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My New Life

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writinglife

This photo may do more to explain why I’ve been a bit quiet on here recently than lots of words can! My daughter Ally was born on the 24th May – two weeks early but weighing a very healthy 8 pounds 6.  I thought she would make life very different but even that was wrong.  It feels instead like a completely new life – even though I’m sitting here in the same place I always sit in to do my work it feels nothing like it used to.

In the daytime, Ally doesn’t like sleeping anywhere else except in this position, which makes life a bit tricky!  As well as making life wonderful – it sounds cheesy but what an honour to have another person (however small) feel at her most comfortable and content when she is resting on me.

My blog posts from now will probably be a lot shorter but I’d like to blog as usual about writing but I’ll also be writing about becoming a parent so this is your warning to unsubscribe if you’re not interested in such things! I think I’ll probably do the parent stuff under some short pithy headings if possible so look out for those…

This is also a quick reminder that there are a few rooms left for the Poetry Carousel in December, which is running at Rydal Hall this year in Ambleside from 6th-9th December 2019 with tutors Clare Shaw, David Tait, Malika Booker and myself and guest poet Roy McFarlane.

The few rooms left are  two en-suite rooms, two rooms with private facilities and a cottage with two bedrooms and a shared bedroom (suitable for two friends to share).

If you’d like to book, please contact the hotel on 015394 30834.

The residential at Treloyhan Manor Hotel in St Ives, Cornwall has nearly sold out – this is running from the 27th April till the 2nd May 2020 and my co-tutor is the brilliant Fiona Sampson.  There are only three places left for this course – to book a place please ring the hotel directly on 01736 796240.

If you have any questions about the format of the courses, please get in touch with me directly via the Contact page.

 

 

35 Weeks and counting and poetry updates

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It’s been a while since I blogged again but I’ve been busy getting more and more pregnant and trying to get as much of my PhD done as possible before the baby arrives.  I’m now 35 weeks pregnant and officially on maternity leave from my PhD, which feels strange. I can’t quite let go of it at the moment still – it’s become a habit I can’t put down.

My maternity leave started on the 1st May and I decided to set myself a rather arbitrary target of getting up to 20,000 words of my critical thesis.  I say arbitrary because it was a self-imposed target, but I find I work best if I’ve got a goal to work towards.  Overall, the thesis has to be between 30,000 and 40,000 so I thought if I had 20,000 under my belt before my maternity leave started, I would feel a bit more confident that I would finish it.  The creative part of the PhD, my next collection I’m happy to let tick along at the side – it’s not finished yet, but I’m confident that I can finish it.  The critical part is harder to predict.

So the last couple of weeks have been kind of intense – I’ve been writing pretty much non-stop around the last few freelance commitments I’ve had.  I’ve had really productive meetings with two of my supervisors in the last few weeks as well on both the creative and the critical side – I know what I need to do next, and I’ve decided to slowly keep plugging away at it whilst I’ve still got the urge but just at a less frantic pace than I’ve been doing.

I also can’t believe that the baby will be here in five weeks.  It seems both that it’s gone really fast, and that I’ve been pregnant for years! It’s been a complete rollercoaster, which I know is a cliché, but it really has.  I’m now starting to feel excited instead of scared, and looking forward to the baby arriving, massively helped by attending a hypnobirthing course a few weekends ago.  I would highly recommend it to anyone feeling anxious/nervous/stressed about pregnancy or birth – it was full of really practical information about pregnancy but also lots of meditations to practice at home.  I was sceptical at first, but listening to a meditation on my phone the first night after the course helped me sleep straight through the night for probably the first time in about three or four months.  I listen to them every night now and I’ve gone from getting up four times a night because I’m so uncomfortable to just getting up once a night which I can just about cope with!

I have a few poetry updates for those that are interested.  The Poetry Carousel is happening again this December, although we’ve moved venue to Rydal Hall in Ambleside.  The course runs from the 6th-9th December 2020 costs £385 to share a room with a friend, £400 for a standard room or £415 for a superior room.  This cost includes workshops, accommodation, evening readings and breakfast, lunch and evening meals.

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.  Tutors confirmed so far are myself, Clare Shaw and David Tait with a fourth tutor to be confirmed.  If you’d like to book, you need to ring the hotel direct on 015394 32050 but any questions about the course, you can contact me directly on here or via email.

