Tag Archives: Ilkley Literature Festival

2014 Review

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Last night I got one of my many empty notebooks which live in my house and started to write down the name and date of all the Sunday Poets I’ve featured on this blog.  I wanted a record of these names to check I hadn’t missed anybody off, but I was also curious to check the gender balance of the Sunday Poets as well.

I’ve had a little twinge of guilt every now and then because I felt like my enthusiasm for individual poems was driving the selection of the Sunday Poets – which is good, but the downside of this is that I had no idea whether I had an equal number of male and female poets.  And I really want to keep an equal number really – so going forward in 2015 I will be keeping this at the back of my mind as the poems go up.

It was really interesting, and it was strange how some of the poems I posted in 2012 seemed as if I’d put them up only last week, I could remember them so well.  The Sunday Poem feature started on the 15th April 2012 with Carole Coates.  In that year I featured 33 poets, 16 male and 17 female.

2013 was the first full year of doing the Sunday Poem and featured a grand total of 46 poets.  This time there were 23 men and 23 women.  I felt quite pleased with myself before realising that really, this should just be a given, not something to be pleased about!

In 2014 I featured a total of 42 poets.  Only 15 were men and 27 were women.  I feel as if I’ve been reading more women’s poetry this year so these figures are probably a reflection of this, but I would like to keep the figures even in 2015, so I’m going to keep an eye on it!

The other thing I’d like to do in 2015 is to feature a full 52 poems and not have any weeks off.  I need to work out how to blog in advance and get WordPress to update itself at a specific time, which will help when I’m gallivanting off at weekends.

However this is supposed to be looking back at 2014, not leaping forward.  Here are a few of my highlights.

Top 5 Non Poetry Things I’ve Done This Year

1.  Started Running Again
I started running because superwomanpoet Clare Shaw asked me if I’d do a Total Warrior race with her.  I decided I really needed to get into some kind of fitness.  It was ten years since I’d pulled on a pair of trainers, but I joined my local ‘fun’ running group, the Walney Wind Cheetahs and started training in April.  Since then I’ve completed the Total Warrior Race, as well as numerous 5k Park Runs, three 10k races and a half marathon.  Running is definitely the best thing I’ve done this year.  I feel so much happier in myself since I started.

2.  Joined ‘Soul Survivors’
After quite a few years of being a retired trumpet player for various complicated reasons that probably need a whole blog post in themselves, I’ve come out of retirement unofficially.  Which means I’m only playing in the things I want to play in, like soul bands and brass quintets, and avoiding all orchestral gigs.

3.  Moved House
I’m so glad I moved house! I didn’t realise till I moved how lovely it is to hear birds singing when you open the front door!  I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere where I’ve heard that, although in my old house, the seagulls were very noisy outside and would often dive bomb you on your way to the car if their chicks were there.  Moving house was a hassle and as annoying as everybody said it would be, but it was worth it.  No more street fights in the early hours of the morning – at least not yet anyway.

4.  Holiday to Scotland with Jay-Ven Lee and David Tait and the husband
We had a great time this summer staying in a cottage in the north west corner of Scotland with David, Jay and the husband.  Yes, we were eaten alive by midges and intimidated by the red stags.  Yes we were often blown away by the wind.  And yes, there was one time when I may have sulked slightly because I lost at cards.  All the makings of a perfect holiday!

5.  Barrow Shipyard Junior Band
My brass band continue to make up for all the slightly rubbishy parts of my job by being wonderful.  This year they managed to win the South Cumbria Music Festival and the Kirby Lonsdale competition.  This Christmas they have been absolute superstars, carolling in the supermarkets to raise money for the band.

Top 5 Poetry Highlights

1.  Signing a contract with Seren for the publication of my first collection
I still can’t believe this is happening.  A big part of why I decided I wanted to be with Seren was because of Amy Wack, my editor.  Her enthusiasm and generosity, both towards my poetry and me has been overwhelming and it feels wonderful to have somebody who believes in my work.  But I’m also really happy to be with a publisher that publishes so many poets I admire like Carrie Etter, Deryn Rees-Jones etc

2.  Poet in Residence at Ilkley Literature Festival
Getting this job felt like a dream come true.  I gained so much experience and confidence from being poet in residence and there were lots of highlights.  Probably my favourite thing I did during the festival though was the one to one tutorials and judging the Open Mic competition.  Looking back now I think I was slightly crazy, teaching Monday to Wednesday then driving down Wednesday night, staying in Ilkley till Sunday and driving home again.  From this distance, even the exhaustion seems glamorous.

