Tag Archives: Calder Valley Poetry

Sunday Poem – Bob Horne


I’m sat in my writing room looking out at darkness once again.  That isn’t entirely accurate of course.  I can see the edges of the houses whose back gardens lead onto ours.  I can make out the shape of a tree in one of the gardens, although our hawthorn tree is invisible.  To the right, the lights in a conservatory glow and every now and then, I see a car pass between the gaps in the houses.  I know if I opened the window, I would hear nothing until a car made its way up the hill.

I used to live in a street where at night the whole place would come alive. The arguments that had simmered quietly in the daytime would burst out once darkness fell.  Once I was woken up by somebody kicking a front door in across the road.  Once I was woken up by a fight.  Once I was woken up by somebody smashing someone’s car windscreen in.  Once a man who lived across the road, who was an alcoholic opened my front door and stumbled in, then stumbled out again.

In my old house, the morning was filled with seagulls crying.  We were closer to the sea than we are now, although we couldn’t see it.  We lived in an area of Barrow where the terraced houses seemed to make the sky smaller somehow.  Up here, at the top of a hill, the sky seems bigger, and the birds that I hear first thing in the morning are the sparrows. I realise I’ve never lived anywhere where there were birds before.

In Birmingham, where I lived for a year, there was the constant hum of a main road outside the front door.  There was a garden, but I never ventured into it.  In Leeds, the noise outside was of traffic, and a nightclub that held afternoon raves, as well as evening ones.  I’ve never lived anywhere so quiet before as here.

Everything links to everything else doesn’t it? Thinking about Leeds, and Birmingham, in the time when I still wanted, more than anything to be a professional trumpet player.  It’s no coincidence that this is on my mind this week, as I’ve spent more hours than I have in years playing the trumpet.

I’ve been playing in a production of The Wizard of Oz every night in Ulverston.  I started the week in agony – I went to a soul band rehearsal and could hardly play because I had a painful back and neck.  After talking to Julie (the sax player) I’ve really been working to try and keep my shoulders relaxed when I’m playing.  I’ve literally been forcing my shoulder blades down.

Just this simple act has completely transformed my playing.  My lip has lasted for the whole show instead of for 20 minutes.  I’ve been playing the high notes and it has felt easier.  I’m trying to remember now whether my teacher at music college ever said to put my shoulders down.  I can’t remember it if he did.  Maybe he said ‘Relax’ without explaining how to do this.

On Saturday I had three gigs – a matinee and evening performance of The Wizard of Oz and half of a soul band gig to do, and my lip held out! Before this little trick of keeping my shoulders down, I’d have been goosed after the first matinee.

Imagine meeting an ex who you loved more than you loved anybody before, but you met at the wrong time, or you were not ready, your head wasn’t right when you met, and the chances, the ones you were given, passed you by, or you did not reach out and take them.  Now imagine you meet that ex, but you have got older in the normal course of things, but they have stayed at whatever age they were when you met them.  They are unchanged.  That is how I feel about playing the trumpet  – I start playing again, and all the old ghosts that I didn’t deal with in the past, come back again.  I didn’t stop playing because I didn’t love it still, or that I wasn’t good.  I stopped playing because I didn’t feel good enough, because I couldn’t handle the feelings it brought up of doubting myself.

As you can probably tell, I’m still working through all of this in my own head.  I am really happy to be playing again, and there is some sadness as well that I’ve taken this long to get to this point – it feels like coming full circle in some ways, without even meaning to.

So apart from my epiphany (put your shoulders down) and my trumpet angst, and my joy at the feeling of playing my trumpet every day for the first time in many, many years I’ve had lots of other stuff going on as well.  I haven’t done as much running this week because I’ve been busy with other stuff, but I used the opportunity of a low milage week to have a go at Park Run on Saturday and get a new personal best time for 5k of 21.54.  I am very chuffed to be under 22 minutes for 5k.

I’ve also had an interesting week poetry wise.  I’ve been asked to be the ‘Artist of the Month’ in a local paper ‘Ulverston Life’ so on Monday I went to Ulverston and was interviewed by the lovely Helen Shacklady who has promised to turn my incoherent ramblings into something that is worth reading.

