Tag Archives: Grange Over Sands

Sunday Poem – Jonathan Humble

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Sunday Poem – Jonathan Humble

I’m back to my old habits of late-night blogging today and I suspect most of you will be reading this on Monday morning.  I’ve had a better week than last week health-wise, although I didn’t really start eating properly again till Wednesday. I’ve done two Read Regional events this week – one in Gateshead on Monday afternoon, with a lovely group, who were really a dream audience, very engaged and astute, and then on Thursday another Read Regional event in Hull, again with a great audience and a lovely librarian.

I decided to stay over in Hull rather than doing my usual thing of hacking back home through the night, as I was reading in Lancaster the next day at Lancaster Spotlight.  Spotlight is one of my favourite events – it’s the first place that ever paid me to read poetry, and you never quite know who is going to get up on the open mic.  I was reading with Ron Scowcroft and Rachel McGladdery.  I always enjoy Ron’s poetry, and it was nice to hear some of his new work.  I haven’t seen Rachel for ages, and again, I’ve always loved her work, but to me it felt like the new poems had really moved up a couple of gears.  The discovery of the night was Kriss Foster – a comedian/musician who was just fantastic – very funny and entertaining.  I think I remember someone saying he is doing a show at the Edinburgh Fringe, so if you get a chance to see him, go! The open mic slots were a really high standard, and in fact the Sunday Poet this week, Jonathan Humble was one of the people who performed on the Open Mic. He read this week’s Sunday Poem on the Open Mic and I managed to nab him and get permission to post it up this week.

I should say first of all that the lovely Helen Ivory has published a slightly shorter version of this poem up at Ink, Sweat and Tears, a great online magazine which is well worth checking out.

 

A Happy Ending For Petrologists
By Jonathan Humble

A pebble sat upon a beach and thought, as would a stone,
Of whether in the Universe it was a soul alone.
For it could see no evidence to otherwise disprove
That rocks had not the wherewithal to think or talk or move.

And there with countless coloured stones, all smooth and weatherworn,
Supressed its angst, lay motionless, stayed quiet and forlorn.
Through summers and through winters, it endured its solitude;
In pebbly reflection, existentially it stewed.

It watched the sun, it watched the stars, endured the rain and snow.
It contemplated life and death until it felt quite low.
In sad and sorry state it grew despondent day by day;
For company it yearned more than this poem can convey.

And as its hopes diminished with each wave that crashed the shore,
It worried that it might be quite alone forever more.
Until it sighed aloud and solitude came to an end;
A fellow pebble turned and smiled and asked to be its friend.

I really liked this poem when I heard it on Friday – you all probably know my weakness for poems with souls in them.   I also think this poem has something of the air of a Stevie Smith poem – it is playful and light, and has a childlike rhythm to it, but I think there is also something else at work on another level.  I found it funny and oddly moving at the same time when I heard it, although I can’t quite put my finger on exactly why!  I do love the last line though, and the galloping rhythm of the line ‘It watched the sun, it watched the stars, endured the rain and snow’.  I think there is a bit of the spirit of Emily Dickinson in this poem as well.

