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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 – Lisa Brockwell

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Sunday Poem – Lisa Brockwell

I’m not in my writing room today – sat on the sofa instead, in front of the T.V because I’ve been watching the wonderfulness that is Gogglebox.  Last time I watched this, I was in Groningen in Holland, curled up on the sofa with my lovely friend Jan, crying with laughter.  It’s not half as fun watching it on my own, although I like the kind of happy/sad feeling I get when I watch it now – happy because now watching that programme reminds me of Jan, and sad because I miss him.

This week I’ve been working on my poem for the BBC and National Poetry Day.  I’m writing a poem about Furness Abbey.  My deadline was Friday, and I pretty much finished it at about ten minutes to midnight, which was quite stressful, but expected.  I always seem to work better under a bit of pressure.

I had a meeting with the committee of A Poem and a Pint, and we put together a list of poets that we’d like to have as our guest poets in 2017.  My job now is to contact them all so I’ll probably be getting on with that next week.

On Wednesday, my friend Jennifer Copley had her book launch at Natterjacks.  As I mentioned in a blog post a couple of weeks back, her new pamphlet Vinegar and Brown Paper is out with Like This Press. Members of Barrow Writers, the writing group that Jenny runs also read and local musicians The Demix provided the music.  Here is a photo of Jenny looking glamorous whilst reading her new poems.

jenny-book-launch

On Thursday I went to Manchester to have another meeting about the teaching.  This one was very useful, and I feel reasonably confident about next week.  As confident as anyone starting a new job I suppose! I had a brief meeting about my PhD following the meeting about the teaching, but we ran out of time, so have rescheduled for a couple of weeks.  My main job between now and then is to get some reading done and start to think about how I want to structure the critical part of the PhD (I think!).

I had my first wobble this week of thinking what on earth have I done, and who am I to think someone like me can do a PhD etc etc.  Imposter syndrome already, and I haven’t even had the PhD induction yet – that is the week after next!  However, I’ve decided I’m going to get started this week, and the first thing I’m going to do is work out a timetable of when I’m going to be working on PhD stuff this week.

After the meetings I met up with poet Emma McGordon and we made our way up to Black Cat Poets in Denton, where we were both performing.  It was a real honour to be reading with Emma – she was one of the first poets I saw perform at A Poem and a Pint and I loved her reading.  Her new work is really, really good and it was worth the trip over from Cumbria just to hear her read.  The audience at Black Cat Poets was small but perfectly formed, and the organisers and hosts were very friendly.   Then it was a late night drive back to Cumbria – I think I got in at about midnight, maybe just after.

I had a Dove Cottage Young Poets session on Friday night.  I only have two Young Poets left now – the rest have all gone away to university.  I feel very proud of them all, but very sad to see them go.  If anybody reading this knows any young people who would be interested in joining a completely free poetry group in Cumbria, do get in touch.

Other writing news – I was very happy that I got a poem shortlisted in the Bridport Poetry Competition.  This means I got to the top 200 out of 5400 entries apparently, so I didn’t win any money, but it is nice to know that my poem made it to that shortlist.

This weekend I’ve not done any writing or reading really.  I’ve just been running and playing the trumpet.  I did Park Run on Saturday (22 minutes 15 seconds – 10 seconds off my PB!) and then I had a Soul Band gig on Saturday night.  This morning I did a ten mile run and then had two rehearsals for a musical I’m playing in next week in Ulverston: ‘The Wizard of Oz’.  So this is why I’m blogging so late today!

I am excited about today’s Sunday Poem.  I can’t remember how Lisa Brockwell and I became friends on Facebook – as we’ve never met.  Lisa sent me a copy of her new collection Earth Girls a while back though, and I read it cover to cover in one sitting.  Earth Girls is published by Pitt Street Poetry, a Sydney based poetry imprint.

