Tag Archives: paul stephenson

Sunday/Monday poem – Paul Stephenson

Standard

I had a bit of a disaster with last night’s post.  I got back from my reading at the South Yorkshire Poetry Festival and frantically began typing, having completely forgotten what day of the week it was (yes, who knew that was possible?)  In fact the only reason I remembered at all that it was Sunday was because poet Jill Abram posted on Facebook that she was waiting up for the Sunday Poem. I got back to Suzannah Evans’ house, where I was staying for the weekend and started the blog post.  I finished it in bed and thought I’d published it, but I woke up this morning to find it had completely disappeared.  It is a mystery as usually unfinished blog posts can normally be found in a draft folder where they are automatically saved on WordPress but there was no sign of it.

I don’t suppose it was a wonderful post anyway, being written at midnight but I’m more upset because I’ve broken my resolution to try and post a poem every Sunday, so that’s annoying.  However I’m sure my readers will be forgiving and I will be back on time and organised next Sunday.

The reason I forgot what day it was is because I’ve been in Sheffield since Saturday.  I haven’t been to a Poetry Business Writing Day for at least six months and I’ve really missed going.  This is the first one in six months that I’ve actually been able to make.  I had a really nice time at the workshop and wrote a few things that I could develop into poems.  Afterwards I went with poet Lindsey Holland to get something to eat.  After dragging Lindsey around the streets of Sheffield with her heavy bags we finally found a Cafe Rouge and sat outside to have something to eat.  After Lindsey looked a bit alarmed when I asked for half a Stella, I decided to try a Hoegarden which is what she was drinking and it came with a slice of lemon – my first time having lager with a lemon in so I am now, surely, officially Very Posh.

Afterwards we headed over to the Open Mic at the South Yorkshire Poetry Festival, hosted by James Giddings.  I was a bit worried as two minutes before the open mic was due to start, there were only about four people in the audience, then suddenly lots of young people appeared as if by magic and the room filled up.  James was a great MC – very funny and spontaneous and I really enjoyed the two poems that he started and finished the night with.

On Sunday Suzy and I went for a walk through the various parks of Sheffield which seem to just keep going and going forever.  We both got a bit carried away and managed to break Suzy whose ‘fascist foot’ (her words not mine) started to hurt.  I would love to say I gave her a firemans lift/piggy back to the flat but sadly no, she had to limp back unaided.

I was reading in the last night of the festival with Andrew McMillan and Ian McMillan.    I don’t know which of the two was more excited about seeing the advance copies of Andrew’s collection.  Andrew hadn’t even seen it – in fact he had to buy a copy of his own book so he could read from it.  This seems to happen to poets a lot – the books arriving in the nick of time I mean.  Anyway, the book is very beautiful and has a beautiful naked man on the cover which Andrew tells me is Definitely Not Him.

It was also interesting hearing Andrew and Ian reading together.  They obviously are very different in their writing styles and their approach to poetry but I think they have some common ground as well.  Andrew’s first collection is about masculinity and exploring masculinity.  Ian says he likes writing about language and politics, but he didn’t mention masculinity, but I think a lot of his work does explore it as well, but in a different way.  I loved Ian’s poems about someone who lives near him called ‘Norman’ and would love to see a whole pamphlet of Norman poems.  I got to see quite a few friends that I haven’t seen for ages – lovely Noel Williams and Jim Carruth were there in the audience which made me feel less nervous.

On Friday Brewery Poets put on a reading at The Brewery in Kendal.  The guest poets were Andrew Forster, Jane Routh and Ron Scowcroft who were all excellent as expected.  Two of the young writers from Dove Cottage Young Poets came along to the reading as well.  It was lovely to hear some new poems from Andrew and to see him getting a chance to be centre stage after all the work that he does organising poetry events and providing opportunities for other poets.  Jane Routh was the consumate professional as usual, well prepared, engaging and with a lovely calm reading style.  Ron read from his very recently published Wayleaves pamphlet – another poet that I’m hoping to nab a poem from for the blog in the next few weeks or so – I particularly liked his poems around the Falklands War.  We had the wonderful singers The Demix performing as well which seemed to go down really well with the audience.

