Tag Archives: poetry residential

Garsdale Retreat – 5th-10th March 2018


ian mcmillan

The next residential I’m running is at the Garsdale Retreat, from the 5th-10th March 2018. The theme of the course is Encounters and Collisions and how to use these in our own writing. We’ll be looking at encounters with animals, landscape, people, ghosts and everything in between! I’m really excited about the guest poet as well – Ian McMillan will be joining us mid-week to give a reading. There are three places left, and it would be great to get those last few spots filled, so please spread the word if you know anybody who might be interested. The cost is from £500-£760 for the week which includes tuition, accommodation and food.

You can find more information about how to book here;


Sunday Poem – Alison Brackenbury

Sunday Poem – Alison Brackenbury

I’m happy to say I’m in a bit better shape than I was last Sunday when I wrote.  I’ve not had any recurring gall bladder attacks.  I’ve managed to stick to this wretched diet now for 11 days, although I did have a mishap two nights ago.  I was googling ‘healthy biscuits’ and read that Rich Tea biscuits are the healthiest.  So I cracked open the packet and ate six in one go..  When I saw my running buddy the next day, he helpfully pointed out that they are only healthy in relation to other biscuits, they still have loads of fat in.  So I was a bit annoyed at myself for this, and spent the night worrying that I was going to end up in hospital and I would have to confess I’d scoffed loads of biscuits.  Anyway, it hasn’t happened so far, so I think I will be ok.

It is strange and kind of exhausting having to worry about what I’m eating all the time.  I feel like I’m thinking about food every minute of the day at the minute, as if I’m hungry all the time.  I have now got an appointment at the hospital for the 24th November to see the consultant, so I will know more then hopefully about when the operation is going to be.

I haven’t ran all week, which has been awful.  I actually feel less mentally stable when I can’t run.  This week, I’ve burst into tears at absolutely nothing about five times, which has been a bit embarrassing.

I’ve been working quite hard on PhD stuff – trying to get my head around this RD1 form that has to be handed in mid-december, probably just about the time I will be recovering from this operation!  I’m really struggling with the RD1, with knowing what I want to do, with articulating what I want to do, with making it into a research project – all of it.

For the first time this week, I wondered what I was doing, starting a PhD, as in what have I let myself in for, and why did I have the cheek to think I could do a PhD? I feel like I’m just playing at doing a PhD, and soon someone will find me out and I’ll be in trouble.  I guess this is what they call imposter syndrome.  The logical and rational part of my brain is telling myself that this is just a wobble, that it is happening because I’m feeling vulnerable because I’ve been to hospital, because I’ve got to have an operation etc etc.  But the other part of me is basically having a silent panic attack about it all.

So apart from this existential crisis about food, life and the PhD, it has been a pretty quiet week! I’ve been taking it easy, getting some work done but no physical exercise.  I did my day of teaching at the uni on Thursday.  I even spent a whole day where I just edited some poems, which I really enjoyed doing.

I regularly ring the hotels that I run the residentials at for a bit of a chat and a gossip with the staff.  I rang Treloyhan Manor Hotel last night to see how numbers were going for St Ives.  There are still 3 rooms left, and there is an option to have a non en-suite room (so with a shared bathroom) for £365.  I think that is a bargain! Included in that price is breakfast, three-course meals and workshops and readings all week.  An en-suite room is £420 for the week.  The course is running from the 20th-25th February 2017.  If you’d like to grab one of those last few places, you can book by ringing the hotel on 01736 796240.  Or if you’d like more information about the theme for the week, you can have a look here.  If you’d like more information about the hotel, you can have a look at the Treloyhan Manor website.  The hotel is about a ten minute walk away from St Ives, and is perched on a cliff next to the sea.

In April, I’m running another residential course with Jennifer Copley as the co-tutor at Abbot Hall Hotel in Kents Bank (near Grange Over Sands).  This hotel is in a beautiful location as well, on the edge of Morecombe Bay, and there is a lovely walk along the prom to Grange, which people often do in the afternoon.  There is also a swimming pool at the hotel, which is good, as I wouldn’t advise swimming in Morecombe Bay because of the quicksand! The April course runs from the 10th-14th April and costs £448 for the week.

