Tag Archives: Happenstance

Sunday Poem – Jennifer Copley

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Sunday Poem – Jennifer Copley

I hope you haven’t missed me too much in this three week break (how did three weeks just fly by?). I’ve been hibernating from blogging, and getting through my last ‘busy period’.  In the intervening three weeks, I’ve spent a week running a residential in Grange-Over-Sands, at Abbot Hall Hotel.   It was a lovely week, with the opportunity to work with some fantastic poets from all over the country.  I was a bit sad because one of my regular course goers, who has been on every residential since I started running them had to cancel because of an unexpected hospital stay.  I know from personal experience how completely frustrating it can be, so I hope she is better soon.  It wasn’t quite the same without her either – she is a great laugh, and usually has the whole table at dinner in fits of laughter.  So get well soon Bernice!

It was perfect running weather in Grange, but I’ve been having problems with my IT Band, giving me pain at the side of my knee since I did the 14 mile race round Coniston, so I managed to resist, and went swimming in the hotel pool instead.  It’s not the same as running, but I enjoyed it still.  I used to swim at a club when I was younger, I think I swam nearly every night for quite a few years so it bought a few memories back.  I’ve been keeping the swimming up as every time I try to run, my knee hurts again.  I did parkrun yesterday but I can still feel the niggle there, so I think I’m going to have another two weeks off to see if that sorts it out.  I just want to get it right ready for the summer, I don’t want to be stuck indoors unable to run!

I’m waiting to hear back about my revised RD1 now as well, but I’ve carried on with my reading.  I bought a book called After Confessionalism: Poetry as Autobiography which is a collection of essays by American poets about confessional and lyric poetry.  I started to wonder whether my poems about experiences of sexism are actually confessional poetry.  The thing about these poems is that they have to be true.  They have to be a ‘lived experience of sexism’.  If I made them up, or appropriated someone else’s experience of sexism as my own, I think the reader would rightly feel manipulated, or annoyed.  Their power needs to come from the fact that they are an individual experience, but that they reach out into a wider social context, that they are recognisable by other women.  I felt uncomfortable and worried about having the confessional label applied to my poetry, and then started to wonder why that was.  I think it gets used as a dismissive/disparaging term still.  Like most labels, it’s not actually very helpful, and I’m halfway through this book of essays and haven’t found a definition of ‘confessional poetry’ that I agree with yet.

Joan Aleshire, in an essay included in the book called ‘Staying News: A Defense of the Lyric’ writes that

“In the confessional poem, as I’d like to define it, the poet, overwhelmed or intoxicated by the facts of his or her life, lets the facts take over.  To say that a poem is confessional is to signal a breakdown in judgement and craft. Confession shares with the lyric a degree of self-revelation but carries implications that the lyric resists.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines confession as the declaration or disclosure of something that one has allowed to remain secret as being prejudicial, humiliating, or inconvenient to oneself; the disclosure of private feeling; a plea of guilty, an admission of what one has been charged with,; a formal confession made in order to receive absolution.  I see the confessional poem as a plea for special treatment, a poem where the poet’s stance is one of particularity apart from common experience.  Confession in art, as in life, can be self-serving – an attempt to shift the burden of knowledge from speaker-transgressor to listener.”

First of all, I don’t think this definition works when applied to the original poets like Lowell, Plath, Berryman etc that the term was coined for, although later on in the essay, Aleshire looks in detail at some of Lowell’s work to illustrate her point.  I just don’t buy that bit about being ‘overwhelmed or intoxicated by the facts of his or her life’.    I don’t buy the ‘breakdown in judgement and craft’.  Surely that’s just a bad poem, not a confessional one?

The term ‘confessional poetry’ was coined by the critic Mack Rosenthal in 1959 in a review of Robert Lowell’s collection ‘Life Studies’.  He defined confessional poetry as ‘poetry that goes beyond customary bounds of reticence or personal embarrassment.’

Both of these definitions are problematic.  The original definition of confessionalism assumes that there is a generic boundary of reticence/embarrassment that we all share, which is obviously untrue – although I guess that we are still bound by convention in some ways, there are some things that there is general agreement shouldn’t be talked about, but since 1959, this boundary, this border has shifted massively.

Going back to my own work, I’m not sure my poetry fits this 1959 definition.  It kind of does – it is uncomfortable to point out sexism still or to talk about it.  It’s often the ‘elephant in the room’ that doesn’t get acknowledged, but whether it crosses the boundary of ‘personal embarrassment’ – I’m not sure.  Doesn’t every poem cross the boundary of reticence to be heard?

So back to Joan Aleshire.  I’m not ashamed to say that sometimes I’ve been overwhelmed when writing a poem.  Sometimes I’m writing so fast in my notebook it feels like I’m riding a wave.  However, this is only in the moment of first getting the ideas down.  Once I start editing, it is a very cold, hard and calculating process.  The part about the ‘facts taking over’ is interesting.  Because of what I’m writing about, a lived experience of sexism, there has to be a contract between myself and the reader, that what I’m writing is true.  Otherwise the whole thing becomes pointless.  At this point in my reading, I’m distracted by looking up ideas of truth in poetry, and the idea of there being only versions of the truth anyway, but I won’t go into that here.  The rest of the definition, which centers on the premise of ‘confession’ kind of fits but doesn’t.  The poems are not an admission of guilt, although I have felt ashamed when I’ve examined my own reaction/collusion with sexism.  I don’t want to receive absolution though, or give it.  I want to hold transactions that I have made in the society we live in up to the light to see exactly what is going on.  Finally, the idea of shifting the ‘burden of knowledge’.  This doesn’t work for me either – as often when I start writing these poems, I’m writing about a memory that I’ve carried for a long time, without even knowing why I’ve carried it for so long.  I’m writing to find something out.

So maybe I’m not writing confessional poetry, or maybe the term is undefinable.  Maybe it never worked in the first place.  So what am I writing? I like Joan Aleshire’s definition of lyric poetry much better.  She says

the true lyric poem – can, through vision, craft, and objectivity toward the material, give a sense of commonality with unparalleled intimacy.

Joan Aleshire tells us that

T.S. Eliot in “The Three Voices of Poetry” defines the lyric as “the voice of the poet speaking to himself, oppressed by a burden that he must bring to relief.”

These definitions feel much more comfortable to me.  I love the idea of intimacy juxtaposed with commonality, a reaching outward.  If the poems about experiences of sexism are working, if they are living breathing things then this is what they will do.