On Wednesday I had my first live chat with my Poetry School online workshop group.  I decided to make handwritten notes on the poems and then touchtype comments during the live chat which I think worked ok except that it was quite full on and I couldn’t take my fingers off the keyboard.  I’m going to try a combination of cut and paste and touchtyping this week and see how I go.  They are a great group though and I’ve just had a peek at a few new poems that they’ve written for Assignment 2 and some revised versions of poems that they have written after getting feedback and I’ve been blown away again!

Before I tell you about the Sunday Poem, I want to remind you all about my launch which is taking place on Thursday, May 28th at 7.30pm in the Supper Room of the Coronation Hall in Ulverston.  It is free to get in but please bring some food because we will be having a ‘Jacobs Join’ after the poetry and before the Soul Survivors start playing.

I’ve been having anxiety dreams about my launch and when I say dreams, I mean actual nightmares about nobody turning up.  Does this happen to other poets?  When the pamphlet came out, it was at the Wordsworth Trust so all I had to do was turn up but this time I’ve organised it, which has meant it has grown into an epic poetry-food-soul night evening of course.  I hope if you are within striking distance of Ulverston that you are coming – it will be lovely to see you and if you’re not, please don’t tell me as it might bring on another nightmare.  I know it’s the polite thing to do, but I’d rather not know!

Enough about me – I’d like to tell you about today’s Sunday Poem which is by the lovely Paul Stephenson, who I met through the Writing School at the Poetry Business.  Paul was born and grew up in Cambridge, and currently lives in Paris.  He studied modern languages and linguistics then European Studies.  In 2013/14 he took part in the Jerwood/Arvon Mentoring Scheme.  His poems have appeared in Poetry London, The Rialto, The North, Magma, Smiths Knoll and The Interpreter’s House.  In 2012 he was placed second in the Troubadour International Poetry Prize.  In 2014 he was chosen as one of the Aldeburgh 8 poets.  He teaches at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.  If you would like to find out more information about Paul you can go to http://www.paulstep.com

Paul’s pamphlet Those People was a winner in this year’s Poetry Business pamphlet competition.  You can order Paul’s pamphlet from The Poetry Business.

I have two poems that have the word ‘people’ in the title.  The ones in my collection are My People‘ and Some People and I was instantly drawn to Paul’s title poem which is ‘Those People’.  I like any poems that deal with ‘people’ as a generic group.  Paul’s poem is playing with stereotyping when he asks in the first line ‘What are they called? Those people who turn up/unfashionably early’.  I love the direct way he addresses the reader in this poem.  It feels like all the way through he is looking us in the eye, talking to the reader and he continues to qualify himself in the poem: ‘I mean the opposite of stragglers’ and ‘I’m talking eager beavers’ – each of these lines is an attempt to define what he really means, or to find a word for ‘Those People’.  I think the poem is funny – it made me laugh out loud when Paul read it, but I also think there is a sadness and loneliness in it as well: ‘Those folk who don’t often get to go to parties’ which then made me feel a little mean for laughing.  I like poems like this that upset our expectations, or make us feel one way and then another.

I really enjoyed the whole of Paul’s pamphlet.  All the way through he is experimenting with language and form – I think it’s really exciting stuff.  If I had to pick three other favourite poems in the pamphlet they would be Do You Have Any Questions, Gare du Midi and The Pull

I hope you enjoy the Sunday/Monday poem and apologies again that it did not arrive yesterday.

