I’m writing today’s blog post from my back garden in blazing sunshine. I keep thinking longingly of my hammock but I don’t think I’ll be getting it out of the shed. The problem with a hammock is that it’s impossible to do anything in it other than relax. It’s even hard to read in a hammock because the book has to be held above you – and I’ve still got far too much on to be able to justify lounging about doing nothing.
It has been a really busy month for me since I last wrote. One of the projects I’ve been working on is a commission by The Sage in Gateshead to write some poems about what it means to be northern. This is a huge project of which I’m only a small part of – there are two other poets that have also been commissioned to write some poems – Degna Stone and Andrew McMillan, and then four or five amazing musicians. I’ve been over to Newcastle again to be interviewed for a Sky Arts documentary about the project, although i doubt very much my ramblings will end up being used and to have a short rehearsal with the musicians. This was really interesting as I’d sent a recording of myself reading one of my poems over and they’d managed to compose music to go with it which chugged along in perfect time – who knew I was reading poems in a steady tempo of about 100 beats a minute? And it wasn’t even a poem in a particular form or rhythm – what people would call a ‘free verse’ poem. So we rehearsed that and I felt briefly like a bit of a rock star.
It’s not all been work though – I had a weekend holiday to Scotland with the husband at the beginning of June which was really lovely. We stayed in a nice B & B and the weather was really hot. I don’t think I’ve ever been in Scotland when it hasn’t rained so this was a novelty! We got a ferry down Loch Katrine and then decided to run the 13 miles back. It was very hot and we took our time but it was still really hard work. I felt fine but in the middle of the night woke up and was sick everywhere – I don’t know if I got too hot, or too dehydrated or just pushed it too much on the run but it wasn’t much fun. We were supposed to be going up a mountain the next day, but as we’d both had about three hours sleep due to me being ill, and I was a bit shaky still we decided to amend our plans and we went to New Lanark instead and had a look around the old mills before coming home.
I also found time to see the Rolling Stones in Manchester! I went with my dad, my twin sister and my brother in law. My sister and I succumbed to the over-priced T-shirts and even bought matching ones, which is kind of funny when I think of how much we hated wearing the same thing when we were younger – now I quite enjoy it! Here we are before the concert. The Stones were amazing – I felt I had to dance non-stop seeing as Mick Jagger is over twice my age and was skipping up and down the stage without a care in the world.
I’ve also had a few poetry readings this month – in Kendal at Brewery Poets with John Foggin, in Bradford at Beehive Poets with Nick Toczek and in Hawkshead at a cat cafe called KITTchen with various open mic-ers and managed to sell a few books along the way.
I’ve had a busy time PhD wise as well. I had my Annual Review at the beginning of June and it all went well. Even I can see my critical writing has come on a lot since last year’s review. I even submitted some of my PhD work to the Ivan Juritz prize and got longlisted – sadly I didn’t get any further than the long list but I’m going to have another go next year, when hopefully my thinking (and writing) will be that much further on.
I also gave a paper at a poetry art symposium called ‘I See You Seeing Me – Engaging the Female Gaze in Visual Art and Poetry. organised by Kathryn Maris to raise funds for Poetry London. I got really anxious in the run up to the day writing my paper with the usual imposter syndrome stuff and then when I got to London was freaking out when I realised I’d forgotten to bring any ‘smart’ shoes with me and would have to give my paper in my trainers which in my panic the night before, seemed like the worst thing to happen in the world. However it all turned out fine, and as someone on Twitter pointed out, as I was giving a paper about The Female Gaze, I really just needed to turn up and not worry about how I ‘looked’. Kathryn Maris was so lovely when I turned up as well a bit flustered that I felt much better.
I think this worry about ‘looking the part’ is a symptom of wider anxiety around class – whenever I move through these spaces there is part of me that feels I don’t belong there. I feel ‘working class’ when I am in spaces/places that are not working class. The times when being ‘working class’ rubs up against the surface of my life are always the times when I am in a space that has been traditionally shut off to people like me.
