Tag Archives: poetry business

Sunday Poem – Geraldine Clarkson

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Sunday Poem – Geraldine Clarkson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Hass, Twentieth Century Pleasures

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

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

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

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

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

When they say Connemara – Geraldine Clarkson

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Poem – David Wilson

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Sunday Poem – David Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I love you” – David Wilson

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

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

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

Sunday Poem – Wayne Price

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Sunday Poem – Wayne Price

I cannot say that I’m not relieved to have got to the end of this week – two four hour rehearsals, two readings and one gig, all while I’ve had the most awful cold.  In fact to call it a cold is like calling a tiger a house cat to my mind.  There should be another, more accurate name for a cold because it is truly awful to get one, isn’t it – but the word cold makes it seem like something that you can have and just keep getting on with things.  Which I suppose you can, in a way, but it doesn’t describe how dreadful you feel.  I’m over the worst of mine now although I’m still having the odd, sporadic coughing fit.

I’m on an enforced day of rest today and am keeping away from the running trainers.  I’m not even looking longingly at them. Ok, I am, but I’m trying to be sensible and try and recover from what has been a bit of a heavy week. So I’ve been sat in the garden looking at my new plants and watching the bees coming back and forth to the flowers.  Bees have become my new obsession at the minute.  I haven’t quite had a blanket over my knees and milky tea but it’s been close.

I did go for a run on Monday morning along the beach which was really lovely, beautiful weather and a fairly steady pace.  We did nearly six miles and I actually felt better when I got home and more energised.  On Tuesday I went for a run with a few friends and we decided to have a go at some Strava segments, which probably wasn’t the best idea, seeing as I had a sore throat and was feeling a bit rough, but I thought it would perk me up.  I think what it did was force the virus to move from my throat up to my nose and my head and by Wednesday I was talking like Darth Vadar and feeling awful.

So I haven’t ran since Tuesday! On Thursday I drove to Todmorden to do a reading at the monthly poetry night ‘Kultura’ at Kava in Todmorden.  I was in two minds about whether to get in touch with Anthony Costello, the host and cancel because my voice was not good at all but I thought it would be quite harsh to cancel with such short notice. I thought as long as I made sure I had water with me I would be ok.  Unfortunately, the water had no effect at all.  I started reading my first poem, and only got half way through before I started coughing uncontrollably.  It was the most horrible feeling – to be standing in front of an audience and feel your throat slowly tightening and trying not to cough.  The audience were really lovely and kind about the whole thing.  In the end I had to ask my friend Keith Hutson, who I was staying with that night to read my poems for me – he knows my work very well so I knew he wouldn’t feel too put on the spot.

Despite struggling with my voice – and there is something truly ironic about not being able to speak poems that I’ve worked on, that I know inside and out and back to front – I still enjoyed the evening.  The event takes place in the basement of the cafe.  It feels very cosy, like a little cave and it was really well attended.  The audience were very supportive, not just of the guest readers, but also of each other, later on at the open mic.  I managed to sell four books and two pamphlets despite choking on all of my poems.

I went straight to bed at Keith’s house and managed my first good night’s sleep in about a week – only woke myself up a couple of times coughing so I felt a lot better on Friday.  We went to Hebden Bridge and had cake and tea and then went into the bookshop where I bought The Handless Maiden and The Book of Blood by Vicki Feaver – two books I’ve read library copies of but have never had my own copies.  I also bought Small Hands by Mona Arshi which I’ve been meaning to get for a while.  I also bought a load of lovely postcards which I put in with my pamphlet if anyone ever buys one through this blog – so if you would like a copy of If We Could Speak Like Wolves for £5 plus postage and packing, you will also get a nice postcard in with it as well – just click here to order it.

On Friday night it was my friend David Borrott’s launch of his pamphlet Porthole.  I’ve featured David a couple of times on this blog before but for those of you that missed it – David was chosen as one of four poets to feature in a new ‘Laureate’s Choice’ series of pamphlets, published by Smith/Doorstop.  You can find out more information about the project at the Laureate’s Choice blog, with details of upcoming readings.

David had organised a reading to launch his own pamphlet, and to launch two of the other Laureate’s Choice poets, Wayne Price and Nichola Deane.  It was a really lovely event.  Two of David’s sons were there and were very cute and well behaved, and his lovely wife as well, who I’ve heard lots about but hadn’t met before.  I’d read Wayne and Nichola in magazines and competitions but haven’t heard them read.  I asked them both if I could pick a poem for my blog once I’d read their pamphlet after hearing them read as I really liked their work.

I read Wayne’s pamphlet Fossil Record in one sitting today, out in the garden, which felt very apt, as his pamphlet is full of poems about animals and the natural world. In fact he even has a poem called Suburban Gardens at Night which I was very tempted to put up.  There isn’t a dull poem in the pamphlet.  Sometimes I read books and I wonder why the poet felt the need to write that poem – rather cruelly of me, I think, what is the point, or where was the drive, the compulsion to write it.  This never happened reading these poems – I enjoyed all of them.

You know you are in safe hands, for example, when the first two lines of the first poem in the pamphlet are

‘Hand and mind are fishing the river after dark
for the slow, heavy old ones that rise at night’

from ‘Nightfishing’

I think those two lines are so beautiful, and almost a poem in their own right – but the rest of the poem, and the pamphlet is just as good.  The poem I’ve chosen to use as this week’s Sunday Poem I loved as soon as I read the first four lines – again it gave me that feeling that the poet knows exactly what they are doing, that the poem is in safe hands.  I like the specificity of the title and this is continued with the detail that is drawn out in the poem.  There is something wonderful in the aptness of the comparison to the body of the hawk with a balsa plane and the way the comparison is drawn out over eight lines.  Not only is it lighter than a balsa plane, it is lighter than the balsa planes launched from a bedroom window into Welsh rain.  Those eight lines give us a lot of information – it sounds like a lonely activity – there is no mention of doing this with friends.  The garden is a ‘bare strip’ but we are not told why.  The rain is not merely rain, but Welsh rain.

My favourite part of the poem is in stanza five though – the recording of the insect life that has been going on inside the hawk, around its death: ‘it has only been/troubled from within,/and all the hidden turmoil/that churned there is done.’   I love this use of the word ‘troubled’.  I’ve heard it used in this way before in a poem by David Tait – I think he writes about his mother ‘troubling the latch’ and I think it is a fantastic twisting of this word.

I also love the image of seeing the ‘dusty green/leaves’ and the ‘clean blue sky’ through the skull of the hulk.  Those last four lines alter the whole perspective of the poem, so it seems as if you are lying in the grass with the skull looking upwards.  In fact, this change of perspective happens quite a lot in this poem – it is a bit like a film.  At first we see down the bare strip of garden from a bedroom window.  Then we are holding the skull in our hands, then we are at the same level as it, in the ground.

Wayne Price was born in South Wales but has lived and worked in Scotland since 1987.  His short stories and poems have been widely published and won many awards.  His debut story collection Furnace (Freight, 2012) was shortlisted for the Saltaire Scottish First Book of the Year and longlisted for the Frank O’Connor Award.  His first novel, Mercy Seat, was published in February 2015.   He was a finalist in the Manchester Poetry Competition in both 2013 and 2014.  He teaches at the University of Aberdeen.

