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Sunday Poem – Emily Blewitt

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Sunday Poem – Emily Blewitt

It’s been a pretty full-on week this week!  Yesterday I had a lovely poetry marathon, like I used to in the Olden Days.  I started off doing 5k at park run – I thought I would have a good go and see how much fitness I’ve lost because of this ridiculous IT band injury which is hopefully (touch wood) gone now.  I did 23 and a half minutes which I’m pretty pleased with – and more importantly no knee pain! Hurrah etc.

After park run I went to Grasmere to the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition reading.  Three of the four winning poets were there.  I enjoyed the reading, but it was bloody freezing in the Jerwood Centre, to the point where I actually found it hard to concentrate.  I haven’t been there for so long I forgot how cold it is – good for Wordsworth’s manuscripts but not good for poetry audiences.  I bought all of the four pamphlets though so I will peruse them in the warmth and comfort of my own house.

In the evening we had our June Poem and a Pint event at Greenodd Village Hall.  What a brilliant night it was.  We had lots of people turning up to read on the Open Mic, brilliant music from Bradyll Friends, an acapella choir and Emily Berry, our guest poet was absolutely brilliant.  Her first set was quite funny, she uses a dry irony in her work which I love.  The second set from her latest book Stranger, Baby I found really moving.  I’ve just reviewed Stranger, Baby for the next issue of ‘Under the Radar’ magazine,  along with another fantastic collection by Sabrina Mahfouz called How You Might Know Me.  

I went on a training course to learn how to use EndNote at the beginning of the week at uni. This software will hopefully make doing the bibliography and referencing side of things for my critical work much easier.   I’ve got to hand in 5000 words to my supervisor next week, and I’ve been steadily progressing with it.  This is a bit weird, but I’ve actually really enjoyed using EndNote to do my references.  I’ve also really enjoyed writing the 5000 words.  If I take out of the equation my anxiety about whether I’m doing it ‘right’, if I forget about worrying whether I’m any good at it or not, if that has nothing to do with it at all, then I’ve absolutely loved doing the writing.

Also at the beginning of the week, I had a meeting about the 2018 Kendal Poetry Festival.  Yes, it actually never ends, and although we are still finishing the report for this year’s festival, we are already having to start thinking and planning for next year’s festival! It was a really positive meeting however, and I’m already feeling a little bit excited about next year.  Last week, I was full of what I am going to refer to as festival fatigue – this week, I feel much better, more myself and almost ready to do it all again.

Mid week I had my Annual Review Meeting with the lovely Helen Mort.  Helen was so enthusiastic about my project, and it was great to have a chance to talk through how the year has gone. As part of the review, I had to upload evidence of what I’ve been doing, so I gathered together the poems I’ve written this year – I think there were about 27 of them, which I’m not sure if that sounds like a lot or not.  Helen is probably the first person to read them all together and she was so positive and encouraging about them that I came away feeling a lot more confident in my own work.

I found out last week that I’ve had four of my ‘All The Men I Never Married’ poems accepted for publication in the next issue of The Rialto, which I’m really pleased about – and I think that’s about it for my news!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by the fabulous Emily Blewitt, who I met when she came on a residential course that I ran quite a while ago now at Abbot Hall in Grange Over Sands.  I thought she was a fantastic poet back then, so I was really happy for her when I found that my publisher Seren were publishing her first collection.

Emily was born in Carmarthen, Wales.  She studied at Oxford and York, and has a PhD from Cardiff University, where she specialised in poetic representations of pregnancy in nineteenth century and contemporary women’s writing.  She has published poetry in The Rialto, Ambit, Poetry Wales, The Interpreter’s House, Furies, Hinterland, Brittle Star and Cheval.  Her first full-length collection This Is Not A Rescue was published by Seren a few months ago.  The title poem of the collection was Highly Commended in the 2016 Forward Prizes in the Best Published Poem category.

I took this poem to a session I ran with Dove Cottage Young Poets and it went down really well.  The young poets really liked the poem, and they wrote some fantastic response poems to it as well.  I really like the one line statements, and the way the voice of the dance teacher is both sustained and developed throughout the poem.  As the poem goes on, the personality of the teacher and the relationship between the teacher and the student becomes more apparent.

Everything seems professional until the sixth line ‘If you don’t like me smoking, sit over there’ which says so much in so few words! We know the student doesn’t like smoking.  We know the dance teacher doesn’t care, but not in a horrible way.  I think we get a sense of the time period as well – some time in the 80s perhaps, when smoking teachers could still get away with it.

That line ‘You’re blushing again’ is wonderfully understated as well, showing the growing awareness of the student of her own body.  I think the use of phrases and cliches here works really well, such as ‘If you don’t use it you lose it’ and ‘It takes a bit of grit to make a pearl.’

Although there is a level of inappropriateness here in some of the lines, things  I wouldn’t say as a teacher, such as ‘You’re as flat-chested as I am’ – for me there is still a deep level of affection there, particularly in lines such as ‘You remind me of me when I was your age’.  There is also humour as well of course ‘If I had my time again, I’d be a historian.’  The teachers seems like a real character, who both uses well worn phrases and cliches, and then comes out with unexpected and random things.

I would really recommend ordering this collection.  If there was any justice it should be on a First Collection shortlist but even if it doesn’t make it on to one, buy it anyway! You can get it with 20% off from the Seren website here.


Things My Dance Teacher Used to Say – Emily Blewitt

Chassés are chasing steps

To spiral, you spin slowly and trail your pointed foot

Practise standing on one leg

Use contrary body motion

Your arms should show control and musical interpretation

If you don’t like me smoking, sit over there

It shouldn’t burn

Keep your eyes up

You’re blushing again

You’re as flat-chested as I am

If you don’t use it you lose it

If you don’t click this time, there’s something wrong with you

You’re too naive

You’re not afraid to swing those hips

I was a loose cannon

I used to sprint barefoot at school

You remind me of me when I was your age

If I had my time again, I’d be a historian

Use resistance

It takes a bit of grit to make a pearl

Sunday Poem – Polly Atkin

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Sunday Poem – Polly Atkin

I’m writing my blog in the garden today.  Our ‘half a hawthorn’ tree (the neighbour chops it in half because it hangs over our fence) is valiantly putting out blossom on our side of the garden, just in the lower branches, so I’m hoping it will survive the assault on its dignity for another year.  This morning I woke up to the consequences of two dogs who were determined to eat sheep poo for the whole day yesterday – lets just say it took a good half hour to clean it all up and was not particularly pleasant!  I feel slightly guilty about all of this as I clearly didn’t keep a close enough eye on them yesterday when I was out walking with a friend in the Lakes.  I think we talked non-stop for about six hours, and clearly the dogs took advantage of our riveting conversation and cleared the fell of sheep poo so they could deposit it all over the kitchen floor.  All I can say is THANK GOD the husband was here to help clear it up.

Since I last wrote, I did a reading at The Square Chapel in Halifax alongside Alison Brackenbury and Roy Marshall and some great open mic readers.  I ran my Barrow Poetry Workshop last month – I think there were 10 people there from Barrow, Dalton, Ulverston, Kendal and Penrith, so all Cumbrian writers this time.

I signed up for some training a while ago at the university.  MMU has some great opportunities for continuing professional development if you are teaching there, and I can study part time to get a PGCE in Higher Education if I want to.  I went to the first training day on a 15 credit unit that would go towards a PGCE a week and a half ago.  At the end I spoke to the unit leader and she has advised me to speak to the course leader to try and get some academic credit for my previous teaching experience and my PGCE in Secondary Education, so I’m meeting the course leader next week.  This will hopefully give me a bit of a head start towards the qualification.

For the last week, I’ve been down in Ledbury as I’d been given a place on their Voice Coaching course.  The night before I stayed at a friend’s house.  The friend is a poet, and her husband is also a writer.  We had a long late-night  conversation about poetry and PhD’s, and confessionalism and lyricism and lots of other stuff.  I felt like my head was buzzing with ideas, so much so that I could hardly get to sleep.  My friend’s house is perfectly set up for being a writer.  She has a beautiful office filled with books and an acre of land with some very cute and friendly sheep and two large dogs bounding about the place, and a friendly cat that came and sat with me last thing at night before it got bored and went out of my room.  There are beautiful views over the countryside – and did I mention the books? It made me feel less guilty about my over-the-top book collection anyway.  On Monday we went to see a beautiful old church and  went for lunch and then they dropped me off at Hellens, where the voice-coaching course took place.

I must admit I was quite nervous and apprehensive about the course.  Although the poets I’ve spoken to have all been very positive about it and said they found it really useful, quite a few of them said that it was ‘quite intense’.  I know when I run writing workshops that when ever I set up a writing exercise about the voice or the body, it can quickly stray into some very personal and powerful material.  I’m also slightly wary about ‘voice coaching’ – anything that might involve drama work is basically my worst nightmare.  But I applied because I wanted to do something different and take myself out of my comfort zone and it certainly did that.

