Monthly Archives: December 2016

Goodbye 2016!

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2016spreadsheet

The traditional end of year post.  This New Years Eve I’m going to a house party.  The dress code is pyjamas apparently which I don’t know whether to be pleased or disappointed with, as I seem to have spent most of the last three months in my pyjamas.  Or else my running gear.  Pyjamas are the PhD student dress code.  Or at least they are mine anyway.  I love the fact that I’ve not had to get dressed all day – sounds frivolous, but it really is a 2016 highlight for me.

In the image above you can see my 2016.  I don’t often mention Brexit, or Trump very often on here.  It’s not because I don’t care, it’s just that I think it deserves more thought than just dropping it into a blog post.  So there is no indication of world events on my colour chart.  But this was my life last year.

The squares that are coloured in blue are all trumpet gigs.  So there are Soul Survivor gigs on there – but I also got back into playing for a few shows again – this year I did White Christmas, Annie and The Wizard of Oz.  I don’t know how many more shows I’ll get asked to do – it’s very rare that I have a full week clear, so I often have to turn them down, but I absolutely love playing in them, so I hope I get some more!

The red squares are poetry workshops or residentials.  I’ve absolutely loved running workshops and courses this year.  I co-tutored on a schools course in February with Clare Shaw and then a week’s residential with Steve Ely in St Ives a couple of weeks later.  I ran a second Poetry Carousel with Clare Shaw, Tsead Bruinja and Billy Letford in August in Grange Over Sands. I’ve carried on running my Dove Cottage Young Poets group and my monthly Barrow Poetry Workshop throughout 2016, and managed to fit in tutoring on a Poetry School course in Manchester as well.  In September, I started teaching at Manchester Metropolitan University, which I absolutely love. It’s probably my favourite type of teaching that I’ve done – I can’t believe it’s took me this long to do it. I was offered some teaching at the university last year, but I didn’t have the confidence to do it – although at the time I convinced myself I wouldn’t have time to fit it in – so that has been a lesson learnt this year – I definitely need to believe in myself a little more.

The green squares are readings.  This year, I was chosen to be part of the Read Regional scheme so I had 10 (or possibly 11) readings in libraries all over the north.  I also read at Swindon Poetry Festival, Winchester Poetry Festival, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Bradford Literature Festival.  I went over to Holland to read at a festival in Groningen and got to spend time with Jan Glas, one of my favourite people to spend time with.  I read on BBC6 with Cerys Matthews and at a late night poetry and music event at the Proms.  One of the things I felt most proud of this year was being invited to be a guest poet at a course at Ty Newydd.  I’ve been on many, many residentials at Ty Newydd and they meant so much to me when I was first starting out.  I remember sitting in the library mid-week listening to the guest poet, and never dreaming that one day I would be the guest poet!

Probably my highlight of the year though was setting up the first Kendal Poetry Festival with my friend Pauline Yarwood.  We didn’t think we’d get funding, or that the festival would sell out.  The weekend of the festival was wonderful – and although I expected to be knackered, I didn’t expect to be left wanting to do it all again!  The second festival will, subject to funding, be taking place from the 16th-18th June 2017.

I also of course, left my music teaching and my brass band conducting behind which was a massive life change and started a PhD.  I’ve just had a look at my end of year blog from last year, and there is no mention of wanting to start a PhD.  I have wanted to do one for ages though, but it was (again) one of those things that I thought was out of my reach.  I feel very lucky that I’ve been given full funding, and so far, I’m really enjoying it, which is lucky as I’ll be doing it for the next three years.

It hasn’t all been great though – the last couple of months have been difficult.  I’m hardly ever ill, so having my gall bladder out was not only a physical shock, but mentally it has been very hard, being forced to stop, and in the longer term to slow down.  Really I was only out of action for a couple of months and it felt like the end of the world!  I know I’m incredibly lucky to have my health back again, to be able to go to hospital and to be fixed up, to have had compassionate care from the NHS staff – and to have my wonderful friends, who really rallied round to cheer me up when I needed it.  I have so much respect for my friends and students who are struggling with more long-term health issues.

