Goodbye 2016!

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2016spreadsheet

The traditional end of year post.  This New Years Eve I’m going to a house party.  The dress code is pyjamas apparently which I don’t know whether to be pleased or disappointed with, as I seem to have spent most of the last three months in my pyjamas.  Or else my running gear.  Pyjamas are the PhD student dress code.  Or at least they are mine anyway.  I love the fact that I’ve not had to get dressed all day – sounds frivolous, but it really is a 2016 highlight for me.

In the image above you can see my 2016.  I don’t often mention Brexit, or Trump very often on here.  It’s not because I don’t care, it’s just that I think it deserves more thought than just dropping it into a blog post.  So there is no indication of world events on my colour chart.  But this was my life last year.

The squares that are coloured in blue are all trumpet gigs.  So there are Soul Survivor gigs on there – but I also got back into playing for a few shows again – this year I did White Christmas, Annie and The Wizard of Oz.  I don’t know how many more shows I’ll get asked to do – it’s very rare that I have a full week clear, so I often have to turn them down, but I absolutely love playing in them, so I hope I get some more!

The red squares are poetry workshops or residentials.  I’ve absolutely loved running workshops and courses this year.  I co-tutored on a schools course in February with Clare Shaw and then a week’s residential with Steve Ely in St Ives a couple of weeks later.  I ran a second Poetry Carousel with Clare Shaw, Tsead Bruinja and Billy Letford in August in Grange Over Sands. I’ve carried on running my Dove Cottage Young Poets group and my monthly Barrow Poetry Workshop throughout 2016, and managed to fit in tutoring on a Poetry School course in Manchester as well.  In September, I started teaching at Manchester Metropolitan University, which I absolutely love. It’s probably my favourite type of teaching that I’ve done – I can’t believe it’s took me this long to do it. I was offered some teaching at the university last year, but I didn’t have the confidence to do it – although at the time I convinced myself I wouldn’t have time to fit it in – so that has been a lesson learnt this year – I definitely need to believe in myself a little more.

The green squares are readings.  This year, I was chosen to be part of the Read Regional scheme so I had 10 (or possibly 11) readings in libraries all over the north.  I also read at Swindon Poetry Festival, Winchester Poetry Festival, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Bradford Literature Festival.  I went over to Holland to read at a festival in Groningen and got to spend time with Jan Glas, one of my favourite people to spend time with.  I read on BBC6 with Cerys Matthews and at a late night poetry and music event at the Proms.  One of the things I felt most proud of this year was being invited to be a guest poet at a course at Ty Newydd.  I’ve been on many, many residentials at Ty Newydd and they meant so much to me when I was first starting out.  I remember sitting in the library mid-week listening to the guest poet, and never dreaming that one day I would be the guest poet!

Probably my highlight of the year though was setting up the first Kendal Poetry Festival with my friend Pauline Yarwood.  We didn’t think we’d get funding, or that the festival would sell out.  The weekend of the festival was wonderful – and although I expected to be knackered, I didn’t expect to be left wanting to do it all again!  The second festival will, subject to funding, be taking place from the 16th-18th June 2017.

I also of course, left my music teaching and my brass band conducting behind which was a massive life change and started a PhD.  I’ve just had a look at my end of year blog from last year, and there is no mention of wanting to start a PhD.  I have wanted to do one for ages though, but it was (again) one of those things that I thought was out of my reach.  I feel very lucky that I’ve been given full funding, and so far, I’m really enjoying it, which is lucky as I’ll be doing it for the next three years.

It hasn’t all been great though – the last couple of months have been difficult.  I’m hardly ever ill, so having my gall bladder out was not only a physical shock, but mentally it has been very hard, being forced to stop, and in the longer term to slow down.  Really I was only out of action for a couple of months and it felt like the end of the world!  I know I’m incredibly lucky to have my health back again, to be able to go to hospital and to be fixed up, to have had compassionate care from the NHS staff – and to have my wonderful friends, who really rallied round to cheer me up when I needed it.  I have so much respect for my friends and students who are struggling with more long-term health issues.

The things that aren’t marked on that chart are my two days of brass teaching I was doing a week until July and the three brass band rehearsals I was conducting. No, I don’t know how I fitted it in either.  And the running isn’t marked in of course.  I have loved running this year – it has been a bit bitter sweet, because I got as fit as I have ever been before suddenly having to drag myself to hospital, and having my hopes of breaking my personal record for a half marathon dashed, but there are worse things that happen after all.  At the minute, I’m doing 5-7k runs and every run feels like such hard work – I’m trying to get my fitness back, and there is no such thing as an easy run at the minute.  Having said that, I feel very happy that I can actually go and do it, even if I am puffing along very slowly.

I don’t really get New Year’s Eve – I don’t feel euphoria at midnight like lots of other people seem to.  I never know what I want to be doing at midnight – if I could do anything in the world, I would probably still be undecided as the old year slipped away. I would like to have more time for my friends and family in 2017.  I’d like more time for poetry and more time for running and more time for PhD and more time for gallivanting about.  Just more time in general would be nice.

Tomorrow is the Sunday Poem and tomorrow’s poet has been very patiently waiting for her turn so I am determined to write the blog, despite plans for park run and travelling to my sisters.  But for now, I will leave you with my one seasonal poem – a New Years Eve poem from a few years ago in Hebden Bridge.

I hope you all have a fantastic 2017.

New Year’s Eve – Kim Moore

This one started the same as the others,
the waiting for midnight, talking to strangers
as what’s left of the year drags itself off

and we stand on the bridge as fireworks
burst silent at midnight, the tipping point
when you could fall between years

and no one would notice, but afterwards
it wasn’t the same, because we danced to
‘Not Alone Anymore’ by the Travelling Wilburys

and I believed him, Roy Orbison, I mean,
I remember sitting at my grandmother’s feet
with his voice on repeat,

and this time was different because David
was in love, as if love hadn’t happened before,
as if he’d been months at sea and just returned

and this was the last thing they had to do this year.
They’ve not learnt to be disappointed in one another
as the year that they met skulks from the room

and the new one comes in with its arms full of love,
the dogs smelling of rain and the woods
where we walked the last dusk of the year

and who else would know the words to Alanis
but David, who fell asleep sitting up, swaying
like a paper boat on slow moving water.

 

 

Sunday Poem – Helen Mort

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helenI’ve not been to one school christmas concert this year.  I’ve not played one christmas carol, or conducted a christmas carol.  This is my first end-of-term where I am not a music teacher.  It obviously feels very different – this year, my end-of-term has come to an undramatic end, quietly fizzing out on its own.  Last week at university, only a few students showed up for their last class of the year – and it was a very quiet, relaxed session.  The end-of-term I’m used to consists of last-minute rehearsals for performances and crisis management as instruments fall apart, children don’t turn up or they turn up but forget their instruments.  End of term as a music teacher felt like life speeding up to twice the speed it normally goes while everybody else was slowing down and watching Disney to pass the afternoons.
This year has obviously been different.  When I look back at the madness that used to be my end of term, I do feel a wave of nostalgia, maybe even longing, but only for a moment or two, thank goodness.

This week I’ve been working a lot on my RD1 form – although I have nothing to show for it, as it has mainly consisted of reading.  I’ve been reading ‘Feminism and Poetry’ by Jan Montefiore.  There is a really interesting but quite complicated section on Imaginary Identity and the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan.  Jan Montefiore writes ‘in traditional love poems in which a masculine poet idealises a figure (generally though not invariably that of a woman’ into a mirroring muse who reflects back to him his own ideal image.  This is a narcissistic form of representation, which denies true identity to its object in ways closely responding to those analysed by the French psychoanalyist Luce Irigaray as characteristic of masculine discourse in general’.

I’m currently writing a series of poems which I’ve called ‘All the Men I Never Married’.  Every poem has a man that I’ve encountered in some way – some are ex-boyfriends, some are friends, some are strangers.  I keep thinking about this idea of a woman being used to reflect back an image, and wondering how this translates in the poetry that I’m writing.  If I am looking back at my life or memory, or looking out at the world through the prism of men, is this a feminist thing to do? Is that what I’m doing? I don’t think I’m using men as a mirror to reflect back my own ‘ideal image.’  But maybe I’m using them as a microscope, or a telescope, or maybe even a map, to find my way around the self.  Maybe that is as bad as using them as a mirror! If I wrote a poem with a man as a mirror, what would it look like? Maybe I should try.  Except I need to get on with the RD1 form, so I will have to put this line of thought on hold for a moment, but I think I can insert Lacan and Montefiore and Irigaray into my RD1, which might be the theory that I need to hold the whole precarious thing upright.