The good thing about this book is that the essay writers often disagree or outright contradict each other.

I’ve really enjoyed reading this book, and I’ve not reached the last chapter yet, which focuses on women’s poetry, which I know will be interesting, because I think the term ‘confessional’ is applied to women poets much more frequently than to men.  What I’m not sure about is whether what I’m doing now, is actually what ‘doing a PhD’ is.  Is reading the book on the train and making notes ‘doing a PhD’.  Is writing my thoughts out on this blog, which has helped make them a lot clearer ‘doing a PhD?’  Why hasn’t someone written a handbook about creative writing PhD’s which would have a chapter that defines what ‘doing a PhD’ actually is? If this is ‘doing a PhD’ then I’m bloody loving it.  If it’s not, then I’m a bit screwed, because I’ve spent the whole week doing something else entirely.

Apart from PhD work, I’ve also managed to finish a review that was overdue for Under the Radar magazine of two fantastic books by Emily Berry and Sabrina Mahfouz, played second trumpet in a duet piece for one of my remaining trumpet student’s GCSE performance, worked with Pauline Yarwood to finalise proofs for Kendal Poetry Festival brochures, had a filling (completely traumatising) and organised with Clare Shaw a ‘Feminist Poetry Jambouree’.  What an amazing night that was.  We stopped counting the audience at about 70.  It was such a great thing to be part of, and lots of the audience were new to poetry as well, and had come because it was a feminist event, or because it was political.  I’m sure themed poetry readings are the way forward! We also raised £200 to be split between The Birchall Trust (a local charity that works with survivors of sexual abuse) and Let Go (a charity that works with victims of domestic violence).

My exciting piece of news is that I’ve been invited to read at Struga Poetry Evenings, a poetry festival in Macedonia in August, as part of the Versopolis project that I’m currently part of.  Versopolis is a funded project to help emerging poets reach a wider, more international audience.  Through Versopolis, I went to Croatia at the Goran’s Spring Festival in 2015 and had a brilliant time, so I’m really looking forward to Macedonia.  I’ll be at the festival for a week, and then the husband is going to meet me there on the last day of the festival (he is doing some epic and ridiculous bike ride to get there) and then we’re going to have a holiday together.  As long as he doesn’t expect me to get on the pushbike!

In December, I’m running my ‘Poetry Carousel‘ residential course again for the third year running.  As far as I know, nobody else is doing anything like this in the UK.  The basic premise is instead of the usual two poetry tutors on a residential, the lucky participants on the Poetry Carousel will get four – myself, David Morley, Hilda Sheehan and Steve Ely.  You will be in a group of no more than eight, and your group of eight will get a two hour workshop with each tutor.   There will be a maximum of 32 people booked on the course, but the workshop groups will be small and intimate.  In the evening, we all come together for readings from the tutors and guest poets, and it feels more like a festival than a residential.  It’s taking place at Abbot Hall Hotel from the 8th-11th December 2017 and costs £360 for the weekend.  This includes all of your meals (breakfast, lunch and three course evening meal) plus accommodation and workshops.  If you are interested, please give the hotel a ring to book your room on 015395 32896.  The best rooms always go first, so if you like a bit of luxury, please book early!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by my good friend Jennifer Copley, who I tutored with last week on the residential course.  We shared a lodge together for the first time and it was a bit like living with a small bird.  Jenny trilled her way round the lodge, singing snatches of Methodist hymns and other tunes.    Jenny’s new pamphlet was published just in time for the residential course.  It’s called ‘Some Couples’ and does what it says on the tin, exploring the world of coupledom in Jenny’s usual surreal style.  It is a HappenStance pamphlet, so you know it’s going to be good! You can order it direct from them HERE, and make a hardworking, independent publisher very happy.

I love this poem for it’s childlike, wide-eyed tone at the beginning.  Jenny’s poems always have their own inner logic, and I love how the reader goes with the idea of a mouse having a favourite corner, but then she pushes it further and convinces us that the corner has an opinion and worries of its own, and then even further still, with the introduction of the idea that the corner has a mother.  The poem doesn’t give us all the answers however – what would a corner’s mother look like? For me, the whole poem lights up in the third stanza, with that direct interjection from the author.  The use of the word ‘little’ works really hard for such an innocuous word to illustrate the fondness of the author for the corner.  And then finally there is that lovely image of the mouse returning to finish off.

The Two Friends – Jennifer Copley

A small mouse sits in a corner of a field.
It’s his favourite corner
where he feels safe.
The corner is happy to have him.

Sometimes the mouse has to go away.
The corner worries he won’t come back,
that he’ll find a better corner elsewhere.
A long time ago the corner’s mother did just that.
The corner had only a few cold-hearted stones to turn to.

Don’t worry, little corner! I am the writer of this poem
and I can reveal the mouse will always return
though his fur be more and more bedraggled
going through all those hedges, brambles and nettles.

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Sunday Poem – Tom Cleary

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I’m writing this feeling very delicate as I went out last night to a friends 50th birthday party.  Lady C, as she shall be called on this blog had no idea her husband had planned a surprise party and thought she was just popping round to the bar where the party was for a quick drink before being whisked away to enjoy a slap up meal at a restaurant.  As the room of about 150 odd people fell silent so we could all shout ‘Surprise!’ as she opened the door I did think how terrible it would be if Lady C fell over with the shock.  She is made of sterner stuff though and soon recovered.  It was lovely to see such a large amount of people turning out for Lady C’s birthday.  There was a great band on as well called The Sidecars who got everybody up dancing.  I only drank three bottles of lager but then I was up dancing all night and now I feel like I drank ten bottles.  Does anybody else get that?  When I used to go out drinking and dancing when I was younger, I used to get horrible hangovers but that was because I drank like an idiot.  It felt like a fair exchange – drink and stay out all night and pay for it afterwards.  Now however, I only drink a little bit and I still feel terrible in the morning.

I broke off from writing this blog to go for my Sunday run.  I normally go at 10am but everybody was at Lady C’s party last night as well so we decided to go at 12pm instead.  We went for a run along the beach but nobody had remembered to check the tide times which meant risking running over the stones and possibly breaking an ankle or going up and down the sand dunes.  I was all for risking broken bones but nobody else agreed so off we went, up and down the rather steep sand dunes.

 

This week has felt like the week I learnt to prioritise things.  I often make lists of jobs to do, but then I waft about from job to job on the list and then I have a panic because I’ve left something to the last minute.  This week I went through the list, helped by my trusty husband and put things in the order they needed to be done.

