Tag Archives: Ledbury Poetry Festival

Sunday Poem – Flora De Falbe


Another two week gap since my last blog post has opened up! Since I last wrote, all of this has happened –

  1. My last day at work as a peripatetic brass teacher for Cumbria Music Service was on Wednesday.  As I drove away from Ormsgill Primary School for the last time, it suddenly hit me – not only have I finished teaching for the summer, I’ve finished teaching.  Cue existential crisis moment – who am I if I’m not a brass teacher, what am I etc etc.  Urgency of booking flights ended existential crisis moment, but am sure I will come back  to it later
  2. I got a very early train to Manchester Airport on on Friday, flew to Amsterdam, then got a 2 hour train up to Groningen in the north of Holland to take part in the Dichters in de Prinsentuin Festival.  The whole festival took place outdoors – I read on stage with Evi Hoste, who translated my poems into Dutch.  On the Saturday the festival takes place in a garden in the city.  There is a main stage, but poets also read in the garden – inside a circular hedge which has ‘windows’ cut into it.  People walk past and stop and listen for a couple of poems before moving on to the next window.  I was really worried about doing this at first – but it was really good fun.  My lovely friend Jan Glas showed me round the city and drank lots of tea with me in various cafes.  I had lots of time to relax for the first time in months.  I even managed a 9 mile run along the canal.
  3. I got the train down to London on Thursday to read at the BBC Late Night Poetry and Music Proms. The event will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Monday the 2nd August at 10.oopm although I won’t be listening, as the only way I can bear to do anything recorded is if I promise myself I won’t listen to it afterwards.  I was reading my poems about trumpet playing and trumpet teaching alongside a brilliant jazz band called the Old Hat Jazz Band.  I hope the Radio 3 listeners don’t think that trumpets is all that I write about though!

So it has been quite an exciting time poetry-wise, and in between all this, I’ve been editing the reviews for the next issue of The Compass.  This involves editing the reviews, proof-reading – although the reviewers this time were very good at proof-reading their own reviews so there wasn’t much for me to do on this.  I’ve also been writing a review for this issue, which has been really interesting, as I managed to bag myself three wonderful collections.

I also finished off an interview for Poetry Spotlight which will be appearing in August at some point, and Pauline Yarwood and I finally finished off the evaluation report of Kendal Poetry Festival for the Arts Council.  We are already  starting to think about next year’s festival, and have two poets that we definitely want to invite, although we haven’t told them yet! We will be meeting soon to try and whittle down a rather long list to our chosen ten poets.

I got back from London on Friday and packed another bag to go straight off to Grizedale to camp for the weekend to celebrate a friend’s 50th.  There was a small music festival called ‘Grizedale Rocks’ at the campside with lots of local bands playing.  On Friday I was so knackered from swanning about in London till 2pm that I went to bed at 8pm, planning to have an hours kip and I ended up sleeping right through till 8am the next morning.

On Saturday, everybody else went on the Go Ape course.  I get vertigo so I decided not to traumatize myself by even attempting it, so I took the dogs for a 10 mile run on the Silurian Trail in Grizedale Forest.  It is a beautiful, if very hilly route! Nearly 500 feet of ascent over the 10 miles and my legs are still really tired today.  In the evening, we went down to a barn on the campside, where a band would play for half an hour before the next band got up to play.  I think I danced for about 5 hours – till 2am anyway.  I can’t believe when I was at music college I used to go out drinking and dancing till 2am as a matter of course two or three times a week.  How did I do this and still function?? I have been so tired today, and had to go to bed for an hour this afternoon.

Next week I’ll be heading up to Ty Newydd where I am the guest poet on Jonathan Edwards and Patience Agbabi’s course, and then I’m off on a holiday with three of my friends that I run with.  We’re off to Malaga on a beach holiday.  I am hoping I will get myself organised and will write my blog in advance so that it goes up on Sunday without me being there but I’m not promising anything.

