Tag Archives: residential poetry course

Sunday Poem – David Wilson

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Sunday Poem – David Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I love you” – David Wilson

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

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

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

Sunday Poem – 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 – Jennifer Copley

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I can’t remember if I told you all about this last week, but while I was away in Malaga my husband built wall-to-ceiling shelves in our box room, which is now going to be my writing room.  Although I’ve had the words ‘A Room of One’s Own’ tattooed on my arm for a couple of years, this is the first time I’ve actually had a room of my own.  It is very small, but I love it. It feels like a real luxury to have all my books in one room.  Just this morning, Chris put the door back on the frame for me, and when I shut the door it feels very peaceful in here.  If I can’t write a PhD in here, then there is no hope for me!

Talking of PhD’s, it is starting to feel a bit more real now.  I’m meeting up with Michael Symmons Roberts on Monday to have an informal chat about it all, and then I’m meeting up with Martin Kratz to have a talk through the module I’ll be teaching next term. Even though I’m writing all of this very calmly, I still can’t believe I’m actually doing it.

Last night I decided to pack away all of the leaving cards I got from my pupils.  Some of the things they wrote are very funny –

“Thank you for everything.  Play that country tuba cowboy!” (a reference to a song we used to sing and play along with)

“Hope you have lots of poem books and a good career”

“I hope you enjoy your future life” (me too!)

and my personal favourite “Goodbye Mrs Alan” (poor Mrs Alan has no plans to leave as far as I know)

My (except it’s not mine anymore sob) junior brass band did a little book for me and they all wrote a message in there – and one of the young people wrote ‘Thank you for the gift of music’.  This really struck home with me – that music is a gift.   It is only ever something to be offered, something that you hope to pass on.  When it was passed to me, it sent my life off down a road I would never have travelled without it, and it has brought such riches to my life – which sounds cheesy, but it is true.  I guess it is hitting me now, what it means to have done this for 13 years, and to be finally leaving.  I haven’t been teaching for 13 years, I’ve been passing on the gift of music, or trying to, at least.

I’m rubbish at planning blog posts, I like to just ramble on.  That way, sometimes it feels like writing a poem, discovering something in the act of writing.  As I’m writing this post, I realise I’m looking forward to enjoying the gift of music for myself for a while, which immediately sounds, to my ears, a little selfish, but it is the truth.  I’m looking forward to doing a bit more playing in shows.  I’m going to have some repertoire lessons with a local piano player.  I’m going to be playing with the soul band. I might even have some time to do some practice, so it doesn’t feel like I’m leaving music behind.  If anything, it feels a little like coming round full circle, to playing the trumpet, but without the horrendous pressure that I used to put on myself.

This week I’ve been busy running a residential poetry course – the Poetry Carousel.  Rachel Davies has done a great blog about the course, which you can find here, if you’re wondering what it was like from a participant’s point of view.  I am proud to say that I invented the concept of the Poetry Carousel, after the success of the more traditional residential courses I was running. The Poetry Carousel has four tutors, and the group of 24 participants were divided into groups of 6, with each 6 getting a two hour workshop with each tutor, before moving on the next day to another tutor.

They are different from a traditional course in that there is a real festival atmosphere in the evening, as everybody gets together for the readings.  For me as a tutor, it feels like a telescoping effect – you are working very closely with a group of 6 in the morning, and then in the evening this broadens out and you meet the whole group.

We were very lucky with the weather this year – blazing sunshine the whole time and we were lucky with our participants – a real mix of poets with a lot of experience, to poets that had never been to a workshop before and everything in between, but all showing a real commitment to their writing and producing high-quality stuff in the workshops.

I’m running another residential poetry course from October 24th-28th at Abbot Hall Hotel in Grange-Over-Sands.  This is more like a traditional course, with two tutors, and a maximum of 16 participants.  The other tutor will be the wonderful poet Jennifer Copley, who just happens to be the Sunday Poet today.