The things that aren’t marked on that chart are my two days of brass teaching I was doing a week until July and the three brass band rehearsals I was conducting. No, I don’t know how I fitted it in either.  And the running isn’t marked in of course.  I have loved running this year – it has been a bit bitter sweet, because I got as fit as I have ever been before suddenly having to drag myself to hospital, and having my hopes of breaking my personal record for a half marathon dashed, but there are worse things that happen after all.  At the minute, I’m doing 5-7k runs and every run feels like such hard work – I’m trying to get my fitness back, and there is no such thing as an easy run at the minute.  Having said that, I feel very happy that I can actually go and do it, even if I am puffing along very slowly.

I don’t really get New Year’s Eve – I don’t feel euphoria at midnight like lots of other people seem to.  I never know what I want to be doing at midnight – if I could do anything in the world, I would probably still be undecided as the old year slipped away. I would like to have more time for my friends and family in 2017.  I’d like more time for poetry and more time for running and more time for PhD and more time for gallivanting about.  Just more time in general would be nice.

Tomorrow is the Sunday Poem and tomorrow’s poet has been very patiently waiting for her turn so I am determined to write the blog, despite plans for park run and travelling to my sisters.  But for now, I will leave you with my one seasonal poem – a New Years Eve poem from a few years ago in Hebden Bridge.

I hope you all have a fantastic 2017.

New Year’s Eve – Kim Moore

This one started the same as the others,
the waiting for midnight, talking to strangers
as what’s left of the year drags itself off

and we stand on the bridge as fireworks
burst silent at midnight, the tipping point
when you could fall between years

and no one would notice, but afterwards
it wasn’t the same, because we danced to
‘Not Alone Anymore’ by the Travelling Wilburys

and I believed him, Roy Orbison, I mean,
I remember sitting at my grandmother’s feet
with his voice on repeat,

and this time was different because David
was in love, as if love hadn’t happened before,
as if he’d been months at sea and just returned

and this was the last thing they had to do this year.
They’ve not learnt to be disappointed in one another
as the year that they met skulks from the room

and the new one comes in with its arms full of love,
the dogs smelling of rain and the woods
where we walked the last dusk of the year

and who else would know the words to Alanis
but David, who fell asleep sitting up, swaying
like a paper boat on slow moving water.

 

 

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Sunday Poem – Helen Mort

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helenI’ve not been to one school christmas concert this year.  I’ve not played one christmas carol, or conducted a christmas carol.  This is my first end-of-term where I am not a music teacher.  It obviously feels very different – this year, my end-of-term has come to an undramatic end, quietly fizzing out on its own.  Last week at university, only a few students showed up for their last class of the year – and it was a very quiet, relaxed session.  The end-of-term I’m used to consists of last-minute rehearsals for performances and crisis management as instruments fall apart, children don’t turn up or they turn up but forget their instruments.  End of term as a music teacher felt like life speeding up to twice the speed it normally goes while everybody else was slowing down and watching Disney to pass the afternoons.
This year has obviously been different.  When I look back at the madness that used to be my end of term, I do feel a wave of nostalgia, maybe even longing, but only for a moment or two, thank goodness.

This week I’ve been working a lot on my RD1 form – although I have nothing to show for it, as it has mainly consisted of reading.  I’ve been reading ‘Feminism and Poetry’ by Jan Montefiore.  There is a really interesting but quite complicated section on Imaginary Identity and the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan.  Jan Montefiore writes ‘in traditional love poems in which a masculine poet idealises a figure (generally though not invariably that of a woman’ into a mirroring muse who reflects back to him his own ideal image.  This is a narcissistic form of representation, which denies true identity to its object in ways closely responding to those analysed by the French psychoanalyist Luce Irigaray as characteristic of masculine discourse in general’.

I’m currently writing a series of poems which I’ve called ‘All the Men I Never Married’.  Every poem has a man that I’ve encountered in some way – some are ex-boyfriends, some are friends, some are strangers.  I keep thinking about this idea of a woman being used to reflect back an image, and wondering how this translates in the poetry that I’m writing.  If I am looking back at my life or memory, or looking out at the world through the prism of men, is this a feminist thing to do? Is that what I’m doing? I don’t think I’m using men as a mirror to reflect back my own ‘ideal image.’  But maybe I’m using them as a microscope, or a telescope, or maybe even a map, to find my way around the self.  Maybe that is as bad as using them as a mirror! If I wrote a poem with a man as a mirror, what would it look like? Maybe I should try.  Except I need to get on with the RD1 form, so I will have to put this line of thought on hold for a moment, but I think I can insert Lacan and Montefiore and Irigaray into my RD1, which might be the theory that I need to hold the whole precarious thing upright.

