Tag Archives: poem

Sunday Poem – Ayelet Mckenzie

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Sunday Poem – Ayelet Mckenzie

I’m writing this in the back garden today – it’s vaguely sunny here in Barrow, and now I’m running again, I like being outdoors most of the time.  I’m not sure if it’s to do with circulation or what, but basically, if my running is going ok I just want to be outdoors all the time, and I don’t feel the cold.  If I’m not able to run, I revert back to how I’ve been for the first thirty odd years of my life, which is sitting indoors with blankets and the fire on full blast.

I am breaking my self-imposed rule today of writing my blog only every two weeks.  Basically I miss doing it! And also, quite a few people have sent me pamphlets, or I’ve bought their book or pamphlet and really enjoyed them, and I can’t keep up with them all doing the blog every other week.  So I will see how it goes – I might lapse again but I miss the discipline of writing every week.

I feel like myself for the first time since Kendal Poetry Festival finished.  I’ve had quite a difficult week, and I know Pauline, my co-director has had a hard time this week as well.  I think (for me anyway – can’t speak for Pauline) that it’s a combination of being on full adrenalin all weekend and then all the excitement is suddenly over.  So there is a bit of a come-down to start with.  I have felt so mentally tired this week though – like I couldn’t be bothered to read anything and certainly not write anything.  Sadly, in the world of putting a festival on, things don’t completely stop once everyone has gone home.  We have a report to write for the Arts Council, we have to ensure everyone gets paid, so all of that is carrying on when all I really wanted to do this week is collapse in a heap!

This week I met my supervisor to talk about some poems that I sent through as part of the PhD.  It feels strange still having the luxury of having a poet I really admire looking at my work, and it’s exciting as well.  Already I feel like I’m pushing myself further.  The poems that I thought were the least finished got a more positive response than the ones I thought were almost there, so that was interesting.  It feels like every time I have a meeting, it creates a little bit of space around the poems so I can go away and push further at them, whereas before the PhD, maybe I would have just left them to sit where they were.

I’ve just got back from the Ted Hughes festival where I read along with Melissa Lee-Houghton and Charlotte Wetton and then took part in a panel discussion about whether Sylvia Plath was relevant to young female poets.  It was interesting to hear the different ways the three of us came to Plath’s poetry – I personally think Plath is important to female poets, but I also think as a female poet, it is uncomfortable to be linked with Plath, because of the term ‘confessional’ which has negative connotations, and because it is so tempting to read her biography through her poetry.  Nobody wants that to happen necessarily with their own work.  This tendancy to review and critique Plath’s work through her biography would have been overwhelmingly done by male critics and reviewers I’m guessing, and I think it’s a way of reducing and diminishing her work.  As Heather Clark, a leading expert on Sylvia Plath pointed out, the poem ‘Edge’ has so many literary references embedded within it, but it is often read as if Plath is speaking from beyond the grave.

It was great to read with Charlotte and Melissa, although following Melissa felt a bit like following a poetic whirlwind – my head was still spinning from listening to her work and then I realised I was going to have to stand up and speak.  I hung around for the next reading and saw Tim Wells perform and Linton Kwesi Johnson, both worth getting back at midnight for.  Linton Kwesi Johnson did blow me away – it was like a poetic history lesson in black history and civil rights in this country, delivered in a rhythm which was as close to music as you can get without crossing over into song.

If you haven’t been to the Ted Hughes festival, look out for it next year.  It has a lovely community feel to it, the volunteers are very friendly and smiley, and they had a great programme of events over this year, which I’m sure they will repeat again next year.

Steve Ely, one of the organisers of the festival, who seemed amazingly calm and chilled out  while everything was going on, is coming to Grange Over Sands this year as one of the four tutors on the Poetry Carousel.  Places for this are selling fast, so if you’re interested, I would advise booking a place sooner rather than later.  The other tutors are myself, Hilda Sheehan and David Morley.  You can find more information about the Poetry Carousel, including biographies of the tutors and information about the workshops we’ll be running here.  The course runs from Friday 8th December to Monday 11th December and costs £360 including accommodation, food and workshops.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by a fabulous Barrow poet, Ayelet Mckenzie.  I went to the launch of Ayelet’s pamphlet a few weeks ago now at Barrow Library, and the place was packed! Ayelet’s latest pamphlet is called Small Bear and is published by Caterpillar Poetry, I wrote a blurb for Ayelet’s pamphlet so I thought I’d quote that here instead of paraphrasing it:

Ayelet Mckenzie is a true original – her poetry never goes where you expect.  In short, meticulously observed lyrics about human nature and the world around us, she manages to surprise and delight the reader.  Her poetry can be both funny and bleak, highlighting small moments and encounters with wit, perception and tenderness.

There are so many good poems in this pamphlet – there is a brilliant one called ‘Flowers’ after Sylvia Plath with the lines ‘Oh how they bother me/presaging their death if/I do not attend./But I am so tired/so sick of things.’  but in the end I decided to post ‘One Of Those’ which I think exemplifies all the things I talk about in the quote above.

I love the formality of the opening phrase ‘On close examination’ which then contrasts with the colloqualism of ‘one of those women’  in the next line.  This contrast between two different registers of tone carries on with the use of ‘proffering’ which sounds strangely formal, compared to ‘Next thing she’d be patting/every dog she saw’ which again, feels very colloquial.  There is also the word ‘burgeoning’ as well, again strangely formal, contrasting with the last line ‘although it wasn’t allowed’ which sounds as if the speaker is repeating something they’ve been told.  I also wonder who the speaker is in the poem – part of me thinks the speaker is the ‘she’ of the poem, reflecting on herself, which makes the slightly disapproving tone of the poem even more funny.  Or maybe not, maybe the speaker is a neighbour, observing this woman through a gap in the curtains.  It’s a great poem, and there are lots more just as good in the pamphlet, so if you do happen to have a spare fiver, email Simon, the editor and publisher at Caterpillar Poetry at caterpillarpoetry@gmail.com  and I’m sure he will be happy to send you a copy.

Thanks to Ayelet for allowing me to post her poem here!

One Of Those – Ayelet Mckenzie

On close examination it was noticed
she was turning into one of those women
who carry bags of boiled sweets in their
handbags, proffering them to strangers
whom she got talking to.
Next thing she’d be patting
every dog she saw,
talking to every cat,
feeding bread to the burgeoning pigeon
population that gathered in the street,
although it wasn’t allowed.

 

 

Sunday Poem – Polly Atkin

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Sunday Poem – Polly Atkin

I’m writing my blog in the garden today.  Our ‘half a hawthorn’ tree (the neighbour chops it in half because it hangs over our fence) is valiantly putting out blossom on our side of the garden, just in the lower branches, so I’m hoping it will survive the assault on its dignity for another year.  This morning I woke up to the consequences of two dogs who were determined to eat sheep poo for the whole day yesterday – lets just say it took a good half hour to clean it all up and was not particularly pleasant!  I feel slightly guilty about all of this as I clearly didn’t keep a close enough eye on them yesterday when I was out walking with a friend in the Lakes.  I think we talked non-stop for about six hours, and clearly the dogs took advantage of our riveting conversation and cleared the fell of sheep poo so they could deposit it all over the kitchen floor.  All I can say is THANK GOD the husband was here to help clear it up.

Since I last wrote, I did a reading at The Square Chapel in Halifax alongside Alison Brackenbury and Roy Marshall and some great open mic readers.  I ran my Barrow Poetry Workshop last month – I think there were 10 people there from Barrow, Dalton, Ulverston, Kendal and Penrith, so all Cumbrian writers this time.

I signed up for some training a while ago at the university.  MMU has some great opportunities for continuing professional development if you are teaching there, and I can study part time to get a PGCE in Higher Education if I want to.  I went to the first training day on a 15 credit unit that would go towards a PGCE a week and a half ago.  At the end I spoke to the unit leader and she has advised me to speak to the course leader to try and get some academic credit for my previous teaching experience and my PGCE in Secondary Education, so I’m meeting the course leader next week.  This will hopefully give me a bit of a head start towards the qualification.

For the last week, I’ve been down in Ledbury as I’d been given a place on their Voice Coaching course.  The night before I stayed at a friend’s house.  The friend is a poet, and her husband is also a writer.  We had a long late-night  conversation about poetry and PhD’s, and confessionalism and lyricism and lots of other stuff.  I felt like my head was buzzing with ideas, so much so that I could hardly get to sleep.  My friend’s house is perfectly set up for being a writer.  She has a beautiful office filled with books and an acre of land with some very cute and friendly sheep and two large dogs bounding about the place, and a friendly cat that came and sat with me last thing at night before it got bored and went out of my room.  There are beautiful views over the countryside – and did I mention the books? It made me feel less guilty about my over-the-top book collection anyway.  On Monday we went to see a beautiful old church and  went for lunch and then they dropped me off at Hellens, where the voice-coaching course took place.

I must admit I was quite nervous and apprehensive about the course.  Although the poets I’ve spoken to have all been very positive about it and said they found it really useful, quite a few of them said that it was ‘quite intense’.  I know when I run writing workshops that when ever I set up a writing exercise about the voice or the body, it can quickly stray into some very personal and powerful material.  I’m also slightly wary about ‘voice coaching’ – anything that might involve drama work is basically my worst nightmare.  But I applied because I wanted to do something different and take myself out of my comfort zone and it certainly did that.