Lisa Brockwell was born in Sydney, but spent a large part of her adult life in England.  She now lives on a rural property near Byron Bay, on the north coast of New South Wales, with her husband and young son. You can find more about Lisa at her website: www.lisabrockwell.com

I loved this poem as soon as I read it, and felt an instant connection to it.  It is easy to list the reasons why this might be –  I suppose we all imagine what might have been, what would have happened if we had stayed with this person or that person instead of leaving them, if we had taken that job or refused it.  I also like that thread of regret or yearning, which runs through the poem – as I may have said before is one of my favourite emotions to explore in poetry.

That first line is startling in its directness.  And the second – that ‘startled but not sorry’.  I think that is so brilliantly observed.  I love how marriage, or at least a long-term relationship is described as ‘The Long Haul’, and the term ‘day-to-day dedication’ – again, brilliantly, closely observed, and this is exactly what a marriage is.  The poem is also wonderfully honest: ‘The air between us no longer electric’.  I also love that just at this point when as a reader, I started to forget that what is being described is imaginary, it is then that the story starts to falter: ‘But whose dog jumps/on that bed’.

One of the cleverest things in the poem of course is that it manages to pass comment on two things at the same time.  Through describing the imaginary relationship, what might have been, we start to gain a picture of the real relationship, in all its complexity.

There is something beautifully tender as well in the line ‘But when, sometimes, we brush against/each other on-line I feel it and I hope you/ do too’.  There isn’t a whiff of betrayal or duplicity in the poem.  If there was it would be a less complex poem, a less interesting poem.  This poem has been hauting me since Lisa sent me her book, which is a good few months ago now, so I’m really pleased to be able to post it up here.

I hope you enjoy the poem, and if you’d like to order the book, please head over to Pitt Street Poetry

The Long Haul – Lisa Brockwell

There is another life where we end up together.
We wake in the same bed, startled but not sorry;
the timber frame is warm, hand-caulked
with the day-to-day dedication of the long haul.
The air between us no longer electric, all now
sanded smooth.  But whose dog jumps
on that bed: yours or mine? I don’t plan to think
about my husband or your wife; let’s leave
my son right out of it.  Fantasy, no more dangerous
than eating gelato and dreaming of Mark Ruffalo.
But when, sometimes, we brush against
each other on-line I feel it and I hope you
do too – you could have been my dawn breeze
and me your mast of oak.  There is another life
out there.  I watch it as it goes, a bobbing toy
with a paper sail, jaunty in calm weather; and wince
to see it tacking close to the mouth of the river.

October Residential Poetry Course

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October Residential Poetry Course

I had a great meeting with my co-tutor Jennifer Copley today.  We spent the afternoon planning the timetable and workshops that we’ll be running at our upcoming Poetry Residential at Abbot Hall Hotel in Grange-Over-Sands.  The residential is running from Monday 24th October to Friday 28th October 2016.   The course costs £424 and this includes workshops and evening readings, a tutorial with either myself or Jenny, accommodation, breakfast and three-course evening meals.  

During the week, there will be time in the afternoons to work on poems, swim in the hotel swimming pool or go for a walk along the prom to Grange.  I will be nipping out for a run, so if there are any running poets that fancy signing up, it would be great to have some company! There is a lovely flat run along the prom or nice hilly runs in the country roads around Grange.

Below is a description of the workshops that we’ll be running during the week.  If you’d like to book a place, please get in touch with the hotel on  015395 32896.  Spaces do tend to fill up quite quickly – but if you have any questions about the course, do get in touch.  The course is suitable for beginners or more experienced writers.

I’ll be putting the timetable up for the course in the next week or so, but the basic format is workshops in the morning and readings in the evenings.  In the afternoons, participants will have the chance to have a tutorial.  We have a mystery guest poet and some mystery musicians joining us mid-week and they will also be revealed very shortly!

Poetry Residential Workshops (24th-28th October)

The Collection
Jennifer Copley

During this workshop we will be exploring how to create a life and history of a person from a mystery selection of objects, provided by Jenny.  These objects will be drawn from the beaches and fells of Cumbria and from corners and forgotten cupboards in houses.  This is an object workshop – but not as you know it! Be prepared to be inspired and delighted by Jenny’s collection of quirky and unusual objects.

