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December 2018 Poetry Carousel

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

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

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

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

2018 Tutors

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

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

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

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

 

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Sunday Poem: Naomi Jaffa

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Sunday Poem: Naomi Jaffa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sign
The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk. Hegel

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

Goodbye 2017 Hello 2018

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I’m a little late for the 2017 roundup, but when have I ever let that stop me?

This is what my 2017 looked like:

20180101_194854

The pink is poetry workshops and teaching –  a mix of Dove Cottage Young Poets sessions, residentials, workshops at festivals or workshops in schools.  The green is for poetry readings.  The orange squares at the top of the chart, just about in view in the first couple of months are university teaching sessions.  The yellow is for holidays – a running holiday in Benidorm in August and a long weekend at Stanza Poetry Festival in March.  Rather confusingly, I’ve also used orange for university courses and CPD stuff as well – I’ve no idea why, but I suspect I just ran out of colours.  The blue is for trumpet gigs – primarily with the Soul Survivors.

It looks a little full sitting here now, but I can also see lovely white spaces between all of the colours, and now I can look back from the vantage of 2018 and having handed in my 6000 words and 30 poems which made up my RD2 report for my PhD, I can think fondly of days when I sat in my pyjamas all day with a pile of books spread around me in a circle, spending the whole day reading and writing and thinking.

2017 has definitely been the year when I have struggled and wrestled with my PhD, as if it is some huge and ungainly rock I’ve been trying to move around.   It’s only recently it has finally clicked that the PhD is actually more like a container that holds water, and that the container could be lots of different shapes.  It just needs to hold water.  Or something like that.  I have said ‘struggled’ and ‘wrestled’.  Behind those two words crouch anxiety, sleeplessness, self-doubt, insecurity, dread.  I’m nothing if not dramatic.  But also curled up behind those two words are hours of reading, and thinking, and observing and absorbing, and conversations with friends and colleagues that have been stimulating and thought-provoking.

Of course, I’ve been getting on with other stuff apart from the PhD.  I co-directed the second Kendal Poetry Festival with my friend Pauline Yarwood.  We found out very recently that we’ve got arts council funding to run a third Kendal Poetry Festival, which will take place from 7th-9th September 2018.  Watch this space for news about the line up and the tickets! The other two brilliant things that happened this year was the invitation to read at Struga Poetry Festival in F.R.Y.O.Macedonia and the poets I met there – in particular the women I met there.  And lastly, and most recently was my book actually winning the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and the lovely weekend I spent with my family and husband in London when I went to collect it.

There have been pretty rubbish parts of 2017 as well.  Someone I’m very close to has been badly hurt, and I couldn’t do anything to stop it.  I’ve spent a large part of the year recovering from a running injury which has been frustrating.  I spent the first part of the year recovering from a gall bladder operation.  But on the whole, while the rest of the world seems to be going slightly mad (Trump, Brexit etc etc) I’ve been ok.

I’m feeling hopeful about 2018.  I have some exciting things coming up – in early January I’m off on a writing retreat with some friends.  I’m really looking forward to having a whole week to concentrate on writing poems.  I’m also looking forward to not having to cook or clean up after myself, and the chance to eat scones every afternoon.  I’m running four residential courses next year- details here   of one of the courses at the Garsdale Retreat that still has spaces.  I’m teaching again as an associate lecturer this term at MMU again, on a different module this time, a Creative Writing module alongside Helen Mort, which I’m really looking forward to.

I don’t really like resolutions, and mine are quite nebulous and hard to measure anyway.   I want to start enjoying my PhD more and spend less time worrying about it and feeling anxious.  I can’t really measure that, except in how I feel about it.  I want to stop feeling guilty about sitting in my pyjamas all day and reading.  When I did this last year (in 2017) I felt guilty that I wasn’t ‘really doing’ a PhD.  However, all the reading really paid off when it came to the RD2, so in 2018, I’m determined to enjoy sitting around and reading, and not feel bad about it.

 

I’ve read quite a few roundups from friends who blog and have really enjoyed seeing their take on the last year.   Quite a few of the blogging poets have blogged about their successes/failures or rejections/acceptances or moving towards doing this more – two that spring to mind are Katie Hale (you can find her blog here) and Josephine Corcoran.  I’ll be following their blogs in 2018 with interest – as this was one of the compulsions that drove me to start blogging as well

I feel strangely out of step with this move, because my instinct, particularly in the last few months has been to step back from sharing my life on here so much.  In the last half of this year, I’ve been very irregular with the Sunday Poems.  Then again, also in the last month I had a huge spate of blogging activity which was very personal in the form of the 16 Days of Action, so maybe my instinct to pull back a little was more a gathering my resources for the 16 days.

I’d like to thank all of the poets who have allowed me to use their poems on the blog this year, and you, the people who are reading this blog.  And thank you to those of you who I’ve met at readings and workshops and courses, who have come up and told me you read the blog, and that you enjoy it.

I’m not sure yet what I want to do with this blog going forward in 2018.  I’ve been in this state of flux for a couple of months.  It will probably involve in some form or another, PhD musings, brilliant poetry books that I think you should read, and Sunday Poems.  I don’t quite know myself how it’s going to pan out, so again, watch this space, and I hope to meet/speak/hang out with you all somewhere in poetryworld in 2018.

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.

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!