Tag Archives: ben johnson

Sunday Poem – Ben Johnson


Evening everybody.  Am currently sat tucked up in bed, feeling sorry for myself and my aching legs – today the hubby and I along with two friends and three dogs walked up Skiddaw.  The weather forecast said strong winds but we’d already put off going once a couple of weeks ago so we thought we would just go for it as it was the last three thousand foot mountain in the Lake District I had left to do.  Anyway, I quickly realised that swanning around the UK doing poetry readings and swanning around the house reading poetry doesn’t actually get you very fit and there were moments, in particular the last third of the hill on the scree slope when I thought  that I was too wimpy to get to the top.  However, the prospect of sitting in the middle of a gale while everybody else went up the hill was not particularly attractive so I carried on plodding up to the top.

There were also three seperate moments at the top when we all had to drop to our knees when the wind was particularly strong or be blown over – I felt like a balloon tied to the hill with a bit of string – like I was fastened to the earth, but not particularly securely.  Eventually we abandoned dignity and proceeded up the hill like little old ladies, linking arms.  We got to the trig point at the top and clung to it for a couple of minutes – and when I say clung – I mean it –

We did see a family on our way back down sheltering in a small semicircle of stones and they said they were turning back – we told them they were only 200 meters from the summit – but they looked at us like we were slightly mad – I can see now their point – there they were sitting down in a very rudimentary shelter because it was impossible to stand and we emerge out of the mist arm in arm with the dogs just about managing to keep four feet on the ground…it seems a shame that they got that far though and then went back down…

Yesterday I went to Sheffield and met up with some of the other poets from the Writing School course which I’m doing – we did some writing exercises in the morning and then we all took a poem to be critiqued in the afternoon – had a really nice day.

We had a horrible train journey back with a family in the carriage who were shouting and arguing with each other – a mother and daughter and then there was a man (the son?) who was drunk and having a go at the train guard in a very aggressive way.  They didn’t really do anything to any of the other passangers, they were too busy arguing with each other – but I found it really intimidating and almost started having a panic attack when the bloke was shouting at the train guard.  The train was so crowded there was nowhere to move to either – it ended with the police being called and meeting them at Manchester train station.  There was two children with them as well who were witnessing all the shouting and the threats of violence and the insults and I felt terrible for them.  It got me thinking about violence – how we are all violent to one another – maybe not necessarily physical violence, but emotional violence – how probably all children will see some form of violence in their lives.  For example I was reading a poem from Maitreyabandhu’s new collection to the hubby on the way up to Skiddaw and the voice in the poem talks about the christmas turkey hanging with the blood dripping into a bucket.  And I think this could be a violent thing for a child to see, even if it is not intended that way.  The hubby said something interesting – one of the nuns at his old school said  that if an act is not loving, it is violent.  Which I think is a good definition and would definitely make me behave better if I remember it!

So, here is the Sunday poem for today!  An act of love for tomatoes from a lovely, lovely man I met in Fermoy at the poetry festival.  Ben Johnson was one of the winners of the Fermoy International Poetry Festival this year and his prize was a flight to Ireland and a reading at the festival.  Ben charmed everybody with his personality – humble, funny, kind, easygoing AND good with computers!  What more could you want?  I was very relieved when I heard him read and his poetry was good as well!

Ben lives on the edge of the New Forest in England with his wife Naomi. He works as an IT Admin in a small private school and spends his spare time either enjoying the wonderful scenery around the area he lives in or reading and writing poetry. He has been writing since his teens but in the last few years has taken it much more seriously.

Ben attends local open mic poetry nights as often as he can. He also runs an online poetry forum called The Poetry Forum and last year started up a small press called Ravenshead Press. He is also involved with a poetry organisation called Artful Scribe which aims to promote and improve poetry locally. He has been published in various online ezines such as The Ghazal Pages, Antiphon and the Polish magazine Kwartalnik. He was one of three international winners of the 2013 Fermoy Poetry Festival.

I asked Ben to send me a few poems to choose from – and I chose this poem because I really enjoyed the glut of images and similes that he uses throughout the poem.  I particularly enjoyed ‘brave little beacons’ and ‘flush as a wallet’.  I think it has something of the tone of Sylvia Plath’s ‘You’ – and the language used to describe the tomatoes and the imagery is certainly concerned with motherhood and fertility and babies – I hope you enjoy!

Tomatoes – Ben Johnson

They have gorged themselves on summer
and glow with the afternoons we spent
calling forth rainbows from a hose’s mouth.

Plump and content as puppies full of milk
they cluster together and radiate,
like a mother in her first trimester.

Flush as a wallet on the first of the month
or a tongue-tied lad falling over the words
of a well rehearsed speech. They burn,

brave little beacons against an October sky
percolated with milk. We pluck them
from their wrecked scaffolding and bed them

softly in the bottom of a trug, barely able
not to burst them between teeth and retrieve
our summer, acid sweet and burning bright.

Fermoy Poetry Festival 2013


Evening folks!  The festival is over – I’m currently sat in my room in my friend’s house.  I stayed with Ita last year and she kindly put both me and the hubby up this year.  I’m absolutely exhausted – have decided I can’t hack having a social life – which is what the festival has felt like!  We arrived on Thursday and we have stayed out most nights till one or two in the morning, and been out, all day at various poetry happenings.

