Tag Archives: david tait

Sunday Poem – David Tait


I never know how to start these blog posts, not because I don’t know what to say, but I often don’t know where to begin.  Should I start with what is freshest in my mind, which is what’s happened today, or start at the beginning of the week and proceed in a logical order?  I’ll start with today, because nothing particularly interesting happened at the beginning of the week.

I can now declare (in case you were interested) that I am injury free! My rather inconvenient and very annoying inflamed tendon in my leg has left the building and I am very happy about it.  Today I did my longest run since being injured, nine miles at a relatively steady pace with the Walney Wind Cheetahs and my tendon didn’t have anything to say for itself.  My leg muscles in general were really sore from the training I’ve been doing this week, but it was kind of a sweet pain, rather than an injury pain.  The kind of pain that comes from working your muscles rather than destroying them.  At least I hope that is what it is!

After the run I came straight back, no dallying at the cafe for me today  because I had lots of work to get on with.  I had two friends that have been waiting for email replies regarding poems they had sent, I had an invoice to send and Sunday Poets to hunt down.  I normally write to people in small groups to gather Sunday Poems so today I wrote to four poets and got their permission to use their poems on my blog so I now have four weeks of grace where I know whose poem I’m going to use on the blog.  This is all quite time-consuming – but it is probably my favourite part of doing this blog.  Most poets are so happy that someone, out of the blue has said that they like not only their work, but a particular poem, that it makes it completely worth it.

Apart from these smaller jobs I also had three larger jobs to get done today – this blog being one of them.  The other is printing out and making notes on the poems that have been submitted for Week 1 of the online Poetry School course I’m tutoring and the third job was editing reviews that have come in for The Compass magazine and then writing to the reviewers to check that they are ok with suggested changes.  I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself for managing all of this today, and remembering to feed myself (boiled egg and toast at lunchtime, thai takeaway in the evening!).

I’m going to jump back in the week now to Wednesday, which was the open mic at Zefferelli’s in Ambleside, run by Andrew Forster and the Wordsworth Trust.  For the second week in a row I’ve had a house guest – lovely Lindsey Holland has been staying at my house since Wednesday evening because there are lots of poetry events in Cumbria that she wants to go to – open mic on Friday and a reading on Saturday.

There was a great turn out at Zeff’s this week – probably because Pauline Yarwood was the featured poet.  Pauline can often be found in the audience of various poetry events and workshops so it was nice to see her being given the chance to read her own poetry and lovely to be able to listen to her doing a longer reading of her work.

On Thursday I spent the morning writing references for two people who are applying to do an MA in Creative Writing and then I had to go to a meeting to do with work in Milnthorpe.  On the way back I came as close to dying as I ever have before when a complete idiot was overtaking a caravan on a corner and driving straight towards me on my side of the road.  I have no idea how I missed hitting him because that stretch of road is not narrow enough to get three cars past, let alone a caravan but somehow I did it.  I didn’t even have time to be scared, I just had to wrench the wheel to the side, and then it was done.  It should have been a head-on crash and I don’t know how anyone would have walked away from it.  This sounds a little dramatic, and as it happens, nothing happened.  Everyone was ok, I was ok, I wasn’t even that shaken really but I was trying to think if there was anything I would have regretted not doing if something had happened and I couldn’t think of anything, so that was quite reassuring!

I went to my first interval training session in about 15 years on Thursday evening, hence the sore legs all day Friday and the still sore legs today.  On Friday Lindsey and I drove to Manchester.  I was meeting Rachel Mann, poet and vicar to talk through arrangements for the judging of the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Prize.  I think a lot of people might be put off entering this prize because they think you have to enter a ‘religous poem’, but I will be interpreting this broadly!  The most important thing is to find some excellent poems.  I don’t know if Rachel knew how obsessed with tea I am but we met in Propertea, which is just next to the Cathedral.  When you order your cup of tea you get a little timer to use which tells you when your tea has brewed perfectly.  I would have quite liked to steal the timer, except I realised I would have to steal all the paraphenalia, the two teapots, the tea strainer, and some tea leaves to make it worth it.  I don’t think the timer would have worked with a PG Tips teabag.  Of course this is a JOKE.  I would never steal a tea timer.

