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Sunday Poem – Geraldine Clarkson

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Sunday Poem – Geraldine Clarkson

Maybe you haven’t noticed, or maybe you have, that there has been a two week break in the blog posts again.  I always feel guilty when I don’t blog, and I get a lot of lovely comments and feedback from people who seem to enjoy reading it, and of course it’s nice to write to poets out of the blue and ask them if I can have a poem.  I know what it feels like as a poet if somebody writes to me and tells me they like my work, and my philosophy has always been that if I can spread that feeling around, without it costing me anything but time, then I’m happy to do it.

However, time has been in short supply in my life recently! Every year I have a period of time, usually a couple of months, where my life becomes completely manic, and I rush from one thing to the other, holding on to my sanity with my fingertips.  It used to be around the end of term and I would blame the end of year concerts.  Now I’m not a music teacher, so there are no end of term concerts, and it is with a heaviness and sense of guilt that I realise I have only myself to blame for taking too much on.

I have had an exciting two weeks however – although it’s been busy, I’m not complaining.  I love everything I do – that is kind of the problem.  Since I last blogged I’ve done two Soul Survivor gigs and a rehearsal, covered a Year 2 poetry class at MMU, taught two sessions of my Poetry School face to face course and given two lots of feedback to my online students with the Poetry School, travelled to Swindon and delivered a full day workshop, travelled to Winchester and read at a night called Loose Muse, taught two sessions of Dove Cottage Young Poets, delivered a taster session at Kirbie Kendal School in Kendal to recruit more Dove Cottage Young Poets, travelled to the Words By The Water festival in Keswick to listen to Helen Farish and Adam O’Riordan read, took part in a Cumbrian poetry reading, sent emails round about residentials, worked on an application for an amazing opportunity, did some reading for my PhD, worked on a  few new poems and sent them to my supervisor, gathered biographies and photos from the poets coming to Kendal Poetry Festival, wrote content for Kendal Poetry Festival website, planned a feminist poetry event for the 8th April, and through all that I’ve been running, trying to keep my training up for the Coniston 14 race which is next Saturday.   It sounds like a lot when I list it like that.  And to be honest it felt like a lot as well.  In fact I feel a bit dizzy looking back at it all now.

So I’ve given myself a bit of a breather with the Sunday Poems, and I’m going to continue to do that – so they may be a little bit sporadic for a while.  I hope you will appreciate them just as much when they do come in.

One of the nicest things about being a freelance poet is the people you meet on your travels.  I met Hilda Sheehan a few years ago now when fate threw us together to share a room on a residential course.  She is one of the loveliest people I know and I had a brilliant time at her house last weekend.  I was down in Swindon to run a workshop, which gave me a good excuse to go and hang out with Hilda and some of her family.  It’s been ages since I laughed so much – a combination of Snapchat and binge watching terrible 80’s music videos and much more wine drinking than I usually indulge in.

After my weekend with the Sheehan clan I then went to Winchester to read at Loose Muse, run by Sue Wrinch.  Cue more drinking wine till late at night,and more amazing food.  I was so hungry when I arrived in Winchester and the lovely Sue had made a chicken pie, which basically means I am her friend for life.  The poetry reading was really good as well though.  People were very friendly and welcoming, a really good standard on the Open Mic, and two poets who have been on residentials with me, Hilary Hares and Patsy showed up, so it was really nice to see them again.  I also sold my last 8 copies of The Art of Falling and one If We Could Speak Like Wolves.  So another job today was to order some more copies of my book from Seren.

After that it was back home to my long suffering husband who hasn’t seen much of me for the last month, but thankfully remembered what I looked like and let me in the house.

One last thing before we get on to the poem – if you’re interested in coming along to a Poetry Reading and Open Mic, I’m hosting such a thing this Wednesday the 22nd March at Natterjacks in Ulverston, starting at 7.30pm.  Malcolm Carson and Ina Anderson will be launching their collections in the first half, and we’ll have an open mic session in the second half.  It’s completely free and if you want an Open Mic spot, just sign up on the night.  Get in touch if you need any more information, but I hope to see some of you there!

So this week’s Sunday Poem is by Geraldine Clarkson, who has patiently been waiting since last Sunday, when she should have appeared.

Geraldine Clarkson lives in Warwickshire though her roots are in the west of Ireland. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Poetry Review,Poetry London, Ambit, and Magma (she was Selected Poet in Magma 58); as well as in the Daily Mirror and The New European. They have also been broadcast on BBC Radio 3, as well as appearing at various times on cupcakes and handkerchiefs, on buses in Guernsey and in public toilets in the Shetland Isles! In 2016 her work was showcased in the inaugural volume of Primers from Nine Arches Press/The Poetry School, and she was commended in the National Poetry Competition.  Her chapbook, Declare (Shearsman Books, 2016), was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice, and her pamphlet, Dora Incites the Sea-Scribbler to Lament (smith|doorstop, 2016), is a Laureate’s Choice. Supported by Arts Council England, she has just completed the manuscript for her first full-length collection.

I got a copy of her smith/doorstop pamphlet a couple of weeks ago when I went over to Sheffield for a Poetry Business writing workshop.  It’s a great pamphlet, and has lots of wonderful poems in it, may of which have won or been shortlisted for various prizes.  The poem I’ve chosen for today though I loved as soon as I read it and it stayed as one of my favourites in the pamphlet.

I have a book called The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, which is a great book, full of exercises to stimulate writing.  I sometimes use it for workshops.  Anyway, there is a great quote there by Robert Hass from Twentieth Century Pleasures where he talks about the power of images:

Images haunt.  There is a whole mythology built on this fact: Cezanne painting till his eyes bled, Wordsworth wandering the Lake Country hills in an impassioned daze.  Blake describes it very well, and so did a colleague of Tu Fu who said to him, “It is like being alive twice.” Images are not quite ideas, they are stiller than that, with less implications outside themselves.  And they are not myth, they do not have that explanatory power; they are nearer to pure story.  Nor are they always metaphors; they do not say this is that, they say this is.

Robert Hass, Twentieth Century Pleasures

I love this quote, although I don’t feel like I’ve completely understood it, or thought about it enough.  But I like that sentence ‘Images are not quite ideas, they are stiller than that’.  I think in Geraldine’s poem this is apparent – the images that are conjured up when she hears a word have a stillness to them, even when they are about movement, like the dancing aunts in Stanza 2, it is movement that has been captured, like a photograph.

The images are always beautifully observed, we can see this in the first two lines.  The harebells are not just ‘wind-flattened’, they are ‘crouching’ which sends me back to the word ‘harebells’ and the animal that is inside this word which conjures up the image of a flower.

Of course, if the poem was made up only of these natural images, it would be a good poem, but by stanza 2 she moves on further, to conjure up this unnerving portrait of ‘Mary Keeley’ standing in her ‘black doorway’ and then on into stanza 3 with the dancing aunts and the father ‘unhinging the kitchen door’ for leg-room for the dancing.

The poem finishes how it started, with beautiful and accurately observed descriptions of nature.   I love the ’tilted cemetery/at the sea’s edge’ and ‘the persistence of rabbits’ is a line I wish I’d written!

I hope you enjoy the poem, and if you’d like to order the pamphlet that this poem came from, you can get Dora Incites the Sea-Scribbler to Lament from smith/doorstop for the mere sum of £5.  Thanks to Geraldine for being so patient, and for allowing me to finally publish this poem here.

When they say Connemara – Geraldine Clarkson

I hear harebells, wind-flattened,
crouching close to the common.
I hear the gorse-clung mountain
and moorland, bruised
with bottomless ink-lakes
A sequinned Atlantic, waving
to lost relatives in America.

When they mention Murvey
or Ballyconneely – or Calla –
toothless Mary Keeley
blinks at her black doorway,
holding out two tin cans
of buttermilk. I catch the whine
of P.J’s piano accordion

at dawn, my dead aunts calling
for Maggie in the Wood and
Shoe the Donkey and two
fine men to dance a half-set.
Mary Davis stoking up 40 verses
of The Cleggan Disaster.  My father
unhinging the kitchen door, for leg room.

When they speak of Ballyruby –
where the monks were –
or slip into the chat news of Erlough
or Dolan, or Horne, my eyes itch
with peat smoke, heather scratches my shins
and I’m barefoot in silt with marsh irises,
hen’s crubes and ragged robin.
I’m climbing again the tilted cemetery
at the sea’s edge, reclaimed by Dutch clover
and the persistence of rabbits.

When word comes from Gortin or Mannin
(and I’d thought they were all dead there),
or from Seal’s rock – setting the curlews
looping and scraping the sky –
I hear the empty rule of wind
on that thin mile
of white sand, the collapsing
surf, the whistle of silence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Residential Poetry Course in the Lake District 10th-14th April

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Residential Poetry Course in the Lake District 10th-14th April

Breaking news! En-suite rooms now available at the next residential that I’m running in Grange Over Sands April 10th-14th with co-tutor Jennifer Copley.

En-suite rooms are available for £448.  I know there were  a couple of people who were put off by the idea of not having an en-suite room, so the hotel have managed to shift things around a little and we now have a limited number available.

