Tag Archives: Poetry Carousel

Sunday Poem – Mike Barlow

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Sunday Poem – Mike Barlow

I’ve had another week at home, with no gallivanting around the place, which has been nice, but I’m starting to get slightly itchy feet now.  I’m not very good at being in one place! I’ve spent most of the week continuing with my reading for my PhD and editing one of the poems which I showed to Michael Symmons Roberts at my last supervisory meeting before the summer.  Michael asked me why the poem was in the form it was in, and I didn’t have an answer, so I decided to work on the structure of the poem, and as I’ve been reading lots about rhyme, half rhyme and parallelism, so I decided to use some of the things I’ve read about.  Instead of being in a long column, it’s now in four line stanzas, and each group of four lines rhyme together.  I think it makes the poem feel more knitted together, more robust, but maybe also more obsessive, or circular.  The strange thing is I didn’t have to really write any new lines, I just rearranged what I already had – I knew that the original version had lots of internal rhymes and echoes, but I didn’t realise how much until I started this exercise!  I don’t think it’s quite finished yet, but again, it feels different to my usual style, so the next test is to send it out somewhere and see what happens to it.

I’ve had one of my newest poems accepted for The New Humanist this week  so I’m chuffed about that.  I have to constantly keep reminding myself that I’m doing ok, as my brain likes to trick me and tell me I’m not writing, I’m not writing enough, I’m not writing well enough etc etc etc.  I’m always saying I’m not writing and then I look through my folder and realise I have been writing, but somehow have just not noticed.  Maybe I need that level of delusion to function.

I went to Sheffield yesterday to the Poetry Business workshop.  It was really great to see lots of old friends there, and to sit and write for the whole day, even though I didn’t feel like I wrote anything that could remotely make it to poem status, I’m trying to follow my own advice and think of it like practice or a workout, necessary and with hopefully long term results.

I’ve just spoken to staff at Treloyhan Manor Hotel in St Ives – bookings have gone crazy for the course I’m running with Helen Mort there in April 2018 and I’m both surprised and delighted that it has already sold out! Surprised because I only put it up on the blog less than a week ago, delighted because it means that is one job ticked off the list, and I can just look forward to running the course now, and booking a fabulous guest poet.   They are going to keep a waiting list, as in previous years, we’ve had a few people drop out at the last minute, so if you are still keen to come, it would be worth putting your name down on the list.

There are still a few spaces for the Poetry Carousel which I’m running from the 8th-11th December 2017 with Hilda Sheehan, David Morley and Steve Ely – you can find more information here but to book your place, you need to ring the hotel direct on 01539532896.  If you’d like more information about the carousel and what it will involve, you can contact me via the contact page.

So that is pretty much all of my news.  Next Saturday I’m off to Benidorm on a running holiday with three friends from my running club.  I call it a running holiday, but we basically go running for half an hour in the morning and then we lounge around for the rest of the day.  But I’m looking forward to the chance to relax for a week in the sun.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Mike Barlow, a brilliant poet and friend of mine who lives in Lancaster.  Mike has published a number of full length collections and pamphlets.  His first full-length collection was Living on the Difference, published in 2004 by Smith/Doorstop.  This collection was shortlisted for the Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize for Best First Collection.  His next collection, Another Place, was published in 2007 by Salt, followed by a pamphlet, Amicable Numbers which was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice.  In 2012 he published his third full-length collection Charmed Lives with Smith/Doorstop.  He then went on to publish a series of pamphlets and started Wayleave Press in 2014, a small press publisher producing 6-8 pamphlets a year.

I re-read Mike’s 2014 pamphlet The Folded Moment the other day and really enjoyed it, so I asked Mike if I could feature a poem from the pamphlet here.  Mike says this pamphlet was a kind of test pamphlet for the press.  And apparently, there are no copies left of this pamphlet, so I have a rare piece of poetry history sat beside me on my desk! If you do like the poem though, Mike has just brought out a new pamphlet, again published by Wayleave called The Promise Boat which you can order from Wayleave for a mere £5.

I chose ‘Toad Road’ as the Sunday Poem this week because as soon as I read the poem I had a jolt of recognition and memory.  A few years ago now I spent a week at Cove Park in Scotland on a writing retreat.  It was terrible weather, gale-force winds and rain, and coming back from the pub in a car full of poets and novelists, I got out to open the gates to get back into Cove Park.  My hands were freezing from touching the iron gates, but we didn’t get far down the road before someone (I can’t remember who – but I can remember the shape of them in the headlights) got out of the car to try to encourage the toads/frogs (not sure which) to hop off the road so we could continue to drive down.

In ‘Toad Road’ the weather isn’t quite as bad.  It is ‘late summer’ and by saying ‘rainfall after a hot spell’ the smell of rain hitting tarmac that has been hot all day is conjured up.  There’s some great images in this poem – I love the introduction of the toads, that they could be ‘leaves, blown twigs, or squirrel-torn bark’, and I love the sharp observation of ‘These shapes don’t move/in a way only something animate is able/not to move’.