The tutor, Francoise had incredible energy and enthusiasm.  She was also incredibly kind and generous and astute.  It’s hard to sum up what the course was like because if I tell you about the parts of it that I can name – like the deep breathing, the using different parts of your voice, the stretching and bending, those parts don’t add up to what it was really like, or what it all really meant.  I have never spent lots of time with my self – just breathing.  I find it incredibly hard to do nothing.  I have a mortal fear of being bored – but I wasn’t bored, not once.  I learnt that when Francoise asked us to say something, to use our voice to make a sound, I was waiting until someone else spoke first.  What was that all about?  I learnt that I was constantly self-conscious, and thinking I know what people are thinking, when in fact, and obviously, I don’t.  I learnt that I use SO MUCH energy trying to make people like me, and I don’t want to do it anymore.  I obviously want people to like me, but I don’t want to waste all my energy on it – they either like me or they don’t.  I learnt lots of techniques about performance and energy and breathing as well and there were lots of opportunities to read our poems out. We actually went and read at one of the Ledbury Salons on the second night and listened to the poet Gregory Leadbetter who came to do a reading and then we all got up and read two poems on the Open Mic.

Normally on residential weeks they seem to fly by, but at this one, it felt like time really slowed down.  We were in workshops for the whole day every day, and it was both physically and emotionally intense, but it was also incredibly sustaining and thought-provoking.  So when the applications open again, I would urge you to apply.  It was a brilliant, life-changing experience.  I think the only pre-requisite is that you have to have a pamphlet or a book out.

So it was a great week, and I met some really lovely poets, and got to know their work really well, which was brilliant.  It was back to reality with a bump however – the train was late from Birmingham to Preston, which meant I missed my last train home to Barrow.  The train company put me in a taxi from Preston and I eventually got back home at just before 2am on Friday morning.

On Friday I had to get up early to get to Kendal for a consultation at the tattoo studio – I’m getting a new tattoo next Friday and then in the afternoon it was Dove Cottage Young Poets.  Then back home to catch up on as many emails as possible before collapsing in a heap.  Which brings us to Saturday and the walk and the six hour chat and the dogs eating sheep poo which I won’t go into again.

I found out whilst I was away in Ledbury that I’ve been given some funding from MMU to go to the  English:Shared Futures conference in Newcastle in July, which means I can stay for the three days and go to some of the other panels and events, as well as taking part in the Round Table discussion about creative writing as research alongside Emily Blewitt and Carolyn Jess-Cooke.

I haven’t mentioned running because I haven’t been doing any.  I had knee pain when I did a 5k run last week and it still isn’t right so I rested while I was in Ledbury.  I’m going to have a week of swimming next week and try and get into the physio if I can.  This knee is costing me a fortune!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Polly Atkin, who lives not far from me in Grasmere.  I’ve known Polly for a while now and I’ve been looking forward to the publication of her first collection Basic Nest Architecture for a long time now.  I really enjoyed reading the collection, particularly as I’ve heard a few of the poems over the years at readings or open mics, so it was like meeting old friends again.

Polly grew up in Nottingham then lived in East London for seven years before moving to Cumbria.  Her second poetry pamphlet Shadow Dispatches won the Mslexia Pamphlet Prize and was published by Seren.  Her doctoral research was in collaboration with The Wordsworth Trust, and the departments of Sociology, and English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University, where she then taught for several years.  She currently teaches English Studies at the University of Strathclyde.

The collection is full of poems about landscape and animals, so it’s no surprise that an extract of the collection won the 2014 Andrew Waterhouse Prize in the Northern Writers Awards, given to a collection that engages with landscape.  There are also poems about living with illness and a body that doesn’t do what it is supposed to do, and it is one of those poems that I asked Polly if I could feature here.

‘The Invisible’ is a fantastic poem.  It comes towards the end of the collection and it explores ideas around a shadow self, named as ‘Croneshadow’ in the poem.  ‘Croneshadow’ seems to have her own will – she ‘stumbles ahead of me’ and ‘Her mouth/twitches down at the creases’.  Croneshadow is both the speaker, and her shadow.  Croneshadow is the body that will not do what it is told.  The speaker says ‘I try/to right her but she will not straighten’.

By the end of the poem, we are left with the haunting image of the speaker walking along, her breath melting ‘the frost on the empty road’ and the Croneshadow walking ahead.  The feel of the poem is that the speaker will be left behind, and the Croneshadow will walk onward, into her life, leaving her behind.

At first I thought Croneshadow was quite an ominous, or frightening figure.  She is made almost grotesque in the poem by the physical description of the way she walks, and the description of her face.  However, the speaker obviously has sympathy for her, because she tries to straighten her.  Two thirds of the way down the poem we learn

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>She knows
more of pain than your charts can trace
but you will not acknowledge her>>>>>>hear her.

I then started to wonder who the ‘you’ is that this poem is addressed to?  Is this poem addressed to the medical profession, to doctors, hospital staff? There are only four uses of the pronoun ‘you’ in the poem.  I tried changing them to ‘they’ but it doesn’t work – it makes the poem feel more distant.  Is the ‘you’ people who are healthy, people who don’t understand?  The use of pronouns in this poem is very interesting, because at one point it feels like the ‘I’ and the ‘she’ are merging into each other (‘Her edges are blurring./ My legs are unravelling’.  But by the end of the poem, there is a definite distinction and separation between the two identities.

It feels like a poem that I will continue to puzzle over, and the other thing to say is that although I think it works really well on its own, the other poems in the book about the body add another dimension to this poem.  The landscape/animal poems are wonderfully lyrical as well.  In ‘Heron/Snow’ the first line is ‘You carry worlds in the cipher of your feathers;/sky and water woven together’.  Another favorite poem was ‘Jack Daw’ which is up there with the best animal/bird description poems.

If you would like to order a copy of Polly’s collection, you can order it from the Seren website and get a 20% discount.  If you’d like to find out more about Polly, you can visit her website which is https://pollyatkin.com/

The Invisible – Polly Atkin

‘The secret is to walk evading nothing’
???????????????????????– Alice Oswald

Croneshadow stumbles ahead of me>>>>>catching
erratic feet on the tarmac>>>>>ruched
as it is by roots>>>>>her left foot sticking
as if in mud>>>>>her stoop cranked up
by the pock-marked skin of the drystone wall
she is thrown on>>>>>the angle of light>>>>sickish
orange in the early night.>>>>Her mouth
twitches down at the creases>>>>>Bitchy
Resting Face>>>though you cannot see it
dark on dark.>>>>You could say she exists
in relief>>>>except there is none>>>not
for a structure like her>>>>misbuilt>>collapsing
inward with each jolt forward.  I try
to right her but she will not straighten.  The more
I struggle the more she looks broken. She knows
more of pain than your charts can trace
but you will not acknowledge her>>>>>>hear her.  Her name
is a slur.  Her body is carrion.  It is
too late for this.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>My blood too sticky.
Her edges are blurring.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>My legs are unravelling.
Her gown of bones is clacking>>>>>>clacking.
Will we ever reach home?
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>I sink in my clothes
till my breath melts the frost on the empty road.
She pushes ahead of me>>>>carries on walking.
Carries on walking.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Carries on walking.

Sunday Poem – Ilse Pedler

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Sunday Poem – Ilse Pedler

I’ve just got back from a run with the dogs.  I decided to run through the dunes and then back along the beach.  It has been a beautiful day here in Barrow – very hot and sunny.  I was running as the sun was going down and the sky turning red.  Although it was beautiful, I still didn’t enjoy it as much as I do when I go with friends.  Why is running alone so much harder than running in a group?  Is it because you are left to your own thoughts?  If I didn’t know I’ve ran 13 miles in three different races, I wouldn’t have believed it, from how tired I felt running along that beach back to the car.

I normally go running in the morning with the Walney Wind Cheetahs, but couldn’t go today as I had family visiting this weekend.  My twin sister and her husband were doing the Keswick to Barrow 42 mile walk yesterday, along with my husband so they came over on Friday night, and then got a coach up to Keswick, leaving at 3.30am on Saturday morning.

I must admit in the preparations for the Keswick to Barrow, I was quite relieved that I had a reading booked at Keighley Library at 3pm so I couldn’t take part.  I was even more relieved when they all started stomping about at 2.45 am and I could stay in bed.  I got up to go to Park Run and decided I would jog round and not push myself. Instead, I ended up running round with my friend J.  J hasn’t been running for a few months so decided to do my bit to get him back into the peak of physical fitness.  Think of the White Orc driving the other Orcs in The Hobbit, and you will have an idea of how Park Run was.  I’m sure I heard J sob at one point, but as I said to him afterwards, if you can sob then you clearly have too much energy!

After Park Run, I got a phone call from the husband, who had developed blisters.  Husband never gets blisters and had done lots of training so the sudden appearance of the blisters was a mystery.  I helpfully suggested that maybe he’d put his shoes on the wrong feet, but this didn’t go down too well.  I drove to Lowick with a spare pair of shoes, dumped them with my parents, who were one of the support cars for my sister’s team, and then drove like a slightly crazed person to Keighley.

