Tag Archives: poetry about domestic violence

16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence – Day 3

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16 Days of Action – day 3

A few years ago – I think maybe the summer of 2014, I booked onto a residential poetry course with Ian Duhig and Ruth Padel at Ty Newydd.

It was a great week – and very productive for me – I wrote a lot of my first collection there.  I wrote my ‘Curse of the Trumpet Teacher’  in one of Ian’s workshops and my poem ‘That Summer’ in Ruth’s workshop (both in my first collection).

And I wrote this poem – ‘He Was the Forgotten Thing’ I think during Ian’s workshop.

Simon Armitage has a great poem here called ‘Not the Furniture Game’ which I think was one of the poems Ian may have used in the workshop. Simon’s poem reminds me a little of a blazon –  defined on the Poetry Foundation website as cataloguing ‘the physical attributes of a subject, usually female’.  It also ‘compares parts of the female body to jewels, celestial bodies, natural phenomenon, and other beautiful or rare objects.’  Simon Armitage’s poem isn’t a blazon but it seems to subvert and answer back to the tradition.

What does ‘forgotten mean anyhow?

There are references to other poems in the sequence in this poem.  When I was writing these poems, I often wrote a line, and then realised there was something, some story, some partial memory I had to write about.  Like ‘he was walking home/through the snow with his arm like a curse/round my neck’ – I had to write a whole poem ‘Followed’ to explain what I meant.  Like the birds, who keep returning throughout the sequence.  Like ‘he was a fist not an eye’ – see Day 10 ‘On Eyes’.  Or the line ‘the language of insects’ from the poem ‘In That Year’ from Day 1.  I didn’t know what I meant when I wrote it then.  I had to write another poem to understand.

Adrienne Rich said ‘Lying is done with words and also with silence’.

and ‘It will take all your heart, it will take all your breath, it will be short/it will not be simple

 

He was the Forgotten Thing

He was the forgotten thing, the blackened tree
that doesn’t grow, that doesn’t fall, he was
the car that wouldn’t pull over, the tide coming in,
he was everything I put my heart against,
the low set and turn of heads when he entered a room,
he was buses roaring past like blind heroes,
he was stolen things.  He was the connecting parts
of train carriages, he was windows with curtains
to keep out the street, he was a car that drove
through the night, he was a fist not an eye, he was
an eye not an ear, he had thoughts that took over
the day like weather, like the rain coming in,
he was nothing I thought of, he was not
what was promised, he was walking home
through the snow with his arm like a curse
round my neck, he was not black and white,
he was nothing like that.  And look at him now,
standing in a field surrounded by crows, one arm
pointing north but his face to the west,
he knows to be still with his black button eyes,
his stitched-on smile.  The birds have come
to pull out the straw that keeps him upright.
Look how they carry him home in their
sharp little beaks once again.

16 Days of Action against Domestic Violence #day2

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16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence  – Day 2

There is a beautiful poem by the poet C.P. Cavafy called ‘Body, Remember’ or sometimes ‘Remember, Body’ depending on the translation.  You can find one translation of it here but I would recommend looking up different versions of this poem.

This is one of my favourite poems – full of regret and desire and passion and longing.  And there is something shockingly direct about it, as if Cavafy is not talking to his body, but to the readers, to yours, to mine.

And the heartbreak of that line ‘Now that it’s all finally in the past’.  The past as a place you want to return to, the past as a place that the body remembers.

The idea that the body can remember things that the mind can’t.

That sometimes there isn’t a narrative

That sometimes your body knows the narrative but keeps it to itself

That sometimes there are only fragments

The body and the mind separated and able to talk to each other

There’s a dog loose in the woods, there’s a dog loose in the woods  

Watership Down, and a rabbit going ‘tharn’

Body, remember not only how much you were loved

Body, remember that night you pretended 

Once you were full of fields

Remind me, body, so I don’t let it happen again

 

 

 

Body, Remember

Body, remember that night you pretended
it was a film, you had a soundtrack running
through your head, don’t lie to me body,
you know what it is.  You’re keeping it from me,
the stretched white sheets of a bed,
the spinning round of it, the high whining sound
in the head.  Body, you remember how it felt,
surely, surely.  You’re lying to me.  Show me
how to recognise the glint in the eye of the dog,
the rabid dog.  Remind me, O body, of the way
he moved when he drank, that dangerous silence.
Let me feel how I let my eyes drop, birds falling
from a sky, how my heart was a field, and there
was a dog, loose in the field, it was worrying
the sheep, they were running and then
they were still.  O body, let me remember
what it was to have a field in my chest,
O body, let me recognise the dog.

 

Previously published in The Art of Falling by Seren

16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence

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16days

I wanted to take part in this last year – but by the time I realised it was happening, half of the 16 days had gone.  It seemed important to start at the beginning, to take part all the way through.

The 16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence is linked to the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.  

