Monthly Archives: March 2017

Sunday Poem – Geraldine Clarkson

Sunday Poem – Geraldine Clarkson

Maybe you haven’t noticed, or maybe you have, that there has been a two week break in the blog posts again.  I always feel guilty when I don’t blog, and I get a lot of lovely comments and feedback from people who seem to enjoy reading it, and of course it’s nice to write to poets out of the blue and ask them if I can have a poem.  I know what it feels like as a poet if somebody writes to me and tells me they like my work, and my philosophy has always been that if I can spread that feeling around, without it costing me anything but time, then I’m happy to do it.

However, time has been in short supply in my life recently! Every year I have a period of time, usually a couple of months, where my life becomes completely manic, and I rush from one thing to the other, holding on to my sanity with my fingertips.  It used to be around the end of term and I would blame the end of year concerts.  Now I’m not a music teacher, so there are no end of term concerts, and it is with a heaviness and sense of guilt that I realise I have only myself to blame for taking too much on.

I have had an exciting two weeks however – although it’s been busy, I’m not complaining.  I love everything I do – that is kind of the problem.  Since I last blogged I’ve done two Soul Survivor gigs and a rehearsal, covered a Year 2 poetry class at MMU, taught two sessions of my Poetry School face to face course and given two lots of feedback to my online students with the Poetry School, travelled to Swindon and delivered a full day workshop, travelled to Winchester and read at a night called Loose Muse, taught two sessions of Dove Cottage Young Poets, delivered a taster session at Kirbie Kendal School in Kendal to recruit more Dove Cottage Young Poets, travelled to the Words By The Water festival in Keswick to listen to Helen Farish and Adam O’Riordan read, took part in a Cumbrian poetry reading, sent emails round about residentials, worked on an application for an amazing opportunity, did some reading for my PhD, worked on a  few new poems and sent them to my supervisor, gathered biographies and photos from the poets coming to Kendal Poetry Festival, wrote content for Kendal Poetry Festival website, planned a feminist poetry event for the 8th April, and through all that I’ve been running, trying to keep my training up for the Coniston 14 race which is next Saturday.   It sounds like a lot when I list it like that.  And to be honest it felt like a lot as well.  In fact I feel a bit dizzy looking back at it all now.

So I’ve given myself a bit of a breather with the Sunday Poems, and I’m going to continue to do that – so they may be a little bit sporadic for a while.  I hope you will appreciate them just as much when they do come in.

One of the nicest things about being a freelance poet is the people you meet on your travels.  I met Hilda Sheehan a few years ago now when fate threw us together to share a room on a residential course.  She is one of the loveliest people I know and I had a brilliant time at her house last weekend.  I was down in Swindon to run a workshop, which gave me a good excuse to go and hang out with Hilda and some of her family.  It’s been ages since I laughed so much – a combination of Snapchat and binge watching terrible 80’s music videos and much more wine drinking than I usually indulge in.

After my weekend with the Sheehan clan I then went to Winchester to read at Loose Muse, run by Sue Wrinch.  Cue more drinking wine till late at night,and more amazing food.  I was so hungry when I arrived in Winchester and the lovely Sue had made a chicken pie, which basically means I am her friend for life.  The poetry reading was really good as well though.  People were very friendly and welcoming, a really good standard on the Open Mic, and two poets who have been on residentials with me, Hilary Hares and Patsy showed up, so it was really nice to see them again.  I also sold my last 8 copies of The Art of Falling and one If We Could Speak Like Wolves.  So another job today was to order some more copies of my book from Seren.

After that it was back home to my long suffering husband who hasn’t seen much of me for the last month, but thankfully remembered what I looked like and let me in the house.

One last thing before we get on to the poem – if you’re interested in coming along to a Poetry Reading and Open Mic, I’m hosting such a thing this Wednesday the 22nd March at Natterjacks in Ulverston, starting at 7.30pm.  Malcolm Carson and Ina Anderson will be launching their collections in the first half, and we’ll have an open mic session in the second half.  It’s completely free and if you want an Open Mic spot, just sign up on the night.  Get in touch if you need any more information, but I hope to see some of you there!

So this week’s Sunday Poem is by Geraldine Clarkson, who has patiently been waiting since last Sunday, when she should have appeared.

Geraldine Clarkson lives in Warwickshire though her roots are in the west of Ireland. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Poetry Review,Poetry London, Ambit, and Magma (she was Selected Poet in Magma 58); as well as in the Daily Mirror and The New European. They have also been broadcast on BBC Radio 3, as well as appearing at various times on cupcakes and handkerchiefs, on buses in Guernsey and in public toilets in the Shetland Isles! In 2016 her work was showcased in the inaugural volume of Primers from Nine Arches Press/The Poetry School, and she was commended in the National Poetry Competition.  Her chapbook, Declare (Shearsman Books, 2016), was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice, and her pamphlet, Dora Incites the Sea-Scribbler to Lament (smith|doorstop, 2016), is a Laureate’s Choice. Supported by Arts Council England, she has just completed the manuscript for her first full-length collection.

