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Sunday Poem –

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Sunday Poem –

Another Sunday rolls round again – and I spent most of this one outdoors.  This morning I went for a 12 mile run with some friends.  I know for some people the idea of running 12 miles would be a form of torture, but I absolutely love it.  I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing on a day like today, which was cold, but with blue skies and snow at the top of the mountains in the distance.

I rashly promised the husband I would go for a walk with him in the afternoon so once I got back from my 12 mile run and 300 metres of climbing, we went out for lunch in Broughton and then off we went on our walk – 3 hours later and another 300 metres of climbing and I’m officially knackered.

Last night I had a gig with the Soul Survivors at The Nautical Club on Walney Island.  After having a rehearsal where I felt that my playing was not up to standard, I’ve been practising for the last couple of weeks, building up from 20 minutes a day to about 40 minutes a day.  And it paid off! I know, having been a music teacher for 13 years, that I shouldn’t be surprised when practising actually works, but there you go.  I managed to play my solo bits, and my lip held out right till the end of the night which was a relief.

I decided to have a lazy day yesterday so apart from soundcheck in the afternoon, I spent the whole day in my pyjamas watching TV – a rarity for me, but my week up to this point had been pretty full on.  On Monday I attended the first session of a course as part of my PhD personal development in Manchester, and decided to hang around so I could go to the protest march against Trump’s idiotic travel ban. I’ve never been to a protest before, so didn’t really know what to expect. There were thousands of people there, so many in fact, that we couldn’t hear what the speakers were saying.  I met poet Clare Shaw and her daughter Niamh, and poet Rachel Davies and her partner Bill.  We marched through Manchester, and there was lots of chanting, all very good-natured.

I spent the first half of the week watching a lot of news about Trump, and in the end I had to stop, as I was getting really upset about it all.  I did write a Trump poem though – well actually, it’s about Melania Trump and the video of her at the inauguration, when Trump turns round and says something to her, and her face completely changes.  We can’t know what Trump said to her, but I think anybody that’s been in a violent relationship might recognise the look on her face, and the video has haunted me.  So I wrote a poem about Donald and Melania Trump and abuse and complicity and victim blaming and perspective and identity. I started the poem at the Poetry Business workshop last Saturday, and then finished it off on Monday/Tuesday of last week.  It’s going to be in The Morning Star on Thursday, which I’m really pleased about.  I don’t usually publish poems so quickly, but I felt like I wanted to get it out there.

I’m still waiting to hear back about my RD1 but having it off my hands and out of my control seems to have uncorked my poetry as I’ve written three other drafts of poems this week as well.  These three are much rougher, and might not even be poems to be honest, but I’ve really enjoyed writing them.  I keep feeling guilty that I’m not getting on with any ‘work’ and then remembering that writing poems is work now and doing a little dance.

Thursday was university teaching day – a 2 hour seminar on Wordsworth and Coleridge.  My students are still lovely – I’m still loving the teaching, and feel like I’m learning loads through teaching.  Next week is Victorian poetry, which I’m really looking forward to, as Tennyson is one of my favourite poets.

On Friday I went to the Theatre-By-The-Lake in Keswick to attend the Cumbria Life Cultural Awards.  Kendal Poetry Festival had made the shortlist for Festival of the Year and Brewery Poets had been shortlisted for Artistic Collaboration of the Year.  The festival’s Young Poet in Residence from 2016, Hannah Hodgson, came as well, as well as the poet Jennifer Copley.  I’d been asked to do a five minute reading, so I read a poem in the voice of Furness Abbey, that I wrote for a BBC commission last year, a poem about leaving teaching, and one of my ‘All the Men I Never Married’ poems.  Sadly, neither the Festival nor Brewery Poets won their categories, but we had a nice night out, and it was inspiring to see all the amazing artistic work that is going on in Cumbria.  The highlight for me was seeing Jess Gillam play – she is an amazing young saxophonist who lives in Ulverston, who got through to the finals of the BBC Young Musician of the Year last year I think.  Anyway I saw her play last year and thought she was brilliant – but this year she was really, really good.I didn’t get back home till 1.30am, hence the need for the lie-in on Saturday!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Maria Taylor from her new HappenStance pamphlet  Instructions for Making Me.  I’ve always liked Maria’s work, and have been meaning to get a copy of her new pamphlet for a while, but hadn’t got myself organised, so I was chuffed to be able to get one from her in person at the Poetry Business Writing Day last Saturday.

Maria Taylor lives in Leicestershire.  Her first full collection Melanchrini was published by Nine Arches Press in 2012 and was shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize.  A Greek-Cypriot by birth, she has been Reviews Editor for Under the Radar magazine since 2015 and blogs at Commonplace.

If you haven’t bought any HappenStance pamphlets before, head over to the website now.  Order Maria’s obviously, but take a potshot on a poet you haven’t heard of.  I can promise you, you won’t be disappointed.  I’ve never bought a HappenStance pamphlet and regretted it, and this one was no exception.

The pamphlet is full of surprises – surrealism probably isn’t quite the right word, but the world is definitely portrayed at an angle in these poems.  There were lots of favourites -I liked Poem In Which I Lick Motherhood which is as good as it sounds and The Horse which unpacks that old cliche and annoying bit of advice of ‘getting back on the horse’ after an upset or disappointment.  And Maria is the only poet to my knowledge who has a poem about Daniel Craig and not only does she have a poem about Daniel Craig it is a good poem! There are lots of funny moments in this pamphlet,but as you will see from the poem I’ve chosen, it isn’t all fun.

The Invisible Man is a strange and slightly disturbing poem.  Is it only me who finds the whole concept of an invisible friend really creepy?  The image of the daughter pushing an invisible man ‘on a swing/under the apple tree’ is a little bit disturbing.  Then Maria develops this further – the voice of the poem, admits to knowing the invisible man – to having a relationship of sorts with him.  This relationship is not like any normal relationship though – she says ‘I carried him in my book bag’ and ‘He fooled me at kiss-chase’.  The darkest part of the poem is in stanza 3, nearly the centre of the poem where she says ‘Now he’s back.  He wants my girl.’  The use of the word ‘girl’ and the possessiveness of ‘my’ makes us aware of the vulnerability of the daughter, and also of the power of the invisible man.  The description of him continues to develop the sinister feel of him – his arms could wrap around them ‘like twine’ and his ‘long toes’ skim the leaves – definitely an unsavoury character! The use of the word ‘we’ is interesting as well in the last stanza – it highlights and develops the complicity of the mother in the creation and sustaining of the invisible man, or the story of him.

I hope you enjoy the poem – and if you do enjoy it, you can buy Maria’s pamphlet Instructions for Making Me from the Happenstance website here for the mere sum of £5.  Thanks to Maria for letting me share this poem here.

The Invisible Man – Maria Taylor

My daughter pushes
the invisible man on a swing
under the apple tree.

I’ve known him for years.
I recognise him by the dust motes.
I asked him out.  He stood me up.

I carried him in my book bag.
He fooled me at kiss-chase.
Now he’s back.  He wants my girl.

We think of him as very tall,
so thin and stretchy he could wind
his arms around us like twine.

We sing to him as we push
an empty seat back and forth.
His long toes skim the leaves.

Sunday Poem – Penelope Shuttle

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Sunday Poem – Penelope Shuttle

 

 

Back to my bad habits of writing my blog late at night! My excuse today is that I’ve been in Lancaster running a 10k race.  I’m not even going to play it cool, pretending to drop this in casually as part of the usual run of the mill blog post…

I ran 45 minutes and 1 second for 10k!

My last ‘personal best’ time was 46 minutes and 17 seconds, about seven months ago, which is why I’m so chuffed.  I’ve been doing a bit more training though, in the last few months, so I knew I would beat my PB, but didn’t think for one second I would be at the 45 minute mark.  I was also 5th woman back, and I got the V35 prize (first time I’ve ever won a prize in a race!) and won the Ladies Team Prize along with my two friends, J and K

This race was called the ‘Jailbreak 10k’ and you signed up to do the race inside a cell in one of the prison wings.  The prison is now shut down of course, but I was actually quite freaked out by the cells.  They were very small and there was a toilet in the corner with a board at the side of it, presumably to give a bit of privacy, and that in itself was shocking – that this tiny space was for more than one person.  It was also really cold in there – and the prison wasn’t shut down that long ago! I couldn’t believe that people were kept in there, that people would have lived in there.  It definitely gave me goosebumps.  I thought the prisons I’d been into were pretty brutal, but they had nothing on the Lancaster Castle prison!

