Tag Archives: geoffrey dearmer prize

Sunday Poem – Mir Mahfuz Ali


Evening all – it has been a hectic week as usual here in the cultural hot spot that is Barrow in Furness.  Working backwards, I’ve been away all weekend as an extra staff member on a residential trip for 30 secondary school pupils from a local school.  It was a slightly strange weekend as I didn’t know any of the children.  It turned out in the end that I had taught two of them in the past, and although they don’t play a brass instrument now, it was gratifying to know that I hadn’t turned them off music completely, they had just changed to playing different instruments.

On the Friday night some of the children decided to play Knock Door Run – I managed to sleep through it but the escapades apparently went on till 2am.  On Saturday the children were in workshops all day.  I wolfed down a very quick dinner in the evening and then escaped to Ulverston for A Poem and a Pint with the always fabulous Kei Miller, who I think I’ve seen read about six times now and I’m still nowhere near fed up of hearing him.

It was the committee’s turn to read on the Open Mic with the added treat of hearing Caroline Gilfillin, who has just moved to Ulverston and who has been co-opted into the Poem and a Pint committee.  I read one old poem – my cursing-all-the-children-that-have-annoyed-me poem, that being the mood I was in, and a new poem that I’ve been working on.  I also  managed to sell two pamphlets – hurrah!

I won’t give a fuller account because there will be a proper review going up onThe Poem and a Pint website, along with a link where you can see photos of all the readers and maybe some of the audience as well.

After the event finished I then had to get back to Coniston.  I sat in the lounge and had a cup of tea with the other staff, who were verging on slight hysterics by this time (non-stop nose bleed, possible broken toe, suspected sprained ankle – three different children) and went to bed at about midnight and this time, the children having worked hard all day they all went to sleep without any shinanigans

I left Coniston just after 3pm this afternoon full of ideas about running my own residential for my junior band.  I’d like to either run a rehearsal weekend to get them ready for conquering South Cumbria Music Festival next year or to run a Chamber Music Weekend where they are all put into small groups and learn to play in a small ensemble.  The plan would be to raise enough money so that the band could pay for everybody to attend, or at the least just ask for a small contribution from parents.

I went away when I was about 13 or 14 with Unity Brass Band to Shell Island in Wales.  One girl in the band went into the baby swing and got stuck in it and couldn’t get out.  My dad randomly had his toolkit in the back of the car and had to take the swing apart to get her out of it.  The whole band was camping out together on a public campsite.  I remember that we had a rehearsal in the middle of the campsite – I remember being slightly embarrassed but not really minding.  All the other campers came out of their tents to see what was going on.

Our conductor, Rob Boulter used to tell the story about poor Cheryl getting stuck in the swing at every single concert that the junior band did, and make her stand up each time.  I was about to write ‘Oh, for a story like that to tell about someone in MY junior band’ but then I thought no, if that happened to me as a teacher, it would be a complete nightmare and really stressful!  But I don’t remember any of the adults being stressed – everybody just thought it was funny…

So I got back today at about 4.30 and after getting something to eat booked a holiday to Crete with the husband.  I’m really looking forward to it, although I feel slightly guilty because I don’t think I’m going to be at home very much in the next month!

On Wednesday next week I’m off to Stanza.  I’m reading with John Dennison on Thursday at 2.30.  The programme at Stanza looks really exciting, and I’m hoping, hoping I can just get some tickets when I get there because I have not been organised enough to book any in advance.  You can have a look at the whole programme here and if you’d like to come along to my reading, tickets can be brought here.

I’m at Stanza for the whole weekend – in a moment of extravagance I decided that I would stay for the whole weekend.  Then I’m back for a week and then I’m off to Croatia the following Wednesday until the Sunday.  Then I’m back for a week and then it’s the residential in Grange and then it’s Crete.  The dogs may forget what I look like…

This week I’ve been writing an article for New Walk magazine and reading two books that I’ll be writing a review of for Under the Radar magazine.    I won’t say anything else about that because I don’t want to make my review pointless, but the books were so beautifully presented, all wrapped up in cellophane that I’ve already decided I love them and the poets would have to do something awful to make me change my mind.  Which hasn’t happened so far.  I’ve been doing a little bit of writing as well – I feel like I’m finally getting back into a habit of writing after a long spell of not doing it.

