Tag Archives: John Foggin

Sunday Poem – John Foggin

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Sunday Poem  – John Foggin

It’s the TS Eliot prize readings tonight, so maybe I’ll be writing this to nobody as lots of poets will be at the Royal Festival Hall as we speak, listening to the ten shortlisted poets.  I went a couple of years ago, the year Sharon Olds won, and Jacob Polly was shortlisted.  It was a great night, and I’d love to go again, another year, when I have more money and more time.

I haven’t read all of the shortlisted books yet either, which is very unusual for me, so I haven’t even got an informed opinion about who I think should win.  So maybe it is strange to even mention it, except that it was on my mind as I sat down at my desk, alone and looking out into the dark, that out there, elsewhere, hundreds of people are gathering to hear and talk about poetry, and I am both part of it, and not part of it at all.

Last Tuesday I had a meeting about my PhD and then I sent my draft RD1 proposal to one of my supervisors, with feedback promised by the end of the week. I know I’ve complained on here before, but this term has been a bit of a nightmare.  I haven’t been able to send a draft of my RD1 before this, because I spent about eight weeks in and out of hospital, or recovering from an operation.  I finished most of my RD1 over Christmas, whilst most normal people were drinking and eating chocolate, but that was the first time I felt physically able to get really stuck into it.  But I couldn’t send the RD1 to my supervisors then, as I didn’t think it was fair to be sending stuff whilst they were on holiday.

Luckily I’ve had some lovely poet-friends who offered to have a look over it for me, and that has been really, really helpful.  However, once I sent the RD1 on Tuesday, I’ve spent the whole week having nightmares about it being awful.  I had an actual nightmare where I got an email from my supervisor which said

‘I understand now why you took so long to send the RD1 through.  Your sentence construction is not good enough for a PhD so we’ve swapped you onto an Access course.’

I woke up with actual night sweats from that one! Anyway, I got the feedback on Friday, and my RD1 isn’t terrible, and the feedback was very constructive, and I haven’t been thrown off the course.  It still needs some work, but I think that is to be expected,  and I think I can get it all done before my deadline, which is Thursday.

Apart from my anxiety levels going through the roof, lots of lovely stuff has happened this week as well.  I’ve been getting back into running, and have been three times this week – all of the runs were over 10k.  I’m training to run the Coniston 14 race in March, so I’m trying to get my fitness up, without going over the top and getting injured, so it’s a bit of a balancing act.

I’ve also been writing poetry this week! A couple of weeks ago I went to sit with my twin sister while she went and got a tattoo at Samsara Tattoo in Kendal.  Here is a picture of it!  She was there for six hours getting this done.

15541609_1279314905425298_8201604401307089933_nThere were some other people there getting really interesting tattoos done as well.  I won’t tell you about them as it’s in the poem, but my sister’s tattoo, which is in the style of a watercolour, got me thinking about tattoos.  I have three, and they are the only things I’ve ever done in my life where I didn’t car what other people thought.  I didn’t know I’d feel like this about them, but it was so liberating, especially as I spent a lot of time worrying about what people think of me.  I also like the idea that a tattoo turns the body into a piece of art and I think tattoos made me feel an ownership of my body which I hadn’t really felt before.  Anyway, I’ve hopefully put all this into the poem in a much better way than I have here.  I’ve also booked to get my next tattoo – not till March though.

I’ve read a really interesting article this week as part of my RD1 work, recommended by my supervisor about Medusa and the female gaze.  The article quotes John Berger from his book who says ‘Men do not simply look, their gaze carries with it the power of action and of possession’.  It made me think about my poems I’ve been writing, all called ‘All The Men I Never Married’.  Writing poems about ex-boyfriends and experiences of sexism, is kind of like turning the men involved into stone.  Or maybe not into stone, but freezing them in time.  They can’t defend themselves, or excuse themselves, or apologise.  They can’t laugh about it with me or give their version of events. Or maybe they can, but the version of them that I have pinned to the page can’t.  I’m slightly uncomfortable with turning into a poetic Medusa, and maybe it’s no coincidence that I’ve written a poem about being tattooed, where the subjects are also pinned in place, unable to move.  Although in my tattoo poem, the artists are able to move and create art from nothing.  And although the body can’t move, it does have a voice.  Argh! At the minute, it feels like I have these thoughts going round in my head, and not quite enough time to peel the layers away and actually think about them, so instead you’re getting disjointed and vague musings.