On Wednesday I went to Furness Abbey to record a poem that I’ve been commissioned to write for National Poetry Day by the BBC.  The brief was to write a poem in the voice of a landmark. I decided to write a poem in the voice of Furness Abbey, telling its life backwards.  If it is good enough for the story of my niece and her first boxing match, (see my first collection if you don’t know what I’m talking about) then it is good enough for Furness Abbey.  My interview for this was pretty dire – I forgot to mention anything about my publications which would have made me sound like I knew what I was doing and instead told the journalist about how I started writing poems every time I got dumped.  Oh well. It’s too late to worry about that one now as well!  The poem will be broadcast on BBC Cumbria on National Poetry Day and apparently there will also be a Facebook video of me walking around the Abbey looking up at the walls.  What could possibly go wrong with this?  Let’s hope the journalist wasn’t still recording when I did my Kate Bush impression whilst leaping through the Furness Abbey arches…

On Thursday I did my first day of teaching at Manchester Met.  I did a five minute talk in the lecture to about 100 students about a poem that I loved, alongside Angelica Michelis and Martin Kratz, the other lecturers on the unit that I’m teaching on, and then I did my first two seminars with my student groups.  I was really nervous about the lecture part, but once I got going I was fine, and  I really loved the teaching part.  There were no problem behaviours to manage.  I didn’t have to ask people repeatedly to be quiet.  I didn’t have to convince them that my subject was worthwhile and interesting.  I didn’t have to bite my tongue and keep my temper.  I didn’t need any patience.  It was bloody marvellous!

I also managed to get to the library and got out far too many books in one go, but I got a bit over-excited.  Tomorrow, I’m going for my Induction Day for my PhD, and I’m hoping this will kickstart me into getting to work, as I don’t feel that I’ve really knuckled down yet.  Oh and joy and rapture – I also got my staff card sorted so it is in my actual name rather than my married name.

So, on to today’s Sunday Poem.  I hope you’ve managed to read this far.  Bob Horne was kind enough to send me his first pamphlet, Knowing My Place, published by Caterpillar Poetry.  As well as being a great poet (as you’ll see from the poem) Bob is also a publisher, having set up the small press Calder Valley Poetry at the beginning of 2016. Since then, he has published five pamphlets by writers including John Foggin, Peter Riley, Steve Ely, Mark Hinchliffe  and John Duffy, with a pamphlet by Stephanie Bowgett in the pipeline.

I don’t know Bob very well, but when I have met him, the impression I got was one of generosity towards other writers and enthusiasm about poetry.  This has been borne out in the brief email exchange we’ve had, where he was very humble about his own work, preferring to talk about his work as a publisher.  So it is nice to put the spotlight on Bob’s own poetry for once!   Bob did tell me he did a Poetry MA at Huddersfield University in the mid 1990’s but then had a break until three years ago, when he started attending local events at The Albert, Puzzle and other local venues such as Anthony Costello’s Kava Kultura in Todmorden and Keith Hutson’s Square Chapel sessions.

This poem reminded me at first of one of my favourite poems – ‘Those Winter Sundays’ by Robert Hayden.  It seemed to me as if Bob was tipping his hat to this earlier poem – so I’d be interested to see if he has read the Hayden poem or not! If Bob has read the poem, then I think it is a lovely way of building up the layers of this poem.  The similarities between the two poems lie in the physical action of a ‘he’ lighting a fire, and in the use of the word ‘austere’ which seems, in my mind at least, to link them both together.  Bob’s poem is much more, I think about the self, and looking back on quite a solitary figure, of looking at a small space, and what happens when you move from the past to the present, from small spaces, to spaces without any boundaries, whereas the Hayden poem explores the relationship between a father and son, and the emotional dynamics of a household.

I love the focused concentration on the physical actions in the poem – there are lots of wonderful details that are very carefully observed: ‘Then, a scratch/ and a bud of flame’.  I love both the scratch and the bud of flame.

The title of the poem tells us where we are, and at first there is a narrowness, an inwardness to this poem.  The speaker is looking back to a particular season, a particular year, a particular house and room.  But by the end of the poem, it completely opens out, both to the wider world: ‘a rush of smoke/slid up the sooty/blackness of the chimney/to vanish in faraway air’ but it also opens out from the past to the present with that wonderful ending with the grown up shadow gazing back.

I do think this last stanza is extraordinary – it is both situated in the past and the present, the statue being the thing that time pivots around.  We’ve all been small and had our shadow, larger than ourselves thrown against a wall.  But this last stanza could equally be taking place now, in the present moment.

Thanks to Bob for letting me use his poem.  I hope you enjoy it!

Living Room – Bob Horne

I remember winter mornings
in nineteen fifty-one,
standing on the corner
of a ragged hearth-rug,
austere light from outside
screened by clothes on the creel.