Hanging over my head this week is the dreaded tax return which isn’t helping things. When I look back over my spreadsheets that I’ve kept over the last few years I do feel quite proud.  2011-2012 I made a loss as a writer.  This was the first year I really started working as a poet.  2012-13 I managed to break even and 2013-14 I will be making my first ever profit – not enough to retire on, but enough to consider it a viable part-income, at least.

So Monday will be the day the tax return gets finished, even it kills me, even if I don’t see the light of day ALL DAY etc etc.  Not that I’m being dramatic about it or anything.

My first and most pressing deadline this week was to write out the first assignment for my Poetry School online course ‘What Work Is’.  I managed to get this finished on Thursday so that was one job ticked off the list.  The course doesn’t start till the 28th January, but the Poetry School are doing some work on the website and the assignment needed to go up this week.

My second job was to ring the lovely Clare Shaw to have a chat about a course that we are tutoring together at Ty Newydd in a couple of weeks time.  We will be spending a week with a group of girls from a school in Manchester.  I’m really looking forward to the week.  We did get slightly distracted from planning by catching up on various bits of gossip but never mind.   I haven’t been to Ty Newydd for a couple of years now, but it is a very special place to me.  I went on my first, life-changing residential poetry course there and then went and did a course every year for the next three or four years so the house and the area mean a lot to me.

Bookings for the St Ives Residential poetry course that I’m tutoring with Steve Ely are going really well.  We now have just two places left, if there is anybody who has been swithering about whether to go or not.  It will be a fantastic week in beautiful surroundings.  I’ve managed to book my train ticket to Crewe where I’ll be getting picked up by John Foggin and Steve Ely before we head down to St Ives.  I’m looking forward to this week as well – I went on family holidays to Cornwall every year when I was younger so again, I get the chance to feel all nostalgic when I’m there.

I am also doing my first bit of mentoring for the Poetry School tomorrow, which is really exciting.  In fact, after I’ve finished writing this blog, I’ll be reading through the poems I’ve been sent, ready for the skype chat with my mentee tomorrow.  If anybody is interested in a tutorial or extended mentoring with me, please get in touch with The Poetry School or contact me directly by email (you can find this on the Contact page)

This doesn’t sound like I’ve had that much to do actually – but it has definitely felt like it!  In between the above tasks I’ve been answering emails, gathering content for the website for Kendal Poetry Festival, inviting a set of poets to come and read for A Poem and a Pint in 2016.  One evening was spent sending emails out about St Ives to get the last few places filled.

So today’s Sunday Poem is by a lovely man called Tom Cleary.  I first met him when I did a reading in Hebden Bridge bookshop a couple of months ago. He bought my book and asked me to sign it, not mentioning that he also wrote poetry until I asked him and then he didn’t say anything about the fact that he’d had a pamphlet out in 2014.  I only found that out a month or so ago, when I was the guest poet at Puzzle Poets and Tom got up to read and read a few poems from his pamphlet.

I thought his poetry was really special on first hearing, but I didn’t manage to catch him to buy a copy as he whizzed off as soon as the reading finished to give someone a lift home.  I am nothing if not determined though, and the kindly Bob Horne agreed to pass on the money for a pamphlet and my address so that Tom could post it out to me.

Tom’s pamphlet is called The Third Miss Keane which strikes me as a promising title anyway and it does hint at what is to come in this pamphlet, which is a host of really good, and interesting stories.  The poems often feel slightly surreal, or fairy-tale like, but they always have their own inner logic.

Like Rose Cook, the poet I featured last week on the blog, I hadn’t heard of Tom Cleary before.  It just proves how many fantastic poets there are, writing brilliant poetry and not being noticed enough for the good stuff they are writing.  Or maybe it proves that I am losing touch with the poetry scene, and not keeping up…

 

Gobstoppers – Tom Cleary

On our way home from school
we bought boiled sweets in paper bags,
bright red gobstoppers highlighted with flecks of black,
gumballs, lemon drops, toffee slabs on a stick,
flavoured with aniseed, sherbet or mint.
We sucked and sucked until our mouths
glittered like lipstick.  Our tongues
burned with the sweet acid
and we stuck them out of our mouths
and fanned them with our hands.

We bought them in a grey shop
on the corner of nowhere, on waste ground,
in front of rows of cream and white pebble-dashed houses.
Behind the yellow of its misty window,
dead flies lay scattered and limp flags of cobwebs drifted.
A sickly young man in an advert behind a cracked frame
was scarved in drifts of smoke.

The owners were two elderly sisters, who could have been twins.
Their hair was scraped back in buns
with loose straggly wisps.  They stood awkwardly
like shy guests waiting to be introduced.
Their eyes reminded me of my aunt,
and I imagined them to be the lost wives of farmers,
abducted from their homes and carried away
over great distances, to spend their lives
exiled in this bare shop, selling sweets
to small boys for their hot pennies.

Behind the counter they were ill at ease,
standing at an odd angle to one another,
as if they’d been set there in place,
figures in an installation.  I sensed a yearning
in them, as though they’d never stopped wondering
what had become of the chickens that used to peck
at their ankles and their shoe laces.
When they handed us change
with a delicate bend of the wrist,
were they remembering the butter churn?

I think this poem is a good example of the work you can expect to find in the pamphlet. Throughout the pamphlet, and in this poem, ordinary circumstances become slightly surreal and strange.

It also gave me a lovely feeling of nostalgia – although we only bought sweets from the rather ordinary corner shop when I was young, which sat at the top of our road next to a chinese takeaway and a hairdressers, there was one long hot summer when my sister and I and our friends would put our money altogether and buy five or six paper bags of sweets and sit on the park, eating sweets all day, being bothered by wasps because the sweets were so sticky.  I remember watching the newsagent as he weighed out the sweets on a large silver scale and squeezing the bottom of the bag to check how much sugar had gathered.

Tom’s shop is a little more exciting though, and a little less hygenic than the one I remember from my childhood.  I love the detail of the shop window with its ‘dead flies lay scattered and limp flags of cobwebs drifted’ and of course the strangeness of the scene is set up before then.  The shop is ‘in the middle of nowhere.’  The portrait of the two elderly sisters who run the shop is also very cleverly drawn.  That detail of the way they stand ‘awkwardly/like shy guests waiting to be introduced’ gives you a picture of them straight away.  The best detail in this third verse though, is the ‘hot pennies’ at the end, again, as soon as you read that, you know exactly what he means.