One thing I am looking forward to this week is a trip to Manchester to go to my friend Keith Hutson’s book launch.  He’s reading with Helen Mort, Carole Bromley and Mark Pajak, so that will be a great night! The reading is taking place at Waterstones on Deansgate.  More information here

This week’s Sunday Poem is by Alison Brackenbury – a great poet whose ninth collection Skies has just been published by Carcanet.  I managed to get hold of a copy of Alison’s book when I was down at Swindon Poetry Festival recently and I’ve really enjoyed it.  The poetry in the book is beautifully crafted and many of the poems, if not most, have intricate rhyme schemes which both draw out meaning, and hold the poems together.


The poem explores the unexpected arrival of a letter from an ‘old lover’ (quoted from the back of the collection).  It’s unexpected, but I wouldn’t say, unwelcome.  Let’s be honest here, there are some ex-partners you really don’t want to get a letter from after thirty years, but this poem is a tender exploration of the past, full of acceptance, not bitterness.

Alison’s poems, all the way through the book are full of strong images.  She has a number of short, four-line poems, which are really imagistic, and kudos to Carcanet for giving them a full page and the space they deserve.  There is even a two-line poem in the collection, which I can’t resist quoting to show you what I mean, about her talent with this imagistic writing.  It’s called ‘November Began’

And the fieldfares blew
over the hedgetops, like grey leaves.

Isn’t that beautiful?

I think it takes confidence to pull something like that off. And in the poem I’ve chosen as the Sunday Poem ‘January 7th’ there are images that stay in your mind as well, because they are perfectly observed: ‘My cycle coat blows on the line’ and ‘The old cat paws the door’.

There is also mystery in this poem – we don’t know what happened to the child that the speaker cries for in the third stanza, and in the fourth stanza we read ‘But now my child is married/the ones who fought me, dead,’.  There are whole other stories behind these two lines that are dropped into the poem that left me wanting to know more.

And of course, there is something unbelievably sad in admitting that you will not a person again, a person that you shared history with.  This is a complicated poem.  This is a choice the speaker makes, to not see this person again, and yet the last line, with the image of the night turning to rain, is a great portrayal of sadness or regret without referring to the abstract words.

Alison Brackenbury was born in Lincolnshire but has lived in Gloucestershire for the last forty years.  She has won an Eric Gregory Award and a Cholmondeley Award.  Previous books include Then (published in 2013), Singing in the Dark (published in 2008) and you can find out more about her other 7 collections (7!) over at her website www.alisonbrackenbury.co.uk

If you’d like to order Alison’s book, you can buy it over at the Carcanet website.

Thanks to Alison for letting me use her poem this week! I’m spending this week choosing the next set of Sunday Poems – always a fun, if time-consuming job.


January 7th – Alison Brackenbury

There is a low glare in the sky
sweeps to a rainy night.
The planet’s wrong, the house unsold,
and, after thirty years, you write.

My cycle coat blows on the line.
The old cat paws at the door.
I tell you I am badger grey,
but wiser than before.

I do not tell you that I cried
since it was not for you
but for a child, since they break hearts
as no mere man can do.

But now my child is married,
the ones who fought me, dead,
and I am moved by your hands’ grace
besides my clumsy head

although I cannot see you
and will not again.
My yellow coat flies like a flag.
The long night turns to rain.

October Residential – Guest Poet

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

October Residential Poetry Course

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.




Sunday Poem – Elisabeth Sennitt Clough


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.


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 – Tsead Bruinja

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
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
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

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.


Poetry Carousel 11th-13th December 2015 – Workshop Blurbs



There are a handful of places left on the Poetry Carousel – a residential poetry course with a difference that is running at Abbot Hall Hotel, Kents Bank, Grange Over Sands from December 11th-13th, 2015.  Tutors are myself, Amanda Dalton, Ian Duhig and Andrew Forster. All participants on the course will take part in a 2 hour workshop with each tutor over the weekend and there will be readings in the evenings from the tutors and guest poets.  Workshop groups will be limited to 8 people per workshop! For those of you who have been tempted to come, but haven’t quite made your mind up yet, have a read through of the workshops that each tutor will be running throughout the weekend.