3.  Digital Poet in Residence at The Poetry School
This came before the Ilkley residency and without the Digital residency, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to apply to Ilkley.  Will Barrett at The Poetry School was really supportive and gave me great feedback on the prose that I was writing and helped me to tighten it up.   It combined two of my favourite things – writing and talking to people (online of course)

4.  Residential Courses
I know this is two highlights seamlessly amalgamated into one, but I felt really privileged to be teaching on the two residentials that I ran this year.  The poets who signed up were talented, keen and enthusiastic so we had a great week, both in St Ives in October and in Grange over Sands during April, and it was a privilege to work with Clare Shaw and Jennifer Copley.

5.  Aldeburgh Poetry Festival
Aldeburgh was a huge highlight, as I knew it would be.  My team won the Poetry Quiz!  And apart from that, it was amazing to be back.  I spent all my money on books again – I dread to think how much.  I’m still making my way through them all now, a couple of weeks later.

Talking of Anthony Wilson, in his Poetry Highlights blog he finishes

“But when I think of what poetry did to me in 2014, I go back to that morning at the campsite reading Ilhan Berk, the sky a cloudless blue and somewhere in it a skylark, briefly muffling the sea”

I was very taken with thinking of this idea of what poetry did to me in 2014.  I think for me, I think of those times when I’ve been actually writing, which have been less than I would have liked this year.  I think of that feeling I get, which feels like rushing, like I can’t write fast enough for the words.  It’s a slightly nauseous feeling, like controlled panic, and it is this which tells me I’m chasing the heels of a poem, rather than just writing my thoughts down.  Most of the time this happens to me in a workshop with other people sitting close by, and there is a strange stillness in the air.

So I’m sure I’ve forgotten lots of other things and this has been a hard post to write because I still don’t feel like I’ve summed 2014 up very well.  Whilst doing all of these amazing things, these residencies and working on my collection, I’ve had so many doubts about whether I could do any of it.  What I haven’t mentioned very much are the amazing friends and the lovely husband who often tell me to get a grip and pull myself together when I’m wallowing in insecurity –  people like David Tait and Andrew Forster and John Foggin and Keith Hutson and Clare Shaw and Noel Williams and Jennifer Copley – just doing the things that we do for our friends but it wouldn’t be a highlight post without mentioning them.

I’m looking forward to 2015 – as Roy Marshall posted on Facebook – the year my book is coming out. I’ve already got readings from the book lined up in Leeds, Halifax, Ulverston and Croatia!  So there is lots to look forward to.  I hope to see some of you in the real world during 2015, and thanks for following this blog, and putting up with my meandering thoughts!

 

 

 

 

 

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 – Malika Booker

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Good morning all!  I’m writing this from the wonderful establishment of The Wheatley Arms in Ilkley where I’ve been staying for the last two nights.  This weekend has been the first weekend of the Ilkley Literature Festival which is running from the 3rd – 19th October.  As most of you know, because I’ve witttered on about it before, I’m currently Poet in Residence at the Festival.  Someone asked me yesterday what the Poet in Residence’s role was and I said ‘floating about’ which is completely not true, although I have had some time to float about the place.  For example, this morning I got up before breakfast and floated from my hotel and up on to Ilkley Moor.  It didn’t really feel like floating actually because I haven’t ran since last Tuesday and I’d ‘forgotten’ about the copious amount of hills between Ben Rhydding where I’m staying and Ilkley so my gentle run turned into a slog up hill before I even got to the moor.  It was beautiful today – it is sunny in Ilkley, but cold, but a kind of crisp cold without any wind that makes me think of Christmas (only a little, though and definitely not enough to get out Jingle Bells to teach next week).

But I’m getting ahead of myself a little bit and telling you about this morning before I’ve told you about the weekend – so I’ve been in Ilkley since Friday.  I arrived Friday afternoon and went to the box office to have a meeting with Rachel Feldburg, the director of the festival.  Rachel is lovely, and I think, seems to have an air of great serenity, whilst the Festival madness goes on – if anybody has had a look at the programme, you will see what I mean – there are hundreds of events going on, lots of them simultaneously.