The idea that they remind the speaker of the poem ‘of his aunt’ which he then goes on to develop saying he imagines them to be ‘the lost wives of farmers.’  He never implicitly says that his aunt was the lost wife of a farmer, but we are left to infer this.  It is such a strange idea, which he then develops brilliantly in the last stanza.  We are left not knowing if the aunt was the lost wife of a farmer, and she was full of ‘yearning’ or whether the two elderly sisters were or maybe nobody was, and it was all in the boys imagination.  I don’t mind not knowing though and I think this is what makes it a good poem – not only the brilliantly drawn details, but also the mystery we are left with.

In 2011 Tom won the Writers Forum/HappenStance Competition and in January 2014 he was featured poet in Orbis 166. I was interested to read that The WF/HappenStance prize was to have been the publication of a sampler. But there were too many good poems so HappenStance published a pamphlet instead: The Third Miss Keane which you can buy from the HappenStance website for the bargain price of only £4 plus postage.  In 2015, Tom was also a winner of the prestigious Northern Writers’ Award, one of six New North poets.  You can find out a little bit more about Tom on his profile page at the HappenStance website.

Hope you enjoyed the poem, and please do let me know what you think of it! I know if you wanted to order the pamphlet it would make a hard working publisher and a lovely poet very happy, which for just £4 seems like a Very Good Thing To Do.

Sunday Poem – Stephanie Green

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Today it feels much longer than a week since I updated my blog – maybe because it has been a really exciting week.  First of all I did my first public reading from my new collection.  Although I did read from it whilst tutoring on the residential course I was running with Carola Luther in Grange over Sands, that was to a small audience of 17 people and it was a lovely, intimate atmosphere.  This time I was reading at the Heart Cafe, in Leeds – it was still a lovely, intimate atmosphere, even though there were maybe 30 or so people there – the room was full with just enough chairs for everybody.

It was a really special evening, not least because it was a bit of a repeat of history.  In 2012, the night before my official pamphlet launch at The Wordsworth Trust, Peter Sansom drove specially over to Leeds to drop off a box of my pamphlets at The Heart Cafe so I could do a pre-launch reading there.  I got stuck in traffic, and by the time I’d got there, David Tait had already sold about 20 copies of my pamphlet.  Peter White, who now organises the readings had bought the first copy and came straight up to me and asked me to sign it.

Fast forward three years and I find myself in Leeds again, just two weeks after the book is officially published.  This time I drive over to Leeds the longer way on the A65 instead of using the motorways with the wonderful poet Andrew Forster and my equally wonderful husband Chris, who puts up with us talking about poetry all the way from Grange over Sands to Leeds.  We went straight to get something to eat in a small Greek restaurant and were joined by Lindsey Holland and her daughter and then the lovely Abigail, who used to be an intern at the Wordsworth Trust, and so far has the coveted title of ‘Kim’s favourite intern.’

The box of books has been living under my desk for the last two weeks, since their brief outing into the world at Grange.  I’m not quite sure why, except after that initial impulse to read it cover to cover, I then couldn’t even bear to look at them.  Not because I didn’t like it, but I just wanted to wait to enjoy it until the reading.  It felt a bit like when I was younger.  At Easter my sister and I would both be allowed to eat half of an Easter egg in the morning which we would eat really slowly to annoy each other by being the last one to have any chocolate left.  It felt like if I got the book out of the box before Wednesday it would be like scoffing my easter egg in one go.

Anyway, we got to the reading with moments to spare because the restaurant were quite slow at serving our food.  Andrew and I basically ate a whole leg of lamb in about five minutes.  I felt really bloated and was quite relieved to not have to read till later.

Peter White, who organises the reading series had asked me who I would like to read with me and between us we came up with the poetry dream team of Andrew Forster, Mark Connors, Keith Hutson, John Foggin and I decided to prod Peter into reading, as he has always been a great supporter not just of my poetry, but of poetry and poets in general, and I thought it would be nice to let him have some of the limelight.

I was really touched by the people who turned up to the reading.  There was quite a few people that I didn’t know, but lots that I did.  When I looked round the room, I realised that there were lots of poets sitting there who I’d thanked in my acknowledgements to the book, people that had read various versions of the manuscript and sent comments and feedback.  Clare Shaw was there – the first person I sent the whole sequence of domestic violence poems to.  If she hadn’t been as enthusiastic and excited about them as she was, I would not have sent them to Amy Wack at Seren, telling her that I was thinking of making a pamphlet out of them.  Amy told me they had to go in the collection.  I’m glad she did – that is what an editor is for.  I can’t imagine the book without them now.  It would be like its heart was missing.  Ian Duhig was there and Carola Luther and lots of people that I’d met during my residency in Ilkley, people I met when I ran a workshop at Leeds Writers Circle a few years ago now, my lovely cousin Vicky and her partner Tom, who had never been to a poetry reading before and who I’m hoping are not too traumatised by the whole experience.

John Foggin nearly made me cry three times – once by saying nice things about me, the second time by reading an amazing, amazing poem that I would ask to have for this blog, except that it needs to be published and reach a wider readership than I do here, and then the third time by bringing an early version of my manuscript that I sent him, that he commented on that he has had bound in beautiful leather.  Flicking through it very quickly, one of the main differences was that this earlier version was back to front.

Keith Hutson read a fantastic set of his poems about Troupers – these poems are going to make such a good pamphlet when he puts them altogether.  It was the first time I’d heard Keith do a longer set so that was a real treat.  Andrew Forster was his usual poised self, delivering a perfectly balanced reading of his work, ending with a new poem about his father, which I really enjoyed.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten to mention somebody who turned up, and I apologise if it is you.  It is 11.15pm now and I have till midnight to get this finished, and I’ve only half told you about Wednesday! I wasn’t going to read from the sequence of domestic violence poems because they are by their very nature a bit grim, but then when it came to it, I felt like I had to, because they are a huge part of the book.  There will be readings, I think when I won’t feel able to read them, but this didn’t feel like one of them.  When I’m reading them it feels like I’m standing in a black hole, but I know the way to get out, and that makes all the difference.

You can find some photos of the event here

I sold 24 books on Wednesday, bringing my total sales up to 48. This means I have to write to Seren to order another box of 100 because I’m estimating I will probably sell the last 52 by the end of May.  Boxes of books are a lot more expensive than boxes of pamphlets, so here’s hoping I sell them all.  Failing that, as David Tait says, they make good door stops.

