Tag Archives: cumbrian poetry

Sunday Poem –

Sunday Poem –

Another Sunday rolls round again – and I spent most of this one outdoors.  This morning I went for a 12 mile run with some friends.  I know for some people the idea of running 12 miles would be a form of torture, but I absolutely love it.  I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing on a day like today, which was cold, but with blue skies and snow at the top of the mountains in the distance.

I rashly promised the husband I would go for a walk with him in the afternoon so once I got back from my 12 mile run and 300 metres of climbing, we went out for lunch in Broughton and then off we went on our walk – 3 hours later and another 300 metres of climbing and I’m officially knackered.

Last night I had a gig with the Soul Survivors at The Nautical Club on Walney Island.  After having a rehearsal where I felt that my playing was not up to standard, I’ve been practising for the last couple of weeks, building up from 20 minutes a day to about 40 minutes a day.  And it paid off! I know, having been a music teacher for 13 years, that I shouldn’t be surprised when practising actually works, but there you go.  I managed to play my solo bits, and my lip held out right till the end of the night which was a relief.

I decided to have a lazy day yesterday so apart from soundcheck in the afternoon, I spent the whole day in my pyjamas watching TV – a rarity for me, but my week up to this point had been pretty full on.  On Monday I attended the first session of a course as part of my PhD personal development in Manchester, and decided to hang around so I could go to the protest march against Trump’s idiotic travel ban. I’ve never been to a protest before, so didn’t really know what to expect. There were thousands of people there, so many in fact, that we couldn’t hear what the speakers were saying.  I met poet Clare Shaw and her daughter Niamh, and poet Rachel Davies and her partner Bill.  We marched through Manchester, and there was lots of chanting, all very good-natured.

I spent the first half of the week watching a lot of news about Trump, and in the end I had to stop, as I was getting really upset about it all.  I did write a Trump poem though – well actually, it’s about Melania Trump and the video of her at the inauguration, when Trump turns round and says something to her, and her face completely changes.  We can’t know what Trump said to her, but I think anybody that’s been in a violent relationship might recognise the look on her face, and the video has haunted me.  So I wrote a poem about Donald and Melania Trump and abuse and complicity and victim blaming and perspective and identity. I started the poem at the Poetry Business workshop last Saturday, and then finished it off on Monday/Tuesday of last week.  It’s going to be in The Morning Star on Thursday, which I’m really pleased about.  I don’t usually publish poems so quickly, but I felt like I wanted to get it out there.

I’m still waiting to hear back about my RD1 but having it off my hands and out of my control seems to have uncorked my poetry as I’ve written three other drafts of poems this week as well.  These three are much rougher, and might not even be poems to be honest, but I’ve really enjoyed writing them.  I keep feeling guilty that I’m not getting on with any ‘work’ and then remembering that writing poems is work now and doing a little dance.

Thursday was university teaching day – a 2 hour seminar on Wordsworth and Coleridge.  My students are still lovely – I’m still loving the teaching, and feel like I’m learning loads through teaching.  Next week is Victorian poetry, which I’m really looking forward to, as Tennyson is one of my favourite poets.

On Friday I went to the Theatre-By-The-Lake in Keswick to attend the Cumbria Life Cultural Awards.  Kendal Poetry Festival had made the shortlist for Festival of the Year and Brewery Poets had been shortlisted for Artistic Collaboration of the Year.  The festival’s Young Poet in Residence from 2016, Hannah Hodgson, came as well, as well as the poet Jennifer Copley.  I’d been asked to do a five minute reading, so I read a poem in the voice of Furness Abbey, that I wrote for a BBC commission last year, a poem about leaving teaching, and one of my ‘All the Men I Never Married’ poems.  Sadly, neither the Festival nor Brewery Poets won their categories, but we had a nice night out, and it was inspiring to see all the amazing artistic work that is going on in Cumbria.  The highlight for me was seeing Jess Gillam play – she is an amazing young saxophonist who lives in Ulverston, who got through to the finals of the BBC Young Musician of the Year last year I think.  Anyway I saw her play last year and thought she was brilliant – but this year she was really, really good.I didn’t get back home till 1.30am, hence the need for the lie-in on Saturday!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Maria Taylor from her new HappenStance pamphlet  Instructions for Making Me.  I’ve always liked Maria’s work, and have been meaning to get a copy of her new pamphlet for a while, but hadn’t got myself organised, so I was chuffed to be able to get one from her in person at the Poetry Business Writing Day last Saturday.

Maria Taylor lives in Leicestershire.  Her first full collection Melanchrini was published by Nine Arches Press in 2012 and was shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize.  A Greek-Cypriot by birth, she has been Reviews Editor for Under the Radar magazine since 2015 and blogs at Commonplace.

If you haven’t bought any HappenStance pamphlets before, head over to the website now.  Order Maria’s obviously, but take a potshot on a poet you haven’t heard of.  I can promise you, you won’t be disappointed.  I’ve never bought a HappenStance pamphlet and regretted it, and this one was no exception.

The pamphlet is full of surprises – surrealism probably isn’t quite the right word, but the world is definitely portrayed at an angle in these poems.  There were lots of favourites -I liked Poem In Which I Lick Motherhood which is as good as it sounds and The Horse which unpacks that old cliche and annoying bit of advice of ‘getting back on the horse’ after an upset or disappointment.  And Maria is the only poet to my knowledge who has a poem about Daniel Craig and not only does she have a poem about Daniel Craig it is a good poem! There are lots of funny moments in this pamphlet,but as you will see from the poem I’ve chosen, it isn’t all fun.

