Tag Archives: Cerys Matthews

Sunday Poem – Anna Lewis

Sunday Poem – Anna Lewis

I’m writing this very late at night, because instead of getting on with my blog post, I distracted myself with watching the highlights of the London marathon.  This is the first year I’ve not watched it on the television.  I’ve never ran a marathon, but I always like watching it.  I like watching the elite runners, the people who make it look easy and effortless.

I’ve been in London this weekend, and at one point this morning I was standing on the Southbank and could see the heads of the runners bobbing along across the river. I didn’t go across though – I was heading for my train, and wanted to go and investigate the poetry book section in Foyles.  The race had been going for a couple of hours at this point, and it felt a bit like going along to a party that had already started.

This week has been very eventful.  I was in London because I was on Cerys  Matthew’s show on BBC Radio 6 Music.  Although I was obviously very grateful to be invited, I’ve also been spending the last couple of months being absolutely terrified and winding myself up into a frenzy about the whole thing.  My main worry was that I would embarrass myself terribly.  I didn’t tell many people about it, and certainly didn’t announce it on social media, as I thought that would put more pressure on.

As it happens, it was a really good experience, and I’m glad I went out of my comfort zone, and pushed myself into doing it.  Cerys Matthews was really kind and enthusiastic – and seemingly effortless in her presenting style and the producers were really kind.  As an added bonus, I saw Jason Donovan as well, who was in the building recording an interview for Radio 2.  Anybody reading this who went to Leeds College of Music with me will remember that legendary night of our youth when Jason Donovan played at Branigans night club..sigh.  It was one of those nights that run into the morning without stopping. I’m sure Chesney Hawkes was performing there as well, but maybe I’m making that up.

If you would like to listen to the show (I can’t bear to) then you can find the show here – I think my bit starts about 30 minutes in.

On Thursday I had a reading in Sunderland as part of the Read Regional events.   It was nice to read with Andrew Forster as part of this event.  Here is a picture of the two of us posing with some Shakespeare quotes at the library in Sunderland.


I drove straight from Sunderland down to Leicester, to see my Dad, as he’s been ill last week, and spent most of it in hospital.  Anyone who knows my Dad knows he doesn’t like sitting still, and he doesn’t like not being able to go to work, so it was a shock to think of him being in bed all day.  I couldn’t come back before Thursday because of work but by the time I got to Leicester on Thursday evening, he’d been allowed out of hospital.  It has been nice to spend time down in Leicester and catch up with my parents, my nieces, great-nieces, nephews, sisters and brother-in-laws..

I went to London on Saturday afternoon and met my friend Jill.  We went to see a play called ‘The Hand of God’.  It was very bizarre – I definitely haven’t seen anything like it before and I’m still turning it over in my mind.  If I tell you there were puppets having sex on stage, you might get an idea about the kind of bizarre I’m talking about…

My good friend and excellent trumpet player Dave Boraston was playing in Poppies Fish and Chip Shop in Camden on Saturday night – if you are ever in Camden at the weekend, do go and get some fish and chips and listen to the live bands that they have playing every Friday and Saturday night.  Jill and I went and caught the last half-hour of the band and then I restrained myself from drowning my nerves in beer and whisky, and we headed home.

The other rather exciting thing that happened this weekend was that my book was reviewed in The Daily Mail.  It was a lovely review by the writer Bel Mooney, and I think it’s great that poetry reviews are getting into newspapers which will be read by the general public.  Plus I was reviewed next to Don Paterson and Shakespeare which is nothing to be sniffed at! You can find the review here.

So today’s Sunday Poem is by Anna Lewis, who I read with a while back at a reading in Leicester.  Her book ‘Other Harbours’, published by Parthian in 2012 has been languishing on my ‘books that I haven’t read yet’ bookshelf for a while now, but I finally got round to reading it last week and really enjoyed it. Her most recent pamphlet The Blue Cell, which contains poems on the lives of early medieval Welsh saints came out with the excellent Rack Press in 2015.


