Tag Archives: carcanet

Sunday Poem – Claudine Toutongi

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Sunday Poem – Claudine Toutongi

 

It doesn’t seem very long since the last time I wrote, and the week has flashed by again.  I decided this week to blog about any interesting reading I do for my PhD for a number of reasons.  First of all, it will stop my overwhelming guilt whenever I spend the day reading and have nothing physical to show for it.  Secondly, I’m hoping it will help me clarify my own thoughts and opinions about what I’ve read. If you missed it, you can find this post here, and feel free to join in/add your thoughts. I’ve really enjoyed reading responses to the last post, and they’ve given me a lot to think about!

Apart from finishing reading the Vicky Bertram book, and starting to make my slow and painstaking way through some articles that my supervisor recommended for me to read, I’ve been doing a lot of running.  I’m up to 21 miles so far this week and today I’m going out on a ten mile run which will be the furthest I’ve ran since coming back from injury.

This week I had a five hour, non-stop meeting with Pauline Yarwood, my co-director at Kendal Poetry Festival.  It was non-stop because we forgot to stop to get a drink.  We got a bit over-excited with our discussion of possible poets for the festival.  We only have room for twelve poets so each one has to be fantastic, in their own inimitable way.  WE haven’t quite got our final list yet, but we are getting close.   This job is my (and I think Pauline’s as well)  favourite bit of the festival.  We also spent a lot of time on something a lot more boring – working out our expenses and budget.  Not my favourite bit of the festival – but it has to be done!

It was Poem and a Pint last night with the wonderful poet Miriam Nash.  I had mistakenly booked myself to do a gig with the Soul Survivors the same night, so I was only able to attend the first half of A Poem and a Pint.  I did hear all of Miriam’s first set though and thought she was brilliant.  I bought her collection and am looking forward to reading it – there was a strong thread about lighthouses, and lights and the sea and the dark running through the poems I heard her read last night.  There were some good open mics as well – Clare Proctor stood out for me, with her poem about penises being kept in jars (it’s a great poem – you had to be there), and also Gill Nicholson, whose first poem exploring grief and the inability of the dead to return (If Jesus could do it, why can’t you?) I think was the first line, made me cry.

Anyway, I listened to the first half open miccers, and then whizzed off to the Soul Survivors gig back in Barrow.  I have had a bit of an epiphany with my playing recently.  Basically, a couple of months ago I lost my trumpet mouthpiece, which is worth about £90.  I’ve had this mouthpiece for a long time, and a teacher advised that I buy this particular make and size probably 13 years ago, because I was doing a lot of classical trumpet playing.  In particular, myself and said teacher were performing the Vivaldi double trumpet concerto.

Anyway, I’ve always hated what I call ‘gadgets’ and an over reliance and obsession with different size mouthpieces and fancy bits of kit.  I’ve always been of the opinion that if you are a good player, it doesn’t really matter what you play, within reason.  How stupid I am! I spent a good three hours researching mouthpieces on the internet, FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER (bear in mind I’ve been playing since I was ten).  I spent another couple of hours on trumpet forums and lurked about reading responses from it must be said mainly male trumpet players as they discussed in-depth about different sizes of mouthpiece.

I realised that I’ve been playing on a large size mouthpiece to get a big classical sound and actually that might not be ideal for the type of playing I’m doing now (soul band stuff).  So I decided to buy a smaller mouthpiece – found a half price one on Ebay and ordered it.  Then after having the summer off playing, I’ve spent the last two weeks practising – building up from a five minute splutter as my face tried to remember how to play, to an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening every day, and ta-da! I can suddenly play for higher and longer than I’ve ever managed in my entire playing career.

The gig last night was so much easier – I actually enjoyed it instead of worrying about high notes and getting tired.  My tuning was even better – on the big mouthpiece, I used to go sharper and sharper as the night went on – last night, once I was in tune, I was in tune.  I’m so excited by the fact that playing was easier that I think I might just have to keep my practising up now.  This is my problem though – I get obsessed with things. I can’t just practise once a day – I have to do it twice a day, for longer and longer.  But I will have to keep control of it otherwise I will still be doing this PhD by the time I’m 65.