Jonathan Humble is a deputy head teacher in a small rural primary school in Cumbria. His poetry and short stories have appeared in The Big Issue In The North, Poems For Freedom, The Caterpillar Magazine, Stew Magazine, The Looking Glass Magazine, Paragram, Dragon Poet Quarterly, Lighten Up Onhttp://jhpoetry.blogspot.co.ukline, Ink Sweat & Tears and on BBC Radio 4 and Radio Cumbria. Through TMB Books, he has published a collection of light verse entitled My Camel’s Name Is Brian. He appears regularly at Verbalise in the Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal and occasionally at other spoken word events in the North-West.  If you’d like to find out more about Jonathan, he has a blog: http://jhpoetry.blogspot.co.uk
So after a great night at Lancaster Spotlight, I got home at just after midnight and then couldn’t get to sleep because I was too wired from the event. I eventually stopped dancing around to Mick Jagger (don’t ask) at about 2am in the morning.  Then I was up again and leaving for Bradford at 10am on Saturday morning.  I read at Bradford Literature Festival on Saturday afternoon alongside Ian Duhig, Peter Riley, Anthony Costello, Tom Cleary and Natalie Rees.
I went to a poetry event in the evening with Carol Ann Duffy, Imtiaz Dharkar, Jo Bell, Sudeep Sen, Selina Nwelu, Avaes Mohammed, Rehana Roohi and Ralph Dartford – all in one event – that is a lot of poets! I didn’t know the work of Rehana before and I couldn’t understand any of it because it was in another language, but I loved her performance – members of the audience joined in and repeated lines back to her, or asked her to repeat lines again and I wondered what it would be like if we did that in English poetry – it certainly felt less staid than a lot of poetry readings! She finished her set off by singing one of her poems and it was really beautiful – worth going for her performance alone.
After the reading, I went back to the hotel bar and sat chatting with various poets until 2am, which seemed like a good idea at the time, and necessary, but this morning I was cursing my inability to put myself to bed at a reasonable time.
I had a bit of a ridiculous journey back as well – all my own fault.  I assumed I was travelling back from Forster Square train station in Bradford, and I wasn’t – so I missed the train, and had to wait an hour before getting it from the Interchange.  Because of this, I had to wait for an hour in Preston, but I was sitting in the sunshine on the platform reading my book, and the train basically pulled up in front of me and left again without me realising, so then I had another hour to wait.  What a muppet I am! I did finally get home in one piece without any more mishaps.

Next week I’m running a voluntary workshop in a prison, which I’m really looking forward to, running my Young Writers workshop, and hopefully getting back to some running now I’m feeling better.

One more thing to mention – sadly, one of the tutors on the August Poetry Carousel, Saskia Stehouwer from Holland, has had to pull out due to ill health.  William Letford has agreed to come and tutor on the Carousel instead, and I’m really looking forward to working with him.  He is well known as a fantastic performer and inspirational tutor.  So the full line up of the tutors will now be myself, Clare Shaw, Tsead Bruinja and William Letford.  You can find more information about the carousel on the ‘Residential Courses’ tab: https://kimmoorepoet.wordpress.com/residential-poetry-courses/poetry-carousel/
Spaces are starting to fill up on the Carousel, so if you’ve been thinking about booking a place and haven’t got round to it, I would advise doing so before all the best rooms in the hotel go.
Thanks again to the wonderful Jonathan Humble for the use of his poem on the blog this week.

 

A Review of the 2015 Poetry Carousel

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A Review of the 2015 Poetry Carousel

 

The poet Elisabeth Sennit Clough was one of the 32 participants on last year’s sold out Poetry Carousel.  I asked Elisabeth to write an account of what the experience was like.  If you’ve been debating about whether to come, this is a must-read! Elisabeth is a fantastic poet, and has a pamphlet forthcoming after winning the Paper Swans Pamphlet Competition in 2016.

This year’s team of tutors are myself, Clare Shaw and Dutch poets Saskia Stehouwer and Tsead Bruinja.  You can find more information about the 2016 Carousel here

2015 Poetry Carousel

by Elisabeth Sennit Clough

Cumbria is about as geographically and aesthetically distant from my present home in a West Norfolk village as possible, but a current obsession with poetry retreats compelled me to abandon my husband and three children and travel to Grange-over-Sands for the weekend.

As I trundled my case along the short distance from Kents Bank Station to Abbots Hall Hotel, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I couldn’t remove the definition of ‘carousel’ from my mind: 1) a merry-go-round at a fair or 2) a conveyor system at an airport from which arriving passengers collect their luggage.  

On the first evening, we were assigned to groups and stayed in those groups as we rotated through the four workshops (the premise of the poetry carousel being to move around four workshops, each with a different tutor). Like the merry-go-round, it had the potential to be great fun while it lasted – or, like the baggage carousel, it could just go round and round monotonously and I could end up right back where I started (I have an ambivalent relationship with airport carousels). 

My first workshop was with Kim. In my group were fellow MMU student Hilary Hares (whom I’d met on a Teaching Creative Writing Course) and Helen Kay – whom I had never met – but had corresponded with about the Nantwich Festival. Given how small the UK poetry world is, it was somewhat inevitable (and lovely) that I would bump into familiar names and faces.