Lights Off – Anna Lewis

“Attention!  Dear comrades!  The City Council informs you that due to the accident at Chernobyl atomic power station in the city of Pripyat there are adverse radioactive conditions… For these reasons, from 2pm today buses will be sent in… Comrades, temporarily leaving your residences, please close all windows, switch off electric and gas devices, and turn off water.  Please observe calmness, organisation and order during this temporary evacuation.”
(Evacuation notice, Pripyat, Ukraine, 27th April 1986)


There was no flush of sea, no flames or ash,
no rats keeled over in the street.
An ordinary dawn and a southerly breeze;

we drank tea on the balcony,
watched the boys pedal figures-of-eight
in the courtyard below.  Cars burred and
dogs lolled by the fountain, long-tongued –

it was that kind of morning: Sunday, spring.
Later that day, of course, we wedged holdalls
and rucksacks between our feet, and sat back
on black-and-brown tiger-print seats

as the coach eased away from the kerb,
with a faint stink of ashtray, sawdust
and trapped, rattled sun.  At every corner
more coaches were boarding;

we lifted the kids to our laps to wave at
the windows, their lagoons of mirrored cloud.
And that was that.  Taps tightened, lights off.

Keys turned and dropped in hip pockets
and one by one lost, or thrown out, or stowed
in dressers and chests in Kiev, in Malyn,

in Lutsk: reduced, as the locks they had fitted
rusted and froze, to a small shock of cold
at the back of a drawer.

I think this poem is wonderful.  The evacuation notice at the beginning of the poem really helps build that sense of how bizarre the whole situation must have been, and then the poem goes on to capture that sense of the extraordinary happening on a very ordinary day.  There are some fantastic images in the poem as well – I love the image of the boys turning figure of eights in the courtyard and the black and brown tiger print seats.

I think the ‘voice’ of the poem is very believable as well.  There is a colloquial tone which holds it all together ‘It was that kind of morning’ and ‘Later that day, of course’.  Some poems feel as if they are speaking directly in the ear of the reader, and I think this is one of those poems, even though the subject matter lifts it from a personal anecdote to something universal and important.

There is something incredibly sad in the idea of those people carefully locking up houses, leaving with only ‘rucksacks and holdalls’, not knowing that they would not return.  And then there is that wonderful final image of the keys as a ‘small shock of cold at the back of the drawer’.

If you would like to order Other Harbours, you can buy it directly from Parthian Press for a mere £7.99 which strikes me as a bargain!  If you’d like to find out more about Anna Lewis, you can head over to her website.

Thanks to Anna for letting me use her poem, and do feel free to comment below and let me know what you think.


Sunday Poem – Peter R White


It is not Sunday, it is not Sunday.  It’s barely still Monday.  And yet.  Better late than never I suppose! This week has been slightly bizarre.  There was the come-down from the high of the Forward Prize ceremony.  The night of the ceremony I felt incredibly zen-like and calm and the difference between poetry and the private act of writing which means everything to me and the excitement and anxiety and hoo-ha of prize giving ceremonies and readings never felt so clear cut and this was a relief – to know that winning both matters and doesn’t matter.

I was worried beforehand about being onstage and not looking suitably happy for the winner – I know I am terrible at hiding my real emotions and I kept imagining the whole of the festival hall noticing that I was annoyed/devestated/weeping as my face contorted into some hideous grimace.  However, by the time we got to the evening readings, I’d spent about five hours with the other poets who were shortlisted, as we had to arrive in the afternoon for rehearsal and photographs and interviews, and they were all so nice that it wasn’t hard at all to feel happy for Claire Harmon, who was a deserving winner with her poem ‘The Mighty Hudson’.

Anyway, the week started going a bit crazy once I got back from London. The actor Sam Heughan who stars in the TV series ‘Outlander’ saw my poem in the Financial Times and shared a photo of it on Twitter, simply saying ‘Love this’.  After that, the poem was retweeted on Twitter 580 times and ‘favourited’ 2545 times and a rather long conversation can be found about the poem on Twitter from Sam’s numerous fans underneath his original tweet.

The next day I got the train to the BBC at Media City in Salford and recorded a podcast with Ian McMillan, discussing one of the poems on my book.  I was so stressed about doing this before hand, and cursing myself for not saying no and saving myself the trauma of it.  However Ian was so lovely and kind and friendly, as was the rest of his production team, that I think I managed to conquer my nerves most of the time.