Probably trumpet mouthpiece talk is as boring for non trumpet players as my running talk is for non runners, so I’d better stop there.  Next week I have quite a busy week – I’m giving a lecture on the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy tomorrow at Mancester Met University for a group of visiting Australian students (teenagers).  I’ve got meetings for Poem and a Pint, and for Kendal Poetry Festival.  I’m reading at Bad Language in Manchester as the guest poet on Wednesday, and Friday I’m going over to Settle to present prizes to the winners of the Settle Poetry Competition, and give a short reading of my own poetry as well, alongside the fabulous Carola Luther.   On Saturday I’m reading in Ilkley at Ilkley Literature Festival to launch the Poetry Business ‘One for the Road’ anthology, celebrating pubs in poetry and prose.  I’ll be reading alongside Stuart Maconie and Peter Sansom for that event.  Then I’m staying in Ilkley before catching the train down to Swindon to be reunited with Hilda Sheehan before heading over to be the guest poet at Buzzwords in Cheltenham on Sunday.  At some point on that Sunday, maybe on the train on the way down to Swindon, I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to do my blog!

I have such a good Sunday Poem for you this week! I read this poem – and wow.  It blew me away straight away.  Today’s Sunday Poem comes from Smoothie by Claudine Toutongi which has just been published by Carcanet.  I’m halfway through my second read of the collection and I’m really enjoying it.  It feels very different to the kind of poetry I write, but maybe that is why I like it so much.  It feels very fresh.  Mark Waldron talks on the back of the book about the ‘lightness of touch’, and a ‘kind of unafraid honesty’ which I think sums the book  up really well.

After reading the poem, I thought the ‘you’ in the poem was an ex-boyfriend, or at least someone that the speaker has had some kind of physical and emotional connection with, but it’s not entirely clear.  Maybe it was one of those connections filled with longing/yearning and not much else, the worst kind, I think as there is never any real life experiences to give any real-life disappointment.

And thinking back to my PhD musing post, and who poems are addressed to, and that idea of ‘slyness’ or ‘doubleness’ in a mode of address – I think this poem illustrates this perfectly.  On a surface level it is addressed to a ‘you’ who I unequivocally see as a man (maybe because of that first simile: “You’re there in front of me/looking like the longest,tallest/coolest glass of water.” but actually, I think the poem is one of those rare poems addressed to women as a collective – although maybe I’m just over-identifying with the content of the poem, and reading that as a call to women to remember the times when we’ve stood in front of someone we’ve fancied/loved/longed for and not been able to speak.

The foregrounding of female desire (“You might as well have/Drink me written on your collar”) is beautifully done (“the longest, tallest/ coolest glass of water”).  I also think it’s a wonderful example of the female gaze in poetry.  Although desire is at the centre of this poem, and the desire seems to go both ways (“every time/you touch my elbow things feel worse”) the object of desire is actually not an object.  He isn’t on display.  The only physical description of him is the ‘longest, tallest/coolest glass of water’.  After that, the physical descriptions are centred on the speaker.  It is her reaction to him (“My heart swims in my chest like a fairground/goldfish trapped in plastic) and their interaction together “the way/we don’t make room for others in our conversation” that are central to the poem.  Even the one physical description of the man looking like a glass of water, actually serves to remind us of the thirst of the speaker, her desire.  And the ‘Drink me’ on the collar echoes back to Alice in Wonderland, where Alice picks up a bottle with ‘Drink me’ on which transforms her.  I couldn’t remember at first whether the potion she drinks makes her smaller or larger – interestingly it makes her smaller – so she can fit through a tiny door and go on to have various adventures, which throws an interesting light on the poem – if the speaker gives in to her desire, will it will make her ‘smaller’ in some way?