I will leave you all with this wonderful poem by Flora de Falbe, who I saw read at Ledbury Poetry Festival.  She was the Young Poet-in-Residence there, and was taking part in the Foyles Young Poets Reading.  What a brilliant reading that was – one of the highlights of the festival for me – all of the young poets read really well – and their work was interesting and engaged, and funny and passionate.

Flora de Falbe comes from London and is studying English at Cambridge. She was a Foyle Young Poet in 2011 and 2012, and took part in the 2014 Tower Poetry Summer School. She has read at the Ledbury and Wenlock poetry festivals, and has work published by CAKE, Ambit and The Emma Press.

I really loved this poem when I heard Flora read it at Ledbury Poetry Festival.  It is a response to Mark Grist’s poem Girls Who Read.  I love that this poem has a critique of the way relationships are represented in books.   When I was a teenager, I thought Wuthering Heighs was the most romantic story ever, and wished Cathy had ended up with Heathcliff.  I also really liked Daniel from Bridget Jones Diary.  I always loved Mr Big in Sex in the City, even when he was being a complete arse to Carrie.  So although most of these characters don’t actually murder anybody, I felt uncomfortable hearing the poem, remembering all the terrible men in fiction that I found attractive – the ones that you actually wouldn’t want to be married to because they would be awful to live with for various reasons.

I think Flora is critiquing the portrayal of love and sexuality and how it is often bound up with violence and possessiveness.  The second layer to this of course is the challenge to the Mark Grist poem, hailed as a feminist anthem by some commentators and criticized by others for various reasons (see this Open Letter to Mark Grist here).    I think the last line of Flora’s poem is referring back to the Mark Grist poem – why else do women read books, if not to find a man?

I think the poem is also really well written with lots of rhymes and half rhymes holding the whole thing together -humour and murder, butter and honour, dagger and gutter and splatters.  There are some great, and chilling lines as well:  ‘I want him to grip me like a dagger’ and ‘I want him to take my by the heart, hand and windpipe’.

I also found another great poem by Flora over at the Clinic Presents website and I’m pretty sure I remember hearing her read this one at Ledbury as well.

Thanks to Flora for allowing me to publish her poem as this week’s Sunday Poem.


Men Who Murder
After Mark Grist’s ‘Girls Who Read’

By Flora de Falbe

Some girls want a man with blue starry eyes
or a man with a sense of humour.
I want a man who murders.

I’ll know him by the thin red curve under his nails
and the twist of scar across his left hand
which says ‘I fight to win.’

I want a man who cuts throats like butter
and kisses under his own code of honour.
I want him to take me by the hand, heart and windpipe.

I want to fear nothing but him,
to live on the verge of combustion.
I want him to grip me like a dagger.

I’m going to paint my lips red
and mark him mine when the sun hits the gutter.
I’m going to dress in red to hide the splatters.

I want to stroke my man’s hair
when it’s all over; I want to cry to my man
from the bottom of a river.

I don’t want someone who thinks he deserves me,
I want a man who murders.
What else do I read books for?

My two week absence

My two week absence

Afternoon all – this is just a short blog post to reassure anybody that is wondering that I am still alive after my two week absence from blogging. I don’t need to know if you didn’t notice – you can keep that to yourself!

Normal service will resume next Sunday with a new poem from Billy Letford’s forthcoming collection.  How exciting is that?? But until then, you will have to content yourself with the stories of my travels which are about to unfold.

I’ve just got back from Ledbury Poetry Festival – I was reading as part of the Versopolis European poetry reading, alongside poets from England, Norway, France, Wales, Croatia and Germany.  The photo attached to this post was taken after our reading – just Daljit Nagra is missing as he had to dash off home.  It was a wonderful reading to be part of and I feel very lucky to have been chosen by Ledbury Poetry Festival to be one of the UK poets involved, especially given recent events – Versopolis is funded with EU cash, and the project gives young ’emerging’ poets the opportunity to go abroad to European festivals.  Here’s hoping that the project continues to grow and develop, as it has been a wonderful thing to be part of.