Painting a Portrait
Kim Moore

How can we paint a portrait with words? No paintbrushes necessary – in this workshop we will be looking at how to capture the essence of a person in a poem.  We will be writing  using family, friends, random strangers and ourselves as inspiration.  We will look at how we can use dialogue and description to create colourful and vivid poems about people.

Suspended in Time 
Jennifer Copley
What stories do we leave behind us when we die? During this workshop you will be given photographs of abandoned homes, gravestones with unusual epitaphs and other memorials and asked to imagine the stories of the people associated with them.

I Am The People 
Kim Moore
During this workshop we will be looking at what happens in a poem when a poet speaks for a group of people, and how we can write about groups without slipping into stereotyping.  We will also have a go at writing our own monologues for some famous and historical characters.

 

 

 

Sunday Poem – Jennifer Copley

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I can’t remember if I told you all about this last week, but while I was away in Malaga my husband built wall-to-ceiling shelves in our box room, which is now going to be my writing room.  Although I’ve had the words ‘A Room of One’s Own’ tattooed on my arm for a couple of years, this is the first time I’ve actually had a room of my own.  It is very small, but I love it. It feels like a real luxury to have all my books in one room.  Just this morning, Chris put the door back on the frame for me, and when I shut the door it feels very peaceful in here.  If I can’t write a PhD in here, then there is no hope for me!

Talking of PhD’s, it is starting to feel a bit more real now.  I’m meeting up with Michael Symmons Roberts on Monday to have an informal chat about it all, and then I’m meeting up with Martin Kratz to have a talk through the module I’ll be teaching next term. Even though I’m writing all of this very calmly, I still can’t believe I’m actually doing it.

Last night I decided to pack away all of the leaving cards I got from my pupils.  Some of the things they wrote are very funny –

“Thank you for everything.  Play that country tuba cowboy!” (a reference to a song we used to sing and play along with)

“Hope you have lots of poem books and a good career”

“I hope you enjoy your future life” (me too!)

and my personal favourite “Goodbye Mrs Alan” (poor Mrs Alan has no plans to leave as far as I know)

My (except it’s not mine anymore sob) junior brass band did a little book for me and they all wrote a message in there – and one of the young people wrote ‘Thank you for the gift of music’.  This really struck home with me – that music is a gift.   It is only ever something to be offered, something that you hope to pass on.  When it was passed to me, it sent my life off down a road I would never have travelled without it, and it has brought such riches to my life – which sounds cheesy, but it is true.  I guess it is hitting me now, what it means to have done this for 13 years, and to be finally leaving.  I haven’t been teaching for 13 years, I’ve been passing on the gift of music, or trying to, at least.

I’m rubbish at planning blog posts, I like to just ramble on.  That way, sometimes it feels like writing a poem, discovering something in the act of writing.  As I’m writing this post, I realise I’m looking forward to enjoying the gift of music for myself for a while, which immediately sounds, to my ears, a little selfish, but it is the truth.  I’m looking forward to doing a bit more playing in shows.  I’m going to have some repertoire lessons with a local piano player.  I’m going to be playing with the soul band. I might even have some time to do some practice, so it doesn’t feel like I’m leaving music behind.  If anything, it feels a little like coming round full circle, to playing the trumpet, but without the horrendous pressure that I used to put on myself.

This week I’ve been busy running a residential poetry course – the Poetry Carousel.  Rachel Davies has done a great blog about the course, which you can find here, if you’re wondering what it was like from a participant’s point of view.  I am proud to say that I invented the concept of the Poetry Carousel, after the success of the more traditional residential courses I was running. The Poetry Carousel has four tutors, and the group of 24 participants were divided into groups of 6, with each 6 getting a two hour workshop with each tutor, before moving on the next day to another tutor.

They are different from a traditional course in that there is a real festival atmosphere in the evening, as everybody gets together for the readings.  For me as a tutor, it feels like a telescoping effect – you are working very closely with a group of 6 in the morning, and then in the evening this broadens out and you meet the whole group.

