Monthly Archives: June 2017

Sunday Poem – Ayelet Mckenzie

Sunday Poem – Ayelet Mckenzie

I’m writing this in the back garden today – it’s vaguely sunny here in Barrow, and now I’m running again, I like being outdoors most of the time.  I’m not sure if it’s to do with circulation or what, but basically, if my running is going ok I just want to be outdoors all the time, and I don’t feel the cold.  If I’m not able to run, I revert back to how I’ve been for the first thirty odd years of my life, which is sitting indoors with blankets and the fire on full blast.

I am breaking my self-imposed rule today of writing my blog only every two weeks.  Basically I miss doing it! And also, quite a few people have sent me pamphlets, or I’ve bought their book or pamphlet and really enjoyed them, and I can’t keep up with them all doing the blog every other week.  So I will see how it goes – I might lapse again but I miss the discipline of writing every week.

I feel like myself for the first time since Kendal Poetry Festival finished.  I’ve had quite a difficult week, and I know Pauline, my co-director has had a hard time this week as well.  I think (for me anyway – can’t speak for Pauline) that it’s a combination of being on full adrenalin all weekend and then all the excitement is suddenly over.  So there is a bit of a come-down to start with.  I have felt so mentally tired this week though – like I couldn’t be bothered to read anything and certainly not write anything.  Sadly, in the world of putting a festival on, things don’t completely stop once everyone has gone home.  We have a report to write for the Arts Council, we have to ensure everyone gets paid, so all of that is carrying on when all I really wanted to do this week is collapse in a heap!

This week I met my supervisor to talk about some poems that I sent through as part of the PhD.  It feels strange still having the luxury of having a poet I really admire looking at my work, and it’s exciting as well.  Already I feel like I’m pushing myself further.  The poems that I thought were the least finished got a more positive response than the ones I thought were almost there, so that was interesting.  It feels like every time I have a meeting, it creates a little bit of space around the poems so I can go away and push further at them, whereas before the PhD, maybe I would have just left them to sit where they were.

I’ve just got back from the Ted Hughes festival where I read along with Melissa Lee-Houghton and Charlotte Wetton and then took part in a panel discussion about whether Sylvia Plath was relevant to young female poets.  It was interesting to hear the different ways the three of us came to Plath’s poetry – I personally think Plath is important to female poets, but I also think as a female poet, it is uncomfortable to be linked with Plath, because of the term ‘confessional’ which has negative connotations, and because it is so tempting to read her biography through her poetry.  Nobody wants that to happen necessarily with their own work.  This tendancy to review and critique Plath’s work through her biography would have been overwhelmingly done by male critics and reviewers I’m guessing, and I think it’s a way of reducing and diminishing her work.  As Heather Clark, a leading expert on Sylvia Plath pointed out, the poem ‘Edge’ has so many literary references embedded within it, but it is often read as if Plath is speaking from beyond the grave.

It was great to read with Charlotte and Melissa, although following Melissa felt a bit like following a poetic whirlwind – my head was still spinning from listening to her work and then I realised I was going to have to stand up and speak.  I hung around for the next reading and saw Tim Wells perform and Linton Kwesi Johnson, both worth getting back at midnight for.  Linton Kwesi Johnson did blow me away – it was like a poetic history lesson in black history and civil rights in this country, delivered in a rhythm which was as close to music as you can get without crossing over into song.

If you haven’t been to the Ted Hughes festival, look out for it next year.  It has a lovely community feel to it, the volunteers are very friendly and smiley, and they had a great programme of events over this year, which I’m sure they will repeat again next year.

Steve Ely, one of the organisers of the festival, who seemed amazingly calm and chilled out  while everything was going on, is coming to Grange Over Sands this year as one of the four tutors on the Poetry Carousel.  Places for this are selling fast, so if you’re interested, I would advise booking a place sooner rather than later.  The other tutors are myself, Hilda Sheehan and David Morley.  You can find more information about the Poetry Carousel, including biographies of the tutors and information about the workshops we’ll be running here.  The course runs from Friday 8th December to Monday 11th December and costs £360 including accommodation, food and workshops.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by a fabulous Barrow poet, Ayelet Mckenzie.  I went to the launch of Ayelet’s pamphlet a few weeks ago now at Barrow Library, and the place was packed! Ayelet’s latest pamphlet is called Small Bear and is published by Caterpillar Poetry, I wrote a blurb for Ayelet’s pamphlet so I thought I’d quote that here instead of paraphrasing it:

Ayelet Mckenzie is a true original – her poetry never goes where you expect.  In short, meticulously observed lyrics about human nature and the world around us, she manages to surprise and delight the reader.  Her poetry can be both funny and bleak, highlighting small moments and encounters with wit, perception and tenderness.

