Sunday Poem – Catherine Ayres

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Sunday Poem – Catherine Ayres

A late-night instalment of the blog as I’ve spent the whole day walking round the Kentmere Horseshoe in the mist and rain with two friends and the husband.  I decided last weekend, after an enjoyable hiking session up Seatallan with blue skies and views for miles that I wanted to do all of the Wainwright walks.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, when I was sat in the pub, eating a burger and chips and quaffing lager (followed by tea of course).   The husband took my vaguely expressed wish very seriously, and suggested the route today which would include eight Wainwright hills.

I often seem to be writing this blog in physical discomfort – it seems to be a habit I’ve gotten in to on Sundays.  My feet are killing and my legs are aching, and climbing up the stairs is a slow and arduous process tonight! The walk today was about 25 kilometres, with 4000 feet of ascent.  We actually did nine Wainwright peaks, as the husband decided he would just ‘take in’ another one.  I should add he only told us about this decision when we were halfway up the extra hill and it was too late to turn back.  It was a lovely walk though, despite there being no views at all as there was so much mist and fog.

I’ve spent the whole of this week cracking on with my marking for my university teaching.  Having avoided doing any marking for the best part of 13 years, I feel like I’m paying my dues now.  I’m not sure if it is just because it is something new, but I’ve actually really enjoyed marking the essays.  To be fair, I only had about 35 to do, and maybe if I’d had many more it would have felt a bit more like hard work.

When I’ve not been marking, I’ve been working on the blasted RD1 form.  I sent it to a few friends who gave me some good feedback on it, and yesterday I sat down and read through their suggestions.  I’ve been regularly getting overwhelmed with the RD1 and yesterday was no exception.  However, once I’d worked out that I needed to just slow down, calm down, and work through each suggestion one at a time, I think I made progress – enough progress in fact that I could justify spending today out on the fells.

Pauline Yarwood and I had our final marathon session last Tuesday to finish off our Arts Council bid for Kendal Poetry Festival.  We managed to get it sent off and now we are waiting with slightly frayed nerves to hear if we will get the funding we need.  We did get some amazing news today though – Kendal Poetry Festival is a finalist in the Cumbria Life Cultural Awards for ‘Festival of the Year’.  The award ceremony and the results will be announced February 3rd at The Theatre By The Lake in Keswick.  I’m really pleased that the festival has been selected as a finalist – I don’t know what the likelihood of winning is, but it will be a nice night out anyway.

I’ve also been working on preparations for the residential courses I’m running in the next couple of months.  The February residential with David Tait as my co-tutor down in St Ives is now sold out, but there are still places available on the April Residential in Grange-Over-Sands.  The original price for the week was £448, but as there are now only non en-suite rooms left, this has been reduced down to £396.  There are only three double rooms left, a few twins and a few singles, so if you’d like to come and want a double room, I would urge you to book as soon as possible.  You can ring the hotel on 015395 32896 and pay a small deposit to secure your room, so you don’t have to worry about paying the whole amount now.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Catherine Ayres and comes from her first collection Amazon, published by Indigo Dreams Publishing.  Catherine sent me her first collection a few months ago and it has been sitting on my ever-growing pile of books to read.  I sat down with it at the beginning of this week and read it cover to cover.  I found the whole collection very moving.  The book explores the experience of surviving breast cancer – but it is much more than this.  She writes movingly about the body, and what is left when the body is altered.  She writes about relationships and loneliness and emptiness – but this isn’t to say that the book is depressing because it isn’t.  There are moments of sadness and grief, but there is a lightness of touch to many of the poems in the collection.

One of my favourites was ‘How to get rid of elephants’ which unpacks and explores the cliche of ‘an elephant in the room’ as something not said.  This is a poem that is both heavy with sadness, yet light because of its emotional honesty and clear-eyed way of looking at things.  The elephant in the room, the things that are unsaid turn out to be

‘You Will Never See Me Naked Again
I Want To Disappear
We Still Haven’t Talked About What Happened’

There is something frightening in the directness of stating these things, and yet incredibly liberating.

The poem I’ve chosen to talk about is ‘Silence’.  It’s hard to pick out poems from this collection because although they stand on their own, I also think the poems gain momentum from being read one after the other.  However, it was this poem that made me stop reading for a minute and take a breath.

The first line is very shocking.  When I read this the first time, and this is a bit of a weird leap I know, but it reminded me of working in a men’s prison, and one of the men telling me that when I shook his hand it was the first time he’d been touched by another human being in weeks.  I know this has nothing to do with the poem in content, but that sadness about touch, or that yearning towards it is maybe what made it come into my mind.

The third stanza with the scar as a cage is beautifully expressed.  It gives both the image of the scar as the bars on a cage, but also the scar as a cage, as something that is trapping the spirit of a person inside.

The use of the question in the fourth stanza is very moving.  Here the scar has moved from a cage to a closed mouth.  Again, I find that image so striking.  If the scar is a closed mouth, then the woman must speak through the scar.  Even if she manages to speak, it will be muted.

As so often in this collection, there is some light in the poem towards the end.  The woman in the poem ‘unpicks in silence’ and the image of the rain coming at the end is a welcome noise in this poem which has been full of silence, not just the speaker, but also the lover in stanza 2 who ‘said nothing’.

There is also something very interesting going on with this poem in its shift in tone towards the end.  It starts in the first person with ‘my breast’ and ‘My lover’ until that question, which is for me the pivot and the emotional centre of the poem.  How is this achieved, when it is at this point that the poem shifts perspective? I think it is precisely because that ‘I’ voice, that first person speaker is lost in this stanza, she is silenced.  In Stanza 3 she is in the cage, and in Stanza 4, the authorial voice, or a voice from outside has taken over to tell the story.

If you would like to order Amazon you can do so from Indigo Dreams Publishing.  Catherine Ayres is a teacher who lives and works in Northumberland. In 2015 she came third in the Hippocrates Poetry Competition and in 2016 she won the Elbow Room Poetry Prize with ‘Silence’. Her debut collection, ‘Amazon’, was published by Indigo Dreams Publishing in December 2016.

Here is her wonderful poem ‘Silence’ – hope you enjoy it.

Silence – Catherine Ayres

The last man to touch my breast held a knife.

My lover said nothing;
his eyes told me to wear a vest

Sometimes I spread my hand over the scar
to feel its cage

How does a woman speak
with a closed mouth on her chest?

She unpicks in silence

until the rain comes
like burst stitches on the glass

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10 responses »

  1. What a fantastic poem. So powerful, yet subtle in its imagery. I’m looking forward to reading this collection. And it’s lovely to read about your Wainwright walk through mist while sitting on a balcony in a dusty temple town. Too hot to walk around until late in the afternoon.

  2. Enjoyed your description of your weekend. Love that area and the Wainwright walks, also your view on marking tasks is true.
    Excellent analysis of Catherine’s poem I’ve got her books and it’s one poem I enjoy. Thanks for the post

  3. Pingback: Catherine Ayres: | Rebecca Gethin

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