Tag Archives: Smith/Doorstop

Sunday Poem – David Wilson

Sunday Poem – David Wilson

I have been in hibernation mode this week.  After my marathon day of outdoor activity last week, I started to feel a little bit unwell on Sunday night.  I put it down to too much activity, but by Monday I felt like I had flu – I was going alternatively hot and cold, had a really awful headache, sore throat.  I basically took to the sofa from Monday to Wednesday and didn’t move – a wonderful luxury now I don’t have to drag myself into school feeling awful. Tuesday I still felt pretty rough, but Wednesday I was a lot better and it felt more like a normal cold that was on its way out.  So I’ve spent much of this week feeling sorry for myself and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I felt particularly sorry for myself that yet again, I was stuck on the sofa instead of being out running.  But as I could hardly stand up on Monday it was probably a good idea to stay indoors.  I have been this morning for a ten mile run – my first one all week.  It was hard work – I felt quite tired and my legs felt heavy, and then there was the cold and the wind of course – but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  I’m glad I got out there now and did it.

On Thursday I had to go to Manchester for my teaching at MMU but I was nearly back up to normal by then.  I have been getting some writing done this week and working on some poems, despite feeling rough, so I’m pleased about that.  I’m steadily working my way through reading Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex – it is such an important text, and so many other feminist texts refer to it that I need to read it and have it as part of the background for the next lot of reading.  The problem is every time I read one thing, it leads to something else.  I think I could spend the three years of this PhD just reading without even getting to the writing part.

On Friday I spent the morning planning the workshop for my Dove Cottage Young Poets session, which was running in the afternoon, and my Barrow Poetry Workshop, which I was running the next day. I managed to get them both sorted out and printed out, then I went to Kendal for the young poets workshop and then off to Brewery Poets in the evening.

Barrow Poetry Workshop went really well yesterday – 13 poets from all over the place, Barrow, Dalton, Ulverston, Kendal, Preston, Lancaster, Shap.  I also managed to get the heating going properly this time as well – and people wrote some amazing stuff.  In the evening it was A Poem and a Pint with guest poet Rita Ann Higgins.  Rita had made a mammoth journey from Galway – bus, plane and train to get to Ulverston to read.  I bought her latest book Tongulish which I’m really looking forward to reading when I get some spare time.

I felt a bit sad – one of my ex-students, David Griffiths, who was Young Musician in Residence at Kendal Poetry Festival was the musician for the night, but Anthony Milledge, who was going to be his accompanist for the evening, died very suddenly last week.  I’ve known Anthony since I moved to the area and played with him a few times at church, when he composed a fiendishly difficult trumpet fanfare for the visit of a bishop a couple of years ago.  He was such a good musician – so good in fact, that we were unable to find a pianist who had the technical skills to play the pieces that he’d been practising with David.  So David just did some unaccompanied pieces – a very tough thing to do, but I think Anthony would have been proud of him.

Next week, I’m determined to get a bit more reading done for my PhD.  I’ve got more workshops to plan as well – I’m heading off to Birmingham on Friday to the Verve Poetry Festival and I need to plan the workshop that I’m running there on the Saturday, and plan my workshops for the St Ives residential which starts a week on Monday.  I also need to fit my running in – I cannot afford to take more than two hours to do the Coniston 14 in a few weeks time, otherwise I will have to stand on stage at Lancaster Litfest in my sweaty running gear because I haven’t had time for a shower.  So I’m gearing up for a full on week next week, and then the usual full on week of a residential course.

If you’re interested in residential courses, the St Ives course has sold out now, but I’m running three more this year – you can find information on the ‘Residential Courses‘ tab.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by a lovely poet and friend of mine, David Wilson.  I met David when we were both students on The Poetry Business Writing School course.  I was really pleased to hear that David had a pamphlet out last year with The Poetry Business.  The pamphlet is called Slope and many of the poems in it explore climbing and mountaineering. David lives in North Yorkshire and has been an active climber for many years.  As well as poetry, he has written a novel, Love and Nausea, published by Abacus, Little Brown in the 1990’s which was praised by The Times as a ‘tour de force’.  In 2015 he won the Poets and Players Competition, judged by Paul Muldoon with his poem Everest.  

It’s worth buying Slope for this poem alone, a tiny eight-liner where David manages to compare Everest to Elvis (I’ll let you buy the pamphlet to work out how he manages to pull that one off – but pull it off he does!).  The poem I’ve chosen for the Sunday Poem this week though has always been one of my favourites of David’s, maybe because of the bolt of recognition after reading the first line – no, my parents didn’t use that phrase either! I liked the line at the end of the first stanza as well.  I think my parents are similar to the parents in this poem – they do everything together as well, and find it quite strange that my husband and I have separate holidays, or are often off on our own somewhere.

I love the description in the second stanza of the father ‘taking ten minutes to stand up/straight, always the military man’.  It’s only in the second stanza in fact, indicated by that little phrase ‘Near the end’ which begins this stanza, that we realise that the father is dying, and this makes that effort of getting out of bed and standing to speak to his wife very moving.

I always think it is hard to get dialogue in a poem, and especially a poem like this without it sounding cheesy, or maudlin, or too over the top.  Especially a poem called ‘I love you’.  But then the strength of the poem is that these three words, the title are completely missing from the poem, yet it is a poem about loving and how to give and receive love.  Or maybe not just about love, but about marriage, which is different.  The portrayal of a long marriage with ‘whispered rows’ in the first stanza is very honest. And I think that is what I like about the dialogue as well – it has the ring of authenticity, of honesty about it.  And to say ‘Thank you for loving me’ seems so much more meaningful than saying ‘I love you’.  I was thinking about why that is, and maybe ‘I love you’ is always about the self, the ‘I’ reaching out to another.  It demands a reply.  But to say ‘Thank you for loving me’ is to say, I’m grateful, and happy with what you’ve given me, and I don’t need anything else.  Hidden in that sentence is ‘Thank you for loving me’ even and despite of ‘whispered rows’.  l love the little turn of the poem at the end as well, when the mother is transformed by his words, or her voice is transformed to the ‘voice of a young girl’.

You might want to order Slope after reading this poem – if you do, you can order it at http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/shop/925/slope for a mere £5 and show your support to another fantastic independent publisher.

“I love you” – David Wilson

My parents didn’t use this phrase,
talked in terms of work to do, and weather
and how they were bringing us up;
despite whispered rows at night
stayed together, held in place by good form.
They were not much given to using ‘I’.

Near the end, my father asked a nurse
to bring my waiting mother
to the side-room of his suffering,
having taken ten minutes to stand up
straight, always the military man,
nearly losing his footing.

One has to be brave at a time like this,
he said, taking her hand,
Some journeys must be made alone. 
And then, Thank you for loving me.
A slight bow and turn, while she cried
in the voice of a young girl,
‘Oh my darling’.

Sunday Poem – John Foggin

Sunday Poem  – John Foggin

It’s the TS Eliot prize readings tonight, so maybe I’ll be writing this to nobody as lots of poets will be at the Royal Festival Hall as we speak, listening to the ten shortlisted poets.  I went a couple of years ago, the year Sharon Olds won, and Jacob Polly was shortlisted.  It was a great night, and I’d love to go again, another year, when I have more money and more time.

I haven’t read all of the shortlisted books yet either, which is very unusual for me, so I haven’t even got an informed opinion about who I think should win.  So maybe it is strange to even mention it, except that it was on my mind as I sat down at my desk, alone and looking out into the dark, that out there, elsewhere, hundreds of people are gathering to hear and talk about poetry, and I am both part of it, and not part of it at all.

Last Tuesday I had a meeting about my PhD and then I sent my draft RD1 proposal to one of my supervisors, with feedback promised by the end of the week. I know I’ve complained on here before, but this term has been a bit of a nightmare.  I haven’t been able to send a draft of my RD1 before this, because I spent about eight weeks in and out of hospital, or recovering from an operation.  I finished most of my RD1 over Christmas, whilst most normal people were drinking and eating chocolate, but that was the first time I felt physically able to get really stuck into it.  But I couldn’t send the RD1 to my supervisors then, as I didn’t think it was fair to be sending stuff whilst they were on holiday.

Luckily I’ve had some lovely poet-friends who offered to have a look over it for me, and that has been really, really helpful.  However, once I sent the RD1 on Tuesday, I’ve spent the whole week having nightmares about it being awful.  I had an actual nightmare where I got an email from my supervisor which said

‘I understand now why you took so long to send the RD1 through.  Your sentence construction is not good enough for a PhD so we’ve swapped you onto an Access course.’

I woke up with actual night sweats from that one! Anyway, I got the feedback on Friday, and my RD1 isn’t terrible, and the feedback was very constructive, and I haven’t been thrown off the course.  It still needs some work, but I think that is to be expected,  and I think I can get it all done before my deadline, which is Thursday.

Apart from my anxiety levels going through the roof, lots of lovely stuff has happened this week as well.  I’ve been getting back into running, and have been three times this week – all of the runs were over 10k.  I’m training to run the Coniston 14 race in March, so I’m trying to get my fitness up, without going over the top and getting injured, so it’s a bit of a balancing act.

I’ve also been writing poetry this week! A couple of weeks ago I went to sit with my twin sister while she went and got a tattoo at Samsara Tattoo in Kendal.  Here is a picture of it!  She was there for six hours getting this done.

15541609_1279314905425298_8201604401307089933_nThere were some other people there getting really interesting tattoos done as well.  I won’t tell you about them as it’s in the poem, but my sister’s tattoo, which is in the style of a watercolour, got me thinking about tattoos.  I have three, and they are the only things I’ve ever done in my life where I didn’t car what other people thought.  I didn’t know I’d feel like this about them, but it was so liberating, especially as I spent a lot of time worrying about what people think of me.  I also like the idea that a tattoo turns the body into a piece of art and I think tattoos made me feel an ownership of my body which I hadn’t really felt before.  Anyway, I’ve hopefully put all this into the poem in a much better way than I have here.  I’ve also booked to get my next tattoo – not till March though.