You can order Fossil Record here if you would like to read more of his fantastic work.

Hope you enjoy the Sunday Poem and thanks to Wayne for letting me use his poem.

Dead Hawk, the Anglican Churchyard, Tangier – Wayne Price

It is lighter at the tips
of my fingers than
the snap-out balsa planes
I made as a boy

and launched from
my bedroom window
on afternoons of Welsh rain
to a bare strip of garden.

Days of sun and wind
have whittled it clean
to stiff pinion
feathers and bone.

Cats stalk the dessicated
grasses between
the graves, but none of them
have dismantled it;

it has only been
troubled from within,
and all the hidden turmoil
that churned there is done.

The ebony crescent
of its beak is still
precise and fine.  I can
see clean through

the empty house
of the skull,
like the quality
of a memory

the mind has refined,
to the gardener
with his combing rake,
who like the cats

has let it lie, and to the dusty green
leaves above, and the
clean blue sky.

Sunday Poem – Luke Samuel Yates

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I’m writing this from a hotel room in Dublin, which seems unwise as earlier I agreed with the husband that it would be a brilliant idea to go running at 7am and it is now nearly 1am.  However, I have been wrestling with the hotel internet so it is not completely my fault.

I’ve been in Ireland since last Wednesday when we drove to Holyhead and got the 2.30am ferry across to Dublin.  I did manage to get a couple of hours sleep on the ferry but then we drove down to Glendalough which is an amazing ancient monastic city which is surprisingly intact.  It has this wonderful tower, with the door twelve feet up in the air which apparently the monks would have accessed via a ladder which would have then been pulled up so the vikings couldn’t get to them. We got there at 7am and had the whole place to ourselves.  I think it has to be one of the best places I’ve ever visited.

On the way down to Fermoy we also visited Kilkenny and got either a late breakfast or an early lunch, depending on how you think of these things and the Rock of Cashel which is also impressive, but decidedly less peaceful than Glendalough.  Then again, it is July and it was mid-afternoon, so can’t really expect anything else.

By the time we got to Fermoy we were both a bit haggard around the edges.  We were staying with my lovely friend Ita who stuffed us full of bread and cakes and tea and then we got an early night.

Because of the approach of 7am and the promised run, you will have to wait a couple of days for the next instalment of my Ireland trip and I will get on with unleashing the Sunday Poem on the world.

This week’s Sunday Poem is by Luke Samuel Yates who was a winner in this year’s Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition with his pamphlet The Flemish Primitives I first met Luke a couple of years ago at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival when we read together.  Luke was reading from his Rialto pamphlet The Pair of Scissors That Could Cut Anything which I really enjoyed, and his new pamphlet is just as good.

I’ve chosen ‘Mars, surrounded by Arts and Sciences, conquers Ignorance’ this week because I love it’s dry humour and sarcasm.  I love the little details: ‘It was a Tuesday evening’ and the use of the words ‘come over’ as if Arts and Sciences were friends that have come over to play. Luke’s poems often have this air of surrealism about them that is also completely grounded in every day language.  The world of the poem is always believable somehow.   A lesser poet would have ended the second stanza a line earlier, but Luke pushes it further with that dry last line.  The more I look at this poem, the more I think it is those small, well-chosen details which make it such a good poem, and which make it funny – the fact that Ignorance has a paper cup.  It is also a hard thing to do to personify an abstract, but he manages it brilliantly.  I would really recommend the pamphlet.  He also has a fantastic poem about Tony Blair which you really need to read.

Luke Samuel Yates lives and works in the North-West.  A four-times Foyle Young Poet of the Year, his work has appeared in The Rialto,  The North, THE SHOp, Magma, Smith’s Knoll and on the London Underground. His pamphlet The Pair of Scissors that Could Cut Anything was published by The Rialto in 2013 and The Flemish Primitives in 2015 by The Poetry Business.

Thanks for reading, and apologies for the shortness of this post and thanks to Luke for allowing me to use his poem.

I’m reading in Dublin at The Workman’s Club on Tuesday evening at 7.30pm with Arthur Broomfield and Jane Clarke – if you happen to be coming, do come and introduce yourself!

Mars, surrounded by Arts and Sciences, conquers Ignorance – by Luke Samuel Yates

after Antoon Claeissens

 It was a Tuesday evening
and there was nothing on television.
Arts and Sciences had come over
and were standing around
absent-mindedly spinning orbs,
twirling their palettes, playing wind instruments,
mapping the known world.

 Mars felt good when Arts and Sciences were around,
and Arts and Sciences could get on with things.
Today Mars felt good enough
to take down Ignorance in a judo throw
taught to him by Jupiter, taking one’s opponent
by the shoulders and stepping forward
to sweep their feet from under them.
Ignorance lay on the ground
muttering and cursing  in an guttural argot
that was not even of anthropological interest.

Mars stood there with his foot
on Ignorance’s throat for a while.
Arts played a catchy little tune
and Sciences did something curious
with a pair of compasses. When Mars
got bored he tried to kick Ignorance away,
but Ignorance was surprisingly heavy.

He just carried on lying there
wringing his hands,
distracting everybody
with his moaning, his paper cup.

Sunday/Monday poem – Paul Stephenson

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I had a bit of a disaster with last night’s post.  I got back from my reading at the South Yorkshire Poetry Festival and frantically began typing, having completely forgotten what day of the week it was (yes, who knew that was possible?)  In fact the only reason I remembered at all that it was Sunday was because poet Jill Abram posted on Facebook that she was waiting up for the Sunday Poem. I got back to Suzannah Evans’ house, where I was staying for the weekend and started the blog post.  I finished it in bed and thought I’d published it, but I woke up this morning to find it had completely disappeared.  It is a mystery as usually unfinished blog posts can normally be found in a draft folder where they are automatically saved on WordPress but there was no sign of it.

I don’t suppose it was a wonderful post anyway, being written at midnight but I’m more upset because I’ve broken my resolution to try and post a poem every Sunday, so that’s annoying.  However I’m sure my readers will be forgiving and I will be back on time and organised next Sunday.

The reason I forgot what day it was is because I’ve been in Sheffield since Saturday.  I haven’t been to a Poetry Business Writing Day for at least six months and I’ve really missed going.  This is the first one in six months that I’ve actually been able to make.  I had a really nice time at the workshop and wrote a few things that I could develop into poems.  Afterwards I went with poet Lindsey Holland to get something to eat.  After dragging Lindsey around the streets of Sheffield with her heavy bags we finally found a Cafe Rouge and sat outside to have something to eat.  After Lindsey looked a bit alarmed when I asked for half a Stella, I decided to try a Hoegarden which is what she was drinking and it came with a slice of lemon – my first time having lager with a lemon in so I am now, surely, officially Very Posh.