I’ve had a fantastic weekend so far – I arrived on Friday and had a chat with Rachel Feldburg, the director and got my timetable from her and a map of Ilkley.  On Friday night I went to a drinks reception and then Andrew Motion was reading from his new novel and from his forthcoming poetry collection.  I really enjoyed the event, despite not usually enjoying hearing extracts from novels – Andrew was very funny and seemed to connect with the whole audience very well.  He had a long queue of people waiting to get their books signed at the end.

Part of my job as  Poet in Residence is to take the poets for a drink – I know, what an onerous task!  Myself, Andrew and Phoebe Power, who is the Apprentice Poet in Residence went to the pub and we had a great time.  I forgot to tell Andrew about the random story of my dad working on a theatre doing the scaffolding and getting talking to the director and telling her about my scaffolding poem which she asked for a copy of she could show it to Andrew Motion who she was having dinner with that night.  Probably best I didn’t as I can’t remember the name of the theatre or the director.

On Saturday I ran an Early Morning Writing Workshop and was really impressed with the quality of the writing that was produced.  It was nice to meet such a good group of writers for the first time as well – I think I knew 3 out of the 12 in the workshop before hand.

After that, I went back to the hotel and worked on a poem I’ve been writing about my old band conductor from Unity Brass Band because I wanted to read it that afternoon.  I wouldn’t normally read such a new poem, but yesterday afternoon I did an event with Phoebe and Haworth Brass Band at the bandstand in Ilkley.  What a brilliantly positioned bandstand by the way – right in the centre of Ilkley and just set back from the main street.  We decided that the band should play a couple of pieces and then Phoebe and I would read one poem each.  Most of mine were my brass teaching poems – I didn’t quite realise how many I had – and Phoebe did a mix of her own work – she read a beautiful poem about harps, and a mix of poems more loosely about music or exploring sound, ranging from Emily Dickinson to Shakespeare.

The event worked really well – although I was worried about how the band would feel being interspersed with poetry, they really enjoyed it, and we had a loyal audience who sat and listened throughout as the sun came out and then got bored and went behind the clouds again.  I rather cheekily asked the band if they had the hymn tune ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ because I wanted to read my poem about Wallace Hartley, who was the band leader on the Titanic.  I knew they’d have it in their red hymn books! According to conflicting reports, this was the last song that they played before the ship sank and it sounded beautiful played by the band.  There are plans afoot to do something similar with Haworth Brass Band and I’d like to try the same format out with a band a bit closer to home if possible.

After the brass band event, Phoebe and I went over to the Playhouse, almost getting lost on the way and managed to catch Ian Duhig who had just read from his new book ‘Digressions’.  I’m hoping I can catch this event elsewhere, as unfortunately I was brass banding whilst he was reading!  The lovely staff of the festival had also got me a birthday cake and a card and even sang happy birthday to me which was really sweet – before I left for the festival I have to admit I was a bit upset about being away on my birthday and not seeing my husband/family or my friends in Barrow.  But as it turned out, I hardly had time to think yesterday and I was really touched by the cake and the card and didn’t mind at all being away from home.

After the cake and the singing I went for a quick walk up on the moor with Phoebe and then we went to a poetry and music event with Alison Locke which was quite hypnotic – very calming and then straight to a showcase event of the Ilkley Young Writers who were full of enthusiasm, energy and confidence.  They answered questions from the audience with real consideration and maturity – I was really impressed with them.

So that brings us to today – I’ve been for a run, had a lovely breakfast and checked out of the hotel, only to plonk myself down in the corner and set up my computer to write this.  After I’ve finished this blog, I’m going to do some work on my ‘Close Reading’ event and hopefully my first schools workshop which will be on Thursday morning.  If I can get all that done I’ll be really happy!  I’m running a workshop 2-4.30pm based around the work of some of the poets appearing at the festival and I’m really looking forward to a poetry event tonight ‘New Writing from Zimbabwe’.

If you are anywhere near Ilkley, please have a look at the programme and come along for some of the open mic events at the festival.  I think there are three altogether and it would be great to meet some of you in real life.

The programme can be found here

So today’s Sunday Poem is by Malika Booker and is from her first collection ‘Pepper Seed’.  My friend Jill Abram who kindly puts me up when I come to London gave me Malika’s book when it first came out as a gift and it was added to my reading pile and I’m ashamed to say I only got round to reading it about a month ago.  I really enjoyed the whole book and had one of those moments which is why I created this blog in the first place – I wanted not only to write to Malika and tell her how much I’d enjoyed the poems, but I also wanted to tell other people as well.  I have met Malika a couple of times in real life and we are Facebook friends so it was relatively easy to get hold of her.  Anyway, I gushed at Malika and she graciously said I could post one of her poems here.