So, that was Wednesday!  The other exciting thing that happened this week was that I took part in the Dalton 10k race.  Last year when I ran this race I’d only been running for a couple of months after a ten year gap and I managed 56 minutes and 56 seconds.  Six months ago, I’d managed 51 and a half minutes for a fairly flat 10k course so I figured if I aimed for as close to 50 minutes as I could get, that was an ambitious enough target, considering I’ve been injured and I’ve not been getting as much training in as I would have liked.

I absolutely loved every minute of the race – and it is really, really tempting here to go into a blow by blow account of every kilometre and give you my splits for each kilometre, but I won’t because I understand, like looking at photos of other people’s children, it’s probably not that interesting for anybody else.  All of those hill runs Chris has been dragging me on so he could look at the mountains definitely paid off, because I actually enjoyed the hilly course. I eventually ended up with a time of 47 minutes 42 seconds, which I still can’t believe.  As in, I don’t know physically how I did that because I certainly haven’t been training at that speed or anything close to it.  Oh well!

On Saturday I volunteered at Barrow Park Run and then spent the rest of the day writing. I bought myself another folder and decided to go through the poems I’ve half started in the last six months and print out any with potential.  Every time I tell myself I’m not writing and then it takes me six months to realise I’ve been writing the whole time, but I haven’t been organised and the poems have been in a rather scruffy looking folder.  You will be glad to hear they are now arranged in my posh new folder, ready to be edited and then make their way into the world.  In the evening I spent time writing up the first assignment for the online course that I’m teaching for The Poetry School, which starts next Wednesday.

I actually felt like a writer for the first time in months.  Not because I had a box of my own collection under my desk, or because I’d done a reading and sold lots of books, but because I was writing.  I might be writing complete dross, but I was writing, for a sustained and concentrate length of time, which I haven’t done for a while, for so long, in fact that I’d forgotten how much I actually enjoy writing.  Even when the poem is destined for nowhere more glamorous than the bin, I still love being in that moment of writing.

Today I’ve been to Printfest in Ulverston with a friend and stocked up on lovely cards and postcards and chocolate brownies and cookies.  This evening I went for a 6 mile run with two friends to try and get some of the Dalton hills out of my legs – I’m not sure if it worked, the hills were definitely still in my legs when I was running!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Stephanie Green, who I met at Stanza very briefly after going to her reading, where she read alongside D.A. Prince from her pamphlet Flout.  I really enjoyed Stephanie’s reading and took the opportunity of getting my pamphlet signed to ask her if I could use one of her poems here.  Stephanie moved to Edinburgh in 2000 and runs creative writing workshops and reviews Theatre and Dance.  You can order Stephanie’s pamphlet from the fabulous HappenStance  and you can find out more about Stephanie Green here.

I’ve chosen the poem The Njuggle  from Stephanie’s pamphlet.  A definition in the back of the book tells me that a Njuggle is a ‘demon water horse or pony found in Shetland and Orkney folklore’.  I love the story in this poem.  The language that Stephanie uses, like the word ‘scry’ in the second line, seems to fit with that folklore feel and that man’s face rising in the mirror in the third line reminds me of Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Mirror’ when her face ‘rises towards her like a terrible fish’.  One of the things I love about this poem are the many wonderful words used to describe movement in it.  The piebald pony ‘ambled up’.  His muscles ‘shivered like water in the wind’.  When the Njuggle turns into water he ‘poured through my arms’.

I also love the idea of it – I’ve not heard of an Njuggle before, but the use of transformation in poetry is one I’m interested in at the minute and the story of an animal carrying off a human woman is an old and time-tested story.  The other thing to point out, which I’m sure you will have noticed is the wonderfully tight structure that holds this poem together.  It is very carefully put together.  The first and the third line of each three line stanza rhyme and many of the second lines of each stanza rhyme as well.

I’ve been reading so much Ovid recently, I can’t help thinking of it when I read this poem.  Stanza 4 reminds me of Europa when she is carried off by Jove in the form of a bull, and in the last complete stanza, when the Njuggle turns into water, it reminds me of the women in Ovid’s Metamorphoses who were turned into water to escape the unwanted attentions of one of the gods.

Thank you to Stephanie for letting me use this poem and do feel free to comment underneath, if you feel so moved.

The Njuggle – Stephanie Green

At midnight on Hallowe’en, my back to the moon,
I looked in the mirror to scry my lover-to-be.
His face rose like a drowned man’s.

At twilight I walked by the lochan in the hills
where the whaap’s cry wavers from the reeds.
A piebald pony ambled up.  His nostrils

pulsed as he blew into my hand.
Clicking my tongue, I patted his flanks
and his muscles shivered like water in the wind.

When he lowered his head, I knew I must mount.
I rode him through the night, gripping his back
between my thighs till I slid on our sweat

and he rolled me into cold, green fire.
I clung to his mane blooming with algae,
his shoulders encrusted with mussels and mire.

His hooves softened and opened into a fan
of fingers and toes.  Belly flattening, spine
whip-lashing, he bucked and shrank into a man.

As the dark fled, he turned to plunge me under
but dawn broke and he poured through my arms.
I was alone, calling, calling with no answer,

only the widening circles on the loch.

Sunday Poem – Peter Jarvis

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Evening all – if I have done this right, this will be published on Sunday at 5.30pm, while I am away in Crete.  The wonders of technology.  I’m actually writing this blog on Friday night just after midnight.  I’ve been away all week tutoring on a week-long residential course with Carola Luther.  We had 16 lovely, talented poets signed up for the course  and it has been a great, if intense week.

My lovely friend Lindsey Holland is staying at my house this week, looking after my dogs and she picked me up from Grange and gave me a lift back to Barrow.  I slept for about an hour and then since then I’ve been packing.  Our flight goes pretty early in the morning – we are having to leave at 2am so it seemed pointless to go to sleep and then wake up feeling terrible.

So this week’s Sunday Poem is appropriately set in another country.  Peter Jarvis was born into an early-settler family in Mashonaland, Zimbabwe and was educated there and in South Africa.  He did postgraduate studies in Scotland at St Andrews and later Stirling universities.  He worked in African education in Zimbabwe, then in Fife for 25 years.  In 2000 he returned to Botswana as part of a team of British Council teachers and enjoyed a thorough immersion in African village life.  There were two further postings in Namibia as adviser and teacher.

