Tag Archives: Barrow Shipyard Junior Band

Sunday Poem – Gordon Hodgeon


The weather cannot make up its mind today.  I spent most of my morning standing on Walney Island as a marshal for the Walney Fun Run with the wind blowing (although maybe not as hard as it could have done) and pouring rain.  I had waterproof trousers on, which I quickly discovered weren’t really waterproof and my outdoor hiking coat which did save the top half of me at least from the rain. I must admit, I longed to be running around in the wind and the rain- at least you are warm when you are running!

Despite this, I’m glad I volunteered – it’s nice to give something back and I do enjoy seeing the different ways people run, the different ways they react to the marshals.  Most of the runners at the front were completely focused and gave no sign whether they heard us or not.  When I’m in race mode (although I’m not at the front) I hear the marshals but I don’t look at them or acknowledge them – not because I’m not grateful to them, but more because I’m conserving energy, and I’m concentrating, but it does make a difference to have people there cheering you on.

As you get further and further back in the field though, people smile and are happy to see you.  One man even had enough breath to say ‘thank you for coming out marshals’ which was nice!  The children often pick up the pace if you cheer them on, going from a walk to a trot, or a trot to a little sprint.  So from 9.15am when I arrived until about 12 it was raining and spray was blowing in from the sea.  Then suddenly the sun came out and it is now a glorious day with blue skies.  By that time though I’d had enough and felt all damp and cold and bedraggled and decided to go home, but I have been sat in the garden for a little bit this afternoon at my new table and on one of my new chairs which I bought yesterday.  This is an exciting event for me because I’ve never owned a garden or a table and chairs to go in a garden.

I’ve also been having great fun picking plants to go in the garden and have rather irresponsibly just been picking ones I like the look of and randomly sticking them in the garden.  Yesterday I spent a couple of hours pulling up bindweed which grows so fast – it is a bit like that plant in Little Shop of Horrors – it seems to have a mind of its own.  I left a stick propped up against the fence about a week ago and yesterday there were tendrils of bindweed growing up it – how is that classed as a plant and not an animal with a mind of its own?

I have some weeks where I have to accept that I’m doing lots of music teaching and poetry has to be put on one side but this week it feels like I’ve been yanked from one world to the other.  On Monday I had a 2 hour rehearsal with my junior band to get ready for our end of term concert on Thursday. This was to go through the music with my friend who had agreed to play drums for us.  Disaster struck on Thursday as my friend had a family emergency and couldn’t play in the concert.   I had two hours to find another drummer and heard that an ex-pupil of mine was back from university, so he came along at the last minute and played brilliantly.

The concert was made up of the Barrow Shipyard Junior Band which is pupils ranging in age from 8-18 (about 30 now) and my other band Brasstastic, which has 14 primary school pupils in it.   They both played really well and to finish off the night we played a mass piece which we’d not rehearsed together before but which they managed brilliantly.  I couldn’t believe how well my ex-pupil played the drums – he is also a talented cornet player and singer but he followed every single tempo change – I was really impressed with him.

On Saturday I was at another rehearsal with the Barrow Shipyard Junior Band at Furness Music Centre because we have one more concert on July 4th where we are playing with an orchestra, wind band and choir at the Coronation Hall. Again, the kids were really good and it was nice to not have to conduct and to sit and play along with them a little bit.

I also did Park Run on Saturday and managed to get a new PB – 22.49 which I am really, really pleased about.  I’ve wanted to go under 23 minutes for a while.  I think it will be another couple of months before I can shave anything more off that time – this is the problem though, as soon as I achieve one goal, I start thinking ‘hmm wouldn’t it be nice to go under 22 and a half?’ Anyway, we shall see!

On Friday morning I was still buzzing from the junior band concert but I had to force myself to settle down and plan my workshop for Dove Cottage Young Poets which was Friday afternoon and then I drove straight back from Kendal and went to Bardsea for A Poem and a Pint’s collaborative night with ‘The Quiet Compere’ aka Sarah Dixon.  Sarah Dixon is travelling around the UK, putting on an event made of ten poets reading for 10 minutes each.  It was nice to have the chance to hear a lot of local poets read – it made me realise how much talent there is in the local area.  I enjoyed hearing everybody read but the most exciting set for me was David Borrott, whose new pamphlet Porthole has just been published by Smith/Doorstop as a ‘Laureate’s Choice’.   David was very funny and read really well.  I know how hard he has worked at writing and I’m really happy that his work is now going to get a wider audience.

So, gaining a wider audience brings me on to today’s Sunday Poet, who I’d never heard of before my friend John Foggin sent me his book as a present.  Gordon Hodgeon is published by Smokestack and was born in Leigh in 1941.  He was active for many years in NATE, in Northern Arts, Cleveland Arts, New Writing North and Mudfog Press.  HIs previous books of poetry include November Photographs (1981), A Cold Spell (1996), Winter Breaks (2006), Still Life (2012) and Old Workings: New and Selected Poems (2013).  He lives in Stockton-on-Tees.

Writing that list of books makes me a little ashamed that I hadn’t come across his work before so I’m grateful to John for bringing his poetry to my attention.  I’m going to quote from the back cover of the book to give some context to the Sunday Poem today:

“For the past five years the poet Gordon Hodgeon has been confined to his bed.  Following a series of unsuccessful operations on his spine, he is now unable to move his arms and legs, and cannot breathe without the help of a ventilator.  In the last few months he has lost the power of speech.  Today he can only communicate with the outside world by blinking at a Dynavox computer screen or by dictating to his carers, letter by letter.”

After reading this, I was prepared for a book of poems that felt hard won, laboured, as if every word had been dragged out to lay on the page.  I wasn’t prepared for poetry that made me conscious of my own body and consciousness, in the way that running does.  I wasn’t prepared for the first poem in the collection which is now the Sunday Poem.  I have to warn you that reading this poem may have a strange effect on you.  I read it and then I had to shut the book.  I couldn’t read any further – someone had just articulated for me the edge between the body and the soul, the difference between feeling powerful and being powerless.  It is only a tiny poem but I came back to it the next day, read it again with the intention of going on with the book and had to stop.  The third time I read the book cover to cover, without stopping.

