Tag Archives: Barrow Poetry Workshops

Sunday Poem – Ilse Pedler

Sunday Poem – Ilse Pedler

I’ve just got back from a run with the dogs.  I decided to run through the dunes and then back along the beach.  It has been a beautiful day here in Barrow – very hot and sunny.  I was running as the sun was going down and the sky turning red.  Although it was beautiful, I still didn’t enjoy it as much as I do when I go with friends.  Why is running alone so much harder than running in a group?  Is it because you are left to your own thoughts?  If I didn’t know I’ve ran 13 miles in three different races, I wouldn’t have believed it, from how tired I felt running along that beach back to the car.

I normally go running in the morning with the Walney Wind Cheetahs, but couldn’t go today as I had family visiting this weekend.  My twin sister and her husband were doing the Keswick to Barrow 42 mile walk yesterday, along with my husband so they came over on Friday night, and then got a coach up to Keswick, leaving at 3.30am on Saturday morning.

I must admit in the preparations for the Keswick to Barrow, I was quite relieved that I had a reading booked at Keighley Library at 3pm so I couldn’t take part.  I was even more relieved when they all started stomping about at 2.45 am and I could stay in bed.  I got up to go to Park Run and decided I would jog round and not push myself. Instead, I ended up running round with my friend J.  J hasn’t been running for a few months so decided to do my bit to get him back into the peak of physical fitness.  Think of the White Orc driving the other Orcs in The Hobbit, and you will have an idea of how Park Run was.  I’m sure I heard J sob at one point, but as I said to him afterwards, if you can sob then you clearly have too much energy!

After Park Run, I got a phone call from the husband, who had developed blisters.  Husband never gets blisters and had done lots of training so the sudden appearance of the blisters was a mystery.  I helpfully suggested that maybe he’d put his shoes on the wrong feet, but this didn’t go down too well.  I drove to Lowick with a spare pair of shoes, dumped them with my parents, who were one of the support cars for my sister’s team, and then drove like a slightly crazed person to Keighley.

There was a great crowd at Keighley, and a lovely friendly librarian running the show.  Carole Bromley had been running an ‘Exploring Poetry’ session beforehand, and I managed to get a copy of her new book ‘The Stonegate Devil’ which I’ve read a bit of in the sunshine this afternoon.  I did my reading, and a Q and A session and then drove back to Barrow in the hopes of seeing the husband and my twin sister and her husband finishing.

Sadly, Chris was too quick for me and had already got to the end by the time I got back to Barrow.  There aren’t even any photos of him – he is like the Scarlet Pimpernel.  I walked back from Dalton to Barrow with my sister, waving like the queen and stealing some of her glory for walking forty-odd miles, which she couldn’t complain about, as she knew I would bring up the time she pretended to be me at my book launch and was thinking about signing my book!

Poor Matt, my sister’s husband, got really dehydrated and collapsed dramatically against a wall about two miles from the finish.  My dad was with him and threw some water down his throat and got him going again and he managed to finish. So, whilst beforehand I felt no great urge to do the Keswick to Barrow, yesterday was such a great day that I did feel that I’d really missed out not doing the walk, so I’ve put my name down for next year.  My sister was raising money for Animal Concern, where she is the Manager, and will be looking for some more people to make her team up, so if any poets are interested in walking 42 odd miles from Keswick to Barrow, do get in touch!

I also did the Kendal 10k on Wednesday, which was really hard and hilly, but I’m aware that a) this blog has been too full of physical exercise already and b) complaining about the difficulty of Kendal 10k after talking about the Keswick to Barrow is probably not going to work!

Other than running, I’ve been doing other stuff as well.  Poetry-wise, I’ve been catching up with my submissions.  I’ve submitted some poems to the Mslexia Poetry Competition and the Bridport Poetry Competition.  The closing dates aren’t for a while yet, but I decided to just get it done.  I’ve also been working on a poem about my time working in a prison as a poet a couple of years ago.  I’ve tried to write this poem before, and gave up because it didn’t work, so it is interesting to revisit the memories of that time again.

I also had my first mentoring session with my new mentee, which was really lovely. So lovely, in fact that I ran over and forgot to go to Barrow Writers afterwards.  Whoops.