Back to more practical matters – the first Barrow Poetry Workshop yesterday.  I’ve got the dates booked in for the rest of 2017 now – check the ‘Readings and Workshops’ page for more details.  11 poets turned up on Saturday from all over the place – Alston, Preston, Lancaster, Kendal, Ulverston and Barrow. Running poetry workshops is one of my favourite parts of being a poet – it feels nothing like work, the people are lovely, and I get paid for it.

Next week I’m going to Manchester on Monday to the Royal Exchange to see the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends reading series – my friends Keith Hutson and Hilary Robinson are reading alongside Liz Lochhead.  I always wanted to go to these readings, but could never go before because my Monday nights were always tied up with conducting my junior brass band – now I haven’t got that commitment I’m determined to go to them.  I’ve also got to hand my RD1 in of course.  By the time I write this blog next week that stress will hopefully be over!

Residential news – St Ives poetry course in February is now sold out, but there are places left still for the Grange-Over-Sands Residential in April.  I don’t think Grange Over Sands has quite the pull of St Ives as a location – just the name St Ives has lovely connotations.  It’s a shame though because the Grange Over Sands location is just as lovely, but in a different way.  The course actually takes place in a small village called Kents Bank, which is a couple of miles out from Grange.  There is a lovely walk along the promenade to Grange that people often do in the afternoons, and although I wouldn’t advise walking out on the mudflats, the views of Morecambe Bay are really stunning. There are only non-ensuite rooms left for Grange, which means they are a bit cheaper – only £396 for a Monday to Friday course – a bargain!

So today’s Sunday Poem is by John Foggin.  I’ve just counted up and this is his fourth appearance on this blog – I think he has the record for the most appearances on here! He will keep winning competitions and publishing books and pamphlets though, and then they keep being excellent, which is why he keeps popping up.

John’s first full-length collection Much Possessed was published by Smith/Doorstop in 2016, and to be honest, I got confused and thought I’d already posted a poem from it as the Sunday Poem.  Then I checked and realised I hadn’t – I’d done that thing of thinking about something at great length and then not actually doing it.  It’s a fantastic collection, with a wide variety of subject matter, and there were loads of poems I could have chosen as my favourite.  There’s ‘For the true naming of the world’ which is a beautiful poem which I think underneath is about writing, or at least being present in the world which starts ‘you need one who will recognise a fish/that has swallowed a star/that fell through the vaults of the air’.  Or ‘Wren’ which starts ‘God thought of the smallest coin/he could make, and made the Wren/to fit, neat as a thumb in a thimble’ which reminds me of my utter conviction that ducklings look like pound coins, even though I know they don’t really.  Or ‘Goldcrest’ – this bird is described as a ‘soft plump brooch’.  Or ‘Colouring in’ which has the best ending to a poem I’ve read ‘On days like this warm day/the sky is a cat’s ear/and is listening me.’

However, the poem that I am going to post up in full is called ‘A Weak Force.’  I don’t remember where I first heard John read ( a workshop? a tutorial?) but I remember it made me cry.  This is a difficult poem to write about because it is a difficult subject.  tIt explores suicide, and the impact of suicide on those left behind. However, it is also a beautiful poem and as well as being about falling and leaving and death, it is also about love, and the nature of love. There is an urgency mixed with acceptance mixed with anger in this poem, which makes it utterly compelling. So I will do my best to explore why it’s always been one of my favourite poems of John’s.  I know it’s an important poem for him too, so I hope I do it justice.

The first thing to say is that the first line is a jolt.  It is a bold statement and claim to start with, but then the rest of the poem backs this statement up – opening it up and exploring it.  There is no self-pity here – right from this first stanza, it is the loss of the ‘lives never lived by your children’ which is mourned, not the loss of the speaker in the poem who is left behind.  The third line of the poem with the use of the word ‘stopped’ is an interesting distancing technique – we associate clocks with stopping, not people, but I think this is needed to keep emotion in control, because of the next lines, which tell us what happened, about a fall ‘from the top of a tower block.’  The content of this poem is incredibly moving, but the control and technique that is shown support it – the line break after stopped makes the empty space that follows it echo into the next line.

