Monthly Archives: February 2018

Sunday Poem – Chrissie Gittins

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Sunday Poem – Chrissie Gittins

Going out for a run – procrastination.  Playing on addictive computer game involving hatching dragons from eggs in a completely pointless exercise – procrastination.  Ringing my mum for a chat – procrastination.  Ringing my twin sister for a chat – procrastination.  Checking Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – procrastination.  Sending stupid Snapchat video to Hilda Sheehan – procrastination.   Everything that isn’t my PhD feels like procrastinating at the minute, like a distraction.  I realise that thinking of life in general as a distraction is probably not healthy in the long term.

I need to run otherwise I think I will lose the plot.  I try to limit myself to computer game when I’ve done a good couple of hours work on the PhD.  I ring my mum and my sister whilst I’m out walking the dogs.  I spend less time on social media – mainly because of my addiction to aforementioned dragon hatching game.  I practice saying no in the mirror but still say yes too often.  This blog could really be called procrastination, I suppose, which is maybe why I have slowed down with it a little recently, why the posts are a bit more sporadic.  But I feel connected to a wider poetry community when I write it – and I still like hunting out poems to post here.

Today I have ran 10 miles, and read and re-read a fantastic manuscript by Hannah Hodgson, nne of my Dove Cottage Young Poets.  This manuscript is her first pamphlet collection and is about to be published very soon by Wayleave Press.  I’ve written a blurb for the back, and sent it to Mike Barlow, her publisher.  I’ve also answered as many emails as I could get through, and am hoping I haven’t missed any.  I’ve read and re-read the feedback on my 6000 word report, or RD2 as it’s commonly known at MMU on my PhD progress so far.  I’ve started to respond to some of their feedback, just in bullet points at the moment.  Next Monday I will have a ‘mock viva’ where I will discuss my PhD, and their feedback with the scrutineers.

My usual psychological process is to panic or get anxious about anything like this in the lead up to it.  I spend copious amounts of energy worrying,and usually, it all ends up ok.  So I’m trying to just ignore this part of me that works itself up into a frenzy.  Or maybe not ignore, but not let it run the show.

I did this recently with a thing I did with BBC Radio Cumbria.  I did an interview and a recording of my poem ‘Suffragette’ as part of the celebrations to mark 100 years since the Representation of the People Act, which gave the vote to some women and working class men.  I spent the next three days afterwards worrying I’d said something awful and made myself sound stupid.  When the interview was played and I eventually got the courage up to listen, I realised it sounded fine.  I was even quite proud of myself for doing it, again a new feeling for me! You can listen to the interview and recording here for the next 22 days: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05vm48h

So in the spirit of learning from previous experiences, I’m trying hard not to let my nerves or anxiety get the better of me.  Part of me is looking forward to discussing what I’m doing – my scrutineers are writers and poets I really admire, so I’m hoping it will genuinely be helpful and interesting, and thought provoking.  My stomach still does a flip flop when I think about it, but it feels under control.

I’ve had a busy couple of weeks since I last wrote.  Last night we had A Poem and a Pint.  Sadly, Joanne Limburg, our guest poet was taken ill at the last minute.  The wonderful John Foggin agreed to stand in at very late notice and made a 250 mile round trip to come and read.  It was a brilliant reading – John’s poetry was thought-provoking and moving and funny.  I was really pleased to see the audience loved him as much as I do and bought lots of his books – you can read his account of the evening over at his blog The Great Fogginzo’s Cobweb.  

The night before, Friday, I was reading at Lancaster Spotlight, which was a fundraising night to help them raise money to continue their good work whilst they apply for Arts Council funding.  They had a huge turnout and I got to read with another one of my Dove Cottage Young Poets, Matthew, who was then asked back to do a longer set at Spotlight later in the year.  I found this almost as exciting as the first time I read there, and was invited back to read.

On Tuesday of this week I got back from being away for about six nights.  I read in London on the Monday night at an event at the British Library for the Royal Society of Literature alongside the brilliant Malika Booker and Nick Makoha.  It was a really lovely night and I got to spend some time with a few friends that I hadn’t seen for a while.

I travelled down to London from Ty Newydd, where I’d been for five nights, running a residential course with my co-tutor Hilda Sheehan, who is also one of my closest friends.  Being with Hilda always fills me with joy and giddiness so it was great to spend time with her.  Our students were a fantastic group from a school in Manchester who were an absolute delight to teach.

