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Sunday Poem – Pauline Yarwood

Sunday Poem – Pauline Yarwood

This week I’ve spent a bit of time planning my summer holidays.  In  August, I’m off to Macedonia to read at the Struga Poetry Festival, as part of the Versopolis project.  I’ll be at the festival for nearly a week, and then my husband is meeting me in Skopje and we’re going on our own holiday.  We’re going to stay in Ohrid for one night and then drive down to northern Greece and walk 17 km up Mount Olympus,  stay in a refuge near the summit for one night, before walking back down the next day.

I’m also going to Benidorm at the beginning of the summer holidays, on what is turning into an annual holiday with some of the women I run with.  This will be my luxury, sit around the pool and generally laze about holiday.

On Monday, Pauline and I finished the obligatory report on Kendal Poetry Festival for the Arts Council.  It took us five hours, but we were determined that we wanted to get the thing handed in and finished, so we can start work on next year’s festival.  Filling in the after activity report is not one of the fun things about running a festival so I’m glad that over with.

On Tuesday I had my meeting with my supervisor about my first attempt at 5000 words.  I feel so much better about the PhD.  We had a really good conversation about what I’d written and where I needed to improve, and also a frank discussion about the nature of a creative PhD, and that a lot of the critical writing will need to be directed by my creative writing, and that this way of working is going to be a challenge.  My supervisor also said she felt really excited about my project though which was really encouraging.   My main job over the summer is to get some reading done of writing about poetry.  I thought I would ease into it gently and start with Glyn Maxwell’s On Poetry as I’ve been wanting to read it for ages.   

I really enjoyed reading this book – perhaps the thing that has stayed with me the most, or given me the most to think about are his thoughts on stanza breaks.  He refers to W.B Yeats ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ to discuss what happens in the white space between stanzas.  He asks what happens in between the stanzas and then answers ‘A change of place, a passing of time.’  He also talks about comparing stanza breaks to scene changes in a film, saying that ‘Some stanza breaks are cuts, some are fades, some are dissolves’.

This has given me lots to think about in relation to my own work but I’ve already started to use some of this in the workshops I’ve ran this weekend with Dove Cottage Young Poets and my Barrow Poetry Workshop.

On Wednesday I drove over to Lumb Bank in Heptonstall.  I was the guest poet on Ann and Peter Sansom’s Arvon course.  I can’t tell you how excited I was to do this – I’ve never been to Lumb Bank before, and it really is a magical place.  The scenery is so beautiful and it was such nice weather, I basically dumped my bag in the cottage and went straight out for a run through the woods and then back along the fields.  I only did 2 miles as I’d been out on Tuesday night and done a 7 mile run and I didn’t want to overdo it.

Then I got back, had a shower and then went for dinner with Ann and Peter and the course participants, and Jill, the assistant centre director, and then did the reading after dinner, sold lots of books, had a cup of tea with some of the course participants and then collapsed into bed! It meant a lot to me to be invited to do this because my whole journey as a poet and a writer started on a residential course, not at Lumb Bank, but at Ty Newydd in Wales.  That first residential that I went on completely changed my life, so it feels pretty amazing to go and be a guest poet on one.

The next day I got up early and went for a run with one of the people booked on the course who I will call D, as I forgot to ask permission to mention him here.  It was a great run, through the woods again but this time crossing the river.  I needed to be back in half an hour, however we got a bit lost and whilst D was bounding up and down the hills to find the right path I was puffing and panting behind trying to keep up.  D was a lot fitter than I thought, which was lucky really as it meant he could scout ahead.  It was a bit like that scene in Lord of the Rings when Gimli the dwarf is puffing along and Legolas speeds on ahead.

I needed to be back in half an hour so I could get to Kendal for 10.30am because I had an appointment to get my tattoo finished.  I managed to get there on time with minutes to spare, and I don’t know if it was because I was exhausted from the run, but the pain was nowhere near as bad as the first session on the tattoo a couple of weeks ago.

This brings us up to date with this weekend which I spent running Dove Cottage Young Poets on Friday, Brewery Poets on Friday night and then running my Barrow Poetry Workshop all day Saturday.  Next week I have a fairly quiet week, so I’m hoping to get lots of reading done and some poetry writing.

So today’s Sunday Poem is by Pauline Yarwood, who as well as being the co-director of Kendal Poetry Festival, is also a very good poet in her own right.  Her first pamphlet Image Junkie has just been published by Wayleave Press and her official launch was a couple of weeks ago.  It’s a great pamphlet and available from Wayleave Press for the bargain price of £5.