Those People by Paul Stepheson

What are they called? Those people who turn up
unfashionably early, too premature for it to be a party,
just a room full of drinks and square metres of carpet.
I mean the opposite of stragglers, not the hard core
with staying power and no home to go to, or the dregs
of the party who’ve no intention of going anywhere
but love to linger, end up getting chucked out into
the night, or if they’re lucky and it’s a good party,
into a warm sunrise. I’m talking eager beavers,
the party-goers who make a punctual appearance,
greeted at the door by hosts running around with
nibbles still in cupboards and half their face on,
the guests who arrive bang on and get shown through
to hover admiring the smoothness of wallpaper,
which they do politely, not entering yet into the spirit
of the party, swaying by a bucket of orange punch.
Those folk who don’t often get to go to parties,
so have it marked fluorescent for weeks in their diary
and make a mission of what to wear, but never sure
of the dress code, opt to play it safe and wear jeans.
Those characters who eight hours later could be
hitting Havana, sipping mojitos and dancing mambo
and rumba and salsa merengue with dollar-hungry
doppelgangers of Che Guevara in desperate need
of mechanical parts for dilapidated Dodges and
Chevrolets, but hey, instead revel in the refuge
of empty strip-lit galley kitchens, to sit on a ledge
of marbled Formica, slurring into sausage rolls
and spilling their life, is there a name for them?

Sunday Poem – David Tait

Standard

I never know how to start these blog posts, not because I don’t know what to say, but I often don’t know where to begin.  Should I start with what is freshest in my mind, which is what’s happened today, or start at the beginning of the week and proceed in a logical order?  I’ll start with today, because nothing particularly interesting happened at the beginning of the week.

I can now declare (in case you were interested) that I am injury free! My rather inconvenient and very annoying inflamed tendon in my leg has left the building and I am very happy about it.  Today I did my longest run since being injured, nine miles at a relatively steady pace with the Walney Wind Cheetahs and my tendon didn’t have anything to say for itself.  My leg muscles in general were really sore from the training I’ve been doing this week, but it was kind of a sweet pain, rather than an injury pain.  The kind of pain that comes from working your muscles rather than destroying them.  At least I hope that is what it is!

After the run I came straight back, no dallying at the cafe for me today  because I had lots of work to get on with.  I had two friends that have been waiting for email replies regarding poems they had sent, I had an invoice to send and Sunday Poets to hunt down.  I normally write to people in small groups to gather Sunday Poems so today I wrote to four poets and got their permission to use their poems on my blog so I now have four weeks of grace where I know whose poem I’m going to use on the blog.  This is all quite time-consuming – but it is probably my favourite part of doing this blog.  Most poets are so happy that someone, out of the blue has said that they like not only their work, but a particular poem, that it makes it completely worth it.

Apart from these smaller jobs I also had three larger jobs to get done today – this blog being one of them.  The other is printing out and making notes on the poems that have been submitted for Week 1 of the online Poetry School course I’m tutoring and the third job was editing reviews that have come in for The Compass magazine and then writing to the reviewers to check that they are ok with suggested changes.  I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself for managing all of this today, and remembering to feed myself (boiled egg and toast at lunchtime, thai takeaway in the evening!).

I’m going to jump back in the week now to Wednesday, which was the open mic at Zefferelli’s in Ambleside, run by Andrew Forster and the Wordsworth Trust.  For the second week in a row I’ve had a house guest – lovely Lindsey Holland has been staying at my house since Wednesday evening because there are lots of poetry events in Cumbria that she wants to go to – open mic on Friday and a reading on Saturday.

There was a great turn out at Zeff’s this week – probably because Pauline Yarwood was the featured poet.  Pauline can often be found in the audience of various poetry events and workshops so it was nice to see her being given the chance to read her own poetry and lovely to be able to listen to her doing a longer reading of her work.