I got a copy of her smith/doorstop pamphlet a couple of weeks ago when I went over to Sheffield for a Poetry Business writing workshop.  It’s a great pamphlet, and has lots of wonderful poems in it, may of which have won or been shortlisted for various prizes.  The poem I’ve chosen for today though I loved as soon as I read it and it stayed as one of my favourites in the pamphlet.

I have a book called The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, which is a great book, full of exercises to stimulate writing.  I sometimes use it for workshops.  Anyway, there is a great quote there by Robert Hass from Twentieth Century Pleasures where he talks about the power of images:

Images haunt.  There is a whole mythology built on this fact: Cezanne painting till his eyes bled, Wordsworth wandering the Lake Country hills in an impassioned daze.  Blake describes it very well, and so did a colleague of Tu Fu who said to him, “It is like being alive twice.” Images are not quite ideas, they are stiller than that, with less implications outside themselves.  And they are not myth, they do not have that explanatory power; they are nearer to pure story.  Nor are they always metaphors; they do not say this is that, they say this is.

Robert Hass, Twentieth Century Pleasures

I love this quote, although I don’t feel like I’ve completely understood it, or thought about it enough.  But I like that sentence ‘Images are not quite ideas, they are stiller than that’.  I think in Geraldine’s poem this is apparent – the images that are conjured up when she hears a word have a stillness to them, even when they are about movement, like the dancing aunts in Stanza 2, it is movement that has been captured, like a photograph.

The images are always beautifully observed, we can see this in the first two lines.  The harebells are not just ‘wind-flattened’, they are ‘crouching’ which sends me back to the word ‘harebells’ and the animal that is inside this word which conjures up the image of a flower.

Of course, if the poem was made up only of these natural images, it would be a good poem, but by stanza 2 she moves on further, to conjure up this unnerving portrait of ‘Mary Keeley’ standing in her ‘black doorway’ and then on into stanza 3 with the dancing aunts and the father ‘unhinging the kitchen door’ for leg-room for the dancing.

The poem finishes how it started, with beautiful and accurately observed descriptions of nature.   I love the ’tilted cemetery/at the sea’s edge’ and ‘the persistence of rabbits’ is a line I wish I’d written!

I hope you enjoy the poem, and if you’d like to order the pamphlet that this poem came from, you can get Dora Incites the Sea-Scribbler to Lament from smith/doorstop for the mere sum of £5.  Thanks to Geraldine for being so patient, and for allowing me to finally publish this poem here.

When they say Connemara – Geraldine Clarkson

I hear harebells, wind-flattened,
crouching close to the common.
I hear the gorse-clung mountain
and moorland, bruised
with bottomless ink-lakes
A sequinned Atlantic, waving
to lost relatives in America.

When they mention Murvey
or Ballyconneely – or Calla –
toothless Mary Keeley
blinks at her black doorway,
holding out two tin cans
of buttermilk. I catch the whine
of P.J’s piano accordion

at dawn, my dead aunts calling
for Maggie in the Wood and
Shoe the Donkey and two
fine men to dance a half-set.
Mary Davis stoking up 40 verses
of The Cleggan Disaster.  My father
unhinging the kitchen door, for leg room.

When they speak of Ballyruby –
where the monks were –
or slip into the chat news of Erlough
or Dolan, or Horne, my eyes itch
with peat smoke, heather scratches my shins
and I’m barefoot in silt with marsh irises,
hen’s crubes and ragged robin.
I’m climbing again the tilted cemetery
at the sea’s edge, reclaimed by Dutch clover
and the persistence of rabbits.

When word comes from Gortin or Mannin
(and I’d thought they were all dead there),
or from Seal’s rock – setting the curlews
looping and scraping the sky –
I hear the empty rule of wind
on that thin mile
of white sand, the collapsing
surf, the whistle of silence.

















Residential Poetry Course in the Lake District 10th-14th April

Residential Poetry Course in the Lake District 10th-14th April

Breaking news! En-suite rooms now available at the next residential that I’m running in Grange Over Sands April 10th-14th with co-tutor Jennifer Copley.

En-suite rooms are available for £448.  I know there were  a couple of people who were put off by the idea of not having an en-suite room, so the hotel have managed to shift things around a little and we now have a limited number available.

You could also come with a friend and share a luxurious lodge (my favourite place to stay in the hotel) for £476 per person.

Or if you are feeling a bit strapped for cash, there are non en-suite rooms available for £396.

