Tag Archives: poetry in cumbria

Sunday Poem – Polly Atkin

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Sunday Poem – Polly Atkin

I’m sat writing my blog in the garden today.  Our ‘half a hawthorn’ tree (the neighbour chops it in half because it hangs over our fence) is valiantly putting out blossom on our side of the garden, just in the lower branches, so I’m hoping it will survive the assault on its dignity for another year.  This morning I woke up to the consequences of two dogs who were determined to eat sheep poo for the whole day yesterday – lets just say it took a good half hour to clean it all up and was not particularly pleasant!  I feel slightly guilty about all of this as I clearly didn’t keep a close enough eye on them yesterday when I was out walking with a friend in the Lakes.  I think we talked non-stop for about six hours, and clearly the dogs took advantage of our riveting conversation and cleared the fell of sheep poo so they could deposit it all over the kitchen floor.  All I can say is THANK GOD the husband was here to help clear it up.

Since I last wrote, I did a reading at The Square Chapel in Halifax alongside Alison Brackenbury and Roy Marshall and some great open mic readers.  I ran my Barrow Poetry Workshop last month – I think there were 10 people there from Barrow, Dalton, Ulverston, Kendal and Penrith, so all Cumbrian writers this time.

I signed up for some training a while ago at the university.  MMU has some great opportunities for continuing professional development if you are teaching there, and I can study part time to get a PGCE in Higher Education if I want to.  I went to the first training day on a 15 credit unit that would go towards a PGCE a week and a half ago.  At the end I spoke to the unit leader and she has advised me to speak to the course leader to try and get some academic credit for my previous teaching experience and my PGCE in Secondary Education, so I’m meeting the course leader next week.  This will hopefully give me a bit of a head start towards the qualification.

For the last week, I’ve been down in Ledbury as I’d been given a place on their Voice Coaching course.  The night before I stayed at a friend’s house.  The friend is a poet, and her husband is also a writer.  We had a long late-night  conversation about poetry and PhD’s, and confessionalism and lyricism and lots of other stuff.  I felt like my head was buzzing with ideas, so much so that I could hardly get to sleep.  My friend’s house is perfectly set up for being a writer.  She has a beautiful office filled with books and an acre of land with some very cute and friendly sheep and two large dogs bounding about the place, and a friendly cat that came and sat with me last thing at night before it got bored and went out of my room.  There are beautiful views over the countryside – and did I mention the books? It made me feel less guilty about my over-the-top book collection anyway.  On Monday we went to see a beautiful old church and  went for lunch and then they dropped me off at Hellens, where the voice-coaching course took place.

I must admit I was quite nervous and apprehensive about the course.  Although the poets I’ve spoken to have all been very positive about it and said they found it really useful, quite a few of them said that it was ‘quite intense’.  I know when I run writing workshops that when ever I set up a writing exercise about the voice or the body, it can quickly stray into some very personal and powerful material.  I’m also slightly wary about ‘voice coaching’ – anything that might involve drama work is basically my worst nightmare.  But I applied because I wanted to do something different and take myself out of my comfort zone and it certainly did that.

The tutor, Francoise had incredible energy and enthusiasm.  She was also incredibly kind and generous and astute.  It’s hard to sum up what the course was like because if I tell you about the parts of it that I can name – like the deep breathing, the using different parts of your voice, the stretching and bending, those parts don’t add up to what it was really like, or what it all really meant.  I have never spent lots of time with my self – just breathing.  I find it incredibly hard to do nothing.  I have a mortal fear of being bored – but I wasn’t bored, not once.  I learnt that when Francoise asked us to say something, to use our voice to make a sound, I was waiting until someone else spoke first.  What was that all about?  I learnt that I was constantly self-conscious, and thinking I know what people are thinking, when in fact, and obviously, I don’t.  I learnt that I use SO MUCH energy trying to make people like me, and I don’t want to do it anymore.  I obviously want people to like me, but I don’t want to waste all my energy on it – they either like me or they don’t.  I learnt lots of techniques about performance and energy and breathing as well and there were lots of opportunities to read our poems out. We actually went and read at one of the Ledbury Salons on the second night and listened to the poet Gregory Leadbetter who came to do a reading and then we all got up and read two poems on the Open Mic.

Normally on residential weeks they seem to fly by, but at this one, it felt like time really slowed down.  We were in workshops for the whole day every day, and it was both physically and emotionally intense, but it was also incredibly sustaining and thought-provoking.  So when the applications open again, I would urge you to apply.  It was a brilliant, life-changing experience.  I think the only pre-requisite is that you have to have a pamphlet or a book out.

So it was a great week, and I met some really lovely poets, and got to know their work really well, which was brilliant.  It was back to reality with a bump however – the train was late from Birmingham to Preston, which meant I missed my last train home to Barrow.  The train company put me in a taxi from Preston and I eventually got back home at just before 2am on Friday morning.

On Friday I had to get up early to get to Kendal for a consultation at the tattoo studio – I’m getting a new tattoo next Friday and then in the afternoon it was Dove Cottage Young Poets.  Then back home to catch up on as many emails as possible before collapsing in a heap.  Which brings us to Saturday and the walk and the six hour chat and the dogs eating sheep poo which I won’t go into again.

I found out whilst I was away in Ledbury that I’ve been given some funding from MMU to go to the  English:Shared Futures conference in Newcastle in July, which means I can stay for the three days and go to some of the other panels and events, as well as taking part in the Round Table discussion about creative writing as research alongside Emily Blewitt and Carolyn Jess-Cooke.

I haven’t mentioned running because I haven’t been doing any.  I had knee pain when I did a 5k run last week and it still isn’t right so I rested while I was in Ledbury.  I’m going to have a week of swimming next week and try and get into the physio if I can.  This knee is costing me a fortune!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Polly Atkin, who lives not far from me in Grasmere.  I’ve known Polly for a while now and I’ve been looking forward to the publication of her first collection Basic Nest Architecture for a long time now.  I really enjoyed reading the collection, particularly as I’ve heard a few of the poems over the years at readings or open mics, so it was like meeting old friends again.

Polly grew up in Nottingham then lived in East London for seven years before moving to Cumbria.  Her second poetry pamphlet Shadow Dispatches won the Mslexia Pamphlet Prize and was published by Seren.  Her doctoral research was in collaboration with The Wordsworth Trust, and the departments of Sociology, and English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University, where she then taught for several years.  She currently teaches English Studies at the University of Strathclyde.

The collection is full of poems about landscape and animals, so it’s no surprise that an extract of the collection won the 2014 Andrew Waterhouse Prize in the Northern Writers Awards, given to a collection that engages with landscape.  There are also poems about living with illness and a body that doesn’t do what it is supposed to do, and it is one of those poems that I asked Polly if I could feature here.

‘The Invisible’ is a fantastic poem.  It comes towards the end of the collection and it explores ideas around a shadow self, named as ‘Croneshadow’ in the poem.  ‘Croneshadow’ seems to have her own will – she ‘stumbles ahead of me’ and ‘Her mouth/twitches down at the creases’.  Croneshadow is both the speaker, and her shadow.  Croneshadow is the body that will not do what it is told.  The speaker says ‘I try/to right her but she will not straighten’.