On Thursday I spent the morning writing references for two people who are applying to do an MA in Creative Writing and then I had to go to a meeting to do with work in Milnthorpe.  On the way back I came as close to dying as I ever have before when a complete idiot was overtaking a caravan on a corner and driving straight towards me on my side of the road.  I have no idea how I missed hitting him because that stretch of road is not narrow enough to get three cars past, let alone a caravan but somehow I did it.  I didn’t even have time to be scared, I just had to wrench the wheel to the side, and then it was done.  It should have been a head-on crash and I don’t know how anyone would have walked away from it.  This sounds a little dramatic, and as it happens, nothing happened.  Everyone was ok, I was ok, I wasn’t even that shaken really but I was trying to think if there was anything I would have regretted not doing if something had happened and I couldn’t think of anything, so that was quite reassuring!

I went to my first interval training session in about 15 years on Thursday evening, hence the sore legs all day Friday and the still sore legs today.  On Friday Lindsey and I drove to Manchester.  I was meeting Rachel Mann, poet and vicar to talk through arrangements for the judging of the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Prize.  I think a lot of people might be put off entering this prize because they think you have to enter a ‘religous poem’, but I will be interpreting this broadly!  The most important thing is to find some excellent poems.  I don’t know if Rachel knew how obsessed with tea I am but we met in Propertea, which is just next to the Cathedral.  When you order your cup of tea you get a little timer to use which tells you when your tea has brewed perfectly.  I would have quite liked to steal the timer, except I realised I would have to steal all the paraphenalia, the two teapots, the tea strainer, and some tea leaves to make it worth it.  I don’t think the timer would have worked with a PG Tips teabag.  Of course this is a JOKE.  I would never steal a tea timer.

After that, I went to the glorious bookshop that is Waterstones on Deansgate with its fabulous poetry section.  Sadly, I couldn’t find a copy of my book in there – maybe it sold out by the time I got there!  However, I did go a bit crazy and buy lots of other poetry books: Here Comes The Night by Alan Gillis, Paralogues by Evan Jones, Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe and Maninbo: Peace and War by Ko Un.  I’ve been wanting Loop of Jade for a while but the other collections I didn’t specifically go in for, I just brought them after browsing, which proves that bookshops need to keep their poetry sections stocked up for hopeless addicts like me who will spend far too much money if the books are there to look at.

After that, we drove to Kendal to Abbot Hall Art Gallery who were having their ‘Night of a Thousand Selfies’ event as part of Museums at Night.  As part of the event I was asked to organise and compere an open mic night but this was an open mic with a difference.  First of all it was in a gallery and there was something wonderful about reading amongst all the portraits that made up the current exhibition.  There was also free pizza from a stand outside, a temporary tattoo artist, a photo booth and a band in different parts of the gallery.

The first two open mic sessions were fairly traditional.  I divided the fourteen readers into two groups and half read in the first set and half in the second set.  After the second open mic session we had a ‘lets see how many poets we can fit in a photo booth’ session – the answer was five and a half, especially if one insists on wearing a large horse’s head and taking up lots of room!  For the third set, I decided it should just be a free-for-all as everybody had already read once and this turned into poetry’s version of The Hunger Games, where poets raced each other to the mic, running up to the front before the audience had finished clapping the last poet.  It was great fun and my young writers rather brilliantly and cheekily got up twice to read, which drove the adults to be much more active in their leaping for the stage.

On Saturday I dragged my husband Chris to Barrow Park to take part in Park Run.  I still had Thursdays interval session in my legs but I managed to knock a whole second off my PB, taking it down to 23.08.  Chris managed 22.44 which is an amazing time considering he has only really been running regularly for the last month or so.  Not annoyed at all that he beat me…

After that, we drove up to Grasmere for the launch of the Poetry Business Pamphlet winners.  This is always one of my favourite events of the year.  It’s free and I like seeing what colour the pamphlets are and seeing Peter and Ann.  This year was a little bit sad for me because my wonderful friend and poet David Tait was one of the winners with his pamphlet Three Dragon Day but he couldn’t be at the reading because he was in China, busy working.  Peter and David asked me if I’d read David’s poems for him, so I did get to relive what it was like to win the competition, but without having to do any of the work, like actually write the poems.