The Invisible Man is a strange and slightly disturbing poem.  Is it only me who finds the whole concept of an invisible friend really creepy?  The image of the daughter pushing an invisible man ‘on a swing/under the apple tree’ is a little bit disturbing.  Then Maria develops this further – the voice of the poem, admits to knowing the invisible man – to having a relationship of sorts with him.  This relationship is not like any normal relationship though – she says ‘I carried him in my book bag’ and ‘He fooled me at kiss-chase’.  The darkest part of the poem is in stanza 3, nearly the centre of the poem where she says ‘Now he’s back.  He wants my girl.’  The use of the word ‘girl’ and the possessiveness of ‘my’ makes us aware of the vulnerability of the daughter, and also of the power of the invisible man.  The description of him continues to develop the sinister feel of him – his arms could wrap around them ‘like twine’ and his ‘long toes’ skim the leaves – definitely an unsavoury character! The use of the word ‘we’ is interesting as well in the last stanza – it highlights and develops the complicity of the mother in the creation and sustaining of the invisible man, or the story of him.

I hope you enjoy the poem – and if you do enjoy it, you can buy Maria’s pamphlet Instructions for Making Me from the Happenstance website here for the mere sum of £5.  Thanks to Maria for letting me share this poem here.

The Invisible Man – Maria Taylor

My daughter pushes
the invisible man on a swing
under the apple tree.

I’ve known him for years.
I recognise him by the dust motes.
I asked him out.  He stood me up.

I carried him in my book bag.
He fooled me at kiss-chase.
Now he’s back.  He wants my girl.

We think of him as very tall,
so thin and stretchy he could wind
his arms around us like twine.

We sing to him as we push
an empty seat back and forth.
His long toes skim the leaves.

Sunday Poem by Rowland Crowland


I think I’ve been blogging for around three years and I’m pretty sure a huge part of that time has been spent painting various rooms in various houses.  I just had a wave of deja vu hit me as I prepared to write this blog.  I have paint in my hair – gloss paint no less, from resting my head on the freshly painted door in a moment of existential despair, and paint all over my hands and my arms, which luckily has now dried, otherwise it would be all over my laptop as well.

We (Mr A and I) have been painting the small box room upstairs.  This is going to become my new writing room – at the minute, I’ve been using the living room downstairs, which is basically a thoroughfare to the kitchen, and I get no peace there.  Mr A charges through, humming joyfully, or stops to ask me something and then I get cross and breathe fire and I get nothing done.  So, we are having a change around, and I’m getting a smaller room, but hopefully a more peaceful one (and it has a better view over the garden) and there is no reason for anyone else to go in there apart from me, and if I want to, I can even barricade the door.  We also went and bought carpet today – again very exciting, as I decided that a completely impractical, cream coloured carpet was what I’d always wanted.  I’m also going to get floor to ceiling white bookshelves, and hopefully all of my poetry books will fit up there in one place.

This weekend I’ve finally felt like I’ve had a bit of space to breathe.  Last week I was on the verge of cracking up – this week, things have got a bit easier.  I don’t know if managing to get out for a run makes it easier, or whether that is just a sign that I’m less busy, but I feel mentally in a much better place.  I managed an 8 mile run on Wednesday along the beach, 11 miles out on country lanes on Friday and 6 miles today and I feel so much better for it.

I think it is the running that makes me feel better because when I look back over the week – there has still been a lot going on.  I went to Pauline’s house for a meeting on Monday and we made a start on the evaluation report which we need to send to the Arts Council about the festival.  I then had my final junior band rehearsal, which was sad and strange and lovely, all at the same time.  We ate the cake that I was given at the final concert, and quite a few of the children seemed obsessed with eating my face, which was printed on the cake.

I can also report that we have the photos from Kendal Poetry Festival uploaded and on the website.  All the photos have been taken by Martin Copley, so do head over and have a look.  The photos will be available to buy until the end of July from Photobox.

On Tuesday I was teaching.  One of the children who was at the concert said ‘I thought you were leaving!’ when I walked in.  ‘Not yet’ I said gaily.  After work I went to Ambleside to read at a NCS summer school to 70 teenagers.  I did four of these readings last year and they are frankly terrifying.  Give me a reading in a men’s prison any day.  However, they are often very rewarding and this one was really lovely.  Lots of the teenagers came and spoke to me afterwards and asked questions. One even came and read two poems that he’d written that he had on his phone.  I shot back afterwards for another soul band rehearsal.

Thursday was the next manic day – a hastily arranged poetry workshop at a school in Penrith.  I judged the Active Cumbria poetry competition, and the prize for one of the winning entries was a poetry workshop.  The winner was a Year 6 girl who would be leaving at the end of this term, so the workshop had to take place this week.  I’m really glad I managed to fit in time to do the workshop – I worked with a lovely Year 6 class at St Catherine’s Catholic Primary School.  They listened, they were enthusiastic, they wrote some lovely lines.  One girl, describing having a go at archery had a line about ‘the injured target’.  How good is that?

After the workshop, I went to Manchester to have a meeting about the teaching that I’ll be doing next year at MMU and then had a few hours of hanging around, trying to catch up with the mountain of admin that is still quite mountainous before heading off to teach the final session of my Poetry School course.

On Friday I went to Lancaster Spotlight because two of my Dove Cottage Young Poets had put their name down to read on the Open Mic.  I gave two friends, M and C a lift down and we had a great laugh – it felt like the first time in ages I’ve laughed that much! The young poets were fabulous as well – which I wasn’t surprised by, I already know how fabulous they are.

Last night I had a gig with the Soul band – a 6oth birthday and wedding anniversary celebration.  So, thinking about it, the week has been full-on, but it has felt manageable.  Next week, I’ve got my last two days of teaching and then I’m off to Holland on Friday to read at a poetry festival, so lots to look forward to, and a possible exciting gig that hasn’t been fully confirmed yet – but if it comes off, I’ll let you all know!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by a guy called Rowland Crowland.  I heard Rowland read this poem at Ann Wilson’s Verbalise Open Mic night in Kendal a couple of months ago.   It was a great performance, and I only wish I had a recording of him reading it to go alongside the poem – you will have to imagine it being read in a broad northern accent – I’m saying northern, although I want to say yorkshire, but I’m thinking it might be lancashire so northern seems safest.  But anyway, the type of accent that would make the rhyme ‘status’ and ‘potatoes’ chime perfectly.  This poem makes me smile when I read it and I think the rhymes are really clever, but it also has a darkness to it as well – the sadness in those lines

But it’s never use your crying
Over anything that’s spilled,
When all your life’s spent dying
An’ your living’s long been killed.
breaks my heart.  And then there is the constant work, the drudgery, and the things not said.  So I love the humour ‘Everybody else just played at gravy/But she really made it’ and the sadness and anger in it ‘It’s a bloody lifetimes bloody stains/ Two pinnies have to conceal’.   Thanks to Rowland for letting me use his poem.