Finally, I love the cleverness of the word ‘congrats’ being the ‘shrunken cousin’ of congratulations as well – this line made me smile when I read it because it felt so correct, like a truth you don’t know you know before a poem speaks it for you.

I met Claudine a few years ago on one of the residential courses that I ran but haven’t been in touch with her for a while, so I was really pleased when she messaged to say she had a collection coming out with Carcanet.

Claudine grew up in Warwickshire and studied English and French at Trinity College, Oxford.  After an MA at Goldsmiths, she trained as an actor at LAMDA and worked as a BBC RAdio Drama producer and English teacher.  As a dramatist, her plays Bit Part and Slipping have been produced by The Stephen Joseph Theatre.  She adapted Slipping for BBC Radio 4, after it was featured in an international reading series at New York’s Lark Play Development Centre.  Other work for BBC Radio includes Deliverers and The Inheritors.  She lives in Cambridge. You can find out more about Claudine by heading to her website https://claudinetoutoungi.weebly.com/

If you would like to buy Smoothiehead over to Carcanet, where it is available at the moment at a discount –  for the bargain price of £8.99.  I promise you, this is a collection that deserves to be read – it’s funny, inventive, sharp but with some punch-in-the-gut moments as well.

 

Reunion – Claudine Toutongi

You’re there in front of me
looking like the longest, tallest
coolest glass of water.  You might as well have
Drink me written on your collar.
My heart swims in my chest like a fairground
goldfish trapped in plastic and
whether it’s the fact we’re gulping coffee
after coffee from the buffet, or that every time
you touch my elbow things feel worse, or the way
we don’t make room for others in our conversation – I can’t
tell, but it seems to me your tongue sticks to the roof of
my mouth, though it doesn’t and I can’t pronounce the
words I need to say and even when my friend, your wife,
arrives it doesn’t come and so I say congrats.  Not
even the whole word just its shrunken cousin –
and your expression hovers right before your face
and doesn’t seem to want to land.

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Sunday Poem – Alison Brackenbury

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Sunday Poem – Alison Brackenbury

I’m happy to say I’m in a bit better shape than I was last Sunday when I wrote.  I’ve not had any recurring gall bladder attacks.  I’ve managed to stick to this wretched diet now for 11 days, although I did have a mishap two nights ago.  I was googling ‘healthy biscuits’ and read that Rich Tea biscuits are the healthiest.  So I cracked open the packet and ate six in one go..  When I saw my running buddy the next day, he helpfully pointed out that they are only healthy in relation to other biscuits, they still have loads of fat in.  So I was a bit annoyed at myself for this, and spent the night worrying that I was going to end up in hospital and I would have to confess I’d scoffed loads of biscuits.  Anyway, it hasn’t happened so far, so I think I will be ok.

It is strange and kind of exhausting having to worry about what I’m eating all the time.  I feel like I’m thinking about food every minute of the day at the minute, as if I’m hungry all the time.  I have now got an appointment at the hospital for the 24th November to see the consultant, so I will know more then hopefully about when the operation is going to be.

I haven’t ran all week, which has been awful.  I actually feel less mentally stable when I can’t run.  This week, I’ve burst into tears at absolutely nothing about five times, which has been a bit embarrassing.

I’ve been working quite hard on PhD stuff – trying to get my head around this RD1 form that has to be handed in mid-december, probably just about the time I will be recovering from this operation!  I’m really struggling with the RD1, with knowing what I want to do, with articulating what I want to do, with making it into a research project – all of it.

For the first time this week, I wondered what I was doing, starting a PhD, as in what have I let myself in for, and why did I have the cheek to think I could do a PhD? I feel like I’m just playing at doing a PhD, and soon someone will find me out and I’ll be in trouble.  I guess this is what they call imposter syndrome.  The logical and rational part of my brain is telling myself that this is just a wobble, that it is happening because I’m feeling vulnerable because I’ve been to hospital, because I’ve got to have an operation etc etc.  But the other part of me is basically having a silent panic attack about it all.