Next week is a busy week.  If you’re anywhere near Ulverston, I’m running an Open Mic at Natterjacks on Wednesday 11th May.   It’s a lovely cafe, and the Open Mic is really in honour of some poetry friends who are holidaying in the Lake District, and wanted a poetry event to go to.  There weren’t any, so I decided to organise an Open Mic instead.  The owners are letting us have the venue for free, so I really hope people come out, buy a cup of tea or a cake, or both, which I’ll be doing, and show their appreciation that way.  It’s free entry, and if you’d like to read your own poem, or a poem by someone else, you can just sign up on the door.

Next Saturday is my Barrow Poetry Workshop.  If you know anyone who is interested in coming, there are still places available.  A lot of my regular workshoppers are on holiday or otherwise indisposed, so it will be a small and select group this month I think.  The workshop is £15 and includes tea, coffee and biscuits.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Ilse Pedler.  ‘In the Balance’ is taken from her first pamphlet The Dogs that Chase Bicycle Wheels, which was a winner in the 2015 Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition.  

In the Balance – Ilse Pedler

We walked in silence that day
to Ladram Bay.  Tired of fighting
we threaded our way through the gorse
at the cliff edge, determined to admire
the rusty sandstone spires.

Then we saw it.  A kestrel balancing
on the back of the sea breeze.
A lightness of air infused bone, held.
Only the ruffle of wing tip feathers
revealing the difference between bird and sky.

We found ourselves standing closer
together, mouths open, staring.
It looks so effortless. 
It must be such hard work
we said, almost at the same time.

There are lots of great poems in the pamphlet, but I chose ‘In the Balance’ because I think, although it could be described as a ‘quiet’ poem, in its length, in its understated tone, it is brave in the way it tackles the complexities of relationships.  I think most people will be able to identify with it – the walking in silence after fighting with a partner, the determination to get some enjoyment from a day that has been ruined.  There is a real honesty here, and also a moment of revelation, I think.  This feels like one of those poems where the poet surprised themselves at the end.


In the second stanza and the first line of the last stanza, the reader is tricked briefly into thinking that the kestrel can bridge the gap between the couple but this doesn’t happen, as they both speak ‘almost at the same time’, saying completely opposite things.

At first, I found this really sad, but I think it can be read another way as well.  The couple do stand closer together, mirroring each other’s posture.  Maybe the poem is pointing out that even in the most perfect relationship, we can’t all think the same way, we don’t perceive things the same way, even when we are looking at the same thing.  Maybe the poem isn’t pointing out how incompatible because of their differing perspectives.   Maybe the poem is the beginning of the realisation and acceptance of difference?

I hope you enjoyed the poem.  If you’d like to order Ilse’s pamphlet, you can order it from Seren.

Finally, congratulations to my friend John Foggin, one of the winners of the 2016 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition.  What a superstar he is.  And as an aside, I’ve just heard an owl hoot.


Sunday Poem – Maurice Riordan

Sunday Poem – Maurice Riordan

A couple of my friends have been saying to me for a while that I need to slow down and start taking it easy and I’ve pretty much been nodding, agreeing but ignoring them.  It all caught up with me this week though and when I finished teaching late on Wednesday night I had a headache.  I didn’t think anything of it – it kind of comes with the territory being a trumpet teacher, but when I woke up on Thursday I felt terrible – dizzy, headaches and just generally exhausted.  So I spent the whole day in bed which was nice but I still carried on firing off emails and working so I probably didn’t rest properly.

I felt a bit better on Friday so I went for a five mile run with some friends in the morning and then Chris and I went for a walk round Ulverston.  I raided all the charity shops for poetry books – there weren’t many but I did get a collection by Paul Auster (haven’t heard of him but think I should have), an anthology of ‘happy’ poems edited by Wendy Cope (I like anthologies like this – useful for getting material for workshops), a small book of Japanese haiku, the Oxford Book of Prose and Newborn by Kate Clanchy which I’ve always wanted to read, so not a bad haul.

When I got back home I felt terrible again and went back to bed and slept.  I don’t do sleeping in the afternoon, so I had to concede defeat by this point, and admit that I was ill.
We were supposed to be going camping this weekend for a friend’s birthday but we called it off.  I feel guilty about not going, but the thought of driving there and putting a tent up when I felt like I couldn’t stand for more than five minutes was too much.