Reading through the pamphlet again, I realised that although a lot of the poems are concerned with visual themes (unsurprising as Pauline is a potter) many of the poems also explore the problem of speaking out, not speaking at all, speaking too much, who gets to speak and who doesn’t.  In ‘The Left Wing Coffee Bar, Manchester’ the ‘ex-POW fathers/told us you understand nothing,/nothing’. There are lots of other examples of direct speech in the poems, such as in’La Flaneuse’, ‘Basking Shark’ and ‘The Hare’ and often people are talking too much or not talking enough. 

The poem I’ve chosen  for the Sunday Poem this week is called’Put-downs’.  The hurtful things people can say to other people is something that seems to be on my mind a lot recently.  Helen Mort has just written a great blog about the effect that unsolicited advice and comments can have, which you can read here where she writes back to a male writer who offered some unnecessarily cruel and personal unsolicited remarks.  In the blog, Helen says

I’m sorry for writing an essay back in response to a short email. But sometimes, a few words online can spill over into someone’s life and have quite a profound effect, so I thought it was worth trying to put that into words

This really struck me when I read this.  Maybe it’s something that we all forget too often, that what we say and do can have a profound effect on other people.  Pauline’s poem discusses the effect that words and comments by family members can have on the self, not only as a child but as an adult as well.

The familiar phrase of ‘You’re a sight for sore eyes’ becomes unfamiliar in the poem as the gran gets it ‘the wrong way round’.  There is something funny in this misuse of the phrase at first, and the descriptions of the speaker ‘scratched and bleeding from climbing trees’ or ‘once hiding in tall grass being shown how boys pee’ has real energy and life to it.

By the end of the poem, this humour is wiped out.  There is a sense of something left unsaid with the description of the gran as ‘A woman wrapped in loss’ but this untold story is quickly moved on with the introduction of another familiar phrase.  The last three lines of the poem I found completely chilling, and in particular the last two lines: ‘She could destroy you six different ways with this/depending on where she put the emphasis.’ These two lines send you back to the line before with the phrase ‘who do you think you are’.  I couldn’t help myself but try and put the emphasis in different ways.  When you do this, when you practice saying ‘Who do you think YOU are’ or ‘Who do you think you ARE’ or ‘Who DO you think you are’ it is almost like the Gran emerges and forms, in the white space around the poem.

Thanks to Pauline for letting me post this poem! Here’s to a week, no even better a life of no put-downs and kindness to wash over us all.

Pauline Yarwood

My gran got it the wrong way round.
You’re a sight for sore eyes, she’d snap,
sharp, when I snuck in through the back door.
I’d be grubby from digging pits for dens
or scratched and bleeding from climbing trees,
red-faced from riding my bike a few feet
further than I was allowed to go,
then a sweaty race back hoping not to be seen,
and once hiding in tall grass being shown how boys pee.
It was years before I realised that being
a sight for sore eyes was a good thing,
a joy to behold.  But I was never that,
just a scruffy kid hoping for toast and marmite
and a bit of a welcome.  She could, I suppose,
have meant that me looking like something
the cat dragged in cheered her up, made her smile.
But that wasn’t my gran.  A woman wrapped in loss,
her other favourite phrase, which never leaves me,
was who do you think you are.
She could destroy you six different ways with this
depending on where she put the emphasis. 


Sunday Poem – Pauline Yarwood


This week I almost decided to write another blog post half way through the week so that this one would not be as long, but I didn’t.  Now, starting this at 8.30pm on Sunday night, I’m regretting my earlier tardiness.  Plus the X factor is on which is a little distracting – I like the audition stage when everyone is still quite raw and quirky, before they get manicured and prepped to within an inch of their lives.  Maybe I shouldn’t have admitted my weakness for the X factor – what about if I promise to never mention the X factor within these pages again?

So this week I’ve been in Penrith on Monday and Tuesday for two teacher training or Inset days.  It’s nice to see the other music service staff – because we are so spread out around the country we don’t get to see each other very much, but I’m sure I’m speaking for EVERYONE when I say by the time the end of Tuesday came we had all had enough of each other and were ready to go home…

On Monday I went with my twin sister Jody to Ulverston and we had something to eat and then had a cup of tea in Natterjacks which is this lovely late night cafe – who knew that Ulverston had such a thing?  We were killing a bit of time between the end of Inset and our South Lakes Brass Ensemble rehearsal in Penny Bridge.  In the cafe there is artwork for sale and some of the tables and chairs are even for sale and they have books and magazines and board games.  Jody found a pack of cards and bullied me into playing this card game which I don’t think I’ve played since I was 15 – and I’d completely and utterly forgotten about it – although forgotten implies that it was there and I just wasn’t thinking about it – but it was like this card game had been erased from my brain, but as soon as we started playing I did remember it – we used to play it ALL THE TIME – for hours and hours on end.  I can’t even remember the name of it now.  I’m looking over at the husband who is innocently listening to his audio book with his headphones in whilst the adverts are on and decide I will bully him into playing it with me too before the night is over.  I’ve just asked him and apparently he has packed them away!  For those of you that have missed the moving saga – we were meant to move house a week ago..now it is vaguely meant to be happening on the 15th but I’m not holding my breath.

