Tag Archives: Mike Barlow

Sunday Poem – Mike Barlow

Standard
Sunday Poem – Mike Barlow

I’ve had another week at home, with no gallivanting around the place, which has been nice, but I’m starting to get slightly itchy feet now.  I’m not very good at being in one place! I’ve spent most of the week continuing with my reading for my PhD and editing one of the poems which I showed to Michael Symmons Roberts at my last supervisory meeting before the summer.  Michael asked me why the poem was in the form it was in, and I didn’t have an answer, so I decided to work on the structure of the poem, and as I’ve been reading lots about rhyme, half rhyme and parallelism, so I decided to use some of the things I’ve read about.  Instead of being in a long column, it’s now in four line stanzas, and each group of four lines rhyme together.  I think it makes the poem feel more knitted together, more robust, but maybe also more obsessive, or circular.  The strange thing is I didn’t have to really write any new lines, I just rearranged what I already had – I knew that the original version had lots of internal rhymes and echoes, but I didn’t realise how much until I started this exercise!  I don’t think it’s quite finished yet, but again, it feels different to my usual style, so the next test is to send it out somewhere and see what happens to it.

I’ve had one of my newest poems accepted for The New Humanist this week  so I’m chuffed about that.  I have to constantly keep reminding myself that I’m doing ok, as my brain likes to trick me and tell me I’m not writing, I’m not writing enough, I’m not writing well enough etc etc etc.  I’m always saying I’m not writing and then I look through my folder and realise I have been writing, but somehow have just not noticed.  Maybe I need that level of delusion to function.

I went to Sheffield yesterday to the Poetry Business workshop.  It was really great to see lots of old friends there, and to sit and write for the whole day, even though I didn’t feel like I wrote anything that could remotely make it to poem status, I’m trying to follow my own advice and think of it like practice or a workout, necessary and with hopefully long term results.

I’ve just spoken to staff at Treloyhan Manor Hotel in St Ives – bookings have gone crazy for the course I’m running with Helen Mort there in April 2018 and I’m both surprised and delighted that it has already sold out! Surprised because I only put it up on the blog less than a week ago, delighted because it means that is one job ticked off the list, and I can just look forward to running the course now, and booking a fabulous guest poet.   They are going to keep a waiting list, as in previous years, we’ve had a few people drop out at the last minute, so if you are still keen to come, it would be worth putting your name down on the list.

There are still a few spaces for the Poetry Carousel which I’m running from the 8th-11th December 2017 with Hilda Sheehan, David Morley and Steve Ely – you can find more information here but to book your place, you need to ring the hotel direct on 01539532896.  If you’d like more information about the carousel and what it will involve, you can contact me via the contact page.

So that is pretty much all of my news.  Next Saturday I’m off to Benidorm on a running holiday with three friends from my running club.  I call it a running holiday, but we basically go running for half an hour in the morning and then we lounge around for the rest of the day.  But I’m looking forward to the chance to relax for a week in the sun.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Mike Barlow, a brilliant poet and friend of mine who lives in Lancaster.  Mike has published a number of full length collections and pamphlets.  His first full-length collection was Living on the Difference, published in 2004 by Smith/Doorstop.  This collection was shortlisted for the Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize for Best First Collection.  His next collection, Another Place, was published in 2007 by Salt, followed by a pamphlet, Amicable Numbers which was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice.  In 2012 he published his third full-length collection Charmed Lives with Smith/Doorstop.  He then went on to publish a series of pamphlets and started Wayleave Press in 2014, a small press publisher producing 6-8 pamphlets a year.

I re-read Mike’s 2014 pamphlet The Folded Moment the other day and really enjoyed it, so I asked Mike if I could feature a poem from the pamphlet here.  Mike says this pamphlet was a kind of test pamphlet for the press.  And apparently, there are no copies left of this pamphlet, so I have a rare piece of poetry history sat beside me on my desk! If you do like the poem though, Mike has just brought out a new pamphlet, again published by Wayleave called The Promise Boat which you can order from Wayleave for a mere £5.