So apart from this existential crisis about food, life and the PhD, it has been a pretty quiet week! I’ve been taking it easy, getting some work done but no physical exercise.  I did my day of teaching at the uni on Thursday.  I even spent a whole day where I just edited some poems, which I really enjoyed doing.

I regularly ring the hotels that I run the residentials at for a bit of a chat and a gossip with the staff.  I rang Treloyhan Manor Hotel last night to see how numbers were going for St Ives.  There are still 3 rooms left, and there is an option to have a non en-suite room (so with a shared bathroom) for £365.  I think that is a bargain! Included in that price is breakfast, three-course meals and workshops and readings all week.  An en-suite room is £420 for the week.  The course is running from the 20th-25th February 2017.  If you’d like to grab one of those last few places, you can book by ringing the hotel on 01736 796240.  Or if you’d like more information about the theme for the week, you can have a look here.  If you’d like more information about the hotel, you can have a look at the Treloyhan Manor website.  The hotel is about a ten minute walk away from St Ives, and is perched on a cliff next to the sea.

In April, I’m running another residential course with Jennifer Copley as the co-tutor at Abbot Hall Hotel in Kents Bank (near Grange Over Sands).  This hotel is in a beautiful location as well, on the edge of Morecombe Bay, and there is a lovely walk along the prom to Grange, which people often do in the afternoon.  There is also a swimming pool at the hotel, which is good, as I wouldn’t advise swimming in Morecombe Bay because of the quicksand! The April course runs from the 10th-14th April and costs £448 for the week.

One thing I am looking forward to this week is a trip to Manchester to go to my friend Keith Hutson’s book launch.  He’s reading with Helen Mort, Carole Bromley and Mark Pajak, so that will be a great night! The reading is taking place at Waterstones on Deansgate.  More information here

This week’s Sunday Poem is by Alison Brackenbury – a great poet whose ninth collection Skies has just been published by Carcanet.  I managed to get hold of a copy of Alison’s book when I was down at Swindon Poetry Festival recently and I’ve really enjoyed it.  The poetry in the book is beautifully crafted and many of the poems, if not most, have intricate rhyme schemes which both draw out meaning, and hold the poems together.

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The poem explores the unexpected arrival of a letter from an ‘old lover’ (quoted from the back of the collection).  It’s unexpected, but I wouldn’t say, unwelcome.  Let’s be honest here, there are some ex-partners you really don’t want to get a letter from after thirty years, but this poem is a tender exploration of the past, full of acceptance, not bitterness.

Alison’s poems, all the way through the book are full of strong images.  She has a number of short, four-line poems, which are really imagistic, and kudos to Carcanet for giving them a full page and the space they deserve.  There is even a two-line poem in the collection, which I can’t resist quoting to show you what I mean, about her talent with this imagistic writing.  It’s called ‘November Began’

And the fieldfares blew
over the hedgetops, like grey leaves.

Isn’t that beautiful?

I think it takes confidence to pull something like that off. And in the poem I’ve chosen as the Sunday Poem ‘January 7th’ there are images that stay in your mind as well, because they are perfectly observed: ‘My cycle coat blows on the line’ and ‘The old cat paws the door’.

There is also mystery in this poem – we don’t know what happened to the child that the speaker cries for in the third stanza, and in the fourth stanza we read ‘But now my child is married/the ones who fought me, dead,’.  There are whole other stories behind these two lines that are dropped into the poem that left me wanting to know more.

And of course, there is something unbelievably sad in admitting that you will not a person again, a person that you shared history with.  This is a complicated poem.  This is a choice the speaker makes, to not see this person again, and yet the last line, with the image of the night turning to rain, is a great portrayal of sadness or regret without referring to the abstract words.

Alison Brackenbury was born in Lincolnshire but has lived in Gloucestershire for the last forty years.  She has won an Eric Gregory Award and a Cholmondeley Award.  Previous books include Then (published in 2013), Singing in the Dark (published in 2008) and you can find out more about her other 7 collections (7!) over at her website www.alisonbrackenbury.co.uk

If you’d like to order Alison’s book, you can buy it over at the Carcanet website.