You could also come with a friend and share a luxurious lodge (my favourite place to stay in the hotel) for £476 per person.

Or if you are feeling a bit strapped for cash, there are non en-suite rooms available for £396.

Please spread the word about this course if you can and here is a picture of the aforementioned lodge and the lovely swimming pool at the hotel to tempt you…

Telling It Slant 

Join us on the edge of the Lake District to spend a week reading, writing and discussing poetry.  Emily Dickinson said ‘Tell all the truth but tell it slant’ and we will be embracing her advice during this residential course.   We’ll look at how poets can work in the space between truth and lies and along the borders of reality and imagination.  Come prepared to try out new techniques which will produce poems that may surprise you!  This course is suitable for beginners and more experienced poets.  We will be joined mid-week by a special guest poet.  The fee of £396 includes accommodation in a non en-suite room, cooked breakfast and three-course evening meals, workshops, tutorials and readings from tutors and a guest poet. There will also be a chance for participants to read their own poetry on the final night.

To book please contact the hotel directly 015395 32896

Sunday Poem – Ruby Robinson

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Sunday Poem – Ruby Robinson

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged – I’ve missed two Sundays in fact, due to being away from home and with limited internet, and even worse, no computer.  I couldn’t face trying to write a blog post on a phone so I decided to just give it a miss.  Having said that, I’m writing this at Stanza Poetry Festival, at my bed and breakfast, where although I have a computer, the internet keeps disappearing, so who knows if this blog post will ever be finished.

It feels like so much has happened since the last time I blogged, which I think was around the 12th February.  First of all I’ve had three full-on days at Stanza Poetry Festival, sharing a room with my friend Manon.  Manon and I met on the first residential poetry course that I ever went on, at Ty Newydd.  We worked out that this must have been about ten years ago now and we’ve been friends ever since.  We used to have a tradition of picking a poetry event to go to in a random part of the country, and then going out clubbing afterwards.  We haven’t done that for a while, but Saturday night, we did stay up till 2am with a few other poets, chatting in a whisky bar.

There have been lots of highlights at the festival and so many readings that I’ve enjoyed, but if I had to limit myself to two highlights it would be Katharine Towers and Vahni Capildeo.  I saw Katharine read on Sunday morning as I dragged myself to the venue at 11.30am on about five hours sleep and feeling very sorry for myself.  Katharine’s read from her new collection The Remedies.  It is beautifully lyric, quiet poetry, often very short but carefully observed and was the perfect hangover cure! It felt so different to what I’m writing at the moment – I feel like my own writing is getting longer and more narrative so it was great to see a different approach.  I’m looking forward to settling down with her collection and working my way through it.

Vahni Capildeo writes in a completely different way not just to the way I write, but I would say to the way everybody writes.  She is definitely ploughing her own furrow, and I can’t think of anybody else that is writing in a similar way to her at the moment.  A complete original, and although I admit I don’t understand all of her poetry, I don’t think understanding everything is entirely the point.  She gave a wonderful performance last night – very funny and at the same time managing to hold the audience spellbound for the whole 45 minutes/an hour.

During the festival, I also bumped into Gerry Cambridge, and got my subscriber and contributor copies of The Dark Horse.  I have two of my All The Men I Never Married sequence in there this time, which I’m very chuffed about.  I’ve now had two of these in Poetry Ireland Review, four in Poem and now two in The Dark Horse, so I feel like they’re slowly starting to make their way in the world.

So now to account for my near three-week absence.  My first missing weekend was spent at Verve Poetry Festival in Birmingham.  I read there on the Friday evening, alongside Katrina Naomi and Mona Arshi, and then I ran a workshop on Saturday afternoon.  This was also a great festival, taking place in Waterstones in the city centre.  Many people have been commenting on social media on the diversity of the lineup at the festival, but as well as having this in its favour, there was a great atmosphere over the weekend.  I even managed to get out for a six mile run along the canal with the poet Matthew West.  Then on Sunday, I was reunited with David Tait, after not seeing him for nearly three years, met up with poet John Foggin, and we all headed off down to St Ives in John’s car, but with me driving.  David and I talked all the way down to St Ives, and John listened to a Terry Pratchett novel on his headphones and every now and then chortled away to himself.

David now lives in China, but was awarded a one month residency at The Wordsworth Trust, which he managed to coincide with coming to St Ives to be my co-tutor.  It was lovely to work with David again, and just to be able to catch up.

The hotel announced that they were going to make scones with jam and cream every afternoon for the course participants, which was rather exciting, as this was a ‘hidden extra’.  I’m hoping that this is a tradition that will continue next year.  I can report that I managed to eat a scone with jam and cream every day.  The course sold out – 16 people, and I think 12 of them had already been on a residential week with me before.  The wonderful poet Penelope Shuttle came to read as the guest poet – she is not only a fantastic poet, but is also a lovely person to talk to.

At the end of the course, John and I drove all the way back from St Ives to Birmingham, where I hopped on a train north, and we managed to talk all the way as well.   I got on the train at Birmingham and eventually got back home at about 8pm, completely shattered.

Just before I left for St Ives, I finally got the email to say that we’d been awarded full funding from the Arts Council towards Kendal Poetry Festival.  Pauline (my co-director of the festival) is currently on holiday in Australia, but I got a text through to her to tell her the good news and she promised me she was dancing round the room to celebrate.     

I had my first proper poetry tutorial as part of my PhD with Michael Symmons Roberts last Tuesday.  We looked at two poems and Michael straight away homed in on one area in each poem where I knew there was something that wasn’t quite right, but I didn’t know how to fix it – and nobody else had seemed to notice, so I just decided to ignore it.  So not only was it a brilliant tutorial because it made me realise I need to start listening to that voice in my head when it says ‘hmm are you sure about that’ but it was also a masterclass in how to edit a poem.  I came out really happy and excited about the prospect of the next three years and feeling like I’m really going to learn something about editing poetry that I can use in my own teaching, but that I’m also going to be challenging myself as a poet, which is a great place to be in.

This week, I’ve also started teaching my face-to-face poetry school course ‘Brief Encounters’ in Manchester.   There are ten people booked on this time, and it’s on a Thursday, which means I finish my university teaching and then have time to go to my favourite Thai restaurant, before heading down to teach the course.  I’m also currently teaching a feedback course for the Poetry School as an online course which I’m really enjoying.

I also found out one of my poems made the longlist of the National Poetry Competition, which was – I was going to say exciting, but I don’t think that’s the right word.  Maybe comforting is better – comforting that a new poem, written post-book, got as far as it did is good news.  I’ve also been nominated to apply for the Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship – which is a year’s worth of mentoring and a £15,000 bursary.  250 arts specialists were asked to nominate people to apply for this fellowship – sadly, I’m not eligible to apply, as I’m a full time student.  Still, it felt really lovely to be even in the running for it, and maybe my time will come round another year.

So on to the Sunday poem, by the fabulous Ruby Robinson, who I hoped to see read at Verve, but sadly I had to set off for St Ives before her reading.  I bought her book instead to compensate myself for missing out, as I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to get hold of it.  In fact, I’ve been waiting for her book to come out since I saw her poem ‘My Mother’ in an issue of Poetry Review a couple of years ago.

The poem I’ve chosen ‘Past’ kind of took my breath away when I first read it. I love the way it seems to start mid-sentence or mid-conversation, but I also like that the poem seems to be directly addressing the reader, as if we are part of that confession, as if we are the one being spoken to.  The form of the poem is great as well – and securely fastened to the content of the poem, set out a bit like a chess board, which gives some great line breaks (‘shooting up/with the other pawns/beside a black-lacquered castle’.

The idea of unpacking a cliché or worn out phrase is something that is often done in poetry, but I think it’s extremely hard to do it well.  The way this poem unpacks the familiar phrase of ‘a chequered past’ works really well as it swings from a visual image of a chess board and its chequered squares to the past like a ‘huge cloak’ or a ‘deep/hole you fall into sometimes’.

I also like the way the poem makes its own argument with complete conviction and uncertainty, all at the same time.  It felt like one of those poems that the poet had to write to work out what they thought, a poem that surprises you by the time you reach the end of writing it.  It’s one of those poems, or truths, that I wish I’d written or worked out, the way we carry our past with us, and the way it affects both the present and the future, that the past can be both ‘squares of light’ and ‘squares of something like a deep/hole you fall into sometimes’.

The poem comes from Ruby’s first collection Every Little Sound, published by Pavilion Poetry/Liverpool University Press. Ruby was born in Manchester and lives in Sheffield.  She studied English Literature at the University of East Anglia and has an MA from Sheffield Hallam University, where she also won the Ictus Prize for Poetry.  Her poems have appeared in The Poetry Review, Poetry (Chicago) and elsewhere.   Every Little Sound was shortlisted for the 2016 T.S Eliot Prize and the 2016 Forward Prize for Best First Collection.  If you’d like to order Ruby’s collection you can find it at https://liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/products/73653

Hope you enjoy the poem, and thanks to Ruby for letting me post it here.

