Tag Archives: running

Sunday Poem – Mark Pajak

Sunday Poem – Mark Pajak

This has been my best week since the gall bladder saga – I’ve managed to run 45 kilometres this week.  My target for the next two weeks at least is to try and get 45 kilometres in each week.  I was talking to my friend about goals, and the importance of having them.   My next goal is to run the Coniston 14 race on March 28th.  I’ve never done it before, but I paid for it before I got ill, and I’m determined to have a good go at it.  I’m not sure what time to aim for, as it is very hilly, and a bit longer than a half-marathon.  I’m also reading at Lancaster Litfest that afternoon at 4pm, so I can’t take any longer than two hours, otherwise I won’t have time to get home, have a shower and cram some food in before setting off to Lancaster again!  I think I’m slightly crazy for attempting this, and I am wondering now whether going home to have a shower is slightly ambitious.  In fact if I have any friends between Coniston and Lancaster who would be willing to let me use their shower on the way, I would be forever grateful, and am sure the audience would be as well as I won’t turn up all sweaty and smelly.

My twin sister is doing the Keswick to Barrow event which takes place on May 6th.  This is a 43 mile walk that is in its 51st year of running.  I was vaguely thinking about doing the walk with her, but I’ve got a soul band gig that night so I’ve decided that it would be a bit ridiculous to try and do both.  However, there is a Coniston to Barrow walk on the same day which is  21 miles, which I think I’m going to have a go at running.  Or maybe run/walking.  This will be the furthest I’ve ran, so I just need to see how the training goes for it over the next few months.

Anyway, enough running talk as one of my esteemed readers, Martin Copley skips over any mention of running as it brings him out in a cold sweat.  This week I’ve also done a bit of poetry stuff as well.  I went to Manchester on the train to the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends reading series on Monday night.  Liz Lochhead was the main guest reader, but as part of the series, students from the MA are invited to read.  My friends Keith Hutson and Hilary Robinson did ten minute sets each and read really well.  There was another student called Ian Walker, who I hadn’t met before who was also very good.  The House Poet who introduces the readers is now two House Poets, John Fennelly and Mark Pajak, and as Keith said when he got up to read, they were a bit like Ant and Dec with their double act.

While I was in Manchester I managed to get a copy of Mark Pajak’s new pamphlet Spitting Distance, and today’s Sunday Poem is the title poem of that pamphlet, but more on that later.  First I have to tell you about the rather exciting headlong gallop through the streets of Manchester.  I sat in the pub for far too long chatting with people and then my friend B and I realised we only had 15 minutes to get to Picadilly and we were a good 25 minute walk away.  We ran all the way from the bar opposite the theatre to the train station which would have been fine, if I hadn’t been carrying a really heavy bag of books just in case I got bored on the train AND wearing stupid boots that are not designed to run in.   I’d also ran 7 miles that morning along the beach so could have done without another couple to be honest.  Anyway we made our train with a minute to spare which was lucky seeing as it was the last one!

Even more exciting than that though is I managed to hand in my RD1! I actually sent it over a day earlier because I couldn’t bear to have it hanging around anymore.  I had to ring the admin guru at the university because I couldn’t find a form that I needed to fill in, and then I had a couple of questions.  I don’t usually like talking on the phone – I have a phobia about it – I come out in a cold sweat! Unless it’s someone I know very well and feel comfortable with and then I’m ok.  Anyway, I usually avoid the phone at all costs, so this may indicate my level of desperation! Anyway D, the university admin guru was brilliant and got me sorted out and now it’s gone, there’s nothing I can do about it which is a great relief. I just have to wait and see if it is passed by the committee now, and I’m not sure how long that will be.

So back to Mark Pajak’s pamphlet Spitting Distance.  I read it in one sitting on the train on the way home, and really enjoyed it.   It was published by Smith/Doorstop in 2016 as part of the ‘Laureate’s Choice’ series.  Mark’s work has been published in The North, Magma and The Rialto and was highly commended in both the Cheltenham and the National Poetry Competitions.  Today’s Sunday Poem is the title poem of his pamphlet, but it is also the poem that won the 2016 Bridport Prize.

It’s easy to see why – the subject of the poem is startling and different.  Perhaps one of the things I most admire in Mark’s work is his ability with simile and metaphor.  He is able to do that rare thing of finding the exact metaphor or simile that is both true to the thing being compared, but also completely surprising.  In Spitting Distance, you can see this in the first couplet, when he writes that the rifle shell he finds is ‘like a gold seed in the earth.’  There is something completely surprising about this, and yet completely correct.  It’s surprising because it is an object that causes death, and it is being compared to something that life springs from.  It also sounds as if the earth has produced the bullet – it is ‘in the earth.’  Later on the bullet is described as a ‘blunt bud’.  A path is described as ‘falling like a braid’ – and I know exactly what he means, although I’ve never walked on that path.

On one hand, the poem is set in a very real landscape.  Mam Tor is named.  We are told about the ‘warped floor of Derbyshire’ and a wonderful description of a chimney which ‘hangs from the sky/on a white string.’  Yet there is also something strange about this poem.  Surreal isn’t quite the right word, but things are slightly odd.  The speaker in the poem has a strange way of thinking about things, and we know this right from the second couplet when he says ‘So I load it into my mouth/and go on walking.’  Again, that word ‘load’ pre-empts the later line ‘So this is what it’s like to be a gun’.  A lesser poet might have just said ‘So I put it into my mouth’ or ‘place it in my mouth’ or ‘pop it in my mouth’ but load fits with loading a gun.

There are no motives offered for the strange behaviour and later on it gets stranger still, when the speaker lies down in the heather to be ‘A body with a bullet/in its head staring at this sky.’  Of course the speaker is pretending to be a dead body with a bullet in its head, but the speaker also is a body with a bullet in its head.   Of course, Mark Pajak isn’t the first poet to imagine life as a gun.  Emily Dickinson’s famous poem ‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun’ starts

‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun
In Corners – till a Day
The Owner passed – identified –
And Carried Me away

In Emily Dickinson’s poem, the gun is carried away by the ‘owner’ and put to use.  The gun is both passive and active.  It is active only in another’s hands.  In Mark’s poem, the bullet is the thing that instigates change – first it changes the body of the speaker into a gun, and then it changes it back into a body, but a dead one.

There is ‘the red dot of a car’ which made me think of looking through the sights of a gun to aim and shoot.  The poem is a masterclass in ensuring that all the language and imagery contained within it is working together and pulling its own weight.  Definitely one of the poems I’ve read and wished I’d written it myself!

If you’d like to order Spitting Distance you can do so by going to the Smith/Doorstop website.  I hope you enjoy the poem.


Spitting Distance – Mark Pajak

Near Edale, I find a live rifle shell
like a gold seed in the earth.
So I load it into my mouth
and go on walking, the sun
breathing down my neck,
the head of Mam Tor rising
and the path falling like a braid.
So this is what it’s like to be a gun;
copper bleeding on the gums,
the domino click in the teeth.
At the blue summit, I look down
with my new perspective
on the warped floor of Derbyshire,
to where a village pools in a valley
and a chimney hands from the sky
on a white string.  And I watch
with hunger the red dot of a car
stop at a crossroads.  I suck hard
on the blunt bud, drawing out
its deeper flavour of powder,
smoke down the barrel
of my throat.  Then it hits me
that there’s another side to this.
And I lay in the warm heather.
A body with a bullet
in its head staring at this sky.
Its clouds blown open.
Its sudden night.