The coincidences continued: Kim is a huge Philip Levine fan and I used to live in Fresno (where Philip Levine ran the MFA Programme at CSU). Kim adopted the title of Levine’s award winning collection What Work Is, articulating the lives of Detroit factory workers, for her workshop. What exactly is work? Our ice-breaker involved trying to answer that deceptively hard question. Having read poems such as ‘My People’ and ‘A Psalm for the Scaffolders’ in Kim’s The Art of Falling, I could see why work as a subject matter was important to her.

I learned that many people on the carousel had attended previous poetry workshops with Kim – a testament to her engaging teaching style and ability to put people at ease. For example, her workshop helped me find a way into writing successfully about a subject I’d been battling with for years; that is, my own experiences as a teenage factory worker.

Kim describes the carousel as promoting ‘a festival atmosphere in the evening, when we come together for dinner and readings from the tutors and invited guest poets.’ This is a very accurate description: in the evening, Kim read some of her work, along with guest-readers, Jennifer Copley and Lindsay Holland. Lindsay is co-editor of The Compass and one of six poets shortlisted for the 2015 Manchester Poetry Prize. After reading, each poet discussed aspects of her work: Jennifer, for example, has published collections with several different imprints and spoke about that experience, while Lindsay discussed long poems and the significance of thoroughly researching your subject matter.

My next group workshop (the following morning) was with Andrew Forster, the other editor of The Compass. Andrew’s ‘Encounters Workshop’ involved writing about ‘an encounter that made you see things differently.’ This inspired me to write a poem about a migrant farm worker that went on to be accepted by The Rialto. Andrew commented on the strength of voice in the poem and this gave me the confidence to continue developing the poem in the same tone.  

My third workshop was with Ian Duhig. His latest (and seventh!) collection, The Blind Roadmaker (about the incredible Jack Metcalf), is one of those books that I read initially because I was interested in the subject matter, but then found myself reading again and again just to admire the exceptional craft of it.

Ian’s workshop prompted me to take an imaginative leap with my subject matter (it’s the first poem I’ve written that’s set in space!), but this freed my poem from the constraints that were constantly working against me as I wrote. Another useful device for my toolkit involved possibly turning a negative outcome in a poem into a positive one. This inspired me to change the ending of one of my poems to great success. Now, when struggling with an ending, Ian’s voice pops into my head, asking, ‘what would its opposite be?’

My final workshop was with Amanda Dalton. Amanda helped me to focus on the drama in my poetry: where should I place the tension on my dramatic arc, for example? We used postcards as prompts and placed emphasis on movement (or not as in the example of my poem below from Amanda’s workshop). I wanted to capture the idea of stark animal nakedness, the sense of unpleasantness inside and out that I interpreted from Freud’s work.

 

Sleeping By the Lion Carpet

After a painting by Lucian Freud

Like the lioness, I am alert
to the alpha in this female, feigning sleep
in an armchair: how her flesh demands
attention from the artist’s brush.

I know the mind of a woman
like this – the way she plants
her ego on the floor, stands back
and laughs as you trip over it.

Her milk contains so much venom,
her thick-ankled daughters will grow up
to puncture the limbs of prettier girls
with the points of school compasses.

She has named them Immaculate
and Conception. She has no sex –
the artist has painted her:
a fat child with breasts.


Far from ending up right back where I started, the carousel took me to unexpected places. I learned a lot of new techniques, resulting from a combination of different teaching styles melding over the weekend. Several months on, I am still developing poems inspired by the carousel weekend and re-reading my notes. And yes, my head does still spin from time to time with all the new skills and poems I brought home.

Sunday Poem – Martin Zarrop

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Evening all.  Those of you that are friends with me on Facebook will know I’ve had a rather strange week, filled with missing trumpets and forgetfulness and general confusion.  I am not the world’s most organised person in general, but I normally bump along in my own unique way with not too many disasters befalling me.  However, this week, I have excelled myself in my levels of complete confusion.  When I look back, it probably started with a horrible start to the week, which I can’t write about because it wouldn’t be professional, but I went to bed on Monday evening feeling fairly upset.

Tuesday was a better day – I had two new pupils turn up to Brasstastic, the junior band I run for primary school pupils and teaching went along without anything to get excited or upset about.  In the evening I had rehearsal with the Soul Survivors and I got a lift home with Julie, the sax player.  In the car park in rehearsal, Julie was messing about, driving the car forward every time I tried to open the door and in the end I jumped in the front with my trumpet, music stand and bag with music piled on my knee.  I am telling you this to emphasise that I remembered distinctly jumping in the car with all my stuff on my knee.