This week has been very varied – there is a wonderful, tiny hall down the road from me – the Ormsgill and Hawcoat Memorial Hall, which is owned by the ‘village’ of Hawcoat.  I’ve always wondered what it was like inside, and my husband has managed to track down the key holder, and I went to see it this week.  I’ve decided to hire it for my 2017 Barrow Poetry Workshops.  It has its own kitchen and I can walk to it from my house, which is very convenient.

I also went to see Pauline Yarwood this week and we spent a long time working on the Arts Council grant to put on another Kendal Poetry Festival in 2017.  I’m sure filling in the Arts Council application form is like giving birth.  I can’t remember it being this painful last year, but it must have been.  Did the birth of the festival erase all the memory of drudgery and despair from my mind? It must have done.

After I finished teaching at university this week, I drove to Todmorden to take part in the last ever Kava.  This is a series of readings and lectures run by the ever-energetic and enthusiastic Anthony Costello.  The format of the evening is a lecture by a poet on anything to do with poetry and then a poetry reading by another poet.  I read at Kava a while ago and had such a bad cough and cold that my friend Keith Hutson had to jump up and speak for me.  I was relieved that I was in better shape this time round.

The scary (and wonderful) thing about giving the lecture at Kava is that Anthony prints it out in a little booklet.  This means that the lecture requires much more careful thought than if you were merely reading it out without any written evidence.

 

I really enjoyed the event – it was lovely to see so many people who I count as friends.  I think this particular area of Yorkshire is brimming over with poetry talent.  I’d also like to thank Anthony if he is reading this – he has done a brilliant job putting these events on – I know how hard it is to organise events, and what a thankless task it is sometimes.

Having said I really enjoyed the event, it also gave me a lot to think about and puzzle over.  After telling the audience I was going to talk about my PhD topic, which is writing poetry about everyday sexism, I hadn’t got to the bottom of the page before a man interrupted to tell me that he didn’t think sexism or racism existed.  Anthony handled this really well, and asked the man to wait for questions at the end – so I continued onwards. When he raised his hand to make this point again, I responded by saying that I thought it was important to have names for things that happen that the act of naming is really important.

One thing I noticed in the break was that lots of men came up to tell me their own experiences of sexism.   At the time it just felt like a series of fairly normal conversations.  The next morning I woke up feeling – a bit stunned is probably the best description.  I felt annoyed by the ‘sexism doesn’t exist’ man, but at least I knew why with that.  There was also something funny about being interrupted by a man, when I’d been asked to give a lecture.  Annoying, but yes, I can see the funny, slightly ridiculous side as well.

But I also felt unsettled by the amount of men who had come to tell me about their experiences of sexism – and this was harder to reconcile, and is harder to reconcile because some of the men who told me about their experiences of sexism are my friends, and I love them dearly.  Why did I wake up feeling unsettled?  I’m still not completely clear, but I think it has something to do with how we listen to others.

If a woman talks about oppression that happens on an everyday and continual basis, and the first thing you say in response to this is that sexism doesn’t exist, that is a blatant attempt to silence, to sabotage.  If a woman talks about oppression that happens on an everyday and continual basis, and the first thing you say in response to this is to recount your own singular experience of sexism, which happened about forty years ago, that is not silencing, or sabotaging.  But it isn’t listening either.  Maybe it is more like muting.

Having said that, I genuinely believe the men who talked to me about their experiences of sexism were trying to reach out, to connect, to empathise or sympathise.  Maybe there is no perfect reaction when we are talking about oppression and discrimination.  But imagine how strange it would be if a person who was black or ethnic minority talked about their experiences of racism, and then I went up to them to tell them about my own random and singular experience of racism as a white person.

