Tag Archives: cumbria

Sunday Poem – Peter Raynard

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Sunday Poem – Peter Raynard

I’m writing this post today feeling more weary than usual.  I’ve had a fantastic week away as the course tutor at The Garsdale Retreat but I am completely exhausted now! The Garsdale Retreat is a new creative writing centre, set up by Hamish Wilson and Rebecca Nouchette.  I say new, but this is their second season of running courses there now.

It is a beautiful place, surrounded by hills and far enough away from the nearest village to feel wonderfully lonely, whilst only being a two minute walk away from Garsdale train station.  The unique feature about the courses (compared to other residentials) is the small group sizes – the maximum group size is eight, so participants get a lot more individual attention during both tutorials and workshops.  The food is absolutely beautiful as well – Rebecca does the cooking and pretty much everything was home made.  I don’t think I ate anything processed all week! Every afternoon she made a different cake for afternoon tea as well – I was in food heaven.  Below is a picture of my favourite – scones with jam and cream!

scones

Tutors stay in a cottage next door.  It was one of those cute cottages you drive past and idly think about living in so I am glad I got to try one out! The first night was very cold because the snow was still hanging around on the hills, but it gradually got warmer throughout the week, and Rebecca and Hamish gave me a portable heater so I could make my bedroom toasty!

cottage

Workshops went on till 1pm and then in the afternoons I sat in front of my electric fire in the cottage, and did some writing or prepared for tutorials with the participants.  Two of the days I managed to get out for a run, but I have a slightly sore Achilles heel, probably from too many long hilly runs last week.

The participants were great as well – a real pleasure to teach, and full of ideas and conversation around and about poetry, which was lovely.

So I was in Garsdale Monday to Saturday morning, and then I got the train to Carlisle.  A woman sitting next to me was reading over my shoulder whilst I was working on a poem and asked me if I was a lawyer! She looked disappointed when I told her I was a poet.  It took me a while to realise the poem she was reading was an account of a story that someone told me about a date rape.  She obviously thought it was some sort of witness account or something and didn’t seem embarrassed about the fact she’d been reading over my shoulder without asking.  We got talking then all the way to Carlisle so the journey went very quickly.

I was taking part in an event called Woman Up! in Carlisle, a day of events exploring what it means to be a woman.  There was a variety of events on, including speakers from the Carlisle Refugee Action Group and writers from Wigton Writers group.  I read some of my poems from my collection about domestic violence and then some of my new work around sexism.

The responses from the audience were pretty amazing.  One woman was crying. What touched me the most though was a young girl in the question and answer session, who put her hand up and said

‘I’m going to university next year.  What advice would you give me to help me if I get into a situation I can’t get out of?’

It actually breaks my heart that young women are having to worry about this, to think about this, to negotiate this, to use their energy worrying about how they are simply going to keep safe, instead of putting their energy into learning and being creative.  And there are no easy answers.  Everything I thought of and said sounded so trite.  To speak out and tell someone.  To speak out and say no.  To not let things get bad – to trust your instincts.  To surround yourself with good people, who help you to feel good.  I’d be interested to hear what answers readers would give to young girls to help them deal with sexism and to help them avoid getting into damaging relationships.

I stayed in a hotel, and after being cold all week, I then nearly baked to death in the hotel room which seemed to have the heating up really high.  I got back to Barrow mid afternoon today.  The first thing I did when I got back was to walk the dogs, then I went for a run to test my foot – still a bit of pain there after a couple of miles, so I’m going to rest for another couple of days.

So that has been my week – full on and enjoyable, but also emotionally draining.  Today I’ve been steadily trying to catch up with all the emails I couldn’t cope with answering whilst I was on the course.  This week is a lot quieter, which is a huge relief.  I’m going to spend it catching up with some PhD work because the week after is manic with visits to London, Manchester and Poland.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by a fantastic poet called Peter Raynard.  I first came across Peter via his excellent blog (www.proletarianpoetry.com) which has featured the work of over 100 poets writing about working class lives.  This poem comes from his debut collection Precarious, published by Smokestack Books which you can order here.  He is a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen and is currently completing a poetic coupling of The Communist Manifesto, to be published by Culture Matters in May 2018.

