Tag Archives: fiona sampson

Poetry Carousel News




Another quick blog post with some updates about the Poetry Carousel residential course I’m running from the 7th-10th December 2018 with co-tutors Sean O’Brien, Andrew McMillan and Fiona Sampson.  I’m very happy to announce that we have the fantastic poet Rishi Dastidar as our Guest Reader.  Rishi will be joining us on the Saturday night of the course for dinner and a reading.

Rishi 20 (1) (1)

Rishi Dastidar is a fellow of The Complete Works, a consulting editor at The Rialto magazine, a member of the Malika’s Poetry Kitchen collective, and also serves as chair of the writer development organization Spread The Word. His debut collection Ticker-tape is published by Nine Arches Press, and a poem from it was included in The Forward Book of Poetry 2018.

Below you will find news of the workshops that we’ll be running over the Carousel weekend.  As you can see from the workshop blurbs, they are the usual eclectic mix, so participants really will feel like they’ve been on a carousel!

The Poetry Carousel is currently sold out – however we do sometimes get last minute cancellations.  If you’d like to be put on a waiting list, please ring Abbot Hall Hotel directly on 01539 532896.

Poetry Workshops, 2018 Poetry Carousel


The Long and the Short of It
Fiona Sampson

Does size matter? Of course not – poems come in every imaginable length, from haiku to epic. And yet of course it does – those forms do very different things. We look at scale, structure, and ways to use proportion and other numerological devices in order not to constrict but to release a poem. But don’t worry. No algebra: only music. Which as it happens is some of the theory I’ll be bringing to our workshop too.


Sean O’Brien

Think of those times when you’re walking around a city, or drinking a cup of tea, or staring down into a dim back yard. You’re doing more or less nothing, being nowhere in particular, with nothing much in mind. The world seems to be on a break. And then a door is left ajar, or a light comes on in a room seen across rooftops, and the quiet seems to listen to itself, and for no apparent reason two and two make five. We’ll be considering some poems that touch on this terrain, and writing poems of our own in order to explore it.


Making it Queer
Andrew McMillan

If we trace back the roots of a word which is now being reclaimed by the LGBTQ community, we find its origins in ideas of that which is ‘oblique’ or ‘off-centre’, that which might be ‘pervese’ or ‘odd’ and in older ideas of ‘to twist’.

During this workshop we’ll consider not the queer content of a poem, but what it might mean, more broadly, to make a poem queer, to take our poems off-centre, to make them perverse, to twist them, just slightly, so that the reader encounters them in an utterly different way.


To Look Is An Act of Choice
Kim Moore

In his book Ways of Seeing, John Berger wrote ‘We only see what we look at.  To look is an act of choice.’  During this workshop we will be exploring what happens when we change our perspective by focusing on the finer details or zooming out for the bigger picture.  What do we choose to look at in poetry, and what do we choose to avoid, and how can we explore in poetry the relationship between the things we look at and ourselves?

Guest Poets for the 2017 Poetry Carousel


Another brief interruption of the ’16 Days of Action’ posts.

With less than a week to go before the 2017 Poetry Carousel, I thought I’d reveal the mystery guest poets for this year’s course, and the dates and guest tutors for 2018.

I’m really excited that  Polly Atkin and Ian Seed will be heading to the Carousel to read for participants.  In the tradition of the Carousel, they are two very different poets – Mark Ford writes that Ian Seed is “our most brilliant exponent of that most unBritish of genres, the prose poem. Hilarious and unsettling, his beautifully controlled micro-narratives genially induct us into a world that soon turns out to be as dangerous as it is magical. His work should really come with some kind of health warning, for these poems are not only intoxicating—they are addictive.”  Polly Atkin’s poetry explores the boundaries of landscape and the body.  The Poetry Book Society said that “The remarkable poems in Basic Nest Architecture are a testament to the persistence and artistry of Polly Atkin. As well as being profoundly personal, they reach out to the modern world in all it’s complexity and diversity.”  You can find out more about Polly and Ian at the bottom of this post.

It’s going to be a brilliant weekend with a real variety of approaches to poetry explored.

