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Bursaries Available for Kendal Poetry Festival

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I think in a former life I must have been some kind of creature that was active at night. Maybe an owl or something, as I seem to become much more energised at night. I’m writing this post at midnight, although I’ve scheduled it to go up at 9am in the morning as I’m guessing most people will be asleep by now.

First of all, I wanted to say thank you for the outpouring of support for my last post. The support that you gave in comments below the post and on social media was really overwhelming, and was just what I needed to bring me back from the feeling of loneliness that was threatening to take over. I was really nervous about speaking out again, about posting the blog but I’m so glad I did now, so thank you to everyone that read and commented.

Below you will find information about a new project that Kendal Poetry Festival is piloting this year called Opening Doors. Information is below, but I would really appreciate it if you could share this opportunity amongst your networks, or maybe you would like to apply! There are only a few days left to get your applications in as the closing date is the 31st May, but it is a simple application process.

Opening Doors will enable us to offer a bursary for three writers who are in need of financial assistance and wouldn’t be able to attend the festival without financial support. One of the bursaries will be specifically for a writer who identifies as disabled.

All three writers will receive a ‘Festival Pass’ which would enable them to attend any of the readings and discussions during the weekend.

Two writers will be hosted by a member of Brewery Poets – please note you will need to have your own transport or be physically able to walk. We have received an offer of help with transport, but this cannot be guaranteed throughout the whole weekend. The festival venue is a 40 minute walk from the accommodation. You will be sharing a bathroom, but will have your own bedroom, which is at the top of a flight of stairs. Your host will provide breakfast but you will need to cover your own lunch/dinner. Travel to and from the festival is not included. Accommodation is offered from Thursday 6th September to Sunday 9th September.

One writer or poet who identifies as disabled will be accommodated at the Castle Green Hotel for two nights (Friday 7th September/Saturday 8th September). Breakfast is included but you will need to cover your own lunch/dinner. Travel to and from the festival is not included. The hotel room is an accessible room.

To apply email the following in ONE document to team@kendalpoetryfestival.co.uk

1. Please send in one document with your name, date of birth and email address and a short biography (100 words)
2. A 200 word statement outlining why it would be difficult for you to attend without a bursary and how you would benefit from the opportunity.
3. Contact details of a referee – someone who knows your work and knows you personally.
4. If you are applying for the place at the Castle Green Hotel, please make this clear in your application, and outline your specific access needs. This place is open for writers who identify as having a disability as defined by Disability Rights UK: A physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Deadline for submission is May 31st. Decisions will be made by mid-June and results announced on this website.

For more information about the festival, including a full programme, please see www.kendalpoetryfestival.co.uk

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When you expose a problem you pose a problem

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The title of this blog comes from the book Living a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed. I made the mistake this week of posting in a public group about my disappointment that the local paper, the Evening Mail, failed in its report on the recent Keswick to Barrow 40 mile run/walk event to name the top three women finishers, despite naming the top three men. To be honest, I didn’t think I was saying anything particularly controversial – just pointing something out that could be addressed by adding one line of text to an article. I didn’t, and still don’t feel that anything negative could possibly come out of including women’s names.

You can cause unhappiness by noticing something. And if you can cause unhappiness by noticing something, you realise that the world you are in is not the world you thought you were in.

I caused a whole world of unhappiness by noticing this. Lots of people – men and women objected to the suggestion that the efforts of the top three women should have been acknowledged. Over and over again people told me that talking about naming women distracted attention from the fact that it was a charity event (doesn’t seem to harm the London Marathon), that the top three finishers just happened to be men (and they always will be unless we get an Olympic athlete rocking up to Barrow who just happens to be female).

Eventually, I had to turn off the comments on my post, and turn off the notifications.

We make things bigger by refusing to make things smaller

One friend posted a seperate post in support – that post was still going three days later and coming up to nearly 40 comments now with people telling her how wrong she is.  My twin sister is enjoying arguing with these people – my beautiful brave twin sister who would not stand and listen and say nothing, even though I told her not to get involved.

I’m too upset to look back at any of the posts now. Does how it felt to me matter? If I use words like bullying, like ganging up, is that an unfair accusation or is that my lived experience? I’m unsure now. If you are one person speaking up about something, and nobody else agrees, then maybe it will always feel like you’re being ganged up on. But thinking back now, without looking back at the post (because I can’t) one man offering his services as a lawyer to sue the paper was a way of getting me to shut up, a way of trying to humiliate me, a way of saying what you are pointing out does not matter. Men (and women) sharing pictures of their daughters saying ‘X did the walk for charity, not to get their name in the paper’ was designed to imply that I was merely interested in glory, and not in the more noble cause of raising money for charity, despite the fact that it wasn’t, was never about my name.  And this is another shaming technique.  Men and women asking why couldn’t I just be happy to be part of a great event – and look how happy we all are just to be here.  And this is another shaming technique

Happiness as a form of emotional labor can be condensed in the formula: making others happy by appearing happy.

There are ways to be a woman, and complaining about a system is not one of them. Complaining about injustice is not one of them. And having an opinion on social media and being a woman is a dangerous thing. It can end with having to turn your phone off because the constant comments are making you feel ill and anxious. I know that everything gets magnified on social media, that people say things they wouldn’t say to someone in person.

My friend N. pointed out to me that it was only thirty or so years ago that the first woman Kathrine Switzer ran the Boston marathon and was verbally and physically attacked because it was thought that women weren’t capable of running a marathon.

