Tag Archives: seren

Launches for The Art of Falling



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.


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


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

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


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.

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?





Sunday Poem – Judy Brown


Evening everybody!  I am pleased to report that I am writing this blog post on  my brand swanky new laptop!  My little netbook finally died last week after five faithful years of service.  My PC died about a month ago after about eight years of loyalty.  This has happened at a particularly inconvenient time as I have lots of writing ‘projects’ to do at the minute!  So this morning, I dragged the hubby and my parents round the shops to look for a laptop.

Part of me thinks this is very extravagant, to just go out and buy a laptop – especially now, when from September I will be down to three days a week as a music teacher, and I could technically share the husband’s laptop – except that I am rubbish at sharing (this comes from being a twin, I think).  Basically my idea of sharing is that the husband can use the laptop if I don’t need it.  Which doesn’t strictly stick to the definition of sharing at all really, does it?

I would also like to share a secret with you all today.  I say ‘you all’ – I have no idea who is reading this apart from my mum and dad.  But yesterday I felt like a writer.  This was a Big Deal.  I’ve never really felt like one before.  It happened like this – I emailed Acumen, a lovely poetry magazine which I urge you to have a look at if you are not aware of it already – www.acumen-poetry.co.uk to ask if they would be interested in a review I was writing about Fiona Sampson’s new book ‘Coleshill’.  I’ve had one review published by Acumen a couple of issues ago when I reviewed Myra Schneider’s pamphlet “What Women Want” so this wasn’t a completely random request.  I have no idea by the way, if this is the usual way of getting reviews published – I thought that the normal thing was to wait to be asked to do a review – but writing, very politely to an editor to ask if they are interested in a review seems to work, because I got a nice email back from Glyn Pursglove, the reviews editor, the next day, to say yes, and if I could get it to him by the end of the month it could go in the next issue.

And it was this simple thing that gave me a little fizz of excitement in my stomach, and made me think ‘I’m a writer’.  And then it faded away, but that was enough to make me think ‘screw it I need, no not want, need a laptop.’  So I think I’ve hit upon the answer to saving the economy – which is clearly – give money to wonderful magazines like Acumen, who will then pay poets like me to write reviews, which will then give them a burst of confidence and propel them to the nearest well known computer selling store and buy a shiny new laptop.  Economy – solved.

Anyway, I digress, greatly.  This week as some of you my twin sister has being doing the Cumbria Coastal Walk with her friend.  They are raising money for Animal Concern, and if you did feel moved to send them some money for sponsorship, it is not too late!  You will find the info at http://www.animalconcernwest.co.uk/#/201307-charity-walk/4577022400

The plan was to walk 100 miles – from Grange over Sands to Workington.  My sister’s friend developed huge and evil-looking blisters that managed to consume half of the sand in the estuary they waded over, and so she was only able to do half days for the last couple of days of the walk, but she then morphed into support car driver for the rest of the walk, so she did not just put her crippled feet up!  The sister managed the whole walk – I did bits of it with her – and she had aggressive bullocks, missing paths, flooded paths, barbed wire fences that were not supposed to be there, high tides, jellyfish, diversions, brambles, runaway dogs and general being knackered to contend with, but am very proud to report that she did it all, and mostly without losing her temper!

In my previous post I was so tired because I’d just finished Day 1 – 17 miles.  I also did about ten miles of Day 2 which was Ulverston to Barrow.  Unfortunately Miles, one of my border terriers, stepped on a jellyfish and started having a very extreme reaction and I had to rush him to the vets so he could have a steroid injection, which was very distressing for him and me!  This all happened in 28 degree heat as well so it was just awful.  Anyway, it took about an hour and then he eventually calmed down and he was a lot better then – and is now fully recovered from his trauma!

So a lot of the week has been taken up with going back and forth and doing bits of the Cumbria Coastal Way, however on Saturday I went to the Theatre By The Lake in Keswick to meet up with the Alligator Club http://thealligatorclub.co.uk/

I think I’ve mentioned this before but I am working with two playwrights from The Alligator Club, alongside another local Cumbrian writer, Ian Hill, to write a play to be performed at Theatre by the Lake.  You can find information about it here – http://www.theatrebythelake.com/production/10963/Cartographers

The meeting went really well, and it’s really exciting to be involved – and it’s also going to be a completely different way of working to what I’m used to.  But this can only be a Good Thing.

In fact, I’m hoping to be doing lots of work on it in the next couple of days as on Thursday I’m swanning off to Ireland to the Fermoy Poetry Festival.  I’m going to try and blog before then, but there may be a brief hiatus in the Sunday poem whilst I’m away – I don’t know if I will have time to access a computer.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Judy Brown and is taken from her first collection ‘Loudness’, published by Seren.  You can order a copy of Loudness here http://www.serenbooks.com/book/loudness/9781854115478 and you really should – it’s an excellent book.  I read it before I met Judy and I enjoyed it, but re reading it again, with the intention of picking a poem for the blog, I enjoyed it even more.  I think this is because I can hear Judy’s voice in my head now – I should explain I’m not hearing voices, Judy is Poet in Residence at The Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere.

