Evening all – here I am, breaking all the rules of the blog and posting on a Monday – but I do have an excuse of a sort – I got back from Ilkley Literature Festival with half an hour to spare last night before midnight struck – plenty of time to write my blog. However, I got distracted by my friend Maggie, who has been staying at my house for the last two nights to look after my dogs. I’m not sure if the dogs had driven Maggie to be slightly hysterical or whether it was the ‘one’ glass of wine she had consumed but I was slightly hysterical from tiredness and relief at being home again so we spent about an hour giggling before I went to bed and writing my blog went completely out of my head.
Apart from that – I probably wouldn’t have been able to string a sentence together last night. Last week was pretty full on – Monday was full of teaching and I was going to drive back to Ilkley to go and see Margaret Atwood but I felt really ill all day – I had a sore throat and a headache all day on Monday. I think I was just run down and it was probably a good decision not to do the two hour drive back to Ilkley but I felt really fed up about missing the Margaret Atwood reading. Apparently it was really good.
On Tuesday it was more teaching and frantic planning late into the night for the schools poetry workshops that I’d be running as part of my residency at Ilkley Literature Festival. Since Tuesday we have also had the boiler man in to fit a new boiler as we have had no central heating in our new house. By the end of Tuesday there were holes everywhere – in the floorboards, in the walls and I was longing for my lovely hotel room with hot water and no holes in the floors.
On Wednesday I nipped home at dinner time to pack my suitcase so that I could leave straight after school on Wednesday and somehow managed to tread in dog muck – and worse indignity, not even my own dog’s! I walked into my house, ran upstairs, remembered something, went back down the stairs through the dining room and into the kitchen before I realised not only did I have dog muck on my shoe but I had managed to traipse it onto pretty much every carpet in the house. And then the boiler man stepped in the dog muck that I had brought into the house so he had it on his shoes as well, so for the first, and I hope, last time in my life I had to clean a man’s shoes…plus my own of course and scrub the carpet, which of course left no time for packing at all, so it all had to be done when I got back from work at 3pm, which meant I got to Ilkley later than planned and even more stressed than usual.
Last Wednesday it was the ‘Poetry Banquet’ which is an annual event at Ilkley Literature Festival, which is basically an open mic whilst eating a two course meal at Panache, an Indian restaurant in Ilkley. It was great fun, and as well as all of the local poets of course, the highlight was when the chef came out of the kitchen to recite some poetry by Tagore. I was in a lovely hotel room, even better than last week. It had an amazing bath at the foot of the bed, but I didn’t get to use it as I ran out of time.
On Thursday I went into Ashlands Primary in Ilkley to run a poetry workshop in the morning and then in the afternoon there was another open mic, this time at a pub called The Vaults in Ilkley which I co-hosted with Phoebe Power, the apprentice poet-in-residence at the festival. That was in the afternoon, and then it was my ‘Close Reading’ event, which was looking at work by poets that were appearing at the festival. I was quite nervous about doing this, because I was worried I would run out of things to say, but I underestimated my talent at obsessing about poets and poetry and the people who turned up to take part were really enthusiastic, so actually the hour went really quickly, too quickly in fact.
After that, there was a reading from the Next Generation poets tour – the lovely Ian Duhig was reading, representing the 2o poets picked ten years ago and Tara Bergin and Adam Foulds from the current list and Paul Adrian, who I guess is an up and coming poet that might be on the next list. We went straight from there to another Indian restaurant – the Aagrah Restaurant and managed to catch the last course of a three course meal before reading some poetry to the rather lively diners, which was great fun. In fact, I just stopped myself from getting the giggles as someone fell of their chair during my introduction, apparently there was lots of fine wine to taste as part of the package between courses….
On Friday I went into another primary school, this time Crossflatts in Bradford and in the evening I introduced Kei Miller and Lorna Goodison before they read who it goes without saying were absolutely brilliant. On Saturday I went to Phoebe’s workshop in the morning and then had to go and catch a train to Durham where I was reading at the Fringe Festival. By a series of missed trains I managed to end up on the same train as the lovely Andrew McMillan who was also reading along with Andrew Forster. I must admit, it was wonderful to meet somebody who I already knew, not having to start at the beginning with small talk, and we talked all the way from Leeds to Durham, but not so much that we didn’t manage to eat a whole bag of family sized minstrels.
The reading was in a venue called The Empty Shop which is basically what it says on the tin – when we first went up the stairs to get to the empty shop I did wonder how anybody was ever going to find the venue – but they obviously have a loyal following there because about 30 people turned out. Then it was pretty much straight back to Ilkley and I arrived to catch the last of the quiz, where I realised two interesting things about myself
1) Quizzes are possibly the only thing in life that I don’t get competitive about
2) I don’t remember ANY facts at all. Even the facts I know go out of my head in a quiz. Thank god they didn’t have a poetry round otherwise it could have been embarrassing.