Past – Ruby Robinson

When I said chequered
I didn’t mean Alice in Wonderland
wandering on a massive chess board
mounting plastic horses, shooting up
///////////////with the other pawns
///////////////beside the black-lacquered castle.
///////////////I didn’t mean bars and grates
///////////////snatches of sunlight and third rate
exam papers or clouds of time
like an accidental watermark on the
‘story of my life’
I didn’t mean guilt or anything
////////////////to be guilty about.  I didn’t mean
////////////////an unhinged head, secrets and dark eyes
////////////////black eyes, shoplifting, addiction, assault
////////////////or any other crime.  I don’t know why I said it –
and landed behind me like a huge cloak,
squares of light and squares
of something like a deep
/////////////////hole you fall into sometimes
/////////////////on a dark night
/////////////////on your way back from the shop
////////////////or some bright miraculous party.

Sunday Poem – David Wilson

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Sunday Poem – David Wilson

I have been in hibernation mode this week.  After my marathon day of outdoor activity last week, I started to feel a little bit unwell on Sunday night.  I put it down to too much activity, but by Monday I felt like I had flu – I was going alternatively hot and cold, had a really awful headache, sore throat.  I basically took to the sofa from Monday to Wednesday and didn’t move – a wonderful luxury now I don’t have to drag myself into school feeling awful. Tuesday I still felt pretty rough, but Wednesday I was a lot better and it felt more like a normal cold that was on its way out.  So I’ve spent much of this week feeling sorry for myself and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I felt particularly sorry for myself that yet again, I was stuck on the sofa instead of being out running.  But as I could hardly stand up on Monday it was probably a good idea to stay indoors.  I have been this morning for a ten mile run – my first one all week.  It was hard work – I felt quite tired and my legs felt heavy, and then there was the cold and the wind of course – but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  I’m glad I got out there now and did it.

On Thursday I had to go to Manchester for my teaching at MMU but I was nearly back up to normal by then.  I have been getting some writing done this week and working on some poems, despite feeling rough, so I’m pleased about that.  I’m steadily working my way through reading Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex – it is such an important text, and so many other feminist texts refer to it that I need to read it and have it as part of the background for the next lot of reading.  The problem is every time I read one thing, it leads to something else.  I think I could spend the three years of this PhD just reading without even getting to the writing part.

On Friday I spent the morning planning the workshop for my Dove Cottage Young Poets session, which was running in the afternoon, and my Barrow Poetry Workshop, which I was running the next day. I managed to get them both sorted out and printed out, then I went to Kendal for the young poets workshop and then off to Brewery Poets in the evening.

Barrow Poetry Workshop went really well yesterday – 13 poets from all over the place, Barrow, Dalton, Ulverston, Kendal, Preston, Lancaster, Shap.  I also managed to get the heating going properly this time as well – and people wrote some amazing stuff.  In the evening it was A Poem and a Pint with guest poet Rita Ann Higgins.  Rita had made a mammoth journey from Galway – bus, plane and train to get to Ulverston to read.  I bought her latest book Tongulish which I’m really looking forward to reading when I get some spare time.

I felt a bit sad – one of my ex-students, David Griffiths, who was Young Musician in Residence at Kendal Poetry Festival was the musician for the night, but Anthony Milledge, who was going to be his accompanist for the evening, died very suddenly last week.  I’ve known Anthony since I moved to the area and played with him a few times at church, when he composed a fiendishly difficult trumpet fanfare for the visit of a bishop a couple of years ago.  He was such a good musician – so good in fact, that we were unable to find a pianist who had the technical skills to play the pieces that he’d been practising with David.  So David just did some unaccompanied pieces – a very tough thing to do, but I think Anthony would have been proud of him.

Next week, I’m determined to get a bit more reading done for my PhD.  I’ve got more workshops to plan as well – I’m heading off to Birmingham on Friday to the Verve Poetry Festival and I need to plan the workshop that I’m running there on the Saturday, and plan my workshops for the St Ives residential which starts a week on Monday.  I also need to fit my running in – I cannot afford to take more than two hours to do the Coniston 14 in a few weeks time, otherwise I will have to stand on stage at Lancaster Litfest in my sweaty running gear because I haven’t had time for a shower.  So I’m gearing up for a full on week next week, and then the usual full on week of a residential course.

If you’re interested in residential courses, the St Ives course has sold out now, but I’m running three more this year – you can find information on the ‘Residential Courses‘ tab.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by a lovely poet and friend of mine, David Wilson.  I met David when we were both students on The Poetry Business Writing School course.  I was really pleased to hear that David had a pamphlet out last year with The Poetry Business.  The pamphlet is called Slope and many of the poems in it explore climbing and mountaineering. David lives in North Yorkshire and has been an active climber for many years.  As well as poetry, he has written a novel, Love and Nausea, published by Abacus, Little Brown in the 1990’s which was praised by The Times as a ‘tour de force’.  In 2015 he won the Poets and Players Competition, judged by Paul Muldoon with his poem Everest.  

It’s worth buying Slope for this poem alone, a tiny eight-liner where David manages to compare Everest to Elvis (I’ll let you buy the pamphlet to work out how he manages to pull that one off – but pull it off he does!).  The poem I’ve chosen for the Sunday Poem this week though has always been one of my favourites of David’s, maybe because of the bolt of recognition after reading the first line – no, my parents didn’t use that phrase either! I liked the line at the end of the first stanza as well.  I think my parents are similar to the parents in this poem – they do everything together as well, and find it quite strange that my husband and I have separate holidays, or are often off on our own somewhere.

I love the description in the second stanza of the father ‘taking ten minutes to stand up/straight, always the military man’.  It’s only in the second stanza in fact, indicated by that little phrase ‘Near the end’ which begins this stanza, that we realise that the father is dying, and this makes that effort of getting out of bed and standing to speak to his wife very moving.

I always think it is hard to get dialogue in a poem, and especially a poem like this without it sounding cheesy, or maudlin, or too over the top.  Especially a poem called ‘I love you’.  But then the strength of the poem is that these three words, the title are completely missing from the poem, yet it is a poem about loving and how to give and receive love.  Or maybe not just about love, but about marriage, which is different.  The portrayal of a long marriage with ‘whispered rows’ in the first stanza is very honest. And I think that is what I like about the dialogue as well – it has the ring of authenticity, of honesty about it.  And to say ‘Thank you for loving me’ seems so much more meaningful than saying ‘I love you’.  I was thinking about why that is, and maybe ‘I love you’ is always about the self, the ‘I’ reaching out to another.  It demands a reply.  But to say ‘Thank you for loving me’ is to say, I’m grateful, and happy with what you’ve given me, and I don’t need anything else.  Hidden in that sentence is ‘Thank you for loving me’ even and despite of ‘whispered rows’.  l love the little turn of the poem at the end as well, when the mother is transformed by his words, or her voice is transformed to the ‘voice of a young girl’.

You might want to order Slope after reading this poem – if you do, you can order it at http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/shop/925/slope for a mere £5 and show your support to another fantastic independent publisher.

“I love you” – David Wilson

My parents didn’t use this phrase,
talked in terms of work to do, and weather
and how they were bringing us up;
despite whispered rows at night
stayed together, held in place by good form.
They were not much given to using ‘I’.

Near the end, my father asked a nurse
to bring my waiting mother
to the side-room of his suffering,
having taken ten minutes to stand up
straight, always the military man,
nearly losing his footing.

One has to be brave at a time like this,
he said, taking her hand,
Some journeys must be made alone. 
And then, Thank you for loving me.
A slight bow and turn, while she cried
in the voice of a young girl,
‘Oh my darling’.

Sunday Poem –

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Sunday Poem –

Another Sunday rolls round again – and I spent most of this one outdoors.  This morning I went for a 12 mile run with some friends.  I know for some people the idea of running 12 miles would be a form of torture, but I absolutely love it.  I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing on a day like today, which was cold, but with blue skies and snow at the top of the mountains in the distance.

I rashly promised the husband I would go for a walk with him in the afternoon so once I got back from my 12 mile run and 300 metres of climbing, we went out for lunch in Broughton and then off we went on our walk – 3 hours later and another 300 metres of climbing and I’m officially knackered.

Last night I had a gig with the Soul Survivors at The Nautical Club on Walney Island.  After having a rehearsal where I felt that my playing was not up to standard, I’ve been practising for the last couple of weeks, building up from 20 minutes a day to about 40 minutes a day.  And it paid off! I know, having been a music teacher for 13 years, that I shouldn’t be surprised when practising actually works, but there you go.  I managed to play my solo bits, and my lip held out right till the end of the night which was a relief.

I decided to have a lazy day yesterday so apart from soundcheck in the afternoon, I spent the whole day in my pyjamas watching TV – a rarity for me, but my week up to this point had been pretty full on.  On Monday I attended the first session of a course as part of my PhD personal development in Manchester, and decided to hang around so I could go to the protest march against Trump’s idiotic travel ban. I’ve never been to a protest before, so didn’t really know what to expect. There were thousands of people there, so many in fact, that we couldn’t hear what the speakers were saying.  I met poet Clare Shaw and her daughter Niamh, and poet Rachel Davies and her partner Bill.  We marched through Manchester, and there was lots of chanting, all very good-natured.