Pie Tin – by Rowland Crowland

She had an enamel pie tin
An’ everybody craved it.
Everybody else just played at gravy
But she really made it.
Everything was on the table
Just as she’d laid it,
An’ she never gave anything at all away
If she could possibly save it.

Working class values,
The values that made our world.
Real values,
The birth right of every girl.

She was a homely woman
With a household full of ornaments.
She wasn’t a comely woman,
She had very few personal adornments.
She always had two pinnies though,
……….a sign of status
And the smell that came through her kitchen door
Was braised onions and potatoes.

She had a pot horse on the mantle piece
An’ she donkey-stoned the step.
An’ on the geraniumed window sill
A secret door key was kept.
A spit-and- polished sideboard
Just to spit and polish on.
On Mondays it was washing day,
“Where’s all this washing come from!?”

Working class values.
The values that made our world.
Real values.
The birth right of every girl.

An’ every day’s a cleaning day
An’ every day’s a godly day
An’ every stick of furniture’s
Been all but spit and polished away.
A pledge to him in heaven
To keep the parlour clean,
In return for blessings on a Sunday
From Jesus and maybe an ice cream.

She’s weaving yarn all through the week,
Working her fingers to the bone.
Running ragged in the cotton mill
And threadbare in the home.
It was always the Protestant ethic
To work for the father and son,
And on Sunday’s you’re spied on by the Holy Ghost
So she had to put her best frock on.

The clock…..forever ticking.
The cross……forever giving pardon.
But there’s no rest for the wicked, “sorry”
While there’s rhubarb in the garden.
Thin custard on a Friday
On a little piece of sponge cake.
A few tiny random salad items.
A sliver of hake.

Working class values,
The values that made our world.
Real values.
The birth right of every girl.

An’ everybody understood
That nothing should be said.
Nothing bad would be talked about
Till after she was dead.
So all the loves, the lies, the leers,
The lechery was hidden.
Frustrations, flirtations,failures, fears,
Just festered in the midden.

It was all about appearances
An’ keeping things from others.
She couldnt share her feelings
With her sisters or her mother.
So not far beneath the surface
The nightmare’s bleeding real.
It’s a bloody lifetime’s bloody stains
Two pinnies have to conceal.

But it’s never use your crying
Over anything that’s spilled,
When all your life’s spent dying
An’ your living’s long been killed.
It’s all just something and nothing,
It’s nothing to shout about.
So calm yourself! An’ dry your tears
An’ get your pie tin out!

Working class values,
The values that made our world.
Real values,
The birth right of every girl
Yeh, the birth right of every girl!

Sunday Poem – Maurice Riordan

Sunday Poem – Maurice Riordan

A couple of my friends have been saying to me for a while that I need to slow down and start taking it easy and I’ve pretty much been nodding, agreeing but ignoring them.  It all caught up with me this week though and when I finished teaching late on Wednesday night I had a headache.  I didn’t think anything of it – it kind of comes with the territory being a trumpet teacher, but when I woke up on Thursday I felt terrible – dizzy, headaches and just generally exhausted.  So I spent the whole day in bed which was nice but I still carried on firing off emails and working so I probably didn’t rest properly.

I felt a bit better on Friday so I went for a five mile run with some friends in the morning and then Chris and I went for a walk round Ulverston.  I raided all the charity shops for poetry books – there weren’t many but I did get a collection by Paul Auster (haven’t heard of him but think I should have), an anthology of ‘happy’ poems edited by Wendy Cope (I like anthologies like this – useful for getting material for workshops), a small book of Japanese haiku, the Oxford Book of Prose and Newborn by Kate Clanchy which I’ve always wanted to read, so not a bad haul.

When I got back home I felt terrible again and went back to bed and slept.  I don’t do sleeping in the afternoon, so I had to concede defeat by this point, and admit that I was ill.
We were supposed to be going camping this weekend for a friend’s birthday but we called it off.  I feel guilty about not going, but the thought of driving there and putting a tent up when I felt like I couldn’t stand for more than five minutes was too much.

So we’ve stayed at home.  It is rare for me to have the whole weekend off with nothing to do, and for Chris to have nothing to do either.  I’ve behaved myself and done nothing strenuous yesterday or today.  I’ve even (mostly) kept off the laptop and have limited myself to reading and I’m starting to feel better.

I am very relieved it is now the Easter holidays.  A whole two weeks off teaching, and I feel like I’ve earned it.   I’ll never forget when I had my first work experience student following me around – by Thursday, he was sleeping in the car as I drove around between schools, and he wasn’t even doing any teaching, just observing..

I’m planning on catching up with friends for the next two weeks and doing lots of running.  Tomorrow I’m seeing my twin sister. She has managed to escape from the animal shelter where she is the manager and is having a day off, her first in a couple of months as well.  On Tuesday morning I’m meeting up with Pauline Yarwood to go through some social media stuff for the festival, and then our website designer is coming to give both me and Pauline a lesson in using the website.  I’ve got a plasterer coming to give a quote to get the middle room of our house sorted out and I’m seeing Clare Shaw this week to plot and talk poetry.

On Thursday I’m reading in Leeds at the River’s Meet Cafe as part of the Read Regional Scheme I’m involved in.  Linda France is running an Exploring Poetry session as well.  I’m considering whether it would be a bit stalker-ish to bring Linda’s collection to get it signed as I’ve not met her before.  I will probably stow it in my bag and see if I can do it unobtrusively!