Afterwards we headed over to the Open Mic at the South Yorkshire Poetry Festival, hosted by James Giddings.  I was a bit worried as two minutes before the open mic was due to start, there were only about four people in the audience, then suddenly lots of young people appeared as if by magic and the room filled up.  James was a great MC – very funny and spontaneous and I really enjoyed the two poems that he started and finished the night with.

On Sunday Suzy and I went for a walk through the various parks of Sheffield which seem to just keep going and going forever.  We both got a bit carried away and managed to break Suzy whose ‘fascist foot’ (her words not mine) started to hurt.  I would love to say I gave her a firemans lift/piggy back to the flat but sadly no, she had to limp back unaided.

I was reading in the last night of the festival with Andrew McMillan and Ian McMillan.    I don’t know which of the two was more excited about seeing the advance copies of Andrew’s collection.  Andrew hadn’t even seen it – in fact he had to buy a copy of his own book so he could read from it.  This seems to happen to poets a lot – the books arriving in the nick of time I mean.  Anyway, the book is very beautiful and has a beautiful naked man on the cover which Andrew tells me is Definitely Not Him.

It was also interesting hearing Andrew and Ian reading together.  They obviously are very different in their writing styles and their approach to poetry but I think they have some common ground as well.  Andrew’s first collection is about masculinity and exploring masculinity.  Ian says he likes writing about language and politics, but he didn’t mention masculinity, but I think a lot of his work does explore it as well, but in a different way.  I loved Ian’s poems about someone who lives near him called ‘Norman’ and would love to see a whole pamphlet of Norman poems.  I got to see quite a few friends that I haven’t seen for ages – lovely Noel Williams and Jim Carruth were there in the audience which made me feel less nervous.

On Friday Brewery Poets put on a reading at The Brewery in Kendal.  The guest poets were Andrew Forster, Jane Routh and Ron Scowcroft who were all excellent as expected.  Two of the young writers from Dove Cottage Young Poets came along to the reading as well.  It was lovely to hear some new poems from Andrew and to see him getting a chance to be centre stage after all the work that he does organising poetry events and providing opportunities for other poets.  Jane Routh was the consumate professional as usual, well prepared, engaging and with a lovely calm reading style.  Ron read from his very recently published Wayleaves pamphlet – another poet that I’m hoping to nab a poem from for the blog in the next few weeks or so – I particularly liked his poems around the Falklands War.  We had the wonderful singers The Demix performing as well which seemed to go down really well with the audience.

On Wednesday I had my first live chat with my Poetry School online workshop group.  I decided to make handwritten notes on the poems and then touchtype comments during the live chat which I think worked ok except that it was quite full on and I couldn’t take my fingers off the keyboard.  I’m going to try a combination of cut and paste and touchtyping this week and see how I go.  They are a great group though and I’ve just had a peek at a few new poems that they’ve written for Assignment 2 and some revised versions of poems that they have written after getting feedback and I’ve been blown away again!

Before I tell you about the Sunday Poem, I want to remind you all about my launch which is taking place on Thursday, May 28th at 7.30pm in the Supper Room of the Coronation Hall in Ulverston.  It is free to get in but please bring some food because we will be having a ‘Jacobs Join’ after the poetry and before the Soul Survivors start playing.

I’ve been having anxiety dreams about my launch and when I say dreams, I mean actual nightmares about nobody turning up.  Does this happen to other poets?  When the pamphlet came out, it was at the Wordsworth Trust so all I had to do was turn up but this time I’ve organised it, which has meant it has grown into an epic poetry-food-soul night evening of course.  I hope if you are within striking distance of Ulverston that you are coming – it will be lovely to see you and if you’re not, please don’t tell me as it might bring on another nightmare.  I know it’s the polite thing to do, but I’d rather not know!

Enough about me – I’d like to tell you about today’s Sunday Poem which is by the lovely Paul Stephenson, who I met through the Writing School at the Poetry Business.  Paul was born and grew up in Cambridge, and currently lives in Paris.  He studied modern languages and linguistics then European Studies.  In 2013/14 he took part in the Jerwood/Arvon Mentoring Scheme.  His poems have appeared in Poetry London, The Rialto, The North, Magma, Smiths Knoll and The Interpreter’s House.  In 2012 he was placed second in the Troubadour International Poetry Prize.  In 2014 he was chosen as one of the Aldeburgh 8 poets.  He teaches at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.  If you would like to find out more information about Paul you can go to http://www.paulstep.com

Paul’s pamphlet Those People was a winner in this year’s Poetry Business pamphlet competition.  You can order Paul’s pamphlet from The Poetry Business.

I have two poems that have the word ‘people’ in the title.  The ones in my collection are My People‘ and Some People and I was instantly drawn to Paul’s title poem which is ‘Those People’.  I like any poems that deal with ‘people’ as a generic group.  Paul’s poem is playing with stereotyping when he asks in the first line ‘What are they called? Those people who turn up/unfashionably early’.  I love the direct way he addresses the reader in this poem.  It feels like all the way through he is looking us in the eye, talking to the reader and he continues to qualify himself in the poem: ‘I mean the opposite of stragglers’ and ‘I’m talking eager beavers’ – each of these lines is an attempt to define what he really means, or to find a word for ‘Those People’.  I think the poem is funny – it made me laugh out loud when Paul read it, but I also think there is a sadness and loneliness in it as well: ‘Those folk who don’t often get to go to parties’ which then made me feel a little mean for laughing.  I like poems like this that upset our expectations, or make us feel one way and then another.

I really enjoyed the whole of Paul’s pamphlet.  All the way through he is experimenting with language and form – I think it’s really exciting stuff.  If I had to pick three other favourite poems in the pamphlet they would be Do You Have Any Questions, Gare du Midi and The Pull

I hope you enjoy the Sunday/Monday poem and apologies again that it did not arrive yesterday.

Those People by Paul Stepheson

What are they called? Those people who turn up
unfashionably early, too premature for it to be a party,
just a room full of drinks and square metres of carpet.
I mean the opposite of stragglers, not the hard core
with staying power and no home to go to, or the dregs
of the party who’ve no intention of going anywhere
but love to linger, end up getting chucked out into
the night, or if they’re lucky and it’s a good party,
into a warm sunrise. I’m talking eager beavers,
the party-goers who make a punctual appearance,
greeted at the door by hosts running around with
nibbles still in cupboards and half their face on,
the guests who arrive bang on and get shown through
to hover admiring the smoothness of wallpaper,
which they do politely, not entering yet into the spirit
of the party, swaying by a bucket of orange punch.
Those folk who don’t often get to go to parties,
so have it marked fluorescent for weeks in their diary
and make a mission of what to wear, but never sure
of the dress code, opt to play it safe and wear jeans.
Those characters who eight hours later could be
hitting Havana, sipping mojitos and dancing mambo
and rumba and salsa merengue with dollar-hungry
doppelgangers of Che Guevara in desperate need
of mechanical parts for dilapidated Dodges and
Chevrolets, but hey, instead revel in the refuge
of empty strip-lit galley kitchens, to sit on a ledge
of marbled Formica, slurring into sausage rolls
and spilling their life, is there a name for them?