So two photos, and then I promise I will say no more about it.  The first is at the start – I did eventually get away from the unicorn.  (It was optional fancy dress for the race – only three people wore fancy dress – a Ghostbuster, a Witch and the Unicorn).  The second is at the end of the race, having just got to the top of the hill – so am in a bit of pain here, and pulling my famed ‘running face’.

 

This week has been relatively quiet apart from today! I decided I needed to get organised and make myself a timetable, to ensure I’m getting enough PhD work done.  So I did that on Monday, and did manage to make some progress.  I ordered 2 poetry collections by Marie Howe, who I’ve only just discovered.  I absolutely love her work, but this hasn’t helped with narrowing down the possibilities of poets to focus on.

I’ve also been carrying on reading Kate Millet’s ‘Sexual Politics’.  It’s a pretty big book.  I’m now over half way through though and still enjoying it.  The RD1 form is my next big hurdle, and my supervisor gave me an example one to look at.  So I’ve read that through and had a go at writing the first part of mine, just to see how it went.

I’ve also been reworking a review from last week after some feedback, and on Saturday night I had a gig with the Soul Survivors in Ulverston.  I guess it doesn’t sound that quiet now I look at it, but there hasn’t been as much rushing about as there usually is.

I’ve got a few dates coming up of readings and workshops – on Thursday I’m reading at Brantwood with Geraldine Green and Kerry Darbishire.  There is also an Open Mic – tickets are £12 and include food.

On the 4th November, the Brewery Poets are putting a reading on at The Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal.  I’m the MC, and guest poets will be Pauline Yarwood, Jennifer Copley and Ian Seed.  These nights usually sell out, so if you’d like to come, book a ticket quickly!

I’m also running my Dove Cottage Young Poets group on the 4th November, and am recruiting for new members! If you know any young people (from the age of 14 to 25) who would like to come to a free fortnightly writing group, please get in touch.  We have lots of fun, and the young poets get lots of opportunities throughout the year to perform (if they want to) and to work towards Arts Awards.

And lastly for now, on the 12th November, I’m running an all day workshop for Lancaster Spotlight.  You can find details here, but to book a place, just email spotlightclub@btinternet.com

Today’s Sunday Poem is by the wonderful Penelope Shuttle. I’ve always loved Penelope’s work, right from when I first started writing eight years ago. Penny has featured on this blog before – you can read that post here.

As you will see from this previous blog post, Penny is one of my favourite contemporary poets, so I’m quite excited that she has sent me a poem from her forthcoming collection with Bloodaxe to put up on the blog this week.  I’m even more excited that Penny has agreed to be the guest poet for the Residential Course that I’m running in St Ives next year with co-tutor David Tait.  Penny will be coming to the hotel to have dinner with the course participants, and then she will be reading from her work on the Wednesday night of the course.  There are only four places left on this course, so if you’d like to book, please get in touch with Treloyhan Manor Hotel on 01736 796240.

In 2015 Penelope published (with John Greening) their exploration in poetry  of many aspects of Heathrow airport and Hounslow Heath upon which the airport now stands:  Heath (Nine Arches). She also published a pamphlet titled Four Portions of Everything on the Menu for M’sieur Monet! (Indigo Dreams Publications). Penelope has given many readings of her work, and has been a tutor for many organisations.  She is currently a mentor for The Poetry School.

This poem comes from Penny’s forthcoming collection Will You Walk A Little Faster? which will be published by Bloodaxe in May 2017.  It was originally published in The Manhattan Review.

I love the idea of this poem – to be able to talk to your Life, to make your Life a person, rather than a collection of events.  I love that the poem seems to start mid-conversation with Life.  There’s something unbearably sad about this poem – of course, Life is addressed and personified as a seperate thing, but the whole time, we know that Life is also the speaker.

The language that is used seems deceptively simple, but the poem is full of surprising turns of phrase: ‘I’m sad of myself’ and ‘days live me in vain’ and then at the end ‘the walls are spells’ and ‘the roof’s a star’.  Maybe just because I’ve been reading a lot of Emily Dickinson but the capitalization of Life and the short lines made me think of her.

The sounds throughout the poem – all those repeated ‘L’s’ string the whole poem together.  I also love the intermittent address to Life, that comes back throughout the poem, as if the speaker is turning to Life and making sure they are still listening.

The line breaks are very effective as well, particularly at the end with the line ‘I know you so well’ which then carries onto the next line to say ‘My Life, not at all’.  I was left trying to puzzle out whether Life is known or not, and maybe that’s part of the point. Until I read the poem more carefully, I thought the ending was a repeat of the beginning and then I thought it was a straightforward reversal of the beginning, which says to Life: ‘you know me too well’.  This statement is supported throughout the poem.  What is questioned is whether the Speaker knows Life as well as the Speaker thinks they do, and just writing that I realise that of course they don’t.  We can’t know our own Lives without distance, and time to reflect, and we can never do that while we are still living them.

I hope you enjoy the poem – and please keep a look out for Penny’s collection, coming out next year.  If you’d like to find out more about Penelope Shuttle, you can go to her website here.

 

 

My Life – Penelope Shuttle

My Life, I can’t fool you,
you know me too well,
I’m sad of myself,
days live me in vain,
you test me
but bin my answers,
you’re so busy, so tired,
evenings in the glass,
drink them, My Life,
but you won’t,
driving your bargains
of years gone by,
promising me
this and that till
the walls are spells,
the roof’s a star,
and
I seal the hour
in a tear,
a mortal tear,
I know you so well,
My Life, not at all

Sunday Poem – Lisa Brockwell

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Sunday Poem – Lisa Brockwell

I’m not in my writing room today – sat on the sofa instead, in front of the T.V because I’ve been watching the wonderfulness that is Gogglebox.  Last time I watched this, I was in Groningen in Holland, curled up on the sofa with my lovely friend Jan, crying with laughter.  It’s not half as fun watching it on my own, although I like the kind of happy/sad feeling I get when I watch it now – happy because now watching that programme reminds me of Jan, and sad because I miss him.

This week I’ve been working on my poem for the BBC and National Poetry Day.  I’m writing a poem about Furness Abbey.  My deadline was Friday, and I pretty much finished it at about ten minutes to midnight, which was quite stressful, but expected.  I always seem to work better under a bit of pressure.

I had a meeting with the committee of A Poem and a Pint, and we put together a list of poets that we’d like to have as our guest poets in 2017.  My job now is to contact them all so I’ll probably be getting on with that next week.

On Wednesday, my friend Jennifer Copley had her book launch at Natterjacks.  As I mentioned in a blog post a couple of weeks back, her new pamphlet Vinegar and Brown Paper is out with Like This Press. Members of Barrow Writers, the writing group that Jenny runs also read and local musicians The Demix provided the music.  Here is a photo of Jenny looking glamorous whilst reading her new poems.

jenny-book-launch

On Thursday I went to Manchester to have another meeting about the teaching.  This one was very useful, and I feel reasonably confident about next week.  As confident as anyone starting a new job I suppose! I had a brief meeting about my PhD following the meeting about the teaching, but we ran out of time, so have rescheduled for a couple of weeks.  My main job between now and then is to get some reading done and start to think about how I want to structure the critical part of the PhD (I think!).

I had my first wobble this week of thinking what on earth have I done, and who am I to think someone like me can do a PhD etc etc.  Imposter syndrome already, and I haven’t even had the PhD induction yet – that is the week after next!  However, I’ve decided I’m going to get started this week, and the first thing I’m going to do is work out a timetable of when I’m going to be working on PhD stuff this week.

After the meetings I met up with poet Emma McGordon and we made our way up to Black Cat Poets in Denton, where we were both performing.  It was a real honour to be reading with Emma – she was one of the first poets I saw perform at A Poem and a Pint and I loved her reading.  Her new work is really, really good and it was worth the trip over from Cumbria just to hear her read.  The audience at Black Cat Poets was small but perfectly formed, and the organisers and hosts were very friendly.   Then it was a late night drive back to Cumbria – I think I got in at about midnight, maybe just after.

