Tag Archives: Carlisle

Sunday Poem – Hilda Sheehan


This week has been a strange and rather full-on week.  Regular readers of this blog will remember that I was slightly panicking last week about my Progression Viva which was on Monday. The journey there was tiresome, annoying and cold.  My train broke down just outside Lancaster, and once it got going again, after half an hour it could only proceed at five miles an hour to Preston, which took rather a long time! I was planning to get to Manchester three hours early, so I could have a leisurely lunch and do a bit more silent panicking before the viva – however, I actually got there half an hour late.  Luckily the scrutineers agreed to wait for me.  By that time I was in such a bad mood it stopped me being too nervous, so it probably worked out well in the end.

It was actually really good to have a chance to talk through some of my ideas around my thesis with the scrutineers, who were really enthusiastic about my project.  Probably the biggest thing I’ve had to come to terms with in doing this PhD is believing that my ideas are interesting – I don’t know if anybody else has this, but because my ideas come out of my head, they don’t feel that interesting! But a PhD – or at least a creative PhD, or maybe even just MY creative Phd, has to be driven by ideas.

So I’m very happy to say I’ve passed, which means I can progress onwards with my PhD but I had a few revisions to make, including writing a paragraph or two about why I’m using lyric poetry as opposed to another type of poetry, some referencing errors and refining my aims from seven (excessive) down to four (manageable).  I resubmitted on Thursday, so that is done and dusted now.

Apart from the PhD excitement, I’ve been to a meeting for A Poem and a Pint – we are still waiting to hear back from our third attempt to apply for Arts Council funding.  In fact we should hear in the next few weeks.  I also did some mentoring on a manuscript of a rather excellent poet and we met up on Tuesday to discuss the suggestions I’d made.  On Wednesday, despite the freezing cold and a thin layer of snow in Barrow, I decided to go out and do a nine mile run – trying to build my mileage up now ready for the Coniston to Barrow event in May.

Thursday was a complete washout because of the storm.  I was supposed to get to Manchester, have two tutorials with two of my undergraduate students, go to a meeting about some teaching at university, then do an afternoon of teaching, and then hang around for a bit before going to read at Lit Up in Manchester.  I got to Lancaster and all the trains were cancelled, so I decided to cut my losses and go home.  Lit Up eventually ended up being cancelled, but it will hopefully be rearranged.

Friday’s meeting about an anthology of Cumbrian poetry I’m editing was also cancelled as the publisher/editor was snowed in and couldn’t get out of her house, and I decided to cancel Dove Cottage Young Poets rather than risk the weather, so instead of two really busy days I had two days of emptiness stretching before me.  It was so nice! I managed to fill them as I have so many jobs I haven’t caught up with – I managed to go for a ten mile run on Friday which I didn’t think I was going to have time for.  I’ve also finished planning the workshops for the residential course I’m running next week with hours to spare which is unusual for me.

A few exciting things that are happening – I’m going to be on Private Passions on Radio 3 soon and all my choices of music have a trumpet in, as you’d expect.  It’s also pre-recorded, so I’m hoping the producer will be able to make me sound intelligent and witty!  I’m going down to London in a couple of weeks to record it – it will be a flying visit though, as I have to get back to Manchester to do my teaching, and then straight from there to the airport to go to Gdansk Poetry Festival as part of Versopolis.  The rest of March and the first half of April is basically a bit manic, then everything slows down a little bit.

I’m also judging a poetry competition for a clothing company called Thought.  All you have to do is write a four line poem about nature and you could win £250! Details here of how to enter.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by one of my best friends, the lovely Hilda Sheehan.  I spent a week with Hilda recently running a residential, and she wrote this poem during that week, in response to a conversation about relationships with musicians.  I couldn’t possibly divulge who took part in the conversation, or what they divulged but this was the result.  You could replace Viola Man with the appropriate instrument for your life experiences, I’m sure!

This poem comes from an extended sequence of poems that all concern themselves with the life and times of two women, Francis and Martine.  You can find more Francis and Martine poems over at Hilda’s blog.