Please spread the word about this course if you can and here is a picture of the aforementioned lodge and the lovely swimming pool at the hotel to tempt you…

Telling It Slant 

Join us on the edge of the Lake District to spend a week reading, writing and discussing poetry.  Emily Dickinson said ‘Tell all the truth but tell it slant’ and we will be embracing her advice during this residential course.   We’ll look at how poets can work in the space between truth and lies and along the borders of reality and imagination.  Come prepared to try out new techniques which will produce poems that may surprise you!  This course is suitable for beginners and more experienced poets.  We will be joined mid-week by a special guest poet.  The fee of £396 includes accommodation in a non en-suite room, cooked breakfast and three-course evening meals, workshops, tutorials and readings from tutors and a guest poet. There will also be a chance for participants to read their own poetry on the final night.

To book please contact the hotel directly 015395 32896

Sunday Poem – Ruby Robinson

Sunday Poem – Ruby Robinson

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged – I’ve missed two Sundays in fact, due to being away from home and with limited internet, and even worse, no computer.  I couldn’t face trying to write a blog post on a phone so I decided to just give it a miss.  Having said that, I’m writing this at Stanza Poetry Festival, at my bed and breakfast, where although I have a computer, the internet keeps disappearing, so who knows if this blog post will ever be finished.

It feels like so much has happened since the last time I blogged, which I think was around the 12th February.  First of all I’ve had three full-on days at Stanza Poetry Festival, sharing a room with my friend Manon.  Manon and I met on the first residential poetry course that I ever went on, at Ty Newydd.  We worked out that this must have been about ten years ago now and we’ve been friends ever since.  We used to have a tradition of picking a poetry event to go to in a random part of the country, and then going out clubbing afterwards.  We haven’t done that for a while, but Saturday night, we did stay up till 2am with a few other poets, chatting in a whisky bar.

There have been lots of highlights at the festival and so many readings that I’ve enjoyed, but if I had to limit myself to two highlights it would be Katharine Towers and Vahni Capildeo.  I saw Katharine read on Sunday morning as I dragged myself to the venue at 11.30am on about five hours sleep and feeling very sorry for myself.  Katharine’s read from her new collection The Remedies.  It is beautifully lyric, quiet poetry, often very short but carefully observed and was the perfect hangover cure! It felt so different to what I’m writing at the moment – I feel like my own writing is getting longer and more narrative so it was great to see a different approach.  I’m looking forward to settling down with her collection and working my way through it.

Vahni Capildeo writes in a completely different way not just to the way I write, but I would say to the way everybody writes.  She is definitely ploughing her own furrow, and I can’t think of anybody else that is writing in a similar way to her at the moment.  A complete original, and although I admit I don’t understand all of her poetry, I don’t think understanding everything is entirely the point.  She gave a wonderful performance last night – very funny and at the same time managing to hold the audience spellbound for the whole 45 minutes/an hour.

During the festival, I also bumped into Gerry Cambridge, and got my subscriber and contributor copies of The Dark Horse.  I have two of my All The Men I Never Married sequence in there this time, which I’m very chuffed about.  I’ve now had two of these in Poetry Ireland Review, four in Poem and now two in The Dark Horse, so I feel like they’re slowly starting to make their way in the world.

So now to account for my near three-week absence.  My first missing weekend was spent at Verve Poetry Festival in Birmingham.  I read there on the Friday evening, alongside Katrina Naomi and Mona Arshi, and then I ran a workshop on Saturday afternoon.  This was also a great festival, taking place in Waterstones in the city centre.  Many people have been commenting on social media on the diversity of the lineup at the festival, but as well as having this in its favour, there was a great atmosphere over the weekend.  I even managed to get out for a six mile run along the canal with the poet Matthew West.  Then on Sunday, I was reunited with David Tait, after not seeing him for nearly three years, met up with poet John Foggin, and we all headed off down to St Ives in John’s car, but with me driving.  David and I talked all the way down to St Ives, and John listened to a Terry Pratchett novel on his headphones and every now and then chortled away to himself.

David now lives in China, but was awarded a one month residency at The Wordsworth Trust, which he managed to coincide with coming to St Ives to be my co-tutor.  It was lovely to work with David again, and just to be able to catch up.

The hotel announced that they were going to make scones with jam and cream every afternoon for the course participants, which was rather exciting, as this was a ‘hidden extra’.  I’m hoping that this is a tradition that will continue next year.  I can report that I managed to eat a scone with jam and cream every day.  The course sold out – 16 people, and I think 12 of them had already been on a residential week with me before.  The wonderful poet Penelope Shuttle came to read as the guest poet – she is not only a fantastic poet, but is also a lovely person to talk to.

At the end of the course, John and I drove all the way back from St Ives to Birmingham, where I hopped on a train north, and we managed to talk all the way as well.   I got on the train at Birmingham and eventually got back home at about 8pm, completely shattered.