There was a great crowd at Keighley, and a lovely friendly librarian running the show.  Carole Bromley had been running an ‘Exploring Poetry’ session beforehand, and I managed to get a copy of her new book ‘The Stonegate Devil’ which I’ve read a bit of in the sunshine this afternoon.  I did my reading, and a Q and A session and then drove back to Barrow in the hopes of seeing the husband and my twin sister and her husband finishing.

Sadly, Chris was too quick for me and had already got to the end by the time I got back to Barrow.  There aren’t even any photos of him – he is like the Scarlet Pimpernel.  I walked back from Dalton to Barrow with my sister, waving like the queen and stealing some of her glory for walking forty-odd miles, which she couldn’t complain about, as she knew I would bring up the time she pretended to be me at my book launch and was thinking about signing my book!

Poor Matt, my sister’s husband, got really dehydrated and collapsed dramatically against a wall about two miles from the finish.  My dad was with him and threw some water down his throat and got him going again and he managed to finish. So, whilst beforehand I felt no great urge to do the Keswick to Barrow, yesterday was such a great day that I did feel that I’d really missed out not doing the walk, so I’ve put my name down for next year.  My sister was raising money for Animal Concern, where she is the Manager, and will be looking for some more people to make her team up, so if any poets are interested in walking 42 odd miles from Keswick to Barrow, do get in touch!

I also did the Kendal 10k on Wednesday, which was really hard and hilly, but I’m aware that a) this blog has been too full of physical exercise already and b) complaining about the difficulty of Kendal 10k after talking about the Keswick to Barrow is probably not going to work!

Other than running, I’ve been doing other stuff as well.  Poetry-wise, I’ve been catching up with my submissions.  I’ve submitted some poems to the Mslexia Poetry Competition and the Bridport Poetry Competition.  The closing dates aren’t for a while yet, but I decided to just get it done.  I’ve also been working on a poem about my time working in a prison as a poet a couple of years ago.  I’ve tried to write this poem before, and gave up because it didn’t work, so it is interesting to revisit the memories of that time again.

I also had my first mentoring session with my new mentee, which was really lovely. So lovely, in fact that I ran over and forgot to go to Barrow Writers afterwards.  Whoops.

Next week is a busy week.  If you’re anywhere near Ulverston, I’m running an Open Mic at Natterjacks on Wednesday 11th May.   It’s a lovely cafe, and the Open Mic is really in honour of some poetry friends who are holidaying in the Lake District, and wanted a poetry event to go to.  There weren’t any, so I decided to organise an Open Mic instead.  The owners are letting us have the venue for free, so I really hope people come out, buy a cup of tea or a cake, or both, which I’ll be doing, and show their appreciation that way.  It’s free entry, and if you’d like to read your own poem, or a poem by someone else, you can just sign up on the door.

Next Saturday is my Barrow Poetry Workshop.  If you know anyone who is interested in coming, there are still places available.  A lot of my regular workshoppers are on holiday or otherwise indisposed, so it will be a small and select group this month I think.  The workshop is £15 and includes tea, coffee and biscuits.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Ilse Pedler.  ‘In the Balance’ is taken from her first pamphlet The Dogs that Chase Bicycle Wheels, which was a winner in the 2015 Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition.  

In the Balance – Ilse Pedler

We walked in silence that day
to Ladram Bay.  Tired of fighting
we threaded our way through the gorse
at the cliff edge, determined to admire
the rusty sandstone spires.

Then we saw it.  A kestrel balancing
on the back of the sea breeze.
A lightness of air infused bone, held.
Only the ruffle of wing tip feathers
revealing the difference between bird and sky.

We found ourselves standing closer
together, mouths open, staring.
It looks so effortless. 
It must be such hard work
we said, almost at the same time.

There are lots of great poems in the pamphlet, but I chose ‘In the Balance’ because I think, although it could be described as a ‘quiet’ poem, in its length, in its understated tone, it is brave in the way it tackles the complexities of relationships.  I think most people will be able to identify with it – the walking in silence after fighting with a partner, the determination to get some enjoyment from a day that has been ruined.  There is a real honesty here, and also a moment of revelation, I think.  This feels like one of those poems where the poet surprised themselves at the end.

 

In the second stanza and the first line of the last stanza, the reader is tricked briefly into thinking that the kestrel can bridge the gap between the couple but this doesn’t happen, as they both speak ‘almost at the same time’, saying completely opposite things.

At first, I found this really sad, but I think it can be read another way as well.  The couple do stand closer together, mirroring each other’s posture.  Maybe the poem is pointing out that even in the most perfect relationship, we can’t all think the same way, we don’t perceive things the same way, even when we are looking at the same thing.  Maybe the poem isn’t pointing out how incompatible because of their differing perspectives.   Maybe the poem is the beginning of the realisation and acceptance of difference?

I hope you enjoyed the poem.  If you’d like to order Ilse’s pamphlet, you can order it from Seren.

Finally, congratulations to my friend John Foggin, one of the winners of the 2016 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition.  What a superstar he is.  And as an aside, I’ve just heard an owl hoot.

 

Sunday Poem – Katrina Naomi

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Sunday Poem – Katrina Naomi

Today has consisted of an 11k run in the morning, and then stripping wallpaper from a ceiling in my living room.  We started stripping the wallpaper off the actual walls in this room a while ago, which wasn’t too traumatizing, until we got to the ceiling.  Why would anybody wallpaper a ceiling anyway?  And why would they do it 5 times??  The husband decided to use the washing line pole and gaffa tape it to the steamer so that I could steam while he stood on the ladder and scraped.  I can’t stand on the ladder as I get vertigo so his ingenious invention meant the end of my excuses as to why I couldn’t possibly help with this most boring of jobs.  I told him that every time I steamed another patch of wallpaper, a poem was dying, but he was deaf to my complaints.  We have finally finished and now await the whims of the plasterer to sort out the various holes in the ceiling and walls of the room.

So I haven’t done any writing today, apart from catching up with emails.  I’m busy planning for the Poetry Carousel , which will be happening very soon (August 16th-19th).  In case you’ve just started following this blog, the Poetry Carousel is a residential course with a difference.  It ran for the first time last December and was a success, with all 32 spaces being filled.  I hope we can replicate that again this year with guest tutors including the wonderful Clare Shaw, from Hebden Bridge, and international poets Tsead Bruinja and Saskia Stehouwer from Amsterdam.

Each participant will take part in a 2 hour workshop with each tutor over the four days.  There will be readings in the evenings from the tutors and guest poets.  Workshop groups will be limited to 10 people per workshop.  I will be releasing information about the workshops that we’ll be running next week.  The carousel is a bargain at only £330.  This includes all workshops, accommodation, and breakfast and evening meals.

If you can’t make the Poetry Carousel, then I’m running another course at the hotel with tutor Jennifer Copley (October 24th-28th).  This is a more traditional residential course, limited to 16 participants.  The theme is ‘From Ordinary to Extraordinary‘ and costs £424, to include workshops, accommodation and breakfast and evening meals.

Places for both courses have been selling steadily over the last couple of months, and the hotel have advised early booking to get the nicest rooms!

Although today has been devoid of any poetry, last week was filled with it.  I went to a reading in Grasmere on Wednesday, organised by the wonderful Deborah Hobbs.  Six Cumbrian poets reading – Nick Pemberton, Mark Carson, Jennifer Copley, Mark Ward, Polly Atkin and Deborah – all very different, but very enjoyable to listen to.  Then on Wednesday I went over to Lancaster for an April Poets reading – Carole Coates was launching her fabulous collection ‘Jacob’ which I read yesterday afternoon and couldn’t put down – more on that next week.  Meg Peacock was also launching her New and Selected, which was also very interesting.  One of her poems, ‘Thirteenth Night‘ is one of those poems which is enjoyable no matter how many times you hear it, like listening to a favourite song, so I was really happy when she read it to finish off.  The musician who was playing at April Poets was absolutely fantastic, and it would have been worth the hour and a half drive from Barrow to hear him alone, although sadly  I can’t remember his name now.  Mike Barlow and Ron Scowcroft, the organisers of April Poets also read, celebrating a successful series of events, before they handed over the organisers baton to the new April Poets team, David Borrott and Sarah Hymas.  It will be interesting to see what direction David and Sarah take the April Poets event next.

The highlight of my week this week was reading in Chorlton for Manky Poets, run by Copland Smith, another great organiser-poet.  The event started off with an open-mic, where nearly everyone in the 20 plus audience got up and read one poem, the only rule being that the introduction couldn’t be longer than the poem.  The readers were so well-behaved that there was time to go around again – it was a really varied and interesting open mic.

When Liz Berry was here last weekend, we talked a lot about performing, or reading your poetry.  It struck me when I saw Liz read that she really ‘inhabits’ her poems.  I can’t really describe what I mean by this, except to say I know it when I see it.  Clare Shaw does it.  Helen Mort does it, Steve Ely does it.  It feels impossible to put my finger on exactly what I mean – something to do with commitment to the poem, sitting inside the skin of the poem, speaking from within the poem.  Anyway, I want to inhabit my poems more – I think I do it sometimes, but maybe not enough, and maybe it is dependent on circumstances, whether I feel comfortable or confident on that particular day.  I think I must have done something however because I managed to sell 12 books and 3 pamphlets, which I was very pleased about, and I’m sure it is connected, the sales and the inhabiting of poems when you read them I mean.