I’ve been reading a few poems from Precarious out aloud each night to my husband, and he is really enjoying the collection.  ‘Scholarship Boys’ is one of my favourites in the collection because it explores something that isn’t talked about – what happens when someone from the working class breaks the mould and gets a scholarship.

At MMU there is a poster advertising a scheme to support students who are the first in their family to go to university – there was nothing like this around when I went to university.  I remember thinking my flat mates were really posh because they bought hummus (I’d never heard of it!).

The poem sets out its stall straight away with that first line, with the first word, which is unexpected following on from the title.  I like the phrase ‘the likes of us’ in there at the end of the stanza.  It almost has a motto-like feel to it – how many times have people told me in tutorials or workshops about parents saying that something isn’t ‘for the likes of us’.

I was puzzling over that phrase ‘claw-crane selections’ for a while until I worked out that I think it is referencing the arcade machines with the claw that you use to try and pick up a soft toy.  What a brilliant metaphor! The idea of it being a game and the boys being the soft toys, inanimate, unable to control their own destiny, and someone playing games with their lives, picking them up and then letting them drop.  Actually, the whole class of boys is part of this arcade game.  The scholarship boys are the ones who are picked up and moved elsewhere, at least for a while.

The threading through of Latin words is really interesting as well here, illustrating that feeling of them being ‘dropped’ into a different world and the ‘pictured corridors’ gives the feeling of grandness, of long corridors stretching into the distance.  I had to look up all the Latin words here – spiritus vicis means spirit time according to Google, although I’m not convinced about that one as I thought it sounded like a school motto, and that doesn’t sound like a particularly inspirng school motto.  And amo, amat means I love/You love (again Google told me this, so apologies if it’s wrong)

There are lots of great phrases in here which seem simple until you start to unpack them.  The head teacher ‘wielding’ his cloak – the cloak is indicative of his status and he is ‘wielding’ it like a weapon. The phrase ‘Mouths swabbed for memories’ – that made me think that the school, or the teachers tried to make them change their accents.  This was something that happened to me – except mine was self-inflicted.  After finally getting into Leicester Schools Symphony Orchestra, I tried to change my accent because the other children took the mickey out of the way I spoke.

The idea that the boys, despite getting scholarships, were always bound for the factory and had just taken ‘the long way around’ is really heartbreaking.  I also like how we don’t know why they left early – the reasons are left unclear.

Thanks to Peter for letting me use his poem this week – do check out his blog, and if you have some spare cash, order his book.  It’s a fantastic, challenging and interesting exploration of class and masculinity and also touches on issues of mental health as well.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

 

Scholarship Boys

Unlucky enough to pass our eleven plus
we were claw-crane selections
from our class dropped into a history
the likes of us had never read.

Inducted with pictured corridors
of Spiritus Vicis spouting opportunity
from the mothballed grammar
of the cloak-wielding Headmaster
and his fountain of Latin characters.

Amo, amas, a matter of opinion
was to know our place. Our mouths
were swabbed for memories.
We were to become
someone else’s nostalgia.

By the time we left early,
five of a seven-year stretch,
we stooped off to the factories
that laughed at us
for taking the long way around

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Sunday Poem – Hilda Sheehan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viola Man – Hilda Sheehan

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

Socks

For Kim Moore

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

O Frances, a guiltless death I die.

#slatternsunite

Sunday Poem – Bryony Littlefair

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Sunday Poem – Bryony Littlefair

I have somehow, after getting a bit worn down with it, managed to find my way back to enjoying blogging every Sunday again.  I found my way back to this place, as with most things, through poetry, through finding poems that I felt I had to tell other people about otherwise I might burst.  More on that later.

It has been a strange kind of week this week.  I’ve been frantically preparing for my mock viva which is tomorrow afternoon.  I have to give a ten minute presentation and then discuss my PhD and the 6000 word report I handed in.  I received feedback on my report and this is what I have the presentation has to be about – a response to the feedback.  So I’ve been thinking about that this week, turning it over in my mind.  I bought myself some small cards and have written prompts on and I’m hoping that will help me when I’m doing the presentation.