In fact, even as I write this, I realise I’ve done a version of this!  My friend was telling me about homophobia that he experienced, and I told him about going into a gay club with a friend, and hearing the bouncer refer to me disparagingly as a ‘breeder’.  Now, why did I do that?  My intention was good – I think I wanted to tell him I understood discrimination on the grounds of your sexual preference.  But here’s the thing as I see it now, thinking back. I didn’t understand discrimination on the grounds of sexual preference, because it was something I have experienced only once, in that moment.  It was something I could walk away from.  It happened when I was about 18 – I’ve remembered it all these years so it obviously had an impact – I remember thinking how unfair it was, and how shocked I was by it.  But I couldn’t claim to experience it in the same way that my friend had experienced it for most of his life.

Thinking about this gives me a little bit more of an insight into the motivations of the men who came up to tell me their own stories.  And it’s taken me to the age of 36, and writing this blog, to puzzle out why I shouldn’t have slapped my story of discrimination on the grounds of sexual preference right on top of my friend’s story about the many forms of homophobia he had experienced.  It was so long ago, I can’t even remember which friend it was now, which is a shame, because I’d like to apologise.

Anyway, I hope that all of this doesn’t sound like I didn’t enjoy Kava because I did.  I really enjoyed it, and the chance to see lots of my friends that I haven’t seen for a while.  The whole night, as you’ve just read has made me question my own assumptions and prejudices and thinking.  It’s made me realise that the PhD is going to be challenging and exciting and difficult and frightening.  Which is probably a good heads up at this point.

I started the lecture at Kava by saying my thoughts on the whole subject are still very new, and evolving.  As part of the lecture, I included one of Helen Mort’s poems ‘Difficult Women’.  I heard Helen read this poem at the 2016 Kendal Poetry Festival, and I loved it then.  I included it in the lecture as an example of the problematic way that women are talked about.

I love the way that the poem mixes up the factual language about other things and inserts the word ‘woman’ in there like the line ‘If a difficult woman hits you at 30 miles per hour/you have a 50 percent chance of survival.’   I’m guessing the word ‘woman’ should really be the word ‘car’.  And later on, in stanza 2 ‘In London it’s said that you’re never more than 6 feet/from a difficult woman.’  I think that is usually said about rats.  I’ve already told Helen that I think she should have some ‘I am a difficult woman’ t-shirts made.  I’d definitely wear one.

The sad thing about this poem of course, is that the women in it are not really being difficult at all.  The voice of the poem makes out they are being difficult – ‘crowding’ the bus stop, ‘refusing to budge’ or worse ‘driving cars’.  But the reality that the voice tries to create is only a version of reality.  In truth – the Difficult Women in the poem are just living.  They are waiting for the bus stop, they are walking, running, cycling or driving cars.  They are pictured in newspapers, or serving coffee.  They are moving into your road – pretty normal things really.

Maybe the poem is also commenting on the difficulty of defining women – the women portrayed in the poem are very different versions of what it means to be a woman.

The end of the poem is also very unsettling.  Who is the poem addressing, and who is the voice of the poem? Is it an ironic, cool voice of a woman addressing women – the last line leads me to think so.  Although the last line doesn’t say ‘Are you afraid you may be a difficult woman yourself?’ It says ‘Are you afraid you may be difficult yourself?’.  Does this imply that men can also be difficult, that being difficult is a state to aspire to? I’m left with that feeling- that it would be a compliment to be difficult.  Or the speaker of the poem could be a man, the type of man who wrote the article on AskMen.com in the first place.

Most of you will already know Helen’s work, I’m sure, but just in case you don’t, the poem comes from her latest collection No Map Could Show Them published by Chatto in 2016.   Helen was born in Sheffield and her first collection Division Street was shortlisted for the Costa Prize and the T.S. Eliot Prize.  In 2014 she won the Fenton Aldeburgh Prize.  She writes an interesting and thought-provoking blog called Freefall.  She also has her own website where you can find more information about Helen.

I think this is a fantastic poem – it has layers and layers that I’m sure I’ve only begun to unpick.  It has haunted me since I first heard Helen read it, so I’m really pleased that she has allowed me to feature it on the blog this week, and to let me use it in the lecture at Kava.