We were very lucky with the weather this year – blazing sunshine the whole time and we were lucky with our participants – a real mix of poets with a lot of experience, to poets that had never been to a workshop before and everything in between, but all showing a real commitment to their writing and producing high-quality stuff in the workshops.

I’m running another residential poetry course from October 24th-28th at Abbot Hall Hotel in Grange-Over-Sands.  This is more like a traditional course, with two tutors, and a maximum of 16 participants.  The other tutor will be the wonderful poet Jennifer Copley, who just happens to be the Sunday Poet today.

The course will consist of workshops in the mornings, a chance for tutorials in the afternoons, readings from tutors and guest poets, and a chance for course participants to share work in an evening reading (if they want t0).  Although I love the Poetry Carousels, I also like running these courses.  You get to know the 16 people very well, because you are working together all week, and amazing things can happen during this short, but intense amount of time – not just poetry, but friendships, laughter, tame robins…

If you would like to book, there are still some rooms left. You can find more information about the theme of the week, and how to book, by going here.  If you know anybody who you think might be interested, please forward on this information -I don’t have a marketing budget, or even anybody to do any marketing apart from me, so I do rely on word of mouth to fill the places on the courses.

My co-tutor for October is Jennifer Copley, who is a wonderful, and I think, not made-a-fuss-of-enough poet.  She doesn’t do Facebook, or Twitter, although she does have a website.  She is an incredibly talented and widely published poet, whose writing is surreal, playful, dark, funny, poignant.  She has featured on this blog before, but I’m posting a poem up today because her new pamphlet Vinegar and Brown Paper has just been published by Like This Press

This pamphlet is completely bonkers in a good way.  It is a series of prose poems, loosely based around nursery rhymes.  Each poem is accompanied by an illustration by Martin Copley, Jenny’s husband.  The pamphlet itself is a work of art.  The paper is brown paper, with a kind of raggedy edge.  These little prose poems often made me burst out laughing.  They are unexpectedly funny as well – twisty to get hold of, and walking a fine line between absurdity and profundity.  She reminds me, in this pamphlet at least, of Hilda Sheehan, another favourite poet of mine.

Jenny has had numerous books and pamphlets published – she was one of the first winners of the Poetry Business pamphlet competition in 2001 with Ice.  Since then she has published House by the Sea in 2003 with Arrowhead, Unsafe Monuments in 2006 (also with Arrowhead), Beans in Snow in 2009 with Smokestack, Living Daylights in 2011 with Happenstance, Mr Trickfeather in 2012 with Like This Press and Sisters in 2013 with Smokestack.

I could have picked any of the prose poems in this pamphlet, and they are even better when read as a set, but I loved this one straight away, for its strange but believable logic, for the surprise at the end, and of course for the wonderful illustration.

If you’d like a copy of the pamphlet, you can order it through Like This Press, or you can email Jenny at jennifermmcopley@gmail.com if you’d like a copy, and I’m sure she would be happy to post a signed copy out.

The Robin – Jennifer Copley

was dead but no one knew who’d killed him.
–Snow in the wind, said the sparrow.
–Ice in the water butt, said the wren.
–Frost on the five-barred gate, said the blackbird.
–A poisoned snail, said the thrush.
–God, said the canary who had no respect.
–Then they all turned on each other, shrieking and accusing, although
no one had liked the robin since he’d bullied the goldfinch children to death.

 

22the robin

Sunday Poem – Katrina Naomi

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Sunday Poem – Katrina Naomi

Today has consisted of an 11k run in the morning, and then stripping wallpaper from a ceiling in my living room.  We started stripping the wallpaper off the actual walls in this room a while ago, which wasn’t too traumatizing, until we got to the ceiling.  Why would anybody wallpaper a ceiling anyway?  And why would they do it 5 times??  The husband decided to use the washing line pole and gaffa tape it to the steamer so that I could steam while he stood on the ladder and scraped.  I can’t stand on the ladder as I get vertigo so his ingenious invention meant the end of my excuses as to why I couldn’t possibly help with this most boring of jobs.  I told him that every time I steamed another patch of wallpaper, a poem was dying, but he was deaf to my complaints.  We have finally finished and now await the whims of the plasterer to sort out the various holes in the ceiling and walls of the room.