This is a journey that has been carried out before and in stanza 3 there is a disturbing and shocking image of ‘skin-stars’, of what happened when they didn’t notice.  The interesting thing about this poem is that we don’t quite know where the speaker is situated in it.  The pronoun ‘We’ is used throughout, as if these two people are of exactly one mind.  ‘We slow down’ and ‘We know now’ and more interestingly ‘one of us gets out’ to guide the driver, but as readers, we don’t know whether the speaker is the driver or the one guiding.  It’s almost as if the point of view flicks between the two.

At the beginning of Stanza 4 we read ‘rain beats hair lank,/soaks shoulders, trickles down the collar’ which is so vivid it sounds like the speaker is feeling the rain, but then in the next line, the point of view shifts, and we could almost believe we are inside the driver’s head when we read ‘Wheels weave between gold hemispheric eyes,/sacks of warty skin.’

I love the reference to Jainism, which the BBC website tells me is

‘an ancient religion from India that teaches that the way to liberation and bliss is to live lives of harmlessness and renunciation. The essence of Jainism is concern for the welfare of every being in the universe and for the health of the universe itself.

I also like that the speaker(s) in the poem are ‘sprung’ with a small elation, rather than ‘filled’ which would be a much more ordinary verb, and ‘sprung’ seems to fit the movement of the rather sedentary toads, although they do an ‘awkward flop’ rather than a spring.

I hope you enjoyed the Sunday Poem this week – please do comment below if you did, I know the poets do read the comments and they are always pleased when people engage with their work!

Toad Road – Mike Barlow 

Night, late summer, rainfall after a hot spell.
We can count on it as we slow right down
to cross the cattle grid its sump-grinding
hump before dipped lights flood tarmac.

There’s a litter of what might be taken
for leaves, blown twigs, or squirrel-torn bark.
But we know now.  These shapes don’t move
in a way only something animate is able
not to move, a toad-still rain-basking.

There was a time we failed to notice.
Next morning found the track of a murky way
of flattened skin-stars.  So one of us gets out,
precedes the car (the way they used to walk
a flag in front of early automobiles)

semaphoring to the driver here, no  here,
now there, as rain beats hair lank,
soaks shoulders, trickles down the collar.
Wheels weave between gold hemispheric eyes,
sacks of warty skin.  A nudge with a foot

gets no response, though a hand’s touch
prompts an awkward flop to the long grass.
Safely home we’re sprung with a small elation
for having made a Jain’s way through.

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Sunday Poem – Ayelet Mckenzie

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Sunday Poem – Ayelet Mckenzie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Of Those – Ayelet Mckenzie

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

 

 

December Poetry Carousel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Morley

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

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

Steve Ely

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

Hilda Sheehan

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

Kim Moore

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

Sunday Poem – Jennifer Copley

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Sunday Poem – Jennifer Copley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joan Aleshire tells us that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Two Friends – Jennifer Copley

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

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

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

Sunday Poem – Elisabeth Sennitt Clough

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Another two weeks has rolled by and I gave myself another pass last weekend, as I was on a much-needed holiday in Malaga with three friends from my running club.  After a busy few months of teaching and poetry related stuff, it was a relief to go away for a week and not have anyone to talk to about poetry.  For once, I didn’t even take any poetry books to read! I did however take my Kindle and downloaded a few novels to read.

I also took a textbook with me that I bought in preparation for my PhD.  My PhD is provisionally called ‘Poetry and Everyday Sexism’.   I want to write poems about small, everyday, ‘insignificant’ sexist behaviour and explore what happens when these ‘minor’ incidents are turned into poetry.

However, I don’t feel like I’ve got enough background knowledge about the history of feminism – it is a bit like coming to a party that has been in full swing, where everybody knows each other.  I wanted to get an overview of the main developments in feminism before I rock up to university in September, so I bought this textbook called ‘In Their Time: A History of Feminism in Western Society’ by Marlene LeGates, and although I put off starting it until the last couple of days, because I thought it would be dry and dull, once I began, I really enjoyed it.  It does read a little like a novel – there have been whole chapters that I couldn’t put down until I’d got to the end.

I didn’t realise that the book actually starts in the early Christian era, and discusses notable women like Hildegard who found an alternative way of living to the normality of marriage and childbirth.  The first chapter is called ‘From Jesus to Joan of Arc’ and I found this chapter so moving – unexpectedly so, because I didn’t expect to feel a strong connection with women who lived hundreds of years ago, who had ‘visions’ and were one of a few women who were allowed to speak publicly.

In the book a Puritan called Elizabeth White describes herself as outwardly ‘somewhat more Mild’ than other women but inwardly ‘like a Wolf chained up’.   Charlotte Woodward, a 19th century American working woman said there was no community ‘in which the souls of some women were not beating their wings in rebellion.’  Maybe it was being on a holiday with a group of women for the first time ever, and noticing the way the conversation shifts and changes and circles in a different way to the way it does in a mixed group, and the topics of conversation as well, but I found the whole experience of reading those first few chapters, with these women with their souls ‘beating their wings in rebellion’ in so many different ways strangely moving, in a way that was troubling.  I guess I didn’t expect to feel such a connection with the women that the book describes.