After that, I went to the glorious bookshop that is Waterstones on Deansgate with its fabulous poetry section.  Sadly, I couldn’t find a copy of my book in there – maybe it sold out by the time I got there!  However, I did go a bit crazy and buy lots of other poetry books: Here Comes The Night by Alan Gillis, Paralogues by Evan Jones, Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe and Maninbo: Peace and War by Ko Un.  I’ve been wanting Loop of Jade for a while but the other collections I didn’t specifically go in for, I just brought them after browsing, which proves that bookshops need to keep their poetry sections stocked up for hopeless addicts like me who will spend far too much money if the books are there to look at.

After that, we drove to Kendal to Abbot Hall Art Gallery who were having their ‘Night of a Thousand Selfies’ event as part of Museums at Night.  As part of the event I was asked to organise and compere an open mic night but this was an open mic with a difference.  First of all it was in a gallery and there was something wonderful about reading amongst all the portraits that made up the current exhibition.  There was also free pizza from a stand outside, a temporary tattoo artist, a photo booth and a band in different parts of the gallery.

The first two open mic sessions were fairly traditional.  I divided the fourteen readers into two groups and half read in the first set and half in the second set.  After the second open mic session we had a ‘lets see how many poets we can fit in a photo booth’ session – the answer was five and a half, especially if one insists on wearing a large horse’s head and taking up lots of room!  For the third set, I decided it should just be a free-for-all as everybody had already read once and this turned into poetry’s version of The Hunger Games, where poets raced each other to the mic, running up to the front before the audience had finished clapping the last poet.  It was great fun and my young writers rather brilliantly and cheekily got up twice to read, which drove the adults to be much more active in their leaping for the stage.

On Saturday I dragged my husband Chris to Barrow Park to take part in Park Run.  I still had Thursdays interval session in my legs but I managed to knock a whole second off my PB, taking it down to 23.08.  Chris managed 22.44 which is an amazing time considering he has only really been running regularly for the last month or so.  Not annoyed at all that he beat me…

After that, we drove up to Grasmere for the launch of the Poetry Business Pamphlet winners.  This is always one of my favourite events of the year.  It’s free and I like seeing what colour the pamphlets are and seeing Peter and Ann.  This year was a little bit sad for me because my wonderful friend and poet David Tait was one of the winners with his pamphlet Three Dragon Day but he couldn’t be at the reading because he was in China, busy working.  Peter and David asked me if I’d read David’s poems for him, so I did get to relive what it was like to win the competition, but without having to do any of the work, like actually write the poems.

Reading the poems out was a strange experience, because I couldn’t do any introductions for the poems, because I wouldn’t have known what to say, so I just read them one after the other.  It is a little like walking in another person’s shoes.  Luckily, I knew David’s poems pretty well, and he gave me a set list of what he wanted me to read.  The poems are extraordinary.  They conjure up such a vivid picture of what it is like to live as a foreigner in China – they are funny and sad and frightening and moving.

The other winners were Paul Stephenson who has been long overdue a pamphlet, Luke Samuel Yates who I met and read with in Aldeburgh two years ago and Basil Du Toit.  I’m hoping to feature work from all four on this blog in the next few weeks or so, but I thought I’d start with David’s work. I didn’t read this poem yesterday at the launch, it wasn’t on David’s list of poems for me to read but it is one of my favourites in the pamphlet.

This is one of those poems that moves from funny to shocking to sad and he does this almost effortlessly.  I love the list of different things that the class bring in, and there is something moving about this list of objects.  For most of the objects we are not told why they care about them.  I laughed out loud when I first read this and got to the line about the lady bringing in her husband, who then sits ‘sipping lemon tea’.

A lot of the poems which seem lighthearted have this sense of menace hanging over them and a sense that history and politics are somehow closer and more vivid in this country, more dangerous.  We are left thinking about The Great Leap forward, and wondering if the family survived as well as the photo.  I think it’s a brilliant poem and packs in a lot in a short space.

David was a winner of The Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition in 2010 with his pamphlet Loves Loose Ends, judged by Simon Armitage  and he then went on to publish his first full length collection Self Portrait with the Happiness with The Poetry Business in 2014. This collection was shortlisted for the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize.  He received an Eric Gregory Award and now lives in Guangzhou in China, where he teaches English. You can find more information about David on his Author Page on the Smith/Doorstop website.

