Tag Archives: Flarestack Poets

Sunday Poem – Michael Conley


While a lot of the country has been covered in snow, Barrow has been basking in winter sunshine.  We have had two days where the sky is that crisp kind of blue you only get when it is cold, which is my favourite type of weather to run in, when the wind is only strong in one direction, when running into the wind is enough to make your ears ache, but running with it behind you makes it feel like it has disappeared.  I clocked up 14 kilometres today with the Walney Wind Cheetahs and hardly noticed the distance at all and have spent the rest of the day in such a good mood because I felt like I was finally getting my fitness back again.

I bought myself a foam roller which is supposed to loosen up and massage your muscles and I’ve been rolling about the house on it every day and my legs were definitely less tired today.

This afternoon the husband went running with a friend and the dogs so I’ve had the house to myself.  After starting this blog post in daylight, I then switched the computer off because I realised what I really wanted to do was try and write some poetry.  My mum and dad have been up visiting this weekend and I’ve been picking my dad’s brain again about his job as a scaffolder.  I ask him questions and then just write down what he says.  So I wanted to write about that.   I want to write a poem about his first day at work, when he was taken on as a labourer and spent the whole day inside a steel chimney, passing kit up, when you climbed the scaffold in what you turned up in, no gloves, no boots, no helmet.  I want to write about all the things that have happened to his body because of scaffolding, his broken hip, his numb fingers, his loss of hearing, his aches and pains.  I want to find out by writing why he’s done it for nearly half a century – what it is about a job that is classed as high risk, that takes such a toll on the body, why he loves it.  He does love it, although he wouldn’t say that he does.  I know this because of the way he can’t take his eyes off a building that is wrapped with scaffolding.  Scaffolding has its own vocabulary too.  The planks of wood that are put across on each level for scaffolders to walk on are called ‘lifts’ which I love, because the word doesn’t suit what they are designed to do, which is to stay put, to stay firm and provide a footing.  But then of course, they do ‘lift’ up the scaffolders as they climb from one to the other.

Anyway, I have started writing about it.  I’d love to interview some female scaffolders, so if you know any, or you happen to be one, please get in touch.  Luckily for me my dad is very tolerant of me writing poems about him.  I think he also likes it because he gets a chance to correct me when I call tubes poles or poles tubes or make some other rookie mistake.

This week I’ve been having great fun getting started as the Reviews Editor for a new online magazine called The Compass.  The poetry editors and driving forces behind the magazine are Andrew Forster and Lindsey Holland, so do send them your best poems for consideration.  I’ve been getting in touch with publishers to request copies of various books, which is really exciting.  The aim is to review a wide range of books from a wide range of publishers.  So far I’ve sorted out two and a half reviews and the magazine has room for four and the publishers that have been covered are Bloodaxe, Smith/Doorstop, Smokestack and Cape, so a nice mix of independent and larger publishers.  At the minute I’m not taking unsolicited suggestions for reviews, so please don’t send any!  It has made me aware again, just how much interesting, exciting poetry is being published – tons and tons.

On Friday the soul band that I play with, the Soul Survivors did their first proper gig to a sell out audience at The Soccer Bar in Barrow.  I really enjoyed the gig, although it has been a strange process for me really.  A couple of years ago, I decided I wasn’t enjoying playing and decided to stop taking on paid orchestral work.  I used to get myself stressed and worked up about how good I was and finding time to practise to play to the standard I thought was acceptable.  It took me years to realise I didn’t want to do it anymore.  So I just stopped playing completely.  I stopped playing in a brass band, I stopped playing in orchestras.  The only time I played was whilst I was teaching and for a couple of years I didn’t really miss it.

I say I didn’t really, because it felt like something painful in my chest, whenever I thought about playing.  It felt like something unresolved and that was probably because it was.  I always knew that I wouldn’t not play forever.  A year or so ago, I decided I wanted to set up a brass quintet because that was the type of playing I used to enjoy, then about six months or so ago, I started playing with the Soul Survivors.

I really enjoyed playing on Friday – although towards the end of the second set, I started to get overheated and thought I was going to faint.  Apparently I used to faint all the time when I got overheated when I was younger.  The last time it happened to me I was playing with the Yorkshire Volunteers, an ex-army band at Pontefract Race Course.  We’d been standing in the blazing sun for a while in full army uniform, ready to march onto the race course and I keeled over.  I remember a kind of black curtain slowly going down over my eyes.  The last thing I heard was the Drum Major, Dave Rimmer saying ‘Someone fetch the horse doctor!’.  Hmph.  Anyway, I avoided fainting by dashing water on my face and my neck and it seemed to do the trick.  Apart from that slightly grim episode, everything else was great.  The gig raised £2500 for Barrow Communities Trust.

