Tag Archives: Robert Wrigley

January Poem 2 – Robert Wrigley

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This has been a week full of terriers – literally.  I’ve had my sister’s three terriers, Sox, Buffy and Eddie to stay.  Added to my two Border Terriers Miles and Lola that makes five excitable dogs in the house.  At first I was planning on walking them in two groups but pressures of time put paid to that and I just took them all out together in the end.  Luckily they are all friendly with other dogs and have a good recall so I could just let them loose in the woods and fields across the road from my house.  

This has been a good week for getting poetry and PhD work done, despite having five terriers and more visits from workmen to finally finish the kitchen off.  I’ve got a lot more reading done and haven’t felt guilty at all about sitting around in my pyjamas! I think I’ve got my head around the fact that the reading I’m doing will eventually pull together to form a PhD.  I also got the date for my ‘mock viva’ which will be towards the end of February. I thought I would be really nervous about it, but I’m actually looking forward to it, and the chance to discuss what I’m doing and what I’ve been working on.  It’s a very strange feeling, to not be feeling anxious – maybe I really have turned a corner with the PhD.  

I’ve also been to two poetry groups this week, Barrow Writers on Tuesday and Brewery Poets on Friday, which meant I’ve had to stop dithering and finally get two poems which have been sitting ‘cooking’ in my notebook typed up and ready for feedback.  Thursday was my first day back at MMU this year teaching on a different undergraduate module this time, a Creative Writing unit.  I really enjoyed the teaching and some of the students have already sent in poems they wrote during the session.  Even when  I’m teaching I can tell now that all the reading I’ve been doing is paying off – bits of knowledge are linking up to other bits of knowledge.

On Saturday Chris and I drove over to Hebden Bridge for a 75th birthday party for Tony Ward, the publisher of Arc.  I met Tony at a festival in Ireland and we hit it off straight away – as I’m sure anyone who knows him will testify, Tony is great fun to hang out with.  I also got to see the lovely Amanda Dalton as well who is also good fun to spend time with, probably too much as we got a bit hysterical at one point in the proceedings.  We drove back home quite late at night, got back at 1am and then I was up at 7 to finish packing to go away for a week. 

I had two poetry critiquing groups to go to this week – Barrow Writers on Tuesday and Brewery Poets on Friday, which meant I had to stop dithering and get two poems ready for feedback.  On Thursday I did my first day of teaching at MMU on a undergraduate module called Language and Technique which is a creative writing module.  I really enjoyed the teaching – we looked at Curse poems this week and then I set them an exercise to write their own. Some of the students have already sent me their poems that they started in the session.  I’m teaching this unit alongside Helen Mort who has been her usual lovely self in getting me up to speed with everything.  I can also tell that all of the reading I’m doing for the PhD, and all the reading I did for the Approaches to Poetry course last year is really paying off – it feels like my brain is knitting together over previous gaps of knowledge!  There are obviously still plenty of gaps to be filled in of course, but that’s the great thing about reading isn’t it, there’s always more to do!

I’m writing this on the train from London down to St Ives, in Cornwall.  I’m going on a writing retreat down there with some friends – Katie Hale, Holly Hopkins, Hilda Sheehan and Emily Hasler.  I’m hoping to try and take stock of where I am with my next collection, write a few new poems, work on some drafts of poems that have been waiting to be typed up, and of course get some runs in along the coastal path.  I can’t wait to not have to do any cooking!  Last night I spent the night in London at the TS Eliot prize giving.   I went a couple of years ago and loved it, but I’d kind of forgotten how exciting it is.  I really like the format of the readings as well – I like that the prize is actually announced tomorrow, and that the Sunday night is just about the poetry and the poets.  

I haven’t read many of the books on the shortlist – I’ve actually only read Michael Symmons Roberts and Tara Bergin’s all the way through and really enjoyed them both.  Jacqueline Saphra’s reading was very moving – she was obviously delighted to be up there, and the warmth from the audience towards her and Nine Arches Press was really lovely.  Ocean Vuong was giving out lavender to people as he was signing books – but I spent too long talking and missed my opportuity.  Katie got some lavender but by the time we got home it had disintegrated and was just a twig in her bag! I really loved Robert Minhinnick’s poems that he read – out of the books I hadn’t read, that is the one I want to read first. 

