Tag Archives: Laureate’s Choice

Sunday Poem – Wayne Price

Sunday Poem – Wayne Price

I cannot say that I’m not relieved to have got to the end of this week – two four hour rehearsals, two readings and one gig, all while I’ve had the most awful cold.  In fact to call it a cold is like calling a tiger a house cat to my mind.  There should be another, more accurate name for a cold because it is truly awful to get one, isn’t it – but the word cold makes it seem like something that you can have and just keep getting on with things.  Which I suppose you can, in a way, but it doesn’t describe how dreadful you feel.  I’m over the worst of mine now although I’m still having the odd, sporadic coughing fit.

I’m on an enforced day of rest today and am keeping away from the running trainers.  I’m not even looking longingly at them. Ok, I am, but I’m trying to be sensible and try and recover from what has been a bit of a heavy week. So I’ve been sat in the garden looking at my new plants and watching the bees coming back and forth to the flowers.  Bees have become my new obsession at the minute.  I haven’t quite had a blanket over my knees and milky tea but it’s been close.

I did go for a run on Monday morning along the beach which was really lovely, beautiful weather and a fairly steady pace.  We did nearly six miles and I actually felt better when I got home and more energised.  On Tuesday I went for a run with a few friends and we decided to have a go at some Strava segments, which probably wasn’t the best idea, seeing as I had a sore throat and was feeling a bit rough, but I thought it would perk me up.  I think what it did was force the virus to move from my throat up to my nose and my head and by Wednesday I was talking like Darth Vadar and feeling awful.

So I haven’t ran since Tuesday! On Thursday I drove to Todmorden to do a reading at the monthly poetry night ‘Kultura’ at Kava in Todmorden.  I was in two minds about whether to get in touch with Anthony Costello, the host and cancel because my voice was not good at all but I thought it would be quite harsh to cancel with such short notice. I thought as long as I made sure I had water with me I would be ok.  Unfortunately, the water had no effect at all.  I started reading my first poem, and only got half way through before I started coughing uncontrollably.  It was the most horrible feeling – to be standing in front of an audience and feel your throat slowly tightening and trying not to cough.  The audience were really lovely and kind about the whole thing.  In the end I had to ask my friend Keith Hutson, who I was staying with that night to read my poems for me – he knows my work very well so I knew he wouldn’t feel too put on the spot.

Despite struggling with my voice – and there is something truly ironic about not being able to speak poems that I’ve worked on, that I know inside and out and back to front – I still enjoyed the evening.  The event takes place in the basement of the cafe.  It feels very cosy, like a little cave and it was really well attended.  The audience were very supportive, not just of the guest readers, but also of each other, later on at the open mic.  I managed to sell four books and two pamphlets despite choking on all of my poems.

I went straight to bed at Keith’s house and managed my first good night’s sleep in about a week – only woke myself up a couple of times coughing so I felt a lot better on Friday.  We went to Hebden Bridge and had cake and tea and then went into the bookshop where I bought The Handless Maiden and The Book of Blood by Vicki Feaver – two books I’ve read library copies of but have never had my own copies.  I also bought Small Hands by Mona Arshi which I’ve been meaning to get for a while.  I also bought a load of lovely postcards which I put in with my pamphlet if anyone ever buys one through this blog – so if you would like a copy of If We Could Speak Like Wolves for £5 plus postage and packing, you will also get a nice postcard in with it as well – just click here to order it.

On Friday night it was my friend David Borrott’s launch of his pamphlet Porthole.  I’ve featured David a couple of times on this blog before but for those of you that missed it – David was chosen as one of four poets to feature in a new ‘Laureate’s Choice’ series of pamphlets, published by Smith/Doorstop.  You can find out more information about the project at the Laureate’s Choice blog, with details of upcoming readings.

David had organised a reading to launch his own pamphlet, and to launch two of the other Laureate’s Choice poets, Wayne Price and Nichola Deane.  It was a really lovely event.  Two of David’s sons were there and were very cute and well behaved, and his lovely wife as well, who I’ve heard lots about but hadn’t met before.  I’d read Wayne and Nichola in magazines and competitions but haven’t heard them read.  I asked them both if I could pick a poem for my blog once I’d read their pamphlet after hearing them read as I really liked their work.

I read Wayne’s pamphlet Fossil Record in one sitting today, out in the garden, which felt very apt, as his pamphlet is full of poems about animals and the natural world. In fact he even has a poem called Suburban Gardens at Night which I was very tempted to put up.  There isn’t a dull poem in the pamphlet.  Sometimes I read books and I wonder why the poet felt the need to write that poem – rather cruelly of me, I think, what is the point, or where was the drive, the compulsion to write it.  This never happened reading these poems – I enjoyed all of them.