The course will consist of workshops in the mornings, a chance for tutorials in the afternoons, readings from tutors and guest poets, and a chance for course participants to share work in an evening reading (if they want t0).  Although I love the Poetry Carousels, I also like running these courses.  You get to know the 16 people very well, because you are working together all week, and amazing things can happen during this short, but intense amount of time – not just poetry, but friendships, laughter, tame robins…

If you would like to book, there are still some rooms left. You can find more information about the theme of the week, and how to book, by going here.  If you know anybody who you think might be interested, please forward on this information -I don’t have a marketing budget, or even anybody to do any marketing apart from me, so I do rely on word of mouth to fill the places on the courses.

My co-tutor for October is Jennifer Copley, who is a wonderful, and I think, not made-a-fuss-of-enough poet.  She doesn’t do Facebook, or Twitter, although she does have a website.  She is an incredibly talented and widely published poet, whose writing is surreal, playful, dark, funny, poignant.  She has featured on this blog before, but I’m posting a poem up today because her new pamphlet Vinegar and Brown Paper has just been published by Like This Press

This pamphlet is completely bonkers in a good way.  It is a series of prose poems, loosely based around nursery rhymes.  Each poem is accompanied by an illustration by Martin Copley, Jenny’s husband.  The pamphlet itself is a work of art.  The paper is brown paper, with a kind of raggedy edge.  These little prose poems often made me burst out laughing.  They are unexpectedly funny as well – twisty to get hold of, and walking a fine line between absurdity and profundity.  She reminds me, in this pamphlet at least, of Hilda Sheehan, another favourite poet of mine.

Jenny has had numerous books and pamphlets published – she was one of the first winners of the Poetry Business pamphlet competition in 2001 with Ice.  Since then she has published House by the Sea in 2003 with Arrowhead, Unsafe Monuments in 2006 (also with Arrowhead), Beans in Snow in 2009 with Smokestack, Living Daylights in 2011 with Happenstance, Mr Trickfeather in 2012 with Like This Press and Sisters in 2013 with Smokestack.

I could have picked any of the prose poems in this pamphlet, and they are even better when read as a set, but I loved this one straight away, for its strange but believable logic, for the surprise at the end, and of course for the wonderful illustration.

If you’d like a copy of the pamphlet, you can order it through Like This Press, or you can email Jenny at jennifermmcopley@gmail.com if you’d like a copy, and I’m sure she would be happy to post a signed copy out.

The Robin – Jennifer Copley

was dead but no one knew who’d killed him.
–Snow in the wind, said the sparrow.
–Ice in the water butt, said the wren.
–Frost on the five-barred gate, said the blackbird.
–A poisoned snail, said the thrush.
–God, said the canary who had no respect.
–Then they all turned on each other, shrieking and accusing, although
no one had liked the robin since he’d bullied the goldfinch children to death.

 

22the robin

Sunday Poem -Billy Letford

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Sunday Poem -Billy Letford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Sunday Poem – Tsead Bruinja

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Sunday Poem – Tsead Bruinja

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHOW-OFF by Tsead Bruinja

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

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

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

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

Change to the Poetry Carousel

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Change to the Poetry Carousel

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

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

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

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

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

 

Here are the details of William’s workshop

Workshop – William Letford
The beauty in the mundane 

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

 

Workshops at the Poetry Carousel

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Workshops at the Poetry Carousel

Tuesday 16th August 3pm – Friday 19th August at 12 midday
Abbot Hall Hotel, Grange-Over-Sands, To book ring the hotel direct on 015395 32896
£330

This year’s Poetry Carousel will take place from the 16th August -19th August at Abbot Hall Hotel, Grange Over Sands. The cost of the course will be £330 and this includes workshops, accommodation, breakfast, lunch and three-course evening meals.