I picked this poem because it is about Angels.  Now, normally poems about Angels make me groan, because there are so many, and they are normally so predictable.  I feel the same way about poems about angels as I do about poems about children.  I expect them to be bad.  However.  This year I have discovered Kathryn Maris’s wonderful poems about children (also a Seren poet) and now, I discover a wonderful, fresh, invigorating look at Angels by Judy.  And I like being proved wrong about poetry, and this poem completely took me by surprise.

It is full of a dry humour but also beautifully lyric language; ‘When I turned/my face from flying,’ and ‘You never forget the standing start’.

My other favourite poems in the book were ‘The P45’ which finishes with ‘What else do I remember?/The revolving door twirling./My bent, martyr’s neck.’  I also really liked ‘In Praise of Greek Dogs’ and ‘On the First Night in the Cottage You Said It Was A Mistake for Me to Buy’ and if that title doesn’t make you want to buy the book, you are made of stone!  I should say that ‘Loudness’ was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the Fenton Aldeburgh Prize.  The other thing I should say is that there are some fantastic ‘holiday’ poems in the book too – again, a topic which handled by a lesser poet, can be as bad as being forced to look at someone’s holiday snaps, but Judy’s holiday poems are really, really good.

Here is the poem! I hope you enjoy.

The Ex-Angel – Judy Brown

My ballroom shoulders were ruined
by those wings.  Now there’s hardly a scar,
just a sheen on the skin as if the light
falling right there had passed
through frosted glass.  As it has.

I imagined them taking their leave
of my back: the exit hole fist-sized;
paramedics; a tussle of sinew and rag.
But it wasn’t like that.  When I turned
my face from flying, they shrivelled

like spiderplants freeing their young.
Feathers husked into onion-skin,
flaked, choking the shower.
You’ll miss the sky, more than one
person said.  They were wrong.

These days the strength of my body
is held in my legs and I like it that way.
I hung long enough like a doll
from the beating white engines of God.
(That kind of talk does no good.)

You never forget the standing start,
the torque of the upward stroke,
the rowing into the sun.  Yet I’d rather
sweat here, down on the dance floor,
tasting the street – if it weren’t for the birds.

When I see a swan, like a last clench of snow
at winter’s end, my eyes drizzle
melted light, my nose starts to drip.
Whatever I’ve done, it’s holy water still.
I dispose of the tissues with due respect.

Sunday Poem – Kathryn Maris


I have a feeling that this may be a bit of a long blog post – this week has been full of lovely happenings.

On Monday I got the train to London and read at the Troubadour.  If I lived in London, I would be at the Troubadour for the readings all the time.  Next Monday, Paul Stephenson, a fantastic poet who is on the Writing School with me is reading alongside Simon Armitage and Frieda Hughes – what a fantastic reading that will be.  You can get information about the readings from the website http://www.coffeehousepoetry.org/

Anyway, on Monday I was reading with six other poets – Claire Dyer, who I went on a course at Ty Newydd with once.  Claire has just had her first collection ‘Eleven Rooms’ published by Two Rivers Press.  Also reading was Janet Rogerson, who has had a Sunday Poem on this blog, Kathryn Maris, Joshua Weiner and Margot Farrington.

I really enjoyed the reading – I’d only heard Janet read once and was looking forward to hearing her again – all the other poets I’d not heard read, which is quite unusual for me – most poetry readings I go to now, I’ve heard the poets before or at least read their books, but I hadn’t read any of Joshua Weiner or Kathryn Maris.

And I loved both of them!  I knew I’d love Claire’s poetry because I’d heard her poetry on a course, but Kathryn and Joshua were a new discovery.  Isn’t it nice when that happens?  I immediately kind of fell in love with their poetry – so went home with three new books that night.

A friend of mine from music college, Andrew Lines even appeared!  We haven’t seen each other for about ten years – Andy was on the guitar making course at Leeds College of Music whilst I was doing my degree there but we met because we worked behind the college bar together.  It was really nice to see him, and for him to make the effort to come to a poetry reading as well.

We were trying to work out when the last time was that we’d seen each other and Andy said ‘I think we were in the Atrium ( a nightclub in Leeds) and you were snogging some bloke in a beanie!’  Eh hem.  Yes, well.  Oh to be young again!

I stayed up with Jill till 2am then I remembered that I had to get up at some ungodly hour the next day to get back to work.  When my alarm went off at 6.30am the next day I was kicking myself.  Anyway, I got my 7.30 train from Euston and by 11am I was back in Barrow for an afternoon of teaching recorder and a music concert at one of my schools involving about 100 children.