This week I’ll be reading at the South Yorks Poetry Festival in Sheffield next Sunday night with Ian McMillan and Andrew McMillan which I’m really excited about – I hope to see some of you there.

Writing Class, Guangzhou – David Tait

I ask them to bring in a thing
that they care for.  They bring:

a hairpin carved in the shape
of a carp; a policeman’s flask;

young elephants engulfed
by their mother’s trunk, a statue;

a picture of a rabbit, the only toy
they left her after joining school.

One lady has brought in her husband.
He sits in the corner sipping lemon tea.

The others: a silver coin that dates
from the Qing dynasty; a string of pearls

that survived The Great Leap Forward;
the only surviving photo of a family.

She remembers the day it was taken,
her sister crying and not keeping still,

the hesitation she felt looking into the lens,
her father’s hands gripping her shoulders.

Sunday Poem – David Tait


Evening all – first of all my apologies for the missing Sunday Poem last Sunday.  Since last Saturday I have been in Inchnadamph, which is in north-west Scotland, in a small two-bedroomed cottage which we renamed ‘Midge Mansion’.  It’s real name is Riverside Cottage, and it was indeed next to a river as well as various mountains and a loch with a ruined castle and there were lots of red deer, mainly stags, wandering about the place.  In fact I saw more red deer than I did cars – they were everywhere.  And even though I know they eat all the vegetation, and are basically pretty devastating in environmental terms, I can’t help but love them.  They are so graceful – when they jump over walls it looks like they are just stepping over them.  They carry their antlers as if they are carrying a huge, really elaborate bunch of flowers on their heads.  One stag came right up to our window and munched on the grass next to the car, which I guess tasted nicer than the grass on the hills.  Every night we sat and watched them come over the ridge and down the hillside.  We joked that we would return one day and find the deer sitting in the cottage finishing off the Doritos and playing cards – they were so unconcerned about us, not in a tame way, more in a knowing that we were completely irrelevant to their lives because we couldn’t hurt them way.

I say ‘we’ without explaining who I went on holiday with – there was the husband of course, and my two dogs, Miles and Lola and lastly David Tait and Jay-Ven Lee, who were visiting from China.  David is one of my closest friends and he moved to China about 18 months ago and I’ve been looking forward to seeing David and Jay for ages.

It feels like so much has happened in two weeks and it is hard to know where to start.  Maybe I will start with what I would have written last Sunday, if I had signal which is that David did a fantastic reading in Penrith at the Wordsworth Bookshop, that there was tea and cakes, provided by the lovely John who owns the bookshop, that afterwards we went for ice cream and it was so hot that they were melting and dripping all over the place before we could eat them.

David and Jay came back to Barrow and walked the dogs with me – we walked along the reservoir and saw a rat jump out a bin and then walked into the quarry and I showed them the house that we are in the process of buying – we even looked through the windows because the house is empty and went into the garden because the back gate has fallen off.  When we left the house I thought the cat was acting a bit strange – he was lying in a position he wouldn’t normally lie in but I stroked him and talked to him and he was purring like mad, and he is a bit of a strange cat, so I decided to just go and walk the dogs and check on him when I got back.

When we got back, about 9.15pm, he had collapsed in the back garden.  He was panting horribly, and was making this horrible sound.  Have you ever heard the scream a rabbit makes before it dies? I have, once, when my dog killed one.  It was like that but with more sadness in it, more loneliness.  I thought he had got heat stroke because it had been such a hot day, and since I’ve been off school, I’ve noticed that Simba (the cat) and Miles (my oldest dog) lay out in the sun a lot in the yard.  I wet a towel and tried to cool him down, but it didn’t really work.  I rang the emergency vet and he said to bring him down to the surgery for 10pm.  Chris dropped Jay and David off at the train station because they were getting the last train back to Lancaster, and I just sat with the cat.  We walked down to the surgery with the cat and all the time I was thinking that the vet would put him on a drip and he would be ok – but I don’t know if I really believed it.