I’ve just got back from running my St Ives residential poetry course which was a brilliant week with possibly the best weather I’ve experienced since I started running the courses down there.  Kind of frustrating as I couldn’t get out and run or even walk very far but lovely for the participants!  St Ives will be running again next year, this time from the 27th April to the 2nd May 2020 and I’m really excited about the opportunity to work with the fabulous poet and writer Fiona Sampson as my guest tutor this year.  This course runs more like a traditional residential, with a maximum of 16 participants.  The cost of the week is £595 and this includes breakfast, three course evening meals, workshops, a tutorial with one of the tutors and readings in the evenings.  To book a place, please ring the hotel direct on 01736 796240.

A few other exciting poetry happenings in Cumbria – I’m on the organising committee of ‘A Poem and a Pint’ and our next event is happening on the 29th June with the fabulous poet Ilya Kaminsky.  The venue is Greenodd Village Hall and we will have some limited open mic spots available.  This is a really exciting opportunity to see one of the most brilliant poets writing today so get the date in your diary!

After the success of last year’s poetry competition, A Poem and a Pint are running a competition again this year, this time with the fantastic Carrie Etter as our judge.  First prize is £150, 2nd prize is £100 and 3rd prize is £50 with a special prize for a Cumbrian poet of £25.   The closing date of the competition is the 15th July 2019 and it’s a relatively fast turnaround – winners will be contacted by the 7th September and we will be having a prize giving event on the 21st September with Carrie Etter as our guest reader.  You can find more information about the competition here

If you need any information about any of the events listed here, please get in touch, and if you know anyone who might be interested in the residential courses, please feel free to share!

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are a few

Last Minute Place on St Ives residential

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This is just to let followers know that a last minute place has come up on the residential poetry course that I run every year down in St Ives in Cornwall at the Treloyhan Manor Hotel. This course usually sells out within a week or so of going online, so this is a rare opportunity! The course runs from Monday 8th April – 13th April 2019.

The hotel is a 5-10 minute walk up the hill from the centre of St Ives and right on the coast. There is a beach within five minutes walk as well – the setting really is stunning.

The cost of the course is £550 and this includes breakfast, three course evening meals, scones with jam and cream in the afternoon, accommodation, workshops, tutorials and evening readings. My co-tutor is Carola Luther, and the mid-week guest poet is Ann Gray.

To book, please ring the hotel directly on 01736 796240.

If you’ve got any questions, you can comment below or email me directly and I will do my best to answer!

2019 News

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I can’t believe the last time I blogged was on the 10th January and that a couple of months have whizzed by. I’m now 27 weeks pregnant – way over half way there. This is a photo of me and my super mum, who has just started running a few months ago, and you will be able to see the bump if you look carefully! This was park run a few weeks ago so it’s even bigger now!

Although I’m feeling a lot better now – the hyperemesis gravidarum has passed, thank goodness, it has still been a strange experience negotiating this new relationship with my body, which seems to change every day. I’m under the care of an obstetrician, because I lost so much weight (about a stone and a half) in the first trimester. I had my appointment the other day and was told that the baby’s size was at the ‘upper end of normal’ which sounds a little ominous to me, but better I suppose than not growing at all. So I am feeling better, except everything feels like hard work at the minute.

The thing with being pregnant is that it feels like there are often a limited set of acceptable ways of feeling about it – I’m talking about the way pregnancy is portrayed and talked about but also the way people expect you to feel about it. The accceptable feelings, which I feel like I’m expected to feel at all times are grateful and wildly excited. Sometimes I do feel excited about it – but I probably feel terrified a lot more! Also I find it a bit awkward when people ask if I’m excited – because I am – but more quietly excited, a kind of private excitement, and it feels like what people expect is a more performative excitement? Maybe this is just me imagining things also though. And of course I do feel grateful that the baby is ok, grateful that I got through that awful trimester, but also resentful that my body has been taken over, that it has stopped being able to do the things it could do before, and is now doing a whole other set of new things which I have no control over.