When I got to the house I walked inside and put all my stuff down in the middle room, my writing room.  On Thursday I was due to go to quintet rehearsal in the evening.  When I went to get my trumpet, it wasn’t in its usual place.  I looked in the car – it wasn’t there.  I immediately went into complete panic – my lift was waiting outside to go to rehearsal.  I had to go and tell them I couldn’t find my trumpet, which sounded ridiculous.  I turned the house upside down looking for it and began frantically ringing Julie to see if I’d left it in the car, even though I knew I hadn’t, because I remembered piling it all on my knee, and I even remembered dumping it in the dining room.  It was like it had vanished into thin air.

Thursday is my day off teaching and I’d got quite a lot of work done at home.  I’d been upstairs working for quite a bit of it but the back door had been open so the dogs could run in and out of the garden. I began to convince myself that someone had been in the house, while I was upstairs and stolen my trumpet.  It didn’t matter how much Chris pointed out to me that this seemed unlikely as nothing else was missing, and how would a thief know how much the trumpet was worth?  I was in the midst of a complete meltdown and wasn’t stopping to think.  Chris and I went and knocked on the neighbours doors to see if they’d seen anything, which they hadn’t.  My dad still pays the insurance policy for my trumpet so I rang him to tell him to ring the insurers.  I tried to ring the police who said they didn’t take lost property reports anymore – it didn’t help that I didn’t know if it had been lost or stolen.  Chris was convinced I’d put it down in the street and just walked off because I had my hands full of stuff, but I knew I hadn’t.  I knew I’d walked in the house with it.

Anyway, turns out I was right.  I had walked in the house with it on Tuesday.  However there had been a whole day (Wednesday) between Tuesday and Thursday which I’d somehow managed to forget about.  On Wednesday I’d taken my trumpet into school to play but hadn’t remembered doing it.  It was like Wednesday had just vanished from my mind.  On Wednesday I’d been to work, taught a private pupil after school and then done a 2 hour live chat as part of my Poetry School course.  I hadn’t remembered any of it.  Once I realised that Wednesday did in fact exist, I retraced my steps back and found my trumpet in a cupboard at one of my schools.

I’d wasted the whole of Friday, which was the one day off with nothing to do that I’d had in ages on the phone to the insurers, on the phone to my dad, on the phone to the police.  It was a truly horrible day, and finding the trumpet, while it was a relief didn’t really feel that good because I then started to berate myself for being such an idiot.  I then had to ring the insurer and my dad and the police again and tell them I’d found it.  I had to post on Facebook and tell everyone I’d been a complete numpty.

In my defence, a new trumpet of the same model would cost about £2,200.  I’ve lived with it for 14 years.  I would say the first seven of those years – from the age of 18 to 24 I would have played it every day for three or four hours.  The bag the trumpet is in is an old leather gig bag, given to me by my old trumpet teacher.  So yes, I went into a complete panic, a meltdown.

There have been some good things that have happened this week though, despite all of that going on.  I’ve got a poem in the Best British Poetry Anthology, edited by Emily Berry and Roddy Lumsden which cheered me up.  The poem is called ‘The Knowing’ and it was first published in Poem.  It’s another poem from the sequence about domestic violence, which makes me very happy, because those poems mean a lot to me.

I haven’t been running very much this week – Chris and I went out on Tuesday and I got a really horrible pain in my right buttock (don’t laugh) and had to hobble back home.  By the next day the pain had disappeared, but I was too paranoid to run all week.  I went spinning on Friday and then had a little jog around the park and it seemed ok so today I went and did the Holker Hall 10k.  My aim was to get around the course without developing a pain in my butt.  I had a bad night’s sleep last night though, I woke up convinced I was going to be sick and feeling really hot.  After lying down very dramatically on the bathroom floor to cool down and then taking the bin back to bed just in case, I eventually fell asleep, but I didn’t really feel great this morning.