On the last night of the course, we will also have some music from The Demix.

And for those of you who couldn’t get on to this year’s Poetry Carousel, I have the dates for the 2018 course, which will be taking place from the 7th-10th December 2018.   I don’t have the price yet for this weekend, but you can provisionally book a place by contacting Abbot Hall Hotel on 01539532896

I’m also really excited about the line up of guest tutors – joining me on the 2018 Poetry Carousel will be Sean O’Brien, Fiona Sampson and Andrew McMillan.  I’m expecting the 2018 Carousel to sell out pretty fast so do get in touch with the hotel if you’re interested in coming!

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Polly Atkin lives in Grasmere. Her first collection, Basic Nest Architecture, was published by Seren in February 2017. An extract from this was awarded New Writing North’s Andrew Waterhouse Prize in 2014 for ‘reflect[ing] a strong sense of place or the natural environment’. Her first pamphlet bone song (Aussteiger, 2008) was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Pamphlet Award, 2009, and second, Shadow Dispatches (Seren, 2013), won the Mslexia Pamphlet Prize, 2012. She has taught English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University, and the Universities of Strathclyde and Cumbria. She is interested in where poetry might intersect with Disability Studies and in writing about the body, in poetry and prose.

Ian Seed’s most recent publications include Identity Papers (Shearsman, 2016), The Thief of Talant (Wakefield, 2016) (the first translation into English of Pierre Reverdy’s little-known long poem, Le Voleur de Talan), and Makers of Empty Dreams (Shearsman, 2014). Identity Papers was featured by Ian McMillan on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb in 2016. Makers of Empty Dreams has been translated into Italian by Iris Hajdari and is due for publication in 2018. Ian’s work is represented in a number of anthologies, such as The Best Small Fictions 2017 (Braddock Avenue Books), The Forward Book of Poetry 2017 (Faber&Faber) and The Best British Poetry 2014 (Salt). Ian’s book of prose poems and small fictions, New York Hotel, will be published by Shearsman in 2018. The late John Ashbery commented: ‘The mystery and sadness of empty rooms, chance encounters in the street, trains traveling through a landscape of snow become magical in Ian Seed’s poems’.

Sunday Poem – Fiona Sampson


This week has been taken over by finishing off my tax return.  I finally got it done on Thursday night and it felt like a huge weight had lifted from me once I pressed submit, even though this meant I also had to pay a rather large tax bill.  I’m trying to look on the positive side with this.  It means I’ve made my living as a writer this year for the first time ever, which is something to be happy about.

I have been slightly freaked out by the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety I’ve had this week.  I’ve not experienced anything like it before.  I’ve had sleepless nights, nausea, headaches and the worst (although it doesn’t sound very bad) was the whole of my face tingling and burning, which I mistakenly thought was a tooth infection or something.  It wasn’t – it was a symptom of stress, but when I went to the dentist, she said I’d actually damaged my jaw from clenching and grinding my teeth while I was asleep.

I’ve paid my tax now, with some juggling of overdrafts but it has really been a wake up call to get myself sorted out and organised for next year.

Apart from tax adventures, I’ve taken on some tutoring work with The Poetry School and I did the first of three tutorials with my mentee on Monday.  I was wondering how easy it would be to talk for an hour about someone’s poetry, but of course it was incredibly easy – in fact we ended up going over the hour without noticing.  I feel really lucky to be doing this work – it is very satisfying to work with someone who is talented and motivated to improve.  I’m looking forward to the next batch of poems which should be arriving some time today.

I went with the Dove Cottage Young Poets to see the Picture the Poet exhibition this week which is at Tullie House in Carlisle.  I’m working with the young poets for six weeks in collaboration with Apples and Snakes to produce work around the theme of identity.  The young poets wrote some amazing poems in response to the exhibition.  We’ve got two more sessions before they perform the work they’ve produced on the 4th March alongside the wonderful Ian McMillan at Tullie House.