My conclusion, which I’m sure I’ve concluded in other blog posts is that pregnancy is really hard work – mentally, physically, emotionally. It’s strange to feel like I’ve been doing sit ups all day because my ligaments and muscles around my belly are hurting so much when in fact I’ve just been sat at my desk. If there was any justice I would be left with a perfect six pack when the baby comes out! Feeling the baby move inside is exciting, and strange and unsettling – I read the other day that the reason the baby gets more active just before I go to sleep is because that is when all the muscles in the body start to relax, so there is more room for the baby to move, which made me think about how much tension we (I)must hold in my body throughout the day for this to be true. The baby also gets very active when I am giving a poetry reading – does this mean I am relaxed on stage, or is it the baby reacting to adrenalin? When I’ve played gigs with the soul band the baby doesn’t move at all – does that mean the music has sent the baby to sleep – seems unlikely, given how loud it is, but who knows!

I have had a flurry of freelance work in these three months and have been up and down the country on the trains. I’ve been in Barnsley this weekend taking part in a ‘Me Too’ workshop and reading around the Me Too book, published a year ago by Fair Acre Press and edited by Deborah Alma. I’ve also been to London to take part in the final judging of the National Poetry Competition – results announced any day, and given readings in Lancaster, Cardiff, Bath and Newcastle. I’ve been making a radio programme about my poetry and which will feature poems from my first collection which is due to be broadcast on Radio 4 on April 14th, provisionally called (I think) ‘A Psalm for the Scaffolders’ – I’ll post details of times etc when I have them. I also took part in BBC Cumbria’s ‘Life Stories’ feature and that has been on every day last week and will be played in its entirety on Tuesday evening, I think.

Making the programme for Radio 4 was a strange experience – it involved spending a day down in Leicester on my dad’s scaffolding site, interviewing him and recording some of the sounds on site, and then a further two days recording up in Cumbria. I’m really pleased that the brilliant artist Claire Eastgate will also be on the programme. Claire came up a while ago to paint my portrait as part of her ‘Painting the Poets’ project which will involve Claire painting portraits of 26 UK female poets. Claire came up again to take part in the recording and did another painting whilst the radio producer recorded our conversation. Claire is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, and it was only really through this second conversation that I realised what a huge impact our first conversation had on me – it sent me off on a new direction in my PhD as well as leading to some different ways of approaching the poems I was working on at the time. We talked a lot about the female gaze which led to me thinking about address, and mode of address in poetry.

I’ve also been keeping up with my regular sessions with Dove Cottage Young Poets and meetings with Poem and a Pint to plan our reading series, and various doctor and hospital appointments to do with baby and around all that, trying to get as much PhD work done as I can whilst on the various trains. I am going on maternity leave in May from my PhD, so I want to get as much of the critical writing done as possible before then. I’m definitely feeling more positive about it all now – coinciding with having the energy to start my reading and writing again. I’ve been reading Irigaray for the last week or so and even understanding quite a lot of it – something I never would have thought possible at the start of the Phd!

The book I’m reading by Luce Irigaray is called To Be Two and some of it is really beautiful. Right from the beginning of the book she asks the question:

How do we share the air….how is the between-us possible?

This idea of the ‘between-us’ and exploring this runs throughout the book, alongside the idea that to be truly together with someone, the other must remain a mystery and that we must respect ‘the transcendance of the other’. She talks about the idea of the gaze as grasping, which I think is interesting, and that avoiding the urge to grasp, to possess means that we can concentrate on the ‘between-us’ instead, and ‘look at each other between each other’. The idea of perception as a ‘path towards you, towards us, an us which is always disunited, distanced, always a “two” irreducible to one” is also important.

I’m aware I’m paraphrasing and shortening complex academic ideas here, and cherry picking things that have caught my attention so I would definitely advise looking the book up if you’re interested, but these ideas of perception as a ‘path towards you’ fit with some of the things I’ve been trying to write about in my All The Men I Never Married poems. Until very recently I thought of them as almost being like ‘portrait’ poems, poems where I ‘look’ at men, poems where the female gaze rests on one man before moving on to another and another. Then I realised that my self, or at least ‘a self’ is being looked at in these poems at least as much as the men involved. Now after reading Irigaray, I can’t get this idea of perception as a path out of my head, and the idea of ‘between-us’, of what happens between two subjects being explored in poetry. Poetry is surely the ideal form to explore something so ungraspable as the ‘between-us’ of encounters with another.