I spent the first half of the week watching a lot of news about Trump, and in the end I had to stop, as I was getting really upset about it all.  I did write a Trump poem though – well actually, it’s about Melania Trump and the video of her at the inauguration, when Trump turns round and says something to her, and her face completely changes.  We can’t know what Trump said to her, but I think anybody that’s been in a violent relationship might recognise the look on her face, and the video has haunted me.  So I wrote a poem about Donald and Melania Trump and abuse and complicity and victim blaming and perspective and identity. I started the poem at the Poetry Business workshop last Saturday, and then finished it off on Monday/Tuesday of last week.  It’s going to be in The Morning Star on Thursday, which I’m really pleased about.  I don’t usually publish poems so quickly, but I felt like I wanted to get it out there.

I’m still waiting to hear back about my RD1 but having it off my hands and out of my control seems to have uncorked my poetry as I’ve written three other drafts of poems this week as well.  These three are much rougher, and might not even be poems to be honest, but I’ve really enjoyed writing them.  I keep feeling guilty that I’m not getting on with any ‘work’ and then remembering that writing poems is work now and doing a little dance.

Thursday was university teaching day – a 2 hour seminar on Wordsworth and Coleridge.  My students are still lovely – I’m still loving the teaching, and feel like I’m learning loads through teaching.  Next week is Victorian poetry, which I’m really looking forward to, as Tennyson is one of my favourite poets.

On Friday I went to the Theatre-By-The-Lake in Keswick to attend the Cumbria Life Cultural Awards.  Kendal Poetry Festival had made the shortlist for Festival of the Year and Brewery Poets had been shortlisted for Artistic Collaboration of the Year.  The festival’s Young Poet in Residence from 2016, Hannah Hodgson, came as well, as well as the poet Jennifer Copley.  I’d been asked to do a five minute reading, so I read a poem in the voice of Furness Abbey, that I wrote for a BBC commission last year, a poem about leaving teaching, and one of my ‘All the Men I Never Married’ poems.  Sadly, neither the Festival nor Brewery Poets won their categories, but we had a nice night out, and it was inspiring to see all the amazing artistic work that is going on in Cumbria.  The highlight for me was seeing Jess Gillam play – she is an amazing young saxophonist who lives in Ulverston, who got through to the finals of the BBC Young Musician of the Year last year I think.  Anyway I saw her play last year and thought she was brilliant – but this year she was really, really good.I didn’t get back home till 1.30am, hence the need for the lie-in on Saturday!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Maria Taylor from her new HappenStance pamphlet  Instructions for Making Me.  I’ve always liked Maria’s work, and have been meaning to get a copy of her new pamphlet for a while, but hadn’t got myself organised, so I was chuffed to be able to get one from her in person at the Poetry Business Writing Day last Saturday.

Maria Taylor lives in Leicestershire.  Her first full collection Melanchrini was published by Nine Arches Press in 2012 and was shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize.  A Greek-Cypriot by birth, she has been Reviews Editor for Under the Radar magazine since 2015 and blogs at Commonplace.

If you haven’t bought any HappenStance pamphlets before, head over to the website now.  Order Maria’s obviously, but take a potshot on a poet you haven’t heard of.  I can promise you, you won’t be disappointed.  I’ve never bought a HappenStance pamphlet and regretted it, and this one was no exception.

The pamphlet is full of surprises – surrealism probably isn’t quite the right word, but the world is definitely portrayed at an angle in these poems.  There were lots of favourites -I liked Poem In Which I Lick Motherhood which is as good as it sounds and The Horse which unpacks that old cliche and annoying bit of advice of ‘getting back on the horse’ after an upset or disappointment.  And Maria is the only poet to my knowledge who has a poem about Daniel Craig and not only does she have a poem about Daniel Craig it is a good poem! There are lots of funny moments in this pamphlet,but as you will see from the poem I’ve chosen, it isn’t all fun.

The Invisible Man is a strange and slightly disturbing poem.  Is it only me who finds the whole concept of an invisible friend really creepy?  The image of the daughter pushing an invisible man ‘on a swing/under the apple tree’ is a little bit disturbing.  Then Maria develops this further – the voice of the poem, admits to knowing the invisible man – to having a relationship of sorts with him.  This relationship is not like any normal relationship though – she says ‘I carried him in my book bag’ and ‘He fooled me at kiss-chase’.  The darkest part of the poem is in stanza 3, nearly the centre of the poem where she says ‘Now he’s back.  He wants my girl.’  The use of the word ‘girl’ and the possessiveness of ‘my’ makes us aware of the vulnerability of the daughter, and also of the power of the invisible man.  The description of him continues to develop the sinister feel of him – his arms could wrap around them ‘like twine’ and his ‘long toes’ skim the leaves – definitely an unsavoury character! The use of the word ‘we’ is interesting as well in the last stanza – it highlights and develops the complicity of the mother in the creation and sustaining of the invisible man, or the story of him.

I hope you enjoy the poem – and if you do enjoy it, you can buy Maria’s pamphlet Instructions for Making Me from the Happenstance website here for the mere sum of £5.  Thanks to Maria for letting me share this poem here.

The Invisible Man – Maria Taylor

My daughter pushes
the invisible man on a swing
under the apple tree.

I’ve known him for years.
I recognise him by the dust motes.
I asked him out.  He stood me up.

I carried him in my book bag.
He fooled me at kiss-chase.
Now he’s back.  He wants my girl.

We think of him as very tall,
so thin and stretchy he could wind
his arms around us like twine.

We sing to him as we push
an empty seat back and forth.
His long toes skim the leaves.

Sunday Poem – Matt Bryden

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This has been a strange week – each day I’ve woken up to stories about more of Trump’s executive orders, and this morning, before I went out for my run, I watched videos of the protests at American airports against his ban on refugees/muslims entering the country with tears in my eyes.  There was one in particular which showed a woman who had finally been released after being detained, and the crowd cheered as she appeared.   There is a protest against Trump tomorrow in Manchester.  I’m going to be in Manchester for the afternoon as I’m booked on a training course to do with my PhD so I’ve decided to go along to the protest.  I’m kind of ashamed to say it will be my first time at a protest but everybody has to start somewhere, and at the minute it feels like my heart breaks a little bit when I read another news story about the attacks on women and refugees and anybody else Trump disagrees with.  The picture of him signing an order about abortion and women’s bodies and funding, surrounded by men, made me feel a bit sick.  Friends have said to me that what Trump says doesn’t affect me here, so why am I getting upset about it?  It sometimes feels like a difficult thing to explain, but it is actually really clear.

Yesterday I turned on the news and there were three white men discussing Trump and the latest developments.  I went to a literary event this week that was high quality and entertaining, but there were three white men again speaking at this event.  When they talked about their literary influences they were all men (apart from one woman who was mentioned as opposed to 8-10 men).  The literary event, the news and Trump are part of a wider continuum that means that women and people of colour are silenced.  Or more accurately, they’re not silenced, they’re not even present to be silenced.  Of course, these are small problems compared to being detained at an airport and not allowed in a country, but they are part of a wider scale, and part of the problem.  The small injustices sow the ground for the bigger and more serious attacks, and they demonstrate at best a lack of thought by the white men who are given platforms to speak.

So in short, I’m going to the protest to do something instead of just complaining about it on here, and to spend some time with my friends who feel the same way.

I also had a conversation with some of my running buddies (men) who were saying that they thought people were making too much fuss about Trump holding Teresa May’s hand.  I went over and grabbed one of their hands while we were walking along and they looked uncomfortable, and I said, now imagine you are in a business meeting – of course it’s creepy and awful and just unprofessional! I don’t know if they agreed with me after my little demonstration.

So apart from Trump, my week has been filled with more running again.   I think I’m pretty much back up to full fitness now, although on Tuesday I had a rehearsal with the soul band and was getting a pain in my stomach when I played in the higher register.  I’m hoping this is just my muscles being a bit weak and the fact that I haven’t played the trumpet for a while.  I’ve decided to do some practice this week – 20 minutes on Wednesday, 30 minutes on Friday and about 40 minutes today.  Wednesday was the worst because it sounded awful.  Today I really enjoyed practising and could hear the improvement already.  However, I don’t have the time to start getting obsessed with the trumpet again, so will have to be careful and limit the time I spend doing it.

Yesterday I went to the Poetry Business Writing Day in Sheffield and really enjoyed myself.  I haven’t been to these workshops for so long that I’d forgotten how inspiring they are.  There must have been at least 30 people sat around writing poem after poem from Ann and Peter’s prompts.  I got to see lots of friends I haven’t seen for ages and I wrote on the train all the way home.  I don’t know if any of it is any good though – I haven’t dared to look yet.

After handing in my RD1 last week I went a bit off the boil with the PhD work and decided to give myself a few days off academic reading.  However, this has given me time to do some writing which I’ve really enjoyed.  I don’t know if any of the poems will be any good, but I’m happy that I’m writing.  And as my friend and colleage at MMU Martin Kratz pointed out when I guiltily confessed to writing poems instead of PhDing ‘writing poems is part of the PhD’.  Doh, of course it is! How exciting is that.  I still can’t get my head around it.

