Tag Archives: lancaster spotlight

Sunday Poem – Penelope Shuttle

Sunday Poem – Penelope Shuttle



Back to my bad habits of writing my blog late at night! My excuse today is that I’ve been in Lancaster running a 10k race.  I’m not even going to play it cool, pretending to drop this in casually as part of the usual run of the mill blog post…

I ran 45 minutes and 1 second for 10k!

My last ‘personal best’ time was 46 minutes and 17 seconds, about seven months ago, which is why I’m so chuffed.  I’ve been doing a bit more training though, in the last few months, so I knew I would beat my PB, but didn’t think for one second I would be at the 45 minute mark.  I was also 5th woman back, and I got the V35 prize (first time I’ve ever won a prize in a race!) and won the Ladies Team Prize along with my two friends, J and K

This race was called the ‘Jailbreak 10k’ and you signed up to do the race inside a cell in one of the prison wings.  The prison is now shut down of course, but I was actually quite freaked out by the cells.  They were very small and there was a toilet in the corner with a board at the side of it, presumably to give a bit of privacy, and that in itself was shocking – that this tiny space was for more than one person.  It was also really cold in there – and the prison wasn’t shut down that long ago! I couldn’t believe that people were kept in there, that people would have lived in there.  It definitely gave me goosebumps.  I thought the prisons I’d been into were pretty brutal, but they had nothing on the Lancaster Castle prison!

So two photos, and then I promise I will say no more about it.  The first is at the start – I did eventually get away from the unicorn.  (It was optional fancy dress for the race – only three people wore fancy dress – a Ghostbuster, a Witch and the Unicorn).  The second is at the end of the race, having just got to the top of the hill – so am in a bit of pain here, and pulling my famed ‘running face’.


This week has been relatively quiet apart from today! I decided I needed to get organised and make myself a timetable, to ensure I’m getting enough PhD work done.  So I did that on Monday, and did manage to make some progress.  I ordered 2 poetry collections by Marie Howe, who I’ve only just discovered.  I absolutely love her work, but this hasn’t helped with narrowing down the possibilities of poets to focus on.

I’ve also been carrying on reading Kate Millet’s ‘Sexual Politics’.  It’s a pretty big book.  I’m now over half way through though and still enjoying it.  The RD1 form is my next big hurdle, and my supervisor gave me an example one to look at.  So I’ve read that through and had a go at writing the first part of mine, just to see how it went.

I’ve also been reworking a review from last week after some feedback, and on Saturday night I had a gig with the Soul Survivors in Ulverston.  I guess it doesn’t sound that quiet now I look at it, but there hasn’t been as much rushing about as there usually is.

I’ve got a few dates coming up of readings and workshops – on Thursday I’m reading at Brantwood with Geraldine Green and Kerry Darbishire.  There is also an Open Mic – tickets are £12 and include food.

On the 4th November, the Brewery Poets are putting a reading on at The Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal.  I’m the MC, and guest poets will be Pauline Yarwood, Jennifer Copley and Ian Seed.  These nights usually sell out, so if you’d like to come, book a ticket quickly!

I’m also running my Dove Cottage Young Poets group on the 4th November, and am recruiting for new members! If you know any young people (from the age of 14 to 25) who would like to come to a free fortnightly writing group, please get in touch.  We have lots of fun, and the young poets get lots of opportunities throughout the year to perform (if they want to) and to work towards Arts Awards.

And lastly for now, on the 12th November, I’m running an all day workshop for Lancaster Spotlight.  You can find details here, but to book a place, just email spotlightclub@btinternet.com

Today’s Sunday Poem is by the wonderful Penelope Shuttle. I’ve always loved Penelope’s work, right from when I first started writing eight years ago. Penny has featured on this blog before – you can read that post here.

As you will see from this previous blog post, Penny is one of my favourite contemporary poets, so I’m quite excited that she has sent me a poem from her forthcoming collection with Bloodaxe to put up on the blog this week.  I’m even more excited that Penny has agreed to be the guest poet for the Residential Course that I’m running in St Ives next year with co-tutor David Tait.  Penny will be coming to the hotel to have dinner with the course participants, and then she will be reading from her work on the Wednesday night of the course.  There are only four places left on this course, so if you’d like to book, please get in touch with Treloyhan Manor Hotel on 01736 796240.