And of course, a huge part of the poems, and this PhD is the ‘between-us’ of the speaker in the poems and the audience, whether that is readers or audience members at readings, that these poems in speaking about sexism, in speaking about female desire, consistently ask the audience to position themselves, again and again, in relation to the ‘I’ or the speaker of the poems, and in relation to the men that are portrayed, which takes me back to Judith Butler again, who says in Giving an Account of Oneself:

When the “I” seeks to give an account of itself, it can start with itself, but it will find that the self is already implicated in a social temporality that exceeds its own capacities for narration

I can give an account of sexism, but I cannot account for the reactions and responses that come about, that are in themselves part of the account of sexism, part of the ‘between-us’ experience.

I don’t feel like I fully understand all of this but I don’t feel particularly stressed about it. It feels like wandering around in a landscape which contains both bright flashes of sunlight where the trees are so cut out against a blue sky that it feels as if I’ve never seen a tree so clearly before, to turning a corner into mist and fog where the trees are only thoughts of trees or shadows of trees. I will leave you with another quote from Judith Butler which seems to relate to me to writing, to the ‘moments of unknowingness’ which I think are the impetus behind the best poems:

Moments of unknowingness about oneself tend to emerge in the context of relations to others

Update: St Ives 2019

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I’m hoping that everyone who is booked to come on the course in St Ives this year will have already received this information directly from the hotel – but just in case you haven’t, I’m very sad to say that due to unforeseen circumstances, Amanda Dalton will not be able to co-tutor this year.  Amanda and I hope that she will be able to come back and co-tutor on a course in 2020 at some point – I’ll keep you posted!

I’m very happy that the brilliant Carola Luther has agreed to co-tutor instead.  I’ve worked with Carola on a previous residential and she was excellent and I’ve also been lucky enough to work with her as a student as well when I was starting out as a writer, so I know the participants in St Ives this year will be in good hands!

Our theme for this year’s course is ‘Distance/Perspective/Intimacy’ and I’ve already had some really interesting discussions with Carola on this topic, so I’m really looking forward to the writing and reading which will take place during the week.

I’m also really pleased to announce that our guest poet this year will be the fantastic Ann Gray.   You can find out more information about Ann and Carola, the theme for the week and the course timetable here

If you are booked on the course, and haven’t received an email from the hotel with information about what you will need to bring with you and the change of tutor, please get in touch with me via my email, or contact the hotel directly.

Feeling like myself

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For the last three days, I have been feeling like myself. I hesitate to write this in case it stops being true.  It feels strange to suddenly slip back into the place and the routine and the way of moving through the world that my old self occupied, but this seems to be what has happened.  It started slowly – Monday evening I took myself to another room and sat and picked up a book for my PhD that I’d started reading back in September, before I got pregnant.  The book is Relating Narratives by Adriana Cavarero.  I wouldn’t say it’s the easiest read, and I was worried about how I would get back into it all, but it felt like a relief, like climbing into a hot bath when you’ve been cold for a long time.

Reading Judith Butler back in September led me to Cavarero.  Cavarero says things like

the story reveals the meaning of what would otherwise remain an intolerable sequence of events

which makes such beautiful and perfect sense that I don’t mind not understanding anything else that she writes.  She talks a lot about narratability, about knowing the self as being narratable, or worthy of narration, and also of being exposed, and how we are all exposed to the world and to each other, that a life-story cannot exist without these two conditions.  She says

Only in the improbably case of a life spent in perfect solitude could the autobiography of a human being tell the absurd story of an unexposed identity, without relations and without world.

And though I have felt lonely in these last four months, though it has felt at times like everything was moving on without me while I was trapped in a body that was betraying me somehow, I know that later on, I will be able to find the story behind these events, the story behind the days when all my restlessness was taken from me.

On Tuesday I read more of Caravero.  When she says that women’s art ‘aspires to a wise repudiation of the abstract universal, and follows an everyday practice where the tale is existence, relation and attention’ something lights up in my mind, and I know that there is another path that I need to follow, around relationality and everyday practice which will link to another part of my PhD, that currently sits in darkness, because I’ve not reached it yet.

