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16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence #Day10

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Day 10

Much of the information for this poem comes from https://medicalnewstoday.com and www.lenstore.co.uk

When I was writing this poem, I googled ‘black eye’ and ‘what causes a black eye’ and ‘facts about eyes’.

I knew what caused a black eye, but the internet did not give me that answer.

In the book ‘Wilful Blindness’ Margaret Keffernan examines the concept of Wilful Blindness, which is what happens when people choose, sometimes consciously but mostly not, to not ‘see’ in situations where ‘we could know, and should know, but don’t know because it makes us feel better not to know.’

For domestic violence to take place, wilful blindness has to take place.

On the part of the victim i.e ‘How could I have been so blind?’.  It’s common for a victim not to recognise that what is happening is domestic abuse.

But also on the part of society.

Domestic violence is happening under our noses/in front of our faces/

and we/you/I are wilfully blind.

 

On Eyes

That we are not born with tears
but learn them in the passing of a month.
That a black eye can be caused by a tennis ball,
a fist or a door.  That blue-eyed people
share a common ancestor with every
other blue-eyed person in the world.
That there are microscopic creatures
living in our eyelashes.  That these
will not speak up for us.  That a black
eye fades from dark-blue to violet
to yellow-green.  That dolphins sleep
with one eye open.  That on seeing
danger the eye will close.  That we
do not enter this world with colour.
That it takes only a few days for
a black eye to heal.  That the eye
is the fastest moving part of the body
but not the fastest healing for that
is the tongue.  That to avoid a black eye
make sure rugs and carpets are well placed
and there are no wrinkles in your floor.
Scorpions have twelve eyes.
Worms have no eyes at all.
To avoid a black eye, always wear
protective gear, such as a helmet or goggles.

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Guest Poets for the 2017 Poetry Carousel

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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’.

Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize

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A quick interruption of the 16 Days of Activism posts I’ve been doing for some happier news.

My book The Art of Falling was awarded the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize yesterday.

The Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize is awarded to a poetry book one year and a novel the next.

I’ve been in London for the last couple of days – on Wednesday evening I went for dinner with my husband and my lovely editor at Seren, Amy Wack, and her husband.

Yesterday at lunchtime we went to the Faber offices and I was presented with the prize.  It was a really lovely event – I just had to read one poem from the book.  Everyone was really friendly.

I also did an interview over the phone with The Guardian, which happened so quickly that there wasn’t much time to get nervous about it – you can read the article here

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/nov/30/kim-moores-thrilling-debut-poetry-collection-wins-geoffrey-faber-prize

The judges this year were Gillian Clarke, Katharine Towers and Tom Gatti.

You can read the judges report here:

https://www.faber.co.uk/blog/kim-moore-wins-the-geoffrey-faber-memorial-prize-2016/

To be honest, I’m still in a state of disbelief.  Obviously the prize money is very nice, but I was really touched by the judges comments, and particularly Gillian’s lovely speech at the event, which made my mum and dad cry!

I also wanted to say thank you to all the lovely people who have been sending messages, commenting on Facebook, tweeting on Twitter, texting, emailing to say congratulations.  I really do appreciate all of the messages.

Here are some photos from my London adventure

 

16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence – Day 3

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16 Days of Action – day 3

A few years ago – I think maybe the summer of 2014, I booked onto a residential poetry course with Ian Duhig and Ruth Padel at Ty Newydd.

It was a great week – and very productive for me – I wrote a lot of my first collection there.  I wrote my ‘Curse of the Trumpet Teacher’  in one of Ian’s workshops and my poem ‘That Summer’ in Ruth’s workshop (both in my first collection).

And I wrote this poem – ‘He Was the Forgotten Thing’ I think during Ian’s workshop.

Simon Armitage has a great poem here called ‘Not the Furniture Game’ which I think was one of the poems Ian may have used in the workshop. Simon’s poem reminds me a little of a blazon –  defined on the Poetry Foundation website as cataloguing ‘the physical attributes of a subject, usually female’.  It also ‘compares parts of the female body to jewels, celestial bodies, natural phenomenon, and other beautiful or rare objects.’  Simon Armitage’s poem isn’t a blazon but it seems to subvert and answer back to the tradition.