She pointed out that sport and the world of sport (and the pursuit of hbbies/interests/passions) have always been created for and dominated by men. I think about my hobbies/my interests – when I was younger, I played in brass bands.  One of the top bands in the country, Brighouse and Rastrick, finally appointed a female cornet player for the first time in their 130 year old history in 2011.  The brass band I grew up in had plenty of women in it and I would never say that brass bands don’t welcome women now (although I would say in my experience you have to be twice as good as the men to be thought of as half as good) but the world of brass banding (and running – my other hobby) was never set up for women, although women move through these worlds now, because of their tenacity and insistence.  And no, we are not told that we cannot join, we cannot run, not in so many words, but the fact that women’s achievement is ignored is one way of making our way through these worlds feel like wading through quicksand.

And what does it matter anyway? There are bigger things to worry about in the world. But how can we talk about rape when we can’t even agree that women should receive the same acknowledgement in a sporting event? How can we talk about domestic violence and helping victims when we can’t stand up for our friends online? How can we talk about sexism when we can’t even agree what it is?

This blog post has sat in my draft folder for over a week now.  At first I thought I wouldn’t post it at all.  Then I started  looking through Twitter today, following the #hometovote tweets from women travelling from across the world back to Ireland to vote to repeal the eighth amendment.  There is something beautiful in these women (and men) coming back home with welcoming parties at the airports – the reverse of the journey many women have to make to have an abortion abroad.  So this is one of the bigger things – bigger than speaking out about a stupid newspaper article – but you know and I know that everything is linked.  Women having autonomy and choice over what happens to their bodies is linked inextricably with women’s bodies being ignored, written out of history.  The silencing of women’s achievement is linked inextricably with the silencing of women’s voices.

I return again and again to Sara Ahmed, who sometimes feels like a lifeline. All of the quotes above are taken from her book Living a Feminist Life.  She talks about ‘Feminist Survival Kits’. This poem, from one of my dearest friends, and a woman who continually inspires me would be in my survival kit, because this week I’ve finally realised that I don’t believe in silence either.  And no, I won’t shut up.  And no, I won’t stop noticing.

To buy Head On, the collection of poetry that this poem comes from, head over to the Bloodaxe website http://www.bloodaxebooks.com/ecs/product/head-on-1046.  Clare also has a third collection Flood, coming very soon.

 

I Don’t Believe in Silence – Clare Shaw

Because, tonight –
however I try – I cannot get downstairs
without waking my daughter
I do not believe in silence.

Because of the Worboys enquiry,
because of the one hundred-plus women he raped –
because of the policeman defending the findings
unable to utter the word –
‘this (herrrm) crime, this (ahem)
assault, this category (cough)
of offence’ –
I do not believe in silence

because of the stairs and the banister’s crack;
the sound of the lock
and my hand on the door – the fifty-tone creak –
the magnificent echo of light-switch and click –
I do not believe in silence.

Because of Neda – and everyone’s sister –
and the man who said ‘Don’t be afraid’;
for the sake of my daughter, because of the burka,
because of the patter of rain;
because of two hundred thousand years of human history,
thirty-seven of them my own –
I do not believe in silence

for the sake of my arms, the wrists especially.
With respect to my legs
and my belly and chest
and the comfort long due to my throat

because of nightclubs at one a.m
and shouts in the street and feet in pursuit
and shops that don’t shut;
because of sirens and the dealers downstairs;
because of Levi and Akhmatova;
because of the itch of the blue-lipped prisoner;
the itch and the scratch of my pen;

I believe in the word.
I believe in the scrabble of claws
on uncarpeted floors.
I believe in my daughter’s complaints.
I believe in the violin, the E-string,
the see-sawing bow; the cello
straining its throat.

I believe in the heart and its beat
and its beep and the dance of the trace
on the screen, I believe in the volume
of colour turned up, and my blood
which was always too loud.

Because of the nights, and the sweats,
and the same rowdy thoughts;
because of that one afternoon
when I nailed my own voice to the air
and because there was nobody listening
and through it all
bird song
and the sound of cars passing –

I do not believe in silence.

Because, tonight –
however I try – I cannot

April/May news and the Occasional Poem

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I can’t believe it’s been so many weeks since I last blogged! Arrgh…where does the time go etc etc?

I’m currently sat on a train but unusually for me it is not the train from Barrow to Manchester across the bay.  Today I’m going to Newcastle which means the slow train along the west coast of Cumbria – one of the most beautiful and bleakest train journeys in the UK I think.  We’ve just pulled into Seascale and on the beach are various dogs running around in a state of excitement, apart from one rather sedate St Bernard, walking calmly along next to his owner who had one hand on his back as the train pulled up then pulled away.

The photo is the view from just outside Barrow from the train.

I’ve got a couple of hours until I get to Carlisle and then I change there for the last bit of the journey. I’m going to Newcastle to meet up with other artists who are working on a project called ‘The Backbone Of Our Land’ which will be a performance piece about what it means to be northern.  I have been worrying and worrying away at this for weeks without coming up with anything, but I’m hoping inspiration will strike during the train journey.