I told myself I would just jog around the course, use it as a training run.  Of course that never happens, and I did push myself round in 48:43 which is my second fastest time, but still a minute off my PB, but considering the week I’ve had and the disturbed night, I was pretty pleased with that and no aches and pains apart from the usual ones that come from running and getting out of breath.

I was fourth woman back which I was busy sulking about until I realised I was part of the winning women’s team so that made up for it a bit.

So that is my week – a bit of a tale of woe I’m afraid.  One other exciting thing that has happened is that something I’ve been plotting for a long time has finally come to fruition.  I’ll be one of four tutors running a Poetry Workshop Carousel weekend December 11th-13th at Abbot Hall, Grange over Sands.  Everyone booked on the course will attend a small group workshop with each tutor for two hours.  In the evenings the groups will come together for readings from invited guest poets and tutors.  I’m really excited about it because it feels kind of like a mini poetry festival to me and it’s something different that I certainly haven’t tried before, and I don’t think there is anything like it going on anywhere else.  If you would like more information on the course, have a look at ‘Forthcoming Residential Poetry Courses’ at the top of the page.  Because of a mix up with dates from my end (yes, more confusion) the original tutor, the fantastic poet Rebecca Goss is unable to make it up to tutor on that weekend.  I’m hoping she’ll be able to tutor on the 2016 Poetry Workshop Carousel  So the fourth tutor is yet to be announced, so please watch this space!

I posted about the course on the blog on Friday and already over a quarter of the places have gone.  If you are thinking of booking, please do so as soon as possible.  I’m expecting the spaces to go very quickly.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Martin Zarrop – a lovely man who I met about six or seven years ago on a residential course.  I know I often say poets that I feature here are lovely and they all are – but Martin has a kindness about him coupled with a very quick wit.  Since that first residential, I went on another residential course which Martin was on about four years ago, I’ve bumped into him a couple of times at events in Manchester and then he came on the residential course that I was running this year at Abbot Hall at Easter.

Martin has very recently had a pamphlet published by Cinnamon Press called ‘No Theory of Everything’ which I would recommend. Martin also sent me a very modest 2 line biography which I heartily disapprove of, so I’ve done a bit of digging to find something a bit more boastful to say about him  Martin says he is a mathematician who wanted certainty but found life more interesting without it.  He has been published in various magazines and anthologies including Envoi, Poetry News, Prole, Kaffekatsch and The Book of Love & Loss.  He was Highly Commended in the 2012 Ledbury Poetry Competition, and his pamphlet was published by Cinnamon Press after winning their inaugral pamphlet competition.  The judge Ian Gregson said this of Martin’s pamphlet:

A very intelligent collection that draws upon a knowledge of science to describe, in effective poetic terms, the impact of scientific thought and discovery in the twentieth century. Its mingling of science and history is especially telling, and it manages to make science compelling by showing its relevance to personal experience.

I’ve chosen Coats from the pamphlet.  This is a poem whose emotional heart is driven as much by what isn’t said than what is said.  There is a whole history and life in these four short stanzas.  There is a real sense of poverty, or at least having to be careful with money in the first few stanzas – the thin ankles, the torn pockets and the folding of the coats underneath the theatre seats to avoid the cloakroom fee.

The poem is full of specific place names – Albert Square, the Exchange stalls, Cross Street but for all its specificity, it is also very mysterious.  We don’t know why the ‘you’ is angry in Stanza 3 but this has the feel of a turning point in a relationship – the place the relationship could have faltered or carried on, and it carried on. In the last stanza, I don’t know what the ‘weight of purple’ is, although it makes me think of the Jenny Joseph poem Warning which starts ‘When I am an old woman I shall wear purple’.  I have no idea if this little nod to the Jenny Joseph poem is deliberate, but it certainly makes me think that this relationship was a long one, that the ‘Later’ of the first line of the last stanza, refers to years later, not merely days.  The last line, the idea of running out of evenings is unbearably sad and beautifully understated.

If you would like to order Martin’s pamphlet, I am sure you will make him and his publisher very happy if you order direct from them here

Coats – Martin Zarrop

Your cardinal’s coat flapped against thin ankles
as our breath frosted Albert Square.I wore the check Oxfam overcoat,
hands driven into torn pockets.

Arm in arm we braved the town drunks,
sat in row F of the Exchange stalls,
coats neatly folded under each seat
to save the cloakroom fee.