Thanks to Alison for letting me use her poem this week! I’m spending this week choosing the next set of Sunday Poems – always a fun, if time-consuming job.

 

January 7th – Alison Brackenbury

There is a low glare in the sky
sweeps to a rainy night.
The planet’s wrong, the house unsold,
and, after thirty years, you write.

My cycle coat blows on the line.
The old cat paws at the door.
I tell you I am badger grey,
but wiser than before.

I do not tell you that I cried
since it was not for you
but for a child, since they break hearts
as no mere man can do.

But now my child is married,
the ones who fought me, dead,
and I am moved by your hands’ grace
besides my clumsy head

although I cannot see you
and will not again.
My yellow coat flies like a flag.
The long night turns to rain.

Sunday Poem – Elaine Feinstein

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It feels like longer than a week since I last wrote to you all – it hasn’t been, or only by one day, but last week’s post was a bit hurried because I was supposed to be packing to go to Crete so I have lots to fill you in with.  I’ve just worked out I’ve spent one week at home in the last month due to general gallivanting around the globe.  Two weeks ago I was in Grange-Over-Sands running a poetry residential with the poetry marvel that is Carola Luther and then last week I went on a last-minute, quite cheap all inclusive holiday to Crete.

In between all this, my first full length collection was published.  The lovely director at Seren, Mick Felton sent me through one early copy which arrived on the Monday morning, just before I set off for Grange over Sands.  Is it strange to admit that I read my own book on the train on the way to Grange?  Who cares!  I did…you might think me even stranger though when I tell you that I only told my pal John Foggin, who was one of the participants on the course and who I couldn’t resist showing the book to, and Carola Luther and then I slept with it under my pillow.  That is a little weird.

I am blessed with so many lovely poetry friends and the next morning David Borrott got wind of the fact that my poetry books had arrived in Barrow and offered to drive me to go and fetch them so I could have them for my reading on the Tuesday evening. I felt reluctant to do this at first – of course I wanted to go and fetch them and to dance round the hotel brandishing them and shoving them under the nose of anyone who vaguely looked in my direction – however even I could see this would be a little self-centered.  And after all, the course is about the participants.

However, I hadn’t counted on exactly how lovely and enthusiastic the people are that book to come on these courses.  I don’t know if I’ve just been lucky with this, but that is how it has been, year after year.  They support and encourage not only each other, but the tutors as well!  I’d forgotten about last year in Grange, when I read some of the poems from the central sequence in the book which explores domestic violence for the first time, and how shaky I was.  I know I’ve come a long way from that now – I know how to keep myself rooted to the earth when I read those poems.

I sold my first 19 copies that night and couldn’t stop smiling – not at just selling 19 copies, but at the enthusiasm and excitement that people were showing – I never expected it – only from me – not from everyone else.  So I wanted to say a public thank you to everyone who made that night so special – I won’t name them all, because I haven’t asked their permission to do so, but I know many of them read this blog.  Carola and I were overwhelmed by your generosity of spirit.

The rest of the residential went as these weeks have previously – in an intense blur of poems.  I’m always amazed every year by the quality of work that is produced in the workshops and reassured by the generosity that participants show each other, by the thoughtfulness and engagement with each other’s poetry – this is the poetry world that I love being a part of.

There were other good news stories as well – Jayne Stanton, who has been (I think) on every residential course in Grange that I’ve ran has recently had her first pamphlet out with Soundswrite Press.   I won’t say too much about it now, because I’m hoping to feature a poem from it very soon.  Another participant, Martin Zarrop, who I met when I was a participant on one of the first residential courses I went on has just had his pamphlet published with Cinnamon Press – again – I am hoping to put a poem up from it very soon so I won’t say too much more for now about this.

John Foggin has gone and written a lovely blog about the week and my book which you can read here which made me cry when I read it in Crete.