Difficult Women by Helen Mort
“God knows there are difficult women out there. Women who are – at times – shallow, bitchy, selfish, dishonest and, of course, crazy.” – AskMen: Why Men Date Difficult Women

Difficult women don’t care what time it is, they’re
crowding the bus stop with their difficult bodies,
refusing to budge for the light, or in the parks,
dragging their difficulty behind them like a fat dog.
Some of them are running, cycling, or worse,
driving cars. If a difficult woman hits you at 30 miles per hour
you have a 50 percent chance of survival. At home
difficult women are more like walls than windows
but if you lean on one, you fall straight through
and sometimes at night they show your face.

Difficult women don’t know they’re born.
Difficult women don’t know the meaning of the word.
There could be one folded into your newspaper,
holding her breasts like oranges. There might be
one carrying your coffee, or moving to your road.
In London, it’s said you’re never more than 6 feet
from a difficult woman. Have you or a colleague
had a difficult woman in the last 6 months?
If so, you may be entitled to compensation.
Do you have difficulty with our questions?
Are you afraid you may be difficult yourself?

 

 

 

Sunday Poem – John Mills

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Sunday Poem – John Mills

Another week with no medical disaster, trauma or mishap so I think I am out of the woods.  Before my operation, I would work until at least midnight, writing or catching up with admin.  Since the hospital though, I’ve been going to bed at the latest by 10pm and getting up at about 8am.  I’m used to functioning on 6-7 hours sleep a night, so it feels very strange to be needing 10 hours sleep, just to get by on the minimal activities I’m doing at the minute.  I’m trying to accept it as part of the healing process.  I keep telling myself my body is still getting back to normal, readjusting after the shock of being cut open, poked,prodded and stitched back together again, and the rational part of my mind knows and understands this.  But the non-rational part of my mind is having a panic attack about all of the stuff that I’m not getting done on time.  People have been very understanding so far though, so I know I need to chill out a little bit.

Next Thursday 15th December I’m giving a lecture at the final Kava Poetry series.  I read for Kava earlier on this year with a terrible cold – in fact I didn’t read very much because I started coughing terribly, and in the end my friend Keith had to do the reading for me.  Kava is unique because as well as having a poet who reads their own work, there is also another invited poet who is asked to give a lecture on a topic of their choosing.  The series is run by Anthony Costello, and next week is the final one, which is sad, but I’m also looking forward to being there at the final Kava and seeing Anthony get some appreciation and recognition from the regular audience members.

This was one of my deadlines that went whizzing past – Anthony prints the guest poet’s lecture in a small pamphlet, and understandably asked for the lecture to be sent to him by the week before.  I was a day late – eventually sending it on Friday afternoon.  Anthony was very understanding but I did feel bad, as it can’t be easy organising an event, and printing a booklet out each time as well!

As most of you will know, the only thing I’ve had in my head for the past three months is my PhD, and feminism and poetry, so I decided to write my lecture around this.  I actually really enjoyed writing it and I’m looking forward to Thursday – not feeling too nervous at the minute.

This week I’ve also had a committee meeting for A Poem and a Pint and I have a list of poets to invite to Cumbria in 2017.  This is one of my outstanding jobs that I didn’t manage to get on with this week.  I also managed to make it to Manchester on Tuesday to meet two fellow PhD students, both at differing stages of the PhD.  It was both reassuring and inspiring to hear their thoughts and advice.  Rachel Davies writes a blog about her experience of the PhD – in fact, reading her blog was one of the main reasons why I decided to apply – it helped me to realise that doing a PhD could be for ‘people like me’ as well.  If you are thinking of doing a PhD, I would recommend reading Rachel’s blog – it’s really fascinating.  Rachel Mann, the other student that I met, is coming towards the end of her PhD.  Rachel is pretty amazing at being able to pull academic theories out of the air to illustrate a point – my ambition is to be able to talk like that about my PhD in three years time!

Seeing other people do things first is very important for me.  When I look back at all the big decisions I’ve made, they’ve always been foreshadowed by someone close to me making the leap first.  David Tait winning the 2011 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition made me determined to have a go the next year.  My friend J left her job with the music service to take up a new position elsewhere, and my sister left her job with the music service to go and be the manager at Animal Concern in Egremont.  Seeing them both go and do something they believed in gave me the confidence to go part time as a teacher the year after.  Rachel Davies doing a PhD – I read her blog for a year and finally worked up the courage to have a go.  I’m not sure if this is creepy, or just well thought out! Maybe my next ambition should be to do something without anyone doing it first – to inspire myself to make a leap into new territory.  Or maybe this is the way that everybody moves on, and if I asked all of those people, a chain of other people that they have learnt from and been inspired by would unfold, further and further back into time.