I’m really looking forward to tomorrow because I get to spend three days with my other best friend David Tait! He is over visiting from China.  Tomorrow we will be hanging out in Bowness and Grasmere and going for a walk with the dogs, and talking all things poetry.  So no time really to get nervous about the viva.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Chrissie Gittins, who I met quite a few years ago at Stanza Poetry Festival.  Chrissie was kind enough to send me a copy of her pamphlet, Professor Heger’s Daughter, and I asked her if I could share the title poem here.

I found a great interview with Chrissie where she talks about writing this poem, which I thought was a really interesting description of the process, and the lengths we go to as poets here which is really worth a read.  She writes

I first read about Charlotte Brontë’s letters to Constantin Heger in the Saturday Guardian early in 2012. They were mentioned in an article by Lucasta Miller about a recently discovered fable which Charlotte had written. After her aunt died Charlotte returned home to Haworth from Brussels, where she’d been studying, and wrote a series of passionate letters to her teacher. Professor Heger tore them up on receipt and threw them in the wastepaper basket; the only reason they survive is because his wife rescued them, stuck and stitched them together, and kept them safely in her jewellery box. The letters are now part of the extensive collection of Brontë literary manuscripts held at the British Library.  

I think one of the many lovely things about this is the utter chance of it – that Chrissie read about the letters in the Guardian, presumably minding her own business reading the newspaper and not expecting a poem to pounce on her. Maybe this is what being a poet is – being ready for these chance encounters or meetings which might lead on to a poem or a pamphlet.

The poem is in the voice of one of Professor Heger’s daughters, and uses the arrival of Charlotte Bronte’s letters as its structure.  I love how each letter is tied to a particular month, and the physical descriptions of the letters – the pieces ‘like islands floating on the green chenille’ and ‘river tears’ and the ‘shadow words’.

I also really like how Chrissie has threaded some of the actual letters through the poem.  The poem is a poem of contrasts – the close description of the fragments of letters contrast with the wider view of the outside world with its ‘canopy of leaves’ and later the ‘leaves crusted with rust’.  There is a wonderful telescoping effect as the eye of the poem closes in and then widens out again.

The first time we hear the daughter speak is in the last but one stanza, when she asks the father “Did you love her? Did you ever love her?”.  I like how the subject, the ‘her’ is left a mystery.  She could be talking about her mother, his wife, or Charlotte Bronte, and this mystery isn’t resolved by the father’s action of throwing the letters into the fire.

You can buy Chrissie Gittin’s pamphlet Professor Heger’s Daughter from Paekakariki Press for £10.  This is a limited edition letterpress pamphlet – it really is a beautiful object.

She was was born in Lancashire and lives in Forest Hill in South London. She studied at Newcastle University and St Martin’s School of Art, and worked as an artist and a teacher before becoming a freelance poet/writer. She writes poetry, radio drama, short stories, and poetry for children.  Professor Heger’s Daughter was published in 2013 and she’s been busy since then, publishing a short story collection Between Here and Knitwear with Unthank Books in 2015 and a children’s poetry collection Adder, Bluebell, Lobster in 2016 with Otter-Barry Books.  You can find out more information about Chrissie over at her website http://www.chrissiegittins.co.uk/ 

Chrissie is also heading up north soon to give a poetry reading for adults at Settle Sessions in North Yorkshire on June 8th.  On June 9th – she’ll also be running a 1 hour poetry workshop for children followed by a short poetry reading – more information over at the website of Settle Sessions.
Thanks to Chrissie for letting me use her poem here.

Professor Heger’s Daughter – Chrissie Gittins 

The first came in July when the canopy of leaves
cooled the garden in the afternoon,
she laid the pieces on the table
like islands floating on the green chenille.
Taking paper strips she strapped the words together.
I shall see you again one day…it must happen since I long
00for it.
A coral blush rose in her cheeks.

Mother found the second in October,
leaves were crusted then with rust.
She pulled the river tears together with feather stitch,
white cotton whiter than the page,
the thin paper showing Charlotte’s
shadow words behind.
my sisters are keeping well but my brother is always ill.

