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Sunday Poem – Carole Coates

Sunday Poem – Carole Coates

Before I start writing my blog, I always look back through my diary to remind myself of what I’ve done in the week.  On Monday I drove from my parent’s house in Leicester back up to Cumbria.  I stopped off at a Little Chef to get some breakfast.  I used to love Little Chef when I was little – in fact I remember my parents driving down the motorway from home to take us for dinner there and then driving back home again.  However, it isn’t quite as cheery an experience when you are an adult, and you’re driving five hours away from your family, knowing you won’t see some of them again for a while.  I had to move tables because I had a terrible view of a man whose bottom was hanging out of his trousers and it was probably this that pushed me over the edge!

I went back to Leicester because my Dad has been ill and was in hospital for nearly a week.  By the time I got there last Thursday, he’d had an operation and he was out of hospital and starting to get back to normal.  I also got to spend some time with my sisters and my nieces and nephews.  My brother-in-law has started running now as well so I even had someone to go for a run round the park with.

On Thursday I went to my fifth Read Regional event in York – although I’ve loved all of them, I think this was my favourite one so far, mainly because of the audience who were so friendly and interested.  The great thing about Read Regional is that there are often people who have never been to a poetry reading before.  The librarian showed me a feedback card afterwards which said something like ‘Came under sufferance – but I loved it,and bought all the books!’.  I love that someone was FORCED to come to a poetry reading – what had they done for such punishment?

Ok, for those of you who have no interest in running, or trumpet playing, you might want to miss the next couple of paragraphs, as I wax on about my Friday which was, even by my standards, slightly manic.  I drove to Kendal in the afternoon and met Pauline Yarwood for a cup of tea and a stress relieving shout of ARRGGGH about all the annoying things that happen when you are trying to put together a festival.  I then had my Young Writers Group until 5.30 and then drove like a madwoman (whilst always keeping to the speed limits of course) to get to Dalton for the Dalton 10k which I’ve been looking forward to all year.

Writing this from the vantage point of having completed the Dalton 10k, I can’t quite remember why I was looking forward to it all year.  It is that pesky nostalgia again, this was one of the first races I did when I first moved to Cumbria when I was 21 (I ran for about a year before giving up).  I’ve done the race for the last three years – in 2014 I ran it in 56:56 and in 2015 I ran 47:42.  I think I had good memories of the race last year, because I’d knocked such a big chunk of time off.  Of course this year, I knew it would be harder to beat my time but I really wanted to do it.  I’ve been doing a few long, hilly runs lately, and I was hoping they would pay off.

Anyway, what I’ve realised about running is that it never gets easier, and there were moments in the race this year, when I turned a corner and there was another bloody hill that I wanted to cry! However, very pleased to report that I ran 46:16 which I’m absolutely chuffed with. Next target is to get to 45 minutes!

I jumped in a taxi straight after the race at 8.15pm, as Chris had taken car to go camping, went back home, showered, changed and jumped in another taxi at 8.40 and went to the Soul Survivors gig at the Soccer Bar which started at 9pm.  Playing trumpet till midnight was pretty tough going, but I think I was still hyper from doing the race.  The after-effects of pushing it in the race, playing trumpet and not having time to eat anything hit me on Saturday – I spent the whole day feeling slightly hung over but without having consumed any alcohol.   I had another gig with the Soul Survivors last night which was easer playing wise but I woke up again this morning feeling terrible – again, it feels like a hangover, I’m tired, groggy, have a bit of a headache.  So I’m taking it easy again today and hopefully not leaving the house for anything other than to maybe amble round with the dogs.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Carole Coates- I’ve posted a poem from Carole on the blog before – in fact, looking back at the archives, I think her poem was the first Sunday Poem I ever posted.  You can find that poem ‘Stalker’ here – it is still one of my favourite poems.

I went to an April Poets reading a couple of months ago which was the launch of Carole’s new collection Jacob.  This is a book-length sequence of poems following the life of a little boy called Jacob.  The collection is as readable as a novel and I read it cover to cover.  I think Carole is a real one-off – I can’t think of any poets that are doing quite what she is doing – her work is always ambitious and pushing at the boundaries of not only what a poem can do, but what a poetry collection can do.  She is published by Shoestring Press and you can buy Jacob and any of her other collections over at the Shoestring Press website.

I’ve chosen the poem ‘What Is He Like?’ because I thought it was a good introduction to the character of Jacob, although this poem comes towards the middle of the collection.  .

