance workshops for The Prince’s Trust and The Square Chapel Centre for the Arts.

Keith will be appearing as the guest poet for A Poem and a Pint on the 19th November 2016 at The Laurel and Hardy Museum.   I hope you enjoy the poem!

Juvenile – Keith Hutson
i.m. Georgie Doonan 1897-1973

In time to a drumbeat, Georgie Doonan
kicked his own backside.  Some critics called it
nothing but self-injury with rhythm.
A newspaper dismissed the act as fit
only for idiots with no command 
over their sense of wonder, and went on
to call for Tom Platt and His Talking Pond,
no less, to come back, all is forgiven!

So why, when Georgie booted his behind,
did those who knew no better split their sides?
He must have made an impact deeper down.
And I know I’d have laughed, which won’t surprise
you if you’ve ever run on joy alone,
heels bouncing bum-high; if that’s what you’ve known.

Sunday Poem – Bob Horne

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I’m sat in my writing room looking out at darkness once again.  That isn’t entirely accurate of course.  I can see the edges of the houses whose back gardens lead onto ours.  I can make out the shape of a tree in one of the gardens, although our hawthorn tree is invisible.  To the right, the lights in a conservatory glow and every now and then, I see a car pass between the gaps in the houses.  I know if I opened the window, I would hear nothing until a car made its way up the hill.

I used to live in a street where at night the whole place would come alive. The arguments that had simmered quietly in the daytime would burst out once darkness fell.  Once I was woken up by somebody kicking a front door in across the road.  Once I was woken up by a fight.  Once I was woken up by somebody smashing someone’s car windscreen in.  Once a man who lived across the road, who was an alcoholic opened my front door and stumbled in, then stumbled out again.

In my old house, the morning was filled with seagulls crying.  We were closer to the sea than we are now, although we couldn’t see it.  We lived in an area of Barrow where the terraced houses seemed to make the sky smaller somehow.  Up here, at the top of a hill, the sky seems bigger, and the birds that I hear first thing in the morning are the sparrows. I realise I’ve never lived anywhere where there were birds before.

In Birmingham, where I lived for a year, there was the constant hum of a main road outside the front door.  There was a garden, but I never ventured into it.  In Leeds, the noise outside was of traffic, and a nightclub that held afternoon raves, as well as evening ones.  I’ve never lived anywhere so quiet before as here.

Everything links to everything else doesn’t it? Thinking about Leeds, and Birmingham, in the time when I still wanted, more than anything to be a professional trumpet player.  It’s no coincidence that this is on my mind this week, as I’ve spent more hours than I have in years playing the trumpet.

I’ve been playing in a production of The Wizard of Oz every night in Ulverston.  I started the week in agony – I went to a soul band rehearsal and could hardly play because I had a painful back and neck.  After talking to Julie (the sax player) I’ve really been working to try and keep my shoulders relaxed when I’m playing.  I’ve literally been forcing my shoulder blades down.

Just this simple act has completely transformed my playing.  My lip has lasted for the whole show instead of for 20 minutes.  I’ve been playing the high notes and it has felt easier.  I’m trying to remember now whether my teacher at music college ever said to put my shoulders down.  I can’t remember it if he did.  Maybe he said ‘Relax’ without explaining how to do this.

On Saturday I had three gigs – a matinee and evening performance of The Wizard of Oz and half of a soul band gig to do, and my lip held out! Before this little trick of keeping my shoulders down, I’d have been goosed after the first matinee.

Imagine meeting an ex who you loved more than you loved anybody before, but you met at the wrong time, or you were not ready, your head wasn’t right when you met, and the chances, the ones you were given, passed you by, or you did not reach out and take them.  Now imagine you meet that ex, but you have got older in the normal course of things, but they have stayed at whatever age they were when you met them.  They are unchanged.  That is how I feel about playing the trumpet  – I start playing again, and all the old ghosts that I didn’t deal with in the past, come back again.  I didn’t stop playing because I didn’t love it still, or that I wasn’t good.  I stopped playing because I didn’t feel good enough, because I couldn’t handle the feelings it brought up of doubting myself.

As you can probably tell, I’m still working through all of this in my own head.  I am really happy to be playing again, and there is some sadness as well that I’ve taken this long to get to this point – it feels like coming full circle in some ways, without even meaning to.

So apart from my epiphany (put your shoulders down) and my trumpet angst, and my joy at the feeling of playing my trumpet every day for the first time in many, many years I’ve had lots of other stuff going on as well.  I haven’t done as much running this week because I’ve been busy with other stuff, but I used the opportunity of a low milage week to have a go at Park Run on Saturday and get a new personal best time for 5k of 21.54.  I am very chuffed to be under 22 minutes for 5k.

I’ve also had an interesting week poetry wise.  I’ve been asked to be the ‘Artist of the Month’ in a local paper ‘Ulverston Life’ so on Monday I went to Ulverston and was interviewed by the lovely Helen Shacklady who has promised to turn my incoherent ramblings into something that is worth reading.