On Wednesday the school term officially starts but only one of my schools wanted me in so I did 2 hours of teaching in the afternoon and then did a 5 mile run in the evening with Walney Wind Cheetahs.  I spent most of Wednesday trying to sort out my powerpoints for work – they are in a complete mess due to my habit of losing and then finding my pen drives which they are stored on.

And then it was Thursday and Friday which are officially now my Poetry days with a capital P.  This Thursday I did some work preparing for my stint as Poet in Residence at Ilkley Literature Festival.  I only managed to plan one workshop however – I don’t quite know now what I was doing for the rest of the day – apart from walking the dogs and eating of course.  Anyway, the workshop that is planned and organised can be found here but a couple of days ago when I checked there were only two places left on it so you will have to move quick.

I’m doing lots of other stuff at the festival but I think that needs another blog post.  So Thursday consisted of running in the morning – another five miles, planning workshop, eating lunch, walking dogs and then I went to Ulverston Library and played the Last Post to start off another commemoration to World War 1.

On Friday morning I planned my Young Writers workshop, paid the largest amount of money I’ve ever paid to the solicitors and then went to Kendal to run the young writers group.  We did quite a complicated extended exercise and halfway through I started to think that it was too difficult – but to their credit, the girls persevered and wrote some exceptional stuff – so that made it worth getting out of bed.  Then it was straight back for another quintet practice to really make sure we’re ready for this wedding fayre next weekend!

On Saturday I did park run again and beat my PB by three seconds (hurrah!) in the world of running this is considered good and I did start off thinking I was just going to take it easy but then changed my mind after the first kilometre.  I got back and for some reason thought I was due to be at the bandstand in the park playing with the Barrow Steelworks Band and after having a shower, sat on the doorstep for twenty minutes waiting to be picked up before ringing and finding out it wasn’t until Sunday…what a muppet I am.  I spent the rest of Saturday afternoon sorting through some free band music I’d been given, putting it in bags, a bag for my sister for her junior band, a bag with music suitable for my beginner band, a bag with music suitable for Barrow Shipyard Band and then a bag of music suitable for nobody in this century.  The husband rang to tell me he was two hours drive away – he’d been cycling with a friend, and I decided it would be a great idea to walk out of Barrow and meet him at the car park at Roanhead beach.  It was a beautiful walk even though it was a bit windy, I could see for miles along the beach, and I felt very lucky to be living where I live. But maybe two hours of walking after sprinting three miles was a little excessive.

Which brings us to today which has been full as well – I went for a run this morning with the Walney Wind Cheetahs and we had the most amazing weather – lovely sunshine but enough wind to make it not too hot.  We ran 6 miles with lots of hills and I definitely felt the two hours walking and the park run were still sitting heavy in my legs but I really enjoyed the run.  And today was the concert at the park that I was meant to be doing with the Barrow Steelworks band so again I sat on the doorstep and this time, did get picked up and taken to the park.

Thank you all for reading this far – I often think if you get this far through this meandering waffle then you deserve a medal, but I don’t have one, but you can have a poem instead!  This time courtesy of Pauline Yarwood, a lovely lady I first met – I don’t know when we first met.  It could have been in a workshop at the Wordsworth Trust, or maybe it was at one of the Tuesday readings in Grasmere which Pauline regularly attends.  It might have been at Brewery Poets, a monthly writing group that Pauline attends and organises along with another poet, Trish Pogson.  Anyway the point is, I can’t remember – it feels like I’ve always known Pauline, since I first started writing.  Maybe she will remember!

So I know Pauline’s work quite well – I’ve read her poems at Brewery Poets – I’ve seen how hard she works at her poetry, how she takes and responds to suggestions.  I’ve also seen the deep interest and enthusiasm she has for poetry, demonstrated by her loyal attendance at various poetry readings all over the place and her commitment to the writing group.  I’ve also seen in the last couple of months how her confidence has finally started to grow in line with the quality of her poetry!  Pauline has had work recently published in The Firecrane, The Interpreter’s House and The North.  Pauline taught English and Ceramics and now has her own workshop in the Lyth Valley where she makes pots and writes poetry.

I asked Pauline to send me five or six poems to choose from and all the poems she sent were great so I could have picked any of them, but I think this poem is really touching.  I think Pauline has captured the sense of desperation and guilt which is felt in these situations with the repeated aside of ‘you can’t keep him in this room’ and the lack of punctuation means that the poem passes easily between the opinion of the ‘I’ in the poem ‘you can’t keep him in this room’ to the bare and painful stated facts ‘there are women pissing themselves’.  With no punctuation the poem swivels between fact and opinion so that we are left unsure as to which is which.  Even with all of the awful details ‘neither of us remembers how to speak’ the poem has a black humour about it ‘the woman on the desk looks/as if she’d pimp her own mother’.