In 2015 Penelope published (with John Greening) their exploration in poetry  of many aspects of Heathrow airport and Hounslow Heath upon which the airport now stands:  Heath (Nine Arches). She also published a pamphlet titled Four Portions of Everything on the Menu for M’sieur Monet! (Indigo Dreams Publications). Penelope has given many readings of her work, and has been a tutor for many organisations.  She is currently a mentor for The Poetry School.

This poem comes from Penny’s forthcoming collection Will You Walk A Little Faster? which will be published by Bloodaxe in May 2017.  It was originally published in The Manhattan Review.

I love the idea of this poem – to be able to talk to your Life, to make your Life a person, rather than a collection of events.  I love that the poem seems to start mid-conversation with Life.  There’s something unbearably sad about this poem – of course, Life is addressed and personified as a seperate thing, but the whole time, we know that Life is also the speaker.

The language that is used seems deceptively simple, but the poem is full of surprising turns of phrase: ‘I’m sad of myself’ and ‘days live me in vain’ and then at the end ‘the walls are spells’ and ‘the roof’s a star’.  Maybe just because I’ve been reading a lot of Emily Dickinson but the capitalization of Life and the short lines made me think of her.

The sounds throughout the poem – all those repeated ‘L’s’ string the whole poem together.  I also love the intermittent address to Life, that comes back throughout the poem, as if the speaker is turning to Life and making sure they are still listening.

The line breaks are very effective as well, particularly at the end with the line ‘I know you so well’ which then carries onto the next line to say ‘My Life, not at all’.  I was left trying to puzzle out whether Life is known or not, and maybe that’s part of the point. Until I read the poem more carefully, I thought the ending was a repeat of the beginning and then I thought it was a straightforward reversal of the beginning, which says to Life: ‘you know me too well’.  This statement is supported throughout the poem.  What is questioned is whether the Speaker knows Life as well as the Speaker thinks they do, and just writing that I realise that of course they don’t.  We can’t know our own Lives without distance, and time to reflect, and we can never do that while we are still living them.

I hope you enjoy the poem – and please keep a look out for Penny’s collection, coming out next year.  If you’d like to find out more about Penelope Shuttle, you can go to her website here.



My Life – Penelope Shuttle

My Life, I can’t fool you,
you know me too well,
I’m sad of myself,
days live me in vain,
you test me
but bin my answers,
you’re so busy, so tired,
evenings in the glass,
drink them, My Life,
but you won’t,
driving your bargains
of years gone by,
promising me
this and that till
the walls are spells,
the roof’s a star,
I seal the hour
in a tear,
a mortal tear,
I know you so well,
My Life, not at all

Sunday Poem by Rowland Crowland


I think I’ve been blogging for around three years and I’m pretty sure a huge part of that time has been spent painting various rooms in various houses.  I just had a wave of deja vu hit me as I prepared to write this blog.  I have paint in my hair – gloss paint no less, from resting my head on the freshly painted door in a moment of existential despair, and paint all over my hands and my arms, which luckily has now dried, otherwise it would be all over my laptop as well.

We (Mr A and I) have been painting the small box room upstairs.  This is going to become my new writing room – at the minute, I’ve been using the living room downstairs, which is basically a thoroughfare to the kitchen, and I get no peace there.  Mr A charges through, humming joyfully, or stops to ask me something and then I get cross and breathe fire and I get nothing done.  So, we are having a change around, and I’m getting a smaller room, but hopefully a more peaceful one (and it has a better view over the garden) and there is no reason for anyone else to go in there apart from me, and if I want to, I can even barricade the door.  We also went and bought carpet today – again very exciting, as I decided that a completely impractical, cream coloured carpet was what I’d always wanted.  I’m also going to get floor to ceiling white bookshelves, and hopefully all of my poetry books will fit up there in one place.

This weekend I’ve finally felt like I’ve had a bit of space to breathe.  Last week I was on the verge of cracking up – this week, things have got a bit easier.  I don’t know if managing to get out for a run makes it easier, or whether that is just a sign that I’m less busy, but I feel mentally in a much better place.  I managed an 8 mile run on Wednesday along the beach, 11 miles out on country lanes on Friday and 6 miles today and I feel so much better for it.

I think it is the running that makes me feel better because when I look back over the week – there has still been a lot going on.  I went to Pauline’s house for a meeting on Monday and we made a start on the evaluation report which we need to send to the Arts Council about the festival.  I then had my final junior band rehearsal, which was sad and strange and lovely, all at the same time.  We ate the cake that I was given at the final concert, and quite a few of the children seemed obsessed with eating my face, which was printed on the cake.