By the end of the poem, we are left with the haunting image of the speaker walking along, her breath melting ‘the frost on the empty road’ and the Croneshadow walking ahead.  The feel of the poem is that the speaker will be left behind, and the Croneshadow will walk onward, into her life, leaving her behind.

At first I thought Croneshadow was quite an ominous, or frightening figure.  She is made almost grotesque in the poem by the physical description of the way she walks, and the description of her face.  However, the speaker obviously has sympathy for her, because she tries to straighten her.  Two thirds of the way down the poem we learn

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>She knows
more of pain than your charts can trace
but you will not acknowledge her>>>>>>hear her.

I then started to wonder who the ‘you’ is that this poem is addressed to?  Is this poem addressed to the medical profession, to doctors, hospital staff? There are only four uses of the pronoun ‘you’ in the poem.  I tried changing them to ‘they’ but it doesn’t work – it makes the poem feel more distant.  Is the ‘you’ people who are healthy, people who don’t understand?  The use of pronouns in this poem is very interesting, because at one point it feels like the ‘I’ and the ‘she’ are merging into each other (‘Her edges are blurring./ My legs are unravelling’.  But by the end of the poem, there is a definite distinction and separation between the two identities.

It feels like a poem that I will continue to puzzle over, and the other thing to say is that although I think it works really well on its own, the other poems in the book about the body add another dimension to this poem.  The landscape/animal poems are wonderfully lyrical as well.  In ‘Heron/Snow’ the first line is ‘You carry worlds in the cipher of your feathers;/sky and water woven together’.  Another favorite poem was ‘Jack Daw’ which is up there with the best animal/bird description poems.

If you would like to order a copy of Polly’s collection, you can order it from the Seren website and get a 20% discount.  If you’d like to find out more about Polly, you can visit her website which is https://pollyatkin.com/

The Invisible – Polly Atkin

‘The secret is to walk evading nothing’
???????????????????????– Alice Oswald

Croneshadow stumbles ahead of me>>>>>catching
erratic feet on the tarmac>>>>>ruched
as it is by roots>>>>>her left foot sticking
as if in mud>>>>>her stoop cranked up
by the pock-marked skin of the drystone wall
she is thrown on>>>>>the angle of light>>>>sickish
orange in the early night.>>>>Her mouth
twitches down at the creases>>>>>Bitchy
Resting Face>>>though you cannot see it
dark on dark.>>>>You could say she exists
in relief>>>>except there is none>>>not
for a structure like her>>>>misbuilt>>collapsing
inward with each jolt forward.  I try
to right her but she will not straighten.  The more
I struggle the more she looks broken. She knows
more of pain than your charts can trace
but you will not acknowledge her>>>>>>hear her.  Her name
is a slur.  Her body is carrion.  It is
too late for this.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>My blood too sticky.
Her edges are blurring.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>My legs are unravelling.
Her gown of bones is clacking>>>>>>clacking.
Will we ever reach home?
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>I sink in my clothes
till my breath melts the frost on the empty road.
She pushes ahead of me>>>>carries on walking.
Carries on walking.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Carries on walking.

Sunday Poem – Julia Webb

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Sunday Poem – Julia Webb

I’m experimenting at the minute with fortnightly Sunday Poems, and I think it’s working! It has taken a bit of pressure off and I’m even thinking of ideas for a different type of blog post, maybe something to do with my PhD, on my ‘weekends off’ the Sunday Poem.

This has been another busy couple of weeks, in fact a rough couple of weeks for me.  I’ve been really busy with freelance work, as well as work for my PhD.  The rest of April is going to be quite full on, as I’m away running two residential courses, but after that, things calm down again, and I’m determined to take things a bit easier now and not take so much work on.   As soon as I decided this of course, I got quite a few offers of work that I would in normal circumstances love to do and which I’ve had to say no to.   I find it hard to say no to things even when I don’t want to do them, so having to turn down things I don’t want to do has been really difficult.  But I think the future me will thank the past me for it.

Meetings for Kendal Poetry Festival are in full swing, and Pauline and I have been writing the content for our programme and for the website, and then checking and rechecking proofs.  We are almost there with it, and hopefully tickets will be on sale by the end of next week.

I’ve been running a Poetry School course in Manchester for the last five weeks.  There were ten students signed up on the course, and I was actually quite sad that it was coming to an end, as they were a lovely group to work with – a mix of people I’d not met before and old friends – people that have been on previous workshops or residentials with me, even one person who I’d been on the MA with at Manchester all those years ago.  I’m also coming to the end of an Online Feedback course that I’ve been running with the Poetry School – I think there are 16 people on that course, and my last lot of feedback will be uploaded by next weekend, so again, another thing I’ve really enjoyed coming to an end.  On the positive side though, this means that I’m going to have a bit more breathing space to think, read and make some progress with my PhD, which is what I need at the minute.

My lovely friend David Tait has been on a months residency at The Wordsworth Trust – we spent a week down in St Ives together running a residential there, and I’ve tried to see him as much as I can in between everything else that has been going on.  Two Thursdays ago David came to Manchester to meet me after I’d finished my Poetry School course and we stayed over at a hotel before heading to Sheffield on Friday to record ourselves reading some poems at The Poetry Business, and to do a reading at Bank Street.  It was great to read with David again and to hang out at Bank Street – one of my favourite places in the world.  If you’e been to the office you’ll know why, books everywhere – not just the ones they publish but review copies of books and back issues of poetry magazines.

After the reading, despite my best intentions of not hanging around to chat with people, I ended up hanging around and chatting with people, so I didn’t get home till 1am.  The next day I had the Coniston 14 race – 14 miles around the edge of the lake with a couple of hills in between.  I’ve been training for ages for this and I’ve been really looking forward to it.  It was unexpectedly sunny and hot on the Saturday but not too hot for it to be a problem.  I ran the first 10k really well – despite the hills, I was averaging 4.45 a km which I was quite pleased with.  However, I started to get a pain at the side of my knee which then felt like a dead leg, and then my hamstring felt really tight, then my calf felt really tight.  I walked a couple of drink stations, and it was really painful running down hill, so I decided to slow down and just get round.  I was really annoyed at the time, but I think it was the sensible thing to do, and I was pleased with my overall time – 1 hour 52 minutes.

My leg still hurts when I walk for too long, so I haven’t ran since last weekend.  My plan is to give myself two weeks off running, I’ve got a physio appointment booked for this Friday, so hopefully that will fix it.

After I finished the race, I then had to jump straight in the car and get over to Lancaster to read at Lancaster Litfest with Hannah Lowe.  I really enjoyed hearing Hannah – there seemed to be a lot of common threads running through our work.  When I was first starting out in poetry I used to hate it when poets read ‘new work’.  I only liked hearing things from their books.  Now, I get really excited when a poet says they are going to read something new – Hannah read two new poems that I thought were brilliant and now I’m already looking forward to her next book, probably a bit too early to be saying that, but still!

