Tag Archives: cumbria

Sunday Poem: Naomi Jaffa

Sunday Poem: Naomi Jaffa

It’s been a beautiful day here in the Lake District today. I’ve been out in the cold and the sunshine most of the day. At lunchtime I went for a 12 mile run with a group of friends and then a 3 mile dog walk when I got back. I’m now sat feeling a bit sorry for myself as I’ve now got a pain behind my knee, at the bottom of my hamstring. I didn’t think it was that bad, but it seems to have got worse over the course of the evening. I’m hoping I’ve just overdone it a bit today and with a few days rest it will be ok.

This week has been a mix of teaching, recordings, and writing poems. On Tuesday I did a short interview with a producer from BBC Radio Cumbria and read my poem ‘Suffragette’. The interview and the poem will be broadcast some time in the week of the anniversary of the Representation of the People Act. I get really anxious when I do anything that’s recorded. Not usually beforehand too much, but afterwards – things that I’ve said run round and round in my head, or things I didn’t say – don’t know if anybody else gets this. It doesn’t happen when I do readings though – maybe because a poetry reading is such an ephemeral thing – and anything I’ve said, whilst it can be repeated, it has also disappeared.

Thursday is my teaching day at MMU – I’m teaching on an undergraduate unit called Language and Technique this term – covering for Adam O’Riordan. I’m really enjoying the teaching so far – this week Helen Mort and I took our undergraduate students to Manchester Art Gallery to hopefully be inspired by some of the art.

On Friday I went to Yarm school to do a reading/talk about domestic violence, focusing on the sequence in my first collection. This is the first time I’ve done something like this, and I was a little out of my comfort zone – as usually I read the poems one after another, without any introductions. This has always been my way of preserving a kind of boundary around myself when I’m reading these poems. The students were absolutely lovely though – they asked lots of perceptive questions and seemed really engaged. The teacher who invited me to come had read my book and thought about the poetry and was really enthusiastic. I couldn’t get the statistic out of my head that 1 in 3 women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives – it’s a sobering thought when you’re standing in front of a room of young people with their whole lives ahead of them. Statistically, there were probably young women and young men in that room who have already experienced it.

I’ve also had another good week on the PhD – I’ve got a meeting with my supervisor tomorrow so I had to edit and get ready some new poems to send through to him. I’m nervous about the meeting tomorrow as these are all really new poems that I’m still not completely sure of. I had two poems accepted in the New Statesman this week as well, although I’m not sure when they will be published. And I’ve carried on with reading Theory of the Lyric by Jonathan Culler, which I’m still finding interesting!

I’ve been reading about the ‘cooperative principal’ coined by the philosopher H.R. Grice. The cooperative principal means that when we are talking to someone we assume that they are saying something relevant. In literature the cooperative principal is ‘hyper-protected’. Culler says that readers ‘will often go a long way in accepting obscurity, disjunction or apparent irrelevance’.

Culler talks about the ‘lyric convention of significance’ i.e ‘the fact that something has been set down as a poem implies that it is important now, at the moment of lyric articulation’. This has interesting implications for my poems exploring sexism. By writing lyric poetry about experiences of sexism, I can elevate experiences of sexism into significance, just by writing lyric poetry, rather than say, a diary entry.

Another thing that Jonathan Culler is really good on is Greek poetry. If I had time (which I don’t) I would find it very easy to be sidetracked and go and find as many examples of fragments of Greek poetry I could get my hands on. My most recent favourite is by Theognis, addressed to someone called Cyrnus. This is translated by Andrew Miller and the first couple of lines are

I have given you wings with which you will fly, soaring easily
over the boundless seas and all the land

A bit like Shakespeare’s sonnets – Theognis promises Cyrnus immortalization before complaining at the end that he has been deceived and disappointed.

So, on to the first Sunday Poem of February! Many people will know Naomi Jaffa as the former Director of Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, where she worked tirelessly to bring poets from across the world together in one place for a magical weekend. I know this because I was one of those lucky poets in 2013 and I had such a good time. I hope we treat the poets who come to Kendal Poetry Festival as well as I was treated that weekend in Aldeburgh.

As well as running one of the best festivals for 22 years, Naomi is also a fabulous poet. I suspect her own creative work was put on the backburner for the many years she was running the festival, but I was really happy to see that last year she had a pamphlet published by The Garlic Press. The pamphlet is called Driver and comes highly recommended.

Naomi Jaffa grew up in London and Scarborough and read English at Oxford. She is the daughter of professional musicians and started out in classical music management before moving to East Anglia in 1991. After her 22 years working for Aldeburgh Poetry Festival and as Director of the Poetry Trust, she is now the co-founder of Poetry People, a new organisation set up to run the Suffolk Young Poets competition and other community projects. Her first pamphlet, The Last Hour of Sleep was published in 2004.

The poem I’ve chosen is called ‘Sign’ and I think it’s really beautiful. I also like poems that send me off on a tangent – this particular tangent was to find out more about the epigraph at the beginning of the poem. Minerva was the goddess of wisdom (I found out) so Hegel is saying here that wisdom can only be found when things are ending. I then got a bit distracted by the various ways this phrase could be translated, like ‘takes flight at dusk’ instead of ‘flies only at dusk’. I like the version Naomi uses best – as ‘takes flight’ has a connotation of running away which I don’t think is needed. I found ‘The owl of Minerva only flies at dusk’ – just reversing those two words made me shudder because the rhythm was bumpy and ugly – and then you realise how ‘flies only’ sounds like what it means, the words float off the page, whereas reversed, they kind of bump along. I also found a longer version which I think is as lovely as the one Naomi chose to use: ‘The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of dusk’. I think the shorter one works better as an epigraph, but I’m glad the shorter one led me to the longer one.

On to the poem, which has an encounter with an owl, or more accurately two owls at its heart. It seems to start mid-conversation, as if we know more than we actually do, as if this is a conversation between friends. We don’t know why or what or who the speaker is leaving, and although by the end of the poem, there is an introduction of a ‘he’ who will be left behind, I think the poem is also exploring the act of leaving in a much wider sense. We don’t even know who the speaker makes it clear to that they are leaving – it could be themselves, or another person.