What Is He Like? – Carole Coates

what is he like//////////what is he really like
sometimes he feels like a box crammed with things
and people are pushing more in and sitting on the lid

or he feels like an eye///a lonely eye
set in a wall like a camera to see and remember
(he’d seen a film with that and it was frightening)

but his grandfather says You’re a dark horse, Jacob
which he doesn’t understand and his grandmother says
Still waters run deep – that’s you, Jacob

is he like the pond where the hedge turns a corner
where the water hides under alder branches?
it’s deep there he knows his mother told him

and she says there’s something strange deep down
at the bottom of the pond and it’s quiet there too
(probably a fish) so that’s “still” and “deep”

and he knows there’s something deep down lurking
in himself which he has to keep quiet about
and still as the pond but at school they’re asking

Where is your father? and he says he’s a soldier
but they say the war’s been over for ages 
and he ought to be back like all the others

he’s told Beryl his father’s in Middle-East
but Teddy says HER father is Father Christmas
and he lives up the chimney but this is all lies

One of the big themes that Carole explores is the unjustice of childhood, the unfairness of it, and the lack of power that children have in their own lives.  I love the description in the second line ‘sometimes he feels like a box crammed with things’.  It’s such an unusual way of saying something that a lot of people can probably relate to.   After this brilliant line, most poets would have felt quite pleased with themselves and left it at that, but Carole carries it on, developing it further, pinning down exactly how it feels to not be in control, to not feel part of what is going on around you with that line ‘or he feels like an eye’.  I think there is also something interesting here in the things we say to children, probably without thinking, that they then carry with them and puzzle over.  I also love the question ‘is he like the pond where the hedge turns a corner/where the water hides under alder branches?’  I also love that Jacob tries to make sense of himself in the world by comparing and contrasting himself to other things.

I am aware that I’ve taken a poem out of context here, in what is a meticulously put-together and beautiful book with a narrative arc, so I hope you will feel inspired to buy the collection, and I hope Carole gets the praise and acclaim this book deserves.

There is a great review of Jacob over at the magazine London Grip, which will give you more of an overview of the collection as a whole.  Carole has had three previous collections published with Shoestring Press.  In 2012 she published an extraordinary collection called Swallowing Stones – a verse narrative, set in the far-off imaginary, but very real country of Kor.  In 2009 Shoestring Press published her second collection Looking Good which was an exploration of anorexia, endured at a time when the condition was not diagnosed, discussed or even named.  More recently she has published a pamphlet Crazy Days with the excellent Wayleave Press.  You can find more information about her over at her website but if you haven’t heard of Carole Coates, or read any of her stuff, all of her collections, not just this latest one come highly recommended if you want to read ambitious and exciting poetry.



Sunday Poem – Malcolm Carson


I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog in the last couple of weeks.  I’ve been getting a bit weary – not with picking the poems, which I love doing, but with writing about my week, which seems to become a bit of a long list.  People come up to me and tell me how busy I am.  I don’t think I’m busier than anyone else – it’s just that I’ve been documenting it all in minute detail.  However, I have worn myself out with it all, so I’ve decided from this week that I will be limiting myself to 1000 words for each blog post (excluding the poem) Which is still quite a lot.  I’m also going to write up the bit about the poem and the poet first, and then come back and do the bit about me afterwards, with whatever words I’m left with.  This week I was left with, excluding the poem, 469 words.

I’ve already used quite a few of them to explain this principle so I want to use the remaining words I have left to tell you about the fantastic reading that Steve Ely did for ‘A Poem and a Pint’ last night.  If you get a chance to hear Steve Ely read, go.  For me he is up there with the best poet-performers – people like Clare Shaw, Kei Miller and Alice Oswald.  His poems slip between the past and the present and his reading, particularly the moments when he read in Old English were really spellbinding.  The reading made my week – and he was a very amenable house guest as well, and didn’t even mind when he came down in the morning to find one of my naughty terriers had left a present on the carpet.

Before you go on to read about this week’s Sunday Poet, the wonderful Malcolm Carson (not to be confused with the equally wonderful Mark Carson from last week) I would like to tell you all that I spent all of Sunday morning trying to work out if the series of prose-poems that I’ve been writing, are in fact prose poems at all. I thought the best way to do this would be to put line breaks in and see if they fitted and if it added anything.  The breaking news, as of 11.07pm is that I think they are still prose poems.

I met Malcolm Carson at the Borderlines Literature Festival in Carlisle.  I was reading with Jacob Polley and Malcolm was introducing us both.  I got a chance to talk to him before the event and instantly decided that I liked him – we have the same sense of humour and we like and dislike the same people!  So, I was hoping that I would also like his poetry as well – there is nothing more terrible than meeting a kindred spirit and then finding out that their poetry is a bit rubbish.