From there, I went straight to the airport and flew to Amsterdam, where I was reading at a fantastic festival called Read My World.  I got the chance to work with a fantastic Dutch poet, Dennis Gaens and musicians Zea and The Valopian Solitude all day on Friday to create a performance for the Friday evening, with Tsead Bruinja directing and organising us.  It was a brilliant experience and there was something incredibly moving about trusting other artists with your work and them being able to trust you with theirs.

On the way back, someone messaged me to let me know that Cerys Matthews (of Catatonia fame) was about to read my poem about Chet Baker on BBC6 Music.  I met Cerys at the Forwards and I did speak to her a little, but I had no idea that she was going to read my poem out on the radio.  So, all in all, not winning the Forward has not been that bad.  Lots of other, lovely things have happened instead.  I didn’t disgrace myself by sulking on stage and I was genuinely happy for someone else instead of secretly envious and bitter.  I call that a good day, and a good week!

I got back about 7.30pm last night and spent the evening planning for a poetry workshop which I was running today at Tullie House today with some children from Dent Primary School.  After I’d planned the workshop, I then couldn’t sleep because I was too wound up and excited about Amsterdam and Cerys Matthews and that I’d written a draft of a poem while I was in Amsterdam but I was too tired to type it up so at the minute, it is sitting cooking in my notebook.  I eventually got to sleep around 2 but kept waking up so today has been pretty tiring – I left home at 8am and went straight from the workshop to my junior band rehearsal.

So I am having an early night tonight, to ensure I can treat my lovely trumpet students with some patience tomorrow but before I go I would like to introduce today’s Sunday Poem, by Peter R White, who I first met when I was running a workshop at Glenridding Youth Hostel for the Leeds Writers Circle about five years ago.  Peter is a good friend of David Tait and was responsible for running the acclaimed Poetry By Heart reading series at the Heart Cafe in Leeds, which sadly doesn’t happen anymore.  Peter was the first person to buy my pamphlet when I launched it at the Heart Cafe, and invited me back there to launch my full collection.

I was really pleased to hear that Peter was publishing his first pamphlet.  It’s called Ways to Wander and is published by Otley Word Feast Press, whose recent successful anthologies include Spokes, celebrating Le Grand Départ from Yorkshire, and The Garden.  You can order a copy here

Peter tells me that, in his former life as an engineer, he used to write precise specifications and contract documents,  but. since retiring he’s obtained a BA (Hons) in Literature from the Open University and now enjoys the luxury of writing ambiguities and downright lies in the name of art.

It seems a little unseasonal to post a poem about snow today, when the weather has been so lovely for a few weeks now.  However, today there was definitely a wintry chill in the air.  I like this poem as a teacher – I recognise the impossibility of getting children to concentrate on anything else when there is snow falling outside!  I think Peter has captured something that people can identify with – that idea of getting the same feeling when you see the snow, or the sea for the first time, as we did when we were younger.  I like how the first line seems to start mid-conversation, and the voice of the poem seems to grow younger and this idea of the voice of the child coming back through seems to manifest most clearly in the stanza that starts

More than a hundred; more than a million;
more than the sum of all the pale white numbers
Mr Wandless ever chalked across a blackboard.

which is actually one of my favourite verses, I think the rhythm is great, and the innocence of that child like voice coming through and the ‘pale white numbers’ all add up to something special.

I hope you enjoy the poem!

Number – Peter White

It’s the same for me today
as when we were eight or nine,
when Ronnie Smith created a distraction
from Mr Wandless’s addition and subtraction
by bellowing
It’s snowing!

Attention leapt to the window:
we gawped and sighed as pale flakes
dallied, floated down,
while those that drifted near the misted pane
rallied in the thermal lift.
Feathers from an eiderdown
multiplied and blanketed the cold playground.

Not mere dots, but clusters,
maybe half an inch across. They wafted
by the classroom, spangled grey sky;
their lightness glowed,
dividing wintry dreams from arithmetic,
more mystical than magic.

More than a hundred; more than a million;
more than the sum of all the pale white numbers
Mr Wandless ever chalked across a blackboard.
They added four inches to their depth by playtime.

And afterwards, we all — except Mr Wandless —
thawed out blue fingers that tingled
number than pins and needles, stuck deep into armpits.
We grinned at our shivering.

I feel that same grin as I ache by my window today,
quiver at the echo of a distant voice, rejoicing.
It’s snowing.