The poem I’ve chosen is called ‘Erasure’ which I interpret as being about an abortion.  I found it incredibly moving – although I’ve not directly had this experience, the poem is so powerful I don’t think that matters.  Those striking first words ‘This is no elegy’ cast a shadow over the whole poem because of course, the poem does become an elegy, even though it denies that it is one, which fits with the subject of the poem, the ‘erasing’ of a child, which seems more accurate, and more chilling than the usual langauge we use.  The whole poem is filled with these negatives – ‘There was no grief’ and ‘No guilt resides in my house’ but it is almost like seeing the negative of a photograph because the poem to me seems full of guilt and grief – unbearably so.

Halfway down the poem, it suddenly branches out into women’s history and then into biblical stories.  This last half moves up another gear – heartbreaking again with its relentless shouldering of responsibility and refusal to sidestep truth with the line ‘But this was no holy decision’.  I also think this poem says something important about grief, about the different types of grief, about how grief can rise up years later and be completely unexpected.

If you would like to find out more information about Malika Booker you can go to her website here. 

If you would like to order Pepper Seed, it is published by the wonderful Peepal Tree Press and not only will you be buying a fantastic book, you will be supporting a wonderful independent press.

Thanks to Malika for letting me post this wonderful poem.

 

Erasure – Malika Booker

This is no elegy; no one can write elegies
for such as you.  There are no scuff marks here
for your erasure.  No etches on a strong barked tree.

There was no grief.  You are my silence.
Why do you choose to rise now like shifting sand
blown by a slight breeze?

You were my simple crime against humanity,
and, like a criminal, I claim no regrets.
I buried you too deep to call you a name;

you are my trail of invisible lines
like the stretch marks that did not have time to form.
No guilt resides in my house.

I did what we women have always done.
I froze the tears into a block of ice
buried so deep that the guilt is a cold in me,

a thing that will not melt.
What can I say to you who never breathed, you callous dust?
I can talk of sacrifices, broken lives.

I can talk of Abraham almost slashing Isaac’s life.
But this was no holy decision.
I cannot tell you why I said no to you.

I am a white dress all ash and grey.
You unspeakable requiem, do not rise now.
Do not ask me the worth.

Who can measure the weight of ambition
against what could have been?

Sunday Poem – Carolyn Jess-Cooke

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Afternoon all!  Seems strange to be starting writing this in daylight but I’m parked on the sofa for the rest of Sunday now.  In fact I’m feeling so lazy I can’t even be bothered to go and get anything to read, so thought I would do my blog instead.  I’m parked on the sofa because I’ve been for my first attempt at a fell run with the husband today instead of my usual hour run with Walney Wind Cheetahs on the road.  It probably wasn’t the best weather conditions to have a go at our first fell run – blustery winds and incessant rain, but most of it was fun, although I prefer the running part to the picking your way over really slippy rocks part.  I seem to be at one extreme or the other in terms of physical activity at the moment – either running lots of miles or spending the whole day on the sofa.

This week I’ve had a great time doing some runs – on Wednesday it was the Hoad Hill Harriers 10k in Ulverston and previously-featured Sunday Poet Keith Hutson came all the way over from Yorkshire to have a go at running it.  We had a great time and I managed to get my new best time for 10k which was 51 minutes and 12 seconds – I managed to knock over three minutes off from my previous time and Keith was just behind me after I rather rudely overtook him in the last hundred metres or so.  And then yesterday I ran 5k at the Barrow Park Run and got another new personal best time – 23 minutes and 39 seconds.

Anyway, I won’t go on about running any more because I know that most of the readers of this blog came to it because of poetry.  Unfortunately I’ve not been doing much poetry to be honest.  I’m still running the weekly Dove Cottage Young Poets group for the Wordsworth Trust – this week the teenagers brought some of the poems they’ve been writing and hoarding so that made a nice change.

I also went up to Grasmere to the Wordsworth Trust to see Paul Farley and Owen Sheers read.  Owen Sheers read from ‘Pink Mist’ which is a verse play drawn from interviews with soldiers who were injured in Afghanistan and their wives/girlfriends/mothers.  I’ve just finished reading Pink Mist and I think it’s very good – very ambitious, shocking, moving.  I’d definitely recommend it as something a little bit different – I think it is as readable as a novel.