There are so many good poems in this pamphlet – there is a brilliant one called ‘Flowers’ after Sylvia Plath with the lines ‘Oh how they bother me/presaging their death if/I do not attend./But I am so tired/so sick of things.’  but in the end I decided to post ‘One Of Those’ which I think exemplifies all the things I talk about in the quote above.

I love the formality of the opening phrase ‘On close examination’ which then contrasts with the colloqualism of ‘one of those women’  in the next line.  This contrast between two different registers of tone carries on with the use of ‘proffering’ which sounds strangely formal, compared to ‘Next thing she’d be patting/every dog she saw’ which again, feels very colloquial.  There is also the word ‘burgeoning’ as well, again strangely formal, contrasting with the last line ‘although it wasn’t allowed’ which sounds as if the speaker is repeating something they’ve been told.  I also wonder who the speaker is in the poem – part of me thinks the speaker is the ‘she’ of the poem, reflecting on herself, which makes the slightly disapproving tone of the poem even more funny.  Or maybe not, maybe the speaker is a neighbour, observing this woman through a gap in the curtains.  It’s a great poem, and there are lots more just as good in the pamphlet, so if you do happen to have a spare fiver, email Simon, the editor and publisher at Caterpillar Poetry at  and I’m sure he will be happy to send you a copy.

Thanks to Ayelet for allowing me to post her poem here!

One Of Those – Ayelet Mckenzie

On close examination it was noticed
she was turning into one of those women
who carry bags of boiled sweets in their
handbags, proffering them to strangers
whom she got talking to.
Next thing she’d be patting
every dog she saw,
talking to every cat,
feeding bread to the burgeoning pigeon
population that gathered in the street,
although it wasn’t allowed.



Sunday Poem – John Mee

Sunday Poem – John Mee

Technically it’s not Sunday anymore, but having spent the whole weekend running Kendal Poetry Festival, and as the days have blurred and lost their usual boundaries, I figured I would just post this weeks Sunday Poem anyway, and depend on my readers patience and forbearance.

Kendal Poetry Festival, the culmination of a year of planning from myself and Pauline Yarwood has been and gone this weekend.  I can’t quite believe it’s all over. Tomorrow, I’m meeting up with Pauline to have a look through the feedback forms from our audiences, and then we are going to look through the photos and choose which ones we’d like to go up on the website.  So the work hasn’t finished yet, in fact, we’re already starting to think tentatively about next year.

The best thing about the weekend was the fantastic audiences.  All of the readings were sold out in the end, and there was a lovely atmosphere at the festival – energetic, enthusiastic, friendly.  I was very proud of my Dove Cottage Young Poets as well who all read so well over the weekend, and it was lovely to see them talking with the Festival Poets and the audience members about their work.

I am obviously bias but I think that the programming of the festival was a work of genius from myself and Pauline! It’s hard for me to pick out highlights, but I was really happy to hear Tim Liardet, whose work I’ve admired for so long.  Kathryn Maris’s reading made me laugh the most, and Linda Gregerson made me cry.  I also loved the infectiousness of Malika Booker’s demonstration of her celebratory dance when she got the call from Penguin to say she was going to be in a collection with Warsan Shire and Sharon Olds, two of her poetry heroes.  It was also lovely that lots of the Festival Poets came to other readings at the festival and hung around for the whole weekend.

Apart from festival stuff, in the last two weeks I feel like I’ve really got into a bit more of a rhythm with the PhD.  After my meeting three weeks ago and setting a target of writing 5000 words to show to my supervisor at the beginning of July for a meeting mid July, I’ve been steadily writing away.  It feels like the reading I’ve been doing all year is paying off.  I’m approaching the critical writing a bit like writing a poem at the minute.  I’m just trying to get down the words without worrying too much about whether they are rubbish or not, and then worry about quality when I’m editing.