Sunday Poem – David Tait

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I never know how to start these blog posts, not because I don’t know what to say, but I often don’t know where to begin.  Should I start with what is freshest in my mind, which is what’s happened today, or start at the beginning of the week and proceed in a logical order?  I’ll start with today, because nothing particularly interesting happened at the beginning of the week.

I can now declare (in case you were interested) that I am injury free! My rather inconvenient and very annoying inflamed tendon in my leg has left the building and I am very happy about it.  Today I did my longest run since being injured, nine miles at a relatively steady pace with the Walney Wind Cheetahs and my tendon didn’t have anything to say for itself.  My leg muscles in general were really sore from the training I’ve been doing this week, but it was kind of a sweet pain, rather than an injury pain.  The kind of pain that comes from working your muscles rather than destroying them.  At least I hope that is what it is!

After the run I came straight back, no dallying at the cafe for me today  because I had lots of work to get on with.  I had two friends that have been waiting for email replies regarding poems they had sent, I had an invoice to send and Sunday Poets to hunt down.  I normally write to people in small groups to gather Sunday Poems so today I wrote to four poets and got their permission to use their poems on my blog so I now have four weeks of grace where I know whose poem I’m going to use on the blog.  This is all quite time-consuming – but it is probably my favourite part of doing this blog.  Most poets are so happy that someone, out of the blue has said that they like not only their work, but a particular poem, that it makes it completely worth it.

Apart from these smaller jobs I also had three larger jobs to get done today – this blog being one of them.  The other is printing out and making notes on the poems that have been submitted for Week 1 of the online Poetry School course I’m tutoring and the third job was editing reviews that have come in for The Compass magazine and then writing to the reviewers to check that they are ok with suggested changes.  I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself for managing all of this today, and remembering to feed myself (boiled egg and toast at lunchtime, thai takeaway in the evening!).

I’m going to jump back in the week now to Wednesday, which was the open mic at Zefferelli’s in Ambleside, run by Andrew Forster and the Wordsworth Trust.  For the second week in a row I’ve had a house guest – lovely Lindsey Holland has been staying at my house since Wednesday evening because there are lots of poetry events in Cumbria that she wants to go to – open mic on Friday and a reading on Saturday.

There was a great turn out at Zeff’s this week – probably because Pauline Yarwood was the featured poet.  Pauline can often be found in the audience of various poetry events and workshops so it was nice to see her being given the chance to read her own poetry and lovely to be able to listen to her doing a longer reading of her work.

On Thursday I spent the morning writing references for two people who are applying to do an MA in Creative Writing and then I had to go to a meeting to do with work in Milnthorpe.  On the way back I came as close to dying as I ever have before when a complete idiot was overtaking a caravan on a corner and driving straight towards me on my side of the road.  I have no idea how I missed hitting him because that stretch of road is not narrow enough to get three cars past, let alone a caravan but somehow I did it.  I didn’t even have time to be scared, I just had to wrench the wheel to the side, and then it was done.  It should have been a head-on crash and I don’t know how anyone would have walked away from it.  This sounds a little dramatic, and as it happens, nothing happened.  Everyone was ok, I was ok, I wasn’t even that shaken really but I was trying to think if there was anything I would have regretted not doing if something had happened and I couldn’t think of anything, so that was quite reassuring!

I went to my first interval training session in about 15 years on Thursday evening, hence the sore legs all day Friday and the still sore legs today.  On Friday Lindsey and I drove to Manchester.  I was meeting Rachel Mann, poet and vicar to talk through arrangements for the judging of the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Prize.  I think a lot of people might be put off entering this prize because they think you have to enter a ‘religous poem’, but I will be interpreting this broadly!  The most important thing is to find some excellent poems.  I don’t know if Rachel knew how obsessed with tea I am but we met in Propertea, which is just next to the Cathedral.  When you order your cup of tea you get a little timer to use which tells you when your tea has brewed perfectly.  I would have quite liked to steal the timer, except I realised I would have to steal all the paraphenalia, the two teapots, the tea strainer, and some tea leaves to make it worth it.  I don’t think the timer would have worked with a PG Tips teabag.  Of course this is a JOKE.  I would never steal a tea timer.

After that, I went to the glorious bookshop that is Waterstones on Deansgate with its fabulous poetry section.  Sadly, I couldn’t find a copy of my book in there – maybe it sold out by the time I got there!  However, I did go a bit crazy and buy lots of other poetry books: Here Comes The Night by Alan Gillis, Paralogues by Evan Jones, Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe and Maninbo: Peace and War by Ko Un.  I’ve been wanting Loop of Jade for a while but the other collections I didn’t specifically go in for, I just brought them after browsing, which proves that bookshops need to keep their poetry sections stocked up for hopeless addicts like me who will spend far too much money if the books are there to look at.

After that, we drove to Kendal to Abbot Hall Art Gallery who were having their ‘Night of a Thousand Selfies’ event as part of Museums at Night.  As part of the event I was asked to organise and compere an open mic night but this was an open mic with a difference.  First of all it was in a gallery and there was something wonderful about reading amongst all the portraits that made up the current exhibition.  There was also free pizza from a stand outside, a temporary tattoo artist, a photo booth and a band in different parts of the gallery.

The first two open mic sessions were fairly traditional.  I divided the fourteen readers into two groups and half read in the first set and half in the second set.  After the second open mic session we had a ‘lets see how many poets we can fit in a photo booth’ session – the answer was five and a half, especially if one insists on wearing a large horse’s head and taking up lots of room!  For the third set, I decided it should just be a free-for-all as everybody had already read once and this turned into poetry’s version of The Hunger Games, where poets raced each other to the mic, running up to the front before the audience had finished clapping the last poet.  It was great fun and my young writers rather brilliantly and cheekily got up twice to read, which drove the adults to be much more active in their leaping for the stage.

On Saturday I dragged my husband Chris to Barrow Park to take part in Park Run.  I still had Thursdays interval session in my legs but I managed to knock a whole second off my PB, taking it down to 23.08.  Chris managed 22.44 which is an amazing time considering he has only really been running regularly for the last month or so.  Not annoyed at all that he beat me…

After that, we drove up to Grasmere for the launch of the Poetry Business Pamphlet winners.  This is always one of my favourite events of the year.  It’s free and I like seeing what colour the pamphlets are and seeing Peter and Ann.  This year was a little bit sad for me because my wonderful friend and poet David Tait was one of the winners with his pamphlet Three Dragon Day but he couldn’t be at the reading because he was in China, busy working.  Peter and David asked me if I’d read David’s poems for him, so I did get to relive what it was like to win the competition, but without having to do any of the work, like actually write the poems.

Reading the poems out was a strange experience, because I couldn’t do any introductions for the poems, because I wouldn’t have known what to say, so I just read them one after the other.  It is a little like walking in another person’s shoes.  Luckily, I knew David’s poems pretty well, and he gave me a set list of what he wanted me to read.  The poems are extraordinary.  They conjure up such a vivid picture of what it is like to live as a foreigner in China – they are funny and sad and frightening and moving.