This week has been very varied – there is a wonderful, tiny hall down the road from me – the Ormsgill and Hawcoat Memorial Hall, which is owned by the ‘village’ of Hawcoat.  I’ve always wondered what it was like inside, and my husband has managed to track down the key holder, and I went to see it this week.  I’ve decided to hire it for my 2017 Barrow Poetry Workshops.  It has its own kitchen and I can walk to it from my house, which is very convenient.

I also went to see Pauline Yarwood this week and we spent a long time working on the Arts Council grant to put on another Kendal Poetry Festival in 2017.  I’m sure filling in the Arts Council application form is like giving birth.  I can’t remember it being this painful last year, but it must have been.  Did the birth of the festival erase all the memory of drudgery and despair from my mind? It must have done.

After I finished teaching at university this week, I drove to Todmorden to take part in the last ever Kava.  This is a series of readings and lectures run by the ever-energetic and enthusiastic Anthony Costello.  The format of the evening is a lecture by a poet on anything to do with poetry and then a poetry reading by another poet.  I read at Kava a while ago and had such a bad cough and cold that my friend Keith Hutson had to jump up and speak for me.  I was relieved that I was in better shape this time round.

The scary (and wonderful) thing about giving the lecture at Kava is that Anthony prints it out in a little booklet.  This means that the lecture requires much more careful thought than if you were merely reading it out without any written evidence.

 

I really enjoyed the event – it was lovely to see so many people who I count as friends.  I think this particular area of Yorkshire is brimming over with poetry talent.  I’d also like to thank Anthony if he is reading this – he has done a brilliant job putting these events on – I know how hard it is to organise events, and what a thankless task it is sometimes.

Having said I really enjoyed the event, it also gave me a lot to think about and puzzle over.  After telling the audience I was going to talk about my PhD topic, which is writing poetry about everyday sexism, I hadn’t got to the bottom of the page before a man interrupted to tell me that he didn’t think sexism or racism existed.  Anthony handled this really well, and asked the man to wait for questions at the end – so I continued onwards. When he raised his hand to make this point again, I responded by saying that I thought it was important to have names for things that happen that the act of naming is really important.

One thing I noticed in the break was that lots of men came up to tell me their own experiences of sexism.   At the time it just felt like a series of fairly normal conversations.  The next morning I woke up feeling – a bit stunned is probably the best description.  I felt annoyed by the ‘sexism doesn’t exist’ man, but at least I knew why with that.  There was also something funny about being interrupted by a man, when I’d been asked to give a lecture.  Annoying, but yes, I can see the funny, slightly ridiculous side as well.

But I also felt unsettled by the amount of men who had come to tell me about their experiences of sexism – and this was harder to reconcile, and is harder to reconcile because some of the men who told me about their experiences of sexism are my friends, and I love them dearly.  Why did I wake up feeling unsettled?  I’m still not completely clear, but I think it has something to do with how we listen to others.

If a woman talks about oppression that happens on an everyday and continual basis, and the first thing you say in response to this is that sexism doesn’t exist, that is a blatant attempt to silence, to sabotage.  If a woman talks about oppression that happens on an everyday and continual basis, and the first thing you say in response to this is to recount your own singular experience of sexism, which happened about forty years ago, that is not silencing, or sabotaging.  But it isn’t listening either.  Maybe it is more like muting.

Having said that, I genuinely believe the men who talked to me about their experiences of sexism were trying to reach out, to connect, to empathise or sympathise.  Maybe there is no perfect reaction when we are talking about oppression and discrimination.  But imagine how strange it would be if a person who was black or ethnic minority talked about their experiences of racism, and then I went up to them to tell them about my own random and singular experience of racism as a white person.

In fact, even as I write this, I realise I’ve done a version of this!  My friend was telling me about homophobia that he experienced, and I told him about going into a gay club with a friend, and hearing the bouncer refer to me disparagingly as a ‘breeder’.  Now, why did I do that?  My intention was good – I think I wanted to tell him I understood discrimination on the grounds of your sexual preference.  But here’s the thing as I see it now, thinking back. I didn’t understand discrimination on the grounds of sexual preference, because it was something I have experienced only once, in that moment.  It was something I could walk away from.  It happened when I was about 18 – I’ve remembered it all these years so it obviously had an impact – I remember thinking how unfair it was, and how shocked I was by it.  But I couldn’t claim to experience it in the same way that my friend had experienced it for most of his life.

Thinking about this gives me a little bit more of an insight into the motivations of the men who came up to tell me their own stories.  And it’s taken me to the age of 36, and writing this blog, to puzzle out why I shouldn’t have slapped my story of discrimination on the grounds of sexual preference right on top of my friend’s story about the many forms of homophobia he had experienced.  It was so long ago, I can’t even remember which friend it was now, which is a shame, because I’d like to apologise.

Anyway, I hope that all of this doesn’t sound like I didn’t enjoy Kava because I did.  I really enjoyed it, and the chance to see lots of my friends that I haven’t seen for a while.  The whole night, as you’ve just read has made me question my own assumptions and prejudices and thinking.  It’s made me realise that the PhD is going to be challenging and exciting and difficult and frightening.  Which is probably a good heads up at this point.

I started the lecture at Kava by saying my thoughts on the whole subject are still very new, and evolving.  As part of the lecture, I included one of Helen Mort’s poems ‘Difficult Women’.  I heard Helen read this poem at the 2016 Kendal Poetry Festival, and I loved it then.  I included it in the lecture as an example of the problematic way that women are talked about.

I love the way that the poem mixes up the factual language about other things and inserts the word ‘woman’ in there like the line ‘If a difficult woman hits you at 30 miles per hour/you have a 50 percent chance of survival.’   I’m guessing the word ‘woman’ should really be the word ‘car’.  And later on, in stanza 2 ‘In London it’s said that you’re never more than 6 feet/from a difficult woman.’  I think that is usually said about rats.  I’ve already told Helen that I think she should have some ‘I am a difficult woman’ t-shirts made.  I’d definitely wear one.

The sad thing about this poem of course, is that the women in it are not really being difficult at all.  The voice of the poem makes out they are being difficult – ‘crowding’ the bus stop, ‘refusing to budge’ or worse ‘driving cars’.  But the reality that the voice tries to create is only a version of reality.  In truth – the Difficult Women in the poem are just living.  They are waiting for the bus stop, they are walking, running, cycling or driving cars.  They are pictured in newspapers, or serving coffee.  They are moving into your road – pretty normal things really.

Maybe the poem is also commenting on the difficulty of defining women – the women portrayed in the poem are very different versions of what it means to be a woman.

The end of the poem is also very unsettling.  Who is the poem addressing, and who is the voice of the poem? Is it an ironic, cool voice of a woman addressing women – the last line leads me to think so.  Although the last line doesn’t say ‘Are you afraid you may be a difficult woman yourself?’ It says ‘Are you afraid you may be difficult yourself?’.  Does this imply that men can also be difficult, that being difficult is a state to aspire to? I’m left with that feeling- that it would be a compliment to be difficult.  Or the speaker of the poem could be a man, the type of man who wrote the article on AskMen.com in the first place.

Most of you will already know Helen’s work, I’m sure, but just in case you don’t, the poem comes from her latest collection No Map Could Show Them published by Chatto in 2016.   Helen was born in Sheffield and her first collection Division Street was shortlisted for the Costa Prize and the T.S. Eliot Prize.  In 2014 she won the Fenton Aldeburgh Prize.  She writes an interesting and thought-provoking blog called Freefall.  She also has her own website where you can find more information about Helen.

I think this is a fantastic poem – it has layers and layers that I’m sure I’ve only begun to unpick.  It has haunted me since I first heard Helen read it, so I’m really pleased that she has allowed me to feature it on the blog this week, and to let me use it in the lecture at Kava.

Difficult Women by Helen Mort
“God knows there are difficult women out there. Women who are – at times – shallow, bitchy, selfish, dishonest and, of course, crazy.” – AskMen: Why Men Date Difficult Women

Difficult women don’t care what time it is, they’re
crowding the bus stop with their difficult bodies,
refusing to budge for the light, or in the parks,
dragging their difficulty behind them like a fat dog.
Some of them are running, cycling, or worse,
driving cars. If a difficult woman hits you at 30 miles per hour
you have a 50 percent chance of survival. At home
difficult women are more like walls than windows
but if you lean on one, you fall straight through
and sometimes at night they show your face.

Difficult women don’t know they’re born.
Difficult women don’t know the meaning of the word.
There could be one folded into your newspaper,
holding her breasts like oranges. There might be
one carrying your coffee, or moving to your road.
In London, it’s said you’re never more than 6 feet
from a difficult woman. Have you or a colleague
had a difficult woman in the last 6 months?
If so, you may be entitled to compensation.
Do you have difficulty with our questions?
Are you afraid you may be difficult yourself?