I went on a Facilitated Writing Retreat for university staff and postgrads on the 15th June at a hotel in Fallowfield in Manchester.   This came at the perfect time for me as I’d already done 4000 words and my target was to write another 1000 by the end of the day which I managed.  There was no internet, and we had to write for an hour before having a short break, and then writing for another hour and continuing this all day. There was no sharing of work, it was literally just turning up and writing.  It was great to have no distractions, and be unable to answer emails even if I wanted to.  I finished my 5000 words which made me feel better about having a few days off working on my PhD whilst Kendal Poetry Festival was on.

I also took part in a poetry reading on the 13th June – organised by the ‘Feminisms in Public’ network in association with Bad Language.  Each poet or writer was given six minutes to read something around the theme of gender and sexuality.  It was a great event, and I got to hear Natalie Burdett’s work – another PhD student whose poetry I haven’t read before and I met a fantastic writer, Sue Fox whose work was visceral, shocking and powerful.  It was a great event to be part of, and there is obviously a real appetite for work around feminism and gender, as we read to a sold out audience of about 70.

Apart from this, it has been a lovely two weeks of getting up in the morning, working on my PhD and staying in my pyjamas until I have to get up and walk the dogs.  Contrast that with the madness this weekend of the festival.  It was a really brilliant weekend – packed out readings and enthusiastic audiences, conversations in the sunshine and I got to walk around with a walkie talkie which gave me an exaggerated sense of power.

There will hopefully be some photos going up on the Kendal Poetry Festival website very shortly – so do keep an eye out for those, and sign up to follow our blog! We are already starting to think tentatively about next year.

This is going to be a short blog post today, basically because I’m still absolutely knackered.  I slept till 10.30am this morning but I’m still tired! This week’s Sunday Poem is by John Mee from his debut pamphlet From The Extinct, published by Southword Editions.

I’ve had this pamphlet on my ‘to read’ list for a while where it has sadly languished, but I’m glad I finally got round to it! John was a student on one of my Poetry School courses, and then kindly sent me his pamphlet after it was published.

I love the image of what I think of as a little boy climbing up into a tree and getting stuck (why do I assume it is a boy actually – there is nothing in the poem to indicate this).  I imagine that this is an older brother speaking who has been charged with looking after a younger.  I like how the active words of ‘finding’ and ‘trusting’ are at the end of the line, driving the poem forwards.  The line ‘where I always turned back’ is interesting, shedding light on the character of both siblings.

I love the image conjured up by ‘a bird-eyed ghost’.  It makes me think of a pale face, peering through leaves, with wide eyes.  But what is ‘bird-eyed’.  Is it eyes that are wide and can see more than most, like an owls, which would fit to some extent with the word ghost? Or does ‘bird-eyed’ mean quick, and never resting? Do birds have good eyesight at all?

This poem is actually full of pairs – and pairs that contrast as well.  There are the two siblings of which ever gender,one with daring, and one with caution.  There is one out of sight, and one in full view ‘on the path’.  There is the mother, and Queenie Daly, who appears to be a neighborhood gossip, full of unhelpful stories in a time of crisis, and then finally ‘young Quinn’ is paired with the sibling in the tree.  It’s strange that the speaker of the poem is the one who calls out at the end, the mother doesn’t speak in the poem.  This feeling of the speaker, the child being in charge has been there since the first line.  We don’t find out what happens to the ‘bird-eyed ghost’ in the tree, so we’re left with the image of him, peering down from the branches of the tree, peering out from between the lines of the poem.

Thanks to John Mee for letting me publish his poem here.  John won the Patrick Kavanagh Award in 2015.  His poems have been published in The Rialto, Prelude, The SHop, Big Wide Words, Poetry on the Buses (London), Cyphers, Southword and The Cork Literary Review, as well as in various anthologies.  He was selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series in 2008.  He was born in Canada and has lived in Cork since he was seven years old.  He is a professor in the Law School at University College Cork.

If you’d like to order his pamphlet, you can do so here.  If you’d like to find out more about John Mee, check out his website here.

Michael – John Mee

Out of my sight
in the big tree, finding
a way past the fork
where I always turned back,
you rose calmly, trusting
the thinner branches,
ruffling the sky.