There are lots of different changes in tone in this poem as well.  The first two stanzas sound very sure of themselves, as if they are setting out thoughts and ideas that have been gone over again and again.  I think the tone changes in the fourth stanza which starts ‘In the no time’.  From here, we’re not quite in the real world.  We’re in the world of falling, in a kind of in-between world with the ‘you’ who ‘learned the art of not falling’.  The viewpoint of the poem widens out, and the reader is also ‘falling and not falling’ as the speaker describes Leeds spread out underneath and we read that the ‘motorway tail lights trailed ribbons of red’.

In the next stanza, there is again, a change of tone.  With the repetition of the word ‘Because’ there is something almost childlike introduced here into the speaker’s voice, and we see the ‘you’ as a child, a child who ‘always shut your eyes/you closed them tight as cockleshells’.  I’m trying to work out why this section of the poem moves me, and I think it’s because the person comes to life.  The focus shifts from their death to their life, to the person they were.  Of course the line ‘I remember how you laughed when I swore/I would catch you’ is a bitter-sweet memory, because, of course, the ‘you’ cannot be caught.

My favourite image in the poem is the final one – the idea of the ‘you’ who ‘sank like the sun.’  Even when we can’t see the sun, it hasn’t disappeared, it is still there. That last list in the final stanza ‘over the canal/the river the sour moors the cottongrass/the mills of the plain’ brings home the idea that everything is a reminder.

The poem is right of course – you can’t imagine that loss, unless you’ve experienced it.  But it is possible to be moved by it.

For those of you who don’t know John already, he writes a great blog called the great fogginzo’s cobweb.  He has been a teacher, lecturer and LEA English/Drama Adviser.  He lives in West Yorkshire where he jointly organises Puzzle Poets Live in Calderdale.  His work has appeared in The North, The New Writer, Prole and The Interpreter’s House, amongst others.

His poems have won first prizes in competitions including The Plough (2013, 2014) and The McLellan (2015).  He has published four pamphlets: Running out of space, Backtracks, Larach (with Ward Wood Publishing 2014), Outlaws and fallen Angels (Calder Valley Press 2016).  His latest success is winning the Sentinel Pamphlet Competition with a co-authored pamphlet, written with an ex-student, Andrew Blackford.  This will be published sometime in 2017, and you can read more about it on John’s blog here.

If you’d like to order John’s collection, you can buy Much Possessed directly from his publisher’s website, Smith/Doorstop.

A Weak Force – John Foggin

there’s sometimes a loss you can’t imagine;
the lives never lived by your children, or
by the one who simply stopped
in the time it takes
to fall to the ground
from the top of a tower block.

They say gravity is a weak force.
I say the moon will tug a trillion tons
of salt sea from its shore.
I say a mountain range will pull a snowmelt
puddle out of shape.
I say gravity can draw a boy
through a window
and into the air.

There is loss no one can imagine.

In the no time between
falling and not falling
you learned the art of not falling;

beneath you burned
the lights of Sheepscar, Harehills,
Briggate, Vicar Lane;
lights shone in the glass arcades,
on the tiles, on the gantries of tall cranes;
motorway tail lights trailed ribbons of red,
and you were far beyond falling.

Because you shut your eyes
because you always shut your eyes
you closed them tight as cockleshells
because when you did that the world

would go away the world
would not see you.

I remember how you ran like a dream.
I remember how you laughed when I swore
I would catch you.

Then you flared you went out
you flared like a moth and you blew
away over the lights over the canal
the river the sour moors the cottongrass
the mills of the plain
and over the sea and over the sea
and the bright west
and you sank like the sun.

 

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Sunday Poem – Ian Harker

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THE LIONS OF LEEDS TOWN HALL – Ian Harker

Drawn from life at London Zoo
you could catch one from the corner
of your eye curling an oversize paw
like a cat in a square of sunlight
on the kitchen floor or flicking the dirt
from its mane – blackbright lions
lazing in the haze of fading might.