The Poetry Carousel is different from the usual residential course in that there are four tutors and up to 32 participants, divided into groups of 8 to have a two hour workshop with each tutor.  This year, there will be time in the afternoons to go for a swim in the hotel pool or a walk into Grange along the prom.  In the evenings, the whole group meets for dinner and poetry readings.

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

Below is a brief summary of the four workshops that the tutors will be running.  As you can see, they are very different!

The Poetry Carousel is suitable for beginners or more experienced writers.  Please get in touch for more information.

Clare Shaw
Workshop: Flood. Fire. Storm.
Disasters happen, sometimes on the grandest scale. Poetry offers one of the most powerful forms of language for documenting the experience and impact of natural calamities – at a global and individual level. Likewise, poets have long drawn on the flood, the fire and the storm as powerful metaphors for their own troubles. In this workshop, we’ll draw from examples to inform and inspire us to document natural events we have lived through; and to explore their potential for expressing a truth about our individual lives.

Kim Moore
Workshop: Illuminated Moments
All of us carry moments of experience which stay with us for the rest of our lives. How do we write about those moments without slipping into sentimentality or melodrama? Writing a poem about a moment that is important to us can capture it forever, reaching beyond the bounds of our own lives into the universality of human experience. During this workshop we will be looking at different techniques for using our own lives, and our remembered moments, as material.

Tsead Bruinja
Workshop: Going Dutch
Together with Dutch poet Tsead Bruinja you’ll be discovering the poetry from the low lands by reading, listening to and discussing ten of Bruinja’s favourite poems. This workshop will take a look at different strategies used in modern Dutch poetry. We will focus on ways of using characters in your poems, playing with repetition and how to deal with distraction. We’ll try to include the thoughts we normally try to keep out of our poems, like “ what do the fly and I mean to each other?”

Saskia Stehouwer:
Writing from space
Paradoxically, being in a state of stillness can be very helpful for writing. Quieting the chatter in our minds provides space and stimulates a receptive attitude, so that our own words can come to the surface. By focusing on the breath, the body and our imagination, as well as by being in nature, we can enter a more open, effortless state from which writing flows more easily. In this workshop, we will explore mindfulness, visualisation and other creative exercises to guide ourselves into this space. We will also take a short sensory walk in nature to stimulate the senses and become more perceptive. And from that space, to paraphrase Natalie Goldberg, we will “walk into poetry with our entire bodies”.

A Review of the 2015 Poetry Carousel

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A Review of the 2015 Poetry Carousel

 

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

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

2015 Poetry Carousel

by Elisabeth Sennit Clough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sleeping By the Lion Carpet

After a painting by Lucian Freud

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

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

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

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


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

Sunday Poem – Tom Cleary

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I’m writing this feeling very delicate as I went out last night to a friends 50th birthday party.  Lady C, as she shall be called on this blog had no idea her husband had planned a surprise party and thought she was just popping round to the bar where the party was for a quick drink before being whisked away to enjoy a slap up meal at a restaurant.  As the room of about 150 odd people fell silent so we could all shout ‘Surprise!’ as she opened the door I did think how terrible it would be if Lady C fell over with the shock.  She is made of sterner stuff though and soon recovered.  It was lovely to see such a large amount of people turning out for Lady C’s birthday.  There was a great band on as well called The Sidecars who got everybody up dancing.  I only drank three bottles of lager but then I was up dancing all night and now I feel like I drank ten bottles.  Does anybody else get that?  When I used to go out drinking and dancing when I was younger, I used to get horrible hangovers but that was because I drank like an idiot.  It felt like a fair exchange – drink and stay out all night and pay for it afterwards.  Now however, I only drink a little bit and I still feel terrible in the morning.

I broke off from writing this blog to go for my Sunday run.  I normally go at 10am but everybody was at Lady C’s party last night as well so we decided to go at 12pm instead.  We went for a run along the beach but nobody had remembered to check the tide times which meant risking running over the stones and possibly breaking an ankle or going up and down the sand dunes.  I was all for risking broken bones but nobody else agreed so off we went, up and down the rather steep sand dunes.