The night before I flew to Malaga, I was invited to be the guest reader at a course at Ty Newydd.  The tutors were the lovely Patience Agbabi and Jonathan Edwards.  They made me feel really welcome, and the group they were working with were very kind.  If you’ve ever been to Ty Newydd and took part in a writing course, you will know what a special place it is.  It is the place where my life completely changed direction – I can still remember the moment.

I went on a residential course there probably eight or nine years ago, with Nigel Jenkins and Sarah Kennedy as the tutors.  Nigel Jenkins said to me to think of writing like practicing the trumpet – do it every day and read every day.   I was miserable – I’d stopped playing the trumpet because I was putting so much pressure on myself, and to realise that writing was something I could get better at, it wasn’t like a door opening, it was every door that I’d ever pulled shut myself in my own mind, swinging open.

I went to quite a few courses at Ty Newydd in the years that followed.  I went on the Masterclass with Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke next and then the year after, I went on a course with Jo Shapcott and Daljit Nagra.  The year after that I went on a course with Ian Duhig and Ruth Padel. I wrote a lot of the poems in my pamphlet and my book on residential courses.

I drove over with Chris and showed him round the house, and that was lovely as well, because we were together the first time I went there.  I wonder now if it had been disconcerting back then for me to drive away to Wales as one person, and to return as another.  I showed him the library, where Alan Jenkins recited The Wasteland as dusk fell and the bats flew back and forth across the garden, and the path down to the beach.

It sounds cheesy and over the top, but it was a huge honour to be asked to read in a place that has meant so much to me in my journey as a writer.  After the reading, Chris and I slept for about three hours, and then we got up at 1.30am and drove to the airport where I met up with my friends and got on the flight to go to Malaga.

It seems fitting that this week’s Sunday Poem should be by Elisabeth Sennit Clough, who was a participant on last year’s first Poetry Carousel.  On Tuesday, I’m off to run the second Poetry Carousel with tutors Clare Shaw, Tsead Bruinja and William Letford.  We have 24 participants booked on the course, so there are still a few last minute spaces left, if you are the type of person to book things very last minute! Our guest poets, who will be reading for us on the Wednesday night of the course are Helen Farish and Helen Fletcher, and you can read more about them over at the Poetry Carousel page.

Elisabeth has just had her first pamphlet ‘Glass’ published after winning a competition run by Paper Swans Press.  I asked her if I could use the first poem in the pamphlet as the Sunday Poem this week.  It’s a beautiful poem, full of mystery – who is the man in the first line? Is he the ‘new husband who appears in the last but one verse? The poem also sets out one of the main themes of the collection which concerns itself with both how we are seen, by others but also ourselves.  Does the ‘collapse’ of the peacock tell us that narcissism is dangerous?  The hundred-eyed bird is blind to the approach of the new husband, who cuts an ominous figure, creeping up with a bag.  He actually sounds more dangerous because of the description of presumably the mother’s face ‘reflected in the patio door’.  It is not just the peacock that doesn’t see however.  In stanza 2 we read ‘We watched it each day for weeks, but failed/to notice it jab the wire and free itself’.

There are lots of poems in the pamphlet just as good.  If you’d like to buy a copy, and support a small press, you can order one from the Paper Swans website.

Elisabeth Sennit Clough was born in Ely and grew up in a village near Cambridge, but spent much of her adult life living and working abroad.  She holds a PhD, MA and BA and is just completing her second MA (in Creative Writing: Poetry at MMU).  Her work has been widely published in magazines and anthologies, and has won prizes in several competitions.  She is a current Arvon/Jerwood mentee and hosts a local Stanza Group.  You can read more about her at her website.

I hope you enjoy the Sunday Poem this week.

Sightings

After my father died, a man bought my mother
a peacock.  She named it the rarest of gifts
this blue-green bird that fluttered its tail o

of eyes, kohled their rims in black fen soil.
We watched it each day for weeks, but failed
to notice it jab the wire and free itself.

The first sighting came from a boy
on his paper-round: its song, a call
to summer from a November morning.

With nets and sacks, we were a crazy act of hope
and hopelessness, as we found a feather
but no bird: Rarest of Gifts was lost,

until a new sighting came from a bungalow
estate.  The peacock had been drawn to a glint
of patio glass.  Seeing its own reflection,

it battered beak, wings and claw until collapse.
And as my mother’s new husband crept behind
with a bag, I saw her thin face reflected

in the patio door, watching the capture
of a hundred-eyed bird, blind to his tactic:
slow, slow, grab.

 

 

 

 

Sunday Poem -Billy Letford

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Sunday Poem -Billy Letford

Back on track with the Sunday Poems now after a two week hiatus.  My life is still slightly chaotic, as the end-of-term approaches.   The end-of-term and end-of-school-year is always crazy, but this time it has been compounded by the fact that this is my last ever end-of-term, end-of-school-year as a trumpet teacher, as well as my usual freelance work, all piling on top of each other and threatening to bury me underneath it.

There have been times in the last couple of weeks when I’ve felt on the edge, on the edge of what, I don’t know, I only know the feeling, which is as if I’m going to tip over and fall, and rather than landing anywhere, just keep falling.  I’ve got one more week of running around and chaos, and then things (I’m hoping) will get easier.