As soon as I start to talk or think about the North I find myself sliding into cliches and it is hard to pin down what it is that I loved about the north from the moment I set foot in Leeds in 2000 and felt like I’d found somewhere I could feel at home.  Maybe it’s something to do with unpretentiousness – but that is a huge abstract word and I can’t use that in a poem without questioning its purpose there.  The people seemed friendlier and more open, more down to earth – but again, here I am slipping into stereotypes and abstractions.  Tomorrow is a R & D day with the other artists so I hope being around other creative people will jolt something poetic into existence.

So I have lots of news to share with you all because it has been so long since I blogged. First and rather excitingly, the news is now public that I will be judging the Primers Volume Four pamphlet competition.  I really like this competition because the prize includes editorial support and development from Jane Commane and mentoring with yours truly, so it is very much an ongoing support for writers who are chosen.  There are also up to 25 free entries available for low income writers which I think is fantastic news, and I hope is the sign of things starting to change with the problem of working class writers being shut out of publication opportunities.

The Primers pamphlet competition is run in association with the Poetry School and Nine Arches Press – both wonderful organisations and you can find more information about the entry terms and conditions here.  So my July/August is going to be filled with reading poems – which is pretty standard actually, but exciting to be looking for three potential mentees to work with on a longer term basis.

Last Saturday, if you are Barrovian, you were probably either walking the Keswick to Barrow, the Coniston to Barrow, or standing drinking beer at the finish line, waiting for someone you knew to come in.   I decided to run the 21 miles between Coniston and Barrow a while ago in a moment of madness and I am very pleased to tell you I survived and managed to complete the course in 3 hours and 12 minutes which I was pretty chuffed with, considering some of those 21 miles go over Kirby Moor and the rest could kindly be described as ‘undulating’.  I’m not sure where overall I came as the results aren’t out till Thursday so I will let you all know whether you’re interested or not!

I thought I would have a great sleep after running that far, but the muscles in my legs were so sore that I kept waking myself up in the middle of the night, and eventually gave it all up for a bad job and got up at 6am.  I am pretty much recovered now and walking almost normally, and I’ve even bought my trainers to Newcastle in the hope that I’ll be able to get out for a short run around the city once I’ve checked in to my hotel.

Plans for Kendal Poetry Festival have been progressing and the full lineup for the programme is now live and up on the website.  You can book tickets for the Brewery Arts Centre – and they are selling really well.  We have less than half of our Festival Passes left, which is the cheapest way to see all of the readings and discussions at the festival, and workshop tickets are also looking low – so if you have been thinking of coming, do book soon!

We are also offering three bursary places for writers who identify as disabled, or low income writers – please check out our latest blog on our ‘Opening Doors’ project to find out more, and do pass this information on to anyone who you think might be interested.  It is a relatively simple application process but do get in touch via the festival website if you have any questions about it.  One of these places is funded by the generosity of the wonderful poet Christine Webb, so thank you again to her.

Getting the programme up and presentable on the website is a HUGE amount of work – Pauline Yarwood and I have been working so hard on the festival stuff.  We had a few days respite and then got on with the next job – editing the information on the website down so that we can fit it all onto a hard copy brochure.  We are still in the joyful throes of this and due to meet our brochure designer in the next few weeks.

I’ve also been rehearsing with Soul Survivors – we had a gig last Saturday and have another one coming up in June, reading in Manchester with Clare Shaw at an event organised to raise money for Greenpeace by the wonderful Ann Heathcote and going to the pamphlet launch of one of my fabulous Dove Cottage Young Poets Hannah Hodgson. Hannah did a brilliant reading and speech, complete with powerpoint slides – it reminded me of a Ted Talk – she was so professional.  The same couldn’t be said of me however, as I nearly cried in my introduction to Hannah and then nearly cried at the end…

The pamphlet is called Dear Body and it’s published by the fantastic Wayleave Press, run and edited by Mike Barlow.  The whole pamphlet will make you think differently about the body and ability and disability and all the things that can be taken for granted if you are able-bodied.

So although the Sunday Poem has temporarily ground to a halt, I thought that the Occasional Poem might be more fun, as I can post them as and when I feel like it.  It feels rebellious not to be blogging on a Sunday – this is about as rebellious as I get you see – blogging on a Tuesday!

I’m really happy that Hannah has agreed to let me publish the title poem of the pamphlet on the blog today.  I haven’t checked with Hannah, but I’m sure I remember her writing this poem in response to the C.P.Cavafy poem ‘Body, Remember‘.  I think you can hear the echo of that Cavafy poem in any poem that addresses itself directly to the body – but whereas Cavafy’s poem is full of longing and a desire to remember  ‘those desires glowing openly/in eyes that looked at you’, Hannah’s poem is an admonishment to the body, in an almost parental voice, asking it to ‘look over the job description/for a body./Read it over -/ let’s start again tomorrow.’

Even though this is a poem filled with exasperation and disappointment at the body for not doing what it is supposed to do, there isn’t a shred of self pity here – there is even a kind of wonderful  black humour in the first and last stanzas, while the middle of the poem is wonderfully tender: ‘I never learned/how to calm the heart’.

Hannah has been published in literary magazines AcumenUnder the Radarand Poetry Salzburg Review. She has won several young poets competitions and been poet in residence at Lakes Alive and Kendal Poetry festivals. She has a YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/c/HannahHodgson) where she talks about her illnesses and reviews books and poetry collections. She has just been selected as one of the young writers for the next instalment of The Writing Squad.  