I can also report that we have the photos from Kendal Poetry Festival uploaded and on the website.  All the photos have been taken by Martin Copley, so do head over and have a look.  The photos will be available to buy until the end of July from Photobox.

On Tuesday I was teaching.  One of the children who was at the concert said ‘I thought you were leaving!’ when I walked in.  ‘Not yet’ I said gaily.  After work I went to Ambleside to read at a NCS summer school to 70 teenagers.  I did four of these readings last year and they are frankly terrifying.  Give me a reading in a men’s prison any day.  However, they are often very rewarding and this one was really lovely.  Lots of the teenagers came and spoke to me afterwards and asked questions. One even came and read two poems that he’d written that he had on his phone.  I shot back afterwards for another soul band rehearsal.

Thursday was the next manic day – a hastily arranged poetry workshop at a school in Penrith.  I judged the Active Cumbria poetry competition, and the prize for one of the winning entries was a poetry workshop.  The winner was a Year 6 girl who would be leaving at the end of this term, so the workshop had to take place this week.  I’m really glad I managed to fit in time to do the workshop – I worked with a lovely Year 6 class at St Catherine’s Catholic Primary School.  They listened, they were enthusiastic, they wrote some lovely lines.  One girl, describing having a go at archery had a line about ‘the injured target’.  How good is that?

After the workshop, I went to Manchester to have a meeting about the teaching that I’ll be doing next year at MMU and then had a few hours of hanging around, trying to catch up with the mountain of admin that is still quite mountainous before heading off to teach the final session of my Poetry School course.

On Friday I went to Lancaster Spotlight because two of my Dove Cottage Young Poets had put their name down to read on the Open Mic.  I gave two friends, M and C a lift down and we had a great laugh – it felt like the first time in ages I’ve laughed that much! The young poets were fabulous as well – which I wasn’t surprised by, I already know how fabulous they are.

Last night I had a gig with the Soul band – a 6oth birthday and wedding anniversary celebration.  So, thinking about it, the week has been full-on, but it has felt manageable.  Next week, I’ve got my last two days of teaching and then I’m off to Holland on Friday to read at a poetry festival, so lots to look forward to, and a possible exciting gig that hasn’t been fully confirmed yet – but if it comes off, I’ll let you all know!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by a guy called Rowland Crowland.  I heard Rowland read this poem at Ann Wilson’s Verbalise Open Mic night in Kendal a couple of months ago.   It was a great performance, and I only wish I had a recording of him reading it to go alongside the poem – you will have to imagine it being read in a broad northern accent – I’m saying northern, although I want to say yorkshire, but I’m thinking it might be lancashire so northern seems safest.  But anyway, the type of accent that would make the rhyme ‘status’ and ‘potatoes’ chime perfectly.  This poem makes me smile when I read it and I think the rhymes are really clever, but it also has a darkness to it as well – the sadness in those lines

But it’s never use your crying
Over anything that’s spilled,
When all your life’s spent dying
An’ your living’s long been killed.
breaks my heart.  And then there is the constant work, the drudgery, and the things not said.  So I love the humour ‘Everybody else just played at gravy/But she really made it’ and the sadness and anger in it ‘It’s a bloody lifetimes bloody stains/ Two pinnies have to conceal’.   Thanks to Rowland for letting me use his poem.

Pie Tin – by Rowland Crowland

She had an enamel pie tin
An’ everybody craved it.
Everybody else just played at gravy
But she really made it.
Everything was on the table
Just as she’d laid it,
An’ she never gave anything at all away
If she could possibly save it.

Working class values,
The values that made our world.
Real values,
The birth right of every girl.

She was a homely woman
With a household full of ornaments.
She wasn’t a comely woman,
She had very few personal adornments.
She always had two pinnies though,
……….a sign of status
And the smell that came through her kitchen door
Was braised onions and potatoes.

She had a pot horse on the mantle piece
An’ she donkey-stoned the step.
An’ on the geraniumed window sill
A secret door key was kept.
A spit-and- polished sideboard
Just to spit and polish on.
On Mondays it was washing day,
“Where’s all this washing come from!?”

Working class values.
The values that made our world.
Real values.
The birth right of every girl.

An’ every day’s a cleaning day
An’ every day’s a godly day
An’ every stick of furniture’s
Been all but spit and polished away.
A pledge to him in heaven
To keep the parlour clean,
In return for blessings on a Sunday
From Jesus and maybe an ice cream.

