Category Archives: Residentials

Sunday Poem – Hilda Sheehan


This week has been a strange and rather full-on week.  Regular readers of this blog will remember that I was slightly panicking last week about my Progression Viva which was on Monday. The journey there was tiresome, annoying and cold.  My train broke down just outside Lancaster, and once it got going again, after half an hour it could only proceed at five miles an hour to Preston, which took rather a long time! I was planning to get to Manchester three hours early, so I could have a leisurely lunch and do a bit more silent panicking before the viva – however, I actually got there half an hour late.  Luckily the scrutineers agreed to wait for me.  By that time I was in such a bad mood it stopped me being too nervous, so it probably worked out well in the end.

It was actually really good to have a chance to talk through some of my ideas around my thesis with the scrutineers, who were really enthusiastic about my project.  Probably the biggest thing I’ve had to come to terms with in doing this PhD is believing that my ideas are interesting – I don’t know if anybody else has this, but because my ideas come out of my head, they don’t feel that interesting! But a PhD – or at least a creative PhD, or maybe even just MY creative Phd, has to be driven by ideas.

So I’m very happy to say I’ve passed, which means I can progress onwards with my PhD but I had a few revisions to make, including writing a paragraph or two about why I’m using lyric poetry as opposed to another type of poetry, some referencing errors and refining my aims from seven (excessive) down to four (manageable).  I resubmitted on Thursday, so that is done and dusted now.

Apart from the PhD excitement, I’ve been to a meeting for A Poem and a Pint – we are still waiting to hear back from our third attempt to apply for Arts Council funding.  In fact we should hear in the next few weeks.  I also did some mentoring on a manuscript of a rather excellent poet and we met up on Tuesday to discuss the suggestions I’d made.  On Wednesday, despite the freezing cold and a thin layer of snow in Barrow, I decided to go out and do a nine mile run – trying to build my mileage up now ready for the Coniston to Barrow event in May.

Thursday was a complete washout because of the storm.  I was supposed to get to Manchester, have two tutorials with two of my undergraduate students, go to a meeting about some teaching at university, then do an afternoon of teaching, and then hang around for a bit before going to read at Lit Up in Manchester.  I got to Lancaster and all the trains were cancelled, so I decided to cut my losses and go home.  Lit Up eventually ended up being cancelled, but it will hopefully be rearranged.

Friday’s meeting about an anthology of Cumbrian poetry I’m editing was also cancelled as the publisher/editor was snowed in and couldn’t get out of her house, and I decided to cancel Dove Cottage Young Poets rather than risk the weather, so instead of two really busy days I had two days of emptiness stretching before me.  It was so nice! I managed to fill them as I have so many jobs I haven’t caught up with – I managed to go for a ten mile run on Friday which I didn’t think I was going to have time for.  I’ve also finished planning the workshops for the residential course I’m running next week with hours to spare which is unusual for me.

A few exciting things that are happening – I’m going to be on Private Passions on Radio 3 soon and all my choices of music have a trumpet in, as you’d expect.  It’s also pre-recorded, so I’m hoping the producer will be able to make me sound intelligent and witty!  I’m going down to London in a couple of weeks to record it – it will be a flying visit though, as I have to get back to Manchester to do my teaching, and then straight from there to the airport to go to Gdansk Poetry Festival as part of Versopolis.  The rest of March and the first half of April is basically a bit manic, then everything slows down a little bit.

I’m also judging a poetry competition for a clothing company called Thought.  All you have to do is write a four line poem about nature and you could win £250! Details here of how to enter.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by one of my best friends, the lovely Hilda Sheehan.  I spent a week with Hilda recently running a residential, and she wrote this poem during that week, in response to a conversation about relationships with musicians.  I couldn’t possibly divulge who took part in the conversation, or what they divulged but this was the result.  You could replace Viola Man with the appropriate instrument for your life experiences, I’m sure!

This poem comes from an extended sequence of poems that all concern themselves with the life and times of two women, Francis and Martine.  You can find more Francis and Martine poems over at Hilda’s blog.

Francis and Martine are probably some of my favourite literary characters.  Hilda often describes them both as saying the things she can’t say or wants to say.  I like how Hilda does away with all the trappings of conventional speech marks and leaves the reader to work out who is speaking.  I also like the slightly convoluted and strange turns of phrase they often come out with, like a ‘disgraceful act of resistance’.  And anyone that has taught a musical instrument I’m sure will smile at the phrase ‘his engaging output of Ode to Joy.’  Ode to Joy is one of the five note tunes in its simplest forms and still haunts my sleep, along with Hot Cross Buns and Mary Had a Little Lamb after 13 years of teaching those tunes!

The whole poem pokes fun at love and obsession and relationships and distraction.  Is it only me who has Viola Man down as a bad ‘un?  And what is a frozen egg anyway?

I am going to break my own rules now and post a second Francis and Martine poem, also written during the residential.  Hilda and I discovered we have the same terrible habits of leaving socks all over the floor to develop into little sock nests, and both our husbands have similar opinions about our tardy ways.  I love this poem as well because it is bonkers.  I also love the way it leaps off into the world of Shakespeare and Desdemona and Othello at the end.  Hilda’s poems are never predictable.

And all those thoughts I’ve been having about mode of address, and who we are talking to in poetry, both indirectly and directly.  These poems are unusual because the speaker of the poem is in the poem, and is addressing another character in the poem.  They are entirely turned in on themselves, but rather than addressing an unseen other, a beloved, or a God, they are addressing themselves, leaving the audience to indirectly witness and overhear Francis and Martine trying to make sense of a world that doesn’t really make much sense at all.