With a hand-brush’s worn bristles
he swept cold ashes
from under the grate,
shovelled them onto paper
to be parcelled and stuffed
in the dustbin.

Then, a scratch,
and a bud of flame
felt along the ends
of knots of newsprint.
As they browned and flaked,
fire flowed through a stack

of sticks and coal from the cellar,
a rush of smoke
slid up the sooty
blackness of the chimney
to vanish in faraway air.

I turned to look across the room,
the heat at my back.
Still, in the middle
of a flickering wall,
my grown-up shadow
gazed back at me.


Sunday Poem – Steve Ely

Sunday Poem – Steve Ely

I’ve discovered this week that I’m not very good at being ill.  I have quite a few friends who live with chronic pain or illness and they always seem to be cheerful and full of good humour, and to just get on with things.  I was ill on Thursday with some kind of stomach bug.  It only lasted one day – by the time I woke up on Friday, I felt much better, just very weak from not eating the day before. On Thursday though, it felt like I would never get better, and that I was in fact, mortally ill.  I told you I’m not good at being ill.  I get very dramatic and imagine that I’m dying.  I also get bored very easily because I felt too ill to even sit up  and watch TV, I couldn’t concentrate on a book, and I couldn’t go to sleep.  Anyway, very luckily it didn’t last long.  I cancelled my workshop on Friday with my Young Writers Group and didn’t go to Brewery Poets in the evening and spent Friday trying to take it easy.

On Saturday I had my Barrow Poetry Workshop.  It was only a small group this month – for the last four months of the workshops, the groups have been getting steadily bigger, peaking at 20 last month.  This month there were only six! Lots of  the regulars on holiday or gallivanting off elsewhere.  Those six wrote some brilliant poems though, so it was well worth the effort of running the workshop.  We looked at poems by Judy Brown, Hubert Moore, John McCullough and and J O Morgan today.

We’ve got the plasterers in this week, much earlier than expected as the plasterer had a cancellation and rang up to see if he could fit us in earlier.  So  at the minute we have two rooms worth of furniture in the front room, and we’re living between the front room and the garden.   Everything in the kitchen is covered in a film of white dust and there are radio stations playing all day which I wouldn’t normally listen to.  I’m sure the plasterers think I am completely idle.  The first day they were here (Friday) I was recuperating in my hammock in the garden for a lot of the day, which felt particularly lazy as they were obviously working quite hard. Then Saturday I was sat around having breakfast and didn’t go to work until 10.30 – they’d already been working for nearly two hours by that point! Then again, I was sat up until midnight, working on an assignment for Carrie Etter’s online course which I’m taking at the minute.  I have to analyse sentence structure in a prose poem, which I’m finding really hard.  It is interesting, but hard, and it feels like I understand what a compound-complex sentence is, and then the knowledge slips away from me again.  This is probably basic knowledge that I should already know but it feels like my brain just isn’t wired up that way, to label these things.

The first half of the week I spent whizzing around doing my usual things.  I went to Bowland Bridge on Monday to spend the day with a group of friends on a writing retreat before heading off to do my junior band rehearsal.  I went for a run on Tuesday after work.  On Wednesday, I was teaching till 6.30 and then I drove to Ulverston to host an Open Mic at Natterjacks.  The friends I spent the day with at Bowland Bridge had been in touch to see if there were any poetry readings happening in Cumbria in the week they were here.  There were none, so I decided to organise an open mic for them.  Rob and Valerie at Natterjacks offered the venue for free and I advertised it with a minimum amount of effort via Facebook and emails, so I was really pleased when we got a good turnout and managed to fill the cafe.  I think there were about 18 people signed up on the open mic, but everybody was well behaved and stuck to their time slot.  Rob and Valerie’s son, Connor, who plays in my band, recited my ‘Trumpet Teacher’s Curse’ – he’d already won his category in a poetry recitation competition at the South Cumbria Music Festival but I couldn’t believe how many laughs he got – much more than when I read it!

Then Thursday morning I was stopped in my tracks.  Which is probably a good place to introduce today’s Sunday Poem, by Steve Ely.  I had the pleasure of working with Steve last year in St Ives on our residential and he was great to work with, very hard-working and conscientious with the feedback he gave to people on the course about their poetry, and he runs as well – what more could you want from a co-tutor?

Here is Steve’s poem, taken from a brand new pamphlet Werewolf, published by Calder Valley Poetry.