The other winners were Paul Stephenson who has been long overdue a pamphlet, Luke Samuel Yates who I met and read with in Aldeburgh two years ago and Basil Du Toit.  I’m hoping to feature work from all four on this blog in the next few weeks or so, but I thought I’d start with David’s work. I didn’t read this poem yesterday at the launch, it wasn’t on David’s list of poems for me to read but it is one of my favourites in the pamphlet.

This is one of those poems that moves from funny to shocking to sad and he does this almost effortlessly.  I love the list of different things that the class bring in, and there is something moving about this list of objects.  For most of the objects we are not told why they care about them.  I laughed out loud when I first read this and got to the line about the lady bringing in her husband, who then sits ‘sipping lemon tea’.

A lot of the poems which seem lighthearted have this sense of menace hanging over them and a sense that history and politics are somehow closer and more vivid in this country, more dangerous.  We are left thinking about The Great Leap forward, and wondering if the family survived as well as the photo.  I think it’s a brilliant poem and packs in a lot in a short space.

David was a winner of The Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition in 2010 with his pamphlet Loves Loose Ends, judged by Simon Armitage  and he then went on to publish his first full length collection Self Portrait with the Happiness with The Poetry Business in 2014. This collection was shortlisted for the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize.  He received an Eric Gregory Award and now lives in Guangzhou in China, where he teaches English. You can find more information about David on his Author Page on the Smith/Doorstop website.

This week I’ll be reading at the South Yorks Poetry Festival in Sheffield next Sunday night with Ian McMillan and Andrew McMillan which I’m really excited about – I hope to see some of you there.

Writing Class, Guangzhou – David Tait

I ask them to bring in a thing
that they care for.  They bring:

a hairpin carved in the shape
of a carp; a policeman’s flask;

young elephants engulfed
by their mother’s trunk, a statue;

a picture of a rabbit, the only toy
they left her after joining school.

One lady has brought in her husband.
He sits in the corner sipping lemon tea.

The others: a silver coin that dates
from the Qing dynasty; a string of pearls

that survived The Great Leap Forward;
the only surviving photo of a family.

She remembers the day it was taken,
her sister crying and not keeping still,

the hesitation she felt looking into the lens,
her father’s hands gripping her shoulders.

Sunday Poem – Holly Hopkins

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starlings

Evening folks.  On Friday afternoon I was running a poetry workshop for a group of young writers as usual in Kendal.  Esther Rutter has been developing a private wordpress blog for the use of the young writers in the group and she showed me a few more tricks on WordPress – some of which I’ve forgotten now, but it has left me with a desire to make my blog look a little more attractive – it wouldn’t kill me to put a few more photos on, for example!  So above is a picture of a murmuration of Starlings, to go with the poem by Holly Hopkins which is this week’s Sunday Poem – more on that later.  She also showed me the correct way to link to another web page without having long messy addresses all over the place – something I’ve been vaguely thinking I should learn but never quite having the time or the inclination to actually do it – so I will be trying this out later – and hoping that someone will tell me if it doesn’t work.

This week has been a bit crazy – the last week of school is usually a mix of the pressure of end of term concerts and extra free time as the schools go into end-of-term madness and cancel all the music lessons.  Although I had quite a few cancellations this week – some of them the minute I walked in through the front door and the teachers look at me blankly and realise they haven’t told me that the kids are having an end of term party/on a trip etc etc I also had a few last minute concerts and assemblies – overall I think I’ve worked harder than I normally do!

Apart from work and end of term concerts I’ve not really been up to much else.  I was gutted on Tuesday because I had to do an end of term concert which meant I couldn’t go to Grasmere to see Robert Hass and Philip Gross read.  It was a strange feeling – part of me wanted to have a huge tantrum about it – this is the reading I’ve been looking forward to all year but the other part of me knew I had to just get on with it.  And in the end, the concert was quite nice and I got a lovely message from a parent thanking me for helping her child to enjoy music – which is something I don’t really get thanked for very much actually – often parents will thank me for helping their child through an exam or to perform a solo – but it was nice to be thanked just for helping someone to enjoy music – it reminded me why I teach and stopped me sulking about the Robert Hass reading as well.

Monday evening was the Barrow Shipyard Junior Bands end-of-term concert and although at the time I didn’t have time to feel sad or emotional – I did when I got back home and it hit me that another year was over and that I wouldn’t be conducting the band again until September, but I am looking forward to the summer holidays.  I’ve got quite a few things to get done so I will need to be disciplined with my time – I’ve fallen into the old trap of putting lots of things off until the holidays, thinking I’ll have plenty of time to do them and I’ve probably got a long enough list now to fill 12 weeks not 6.

Here is a list of the things I’ll be doing over the holiday…

1.  Working on my manuscript for my first collection

I’ve started on it this week – I now have a title!  It will be called ‘The Art of Falling’ and the amazing Amy Wack, my editor at Seren has found a really beautiful painting to go on the cover.  It’s not completely confirmed yet, but the artist was positive.   I’ve been working through the feedback from a few of my poetry friends and then I’ve sent the revised 3rd draft to Amy who has sent it back with some suggestions so I’ll be working on the 4th draft this week.  I’ve got till September but it is kind of one of those endless jobs – there will probably always be something I could improve

2.  Article for Artemis about Sylvia Plath

This is due mid-August – an article about what Sylvia Plath means to me.  I’m looking forward to writing it, but I’m still looking for my gateway into it at the minute.

3.  Planning Ilkley Poet-in-Residence stuff

I’m expecting all of this to hot up in the next couple of weeks and I’ll be planning workshops and other stuff.

4.  Burmese Poetry Project for Modern Poetry in Translation

This is due in after the summer – I really need to get this started and get some momentum with it.

5.  Moving house

We’ve finally had a mortgage offer so I’m hoping all of this will start moving now.  I’m surprised though, that anybody moves house.  I haven’t found it particularly stressful so far, even though it’s taken eight weeks just to get a mortgage, more annoying and time consuming.

6.  The Flying Poets Tour

Plans are afoot for a reading tour with a difference with poets Clare Shaw and Keith Hutson – we are slowly but surely putting together an itinary for a reading tour with a difference – no walking for us – we will be running from Yorkshire to Cumbria and reading on the way.  We’re hoping to create some new work together that we will perform as part of this tour.  I’m working on the premise that talking about something as if it is real means it becomes real and now I’ve put it on here – there is no getting out of it – we will have to do it!

7.  Planning Residential Course in October at St Ives

I’m really excited about this – but due to the craziness that will be my October – residency in Ilkley and all as well as teaching, I’ll be planning my workshops over the summer holidays so that I’m ready to go.  I think the residency finishes the week before the course starts so I can’t leave anything till the last minute.

8.  Ongoing stuff- writing the blog, running the young writers workshop, reading poems, doing some writing, walking the dogs, running

And then there is all the normal stuff of course – maybe I am packing too much in to a small space of time.  I have decided I’m going to have 1 hour every day where I do nothing but read poems – so that will be nice.

So that’s my summer! I’m really looking forward to it- next week I have David Tait coming to stay who is visiting from China – I’ll finally get to see his first collection as I’ve been holding off buying it so I can get a signed copy from him.  David will be reading at The Wordsworth Bookshop in Penrith on the 24th July with myself and Josephine Dickinson and at Ulverston Library on the 25th July with Gill Nicholson and Neil Curry as an extra Poem and a Pint event – please click here  for more information – it would be lovely to see you at one or even both events if you’re really keen!