So now we are just south of Reading and speeding towards St Ives.  It’s raining and grey and miserable but I am still on a bit of a poetry high from last night.  The second January poem this month comes from another brilliant collection – Robert Wrigley’s new book Box.  I saw Robert Wrigley read at Aldeburgh a few years ago and loved his poetry but was too shy to go and speak to him.  I got permission to post one of his poems from his Bloodaxe collection The Church of Omnivorous Light on the blog which you can find here and we’ve stayed in touch via Facebook since then.  We swapped books over Christmas and I was delighted to find Robert has a ‘My People’ poem as well, as the first poem in his collection.  

Robert Wrigley is the author of ten collections of poetry, including,most recently, Anatomy of Melancholy and Other Poems (Penguin 2013), which won a 2014 Pacific Northwest Book Award.   His earlier books have been awarded the Kingsley Tufts Award, the San Francisco Poetry Center Book Award, and the Poets Prize.  A University Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Idaho, he lives in the woods near Moscow, Idaho, with his wife, the writer Kim Barnes. 

Along with Christina Thatcher’s book which I talked about last week, Box is one of my favourite collections I’ve read for a while.  It’s full of animals and transformations and an engagement not just with the natural world and its inhabitants but also a love of reading and engagement with other writers.  One of my favourite poems is ‘Blessed are’ which observes ravens attending to the corpse of a deer, but then the poem follows what happens to the skull as the year progresses and ‘the snows bury it’ until spring when it becomes ‘a blessing for blowflies’ until the speaker retrieves the skull and hangs it up where it will be ‘filled with the thoughts of yellowjackets’.  Another one of my favourite poems is called ‘Brother to Jackdaws’ where the speaker transforms from a man wanting to be a jackdaw, to the speaker being a jackdaw.  

I asked Robert if I could post ‘Ecology’ because I’ve been reading A LOT of academic writing this week around modes of address in lyric poetry.  Well, I’ve been reading a lot of Jonathan Culler and what he has to say about modes of address.  Sadly I can’t quote any of it as I am trapped at my table on the train and can’t get to my bag with my notebook in, but one of the things I remember is that he says that direct address to the audience or reader is actually relatively rare in lyric poetry, that usually the poet will be addressing someone or something else in the poem (a beloved or an animal or inanimate object) and the audience are only indirectly addressed.  There are obviously exceptions to this rule, but they are not as common.  He calls this ‘triangulated address’ which Ithink is a great term and I quite enjoy saying the word ‘triangulated’.   

So in one sense you could think of ‘Ecology’ as a rare example of a lyric poem that directly addresses the reader.  The imperative of ‘Study’ runs all the way through.  The things that we as reader or audience are being told to study are not the things one expects to study.  This is perhaps the study that a poet should make, with lines like ‘Study wind as well.  We will never know/what it desires beyond the elsewhere it is going’ and ‘Study the heart, which should not be seen/but heard’.  I love the word ‘study’ as well and how it encompasses explore, and examine, and look, and maybe even describe and watch and pay attention to.  

Of course the slippery thing about lyric poetry is its strange balance between public and private discourse, and to say that this poem is a direct address to the reader or audience, a forward facing imperative that instructs us to look, to be present in the world, ignores the fact that this poem is also turned in on itself.  It has two faces, one turned outward towards us, and one turned inward, towards the self.  It could equally be directed or addressed to the poet-self.  Maybe it is addressed to both.  

I plan to read this poem every morning in St Ives to get me in the mood for writing, for paying attention, for listening to the heart, ‘which should not be seen/but heard.’  

Thanks to Robert Wrigley for letting me use another of his poems on the blog. If you’d like to order Box you can do so here.

Ecology – Robert Wrigley

Study the muddy house, the salmon
gutting it out through glacial till.  
Study the heart, which should not be seen 
but heard.  Study the tree that is the child

and the ink that makes an octopus invisible.
Epistemologies of silence and blindness, 
suffering of common stones, the soul
with its hardened, scaly, ineveitable callus:

study them by coyote light, buffalo magnification.
Study the imperatives of rain and snow
at the whim and fancy of the wind.
Study wind as well.  We will never know 

what it desires beyond the elsewhere it is going. 
Study elsewhere, the geography of strange beds 
and topographies of lips, the glowing,
enormous, indefatigable possibilities of red. 

The sky, which is the mother of all rivers, 
must be studied, as must the river of all mothers, 
those oceans of spirit, the wells of unbelievers,
days like buckets full, arriving one after another

in the absence of an invisible engineer. 
Study the balusters and balustrades, wall studs
of sedimentary stone, the skin, the downiest hair.
Study spring grass, the planetary grave, the blood-fed

soil of the body farm, the pentagrammatic arm. 
Study the cuticle and free margin parentheses enclosing 
pink implications, the vast concupiscent charms
of the toes, the sleepy eye’s slow closing.