I had a Dove Cottage Young Poets session on Friday night.  I only have two Young Poets left now – the rest have all gone away to university.  I feel very proud of them all, but very sad to see them go.  If anybody reading this knows any young people who would be interested in joining a completely free poetry group in Cumbria, do get in touch.

Other writing news – I was very happy that I got a poem shortlisted in the Bridport Poetry Competition.  This means I got to the top 200 out of 5400 entries apparently, so I didn’t win any money, but it is nice to know that my poem made it to that shortlist.

This weekend I’ve not done any writing or reading really.  I’ve just been running and playing the trumpet.  I did Park Run on Saturday (22 minutes 15 seconds – 10 seconds off my PB!) and then I had a Soul Band gig on Saturday night.  This morning I did a ten mile run and then had two rehearsals for a musical I’m playing in next week in Ulverston: ‘The Wizard of Oz’.  So this is why I’m blogging so late today!

I am excited about today’s Sunday Poem.  I can’t remember how Lisa Brockwell and I became friends on Facebook – as we’ve never met.  Lisa sent me a copy of her new collection Earth Girls a while back though, and I read it cover to cover in one sitting.  Earth Girls is published by Pitt Street Poetry, a Sydney based poetry imprint.

Lisa Brockwell was born in Sydney, but spent a large part of her adult life in England.  She now lives on a rural property near Byron Bay, on the north coast of New South Wales, with her husband and young son. You can find more about Lisa at her website: www.lisabrockwell.com

I loved this poem as soon as I read it, and felt an instant connection to it.  It is easy to list the reasons why this might be –  I suppose we all imagine what might have been, what would have happened if we had stayed with this person or that person instead of leaving them, if we had taken that job or refused it.  I also like that thread of regret or yearning, which runs through the poem – as I may have said before is one of my favourite emotions to explore in poetry.

That first line is startling in its directness.  And the second – that ‘startled but not sorry’.  I think that is so brilliantly observed.  I love how marriage, or at least a long-term relationship is described as ‘The Long Haul’, and the term ‘day-to-day dedication’ – again, brilliantly, closely observed, and this is exactly what a marriage is.  The poem is also wonderfully honest: ‘The air between us no longer electric’.  I also love that just at this point when as a reader, I started to forget that what is being described is imaginary, it is then that the story starts to falter: ‘But whose dog jumps/on that bed’.

One of the cleverest things in the poem of course is that it manages to pass comment on two things at the same time.  Through describing the imaginary relationship, what might have been, we start to gain a picture of the real relationship, in all its complexity.

There is something beautifully tender as well in the line ‘But when, sometimes, we brush against/each other on-line I feel it and I hope you/ do too’.  There isn’t a whiff of betrayal or duplicity in the poem.  If there was it would be a less complex poem, a less interesting poem.  This poem has been hauting me since Lisa sent me her book, which is a good few months ago now, so I’m really pleased to be able to post it up here.

I hope you enjoy the poem, and if you’d like to order the book, please head over to Pitt Street Poetry

The Long Haul – Lisa Brockwell

There is another life where we end up together.
We wake in the same bed, startled but not sorry;
the timber frame is warm, hand-caulked
with the day-to-day dedication of the long haul.
The air between us no longer electric, all now
sanded smooth.  But whose dog jumps
on that bed: yours or mine? I don’t plan to think
about my husband or your wife; let’s leave
my son right out of it.  Fantasy, no more dangerous
than eating gelato and dreaming of Mark Ruffalo.
But when, sometimes, we brush against
each other on-line I feel it and I hope you
do too – you could have been my dawn breeze
and me your mast of oak.  There is another life
out there.  I watch it as it goes, a bobbing toy
with a paper sail, jaunty in calm weather; and wince
to see it tacking close to the mouth of the river.

Sunday Poem – Carole Coates

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Sunday Poem – Carole Coates

Before I start writing my blog, I always look back through my diary to remind myself of what I’ve done in the week.  On Monday I drove from my parent’s house in Leicester back up to Cumbria.  I stopped off at a Little Chef to get some breakfast.  I used to love Little Chef when I was little – in fact I remember my parents driving down the motorway from home to take us for dinner there and then driving back home again.  However, it isn’t quite as cheery an experience when you are an adult, and you’re driving five hours away from your family, knowing you won’t see some of them again for a while.  I had to move tables because I had a terrible view of a man whose bottom was hanging out of his trousers and it was probably this that pushed me over the edge!

I went back to Leicester because my Dad has been ill and was in hospital for nearly a week.  By the time I got there last Thursday, he’d had an operation and he was out of hospital and starting to get back to normal.  I also got to spend some time with my sisters and my nieces and nephews.  My brother-in-law has started running now as well so I even had someone to go for a run round the park with.

On Thursday I went to my fifth Read Regional event in York – although I’ve loved all of them, I think this was my favourite one so far, mainly because of the audience who were so friendly and interested.  The great thing about Read Regional is that there are often people who have never been to a poetry reading before.  The librarian showed me a feedback card afterwards which said something like ‘Came under sufferance – but I loved it,and bought all the books!’.  I love that someone was FORCED to come to a poetry reading – what had they done for such punishment?

Ok, for those of you who have no interest in running, or trumpet playing, you might want to miss the next couple of paragraphs, as I wax on about my Friday which was, even by my standards, slightly manic.  I drove to Kendal in the afternoon and met Pauline Yarwood for a cup of tea and a stress relieving shout of ARRGGGH about all the annoying things that happen when you are trying to put together a festival.  I then had my Young Writers Group until 5.30 and then drove like a madwoman (whilst always keeping to the speed limits of course) to get to Dalton for the Dalton 10k which I’ve been looking forward to all year.

Writing this from the vantage point of having completed the Dalton 10k, I can’t quite remember why I was looking forward to it all year.  It is that pesky nostalgia again, this was one of the first races I did when I first moved to Cumbria when I was 21 (I ran for about a year before giving up).  I’ve done the race for the last three years – in 2014 I ran it in 56:56 and in 2015 I ran 47:42.  I think I had good memories of the race last year, because I’d knocked such a big chunk of time off.  Of course this year, I knew it would be harder to beat my time but I really wanted to do it.  I’ve been doing a few long, hilly runs lately, and I was hoping they would pay off.

Anyway, what I’ve realised about running is that it never gets easier, and there were moments in the race this year, when I turned a corner and there was another bloody hill that I wanted to cry! However, very pleased to report that I ran 46:16 which I’m absolutely chuffed with. Next target is to get to 45 minutes!

I jumped in a taxi straight after the race at 8.15pm, as Chris had taken car to go camping, went back home, showered, changed and jumped in another taxi at 8.40 and went to the Soul Survivors gig at the Soccer Bar which started at 9pm.  Playing trumpet till midnight was pretty tough going, but I think I was still hyper from doing the race.  The after-effects of pushing it in the race, playing trumpet and not having time to eat anything hit me on Saturday – I spent the whole day feeling slightly hung over but without having consumed any alcohol.   I had another gig with the Soul Survivors last night which was easer playing wise but I woke up again this morning feeling terrible – again, it feels like a hangover, I’m tired, groggy, have a bit of a headache.  So I’m taking it easy again today and hopefully not leaving the house for anything other than to maybe amble round with the dogs.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Carole Coates- I’ve posted a poem from Carole on the blog before – in fact, looking back at the archives, I think her poem was the first Sunday Poem I ever posted.  You can find that poem ‘Stalker’ here – it is still one of my favourite poems.

I went to an April Poets reading a couple of months ago which was the launch of Carole’s new collection Jacob.  This is a book-length sequence of poems following the life of a little boy called Jacob.  The collection is as readable as a novel and I read it cover to cover.  I think Carole is a real one-off – I can’t think of any poets that are doing quite what she is doing – her work is always ambitious and pushing at the boundaries of not only what a poem can do, but what a poetry collection can do.  She is published by Shoestring Press and you can buy Jacob and any of her other collections over at the Shoestring Press website.

I’ve chosen the poem ‘What Is He Like?’ because I thought it was a good introduction to the character of Jacob, although this poem comes towards the middle of the collection.  .