I’ve also been working with one of the Dove Cottage Young Poets Hannah Hodgson, editing some of her poems.  I’ve absolutely loved doing this as Hannah is keen, talented and enthusiastic.  I’ve even made Hannah her own special folder on my pen drive to keep the stuff we’ve been working on together.  There were lots of poets who were kind to me when I was first starting out writing and who encouraged me and gave me advice – if I can do half of what those poets did for me for Hannah then I will be happy.

Today’s Sunday Poem is a bit different to the usual Sunday Poem.  It’s by Matt Bryden.  I think I met Matt for the first time when he came on a writing retreat that I’d organised with some friends – I think he came along with the poet David Borrott.  I’m saying I think because I can only vaguely remember.  The Sunday Poem is taken from a project that Matt has been working on called the Poetry Map.

Now before I continue, I should warn you that clicking on the Poetry Map link may cause you to lose a couple of hours as you poke about on the website.  There is a lot of content there, and it’s a really fascinating site. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  I’ll leave Matt to tell you more about it in his own words below.

About the Poetry Map – Matt Bryden

I first made a prototype of the Poetry Map while at Goldsmiths in 2013. To my amazement, it quickly racked up over 6,000 hits, principally in Canada and China for some reason. This persuaded me that I should develop the idea, but it was not until I was put in touch with web designer Jon Munson II that I could do anything about it. The finished Poetry Map contains 67 poems divided into four themed ‘paths.’ Each poem is located on the map at the place of either its composition or setting. Clicking on a link takes you to the next poem in the sequence.

 

I’ve long been interested in illustrators of poetry such as Reg Lloyd (who worked on Ted Hughes’s What is the Truth?) and why such partnerships are so rarely successful. I think it is because poems need room to breathe. While compiling the map, usual selection criteria did not apply. When I tried to replace one path with a stronger sequence of poems for example, I found that the more fully-realized, perhaps deeper or ‘better’ poems did not work on the screen at all. They seemed flat and not conducive to skipping through to the next poem. So we returned to Plan A. All of the poems have a strong connection to the place they were composed.

 

I’m happy to say that this free online resource has already been used by a university in California and a primary school in Taunton (which worries me a little, as its themes are occasionally quite adult). It was designed as an online experience, and I have been able to add nuances that hard copy cannot always provide – audio recordings, links to hand-written drafts, newspaper clippings and even a transliteration into phonemic script –accessed through clicking on a series of ‘magic tickets.’ However, I did not want to distract too much from the poems, so these are not allowed to dominate. Other features such as the Random option replicate what it is like to flick through a book and settle on a poem indiscriminately. I like the idea that someone might stumble upon this map and find themselves drawn into a rabbit hole, whether they are regular readers of poetry or not.

 

 

 

I’ve chosen a poem as the Sunday Poem from Path Four on the website.  This sequence of poems is called ‘Singles’.  Although the poem I’ve chosen works well on its own, I think reading the other poems on the Path really add to it.

The first couplet is a surprise and delight after the tone set by the word ‘contention’ which made me think that the poem was going to be more formal in its subject matter.  I also agree with the argument of this poem as I have soup every day, so yes, the best kinds of people eat soup.  I love the description of the Argentininan – it is very well drawn – the ‘delicate hands’ and the ‘fine hair’. I like that we don’t know who Lucie is – is she the Argentinian, or another unseen figure? Each one of the poems in this path has close and detailed observation of people and life going on at its heart.  I haven’t read all the poems on all the paths – but I would really recommend putting aside a couple of hours and immersing yourself in the website.

Matt has published two collections. His first pamphlet Night Porter  was published by Templar in 2010 after winning the Templar Pamphlet Competition.  This was followed by a full collection Boxing the Compass, also published by Templar.

His work is widely published in the UK, while his translations of the work of Taiwanese poet Ami have appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation and (in collaboration with Ingrid Fan) The Desire to Sing after Sunset.

Matt Bryden has an MA in Creative and Life Writing from Goldsmiths College.

You can find out more about Matt Bryden from his website here and you can find the Poetry Map here

It’s My Contention – Matt Bryden

for Lucie

that the best kinds
of people eat soup.

Whether at tables
on the South Bank

lifting spoonfuls
from a cardboard cup –

like this slight Argentinian
with delicate hands,

fine hair and a jacket
which attempts

to lend her figure bulk –
or in a pub, asking

the soup of the day, taking
the time to let it cool,

eating at your own pace.

Sunday Poem – Mark Pajak

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Sunday Poem – Mark Pajak

This has been my best week since the gall bladder saga – I’ve managed to run 45 kilometres this week.  My target for the next two weeks at least is to try and get 45 kilometres in each week.  I was talking to my friend about goals, and the importance of having them.   My next goal is to run the Coniston 14 race on March 28th.  I’ve never done it before, but I paid for it before I got ill, and I’m determined to have a good go at it.  I’m not sure what time to aim for, as it is very hilly, and a bit longer than a half-marathon.  I’m also reading at Lancaster Litfest that afternoon at 4pm, so I can’t take any longer than two hours, otherwise I won’t have time to get home, have a shower and cram some food in before setting off to Lancaster again!  I think I’m slightly crazy for attempting this, and I am wondering now whether going home to have a shower is slightly ambitious.  In fact if I have any friends between Coniston and Lancaster who would be willing to let me use their shower on the way, I would be forever grateful, and am sure the audience would be as well as I won’t turn up all sweaty and smelly.

My twin sister is doing the Keswick to Barrow event which takes place on May 6th.  This is a 43 mile walk that is in its 51st year of running.  I was vaguely thinking about doing the walk with her, but I’ve got a soul band gig that night so I’ve decided that it would be a bit ridiculous to try and do both.  However, there is a Coniston to Barrow walk on the same day which is  21 miles, which I think I’m going to have a go at running.  Or maybe run/walking.  This will be the furthest I’ve ran, so I just need to see how the training goes for it over the next few months.

Anyway, enough running talk as one of my esteemed readers, Martin Copley skips over any mention of running as it brings him out in a cold sweat.  This week I’ve also done a bit of poetry stuff as well.  I went to Manchester on the train to the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends reading series on Monday night.  Liz Lochhead was the main guest reader, but as part of the series, students from the MA are invited to read.  My friends Keith Hutson and Hilary Robinson did ten minute sets each and read really well.  There was another student called Ian Walker, who I hadn’t met before who was also very good.  The House Poet who introduces the readers is now two House Poets, John Fennelly and Mark Pajak, and as Keith said when he got up to read, they were a bit like Ant and Dec with their double act.

While I was in Manchester I managed to get a copy of Mark Pajak’s new pamphlet Spitting Distance, and today’s Sunday Poem is the title poem of that pamphlet, but more on that later.  First I have to tell you about the rather exciting headlong gallop through the streets of Manchester.  I sat in the pub for far too long chatting with people and then my friend B and I realised we only had 15 minutes to get to Picadilly and we were a good 25 minute walk away.  We ran all the way from the bar opposite the theatre to the train station which would have been fine, if I hadn’t been carrying a really heavy bag of books just in case I got bored on the train AND wearing stupid boots that are not designed to run in.   I’d also ran 7 miles that morning along the beach so could have done without another couple to be honest.  Anyway we made our train with a minute to spare which was lucky seeing as it was the last one!

Even more exciting than that though is I managed to hand in my RD1! I actually sent it over a day earlier because I couldn’t bear to have it hanging around anymore.  I had to ring the admin guru at the university because I couldn’t find a form that I needed to fill in, and then I had a couple of questions.  I don’t usually like talking on the phone – I have a phobia about it – I come out in a cold sweat! Unless it’s someone I know very well and feel comfortable with and then I’m ok.  Anyway, I usually avoid the phone at all costs, so this may indicate my level of desperation! Anyway D, the university admin guru was brilliant and got me sorted out and now it’s gone, there’s nothing I can do about it which is a great relief. I just have to wait and see if it is passed by the committee now, and I’m not sure how long that will be.

So back to Mark Pajak’s pamphlet Spitting Distance.  I read it in one sitting on the train on the way home, and really enjoyed it.   It was published by Smith/Doorstop in 2016 as part of the ‘Laureate’s Choice’ series.  Mark’s work has been published in The North, Magma and The Rialto and was highly commended in both the Cheltenham and the National Poetry Competitions.  Today’s Sunday Poem is the title poem of his pamphlet, but it is also the poem that won the 2016 Bridport Prize.

It’s easy to see why – the subject of the poem is startling and different.  Perhaps one of the things I most admire in Mark’s work is his ability with simile and metaphor.  He is able to do that rare thing of finding the exact metaphor or simile that is both true to the thing being compared, but also completely surprising.  In Spitting Distance, you can see this in the first couplet, when he writes that the rifle shell he finds is ‘like a gold seed in the earth.’  There is something completely surprising about this, and yet completely correct.  It’s surprising because it is an object that causes death, and it is being compared to something that life springs from.  It also sounds as if the earth has produced the bullet – it is ‘in the earth.’  Later on the bullet is described as a ‘blunt bud’.  A path is described as ‘falling like a braid’ – and I know exactly what he means, although I’ve never walked on that path.

