Tag Archives: Lyric Festival

Sunday Poem – Mimi Khalvati


Afternoon everyone.  The Sunday Poem is going up a little earlier than usual today for a number of reasons.   The hubby and I already walked the dogs this morning through some fields near Dalton before the rain really started – which has now happened so that is that job done.  I also have to prepare to do a small talk on an Ofsted video about best practice in music teaching at an Inset session on Tuesday so this is me distracting myself from doing what I don’t want to do.  After I’ve made this blog post as long as possible, I think I will have to actually do what I’m supposed to be doing.

This week has mainly been work and some poetry things.  I’ve been doing lots of reading this week – the ‘Letters of Ted Hughes’ which I find unbearably sad.  I also want to read everything that Ted Hughes references that he is reading in the letters – but I think I would need to have at least ten more hours in each of my days.  I’ve started reading the Forster-Cavafy Letters as well and I’m halfway through reading a book by Terry Eagleton ‘How to Read a Poem’ which was on the reading list when I started the MA at Manchester Met.  I dutifully bought every book on the reading list when I first started – I didn’t want to be caught out by not having the right book – I’m such a goody two shoes.  As it happened, the book was never mentioned and I started reading it stubbornly to get my money’s worth, but I’m actually quite enjoying it now and learning quite a lot from it. The chapters I’ve read so far are 1.  The Functions of Criticism 2. What is Poetry? 3.  Formalists and I’m about to start Chapter 4 ‘In Pursuit of Form’.  It is actually more entertaining than it sounds!

On Tuesday I went to another reading up at the Wordsworth Trust http://www.wordsworthtrust.org.uk .  This time it was Anne Stevenson and M.R. Peacocke.  On Friday I went to Brewery Poets which is a critiquing group which meets at the Brewery in Kendal on the second Friday of every month.  There were two new people there this month but still only six of us as various people couldn’t come for various reasons.  However, I really enjoyed it and enjoyed reading people’s poems – it reminded me of the positive aspects to writing groups.

Yesterday a copy of Acumen arrived with my review of Myra Schneiders’ pamphlet ‘What Women Want’ and a cheque for £25!  This is so nice when this happens – I had a little dance around my office.  A part of me still can’t believe that I can get paid for writing.  I really like doing reviews as well – it somehow feels easier than writing poems – you don’t have to wait for the poem to come to you – you can just get on and start writing.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by the lovely Mimi Khalvati, who I read with last week at the Lyric Festival in Sheffield.  Mimi has a new pamphlet out with Smith/Doorstop called ‘Earthshine’.  Actually to call it a pamphlet is slightly misleading because it is posher than a pamphlet – it has a spine and a glossy front cover – it is a beautiful object.  Mimi is well known for her skills as a tutor as well and I experienced this first hand at a residential last year with Mimi and Myra Schneider as the tutors, run by the Second Light Network.  Mimi seems to me to be a very gentle person (although I don’t know her well), very softly spoken, always smiling, but she does not pull any punches in workshops!  She is very astute with her comments and manages to be challenging without making anyone feel bad because she is so nice!  And most importantly, you can trust her opinion – if she says something is good, she means it, because she would tell you if it wasn’t – she is very honest.  If you can get along to one of her workshops, you should.

Back to the pamphlet though – Earthshine is a sequence of poems which started from observations of each days weather and then spin off on various trajectories.  A lot of small creatures inhabit these poems – mice, mouse lemur, bats and the pamphlet is tinged with an air of elegy, rather than being made of elegy if that makes sense.  Only a few of the poems make a direct reference to the death of a mother but the whole pamphlet carries this feeling – although I wouldn’t want to mislead you into thinking this pamphlet is sad, or maudlin.  It does have sadness but it is also funny.  In the first poem ‘House Mouse’ the ‘I’ of the poem finds a dead mouse and the poem finishes ‘I tuck her into the finger/of my banana skin – a ferryboat to carry her over the Styx.’  This is funny and sweet and sad – sometimes the poems leave you not knowing what to feel.  They are also a lesson in close observation.  In ‘Madame Berthe’s Mouse Lemur’ the lemur is referred to as ‘itsy-bitsy portmanteau,/ little living furry torch’ and ‘a geisha lowering her fan’.

I’m raving about these poems that focus on tiny animals because the poem I’ve chosen is one of the poems that deal directly with death and has no animals in it at all! But I love the use of repitition in this poem, the blue running right through it and then that twist at the end is heartbreaking.   So here is the Sunday Poem, with thanks to Mimi Khalvati for permission to use it here.    You can buy ‘Earthshine’ by clicking on this link http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/shop/834/earthshine-mimi-khalvati

– Mimi also has full collections available – most recently ‘Child – New and Selected Poems’ published by Carcanet, available here.  http://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781847770943

What it Was  – Mimi Khalvati

It was the pool and the blue umbrellas,
blue awning.  It was the blue and white

lifesize chess-set on the terrace, wall of jasmine.
It was the persimmon and palm side by side

like two wise prophets and the view that dipped
then rose, the swallows that turned the valley.

It was the machinery of the old olive press,
the silences and the voices in them calling.

It was the water talking.  It was the woman reading with her head propped, wearing glasses,

the logpile under the overhanging staircase,
mist and the mountains we took for granted.

It was the blue-humped hose and living wasps
swimming on the surface.  It was the chimneys.

It was sleep.  It was not having a mother,
neither father nor mother to comfort me.