Nature is set against a man-made world throughout the poem. The ‘big white wedge/of a bird’ flies level with the car. The old airfield and the road sign and the chicken-factory lorry are set against the barn owl, ‘perched and scrawny’.

I also love the matter-of-fact tone ‘and anyway I’m late, there’s no time today for nature’ – the confidence of this line, which is then disrupted by nature, which can’t be controlled. The voice of the poem which says ‘there’s no time’ is silenced by the owl ‘level with the window, flying at my speed’ and this encounter, this interaction takes on significance, the significance of a sign, showing the speaker ‘for at least ten slow clear seconds the way forward’.

I have only just noticed (honestly!) after banging on about the ‘lyric convention of signficance’ that this poem has the word significant in it. The unconscious is truly a wonderful thing!

The introduction of the ‘he’ at the end was surprising and heartbreaking when the speaker says ‘only now/does he see and touch me’. The idea of not being seen until you are leaving is delicious in its cruelty. I also really like how Naomi circles back to the epigram that began the poem – ‘This isn’t history, but must be what Hegel meant’. So Hegel was saying not that things have to end, night has to fall for wisdom to be found, but that wisdom can be found when things are ending, at dusk, a time of neither one thing nor the other, not night or day or dark or light.

Please rush forth and buy a copy from The Garlic Press here and thanks to Naomi Jaffa for allowing me to use her poem this week.

The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk. Hegel

At the start of the week I make it clear I’m leaving,
on one of those never-gets-light December mornings,
I drive across the old airfield and, almost pass
the Passing Place sign, notice the barn owl,
perched and scrawny, hunger beating daylight.
I want to reverse for a better look, but here’s
the chicken-factory lorry in the mirror looming up,
and anyway I’m late, there’s no time today for nature.
But turning right at the end of the single track road
here’s a second one, much larger – a big white wedge
of a bird, level with the window, flying at my speed,
willing the car to disturb some small creature,
wingbeats in time with my heart all the parallel length
of the ditch between field-hedge and verge.
Of course I decide this is significant, this night-hunter
waiting up so late for me to arrive, willing to show
for at least ten slow clear seconds the way forward.
This isn’t history, but must be what Hegel meant.
After twelve and a half years and in the week
I make my intentions plain, only now
does he see and touch me, talk about how much
he understands, can’t bear the loss of.


Sunday Poem – Claudine Toutongi

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.

Sunday Poem – Geraldine Clarkson

Sunday Poem – Geraldine Clarkson

Maybe you haven’t noticed, or maybe you have, that there has been a two week break in the blog posts again.  I always feel guilty when I don’t blog, and I get a lot of lovely comments and feedback from people who seem to enjoy reading it, and of course it’s nice to write to poets out of the blue and ask them if I can have a poem.  I know what it feels like as a poet if somebody writes to me and tells me they like my work, and my philosophy has always been that if I can spread that feeling around, without it costing me anything but time, then I’m happy to do it.

However, time has been in short supply in my life recently! Every year I have a period of time, usually a couple of months, where my life becomes completely manic, and I rush from one thing to the other, holding on to my sanity with my fingertips.  It used to be around the end of term and I would blame the end of year concerts.  Now I’m not a music teacher, so there are no end of term concerts, and it is with a heaviness and sense of guilt that I realise I have only myself to blame for taking too much on.

I have had an exciting two weeks however – although it’s been busy, I’m not complaining.  I love everything I do – that is kind of the problem.  Since I last blogged I’ve done two Soul Survivor gigs and a rehearsal, covered a Year 2 poetry class at MMU, taught two sessions of my Poetry School face to face course and given two lots of feedback to my online students with the Poetry School, travelled to Swindon and delivered a full day workshop, travelled to Winchester and read at a night called Loose Muse, taught two sessions of Dove Cottage Young Poets, delivered a taster session at Kirbie Kendal School in Kendal to recruit more Dove Cottage Young Poets, travelled to the Words By The Water festival in Keswick to listen to Helen Farish and Adam O’Riordan read, took part in a Cumbrian poetry reading, sent emails round about residentials, worked on an application for an amazing opportunity, did some reading for my PhD, worked on a  few new poems and sent them to my supervisor, gathered biographies and photos from the poets coming to Kendal Poetry Festival, wrote content for Kendal Poetry Festival website, planned a feminist poetry event for the 8th April, and through all that I’ve been running, trying to keep my training up for the Coniston 14 race which is next Saturday.   It sounds like a lot when I list it like that.  And to be honest it felt like a lot as well.  In fact I feel a bit dizzy looking back at it all now.

So I’ve given myself a bit of a breather with the Sunday Poems, and I’m going to continue to do that – so they may be a little bit sporadic for a while.  I hope you will appreciate them just as much when they do come in.

One of the nicest things about being a freelance poet is the people you meet on your travels.  I met Hilda Sheehan a few years ago now when fate threw us together to share a room on a residential course.  She is one of the loveliest people I know and I had a brilliant time at her house last weekend.  I was down in Swindon to run a workshop, which gave me a good excuse to go and hang out with Hilda and some of her family.  It’s been ages since I laughed so much – a combination of Snapchat and binge watching terrible 80’s music videos and much more wine drinking than I usually indulge in.

After my weekend with the Sheehan clan I then went to Winchester to read at Loose Muse, run by Sue Wrinch.  Cue more drinking wine till late at night,and more amazing food.  I was so hungry when I arrived in Winchester and the lovely Sue had made a chicken pie, which basically means I am her friend for life.  The poetry reading was really good as well though.  People were very friendly and welcoming, a really good standard on the Open Mic, and two poets who have been on residentials with me, Hilary Hares and Patsy showed up, so it was really nice to see them again.  I also sold my last 8 copies of The Art of Falling and one If We Could Speak Like Wolves.  So another job today was to order some more copies of my book from Seren.

After that it was back home to my long suffering husband who hasn’t seen much of me for the last month, but thankfully remembered what I looked like and let me in the house.

One last thing before we get on to the poem – if you’re interested in coming along to a Poetry Reading and Open Mic, I’m hosting such a thing this Wednesday the 22nd March at Natterjacks in Ulverston, starting at 7.30pm.  Malcolm Carson and Ina Anderson will be launching their collections in the first half, and we’ll have an open mic session in the second half.  It’s completely free and if you want an Open Mic spot, just sign up on the night.  Get in touch if you need any more information, but I hope to see some of you there!