 

I got a lovely package in the post this week from my editor Amy Wack.  She sent me copies of new collections by Ilse Pedlar, Judy Brown and Katrina Naomi.  I’ve managed to read all three this week and would recommend all of them. I’m hoping that I will be able to feature a poem from all three poets on the blog in the next couple of weeks, so you can judge for yourself.

I read Katrina’s collection first which is called The Way the Crocodile Taught Me.  I’ve been looking forward to this collection coming out for ages, as I knew that Katrina has been working on a Phd on violence in poetry, which I’m assuming this collection is part of. Katrina’s PhD thesis is very readable, very interesting, and available online!  You can find a link to a PDF of the thesis here, on Katrina’s website.

I am interested in the way that violence, particularly domestic violence is explored and portrayed in poetry.  The statistics on domestic violence are grim – 1 in 4 women in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. 1 in 4.  That means of the 16 girls in my class of little trumpet players, 4 of them will experience domestic violence.  That is heartbreaking

I’m glad it’s being written about more now, although I can count the poets who have written about domestic violence one hand.  Katrina explores how childhood can be impacted by domestic violence in her collection.  The poem that I’ve chosen for the Sunday Poem is heartbreaking – the violence is both subtle and explicit.  The controlling behaviour of the stepfather is detailed in the middle of the poem, but the atmosphere of threat and tension is set up right from the first line,  when we read ‘You lie underneath him’, and later, this is elaborated on: ‘his 17 stones/pressing down on you’.

The sadness in this poem is unbearable – the line ‘I can’t talk to you,/knowing he’s also there, listening’ contrasts with the beautiful image at the end of the words ‘in a flotilla of paper boats’.  I love this image, the idea of words being the thing that you send to communicate, and the feeling of moving on created by the idea of the boats.

When I got to the end of this poem, with its lines about forgiveness, I had to put the book down and catch my breath. The idea of forgiveness, of blame, responsibility and guilt is something I’ve tried to explore in my own poems about this subject, and there is something complicated being explored here about responsibility and blame, and victims and perpetrators.

If you would like to know more about Katrina, you can have a look at her website here. She has a background in human rights, was the first writer-in-residence at the Bronte Parsonage Museum and holds a PhD in creative writing from Goldsmiths.  Her debut collection The Girl with the Cactus Handshake received an Arts Council Award and was shortlisted for the London New Poetry Award.  She has also published prize-winning pamphlets.  Katrina is a Hawthornden Fellow and a lecturer at Falmouth university.  She is orginally from Margate and lives in Cornwall.

If you would like to order the collection, you can get 20% off if you order direct from Seren here.  I hope you enjoy the poem, and thanks to Katrina for letting me use it this week.

Letter to my Mother – Katrina Naomi

You lie underneath him,
a measure of mud between you.

This was our final argument – his and mine –
your husband/my step-father.

I’m told of a double headstone,
which I haven’t visited,

since I held my neice’s hand,
threw a lily and a tablespoon of chalky soil

on your lid.  I can’t talk to you,
knowing he’s also there, listening,

as he always did: the click
of the extension by your bed, the reading

out of my letters and your replies.
All these years, his 17 stones

pressing down on you, crushing
the soil between you.

I talk to you when I cross the Thames,
looking right to Shooters Hill –

Kent’s north edge.  I send you my words
in a flotilla of paper boats.  I forgive you,

I always have.  I forgive you
for marrying him.

Sunday Poem – Katherine Stansfield

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Hares I have seen – Katherine Stansfield

The first crashed a fence in a field near Shrewsbury.
It was after lunch of lamb slow-roasted for a night
and a day, its grease still slick on my fingers when she broke
from the stubble.  I forgot her later when I sat on a swing
and cried.  That time it was for loneliness.

The second raced the train taking me to Edinburgh.
A break in the hedge revealed for a blink the reach
of her stride, the gathering of feet beneath belly before
the hedge snapped back.  I forgot her later when I cried
into moussaka.  That time it was for loneliness and drink.

The third hung from a hook in a butcher’s in Ludlow.
Her legs were primly crossed and bound, her head
shrouded in muslin but there was no mistaking
the checked spring, the white flag beneath her tail.
She was too big that close though her ears were shorn
because what good are ears when paying by weight?
I couldn’t forget her but by then I’d given up crying.

That night she was in the mirror.  She pulled off muslin
to parade her holed skull, rolled her pale eyes and –
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<worst of all –
flashed a stiff grin of yellow teeth bared to chip any dish
I’d try to jug her in.  I went to bed without flossing.  I cried
into dry fur.  That time it was for everything.

Last Sunday I was at my friend Lindsey Holland’s house and we took her dog for a walk in the fields.  The landscape with the flat fields and the wide open sky reminded me so much of Leicester, where I’m from that it was a little bit painful, in that way that homesickness is painful.  Anyway, as we were walking along, we looked right across another field, and saw two hares, one disappearing into a hedge, and the other sat for a while before making off into the undergrowth.

They were far away and could have been rabbits, except it is impossible to mistake a hare for a rabbit. This unmistakable quality about hares does come through in Katherine’s poem.  In Stanza 2 we read about the ‘reach of her stride’ and in Stanza 3 she says there ‘was no mistaking/the checked spring, the white flag beneath her tail’.  This poem is about so much more than hares though.  It made me cry the first time I read it, which doesn’t happen very often.

This is a poem where what is not said is as important as what is said.  We don’t learn the nature of the loneliness that has the power to make the speaker cry.  By the second stanza things have got worse – the tears are for loneliness and drink. Something terrible is happening in the background of this poem, behind closed doors, while someone is eating, traveling on a train, shopping at the butchers.

The speaker in the poem cries for loneliness in the first verse, for loneliness and drink in the second, and finally, and heartbreakingly ‘for everything’ by the end.  What happens to bring this about? I don’t think it’s too dramatic to call it despair by the end.  What do the hares have to do with this?  Nothing and everything. The wildness of the hare in the first and second stanzas – crashing through a fence in a field or racing a train is partly tamed in the third stanza, with the ‘shorn ears’ and the ‘primly crossed’ legs but it isn’t erased by the end – the hare still has the ‘stiff grin of yellow teeth’.

This poem comes from Katherine’s first full length collection ‘Playing House’ which was published by Seren in 2014.  ‘Playing House’ has been on my shelf of books to be read for a while now and I finally got round to it this week.  It’s a great book with poems that cover a wide range of subjects – you will not be bored reading it!  You can order it from Seren and get 20% off as well.

Katherine Stansfield grew up on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. She moved to Wales in 2002 to study at Aberystwyth University where she worked as a lecturer in Creative Writing for several years before deciding to concentrate on writing full time.  Her novel The Visitor was published by Parthian in 2013. It went on to win the fiction prize at the 2014 Holyer an Gof awards.  Playing House, her debut poetry collection, was published by Seren in 2014. It includes ‘The woman on my National Library of Wales library card’, winner of the 2014 PENfro poetry competition, and ‘Canada’, Poem of the Week in The Guardian.  You can find more information about Katherine at her website here

Apart from reading Katherine’s book, this week has been another week of trying to catch up with myself.  On Monday I went to Manchester for the prize giving for the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competition.  It was lovely to meet the winner, Alex Toms and the other prize winning poems and a privilege to hear them read the poems.  It felt like meeting old friends again when I heard the poems and I will admit to being chuffed with myself for finding them amongst the 500 odd poems that were entered.  I thought reading that many poems would be hard work, but actually it was a real honour.  It felt like I was being given a window into 500 different lives – it was actually quite a moving experience, which I didn’t expect it to be.

This week I’ve been rehearsing with the South Lakes Brass Ensemble.  We have our next gig at Brewery Poets on November 13th, where we will be providing the music in between poetry readings by David Borrott, Kerry Darbyshire and Barbara Hickson.  I’ve had my Young Writers Group this week as well, a performance management meeting with my manager and my big sister, her husband and my lovely niece and nephew were up from Leicester for a brief visit.

We had a day out and got the steam train from Haverthwaite to Lakeside and went to the aquarium.  My niece spent the whole of the train journey writing a poem and apparently she carried on writing poems when she went to stay at my twin sister’s house as well.  My nephew has apparently written a story as well! Ha! My work here is done.  My big sister might possibly kill me if my niece or nephew become poets and she has to go to lots of poetry readings.

On Saturday I ran a workshop at Kendal Wool Gathering. It was a small workshop group, but it was actually really nice – there was lots of time to talk about poetry, to listen to what people had written and I met some really interesting writers.  Afterwards there was an open mic – again a small group of attendees but interesting people.