On Friday I’m running my Young Writer’s workshop – it’s been a while since I’ve seen the Dove Cottage Young Poets so I’m looking forward to seeing them all, and then I’ll go straight from there to Lancaster where I’m reading at the North West Literary Salon, held in Waterstones

Then on Saturday I’m running my Barrow Poetry Workshop – 15 people signed up, so room for one more if you know anybody that is interested.

That might sound a lot, but I haven’t got four junior band rehearsals, 2 days of brass teaching and 3 private pupils to fit in this week, so this is a walk in the park!

Today’s Sunday Poem comes from Maurice Riordan’s latest collection The Water Stealer, published by Faber in 2013.  Maurice came to read for A Poem and a Pint in February, and I bought a copy of his book. I loved this poem as soon as I read it and was captivated from start to finish.

I like the story of it, of course, but I also like the way one thing leads to another, how one pond reminds the speaker of a pond in childhood. In The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, the two main characters find themselves in a ‘Wood Between the Worlds’ filled with hundreds of pools, each one leading to a different world.  This has nothing to do with Maurice’s poem, but it is what jumped into my mind when I read the poem, and the memory of the second pond entered it.

The poem is rich in allusions and associations – the italicised sections recall the children’s son ‘There was an old woman who swallowed a fly…she swallowed a spider to catch the fly..’  There are lots of doubles in this poem as well – two ponds, two foxes, two men crying at the sight of something destroyed.

I also love the images in this – the fact that the absence of the pond is noticed because its reflection on the ceiling is gone, the saucer of streetlight and that wonderful line about the fish possibly being ‘ferried into the dawn by the cormorant’.  It strikes me that there are a lot of wise fish in poems or maybe I’ve just come across lots recently.  Karen Solie has a cracking poem called ‘Sturgeon‘ which you can hear her reading and her fish has the same ‘streetwise’ attitude, as Maurice calls it.

Maurice Riordan was born in 1953 in Lisgoold, Co.Cork.  His first collection, A Word from the Loki (1995) was nominated for the T.S. Eliot Prize.  Floods (2000) was a Book of the Year in both the Sunday Times and the Irish Times, and The Holy Land (2007) won the Michael Hartnett Award.  He lives in London and has taught at Imperial College and Goldsmiths College, and is currently Professor of Poetry at Sheffield Hallam University.  Maurice Riordan is Editor of The Poetry Review.

You can order The Water Stealer here from Faber and Faber.

I hope you enjoy the poem, and thanks to Maurice for allowing me to use it.

The Water Stealer  – Maurice Riordan

came to the pond in the night and emptied it.
I woke in the unwonted quiet
and noticed its reflections on the ceiling
absent this bright morning,

the fire outside quenched, the lilies
collapsed in a muddy heap, the neon
of damselflies, the skim of darters and fleas,
of skaters and water boatmen – gone.

Where were the carp? Sunk in the mud
or ferried into the dawn by the cormorant?
Or was it a town fox that chewed
through the tarp so it bled while I dreamt,

while my brain worried old scars,
the saucer of streetlight grew brighter
overhead and neared the huddle of carp
– who’d have jumped and bitten in terror,

gorping helplessly in the poisonous gas.

I mend the leak,and watch the basin fill,
the water not the same water: clear, drinkable,
the year’s clock too far advanced to be reset,
to remake the soup of eggs and insects.

Even so, the lilies untangle and lift
their cumbersome pads off the mud –
weightless and free, like the dancers in the loft
at harvest, when I watched as a child.

But no fish…the fish that came
with the pond that came with the garden
that came with the house that came
with the care that came with the children

And the pond, which no child fell into,
recalled our old pond back in Lisgoold
and heat-struck hours with my cousins
pawdawling in the duckweed and ooze.

I’d begun, since my days are freed up,
to love its little creatures, to scoop
for springtails and ‘water bear’ – the minuscule
tardigrade I’ve seen only on Youtube.

But now a fox has come as a thief in the night
– not the fox that squeezed through the mesh
to the hencoop (which our father tracked and shot),
no, some miscreant, with a taste for fish.

It’s time to cry – to pour tears like my father
in his old age, hammering the armrest
with an arthritic fist till he broke it (the armrest)
crippled because of a cur, a mongrel cur

the dog that barked that scared the mare
that carried the man that reared the foal 

that loved the rider that rode the mare 
that flung the rider headlong into the road 

my old man, as they were galloping home
from Midleton Show, their jaunt every June
without fail till the fall…which would shame
and shackle him, and send him to the grave.

And now I’ve a fox, or worse, for adversary.
I’ve a night of pillage and ruin to bemoan,
robbed of my pond and its innocent creatures,
dead fish to bewail – when lo and behold

a half-dozen or so are scooting here and there
among the lilies (those long gone country dancers)
the streetwise ancient carp, yea risen out
of the mud, and me in floods at the sight.



Kendal Poetry Festival

Kendal Poetry Festival

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you will, by now, know that the website for Kendal Poetry Festival has finally gone live!  You can find us at http://www.kendalpoetryfestival.co.uk.  The festival will take place from the 24th-26th June 2016, at Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal.

The full programme is now up.  Over the weekend we have two open mics, four main readings, three discussions about poetry and two workshops.  There are a few free events as well, all taking place in the beautiful surroundings of Abbot Hall Art Gallery.

Please head over to the website and have a look at the programme – we have some fantastic poets reading at the festival.  This has been the culmination of about a years worth of planning between myself and Pauline Yarwood, the co-director of the festival.

We found out in January that we’d got funding to go ahead with the festival, so it has been pretty hectic trying to pull the website and marketing together since then, so the website finally being live and kicking is a massive milestone for us.

We’ve got our wonderful poets for the programme, we’ve got a beautiful venue.   We’ve got a limited number of weekend passes at only £33 which will get you in to all the readings and discussions at the festival.  All we need now is an audience to make the festival a success.  We haven’t got a huge marketing budget, just enough to build a website and print our brochures.  We’ve got our Twitter account (@KendalPoetry) and the Facebook group but what we are really relying on is word of mouth, and the support of the poetry community.