What Is He Like? – Carole Coates

what is he like//////////what is he really like
sometimes he feels like a box crammed with things
and people are pushing more in and sitting on the lid

or he feels like an eye///a lonely eye
set in a wall like a camera to see and remember
(he’d seen a film with that and it was frightening)

but his grandfather says You’re a dark horse, Jacob
which he doesn’t understand and his grandmother says
Still waters run deep – that’s you, Jacob

is he like the pond where the hedge turns a corner
where the water hides under alder branches?
it’s deep there he knows his mother told him

and she says there’s something strange deep down
at the bottom of the pond and it’s quiet there too
(probably a fish) so that’s “still” and “deep”

and he knows there’s something deep down lurking
in himself which he has to keep quiet about
and still as the pond but at school they’re asking

Where is your father? and he says he’s a soldier
but they say the war’s been over for ages 
and he ought to be back like all the others

he’s told Beryl his father’s in Middle-East
but Teddy says HER father is Father Christmas
and he lives up the chimney but this is all lies

One of the big themes that Carole explores is the unjustice of childhood, the unfairness of it, and the lack of power that children have in their own lives.  I love the description in the second line ‘sometimes he feels like a box crammed with things’.  It’s such an unusual way of saying something that a lot of people can probably relate to.   After this brilliant line, most poets would have felt quite pleased with themselves and left it at that, but Carole carries it on, developing it further, pinning down exactly how it feels to not be in control, to not feel part of what is going on around you with that line ‘or he feels like an eye’.  I think there is also something interesting here in the things we say to children, probably without thinking, that they then carry with them and puzzle over.  I also love the question ‘is he like the pond where the hedge turns a corner/where the water hides under alder branches?’  I also love that Jacob tries to make sense of himself in the world by comparing and contrasting himself to other things.

I am aware that I’ve taken a poem out of context here, in what is a meticulously put-together and beautiful book with a narrative arc, so I hope you will feel inspired to buy the collection, and I hope Carole gets the praise and acclaim this book deserves.

There is a great review of Jacob over at the magazine London Grip, which will give you more of an overview of the collection as a whole.  Carole has had three previous collections published with Shoestring Press.  In 2012 she published an extraordinary collection called Swallowing Stones – a verse narrative, set in the far-off imaginary, but very real country of Kor.  In 2009 Shoestring Press published her second collection Looking Good which was an exploration of anorexia, endured at a time when the condition was not diagnosed, discussed or even named.  More recently she has published a pamphlet Crazy Days with the excellent Wayleave Press.  You can find more information about her over at her website but if you haven’t heard of Carole Coates, or read any of her stuff, all of her collections, not just this latest one come highly recommended if you want to read ambitious and exciting poetry.

 

 

Sunday Poem – Damian Rogers

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There’s No Such Thing as Blue Water – Damian Rogers

I’ve been thinking that montage is a mental technique
for accepting unity as a convulsive illusion.  I feel sick.
I hate it when my stories have holes, though I suspect
there’s where the truth leaks out. So go back to bed.
Maybe it’s laziness, maybe the delivery system is flawed.
If the gods are making a movie, I’ve spent years sneaking out
for smoke breaks between takes.  I do violence to myself.
I imagine the ones I love dead in their favourite chairs,
dead in distant car crashes.  Who are these girls who wear
lipstick to watch TV?  The woman I know go shut-in,
sleep in their clothes for days in a row.  A self-help author
revealed to me with great confidence that life is swinging
branch to branch in a fog.  And I thought, of course
he’s right, of course he’s wrong.  Let’s say we are always
at Point A.  From space, the ocean is only a mirror.

I’m writing this from a cottage in Aldeburgh, after attending the poetry festival for the third year in a row.  I’ve been at wall-to-wall poetry events from Friday night until this afternoon, but for those of you that weren’t lucky enough to be at a brilliant poetry festival, I am sending you this fantastic poem by the lovely Damian Rogers, who I met at an event in Grasmere a couple of months ago.

The poem comes from Damian’s poetry collection Dear Leader, published by Coach House Books.  Damian is from the Detroit area and now lives in Toronto, where she works as poetry editor of House of Anansi Press and as creative director of Poetry in Voice, a national recitation contest for Canadian high school students.  Her first book of poems, Paper Radio was nominated for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award.  You can find out more information about Damian on her blog and you can order her book here.

When I read this poem for the first time, I had a jolt of recognition when I got to the line ‘I do violence to myself./I imagine the ones I love dead in their favourite chairs/dead in distant car crashes.’  I do this all the time! I imagine worst case scenarios to the point where I will wince with the imagine pain and have to shake myself out of it.  What a relief to know I’m not alone!

More accurately though, the first jolt of recognition was at the line ‘I hate it when my stories have holes, though I suspect/there’s where the truth leaks out.’ That seems true of poetry, that the truth leaks out through what is not said, through the holes in the poems.

The poem seems both sure of itself and unsure of itself.  It is a strange mix of definite statements ‘I feel sick’, ‘So go back to bed’ but there are also lots of words which show that in fact, there is nothing simple or clear or definitive: ‘I’ve been thinking’ ‘I suspect’, ‘Maybe’.  The poem does have its own inherent wisdom with observations like ‘A self-help author/revealed to me with great confidence that life is swinging/from branch to branch in a fog.  And I thought, of course/he’s right, of course, he’s wrong.’

That statement seems to be at the heart of the poem – the idea that things can be both one thing, and another.  I also think that the question ‘Who are these girls who wear/lipstick to watch TV? The women I know go shut-in, sleep in their clothes for days in a row.’  I think the shift from the ‘girls’ – who are not real – (who does wear lipstick to watch TV?) to the women, who are real, albeit ‘shut-in’ is a really clever one.

I’ve had an amazing weekend.  The highlights of the festival for me was the readings tonight by Choman Hardi and Tony Hoagland.  Choman’s book ‘Considering the Women’ was launched at the festival and she read from a sequence in the book which explores the genocide in Kurdistan.  The poems were heartbreaking and moving and it is one of only a few occasions when poetry has moved me to tears, not only for those poems but also for the poems she read later about the breakdown of her marriage, which were full of such sadness and yearning and longing and regret.  They were really beautiful.

The other thing that impressed me about Choman this weekend was the way she conducted herself during the various discussions and lectures that she took part in.  In the Blind Criticism session, she was only an audience member, yet she said the most pertinent comment of the session, referring to Allison McVety’s poem ‘White Jean’s, she said something like ‘When women wear clothes it is seen as an expression of their sexuality, when men wear clothes it is seen as an expression of their identiy’ which I thought was so interesting and full of possibilities to explore.

Choman was the first poet to read in the last reading of the festival and Tony Hoagland did the closing reading.  I love his use of irony and the clever observations in his poems and I love the way he seems to be trying to write about the soul – what it is and how to define it.  I’m now planning on basically buying everything else he has ever written – that is how good it was! And to think I’d not heard of him, or Choman before the festival.  That is why I love Aldeburgh – I go there thinking I’m excited to hear Kei Miller and Helen Mort and John Burnside (and it was exciting) but then the poets that make me feel like something in my life has just shifted, are poets I’ve never come across before.

There is lots more to tell you but I’m running out of my 1000 words and I’m writing this with a headache.  On Saturday night, I rather embarrassingly started to get really hot as John Burnside was reading.  I was quite near a door but still it was very obvious when I left, but I had to get out, because I thought I was going to be sick or pass out.  I usually pass out when I get too hot.  Once I’d cooled myself down by splashing water on my face, I was ok, apart from a really bad headache, which I’ve now got tonight as well.

So I’m going to sign off now.  Aldeburgh was amazing.  I’m getting up early tomorrow for the drive back to Cumbria.  I have to be back in the evening for junior band rehearsal and soul band rehearsal.  Hope you enjoy the poem, and thanks to Damian Rogers for allowing me to use it on this blog.  .

Sunday Poem – Louis Mulcahy

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Poor John Foggin is going to have to read the Sunday Poem on Monday morning instead as it will be well past midnight by the time I finish it.  This morning I went to run the Hoad Hill Half Marathon.  It’s the first time the event has been held and as well as the usual 13 mile distance, the organisers thought it would be fun to add in climbing up to the Hoad monument right at the end.