Of course the title of the Sunday Poem ‘I Walked Out This Morning’ contains within it a sly nod to Laurie Lee’s ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ memoir of leaving his life to travel through Spain.  There is also W.H.Auden’s ‘As I Walked Out One Evening’ but the poem it really made me think of was W.B. Yeats ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ with its first two lines ‘I went out this morning/because a fire was in my head’.  I don’t know why this jumped into my head when I read the title of Gordon’s poem, but there you go.

The title and the first line have a fairy-tale feel though, or the air of settling down to tell somebody a really good story.  Only yesterday I was telling someone I don’t like poems with the word ‘memories’ in and then, I find it in this one, and it works perfectly.  There is also something very subversive going on here.  Nothing is quite what it seems.  The speaker in the poem ‘walks out’ but in walking out finds a man in his bed with a ‘fly on his nose’.  Then that shocking sixth line ‘Only his weeping eyes could move’ and there is something of the fairy tale about this as well and this is continued with that childlike line which sounds like a refrain ‘Oh dearie me, oh dearie him.’  The last five lines are the clincher – look how deftly he turns this around – suddenly the speaker is the one who cannot speak, the walker is the one who cannot move.  Even without the background information provided on the back cover, this is a strange and discomforting poem.  The writing is skilful and measured and controlled, full of insight and questions.

The collection is called Talking to the Dead which sounds quite macabre, but don’t let this put you off.  The second poem is the title poem and what struck me in this one is that even in the act of Talking to the Dead, the speaker wants to learn something new.  He says ‘Who can teach me/guide me through their dark palaces/their ungrowing fields?’

This poem reminded me of why I started the Sunday Poems in the first place – that feeling of reading something amazing and feeling like you might burst if you don’t tell someone about it.

Anyway, here is the wonderful ‘I Walked Out This Morning’.  I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you are moved to buy a copy from Smokestack.  You can order Gordon’s book here.  It is a short book, only 47 pages, which I’m guessing is why it is only priced at £4.95 but this seems ridiculously cheap for such quality.

I Walked Out This Morning – Gordon Hodgeon 

I walked out this morning
from the jigsaw jumble of
dreams and memories
and found a man in my bed
with a fly on his nose.
Only his weeping eyes could move.
I asked if I could help him
but could not understand his reply.
Oh dearie me, oh dearie him.
So I turned away to go and saw
him in the mirror standing
about to leave the room, and me
supine in the bed with a fly on my nose
and only my weeping eyes could move.

Sunday Poem – Myra Schneider


Evening all – I’m writing this feeling very sorry for myself.  I started writing it about 5.30 in a burst of enthusiasm and determination not to be up till all hours finishing it off, but I went upstairs to get something, sat down on the spare bed and the next thing I knew it was 7.30 and I woke up with a sore throat and feeling that special kind of rough that happens when you fall asleep during the day.

It is my own fault I fell asleep for two hours – yesterday we had Poem and a Pint with guest poet Zaffar Kunial and instead of going straight home afterwards and sorting my life out I went to the pub and talked non-stop for an hour.  In fact maybe that is why my throat is sore.

Zaff is currently Poet in Residence at the Wordsworth Trust – it was great to hear him read his poetry from his new Faber pamphlet as well as some new work that he has written during his time at the Trust.

When I got back from the pub I realised that I hadn’t sorted out the band folders and had visions of the 38 children in the band rifling through the folders on stage, pages blowing away in the breeze and decided to put the music in order.  It might seem like a simple thing to leave the children to find their own music, but if you think that, you obviously haven’t met my wonderful band, who have many strengths but the ability to find their music quickly is not one of them.  Sorting the folders out took me till about 2.30am and then I couldn’t get to sleep afterwards, the set list for the concert kept running through my mind and then when I did sleep I kept waking up, thinking I’d over slept.

The band played really well, especially considering that half the band was on the stage and half the band was in front of it which meant they were really spread out.  The half of the band on the stage told me afterwards they couldn’t really hear the other half and were just following the drummer and my amazing conducting skills.  Ok, I may have added in that last adjective.  Before the junior band, I played trumpet with the South Lakes Brass Ensemble which went great too.

Here is a picture of the junior band.


Saturday was a bit manic – as well as Poem and a Pint I did park run in the morning and beat my last time of 23.36 – this time I got 23.09 so I was very happy.  I don’t think that is an adequate description of the dancing, star-jumping and general bragging that the poor husband had to put up with when my official time came through.  I was also third woman which I’ve never been before.  I have been fourth a couple of times and I suspect that there were a few women missing which explains my elevated position.  Not that I’m obsessing about it or anything.

Afterwards, I went second hand furniture shopping, after discovering that the type of writing desk that I would really like that will enable me to write amazing poems and never be distracted by Facebook again costs about £400.  I found a ‘double pedestal’ writing desk, that apparently used to live in a school and bought it for £60.  I’ve bought some paint and handles as well – have never painted furniture before but have decided the desk should be purple…I might even put some before and after photos up.  Unless I completely ruin the desk in which case I will never mention it again and don’t ask about it…

On Friday I did a session with the Dove Cottage Young Poets.  I decided what the group needed in their life was a sestina and I took along Kathryn Maris’s wonderful sestina ‘Darling Would You Please Pick up Those Books’ which you can read here.

I’ve never tried to write a sestina before.  In fact, I will admit to a dislike of them, apart from Kathryn’s which I think is fabulous.  I hate it when someone tells me before they read a poem that it is a sestina – I don’t really want to know – it either sounds like you’re apologising for the repeating words or showing off that you’ve written one.  Anyway, I had a go and I think it could work!  If it does work, it fits in with the sequence I’ve been working on and should really go in the collection, but if that’s going to happen, then I need to work on it quickly.

On Monday I had Soul Survivor rehearsal straight after junior band and then Tuesday I had a lovely chat with Sasha Dugdale about a project I’m working on to ‘translate’ poems by a female Burmese poet, Moon Thueain. I say ‘translate’ in inverted commas, because of course, I can’t speak, write or read Burmese.  I’ve been working from a literal translation and have been sending various emails back and forward asking questions of both the poet and the translator.  It is a really fascinating thing to do, and I’m really grateful to Sasha for giving me the opportunity. Sasha is the editor of Modern Poetry in Translation and if you have a spare five minutes, have a look at the MPT website.  It’s one of my favourite websites because they have a page where you can have a go at posting your own version of a poem from a literal translation.  As well as the literal version of the poem, there is a short essay from the translator which is always really interesting.

