Tag Archives: elegy

Sunday Poet – Gill Nicholson


With the thought of some of my readers who assure me they look forward to the Sunday Poem and often sit up waiting for it with matchsticks in their eyes to keep them awake, I am determined that this post will arrive at a reasonable hour and not on the stroke of midnight.

This week has been the first week when I’ve felt like I’ve finally got back to full health and feeling like myself.  I’ve also been all fired up this week with getting lots of jobs done that I’ve been putting off.

At the beginning of the week I finally sent my Author Questionnaire back to Seren, which I’m told is very useful for the Marketing Department.  I’ve been holding onto this for about a year, putting off filling it in because I didn’t know how to answer the questions, but I’m relieved now that I’ve finally done it.

I also had a chat with the manager at Abbot Hall Hotel at the beginning of the week and found out there were only five places left for the residential poetry course that I’m co-tutoring in April with Jennifer Copley – this has now reduced down to three places, so if you are considering it, I would advise booking quickly – please get in touch if you’ve got any questions as well, I’d be more than happy to answer them.

I had a meeting with Jenny on Thursday and we now have the timetable finalised and a brief description of each workshop which I’ll put up here mid-week.  As well as a meeting, I went for a six mile run on Thursday and we had a quintet rehearsal, which I really enjoyed as we had some new music to practice and my pupil who plays in the quintet, had a brand new piccolo trumpet, which clearly needed ‘blowing in’.  It’s the first time in about 12 years I’ve played a piccolo trumpet – last time was in music college, when I split my lip trying to do the Brandenburg Concerto and couldn’t play anything for a month or so…anyway, it felt much easier playing it this time around.  Maybe I’m better than when I was 18.  Although to be fair to my 18 year old self, I wasn’t playing the Brandenburg Concerto this time, just Pastime with Good Company.

The whole of Friday I spent doing poetry stuff – planning my Young Writers workshop in the morning, then driving to Ulverston for a meeting with the committee of ‘A Poem and a Pint’.  I now have the names of two poets that I will be inviting to come and read for us this year – I’m just waiting for the venue to be booked and the dates to be confirmed before I write to the poets.

On Friday morning I planned my Young Writers workshop for Friday afternoon.  I’ve made a rule that I plan the workshop in the morning, which means I don’t spend all week doing it and it seems to be working ok so far.  We also had a new member this week in the group – I’m really hoping the numbers start to build up this year.

Afterwards I went to a Thai restaurant in Kendal and had some food whilst reading through a friend’s manuscript for her new collection and then drank tea until it was time to go to Brewery Poets in the evening.

I spent most of Saturday working through a second set of electronic proofs for my collection.  This is definitely one of my favourite things to do.  I don’t like making decisions at the best of times.  Part of me wishes that time had ran out to mess about with it.  I know what people mean now when they say they are sick of the book by the time it is published.  This didn’t really happen to me with the pamphlet because it was so quick, from learning I’d won to it being published, I think it was only three or four months.  This has been a year and a half since the collection was accepted and I know that is a pretty quick turnaround for a full collection, compared to other people’s experiences.

Today I went for an eight mile run with lots of hills and then came home and spent most of the day planning for a workshop that I’m running at a local school for their Year 2 classes.  Although I’ve taught music right down to Reception and Year 1 and 2 right up to A Level students, I’ve only ran poetry workshops for Key Stage 2 before – that’s Year 3 and upwards.

The teaching assistant at the school is also a runner so I agreed to run the workshops for half the usual fee to build up my experience and have the chance to work with the teachers and discuss what works and what doesn’t.

I’m hoping to build up the amount of poetry workshops I run in schools this year.  I’ve not really actively gone out looking for them before, I’ve just done them as and when they turn up, but some leaflets to hand out to schools is on my list of jobs to do this week.  In fact, here is my list of jobs to do

1.  Blurb for online course (am hoping to get first draft of that done after I’ve written this blog post)

2.  Prepare for tomorrow night (I’m House Poet at the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends Reading Series, standing in for usual House Poet Liz Venn, who is off on her holidays)  I need to write out the biographies of the two poets I’ll be introducing and decide what I’m reading

3.  Tax (yawn, but am determined not to do it on the 30th January and have a heart attack as the whole online system crashes, as it did last year)

4.  Burmese poetry – (I need to send off a set of questions about another poem to the translator so I can get started on this)

5. Post timetable up for residential course (midweek, I’m on it, I’m on it)

6.  Leaflets for poetry workshops in school

So there you are -there’s my list of writerly jobs which I would love to get done this week, most of which have to be done this week. In between all of that lot, I’m reading in Manchester, doing three days of music teaching and various runs around Barrow, and of course delivering the workshop in school.