 

 

 

Sunday Poem – John Mills

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Sunday Poem – John Mills

Another week with no medical disaster, trauma or mishap so I think I am out of the woods.  Before my operation, I would work until at least midnight, writing or catching up with admin.  Since the hospital though, I’ve been going to bed at the latest by 10pm and getting up at about 8am.  I’m used to functioning on 6-7 hours sleep a night, so it feels very strange to be needing 10 hours sleep, just to get by on the minimal activities I’m doing at the minute.  I’m trying to accept it as part of the healing process.  I keep telling myself my body is still getting back to normal, readjusting after the shock of being cut open, poked,prodded and stitched back together again, and the rational part of my mind knows and understands this.  But the non-rational part of my mind is having a panic attack about all of the stuff that I’m not getting done on time.  People have been very understanding so far though, so I know I need to chill out a little bit.

Next Thursday 15th December I’m giving a lecture at the final Kava Poetry series.  I read for Kava earlier on this year with a terrible cold – in fact I didn’t read very much because I started coughing terribly, and in the end my friend Keith had to do the reading for me.  Kava is unique because as well as having a poet who reads their own work, there is also another invited poet who is asked to give a lecture on a topic of their choosing.  The series is run by Anthony Costello, and next week is the final one, which is sad, but I’m also looking forward to being there at the final Kava and seeing Anthony get some appreciation and recognition from the regular audience members.

This was one of my deadlines that went whizzing past – Anthony prints the guest poet’s lecture in a small pamphlet, and understandably asked for the lecture to be sent to him by the week before.  I was a day late – eventually sending it on Friday afternoon.  Anthony was very understanding but I did feel bad, as it can’t be easy organising an event, and printing a booklet out each time as well!

As most of you will know, the only thing I’ve had in my head for the past three months is my PhD, and feminism and poetry, so I decided to write my lecture around this.  I actually really enjoyed writing it and I’m looking forward to Thursday – not feeling too nervous at the minute.

This week I’ve also had a committee meeting for A Poem and a Pint and I have a list of poets to invite to Cumbria in 2017.  This is one of my outstanding jobs that I didn’t manage to get on with this week.  I also managed to make it to Manchester on Tuesday to meet two fellow PhD students, both at differing stages of the PhD.  It was both reassuring and inspiring to hear their thoughts and advice.  Rachel Davies writes a blog about her experience of the PhD – in fact, reading her blog was one of the main reasons why I decided to apply – it helped me to realise that doing a PhD could be for ‘people like me’ as well.  If you are thinking of doing a PhD, I would recommend reading Rachel’s blog – it’s really fascinating.  Rachel Mann, the other student that I met, is coming towards the end of her PhD.  Rachel is pretty amazing at being able to pull academic theories out of the air to illustrate a point – my ambition is to be able to talk like that about my PhD in three years time!

Seeing other people do things first is very important for me.  When I look back at all the big decisions I’ve made, they’ve always been foreshadowed by someone close to me making the leap first.  David Tait winning the 2011 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition made me determined to have a go the next year.  My friend J left her job with the music service to take up a new position elsewhere, and my sister left her job with the music service to go and be the manager at Animal Concern in Egremont.  Seeing them both go and do something they believed in gave me the confidence to go part time as a teacher the year after.  Rachel Davies doing a PhD – I read her blog for a year and finally worked up the courage to have a go.  I’m not sure if this is creepy, or just well thought out! Maybe my next ambition should be to do something without anyone doing it first – to inspire myself to make a leap into new territory.  Or maybe this is the way that everybody moves on, and if I asked all of those people, a chain of other people that they have learnt from and been inspired by would unfold, further and further back into time.

This week I’ve also managed to get along to two poetry groups – Barrow Writers and Brewery Poets, and I even had two different poems to take along to be critiqued.  I’m supposed to be concentrating on the RD1 and not worrying too much about writing poetry this term, but I can’t seem to stop.  It’s because I’m reading a lot – even reading academic books seems to make me write.  I’m not complaining though!

Last Wednesday I ran what is probably going to be a bi-monthly event at Natterjacks, a late night cafe in Ulverston.  It was a wonderful event – I think we had 19 on the open mic, but everybody was well behaved and didn’t read for too long, so we managed to finish at a reasonable hour.  In the second half, it’s time for ‘Hunger Games Open Mic’ which if you haven’t experienced it before, it is my invention to get over the natural humbleness and deference of some poets.  Basically, who ever gets up and gets to the front first reads a poem and then sits down and somebody else charges up.  It’s great fun – and we have even evolved a system of ‘runners’ for those who don’t feel able to leap up and fight their way through to the front.

My other meeting this week was with Pauline Yarwood to hash out the finer details about Kendal Poetry Festival.  I’m getting so excited about the festival already – last year I think I just felt stressed about the amount of work – this year, I know what the reward will be for the stress, which more than makes up for the hours spent applying for funding and carrying out admin.  We’re meeting next week to start our Arts Council bid so wish us luck!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by John Mills, who I met at Swindon Poetry Festival a few months ago.  John came to one of my workshops, then read a poem on the Open Mic that made me cry.  I’ve just finished reading his pamphlet Scarred which I’ve really enjoyed.  He writes about a wide range of subjects – running, depression, illness, war, family and the poems cycle through a range of emotions.  Some of them made me smile or laugh out loud, and some were very poignant.

John was born in Stoke in 1952 and spent his working life teaching English and playing sport and music.  He is very modest, and didn’t say much more than that about himself, but he has some lovely quotes on the back of his pamphlet – Helen Mort says his poetry is ‘Compassionate, bold and generous’ and Roger Elkin says that his poetry is ‘what all good poetry should aspire to!’ So there you go!

I’ve chosen ‘Anno Domini’ to feature from John’s pamphlet.  This is the last poem in the pamphlet.  I had to google Anno Domini of course, having no Latin at all.  Google tells me it means ‘advancing age’.  This poem is clearly written by someone who loves language and playing around with words.  I really like the ‘shilly shallying’ on the second line! I think it’s the first time I’ve read a poem with those words in.  I like that this poem seems to be about finding out what you really want to do – instead of what you think you ought to, or what is easiest – a subject close to my own heart!

The poem has a lovely, passing reference to the poem ‘Warning‘ by Jenny Joseph, with it’s famous first line ‘When I am old I shall wear purple’, in the second stanza with its ‘Let’s see./I have worn a purple shirt’ lines.  Although this poem isn’t about quite the same thing – the speaker in ‘Warning’ wants to do what she wants, to be outrageous, to not care what people think.  The speaker of this poem is tired of the middle road, of neither ‘being one thing or the other.’

The character of the speaker is wonderfully captured in these lines – I love how his thinking gradually unfolds.  It was this stanza which made me laugh out loud – it was the line ‘having been a boy’ that did it.  There is also something poignant and uncomfortable though about having to wait for advancing age until you can do what you want – although the poem is funny, there is an undercurrent of uneasiness for me when I read it.  It forces the reader to take a look at their own life, and their own desires, but it does this without preaching or hectoring – it has a very light touch.

I also really love the punchline at the end – the spending of the ‘inheritance’, which with one deft touch brings in the extra characters of the children, and again made me laugh with the surprise of it.

If you would like to order John’s pamphlet, you can find him on Facebook – send him a message, and he will post a signed copy out for the princely copy of £4 which is a bargain – the pamphlet really is a good read.

Thanks to John for letting me use his poem this week!

 

Anno Domini – John Mills

I am through with this
ambivalent shilly shallying,
this messy abrogation of responsibility
and settlement, for what I neither like
nor hate.
No more of this
piggy in the middle,
jolly sailing through life without
being one thing or the other.

It is time to step out!
To be my own man!
Let’s see.
I have worn a purple shirt
and having been a boy,
I am a very competent spitter.
So far so good.

I can do better than this.
I shall refuse to be the milch cow.
I’ll move away and see
the views I want to see.
Shatter the shackles of responsibility,
shun the pills given to combat
the bones and marrows of outrageous mis-fortune
and ease the cork out of a potion of my own
as I work my way through their inheritance.

Sunday Poem – Sarah Littlefeather Demick

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Sunday Poem – Sarah Littlefeather Demick

I’m tentatively starting this blog post by saying I’m feeling a lot better this week.  It’s been two weeks and 5 days since my emergency operation, but I’ve been gradually getting back to normal for most of this week.

I’m the first person to admit I’m not the best at taking it easy but I’ve been left with little choice after my recent adventures.  The strangest thing has been limiting myself to doing one, or at the most, two activities a day so I don’t get too tired.  Normally, I just charge about from one thing to the other, but this level of normality is not possible yet.

Monday was supposed to be a day of working on the RD1 form, but I got distracted by a poem.  It’s been sitting in my folder for a while now in first draft form, but it suddenly felt ready to be worked on.  I had loads of fun with it – it is a bit of a rant poem but it does fit with the theme of my PhD so I suppose I was kind of on task.