I chose ‘Toad Road’ as the Sunday Poem this week because as soon as I read the poem I had a jolt of recognition and memory.  A few years ago now I spent a week at Cove Park in Scotland on a writing retreat.  It was terrible weather, gale-force winds and rain, and coming back from the pub in a car full of poets and novelists, I got out to open the gates to get back into Cove Park.  My hands were freezing from touching the iron gates, but we didn’t get far down the road before someone (I can’t remember who – but I can remember the shape of them in the headlights) got out of the car to try to encourage the toads/frogs (not sure which) to hop off the road so we could continue to drive down.

In ‘Toad Road’ the weather isn’t quite as bad.  It is ‘late summer’ and by saying ‘rainfall after a hot spell’ the smell of rain hitting tarmac that has been hot all day is conjured up.  There’s some great images in this poem – I love the introduction of the toads, that they could be ‘leaves, blown twigs, or squirrel-torn bark’, and I love the sharp observation of ‘These shapes don’t move/in a way only something animate is able/not to move’.

This is a journey that has been carried out before and in stanza 3 there is a disturbing and shocking image of ‘skin-stars’, of what happened when they didn’t notice.  The interesting thing about this poem is that we don’t quite know where the speaker is situated in it.  The pronoun ‘We’ is used throughout, as if these two people are of exactly one mind.  ‘We slow down’ and ‘We know now’ and more interestingly ‘one of us gets out’ to guide the driver, but as readers, we don’t know whether the speaker is the driver or the one guiding.  It’s almost as if the point of view flicks between the two.

At the beginning of Stanza 4 we read ‘rain beats hair lank,/soaks shoulders, trickles down the collar’ which is so vivid it sounds like the speaker is feeling the rain, but then in the next line, the point of view shifts, and we could almost believe we are inside the driver’s head when we read ‘Wheels weave between gold hemispheric eyes,/sacks of warty skin.’

I love the reference to Jainism, which the BBC website tells me is

‘an ancient religion from India that teaches that the way to liberation and bliss is to live lives of harmlessness and renunciation. The essence of Jainism is concern for the welfare of every being in the universe and for the health of the universe itself.

I also like that the speaker(s) in the poem are ‘sprung’ with a small elation, rather than ‘filled’ which would be a much more ordinary verb, and ‘sprung’ seems to fit the movement of the rather sedentary toads, although they do an ‘awkward flop’ rather than a spring.

I hope you enjoyed the Sunday Poem this week – please do comment below if you did, I know the poets do read the comments and they are always pleased when people engage with their work!

Toad Road – Mike Barlow 

Night, late summer, rainfall after a hot spell.
We can count on it as we slow right down
to cross the cattle grid its sump-grinding
hump before dipped lights flood tarmac.

There’s a litter of what might be taken
for leaves, blown twigs, or squirrel-torn bark.
But we know now.  These shapes don’t move
in a way only something animate is able
not to move, a toad-still rain-basking.

There was a time we failed to notice.
Next morning found the track of a murky way
of flattened skin-stars.  So one of us gets out,
precedes the car (the way they used to walk
a flag in front of early automobiles)

semaphoring to the driver here, no  here,
now there, as rain beats hair lank,
soaks shoulders, trickles down the collar.
Wheels weave between gold hemispheric eyes,
sacks of warty skin.  A nudge with a foot

gets no response, though a hand’s touch
prompts an awkward flop to the long grass.
Safely home we’re sprung with a small elation
for having made a Jain’s way through.

Sunday Poem – Mark Carson

Standard

hove-toIt’s been my first week back at my job as a peripatetic teacher this week.  I’ve been doing this job for 12 years now – I can’t quite believe it’s been that long.  It feels different this year though because I’m only working 2 days a week, so technically I have more days as a poet than I do as a music teacher.  Last week I only actually did 1 day of teaching because I was away for a kind of training day for a new exciting project that I’m not allowed to say anything about.  So I’d better not – but that day away made it seem like the week went by very fast.