When we got to the surgery Simba made that awful noise again, and the vet said ‘I know what it is and it’s not good’.  He said that the cat was in agony, that he would explain later, but he needed to stop him being in pain, and I realised he meant that he was going to have to put him to sleep.  Chris had to help the vet find the vein to inject him because there was no nurse there – and within 15 minutes it was all over and it was just his body lying on the table and I knew he wasn’t there anymore because Simba would never lie in that position, all stretched out and open.  He was always tucked in on himself and neat, like most cats I suppose.  We walked home with the empty cat box – it was all so bizarre – there is part of me, a voice in my head that tells me to stop being silly, it is only a cat etc etc and the rest of me is absolutely gutted.  I can also see how to people without pets, or maybe even people with pets who have never had one die before that this post will seem self-indulgent and over the top, maybe because that is how I would have thought before this happened to me.

Now, I still can’t believe that it happened – because it was so sudden and because I’ve had the cat for ten years.  I felt really guilty for going for a walk, when I knew, deep down, that there was something wrong with him.  Last night when we got back, there was a card from the vet who treated him – he was not our vet, just the vet who was providing emergency care that night.  It said ‘Very sorry about Simba.  Your hands were tied! Take care, kind regards, John’.  When I read that card, I did feel less guilty – there was nothing I could have done, except maybe have got back earlier and got him to the vets a little sooner.  I hate thinking of any living thing in pain.  I’m a terrible hypocrite – this week for example, we went on a boat trip and the guide lifted some creels to show us what was in them- all this skittering, chittering life from under the water, and I felt so sorry for the little prawns and crabs and whatever else was in there – they so desperately wanted to live…and then I go to the pub and order meat…anyway, not to be sidetracked.

Last week I also felt guilty because I thought maybe I hadn’t loved Simba enough – or maybe I hadn’t showed him enough. My lovely husband helped me get all the photos we have of him into one folder and this was my favourite one – although you can’t actually see him very well because he is being cuddled and squashed by the dogs – this was taken when I was spending the day on the sofa after having a minor operation on my head – there was no way the animals were going to let me lay there alone…

WP_20140203_001In lots of the photos he is on my knee or sitting with one of the dogs.  When we got back from the vets they ran up to the basket looking for him.  Anyway, the day after I felt awful – I felt in a bit of a state.  David was coming back to Ulverston to read for Poem and a Pint with Gill Nicholson and Neil Curry and I was meant to be introducing everybody but I didn’t trust myself not to cry if I got up and said anything in public, so the lovely Mark Carson stepped into the breach at very late notice and did the introductions.  It was a lovely event – I sat on the bookstall and had the satisfaction of selling the books for the poets- David sold 11, Gill sold four and Neil sold five which was quite an achievement seeing as lots of the audience probably already had copies of their books.  There was a lovely moment when David’s dad ‘heckled’ him from the audience, saying ‘I loved your book, I’ve read it all, can you finish with ‘Puppets?’

And then on Saturday we drove to Lancaster to pick our hire car up – there was no way two dogs and four adults would fit in my little Hyundai and then picked David and Jay up and then we were on our way to Scotland and I was relieved to get away from the cat-empty house to be honest.  We got to Inchnadamph at about 11pm I think and were immediately eaten alive by the midges when we were unloading the car – they kind of took all of us by surprise, apart from Chris who had been obsessing about them for weeks after past experiences and we had all been ignoring him, thinking how bad can they be??

And there was no internet! The nearest Wifi was 11 miles away at a pie shop/cafe in Lochinver and I will admit now that I did stand outside the pie shop on one occasion that week to pick up my email.

So I thought I would put up the poem I would have put up last week if I’d had internet, which is a poem by my bestest friend David Tait.  I can’t believe now that I’m not going to see him for another year at least.  He is such good fun to be on holiday with – one of the funniest people I know.  He also did lots of the cooking whilst we were there – and didn’t show the slightest annoyance when on the one occasion I cooked, the meat was ready 45 minutes after the potatoes and vegetables.  There was also the time I overcooked his boiled eggs and undercooked mine – he just thought it was funny.