The summer programme for The Poetry School is now out.  I’m running an online course – The Act of Transformation.  Again I won’t say anything else about this, because Will at The Poetry School has asked me to write a blog about the course so I don’t want to pre-empt this.  If you, or anyone you know may be interested, do sign up, and please don’t let the fee put you off.  The Poetry School do have a bursary system in place.

The only other writing things that have been happening is back and forth emails to Croatia – as part of the Versopolis project, I will have a pamphlet of my poems translated into Croatian which is very exciting.  I’ve also had two offers of readings at festivals – one is not confirmed because the funding isn’t in place and one is top secret because the festival like to announce their line up themselves.  I think that’s it for writing news.

Running wise I have had to go right back to basics, starting like I did last April, running for eight minutes and walking for 2 minutes.  I did that 3 times on Monday and Tuesday and 4 times on Thursday and Friday and then today I managed 34 minutes without stopping, all on grass or sand.  Next job is to try it out on the road.  It is very annoying having to be patient, but I really don’t want to be injured when the good weather’s here.

So that brings us to today’s Sunday Poem which by Mir Mahfuz Ali.  This poem comes his first collection ‘Midnight, Dhaka’, published and available from Seren.  Like his fellow Seren poet Pascale Petit, who has featured on this blog in recent times, Mir Mahfuz Ali uses the animal world to express or explore trauma to the body.  On the back cover, the blurb says that Mir Mahfuz Ali is ‘reknowned for his extraordinary voice, a rich, throaty whisper brought about by a Bangladeshi policeman trying to silence the singing of anthems during an anti-war demonstration.

When you have this bit of information it makes the poem very immediate and shocking.  The  use of the words ‘teenage head’.  I think maybe one of the most shocking things in this poem is that the narrator doesn’t seem to change.  He is just trapped in the hospital bed, but the lizard does change.  He goes from being a simple lizard, to meditating, to finally providing a lesson in life ‘.

I really liked the line breaks in this poem as well  – to me they all felt perfectly in the right place and we get such a strong picture of the scene from all the detail.  There are many disturbing features – the ‘bloodless lizard’ the ‘cracked sound’ and the image of the lizard struggling for air.  The wonderfully vivid and brutal lines

Keep the foam clear so my voice doesn’t burst
through my trachea hole

like shrapnel in a pomegranate.

give such a weight.  Perhaps even more disturbing that that though, is the last couple of lines with the lizard as it escapes through the speaker’s throat.

I first came across Mir Mahfuz Ali in Poetry Review and loved his work.  I’ve been waiting patiently for his collection to come out since I read that first poem.  He was born in what is now Bangladesh and grew up in the early 1970’s when the region was struck first by a cyclone, then by civil war.  He has had  lots of different jobs  – model, tandoori chef, dance and acting.   He won the 2013 Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, given by the Poetry Society to the best poem in the magazine over that year who has not published a full collection.

I hope you enjoy the poem!

A Lizard by My Hospital Bed – Mir Mahfuz Ali

The mouth of silence trickles forward a bloodless lizard.
I take off my oxygen mask and allow

his cracked sound to crawl into my teenage head.
Like me he puffs for air.  I wheeze.  He pants.

He does not break his meditation as the hours pass,
my eyes still on him when he jumps on a thinking fly

with a fine open-air gesture.  An education by lizard:
focus, don’t rely on impulse.

Keep the foam clear so my voice doesn’t burst
through my trachea hole

like shrapnel in a pomegranate.
My eyes flick a question, city kerosene thuds

echoing in my head.  My friend says nothing.
Goes one step back, two steps forward.