So we’ve stayed at home.  It is rare for me to have the whole weekend off with nothing to do, and for Chris to have nothing to do either.  I’ve behaved myself and done nothing strenuous yesterday or today.  I’ve even (mostly) kept off the laptop and have limited myself to reading and I’m starting to feel better.

I am very relieved it is now the Easter holidays.  A whole two weeks off teaching, and I feel like I’ve earned it.   I’ll never forget when I had my first work experience student following me around – by Thursday, he was sleeping in the car as I drove around between schools, and he wasn’t even doing any teaching, just observing..

I’m planning on catching up with friends for the next two weeks and doing lots of running.  Tomorrow I’m seeing my twin sister. She has managed to escape from the animal shelter where she is the manager and is having a day off, her first in a couple of months as well.  On Tuesday morning I’m meeting up with Pauline Yarwood to go through some social media stuff for the festival, and then our website designer is coming to give both me and Pauline a lesson in using the website.  I’ve got a plasterer coming to give a quote to get the middle room of our house sorted out and I’m seeing Clare Shaw this week to plot and talk poetry.

On Thursday I’m reading in Leeds at the River’s Meet Cafe as part of the Read Regional Scheme I’m involved in.  Linda France is running an Exploring Poetry session as well.  I’m considering whether it would be a bit stalker-ish to bring Linda’s collection to get it signed as I’ve not met her before.  I will probably stow it in my bag and see if I can do it unobtrusively!

On Friday I’m running my Young Writer’s workshop – it’s been a while since I’ve seen the Dove Cottage Young Poets so I’m looking forward to seeing them all, and then I’ll go straight from there to Lancaster where I’m reading at the North West Literary Salon, held in Waterstones

Then on Saturday I’m running my Barrow Poetry Workshop – 15 people signed up, so room for one more if you know anybody that is interested.

That might sound a lot, but I haven’t got four junior band rehearsals, 2 days of brass teaching and 3 private pupils to fit in this week, so this is a walk in the park!

Today’s Sunday Poem comes from Maurice Riordan’s latest collection The Water Stealer, published by Faber in 2013.  Maurice came to read for A Poem and a Pint in February, and I bought a copy of his book. I loved this poem as soon as I read it and was captivated from start to finish.

I like the story of it, of course, but I also like the way one thing leads to another, how one pond reminds the speaker of a pond in childhood. In The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, the two main characters find themselves in a ‘Wood Between the Worlds’ filled with hundreds of pools, each one leading to a different world.  This has nothing to do with Maurice’s poem, but it is what jumped into my mind when I read the poem, and the memory of the second pond entered it.

The poem is rich in allusions and associations – the italicised sections recall the children’s son ‘There was an old woman who swallowed a fly…she swallowed a spider to catch the fly..’  There are lots of doubles in this poem as well – two ponds, two foxes, two men crying at the sight of something destroyed.

I also love the images in this – the fact that the absence of the pond is noticed because its reflection on the ceiling is gone, the saucer of streetlight and that wonderful line about the fish possibly being ‘ferried into the dawn by the cormorant’.  It strikes me that there are a lot of wise fish in poems or maybe I’ve just come across lots recently.  Karen Solie has a cracking poem called ‘Sturgeon‘ which you can hear her reading and her fish has the same ‘streetwise’ attitude, as Maurice calls it.

Maurice Riordan was born in 1953 in Lisgoold, Co.Cork.  His first collection, A Word from the Loki (1995) was nominated for the T.S. Eliot Prize.  Floods (2000) was a Book of the Year in both the Sunday Times and the Irish Times, and The Holy Land (2007) won the Michael Hartnett Award.  He lives in London and has taught at Imperial College and Goldsmiths College, and is currently Professor of Poetry at Sheffield Hallam University.  Maurice Riordan is Editor of The Poetry Review.

You can order The Water Stealer here from Faber and Faber.

I hope you enjoy the poem, and thanks to Maurice for allowing me to use it.

