Tag Archives: grasmere

Sunday Poem – David Tait


I never know how to start these blog posts, not because I don’t know what to say, but I often don’t know where to begin.  Should I start with what is freshest in my mind, which is what’s happened today, or start at the beginning of the week and proceed in a logical order?  I’ll start with today, because nothing particularly interesting happened at the beginning of the week.

I can now declare (in case you were interested) that I am injury free! My rather inconvenient and very annoying inflamed tendon in my leg has left the building and I am very happy about it.  Today I did my longest run since being injured, nine miles at a relatively steady pace with the Walney Wind Cheetahs and my tendon didn’t have anything to say for itself.  My leg muscles in general were really sore from the training I’ve been doing this week, but it was kind of a sweet pain, rather than an injury pain.  The kind of pain that comes from working your muscles rather than destroying them.  At least I hope that is what it is!

After the run I came straight back, no dallying at the cafe for me today  because I had lots of work to get on with.  I had two friends that have been waiting for email replies regarding poems they had sent, I had an invoice to send and Sunday Poets to hunt down.  I normally write to people in small groups to gather Sunday Poems so today I wrote to four poets and got their permission to use their poems on my blog so I now have four weeks of grace where I know whose poem I’m going to use on the blog.  This is all quite time-consuming – but it is probably my favourite part of doing this blog.  Most poets are so happy that someone, out of the blue has said that they like not only their work, but a particular poem, that it makes it completely worth it.

Apart from these smaller jobs I also had three larger jobs to get done today – this blog being one of them.  The other is printing out and making notes on the poems that have been submitted for Week 1 of the online Poetry School course I’m tutoring and the third job was editing reviews that have come in for The Compass magazine and then writing to the reviewers to check that they are ok with suggested changes.  I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself for managing all of this today, and remembering to feed myself (boiled egg and toast at lunchtime, thai takeaway in the evening!).

I’m going to jump back in the week now to Wednesday, which was the open mic at Zefferelli’s in Ambleside, run by Andrew Forster and the Wordsworth Trust.  For the second week in a row I’ve had a house guest – lovely Lindsey Holland has been staying at my house since Wednesday evening because there are lots of poetry events in Cumbria that she wants to go to – open mic on Friday and a reading on Saturday.

There was a great turn out at Zeff’s this week – probably because Pauline Yarwood was the featured poet.  Pauline can often be found in the audience of various poetry events and workshops so it was nice to see her being given the chance to read her own poetry and lovely to be able to listen to her doing a longer reading of her work.

On Thursday I spent the morning writing references for two people who are applying to do an MA in Creative Writing and then I had to go to a meeting to do with work in Milnthorpe.  On the way back I came as close to dying as I ever have before when a complete idiot was overtaking a caravan on a corner and driving straight towards me on my side of the road.  I have no idea how I missed hitting him because that stretch of road is not narrow enough to get three cars past, let alone a caravan but somehow I did it.  I didn’t even have time to be scared, I just had to wrench the wheel to the side, and then it was done.  It should have been a head-on crash and I don’t know how anyone would have walked away from it.  This sounds a little dramatic, and as it happens, nothing happened.  Everyone was ok, I was ok, I wasn’t even that shaken really but I was trying to think if there was anything I would have regretted not doing if something had happened and I couldn’t think of anything, so that was quite reassuring!

I went to my first interval training session in about 15 years on Thursday evening, hence the sore legs all day Friday and the still sore legs today.  On Friday Lindsey and I drove to Manchester.  I was meeting Rachel Mann, poet and vicar to talk through arrangements for the judging of the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Prize.  I think a lot of people might be put off entering this prize because they think you have to enter a ‘religous poem’, but I will be interpreting this broadly!  The most important thing is to find some excellent poems.  I don’t know if Rachel knew how obsessed with tea I am but we met in Propertea, which is just next to the Cathedral.  When you order your cup of tea you get a little timer to use which tells you when your tea has brewed perfectly.  I would have quite liked to steal the timer, except I realised I would have to steal all the paraphenalia, the two teapots, the tea strainer, and some tea leaves to make it worth it.  I don’t think the timer would have worked with a PG Tips teabag.  Of course this is a JOKE.  I would never steal a tea timer.