Thursday night was the launch of the festival at the Grand Hotel in Fermoy.  There were lots of poets that had come from all over the world to be there – quite a few from America, one from India, a few from England and three from Holland.  Thursday was relatively low key – we introduced ourselves and a lot of the American poets read poems as a kind of American showcase event.

After the reading had finished, me and the hubby popped over to Elbow Lane, which had been the focus of the festival last year to say hello to some old friends, including Billy, the landlord of the pub.

On Friday we spent the day reading poems in various locations throughout the town including the barbers, which was great fun as the barber turned up to the poetry reading later and read a poem he’d written after having us all in his shop.  The barber experience seemed to inspire quite a few of the poets to write poems about it!  I decided to go in the next day to watch him at work when there were no poets there but at least two other poets said that they were writing about him as well! Poor man!

Friday night was the launch of the official anthology of the Festival, the Blue Max Review which has poems from all the poets who read at the festival.  If you felt so inclined you can order a copy of the anthology from http://www.fermoypoetryfestival.com/Blue-Max-Review-2013.html

My favourite poem from the anthology is Rachael Davies’s poem ‘Ten Things My Mother Never Told Me’.  I think it is a cracking poem and it is worth buying the anthology for that poem alone!

There were also readings from American and Irish poets on Friday night in Lombards bar.  This was the night I was prancing around the pub with my top on inside out, and didn’t notice till a local pointed this out to me.  How embarrassing.  I had a long white label trailing at the side of my top!  And a poet that shall remain nameless poured the milk that was meant to be for my cup of tea into his whisky by mistake (he thought it was water).

On Saturday we went to a couple of places to do readings but then we got a bit full of poetry so we went to the park and played on the swings and the exercise machines instead.  Saturday night was the launch of Gene Barry’s first collection ‘Unfinished Business’ published by Doghouse Press.  I like going to launches – they are different to normal poetry readings I think.  Much more celebratory and fun and you get lots of non-poets there who have come just to support the poet.

I read at Elbow Lane after Gene’s launch.  It was great to be back there again reading.  Rachel Davies, who I met originally on the MA at Manchester was one of the winners of the international poetry competition this year.  The other two winners were Ben Johnson and Erin Murphy – their prize was a flight to Ireland and a reading at the poetry festival and I thought they were all great.  Knute Skinner read and i liked his poetry enough to buy his book – but what I loved was his dancing!  You couldn’t stop him.  Not the same time as he was reading his poetry of course – this was afterwards when the musicians got up.

Sunday was the poetry bus and a poetry reading in the evening that was streamed live to Texas – hosted by Michael Clay.  By this point, after four solid days of non-stop poetry, I’m afraid I got a little hysterical and kept getting the giggles.  On the bus we had also invented the cliche whistle – I debated about whether to talk about this here in case some people got offended…but I will risk it as in the law of averages, four days of poetry readings are going to produce some cliches….

The cliche whistle is actually a little whistle that the hubby has on his hiking rucksack which you are meant to use if you are in distress when walking or climbing mountains.  We decided that two short blasts on the whistle should be sounded every time someone used a cliche in a poem.  This then developed to one long blast on the whistle if anybody introduced a poem with the words ‘This was inspired by’ (a personal pet aversion of mine).

Of course we didn’t actually blow the whistle at anyone apart from each other….

So last year, my highlights of the festival was meeting all the wonderful people there and how friendly everybody was.  This year was exactly the same – it has been great to spend time with some of my favourite friends from last year – Jan Glas and Tsead Bruinja.  But I also got to know Saskia Stehouwer a little better this year which was really nice.  Rachel Davies and Ben Johnson were a very funny double act this year and I’m so glad I met Ben – who lives in England, so I hope I will see more of him when I go back home at poetry events.  Michael Clay, who runs the poetry website Mad Swirl (http://www.madswirl.com/content/poetryforum.html)  is a lovely, lovely guy, unfailingly enthusiastic about other people’s poetry and about life in general.  John W Sexton was also great fun and I’m hoping to put a poem of his as a Sunday Poem in the not too distant future as I think he deserves to be much better known over here.

Lovely poet/musician/artist Pat O’Connor – a Fermoy legend has been great again – he picked us up from the airport, did a poetry reading and then burst into song and then the next day came and played violin and guitar and sang.  I hope Fermoy knows how lucky they are having Pat!  Michael Corrigan and Niall O’Connor were two more poets from last year who it was lovely to see again this year-  I enjoyed Mike’s poetry last year but I think it is really, really strong this year.  And Niall has a book out ‘Winds of Change’ which I haven’t got round to reading yet, but I’m sure it will be good.  Another star of the festival was Miceal Kearney – absolute legend.  He was even doing cartwheels in the streets.

There were lots of other poets that I haven’t mentioned which I am sorry for – but it is getting late now and I’m too tired!

Tomorrow I’m off to Gene and Margo Barry’s house – the organisers of the festival.  They are hosting the Dutch poets and we are having a translation day tomorrow!  Which I’m very excited about – all three – Saskia, Tsead and Jan are fantastic poets – they have such unusual voices and I’m really looking forward to it.  So, no, I haven’t had enough poetry yet.

If anyone reading this would like to add their own comments about the festival, please feel free to do so underneath.  And I’m sorry if I haven’t mentioned you all by name – but this post is already way too long….