It has probably all been compounded by the fact that last night, I had my final concert as a conductor of Barrow Shipyard Junior Band and my two beginner bands, St Pius School Band and Brasstastic. I was feeling quite calm as the hall started to fill up, but when my mum and dad turned up to surprise me, I burst into tears.  My parents came to every single band concert I ever played in when I was young, and supported me financially while I was at music college, so for them to turn up now, to support me as I finish that part of my life was enough to make me cry.  It made it all real as well somehow, as if up to that point, I could have changed my mind.

So, although it was a lovely concert, and the band gave me some great presents – my favourite was a notebook with messages from each of the kids, I’m relieved it is over.  I’ve got one more rehearsal with Barrow Shipyard Junior Band on Monday night and I’m already feeling emotional about that, so that is the next thing to get through!

Other stuff going on next week – I’ve got Soul band rehearsal after junior band rehearsal on Monday and then on Tuesday I’m reading in Ambleside at a kind of summer school for teenagers, and hoping to recruit some more teenagers for Dove Cottage Young Poets.  On Thursday I’m meeting with the Course Director at MMU so I should find out some more about the unit I’ll be teaching there – on the way I’ve got to run a workshop at a primary school in Penrith.  A year 6 child was the winner of the Cumbria School Games competition this term, and part of the prize was a workshop at their school.  I’ve got my Poetry School course on Thursday evening – the last session, and then I’m going to Lancaster Spotlight on Friday with my Dove Cottage Young Poets to watch them have a go on the Open Mic.

Last week I went to the Lakeland Book of the Year Awards and although I was on the shortlist I didn’t win.  I wasn’t too surprised as I don’t think poetry has ever won, and my book isn’t really about the Lake District as such.  Cumbria is more like a supporting character in the poems so it seemed unlikely I was going to win.  The winner overall was a young bloke who’d written a book about Cumbria’s waterways and he worked on the ferry on one of the lakes and came in his uniform to the awards which was very refreshing.  Maybe he was going back to work afterwards?

My friend Karen Lloyd won her category and was a runner up for the overall award with her prose book ‘The Gathering Tide’ so it was nice to be there to see that, especially as poor Karen was in agony with back pain, and it had been touch and go whether she would make it to the awards, or just stay in bed.

Straight after the Lakeland Book of the Year Awards I went and ran the Endmoor 10k race – one of my favourite races.  It has 195 metres of ascent in the middle and then a great downhill section in it and cakes for afterwards – a perfect 10k in my book! I managed to knock 2 minutes off my PB from last year so I was pleased with that.  I have had no time to run for the last two weeks but maybe the enforced rest has been good for me!

I also ran a poetry workshop on Shakespeare in Barrow Library and my Poetry School course in Manchester last week, my Dove Cottage Young Poets workshop in Kendal and my all day poetry workshop in Barrow, and although they were all lovely, I’m kind of glad that week is over.

I’m really happy about this week’s Sunday Poem.  I don’t often get to publish new work from poets I admire on this blog – I usually read a poem in a book that I really like, and then write to the author and ask if I can use it, so it is a real treat to have a poem that hasn’t appeared in print.

Billy’s debut collection Bevel was published by Carcanet in 2012. He has received a New Writer’s Award from the Scottish Book Trust, an Edwin Morgan Travel Bursary, and a Creative Scotland Artists’ Bursary, which allowed him to travel through India for six months. He has taken part in translation projects through Lebanon, Iraq, and Palestine, and in 2014 a chapbook of his poetry Potom Koža Toho Druhého was translated in Slovakian and published by Vertigo. His work has appeared on radio and television.

Billy sent me a poem from his forthcoming collection Dirt.  This is a beautiful poem that unfolds gradually. The reference to the short story ‘The Moor’ feels important here too – this story, about a chance encounter between a middle-aged man and the 80 year old woman who had been his lover three decades before echoes through the poem.  There is nothing in the poem about the ages of the lovers, but the reference certainly makes a disparity in ages a possibility, and also reveals it as unimportant.  There are ‘all kinds of bodies’.  The poem is working out what the ‘it’ of the second line is, and this working out is tender, slow-paced and sensual.

 

In a bamboo shack on the edge of a beach
Billy Letford

He read her ‘The Moor’ by Russell Banks.
It wasn’t the story, although the story is good,
and it wasn’t the way he read it. The Scottish
accent couldn’t quite grasp the Americanisms.
The sures and yeahs became parodies that
brought humour to beauty that didn’t need it.
It was the fact that she lay with her head
on his chest and he felt the rumble of his own
voice and a vibration of words gone before.
The story he read ends full of snow, and they
lay very still, but what to do? how long could
they remain there? So he traced patterns on
her skin with his fingers. And the patterns
became circles and the circles became words
and these actions have a tendency to progress.
He lifted her T-shirt over her shoulders and
we know the rest. There are all types of bodies.
If you’re lucky you’ll find someone whose skin
is a canvas for the story of your life.
Write well. Take care of the heartbeat behind it.

 

Billy’s new collection Dirt will be out in August, and you can pre-order a copy from Carcanet here.

Billy is also one of four tutors on the Poetry Carousel this August, so if you’re booked on to this, then you’ll be able to get a signed copy while you’re there!