Story of the week which is a candidate for a whole new verse in my ‘Trumpet Teacher’s Curse’ poem?  One morning I got to school last week and all of the rather small children were gathered round the door handle to the music room very excited because there was what can only be described as bogies all over the handle. My friend who is a teaching assistant at the school was fleeing down the corridor.  I thought at first she’d finally cracked and was heading home, or going to the staffroom to hide for half an hour, but no, she came back with some cleaning stuff and sorted the door handle out and order was restored.
The Sunday Poem this week is by Michael Conley who I met during the Manchester MA.  I think he was the year below me and had a poem featured as the Sunday Poem back in July 2013, but Michael has recently had his first pamphlet published which is called Aquarium and was published by Flarestack Poets in 2014.

I really enjoyed the pamphlet and read it straight through in one sitting.  His poems are always suprising – there are no dull poems in this pamphlet.  I chose Krill Rations because I have a soft spot for penguin poems – Martin Kratz had a great penguin poem in The Rialto a while back.  In Martin’s poem, he is posting a penguin but the penguins in Michael’s poem seem to be in a lot more trouble even than being sent through the post.

The language of authority and orders is used throughout the poem – ‘Do not approach the enclosure’ – which is actually quite an ordinary thing to read in a zoo – except that we know we are in no ordinary zoo right from the first day when the penguins are communicating ‘their desire to be free.’

Michael is particularly good at using words which hum with energy, like in Day 2 when he describes the ‘keening’ of the penguins  or in Day 3 with the use of the word ‘advocate’.  I wrote ‘post-apocalyptic’ in my notes about this poem, then deleted it because I thought it’s a bit over-dramatic for a poem that’s actually wry and funny.  Typing this and re-reading the end of Day 7 though ‘Remain in your homes until further notice’ gives it that feeling that something awful is happening or has happened, aside from the penguins wanting to escape.

I think the penguins represent something else as well – maybe I’ve been reading too much Proletarian Poetry but I think they are a metaphor for the working class, and the voice of the unidentified speaker of the poem is a member of the government or the ruling elite.  It is Day 16 that makes me think this the most with those lines

‘The penguins have realised
that the concept of freedom
is more complicated than they thought’

Having said all that, the poem made me laugh the first, second and third times I read it.  But the poem is actually so dark! I love that duality about it.

Michael  is a 30 year old teacher from Manchester. His work has been published in a variety of magazines including Rialto, Magma and New Welsh Review. He came third in the Flash Fiction section of the 2014 Bridport Prize,

Krill Rations – Michael Conley
Day 1

Using a series of hops, clicks and honks, the penguins
have communicated their desire
to be free.

We have increased their krill rations.
Do not approach the enclosure.

Day 4

We are aware
that the penguins’ keening
has escalated.

Those exposed report uncontrollable sobbing
as they are reminded of all their unspoken
childhood sadnesses.

Earplugs and tissues
will be issued
to all homes within a two mile radius.

Day 7

We have treated the bars of their cages
with invisible paint.

You are reminded
it is a capital offence

to advocate on behalf of the penguins.
Remain in your homes until further notice.

Day 12

All children must be taken to the zoo to see the penguins.
Demonstrate how easy it is to come and go

Do not be alarmed if the penguins
fling themselves towards your famiily:
the invisible bars are electrified.

Day 16

The penguins have realised
that the concept of freedom
is more complicated than they thought
and have indicated

that they no longer blame us.
Administration will be handed back
to the surviving zookeepers.
Please rinse and return your earplugs.

Day 28

The penguins are completely silent.
They lounge like tuxedoed lions
and are no longer even approaching
the invisible bars

which we have been able to remove entirely
and sell for scrap.
This revenue will be given back to you
in the form of a small tax rebate.

Sunday Poem – David Clarke


I nearly forgot it was Sunday again today – I think the paint fumes may have got to my head.  Yesterday I spent all day painting – well some of the time I was hoovering up dust and we have the most stupid, most impractical heavy hoover.  I was eventually let loose with a paintbrush and roller which I quite enjoyed and then I went off to walk the dogs while the hubby did all the high parts of the walls which I can’t reach.

A couple of years ago I flew in a plane with a really horrible cold, the type of cold that makes the skin around your nose peel away because you are having to blow it so much.  Anyway, since then I have had this sense of vertigo or dizziness when I stand near an edge so I can’t even face standing on a ladder without feeling this horrible sensation so the hubby has to do all of that.
Anyway, that was yesterday.  Today I woke up with aches in all kinds of places – I’m guessing from lugging around stupid hoover and rollering endless white paint.  We are hoping to sell house so most of it will be white.  If it was up to me, I would do different coloured walls everywhere just because I get bored of painting the same colour but hubby is more sensible and has restrained me to buying only one tin of purple and one of blue which I am allowed to use on one wall in two bedrooms respectively, if that makes sense.

We got up late today, walked the dogs on Walney Beach, bought some laminate flooring to put down – ours has been down for eight years and is peeling and falling apart..and then more white painting.