On Wednesday I had meetings straight after school in my new role as Music Service Liason Teacher.  I met quite a few teachers from various Barrow schools who were responsible for music.  Some of them I already knew and worked with, but some I hadn’t met before.  I was heartened by the enthusiasm for music that the teachers showed and disheartened by the same concerns that are always voiced which are how schools can afford to pay for quality music provision.

Last week I said in the balance scales of music and poetry, music was definitely winning.  This week I would say it’s an even draw, mainly because I was able to have the whole of Thursday to sit and read some poetry, as well as catching up with some admin like emails and invoices.  I had a really lovely day and spent most of it in my pyjamas.  I read two collections for the second time – I won’t tell you what one was, because I’m featuring a poem from it next Sunday, but the other was ‘The Door to Colour’ by Myra Schneider.

Myra has been featured on the blog before but I thought it was worth celebrating the publication of her tenth collection, ‘The Door to Colour’ published by Enitharmon.  You can order ‘The Door to Colour’ directly from Enitharmon or email Myra at myrarschneider@gmail.com if youw would like to buy a copy directly from her.

The collection, as you may have guessed by the title, is full of colour.  I’ve picked a poem that I hope shows this, but one that also demonstrates another preoccupation in the collection, which is the object poem.  Object poems are so often done badly, being the stock exercise that is trotted out in workshops, but Myra is a genius at them.  Her object poems are often held together by a thread of free association.  The poem is not really about the object – the object is merely the doorway or the path to a deeper concern.

Elsewhere in the collection we have ‘The Black Glove’ which conjures up a childhood memory of a mother lugging coal.  In the poem ‘Spoon’ we read ‘How easy to Thumbelina my body/into this bowl smooth as butter – the fit/is perfect’.  The poem carries on imagining shrinking to be small enough to fit into a spoon.  This impulse to explore the life of things is explored further by a short sequence called ‘Seeing into Things’ which I think is a great title.

There are also lots of poems about music – both Mahler and Beethoven feature but perhaps my favourite part of the book was a long sequence at the end called ‘The Minotaur’ which explores an alternative view of the Minotaur and Theseus, the Greek hero who comes to kill him.

I thought this sequence was as readable and as action packed as a novel – obviously not as long, but it had that same forward momentum and drive.  I would have loved to have posted the sequence up but it is quite long, so if you are interested I would recommend buying the collection.

The poem I’ve chosen, another one of my favourites is called ‘The Throw’.  I liked this one for many reasons – the careful details in the second stanza of the ‘minute gold elephants’ which ‘walk in perfect lines’ along ‘the embroidered roads of the fabric’.

I like that I was suprised by the ending, that last line ‘where I wish pain, all pain to vanish’.  Until this point, I thought the poem was just a really beautifully written poem about a gift from a son to a mother.  The last line, which brings in pain took me by suprise, but when I went back to the beginning of the poem again, I realised there was a shadow of this pain in the very first stanza, when the throw ‘becomes and extra skin/ one that’s kind to my uncomfortable body.’

This quiet phrase slipped by me on first reading, but now I find it quite shocking.  Or maybe shocking is the wrong word.  It makes me realise that I’m lucky, to not be uncomfortable in my body, to not have ongoing pain.  Despite this dark shadow in the poem, I think it is overall a very positive poem – full of colour and imagination and life – the mind in this poem continues to free associate and think and dream, even whilst the body creeps into bed.

Myra has her own website if you would like to look up more of her work which you can find here.   As well as ‘The Door to Colour’ Myra’s five collections with Enitharmon include ‘Exits’ in 1994, ‘The Panic Bird’ in 1998, ‘Insisting the Yellow’ in 2000, ‘Multiplying the Moon’ in 2004 and ‘Circling the Core’ in 2008.  Her poem ‘Goulash’ was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for the Best Single Poem in 2007.  Myra is a generous and enthusiastic teacher and currently tutors for the wonderful Poetry School.  Myra has recently co-edited an anthology of contemporary women’s poetry called ‘Her Wings of Glass’ with the fabulous poets Penelope Shuttle and Dilys Wood. The anthology is published by Second Light Publications.  You can find out more about the anthology here and get a special introductory rate if you would like to buy it.  The Second Light network is well worth checking out -they also publish a magazine for women’s poetry called Artemis, edited by Dilys Wood

I hope you enjoy the poem – looking forward as always to reading your comments.

The Throw – Myra Schneider

my son brought me from Thailand is magenta,
a royal marriage of violet and pink.
When I lay it on my bed over the quilt
from India it becomes an extra skin,
one that’s kind to my uncomfortable body.

How I love its minute gold elephants, each
the size of the top segment of my little finger.
They walk in perfect lines, head to tail,
along the embroidered roads of the fabric
and when I stroke one an elephant god appears,

becomes the memory of riding in a high place
on a huge blur of animal, becomes the elephants
living in Mimi’s flat.  My son has elaborated
on the heat in Thailand but here winter is trying
to sneak into the house and steal its warmth.

I creep into bed, invite the elephants to tiptoe
across my body’s pathways.  When snowflakes
begin to float whitely down I close my eyes
and they melt into the soft purplish mystery
of nothing where I wish pain, all pain to vanish.

Sunday Poem – Rebecca Gethin

Sunday Poem – Rebecca Gethin

Evening all – you may all be relieved to know that I’m in a much better mood than I was last Sunday and am predicting that there will be no moaning in this blog post, or hardly any moaning anyway!  I would say music has won over poetry this week on the balance scales of my life which seems to be happening quite a lot lately.

On Friday night the brass band that I conduct, the Barrow Shipyard Junior Band had their autumn concert, which was a joint concert with the Barrow Steelworks Band.  All of the money raised was split between the Junior Band and the Barrow Foodbank.  We pick a different charity each year to work with and I try and pick a charity that has a direct impact on the children that we work with as well as having a wider impact on the community of Barrow.  Last year, for example, half of the money raised went to the Furness Branch of the National Autistic Society.