In such time as you are given, study the house 
within the house within the house you love in. 
Know of it such portion as you are allowed, 
and return to it to die, like a salmon. 

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Sunday Poem – Robert Wrigley

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Evening all.  I have just had a little dance of glee whilst writing the title of this post – even though I was too cowardly to go and speak to Robert Wrigley at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival a couple of weekends ago, or to get my book signed, the lovely Neil Astley, the editor of Bloodaxe Books has given permission for me to use one of the poems from Robert’s new collection from Bloodaxe after reading a previous post about how I read Robert Wrigley’s poems at 6am on the way back from the Michael Marks Awards.

Bloodaxe have published the first UK publication of Robert Wrigley’s poetry.  The book is called ‘The Church of Omnivorous Light’ and takes poems from nine of his previous collections and you can order it here http://www.bloodaxebooks.com

Before I post the poem though I need to tell you that somewhere in the UK is a missing ‘If We Could Speak Like Wolves’. A lovely poet bought a Wolf from this blog and the envelope arrived with no pamphlet in it.  I frankly find it quite terrifying that somewhere is a postman with a penchant for pinching poetry (you see what I did there?) Anyway, I posted another out to the poet in question and I have been reliably informed (yesterday) that it has arrived safe and sound.  Why am I telling you all this? I don’t know, except maybe the power of the internet will return the wolf to its rightful owner – who will then have two personally inscribed copies – which isn’t much use…maybe it’s better left haunting the back shelves of a sorting office somewhere…

This has been the first week in ages where I have actually been at home on my days off! So on Thursday I went to get my hair cut.  On Friday I spent the day catching up with jobs – I have some more information about the residential course in April 2014 at Abbot Hall, Grange Over Sands and more information about the residential course that I’ll be running in October in St Ives and I’ll be posting that up on Tuesday next week.

On Saturday I went to Grasmere to go to a reading/talk/discussion by the Dark Mountain Project.  The Dark Mountain Project has a website http://dark-mountain.net/ which is full of fascinating stuff.  They have a manifesto, and produce beautiful anthologies but I found this summary on their website

‘The Dark Mountain Project is a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilisation tells itself. We produce and seek out writing, art and culture rooted in place, time and nature.’

I was particularly struck on Saturday by the idea that the language of science and ecology and politics is used a lot to talk about the environment, whereas the language of poetry isn’t – Paul Kingsnorth – one of the founders of the project said that people often discuss the cost benefits of wind turbine and measure what it will save but we don’t really talk about the impact it has on the human soul to see a wind turbine – I’m paraphrasing him here – and he said this in a much more graceful way – but I really liked this idea – partly because I’m not sure what seeing a wind turbine does do – and this does need exploring – and it is different for everyone of course – depending on your political point of view I guess, or whether you live near it or not.  Anyway, I’ve just had a quick scout of the site – it looks like I could easily spend a good couple of hours there…

I was really impressed with the quality of the work that Paul and the other reader, poet Em Strang read from the anthologies.  And I was also impressed by their humility and generosity – both read work from other writers in the anthologies – which left me wanting to hear some of their work – so I will definitely follow this up!

I then drove back from Grasmere, had some chips from the famous Matty’s chip shop in Barrow, and then drove out to Bardsea Malt Kiln.  It was a long evening, but I enjoyed it – Ross Baxter read some poetry – lots of ballads which fitted well with Maz O’Connor – a very talented folk musician who has performed for us in the past at A Poem and A Pint.  I haven’t heard her for a couple of years now, in the meantime she has been at university and winning various awards for her folk music.  Last night she performed some cracking songs she had written as a commission to mark the centenary of the death of Emily Davison – I was really impressed with her originality and musicality.  Alan Franks also performed – a mix of poetry and music and managed to lose his glasses and find them again for the last song – so all in all, a good evening.  I was glad I dragged myself out to do two poetry readings in one day – it was well worth the effort!

So, back to Robert Wrigley (if you’re sensible, you would have skipped all the previous to get to the poem).  There were so many poems I loved in this book – in fact I typed up the whole of ‘Explanatory’ and then changed my mind, because I still can’t get ‘Cigarettes’ out of my head.  I was going to use the poem ‘Explanatory’ which has an encounter with an owl at its heart to show how Robert Wrigley uses encounters with animals to find out truths about the human condition – this happens in lots and lots of his poems – I met Em Strang before the Dark Mountain event started for lunch and she mentioned Robert Wrigley as a great poet of nature and animals…I don’t think I told her I had him in my bag.  Well his book, not him, obviously.