So I haven’t done any writing today, apart from catching up with emails.  I’m busy planning for the Poetry Carousel , which will be happening very soon (August 16th-19th).  In case you’ve just started following this blog, the Poetry Carousel is a residential course with a difference.  It ran for the first time last December and was a success, with all 32 spaces being filled.  I hope we can replicate that again this year with guest tutors including the wonderful Clare Shaw, from Hebden Bridge, and international poets Tsead Bruinja and Saskia Stehouwer from Amsterdam.

Each participant will take part in a 2 hour workshop with each tutor over the four days.  There will be readings in the evenings from the tutors and guest poets.  Workshop groups will be limited to 10 people per workshop.  I will be releasing information about the workshops that we’ll be running next week.  The carousel is a bargain at only £330.  This includes all workshops, accommodation, and breakfast and evening meals.

If you can’t make the Poetry Carousel, then I’m running another course at the hotel with tutor Jennifer Copley (October 24th-28th).  This is a more traditional residential course, limited to 16 participants.  The theme is ‘From Ordinary to Extraordinary‘ and costs £424, to include workshops, accommodation and breakfast and evening meals.

Places for both courses have been selling steadily over the last couple of months, and the hotel have advised early booking to get the nicest rooms!

Although today has been devoid of any poetry, last week was filled with it.  I went to a reading in Grasmere on Wednesday, organised by the wonderful Deborah Hobbs.  Six Cumbrian poets reading – Nick Pemberton, Mark Carson, Jennifer Copley, Mark Ward, Polly Atkin and Deborah – all very different, but very enjoyable to listen to.  Then on Wednesday I went over to Lancaster for an April Poets reading – Carole Coates was launching her fabulous collection ‘Jacob’ which I read yesterday afternoon and couldn’t put down – more on that next week.  Meg Peacock was also launching her New and Selected, which was also very interesting.  One of her poems, ‘Thirteenth Night‘ is one of those poems which is enjoyable no matter how many times you hear it, like listening to a favourite song, so I was really happy when she read it to finish off.  The musician who was playing at April Poets was absolutely fantastic, and it would have been worth the hour and a half drive from Barrow to hear him alone, although sadly  I can’t remember his name now.  Mike Barlow and Ron Scowcroft, the organisers of April Poets also read, celebrating a successful series of events, before they handed over the organisers baton to the new April Poets team, David Borrott and Sarah Hymas.  It will be interesting to see what direction David and Sarah take the April Poets event next.

The highlight of my week this week was reading in Chorlton for Manky Poets, run by Copland Smith, another great organiser-poet.  The event started off with an open-mic, where nearly everyone in the 20 plus audience got up and read one poem, the only rule being that the introduction couldn’t be longer than the poem.  The readers were so well-behaved that there was time to go around again – it was a really varied and interesting open mic.

When Liz Berry was here last weekend, we talked a lot about performing, or reading your poetry.  It struck me when I saw Liz read that she really ‘inhabits’ her poems.  I can’t really describe what I mean by this, except to say I know it when I see it.  Clare Shaw does it.  Helen Mort does it, Steve Ely does it.  It feels impossible to put my finger on exactly what I mean – something to do with commitment to the poem, sitting inside the skin of the poem, speaking from within the poem.  Anyway, I want to inhabit my poems more – I think I do it sometimes, but maybe not enough, and maybe it is dependent on circumstances, whether I feel comfortable or confident on that particular day.  I think I must have done something however because I managed to sell 12 books and 3 pamphlets, which I was very pleased about, and I’m sure it is connected, the sales and the inhabiting of poems when you read them I mean.

 

I got a lovely package in the post this week from my editor Amy Wack.  She sent me copies of new collections by Ilse Pedlar, Judy Brown and Katrina Naomi.  I’ve managed to read all three this week and would recommend all of them. I’m hoping that I will be able to feature a poem from all three poets on the blog in the next couple of weeks, so you can judge for yourself.