So because the concert was on Friday I got the children to stay for a longer rehearsal on Monady – 6pm-8pm instead of the usual 6-7.15pm.  Even though we had longer, and I made the children work really hard and didn’t let them have a break (what a cruel task master I am) we still didn’t get through all of the programme for Friday, so I had to trust in the magical power young musicians seem to have which enables them to pull something amazing out of the bag on the night.

On Tuesday I had work as usual and then a rehearsal with Soul Survivors – getting ready for our Top Secret gig in December.

On Wednesday I did a live Online Chat with Poetry School students who were signed up on a course called ‘5 Easy Pieces’ which involves 5 different tutors setting an exercise, one after the other.  The students have a week to write a poem in response and then the tutor has a week to read all the responses.  I spent the week reading the poems once a day and then on Tuesday night after I got back from Soul Survivors, I read them in earnest, and made notes on the pages ready for Wednesday.

I really enjoyed the online chat – not only because the poems were of a good standard, and the students seemed very open and willing to learn and listen to each other, but also because I found myself discovering more about each poem as it was under discussion.  Sometimes I ended up changing my mind – other times I would have defended my opinion – well not to the death, because that would be a bit extreme, but I would have stood by it in the face of everyone else disagreeing.  I think there is something very special created in the online chats which is that there is time (albeit a very short amount of time) to discuss poetry and words without distraction, as if, for those two hours of the online chat, there is nothing more important in the world.

This week I also had two anxiety dreams.  One was about my first collection.  I had a really vivid dream that there was a pile of bound proof copies waiting for me on the doormat downstairs, but when I opened the package and the six proofs fell out, they all had awful pink covers with various versions of flowers and a note from Amy Wack, my editor, saying I had to choose from one of those six, and as she was giving me such a lot of choice, she didn’t think this was unreasonable.  You know those dreams you wake up from when you are sweating a little bit and you are crying and you wake yourself up by crying? Yeah, that was me.  I woke the husband up and demanded he escort me down to the front door to check the package of books was not in fact there. He dutifully did, too sleepy to be able to present a reasonable argument about why this was not a good idea.

They weren’t of course, and I went back to sleep but I did tweet about it the next day and then got the Marketing Department at Seren, who clearly have a great sense of humour sent me this lovely example cover as a joke…

joke cover

On Thursday it was my day off (yes, may have mentioned that before) and I drove to Grasmere to go for a cup of tea and a catch up with lovely Andrew Forster from the Wordsworth Trust.  I was hoping that there would be some amazing good news about the Wordsworth Trust’s lack of funding for the poetry program from next year, but unfortunately not.  I drove to Skipton from Grasmere to meet up with poet Keith Hutson about a possible project that we are hoping to put together along with Clare Shaw.

My other anxiety dream of the week was about the Junior Band Concert.  It probably wasn’t surprising that I was having anxiety dreams.  My manager and the manager of Cumbria Music Hub was going to be there, escorting the Mayor and Mayoress of Barrow, as well as all the parents of the children in the band, as well as my Mum and Dad.  And then there was the managing of the 54 brass players of course.  I dreamt that nobody turned up apart from the Mayor, Mayoress and my manager.  Of course this didn’t happen – the concert was a sell out – we had to find more chairs and put them out at the back.  The kids played really well as usual.  Maybe they just enjoy torturing me in the last rehearsal.  I got lots of lovely, positive feedback from the audience so that kind of blew all the cobwebs and negative feelings of last week away.

We made £508.60 from the concert which is fantastic for both the Junior Band and the Foodbank.

Yesterday I was at a workshop all day which was run by Foden’s Band and organised by the South Cumbria Music Festival.  It was an interesting day and it was nice to spend time with some of the band in a different setting.  And then today I’ve spent most of the day with the South Lakes Brass Ensemble in Grange over Sands, playing for their Prom Arts Day.  We played a mixture of carols and ‘normal’ music, but by the time we got to the end of our set, we were all really cold so I was quite relieved to come home.  Here is a picture of us all trying not to look cold.

south lakes brass ensemble

When I got home I found the husband hard at work putting a light up on the front of the house so that we are not fumbling to open the door in complete darkness.  He’d also tidied the front garden up as well so after a cup of tea I went out to the back garden or the ‘hayfield’ as John Foggin calls it and got to work snipping brambles which have managed to snake their way across the garden underneath all the dead grass.  The husband chopped down about a sixth of the hedge in the garden – you can see him brandishing his saw in this picture.  As you can see, still a lot to do.  But the pile of branches next to the shed is what he has cut down so far, and the green bin is full of my snipped brambles.


Today’s Sunday Poem is by Rebecca Gethin, who was one of the participants on the residential poetry course I ran with Clare Shaw.  Rebecca showed me this poem on the last night of the course and I liked it straight away.  I like the whole conceit of the poem which explores how the body is the receptacle of a personal and a social history.

I also love poems that try and write about the gap between the body and the self, so I love the first couplet with the body compared to a vehicle that the father and mother are inside.  I think the opening couplet also lulls the reader into thinking that this is going to be a celebration of parents, but by line 4 it has started to turn a little ominous ‘thinking thoughts, knowing mine’.  By stanza 3 the speaker in the poem is trapped: ‘I can’t extricate myself from the bones I’ve been born into’ and it is this point that the body changes from being a vehicle to being a cage.  I also love the ending to this poem – until this point, we have assumed that the parents are together but the last three lines puts heed to that notion by telling us ‘as far as I know/they haven’t met each other for decades’ – this is funny as well as sad.  The poem has a great last line as well and I love how the reference to the ribcage made me think of Adam and Eve, and Eve being made from Adam’s rib.  In this last line, the image of the body as a cage is made even more explicit by the use of ‘ribcage’.

I should also say that this is a brand new poem and has just been published in The Interpreter’s House, a great magazine edited by Martin Malone and well worth checking out.