In Cross Street, a taxi u-turned,
almost ran you down.
You were angry with me.
It could have ended there.

Later, you walked more slowly
under the weight of purple.
We ate pizza, savoured red wine,
ran out of evenings.

Sunday Poem – Neil Curry

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Evening all – I am so tired writing this – all self inflicted as yesterday I went for a night out in Blackpool.  There was about 25 of us who went out last night to celebrate the 18th and 21st birthday of two of my neices – all different ages because their mum (my oldest sister) came too with a lot of her friends.

I had a great time – I haven’t been out for ages, and although I used to love going out dancing and I’m afraid to say drinking when I was at university, the practicalities of teaching has over the years, calmed me down a lot and I don’t really enjoy drinking now to be honest – I seem to always get a hang over or feel really ill, so I don’t drink a lot anymore.

The good news is that now I’m older and care less about what people think, I don’t need to drink to go and dance and throw myself around the dance floor like a crazy person! So go me – it’s only taken me 32 years to chill out and enjoy myself without the aid of whisky.

So even though I only had two and a half bottles of Budweiser last night, I was out till 2am and thank goodness I was sensible and dragged my twin sister home at that point – we were wavering about going on to another club but then I imagined dear friend Andrew Forster’s face if I turned up to the poetry reading at 11.30am the next morning in a state and decided a good and sensible course of action would be to go home at 2am and go to bed.

Two things I noticed about my night out compared to when I was 18

1. The music was too loud.  I actually thought I wouldn’t be able to bear it at first.  It was impossible to carry on any kind of conversation, even a shouted one.  I don’t remember that from when I used to go out – but cannot give a definite answer to whether the music/speakers have got louder or whether it is a sign of me getting older…

2.  You still get told to ‘Smile’ by random men when you walk in a club.  Grrr.  One of my pet hates and when this happens I have various murderous images running through my head.

But overall I had a great time.  Today didn’t go quite so smoothly though.  As I said before, I was booked to read with Andrew Forster and Mike Barlow at Prom Art, a free arts and craft fair set up along the prom in Grange Over Sands.  The first reading started at 11.30 and the second one at 2.30pm.  I got up at 8.30, had breakfast and left Blackpool at 9.30am which should have given me plenty of time to get to Grange.  However, rather stupidly I had left my debit card with my sister, and halfway up the M6, as I was pulling into the services to get badly-needed petrol, I realised this fact.  I also realised I had no recollection at all of what the pin was for my various credit cards, which rendered them absolutely useless.

I went into the petrol station and begged the attendant to help me – and eventually he let me pay as if I was paying over the phone with useless credit card.  The first thing I will do on my day off this week is to sort out the stupid credit cards so I actually know my Pin and can use them. Anyway, even though disaster and breakdown on the M6 due to lack of petrol was narrowly averted, this meant I arrived in Grange at 11.15am, with only 15 minutes to leg it down the prom to find Andrew and Mike.

Performing on the prom was quite a strange experience and completely different of course to performing in a venue when the audience have paid to come and hear you.  It was interesting to see which poems seemed to make people stop and listen and which made them drift away.  The most important thing seemed to be to get a couple of people standing and listening, which then attracted more people as they thought they might be missing out on something interesting…

I even managed to sell a couple of pamphlets which was great, because I had no money due to debit card fiasco so was then able to pay Mike back for lunch.  Today I met poet Michael Farry, who is over on a mini holiday from Ireland – we went for a cup of tea and a cake and a gossip after the readings.  Maggie How also turned up so I felt well supported today…

This week I’ve also had poet Lindsey Holland staying with me – we had a great time – we went over to Piel Island and saw seals, and then went to Whitehaven and saw dolphins swimming just outside the harbour, we swapped poems, read poems and talked about poetry pretty much non stop so it has been a lovely week.  I feel very lucky today with all the great friends I’ve made through poetry.

I also went to the Wordsworth Trust to see Kei Miller and Liz Berry read – one of the best readings I’ve been to this year – both wonderful performers as well as writing knockout poetry.