However, I shouldn’t have worried!  Malcolm kindly sent me a couple of his latest books which I’ve really enjoyed reading.  Rangi changi was published by Shoestring Press in 2010 and Cleethorpes Comes To Paris is his latest pamphlet, published in 2014, also by Shoestring Press.  His first collection Breccia was published by Shoestring in 2007.  I decided to pick a poem from Cleethorpes Comes To Paris as this is his most recent work.  The pamphlet is a sequence of poems recounting and recalling the first trip to a foreign country and encounter with another culture.

If you have any grasp of French you would be expecting a poem about hitchhiking when you read the title of the poem that I’ve chosen for this week’s Sunday Poem.  Sadly, I have a tentative bit of french that I’m hanging on to with my fingernails rather than grasping.  Luckily the poem is self-explanatory and after I finished it, I googled the title just to double check because that’s the kind of thorough reader I am!

The poem is full of astute and pointed observations.  I particularly like the idea that being in someone’s car is like being in their sitting room – it tells you just as much about their personality and the way they live. I also like the idea of the hitchhikers feeling that they were obliged to talk ‘to pay them back’.   I think the sentence ‘Or else/we’d learn of problems/only strangers learn’ is brilliant as well and captures those occasions when a stranger tells you something that they probably haven’t told their own family.  I think the poem captures really well the tension of hitch hiking – ‘each phrase assessed, developed/or let drop if conflict was foreseen.’

It also made me think about my husband who used to hitch hike all the time in his youth, and in America got into someone’s car and sat next to a fully loaded rifle, laid out in between the drivers and the passenger seat.  He was careful about what he said as well!

Malcolm Carson was born in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire but now lives in Carlisle with his wife and three sons.  He studied English at Nottingham University and then taught in colleges and universities.  He has his own website here and you can order his books from Shoestring Press if you would like to read more of his work – although you do have to download an order form.  An easier way of getting a book might be to go through Books Cumbria.  This way you will also be supporting the marvellous independent bookshop Bookends as well – the place of my £80 spent on second hand poetry books.

Here is the poem – I hope you enjoy it.

Autostop – Malcolm Carson

We’d wonder who we’d get,
as no doubt did they
in their approach,
a moment to suss us out,
pull in.  Destination settled
we’d start a conversation
as though to pay them back,
each phrase assessed, developed
or let drop if conflict was foreseen.
It was as if we’d entered
their favourite sitting room
or just as intimate
at any rate, where taste
and manners, predilections
and prejudices were on
display as they might parade
their new-bought suite.  Or else
we’d learn of problems
only strangers learn,
their secrets safe in our rucksacks.
Sometimes resentment stirred,
their chances lost to do
the same as us.  Others though
were content with silence,
the hum of company enough
until we’d disembark
and leave their lives, our brief
acquaintance vapourised
down the fast receding road.

Sunday Poem – Roy Marshall


Good evening folks.  Yes, yes, I know it is not Sunday anymore.  Sunday got away from me unfortunately, which is why I’m writing this on Monday…I have been on another Poetry Marathon over a long weekend and have had a fantastic time.  I’ve been down in Leicester for the last two days of last week and then in Swindon over part of the weekend, but it does feel nice to be at home again, especially as I have a huge pile of books that I’ve collected, and even some that were waiting for me when I got home – so no poetry withdrawal symptoms as of yet.

I did a workshop last week for ‘Soundswrite’ women’s group in Leicester as part of the ‘Everybody’s Reading’ festival which I really enjoyed – a lovely group of poets.  And they gave me a t-shirt with ‘Everybody’s Reading in Leicester’ on AND an anthology of their members poems from the previous year, which I must confess I haven’t read yet, but that is because I’ve barely sat down in one place since the workshop! AND they paid me promptly and were very welcoming – any women in Leicester looking for a writing group to be part of wouldn’t go far wrong with these guys!

On National Poetry Day I read to about 70 De Montfort University students alongside Ian Parks and Rory Waterman.  I met lovely Leicester poet Roy Marshall for a cup of coffee and a gossip and bought a copy of his fantastic new collection ‘The Sun Bathers’, published by Shoestring Press, which I must confess I have read, because I was planning on using a poem from it for the Sunday Poem this week – I will make my excuses later about why that didn’t happen!

On Friday, it was my birthday.  In my usual attention-seeking way, I announced it on Facebook and lots of lovely people made my day by wishing me happy birthday.  It doesn’t take much to keep me happy!  I also went shopping with my mum because I had a bit of birthday dosh and went out for a family meal in the evening.