I’ve also been working this week on a review I’m writing for Poem magazine which leads me nicely to this week’s Sunday Poem by Fiona Sampson, who is the editor of Poem.  I’m really excited about this week’s poem because it is from Fiona’s as yet unpublished collection The Catch.  The collection is officially published on the 4th February so I am feeling very pleased with myself that I managed to get an early copy and a poem for the blog!

I knew I was going to like this collection right from the first peom ‘Wake’ which starts

‘Wake again to first light
it’s like a slim cat
coming home through Top Field’

These lines reminded me of the William Carlos Williams poem Poem (As the Cat), more because of the way both poems echo the delicate movement of a cat through their line breaks than the obvious similarity of them both containing the word ‘cat’.

Here is the Sunday Poem ‘At Bleddfa’.


At Bleddfa – Fiona Sampson 

Back and forth
all morning
through the door the dogs
wander like clouds

nudging each other
a long dream

of the kitchen
as of the wet and sunny grass
they settle things
into place

chairs in order
boots by the door
all sachlichkeit
and they remind me

how when I was
still a child
my father took me
to a friend’s house

empty attics
wooden stairs
and a garden slung
between elms

where rooks called
I was afraid
and not afraid
of how the day hung

above the still house
how in my mind
there was nothing
but a stilled sky.

I chose ‘At Bleddfa’ for the Sunday Poem with great difficulty because there were so many lovely poems in the book to choose from.  However, this one won the day because it has dogs in, and more importantly, they ‘wander like clouds’.  I know well that restlessness that dogs sometimes exhibit – although mine usually just sleep all day, sometimes they get into a strange mood and just drift about.

The poem is also a good example of the formal concerns that Fiona is exploring in the collection.  There is hardly any punctuation throughout the whole book.  There are usually full stops, but only at the end of a poem, apart from one exception (the poem ‘Field’ which has a full stop right in the middle.  I also found a couple of commas and a question mark or two, but on the whole, the breathing and pacing of the poems are given by the line breaks.  The lines are often fairly short ones as well, as in ‘At Bleddfa’ which slows the reader down.  The lack of punctuation also serves to stretch the syntax and the sentence to its limit, sometimes meaning that certain lines become pivots with double meanings.

I did have to look up sachlichkeit and Wikipedia tells me that it is ‘a term used to characterize the attitude of public life in Weimar Germany as well as the art, literature, music, and architecture created to adapt to it.  Rather than some goal of philosophical objectivity, it was meant to imply a turn towards practical engagement with the world’.  Later on in the Wikipedia article there is another quote which I thought was a bit easier to understand and get my head around, particularly in the context of this poem which was by Dennis Crockett from a book called ‘German post-expressionism’.  Crockett writes

Sachlichkeit should be understood by its root, Sach, meaning “thing”, “fact”, “subject”, or “object.” Sachlich could be best understood as “factual”, “matter-of-fact”, “impartial”, “practical”, or “precise”; Sachlichkeit is the noun form of the adjective/adverb and usually implies “matter-of-factness”

This seems to fit with the meaning of the rest of the poem – the dogs drifting about and how they ‘settle things into place.’

The poem is a beautiful, almost peaceful description of a morning and a place and a home, but to me it felt that there is something darker moving underneath the surface as well.  One of my favourite lines, the ‘garden slung/between elms’ is both a wonderful image but also a slightly uncomfortable one as well but I can’t exactly put my finger on why.  Maybe it is because it is followed by the sound of the rooks calling, which sounds ominous, or lonely.

The word ‘still’ is used twice in the last four lines and reinforces that idea of the calm before a storm, but the storm is never mentioned.  It is present only by its absence.  Those lines ‘I was afraid/and not afraid’ are also interesting.  How is it possible to be both?  How can you be afraid and not afraid of ‘how the day hung/above the still house’?  How can you be afraid and not afraid of ‘how in my mind/there was nothing/but a stilled sky.’  It gives the impression of time, of that moment at the father’s ‘friend’s house’ being frozen but we are never told why it is frozen.  This fits back with the word ‘Sachlichkeit’ though.  If something awful did happen, it is being dealt with by carrying on, by turning to practicalities, by getting on with life.