After that, I went to the glorious bookshop that is Waterstones on Deansgate with its fabulous poetry section.  Sadly, I couldn’t find a copy of my book in there – maybe it sold out by the time I got there!  However, I did go a bit crazy and buy lots of other poetry books: Here Comes The Night by Alan Gillis, Paralogues by Evan Jones, Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe and Maninbo: Peace and War by Ko Un.  I’ve been wanting Loop of Jade for a while but the other collections I didn’t specifically go in for, I just brought them after browsing, which proves that bookshops need to keep their poetry sections stocked up for hopeless addicts like me who will spend far too much money if the books are there to look at.

After that, we drove to Kendal to Abbot Hall Art Gallery who were having their ‘Night of a Thousand Selfies’ event as part of Museums at Night.  As part of the event I was asked to organise and compere an open mic night but this was an open mic with a difference.  First of all it was in a gallery and there was something wonderful about reading amongst all the portraits that made up the current exhibition.  There was also free pizza from a stand outside, a temporary tattoo artist, a photo booth and a band in different parts of the gallery.

The first two open mic sessions were fairly traditional.  I divided the fourteen readers into two groups and half read in the first set and half in the second set.  After the second open mic session we had a ‘lets see how many poets we can fit in a photo booth’ session – the answer was five and a half, especially if one insists on wearing a large horse’s head and taking up lots of room!  For the third set, I decided it should just be a free-for-all as everybody had already read once and this turned into poetry’s version of The Hunger Games, where poets raced each other to the mic, running up to the front before the audience had finished clapping the last poet.  It was great fun and my young writers rather brilliantly and cheekily got up twice to read, which drove the adults to be much more active in their leaping for the stage.

On Saturday I dragged my husband Chris to Barrow Park to take part in Park Run.  I still had Thursdays interval session in my legs but I managed to knock a whole second off my PB, taking it down to 23.08.  Chris managed 22.44 which is an amazing time considering he has only really been running regularly for the last month or so.  Not annoyed at all that he beat me…

After that, we drove up to Grasmere for the launch of the Poetry Business Pamphlet winners.  This is always one of my favourite events of the year.  It’s free and I like seeing what colour the pamphlets are and seeing Peter and Ann.  This year was a little bit sad for me because my wonderful friend and poet David Tait was one of the winners with his pamphlet Three Dragon Day but he couldn’t be at the reading because he was in China, busy working.  Peter and David asked me if I’d read David’s poems for him, so I did get to relive what it was like to win the competition, but without having to do any of the work, like actually write the poems.

Reading the poems out was a strange experience, because I couldn’t do any introductions for the poems, because I wouldn’t have known what to say, so I just read them one after the other.  It is a little like walking in another person’s shoes.  Luckily, I knew David’s poems pretty well, and he gave me a set list of what he wanted me to read.  The poems are extraordinary.  They conjure up such a vivid picture of what it is like to live as a foreigner in China – they are funny and sad and frightening and moving.

The other winners were Paul Stephenson who has been long overdue a pamphlet, Luke Samuel Yates who I met and read with in Aldeburgh two years ago and Basil Du Toit.  I’m hoping to feature work from all four on this blog in the next few weeks or so, but I thought I’d start with David’s work. I didn’t read this poem yesterday at the launch, it wasn’t on David’s list of poems for me to read but it is one of my favourites in the pamphlet.

This is one of those poems that moves from funny to shocking to sad and he does this almost effortlessly.  I love the list of different things that the class bring in, and there is something moving about this list of objects.  For most of the objects we are not told why they care about them.  I laughed out loud when I first read this and got to the line about the lady bringing in her husband, who then sits ‘sipping lemon tea’.

A lot of the poems which seem lighthearted have this sense of menace hanging over them and a sense that history and politics are somehow closer and more vivid in this country, more dangerous.  We are left thinking about The Great Leap forward, and wondering if the family survived as well as the photo.  I think it’s a brilliant poem and packs in a lot in a short space.