The tutor, Francoise had incredible energy and enthusiasm.  She was also incredibly kind and generous and astute.  It’s hard to sum up what the course was like because if I tell you about the parts of it that I can name – like the deep breathing, the using different parts of your voice, the stretching and bending, those parts don’t add up to what it was really like, or what it all really meant.  I have never spent lots of time with my self – just breathing.  I find it incredibly hard to do nothing.  I have a mortal fear of being bored – but I wasn’t bored, not once.  I learnt that when Francoise asked us to say something, to use our voice to make a sound, I was waiting until someone else spoke first.  What was that all about?  I learnt that I was constantly self-conscious, and thinking I know what people are thinking, when in fact, and obviously, I don’t.  I learnt that I use SO MUCH energy trying to make people like me, and I don’t want to do it anymore.  I obviously want people to like me, but I don’t want to waste all my energy on it – they either like me or they don’t.  I learnt lots of techniques about performance and energy and breathing as well and there were lots of opportunities to read our poems out. We actually went and read at one of the Ledbury Salons on the second night and listened to the poet Gregory Leadbetter who came to do a reading and then we all got up and read two poems on the Open Mic.

Normally on residential weeks they seem to fly by, but at this one, it felt like time really slowed down.  We were in workshops for the whole day every day, and it was both physically and emotionally intense, but it was also incredibly sustaining and thought-provoking.  So when the applications open again, I would urge you to apply.  It was a brilliant, life-changing experience.  I think the only pre-requisite is that you have to have a pamphlet or a book out.

So it was a great week, and I met some really lovely poets, and got to know their work really well, which was brilliant.  It was back to reality with a bump however – the train was late from Birmingham to Preston, which meant I missed my last train home to Barrow.  The train company put me in a taxi from Preston and I eventually got back home at just before 2am on Friday morning.

On Friday I had to get up early to get to Kendal for a consultation at the tattoo studio – I’m getting a new tattoo next Friday and then in the afternoon it was Dove Cottage Young Poets.  Then back home to catch up on as many emails as possible before collapsing in a heap.  Which brings us to Saturday and the walk and the six hour chat and the dogs eating sheep poo which I won’t go into again.

I found out whilst I was away in Ledbury that I’ve been given some funding from MMU to go to the  English:Shared Futures conference in Newcastle in July, which means I can stay for the three days and go to some of the other panels and events, as well as taking part in the Round Table discussion about creative writing as research alongside Emily Blewitt and Carolyn Jess-Cooke.

I haven’t mentioned running because I haven’t been doing any.  I had knee pain when I did a 5k run last week and it still isn’t right so I rested while I was in Ledbury.  I’m going to have a week of swimming next week and try and get into the physio if I can.  This knee is costing me a fortune!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Polly Atkin, who lives not far from me in Grasmere.  I’ve known Polly for a while now and I’ve been looking forward to the publication of her first collection Basic Nest Architecture for a long time now.  I really enjoyed reading the collection, particularly as I’ve heard a few of the poems over the years at readings or open mics, so it was like meeting old friends again.

Polly grew up in Nottingham then lived in East London for seven years before moving to Cumbria.  Her second poetry pamphlet Shadow Dispatches won the Mslexia Pamphlet Prize and was published by Seren.  Her doctoral research was in collaboration with The Wordsworth Trust, and the departments of Sociology, and English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University, where she then taught for several years.  She currently teaches English Studies at the University of Strathclyde.

The collection is full of poems about landscape and animals, so it’s no surprise that an extract of the collection won the 2014 Andrew Waterhouse Prize in the Northern Writers Awards, given to a collection that engages with landscape.  There are also poems about living with illness and a body that doesn’t do what it is supposed to do, and it is one of those poems that I asked Polly if I could feature here.

‘The Invisible’ is a fantastic poem.  It comes towards the end of the collection and it explores ideas around a shadow self, named as ‘Croneshadow’ in the poem.  ‘Croneshadow’ seems to have her own will – she ‘stumbles ahead of me’ and ‘Her mouth/twitches down at the creases’.  Croneshadow is both the speaker, and her shadow.  Croneshadow is the body that will not do what it is told.  The speaker says ‘I try/to right her but she will not straighten’.

By the end of the poem, we are left with the haunting image of the speaker walking along, her breath melting ‘the frost on the empty road’ and the Croneshadow walking ahead.  The feel of the poem is that the speaker will be left behind, and the Croneshadow will walk onward, into her life, leaving her behind.

At first I thought Croneshadow was quite an ominous, or frightening figure.  She is made almost grotesque in the poem by the physical description of the way she walks, and the description of her face.  However, the speaker obviously has sympathy for her, because she tries to straighten her.  Two thirds of the way down the poem we learn

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>She knows
more of pain than your charts can trace
but you will not acknowledge her>>>>>>hear her.

I then started to wonder who the ‘you’ is that this poem is addressed to?  Is this poem addressed to the medical profession, to doctors, hospital staff? There are only four uses of the pronoun ‘you’ in the poem.  I tried changing them to ‘they’ but it doesn’t work – it makes the poem feel more distant.  Is the ‘you’ people who are healthy, people who don’t understand?  The use of pronouns in this poem is very interesting, because at one point it feels like the ‘I’ and the ‘she’ are merging into each other (‘Her edges are blurring./ My legs are unravelling’.  But by the end of the poem, there is a definite distinction and separation between the two identities.

It feels like a poem that I will continue to puzzle over, and the other thing to say is that although I think it works really well on its own, the other poems in the book about the body add another dimension to this poem.  The landscape/animal poems are wonderfully lyrical as well.  In ‘Heron/Snow’ the first line is ‘You carry worlds in the cipher of your feathers;/sky and water woven together’.  Another favorite poem was ‘Jack Daw’ which is up there with the best animal/bird description poems.

If you would like to order a copy of Polly’s collection, you can order it from the Seren website and get a 20% discount.  If you’d like to find out more about Polly, you can visit her website which is https://pollyatkin.com/

The Invisible – Polly Atkin

‘The secret is to walk evading nothing’
???????????????????????– Alice Oswald

Croneshadow stumbles ahead of me>>>>>catching
erratic feet on the tarmac>>>>>ruched
as it is by roots>>>>>her left foot sticking
as if in mud>>>>>her stoop cranked up
by the pock-marked skin of the drystone wall
she is thrown on>>>>>the angle of light>>>>sickish
orange in the early night.>>>>Her mouth
twitches down at the creases>>>>>Bitchy
Resting Face>>>though you cannot see it
dark on dark.>>>>You could say she exists
in relief>>>>except there is none>>>not
for a structure like her>>>>misbuilt>>collapsing
inward with each jolt forward.  I try
to right her but she will not straighten.  The more
I struggle the more she looks broken. She knows
more of pain than your charts can trace
but you will not acknowledge her>>>>>>hear her.  Her name
is a slur.  Her body is carrion.  It is
too late for this.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>My blood too sticky.
Her edges are blurring.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>My legs are unravelling.
Her gown of bones is clacking>>>>>>clacking.
Will we ever reach home?
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>I sink in my clothes
till my breath melts the frost on the empty road.
She pushes ahead of me>>>>carries on walking.
Carries on walking.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Carries on walking.

December Poetry Carousel

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Sitting here listening to the birds singing, and the sun vaguely shining, and after days of beautiful weather, it feels like December is very far off.  It feels strange to be planning for winter when summer is starting.  However, this December, I’m really excited to be running another residential again.  This time it’s the Poetry Carousel, back by popular demand.  The Carousel came about when I was trying to think of a way to utilize the uniqueness of running a residential course in a hotel – all those bedrooms, but we were only using 16 of them.  I also wanted to try and combine the best bits of a residential with a poetry festival – so I came up with the idea of the Poetry Carousel. The course will take place at Abbot Hall Hotel, Kents Bank, (nr Grange over Sands in the Lake District)

One of my favourite parts of running residentials is working with the other tutors.  The process of selecting tutors to work with is really exciting – I always choose tutors that I’ve either worked with before so I’ve seen them in action, or that I’ve been in a workshop with as a participant.  They also have to be great performers, and they have to be poets that really care about teaching.  And for the Carousel purposes, they have to have three different approaches to poetry – this is one of the reasons why it feels different to a traditional residential.  There is no unifying theme for the weekend.  I just ask the tutors to run a poetry workshop on a theme or idea that they feel passionate about.

The 2017 team consists of David Morley, Steve Ely and Hilda Sheehan.  I ran a residential down in St Ives with Steve last year, and I was really impressed with his level of preparation for the workshops, and his kindness and generosity towards the participants on the course.  I’ve known Hilda for quite a few years now – we first met when we shared a room together on a residential course.  Hilda is great fun, very energetic and I’m sure she won’t mind me saying, slightly bonkers.  She runs the Swindon Poetry Festival and both her energy and her humour are legendary!  She runs fantastic workshops and is a great performer of her work.  I went to a workshop run by David Morley at The Wordsworth Trust quite a few years ago now and I’ve never forgotten it.  It was completely different to every other workshop I’ve been to.  There were lots of different strategies for taking us all out of our tried and tested methods of writing poetry, and again, David’s energy and enthusiasm was infectious.