I read Katrina’s collection first which is called The Way the Crocodile Taught Me.  I’ve been looking forward to this collection coming out for ages, as I knew that Katrina has been working on a Phd on violence in poetry, which I’m assuming this collection is part of. Katrina’s PhD thesis is very readable, very interesting, and available online!  You can find a link to a PDF of the thesis here, on Katrina’s website.

I am interested in the way that violence, particularly domestic violence is explored and portrayed in poetry.  The statistics on domestic violence are grim – 1 in 4 women in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. 1 in 4.  That means of the 16 girls in my class of little trumpet players, 4 of them will experience domestic violence.  That is heartbreaking

I’m glad it’s being written about more now, although I can count the poets who have written about domestic violence one hand.  Katrina explores how childhood can be impacted by domestic violence in her collection.  The poem that I’ve chosen for the Sunday Poem is heartbreaking – the violence is both subtle and explicit.  The controlling behaviour of the stepfather is detailed in the middle of the poem, but the atmosphere of threat and tension is set up right from the first line,  when we read ‘You lie underneath him’, and later, this is elaborated on: ‘his 17 stones/pressing down on you’.

The sadness in this poem is unbearable – the line ‘I can’t talk to you,/knowing he’s also there, listening’ contrasts with the beautiful image at the end of the words ‘in a flotilla of paper boats’.  I love this image, the idea of words being the thing that you send to communicate, and the feeling of moving on created by the idea of the boats.

When I got to the end of this poem, with its lines about forgiveness, I had to put the book down and catch my breath. The idea of forgiveness, of blame, responsibility and guilt is something I’ve tried to explore in my own poems about this subject, and there is something complicated being explored here about responsibility and blame, and victims and perpetrators.

If you would like to know more about Katrina, you can have a look at her website here. She has a background in human rights, was the first writer-in-residence at the Bronte Parsonage Museum and holds a PhD in creative writing from Goldsmiths.  Her debut collection The Girl with the Cactus Handshake received an Arts Council Award and was shortlisted for the London New Poetry Award.  She has also published prize-winning pamphlets.  Katrina is a Hawthornden Fellow and a lecturer at Falmouth university.  She is orginally from Margate and lives in Cornwall.

If you would like to order the collection, you can get 20% off if you order direct from Seren here.  I hope you enjoy the poem, and thanks to Katrina for letting me use it this week.

Letter to my Mother – Katrina Naomi

You lie underneath him,
a measure of mud between you.

This was our final argument – his and mine –
your husband/my step-father.

I’m told of a double headstone,
which I haven’t visited,

since I held my neice’s hand,
threw a lily and a tablespoon of chalky soil

on your lid.  I can’t talk to you,
knowing he’s also there, listening,

as he always did: the click
of the extension by your bed, the reading

out of my letters and your replies.
All these years, his 17 stones

pressing down on you, crushing
the soil between you.

I talk to you when I cross the Thames,
looking right to Shooters Hill –

Kent’s north edge.  I send you my words
in a flotilla of paper boats.  I forgive you,

I always have.  I forgive you
for marrying him.

Sunday Poem – Jennifer Copley

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I got back from Stanza at 10.30pm – about an hour ago and am severely regretting not writing this blog over the weekend.  I even dragged my laptop all the way to St Andrews but it did not come out of its case once.  I’ve had a really good weekend but I’m absolutely knackered.  On Wednesday night I got to St Andrews at about 9.30pm which was strangely disorientating – to arrive in the dark I mean.  I’d been teaching till 3pm and then caught the train after work so all I wanted to do was go to bed, but my stomach wouldn’t let me.  I didn’t feel quite confident enough to go in search of somewhere to eat at night in a strange place and I was longing to get back to my room and just sit in bed in the lovely dressing gown that the B and B provided.

I was staying at the Glenderran Guest House and it was a really lovely place to stay – I’ve heard people say in the past that they’ve struggled to find somewhere to stay in St Andrews – I’d really recommend the B and B – the breakfast was really nice and Ray and Maggie, who own the B and B were very friendly and welcoming.

