Tag Archives: poet

Sunday Poem – Mir Mahfuz Ali


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


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


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.

Sunday Poem – Gene Barry


Evening folks.  This is going to be a very short post today – towards the end of last term I lost my pen drive which had all my resources on.  I remember vaguely thinking it would turn up over the summer – unfortunately it hasn’t and tonight I’ve been cutting and pasting various powerpoints, trying to get ready for tomorrow when I’m back at work.  I always get slightly anxious about going back to work after a break but I have excelled myself this time!

The performance of ‘Cartographers’ took place yesterday, despite heavy, persistent rain!  It went really well – both performances sold out last week and god love the british public – they stood there for the whole hour with their macs on and a few umbrellas between the lot of them, without complaining about the awful, awful weather.  The cast were fantastic – one of my pupils played a trumpet solo and then we did a duet towards the end of the show which went really well – I was very proud of him – it was his first paid gig as well so I’m sure he will remember it when he is old and wrinkly – I remember my first paid gig was playing in ‘Singing In the Rain’ (rather appropriately!) with my trumpet teacher.  He said the most important lesson I would learn as a second trumpet was to get to the bar as soon as the last note had sounded of the first half – he even made me do a dry run to make sure I knew the way…I did wish I’d remembered this yesterday when we had to queue for 20 minutes in the theatre bar for a cup of tea and a scone…

Anyway, writing the play has been an amazing, memorable opportunity – completely intense in a taking over the summer kind of way – there were moments when I thought I’d bitten off more than I could chew and I wouldn’t be able to do it – but it all turned out in the end and I’m really grateful for the chance to work with Lindsay and Joe Ward Munrow from the Alligator Club – they were so confident that it would work and it would be great that I started believing them!

It turns out a play is more ephemeral than a poem – a poem can live on in a magazine or a book or a pamphlet – but a play is spoken and then it kind of disappears – strange isn’t it?  Unless you are Shakespeare of course, I suppose.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Gene Barry – the founder and chairman of the Fermoy International Poetry Festival over in Ireland.  Gene’s just had his first collection ‘Unfinished Business’ out with Doghouse Press and you can order it here http://www.doghousebooks.ie if you would like to!  Gene Barry is a poet, art therapist and pyschotherapist from Cork City in Ireland.  Gene runs a poetry group on Facebook called ‘Elbow Lane Poetry’ which is bursting at the seams with poetry at most hours of the day and night, posted up by its many members, well worth a look.

I enjoyed trying to work out in this poem how each image, or each line relates to the ‘she’ in question – I also like that this poem has echoes of the rather excellent poem by Michael Hartnett which can be found here http://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/poem/item/17736 and the equally brilliant Norman McCaig poem which can be found here  http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry/poems/aunt-julia

I don’t know if Gene was aware of these two poems when he wrote ‘She Was’ but I think Gene’s poem uses what I would call the ‘scaffolding’ of these two poems and then leaps off into its own world, piling on image after image and leaving the reader to unpack each one.  I don’t know who the ‘she’ is either – I think of her as a mother figure – I think there are subtle pointers to this – some of the images show someone who cares about other people – the ‘non-stinging ointment’, ‘a bowl of floury potatoes’ and I liked the shortened line of ‘a shoulder’ – I heard the unspoken and unwritten ‘a shoulder to cry on’ when I read this!

I hope you enjoy, and apologies for this brief and maybe slightly terse blog!

She Was – Gene Barry

a penny from the bottom of a couch
a Sunday supplement
a necessary haircut
a ball of malt at a cold funeral
a phlegm spit
a copybook tackle
a shoulder
a nail on the head
a sea that couldn’t take lives
a favourite sister
a below the waist swipe
a found sock
a raw poem
a painful fracture
a perfect insult
a first French kiss
a bowl of floury potatoes
a clean handkerchief
a nettle sting
a non-stinging ointment
a back heel
a fight at a tinker’s wedding
a new flavour
a clenched fist
a child’s hug
a memorable holiday
a beautifully battered ship
a take-me-now confession
a perfect fit
a suitable estimate
an ambush…so she was.

A week full of poetry


Evening folks.  Lots has happened since last Sunday, so I thought I would blog today in the vain hope of cutting down the ginormous size of the Sunday Poem blog.