So those are some of my reasons for assembling this team of tutors – now all we need are the participants! The hotel tells me that a fifth of the places are already booked for this course, and the nicer rooms are always booked out first, so if you are thinking of coming, I would book sooner rather than later.   If you would like to book, you need to contact the hotel directly on 015395 32896.

If the course sells out (as I’m expecting it to) there will be 32 people booked on.  Those 32 people will be divided into groups of 8.  Each group of 8 will have a 2 hour workshop with one of the tutors on the Friday afternoon at 4pm.  We then all come together for dinner, and an evening reading from two of the tutors.  On Saturday morning, each group of 8 moves on to the next tutor for another two hour workshop.  There will be free time on Saturday afternoon, then the whole group of 32 comes together for dinner and an evening reading from a guest poet.  On Sunday morning, each group of 8 moves on to another workshop with another tutor.  There’s free time in the afternoon again before we meet for dinner and evening readings from the other two tutors.  On Monday, the group moves on to the last tutor and their last workshop of the weekend.  We meet for lunch before everyone heads off home.  The course officially finishes at 12 and lunch is straight after this.

So that’s the general outline – so although there are 32 people on the course, giving the weekend more of a festival feel in the evenings, the workshops are actually very intimate.

The cost of the weekend is £360 and this includes accommodation, workshops, breakfast, lunch and three-course evening meals.

Below is some biographical information about the tutors.  Towards the end of the week, I’ll be sharing information about the workshops that will be running over the weekend -so keep an eye out for this!

David Morley

David Morley won the Ted Hughes Award for New Poetry in 2016 for The Invisible Gift: Selected Poems and a Cholmondeley Award for his contribution to poetry.  His collections include The Gypsy and the Poet, a PBS Recommendation; Enchantment, a Sunday Telegraph Book of the Year; The Invisible Kings, a PBS Recommendation and TLS Book of the year. A dramatic poem The Death of Wisdom Smith, Prince of Gypsies has been published by The Melos Press. David is known for poetry installations within natural landscapes: ‘slow poetry’ sculptures and poetry films. A Professor at Warwick University and Monash University, David is also a National Teaching Fellow.

‘Like opening a box of fireworks; something theatrical happens when you open its pages, and a curtain is raised on a tradition that has been overlooked…Ted Hughes wrote about the natural magical and mythical world; The Invisible Gift is a natural successor…’. – Ted Hughes Award Judges

Steve Ely

Steve Ely has published four collections of poetry, most recently Werewolf (Calder Valley Poetry) and Incendium Amoris (Smokestack).  His biographical work, Ted Hughes’s South Yorkshire: Made in Mexborough, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2015.  He lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Huddersfield.

Hilda Sheehan

Hilda Sheehan has been a psychiatric nurse and Montessori teacher. She has a collection of poetry, The Night My Sister Went to Hollywood,  published by Cultured Llama, and a pamphlet of short fiction, Frances and Martine from Dancing Girl Press.  “Like a firework set off in the heart of the culture’s kitchen”. William Bedford. Hilda is the founder and organiser of Poetry Swindon Festival and works as an education officer at the Richard Jefferies Museum.

Kim Moore

Kim Moore’s first collection The Art of Falling was published by Seren in 2015.  A poem from this collection was shortlisted for the Forward Prize.   Her first pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves was a winner in the 2012 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition and went on to be shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award and named in The Independent as a Book of the Year.  She is one of five UK poets chosen to take part in Versopolis, a European funded project to bring the work of UK poets to an international audience.

Sunday Poem – Ina Anderson

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Sunday Poem – Ina Anderson

It’s been three weeks since my last blog.  I was under the delusion that it had only been two – time apparently flies when you’re not blogging.  Since my last blog, I’ve done a lot of swimming, which started as replacement activity for running, but I’m now quite enjoying it.  I used to be in a swimming club and swum competitively when I was younger.  When I started playing the cornet, band concerts started to interfere with swimming galas, so I gave up swimming completely.  I’m not sure what age – maybe I was about 13 when I stopped.  Since then, I could probably count on one hand the number of lengths of a pool I’ve actually swam.

As I wrote that, I realise this is a bit of a pattern with me.  I do something obsessively, sometimes for many years, and then when I stop, I stop completely, and it’s like it never happened.  Regular readers of this blog will know I also did this with trumpet playing when I stopped playing completely for about seven years.   However, I seem to be breaking this habit, as I’m now playing again with a soul band (The Soul Survivors) and we do between 1-2 gigs a month, and I’m now swimming twice a week.

I try and do 40 lengths of a 25 metre pool, alternating between breast stroke and front crawl.  I haven’t quite got the hang of doing more than one length of front crawl at a time without feeling like I’m going to drown.  I go with the husband early in the morning – we normally get into the pool by 8am and are done by 8.45am.  I’m convinced the swimming has helped with my IT band/knee injury.  I can feel every muscle stretching as I’m plodding up and down the pool.

In the last week I’ve managed four 4-5k runs at a very steady pace, but it is so good to be back in the outdoors, and with no knee pain! I was supposed to be running the Coniston to Barrow yesterday, but I decided not to in the end.  I think I could probably have walked it, but I know my injury would have flared up again, and then I would probably not be able to run for another five weeks which would have driven me up the wall.  This week, I’m going to try and limit myself to 6k runs, and just try and build up very slowly, and try not to trigger the injury again.

So instead of running the 21 miles between Coniston and Barrow I was in the support team for both the Coniston to Barrow and the Keswick to Barrow team.  Towards the end of the day I ended up dashing about between limping walkers in various states of injury. I had to get some trainers to a walker in my sisters team and I managed to blag a ride on the back of a quad bike to get to them as cars weren’t allowed on the road.  Here’s a shot of me posing on said quad bike.

quadrescue

Last weekend I headed off to Petersfield, or actually East Meon, near Petersfield to run a poetry residential for the South Downs Poetry Festival.  This is my third residential this year, and it actually felt very different as I was only responsible for the tutoring side of things rather than doing all the organising.  It felt much easier to have someone else taking care of that side of things! Hugh Dunkerley was the other tutor, who I hadn’t met before the weekend, but we got on great, which was a big relief! We all stayed in rooms in The Sustainability Centre, and Tim Dawes, the South Downs Poetry Festival Director, cooked for us all weekend, and put up with my raids into the kitchen to get more food.  For some reason I couldn’t stop eating that weekend, maybe it was something to do with the fact that I’d started running again.  There were some lovely participants on the course, and the last night where they all read was as good as any poetry reading I’ve paid to go to.

Other things I’ve been up to – I’ve finished my marking for the unit that I taught at Manchester Met this year, so that feels really good to get that over and done with.  I am doing some cover marking, so I have a meeting next week with the lecturer to go over the marking scheme and then I will have another 20 or so to do.  Pauline Yarwood and I have been getting on with stuff for Kendal Poetry Festival – there are quite a few new blog posts up about the various poets that are coming to the festival – please head over and sign up and then you won’t miss any updates.  At the minute, Hannah Hodgson, our Young Blogger-in-Residence is doing a series of 5 Minute Interviews with the Festival Poets.  So far she has interviewed Chrissy Williams, Kathryn Maris and Katrina Naomi and up next is Pauline and I on the process of putting a festival together – this post will be going live tomorrow.   If you feel like a poetry festival is missing from your life, please consider coming along to Kendal Poetry Festival, 16th-18th June.  Although we are a small festival, there is lots going on and some fabulous poets are reading and giving workshops and leading discussions.  There are also opportunities for you to read your own work at the two Open Mic sessions at the festival.  You can book tickets at The Brewery Arts Centre

I have two pieces of good news – firstly, as some of you may know, Clare Shaw and I have been writing poems back and forward to each other for the last couple of months.  We performed these poems together at the Feminist Poetry Jambouree, an event we put on together in Ulverston.   I’ve absolutely loved working with Clare on these poems, and I’m really pleased that The North  poetry magazine have agreed to publish all six of our poems, in the back and forth format in their next issue.

I’m also relieved that my RD1 has now been passed and signed off for my PhD.  Relieved is a bit of an understatement, as I’d got myself worked up into a bit of a frenzy about it.  I think I found out on Thursday that it had been signed off.   One of my friends thought this meant that I’d passed my PhD! Sadly not, but I have passed through the first doorway. I’m now going to be moved onto a more creative PhD (not sure when) and I’ve got a meeting in a couple of weeks with both my supervisors to discuss the next steps forward.  In the meantime, I’m going to carry on writing poems – if in doubt, write poetry, seems to be the best way forward.

So today’s Sunday Poem is by Ina Anderson.  I organised a launch for Ina to celebrate the publication of her first collection Journey Into Space a few months ago now.  It was lovely to hear Ina read at the launch, alongside Carlisle poet Malcolm Carson.  I’ve really enjoyed the collection – Ina knows how to tell a good story in her poetry, and she has had interesting and exciting experiences in her life to draw on.