The poet Tony Walsh posted that he was running a poetry workshop in Barrow at a primary school a week or so ago, so I messaged him and offered him somewhere to stay for the night.  It was lovely to see Tony again – last time I saw him would have been in 2012 when we worked together on a 12 week poetry project in a men’s prison, so it was nice to catch up again and hear what Tony had been up to.

On Tuesday I spent most of the day doing a bit of PhD reading.  My lovely friend John Foggin sent me a brilliant book called ‘Man Made Language’ by Dale Spender.  It was published in the 80’s but it is kind of blowing my mind.  The first couple of pages talk about insults when directed towards men and women – that the word ‘tramp’ about a man might make you think of someone who is scruffy or dirty, possibly homeless, but the word ‘tramp’ about a woman could mean all of these things, plus negative sexual connotations.  The word ‘bachelor’ – we don’t have an equivalent word for it in English to describe a woman – the closest would be spinster, but again that has negative connotations in the way that bachelor doesn’t.

I am curious about why these observations are not more widely known – as they have been around since the 70’s/80’s.  I can accept that I am quite naive about feminist research.  I’ve only just read Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics for example, so I know I’m playing catch up all the time.

I talked to a few of my friends from my running club about it (men), and my mum (not a very representative sample I know – but you have to start somewhere) and they all said they’d not thought about it before.  I suppose it’s the problem of disseminating research into the wider society and how you go about doing this, and then what do you do with this knowledge?

I’m three quarters of the way through Man Made Language now, and really enjoying it.  On Wednesday I went to Manchester to meet the subject librarian at MMU and she showed me some techniques for more advanced searching around my subject.  I’m in a bit of a mini- panic this week about the PhD.  I reckon I’ve had nearly three weeks off with being in and out of hospital and then recovering from the operation, so I feel like I’ve got to get a move on.

On Thursday I went to Manchester again to do my teaching.  It was nice to see my students again after missing the last two sessions.  On Friday morning I decided to try a little jog down the Furness Abbey path with a few of my friends.  It was very slow – in fact it took us about 40 minutes to run what would normally have taken me about 18, but I didn’t want to jolt my insides up and down too much.  I didn’t have any pain when I was running and woke up the next day without any, so I’m pleased with that, but still a bit nervous about doing anything more strenuous.

I had my Dove Cottage Young Poets session on Friday afternoon – four of the new poets from last week came back (out of eight) and one completely new poet who hadn’t been before, plus Hannah Hodgson, who has been coming for a year to the sessions.  This week’s session was a lot easier – the young poets seemed more confident this time and read out a lot more.  They also wrote some fantastic stuff during the session.  I’m getting excited already about working with them towards their performances at Kendal Poetry Festival next year.

On Saturday it was the end of year Barrow Poetry Workshop session.  I’ve been running these sessions for a year and a half now, and decided it would be great to make the December workshop more exciting by inviting someone else to take the session instead of me, so Peter and Ann Sansom from The Poetry Business came down.

I’ve been really looking forward to being in a workshop instead of running it for ages now, but I don’t think I was quite with it yesterday.  My whole face on the right side was tingling in a disturbing fashion and I found it really hard to concentrate.  It was a great workshop though, and I enjoyed hearing everybody else’s contributions.  I also took my poem which I’d been working on and got some feedback on it in the afternoon session which I think will definitely make it stronger.

I think the tingling face was just a symptom of being over tired as I woke up this morning and it was fine – another reminder to take it easy!

Two pieces of good news this week as well – this blog was included for the third year in a row on Rogue Strands ‘The Best Poetry Blogs of 2016’.  Matthew Stewart at Rogue Strands had this to say about my blog:

Kim Moore’s Sunday Poem feature is a bit like Marks and Spencer’s Dine in for Two deal: imitated by countless competitors but never matched. What’s more, its timing is perfect: a lovely read at the dog-end of the weekend.

Josephine Corcoran also included my blog on her roundup of her favourite poetry blogs as well – you can read her post here – so lots of new blogs to look up over the holidays if you’re a bit bored!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Sarah Littlefeather Demick who is a wonderful poet who lives in Ulverston, not far from me.  Sarah is a fantastic singer as well and performs wtih her husband Rod as a folk duo called The Demix.  She has a completely unforgettable voice and often makes me cry when I hear her sing.  She started writing relatively recently, in the last couple of years but I think her poetry is completely unique – very lyrical but often unsettling, as you will see from the Sunday Poem.

Sarah is an Ojibwa Indian.  She was born in Toronto, Canada and raised by adoptive parents in London, England.  She travels around the country working as a respite carer, mainly for people with dementia.  Sarah has recently published a pamphlet called Another Creature.  The production of this pamphlet is really beautiful – you can see a photo of it here.  I think Sarah has actually sold out of the pamphlets already and it was only published a few months ago, but if you’d like one, you could comment below and it might persuade her to print some more!

I’ve decided to use the title poem of the pamphlet for this week’s poem.  It’s the first one in the pamphlet as well and I think it is a brilliant poem to put at the front of a pamphlet because it introduces a lot of the themes which occur later in the book – the importance of animals, self-discovery, power and memory.

This poem also has a slightly surreal feel, or as if things are slightly off kilter.  I think Sarah establishes this straight away with the use of ‘I recall’ instead of ‘I remember’.  I think the word recall distances the speaker a little – it makes the memory a little more formal and less personal somehow maybe.  Yet this contrasts with the content of the poem – and makes the first sentence of the poem ‘I recall being given away as a child’ very shocking.

The recollections in the poem feel very spontaneous – almost like stream of consciousness memories because of the lack of punctuation.  I really like that effect – it felt like each memory or image unfolded seamlessly after the next one.

Some of my favourite lines are ‘how I came to live with goslings when I was another creature’ and ‘I recall how most of my life was an untamed forest’.  I think they are beautiful lines, and have a ring of authenticity and truth about them, and yet, they are strange and slightly surreal at the same time.  The line ‘I found a person who was my mother’ is heartbreaking – again, there is that distancing effect, but there is also something interesting in the assertion of the mother being a person, a person in her own right.

I hope you enjoy this week’s poem.

Another creature – Sarah Demick

I recall being given away as a child and how I came to live with
goslings when I was another creature

when I had walked for nearly a dozen years I recall riding on the back
of a motorcycle from outside our house I recall being free and feeling
the heat of a summer evening on my skin as I was taken into the
night

and roundabout that time I recall a hospital ward with the heads of
dying men silently queuing for their final journey and my father was
there with them

and two years later I recall being in my room and being in there with
amplified solitude and when I was asked why I was crying I recall
being unable to answer but tearing out my hair with grief and with
rage

I recall how most of my life was an untamed forest where I was
hunted and brought down by men whose temptation was tempered
only by lust and no one told me there was another way

and I recall how any other way eluded me for a very long time but
when I found it my shadow became an eagle

and when I was thirty-five I found a person who was my mother but
she didn’t know me and was only glad I’d been raised up good and
wasn’t fat

I recall thinking that being raised up good was not so easy

Sunday Poem – Laura Potts

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Sunday Poem – Laura Potts

It’s been a whole two weeks since I last posted – so apologies to anybody who was waiting for the Sunday Poem.  I didn’t feel up to writing anything last weekend so decided to give it a miss.

I had another gall bladder attack the day after writing my last blog.  I went to rehearsal on Monday with the soul band but didn’t feel quite right.  I sat down for the whole rehearsal and was getting a few sharp pains, which then got worse, so I ended up back down at A & E at midnight with my husband.

It was a different pain to last time – it kind of came and went.  When it was here, it was bloody awful.  Then after about ten minutes it went.  I was so tired and just wanted to go to sleep.  I kept saying to my husband ‘I think it’s gone now, maybe we should just go home’.  Then it would come back again and I would be trying not to scream.  Luckily my husband refused to let me go back home.

We were waiting for four hours in A & E this time.  It was absolutely manic when we got there – not just adults waiting to be seen, but quite a few children and people being brought in by the police.

I thought my last time in hospital was pretty awful but this time the pain was much worse.  I eventually went up to Ward 4 again at about 5.30am.  I don’t remember much about that, except it seemed like the bay, as I was wheeled in was very shadowy.  I was really upset because I couldn’t stop being sick – in fact the poor people in the same bay as me had to put up with me being sick while their breakfast was being dished up.

There were four women in my bay and they were all really friendly and kind to me as soon as I got there.  The other women were a lot older than me, but I had some lovely conversations with them, and even had a good laugh with them on occasion as well.  One of the women had dementia, but most of the time, she wasn’t aware that she had it, and was in good spirits.  She always came out with some brilliant lines – she said to a doctor ‘Ooh, haven’t you got a big bottom?’ and to a nurse:’What are you going to do about your boobs?’  ‘What do you mean?’ said the nurse.  ‘Well, one’s up and one’s down.’