The programme for Ilkley Literature Festival arrived today – you can find it online here but I would recommend ordering it by post as it is very long!  I’m really looking forward to all the events I’ll be doing – I’m running quite a few writing workshops, including one where people have to sign up to do a 4-5 mile run first before they’re even allowed in the workshop!  I am running workshops when you can just slink in without having to worry about doing anything more energetic than pick up a pencil.

I’m also reading with the amazing Michael Laskey and Matthew Sweeney one evening and taking part in an event with Otley Brass Band which I’m really excited about.  I have a couple of weeks left of the summer holidays, so I’m going to start steadily planning the sessions I’m doing at the Festival – even though it’s not till October, I think it will be here before I know it and in between now and October I have to move house and hand my first collection in so I definitely need to keep on the ball.  The other thing that is happening in October is the residential poetry course that I’m running with Clare Shaw down in St Ives – when I checked a couple of weeks or maybe a month ago there were four places left, so if you’ve been thinking about it and not got round to booking your place now is the time!  More information here if you would like it, or please feel free to email me if you have any questions about the course.

I will also be back in work in September so I have a feeling the Autumn term is going to be busy.  There is one other thing happening – I’m one of FIVE tutors on this Online Poetry School course – I’m really looking forward to this – there will be five different assignments from five different poets followed by a live chat about the students poems.  Another occasion when I thank whoever is listening that I learnt to touch type when I was 17 – best thing I ever did! Anyway, if you would like more information on the course, ‘5 Easy Pieces’ you can find it here.

So today’s Sunday Poem is by Carolyn Jess-Cooke – Carolyn was due to be next week’s Sunday Poem but her publisher Seren are running a promotion on the kindle version of her poetry collection ‘Boom!’ – you can buy it for £1.99 instead of the usual £9.99 if you click on this link here.  I’ve only bought poetry a couple of times on Kindle because I like having the real book – but I think this is a very good offer and you can’t really go wrong for £1.99.

I first heard Carolyn Jess-Cooke read at the Women’s Poetry Festival in Grasmere as part of her ‘Writing Motherhood’ project which is currently touring the UK.  She read alongside Rebecca Goss whose poetry I’m also a big fan of and Sinead Morrisey who was fantastic.  In fact, I don’t mind admitting that I had a little tear in my eye by the end of the reading, which took me completely by surprise – as I don’t have children, it is not a subject that I would have thought I connected with easily – but the poems were wonderful.  As you can see from the Sunday Poem, as well as being about Motherhood, it is also about marriage and love and transformation.

I like this poem because of it’s physicality – the baby that is coming is likened to a hand grenade which changes everything.  The baby seems to have all the power in the relationship ‘threatening to explode’, ’emitting endless alarm-sounds’.  The baby ‘blew us to smithereens’ but by the end of the poem, we realise the end is not the end ‘We survived, but in a different state:’ I think this poem is interesting because of the way it explores change in relationships as well – I think it goes against the grain of the version of relationships that we listen to in love songs and observe in films – you get married and live happily ever after and that is the end.  This poem goes beyond that and explores what happens afterwards – ‘We held on, expecting each day to be our last.  We did not let go’.

Boom! explores the experience of raising four young children but there are also poems about the body and physicality explored in an honest and direct way.

Carolyn Jess-Cooke is an award-winning poet and novelist published in 22 languages.  Her latest novel ‘The Boy Who Could See Demons’ published by Pitakus in 2012 is being made into a film.  She lectures in Creative Writing at Glasgow University.  If you would like to find out more information about Carolyn head over to her website at http://www.carolynjesscooke.com

 

Boom! – Carolyn Jess Cooke

There was this baby who thought she was a hand grenade.
She appeared one day in the centre of our marriage
– or at least in the spot where all the elements of our union
    appeared to orbit –
and kept threatening to explode, emitting endless alarm-sounds
    that were difficult to decode.
On the ridge of threat, we had two options.
One was attempt to make it to the bottom
of the crevasse slowly, purposively, holding hands. The other
      was see how long we could stand there philosophizing
      that when she finally went off we’d be able to take it.
But then the baby who believed she was a hand grenade
      was joined in number: several more such devices entered our lives.
      We held on, expecting each day to be our last. We did not let go.
As one might expect, she blew us to smithereens.
We survived, but in a different state than before: you became
      organized, I discovered patience, shrapnel soldered the parts of us
      that hadn’t quite fit together before. Sometimes when I speak
it’s your words that come out of my mouth.