The cuts to the Wordsworth Trust Contemporary Literature Programme hit writers in Cumbria hard.  This will be the first summer that we don’t all head up to Grasmere on a Tuesday evening to hear poets read.  The loss of the programme has left a huge hole, and in all honesty, a weekend festival can’t fill that summer long gap.

However, on a personal level, the loss of the readings at the trust galvanised me into action, to stop talking about running a festival, and actually go and do it.  It was a happy coincidence that I bumped into Pauline Yarwood and we got talking at Brewery Poets one week and I discoverd that Pauline  had already been making enquiries about running a poetry festival in Kendal.   I hope we can go back to the Arts Council next year and show them something astounding – audience figures much larger than what we predicted, and a festival that needs to become a yearly fixture in the calendar.

Kendal has been devastated by the floods recently.  In January, we didn’t have a venue, as much of the gallery was under water.  Coming to Kendal Poetry Festival will not only support poetry and writers in a rural county, which can feel quite isolated at times, it will also support the local community of businesses and cafes who have been flooded sometimes two or three times in as many months.

Finally, I hope you consider coming to the festival because there is something on the programme that inspires you, something that makes you want to travel from where ever you live to sit in a room and listen to poetry.

Sunday Poem – Martin Reed


I am writing this post quite bleary-eyed again – not because it is particularly late – it’s only just gone 10pm but just because I’m exhausted.  I’ve spent the day at the South Cumbria Music Festival today conducting three of my bands in the junior brass band section of the competition – Barrow Shipyard Junior Band, Brasstastic and St Pius School Band.  The bands all played brilliantly – they did everything I’d asked them to do in rehearsals, remembered everything I’ve been going on and on about for months! Holborn Hill Brass Band won – not one of mine, but although I’m usually competitive, I’m not too disappointed.  I always say to the bands that I would rather they play the best they can play and come second, then play badly and win and they did play as well as they could, so I’m happy.  After the competition I had to rush off to get to rehearsal – I’m playing in a show called White Christmas next week at the theatre in Barrow.

So I’m finally home now and kind of looking forward to going to bed.  I have a new regime at the minute which I’ve stuck to for the last two weeks, which is to get up at 7am and read for an hour in the front room.  Our front room at the minute is the only nice room in our house – well the bathroom is nice as we decorated that when we moved in, but I can hardly sit in there.  The front room has been decorated and the hubby uses it as the room that he practices as a psychotherapist in, so it is always neat and tidy and we inherited a wonderful rocking chair from a friend that is my favourite place to sit.  Anyway, every morning from 7am-8am I sit in my rocking chair and read.  I’m getting through lots of books, and it’s started me writing again.  I’m really enjoying the discipline of it.


One of the books that I’ve read this week is published by today’s Sunday Poet.  I met Martin Reed on the course at St Ives, and he was kind enough to give me a copy of his pamphlet.  It’s called The Two-Coat Man and was published by Happenstance in 2008.  You can order a copy of Martin’s pamphlet here, directly from his publisher.  I knew I would enjoy the pamphlet because I loved the poems that Martin wrote during the week in the workshops.

I really like the premise of this poem describing a painting, while not really being about the painting at all.  We know that the poem is addressed to a lover or a partner, or at the least someone who the speaker lives with because of the use of the words ‘our old front room’ which are in the first line.  Something sad has obviously happened – a death, or a failed relationship – because the painting has been removed from the shared space in the front room and placed in the speaker’s bedroom.

The two lines that really move me are ‘No-one else’s work could say/the things your painting says tonight’ which I think is a really lovely, balanced couplet. This is a strange little poem, because I think it is really about art as witness.  The poem does describe the poem, but for a poem about watching and seeing and noticing, we don’t get much information about the ‘you’.  The ‘you’ disappears  the more that the detail of his painting is discussed and I think this is why it is effective, why it is sad and strange all at the same time.

I’m off to bed now.  It is the most bizarre experience, but when I’m tired and falling asleep, my fingers keep writing out things – just now I fell asleep while I was typing and wrote ‘my fingers keep tapping the music stand.  Yes!’

So this is far too weird for me – so I will leave you to enjoy Martin Reed’s expert handling of form.  Form and end-rhyme are a preoccupation in this pamphlet.  Martin really does handle it well, often his rhymes are so clever that it is the second or third read through before you realise they are there.  If you would like to buy a copy and make Helena Nelson/ Martin Reed/ the world/the known universe very very happy please order here 

If there are any sentences in this post that make no sense, please skip over them! Thanks to Martin Reed for letting me publish his poem here. Here’s a bit about Martin in his own words:

Martin Reed grew up in Somerset and now lives in Malvern, Worcestershire near his children and grandchildren.  He has recently discovered the joy of writing workshops, including Kim’s in St Ives in February 2016 and would recommend them to any developing writer (i.e. all writers).  He won the National Poetry Competition in 1988 and has had work published in 2Plus2 (USA), Agenda, Anon, Assent, Encounter, Envoi, Frogmore Papers, The Interpreter’s House, Iota, London Magazine, Magma, Other Poetry, Orbis, Owl, Prole, Poetry Wales, Poetry Nottingham, Poetry Review, South, The Spectator, Stand, Under the Radar and by other small presses in the UK and USA.   He has read some of his work on Radio 3.   He has a Happenstance collection in print: The Two-Coat Man (2009).  He is also Vernon Scannell’s literary executor. 

Original – Martin Reed

for RR (1944-1962)

Your painting hung in our old front room,
the ‘best’ room I still dream of sometimes.
It’s on my bedroom wall now, the bloom
of your bright manifesto – blues, limes

and purples.  I see how moulded snow
sits in a dip long after the day
has heated rocks to an orange glow
where falls hit the lake in arcs of spray;

how a peak aspires and saplings play
their almost human limbs at twilight.
No-one else’s work could say
the things your painting says tonight.

Art changes us.  We’re taught to see.
You noticed things, like bark where a ray
of sunlight sparked a rain-blackened tree,
the scar where a branch was wrenched away.