So this week’s Sunday Poem is by Geraldine Clarkson, who has patiently been waiting since last Sunday, when she should have appeared.

Geraldine Clarkson lives in Warwickshire though her roots are in the west of Ireland. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Poetry Review,Poetry London, Ambit, and Magma (she was Selected Poet in Magma 58); as well as in the Daily Mirror and The New European. They have also been broadcast on BBC Radio 3, as well as appearing at various times on cupcakes and handkerchiefs, on buses in Guernsey and in public toilets in the Shetland Isles! In 2016 her work was showcased in the inaugural volume of Primers from Nine Arches Press/The Poetry School, and she was commended in the National Poetry Competition.  Her chapbook, Declare (Shearsman Books, 2016), was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice, and her pamphlet, Dora Incites the Sea-Scribbler to Lament (smith|doorstop, 2016), is a Laureate’s Choice. Supported by Arts Council England, she has just completed the manuscript for her first full-length collection.

I got a copy of her smith/doorstop pamphlet a couple of weeks ago when I went over to Sheffield for a Poetry Business writing workshop.  It’s a great pamphlet, and has lots of wonderful poems in it, may of which have won or been shortlisted for various prizes.  The poem I’ve chosen for today though I loved as soon as I read it and it stayed as one of my favourites in the pamphlet.

I have a book called The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, which is a great book, full of exercises to stimulate writing.  I sometimes use it for workshops.  Anyway, there is a great quote there by Robert Hass from Twentieth Century Pleasures where he talks about the power of images:

Images haunt.  There is a whole mythology built on this fact: Cezanne painting till his eyes bled, Wordsworth wandering the Lake Country hills in an impassioned daze.  Blake describes it very well, and so did a colleague of Tu Fu who said to him, “It is like being alive twice.” Images are not quite ideas, they are stiller than that, with less implications outside themselves.  And they are not myth, they do not have that explanatory power; they are nearer to pure story.  Nor are they always metaphors; they do not say this is that, they say this is.

Robert Hass, Twentieth Century Pleasures

I love this quote, although I don’t feel like I’ve completely understood it, or thought about it enough.  But I like that sentence ‘Images are not quite ideas, they are stiller than that’.  I think in Geraldine’s poem this is apparent – the images that are conjured up when she hears a word have a stillness to them, even when they are about movement, like the dancing aunts in Stanza 2, it is movement that has been captured, like a photograph.

The images are always beautifully observed, we can see this in the first two lines.  The harebells are not just ‘wind-flattened’, they are ‘crouching’ which sends me back to the word ‘harebells’ and the animal that is inside this word which conjures up the image of a flower.

Of course, if the poem was made up only of these natural images, it would be a good poem, but by stanza 2 she moves on further, to conjure up this unnerving portrait of ‘Mary Keeley’ standing in her ‘black doorway’ and then on into stanza 3 with the dancing aunts and the father ‘unhinging the kitchen door’ for leg-room for the dancing.

The poem finishes how it started, with beautiful and accurately observed descriptions of nature.   I love the ’tilted cemetery/at the sea’s edge’ and ‘the persistence of rabbits’ is a line I wish I’d written!

I hope you enjoy the poem, and if you’d like to order the pamphlet that this poem came from, you can get Dora Incites the Sea-Scribbler to Lament from smith/doorstop for the mere sum of £5.  Thanks to Geraldine for being so patient, and for allowing me to finally publish this poem here.

When they say Connemara – Geraldine Clarkson

I hear harebells, wind-flattened,
crouching close to the common.
I hear the gorse-clung mountain
and moorland, bruised
with bottomless ink-lakes
A sequinned Atlantic, waving
to lost relatives in America.

When they mention Murvey
or Ballyconneely – or Calla –
toothless Mary Keeley
blinks at her black doorway,
holding out two tin cans
of buttermilk. I catch the whine
of P.J’s piano accordion

at dawn, my dead aunts calling
for Maggie in the Wood and
Shoe the Donkey and two
fine men to dance a half-set.
Mary Davis stoking up 40 verses
of The Cleggan Disaster.  My father
unhinging the kitchen door, for leg room.

When they speak of Ballyruby –
where the monks were –
or slip into the chat news of Erlough
or Dolan, or Horne, my eyes itch
with peat smoke, heather scratches my shins
and I’m barefoot in silt with marsh irises,
hen’s crubes and ragged robin.
I’m climbing again the tilted cemetery
at the sea’s edge, reclaimed by Dutch clover
and the persistence of rabbits.

When word comes from Gortin or Mannin
(and I’d thought they were all dead there),
or from Seal’s rock – setting the curlews
looping and scraping the sky –
I hear the empty rule of wind
on that thin mile
of white sand, the collapsing
surf, the whistle of silence.

















A Review of the 2015 Poetry Carousel

A Review of the 2015 Poetry Carousel


The poet Elisabeth Sennit Clough was one of the 32 participants on last year’s sold out Poetry Carousel.  I asked Elisabeth to write an account of what the experience was like.  If you’ve been debating about whether to come, this is a must-read! Elisabeth is a fantastic poet, and has a pamphlet forthcoming after winning the Paper Swans Pamphlet Competition in 2016.

This year’s team of tutors are myself, Clare Shaw and Dutch poets Saskia Stehouwer and Tsead Bruinja.  You can find more information about the 2016 Carousel here

2015 Poetry Carousel

by Elisabeth Sennit Clough

Cumbria is about as geographically and aesthetically distant from my present home in a West Norfolk village as possible, but a current obsession with poetry retreats compelled me to abandon my husband and three children and travel to Grange-over-Sands for the weekend.

As I trundled my case along the short distance from Kents Bank Station to Abbots Hall Hotel, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I couldn’t remove the definition of ‘carousel’ from my mind: 1) a merry-go-round at a fair or 2) a conveyor system at an airport from which arriving passengers collect their luggage.  

On the first evening, we were assigned to groups and stayed in those groups as we rotated through the four workshops (the premise of the poetry carousel being to move around four workshops, each with a different tutor). Like the merry-go-round, it had the potential to be great fun while it lasted – or, like the baggage carousel, it could just go round and round monotonously and I could end up right back where I started (I have an ambivalent relationship with airport carousels). 