I’ve read a really interesting article this week as part of my RD1 work, recommended by my supervisor about Medusa and the female gaze.  The article quotes John Berger from his book who says ‘Men do not simply look, their gaze carries with it the power of action and of possession’.  It made me think about my poems I’ve been writing, all called ‘All The Men I Never Married’.  Writing poems about ex-boyfriends and experiences of sexism, is kind of like turning the men involved into stone.  Or maybe not into stone, but freezing them in time.  They can’t defend themselves, or excuse themselves, or apologise.  They can’t laugh about it with me or give their version of events. Or maybe they can, but the version of them that I have pinned to the page can’t.  I’m slightly uncomfortable with turning into a poetic Medusa, and maybe it’s no coincidence that I’ve written a poem about being tattooed, where the subjects are also pinned in place, unable to move.  Although in my tattoo poem, the artists are able to move and create art from nothing.  And although the body can’t move, it does have a voice.  Argh! At the minute, it feels like I have these thoughts going round in my head, and not quite enough time to peel the layers away and actually think about them, so instead you’re getting disjointed and vague musings.

Back to more practical matters – the first Barrow Poetry Workshop yesterday.  I’ve got the dates booked in for the rest of 2017 now – check the ‘Readings and Workshops’ page for more details.  11 poets turned up on Saturday from all over the place – Alston, Preston, Lancaster, Kendal, Ulverston and Barrow. Running poetry workshops is one of my favourite parts of being a poet – it feels nothing like work, the people are lovely, and I get paid for it.

Next week I’m going to Manchester on Monday to the Royal Exchange to see the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends reading series – my friends Keith Hutson and Hilary Robinson are reading alongside Liz Lochhead.  I always wanted to go to these readings, but could never go before because my Monday nights were always tied up with conducting my junior brass band – now I haven’t got that commitment I’m determined to go to them.  I’ve also got to hand my RD1 in of course.  By the time I write this blog next week that stress will hopefully be over!

Residential news – St Ives poetry course in February is now sold out, but there are places left still for the Grange-Over-Sands Residential in April.  I don’t think Grange Over Sands has quite the pull of St Ives as a location – just the name St Ives has lovely connotations.  It’s a shame though because the Grange Over Sands location is just as lovely, but in a different way.  The course actually takes place in a small village called Kents Bank, which is a couple of miles out from Grange.  There is a lovely walk along the promenade to Grange that people often do in the afternoons, and although I wouldn’t advise walking out on the mudflats, the views of Morecambe Bay are really stunning. There are only non-ensuite rooms left for Grange, which means they are a bit cheaper – only £396 for a Monday to Friday course – a bargain!

So today’s Sunday Poem is by John Foggin.  I’ve just counted up and this is his fourth appearance on this blog – I think he has the record for the most appearances on here! He will keep winning competitions and publishing books and pamphlets though, and then they keep being excellent, which is why he keeps popping up.

John’s first full-length collection Much Possessed was published by Smith/Doorstop in 2016, and to be honest, I got confused and thought I’d already posted a poem from it as the Sunday Poem.  Then I checked and realised I hadn’t – I’d done that thing of thinking about something at great length and then not actually doing it.  It’s a fantastic collection, with a wide variety of subject matter, and there were loads of poems I could have chosen as my favourite.  There’s ‘For the true naming of the world’ which is a beautiful poem which I think underneath is about writing, or at least being present in the world which starts ‘you need one who will recognise a fish/that has swallowed a star/that fell through the vaults of the air’.  Or ‘Wren’ which starts ‘God thought of the smallest coin/he could make, and made the Wren/to fit, neat as a thumb in a thimble’ which reminds me of my utter conviction that ducklings look like pound coins, even though I know they don’t really.  Or ‘Goldcrest’ – this bird is described as a ‘soft plump brooch’.  Or ‘Colouring in’ which has the best ending to a poem I’ve read ‘On days like this warm day/the sky is a cat’s ear/and is listening me.’

However, the poem that I am going to post up in full is called ‘A Weak Force.’  I don’t remember where I first heard John read ( a workshop? a tutorial?) but I remember it made me cry.  This is a difficult poem to write about because it is a difficult subject.  tIt explores suicide, and the impact of suicide on those left behind. However, it is also a beautiful poem and as well as being about falling and leaving and death, it is also about love, and the nature of love. There is an urgency mixed with acceptance mixed with anger in this poem, which makes it utterly compelling. So I will do my best to explore why it’s always been one of my favourite poems of John’s.  I know it’s an important poem for him too, so I hope I do it justice.

The first thing to say is that the first line is a jolt.  It is a bold statement and claim to start with, but then the rest of the poem backs this statement up – opening it up and exploring it.  There is no self-pity here – right from this first stanza, it is the loss of the ‘lives never lived by your children’ which is mourned, not the loss of the speaker in the poem who is left behind.  The third line of the poem with the use of the word ‘stopped’ is an interesting distancing technique – we associate clocks with stopping, not people, but I think this is needed to keep emotion in control, because of the next lines, which tell us what happened, about a fall ‘from the top of a tower block.’  The content of this poem is incredibly moving, but the control and technique that is shown support it – the line break after stopped makes the empty space that follows it echo into the next line.

There are lots of different changes in tone in this poem as well.  The first two stanzas sound very sure of themselves, as if they are setting out thoughts and ideas that have been gone over again and again.  I think the tone changes in the fourth stanza which starts ‘In the no time’.  From here, we’re not quite in the real world.  We’re in the world of falling, in a kind of in-between world with the ‘you’ who ‘learned the art of not falling’.  The viewpoint of the poem widens out, and the reader is also ‘falling and not falling’ as the speaker describes Leeds spread out underneath and we read that the ‘motorway tail lights trailed ribbons of red’.

In the next stanza, there is again, a change of tone.  With the repetition of the word ‘Because’ there is something almost childlike introduced here into the speaker’s voice, and we see the ‘you’ as a child, a child who ‘always shut your eyes/you closed them tight as cockleshells’.  I’m trying to work out why this section of the poem moves me, and I think it’s because the person comes to life.  The focus shifts from their death to their life, to the person they were.  Of course the line ‘I remember how you laughed when I swore/I would catch you’ is a bitter-sweet memory, because, of course, the ‘you’ cannot be caught.

My favourite image in the poem is the final one – the idea of the ‘you’ who ‘sank like the sun.’  Even when we can’t see the sun, it hasn’t disappeared, it is still there. That last list in the final stanza ‘over the canal/the river the sour moors the cottongrass/the mills of the plain’ brings home the idea that everything is a reminder.

The poem is right of course – you can’t imagine that loss, unless you’ve experienced it.  But it is possible to be moved by it.

For those of you who don’t know John already, he writes a great blog called the great fogginzo’s cobweb.  He has been a teacher, lecturer and LEA English/Drama Adviser.  He lives in West Yorkshire where he jointly organises Puzzle Poets Live in Calderdale.  His work has appeared in The North, The New Writer, Prole and The Interpreter’s House, amongst others.

His poems have won first prizes in competitions including The Plough (2013, 2014) and The McLellan (2015).  He has published four pamphlets: Running out of space, Backtracks, Larach (with Ward Wood Publishing 2014), Outlaws and fallen Angels (Calder Valley Press 2016).  His latest success is winning the Sentinel Pamphlet Competition with a co-authored pamphlet, written with an ex-student, Andrew Blackford.  This will be published sometime in 2017, and you can read more about it on John’s blog here.

If you’d like to order John’s collection, you can buy Much Possessed directly from his publisher’s website, Smith/Doorstop.

A Weak Force – John Foggin

there’s sometimes a loss you can’t imagine;
the lives never lived by your children, or
by the one who simply stopped
in the time it takes
to fall to the ground
from the top of a tower block.

They say gravity is a weak force.
I say the moon will tug a trillion tons
of salt sea from its shore.
I say a mountain range will pull a snowmelt
puddle out of shape.
I say gravity can draw a boy
through a window
and into the air.

There is loss no one can imagine.

In the no time between
falling and not falling
you learned the art of not falling;

beneath you burned
the lights of Sheepscar, Harehills,
Briggate, Vicar Lane;
lights shone in the glass arcades,
on the tiles, on the gantries of tall cranes;
motorway tail lights trailed ribbons of red,
and you were far beyond falling.

Because you shut your eyes
because you always shut your eyes
you closed them tight as cockleshells
because when you did that the world

would go away the world
would not see you.

I remember how you ran like a dream.
I remember how you laughed when I swore
I would catch you.

Then you flared you went out
you flared like a moth and you blew
away over the lights over the canal
the river the sour moors the cottongrass
the mills of the plain
and over the sea and over the sea
and the bright west
and you sank like the sun.


Sunday Poem – Cliff Yates

Sunday Poem – Cliff Yates

How much can change in a week! After my copious amounts of bragging on last week’s post about getting a huge PB for 10k, I was brought back down to earth with a bump this week.

On Thursday morning I woke up with abdominal and back pain, and eventually ended up in A and E at about 12pm.  The doctor who saw me in A and E said that it was probably my gall bladder, so I was transferred to a ward and given a bed for the night.  It was too late for any tests by then, so I was given lots of painkillers and then I had an ultrasound on Friday morning, which confirmed that I have an inflamed gall bladder and lots of gall stones, which are probably what caused the pain.

The pain was absolutely horrendous, and I would like not to ever experience that again! The doctor has told me to go on a low-fat diet, as fat can irritate the gall bladder and trigger another attack.  In six weeks time, I see the consultant again, and if the inflammation has gone down, I will have my gall bladder taken out.

So, this is the second day of my low-fat diet.  I think my diet was 70% healthy anyway – I eat lots of fresh food now, lots of vegetables, I don’t get takeaways any more.  However, I do have a weakness for pain au chocolats ( I was having two every morning) and scones with jam and cream.  I probably had a scone every other day at least.