What does ‘forgotten mean anyhow?

There are references to other poems in the sequence in this poem.  When I was writing these poems, I often wrote a line, and then realised there was something, some story, some partial memory I had to write about.  Like ‘he was walking home/through the snow with his arm like a curse/round my neck’ – I had to write a whole poem ‘Followed’ to explain what I meant.  Like the birds, who keep returning throughout the sequence.  Like ‘he was a fist not an eye’ – see Day 10 ‘On Eyes’.  Or the line ‘the language of insects’ from the poem ‘In That Year’ from Day 1.  I didn’t know what I meant when I wrote it then.  I had to write another poem to understand.

Adrienne Rich said ‘Lying is done with words and also with silence’.

and ‘It will take all your heart, it will take all your breath, it will be short/it will not be simple

 

He was the Forgotten Thing

He was the forgotten thing, the blackened tree
that doesn’t grow, that doesn’t fall, he was
the car that wouldn’t pull over, the tide coming in,
he was everything I put my heart against,
the low set and turn of heads when he entered a room,
he was buses roaring past like blind heroes,
he was stolen things.  He was the connecting parts
of train carriages, he was windows with curtains
to keep out the street, he was a car that drove
through the night, he was a fist not an eye, he was
an eye not an ear, he had thoughts that took over
the day like weather, like the rain coming in,
he was nothing I thought of, he was not
what was promised, he was walking home
through the snow with his arm like a curse
round my neck, he was not black and white,
he was nothing like that.  And look at him now,
standing in a field surrounded by crows, one arm
pointing north but his face to the west,
he knows to be still with his black button eyes,
his stitched-on smile.  The birds have come
to pull out the straw that keeps him upright.
Look how they carry him home in their
sharp little beaks once again.

16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence

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16days

I wanted to take part in this last year – but by the time I realised it was happening, half of the 16 days had gone.  It seemed important to start at the beginning, to take part all the way through.

The 16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence is linked to the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.  

In my first collection The Art of Falling there is a sequence in the middle of the book ‘How I Abandoned My Body To His Keeping’ which is centered around/explores an experience of domestic violence.

I thought that I was putting this sequence at the heart of the collection, right in the middle.  But from another angle, maybe I was hiding it.

A strange/almost coincidence that there are 17 poems in the sequence – it almost/nearly fits into the 16 days.

But not quite.  The poems spill out of the container they should have fitted into.  The experience spills out of the year that it happened in and touches everything that comes after.

When I think back to the process of writing this sequence, when I think of the poems in the sequence, Elizabeth Bishop’s poem ‘The Monument’  always comes into my mind.  ‘The Monument’ is only a monument.  But also an experience.  Something you can walk around, and look at from every angle.  Maybe you can climb on top of it and look down. Or lie on the floor and look up.  You can’t climb inside it and look out.  Or maybe you can. Still, by the end of the poem/experience, could you draw the Monument? Could you testify to the truth of it,to what it really looked like?

This was the first poem I wrote about that time, that place, that year.  I wrote it half-asleep, sitting in front of the fire on the floor.  The same feeling of half-asleep that you might have when you’re driving late at night, and you realise you need to pull over before you drift across a motorway, drift into a fence. I wasn’t driving, or at least I was only driving towards a poem. I woke up at 3am with my head in the dog basket and the house completely silent, and the poem (or at least a first draft) finished.

 

In That Year 

And in that year my body was a pillar of smoke
and even his hands could not hold me.

And in that year my mind was an empty table
and he laid his thoughts down like dishes of plenty.

And in that year my heart was the old monument,
the folly, and  no use could be found for it.

And in that year my tongue spoke the language
of insects and not even my father knew me.

And in that year I waited for the horses
but they only shifted their feet in the darkness.

And in that year I imagined a vain thing;
I believed that the world would come for me.

And in that year I gave up on all the things
I was promised and left myself to sadness.

And then that year lay down like a path
and I walked it, I walked it, I walk it.