The Death Dealer of Kovno

Lithuania, land of heroes, 
Thou our Fatherland that art, 
From the glorious deeds of ages, 
Shall Thy children take hear. 
May Thy children ever follow 
Their heroic fathers 
In devotion to their country 
(The Lithuanian National Anthem)

Duffy we hated, for his stink and snivelling
and strawberry birthmark, and when Mr Dowland
named him as the pen thief, the football team
rose in incredulous outrage that one
so contemptible, so negligible, so low,
would dare to place his scrubber’s hands
on our Papermates, Schaeffers and Parkers.
I chinned him at his desk in front of the teacher
to the raucous approbation of my peers
who swarmed over tables to land righteous blows
of their own.  Dowland, who knew
exactly how we felt, bollocked us
back to fractions and told us such conduct
had no place in school, though come four
it was none of his business. When we got him
in the ginnel even the first years joined in.
Hey-fatty-bum-bum could neither fight nor run.
He hedgehogged to a foetal and curled tight
till we sickened of booting.  He screamed
like a babby and bled like a pig:
fat-bastard, pen-thieving, beetroot-face bummer.
His Mam kept him off, until the school bobby
knocked with a summons.  We were warned.
Sitting at his desk, he’d lost weight
but his wounds had healed.  When he whispered
‘Yes Sir’, to his name on the register,
Dowland looked up from his careful herringbone,
and pointing with his Papermate,
asked if he’d learned his lesson.

On 25th June, 1941, the day after invading Nazis had driven out the Soviet occupiers, Lithuanians nationalists herded fifty Jews onto the forecourt of the Lietukis garage in Kovno.  In front of a cheering crowd, the Jews were marched at gunpoint to the centre of the forecourt, where they were beaten to death with an iron crowbar by Algirda Antana Pavalkis, a Lithuanian national in his late teens or early twenties.  After killing the last Jew, the Death Dealer of Kovno posed for photographs amongst the corpses before fetching an accordian and leading the crowd in a rendition of the Lithuanian National Anthem.  A 1950 photograph of Pavalkis seemed to indicate that he was working as a doctor in the USSR.

Phew.  So this poem, and indeed the pamphlet that it is taken from, is pretty dark, although I wouldn’t say unremittingly so.  It explores a world of male violence and I think this poem certainly sets out the ideas for violence being a spectrum or a continuum.  The violence that is meted out by both the children and the teacher, is compared to the deadly violence carried out against the Jews in the epigraph that follows.  There are copious notes at the back of the pamphlet, and the notes for this poem say that this is a ‘fictionalised version of an incident that took place in my middle school in 1978’ leaving the reader to wonder which bits are fictionalised and which are true.

Leaving aside questions of truth, and the uncomfortable feeling I’m left with when reading this poem as I remember incidences from my own childhood when I was complicit to violence or cruelty against others, or the victim of it, and going back to the poem, it is a masterclass in creating a believable voice.

The fact that Duffy was hated for his ‘strawberry birthmark’ – a completely arbitrary thing fits with my memories of all the things that children get bullied for.  I love the way he uses ‘hedgehogged’ as an action and the line ‘bollocked us/back to fractions’ – the teacher tells them off and makes them do fractions, but also the double meaning, of these boys being only fractions, only partly human.  That idea of them not being ‘human’ also happens, I think, because there is only one use of the personal pronoun ‘I’.  The rest of the time, the poem uses ‘we’ and ‘us’, as if the football team moves with one thought.

This is a brilliantly executed poem, and technically, I don’t think it puts a foot wrong.  It’s interesting to consider it without the title or the epigraphs that precede and follow it.  It’s still a strong poem, which explores childhood brutality and brutality wielded by someone in a position of power, but with the epigraphs, it opens it up to a wider consideration of violence in society and how it starts, and is allowed to take place.

If you’d like to read more of Steve’s work, you can email Bob Horne at Calder Valley Poetry at caldervalleypoetry@yahoo.com.  Calder Valley Poetry is a relatively new publisher, already producing beautiful pamphlets.  I’ve still got a pamphlet that Bob sent by Peter Riley that he has published recently, which I’m looking forward to reading.

Steve Ely is a poet from the West Riding of Yorkshire. His book of poems, Oswald’s Book of Hours, is published by Smokestack and was nominated for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2013 and the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry in 2014. Englaland, his second book of poems, was published in April, 2015, also by Smokestack. His novel, Ratmen, is published by Blackheath Books. Ted Hughes’s South Yorkshire: Made In Mexborough, a biographical work about Hughes’s neglected Mexborough period, was  published by Palgrave MacMillan in July 2015.  If you’d like to find out more about Steve, you can go to his website at http://www.steveely.co.uk/