This is probably the healthiest I’ve ever been in my whole life, so it’s a bit gutting that this has happened now.  These last two days though, I have noticed when I get hungry, my first idea for a snack is something sweet – a chocolate biscuit, or a chocolate bar.  So I’ve been trying to eat something healthy instead.  It’s been easy so far because I can still remember the pain, which is a good motivational factor.  But it has made me realise that I need to change the whole way I think about food.  I’ve always thought of sweet food as a treat, or reward for myself.  So now I need to find other ways of rewarding myself.

I got out of hospital on Friday afternoon and I spent most of Friday evening eating as I was starving – I’d been ‘Nil by mouth’ since Thursday lunchtime.  Yesterday was a good day because my sister and her husband came over with their three dogs, so there was lots of distractions.  Today I’ve been a bit fed up, because I was supposed to be running the Lancaster half marathon.  I’ve been training for it for ages, with a few friends and one friend in particular.  The 10k last week had given me loads of confidence that I’d got the build up right, and I was expecting to knock five minutes off my PB from last year.  And to go from whizzing around the 10k to being in hospital and unable to walk was a bit of a shock.

So today has been a bit miserable – the logical part of my brain knows that there will be other half-marathons, but it still doesn’t stop me being gutted about this one.

So before I turned into a medical emergency this week, I spent the first half of the week doing lots of reading.  I finished two collections by Marie Howe (my new favourite poet) and finally finished Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics.   

I also ordered a new anthology called ‘Women who Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence’.  I haven’t read many of the poems in the anthology, but in the introduction, the editor, Laura Madelaine Wiseman talks about the use of the terms ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’.  She proposes a third term of ‘resister’.  She says:

To be a resister is more than surviving violence, because one has taken an active step to call into question the violent act and to rally demands for change

I love this idea – I don’t like thinking of myself as a survivor, or a victim of domestic violence.  Surviving was the thing I did at the time – resisting was the poetry, the sequence at the heart of my collection The Art of Falling.  Writing poems about it does call into question the violent act – whether it rallies demands for change is another thing – I would be happy if it made one person feel less alone, which is maybe a big change in itself.

I’m not quite sure how this all relates to the PhD.  The type of everyday sexism I’ve been writing about is like a tiny pin prick of violence rather than a brutal act.  But I do think poetry is a great way to call into question not just the violent act, but my acceptance of it, other people’s acceptance of it, the normality of it.

On to today’s Sunday Poem, which is by the wonderful Cliff Yates, who I’ve met on a few occasions, but finally got to hear him read at Swindon Poetry Festival last month.  I’ve always been a fan of Cliff’s work, so it was great to hear him read.  The poem is from his Smith/Doorstop collection Jam, which came out this year.


I think the poem I’ve chosen for this weeks Sunday Poem is representative of many of the qualities you’ll find in his work. His poetry is often laugh-out-loud funny, often tender, but always manages to invite the reader to look at the world slightly differently.   His poetry also manages that difficult thing of saying something important, without sounding self-important.  It wears its philosophy lightly.   Those two lines towards the end of the poem: ‘Middle age is a walk through the woods/without your parents.’  is a great aphorism, dropped lightly in, and then effortlessly extended ‘Your children have run ahead’ but the real lightness, and art come with having the courage to finish on that lovely line which floats away ‘The sun is out, there are so many trees.’

I also like how the poem is about a private family ritual, or joke, although joke isn’t quite the right word, it is almost like a good luck tradition.  The family always ‘walk through the gate.’ and never around it.  This idea of gates and doorways nods to all the old stories of passageways into other lands and worlds.

And the importance of the gate is always without question, despite the fact that you can walk around it, despite the fact it doesn’t keep anything out, or in.  It is so important in fact that it was once ‘painted cream/ so that she could see it.’

Cliff was born in Birmingham and now lives in Gloucestershire.  His various collections include Henry’s Clock, winner of the Aldeburgh Prize and Selected Poems, a Smith/Doorstop ebook.  He wrote Jumpstart Poetry in the Secondary School during his time as Poetry Society poet-in-residence.  He is a tutor for the Arvon Foundation and Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Aston University.

If you would like to order Jam or any of Cliff’s other collections, you can get them from the Smith/Doorstop website or if you’d like to find out more information about Cliff he has a website and blog here



Gate – Cliff Yates

A gate, halfway up the garden,
a wrought iron gate she once painted cream
so that she could see it.

You could step around the gate,
if truth were told, there’s plenty of room
on either side, but always

we walk through the gate, careful
not to latch it. Her fingers, at eighty-eight,
can no longer manage the latch

and her legs can barely manage the step,
‘Mind you shut the gate,’ she says,
as she always says, on the way back down,

turning round, just to make sure:
‘Pull it to. Keep out the draught.  That’s it.’

Middle age is a walk through the woods
without your parents.
Your children have run ahead.
The sun is out, there are so many trees.



Sunday Poem – Jennifer Copley


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I can’t remember if I told you all about this last week, but while I was away in Malaga my husband built wall-to-ceiling shelves in our box room, which is now going to be my writing room.  Although I’ve had the words ‘A Room of One’s Own’ tattooed on my arm for a couple of years, this is the first time I’ve actually had a room of my own.  It is very small, but I love it. It feels like a real luxury to have all my books in one room.  Just this morning, Chris put the door back on the frame for me, and when I shut the door it feels very peaceful in here.  If I can’t write a PhD in here, then there is no hope for me!

Talking of PhD’s, it is starting to feel a bit more real now.  I’m meeting up with Michael Symmons Roberts on Monday to have an informal chat about it all, and then I’m meeting up with Martin Kratz to have a talk through the module I’ll be teaching next term. Even though I’m writing all of this very calmly, I still can’t believe I’m actually doing it.

Last night I decided to pack away all of the leaving cards I got from my pupils.  Some of the things they wrote are very funny –

“Thank you for everything.  Play that country tuba cowboy!” (a reference to a song we used to sing and play along with)

“Hope you have lots of poem books and a good career”

“I hope you enjoy your future life” (me too!)

and my personal favourite “Goodbye Mrs Alan” (poor Mrs Alan has no plans to leave as far as I know)

My (except it’s not mine anymore sob) junior brass band did a little book for me and they all wrote a message in there – and one of the young people wrote ‘Thank you for the gift of music’.  This really struck home with me – that music is a gift.   It is only ever something to be offered, something that you hope to pass on.  When it was passed to me, it sent my life off down a road I would never have travelled without it, and it has brought such riches to my life – which sounds cheesy, but it is true.  I guess it is hitting me now, what it means to have done this for 13 years, and to be finally leaving.  I haven’t been teaching for 13 years, I’ve been passing on the gift of music, or trying to, at least.

I’m rubbish at planning blog posts, I like to just ramble on.  That way, sometimes it feels like writing a poem, discovering something in the act of writing.  As I’m writing this post, I realise I’m looking forward to enjoying the gift of music for myself for a while, which immediately sounds, to my ears, a little selfish, but it is the truth.  I’m looking forward to doing a bit more playing in shows.  I’m going to have some repertoire lessons with a local piano player.  I’m going to be playing with the soul band. I might even have some time to do some practice, so it doesn’t feel like I’m leaving music behind.  If anything, it feels a little like coming round full circle, to playing the trumpet, but without the horrendous pressure that I used to put on myself.

This week I’ve been busy running a residential poetry course – the Poetry Carousel.  Rachel Davies has done a great blog about the course, which you can find here, if you’re wondering what it was like from a participant’s point of view.  I am proud to say that I invented the concept of the Poetry Carousel, after the success of the more traditional residential courses I was running. The Poetry Carousel has four tutors, and the group of 24 participants were divided into groups of 6, with each 6 getting a two hour workshop with each tutor, before moving on the next day to another tutor.

They are different from a traditional course in that there is a real festival atmosphere in the evening, as everybody gets together for the readings.  For me as a tutor, it feels like a telescoping effect – you are working very closely with a group of 6 in the morning, and then in the evening this broadens out and you meet the whole group.

We were very lucky with the weather this year – blazing sunshine the whole time and we were lucky with our participants – a real mix of poets with a lot of experience, to poets that had never been to a workshop before and everything in between, but all showing a real commitment to their writing and producing high-quality stuff in the workshops.

I’m running another residential poetry course from October 24th-28th at Abbot Hall Hotel in Grange-Over-Sands.  This is more like a traditional course, with two tutors, and a maximum of 16 participants.  The other tutor will be the wonderful poet Jennifer Copley, who just happens to be the Sunday Poet today.

The course will consist of workshops in the mornings, a chance for tutorials in the afternoons, readings from tutors and guest poets, and a chance for course participants to share work in an evening reading (if they want t0).  Although I love the Poetry Carousels, I also like running these courses.  You get to know the 16 people very well, because you are working together all week, and amazing things can happen during this short, but intense amount of time – not just poetry, but friendships, laughter, tame robins…

If you would like to book, there are still some rooms left. You can find more information about the theme of the week, and how to book, by going here.  If you know anybody who you think might be interested, please forward on this information -I don’t have a marketing budget, or even anybody to do any marketing apart from me, so I do rely on word of mouth to fill the places on the courses.

My co-tutor for October is Jennifer Copley, who is a wonderful, and I think, not made-a-fuss-of-enough poet.  She doesn’t do Facebook, or Twitter, although she does have a website.  She is an incredibly talented and widely published poet, whose writing is surreal, playful, dark, funny, poignant.  She has featured on this blog before, but I’m posting a poem up today because her new pamphlet Vinegar and Brown Paper has just been published by Like This Press

This pamphlet is completely bonkers in a good way.  It is a series of prose poems, loosely based around nursery rhymes.  Each poem is accompanied by an illustration by Martin Copley, Jenny’s husband.  The pamphlet itself is a work of art.  The paper is brown paper, with a kind of raggedy edge.  These little prose poems often made me burst out laughing.  They are unexpectedly funny as well – twisty to get hold of, and walking a fine line between absurdity and profundity.  She reminds me, in this pamphlet at least, of Hilda Sheehan, another favourite poet of mine.