This week I’ve also managed to get along to two poetry groups – Barrow Writers and Brewery Poets, and I even had two different poems to take along to be critiqued.  I’m supposed to be concentrating on the RD1 and not worrying too much about writing poetry this term, but I can’t seem to stop.  It’s because I’m reading a lot – even reading academic books seems to make me write.  I’m not complaining though!

Last Wednesday I ran what is probably going to be a bi-monthly event at Natterjacks, a late night cafe in Ulverston.  It was a wonderful event – I think we had 19 on the open mic, but everybody was well behaved and didn’t read for too long, so we managed to finish at a reasonable hour.  In the second half, it’s time for ‘Hunger Games Open Mic’ which if you haven’t experienced it before, it is my invention to get over the natural humbleness and deference of some poets.  Basically, who ever gets up and gets to the front first reads a poem and then sits down and somebody else charges up.  It’s great fun – and we have even evolved a system of ‘runners’ for those who don’t feel able to leap up and fight their way through to the front.

My other meeting this week was with Pauline Yarwood to hash out the finer details about Kendal Poetry Festival.  I’m getting so excited about the festival already – last year I think I just felt stressed about the amount of work – this year, I know what the reward will be for the stress, which more than makes up for the hours spent applying for funding and carrying out admin.  We’re meeting next week to start our Arts Council bid so wish us luck!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by John Mills, who I met at Swindon Poetry Festival a few months ago.  John came to one of my workshops, then read a poem on the Open Mic that made me cry.  I’ve just finished reading his pamphlet Scarred which I’ve really enjoyed.  He writes about a wide range of subjects – running, depression, illness, war, family and the poems cycle through a range of emotions.  Some of them made me smile or laugh out loud, and some were very poignant.

John was born in Stoke in 1952 and spent his working life teaching English and playing sport and music.  He is very modest, and didn’t say much more than that about himself, but he has some lovely quotes on the back of his pamphlet – Helen Mort says his poetry is ‘Compassionate, bold and generous’ and Roger Elkin says that his poetry is ‘what all good poetry should aspire to!’ So there you go!

I’ve chosen ‘Anno Domini’ to feature from John’s pamphlet.  This is the last poem in the pamphlet.  I had to google Anno Domini of course, having no Latin at all.  Google tells me it means ‘advancing age’.  This poem is clearly written by someone who loves language and playing around with words.  I really like the ‘shilly shallying’ on the second line! I think it’s the first time I’ve read a poem with those words in.  I like that this poem seems to be about finding out what you really want to do – instead of what you think you ought to, or what is easiest – a subject close to my own heart!

The poem has a lovely, passing reference to the poem ‘Warning‘ by Jenny Joseph, with it’s famous first line ‘When I am old I shall wear purple’, in the second stanza with its ‘Let’s see./I have worn a purple shirt’ lines.  Although this poem isn’t about quite the same thing – the speaker in ‘Warning’ wants to do what she wants, to be outrageous, to not care what people think.  The speaker of this poem is tired of the middle road, of neither ‘being one thing or the other.’

The character of the speaker is wonderfully captured in these lines – I love how his thinking gradually unfolds.  It was this stanza which made me laugh out loud – it was the line ‘having been a boy’ that did it.  There is also something poignant and uncomfortable though about having to wait for advancing age until you can do what you want – although the poem is funny, there is an undercurrent of uneasiness for me when I read it.  It forces the reader to take a look at their own life, and their own desires, but it does this without preaching or hectoring – it has a very light touch.

I also really love the punchline at the end – the spending of the ‘inheritance’, which with one deft touch brings in the extra characters of the children, and again made me laugh with the surprise of it.

If you would like to order John’s pamphlet, you can find him on Facebook – send him a message, and he will post a signed copy out for the princely copy of £4 which is a bargain – the pamphlet really is a good read.

Thanks to John for letting me use his poem this week!

 

Anno Domini – John Mills

I am through with this
ambivalent shilly shallying,
this messy abrogation of responsibility
and settlement, for what I neither like
nor hate.
No more of this
piggy in the middle,
jolly sailing through life without
being one thing or the other.