I would also recommend Rebecca’s collection ‘A Handful of Water’ published by Cinnamon Press which I’ve really enjoyed reading.  Many of the poems are careful observations on wildlife and animals.  One of my favourite poems in the book is ‘Familiar’ which records a dream of searching for a horse.  Here is my favourite couplet from that poem

‘When the horse lay down to rest I lay with her, leaning against
the timpani of her belly, the sound of violins tuning up inside.’

That is so lovely, and so well-written.

Rebecca is very widely published and writes novels as well! Her first novel was published in 2011 after winning the Cinnamon Press Novel Writing Award.  Her first poetry collection ‘River is the Plural of Rain’ was published by Oversteps Books in 2009 and her second poetry collection was published by Cinnamon.

Anyway, if you would like to find out more about Rebecca you can have a look at her blog which is here

or you can order Rebecca’s book ‘A Handful of Water’ from her publisher, Cinnamon Press .  Rebecca also has an Author page on Facebook here

I hope you enjoy the poem.

Cryptic – Rebecca Gethin

Sometimes I find my father and mother
walking around inside me, as if my body were their vehicle.

They look through my eyes at the hedges flashing by,
thinking thoughts, knowing mine.

I can’t extricate myself from the bones I’ve been born into –
neither the shapes of my arms in their sleeves of skin

nor my wrinkled hands on the steering wheel.
Nothing seems constant any longer.

The expression of their frozen faces is melting
in the heat of my blood…as far as I know,

they haven’t met each other for decades but they’re talking
together inside my ribcage – as if I’m not here.

Sunday Poem – River Wolton


This week was the last week of term – and it’s been a bit strange.  I can often be found counting down till the end of term – especially the Christmas term – I sometimes feel like I’m hanging on to my patience and my sanity with my finger nails.  Then term finishes, and I get a bit down and fed up and – well my husband would say grumpy but I think that is a little unfair! I have no idea why I get like this – I find it hard to relax and do nothing – I feel guilty so maybe this is something to do with it…

On Monday I went and played some carols with Barrow Steelworks Band for an hour in Morrisons from 4-5 then drove pretty sharpish over to Tescos for 5.30 to conduct my junior band playing carols.

On Tuesday I stood in for a teacher and conducted St Pius School Band at a concert at St Marks Church in Barrow.  It was a lovely concert – but I found it quite stressful – the kids knew how many repeats they were doing and when they were meant to be singing and dancing (!) thank goodness, but a couple of children turned up late so there I was trying to find chairs for them after the first piece, then another turned up and didn’t know where she’d left her instrument etc etc – made me realise that not only does playing in a band teach musical skills but it also should teach organisational skills and punctuality! Saying that, I went to a gig in Kendal (45 minutes drive away) and realised I’d left my trumpet at home once and I was an adult – and the children did cope very well with me conducting them instead of their usual teacher – they were not shy about correcting me either before we were about to start (“we normally play this one fast”) (“this one starts off with the drums”) etc and it is Christmas, so what I am trying to say, is that on balance, I forgave them their tardiness!

On Wednesday I spent most of the day driving round to various schools and there were no kids to teach – they had gone to the cinema or were having a party but I was still out and about most of the morning and then by 3.45 on Wednesday I was finished and that was when instead of feeling harried/tired I started to feel grumpy…

In my free time since then I have read Clare Pollard’s ‘Ovid’s Heroines’ (it was very good – very interesting as well – as in, gripping in the way a novel is gripping), done the Christmas shopping (on a strict budget this year which I have managed to stick to), done a leaflet for my school poetry workshops (I ran these through Cumbria Music Service last year – but this year I will be doing them freelance) and I have plotted to set up a brass quintet.

This is what happens when I have time on my hands you see!  But I am really excited about the brass quintet .  We have our first rehearsal booked in for early January and we will be performing at weddings and other occasions as required – once we have a name (which we don’t at the minute) I will be setting up a blog and a facebook and twitter group – but in the meantime, if you know anybody who would like a brass quintet for any occasion then get in touch!  There will be a special poets rate 🙂

So today’s Sunday Poem is by River Wolton.  River’s second collection ‘Indoor Skydiving’ has just been published by Smith/Doorstop and it is very good – completely rooted in the modern world  tackling issues such as human trafficking and assumptions about gender and identity.  River also has a pamphlet with Smith/Doorstop called ‘The Purpose of Your Visit’ and a first collection ‘Leap’.  You can buy all of these publications by going to http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk

The poem I’ve chosen was one of those rare poems that you read and instantly connect with – I loved it straight away.  I have no particular love for rats to be honest – when I lived in Leeds because of the students in the top flat bombing their bin bags into the rubbish yard we had a period of time when there were rats living in the building, and they weren’t particularly shy.  I remember coming into the entrance hall of the flats and a rat sitting on a bin bag, and when the light from outside fell on it, it just looked at me and watched me as I scampered past. This poem rests in the journey the reader takes – the poem unpacks the statement the poet makes in the first line and the reader changes their mind about rats by the end of the poem as well.  I really liked the movement in this poem – nothing is still – the floodwater flowing, the quick movement of the rat as she picks the babies up in her mouth and we can picture the rat in the water because of the description of her swimming against the current and that lovely ending of the young rats not knowing whether to fear the water or being in their mother’s mouth… I realise this is not a very festive choice but it does go with last weeks choice of a cat poem!

Rat – by River Wolton

I changed my mind
after a documentary:
floodwater in a sewer.

She took them one by one
scruff of their necks
as if to eat them.

They shrieked,
didn’t know where they were going,
couldn’t see

the torrent forced
into a lethal channel by
excellent Victorian masonry.

Against the flow she swam,
her snakey tail, her bead-black nose,
her children in her mouth,

then scampered to a higher ledge,
and dropped them.
Back again

to where those remaining quivered,
not knowing what to fear most,
the cold thickening around them.



Sunday Poem – Isabel Bermudez


If feels as if time is accelerating since the start of December – maybe it is because December gets very busy for music teachers and the pressure is now on to get Jingle Bells sounding like Jingle Bells before Christmas in my normal teaching – which is more complicated than it sounds!