You know you are in safe hands, for example, when the first two lines of the first poem in the pamphlet are

‘Hand and mind are fishing the river after dark
for the slow, heavy old ones that rise at night’

from ‘Nightfishing’

I think those two lines are so beautiful, and almost a poem in their own right – but the rest of the poem, and the pamphlet is just as good.  The poem I’ve chosen to use as this week’s Sunday Poem I loved as soon as I read the first four lines – again it gave me that feeling that the poet knows exactly what they are doing, that the poem is in safe hands.  I like the specificity of the title and this is continued with the detail that is drawn out in the poem.  There is something wonderful in the aptness of the comparison to the body of the hawk with a balsa plane and the way the comparison is drawn out over eight lines.  Not only is it lighter than a balsa plane, it is lighter than the balsa planes launched from a bedroom window into Welsh rain.  Those eight lines give us a lot of information – it sounds like a lonely activity – there is no mention of doing this with friends.  The garden is a ‘bare strip’ but we are not told why.  The rain is not merely rain, but Welsh rain.

My favourite part of the poem is in stanza five though – the recording of the insect life that has been going on inside the hawk, around its death: ‘it has only been/troubled from within,/and all the hidden turmoil/that churned there is done.’   I love this use of the word ‘troubled’.  I’ve heard it used in this way before in a poem by David Tait – I think he writes about his mother ‘troubling the latch’ and I think it is a fantastic twisting of this word.

I also love the image of seeing the ‘dusty green/leaves’ and the ‘clean blue sky’ through the skull of the hulk.  Those last four lines alter the whole perspective of the poem, so it seems as if you are lying in the grass with the skull looking upwards.  In fact, this change of perspective happens quite a lot in this poem – it is a bit like a film.  At first we see down the bare strip of garden from a bedroom window.  Then we are holding the skull in our hands, then we are at the same level as it, in the ground.

Wayne Price was born in South Wales but has lived and worked in Scotland since 1987.  His short stories and poems have been widely published and won many awards.  His debut story collection Furnace (Freight, 2012) was shortlisted for the Saltaire Scottish First Book of the Year and longlisted for the Frank O’Connor Award.  His first novel, Mercy Seat, was published in February 2015.   He was a finalist in the Manchester Poetry Competition in both 2013 and 2014.  He teaches at the University of Aberdeen.

You can order Fossil Record here if you would like to read more of his fantastic work.

Hope you enjoy the Sunday Poem and thanks to Wayne for letting me use his poem.

Dead Hawk, the Anglican Churchyard, Tangier – Wayne Price

It is lighter at the tips
of my fingers than
the snap-out balsa planes
I made as a boy

and launched from
my bedroom window
on afternoons of Welsh rain
to a bare strip of garden.

Days of sun and wind
have whittled it clean
to stiff pinion
feathers and bone.

Cats stalk the dessicated
grasses between
the graves, but none of them
have dismantled it;

it has only been
troubled from within,
and all the hidden turmoil
that churned there is done.

The ebony crescent
of its beak is still
precise and fine.  I can
see clean through

the empty house
of the skull,
like the quality
of a memory

the mind has refined,
to the gardener
with his combing rake,
who like the cats

has let it lie, and to the dusty green
leaves above, and the
clean blue sky.

Sunday Poem – David Borrott


Firstly, apologies that this week’s Sunday Poem is late, but it will be worth it!  I’ve had a busy week but my ‘days off’ (my writing days) have been full of driving and poetry and more driving.  As well as being at work and conducting my junior band, I spent Monday night writing the last assignment for the online course that I’ve been running for The Poetry School.  I’ve really enjoyed being a tutor on the course – it has been amazing seeing the different poems that have originated from the exercise.  On Tuesday I went to a reading by Simon Armitage at The Wordsworth Trust.  Simon did a great reading as usual, but it was a sad occasion for me, the last of the Tuesday night reading series.  Michael McGregor, the Director at the Trust announced that they had not been successful in their second Arts Council funding application.   So I will have to get my poetry fix elsewhere.

There are other, more positive things happening though. I think I’ve mentioned befoe that I’ve taken up the post of Reviews Editor for The Compass, a new online magazine with Andrew Forster and Lindsey Holland as the Poetry Editors.  The first issue went live on Friday.  The content of the magazine is released bit by bit over the next two weeks, so do go and check it out.  The first review is up now – written by Penny Boxall who reviewed Englaland by Steve Ely, ‘Bones of Birds’ by Jo Colley and ‘The Midlands’ by Tony Williams.