She writes about exposability, and exhibition of the self and the lack of space for women to do this in a political sphere, but by political she doesn’t mean political institutions, but rather ‘the plural and interactive space of exhibition that is the only space that deserves the name of politics’ which I take to mean that we need the space to talk about our experiences/lives/life-stories in a ‘space of exhibition’ and what better space of exhibition than poetry and poetry readings?

And through all of this, I have started to feel the baby moving, so though I say I feel like my old self, which is true, I am both my old self, and I am changed because there is someone else with me.  The movements feel like tiny bubbles, usually on the right side of my stomach.  They are not uncomfortable, but they feel strange, and I’m still not used to them – I am still surprised every time.

On Tuesday evening I am due at Barrow Writers, a monthly critiquing group run by one of my friends, the excellent poet Jennifer Copley.  I haven’t written a poem since all of this started except when I look back through my notebook, I find some notes, about being ill, about realising, no not realising, knowing, knowing as completely as I will ever know anything again, that I am trapped in a body, about not knowing.  I type it up, even though even the act of typing it makes me blush. I feel embarrassed now, now that I’m standing on the other side of the sickness and the fatigue.  It feels like exaggeration when I type the words, but I have nothing else to take, and sometimes embarrassment means the poem is risking something, which might mean something later.

On Wednesday I run for four miles, my longest run since being pregnant.  It is a beautiful day – the type of day that is cold enough that the air hurts the back of your throat, but the sun is still warm enough to feel.  I get back, and read more Cavarero and then get distracted by reading a book of essays called Soul Says by Helen Vendler.  An essay about Louise Gluck’s collection The Wild Iris sends me back to the collection again, maybe my fourth or fifth time of re-reading.  The first poem ‘The Wild Iris’ is one of my favourite poems.  You can find it here http://www.poetrymountain.com/authors/louisegluck.html

but is there any more perfect start to a poem than ‘At the end of my suffering/there was a door.’

The next essay is about A.R.Ammon and I remember that I saw that Simon Armitage has an essay in the recent Poetry Review about Ammon, who I’d only heard of and not read anything of.  Vendler says that Ammon in an interview wished to ‘draw a distinction between public responsibility  (writing with one eye on the topical) and public effect (in the short run, subversion; in the longer run, perhaps, conversation)’ and that this is ‘only one proof of his careful and anxious intelligence’.

It sends me to my anthologies to find poems by him and now it’s Thursday and I like the distinction between the short and long term public effects that poetry can bring about.  Poems that start conversations – to write such things, seems like the smallest ambition and also perhaps the most generous, all at the same time.

I’ve read two more chapters of Cavarero interspersed with writing quickly four terrible first drafts – more ‘All the Men I Never Married’ which might not ever make the light of day but I hope have something of Cavarero’s thoughts inside them, when she says that identity ‘from beginning to end, is intertwined with other lives – with reciprocal exposures and innumerable gazes – and needs the other’s tale’.

 

You can buy The Wild Iris by Louise Gluck here from the Carcanet website https://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781857542233

You can buy Relating Narratives by Adriana Cavarero here https://www.amazon.co.uk/Relating-Narratives-Storytelling-Selfhood-Philosophy/dp/041520058X

You can buy Soul Says by Helen Vendler http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674821477

Hello 2019

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It’s been over a month since I last blogged and I’m really pleased to report that I am feeling a lot, lot better than the last time I wrote on here.  I seem to have turned the corner with the worst of the hyperemesis gravidarum that I’d been struggling with.  In fact, I woke up in Week 13 of being pregnant and felt suddenly better – which seemed completely bizarre, even though lots of people had told me that this would happen.  People kept telling me to hang in until Week 12, the end of the first trimester and I’ve got to say that Week 12 was probably the worst week for me mentally.  I felt really depressed and down as well as being physically exhausted, and started to worry that I was going to be ill right through the pregnancy which is a possibility with hyperemesis gravidarum.

There were moments when I really didn’t want to carry on with the pregnancy because I felt so ill, and if I’m honest, the only thing that stopped me carrying that through was because I felt too ill to get myself to the doctors.  The thought of having the conversation was exhausting and overwhelming – it was easier to just lay on the sofa and feel miserable.  I’ve since found out that it’s estimated that 10% of women who suffer with HG end up having a termination of a wanted pregnancy.  It seems that there is still not a lot known about the condition, and it is pot luck whether you get a doctor or midwife who is sympathetic and knowledgeable.