Here they come up Park Row,
claws clack-clacking on flags,
leaping parked cars, nosing over litter bins.
The city after dark is an outdoor enclosure
for owls and sheep, gargoyles and eagles
and a family of roe deer grazing placid
in Mandela Gardens.

At the Mechanics’ Institute the security guards
can hardly hear themselves think for the squawk
and scream of the treetops, yawning hippos
and an extinction of dodos hopping down the stairs
towards Millennium Square.
And who dare check that Nesyamun,
three thousand years dead, hasn’t shifted
his shrunken bones, sat up
and started tapping against the glass.

Today’s Sunday Poem is from Ian Parker’s first pamphlet, The End of the Sky, which was one of three winners of the 2015 Templar Pamphlet Awards and was published in November. I got to know Ian a couple of years ago, through my good friend David Tait.  I remember David telling me then that he thought Ian was a great poet and to watch out for his poems.  Ian has had a great 2015 – I’ve been noticing his poetry popping up in magazines and on various shortlists for competitions including the Bridport, The Troubador and the Guernsey International Prizes.  He’s also been published in numerous magazines including The North, Stand, Agenda and Other Poetry.

I haven’t seen Ian for ages so it was great to see him at Word Club in Leeds a couple of weeks ago.  I’m a bit lazy about buying books and pamphlets online now and much prefer to get them in person – so I’m glad I got the opportunity to get a copy of quite a few pamphlets from various poets based in and around Leeds.

As soon as I read the title of this poem I knew I would love it.  I thought I was the most unobservant person when I lived in Leeds – if it didn’t look like a trumpet, I wasn’t really interested, but even I apparently, had noticed the lions because I got a kind of pang of nostalgia just from reading the title – I remember those lions!

I love the idea that you could catch one ‘curling an oversize paw’ or ‘flicking the dirt from its mane’ when you are not looking.  I have no idea if ‘blackbright’ is a real word – it sounds made up, and yet, completely right and fitting.

I think the second stanza has captured the movement of the lions beautifully, even while keeping it in the reader’s mind that these are stone lions – their claws ‘clack-clacking on flags’.  It’s all a bit Museums at Night by the end, with that image of Nesyamun sitting up and ‘tapping against the glass’ – I love it!

Thanks to Ian for allowing me to use his poem forthe blog this week – I would heartily recommend his pamphlet, The End of the Sky, which you can buy by heading over to the Templar website.

Talking about Nesyamun and his three thousand year old bones, I feel a strange affinity with him tonight, except he maybe has a bit more life in him!  I’ve just got back from an amazing weekend, running the first ever Poetry Carousel.

In the days leading up to the Poetry Carousel, I started to worry that there might be a reason why nobody had done this sort of course before.  Thirty two participants, divided into four groups of eight.  Each group of eight had a two-hour workshop with four tutors, rotating around, from one tutor to the other. Tutors for this year were Ian Duhig, Amanda Dalton and Andrew Forster who were all great to work with and a brilliant support  throughout the weekend.

I can only imagine what it was like for the people taking part, moving from one workshop to another, one energy to another, one teaching style to another, one topic to another.  It must have been exhausting, and by the end of the weekend, there was certainly a sense of hysteria setting in with the tutors and a few of the participants. But I hope it was also inspiring and exciting and fun and made them think and question and think again.  I hope it was challenging as well – I think we need to be challenged sometimes, and prodded out of our comfort zones. The quality of the work produced during the workshops was outstanding and although at times, I felt sad  I wasn’t getting to spend as much time getting to know people as on a ‘normal’ residential course, it was lovely to walk around the hotel and hear the buzz and chatter of people talking and laughing.

We had two wonderful and very different guest poets, Jennifer Copley on the Friday night, and Lindsey Holland on the Saturday night, both at very different stages in their careers.  Jenny will be running a more ‘normal’ residential course with me in October: ‘From the Ordinary to the Extraordinary’ and it was great to hear some of the new poems she has been working on, including some surreal takes on nursery rhymes.  Lindsey has now finished a pamphlet she has been working on about her family history, and read three long poems as her set, including one of my favourites of hers, St Elmo’s Fire, which was one of the set of poems recently shortlisted for the Manchester Poetry Prize.

