Monthly Archives: November 2016

Sunday Poem – Laura Potts

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Sunday Poem – Laura Potts

It’s been a whole two weeks since I last posted – so apologies to anybody who was waiting for the Sunday Poem.  I didn’t feel up to writing anything last weekend so decided to give it a miss.

I had another gall bladder attack the day after writing my last blog.  I went to rehearsal on Monday with the soul band but didn’t feel quite right.  I sat down for the whole rehearsal and was getting a few sharp pains, which then got worse, so I ended up back down at A & E at midnight with my husband.

It was a different pain to last time – it kind of came and went.  When it was here, it was bloody awful.  Then after about ten minutes it went.  I was so tired and just wanted to go to sleep.  I kept saying to my husband ‘I think it’s gone now, maybe we should just go home’.  Then it would come back again and I would be trying not to scream.  Luckily my husband refused to let me go back home.

We were waiting for four hours in A & E this time.  It was absolutely manic when we got there – not just adults waiting to be seen, but quite a few children and people being brought in by the police.

I thought my last time in hospital was pretty awful but this time the pain was much worse.  I eventually went up to Ward 4 again at about 5.30am.  I don’t remember much about that, except it seemed like the bay, as I was wheeled in was very shadowy.  I was really upset because I couldn’t stop being sick – in fact the poor people in the same bay as me had to put up with me being sick while their breakfast was being dished up.

There were four women in my bay and they were all really friendly and kind to me as soon as I got there.  The other women were a lot older than me, but I had some lovely conversations with them, and even had a good laugh with them on occasion as well.  One of the women had dementia, but most of the time, she wasn’t aware that she had it, and was in good spirits.  She always came out with some brilliant lines – she said to a doctor ‘Ooh, haven’t you got a big bottom?’ and to a nurse:’What are you going to do about your boobs?’  ‘What do you mean?’ said the nurse.  ‘Well, one’s up and one’s down.’

I put my earphones in at this point because I was laughing so much I was crying, and at this point, I’d had my operation as well, which made it immensely painful to laugh.

One night a woman was bought in who had obvious mental health problems, and she was getting up in the middle of the night and creeping around the ward, which was very frightening.  I lay until about 2.30am with my buzzer in my hand in case she came near me.  She ran out of our bay and ripped a fire extinguisher off the wall and tried to attack the nurses with it, then she ran back in shouting that we were all dead, as in she thought we were all dead bodies!

Eventually she had to be removed by security.  Even throughout all of this, the hospital staff were brilliant.  They protected everybody else, but they were kind but firm with the woman, even after she’d attacked them.  I think it was pretty normal for them to have to deal with stuff like this.

One of the other women on the ward passed out, but at the time, a nurse who was with her didn’t know what had happened and pulled the alarm chord.  Within seconds there were maybe ten or fifteen doctors and nurses with her – I don’t know where they all came from.  I think they suspected that she’d died because the ECG machine was set up – I think it’s an ECG machine.  They pulled the curtains around our beds but you can still hear the ‘Stand clear’ of the machine.  I sat there and sobbed and felt – I don’t know how to explain it – selfish for crying, when I didn’t really know her.  It felt like I didn’t have a right to be upset.  But when I’d been down having my operation, this woman who I will call M, had kept asking when I was coming back, and whether there had been any news, because the op took twice as long as it should have.  I honestly thought death was in the room, and the sight of the nurses rushing towards it, rather than freezing, or crying like I was, I will never forget it.

I had my operation on Tuesday morning.  I didn’t expect it to take me so long to recover.  I’ve never been in a situation where my body won’t do what I want it to do.  I was in agony getting out of bed – even now, I have to do a sideways roll to get up without any pain.  It has just been the most bizarre experience ever. This sounds cheesy as well, but I do feel changed by the whole thing.  Not by the operation, which is just one of those things that you have to get on with, but by witnessing acts of kindness and compassion, basically non-stop for four days.

My parents came up to see me in hospital and stayed until last Saturday night.  I’ve basically been resting since then and trying to take it very easy, but by Friday, I felt well enough to see my friend perform in the show ‘Made in Dagenham’ at Form 28, which I really enjoyed. It was a bit embarrassing moving around at the speed of a snail, but I hoped people would just think I was terribly hungover.  On Saturday, I went to see my friend Keith Hutson perform at A Poem and a Pint.  For the first week after the operation I worked out I could manage one thing a day i.e going to see a show in the evening, and then my body would basically shut down and refuse to do anything else.