 

This week has felt like the week I learnt to prioritise things.  I often make lists of jobs to do, but then I waft about from job to job on the list and then I have a panic because I’ve left something to the last minute.  This week I went through the list, helped by my trusty husband and put things in the order they needed to be done.

Hanging over my head this week is the dreaded tax return which isn’t helping things. When I look back over my spreadsheets that I’ve kept over the last few years I do feel quite proud.  2011-2012 I made a loss as a writer.  This was the first year I really started working as a poet.  2012-13 I managed to break even and 2013-14 I will be making my first ever profit – not enough to retire on, but enough to consider it a viable part-income, at least.

So Monday will be the day the tax return gets finished, even it kills me, even if I don’t see the light of day ALL DAY etc etc.  Not that I’m being dramatic about it or anything.

My first and most pressing deadline this week was to write out the first assignment for my Poetry School online course ‘What Work Is’.  I managed to get this finished on Thursday so that was one job ticked off the list.  The course doesn’t start till the 28th January, but the Poetry School are doing some work on the website and the assignment needed to go up this week.

My second job was to ring the lovely Clare Shaw to have a chat about a course that we are tutoring together at Ty Newydd in a couple of weeks time.  We will be spending a week with a group of girls from a school in Manchester.  I’m really looking forward to the week.  We did get slightly distracted from planning by catching up on various bits of gossip but never mind.   I haven’t been to Ty Newydd for a couple of years now, but it is a very special place to me.  I went on my first, life-changing residential poetry course there and then went and did a course every year for the next three or four years so the house and the area mean a lot to me.

Bookings for the St Ives Residential poetry course that I’m tutoring with Steve Ely are going really well.  We now have just two places left, if there is anybody who has been swithering about whether to go or not.  It will be a fantastic week in beautiful surroundings.  I’ve managed to book my train ticket to Crewe where I’ll be getting picked up by John Foggin and Steve Ely before we head down to St Ives.  I’m looking forward to this week as well – I went on family holidays to Cornwall every year when I was younger so again, I get the chance to feel all nostalgic when I’m there.

I am also doing my first bit of mentoring for the Poetry School tomorrow, which is really exciting.  In fact, after I’ve finished writing this blog, I’ll be reading through the poems I’ve been sent, ready for the skype chat with my mentee tomorrow.  If anybody is interested in a tutorial or extended mentoring with me, please get in touch with The Poetry School or contact me directly by email (you can find this on the Contact page)

This doesn’t sound like I’ve had that much to do actually – but it has definitely felt like it!  In between the above tasks I’ve been answering emails, gathering content for the website for Kendal Poetry Festival, inviting a set of poets to come and read for A Poem and a Pint in 2016.  One evening was spent sending emails out about St Ives to get the last few places filled.

So today’s Sunday Poem is by a lovely man called Tom Cleary.  I first met him when I did a reading in Hebden Bridge bookshop a couple of months ago. He bought my book and asked me to sign it, not mentioning that he also wrote poetry until I asked him and then he didn’t say anything about the fact that he’d had a pamphlet out in 2014.  I only found that out a month or so ago, when I was the guest poet at Puzzle Poets and Tom got up to read and read a few poems from his pamphlet.

I thought his poetry was really special on first hearing, but I didn’t manage to catch him to buy a copy as he whizzed off as soon as the reading finished to give someone a lift home.  I am nothing if not determined though, and the kindly Bob Horne agreed to pass on the money for a pamphlet and my address so that Tom could post it out to me.

Tom’s pamphlet is called The Third Miss Keane which strikes me as a promising title anyway and it does hint at what is to come in this pamphlet, which is a host of really good, and interesting stories.  The poems often feel slightly surreal, or fairy-tale like, but they always have their own inner logic.