I got back from my lovely friend Manon’s house very late on Sunday.  Manon is a fantastic poet and she blogs here http://www.manonceridwen.wordpress.com  All week I’ve been thinking about Manon and wishing I lived a bit nearer so we could talk more often, hang out more often – the trouble with me, and maybe many people is we often don’t pick up the phone or reach out and say this – I just think it and then go on to something else and try not to think about it – I guess the news today of Seamus Heaney dying has made me think again about showing my poetry friends how much they mean to me – it has been humbling to read all the tributes to Seamus Heaney on social media – not just for his poetry – but him as a person – Jo Bell’s blog here illustrates this perfectly – she says ‘He was a giant who remembered how large the little people are’.  You can, and should read her whole blog post here  http://belljarblog.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/a-sunlit-absence/

On Monday me and the hubby went over to Blackpool to meet my parents who were having a holiday there to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary – they went to see a few shows but whilst we were over there for the day we went into Blackpool Tower and went to the rather amazing circus, the rather rubbish Dungeons and the scary SkyWalk at the top of the tower, so we had a really nice day.

On Tuesday Jacob Polley and Helen Mort read at Grasmere.  I was really looking forward to this as Helen’s new collection is one of the books I’ve been looking forward to for a while.  I read it in one sitting on Wednesday – I’m obviously planning to read it again, a little slower, but it was very, very good and I would highly recommend it.  It’s published by Chatto and is called ‘Division Street’. I don’t think it is officially out till next week maybe.  And Jacob Polley was good – if a little more subdued than when I heard him read at the TS Eliot prizes, when he had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand…

The lovely Jennifer Copley also has a new collection out called ‘Sisters’ published by Shoestring Press – I won’t say too much because she will be making an appearance on the blog later with news of her launch in Barrow in Furness as well.

On Wednesday we had a meeting for ‘A Poem and A Pint’ http://www.apoemandapint.co.uk and I have the lovely job now of writing to some poets to ask them to come and read for us.  I haven’t done this yet – but I can reveal that Moniza Alvi will be coming to Ulverston on February 8th 2014 to read for us, which we are all very excited about.  Before that, we have Maitreyabandhu on September 21st at Ford Park in Ulverston and Judy Brown on November 16th, all at Ford Park in Ulverston.

On Thursday I went for a writing day with a couple of friends – taking it in turns to set exercises – in between a bit of gossiping and lots of tea drinking.

Which brings us to today – which started off in a wonderful way.  I applied for some work as a poet – and I got it!  I won’t say any more now but I will probably be able to say a bit more on Thursday when I’ve been for the first meeting.  It’s only a small job and fits in around my teaching but I was really happy because I haven’t really applied for many jobs full stop – so I feel a bit like I’m in the dark when I’m doing all this – so yes, very happy!

And then I heard about Seamus Heaney – and have felt strange all day, and moved by the tributes that have been coming in.  So tonight, I’m going to read some Seamus poems and have a glass of red wine, or two.

See you all on Sunday.


My Trumpet Teacher Is A Poet – Is That Cool?


Evening folks.  This unashamedly cheesy title is the name of an article that I wrote that was recently published in Artemis Poetry.  I was asked to write about what links the various activities in my life – and this is what I came up with.  I’m posting up a link to a website called ‘Into the Bardo’.  The article is the featured article on the website at the minute at http://intothebardo.wordpress.com

I’m posting it as well because today has been a strange day.  I’ve been saying goodbye to some of my schools.   I’m going down to three days music teaching in September which means that some of the schools I’ve been working in for the last eight years will be passed to another teacher from the Music Service.

Part of me, if I’m honest, a lot of me, feels sad about this.  Part of me feels guilty as if I’m letting people down – or betraying them in some way.  This is all very melodramatic as well, I know, because most of me knows I’m not THAT important!

But the schools I did say goodbye to said really nice things about me – my job is the type where you don’t really get feedback on a day to day basis – but it felt wonderful to find out that the schools do notice that I’m doing a good job…

And I should explain I’m going down to three days to give myself more time to write, to read, to think, to do some writing projects that have come in, to swan round doing readings, to do some workshops in school – I’m aware I’m trying to pack quite a lot in to my days off – but hey, I figured I might as well be ambitious!

So there was that this afternoon – and the stress of talking through which school to pass on with my manager which was really hard, as I like them all!

And then this evening, whilst having a picnic with the husband and the dogs on top of Kirby Moor with the tide slowly coming in down in the bay and making strange shapes on the sand, my exam results came in for all 11 of my pupils that have sat ABRSM exams this time by email…

They have all passed – a mixture of passes, merits and distinctions – so  a big relief for me, and lovely to ring around them all and give them the good news…

So the article definitely fits with the type of day I’ve been having!  I hope you enjoy it.  You can find it at http://intothebardo.wordpress.com

and thanks to Jamie Dedes for publishing it on her website…

Lakeland Book of the Year Awards


Evening everybody.  In an attempt to not do a mammoth post on Sunday I’ve decided to do a mini update about the week so far… It’s been absolutely full of poetry, which, as you all know, is how I like it.