Isn’t this poem illustrating Paul Kingsnorth point about language exactly though?  That all the language of science and the statistics about smoking do not describe the feeling that smoking creates – maybe we are using the wrong language when we try to get people to stop smoking – we use the language of statistics instead of the language of feeling…

I love the line ‘Whoever we would be for the next twenty years/took residence beyond our eyes’ – when I read this it felt like I’d been thumped in the chest – the recognition – we can all look back and remember those moments which shaped us, which we didn’t recognise at the time…then of course, if you’re a poet, you write poems about those moments…

I also like this poem for the way it follows a train of thought – it goes from one thought to the next, linking one to the other – and it does this so effortlessly.   I love the idea that the I of the poem ‘hardly stepped outside myself at all’ as if this is something we should all try and do, that the act of smoking can help you to do this, that a kiss can make you fall out of yourself and into another person..

Here is the marvellous ‘Cigarettes’ in full, with thanks to Neil Astley and Robert Wrigley for letting me post it here.

Cigarettes – Robert Wrigley

All the science notwithstanding, it’s still
a little like a kiss to me,
or what a kiss might lead to.
That first grand expulsion
of breath from the lungs hangs there
like metaphor given skin,
and we almost believe in ourselves
some new way.  Now and then
I bum one, and the rush
of dizziness that results
turns me woman in memory.
Though I lived in the world
I hardly stepped outside myself at all,
and women seemed a miracle of confidence.
Once I crossed the street
to retrieve the still-smoldering butt
a high-heeled, tight-skirted woman had tossed away.
I touched the lipstick-tainted end to my lips,
drew, and the fire burned my fingers,
the fire she’d taken into herself and sent out
into the air around us like a spell.
The first woman who ever let me
touch her, a girl really, only seventeen,
kissed me so deeply I fell out of myself
and became her.  In the moonlit backseat
I knelt upward and beheld my own eyes
in a body of perfection as vulnerable as a child’s.
Quick-witted and foul-mouthed
ordinarily, she was silent now,
even as the moments stretched out toward pain,
even when I reached over the front seat
and took one of her cigarettes and lit it
for myself.  When she moved at last
it was both arms rising toward me,
and absurdly, I handed her the smoke.
Maybe some tatter of cloud passed
before the moon just then
and in that moment her hands ceased
imploring and began simply to accept.
Whoever we would be for the next twenty years
took residence beyond our eyes.
With both hands she eased away the cigarette,
and the drag she pulled into herself
cast a light that left me blind.

The Day After the Michael Marks Award

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So it is the day after the night before – and I’m back in Barrow again after my fifth trip away in just over a month.  Yesterday was the Michael Marks Awards – I bought a dress- which as my friends will testify, is very unusual for me – I don’t normally do dresses – I feel very self-conscious in them,  so I just avoid them normally.  But I figured I might never be shortlisted for the Michael Marks again so I should make an effort.  So there was that – and then I couldn’t face getting changed in the loos at Euston so I decided to just wear the dratted dress down there.

I had the most wonderful train journey from Barrow to London.  I didn’t meet anybody I knew – which sounds very miserable, but I really just wanted to read.  I didn’t, this time meet anybody that I struck up a conversation with – again, sometimes this can be nice but I wasn’t in the mood.  I normally sit at a table so I can spread my books out but instead I sat in a normal seat and it felt much more cave like and protected from the rest of the world.  I read some of the new Robert Wrigley collection, published by Bloodaxe.  I’m only a third of the way through but I’m really enjoying it – here is a quote from a Robert Wrigley poem called ‘Cigarettes’ which I wrote down in my notebook as one of those lines I wish I’d written…

‘The first woman who ever let me
touch her, a girl really, only seventeen,
kissed me so deeply I fell out of myself
and became her’

I think this image is so beautiful and it carries something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, about the people we meet and who we have intimacy with – how we carry them around with us – for better or worse.

And what about the beginning of this poem by Robert Wrigley, simply called ‘Parents’ which starts ‘Old two-hearted sadness, old blight/in the bones,’

Two-hearted sadness.   I think that is so moving.  Anyway, so I was loving my Robert Wrigley which made me write something – I’m currently getting sidetracked by a sequence I’m working on called ‘How I Abandoned My Body to His Keeping’ about a relationship – I would maybe describe the poems as being haunted by violence – because I don’t want to deal with the violence directly necessarily, but I want it to be always in the background.  Which makes the poems pretty dark.  So anyway, I wrote another poem to go into this sequence which gives me ten so far.  I don’t know how many it is going to be – I’m just going with it at the minute.

