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Sunday Poem – Robert Wrigley

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Evening all.  I have just had a little dance of glee whilst writing the title of this post – even though I was too cowardly to go and speak to Robert Wrigley at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival a couple of weekends ago, or to get my book signed, the lovely Neil Astley, the editor of Bloodaxe Books has given permission for me to use one of the poems from Robert’s new collection from Bloodaxe after reading a previous post about how I read Robert Wrigley’s poems at 6am on the way back from the Michael Marks Awards.

Bloodaxe have published the first UK publication of Robert Wrigley’s poetry.  The book is called ‘The Church of Omnivorous Light’ and takes poems from nine of his previous collections and you can order it here http://www.bloodaxebooks.com

Before I post the poem though I need to tell you that somewhere in the UK is a missing ‘If We Could Speak Like Wolves’. A lovely poet bought a Wolf from this blog and the envelope arrived with no pamphlet in it.  I frankly find it quite terrifying that somewhere is a postman with a penchant for pinching poetry (you see what I did there?) Anyway, I posted another out to the poet in question and I have been reliably informed (yesterday) that it has arrived safe and sound.  Why am I telling you all this? I don’t know, except maybe the power of the internet will return the wolf to its rightful owner – who will then have two personally inscribed copies – which isn’t much use…maybe it’s better left haunting the back shelves of a sorting office somewhere…

This has been the first week in ages where I have actually been at home on my days off! So on Thursday I went to get my hair cut.  On Friday I spent the day catching up with jobs – I have some more information about the residential course in April 2014 at Abbot Hall, Grange Over Sands and more information about the residential course that I’ll be running in October in St Ives and I’ll be posting that up on Tuesday next week.

On Saturday I went to Grasmere to go to a reading/talk/discussion by the Dark Mountain Project.  The Dark Mountain Project has a website http://dark-mountain.net/ which is full of fascinating stuff.  They have a manifesto, and produce beautiful anthologies but I found this summary on their website

‘The Dark Mountain Project is a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilisation tells itself. We produce and seek out writing, art and culture rooted in place, time and nature.’

I was particularly struck on Saturday by the idea that the language of science and ecology and politics is used a lot to talk about the environment, whereas the language of poetry isn’t – Paul Kingsnorth – one of the founders of the project said that people often discuss the cost benefits of wind turbine and measure what it will save but we don’t really talk about the impact it has on the human soul to see a wind turbine – I’m paraphrasing him here – and he said this in a much more graceful way – but I really liked this idea – partly because I’m not sure what seeing a wind turbine does do – and this does need exploring – and it is different for everyone of course – depending on your political point of view I guess, or whether you live near it or not.  Anyway, I’ve just had a quick scout of the site – it looks like I could easily spend a good couple of hours there…

I was really impressed with the quality of the work that Paul and the other reader, poet Em Strang read from the anthologies.  And I was also impressed by their humility and generosity – both read work from other writers in the anthologies – which left me wanting to hear some of their work – so I will definitely follow this up!

I then drove back from Grasmere, had some chips from the famous Matty’s chip shop in Barrow, and then drove out to Bardsea Malt Kiln.  It was a long evening, but I enjoyed it – Ross Baxter read some poetry – lots of ballads which fitted well with Maz O’Connor – a very talented folk musician who has performed for us in the past at A Poem and A Pint.  I haven’t heard her for a couple of years now, in the meantime she has been at university and winning various awards for her folk music.  Last night she performed some cracking songs she had written as a commission to mark the centenary of the death of Emily Davison – I was really impressed with her originality and musicality.  Alan Franks also performed – a mix of poetry and music and managed to lose his glasses and find them again for the last song – so all in all, a good evening.  I was glad I dragged myself out to do two poetry readings in one day – it was well worth the effort!