So today’s Sunday Poem is by Holly Hopkins whose poetry has featured previously as a Sunday Poem.  Holly was one of the four winners of the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition and she stayed at my house with her partner Alex on the weekend of the launch of her pamphlet.  Holly’s pamphlet, rather brilliantly is called ‘Soon Every House Will Have One’.  This pamphlet is full of cracking poems – you can find ‘Duck’ here but other favourites are ‘Offchurch’ with it’s lovely description of a ‘saucer-faced barn owl’ and the poem ‘The King’s Manor Cat’ which always makes me laugh out loud in the last three lines ‘We must raise up the banners each morning/with the pulling back of the bedlinen./We must not eat the liver.’  Perhaps my top poem in the pamphlet though is ‘Explanation for those who don’t know love’ which is a poem which starts ‘I have a child and am more important/than childless people.’  It is all very tongue in cheek and extremely funny, probably, I admit more funny for people like me who don’t have children.  The last poem in the pamphlet is called ‘Anglepoise’ and is a carefully observed study of an Anglepoise lamp that moves on to become a mediation of writing and self-worth – the pamphlet is really excellent and if you are saving your pennies for something special – treat yourself to this one.  It’s only £5 and you will be supporting a lovely poet and her fantastic publisher, The Poetry Business.  You can order the pamphlet here from Holly and she might even sign it if you ask nicely.

I’ve chosen this poem ‘Starlings’ from Holly’s pamphlet because it is that rare thing – a poem with end-rhymes that work beautifully – they don’t feel forced on to the poem but are working with the sense and rhythm of the words.  It reminds me a little of some of Don Paterson’s poems in ‘Rain’ because of the skilful way the rhymes are handled.  The poem is also saying something beautiful, describing something beautiful.  When I was looking for pictures of starlings in flight to put at the top of this post – I found the black clouds in the pictures quite disturbing and eerie – maybe because in the pictures it looked more like a swarm of insects than birds – but look at the last line of the second stanza and its description of the flock which ‘stretched itself like kneaded dough’ – I read that and thought yes, she’s nailed it, but then she does it again with her ‘hemmed within a living sack’.  There is a sense of something being not quite right in the poem right from the first line when we read ‘We’d heard the fens were dying seas/pinned into their beds by reeds;’ – that is a haunting image and the use of ‘dying’ and ‘pinned’ introduces the idea that something is wrong in the poem.  This is only ever hinted at though by language  – the ‘washed-out winter marsh’, the ‘ragged lines’ of the birds, the way the flock ‘smashed itself across the dusk’.  Really, the poem is about, I think, the ‘thread of trust’ which binds us together, and by us, I mean the birds and the couple in the poem, the poet and the reader.

Holly Hopkins lives and works in London.  Her poems have appeared in Poetry Review, The Rialto, The North, Magma and Verse Kraken.  Her work has been anthologised in ‘Dear World & Everyone In It: New Poetry In the UK (Bloodaxe Books) and Lung Jazz: Young British Poets For Oxfam (Cinnammon Press).  Holly is reading an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway and she received an Eric Gregory Award in 2011.  She blogs at http://www.hollyhopkins.co.uk

 

Starlings – Holly Hopkins

We’d heard the fens were dying seas
pinned into their beds by reeds;
the sedges crowded out our path
through the washed out winter marsh.

They came in ragged lines that fell
into the budding chirping swell
of bodies caught up in a flow
that stretched itself like kneaded dough

until the churning shoal was black
and hemmed within a living sack
that smashed itself across the dusk
but could not break the thread of trust

that held each bird beside another,
and pulled the molten flock together
until they turned and plunging down
were hooked into the weedy ground.

We both stood locked inside our coats
and in the dark we neither spoke
in case our clumsy blundering
upset the other’s new-found wings.

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Sunday Poem – Rebecca Farmer

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Evening folks. This week has been the first week in a long time which has felt like it’s settled down into normality after a really busy period.  It has been a busy week at work – I’ve been doing extra lessons all over the place because I’ve had eight pupils doing music exams but apart from that, my time has been my own.  I’ve been getting back into doing lots of reading – I am ashamed to admit that I let my reading slide whilst keeping up with everything else in the last month or so.  I’ve also been trying to re-order my collection and put a few newer poems in and have sent that out to a couple of friends to get their opinion.  I’m finding this process quite difficult – normally I don’t mind getting feedback and critique on a poem or poems but this feels really hard and very different.  The lovely friends who are looking at it for me have been really positive and constructive but even still I’m finding it quite challenging – I guess there is a reason why we call a collection a ‘body’ of work.

I am now allowed to tell you my last piece of news however, which I wasn’t allowed to share before.  In October I will be Poet-in-Residence at Ilkley Literature Festival.  I’m really excited about it and hope to see a few of you at the festival.  It is all very much in the planning stages at the moment but if you would like to find out more about the festival you can follow this link: http://www.ilkleyliteraturefestival.org.uk/whats-on/poet-in-residence-2014/  I’m doubly excited that the fantastic poet Phoebe Power will be the Apprentice Poet-in-Residence as well – I think it’s going to be great working with her.

Today I did the Walney Fun Run 10k race.  My time was 54.21 which I was pretty pleased with – it’s a PB for me for 10k, which isn’t hard, as I’ve only done one 10k race anyway.  I really want to be under 50 minutes by the end of the year so I’m on track.  I’m really enjoying running at the minute – have just entered for the Endmoor 10k on the 9th July – probably a bit too soon to knock any more time off my PB – and apparently it is a very hilly course – probably should have checked that before I signed up….

So today’s Sunday Poem is by Rebecca Farmer – another winner of the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition.  Her pamphlet is called ‘Not Really’ which follows on in a pleasing fashion from Ben’s pamphlet ‘For Real’ which featured in last week’s blog…Rebecca’s pamphlet is a lovely yellow colour and I really enjoyed her reading at the launch at the end of May.  I’m always a sucker for a funny poem and the poems in this pamphlet have plenty of humour – as you’ll see from the poem I’ve selected as the Sunday Poem this week.  ‘Home Help’ reminds me a little of my good friend Jennifer Copley’s poetry – it is surreal, but rooted firmly in its own inner logic.  It leaves you wanting more but in a satisfying kind of way.  This poem made me smile – anybody who has owned or met a border collie will identify with the use of the word ‘bossy’ to describe them.  This poem follows quite a few poems in the pamphlet about the diagnosis and subsequent illness of a partner – so although the poem is a funny poem – it did make me smile – there is also something very moving about it as well.

Rebecca Farmer lives in London.  She was born in Birmingham and her parents came from Dublin.  She read Drama at Manchester University and is now studying for a PhD at Goldsmiths with a focus on Louis MacNeice.  Her poems have appeared in various magazines including The London Magazine, The North, Poetry Review, The Rialto, Smiths Knoll, Under the Radar and The Warwick Review.  If you would like to order ‘Not Really’ you can do so from the Poetry Business website at http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/rebecca-farmer

Hope you enjoy the poem!

