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.
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.