On Monday, I did my first poetry workshop at a secondary school in Rochdale – invited by a friend of mine, Michael Conley, who was a couple of years below me on the MA at Manchester.  He is an English teacher at the secondary school but he is also a very good poet, and in fact I have used the opportunity to appropriate a poem from him as a Sunday Poem.

I love working with other teachers – both in music and poetry settings – I feel like I learn a lot from watching how other teachers work – and although Mike was supporting the workshop rather than doing any active teaching – I learnt a lot from him – he had a very calm manner with the teenagers.  He moved amongst them when they started writing, and they obviously trusted him, and wanted to show their work to him.  One of the Year 10 boys decided to write a poem entitled ‘What Mr Conley sees at night’ instead of, for example, ‘What the Cat sees at night’ but Michael diffused the situation with humour and took it as a joke, but then shut it down before it got out of hand.

So, I enjoyed delivering the workshops – the Year 10’s were brilliantly behaved and we found a way of sharing their work without embarrassing them – a variant on the ‘Secret Poem’ exercise! And it was great seeing Mike working as well.

So that was my Monday – and then Tuesday I was off to the Lakeland Book of the Year awards.  There were four categories, and I was on the shortlist of three books for the Art and Literature category.  To be eligible for the award, your book had to be about or based in Cumbria.

I was the only poetry book on the shortlist – and it felt kind of cool to be being judged against novels and glossy photography books and guide books and all sorts of other things, and my little pamphlet managing to hold its own.

The nice thing was that the judges said a bit about each shortlisted book, so even though I didn’t win, I had lovely things said about my poems and Eric Robson (of Gardener’s Question Time fame) read one of my poems out!  I went up and got my certificate and it was all quite nice, and then the judges announced that there was an overall shortlist for the Lakeland Book of the Year, drawn from the winners of each category, but because of the high standard this year, they had five books on the shortlist, and my poetry book was one of them!  So that was even nicer – I nearly crawled under the table when Hunter Davies, one of the other judges, said his favorite poem was the one rude poem in the pamphlet – and then proceeded to read the one rude line out at the very posh awards ceremony.

It was good for sales anyway, because I sold ten copies of my book so although it was mortifying at the time, it was also quite funny.

On my table there were some lovely people – a lady called Ros and her husband who has the most brilliant idea for a book that I’ve heard for a while – she was given a bursary from the Lakeland Book of the Year to help her write it- and Chris Stanbury, whose book ‘Wainwright’s Secret Lakeland’ was longlisted for the award, and Chris’s friend Stan, who took the photographs for the book and lovely Pauline Crossley, one of the lovely organisers of the Lakeland Book of the Year…

The winner of the award was Stephen Matthews for his book ‘Lazy Tour in Cumberland’.  I haven’t read it yet, but I’m planning too!

I then made my way to Grasmere to see Simon Armitage read – not much to say about it, except he was very good, very dry and funny, but I was so tired I scarpered off pretty quickly after the event finished…

Sunday Poem – Joshua Weiner


Evening folks!  It’s almost the end of the half term week – it’s my day off tomorrow so I’m not back at work quite yet.  I’ve had quite a lazy week off – I’ve been doing lots of reading.  I’ve been rereading Virginia Woolf’s novels alongside a biography written around the novels as well as various poetry books and magazines that have landed through the door.  Sometimes I’ve only got out of my pyjamas to walk the dogs or because I was hungry.

However I did get out to Ambleside to the open mic at Zefferellis, organised by Andrew Forster from the Wordsworth Trust.  This month’s guest poet was Jane Routh from Lancaster and there was a good turn out again.  I dragged lovely friend Helen along and we scoffed pizza whilst listening to poetry.  Very quietly I might add.

Jane read beautifully – about boats and animals and woods – and there were about ten or so readers on the open mic – all varied.  I tried out a short sequence which I’ve just finished…I’ve always wanted to write a sequence, even though my heart sinks whenever anyone announces “I will now read a sequence…” it doesn’t stop me wanting to inflict MY sequence on people!  Andrew Forster read a cracking poem about sheep on the road..so all in all a good night and worth getting out of my pyjamas for.