Throughout this week I’ve been cutting my milage back.  I’ve had sore shins, probably due to building up my milage.  I’m doing a half marathon next Sunday and every time I train for a half marathon I pick up some sort of injury.  I’ve been for two massage sessions though and I think I’ve got on top of it.  I ran 14 kilometres today with no problems, so I’ll just be cutting back now until next weekend.

If I have any readers that are within striking distance of Barrow, I’m running an all day poetry workshop on the 14th November which you would be very welcome to attend.  Please get in touch for more information, or have a look at the ‘Readings and Workshops’ tab.  There are about six spaces left.  The price is £15 and it includes tea or coffee and chocolate biscuits.

Sunday Poem – Stephanie Green

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Today it feels much longer than a week since I updated my blog – maybe because it has been a really exciting week.  First of all I did my first public reading from my new collection.  Although I did read from it whilst tutoring on the residential course I was running with Carola Luther in Grange over Sands, that was to a small audience of 17 people and it was a lovely, intimate atmosphere.  This time I was reading at the Heart Cafe, in Leeds – it was still a lovely, intimate atmosphere, even though there were maybe 30 or so people there – the room was full with just enough chairs for everybody.

It was a really special evening, not least because it was a bit of a repeat of history.  In 2012, the night before my official pamphlet launch at The Wordsworth Trust, Peter Sansom drove specially over to Leeds to drop off a box of my pamphlets at The Heart Cafe so I could do a pre-launch reading there.  I got stuck in traffic, and by the time I’d got there, David Tait had already sold about 20 copies of my pamphlet.  Peter White, who now organises the readings had bought the first copy and came straight up to me and asked me to sign it.

Fast forward three years and I find myself in Leeds again, just two weeks after the book is officially published.  This time I drive over to Leeds the longer way on the A65 instead of using the motorways with the wonderful poet Andrew Forster and my equally wonderful husband Chris, who puts up with us talking about poetry all the way from Grange over Sands to Leeds.  We went straight to get something to eat in a small Greek restaurant and were joined by Lindsey Holland and her daughter and then the lovely Abigail, who used to be an intern at the Wordsworth Trust, and so far has the coveted title of ‘Kim’s favourite intern.’

The box of books has been living under my desk for the last two weeks, since their brief outing into the world at Grange.  I’m not quite sure why, except after that initial impulse to read it cover to cover, I then couldn’t even bear to look at them.  Not because I didn’t like it, but I just wanted to wait to enjoy it until the reading.  It felt a bit like when I was younger.  At Easter my sister and I would both be allowed to eat half of an Easter egg in the morning which we would eat really slowly to annoy each other by being the last one to have any chocolate left.  It felt like if I got the book out of the box before Wednesday it would be like scoffing my easter egg in one go.

Anyway, we got to the reading with moments to spare because the restaurant were quite slow at serving our food.  Andrew and I basically ate a whole leg of lamb in about five minutes.  I felt really bloated and was quite relieved to not have to read till later.

Peter White, who organises the reading series had asked me who I would like to read with me and between us we came up with the poetry dream team of Andrew Forster, Mark Connors, Keith Hutson, John Foggin and I decided to prod Peter into reading, as he has always been a great supporter not just of my poetry, but of poetry and poets in general, and I thought it would be nice to let him have some of the limelight.

I was really touched by the people who turned up to the reading.  There was quite a few people that I didn’t know, but lots that I did.  When I looked round the room, I realised that there were lots of poets sitting there who I’d thanked in my acknowledgements to the book, people that had read various versions of the manuscript and sent comments and feedback.  Clare Shaw was there – the first person I sent the whole sequence of domestic violence poems to.  If she hadn’t been as enthusiastic and excited about them as she was, I would not have sent them to Amy Wack at Seren, telling her that I was thinking of making a pamphlet out of them.  Amy told me they had to go in the collection.  I’m glad she did – that is what an editor is for.  I can’t imagine the book without them now.  It would be like its heart was missing.  Ian Duhig was there and Carola Luther and lots of people that I’d met during my residency in Ilkley, people I met when I ran a workshop at Leeds Writers Circle a few years ago now, my lovely cousin Vicky and her partner Tom, who had never been to a poetry reading before and who I’m hoping are not too traumatised by the whole experience.

John Foggin nearly made me cry three times – once by saying nice things about me, the second time by reading an amazing, amazing poem that I would ask to have for this blog, except that it needs to be published and reach a wider readership than I do here, and then the third time by bringing an early version of my manuscript that I sent him, that he commented on that he has had bound in beautiful leather.  Flicking through it very quickly, one of the main differences was that this earlier version was back to front.

Keith Hutson read a fantastic set of his poems about Troupers – these poems are going to make such a good pamphlet when he puts them altogether.  It was the first time I’d heard Keith do a longer set so that was a real treat.  Andrew Forster was his usual poised self, delivering a perfectly balanced reading of his work, ending with a new poem about his father, which I really enjoyed.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten to mention somebody who turned up, and I apologise if it is you.  It is 11.15pm now and I have till midnight to get this finished, and I’ve only half told you about Wednesday! I wasn’t going to read from the sequence of domestic violence poems because they are by their very nature a bit grim, but then when it came to it, I felt like I had to, because they are a huge part of the book.  There will be readings, I think when I won’t feel able to read them, but this didn’t feel like one of them.  When I’m reading them it feels like I’m standing in a black hole, but I know the way to get out, and that makes all the difference.

You can find some photos of the event here

I sold 24 books on Wednesday, bringing my total sales up to 48. This means I have to write to Seren to order another box of 100 because I’m estimating I will probably sell the last 52 by the end of May.  Boxes of books are a lot more expensive than boxes of pamphlets, so here’s hoping I sell them all.  Failing that, as David Tait says, they make good door stops.

So, that was Wednesday!  The other exciting thing that happened this week was that I took part in the Dalton 10k race.  Last year when I ran this race I’d only been running for a couple of months after a ten year gap and I managed 56 minutes and 56 seconds.  Six months ago, I’d managed 51 and a half minutes for a fairly flat 10k course so I figured if I aimed for as close to 50 minutes as I could get, that was an ambitious enough target, considering I’ve been injured and I’ve not been getting as much training in as I would have liked.

I absolutely loved every minute of the race – and it is really, really tempting here to go into a blow by blow account of every kilometre and give you my splits for each kilometre, but I won’t because I understand, like looking at photos of other people’s children, it’s probably not that interesting for anybody else.  All of those hill runs Chris has been dragging me on so he could look at the mountains definitely paid off, because I actually enjoyed the hilly course. I eventually ended up with a time of 47 minutes 42 seconds, which I still can’t believe.  As in, I don’t know physically how I did that because I certainly haven’t been training at that speed or anything close to it.  Oh well!

On Saturday I volunteered at Barrow Park Run and then spent the rest of the day writing. I bought myself another folder and decided to go through the poems I’ve half started in the last six months and print out any with potential.  Every time I tell myself I’m not writing and then it takes me six months to realise I’ve been writing the whole time, but I haven’t been organised and the poems have been in a rather scruffy looking folder.  You will be glad to hear they are now arranged in my posh new folder, ready to be edited and then make their way into the world.  In the evening I spent time writing up the first assignment for the online course that I’m teaching for The Poetry School, which starts next Wednesday.

I actually felt like a writer for the first time in months.  Not because I had a box of my own collection under my desk, or because I’d done a reading and sold lots of books, but because I was writing.  I might be writing complete dross, but I was writing, for a sustained and concentrate length of time, which I haven’t done for a while, for so long, in fact that I’d forgotten how much I actually enjoy writing.  Even when the poem is destined for nowhere more glamorous than the bin, I still love being in that moment of writing.

Today I’ve been to Printfest in Ulverston with a friend and stocked up on lovely cards and postcards and chocolate brownies and cookies.  This evening I went for a 6 mile run with two friends to try and get some of the Dalton hills out of my legs – I’m not sure if it worked, the hills were definitely still in my legs when I was running!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Stephanie Green, who I met at Stanza very briefly after going to her reading, where she read alongside D.A. Prince from her pamphlet Flout.  I really enjoyed Stephanie’s reading and took the opportunity of getting my pamphlet signed to ask her if I could use one of her poems here.  Stephanie moved to Edinburgh in 2000 and runs creative writing workshops and reviews Theatre and Dance.  You can order Stephanie’s pamphlet from the fabulous HappenStance  and you can find out more about Stephanie Green here.

I’ve chosen the poem The Njuggle  from Stephanie’s pamphlet.  A definition in the back of the book tells me that a Njuggle is a ‘demon water horse or pony found in Shetland and Orkney folklore’.  I love the story in this poem.  The language that Stephanie uses, like the word ‘scry’ in the second line, seems to fit with that folklore feel and that man’s face rising in the mirror in the third line reminds me of Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Mirror’ when her face ‘rises towards her like a terrible fish’.  One of the things I love about this poem are the many wonderful words used to describe movement in it.  The piebald pony ‘ambled up’.  His muscles ‘shivered like water in the wind’.  When the Njuggle turns into water he ‘poured through my arms’.