You can also find Hannah’s blog here     where you can buy a copy of her pamphlet and make her very happy!  Thanks to Hannah for letting me share this poem and I hope you enjoy reading it

Dear Body – Hannah Hodgson 

I’d be handing you
a redundancy notice
if the end of you
didn’t mean
the end of me.

My brain is filled
with corrupted code –
error alarms
screeching
in my organs.

I never learned
how to calm the heart
how to stop it battering
my chest, acting out
like a child.

I never learned
the nursery rhyme
to quieten it down.
I need to learn how
to parent these organs.

Go home,
look over the job description
for a body.
Read it over –
let’s start again tomorrow.

 

 

News from March and April

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At Penzance Poetry Parlour with Katrina Naomi and Helen Mort

I’m writing this from the back seat of the poet John Foggin’s car. Another poet John Fennelly is in the front seat. I’m telling you these spurious details because John Foggin will be FREAKED OUT when he reads this later and finds out I’ve been writing this whilst he was driving along. I’ve been in St Ives for the last week running a residential course with the poet Helen Mort and 17 participants. I haven’t posted a Sunday Poem on here for a couple of weeks – life has just got too busy, and something had to give. So the Sunday Poem has for now got a dust sheet over it. Since I last wrote on March 19th, which was by my count 25 days ago, I’ve spent 13 of those 25 days in hotel rooms rather than my own house. I was wondering when I got to St Ives why I felt so tired, and now I know!

It has been a lovely week – a really talented group of poets to work with first and most importantly, but there are other things that make the week feel a bit magical – getting to work with Helen Mort was another. Not only is she a brilliant tutor and poet, she also runs, so I had company this time on my excursions round the country roads of St Ives. And the weather has been amazing – which was just what I needed after the miserable cold and rain we’ve been suffering up north. It is so mild down here! Apparently Cornwall has had bad weather as well, but it all cleared off for our arrival.

The week started on Sunday night for Helen and I, as we had a reading at Katrina Naomi’s Penzance Poetry Parlour. It’s the first time I’ve read in someone’s living room, with maybe twenty or thirty people crammed in, sitting up the stairs or on cushions on the floor once the chairs were full. It was such a lovely evening – Katrina is a marvel and it is a testament to her warm personality as well as her poetry that she has managed to gather such a wonderful community of poets around her. One of my poetry heroes Penelope Shuttle was even in the audience – a long time ago when I was first starting out Penelope gave one of my poems a fourth prize in the Kent and Sussex Poetry Competition, the first ‘prize’ I ever won! Her work has always been important to me so it felt amazing to have her in the audience.

Apart from running this residential course then, one of my trips away from home was a trip down to London to record an episode of Private Passions.I’m saying that as if it is an ordinary, usual thing to do when clearly it is not! I’d better not reveal my music choices as the episode will be aired (I think) on June 10th. It was actually nowhere near as nerve wracking as I thought it would be. Maybe I’m getting better at doing things that are out of my comfort zone. The Private Passions team were so lovely as well, and made me feel at ease. The studio where the recording takes place is quite small, and I sat directly opposite Michael Berkeley with the producers to the side in another room, so it does feel more like just having a chat than being on the radio. The producer, Elizabeth Burke, was really lovely, and this probably sounds a little strange, but I felt first of all as if I’d known her for years, and secondly, I was – I don’t know quite what the right word is – moved? inspired? by the way she carried herself as a woman, how she obviously had authority and expertise, but wore it lightly. Watching the way she interacted in the studio made something shift in my head – I am full of admiration for her. I don’t think I’m explaining it well, but I think that is because I haven’t articulated it to myself yet.

I then got a train back to Manchester and stayed in the Britannia hotel, which is an experience in itself. I arrived and was given a key for a room which had a single bed. I’d paid for a double, and one of the things I look forward to being away from home is to have a double bed, so I trotted back downstairs to ask for double room. There was already a man shouting at the staff and saying ‘this is like bloody Fawlty Towers I’ve already had my room changed five times etc’ so I wasn’t holding out much hope. The rather harassed staff member apologised and gave me another key. Off I went to the top floor this time, a double room, but the stench of stale cigarette smoke that hit me when I opened it was so overwhelming I quickly closed the door. Who knew that hotels have designated smoking rooms now? Not me. I wearily made my way down in the lift again and explained that I couldn’t sleep in this room because of the smell, and the same even more harassed staff member apologised again and upgraded me to an executive suite! And all without shouting.

I had to stay over in Manchester because I had a full day of tutorials with undergraduate students the next day and then from there I had to get the train to the airport to go to Gdansk in Poland to read at the European Poet of Freedom poetry festival. Poland was wonderful! And Gdansk is a beautiful city. I love reading at these festivals, but if there is any stress, it’s always being a stranger and having to get to know people or connect with people. However, my translator Krystyna was there and another poet Sigurbjorg from Iceland, who I’d met in Croatia two years ago at another festival, so it felt more like going on holiday with friends with lots of poetry thrown in. I met some lovely poets there as well who I won’t name because a listing of names is rather dull but Alice Oswald was there, and she was her usual brilliant self – I think she is such a wonderful poet.

Another exciting thing to happen this week is that I had my portrait painted! Or at least the sketches for the painting. The amazing artist Claire Eastgate is painting contemporary women poets from all over the UK, and these paintings will form an exhibition called ‘Painting the Poets’. Claire came and stayed at my house the night before and we had some amazing discussions about the female gaze, which I will probably blog about separately. People often said to me before starting the PhD that it would be conversations with people that would be really important and formative for your research and I didn’t quite believe them – I couldn’t understand how a conversation could be more important than reading a book for example or an article. A year and a half in to the PhD, I get it!