I am taking the Barrow Shipyard Junior Band caroling next week – on Monday we can be found playing carols in Asda, on Tuesday we will be at Anchor Court in Dalton and Wednesday we will be at Ormsgill Primary School playing in their carol concert.  On Thursday I’ll be in Grasmere running a schools workshop for the Wordsworth Trust and on Friday you will find me in a heap somewhere…next Monday the band will be caroling in Tesco.  This is our main chance in the year to build our coffers up to enable us to do exciting things throughout the year – last year the money we made caroling meant we could make our first album – which was launched on Tuesday last week.
We sold 44 copies on the night of the launch – I think we need to sell 120 to break even on production costs so if you would like one please get in touch.

Apart from the launch night the other thing I got up to this week was driving over to Darlington to work on a project with New Writing North which is based around the idea of working with newly qualified teachers and helping them to teach more creatively..I was just observing in this session but next time I go over in February I will be teaching part of the session – Anna Woodford led the session this time – a lovely lady who was great fun.  I offered her a lift back to the train station and we nearly got lost – both of us paying no attention to our surroundings when we had arrived at the school a couple of hours later and then mishearing the directions we were given – but we got there eventually!

In other news I went to Sheffield yesterday to the last Writing School meet up at the Poetry Business.  I think I wrote at least one poem which I think will go into my sequence – so that takes me up to 14 (if I keep them all).  I also picked up two copies of The North magazine yesterday with my two poems in ‘My People’ and ‘The Dead Tree’.  There are lots of great poets in this issue – and if you are looking for  a good poetry magazine to subscribe to you can’t go wrong with The North.  You can order it at http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk

If you haven’t already – do have a look at the ‘Residentials and Workshops’ tab – there are details there of the next residential I’m running in Grange Over Sands with poet Jennifer Copley in April 2014.  You will also find dates for a residential I’m running in October 2014 with poet Clare Shaw down in St Ives – both are now open for booking – the Grange one has 8 places left – the St Ives one is ok for spaces as I’ve only just put the dates up.  Both are £350 and this includes tuition, accommodation, breakfast and dinner.  And my amazing company of course!  A bargain…

Today’s Sunday poem is by a lovely poet I met at Torbay Poetry Festival in October – Isabel Bermudez.  Isabel  was born in Bogota, and came to England as a child. She has been published in various magazines and shortlisted in a number of competitions, including twice for the Bridport. She was Highly Recommended in this year’s Torbay Open Poetry Competition.  Her documentary film  El Corazon de la Basura, was shown on Colombian state television and at the Cuban International Film Festival in 2000.

Isabel’s husband Simon is a wonderful artist and Isabel gave me this poem on a beautiful illustrated post card which Simon had painted…I am always partial to a heron poem but I do like the close descriptions in this poem – and how sure-footed the poem is – each line break feels right.  I also like the questioning or doubt in the middle of the poem and the description of the bird which looks only as if it is sleeping rather than dead – and the unnamed body found in the river that is the shadow behind the poem all the way through…

I hope you enjoy the poem…

Heron – Isabel Bermudez

Flung, her wings collapsed, elbows bent, intact,
as if heaving a huge sigh; her beak wrenched this way or that
brought in by the tide; grey lady, wheezed of life
morning in, morning after.  Bodies too, on this stretch of river
cast up bloated with weeds in their hair,
not pristine as this old lady here.  She’s only closed her eyes,
as if temporarily, only temporarily, forgetting to shake her wings,
take flight, as if any moment, she might…Suicide, murder, accident?
We’ll never know; a picture in the paper – party night,
walking home, last seen saying goodbye to friends;
hunched queen on Eel Pie Island, shriven, mute,
a grey flush of wings flying high over the slatey Thames.
No rescue boat, police cordon, divers, journalists
to document her demise, but for a short time only she’s
foreshore news for Sunday joggers, dog-walkers, wino
and the couples that walk on the towpath down by the brewery;
arms crooked; counting the days till spring


Sunday Poem – Noel Williams


Evening folks.  It has been a strange, and lovely week.  I have been kind of overwhelmed by the reaction to my previous post – people have got in touch, both by commenting on the blog – by sending me emails or messages, by tweeting – people who are close friends, people I’ve met at readings, people I’ve never met before.  I feel very lucky to know you all.

So apart from getting all your wonderful messages – I’ve been at work doing the normal stuff.  Thursday and Friday are my normal days off but I worked all day Thursday to make up for the time off I had to go to London – then I walked the dogs and drove straight over to Lancaster for April Poets where I was one of the guest poets, along with Jim Turner, Mike Barlow and Jean Harrison.  Sarah Hymas and Steve Lewis performed an excerpt from ‘Sealegs’ which is a nautical mix of music and poetry – I would recommend if you want to hear something completely different.  It was nice to read alongside Mike, who has been really supportive of my poetry over the years.

And then Friday, I finally had a day at home and a real day off.  I decided to not get dressed till lunchtime, when I had to get dressed because I had to walk the dogs.  Then I went for a catch up with a friend and then came back home and did some more work on the sequence I’ve mentioned before.  I’m now up to 12 poems, although they still need some work – but I’m still enjoying writing them – every now and then I will see a preoccupation rise to the surface through the muddy water of 12 poems and then the larger picture becomes a little clearer.

Today I’ve been at the Dickensian Festival in Ulverston which involves some of the people who live in Ulverston dressing up in Victorian costume and lots of stalls selling various burgers and various musical acts throughout the town and crowded pavements and stewards in green vests and morris men and…well…lots of things really, but at 1.15pm my wonderful junior band, the Barrow Shipyard Junior Band were playing.

There was a musical act on before us so I gathered the children behind them.  The older children were setting up the music stands and some of the younger children were dancing to the three musicians, which I thought was quite cute.  I would be quite flattered if I was performing and that happened.  A woman came up to me shouting that the children ‘had ruined that musical performance by dancing’.  HOW CAN A MUSICAL PERFORMANCE BE RUINED BY DANCING?????

