It feels like longer than a week since I last wrote to you all – it hasn’t been, or only by one day, but last week’s post was a bit hurried because I was supposed to be packing to go to Crete so I have lots to fill you in with. I’ve just worked out I’ve spent one week at home in the last month due to general gallivanting around the globe. Two weeks ago I was in Grange-Over-Sands running a poetry residential with the poetry marvel that is Carola Luther and then last week I went on a last-minute, quite cheap all inclusive holiday to Crete.
In between all this, my first full length collection was published. The lovely director at Seren, Mick Felton sent me through one early copy which arrived on the Monday morning, just before I set off for Grange over Sands. Is it strange to admit that I read my own book on the train on the way to Grange? Who cares! I did…you might think me even stranger though when I tell you that I only told my pal John Foggin, who was one of the participants on the course and who I couldn’t resist showing the book to, and Carola Luther and then I slept with it under my pillow. That is a little weird.
I am blessed with so many lovely poetry friends and the next morning David Borrott got wind of the fact that my poetry books had arrived in Barrow and offered to drive me to go and fetch them so I could have them for my reading on the Tuesday evening. I felt reluctant to do this at first – of course I wanted to go and fetch them and to dance round the hotel brandishing them and shoving them under the nose of anyone who vaguely looked in my direction – however even I could see this would be a little self-centered. And after all, the course is about the participants.
However, I hadn’t counted on exactly how lovely and enthusiastic the people are that book to come on these courses. I don’t know if I’ve just been lucky with this, but that is how it has been, year after year. They support and encourage not only each other, but the tutors as well! I’d forgotten about last year in Grange, when I read some of the poems from the central sequence in the book which explores domestic violence for the first time, and how shaky I was. I know I’ve come a long way from that now – I know how to keep myself rooted to the earth when I read those poems.
I sold my first 19 copies that night and couldn’t stop smiling – not at just selling 19 copies, but at the enthusiasm and excitement that people were showing – I never expected it – only from me – not from everyone else. So I wanted to say a public thank you to everyone who made that night so special – I won’t name them all, because I haven’t asked their permission to do so, but I know many of them read this blog. Carola and I were overwhelmed by your generosity of spirit.
The rest of the residential went as these weeks have previously – in an intense blur of poems. I’m always amazed every year by the quality of work that is produced in the workshops and reassured by the generosity that participants show each other, by the thoughtfulness and engagement with each other’s poetry – this is the poetry world that I love being a part of.
There were other good news stories as well – Jayne Stanton, who has been (I think) on every residential course in Grange that I’ve ran has recently had her first pamphlet out with Soundswrite Press. I won’t say too much about it now, because I’m hoping to feature a poem from it very soon. Another participant, Martin Zarrop, who I met when I was a participant on one of the first residential courses I went on has just had his pamphlet published with Cinnamon Press – again – I am hoping to put a poem up from it very soon so I won’t say too much more for now about this.
John Foggin has gone and written a lovely blog about the week and my book which you can read here which made me cry when I read it in Crete.
So The Art of Falling is now officially available! The easiest and probably the cheapest way is to buy a copy through Seren. If you join their book club you get 20% off the cover price. Or if you want a signed copy, come and say hello at one of my readings – I’m having three launches for the collection in Leeds, Ulverston and London which you can find on the Launch page, but I’m also reading this year in Leicester, Sheffield, Halifax, Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, Carlisle, Cardiff and Lancaster – you can find details of my forthcoming readings here
I got back yesterday from Crete where I had a self-imposed break from the computer. In practice this meant that I only checked my emails once a day instead of reading them immediately, because I couldn’t bear the thought of ploughing through them all when I got home. I went to Crete with the husband – our first holiday just on our own for a couple of years. I was worried that we might end up wanting to kill each other by the end of the week, but am pleased to report that we are still best friends and didn’t get bored of each other at all.
We spent the first half of the week in sunshine. We walked in a city, on a beach and up a gorge on three respective days. Then the weather changed and we spent three days with torrential rain and thirty mile an hour winds. For the first two days I could see the funny side of it but by the third day I had The Hump. Of course the day we flew back it was lovely and sunny again.
Lindsey Holland, friend and poet extraordinaire stayed in my house to look after the dogs while we were away and she has somehow managed to transform Miles into a very well behaved terrier and got rid of his annoying habit of sitting at the bottom of the stairs in the morning and crying for us to come down and feed him. How she did it, I do not know. We’ve been trying and failing for years to get him to shut up.