I put my earphones in at this point because I was laughing so much I was crying, and at this point, I’d had my operation as well, which made it immensely painful to laugh.

One night a woman was bought in who had obvious mental health problems, and she was getting up in the middle of the night and creeping around the ward, which was very frightening.  I lay until about 2.30am with my buzzer in my hand in case she came near me.  She ran out of our bay and ripped a fire extinguisher off the wall and tried to attack the nurses with it, then she ran back in shouting that we were all dead, as in she thought we were all dead bodies!

Eventually she had to be removed by security.  Even throughout all of this, the hospital staff were brilliant.  They protected everybody else, but they were kind but firm with the woman, even after she’d attacked them.  I think it was pretty normal for them to have to deal with stuff like this.

One of the other women on the ward passed out, but at the time, a nurse who was with her didn’t know what had happened and pulled the alarm chord.  Within seconds there were maybe ten or fifteen doctors and nurses with her – I don’t know where they all came from.  I think they suspected that she’d died because the ECG machine was set up – I think it’s an ECG machine.  They pulled the curtains around our beds but you can still hear the ‘Stand clear’ of the machine.  I sat there and sobbed and felt – I don’t know how to explain it – selfish for crying, when I didn’t really know her.  It felt like I didn’t have a right to be upset.  But when I’d been down having my operation, this woman who I will call M, had kept asking when I was coming back, and whether there had been any news, because the op took twice as long as it should have.  I honestly thought death was in the room, and the sight of the nurses rushing towards it, rather than freezing, or crying like I was, I will never forget it.

I had my operation on Tuesday morning.  I didn’t expect it to take me so long to recover.  I’ve never been in a situation where my body won’t do what I want it to do.  I was in agony getting out of bed – even now, I have to do a sideways roll to get up without any pain.  It has just been the most bizarre experience ever. This sounds cheesy as well, but I do feel changed by the whole thing.  Not by the operation, which is just one of those things that you have to get on with, but by witnessing acts of kindness and compassion, basically non-stop for four days.

My parents came up to see me in hospital and stayed until last Saturday night.  I’ve basically been resting since then and trying to take it very easy, but by Friday, I felt well enough to see my friend perform in the show ‘Made in Dagenham’ at Form 28, which I really enjoyed. It was a bit embarrassing moving around at the speed of a snail, but I hoped people would just think I was terribly hungover.  On Saturday, I went to see my friend Keith Hutson perform at A Poem and a Pint.  For the first week after the operation I worked out I could manage one thing a day i.e going to see a show in the evening, and then my body would basically shut down and refuse to do anything else.

I do feel a bit sad about having to cancel things again – I had a Soul Survivors gig two days after my operation. One of my students stepped in and covered for me. I had to miss Keith’s Manchester launch, and miss my teaching at university for two weeks in a row.  I had to cancel my reading at Maryport Literature Festival last Sunday.  I’m really hoping now that it is all over and I can get back to my normal life.

I’m feeling a lot better now – pretty much back to normal – except it still hurts if I have to pick things up from the floor so I’m trying not to do that at the minute.  And I’m still getting tired a lot easier than I usually do, which has been very difficult to get used to.

I did my first bit of work since the whole thing happened last Friday – just a two hour workshop with Dove Cottage Young Poets.  Eight new young poets turned up which I’m really happy about, as all of the group apart from two have gone off to university now.  I was shattered when I’d finished though, but they seemed to enjoy it, so fingers crossed they come back to the next session.

Yesterday I did a bit more work – Peter and Ann Sansom have asked me to put together a selection of poems from the original Dove Cottage Young Poets to publish in The North, after hearing the young poets performing at Kendal Poetry Festival.  So each of the seven who sent poems will have two poems each in the magazine which I think comes out in January.  I finished off editing the poems and writing a short prose piece to go with them yesterday, a little bit late for my original deadline, but luckily in time for the issue.

I’ve also had some good news today – Gerry Cambridge has accepted two poems for The Dark Horse magazine.  I subscribed to the magazine last year, and kind of fell in love with it.  Gerry Cambridge wrote an editorial which included some thoughts on the prize-giving culture, and then there was an essay by Kathryn Gray on this subject, which was really interesting.  I’ve not been in the magazine before, so I’m really pleased about this one.

This week’s Sunday Poem is by a poet called Laura Potts.  I only heard about Laura’s poetry through my friend John Foggin.  Laura sent me some really interesting poems to consider for the blog and I’m very happy to be posting ‘Sweet Autumn’ this week.

Laura Potts is a Yorkshire-based poet and is currently an English Literature student at The University of York. She has twice been named a London Foyle Young Poet of the Year and Young Writer, and in 2014 became a Lieder Poet at the University of Leeds. In her spare time she is editor of creativity at The Yorker, promoting spoken word and emerging writers around the UK. Laura has just returned from studying at The University of Cape Town, South Africa, and from working at The Dylan Thomas Birthplace, Swansea.

One of the things I really liked about Laura’s work was the way she uses sentences.  The first sentence seems as if it starts mid-thought, but then the next three, are very definite statements.  She pins the image down to one line, and then moves onto the next line, allowing the reader to bring something of their own to the poem.

I also like some of the verbs that Laura uses.  It reminded me of a lecture I had when I was at MMU doing an MA.  Carol-Ann Duffy said that ‘verbs are the engine of the poem.’  Well, look at stanza 2 – Laura could have used ‘washed’ in the third line, but ‘Rain argued away the grass-stained/fingerprints’ is so much more interesting than ‘Rain washed away the grass-stained/fingerprints’.

At the start of the poem, I wasn’t sure whether the ‘you’ that is addressed has actually been seen at the bus stop.  As I read onwards, I became convinced that the poem is a recollection of a childhood, or teenage love, that the ‘you’ is only seen ‘at the curb of my sleep’.  In fact the poem says that the speaker only meets the ‘you’ in sleep, when the ‘you’ is as they used to be.

It is a fantastic poem, full of little twists and turns that keep it interesting. There is obviously tenderness for the ‘you’ still – the use of ‘Darling’ and ‘Sweetheart’. The ending was very surprising as well – and gives the addressed ‘you’ a kind of seediness, that the rest of the poem doesn’t hint at.

Thanks to Laura for allowing me to post her poem, and for being patient with the various delays before this has been posted.

Sweet Autumn

And years later, you at the bus stop.
Yesterday’s leaves in your hair.
The seat where we laughed.
Our words in the air.

Sweetheart.  The years threaded up
our names scratched on the grass.
Rain argued away the grass-stained
fingerprints, the love turned over

on clumsy tongues, the moonbows,
the flimsy suns.  My skin soft-tossed
in sheets, hard-kissed.  The taste
of your words. The clench of my fist

in the deafening dawn.  Oh day,
when the pavement rolled beneath
our feet.  Bubblegum from the shop.
My Monet mouth, your Friday chips –

Stop.  Darling, how we used to crease
at the waist. Pink and white laughter
poured from our lips.  And when I meet
you at the curb of my sleep it is when

we were here, my heart in your hands,
your hands on my dress. They said you
spilt your filth down telephone wires.
Cheap love. Sex.  I wouldn’t know.

I walked away.  Like this.  Yes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Poem – Alison Brackenbury

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Sunday Poem – Alison Brackenbury

I’m happy to say I’m in a bit better shape than I was last Sunday when I wrote.  I’ve not had any recurring gall bladder attacks.  I’ve managed to stick to this wretched diet now for 11 days, although I did have a mishap two nights ago.  I was googling ‘healthy biscuits’ and read that Rich Tea biscuits are the healthiest.  So I cracked open the packet and ate six in one go..  When I saw my running buddy the next day, he helpfully pointed out that they are only healthy in relation to other biscuits, they still have loads of fat in.  So I was a bit annoyed at myself for this, and spent the night worrying that I was going to end up in hospital and I would have to confess I’d scoffed loads of biscuits.  Anyway, it hasn’t happened so far, so I think I will be ok.

It is strange and kind of exhausting having to worry about what I’m eating all the time.  I feel like I’m thinking about food every minute of the day at the minute, as if I’m hungry all the time.  I have now got an appointment at the hospital for the 24th November to see the consultant, so I will know more then hopefully about when the operation is going to be.

I haven’t ran all week, which has been awful.  I actually feel less mentally stable when I can’t run.  This week, I’ve burst into tears at absolutely nothing about five times, which has been a bit embarrassing.

I’ve been working quite hard on PhD stuff – trying to get my head around this RD1 form that has to be handed in mid-december, probably just about the time I will be recovering from this operation!  I’m really struggling with the RD1, with knowing what I want to do, with articulating what I want to do, with making it into a research project – all of it.