And there you froze,
a bird-eyed ghost.
I ran for our mother,
stood with her on the path.
Queenie Daly stopped to talk
about young Quinn’s fall
that broke his back.

I called up to you
to stay where you were.

Sunday Poem – Arthur Broomfield

Sunday Poem – Arthur Broomfield

I’m writing today after last night’s terrible events in London.  It feels like there isn’t anything I can say that would mean anything.  The 24 hour news cycle, the constant speculation, the grilling of obviously traumatised eye witnesses by news reporters, live on television doesn’t feel healthy.  Probably like a lot of other people, I can’t stop thinking about the families of those injured or who have lost their lives, and how they probably don’t know for certain whether their relative or friend is alive.  And following on so closely from the Manchester atrocity, a lot closer to home for me, it all feels relentless, and heart breaking.

But a friend today posted a picture of himself on a bike ride out in the sun, saying after everything on the news, it makes him appreciate being alive, and I think this is true.  This morning I went out and walked the dogs in the fresh air and the sunshine and I felt lucky to be able to walk around without fear.

Blogging every two weeks has really taken the pressure off.  I find myself looking forward to it, and feeling a little frustrated as I’ve read so many good books recently and the two week gap means it takes longer before I can tell you all about them (assuming you’re all still there, and you’ve not wandered off in the two week hiatus).

I’ve been looking forward to the end of May for a long time, as my schedule eases up a lot now.  Although I’ve still got quite a lot on, I can do a lot of it from home, rather than dashing around the country.  Over the last two weeks, I’ve been very gradually building my running up again, after another injury setback.  I started doing just ten minutes, and then every other day I’ve been adding two minutes on.  I’m now up to 22 minutes, so I’m hoping in maybe another two weeks I will be fit enough to be back out running with my friends and able to be a bit more relaxed about how far I go.

On the 26th May I went to have my tattoo, which I’ve been looking forward to for ages.  I’ve always wanted a tattoo on my stomach/ribs but always talked myself out of it, mainly in case I put weight on and the tattoo stretched.  I finally decided that I’d spent ten years worrying about this, when I could have been enjoying having a tattoo, so I booked myself in.  I am now the proud owner of a flowery tattoo thing.  I won’t put a picture up yet, as it’s not finished.  I have to go back in mid-July and have the colour put in.  I was there for about five hours though, and it was so painful – much worse than having one on your shoulder or your arm.  I’m still getting used to having it, but I like the way having a tattoo makes you think differently about the body.  The body becomes art, but also something that I own and have control over.  This is my fourth tattoo, and I can honestly say, for someone who cares too much about what people think of me, with my tattoos, I don’t care at all! When I had my first tattoo, it was so liberating to realise I didn’t care if anyone else liked it or not.

I’ve been to a couple of great readings in the last few weeks or so – Hannah Hodgson, one of the Dove Cottage Young Poets  was the guest poet at Verbalise, hosted by Ann Grant, and Ann had also written a play based around one of my poems, and some young actors performed it, so that was an interesting night – Hannah read brilliantly, and it was interesting to hear one of my poems changed into another art form.

I also went to Katie Hale’s pamphlet launch this week.  That was also a lovely night with lots of food, and Hannah Hodgson read there as well, along with Emily Asquith, another Dove Cottage Young Poet, who actually performed for the first time.  I was very proud of them both. Katie has been working really hard at her writing for a long time, and it was lovely to see this hard work and effort being recognised.  The pamphlet is called ‘Breaking the Surface’ and is published by Flipped Eye.

I also had a meeting with my PhD supervisors.  I feel a lot calmer now about the overall shape of the PhD, and we’ve agreed that I should write 3000-5000 words by mid-July time to show my supervisors, and I also need to keep writing poems, which has actually been going ok recently.  So I have a clear way forward, now all I have to do is sit down and do it.  I spent some time looking back over my notes for all the things I’ve read this year, and I’ve actually done a lot of reading, which really surprised me.  I now just need to start reflecting on it properly and write something down.