The other thing that’s occupying my time at the minute is I’m organising a Feminist Poetry Jambouree as part of a wider network of events, all taken place on the 8th April.  Along with Clare Shaw, I volunteered to organise the Ulverston one.  The venue is the Laurel and Hardy Museum in Ulverston, and the main format of the evening will be an Open Mic session for poets and musicians.  However, there will be invited guests taking longer slots, including Laura Potts and John Wedgwood Clarke.  The aim of the event is to support and champion women’s rights.  We’ll be collecting donations on the night which will be divided between Let Go – a local domestic violence charity and The Birchall Trust who work with survivors of rape and sexual abuse in Cumbria.  Clare and I will also be performing some new work that we’ve been writing in a kind of poetry relay over the last few weeks.  It wouldn’t be exciting if we weren’t leaving finishing this off until the last possible minute but finished, in some form it has to be for Saturday!

I’m also hoping that the night will finish off with a group performance of ‘I Can’t Keep Quiet’  – a song by MILCK which was performed at the women’s marches and which went viral.  We had a rehearsal last Wednesday which went really well, so if anybody else is interested in coming along to the rehearsal at Natterjacks this Thursday, just get in touch, or turn up at Natterjacks in Ulverston at 7.30 where we will make you feel very welcome.  You don’t have be able to sing, you just need enthusiasm!

Clare and I are also running a joint workshop on April 8th from 10.30-4 as part of my Barrow Poetry Workshop series – there are still places available, so if you’d like to come to the workshop, just get in touch.

Today’s Sunday poem is by Julia Webb, taken from her latest collection Bird Sisters, published by Nine Arches Press.  Julia is a poet, editor, creative writing tutor and a creative coach living in Norwich. She has a first class honours degree in Creative Writing from Norwich University of the Arts and an MA in Creative Writing, Poetry from The University of East Anglia. Julia is one of the editorial teamThe Lighthouse – a journal for new writing published by Gatehouse Press.  Her poetry has appeared in Magma, The Rialto, Poetry Salzburg Review,Ink, Sweat and Tears, Other Poetry, Poetry News, The Interpreter’s HouseSouth, Ten Poets: UEA Poetry 2010 amongst others

Bird Sisters came out in May 2016, and I read it cover to cover in one sitting, maybe one of the reasons for this is that it seems really well put together as a collection.  This is not one of those collections which is a disparate collection of poems, there are threads and sequences running throughout the book.  There are page-length prose poems in the voice of a child which use capitals in a really clever way to capture the character of the child.  These are scattered throughout the book and are really effective.

Birds are really important as you can see from the title of the collection, and transformation of the body into some kind of animal or bird happens throughout the poems.  More importantly is the theme of sisters, of what it means to be a sister and to have a sister.  Maybe it is my ignorance, but I haven’t read many poems about sisters, so I enjoyed this a lot.

Sisters can be wonderful (I have three) but it can also be very fraught as well.  How I survived my childhood sharing a room with my twin sister and my two older sisters who were older than me by 10 years or so I will never know.  I’m surprised my older sisters didn’t try and do away with us both, as I think I was quite an annoying child!

In Julia’s poem, the speaker of the poem is in hospital, although we don’t know why.  The sister is an owl sister, but the poem is balanced on the edge of bird and human – the sister has both bird and human characteristics.  She has both wings and a ‘breast pocket.’  She hates hospitals and has a schedule (very human things) but she also carries voles and hoots as she leaves the ward.  The last but one line of ‘turns on her claw’ echoes the cliche of ‘turns on her heel’ and gives us another sense of her character.  What is also interesting is that the sister is an ‘owl sister’ but we get no sense of the speaker being a bird.  So when the sister drops the vole onto the blanket, although in one light this could be a caring act, it can also be seen as someone doing what they think is best, without asking what the speaker actually wants.  This is all done with a really light touch, and I think the inner logic of the poem works really well.  It follows another great poem ‘My owl sister mistakes me for a mouse’ where the speaker is carried by the owl sister and dropped ‘amongst her needle-beaked children.’  I’m not sure if we’re meant to read the two poems side by side as a mini narrative – and whether one follows on from another chronologically – if they do, then the speaker finishes in the first poem in a nest amongst the children (note, not chicks, in this poem) and then in the second she is in a hospital – is there a connection between the needle-beaked children and the reason she is now in a hospital? I’m not sure and I quite like not knowing.

If you’d like to order Bird Sisters, you can do so from the Nine Arches website here.  If you’d like to find out more about Julia then you can have a look at her website here

My owl sister pays me a visit – Julia Webb

She moves restlessly around the room
examining every object, flexes her wings,

lingers by the double-glazed window,
shields her eyes as if the day is too bright.

I know she hates hospitals,
and I have interrupted her schedule,

she has chicks to feed,
important things to do.

She plucks a vole from her breast pocket,
and drops it onto my blanket,

turns on her claw.
Her hoot echoes along the ward.

Sunday Poem –

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Sunday Poem –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Invisible Man – Maria Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Poem – John Foggin

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Sunday Poem  – John Foggin

It’s the TS Eliot prize readings tonight, so maybe I’ll be writing this to nobody as lots of poets will be at the Royal Festival Hall as we speak, listening to the ten shortlisted poets.  I went a couple of years ago, the year Sharon Olds won, and Jacob Polly was shortlisted.  It was a great night, and I’d love to go again, another year, when I have more money and more time.

I haven’t read all of the shortlisted books yet either, which is very unusual for me, so I haven’t even got an informed opinion about who I think should win.  So maybe it is strange to even mention it, except that it was on my mind as I sat down at my desk, alone and looking out into the dark, that out there, elsewhere, hundreds of people are gathering to hear and talk about poetry, and I am both part of it, and not part of it at all.

Last Tuesday I had a meeting about my PhD and then I sent my draft RD1 proposal to one of my supervisors, with feedback promised by the end of the week. I know I’ve complained on here before, but this term has been a bit of a nightmare.  I haven’t been able to send a draft of my RD1 before this, because I spent about eight weeks in and out of hospital, or recovering from an operation.  I finished most of my RD1 over Christmas, whilst most normal people were drinking and eating chocolate, but that was the first time I felt physically able to get really stuck into it.  But I couldn’t send the RD1 to my supervisors then, as I didn’t think it was fair to be sending stuff whilst they were on holiday.

Luckily I’ve had some lovely poet-friends who offered to have a look over it for me, and that has been really, really helpful.  However, once I sent the RD1 on Tuesday, I’ve spent the whole week having nightmares about it being awful.  I had an actual nightmare where I got an email from my supervisor which said

‘I understand now why you took so long to send the RD1 through.  Your sentence construction is not good enough for a PhD so we’ve swapped you onto an Access course.’

I woke up with actual night sweats from that one! Anyway, I got the feedback on Friday, and my RD1 isn’t terrible, and the feedback was very constructive, and I haven’t been thrown off the course.  It still needs some work, but I think that is to be expected,  and I think I can get it all done before my deadline, which is Thursday.

Apart from my anxiety levels going through the roof, lots of lovely stuff has happened this week as well.  I’ve been getting back into running, and have been three times this week – all of the runs were over 10k.  I’m training to run the Coniston 14 race in March, so I’m trying to get my fitness up, without going over the top and getting injured, so it’s a bit of a balancing act.