On one hand, the poem is set in a very real landscape.  Mam Tor is named.  We are told about the ‘warped floor of Derbyshire’ and a wonderful description of a chimney which ‘hangs from the sky/on a white string.’  Yet there is also something strange about this poem.  Surreal isn’t quite the right word, but things are slightly odd.  The speaker in the poem has a strange way of thinking about things, and we know this right from the second couplet when he says ‘So I load it into my mouth/and go on walking.’  Again, that word ‘load’ pre-empts the later line ‘So this is what it’s like to be a gun’.  A lesser poet might have just said ‘So I put it into my mouth’ or ‘place it in my mouth’ or ‘pop it in my mouth’ but load fits with loading a gun.

There are no motives offered for the strange behaviour and later on it gets stranger still, when the speaker lies down in the heather to be ‘A body with a bullet/in its head staring at this sky.’  Of course the speaker is pretending to be a dead body with a bullet in its head, but the speaker also is a body with a bullet in its head.   Of course, Mark Pajak isn’t the first poet to imagine life as a gun.  Emily Dickinson’s famous poem ‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun’ starts

‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun
In Corners – till a Day
The Owner passed – identified –
And Carried Me away

In Emily Dickinson’s poem, the gun is carried away by the ‘owner’ and put to use.  The gun is both passive and active.  It is active only in another’s hands.  In Mark’s poem, the bullet is the thing that instigates change – first it changes the body of the speaker into a gun, and then it changes it back into a body, but a dead one.

There is ‘the red dot of a car’ which made me think of looking through the sights of a gun to aim and shoot.  The poem is a masterclass in ensuring that all the language and imagery contained within it is working together and pulling its own weight.  Definitely one of the poems I’ve read and wished I’d written it myself!

If you’d like to order Spitting Distance you can do so by going to the Smith/Doorstop website.  I hope you enjoy the poem.

 

Spitting Distance – Mark Pajak

Near Edale, I find a live rifle shell
like a gold seed in the earth.
+++++++++++++++++++++++
So I load it into my mouth
and go on walking, the sun
+++
breathing down my neck,
the head of Mam Tor rising
++++
and the path falling like a braid.
So this is what it’s like to be a gun;
+++
copper bleeding on the gums,
the domino click in the teeth.
+++
At the blue summit, I look down
with my new perspective
+++
on the warped floor of Derbyshire,
to where a village pools in a valley
+++
and a chimney hands from the sky
on a white string.  And I watch
+++
with hunger the red dot of a car
stop at a crossroads.  I suck hard
++++
on the blunt bud, drawing out
its deeper flavour of powder,
____
smoke down the barrel
of my throat.  Then it hits me
____
that there’s another side to this.
And I lay in the warm heather.
++++
A body with a bullet
in its head staring at this sky.
++++
Its clouds blown open.
Its sudden night.

Sunday Poem – John Foggin

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Sunday Poem  – John Foggin

It’s the TS Eliot prize readings tonight, so maybe I’ll be writing this to nobody as lots of poets will be at the Royal Festival Hall as we speak, listening to the ten shortlisted poets.  I went a couple of years ago, the year Sharon Olds won, and Jacob Polly was shortlisted.  It was a great night, and I’d love to go again, another year, when I have more money and more time.

I haven’t read all of the shortlisted books yet either, which is very unusual for me, so I haven’t even got an informed opinion about who I think should win.  So maybe it is strange to even mention it, except that it was on my mind as I sat down at my desk, alone and looking out into the dark, that out there, elsewhere, hundreds of people are gathering to hear and talk about poetry, and I am both part of it, and not part of it at all.

Last Tuesday I had a meeting about my PhD and then I sent my draft RD1 proposal to one of my supervisors, with feedback promised by the end of the week. I know I’ve complained on here before, but this term has been a bit of a nightmare.  I haven’t been able to send a draft of my RD1 before this, because I spent about eight weeks in and out of hospital, or recovering from an operation.  I finished most of my RD1 over Christmas, whilst most normal people were drinking and eating chocolate, but that was the first time I felt physically able to get really stuck into it.  But I couldn’t send the RD1 to my supervisors then, as I didn’t think it was fair to be sending stuff whilst they were on holiday.

Luckily I’ve had some lovely poet-friends who offered to have a look over it for me, and that has been really, really helpful.  However, once I sent the RD1 on Tuesday, I’ve spent the whole week having nightmares about it being awful.  I had an actual nightmare where I got an email from my supervisor which said

‘I understand now why you took so long to send the RD1 through.  Your sentence construction is not good enough for a PhD so we’ve swapped you onto an Access course.’

I woke up with actual night sweats from that one! Anyway, I got the feedback on Friday, and my RD1 isn’t terrible, and the feedback was very constructive, and I haven’t been thrown off the course.  It still needs some work, but I think that is to be expected,  and I think I can get it all done before my deadline, which is Thursday.

Apart from my anxiety levels going through the roof, lots of lovely stuff has happened this week as well.  I’ve been getting back into running, and have been three times this week – all of the runs were over 10k.  I’m training to run the Coniston 14 race in March, so I’m trying to get my fitness up, without going over the top and getting injured, so it’s a bit of a balancing act.

I’ve also been writing poetry this week! A couple of weeks ago I went to sit with my twin sister while she went and got a tattoo at Samsara Tattoo in Kendal.  Here is a picture of it!  She was there for six hours getting this done.

15541609_1279314905425298_8201604401307089933_nThere were some other people there getting really interesting tattoos done as well.  I won’t tell you about them as it’s in the poem, but my sister’s tattoo, which is in the style of a watercolour, got me thinking about tattoos.  I have three, and they are the only things I’ve ever done in my life where I didn’t car what other people thought.  I didn’t know I’d feel like this about them, but it was so liberating, especially as I spent a lot of time worrying about what people think of me.  I also like the idea that a tattoo turns the body into a piece of art and I think tattoos made me feel an ownership of my body which I hadn’t really felt before.  Anyway, I’ve hopefully put all this into the poem in a much better way than I have here.  I’ve also booked to get my next tattoo – not till March though.

I’ve read a really interesting article this week as part of my RD1 work, recommended by my supervisor about Medusa and the female gaze.  The article quotes John Berger from his book who says ‘Men do not simply look, their gaze carries with it the power of action and of possession’.  It made me think about my poems I’ve been writing, all called ‘All The Men I Never Married’.  Writing poems about ex-boyfriends and experiences of sexism, is kind of like turning the men involved into stone.  Or maybe not into stone, but freezing them in time.  They can’t defend themselves, or excuse themselves, or apologise.  They can’t laugh about it with me or give their version of events. Or maybe they can, but the version of them that I have pinned to the page can’t.  I’m slightly uncomfortable with turning into a poetic Medusa, and maybe it’s no coincidence that I’ve written a poem about being tattooed, where the subjects are also pinned in place, unable to move.  Although in my tattoo poem, the artists are able to move and create art from nothing.  And although the body can’t move, it does have a voice.  Argh! At the minute, it feels like I have these thoughts going round in my head, and not quite enough time to peel the layers away and actually think about them, so instead you’re getting disjointed and vague musings.

Back to more practical matters – the first Barrow Poetry Workshop yesterday.  I’ve got the dates booked in for the rest of 2017 now – check the ‘Readings and Workshops’ page for more details.  11 poets turned up on Saturday from all over the place – Alston, Preston, Lancaster, Kendal, Ulverston and Barrow. Running poetry workshops is one of my favourite parts of being a poet – it feels nothing like work, the people are lovely, and I get paid for it.

Next week I’m going to Manchester on Monday to the Royal Exchange to see the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends reading series – my friends Keith Hutson and Hilary Robinson are reading alongside Liz Lochhead.  I always wanted to go to these readings, but could never go before because my Monday nights were always tied up with conducting my junior brass band – now I haven’t got that commitment I’m determined to go to them.  I’ve also got to hand my RD1 in of course.  By the time I write this blog next week that stress will hopefully be over!

Residential news – St Ives poetry course in February is now sold out, but there are places left still for the Grange-Over-Sands Residential in April.  I don’t think Grange Over Sands has quite the pull of St Ives as a location – just the name St Ives has lovely connotations.  It’s a shame though because the Grange Over Sands location is just as lovely, but in a different way.  The course actually takes place in a small village called Kents Bank, which is a couple of miles out from Grange.  There is a lovely walk along the promenade to Grange that people often do in the afternoons, and although I wouldn’t advise walking out on the mudflats, the views of Morecambe Bay are really stunning. There are only non-ensuite rooms left for Grange, which means they are a bit cheaper – only £396 for a Monday to Friday course – a bargain!

So today’s Sunday Poem is by John Foggin.  I’ve just counted up and this is his fourth appearance on this blog – I think he has the record for the most appearances on here! He will keep winning competitions and publishing books and pamphlets though, and then they keep being excellent, which is why he keeps popping up.