Like Rose Cook, the poet I featured last week on the blog, I hadn’t heard of Tom Cleary before.  It just proves how many fantastic poets there are, writing brilliant poetry and not being noticed enough for the good stuff they are writing.  Or maybe it proves that I am losing touch with the poetry scene, and not keeping up…

 

Gobstoppers – Tom Cleary

On our way home from school
we bought boiled sweets in paper bags,
bright red gobstoppers highlighted with flecks of black,
gumballs, lemon drops, toffee slabs on a stick,
flavoured with aniseed, sherbet or mint.
We sucked and sucked until our mouths
glittered like lipstick.  Our tongues
burned with the sweet acid
and we stuck them out of our mouths
and fanned them with our hands.

We bought them in a grey shop
on the corner of nowhere, on waste ground,
in front of rows of cream and white pebble-dashed houses.
Behind the yellow of its misty window,
dead flies lay scattered and limp flags of cobwebs drifted.
A sickly young man in an advert behind a cracked frame
was scarved in drifts of smoke.

The owners were two elderly sisters, who could have been twins.
Their hair was scraped back in buns
with loose straggly wisps.  They stood awkwardly
like shy guests waiting to be introduced.
Their eyes reminded me of my aunt,
and I imagined them to be the lost wives of farmers,
abducted from their homes and carried away
over great distances, to spend their lives
exiled in this bare shop, selling sweets
to small boys for their hot pennies.

Behind the counter they were ill at ease,
standing at an odd angle to one another,
as if they’d been set there in place,
figures in an installation.  I sensed a yearning
in them, as though they’d never stopped wondering
what had become of the chickens that used to peck
at their ankles and their shoe laces.
When they handed us change
with a delicate bend of the wrist,
were they remembering the butter churn?

I think this poem is a good example of the work you can expect to find in the pamphlet. Throughout the pamphlet, and in this poem, ordinary circumstances become slightly surreal and strange.

It also gave me a lovely feeling of nostalgia – although we only bought sweets from the rather ordinary corner shop when I was young, which sat at the top of our road next to a chinese takeaway and a hairdressers, there was one long hot summer when my sister and I and our friends would put our money altogether and buy five or six paper bags of sweets and sit on the park, eating sweets all day, being bothered by wasps because the sweets were so sticky.  I remember watching the newsagent as he weighed out the sweets on a large silver scale and squeezing the bottom of the bag to check how much sugar had gathered.

Tom’s shop is a little more exciting though, and a little less hygenic than the one I remember from my childhood.  I love the detail of the shop window with its ‘dead flies lay scattered and limp flags of cobwebs drifted’ and of course the strangeness of the scene is set up before then.  The shop is ‘in the middle of nowhere.’  The portrait of the two elderly sisters who run the shop is also very cleverly drawn.  That detail of the way they stand ‘awkwardly/like shy guests waiting to be introduced’ gives you a picture of them straight away.  The best detail in this third verse though, is the ‘hot pennies’ at the end, again, as soon as you read that, you know exactly what he means.

The idea that they remind the speaker of the poem ‘of his aunt’ which he then goes on to develop saying he imagines them to be ‘the lost wives of farmers.’  He never implicitly says that his aunt was the lost wife of a farmer, but we are left to infer this.  It is such a strange idea, which he then develops brilliantly in the last stanza.  We are left not knowing if the aunt was the lost wife of a farmer, and she was full of ‘yearning’ or whether the two elderly sisters were or maybe nobody was, and it was all in the boys imagination.  I don’t mind not knowing though and I think this is what makes it a good poem – not only the brilliantly drawn details, but also the mystery we are left with.

In 2011 Tom won the Writers Forum/HappenStance Competition and in January 2014 he was featured poet in Orbis 166. I was interested to read that The WF/HappenStance prize was to have been the publication of a sampler. But there were too many good poems so HappenStance published a pamphlet instead: The Third Miss Keane which you can buy from the HappenStance website for the bargain price of only £4 plus postage.  In 2015, Tom was also a winner of the prestigious Northern Writers’ Award, one of six New North poets.  You can find out a little bit more about Tom on his profile page at the HappenStance website.