It has not escaped my notice that it is the T.S. Eliot readings tonight either.  This time last year I was there!  This time last year my day off each week was a Monday which meant I could go down to London for my friend Jill’s birthday and spend the day in a lovely spa hotel and then go to the readings.  This time last year I was standing at the bar next to Ruth Padel, who I grinned in a slightly demented manner, because of course I knew her face and recognised her, but she didn’t recognise me of course and probably thought I was some kind of stalker…

I really wanted to go again because I had a great time – but my days off this year are Thursday and Friday so not really practical, not without rearranging lots of teaching. I’ve just got back from a meal out with some friends and I have resisted looking at Twitter and Facebook all night but am looking forward to reading what everybody thought –

The other exciting thing that happened this week was that I was rehearsing on Thursday night with a new brass ensemble that I have been wanting to put together for ages.  We have decided to call ourselves the South Lakeland Brass Ensemble – there are seven of us and it all seemed to gel together well.  There are big plans afoot to play at a few wedding fayres in the area to get our first customers!

But the most exciting thing that happened this week was that I managed to finish my tax return – with the help of a couple of poet friends I even constructed a spreadsheet.  I have a hatred of all things to do with numbers and I hate doing my tax return.  Normally I leave it to the last possible moment.  In fact last year I thought I was doing well by doing it on the 30th but then HMRC website went down and I was frantically sending it in on the 31st just before midnight as usual.  So this is the earliest ever I have done it. And armed with my new spreadsheet, my new year’s resolution is to become more organised and note my incomes and expenditure and not be such a muppet about it so that I don’t have this pain and trauma next year…so far I have stuck to it but then it has only been 12 days and I haven’t done much poetry things so not much to keep control of at the minute…

Anyway, I should really stop wittering if I want to get this blog post done before midnight – it’s 11.1opm now! Today’s Sunday Poem is by David Clarke – who was the worthy winner of the Michael Marks Pamphlet Award this year.  He is published by Flarestack, who also won the Publisher’s Award.  David has a really interesting blog which is worth checking out which is at http://athingforpoetry.blogspot.co.uk/

I didn’t get to speak to David much other than to congratulate him at the MM awards – so it is nice to feature a poem from him here.  David was a winner in the Flarestack Poets Pamphlet Competition in 2012.  He lives in Gloucestershire and works as a teacher and researcher.

The Flarestack pamphlets are really beautiful objects – David’s ‘Gaud’ is a very deep green.  I meant to ask David what ‘Gaud’ meant actually and then forgot – so just googled it and the amazingly reliable internet (ah hem) tells me that it is a ‘showy and ornamental thing’ which makes the first poem in the pamphlet more remarkable and strange as it is about sword swallowing, which I suppose as well as being impressive and dangerous, is also showy and ornamental – I mean there is no use or point to sword swallowing is there? But then there is no use or point for a lot of the most important things in life I suppose.

The poem I’ve chosen for the Sunday Poem is Leda, which is after a painting by Karl Weschke, which you can have a look at here http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/leda-and-the-swan-189249

Now, as a rule, ekphrastic poems are not my favourite type of poem, but I also love ekphrastic poems that make me change my mind again, which this poem does.  Maybe I connected with this one as well because I’ve been reading lots of Ovid recently and my mind is full of transformations and women turning into animals.

I’ve also always loved poems about Leda in general – obviously Yeats did one – my lovely friend Liz Venn has one – I’m sure there are more that I’ve loved which I can’t remember at this time – but what intrigued me about this take on the story of Leda, who, depending on your viewpoint and which version of the story you read is either raped or seduced by Zeus who is in the guise of a swan.

David’s take on this familar story worked for me before I ever saw the picture and I loved the sexually agressive tone of Leda’s voice – her knowingness, and the interesting questions he raises about who is in control in this poem – she holds Zeus’ neck and ‘stays’ his wings with her fury but in the last line of the poem she says ‘tonight our terror will beat at the palace walls’.  And that use of ‘our’ tells us she is not in control of things either – so who is? Her husband, who along with his courtiers is described as ‘brute and blunted’? Is he in charge? It is the palace which holds them captive – and the swan certainly isn’t in charge – Zeus is limited by the body he has to wear – the swans ‘feathered mechanics.’

And looking at the picture adds another layer of meaning and understanding and more questions to this fantastic poem, which is exactly what ekphrastic poetry should do – it should stand on its own, but also be like an onion, which when you see the painting allows you a little more understanding/knowledge/questions of the poem and reading the poem again should bring you to a little more understanding/knowledge/questions of the painting.  I think – I’m saying this as if it is gospel or a steady truth, when in fact I’ve just thought of it now.

I hope you enjoy the poem – if you would like to order David’s pamphlet from Flarestack Poets, then the website is http://www.flarestackpoets.co.uk

Leda – David Clarke
(after Karl Weschke)

I’ve seen the god in the prey of my husband’s hounds,
how it leaves muscle and breath as beasts are felled
like a breeze that shudders out of a sea of wheat,
its only trace a wake of stillness.  The courtiers
who sharpen their steel for the quarry, the nobles
who cast snagging nets in the forests, are all too brute
and blunted to know what they kill, what never dies –

a drive from deep in the world, it sparks black
in the swan’s eye, it cocks his head, ratchets
his body’s feathered mechanics.  The dead glass
of the lake is leaden as fate, bears no reflection.
I hold the neck, stay wings with my fury.
Mouth all feathers and blood, I tell him
tonight our terror will beat at the palace walls.