So today’s Sunday Poem is by Neil Curry, a poet who lives very close to me in Ulverston.  I first met Neil at Fourth Monday Poets, the first writing group I attended and consequently the first people I actually showed a poem to.  Neil has been very encouraging of my work in the past, and when I was first starting out I used to send him a poem in the post and he would write back to me with feedback – I think this started because we were both talking about how we liked to get letters.  Or maybe it came about because Neil was at that time writing the book that today’s poem comes from.  The book is called ‘Some Letters Never Sent’ and it was published by Enitharmon this year.

The book is what it says on the tin – a series of letters to a wide and varied range of people – the blurb on the back of the book says that the letters are ‘addressed to people who, for various reasons, have been of importance in Neil Curry’s life.’   The book made me wish that all poets would do a series of letters like this to people that have been important to them.  Neil Curry’s letters are an intimate and detailed portrayal of a life that has been dominated by the act of reading – I found this immensely satisfying and interesting and fascinating.  There is a letter to Miss Emily Dickinson and the Venerable Bede, Sir John Barrow and the author’s younger self to name a few.  The collection as a whole is probably one of my favourites that I’ve read this year.

I chose this poem to feature today because it was one of my favourites in the book, with its quip about the murder of Vivaldi by call centres.  I love the tone of the poem – the familiarity with which Neil addresses Vivaldi, as if he lives just down the road and he meets him every day.  This familiarity of course, is a useful tool because the reader also becomes the recipient of the letter, the receiver of this familiar, friendly tone.

I also like the content of the poem – the flight of thought that the poem takes off with, exploring all the unforgettable sounds that have been heard throughout history and then asking the question of what sound would Vivaldi like to hear echoing back.  Which of course makes the reader (i.e me) think about what sound, if I could hear any, would I most like to hear.  I think it would have to be the first trumpet sounding.

Neil Curry has lived for many years in the Lake District and his poetry collections include Ships in Bottles, a Poetry Society Recommendation, Walking to Santiago in which he recounts his 500 mile walk along the medieval pilgrim route and Other Rooms: New & Selected Poems.  He has also published The Fable of the World, translations from the French poet Jules Supervielle.  You can find out more information about Neil here  on his website.

I hope you enjoy the poem.  If you would like to buy ‘Some Letters Never Sent’ please visit the Enitharmon website at Enitharmon. 

To: Antonio Vivaldi, Ospedale Della Pieta, Venice – Neil Curry

I’ve long had it in mind to write to you
About the trip we made to Venice
Earlier last year, of how quite by chance
We came across San Giovanni in Bragora,
That doleful little church you were christened in.

Then I’d meant to go on to say a few words
About the way your Four Seasons have been
Brutalised by Call Centres.  Instead though,
I want to share with you something
I’ve just read: Marconi – the name means

Nothing to you, I know, but bear with me –
Marconi had come to believe that no sound,
Not one single sound ever dies completely,
But fades into the infinitesimally
Faint, the way starlight does.  So I wondered,

What if, when a sound gets to the end of whatever,
It were to come bouncing back at us,
Like an echo, but an echo that comes
Gathering up its decibels again
On the way? What then would we not hear?

The dawn chorus of the pterodactyls?
Krakatoa drowning out the songs
And lamentations of lost languages,
Their airs played on instruments, the names
Of which you and I could only guess at.

If we were lucky we might just catch the end
Of the Sermon on the Mount, or those
Explosive opening chords of your Gloria.
But mostly, I suspect, it would be feral
Howlings and the vain harrumphings

Of politicos.  And amid it all,
Coming to us from the narrow streets
Of a fetid and forgotten city,
The cry, ‘Bring out your dead!’ followed by
The fall of buildings and the crackle of fire.

But if you’d the choice – come on, Antonio,
Play this game with me – which one sound would
You choose to hear out of all this cacophony?
Me? I’d opt for Wordsworth, as he sat
On that ‘straggling heap of unhewn stones’

Reading Michael out loud to Coleridge.
But all this would soon get wiped out by more
Recent sounds: The Somme, Treblinka, Nagasaki,
Even the hushed and smothering snow that fell
So softly down over Stalin’s gulags.

Oh, listen, quickly now, listen before it engulfs
Us all, listen with me to the rattle and clatter
Of that pert cock blackbird out there on our garden fence,
Warnings its gormless young of the ominous
Pad-padding nearness of next-door’s ginger cat.