Hope you enjoyed the poem, and please do let me know what you think of it! I know if you wanted to order the pamphlet it would make a hard working publisher and a lovely poet very happy, which for just £4 seems like a Very Good Thing To Do.

Sunday Poem – Ian Harker

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THE LIONS OF LEEDS TOWN HALL – Ian Harker

Drawn from life at London Zoo
you could catch one from the corner
of your eye curling an oversize paw
like a cat in a square of sunlight
on the kitchen floor or flicking the dirt
from its mane – blackbright lions
lazing in the haze of fading might.

Here they come up Park Row,
claws clack-clacking on flags,
leaping parked cars, nosing over litter bins.
The city after dark is an outdoor enclosure
for owls and sheep, gargoyles and eagles
and a family of roe deer grazing placid
in Mandela Gardens.

At the Mechanics’ Institute the security guards
can hardly hear themselves think for the squawk
and scream of the treetops, yawning hippos
and an extinction of dodos hopping down the stairs
towards Millennium Square.
And who dare check that Nesyamun,
three thousand years dead, hasn’t shifted
his shrunken bones, sat up
and started tapping against the glass.

Today’s Sunday Poem is from Ian Parker’s first pamphlet, The End of the Sky, which was one of three winners of the 2015 Templar Pamphlet Awards and was published in November. I got to know Ian a couple of years ago, through my good friend David Tait.  I remember David telling me then that he thought Ian was a great poet and to watch out for his poems.  Ian has had a great 2015 – I’ve been noticing his poetry popping up in magazines and on various shortlists for competitions including the Bridport, The Troubador and the Guernsey International Prizes.  He’s also been published in numerous magazines including The North, Stand, Agenda and Other Poetry.

I haven’t seen Ian for ages so it was great to see him at Word Club in Leeds a couple of weeks ago.  I’m a bit lazy about buying books and pamphlets online now and much prefer to get them in person – so I’m glad I got the opportunity to get a copy of quite a few pamphlets from various poets based in and around Leeds.

As soon as I read the title of this poem I knew I would love it.  I thought I was the most unobservant person when I lived in Leeds – if it didn’t look like a trumpet, I wasn’t really interested, but even I apparently, had noticed the lions because I got a kind of pang of nostalgia just from reading the title – I remember those lions!

I love the idea that you could catch one ‘curling an oversize paw’ or ‘flicking the dirt from its mane’ when you are not looking.  I have no idea if ‘blackbright’ is a real word – it sounds made up, and yet, completely right and fitting.

I think the second stanza has captured the movement of the lions beautifully, even while keeping it in the reader’s mind that these are stone lions – their claws ‘clack-clacking on flags’.  It’s all a bit Museums at Night by the end, with that image of Nesyamun sitting up and ‘tapping against the glass’ – I love it!

Thanks to Ian for allowing me to use his poem forthe blog this week – I would heartily recommend his pamphlet, The End of the Sky, which you can buy by heading over to the Templar website.

Talking about Nesyamun and his three thousand year old bones, I feel a strange affinity with him tonight, except he maybe has a bit more life in him!  I’ve just got back from an amazing weekend, running the first ever Poetry Carousel.

In the days leading up to the Poetry Carousel, I started to worry that there might be a reason why nobody had done this sort of course before.  Thirty two participants, divided into four groups of eight.  Each group of eight had a two-hour workshop with four tutors, rotating around, from one tutor to the other. Tutors for this year were Ian Duhig, Amanda Dalton and Andrew Forster who were all great to work with and a brilliant support  throughout the weekend.