Jenny has had numerous books and pamphlets published – she was one of the first winners of the Poetry Business pamphlet competition in 2001 with Ice.  Since then she has published House by the Sea in 2003 with Arrowhead, Unsafe Monuments in 2006 (also with Arrowhead), Beans in Snow in 2009 with Smokestack, Living Daylights in 2011 with Happenstance, Mr Trickfeather in 2012 with Like This Press and Sisters in 2013 with Smokestack.

I could have picked any of the prose poems in this pamphlet, and they are even better when read as a set, but I loved this one straight away, for its strange but believable logic, for the surprise at the end, and of course for the wonderful illustration.

If you’d like a copy of the pamphlet, you can order it through Like This Press, or you can email Jenny at jennifermmcopley@gmail.com if you’d like a copy, and I’m sure she would be happy to post a signed copy out.

The Robin – Jennifer Copley

was dead but no one knew who’d killed him.
–Snow in the wind, said the sparrow.
–Ice in the water butt, said the wren.
–Frost on the five-barred gate, said the blackbird.
–A poisoned snail, said the thrush.
–God, said the canary who had no respect.
–Then they all turned on each other, shrieking and accusing, although
no one had liked the robin since he’d bullied the goldfinch children to death.


22the robin

Sunday Poem – Wayne Price

Sunday Poem – Wayne Price

I cannot say that I’m not relieved to have got to the end of this week – two four hour rehearsals, two readings and one gig, all while I’ve had the most awful cold.  In fact to call it a cold is like calling a tiger a house cat to my mind.  There should be another, more accurate name for a cold because it is truly awful to get one, isn’t it – but the word cold makes it seem like something that you can have and just keep getting on with things.  Which I suppose you can, in a way, but it doesn’t describe how dreadful you feel.  I’m over the worst of mine now although I’m still having the odd, sporadic coughing fit.

I’m on an enforced day of rest today and am keeping away from the running trainers.  I’m not even looking longingly at them. Ok, I am, but I’m trying to be sensible and try and recover from what has been a bit of a heavy week. So I’ve been sat in the garden looking at my new plants and watching the bees coming back and forth to the flowers.  Bees have become my new obsession at the minute.  I haven’t quite had a blanket over my knees and milky tea but it’s been close.

I did go for a run on Monday morning along the beach which was really lovely, beautiful weather and a fairly steady pace.  We did nearly six miles and I actually felt better when I got home and more energised.  On Tuesday I went for a run with a few friends and we decided to have a go at some Strava segments, which probably wasn’t the best idea, seeing as I had a sore throat and was feeling a bit rough, but I thought it would perk me up.  I think what it did was force the virus to move from my throat up to my nose and my head and by Wednesday I was talking like Darth Vadar and feeling awful.

So I haven’t ran since Tuesday! On Thursday I drove to Todmorden to do a reading at the monthly poetry night ‘Kultura’ at Kava in Todmorden.  I was in two minds about whether to get in touch with Anthony Costello, the host and cancel because my voice was not good at all but I thought it would be quite harsh to cancel with such short notice. I thought as long as I made sure I had water with me I would be ok.  Unfortunately, the water had no effect at all.  I started reading my first poem, and only got half way through before I started coughing uncontrollably.  It was the most horrible feeling – to be standing in front of an audience and feel your throat slowly tightening and trying not to cough.  The audience were really lovely and kind about the whole thing.  In the end I had to ask my friend Keith Hutson, who I was staying with that night to read my poems for me – he knows my work very well so I knew he wouldn’t feel too put on the spot.

Despite struggling with my voice – and there is something truly ironic about not being able to speak poems that I’ve worked on, that I know inside and out and back to front – I still enjoyed the evening.  The event takes place in the basement of the cafe.  It feels very cosy, like a little cave and it was really well attended.  The audience were very supportive, not just of the guest readers, but also of each other, later on at the open mic.  I managed to sell four books and two pamphlets despite choking on all of my poems.

I went straight to bed at Keith’s house and managed my first good night’s sleep in about a week – only woke myself up a couple of times coughing so I felt a lot better on Friday.  We went to Hebden Bridge and had cake and tea and then went into the bookshop where I bought The Handless Maiden and The Book of Blood by Vicki Feaver – two books I’ve read library copies of but have never had my own copies.  I also bought Small Hands by Mona Arshi which I’ve been meaning to get for a while.  I also bought a load of lovely postcards which I put in with my pamphlet if anyone ever buys one through this blog – so if you would like a copy of If We Could Speak Like Wolves for £5 plus postage and packing, you will also get a nice postcard in with it as well – just click here to order it.

On Friday night it was my friend David Borrott’s launch of his pamphlet Porthole.  I’ve featured David a couple of times on this blog before but for those of you that missed it – David was chosen as one of four poets to feature in a new ‘Laureate’s Choice’ series of pamphlets, published by Smith/Doorstop.  You can find out more information about the project at the Laureate’s Choice blog, with details of upcoming readings.

David had organised a reading to launch his own pamphlet, and to launch two of the other Laureate’s Choice poets, Wayne Price and Nichola Deane.  It was a really lovely event.  Two of David’s sons were there and were very cute and well behaved, and his lovely wife as well, who I’ve heard lots about but hadn’t met before.  I’d read Wayne and Nichola in magazines and competitions but haven’t heard them read.  I asked them both if I could pick a poem for my blog once I’d read their pamphlet after hearing them read as I really liked their work.

I read Wayne’s pamphlet Fossil Record in one sitting today, out in the garden, which felt very apt, as his pamphlet is full of poems about animals and the natural world. In fact he even has a poem called Suburban Gardens at Night which I was very tempted to put up.  There isn’t a dull poem in the pamphlet.  Sometimes I read books and I wonder why the poet felt the need to write that poem – rather cruelly of me, I think, what is the point, or where was the drive, the compulsion to write it.  This never happened reading these poems – I enjoyed all of them.

You know you are in safe hands, for example, when the first two lines of the first poem in the pamphlet are

‘Hand and mind are fishing the river after dark
for the slow, heavy old ones that rise at night’

from ‘Nightfishing’

I think those two lines are so beautiful, and almost a poem in their own right – but the rest of the poem, and the pamphlet is just as good.  The poem I’ve chosen to use as this week’s Sunday Poem I loved as soon as I read the first four lines – again it gave me that feeling that the poet knows exactly what they are doing, that the poem is in safe hands.  I like the specificity of the title and this is continued with the detail that is drawn out in the poem.  There is something wonderful in the aptness of the comparison to the body of the hawk with a balsa plane and the way the comparison is drawn out over eight lines.  Not only is it lighter than a balsa plane, it is lighter than the balsa planes launched from a bedroom window into Welsh rain.  Those eight lines give us a lot of information – it sounds like a lonely activity – there is no mention of doing this with friends.  The garden is a ‘bare strip’ but we are not told why.  The rain is not merely rain, but Welsh rain.

My favourite part of the poem is in stanza five though – the recording of the insect life that has been going on inside the hawk, around its death: ‘it has only been/troubled from within,/and all the hidden turmoil/that churned there is done.’   I love this use of the word ‘troubled’.  I’ve heard it used in this way before in a poem by David Tait – I think he writes about his mother ‘troubling the latch’ and I think it is a fantastic twisting of this word.

I also love the image of seeing the ‘dusty green/leaves’ and the ‘clean blue sky’ through the skull of the hulk.  Those last four lines alter the whole perspective of the poem, so it seems as if you are lying in the grass with the skull looking upwards.  In fact, this change of perspective happens quite a lot in this poem – it is a bit like a film.  At first we see down the bare strip of garden from a bedroom window.  Then we are holding the skull in our hands, then we are at the same level as it, in the ground.

Wayne Price was born in South Wales but has lived and worked in Scotland since 1987.  His short stories and poems have been widely published and won many awards.  His debut story collection Furnace (Freight, 2012) was shortlisted for the Saltaire Scottish First Book of the Year and longlisted for the Frank O’Connor Award.  His first novel, Mercy Seat, was published in February 2015.   He was a finalist in the Manchester Poetry Competition in both 2013 and 2014.  He teaches at the University of Aberdeen.

You can order Fossil Record here if you would like to read more of his fantastic work.

Hope you enjoy the Sunday Poem and thanks to Wayne for letting me use his poem.

Dead Hawk, the Anglican Churchyard, Tangier – Wayne Price

It is lighter at the tips
of my fingers than
the snap-out balsa planes
I made as a boy

and launched from
my bedroom window
on afternoons of Welsh rain
to a bare strip of garden.

Days of sun and wind
have whittled it clean
to stiff pinion
feathers and bone.

Cats stalk the dessicated
grasses between
the graves, but none of them
have dismantled it;

it has only been
troubled from within,
and all the hidden turmoil
that churned there is done.

The ebony crescent
of its beak is still
precise and fine.  I can
see clean through

the empty house
of the skull,
like the quality
of a memory

the mind has refined,
to the gardener
with his combing rake,
who like the cats

has let it lie, and to the dusty green
leaves above, and the
clean blue sky.

Sunday Poem – David Borrott


Firstly, apologies that this week’s Sunday Poem is late, but it will be worth it!  I’ve had a busy week but my ‘days off’ (my writing days) have been full of driving and poetry and more driving.  As well as being at work and conducting my junior band, I spent Monday night writing the last assignment for the online course that I’ve been running for The Poetry School.  I’ve really enjoyed being a tutor on the course – it has been amazing seeing the different poems that have originated from the exercise.  On Tuesday I went to a reading by Simon Armitage at The Wordsworth Trust.  Simon did a great reading as usual, but it was a sad occasion for me, the last of the Tuesday night reading series.  Michael McGregor, the Director at the Trust announced that they had not been successful in their second Arts Council funding application.   So I will have to get my poetry fix elsewhere.

There are other, more positive things happening though. I think I’ve mentioned befoe that I’ve taken up the post of Reviews Editor for The Compass, a new online magazine with Andrew Forster and Lindsey Holland as the Poetry Editors.  The first issue went live on Friday.  The content of the magazine is released bit by bit over the next two weeks, so do go and check it out.  The first review is up now – written by Penny Boxall who reviewed Englaland by Steve Ely, ‘Bones of Birds’ by Jo Colley and ‘The Midlands’ by Tony Williams.