Now that I’ve got through the worst (hopefully) I’m so, so glad that I stuck it out. I would say to anyone else suffering from morning sickness – the diagnosis of HG is not constant vomiting but whether your symptoms are so severe that they are debilitating – i.e they stop you living your life. As soon as I told the doctor that I was on the sofa all day and night and couldn’t climb the stairs, that I was unable to walk or stand because I was so exhausted and that I felt sick all the time, I should have been diagnosed with HG and given medication.  However, because I was still at that point, able to eat and drink a little, I was told basically to just get on with things, and things progressed and got much worse, ending up with a hospital stay and severe dehydration.

Anyway, that terrible period is over, and it is a new year! Over Christmas I made the mistake of stopping taking my anti sickness medication altogether because I felt really good.  Gradually, I became unable to eat anything again and things came to a head in an unfortunate throwing up episode in the services on the way back up north after leaving my parents house down in Leicester.  I only just made it into the toilets and had to throw up down a toilet which someone else had not flushed! I was breathing in someone else’s urine for a good five minutes – this experience probably comes in a close second behind the hospital canteen vomiting episode for pregnancy trauma.

I’m back on my tablets again and feeling much better.  In fact I can’t believe how different I feel now – not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.  I’m excited for the first time about being pregnant and looking forward to having a baby for the first time.  If someone had told me a few weeks ago, I would be feeling happy and excited about it, I wouldn’t have believed them!  That’s another weird thing that happens in pregnancy though – things change hugely from week to week.

In the last few weeks I’ve been running again, although very slowly.  I managed to play my trumpet on New Years Eve with the soul band I play with, the Soul Survivors, with a combination of sitting down to rest and standing up to play the high notes.  My stamina on the trumpet has never been better – maybe because there’s a solid mass of baby sitting underneath my diaphragm and helping to support it?  I noticed I was getting some pain towards the end of the night around my pelvis bone area – I’ve also been getting pain there after going for a run.  It was really bad yesterday but better today – I’ve ordered a belt to support my belly when I’m running and will take it easy and monitor it till then.  I really don’t want to go back to the doctors if I can help it this week, as I feel like I spend half of my life there at the moment!

I don’t really want to do a huge review of 2018 – so much happened, besides getting pregnant and becoming ill.  I taught on four residential courses – a schools course at Ty Newydd with Hilda Sheehan, a Garsdale Retreat course, a weeks residential in St Ives with Helen Mort and a Poetry Carousel in Grange-Over-Sands with Sean O’Brien, Greta Stoddart and Andrew McMillan.  Plans for next year’s Poetry Carousel are already afoot – I’ll be moving the course to Rydal Hall just outside Grasmere, so keep an eye on the blog for news of dates and tutors, which should be immanent.

I also did lots of readings all over the place – probably my highlights were reading at the Gdansk Poetry Festival in Poland in March as part of Versopolis and returning to Ty Newydd to perform as a guest poet for Gillian Clarke and Robert Minhinnick’s Masterclass.  This felt really special to me because Ty Newydd was where my writing journey began – it is still a little bit surreal to me that I’m returning there as a reader, after attending so many courses there as a participant.

Another highlight was Kendal Poetry Festival which I run alongside Pauline Yarwood.  This year it took place in September, but we are planning to move it back to June for the next instalment, which is looking likely (due to various commitments for both myself and Pauline) to be June 2020, giving us a year and a half to organise it, which worked well this year.

I also managed to pass my RD2 for my PhD and complete a good chunk of the creative work for it, and at my last count, I have about 9500 words of my thesis.  2018 was the year I really started to enjoy doing a PhD, instead of constantly worrying about it.  I feel like I’ve got my head around what I want it to look like now, what shape it is going to be, and I just need to find the head space and the energy to ease myself back into it now.  I decided to take a rain check on it all till after Christmas but am looking forward to getting back to it now I’m feeling a bit better.