The carousel will be running again from the 16th-19th August 2016, and I’ll be making an announcement about the other three tutors very soon!

Apart from preparing for the course, which seems to have taken a huge part of my week, last week I spent two evenings at a school show, where I’d rehearsed a school band so they could perform in the afternoon without me as I had to be somewhere else teaching.  They apparently were brilliant in the afternoon, counted themselves in, finished together, kept in time and in the evening, when I was halfway on stage ready to conduct them, they counted themselves in again and off they went, so I scuttled off stage again! It was a strange mixture of pride that they didn’t need me and grumpiness that they didn’t need me, but the pride was definitely on top, as it should be!

I also ran far too much last week and now have sore shins again, which I’ve rested this weekend in the hope they will make a speedy recovery.  I also went for a lovely afternoon tea with my friend Helen who writes a great blog detailing her experiences at some of the county’s finest afternoon tea establishments.  My alias is ‘Princess K’ on the blog and I am the only one of her friends to be photographed and featured on said blog.  This might be because I kept photobombing the pictures she was trying to take of the cakes but never mind

Next year, starting towards the end of January, I’ll be tutoring on an online course called What Work Is through the Poetry School.  You can book onto the course here, but if you’d like to find out a little more about it, I’ve just written a blog post which talks about what we’ll be doing on the course which you can find here. Half of the places have gone already, so if you’d like to book, do get in touch with the Poetry School.

In February, I’m running a residential course in St Ives with Steve Ely – again, half of the places for this course have already gone so do get in touch with the hotel if you would like to book  a place.  You can find more information here

This is always a strange time of year – it feels like things are starting to wind down, but they aren’t really.  Next week I have a school concert, I’m taking Barrow Shipyard Junior Band busking twice, a soul band rehearsal and a trip to Galway to read at the Over the Edge reading series and then a soul band gig when I get back.  It’s not really winding down at all, but there is that sense of time running out, or running away.

The end-of-year lists are starting to come out – this blog is even on one of them, which I’m very, very happy about.  Matthew Stewart over at Rogue Strands has compiled a list ‘The Best U.K Poetry Blogs of 2015’ and happy to say my blog is on it.  My friend John Foggin has just blogged and included his four poetry blogs that keep him going and I’m happy to say this blog is mentioned there as well.

Poetry, and blogging can be like that.  I liked John’s analogy of it being like a long walk and needing friends to carry your rucksack and motivate you sometimes.  John was saying thanks to me for doing that today on his blog, not knowing that I was feeling like a three thousand year old corpse and trying to think of an excuse for not writing this blog .  Reading his blog made me remember why I like blogging – I like sharing other people’s poetry just because I like it, without expecting anything back, just because something in the poem spoke to me.  Writing a blog every week does feel like a long walk with a really heavy rucksack sometimes – there is no denying that.  Sometimes I wonder whether it is worth the time and the energy – but mostly I feel proud of it – that is what is mostly on top – which is how it should be.

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 – John Foggin

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This week has been a strange one – in some ways it feels like the laziest Christmas/New Year period I’ve had for a long time.  The husband has post-viral fatigue syndrome – which I had a couple of years ago and is truly horrible.  It basically means you’re exhausted all the time but he has had other symptoms -feeling sick, sore throat, not eating (first time in ten years I’ve ever known him not to eat) so to show solidarity with him I have been sitting on the sofa for hours re-watching Game of Thrones.  But also because I was tired as well – it felt like I was hovering on the edge of getting better so I decided I would start running again and do some jobs but spend most of my time sitting/lying on the sofa.

Apart from lying on the sofa watching TV and cooking – how we have both survived my cooking all week is anybody’s guess – although the thought has just occurred to me that maybe it is my cooking which is making the husband ill – anyway, apart from all that, I’ve started running again.

I went last Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.  I think every single one has been painful, frustrating and has felt like such hard work.  I’ve had three weeks off due to being ill but it feels like three months.  It feels like starting again, although of course I’m not.  I haven’t lost that much fitness, but every time I run, part of me is in a complete sulk that the speed I’m running at is much slower than what I was doing, and what is worse, feels hard.  My legs feel heavy, I’m getting out of breath at a pace that I could have easily carried out a conversation at before.  I think a lot of it is psychological as well and I just need to push through this slightly rocky patch now.