This does feel like it could have multiple meanings though, and maybe I’ve taken it in one direction and ran with it and I’m completely wrong – who knows? Please feel free to comment and tell me what you think about the poem.

Thanks to Fiona for letting me use this poem for the blog this week.  You can find out more about Fiona at her new website but I would like to tell you a bit more about her before I finish. Fiona has been shortlisted twice for the T.S. Eliot and Forward Prizes.  Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages, and awarded a Cholmondeley Award, the Newdigate Prize and the Ziaten Prsten (Macedonia) among others.  A Fellow and Council Member of the Royal Society of Literature, she is Professor of Poetry at the University of Roehampton and is the Editor of Poem magazine.  If you would like to buy ‘The Catch’ you can do so here or here

Sunday Poem – Judy Brown


Evening everybody!  I am pleased to report that I am writing this blog post on  my brand swanky new laptop!  My little netbook finally died last week after five faithful years of service.  My PC died about a month ago after about eight years of loyalty.  This has happened at a particularly inconvenient time as I have lots of writing ‘projects’ to do at the minute!  So this morning, I dragged the hubby and my parents round the shops to look for a laptop.

Part of me thinks this is very extravagant, to just go out and buy a laptop – especially now, when from September I will be down to three days a week as a music teacher, and I could technically share the husband’s laptop – except that I am rubbish at sharing (this comes from being a twin, I think).  Basically my idea of sharing is that the husband can use the laptop if I don’t need it.  Which doesn’t strictly stick to the definition of sharing at all really, does it?

I would also like to share a secret with you all today.  I say ‘you all’ – I have no idea who is reading this apart from my mum and dad.  But yesterday I felt like a writer.  This was a Big Deal.  I’ve never really felt like one before.  It happened like this – I emailed Acumen, a lovely poetry magazine which I urge you to have a look at if you are not aware of it already – www.acumen-poetry.co.uk to ask if they would be interested in a review I was writing about Fiona Sampson’s new book ‘Coleshill’.  I’ve had one review published by Acumen a couple of issues ago when I reviewed Myra Schneider’s pamphlet “What Women Want” so this wasn’t a completely random request.  I have no idea by the way, if this is the usual way of getting reviews published – I thought that the normal thing was to wait to be asked to do a review – but writing, very politely to an editor to ask if they are interested in a review seems to work, because I got a nice email back from Glyn Pursglove, the reviews editor, the next day, to say yes, and if I could get it to him by the end of the month it could go in the next issue.

And it was this simple thing that gave me a little fizz of excitement in my stomach, and made me think ‘I’m a writer’.  And then it faded away, but that was enough to make me think ‘screw it I need, no not want, need a laptop.’  So I think I’ve hit upon the answer to saving the economy – which is clearly – give money to wonderful magazines like Acumen, who will then pay poets like me to write reviews, which will then give them a burst of confidence and propel them to the nearest well known computer selling store and buy a shiny new laptop.  Economy – solved.

Anyway, I digress, greatly.  This week as some of you my twin sister has being doing the Cumbria Coastal Walk with her friend.  They are raising money for Animal Concern, and if you did feel moved to send them some money for sponsorship, it is not too late!  You will find the info at http://www.animalconcernwest.co.uk/#/201307-charity-walk/4577022400

The plan was to walk 100 miles – from Grange over Sands to Workington.  My sister’s friend developed huge and evil-looking blisters that managed to consume half of the sand in the estuary they waded over, and so she was only able to do half days for the last couple of days of the walk, but she then morphed into support car driver for the rest of the walk, so she did not just put her crippled feet up!  The sister managed the whole walk – I did bits of it with her – and she had aggressive bullocks, missing paths, flooded paths, barbed wire fences that were not supposed to be there, high tides, jellyfish, diversions, brambles, runaway dogs and general being knackered to contend with, but am very proud to report that she did it all, and mostly without losing her temper!