Before that happens though, I have the small matter of 9500 poems sitting in my house.  I’m one of the judges this year for the National Poetry Competition, and I’ve spent the last few weeks reading for this.  I’m relieved I had this work to be getting on with, as it was something that I could do even whilst feeling really ill.  Our first deadline for sending a long list over is approaching very soon, and whilst I’ve enjoyed doing this, it will be a relief to tick this job off my list!

I’m not making any new years resolutions either – I want to try and keep the pressure off myself for once.  I want to keep running for as long as I can through the pregnancy, and once the National Poetry Competition reading is done, I’ll be getting back onto my PhD and getting as much of that done as possible before the baby arrives, but that’s about the extent of my plans!  I won’t be blogging on here every week throughout 2019, but I hope to keep in touch on here at irregular intervals.   Thank you to those who have been in touch and sent well wishes – I really appreciate each and every one of them, and I hope to see you all in person at some point during this year.

 

Pregnancy and sickness

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I’m writing this from my sister’s sofa, which makes a change from my sofa, which is where I’ve spent most of my time for the past six weeks or so. I found out I was pregnant at the beginning of October – in fact, a few days before I headed down to Swindon Poetry Festival and I’m now 12 weeks and have had the first scan. I even saw the baby stretching and yawning which was pretty amazing. I look back now on that first week when I found out I was pregnant with fondness now – although it was a lot to get my head around, I had no idea how quickly my life was going to change. I naively thought that I would gradually slow down as I got bigger, that I would have to gradually start not rushing around as much. However my body and the baby had other ideas.

From about week six I’ve really suffered with morning sickness and extreme fatigue. I had no idea how debilitating morning sickness could be. And the tiredness – about ten years ago I had tonsilitis and because I didn’t rest properly I developed post-viral fatigue syndrome afterwards, and I feel exactly the same as I did then. For much of the time between week six and now I’ve had to lie down on the sofa or in bed. I’ve been unable to read or concentrate on anything other than bad television. I’ve felt sick 24 hours a day, although at the moment I’m mostly being sick in the morning.

I went on a holiday with two friends to Spain in about week 8 or 9 which was a huge mistake. I spent the whole long weekend in bed and couldn’t keep any food down, which then progressed to not being able to keep any fluids down, so I ended up having to call the doctor out and then being sent to hospital and put on various drips – severely dehydrated for the second time in as many months. I nearly missed my flights home because I was too ill to be discharged – it was possibly the most stressful thing that has happened to me. I was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum or extreme morning sickness.

Since I got back from Spain, I am a lot better. I’m still being sick but not constantly sick. Just before the first scan there was an unfortunate projectile vomiting incident in the hospital canteen, where I managed to throw up not just on the floor but on my own shoes, and the deep cleaning team had to come out to clean it up, which was possibly one of the most humiliating experiences ever. But in general, I am managing to keep food down now and I’m managing to drink and stay hydrated. I am managing to get out and do some readings and teaching but I’m having to take it very easy, which anyone who knows me will know how much I will be struggling with this concept.

I’m blogging about this because I’m currently lying on the sofa feeling extremely sorry for myself! I only went public with being pregnant a few days ago on social media, and whilst it has been lovely to read everybody’s congratulations, part of me can’t feel any of it at the moment because I feel so bloody ill. So if you’re waiting for a reply to something and it’s been a while, please give me a nudge. It’s not that I’m ignoring you or don’t care, it’s just that I’m really struggling at the moment with the simplest things, and keeping up with emails etc has been hard.

My conclusions from the whole experience of pregnancy so far (all 12 weeks of it) is that women are really hardcore! I can’t believe the stuff they put up with – I know not everybody gets extreme morning sickness, but even the regular kind is pretty awful, and yet they go to work, look after other children etc etc.

I’ve also realised that I measure a lot of my self worth by what I ‘achieve’ each day – and having not been able to achieve anything (apart from making a baby of course) I’ve found it really hard to stay positive – that’s a bit of an understatement. I’ve felt pretty terrible, but I’ve also realised that measuring my self worth in that way probably isn’t the healthiest thing to do either. I wouldn’t say I’ve completely shaken this habit off, but I’m trying to change the way I think.

So, for now, I’ll sign off but I will say before I go, that if one more person tells me to try ginger biscuits, I will not be responsible for my actions!