David was a winner of The Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition in 2010 with his pamphlet Loves Loose Ends, judged by Simon Armitage  and he then went on to publish his first full length collection Self Portrait with the Happiness with The Poetry Business in 2014. This collection was shortlisted for the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize.  He received an Eric Gregory Award and now lives in Guangzhou in China, where he teaches English. You can find more information about David on his Author Page on the Smith/Doorstop website.

This week I’ll be reading at the South Yorks Poetry Festival in Sheffield next Sunday night with Ian McMillan and Andrew McMillan which I’m really excited about – I hope to see some of you there.

Writing Class, Guangzhou – David Tait

I ask them to bring in a thing
that they care for.  They bring:

a hairpin carved in the shape
of a carp; a policeman’s flask;

young elephants engulfed
by their mother’s trunk, a statue;

a picture of a rabbit, the only toy
they left her after joining school.

One lady has brought in her husband.
He sits in the corner sipping lemon tea.

The others: a silver coin that dates
from the Qing dynasty; a string of pearls

that survived The Great Leap Forward;
the only surviving photo of a family.

She remembers the day it was taken,
her sister crying and not keeping still,

the hesitation she felt looking into the lens,
her father’s hands gripping her shoulders.

St Oswald’s Church, Grasmere – Collaborative Project


Evening folks.  A couple of weeks ago I took part in a project at St Oswald’s Church in Grasmere.  A group of 14 Cumbrian/Lancaster poets wrote poems about the church and then the Lakes Collective group created art work inspired by the poems and the church.  Their blog is here: http://lakescollective.blogspot.co.uk/p/poetry-and-place-event.html

You can also read what Sarah Hymas, another poet who took part, thought about the event here http://sarahhymas.blogspot.co.uk/

But I thought I would post my poem here for what it’s worth – more interesting is the beautiful art work that was created.  I was stupid enough to not write down the name of the artists that did this work – which was very remiss of me as one of the lovely artists gave me their art work to take home!

Anyway, here is the poem, imaginatively titled or what?

St Oswald’s Church, Grasmere

Tell me about the west wind that meant
no west door was built and Oswald
in the moment before he cut
the oak tree down, and Teresa of Avila
before she was turned to stone
and the man who placed her head
so she could see the altar.  Tell me
of the benches with their shoulders
against the wall, the saying the weakest
go to the wall
and then tell me of the lepers
gathering at the leper door and far-away
saints, standing to their waists in water
as the sun rises, prayers twitching
in their minds like newly caught fish
on a boat deck but most of all tell me
of the man who hangs the flag and winds
the clocks, and the women who lay rushes
as if animals still shelter here.

Here is my new house guest, a saint standing up to his waist in water, placed in the font on the advice of the very good humoured vicar at St Oswalds.


Obviously I haven’t got the font to put him in, so he will have to go on a shelf.

Here is the other piece of art work created in response to my poem.  This was already sold – don’t know who to – but it is beautiful isn’t it? In the middle of the tree there is a a woman’s head – Teresa of Avila’s I think…



Sunday Poem – Sasha Dugdale


Hello everyone.  This is a very late blog – I have been busy all day today.  This morning I was working on a workshop that I’ll be delivering tomorrow in a secondary school in Oldham – I’m doing five sessions spread over the whole of year ten.  I’m a bit nervous but I am looking forward to it as well.

This afternoon I went to a friend’s hen party, which was afternoon tea at a very posh hotel in Bowness.  We had sandwiches, scones, tea and cakes and it was very nice – most of the people there were from a school I work at in Barrow – so it was nice to be included-my second one this year – after working for eight years without going to one!

Then I got back, walked the dogs round the slag bank and then watched Game of Thrones, which I have been obsessed with this week but I have got to the end of Season 2 so I’m hoping I can now get back to doing some actual work!  Season 3 has only just come out and it’s far too expensive to buy at the minute!  I’ve been watching it all week and finding it very hard to do anything else.

On Saturday I took my junior band to see the Haffner Orchestra.  For many of the children it was their first classical music concert.  It was interesting how many conventions I take for granted – one of the very young children started clapping after the orchestra had finished tuning up!  They now all know not to clap between movements in a symphony, and to clap when the conductor and the principal violinist comes on.  Lots of audience members came up to me in the interval and at the end and said how well-behaved the children were – so I was very proud of them.