It is time to step out!
To be my own man!
Let’s see.
I have worn a purple shirt
and having been a boy,
I am a very competent spitter.
So far so good.

I can do better than this.
I shall refuse to be the milch cow.
I’ll move away and see
the views I want to see.
Shatter the shackles of responsibility,
shun the pills given to combat
the bones and marrows of outrageous mis-fortune
and ease the cork out of a potion of my own
as I work my way through their inheritance.

Sunday Poem – Sarah Littlefeather Demick

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Sunday Poem – Sarah Littlefeather Demick

I’m tentatively starting this blog post by saying I’m feeling a lot better this week.  It’s been two weeks and 5 days since my emergency operation, but I’ve been gradually getting back to normal for most of this week.

I’m the first person to admit I’m not the best at taking it easy but I’ve been left with little choice after my recent adventures.  The strangest thing has been limiting myself to doing one, or at the most, two activities a day so I don’t get too tired.  Normally, I just charge about from one thing to the other, but this level of normality is not possible yet.

Monday was supposed to be a day of working on the RD1 form, but I got distracted by a poem.  It’s been sitting in my folder for a while now in first draft form, but it suddenly felt ready to be worked on.  I had loads of fun with it – it is a bit of a rant poem but it does fit with the theme of my PhD so I suppose I was kind of on task.

The poet Tony Walsh posted that he was running a poetry workshop in Barrow at a primary school a week or so ago, so I messaged him and offered him somewhere to stay for the night.  It was lovely to see Tony again – last time I saw him would have been in 2012 when we worked together on a 12 week poetry project in a men’s prison, so it was nice to catch up again and hear what Tony had been up to.

On Tuesday I spent most of the day doing a bit of PhD reading.  My lovely friend John Foggin sent me a brilliant book called ‘Man Made Language’ by Dale Spender.  It was published in the 80’s but it is kind of blowing my mind.  The first couple of pages talk about insults when directed towards men and women – that the word ‘tramp’ about a man might make you think of someone who is scruffy or dirty, possibly homeless, but the word ‘tramp’ about a woman could mean all of these things, plus negative sexual connotations.  The word ‘bachelor’ – we don’t have an equivalent word for it in English to describe a woman – the closest would be spinster, but again that has negative connotations in the way that bachelor doesn’t.

I am curious about why these observations are not more widely known – as they have been around since the 70’s/80’s.  I can accept that I am quite naive about feminist research.  I’ve only just read Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics for example, so I know I’m playing catch up all the time.

I talked to a few of my friends from my running club about it (men), and my mum (not a very representative sample I know – but you have to start somewhere) and they all said they’d not thought about it before.  I suppose it’s the problem of disseminating research into the wider society and how you go about doing this, and then what do you do with this knowledge?

I’m three quarters of the way through Man Made Language now, and really enjoying it.  On Wednesday I went to Manchester to meet the subject librarian at MMU and she showed me some techniques for more advanced searching around my subject.  I’m in a bit of a mini- panic this week about the PhD.  I reckon I’ve had nearly three weeks off with being in and out of hospital and then recovering from the operation, so I feel like I’ve got to get a move on.

On Thursday I went to Manchester again to do my teaching.  It was nice to see my students again after missing the last two sessions.  On Friday morning I decided to try a little jog down the Furness Abbey path with a few of my friends.  It was very slow – in fact it took us about 40 minutes to run what would normally have taken me about 18, but I didn’t want to jolt my insides up and down too much.  I didn’t have any pain when I was running and woke up the next day without any, so I’m pleased with that, but still a bit nervous about doing anything more strenuous.

I had my Dove Cottage Young Poets session on Friday afternoon – four of the new poets from last week came back (out of eight) and one completely new poet who hadn’t been before, plus Hannah Hodgson, who has been coming for a year to the sessions.  This week’s session was a lot easier – the young poets seemed more confident this time and read out a lot more.  They also wrote some fantastic stuff during the session.  I’m getting excited already about working with them towards their performances at Kendal Poetry Festival next year.

On Saturday it was the end of year Barrow Poetry Workshop session.  I’ve been running these sessions for a year and a half now, and decided it would be great to make the December workshop more exciting by inviting someone else to take the session instead of me, so Peter and Ann Sansom from The Poetry Business came down.