Sunday Poem – Sarah Littlefeather Demick

Sunday Poem – Sarah Littlefeather Demick

I’m tentatively starting this blog post by saying I’m feeling a lot better this week.  It’s been two weeks and 5 days since my emergency operation, but I’ve been gradually getting back to normal for most of this week.

I’m the first person to admit I’m not the best at taking it easy but I’ve been left with little choice after my recent adventures.  The strangest thing has been limiting myself to doing one, or at the most, two activities a day so I don’t get too tired.  Normally, I just charge about from one thing to the other, but this level of normality is not possible yet.

Monday was supposed to be a day of working on the RD1 form, but I got distracted by a poem.  It’s been sitting in my folder for a while now in first draft form, but it suddenly felt ready to be worked on.  I had loads of fun with it – it is a bit of a rant poem but it does fit with the theme of my PhD so I suppose I was kind of on task.

The poet Tony Walsh posted that he was running a poetry workshop in Barrow at a primary school a week or so ago, so I messaged him and offered him somewhere to stay for the night.  It was lovely to see Tony again – last time I saw him would have been in 2012 when we worked together on a 12 week poetry project in a men’s prison, so it was nice to catch up again and hear what Tony had been up to.

On Tuesday I spent most of the day doing a bit of PhD reading.  My lovely friend John Foggin sent me a brilliant book called ‘Man Made Language’ by Dale Spender.  It was published in the 80’s but it is kind of blowing my mind.  The first couple of pages talk about insults when directed towards men and women – that the word ‘tramp’ about a man might make you think of someone who is scruffy or dirty, possibly homeless, but the word ‘tramp’ about a woman could mean all of these things, plus negative sexual connotations.  The word ‘bachelor’ – we don’t have an equivalent word for it in English to describe a woman – the closest would be spinster, but again that has negative connotations in the way that bachelor doesn’t.

I am curious about why these observations are not more widely known – as they have been around since the 70’s/80’s.  I can accept that I am quite naive about feminist research.  I’ve only just read Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics for example, so I know I’m playing catch up all the time.

I talked to a few of my friends from my running club about it (men), and my mum (not a very representative sample I know – but you have to start somewhere) and they all said they’d not thought about it before.  I suppose it’s the problem of disseminating research into the wider society and how you go about doing this, and then what do you do with this knowledge?

I’m three quarters of the way through Man Made Language now, and really enjoying it.  On Wednesday I went to Manchester to meet the subject librarian at MMU and she showed me some techniques for more advanced searching around my subject.  I’m in a bit of a mini- panic this week about the PhD.  I reckon I’ve had nearly three weeks off with being in and out of hospital and then recovering from the operation, so I feel like I’ve got to get a move on.

On Thursday I went to Manchester again to do my teaching.  It was nice to see my students again after missing the last two sessions.  On Friday morning I decided to try a little jog down the Furness Abbey path with a few of my friends.  It was very slow – in fact it took us about 40 minutes to run what would normally have taken me about 18, but I didn’t want to jolt my insides up and down too much.  I didn’t have any pain when I was running and woke up the next day without any, so I’m pleased with that, but still a bit nervous about doing anything more strenuous.

I had my Dove Cottage Young Poets session on Friday afternoon – four of the new poets from last week came back (out of eight) and one completely new poet who hadn’t been before, plus Hannah Hodgson, who has been coming for a year to the sessions.  This week’s session was a lot easier – the young poets seemed more confident this time and read out a lot more.  They also wrote some fantastic stuff during the session.  I’m getting excited already about working with them towards their performances at Kendal Poetry Festival next year.

On Saturday it was the end of year Barrow Poetry Workshop session.  I’ve been running these sessions for a year and a half now, and decided it would be great to make the December workshop more exciting by inviting someone else to take the session instead of me, so Peter and Ann Sansom from The Poetry Business came down.

I’ve been really looking forward to being in a workshop instead of running it for ages now, but I don’t think I was quite with it yesterday.  My whole face on the right side was tingling in a disturbing fashion and I found it really hard to concentrate.  It was a great workshop though, and I enjoyed hearing everybody else’s contributions.  I also took my poem which I’d been working on and got some feedback on it in the afternoon session which I think will definitely make it stronger.

I think the tingling face was just a symptom of being over tired as I woke up this morning and it was fine – another reminder to take it easy!

Two pieces of good news this week as well – this blog was included for the third year in a row on Rogue Strands ‘The Best Poetry Blogs of 2016’.  Matthew Stewart at Rogue Strands had this to say about my blog:

Kim Moore’s Sunday Poem feature is a bit like Marks and Spencer’s Dine in for Two deal: imitated by countless competitors but never matched. What’s more, its timing is perfect: a lovely read at the dog-end of the weekend.

Josephine Corcoran also included my blog on her roundup of her favourite poetry blogs as well – you can read her post here – so lots of new blogs to look up over the holidays if you’re a bit bored!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Sarah Littlefeather Demick who is a wonderful poet who lives in Ulverston, not far from me.  Sarah is a fantastic singer as well and performs wtih her husband Rod as a folk duo called The Demix.  She has a completely unforgettable voice and often makes me cry when I hear her sing.  She started writing relatively recently, in the last couple of years but I think her poetry is completely unique – very lyrical but often unsettling, as you will see from the Sunday Poem.

Sarah is an Ojibwa Indian.  She was born in Toronto, Canada and raised by adoptive parents in London, England.  She travels around the country working as a respite carer, mainly for people with dementia.  Sarah has recently published a pamphlet called Another Creature.  The production of this pamphlet is really beautiful – you can see a photo of it here.  I think Sarah has actually sold out of the pamphlets already and it was only published a few months ago, but if you’d like one, you could comment below and it might persuade her to print some more!

I’ve decided to use the title poem of the pamphlet for this week’s poem.  It’s the first one in the pamphlet as well and I think it is a brilliant poem to put at the front of a pamphlet because it introduces a lot of the themes which occur later in the book – the importance of animals, self-discovery, power and memory.

This poem also has a slightly surreal feel, or as if things are slightly off kilter.  I think Sarah establishes this straight away with the use of ‘I recall’ instead of ‘I remember’.  I think the word recall distances the speaker a little – it makes the memory a little more formal and less personal somehow maybe.  Yet this contrasts with the content of the poem – and makes the first sentence of the poem ‘I recall being given away as a child’ very shocking.

The recollections in the poem feel very spontaneous – almost like stream of consciousness memories because of the lack of punctuation.  I really like that effect – it felt like each memory or image unfolded seamlessly after the next one.

Some of my favourite lines are ‘how I came to live with goslings when I was another creature’ and ‘I recall how most of my life was an untamed forest’.  I think they are beautiful lines, and have a ring of authenticity and truth about them, and yet, they are strange and slightly surreal at the same time.  The line ‘I found a person who was my mother’ is heartbreaking – again, there is that distancing effect, but there is also something interesting in the assertion of the mother being a person, a person in her own right.

I hope you enjoy this week’s poem.

Another creature – Sarah Demick

I recall being given away as a child and how I came to live with
goslings when I was another creature

when I had walked for nearly a dozen years I recall riding on the back
of a motorcycle from outside our house I recall being free and feeling
the heat of a summer evening on my skin as I was taken into the

and roundabout that time I recall a hospital ward with the heads of
dying men silently queuing for their final journey and my father was
there with them

and two years later I recall being in my room and being in there with
amplified solitude and when I was asked why I was crying I recall
being unable to answer but tearing out my hair with grief and with

I recall how most of my life was an untamed forest where I was
hunted and brought down by men whose temptation was tempered
only by lust and no one told me there was another way

and I recall how any other way eluded me for a very long time but
when I found it my shadow became an eagle

and when I was thirty-five I found a person who was my mother but
she didn’t know me and was only glad I’d been raised up good and
wasn’t fat

I recall thinking that being raised up good was not so easy

Sunday Poem – Penelope Shuttle

Sunday Poem – Penelope Shuttle



Back to my bad habits of writing my blog late at night! My excuse today is that I’ve been in Lancaster running a 10k race.  I’m not even going to play it cool, pretending to drop this in casually as part of the usual run of the mill blog post…

I ran 45 minutes and 1 second for 10k!