In my first collection The Art of Falling there is a sequence in the middle of the book ‘How I Abandoned My Body To His Keeping’ which is centered around/explores an experience of domestic violence.

I thought that I was putting this sequence at the heart of the collection, right in the middle.  But from another angle, maybe I was hiding it.

A strange/almost coincidence that there are 17 poems in the sequence – it almost/nearly fits into the 16 days.

But not quite.  The poems spill out of the container they should have fitted into.  The experience spills out of the year that it happened in and touches everything that comes after.

When I think back to the process of writing this sequence, when I think of the poems in the sequence, Elizabeth Bishop’s poem ‘The Monument’  always comes into my mind.  ‘The Monument’ is only a monument.  But also an experience.  Something you can walk around, and look at from every angle.  Maybe you can climb on top of it and look down. Or lie on the floor and look up.  You can’t climb inside it and look out.  Or maybe you can. Still, by the end of the poem/experience, could you draw the Monument? Could you testify to the truth of it,to what it really looked like?

This was the first poem I wrote about that time, that place, that year.  I wrote it half-asleep, sitting in front of the fire on the floor.  The same feeling of half-asleep that you might have when you’re driving late at night, and you realise you need to pull over before you drift across a motorway, drift into a fence. I wasn’t driving, or at least I was only driving towards a poem. I woke up at 3am with my head in the dog basket and the house completely silent, and the poem (or at least a first draft) finished.

 

In That Year 

And in that year my body was a pillar of smoke
and even his hands could not hold me.

And in that year my mind was an empty table
and he laid his thoughts down like dishes of plenty.

And in that year my heart was the old monument,
the folly, and  no use could be found for it.

And in that year my tongue spoke the language
of insects and not even my father knew me.

And in that year I waited for the horses
but they only shifted their feet in the darkness.

And in that year I imagined a vain thing;
I believed that the world would come for me.

And in that year I gave up on all the things
I was promised and left myself to sadness.

And then that year lay down like a path
and I walked it, I walked it, I walk it.

 

This poem can be found in The Art of Falling, published by Seren 2015

Sunday Poem – Katrina Naomi

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Sunday Poem – Katrina Naomi

Today has consisted of an 11k run in the morning, and then stripping wallpaper from a ceiling in my living room.  We started stripping the wallpaper off the actual walls in this room a while ago, which wasn’t too traumatizing, until we got to the ceiling.  Why would anybody wallpaper a ceiling anyway?  And why would they do it 5 times??  The husband decided to use the washing line pole and gaffa tape it to the steamer so that I could steam while he stood on the ladder and scraped.  I can’t stand on the ladder as I get vertigo so his ingenious invention meant the end of my excuses as to why I couldn’t possibly help with this most boring of jobs.  I told him that every time I steamed another patch of wallpaper, a poem was dying, but he was deaf to my complaints.  We have finally finished and now await the whims of the plasterer to sort out the various holes in the ceiling and walls of the room.

So I haven’t done any writing today, apart from catching up with emails.  I’m busy planning for the Poetry Carousel , which will be happening very soon (August 16th-19th).  In case you’ve just started following this blog, the Poetry Carousel is a residential course with a difference.  It ran for the first time last December and was a success, with all 32 spaces being filled.  I hope we can replicate that again this year with guest tutors including the wonderful Clare Shaw, from Hebden Bridge, and international poets Tsead Bruinja and Saskia Stehouwer from Amsterdam.

Each participant will take part in a 2 hour workshop with each tutor over the four days.  There will be readings in the evenings from the tutors and guest poets.  Workshop groups will be limited to 10 people per workshop.  I will be releasing information about the workshops that we’ll be running next week.  The carousel is a bargain at only £330.  This includes all workshops, accommodation, and breakfast and evening meals.

If you can’t make the Poetry Carousel, then I’m running another course at the hotel with tutor Jennifer Copley (October 24th-28th).  This is a more traditional residential course, limited to 16 participants.  The theme is ‘From Ordinary to Extraordinary‘ and costs £424, to include workshops, accommodation and breakfast and evening meals.

Places for both courses have been selling steadily over the last couple of months, and the hotel have advised early booking to get the nicest rooms!

Although today has been devoid of any poetry, last week was filled with it.  I went to a reading in Grasmere on Wednesday, organised by the wonderful Deborah Hobbs.  Six Cumbrian poets reading – Nick Pemberton, Mark Carson, Jennifer Copley, Mark Ward, Polly Atkin and Deborah – all very different, but very enjoyable to listen to.  Then on Wednesday I went over to Lancaster for an April Poets reading – Carole Coates was launching her fabulous collection ‘Jacob’ which I read yesterday afternoon and couldn’t put down – more on that next week.  Meg Peacock was also launching her New and Selected, which was also very interesting.  One of her poems, ‘Thirteenth Night‘ is one of those poems which is enjoyable no matter how many times you hear it, like listening to a favourite song, so I was really happy when she read it to finish off.  The musician who was playing at April Poets was absolutely fantastic, and it would have been worth the hour and a half drive from Barrow to hear him alone, although sadly  I can’t remember his name now.  Mike Barlow and Ron Scowcroft, the organisers of April Poets also read, celebrating a successful series of events, before they handed over the organisers baton to the new April Poets team, David Borrott and Sarah Hymas.  It will be interesting to see what direction David and Sarah take the April Poets event next.

