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2014 Review


Last night I got one of my many empty notebooks which live in my house and started to write down the name and date of all the Sunday Poets I’ve featured on this blog.  I wanted a record of these names to check I hadn’t missed anybody off, but I was also curious to check the gender balance of the Sunday Poets as well.

I’ve had a little twinge of guilt every now and then because I felt like my enthusiasm for individual poems was driving the selection of the Sunday Poets – which is good, but the downside of this is that I had no idea whether I had an equal number of male and female poets.  And I really want to keep an equal number really – so going forward in 2015 I will be keeping this at the back of my mind as the poems go up.

It was really interesting, and it was strange how some of the poems I posted in 2012 seemed as if I’d put them up only last week, I could remember them so well.  The Sunday Poem feature started on the 15th April 2012 with Carole Coates.  In that year I featured 33 poets, 16 male and 17 female.

2013 was the first full year of doing the Sunday Poem and featured a grand total of 46 poets.  This time there were 23 men and 23 women.  I felt quite pleased with myself before realising that really, this should just be a given, not something to be pleased about!

In 2014 I featured a total of 42 poets.  Only 15 were men and 27 were women.  I feel as if I’ve been reading more women’s poetry this year so these figures are probably a reflection of this, but I would like to keep the figures even in 2015, so I’m going to keep an eye on it!

The other thing I’d like to do in 2015 is to feature a full 52 poems and not have any weeks off.  I need to work out how to blog in advance and get WordPress to update itself at a specific time, which will help when I’m gallivanting off at weekends.

However this is supposed to be looking back at 2014, not leaping forward.  Here are a few of my highlights.

Top 5 Non Poetry Things I’ve Done This Year

1.  Started Running Again
I started running because superwomanpoet Clare Shaw asked me if I’d do a Total Warrior race with her.  I decided I really needed to get into some kind of fitness.  It was ten years since I’d pulled on a pair of trainers, but I joined my local ‘fun’ running group, the Walney Wind Cheetahs and started training in April.  Since then I’ve completed the Total Warrior Race, as well as numerous 5k Park Runs, three 10k races and a half marathon.  Running is definitely the best thing I’ve done this year.  I feel so much happier in myself since I started.

2.  Joined ‘Soul Survivors’
After quite a few years of being a retired trumpet player for various complicated reasons that probably need a whole blog post in themselves, I’ve come out of retirement unofficially.  Which means I’m only playing in the things I want to play in, like soul bands and brass quintets, and avoiding all orchestral gigs.

3.  Moved House
I’m so glad I moved house! I didn’t realise till I moved how lovely it is to hear birds singing when you open the front door!  I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere where I’ve heard that, although in my old house, the seagulls were very noisy outside and would often dive bomb you on your way to the car if their chicks were there.  Moving house was a hassle and as annoying as everybody said it would be, but it was worth it.  No more street fights in the early hours of the morning – at least not yet anyway.

4.  Holiday to Scotland with Jay-Ven Lee and David Tait and the husband
We had a great time this summer staying in a cottage in the north west corner of Scotland with David, Jay and the husband.  Yes, we were eaten alive by midges and intimidated by the red stags.  Yes we were often blown away by the wind.  And yes, there was one time when I may have sulked slightly because I lost at cards.  All the makings of a perfect holiday!

5.  Barrow Shipyard Junior Band
My brass band continue to make up for all the slightly rubbishy parts of my job by being wonderful.  This year they managed to win the South Cumbria Music Festival and the Kirby Lonsdale competition.  This Christmas they have been absolute superstars, carolling in the supermarkets to raise money for the band.

Top 5 Poetry Highlights

1.  Signing a contract with Seren for the publication of my first collection
I still can’t believe this is happening.  A big part of why I decided I wanted to be with Seren was because of Amy Wack, my editor.  Her enthusiasm and generosity, both towards my poetry and me has been overwhelming and it feels wonderful to have somebody who believes in my work.  But I’m also really happy to be with a publisher that publishes so many poets I admire like Carrie Etter, Deryn Rees-Jones etc

2.  Poet in Residence at Ilkley Literature Festival
Getting this job felt like a dream come true.  I gained so much experience and confidence from being poet in residence and there were lots of highlights.  Probably my favourite thing I did during the festival though was the one to one tutorials and judging the Open Mic competition.  Looking back now I think I was slightly crazy, teaching Monday to Wednesday then driving down Wednesday night, staying in Ilkley till Sunday and driving home again.  From this distance, even the exhaustion seems glamorous.