My last ‘personal best’ time was 46 minutes and 17 seconds, about seven months ago, which is why I’m so chuffed.  I’ve been doing a bit more training though, in the last few months, so I knew I would beat my PB, but didn’t think for one second I would be at the 45 minute mark.  I was also 5th woman back, and I got the V35 prize (first time I’ve ever won a prize in a race!) and won the Ladies Team Prize along with my two friends, J and K

This race was called the ‘Jailbreak 10k’ and you signed up to do the race inside a cell in one of the prison wings.  The prison is now shut down of course, but I was actually quite freaked out by the cells.  They were very small and there was a toilet in the corner with a board at the side of it, presumably to give a bit of privacy, and that in itself was shocking – that this tiny space was for more than one person.  It was also really cold in there – and the prison wasn’t shut down that long ago! I couldn’t believe that people were kept in there, that people would have lived in there.  It definitely gave me goosebumps.  I thought the prisons I’d been into were pretty brutal, but they had nothing on the Lancaster Castle prison!

So two photos, and then I promise I will say no more about it.  The first is at the start – I did eventually get away from the unicorn.  (It was optional fancy dress for the race – only three people wore fancy dress – a Ghostbuster, a Witch and the Unicorn).  The second is at the end of the race, having just got to the top of the hill – so am in a bit of pain here, and pulling my famed ‘running face’.


This week has been relatively quiet apart from today! I decided I needed to get organised and make myself a timetable, to ensure I’m getting enough PhD work done.  So I did that on Monday, and did manage to make some progress.  I ordered 2 poetry collections by Marie Howe, who I’ve only just discovered.  I absolutely love her work, but this hasn’t helped with narrowing down the possibilities of poets to focus on.

I’ve also been carrying on reading Kate Millet’s ‘Sexual Politics’.  It’s a pretty big book.  I’m now over half way through though and still enjoying it.  The RD1 form is my next big hurdle, and my supervisor gave me an example one to look at.  So I’ve read that through and had a go at writing the first part of mine, just to see how it went.

I’ve also been reworking a review from last week after some feedback, and on Saturday night I had a gig with the Soul Survivors in Ulverston.  I guess it doesn’t sound that quiet now I look at it, but there hasn’t been as much rushing about as there usually is.

I’ve got a few dates coming up of readings and workshops – on Thursday I’m reading at Brantwood with Geraldine Green and Kerry Darbishire.  There is also an Open Mic – tickets are £12 and include food.

On the 4th November, the Brewery Poets are putting a reading on at The Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal.  I’m the MC, and guest poets will be Pauline Yarwood, Jennifer Copley and Ian Seed.  These nights usually sell out, so if you’d like to come, book a ticket quickly!

I’m also running my Dove Cottage Young Poets group on the 4th November, and am recruiting for new members! If you know any young people (from the age of 14 to 25) who would like to come to a free fortnightly writing group, please get in touch.  We have lots of fun, and the young poets get lots of opportunities throughout the year to perform (if they want to) and to work towards Arts Awards.

And lastly for now, on the 12th November, I’m running an all day workshop for Lancaster Spotlight.  You can find details here, but to book a place, just email spotlightclub@btinternet.com

Today’s Sunday Poem is by the wonderful Penelope Shuttle. I’ve always loved Penelope’s work, right from when I first started writing eight years ago. Penny has featured on this blog before – you can read that post here.

As you will see from this previous blog post, Penny is one of my favourite contemporary poets, so I’m quite excited that she has sent me a poem from her forthcoming collection with Bloodaxe to put up on the blog this week.  I’m even more excited that Penny has agreed to be the guest poet for the Residential Course that I’m running in St Ives next year with co-tutor David Tait.  Penny will be coming to the hotel to have dinner with the course participants, and then she will be reading from her work on the Wednesday night of the course.  There are only four places left on this course, so if you’d like to book, please get in touch with Treloyhan Manor Hotel on 01736 796240.

In 2015 Penelope published (with John Greening) their exploration in poetry  of many aspects of Heathrow airport and Hounslow Heath upon which the airport now stands:  Heath (Nine Arches). She also published a pamphlet titled Four Portions of Everything on the Menu for M’sieur Monet! (Indigo Dreams Publications). Penelope has given many readings of her work, and has been a tutor for many organisations.  She is currently a mentor for The Poetry School.

This poem comes from Penny’s forthcoming collection Will You Walk A Little Faster? which will be published by Bloodaxe in May 2017.  It was originally published in The Manhattan Review.

I love the idea of this poem – to be able to talk to your Life, to make your Life a person, rather than a collection of events.  I love that the poem seems to start mid-conversation with Life.  There’s something unbearably sad about this poem – of course, Life is addressed and personified as a seperate thing, but the whole time, we know that Life is also the speaker.

The language that is used seems deceptively simple, but the poem is full of surprising turns of phrase: ‘I’m sad of myself’ and ‘days live me in vain’ and then at the end ‘the walls are spells’ and ‘the roof’s a star’.  Maybe just because I’ve been reading a lot of Emily Dickinson but the capitalization of Life and the short lines made me think of her.

The sounds throughout the poem – all those repeated ‘L’s’ string the whole poem together.  I also love the intermittent address to Life, that comes back throughout the poem, as if the speaker is turning to Life and making sure they are still listening.

The line breaks are very effective as well, particularly at the end with the line ‘I know you so well’ which then carries onto the next line to say ‘My Life, not at all’.  I was left trying to puzzle out whether Life is known or not, and maybe that’s part of the point. Until I read the poem more carefully, I thought the ending was a repeat of the beginning and then I thought it was a straightforward reversal of the beginning, which says to Life: ‘you know me too well’.  This statement is supported throughout the poem.  What is questioned is whether the Speaker knows Life as well as the Speaker thinks they do, and just writing that I realise that of course they don’t.  We can’t know our own Lives without distance, and time to reflect, and we can never do that while we are still living them.

I hope you enjoy the poem – and please keep a look out for Penny’s collection, coming out next year.  If you’d like to find out more about Penelope Shuttle, you can go to her website here.



My Life – Penelope Shuttle

My Life, I can’t fool you,
you know me too well,
I’m sad of myself,
days live me in vain,
you test me
but bin my answers,
you’re so busy, so tired,
evenings in the glass,
drink them, My Life,
but you won’t,
driving your bargains
of years gone by,
promising me
this and that till
the walls are spells,
the roof’s a star,
I seal the hour
in a tear,
a mortal tear,
I know you so well,
My Life, not at all

Sunday Poem – Martin Zarrop


Evening all.  Those of you that are friends with me on Facebook will know I’ve had a rather strange week, filled with missing trumpets and forgetfulness and general confusion.  I am not the world’s most organised person in general, but I normally bump along in my own unique way with not too many disasters befalling me.  However, this week, I have excelled myself in my levels of complete confusion.  When I look back, it probably started with a horrible start to the week, which I can’t write about because it wouldn’t be professional, but I went to bed on Monday evening feeling fairly upset.