And then since very late on Thursday me and the hubby have been down in Leicester visiting my family – again I’ve been very lazy because the weather has been so good!  It has been nothing but s the sunshine here.  We brought the cat and the dogs with us and the cat has been having a great time in the back yard, rolling around in the grass and basically spending all his time out there – it has made us feel quite guilty about not having a garden for him…

We’ve been walking in fields around Leicester and the public foot paths are so much better marked down here!  The hubby has been hiding his disappointment at not having to use his map and compass – there have been no nettle filled stiles to break our way through – it’s all very well kept and orderly.  And of course the fields are all cultivated with crops which you don’t get so much of when walking on foot paths in Cumbria…

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Joshua Weiner, an American poet who I heard read at the Troubadour a couple of weeks ago.  The poem I’ve chosen absolutely blew me away when I heard Joshua read it – it is the sort of poem that I wished I’d written, even after hearing only the first line.

Joshua Weiner is professor of English at the University of Maryland.  He is the author of three books – the first is ‘The World’s Room’, the second is ‘From the Book of Giants’ and the third, which is the one he read from at the Troubadour is called ”The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish’.  Good titles aren’t they?

Joshua has been awarded the Amy Lowell Traveling Poetry Scholarship which has brought him to Berlin for a year.

I really enjoyed the rest of the book as well as the title poem, which remained my favourite – but listen to the first few lines of this poem, titled ‘The Winters’s Tale’

“It’s about jealousy without cause,
a king who thinks his queen deceives him;
or some truth that hides inside
a seeming,”

Isn’t that beautiful?  I don’t see how you could not want to read the rest of the poem after reading that.

However, I decided to ask Joshua if I could use the poem that struck me first of all on that Monday, the one that made me buy the book, which is the title poem of the book.  If you would like to buy Joshua Weiner’s book go to http://www.press.uchicago.edu

If you would like to find out more about Joshua Weiner you can have a look at his website which is http://www.joshuaweiner.com/

So here is the poem – and I hope you enjoy!

“The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish” – Joshua Weiner

is not a man being swallowed by a fish
with eyes like eight-pointed throwing stars
it’s a man being swallowed by a war
a man being taken into the mouth of a woman
or being swallowed by his work

it’s a man traveling far inside a book
a man being swallowed up in smoke
he swallows the smoke, that blends around him like a thought
it’s a man being swallowed by a sound
he shapes it so he lives inside a song

of a man being swallowed by his kin, his skin
a man being swallowed by the State
(Leviathan in 1948)
It’s a man being swallowed by another man
literally, eaten as a pathway to god

it’s a man being swallowed by a sight
he cannot reach, cannot touch, cannot trace

it’s a man who won’t recognize his face
who can’t fit the parts, or find the place

it’s a man in triumph over death
who laughs and beats the dust from his clothes
a man tasting dust inside the laugh

it’s a man who listens to the clock
a man with nothing to exchange
a rude man, his twin he leaves behind
it’s a man who wants to be a bride

a man being swallowed by his fault
with something old to show and new to hide

it’s a man who tries to haul the rope
a man who stooping can’t provide
a man who can’t forget his name

it’s a man who doesn’t know his worth
it’s a man being swallowed by his wrath

his youth, yield, luck, the law, his fear, the fog, his fame

it’s a man being swallowed by a coat
his father’s coat, he smells of the fit
a man being swallowed by his vows
it’s a man softly squeezing for the vein
he never finds it, he’s minding the road

it’s a man being swallowed by a room
in which he finds a man being swallowed by a fish
it’s a man who thinks what’s in a man
who exits into night at closing time
the figure of a man being swallowed by a fish.

Sunday Poem – Christopher Reid and musings on the Phantom


Afternoon everybody.  It’s been a whole week since I’ve updated the blog – I’ve been playing trumpet in Phantom of the Opera this week for The Lakes School.  This has involved teaching all day and then driving straight to Windermere, which is about 45 minutes from my house.

So this week I’ve felt really far away from poetry – both physically and psychologically.  I’ve not had time to read any poetry, let alone write any.  More importantly, I’ve not had anyone to talk about poetry with.  If I’d had time to stop, I know I would have missed it – as it is this week has been so busy, I’ve not had time to miss it. 

It has been a great week though, and playing in shows is my favourite type of performing and Phantom of the Opera is one of my favourite musicals.  It was also lovely to see the level of appreciation for Adam Theobold, the Head of Music at The Lakes school who has worked for 13 months to put the musical together.  There were lots of thank you’s last night for the various people that had helped  – the children raised over 15000 pounds to fund the production and there were lots of volunteers involved but I think it is fair to say that without one extraordinary person to drive these things forward, they don’t happen.  I also think often as teachers we don’t get to see whether we make a difference really, not until years later if at all.  For example, I never thanked my lovely English teacher, Mrs Smith or my brass band conductor, Rob Boulter who were hugely influential.  But last night, it was clear and obvious that the children involved with the musical will not forget the experience – most of them were in tears and all were saying thank you to Adam for everything he’s done.  Adam also learnt to conduct in about a week – the first rehearsal he was conducting a downbeat as an upbeat and then he completely transformed in a week – I wish I could improve that quickly. 