I’ve not had anything to do with the poetry submission side of things so it has been really interesting reading the poems as they’ve gone up.  I haven’t read it all yet, but my favourites so far have to be the Matthew Olzmann poems.  I’d not come across him before but will be seeking his work out now.

Choosing books to review has been good fun but it has made me aware of how many books there are out there.  I’m finding it particularly hard with the first collections – there are so many good ones, or maybe I’m more aware of them all because that is the stage I’m at as well – but we can’t review them all, much as I would like to.

On Wednesday I spent half the day at work and then half the day at a Women’s Poetry Celebration at the Wordsworth Trust.  I came straight from work and drove through my dinner hour which left me about five minutes to scoff a sandwich before my reading.  I read with Penny Boxall, Emily Hasler and Eileen Pun, all of whom had been inspired by living or working at the Trust.  I came home with only two books as I had to borrow £20 from Polly so I had to exercise some restraint, which was a good thing I think, as my shelf of books to be read is now starting to overflow.

I sold five Falls and two Wolves so I was pretty pleased with that and then I had to dash off home to get ready for the fourth live chat of the Poetry School course.

On Thursday I left at about 11am to go to Cardiff as I had a reading at First Thursday, which my editor Amy Wack runs and hosts.  Amy had invited me to stay for the night and I was planning on arriving mid-afternoon with time to get something to eat before the evening.  However, the M6 was clearly planning otherwise and I eventually pulled up outside Amy’s house at about 6.15pm.  I was stuck in traffic all day – thank goodness I had a really good book on my phone to listen to – The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, which I managed to listen to from start to finish this weekend, yes the whole 15 hours of it.  That is how much time I’ve spent driving about and stuck on the cursed M6!

I met lots of lovely people in Cardiff though, which more than made up for the marathon drive.  I read with Robert Minhinnick who was reading from his new novel ‘Limestone Man’, which is written in a beautiful poetic prose.  I really enjoyed the open mic afterwards. The lovely Emily Blewitt read a poem – I got to know Emily last year when she was a participant on the Grange over Sands residential course that I run.   I’m really excited about her first collection, which will be published by Seren in 2017.  I read the proposed manuscript for Emily a couple of weeks ago and wrote a supporting statement for her, and I think it is already a very special collection of poems.  By the time she has had a couple of years to work on it, I think it will be amazing.  I found the whole open mic really interesting though – lots of good poets and everybody was well behaved and stuck to time.

After the horrors of the traffic on Thursday I decided not to leave anything to chance and left early on Friday morning – maybe about 9am.  I had to be in Kendal by 3.45 to run Dove Cottage Young Poets so I thought this left me plenty of time.  Again, the M6 defied me – there were accidents, roadworks and I eventually got to Kendal at 3.15pm, just in time for my workshop and feeling quite sorry for myself and my poor bottom, which had been sat in a car seat for over six hours.

On Saturday I played at a mass at Our Lady of Furness Church in Barrow.  I played at the church for the first time last year.  Anthony Milledge, a talented local musician wrote a rather complicated fanfare for trumpet and organ.  We played the same thing this year and I was slightly worried that after sightreading it last year without a problem, I wouldn’t be able to do the same thing this year, which would mean my playing had actually got worse over the year but it was all ok and went off without a hitch.

I then had to jump into the car and drive to Ulverston to an afternoon rehearsal with my junior band and Furness Music Centre.  Richard Bagnall, the conductor of Furness Music Centre was conducting so it was nice to have the chance to listen from the back of the hall, rather than in the middle.  I stayed for the first half of the mass concert and then had to jump in the car again to go to my own gig with the Soul Survivors.

I spent most of the gig feeling like I was going to pass out from the heat.  I must remember to get myself a water spray before the next gig because throwing water on my face is the only thing that seems to help and it is probably not that advisable with all the electrical equipment.

I finally got to sleep at about 1am on Saturday night – it took me an hour to slow down after the gig and my ears were buzzing from the loud music.  When I woke up on Sunday morning, my arms and shoulders were aching from holding the trumpet in the same position and although I had time to go running, I felt too tired, so instead I had a rather lazy morning of eating choocolate croissants and drinking tea.  I did manage to type a poem up and enter it for a poetry competition – my first submission in absolutely ages.

If I write a poem that I think is any good, I always like to enter it into one competition.  It feels like buying a lottery ticket for me.  It gets one chance to earn me lots of money and then after that, I usually put it in a group and send it to a magazine.  Having said that, I haven’t got enough poems to make a magazine submission yet…

I set off for the Ted Hughes Festival where I was reading yesterday evening.  Yes, I got stuck in more traffic – how unlucky can one person be in one weekend?  I managed to find an alternative route with the sat nav but at times it felt like it was sending me down some farm track into the middle of nowhere.  I eventually got to Mexborough and managed to catch a few of the other readings – including the first half of Helen Mort’s set.  Her new poems are amazing and I was really excited to hear that her second collection will be out from Chatto some time in 2017.  I also heard the first half of Matthew Clegg and Ray Hearne’s collaboration.  I loved Matthew’s poetry and bought the book just before I left and am determined to read it this side of Christmas.

I had something to eat at a Wetherspoons before I left – the Wetherspoons in Mexborough is much classier than the one in Barrow.  We sat in a booth with a frame full of photos of Ted Hughes – one of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath on their honeymoon, another with Ted Hughes standing with W.H Auden, T S Eliot and some other rather famous male poets.  Can you imagine what that would have been like – to be standing there having a drink with them all?  I knew this before, but looking at that photo, it really struck me how difficult it would have been to have been a woman writing in those times.  I know that might sound like an obvious thing to say, but it felt like I hadn’t known it till then, that looking at that photo made me suddenly know it.

I finally got back to Barrow at 2am and I have spent the whole day feeling like a bit of a zombie.  I knew I was in trouble last night when I decided to go into the garage and buy the cheesiest compilation album I could find (Rock Ballads for Driving) and sing at the top of my lungs to stop myself falling asleep.

This trick worked brilliantly though and set me thinking about all of the family holidays when we used to drive to Cornwall, listening to the same songs.  I remembered sleeping in a caravan with my sister, our beds so close together I could reach out and touch her.  In the morning the seagulls would wake us up, tapping away on the roof as they walked about and whoever got up first and opened the caravan door was the one to scare away the wild rabbits, busy eating the grass in the drizzle.

All of this just from listening to some songs.  Now I think about it though, this is where I get my habit of enjoying reading the same books over and over again or watching the same TV series over and over again.  It was those car journeys, listening to the same album on repeat, knowing not only every word, but also what song would come next and what would come after that, and after that, and no matter how drawn out the ending of the songs were, how repetitive they were, my parents would never forward to the next track. Each song must be endured until the end.

Anyway, this is all a bit of strange tangent and nothing at all to do with today’s Sunday (Monday) poet, David Borrott.  I’ve known David a long time now, maybe six or seven years.  I met him on the MA at Manchester and he has been on nearly every residential that I’ve ran.  He is a lovely man and a great poet and he has been long overdue a pamphlet in my opinion.

I suppose he is glad that he waited now though because his pamphlet is published by Smith/Doorstop in a new series of pamphlets called ‘Laureate’s Choice’, which are basically poets selected by Carol Ann Duffy.

David’s pamphlet is very beautiful and the poetry is fantastic.  It is called Porthole and I would urge you all to buy it.  Regular visitors to this blog will know that David has already been a Sunday Poet a while ago with his poem ‘Self Portrait with Fiddling Death’ and so has now gone into blog history as one of those rare poets invited back a second time.

I’ve chosen the poem Boggart for this week.  I love poems that create a believable world that is not quite reality.  I like poems that have little creatures in them, like boggarts. poems that make me see the thing that is not real, like this line about the boggart: ‘the crowing mouth sipping the crack of light’.  I like poems with philosophical questions thrown in, as if they are an afterthought: ‘Are we not all held down by a rock?’ and poems with commonplace details that ground us: ‘I remember brambles, a spider on a gate/a mud path looping the field’.

I think this is a strange and beautiful poem, very poised and with lovely line breaks which make reading it aloud like reading a musical score.

David was born and grew up in Ilford, Essex and now lives in Lancashire with his partner and their three sons.  He has an MA in Poetry from Manchester Metropolitan University and his poetry has been anthologised in Watermark by Flax Books and in CAST: The Poetry Business Book of New Contemporary Poets.

I hope you enjoy the poem.

Boggart – David Borrott

The rock, in fact, was somewhere down a lane,
I went the wrong way but still got there.
I remember brambles, a spider on a gate
a mud path looping a field, then I found it.
And under it the ghoul, held by its weight,
nobody at the farm, nobody in the fields.
Are we not all held down by a rock?
I thought and touched the stone, which had no
markings except what time had laid on it.

Of course, this is a thing of the mind,
one has to tune the thinking to unveil,
the lank fiend in his burrow, his furred limbs
the crowing mouth sipping the crack of light
as I prise the boulder up – he sizzles free
and I take in that hatred of imprisonment.
Imagine the surge, I can’t control it yet but when I do
havoc will stampede through my skull
and such mad words will rocket from my beak.

Sunday Poem – Basil du Toit


I am determined to start, and post the Sunday Poem up this week while there is still daylight left, and so stave off any terrible mishaps.  I have had a real roller coaster of a week with amazing highs and lows.  My first full-length collection has been officially launched which was definitely a real high, but in the run up to it I managed to torture myself into sleepless nights and nightmares that nobody would show up to the launch and I would be reading poems to the band and my parents.  I mean, there are nine people in the band, so adding my mum and dad, I’ve done smaller poetry readings and been an audience member in smaller readings as well.