My first workshop was with Kim. In my group were fellow MMU student Hilary Hares (whom I’d met on a Teaching Creative Writing Course) and Helen Kay – whom I had never met – but had corresponded with about the Nantwich Festival. Given how small the UK poetry world is, it was somewhat inevitable (and lovely) that I would bump into familiar names and faces.

The coincidences continued: Kim is a huge Philip Levine fan and I used to live in Fresno (where Philip Levine ran the MFA Programme at CSU). Kim adopted the title of Levine’s award winning collection What Work Is, articulating the lives of Detroit factory workers, for her workshop. What exactly is work? Our ice-breaker involved trying to answer that deceptively hard question. Having read poems such as ‘My People’ and ‘A Psalm for the Scaffolders’ in Kim’s The Art of Falling, I could see why work as a subject matter was important to her.

I learned that many people on the carousel had attended previous poetry workshops with Kim – a testament to her engaging teaching style and ability to put people at ease. For example, her workshop helped me find a way into writing successfully about a subject I’d been battling with for years; that is, my own experiences as a teenage factory worker.

Kim describes the carousel as promoting ‘a festival atmosphere in the evening, when we come together for dinner and readings from the tutors and invited guest poets.’ This is a very accurate description: in the evening, Kim read some of her work, along with guest-readers, Jennifer Copley and Lindsay Holland. Lindsay is co-editor of The Compass and one of six poets shortlisted for the 2015 Manchester Poetry Prize. After reading, each poet discussed aspects of her work: Jennifer, for example, has published collections with several different imprints and spoke about that experience, while Lindsay discussed long poems and the significance of thoroughly researching your subject matter.

My next group workshop (the following morning) was with Andrew Forster, the other editor of The Compass. Andrew’s ‘Encounters Workshop’ involved writing about ‘an encounter that made you see things differently.’ This inspired me to write a poem about a migrant farm worker that went on to be accepted by The Rialto. Andrew commented on the strength of voice in the poem and this gave me the confidence to continue developing the poem in the same tone.  

My third workshop was with Ian Duhig. His latest (and seventh!) collection, The Blind Roadmaker (about the incredible Jack Metcalf), is one of those books that I read initially because I was interested in the subject matter, but then found myself reading again and again just to admire the exceptional craft of it.

Ian’s workshop prompted me to take an imaginative leap with my subject matter (it’s the first poem I’ve written that’s set in space!), but this freed my poem from the constraints that were constantly working against me as I wrote. Another useful device for my toolkit involved possibly turning a negative outcome in a poem into a positive one. This inspired me to change the ending of one of my poems to great success. Now, when struggling with an ending, Ian’s voice pops into my head, asking, ‘what would its opposite be?’

My final workshop was with Amanda Dalton. Amanda helped me to focus on the drama in my poetry: where should I place the tension on my dramatic arc, for example? We used postcards as prompts and placed emphasis on movement (or not as in the example of my poem below from Amanda’s workshop). I wanted to capture the idea of stark animal nakedness, the sense of unpleasantness inside and out that I interpreted from Freud’s work.


Sleeping By the Lion Carpet

After a painting by Lucian Freud

Like the lioness, I am alert
to the alpha in this female, feigning sleep
in an armchair: how her flesh demands
attention from the artist’s brush.

I know the mind of a woman
like this – the way she plants
her ego on the floor, stands back
and laughs as you trip over it.

Her milk contains so much venom,
her thick-ankled daughters will grow up
to puncture the limbs of prettier girls
with the points of school compasses.

She has named them Immaculate
and Conception. She has no sex –
the artist has painted her:
a fat child with breasts.

Far from ending up right back where I started, the carousel took me to unexpected places. I learned a lot of new techniques, resulting from a combination of different teaching styles melding over the weekend. Several months on, I am still developing poems inspired by the carousel weekend and re-reading my notes. And yes, my head does still spin from time to time with all the new skills and poems I brought home.

Poetry Workshop, Barrow-in-Furness


I will be running an all day poetry workshop on the 14th November at Hawcoat Park Community Centre, Skelwith Drive, Barrow in Furness from 10am-4pm.  The workshop costs £15 and beginners and experienced poets are welcome.

The day will consist of writing exercises to inspire participants to write their own poetry, and there will also be time to share a poem that you’ve previously written and receive feedback from the group.

If you would like to book a place on the workshop, please email me at kimmoore30@hotmail.com with ‘Poetry Workshop’ in the subject line.  There are about four places left at the moment.  I hope to see some of you there!

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.

Poetry Carousel 11th-13th December 2015 – Workshop Blurbs



There are a handful of places left on the Poetry Carousel – a residential poetry course with a difference that is running at Abbot Hall Hotel, Kents Bank, Grange Over Sands from December 11th-13th, 2015.  Tutors are myself, Amanda Dalton, Ian Duhig and Andrew Forster. All participants on the course will take part in a 2 hour workshop with each tutor over the weekend and there will be readings in the evenings from the tutors and guest poets.  Workshop groups will be limited to 8 people per workshop! For those of you who have been tempted to come, but haven’t quite made your mind up yet, have a read through of the workshops that each tutor will be running throughout the weekend.

If you would like to book, please contact the hotel directly on 015395 32896


Wallace Stevens wrote to the effect that we don’t live in places, we live in descriptions of places. On courses like these we find ourselves investigating new territory unusually subject to such words, from directions to introductions, conjuring up who we are and where we are, where we’re from and where we’re going. This workshop will look at these almost-magical processes with reference to contemporary poetry you may be unfamiliar with, due to its newness or strangeness, so that it may act as a catalyst in the alchemy of creating your own new work and new directions in your work.


Heaney’s phrase celebrates the wonders encountered in daily existence. Our lives are made up of tiny encounters , with animals, people, places, objects, ghosts even, that leave us changed in large or subtle ways. In this workshop we’ll look at the way poets have handled some of these meetings, and try some strategies to get started on encounter poems of our own.


In this playful, practical workshop we’ll utilise some of the contents of the theatremaker’s toolbox to explore what happens when we apply them to making poems. Working with everyday objects, scraps of found text, and fine art prints, we’ll make a start on creating some of our own story-poems, finding new voices along the way.