This week I also had a concert with one of my schools and a concert with the band so it’s been pretty full on.  In between concerts and watching the Game of Thrones I’ve been working on a poem for a project in association with St Oswald’s Church in Grasmere – there is going to be a art and craft exhibition in response to poems written about the church – the deadline is Monday and I got my poem sent off yesterday – it’s only the second time I’ve written a poem ‘on purpose’ i.e with a purpose in mind, rather than just letting my mind wander..the first was written in response to a photography exhibition at the Theatre by the Lake…

We were shown around the church by an amazing guide who knew so many stories and facts about the church – but he mentioned the women who come and lay the rushes as part of the rush bearing festival and there is a man in the village who climbs to the top of the church tower to hang the flag.  He also winds the clocks and services the hotel pools in the area – so I guess my poem is about the people that are associated with the church – the saints and the local people who help out in the church now.

I’ve also sent my collection out to a few friends whose opinion I trust and I’ve had some really useful feedback that I haven’t had time to look at properly yet, but after I’ve got this workshop out the way tomorrow, I’m going to print their comments maybe  and go through it all again.  At the minute, if I had to use a metaphor to explain what stage I’m at, my collection is like a house with all the furniture not set out properly, or maybe a house with non-load bearing walls that need knocking down to make space…so that is what I shall be doing this week and the next week…

The next time I blog shall be Tuesday night.  By then I will have been to the Lakeland Book of the Year Award ceremony to find out if I’ve won, and I would also have heard Simon Armitage at the Wordsworth Trust – so I should have lots to say!

This week’s Sunday poem is by Sasha Dugdale, who ran the workshop which I previously raved about on here at the Wordsworth Trust.  I already had Sasha’s most recent collection ‘Red House’ published by Carcanet and after enjoying the workshop so much, I decided to re-read it.

As a workshop tutor, what struck me about Sasha was how much she listens to people, how interested she was in the way people’s minds worked.  As a poet, this quality of listening carries over into her writing.  When I wrote to her to ask her if I could have ‘Plainer Sailing (Alzheimer’s) for the blog, I wasn’t suprised to hear that this poem had been set to music.  I think her lines have a very clear, pure quality – it is the type of poetry that makes me think ‘yes, that is it exactly’.  The first two lines for instance – comparing someone suffering from Alzheimers as being ‘Frail as a cloud’.  But she doesn’t stop there, she pushes the image further so we see the person with Alzheimers’  is not just a victim – they are beautiful in their frailty – she says ‘filled with a cloud’s watered light’.

The other thing I really enjoyed about Sasha’s poetry was her rhyme which is never allowed to control the poem, but instead sits in the background of the poem, like a well trained servant…In ‘Plainer Sailing’  the rhyme scheme of abab never intrudes but it holds the poem together.

If you would like to buy Sasha’s collection, you can get it from the Carcanet website at http://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781906188023

Sasha is also the editor of one of my new favourite magazines, Modern Poetry in Translation.  The magazine has a fantastic website where you can have a go yourself at translating a poem as well as subscribing!  This is at http://www.mptmagazine.com/

And here is the poem!

Plainer Sailing (Alzheimer’s) – Sasha Dugdale
for A.W

She walked then: pale and unbent
Frail as a cloud, filled with a cloud’s watered light
And all the ropes were gone, and the language unlearnt
And vital knots of past and future long untied.

There was once no sailing without the augur on board,
Who shaped each day and told what tumbled past,
Who sought the truth in feathered gore
Whilst others watched from the crow’s nest.

She too surveyed the calm, and was concerned:
What to make of all the signs, for the sea is rarely blank.
And there was a circling, a moment returned
When daughter was mother, and there the sun shrunk

And bent and was narrow at the line of sky
And still the clouds twisted and birds flew
All above at that time there was no end to life
And no end to other brightnesses at least as true

That seem like mirages now.  For signs were massing
To display themselves in a common light:
They did all surely point to the one passing
Of pale day into paler night.