I’ve been feeling a bit upset for the last couple of days and a little bit lonely.  Mr C (as my husband will be known hence forth) flew to Australia to be with his family – his mum died at the beginning of the week.  Sadly, he didn’t get there in time to see her before she died, but he was there for the funeral and has been spending some time with his family.  So he’s been gone just over a week now and I’m really starting to miss him.  At first I quite enjoyed leaving the washing up and not having to worry about offending Mr C’s more enhanced levels of tidiness and being able to scatter my books about the house – but the novelty of that has worn off now.

We were both supposed to be doing the half marathon together today so this morning I felt really down, getting up my on my own, making my own porridge (can you imagine! having to make my own porridge) and then turning up to the race on my own.  I did know people there but I felt very teary before the race started.  Once I got going it was fine.  The weather was not good – it rained all the way round and I was soaked before we even started.

Last time I did a half marathon in Lancaster last November, I really didn’t enjoy it.  By the time I got to the 12k mark, every muscle in my body was aching.  This was my own fault of course.  I hadn’t done enough training.  I think with a 10k race, you can basically blag your way around it.  If you haven’t done lots of training, you can still run it without causing yourself an injury, but with a half-marathon, if you haven’t done enough training, you’re basically screwed.

This time around, I’d done a lot more running and I had a lot more miles in my legs.  Ideally, I think I should have done some more long runs but I was coping really well throughout most of the race.  Some of my lovely running friends from Walney Wind Cheetahs were waiting at the top of Birkrigg Common to cheer us on and my running friend KP had even brought jellybabies.  I actually thought my running bestie, who will from now on be called The Flying Duchess was there, but it turns out I was hallucinating as she was on her way to Turkey.

Anyway, there I am, running along, feeling fairly smug with myself that I’d been averaging around 5.15 and 5.30 a kilometre until the 19th kilometre, when we got to the Hoad Hill monument which we then had to run up and this was where I became undone.  I think I ran about half of it and then had to walk, which I was gutted about.  It’s the first time I’ve ever had to walk up a hill and at one point, I thought I would have to stop!  Up to this point, I think I would have had a chance at beating my personal best time for a half marathon which was 1 hour 52 minutes, but it all went pearshaped as I staggered up the hill and then had to take my time coming down so I ended up coming in at 2 hours and 3 minutes.

So that was this morning.  I had to get back home pretty quickly, jump in the shower and then get straight back into the car again to go to a Rewilding Bowland event which I was due to read some poems at.  The event was to raise awareness of the plight of Hen Harriers and I was shocked to learn that the organiser had been visited by the police at home just for organising this event, which I found really shocking – there was a harp player and face painting for children as well as poetry – hardly a hotbed of anarchy and rioting or an event that would cause any trouble at all, and certainly nothing to warrant a personal visit from the police.

The poet Lindsey Holland has come for a visit and arrived yesterday evening.  As soon as she arrived I dragged her out for a meal so I could stuff myself with spaghetti bolognese ready for the race today.   We have also made a solemn vow to do some writing tomorrow so if you see any of us on Facebook or Twitter tomorrow give us a telling off!

Being on my own in the house this week has meant I’ve got loads of jobs done in a much quicker time than usual.  I’ve sorted out the books that will be reviewed for Issue 2 of The Compass and found four fantastic reviewers.  I’ve sent a course outline and a blurb to The Poetry School for a new online course that I’ll be running in Spring 2016.  I’ve done lots of work on the various Residential Poetry Courses that I’ll be running this year and next year – you can find more info here including the timetable for the Poetry Carousel which takes place from the 11th-13th December 2015.  There are only a few places left on this, so if you are thinking about coming, do get in touch with the hotel and book your place.

On Tuesday I went for a lovely afternoon tea with my friend The Wedge who writes a fantastic Afternoon Tea blog, which I am predicting will one day be made into a bestselling guide book to the afternoon tea land of the lake district.  Although a blog about afternoon tea doesn’t sound like the most auspicious start, it is actually very funny because of The Wedge’s insistence on strange rules to do with her afternoon tea eating.

On Wednesday I went to the university campus in Ambleside with Zoe from the Wordsworth Trust and we both read poetry to about 70 sixth form students.   The tutors gathered them all in one room and Zoe read them a Wordsworth poem and a poem by Neil Rollinson and then gave them the option to leave if they wanted to.  I expected a mass exodus at this point but none of them moved!  Zoe read them two more poems, one by Wordsworth and one by Carola Luther and then I read them some poems.  They were really nice kids and they even laughed at my jokes, so they will all clearly go far in life.

I’ve also read loads this week and one of the books I managed to read was Louis Mulcahy’s second collection, The Clogher Quartet, Book Two.  I really enjoyed his first collection and I’d actually already chosen a poem from this first book, but then I got hold of a copy of the second when I was over in Ireland so I thought it would be better to feature a more recent poem, plus I found this cracking poem in the book.

There were actually a lot of poems in the collection that I really enjoyed, but this was the one that I got to that made me stop reading and put the book down for a minute.  It is a very direct poem but whilst telling a fairly straightforward story, it also manages to pack a lot of backstory in.  There are actually quite complicated attitudes and emotions going on in the poem, which is really exploring the status of the mother in a family – at first the children play ‘a simple prank’.  The fact that this prank is played as sh sits back ‘to her share of the family meal’ makes me imagine that she has just served everybody with food and is finally sitting back to relax herself, which says one thing about her status or her position.  The lovely thing in the poem is the ‘curious/rage of our father,beside himself with something’.  First of all I love the ‘curious rage’ – as if the speaker of the poem still doesn’t quite understand why the father is so angry.  Then I also really like the way Louis has played with the cliche of being beside yourself with rage or anger – instead the father is ‘beside himself with something’.  There is also a real feeling of shame in the poem, and although the poet says the memory or the realisation comes back with less force as the decades heal, saying this and writing a poem about it leads the reader to believe that the opposite in fact is probably true.

Louis is a potter and ceramic  sculptor as well as a poet and in 2004 received an Honorary Doctorate from the National University of Ireland for his pottery and his contribution to the community.  He has been published in many Irish literary magazines including Poetry Ireland, The Stinging Fly, The SHop and Stoney Thursday.  His first collection ‘The Clogher Quartet, Book One’ came out in 2014 with An Sagart and his second collection ‘The Clogher Quartet, Book Two’ came out in 2015.  ‘Taken Aback’ is from this second collection.  You can find out more about Louis here

I hope you enjoy the poem and thanks to Louis for letting me use it.

Taken Aback – Louis Mulcahy

It was one of those realisations
that resurface with diminishing force
as the decades heal; a simple prank,
pulling the chair from under our mother
as she leant forward, awkwardly,
to sit back to her share of the family meal.
Four of us five children born by then; it took
some years to understand her strangely muted
plea not to attempt that again, and the curious
rage of our father, beside himself with something.

Sunday Poem – Gordon Hodgeon

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The weather cannot make up its mind today.  I spent most of my morning standing on Walney Island as a marshal for the Walney Fun Run with the wind blowing (although maybe not as hard as it could have done) and pouring rain.  I had waterproof trousers on, which I quickly discovered weren’t really waterproof and my outdoor hiking coat which did save the top half of me at least from the rain. I must admit, I longed to be running around in the wind and the rain- at least you are warm when you are running!

Despite this, I’m glad I volunteered – it’s nice to give something back and I do enjoy seeing the different ways people run, the different ways they react to the marshals.  Most of the runners at the front were completely focused and gave no sign whether they heard us or not.  When I’m in race mode (although I’m not at the front) I hear the marshals but I don’t look at them or acknowledge them – not because I’m not grateful to them, but more because I’m conserving energy, and I’m concentrating, but it does make a difference to have people there cheering you on.

As you get further and further back in the field though, people smile and are happy to see you.  One man even had enough breath to say ‘thank you for coming out marshals’ which was nice!  The children often pick up the pace if you cheer them on, going from a walk to a trot, or a trot to a little sprint.  So from 9.15am when I arrived until about 12 it was raining and spray was blowing in from the sea.  Then suddenly the sun came out and it is now a glorious day with blue skies.  By that time though I’d had enough and felt all damp and cold and bedraggled and decided to go home, but I have been sat in the garden for a little bit this afternoon at my new table and on one of my new chairs which I bought yesterday.  This is an exciting event for me because I’ve never owned a garden or a table and chairs to go in a garden.