Tuesday was a better day – I had two new pupils turn up to Brasstastic, the junior band I run for primary school pupils and teaching went along without anything to get excited or upset about.  In the evening I had rehearsal with the Soul Survivors and I got a lift home with Julie, the sax player.  In the car park in rehearsal, Julie was messing about, driving the car forward every time I tried to open the door and in the end I jumped in the front with my trumpet, music stand and bag with music piled on my knee.  I am telling you this to emphasise that I remembered distinctly jumping in the car with all my stuff on my knee.

When I got to the house I walked inside and put all my stuff down in the middle room, my writing room.  On Thursday I was due to go to quintet rehearsal in the evening.  When I went to get my trumpet, it wasn’t in its usual place.  I looked in the car – it wasn’t there.  I immediately went into complete panic – my lift was waiting outside to go to rehearsal.  I had to go and tell them I couldn’t find my trumpet, which sounded ridiculous.  I turned the house upside down looking for it and began frantically ringing Julie to see if I’d left it in the car, even though I knew I hadn’t, because I remembered piling it all on my knee, and I even remembered dumping it in the dining room.  It was like it had vanished into thin air.

Thursday is my day off teaching and I’d got quite a lot of work done at home.  I’d been upstairs working for quite a bit of it but the back door had been open so the dogs could run in and out of the garden. I began to convince myself that someone had been in the house, while I was upstairs and stolen my trumpet.  It didn’t matter how much Chris pointed out to me that this seemed unlikely as nothing else was missing, and how would a thief know how much the trumpet was worth?  I was in the midst of a complete meltdown and wasn’t stopping to think.  Chris and I went and knocked on the neighbours doors to see if they’d seen anything, which they hadn’t.  My dad still pays the insurance policy for my trumpet so I rang him to tell him to ring the insurers.  I tried to ring the police who said they didn’t take lost property reports anymore – it didn’t help that I didn’t know if it had been lost or stolen.  Chris was convinced I’d put it down in the street and just walked off because I had my hands full of stuff, but I knew I hadn’t.  I knew I’d walked in the house with it.

Anyway, turns out I was right.  I had walked in the house with it on Tuesday.  However there had been a whole day (Wednesday) between Tuesday and Thursday which I’d somehow managed to forget about.  On Wednesday I’d taken my trumpet into school to play but hadn’t remembered doing it.  It was like Wednesday had just vanished from my mind.  On Wednesday I’d been to work, taught a private pupil after school and then done a 2 hour live chat as part of my Poetry School course.  I hadn’t remembered any of it.  Once I realised that Wednesday did in fact exist, I retraced my steps back and found my trumpet in a cupboard at one of my schools.

I’d wasted the whole of Friday, which was the one day off with nothing to do that I’d had in ages on the phone to the insurers, on the phone to my dad, on the phone to the police.  It was a truly horrible day, and finding the trumpet, while it was a relief didn’t really feel that good because I then started to berate myself for being such an idiot.  I then had to ring the insurer and my dad and the police again and tell them I’d found it.  I had to post on Facebook and tell everyone I’d been a complete numpty.

In my defence, a new trumpet of the same model would cost about £2,200.  I’ve lived with it for 14 years.  I would say the first seven of those years – from the age of 18 to 24 I would have played it every day for three or four hours.  The bag the trumpet is in is an old leather gig bag, given to me by my old trumpet teacher.  So yes, I went into a complete panic, a meltdown.

There have been some good things that have happened this week though, despite all of that going on.  I’ve got a poem in the Best British Poetry Anthology, edited by Emily Berry and Roddy Lumsden which cheered me up.  The poem is called ‘The Knowing’ and it was first published in Poem.  It’s another poem from the sequence about domestic violence, which makes me very happy, because those poems mean a lot to me.

I haven’t been running very much this week – Chris and I went out on Tuesday and I got a really horrible pain in my right buttock (don’t laugh) and had to hobble back home.  By the next day the pain had disappeared, but I was too paranoid to run all week.  I went spinning on Friday and then had a little jog around the park and it seemed ok so today I went and did the Holker Hall 10k.  My aim was to get around the course without developing a pain in my butt.  I had a bad night’s sleep last night though, I woke up convinced I was going to be sick and feeling really hot.  After lying down very dramatically on the bathroom floor to cool down and then taking the bin back to bed just in case, I eventually fell asleep, but I didn’t really feel great this morning.

I told myself I would just jog around the course, use it as a training run.  Of course that never happens, and I did push myself round in 48:43 which is my second fastest time, but still a minute off my PB, but considering the week I’ve had and the disturbed night, I was pretty pleased with that and no aches and pains apart from the usual ones that come from running and getting out of breath.

I was fourth woman back which I was busy sulking about until I realised I was part of the winning women’s team so that made up for it a bit.

So that is my week – a bit of a tale of woe I’m afraid.  One other exciting thing that has happened is that something I’ve been plotting for a long time has finally come to fruition.  I’ll be one of four tutors running a Poetry Workshop Carousel weekend December 11th-13th at Abbot Hall, Grange over Sands.  Everyone booked on the course will attend a small group workshop with each tutor for two hours.  In the evenings the groups will come together for readings from invited guest poets and tutors.  I’m really excited about it because it feels kind of like a mini poetry festival to me and it’s something different that I certainly haven’t tried before, and I don’t think there is anything like it going on anywhere else.  If you would like more information on the course, have a look at ‘Forthcoming Residential Poetry Courses’ at the top of the page.  Because of a mix up with dates from my end (yes, more confusion) the original tutor, the fantastic poet Rebecca Goss is unable to make it up to tutor on that weekend.  I’m hoping she’ll be able to tutor on the 2016 Poetry Workshop Carousel  So the fourth tutor is yet to be announced, so please watch this space!

I posted about the course on the blog on Friday and already over a quarter of the places have gone.  If you are thinking of booking, please do so as soon as possible.  I’m expecting the spaces to go very quickly.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Martin Zarrop – a lovely man who I met about six or seven years ago on a residential course.  I know I often say poets that I feature here are lovely and they all are – but Martin has a kindness about him coupled with a very quick wit.  Since that first residential, I went on another residential course which Martin was on about four years ago, I’ve bumped into him a couple of times at events in Manchester and then he came on the residential course that I was running this year at Abbot Hall at Easter.

Martin has very recently had a pamphlet published by Cinnamon Press called ‘No Theory of Everything’ which I would recommend. Martin also sent me a very modest 2 line biography which I heartily disapprove of, so I’ve done a bit of digging to find something a bit more boastful to say about him  Martin says he is a mathematician who wanted certainty but found life more interesting without it.  He has been published in various magazines and anthologies including Envoi, Poetry News, Prole, Kaffekatsch and The Book of Love & Loss.  He was Highly Commended in the 2012 Ledbury Poetry Competition, and his pamphlet was published by Cinnamon Press after winning their inaugral pamphlet competition.  The judge Ian Gregson said this of Martin’s pamphlet:

A very intelligent collection that draws upon a knowledge of science to describe, in effective poetic terms, the impact of scientific thought and discovery in the twentieth century. Its mingling of science and history is especially telling, and it manages to make science compelling by showing its relevance to personal experience.

I’ve chosen Coats from the pamphlet.  This is a poem whose emotional heart is driven as much by what isn’t said than what is said.  There is a whole history and life in these four short stanzas.  There is a real sense of poverty, or at least having to be careful with money in the first few stanzas – the thin ankles, the torn pockets and the folding of the coats underneath the theatre seats to avoid the cloakroom fee.