So The Art of Falling is now officially available! The easiest and probably the cheapest way is to buy a copy through Seren.  If you join their book club you get 20% off the cover price.  Or if you want a signed copy, come and say hello at one of my readings – I’m having three launches for the collection in Leeds, Ulverston and London which you can find on the Launch page, but I’m also reading this year in Leicester, Sheffield, Halifax, Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, Carlisle, Cardiff and Lancaster – you can find details of my forthcoming readings here

I got back yesterday from Crete where I had a self-imposed break from the computer.  In practice this meant that I only checked my emails once a day instead of reading them immediately, because I couldn’t bear the thought of ploughing through them all when I got home.  I went to Crete with the husband – our first holiday just on our own for a couple of years.  I was worried that we might end up wanting to kill each other by the end of the week, but am pleased to report that we are still best friends and didn’t get bored of each other at all.

We spent the first half of the week in sunshine.  We walked in a city, on a beach and up a gorge on three respective days.  Then the weather changed and we spent three days with torrential rain and thirty mile an hour winds.   For the first two days I could see the funny side of it but by the third day I had The Hump.  Of course the day we flew back it was lovely and sunny again.

Lindsey Holland, friend and poet extraordinaire stayed in my house to look after the dogs while we were away and she has somehow managed to transform Miles into a very well behaved terrier and got rid of his annoying habit of sitting at the bottom of the stairs in the morning and crying for us to come down and feed him.  How she did it, I do not know.  We’ve been trying and failing for years to get him to shut up.

I’ve spent today catching up on as many jobs as I could.  When I look at my list, it doesn’t seem that I’ve done that much.  I’ve sent out an email to let people know about my Ulverston launch.  I’ve shared the Leeds launch on Facebook.  I’ve updated my blog so if you have a look around you will find new reading dates on the Readings and Workshops page, dates for next year’s Residential Poetry Courses on the Residential Poetry Courses page, a new ‘Launches’ post, a few new bits of biographical information on the About page and information on where to buy The Art of Falling on the Publications page.  I’ve answered some questions for an interview I’m doing for Seren.  I’ve answered a few stray emails.  I’ve been for my first 9 kilometre run with no pain at all which I’m so happy about that I don’t even care that it was in torrential rain and I got completely soaked and cold and wet.  And I’ve written this of course.

Remaining and outstanding jobs include writing a review for a magazine, reading a pamphlet and providing a quote for the cover, writing a blog post for The Poetry School to advertise my Act of Transformation course, letters for my junior band with the dates for two upcoming concerts.  While I was in Crete and Grange I also managed to start a couple of new poems and it would be quite nice to carry on with them at some point!

Enough about me now – I have half an hour to get this post published before it is midnight and I turn into a pumpkin.  Today’s Sunday Poem is Elaine Feinstein.  I met Elaine quite a few years ago when I travelled down to London for the launch of one of the issues of Poetry Review.  I doubt she would remember me, although she gave me a rather snazzy business card, which I managed to lose in the interim, so to get permission to use this poem I had to write to her publisher Carcanet.

In my book buying frenzy at Stanza this year, I spotted Talking to the Dead by Elaine and snatched it up, convinced it was her latest collection, which I’d heard about and heard that it was good.  I’m glad my brain was confused though because I ended up with Talking to the Dead which is really excellent and was published in 2007.  It has also convinced me that I definitely need to buy the actual latest collection which is called Portraits, published this year.

Elaine Feinstein is not only a poet but a novelist, translator and biographer.  If you would like to order any of Elaine’s books, have a look at the Carcanet website – you can find Talking to the Dead here. 

I’ve chosen to feature this poem this week because I think it explores beautifully the concept and contradictions of marriage, which I’ve been thinking a lot about this week.  The whole book is a series of elegies to the poet’s husband, but I wouldn’t want to give you the impression that these poems are depressing or dark.  They are full of light, and humour and discovery, as well as sadness.