She’s weaving yarn all through the week,
Working her fingers to the bone.
Running ragged in the cotton mill
And threadbare in the home.
It was always the Protestant ethic
To work for the father and son,
And on Sunday’s you’re spied on by the Holy Ghost
So she had to put her best frock on.

The clock…..forever ticking.
The cross……forever giving pardon.
But there’s no rest for the wicked, “sorry”
While there’s rhubarb in the garden.
Thin custard on a Friday
On a little piece of sponge cake.
A few tiny random salad items.
A sliver of hake.

Working class values,
The values that made our world.
Real values.
The birth right of every girl.

An’ everybody understood
That nothing should be said.
Nothing bad would be talked about
Till after she was dead.
So all the loves, the lies, the leers,
The lechery was hidden.
Frustrations, flirtations,failures, fears,
Just festered in the midden.

It was all about appearances
An’ keeping things from others.
She couldnt share her feelings
With her sisters or her mother.
So not far beneath the surface
The nightmare’s bleeding real.
It’s a bloody lifetime’s bloody stains
Two pinnies have to conceal.

But it’s never use your crying
Over anything that’s spilled,
When all your life’s spent dying
An’ your living’s long been killed.
It’s all just something and nothing,
It’s nothing to shout about.
So calm yourself! An’ dry your tears
An’ get your pie tin out!

Working class values,
The values that made our world.
Real values,
The birth right of every girl
Yeh, the birth right of every girl!

Sunday Poem – Rhian Edwards


Evening all!  First of all, I apologise for the silence over the last two weeks – last Monday I moved house finally – we had our offer accepted on a house, and accepted an offer on our house in April and have been waiting to move since then.  All I can say is that now I know why the economy ground to a halt – clearly solicitors hold the keys to the economy!  Anyway, last Sunday I spent the whole day packing the rest of the house up – and as my poetry books were the first thing to be packed, I didn’t have any access to the Sunday poem – which wasn’t the best planning admittedly.

So this is the first blog post I’m writing from my new house.  When I pulled up this afternoon and got out of the car, the bird song was deafening and then I realised that the only birds I ever heard in my old house were the seagulls.  I like the sound of seagulls – it reminds me of holiday but I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere where I can hear birds actually singing.

This morning I went for a run with the Walney Wind Cheetahs and ran down from the house to Furness Abbey where we meet which is about 2 kilometres.  I’m thinking about doing a half marathon in November so I’m gradually trying to build my distance up – the problem for me is going to be finding time to do this – the only solution may be to run faster, which I had to do today so I could get back in time, have a shower and then get to Lancaster for 1pm to run a workshop for Lancaster Spotlight called ‘Body Language’ – looking at different ways of writing about the body.  We looked at poems by May Swenson, Sharon Olds, Fiona Sampson, C.P Cavafy and C K Williams.  There were twelve people booked on the workshop today and they were lovely to work with.

If you are interested in attending workshops and live in the Lancaster area, get yourself on the email list for Lancaster Spotlight.  They have visiting tutors who put workshops on every now and then and I think the cost to participants is five pounds for a three-hour workshop which is excellent value.

On Saturday I did the Park Run – sadly on my own as my ‘boys’ that I usually run with were unavailable – one was dressed as a leopard (don’t ask) and one was gallivanting on holiday.  I wasn’t going for a PB – I just wanted to get round in a controlled fashion and not feel like I was dieing but I managed 23.45 which in fact was only 9 seconds away from my best time, so was slightly annoyed at myself for not having a go, especially as, looking at my diary, I don’t think I can do another one until the end of October.

On Saturday afternoon the husband took me to Linthwaite Hotel for afternoon tea as an early birthday present as I’ll be busy in Ilkley on my birthday, which is October 4th in case you want to lavish me with cards and presents.  Now, bearing in mind I don’t like sandwiches I ate a ham sandwich, a cucumber sandwich and a salmon sandwich.  The hotel had also cut them into nice neat oblong shapes which may have had something to do with my enthusiasm for them.  The cakes were amazing as well and both stuffed ourselves silly so we didn’t have to cook when we got back.

I also managed to unpack my poetry books this weekend as well.  The new house has two downstairs rooms and at the minute, the front one is our living room and the middle room next to the kitchen is now to be my writing room – I’ve finally got all my poetry books in one place.  It’s near the kitchen and the kettle.  I don’t have to climb the stairs to get to it.  All very exciting.  And once the boiler man comes next week, I’ll hopefully be able to use the gas fire as well.