For the first time this week, I wondered what I was doing, starting a PhD, as in what have I let myself in for, and why did I have the cheek to think I could do a PhD? I feel like I’m just playing at doing a PhD, and soon someone will find me out and I’ll be in trouble.  I guess this is what they call imposter syndrome.  The logical and rational part of my brain is telling myself that this is just a wobble, that it is happening because I’m feeling vulnerable because I’ve been to hospital, because I’ve got to have an operation etc etc.  But the other part of me is basically having a silent panic attack about it all.

So apart from this existential crisis about food, life and the PhD, it has been a pretty quiet week! I’ve been taking it easy, getting some work done but no physical exercise.  I did my day of teaching at the uni on Thursday.  I even spent a whole day where I just edited some poems, which I really enjoyed doing.

I regularly ring the hotels that I run the residentials at for a bit of a chat and a gossip with the staff.  I rang Treloyhan Manor Hotel last night to see how numbers were going for St Ives.  There are still 3 rooms left, and there is an option to have a non en-suite room (so with a shared bathroom) for £365.  I think that is a bargain! Included in that price is breakfast, three-course meals and workshops and readings all week.  An en-suite room is £420 for the week.  The course is running from the 20th-25th February 2017.  If you’d like to grab one of those last few places, you can book by ringing the hotel on 01736 796240.  Or if you’d like more information about the theme for the week, you can have a look here.  If you’d like more information about the hotel, you can have a look at the Treloyhan Manor website.  The hotel is about a ten minute walk away from St Ives, and is perched on a cliff next to the sea.

In April, I’m running another residential course with Jennifer Copley as the co-tutor at Abbot Hall Hotel in Kents Bank (near Grange Over Sands).  This hotel is in a beautiful location as well, on the edge of Morecombe Bay, and there is a lovely walk along the prom to Grange, which people often do in the afternoon.  There is also a swimming pool at the hotel, which is good, as I wouldn’t advise swimming in Morecombe Bay because of the quicksand! The April course runs from the 10th-14th April and costs £448 for the week.

One thing I am looking forward to this week is a trip to Manchester to go to my friend Keith Hutson’s book launch.  He’s reading with Helen Mort, Carole Bromley and Mark Pajak, so that will be a great night! The reading is taking place at Waterstones on Deansgate.  More information here

This week’s Sunday Poem is by Alison Brackenbury – a great poet whose ninth collection Skies has just been published by Carcanet.  I managed to get hold of a copy of Alison’s book when I was down at Swindon Poetry Festival recently and I’ve really enjoyed it.  The poetry in the book is beautifully crafted and many of the poems, if not most, have intricate rhyme schemes which both draw out meaning, and hold the poems together.

alisonbrackenbury

The poem explores the unexpected arrival of a letter from an ‘old lover’ (quoted from the back of the collection).  It’s unexpected, but I wouldn’t say, unwelcome.  Let’s be honest here, there are some ex-partners you really don’t want to get a letter from after thirty years, but this poem is a tender exploration of the past, full of acceptance, not bitterness.

Alison’s poems, all the way through the book are full of strong images.  She has a number of short, four-line poems, which are really imagistic, and kudos to Carcanet for giving them a full page and the space they deserve.  There is even a two-line poem in the collection, which I can’t resist quoting to show you what I mean, about her talent with this imagistic writing.  It’s called ‘November Began’

And the fieldfares blew
over the hedgetops, like grey leaves.

Isn’t that beautiful?

I think it takes confidence to pull something like that off. And in the poem I’ve chosen as the Sunday Poem ‘January 7th’ there are images that stay in your mind as well, because they are perfectly observed: ‘My cycle coat blows on the line’ and ‘The old cat paws the door’.

There is also mystery in this poem – we don’t know what happened to the child that the speaker cries for in the third stanza, and in the fourth stanza we read ‘But now my child is married/the ones who fought me, dead,’.  There are whole other stories behind these two lines that are dropped into the poem that left me wanting to know more.

And of course, there is something unbelievably sad in admitting that you will not a person again, a person that you shared history with.  This is a complicated poem.  This is a choice the speaker makes, to not see this person again, and yet the last line, with the image of the night turning to rain, is a great portrayal of sadness or regret without referring to the abstract words.

Alison Brackenbury was born in Lincolnshire but has lived in Gloucestershire for the last forty years.  She has won an Eric Gregory Award and a Cholmondeley Award.  Previous books include Then (published in 2013), Singing in the Dark (published in 2008) and you can find out more about her other 7 collections (7!) over at her website www.alisonbrackenbury.co.uk

If you’d like to order Alison’s book, you can buy it over at the Carcanet website.

Thanks to Alison for letting me use her poem this week! I’m spending this week choosing the next set of Sunday Poems – always a fun, if time-consuming job.

 

January 7th – Alison Brackenbury

There is a low glare in the sky
sweeps to a rainy night.
The planet’s wrong, the house unsold,
and, after thirty years, you write.

My cycle coat blows on the line.
The old cat paws at the door.
I tell you I am badger grey,
but wiser than before.

I do not tell you that I cried
since it was not for you
but for a child, since they break hearts
as no mere man can do.

But now my child is married,
the ones who fought me, dead,
and I am moved by your hands’ grace
besides my clumsy head

although I cannot see you
and will not again.
My yellow coat flies like a flag.
The long night turns to rain.

Sunday Poem – Cliff Yates

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Sunday Poem – Cliff Yates

How much can change in a week! After my copious amounts of bragging on last week’s post about getting a huge PB for 10k, I was brought back down to earth with a bump this week.

On Thursday morning I woke up with abdominal and back pain, and eventually ended up in A and E at about 12pm.  The doctor who saw me in A and E said that it was probably my gall bladder, so I was transferred to a ward and given a bed for the night.  It was too late for any tests by then, so I was given lots of painkillers and then I had an ultrasound on Friday morning, which confirmed that I have an inflamed gall bladder and lots of gall stones, which are probably what caused the pain.

The pain was absolutely horrendous, and I would like not to ever experience that again! The doctor has told me to go on a low-fat diet, as fat can irritate the gall bladder and trigger another attack.  In six weeks time, I see the consultant again, and if the inflammation has gone down, I will have my gall bladder taken out.

So, this is the second day of my low-fat diet.  I think my diet was 70% healthy anyway – I eat lots of fresh food now, lots of vegetables, I don’t get takeaways any more.  However, I do have a weakness for pain au chocolats ( I was having two every morning) and scones with jam and cream.  I probably had a scone every other day at least.

This is probably the healthiest I’ve ever been in my whole life, so it’s a bit gutting that this has happened now.  These last two days though, I have noticed when I get hungry, my first idea for a snack is something sweet – a chocolate biscuit, or a chocolate bar.  So I’ve been trying to eat something healthy instead.  It’s been easy so far because I can still remember the pain, which is a good motivational factor.  But it has made me realise that I need to change the whole way I think about food.  I’ve always thought of sweet food as a treat, or reward for myself.  So now I need to find other ways of rewarding myself.

I got out of hospital on Friday afternoon and I spent most of Friday evening eating as I was starving – I’d been ‘Nil by mouth’ since Thursday lunchtime.  Yesterday was a good day because my sister and her husband came over with their three dogs, so there was lots of distractions.  Today I’ve been a bit fed up, because I was supposed to be running the Lancaster half marathon.  I’ve been training for it for ages, with a few friends and one friend in particular.  The 10k last week had given me loads of confidence that I’d got the build up right, and I was expecting to knock five minutes off my PB from last year.  And to go from whizzing around the 10k to being in hospital and unable to walk was a bit of a shock.

So today has been a bit miserable – the logical part of my brain knows that there will be other half-marathons, but it still doesn’t stop me being gutted about this one.

So before I turned into a medical emergency this week, I spent the first half of the week doing lots of reading.  I finished two collections by Marie Howe (my new favourite poet) and finally finished Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics.   

I also ordered a new anthology called ‘Women who Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence’.  I haven’t read many of the poems in the anthology, but in the introduction, the editor, Laura Madelaine Wiseman talks about the use of the terms ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’.  She proposes a third term of ‘resister’.  She says:

To be a resister is more than surviving violence, because one has taken an active step to call into question the violent act and to rally demands for change

I love this idea – I don’t like thinking of myself as a survivor, or a victim of domestic violence.  Surviving was the thing I did at the time – resisting was the poetry, the sequence at the heart of my collection The Art of Falling.  Writing poems about it does call into question the violent act – whether it rallies demands for change is another thing – I would be happy if it made one person feel less alone, which is maybe a big change in itself.

I’m not quite sure how this all relates to the PhD.  The type of everyday sexism I’ve been writing about is like a tiny pin prick of violence rather than a brutal act.  But I do think poetry is a great way to call into question not just the violent act, but my acceptance of it, other people’s acceptance of it, the normality of it.