I’ve also been having great fun picking plants to go in the garden and have rather irresponsibly just been picking ones I like the look of and randomly sticking them in the garden.  Yesterday I spent a couple of hours pulling up bindweed which grows so fast – it is a bit like that plant in Little Shop of Horrors – it seems to have a mind of its own.  I left a stick propped up against the fence about a week ago and yesterday there were tendrils of bindweed growing up it – how is that classed as a plant and not an animal with a mind of its own?

I have some weeks where I have to accept that I’m doing lots of music teaching and poetry has to be put on one side but this week it feels like I’ve been yanked from one world to the other.  On Monday I had a 2 hour rehearsal with my junior band to get ready for our end of term concert on Thursday. This was to go through the music with my friend who had agreed to play drums for us.  Disaster struck on Thursday as my friend had a family emergency and couldn’t play in the concert.   I had two hours to find another drummer and heard that an ex-pupil of mine was back from university, so he came along at the last minute and played brilliantly.

The concert was made up of the Barrow Shipyard Junior Band which is pupils ranging in age from 8-18 (about 30 now) and my other band Brasstastic, which has 14 primary school pupils in it.   They both played really well and to finish off the night we played a mass piece which we’d not rehearsed together before but which they managed brilliantly.  I couldn’t believe how well my ex-pupil played the drums – he is also a talented cornet player and singer but he followed every single tempo change – I was really impressed with him.

On Saturday I was at another rehearsal with the Barrow Shipyard Junior Band at Furness Music Centre because we have one more concert on July 4th where we are playing with an orchestra, wind band and choir at the Coronation Hall. Again, the kids were really good and it was nice to not have to conduct and to sit and play along with them a little bit.

I also did Park Run on Saturday and managed to get a new PB – 22.49 which I am really, really pleased about.  I’ve wanted to go under 23 minutes for a while.  I think it will be another couple of months before I can shave anything more off that time – this is the problem though, as soon as I achieve one goal, I start thinking ‘hmm wouldn’t it be nice to go under 22 and a half?’ Anyway, we shall see!

On Friday morning I was still buzzing from the junior band concert but I had to force myself to settle down and plan my workshop for Dove Cottage Young Poets which was Friday afternoon and then I drove straight back from Kendal and went to Bardsea for A Poem and a Pint’s collaborative night with ‘The Quiet Compere’ aka Sarah Dixon.  Sarah Dixon is travelling around the UK, putting on an event made of ten poets reading for 10 minutes each.  It was nice to have the chance to hear a lot of local poets read – it made me realise how much talent there is in the local area.  I enjoyed hearing everybody read but the most exciting set for me was David Borrott, whose new pamphlet Porthole has just been published by Smith/Doorstop as a ‘Laureate’s Choice’.   David was very funny and read really well.  I know how hard he has worked at writing and I’m really happy that his work is now going to get a wider audience.

So, gaining a wider audience brings me on to today’s Sunday Poet, who I’d never heard of before my friend John Foggin sent me his book as a present.  Gordon Hodgeon is published by Smokestack and was born in Leigh in 1941.  He was active for many years in NATE, in Northern Arts, Cleveland Arts, New Writing North and Mudfog Press.  HIs previous books of poetry include November Photographs (1981), A Cold Spell (1996), Winter Breaks (2006), Still Life (2012) and Old Workings: New and Selected Poems (2013).  He lives in Stockton-on-Tees.

Writing that list of books makes me a little ashamed that I hadn’t come across his work before so I’m grateful to John for bringing his poetry to my attention.  I’m going to quote from the back cover of the book to give some context to the Sunday Poem today:

“For the past five years the poet Gordon Hodgeon has been confined to his bed.  Following a series of unsuccessful operations on his spine, he is now unable to move his arms and legs, and cannot breathe without the help of a ventilator.  In the last few months he has lost the power of speech.  Today he can only communicate with the outside world by blinking at a Dynavox computer screen or by dictating to his carers, letter by letter.”

After reading this, I was prepared for a book of poems that felt hard won, laboured, as if every word had been dragged out to lay on the page.  I wasn’t prepared for poetry that made me conscious of my own body and consciousness, in the way that running does.  I wasn’t prepared for the first poem in the collection which is now the Sunday Poem.  I have to warn you that reading this poem may have a strange effect on you.  I read it and then I had to shut the book.  I couldn’t read any further – someone had just articulated for me the edge between the body and the soul, the difference between feeling powerful and being powerless.  It is only a tiny poem but I came back to it the next day, read it again with the intention of going on with the book and had to stop.  The third time I read the book cover to cover, without stopping.

Of course the title of the Sunday Poem ‘I Walked Out This Morning’ contains within it a sly nod to Laurie Lee’s ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ memoir of leaving his life to travel through Spain.  There is also W.H.Auden’s ‘As I Walked Out One Evening’ but the poem it really made me think of was W.B. Yeats ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ with its first two lines ‘I went out this morning/because a fire was in my head’.  I don’t know why this jumped into my head when I read the title of Gordon’s poem, but there you go.

The title and the first line have a fairy-tale feel though, or the air of settling down to tell somebody a really good story.  Only yesterday I was telling someone I don’t like poems with the word ‘memories’ in and then, I find it in this one, and it works perfectly.  There is also something very subversive going on here.  Nothing is quite what it seems.  The speaker in the poem ‘walks out’ but in walking out finds a man in his bed with a ‘fly on his nose’.  Then that shocking sixth line ‘Only his weeping eyes could move’ and there is something of the fairy tale about this as well and this is continued with that childlike line which sounds like a refrain ‘Oh dearie me, oh dearie him.’  The last five lines are the clincher – look how deftly he turns this around – suddenly the speaker is the one who cannot speak, the walker is the one who cannot move.  Even without the background information provided on the back cover, this is a strange and discomforting poem.  The writing is skilful and measured and controlled, full of insight and questions.

The collection is called Talking to the Dead which sounds quite macabre, but don’t let this put you off.  The second poem is the title poem and what struck me in this one is that even in the act of Talking to the Dead, the speaker wants to learn something new.  He says ‘Who can teach me/guide me through their dark palaces/their ungrowing fields?’

This poem reminded me of why I started the Sunday Poems in the first place – that feeling of reading something amazing and feeling like you might burst if you don’t tell someone about it.

Anyway, here is the wonderful ‘I Walked Out This Morning’.  I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you are moved to buy a copy from Smokestack.  You can order Gordon’s book here.  It is a short book, only 47 pages, which I’m guessing is why it is only priced at £4.95 but this seems ridiculously cheap for such quality.

I Walked Out This Morning – Gordon Hodgeon 

I walked out this morning
from the jigsaw jumble of
dreams and memories
and found a man in my bed
with a fly on his nose.
Only his weeping eyes could move.
I asked if I could help him
but could not understand his reply.
Oh dearie me, oh dearie him.
So I turned away to go and saw
him in the mirror standing
about to leave the room, and me
supine in the bed with a fly on my nose
and only my weeping eyes could move.

Sunday Poem – Mir Mahfuz Ali

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Evening all – it has been a hectic week as usual here in the cultural hot spot that is Barrow in Furness.  Working backwards, I’ve been away all weekend as an extra staff member on a residential trip for 30 secondary school pupils from a local school.  It was a slightly strange weekend as I didn’t know any of the children.  It turned out in the end that I had taught two of them in the past, and although they don’t play a brass instrument now, it was gratifying to know that I hadn’t turned them off music completely, they had just changed to playing different instruments.

On the Friday night some of the children decided to play Knock Door Run – I managed to sleep through it but the escapades apparently went on till 2am.  On Saturday the children were in workshops all day.  I wolfed down a very quick dinner in the evening and then escaped to Ulverston for A Poem and a Pint with the always fabulous Kei Miller, who I think I’ve seen read about six times now and I’m still nowhere near fed up of hearing him.

It was the committee’s turn to read on the Open Mic with the added treat of hearing Caroline Gilfillin, who has just moved to Ulverston and who has been co-opted into the Poem and a Pint committee.  I read one old poem – my cursing-all-the-children-that-have-annoyed-me poem, that being the mood I was in, and a new poem that I’ve been working on.  I also  managed to sell two pamphlets – hurrah!