I also ran a workshop at the festival, and took part in a reading to launch Hwaet!, an anthology published by Bloodaxe to celebrate 20 years of Ledbury Poetry Festival.  I’m really excited to be in a Bloodaxe anthology – have never been in one before, and with a poem about scaffolding, that most noble of occupations!

Ledbury is unique in its huge network of volunteers and supporters drawn from the town. My host was a lovely lady, J who was also hosting two interns at the festival.  J whizzed me up and down to the town all weekend, stopped me falling down the stairs one morning and has got me addicted to plain croissants with jam, instead of my usual chocolate croissant.

There were two many highlights to list them all, but perhaps the one that stuck most in my mind was the reading and discussion with Mark Doty and Andrew McMillan.  Instead of a normal reading where each poet takes it in turns, one read a poem and then the other responded, on the theme of Desire.  Andrew was very open about the influence that Mark Doty has had on his own writing, and I wondered if this format of reading poems in response to each other would work with other pairs of poets.  This was also the only reading where I cried – Mark Doty read a particular poem about his partner, who was dying, reaching out a hand to his dog, and I just started crying.  I’ve read that poem before to myself, and never cried before, it was something about being in that room and hearing it in his voice, and the honesty with which both poets spoke.

By the time I got to Ledbury I was feeling a bit like a zombie.  I’d had a five hour train journey to get there, and the woman sitting next to me was not feeling well and ended up throwing up all over the train, narrowly missing my suitcase.  The train was packed and there was nowhere to get away from the vomit.  I spent the next couple of hours panicking I was going to catch a sick germ and puke up in the middle of my reading.  So far, I can report I am healthy.

I was feeling like a zombie because the weekend before Ledbury, we had the Kendal Poetry Festival! It was a great weekend – all of the events were sold out, and there was a lovely atmosphere.  It was pretty exhausting though, and straight afterwards I had some visitors from Ireland who had been attending the festival.  The husband and I borrowed my twin sister’s camper van so our guests could have a bedroom each, and so we could have a living room to sit in.

We all went to Dove Cottage on Monday for a day trip out.  Tuesday and Wednesday I was back at work, probably in a bit of a daze, and as I told my Year 3 class on Tuesday morning, without brushing my hair as I couldn’t find the hairbrush in the camper van! The kids didn’t seem to mind.  On Wednesday my Irish friends went back to Ireland and I spent Wednesday night after I finished teaching at 7pm, in a mild state of panic, planning two workshops that I was due to run the next day.

The first was for a meeting of English teachers in Penrith and the second was the next session of my Poetry School course in Manchester.  I ended up going to bed at about 1am, but with everything planned and printed out.  So my Thursday consisted of the morning in Penrith, a drive down the motorway to Manchester, met up with an old friend for coffee and then my Poetry School course in Manchester.  I then drove back home, and planned and printed out my workshop for Ledbury at about midnight.

I set off for Ledbury early Friday morning. It has been really full-on, but very enjoyable.  In amongst all that, I’ve had two bits of good news.  I’ve had two of my ‘All the Men I Never Married Poems’ accepted for publication in Poetry Ireland Review, so I’m really pleased about that.  So that is six of them that have been, or will be published now! My other bit of good news is that starting in September I’ll be doing some teaching for a couple of terms at Manchester Metropolitan University as well as starting my PhD there.

I’m really excited, and nervous about both the PhD and the teaching, but I’ve been doing this for long enough now to know that this feeling of excitement and nerves usually means good things. This Wednesday I’m off to the award ceremony for the Lakeland Book of the Year – my book has been shortlisted, and although I’m not expecting my rather slim volume of poetry to win, I thought I would go and enjoy the afternoon anyway.