In the poem I’ve chosen, you can see the poet is not afraid to directly address the deceased with a question that cannot be answered, or at least not by him.  I love the description of the husband as an ‘acrobat’ and the detailing of the morning ritual in the second stanza.  At the end of the third stanza, we get to one of those contraidictions, those beautiful moments in a marriage – ‘you argued like an angry man’ and we know instantly that he wasn’t an angry man.  Then there is another at the end of the fourth stanza – that line ‘when I brought myself to say’ – and this is the first hint of any strain or tension caused by the illness of her husband. I also think the pieces of dialogue are beautifully handled in this poem, and interesting that we only get to hear what he said to her – these little captured pieces of speech are like frozen moments in time.  Those touches of humour – the reference to ET, the way her husband speaks to the nurses bring in that light I was talking about, or maybe I should describe it more accurately as a lightness of touch.  The collection is probably one of my favourites I’ve read this year – I’m sorry it has taken me so long to find it since it was published, but I’m glad I did eventually.  The directness of the poems, the way they talk to somebody who has died without any expectation of a reply, but exploring memory and personality and what did or didn’t happen I find utterly compelling – can’t recommend the book enough!

I am now out of time, it is midnight – I would like to say thanks to Elaine Feinstein for allowing me to feature this poem and to Carcanet as well of course.

Home – Elaine Feinstein

When was it you took up that second stick,
and began to walk like a cross country skier?
Your glide developed its own politics.
Last July, you were able to stretch over
like an acrobat, to oil the garden table.
The patio faced south.  It was high summer.

Coffee and grapefruit was the breakfast ritual,
or boiled eggs eaten from blue terracotta.
Our paradise, you called it, like a gite
we might have chosen somewhere in Provence.
Neither of us understood you were in danger.
Not even when we called the ambulance:

you’d been inside so many hospitals,
ticking your menus, shrugging off jabs and scans
talking unstoppably to visitors –
your long crippling made you bitterly clever.
Humped on your atoll, and awash with papers
you often argued like an angry man.

This time, however, you were strangely gentle.
Your face lit up as soon as I arrived;
smiling, you shooed the nurses out, and said
Now go away, I’m talking to my wife.
You liked it, when I brought myself to say
seeing you was the high point of my day.

The nurses, pushed for time, hauled you about
and fixed the bed without much ceremony.
You spoke of home, as if you were ET,
and wanted me to fetch you in the car – as
I would have, if the staff nurse had concurred.
Darling, they brought you in like a broken bird.

Your shoulder blades were sharp beneath your skin,
a high cheekbone poignant against the pillow.
Yet neither of us spoke a word of death.
My love, you whispered, I feel so safe with you.
That Monday, while I phoned, you waited loyally
for my return, before your last breath.

Sunday Poem – Mimi Khalvati

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Afternoon everyone.  The Sunday Poem is going up a little earlier than usual today for a number of reasons.   The hubby and I already walked the dogs this morning through some fields near Dalton before the rain really started – which has now happened so that is that job done.  I also have to prepare to do a small talk on an Ofsted video about best practice in music teaching at an Inset session on Tuesday so this is me distracting myself from doing what I don’t want to do.  After I’ve made this blog post as long as possible, I think I will have to actually do what I’m supposed to be doing.

This week has mainly been work and some poetry things.  I’ve been doing lots of reading this week – the ‘Letters of Ted Hughes’ which I find unbearably sad.  I also want to read everything that Ted Hughes references that he is reading in the letters – but I think I would need to have at least ten more hours in each of my days.  I’ve started reading the Forster-Cavafy Letters as well and I’m halfway through reading a book by Terry Eagleton ‘How to Read a Poem’ which was on the reading list when I started the MA at Manchester Met.  I dutifully bought every book on the reading list when I first started – I didn’t want to be caught out by not having the right book – I’m such a goody two shoes.  As it happened, the book was never mentioned and I started reading it stubbornly to get my money’s worth, but I’m actually quite enjoying it now and learning quite a lot from it. The chapters I’ve read so far are 1.  The Functions of Criticism 2. What is Poetry? 3.  Formalists and I’m about to start Chapter 4 ‘In Pursuit of Form’.  It is actually more entertaining than it sounds!