On Sunday I went to an incredibly moving event to remember and celebrate the poet Michael Donaghy. His widow, Maddy Paxman has written a book, ten years on after his sudden death which I’m halfway through at the minute. It is an exploration not only of their lives together, but also of the process of grieving. I found it incredibly moving, and kept thinking back to that time when my husband fainted in the middle of the night and I woke up and found him lying on the floor and covered in blood, and I thought he was dead. He wasn’t of course, and I can’t imagine how you begin to cope with that feeling, that panic and fear becoming a reality that you can’t change. Maddy was very dignified, very brave and the book is a very honest exploration of a relationship as well. Don has also published a book which is a close reading of the poetry of Michael Donaghy, but as he said, unafraid to use personal anecdote woven in with critique. I haven’t read this book yet but the extract that Don read sounded really interesting.
On Sunday I did the introductions for Don Paterson and Mario Petrucchi. That was a good reading too, and I particularly enjoyed hearing Don’s new poems and have already started obsessing about his new book, which is apparently coming out next year. Which brings us up to date – I drove back after the reading to Barrow. So that is a whistle stop tour of my second weekend in Ilkley. When I applied for the job I remember searching on line for any blogs about what being the Poet in Residence was like so maybe this will be useful to somebody one day.
So I have one more weekend – I’m going back on Wednesday, ready for more schools workshops and workshops and my reading on the 17th of October. I’m reading alongside Michael Laskey and Matthew Sweeney. If you are near by – please come! It would be lovely to see you. There is lots of other things going on – I’m leading a run followed straight away by a writing workshop, a ‘First to Last Draft’ workshop and there is an open mic competition on the Sunday night.
The other nice thing that has happened this week has been that I’ve had two poems accepted in Poetry Review. Maurice Riordan took my poem ‘Candles’ a while ago and suggested some really useful tweaks to sort out some slightly awkward grammar. He wrote to me this time saying he would like to take two of the poems I sent: ‘The World’s Smallest Man’ which is a very new poem, and ‘How the Stones Fell’. He said he had a couple of suggestions and when he sent them through, I couldn’t believe what a big difference these tiny shifts and edits made – it was like my poem had been standing on a wobble board before and wasn’t quite secure and with the edits, it suddenly had its feet on the ground and wasn’t shifting around like a plate of jelly..
I also found out today that the course I’m running with Clare Shaw in St Ives in the last week of October has sold out which is very exciting and also a relief as at least I know I can cover my train fayre down there…
One thing I have missed is my running this week. I’ve not done much because I’ve been so busy so I am very glad to have this wonderful poem by Graham Austin which is about running. I heard Graham read this on the open mic at the last Poem and a Pint and I thought it was hilarious. Graham is a fantastic and much loved local poet who lives in Ulverston. We always look forward to him reading on the open mic because he is a great performer – in fact, he read on the open mic when Helena Nelson, the editor of Happenstance was our guest poet, who was so impressed with him, she ended up publishing his pamphlet ‘Fuelling Speculation’ which you can order from the Happenstance website and which I recommend as a breath of fresh air…
I hope you enjoy the poem!
Brian’s new dilemma – Graham Austin
One day Brian’s wife said to her husband
‘I think, dear, you should do the Great North Run.
It’s a long time since you did something socially
significant and people are beginning to talk.’
And Brian said ‘That doesn’t seem to be a
very good reason for my doing the Great North Run.’
And Brian’s wife said, ‘Yes, it is, Brian. Mrs Maxwell
has sponsored you for 50p a mile
and Mr Taylor has said you can wear
his suit of mediaeval armour.’
Then Brian said sarcastically , ‘Oh, in that
case I better draw up a suitable
training programme.’ And Brian’s wife said, ‘I’ve already
done that. Here it is’, and she gave him a complete
schedule including stipulations regarding
not only exercise but also food and drink.
And Brian read the document with misgiving and
saw inter alia that he must get
up at 7 o’clock, forgo beer, chips, and pies,
run around the block each evening to be in bed
asleep by half-past ten. And Brian said
‘But I have only just recovered from
a double hernia, gout, and chicken pox.’
And Brian’s wife said ‘That’s no excuse.’ And Brian
cried ‘I think it’s a bloody good excuse!’
then he felt a bang on his shoulder and heard his
wife say ‘Brian, you are using bad language
in your sleep. Stop it at once.’ And Brian said
‘Sorry, dear. Nightmare.’ And Brian’s wife said
‘You need to take more exercise, Brian.
I think you should do the Great North Run.’
And Brian didn’t sleep another wink.