 

This poem can be found in The Art of Falling, published by Seren 2015

The Garsdale Retreat – Residential Poetry Course

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ian mcmillan

I’m really excited to be running a residential poetry course on behalf of The Garsdale Retreat,  a creative writing centre ‘set in the heart of the remote and beautiful setting of the Yorkshire Dales’.  The focus of the course is ‘Encounters and Collisions’ and the guest poet is the fabulous Ian McMillan.  The course will run from the 5th-10th March 2018 and prices range from £500-760.

If you’d like to book, or find out more, head over to the website where you will find details of the course, testimonials from previous attendees of The Garsdale Retreat, and some beautiful photographs of the house and the surrounding area: http://thegarsdaleretreat.co.uk/courses/encounters-and-collisions/

PhD Musings

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gendering poetry

I’m currently reading gendering poetry by Vicki Bertram as part of my reading for my PhD.  I’m absolutely loving this book – firstly because I can understand it – although it is academic, it’s very readable, and really interesting.  The blurb on the back of the book says that Vicki Bertram ‘considers the role of gender in the writing and the reading of poetry’.

In the first chapter ‘First Impressions’ she looks at six poets – three male and three female and discusses the first poem in the first collection of each poet.  She looks at Simon Armitage, Michael Donaghy, Neil Rollinson, Sujhata Bhatt, Fiona Pitt-Kethley and Kate Clanchy.  What I found interesting here was her discussion of who these poems were addressed to.

In the Donaghy poem she argues that his well known poem ‘Machines‘, although addressed to a ‘dearest’,  its use of an elaborate conceit between a racing bike and a piece of harpsichord music is firmly in the tradition of the Metaphysical poets – the male speaker addressing a silent lover (who in this tradition is female).  Bertram writes that the poem ‘also gestures to the metaphysical tradition in the way that his female addressee functions as an excuse for this opportunity of impressing male friends and patrons’, because the real intent of the poem is not to seduce the female lover, but to display ‘the author’s skill’.

She goes on to explore Simon Armitage’s ‘Snow Joke’ which she writes is part of a ‘pub discourse’ with its use of colloquial language and its tone of an urban myth.  Bertram writes that it is ‘reasonable to assume a male speaker addressing a male audience’.  I can see what she means, although I didn’t feel left out, or disconnected from the poem when I read it – but this is probably because I’ve spent a lot of time in pubs – working and drinking in them as a music student, and I’m aware that I don’t feel left out, by thinking back to what it was like to become ‘one of the lads’ – an essential survival strategy for a female brass player, which I could probably write a whole other post about!

There is apparently a term for this strategy when you do it as a reader – again, Bertram points out that the critic Judith Fetterley ‘coined the term ‘immasculation’ to describe the process whereby women readers steeped in androcentric literature develop the instinct to ‘think as men, to identify with a male point of view’.

The part of the chapter that really interests me was Bertram’s thoughts on how women poets write and address the reader.  She says

There are few modes of public discourse in which women can speak as women, and this is reflected in their poetry, where it is rare to find an explicit address to other women, a collective female discourse.

She gives what she calls a rare example – the poem ‘Marigolds‘ by Vicki Feaver.  It’s use of the collective pronouns ‘we’ and ‘our’ throughout bridge the gap between the present and the classical past.  Bertram writes that the poem ‘asks its readers to acquiesce in the implicit criticism of men’s foolish ignorance, conned (or attracted) by this fake version of meek, marriageable femininity.’  She then goes on to talk about the problems of this stance, and the issues around ‘collective female identification.’

It made me think about who my poems are addressed to, and who am I writing for.  My poem ‘My People’, which explores a working class identity, is not addressed to my people at all – it’s addressed to a literary audience, or the middle class, it’s attempting to show to someone who has no idea what it is like to grow up in that environment what it is like.  Of course the secondary addressees are the people who grew up there too.  One of the wow moments at Struga Poetry Evenings in Macedonia was reading that poem on the launch night, and having Charles Simic come up to me at breakfast the next morning, and say ‘Your people are my people too’.

If I think about the poems I’m working on now, it gets more complicated.  I’m working on a sequence called All The Men I Never Married which currently contains poems about or addressed to ex-boyfriends, but also random men that I have come into contact with in some way.  Many of these poems are addressed to a ‘you’, ostensibly the man in question, but I think actually, the true addressee of these poems are women.  I don’t mean that men are excluded from them – I hope they are not, but the reason I like the title is because it shifts men a little – although they are still the subject of the poems, they are not the sole subject, they are one among many.  And a male reader becomes by implication a man I never married as well, with all the connotations that brings with it.