WHAT WORK IS – with Kim Moore

Effort, toil, task, job, labour, slog, chore, drudgery, exertion. In an article published by Jeremy Seabrook in The Guardian in 2013 he argues that “Words indicating labour in most European languages originate in an imagery of compulsion, torment, affliction and persecution”.  How has our concept of work changed and have contemporary poets tackled this subject? During this workshop, we will set off writing our own poems about work in all its different guises.

Sunday Poem – Basil du Toit


I am determined to start, and post the Sunday Poem up this week while there is still daylight left, and so stave off any terrible mishaps.  I have had a real roller coaster of a week with amazing highs and lows.  My first full-length collection has been officially launched which was definitely a real high, but in the run up to it I managed to torture myself into sleepless nights and nightmares that nobody would show up to the launch and I would be reading poems to the band and my parents.  I mean, there are nine people in the band, so adding my mum and dad, I’ve done smaller poetry readings and been an audience member in smaller readings as well.

Last week I was moaning on to Chris and asking myself why I’d organised such a large thing.  Whose idea was it to have it in the Supper Room which is quite a large room to fill? (mine) Whose idea was it to have the Soul Band playing, thus making everything much larger? (mine) And why in gods name did I tell people to bring food? What if there wasn’t enough? I was also panicking about the audience.  I suspected the poets would be outnumbered by the runners, soul band fans, teachers and musicians and might not have any interest in poetry.  What do you read to people that might not have any interest in poetry?  I was also worried about how people would react to the soul band.  I wanted the band to have a good night, as they agreed to play for free and most of them are gigging musicians so this meant a loss of income to them.  I was worried that the poets would think it was too loud and go home after the poetry.  I was worried about the turnout as well because lots of people who said they could come then got in touch to say they couldn’t make it for a variety of reasons.   I was worried about Amy Wack, my editor at Seren coming all the way from Wales and being disappointed in the turnout.

So, that was me, worrying away before the launch.  Chris alleges that I do this before EVERYTHING – that I worry myself into a sort of worry-frenzy and it always turns out ok, so maybe it is just the way that I cope with things.  Amy arrived on Wednesday and it was then I started to calm down a bit as I realised it was too late to do anything about any of the things I was worrying about anyway.

On Thursday we went for a walk with the dogs and then went for lunch with my auntie and uncle who had come all the way up from Leicester to be at the launch.  I don’t see them very often so it was really nice to spend some time with them.  After lunch I drove to Ulverston for a quick sound check with the band at the venue and to put out the table cloths that I’d borrowed from Poem and a Pint.  So there wasn’t any time to worry on Thursday, and before I knew it, it was 7pm and people were starting to arrive, first of all in a trickle, but then there was suddenly a queue outside the door to get into the room and there was no room to sit down and we were having to get more chairs.

I’ve put some photos into this post in a rare move for me to show you what I’m talking about.  It was a bit like getting married without having to share the limelight with a bloke! My lovely friend Jo Stoney made me the most amazing cake, with the cover of my book made out of icing.

1557543_10153071223968051_3522224217937592958_nWe even had a cutting-the-cake ceremony like you do at a wedding!  Here is Jo and I about to cut the cake.11350455_10153071223998051_6786030231315537806_nHere is a photo of the crowd at the launch – there was a group from my running club, some of whom had never been to a poetry reading before, teachers that I work with in schools, parents of kids who play in my band, Chris’s friends from work and psychotherapists that he works with, my family and of course the lovely poets who I spend a lot of time with these days.  Some of them, like Jennifer Copley and Mark Carson and Gill Nicholson I’ve been in writing groups with ever since I first started writing seven years ago.  Others I see more sporadically at events and workshops and open mics.  I was completely stunned by the turnout – I’m not making it up when I say I didn’t think there would be many people there.


It was an amazing atmosphere to read in and although I was too busy talking and signing books to get any food apart from a couple of crisps and a carrot stick, I’m told there was plenty.  After the food, I had a quick costume change into the black that the Soul Survivors play in and we went on and started playing. I needn’t have worried about the poets reaction to the music either.  They lost no time in getting up and gyrating about the place.  Here is a picture of the band and I’ve just noticed Jo is cutting the cake at the front of the photo!

11329852_10153071224483051_9214075939788998269_nWhen the pamphlet came out, I kept a sporadic but running total of my own sales, so I’ll do the same for the book.  In the run up to the launch, I’d sold 51 copies.  At the launch Amy sold 68 which I thought was pretty good.  I’ve decided not to sell the book from this blog, as postage is more expensive than for my pamphlet, and if you buy direct from Seren, you will get 20% off as part of their book club deal.

My next, and last launch event for the book is going to be in London at The King and Queen pub, 1 Foley Street, W1W 6DL on June 13th, starting at 7.30.  I’ll be reading with Jill Abram and Kathryn Maris.  Sadly, the budget won’t stretch to transporting the nine-piece soul band to the venue but I will try and make up for it.  There is a Facebook group for the event here and it would be lovely if any London readers could make it there – do introduce yourself if you come along!

Apart from obsessing about things that are out of my control I’ve also played at a wedding with the Soul Survivors on Friday night and on Saturday morning I knocked seven seconds off my Park run personal best time, taking my best time down to 23 minutes and 1 second! Highly annoying not to get under the 23 minute barrier but it seems well within reach now.  Of course once I do that I will start obsessing about getting under 22 minutes but, you know.  It keeps me busy.

So that is more than enough about me.  Today’s Sunday Poem is by Basil du Toit, who is another Poetry Business pamphlet winner.  I was really impressed with his quiet yet assured delivery at the pamphlet launch and I really enjoyed reading his pamphlet once I got home.

The poem I’ve chosen, Sound Engineer, is one I love firstly because of its sure footedness.  It tells you exactly where to breathe because of the line breaks – it is like reading a musical score.  It’s an interesting subject for a poem as well and I love how it succeeds in making the voice a physical object that can be manipulated and changed, snipped and cut.  It also draws attention to the things that surround our speech and our words, the swallows, glottal lumps, the ‘tiny puff’ of a sigh.  Maybe this is why it is so easy to fall in love with poems – on the page or spoken aloud, if they are read well, there is no room for any of these vocal sounds.