I do feel a bit sad about having to cancel things again – I had a Soul Survivors gig two days after my operation. One of my students stepped in and covered for me. I had to miss Keith’s Manchester launch, and miss my teaching at university for two weeks in a row.  I had to cancel my reading at Maryport Literature Festival last Sunday.  I’m really hoping now that it is all over and I can get back to my normal life.

I’m feeling a lot better now – pretty much back to normal – except it still hurts if I have to pick things up from the floor so I’m trying not to do that at the minute.  And I’m still getting tired a lot easier than I usually do, which has been very difficult to get used to.

I did my first bit of work since the whole thing happened last Friday – just a two hour workshop with Dove Cottage Young Poets.  Eight new young poets turned up which I’m really happy about, as all of the group apart from two have gone off to university now.  I was shattered when I’d finished though, but they seemed to enjoy it, so fingers crossed they come back to the next session.

Yesterday I did a bit more work – Peter and Ann Sansom have asked me to put together a selection of poems from the original Dove Cottage Young Poets to publish in The North, after hearing the young poets performing at Kendal Poetry Festival.  So each of the seven who sent poems will have two poems each in the magazine which I think comes out in January.  I finished off editing the poems and writing a short prose piece to go with them yesterday, a little bit late for my original deadline, but luckily in time for the issue.

I’ve also had some good news today – Gerry Cambridge has accepted two poems for The Dark Horse magazine.  I subscribed to the magazine last year, and kind of fell in love with it.  Gerry Cambridge wrote an editorial which included some thoughts on the prize-giving culture, and then there was an essay by Kathryn Gray on this subject, which was really interesting.  I’ve not been in the magazine before, so I’m really pleased about this one.

This week’s Sunday Poem is by a poet called Laura Potts.  I only heard about Laura’s poetry through my friend John Foggin.  Laura sent me some really interesting poems to consider for the blog and I’m very happy to be posting ‘Sweet Autumn’ this week.

Laura Potts is a Yorkshire-based poet and is currently an English Literature student at The University of York. She has twice been named a London Foyle Young Poet of the Year and Young Writer, and in 2014 became a Lieder Poet at the University of Leeds. In her spare time she is editor of creativity at The Yorker, promoting spoken word and emerging writers around the UK. Laura has just returned from studying at The University of Cape Town, South Africa, and from working at The Dylan Thomas Birthplace, Swansea.

One of the things I really liked about Laura’s work was the way she uses sentences.  The first sentence seems as if it starts mid-thought, but then the next three, are very definite statements.  She pins the image down to one line, and then moves onto the next line, allowing the reader to bring something of their own to the poem.

I also like some of the verbs that Laura uses.  It reminded me of a lecture I had when I was at MMU doing an MA.  Carol-Ann Duffy said that ‘verbs are the engine of the poem.’  Well, look at stanza 2 – Laura could have used ‘washed’ in the third line, but ‘Rain argued away the grass-stained/fingerprints’ is so much more interesting than ‘Rain washed away the grass-stained/fingerprints’.

At the start of the poem, I wasn’t sure whether the ‘you’ that is addressed has actually been seen at the bus stop.  As I read onwards, I became convinced that the poem is a recollection of a childhood, or teenage love, that the ‘you’ is only seen ‘at the curb of my sleep’.  In fact the poem says that the speaker only meets the ‘you’ in sleep, when the ‘you’ is as they used to be.

It is a fantastic poem, full of little twists and turns that keep it interesting. There is obviously tenderness for the ‘you’ still – the use of ‘Darling’ and ‘Sweetheart’. The ending was very surprising as well – and gives the addressed ‘you’ a kind of seediness, that the rest of the poem doesn’t hint at.

Thanks to Laura for allowing me to post her poem, and for being patient with the various delays before this has been posted.

Sweet Autumn

And years later, you at the bus stop.
Yesterday’s leaves in your hair.
The seat where we laughed.
Our words in the air.

Sweetheart.  The years threaded up
our names scratched on the grass.
Rain argued away the grass-stained
fingerprints, the love turned over

on clumsy tongues, the moonbows,
the flimsy suns.  My skin soft-tossed
in sheets, hard-kissed.  The taste
of your words. The clench of my fist

in the deafening dawn.  Oh day,
when the pavement rolled beneath
our feet.  Bubblegum from the shop.
My Monet mouth, your Friday chips –

Stop.  Darling, how we used to crease
at the waist. Pink and white laughter
poured from our lips.  And when I meet
you at the curb of my sleep it is when

we were here, my heart in your hands,
your hands on my dress. They said you
spilt your filth down telephone wires.
Cheap love. Sex.  I wouldn’t know.