The rest of my week was made up of the usual mix of random things – a meeting with Pauline Yarwood about Kendal Poetry Festival, which we’re slowly starting to put together.  We’ve managed to secure a venue for the festival, which is going to take place at Abbott Hall Art Gallery, hopefully in June next year.  We’re now at the stage of finalising a first application for funding.  It is a load of hard work putting a festival together!  That might sound really obvious, but I didn’t realise how hard it was until we started.  It still feels very much like an uphill struggle at the moment, and we both have to keep telling each other that we are making progress.  We’ve got a draft programme, a venue and a nearly completed funding application so we are on our way!

I also drove to Preston with Mrs A to pick up a baby Eb Bass for the junior band which someone was selling on Facebook.  While we were there, I also bought a tenor horn as well – always a useful thing to have in the cupboard!

On Wednesday I took part in the Ulverston 5k and ran round with my friend Ian, who would usually be too fast for me to keep up with.  However he has took it upon himself this week to do some DIY and managed to stand on a nail which has slowed him down a bit, so he agreed to pace me round the course.  My best time for 5k, on the same course last year was 22 minutes and 54 seconds, so I thought a sensible time to go for would be 22 and a half minutes.  Ian had other ideas however.

I finished in a time of 21 minutes and 55 seconds which I was absolutely chuffed with – not only because I knocked nearly a minute off my time, but also because I’d broken the 22 minute barrier, which I didn’t think I would do this year.  It was a very fast course, and I don’t think I’ve got the mental discipline or the confidence to do it on my own yet.  Ian was convinced I could have gone faster, because every time he told me to ‘get on his shoulder’ I did it.  I tried to explain that this wasn’t because it was easy, it’s just that I’m obedient…

Anyway, that little effort put me completely out of action for the next day and I spent most of it in the garden, lying on my hammock.  I was quite relieved it was my day off and I decided to not do any writing but just to spend the whole day reading.  I actually fell asleep in the hammock and only woke up because the dogs ran out barking at a cat that was peering over the fence.

On Thursday night I went for another run (probably foolishly – but routines must be upheld) and then went to quintet rehearsal.   The other thing that happened this week is the quintet I run – the South Lakes Brass Ensemble were booked to play at a 30th anniversary dinner at the Coronation Hall.  We only had a couple of days notice as the people who booked us to play had been let down at the last minute, so I was pleased with how the gig went.

On Friday, I was running Dove Cottage Young Poets and then I went straight from there to Settle, where I was due to be reading that night with Meg Peacocke.  Traffic coming out of Kendal meant I was late arriving to the organiser’s house who had made lovely soup and laid out salad and bread and cheese and all sorts of lovely things, but I did manage to scoff some food.

Reading with Meg was lovely and the audience were really welcoming and friendly.  I managed to sell 8 copies of The Art of Falling and two If We Could Speak Like Wolves which I thought was good going.  I read from a lot of new poems in the second half, and in retrospect, I think that might have been a mistake.  I think next time, when I have two 20 minute sets, it would be better to mix the new poems up with the poems from the book.  The poems from the book can act as the scaffold then, to hold the new poems steady.  You live and you learn though!

Today I’ve been for a 15 kilometre run.  I’m trying to get one long run in each week in preparation for the Lancaster Half Marathon which I’m doing the first weekend in November.  If I manage it, it will be the first half marathon that I’ve done with a few long runs in the bag before hand and I’m hoping this will translate into an improved time.  Last year I ran 1 hour 52 minutes – this year I’d love to get as close to 1 hour 45 minutes as possible, although that seems like an impossible task, to take seven minutes off.