Last week I was moaning on to Chris and asking myself why I’d organised such a large thing.  Whose idea was it to have it in the Supper Room which is quite a large room to fill? (mine) Whose idea was it to have the Soul Band playing, thus making everything much larger? (mine) And why in gods name did I tell people to bring food? What if there wasn’t enough? I was also panicking about the audience.  I suspected the poets would be outnumbered by the runners, soul band fans, teachers and musicians and might not have any interest in poetry.  What do you read to people that might not have any interest in poetry?  I was also worried about how people would react to the soul band.  I wanted the band to have a good night, as they agreed to play for free and most of them are gigging musicians so this meant a loss of income to them.  I was worried that the poets would think it was too loud and go home after the poetry.  I was worried about the turnout as well because lots of people who said they could come then got in touch to say they couldn’t make it for a variety of reasons.   I was worried about Amy Wack, my editor at Seren coming all the way from Wales and being disappointed in the turnout.

So, that was me, worrying away before the launch.  Chris alleges that I do this before EVERYTHING – that I worry myself into a sort of worry-frenzy and it always turns out ok, so maybe it is just the way that I cope with things.  Amy arrived on Wednesday and it was then I started to calm down a bit as I realised it was too late to do anything about any of the things I was worrying about anyway.

On Thursday we went for a walk with the dogs and then went for lunch with my auntie and uncle who had come all the way up from Leicester to be at the launch.  I don’t see them very often so it was really nice to spend some time with them.  After lunch I drove to Ulverston for a quick sound check with the band at the venue and to put out the table cloths that I’d borrowed from Poem and a Pint.  So there wasn’t any time to worry on Thursday, and before I knew it, it was 7pm and people were starting to arrive, first of all in a trickle, but then there was suddenly a queue outside the door to get into the room and there was no room to sit down and we were having to get more chairs.

I’ve put some photos into this post in a rare move for me to show you what I’m talking about.  It was a bit like getting married without having to share the limelight with a bloke! My lovely friend Jo Stoney made me the most amazing cake, with the cover of my book made out of icing.

1557543_10153071223968051_3522224217937592958_nWe even had a cutting-the-cake ceremony like you do at a wedding!  Here is Jo and I about to cut the cake.11350455_10153071223998051_6786030231315537806_nHere is a photo of the crowd at the launch – there was a group from my running club, some of whom had never been to a poetry reading before, teachers that I work with in schools, parents of kids who play in my band, Chris’s friends from work and psychotherapists that he works with, my family and of course the lovely poets who I spend a lot of time with these days.  Some of them, like Jennifer Copley and Mark Carson and Gill Nicholson I’ve been in writing groups with ever since I first started writing seven years ago.  Others I see more sporadically at events and workshops and open mics.  I was completely stunned by the turnout – I’m not making it up when I say I didn’t think there would be many people there.


It was an amazing atmosphere to read in and although I was too busy talking and signing books to get any food apart from a couple of crisps and a carrot stick, I’m told there was plenty.  After the food, I had a quick costume change into the black that the Soul Survivors play in and we went on and started playing. I needn’t have worried about the poets reaction to the music either.  They lost no time in getting up and gyrating about the place.  Here is a picture of the band and I’ve just noticed Jo is cutting the cake at the front of the photo!

11329852_10153071224483051_9214075939788998269_nWhen the pamphlet came out, I kept a sporadic but running total of my own sales, so I’ll do the same for the book.  In the run up to the launch, I’d sold 51 copies.  At the launch Amy sold 68 which I thought was pretty good.  I’ve decided not to sell the book from this blog, as postage is more expensive than for my pamphlet, and if you buy direct from Seren, you will get 20% off as part of their book club deal.

My next, and last launch event for the book is going to be in London at The King and Queen pub, 1 Foley Street, W1W 6DL on June 13th, starting at 7.30.  I’ll be reading with Jill Abram and Kathryn Maris.  Sadly, the budget won’t stretch to transporting the nine-piece soul band to the venue but I will try and make up for it.  There is a Facebook group for the event here and it would be lovely if any London readers could make it there – do introduce yourself if you come along!

Apart from obsessing about things that are out of my control I’ve also played at a wedding with the Soul Survivors on Friday night and on Saturday morning I knocked seven seconds off my Park run personal best time, taking my best time down to 23 minutes and 1 second! Highly annoying not to get under the 23 minute barrier but it seems well within reach now.  Of course once I do that I will start obsessing about getting under 22 minutes but, you know.  It keeps me busy.

So that is more than enough about me.  Today’s Sunday Poem is by Basil du Toit, who is another Poetry Business pamphlet winner.  I was really impressed with his quiet yet assured delivery at the pamphlet launch and I really enjoyed reading his pamphlet once I got home.

The poem I’ve chosen, Sound Engineer, is one I love firstly because of its sure footedness.  It tells you exactly where to breathe because of the line breaks – it is like reading a musical score.  It’s an interesting subject for a poem as well and I love how it succeeds in making the voice a physical object that can be manipulated and changed, snipped and cut.  It also draws attention to the things that surround our speech and our words, the swallows, glottal lumps, the ‘tiny puff’ of a sigh.  Maybe this is why it is so easy to fall in love with poems – on the page or spoken aloud, if they are read well, there is no room for any of these vocal sounds.

The contrast between the two people in the poem is very marked as well.  The Sound Engineer is a ‘language beautician’, a ‘word surgeon’, whereas the owner of the voice has ‘ugly glottal lumps’ and ‘noisy swallows’, ‘gristly blurts and mishaps’.  By the end of the poem, the speaker has been transformed ‘speaking like an angel’ but the poem finishes with that striking image of the feet of the sound engineer, surrounded by the ‘phonic fragments’ of his voice.  I might have just been reading too much of Ovid’s Metamorphoses recently, but there is something in this poem that reminds me of the story of Philomena, whose tongue is cut out by her sisters’ husband, but the tongue continues, almost with a life of it’s own.  There is something painful in this ending, as if getting rid of the ‘acoustic transgressions’ has removed something vital from the speaker, something important.

This poem comes from Basil’s winning pamphlet Old, published by Smith/Doorstop.  You can order the pamphlet here.  Basil sent me this lovely biography and I thought the whole thing was really interesting so I’ve left it in first person.  He says

“I was born in Cape Town and spent most of my childhood in a country pretty much devoid of books – the Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana). Things have come along since then, of course. I moved to Edinburgh in 1980 (when I was just shy of 30), and I’ve been here ever since. I think that being so distant from South Africa freed me up to write poems – back there I think I’d have been strangled by the imperative to write political verse, which, much as I might wish otherwise, doesn’t suit me. I have published 2 full collections of poems, Home Truths and Older Women, both brought out by South African publishers. Old, my Smith/Doorstop pamphlet, is my first UK publication.”

Sound Engineer – Basil du Toit

She runs the magnetic spool backwards
and forwards to identify ugly glottal lumps
in the vocal tissue; finds one, snips it out
and neatly closes the gap: a noisy swallow
lies on the floor on one inch of recording –

a language beautician is at work, cutting
gristly blurts and mishaps from my delivery.
I listen in amazement as she isolates
a sigh, removes and transfers this tiny
puff – intact into a different utterance.

She directs her art to linguistic particles,
splicing morphemes and phonemes
like someone transplanting a cornea.
She’s a word surgeon, widening vowels
or punching tracheotomies into sentences.

I end up speaking like an angel, in a purified
dialect free from acoustic transgressions,
while around her feet, on snippets of tape,
inarticulate phonic fragments of my voice
continue to gulp and hiss and croak.

Sunday Poem – Andrew Forster


This is the first blog post I am writing from my lovely new/old desk which I bought in a charity shop last week for £60. It apparently came from a school.  I quite liked it when I bought it but now I have it set up in my room I love it.

I have had a cold all week.  I think it started on Monday or Sunday evening.  The cold is a lot better but I feel really run down and tired.  I didn’t think I looked that bad, but I’ve just been shopping and the woman at the checkout took one look at me and said ‘What happened to you?’.  I said ‘I’ve had a cold and I still don’t feel great’ and then she looked at me and said ‘I’ll pack your bags.  I’ll take pity on you’.  I feel like I should be offended that she was basically saying I looked terrible, but I actually just feel grateful that she packed my shopping for me!

Today I was supposed to be running the Ulverston 10k.  I was supposed to be running it in under fifty minutes, which clearly wasn’t going to happen the state I was in.  I already decided earlier on in the week that it wasn’t a good idea to do the race but I was planning on going along and cheering on everybody else, but this morning I felt too ill again to stand out in the cold so I stayed at home feeling sorry for myself.

Yesterday was spent putting up a fence  in the backyard.  It is almost done – the last two fence panels are being delivered on Tuesday. I learnt how to use one of those screw gun things and was reprimanded for referring to a ‘screw’ as a nail.  A friend came and chopped down the hedge and various trees in the back garden and we also found underneath the grass, mud and roots a bit of path.  I didn’t really do much apart from float around with the screw gun and walk the dogs very slowly.

On Friday I ran my Young Writers Group and then went straight from there to a launch of four new pamphlets by Ron Scowcroft, Elizabeth Burns, Pauline Keith and Carole Coates, all published by a brand new pamphlet publisher ‘Wayleave Press’ which is run by Mike Barlow.  The pamphlets are really beautiful – I think most, if not all of them have a front cover illustration by Mike.  I was really impressed with the quality of the poetry on the Friday and I’ll be featuring some of the poets on this blog in the coming weeks.

Apart from that, all week I’ve just been trying to hold my head above water whilst feeling rubbish.  Although quite a few of my schools are cancelling sessions, mainly due to rehearsals for school plays, I’m still busy because I’m doing lots of extra sessions with the junior band.  I took 12 children from the band to Asda on Wednesday to play carols for a couple of hours in the evening.

Today I’ve been emailing back and forth with my editor with ideas for a launch for my collection.  ‘The Art of Falling’ is due out in April next year and the date seems to be approaching alarmingly quickly.  Organising a launch is a bit weird as well – it is a bit like organising your own birthday party in a way.