The poem is full of specific place names – Albert Square, the Exchange stalls, Cross Street but for all its specificity, it is also very mysterious.  We don’t know why the ‘you’ is angry in Stanza 3 but this has the feel of a turning point in a relationship – the place the relationship could have faltered or carried on, and it carried on. In the last stanza, I don’t know what the ‘weight of purple’ is, although it makes me think of the Jenny Joseph poem Warning which starts ‘When I am an old woman I shall wear purple’.  I have no idea if this little nod to the Jenny Joseph poem is deliberate, but it certainly makes me think that this relationship was a long one, that the ‘Later’ of the first line of the last stanza, refers to years later, not merely days.  The last line, the idea of running out of evenings is unbearably sad and beautifully understated.

If you would like to order Martin’s pamphlet, I am sure you will make him and his publisher very happy if you order direct from them here

Coats – Martin Zarrop

Your cardinal’s coat flapped against thin ankles
as our breath frosted Albert Square.I wore the check Oxfam overcoat,
hands driven into torn pockets.

Arm in arm we braved the town drunks,
sat in row F of the Exchange stalls,
coats neatly folded under each seat
to save the cloakroom fee.

In Cross Street, a taxi u-turned,
almost ran you down.
You were angry with me.
It could have ended there.

Later, you walked more slowly
under the weight of purple.
We ate pizza, savoured red wine,
ran out of evenings.

Sunday Poem – Jayne Stanton


I’ve been in London this weekend, once again launching my book into the world.  I was a bit grumpy about having to spend most of Friday on the train because the weather was so beautiful in Barrow – very sunny and warm and the trains from Barrow to Lancaster have no air conditioning.  They get very hot and stuffy very quickly.  When I arrived at the train station, the server was down, so I couldn’t collect my advance tickets that I’d bought online.  The woman in the ticket office told me to get on the train because the guards were aware of it, but having come to the attention of train guards before I wasn’t having any of that! The train guards in Barrow might well be aware of the server problem, and maybe even sympathetic, but the guards on the Virgin train from Lancaster onward might not.  She agreed and gave me a letter which I was able to use to fend off the guards in their ticket hunts.  You may note a certain sarcasm in my tone when I talk about guards on trains.  I wouldn’t like to tar all of them with the same brush, and I have met some nice guards, particularly the ones that are on the Barrow-Lancaster train, but broadly speaking, it seems the further south you go, some of them seem to become a bit power crazed and frankly, unreasonable.  Anyway, sure enough, I did get a bit of grief from the second guard, from Lancaster onwards, who chided me for not having my ticket, even though I explained that I couldn’t get the ticket because the server was down! And even with my special dispensation letter as well! Grrr.

Anyway, I got to London and made my way to Brixton where my friend Jill made me steak and chips for tea which was lovely, and then on Friday evening I ran a writing workshop for Malika’s Kitchen, which was really enjoyable.  The group seemed really nice and wrote some interesting stuff, and I even sold a couple of books.  I was kind of dead on my feet by the time I got back so I went to bed quite early, semi-determined to go and do a park run in London.

I ended up going to Burgess Park Run because the one nearest to Jill’s house which I could have walked to, was cancelled because there was another event going on.  Jill has a vast knowledge of the bus and tube system of London and told me which one to get.  When my alarm first went off, I did think why am I doing this – but once I got going, it was actually quite exciting!  The only other Park Run I’ve done apart from Barrow is Skipton, when I was Ilkley Poet in Residence, and that was actually quite stressful because I was driving around trying to find it – it was a bit of a nightmare.  This was really easy though and I got talking to a couple of runners who were really friendly.  One of them was called Tessa and she was running at a similar time to me (well actually about 40 seconds faster but who is counting?) so I tried to keep up with her.  She just pipped me at the post as I was hovering between letting my awful competitive nature show or being a nice person.  So that has taught me a life lesson! Don’t procrastinate!  I was really pleased with my time as well – 22.42 which is a new 5k PB for me – my Barrow Park Run time is 23.02 but Barrow is very hilly and the Burgess course is completely flat.  Afterwards I was so hot and I couldn’t bear the thought of sitting on a bus so I decided to run back to Brixton with the help of my sat nav on my phone.

I got a new pair of trainers last week – courtesy of Active Cumbria.  They were running a Young People’s Poetry Competition a couple of weeks ago and my rather persuasive running buddy Emma asked me if I would be willing to judge it.  I did it as a favour for Emma and then on Thursday she turned up with a swanky pair of trainers as a thank you present!  I’m telling you this now because I tried them out on my Park Run jaunt and am pleased to report no blisters, although my toes did go bizarrely numb when I was running round.  The shoes weren’t too tight or anything, so not quite sure what happened there.

After the madness of the launch in Ulverston with the soul band and runners and poets and music teachers and pupils and randomness, it was actually quite nice to do a more ‘normal’ launch.  Jill started off the evening and did a great set of poems, and then Kathryn Maris, whose work I love read some poems as well.  I love Kathryn’s dry humour in her poetry and I could have listened to her read all night.

I won’t name everybody who was at the launch, but it was really nice to see some of my friends from down south who I don’t get to see very much usually.  I was really touched that people like Ben Johnson and Hilary Hares had made quite big journeys to get there.  The other big surprise was my mum and dad turning up out of the blue.  My mum bought ANOTHER copy of my book – I don’t know who she is giving them to – but she swears she has sold the other 7 that she bought at the Ulverston launch.

My mum and dad came and met me at Euston today and I dragged them along to Judd Books which I have to visit whenever I come to London.  They have a great discounted poetry section and they often get a lot of American poets that you can’t get elsewhere.  I always make a point of going now if I’m in London.  I spent £50 but that was about 12 books so I have now satisfied my book buying urge for a while.

Last week seemed to fly by pretty quickly.  We have had quite nice weather so every morning I’ve been sitting outside drinking a cup of tea.  Just being outside and able to hear the birds puts me in a better mood for work.  I didn’t know I would like the garden so much though.

I’ve not managed to do as much running as I would have liked this week.  I did an 11 kilometre one on Tuesday and a sprint session on Thursday but no long run because I’ve just not had time to fit it in.  I also had an end-of-term concert at one of the primary schools I work in this week so that took up another evening.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Jayne Stanton, who is another person I’ve been meaning to ask for a Sunday Poem for a long time now.  Jayne is one of my loyal attendees on the residentials that I run.  I think she has been to all three at Grange over Sands and it has been wonderful to see her poetry developing over the years and her confidence in her own writing growing.

Jayne’s poem Clothes horse, comes from her pamphlet Beyond the Tune, which is published by Soundswrite Press.  It was published in 2014.  I’ve chosen this poem for a number of reasons – I love the first line which takes me back to my childhood.  Although we didn’t have a wooden clothes horse, we had a plastic clothes horse and I remember sitting in front of the fire and giving way inch by reluctant inch to the clothes horse.  I like that everything in this poem has a personality and a will of its own.  The clothes horse ‘stole our heat’.  The clothes are ‘line-dried failures’ and stll-limbed charges’.   The electric fire ‘coaxed the steam from dampened spirits.’  Even the washing-up bowl is a pool.   I also like how the poem describes a very specific moment in time in great detail and how it moves from inside the house ‘on winter nights’ to ‘On summer days” in the second stanza.

Jayne Stanton is a teacher, tutor and musician from Leicestershire.  Her poems appear in Antiphon, Ink, Sweat & Tears, London Grip, Obsessed with Pipework, Popshot, Southword, The Interpreter’s House, Under the Radar and others.

She blogs at http://jaynestantonpoetry.wordpress.com/

I hope you enjoy the poem!  Eleven minutes late today – not too bad!