How can I let him go?  I grab the fellow by his tail,
but he still escapes through the gap in my throat.

Sunday Poem – Maitreyabandhu


Evening folks.  It looks like I’m back into my old bad habits of posting very late on Sunday night!  This week has been so wonderfully full of poetry, I feel like I might burst at the minute.  On Tuesday I headed over to Grasmere to the Wordsworth Trust to see Michael Schmidt and Peter Sansom read.  I must admit, I was mainly going to support Peter – who is my lovely editor and as well as being a really great guy, is also a brilliant reader and performer of his work – he is funny, droll, relaxed – he engages with the audience and clearly enjoys reading.  He was clearly on form on Tuesday and had the whole room eating out of the palm of his hand.  But what was suprising about Tuesday was that Michael Schmidt was also a really good performer of his work – and I really enjoyed his reading, so much so that I bought his book.  It was actually one of my favourite readings of the season I think.

On Tuesday I also sold a pamphlet through the blog which is always exciting, especially as I now have ten different colours of tissue paper that I can choose from to wrap each pamphlet up – little things and all that!  On Wednesday we had a planning meeting for Poem and A Pint and I now have the list of poets that I really need to get cracking on with inviting for 2014 – so I’ll probably do that towards the end of the week.

On Thursday I drove over to Cockermouth to do a reading at Castlegate House Gallery, organised by Solways Arts.   It is a beautiful art gallery which has a really exciting exhibition being shown at the minute.  The gallery website is http://www.castlegatehouse.co.uk/ and there is a retrospective of the work of Michael Bennett – Steve Swallow, the gallery owner, did a short tour around the gallery and a talk about Michael Bennett’s work, which I found really interesting, as I know nothing about art and it did provide a way in to the paintings – I think hearing somebody talk about something with enthusiasm and passion will always do this.  There was a musician as well who I am ashamed to say I can’t remember the name of – maybe it will come back to me before the end of this post!  Anyway, he played guitar and I was impressed with the variety of different styles – from flamenco to jazz and all sorts.  I really wish I could remember his name to tell you all to look out for him! It was a shame that there was only a small audience, because it was a really wonderful event.  I hope they have another poetry/music/art event there.

On Friday was a real highlight of the week – over the summer ten local poets were asked by Andrew Forster on behalf of the Wordsworth Trust to write a poem about St Oswalds Church in Grasmere.  A group of local artists  – the Lakes Collective would then respond to our poems by creating some art.  It was the preview night of the resulting exhibition ‘Holy Detritus’ on Friday night and we all read our poems and heard the artists talk about the work that they had created.  The poems and art work are spread around the church – it feels like a bit of a treasure hunt looking for them all.  I was really touched to think that someone had created something real in response to my poem – that sounds cheesy, but I found it really moving.  The exhibition is on till the 8th October – so if you can get to Grasmere, do go and check it out.  There is a website with more information here: http://lakescollective.blogspot.co.uk/p/poetry-and-place-event.html

Straight after the reading me and the hubby were driving down to Leicester – we got to my parents house at 1a.m.  On Saturday afternoon we went to my best-friend-from music college’s wedding – I read a poem, which I’ve been trying to finish off for the last two weeks and finally finished at about 4pm on the Saturday.  I think the bride and groom liked it.  Then it was off to a marquee for the reception with lots of food and alcohol and a hired photo booth with hats and stuff to dress up in, which was a stroke of genius.

It was lovely at the wedding to see some very old friends from my time in Leeds – I used to play in a band called the Yorkshire Volunteers and three members of the band were at the wedding.  I haven’t seen them for about ten years and it was lovely to catch up – and it left me feeling sad about the way we all lose touch with people.  I loved playing in the band and if I lived nearby I would love to play with them again.