I won’t give a fuller account because there will be a proper review going up onThe Poem and a Pint website, along with a link where you can see photos of all the readers and maybe some of the audience as well.

After the event finished I then had to get back to Coniston.  I sat in the lounge and had a cup of tea with the other staff, who were verging on slight hysterics by this time (non-stop nose bleed, possible broken toe, suspected sprained ankle – three different children) and went to bed at about midnight and this time, the children having worked hard all day they all went to sleep without any shinanigans

I left Coniston just after 3pm this afternoon full of ideas about running my own residential for my junior band.  I’d like to either run a rehearsal weekend to get them ready for conquering South Cumbria Music Festival next year or to run a Chamber Music Weekend where they are all put into small groups and learn to play in a small ensemble.  The plan would be to raise enough money so that the band could pay for everybody to attend, or at the least just ask for a small contribution from parents.

I went away when I was about 13 or 14 with Unity Brass Band to Shell Island in Wales.  One girl in the band went into the baby swing and got stuck in it and couldn’t get out.  My dad randomly had his toolkit in the back of the car and had to take the swing apart to get her out of it.  The whole band was camping out together on a public campsite.  I remember that we had a rehearsal in the middle of the campsite – I remember being slightly embarrassed but not really minding.  All the other campers came out of their tents to see what was going on.

Our conductor, Rob Boulter used to tell the story about poor Cheryl getting stuck in the swing at every single concert that the junior band did, and make her stand up each time.  I was about to write ‘Oh, for a story like that to tell about someone in MY junior band’ but then I thought no, if that happened to me as a teacher, it would be a complete nightmare and really stressful!  But I don’t remember any of the adults being stressed – everybody just thought it was funny…

So I got back today at about 4.30 and after getting something to eat booked a holiday to Crete with the husband.  I’m really looking forward to it, although I feel slightly guilty because I don’t think I’m going to be at home very much in the next month!

On Wednesday next week I’m off to Stanza.  I’m reading with John Dennison on Thursday at 2.30.  The programme at Stanza looks really exciting, and I’m hoping, hoping I can just get some tickets when I get there because I have not been organised enough to book any in advance.  You can have a look at the whole programme here and if you’d like to come along to my reading, tickets can be brought here.

I’m at Stanza for the whole weekend – in a moment of extravagance I decided that I would stay for the whole weekend.  Then I’m back for a week and then I’m off to Croatia the following Wednesday until the Sunday.  Then I’m back for a week and then it’s the residential in Grange and then it’s Crete.  The dogs may forget what I look like…

This week I’ve been writing an article for New Walk magazine and reading two books that I’ll be writing a review of for Under the Radar magazine.    I won’t say anything else about that because I don’t want to make my review pointless, but the books were so beautifully presented, all wrapped up in cellophane that I’ve already decided I love them and the poets would have to do something awful to make me change my mind.  Which hasn’t happened so far.  I’ve been doing a little bit of writing as well – I feel like I’m finally getting back into a habit of writing after a long spell of not doing it.

The summer programme for The Poetry School is now out.  I’m running an online course – The Act of Transformation.  Again I won’t say anything else about this, because Will at The Poetry School has asked me to write a blog about the course so I don’t want to pre-empt this.  If you, or anyone you know may be interested, do sign up, and please don’t let the fee put you off.  The Poetry School do have a bursary system in place.

The only other writing things that have been happening is back and forth emails to Croatia – as part of the Versopolis project, I will have a pamphlet of my poems translated into Croatian which is very exciting.  I’ve also had two offers of readings at festivals – one is not confirmed because the funding isn’t in place and one is top secret because the festival like to announce their line up themselves.  I think that’s it for writing news.

Running wise I have had to go right back to basics, starting like I did last April, running for eight minutes and walking for 2 minutes.  I did that 3 times on Monday and Tuesday and 4 times on Thursday and Friday and then today I managed 34 minutes without stopping, all on grass or sand.  Next job is to try it out on the road.  It is very annoying having to be patient, but I really don’t want to be injured when the good weather’s here.

So that brings us to today’s Sunday Poem which by Mir Mahfuz Ali.  This poem comes his first collection ‘Midnight, Dhaka’, published and available from Seren.  Like his fellow Seren poet Pascale Petit, who has featured on this blog in recent times, Mir Mahfuz Ali uses the animal world to express or explore trauma to the body.  On the back cover, the blurb says that Mir Mahfuz Ali is ‘reknowned for his extraordinary voice, a rich, throaty whisper brought about by a Bangladeshi policeman trying to silence the singing of anthems during an anti-war demonstration.

When you have this bit of information it makes the poem very immediate and shocking.  The  use of the words ‘teenage head’.  I think maybe one of the most shocking things in this poem is that the narrator doesn’t seem to change.  He is just trapped in the hospital bed, but the lizard does change.  He goes from being a simple lizard, to meditating, to finally providing a lesson in life ‘.

I really liked the line breaks in this poem as well  – to me they all felt perfectly in the right place and we get such a strong picture of the scene from all the detail.  There are many disturbing features – the ‘bloodless lizard’ the ‘cracked sound’ and the image of the lizard struggling for air.  The wonderfully vivid and brutal lines

Keep the foam clear so my voice doesn’t burst
through my trachea hole

like shrapnel in a pomegranate.

give such a weight.  Perhaps even more disturbing that that though, is the last couple of lines with the lizard as it escapes through the speaker’s throat.

I first came across Mir Mahfuz Ali in Poetry Review and loved his work.  I’ve been waiting patiently for his collection to come out since I read that first poem.  He was born in what is now Bangladesh and grew up in the early 1970’s when the region was struck first by a cyclone, then by civil war.  He has had  lots of different jobs  – model, tandoori chef, dance and acting.   He won the 2013 Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, given by the Poetry Society to the best poem in the magazine over that year who has not published a full collection.

I hope you enjoy the poem!

A Lizard by My Hospital Bed – Mir Mahfuz Ali

The mouth of silence trickles forward a bloodless lizard.
I take off my oxygen mask and allow

his cracked sound to crawl into my teenage head.
Like me he puffs for air.  I wheeze.  He pants.

He does not break his meditation as the hours pass,
my eyes still on him when he jumps on a thinking fly

with a fine open-air gesture.  An education by lizard:
focus, don’t rely on impulse.

Keep the foam clear so my voice doesn’t burst
through my trachea hole

like shrapnel in a pomegranate.
My eyes flick a question, city kerosene thuds

echoing in my head.  My friend says nothing.
Goes one step back, two steps forward.

How can I let him go?  I grab the fellow by his tail,
but he still escapes through the gap in my throat.

Sunday Poem – Carolyn Jess-Cooke

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Afternoon all!  Seems strange to be starting writing this in daylight but I’m parked on the sofa for the rest of Sunday now.  In fact I’m feeling so lazy I can’t even be bothered to go and get anything to read, so thought I would do my blog instead.  I’m parked on the sofa because I’ve been for my first attempt at a fell run with the husband today instead of my usual hour run with Walney Wind Cheetahs on the road.  It probably wasn’t the best weather conditions to have a go at our first fell run – blustery winds and incessant rain, but most of it was fun, although I prefer the running part to the picking your way over really slippy rocks part.  I seem to be at one extreme or the other in terms of physical activity at the moment – either running lots of miles or spending the whole day on the sofa.

This week I’ve had a great time doing some runs – on Wednesday it was the Hoad Hill Harriers 10k in Ulverston and previously-featured Sunday Poet Keith Hutson came all the way over from Yorkshire to have a go at running it.  We had a great time and I managed to get my new best time for 10k which was 51 minutes and 12 seconds – I managed to knock over three minutes off from my previous time and Keith was just behind me after I rather rudely overtook him in the last hundred metres or so.  And then yesterday I ran 5k at the Barrow Park Run and got another new personal best time – 23 minutes and 39 seconds.

Anyway, I won’t go on about running any more because I know that most of the readers of this blog came to it because of poetry.  Unfortunately I’ve not been doing much poetry to be honest.  I’m still running the weekly Dove Cottage Young Poets group for the Wordsworth Trust – this week the teenagers brought some of the poems they’ve been writing and hoarding so that made a nice change.