Anyway, on the Wednesday night I walked down to the nearest supermarket and got a banana, a bag of crisps and an Easter egg and then sat in bed and scoffed them all with a cup of tea.  The next morning I went for a run down the beach by myself – 7k this time – I thought I could get away with putting on a bit of distance as I was running on lovely soft sand.  My tendon was complaining a little bit but not too much.

On Thursday I did a school session at Madras College in St Andrews which was good fun and then later that afternoon I did my reading with John Dennison.  It seemed to go down quite well.  It was nice to get my ‘bits’ over and done with as well and be able to spend the rest of the weekend doing whatever I wanted.

I’m quite tired so I won’t go through all the things that happened this weekend but when I think back to my highlights they are a strange mix of things.

The most obvious one – the highlight in terms of reading terms was hearing Carolyn Forche who I’m ashamed to say I’d not heard of before, or at least I thought I hadn’t heard of her, until she read her famous ‘The Colonel’ poem, which I have read because I think it has been anthologised before.  She cast a complete spell for the whole of her 45 minute reading.  Unless a poet is amazing, I can get a bit fidgety, but it was only after she had finished and I got up to move and immediately sat back down again because I had pins and needles that I realised I hadn’t moved a muscle the whole time.

Her reading and performance were as good as my other favourites – which in case you’re interested are in no particular order – Clare Shaw, Kei Miller and Billy Letford.

These next favourite things might sound a bit strange and the people I’m talking about may be a bit concerned to find themselves on my favourites list, but I’m thinking about things that I will carry away with me and it will have to be the conversations I’ve had with three lovely blokes – Gerry Cambridge who edits The Dark Horse, Rob Mackenzie, the reviews editor for Magma and Ilya Kaminsky who also gave an amazing reading and talk during the festival.  I met Gerry on the Saturday at the Book Fair and I immediately felt like I’d known him for ages, so much so that later on I got a bit confused, and thought maybe I did know him and had just forgotten.  I even checked and asked him if we’d met before but no, apparently not!  I only had the chance to have a longer conversation with Rob today but he is a great laugh and I think we have the same sense of humour.  Again, I felt like I’d known him for ages – I suppose I have, in an online sense through social media.  And lovely Ilya, I had met before at Poetry Parnassus, but it was nice to get to know him a bit more.  I’ll never forget going to the bookshop with Ilya, which was like having a crash course in 20th century poetry.  He is partly to blame for my ridiculously large (and we’re talking two bags full) of poetry books that I lugged back from St Andrews.  One of my other favourite bits of the festival is going for 5k run with Helen Mort along the beach – it was nice and slow, which was good for me and we talked all the way down and all the way back.  It was also lovely to have the chance to spend time with Paul Stephenson and Antony Christie this weekend as well.  These things might not, on the outside, seem to have much to do with poetry, but to me they do.  I think a good festival is made up of the bits between the readings, the conversations in the bar, the runs along the beach are just as important as the poetry.  There were lots more people that I met who were lovely as well – Nigel Thompson, Kat Langton, – too many to list.

There is lots more I could say about the festival, but I’m going to stop there because I’m tired and I want to go to bed!   But Fiona Moore is the blogger in residence and is doing a great job writing about her time at the festival over at her blog  if you want to find out more about what has been going on at Stanza.

Here is Jennifer Copley with ‘When a Voice Moved Across the Water’ which is a trademark Jennifer Copley poem.  It presents the reader with an unlikely situation, then proceeds to fill in the details in such a way that the surreal becomes completely logical and believable.  The biblical tone of the title is carried on by the use of the language in the poem, with the little nod to the ‘blind leading the blind’, but she is also playing with myth with the mermaids and Icarus, who flies into the poem at the end.  Myth, fairytales and biblical langauge are often mixed up in Jenny’s poems, so you start to forget where the boundaries are.