Lately, a couple of people have asked me if I would like to do something with a worried look on their faces, saying ‘I know you’re really busy’.  I always feel guilty then, because I know they’ve probably been reading this blog.  And yes, I am busy, but I like it that way.  I don’t like sitting and doing nothing.  I get bored.  I like buzzing about the place.  And I’m also sure if anybody documented their week like I do on a blog, they would sound busy as well…

Today’s Sunday Poem is by my good friend Gill Nicholson.  I mistakenly thought I’d already featured a poem by Gill but when I made my list of Sunday Poets a week or so ago, I discovered she wasn’t on it.  Gill lives near me and was one of the members of one of the first poetry groups I went to and she was very helpful and encouraging towards me when I was first starting out as a writer.

Gill published her first collection, the rather wonderfully titled Naming Dusk in Dead Languages in 2010 with Handstand Press but her most recent is a pamphlet called The Buoyancy of Space, published by Hen Run, which is an imprint of Grey Hen Press.  You can find out more about Gill from her website

Gill has lived in South Cumbria for fifty years.  She taught in mainstream and special education and had her own pottery studio.  The Buoyancy of Space is a slim volume but it ranges widely.  Many of the poems show the author’s life-long love of music, but one of the more prevalent themes is aging and illness and how to deal with it.

Gill’s wonderful husband David died last year, and although we all knew he had been ill, it was still a terrible shock. I suppose every death is a shock, but it is still shocking to me.  It often catches me unawares.  David had such a distinctive voice, a rich bass voice, the lowest voice I’ve heard, and Gill and David together were very much a double act, in that way that a couple who have been together a long time and know each other inside out often are.  David was a talented poet as well – I miss both him and his poetry.

This poem was read at David’s funeral, so for me it has its own poignancy, but looking at it coldly, without the personal connection to the words, I still think it is a lovely and moving poem.

I like the way it starts as if in mid-sentence with that ‘and’ at the beginning of the poem – as if we have just joined the poet in the middle of a conversation with a friend.  The poem is full of the energy of Dudley Moore.  Because it is nearly all in one sentence it gallops down the page with its own bravura, and on first reading, you could be forgiven for forgetting that tell-tale first line, until we grind to a halt when we read

‘and then I wept to think of him/in later life reduced/to speechlessness’.

This is a poem with a hook in its tail though and those last five lines tell the truth of the poem, that the poet weeps not only for Dud, but also for the unnamed ‘you’.  The lovely rhyme of do/you at the end neatly finishes the poem off, almost in a childlike, or sing-song manner, but this disguises the heartbreak in the ending, in the same way that the poem has been disguising heartbreak, or attempting to.  And then I come back to speechlessness and back to the absence of David’s voice.

I wouldn’t like to give the impression that Gill’s poetry only deals with sadness and elegy.  What really suffuses her poetry is love, which sounds cheesy, but I don’t think that it is a coincidence that on the back of the pamphlet there is a quote from the poem Of Steps on Snow:

This love’s enough to make you shake –
you want to pick it up, press it
to your heart, but know how it could fall
apart, drop through your fingers;
how its settled flakes will melt, a trail
of footprints mark its brittle skin

I hope you enjoy the poem – please feel free to comment below

Dud by Gill Nicholson

and if they catch me weeping
I can say I’m weeping over Dud –
today I saw him play
Beethoven Bogey on Utube,
revealing every classical cliche
with wicked eyes
and flashing grin.
He kept on glancing up at me
knowing I would marvel
at his technical bravura,
thumping out the coda
till you thought he’d burst
or that the keys would fly apart,
the dampers split their sides,
the body of his Grand collapse,
and how he said to Terry,
I can’t speak but I can play,
sliding mock exhausted to the floor.
I laughed and laughed,
and then I wept to think of him
in later life reduced
to speechlessness.
So if they catch me weeping
I can say I weep for Dud
and yes, it’s true, I do,
but really, who I’m weeping for
is you.