Last Sunday we went for a walk along the coast up to Stoer Point and managed to spot some seals in the water.  Sunday was the best day for weather – it was hot and there was a breeze most of the time which kept the midges away.  On the Monday we walked up Stac Pollaidh.  It was cloudy on this day and the views kept slipping in and out of the cloud.  On the way down we got a bit eaten by the midges but not too badly – or at least I didn’t – I was feeling quite smug at this point, as the midges seemed to be heading for the guys more than me.

I can’t remember which day goes with which thing for the rest of the week – but we went to Smoo Cave which has possibly the shortest boat ride ever – the guide doesn’t tell you to bend your heads so you don’t hit your head on the rock as the boat passes through, he just silently gestures and then bends, like a tree bowing its head, and everybody just follows his lead, and god help you if you are not paying attention.  We went for a walk to some caves marked on the map which were much better and got caught in the rain on the way back, persistent rain which wouldn’t give up until it had rendered my waterproofs ineffectual, so we ended up skipping down the path singing and splashing in the puddles.  We went to Honda Island and on the 10 minute boat ride over saw porpoises swimming, or at least their fin and tails and we saw puffins sitting on the cliffs.  It was this day when the midges finally got to us all.  My favourite quote of the week was from David, who wrote in the cottage guest book ‘the midges were as vicious as they were cunning’.   We went for a boat trip at Kylesku and saw seals lolling about on the rocks looking slightly outraged that we were watching them, as if they didn’t think we were quite getting their best sides.

I got back last night and spent the day today playing with the Barrow Steelworks Band and rehearsing with the quintet – we are playing some World War 1 music at Barrow Library tomorrow.  Sitting writing this has made me realise how lucky I am to have such friends – friends who I can spend a week with in the middle of nowhere and still have things to talk about and laugh about.  So finally, we come to the Sunday Poem, which is, unashamedly by the wonderful David Tait, who I wished lived closer to me.  I’ve chosen ‘Cesky Krumlov’ because even though it is about another country and another holiday, it sounds a bit like our holiday.  The poem comes from David’s book which has just been published by Smith/Doorstop called ‘Self-Portrait with The Happiness’.  It is a fantastic book and you should all go and buy it – it deserves to win things like prizes, but if not prizes, then at least readers.  David won an Eric Gregory Award this year, not before time and the collection was Highly Commended in the Forward Prizes, which means one of his poems will be in the Forward Prize Anthology this year – I’m not sure which one.

If you would like to order ‘Self Portrait with The Happiness’ you can do so here

Here is a picture of the beautiful cover.


And here is the poem! Please comment on David’s poem if you would like to.  I do really enjoy reading your thoughts on the poems.  I think this is a really beautiful poem – capturing that feeling we all get on holiday, the Shirley Valentine feeling, when we think, what would happen if I stayed, if I never went back?  The poem has a strange mixture of tone, dry: ‘photographed the statues, autumn leaves/ and each other’ but it combines this dryness or matter-of-factness or self deprecation with wistfulness, tenderness ‘your whole unlived life breathes on your cheek’ and those wonderful two last lines ‘the long winter stretching out/ its cold grace in front of you’.  Fantastic stuff – and the whole book is like this!  My favourites in the book, and ones to look out for are ‘Puppets’, all of the Self-Portrait poems, which run as a scattered sequence throughout the book, ‘On Being Trapped Inside a Puddle’ – a wonderful specular for those who like such things and for those who don’t.  I also love ‘The Launderette on Autumn Street’ and ‘Unforgetting Paris’ and ‘Sonnet in the Snow’ and ‘Edits’ and ‘Postbox’ and ‘Heart’ and…well, read the book.

Cesky Krumlov – David Tait

There isn’t much to do in Cesky Krumlov
so when you’ve walked around its castle,
photographed the statues, autumn leaves
and each other; when you’ve eaten
a pastry loaded with cinnamon and sugar
you could leave on the first bus for Prague.

It will probably be cold while you’re waiting:
the first snow hovering over you,
and you’ll consider, for a moment
that you could settle here, spend each day
circling the riverside, the souvenir
woodwork stalls, and eat Goulash
at the place they make the cinnamon pastries.

This thought could come to you
in the bus station jumble sale, rummaging
through an old box of gloves, selecting
a grey pair with fingers that don’t fit:
and you’ll learn the piano, and talk
with backpackers and be on good terms
with the local shops.