The other thing I really enjoyed about the collection is that a lot of the poems are set in Barrow-in-Furness, where Ina lived until she was twelve, and where I live now.  I recognise a lot of the places she talks about, some of the pub names are still the same.  When she was twelve she moved to Kirkby-in-Furness, which is about a 20 minute drive from Barrow.  The biography at the back of her collection says

Her first work was in her father’s tobacconist shop, weighing out snuff that made her sneeze.  Soon she set off to London and joined the staff of the Town Planning Institute as an editorial assistant.  That experience stood her in good stead when she came to the United States, where she worked as a technical editor on several professional journals.  Tired of being a literary janitor, she took to teaching, spending over twenty years at the Community College of Vermont as a faculty member and student advisor, teaching writing, speaking and literature.  Ina’s poems have appeared in several publications, including Poem Town Randolph, Mountain Troubadour, Red Fox Poets and a recent anthology Perhaps It Was the Pie.

The poem I’ve chosen is ‘Turning Back’ which I think is representative of much of Ina’s work.  There is a strong narrative and story-telling arc that drives the poem forward.  The language is colloquial and straightforward, but the poem is full of telling details and images – the precision of the jumper ‘with a little striped front piece’.  I think it is an interesting poem because I feel mixed emotions when I read it – I feel sad for the boyfriend whose ‘grin was wide across his face’, and I also feel relieved that the 17 year old speaker didn’t run away to Gretna Green to get married!  The story is extraordinary – to just jump off the train without saying anything.  I must admit, when I heard Ina read this, I had to go and ask her if it was true, and what had happened next.  Which I won’t divulge here – I will leave you to read the poem and make your own minds up.

I also really love poems that are about significant moments in a life, and this poem is about one of those moments or memories that we carry around for ever, that when we look back, seem lit up, or illuminated, they have stayed with us for so long, when a life is suspended between going one way or another.  Most of the time we don’t know at the time that we are in that moment until it has passed and we’ve made the decision.  Most of the time we don’t realise until we look back, years later.  The magic of this poem, or part of the magic anyway, comes from the fact that the speaker realised that she was in a life-changing moment while it was happening, and then ‘opened the door/and jumped to the platform.’

If you would like to order Ina’s collection, you can order it from her publisher Antrim House Books here or from The Norwich Bookstore in Vermont.  I’m also reliably told that Suttons Bookshop in Ulverston has a few copies, which they can post out, which will probably be cheaper than ordering it from the USA if you’re based in the UK.  Their phone number is 01220 588858 – I couldn’t find a web address!

Thanks to Ina for letting me post her poem here.

Turning Back – Ina Anderson 

My jumper was blue
with a little striped front piece,
the first I knitted all myself.
My case was small
to hide that I had gone.
He wore his tweed suit
like he always did.
He’d got on at Barrow,
and he already had us seats.
No one else but me
got on at Kirkby station.
The carriage was crowded,
full of men laughing together,
all headed for the jobs
up at Dounreay.

He was so nervous and so happy.
His grin was wide across his face.
I knew he had a ring in his pocket.
The ride up there would be a long one,
all the length of the Cumberland coast,
cross the border, through
the lowlands then the highlands.
But first we’d stop at Gretna Green.

I don’t know when my doubt set in.
I knew I loved him,
loved his loving too.
But perhaps it was the look it would bring
to my dad’s sweet face,
and my mum, she’d feel such shame.
Perhaps I thought seventeen
was a bit young too.
Getting close to Whitehaven,
almost an hour on,
I said I’d go to the loo,
and I took my little bag
but not my case.

I took a while in there,
deciding, deciding,
hardest choice I’d ever made.
Just before the train
started out of Whitehaven station,
I opened the door
and jumped to the platform.
Off went the train
with him and my case inside.

I don’t know how long it took him
to see that I had gone.
By then I was across the lines
and hiding in the station.
In half an hour I was
on the next train back.

It was Mum that night
said I was a bit quiet.
It was years until
she and Dad knew.

Sunday Poem – Jennifer Copley

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Sunday Poem – Jennifer Copley

I hope you haven’t missed me too much in this three week break (how did three weeks just fly by?). I’ve been hibernating from blogging, and getting through my last ‘busy period’.  In the intervening three weeks, I’ve spent a week running a residential in Grange-Over-Sands, at Abbot Hall Hotel.   It was a lovely week, with the opportunity to work with some fantastic poets from all over the country.  I was a bit sad because one of my regular course goers, who has been on every residential since I started running them had to cancel because of an unexpected hospital stay.  I know from personal experience how completely frustrating it can be, so I hope she is better soon.  It wasn’t quite the same without her either – she is a great laugh, and usually has the whole table at dinner in fits of laughter.  So get well soon Bernice!

It was perfect running weather in Grange, but I’ve been having problems with my IT Band, giving me pain at the side of my knee since I did the 14 mile race round Coniston, so I managed to resist, and went swimming in the hotel pool instead.  It’s not the same as running, but I enjoyed it still.  I used to swim at a club when I was younger, I think I swam nearly every night for quite a few years so it bought a few memories back.  I’ve been keeping the swimming up as every time I try to run, my knee hurts again.  I did parkrun yesterday but I can still feel the niggle there, so I think I’m going to have another two weeks off to see if that sorts it out.  I just want to get it right ready for the summer, I don’t want to be stuck indoors unable to run!

I’m waiting to hear back about my revised RD1 now as well, but I’ve carried on with my reading.  I bought a book called After Confessionalism: Poetry as Autobiography which is a collection of essays by American poets about confessional and lyric poetry.  I started to wonder whether my poems about experiences of sexism are actually confessional poetry.  The thing about these poems is that they have to be true.  They have to be a ‘lived experience of sexism’.  If I made them up, or appropriated someone else’s experience of sexism as my own, I think the reader would rightly feel manipulated, or annoyed.  Their power needs to come from the fact that they are an individual experience, but that they reach out into a wider social context, that they are recognisable by other women.  I felt uncomfortable and worried about having the confessional label applied to my poetry, and then started to wonder why that was.  I think it gets used as a dismissive/disparaging term still.  Like most labels, it’s not actually very helpful, and I’m halfway through this book of essays and haven’t found a definition of ‘confessional poetry’ that I agree with yet.

Joan Aleshire, in an essay included in the book called ‘Staying News: A Defense of the Lyric’ writes that

“In the confessional poem, as I’d like to define it, the poet, overwhelmed or intoxicated by the facts of his or her life, lets the facts take over.  To say that a poem is confessional is to signal a breakdown in judgement and craft. Confession shares with the lyric a degree of self-revelation but carries implications that the lyric resists.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines confession as the declaration or disclosure of something that one has allowed to remain secret as being prejudicial, humiliating, or inconvenient to oneself; the disclosure of private feeling; a plea of guilty, an admission of what one has been charged with,; a formal confession made in order to receive absolution.  I see the confessional poem as a plea for special treatment, a poem where the poet’s stance is one of particularity apart from common experience.  Confession in art, as in life, can be self-serving – an attempt to shift the burden of knowledge from speaker-transgressor to listener.”

First of all, I don’t think this definition works when applied to the original poets like Lowell, Plath, Berryman etc that the term was coined for, although later on in the essay, Aleshire looks in detail at some of Lowell’s work to illustrate her point.  I just don’t buy that bit about being ‘overwhelmed or intoxicated by the facts of his or her life’.    I don’t buy the ‘breakdown in judgement and craft’.  Surely that’s just a bad poem, not a confessional one?

The term ‘confessional poetry’ was coined by the critic Mack Rosenthal in 1959 in a review of Robert Lowell’s collection ‘Life Studies’.  He defined confessional poetry as ‘poetry that goes beyond customary bounds of reticence or personal embarrassment.’

Both of these definitions are problematic.  The original definition of confessionalism assumes that there is a generic boundary of reticence/embarrassment that we all share, which is obviously untrue – although I guess that we are still bound by convention in some ways, there are some things that there is general agreement shouldn’t be talked about, but since 1959, this boundary, this border has shifted massively.

Going back to my own work, I’m not sure my poetry fits this 1959 definition.  It kind of does – it is uncomfortable to point out sexism still or to talk about it.  It’s often the ‘elephant in the room’ that doesn’t get acknowledged, but whether it crosses the boundary of ‘personal embarrassment’ – I’m not sure.  Doesn’t every poem cross the boundary of reticence to be heard?

So back to Joan Aleshire.  I’m not ashamed to say that sometimes I’ve been overwhelmed when writing a poem.  Sometimes I’m writing so fast in my notebook it feels like I’m riding a wave.  However, this is only in the moment of first getting the ideas down.  Once I start editing, it is a very cold, hard and calculating process.  The part about the ‘facts taking over’ is interesting.  Because of what I’m writing about, a lived experience of sexism, there has to be a contract between myself and the reader, that what I’m writing is true.  Otherwise the whole thing becomes pointless.  At this point in my reading, I’m distracted by looking up ideas of truth in poetry, and the idea of there being only versions of the truth anyway, but I won’t go into that here.  The rest of the definition, which centers on the premise of ‘confession’ kind of fits but doesn’t.  The poems are not an admission of guilt, although I have felt ashamed when I’ve examined my own reaction/collusion with sexism.  I don’t want to receive absolution though, or give it.  I want to hold transactions that I have made in the society we live in up to the light to see exactly what is going on.  Finally, the idea of shifting the ‘burden of knowledge’.  This doesn’t work for me either – as often when I start writing these poems, I’m writing about a memory that I’ve carried for a long time, without even knowing why I’ve carried it for so long.  I’m writing to find something out.