Unfortunately, this woman ( I don’t know who she was) only wanted someone to shout at, and barely gave me a chance to get a word in edgeways before she stormed off.  I spoke to the musicians who were performing and they said they didn’t notice the children dancing but they would have been flattered if they had.  I don’t know why I’m telling this story, except that I’m still annoyed by it.  The woman also shouted at the children – all between ten and eleven, at that wonderful age when they do dance spontaneously, without any self consciousness at all.  It angers me that she might have stopped them dancing.  I often randomly dance in music lessons – I’m joking around most of the time – breaking into dancing if the children are playing well – sometimes I’ll put on a power anthem and do some over the top miming to it just to make the kids laugh – what does this teach them?  Probably no anything about music, but I hope it teaches them not to care so much about what people think – and the best way to do this is by example – I think a lot of us care too much what other people think of us, and this inhibits us all the time in destructive ways.  That is part of the reason why children are great – up to a certain age, they don’t care so much.  But maybe the main reason I’m annoyed is because I didn’t get to say what I wanted to say because she walked away!! And even if I had said what I wanted to say, it is not like she would have said ‘yep you’re right, I’m sorry for shouting’.

Anyway, apart from that, we had a great time!  By mistake I picked up a bag of broken music stands instead of the bag of working musical stands which was very foolish.  So it was a bit stressful at the beginning – we had to have three children round a music stand and my music stand spun round randomly when ever it felt like it.  I should stop being surprised by the ability of the children to pull it out of the bag at every concert, but they always do surprise me.  The stewards and organisers at the Dickensian Festival were great, and apart from the one shouting woman, everyone else at the festival seemed determined to have a good time.

After the Dickensian Festival we went to my lovely friend Mark Carson’s 70th birthday party – he doesn’t look a day over 60 to me – maybe he is just saying he is 70 to get attention…

And now I’m back home in time to put a Sunday Poem up by a great poet called Noel Williams.  I met Noel at the Writing School that I’m a member of, run by the Poetry Business.  We have a meeting roughly every other month and in between we work as a group of three normally, looking at each other’s poems and discussing poetry books.  I worked with Noel a couple of months ago and had the opportunity to read a sequence he has been working on which I really enjoyed, so I asked him if he had any poems to donate.

I chose ‘Sunburn’ because I loved the energy of this poem -it is obviously a poem that is looking back, but it has managed to capture the energy of being young and that sense that summers lasted longer than they do when you are older.  And I think the poem manages to capture the sense of heat really well – I love the line ‘smouldering up to that solder sky’ with its assonance and internal rhymes.  And it is one of those rare poems – a poem about work! AND it is lovely to have a poem about summer to brighten up November – my least favourite monthI wasn’t surprised to learn that ‘Sunburn’ was awarded 2nd place in the Sentinel Literary Competition this year.  Noel, rather excitingly, has a collection coming out with Cinnamon Press next March (www.cinnamonpress.com) called ‘Out of Breath’ – so do look out for it!

Noel is also one of the editors of Antiphon, an excellent online poetry magazine which can be found at http://antiphon.org.uk/

Antiphon is currently looking for new submissions – the window is only open until the 28th November so you haven’t got long – but Noel has told me there is still room for some more poems.  Please check out the magazine – they have published some fabulous poets and have over a 1000 readers for each issue and submit some poems!

Noel’s own blog can be found at http://noelwilliams.wordpress.com/

Sunburn – Noel Williams

The sun was bigger then, easily swallowed the sky,
so burning that at night there was no night,
in the swell of summer at the height of my life.
And the heat blazed back out of cornstalks and corrugated earth,
off the barn and chestnuts, elms and oaks,
smouldering up to that solder sky.

Every day I was new to the fields.
Turning and tedding the freshly mown
or straddling the baler behind the tractor
red as three fire engines, hauling out bale
after bale like squat logs, hefting them
off the conveyor, a hand slung under each twine.

That summer lasted years.
There were no rules – the future like sunburn
on my shoulders, peeling new skin,
cool pain under the skim of a single sheet
dreamless as the swifts scooping gnats
above the mud of the pond.

Knotting a headscarf over my mouth,
I stepped down the ladder into the grain bin.
It held the sunheat in its sheet steel box
a cake-tin to bake a man, lined with grain
so fine on walls and floor and clothes that it clogged
my nostrils with rich silt; a warm, perfumed frost.

I was stripped to my jeans and barefoot
sweeping dust like soot or fine plaster.
And the water was brought out to the field
in a bucket. And you threw mugfuls over me
streaking the grime off my back, making tears of my face
on the hot straw you laid under the hedge.

Sunday Poem – Paula Cunningham


Morning folks!  I am writing this from my hotel room at the Torbay Festival of Poetry http://www.torbaypoetryfestival.co.uk/

I have had a lovely weekend here – on Thursday I drove to Leicester and stayed at my mum and dad’s house for the night and drove over to Torbay on Friday morning.  I was really lucky with the traffic and managed to get here with enough time to have lunch and see Alison Brackenbury read.

The organisers of the festival, Patricia and William Oxley and their wonderful committee are very friendly.  The whole festival is in one hotel, which is where I’m staying, which is a genius idea I think.  I love being able to go to my room in between things, although yesterday I went to my room to send a couple of emails and ended up falling asleep and missed half an event….

I read on Friday at 5pm with Emily Hinshelwood who was lovely to read with – I’m hoping to have a poem from her for the Sunday Poem once I’ve read through her book.  What has been nice is that a lot of people seem to be around for the whole weekend so I met people for the first time at the reading and then I see them again later on – this is how I met the lovely Arthur Broomfield, who has come over from Ireland just for the festival – he came up to get me to sign his pamphlet (get me!) and then I bumped into him yesterday and we have been gabbing non stop since then and having a really good laugh – I often tend to meet people at poetry events who it feels like I’ve been friends with for years  – I hesitate to add names here in case I miss anyone important out but recent examples of this have been John W.Sexton and Ben Johnson at the Fermoy Poetry Festival in August and Michael Scott at the Swindon Poetry Festival – so for me a festival is worth going to for that alone, never mind the poetry!

Yesterday I went to part of a Pat Borthwick workshop which was good fun and then I had to sneak out before the end to do a Poet to Poet question and answer thing, chaired by Danielle Hope with Mike Bartholomew-Biggs as the other poet being questioned.  I was a little nervous about this because I’ve only ever done it once before and that was  last week but it was actually really enjoyable and good fun – and I’m sure this was because Danielle was so professional and good at keeping the whole thing going.