I also went up to Grasmere to the Wordsworth Trust to see Paul Farley and Owen Sheers read.  Owen Sheers read from ‘Pink Mist’ which is a verse play drawn from interviews with soldiers who were injured in Afghanistan and their wives/girlfriends/mothers.  I’ve just finished reading Pink Mist and I think it’s very good – very ambitious, shocking, moving.  I’d definitely recommend it as something a little bit different – I think it is as readable as a novel.

The programme for Ilkley Literature Festival arrived today – you can find it online here but I would recommend ordering it by post as it is very long!  I’m really looking forward to all the events I’ll be doing – I’m running quite a few writing workshops, including one where people have to sign up to do a 4-5 mile run first before they’re even allowed in the workshop!  I am running workshops when you can just slink in without having to worry about doing anything more energetic than pick up a pencil.

I’m also reading with the amazing Michael Laskey and Matthew Sweeney one evening and taking part in an event with Otley Brass Band which I’m really excited about.  I have a couple of weeks left of the summer holidays, so I’m going to start steadily planning the sessions I’m doing at the Festival – even though it’s not till October, I think it will be here before I know it and in between now and October I have to move house and hand my first collection in so I definitely need to keep on the ball.  The other thing that is happening in October is the residential poetry course that I’m running with Clare Shaw down in St Ives – when I checked a couple of weeks or maybe a month ago there were four places left, so if you’ve been thinking about it and not got round to booking your place now is the time!  More information here if you would like it, or please feel free to email me if you have any questions about the course.

I will also be back in work in September so I have a feeling the Autumn term is going to be busy.  There is one other thing happening – I’m one of FIVE tutors on this Online Poetry School course – I’m really looking forward to this – there will be five different assignments from five different poets followed by a live chat about the students poems.  Another occasion when I thank whoever is listening that I learnt to touch type when I was 17 – best thing I ever did! Anyway, if you would like more information on the course, ‘5 Easy Pieces’ you can find it here.

So today’s Sunday Poem is by Carolyn Jess-Cooke – Carolyn was due to be next week’s Sunday Poem but her publisher Seren are running a promotion on the kindle version of her poetry collection ‘Boom!’ – you can buy it for £1.99 instead of the usual £9.99 if you click on this link here.  I’ve only bought poetry a couple of times on Kindle because I like having the real book – but I think this is a very good offer and you can’t really go wrong for £1.99.

I first heard Carolyn Jess-Cooke read at the Women’s Poetry Festival in Grasmere as part of her ‘Writing Motherhood’ project which is currently touring the UK.  She read alongside Rebecca Goss whose poetry I’m also a big fan of and Sinead Morrisey who was fantastic.  In fact, I don’t mind admitting that I had a little tear in my eye by the end of the reading, which took me completely by surprise – as I don’t have children, it is not a subject that I would have thought I connected with easily – but the poems were wonderful.  As you can see from the Sunday Poem, as well as being about Motherhood, it is also about marriage and love and transformation.

I like this poem because of it’s physicality – the baby that is coming is likened to a hand grenade which changes everything.  The baby seems to have all the power in the relationship ‘threatening to explode’, ’emitting endless alarm-sounds’.  The baby ‘blew us to smithereens’ but by the end of the poem, we realise the end is not the end ‘We survived, but in a different state:’ I think this poem is interesting because of the way it explores change in relationships as well – I think it goes against the grain of the version of relationships that we listen to in love songs and observe in films – you get married and live happily ever after and that is the end.  This poem goes beyond that and explores what happens afterwards – ‘We held on, expecting each day to be our last.  We did not let go’.

Boom! explores the experience of raising four young children but there are also poems about the body and physicality explored in an honest and direct way.

Carolyn Jess-Cooke is an award-winning poet and novelist published in 22 languages.  Her latest novel ‘The Boy Who Could See Demons’ published by Pitakus in 2012 is being made into a film.  She lectures in Creative Writing at Glasgow University.  If you would like to find out more information about Carolyn head over to her website at http://www.carolynjesscooke.com

 

Boom! – Carolyn Jess Cooke

There was this baby who thought she was a hand grenade.
She appeared one day in the centre of our marriage
– or at least in the spot where all the elements of our union
    appeared to orbit –
and kept threatening to explode, emitting endless alarm-sounds
    that were difficult to decode.
On the ridge of threat, we had two options.
One was attempt to make it to the bottom
of the crevasse slowly, purposively, holding hands. The other
      was see how long we could stand there philosophizing
      that when she finally went off we’d be able to take it.
But then the baby who believed she was a hand grenade
      was joined in number: several more such devices entered our lives.
      We held on, expecting each day to be our last. We did not let go.
As one might expect, she blew us to smithereens.
We survived, but in a different state than before: you became
      organized, I discovered patience, shrapnel soldered the parts of us
      that hadn’t quite fit together before. Sometimes when I speak
it’s your words that come out of my mouth.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Poem – Em Strang

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Evening folks.  This is again, going to be a short post but you can find out more about what I’ve been getting up to if you head over to The Poetry School Campus.  You can find the transcript of a webchat discussion with Hannah Lowe, Amy Wack and Neil Astley here – http://campus.poetryschool.com/?get_group_doc=126/1399484358-first-collections-panel-transcript.pdf

but if you would like to know more about what I’ve been getting up to on a day to day basis, have a look at Part 2 of my logbook which you can find here http://campus.poetryschool.com/logbook-there-was-the-time-i-woke-up-in-the-morning-and-forgot-how-to-walk/

I’ll be putting Part 3 of the logbook up in the next few days or so and there will be news of an online workshop I’ll be running as part of my residency as well – so do keep your eyes open!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Em Strang who I met last weekend when I headed up to Lockerbie for a rehearsal.  Em is co-organiser of ‘Carrying the Fire’ festival which you can find more information about here.  Along with a violin player called Simon and Rachel Amey, another poet, we have put together a poetry performance exploring what ‘Re-wilding’ means.  There are still a few tickets left for the festival – as well as us, there will be music, storytelling, lectures, all sorts going on and obviously a bonfire.  It would be lovely to see some of you there!  If you would like more information about the festival have a look at the website which is http://www.carryingthefire.co.uk/

I was really impressed with Em’s poetry last weekend.  It lifted me out of a bit of a rut I was in – don’t know if you have ever got into a mood, when you have listened to too much bad poetry and it has finally got to you and you are left wondering whether you will ever love poetry again – too many bad open mics and poets who read for double the length of time they are supposed to etc etc.  Anyway, this wasn’t the poem I heard Em read – I hope she has bigger plans than this blog for that poem and I’m sure she will succeed – but Em was kind enough to send me some poems to choose from and I decided on this one.

I don’t often put poems in a particular form on this blog for some reason but I thought the form in this poem was so well handled.  I don’t think there is a line that really puts a foot wrong – I like the rhymes and their slippage into half rhymes – I love the title which just says so much without over explaining.  I love the little aside ‘(god it was insane)’ and the self realisation the poem is filled with – and the suprising ending, with the woman with small hands who walks into the poem and out again, like a cat walking into a room and ignoring everybody before leaving.

Em Strang also has a website and blog which is http://emstrang.wordpress.com/

You can find news about an upcoming workshop that she is running here which looks really interesting and still has a couple of places left.  Em has published work in New Writing Scotland, The Glasgow Herald,  Dark Mountain and Poetry Scotland amongst other places.  She has also recently been commended in the Wigtown Poetry Competition and the McLellan Poetry Prize.  She has a Phd in creative writing (ecological poetry) from the University of Glasgow.

I hope you enjoy the poem.

Sonnet Without Shouting – Em Strang

It’s true the door no longer fits the frame
and the windows are blown out.
Someone’s been in and torn both our names
out of the curtains, the bedclothes, even that stout
little dresser we bought in the driving rain
that day I suddenly knew it was my fault –
that if I hadn’t loved you so much (god it was insane)
you wouldn’t have left. No doubt
I learnt something valuable. Perhaps I finally overcame
the need to be near you, to decorate the house
with travel photographs and books, that quaint
framed poem you wrote one summer, the one about
the woman with small hands from Lastur in Spain,
who said the only way to make you listen was to shout.