So, back to Robert Wrigley (if you’re sensible, you would have skipped all the previous to get to the poem).  There were so many poems I loved in this book – in fact I typed up the whole of ‘Explanatory’ and then changed my mind, because I still can’t get ‘Cigarettes’ out of my head.  I was going to use the poem ‘Explanatory’ which has an encounter with an owl at its heart to show how Robert Wrigley uses encounters with animals to find out truths about the human condition – this happens in lots and lots of his poems – I met Em Strang before the Dark Mountain event started for lunch and she mentioned Robert Wrigley as a great poet of nature and animals…I don’t think I told her I had him in my bag.  Well his book, not him, obviously.

Isn’t this poem illustrating Paul Kingsnorth point about language exactly though?  That all the language of science and the statistics about smoking do not describe the feeling that smoking creates – maybe we are using the wrong language when we try to get people to stop smoking – we use the language of statistics instead of the language of feeling…

I love the line ‘Whoever we would be for the next twenty years/took residence beyond our eyes’ – when I read this it felt like I’d been thumped in the chest – the recognition – we can all look back and remember those moments which shaped us, which we didn’t recognise at the time…then of course, if you’re a poet, you write poems about those moments…

I also like this poem for the way it follows a train of thought – it goes from one thought to the next, linking one to the other – and it does this so effortlessly.   I love the idea that the I of the poem ‘hardly stepped outside myself at all’ as if this is something we should all try and do, that the act of smoking can help you to do this, that a kiss can make you fall out of yourself and into another person..

Here is the marvellous ‘Cigarettes’ in full, with thanks to Neil Astley and Robert Wrigley for letting me post it here.

Cigarettes – Robert Wrigley

All the science notwithstanding, it’s still
a little like a kiss to me,
or what a kiss might lead to.
That first grand expulsion
of breath from the lungs hangs there
like metaphor given skin,
and we almost believe in ourselves
some new way.  Now and then
I bum one, and the rush
of dizziness that results
turns me woman in memory.
Though I lived in the world
I hardly stepped outside myself at all,
and women seemed a miracle of confidence.
Once I crossed the street
to retrieve the still-smoldering butt
a high-heeled, tight-skirted woman had tossed away.
I touched the lipstick-tainted end to my lips,
drew, and the fire burned my fingers,
the fire she’d taken into herself and sent out
into the air around us like a spell.
The first woman who ever let me
touch her, a girl really, only seventeen,
kissed me so deeply I fell out of myself
and became her.  In the moonlit backseat
I knelt upward and beheld my own eyes
in a body of perfection as vulnerable as a child’s.
Quick-witted and foul-mouthed
ordinarily, she was silent now,
even as the moments stretched out toward pain,
even when I reached over the front seat
and took one of her cigarettes and lit it
for myself.  When she moved at last
it was both arms rising toward me,
and absurdly, I handed her the smoke.
Maybe some tatter of cloud passed
before the moon just then
and in that moment her hands ceased
imploring and began simply to accept.
Whoever we would be for the next twenty years
took residence beyond our eyes.
With both hands she eased away the cigarette,
and the drag she pulled into herself
cast a light that left me blind.

Poetry in Cumbria and Call for Submissions for Second Light Anthology

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Evening folks.  A quick update to let those interested know about three events taking place this weekend – all on the same day!  On Saturday afternoon there is an event taking place at the Wordsworth Trust – ‘Tales from the Dark Mountain’ which I’m going along to – you can find more details here on the Trust website https://wordsworth.org.uk/attend-events/2013/11/30/tales-from-the-dark-mountain.html

Afterwards, I will be dashing back home to get ready for another poetry, music and storytelling event at Bardsea Malt Kiln at 7.30pm with Ross Baxter, Alan Franks and Maz O’Connor.  You can find more information here http://www.crake.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=390&Itemid=285

If you can’t make it out to Bardsea, the equally lovely Ann Wilson is hosting her regular Open Mic night at the Brewery in Kendal, with special guest Mark Mace Smith.  That starts at 7.30pm and if I hadn’t already promised Ross I would go and support him, I would have been down at the Brewery with Ann!