On to today’s Sunday Poem, which is by the wonderful Cliff Yates, who I’ve met on a few occasions, but finally got to hear him read at Swindon Poetry Festival last month.  I’ve always been a fan of Cliff’s work, so it was great to hear him read.  The poem is from his Smith/Doorstop collection Jam, which came out this year.

jamcliffyates

I think the poem I’ve chosen for this weeks Sunday Poem is representative of many of the qualities you’ll find in his work. His poetry is often laugh-out-loud funny, often tender, but always manages to invite the reader to look at the world slightly differently.   His poetry also manages that difficult thing of saying something important, without sounding self-important.  It wears its philosophy lightly.   Those two lines towards the end of the poem: ‘Middle age is a walk through the woods/without your parents.’  is a great aphorism, dropped lightly in, and then effortlessly extended ‘Your children have run ahead’ but the real lightness, and art come with having the courage to finish on that lovely line which floats away ‘The sun is out, there are so many trees.’

I also like how the poem is about a private family ritual, or joke, although joke isn’t quite the right word, it is almost like a good luck tradition.  The family always ‘walk through the gate.’ and never around it.  This idea of gates and doorways nods to all the old stories of passageways into other lands and worlds.

And the importance of the gate is always without question, despite the fact that you can walk around it, despite the fact it doesn’t keep anything out, or in.  It is so important in fact that it was once ‘painted cream/ so that she could see it.’

Cliff was born in Birmingham and now lives in Gloucestershire.  His various collections include Henry’s Clock, winner of the Aldeburgh Prize and Selected Poems, a Smith/Doorstop ebook.  He wrote Jumpstart Poetry in the Secondary School during his time as Poetry Society poet-in-residence.  He is a tutor for the Arvon Foundation and Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Aston University.

If you would like to order Jam or any of Cliff’s other collections, you can get them from the Smith/Doorstop website or if you’d like to find out more information about Cliff he has a website and blog here

 

 

Gate – Cliff Yates

A gate, halfway up the garden,
a wrought iron gate she once painted cream
so that she could see it.

You could step around the gate,
if truth were told, there’s plenty of room
on either side, but always

we walk through the gate, careful
not to latch it. Her fingers, at eighty-eight,
can no longer manage the latch

and her legs can barely manage the step,
‘Mind you shut the gate,’ she says,
as she always says, on the way back down,

turning round, just to make sure:
‘Pull it to. Keep out the draught.  That’s it.’

Middle age is a walk through the woods
without your parents.
Your children have run ahead.
The sun is out, there are so many trees.

 

 

Sunday Poem – Penelope Shuttle

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Sunday Poem – Penelope Shuttle

 

 

Back to my bad habits of writing my blog late at night! My excuse today is that I’ve been in Lancaster running a 10k race.  I’m not even going to play it cool, pretending to drop this in casually as part of the usual run of the mill blog post…

I ran 45 minutes and 1 second for 10k!

My last ‘personal best’ time was 46 minutes and 17 seconds, about seven months ago, which is why I’m so chuffed.  I’ve been doing a bit more training though, in the last few months, so I knew I would beat my PB, but didn’t think for one second I would be at the 45 minute mark.  I was also 5th woman back, and I got the V35 prize (first time I’ve ever won a prize in a race!) and won the Ladies Team Prize along with my two friends, J and K

This race was called the ‘Jailbreak 10k’ and you signed up to do the race inside a cell in one of the prison wings.  The prison is now shut down of course, but I was actually quite freaked out by the cells.  They were very small and there was a toilet in the corner with a board at the side of it, presumably to give a bit of privacy, and that in itself was shocking – that this tiny space was for more than one person.  It was also really cold in there – and the prison wasn’t shut down that long ago! I couldn’t believe that people were kept in there, that people would have lived in there.  It definitely gave me goosebumps.  I thought the prisons I’d been into were pretty brutal, but they had nothing on the Lancaster Castle prison!

So two photos, and then I promise I will say no more about it.  The first is at the start – I did eventually get away from the unicorn.  (It was optional fancy dress for the race – only three people wore fancy dress – a Ghostbuster, a Witch and the Unicorn).  The second is at the end of the race, having just got to the top of the hill – so am in a bit of pain here, and pulling my famed ‘running face’.

 

This week has been relatively quiet apart from today! I decided I needed to get organised and make myself a timetable, to ensure I’m getting enough PhD work done.  So I did that on Monday, and did manage to make some progress.  I ordered 2 poetry collections by Marie Howe, who I’ve only just discovered.  I absolutely love her work, but this hasn’t helped with narrowing down the possibilities of poets to focus on.

I’ve also been carrying on reading Kate Millet’s ‘Sexual Politics’.  It’s a pretty big book.  I’m now over half way through though and still enjoying it.  The RD1 form is my next big hurdle, and my supervisor gave me an example one to look at.  So I’ve read that through and had a go at writing the first part of mine, just to see how it went.

I’ve also been reworking a review from last week after some feedback, and on Saturday night I had a gig with the Soul Survivors in Ulverston.  I guess it doesn’t sound that quiet now I look at it, but there hasn’t been as much rushing about as there usually is.

I’ve got a few dates coming up of readings and workshops – on Thursday I’m reading at Brantwood with Geraldine Green and Kerry Darbishire.  There is also an Open Mic – tickets are £12 and include food.

On the 4th November, the Brewery Poets are putting a reading on at The Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal.  I’m the MC, and guest poets will be Pauline Yarwood, Jennifer Copley and Ian Seed.  These nights usually sell out, so if you’d like to come, book a ticket quickly!

I’m also running my Dove Cottage Young Poets group on the 4th November, and am recruiting for new members! If you know any young people (from the age of 14 to 25) who would like to come to a free fortnightly writing group, please get in touch.  We have lots of fun, and the young poets get lots of opportunities throughout the year to perform (if they want to) and to work towards Arts Awards.

And lastly for now, on the 12th November, I’m running an all day workshop for Lancaster Spotlight.  You can find details here, but to book a place, just email spotlightclub@btinternet.com

Today’s Sunday Poem is by the wonderful Penelope Shuttle. I’ve always loved Penelope’s work, right from when I first started writing eight years ago. Penny has featured on this blog before – you can read that post here.

As you will see from this previous blog post, Penny is one of my favourite contemporary poets, so I’m quite excited that she has sent me a poem from her forthcoming collection with Bloodaxe to put up on the blog this week.  I’m even more excited that Penny has agreed to be the guest poet for the Residential Course that I’m running in St Ives next year with co-tutor David Tait.  Penny will be coming to the hotel to have dinner with the course participants, and then she will be reading from her work on the Wednesday night of the course.  There are only four places left on this course, so if you’d like to book, please get in touch with Treloyhan Manor Hotel on 01736 796240.

In 2015 Penelope published (with John Greening) their exploration in poetry  of many aspects of Heathrow airport and Hounslow Heath upon which the airport now stands:  Heath (Nine Arches). She also published a pamphlet titled Four Portions of Everything on the Menu for M’sieur Monet! (Indigo Dreams Publications). Penelope has given many readings of her work, and has been a tutor for many organisations.  She is currently a mentor for The Poetry School.

This poem comes from Penny’s forthcoming collection Will You Walk A Little Faster? which will be published by Bloodaxe in May 2017.  It was originally published in The Manhattan Review.

I love the idea of this poem – to be able to talk to your Life, to make your Life a person, rather than a collection of events.  I love that the poem seems to start mid-conversation with Life.  There’s something unbearably sad about this poem – of course, Life is addressed and personified as a seperate thing, but the whole time, we know that Life is also the speaker.

The language that is used seems deceptively simple, but the poem is full of surprising turns of phrase: ‘I’m sad of myself’ and ‘days live me in vain’ and then at the end ‘the walls are spells’ and ‘the roof’s a star’.  Maybe just because I’ve been reading a lot of Emily Dickinson but the capitalization of Life and the short lines made me think of her.

The sounds throughout the poem – all those repeated ‘L’s’ string the whole poem together.  I also love the intermittent address to Life, that comes back throughout the poem, as if the speaker is turning to Life and making sure they are still listening.

The line breaks are very effective as well, particularly at the end with the line ‘I know you so well’ which then carries onto the next line to say ‘My Life, not at all’.  I was left trying to puzzle out whether Life is known or not, and maybe that’s part of the point. Until I read the poem more carefully, I thought the ending was a repeat of the beginning and then I thought it was a straightforward reversal of the beginning, which says to Life: ‘you know me too well’.  This statement is supported throughout the poem.  What is questioned is whether the Speaker knows Life as well as the Speaker thinks they do, and just writing that I realise that of course they don’t.  We can’t know our own Lives without distance, and time to reflect, and we can never do that while we are still living them.