A few reviews are starting to come in for The Art of Falling.  David Cooke has reviewed my book alongside collections by William Bedford and Patricia McCarthy in the recent issue of The North.  Matthew Stewart has also written a really perceptive and generous review over on his blog Rogue Strands.  There will be a review essay about the book appearing in the next issue of Poetry Salzburg and they have also taken a new poem to publish alongside the essay – the first one I’ve had published since the collection came out.  This is my own lazy fault, as I have been hoarding poems instead of submitting them.

I’m feeling quite lazy at the minute.  Although it doesn’t sound like it when I list what I’ve been doing, I’ve actually spent a bit more time this week deliberately resting.  I am prone when I’ve been ill to getting post-viral fatigue syndrome, so after the cold I’ve had I’ve been trying to take it a bit easier.  I know running 15k isn’t taking it easier, but I’ve been doing the minimum amount of emailing I can get away with.  I’ve also been trying to keep away from social media a little bit.  I’ve been posting on Facebook and Twitter probably just as much as usual, but I’ve been trying to stop wasting so much time scrolling down newsfeeds.  I must admit, I decided to do this after reading Anthony Wilson’s blog – at the minute he has taken himself off Twitter.  I don’t want to come off completely, but I remember when I was younger, I used to walk around the house with a book in front of my face reading.  The last thing I did at night before I went to sleep would be to read.  Now, the last thing I do is check Facebook and Twitter.  So I’d like to get back to reading more.  Plus, my shelf of books that I haven’t read yet is getting seriously crowded and I’m getting further and further behind.

Which leads me nicely onto the Sunday Poem for this week, which is by my good friend Mark Carson.  I’ve been friends with Mark for as long as I’ve been writing.  I don’t quite know how many years that will be now but Mark was at the first writing group, Fourth Monday Poets that I pitched up at.  We are now in two writing groups together – Barrow Writers and Brewery Poets.  He is also on the committee for A Poem and a Pint, taking on the least popular job of treasurer.  Mark is a lovely man – very kind and generous with a great sense of humour.  He has spent many, many years supporting other people with their work, including me, and I have never heard him be anything but enthusiastic and pleased at the news of other people’s success – and he really means it – he isn’t pretending!  He travels widely to attend readings in Cumbria and Lancaster, again to support other people’s readings, but he is also a very good poet.  He has been working quietly away at his poetry, sending submissions out and resending them if they come back without fuss or complaint.  He works hard at his writing but he is not the type of person to write a blog about it! Luckily he has me to fill that gap for him!  He has been on the blog before, and I’m sure I said similar things that time too – but this time Mark has a pamphlet out with Mike Barlow’s Wayleave Press.  The press has been going a year and Mike has already published some fantastic pamphlets but I was really pleased when I heard Mark was going to have his own pamphlet out.

Mark’s pamphlet is called Hove-to is a State of Mind and the poems draw on his Irish roots, a career as an ocean engineer and time spent in Africa. Mark also told me some interesting facts about the pamphlet, which might be of interest to those people putting together their own pamphlet.  One of the poems, Per Ardua ad Nauseam, dates back from 1980 (here is that hard work thing I’ve been talking about).  One of the poems collected 18 rejections before finally being published (here’s that hard work again).

Mark’s poems have been published in various poetry magazines – I can’t tell you which ones because he has been very modest in his biography and not listed them but I know one of the magazines he’s appeared in is Other Poetry.  He’s also done well in competitions – a commended in The Troubadour Competition in 2011 and the poem I’ve chosen for the blog this week ‘Donegal’ was longlisted in the 2013 National Poetry Competition.

I’ve always loved this poem, since the first time I heard Mark read it.  He evokes the place very powerfully, with those details that tumble after each other – the ‘crunching’ of the shingle, the light as it ‘bleeds into dark’ and the ‘thin wedges of cloud’.  These are all lovely, sensuous lines, but this is not just a poem about place.  It has a real mystery – we don’t know why the ‘I’ is walking the beach ‘for the last time’.   We don’t know why the ‘I’ is leaving.