One of the main questions raised in the feedback was why use poetry, and lyric poetry in particular, to address the gap I’ve identified.  Lucky for me I’ve been reading Jonathan Culler’s Theory of the Lyric for the last month or so, as I feel I can answer that one.  As the gap I’ve identified is that poets don’t seem to be writing about sexism in a sustained way (as in over a whole collection, rather than the odd poem) then it makes sense to try and do this in poetry.  But why lyric poetry? Lyric poetry is always balanced between inner and outer experience, between the individual and the social, between the personal and the political.  I like how it is often in two minds. I’ve enjoyed reading about lyric poetry having a long history of being socially engaged – Jonathan Culler talks about its roots in epideictic discourse – which is public discourse about meaning and value.  And when anyone asks why poetry, I always return to Adrienne Rich and this beautiful quote from her essay ‘Vesuvius at Home: The Power of Emily Dickinson’:

But there is a more ancient concept of the poet, which is that she is endowed to speak for those who do not have the gift of language, or to see for those who – for whatever reasons – are less conscious of what they are living through.

The last part of that sentence is central to my own work – the idea that poetry can make us look differently at the world.  This is exactly what listening to Claudia Rankine read from Citizen did for me and this is what happened to me when my friend David Tait sent me the manuscript of his new collection The AQI which contains a long central sequence exploring homophobia.  I became more conscious of the times we are living through, when homophobia and racism is rife, but some of us are lucky enough to not be directly affected by it.  Poetry can make us see the world differently, can make us more conscious of what we are living through.

David Tait has been on a brief visit to the UK for the past fortnight and we spent three days together hiking in the Lake District and eating cake – that was pretty much the extent of our activities. It was great to see him again – and I’m looking forward to his new collection, which will be coming out in May 2018.

So as well as having a welcome visitor and preparing for my mock viva, I’ve also been desperately trying to catch up with emails and admin.  I seem to be getting a lot more freelance work coming through at the moment, which is lovely, and maybe an after effect of winning the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, but it has made this week a little bit manic as I try and keep up with it.

I’m also now fully on with my training for the Coniston to Barrow, taking place in May this year.   Last year I got injured and am determined not to do the same thing again.  I’m building up my milage, but really dialling back the speed.  I ran my longest run in a while today – 12 and a half miles but didn’t go charging off up the hills which is my usual style, and it seems to have worked, as I have no aches or pains so far.

Back to the Sunday Poem! My lovely editor, Amy Wack at Seren, sent me some of the new books that Seren have just published.  One of them was a pamphlet by a poet called Bryony Littlefair, who won the Mslexia competition in 2017 with her pamphlet Giraffe.  I really loved this pamphlet – it felt like a complete breath of fresh air, every poem entertained me.

I chose ‘Sunday mornings’ not because this blog goes out on a Sunday (no chance I’d ever get round to posting this in the morning anyway!) although it is nicely apt that it’s Sunday.  Returning to Jonathan Culler who writes that every poem about a bird conjures up other poems about birds.  I think this is true, to a lesser and greater extent.  I can’t read a poem about a fox without thinking of Ted Hughes ‘The Thought-Fox’.   Hughes’ poem stands as a kind of shadow poem behind other fox poems, casting a different length of shadow depending on how close they are to each other.

‘Sunday mornings’ bought into my head one of my favourite contemporary poem ‘Those Winter Sundays’ by Robert Hayden.  They are two completely different poems of course.  Hayden is writing about ‘the chronic angers of that house’ and the different ways humans show love, or don’t, amongst other things, whilst Bryony’s poem seems to be a poem of learning to be alone, learning loneliness or selfhood.  But I think the music of the poems, their intrinsic rhythms are very close to each other, especially at the beginning.  The lovely first line of Bryony’s poem: ‘The truth is I’m not sure what I did’ – the way it seems to start mid-conversation seems to mirror the mid-conversation stance of ‘Sundays too my father got up early’.   Both poems seem to be addressing us, the readers directly – Bryony’s all the way through, and Robert Hayden’s seems to turn its face towards us with that last heartbreaking question – ‘What did I know, what did I know,/of love’s austere and lonely offices?’  Although I suppose both poems could also be addressing the self rather than a reader.