Tuesday night I carried on my poetry obsession and went up to Grasmere to hear Hannah Lowe and Bill Herbert.  I must admit I was a little tired by Tuesday evening and I did think about not going, but I’m so glad I did.  It was one of the most entertaining readings I’ve been to for a long time – Bill and Hannah were on great form.  I’m also really looking forward to this Saturday when we are having Hannah read for us at Poem and A Pint at Rampside Village Hall in Barrow.

I also got a really exciting email this week as well from the Alligator Club.  They are a group of North West playwrights who have been putting on pop up productions in theatres around the North West.  A couple of months ago I went up to Keswick for a meeting/idea sharing session with the Alligator Club and some other local writers – mainly playwrights.  The Alligator Club wanted some local writers to work with to put on their next pop up production at the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick.  It was a nice day and we had to send our work to them afterwards.  I didn’t really expect anything to come from it – because I thought I was slightly disadvantaged – not being a playwright – but apparently not!  I’m going to be on the project – I don’t know much about it at the minute – other than it is paid and it is going to be exciting and the production will be taking place in September – I will update here when I know more.  It’s the first time I’ve done anything like this, so I’m really excited about it – even though I don’t know exactly what it is going to be like yet.

So today’s Sunday poem is by Kathryn Maris who I read with on Monday.  Kathryn is an American poet who now lives in the UK.  Her first collection over here ‘God Loves You’ is published by Seren.  Her first book was published in the US by Four Way Books and is called ‘The Book of Jobs’.  She has won an Academy of American Poets University and College Prize and a Pushcart Prize.    Her reading was really, really good – she is funny and dry and I could have listed to her for double the length of time.

I’ve chosen ‘On Returning a Child to Her Mother at the Natural History Museum’ for a number of reasons.  I think it demonstrates one of the main concerns of Kathryn’s work in that it shows how she is playing with and subverting the use of the ‘I’ voice in the poem – she uses her own name in the poem, yet this poem comes after another poem in the collection ‘This is a Confessional Poem’ so I think the whole poem is very tongue in cheek – in that the ‘I’ voice of the poem is not really Kathryn Maris – it is a constructed voice.  Maybe that does not make much sense, or maybe I’m not sure what I mean.

It also reminds me of ‘The Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning – the tone of it – he starts off ‘Here’s my last duchess’ and this chimes with the ending of Kathryn’s poem – ‘Here’s Emily’.  I found that poem echoing in my mind whilst I was reading this one – something about the tone and the pacing and the way the speaker in the poem reveals more about themselves than they mean to.

It is also incredibly funny and I love the rhythm and pacing of the poem.  I love how I feel sympathy and empathy with the voice of the poem, even while the narrator is being cruel, and admitting her failures!

There is also a fantastic sestina in the book called ‘Darling, Would You Pick up those Books?’.  She read this on Monday, but it wasn’t till I read it through that I slowly realised it was a sestina.  I normally hate sestinas – I get very impatient with them and bored – but maybe it is rubbish sestinas that I get impatient and bored with because I’m kind of in love with this poem.

You can buy the book from Seren here  http://www.serenbooks.com/book/god-loves-you/9781781720356

 This poem was first published in the anthology ‘Tokens for the Foundlings’ also published by Seren.  You can get a copy of that anthology here http://www.serenbooks.com/book/tokens-for-the-foundlings/9781854115812

Anyway, here is the poem!

On Returning a Child to her Mother at the Natural History Museum – Kathryn Maris

Hello, my name is Kathryn and I’ve come
here to return your daughter, Emily.
She told me you’d suggested that she look
around upstairs in ‘Earthquakes and Volcanoes,’
then meet you and her brothers in the shop.
You know that escalator leading to
the orb?  It’s very long and only goes
one way, you can’t turn round.  She asked me if
I knew the way back down and would we come
with her into the earthquake simulator –
that reproduction of the grocery shop
in Kobe, where you see the customers
get thrown around with Kirin beer and soy
sauce, things like that.  She told us stuff about
your family.  Apparently you had
a baby yesterday! That can’t be right:
you’re sitting here without one and my God
your stomach’s flat!  She also said she’d had
an operation in the hospital
while you were giving birth one floor below.
I know, I know: kids lie and get confused,
mine do that too.  She talks a lot.  She’s fat.
She may not be an easy child to love.
I liked her, though.  I liked her very much,
and having her was great, the only time
all day my daughter hasn’t asked me for
a dog!  We got downstairs and funnily
enough we found your middle son.  He ran
to us upset and asked us where you were.
But here you are – exactly where you said –
the shop!  Don’t worry: I don’t ever judge
a mother.  Look at me: my daughter drank
the Calpol I left out when she was two;
I gave my kids Hundreds and Thousands once
for dinner while I lay down on the floor,
a wreck.  I know you well!  Here’s Emily.