Clothes horse – Jayne Stanton

On winter nights, this wooden workhorse stole our heat.
its frame spread wide to shoulder the line-dried failuers.
Our double-bar electric fire purloined, it coaxed the steam
from dampened spirits, raised our hopes of extra layers.

On summer days, we pitched its A-frame on the back lawn,
lazed in army blanket shade, picnicked in coarse comfort –
a seersucker cloth, requistioned milk and wafter biscuits served
from doll-size plastic ware.  Teacup pinky fingers raised,
we made small talk.  Our stiff-limbed charges cooled,
skinny-dipped in a makeshift washing-up bowl pool

Sunday Poem – Michael Conley


While a lot of the country has been covered in snow, Barrow has been basking in winter sunshine.  We have had two days where the sky is that crisp kind of blue you only get when it is cold, which is my favourite type of weather to run in, when the wind is only strong in one direction, when running into the wind is enough to make your ears ache, but running with it behind you makes it feel like it has disappeared.  I clocked up 14 kilometres today with the Walney Wind Cheetahs and hardly noticed the distance at all and have spent the rest of the day in such a good mood because I felt like I was finally getting my fitness back again.

I bought myself a foam roller which is supposed to loosen up and massage your muscles and I’ve been rolling about the house on it every day and my legs were definitely less tired today.

This afternoon the husband went running with a friend and the dogs so I’ve had the house to myself.  After starting this blog post in daylight, I then switched the computer off because I realised what I really wanted to do was try and write some poetry.  My mum and dad have been up visiting this weekend and I’ve been picking my dad’s brain again about his job as a scaffolder.  I ask him questions and then just write down what he says.  So I wanted to write about that.   I want to write a poem about his first day at work, when he was taken on as a labourer and spent the whole day inside a steel chimney, passing kit up, when you climbed the scaffold in what you turned up in, no gloves, no boots, no helmet.  I want to write about all the things that have happened to his body because of scaffolding, his broken hip, his numb fingers, his loss of hearing, his aches and pains.  I want to find out by writing why he’s done it for nearly half a century – what it is about a job that is classed as high risk, that takes such a toll on the body, why he loves it.  He does love it, although he wouldn’t say that he does.  I know this because of the way he can’t take his eyes off a building that is wrapped with scaffolding.  Scaffolding has its own vocabulary too.  The planks of wood that are put across on each level for scaffolders to walk on are called ‘lifts’ which I love, because the word doesn’t suit what they are designed to do, which is to stay put, to stay firm and provide a footing.  But then of course, they do ‘lift’ up the scaffolders as they climb from one to the other.

Anyway, I have started writing about it.  I’d love to interview some female scaffolders, so if you know any, or you happen to be one, please get in touch.  Luckily for me my dad is very tolerant of me writing poems about him.  I think he also likes it because he gets a chance to correct me when I call tubes poles or poles tubes or make some other rookie mistake.

This week I’ve been having great fun getting started as the Reviews Editor for a new online magazine called The Compass.  The poetry editors and driving forces behind the magazine are Andrew Forster and Lindsey Holland, so do send them your best poems for consideration.  I’ve been getting in touch with publishers to request copies of various books, which is really exciting.  The aim is to review a wide range of books from a wide range of publishers.  So far I’ve sorted out two and a half reviews and the magazine has room for four and the publishers that have been covered are Bloodaxe, Smith/Doorstop, Smokestack and Cape, so a nice mix of independent and larger publishers.  At the minute I’m not taking unsolicited suggestions for reviews, so please don’t send any!  It has made me aware again, just how much interesting, exciting poetry is being published – tons and tons.

On Friday the soul band that I play with, the Soul Survivors did their first proper gig to a sell out audience at The Soccer Bar in Barrow.  I really enjoyed the gig, although it has been a strange process for me really.  A couple of years ago, I decided I wasn’t enjoying playing and decided to stop taking on paid orchestral work.  I used to get myself stressed and worked up about how good I was and finding time to practise to play to the standard I thought was acceptable.  It took me years to realise I didn’t want to do it anymore.  So I just stopped playing completely.  I stopped playing in a brass band, I stopped playing in orchestras.  The only time I played was whilst I was teaching and for a couple of years I didn’t really miss it.

I say I didn’t really, because it felt like something painful in my chest, whenever I thought about playing.  It felt like something unresolved and that was probably because it was.  I always knew that I wouldn’t not play forever.  A year or so ago, I decided I wanted to set up a brass quintet because that was the type of playing I used to enjoy, then about six months or so ago, I started playing with the Soul Survivors.

I really enjoyed playing on Friday – although towards the end of the second set, I started to get overheated and thought I was going to faint.  Apparently I used to faint all the time when I got overheated when I was younger.  The last time it happened to me I was playing with the Yorkshire Volunteers, an ex-army band at Pontefract Race Course.  We’d been standing in the blazing sun for a while in full army uniform, ready to march onto the race course and I keeled over.  I remember a kind of black curtain slowly going down over my eyes.  The last thing I heard was the Drum Major, Dave Rimmer saying ‘Someone fetch the horse doctor!’.  Hmph.  Anyway, I avoided fainting by dashing water on my face and my neck and it seemed to do the trick.  Apart from that slightly grim episode, everything else was great.  The gig raised £2500 for Barrow Communities Trust.

Story of the week which is a candidate for a whole new verse in my ‘Trumpet Teacher’s Curse’ poem?  One morning I got to school last week and all of the rather small children were gathered round the door handle to the music room very excited because there was what can only be described as bogies all over the handle. My friend who is a teaching assistant at the school was fleeing down the corridor.  I thought at first she’d finally cracked and was heading home, or going to the staffroom to hide for half an hour, but no, she came back with some cleaning stuff and sorted the door handle out and order was restored.
The Sunday Poem this week is by Michael Conley who I met during the Manchester MA.  I think he was the year below me and had a poem featured as the Sunday Poem back in July 2013, but Michael has recently had his first pamphlet published which is called Aquarium and was published by Flarestack Poets in 2014.

I really enjoyed the pamphlet and read it straight through in one sitting.  His poems are always suprising – there are no dull poems in this pamphlet.  I chose Krill Rations because I have a soft spot for penguin poems – Martin Kratz had a great penguin poem in The Rialto a while back.  In Martin’s poem, he is posting a penguin but the penguins in Michael’s poem seem to be in a lot more trouble even than being sent through the post.

The language of authority and orders is used throughout the poem – ‘Do not approach the enclosure’ – which is actually quite an ordinary thing to read in a zoo – except that we know we are in no ordinary zoo right from the first day when the penguins are communicating ‘their desire to be free.’

Michael is particularly good at using words which hum with energy, like in Day 2 when he describes the ‘keening’ of the penguins  or in Day 3 with the use of the word ‘advocate’.  I wrote ‘post-apocalyptic’ in my notes about this poem, then deleted it because I thought it’s a bit over-dramatic for a poem that’s actually wry and funny.  Typing this and re-reading the end of Day 7 though ‘Remain in your homes until further notice’ gives it that feeling that something awful is happening or has happened, aside from the penguins wanting to escape.

I think the penguins represent something else as well – maybe I’ve been reading too much Proletarian Poetry but I think they are a metaphor for the working class, and the voice of the unidentified speaker of the poem is a member of the government or the ruling elite.  It is Day 16 that makes me think this the most with those lines

‘The penguins have realised
that the concept of freedom
is more complicated than they thought’

Having said all that, the poem made me laugh the first, second and third times I read it.  But the poem is actually so dark! I love that duality about it.