So maybe I’m not writing confessional poetry, or maybe the term is undefinable.  Maybe it never worked in the first place.  So what am I writing? I like Joan Aleshire’s definition of lyric poetry much better.  She says

the true lyric poem – can, through vision, craft, and objectivity toward the material, give a sense of commonality with unparalleled intimacy.

Joan Aleshire tells us that

T.S. Eliot in “The Three Voices of Poetry” defines the lyric as “the voice of the poet speaking to himself, oppressed by a burden that he must bring to relief.”

These definitions feel much more comfortable to me.  I love the idea of intimacy juxtaposed with commonality, a reaching outward.  If the poems about experiences of sexism are working, if they are living breathing things then this is what they will do.

The good thing about this book is that the essay writers often disagree or outright contradict each other.

I’ve really enjoyed reading this book, and I’ve not reached the last chapter yet, which focuses on women’s poetry, which I know will be interesting, because I think the term ‘confessional’ is applied to women poets much more frequently than to men.  What I’m not sure about is whether what I’m doing now, is actually what ‘doing a PhD’ is.  Is reading the book on the train and making notes ‘doing a PhD’.  Is writing my thoughts out on this blog, which has helped make them a lot clearer ‘doing a PhD?’  Why hasn’t someone written a handbook about creative writing PhD’s which would have a chapter that defines what ‘doing a PhD’ actually is? If this is ‘doing a PhD’ then I’m bloody loving it.  If it’s not, then I’m a bit screwed, because I’ve spent the whole week doing something else entirely.

Apart from PhD work, I’ve also managed to finish a review that was overdue for Under the Radar magazine of two fantastic books by Emily Berry and Sabrina Mahfouz, played second trumpet in a duet piece for one of my remaining trumpet student’s GCSE performance, worked with Pauline Yarwood to finalise proofs for Kendal Poetry Festival brochures, had a filling (completely traumatising) and organised with Clare Shaw a ‘Feminist Poetry Jambouree’.  What an amazing night that was.  We stopped counting the audience at about 70.  It was such a great thing to be part of, and lots of the audience were new to poetry as well, and had come because it was a feminist event, or because it was political.  I’m sure themed poetry readings are the way forward! We also raised £200 to be split between The Birchall Trust (a local charity that works with survivors of sexual abuse) and Let Go (a charity that works with victims of domestic violence).

My exciting piece of news is that I’ve been invited to read at Struga Poetry Evenings, a poetry festival in Macedonia in August, as part of the Versopolis project that I’m currently part of.  Versopolis is a funded project to help emerging poets reach a wider, more international audience.  Through Versopolis, I went to Croatia at the Goran’s Spring Festival in 2015 and had a brilliant time, so I’m really looking forward to Macedonia.  I’ll be at the festival for a week, and then the husband is going to meet me there on the last day of the festival (he is doing some epic and ridiculous bike ride to get there) and then we’re going to have a holiday together.  As long as he doesn’t expect me to get on the pushbike!

In December, I’m running my ‘Poetry Carousel‘ residential course again for the third year running.  As far as I know, nobody else is doing anything like this in the UK.  The basic premise is instead of the usual two poetry tutors on a residential, the lucky participants on the Poetry Carousel will get four – myself, David Morley, Hilda Sheehan and Steve Ely.  You will be in a group of no more than eight, and your group of eight will get a two hour workshop with each tutor.   There will be a maximum of 32 people booked on the course, but the workshop groups will be small and intimate.  In the evening, we all come together for readings from the tutors and guest poets, and it feels more like a festival than a residential.  It’s taking place at Abbot Hall Hotel from the 8th-11th December 2017 and costs £360 for the weekend.  This includes all of your meals (breakfast, lunch and three course evening meal) plus accommodation and workshops.  If you are interested, please give the hotel a ring to book your room on 015395 32896.  The best rooms always go first, so if you like a bit of luxury, please book early!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by my good friend Jennifer Copley, who I tutored with last week on the residential course.  We shared a lodge together for the first time and it was a bit like living with a small bird.  Jenny trilled her way round the lodge, singing snatches of Methodist hymns and other tunes.    Jenny’s new pamphlet was published just in time for the residential course.  It’s called ‘Some Couples’ and does what it says on the tin, exploring the world of coupledom in Jenny’s usual surreal style.  It is a HappenStance pamphlet, so you know it’s going to be good! You can order it direct from them HERE, and make a hardworking, independent publisher very happy.

I love this poem for it’s childlike, wide-eyed tone at the beginning.  Jenny’s poems always have their own inner logic, and I love how the reader goes with the idea of a mouse having a favourite corner, but then she pushes it further and convinces us that the corner has an opinion and worries of its own, and then even further still, with the introduction of the idea that the corner has a mother.  The poem doesn’t give us all the answers however – what would a corner’s mother look like? For me, the whole poem lights up in the third stanza, with that direct interjection from the author.  The use of the word ‘little’ works really hard for such an innocuous word to illustrate the fondness of the author for the corner.  And then finally there is that lovely image of the mouse returning to finish off.

The Two Friends – Jennifer Copley

A small mouse sits in a corner of a field.
It’s his favourite corner
where he feels safe.
The corner is happy to have him.

Sometimes the mouse has to go away.
The corner worries he won’t come back,
that he’ll find a better corner elsewhere.
A long time ago the corner’s mother did just that.
The corner had only a few cold-hearted stones to turn to.

Don’t worry, little corner! I am the writer of this poem
and I can reveal the mouse will always return
though his fur be more and more bedraggled
going through all those hedges, brambles and nettles.

Sunday Poem – Julia Webb

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Sunday Poem – Julia Webb

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.

If you’d like to order Bird Sisters, you can do so from the Nine Arches website here.  If you’d like to find out more about Julia then you can have a look at her website here

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.

Sunday Poem – Geraldine Clarkson

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Sunday Poem – Geraldine Clarkson

Maybe you haven’t noticed, or maybe you have, that there has been a two week break in the blog posts again.  I always feel guilty when I don’t blog, and I get a lot of lovely comments and feedback from people who seem to enjoy reading it, and of course it’s nice to write to poets out of the blue and ask them if I can have a poem.  I know what it feels like as a poet if somebody writes to me and tells me they like my work, and my philosophy has always been that if I can spread that feeling around, without it costing me anything but time, then I’m happy to do it.

However, time has been in short supply in my life recently! Every year I have a period of time, usually a couple of months, where my life becomes completely manic, and I rush from one thing to the other, holding on to my sanity with my fingertips.  It used to be around the end of term and I would blame the end of year concerts.  Now I’m not a music teacher, so there are no end of term concerts, and it is with a heaviness and sense of guilt that I realise I have only myself to blame for taking too much on.

I have had an exciting two weeks however – although it’s been busy, I’m not complaining.  I love everything I do – that is kind of the problem.  Since I last blogged I’ve done two Soul Survivor gigs and a rehearsal, covered a Year 2 poetry class at MMU, taught two sessions of my Poetry School face to face course and given two lots of feedback to my online students with the Poetry School, travelled to Swindon and delivered a full day workshop, travelled to Winchester and read at a night called Loose Muse, taught two sessions of Dove Cottage Young Poets, delivered a taster session at Kirbie Kendal School in Kendal to recruit more Dove Cottage Young Poets, travelled to the Words By The Water festival in Keswick to listen to Helen Farish and Adam O’Riordan read, took part in a Cumbrian poetry reading, sent emails round about residentials, worked on an application for an amazing opportunity, did some reading for my PhD, worked on a  few new poems and sent them to my supervisor, gathered biographies and photos from the poets coming to Kendal Poetry Festival, wrote content for Kendal Poetry Festival website, planned a feminist poetry event for the 8th April, and through all that I’ve been running, trying to keep my training up for the Coniston 14 race which is next Saturday.   It sounds like a lot when I list it like that.  And to be honest it felt like a lot as well.  In fact I feel a bit dizzy looking back at it all now.

So I’ve given myself a bit of a breather with the Sunday Poems, and I’m going to continue to do that – so they may be a little bit sporadic for a while.  I hope you will appreciate them just as much when they do come in.

One of the nicest things about being a freelance poet is the people you meet on your travels.  I met Hilda Sheehan a few years ago now when fate threw us together to share a room on a residential course.  She is one of the loveliest people I know and I had a brilliant time at her house last weekend.  I was down in Swindon to run a workshop, which gave me a good excuse to go and hang out with Hilda and some of her family.  It’s been ages since I laughed so much – a combination of Snapchat and binge watching terrible 80’s music videos and much more wine drinking than I usually indulge in.

After my weekend with the Sheehan clan I then went to Winchester to read at Loose Muse, run by Sue Wrinch.  Cue more drinking wine till late at night,and more amazing food.  I was so hungry when I arrived in Winchester and the lovely Sue had made a chicken pie, which basically means I am her friend for life.  The poetry reading was really good as well though.  People were very friendly and welcoming, a really good standard on the Open Mic, and two poets who have been on residentials with me, Hilary Hares and Patsy showed up, so it was really nice to see them again.  I also sold my last 8 copies of The Art of Falling and one If We Could Speak Like Wolves.  So another job today was to order some more copies of my book from Seren.