This poem has a real loneliness, or a sense of the outsider to it.  That lovely word ‘sneck’ and the yellow light from the cottage make the cottage seem like a warm, inviting place, that is until we get to the last line of the second stanza and the reference to the people inside ‘murmuring’ secrets.

The last stanza though is the strangest – again the vocabulary is really rich – lots of lovely words – ‘curragh’ and ‘kelp’ and ‘bladderwrack’.  And the mystery of this stanza – why does he need a ‘wet brown cow’.  Where is he going?

Mark possibly has one of the most interesting biographies of any poet I’ve feature here –

Born in Belfast and educated in Dublin, Mark Carson went to Cambridge to do a PhD – Corrugation and the Dynamics of Rolling Contact –­ which should have led to a career in railway engineering. Instead he joined the National Institute of Oceanography, giving engineering support to geophysicists, marine biologists and meteorologists, and spending quite a lot of time at sea.

Later he went to Nairobi University as a teacher of engineering, only to return to Cumbria where he co-founded an offshore engineering software business, Orcina Ltd.

I hope you enjoy the poem, and if you would like to order Mark’s pamphlet you can order it here, direct from the publisher. Mark is also available for readings – get in touch with him through his publisher.  He enjoys performing and he is a great reader of his work and very good company!

Mark will be launching his pamphlet at Ford Park, Ulverston on the 8th October at 7.30pm.  There will also be music from Braddyll Friends and the South Lakes Brass Ensemble! What’s not to like?

Donegal – Mark Carson

I am walking the beach, for the last time crunching the shingle –
though the sun sank hours ago, light still bleeds into dark
and the trails of geese are stretched to the farthermost island,
thin wedges of cloud are nudging into the west.

Hear from the headland the sneck click and hinge squeak;
yellow light spills on the grass from the door of the cottage;
the dog makes his snuffling round, while murmuring speech
leaks secrets I don’t wish to know across inlets.

Bring me a curragh and a crew of hard-armed lads
and a wet brown cow with a bucket of kelp and bladderwrack.
We’ll push out bravely into the inky waters
and the oar’s creak will blend with the wingbeat of swans.

Sunday Poem – Pauline Keith

Standard

This year I seem to have got off relatively lightly as regards Carol Services or Christmas concerts with schools.  However, I’ve made up for it by booking my junior band in to do a whole succession of busking at various supermarkets in a bid to raise money for the band funds, which have been seriously depleted last year when we had to buy quite a lot of new instruments.  I’ve been out carolling with them three times now and am due to go out another two times before Christmas.  We’ve been to Asda, Morrisons and Barrow Market so far and are due in Tesco and at the football ground next week.

Whenever I take the junior band carolling, it reminds me of going carolling with Unity Brass when I was young.  I absolutely loved going out.  Even though it was always cold and it usually involved standing up – two of my least favourite things in the world.  Most nights in December would involve playing under lamp posts in residential areas while our parents knocked on doors with collecting tins.  I learnt all of the carols off by heart, mainly because I couldn’t be bothered to turn the pages of the carol book.  There was something about standing in the cold together that I really liked.  I can still remember what it felt like to have the carol book rolled up inside my coat pocket.  I remember our conductor, Rob Boulter, showing me how to rock backwards and forwards on your feet to stop them aching, how to stop your lip hurting by putting it on the cold metal of the bell of the cornet.  Now I know I loved all the carols that were in a minor key – Coventry Carol, In the Bleak Midwinter.  I didn’t know that was why I loved them back then though but I always loved the words to In the Bleak Midwinter – although I only knew the first and last verse –

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
yet what can I give him: give my heart.

I didn’t know back then that the words were by the wonderful poet Christina Rosetti – but I remember loving that simile in the second line ‘water like a stone’ and then that wonderful daring third line with the repeat of the word snow, over and over again.