I also love the idea of it – I’ve not heard of an Njuggle before, but the use of transformation in poetry is one I’m interested in at the minute and the story of an animal carrying off a human woman is an old and time-tested story.  The other thing to point out, which I’m sure you will have noticed is the wonderfully tight structure that holds this poem together.  It is very carefully put together.  The first and the third line of each three line stanza rhyme and many of the second lines of each stanza rhyme as well.

I’ve been reading so much Ovid recently, I can’t help thinking of it when I read this poem.  Stanza 4 reminds me of Europa when she is carried off by Jove in the form of a bull, and in the last complete stanza, when the Njuggle turns into water, it reminds me of the women in Ovid’s Metamorphoses who were turned into water to escape the unwanted attentions of one of the gods.

Thank you to Stephanie for letting me use this poem and do feel free to comment underneath, if you feel so moved.

The Njuggle – Stephanie Green

At midnight on Hallowe’en, my back to the moon,
I looked in the mirror to scry my lover-to-be.
His face rose like a drowned man’s.

At twilight I walked by the lochan in the hills
where the whaap’s cry wavers from the reeds.
A piebald pony ambled up.  His nostrils

pulsed as he blew into my hand.
Clicking my tongue, I patted his flanks
and his muscles shivered like water in the wind.

When he lowered his head, I knew I must mount.
I rode him through the night, gripping his back
between my thighs till I slid on our sweat

and he rolled me into cold, green fire.
I clung to his mane blooming with algae,
his shoulders encrusted with mussels and mire.

His hooves softened and opened into a fan
of fingers and toes.  Belly flattening, spine
whip-lashing, he bucked and shrank into a man.

As the dark fled, he turned to plunge me under
but dawn broke and he poured through my arms.
I was alone, calling, calling with no answer,

only the widening circles on the loch.

Launches for The Art of Falling

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Below are details of three launches for The Art of Falling.  It would be great to see you at one, two or even all three if you are feeling particularly keen!

The first official reading from The Art of Falling takes place on the 29th April at Poetry By Heart at HEART Centre Cafe,
Bennett Road, Headingley, Leeds LS6 3HN.  The event is free and starts at 7.30pm.  I’ll be reading alongside Mark Connors, Andrew Forster, John Foggin, Keith Hutson and Peter R White.

I will also be launching the book on the 28th May, a bit closer to home at the Supper Room in the The Coronation Hall, Ulverston, LA12 7LZ   After a short reading, I’m hoping there will be enough people to have a party because a nine piece soul band, The Soul Survivors will be playing.

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The third launch will be taking place in London on the 13th June at The King and Queen, 1 Foley Street, W1W 6DL – further details to be confirmed.

Sunday Poem – Mir Mahfuz Ali

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Evening all – it has been a hectic week as usual here in the cultural hot spot that is Barrow in Furness.  Working backwards, I’ve been away all weekend as an extra staff member on a residential trip for 30 secondary school pupils from a local school.  It was a slightly strange weekend as I didn’t know any of the children.  It turned out in the end that I had taught two of them in the past, and although they don’t play a brass instrument now, it was gratifying to know that I hadn’t turned them off music completely, they had just changed to playing different instruments.

On the Friday night some of the children decided to play Knock Door Run – I managed to sleep through it but the escapades apparently went on till 2am.  On Saturday the children were in workshops all day.  I wolfed down a very quick dinner in the evening and then escaped to Ulverston for A Poem and a Pint with the always fabulous Kei Miller, who I think I’ve seen read about six times now and I’m still nowhere near fed up of hearing him.

It was the committee’s turn to read on the Open Mic with the added treat of hearing Caroline Gilfillin, who has just moved to Ulverston and who has been co-opted into the Poem and a Pint committee.  I read one old poem – my cursing-all-the-children-that-have-annoyed-me poem, that being the mood I was in, and a new poem that I’ve been working on.  I also  managed to sell two pamphlets – hurrah!

I won’t give a fuller account because there will be a proper review going up onThe Poem and a Pint website, along with a link where you can see photos of all the readers and maybe some of the audience as well.

After the event finished I then had to get back to Coniston.  I sat in the lounge and had a cup of tea with the other staff, who were verging on slight hysterics by this time (non-stop nose bleed, possible broken toe, suspected sprained ankle – three different children) and went to bed at about midnight and this time, the children having worked hard all day they all went to sleep without any shinanigans

I left Coniston just after 3pm this afternoon full of ideas about running my own residential for my junior band.  I’d like to either run a rehearsal weekend to get them ready for conquering South Cumbria Music Festival next year or to run a Chamber Music Weekend where they are all put into small groups and learn to play in a small ensemble.  The plan would be to raise enough money so that the band could pay for everybody to attend, or at the least just ask for a small contribution from parents.

I went away when I was about 13 or 14 with Unity Brass Band to Shell Island in Wales.  One girl in the band went into the baby swing and got stuck in it and couldn’t get out.  My dad randomly had his toolkit in the back of the car and had to take the swing apart to get her out of it.  The whole band was camping out together on a public campsite.  I remember that we had a rehearsal in the middle of the campsite – I remember being slightly embarrassed but not really minding.  All the other campers came out of their tents to see what was going on.

Our conductor, Rob Boulter used to tell the story about poor Cheryl getting stuck in the swing at every single concert that the junior band did, and make her stand up each time.  I was about to write ‘Oh, for a story like that to tell about someone in MY junior band’ but then I thought no, if that happened to me as a teacher, it would be a complete nightmare and really stressful!  But I don’t remember any of the adults being stressed – everybody just thought it was funny…

So I got back today at about 4.30 and after getting something to eat booked a holiday to Crete with the husband.  I’m really looking forward to it, although I feel slightly guilty because I don’t think I’m going to be at home very much in the next month!

On Wednesday next week I’m off to Stanza.  I’m reading with John Dennison on Thursday at 2.30.  The programme at Stanza looks really exciting, and I’m hoping, hoping I can just get some tickets when I get there because I have not been organised enough to book any in advance.  You can have a look at the whole programme here and if you’d like to come along to my reading, tickets can be brought here.

I’m at Stanza for the whole weekend – in a moment of extravagance I decided that I would stay for the whole weekend.  Then I’m back for a week and then I’m off to Croatia the following Wednesday until the Sunday.  Then I’m back for a week and then it’s the residential in Grange and then it’s Crete.  The dogs may forget what I look like…

This week I’ve been writing an article for New Walk magazine and reading two books that I’ll be writing a review of for Under the Radar magazine.    I won’t say anything else about that because I don’t want to make my review pointless, but the books were so beautifully presented, all wrapped up in cellophane that I’ve already decided I love them and the poets would have to do something awful to make me change my mind.  Which hasn’t happened so far.  I’ve been doing a little bit of writing as well – I feel like I’m finally getting back into a habit of writing after a long spell of not doing it.

The summer programme for The Poetry School is now out.  I’m running an online course – The Act of Transformation.  Again I won’t say anything else about this, because Will at The Poetry School has asked me to write a blog about the course so I don’t want to pre-empt this.  If you, or anyone you know may be interested, do sign up, and please don’t let the fee put you off.  The Poetry School do have a bursary system in place.

The only other writing things that have been happening is back and forth emails to Croatia – as part of the Versopolis project, I will have a pamphlet of my poems translated into Croatian which is very exciting.  I’ve also had two offers of readings at festivals – one is not confirmed because the funding isn’t in place and one is top secret because the festival like to announce their line up themselves.  I think that’s it for writing news.

Running wise I have had to go right back to basics, starting like I did last April, running for eight minutes and walking for 2 minutes.  I did that 3 times on Monday and Tuesday and 4 times on Thursday and Friday and then today I managed 34 minutes without stopping, all on grass or sand.  Next job is to try it out on the road.  It is very annoying having to be patient, but I really don’t want to be injured when the good weather’s here.

So that brings us to today’s Sunday Poem which by Mir Mahfuz Ali.  This poem comes his first collection ‘Midnight, Dhaka’, published and available from Seren.  Like his fellow Seren poet Pascale Petit, who has featured on this blog in recent times, Mir Mahfuz Ali uses the animal world to express or explore trauma to the body.  On the back cover, the blurb says that Mir Mahfuz Ali is ‘reknowned for his extraordinary voice, a rich, throaty whisper brought about by a Bangladeshi policeman trying to silence the singing of anthems during an anti-war demonstration.

When you have this bit of information it makes the poem very immediate and shocking.  The  use of the words ‘teenage head’.  I think maybe one of the most shocking things in this poem is that the narrator doesn’t seem to change.  He is just trapped in the hospital bed, but the lizard does change.  He goes from being a simple lizard, to meditating, to finally providing a lesson in life ‘.

I really liked the line breaks in this poem as well  – to me they all felt perfectly in the right place and we get such a strong picture of the scene from all the detail.  There are many disturbing features – the ‘bloodless lizard’ the ‘cracked sound’ and the image of the lizard struggling for air.  The wonderfully vivid and brutal lines

Keep the foam clear so my voice doesn’t burst
through my trachea hole

like shrapnel in a pomegranate.

give such a weight.  Perhaps even more disturbing that that though, is the last couple of lines with the lizard as it escapes through the speaker’s throat.