I first met Peter at the birthday party of a mutual friend, Antony Christie.  Back then, my pamphlet had just come out, and Peter’s was, I think in the pipeline with Happenstance.  I saw Peter again at Stanza this year, when he introduced the event that I read at with John Dennison and was really happy to finally see his finished pamphlet Nights of a Shining Moon which I read in one setting.

The poems are set in Africa and are beautifully written.  They have a calmness and sureness about them which I think you can see in the poem I’ve chosen.  I like this poem because of its story though, told in the voice of a Lesotho shepherd. I thought I’d post this today because we’ve been looking this week on the course about the different ways we can tell stories in poems, and this poem uses one of the oldest, and best tricks in the book, which is to write the story in the voice of a character.

Although this isn’t a long poem, the characters have real colour and presence.  I like the mother who runs and shouts at the owner, and the kindness of the owners wife.  I like the consequences of the kindness, that the dogs go hungry.  There is also that lovely line about learning to sleep with hunger, and teaching the stomach not to want food.  This poem is not just straightforward though.  It has an air of strangeness to it in that line ‘The lightning means the witches want to kill us’.  My favourite part of the poem though is the list of useful things.  I love that finding water and finding food is given the same importance as making music and taming animals.

If you would like to order Peter’s pamphlet, you can order it through Happenstance and make lovely Helena Nelson, his editor a very happy lady.  Thanks to Peter for letting me use his poem.

A Lesotho Shepherd – Peter Jarvis
(He speaks at his mountain cattle post)

When you are a shepherd
the owner of the animals
must give you gumboots and a kobo.
At the end of the year he pays you
a cow, or two or three sheep.

Once, when I was six, I lost
a sheep in rain.  They ran
and scattered.  Sheep are silly –
cows are not so difficult.
All night I searched.
I was sjamboked.
My mother brought me water
to wash in and she boiled
plants as medicine for my cuts.
She ran and shouted at the owner.

For the next sheep I lost as a boy
I was not allowed food.
The owner’s wife, sorry for me,
gave me the dogs’ food.
That night the dogs went hungry, not me.
But I am used to sleeping with hunger –
I can teach my stomach not to want food.
If you lose a sheep far away at the motebo
you can say a jackal took it.
Your shepherd friends may back you up.

Here at my motebo on the mountain
I leave behind village noises, village smells.
But shepherds fear thunderstorms.
The lightning means the witches want to kill us.

So I wear a rubber necklace.
I’ve learnt in a difficult school.
I know useful things:
where to find water
how to find food
how to make music
how to tame animals

kobo = blanket
sjambok = rawhide whip
motebo = cattle post

Sunday Poem – Graham Austin

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I’ve just got back from a really enjoyable evening playing the trumpet at a fundraising concert at St Mary’s Church.  It’s been about a year since I played any solo stuff on the trumpet but I really enjoyed it. The concert was organised by Father Gribben and was actually in his house rather than the church.  There must have been about 50 people in the audience and as well as me, Father Gribben played some great piano pieces and there was also a young oboe player who performed brilliantly.  The concert raised over £600 apparently.  I was asked to perform last week which was good as it left me no time to get nervous.  I went for a rehearsal on Thursday and it was great fun.  I didn’t get nervous tonight – maybe the first time I’ve performed a solo and not been nervous.  Maybe I’m turning over a new leaf!

This week I’ve been working till quite late most nights, getting various jobs done.  I’ve been writing to publishers to ask for books that I would like reviewed for the first issue of The Compass magazine, which has been great fun.  Although it was very tempting to get them all sent to my house first so I could read them, I realised this would slow everything down quite a lot and I would end up with no reviews because I was hogging all the books, so now they are going straight out to the reviewers.

This week I’ve been booked for three readings and a workshop.  I’ll be running a workshop for Mungrisdale Writers in July and reading in Todmorden in August and Lancaster Litfest and Cafe Writers in October.  I also had a request from Poems in the Waiting Room for permission to put my poem ‘You asked me to bring you a gift from my walk’ on a card and distribute it around NHS waiting rooms, which seems like an amazing thing to happen to a poem.  This particular poem I haven’t actually thought about in years – I wrote it seven years ago, when I was just starting it out.  It was published in Staple magazine and then didn’t make it into the pamphlet and then I forgot about it so it is nice that it is going to get a new lease of life.  I’ve also been asked to contribute a poem to a short pamphlet to celebrate the 30th reading of the series.

Today I sent what I hope are the last edits over to Amy on my collection.  I printed out the final proofs and instead of thinking of it as a dead animal sitting on my chest and blocking my view, I actually feel quite protective and fond of it now.  I’ve been carrying it around and having it sleep next to my bed the last couple of nights.

The running has not been going too well though this week.  I’ve been running with a pain in my groin for a while now and it has been getting a bit worse so I went to see a physiotherapist this Friday and I have an inflamed tendon, which is very annoying.  I’ve decided to give running a rest this week to see if it will go away.  I went to spinning at the gym instead today because I really don’t want to lose all my fitness again but it is looking unlikely that I’ll be able to do the half-marathon I’d planned to do in Blackpool in a couple of weeks time.

My lovely friend Keith Hutson came  up to visit this weekend.  We went for a fantastic walk in Grizedale Forest on Saturday and there was clear blue sky and a strange bird which sounded like a frog.  Keith caught me up on all the gossip and we even managed to get some editing done on each other’s poetry before he had to go back home to feed his sheep.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Graham Austin.  I first met Graham at A Poem and a Pint when I was just starting out writing poetry.  Graham died last week, quite suddenly and unexpectedly.  It still doesn’t feel real now that I won’t be seeing him perform any more.  Graham was genuinely funny, and I know this is a cliche, but he really did have a twinkle in his eye.  He was always supportive of other poets.  He found it easy to show his delight in other people’s poetry.  Helena Nelson, who published his pamphlet ‘Fuelling Speculation’ a couple of years ago, has written a lovely and eloquent piece over at the Happenstance blog about Graham and you can read some more of his work there as well.  Graham’s wife has asked me to say a few words about Graham at his funeral and along with two of his other friends to read a few of his poems.  I don’t know what I’m going to say yet.  I will have to say something about how funny he was, although perhaps that is too obvious.  Of course everybody there will know how funny he was.  When I think of Graham I think of him on stage, waiting with that slightly suprised, pleased smile for the audience to stop laughing so he can go on with his next line.

Graham has featured on this blog before back in October 2014, again with a very funny poem, and if I have attracted any running poets, you will like this poem.