I’ve also been writing poetry this week! A couple of weeks ago I went to sit with my twin sister while she went and got a tattoo at Samsara Tattoo in Kendal.  Here is a picture of it!  She was there for six hours getting this done.

15541609_1279314905425298_8201604401307089933_nThere were some other people there getting really interesting tattoos done as well.  I won’t tell you about them as it’s in the poem, but my sister’s tattoo, which is in the style of a watercolour, got me thinking about tattoos.  I have three, and they are the only things I’ve ever done in my life where I didn’t car what other people thought.  I didn’t know I’d feel like this about them, but it was so liberating, especially as I spent a lot of time worrying about what people think of me.  I also like the idea that a tattoo turns the body into a piece of art and I think tattoos made me feel an ownership of my body which I hadn’t really felt before.  Anyway, I’ve hopefully put all this into the poem in a much better way than I have here.  I’ve also booked to get my next tattoo – not till March though.

I’ve read a really interesting article this week as part of my RD1 work, recommended by my supervisor about Medusa and the female gaze.  The article quotes John Berger from his book who says ‘Men do not simply look, their gaze carries with it the power of action and of possession’.  It made me think about my poems I’ve been writing, all called ‘All The Men I Never Married’.  Writing poems about ex-boyfriends and experiences of sexism, is kind of like turning the men involved into stone.  Or maybe not into stone, but freezing them in time.  They can’t defend themselves, or excuse themselves, or apologise.  They can’t laugh about it with me or give their version of events. Or maybe they can, but the version of them that I have pinned to the page can’t.  I’m slightly uncomfortable with turning into a poetic Medusa, and maybe it’s no coincidence that I’ve written a poem about being tattooed, where the subjects are also pinned in place, unable to move.  Although in my tattoo poem, the artists are able to move and create art from nothing.  And although the body can’t move, it does have a voice.  Argh! At the minute, it feels like I have these thoughts going round in my head, and not quite enough time to peel the layers away and actually think about them, so instead you’re getting disjointed and vague musings.

Back to more practical matters – the first Barrow Poetry Workshop yesterday.  I’ve got the dates booked in for the rest of 2017 now – check the ‘Readings and Workshops’ page for more details.  11 poets turned up on Saturday from all over the place – Alston, Preston, Lancaster, Kendal, Ulverston and Barrow. Running poetry workshops is one of my favourite parts of being a poet – it feels nothing like work, the people are lovely, and I get paid for it.

Next week I’m going to Manchester on Monday to the Royal Exchange to see the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends reading series – my friends Keith Hutson and Hilary Robinson are reading alongside Liz Lochhead.  I always wanted to go to these readings, but could never go before because my Monday nights were always tied up with conducting my junior brass band – now I haven’t got that commitment I’m determined to go to them.  I’ve also got to hand my RD1 in of course.  By the time I write this blog next week that stress will hopefully be over!

Residential news – St Ives poetry course in February is now sold out, but there are places left still for the Grange-Over-Sands Residential in April.  I don’t think Grange Over Sands has quite the pull of St Ives as a location – just the name St Ives has lovely connotations.  It’s a shame though because the Grange Over Sands location is just as lovely, but in a different way.  The course actually takes place in a small village called Kents Bank, which is a couple of miles out from Grange.  There is a lovely walk along the promenade to Grange that people often do in the afternoons, and although I wouldn’t advise walking out on the mudflats, the views of Morecambe Bay are really stunning. There are only non-ensuite rooms left for Grange, which means they are a bit cheaper – only £396 for a Monday to Friday course – a bargain!

So today’s Sunday Poem is by John Foggin.  I’ve just counted up and this is his fourth appearance on this blog – I think he has the record for the most appearances on here! He will keep winning competitions and publishing books and pamphlets though, and then they keep being excellent, which is why he keeps popping up.

John’s first full-length collection Much Possessed was published by Smith/Doorstop in 2016, and to be honest, I got confused and thought I’d already posted a poem from it as the Sunday Poem.  Then I checked and realised I hadn’t – I’d done that thing of thinking about something at great length and then not actually doing it.  It’s a fantastic collection, with a wide variety of subject matter, and there were loads of poems I could have chosen as my favourite.  There’s ‘For the true naming of the world’ which is a beautiful poem which I think underneath is about writing, or at least being present in the world which starts ‘you need one who will recognise a fish/that has swallowed a star/that fell through the vaults of the air’.  Or ‘Wren’ which starts ‘God thought of the smallest coin/he could make, and made the Wren/to fit, neat as a thumb in a thimble’ which reminds me of my utter conviction that ducklings look like pound coins, even though I know they don’t really.  Or ‘Goldcrest’ – this bird is described as a ‘soft plump brooch’.  Or ‘Colouring in’ which has the best ending to a poem I’ve read ‘On days like this warm day/the sky is a cat’s ear/and is listening me.’

However, the poem that I am going to post up in full is called ‘A Weak Force.’  I don’t remember where I first heard John read ( a workshop? a tutorial?) but I remember it made me cry.  This is a difficult poem to write about because it is a difficult subject.  tIt explores suicide, and the impact of suicide on those left behind. However, it is also a beautiful poem and as well as being about falling and leaving and death, it is also about love, and the nature of love. There is an urgency mixed with acceptance mixed with anger in this poem, which makes it utterly compelling. So I will do my best to explore why it’s always been one of my favourite poems of John’s.  I know it’s an important poem for him too, so I hope I do it justice.

The first thing to say is that the first line is a jolt.  It is a bold statement and claim to start with, but then the rest of the poem backs this statement up – opening it up and exploring it.  There is no self-pity here – right from this first stanza, it is the loss of the ‘lives never lived by your children’ which is mourned, not the loss of the speaker in the poem who is left behind.  The third line of the poem with the use of the word ‘stopped’ is an interesting distancing technique – we associate clocks with stopping, not people, but I think this is needed to keep emotion in control, because of the next lines, which tell us what happened, about a fall ‘from the top of a tower block.’  The content of this poem is incredibly moving, but the control and technique that is shown support it – the line break after stopped makes the empty space that follows it echo into the next line.

There are lots of different changes in tone in this poem as well.  The first two stanzas sound very sure of themselves, as if they are setting out thoughts and ideas that have been gone over again and again.  I think the tone changes in the fourth stanza which starts ‘In the no time’.  From here, we’re not quite in the real world.  We’re in the world of falling, in a kind of in-between world with the ‘you’ who ‘learned the art of not falling’.  The viewpoint of the poem widens out, and the reader is also ‘falling and not falling’ as the speaker describes Leeds spread out underneath and we read that the ‘motorway tail lights trailed ribbons of red’.

In the next stanza, there is again, a change of tone.  With the repetition of the word ‘Because’ there is something almost childlike introduced here into the speaker’s voice, and we see the ‘you’ as a child, a child who ‘always shut your eyes/you closed them tight as cockleshells’.  I’m trying to work out why this section of the poem moves me, and I think it’s because the person comes to life.  The focus shifts from their death to their life, to the person they were.  Of course the line ‘I remember how you laughed when I swore/I would catch you’ is a bitter-sweet memory, because, of course, the ‘you’ cannot be caught.

