I’m experimenting at the minute with fortnightly Sunday Poems, and I think it’s working! It has taken a bit of pressure off and I’m even thinking of ideas for a different type of blog post, maybe something to do with my PhD, on my ‘weekends off’ the Sunday Poem.
This has been another busy couple of weeks, in fact a rough couple of weeks for me. I’ve been really busy with freelance work, as well as work for my PhD. The rest of April is going to be quite full on, as I’m away running two residential courses, but after that, things calm down again, and I’m determined to take things a bit easier now and not take so much work on. As soon as I decided this of course, I got quite a few offers of work that I would in normal circumstances love to do and which I’ve had to say no to. I find it hard to say no to things even when I don’t want to do them, so having to turn down things I don’t want to do has been really difficult. But I think the future me will thank the past me for it.
Meetings for Kendal Poetry Festival are in full swing, and Pauline and I have been writing the content for our programme and for the website, and then checking and rechecking proofs. We are almost there with it, and hopefully tickets will be on sale by the end of next week.
I’ve been running a Poetry School course in Manchester for the last five weeks. There were ten students signed up on the course, and I was actually quite sad that it was coming to an end, as they were a lovely group to work with – a mix of people I’d not met before and old friends – people that have been on previous workshops or residentials with me, even one person who I’d been on the MA with at Manchester all those years ago. I’m also coming to the end of an Online Feedback course that I’ve been running with the Poetry School – I think there are 16 people on that course, and my last lot of feedback will be uploaded by next weekend, so again, another thing I’ve really enjoyed coming to an end. On the positive side though, this means that I’m going to have a bit more breathing space to think, read and make some progress with my PhD, which is what I need at the minute.
My lovely friend David Tait has been on a months residency at The Wordsworth Trust – we spent a week down in St Ives together running a residential there, and I’ve tried to see him as much as I can in between everything else that has been going on. Two Thursdays ago David came to Manchester to meet me after I’d finished my Poetry School course and we stayed over at a hotel before heading to Sheffield on Friday to record ourselves reading some poems at The Poetry Business, and to do a reading at Bank Street. It was great to read with David again and to hang out at Bank Street – one of my favourite places in the world. If you’e been to the office you’ll know why, books everywhere – not just the ones they publish but review copies of books and back issues of poetry magazines.
After the reading, despite my best intentions of not hanging around to chat with people, I ended up hanging around and chatting with people, so I didn’t get home till 1am. The next day I had the Coniston 14 race – 14 miles around the edge of the lake with a couple of hills in between. I’ve been training for ages for this and I’ve been really looking forward to it. It was unexpectedly sunny and hot on the Saturday but not too hot for it to be a problem. I ran the first 10k really well – despite the hills, I was averaging 4.45 a km which I was quite pleased with. However, I started to get a pain at the side of my knee which then felt like a dead leg, and then my hamstring felt really tight, then my calf felt really tight. I walked a couple of drink stations, and it was really painful running down hill, so I decided to slow down and just get round. I was really annoyed at the time, but I think it was the sensible thing to do, and I was pleased with my overall time – 1 hour 52 minutes.
My leg still hurts when I walk for too long, so I haven’t ran since last weekend. My plan is to give myself two weeks off running, I’ve got a physio appointment booked for this Friday, so hopefully that will fix it.
After I finished the race, I then had to jump straight in the car and get over to Lancaster to read at Lancaster Litfest with Hannah Lowe. I really enjoyed hearing Hannah – there seemed to be a lot of common threads running through our work. When I was first starting out in poetry I used to hate it when poets read ‘new work’. I only liked hearing things from their books. Now, I get really excited when a poet says they are going to read something new – Hannah read two new poems that I thought were brilliant and now I’m already looking forward to her next book, probably a bit too early to be saying that, but still!
The other thing that’s occupying my time at the minute is I’m organising a Feminist Poetry Jambouree as part of a wider network of events, all taken place on the 8th April. Along with Clare Shaw, I volunteered to organise the Ulverston one. The venue is the Laurel and Hardy Museum in Ulverston, and the main format of the evening will be an Open Mic session for poets and musicians. However, there will be invited guests taking longer slots, including Laura Potts and John Wedgwood Clarke. The aim of the event is to support and champion women’s rights. We’ll be collecting donations on the night which will be divided between Let Go – a local domestic violence charity and The Birchall Trust who work with survivors of rape and sexual abuse in Cumbria. Clare and I will also be performing some new work that we’ve been writing in a kind of poetry relay over the last few weeks. It wouldn’t be exciting if we weren’t leaving finishing this off until the last possible minute but finished, in some form it has to be for Saturday!