But here is Disappointment – I remember hearing Graham read this and he had got the audience into such a state of hilarity, he had to wait for quite a while before they would stop laughing so he could read his final stanza.

Disappointment – Graham Austin

It was as if nothing had happened.
Five minutes earlier we had sat down to watch the sea.
Now five minutes later we were still watching the sea.
It was as if nothing had happened.

‘It’s as if nothing has happened,’ she said.
‘Five minutes ago we sat down to watch the sea.
Now five minutes later we are still watching the sea.
It’s as if nothing has happened.
Kiss me.’

I did.
Six minutes previously we had sat down to watch the sea.
Six minutes later we were still watching the seae.
And it really was as if nothing had happened

Sunday Poem – Graham Austin

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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.

Sunday Poem – Andrew Elliott

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This week poet Andrew McMillan tweeted “If people couldn’t TELL other people they were a poet but could only sit and write poetry, would they still want to be a poet?” This first of all made me laugh, but I think it touches on important things.  And then I read a wonderful post today from Helena Nelson about being a publisher, but more than that, about what it means to be a poet.  You can find the blog post here, and it really is worth reading
http://www.happenstancepress.com/index.php/blog/entry/send-me-your-poems-iv-the-relationship
Helena Nelson is currently deep in the submissions window for Happenstance, which closes on Tuesday.  The blog above is Number 4 on this subject and you should read them all and preferably, I guess start with Number 1, but Number 4 made my heart soar today – in a strange way.

These two things – Andrew’s tweet and Helena’s blog are connected in my mind – although I haven’t quite worked out how yet.  Regular readers (or my friends) will know I put no thought really into these blog posts – I think as I write, in a similar way to when I write poems actually.

This means my thought process isn’t always particularly well thought out – but the poet I’ve chosen to feature for this Sunday fits nicely between this tweet and Helena’s blog, both of which, I think are trying to pin down what writing poetry is, or should be about.

Andrew Elliott is an elusive poet – I couldn’t track him down online to ask him directly whether I could use one of his poems for my Sunday Poem, so I got in touch with his publisher Charles Boyle of CB Editions, who incidentally, also keeps a very interesting blog at http://sonofabook.blogspot.co.uk/

Charles very graciously said I could use Andrew’s poem from his book ‘Mortality Rate’.  I ordered this book because I have developed a bit of a crush on CB Edition poetry books.  I have bought four this year – Dan O’Brien’s ‘War Reporter’ and two by Dennis Nurske – ‘Voices Over Water’ and ‘A Night in Brooklyn’ and of course this one by Andrew Elliott – which came to my attention because it was part of the Inpress Christmas Sale.  So at the minute I have a 100% hit rate with really enjoying this publishers’ books – CB Editions has a brilliant hit rate of winning the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize as well by the way…

It turns out Andrew Elliott doesn’t really engage with social media or the internet – there are not even any pictures of him, which explains why I couldn’t track him down.  It’s a good way not to get poetry stalkers I suppose.  Not that I am one of course.

But I respect him for this privacy – although I couldn’t do it – I enjoy being around poets too much – I like going to readings – I like talking about poetry – I even like Facebook and Twitter most of the time apart from when people moan about stuff that actually has nothing to do with the act of writing – or when people over share not fond of that – but I’m going off the point – I respect Charles Boyle even more – for publishing a poet whose work he loved, probably knowing that it would be difficult to sell copies because he wasn’t active on social media.  Then again – I still managed to buy the book!  So the moral of this tale is to go to CB Editions website – don’t bother with Amazon.  Order any of their poetry books – or even their fiction actually (although I haven’t tried any of those) http://www.cbeditions.com/

But first of all you need to read this poem by Andrew Elliott – which I think is representative of the rest of the book – the poems are full of these long twisting sentences which turn back on themselves.  I would finish reading each poem and then give myself a shake and have to go back again to the beginning – which is a good sign isn’t it?

I love the long lines of this poem – and the mystery of it – when the man exclaims that the holes in the poem ‘inexplicably move’ him – I feel the same way about this poem – except it is not inexplicable – it is that last verse that touches me.  It also reminds me of the Elizabeth Bishop poem ‘Monument’ which you can find here http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-monument/

Not in the syntax of course, or the rhythm, but in that close and unflinching attention to detail – the same kind of poetic gaze that cannot be distracted – and they both have those exclamations in them which are like little bursts of emotion…and the lightbulb ‘like the soul of a man so twisted’ – isn’t that great?  I do like poems that have the word soul in generally – especially as it is one of those ‘taboo’ words that you get told not to use – not quite in the same league as ‘shard’ but coming close – this makes me want to use it more though –

If you would like to read the rest of ‘Mortality Rate’ by Andrew Elliott pop over to CB Editions and make an independent publisher very happy for the new year!

Ps – I haven’t said anything about Christmas because I can’t be bothered.  It happened.  It was windy.  There you go!  Have a great New Year’s Eve if I’m not back before then!

Installation – Andrew Elliott

In a plywood partition that stops six inches short of the ceiling
a number of holes have been bored as if in preparation for plumbing.
Each two inches in diameter, they appear to be awaiting delivery
of a consignment of urinals from China, stainless steel ones no doubt.

Let’s count how many there are…There are nine, if I’m not mistaken,
and in almost every case such pride has been taken in the work –
perhaps the bit was tungsten-tipped? – that it’s only the hole in the middle
where – due to excessive vibration? – the cheap plywood has ragged

and left a fringe of splinters which should be easy enough to make good with the help of a Stanley knife and some sandpaper, were the fitter
to feel the need though that is to make the assumption that the urinals
will arrive when they’re supposed to, the job not abandoned,

the fitter not to be told and so turn up with all his gear to find exactly
as we’ve done a plywood partition down the middle of a room
whose walls are tiled white to the top and which, having had no windows
to begin with, is supplied with light by a long-life bulb which hangs

from the ceiling on our side like the soul of a man so twisted
that he might have had something to do with the holes, been either
the man who had bored them or the man who had had them bored for him –
though when I say our I mean only the side that we’re on; we could as easily

be standing on the dark side and, standing there, find it more interesting,
the effect of the light being let in through the holes, the sense of
encroachment on the ceiling where the partition stops short, as I’ve said…
But then again partition? It tolls a bell to which another bell answers.

The holes! They inexplicably move me. I feel a great need to worship them.
I want to get down on my hands and knees.  I want to crawl towards them.
I want to put my mouth to each one of them, in particular that horribly
ragged one.  I want to whisper such things as I’ve never told anyone.