Last week I also had another meeting about my poetry with Michael Symmonsn Roberts, which was really useful and positive. After my mock viva, one of the recommendations was that I have a third supervisor to oversee the creative/critical connective part of the PhD which is really the part I’ve been struggling with, so Nikolai Duffy is now part of my PhD team, and I’ve arranged to meet him on May 4th.

These last few months have been so busy it has been a bit of a wake up call. I’ve decided to really start cutting back on the work I’m doing from this summer onwards really, and try and keep this last year clear for mainly PhD stuff. We will see how easy I find it to stick to that resolution!

I haven’t got a Sunday Poem this week, so I’m being rather self involved and leaving you with one of my own, which was recently published in The New Statesman. I will say, before you click on the link, that this poem comes with a trigger warning – it is about date rape, so please proceed with caution. I was shocked recently, and then not shocked, to read that 1 in 3 women will experience rape or sexual assault during their lifetime. It breaks my heart when I think about women carrying around this pain inside them, trying to act as if nothing has happened.

And if you are wondering, and maybe about to write ‘men experience sexual assault and rape too’ and ‘why aren’t you writing about them Kim’ then I would respectfully ask you not to bother. I know that men experience this as well, but I am choosing to write about women and I’d like to quote the great John Berger from ‘Ways of Seeing’ here – ‘To look is an act of choice.’ I am choosing to look at women and their experiences, and my experiences of sexual assault. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about men, but I am making a political choice. Interestingly, John Berger also writes that ‘It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain the world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it’.

The poem in the New Statesman recounts a story that was told to me a long time ago. Although I carried the story for nearly twenty years inside me, and never forgot it, I didn’t look at it, I didn’t see it until I wrote this poem. I stuffed it down as small as it would go in my own memory because it frightened me. I am choosing to look now, I chose to look through the act of writing the poem, although I didn’t understand what I was really looking at until I finished writing the poem. Our course this week has been about the ‘unsaid’ in poetry, and it felt like the ‘unsaid’ in this poem was something I had to discover, and which I only discover by the end of the poem – not that these things happen, but that these things are a lesson which the world teaches women which then act as a form of control.

If you would like to read the poem, please click on the link below.

All The Men I Never Married No.25 The New Statesman Easter Issue

Sunday Poem – Jean Stevens

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Sunday Poem – Jean Stevens

The end of the week comes round again, and I’m never quite sure why it always feels like a surprise.  I’ve had quite a busy week – endless admin first of all, just the general, run-of-the-mill admin that you get as a freelance writer that sometimes turns into an admin avalanche and threatens to cover everything.

I also spent a large part of this week doing Kendal Poetry Festival jobs.  Pauline and I had a meeting on Monday with our website designer, Claire to discuss a slightly new look for this year’s website and logo.  One of the invisible jobs of organising a festival is writing the copy for websites and brochures.  This takes hours! It involves first of all contacting all the poets to ask for biographies, blurbs for any talks or workshops they are doing and a photo of themselves.  Easy, you might think.  Well, no, as even if the poets all send everything on time (which never happens) the things they send have to be proofread and put into our house style.  I write a short introduction to each event to go on the website.  This is quite hard as I’m trying to summarise people’s poetry  which is inherently difficult. Once I’d done all this, I sent it over to Pauline to be edited and proof-read, then she sent it back to me to have another look at the changes, and then it gets forwarded on to Claire.  Not very glamorous but one of the essential tasks that need doing before we can start selling tickets.

The next step, which is Pauline’s job, is to work with The Brewery Arts Centre, to get the correct ticket information put on their website.  I am very glad this is Pauline’s job, as I would rather write event descriptions than have to deal with people on the phone! This is one of the reasons we work well together I think, as we manage to share the work out so nobody has to do anything they really don’t want to do.

Pauline and I had another meeting on Friday, where we went through all the accommodation requirements for the Festival Poets.  We also went through our budget and made sure everything is still adding up, which again, doesn’t sound like much, but it took a long time.  Another rather unglamorous side of putting a festival on, but it will all be worth it in the end, and Pauline did keep the supply of tea going all afternoon.

My head has been all over the place this week – I had a meeting with the Soul Band to discuss our gig dates for the rest of the year on Tuesday night, and even though it was written in my diary I completely forgot about it.  I charged into the meeting just over half an hour late and in my pyjamas.  Whoops.  Luckily they are a forgiving bunch.

I was teaching my undergrads at MMU on Thursday.  It was quite intense this week as they are due to hand in their assignments.  I had two tutorials and then used the seminars to talk through the assignment briefs and give quick advice about editing their portfolios.  They have to hand in prose and poetry as well as a reflective essay.

After my Kendal Poetry Festival meeting on Friday, I then had to rush off to run a Dove Cottage Young Poets session, and then went straight home to go out for a meal with my friend J and her husband S.  I used to work with J when I was a music teacher.  We worked at a music centre on a Saturday together and we also taught in the same school and did classroom support for each other.  J is a violin teacher, and I learnt to play Twinkle Twinkle very badly on the violin whilst in her lessons.  It was lovely to see them again.  Chris (the husband) reminded me that I had a 7am train to catch the next morning, just before I started on my third beer, which was a very sensible move – I knew there was a reason why I married him!