There are currently six places left for the Poetry Carousel – so if you know anybody who might be interested, or you’ve been thinking about coming along yourself, my advice is to book swiftly.

I will have news this week about the guest poet who will be reading for us on one night of the course.  If you’d like a clue, I can tell you she is published by Bloodaxe, and has a new collection coming out very soon. Answers in the comment section below!

Sunday Poem – Tsead Bruinja

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Sunday Poem – Tsead Bruinja

This week I’ve been living on my own as the husband has gone on a hiking holiday – he is walking through Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia and last night he texted from Kosovo.  The novelty of being able to spread my stuff all over the house without being moaned at to pick it up, is starting to wear off now and I’m actually missing him a little bit!

Last week was my first week back at work after half term.  It is always a difficult week, because there are lots of instruments to sort out that have been left to rust over half term.  This has to be done whilst directing a class of thirty children to play Mary had a Little Lamb or whatever it is we’re playing, so by the end of my teaching day on Wednesday I was counting my blessings that the brass teaching week was over.

On Thursday I drove to Bridlington.  It took about four and a half hours.  I had time for a quick change at my B and B and then I went straight down to the library to do a reading – this was another Read Regional gig.  The audience were very nice, a mixture of keen poets and people who’d never been to a reading before, so I hope I didn’t put the latter off poetry altogether! That would be terrible.

I was finished by 4.30 so I went home, got my running gear on and headed down to the prom.  I did about 7 miles and it was the best run I’ve done in ages.  I felt really good – the scenery was beautiful – it was sunny but with a cold breeze and I didn’t get lost.  That is the furthest I’ve ran on my own so I was quite proud of myself.  I then went for a Thai round the corner in Bridlington and then went to bed quite early.

On Friday I had my young writers workshop in Kendal.  We did one writing exercise and then they read the sets that they are going to perform at the festival.  They really are good – I know I’m bias, but I’m so proud of them.  I think they are going to surprise and delight people at the festival.

After the Young Writers group, I went to Brewery Poets and took a poem to be critiqued, and then finally, finally drove back to Barrow and collapsed into bed.  On Saturday I ran my Barrow Poetry Workshop – 12 writers turned up this week coming from Shap, Kendal, Ulverston, Dalton and Barrow. The quality of the work produced was excellent – I took poems by Tim Liardet, Jack Gilbert and Lisa Brockwell to the workshop to use as inspiration, or to discuss before writing.

On Saturday evening we had a Poem and a Pint event at Greenodd Village Hall with J O Morgan.  He read from his new book ‘Interference Pattern’ which is just amazing.  It is a series of poems in the voice of different characters, and when he reads from the book, he changes his voice and his accent as he goes from character to character.  It is extraordinary and mesmerising to watch and listen to.

This morning I’ve been for a 6 mile run and eaten a scone with jam and cream and that is the sum of my achievements.

Tonight I’ve got a rehearsal for ‘Annie’ and then next week is a busy one.  I’ve got meetings about Kendal Poetry Festival, rehearsals, a Read Regional reading in Stockport on Thursday afternoon, and my face-to-face course that I’m running in Manchester on Thursday night, school concerts, musical performances, and somewhere in next week I have to fit in reading and judging 500 school poetry competition entries.  It does sound a bit manic when I write it out like that!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Tsead Bruinja who is one of the tutors on the Poetry Carousel.  Tsead sent me the manuscript of a collection that has been translated into English – this poem has been translated by David Colmer.  The manuscript is called ‘Tongue’ and it is really good – I’ve not read anything quite like it before – it is lyrical, yet fragmented, using leaps and associations to communicate.

I first met Tsead at a festival in Ireland where we read together, but last year I went over to Holland to read at the ‘Read The World’ festival.  Rather than a normal reading, where I read my poems to the audience, I worked for a day with other poets and musicians to put together a performance where we read our own poems and each other’s poems, where the musicians played songs in between or behind while we were reading, to create a larger performance.  Tsead directed the whole thing and he was wonderful to work with.  I knew I liked the poems I’d read in translation of his, but working with him at the festival, and hearing him talk about the teaching that he does in Amsterdam, convinced me he would be a great tutor to invite to be part of the next Poetry Carousel.

There are still places left on the Carousel, which is running from August 16th-19th at Abbot Hall Hotel, Grange Over Sands, so do please get in touch if you would like to any questions.  If you’d like to book a place, it’s probably best to ring the hotel directly by ringing 015395 32896

Other tutors on the course include the wonderful Clare Shaw, Billy Letford (who will have copies of his new collection Dirt available) and myself.

Tsead Bruinja lives in Amsterdam. He made his debut in 2000 with the Frisian language collection called De wizers yn it read (The meters in the red). Bruinja’s debut in the Dutch language, Dat het zo hoorde (The way it should sound), was published in 2003, and was nominated for the Jo Peters Poetry Prize the following year. Bruinja compiles anthologies, writes critical reviews, hosts literary events and performs in the Netherlands and abroad, often with musician Jaap van Keulen and occasionally with the flamenco dancer Tanja van Susteren. At the end of 2008 Bruinja was the runner up after being nominated for the position of Poet Laureate for the Netherlands for the period of 2009-2013.