Some of the poems in this sequence explore experiences of sexism directly and I know from performing these poems that women relate directly to them – that it is a powerful thing to have something that you’ve experienced and maybe not talked about, because it just isn’t worth it because it happens all the time reflected back at you and transformed into a poem.  Women come and tell me about their experiences from yesterday, last week, last year.  I’ve written before about the strangeness of men coming to tell me about their one experience of sexism in 1985 when they got their bottom pinched – and my theory that they are trying to understand, rather than silencing my story by putting theirs on top of it.  When I’m feeling bad-tempered, however, I do wonder!

So I don’t quite know whether this is true, whether the poems are addressed to women, or men, or both.  My instinct is that most of my poems are sly, and they address one person, whilst looking out of the corner of their eye for their true audience.  Maybe by implying a sexual history (which is still a taboo thing for women to do) I’m addressing men, being ‘one of the lads’, whilst really talking to women.  Maybe in the poems about sexism when I’m outwardly addressing women and sharing an experience I’m sure many will relate to, I’m really hoping men will overhear it and their reality will be changed in some way.  To go back to Bertram again, who quotes Richard Bradford who said that poetry is capable of ‘an unbalancing of perceptions of reality’.

I would be really interested to hear people’s thoughts on any or all of this! Please feel free to comment below.  I posted about this on Facebook and there have been some fascinating discussions on there – with one person pointing out that maybe poems by female poets addressed to one other woman are fairly common, but it is poems that are addressed to a female collective that are rarer, and more problematic.

I’m not saying by the way that women ‘should’ address other women at all – I hate the word ‘should’.  But I am wondering about what happens if we do, and what happens when we don’t, and whether we do or we don’t!

 

 

 

Sunday Poem – Linda Klakken

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My first Sunday Poem post in over a month and I’m already back into my bad habits – ie writing it just before midnight when I should really be asleep.  This morning I went for a six mile run with my running group, then came home, had lunch and then set off to Grasmere.  I performed alongside two of the young writers from my young writers group (Em Humble and Hannah Hodgson) today at the Roundabout Theatre in Grasmere to a small but perfectly formed audience.   They both read really well – I found myself getting a bit emotional watching them – thinking back to the first time they performed and how much more confident they are now.  I then drove over to see my sister in Egremont, and then drove back home which brings me to 11pm and writing blogs at unreasonable hours.

I said in my last post that I’d been writing quite a bit in the last week, but didn’t mention what a strange week it had been, probably because I was still in it.  I came back from Macedonia, but left my husband there as he was going on a cycling holiday and planning to end up in Hungary (don’t ask why – I have no idea).  So I’ve been at home on my own all week – and I realised it’s really rare that I’m at home on my own – normally it’s me that goes off somewhere to a poetry reading or festival, and even though I’m very independent and do a lot of stuff ‘on my own’, actually, I’m usually surrounded by people, so I’m never really on my own.

But this week I have been! I haven’t been completely isolated – I’ve seen quite a few friends through running or arranging to meet up for drinks.  But I deliberately tried not to fill my days up.  I definitely got more writing done. It felt like I was slowly falling into myself each day – that sounds strange but that is how it felt.  I decided I was going to write poetry every morning, whether that was writing new work or editing, and leave admin and answering emails until the evening, which really seemed to work.  I wrote some new poems, and got a submission ready and posted out to a magazine.

On Saturday I drove over to Manchester to the Poets and Players event to see Clare Shaw, Hilda Sheehan and Malika Booker.  What a fantastic reading that was.  My favourite line of the afternoon has to go to Hilda though: ‘Knickers are the prison of the vagina’.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Linda Klakken, from Norway.  Linda was one of the fantastic poets I met in Macedonia.  The poem is from her first collection, which translates as ‘Mother, wife, slave’ published by Flamme publishing house in 2010.