The Water Stealer  – Maurice Riordan

came to the pond in the night and emptied it.
I woke in the unwonted quiet
and noticed its reflections on the ceiling
absent this bright morning,

the fire outside quenched, the lilies
collapsed in a muddy heap, the neon
of damselflies, the skim of darters and fleas,
of skaters and water boatmen – gone.

Where were the carp? Sunk in the mud
or ferried into the dawn by the cormorant?
Or was it a town fox that chewed
through the tarp so it bled while I dreamt,

while my brain worried old scars,
the saucer of streetlight grew brighter
overhead and neared the huddle of carp
– who’d have jumped and bitten in terror,

gorping helplessly in the poisonous gas.

I mend the leak,and watch the basin fill,
the water not the same water: clear, drinkable,
the year’s clock too far advanced to be reset,
to remake the soup of eggs and insects.

Even so, the lilies untangle and lift
their cumbersome pads off the mud –
weightless and free, like the dancers in the loft
at harvest, when I watched as a child.

But no fish…the fish that came
with the pond that came with the garden
that came with the house that came
with the care that came with the children

And the pond, which no child fell into,
recalled our old pond back in Lisgoold
and heat-struck hours with my cousins
pawdawling in the duckweed and ooze.

I’d begun, since my days are freed up,
to love its little creatures, to scoop
for springtails and ‘water bear’ – the minuscule
tardigrade I’ve seen only on Youtube.

But now a fox has come as a thief in the night
– not the fox that squeezed through the mesh
to the hencoop (which our father tracked and shot),
no, some miscreant, with a taste for fish.

It’s time to cry – to pour tears like my father
in his old age, hammering the armrest
with an arthritic fist till he broke it (the armrest)
crippled because of a cur, a mongrel cur

the dog that barked that scared the mare
that carried the man that reared the foal 

that loved the rider that rode the mare 
that flung the rider headlong into the road 

my old man, as they were galloping home
from Midleton Show, their jaunt every June
without fail till the fall…which would shame
and shackle him, and send him to the grave.

And now I’ve a fox, or worse, for adversary.
I’ve a night of pillage and ruin to bemoan,
robbed of my pond and its innocent creatures,
dead fish to bewail – when lo and behold

a half-dozen or so are scooting here and there
among the lilies (those long gone country dancers)
the streetwise ancient carp, yea risen out
of the mud, and me in floods at the sight.



Poetry makes nothing happen

Poetry makes nothing happen

It has been a whole month since the last time I wrote on here – this is the longest time I’ve gone without blogging since I started.  I didn’t plan to take a break, although at first it seemed necessary.  After the second Sunday of not writing to you all, if I am honest, it felt like a weight lifted from my shoulders.  Then the third week cycled round, and I decided to have the whole of February off before I started again.  Last Sunday, the last Sunday in February, my fingers were itching slightly to get going again, but I resisted.  If there is one thing I’ve learnt about writing poetry or prose, it is that resistance is good.  To resist the urge to write, to hold back sometimes is an important thing for me.  Now I’ve started writing the old feeling passes over me again, of enjoyment, excitement.  It is something to do with knowing that people are listening, but also that they might not be, that these words could slip through the gap, or be ignored and it won’t matter to me, because I’ll never know.

Last time I wrote I was recovering from my fright of having to pay an unexpected tax bill.  I’ve recovered from that now, although my bank balance hasn’t.  I’ve only spent two weeks of February at home.  The first week of February, I went to Ty Newydd to be a co-tutor with Clare Shaw.   We were working with 16 teenage girls all week.

Driving to Ty Newydd was actually quite an emotional experience for me! As I got closer to the house, and turned off the main A road onto a quieter, narrow country road, all the memories of my first time driving to Ty Newydd came flooding back.  I think it was maybe 2008 that I went there for the first time, and I got lost, or at least, I thought I was lost, because of this road.  It seemed so long and empty.  The trees and hedges were a brilliant dark green and everything seemed strange and unfamiliar, even that green and the way the world sounded when I pulled over, turned the engine off and listened to the dusk falling.  I was panicking about being away from home, a voice in my head asking me who did I think I was to be paying money to go on a writing course, what was the point, what a waste of money, to spend all of that money for selfish reasons, just because I wanted to etc etc.