I’ve been trying to think back to all the launches that I’ve been to and what makes a good launch – for both the poet and the audience.  I did have one for my pamphlet which was the reading at The Wordsworth Trust and the thing that made that amazing was how many of my friends were there and the excitement of reading with the other winners.  So maybe for me, the key ingredient of a good launch would be the audience – having enough audience and the audience I get being made up (at least partly) of friends.  I didn’t organise that launch though – it was part of the prize of winning the pamphlet.  All I had to do is turn up.

The launch on Friday was good because the poetry was very good and I enjoyed hearing Mike Barlow talk about setting up a publishing press.  His enthusiasm was infectious and it was so refreshing to hear somebody’s passion for other people’s work.

So far, there are tentative plans for a main launch in Ulverston, which although it isn’t my home town, it is only 15 minutes up the road from me, and from past experience, tends to draw bigger audiences than Barrow.  The soul band I’ve been playing with have offered to play for this, so I think this evening will be a short reading, maybe with some friends reading too and then a break and time to sign books/drink wine and then the band can play and those who wish to can bust some moves.  Or not.  It is looking likely that there may be a launch in London, because lovely friend Jill Abram has offered to help me organise this and maybe one in Manchester as lovely friends Lindsey Holland has offered to help me put this one together.  And that will be enough launching to last me for the rest of the year I think!

It is exciting sorting all this out and I’ve been touched by the offers of help I’ve received just by mentioning it.  Poor Martin Copley who does our posters for Poem and a Pint has been volunteered by his wife Mrs Crabtree aka poet Jennifer Copley to make a poster for my launch.  I bet she hasn’t told him yet but I know he reads my blog so he knows now!

Tonight I’m off to the Hope and Anchor in Ulverston to play with the soul band – apparently it will be a tight squeeze so no room for a chair, but if it’s that tight, at least I should be able to prop myself up against a wall or something.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by the lovely Andrew Forster, who has featured here before a while ago but since then his shiny new collection ‘Homecoming’, published by Smith/Doorstop has been released.  The collection is an extraordinary record of living and working in the Lake District, not just living and working in fact, but also traveling through the landscape as a resident rather than a tourist.

One of my favourite poems in the book is ‘Morecombe Bay’ which is a series of three line stanzas seperated by asterisks.  Each stanza uses a different metaphor or image to look at the bay.  It reminds me of the Wallace Stevens poem ’13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’.  There are only 8 in Andrew’s poem, but they are lovely.  Morecombe Bay is ‘a glass pathway’ in the first stanza, a ‘grey muslin sheet’ in the second, a ‘blue eiderdown’ in the third.

The collection is full of carefully observed poems.  In ‘Lindale Hill’ the poem starts ‘It’s a village of layers, a place/in progress, where houses are messages/from different ages’.  I know Lindale very well, having taught at the village school there for a few years, and smiled in recognition when I read this, but I think if you don’t know the village, you can picture it.

The poem I’ve chosen to feature this week is ‘Dusk in Lindale’.  This is another beautiful, carefully observed poem. I know it’s not November now, but when I wrote to Andrew and asked him if I could use it, it was and I think this feels like a November poem.  Maybe because of the quality of the light that is described in the poem – the dusk is ‘a shabby cloth/which parts as others, coming home,/emerge from shadows in our path.’  Later on in the poem, we can see the trees ‘pastel smudges/holding drums of darkness between them.’

This collection is full of descriptions of light and I think this is one of the hidden themes of the book.  Behind the main theme of place and landscape and  home is a concern with light and shadow which crops up again.  Light is often used to set the mood or tone of a poem – in the first poem in the collection ‘At Carstairs Junction’ we read ‘the darkness hasn’t loosened its hold./Rain slants into the lamps like the grain/of an old film’ and in the last poem ‘Homecoming’ in the last three lines we are left with both light and dark.

‘Just beyond the lights Amanda stands,
with Walter the dachshund, his yips
of greeting rising over the departing engine.’

I’d be interested if you have the collection to hear your thoughts on the way Andrew has explored light in the poems, as well as the more obvious concerns of place.

Andrew Forster is originally from South Yorkshire but lived in Scotland for twenty years before moving to Cumbria in 2008.  He has published two full-length collections of poetry with Flambard Press, ‘Fear of Thunder’ in 2007 and ‘Territory’ in 2010.  Fear of Thunder was shortlisted for the 2008 Forward Prize for Best First Collection.  Two poems from it ‘Horse Whisperer’ and ‘Brothers’ appear in the AQA GCSE syllabus.  He won a Northern Writers Award in 2014.

If you would like to find out more about Andrew Forster he has his own website here

If you would like to order ‘Homecoming’ you can find it on the Smith/Doorstop website

Thanks to Andrew for letting me use his poem, and I promise next week’s post will be full of health rather than coughs and splutters.

Dusk in Lindale – Andrew Forster

By the time I’m home, the sun has slipped
behind Cartmel Fell and the sky holds
its last light in a sparkling grey wash.
The early dark forcing a different rhythm,

I walk the dog before day fades completely.
On the street the dusk is a shabby cloth
which parts as others, coming home,
emerge from shadows in our path.

The last houses shine like orange beacons,
small against impending night.
Cars purr around the bend, headlight beams
thrust out, the road left darker than before.

Woods run parrallel to the path,
the slatted fence almost invisible
so the trees seem closer, pastel smudges
holding drums of darkness between them.

The dog stops, quivering, small legs
braced, scenting the loamy Autumn air,
tuned into a world that exists beside us,
beyond the tangle of nettles and brambles.

Further on, at Castle Head, a roe deer springs
over the field.  Russet, it flickers
like a faint torch in the growing night
before being extinguished completely.

Sunday Poem – David Tait


Evening all – first of all my apologies for the missing Sunday Poem last Sunday.  Since last Saturday I have been in Inchnadamph, which is in north-west Scotland, in a small two-bedroomed cottage which we renamed ‘Midge Mansion’.  It’s real name is Riverside Cottage, and it was indeed next to a river as well as various mountains and a loch with a ruined castle and there were lots of red deer, mainly stags, wandering about the place.  In fact I saw more red deer than I did cars – they were everywhere.  And even though I know they eat all the vegetation, and are basically pretty devastating in environmental terms, I can’t help but love them.  They are so graceful – when they jump over walls it looks like they are just stepping over them.  They carry their antlers as if they are carrying a huge, really elaborate bunch of flowers on their heads.  One stag came right up to our window and munched on the grass next to the car, which I guess tasted nicer than the grass on the hills.  Every night we sat and watched them come over the ridge and down the hillside.  We joked that we would return one day and find the deer sitting in the cottage finishing off the Doritos and playing cards – they were so unconcerned about us, not in a tame way, more in a knowing that we were completely irrelevant to their lives because we couldn’t hurt them way.

I say ‘we’ without explaining who I went on holiday with – there was the husband of course, and my two dogs, Miles and Lola and lastly David Tait and Jay-Ven Lee, who were visiting from China.  David is one of my closest friends and he moved to China about 18 months ago and I’ve been looking forward to seeing David and Jay for ages.

It feels like so much has happened in two weeks and it is hard to know where to start.  Maybe I will start with what I would have written last Sunday, if I had signal which is that David did a fantastic reading in Penrith at the Wordsworth Bookshop, that there was tea and cakes, provided by the lovely John who owns the bookshop, that afterwards we went for ice cream and it was so hot that they were melting and dripping all over the place before we could eat them.

David and Jay came back to Barrow and walked the dogs with me – we walked along the reservoir and saw a rat jump out a bin and then walked into the quarry and I showed them the house that we are in the process of buying – we even looked through the windows because the house is empty and went into the garden because the back gate has fallen off.  When we left the house I thought the cat was acting a bit strange – he was lying in a position he wouldn’t normally lie in but I stroked him and talked to him and he was purring like mad, and he is a bit of a strange cat, so I decided to just go and walk the dogs and check on him when I got back.

When we got back, about 9.15pm, he had collapsed in the back garden.  He was panting horribly, and was making this horrible sound.  Have you ever heard the scream a rabbit makes before it dies? I have, once, when my dog killed one.  It was like that but with more sadness in it, more loneliness.  I thought he had got heat stroke because it had been such a hot day, and since I’ve been off school, I’ve noticed that Simba (the cat) and Miles (my oldest dog) lay out in the sun a lot in the yard.  I wet a towel and tried to cool him down, but it didn’t really work.  I rang the emergency vet and he said to bring him down to the surgery for 10pm.  Chris dropped Jay and David off at the train station because they were getting the last train back to Lancaster, and I just sat with the cat.  We walked down to the surgery with the cat and all the time I was thinking that the vet would put him on a drip and he would be ok – but I don’t know if I really believed it.

When we got to the surgery Simba made that awful noise again, and the vet said ‘I know what it is and it’s not good’.  He said that the cat was in agony, that he would explain later, but he needed to stop him being in pain, and I realised he meant that he was going to have to put him to sleep.  Chris had to help the vet find the vein to inject him because there was no nurse there – and within 15 minutes it was all over and it was just his body lying on the table and I knew he wasn’t there anymore because Simba would never lie in that position, all stretched out and open.  He was always tucked in on himself and neat, like most cats I suppose.  We walked home with the empty cat box – it was all so bizarre – there is part of me, a voice in my head that tells me to stop being silly, it is only a cat etc etc and the rest of me is absolutely gutted.  I can also see how to people without pets, or maybe even people with pets who have never had one die before that this post will seem self-indulgent and over the top, maybe because that is how I would have thought before this happened to me.

Now, I still can’t believe that it happened – because it was so sudden and because I’ve had the cat for ten years.  I felt really guilty for going for a walk, when I knew, deep down, that there was something wrong with him.  Last night when we got back, there was a card from the vet who treated him – he was not our vet, just the vet who was providing emergency care that night.  It said ‘Very sorry about Simba.  Your hands were tied! Take care, kind regards, John’.  When I read that card, I did feel less guilty – there was nothing I could have done, except maybe have got back earlier and got him to the vets a little sooner.  I hate thinking of any living thing in pain.  I’m a terrible hypocrite – this week for example, we went on a boat trip and the guide lifted some creels to show us what was in them- all this skittering, chittering life from under the water, and I felt so sorry for the little prawns and crabs and whatever else was in there – they so desperately wanted to live…and then I go to the pub and order meat…anyway, not to be sidetracked.