Sunday Poem – Chrissy Williams

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Evening folks.  I am so excited about my Sunday Poem this week that I can hardly bear to tell you any other news – then again, I haven’t got that much so that is ok!

On Friday I read at the Brewery Arts Centre with Gill Nicholson and Mark Carson – two lovely poet friends, who I realised as I got up to do my set, were at the first writing group I ever went to, so have the dubious honour of being some of the first people to ever see one of my poems.  So this is all their fault, I think! Anyway, they were lovely and encouraging to me, so it was wonderful to read alongside them on Friday.

Pauline Yarwood, another lovely poet-friend was the MC for the night, and she did a great job – her introductions were warm and generous and full of enthusiasm for poetry, real enthusiasm, which as we all know is contagious and is what we need more of in the world.

I read some new poems and broke out from my usual set that I do from the pamphlet, which was both scary and liberating.  Reading from the pamphlet is like putting on a pair of comfy shoes – I do the same poems in the same order – but Friday’s reading made me realise that it is ok to shake it up a little bit!

I have had a great week for selling books – I sold six on Thursday in Carlisle and the bookshop took five to sell, which I am very grateful for as it is hard to get my poor spineless pamphlets onto a shelf, and I sold six on Friday in Kendal and then two through my lovely paypal button on this blog this week which takes my grand total to 406 copies sold!  Da da!  I’ll let you all know again when/if I get to 500…..

But! Off this unimportant stuff – and lets face it – it is not that important really – not compared to finding a poem that makes you wish you had written it – that makes you read and re-read it to get to the heart of it, and then realise you won’t get to the heart of it, and that’s kind of the point…and I have such a poem as my Sunday poem this week!

When I was shortlisted for the Michael Marks a week or so ago, it jolted me into ordering some pamphlets that I’ve been meaning to order for ages.  One of the other shortlisted poets was Chrissy Williams with her Happenstance pamphlet ‘Flying into the Bear’.  I read the first poem, and became a bit besotted with it.  Maybe it is because that bears slip in and out of Chrissy’s poems in the same way wolves lurk at the edges of mine – but it also has something to do with the beautiful language and the inner logic of the poem that holds it together against the more rational logic of the outside world.

I feel I’m gushing too much, so I’m going to stop as I will be meeting Chrissy soon at the Michael Marks Awards and I don’t want her to think she has a crazy stalker – but you should really order the pamphlet – it’s exciting stuff.  Some of it is bonkers – in a good way.  There are a few bear poems – there are a few strangely shaped poems – this is not a pamphlet which will bore you – you will be entertained from cover to cover, I promise.  An extra bonus – there is also a comic to go with this poem here: http://chrissywilliams.blogspot.co.uk/p/poems.html

Chrissy Williams lives in London and works at the Poetry Library and is half-Italian.  She is also joint organiser of the annual Free Verse Poetry Book Fair and has been published in various poetry magazines and anthologies.  You can order ‘Flying with the Bear at http://www.happenstancepress.com

I hope you enjoy – let me know what you think!

The Bear of the Artist – Chrissy Williams

I asked the artist to draw me a heart and instead he drew a bear.

I asked him, ‘What kind of heart is this?’ and he said, ‘It’s not

a heart at all.’

I asked him, ‘What kind of bear is this?’ and he said, ‘It’s not

a bear either.’

I asked him, ‘What kind of artist are you anyway?’ and he said,

‘I am the one who exists to put bears in your head, who exists

to put ideas in your head in place of bears, who mistrusts anyone

who tells you they know what kind of place the heart is,

the head, how it should look, what size, what stopping distance,

and as long as you keep me existing to put bears in your head

I will, because nights are getting shorter, and we’re all tired,

we’re all so tired, and everyone could use a bear sometimes,

everyone could use a wild bear, though they can be dangerous

and there’s nothing worse than a bear in the face, when it breaks

—always—remember how your bear breaks down

against the shore, the shore, the shore.’

 

 

 

Sunday Poem: Niall Campbell

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Today’s Sunday Poem is by Niall Campbell.  I met Niall in 2011 at the Eric Gregory Award Night when we all went to London to the Calvary and Guards Club to collect our cheques and swan about being posh.  The winners of the Eric Gregory Award that year were myself, Niall, Holly Hopkins (who has a Sunday poem on here), Tom Chivers and Martin Jackson. 

I still keep in touch with them all – I bumped into Tom the other day at the Inpress Poetry Garden Market and had a nice cup of tea with Holly on the same day. 

Niall is a lovely guy – originally from the Western Isles of Scotland, so to fully appreciate this poem, you need to hear it in his accent!  Niall studied English Literature at Glasgow University and completed an MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of St Andrews.  In the same year he received an Eric Gregory, he was also awarded a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship.  He’s currently living in Leeds.

Even before he won the Eric Gregory, Niall’s first pamplet had been accepted by the wonderful HappenStance press.  Why wonderful?  Well, firstly, the pamphlets are really stunning.  My copy of Niall’s still has the cellophane wrapper that it came in.  They are a lovely cream colour but the first and last page of Niall’s has a dark blue thick card insert.  Secondly, the Happenstance editor is Helena Nelson. 

Helena is a great poet in her own right – she came to read for ‘A Poem and A Pint’ in Water Yeat, Cumbria a year or so ago, and she was great fun.  The night she read, I was doing the music with my friend Liz Wiejak – I played The Trumpet Shall Sound, Carnival of Venice – can’t remember what else.  Anyway, she has a fantastic website and produces wonderful pamphlets. 

I think Niall’s has sold out now – but it would be worth checking the website for this, but I would also recommend Helena’s ‘How Not to Get Your Poetry Published’ if you are looking into publishing a pamphlet or a collection.  She gives great advice in this and it is well worth a read.  The website is www.happenstancepress.com

Anyway, here is the Sunday poem

AFTER THE CREEL FLEET – NIALL CAMPBELL

I never knew old rope could rust, could copper
in its retirement as a nest for rats.

The frayed lengths knotting into ampersands
tell of this night, and this night, and this,

spent taut between the surface and the sea-floor –
the water coarsening each coiled blue fibre

and strained, one strand might snap, unleash its store
of ripples to be squandered in the dark

though thousands would remain still intertwined
and thousands do remain, but frailer now.

These hoards, attached to nothing, not seen since
the last tight-rope was walked, the last man hung.