The title and then the theme of the poem reminded me of the brilliant Anne Sexton poem Her Kind  – it has the same kind of attitude behind it, I think.

Trying to pinpoint what it is I like about this poem, I realise it’s something to do with that repeating phrase ‘I was the kind of girl’ – the honesty and vulnerability of it, as the speaker tells us she was the kind of girl ‘who went out late at night/and never came home’.  So far, this feels like a teenage rebelliousness that maybe we are all familiar with to one extent or another.  But it is saved from predictability by ‘I pedalled downhill/with my eyes closed’ and ‘death was nothing but a bluebell in the heart’ which wins the prize for best line of poetry I’ve read this week.

I love the hopefulness, the optimism of this poem.  The fact that in Stanza 2, the body  can absorb ‘parties/parks/concerts/grass seeds/orgasms/rai’  That the body absorb all of these things and still be ok, and then the surprise of the next line ‘I was the kind of girl/ who always sat down/when things got tough’.  I like how this can be taken in one of two ways – either the  speaker sits down and gives up when things get tough, or another interpretation is that the speaker of the poem stays around, i.e ‘sat down’ when things got tough.

Probably the first interpretation is more likely, but it’s nice to play around with these things.  Another of my favourite bits in this poem is the ‘days full/of lilacs and rain’.  I like the openness that female sexuality and desire is approached with.  The speaker wakes up ‘in strange beds’ and then everything changes, when she meets someone who ‘hugged her heart’.  The ‘someone’ in question doesn’t appear in the rest of the poem – as if the camera has swung slightly to the right to catch someone retreating through a doorway, before it comes back again to the speaker, and the rest of the focus stays firmly on the speaker with those brilliant lines ‘we might all be that kind of girl/who just might leave/but stays/just might get together/cause we’re all alone’.

I don’t really feel like I’ve done this poem justice, because I’m pretty much falling asleep as I’m typing now, because I started doing this way too late,  but I hope you enjoy it.  I would love to read more of Linda’s work translated into English, so it is basically my mission now to nag her until she does this.

A bit about Linda then – Linda was born in 1979 in  Ålesund, a small town on the westcoast of Norway. She is a writer and a journalist. She started her writing career in her mid twenties, when she got accepted at the prestigous writing school Skrivekunstakademiet in Bergen in 2003. After being published in a series of poetry anthologies, she wrote her first book, the non-fiction travel documentary The Last Beat Poet, as a hommage to Lawrence Ferlinghetti.In 2013, her first poetry collection was published at Flamme publishing house. Mother, wife, slave (Mamma, kone, slave) was considered one of the best books of 2013 by several newspapers and literature critics, and is described as ”poems about being a queer, proletarian mother of small children in a post-Millenial Norway.”
Her second book, Finish the book about your life (Skriv ferdig boka om livet ditt) was published in 2014. Her most recent poetry collection, Eight minutes (Åtte minutter) was publised in 2016. Apart from this, Klakken has received The Nordic Council of Minister’s scholarship for writers in 2005 and 2006 in Gothenburg. Her poetry has been part of numerous exhibitions, as for instance the Martin Tebus Collection in Trondheim Art Museum and in galleries in Oslo.
In August 2017 Linda Klakken published her children’s fiction book.It is called Stupid, stupid heart (Dumme, dumme hjarte).

 

THE KIND – Linda Klakken
(sånn)
Translated by Nils-Øivind Haagensen

I was the kind of girl
who went out late at night
and never came home
I pedaled downhill
with my eyes closed
and fought with girls
from other crews
death was nothing but a bluebell in my heart
and all that mattered in life
was what came next
and all that really mattered
was what never came
wanted to go
didn’t know where
wondered what lay in store for me
wondered why I was alone
and if I was doing something wrong

while the body absorbed
so many
parties
parks
concerts
grass seeds
orgasms
rain

I was the kind of girl
who always sat down
when things got tough
I sat on sidewalks
stairs
ledges
and side of beds

wide awake
dead tired
the garbage trucks woke me in the morning
the ambulances chased me home
days full
of lilacs and rain
and me thinking of anything but
my lectures
what was to become of me
for instance
and my friends
was so low
that they couldn’t get out of bed

of course we picture ourselves
hunched over French novels
hunched over text messages
hunched over stiff nipples
hunched over our change to see if
we can afford some smokes
hunched over ourselves

brilliant it was
but also very difficult
then someone appeared
and hugged
my heart
and all the while
I was dangling in mid-air
all the while I was wondering
where I belonged

