It’s been a pretty full-on week this week! Yesterday I had a lovely poetry marathon, like I used to in the Olden Days. I started off doing 5k at park run – I thought I would have a good go and see how much fitness I’ve lost because of this ridiculous IT band injury which is hopefully (touch wood) gone now. I did 23 and a half minutes which I’m pretty pleased with – and more importantly no knee pain! Hurrah etc.
After park run I went to Grasmere to the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition reading. Three of the four winning poets were there. I enjoyed the reading, but it was bloody freezing in the Jerwood Centre, to the point where I actually found it hard to concentrate. I haven’t been there for so long I forgot how cold it is – good for Wordsworth’s manuscripts but not good for poetry audiences. I bought all of the four pamphlets though so I will peruse them in the warmth and comfort of my own house.
In the evening we had our June Poem and a Pint event at Greenodd Village Hall. What a brilliant night it was. We had lots of people turning up to read on the Open Mic, brilliant music from Bradyll Friends, an acapella choir and Emily Berry, our guest poet was absolutely brilliant. Her first set was quite funny, she uses a dry irony in her work which I love. The second set from her latest book Stranger, Baby I found really moving. I’ve just reviewed Stranger, Baby for the next issue of ‘Under the Radar’ magazine, along with another fantastic collection by Sabrina Mahfouz called How You Might Know Me.
I went on a training course to learn how to use EndNote at the beginning of the week at uni. This software will hopefully make doing the bibliography and referencing side of things for my critical work much easier. I’ve got to hand in 5000 words to my supervisor next week, and I’ve been steadily progressing with it. This is a bit weird, but I’ve actually really enjoyed using EndNote to do my references. I’ve also really enjoyed writing the 5000 words. If I take out of the equation my anxiety about whether I’m doing it ‘right’, if I forget about worrying whether I’m any good at it or not, if that has nothing to do with it at all, then I’ve absolutely loved doing the writing.
Also at the beginning of the week, I had a meeting about the 2018 Kendal Poetry Festival. Yes, it actually never ends, and although we are still finishing the report for this year’s festival, we are already having to start thinking and planning for next year’s festival! It was a really positive meeting however, and I’m already feeling a little bit excited about next year. Last week, I was full of what I am going to refer to as festival fatigue – this week, I feel much better, more myself and almost ready to do it all again.
Mid week I had my Annual Review Meeting with the lovely Helen Mort. Helen was so enthusiastic about my project, and it was great to have a chance to talk through how the year has gone. As part of the review, I had to upload evidence of what I’ve been doing, so I gathered together the poems I’ve written this year – I think there were about 27 of them, which I’m not sure if that sounds like a lot or not. Helen is probably the first person to read them all together and she was so positive and encouraging about them that I came away feeling a lot more confident in my own work.
I found out last week that I’ve had four of my ‘All The Men I Never Married’ poems accepted for publication in the next issue of The Rialto, which I’m really pleased about – and I think that’s about it for my news!
Today’s Sunday Poem is by the fabulous Emily Blewitt, who I met when she came on a residential course that I ran quite a while ago now at Abbot Hall in Grange Over Sands. I thought she was a fantastic poet back then, so I was really happy for her when I found that my publisher Seren were publishing her first collection.
Emily was born in Carmarthen, Wales. She studied at Oxford and York, and has a PhD from Cardiff University, where she specialised in poetic representations of pregnancy in nineteenth century and contemporary women’s writing. She has published poetry in The Rialto, Ambit, Poetry Wales, The Interpreter’s House, Furies, Hinterland, Brittle Star and Cheval. Her first full-length collection This Is Not A Rescue was published by Seren a few months ago. The title poem of the collection was Highly Commended in the 2016 Forward Prizes in the Best Published Poem category.
I took this poem to a session I ran with Dove Cottage Young Poets and it went down really well. The young poets really liked the poem, and they wrote some fantastic response poems to it as well. I really like the one line statements, and the way the voice of the dance teacher is both sustained and developed throughout the poem. As the poem goes on, the personality of the teacher and the relationship between the teacher and the student becomes more apparent.
Everything seems professional until the sixth line ‘If you don’t like me smoking, sit over there’ which says so much in so few words! We know the student doesn’t like smoking. We know the dance teacher doesn’t care, but not in a horrible way. I think we get a sense of the time period as well – some time in the 80s perhaps, when smoking teachers could still get away with it.
That line ‘You’re blushing again’ is wonderfully understated as well, showing the growing awareness of the student of her own body. I think the use of phrases and cliches here works really well, such as ‘If you don’t use it you lose it’ and ‘It takes a bit of grit to make a pearl.’
Although there is a level of inappropriateness here in some of the lines, things I wouldn’t say as a teacher, such as ‘You’re as flat-chested as I am’ – for me there is still a deep level of affection there, particularly in lines such as ‘You remind me of me when I was your age’. There is also humour as well of course ‘If I had my time again, I’d be a historian.’ The teachers seems like a real character, who both uses well worn phrases and cliches, and then comes out with unexpected and random things.
I would really recommend ordering this collection. If there was any justice it should be on a First Collection shortlist but even if it doesn’t make it on to one, buy it anyway! You can get it with 20% off from the Seren website here.
Things My Dance Teacher Used to Say – Emily Blewitt
Chassés are chasing steps
To spiral, you spin slowly and trail your pointed foot
Practise standing on one leg
Use contrary body motion
Your arms should show control and musical interpretation
If you don’t like me smoking, sit over there
It shouldn’t burn
Keep your eyes up
You’re blushing again
You’re as flat-chested as I am
If you don’t use it you lose it
If you don’t click this time, there’s something wrong with you
You’re too naive
You’re not afraid to swing those hips
I was a loose cannon
I used to sprint barefoot at school
You remind me of me when I was your age
If I had my time again, I’d be a historian
It takes a bit of grit to make a pearl