The contrast between the two people in the poem is very marked as well.  The Sound Engineer is a ‘language beautician’, a ‘word surgeon’, whereas the owner of the voice has ‘ugly glottal lumps’ and ‘noisy swallows’, ‘gristly blurts and mishaps’.  By the end of the poem, the speaker has been transformed ‘speaking like an angel’ but the poem finishes with that striking image of the feet of the sound engineer, surrounded by the ‘phonic fragments’ of his voice.  I might have just been reading too much of Ovid’s Metamorphoses recently, but there is something in this poem that reminds me of the story of Philomena, whose tongue is cut out by her sisters’ husband, but the tongue continues, almost with a life of it’s own.  There is something painful in this ending, as if getting rid of the ‘acoustic transgressions’ has removed something vital from the speaker, something important.

This poem comes from Basil’s winning pamphlet Old, published by Smith/Doorstop.  You can order the pamphlet here.  Basil sent me this lovely biography and I thought the whole thing was really interesting so I’ve left it in first person.  He says

“I was born in Cape Town and spent most of my childhood in a country pretty much devoid of books – the Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana). Things have come along since then, of course. I moved to Edinburgh in 1980 (when I was just shy of 30), and I’ve been here ever since. I think that being so distant from South Africa freed me up to write poems – back there I think I’d have been strangled by the imperative to write political verse, which, much as I might wish otherwise, doesn’t suit me. I have published 2 full collections of poems, Home Truths and Older Women, both brought out by South African publishers. Old, my Smith/Doorstop pamphlet, is my first UK publication.”

Sound Engineer – Basil du Toit

She runs the magnetic spool backwards
and forwards to identify ugly glottal lumps
in the vocal tissue; finds one, snips it out
and neatly closes the gap: a noisy swallow
lies on the floor on one inch of recording –

a language beautician is at work, cutting
gristly blurts and mishaps from my delivery.
I listen in amazement as she isolates
a sigh, removes and transfers this tiny
puff – intact into a different utterance.

She directs her art to linguistic particles,
splicing morphemes and phonemes
like someone transplanting a cornea.
She’s a word surgeon, widening vowels
or punching tracheotomies into sentences.

I end up speaking like an angel, in a purified
dialect free from acoustic transgressions,
while around her feet, on snippets of tape,
inarticulate phonic fragments of my voice
continue to gulp and hiss and croak.

Sunday Poem – Graham Austin


Evening all – here I am, breaking all the rules of the blog and posting on a Monday – but I do have an excuse of a sort – I got back from Ilkley Literature Festival with half an hour to spare last night before midnight struck – plenty of time to write my blog.  However, I got distracted by my friend Maggie, who has been staying at my house for the last two nights to look after my dogs.  I’m not sure if the dogs had driven Maggie to be slightly hysterical or whether it was the ‘one’ glass of wine she had consumed but I was slightly hysterical from tiredness and relief at being home again so we spent about an hour giggling before I went to bed and writing my blog went completely out of my head.

Apart from that – I probably wouldn’t have been able to string a sentence together last night.  Last week was pretty full on – Monday was full of teaching and I was going to drive back to Ilkley to go and see Margaret Atwood but I felt really ill all day – I had a sore throat and a headache all day on Monday.  I think I was just run down and it was probably a good decision not to do the two hour drive back to Ilkley but I felt really fed up about missing the Margaret Atwood reading.  Apparently it was really good.

On Tuesday it was more teaching and frantic planning late into the night for the schools poetry workshops that I’d be running as part of my residency at Ilkley Literature Festival.  Since Tuesday we have also had the boiler man in to fit a new boiler as we have had no central heating in our new house.  By the end of Tuesday there were holes everywhere – in the floorboards, in the walls and I was longing for my lovely hotel room with hot water and no holes in the floors.

On Wednesday I nipped home at dinner time to pack my suitcase so that I could leave straight after school on Wednesday and somehow managed to tread in dog muck – and worse indignity, not even my own dog’s!  I walked into my house, ran upstairs, remembered something, went back down the stairs through the dining room and into the kitchen before I realised not only did I have dog muck on my shoe but I had managed to traipse it onto pretty much every carpet in the house.  And then the boiler man stepped in the dog muck that I had brought into the house so he had it on his shoes as well, so for the first, and I hope, last time in my life I had to clean a man’s shoes…plus my own of course and scrub the carpet, which of course left no time for packing at all, so it all had to be done when I got back from work at 3pm, which meant I got to Ilkley later than planned and even more stressed than usual.

Last Wednesday it was the ‘Poetry Banquet’ which is an annual event at Ilkley Literature Festival, which is basically an open mic whilst eating a two course meal at Panache, an Indian restaurant in Ilkley.  It was great fun, and as well as all of the local poets of course, the highlight was when the chef came out of the kitchen to recite some poetry by Tagore.  I was in a lovely hotel room, even better than last week.  It had an amazing bath at the foot of the bed, but I didn’t get to use it as I ran out of time.

On Thursday I went into Ashlands Primary in Ilkley to run a poetry workshop in the morning and then in the afternoon there was another open mic, this time at a pub called The Vaults in Ilkley which I co-hosted with Phoebe Power, the apprentice poet-in-residence at the festival.  That was in the afternoon, and then it was my ‘Close Reading’ event, which was looking at work by poets that were appearing at the festival.  I was quite nervous about doing this, because I was worried I would run out of things to say, but I underestimated my talent at obsessing about poets and poetry and the people who turned up to take part were really enthusiastic, so actually the hour went really quickly, too quickly in fact.

After that, there was a reading from the Next Generation poets tour – the lovely Ian Duhig was reading, representing the 2o poets picked ten years ago and Tara Bergin and Adam Foulds from the current list and Paul Adrian, who I guess is an up and coming poet that might be on the next list.  We went straight from there to another Indian restaurant – the Aagrah Restaurant and managed to catch the last course of a three course meal before reading some poetry to the rather lively diners, which was great fun.  In fact, I just stopped myself from getting the giggles as someone fell of their chair during my introduction, apparently there was lots of fine wine to taste as part of the package between courses….