Francis and Martine are probably some of my favourite literary characters.  Hilda often describes them both as saying the things she can’t say or wants to say.  I like how Hilda does away with all the trappings of conventional speech marks and leaves the reader to work out who is speaking.  I also like the slightly convoluted and strange turns of phrase they often come out with, like a ‘disgraceful act of resistance’.  And anyone that has taught a musical instrument I’m sure will smile at the phrase ‘his engaging output of Ode to Joy.’  Ode to Joy is one of the five note tunes in its simplest forms and still haunts my sleep, along with Hot Cross Buns and Mary Had a Little Lamb after 13 years of teaching those tunes!

The whole poem pokes fun at love and obsession and relationships and distraction.  Is it only me who has Viola Man down as a bad ‘un?  And what is a frozen egg anyway?

I am going to break my own rules now and post a second Francis and Martine poem, also written during the residential.  Hilda and I discovered we have the same terrible habits of leaving socks all over the floor to develop into little sock nests, and both our husbands have similar opinions about our tardy ways.  I love this poem as well because it is bonkers.  I also love the way it leaps off into the world of Shakespeare and Desdemona and Othello at the end.  Hilda’s poems are never predictable.

And all those thoughts I’ve been having about mode of address, and who we are talking to in poetry, both indirectly and directly.  These poems are unusual because the speaker of the poem is in the poem, and is addressing another character in the poem.  They are entirely turned in on themselves, but rather than addressing an unseen other, a beloved, or a God, they are addressing themselves, leaving the audience to indirectly witness and overhear Francis and Martine trying to make sense of a world that doesn’t really make much sense at all.

Hilda also runs Swindon Poetry Festival which I would highly recommend – it runs from the 4th-8th October 2018.  Her published works include The Night My Sister Went To Hollywood, published by Cultured Llama, and pamphlets Francis and Martine and more recently, The God Baby, published by Dancing Girl Press.

It is now 1.20am – I decided, rather irresponsibly, to go to the cinema instead of writing this blog at a sensible hour.

I am away next week running a residential at The Garsdale Retreat and then on Sunday I’ll be reading at the Woman Up event in Carlisle at Tullie House – tickets available here

Viola Man – Hilda Sheehan

Martine, it’s a disgraceful act of resistance you display with the viola man.
But I love viola man and nothing you can do, or sing, will change my mind away from his engaging output of Ode to Joy. When he plays it I am in love all over again.
How about cake?
No, not enough ‘ode’.
How about pizza?
No, not enough ‘to’,
How about frozen eggs?
Yes, yes! This is it. Frozen eggs are the ultimate in Joy! I shall construct him a letter with absolute immediacy … it’s all over between me and viola man. Pass me a frozen egg.


For Kim Moore

If you were a pair of socks Martine, would you display yourself in dirty little piles about this room, sitting about with other dirty socks failing to reach the wash basket in such a demonstration of filthy deeds? How long would you hang about with such vagrant items, itching and holing around, the muck of you an irritant to those who love and care for your well-being, those who share your foul spaces, cluttered moments, inconsiderate escapades of slattery? If you were a pair of socks would this behaviour continue, or would you strumpet and slurf your dirty way to the wash basket with a face like Desdemona in her final moments, waiting for Othello to forgive her in that last leap to the basket, the denial of your love for other dirty socks. O Martine! I can not walk by. This makes men mad, it is the very error of the moon.

O Frances, a guiltless death I die.


Sunday Poem – Malcolm Carson


I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog in the last couple of weeks.  I’ve been getting a bit weary – not with picking the poems, which I love doing, but with writing about my week, which seems to become a bit of a long list.  People come up to me and tell me how busy I am.  I don’t think I’m busier than anyone else – it’s just that I’ve been documenting it all in minute detail.  However, I have worn myself out with it all, so I’ve decided from this week that I will be limiting myself to 1000 words for each blog post (excluding the poem) Which is still quite a lot.  I’m also going to write up the bit about the poem and the poet first, and then come back and do the bit about me afterwards, with whatever words I’m left with.  This week I was left with, excluding the poem, 469 words.