Sunday Poem – Graham Austin


I’ve just got back from a really enjoyable evening playing the trumpet at a fundraising concert at St Mary’s Church.  It’s been about a year since I played any solo stuff on the trumpet but I really enjoyed it. The concert was organised by Father Gribben and was actually in his house rather than the church.  There must have been about 50 people in the audience and as well as me, Father Gribben played some great piano pieces and there was also a young oboe player who performed brilliantly.  The concert raised over £600 apparently.  I was asked to perform last week which was good as it left me no time to get nervous.  I went for a rehearsal on Thursday and it was great fun.  I didn’t get nervous tonight – maybe the first time I’ve performed a solo and not been nervous.  Maybe I’m turning over a new leaf!

This week I’ve been working till quite late most nights, getting various jobs done.  I’ve been writing to publishers to ask for books that I would like reviewed for the first issue of The Compass magazine, which has been great fun.  Although it was very tempting to get them all sent to my house first so I could read them, I realised this would slow everything down quite a lot and I would end up with no reviews because I was hogging all the books, so now they are going straight out to the reviewers.

This week I’ve been booked for three readings and a workshop.  I’ll be running a workshop for Mungrisdale Writers in July and reading in Todmorden in August and Lancaster Litfest and Cafe Writers in October.  I also had a request from Poems in the Waiting Room for permission to put my poem ‘You asked me to bring you a gift from my walk’ on a card and distribute it around NHS waiting rooms, which seems like an amazing thing to happen to a poem.  This particular poem I haven’t actually thought about in years – I wrote it seven years ago, when I was just starting it out.  It was published in Staple magazine and then didn’t make it into the pamphlet and then I forgot about it so it is nice that it is going to get a new lease of life.  I’ve also been asked to contribute a poem to a short pamphlet to celebrate the 30th reading of the series.

Today I sent what I hope are the last edits over to Amy on my collection.  I printed out the final proofs and instead of thinking of it as a dead animal sitting on my chest and blocking my view, I actually feel quite protective and fond of it now.  I’ve been carrying it around and having it sleep next to my bed the last couple of nights.

The running has not been going too well though this week.  I’ve been running with a pain in my groin for a while now and it has been getting a bit worse so I went to see a physiotherapist this Friday and I have an inflamed tendon, which is very annoying.  I’ve decided to give running a rest this week to see if it will go away.  I went to spinning at the gym instead today because I really don’t want to lose all my fitness again but it is looking unlikely that I’ll be able to do the half-marathon I’d planned to do in Blackpool in a couple of weeks time.

My lovely friend Keith Hutson came  up to visit this weekend.  We went for a fantastic walk in Grizedale Forest on Saturday and there was clear blue sky and a strange bird which sounded like a frog.  Keith caught me up on all the gossip and we even managed to get some editing done on each other’s poetry before he had to go back home to feed his sheep.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Graham Austin.  I first met Graham at A Poem and a Pint when I was just starting out writing poetry.  Graham died last week, quite suddenly and unexpectedly.  It still doesn’t feel real now that I won’t be seeing him perform any more.  Graham was genuinely funny, and I know this is a cliche, but he really did have a twinkle in his eye.  He was always supportive of other poets.  He found it easy to show his delight in other people’s poetry.  Helena Nelson, who published his pamphlet ‘Fuelling Speculation’ a couple of years ago, has written a lovely and eloquent piece over at the Happenstance blog about Graham and you can read some more of his work there as well.  Graham’s wife has asked me to say a few words about Graham at his funeral and along with two of his other friends to read a few of his poems.  I don’t know what I’m going to say yet.  I will have to say something about how funny he was, although perhaps that is too obvious.  Of course everybody there will know how funny he was.  When I think of Graham I think of him on stage, waiting with that slightly suprised, pleased smile for the audience to stop laughing so he can go on with his next line.

Graham has featured on this blog before back in October 2014, again with a very funny poem, and if I have attracted any running poets, you will like this poem.

But here is Disappointment – I remember hearing Graham read this and he had got the audience into such a state of hilarity, he had to wait for quite a while before they would stop laughing so he could read his final stanza.

Disappointment – Graham Austin

It was as if nothing had happened.
Five minutes earlier we had sat down to watch the sea.
Now five minutes later we were still watching the sea.
It was as if nothing had happened.

‘It’s as if nothing has happened,’ she said.
‘Five minutes ago we sat down to watch the sea.
Now five minutes later we are still watching the sea.
It’s as if nothing has happened.
Kiss me.’

I did.
Six minutes previously we had sat down to watch the sea.
Six minutes later we were still watching the seae.
And it really was as if nothing had happened

Sunday Poem – Andrew Forster


This is the first blog post I am writing from my lovely new/old desk which I bought in a charity shop last week for £60. It apparently came from a school.  I quite liked it when I bought it but now I have it set up in my room I love it.

I have had a cold all week.  I think it started on Monday or Sunday evening.  The cold is a lot better but I feel really run down and tired.  I didn’t think I looked that bad, but I’ve just been shopping and the woman at the checkout took one look at me and said ‘What happened to you?’.  I said ‘I’ve had a cold and I still don’t feel great’ and then she looked at me and said ‘I’ll pack your bags.  I’ll take pity on you’.  I feel like I should be offended that she was basically saying I looked terrible, but I actually just feel grateful that she packed my shopping for me!

Today I was supposed to be running the Ulverston 10k.  I was supposed to be running it in under fifty minutes, which clearly wasn’t going to happen the state I was in.  I already decided earlier on in the week that it wasn’t a good idea to do the race but I was planning on going along and cheering on everybody else, but this morning I felt too ill again to stand out in the cold so I stayed at home feeling sorry for myself.

Yesterday was spent putting up a fence  in the backyard.  It is almost done – the last two fence panels are being delivered on Tuesday. I learnt how to use one of those screw gun things and was reprimanded for referring to a ‘screw’ as a nail.  A friend came and chopped down the hedge and various trees in the back garden and we also found underneath the grass, mud and roots a bit of path.  I didn’t really do much apart from float around with the screw gun and walk the dogs very slowly.