Just before I left for St Ives, I finally got the email to say that we’d been awarded full funding from the Arts Council towards Kendal Poetry Festival.  Pauline (my co-director of the festival) is currently on holiday in Australia, but I got a text through to her to tell her the good news and she promised me she was dancing round the room to celebrate.     

I had my first proper poetry tutorial as part of my PhD with Michael Symmons Roberts last Tuesday.  We looked at two poems and Michael straight away homed in on one area in each poem where I knew there was something that wasn’t quite right, but I didn’t know how to fix it – and nobody else had seemed to notice, so I just decided to ignore it.  So not only was it a brilliant tutorial because it made me realise I need to start listening to that voice in my head when it says ‘hmm are you sure about that’ but it was also a masterclass in how to edit a poem.  I came out really happy and excited about the prospect of the next three years and feeling like I’m really going to learn something about editing poetry that I can use in my own teaching, but that I’m also going to be challenging myself as a poet, which is a great place to be in.

This week, I’ve also started teaching my face-to-face poetry school course ‘Brief Encounters’ in Manchester.   There are ten people booked on this time, and it’s on a Thursday, which means I finish my university teaching and then have time to go to my favourite Thai restaurant, before heading down to teach the course.  I’m also currently teaching a feedback course for the Poetry School as an online course which I’m really enjoying.

I also found out one of my poems made the longlist of the National Poetry Competition, which was – I was going to say exciting, but I don’t think that’s the right word.  Maybe comforting is better – comforting that a new poem, written post-book, got as far as it did is good news.  I’ve also been nominated to apply for the Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship – which is a year’s worth of mentoring and a £15,000 bursary.  250 arts specialists were asked to nominate people to apply for this fellowship – sadly, I’m not eligible to apply, as I’m a full time student.  Still, it felt really lovely to be even in the running for it, and maybe my time will come round another year.

So on to the Sunday poem, by the fabulous Ruby Robinson, who I hoped to see read at Verve, but sadly I had to set off for St Ives before her reading.  I bought her book instead to compensate myself for missing out, as I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to get hold of it.  In fact, I’ve been waiting for her book to come out since I saw her poem ‘My Mother’ in an issue of Poetry Review a couple of years ago.

The poem I’ve chosen ‘Past’ kind of took my breath away when I first read it. I love the way it seems to start mid-sentence or mid-conversation, but I also like that the poem seems to be directly addressing the reader, as if we are part of that confession, as if we are the one being spoken to.  The form of the poem is great as well – and securely fastened to the content of the poem, set out a bit like a chess board, which gives some great line breaks (‘shooting up/with the other pawns/beside a black-lacquered castle’.

The idea of unpacking a cliché or worn out phrase is something that is often done in poetry, but I think it’s extremely hard to do it well.  The way this poem unpacks the familiar phrase of ‘a chequered past’ works really well as it swings from a visual image of a chess board and its chequered squares to the past like a ‘huge cloak’ or a ‘deep/hole you fall into sometimes’.

I also like the way the poem makes its own argument with complete conviction and uncertainty, all at the same time.  It felt like one of those poems that the poet had to write to work out what they thought, a poem that surprises you by the time you reach the end of writing it.  It’s one of those poems, or truths, that I wish I’d written or worked out, the way we carry our past with us, and the way it affects both the present and the future, that the past can be both ‘squares of light’ and ‘squares of something like a deep/hole you fall into sometimes’.

The poem comes from Ruby’s first collection Every Little Sound, published by Pavilion Poetry/Liverpool University Press. Ruby was born in Manchester and lives in Sheffield.  She studied English Literature at the University of East Anglia and has an MA from Sheffield Hallam University, where she also won the Ictus Prize for Poetry.  Her poems have appeared in The Poetry Review, Poetry (Chicago) and elsewhere.   Every Little Sound was shortlisted for the 2016 T.S Eliot Prize and the 2016 Forward Prize for Best First Collection.  If you’d like to order Ruby’s collection you can find it at

Hope you enjoy the poem, and thanks to Ruby for letting me post it here.

Past – Ruby Robinson

When I said chequered
I didn’t mean Alice in Wonderland
wandering on a massive chess board
mounting plastic horses, shooting up
///////////////with the other pawns
///////////////beside the black-lacquered castle.
///////////////I didn’t mean bars and grates
///////////////snatches of sunlight and third rate
exam papers or clouds of time
like an accidental watermark on the
‘story of my life’
I didn’t mean guilt or anything
////////////////to be guilty about.  I didn’t mean
////////////////an unhinged head, secrets and dark eyes
////////////////black eyes, shoplifting, addiction, assault
////////////////or any other crime.  I don’t know why I said it –
and landed behind me like a huge cloak,
squares of light and squares
of something like a deep
/////////////////hole you fall into sometimes
/////////////////on a dark night
/////////////////on your way back from the shop
////////////////or some bright miraculous party.