3.  Digital Poet in Residence at The Poetry School
This came before the Ilkley residency and without the Digital residency, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to apply to Ilkley.  Will Barrett at The Poetry School was really supportive and gave me great feedback on the prose that I was writing and helped me to tighten it up.   It combined two of my favourite things – writing and talking to people (online of course)

4.  Residential Courses
I know this is two highlights seamlessly amalgamated into one, but I felt really privileged to be teaching on the two residentials that I ran this year.  The poets who signed up were talented, keen and enthusiastic so we had a great week, both in St Ives in October and in Grange over Sands during April, and it was a privilege to work with Clare Shaw and Jennifer Copley.

5.  Aldeburgh Poetry Festival
Aldeburgh was a huge highlight, as I knew it would be.  My team won the Poetry Quiz!  And apart from that, it was amazing to be back.  I spent all my money on books again – I dread to think how much.  I’m still making my way through them all now, a couple of weeks later.

Talking of Anthony Wilson, in his Poetry Highlights blog he finishes

“But when I think of what poetry did to me in 2014, I go back to that morning at the campsite reading Ilhan Berk, the sky a cloudless blue and somewhere in it a skylark, briefly muffling the sea”

I was very taken with thinking of this idea of what poetry did to me in 2014.  I think for me, I think of those times when I’ve been actually writing, which have been less than I would have liked this year.  I think of that feeling I get, which feels like rushing, like I can’t write fast enough for the words.  It’s a slightly nauseous feeling, like controlled panic, and it is this which tells me I’m chasing the heels of a poem, rather than just writing my thoughts down.  Most of the time this happens to me in a workshop with other people sitting close by, and there is a strange stillness in the air.

So I’m sure I’ve forgotten lots of other things and this has been a hard post to write because I still don’t feel like I’ve summed 2014 up very well.  Whilst doing all of these amazing things, these residencies and working on my collection, I’ve had so many doubts about whether I could do any of it.  What I haven’t mentioned very much are the amazing friends and the lovely husband who often tell me to get a grip and pull myself together when I’m wallowing in insecurity –  people like David Tait and Andrew Forster and John Foggin and Keith Hutson and Clare Shaw and Noel Williams and Jennifer Copley – just doing the things that we do for our friends but it wouldn’t be a highlight post without mentioning them.

I’m looking forward to 2015 – as Roy Marshall posted on Facebook – the year my book is coming out. I’ve already got readings from the book lined up in Leeds, Halifax, Ulverston and Croatia!  So there is lots to look forward to.  I hope to see some of you in the real world during 2015, and thanks for following this blog, and putting up with my meandering thoughts!






Sunday Poem – Liz Berry


Evening all.  Yes, yet again, it’s not Sunday.  I’ve been away all weekend at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival – it was amazing but there was no internet in the cottage where we were staying, and I got back to Barrow at 2am this morning and there was no way I was going to be writing any blog posts at that time in the morning!

People have said to me before that I should prepare the posts in advance and then schedule them to be published on Sunday and I have thought about this, but because I witter on about my week this wouldn’t work because I obviously wouldn’t have had my week by then!

So last week was busy before I even got to Aldeburgh – two nights of rehearsals with the soul band I’m playing with as we start to get ready for our first gig which we don’t have a date for yet but there are vague indications that it will be sometime in December.

Of course there was teaching as well Monday to Wednesday and then I went for a run on Wednesday evening with my pal Jeff – we managed 11k at a pretty good pace and got to see all the fireworks going off as we ran round Barrow.  Coming up the hill toward my house it became apparent that the population of Barrow were stupefied by the sight of the fireworks and I don’t think one person stepped to the side to let us pass – even the cars were randomly stopping in the middle of the road while the driver gawked at a firework, forcing us to run round them.  I thought about running over one but decided knowing my luck it would be a headteacher of a school I work in or a parent of a child I teach so decided against it.