If you would like to book, please contact the hotel directly on 015395 32896


Wallace Stevens wrote to the effect that we don’t live in places, we live in descriptions of places. On courses like these we find ourselves investigating new territory unusually subject to such words, from directions to introductions, conjuring up who we are and where we are, where we’re from and where we’re going. This workshop will look at these almost-magical processes with reference to contemporary poetry you may be unfamiliar with, due to its newness or strangeness, so that it may act as a catalyst in the alchemy of creating your own new work and new directions in your work.


Heaney’s phrase celebrates the wonders encountered in daily existence. Our lives are made up of tiny encounters , with animals, people, places, objects, ghosts even, that leave us changed in large or subtle ways. In this workshop we’ll look at the way poets have handled some of these meetings, and try some strategies to get started on encounter poems of our own.


In this playful, practical workshop we’ll utilise some of the contents of the theatremaker’s toolbox to explore what happens when we apply them to making poems. Working with everyday objects, scraps of found text, and fine art prints, we’ll make a start on creating some of our own story-poems, finding new voices along the way.

WHAT WORK IS – with Kim Moore

Effort, toil, task, job, labour, slog, chore, drudgery, exertion. In an article published by Jeremy Seabrook in The Guardian in 2013 he argues that “Words indicating labour in most European languages originate in an imagery of compulsion, torment, affliction and persecution”.  How has our concept of work changed and have contemporary poets tackled this subject? During this workshop, we will set off writing our own poems about work in all its different guises.

Sunday Poem – Kei Miller


Evening all.  I’m writing this with aches and pains in muscles I didn’t even know I had after running the Lancaster half marathon today – my first half marathon.  I got a lift with three friends from the Walney Wind Cheetahs, the running group that I go to.  It was so nice not to have to think about parking or getting to the venue in time and just to stumble out of the house at 9am this morning, get in a car and be taken there! I was quite nervous about the half marathon because I haven’t had time to do as much training as I wanted to – the week before last I did my longest run ever of ten miles and I felt pretty good but really I should have been building up and doing some long distance runs for the last couple of months.  However for the last couple of months I’ve been at Ilkley of course and then last week running a residential poetry course, so no time to swan off to do a long run, so I’ve just been ticking over really, doing 5-6 mile runs when ever I can.

So although I knew I would finish (I would crawl rather than not finish) I guess what I was nervous about was being in pain.  My running buddy J got off to a flier and disappeared into the distance and I settled down to trying to keep a steady pace of around 5 minutes 20 a kilometre.  It was a strange experience running on my own – for a start it seemed like lots of people were passing me, even though they were breathing much heavier than me, I couldn’t make my legs go any faster.  Or maybe it takes a special kind of focus to willingly hurt yourself for that long – or maybe I just didn’t have enough confidence to know that I could push it a little bit more and still finish.

Anyway, so there I was, running on my own and my mind was taking this strange journey inwards.  I can barely remember any of the scenery that I ran past, although I do vaguely remember a cycle path and some water.  And I remember running down a road.  That’s it.  I can’t remember what I thought about for an hour and a half but I can remember very clearly my back stiffening up which has never happened when I’ve been running before.  It felt like I was sinking right into my body which wasn’t the best place to sink into, as everything was hurting.  How anybody does a marathon is absolutely beyond me.  90% of me has decided I’m NEVER doing a half marathon again and will stick to 10k but 10% of me is plotting how I can get below 1 hour and 50 minutes next time.  I managed 1 hour and 52 minutes 52 seconds today which I was pleased with.  Here is a photo to illustrate the pain I was in..


Enough about running – for the last week I’ve been running a residential poetry course down in St Ives at the Treloyhan Manor Hotel with the wonderful poet Clare Shaw as my co-tutor and fifteen participants.  It has been an absolutely amazing week.  I don’t think I’ve laughed quite so much in one week before or cried on the last day of the course because of the lovely feedback we got from the participants.  I’ve learnt so much from working with Clare who is so dynamic, energetic and has charisma in bucketfulls.  If you are looking for someone to do a reading or a workshop, you could not do any better than Clare.  She is great.  We were very lucky to have really talented writers on the course as well so it was a complete pleasure to work with them.