On Saturday I drove down to Swindon – it took me four hours instead of the two that I expected because of awful traffic – but I am so glad I made the effort.  Alice Oswald read in the evening – I’ve never seen her read before and she was amazing – really, really worth the four hour drive.  She read some poems, or extracts of poems from all of her books, and she knew every poem by heart, but she doesn’t perform them from memory in a show offy kind of way – or I didn’t think so anyway – it was very intense- she uses silence a lot in her poetry and her readings.  I wouldn’t say she was necessarily one of my favourite poets before I saw her perform – but she has always fascinated me as a poet.  She constantly reinvents, or develops from collection to collection – and I like how she challenges perceived notions of gender by tackling that most masculine of texts, the Iliad.  And she read an amazing poem about a fox and about writing, which bears the weight of Ted Hughes’ ‘Thought Fox’ and manages to stand tall under the load.  I had to buy Memorium which was the only Oswald book I didn’t have.

But even better than Alice Oswald was meeting up with lovely friend and poet Hilda Sheehan again – we first met on a residential course last year.  Hilda is the mover and shaker of all things poetry in Swindon and a wonderful woman who genuinely loves poetry and wants to see it flourish.  I also met Michael Scott, who also organises various poetry things in Swindon – Hilda and Michael alongside Director Matt Holland were the organisers of the Poetry Festival.  I felt within five minutes of meeting Michael that I’d known him my whole life ( a similar feeling that I got when I first met Hilda) and we were soon merrily insulting each other.

So, I am thinking of them tonight – probably all at home, recovering from the festival- all three of them were working really hard all weekend – whilst managing to keep a sense of humour and proportion intact.

I read on the Sunday night with the lovely Claire Trevien – swapped books with her so now I have her brilliant new collection by Penned in the Margins – and the lively Elvis McGonagall.  Hilda’s lovely son Aidan did a couple of songs on the guitar – I thought he had a really soulful voice which sounded older and wiser than his years….

And then I had to get off  because I had to drive all the way back to Barrow from Swindon on the Sunday night because I had to teach at 8.45am on Monday morning.  It was actually not too bad a drive because I was still on a bit of a high from the reading and the festival, so I didn’t feel too knackered – not until I got up this morning that is.

During all this excitement, I ordered some books from Inpress because they had a special offer on for National Poetry Day – so waiting for me at home was ‘She Inserts the Key’ by Marianne Burton, ‘Oswald’s Book of Hours’ by Steve Ely and ‘War Reporter’ by Dan O’Brien, as well as the latest copy of Acumen with a lovely cheque for a review I’ve just done of Fiona Sampson’s new book Coleshill.  The other nice thing that was waiting for me when I got home was my cheque from Buzzwords competition – I got second prize or runner up which landed me £300 which is definitely better than a poke in the eye!

So, here is the belated Sunday Poem by Roy Marshall.  This is especially for my good friend John Foggin, one of my loyal commenters on here – who writes a lot of wonderful ekphrastic poetry.  I’ve just googled it to find a definition of ekphrastic poetry and I came up with ‘writing that comments upon another art form, e.g, a poem about a photograph’ I must admit, I am not usually drawn to this type of poetry – it has to be really good to get past my inner bigot.  Fortunately, Roy’s poetry is good- the title poem of the collection ‘The Sun Bathers’ concerns a painting, which makes up the front cover of his book, but it is a poem that comes from a sequence at the heart of the collection which I would like to share with you today.

The sequence is simply called ‘Leonardo’ and concerns the famous painter of the same name.  I like this poem because it made me understand the painting a little better – it captures the oxymoron of the Mona Liza – possibly the most famous image we have, yet still hopelessly enigmatic and mysterious.  I love the turn in pace from the fourth stanza – Roy tells me this poem also came from a newspaper article and is a true story.  There are five poems altogether in this sequence.  I read the whole book from cover to cover – and could have picked any one of a large number of poems as the Sunday poem to be honest.

You can order Roy’s book from his blog at http://roymarshall.wordpress.com/the-sun-bathers-3/ or from his publisher, Shoestring Press at http://www.shoestring-press.com/2013/09/the-sun-bathers/

Leonardo – by Roy Marshall

1. La Gioconda

Da Vinci was amusing and witty, and on each day
that I sat he remarked upon my beauty.
And what was there not to smile about?

Francesco, who was rich with silk, had bolts brought to the Villa;
the olive of Tuscan hills spilt across my breasts and thighs,
the slope of my hips and shoulders were the blue of Tuscan skies,

but the creased cream of clouds was only for his eyes, and yes,
I knew true happiness inside our frescoed walls.

Nothing that came after could temper my smile;
not my husband’s death, nor life inside the convent,
not its cold crypt which the government demolished,

not obscurity nor fame before the cordoned crowd,
not the landfill beneath a green hill
where my bones lie ploughed.