Of course, looking back, going on that first course at Ty Newydd was the start of my life lurching off in another direction to the one it had been travelling along previously.  Or maybe I lurched off the road I should have been following way before that, and going to Ty Newydd shoved me back to the road I should have been following.

This time I didn’t get lost and instead of staying in a shared room in the house, I was staying in the tutors cottage, with a bookshelf next to the bed, and a writing desk, which I didn’t have time to use in the end, and a wooden balcony that I did sit out on, a little. The week was really full-on, intense, challenging, exciting, inspiring.  It felt strange being back there as a tutor and watching the Ty Newydd magic work on the young writers.  One of the wonderful things about working with young people is that they make huge leaps in their writing from one end of the week to the next.  I think with adults progress is steadier and more considered.  I’ve seen this happen with many young writers that I’ve worked with – they throw themselves into it, and their writing leaps onward without looking back.  There were many times during the week when I had goosebumps when the girls read their work out loud, or had to stop myself crying – it was that kind of heady, emotional week.  The other side of that was the laughter verging on hysteria with the lovely teachers and Clare of course.  It made me resolve to laugh more when I got back to my normal life, to see the funny side of things.

I came back home exhausted and then by the end of the week I was off again to St Ives, this time to tutor on a residential writing course for adults with Steve Ely.  Again, I had a fantastic week.  It’s the first time I’ve worked with Steve and he was a brilliant tutor – very conscientous, organised and great to work with.  I got the train to Crewe and then John Foggin and Steve Ely picked me up at the train station and we drove down to St Ives.  We had great poets on the course and a real mix this time of people I’d met before and strangers, who are now friends.

Steve and I went for quite a few runs along the beach and the coastal paths.  Everything was wet and muddy and on one run we both fell into a bog up to our knees.  We found a dead gannet on the beach and Steve picked it up and spread out its wings.  Steve also had a jackdaw nest opposite his hotel window.  It was a bit like hanging out with Ted Hughes all week.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if a fox had started loping along next to us.  Pascale Petit came to read halfway through the week, which was a real treat, as she read some new work from her forthcoming collection Mama Amazonica.

I also started my online Poetry School course ‘What Work Is’  in February.  Today is the deadline for the third assignment and the poems are starting to trickle in from the participants.  I’m running this course in Manchester because the online version sold out – if you’d like to join in, you can book a place through The Poetry School here.

I’ve also been editing reviews that have come in for The Compass magazine, which should be going live very soon, and writing a review of Linda Gregerson’s latest New and Selected for Poem magazine.  Last weekend I hosted the Cumbrian final of the Poetry By Heart competition, and again, met wonderful and inspiring young people who reminded me why I love poetry.  It was great to hear some of my favourite poems recited and I could have sat there all night and been read to!

This Friday night I’m reading with young writers from my Dove Cottage Young Poets group at the Picture the Poet exhibition at Tullie House in Carlisle.  Ian McMillan is also reading, and I’m really excited about the whole event.  I’ve been working with the group for six weeks now, writing poems about identity and they have written some brilliant stuff.  It is free to go, but you should book a ticket in advance if you want to be sure of getting a place as I’m suspecting it will sell out.  You can find more information about the event here.

On Saturday, I’m running the fourth Barrow Poetry Workshop. I’ve now got enough people attending the workshop that I’ll be bringing in a second tutor, Jennifer Copley, to help run the afternoon session of the workshop.

I’m now going to break with convention as it is not Sunday, and I’m posting a poem that is one of my own.  I wrote it in Ty Newydd in Clare’s workshop in response to a discussion about the truncated quote ‘Poetry makes nothing happen’ by Auden.  We talked about how this quote is misinterpreted and you can read more about this take on it in an article by Don Share over at The Poetry Foundation.  I wrote this poem anyway, and I think I would struggle to get it published in a magazine because it is ‘about’ poetry.  I think it is walking a borderline between sentimentality and sentiment and it probably falls over on its face into sentimentality a couple of times. Having said that, I like it and I mean every word of it, except of course poetry did all these things and more for me, so it can stand here as a thank you to February, which although I disappeared from view on here, was so full of poetry and poems and young people and enthusiasm.  Really the poem is a salute to the residential writing courses that changed my life, to poetry that continues to change my life, and always for the better, poetry which has led me to such wonderful friends, to standing outside in the garden at Ty Newydd at midnight and seeing stars, everywhere, and the sky blacker than I’ve ever seen it, to laughing so much that I cry, to talking about poetry from Crewe to St Ives, to that moment when a young writer read a poem in the group and looked up and smiled and I said ‘You know that it’s good, don’t you?’ and she smiled again, and said ‘Yes.  Yes, I know it’.