On the Tuesday, I read for 15 minutes from my sequence about domestic violence, which was really intense.  I guess I just need to keep doing this, and maybe it will get easier.  When I’m reading them, it’s great – I feel  in control and I know they’re good poems.  It’s afterwards when I seem to have a bit of a wobble – maybe it’s realising that nothing has changed just from reading the poems out.  Anyway, afterwards I went down to the beach with Clare and Keith Hutson, one of the participants on the course and ran about in the sea which seemed to help get some of the energy out that I’d been left with.

On the last night we had an impromptu kareoke session in the lounge and then went down to the beach at midnight – this time about six of us and went swimming.  I don’t normally do slightly crazy things like this and certainly not something that is going to leave me cold and wet – so I don’t know what got into me this week – maybe too much red wine.

So the residential has been great, but really busy.  I actually had a reading last Saturday night in London at The Poetry Cafe, which I really enjoyed.  I wish I’d written down all the names of the other readers – very remiss of me but the two other main readers were Jo Bell and Hilda Sheehan who were as lovely as expected.  I stayed at my friend Jill’s house on Saturday night and had to leg it for the train on the Sunday.  When I got on the train, I couldn’t find my train tickets to get from London to St Ives anywhere.  It is a 6 hour journey as well so I knew I couldn’t blag it.  I went to confess to the train conductor and showed him that I had the reference number in my filofax.  My opening gambit was ‘I’m not a criminal, I have a filofax!’.  This worked on the first guard but unfortunately he got off at some point leaving me to try and talk around another guard.  At first I thought I was done for, but what he really wanted to do was give me a little lecture.  My next plan was to empty my suitcase to look for them and start flinging my washing about the carriage in a desperate attempt to locate the tickets.  But I didn’t need to resort to this as the second guard let me off as well.  Very lucky I know.

And before that I read in Preston at the New Continental on Friday night with the lovely Judy Brown which was a great reading.  I really enjoyed hearing some of Judy’s new poems as well.

So it has been (again) a busy week.  On the last day of the course, Clare asked everybody to make a commitment to ourselves about our writing.   I decided I was going to dedicate 1 hour a week to my own writing and reading – that is, not reading in order to prepare for a workshop, just reading for my own pleasure.  And writing my own poems or editing them, rather than sending emails to chase up invoices or replying to emails about readings and workshops.  It made me realise that I felt really sad that I wasn’t even dedicating an hour to it every night – to something that is so important to me!  Anyway since I got back, I’ve done 3 hours work yesterday instead of 1 – which I spent working through the proofs for my collection.  And today I’ve done 2 hours instead of 1, working through the proofs and typing up and editing a new poem that I want to put into the collection.

It has felt great as well to do this.  Obviously it will be harder next week because I’m back at work but I’m determined to keep up with it – maybe I can have a system of ‘time in lieu’ for the days when I really can’t spend an hour doing it…

Keith Hutson, one of the participants on the course, told everybody about his ‘5 a day’ which I thought was a brilliant idea, which was to read 5 poems a day.  This doesn’t sound like much either, does it, but it made me realise that there are so many days when I don’t even do this.

So because of this commitment, I’ve managed to get the next version of proofs for my collection emailed over to Amy Wack at Seren, which is such a weight off my shoulders.  I just need to wait for them to come back now!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by one of my favourite poets, Kei Miller.  I don’t make any secret of the fact that Kei is one of my favourite poets and I often use his poems in workshops to get people writing.  The poem I’ve chosen ‘Prayer for the Unflummoxed Beaver’ is from his recent Forward Prize winning collection ‘The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion’.  This book is a really fabulous book, and if you haven’t read it yet, you really should.  You can order a copy from Carcanet at http://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781847772671

All of Kei’s books are full of poems that celebrate things – this doesn’t mean that they are all happy and he doesn’t write about dark or troubling things, but more that he uses the praise song or prayer as a way in to write about whatever he wants to write about – for example, in the poem ‘When Considering the Long, Long Journey of 20,000 Rubber Ducks’ he asks us at the end to ‘hail’ the ducks that managed to escape from the cargo hold of a ship.  It becomes clear that as well as writing about the ducks, he is also writing about slavery.

