I have been in hibernation mode this week. After my marathon day of outdoor activity last week, I started to feel a little bit unwell on Sunday night. I put it down to too much activity, but by Monday I felt like I had flu – I was going alternatively hot and cold, had a really awful headache, sore throat. I basically took to the sofa from Monday to Wednesday and didn’t move – a wonderful luxury now I don’t have to drag myself into school feeling awful. Tuesday I still felt pretty rough, but Wednesday I was a lot better and it felt more like a normal cold that was on its way out. So I’ve spent much of this week feeling sorry for myself and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I felt particularly sorry for myself that yet again, I was stuck on the sofa instead of being out running. But as I could hardly stand up on Monday it was probably a good idea to stay indoors. I have been this morning for a ten mile run – my first one all week. It was hard work – I felt quite tired and my legs felt heavy, and then there was the cold and the wind of course – but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I’m glad I got out there now and did it.
On Thursday I had to go to Manchester for my teaching at MMU but I was nearly back up to normal by then. I have been getting some writing done this week and working on some poems, despite feeling rough, so I’m pleased about that. I’m steadily working my way through reading Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex – it is such an important text, and so many other feminist texts refer to it that I need to read it and have it as part of the background for the next lot of reading. The problem is every time I read one thing, it leads to something else. I think I could spend the three years of this PhD just reading without even getting to the writing part.
On Friday I spent the morning planning the workshop for my Dove Cottage Young Poets session, which was running in the afternoon, and my Barrow Poetry Workshop, which I was running the next day. I managed to get them both sorted out and printed out, then I went to Kendal for the young poets workshop and then off to Brewery Poets in the evening.
Barrow Poetry Workshop went really well yesterday – 13 poets from all over the place, Barrow, Dalton, Ulverston, Kendal, Preston, Lancaster, Shap. I also managed to get the heating going properly this time as well – and people wrote some amazing stuff. In the evening it was A Poem and a Pint with guest poet Rita Ann Higgins. Rita had made a mammoth journey from Galway – bus, plane and train to get to Ulverston to read. I bought her latest book Tongulish which I’m really looking forward to reading when I get some spare time.
I felt a bit sad – one of my ex-students, David Griffiths, who was Young Musician in Residence at Kendal Poetry Festival was the musician for the night, but Anthony Milledge, who was going to be his accompanist for the evening, died very suddenly last week. I’ve known Anthony since I moved to the area and played with him a few times at church, when he composed a fiendishly difficult trumpet fanfare for the visit of a bishop a couple of years ago. He was such a good musician – so good in fact, that we were unable to find a pianist who had the technical skills to play the pieces that he’d been practising with David. So David just did some unaccompanied pieces – a very tough thing to do, but I think Anthony would have been proud of him.
Next week, I’m determined to get a bit more reading done for my PhD. I’ve got more workshops to plan as well – I’m heading off to Birmingham on Friday to the Verve Poetry Festival and I need to plan the workshop that I’m running there on the Saturday, and plan my workshops for the St Ives residential which starts a week on Monday. I also need to fit my running in – I cannot afford to take more than two hours to do the Coniston 14 in a few weeks time, otherwise I will have to stand on stage at Lancaster Litfest in my sweaty running gear because I haven’t had time for a shower. So I’m gearing up for a full on week next week, and then the usual full on week of a residential course.
If you’re interested in residential courses, the St Ives course has sold out now, but I’m running three more this year – you can find information on the ‘Residential Courses‘ tab.
Today’s Sunday Poem is by a lovely poet and friend of mine, David Wilson. I met David when we were both students on The Poetry Business Writing School course. I was really pleased to hear that David had a pamphlet out last year with The Poetry Business. The pamphlet is called Slope and many of the poems in it explore climbing and mountaineering. David lives in North Yorkshire and has been an active climber for many years. As well as poetry, he has written a novel, Love and Nausea, published by Abacus, Little Brown in the 1990’s which was praised by The Times as a ‘tour de force’. In 2015 he won the Poets and Players Competition, judged by Paul Muldoon with his poem Everest.
It’s worth buying Slope for this poem alone, a tiny eight-liner where David manages to compare Everest to Elvis (I’ll let you buy the pamphlet to work out how he manages to pull that one off – but pull it off he does!). The poem I’ve chosen for the Sunday Poem this week though has always been one of my favourites of David’s, maybe because of the bolt of recognition after reading the first line – no, my parents didn’t use that phrase either! I liked the line at the end of the first stanza as well. I think my parents are similar to the parents in this poem – they do everything together as well, and find it quite strange that my husband and I have separate holidays, or are often off on our own somewhere.
I love the description in the second stanza of the father ‘taking ten minutes to stand up/straight, always the military man’. It’s only in the second stanza in fact, indicated by that little phrase ‘Near the end’ which begins this stanza, that we realise that the father is dying, and this makes that effort of getting out of bed and standing to speak to his wife very moving.
I always think it is hard to get dialogue in a poem, and especially a poem like this without it sounding cheesy, or maudlin, or too over the top. Especially a poem called ‘I love you’. But then the strength of the poem is that these three words, the title are completely missing from the poem, yet it is a poem about loving and how to give and receive love. Or maybe not just about love, but about marriage, which is different. The portrayal of a long marriage with ‘whispered rows’ in the first stanza is very honest. And I think that is what I like about the dialogue as well – it has the ring of authenticity, of honesty about it. And to say ‘Thank you for loving me’ seems so much more meaningful than saying ‘I love you’. I was thinking about why that is, and maybe ‘I love you’ is always about the self, the ‘I’ reaching out to another. It demands a reply. But to say ‘Thank you for loving me’ is to say, I’m grateful, and happy with what you’ve given me, and I don’t need anything else. Hidden in that sentence is ‘Thank you for loving me’ even and despite of ‘whispered rows’. l love the little turn of the poem at the end as well, when the mother is transformed by his words, or her voice is transformed to the ‘voice of a young girl’.
You might want to order Slope after reading this poem – if you do, you can order it at http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/shop/925/slope for a mere £5 and show your support to another fantastic independent publisher.
“I love you” – David Wilson
My parents didn’t use this phrase,
talked in terms of work to do, and weather
and how they were bringing us up;
despite whispered rows at night
stayed together, held in place by good form.
They were not much given to using ‘I’.
Near the end, my father asked a nurse
to bring my waiting mother
to the side-room of his suffering,
having taken ten minutes to stand up
straight, always the military man,
nearly losing his footing.
One has to be brave at a time like this,
he said, taking her hand,
Some journeys must be made alone.
And then, Thank you for loving me.
A slight bow and turn, while she cried
in the voice of a young girl,
‘Oh my darling’.