I’m writing this in the back garden today – it’s vaguely sunny here in Barrow, and now I’m running again, I like being outdoors most of the time. I’m not sure if it’s to do with circulation or what, but basically, if my running is going ok I just want to be outdoors all the time, and I don’t feel the cold. If I’m not able to run, I revert back to how I’ve been for the first thirty odd years of my life, which is sitting indoors with blankets and the fire on full blast.
I am breaking my self-imposed rule today of writing my blog only every two weeks. Basically I miss doing it! And also, quite a few people have sent me pamphlets, or I’ve bought their book or pamphlet and really enjoyed them, and I can’t keep up with them all doing the blog every other week. So I will see how it goes – I might lapse again but I miss the discipline of writing every week.
I feel like myself for the first time since Kendal Poetry Festival finished. I’ve had quite a difficult week, and I know Pauline, my co-director has had a hard time this week as well. I think (for me anyway – can’t speak for Pauline) that it’s a combination of being on full adrenalin all weekend and then all the excitement is suddenly over. So there is a bit of a come-down to start with. I have felt so mentally tired this week though – like I couldn’t be bothered to read anything and certainly not write anything. Sadly, in the world of putting a festival on, things don’t completely stop once everyone has gone home. We have a report to write for the Arts Council, we have to ensure everyone gets paid, so all of that is carrying on when all I really wanted to do this week is collapse in a heap!
This week I met my supervisor to talk about some poems that I sent through as part of the PhD. It feels strange still having the luxury of having a poet I really admire looking at my work, and it’s exciting as well. Already I feel like I’m pushing myself further. The poems that I thought were the least finished got a more positive response than the ones I thought were almost there, so that was interesting. It feels like every time I have a meeting, it creates a little bit of space around the poems so I can go away and push further at them, whereas before the PhD, maybe I would have just left them to sit where they were.
I’ve just got back from the Ted Hughes festival where I read along with Melissa Lee-Houghton and Charlotte Wetton and then took part in a panel discussion about whether Sylvia Plath was relevant to young female poets. It was interesting to hear the different ways the three of us came to Plath’s poetry – I personally think Plath is important to female poets, but I also think as a female poet, it is uncomfortable to be linked with Plath, because of the term ‘confessional’ which has negative connotations, and because it is so tempting to read her biography through her poetry. Nobody wants that to happen necessarily with their own work. This tendancy to review and critique Plath’s work through her biography would have been overwhelmingly done by male critics and reviewers I’m guessing, and I think it’s a way of reducing and diminishing her work. As Heather Clark, a leading expert on Sylvia Plath pointed out, the poem ‘Edge’ has so many literary references embedded within it, but it is often read as if Plath is speaking from beyond the grave.
It was great to read with Charlotte and Melissa, although following Melissa felt a bit like following a poetic whirlwind – my head was still spinning from listening to her work and then I realised I was going to have to stand up and speak. I hung around for the next reading and saw Tim Wells perform and Linton Kwesi Johnson, both worth getting back at midnight for. Linton Kwesi Johnson did blow me away – it was like a poetic history lesson in black history and civil rights in this country, delivered in a rhythm which was as close to music as you can get without crossing over into song.
If you haven’t been to the Ted Hughes festival, look out for it next year. It has a lovely community feel to it, the volunteers are very friendly and smiley, and they had a great programme of events over this year, which I’m sure they will repeat again next year.
Steve Ely, one of the organisers of the festival, who seemed amazingly calm and chilled out while everything was going on, is coming to Grange Over Sands this year as one of the four tutors on the Poetry Carousel. Places for this are selling fast, so if you’re interested, I would advise booking a place sooner rather than later. The other tutors are myself, Hilda Sheehan and David Morley. You can find more information about the Poetry Carousel, including biographies of the tutors and information about the workshops we’ll be running here. The course runs from Friday 8th December to Monday 11th December and costs £360 including accommodation, food and workshops.
Today’s Sunday Poem is by a fabulous Barrow poet, Ayelet Mckenzie. I went to the launch of Ayelet’s pamphlet a few weeks ago now at Barrow Library, and the place was packed! Ayelet’s latest pamphlet is called Small Bear and is published by Caterpillar Poetry, I wrote a blurb for Ayelet’s pamphlet so I thought I’d quote that here instead of paraphrasing it:
Ayelet Mckenzie is a true original – her poetry never goes where you expect. In short, meticulously observed lyrics about human nature and the world around us, she manages to surprise and delight the reader. Her poetry can be both funny and bleak, highlighting small moments and encounters with wit, perception and tenderness.
There are so many good poems in this pamphlet – there is a brilliant one called ‘Flowers’ after Sylvia Plath with the lines ‘Oh how they bother me/presaging their death if/I do not attend./But I am so tired/so sick of things.’ but in the end I decided to post ‘One Of Those’ which I think exemplifies all the things I talk about in the quote above.
I love the formality of the opening phrase ‘On close examination’ which then contrasts with the colloqualism of ‘one of those women’ in the next line. This contrast between two different registers of tone carries on with the use of ‘proffering’ which sounds strangely formal, compared to ‘Next thing she’d be patting/every dog she saw’ which again, feels very colloquial. There is also the word ‘burgeoning’ as well, again strangely formal, contrasting with the last line ‘although it wasn’t allowed’ which sounds as if the speaker is repeating something they’ve been told. I also wonder who the speaker is in the poem – part of me thinks the speaker is the ‘she’ of the poem, reflecting on herself, which makes the slightly disapproving tone of the poem even more funny. Or maybe not, maybe the speaker is a neighbour, observing this woman through a gap in the curtains. It’s a great poem, and there are lots more just as good in the pamphlet, so if you do happen to have a spare fiver, email Simon, the editor and publisher at Caterpillar Poetry at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m sure he will be happy to send you a copy.
Thanks to Ayelet for allowing me to post her poem here!
One Of Those – Ayelet Mckenzie
On close examination it was noticed
she was turning into one of those women
who carry bags of boiled sweets in their
handbags, proffering them to strangers
whom she got talking to.
Next thing she’d be patting
every dog she saw,
talking to every cat,
feeding bread to the burgeoning pigeon
population that gathered in the street,
although it wasn’t allowed.