I was the kind of girl
who danced without inhibition
who woke in strange beds
and called home
with nothing particular on my mind
I jumped bridges in summer
and swam in rivers with no fear

and come to think of it
we might all be that kind of girl
who just might leave
but stays
just might get together
cause we’re all alone
wondering why everything is wrong
when all we’re doing is right

My Summer of Poetry

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I can’t believe it’s been a whole month since I last blogged.  So much has happened in that month as well, it’s hard to know where to start. I’m hoping by Sunday to get back on track with posting a Sunday poem, but today’s blog will just be me, rattling on about my summer.

I’ve been back a week now, and I’ve spent the week recovering from the late nights, catching up with emails and various admin chores, and pretty much non stop writing, which has felt bloody amazing!

On August 22nd I flew to Macedonia, to take part in Struga Poetry Evenings, which involved getting a very early train to Manchester Airport.  Then I had to fly to Vienna, where I had a six hour stopover, so I decided to get the express train into the city to have a look around.  I’m glad I did this, although I didn’t have a huge amount of time.  I walked to the cathedral, had a look inside, then went and found a cafe, got something to eat, and then carried on walking round in a big loop before getting the train back to the airport.  in vienna

If you do have time to kill in Vienna, I would definitely recommend getting the train into the city – it was very quick, on time and it had wifi and charge points for phones!
I then got my flight to Skopje in Macedonia and landed quite late – just before midnight.  I had to get up early the next morning to get on the minibus to take us to Struga, a couple of hours drive away, where most of the festival would take place.

Struga is a lovely town, there is a river in the middle, with cafes and restaurants along the bank of the river on both sides.

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And of course it sits on the side of a lake, with a pebble beach and sun chairs and the clearest water I’ve ever seen in a lake.

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It wasn’t all sitting around on the beach though – I did a poetry reading of at least one or two poems nearly every day, in monasteries, on the side of the lake, in the hotel.  I read the poems in English and then they were read in Macedonian.  I was the only English poet at the festival – there were many other poets from all over the world.

For the last couple of months, I’ve been writing very slowly.  I’ve not really been blocked, because I have been writing, but I’ve just been writing at a very, very slow pace.  One day at the festival, I went down to the beach to join some of the other poets, and saw Maud Vanhauwaert, a poet from Belgium, sitting with a few of the other poets, writing in her notebook in the sunshine.  This sounds very strange I know, but I felt something come unstuck inside me, and I knew it was to do with writing, and being able to write.  I’ve told Maud since then not to tell me what she was writing – I’m hoping it was a poem, and not her to do list, and I wish I’d took a photo so I could look at it again, if I ever get blocked, or slowed down, or whatever the name is for the way I’ve been feeling.

Here is a picture of me and Maud on the last day of the festival – I am very soppy, and nearly started crying when I was seeing her off on the bus.

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There were some amazing, strong, independent, brave, funny and talented women at the festival.  I feel incredibly lucky that I got to meet them all.

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Left to right, Linda Klakken, Volya Hapeyeva, Maria Seisenbacher, Hilà Lahav and Attila Vegh almost missed the ferry back to Struga and still managed to look cool. 

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Left to right: Madeline Grive, who directs  Stockholm International Poetry Festival, Eleanor Livingstone, director of Stanza Poetry Festival, me and Tziona Shamay, director of Helicon Poetry Festival in Israel.  This photo was taken in the beautiful town of Ohrid.

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Regina Dyck, minus her bag of crackers which she carried everywhere.  The crackers saved us from starvation on many occasions during long poetry readings.  Regina also used said crackers to calm angry Dutch tourists.

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Krystyna Dąbrowska – brilliant poet from Poland with a great sense of humour.  Four of us hired a paddle boat and failed abjectly at steering said boat.  To get back to shore we basically did figure of eights until we got close enough to drag it back along the sand.  