You can read more about Tsead over at his profile on the Poetry International website.  If you haven’t come across this website before, it’s a great resource- it includes articles about the poets featured, and has a selection of poems as well.

SHOW-OFF by Tsead Bruinja

not the horse that batters its hooves on the partition
or the horse that bolts across the green world
jolting its cart to pieces
*
nothing about wearing a body out and delivering it
to a metaphysical door
*
but the simple body of this woman
facing you
*
the clear head of this woman
facing you
*
a sea that speaks
and you as the doubting sky above
*
hail
*
she says
*
your legs work
my legs work
*
leave the thinking to hands
*
smiling she moves her fist to my nose
which disappears between fingers
*
the fist pulls back to a grey horizon
*
and there where she squeezed my nose
a little mouse is staring out
*
gotcha
*
she says
and not once in this whole poem
*
did she move her lips

I think this poem is very typical of a lot of Tsead’s work, which is playful, lyrical and manages to find an off-kilter way of looking at the world.  The style of using little or no punctuation also runs throughout the book, but the way he uses line breaks mean that the poems are very clear- it makes me realise how little punctuation is needed.  The lovely surprise at the end of the grey mouse appearing, the colloquial ‘gotcha’, the beginning of the poem which starts right away with the image of a horse which ‘batters its hooves on the partition’ – these are some of the reasons why I chose this poem.

It isn’t clear who is the show off in the poem – is it the horses, showing off just by being horses? Is it the woman with her ‘clear head’.  Incidentally, isn’t that a lovely thing to express admiration for in a poem?  I also love the idea of the sky being a ‘doubting sky’ as well, the sky not knowing who it is, maybe because it changes all the time?

It is a wonderful poem, and I hope you enjoy it – thanks to Tsead for allowing me to publish it here.

Sunday Poem – Jonathan Humble

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Sunday Poem – Jonathan Humble

I’m back to my old habits of late-night blogging today and I suspect most of you will be reading this on Monday morning.  I’ve had a better week than last week health-wise, although I didn’t really start eating properly again till Wednesday. I’ve done two Read Regional events this week – one in Gateshead on Monday afternoon, with a lovely group, who were really a dream audience, very engaged and astute, and then on Thursday another Read Regional event in Hull, again with a great audience and a lovely librarian.

I decided to stay over in Hull rather than doing my usual thing of hacking back home through the night, as I was reading in Lancaster the next day at Lancaster Spotlight.  Spotlight is one of my favourite events – it’s the first place that ever paid me to read poetry, and you never quite know who is going to get up on the open mic.  I was reading with Ron Scowcroft and Rachel McGladdery.  I always enjoy Ron’s poetry, and it was nice to hear some of his new work.  I haven’t seen Rachel for ages, and again, I’ve always loved her work, but to me it felt like the new poems had really moved up a couple of gears.  The discovery of the night was Kriss Foster – a comedian/musician who was just fantastic – very funny and entertaining.  I think I remember someone saying he is doing a show at the Edinburgh Fringe, so if you get a chance to see him, go! The open mic slots were a really high standard, and in fact the Sunday Poet this week, Jonathan Humble was one of the people who performed on the Open Mic. He read this week’s Sunday Poem on the Open Mic and I managed to nab him and get permission to post it up this week.

I should say first of all that the lovely Helen Ivory has published a slightly shorter version of this poem up at Ink, Sweat and Tears, a great online magazine which is well worth checking out.

 

A Happy Ending For Petrologists
By Jonathan Humble

A pebble sat upon a beach and thought, as would a stone,
Of whether in the Universe it was a soul alone.
For it could see no evidence to otherwise disprove
That rocks had not the wherewithal to think or talk or move.

And there with countless coloured stones, all smooth and weatherworn,
Supressed its angst, lay motionless, stayed quiet and forlorn.
Through summers and through winters, it endured its solitude;
In pebbly reflection, existentially it stewed.

It watched the sun, it watched the stars, endured the rain and snow.
It contemplated life and death until it felt quite low.
In sad and sorry state it grew despondent day by day;
For company it yearned more than this poem can convey.

And as its hopes diminished with each wave that crashed the shore,
It worried that it might be quite alone forever more.
Until it sighed aloud and solitude came to an end;
A fellow pebble turned and smiled and asked to be its friend.

I really liked this poem when I heard it on Friday – you all probably know my weakness for poems with souls in them.   I also think this poem has something of the air of a Stevie Smith poem – it is playful and light, and has a childlike rhythm to it, but I think there is also something else at work on another level.  I found it funny and oddly moving at the same time when I heard it, although I can’t quite put my finger on exactly why!  I do love the last line though, and the galloping rhythm of the line ‘It watched the sun, it watched the stars, endured the rain and snow’.  I think there is a bit of the spirit of Emily Dickinson in this poem as well.