Michael  is a 30 year old teacher from Manchester. His work has been published in a variety of magazines including Rialto, Magma and New Welsh Review. He came third in the Flash Fiction section of the 2014 Bridport Prize,

Krill Rations – Michael Conley
Day 1

Using a series of hops, clicks and honks, the penguins
have communicated their desire
to be free.

We have increased their krill rations.
Do not approach the enclosure.

Day 4

We are aware
that the penguins’ keening
has escalated.

Those exposed report uncontrollable sobbing
as they are reminded of all their unspoken
childhood sadnesses.

Earplugs and tissues
will be issued
to all homes within a two mile radius.

Day 7

We have treated the bars of their cages
with invisible paint.

You are reminded
it is a capital offence

to advocate on behalf of the penguins.
Remain in your homes until further notice.

Day 12

All children must be taken to the zoo to see the penguins.
Demonstrate how easy it is to come and go

Do not be alarmed if the penguins
fling themselves towards your famiily:
the invisible bars are electrified.

Day 16

The penguins have realised
that the concept of freedom
is more complicated than they thought
and have indicated

that they no longer blame us.
Administration will be handed back
to the surviving zookeepers.
Please rinse and return your earplugs.

Day 28

The penguins are completely silent.
They lounge like tuxedoed lions
and are no longer even approaching
the invisible bars

which we have been able to remove entirely
and sell for scrap.
This revenue will be given back to you
in the form of a small tax rebate.

2014 Review


Last night I got one of my many empty notebooks which live in my house and started to write down the name and date of all the Sunday Poets I’ve featured on this blog.  I wanted a record of these names to check I hadn’t missed anybody off, but I was also curious to check the gender balance of the Sunday Poets as well.

I’ve had a little twinge of guilt every now and then because I felt like my enthusiasm for individual poems was driving the selection of the Sunday Poets – which is good, but the downside of this is that I had no idea whether I had an equal number of male and female poets.  And I really want to keep an equal number really – so going forward in 2015 I will be keeping this at the back of my mind as the poems go up.

It was really interesting, and it was strange how some of the poems I posted in 2012 seemed as if I’d put them up only last week, I could remember them so well.  The Sunday Poem feature started on the 15th April 2012 with Carole Coates.  In that year I featured 33 poets, 16 male and 17 female.

2013 was the first full year of doing the Sunday Poem and featured a grand total of 46 poets.  This time there were 23 men and 23 women.  I felt quite pleased with myself before realising that really, this should just be a given, not something to be pleased about!

In 2014 I featured a total of 42 poets.  Only 15 were men and 27 were women.  I feel as if I’ve been reading more women’s poetry this year so these figures are probably a reflection of this, but I would like to keep the figures even in 2015, so I’m going to keep an eye on it!

The other thing I’d like to do in 2015 is to feature a full 52 poems and not have any weeks off.  I need to work out how to blog in advance and get WordPress to update itself at a specific time, which will help when I’m gallivanting off at weekends.

However this is supposed to be looking back at 2014, not leaping forward.  Here are a few of my highlights.

Top 5 Non Poetry Things I’ve Done This Year

1.  Started Running Again
I started running because superwomanpoet Clare Shaw asked me if I’d do a Total Warrior race with her.  I decided I really needed to get into some kind of fitness.  It was ten years since I’d pulled on a pair of trainers, but I joined my local ‘fun’ running group, the Walney Wind Cheetahs and started training in April.  Since then I’ve completed the Total Warrior Race, as well as numerous 5k Park Runs, three 10k races and a half marathon.  Running is definitely the best thing I’ve done this year.  I feel so much happier in myself since I started.

2.  Joined ‘Soul Survivors’
After quite a few years of being a retired trumpet player for various complicated reasons that probably need a whole blog post in themselves, I’ve come out of retirement unofficially.  Which means I’m only playing in the things I want to play in, like soul bands and brass quintets, and avoiding all orchestral gigs.

3.  Moved House
I’m so glad I moved house! I didn’t realise till I moved how lovely it is to hear birds singing when you open the front door!  I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere where I’ve heard that, although in my old house, the seagulls were very noisy outside and would often dive bomb you on your way to the car if their chicks were there.  Moving house was a hassle and as annoying as everybody said it would be, but it was worth it.  No more street fights in the early hours of the morning – at least not yet anyway.

4.  Holiday to Scotland with Jay-Ven Lee and David Tait and the husband
We had a great time this summer staying in a cottage in the north west corner of Scotland with David, Jay and the husband.  Yes, we were eaten alive by midges and intimidated by the red stags.  Yes we were often blown away by the wind.  And yes, there was one time when I may have sulked slightly because I lost at cards.  All the makings of a perfect holiday!

5.  Barrow Shipyard Junior Band
My brass band continue to make up for all the slightly rubbishy parts of my job by being wonderful.  This year they managed to win the South Cumbria Music Festival and the Kirby Lonsdale competition.  This Christmas they have been absolute superstars, carolling in the supermarkets to raise money for the band.

Top 5 Poetry Highlights

1.  Signing a contract with Seren for the publication of my first collection
I still can’t believe this is happening.  A big part of why I decided I wanted to be with Seren was because of Amy Wack, my editor.  Her enthusiasm and generosity, both towards my poetry and me has been overwhelming and it feels wonderful to have somebody who believes in my work.  But I’m also really happy to be with a publisher that publishes so many poets I admire like Carrie Etter, Deryn Rees-Jones etc

2.  Poet in Residence at Ilkley Literature Festival
Getting this job felt like a dream come true.  I gained so much experience and confidence from being poet in residence and there were lots of highlights.  Probably my favourite thing I did during the festival though was the one to one tutorials and judging the Open Mic competition.  Looking back now I think I was slightly crazy, teaching Monday to Wednesday then driving down Wednesday night, staying in Ilkley till Sunday and driving home again.  From this distance, even the exhaustion seems glamorous.

3.  Digital Poet in Residence at The Poetry School
This came before the Ilkley residency and without the Digital residency, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to apply to Ilkley.  Will Barrett at The Poetry School was really supportive and gave me great feedback on the prose that I was writing and helped me to tighten it up.   It combined two of my favourite things – writing and talking to people (online of course)

4.  Residential Courses
I know this is two highlights seamlessly amalgamated into one, but I felt really privileged to be teaching on the two residentials that I ran this year.  The poets who signed up were talented, keen and enthusiastic so we had a great week, both in St Ives in October and in Grange over Sands during April, and it was a privilege to work with Clare Shaw and Jennifer Copley.

5.  Aldeburgh Poetry Festival
Aldeburgh was a huge highlight, as I knew it would be.  My team won the Poetry Quiz!  And apart from that, it was amazing to be back.  I spent all my money on books again – I dread to think how much.  I’m still making my way through them all now, a couple of weeks later.

Talking of Anthony Wilson, in his Poetry Highlights blog he finishes

“But when I think of what poetry did to me in 2014, I go back to that morning at the campsite reading Ilhan Berk, the sky a cloudless blue and somewhere in it a skylark, briefly muffling the sea”

I was very taken with thinking of this idea of what poetry did to me in 2014.  I think for me, I think of those times when I’ve been actually writing, which have been less than I would have liked this year.  I think of that feeling I get, which feels like rushing, like I can’t write fast enough for the words.  It’s a slightly nauseous feeling, like controlled panic, and it is this which tells me I’m chasing the heels of a poem, rather than just writing my thoughts down.  Most of the time this happens to me in a workshop with other people sitting close by, and there is a strange stillness in the air.

