Tag Archives: Brewery Poets

Sunday Poem – Katherine Stansfield

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Hares I have seen – Katherine Stansfield

The first crashed a fence in a field near Shrewsbury.
It was after lunch of lamb slow-roasted for a night
and a day, its grease still slick on my fingers when she broke
from the stubble.  I forgot her later when I sat on a swing
and cried.  That time it was for loneliness.

The second raced the train taking me to Edinburgh.
A break in the hedge revealed for a blink the reach
of her stride, the gathering of feet beneath belly before
the hedge snapped back.  I forgot her later when I cried
into moussaka.  That time it was for loneliness and drink.

The third hung from a hook in a butcher’s in Ludlow.
Her legs were primly crossed and bound, her head
shrouded in muslin but there was no mistaking
the checked spring, the white flag beneath her tail.
She was too big that close though her ears were shorn
because what good are ears when paying by weight?
I couldn’t forget her but by then I’d given up crying.

That night she was in the mirror.  She pulled off muslin
to parade her holed skull, rolled her pale eyes and –
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<worst of all –
flashed a stiff grin of yellow teeth bared to chip any dish
I’d try to jug her in.  I went to bed without flossing.  I cried
into dry fur.  That time it was for everything.

Last Sunday I was at my friend Lindsey Holland’s house and we took her dog for a walk in the fields.  The landscape with the flat fields and the wide open sky reminded me so much of Leicester, where I’m from that it was a little bit painful, in that way that homesickness is painful.  Anyway, as we were walking along, we looked right across another field, and saw two hares, one disappearing into a hedge, and the other sat for a while before making off into the undergrowth.

They were far away and could have been rabbits, except it is impossible to mistake a hare for a rabbit. This unmistakable quality about hares does come through in Katherine’s poem.  In Stanza 2 we read about the ‘reach of her stride’ and in Stanza 3 she says there ‘was no mistaking/the checked spring, the white flag beneath her tail’.  This poem is about so much more than hares though.  It made me cry the first time I read it, which doesn’t happen very often.

This is a poem where what is not said is as important as what is said.  We don’t learn the nature of the loneliness that has the power to make the speaker cry.  By the second stanza things have got worse – the tears are for loneliness and drink. Something terrible is happening in the background of this poem, behind closed doors, while someone is eating, traveling on a train, shopping at the butchers.

The speaker in the poem cries for loneliness in the first verse, for loneliness and drink in the second, and finally, and heartbreakingly ‘for everything’ by the end.  What happens to bring this about? I don’t think it’s too dramatic to call it despair by the end.  What do the hares have to do with this?  Nothing and everything. The wildness of the hare in the first and second stanzas – crashing through a fence in a field or racing a train is partly tamed in the third stanza, with the ‘shorn ears’ and the ‘primly crossed’ legs but it isn’t erased by the end – the hare still has the ‘stiff grin of yellow teeth’.

This poem comes from Katherine’s first full length collection ‘Playing House’ which was published by Seren in 2014.  ‘Playing House’ has been on my shelf of books to be read for a while now and I finally got round to it this week.  It’s a great book with poems that cover a wide range of subjects – you will not be bored reading it!  You can order it from Seren and get 20% off as well.

Katherine Stansfield grew up on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. She moved to Wales in 2002 to study at Aberystwyth University where she worked as a lecturer in Creative Writing for several years before deciding to concentrate on writing full time.  Her novel The Visitor was published by Parthian in 2013. It went on to win the fiction prize at the 2014 Holyer an Gof awards.  Playing House, her debut poetry collection, was published by Seren in 2014. It includes ‘The woman on my National Library of Wales library card’, winner of the 2014 PENfro poetry competition, and ‘Canada’, Poem of the Week in The Guardian.  You can find more information about Katherine at her website here

Apart from reading Katherine’s book, this week has been another week of trying to catch up with myself.  On Monday I went to Manchester for the prize giving for the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competition.  It was lovely to meet the winner, Alex Toms and the other prize winning poems and a privilege to hear them read the poems.  It felt like meeting old friends again when I heard the poems and I will admit to being chuffed with myself for finding them amongst the 500 odd poems that were entered.  I thought reading that many poems would be hard work, but actually it was a real honour.  It felt like I was being given a window into 500 different lives – it was actually quite a moving experience, which I didn’t expect it to be.

This week I’ve been rehearsing with the South Lakes Brass Ensemble.  We have our next gig at Brewery Poets on November 13th, where we will be providing the music in between poetry readings by David Borrott, Kerry Darbyshire and Barbara Hickson.  I’ve had my Young Writers Group this week as well, a performance management meeting with my manager and my big sister, her husband and my lovely niece and nephew were up from Leicester for a brief visit.

We had a day out and got the steam train from Haverthwaite to Lakeside and went to the aquarium.  My niece spent the whole of the train journey writing a poem and apparently she carried on writing poems when she went to stay at my twin sister’s house as well.  My nephew has apparently written a story as well! Ha! My work here is done.  My big sister might possibly kill me if my niece or nephew become poets and she has to go to lots of poetry readings.