My New Year’s Resolution this year is to spend at least one hour every day reading and writing poetry.  I promised myself I would do this after coming back from tutoring with Clare Shaw on our residential poetry course but if I’m honest, I didn’t really stick to it.  So far, this year, and bearing in mind we’re only on the 4th January, I have stuck to it.  I was inspired again to have another go after reading Josephine Corcoran’s blog in which she is promising to write for an hour every day.

I don’t want to write for an hour every day because I don’t work like that, in concentrated periods of time.  I like reading poems and then writing a bit, reading a bit, writing a bit, so that’s why I’m saying I’m going to read and write.   They are so bound up together for me anyway.

So in my hour a day since New Year I’ve finished off The Deep North by Bronwyn Lee which I’ve really enjoyed and have just finished today a book by Ron Egatz which I bought at Aldeburgh as well.

The other thing I’m doing which I suppose is shaping up to be a New Year Resolution, although I only decided to do it yesterday was to learn a poem by heart a month.  Here I am with my Poetry Promise

poetrypromise

Have a look on the Poetry by Heart website if you would like to find out more information – it is basically a national competition for school children to encourage young people to learn poems off by heart, but this week on Twitter they were asking for people to make a ‘Poetry Promise’.  You can download the piece of paper I’m holding from their website and fill in your own goal here if you like.  I can’t claim the credit for this – the poet Ben Wilkinson made me aware of it first and even came up with the goal and I know a bandwagon when I see one!  BUT if anybody wants to join me, I would love to hear what poem you are going to learn this month.  I’ve decided to go for a poem I’ve always loved and one I would like to know by heart – ‘The Voice’ by Thomas Hardy.  I’m guessing that I can copy it out below, for those of you who might not know it and that I won’t get in any trouble as it is out of copyright…

The Voice – Thomas Hardy

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed, from the one that was all to me
But as at first, when our day was fair.

Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you then.
Standing as when I drew near to the town.
Where you would wait for me, yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!

Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?

Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.

I loved this poem as soon as I heard it – the yearning in that first line – and the lovely repetition.  And to rhyme wistlessness and listlessness.  And I love the commas and the faltering, stop, start rhythm of it…So far I have managed to remember accurately the first two lines…

This week I’ve also been working on a translation of a Burmese poem – the poem is by Moon Thueain.  I’m working from a literal translation and then emailing back and forward between Moon, her translator Pandora and the lovely Sasha Dugdale, the editor of my current favourite magazine Modern Poetry in Translation.  Last night found me trying to find a replacement for the line ‘We are not fools’ which was first translated as ‘We are not lemons’.  The original Burmese used a fruit whose name translates as ‘to be insulted’.  Of course we don’t have an equivalent in English – so at first I went for ‘We are not fools’ but Pandora asked me to try and find a metaphor that would encapsulate what Moon wanted – the word ‘fools’ was too direct.  So at the minute I have

‘We are not here
to stand like donkeys,
silent at your words’

which is not a literal translation.  It could be argued that it is not even a translation! There is no donkey in Moon’s poem – but I think it captures the intention of the poet.  Maybe this is hard to explain as well without showing you the whole poem, and I can’t do that, because it will hopefully, if I can get it right, be published in Modern Poetry in Translation at some point.  I should reassure you all that the poem I’m writing will be a version of Moon’s poem – it won’t be presented as a direct translation.

I have been enjoying the process, and am gearing myself up to have a go at another one of Moon’s poems.  The first step is to have a look at the literal translation and send a long list of questions and queries to Pandora, so I may do that in my hour of reading and writing tomorrow!

Would you believe me if I said I started writing this blog at 7pm? I did have to stop about 8pm and make dinner but still – I have no idea why it takes me this long.  But here we are, at this week’s Sunday Poem.  John Foggin wrote a great post today, talking about form and how he doesn’t usually use form-

“What I can’t do is sit down and plan to squeeze an idea or a feeling into a terza rima, or a sestina or a sonnet. I can’t see the point of it. I’m not saying there isn’t one, but I find it quite hard enough to find out what I think I’m thinking or feeling, and what it might mean, without things being edited out by form or rhyme.”