Poems from the Duchess High School in Alnwick, Northumberland

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I’m always touched when teachers contact me to say they are using my poetry in their lessons, and I thought I’d share with you some work from pupils from the Duchess High School in Alnwick, Northumberland.  These pupils are lucky enough to be taught by the brilliant poet Catherine Ayres.  They were in Year 9 when Catherine sent this work to me – so I think they will be Year 10 now, and Catherine explains below how she introduced them to my poem In That Year, which you can find at the bottom of the post.
Catherine says:
In Year 9, the pupils at the Duchess High School in Alnwick, Northumberland do  half a term of poetry, which culminates in them producing their own poetry anthologies. It’s a fantastic amount of time (3 lessons per week for six weeks) and means that they can really explore different aspects of poetry and different poems. They love it.

1 lesson per week is taken up with analysing and exploring all sorts of different poetry, from Blake to world slam champions, and the other 2 lessons per week are used to explore poetry forms and write their own responses to the poems they’ve analysed and the poetry they’ve explored.

The first lesson of the term, I give them my favourite poems to look at. I don’t explain anything, I just read them (or we watch a video of performance) and then they read and discuss them in pairs and groups and start to explain in their own terms which poem they like from my choice.

One of their favourites was Kim’s poem ‘In That Year’, so we followed up the first lesson by looking in more detail at the poem, its startling imagery and its message. The kids’ work here is photocopied directly from their books – it wasn’t done for display or re-drafted, it’s their first raw response. I asked them to pick their favourite image, or the one they found most difficult, or the one that had stayed with them from their first reading. Then I asked them to draw what they saw when they read it and write a very brief explanation of how it made them feel about the speaker.

It was a very solemn and serious lesson. No one complained about having to draw (they usually do) and heads were bent to work for a good half an hour. Some of the kids I teach have difficult lives. Some of them never speak about those difficulties. Most of them have never read a contemporary poem.

This lesson was better than any PSHE lesson we could have done about relationships and abusive situations. And the boys were as active in the discussion as the girls. Every single teenager was alert to the poem. It was a special lesson for me and the thought of it has kept me going this year, through all the exhaustion of a demanding and sometimes difficult job. Here’s a selection of the drawings and explanations that really moved me.

 

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I found the interpretations of my poem really moving and I thought the students were very perceptive. I also found it interesting how they managed to create different narratives to go alongside the poem – and I love the drawings!

This blog post featuring these drawings and thoughts from the students is way overdue, but I hope you enjoy looking at them, and thanks again to the brilliant Catherine for bringing contemporary poetry into the classroom, and for using my poem as part of that.  Those students are very lucky to have you!

Here is the poem that Catherine shared with the students.

IN THAT YEAR 
KIM MOORE

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.

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I’m really excited to announce that I’ll be co-tutoring with the amazing Amanda Dalton at next year’s Poetry Residential at Treloyhan Manor in St Ives.  This course always sells out fast, so if you’d like to come, ring the hotel below to secure your place.  Amanda was one of my favourite teachers when I was studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, so I’m really excited to be working with her in St Ives.

The course is running from the 8th-13th April 2019 and costs £550.  This includes breakfast, three course evening meal, scones with jam and cream in the afternoons, accommodation, workshops and a tutorial with either myself or Amanda during the week.

If you’d like to book, please give the hotel a ring on 01736 796240.

More information about Amanda (and me) below.

Tutors
Amanda Dalton
Amanda Dalton is a poet and playwright. Her poetry publications include How To Disappear and Stray (both Bloodaxe Books) and her writing for radio and theatre includes radical re-workings of the Medea myth (Wilson+Wilson Co /Sheffield Theatres) and of the silent movies Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (BBC Radio 3) incorporating poetry and sung lyrics. Recent BBC audio drama also includes an adaptation of Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book. She is an Associate Artist at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, a Royal Literary Fund Fellow based at the University of Manchester and a visiting lecturer in the Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Kim Moore
Kim Moore’s first collection The Art of Falling was published by Seren in 2015 and won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize.  Her poem ‘In That Year’ was shortlisted for the Forward Prize.  She won a Northern Writers Award in 2014, the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize in 2011 and an Eric Gregory Award in 2010.  Her pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves was one of the winners of the 2010 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition.  She is currently a PhD candidate at Manchester Metropolitan University.