I’m also hoping that the night will finish off with a group performance of ‘I Can’t Keep Quiet’ – a song by MILCK which was performed at the women’s marches and which went viral. We had a rehearsal last Wednesday which went really well, so if anybody else is interested in coming along to the rehearsal at Natterjacks this Thursday, just get in touch, or turn up at Natterjacks in Ulverston at 7.30 where we will make you feel very welcome. You don’t have be able to sing, you just need enthusiasm!
Clare and I are also running a joint workshop on April 8th from 10.30-4 as part of my Barrow Poetry Workshop series – there are still places available, so if you’d like to come to the workshop, just get in touch.
Today’s Sunday poem is by Julia Webb, taken from her latest collection Bird Sisters, published by Nine Arches Press. Julia is a poet, editor, creative writing tutor and a creative coach living in Norwich. She has a first class honours degree in Creative Writing from Norwich University of the Arts and an MA in Creative Writing, Poetry from The University of East Anglia. Julia is one of the editorial teamThe Lighthouse – a journal for new writing published by Gatehouse Press. Her poetry has appeared in Magma, The Rialto, Poetry Salzburg Review,Ink, Sweat and Tears, Other Poetry, Poetry News, The Interpreter’s HouseSouth, Ten Poets: UEA Poetry 2010 amongst others
Bird Sisters came out in May 2016, and I read it cover to cover in one sitting, maybe one of the reasons for this is that it seems really well put together as a collection. This is not one of those collections which is a disparate collection of poems, there are threads and sequences running throughout the book. There are page-length prose poems in the voice of a child which use capitals in a really clever way to capture the character of the child. These are scattered throughout the book and are really effective.
Birds are really important as you can see from the title of the collection, and transformation of the body into some kind of animal or bird happens throughout the poems. More importantly is the theme of sisters, of what it means to be a sister and to have a sister. Maybe it is my ignorance, but I haven’t read many poems about sisters, so I enjoyed this a lot.
Sisters can be wonderful (I have three) but it can also be very fraught as well. How I survived my childhood sharing a room with my twin sister and my two older sisters who were older than me by 10 years or so I will never know. I’m surprised my older sisters didn’t try and do away with us both, as I think I was quite an annoying child!
In Julia’s poem, the speaker of the poem is in hospital, although we don’t know why. The sister is an owl sister, but the poem is balanced on the edge of bird and human – the sister has both bird and human characteristics. She has both wings and a ‘breast pocket.’ She hates hospitals and has a schedule (very human things) but she also carries voles and hoots as she leaves the ward. The last but one line of ‘turns on her claw’ echoes the cliche of ‘turns on her heel’ and gives us another sense of her character. What is also interesting is that the sister is an ‘owl sister’ but we get no sense of the speaker being a bird. So when the sister drops the vole onto the blanket, although in one light this could be a caring act, it can also be seen as someone doing what they think is best, without asking what the speaker actually wants. This is all done with a really light touch, and I think the inner logic of the poem works really well. It follows another great poem ‘My owl sister mistakes me for a mouse’ where the speaker is carried by the owl sister and dropped ‘amongst her needle-beaked children.’ I’m not sure if we’re meant to read the two poems side by side as a mini narrative – and whether one follows on from another chronologically – if they do, then the speaker finishes in the first poem in a nest amongst the children (note, not chicks, in this poem) and then in the second she is in a hospital – is there a connection between the needle-beaked children and the reason she is now in a hospital? I’m not sure and I quite like not knowing.
My owl sister pays me a visit – Julia Webb
She moves restlessly around the room
examining every object, flexes her wings,
lingers by the double-glazed window,
shields her eyes as if the day is too bright.
I know she hates hospitals,
and I have interrupted her schedule,
she has chicks to feed,
important things to do.
She plucks a vole from her breast pocket,
and drops it onto my blanket,
turns on her claw.
Her hoot echoes along the ward.