In this poem ‘A Prayer for the Unflummoxed Beaver’ which I think is about death and how we approach it – in the great tradition of poems like ‘Do Not Go Gentle’ by Dylan Thomas – I think this poem is saying go gently, be unflummoxed.  What a wonderful word ‘unflummoxed’ is anyway.  But the ‘doorway’ into the poem is a prayer for a beaver, a poem praising the place the beaver lives in and the day it was seen.  I love the way Kei uses the repetition of ‘A prayer’ – the poem becomes an incantation.  I also like how he is not afraid to let the poem meander around which means the direction it takes is a real surprise for the reader.

Kei was born in Jamaica in 1978. He earned an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University and a PhD in English Literature at the University of Glasgow.  He is now teaching at Royal Holloway in London.  He has published three collections of poetry -all of which are brilliant and all available from Carcanet ‘There is an Anger that Moves’ and ‘A Light Song of Light’ as well as fiction and essays.  He also has a really interesting blog which you can find here

Anyway, here is the poem.  I hope you enjoy it.


A Prayer for the Unflummoxed Beaver – Kei Miller

so unmoved by the boat’s slow approach – the boat
drifting across the flat green acre of water; a prayer
for these acres of water which, in the soft light, seem firm;
the squirrels, however, are never taken in;
a prayer for the squirrels and their unknowable
but perfect paths: see how they run across
the twisting highway of cedars but never crash;
a prayer for the cedars and their dead knees rising
from the water like tombstones; a prayer for the cedar balls
that break when you touch them and stain
your fingers yellow, that release from their tiny bellies
the smell of old churches, of something holy;
a prayer returned to the holy alligators – you owe them
that at least, for just last night when you thought
of Hana Andronikova you asked them to pray
with you, knowing that their prayers are potent;
at night the grass is full of their red eyes; a prayer
for the grass which the alligators divide
in the shape of a never-ending S; you lean over
to pull some into the boat; in Burma
this is called ka-na-paw, and can be cooked
with salt and oil; a prayer for the languages
we know this landscape by; for the French
as spoken by fat fisherman, the fat fisherman
who admit to the water – We are all dying.
You understand? Savez?
A prayer
for the dying that will come to all of us
but may it come soft as a boat drifting across the bayou.
May it find us as unrattled and as unflummoxed as the beaver.

For Hana Andronikova (1967-2011)
























I’m still alive….


Evening all – I just wanted to let you all know (in case you are worried) that I am still alive but have been really busy the last few weeks which has caused a severe dereliction of duty in regards to this blog.  I’m writing this from St Ives on the first day of a poetry residential that I’m running with the wonderful poet Clare Shaw.  It feels strange writing this as I know some people who read this blog are actually on the course!

Anyway, normal service of Sunday poems will begin again from next weekend and I have a real backlog of fabulous poems and poets lined up which will probably keep me going until Christmas.

Last weekend was the last weekend of the Ilkley Literature Festival and I’ve already told you all how wonderful it was.  Last Thursday I ran two workshops, one in a secondary school in Bradford and one in a primary school in Ilkley.  Then I ran an hour long session looking at how you get from the first draft of a poem to the last draft of a poem .  I used examples of my own poems and an example of a poem kindly donated by the ever generous Ian Duhig which worked out really well, as from looking at Ian’s draft, it seems he expands outwards from his first draft, making more and more links between words and ideas, whereas I contract inwards – I like to think of my first draft as a huge lump of rock that I have to chip away at to get at the shape of the poem inside.  After this workshop it was a sprint to the next venue to introduce the fabulous John Hegley, who gave a brilliant performance.  John’s performance was a masterclass in comic timing and how to keep an audience in the palm of your hand.  I also really like how John engages with the audience – he doesn’t just present poetry passively and expect the audience to listen quietly.  My favourite moment was when he got the audience members who wear glass to tap their glasses with their finger nails at the same time in answer to his own spectacle tapping…

On Friday I ran another workshop in a primary school in Bradford and then I had my own poetry reading with Matthew Sweeney and Michael Laskey.  This reading was a real treat because the competition winners of the Ilkley Literature Festival Poetry Competition read their winning poems out and one of the winners was my lovely friend John Foggin who came second.