In January, when threads of silver birch were
stained with plum my mother found nine pieces
nestled next to last year’s invitations.
If my master withdraws his friendship from me entirely
I shall be absolutely without hope –

Another in November, leaves rotting in the rain.
I lost my appetite and my sleep – I pine away.
This was the last.
I know what it is to love a man and not be loved.
But to see my mother’s eyes remember pain?

When my father lay on his deathbed,
his skin wax, his hands clammy and limp,
I flung the letters in his face.
“Did you love her? Did you ever love her?”
He screwed his strength enough to toss them
in the fire.

He found his peace in death.
I keep the letters locked beneath my bed
in a polished leather case.
It’s only in the spring I take pleasure in the trees,
I stroke the buds and stems and will the curling leaves
to unfurl into sunlight, to bring a fragrant ease.

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December 2018 Poetry Carousel

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Poetry Carousel
7th-10th December 2018
Tutors: Sean O’Brian, Fiona Sampson, Andrew McMillan and Kim Moore,

Abbot Hall Hotel, Kents Bank, Grange-Over-Sands, Cumbria
£390 to include breakfast, lunch and three-course evening meal.
Please contact hotel to book  015395 32896

The Poetry Carousel is a residential course with a difference – four very different workshops with four very different tutors, all crammed into one weekend.  Each participant will be put into a group of between 8 and 10 to take part in a morning workshop with one of four tutors.  Afternoons are free for reading and writing, and in the evening, there are poetry readings in the Great Hall at the hotel.

Read on to find out a little more about the amazing team of tutors I’ve assembled for the 2018 Poetry Carousel.  The last two Carousels have sold out, and half of the places for this one have already gone, so if you’re interested, please get in touch with the hotel to book a place.

2018 Tutors

Fiona Sampson MBE is a prizewinning poet and writer. Published in thirty-seven languages, she has received international awards in the US, India, Macedonia and Bosnia. A Fellow and a former Council member of the Royal Society of Literature, she’s published twenty-seven books, received the Newdigate Prize, a Cholmondeley Award, Hawthornden Fellowship and numerous awards from the Arts Councils of England and Wales, and the Society of Authors and the Poetry Book Society, as well as twice been shortlisted for both T.S. Eliot and Forward Prizes. Her recent books include the poetry collection The Catch (Penguin Random House 2016) and a prose study of Limestone Country (2017), which was Guardian Book of the Year and a Telegraph and Evening Standard Pick of the Summer. Her new biography, In Search of Mary Shelley, published by Profile in 2018, is a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week. She is the Professor of Poetry at University of Roehampton, where she directs the Poetry Centre.

Andrew McMillan was born in South Yorkshire in 1988; his debut collection physical was the first ever poetry collection to win The Guardian First Book Award. The collection also won the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, a Somerset Maugham Award (2016), an Eric Gregory Award (2016) and a Northern Writers’ award (2014). It was shortlisted the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Costa Poetry Award,  The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year 2016, the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, the Roehampton Poetry Prize and the Polari First Book Prize. It was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Autumn 2015.  Most recently physical has been translated into Norwegian (Aschehoug, 2017) and French under the title Les Corps Des Hommes (Grasset, 2018).  His second collection, playtime, will be published by Jonathan Cape in 2018. He is senior lecturer at the Manchester Writing School at MMU and lives in Manchester.

Sean O’Brien’s ninth poetry collection, Europa, is published in 2018 by Picador. His Collected Poems appeared in 2012. His work has received various awards including the T.S. Eliot, Forward and Roehampton Poetry prizes. In 2016 his second novel, Once Again Assembled Here, was published by Picador, and a chapbook of poetry and photographs, Hammersmith, by Hercules Editions. His second collection of short stories, Quartier Perdu, is due from Comma in 2018. He is a critic, translator, editor, playwright, novelist, broadcaster and experienced tutor and mentor. He lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, is Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Kim Moore’s first full-length collection The Art of Falling was published by Seren in 2015 and won the 2016 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize.  Her poem ‘In That Year’ from the collection was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Published Poem.  She won a Northern Writers Award in 2014, an Eric Gregory Award in 2011 and the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize in 2010.  Her pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves was a winner in the 2012 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition, and went on to be shortlisted for a Michael Marks Award and named in The Independent as a Book of the Year.  Her work has been translated into several languages including Croatian, Macedonian, Dutch, Spanish and Polish.  After working for 13 years as a trumpet teacher, she is now a PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University and is currently working on her second collection.