In between all this, on Thursday actually, at the reading in Cockermouth, I found out I’d been awarded runner up, or second place in the Buzzwords competition, judged by David Morley.  This is tremendously exciting and I was rather pleased to find I’d won £300 which is definitely better than a poke in the eye.  There were quite a few names on the list of commended that I know from Facebook etc and the winning poet is Angela Topping.  You can read all the winning poems here http://buzzwordspoetry.blogspot.co.uk/p/2013-poetry-competition.html

I decided to buy myself a pair of Irregular Choice shoes whilst I was down in Leicester with my winnings which will be getting an outing to a poetry reading near you at some point!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Maitreyabandhu – after his wonderful reading last weekend at Poem and A Pint.  I am very pleased to get one of my favourite poems of all time on the blog from Maitreyabandhu’s new collection from Bloodaxe ‘The Crumb Road’.  You can order the book from http://www.bloodaxebooks.com

Maitreyabandhu has won the Keats Shelley Prize, the Basil Bunting Award and the Ledbury Festival Poetry Competition.  His first pamphlet ‘The Bond’ won the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition in 2010 and was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award.  ‘Vita Brevis’ his second pamphlet was a winner of the Iota Shots Award and was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice and was published by Templar in 2013.  You can order ‘The Bond’ fromhttp://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/shop/598/the-bond-maitreyabandhu and ‘Vita Brevis’ from http://templarpoetry.com/collections/maitreyabandhu/products/vita-brevis-by-maitreyabandhu

Maitreyabandhu was ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order in 1990.

The poem I’ve chosen is ‘Visitation’ which was first published in Poetry Review.  It then won the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, awarded to a poem by a poet without a full collection.  It seems to start in mid-thought, and continues to be perfectly poised and balanced – the line breaks seem so sure footed.  I love in Stanza 2 when we read ‘the tree outside my window/doesn’t wait, nor the ocean-wedge’.  And I love in Stanza 4 the line ‘a diagonal of pure Bodmin Moor’.

I think this poem also encapsulates a lot of what the Crumb Road is about – it is a ‘Visitation’ of a memory, or a ghost – it also seems to be a meditation,which the book is full of.  It is full of uncertainty, the back and forth searching of memory trying to make sense of things.  It ends in fact, in uncertainty ‘Call it ‘dust’ then, or the bloom/of leaf-smoke from an autumn fire’.  It is also the precursor to a powerfully moving sequence called ‘Stephen’ about a relationship between two boys which ends tragically when Stephen is killed in a car accident.  The sequence is full of the quest for a ‘true’ memory and by the end we realise there is no such thing.

There was a comment on Facebook today that ‘Forgiveness is giving up all sense of looking for a better past’ which I found strangely moving and jumped into my head when re-reading this poem, and the Stephen sequence – maybe the sequence is trying to find ‘a better past’ that doesn’t exist – maybe this is what gives the sequence its power and energy and poignancy – we slowly come to understand how unreliable memory is, and that a ‘better’ past will not exist, not even if we make sense of it…

Here is the poem!

Visitation – by Maitreyabandhu

Strange that you should come
like that, without any form at all,
carrying no symbolic implements,
without smile or frown
or any commotion,
as if you had been there all the time,
like a pair of gloves left in a pocket.

As if I had been looking that way,
into the wide blue yonder, and you were
beside me, enduring my hard luck stories
with infinite patience.  Not even waiting –
the tree outside my window
doesn’t wait, nor the ocean-wedge
with its new, precise horizon – just there
like the shadow of a church

or a quiet brother.
And how I saw you, in the mess of things,
was as a slant of grey,
the perfect grey of house dust,
an absolute neutral, with no weaving,
no shimmer of cobalt
and light-years away from Byzantium.

Grey.  And I want to add, like light,
as if a skylight opened in my skull,
and into the darkness fell
a diagonal of pure Bodmin Moor.
But even that’s too bright,
too world-we’re-busy-in.
Call it ‘dust’ then, or the bloom
of leaf-smoke from an autumn fire.

Anyway, before I go any more philosophical – I’m going to sign off!