On Wednesday I went to Furness Abbey to record a poem that I’ve been commissioned to write for National Poetry Day by the BBC.  The brief was to write a poem in the voice of a landmark. I decided to write a poem in the voice of Furness Abbey, telling its life backwards.  If it is good enough for the story of my niece and her first boxing match, (see my first collection if you don’t know what I’m talking about) then it is good enough for Furness Abbey.  My interview for this was pretty dire – I forgot to mention anything about my publications which would have made me sound like I knew what I was doing and instead told the journalist about how I started writing poems every time I got dumped.  Oh well. It’s too late to worry about that one now as well!  The poem will be broadcast on BBC Cumbria on National Poetry Day and apparently there will also be a Facebook video of me walking around the Abbey looking up at the walls.  What could possibly go wrong with this?  Let’s hope the journalist wasn’t still recording when I did my Kate Bush impression whilst leaping through the Furness Abbey arches…

On Thursday I did my first day of teaching at Manchester Met.  I did a five minute talk in the lecture to about 100 students about a poem that I loved, alongside Angelica Michelis and Martin Kratz, the other lecturers on the unit that I’m teaching on, and then I did my first two seminars with my student groups.  I was really nervous about the lecture part, but once I got going I was fine, and  I really loved the teaching part.  There were no problem behaviours to manage.  I didn’t have to ask people repeatedly to be quiet.  I didn’t have to convince them that my subject was worthwhile and interesting.  I didn’t have to bite my tongue and keep my temper.  I didn’t need any patience.  It was bloody marvellous!

I also managed to get to the library and got out far too many books in one go, but I got a bit over-excited.  Tomorrow, I’m going for my Induction Day for my PhD, and I’m hoping this will kickstart me into getting to work, as I don’t feel that I’ve really knuckled down yet.  Oh and joy and rapture – I also got my staff card sorted so it is in my actual name rather than my married name.

So, on to today’s Sunday Poem.  I hope you’ve managed to read this far.  Bob Horne was kind enough to send me his first pamphlet, Knowing My Place, published by Caterpillar Poetry.  As well as being a great poet (as you’ll see from the poem) Bob is also a publisher, having set up the small press Calder Valley Poetry at the beginning of 2016. Since then, he has published five pamphlets by writers including John Foggin, Peter Riley, Steve Ely, Mark Hinchliffe  and John Duffy, with a pamphlet by Stephanie Bowgett in the pipeline.

I don’t know Bob very well, but when I have met him, the impression I got was one of generosity towards other writers and enthusiasm about poetry.  This has been borne out in the brief email exchange we’ve had, where he was very humble about his own work, preferring to talk about his work as a publisher.  So it is nice to put the spotlight on Bob’s own poetry for once!   Bob did tell me he did a Poetry MA at Huddersfield University in the mid 1990’s but then had a break until three years ago, when he started attending local events at The Albert, Puzzle and other local venues such as Anthony Costello’s Kava Kultura in Todmorden and Keith Hutson’s Square Chapel sessions.

This poem reminded me at first of one of my favourite poems – ‘Those Winter Sundays’ by Robert Hayden.  It seemed to me as if Bob was tipping his hat to this earlier poem – so I’d be interested to see if he has read the Hayden poem or not! If Bob has read the poem, then I think it is a lovely way of building up the layers of this poem.  The similarities between the two poems lie in the physical action of a ‘he’ lighting a fire, and in the use of the word ‘austere’ which seems, in my mind at least, to link them both together.  Bob’s poem is much more, I think about the self, and looking back on quite a solitary figure, of looking at a small space, and what happens when you move from the past to the present, from small spaces, to spaces without any boundaries, whereas the Hayden poem explores the relationship between a father and son, and the emotional dynamics of a household.

I love the focused concentration on the physical actions in the poem – there are lots of wonderful details that are very carefully observed: ‘Then, a scratch/ and a bud of flame’.  I love both the scratch and the bud of flame.

The title of the poem tells us where we are, and at first there is a narrowness, an inwardness to this poem.  The speaker is looking back to a particular season, a particular year, a particular house and room.  But by the end of the poem, it completely opens out, both to the wider world: ‘a rush of smoke/slid up the sooty/blackness of the chimney/to vanish in faraway air’ but it also opens out from the past to the present with that wonderful ending with the grown up shadow gazing back.

I do think this last stanza is extraordinary – it is both situated in the past and the present, the statue being the thing that time pivots around.  We’ve all been small and had our shadow, larger than ourselves thrown against a wall.  But this last stanza could equally be taking place now, in the present moment.

Thanks to Bob for letting me use his poem.  I hope you enjoy it!

Living Room – Bob Horne

I remember winter mornings
in nineteen fifty-one,
standing on the corner
of a ragged hearth-rug,
austere light from outside
screened by clothes on the creel.

With a hand-brush’s worn bristles
he swept cold ashes
from under the grate,
shovelled them onto paper
to be parcelled and stuffed
in the dustbin.

Then, a scratch,
and a bud of flame
felt along the ends
of knots of newsprint.
As they browned and flaked,
fire flowed through a stack

of sticks and coal from the cellar,
a rush of smoke
slid up the sooty
blackness of the chimney
to vanish in faraway air.

I turned to look across the room,
the heat at my back.
Still, in the middle
of a flickering wall,
my grown-up shadow
gazed back at me.