 

Sunday Poem: Naomi Jaffa

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Sunday Poem: Naomi Jaffa

It’s been a beautiful day here in the Lake District today. I’ve been out in the cold and the sunshine most of the day. At lunchtime I went for a 12 mile run with a group of friends and then a 3 mile dog walk when I got back. I’m now sat feeling a bit sorry for myself as I’ve now got a pain behind my knee, at the bottom of my hamstring. I didn’t think it was that bad, but it seems to have got worse over the course of the evening. I’m hoping I’ve just overdone it a bit today and with a few days rest it will be ok.

This week has been a mix of teaching, recordings, and writing poems. On Tuesday I did a short interview with a producer from BBC Radio Cumbria and read my poem ‘Suffragette’. The interview and the poem will be broadcast some time in the week of the anniversary of the Representation of the People Act. I get really anxious when I do anything that’s recorded. Not usually beforehand too much, but afterwards – things that I’ve said run round and round in my head, or things I didn’t say – don’t know if anybody else gets this. It doesn’t happen when I do readings though – maybe because a poetry reading is such an ephemeral thing – and anything I’ve said, whilst it can be repeated, it has also disappeared.

Thursday is my teaching day at MMU – I’m teaching on an undergraduate unit called Language and Technique this term – covering for Adam O’Riordan. I’m really enjoying the teaching so far – this week Helen Mort and I took our undergraduate students to Manchester Art Gallery to hopefully be inspired by some of the art.

On Friday I went to Yarm school to do a reading/talk about domestic violence, focusing on the sequence in my first collection. This is the first time I’ve done something like this, and I was a little out of my comfort zone – as usually I read the poems one after another, without any introductions. This has always been my way of preserving a kind of boundary around myself when I’m reading these poems. The students were absolutely lovely though – they asked lots of perceptive questions and seemed really engaged. The teacher who invited me to come had read my book and thought about the poetry and was really enthusiastic. I couldn’t get the statistic out of my head that 1 in 3 women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives – it’s a sobering thought when you’re standing in front of a room of young people with their whole lives ahead of them. Statistically, there were probably young women and young men in that room who have already experienced it.

I’ve also had another good week on the PhD – I’ve got a meeting with my supervisor tomorrow so I had to edit and get ready some new poems to send through to him. I’m nervous about the meeting tomorrow as these are all really new poems that I’m still not completely sure of. I had two poems accepted in the New Statesman this week as well, although I’m not sure when they will be published. And I’ve carried on with reading Theory of the Lyric by Jonathan Culler, which I’m still finding interesting!

I’ve been reading about the ‘cooperative principal’ coined by the philosopher H.R. Grice. The cooperative principal means that when we are talking to someone we assume that they are saying something relevant. In literature the cooperative principal is ‘hyper-protected’. Culler says that readers ‘will often go a long way in accepting obscurity, disjunction or apparent irrelevance’.

Culler talks about the ‘lyric convention of significance’ i.e ‘the fact that something has been set down as a poem implies that it is important now, at the moment of lyric articulation’. This has interesting implications for my poems exploring sexism. By writing lyric poetry about experiences of sexism, I can elevate experiences of sexism into significance, just by writing lyric poetry, rather than say, a diary entry.

Another thing that Jonathan Culler is really good on is Greek poetry. If I had time (which I don’t) I would find it very easy to be sidetracked and go and find as many examples of fragments of Greek poetry I could get my hands on. My most recent favourite is by Theognis, addressed to someone called Cyrnus. This is translated by Andrew Miller and the first couple of lines are

I have given you wings with which you will fly, soaring easily
over the boundless seas and all the land

A bit like Shakespeare’s sonnets – Theognis promises Cyrnus immortalization before complaining at the end that he has been deceived and disappointed.

So, on to the first Sunday Poem of February! Many people will know Naomi Jaffa as the former Director of Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, where she worked tirelessly to bring poets from across the world together in one place for a magical weekend. I know this because I was one of those lucky poets in 2013 and I had such a good time. I hope we treat the poets who come to Kendal Poetry Festival as well as I was treated that weekend in Aldeburgh.