On Saturday I made the 7am train and headed off to Manchester.  I’m working on a pilot project that MMU are running called the Writing and Talking Saturday Club.   It’s a chance for 13-16 year olds in Manchester to come and study at university for free and work with writers and creative tutors.  Saturday was a taster day, with drop in sessions of poetry on one table and character and plot development on another.  The project officially starts in April, so if you know any young people in Manchester who might be interested, follow the link and email Kaye Tew to register – it’s completely free to attend.

The taster day finished at 1pm and then I got the train back to Lancaster to go to the Lancaster Litfest poetry day .  My highlights were the lovely Kate Fox, who I think is generally fabulous, and Katharine Towers, whose work I’ve loved since hearing her read at Stanza Poetry Festival a couple of years ago and the Wayleave Press reading.  My co-director Pauline Yarwood read from her Wayleave Press pamphlet, as well as some new work, and the brilliant Hannah Hodgson, one of my Dove Cottage Young Poets read from her brand new pamphlet Dear Body.   The pamphlet isn’t officially available yet, I think it’s officially published in a few weeks – I’ll let you know when it comes out.

Today I have been at the South Cumbria Music Festival to watch Barrow Shipyard Junior Band perform.  They came first out of five bands and the adjudicator also said they bought the winning audience with them as well.  I had to whistle when they finished playing the first piece so that they knew I was there!  My brilliant twin sister also came first in the ensemble section as part of the Cumbria Horn ensemble, so overall a very successful day, where I experienced lots of the joy of watching the band do well, without any of the hard work in the run up to it.

It sounds silly, as this is my second year of not being a music teacher, but it felt like it finally sunk in today.  Seeing the band doing so well under another conductor both made me very happy, and very nostalgic.  I suddenly realised what an amazing thing it is, to have created a brass band out of thin air, and for it to continue even after you leave.  My brass band conductor used to always say that nobody is bigger than the band, and that was what I said to the band when I told them I was leaving.  If the band has a heart and is a living breathing thing, then it carries on even when you leave, and this is both painful and wonderful at the same time.

It made me miss brass banding again as well – I’d love to join a band and play again, but where I would fit it in with everything else I’m doing I don’t know.  Maybe that will have to wait till after the PhD has finished.

This week I’ve been doing some work on the overall structure of my PhD, which is going to be quite experimental.  I don’t want to say too much about that at the moment, as I have no idea yet if it is going to work, but I’m quite excited about it.  I’ve also been thinking about the idea of the ‘female gaze’ which seems particularly important as I am writing about men and looking at men in my new collection.  The male gaze typically objectifies or fetishizes – I obviously don’t want to do that.  I’ve been re-reading John Berger’s Ways of Seeing which I think is a brilliant text – it doesn’t feel dated at all.  Some interesting quotes that I think may be relevant to my own work, although he is talking about art, I think a lot of what he says is useful in terms of poetry as well.  He says

We only see what we look at.  To look is an act of choice.

and later on,

The meaning of an image is changed according to what one sees immediately beside it or what comes immediately after it.

I think this will be important in my collection, which is different ways of looking at men, which also becomes different ways of looking at the self, which becomes different ways of looking at society.

Berger also says

We never look at just one thing, we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves.  our vision is continually active, continually moving, continually holding things in a circle around itself, constituting what is present to us as we are.

This seems important as well – that by looking/writing about one thing or person, we are looking at the relation between ‘things and ourselves’.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Jean Stevens, who was one of the participants on the recent residential that I ran in Garsdale.  Jean had just had a collection published with Naked Eye.  It’s called Driving in the Dark and I would really recommend it.  I really enjoyed reading the whole thing.  I started reading it one afternoon and couldn’t put it down.

I’ve chosen the poem Snoring because I found it really moving.  I also thought it fitted in with some of the ideas around the female gaze which I’ve been thinking about, although the man being looked at is no longer there.  It is in fact his absence that is being looked at or examined.

The first section seems to describe the discovery by the speaker of a partner dying, woken by a sound ‘nothing like the usual snoring’.  I loved the snippet of dialogue here – the ‘Wake up you bugger’ and then the repetition of the ‘Wake up’ becomes more and more poignant, as both the reader and the speaker realise something is horribly wrong.

I like how those first two stanzas are in four lines, but as the realisation kicks in, the next two stanzas shrink to just three lines.   We get a sense of the relationship as well – the give and take of it with ‘This isn’t me messing about/saying a marriage can founder/on snores’.

As well as the stanzas shrinking, the punctuation also seems to break down by the fourth stanza, with the line breaks standing in instead for what could have been full stops.  But I think the lack of punctuation works well here for the big realisations that are happening at the end of this fourth stanza: ‘This is me saying forgive me’.

The second section starts off by repeating the last two lines of the first section, which gives them a new emphasis.  Then the poem goes off in a completely unexpected direction, and this is where I think the gaze of the poem is really interesting.  The partner’s body as well as the speakers body is conjured up in all its humanness and shortcomings.  This is a completely unapologetic and frank gaze – and there is something both shocking and moving in this frankness, in the detail of the ‘your sweating stains the bed’ and the matter-of-factness when the gaze turns on the self: ‘when the bags under my eyes/have bags themselves’.