After that it was back home to my long suffering husband who hasn’t seen much of me for the last month, but thankfully remembered what I looked like and let me in the house.

One last thing before we get on to the poem – if you’re interested in coming along to a Poetry Reading and Open Mic, I’m hosting such a thing this Wednesday the 22nd March at Natterjacks in Ulverston, starting at 7.30pm.  Malcolm Carson and Ina Anderson will be launching their collections in the first half, and we’ll have an open mic session in the second half.  It’s completely free and if you want an Open Mic spot, just sign up on the night.  Get in touch if you need any more information, but I hope to see some of you there!

So this week’s Sunday Poem is by Geraldine Clarkson, who has patiently been waiting since last Sunday, when she should have appeared.

Geraldine Clarkson lives in Warwickshire though her roots are in the west of Ireland. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Poetry Review,Poetry London, Ambit, and Magma (she was Selected Poet in Magma 58); as well as in the Daily Mirror and The New European. They have also been broadcast on BBC Radio 3, as well as appearing at various times on cupcakes and handkerchiefs, on buses in Guernsey and in public toilets in the Shetland Isles! In 2016 her work was showcased in the inaugural volume of Primers from Nine Arches Press/The Poetry School, and she was commended in the National Poetry Competition.  Her chapbook, Declare (Shearsman Books, 2016), was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice, and her pamphlet, Dora Incites the Sea-Scribbler to Lament (smith|doorstop, 2016), is a Laureate’s Choice. Supported by Arts Council England, she has just completed the manuscript for her first full-length collection.

I got a copy of her smith/doorstop pamphlet a couple of weeks ago when I went over to Sheffield for a Poetry Business writing workshop.  It’s a great pamphlet, and has lots of wonderful poems in it, may of which have won or been shortlisted for various prizes.  The poem I’ve chosen for today though I loved as soon as I read it and it stayed as one of my favourites in the pamphlet.

I have a book called The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, which is a great book, full of exercises to stimulate writing.  I sometimes use it for workshops.  Anyway, there is a great quote there by Robert Hass from Twentieth Century Pleasures where he talks about the power of images:

Images haunt.  There is a whole mythology built on this fact: Cezanne painting till his eyes bled, Wordsworth wandering the Lake Country hills in an impassioned daze.  Blake describes it very well, and so did a colleague of Tu Fu who said to him, “It is like being alive twice.” Images are not quite ideas, they are stiller than that, with less implications outside themselves.  And they are not myth, they do not have that explanatory power; they are nearer to pure story.  Nor are they always metaphors; they do not say this is that, they say this is.

Robert Hass, Twentieth Century Pleasures

I love this quote, although I don’t feel like I’ve completely understood it, or thought about it enough.  But I like that sentence ‘Images are not quite ideas, they are stiller than that’.  I think in Geraldine’s poem this is apparent – the images that are conjured up when she hears a word have a stillness to them, even when they are about movement, like the dancing aunts in Stanza 2, it is movement that has been captured, like a photograph.

The images are always beautifully observed, we can see this in the first two lines.  The harebells are not just ‘wind-flattened’, they are ‘crouching’ which sends me back to the word ‘harebells’ and the animal that is inside this word which conjures up the image of a flower.

Of course, if the poem was made up only of these natural images, it would be a good poem, but by stanza 2 she moves on further, to conjure up this unnerving portrait of ‘Mary Keeley’ standing in her ‘black doorway’ and then on into stanza 3 with the dancing aunts and the father ‘unhinging the kitchen door’ for leg-room for the dancing.

The poem finishes how it started, with beautiful and accurately observed descriptions of nature.   I love the ’tilted cemetery/at the sea’s edge’ and ‘the persistence of rabbits’ is a line I wish I’d written!

I hope you enjoy the poem, and if you’d like to order the pamphlet that this poem came from, you can get Dora Incites the Sea-Scribbler to Lament from smith/doorstop for the mere sum of £5.  Thanks to Geraldine for being so patient, and for allowing me to finally publish this poem here.

When they say Connemara – Geraldine Clarkson

I hear harebells, wind-flattened,
crouching close to the common.
I hear the gorse-clung mountain
and moorland, bruised
with bottomless ink-lakes
A sequinned Atlantic, waving
to lost relatives in America.

When they mention Murvey
or Ballyconneely – or Calla –
toothless Mary Keeley
blinks at her black doorway,
holding out two tin cans
of buttermilk. I catch the whine
of P.J’s piano accordion

at dawn, my dead aunts calling
for Maggie in the Wood and
Shoe the Donkey and two
fine men to dance a half-set.
Mary Davis stoking up 40 verses
of The Cleggan Disaster.  My father
unhinging the kitchen door, for leg room.

When they speak of Ballyruby –
where the monks were –
or slip into the chat news of Erlough
or Dolan, or Horne, my eyes itch
with peat smoke, heather scratches my shins
and I’m barefoot in silt with marsh irises,
hen’s crubes and ragged robin.
I’m climbing again the tilted cemetery
at the sea’s edge, reclaimed by Dutch clover
and the persistence of rabbits.

When word comes from Gortin or Mannin
(and I’d thought they were all dead there),
or from Seal’s rock – setting the curlews
looping and scraping the sky –
I hear the empty rule of wind
on that thin mile
of white sand, the collapsing
surf, the whistle of silence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Poem – David Wilson

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Sunday Poem – David Wilson

I have been in hibernation mode this week.  After my marathon day of outdoor activity last week, I started to feel a little bit unwell on Sunday night.  I put it down to too much activity, but by Monday I felt like I had flu – I was going alternatively hot and cold, had a really awful headache, sore throat.  I basically took to the sofa from Monday to Wednesday and didn’t move – a wonderful luxury now I don’t have to drag myself into school feeling awful. Tuesday I still felt pretty rough, but Wednesday I was a lot better and it felt more like a normal cold that was on its way out.  So I’ve spent much of this week feeling sorry for myself and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I felt particularly sorry for myself that yet again, I was stuck on the sofa instead of being out running.  But as I could hardly stand up on Monday it was probably a good idea to stay indoors.  I have been this morning for a ten mile run – my first one all week.  It was hard work – I felt quite tired and my legs felt heavy, and then there was the cold and the wind of course – but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  I’m glad I got out there now and did it.

On Thursday I had to go to Manchester for my teaching at MMU but I was nearly back up to normal by then.  I have been getting some writing done this week and working on some poems, despite feeling rough, so I’m pleased about that.  I’m steadily working my way through reading Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex – it is such an important text, and so many other feminist texts refer to it that I need to read it and have it as part of the background for the next lot of reading.  The problem is every time I read one thing, it leads to something else.  I think I could spend the three years of this PhD just reading without even getting to the writing part.

On Friday I spent the morning planning the workshop for my Dove Cottage Young Poets session, which was running in the afternoon, and my Barrow Poetry Workshop, which I was running the next day. I managed to get them both sorted out and printed out, then I went to Kendal for the young poets workshop and then off to Brewery Poets in the evening.

Barrow Poetry Workshop went really well yesterday – 13 poets from all over the place, Barrow, Dalton, Ulverston, Kendal, Preston, Lancaster, Shap.  I also managed to get the heating going properly this time as well – and people wrote some amazing stuff.  In the evening it was A Poem and a Pint with guest poet Rita Ann Higgins.  Rita had made a mammoth journey from Galway – bus, plane and train to get to Ulverston to read.  I bought her latest book Tongulish which I’m really looking forward to reading when I get some spare time.

I felt a bit sad – one of my ex-students, David Griffiths, who was Young Musician in Residence at Kendal Poetry Festival was the musician for the night, but Anthony Milledge, who was going to be his accompanist for the evening, died very suddenly last week.  I’ve known Anthony since I moved to the area and played with him a few times at church, when he composed a fiendishly difficult trumpet fanfare for the visit of a bishop a couple of years ago.  He was such a good musician – so good in fact, that we were unable to find a pianist who had the technical skills to play the pieces that he’d been practising with David.  So David just did some unaccompanied pieces – a very tough thing to do, but I think Anthony would have been proud of him.

Next week, I’m determined to get a bit more reading done for my PhD.  I’ve got more workshops to plan as well – I’m heading off to Birmingham on Friday to the Verve Poetry Festival and I need to plan the workshop that I’m running there on the Saturday, and plan my workshops for the St Ives residential which starts a week on Monday.  I also need to fit my running in – I cannot afford to take more than two hours to do the Coniston 14 in a few weeks time, otherwise I will have to stand on stage at Lancaster Litfest in my sweaty running gear because I haven’t had time for a shower.  So I’m gearing up for a full on week next week, and then the usual full on week of a residential course.

If you’re interested in residential courses, the St Ives course has sold out now, but I’m running three more this year – you can find information on the ‘Residential Courses‘ tab.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by a lovely poet and friend of mine, David Wilson.  I met David when we were both students on The Poetry Business Writing School course.  I was really pleased to hear that David had a pamphlet out last year with The Poetry Business.  The pamphlet is called Slope and many of the poems in it explore climbing and mountaineering. David lives in North Yorkshire and has been an active climber for many years.  As well as poetry, he has written a novel, Love and Nausea, published by Abacus, Little Brown in the 1990’s which was praised by The Times as a ‘tour de force’.  In 2015 he won the Poets and Players Competition, judged by Paul Muldoon with his poem Everest.  