On Saturday I got up early and dragged Phoebe Power, the apprentice poet in residence to Skipton Park Run, having not done a park run for weeks.  We couldn’t find the park in Skipton and parked the car and legged it across the field just as the runners were all lining up at the start ready for the whistle to go.  My fancypants Garmin watch couldn’t find me in time which was very disappointing so I had no idea how fast I was going or how far I’d gone.  The only thing I did know was that 4 laps in the park at Skipton felt much worse than 2 and a half laps of Barrow park.  My time was a minute slower than my Barrow park run time which I was a bit disappointed with..

On Saturday afternoon I had one to one tutorials with various poets, which I really enjoyed. If I had to redo my time at the festival, I would definitely put myself down for another afternoon of tutorials.  It was really fascinating having the chance to sit down with people and talk about their work and the half hour went by so fast.   The people who came for the tutorials were all at very different stages as well and I found it really interesting working with them all.

So last Sunday was the last day of the festival and it was probably my busiest day.  At 9am on Sunday I lead a group of intrepid and possibly foolhardy runners on a 5k run up on to Ilkley Moor – we made it to the top and back down again without any mishaps and then we went straight into a workshop about writing about the body which produced some brilliant poems.

After the workshop I went back to the hotel, had a quick shower and then went straight to the Mushaira which was a gathering of poets reading in lots of different languages which was a wonderful thing to be a part of.  After that, I hung around and caught up with the lovely Rodolfo Barradas, who worked at the Festival and belongs to a small group of people who I meet and instantly feel a connection with, and as if I’ve known them forever.

In the evening I was judging the Open Mic competition alongside Phoebe and Rodolfo and I must admit, the prospect of 18 open mic slots was not filling me with delight, after the afternoon of open mic at the Mushaira (lovely as it was).  However, it was such good fun!  And each competitor got five minutes and at the end of their slot a big timer came up on the screen so nobody could go over.  A great poet called Mark Connors won first place and he was very chuffed.  Everyone was great though.  I wasn’t bored once which can’t often be said at an open mic session!

I stayed in Ilkley on Sunday night which was maybe a mistake, because driving back from Ilkley at 11pm would probably have been a lot better than driving back from Ilkley at 6am because of traffic, but I was so tired I knew I wouldn’t be able to face it, so I went back to the hotel instead and got up early to get back from work on Monday morning.

I was saying to someone only today that I really feel proud of myself for the last three weeks, which might seem big-headed to say so, but I don’t care, because I rarely feel like that.  I normally feel like I ‘should’ feel proud about something because people tell me I should, but I usually don’t.  But this time I do – I feel proud that I not only got through my first real life residency, but I got some lovely feedback from people I worked with during it.  I kept up all of my teaching commitments although it would be dishonest to say I did this without losing my rather frayed patience by the end.

The one slightly terrible thing that happened this weekend was that my lovely friend Maggie who was looking after my dogs fell and broke her ankle.  My normally placid and mild mannered terriers apparently barked and growled at the ambulance workers but eventually were persuaded to let them put Maggie in an ambulance.  So my lovely new neighbours, whose daughter happens to play in my junior band have been helping out by looking after Maggie and the dogs whilst I was away.

This week I’ve been planning for the residential and finishing off printing out the last bit of stuff for my workshops so it’s not exactly been a relaxing week.  On Friday I ran my Dove Cottage Young Poets group in Kendal and then went straight from there to Preston to read at The New Continental with Judy Brown.  It was lovely to see Judy again and hear some of her poetry but I did too much nattering at the end and left rather late, and then on Saturday I got the train down to London and read at the Poetry Society Cafe on Saturday night with Jo Bell and Hilda Sheehan and various other poets and had a lovely night.

On Sunday I got up late and only just managed to get my train from London to St Ives and having located Clare Shaw on the train slowly realised that I couldn’t find my tickets anywhere.  I went to confess to the train guard that I had in fact lost my tickets – but I did have the collection reference number in my filofax.  My opening gambit was ‘Hi, I’ve lost my tickets, but I’m not a criminal, look I have a filofax’ which went down suprisingly well and the guard said I wouldn’t have to pay and to just explain to the next guard that got on what had happened.

The next guard was not quite so easy to convince and I didn’t get away without a lecture but it could have been a lot, lot worse and I managed to get to St Ives without having to pay for another ticket.  Which brings us up to date!  So there will be no Sunday poem because for a start, it is now very early on Tuesday morning but I will get back to normal Sunday Poem service next week.