I think this poem is special as well because of how authentic it is – the dialogue when the father tells David to sit down – that is kind of heart breaking.  More heartbreaking in a way than the end – my nan used to say the same thing to an old lady in her care home.  And there was an old man in that care home who used to forget he couldn’t walk and he would make his way down the corridor holding on the rail as he went – up and down, up and down the corridor.

I hope you enjoy the poem.  ‘Aftercare’ was previously published in the new issue of The North which has lots of wonderful poets in all the time and which you should definitely subscribe to.


Aftercare – Pauline Yarwood

you can’t keep him in this room
there are women pissing themselves
sitting legs agape
stockings rolled to their ankles
the one on the mattress on the floor
has been moaning for two hours

the woman on the desk looks
as though she’d pimp her own mother
turns her back on everyone
smooths the skirt of her uniform

you can’t keep him in this room

I push his wheelchair round an
unkempt quadrangle of garden
neither of us remembers how to speak

the ridiculousness of me pushing him

tears meet saliva at the corner of his drooping lip

back inside someone has forgotten they can’t walk
pushes up to standing
starts to head off

sit down, David, my father shouts.
David sits.

you can’t stay in this room

I’ll do whatever they advise, he says

odd, because you could never tell him anything
he could never tell me anything either

next day, pimp-woman grips the curtain round the bed

just before you see him, she says,
busy morning, not had time,
just telling you,
his mouth is still open.

Reading poetry, pyjamas, April Poets and collection thoughts


Good morning everybody! Arrgh, it’s already the last day of the Easter holidays!  The weekend doesn’t count you see, that’s the weekend.  This is the last day that I can sit and think, what SHOULD I be doing today – hmm, nine o clock Friday, I would be doing a half hour lesson in a primary school for two trumpets, one cornet and a baritone player.

Today I’m off to Glamorous Glossop to visit the lovely Liz Venn.  Apparently there will be red wine and bolognese.  Tomorrow morning we are both going to the Poetry Business for our next Advanced Writing School workshop.  This has two advantages – I don’t have to get the train at 6.20 am on Saturday morning and I get to see Liz!  And because yet again, there is a replacement bus service on the train line I can drive back with Jenny Copley to Barrow and get back at a reasonable time.

So I’ve been vaguely taking part in National Poetry Writing Month – which is where you join a group and write a poem a day.  I’m part of a ‘secret’ group on Facebook and I am a guest prompter which means I have to do a couple of prompts on certain days to set people off writing poetry.

I feel like I’ve already written about this in a previous post – sorry if I’m repeating myself!  Anyway, I’ve been reading other people’s posts, sometimes commenting, mostly being a silent, lurking observer, but what I have done all week is to basically sit in my pyjamas for most of the day and read poetry.  I went to the remainder bookshop in Sedburgh and got lots of brand new poetry books for half price and I’ve just been reading through those.  I made myself a nest and a flask of tea so I didn’t have to keep getting up and just sat and read.  So poets I’ve read this week include Phillip Gross, Heather Williamson, Peter Levi, Lucie Brock-Braido, Esther Jansma….I haven’t read all of these cover to cover – I’ve been kind of dipping in and out.

I’ve been playing Lucky Dip with the Poetry Archive whilst doing the washing up.  I learnt a Don Paterson poem off by heart.  I’ve written one poem which I think might be worth going on with and maybe five rubbishy ones.  I’ve done a map of my first collection which you can see below.  Barrow-in-Furness-20130410-00239

The boxes are themes and the little bits of writing are poems and I’ve done lots of spidery lines all over the place to see how they join up with each other.  I thought a lot about whether I should add little bits about the collection in between these conversations with other poets and I decided I would, although it feels strangely revealing and private to do so.  I know where there are gaps in the collection now, where I need to write more poems.

Last night I went to an April Poets event in Lancaster.  I’m really glad I did bother myself to get out of my nest and my pyjamas because it was a really nice event.  The room was packed with audience which is lovely to see – the open mic was great and the invited guest poets – Michael Crowley, Pauline Yarwood, Carole Coates and Judy Brown were varied, interesting and entertaining.

I had a chat with poet Antony Christie in the bar and from this very short conversation I think I’ve pinned down the first poem in my collection.

So this is how I’ve decided to ‘do’ National Poetry Month – pretty much what I do all the time, but more of it.  Lots of reading, a little bit of writing, and getting out and about as much as I can to see what else is going on with other poets.

By the way, if any of you do live anywhere near Lancaster, check out April Poets web page http://www.aprilpoets.org.uk/

They host events twice a year, and they are always fantastic and very well organised.  The next one is in November – I don’t know who is reading yet, but keep your eye on the website.