My favourite image in the poem is the final one – the idea of the ‘you’ who ‘sank like the sun.’  Even when we can’t see the sun, it hasn’t disappeared, it is still there. That last list in the final stanza ‘over the canal/the river the sour moors the cottongrass/the mills of the plain’ brings home the idea that everything is a reminder.

The poem is right of course – you can’t imagine that loss, unless you’ve experienced it.  But it is possible to be moved by it.

For those of you who don’t know John already, he writes a great blog called the great fogginzo’s cobweb.  He has been a teacher, lecturer and LEA English/Drama Adviser.  He lives in West Yorkshire where he jointly organises Puzzle Poets Live in Calderdale.  His work has appeared in The North, The New Writer, Prole and The Interpreter’s House, amongst others.

His poems have won first prizes in competitions including The Plough (2013, 2014) and The McLellan (2015).  He has published four pamphlets: Running out of space, Backtracks, Larach (with Ward Wood Publishing 2014), Outlaws and fallen Angels (Calder Valley Press 2016).  His latest success is winning the Sentinel Pamphlet Competition with a co-authored pamphlet, written with an ex-student, Andrew Blackford.  This will be published sometime in 2017, and you can read more about it on John’s blog here.

If you’d like to order John’s collection, you can buy Much Possessed directly from his publisher’s website, Smith/Doorstop.

A Weak Force – John Foggin

there’s sometimes a loss you can’t imagine;
the lives never lived by your children, or
by the one who simply stopped
in the time it takes
to fall to the ground
from the top of a tower block.

They say gravity is a weak force.
I say the moon will tug a trillion tons
of salt sea from its shore.
I say a mountain range will pull a snowmelt
puddle out of shape.
I say gravity can draw a boy
through a window
and into the air.

There is loss no one can imagine.

In the no time between
falling and not falling
you learned the art of not falling;

beneath you burned
the lights of Sheepscar, Harehills,
Briggate, Vicar Lane;
lights shone in the glass arcades,
on the tiles, on the gantries of tall cranes;
motorway tail lights trailed ribbons of red,
and you were far beyond falling.

Because you shut your eyes
because you always shut your eyes
you closed them tight as cockleshells
because when you did that the world

would go away the world
would not see you.

I remember how you ran like a dream.
I remember how you laughed when I swore
I would catch you.

Then you flared you went out
you flared like a moth and you blew
away over the lights over the canal
the river the sour moors the cottongrass
the mills of the plain
and over the sea and over the sea
and the bright west
and you sank like the sun.

 

Sunday Poem – John Mills

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Sunday Poem – John Mills

Another week with no medical disaster, trauma or mishap so I think I am out of the woods.  Before my operation, I would work until at least midnight, writing or catching up with admin.  Since the hospital though, I’ve been going to bed at the latest by 10pm and getting up at about 8am.  I’m used to functioning on 6-7 hours sleep a night, so it feels very strange to be needing 10 hours sleep, just to get by on the minimal activities I’m doing at the minute.  I’m trying to accept it as part of the healing process.  I keep telling myself my body is still getting back to normal, readjusting after the shock of being cut open, poked,prodded and stitched back together again, and the rational part of my mind knows and understands this.  But the non-rational part of my mind is having a panic attack about all of the stuff that I’m not getting done on time.  People have been very understanding so far though, so I know I need to chill out a little bit.

Next Thursday 15th December I’m giving a lecture at the final Kava Poetry series.  I read for Kava earlier on this year with a terrible cold – in fact I didn’t read very much because I started coughing terribly, and in the end my friend Keith had to do the reading for me.  Kava is unique because as well as having a poet who reads their own work, there is also another invited poet who is asked to give a lecture on a topic of their choosing.  The series is run by Anthony Costello, and next week is the final one, which is sad, but I’m also looking forward to being there at the final Kava and seeing Anthony get some appreciation and recognition from the regular audience members.

This was one of my deadlines that went whizzing past – Anthony prints the guest poet’s lecture in a small pamphlet, and understandably asked for the lecture to be sent to him by the week before.  I was a day late – eventually sending it on Friday afternoon.  Anthony was very understanding but I did feel bad, as it can’t be easy organising an event, and printing a booklet out each time as well!

As most of you will know, the only thing I’ve had in my head for the past three months is my PhD, and feminism and poetry, so I decided to write my lecture around this.  I actually really enjoyed writing it and I’m looking forward to Thursday – not feeling too nervous at the minute.

This week I’ve also had a committee meeting for A Poem and a Pint and I have a list of poets to invite to Cumbria in 2017.  This is one of my outstanding jobs that I didn’t manage to get on with this week.  I also managed to make it to Manchester on Tuesday to meet two fellow PhD students, both at differing stages of the PhD.  It was both reassuring and inspiring to hear their thoughts and advice.  Rachel Davies writes a blog about her experience of the PhD – in fact, reading her blog was one of the main reasons why I decided to apply – it helped me to realise that doing a PhD could be for ‘people like me’ as well.  If you are thinking of doing a PhD, I would recommend reading Rachel’s blog – it’s really fascinating.  Rachel Mann, the other student that I met, is coming towards the end of her PhD.  Rachel is pretty amazing at being able to pull academic theories out of the air to illustrate a point – my ambition is to be able to talk like that about my PhD in three years time!

Seeing other people do things first is very important for me.  When I look back at all the big decisions I’ve made, they’ve always been foreshadowed by someone close to me making the leap first.  David Tait winning the 2011 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition made me determined to have a go the next year.  My friend J left her job with the music service to take up a new position elsewhere, and my sister left her job with the music service to go and be the manager at Animal Concern in Egremont.  Seeing them both go and do something they believed in gave me the confidence to go part time as a teacher the year after.  Rachel Davies doing a PhD – I read her blog for a year and finally worked up the courage to have a go.  I’m not sure if this is creepy, or just well thought out! Maybe my next ambition should be to do something without anyone doing it first – to inspire myself to make a leap into new territory.  Or maybe this is the way that everybody moves on, and if I asked all of those people, a chain of other people that they have learnt from and been inspired by would unfold, further and further back into time.

This week I’ve also managed to get along to two poetry groups – Barrow Writers and Brewery Poets, and I even had two different poems to take along to be critiqued.  I’m supposed to be concentrating on the RD1 and not worrying too much about writing poetry this term, but I can’t seem to stop.  It’s because I’m reading a lot – even reading academic books seems to make me write.  I’m not complaining though!

Last Wednesday I ran what is probably going to be a bi-monthly event at Natterjacks, a late night cafe in Ulverston.  It was a wonderful event – I think we had 19 on the open mic, but everybody was well behaved and didn’t read for too long, so we managed to finish at a reasonable hour.  In the second half, it’s time for ‘Hunger Games Open Mic’ which if you haven’t experienced it before, it is my invention to get over the natural humbleness and deference of some poets.  Basically, who ever gets up and gets to the front first reads a poem and then sits down and somebody else charges up.  It’s great fun – and we have even evolved a system of ‘runners’ for those who don’t feel able to leap up and fight their way through to the front.