I’ve not had anything to do with the poetry submission side of things so it has been really interesting reading the poems as they’ve gone up.  I haven’t read it all yet, but my favourites so far have to be the Matthew Olzmann poems.  I’d not come across him before but will be seeking his work out now.

Choosing books to review has been good fun but it has made me aware of how many books there are out there.  I’m finding it particularly hard with the first collections – there are so many good ones, or maybe I’m more aware of them all because that is the stage I’m at as well – but we can’t review them all, much as I would like to.

On Wednesday I spent half the day at work and then half the day at a Women’s Poetry Celebration at the Wordsworth Trust.  I came straight from work and drove through my dinner hour which left me about five minutes to scoff a sandwich before my reading.  I read with Penny Boxall, Emily Hasler and Eileen Pun, all of whom had been inspired by living or working at the Trust.  I came home with only two books as I had to borrow £20 from Polly so I had to exercise some restraint, which was a good thing I think, as my shelf of books to be read is now starting to overflow.

I sold five Falls and two Wolves so I was pretty pleased with that and then I had to dash off home to get ready for the fourth live chat of the Poetry School course.

On Thursday I left at about 11am to go to Cardiff as I had a reading at First Thursday, which my editor Amy Wack runs and hosts.  Amy had invited me to stay for the night and I was planning on arriving mid-afternoon with time to get something to eat before the evening.  However, the M6 was clearly planning otherwise and I eventually pulled up outside Amy’s house at about 6.15pm.  I was stuck in traffic all day – thank goodness I had a really good book on my phone to listen to – The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, which I managed to listen to from start to finish this weekend, yes the whole 15 hours of it.  That is how much time I’ve spent driving about and stuck on the cursed M6!

I met lots of lovely people in Cardiff though, which more than made up for the marathon drive.  I read with Robert Minhinnick who was reading from his new novel ‘Limestone Man’, which is written in a beautiful poetic prose.  I really enjoyed the open mic afterwards. The lovely Emily Blewitt read a poem – I got to know Emily last year when she was a participant on the Grange over Sands residential course that I run.   I’m really excited about her first collection, which will be published by Seren in 2017.  I read the proposed manuscript for Emily a couple of weeks ago and wrote a supporting statement for her, and I think it is already a very special collection of poems.  By the time she has had a couple of years to work on it, I think it will be amazing.  I found the whole open mic really interesting though – lots of good poets and everybody was well behaved and stuck to time.

After the horrors of the traffic on Thursday I decided not to leave anything to chance and left early on Friday morning – maybe about 9am.  I had to be in Kendal by 3.45 to run Dove Cottage Young Poets so I thought this left me plenty of time.  Again, the M6 defied me – there were accidents, roadworks and I eventually got to Kendal at 3.15pm, just in time for my workshop and feeling quite sorry for myself and my poor bottom, which had been sat in a car seat for over six hours.

On Saturday I played at a mass at Our Lady of Furness Church in Barrow.  I played at the church for the first time last year.  Anthony Milledge, a talented local musician wrote a rather complicated fanfare for trumpet and organ.  We played the same thing this year and I was slightly worried that after sightreading it last year without a problem, I wouldn’t be able to do the same thing this year, which would mean my playing had actually got worse over the year but it was all ok and went off without a hitch.

I then had to jump into the car and drive to Ulverston to an afternoon rehearsal with my junior band and Furness Music Centre.  Richard Bagnall, the conductor of Furness Music Centre was conducting so it was nice to have the chance to listen from the back of the hall, rather than in the middle.  I stayed for the first half of the mass concert and then had to jump in the car again to go to my own gig with the Soul Survivors.

I spent most of the gig feeling like I was going to pass out from the heat.  I must remember to get myself a water spray before the next gig because throwing water on my face is the only thing that seems to help and it is probably not that advisable with all the electrical equipment.

I finally got to sleep at about 1am on Saturday night – it took me an hour to slow down after the gig and my ears were buzzing from the loud music.  When I woke up on Sunday morning, my arms and shoulders were aching from holding the trumpet in the same position and although I had time to go running, I felt too tired, so instead I had a rather lazy morning of eating choocolate croissants and drinking tea.  I did manage to type a poem up and enter it for a poetry competition – my first submission in absolutely ages.