Home Help – Rebecca Farmer

God is hoovering my house.
He doesn’t have to
but, like a bossy border collie,
He rushes around determined to help.
Next He wants to make a cup of tea.

Soon, He’ll be making soup.
When I suggest He has a rest
God just puts His head on one side
and opens the ironing board,
humming his favourite hymn
and smiling.

 

Sunday Poem – Ben Wilkinson

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Evening all! You will be relieved to know that I did indeed survive Total Warrior.  It was really hot yesterday which was probably a good thing – I never felt too hot because we spent most of our 2 hour run covered in mud or in the middle of a river or wading through a skip filled with ice-cold water and when I say ice-cold I mean water with ice cubes in.

Here are some of the things I liked about Total Warrior

1. Clare Shaw and Keith Sagar – I have decided Clare Shaw must have been an Amazonian in a former life.  Not only is she great at running but she was unfazed by all of the obstacles – I’ve never seen anybody scamper up a wall so fast and whereas most of the women in the race had to get help from the blokes to help them over the walls – Clare didn’t need anybody’s help and in fact spent a large proportion of the time perched on top of walls helping me over.  It was also lovely to get to know Keith a bit better, who I bumped into briefly at my reading at the HEART cafe in Headingley.

2. The husband – Chris was a last minute addition to the team but thank god he was there!  On the last wall where you have to run up the wall and grab a rope (!) Clare went over first, then Chris, leaving me and Keith.  I’m sure Keith won’t mind me saying that we are not natural wall climbers – anyway, there was no way I was getting up there, so Chris ran back around the wall and gave me a leg up, gave Keith a leg up and then did the obstacle again.  He is like a very thin mountain goat.  Again, Clare and a random man grabbed me before I fell from the wall to my death..ok I’m slightly exaggerating – it is possible that if I fell I may have just broken something…

3.  The obstacles – They were good fun and now I can’t quite believe that I did them.  The mud is so awful that it kind of makes you not care about what is coming up – the mud makes you glad to get into the freezing water because it washes the mud off.  I was really terrified about the Electric Shock obstacle but I managed to slip between the wires and didn’t get one shock which I was very smug about.  In fact the obstacles kind of make you forget that there was actually nearly eight miles of running in between them…

4.  The goodies at the end – we got a t-shirt, a bandana, a can of beer, a bottle of water and a protein bar.  The race was really well-organised and I had a really nice burger and an icecream and a cup of tea afterwards.

5. Random people – the other race participants were lovely – was helped lots of times by complete strangers.  A marshall was so enthusiastic and confident in my ability to get over an overhanging wall that my natural obedience kicked in and I let him help me over…

Things I didn’t like about Total Warrior

1.  The walls!  I get dizzy whenever I go over the top of a wall – I don’t know if it is true vertigo – that is what I think of it as in my head.  At the first high wall, I panicked and didn’t listen to anyone’s instructions and kind of slipped down backwards – luckily my bony shoulder blades hit the wall before my head did and slowed me down…

2.  The slide at the end which everybody else thought was great fun I hated – I don’t like being out of control and it was fast and horrible and I screamed all the way down…I would never normally do that but wasn’t about to miss out one obstacle after doing everything else…

That’s about it really – the rest of it was really good fun.  I don’t have an urge to do one again, but I would do one as part of a larger group maybe one time.  Today has mostly been about recovering from my exertions yesterday.  I think every muscle I have in my body is aching now.  I went for a walk across the fields with the dogs and the husband and stupidly wore shorts and got completely stung by nettles – the rash has still not gone from my ankle to my knee and we got back hours ago so am feeling sorry for myself tonight.

The first official Sunday Poem since my short break goes to Ben Wilkinson, who I’ve met twice in the last month – once at the launch of his pamphlet ‘For Real’ which was a winner in the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition and once at the Northern Writers Awards last week – as Ben was also a recipient of the Awards.  I really enjoyed the recent launch at the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere of the four Pamphlet winners and decided it would be a good idea to start off the Sunday Poems with a poem from each of the winners’ pamphlets.

I’ve really enjoyed reading Ben’s pamphlet – and chose this poem because I loved it as soon as I heard him read it at the launch.  The title puts us straight away into the emotional territory of the poem with it’s nod to Churchill’s well-known metaphor to describe his depression – his ‘black dog’.  I like how the poem starts with ‘When it comes’ – which tells us that the arrival of the hound has happened before and will probably happen again.  Despite this, I think this is a hopeful poem – there is a way of dealing with the hound – to ‘make it trudge/for miles through cold and wind and sleet’.  The poem is not unrealistically hopeful though – the hound does not disappear by the end never to be seen again – it ‘goes to ground’.

I think technically this poem holds together beautifully – the line breaks are perfectly placed and the poem is full of half rhymes and echoes.  I think the voice of the poem sounds very certain, sure and in control which sets up an interesting tension  because of the subject matter.

Ben Wilkinson was born in Stafford in 1985, and now lives in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. His first pamphlet of poems ‘The Sparks’ was published by tall-lighthouse in 2008.  He is a keen runner, and among other things he works as a critic, reviewing new poetry for The Guardian and The Times Literary Supplement. He recently won the Northern Promise Award, presented by New Writing North as part of the 2014 Northern Writers’ Awards and the poem below comes from his brand new shiny pamphlet ‘For Real’ published by Smith/Doorstop.

If you would like to order Ben’s pamphlet you can do so from his website http://deconstructivewasteland.blogspot.co.uk/ where you can find out more about him or from the Poetry Business website http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/shop/860/for-real-ben-wilkinson where you could order all four of the prize winning pamphlets – next week there will be another poem here from one of the winners.

Hound – Ben Wilkinson

When it comes, and I know how it comes
from nowhere, out of night
like a shadow falling on streets,
how it waits by the door in silence –
a single black thought, its empty face –

don’t let it tie you down to the house,
don’t let it slope upstairs to spend
hours coiled next to your bed,
but force the thing out, make it trudge
for miles in cold and wind and sleet.

Have it follow you, the faithful pet
it pretends to be, this mutt
like a poor-man’s Cerberus,
tell it where to get off when it hangs
on with its coaxing look,

leave it tethered to a lamppost
and forget those pangs of guilt.
Know it’s no dog but a phantom,
fur so dark it gives back nothing,
see your hand pass through

its come-and-go presence,
air of self-satisfied deception,
just as the future bursts in on
the present, its big I am, and that
sulking hound goes to ground again.

Sunday Poem – Kim Lasky

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I am aware that I am starting to write this blog at 11.19pm which is way too late.  Most of you, in fact will probably read this in the morning – even my most loyal followers are probably tucked up in bed by now.  But never mind.

This week has another week of painting our house – poor unloved creature – some of the rooms have not been decorated since I moved in which will be 8 years ago in April.  I have learnt a few things about painting this week.

1.  Don’t worry about patches on the first coat – it all evens out second time around.

2.  It is much more exciting to paint in colour – I got to do a blue wall today but also much harder as you actually have to have straight lines instead of just slapping paint on wooden skirting boards.