Not much to live for, no jobs, and yet
your whole unlived life breathes on your cheek:
and snow of course, falling
so it doesn’t quite land on you,
the long winter stretching out
its cold grace in front of you.

Ranting is Never A Good Idea


So I have been in bed for the last two days with a flu/stomach bug type thing.  More accurately I have been lying on the sofa along with the two dogs and the cat, the remote controls, copious amounts of tissue, asprin – you get the general idea.

I have been well enough and bored enough to spend more time on the internet than I would normally – mainly flicking listlessly through Facebook/Twitter on my phone and have been watching CreativeWritingCoursesGate unfold with increasing amounts of irritation.

So the first thing that happened was that Hanif Kureishi, a novelist who I read and admired when I was a student at music college was quoted in The Telegraph as saying Creative Writing courses are a waste of time.  You can find the whole article here – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10674887/Creative-writing-courses-are-a-waste-of-time-says-Hanif-Kureishi.html

The article is quoting from a talk that Kureishi gave at the Independent Bath Literature Festival.  Ok – so it did annoy me to read this – and I briefly considered sticking up for creative writing courses on Facebook or Twitter.  Then I read this great response from poet Tim Clare on his blog and I thought it’s ok – that is such a brilliant post there is little more to be said. You can find Tim’s post here: http://www.timclarepoet.co.uk/?p=2236

And I didn’t think about it again – but then today I’ve just read this lovely (I say that sarcastically) inaccurate portrayal of what a Creative Writing course is like and it made me so irritated I thought I would write a blog about it.  This article is by someone called Alex Rodin and is published in The Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/hanif-kureishi-is-right-i-would-rather-write-in-the-real-world-than-the-pleasant-womblike-embrace-of-a-creative-writing-course-9173708.html

The thing that most annoyed me was this quote by Rodin

“I don’t want to leave my world of real jobs and real people, the world of choosing to stay up way past bedtime just to squeeze out my one-thousand words.”

What planet does this man come from?? When I did my Creative Writing Course I can’t remember anybody who was swanning about in the ‘womb-like’ embrace of the university.  I was working full time as a brass teacher, driving to 20 + schools a week as well as teaching ten pupils at home privately.  There was someone who was working part time as a nurse in a home for the terminally ill.  There was someone who worked as many hours as he could get in Argos.  There was someone who worked as a landscape gardener.  We were all working our arses off to earn a living and we had decided to do a part-time MA.  Obviously we all had different reasons for doing it – and I also accept that there are differences, vast differences between poetry and novel writing MA’s.

I didn’t do my MA to get published, or win a competition.  I didn’t even do it to write a collection, although the end product of the course was to write a portfolio of poems which would amount to a collection.  I did it to have one evening a week where I could think about nothing but poetry, where I could talk to other people who loved poetry as much as I did, so I could widen my reading, so I could learn about poetry.  I did it to get feedback on my work and to learn to give feedback in return.  I knew nothing about feminism or politics before starting the MA – but through the tutors and my peers I feel like I widened my horizons.  I was starting to become disillusioned with teaching – having that one evening a week brought about a massive change for me – I started to enjoy teaching again.  I stopped putting my hopes and aspirations on my pupils and then being disappointed when they didn’t practice and started listening to their hopes and aspirations, probably because I was getting on a train for two and a half hours every week and thinking about my own.  My point is doing a creative writing course shouldn’t be about getting published.  It should be about expanding your mind, about learning to think for yourself and to question things.  It should be about reading – why is it being touted in these various articles that students on MA courses don’t read – why are they all saying go and read for ten years instead of doing an MA course?  Why can’t you do both? I used to go into the Manchester Met library every week and take home four books to read on the two and a half hour train journey back.  I know not all MA courses are wonderful and I’m not saying the Manchester Met one is perfect.  But I met some fantastic poets on it – one of whom is my best friend David Tait.  I can’t put a price on that friendship – the swapping of poems over the last five years, the blunt but invaluable feedback, the endless conversations about poetry whilst tramping over some fell in the rain – maybe that sounds like you have to do an MA to find a friend! But I don’t mean this at all – I mean that the MA was a doorway into finding all these things – some of which I didn’t even know I was looking for until I found them…