I hope you enjoy the poem – and please keep a look out for Penny’s collection, coming out next year.  If you’d like to find out more about Penelope Shuttle, you can go to her website here.

 

 

My Life – Penelope Shuttle

My Life, I can’t fool you,
you know me too well,
I’m sad of myself,
days live me in vain,
you test me
but bin my answers,
you’re so busy, so tired,
evenings in the glass,
drink them, My Life,
but you won’t,
driving your bargains
of years gone by,
promising me
this and that till
the walls are spells,
the roof’s a star,
and
I seal the hour
in a tear,
a mortal tear,
I know you so well,
My Life, not at all

Sunday Poem – Alan Buckley

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Sunday Poem – Alan Buckley

I’ve been training since the summer to take part in the Lancaster half marathon and Sunday is one of the days I do a long run.  Today I did 20 kilometres with a group of friends, not particularly fast, but for the first time I didn’t notice when we went past 12k.  Usually at this point my mind starts telling me to stop, and my body starts aching, but this didn’t happen today, so I’m quite pleased- in fact I forgot to look at my watch until we’d ran 15k. The half marathon is in two weeks time and I’m hoping to run under 1 hour 45 minutes, and hopefully by then, I will have shaken off this cold which is still hanging on a little.

Apart from slowly getting back into running this week, I’ve spent a lot of time reading. I’m reading as much as I can in preparation for filling out an RD1 form as part of my PhD, which is basically a three-year plan of what I’m going to be doing.  A few people have asked me if I like reading the critical stuff and I have to say, I absolutely love it. My problem is that I keep going off on a tangent.  One tangent that I’m really enjoying is reading Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics from the 70’s.  I feel like I need to read these huge feminist texts before I can strike off on my own.  I’ve just got to a chapter where she talks about a Thomas Hardy novel and it is taking all my willpower to not go off and read the Thomas Hardy novel.

I’m trying to narrow down to two or three poets that I want to concentrate on for the critical part of the PhD but I’m finding this quite difficult.  I keep falling in love with poets.  In fact, two weeks ago, I taught a session at MMU where the group got a number of poems and they had to decide the gender of the author and the publication date of the poem, and one of the poems that was included was the one that starts ‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun’.

This poem has haunted me for the last two weeks – yet when I read it for the first time, I was completely unmoved.  I hadn’t read a lot of Emily Dickinson’s work before this – although I’ve always loved “Hope” is the thing with feathers – and it has been disconcerting this week to become completely obsessed with it.  I’m starting to realise that although I want to write poems about everyday sexism, and coping mechanisms, and ways of negotiating it without going mad, it is hard to find other women writers that are tackling it directly.  I think it is going to be much more interesting to look at how female poets negotiate their way around a patriarchal system. I’m starting to become fascinated by the choices Dickinson made – to hardly leave her room – but then to write such a disturbing poem as  ‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun’.  To feel like a loaded gun, to be full of energy and power,that you cannot use without someone else to assist you.  To understand that you are both powerful, and powerless.

Emily Dickinson may of course, be another tangent, and maybe too much has been written about her already for me to add anything new.  But I am enjoying reading about her.

On Monday there was an Induction Event at uni and all the new English PhD students were invited to come along and meet each other and talk for one minute about their PhD.  As I was walking from the train station, I started to mildly panic about this, and then to laugh at the ridiculousness of panicking about speaking for one minute about something I’ve spent the last year at least thinking about and talking about with other people.  Anyway, panic aside, I did manage to talk about the PhD and it was interesting to hear what the other PhD students are doing as well.

I had a moment of sadness about leaving trumpet teaching this week as well.  I think I was standing at the photocopier before starting my workshop on Metre and Rhythm at uni, and it hit me how much I’ve learnt from being a brass teacher for 13 years.  Not least how to operate any photocopier under the sun.  I think it’s taken this long to realise how much it has given me.  Maybe up to now, I’ve been in recovery, recovering from how much I gave of myself to the job – and as a teacher you do have to give of yourself.  But this week, I realised how much I’ve learnt, how transferable it is and maybe the sadness was from realising how long it has taken to get to this point.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Alan Buckley, who I met in July this year at Ledbury Poetry Festival.  Alan’s pamphlet The Long Haul had just come out with HappenStance so I took the opportunity to get a copy from him.  The pamphlet is full of beautiful poems – I knew I was going to like it right from the first poem ‘Flame’, inspired by an instruction on the front of a matchbox  (Use matches sparingly).  This poem starts ‘Not meanness or thrift/but wisdom; respect/for each small torch/that’s kept in there.’  I love that this poem comes from a line written on a matchbox, and each four line stanza of the poem is set out like a small box.

Alan Buckley is originally from Merseyside, but moved to Oxford in the 1980’s to study English Literature and has lived there ever since.  His first pamphlet Shiver was published by tall-lighthouse and was the PBS pamphlet choice in 2009.  The Long Haul is his second pamphlet, and you can obtain a copy for a mere £5 from the wonderful publisher HappenStance. You will also find the poem ‘Flame’ that I mentioned in the previous paragraph, if you follow the link to HappenStance

The poem I’ve chosen for this week ‘Pastoral’ is that most elusive of poems – an original and compelling poem about roadkill.  There are lots of excellent poems about hitting an animal whilst driving – but this poem takes as its central concern an animal that has already been hit, that is already dead, and which is glimpsed only for ‘a second or two.’

Pastoral – Alan Buckley

Glimpsed for no more than a second or two
(I was pushing eighty-five near Stokenchurch Gap)
but enough for a thought to surface: the possibility

that the heft of snout and fur by the central barrier
belonged to a creature that was deaf and asleep,
having nodded off in the morning sun as it looked

for a chance to cross; and this was why it lay there,
oblivious to the cars and lorries bouldering past.
Deaf and asleep, its belly filled with a slither

of worms as it dreamed its brockish dreams,
in which it was busy reliving the night just gone,
when it scuttled through fields of silvery grass

beneath an avuncular moon.  And beyond the black,
hard river that carves its way down Aston Hill
a hole in the earth was waiting – a small darkness,

ready to fall back behind this animal’s tail, like
the heavy curtain at the entrance to a private room,
shielding from view a silent, untouchable space.

We can infer as the poem progresses that the creature is a badger – the main clue comes halfway through the poem when we read ‘Deaf and asleep, its belly filled with a slither/of worms as it dreamed its brockish dreams’.  The words ‘deaf and asleep’ come twice – once in the second stanza, when the speaker imagines it has ‘nodded off in the morning sun as it looked/for a chance to cross’ and then again in the third stanza, when we read about the ‘slither of worms’ and the speaker imagines that the badger is ‘reliving the night just gone.’  The description of this night is wonderfully lyric as well – lines that when I read them, I wished I’d written: ‘when it scuttled through fields of silvery grass/beneath an avuncular moon.’

This poem seems to be balanced between different extremes to me. The difference between life and death, between sleeping and waking, between movement and speed and complete stillness.  The poem allows us to feel a connection with the animal, but then by the end of the poem, makes us aware that feeling connected with another creature is ultimately doomed to failure, that another being is always unknowable.  We’re left with the image of the badger re-entering its hole, and the darkness ‘shielding from view a silent, untouchable space.’

I hope you enjoy the poem – please feel free to comment – I do love reading the comments, and am endeavouring to make sure I remember to reply, rather than just smiling and reading them, and I know the poets that I feature here are always very appreciative of having readers that engage with their work.

News about St Ives February Residential

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News about St Ives February Residential

I’m really excited about the next residential that I’ll be running in February with one of my best friends David Tait, who also happens to be a fabulous poet and tutor.  David and I have been working on the theme of the residential, and I hope you like what we’ve come up with!

Below you will find the blurb describing the overall theme of the course.  Each workshop that we run during the week will focus on poetry from a particular country or continent.

There are now only four places left on this course, so if you’d like to come, I would advise booking your place as soon as you can.

If you’d like to book, please ring the hotel directly on 01736 796240

If you’d like more information about the course, you can look here, or please get in touch via the Contact page, or comment below.

Panorama: Poems from Around the World!
Residential Poetry Course, February 20th-25th 2017
Treloyhan Manor, St Ives
Tutors: David Tait and Kim Moore
Guest Poet: To be Announced
Cost: £430

Are you interested in diving deeper into the wide world of poetry? Well then, come and join us for an internationaltastic course in the wonderful setting of St. Ives, where we will be exploring poetry from across the world to inspire our own work. Expect to be introduced to unfamiliar names, and to discover new and exciting approaches to poetry. We will be joined mid-week by a special guest poet. This course is both suitable for beginners and more experienced writers. Join us for this panoramic view of world poetry, our very own poem-arama!