So I’m sure I’ve forgotten lots of other things and this has been a hard post to write because I still don’t feel like I’ve summed 2014 up very well.  Whilst doing all of these amazing things, these residencies and working on my collection, I’ve had so many doubts about whether I could do any of it.  What I haven’t mentioned very much are the amazing friends and the lovely husband who often tell me to get a grip and pull myself together when I’m wallowing in insecurity –  people like David Tait and Andrew Forster and John Foggin and Keith Hutson and Clare Shaw and Noel Williams and Jennifer Copley – just doing the things that we do for our friends but it wouldn’t be a highlight post without mentioning them.

I’m looking forward to 2015 – as Roy Marshall posted on Facebook – the year my book is coming out. I’ve already got readings from the book lined up in Leeds, Halifax, Ulverston and Croatia!  So there is lots to look forward to.  I hope to see some of you in the real world during 2015, and thanks for following this blog, and putting up with my meandering thoughts!






Sunday Poem – Philip Morre


Tonight’s post might be quite long.  Lots has happened this week – on Thursday I spent a lovely day in Ilkley and met up with the team behind the Ikley Literature Festival to talk through my events and stuff that I’ll be getting up to at this year’s festival.  It was a really great meeting in that I came away feeling even more enthusiastic about the residency, less terrified and ready to get down to some serious planning for the various workshops I’m doing.  If you would like to have a look at the programme, you can find it on the festival website as a PDF here.

One of the slightly bonkers things that will be going on in Ilkley is a run followed by a writing workshop.  I met up with poet Keith Hutson and we went for a run to work out a suitable route.  Before I arrived at the hotel where we will be setting off from, I had it in my head that it would be a road run, just because that is what I’ve been doing a lot of, but then I realised (I don’t know how this passed me by) that of course we are right on the edge of Ilkley Moor, and unless there are gale force winds, it would be criminal not to get up onto the moor.  So the first 2km of the run will be pretty steep, and up hill all the way – but it will be worth it when we get to the top because the views are really amazing.  And going up means you have to come down, so after the hard work it will be a nice easy run back.

I’m also running a workshop where participants will be writing new work inspired by poets at the festival.  Lorna Goodison is coming and I haven’t come across her work before so I broke my book ordering ban (I’m currently trying to save every penny to help with house move) and ordered her book from Carcanet.  And then I thought I might as well order Louise Gluck’s new book as well – I don’t know her work very well but she was featured in the Poetry Book Society bulletin and the poem that was in there was really beautiful.

The other exciting thing that happened this week was that Amy Wack, my editor at Seren, sent through a draft copy of the cover of my book which made it seem really real which was actually much less terrifying than when it didn’t seem real, if you get what I mean.  Having a cover helps me to think of it as a book, a proper book and it is a can’t-sleep-because-it’s-too-exciting experience.

This week I also booked in three readings for 2015, my first three readings from the book which is also pretty exciting – one in Liverpool, one in Halifax and one in Cardiff.

I’ve had a nice weekend as well – yesterday I was up in Grasmere at Ian Duhig’s workshop who was brilliant as usual and was incredibly kind and supportive and interested and interesting.

The only other things I’ve been doing this week include a rehearsal with ‘Soul Survivors’ – the soul band I’ve recently started playing trumpet for on Monday, teaching a tuba lesson on Tuesday and my new business cards and flyers arrived for the brass quintet I’m running – the South Lakes Brass Ensemble arrived on Wednesday.  If you know anybody who would like an amazing brass ensemble to play at their wedding – send them my way – more information at our rather sparse (at the minute) blog here

Related to the brass ensemble I’ve also spent a bit of time this week sending emails to hotels to try and get in to play at a few wedding fayres.  I’m waiting to hear back from a couple of wedding fayres – I find this bit of time intensely interesting – the time when you are getting something off the ground, just putting hooks out and seeing what will catch.  I’m not a Marketing or Publicity expert of course so I just have to do what I think and learn from what works and what doesn’t.

Apart from all this, I went running on Tuesday (about six miles), to a spinning class on Wednesday and Friday and today I did about 8 and a half miles – very slow but my first time doing over 7 and a half miles so am pleased that I did it.  I’ve also been battling with house stuff.  I don’t know how anybody manages to actually buy and sell a house in this country.  I’ve never known anything like it.  Everyone I deal with seems incompetent and inept.  I don’t know how people don’t just give up.  It is too depressing to go into, but suffice it to say, we are still not in our new house and who knows when we will be.  Probably just as I go back to work they’ll give us the keys to the house which has a condemned boiler, needs rewiring, damp proofing, a new bathroom, pointing etc….I already have some friends lined up who have said I can use their bathroom so at least I won’t smell when I inflict my presence on all the children again!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Philip Morre, who I’ve never met, but who made contact with me rather randomly by email after seeing my poem ‘The Fall’ in The TLS.  He wanted to know if he could translate it into Italian and had a couple of questions about the poem before he could do so.  He also brought my pamphlet and then sent me a copy of his fantastic book which was a lovely surprise to receive in the post, and this is where I found the Sunday Poem.  Philip lives and works as a translator in Venice.

I have also just discovered that Philip has a website and a delightfully outspoken blog – I’ve just read the last couple of entries and laughed out loud quite a few times.  You can find this here

In fact the blog is called ‘Blogrant’ and when you click on ‘Blogrant’ you will see that the title at the top of the page says ‘The unwelcome opinions of Philip Morre’.  Anyway, read the poem below before you get to the blog.

This poem is one of those poems which has a line which I kind of fall in love with – the very first line.  It is one of those lines that you could use to start people off on a free-writing exercise – I don’t mean that it sounds like a workshop poem – I mean the line has the lovely climb and fall, a pivoting movement to it that seems to work very well in workshops to encourage people to spin off on their own writing – another example of this to show what I mean was a line that Ann Sansom once gave as a free writing exercise ‘It was the beginning of Spring’ which to me has a lovely falling quality to it – as if it is inevitable that you just carry the line on.

This poem is deceptively simple but right from the first line I think it wrongfoots the reader in an enjoyable way – I thought it was going to be sad, then by the end of the first stanza I realised the poem had a touch of humour to its voice.

In stanza 2 there are the lovely sounds of the ‘saddled stallion’s faraway eyes’ and I think that touch of humour, or wryness is in this verse too.  By stanza 4, the poem throws us back into the tone of that first line with another cracking line ‘it assumed all the sorrows of the ocean’.

I think the last stanza is my favourite – that lovely wistful ending with its unanswered question is paced perfectly – a deceptively simple poem that is rather clever and very sure footed.

If you would like to order Philip Morre’s collection ‘The Sadness of Animals’ which is a kind of selected, compiling new work and previously published work from pamphlets copies are available from John Sandoe, Heywood Hill and Slightly Foxed in London, the Albion Beatnik Bookshop in Oxford or directly from sanmarcopress@googlemail.com.


The Sadness of Animals –  Philip Morre

Surely we imagine the sadness of animals:
the hangdog  dog in the piazza less likely
in mourning for a late selfish mistress
than concerned who will look to his dish,
or at his age whether sex is history.

And the saddled stallion’s faraway eyes
are not seeking that track through the hills
to rampant savannah where, carefree,
his sisters cavort in cabals.  He can just see
(and then vaguely) the roofs of the stables.

But once off Waisai and its soft-coral reef
a gloomy medusa, draped purple and pink
on the current as if tossed on a chair-back,
loomed over us, barely in motion.

For that instant, though we knew it a
rubbery insensate processor of plankton,
it assumed all the sorrows of the ocean,
in a glassy precipitation of grief.

I swear that the tears fogged our masks.
This morning the colt jumped the whitewashed
rail.  And the dog? Oh, the dog still mopes
in the piazza – who can say if he weeps?