Jenny doesn’t need an introduction, but I will give her one anyway!  Jenny has numerous books published: Ice, a pamphlet by Smith/Doorstop, House by the Sea and Unsafe Monuments by Arrowhead, Beans in Snow by Smokestack, Living Daylights by Happenstance, Mr Trickfeather by Like This Press and most recently Sisters by Smokestack.  If you would like to find out more about Jenny’s work, have a look at her website

WHEN A VOICE MOVED UPON THE WATERS – Jennifer Copley

 

all the drowned, knowing it was their time,
kicked up from the ocean floor through mermaids
and shoals of fish, till they reached forgotten air.
Gathering themselves into groups
they struck out for dry land:
the blind towed by the un-blind, the limbless
clinging with their teeth to the ones in front,
bones being pushed ahead by bones.
It was dawn when they reached the shore,
shook salt from their hair, made fires,
dried those who could not help themselves.
And I saw my cousin and my aunt,
and I saw Icarus, heat steaming from his feathers,
and I saw my lover, still young, flicking water from her lashes
but I turned away so she would not find me.

2015 Residential Poetry Courses

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It is quarter past midnight and once I’ve finished writing this, I’ll wake up and it will be the morning of New Year’s Eve. Tomorrow I’ve somehow managed to make my day quite busy but filled with nice stuff.  I’ll be going on my last run of 2014 at 10am in the morning (I really should get to bed).  Then I’m meeting lovely poet Jennifer Copley for lunch.  More about Jenny in a minute.  Then I’m going to meet the other 8 members of Soul Survivors to have our photo taken for the local paper to promote our first big gig on January 30th.  That’s at 3pm.  Then I’m going round to my friend’s house who is pregnant and due any day now.  I’m having a quiet New Year’s Eve this year apart from all that, probably just staying in with the husband, who is currently ill and has spent the last couple of days languishing on the sofa with post viral fatigue syndrome.

On Sunday night, after posting my last blog post, I realised I’d forgotten to tell my lovely poetry news in all the excitement.  Poetry Review arrived and it has two of my poems in – one poem ‘The World’s Smallest Man’ which my lovely friend John Foggin helped me with when I sent an early draft to him, and ‘How the Stones Fell’ which is a rewrite of Ovid’s Creation Myth, again linked to John Foggin.  We both became a bit obsessed with Ovid last year.

I felt really annoyed with myself for forgetting.  I originally started this blog to document what it was like to be a poet and do everything else alongside, and last weekend I forgot the important parts.  I’m not talking about being published although that is lovely, but the process of being a poet.  I’m not sure I’m explaining what I mean properly.

It has something to do with not reading enough which leads to not writing enough, to being too busy to go to my regular writing groups.  It’s something I want to (am going to) change in 2015.

Anyway, I know this is a stupid time to blog.  It’s gone midnight, most of you will be in bed I’m guessing.  And I’m doing my proper round up tomorrow where I look back through 2014.

But first I want to look ahead and draw your attention to the residential course I’m running in Grange Over Sands in 2015.  Details are below.  I’d love to see some of you there.  Half the spaces have gone already, despite me forgetting to publicise it with everything else going on.  It will be a week of nothing but poetry.  Maybe a bit of wine and good food as well actually.  But there will be time to read, write, talk, think about poetry.  It won’t break the bank.

You’ll be glad to know that myself and Jennifer Copley, although we forgot to really publicise the darn thing, have planned it meticulously.  There will be a detailed timetable going up at some point in the next two weeks with a short summary of each workshop.

I’m also going to try and get some testimonials from previous participants, just in case you needed any more convincing.

Here is the most up to date information about the course

Residential Poetry Course – ‘The Stories We Tell Ourselves’
Monday 30th March – Friday 3rd April Abbot Hall Hotel, Grange Over Sands

£370 includes accommodation, breakfast and three course evening meal and all workshops and readings

During this week we will explore how to use narrative in our poetry.  Using fairytales, myths, legends and your own family history we will start to create our own untold stories.  Suitable for all ranges of ability – come and join us for a week of workshops, discussions and readings. We will be joined by two mystery guests mid-week.

Booking is now open – please ring the hotel directly on 015395 32896.

If you have any questions about the course please get in touch via the Contact Page.