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing this week – nothing to do with poetry but I wanted to put a Sunday poem on here that I’ve always loved and that would maybe help me find my way back to poetry.  So today’s Sunday poem is by the wonderful poet Christopher Reid.  One of my favourite poems of all time is the first poem from his collection ‘Mr Mouth’  published in 2006 by Ondt and Gracehoper.  Looking at my copy, it says that the edition I have is limited to 1000 copies, so I don’t know if there are any still available, but I would really recommend trying to get hold of a copy.  In the book, the character of ‘Mr Mouth’ is explored, always with humour.  Re-reading it today, I also loved that it is an in depth exploration of speech, words and everything associated with the mouth.  I also love the way Christopher has created a whole world around this character of Mr Mouth and this rather fantastical world where a baby has full speech by the time he is born keeps just enough of a grip on reality to make it pertinent to our lives, when the issue of speech and silence and being able to speak out is still being fought for across the world. The Mr Mouth poems remind me of Ted Hughes’ ‘Crow’ and Martin Kratz, a previous Sunday poet on this blog, is writing a wonderful sequence of poems with a central character called ‘Skeleton Man’ which in its lightness of touch and sense of ironic humour seems to be in the same vein as ‘Mr Mouth’. 

Anyway, here is the Sunday Poem!

Mr Mouth is Born – Christopher Reid

Mr Mouth is born
to his life on earth
neither early nor late
not ripped untimely
not a difficult birth
nothing miraculous or heroic
just the normal form of conception
then nine months
and as punctual as you please
a textbook delivery

You shot out like a sneeze
his mother will tell him
more than once
in the years to come

But the trouble starts
when the nurse holding the wee chap
by his ankles
upside down
like a skinned and marinaded rabbit
deals out the slap
that is meant to set
the vital motor going

Ouch he says
quite unmistakably
twisting his features into a frown
That wasn’t kind
and thereby establishes
the lifelong habit
of speaking his mind
at every least provocation.

Sunday Poem: Niall Campbell


Today’s Sunday Poem is by Niall Campbell.  I met Niall in 2011 at the Eric Gregory Award Night when we all went to London to the Calvary and Guards Club to collect our cheques and swan about being posh.  The winners of the Eric Gregory Award that year were myself, Niall, Holly Hopkins (who has a Sunday poem on here), Tom Chivers and Martin Jackson. 

I still keep in touch with them all – I bumped into Tom the other day at the Inpress Poetry Garden Market and had a nice cup of tea with Holly on the same day. 

Niall is a lovely guy – originally from the Western Isles of Scotland, so to fully appreciate this poem, you need to hear it in his accent!  Niall studied English Literature at Glasgow University and completed an MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of St Andrews.  In the same year he received an Eric Gregory, he was also awarded a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship.  He’s currently living in Leeds.

Even before he won the Eric Gregory, Niall’s first pamplet had been accepted by the wonderful HappenStance press.  Why wonderful?  Well, firstly, the pamphlets are really stunning.  My copy of Niall’s still has the cellophane wrapper that it came in.  They are a lovely cream colour but the first and last page of Niall’s has a dark blue thick card insert.  Secondly, the Happenstance editor is Helena Nelson. 

Helena is a great poet in her own right – she came to read for ‘A Poem and A Pint’ in Water Yeat, Cumbria a year or so ago, and she was great fun.  The night she read, I was doing the music with my friend Liz Wiejak – I played The Trumpet Shall Sound, Carnival of Venice – can’t remember what else.  Anyway, she has a fantastic website and produces wonderful pamphlets. 

I think Niall’s has sold out now – but it would be worth checking the website for this, but I would also recommend Helena’s ‘How Not to Get Your Poetry Published’ if you are looking into publishing a pamphlet or a collection.  She gives great advice in this and it is well worth a read.  The website is www.happenstancepress.com

Anyway, here is the Sunday poem


I never knew old rope could rust, could copper
in its retirement as a nest for rats.

The frayed lengths knotting into ampersands
tell of this night, and this night, and this,

spent taut between the surface and the sea-floor –
the water coarsening each coiled blue fibre

and strained, one strand might snap, unleash its store
of ripples to be squandered in the dark

though thousands would remain still intertwined
and thousands do remain, but frailer now.

These hoards, attached to nothing, not seen since
the last tight-rope was walked, the last man hung.