On Saturday I ran a workshop at Kendal Wool Gathering. It was a small workshop group, but it was actually really nice – there was lots of time to talk about poetry, to listen to what people had written and I met some really interesting writers.  Afterwards there was an open mic – again a small group of attendees but interesting people.

Throughout this week I’ve been cutting my milage back.  I’ve had sore shins, probably due to building up my milage.  I’m doing a half marathon next Sunday and every time I train for a half marathon I pick up some sort of injury.  I’ve been for two massage sessions though and I think I’ve got on top of it.  I ran 14 kilometres today with no problems, so I’ll just be cutting back now until next weekend.

If I have any readers that are within striking distance of Barrow, I’m running an all day poetry workshop on the 14th November which you would be very welcome to attend.  Please get in touch for more information, or have a look at the ‘Readings and Workshops’ tab.  There are about six spaces left.  The price is £15 and it includes tea or coffee and chocolate biscuits.

Sunday/Monday poem – Paul Stephenson

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I had a bit of a disaster with last night’s post.  I got back from my reading at the South Yorkshire Poetry Festival and frantically began typing, having completely forgotten what day of the week it was (yes, who knew that was possible?)  In fact the only reason I remembered at all that it was Sunday was because poet Jill Abram posted on Facebook that she was waiting up for the Sunday Poem. I got back to Suzannah Evans’ house, where I was staying for the weekend and started the blog post.  I finished it in bed and thought I’d published it, but I woke up this morning to find it had completely disappeared.  It is a mystery as usually unfinished blog posts can normally be found in a draft folder where they are automatically saved on WordPress but there was no sign of it.

I don’t suppose it was a wonderful post anyway, being written at midnight but I’m more upset because I’ve broken my resolution to try and post a poem every Sunday, so that’s annoying.  However I’m sure my readers will be forgiving and I will be back on time and organised next Sunday.

The reason I forgot what day it was is because I’ve been in Sheffield since Saturday.  I haven’t been to a Poetry Business Writing Day for at least six months and I’ve really missed going.  This is the first one in six months that I’ve actually been able to make.  I had a really nice time at the workshop and wrote a few things that I could develop into poems.  Afterwards I went with poet Lindsey Holland to get something to eat.  After dragging Lindsey around the streets of Sheffield with her heavy bags we finally found a Cafe Rouge and sat outside to have something to eat.  After Lindsey looked a bit alarmed when I asked for half a Stella, I decided to try a Hoegarden which is what she was drinking and it came with a slice of lemon – my first time having lager with a lemon in so I am now, surely, officially Very Posh.

Afterwards we headed over to the Open Mic at the South Yorkshire Poetry Festival, hosted by James Giddings.  I was a bit worried as two minutes before the open mic was due to start, there were only about four people in the audience, then suddenly lots of young people appeared as if by magic and the room filled up.  James was a great MC – very funny and spontaneous and I really enjoyed the two poems that he started and finished the night with.

On Sunday Suzy and I went for a walk through the various parks of Sheffield which seem to just keep going and going forever.  We both got a bit carried away and managed to break Suzy whose ‘fascist foot’ (her words not mine) started to hurt.  I would love to say I gave her a firemans lift/piggy back to the flat but sadly no, she had to limp back unaided.

I was reading in the last night of the festival with Andrew McMillan and Ian McMillan.    I don’t know which of the two was more excited about seeing the advance copies of Andrew’s collection.  Andrew hadn’t even seen it – in fact he had to buy a copy of his own book so he could read from it.  This seems to happen to poets a lot – the books arriving in the nick of time I mean.  Anyway, the book is very beautiful and has a beautiful naked man on the cover which Andrew tells me is Definitely Not Him.

It was also interesting hearing Andrew and Ian reading together.  They obviously are very different in their writing styles and their approach to poetry but I think they have some common ground as well.  Andrew’s first collection is about masculinity and exploring masculinity.  Ian says he likes writing about language and politics, but he didn’t mention masculinity, but I think a lot of his work does explore it as well, but in a different way.  I loved Ian’s poems about someone who lives near him called ‘Norman’ and would love to see a whole pamphlet of Norman poems.  I got to see quite a few friends that I haven’t seen for ages – lovely Noel Williams and Jim Carruth were there in the audience which made me feel less nervous.

On Friday Brewery Poets put on a reading at The Brewery in Kendal.  The guest poets were Andrew Forster, Jane Routh and Ron Scowcroft who were all excellent as expected.  Two of the young writers from Dove Cottage Young Poets came along to the reading as well.  It was lovely to hear some new poems from Andrew and to see him getting a chance to be centre stage after all the work that he does organising poetry events and providing opportunities for other poets.  Jane Routh was the consumate professional as usual, well prepared, engaging and with a lovely calm reading style.  Ron read from his very recently published Wayleaves pamphlet – another poet that I’m hoping to nab a poem from for the blog in the next few weeks or so – I particularly liked his poems around the Falklands War.  We had the wonderful singers The Demix performing as well which seemed to go down really well with the audience.