Sunday Poem – James Caruth


Evening folks.   I’ve had quite a nice weekend – I’ve been in Sheffield at the Lyric Festival.  On Friday I was reading as part of a Poetry Business event with Ed Reiss, Mimi Khalvati and Michael Laskey.  It was a really lovely reading.  I tried some new poems out as well as reading some from the pamphlet.

Afterwards Liz Venn and I went along to the pub with Peter and Ann Sansom, Seni Seniviratne, Michael Laskey, Mimi Khalvati and River Wolton.  We were sat with Seni and Michael and although I’d heard of them both as poets, I hadn’t met them properly before, but they were really easy to talk to.  Seni has one of the most interesting life histories I think I’ve ever heard, and when she gets round to writing it as a novel, I’ll definitely be buying it – and Michael – well, Michael used to edit Smiths Knoll, which is now not being published.  Smiths Knoll was an amazing poetry magazine that published new and established writers.  When I was first starting out it was one of the first magazines I subscribed to, and one of the first I submitted too.  And boy did I submit.  Smiths Knoll was famous for replying within a week, sometimes within days.  I think I submitted maybe twenty, thirty times – and I used to get these lovely little notes on the rejection slips – Michael would always tell me which one or two poems had the most promise, and this would give me a boost of confidence and I would package those poems off to a different magazine and send poor Michael six more.  I don’t know if he got so many different submissions that he didn’t notice that I was obsessively submitting.  I think at the time I thought he wouldn’t notice it was the same person submitting with sometimes no gap at all.  Maybe he didn’t – but his rejection slips were always so positive that I never felt despondent being rejected.  In fact it had the opposite effect! So Smiths Knoll was important for me in my development as a writer, although I was never published in it, I always harboured a secret soft spot for it.  I think the literary scene is the poorer for it not existing.  However, it may also mean that Michael will have more time for his own poetry which is pretty wonderful as well, and this can only be a good thing.  Anyway – Michael listens when people talk.  I realised how rare this was when I spoke to him.  He really listens.  Not in a ‘I’m waiting till you finish your story so I can tell my story’ kind of way.  He listens because he’s interested – he’s interested in people and this makes him easy to talk to.  Especially when you’re like me and you don’t stop for breath!  I think he is a contender for the Nicest Man in Poetry Award.

So that was a nice night on Friday – I stayed at Liz’s on Friday night in Glossop, and then Saturday was a full day workshop at the Poetry Business.  It was a great day – and nice to catch up with lots of poets – Rachel Davies, John Foggin, David Borrott, Roy Marshall, Maria Taylor, Carole Bromley, James Caruth – also met Becca Audra who I’ve only spoken to on Twitter – so that was great.  Then we went to a Wetherspoons, had something to eat and went to more readings for the Lyric Festival on Saturday – Tishani Doshi and Priscilla Uppal again ( I know, I’m obsessed) and then a break and another reading – Jacob Polley, Lavinia Greenlaw and Paul Farley.  By this time I was shattered and ready for bed – so got back to Barrow at after midnight – so quite tired!

So today I just sat on the sofa all day and read poetry.  I read Mimi Khalvati’s new pamphlet, which is brilliant, called Earthshine, published by Poetry Business.  I read some of Ted Hughes’ letters.  I watched Dirty Dancing and cried at the bit where her father won’t speak to Baby and she starts crying.   I mooned at Patrick Swayze and thought about how that film (and Grease with John Travolta) sets young girls up for so many disappointments.  How come women I’ve not met one man that tries to be like John Travolta in Grease or Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing yet the media supposedly has a massive effect on the way we behave, look, think etc…

Anyway!  Today’s Sunday poem is by James Caruth, a man with such a lovely accent that he could read a Wetherspoons menu and make it sound like a poem.  I first met Jim at the Poetry Business workshops – he is a great guy, very humble and a real poetry lover – not just a poet.  What I mean by this is that he loves poetry – he gets excited about poetry, he likes talking about poems, not just writing them.

I’ve been meaning to have Jim as the Sunday poet for the longest time now – and the poem I’ve chosen is ‘Pinky’ from Jim’s recent pamphlet from the Poetry Business called ‘Marking the Lambs’.  A lot of Jim’s poems are elegies, or if not elegies, they are laced through with a wistful yearning.James Caruth was born in Belfast.  His first collection, ‘A Stones Throw’ was published by Staple Press in 2007 and the pamphlet ‘Dark Peak’ appeared from Longbarrow Press in 2008.  Jim’s poetry is very lyrical and musical and I would urge you all to get yourself to the Sheffield Poetry Festival in June (yes, Sheffield has TWO poetry festivals) where he will be reading with Bernard O’Donaghue.  The festival programme can be found at http://www.sheffieldpoetryfestival.com and they have lots of brilliant poets coming.

If you would like to order Jim’s pamphlet you will find it at http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/james-caruth


Here is the Sunday Poem –

Pinky – James Caruth

im. Patrick McKenna

He drank whiskey like John Wayne,
throwing it down his throat in one slug.
I once asked him if he’d like some water in it
and the answer came back like a shot –
Water’s for washing your face, son.

Now his face fails to live up to his name,
livid as raw fish, he lies stretched out
between the candles and the sandwiches<
dapper as always in his Sunday suit,
pressed white shirt, dark tie.

When I go, I want it to be like Pinky,
with whiskey and lies and people
whose faces I can’t recall, saying
my name in their prayers or talking
about me behind their hands –
another old gunslinger shot in the back.

And after, they’d sing legends
of things I’d never done,
so full of bravado and balls
that I’d be happy to swear
every single word was true.