On Tuesday I went to another reading up at the Wordsworth Trust http://www.wordsworthtrust.org.uk .  This time it was Anne Stevenson and M.R. Peacocke.  On Friday I went to Brewery Poets which is a critiquing group which meets at the Brewery in Kendal on the second Friday of every month.  There were two new people there this month but still only six of us as various people couldn’t come for various reasons.  However, I really enjoyed it and enjoyed reading people’s poems – it reminded me of the positive aspects to writing groups.

Yesterday a copy of Acumen arrived with my review of Myra Schneiders’ pamphlet ‘What Women Want’ and a cheque for £25!  This is so nice when this happens – I had a little dance around my office.  A part of me still can’t believe that I can get paid for writing.  I really like doing reviews as well – it somehow feels easier than writing poems – you don’t have to wait for the poem to come to you – you can just get on and start writing.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by the lovely Mimi Khalvati, who I read with last week at the Lyric Festival in Sheffield.  Mimi has a new pamphlet out with Smith/Doorstop called ‘Earthshine’.  Actually to call it a pamphlet is slightly misleading because it is posher than a pamphlet – it has a spine and a glossy front cover – it is a beautiful object.  Mimi is well known for her skills as a tutor as well and I experienced this first hand at a residential last year with Mimi and Myra Schneider as the tutors, run by the Second Light Network.  Mimi seems to me to be a very gentle person (although I don’t know her well), very softly spoken, always smiling, but she does not pull any punches in workshops!  She is very astute with her comments and manages to be challenging without making anyone feel bad because she is so nice!  And most importantly, you can trust her opinion – if she says something is good, she means it, because she would tell you if it wasn’t – she is very honest.  If you can get along to one of her workshops, you should.

Back to the pamphlet though – Earthshine is a sequence of poems which started from observations of each days weather and then spin off on various trajectories.  A lot of small creatures inhabit these poems – mice, mouse lemur, bats and the pamphlet is tinged with an air of elegy, rather than being made of elegy if that makes sense.  Only a few of the poems make a direct reference to the death of a mother but the whole pamphlet carries this feeling – although I wouldn’t want to mislead you into thinking this pamphlet is sad, or maudlin.  It does have sadness but it is also funny.  In the first poem ‘House Mouse’ the ‘I’ of the poem finds a dead mouse and the poem finishes ‘I tuck her into the finger/of my banana skin – a ferryboat to carry her over the Styx.’  This is funny and sweet and sad – sometimes the poems leave you not knowing what to feel.  They are also a lesson in close observation.  In ‘Madame Berthe’s Mouse Lemur’ the lemur is referred to as ‘itsy-bitsy portmanteau,/ little living furry torch’ and ‘a geisha lowering her fan’.

I’m raving about these poems that focus on tiny animals because the poem I’ve chosen is one of the poems that deal directly with death and has no animals in it at all! But I love the use of repitition in this poem, the blue running right through it and then that twist at the end is heartbreaking.   So here is the Sunday Poem, with thanks to Mimi Khalvati for permission to use it here.    You can buy ‘Earthshine’ by clicking on this link http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/shop/834/earthshine-mimi-khalvati

– Mimi also has full collections available – most recently ‘Child – New and Selected Poems’ published by Carcanet, available here.  http://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781847770943

What it Was  – Mimi Khalvati

It was the pool and the blue umbrellas,
blue awning.  It was the blue and white

lifesize chess-set on the terrace, wall of jasmine.
It was the persimmon and palm side by side

like two wise prophets and the view that dipped
then rose, the swallows that turned the valley.

It was the machinery of the old olive press,
the silences and the voices in them calling.

It was the water talking.  It was the woman reading with her head propped, wearing glasses,

the logpile under the overhanging staircase,
mist and the mountains we took for granted.

It was the blue-humped hose and living wasps
swimming on the surface.  It was the chimneys.

It was sleep.  It was not having a mother,
neither father nor mother to comfort me.