On Friday I went into another primary school, this time Crossflatts in Bradford and in the evening I introduced Kei Miller and Lorna Goodison before they read who it goes without saying were absolutely brilliant.  On Saturday I went to Phoebe’s workshop in the morning and then had to go and catch a train to Durham where I was reading at the Fringe Festival.  By a series of missed trains I managed to end up on the same train as the lovely Andrew McMillan who was also reading along with Andrew Forster.  I must admit, it was wonderful to meet somebody who I already knew, not having to start at the beginning with small talk, and we talked all the way from Leeds to Durham, but not so much that we didn’t manage to eat a whole bag of family sized minstrels.

The reading was in a venue called The Empty Shop which is basically what it says on the tin – when we first went up the stairs to get to the empty shop I did wonder how anybody was ever going to find the venue – but they obviously have a loyal following there because about 30 people turned out.  Then it was pretty much straight back to Ilkley and I arrived to catch the last of the quiz, where I realised two interesting things about myself

1) Quizzes are possibly the only thing in life that I don’t get competitive about

2) I don’t remember ANY facts at all.  Even the facts I know go out of my head in a quiz.  Thank god they didn’t have a poetry round otherwise it could have been embarrassing.

On Sunday I went to an incredibly moving event to remember and celebrate the poet Michael Donaghy. His widow, Maddy Paxman has written a book, ten years on after his sudden death which I’m halfway through at the minute.   It is an exploration not only of their lives together, but also of the process of grieving.  I found it incredibly moving, and kept thinking back to that time when my husband fainted in the middle of the night and I woke up and found him lying on the floor and covered in blood, and I thought he was dead.  He wasn’t of course, and I can’t imagine how you begin to cope with that feeling, that panic and fear becoming a reality that you can’t change.  Maddy was very dignified, very brave and the book is a very honest exploration of a relationship as well.  Don has also published a book which is a close reading of the poetry of Michael Donaghy, but as he said, unafraid to use personal anecdote woven in with critique.  I haven’t read this book yet but the extract that Don read sounded really interesting.

On Sunday I did the introductions for Don Paterson and Mario Petrucchi.  That was a good reading too, and I particularly enjoyed hearing Don’s new poems and have already started obsessing about his new book, which is apparently coming out next year.  Which brings us up to date – I drove back after the reading to Barrow.  So that is a whistle stop tour of my second weekend in Ilkley.  When I applied for the job I remember searching on line for any blogs about what being the Poet in Residence was like so maybe this will be useful to somebody one day.

So I have one more weekend – I’m going back on Wednesday, ready for more schools workshops and workshops and my reading on the 17th of October.  I’m reading alongside Michael Laskey and Matthew Sweeney.  If you are near by – please come! It would be lovely to see you.  There is lots of other things going on – I’m leading a run followed straight away by a writing workshop, a ‘First to Last Draft’ workshop and there is an open mic competition on the Sunday night.

The other nice thing that has happened this week has been that I’ve had two poems accepted in Poetry Review.  Maurice Riordan took my poem ‘Candles’ a while ago and suggested some really useful tweaks to sort out some slightly awkward grammar.  He wrote to me this time saying he would like to take two of the poems I sent: ‘The World’s Smallest Man’ which is a very new poem, and ‘How the Stones Fell’.  He said he had a couple of suggestions and when he sent them through, I couldn’t believe what a big difference these tiny shifts and edits made – it was like my poem had been standing on a wobble board before and wasn’t quite secure and with the edits, it suddenly had its feet on the ground and wasn’t shifting around like a plate of jelly..

I also found out today that the course I’m running with Clare Shaw in St Ives in the last week of October has sold out which is very exciting and also a relief as at least I know I can cover my train fayre down there…

One thing I have missed is my running this week.  I’ve not done much because I’ve been so busy so I am very glad to have this wonderful poem by Graham Austin which is about running.  I heard Graham read this on the open mic at the last Poem and a Pint and I thought it was hilarious.  Graham is a fantastic and much loved local poet who lives in Ulverston.  We always look forward to him reading on the open mic because he is a great performer – in fact, he read on the open mic when Helena Nelson, the editor of Happenstance was our guest poet, who was so impressed with him, she ended up publishing his pamphlet ‘Fuelling Speculation’ which you can order from the Happenstance website and which I recommend as a breath of fresh air…

I hope you enjoy the poem!




Brian’s new dilemma – Graham Austin


One day Brian’s wife said to her husband

‘I think, dear, you should do the Great North Run.

It’s a long time since you did something socially

significant and people are beginning to talk.’

And Brian said ‘That doesn’t seem to be a

very good reason for my doing the Great North Run.’

And Brian’s wife said, ‘Yes, it is, Brian. Mrs Maxwell

has sponsored you for 50p a mile

and Mr Taylor has said you can wear

his suit of mediaeval armour.’


Then Brian said sarcastically , ‘Oh, in that

case I better draw up a suitable

training programme.’ And Brian’s wife said, ‘I’ve already

done that. Here it is’, and she gave him a complete

schedule including stipulations regarding

not only exercise but also food and drink.

And Brian read the document with misgiving and

saw inter alia that he must get

up at 7 o’clock, forgo beer, chips, and pies,

run around the block each evening to be in bed


asleep by half-past ten. And Brian said

‘But I have only just recovered from

a double hernia, gout, and chicken pox.’

And Brian’s wife said ‘That’s no excuse.’ And Brian

cried ‘I think it’s a bloody good excuse!’

then he felt a bang on his shoulder and heard his

wife say ‘Brian, you are using bad language

in your sleep. Stop it at once.’ And Brian said

‘Sorry, dear. Nightmare.’ And Brian’s wife said

‘You need to take more exercise, Brian.

I think you should do the Great North Run.’

And Brian didn’t sleep another wink.

Sunday Poem – Nia Davies


This week I have been mainly recovering from my cold.  A few incredibly exciting things have happened this week, which I can’t really tell you about, so maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned them.  As well as being very exciting, I’ve also been completely confused about what to do about incredibly exciting things, in my usual manner of consternation, procrastination and general indecisiveness.  When I can say something however, you will all be the first to know.  Well maybe not the first.  I’ll probably tell the husband and my mum and dad first.  But after that – definitely you lot!