It’s worth buying Slope for this poem alone, a tiny eight-liner where David manages to compare Everest to Elvis (I’ll let you buy the pamphlet to work out how he manages to pull that one off – but pull it off he does!).  The poem I’ve chosen for the Sunday Poem this week though has always been one of my favourites of David’s, maybe because of the bolt of recognition after reading the first line – no, my parents didn’t use that phrase either! I liked the line at the end of the first stanza as well.  I think my parents are similar to the parents in this poem – they do everything together as well, and find it quite strange that my husband and I have separate holidays, or are often off on our own somewhere.

I love the description in the second stanza of the father ‘taking ten minutes to stand up/straight, always the military man’.  It’s only in the second stanza in fact, indicated by that little phrase ‘Near the end’ which begins this stanza, that we realise that the father is dying, and this makes that effort of getting out of bed and standing to speak to his wife very moving.

I always think it is hard to get dialogue in a poem, and especially a poem like this without it sounding cheesy, or maudlin, or too over the top.  Especially a poem called ‘I love you’.  But then the strength of the poem is that these three words, the title are completely missing from the poem, yet it is a poem about loving and how to give and receive love.  Or maybe not just about love, but about marriage, which is different.  The portrayal of a long marriage with ‘whispered rows’ in the first stanza is very honest. And I think that is what I like about the dialogue as well – it has the ring of authenticity, of honesty about it.  And to say ‘Thank you for loving me’ seems so much more meaningful than saying ‘I love you’.  I was thinking about why that is, and maybe ‘I love you’ is always about the self, the ‘I’ reaching out to another.  It demands a reply.  But to say ‘Thank you for loving me’ is to say, I’m grateful, and happy with what you’ve given me, and I don’t need anything else.  Hidden in that sentence is ‘Thank you for loving me’ even and despite of ‘whispered rows’.  l love the little turn of the poem at the end as well, when the mother is transformed by his words, or her voice is transformed to the ‘voice of a young girl’.

You might want to order Slope after reading this poem – if you do, you can order it at http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/shop/925/slope for a mere £5 and show your support to another fantastic independent publisher.

“I love you” – David Wilson

My parents didn’t use this phrase,
talked in terms of work to do, and weather
and how they were bringing us up;
despite whispered rows at night
stayed together, held in place by good form.
They were not much given to using ‘I’.

Near the end, my father asked a nurse
to bring my waiting mother
to the side-room of his suffering,
having taken ten minutes to stand up
straight, always the military man,
nearly losing his footing.

One has to be brave at a time like this,
he said, taking her hand,
Some journeys must be made alone. 
And then, Thank you for loving me.
A slight bow and turn, while she cried
in the voice of a young girl,
‘Oh my darling’.

Sunday Poem – Matt Bryden

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This has been a strange week – each day I’ve woken up to stories about more of Trump’s executive orders, and this morning, before I went out for my run, I watched videos of the protests at American airports against his ban on refugees/muslims entering the country with tears in my eyes.  There was one in particular which showed a woman who had finally been released after being detained, and the crowd cheered as she appeared.   There is a protest against Trump tomorrow in Manchester.  I’m going to be in Manchester for the afternoon as I’m booked on a training course to do with my PhD so I’ve decided to go along to the protest.  I’m kind of ashamed to say it will be my first time at a protest but everybody has to start somewhere, and at the minute it feels like my heart breaks a little bit when I read another news story about the attacks on women and refugees and anybody else Trump disagrees with.  The picture of him signing an order about abortion and women’s bodies and funding, surrounded by men, made me feel a bit sick.  Friends have said to me that what Trump says doesn’t affect me here, so why am I getting upset about it?  It sometimes feels like a difficult thing to explain, but it is actually really clear.

Yesterday I turned on the news and there were three white men discussing Trump and the latest developments.  I went to a literary event this week that was high quality and entertaining, but there were three white men again speaking at this event.  When they talked about their literary influences they were all men (apart from one woman who was mentioned as opposed to 8-10 men).  The literary event, the news and Trump are part of a wider continuum that means that women and people of colour are silenced.  Or more accurately, they’re not silenced, they’re not even present to be silenced.  Of course, these are small problems compared to being detained at an airport and not allowed in a country, but they are part of a wider scale, and part of the problem.  The small injustices sow the ground for the bigger and more serious attacks, and they demonstrate at best a lack of thought by the white men who are given platforms to speak.

So in short, I’m going to the protest to do something instead of just complaining about it on here, and to spend some time with my friends who feel the same way.

I also had a conversation with some of my running buddies (men) who were saying that they thought people were making too much fuss about Trump holding Teresa May’s hand.  I went over and grabbed one of their hands while we were walking along and they looked uncomfortable, and I said, now imagine you are in a business meeting – of course it’s creepy and awful and just unprofessional! I don’t know if they agreed with me after my little demonstration.

So apart from Trump, my week has been filled with more running again.   I think I’m pretty much back up to full fitness now, although on Tuesday I had a rehearsal with the soul band and was getting a pain in my stomach when I played in the higher register.  I’m hoping this is just my muscles being a bit weak and the fact that I haven’t played the trumpet for a while.  I’ve decided to do some practice this week – 20 minutes on Wednesday, 30 minutes on Friday and about 40 minutes today.  Wednesday was the worst because it sounded awful.  Today I really enjoyed practising and could hear the improvement already.  However, I don’t have the time to start getting obsessed with the trumpet again, so will have to be careful and limit the time I spend doing it.

Yesterday I went to the Poetry Business Writing Day in Sheffield and really enjoyed myself.  I haven’t been to these workshops for so long that I’d forgotten how inspiring they are.  There must have been at least 30 people sat around writing poem after poem from Ann and Peter’s prompts.  I got to see lots of friends I haven’t seen for ages and I wrote on the train all the way home.  I don’t know if any of it is any good though – I haven’t dared to look yet.

After handing in my RD1 last week I went a bit off the boil with the PhD work and decided to give myself a few days off academic reading.  However, this has given me time to do some writing which I’ve really enjoyed.  I don’t know if any of the poems will be any good, but I’m happy that I’m writing.  And as my friend and colleage at MMU Martin Kratz pointed out when I guiltily confessed to writing poems instead of PhDing ‘writing poems is part of the PhD’.  Doh, of course it is! How exciting is that.  I still can’t get my head around it.

I’ve also been working with one of the Dove Cottage Young Poets Hannah Hodgson, editing some of her poems.  I’ve absolutely loved doing this as Hannah is keen, talented and enthusiastic.  I’ve even made Hannah her own special folder on my pen drive to keep the stuff we’ve been working on together.  There were lots of poets who were kind to me when I was first starting out writing and who encouraged me and gave me advice – if I can do half of what those poets did for me for Hannah then I will be happy.

Today’s Sunday Poem is a bit different to the usual Sunday Poem.  It’s by Matt Bryden.  I think I met Matt for the first time when he came on a writing retreat that I’d organised with some friends – I think he came along with the poet David Borrott.  I’m saying I think because I can only vaguely remember.  The Sunday Poem is taken from a project that Matt has been working on called the Poetry Map.

Now before I continue, I should warn you that clicking on the Poetry Map link may cause you to lose a couple of hours as you poke about on the website.  There is a lot of content there, and it’s a really fascinating site. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  I’ll leave Matt to tell you more about it in his own words below.

About the Poetry Map – Matt Bryden

I first made a prototype of the Poetry Map while at Goldsmiths in 2013. To my amazement, it quickly racked up over 6,000 hits, principally in Canada and China for some reason. This persuaded me that I should develop the idea, but it was not until I was put in touch with web designer Jon Munson II that I could do anything about it. The finished Poetry Map contains 67 poems divided into four themed ‘paths.’ Each poem is located on the map at the place of either its composition or setting. Clicking on a link takes you to the next poem in the sequence.

 

I’ve long been interested in illustrators of poetry such as Reg Lloyd (who worked on Ted Hughes’s What is the Truth?) and why such partnerships are so rarely successful. I think it is because poems need room to breathe. While compiling the map, usual selection criteria did not apply. When I tried to replace one path with a stronger sequence of poems for example, I found that the more fully-realized, perhaps deeper or ‘better’ poems did not work on the screen at all. They seemed flat and not conducive to skipping through to the next poem. So we returned to Plan A. All of the poems have a strong connection to the place they were composed.

 

I’m happy to say that this free online resource has already been used by a university in California and a primary school in Taunton (which worries me a little, as its themes are occasionally quite adult). It was designed as an online experience, and I have been able to add nuances that hard copy cannot always provide – audio recordings, links to hand-written drafts, newspaper clippings and even a transliteration into phonemic script –accessed through clicking on a series of ‘magic tickets.’ However, I did not want to distract too much from the poems, so these are not allowed to dominate. Other features such as the Random option replicate what it is like to flick through a book and settle on a poem indiscriminately. I like the idea that someone might stumble upon this map and find themselves drawn into a rabbit hole, whether they are regular readers of poetry or not.