The highlight of my week this week was reading in Chorlton for Manky Poets, run by Copland Smith, another great organiser-poet.  The event started off with an open-mic, where nearly everyone in the 20 plus audience got up and read one poem, the only rule being that the introduction couldn’t be longer than the poem.  The readers were so well-behaved that there was time to go around again – it was a really varied and interesting open mic.

When Liz Berry was here last weekend, we talked a lot about performing, or reading your poetry.  It struck me when I saw Liz read that she really ‘inhabits’ her poems.  I can’t really describe what I mean by this, except to say I know it when I see it.  Clare Shaw does it.  Helen Mort does it, Steve Ely does it.  It feels impossible to put my finger on exactly what I mean – something to do with commitment to the poem, sitting inside the skin of the poem, speaking from within the poem.  Anyway, I want to inhabit my poems more – I think I do it sometimes, but maybe not enough, and maybe it is dependent on circumstances, whether I feel comfortable or confident on that particular day.  I think I must have done something however because I managed to sell 12 books and 3 pamphlets, which I was very pleased about, and I’m sure it is connected, the sales and the inhabiting of poems when you read them I mean.

 

I got a lovely package in the post this week from my editor Amy Wack.  She sent me copies of new collections by Ilse Pedlar, Judy Brown and Katrina Naomi.  I’ve managed to read all three this week and would recommend all of them. I’m hoping that I will be able to feature a poem from all three poets on the blog in the next couple of weeks, so you can judge for yourself.

I read Katrina’s collection first which is called The Way the Crocodile Taught Me.  I’ve been looking forward to this collection coming out for ages, as I knew that Katrina has been working on a Phd on violence in poetry, which I’m assuming this collection is part of. Katrina’s PhD thesis is very readable, very interesting, and available online!  You can find a link to a PDF of the thesis here, on Katrina’s website.

I am interested in the way that violence, particularly domestic violence is explored and portrayed in poetry.  The statistics on domestic violence are grim – 1 in 4 women in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. 1 in 4.  That means of the 16 girls in my class of little trumpet players, 4 of them will experience domestic violence.  That is heartbreaking

I’m glad it’s being written about more now, although I can count the poets who have written about domestic violence one hand.  Katrina explores how childhood can be impacted by domestic violence in her collection.  The poem that I’ve chosen for the Sunday Poem is heartbreaking – the violence is both subtle and explicit.  The controlling behaviour of the stepfather is detailed in the middle of the poem, but the atmosphere of threat and tension is set up right from the first line,  when we read ‘You lie underneath him’, and later, this is elaborated on: ‘his 17 stones/pressing down on you’.

The sadness in this poem is unbearable – the line ‘I can’t talk to you,/knowing he’s also there, listening’ contrasts with the beautiful image at the end of the words ‘in a flotilla of paper boats’.  I love this image, the idea of words being the thing that you send to communicate, and the feeling of moving on created by the idea of the boats.

When I got to the end of this poem, with its lines about forgiveness, I had to put the book down and catch my breath. The idea of forgiveness, of blame, responsibility and guilt is something I’ve tried to explore in my own poems about this subject, and there is something complicated being explored here about responsibility and blame, and victims and perpetrators.

If you would like to know more about Katrina, you can have a look at her website here. She has a background in human rights, was the first writer-in-residence at the Bronte Parsonage Museum and holds a PhD in creative writing from Goldsmiths.  Her debut collection The Girl with the Cactus Handshake received an Arts Council Award and was shortlisted for the London New Poetry Award.  She has also published prize-winning pamphlets.  Katrina is a Hawthornden Fellow and a lecturer at Falmouth university.  She is orginally from Margate and lives in Cornwall.

If you would like to order the collection, you can get 20% off if you order direct from Seren here.  I hope you enjoy the poem, and thanks to Katrina for letting me use it this week.

Letter to my Mother – Katrina Naomi

You lie underneath him,
a measure of mud between you.

This was our final argument – his and mine –
your husband/my step-father.

I’m told of a double headstone,
which I haven’t visited,

since I held my neice’s hand,
threw a lily and a tablespoon of chalky soil

on your lid.  I can’t talk to you,
knowing he’s also there, listening,

as he always did: the click
of the extension by your bed, the reading

out of my letters and your replies.
All these years, his 17 stones

pressing down on you, crushing
the soil between you.

I talk to you when I cross the Thames,
looking right to Shooters Hill –

Kent’s north edge.  I send you my words
in a flotilla of paper boats.  I forgive you,

I always have.  I forgive you
for marrying him.