I first came across Mir Mahfuz Ali in Poetry Review and loved his work.  I’ve been waiting patiently for his collection to come out since I read that first poem.  He was born in what is now Bangladesh and grew up in the early 1970’s when the region was struck first by a cyclone, then by civil war.  He has had  lots of different jobs  – model, tandoori chef, dance and acting.   He won the 2013 Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, given by the Poetry Society to the best poem in the magazine over that year who has not published a full collection.

I hope you enjoy the poem!

A Lizard by My Hospital Bed – Mir Mahfuz Ali

The mouth of silence trickles forward a bloodless lizard.
I take off my oxygen mask and allow

his cracked sound to crawl into my teenage head.
Like me he puffs for air.  I wheeze.  He pants.

He does not break his meditation as the hours pass,
my eyes still on him when he jumps on a thinking fly

with a fine open-air gesture.  An education by lizard:
focus, don’t rely on impulse.

Keep the foam clear so my voice doesn’t burst
through my trachea hole

like shrapnel in a pomegranate.
My eyes flick a question, city kerosene thuds

echoing in my head.  My friend says nothing.
Goes one step back, two steps forward.

How can I let him go?  I grab the fellow by his tail,
but he still escapes through the gap in my throat.

Sunday Poem by Pascale Petit

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Sunday Poem by Pascale Petit

Evening all – this will be my last blog post before Christmas Day unless something immensely exciting happens between now and then and I can’t keep it to myself.

I’ve already had one very exciting thing happen to me this week though, so it seems unlikely that anything else will happen.  A couple of months ago, I was invited by Ledbury Poetry Festival to take part in a EU funded project they are running in conjunction with 8 or 9 European Poetry Festivals.  I think it is a kind of exchange program – Ledbury have chosen 5 young/emerging poets to take part.  I had to send poems, biography etc to Ledbury and they pass all this on to the other festivals and there is the possibility that we might get an invitation to read.  I say possibility because it was made clear there was no guarantee – and because of this, I put it to the back of my mind and kind of forgot about it.

And then this Thursday an email drops into my inbox and I’ve been invited to read in Croatia in March 2015.  Cue much jumping about and dancing in my living room.  I hope I never stop feeling amazed and thankful and grateful about the wonderful things that poetry has given me.

Other lovely, but less dramatic things have happened this week as well.  I finally felt well enough after this long, drawn out cold that I’ve been moaning about for a while to get back to running.  I’ve returned slowly and it’s been quite painful in some ways.  I’m having to run slowly because I feel tired and run down still.  My legs feel heavy and I haven’t yet managed to recapture the feeling of effortless movement, the feeling I keep trying to write about when I write about running, when you feel that you are merely a passenger in your body.  Still, there are other things about running that I love – the conversation, the sympathy and knowing afterwards that you have just done something wonderful, if a little slower than usual.

Feeling better also meant I was up to driving over to Ambleside for the open mic last Wednesday, hosted by Andrew Forster and the Wordsworth Trust – although this was tinged with sadness as well.  I couldn’t stop worrying about what will happen next year at the Trust when their funding runs out – no more open mics, no more Tuesday readings.

Despite this, it was this night, which came before the email that invigorated me.  I’ve not read much poetry for the last couple of months.  Or at least not much for me.  I’ve hardly written any, apart from two that went into my sequence and my running poems, which I’ve been filled with self-doubt about.  I’ve not been going to my regular writing groups much because I’ve been so busy, and I haven’t been to any open mics for ages, so all the old outlets where I used to try new work out have been closed.

Wednesday was great because there were lots of poets that I enjoy spending time with – Jennifer Copley, Mark Carson, Andrew Forster, Lindsey Holland, Polly Atkin, Kerry Darbighshire, Barbara Hutson, Pauline Yarwood – I’m sure I’ve missed somebody out and if I have, I hope they’re not too offended.  The combination of these people and their commitment and enthusiasm for poetry, and just their general companionship I found so invigorating.  I read two of my running poems out and then tried my sestina out and got some lovely supportive feedback and went home and wrote till 1.30am in a burst of enthusiasm.

Then it was Thursday and the excitement of being invited to read in Croatia gave me another burst of confidence and I sat down again to try and finish the bloody sestina once and for all.  The ending had been eluding me for days, but I think I’ve finally finished it now.   I sent it to lovely Amy at Seren and she thinks it should go in the collection so in it goes – it is part of the sequence – the obsessive structure of the sestina fits the topic of the sequence well and my way of thinking about domestic violence, which is very circular and repetitive so I think it works.

This week work has really eased off in regards teaching as many of the schools I work in spirited the children off to the cinema or threw Christmas parties for them.  I have done two sessions of playing carols with my junior band this week – once in Tesco’s and once at Barrow Football Ground in the cold and the wind and the rain but apart from that, it has been a relatively easy week and I’ve had the time and the inclination to get back into reading again.

This week I’ve finished off the Thomas Lux ‘Selected’ that I talked about last week and I’ve read ‘Bright Travellers’ by Fiona Benson, which is a wonderful, wonderful first collection.  I’ve also read Karen Solie’s first collection ‘Short Haul Engine’ which I enjoyed as well.

On to the Sunday Poet – the lovely Pascale Petit – who I’ve met a couple of times when I’ve been to see her read.  I’ve been eagerly waiting for Pascale Petit’s new collection for a while now.  She is a really interesting poet, tackling difficult and challenging subjects in her poetry, but always with grace and precision of language.

I’ve been trying for the last ten minutes to sum up in a short paragraph the territory that Fauverie explores and have found it impossible.  I’ve started and restarted this paragraph six or seven times.  I think the reason I’m finding it tricky is that Fauverie covers so much ground – childhood trauma and family relationships, in particular parent/child relationships, an exploration of art and colour and throughout all this, a connection to the natural world, in particular big cats.

Pascale Petit is a poet who has her eye on the long view.  Her collections clearly stand alone and on their own two feet – she’s been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot prize four times now – but I can’t think of another writer whose seperate collections seem to enrich each other and the reader.  The concern with animals, art, trauma and violence thread through all of her collections but in each book she circles back to these same themes and tackles them in a different way.

Fauverie explores a connection and relationship with a dying father.  There are poems threaded throughout the collection which are portraits of the father – ‘Portrait of My Father as a Bird Fancier’, ‘Portrait of My Father as Saint-Julien le Pauvre’, ‘Portrait of My Father as a North China Leopard’.  Animals and birds are used as a way at getting at an emotional truth throughout the collection.

I was on my way to Aldeburgh Poetry Festival when I read this poem, on the train between Barrow and Preston.  It made me sit back and take a breath and hold it in.  And then breathe out again when I got to the end.  I found it so moving.  Looking back now, I think it’s the combination of the clear, precise instructions at the beginning and then that beautiful image: ‘Let/the sun burn the top of your head/as if it’s a candle, a whole day/for it to ignite’.  It was that line that made something move inside my chest.

There are so many beautiful, gentle moments in this poem.  How about ‘You’ve laid your feast across your lifeline – /a galaxy of mixed seeds from the bird market’.  I love the use of the word ‘galaxy’ – it could have been a heap, except it isn’t.  A galaxy is so much more accurate and describes the way the seeds are spread out.  It even captures in my mind, their different colours.

In the centre of the poem, and I’m sure this is deliberate, there is the line ‘Rilke is just a shade’ and again, this made me stop and catch my breath.  I love poems that have other poets, or other people’s poems standing like shadows behind them.  I’m not talking about plagiarism here, I’m talking about influence, and poetry conversations which can go on between the living and the dead.

I don’t know Rilke’s work half as well as I ought to, but a quick Google on my phone led me to ‘The Bird-Feeders’ by Rainer Maria Rilke.  This is one of the reasons I like poems that reference other poets or poetry, because I would never have found this beautiful piece of writing by Rilke if I hadn’t been reading Pascale’s poem.

It is interesting to see the angel in Rilke’s poem is transformed into a seraph in Pascale’s and then our gaze is transferred to the stone angel on the nave of the Notre Dame.  The solitary man in Rilke’s poem by the end is called an ‘old weather-beaten doll’ and this is picked up in Pascale’s poem when the father is instructed to stay still ‘until your flesh is stiff as wax’.

I love the ending of Pascale’s poem as well with its ‘messengers of darkness and fire’ and then the return to that beautiful image of the candle, which appears in the Rilke, but is developed and explored by Pascale to remind the reader that the poem is an instruction to a dying man:

‘They are hungry, and you
have only one hour left of that wick
in the centre of your being.
Let it burn down to the soles of your feet.’

Fauverie is currently shortlisted for the 2014 TS Eliot Prize and a portfolio of poems from it won the 2013 Manchester Poetry Prize.  Pascale Petit has published six collections, four of which were shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize – surely that is some kind of record? Three have featured as Books of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement, Observer and Independent.  Her previous book, What the Water Gave Me: Poems after Frida Kahlo, was shortlisted for both the TS Eliot Prize and Wales Book of the Year.  Pascale was born in Paris and spent her early childhood there.