Jonathan Humble is a deputy head teacher in a small rural primary school in Cumbria. His poetry and short stories have appeared in The Big Issue In The North, Poems For Freedom, The Caterpillar Magazine, Stew Magazine, The Looking Glass Magazine, Paragram, Dragon Poet Quarterly, Lighten Up Onhttp://jhpoetry.blogspot.co.ukline, Ink Sweat & Tears and on BBC Radio 4 and Radio Cumbria. Through TMB Books, he has published a collection of light verse entitled My Camel’s Name Is Brian. He appears regularly at Verbalise in the Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal and occasionally at other spoken word events in the North-West.  If you’d like to find out more about Jonathan, he has a blog: http://jhpoetry.blogspot.co.uk
So after a great night at Lancaster Spotlight, I got home at just after midnight and then couldn’t get to sleep because I was too wired from the event. I eventually stopped dancing around to Mick Jagger (don’t ask) at about 2am in the morning.  Then I was up again and leaving for Bradford at 10am on Saturday morning.  I read at Bradford Literature Festival on Saturday afternoon alongside Ian Duhig, Peter Riley, Anthony Costello, Tom Cleary and Natalie Rees.
I went to a poetry event in the evening with Carol Ann Duffy, Imtiaz Dharkar, Jo Bell, Sudeep Sen, Selina Nwelu, Avaes Mohammed, Rehana Roohi and Ralph Dartford – all in one event – that is a lot of poets! I didn’t know the work of Rehana before and I couldn’t understand any of it because it was in another language, but I loved her performance – members of the audience joined in and repeated lines back to her, or asked her to repeat lines again and I wondered what it would be like if we did that in English poetry – it certainly felt less staid than a lot of poetry readings! She finished her set off by singing one of her poems and it was really beautiful – worth going for her performance alone.
After the reading, I went back to the hotel bar and sat chatting with various poets until 2am, which seemed like a good idea at the time, and necessary, but this morning I was cursing my inability to put myself to bed at a reasonable time.
I had a bit of a ridiculous journey back as well – all my own fault.  I assumed I was travelling back from Forster Square train station in Bradford, and I wasn’t – so I missed the train, and had to wait an hour before getting it from the Interchange.  Because of this, I had to wait for an hour in Preston, but I was sitting in the sunshine on the platform reading my book, and the train basically pulled up in front of me and left again without me realising, so then I had another hour to wait.  What a muppet I am! I did finally get home in one piece without any more mishaps.

Next week I’m running a voluntary workshop in a prison, which I’m really looking forward to, running my Young Writers workshop, and hopefully getting back to some running now I’m feeling better.

One more thing to mention – sadly, one of the tutors on the August Poetry Carousel, Saskia Stehouwer from Holland, has had to pull out due to ill health.  William Letford has agreed to come and tutor on the Carousel instead, and I’m really looking forward to working with him.  He is well known as a fantastic performer and inspirational tutor.  So the full line up of the tutors will now be myself, Clare Shaw, Tsead Bruinja and William Letford.  You can find more information about the carousel on the ‘Residential Courses’ tab: https://kimmoorepoet.wordpress.com/residential-poetry-courses/poetry-carousel/
Spaces are starting to fill up on the Carousel, so if you’ve been thinking about booking a place and haven’t got round to it, I would advise doing so before all the best rooms in the hotel go.
Thanks again to the wonderful Jonathan Humble for the use of his poem on the blog this week.

 

Change to the Poetry Carousel

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Change to the Poetry Carousel

Due to ill-health, Saskia Stehouwer will not be able to take part in the Poetry Carousel this year.  I hope she will be able to come and  tutor on a future course, and wish her a full and speedy recovery.

The gap on the Poetry Carousel tutoring team will be expertly filled by Scottish poet William Letford, who has  agreed to join us on the residential course this year. The full team of tutors will be William Letford, Clare Shaw, Tsead Bruinja and myself.

William Letford’s debut collection Bevel was published by Carcanet in 2012. He has received a New Writer’s Award from the Scottish Book Trust, an Edwin Morgan Travel Bursary, and a Creative Scotland Artists’ Bursary, which allowed him to travel through India for six months. He has taken part in translation projects through Lebanon, Iraq, and Palestine, and in 2014 a chapbook of his poetry Potom Koža Toho Druhého was translated in Slovakian and published by Vertigo. His work has appeared on radio and television and his second full collection Dirt will be published by Carcanet this August.

Bevel was one of the best first collections I’ve read for a long time, and I’m not only excited about working with Billy Letford on the Carousel, but also that he may have the first copies of his new collection with him, hot off the press!

You can find more information about the Poetry Carousel here.  To book a place, please ring the hotel direct on 015395 32896

 

Here are the details of William’s workshop

Workshop – William Letford
The beauty in the mundane 

I keep a journal, nothing fancy, just a notebook I can turn to whenever I see fit. No pressure, I don’t force myself to fill the pages but over the years the journals have built up and now I have quite a collection. Looking back over the books and entries has convinced me of one thing. I am boring. And I’m sure I’m not alone. In between the birthdays, marriages, rollercoaster rides and funky dance moves our lives are mostly mundane. But that’s where the beauty is. I’d like to invite you to a workshop on exploring the poetry of the everyday. Bring all your boring bits with you.

 

A Review of the 2015 Poetry Carousel

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A Review of the 2015 Poetry Carousel

 

The poet Elisabeth Sennit Clough was one of the 32 participants on last year’s sold out Poetry Carousel.  I asked Elisabeth to write an account of what the experience was like.  If you’ve been debating about whether to come, this is a must-read! Elisabeth is a fantastic poet, and has a pamphlet forthcoming after winning the Paper Swans Pamphlet Competition in 2016.