I love the humour in Bryony’s poem as well – ‘I’d spin/on the office chair, or curl up on patches/of carpet, pretending to be dead’ and earlier in the poem ‘I didn’t/do any of those things, nor the homework/I’d invented to excuse my godlessness’.  All the way through the pamphlet, she uses fantastic metaphors and similes, and this poem is no exception – look at ‘Alone in the hefty silence, I felt loose/and endangered, like an undone shoelace/or an open rucksack.’ I think those are so well chosen – of course an open rucksack is endangered – it could allow things to fall from it, or allow a thief to take something.  A shoelace is endangered because it could be stepped on, it could case a fall.  Both objects are not doing what they are supposed to be doing.

It made me think back to being a teenager and how hard it was to be alone.  At some point, my mum and dad eventually trusted my sister and I enough to leave us at home, but I was never alone as I had three sisters.  Even when my older sisters were out, I was always with my twin sister – in fact we weren’t allowed to hang out with friends without each other, which maybe accounts for how terrible I am at being alone now.  I can manage it if I’m busy, but I find it really hard if I’ve got nothing to do.

A little bit about Bryony Littlefair – she studied English Literature and Philosophy at the University of York.  Her various jobs have ranged from cupcake baker to Editorial Assistant to dementia support worker.  She currently works at the Abbey Community Centre in Kilburn and focuses on work with older people.  She is also Project Coordinator for The Reader in Croydon.  Her poetry has previously appeared in Popshot, The Cadaverine, Clear Poetry and Ink, Sweat and Tears.  

You can buy her pamphlet Giraffe direct from the Seren website here– I can’t recommend it highly enough.  I read it straight through in one sitting and then started again.  There are some cracking poems in there – other favourites are the title poem ‘Giraffe’ and the very funny ‘Usually I’m a different person at this party’ which starts ‘Usually my tights don’t fall down like this, leaving an airy prism/just below the crotch’ and just gets better and better (Is Bryony Littlefair in fact following me around documenting my life I wondered to myself at this point).  I also really liked ‘Lido’ which starts ‘Seeing you at the lido was/like walking past a house I used to live in’ and I used ‘Visitations from future self’ in my Dove Cottage Young Poets workshop a week or so ago, where it received a stamp of approval.

Sunday mornings – Bryony Littlefair

The truth is I’m not sure what I did
those mornings they’d leave, my mother
always in a floral capped-sleeve shirt.
I wish I could say I graffitied the newsagent,
or met with a nicotine-fingered boyfriend,
or learned Bertrand Russell by heart. I didn’t
do any of those things, nor the homework
I’d invented to excuse my godlessness.
Alone in the hefty silence, I felt loose
and endangered, like an undone shoelace
or an open rucksack.  I’d pace from room
to room, hands tucked up my sleeves.
I’d play snatches on the piano, or make
elaborate little snacks – crackers piled
with quartered grapes and shavings of cheese.
I was like a blunt knife, failing to cut
and apportion the hours.  I’d spin
on the office chair, or curl up on patches
of carpet, pretending to be dead.
I might have put on a CD, shaken
my hips to Run DMC, a jerky
figure of eight.  I might have filmed myself dancing.
I’d be choosing another colour for my nails
when the key would turn in the lock:
my parents, whole and returned,
having sung their hallelujahs
and walked back through the cool light rain.

Sunday Poem: Naomi Jaffa

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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.

Sign
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

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Sunday Poem – Claudine Toutongi

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reunion – Claudine Toutongi

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

Sunday Poem – Geraldine Clarkson

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

BETWEEN WORLDS with Ian Duhig

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.

OUT OF THE MARVELLOUS:ENCOUNTERS WITH THE EVERYDAY with Andrew Forster

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.

VOICE, STORY, CHARACTER, ACTION – with Amanda Dalton

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.