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’
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
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.