Poetry – Kim Moore

It didn’t make my heart move or tilt or shake.
It didn’t make me cry a hundred times.
I don’t remember sitting in a café or a library
just to write.  If I was ever soothed
by the sound of other people’s hands
moving across a page it was temporary.
It didn’t lead me to a prison to work
with men who moved like wolves,
who carried poems folded in their pockets
or stuffed inside their socks.  It didn’t make
me cry.  It never made me change my life
or change my job.  It never gave me back
my voice or taught me what silence was.
I didn’t learn about truth or balance
abstractions on my palm.  I never sat
and wrote in front of a fire and let it lay
its burning hand across my face.
I never used language to work out
how much the leaving cost.   I didn’t let
someone else’s words push against my chest,
never wrote a poem about a man
I almost loved.  It wasn’t me on the beach
at midnight, my heart feral and full
of the violence I’d just spoken of.
It taught me nothing of repetition,
of circling back to have another look.
If there were wolves I didn’t see them,
if there were birds they did not speak.
I did not listen to my body, I didn’t write
its song. I didn’t set off on a journey,
I didn’t open up the box.



Sunday Poem – James Byrne


Diagnosis Inc. – James Byrne

You are two oranges shy of sangria
You chumpchange in a clackdish
You the flensed soldier, egg-runny on the inside
You frogging deadline after deadline
You caught in a Swiss chokehold
You feeding the duckboards of Venice
You the expert on television newswar
You at maximum voice
You at the squall above dead deerling
You the clarion-call of the id
You the barbaros of Juarez
You who want to wake up forever
You on page 65 in bubblegum PVC
You yelling at the meathook
You yet to make your wheelspin mark
You clapping at family stones
You who would rather be scalped standing
You as screw of the week
You eiderhanded as a spider
You in the stocks and wanting it more
You salted for planet jellyfish
You among the angels crisp as butcherpaper
You scissorless, cutting the line to ribbons
You the livid escarp
You the apostle of gutlove
You with a black and fraying candlestick
You hard to prove but terminally alluring
You an owl away from the topmost branch
You mad as a star
You who would shoot first

Today’s Sunday Poem is by James Byrne, who I met very briefly at Stanza in March this year, and then spent a lot of time with last weekend at the Winter Warmer Festival in Cork.  The poem comes from James’s second full length collection White Coins, published by Arc Publications, a fantastic publisher based in Hebden Bridge, publishing a small selection of English-speaking poets and a larger selection of translated poetry from all over the world.

James read this poem during his reading in Cork and that line ‘You mad as a star’ made me sit up.  I don’t know if anybody has this, hears a line of poetry that they know they will carry around with them forever,  Other examples? ‘I kill it because I can’ (from Jo Shapcott’s ‘Scorpion’) ‘I do not believe in silence’ (Clare Shaw’s poem of the same name) ‘Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me’ (Thomas Hardy) and ‘The woods decay, the woods decay and fall’ (Tennyson).  There are others but I don’t want to be here all night, and I want to talk about the rest of James’s poem.

I think the title is very interesting with the use of the word ‘diagnosis’.  The dictionary definition of this word is a) the identification of the nature of an illness or other problem by examination of the symptoms or b)  the distinctive characterization in precise terms of a genus, species, or phenomenon.

So, according to the title, we should believe that the poem is ‘diagnosing’ somebody – either what is wrong with them, or what exactly they are. To this end, it is a long list of descriptions which are detailed, colourful and full of imagery. At first I thought the poem was full of made up words – but when I google ‘chumpchange’ I find it is a ‘small and insignificant amount of money’ and a ‘clackdish’ is a ‘dish with a movable lid, formerly carried by beggars, who clacked the lid to attract notice’.  I liked the poem when I thought these words were made up but I like it even more now!