Dudley Moore CBE 19th April 1935-27th March 2002

Sunday Poem – Mimi Khalvati


Afternoon everyone.  The Sunday Poem is going up a little earlier than usual today for a number of reasons.   The hubby and I already walked the dogs this morning through some fields near Dalton before the rain really started – which has now happened so that is that job done.  I also have to prepare to do a small talk on an Ofsted video about best practice in music teaching at an Inset session on Tuesday so this is me distracting myself from doing what I don’t want to do.  After I’ve made this blog post as long as possible, I think I will have to actually do what I’m supposed to be doing.

This week has mainly been work and some poetry things.  I’ve been doing lots of reading this week – the ‘Letters of Ted Hughes’ which I find unbearably sad.  I also want to read everything that Ted Hughes references that he is reading in the letters – but I think I would need to have at least ten more hours in each of my days.  I’ve started reading the Forster-Cavafy Letters as well and I’m halfway through reading a book by Terry Eagleton ‘How to Read a Poem’ which was on the reading list when I started the MA at Manchester Met.  I dutifully bought every book on the reading list when I first started – I didn’t want to be caught out by not having the right book – I’m such a goody two shoes.  As it happened, the book was never mentioned and I started reading it stubbornly to get my money’s worth, but I’m actually quite enjoying it now and learning quite a lot from it. The chapters I’ve read so far are 1.  The Functions of Criticism 2. What is Poetry? 3.  Formalists and I’m about to start Chapter 4 ‘In Pursuit of Form’.  It is actually more entertaining than it sounds!

On Tuesday I went to another reading up at the Wordsworth Trust http://www.wordsworthtrust.org.uk .  This time it was Anne Stevenson and M.R. Peacocke.  On Friday I went to Brewery Poets which is a critiquing group which meets at the Brewery in Kendal on the second Friday of every month.  There were two new people there this month but still only six of us as various people couldn’t come for various reasons.  However, I really enjoyed it and enjoyed reading people’s poems – it reminded me of the positive aspects to writing groups.

Yesterday a copy of Acumen arrived with my review of Myra Schneiders’ pamphlet ‘What Women Want’ and a cheque for £25!  This is so nice when this happens – I had a little dance around my office.  A part of me still can’t believe that I can get paid for writing.  I really like doing reviews as well – it somehow feels easier than writing poems – you don’t have to wait for the poem to come to you – you can just get on and start writing.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by the lovely Mimi Khalvati, who I read with last week at the Lyric Festival in Sheffield.  Mimi has a new pamphlet out with Smith/Doorstop called ‘Earthshine’.  Actually to call it a pamphlet is slightly misleading because it is posher than a pamphlet – it has a spine and a glossy front cover – it is a beautiful object.  Mimi is well known for her skills as a tutor as well and I experienced this first hand at a residential last year with Mimi and Myra Schneider as the tutors, run by the Second Light Network.  Mimi seems to me to be a very gentle person (although I don’t know her well), very softly spoken, always smiling, but she does not pull any punches in workshops!  She is very astute with her comments and manages to be challenging without making anyone feel bad because she is so nice!  And most importantly, you can trust her opinion – if she says something is good, she means it, because she would tell you if it wasn’t – she is very honest.  If you can get along to one of her workshops, you should.

Back to the pamphlet though – Earthshine is a sequence of poems which started from observations of each days weather and then spin off on various trajectories.  A lot of small creatures inhabit these poems – mice, mouse lemur, bats and the pamphlet is tinged with an air of elegy, rather than being made of elegy if that makes sense.  Only a few of the poems make a direct reference to the death of a mother but the whole pamphlet carries this feeling – although I wouldn’t want to mislead you into thinking this pamphlet is sad, or maudlin.  It does have sadness but it is also funny.  In the first poem ‘House Mouse’ the ‘I’ of the poem finds a dead mouse and the poem finishes ‘I tuck her into the finger/of my banana skin – a ferryboat to carry her over the Styx.’  This is funny and sweet and sad – sometimes the poems leave you not knowing what to feel.  They are also a lesson in close observation.  In ‘Madame Berthe’s Mouse Lemur’ the lemur is referred to as ‘itsy-bitsy portmanteau,/ little living furry torch’ and ‘a geisha lowering her fan’.

I’m raving about these poems that focus on tiny animals because the poem I’ve chosen is one of the poems that deal directly with death and has no animals in it at all! But I love the use of repitition in this poem, the blue running right through it and then that twist at the end is heartbreaking.   So here is the Sunday Poem, with thanks to Mimi Khalvati for permission to use it here.    You can buy ‘Earthshine’ by clicking on this link http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/shop/834/earthshine-mimi-khalvati

– Mimi also has full collections available – most recently ‘Child – New and Selected Poems’ published by Carcanet, available here.  http://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781847770943

What it Was  – Mimi Khalvati

It was the pool and the blue umbrellas,
blue awning.  It was the blue and white

lifesize chess-set on the terrace, wall of jasmine.
It was the persimmon and palm side by side

like two wise prophets and the view that dipped
then rose, the swallows that turned the valley.