I would have completely agreed with John until a couple of months ago when I ran a workshop for the Young Writers I work with on sonnets, and sat down to write one myself.  But I want to talk about writing a sestina, which happened more recently and was more extraordinary to me because I hate sestinas.  I wanted to do a session with the young writers though, and reading about sestinas, and making some notes that I could give to them about the form, I wrote that sestinas normally tackle obsessions, which fit with the obsessive nature of the form.  When I read this to the group, I suddenly knew what I was going to write about, the thing that obsesses me, the thing that I don’t stop thinking about, which is the domestic violence that the sequence I’ve been working on for my new collection deals with.  The sestina has turned out to be the title poem of the sequence.  I’ve always had the title, I just didn’t have the title poem.

I would never, ever start with a form usually, but I just wrote the first stanza, and then whatever words ended up at the end of each line, I just went with them.  It was like following a meandering path around and above and over and under this thing that has haunted me for years.  So I think that is what form can do – it doesn’t do it for me personally very often, but when it works, it works.

I’ve only quoted a small part of John’s blog as well and it is a fascinating read and I would urge you to read the rest of the post where he goes into more detail about his thoughts on writing and reading and resolutions – the link is further down the page but I would like to meander, finally to the Sunday Poem which is by the lovely John.

This poem seems to me  a poem to be read at the beginning of a new year, which is also, of course the end of an old one.  It is a poem of crossroads, of being between things, of being nowhere that has a name.  I love how each stanza creates an image, like a freeze frame from a film.  The poet gives us just enough information to be able to picture what he means exactly, but enough room to be able to bring our own imagination to it as well.  I’ve just read the Introduction to Don Paterson’s ‘Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets’ and it he quotes Antonio Porchia who says ‘I know what I have given you; I do not know what you have received’.  This articulates for me what a good poem is and I think this poem illustrates it beautifully.

This poem is the title poem of John’s new pamphlet Larach.  Larach is published by Ward Wood Publishing  and was part of John’s prize for winning the 2014 Lumen Camden Poetry Competition, judged by Andrew Motion.  The winning poem in this competition, ‘Camera Obscura’ was also Highly Commended in the Forward Prize.

I could have picked any of a number of poems in John’s pamphlet to feature here.  He ranges widely, exploring Greek mythology, but with a tenderness and a searching whilst doing so, as in the opening lines of ‘Hephaestus’

‘ugly and lame, whose mother threw
all down the sky; you know how falling feels’

but you will also find some beautiful poems of landscape in the pamphlet, very carefully observed.  Probably my favourite poem of the pamphlet is ‘Our David’s Pictures’, which describes a son who has died and the pictures he drew when he was alive.  Each stanza is so carefully controlled and contained but the emotion behind this poem can’t be contained.  I haven’t put this poem up because you can find it on John’s own blog The Great Fogginzo’s Cobweb . You’ll also find another one of John’s Greek mythology poems ‘Dedalus’ in the same post as well.

John Foggin’s poems have appeared in The North, The New Writer and The Interpreter’s House.  He organises and comperes The Puzzle Hall Poets monthly readings at The Puzzle Inn, in Sowerby Bridge.  In 2013 he won The Plough Poetry Competition and in 2014 he won The Red Shed Competition.  His first two pamphlets Running out of space and Backtracks were published in April and August 2014.

I hope you enjoy the poem, and do pay a visit to John’s blog, where you can buy his first two pamphlets, and to Ward Wood Publishing if you would like to buy Larach.

Larach – John Foggin

On O.S. maps, the Gaelic
for a place that isn’t anymore.
The ghost of a place.

Like that road in Spain; a hot night wind,
the churring of cicadas.  Cactus;
salt in the air.

The little white-harled place, somewhere
in the Borders, prim and discreet
as a cough in a chapel.

Cut-down oil-drum drinking troughs
in roadside dust.  Goatbells,
olives, stone.  That place.

And where the stag stood in the yellow
of the headlight, the dark swirl
of blown snow.  There.

Or one grey dawn where
a flurry of buzzards flapped off
a sop of a sheep in the turf cut.

Larach.  A pibroch for places
passed by, passed over;
for the ache of forgetting
or not forgetting.