Each line is like a small box that you can unpack and extract more meaning from.  ‘You frogging deadline after deadline’ gave me an image of the ‘you’ managing to leap over or avoid deadlines, but then the next line ‘You caught in a Swiss chokehold’ gives the image of the ‘you’ being trapped or held down by somebody.  The poem is full of these contradictions, and in the slippery way that poems do, we are left with a sense of this person’s personality, but would never recognise them if we met them on the street.

James Byrne is a poet, editor, translator and Lecturer in Creative Writing at Edge Hill University.  Blood/Sugar was published by Arc Publications in 2009 and White Coins was published in 2015.  He is Editor of The Wolf, an internationally renowned poetry magazine.  He has c0-edited various anthologies, including Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century with Bloodaxe and Bones Will Crow: 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets, published by Arc.  He is the International Editor for Arc Publications. Thanks to James for letting me publish this poem on the blog!

This week I’ve managed to have a couple of evenings where I’ve had nothing on which meant I could catch up with admin and emails.  I normally try and keep on top of emails as I go along, but after being ill a couple of weeks ago and then being away for over 7 days in the past month or so, it had become impossible.  So that has been one nice thing this week.

It hasn’t really been quiet though – I went to judge the Queen Katherine School Poetry Slam on Tuesday night – well I was one of the judges.  I was really excited by the talent and performances of the young poets.  When I was fifteen, I could barely walk into a room on my own and yet these young people are standing up and reading and reciting their poetry. They were so switched on and politically engaged in a way I found really surprising – these are teenagers who care passionately about gender equality, refugees, going to war – and the poems were really good – exploring these subjects in memorable ways.  The eventual winner of the slam was one of my young writers – hurrah! I should hasten to add that there was no possibility of me being able to vote and get my young writers through, even if I’d wanted to  – there were four other judges and ten randomly selected members of the audience.

On Friday I had a lovely session with the young writers where we talked about everyday feminism and how we ‘minimise’ outrageous and sexist things that are said to us as women.  They all had shocking stories of things that have already happened to them and I read them a poem that I’ve recently written about a rather creepy taxi driver who decided to inform me that ‘all artists are crazy in bed’.  They wrote some fantastic poems about their experiences – and I’m really pleased they are aware of these things already.

I then drove like a madwoman straight from Kendal to get to Leeds where I was reading at WordClub at The Chemic Tavern.  Mark Connors was hosting and there were ten open mic slots, pre-chosen who were really entertaining.  There were lots of friendly faces in the crowd, poets that I met through David Tait and through performing at Poetry By Heart in Headingley over the years. It was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me as I lived just round the corner when I was a music student in Leeds. Helen Mort was the other reader and it was great to hear some of her new poems, as well as old favourites from her collection Division Street.

Clare Shaw offered to put me up for the night in Hebden Bridge, so I then drove to her house and met her two lovely pet rats, whose names I can’t remember.  I didn’t expect to like them, not being a particular fan of rodents, but they are very cute.  One of them has a little snuffle and she climbed onto my leg a few times, as if I was just there for her convenience, which in her world I was.

I went to see Tony and Angela at Arc Publications for a cup of tea and a biscuit after I left Clare’s, before making my way home.  I met Tony and Angela last week in Cork and we got on really well.  The problem is I could sit and talk to them all day and then I wouldn’t get anything done!

I went for a rather windy run today and then I’ve spent the whole day working on poems.  I haven’t written any new ones, but I have been editing and re-drafting and trying to push the poems that I’ve started a little bit further.  I feel like I’m getting back into my stride with writing now.  Tomorrow I’m running in the morning and conducting the junior band in the evening, but I’m hoping to get some more writing done in between those things.

My other project that I’ve been working on is putting on a series of monthly workshops in Barrow in Furness.  Barrow is very isolated, and I want to build up a bigger community of poets here.  I know there are a few poets like Kate Davis and Jennifer Copley who live in Barrow, but they are already very experienced writers.  I want to create a workshop for people that might not have written any poetry before.  I’ve got the next two workshop dates for January and February already booked, so if you know of anyone who might be interested in attending a writing workshop and is within travelling distance of Barrow, do send them my way! There is a group page for the workshops on Facebook – it’s called (rather inventively) Barrow Poetry Workshops.