As well as running one of the best festivals for 22 years, Naomi is also a fabulous poet. I suspect her own creative work was put on the backburner for the many years she was running the festival, but I was really happy to see that last year she had a pamphlet published by The Garlic Press. The pamphlet is called Driver and comes highly recommended.

Naomi Jaffa grew up in London and Scarborough and read English at Oxford. She is the daughter of professional musicians and started out in classical music management before moving to East Anglia in 1991. After her 22 years working for Aldeburgh Poetry Festival and as Director of the Poetry Trust, she is now the co-founder of Poetry People, a new organisation set up to run the Suffolk Young Poets competition and other community projects. Her first pamphlet, The Last Hour of Sleep was published in 2004.

The poem I’ve chosen is called ‘Sign’ and I think it’s really beautiful. I also like poems that send me off on a tangent – this particular tangent was to find out more about the epigraph at the beginning of the poem. Minerva was the goddess of wisdom (I found out) so Hegel is saying here that wisdom can only be found when things are ending. I then got a bit distracted by the various ways this phrase could be translated, like ‘takes flight at dusk’ instead of ‘flies only at dusk’. I like the version Naomi uses best – as ‘takes flight’ has a connotation of running away which I don’t think is needed. I found ‘The owl of Minerva only flies at dusk’ – just reversing those two words made me shudder because the rhythm was bumpy and ugly – and then you realise how ‘flies only’ sounds like what it means, the words float off the page, whereas reversed, they kind of bump along. I also found a longer version which I think is as lovely as the one Naomi chose to use: ‘The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of dusk’. I think the shorter one works better as an epigraph, but I’m glad the shorter one led me to the longer one.

On to the poem, which has an encounter with an owl, or more accurately two owls at its heart. It seems to start mid-conversation, as if we know more than we actually do, as if this is a conversation between friends. We don’t know why or what or who the speaker is leaving, and although by the end of the poem, there is an introduction of a ‘he’ who will be left behind, I think the poem is also exploring the act of leaving in a much wider sense. We don’t even know who the speaker makes it clear to that they are leaving – it could be themselves, or another person.

Nature is set against a man-made world throughout the poem. The ‘big white wedge/of a bird’ flies level with the car. The old airfield and the road sign and the chicken-factory lorry are set against the barn owl, ‘perched and scrawny’.

I also love the matter-of-fact tone ‘and anyway I’m late, there’s no time today for nature’ – the confidence of this line, which is then disrupted by nature, which can’t be controlled. The voice of the poem which says ‘there’s no time’ is silenced by the owl ‘level with the window, flying at my speed’ and this encounter, this interaction takes on significance, the significance of a sign, showing the speaker ‘for at least ten slow clear seconds the way forward’.

I have only just noticed (honestly!) after banging on about the ‘lyric convention of signficance’ that this poem has the word significant in it. The unconscious is truly a wonderful thing!

The introduction of the ‘he’ at the end was surprising and heartbreaking when the speaker says ‘only now/does he see and touch me’. The idea of not being seen until you are leaving is delicious in its cruelty. I also really like how Naomi circles back to the epigram that began the poem – ‘This isn’t history, but must be what Hegel meant’. So Hegel was saying not that things have to end, night has to fall for wisdom to be found, but that wisdom can be found when things are ending, at dusk, a time of neither one thing nor the other, not night or day or dark or light.

Please rush forth and buy a copy from The Garlic Press here and thanks to Naomi Jaffa for allowing me to use her poem this week.

Sign
The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk. Hegel

At the start of the week I make it clear I’m leaving,
on one of those never-gets-light December mornings,
I drive across the old airfield and, almost pass
the Passing Place sign, notice the barn owl,
perched and scrawny, hunger beating daylight.
I want to reverse for a better look, but here’s
the chicken-factory lorry in the mirror looming up,
and anyway I’m late, there’s no time today for nature.
But turning right at the end of the single track road
here’s a second one, much larger – a big white wedge
of a bird, level with the window, flying at my speed,
willing the car to disturb some small creature,
wingbeats in time with my heart all the parallel length
of the ditch between field-hedge and verge.
Of course I decide this is significant, this night-hunter
waiting up so late for me to arrive, willing to show
for at least ten slow clear seconds the way forward.
This isn’t history, but must be what Hegel meant.
After twelve and a half years and in the week
I make my intentions plain, only now
does he see and touch me, talk about how much
he understands, can’t bear the loss of.