I spent the rest of Wednesday night writing an online assignment for a course I’m doing for the Poetry School – I’m one of the tutors on a course called 5 Easy Pieces – 5 different tutors set an assignment, one after the other.  Participants upload their poems by Wednesday and then we have a web chat the following Wednesday about their poems.  I’m really looking forward to this and for maybe the fifth time this year, thanking the Lord that I taught myself to touch type all those years ago.

And then I got an early train to Preston and discovered to my delight that there are shops right next to the train station so managed to nip in with my suitcase in tow and buy some jumpers while I was waiting for my friend David Borrott to come and pick me up.  This, you might think, would not normally be worthy of noting on a blog, except that I haven’t bought any new clothes for ages – I just haven’t had time.  I’ve turned, in fact, into that teacher who wears the same clothes every day.  In fact a couple of weeks ago  a child asked me if I only had one coat…

It took David and I about 5 hours or so to get from Preston to Aldeburgh and it was a great journey.  I thought we might be fed up of each other by the time we got there but we had great fun!  We stopped quite a few times and my attempts to embarrass David by star jumping my way through Starbucks in my excitement at going to Aldeburgh did not work – in fact he joined in.

It was strange because we all arrived within minutes of each other – there was me and David of course, and then the lovely Holly Hopkins, Maria Taylor and Emily Blewitt.  We did a rather shambolic trip to the Co-op where much conversation ensued as to whether to buy communal bananas and bread and then we spent Thursday night (well some of us did) drinking a bottle of red wine and talking.

On Friday I spent the morning writing – yes, I actually did some writing and then went for a rather windy and cold run along the beach with Emily – we did about 6 kilometres and I’m frankly quite suprised that we weren’t blown away and over the ocean – kept expecting to see poets floating away on the gusts every time I looked up.

I’ve been looking forward to Aldeburgh for ages.  In fact since last year, when I got on the train to come home after reading at the festival, and I wasn’t disappointed.  I loved it as much as last year, although in a different way.  This year, I didn’t have anything to do, apart from turn up and listen.

There were lots of highlights for me at the festival.  I loved Dan O’Brien’s reading.  The poems that he read from War Reporter made my stomach churn.  They were uncomfortable to listen to and shocking and sad.  If you haven’t read Dan O’Brien’s ‘War Reporter’ – his first collection which is published by CB Editions, then you really should.  It is not an easy read, but the poems feel utterly essential to me.  Have a look at http://www.cbeditions.com/OBrien.html

I also really enjoyed Selima Hill’s reading.  She was utterly odd, but in a very moving way.  She reminded me of a little bird, the way she stood behind the lecturn and peered at the audience for minutes before she spoke.  Her new book is called ‘The Sparkling Jewel of Naturism’ and is published by Bloodaxe, and although I haven’t read it all yet, I can tell it’s going to be great.

I knew I’d enjoy Kathleen Jamie’s reading because I’ve seen her read before and I love her poetry, but she was really on form at the festival.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen her cracking jokes in a reading before, but she was, and she was very funny. And the audience seemed to love it.  She read quite a lot of new work as well, which was a real treat to hear.  Finuala Dowling was a new discovery – I’d never heard of her before but she read really well.  I bought her collection ‘Notes from a Dementia Ward’ where she manages to write about the onset of dementia in a parent both movingly and with humour.

I also enjoyed the ‘New Voices’ reading, which was one of the events I took part in last year.  The four readers were Suzannah Evans, Chrissy Williams, Jonathan Edwards and Kayo Chingonyi.  I even had a little tear in my eye at the end of Jonathan Edwards’ reading at his last poem which was a football poem.  A football poem – can you imagine! I hate football, so it must have been good.

I also love the ‘Close Readings’ at Aldeburgh.  They are fifteen minute sessions where a poet appearing at the festival talks for fifteen minutes about a favourite poem.  These sessions are free and I think thttps://wordpress.com/post/33642377/newhey are one of the best events at the festival.  I thought Paula Bohince was fabulous in her Close Reading with a really interesting talk on Sandpiper, a poem by Elizabeth Bishop.  It made me want to read more slowly, more carefully.