I’ve been really looking forward to being in a workshop instead of running it for ages now, but I don’t think I was quite with it yesterday.  My whole face on the right side was tingling in a disturbing fashion and I found it really hard to concentrate.  It was a great workshop though, and I enjoyed hearing everybody else’s contributions.  I also took my poem which I’d been working on and got some feedback on it in the afternoon session which I think will definitely make it stronger.

I think the tingling face was just a symptom of being over tired as I woke up this morning and it was fine – another reminder to take it easy!

Two pieces of good news this week as well – this blog was included for the third year in a row on Rogue Strands ‘The Best Poetry Blogs of 2016’.  Matthew Stewart at Rogue Strands had this to say about my blog:

Kim Moore’s Sunday Poem feature is a bit like Marks and Spencer’s Dine in for Two deal: imitated by countless competitors but never matched. What’s more, its timing is perfect: a lovely read at the dog-end of the weekend.

Josephine Corcoran also included my blog on her roundup of her favourite poetry blogs as well – you can read her post here – so lots of new blogs to look up over the holidays if you’re a bit bored!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Sarah Littlefeather Demick who is a wonderful poet who lives in Ulverston, not far from me.  Sarah is a fantastic singer as well and performs wtih her husband Rod as a folk duo called The Demix.  She has a completely unforgettable voice and often makes me cry when I hear her sing.  She started writing relatively recently, in the last couple of years but I think her poetry is completely unique – very lyrical but often unsettling, as you will see from the Sunday Poem.

Sarah is an Ojibwa Indian.  She was born in Toronto, Canada and raised by adoptive parents in London, England.  She travels around the country working as a respite carer, mainly for people with dementia.  Sarah has recently published a pamphlet called Another Creature.  The production of this pamphlet is really beautiful – you can see a photo of it here.  I think Sarah has actually sold out of the pamphlets already and it was only published a few months ago, but if you’d like one, you could comment below and it might persuade her to print some more!

I’ve decided to use the title poem of the pamphlet for this week’s poem.  It’s the first one in the pamphlet as well and I think it is a brilliant poem to put at the front of a pamphlet because it introduces a lot of the themes which occur later in the book – the importance of animals, self-discovery, power and memory.

This poem also has a slightly surreal feel, or as if things are slightly off kilter.  I think Sarah establishes this straight away with the use of ‘I recall’ instead of ‘I remember’.  I think the word recall distances the speaker a little – it makes the memory a little more formal and less personal somehow maybe.  Yet this contrasts with the content of the poem – and makes the first sentence of the poem ‘I recall being given away as a child’ very shocking.

The recollections in the poem feel very spontaneous – almost like stream of consciousness memories because of the lack of punctuation.  I really like that effect – it felt like each memory or image unfolded seamlessly after the next one.

Some of my favourite lines are ‘how I came to live with goslings when I was another creature’ and ‘I recall how most of my life was an untamed forest’.  I think they are beautiful lines, and have a ring of authenticity and truth about them, and yet, they are strange and slightly surreal at the same time.  The line ‘I found a person who was my mother’ is heartbreaking – again, there is that distancing effect, but there is also something interesting in the assertion of the mother being a person, a person in her own right.

I hope you enjoy this week’s poem.

Another creature – Sarah Demick

I recall being given away as a child and how I came to live with
goslings when I was another creature

when I had walked for nearly a dozen years I recall riding on the back
of a motorcycle from outside our house I recall being free and feeling
the heat of a summer evening on my skin as I was taken into the
night

and roundabout that time I recall a hospital ward with the heads of
dying men silently queuing for their final journey and my father was
there with them

and two years later I recall being in my room and being in there with
amplified solitude and when I was asked why I was crying I recall
being unable to answer but tearing out my hair with grief and with
rage

I recall how most of my life was an untamed forest where I was
hunted and brought down by men whose temptation was tempered
only by lust and no one told me there was another way

and I recall how any other way eluded me for a very long time but
when I found it my shadow became an eagle

and when I was thirty-five I found a person who was my mother but
she didn’t know me and was only glad I’d been raised up good and
wasn’t fat

I recall thinking that being raised up good was not so easy