Reading the poems out was a strange experience, because I couldn’t do any introductions for the poems, because I wouldn’t have known what to say, so I just read them one after the other.  It is a little like walking in another person’s shoes.  Luckily, I knew David’s poems pretty well, and he gave me a set list of what he wanted me to read.  The poems are extraordinary.  They conjure up such a vivid picture of what it is like to live as a foreigner in China – they are funny and sad and frightening and moving.

The other winners were Paul Stephenson who has been long overdue a pamphlet, Luke Samuel Yates who I met and read with in Aldeburgh two years ago and Basil Du Toit.  I’m hoping to feature work from all four on this blog in the next few weeks or so, but I thought I’d start with David’s work. I didn’t read this poem yesterday at the launch, it wasn’t on David’s list of poems for me to read but it is one of my favourites in the pamphlet.

This is one of those poems that moves from funny to shocking to sad and he does this almost effortlessly.  I love the list of different things that the class bring in, and there is something moving about this list of objects.  For most of the objects we are not told why they care about them.  I laughed out loud when I first read this and got to the line about the lady bringing in her husband, who then sits ‘sipping lemon tea’.

A lot of the poems which seem lighthearted have this sense of menace hanging over them and a sense that history and politics are somehow closer and more vivid in this country, more dangerous.  We are left thinking about The Great Leap forward, and wondering if the family survived as well as the photo.  I think it’s a brilliant poem and packs in a lot in a short space.

David was a winner of The Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition in 2010 with his pamphlet Loves Loose Ends, judged by Simon Armitage  and he then went on to publish his first full length collection Self Portrait with the Happiness with The Poetry Business in 2014. This collection was shortlisted for the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize.  He received an Eric Gregory Award and now lives in Guangzhou in China, where he teaches English. You can find more information about David on his Author Page on the Smith/Doorstop website.

This week I’ll be reading at the South Yorks Poetry Festival in Sheffield next Sunday night with Ian McMillan and Andrew McMillan which I’m really excited about – I hope to see some of you there.

Writing Class, Guangzhou – David Tait

I ask them to bring in a thing
that they care for.  They bring:

a hairpin carved in the shape
of a carp; a policeman’s flask;

young elephants engulfed
by their mother’s trunk, a statue;

a picture of a rabbit, the only toy
they left her after joining school.

One lady has brought in her husband.
He sits in the corner sipping lemon tea.

The others: a silver coin that dates
from the Qing dynasty; a string of pearls

that survived The Great Leap Forward;
the only surviving photo of a family.

She remembers the day it was taken,
her sister crying and not keeping still,

the hesitation she felt looking into the lens,
her father’s hands gripping her shoulders.

Sunday Poem – Paul Stephenson

Standard

So this weekend I’ve been down in Leicester for my dad’s 60th birthday – his birthday is actually Thursday but we had a meal for him on Saturday – there were 16 of us altogether, mainly sisters, brother in laws, neices, nephews and one great neice.  I have one neice who I bought a Michael Rosen poetry book for this Christmas which she absolutely loves, and while waiting for dinner to arrive she asked me to write a poem with her.  She decided she wanted to write one called ‘Rabbits and Dogs’ and then we played a game which I often do in school workshops – we listed as many words as we could beginning with a letter (in this case T) and then made a sentence out of them.  The sentence was ‘I twirl and twist my tiny toes underneath the tall and tricky table’ which I was quite impressed with!  She is seven years old – but even at that age when she was writing her rabbits and dogs poem she was worrying about using adjectives because that gets extra marks – it makes me sad – but playing the game of listing words and then making nonsensical sentences made her forget about that and have fun with language I think.

My eldest sister has been to one of my poetry readings, but since then has refused to attend any more so my plan of revenge is to turn her daughter into a poet, thus ensuring that she has to go to lots of poetry readings and read lots of poems.  Both of my sisters also keep my pamphlet on a shelf but haven’t read any of the poems apart from the one poem that is a bit rude ‘Picnic on Stickle Pike’.