I’ve spent today catching up on as many jobs as I could. When I look at my list, it doesn’t seem that I’ve done that much. I’ve sent out an email to let people know about my Ulverston launch. I’ve shared the Leeds launch on Facebook. I’ve updated my blog so if you have a look around you will find new reading dates on the Readings and Workshops page, dates for next year’s Residential Poetry Courses on the Residential Poetry Courses page, a new ‘Launches’ post, a few new bits of biographical information on the About page and information on where to buy The Art of Falling on the Publications page. I’ve answered some questions for an interview I’m doing for Seren. I’ve answered a few stray emails. I’ve been for my first 9 kilometre run with no pain at all which I’m so happy about that I don’t even care that it was in torrential rain and I got completely soaked and cold and wet. And I’ve written this of course.
Remaining and outstanding jobs include writing a review for a magazine, reading a pamphlet and providing a quote for the cover, writing a blog post for The Poetry School to advertise my Act of Transformation course, letters for my junior band with the dates for two upcoming concerts. While I was in Crete and Grange I also managed to start a couple of new poems and it would be quite nice to carry on with them at some point!
Enough about me now – I have half an hour to get this post published before it is midnight and I turn into a pumpkin. Today’s Sunday Poem is Elaine Feinstein. I met Elaine quite a few years ago when I travelled down to London for the launch of one of the issues of Poetry Review. I doubt she would remember me, although she gave me a rather snazzy business card, which I managed to lose in the interim, so to get permission to use this poem I had to write to her publisher Carcanet.
In my book buying frenzy at Stanza this year, I spotted Talking to the Dead by Elaine and snatched it up, convinced it was her latest collection, which I’d heard about and heard that it was good. I’m glad my brain was confused though because I ended up with Talking to the Dead which is really excellent and was published in 2007. It has also convinced me that I definitely need to buy the actual latest collection which is called Portraits, published this year.
Elaine Feinstein is not only a poet but a novelist, translator and biographer. If you would like to order any of Elaine’s books, have a look at the Carcanet website – you can find Talking to the Dead here.
I’ve chosen to feature this poem this week because I think it explores beautifully the concept and contradictions of marriage, which I’ve been thinking a lot about this week. The whole book is a series of elegies to the poet’s husband, but I wouldn’t want to give you the impression that these poems are depressing or dark. They are full of light, and humour and discovery, as well as sadness.
In the poem I’ve chosen, you can see the poet is not afraid to directly address the deceased with a question that cannot be answered, or at least not by him. I love the description of the husband as an ‘acrobat’ and the detailing of the morning ritual in the second stanza. At the end of the third stanza, we get to one of those contraidictions, those beautiful moments in a marriage – ‘you argued like an angry man’ and we know instantly that he wasn’t an angry man. Then there is another at the end of the fourth stanza – that line ‘when I brought myself to say’ – and this is the first hint of any strain or tension caused by the illness of her husband. I also think the pieces of dialogue are beautifully handled in this poem, and interesting that we only get to hear what he said to her – these little captured pieces of speech are like frozen moments in time. Those touches of humour – the reference to ET, the way her husband speaks to the nurses bring in that light I was talking about, or maybe I should describe it more accurately as a lightness of touch. The collection is probably one of my favourites I’ve read this year – I’m sorry it has taken me so long to find it since it was published, but I’m glad I did eventually. The directness of the poems, the way they talk to somebody who has died without any expectation of a reply, but exploring memory and personality and what did or didn’t happen I find utterly compelling – can’t recommend the book enough!
I am now out of time, it is midnight – I would like to say thanks to Elaine Feinstein for allowing me to feature this poem and to Carcanet as well of course.
Home – Elaine Feinstein
When was it you took up that second stick,
and began to walk like a cross country skier?
Your glide developed its own politics.
Last July, you were able to stretch over
like an acrobat, to oil the garden table.
The patio faced south. It was high summer.
Coffee and grapefruit was the breakfast ritual,
or boiled eggs eaten from blue terracotta.
Our paradise, you called it, like a gite
we might have chosen somewhere in Provence.
Neither of us understood you were in danger.
Not even when we called the ambulance:
you’d been inside so many hospitals,
ticking your menus, shrugging off jabs and scans
talking unstoppably to visitors –
your long crippling made you bitterly clever.
Humped on your atoll, and awash with papers
you often argued like an angry man.
This time, however, you were strangely gentle.
Your face lit up as soon as I arrived;
smiling, you shooed the nurses out, and said
Now go away, I’m talking to my wife.
You liked it, when I brought myself to say
seeing you was the high point of my day.
The nurses, pushed for time, hauled you about
and fixed the bed without much ceremony.
You spoke of home, as if you were ET,
and wanted me to fetch you in the car – as
I would have, if the staff nurse had concurred.
Darling, they brought you in like a broken bird.
Your shoulder blades were sharp beneath your skin,
a high cheekbone poignant against the pillow.
Yet neither of us spoke a word of death.
My love, you whispered, I feel so safe with you.
That Monday, while I phoned, you waited loyally
for my return, before your last breath.