I’ve still got lots of stuff still to unpack, but we’re slowly getting there – and I’ve started writing as well which I’m very happy about! At the minute, the poems I’ve been writing are sitting in my notebook because I’ve not had time to type them up, but the fact that they are there, humming away quietly to themselves, makes me feel much better.

Last Thursday (25th) I drove over to Hebden Bridge to read at The Bookcase. Carola Luther invited me to read alongside Peter Sansom and John Killick.  It was nice to meet John who I’d not met before and to see Peter who is always great fun.  Peter read a fantastic poem about cross country running which I’m hoping to use in some fashion in one of my workshops at Ilkley.  It was a lovely reading with a big audience, all squeezed in amongst the bookshelves and the bookshop owner was very friendly and helpful.  I managed to sell 16 pamphlets – I don’t think I’ve ever sold that many at one reading, apart from maybe at my launch.  I met some lovely people afterwards who came and chatted to me, and some of my favourite poetry friends were in the audience – the wonderful Amanda Dalton, who was one of my tutors on the Manchester MA and John Foggin, regular commenter on this blog and Keith Hutson who is another running poet.

Moving on Monday made this whole week manic.  We didn’t get the keys till 4.45pm which was highly annoying and stressful.  We got the last box off the van by 11.30pm – luckily we had my mum and dad helping us, otherwise we might have been there till 3am.

Last Saturday I took some of the junior band to see Grimethorpe Colliery Band perform at Forum 28 in Barrow – absolutely amazing concert  and I would definitely go again to see the band.  They were really entertaining and it was great to see so many young people in the audience.  Last Friday I was the Guest Poet at Spotlight in Lancaster and as well as it being a great night with some fantastic performers, I also managed to sell six pamphlets, which took my total pamphlets sold to 500.  I’m on 517 now after the Hebden Bridge gig and some sales through this blog and am now officially sold out!  The Poetry Business are sending their last 25 to Ilkley where I’ll pick them up on Friday and are reprinting next week so hopefully will have some more copies soon.

I also had a meeting with South Walney Infant School staff the week before last to discuss ideas for a poetry workshop and I’ll be running an all day workshop for them around the theme of the Rainforest in early January, which I’m looking forward to.  So that’s basically what I’ve been doing – running, planning workshops, moving and unpacking boxes for the last two weeks.

I have my Sunday poems sorted for the next month or so now, so I’m hoping that will make it easier to keep up with the blog, even when I’m at Ilkley.

Today’s Sunday poem is by the lovely Rhian Edwards, who came to read for Poem and a Pint a couple of weeks ago.  Rhian stayed at my old house with us and was great fun, as I think you can tell from the poem.  I love the first line of this poem which is immediately funny.  The whole poem is funny in fact, even the ending, which is also, I think, a little sad – the idea of the Pest Controller saying ‘Then you don’t know what love is’  – what a thing to say to someone – one of those things that is an insult without the person who said it probably being aware that it is. I also like the over-the-top drama of the poem – for instance in the second stanza ‘Another one came to my bedroom to die.’   And in the third stanza I laughed out loud at ‘wondering/whether to give him a dedicated/copy of my book or slap on some face.’

This seems an appropriate poem this week, as I have found no rodents in my new house, and therefore do not (thank god) need to procure the services of a pest controller.  Hurrah!

Rhian’s first collection ‘Clueless Dogs’ is published by Seren.  You can find more information about Rhian at her website here.  ‘Clueless Dogs’ won the Wales Book of the Year 2013 and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2012. Rhian has featured on this blog before with the very first poem ‘Parent’s Evening’ from her first collection but I loved her performance of this poem so much I wanted to put it up here.

Pest Controller – Rhian Edwards

My offer of tea was cryptic code
for marriage.  He politely declined,
obliging me to make small talk
about infestations.  I showed him the oven,
where I accidentally roasted a mouse
and told him I drowned one in a bin
when I caught it pissing blood.

Another one came to my bedroom to die.
I explained I wrote poems to excuse
my bedlam hair, ramshackle clobber
and foul play with rodents.
What kind of stuff do you write? He asked,
sticking his head in the bathroom cupboard
while fiddling for daydreaming vermin.

Love poems, the dark side, I said
hounding him round the house, wondering
whether to give him a dedicated
copy of my book or slap on some face.
Then you don’t know what love is, he said,
shaking poisoned grain into boxes
as if he were emptying a sweet jar.