 

 

 

I’ve chosen a poem as the Sunday Poem from Path Four on the website.  This sequence of poems is called ‘Singles’.  Although the poem I’ve chosen works well on its own, I think reading the other poems on the Path really add to it.

The first couplet is a surprise and delight after the tone set by the word ‘contention’ which made me think that the poem was going to be more formal in its subject matter.  I also agree with the argument of this poem as I have soup every day, so yes, the best kinds of people eat soup.  I love the description of the Argentininan – it is very well drawn – the ‘delicate hands’ and the ‘fine hair’. I like that we don’t know who Lucie is – is she the Argentinian, or another unseen figure? Each one of the poems in this path has close and detailed observation of people and life going on at its heart.  I haven’t read all the poems on all the paths – but I would really recommend putting aside a couple of hours and immersing yourself in the website.

Matt has published two collections. His first pamphlet Night Porter  was published by Templar in 2010 after winning the Templar Pamphlet Competition.  This was followed by a full collection Boxing the Compass, also published by Templar.

His work is widely published in the UK, while his translations of the work of Taiwanese poet Ami have appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation and (in collaboration with Ingrid Fan) The Desire to Sing after Sunset.

Matt Bryden has an MA in Creative and Life Writing from Goldsmiths College.

You can find out more about Matt Bryden from his website here and you can find the Poetry Map here

It’s My Contention – Matt Bryden

for Lucie

that the best kinds
of people eat soup.

Whether at tables
on the South Bank

lifting spoonfuls
from a cardboard cup –

like this slight Argentinian
with delicate hands,

fine hair and a jacket
which attempts

to lend her figure bulk –
or in a pub, asking

the soup of the day, taking
the time to let it cool,

eating at your own pace.

Sunday Poem – Mark Pajak

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Sunday Poem – Mark Pajak

This has been my best week since the gall bladder saga – I’ve managed to run 45 kilometres this week.  My target for the next two weeks at least is to try and get 45 kilometres in each week.  I was talking to my friend about goals, and the importance of having them.   My next goal is to run the Coniston 14 race on March 28th.  I’ve never done it before, but I paid for it before I got ill, and I’m determined to have a good go at it.  I’m not sure what time to aim for, as it is very hilly, and a bit longer than a half-marathon.  I’m also reading at Lancaster Litfest that afternoon at 4pm, so I can’t take any longer than two hours, otherwise I won’t have time to get home, have a shower and cram some food in before setting off to Lancaster again!  I think I’m slightly crazy for attempting this, and I am wondering now whether going home to have a shower is slightly ambitious.  In fact if I have any friends between Coniston and Lancaster who would be willing to let me use their shower on the way, I would be forever grateful, and am sure the audience would be as well as I won’t turn up all sweaty and smelly.

My twin sister is doing the Keswick to Barrow event which takes place on May 6th.  This is a 43 mile walk that is in its 51st year of running.  I was vaguely thinking about doing the walk with her, but I’ve got a soul band gig that night so I’ve decided that it would be a bit ridiculous to try and do both.  However, there is a Coniston to Barrow walk on the same day which is  21 miles, which I think I’m going to have a go at running.  Or maybe run/walking.  This will be the furthest I’ve ran, so I just need to see how the training goes for it over the next few months.

Anyway, enough running talk as one of my esteemed readers, Martin Copley skips over any mention of running as it brings him out in a cold sweat.  This week I’ve also done a bit of poetry stuff as well.  I went to Manchester on the train to the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends reading series on Monday night.  Liz Lochhead was the main guest reader, but as part of the series, students from the MA are invited to read.  My friends Keith Hutson and Hilary Robinson did ten minute sets each and read really well.  There was another student called Ian Walker, who I hadn’t met before who was also very good.  The House Poet who introduces the readers is now two House Poets, John Fennelly and Mark Pajak, and as Keith said when he got up to read, they were a bit like Ant and Dec with their double act.

While I was in Manchester I managed to get a copy of Mark Pajak’s new pamphlet Spitting Distance, and today’s Sunday Poem is the title poem of that pamphlet, but more on that later.  First I have to tell you about the rather exciting headlong gallop through the streets of Manchester.  I sat in the pub for far too long chatting with people and then my friend B and I realised we only had 15 minutes to get to Picadilly and we were a good 25 minute walk away.  We ran all the way from the bar opposite the theatre to the train station which would have been fine, if I hadn’t been carrying a really heavy bag of books just in case I got bored on the train AND wearing stupid boots that are not designed to run in.   I’d also ran 7 miles that morning along the beach so could have done without another couple to be honest.  Anyway we made our train with a minute to spare which was lucky seeing as it was the last one!

Even more exciting than that though is I managed to hand in my RD1! I actually sent it over a day earlier because I couldn’t bear to have it hanging around anymore.  I had to ring the admin guru at the university because I couldn’t find a form that I needed to fill in, and then I had a couple of questions.  I don’t usually like talking on the phone – I have a phobia about it – I come out in a cold sweat! Unless it’s someone I know very well and feel comfortable with and then I’m ok.  Anyway, I usually avoid the phone at all costs, so this may indicate my level of desperation! Anyway D, the university admin guru was brilliant and got me sorted out and now it’s gone, there’s nothing I can do about it which is a great relief. I just have to wait and see if it is passed by the committee now, and I’m not sure how long that will be.

So back to Mark Pajak’s pamphlet Spitting Distance.  I read it in one sitting on the train on the way home, and really enjoyed it.   It was published by Smith/Doorstop in 2016 as part of the ‘Laureate’s Choice’ series.  Mark’s work has been published in The North, Magma and The Rialto and was highly commended in both the Cheltenham and the National Poetry Competitions.  Today’s Sunday Poem is the title poem of his pamphlet, but it is also the poem that won the 2016 Bridport Prize.

It’s easy to see why – the subject of the poem is startling and different.  Perhaps one of the things I most admire in Mark’s work is his ability with simile and metaphor.  He is able to do that rare thing of finding the exact metaphor or simile that is both true to the thing being compared, but also completely surprising.  In Spitting Distance, you can see this in the first couplet, when he writes that the rifle shell he finds is ‘like a gold seed in the earth.’  There is something completely surprising about this, and yet completely correct.  It’s surprising because it is an object that causes death, and it is being compared to something that life springs from.  It also sounds as if the earth has produced the bullet – it is ‘in the earth.’  Later on the bullet is described as a ‘blunt bud’.  A path is described as ‘falling like a braid’ – and I know exactly what he means, although I’ve never walked on that path.

On one hand, the poem is set in a very real landscape.  Mam Tor is named.  We are told about the ‘warped floor of Derbyshire’ and a wonderful description of a chimney which ‘hangs from the sky/on a white string.’  Yet there is also something strange about this poem.  Surreal isn’t quite the right word, but things are slightly odd.  The speaker in the poem has a strange way of thinking about things, and we know this right from the second couplet when he says ‘So I load it into my mouth/and go on walking.’  Again, that word ‘load’ pre-empts the later line ‘So this is what it’s like to be a gun’.  A lesser poet might have just said ‘So I put it into my mouth’ or ‘place it in my mouth’ or ‘pop it in my mouth’ but load fits with loading a gun.

There are no motives offered for the strange behaviour and later on it gets stranger still, when the speaker lies down in the heather to be ‘A body with a bullet/in its head staring at this sky.’  Of course the speaker is pretending to be a dead body with a bullet in its head, but the speaker also is a body with a bullet in its head.   Of course, Mark Pajak isn’t the first poet to imagine life as a gun.  Emily Dickinson’s famous poem ‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun’ starts

‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun
In Corners – till a Day
The Owner passed – identified –
And Carried Me away

In Emily Dickinson’s poem, the gun is carried away by the ‘owner’ and put to use.  The gun is both passive and active.  It is active only in another’s hands.  In Mark’s poem, the bullet is the thing that instigates change – first it changes the body of the speaker into a gun, and then it changes it back into a body, but a dead one.

There is ‘the red dot of a car’ which made me think of looking through the sights of a gun to aim and shoot.  The poem is a masterclass in ensuring that all the language and imagery contained within it is working together and pulling its own weight.  Definitely one of the poems I’ve read and wished I’d written it myself!

If you’d like to order Spitting Distance you can do so by going to the Smith/Doorstop website.  I hope you enjoy the poem.

 

Spitting Distance – Mark Pajak

Near Edale, I find a live rifle shell
like a gold seed in the earth.
+++++++++++++++++++++++
So I load it into my mouth
and go on walking, the sun
+++
breathing down my neck,
the head of Mam Tor rising
++++
and the path falling like a braid.
So this is what it’s like to be a gun;
+++
copper bleeding on the gums,
the domino click in the teeth.
+++
At the blue summit, I look down
with my new perspective
+++
on the warped floor of Derbyshire,
to where a village pools in a valley
+++
and a chimney hands from the sky
on a white string.  And I watch
+++
with hunger the red dot of a car
stop at a crossroads.  I suck hard
++++
on the blunt bud, drawing out
its deeper flavour of powder,
____
smoke down the barrel
of my throat.  Then it hits me
____
that there’s another side to this.
And I lay in the warm heather.
++++
A body with a bullet
in its head staring at this sky.
++++
Its clouds blown open.
Its sudden night.