Meeting all of these women, hearing their poetry, was definitely one of the highlights of the festival for me.  It was one of those weeks where you feel like your face is just going to ache permanently from laughing too much, and I met people I could talk to for hours and not get bored.  It was a really special week.

At the end of the festival, I went on my own holiday around northern Greece with my husband – we climbed Mount Olympus, spent a day sunbathing,went to the Meteora region to see the monasteries built on rocks, and generally had a brilliant time.  It was just what we needed as we haven’t been away together for a couple of years now.

I’ve been back from holiday about a week, and I’ve been writing non stop since then, which has made catching up with emails and admin difficult.  I don’t know if the poems are any good yet – it’s too soon but it feels like they could be.  Other than that, it has been lovely to see my running friends again.  I’ve even enjoyed running in the rain and gale force winds along the beach.

So that is pretty much all my news – I will hopefully be back on Sunday with a regular instalment of the Sunday Poem.

 

 

Sunday Poem – Mike Barlow

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Sunday Poem – Mike Barlow

I’ve had another week at home, with no gallivanting around the place, which has been nice, but I’m starting to get slightly itchy feet now.  I’m not very good at being in one place! I’ve spent most of the week continuing with my reading for my PhD and editing one of the poems which I showed to Michael Symmons Roberts at my last supervisory meeting before the summer.  Michael asked me why the poem was in the form it was in, and I didn’t have an answer, so I decided to work on the structure of the poem, and as I’ve been reading lots about rhyme, half rhyme and parallelism, so I decided to use some of the things I’ve read about.  Instead of being in a long column, it’s now in four line stanzas, and each group of four lines rhyme together.  I think it makes the poem feel more knitted together, more robust, but maybe also more obsessive, or circular.  The strange thing is I didn’t have to really write any new lines, I just rearranged what I already had – I knew that the original version had lots of internal rhymes and echoes, but I didn’t realise how much until I started this exercise!  I don’t think it’s quite finished yet, but again, it feels different to my usual style, so the next test is to send it out somewhere and see what happens to it.

I’ve had one of my newest poems accepted for The New Humanist this week  so I’m chuffed about that.  I have to constantly keep reminding myself that I’m doing ok, as my brain likes to trick me and tell me I’m not writing, I’m not writing enough, I’m not writing well enough etc etc etc.  I’m always saying I’m not writing and then I look through my folder and realise I have been writing, but somehow have just not noticed.  Maybe I need that level of delusion to function.

I went to Sheffield yesterday to the Poetry Business workshop.  It was really great to see lots of old friends there, and to sit and write for the whole day, even though I didn’t feel like I wrote anything that could remotely make it to poem status, I’m trying to follow my own advice and think of it like practice or a workout, necessary and with hopefully long term results.

I’ve just spoken to staff at Treloyhan Manor Hotel in St Ives – bookings have gone crazy for the course I’m running with Helen Mort there in April 2018 and I’m both surprised and delighted that it has already sold out! Surprised because I only put it up on the blog less than a week ago, delighted because it means that is one job ticked off the list, and I can just look forward to running the course now, and booking a fabulous guest poet.   They are going to keep a waiting list, as in previous years, we’ve had a few people drop out at the last minute, so if you are still keen to come, it would be worth putting your name down on the list.

There are still a few spaces for the Poetry Carousel which I’m running from the 8th-11th December 2017 with Hilda Sheehan, David Morley and Steve Ely – you can find more information here but to book your place, you need to ring the hotel direct on 01539532896.  If you’d like more information about the carousel and what it will involve, you can contact me via the contact page.

So that is pretty much all of my news.  Next Saturday I’m off to Benidorm on a running holiday with three friends from my running club.  I call it a running holiday, but we basically go running for half an hour in the morning and then we lounge around for the rest of the day.  But I’m looking forward to the chance to relax for a week in the sun.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Mike Barlow, a brilliant poet and friend of mine who lives in Lancaster.  Mike has published a number of full length collections and pamphlets.  His first full-length collection was Living on the Difference, published in 2004 by Smith/Doorstop.  This collection was shortlisted for the Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize for Best First Collection.  His next collection, Another Place, was published in 2007 by Salt, followed by a pamphlet, Amicable Numbers which was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice.  In 2012 he published his third full-length collection Charmed Lives with Smith/Doorstop.  He then went on to publish a series of pamphlets and started Wayleave Press in 2014, a small press publisher producing 6-8 pamphlets a year.