Myra Schneider has also asked me to highlight an exciting opportunity for women poets.  The Second Light Network of Women Poets have recently received Arts Concil funding to bring out a major new anthology of poetry by women poets.  It will be called ‘Wings of Glass’.  The book will focus on ambitious writing and be published in next autumn 2014 and launched at the Second Light Festival in central London in late November. The editors are Penelope Shuttle, Myra Schneider and Dilys Wood. Submissions will be accepted between 15th November and 15th January. Please see full details for submitting : www.secondlightlive.co.ukMyra is very keen to get as many submissions from women poets as possible – they do not want the anthology to be limited to just members of Second Light – so definitely worth having a go!

So to finish off – here is one of Ross Baxter’s ballads – which I hope he will be reading on Saturday –

THE BALLAD OF THE CORBIES AND THE JAMMY CRANES – Ross Baxter

being an account of the remarkable Battle between the Rooks and the Herons that took place in April 1775 in the Woods of Dallam Tower at Beetham.

Masters, listen, hold you still,
And hearken to me a spell;
I’ll tell you of the great battle
At Dallam Tower befell.

The year being 1775,
In April on a day,
The Herons all in the old oak grove
With their young nestlings lay;

When Daniel Wilson of Dallam Tower,
Being in want of wood,
With axe and rope he cut those oaks
And felled them where they stood.

“A grief! A grief!” cried the Heron King,
“To put us to such pain!
“Our houses spilled upon the ground
“And all our young ones slain!

“Rise up! Rise up, my bonny grey knights
“That suffer in this fall,
“To yonder copse of mighty firs,
“There to rebuild our hall.”

And then up rose those bonny herons,
A shining company;
Away they flew to the fir tree copse
Where their new home should be.

But when they came to the fir tree copse,
Their new home to survey,
A commonwealth of rooks arose
Ready to say them nay.

“Turn back! Turn back, you Heron King,
“You and your company,
“For since the world was first begun
“This is our rookery.”

“Away, you corbie squatters all,
“Away and take your flight!
“These trees are forfeit to the King
“And his court comes here tonight.”

Then up and spake those corbies bold:-
“And why should a rook bow down?
“And why should he give up his tree
“To a jammy crane in a crown?”

The Heron King called up his knights
And spake from the topmost pine:-
“These woods since time began were once
“And always will be mine.”

And at his word the Herons fell
On the Rooks without delay,
And threw them down from out of the trees
And drove them clean away.

Then the Corbie Captain rallied his troops:-
“Brave Rooks, stand fast!” said he;
“What mak of fish did that Jammy Crane eat
“That made him royalty?

“I put it to our Parliament
“That I call into this field,
“That we should fight for our common right
“To the death, ere we should yield!”

Then the Corbies they arose
And put their armour on,
Their faces pale, their cloaks were black,
And their blue steel bonnets shone.

The Herons stood with their gleaming spears
In a circle like the sun;
Down the Corbies fell on them
And attacked them ten to one.

Out of the sky the Corbies flew
Plummeting thick as rain,
And for every one the Herons slew
Nine more came on again.

All through the woods the battle raged
And all across the sky,
Till blood and feathers covered the ground,
Rained down from on high.

The Corbie Captain rose and stooped
Upon the Heron King,
And threw him from his topmost perch,
Beating him with his wing.

But the Heron King raised his head
And a loud laugh laughed he;
He pierced the Corbie with his beak
And pinned him against the tree.

And when they saw their Captain slain,
The Rooks sounded retreat,
The Herons harrying at their heels
To hasten their defeat.

And they fought till they came to Wilson’s barn,
With the wood stacked against the wall,
And there they called on the old white owl
Where she keeps her house and hall.

“A judgement! A Judgement!
“Let justice end this fray!
“For Heronry or Rookery,
“One of them must away.”

Then up and spake the old white owl:-
“Room enough for all;
“The more they chop the oak wood down,
“The more the firs grow tall.”

And so indeed it came to pass,
As you may plainly see,
The Corbies and the Jammy Cranes
Nesting in one tree.

Now Masters stay your hands awhile
Before you take what’s yours;
Think on what may follow on
When time has run its course.

For the Corbies and the Jammy Cranes
That never could agree,
Now live together side by side
In the branches of one tree.