John’s first full-length collection Much Possessed was published by Smith/Doorstop in 2016, and to be honest, I got confused and thought I’d already posted a poem from it as the Sunday Poem.  Then I checked and realised I hadn’t – I’d done that thing of thinking about something at great length and then not actually doing it.  It’s a fantastic collection, with a wide variety of subject matter, and there were loads of poems I could have chosen as my favourite.  There’s ‘For the true naming of the world’ which is a beautiful poem which I think underneath is about writing, or at least being present in the world which starts ‘you need one who will recognise a fish/that has swallowed a star/that fell through the vaults of the air’.  Or ‘Wren’ which starts ‘God thought of the smallest coin/he could make, and made the Wren/to fit, neat as a thumb in a thimble’ which reminds me of my utter conviction that ducklings look like pound coins, even though I know they don’t really.  Or ‘Goldcrest’ – this bird is described as a ‘soft plump brooch’.  Or ‘Colouring in’ which has the best ending to a poem I’ve read ‘On days like this warm day/the sky is a cat’s ear/and is listening me.’

However, the poem that I am going to post up in full is called ‘A Weak Force.’  I don’t remember where I first heard John read ( a workshop? a tutorial?) but I remember it made me cry.  This is a difficult poem to write about because it is a difficult subject.  tIt explores suicide, and the impact of suicide on those left behind. However, it is also a beautiful poem and as well as being about falling and leaving and death, it is also about love, and the nature of love. There is an urgency mixed with acceptance mixed with anger in this poem, which makes it utterly compelling. So I will do my best to explore why it’s always been one of my favourite poems of John’s.  I know it’s an important poem for him too, so I hope I do it justice.

The first thing to say is that the first line is a jolt.  It is a bold statement and claim to start with, but then the rest of the poem backs this statement up – opening it up and exploring it.  There is no self-pity here – right from this first stanza, it is the loss of the ‘lives never lived by your children’ which is mourned, not the loss of the speaker in the poem who is left behind.  The third line of the poem with the use of the word ‘stopped’ is an interesting distancing technique – we associate clocks with stopping, not people, but I think this is needed to keep emotion in control, because of the next lines, which tell us what happened, about a fall ‘from the top of a tower block.’  The content of this poem is incredibly moving, but the control and technique that is shown support it – the line break after stopped makes the empty space that follows it echo into the next line.

There are lots of different changes in tone in this poem as well.  The first two stanzas sound very sure of themselves, as if they are setting out thoughts and ideas that have been gone over again and again.  I think the tone changes in the fourth stanza which starts ‘In the no time’.  From here, we’re not quite in the real world.  We’re in the world of falling, in a kind of in-between world with the ‘you’ who ‘learned the art of not falling’.  The viewpoint of the poem widens out, and the reader is also ‘falling and not falling’ as the speaker describes Leeds spread out underneath and we read that the ‘motorway tail lights trailed ribbons of red’.

In the next stanza, there is again, a change of tone.  With the repetition of the word ‘Because’ there is something almost childlike introduced here into the speaker’s voice, and we see the ‘you’ as a child, a child who ‘always shut your eyes/you closed them tight as cockleshells’.  I’m trying to work out why this section of the poem moves me, and I think it’s because the person comes to life.  The focus shifts from their death to their life, to the person they were.  Of course the line ‘I remember how you laughed when I swore/I would catch you’ is a bitter-sweet memory, because, of course, the ‘you’ cannot be caught.

My favourite image in the poem is the final one – the idea of the ‘you’ who ‘sank like the sun.’  Even when we can’t see the sun, it hasn’t disappeared, it is still there. That last list in the final stanza ‘over the canal/the river the sour moors the cottongrass/the mills of the plain’ brings home the idea that everything is a reminder.

The poem is right of course – you can’t imagine that loss, unless you’ve experienced it.  But it is possible to be moved by it.

For those of you who don’t know John already, he writes a great blog called the great fogginzo’s cobweb.  He has been a teacher, lecturer and LEA English/Drama Adviser.  He lives in West Yorkshire where he jointly organises Puzzle Poets Live in Calderdale.  His work has appeared in The North, The New Writer, Prole and The Interpreter’s House, amongst others.

His poems have won first prizes in competitions including The Plough (2013, 2014) and The McLellan (2015).  He has published four pamphlets: Running out of space, Backtracks, Larach (with Ward Wood Publishing 2014), Outlaws and fallen Angels (Calder Valley Press 2016).  His latest success is winning the Sentinel Pamphlet Competition with a co-authored pamphlet, written with an ex-student, Andrew Blackford.  This will be published sometime in 2017, and you can read more about it on John’s blog here.

If you’d like to order John’s collection, you can buy Much Possessed directly from his publisher’s website, Smith/Doorstop.

A Weak Force – John Foggin

there’s sometimes a loss you can’t imagine;
the lives never lived by your children, or
by the one who simply stopped
in the time it takes
to fall to the ground
from the top of a tower block.

They say gravity is a weak force.
I say the moon will tug a trillion tons
of salt sea from its shore.
I say a mountain range will pull a snowmelt
puddle out of shape.
I say gravity can draw a boy
through a window
and into the air.

There is loss no one can imagine.

In the no time between
falling and not falling
you learned the art of not falling;

beneath you burned
the lights of Sheepscar, Harehills,
Briggate, Vicar Lane;
lights shone in the glass arcades,
on the tiles, on the gantries of tall cranes;
motorway tail lights trailed ribbons of red,
and you were far beyond falling.

Because you shut your eyes
because you always shut your eyes
you closed them tight as cockleshells
because when you did that the world

would go away the world
would not see you.

I remember how you ran like a dream.
I remember how you laughed when I swore
I would catch you.

Then you flared you went out
you flared like a moth and you blew
away over the lights over the canal
the river the sour moors the cottongrass
the mills of the plain
and over the sea and over the sea
and the bright west
and you sank like the sun.

 

Sunday Poem – Catherine Ayres

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Sunday Poem – Catherine Ayres

A late-night instalment of the blog as I’ve spent the whole day walking round the Kentmere Horseshoe in the mist and rain with two friends and the husband.  I decided last weekend, after an enjoyable hiking session up Seatallan with blue skies and views for miles that I wanted to do all of the Wainwright walks.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, when I was sat in the pub, eating a burger and chips and quaffing lager (followed by tea of course).   The husband took my vaguely expressed wish very seriously, and suggested the route today which would include eight Wainwright hills.

I often seem to be writing this blog in physical discomfort – it seems to be a habit I’ve gotten in to on Sundays.  My feet are killing and my legs are aching, and climbing up the stairs is a slow and arduous process tonight! The walk today was about 25 kilometres, with 4000 feet of ascent.  We actually did nine Wainwright peaks, as the husband decided he would just ‘take in’ another one.  I should add he only told us about this decision when we were halfway up the extra hill and it was too late to turn back.  It was a lovely walk though, despite there being no views at all as there was so much mist and fog.

I’ve spent the whole of this week cracking on with my marking for my university teaching.  Having avoided doing any marking for the best part of 13 years, I feel like I’m paying my dues now.  I’m not sure if it is just because it is something new, but I’ve actually really enjoyed marking the essays.  To be fair, I only had about 35 to do, and maybe if I’d had many more it would have felt a bit more like hard work.

When I’ve not been marking, I’ve been working on the blasted RD1 form.  I sent it to a few friends who gave me some good feedback on it, and yesterday I sat down and read through their suggestions.  I’ve been regularly getting overwhelmed with the RD1 and yesterday was no exception.  However, once I’d worked out that I needed to just slow down, calm down, and work through each suggestion one at a time, I think I made progress – enough progress in fact that I could justify spending today out on the fells.

Pauline Yarwood and I had our final marathon session last Tuesday to finish off our Arts Council bid for Kendal Poetry Festival.  We managed to get it sent off and now we are waiting with slightly frayed nerves to hear if we will get the funding we need.  We did get some amazing news today though – Kendal Poetry Festival is a finalist in the Cumbria Life Cultural Awards for ‘Festival of the Year’.  The award ceremony and the results will be announced February 3rd at The Theatre By The Lake in Keswick.  I’m really pleased that the festival has been selected as a finalist – I don’t know what the likelihood of winning is, but it will be a nice night out anyway.

I’ve also been working on preparations for the residential courses I’m running in the next couple of months.  The February residential with David Tait as my co-tutor down in St Ives is now sold out, but there are still places available on the April Residential in Grange-Over-Sands.  The original price for the week was £448, but as there are now only non en-suite rooms left, this has been reduced down to £396.  There are only three double rooms left, a few twins and a few singles, so if you’d like to come and want a double room, I would urge you to book as soon as possible.  You can ring the hotel on 015395 32896 and pay a small deposit to secure your room, so you don’t have to worry about paying the whole amount now.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Catherine Ayres and comes from her first collection Amazon, published by Indigo Dreams Publishing.  Catherine sent me her first collection a few months ago and it has been sitting on my ever-growing pile of books to read.  I sat down with it at the beginning of this week and read it cover to cover.  I found the whole collection very moving.  The book explores the experience of surviving breast cancer – but it is much more than this.  She writes movingly about the body, and what is left when the body is altered.  She writes about relationships and loneliness and emptiness – but this isn’t to say that the book is depressing because it isn’t.  There are moments of sadness and grief, but there is a lightness of touch to many of the poems in the collection.