On Friday I ran my Young Writers Group and then went straight from there to a launch of four new pamphlets by Ron Scowcroft, Elizabeth Burns, Pauline Keith and Carole Coates, all published by a brand new pamphlet publisher ‘Wayleave Press’ which is run by Mike Barlow.  The pamphlets are really beautiful – I think most, if not all of them have a front cover illustration by Mike.  I was really impressed with the quality of the poetry on the Friday and I’ll be featuring some of the poets on this blog in the coming weeks.

Apart from that, all week I’ve just been trying to hold my head above water whilst feeling rubbish.  Although quite a few of my schools are cancelling sessions, mainly due to rehearsals for school plays, I’m still busy because I’m doing lots of extra sessions with the junior band.  I took 12 children from the band to Asda on Wednesday to play carols for a couple of hours in the evening.

Today I’ve been emailing back and forth with my editor with ideas for a launch for my collection.  ‘The Art of Falling’ is due out in April next year and the date seems to be approaching alarmingly quickly.  Organising a launch is a bit weird as well – it is a bit like organising your own birthday party in a way.

I’ve been trying to think back to all the launches that I’ve been to and what makes a good launch – for both the poet and the audience.  I did have one for my pamphlet which was the reading at The Wordsworth Trust and the thing that made that amazing was how many of my friends were there and the excitement of reading with the other winners.  So maybe for me, the key ingredient of a good launch would be the audience – having enough audience and the audience I get being made up (at least partly) of friends.  I didn’t organise that launch though – it was part of the prize of winning the pamphlet.  All I had to do is turn up.

The launch on Friday was good because the poetry was very good and I enjoyed hearing Mike Barlow talk about setting up a publishing press.  His enthusiasm was infectious and it was so refreshing to hear somebody’s passion for other people’s work.

So far, there are tentative plans for a main launch in Ulverston, which although it isn’t my home town, it is only 15 minutes up the road from me, and from past experience, tends to draw bigger audiences than Barrow.  The soul band I’ve been playing with have offered to play for this, so I think this evening will be a short reading, maybe with some friends reading too and then a break and time to sign books/drink wine and then the band can play and those who wish to can bust some moves.  Or not.  It is looking likely that there may be a launch in London, because lovely friend Jill Abram has offered to help me organise this and maybe one in Manchester as lovely friends Lindsey Holland has offered to help me put this one together.  And that will be enough launching to last me for the rest of the year I think!

It is exciting sorting all this out and I’ve been touched by the offers of help I’ve received just by mentioning it.  Poor Martin Copley who does our posters for Poem and a Pint has been volunteered by his wife Mrs Crabtree aka poet Jennifer Copley to make a poster for my launch.  I bet she hasn’t told him yet but I know he reads my blog so he knows now!

Tonight I’m off to the Hope and Anchor in Ulverston to play with the soul band – apparently it will be a tight squeeze so no room for a chair, but if it’s that tight, at least I should be able to prop myself up against a wall or something.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by the lovely Andrew Forster, who has featured here before a while ago but since then his shiny new collection ‘Homecoming’, published by Smith/Doorstop has been released.  The collection is an extraordinary record of living and working in the Lake District, not just living and working in fact, but also traveling through the landscape as a resident rather than a tourist.

One of my favourite poems in the book is ‘Morecombe Bay’ which is a series of three line stanzas seperated by asterisks.  Each stanza uses a different metaphor or image to look at the bay.  It reminds me of the Wallace Stevens poem ’13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’.  There are only 8 in Andrew’s poem, but they are lovely.  Morecombe Bay is ‘a glass pathway’ in the first stanza, a ‘grey muslin sheet’ in the second, a ‘blue eiderdown’ in the third.

The collection is full of carefully observed poems.  In ‘Lindale Hill’ the poem starts ‘It’s a village of layers, a place/in progress, where houses are messages/from different ages’.  I know Lindale very well, having taught at the village school there for a few years, and smiled in recognition when I read this, but I think if you don’t know the village, you can picture it.

The poem I’ve chosen to feature this week is ‘Dusk in Lindale’.  This is another beautiful, carefully observed poem. I know it’s not November now, but when I wrote to Andrew and asked him if I could use it, it was and I think this feels like a November poem.  Maybe because of the quality of the light that is described in the poem – the dusk is ‘a shabby cloth/which parts as others, coming home,/emerge from shadows in our path.’  Later on in the poem, we can see the trees ‘pastel smudges/holding drums of darkness between them.’

This collection is full of descriptions of light and I think this is one of the hidden themes of the book.  Behind the main theme of place and landscape and  home is a concern with light and shadow which crops up again.  Light is often used to set the mood or tone of a poem – in the first poem in the collection ‘At Carstairs Junction’ we read ‘the darkness hasn’t loosened its hold./Rain slants into the lamps like the grain/of an old film’ and in the last poem ‘Homecoming’ in the last three lines we are left with both light and dark.

‘Just beyond the lights Amanda stands,
with Walter the dachshund, his yips
of greeting rising over the departing engine.’

I’d be interested if you have the collection to hear your thoughts on the way Andrew has explored light in the poems, as well as the more obvious concerns of place.

Andrew Forster is originally from South Yorkshire but lived in Scotland for twenty years before moving to Cumbria in 2008.  He has published two full-length collections of poetry with Flambard Press, ‘Fear of Thunder’ in 2007 and ‘Territory’ in 2010.  Fear of Thunder was shortlisted for the 2008 Forward Prize for Best First Collection.  Two poems from it ‘Horse Whisperer’ and ‘Brothers’ appear in the AQA GCSE syllabus.  He won a Northern Writers Award in 2014.

If you would like to find out more about Andrew Forster he has his own website here

If you would like to order ‘Homecoming’ you can find it on the Smith/Doorstop website

Thanks to Andrew for letting me use his poem, and I promise next week’s post will be full of health rather than coughs and splutters.