I can only imagine what it was like for the people taking part, moving from one workshop to another, one energy to another, one teaching style to another, one topic to another.  It must have been exhausting, and by the end of the weekend, there was certainly a sense of hysteria setting in with the tutors and a few of the participants. But I hope it was also inspiring and exciting and fun and made them think and question and think again.  I hope it was challenging as well – I think we need to be challenged sometimes, and prodded out of our comfort zones. The quality of the work produced during the workshops was outstanding and although at times, I felt sad  I wasn’t getting to spend as much time getting to know people as on a ‘normal’ residential course, it was lovely to walk around the hotel and hear the buzz and chatter of people talking and laughing.

We had two wonderful and very different guest poets, Jennifer Copley on the Friday night, and Lindsey Holland on the Saturday night, both at very different stages in their careers.  Jenny will be running a more ‘normal’ residential course with me in October: ‘From the Ordinary to the Extraordinary’ and it was great to hear some of the new poems she has been working on, including some surreal takes on nursery rhymes.  Lindsey has now finished a pamphlet she has been working on about her family history, and read three long poems as her set, including one of my favourites of hers, St Elmo’s Fire, which was one of the set of poems recently shortlisted for the Manchester Poetry Prize.

The carousel will be running again from the 16th-19th August 2016, and I’ll be making an announcement about the other three tutors very soon!

Apart from preparing for the course, which seems to have taken a huge part of my week, last week I spent two evenings at a school show, where I’d rehearsed a school band so they could perform in the afternoon without me as I had to be somewhere else teaching.  They apparently were brilliant in the afternoon, counted themselves in, finished together, kept in time and in the evening, when I was halfway on stage ready to conduct them, they counted themselves in again and off they went, so I scuttled off stage again! It was a strange mixture of pride that they didn’t need me and grumpiness that they didn’t need me, but the pride was definitely on top, as it should be!

I also ran far too much last week and now have sore shins again, which I’ve rested this weekend in the hope they will make a speedy recovery.  I also went for a lovely afternoon tea with my friend Helen who writes a great blog detailing her experiences at some of the county’s finest afternoon tea establishments.  My alias is ‘Princess K’ on the blog and I am the only one of her friends to be photographed and featured on said blog.  This might be because I kept photobombing the pictures she was trying to take of the cakes but never mind

Next year, starting towards the end of January, I’ll be tutoring on an online course called What Work Is through the Poetry School.  You can book onto the course here, but if you’d like to find out a little more about it, I’ve just written a blog post which talks about what we’ll be doing on the course which you can find here. Half of the places have gone already, so if you’d like to book, do get in touch with the Poetry School.

In February, I’m running a residential course in St Ives with Steve Ely – again, half of the places for this course have already gone so do get in touch with the hotel if you would like to book  a place.  You can find more information here

This is always a strange time of year – it feels like things are starting to wind down, but they aren’t really.  Next week I have a school concert, I’m taking Barrow Shipyard Junior Band busking twice, a soul band rehearsal and a trip to Galway to read at the Over the Edge reading series and then a soul band gig when I get back.  It’s not really winding down at all, but there is that sense of time running out, or running away.

The end-of-year lists are starting to come out – this blog is even on one of them, which I’m very, very happy about.  Matthew Stewart over at Rogue Strands has compiled a list ‘The Best U.K Poetry Blogs of 2015’ and happy to say my blog is on it.  My friend John Foggin has just blogged and included his four poetry blogs that keep him going and I’m happy to say this blog is mentioned there as well.

Poetry, and blogging can be like that.  I liked John’s analogy of it being like a long walk and needing friends to carry your rucksack and motivate you sometimes.  John was saying thanks to me for doing that today on his blog, not knowing that I was feeling like a three thousand year old corpse and trying to think of an excuse for not writing this blog .  Reading his blog made me remember why I like blogging – I like sharing other people’s poetry just because I like it, without expecting anything back, just because something in the poem spoke to me.  Writing a blog every week does feel like a long walk with a really heavy rucksack sometimes – there is no denying that.  Sometimes I wonder whether it is worth the time and the energy – but mostly I feel proud of it – that is what is mostly on top – which is how it should be.