I walked away.  Like this.  Yes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunday Poem – Alison Brackenbury

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Sunday Poem – Alison Brackenbury

I’m happy to say I’m in a bit better shape than I was last Sunday when I wrote.  I’ve not had any recurring gall bladder attacks.  I’ve managed to stick to this wretched diet now for 11 days, although I did have a mishap two nights ago.  I was googling ‘healthy biscuits’ and read that Rich Tea biscuits are the healthiest.  So I cracked open the packet and ate six in one go..  When I saw my running buddy the next day, he helpfully pointed out that they are only healthy in relation to other biscuits, they still have loads of fat in.  So I was a bit annoyed at myself for this, and spent the night worrying that I was going to end up in hospital and I would have to confess I’d scoffed loads of biscuits.  Anyway, it hasn’t happened so far, so I think I will be ok.

It is strange and kind of exhausting having to worry about what I’m eating all the time.  I feel like I’m thinking about food every minute of the day at the minute, as if I’m hungry all the time.  I have now got an appointment at the hospital for the 24th November to see the consultant, so I will know more then hopefully about when the operation is going to be.

I haven’t ran all week, which has been awful.  I actually feel less mentally stable when I can’t run.  This week, I’ve burst into tears at absolutely nothing about five times, which has been a bit embarrassing.

I’ve been working quite hard on PhD stuff – trying to get my head around this RD1 form that has to be handed in mid-december, probably just about the time I will be recovering from this operation!  I’m really struggling with the RD1, with knowing what I want to do, with articulating what I want to do, with making it into a research project – all of it.

For the first time this week, I wondered what I was doing, starting a PhD, as in what have I let myself in for, and why did I have the cheek to think I could do a PhD? I feel like I’m just playing at doing a PhD, and soon someone will find me out and I’ll be in trouble.  I guess this is what they call imposter syndrome.  The logical and rational part of my brain is telling myself that this is just a wobble, that it is happening because I’m feeling vulnerable because I’ve been to hospital, because I’ve got to have an operation etc etc.  But the other part of me is basically having a silent panic attack about it all.

So apart from this existential crisis about food, life and the PhD, it has been a pretty quiet week! I’ve been taking it easy, getting some work done but no physical exercise.  I did my day of teaching at the uni on Thursday.  I even spent a whole day where I just edited some poems, which I really enjoyed doing.

I regularly ring the hotels that I run the residentials at for a bit of a chat and a gossip with the staff.  I rang Treloyhan Manor Hotel last night to see how numbers were going for St Ives.  There are still 3 rooms left, and there is an option to have a non en-suite room (so with a shared bathroom) for £365.  I think that is a bargain! Included in that price is breakfast, three-course meals and workshops and readings all week.  An en-suite room is £420 for the week.  The course is running from the 20th-25th February 2017.  If you’d like to grab one of those last few places, you can book by ringing the hotel on 01736 796240.  Or if you’d like more information about the theme for the week, you can have a look here.  If you’d like more information about the hotel, you can have a look at the Treloyhan Manor website.  The hotel is about a ten minute walk away from St Ives, and is perched on a cliff next to the sea.

In April, I’m running another residential course with Jennifer Copley as the co-tutor at Abbot Hall Hotel in Kents Bank (near Grange Over Sands).  This hotel is in a beautiful location as well, on the edge of Morecombe Bay, and there is a lovely walk along the prom to Grange, which people often do in the afternoon.  There is also a swimming pool at the hotel, which is good, as I wouldn’t advise swimming in Morecombe Bay because of the quicksand! The April course runs from the 10th-14th April and costs £448 for the week.

One thing I am looking forward to this week is a trip to Manchester to go to my friend Keith Hutson’s book launch.  He’s reading with Helen Mort, Carole Bromley and Mark Pajak, so that will be a great night! The reading is taking place at Waterstones on Deansgate.  More information here

This week’s Sunday Poem is by Alison Brackenbury – a great poet whose ninth collection Skies has just been published by Carcanet.  I managed to get hold of a copy of Alison’s book when I was down at Swindon Poetry Festival recently and I’ve really enjoyed it.  The poetry in the book is beautifully crafted and many of the poems, if not most, have intricate rhyme schemes which both draw out meaning, and hold the poems together.

alisonbrackenbury

The poem explores the unexpected arrival of a letter from an ‘old lover’ (quoted from the back of the collection).  It’s unexpected, but I wouldn’t say, unwelcome.  Let’s be honest here, there are some ex-partners you really don’t want to get a letter from after thirty years, but this poem is a tender exploration of the past, full of acceptance, not bitterness.