Every Saturday and Sunday the band would be booked to play Christmas carols all day in Asda.  There was none of this two hours business that I do with the junior band now.  It worked a bit like a relay – somebody turned up who could play your part and then you could go home or have a break.  If nobody turned up to take over you just stayed there until they did.  My mum and dad would stand again with the collecting buckets for hours on end.

Lots of parents of the junior band members hold buckets to collect money, or just stand and watch.  It doesn’t seem to matter to them how many times they hear the carols, they just want to support their children – I find this strangely moving as well.  I should say I wasn’t moved by it when I was younger.  I just expected that my parents would do it – and I think this attitude is typical of most of the junior band as well!  You don’t appreciate your parents and all the things they do for you until you get older – this probably isn’t a particularly exciting revelation for most readers of this blog but I rediscover this and realise it over and over again when I’m working with young musicians and I see the parents turning up time and time again. I always feel a little pang of guilt as the image of my mum and dad, sitting at every rehearsal on a Monday and a Wednesday night flashes through my mind – every rehearsal – can you imagine!?

Anyway, I didn’t set out at the beginning of this blog to write a nostalgic memory of playing carols when I was young.  I wanted to tell you about this fabulous book I’ve been reading by Thomas Lux, who I heard read at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival a couple of months ago.  He was a great reader – and he said he liked my purple hat when he was signing my book.  And he called me kiddo.  All things that go in his favour.  I enjoyed the poems but I was worried that without the force of his personality they would wilt into nothing when I was reading them on the page – but they don’t! They are so good.  He has just had a Selected Poems published by Bloodaxe which I would heartily, heartily recommend you go and buy at once.  I wanted to draw your attention to these lines from a poem called ‘An Horation Notion’.  In the last stanza he says

‘You make the thing because you love the thing
and you love the thing because someone else loved it
enough to make you love it.
And with that your heart like a tent peg pounded
toward the earth’s core.
And with that your heart on a beam burns
through the ionosphere. And with that you go to work.’

I read those first three lines this morning and I haven’t been able to stop saying them over and over again since then. Like the first two lines of Tithonus by Tennyson ‘The woods decay, the woods decay and fall/The vapours weep their burthen to the ground’ or the first sentence of Prayer by Carol Ann Duffy ‘Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer/utters itself.’ I know those three lines will haunt me…

‘You make the thing because you love the thing
and you love the thing because someone else loved it
enough to make you love it.’

The three things I’ve loved for most of my life – music, running and poetry.   Rob Boulter, my band conductor at Unity Brass loved music enough to make me love it.  Wayne Walker, my running coach, loved running enough to make me love it.  Poetry – poetry is different.  I feel like I found that on my own, although I suppose my dad loved reading enough to make me love it, which led to me finding poetry.  I’d be interested to hear if people think it’s true – think about the things you’ve loved all your life, or found out that you love late in life.  Was there somebody who made you love those things because they loved them?

A few people have laughingly said this week that they were looking forward to hearing about my epic drive to Sheffield on Tuesday but the journey was so awful I can hardly bear to recount it.  All you need to know is that I left Barrow at 3pm after work and didn’t arrive in Sheffield till 9pm.  I missed the reading by the other two poets, Noel Williams and Linda Goulden which I was really gutted about.

Cora Greenhill was hosting and managed to keep everybody entertained and happy in between the first half finishing and my arrival.  I was slightly flustered (to say the least) and relieved to find there was still an audience there.  I sold three pamphlets which I was pleased about as I think two thirds of the people in the room already had a copy.  Cora gave me a lovely, thoughtful introduction and everybody was very welcoming and friendly.  It’s a great little venue and if I lived closer I would definitely be attending more often.  It was lovely to see some poetry friends that I hadn’t seen for a while but it all felt very rushed after the reading, because of course I had to drag myself back to Barrow ready for work the next day.