I re-read Mike’s 2014 pamphlet The Folded Moment the other day and really enjoyed it, so I asked Mike if I could feature a poem from the pamphlet here.  Mike says this pamphlet was a kind of test pamphlet for the press.  And apparently, there are no copies left of this pamphlet, so I have a rare piece of poetry history sat beside me on my desk! If you do like the poem though, Mike has just brought out a new pamphlet, again published by Wayleave called The Promise Boat which you can order from Wayleave for a mere £5.

I chose ‘Toad Road’ as the Sunday Poem this week because as soon as I read the poem I had a jolt of recognition and memory.  A few years ago now I spent a week at Cove Park in Scotland on a writing retreat.  It was terrible weather, gale-force winds and rain, and coming back from the pub in a car full of poets and novelists, I got out to open the gates to get back into Cove Park.  My hands were freezing from touching the iron gates, but we didn’t get far down the road before someone (I can’t remember who – but I can remember the shape of them in the headlights) got out of the car to try to encourage the toads/frogs (not sure which) to hop off the road so we could continue to drive down.

In ‘Toad Road’ the weather isn’t quite as bad.  It is ‘late summer’ and by saying ‘rainfall after a hot spell’ the smell of rain hitting tarmac that has been hot all day is conjured up.  There’s some great images in this poem – I love the introduction of the toads, that they could be ‘leaves, blown twigs, or squirrel-torn bark’, and I love the sharp observation of ‘These shapes don’t move/in a way only something animate is able/not to move’.

This is a journey that has been carried out before and in stanza 3 there is a disturbing and shocking image of ‘skin-stars’, of what happened when they didn’t notice.  The interesting thing about this poem is that we don’t quite know where the speaker is situated in it.  The pronoun ‘We’ is used throughout, as if these two people are of exactly one mind.  ‘We slow down’ and ‘We know now’ and more interestingly ‘one of us gets out’ to guide the driver, but as readers, we don’t know whether the speaker is the driver or the one guiding.  It’s almost as if the point of view flicks between the two.

At the beginning of Stanza 4 we read ‘rain beats hair lank,/soaks shoulders, trickles down the collar’ which is so vivid it sounds like the speaker is feeling the rain, but then in the next line, the point of view shifts, and we could almost believe we are inside the driver’s head when we read ‘Wheels weave between gold hemispheric eyes,/sacks of warty skin.’

I love the reference to Jainism, which the BBC website tells me is

‘an ancient religion from India that teaches that the way to liberation and bliss is to live lives of harmlessness and renunciation. The essence of Jainism is concern for the welfare of every being in the universe and for the health of the universe itself.

I also like that the speaker(s) in the poem are ‘sprung’ with a small elation, rather than ‘filled’ which would be a much more ordinary verb, and ‘sprung’ seems to fit the movement of the rather sedentary toads, although they do an ‘awkward flop’ rather than a spring.

I hope you enjoyed the Sunday Poem this week – please do comment below if you did, I know the poets do read the comments and they are always pleased when people engage with their work!

Toad Road – Mike Barlow 

Night, late summer, rainfall after a hot spell.
We can count on it as we slow right down
to cross the cattle grid its sump-grinding
hump before dipped lights flood tarmac.

There’s a litter of what might be taken
for leaves, blown twigs, or squirrel-torn bark.
But we know now.  These shapes don’t move
in a way only something animate is able
not to move, a toad-still rain-basking.

There was a time we failed to notice.
Next morning found the track of a murky way
of flattened skin-stars.  So one of us gets out,
precedes the car (the way they used to walk
a flag in front of early automobiles)

semaphoring to the driver here, no  here,
now there, as rain beats hair lank,
soaks shoulders, trickles down the collar.
Wheels weave between gold hemispheric eyes,
sacks of warty skin.  A nudge with a foot

gets no response, though a hand’s touch
prompts an awkward flop to the long grass.
Safely home we’re sprung with a small elation
for having made a Jain’s way through.