Of course the real highlight of the weekend was being part of the winning team at Dean Parkin’s and Michael Laskey’s famous Poetry Quiz.  We all got a £10 book voucher which I then managed to lose and then locate again in the pub the next afternoon.

At the end of the last reading it was time for Naomi Jaffa to say her goodbyes as the Director of the festival.  Naomi got two standing ovations from the crowd and huge bouquets of flowers from Dean and Michael.  I am sad to see Naomi go – but I also really admire her bravery for taking a leap off into the unknown.  You can read more about Naomi’s decision to leave here

And WHO will keep Dean and Michael in order? The new Director Ellen McAteer that’s who!  I’m hoping to go back to Aldeburgh next year, and I know a new person at the helm will obviously change things, but I hope they don’t change too much – I think the festival really is something special.

Anyway, it’s now 11pm on Monday night and I’ve spent the whole evening answering emails and then writing this blog, so I am finishing here and leaving you with a wonderful poem by Liz Berry, recent winner of the Forward Prize for Best First Collection.  Liz read in Grasmere this summer and was wonderful.  She is one of the few poets I know who can read with the equally wonderful Kei Miller and hold her own.  A friend predicted that we had just heard the winners of the respective Forward Prizes for Best Collection and Best First Collection and he was right! Liz’s book is called ‘Black Country’ and it is a fantastic collection – full of colourful, crackling poems full of the dialect of the West Midlands.  You can order a copy here from her publisher.

Liz is also a primary school teacher and the poem I’ve chosen is called ‘Miss Berry’.  Although I would normally discourage reading into a poem and talking about it as if it is about the poet, I think the use of ‘Miss Berry’ in the title probably makes it safe to do so.

I love how precise it is with the rows of o’s in the first couplet and then the way the second couplet trails away, unable to finish the sentence.  I recognise the clashy-bashy orchestra from my own teaching.  I love the tenderness in the poem – the teachers’ hand curled over a child’s hand, and then the teacher rolling the bodies across the gym floor – I love the celebration of the physical closeness between teachers and pupils, which doesn’t really get talked about – but this poem is unashamed of touch, which I find really beautiful.

The other thing that I really love about this poem is the way it shows how when you are a teacher, you measure time differently.  Time is measured by ‘paper snowflakes,/blown eggs,/bereft cocoons.’  The end of the year is not, in fact, in December.  The end of the year is always the summer.

Liz Berry was born in the Black Country in 1980.  She received an Eric Gregory Award in 2009, an Arvon-Jerwood Mentorship in 2011 and won the Poetry London competition in 2012.  She lives in Birmingham

I hope you enjoy the poem, and thanks to Liz Berry and her publisher Chatto and Windus for allowing me to publish the poem here.

Miss Berry – Liz Berry

I have learnt to write rows of o’s bobbing
hopeful as hot air balloons from the line’s tethers

and watched eight springs of frogspawn
grow legs but never…

and conducted clashy-bashy orchestras
of chime bars ocarina thundering tambour

and curled my hand over another hand
to hinge the crocodile jaws of the scissors.

I have accompanied a small mourning party
to a blackbird’s burial plot

and rolled countless bodies, like coloured marbles
across gym mats

and conducted science’s great experiments
using darkened cupboards, plastic cups and cress

and unhooked a high window on a stuffy day
and heard the room’s breath.

I have measured time by paper snowflakes,
blown eggs, bereft cocoons

and waved goodbye in summer so many times
that even in September my heart is June.

Aldeburgh Poetry Festival


Hello everybody!  Just to let you all know that I didn’t fall into the sea in Aldeburgh, but in fact made it safely back to Barrow, if slightly the worse for wear through a slight indulgence of red wine on the last night.  I wanted to blog when I got back and post a poem on the Monday instead of the Sunday – but…but….for the last three days I’ve been hanging on to my usual life by my fingernails basically – as in, I’ve gone to work, got home, ate, slept, got up, gone to work, ate, slept – you get the picture.  Who knew poetry could be so exhausting?  But in a completely good way of course.   Rather than recount everything that happened because I would be here all day – I thought I would do a list of the good things about Aldeburgh