My other meeting this week was with Pauline Yarwood to hash out the finer details about Kendal Poetry Festival.  I’m getting so excited about the festival already – last year I think I just felt stressed about the amount of work – this year, I know what the reward will be for the stress, which more than makes up for the hours spent applying for funding and carrying out admin.  We’re meeting next week to start our Arts Council bid so wish us luck!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by John Mills, who I met at Swindon Poetry Festival a few months ago.  John came to one of my workshops, then read a poem on the Open Mic that made me cry.  I’ve just finished reading his pamphlet Scarred which I’ve really enjoyed.  He writes about a wide range of subjects – running, depression, illness, war, family and the poems cycle through a range of emotions.  Some of them made me smile or laugh out loud, and some were very poignant.

John was born in Stoke in 1952 and spent his working life teaching English and playing sport and music.  He is very modest, and didn’t say much more than that about himself, but he has some lovely quotes on the back of his pamphlet – Helen Mort says his poetry is ‘Compassionate, bold and generous’ and Roger Elkin says that his poetry is ‘what all good poetry should aspire to!’ So there you go!

I’ve chosen ‘Anno Domini’ to feature from John’s pamphlet.  This is the last poem in the pamphlet.  I had to google Anno Domini of course, having no Latin at all.  Google tells me it means ‘advancing age’.  This poem is clearly written by someone who loves language and playing around with words.  I really like the ‘shilly shallying’ on the second line! I think it’s the first time I’ve read a poem with those words in.  I like that this poem seems to be about finding out what you really want to do – instead of what you think you ought to, or what is easiest – a subject close to my own heart!

The poem has a lovely, passing reference to the poem ‘Warning‘ by Jenny Joseph, with it’s famous first line ‘When I am old I shall wear purple’, in the second stanza with its ‘Let’s see./I have worn a purple shirt’ lines.  Although this poem isn’t about quite the same thing – the speaker in ‘Warning’ wants to do what she wants, to be outrageous, to not care what people think.  The speaker of this poem is tired of the middle road, of neither ‘being one thing or the other.’

The character of the speaker is wonderfully captured in these lines – I love how his thinking gradually unfolds.  It was this stanza which made me laugh out loud – it was the line ‘having been a boy’ that did it.  There is also something poignant and uncomfortable though about having to wait for advancing age until you can do what you want – although the poem is funny, there is an undercurrent of uneasiness for me when I read it.  It forces the reader to take a look at their own life, and their own desires, but it does this without preaching or hectoring – it has a very light touch.

I also really love the punchline at the end – the spending of the ‘inheritance’, which with one deft touch brings in the extra characters of the children, and again made me laugh with the surprise of it.

If you would like to order John’s pamphlet, you can find him on Facebook – send him a message, and he will post a signed copy out for the princely copy of £4 which is a bargain – the pamphlet really is a good read.

Thanks to John for letting me use his poem this week!

 

Anno Domini – John Mills

I am through with this
ambivalent shilly shallying,
this messy abrogation of responsibility
and settlement, for what I neither like
nor hate.
No more of this
piggy in the middle,
jolly sailing through life without
being one thing or the other.

It is time to step out!
To be my own man!
Let’s see.
I have worn a purple shirt
and having been a boy,
I am a very competent spitter.
So far so good.

I can do better than this.
I shall refuse to be the milch cow.
I’ll move away and see
the views I want to see.
Shatter the shackles of responsibility,
shun the pills given to combat
the bones and marrows of outrageous mis-fortune
and ease the cork out of a potion of my own
as I work my way through their inheritance.

Sunday Poem – Lisa Brockwell

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Sunday Poem – Lisa Brockwell

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

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

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

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

jenny-book-launch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Long Haul – Lisa Brockwell

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

October Residential – Guest Poet

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October Residential – Guest Poet

I’m really excited to announce that Sarah Hymas will be our guest poet for the October Residential Poetry Course.

She is a poet, performer and artistbook maker. Her writing has appeared in print, multimedia exhibits, dance videos, lyrics, pyrotechnical installations, on stage and as an improvised opera.

Host, her poetry collection, is published by Waterloo Press (2010). Her artistbook Lune (2013) was featured in The Guardian Books Blog. Since 2014 she has written immersive stories in Manchester, Lancaster and Marsden, using geocaching, augmented reality, micro print, spoken word and live performance.

She is currently working on another for the Aberdeen Music Hall. In 2015 she collaborated on Ripple, an installation that uses physical poems and augmented reality to illuminate climate change. Her present writing focuses on the sea, its ecosystems and the relationhip between it and us.

Sarah will be joining us for dinner on the Wednesday night of the course, and then reading her work to participants afterwards.  There will be time for questions as well,  and I think it will be a really interesting discussion.  As you can see from Sarah’s biography, her work is very much multi-disciplinary, and she uses both traditional and non-traditional routes to publish her work.  You can find more information about Sarah at her website sarahhymas.net  or you can follow her on Twitter at @sarahhymas

The October Poetry Residential runs from October 24th-28th 2016.  The tutors are myself and Jennifer Copley.  The fee of £424 includes accommodation, breakfast and three-course evening meals, all workshops, readings and a tutorial.  The hotel has a lovely swimming pool and there will be free time in the afternoon for walks along Grange promenade or time for your own writing.  If you have any questions about the course, please get in touch with me directly.  If you’d like to book, please phone the hotel on 015395 32896.  There are still a few places left, but these are filling up fairly quickly. 

Sarah has also asked me to pass on information about a workshop that she is running on Sunday 9th October –  please see below!

The Flotsam and Jetsam of the Bay

Morecambe Bay Partnership invites you to the second in a series of creative writing days with poet Sarah Hymas. Bring along an object or photograph related to Morecambe Bay and spend the day working with Sarah to capture the spirit of the Bay in words.
Write a short story, poem or piece of autobiography to contribute to the living history of the area. Info and booking: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/writing-the-flotsam-jetsam-of-the-bay-part-2-tickets-26921702537

Sunday Poem – Myra Schneider

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Sunday Poem – Myra Schneider

No view today apart from the dark, and my own reflection in the window, and through the gaps of the houses opposite, I can see a few streetlights, and one window in the house opposite has a light on.  It’s only 10.30pm now, but it feels more like 2am, everything is so quiet.  When we first moved here two years ago, I couldn’t sleep because it was so quiet.  Our first house in Barrow was in a street where you could hear the seagulls all the time, so it took me a while to get used to not hearing them.  Now, of course, it’s quite nice not to be divebombed by seagulls between the front door and the car.

Today I went to Lancaster with lots of people from the Walney Wind Cheetahs and took part in the Lancaster Castle 10k, which actually turned into the Lancaster Castle 10.6k, as apparently some directional arrows were turned the wrong way, there were no marshals and lots of people ran the wrong way and got lost.  I was a bit gutted because I think I would have got a PB, but I suppose these things can’t be helped.  We had a nice day anyway, and I was 6th woman back which I’ve never been before so that was quite exciting!

Getting lost seems to be a theme this week actually, as I also went on a 10 mile run which turned into a 12 mile run on Wednesday with my friend Ian and forgot to turn left at a crucial junction, which meant we had to run an extra two miles and climb up a huge hill again, which nearly finished us off!

Apart from running and getting lost, I’ve also had an Induction Day at Manchester Met this week to prepare for the teaching that I’ll be doing there.  I don’t think anything can really prepare you for teaching apart from just getting stuck into it, I guess.