You can find out more information about Pascale on her website but she also has a really interesting blog in which she writes about her work as a poet and tutor, often with travel writing and references to art thrown in as well.  You can buy any of her collections directly from Pascale through her website or from Seren, her publisher.

Thanks to Pascale for allowing me to use her poem here, and I hope you all have a great Christmas!

 

How to Hand-Feed Sparrows
(Instructions to My Father) – Pascale Petit

Stand at the box privet
just in front of Notre-Dame,
hold your arm high, your hand out flat,
the fingers bent back
so your palm is generous.  Let
the sun burn the top of your head
as if it’s a candle, a whole day
for it to ignite.  And when
a sparrow lands, keep stock-still,
even though the flame is lit
and your scalp is melting.
You’ve laid your feast across your lifeline –
a galaxy of mixed seeds from the bird market
and she has chosen one of the elliptical grains;
it glows in her buff and saffron beak.
Rilke is just a shade
but you know he’s there when she
takes off, then returns with friends
who hover and join in.
You can feel the draught from their wings
like a blessing across your cheeks
and the poet’s words have tiny claws
that have gripped your skin.
If the crowd could vanish, in the end
even a seraph would come down and feed.
From your post on the low concrete wall
you can just see the stone angel
high on the western gable of the nave.
Keep your hand steady, support it with
your other arm, until your flesh is stiff as wax
while messengers of darkness and fire
fly down to taste your offering.
They are hungry, and you
have only one hour left of that wick
in the centre of your being.
Let it burn down to the soles of your feet.

 

Sunday Poem – Rhian Edwards

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Evening all!  First of all, I apologise for the silence over the last two weeks – last Monday I moved house finally – we had our offer accepted on a house, and accepted an offer on our house in April and have been waiting to move since then.  All I can say is that now I know why the economy ground to a halt – clearly solicitors hold the keys to the economy!  Anyway, last Sunday I spent the whole day packing the rest of the house up – and as my poetry books were the first thing to be packed, I didn’t have any access to the Sunday poem – which wasn’t the best planning admittedly.

So this is the first blog post I’m writing from my new house.  When I pulled up this afternoon and got out of the car, the bird song was deafening and then I realised that the only birds I ever heard in my old house were the seagulls.  I like the sound of seagulls – it reminds me of holiday but I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere where I can hear birds actually singing.

This morning I went for a run with the Walney Wind Cheetahs and ran down from the house to Furness Abbey where we meet which is about 2 kilometres.  I’m thinking about doing a half marathon in November so I’m gradually trying to build my distance up – the problem for me is going to be finding time to do this – the only solution may be to run faster, which I had to do today so I could get back in time, have a shower and then get to Lancaster for 1pm to run a workshop for Lancaster Spotlight called ‘Body Language’ – looking at different ways of writing about the body.  We looked at poems by May Swenson, Sharon Olds, Fiona Sampson, C.P Cavafy and C K Williams.  There were twelve people booked on the workshop today and they were lovely to work with.

If you are interested in attending workshops and live in the Lancaster area, get yourself on the email list for Lancaster Spotlight.  They have visiting tutors who put workshops on every now and then and I think the cost to participants is five pounds for a three-hour workshop which is excellent value.

On Saturday I did the Park Run – sadly on my own as my ‘boys’ that I usually run with were unavailable – one was dressed as a leopard (don’t ask) and one was gallivanting on holiday.  I wasn’t going for a PB – I just wanted to get round in a controlled fashion and not feel like I was dieing but I managed 23.45 which in fact was only 9 seconds away from my best time, so was slightly annoyed at myself for not having a go, especially as, looking at my diary, I don’t think I can do another one until the end of October.

On Saturday afternoon the husband took me to Linthwaite Hotel for afternoon tea as an early birthday present as I’ll be busy in Ilkley on my birthday, which is October 4th in case you want to lavish me with cards and presents.  Now, bearing in mind I don’t like sandwiches I ate a ham sandwich, a cucumber sandwich and a salmon sandwich.  The hotel had also cut them into nice neat oblong shapes which may have had something to do with my enthusiasm for them.  The cakes were amazing as well and both stuffed ourselves silly so we didn’t have to cook when we got back.

I also managed to unpack my poetry books this weekend as well.  The new house has two downstairs rooms and at the minute, the front one is our living room and the middle room next to the kitchen is now to be my writing room – I’ve finally got all my poetry books in one place.  It’s near the kitchen and the kettle.  I don’t have to climb the stairs to get to it.  All very exciting.  And once the boiler man comes next week, I’ll hopefully be able to use the gas fire as well.

I’ve still got lots of stuff still to unpack, but we’re slowly getting there – and I’ve started writing as well which I’m very happy about! At the minute, the poems I’ve been writing are sitting in my notebook because I’ve not had time to type them up, but the fact that they are there, humming away quietly to themselves, makes me feel much better.

Last Thursday (25th) I drove over to Hebden Bridge to read at The Bookcase. Carola Luther invited me to read alongside Peter Sansom and John Killick.  It was nice to meet John who I’d not met before and to see Peter who is always great fun.  Peter read a fantastic poem about cross country running which I’m hoping to use in some fashion in one of my workshops at Ilkley.  It was a lovely reading with a big audience, all squeezed in amongst the bookshelves and the bookshop owner was very friendly and helpful.  I managed to sell 16 pamphlets – I don’t think I’ve ever sold that many at one reading, apart from maybe at my launch.  I met some lovely people afterwards who came and chatted to me, and some of my favourite poetry friends were in the audience – the wonderful Amanda Dalton, who was one of my tutors on the Manchester MA and John Foggin, regular commenter on this blog and Keith Hutson who is another running poet.

Moving on Monday made this whole week manic.  We didn’t get the keys till 4.45pm which was highly annoying and stressful.  We got the last box off the van by 11.30pm – luckily we had my mum and dad helping us, otherwise we might have been there till 3am.

Last Saturday I took some of the junior band to see Grimethorpe Colliery Band perform at Forum 28 in Barrow – absolutely amazing concert  and I would definitely go again to see the band.  They were really entertaining and it was great to see so many young people in the audience.  Last Friday I was the Guest Poet at Spotlight in Lancaster and as well as it being a great night with some fantastic performers, I also managed to sell six pamphlets, which took my total pamphlets sold to 500.  I’m on 517 now after the Hebden Bridge gig and some sales through this blog and am now officially sold out!  The Poetry Business are sending their last 25 to Ilkley where I’ll pick them up on Friday and are reprinting next week so hopefully will have some more copies soon.

I also had a meeting with South Walney Infant School staff the week before last to discuss ideas for a poetry workshop and I’ll be running an all day workshop for them around the theme of the Rainforest in early January, which I’m looking forward to.  So that’s basically what I’ve been doing – running, planning workshops, moving and unpacking boxes for the last two weeks.

I have my Sunday poems sorted for the next month or so now, so I’m hoping that will make it easier to keep up with the blog, even when I’m at Ilkley.

Today’s Sunday poem is by the lovely Rhian Edwards, who came to read for Poem and a Pint a couple of weeks ago.  Rhian stayed at my old house with us and was great fun, as I think you can tell from the poem.  I love the first line of this poem which is immediately funny.  The whole poem is funny in fact, even the ending, which is also, I think, a little sad – the idea of the Pest Controller saying ‘Then you don’t know what love is’  – what a thing to say to someone – one of those things that is an insult without the person who said it probably being aware that it is. I also like the over-the-top drama of the poem – for instance in the second stanza ‘Another one came to my bedroom to die.’   And in the third stanza I laughed out loud at ‘wondering/whether to give him a dedicated/copy of my book or slap on some face.’

This seems an appropriate poem this week, as I have found no rodents in my new house, and therefore do not (thank god) need to procure the services of a pest controller.  Hurrah!

Rhian’s first collection ‘Clueless Dogs’ is published by Seren.  You can find more information about Rhian at her website here.  ‘Clueless Dogs’ won the Wales Book of the Year 2013 and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2012. Rhian has featured on this blog before with the very first poem ‘Parent’s Evening’ from her first collection but I loved her performance of this poem so much I wanted to put it up here.

Pest Controller – Rhian Edwards

My offer of tea was cryptic code
for marriage.  He politely declined,
obliging me to make small talk
about infestations.  I showed him the oven,
where I accidentally roasted a mouse
and told him I drowned one in a bin
when I caught it pissing blood.

Another one came to my bedroom to die.
I explained I wrote poems to excuse
my bedlam hair, ramshackle clobber
and foul play with rodents.
What kind of stuff do you write? He asked,
sticking his head in the bathroom cupboard
while fiddling for daydreaming vermin.

Love poems, the dark side, I said
hounding him round the house, wondering
whether to give him a dedicated
copy of my book or slap on some face.
Then you don’t know what love is, he said,
shaking poisoned grain into boxes
as if he were emptying a sweet jar.