It was the machinery of the old olive press,
the silences and the voices in them calling.

It was the water talking.  It was the woman reading with her head propped, wearing glasses,

the logpile under the overhanging staircase,
mist and the mountains we took for granted.

It was the blue-humped hose and living wasps
swimming on the surface.  It was the chimneys.

It was sleep.  It was not having a mother,
neither father nor mother to comfort me.

Sunday Poem – Penelope Shuttle


Today I’ve been finishing off the final touches for the workshops that I’ll be running on the residential at Abbot Hall, starting tomorrow!

There are now 14 people booked on – I hope they are all as excited as I’ve been.

Today I’ve been working on the ‘Journeys’ workshop and finding poems that write about travel and the sea.  One interesting thing that I’ve noticed is that the poets who write about the sea write about it a lot. The sea weaves its way through a collection – and it is a constant preoccupation.  Perhaps the easiest example of this is the brilliant Kathleen Jamie.  I have two of her collections – ‘The Tree House’ and the new one ‘Overhaul’.  In ‘The Tree House’ there are eight poems that the sea features in – I hesitate to say theme – because often the sea is the setting, more than a them – and there are eight in ‘Overhaul’ as well.

And some poets just don’t write about the sea at all – it seems to be one or the other – I searched through some of my favourite poets for sea-themed poetry and couldn’t find any – I won’t name them, because I know someone will pipe up and say ‘Yes, here’s one’ and thus blow my theory right out of the water.

It’s been really interesting to see how the sea is used to explore the inner psyche – maybe this has something to do with the fact that not only can you travel across the sea, but you can also travel downwards…but I don’t want to preempt my workshop, so I’ll shut up!

Today’s Sunday poem is by one of my favourite poets Penelope Shuttle.  I got to know Penelope’s work because in the first ever competition that I entered, the Kent and Sussex, a good four or five years ago now, Penelope was the judge, and she gave my poem a Fourth Place.  I went down to Kent to get my £75 prize money and was so dumbstruck by being amongst famous poets, that I squeaked at Penny when she came over to congratulate me, and then I scuttled away.

After that, I started reading Penelope’s work and she is a poet that I often come back to when I’ve had a busy time that has meant that I’ve moved far away from poetry, or feel like I’ve moved far away.  Like January for example – when I didn’t write any poetry because my energies were somewhere else – but as soon as I had a bit of breathing space, without thinking about it really, I went and re-read ‘Sandgrain and Hourglass’ – Penelope’s 2010 collection from Bloodaxe and I had the feeling that I have had in the past from this book – of my brain slowly being cleared of the mundane, the trivial and the unimportant things, leaving a lovely empty space in my head in which I can start to write and think again about poetry.  I don’t know why Penelope’s poetry has this effect on me.  There are other poets too who do this to me – Kathleen Jamie is another one – it’s like a feeling of calmness that comes over me – and we all need a little calmness right?

Penelope Shuttle’s most recent collection is ‘Unsent: New and Selected Poems 1980-2012 and you can get hold of this and ‘Sandgrain and Hourglass’ through her publisher’s website http://www.bloodaxebooks.com

The poem I’ve chosen is called ‘You’ and comes from ‘Sandgrain and Hourglass’.  Sandgrain and Hourglass is a book of elegies, for both Penelope’s husband and her father – but it is also much more than this.  It is an exploration of grief and how it changes and how the human spirit can recover from pain – but some of the poems are also very funny – ‘Miss Child’s Owl’ about two sisters, one of whom owns a wooden owl called Ruth and a poem about a machine that grades kisses…

Here is the poem – tomorrow I’m off to the dizzy heights of Grange Over Sands.  Wish me luck!

You – Penelope Shuttle

Now there’s no trace of you anywhere,
and you’re no longer interested in me
or that equally private creature, the moon,

I’m like someone so far behind with the rent
not even her great grandchildren
will be able to settle the debt –

But sometimes your absence hovers
close to me in the form of a hummingbird

whose bright wings beat the rain into so many rainbows
I’m like the river drinking from her own cupped hands…