All of last week was half-term but I didn’t do anything exciting – I spent pretty much the whole week painting.  We have finished the living room now for those of you who are following the painting saga with baited breath,which is probably nobody if I’m honest!  Next weekend I’m away in Grasmere with the Poetry Business Writing School on a residential weekend which is the end of the Writing School course – we are giving a reading on the Sunday at the Wordsworth Trust which is free to attend https://wordsworth.org.uk/attend-events/2014/03/02/readings-from-the-poetry-business-writing-school.html

so unfortunately no painting for me!  Am hoping to return at the end of the weekend and see either the bathroom or the kitchen transformed by hubby.

It was lovely getting back to the house tonight because there was lots of post waiting for me.  There was the Poetry Book Society bulletin with the new John Burnside collection ‘All One Breath’.  I really like John Burnside so I’m really looking forward to reading this.   There was also a cheque waiting for me for a poetry workshop that I ran at the beginning of January so that was rather pleasant. And two books arrived as review copies from Under the Radar so I’m looking forward to getting stuck into them as well.  This plethora of books almost made me feel guilty for buying the new David Constantine book when I spotted it on sale in the shop at Durham Cathedral but it was a momentary twinge and it disappeared when flicking through the Constantine collection I read this line ‘Nothing in a swallow says, I don’t want to leave this place’.  Isn’t that beautiful?

So today’s Sunday Poem is by Paul Stephenson who is a lovely guy and a very good poet.  He will be reading on Sunday as part of the Writing School event in Grasmere.  I’ve enjoyed getting to know Paul a little better over the last 18 months while the Writing School has been running – he is an exciting writer I think who often surprises us all in workshops when he reads back his work – Paul’s poems never sound like that dreaded beast ‘the workshop poem’.

I asked Paul to send a biography over and he is so modest he didn’t mention his most recent competition wins – a 1st prize in the South Bank Poetry magazine competition, judged by Clare Pollard, a 1st place in the Magma Short Poem prize in 2013, 2nd in the Cafe Writers competition in 2013, 2nd in the Troubadour in 2012….He is also currently taking part in the Jerwood/Arvon mentoring scheme.  His background in Modern Languages and European Studies has an effect I think in the way he plays with language and his interest in experimenting with words – Paul says that recently he often finds himself “looking for words within words, anagrams, palindromes, rhymes, that this helps give me a texture for the poem and a word constraint.”

Paul says that the context for this poem was that “I heard David Cameron on the radio in January 2013, I think, talking about multinationals avoiding corporation tax. And he said ‘Wake up and smell the coffee’, obviously referring to a large coffee shop we all know. And I thought, gosh, that is such a tired old expression, how can I play with it and travel somewhere unexpected….”

which I think gives a really interesting insight into the writing process, although I also think it is not necessary to know this to enjoy the poem.  I didn’t know it when I read the poem, but I enjoyed the playfulness of it and the slow transformation of ‘coffee’ to ‘coffin’.  I picked this poem as well because it is very different to the poems I normally choose, completely different from anything I would write – which is probably one of the reasons I like it – and maybe in my head it is linking back to this weekend and sitting at the table playing around with words with my neice….

The poem was previously published in Lighthouse – a relatively new journal which you can find more information about here http://www.gatehousepress.com/lighthouse/

You can find out more about Paul by going to his website at http://paulstephensonpoet.wordpress.com/

Thanks to Paul for letting me use this poem – I hope you enjoy it!

Wake Up And – Paul Stephenson

smell the coffee
smell the coughing
the cacophony
the cafard
the cavern

wake up and smell Cavafy
wake up and smell Kefalonia

smell the kaftan
smell the kif
the köfte
the Kiefer
the O’Keefe

wake up and smell the cufflink
wake up and smell the coffin