Alison’s poems, all the way through the book are full of strong images.  She has a number of short, four-line poems, which are really imagistic, and kudos to Carcanet for giving them a full page and the space they deserve.  There is even a two-line poem in the collection, which I can’t resist quoting to show you what I mean, about her talent with this imagistic writing.  It’s called ‘November Began’

And the fieldfares blew
over the hedgetops, like grey leaves.

Isn’t that beautiful?

I think it takes confidence to pull something like that off. And in the poem I’ve chosen as the Sunday Poem ‘January 7th’ there are images that stay in your mind as well, because they are perfectly observed: ‘My cycle coat blows on the line’ and ‘The old cat paws the door’.

There is also mystery in this poem – we don’t know what happened to the child that the speaker cries for in the third stanza, and in the fourth stanza we read ‘But now my child is married/the ones who fought me, dead,’.  There are whole other stories behind these two lines that are dropped into the poem that left me wanting to know more.

And of course, there is something unbelievably sad in admitting that you will not a person again, a person that you shared history with.  This is a complicated poem.  This is a choice the speaker makes, to not see this person again, and yet the last line, with the image of the night turning to rain, is a great portrayal of sadness or regret without referring to the abstract words.

Alison Brackenbury was born in Lincolnshire but has lived in Gloucestershire for the last forty years.  She has won an Eric Gregory Award and a Cholmondeley Award.  Previous books include Then (published in 2013), Singing in the Dark (published in 2008) and you can find out more about her other 7 collections (7!) over at her website www.alisonbrackenbury.co.uk

If you’d like to order Alison’s book, you can buy it over at the Carcanet website.

Thanks to Alison for letting me use her poem this week! I’m spending this week choosing the next set of Sunday Poems – always a fun, if time-consuming job.

 

January 7th – Alison Brackenbury

There is a low glare in the sky
sweeps to a rainy night.
The planet’s wrong, the house unsold,
and, after thirty years, you write.

My cycle coat blows on the line.
The old cat paws at the door.
I tell you I am badger grey,
but wiser than before.

I do not tell you that I cried
since it was not for you
but for a child, since they break hearts
as no mere man can do.

But now my child is married,
the ones who fought me, dead,
and I am moved by your hands’ grace
besides my clumsy head

although I cannot see you
and will not again.
My yellow coat flies like a flag.
The long night turns to rain.

Sunday Poem – Cliff Yates

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Sunday Poem – Cliff Yates

How much can change in a week! After my copious amounts of bragging on last week’s post about getting a huge PB for 10k, I was brought back down to earth with a bump this week.

On Thursday morning I woke up with abdominal and back pain, and eventually ended up in A and E at about 12pm.  The doctor who saw me in A and E said that it was probably my gall bladder, so I was transferred to a ward and given a bed for the night.  It was too late for any tests by then, so I was given lots of painkillers and then I had an ultrasound on Friday morning, which confirmed that I have an inflamed gall bladder and lots of gall stones, which are probably what caused the pain.

The pain was absolutely horrendous, and I would like not to ever experience that again! The doctor has told me to go on a low-fat diet, as fat can irritate the gall bladder and trigger another attack.  In six weeks time, I see the consultant again, and if the inflammation has gone down, I will have my gall bladder taken out.

So, this is the second day of my low-fat diet.  I think my diet was 70% healthy anyway – I eat lots of fresh food now, lots of vegetables, I don’t get takeaways any more.  However, I do have a weakness for pain au chocolats ( I was having two every morning) and scones with jam and cream.  I probably had a scone every other day at least.

This is probably the healthiest I’ve ever been in my whole life, so it’s a bit gutting that this has happened now.  These last two days though, I have noticed when I get hungry, my first idea for a snack is something sweet – a chocolate biscuit, or a chocolate bar.  So I’ve been trying to eat something healthy instead.  It’s been easy so far because I can still remember the pain, which is a good motivational factor.  But it has made me realise that I need to change the whole way I think about food.  I’ve always thought of sweet food as a treat, or reward for myself.  So now I need to find other ways of rewarding myself.