3.  Painting is really hard work

My favourite job is painting the woodwork because I can sit down to do that.  I don’t really like standing up.  Today my office which is also our spare bedroom got its coat of paint – there are just the skirting boards in there to do now.  The next job I think is the living room.  Then after that we have the kitchen, our bedroom and the bathroom to do.  I’m quite enjoying it though – but then I have always loved monotony at work.  One of my favourite jobs was working on a check out in the Co-op in Birmingham.  I loved the robotic nature of it – not saying that people who work in supermarkets are robotic – but I definitely was.  I couldn’t be bothered to make small talk or smile at people but I did enjoy scanning food items and judging people on the contents of their trolleys.

Other exciting things that have happened to me this week include getting two poems accepted in The Rialto http://www.therialto.co.uk/pages/
which has a swanky new website which is worth checking out.  The Rialto is a prince among magazines I believe for a number of reasons – its production, its beautiful smell, its glossy pages, the lovely editor who even when sending a rejection always took the time to write a little note on the rejection slip, but best of all, when you do get a poem in you get a twenty pound note in an envelope which is a wonderful feeling.

The event page for a project I’ve been working on has gone up as well at https://tickets.bridgewater-hall.co.uk/single/eventDetail.aspx?p=23124

This project involved poets who were once MA students at Manchester Met being paired up with postgraduate composers from the Royal Northern College of Music.  The poets were given the text to a song by Strauss, or a literal translation of it anyway and we then had to write a poem in response to the text.  We also had to provide a short explanation of how we got from the Strauss text to our finished poem.  I forgot about this and then got an email asking for text and when I started to look into the process found out all kinds of interesting things.

The poets then had to send their poems to their composers.  I have no idea what my composer has done with poem.  I don’t mind really not knowing – it will be exciting to hear it though.

This is all happening on February 8th which is another poetry marathon day for me.  So I’ll be off to the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester for 10.30 which is the start of the performance.  Then I’ll be going to the Poets and Players event where ALICE OSWALD is reading.  I saw her read at Swindon Poetry Festival last year and it was the best reading I went to all year, so I clearly have to go and see her again.  That is at 2.30 – http://poetsandplayers.co/

and then I’ll be driving quite briskly back to Ulverston for 7.30 to Poem and A Pint where the wonderful Moniza Alvi will be our guest poet and I’ll be reading two poems as one of the warmup acts.  I’m hoping lovely poet Rachel Davies, who is as bonkers as me is going to accompany me in this madness and maybe stay at mine for a glass of wine as well afterwards…

The other lovely thing I did this week was work with Andrew Forster at the Wordsworth Trust to run a Young Writers session in Kendal.  This project is going to run for the next two Fridays and will culminate with a session with the young writers at Dove Cottage.  We had a group of four and they were the dream group – enthusiastic, keen, funny, engaging – I really enjoyed it.  It was nice to be working with Andrew as well – I am always slightly apprehensive about working with friends – it’s like going on holiday with them isn’t it – it can end in disaster when you wind each other up and leave the toothpaste lid off the toothpaste – but I think we worked well together and it was good fun.  Hopefully we will still be speaking to each other in a months time…

Which brings us to today’s Sunday Poem which is by Kim Lasky, another poet shortlisted for the Michael Marks award.  Kim was a winner in the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition last year with her pamphlet ‘Petrol, Cyan, Electric’ but she hasn’t let that slow her down – she has just had another pamphlet published with Templar called ‘Eclipse’.  I must admit to not having ‘Eclipse’ yet but I do have the PB pamphlet which is fantastic.  Her poems are very different – full of science, but in an approachable, readable way.  You can order ‘Petrol, Cyan, Electric’ from the Poetry Business at http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk

I picked ‘Pylons, 1929’ because it was the poem that I enjoyed most in the pamphlet.  I enjoyed the story it told of the man who tends pylons, which most of the time are unnoticed in the background of any landscape.  Unless you are like me, who had an obsession with Watership Down and used to look for pylons that looked like the pylon in Watership Down, halfway up a hill where a rabbit could hide itself in a clump of grass whilst a black dog ran past but that is beside the point, slightly.  I love the description of the pylon in the first section – particularly ‘lit strange as silver, a gateway in metal/on mapped land.’  I like the way Kim deftly creates two characters with her portrayal of insignificant details – the woman who ‘fetches/hair from her face with the back of her hand’.  Isn’t that  a beautiful way of putting it – ‘fetches’ – not ‘wipes’ or ‘pushes’ or ‘brushes’ – fetches is just right.  I also really like the description of the pylons in part 3 as ‘advancing like metallic warriors’.  It strikes me now that the most active parts of this poem are the pylons – they advance, they ‘staple the land’, they crackle and hum.  They are closely followed by the man, but his movement is not so immediate – we are told he turns for home and we have to imagine his movement for ourselves – and the woman is captured like a photograph – the way she ‘fetches’ her hair from her face.  By the end of the poem, it seems the only thing left that is active and can move in the poem are the pylons while the man and woman lie in bed.  The pylons have the power…I should also say this poem was highly commended in the 2012 Bridport Prize.

If you would like to know more about Kim Lasky and her work she has a website at http://kimlasky.com/

Thanks to Kim for letting me use her poem!

Pylons, 1929 – Kim Lasky

i

All day he has climbed
the ledges of outstretched arms,
finding footholds in their soldered webs.
Sweat has matted the hair beneath his cap,
tobacco flecked his tongue. Now the sun is falling
towards the horizon; amber comes to mind
as it aligns behind the half-built tower
lit strange as silver, a gateway in metal
on mapped land. He turns for home, thinks of her
watching the skillet on the gas, the way she fetches
hair from her face with the back of her hand,
how he’ll tell her there’s nothing troubling here,
just this― the uneven tilt of the earth,
the rising green of the hills, unconcerned.

ii

The terraces line up just the same,
grey pavements, the smell of grease in the alley.
He lifts the latch, swings in;
the gate is all she hears in the kitchen.
At the door, he’s stopped by the curve of her back,
the knot of cotton at her waist that flounces
to the hem of her skirt. She checks the flame
before she turns, oblivious to the sweat of gas
on the window, the sulphur air. What she notices
is the breeze he carries in that pricks
like static on her skin, his matted hair,
how he looks before he leans to untie his laces,
something that’s beyond her knowing, half-denied,
lurking beneath the surface of his eye.

iii

Then, when he lies awake at night
he thinks of them advancing like metallic warriors
charging, passing leaping arcs of current from arm to arm.
But he knows they are only waiting to crackle and hum
among the sheep in the fields, the circling birds.
So he fills his mind instead with things he knows:
tomorrow the drays will pull the cable; guy wire,
ground wire; 50 Hz, three-phase.
Against this, the weight of her sleeping next to him,
the callus on his hand, a thigh muscle flinching.
As, outside, the pylons stretch from striding legs,
stapling earth to sky― the threads of his labour
clinging mutely to the hillside, promising blue arcs:
proud, stock-still, unafraid of the dark.