And then there was the drive back.  Ugh is all I can say.  I was so tired by this point – a combination of this awful cold I’ve had, the awful drive and reading from my sequence which always wipes me out that I had to pull over three times on the way back home to try and wake up a little bit.  The third time I gave in and went to sleep for an hour in the car.  I eventually arrived back in Barrow at 3.30am which gave me time for a bit of a sleep before having to get up and get ready for work the next day.

This week’s Sunday Poem comes courtesy of my adventures last week at the Wayleaves launch of four pamphlets.  Pauline Keith’s pamphlet ‘By the Light of Day’ is absolutely fantastic.  The pamphlet describes Pauline’s childhood experiences of being brought up in the family slaughter-yard.  The poems are utterly compelling, and although they work very well on their own, when they are drawn together, as they have been in this pamphlet, the end result is wonderful.

I first met Pauline in Brewery Poets, a writers group that we both attend in Kendal, and I have come across some of the slaughter-yard poems before so I knew I would enjoy the pamphlet.  I’m sure Pauline won’t mind me saying that she doesn’t send her work out as often as she should so not enough people are aware of what a great writer she is, so I’m really happy that Mike Barlow of Wayleave Press has produced this brilliant pamphlet.

The poem I’ve chosen is called The Old Toll House and it is the first poem in the pamphlet, and really introduces the atmosphere and themes that are worked out in the other poems.  I also think it fits really well with the earlier Thomas Lux lines I’ve quoted, with both of them mentioning the word ‘work’ at the end.

The Old Toll House is so beautifully described in that first stanza.  We can picture the tall arches and the dusk, but it only takes until the first line of the second stanza where Pauline has used the word ‘seem’ to signal to us that this is not an idyllic place, and this is carried on in the next two lines with the ‘tainted river’ and the ‘half-derelict canal’ – both of these are hidden from view.  Things are not what they seem.

From this point on, the poem becomes darker and darker, almost relentlessly.   In stanza 5 the italics are used to good effect for emphasis. I also really like the line ‘Chained dogs rage at strangers.’  The master stroke of the poem comes for me in the last three stanzas.  Here the poem turns on its heel and goes in a completely unexpected direction: ‘lift the house roof like a lid’.  I really love this ending.  It gives us the sense of looking back into a far away past and also the feeling of being larger and more real than this past – as if the house is really a dolls house.  We know (whether we know we know or not) that these poems are going to explore power – who has it, and who doesn’t, family, cruelty, pragmatism and the world of work.  Which there aren’t enough poems about!

Pauline Keith has lived and taught in Turkey, Nigeria, Singapore, Holland and Canada.  She was a founding member of Lancaster’s pioneering Literature Festival in the late 70’s.  She received second prize in the 2005 Bridport Prize and commended in the 2007 National Poetry Competition.

Mike tells me a Wayleave Press website is currently under construction, but if you would like to order Pauline’s pamphlet, or any of the other Wayleave pamphlets, you can email Mike at on mike@goosewing.myzen.co.uk  and he will make arrangements to get the pamphlet to you in exchange for a small and reasonable sum of £5.

Thanks to Pauline for letting me use her poem.

The Old Toll House – Pauline Keith

Admire it, done in oils,
set near the viaduct’s tall arches
rising from the valley’s dusk.

Lit windows seem to welcome.
You can’t see the tainted river
or half-derelict canal.

No boats pay tribute here –
the Toll House now a family home
fronting a slaughter-yard

for sick cows and useless horses.
Their flesh, condemned for humans,
feeds the townsfolk’s cats and dogs.

There are few visitors –
no friends.  Just business.
Chained dogs rage at strangers.

Wait till those windows are dark holes
in white walls washed by moonlight –
then lift the house roof like a lid.

Look down on restless sleepers
separate in shared beds: mother
with daughter, father with son.

Replace the roof.  Later, light
will come and the day’s work:
a matter of knives and livelihood.