This year’s team of tutors are myself, Clare Shaw and Dutch poets Saskia Stehouwer and Tsead Bruinja.  You can find more information about the 2016 Carousel here

2015 Poetry Carousel

by Elisabeth Sennit Clough

Cumbria is about as geographically and aesthetically distant from my present home in a West Norfolk village as possible, but a current obsession with poetry retreats compelled me to abandon my husband and three children and travel to Grange-over-Sands for the weekend.

As I trundled my case along the short distance from Kents Bank Station to Abbots Hall Hotel, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I couldn’t remove the definition of ‘carousel’ from my mind: 1) a merry-go-round at a fair or 2) a conveyor system at an airport from which arriving passengers collect their luggage.  

On the first evening, we were assigned to groups and stayed in those groups as we rotated through the four workshops (the premise of the poetry carousel being to move around four workshops, each with a different tutor). Like the merry-go-round, it had the potential to be great fun while it lasted – or, like the baggage carousel, it could just go round and round monotonously and I could end up right back where I started (I have an ambivalent relationship with airport carousels). 

My first workshop was with Kim. In my group were fellow MMU student Hilary Hares (whom I’d met on a Teaching Creative Writing Course) and Helen Kay – whom I had never met – but had corresponded with about the Nantwich Festival. Given how small the UK poetry world is, it was somewhat inevitable (and lovely) that I would bump into familiar names and faces.

The coincidences continued: Kim is a huge Philip Levine fan and I used to live in Fresno (where Philip Levine ran the MFA Programme at CSU). Kim adopted the title of Levine’s award winning collection What Work Is, articulating the lives of Detroit factory workers, for her workshop. What exactly is work? Our ice-breaker involved trying to answer that deceptively hard question. Having read poems such as ‘My People’ and ‘A Psalm for the Scaffolders’ in Kim’s The Art of Falling, I could see why work as a subject matter was important to her.

I learned that many people on the carousel had attended previous poetry workshops with Kim – a testament to her engaging teaching style and ability to put people at ease. For example, her workshop helped me find a way into writing successfully about a subject I’d been battling with for years; that is, my own experiences as a teenage factory worker.

Kim describes the carousel as promoting ‘a festival atmosphere in the evening, when we come together for dinner and readings from the tutors and invited guest poets.’ This is a very accurate description: in the evening, Kim read some of her work, along with guest-readers, Jennifer Copley and Lindsay Holland. Lindsay is co-editor of The Compass and one of six poets shortlisted for the 2015 Manchester Poetry Prize. After reading, each poet discussed aspects of her work: Jennifer, for example, has published collections with several different imprints and spoke about that experience, while Lindsay discussed long poems and the significance of thoroughly researching your subject matter.

My next group workshop (the following morning) was with Andrew Forster, the other editor of The Compass. Andrew’s ‘Encounters Workshop’ involved writing about ‘an encounter that made you see things differently.’ This inspired me to write a poem about a migrant farm worker that went on to be accepted by The Rialto. Andrew commented on the strength of voice in the poem and this gave me the confidence to continue developing the poem in the same tone.  

My third workshop was with Ian Duhig. His latest (and seventh!) collection, The Blind Roadmaker (about the incredible Jack Metcalf), is one of those books that I read initially because I was interested in the subject matter, but then found myself reading again and again just to admire the exceptional craft of it.

Ian’s workshop prompted me to take an imaginative leap with my subject matter (it’s the first poem I’ve written that’s set in space!), but this freed my poem from the constraints that were constantly working against me as I wrote. Another useful device for my toolkit involved possibly turning a negative outcome in a poem into a positive one. This inspired me to change the ending of one of my poems to great success. Now, when struggling with an ending, Ian’s voice pops into my head, asking, ‘what would its opposite be?’

My final workshop was with Amanda Dalton. Amanda helped me to focus on the drama in my poetry: where should I place the tension on my dramatic arc, for example? We used postcards as prompts and placed emphasis on movement (or not as in the example of my poem below from Amanda’s workshop). I wanted to capture the idea of stark animal nakedness, the sense of unpleasantness inside and out that I interpreted from Freud’s work.

 

Sleeping By the Lion Carpet

After a painting by Lucian Freud

Like the lioness, I am alert
to the alpha in this female, feigning sleep
in an armchair: how her flesh demands
attention from the artist’s brush.

I know the mind of a woman
like this – the way she plants
her ego on the floor, stands back
and laughs as you trip over it.

Her milk contains so much venom,
her thick-ankled daughters will grow up
to puncture the limbs of prettier girls
with the points of school compasses.

She has named them Immaculate
and Conception. She has no sex –
the artist has painted her:
a fat child with breasts.


Far from ending up right back where I started, the carousel took me to unexpected places. I learned a lot of new techniques, resulting from a combination of different teaching styles melding over the weekend. Several months on, I am still developing poems inspired by the carousel weekend and re-reading my notes. And yes, my head does still spin from time to time with all the new skills and poems I brought home.