If I write a poem that I think is any good, I always like to enter it into one competition.  It feels like buying a lottery ticket for me.  It gets one chance to earn me lots of money and then after that, I usually put it in a group and send it to a magazine.  Having said that, I haven’t got enough poems to make a magazine submission yet…

I set off for the Ted Hughes Festival where I was reading yesterday evening.  Yes, I got stuck in more traffic – how unlucky can one person be in one weekend?  I managed to find an alternative route with the sat nav but at times it felt like it was sending me down some farm track into the middle of nowhere.  I eventually got to Mexborough and managed to catch a few of the other readings – including the first half of Helen Mort’s set.  Her new poems are amazing and I was really excited to hear that her second collection will be out from Chatto some time in 2017.  I also heard the first half of Matthew Clegg and Ray Hearne’s collaboration.  I loved Matthew’s poetry and bought the book just before I left and am determined to read it this side of Christmas.

I had something to eat at a Wetherspoons before I left – the Wetherspoons in Mexborough is much classier than the one in Barrow.  We sat in a booth with a frame full of photos of Ted Hughes – one of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath on their honeymoon, another with Ted Hughes standing with W.H Auden, T S Eliot and some other rather famous male poets.  Can you imagine what that would have been like – to be standing there having a drink with them all?  I knew this before, but looking at that photo, it really struck me how difficult it would have been to have been a woman writing in those times.  I know that might sound like an obvious thing to say, but it felt like I hadn’t known it till then, that looking at that photo made me suddenly know it.

I finally got back to Barrow at 2am and I have spent the whole day feeling like a bit of a zombie.  I knew I was in trouble last night when I decided to go into the garage and buy the cheesiest compilation album I could find (Rock Ballads for Driving) and sing at the top of my lungs to stop myself falling asleep.

This trick worked brilliantly though and set me thinking about all of the family holidays when we used to drive to Cornwall, listening to the same songs.  I remembered sleeping in a caravan with my sister, our beds so close together I could reach out and touch her.  In the morning the seagulls would wake us up, tapping away on the roof as they walked about and whoever got up first and opened the caravan door was the one to scare away the wild rabbits, busy eating the grass in the drizzle.

All of this just from listening to some songs.  Now I think about it though, this is where I get my habit of enjoying reading the same books over and over again or watching the same TV series over and over again.  It was those car journeys, listening to the same album on repeat, knowing not only every word, but also what song would come next and what would come after that, and after that, and no matter how drawn out the ending of the songs were, how repetitive they were, my parents would never forward to the next track. Each song must be endured until the end.

Anyway, this is all a bit of strange tangent and nothing at all to do with today’s Sunday (Monday) poet, David Borrott.  I’ve known David a long time now, maybe six or seven years.  I met him on the MA at Manchester and he has been on nearly every residential that I’ve ran.  He is a lovely man and a great poet and he has been long overdue a pamphlet in my opinion.

I suppose he is glad that he waited now though because his pamphlet is published by Smith/Doorstop in a new series of pamphlets called ‘Laureate’s Choice’, which are basically poets selected by Carol Ann Duffy.

David’s pamphlet is very beautiful and the poetry is fantastic.  It is called Porthole and I would urge you all to buy it.  Regular visitors to this blog will know that David has already been a Sunday Poet a while ago with his poem ‘Self Portrait with Fiddling Death’ and so has now gone into blog history as one of those rare poets invited back a second time.

I’ve chosen the poem Boggart for this week.  I love poems that create a believable world that is not quite reality.  I like poems that have little creatures in them, like boggarts. poems that make me see the thing that is not real, like this line about the boggart: ‘the crowing mouth sipping the crack of light’.  I like poems with philosophical questions thrown in, as if they are an afterthought: ‘Are we not all held down by a rock?’ and poems with commonplace details that ground us: ‘I remember brambles, a spider on a gate/a mud path looping the field’.

I think this is a strange and beautiful poem, very poised and with lovely line breaks which make reading it aloud like reading a musical score.

David was born and grew up in Ilford, Essex and now lives in Lancashire with his partner and their three sons.  He has an MA in Poetry from Manchester Metropolitan University and his poetry has been anthologised in Watermark by Flax Books and in CAST: The Poetry Business Book of New Contemporary Poets.

I hope you enjoy the poem.

Boggart – David Borrott

The rock, in fact, was somewhere down a lane,
I went the wrong way but still got there.
I remember brambles, a spider on a gate
a mud path looping a field, then I found it.
And under it the ghoul, held by its weight,
nobody at the farm, nobody in the fields.
Are we not all held down by a rock?
I thought and touched the stone, which had no
markings except what time had laid on it.

Of course, this is a thing of the mind,
one has to tune the thinking to unveil,
the lank fiend in his burrow, his furred limbs
the crowing mouth sipping the crack of light
as I prise the boulder up – he sizzles free
and I take in that hatred of imprisonment.
Imagine the surge, I can’t control it yet but when I do
havoc will stampede through my skull
and such mad words will rocket from my beak.