On Wednesday I had my first live chat with my Poetry School online workshop group.  I decided to make handwritten notes on the poems and then touchtype comments during the live chat which I think worked ok except that it was quite full on and I couldn’t take my fingers off the keyboard.  I’m going to try a combination of cut and paste and touchtyping this week and see how I go.  They are a great group though and I’ve just had a peek at a few new poems that they’ve written for Assignment 2 and some revised versions of poems that they have written after getting feedback and I’ve been blown away again!

Before I tell you about the Sunday Poem, I want to remind you all about my launch which is taking place on Thursday, May 28th at 7.30pm in the Supper Room of the Coronation Hall in Ulverston.  It is free to get in but please bring some food because we will be having a ‘Jacobs Join’ after the poetry and before the Soul Survivors start playing.

I’ve been having anxiety dreams about my launch and when I say dreams, I mean actual nightmares about nobody turning up.  Does this happen to other poets?  When the pamphlet came out, it was at the Wordsworth Trust so all I had to do was turn up but this time I’ve organised it, which has meant it has grown into an epic poetry-food-soul night evening of course.  I hope if you are within striking distance of Ulverston that you are coming – it will be lovely to see you and if you’re not, please don’t tell me as it might bring on another nightmare.  I know it’s the polite thing to do, but I’d rather not know!

Enough about me – I’d like to tell you about today’s Sunday Poem which is by the lovely Paul Stephenson, who I met through the Writing School at the Poetry Business.  Paul was born and grew up in Cambridge, and currently lives in Paris.  He studied modern languages and linguistics then European Studies.  In 2013/14 he took part in the Jerwood/Arvon Mentoring Scheme.  His poems have appeared in Poetry London, The Rialto, The North, Magma, Smiths Knoll and The Interpreter’s House.  In 2012 he was placed second in the Troubadour International Poetry Prize.  In 2014 he was chosen as one of the Aldeburgh 8 poets.  He teaches at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.  If you would like to find out more information about Paul you can go to http://www.paulstep.com

Paul’s pamphlet Those People was a winner in this year’s Poetry Business pamphlet competition.  You can order Paul’s pamphlet from The Poetry Business.

I have two poems that have the word ‘people’ in the title.  The ones in my collection are My People‘ and Some People and I was instantly drawn to Paul’s title poem which is ‘Those People’.  I like any poems that deal with ‘people’ as a generic group.  Paul’s poem is playing with stereotyping when he asks in the first line ‘What are they called? Those people who turn up/unfashionably early’.  I love the direct way he addresses the reader in this poem.  It feels like all the way through he is looking us in the eye, talking to the reader and he continues to qualify himself in the poem: ‘I mean the opposite of stragglers’ and ‘I’m talking eager beavers’ – each of these lines is an attempt to define what he really means, or to find a word for ‘Those People’.  I think the poem is funny – it made me laugh out loud when Paul read it, but I also think there is a sadness and loneliness in it as well: ‘Those folk who don’t often get to go to parties’ which then made me feel a little mean for laughing.  I like poems like this that upset our expectations, or make us feel one way and then another.

I really enjoyed the whole of Paul’s pamphlet.  All the way through he is experimenting with language and form – I think it’s really exciting stuff.  If I had to pick three other favourite poems in the pamphlet they would be Do You Have Any Questions, Gare du Midi and The Pull

I hope you enjoy the Sunday/Monday poem and apologies again that it did not arrive yesterday.

Those People by Paul Stepheson

What are they called? Those people who turn up
unfashionably early, too premature for it to be a party,
just a room full of drinks and square metres of carpet.
I mean the opposite of stragglers, not the hard core
with staying power and no home to go to, or the dregs
of the party who’ve no intention of going anywhere
but love to linger, end up getting chucked out into
the night, or if they’re lucky and it’s a good party,
into a warm sunrise. I’m talking eager beavers,
the party-goers who make a punctual appearance,
greeted at the door by hosts running around with
nibbles still in cupboards and half their face on,
the guests who arrive bang on and get shown through
to hover admiring the smoothness of wallpaper,
which they do politely, not entering yet into the spirit
of the party, swaying by a bucket of orange punch.
Those folk who don’t often get to go to parties,
so have it marked fluorescent for weeks in their diary
and make a mission of what to wear, but never sure
of the dress code, opt to play it safe and wear jeans.
Those characters who eight hours later could be
hitting Havana, sipping mojitos and dancing mambo
and rumba and salsa merengue with dollar-hungry
doppelgangers of Che Guevara in desperate need
of mechanical parts for dilapidated Dodges and
Chevrolets, but hey, instead revel in the refuge
of empty strip-lit galley kitchens, to sit on a ledge
of marbled Formica, slurring into sausage rolls
and spilling their life, is there a name for them?