I got out of hospital on Friday afternoon and I spent most of Friday evening eating as I was starving – I’d been ‘Nil by mouth’ since Thursday lunchtime.  Yesterday was a good day because my sister and her husband came over with their three dogs, so there was lots of distractions.  Today I’ve been a bit fed up, because I was supposed to be running the Lancaster half marathon.  I’ve been training for it for ages, with a few friends and one friend in particular.  The 10k last week had given me loads of confidence that I’d got the build up right, and I was expecting to knock five minutes off my PB from last year.  And to go from whizzing around the 10k to being in hospital and unable to walk was a bit of a shock.

So today has been a bit miserable – the logical part of my brain knows that there will be other half-marathons, but it still doesn’t stop me being gutted about this one.

So before I turned into a medical emergency this week, I spent the first half of the week doing lots of reading.  I finished two collections by Marie Howe (my new favourite poet) and finally finished Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics.   

I also ordered a new anthology called ‘Women who Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence’.  I haven’t read many of the poems in the anthology, but in the introduction, the editor, Laura Madelaine Wiseman talks about the use of the terms ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’.  She proposes a third term of ‘resister’.  She says:

To be a resister is more than surviving violence, because one has taken an active step to call into question the violent act and to rally demands for change

I love this idea – I don’t like thinking of myself as a survivor, or a victim of domestic violence.  Surviving was the thing I did at the time – resisting was the poetry, the sequence at the heart of my collection The Art of Falling.  Writing poems about it does call into question the violent act – whether it rallies demands for change is another thing – I would be happy if it made one person feel less alone, which is maybe a big change in itself.

I’m not quite sure how this all relates to the PhD.  The type of everyday sexism I’ve been writing about is like a tiny pin prick of violence rather than a brutal act.  But I do think poetry is a great way to call into question not just the violent act, but my acceptance of it, other people’s acceptance of it, the normality of it.

On to today’s Sunday Poem, which is by the wonderful Cliff Yates, who I’ve met on a few occasions, but finally got to hear him read at Swindon Poetry Festival last month.  I’ve always been a fan of Cliff’s work, so it was great to hear him read.  The poem is from his Smith/Doorstop collection Jam, which came out this year.

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I think the poem I’ve chosen for this weeks Sunday Poem is representative of many of the qualities you’ll find in his work. His poetry is often laugh-out-loud funny, often tender, but always manages to invite the reader to look at the world slightly differently.   His poetry also manages that difficult thing of saying something important, without sounding self-important.  It wears its philosophy lightly.   Those two lines towards the end of the poem: ‘Middle age is a walk through the woods/without your parents.’  is a great aphorism, dropped lightly in, and then effortlessly extended ‘Your children have run ahead’ but the real lightness, and art come with having the courage to finish on that lovely line which floats away ‘The sun is out, there are so many trees.’

I also like how the poem is about a private family ritual, or joke, although joke isn’t quite the right word, it is almost like a good luck tradition.  The family always ‘walk through the gate.’ and never around it.  This idea of gates and doorways nods to all the old stories of passageways into other lands and worlds.

And the importance of the gate is always without question, despite the fact that you can walk around it, despite the fact it doesn’t keep anything out, or in.  It is so important in fact that it was once ‘painted cream/ so that she could see it.’

Cliff was born in Birmingham and now lives in Gloucestershire.  His various collections include Henry’s Clock, winner of the Aldeburgh Prize and Selected Poems, a Smith/Doorstop ebook.  He wrote Jumpstart Poetry in the Secondary School during his time as Poetry Society poet-in-residence.  He is a tutor for the Arvon Foundation and Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Aston University.

If you would like to order Jam or any of Cliff’s other collections, you can get them from the Smith/Doorstop website or if you’d like to find out more information about Cliff he has a website and blog here

 

 

Gate – Cliff Yates

A gate, halfway up the garden,
a wrought iron gate she once painted cream
so that she could see it.

You could step around the gate,
if truth were told, there’s plenty of room
on either side, but always

we walk through the gate, careful
not to latch it. Her fingers, at eighty-eight,
can no longer manage the latch

and her legs can barely manage the step,
‘Mind you shut the gate,’ she says,
as she always says, on the way back down,

turning round, just to make sure:
‘Pull it to. Keep out the draught.  That’s it.’

Middle age is a walk through the woods
without your parents.
Your children have run ahead.
The sun is out, there are so many trees.