Last Wednesday, Katie Hale and I went into Kendal with the Dove Cottage Young Poets to give out free poetry to random people in the town.  Lovely poet Caroline Gilfillan came as well in case we needed an extra adult, although as it turns out, Caroline and I sloped off to get a cup of tea from the cafe and left the young poets to it.  As well as giving out free poetry, it was also a way of trying to get the word out about Kendal Poetry Festival, and I think it worked as we had 4 times as many hits on the website as we usually do.  Some people were very suspicious or just not interested in getting a free poem, but lots of people were very lovely and friendly.  We even persuaded one of the armed policeman to take a poem, and he tucked it behind his bullet proof vest!

This week’s Sunday Poem is ‘Assumpta’ by Arthur Broomfield, who I met a few years ago at Torbay Poetry Festival.  Arthur has featured on the blog before, but since then, his first collection Cold Coffee at Emo Court, published by Revival Press has been published.   I read this collection in manuscript form because I agreed to write a blurb for Arthur and I think it is a good introduction to his work (even if I do say so myself!).  I wrote:

There’s a warmth and tenderness at work in these clear-eyed poems, laced with a shot of dry humour.  Arthur Broomfield is as likely to be inspired by a visit to a hurling match as an art gallery – these are poems that live in the real world, rooted in the everyday, with a commitment to the importance of language.

‘Assumpta’ seems particularly apt for a day like today.  It’s not a political poem.  It’s a love poem, or maybe more accurately, a poem written about that time when you can be poised on the edge of falling in love.  I know that Assumpta is Arthur’s wife, but you don’t have to know this to enjoy the poem.

The poem is a direct address to Assumpta – starting with the pronoun ‘You’.  It’s interesting that the poem starts off with phrases like ‘in your element’ and ‘laid eyes on you’ which I suppose could be classed as cliches. However, the poet unpacks both of these ideas in the poem.  The line ‘laid eyes on you’ becomes fresh because of the specific detail that is outlined, the lovely touch of ‘Mrs Dermody’ and the ‘spruce up’ of the sitting room.  It is not just the speaker who is laying eyes on the ‘you’, it is the reader as well.  By the end of the poem, the first line of the last stanza returns to the line ‘in your element with the line ‘I just remember you poised in the elements’ which gives a fresh twist to this phrase.  The ‘you’ becomes like a bird poised in the air, or a fish poised in water.

Another unusual thing about this poem that just struck me, is that although it is very much in the tradition of a ‘male gaze’ poem, i.e a male poet writing about a female,who is gazed upon, with no sense of being looked back at, it does subvert this tradition, because the females in this poem are not passive, sitting to be looked at.  They are the ones with agency and action in the poem.  Mrs Dermody ‘spruces up’ the living room, while the ‘you’ or Assumpta is ‘measuring up the wallpaper’ and ‘cutting it to precision’.  The females are not looking back because they are busy, rather than passive.  I also really like the ending, both because of the double meaning of ‘focusing on how it could turn out,/wondering if you’d fall;’ which could refer to the relationship and the decorating, but also because of the vulnerability in that last line and a half ‘thinking you were too busy/to notice me’.

Dr Arthur Broomfield is a poet, novelist, publisher and Beckett scholar from County Laois.  His previous works include When the Dust Settles (International University Press), The Poetry Reading at Semple Stadium (Lapwing), The Empty Too: Language and philosophy in the works of Samuel Beckett (Cambridge Scholars’ Publishing) and Mice at the Threshing (Lapwing).  He is editor of the online poetry journal Outburst and delivers occasional lectures on the works of Samuel Beckett.  Cold Coffee at Emo Court is his first full collection.

If you’d like to order Arthur’s collection Cold Coffee at Emo Court, you can order it here.  Thanks to Arthur for letting me post his poem today.

Assumpta – Arthur Broomfield

You were in your element
the first time I laid eyes on you,
as you helped Mrs Dermody
spruce up her sitting room

you dished out know how
stepping back and forward, hands on hips,
across the improvised kitchen table,

measuring up the wallpaper
cutting it to precision
matching it, even into the corners
where the nosey might
hope to find a flaw.

I wasn’t drawn to the design,
if the paper had a design at all,
didn’t care if the paint had a silk finish,

I just remember you poised in the elements
focusing on how it could turn out,
wondering if you’d fall;
that your eyes were a special blue
and thinking you were too busy
to notice me.