The first time I was aware of it was when I joined the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra when I was 17 – this was after 9 years of playing in brass bands and never thinking about it or even being aware of it. And ‘joining an orchestra’ doesn’t sound very working class does it? But this was after receiving nine years of free lessons at school, and a free instrument from the brass band, and I joined the orchestra with my teacher’s second hand trumpet, which I’m sure had bits of gaffa tape holding various bits of it together. I then got a job selling double glazing over the phone (horror of horrors) and saved up £1800 to buy myself a new trumpet.
Anyway, the symposium was great – my highlight were Katharine Engel who gave the keynote speech. She wrote an amazing book called ‘Unmastered: A Book on Desire Most Difficult To Tell’ which is brilliant. Her talk covered pornography, female desire, the difference (or not) between the body and the mind – it was really fascinating. I also really enjoyed Ruth Padel’s thoughts on ekhphrasis and managed to get a copy of her new collection ‘Emerald’ which I haven’t read the whole of yet, but am enjoying so far.
I’ve also just found out that a slightly extended version of my paper is going to be published in Agenda magazine which I’m very happy about. So most of my PhD time this month has gone into writing my paper, and then working on it to make it suitable for publication in Agenda. It doesn’t sound like that much when I write it out like that but it has taken hours and hours!
I am also looking forward to the rest of 2018 which will be filled with me being extremely judgemental about poetry (wait for it)
I’m judging the Primers Volume Four Mentoring and Publication Scheme along with Jane Commane from Nine Arches Press – an amazing opportunity to have your pamphlet published by The Poetry School and Nine Arches as well as receive mentoring from yours truly. I’ll also be judging the National Poetry Competition alongside Kei Miller and Mark Waldron which I’m really excited about.
My other big news is that I was on Private Passions on Radio 3 yesterday being interviewed by Michael Berkeley. I did the interview a couple of months ago and it was one of the nicest and least stressful experiences I’ve had on the radio! You can listen to the interview and my amazing and trumpet-filled choices of music here https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b7dqmy
I think that is all my news for now – phew. A month’s worth takes a while to type up! Underneath all of that is Kendal Poetry Festival of course – still humming along with only 3 Festival Passes left now.
I will leave you with a poem from one of my favourite people Martin Kratz. Martin’s first pamphlet A Skeleton’s Progress has just been published by Poetry Salzburg. As well as being an excellent poet, Martin has also kept me sane throughout my PhD, offering advice and also being terribly English and pretending not to see when I have had the odd crying fit in my favourite cafe (Eighth Day in Manchester if you’re wondering)
Every poem in the pamphlet starts ‘Skeleton Man’ – the speaker of the poem is always talking to him, but really the speaker is addressing us, the audience and reader, telling us things through the conduit of Skeleton Man. I’ve chosen this poem because I think it’s a great example of how Martin manages to ask big questions about the world but the poems wear those big questions really lightly.
Skeleton Man has various adventures throughout the pamphlet, including being elected to be prime minister and shot into space in a rocket before appearing again in another poem, as if nothing has happened to him. He swims with sharks, goes into a pub and inexplicably hangs worms all over himself. Lots of these poems are funny, but they’re also very moving as well. There is something vulnerable or innocent in the character of Skeleton Man, but he also seems to possess more wisdom than the rest of us somehow.
If you would like to order A Skeleton’s Progress you can buy it from Poetry Salzburg here: http://www.poetrysalzburg.com/skeleton.htm for the measly sum of £6.50 plus postage and packing. Thanks to Martin for letting me use his poem!
00000Where do feelings come from?
Here you are
00000Where you think no one watches
Reaching down under your ribcage
00000And back up past false
Ribs towards true. To make a fist
00000Where a heart should be.
Skeleton Man, this muscle
00000Click-clacks when it should b-boom;
Grinds when it should m-murmur.
00000This is no centre for your pain, but
Take it away and I say
00000Something real remains. Hand on heart.