I’ve been working with Pauline Yarwood, the co-director of Kendal Poetry Festival on plans for next year’s festival.  We’ve already confirmed some poets (top secret, sorry, can’t tell you who they are) and are waiting to hear back from the remaining few.  Pauline’s been working hard on an application to a local charity and we’ve already sent that in.  This was the first charity we applied to last year, and when we were awarded the money, it really gave us a boost of confidence to apply for the rest of the amount to the Arts Council. I’m hoping this happens again this year!

Last night it was A Poem and a Pint with the fabulous Hollie McNish.  I’ve seen Hollie read a few times now – most recently (before last night) at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival.  At Aldeburgh she read a poem about class and accents and fitting in which made me cry, which I didn’t expect.  To cry, I mean.  She is a great performer of her work, not just the poems, but when she introduces them, she is very warm, very open.  It is a cliche but she really does feel like a breath of fresh air.  She is also a sharp and witty observer of life, or the kind of absurdities of life.  She writes poems that flag up things in life that we probably all pretend we don’t notice.    Anyway, last night at Poem and a Pint she was brilliant – the audience loved her.  I was the MC and kept forgetting to get up and introduce the next item, which is pretty standard for my MCing style!

The other thing I’ve been doing this weekend is painting the downstairs ‘middle room’ as we call it.  Do you remember that scene in Adrian Mole’s diary when he decides to paint the walls of his bedroom black to cover up the Noddy wallpaper, and the bells just keep showing through, no matter how many layers of paint he slaps on? Well in my more dramatic moments, this is how I feel about the middle room, except it is white paint, and it is patches, rather than bells.  Anyway, Chris has promised that one more coat should do it, so hopefully by this time next weekend, I won’t have to look at another tin of white paint for a while.

Next week there is lots going on.  My good friend Jennifer Copley is launching her latest pamphlet Vinegar and Brown Paper, published by Like This Press.  The launch will take place at Natterjacks in Ulverston at 7.30 – you can find more information here.  Members of Barrow Writers will also be reading and The Demix will be providing some music so it will be a great night!

I’m off to Manchester again on Thursday to have a meeting with one of my supervisors on the PhD.  On Thursday evening I’m reading at Black Cat Poets in Manchester, alongside the marvellous Emma McGordon, who was one of the first poets I ever saw read, so I’m quite excited about that! There is also an open mic for anybody that wants to come down and has a couple of poems knocking about that they fancy reading…

I’ve got Dove Cottage Young Poets session on Friday and then a Soul Band gig on Saturday and then rehearsals for The Wizard of Oz start on Sunday.  You will be happy to know that I’m not acting, singing or dancing in The Wizard of Oz, only playing the trumpet, which is probably a mercy for us all.

So this week’s Sunday Poem is by Myra Scheider, who has featured on the blog quite a few times in the past.  The poem I’ve chosen comes from her latest book Persephone in Finsbury Park,  published by Second Light Publications.

Rebecca, the poem I’ve chosen is very representative of Myra’s work.  I often come away from Myra’s work knowing a little more than when I arrived – I didn’t for instance know that a pogrom is ‘an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group, in particular that of Jews in Russia or eastern Europe.’

This word sits in the poem like an undetonated bomb.  There is nothing else said about the pogroms, yet that word shadows everything that follows and precedes it.  The idealistic rural life filled with cows that Rebecca ‘knew by heart’ contrasts with the new life in Stepney.  By the end of the second stanza, there is another story that is mentioned and then never returned to in the poem – the ‘six-year old Judith’ who is ‘scalded to death tipping water from a boiling kettle.’

I wonder if these stories will be developed in later collections or poems.  There is certainly a wealth of material here – although of course the story of Judith is alluded to with the story of ‘Isaac’ who wasn’t allowed to play indoors in case he comes to harm – presumably in the same way that Judith did.  Although ironically, of course, he suffers the touch of extreme cold, the opposite of what Judith suffered.

The lovely thing about this poem is the surprise that Rebecca is the grandmother of the speaker, and the realisation that this is family history that is being shared.

If you would like to buy a copy of Persephone in Finsbury Park, you can order one from Myra by emailing her at  myraRschneider@gmail.com.  This is Myra’s 14th poetry collection – previous collections include The Door to Colour, published by Enitharmon in 2014, and Circling the Core in 2008.  She also writes prose and edits anthologies and runs creative writing courses .

Thanks to Myra for letting me use her poem this week – if you’d like to find out more about Myra, you can have a look at her website here

 

Rebecca  – Myra Schneider

Somewhere inside me: snippets from her life,
that village a dozen miles from Vitebsk, the cows
she knew by heart, the grocery shop and pogroms

left behind for a cramped existence in Stepney:
families living elbow to elbow, her six-year old Judith
scalded to death tipping water from a boiling kettle.

These scraps and others are in a bundle much smaller
than the bundle of linens she heaved through years
of unpaved streets after her husband died,

selling on the never-never.  There’s little Isaac
who couldn’t keep still for a moment, never allowed
indoors on his own – such harm might he come to –

playing outside till her day’s slog was over, in winter
at the mercy of frost which sank its teeth so deep
into his legs the bite was still raw ninety years later.

There’s the tale of how she dug her needle wit
into the boy for fooling in his new secondary school,
being placed twenty-ninth, then of how proud she was

when he became, not the rabbi she’d dreamed of
in the tiny bedroom they shared for years,
but such a scholar he was paid to go to university.

Rebecca, grandmother I never knew, your son
always called you mother – I didn’t learn your name
until seven years after he died – I’m proud of you.

Sunday Poem – Linda Gregerson

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It is glorious sunshine today here, though half of the garden is already in shadow, now that it is mid-afternoon. The hawthorn tree is still covered in red berries, and at the bottom of the garden, the laurel bushes that we chopped down two years ago have grown back to chest height.

Last week was the first full week of the schools being back in action.  People keep whether I think I’ll miss it.  I don’t feel like I’ve really had time to miss anything yet – although what does feel strange is that the passing of time will not be marked in quite the same way anymore, by school holidays and term times.

Monday night will be difficult, because it’s the first band rehearsal back for Barrow Shipyard Junior Band.  I’ve decided to fill up my first free Monday evening to keep my mind off it and stop myself turning up at the bandroom, so I’ll be using my newly bought 1 month gym membership and going for a ‘Total Abs’ session, which I’m sure will take my mind off things.  After that I’ve got Soul Band rehearsal, so I’m hoping Monday evening will be over before I know it.

Last week I had another blissful week of not rushing around, although I did work quite hard at my desk.  I’m interviewing the American writer Sarah Kennedy for a journal, so I’ve been steadily making my way through her four novels and five poetry collections.  I’ve finished the poetry collections and am onto the first novel now.  I’ve already got a few questions I want to ask – and it has been a wonderful experience to read all of her work in one go, and to start to pull out threads and concerns that unite both her poetry and her prose.

I’ve also been working on my BBC commission to write a poem in the voice of a local landmark.  This is proving challenging (she says, keeping the rising panic from her voice) but I have a little bit of time left still.  I’ve also worked on a new poem this week, cheered on by my lovely writing room, and I’ve been reading various poets, looking for someone who is writing about feminism and sexism in a way that might be useful to my PhD.