One of my favourites was ‘How to get rid of elephants’ which unpacks and explores the cliche of ‘an elephant in the room’ as something not said.  This is a poem that is both heavy with sadness, yet light because of its emotional honesty and clear-eyed way of looking at things.  The elephant in the room, the things that are unsaid turn out to be

‘You Will Never See Me Naked Again
I Want To Disappear
We Still Haven’t Talked About What Happened’

There is something frightening in the directness of stating these things, and yet incredibly liberating.

The poem I’ve chosen to talk about is ‘Silence’.  It’s hard to pick out poems from this collection because although they stand on their own, I also think the poems gain momentum from being read one after the other.  However, it was this poem that made me stop reading for a minute and take a breath.

The first line is very shocking.  When I read this the first time, and this is a bit of a weird leap I know, but it reminded me of working in a men’s prison, and one of the men telling me that when I shook his hand it was the first time he’d been touched by another human being in weeks.  I know this has nothing to do with the poem in content, but that sadness about touch, or that yearning towards it is maybe what made it come into my mind.

The third stanza with the scar as a cage is beautifully expressed.  It gives both the image of the scar as the bars on a cage, but also the scar as a cage, as something that is trapping the spirit of a person inside.

The use of the question in the fourth stanza is very moving.  Here the scar has moved from a cage to a closed mouth.  Again, I find that image so striking.  If the scar is a closed mouth, then the woman must speak through the scar.  Even if she manages to speak, it will be muted.

As so often in this collection, there is some light in the poem towards the end.  The woman in the poem ‘unpicks in silence’ and the image of the rain coming at the end is a welcome noise in this poem which has been full of silence, not just the speaker, but also the lover in stanza 2 who ‘said nothing’.

There is also something very interesting going on with this poem in its shift in tone towards the end.  It starts in the first person with ‘my breast’ and ‘My lover’ until that question, which is for me the pivot and the emotional centre of the poem.  How is this achieved, when it is at this point that the poem shifts perspective? I think it is precisely because that ‘I’ voice, that first person speaker is lost in this stanza, she is silenced.  In Stanza 3 she is in the cage, and in Stanza 4, the authorial voice, or a voice from outside has taken over to tell the story.

If you would like to order Amazon you can do so from Indigo Dreams Publishing.  Catherine Ayres is a teacher who lives and works in Northumberland. In 2015 she came third in the Hippocrates Poetry Competition and in 2016 she won the Elbow Room Poetry Prize with ‘Silence’. Her debut collection, ‘Amazon’, was published by Indigo Dreams Publishing in December 2016.

Here is her wonderful poem ‘Silence’ – hope you enjoy it.

Silence – Catherine Ayres

The last man to touch my breast held a knife.

My lover said nothing;
his eyes told me to wear a vest

Sometimes I spread my hand over the scar
to feel its cage

How does a woman speak
with a closed mouth on her chest?

She unpicks in silence

until the rain comes
like burst stitches on the glass

Sunday Poem – Becky Cherriman

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Sunday Poem – Becky Cherriman

I’m writing today’s blog post from my twin sister’s house in Egremont.  I might have mentioned before that she is the Manager of Animal Concern.  The house is surrounded by green fields, although it’s not as peaceful as it sounds, with her three and my two terriers running round the house, and the barking of the rescue dogs in the distance.

I had a fairly quiet Christmas this year – Chris and I went down to my parents in Leicester.  We tried to get out and do a walk every day at least and I saw my two older sisters and some of my nieces and nephews. I loved spending time with my mum and dad without having to rush off anywhere. I even managed to meet up with the poet Roy Marshall for a quick drink and a bit of poetry gossip.

I’ve been working really hard on my RD1 form which has involved lots of reading of various feminist literary theories.  I’ve been reading Toril Moi’s ‘Sexual/Textual Politics’ which is really interesting, and readable and explains a lot of the main theories in a relatively clear and concise way.  I managed over Christmas to ‘finish’ all of the sections of the form.  I’ve sent it to a few friends who kindly said they would have a look through it for me, so while I’m waiting for them to get back to me, I’ve been cracking on with my marking for my university teaching. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but this is the first time in 13 years of teaching that I’ve actually had to do any written marking.  One of the advantages of being an instrumental teacher compared to a classroom teacher! So I’ve actually found myself quite enjoying it.  Then again, I’m not even half way through yet, so it will be interesting to see how I feel about it once the novelty has worn off!

I realised a while ago that I am terrified of showing anybody my RD1 which is a bit of a problem! I would much rather show people a bunch of poems and let them get the hatchet out.  It has made me realise how much poetry is a mask I can hide behind – whereas writing my ideas down on a form feels much more personal.  I’ve obviously got to get over this, and I think sending it out to my kindly friends is definitely a start.  One of them has already got back to me with some really useful feedback.  I guess I have to train myself to think of my ideas in the same way as I think of poems – i.e open to criticism, feedback and change.  And a PhD, after all, shouldn’t be easy.

On Friday we drove over to Hebden Bridge for Clare Shaw’s birthday.  Clare is one of my favourite poets and people, and it was even more exciting as Clare’s partner had decided to organise a surprise party for Clare.  I wish I’d had my camera to hand to take a photograph of Clare’s completely surprised face as she walked in the door, but alas, I’m not that forward thinking.  We stayed over and then went for a quick cup of tea with another poet, Keith Hutson who has an adorable but rather sharp toothed puppy called Eric, who with the speed and sneakiness of some kind of blonde assassin, managed to chew through my bootlace without me noticing until I stood up and my boot nearly fell off my foot!

We drove back on Saturday to Cumbria and got back mid-afternoon.  I was determined to go for a run – I’m completely focused now on getting my fitness back but had nobody to go running with, and I hate going on my own! Nevertheless, I dragged myself out for just over 5 kilometres, and although it was fairly difficult going – I felt knackered and sluggish, I’m really glad I did it.  I’ve resigned myself at the minute to every run feeling difficult and I think I just have to get on with it.

So today’s Sunday Poem is by Becky Cherriman, who has been waiting patiently for quite a while now! The poem comes from Becky’s first collection Empires of Clay which was published by Cinnamon Press in 2016. Becky is a writer, workshop leader and performer based in Leeds.  She has had poems published in lots of magazines, including Mslexia, New Walk, Envoi, Well Versed and in Poets for Corbyn.  She was resident poet for Morley Literature Festival in 2013 and lead artist for Altofts Festival In A Day 2016.  Becky is a co-writer and performer of Haunt, a site-specific theatre commission for Imove, a project about homelessness.  She is currently working on her one woman show, Corseted.  Her first poetry pamphlet Echolocation was published by Mother’s Milk Books.

Although at first glance, this poem seems like a simple love poem – we know that the speaker is addressing another person from the very first line, and we assume they are lovers because of these first two lines in particular ‘You reeled me in on your tongue/till heaven stirred in my lap’.  However, the image of the speaker of the poem with her ‘arms around your neck like a child’ draws attention to the power dynamic in the relationship.  In the first line this is hinted at with the speaker being ‘reeled’ in.

The first stanza is talking about the past but by Stanza 2 we are in the present and another hint that all is not secure.  We learn that there have been false starts, and some of the things that the speaker and the addressee did together. The sunset and the picnic are fairly ordinary images to sum up a romantic relationship – more unusual is the ‘shoulder ride’ in line 3 of the second stanza – again, this feels almost childlike, and interesting as later on in Stanza 4, the speaker says ‘Let’s not ruin it/with the things we did not do:’ and one of the things is ‘the ditch you did not carry me over’. So the ‘you’ figure did carry the speaker around a living room, but not over a ditch.

There is something really interesting going on under the surface of this poem about growing up and maturity and responsibility.  Through most of the poem, it feels like the speaker wants to be the childlike one, or at least the one that is looked after by the other.  But then at the end of the poem, the speaker calls the you ‘My bloody Peter Pan’ – Peter Pan is the boy who never grew up.

The other interesting thing about this poem is although it is spoken in the present tense, and there is no conclusion.  We don’t know if the relationship is ruined, but it feels like it will be,maybe because of that last word ‘please’ which finishes the poem which gives it an air of hopelessness.  But even before this, the listing of things that shouldn’t ruin things, the naming of them, hints that they have already ruined it.

If you would like to find out more about Becky, you can go to her website www.beckycherriman.com.  If you’d like to order her book, you can get it from Cinnamon Press and support an excellent independent publisher.

Happy New Year to you all and good wishes for 2017.

Ditch – Becky Cherriman

You reeled me in on your tongue
till heaven stirred in my lap
and there I saw the sea and you –
a fisherman, your back to the storm,
my arms around your neck like a child.

Let’s not ruin this with any more false starts.
We have the sunset over Fewston,
that shoulder ride around my living room,
we have the twilight picnic in Canal Gardens,
Gorecki and all his lovely sorrow.

Come on, we have our meander
to the house poetry built where we kissed
in thoughts of Lady Lazarus and her sticky pearls.
We have lovemaking
D.H. Lawrence would have approved of.

Let’s not ruin it
with the things we did not do:
that Christmas in St Petersburg,
the ditch you did not carry me over,
the stockings I would not wear.

My bloody Peter Pan,
my almost fisherman –
please.