Hilda also runs Swindon Poetry Festival which I would highly recommend – it runs from the 4th-8th October 2018.  Her published works include The Night My Sister Went To Hollywood, published by Cultured Llama, and pamphlets Francis and Martine and more recently, The God Baby, published by Dancing Girl Press.

It is now 1.20am – I decided, rather irresponsibly, to go to the cinema instead of writing this blog at a sensible hour.

I am away next week running a residential at The Garsdale Retreat and then on Sunday I’ll be reading at the Woman Up event in Carlisle at Tullie House – tickets available here

Viola Man – Hilda Sheehan

Martine, it’s a disgraceful act of resistance you display with the viola man.
But I love viola man and nothing you can do, or sing, will change my mind away from his engaging output of Ode to Joy. When he plays it I am in love all over again.
How about cake?
No, not enough ‘ode’.
How about pizza?
No, not enough ‘to’,
How about frozen eggs?
Yes, yes! This is it. Frozen eggs are the ultimate in Joy! I shall construct him a letter with absolute immediacy … it’s all over between me and viola man. Pass me a frozen egg.


For Kim Moore

If you were a pair of socks Martine, would you display yourself in dirty little piles about this room, sitting about with other dirty socks failing to reach the wash basket in such a demonstration of filthy deeds? How long would you hang about with such vagrant items, itching and holing around, the muck of you an irritant to those who love and care for your well-being, those who share your foul spaces, cluttered moments, inconsiderate escapades of slattery? If you were a pair of socks would this behaviour continue, or would you strumpet and slurf your dirty way to the wash basket with a face like Desdemona in her final moments, waiting for Othello to forgive her in that last leap to the basket, the denial of your love for other dirty socks. O Martine! I can not walk by. This makes men mad, it is the very error of the moon.

O Frances, a guiltless death I die.


Garsdale Retreat – 5th-10th March 2018


ian mcmillan

The next residential I’m running is at the Garsdale Retreat, from the 5th-10th March 2018. The theme of the course is Encounters and Collisions and how to use these in our own writing. We’ll be looking at encounters with animals, landscape, people, ghosts and everything in between! I’m really excited about the guest poet as well – Ian McMillan will be joining us mid-week to give a reading. There are three places left, and it would be great to get those last few spots filled, so please spread the word if you know anybody who might be interested. The cost is from £500-£760 for the week which includes tuition, accommodation and food.

You can find more information about how to book here;

Guest Poets for the 2017 Poetry Carousel


Another brief interruption of the ’16 Days of Action’ posts.

With less than a week to go before the 2017 Poetry Carousel, I thought I’d reveal the mystery guest poets for this year’s course, and the dates and guest tutors for 2018.

I’m really excited that  Polly Atkin and Ian Seed will be heading to the Carousel to read for participants.  In the tradition of the Carousel, they are two very different poets – Mark Ford writes that Ian Seed is “our most brilliant exponent of that most unBritish of genres, the prose poem. Hilarious and unsettling, his beautifully controlled micro-narratives genially induct us into a world that soon turns out to be as dangerous as it is magical. His work should really come with some kind of health warning, for these poems are not only intoxicating—they are addictive.”  Polly Atkin’s poetry explores the boundaries of landscape and the body.  The Poetry Book Society said that “The remarkable poems in Basic Nest Architecture are a testament to the persistence and artistry of Polly Atkin. As well as being profoundly personal, they reach out to the modern world in all it’s complexity and diversity.”  You can find out more about Polly and Ian at the bottom of this post.

It’s going to be a brilliant weekend with a real variety of approaches to poetry explored.

On the last night of the course, we will also have some music from The Demix.

And for those of you who couldn’t get on to this year’s Poetry Carousel, I have the dates for the 2018 course, which will be taking place from the 7th-10th December 2018.   I don’t have the price yet for this weekend, but you can provisionally book a place by contacting Abbot Hall Hotel on 01539532896

I’m also really excited about the line up of guest tutors – joining me on the 2018 Poetry Carousel will be Sean O’Brien, Fiona Sampson and Andrew McMillan.  I’m expecting the 2018 Carousel to sell out pretty fast so do get in touch with the hotel if you’re interested in coming!

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Polly Atkin lives in Grasmere. Her first collection, Basic Nest Architecture, was published by Seren in February 2017. An extract from this was awarded New Writing North’s Andrew Waterhouse Prize in 2014 for ‘reflect[ing] a strong sense of place or the natural environment’. Her first pamphlet bone song (Aussteiger, 2008) was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Pamphlet Award, 2009, and second, Shadow Dispatches (Seren, 2013), won the Mslexia Pamphlet Prize, 2012. She has taught English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University, and the Universities of Strathclyde and Cumbria. She is interested in where poetry might intersect with Disability Studies and in writing about the body, in poetry and prose.

Ian Seed’s most recent publications include Identity Papers (Shearsman, 2016), The Thief of Talant (Wakefield, 2016) (the first translation into English of Pierre Reverdy’s little-known long poem, Le Voleur de Talan), and Makers of Empty Dreams (Shearsman, 2014). Identity Papers was featured by Ian McMillan on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb in 2016. Makers of Empty Dreams has been translated into Italian by Iris Hajdari and is due for publication in 2018. Ian’s work is represented in a number of anthologies, such as The Best Small Fictions 2017 (Braddock Avenue Books), The Forward Book of Poetry 2017 (Faber&Faber) and The Best British Poetry 2014 (Salt). Ian’s book of prose poems and small fictions, New York Hotel, will be published by Shearsman in 2018. The late John Ashbery commented: ‘The mystery and sadness of empty rooms, chance encounters in the street, trains traveling through a landscape of snow become magical in Ian Seed’s poems’.