Other things – a 5k race on Wednesday – 4th female back but no personal best time (missed it by 13 seconds).  I ran my Barrow Poetry Workshop all day yesterday – nine participants and the standard was very high.  We looked at poems by Jennifer L.Knox, Sharon Olds, Li-Young Lee and Luke Kennard.

After I’d finished the workshop I had an hour to eat and then it was straight back out to Kendal, where I read at Sprint Mill alongside lots of other poets – Hannah Hodgson, Caroline Gilfillan, Mark Carson, Mark Ward, Harriet Fraser, Geraldine Green and Luke Brown. It was organised by Karen Lloyd, who did a wonderful job of hosting, despite having a broken arm.  Sprint Mill is a fascinating place, and it is open for the next week or so for visitors as the C-Art exhibition is on.

Next week I have my Induction Day as an Associate Lecturer at MMU.  I’m hoping it is not like INSET was as a music teacher (i.e boring).  It surely can’t be as bad as that? I’m also the MC for A Poem and a Pint’s next event – the wonderful Hollie McNish will be coming to perform for us in Ulverston on the 17th September.  The event is taking place at the Laurel and Hardy Musuem and starts at 7.30pm.  There is an open mic, but we’re expecting this event to be busy, so don’t be late!

I’m really excited about this week’s Sunday Poem by the wonderful American poet Linda Gregerson.  I wrote a review of Linda’s latest book ‘Prodigal: New and Selected Poems’ for Poem magazine and I’m a huge fan of her work.

Writing out this poem was a wonderful exercise – the lines swoop back and forth, but reading Linda’s work is like reading a musical score.  The form of the tercet, with its short ‘pivot’ line in the middle, is a structure that Linda comes back to again and again.  The suffering of children, and how to witness suffering is another topic that she returns to.

This was one of the poems that I picked out in the review – it feels when you are reading it that you are discovering something along with the writer.  I only just noticed in the poem the three colours of traffic lights, in order at the end – finishing with the ‘bright red helmet.’  The craft of this poem is at work underneath the surface, so those phrases that loop back and forth feel effortless.  I also love the asides that Linda uses in this poem and throughout her work – I think they work to draw the reader in, but they are also beautifully measured and paced.

I would really recommend Linda’s book – if you’d like to read the full review of the book, you can subscribe to Poem you’ll also find fantastic poetry and essays in this magazine, edited by Fiona Sampson.

Linda Gregerson’s honours include a Guggenheim fellowship, four Pushcart Prizes, a Kingsley Tufts Award, and the selection of her collection Magnetic North as a National Book Award finalist.  Gregerson is a professor at the University of Michigan.  Her poetry has appeared in the Atlantic, The New Yorker, Poetry, the Yale Review and many other publications.  She lives in Michigan.

You can order her book Prodigal: New and Collected Poems here.  Thanks to Linda for allowing me to use her wonderful poem this week.

 

The Resurrection of the Body – Linda Gregerson
)))))((for Caroline Bynum

She must have been thirteen or so, her nascent
************breasts
******just showing above the velcro strap

that held her in her chair.
*************Her face
******translucent, beautiful,

as if a cheekbone might directly render
*************a tranquil
******heart.  And yet

the eyes were all dis-
************quietude.
*****The mother with her miraculous

smile, frequent, durable, lifted
************the handkerchief-
*****you know the way a woman

will? – her index finger guiding a corner,
************the body of it gathered
*****in her dextrous palm – and with

such tenderness wiped the spittle
************pooling
*****at her daughter’s mouth.  The faint

warm smell of lipstick – remember? – freighted
************with love,
*****and with that distillate left by fear

when fear’s been long outdone by fearful
************fact.
*****The mother would give her soul to see

this child lift her head on her own.
************And down
*****the hall in orthotics,

I couldn’t for the longest time understand
************why the boy
*****required a helmet so complexly fitted

and strong – his legs were unused, his arms
************so thin.
*****A treadmill, I thought.  Or a bicycle, maybe, some

bold new stage of therapy anyway, sometimes
************he falls
*****and, safe in his helmet, can bravely

set to work again.  It wasn’t for nothing
************that I was
*****so slow.  Who cannot read those waiting rooms

has so far – exactly so far – been spared.
************It was only
*****while I was driving home,

my daughter in her car seat with her brand-
************new brace,
*****that I thought of the boy’s rhythmic rocking

and knew.  Green light.  Yellow.  The tide
************of pedestrians
*****flush and smooth.  And the boy’s

poor head against the wall – how could I miss it?
************and what
*****does God in his heaven do then? – and the boy’s

poor head in its bright red helmet knocking –
************listen –
*****to be let in.

October Residential Poetry Course

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October Residential Poetry Course

I had a great meeting with my co-tutor Jennifer Copley today.  We spent the afternoon planning the timetable and workshops that we’ll be running at our upcoming Poetry Residential at Abbot Hall Hotel in Grange-Over-Sands.  The residential is running from Monday 24th October to Friday 28th October 2016.   The course costs £424 and this includes workshops and evening readings, a tutorial with either myself or Jenny, accommodation, breakfast and three-course evening meals.  

During the week, there will be time in the afternoons to work on poems, swim in the hotel swimming pool or go for a walk along the prom to Grange.  I will be nipping out for a run, so if there are any running poets that fancy signing up, it would be great to have some company! There is a lovely flat run along the prom or nice hilly runs in the country roads around Grange.

Below is a description of the workshops that we’ll be running during the week.  If you’d like to book a place, please get in touch with the hotel on  015395 32896.  Spaces do tend to fill up quite quickly – but if you have any questions about the course, do get in touch.  The course is suitable for beginners or more experienced writers.

I’ll be putting the timetable up for the course in the next week or so, but the basic format is workshops in the morning and readings in the evenings.  In the afternoons, participants will have the chance to have a tutorial.  We have a mystery guest poet and some mystery musicians joining us mid-week and they will also be revealed very shortly!

Poetry Residential Workshops (24th-28th October)

The Collection
Jennifer Copley

During this workshop we will be exploring how to create a life and history of a person from a mystery selection of objects, provided by Jenny.  These objects will be drawn from the beaches and fells of Cumbria and from corners and forgotten cupboards in houses.  This is an object workshop – but not as you know it! Be prepared to be inspired and delighted by Jenny’s collection of quirky and unusual objects.

Painting a Portrait
Kim Moore

How can we paint a portrait with words? No paintbrushes necessary – in this workshop we will be looking at how to capture the essence of a person in a poem.  We will be writing  using family, friends, random strangers and ourselves as inspiration.  We will look at how we can use dialogue and description to create colourful and vivid poems about people.

Suspended in Time 
Jennifer Copley
What stories do we leave behind us when we die? During this workshop you will be given photographs of abandoned homes, gravestones with unusual epitaphs and other memorials and asked to imagine the stories of the people associated with them.

I Am The People 
Kim Moore
During this workshop we will be looking at what happens in a poem when a poet speaks for a group of people, and how we can write about groups without slipping into stereotyping.  We will also have a go at writing our own monologues for some famous and historical characters.