1.  My accommodation – what can I say?  34 Lee Road, run by Pete and Sue is the nicest place I’ve stayed in.  Nothing was too much trouble for them and the room was beautiful.  And did I mention I had a JACUZZI!! I would highly recommend http://www.aldeburgh-bedandbreakfast.co.uk/

2. Organisation – Naomi Jaffa, Dean Parkin, David Edwards and their committee and team of volunteers seemed to have thought of everything.  I got picked up and dropped off at the station, they organised my train tickets and my accommodation, I got paid at the festival, events ran on time and all the volunteers and event stewards seemed to be in a really good mood and enjoying themselves.  There were buses to ferry people back and forth from Aldeburgh to Snape.  I really do think that the festival team should be put in charge of running the NHS or the country or something –

3. The Book Stall.  Now this does need a whole bullet point of its own.  The book stall had books from every poet performing at the festival.   I have counted up my list of books that I bought at the festival – 13!

4.  The Poets – There was only two poets that I had seen perform before at the festival – Robin Robertson and Alison Brackenbury.  The rest I’d never heard read – which as regular followers of this blog will know is pretty unusual as I go to a lot of poetry readings.  There were lots of international poets there and it was a highlight of the festival for me.  I also met some wonderful people who I feel like I’ll be friends with forever now – and met some old friends and acquaintances who I haven’t seen for a while

5.  Readings and Talks.  I knew I’d enjoy doing my reading, because I love doing readings – but people were so nice to me afterwards – I sold around 50 wolves – it was a wonderful feeling.  I was also doing two discussion events – a ‘Close Reading’ where I had to take a poem that I like and talk about it – and  a ‘Blind Criticism’ which I wasn’t too nervous about because I couldn’t control that.  But I was nervous about the Close Reading because I’d never done anything like it before.  Going to Robert Wrigley’s close reading didn’t help – his was as rhythmical as a poem!  I stayed up till 2am refining my talk the night before after going to a couple of Close Readings by other people and getting some tips.  Again, people were really kind afterwards and I feel more confident about doing something like it again.  All kudos to the festival for taking a punt on me and giving me the opportunity to do something like that – I really feel like I’ve developed as a poet through doing it – I discovered things about the poem through doing it (For the Sleepwalkers by Edward Hirsch) and I’m very grateful for the experience.

6. Michael Laskey’s Workshop On the Sunday morning, encouraged by Peter Sansom, I turned up to Michael Laskey’s workshop, thinking there wouldn’t be many people there so early after a whole day and evening of poetry the night before.  How wrong I was!  I reckon there must have been fifty people crammed into the Peter Pears gallery – there was such a buzz when I walked in – yes, you guessed it, I nearly did a little star jump.  It was only 45 minutes but I think we did four or five exercises and everyone was happy and enthusiastic and in a good mood – it was great.

7. Walking to Thorpeness along the beach on Friday 8. The stars at 1am walking back to my accommodation on Sunday night So it can’t all have been perfect, I hear you say.  Well – the only thing that did annoy me at the festival was that there were events running concurrently and I wanted to be in two places at once and I obviously couldn’t.  Sometimes I missed things because I had to eat.  That’s not the festival’s fault though.  I am dreading the podcast interview that I did with the other pamphlet poets straight after the reading, because I was quite hyper and I think I was talking a load of old rubbish.  We will see – again, not really the festival’s fault though – more me getting way too excited!

Tomorrow I am reading at Lauderdale House in London with Maitreyabandhu and Tom Lowenstein http://www.lauderdalehouse.co.uk/page.asp?ID=1367&PID=13&PVID=1546 so I am back in London!  I’m running a workshop on Friday for poetry group ‘Malika’s Kitchen’ and then I’m returning to Barrow on Saturday for ‘A Poem and A Pint’.  This time our guest poet is Judy Brown, the Wordsworth Trust’s Poet in Residence, so I hope to see some of you there, or in London or maybe Lancaster the week after…

You can find John Field’s official Aldeburgh Poetry Festival blog here: http://www.thepoetrytrust.org/FestBlog/festblog-main/

but here he has blogged about the pamphlet poets reading and said lots of nice things http://www.thepoetrytrust.org/festblog/festblog-article/pamphlet-power/