This week I’ve spent a bit of time planning my summer holidays. In August, I’m off to Macedonia to read at the Struga Poetry Festival, as part of the Versopolis project. I’ll be at the festival for nearly a week, and then my husband is meeting me in Skopje and we’re going on our own holiday. We’re going to stay in Ohrid for one night and then drive down to northern Greece and walk 17 km up Mount Olympus, stay in a refuge near the summit for one night, before walking back down the next day.
I’m also going to Benidorm at the beginning of the summer holidays, on what is turning into an annual holiday with some of the women I run with. This will be my luxury, sit around the pool and generally laze about holiday.
On Monday, Pauline and I finished the obligatory report on Kendal Poetry Festival for the Arts Council. It took us five hours, but we were determined that we wanted to get the thing handed in and finished, so we can start work on next year’s festival. Filling in the after activity report is not one of the fun things about running a festival so I’m glad that over with.
On Tuesday I had my meeting with my supervisor about my first attempt at 5000 words. I feel so much better about the PhD. We had a really good conversation about what I’d written and where I needed to improve, and also a frank discussion about the nature of a creative PhD, and that a lot of the critical writing will need to be directed by my creative writing, and that this way of working is going to be a challenge. My supervisor also said she felt really excited about my project though which was really encouraging. My main job over the summer is to get some reading done of writing about poetry. I thought I would ease into it gently and start with Glyn Maxwell’s On Poetry as I’ve been wanting to read it for ages.
I really enjoyed reading this book – perhaps the thing that has stayed with me the most, or given me the most to think about are his thoughts on stanza breaks. He refers to W.B Yeats ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ to discuss what happens in the white space between stanzas. He asks what happens in between the stanzas and then answers ‘A change of place, a passing of time.’ He also talks about comparing stanza breaks to scene changes in a film, saying that ‘Some stanza breaks are cuts, some are fades, some are dissolves’.
This has given me lots to think about in relation to my own work but I’ve already started to use some of this in the workshops I’ve ran this weekend with Dove Cottage Young Poets and my Barrow Poetry Workshop.
On Wednesday I drove over to Lumb Bank in Heptonstall. I was the guest poet on Ann and Peter Sansom’s Arvon course. I can’t tell you how excited I was to do this – I’ve never been to Lumb Bank before, and it really is a magical place. The scenery is so beautiful and it was such nice weather, I basically dumped my bag in the cottage and went straight out for a run through the woods and then back along the fields. I only did 2 miles as I’d been out on Tuesday night and done a 7 mile run and I didn’t want to overdo it.
Then I got back, had a shower and then went for dinner with Ann and Peter and the course participants, and Jill, the assistant centre director, and then did the reading after dinner, sold lots of books, had a cup of tea with some of the course participants and then collapsed into bed! It meant a lot to me to be invited to do this because my whole journey as a poet and a writer started on a residential course, not at Lumb Bank, but at Ty Newydd in Wales. That first residential that I went on completely changed my life, so it feels pretty amazing to go and be a guest poet on one.
The next day I got up early and went for a run with one of the people booked on the course who I will call D, as I forgot to ask permission to mention him here. It was a great run, through the woods again but this time crossing the river. I needed to be back in half an hour, however we got a bit lost and whilst D was bounding up and down the hills to find the right path I was puffing and panting behind trying to keep up. D was a lot fitter than I thought, which was lucky really as it meant he could scout ahead. It was a bit like that scene in Lord of the Rings when Gimli the dwarf is puffing along and Legolas speeds on ahead.
I needed to be back in half an hour so I could get to Kendal for 10.30am because I had an appointment to get my tattoo finished. I managed to get there on time with minutes to spare, and I don’t know if it was because I was exhausted from the run, but the pain was nowhere near as bad as the first session on the tattoo a couple of weeks ago.
This brings us up to date with this weekend which I spent running Dove Cottage Young Poets on Friday, Brewery Poets on Friday night and then running my Barrow Poetry Workshop all day Saturday. Next week I have a fairly quiet week, so I’m hoping to get lots of reading done and some poetry writing.
So today’s Sunday Poem is by Pauline Yarwood, who as well as being the co-director of Kendal Poetry Festival, is also a very good poet in her own right. Her first pamphlet Image Junkie has just been published by Wayleave Press and her official launch was a couple of weeks ago. It’s a great pamphlet and available from Wayleave Press for the bargain price of £5.
Reading through the pamphlet again, I realised that although a lot of the poems are concerned with visual themes (unsurprising as Pauline is a potter) many of the poems also explore the problem of speaking out, not speaking at all, speaking too much, who gets to speak and who doesn’t. In ‘The Left Wing Coffee Bar, Manchester’ the ‘ex-POW fathers/told us you understand nothing,/nothing’. There are lots of other examples of direct speech in the poems, such as in’La Flaneuse’, ‘Basking Shark’ and ‘The Hare’ and often people are talking too much or not talking enough.
The poem I’ve chosen for the Sunday Poem this week is called’Put-downs’. The hurtful things people can say to other people is something that seems to be on my mind a lot recently. Helen Mort has just written a great blog about the effect that unsolicited advice and comments can have, which you can read here where she writes back to a male writer who offered some unnecessarily cruel and personal unsolicited remarks. In the blog, Helen says
I’m sorry for writing an essay back in response to a short email. But sometimes, a few words online can spill over into someone’s life and have quite a profound effect, so I thought it was worth trying to put that into words
This really struck me when I read this. Maybe it’s something that we all forget too often, that what we say and do can have a profound effect on other people. Pauline’s poem discusses the effect that words and comments by family members can have on the self, not only as a child but as an adult as well.
The familiar phrase of ‘You’re a sight for sore eyes’ becomes unfamiliar in the poem as the gran gets it ‘the wrong way round’. There is something funny in this misuse of the phrase at first, and the descriptions of the speaker ‘scratched and bleeding from climbing trees’ or ‘once hiding in tall grass being shown how boys pee’ has real energy and life to it.
By the end of the poem, this humour is wiped out. There is a sense of something left unsaid with the description of the gran as ‘A woman wrapped in loss’ but this untold story is quickly moved on with the introduction of another familiar phrase. The last three lines of the poem I found completely chilling, and in particular the last two lines: ‘She could destroy you six different ways with this/depending on where she put the emphasis.’ These two lines send you back to the line before with the phrase ‘who do you think you are’. I couldn’t help myself but try and put the emphasis in different ways. When you do this, when you practice saying ‘Who do you think YOU are’ or ‘Who do you think you ARE’ or ‘Who DO you think you are’ it is almost like the Gran emerges and forms, in the white space around the poem.
Thanks to Pauline for letting me post this poem! Here’s to a week, no even better a life of no put-downs and kindness to wash over us all.
My gran got it the wrong way round.
You’re a sight for sore eyes, she’d snap,
sharp, when I snuck in through the back door.
I’d be grubby from digging pits for dens
or scratched and bleeding from climbing trees,
red-faced from riding my bike a few feet
further than I was allowed to go,
then a sweaty race back hoping not to be seen,
and once hiding in tall grass being shown how boys pee.
It was years before I realised that being
a sight for sore eyes was a good thing,
a joy to behold. But I was never that,
just a scruffy kid hoping for toast and marmite
and a bit of a welcome. She could, I suppose,
have meant that me looking like something
the cat dragged in cheered her up, made her smile.
But that wasn’t my gran. A woman wrapped in loss,
her other favourite phrase, which never leaves me,
was who do you think you are.
She could destroy you six different ways with this
depending on where she put the emphasis.