I’ve already used quite a few of them to explain this principle so I want to use the remaining words I have left to tell you about the fantastic reading that Steve Ely did for ‘A Poem and a Pint’ last night.  If you get a chance to hear Steve Ely read, go.  For me he is up there with the best poet-performers – people like Clare Shaw, Kei Miller and Alice Oswald.  His poems slip between the past and the present and his reading, particularly the moments when he read in Old English were really spellbinding.  The reading made my week – and he was a very amenable house guest as well, and didn’t even mind when he came down in the morning to find one of my naughty terriers had left a present on the carpet.

Before you go on to read about this week’s Sunday Poet, the wonderful Malcolm Carson (not to be confused with the equally wonderful Mark Carson from last week) I would like to tell you all that I spent all of Sunday morning trying to work out if the series of prose-poems that I’ve been writing, are in fact prose poems at all. I thought the best way to do this would be to put line breaks in and see if they fitted and if it added anything.  The breaking news, as of 11.07pm is that I think they are still prose poems.

I met Malcolm Carson at the Borderlines Literature Festival in Carlisle.  I was reading with Jacob Polley and Malcolm was introducing us both.  I got a chance to talk to him before the event and instantly decided that I liked him – we have the same sense of humour and we like and dislike the same people!  So, I was hoping that I would also like his poetry as well – there is nothing more terrible than meeting a kindred spirit and then finding out that their poetry is a bit rubbish.

However, I shouldn’t have worried!  Malcolm kindly sent me a couple of his latest books which I’ve really enjoyed reading.  Rangi changi was published by Shoestring Press in 2010 and Cleethorpes Comes To Paris is his latest pamphlet, published in 2014, also by Shoestring Press.  His first collection Breccia was published by Shoestring in 2007.  I decided to pick a poem from Cleethorpes Comes To Paris as this is his most recent work.  The pamphlet is a sequence of poems recounting and recalling the first trip to a foreign country and encounter with another culture.

If you have any grasp of French you would be expecting a poem about hitchhiking when you read the title of the poem that I’ve chosen for this week’s Sunday Poem.  Sadly, I have a tentative bit of french that I’m hanging on to with my fingernails rather than grasping.  Luckily the poem is self-explanatory and after I finished it, I googled the title just to double check because that’s the kind of thorough reader I am!

The poem is full of astute and pointed observations.  I particularly like the idea that being in someone’s car is like being in their sitting room – it tells you just as much about their personality and the way they live. I also like the idea of the hitchhikers feeling that they were obliged to talk ‘to pay them back’.   I think the sentence ‘Or else/we’d learn of problems/only strangers learn’ is brilliant as well and captures those occasions when a stranger tells you something that they probably haven’t told their own family.  I think the poem captures really well the tension of hitch hiking – ‘each phrase assessed, developed/or let drop if conflict was foreseen.’

It also made me think about my husband who used to hitch hike all the time in his youth, and in America got into someone’s car and sat next to a fully loaded rifle, laid out in between the drivers and the passenger seat.  He was careful about what he said as well!

Malcolm Carson was born in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire but now lives in Carlisle with his wife and three sons.  He studied English at Nottingham University and then taught in colleges and universities.  He has his own website here and you can order his books from Shoestring Press if you would like to read more of his work – although you do have to download an order form.  An easier way of getting a book might be to go through Books Cumbria.  This way you will also be supporting the marvellous independent bookshop Bookends as well – the place of my £80 spent on second hand poetry books.

Here is the poem – I hope you enjoy it.

Autostop – Malcolm Carson

We’d wonder who we’d get,
as no doubt did they
in their approach,
a moment to suss us out,
pull in.  Destination settled
we’d start a conversation
as though to pay them back,
each phrase assessed, developed
or let drop if conflict was foreseen.
It was as if we’d entered
their favourite sitting room
or just as intimate
at any rate, where taste
and manners, predilections
and prejudices were on
display as they might parade
their new-bought suite.  Or else
we’d learn of problems
only strangers learn,
their secrets safe in our rucksacks.
Sometimes resentment stirred,
their chances lost to do
the same as us.  Others though
were content with silence,
the hum of company enough
until we’d disembark
and leave their lives, our brief
acquaintance vapourised
down the fast receding road.