So after I’d written this poem I felt so, so happy.  Which is strange because this sequence, or the writing of it has been quite painful sometimes.  But I think this poem is good – it says something that needs to be said, and it says it, I think, in a way, that will make other people have a jolt of recognition.  Maybe.  Bearing in mind I haven’t looked at it again since yesterday, so it could all very easily fall apart.  But I felt really happy and excited.  In fact I met the husband off the train and the first thing I did in the cafe at the station was recite the poem to him – poor guy.

Anyway, then we went to the British Library.  There were nice waiters and waitresses carrying round silver trays with quail eggs on and cheese and olives and little sausages.  I met the ultra cool Neil Rollinson and lovely Chrissie Williams of the bear poem which featured here a couple of weeks ago.  I met Kim Lasky – the other Poetry Business poet shortlised who is a nice lady.  I met Ben Wilkinson – shortlisted as well from Tall Lighthouse.  I didn’t meet David Clarke before the event – but I had a nice chat with Alan Jenkins from the TLS who tutored on a residential I was on about four years ago – and who has been so encouraging and supportive of my work – and brutally honest as well when it was rubbish..it was great to see him again…and lovely editors Peter and Ann Sansom were there – and Fiona Sampson who had just come from the palace and Andrew Forster – so lots of people who I really like!

We had a really nice meal which I ate too much of, and was then worried about getting up on the stage – or being able to move at all.  Peter and Ann entertained my half of the table and were making everyone laugh throughout the meal.  I skipped pudding and had a cup of tea.  The publisher’s award was won by Flarestack Poets and then each poet read for five minutes from their pamphlet.

I was the most nervous I’ve been for a reading – I have no idea why – maybe because shorter sets I find harder – there is no time to build up a relationship with the audience I suppose and because there were lots of poets that I admire in the audience – luckily I didn’t see Daljit Nagra till after I had read…Lady Marks – who sponsors the award, came up and told me she ‘loves my british sense of humour’.  So how about that!

David Clarke won the pamphlet award so Flarestack did a double!  Now I get to the crux of my post – or what has prompted me to blog – which is a mix of the upset caused by the reception at Buckingham Palace put on by the Queen to celebrate British Poetry and my own feelings after I didn’t win.  I’ve been silently lurking in the background watching the uproar about which poets got invited and which didn’t with a morbid fascination that I can only liken to the feeling I get when I’m watching Jeremy Kyle.  I couldn’t really understand why anyone would care whether they got invited to the Palace or not.  If I had been invited I would have gone, although I have no feelings one way or the other about the Royals.

But after the award ceremony – I went through a gamut of unworthy feelings – disappointment, envy – and felt ashamed of feeling these things – after all, I was only one of six, and I don’t think my book was any better than anyone else’s – in fact, if I am brutally honest, my money would have been on Neil Rollinson’s compelling pamphlet ‘Talking to the Dead’ – I felt that his years and years of experience of writing really showed in the consistency of quality in his pamphlet – but anyway, I felt quite ashamed of myself for being disappointed and not just bloody grateful to be there, so then I understood a little of what the poet Todd Swift was maybe feeling about the palace invitation or lack thereof.

And then I woke up this morning, still in a strange mood – almost a bad mood but not quite and walked from Fiona Sampson’s flat, where I stayed with the husband through the streets of West London to the tube -about a mile I think at 5a.m in the morning and it was really quiet and cold and peaceful and I started to gradually feel like I was coming back to myself again, which is not bitter/disappointed at the success of others, but happy for them and taking inspiration from it.

I guess the difference is I recognised those feelings as transitory and knew I would come out of it.  By 7.30am, once I got on the train at Euston, I felt like myself.  I posted congratulations to David and Flarestack and I meant every word.  I’m looking forward to reading David’s pamphlet again and hopefully mugging him for a Sunday poem, so you can enjoy his work if you haven’t already.  I was warmed by the lovely messages that my friends posted on Facebook.  I remembered that feeling of happiness when I’d been writing on the way up and tried to capture it again on the way back.

So I guess what I’m saying in a very round about, long winded way, that prize ceremonies and champagne are quite cool, but they can lure you away from what is important, which is that moment of happiness when you are writing and it is going well.  And I think most poets I know, would admit to those ‘unworthy’ feelings at some point or another – I think it is up to us then as human beings to squash them and jump up and down on them and ignore them and whatever you do – don’t act on them – because ultimately, it is not about writing.  It is not about poetry.  Would I have discovered this if I had won?  Probably not, because I’d be too busy running round the house still celebrating…