In my previous post I was so tired because I’d just finished Day 1 – 17 miles.  I also did about ten miles of Day 2 which was Ulverston to Barrow.  Unfortunately Miles, one of my border terriers, stepped on a jellyfish and started having a very extreme reaction and I had to rush him to the vets so he could have a steroid injection, which was very distressing for him and me!  This all happened in 28 degree heat as well so it was just awful.  Anyway, it took about an hour and then he eventually calmed down and he was a lot better then – and is now fully recovered from his trauma!

So a lot of the week has been taken up with going back and forth and doing bits of the Cumbria Coastal Way, however on Saturday I went to the Theatre By The Lake in Keswick to meet up with the Alligator Club http://thealligatorclub.co.uk/

I think I’ve mentioned this before but I am working with two playwrights from The Alligator Club, alongside another local Cumbrian writer, Ian Hill, to write a play to be performed at Theatre by the Lake.  You can find information about it here – http://www.theatrebythelake.com/production/10963/Cartographers

The meeting went really well, and it’s really exciting to be involved – and it’s also going to be a completely different way of working to what I’m used to.  But this can only be a Good Thing.

In fact, I’m hoping to be doing lots of work on it in the next couple of days as on Thursday I’m swanning off to Ireland to the Fermoy Poetry Festival.  I’m going to try and blog before then, but there may be a brief hiatus in the Sunday poem whilst I’m away – I don’t know if I will have time to access a computer.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Judy Brown and is taken from her first collection ‘Loudness’, published by Seren.  You can order a copy of Loudness here http://www.serenbooks.com/book/loudness/9781854115478 and you really should – it’s an excellent book.  I read it before I met Judy and I enjoyed it, but re reading it again, with the intention of picking a poem for the blog, I enjoyed it even more.  I think this is because I can hear Judy’s voice in my head now – I should explain I’m not hearing voices, Judy is Poet in Residence at The Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere.

I picked this poem because it is about Angels.  Now, normally poems about Angels make me groan, because there are so many, and they are normally so predictable.  I feel the same way about poems about angels as I do about poems about children.  I expect them to be bad.  However.  This year I have discovered Kathryn Maris’s wonderful poems about children (also a Seren poet) and now, I discover a wonderful, fresh, invigorating look at Angels by Judy.  And I like being proved wrong about poetry, and this poem completely took me by surprise.

It is full of a dry humour but also beautifully lyric language; ‘When I turned/my face from flying,’ and ‘You never forget the standing start’.

My other favourite poems in the book were ‘The P45’ which finishes with ‘What else do I remember?/The revolving door twirling./My bent, martyr’s neck.’  I also really liked ‘In Praise of Greek Dogs’ and ‘On the First Night in the Cottage You Said It Was A Mistake for Me to Buy’ and if that title doesn’t make you want to buy the book, you are made of stone!  I should say that ‘Loudness’ was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the Fenton Aldeburgh Prize.  The other thing I should say is that there are some fantastic ‘holiday’ poems in the book too – again, a topic which handled by a lesser poet, can be as bad as being forced to look at someone’s holiday snaps, but Judy’s holiday poems are really, really good.

Here is the poem! I hope you enjoy.

The Ex-Angel – Judy Brown

My ballroom shoulders were ruined
by those wings.  Now there’s hardly a scar,
just a sheen on the skin as if the light
falling right there had passed
through frosted glass.  As it has.

I imagined them taking their leave
of my back: the exit hole fist-sized;
paramedics; a tussle of sinew and rag.
But it wasn’t like that.  When I turned
my face from flying, they shrivelled

like spiderplants freeing their young.
Feathers husked into onion-skin,
flaked, choking the shower.
You’ll miss the sky, more than one
person said.  They were wrong.

These days the strength of my body
is held in my legs and I like it that way.
I hung long enough like a doll
from the beating white engines of God.
(That kind of talk does no good.)

You never forget the standing start,
the torque of the upward stroke,
the rowing into the sun.  Yet I’d rather
sweat here, down on the dance floor,
tasting the street – if it weren’t for the birds.

When I see a swan, like a last clench of snow
at winter’s end, my eyes drizzle
melted light, my nose starts to drip.
Whatever I’ve done, it’s holy water still.
I dispose of the tissues with due respect.