Last night Gillian Clarke read – I’ve seen Gillian read quite a few times but she was on fire last night – a brilliant reading, very warm, very passionate – maybe it was because the tables were all set for everyone to have a three course meal afterwards, maybe she felt like she was reading poetry for her supper but I really enjoyed it.

Which brings us to today – I’m off to a workshop this morning as well and then depending on the weather – I’m hoping to stay for Allison McVety reading this afternoon and Angela France and John Greening later on.

The other major thing that happened earlier on in the week was a joint concert with my junior band (Barrow Shipyard Junior Band) and the Barrow Steelworks Band at Trinity Church Centre in Barrow.  It was a great night and although there were a couple of empty seats in the hall there weren’t many.  We raised nearly £600 which will be split between the Furness Branch of the National Autistic Society and the Junior Band.  I’m still buzzing from the concert actually – the junior band played brilliantly and I was really proud of them.

So today’s Sunday Poem is ‘Driving North’ by Paula Cunningham, which is a very apt title as I will be driving north today and tomorrow on a bit of an epic journey from here back up to Cumbria.  This poem comes from Paula’s brand new shiny collection from Smith/Doorstop called ‘Heimlich’s Manoeuvre’ which is currently shortlisted for the 2013 Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize.  You can buy the book from the Poetry Business by clicking on this link: http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/shop/842/heimlichs-manoeuvre-paula-cunningham

I love the honesty of this poem  – it is one of those poems that as soon as I read it, I wished I had written it because it brings that jolt of recognition and that feeling of ‘Of course this happens – why didn’t I think of that?’ when I read in the poem of the ‘angels and ogres’ from the past who come into our present day relationships through the power of gesture – and it is all held together by the lyrical way the words relate to one another – all the wonderful internal rhymes that are threaded through the poem – ‘back’ and ‘scratch’ and ‘crack’ and ‘that’ in the middle of the poem and ‘alive’ and ‘smile’ and ‘time’ towards the end.

Finally, I would like to mention before you read the poem, Phil Read.  Phil died yesterday from cancer.  I haven’t seen Phil probably for over ten years – he was one of the conductors of the junior brass band I was in and he played baritone in the senior band when I was in Leicester.  I have been friends with Phil on Facebook and sent him a message when I saw he was ill to wish him well and thank him for everything he did when I was younger – so although I haven’t spoken to him (apart from online) for ten years, I felt profoundly sad yesterday when I heard he had died.   I learnt how to run a brass band from him and our other conductor, Rob Boulter.  Rob used to jump up and down on the spot when we made a mistake in rehearsal and we used to think it was funny.  Phil did the same – although not as often – and I have been known to do my own jumping up and down in mock frustration.  The kids still think it’s funny.  So Phil carries on in a very small way – as well as with his family, friends and the musicians down in Leicester, he will be remembered up in Cumbria as well.  Which again, fits with the Sunday Poem today as well.

I hope you enjoy the poem.

Driving North – Paula Cunningham

Returning late in rain from Connemara,
each time we pass a ‘Welcome to our County’
I slow and sound the horn, a single toot,

Galway toot Mayo toot Sligo…
and I’m explaining ‘Davy did this,
my first real boyfriend, twenty years ago.’

And when approaching sleep you call me sweetie,
I know your friend, your ex, still calls you that,
and later when you flex and click your knuckles

you will tell me of a lover, way back,
who’d twist and stretch so ardently
that each and every vertebra would crack.

And when you make me scratch
your back it’s childhood and your daddy;
the wheaten bread each Saturday’s my ma;

that thing when I touch the back
of your hand with the back of a hot
coffee spoon’s a man I loved abysmally

and that man’s granddad.  And this is how it is:
angels and ogres jostle at our shoulders,
anxious for their chance to vanquish time,

and these fleeting appearances, toot, brief
visitations that make us scowl or smile, keep
all of our losses, even our dead, alive.

Remembrance Sunday and Barrow Brass Band talk…


Sometimes it might seem as if I’m a little detached from what is going on in the world – yesterday I did a huge long post without mentioning Remembrance Sunday.  I think this is because when I write on here I’m often looking back on what has happened – today I feel compelled to write about yesterday. 

Me and the hubby went to the Cenotaph in Barrow for the service – I’ve played in so many Remembrance Sunday services – when I was a child in Leicester, Unity Brass Band used to play every year at Victoria Park.  Although I can’t say I enjoyed it – it involved playing hymns, marching and standing for a long time, usually in the rain (and anyone who knows me will know what a terrible leaner I am – I find it really hard to stand up without leaning on something) I still did it every year.  When I moved to Barrow, I started to play with the Barrow Shipyard Band every year at the Cenotaph.

This year, the Barrow Shipyard Band have ceased to exist.  All of their kit, instruments and uniform have passed to the junior band which is thriving with 36 members.  So I was interested to see which band were playing and it was the Barrow Steelworks Band.  There were about 12 of them, and I went and introduced myself to the conductor Ian Bird, who I’ve not actually spoken to before.  We agreed it would be good to collaborate – the Steelworks are struggling for players as well and would like to encourage some young people to join, and I want to support the last remaining brass band in Barrow. 

I felt really sad on Sunday – obviously it is quite a sad occasion anyway, but it got me thinking about brass bands and the part they play in the local community.  I didn’t see one general member of the public go and thank the band for playing the hymns for the service.  Nobody really seemed to notice they were there.  The band didn’t seem bothered about this, they packed up and went good naturedly.  But what will happen when the last town band dies out, which it will do, unless something drastic changes.  Who will play the hymns in November then?  What will happen to all those years of tradition – the jackets, the name of the band, which always carries a weight of history with it  – the Shipyard Band, the Steelworks Band. 

Youth bands seem to be flourishing – I started a beginner band last week for primary school pupils and 43 children turned up.  As I’ve said before, the junior band which I also run has 36 members and is closed to new members now because we can’t fit any more in.  Why isn’t this translating into the adult bands?  I don’t know, although I have my theories.  I’ve also not been teaching long enough to see what happens to the kids.  I guess they go away to university – whether they join a band as adults and help keep the brass band tradition going remains to be seen.