Dusk in Lindale – Andrew Forster

By the time I’m home, the sun has slipped
behind Cartmel Fell and the sky holds
its last light in a sparkling grey wash.
The early dark forcing a different rhythm,

I walk the dog before day fades completely.
On the street the dusk is a shabby cloth
which parts as others, coming home,
emerge from shadows in our path.

The last houses shine like orange beacons,
small against impending night.
Cars purr around the bend, headlight beams
thrust out, the road left darker than before.

Woods run parrallel to the path,
the slatted fence almost invisible
so the trees seem closer, pastel smudges
holding drums of darkness between them.

The dog stops, quivering, small legs
braced, scenting the loamy Autumn air,
tuned into a world that exists beside us,
beyond the tangle of nettles and brambles.

Further on, at Castle Head, a roe deer springs
over the field.  Russet, it flickers
like a faint torch in the growing night
before being extinguished completely.

Poetry in Cumbria and Call for Submissions for Second Light Anthology


Evening folks.  A quick update to let those interested know about three events taking place this weekend – all on the same day!  On Saturday afternoon there is an event taking place at the Wordsworth Trust – ‘Tales from the Dark Mountain’ which I’m going along to – you can find more details here on the Trust website https://wordsworth.org.uk/attend-events/2013/11/30/tales-from-the-dark-mountain.html

Afterwards, I will be dashing back home to get ready for another poetry, music and storytelling event at Bardsea Malt Kiln at 7.30pm with Ross Baxter, Alan Franks and Maz O’Connor.  You can find more information here http://www.crake.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=390&Itemid=285

If you can’t make it out to Bardsea, the equally lovely Ann Wilson is hosting her regular Open Mic night at the Brewery in Kendal, with special guest Mark Mace Smith.  That starts at 7.30pm and if I hadn’t already promised Ross I would go and support him, I would have been down at the Brewery with Ann!

Myra Schneider has also asked me to highlight an exciting opportunity for women poets.  The Second Light Network of Women Poets have recently received Arts Concil funding to bring out a major new anthology of poetry by women poets.  It will be called ‘Wings of Glass’.  The book will focus on ambitious writing and be published in next autumn 2014 and launched at the Second Light Festival in central London in late November. The editors are Penelope Shuttle, Myra Schneider and Dilys Wood. Submissions will be accepted between 15th November and 15th January. Please see full details for submitting : www.secondlightlive.co.ukMyra is very keen to get as many submissions from women poets as possible – they do not want the anthology to be limited to just members of Second Light – so definitely worth having a go!

So to finish off – here is one of Ross Baxter’s ballads – which I hope he will be reading on Saturday –


being an account of the remarkable Battle between the Rooks and the Herons that took place in April 1775 in the Woods of Dallam Tower at Beetham.

Masters, listen, hold you still,
And hearken to me a spell;
I’ll tell you of the great battle
At Dallam Tower befell.

The year being 1775,
In April on a day,
The Herons all in the old oak grove
With their young nestlings lay;

When Daniel Wilson of Dallam Tower,
Being in want of wood,
With axe and rope he cut those oaks
And felled them where they stood.

“A grief! A grief!” cried the Heron King,
“To put us to such pain!
“Our houses spilled upon the ground
“And all our young ones slain!

“Rise up! Rise up, my bonny grey knights
“That suffer in this fall,
“To yonder copse of mighty firs,
“There to rebuild our hall.”

And then up rose those bonny herons,
A shining company;
Away they flew to the fir tree copse
Where their new home should be.

But when they came to the fir tree copse,
Their new home to survey,
A commonwealth of rooks arose
Ready to say them nay.

“Turn back! Turn back, you Heron King,
“You and your company,
“For since the world was first begun
“This is our rookery.”

“Away, you corbie squatters all,
“Away and take your flight!
“These trees are forfeit to the King
“And his court comes here tonight.”

Then up and spake those corbies bold:-
“And why should a rook bow down?
“And why should he give up his tree
“To a jammy crane in a crown?”

The Heron King called up his knights
And spake from the topmost pine:-
“These woods since time began were once
“And always will be mine.”

And at his word the Herons fell
On the Rooks without delay,
And threw them down from out of the trees
And drove them clean away.

Then the Corbie Captain rallied his troops:-
“Brave Rooks, stand fast!” said he;
“What mak of fish did that Jammy Crane eat
“That made him royalty?

“I put it to our Parliament
“That I call into this field,
“That we should fight for our common right
“To the death, ere we should yield!”

Then the Corbies they arose
And put their armour on,
Their faces pale, their cloaks were black,
And their blue steel bonnets shone.

The Herons stood with their gleaming spears
In a circle like the sun;
Down the Corbies fell on them
And attacked them ten to one.

Out of the sky the Corbies flew
Plummeting thick as rain,
And for every one the Herons slew
Nine more came on again.

All through the woods the battle raged
And all across the sky,
Till blood and feathers covered the ground,
Rained down from on high.

The Corbie Captain rose and stooped
Upon the Heron King,
And threw him from his topmost perch,
Beating him with his wing.

But the Heron King raised his head
And a loud laugh laughed he;
He pierced the Corbie with his beak
And pinned him against the tree.

And when they saw their Captain slain,
The Rooks sounded retreat,
The Herons harrying at their heels
To hasten their defeat.

And they fought till they came to Wilson’s barn,
With the wood stacked against the wall,
And there they called on the old white owl
Where she keeps her house and hall.

“A judgement! A Judgement!
“Let justice end this fray!
“For Heronry or Rookery,
“One of them must away.”

Then up and spake the old white owl:-
“Room enough for all;
“The more they chop the oak wood down,
“The more the firs grow tall.”

And so indeed it came to pass,
As you may plainly see,
The Corbies and the Jammy Cranes
Nesting in one tree.

Now Masters stay your hands awhile
Before you take what’s yours;
Think on what may follow on
When time has run its course.

For the Corbies and the Jammy Cranes
That never could agree,
Now live together side by side
In the branches of one tree.