On Friday I went to run a session with the Kendal Young Writers group.  The girls had asked if we could do something about form, so I decided to take in Julia Copus’s poem ‘In the Backseat of My Mother’s Car’ which you can find here.  http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoem.do?poemId=13532

The poem is a specular – or a mirror poem – the lines in the first half of the poem are used in the second half, but in reverse order.  Julia has quite a few in her latest book as well.  I really like speculars, because it feels to me as if you can feel the language twisting and turning whilst you are reading, as if it suddenly becomes alive through being put into a different configuration.  I’ve also always wanted to write one and I vaguely thought I would have a go in the workshop alongside the group, which I often try to do anyway.

After I read the specular to the group they had a really strong reaction to it.  I think three of the four actually gave a kind of shriek or squeal of excitement.  They were completely taken by the poem – their enthusiasm and spontaneous reactions were so lovely to see and I felt like I couldn’t wait to have a go at writing one.  I think this is the best way to work with form – to show something in the form that will hopefully cause delight and make you want to try it out.  I don’t really write in traditional form – in fact, when we did a workshop on sonnets with this group a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a sonnet which I think is good enough to keep and now I’ve written a specular (I think – I need to type it up first and see if it holds together or whether it just dissolves into thin air when I try to pin it down)

After the workshop I met lovely poet Jennifer Copley and we went for a Chinese in Kendal – and much plotting for our residential course in April ensued.  As far as I know there are only a couple of places left on the course, so if you have been thinking about coming – please book soon!  Have a look at the ‘Residential Courses’ tab at the top of the page if you would like to see what we are getting up to.  There is also a swimming pool which we can use which is a lovely thing indeed.

Today I’ve been mostly painting the kitchen – I wangled my way to doing my favourite job again which is glossing the woodwork – most satisfying as I just gloss over all the marks and they disappear into lovely whiteness.  I’ve also just got back from poet Mark Carson’s house – we have had a meeting to discuss Poem and a Pint’s Arts Council bid for funding when ours runs out in June.

Next week I have a full poetry week –  my friend Jill Abram from London is coming to visit and when she arrives on Wednesday I will introduce her to the husband, the cat and the dogs, show her where she is sleeping and then we will be off to the Open Mic in Ambleside at Zefferellis, with guest poet Zaffar Kunial, the new poet in residence at the Wordsworth Trust.  You can find more information about the open mic here http://www.zeffirellis.com/livemusic/listing/mid-week-at-zeffs

On Thursday I will be off to work in the morning and at the minute Thursday is a poetry-free day, but on Friday I will be performing as the guest poet in Preston at the New Continental.  You can find more information about this event here http://www.newcontinental.net/whats-on/event/evening-prize-winning-poetry

There are lots of other great poets performing as well so it should be a good night! I haven’t read very much in Preston either so I’m looking forward to it.

So the Sunday Poem this week is by Nia Davies who I met last week at the XX Women’s Literature Festival in Cardiff.  Nia was born in Sheffield and is a poet, novelist and cultural activist.  Her poems have been published in several magazines and anthologies and she is the new editor of Poetry Wales.  I’m reliably informed that now is a great time to send over your poems to Nia! She is on the hunt for new voices to the magazine…

You can find out some more information about Nia here http://niadavies.wordpress.com/about/ or find out more  about Poetry Wales here http://poetrywales.co.uk/

I’ve chosen today’s Sunday Poem from Nia’s first pamphlet, ‘Then Spree’, published by Salt.  Amy Wack told me about this poem, guessing I would be interested because it is about a brass instrument.  More unusually, it was about a brass instrument I hadn’t heard of – an Ophicleide  At Mark Carson’s house, earlier this evening, he went and found a picture of an Ophicleide in one of his many books, joking that it was almost as quick as looking it up on the internet.  However for your delectation and delight, and if you would like to see what one looks like have a look at the Wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophicleide which has a lovely picture, but even more impressively a bit of poetry about the Ophicleide – the Wikipedia article rather unkindly calls this doggerel, but I actually quite like it – it is not attributed in the article

“The Ophicleide, like mortal sin
Was fostered by the serpent”

This is a reference to the Greek word ‘ophis’ meaning serpent and ‘kleis’ meaning keys.  I really do like those two lines.

I can’t help but feel sorry for the Ophicleide in this poem.  I mean to start with, to be eclipsed by a tuba and a euphonium is  a sorry state of affairs indeed! (Sorry any tuba or euphonium players.) I should also say that musicians have a long history of mocking other instruments, so being a trumpet player, the tuba and euphonium are fair game!  The second line of the poem made me smile as well – the ‘careful marketing plans’ – the idea of the tuba having a marketing plan – and when I read down the Wikipedia article it does refer to the tuba replacing the Ophicleide because of ‘careful marketing’ which is kind of a bizarre idea!

I like the half rhymes and echoes in this poem that hold it together – look at the ‘um’ sounds in the first stanza ‘euphonium’, ‘plans’ and ‘arms’ and then in the second stanza the sounds become much sharper –  ‘jointed’ and ‘obsolete’  and ‘hooked’ and ‘archives’.

This poem is an example of one of my favourite type of poems –  a research poem.  In a research poem, it is normally clear that the poet has been on a kind of journey to find out the information required to write the poem, that they have discovered or learnt something new in the process of writing it – I find both writing and reading this type of poem tremendously exciting.

Anyway, yet again, it is nearly midnight before the Sunday Poem is up and live and kicking, so I will sign off now.  I hope you enjoy the poem, and thanks to Nia for letting me use it.  You can buy Nia’s pamphlet from http://www.saltpublishing.com/shop/proddetail.php?prod=9781844718948

An Autobiography of the Ophicleide – Nia Davies

Eclipsed by tuba and euphonium
and their careful marketing plans,
I was a half-baffled shoulder pipe.
A thorny funnel coiled over biscuit-dry
jumpers.  I had thunder-rushing arms.

When you parped me you had to lean out-jointed, asymmetrical.  I was already obsolete.
But some hung onto me, hooked
their brassy passion around my u-bend or
atticboxed me in their instrument archives.

I was forced early into retirement but for rare
nights when I was glossed with
breathy spit and I picketed to be kept live.
But my throb fell flat in the pond of other pipes,
their other useful selves ascending.