The last stanza is where she brings the self and the partner together through again, a shocking, yet incredibly moving detail: ‘with my bare hands I’ll scrub/your skidmark underpants’.  John Berger has lots to say about the difference between ‘nakedness’ and ‘nudity’.  He says that

To be naked is to be oneself.  To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognised for oneself.  A naked body has to be seen as an object to become a nude’

Of course he is talking about paintings here, but I think it holds true for poetry as well.  The partner and the speaker here are naked – inasmuch as their bodies are described in intimate detail, in a way which allows us as the readers to recognise them as themselves.  They stay as selves, rather than objects, because of the way Jean writes about the intimate ageing process of the body, the intimacies that two people share.

Jean was great fun to have on the residential – she always had a story to tell, having had this amazing life as a playwright and actor.  Her poems have appeared in London Magazine, Stand, The North, Mslexia, The Honest Ulsterman, Other Poetry, Smoke and The Bridport Prizewinners Anthology 2016, as well as being broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4.  She is a past winner of the Yorkshire Post Poetry Prize and the Leeds Libraries Writing Prize and was recently shortlisted for the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition and The Rialto Poetry Prize.  Her plays have been performed at Derby Playhouse, the Edinburgh Festival, Harrogate Theatre and West Yorkshire Playhouse.  Her stand-up comedy script won the Polo Prize at London’s Comedy Store.  As a professional actor she has credits for stage, film and television.  Her website is jeanstevenspoet.co.uk

You can order a copy of Driving in the Dark here  and find out more about Naked Eye publishing here. 

Snoring – Jean Stevens

(i)
I wake to the sound of snoring
nothing like the usual snoring
when I shout Wake up you bugger 
and attempt to turn you over.

No, I wake to a sound that grips
snore, rattle, gasp in its fist
deep and going deeper.  Wake up,
you must wake up.

This isn’t me messing about
saying a marriage can founder
on snores.  This is it.

This is me saying forgive me
this is me saying I love you
now when it’s far too late.

(ii)

This is me saying I love you
now when it’s far too late.

I mean, love’s ridiculous
when you’ve lost your hair,
your waistline, your hearing,
and your sweating stains the bed;

when the bags under my eyes
have bags themselves, and my
boobs are moving towards the floor.
But come back and I vow

with my bare hands I’ll scrub
your skidmark underpants
till I grow raddled and sore
immersed in water that scalds.

 

 

Sunday Poem – Bryony Littlefair

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Sunday Poem – Bryony Littlefair

I have somehow, after getting a bit worn down with it, managed to find my way back to enjoying blogging every Sunday again.  I found my way back to this place, as with most things, through poetry, through finding poems that I felt I had to tell other people about otherwise I might burst.  More on that later.

It has been a strange kind of week this week.  I’ve been frantically preparing for my mock viva which is tomorrow afternoon.  I have to give a ten minute presentation and then discuss my PhD and the 6000 word report I handed in.  I received feedback on my report and this is what I have the presentation has to be about – a response to the feedback.  So I’ve been thinking about that this week, turning it over in my mind.  I bought myself some small cards and have written prompts on and I’m hoping that will help me when I’m doing the presentation.

One of the main questions raised in the feedback was why use poetry, and lyric poetry in particular, to address the gap I’ve identified.  Lucky for me I’ve been reading Jonathan Culler’s Theory of the Lyric for the last month or so, as I feel I can answer that one.  As the gap I’ve identified is that poets don’t seem to be writing about sexism in a sustained way (as in over a whole collection, rather than the odd poem) then it makes sense to try and do this in poetry.  But why lyric poetry? Lyric poetry is always balanced between inner and outer experience, between the individual and the social, between the personal and the political.  I like how it is often in two minds. I’ve enjoyed reading about lyric poetry having a long history of being socially engaged – Jonathan Culler talks about its roots in epideictic discourse – which is public discourse about meaning and value.  And when anyone asks why poetry, I always return to Adrienne Rich and this beautiful quote from her essay ‘Vesuvius at Home: The Power of Emily Dickinson’:

But there is a more ancient concept of the poet, which is that she is endowed to speak for those who do not have the gift of language, or to see for those who – for whatever reasons – are less conscious of what they are living through.

The last part of that sentence is central to my own work – the idea that poetry can make us look differently at the world.  This is exactly what listening to Claudia Rankine read from Citizen did for me and this is what happened to me when my friend David Tait sent me the manuscript of his new collection The AQI which contains a long central sequence exploring homophobia.  I became more conscious of the times we are living through, when homophobia and racism is rife, but some of us are lucky enough to not be directly affected by it.  Poetry can make us see the world differently, can make us more conscious of what we are living through.

David Tait has been on a brief visit to the UK for the past fortnight and we spent three days together hiking in the Lake District and eating cake – that was pretty much the extent of our activities. It was great to see him again – and I’m looking forward to his new collection, which will be coming out in May 2018.

So as well as having a welcome visitor and preparing for my mock viva, I’ve also been desperately trying to catch up with emails and admin.  I seem to be getting a lot more freelance work coming through at the moment, which is lovely, and maybe an after effect of winning the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, but it has made this week a little bit manic as I try and keep up with it.

I’m also now fully on with my training for the Coniston to Barrow, taking place in May this year.   Last year I got injured and am determined not to do the same thing again.  I’m building up my milage, but really dialling back the speed.  I ran my longest run in a while today – 12 and a half miles but didn’t go charging off up the hills which is my usual style, and it seems to have worked, as I have no aches or pains so far.

Back to the Sunday Poem! My lovely editor, Amy Wack at Seren, sent me some of the new books that Seren have just published.  One of them was a pamphlet by a poet called Bryony Littlefair, who won the Mslexia competition in 2017 with her pamphlet Giraffe.  I really loved this pamphlet – it felt like a complete breath of fresh air, every poem entertained me.

I chose ‘Sunday mornings’ not because this blog goes out on a Sunday (no chance I’d ever get round to posting this in the morning anyway!) although it is nicely apt that it’s Sunday.  Returning to Jonathan Culler who writes that every poem about a bird conjures up other poems about birds.  I think this is true, to a lesser and greater extent.  I can’t read a poem about a fox without thinking of Ted Hughes ‘The Thought-Fox’.   Hughes’ poem stands as a kind of shadow poem behind other fox poems, casting a different length of shadow depending on how close they are to each other.

‘Sunday mornings’ bought into my head one of my favourite contemporary poem ‘Those Winter Sundays’ by Robert Hayden.  They are two completely different poems of course.  Hayden is writing about ‘the chronic angers of that house’ and the different ways humans show love, or don’t, amongst other things, whilst Bryony’s poem seems to be a poem of learning to be alone, learning loneliness or selfhood.  But I think the music of the poems, their intrinsic rhythms are very close to each other, especially at the beginning.  The lovely first line of Bryony’s poem: ‘The truth is I’m not sure what I did’ – the way it seems to start mid-conversation seems to mirror the mid-conversation stance of ‘Sundays too my father got up early’.   Both poems seem to be addressing us, the readers directly – Bryony’s all the way through, and Robert Hayden’s seems to turn its face towards us with that last heartbreaking question – ‘What did I know, what did I know,/of love’s austere and lonely offices?’  Although I suppose both poems could also be addressing the self rather than a reader.

I love the humour in Bryony’s poem as well – ‘I’d spin/on the office chair, or curl up on patches/of carpet, pretending to be dead’ and earlier in the poem ‘I didn’t/do any of those things, nor the homework/I’d invented to excuse my godlessness’.  All the way through the pamphlet, she uses fantastic metaphors and similes, and this poem is no exception – look at ‘Alone in the hefty silence, I felt loose/and endangered, like an undone shoelace/or an open rucksack.’ I think those are so well chosen – of course an open rucksack is endangered – it could allow things to fall from it, or allow a thief to take something.  A shoelace is endangered because it could be stepped on, it could case a fall.  Both objects are not doing what they are supposed to be doing.

It made me think back to being a teenager and how hard it was to be alone.  At some point, my mum and dad eventually trusted my sister and I enough to leave us at home, but I was never alone as I had three sisters.  Even when my older sisters were out, I was always with my twin sister – in fact we weren’t allowed to hang out with friends without each other, which maybe accounts for how terrible I am at being alone now.  I can manage it if I’m busy, but I find it really hard if I’ve got nothing to do.

A little bit about Bryony Littlefair – she studied English Literature and Philosophy at the University of York.  Her various jobs have ranged from cupcake baker to Editorial Assistant to dementia support worker.  She currently works at the Abbey Community Centre in Kilburn and focuses on work with older people.  She is also Project Coordinator for The Reader in Croydon.  Her poetry has previously appeared in Popshot, The Cadaverine, Clear Poetry and Ink, Sweat and Tears.  

You can buy her pamphlet Giraffe direct from the Seren website here– I can’t recommend it highly enough.  I read it straight through in one sitting and then started again.  There are some cracking poems in there – other favourites are the title poem ‘Giraffe’ and the very funny ‘Usually I’m a different person at this party’ which starts ‘Usually my tights don’t fall down like this, leaving an airy prism/just below the crotch’ and just gets better and better (Is Bryony Littlefair in fact following me around documenting my life I wondered to myself at this point).  I also really liked ‘Lido’ which starts ‘Seeing you at the lido was/like walking past a house I used to live in’ and I used ‘Visitations from future self’ in my Dove Cottage Young Poets workshop a week or so ago, where it received a stamp of approval.

Sunday mornings – Bryony Littlefair

The truth is I’m not sure what I did
those mornings they’d leave, my mother
always in a floral capped-sleeve shirt.
I wish I could say I graffitied the newsagent,
or met with a nicotine-fingered boyfriend,
or learned Bertrand Russell by heart. I didn’t
do any of those things, nor the homework
I’d invented to excuse my godlessness.
Alone in the hefty silence, I felt loose
and endangered, like an undone shoelace
or an open rucksack.  I’d pace from room
to room, hands tucked up my sleeves.
I’d play snatches on the piano, or make
elaborate little snacks – crackers piled
with quartered grapes and shavings of cheese.
I was like a blunt knife, failing to cut
and apportion the hours.  I’d spin
on the office chair, or curl up on patches
of carpet, pretending to be dead.
I might have put on a CD, shaken
my hips to Run DMC, a jerky
figure of eight.  I might have filmed myself dancing.
I’d be choosing another colour for my nails
when the key would turn in the lock:
my parents, whole and returned,
having sung their hallelujahs
and walked back through the cool light rain.

December 2018 Poetry Carousel

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Poetry Carousel
7th-10th December 2018
Tutors: Sean O’Brien, 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.

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.