Last week I also felt guilty because I thought maybe I hadn’t loved Simba enough – or maybe I hadn’t showed him enough. My lovely husband helped me get all the photos we have of him into one folder and this was my favourite one – although you can’t actually see him very well because he is being cuddled and squashed by the dogs – this was taken when I was spending the day on the sofa after having a minor operation on my head – there was no way the animals were going to let me lay there alone…

WP_20140203_001In lots of the photos he is on my knee or sitting with one of the dogs.  When we got back from the vets they ran up to the basket looking for him.  Anyway, the day after I felt awful – I felt in a bit of a state.  David was coming back to Ulverston to read for Poem and a Pint with Gill Nicholson and Neil Curry and I was meant to be introducing everybody but I didn’t trust myself not to cry if I got up and said anything in public, so the lovely Mark Carson stepped into the breach at very late notice and did the introductions.  It was a lovely event – I sat on the bookstall and had the satisfaction of selling the books for the poets- David sold 11, Gill sold four and Neil sold five which was quite an achievement seeing as lots of the audience probably already had copies of their books.  There was a lovely moment when David’s dad ‘heckled’ him from the audience, saying ‘I loved your book, I’ve read it all, can you finish with ‘Puppets?’

And then on Saturday we drove to Lancaster to pick our hire car up – there was no way two dogs and four adults would fit in my little Hyundai and then picked David and Jay up and then we were on our way to Scotland and I was relieved to get away from the cat-empty house to be honest.  We got to Inchnadamph at about 11pm I think and were immediately eaten alive by the midges when we were unloading the car – they kind of took all of us by surprise, apart from Chris who had been obsessing about them for weeks after past experiences and we had all been ignoring him, thinking how bad can they be??

And there was no internet! The nearest Wifi was 11 miles away at a pie shop/cafe in Lochinver and I will admit now that I did stand outside the pie shop on one occasion that week to pick up my email.

So I thought I would put up the poem I would have put up last week if I’d had internet, which is a poem by my bestest friend David Tait.  I can’t believe now that I’m not going to see him for another year at least.  He is such good fun to be on holiday with – one of the funniest people I know.  He also did lots of the cooking whilst we were there – and didn’t show the slightest annoyance when on the one occasion I cooked, the meat was ready 45 minutes after the potatoes and vegetables.  There was also the time I overcooked his boiled eggs and undercooked mine – he just thought it was funny.

Last Sunday we went for a walk along the coast up to Stoer Point and managed to spot some seals in the water.  Sunday was the best day for weather – it was hot and there was a breeze most of the time which kept the midges away.  On the Monday we walked up Stac Pollaidh.  It was cloudy on this day and the views kept slipping in and out of the cloud.  On the way down we got a bit eaten by the midges but not too badly – or at least I didn’t – I was feeling quite smug at this point, as the midges seemed to be heading for the guys more than me.

I can’t remember which day goes with which thing for the rest of the week – but we went to Smoo Cave which has possibly the shortest boat ride ever – the guide doesn’t tell you to bend your heads so you don’t hit your head on the rock as the boat passes through, he just silently gestures and then bends, like a tree bowing its head, and everybody just follows his lead, and god help you if you are not paying attention.  We went for a walk to some caves marked on the map which were much better and got caught in the rain on the way back, persistent rain which wouldn’t give up until it had rendered my waterproofs ineffectual, so we ended up skipping down the path singing and splashing in the puddles.  We went to Honda Island and on the 10 minute boat ride over saw porpoises swimming, or at least their fin and tails and we saw puffins sitting on the cliffs.  It was this day when the midges finally got to us all.  My favourite quote of the week was from David, who wrote in the cottage guest book ‘the midges were as vicious as they were cunning’.   We went for a boat trip at Kylesku and saw seals lolling about on the rocks looking slightly outraged that we were watching them, as if they didn’t think we were quite getting their best sides.

I got back last night and spent the day today playing with the Barrow Steelworks Band and rehearsing with the quintet – we are playing some World War 1 music at Barrow Library tomorrow.  Sitting writing this has made me realise how lucky I am to have such friends – friends who I can spend a week with in the middle of nowhere and still have things to talk about and laugh about.  So finally, we come to the Sunday Poem, which is, unashamedly by the wonderful David Tait, who I wished lived closer to me.  I’ve chosen ‘Cesky Krumlov’ because even though it is about another country and another holiday, it sounds a bit like our holiday.  The poem comes from David’s book which has just been published by Smith/Doorstop called ‘Self-Portrait with The Happiness’.  It is a fantastic book and you should all go and buy it – it deserves to win things like prizes, but if not prizes, then at least readers.  David won an Eric Gregory Award this year, not before time and the collection was Highly Commended in the Forward Prizes, which means one of his poems will be in the Forward Prize Anthology this year – I’m not sure which one.

If you would like to order ‘Self Portrait with The Happiness’ you can do so here

Here is a picture of the beautiful cover.


And here is the poem! Please comment on David’s poem if you would like to.  I do really enjoy reading your thoughts on the poems.  I think this is a really beautiful poem – capturing that feeling we all get on holiday, the Shirley Valentine feeling, when we think, what would happen if I stayed, if I never went back?  The poem has a strange mixture of tone, dry: ‘photographed the statues, autumn leaves/ and each other’ but it combines this dryness or matter-of-factness or self deprecation with wistfulness, tenderness ‘your whole unlived life breathes on your cheek’ and those wonderful two last lines ‘the long winter stretching out/ its cold grace in front of you’.  Fantastic stuff – and the whole book is like this!  My favourites in the book, and ones to look out for are ‘Puppets’, all of the Self-Portrait poems, which run as a scattered sequence throughout the book, ‘On Being Trapped Inside a Puddle’ – a wonderful specular for those who like such things and for those who don’t.  I also love ‘The Launderette on Autumn Street’ and ‘Unforgetting Paris’ and ‘Sonnet in the Snow’ and ‘Edits’ and ‘Postbox’ and ‘Heart’ and…well, read the book.

Cesky Krumlov – David Tait

There isn’t much to do in Cesky Krumlov
so when you’ve walked around its castle,
photographed the statues, autumn leaves
and each other; when you’ve eaten
a pastry loaded with cinnamon and sugar
you could leave on the first bus for Prague.

It will probably be cold while you’re waiting:
the first snow hovering over you,
and you’ll consider, for a moment
that you could settle here, spend each day
circling the riverside, the souvenir
woodwork stalls, and eat Goulash
at the place they make the cinnamon pastries.

This thought could come to you
in the bus station jumble sale, rummaging
through an old box of gloves, selecting
a grey pair with fingers that don’t fit:
and you’ll learn the piano, and talk
with backpackers and be on good terms
with the local shops.

Not much to live for, no jobs, and yet
your whole unlived life breathes on your cheek:
and snow of course, falling
so it doesn’t quite land on you,
the long winter stretching out
its cold grace in front of you.

Sunday Poem – River Wolton


This week was the last week of term – and it’s been a bit strange.  I can often be found counting down till the end of term – especially the Christmas term – I sometimes feel like I’m hanging on to my patience and my sanity with my finger nails.  Then term finishes, and I get a bit down and fed up and – well my husband would say grumpy but I think that is a little unfair! I have no idea why I get like this – I find it hard to relax and do nothing – I feel guilty so maybe this is something to do with it…

On Monday I went and played some carols with Barrow Steelworks Band for an hour in Morrisons from 4-5 then drove pretty sharpish over to Tescos for 5.30 to conduct my junior band playing carols.

On Tuesday I stood in for a teacher and conducted St Pius School Band at a concert at St Marks Church in Barrow.  It was a lovely concert – but I found it quite stressful – the kids knew how many repeats they were doing and when they were meant to be singing and dancing (!) thank goodness, but a couple of children turned up late so there I was trying to find chairs for them after the first piece, then another turned up and didn’t know where she’d left her instrument etc etc – made me realise that not only does playing in a band teach musical skills but it also should teach organisational skills and punctuality! Saying that, I went to a gig in Kendal (45 minutes drive away) and realised I’d left my trumpet at home once and I was an adult – and the children did cope very well with me conducting them instead of their usual teacher – they were not shy about correcting me either before we were about to start (“we normally play this one fast”) (“this one starts off with the drums”) etc and it is Christmas, so what I am trying to say, is that on balance, I forgave them their tardiness!

On Wednesday I spent most of the day driving round to various schools and there were no kids to teach – they had gone to the cinema or were having a party but I was still out and about most of the morning and then by 3.45 on Wednesday I was finished and that was when instead of feeling harried/tired I started to feel grumpy…

In my free time since then I have read Clare Pollard’s ‘Ovid’s Heroines’ (it was very good – very interesting as well – as in, gripping in the way a novel is gripping), done the Christmas shopping (on a strict budget this year which I have managed to stick to), done a leaflet for my school poetry workshops (I ran these through Cumbria Music Service last year – but this year I will be doing them freelance) and I have plotted to set up a brass quintet.

This is what happens when I have time on my hands you see!  But I am really excited about the brass quintet .  We have our first rehearsal booked in for early January and we will be performing at weddings and other occasions as required – once we have a name (which we don’t at the minute) I will be setting up a blog and a facebook and twitter group – but in the meantime, if you know anybody who would like a brass quintet for any occasion then get in touch!  There will be a special poets rate 🙂

So today’s Sunday Poem is by River Wolton.  River’s second collection ‘Indoor Skydiving’ has just been published by Smith/Doorstop and it is very good – completely rooted in the modern world  tackling issues such as human trafficking and assumptions about gender and identity.  River also has a pamphlet with Smith/Doorstop called ‘The Purpose of Your Visit’ and a first collection ‘Leap’.  You can buy all of these publications by going to http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk

The poem I’ve chosen was one of those rare poems that you read and instantly connect with – I loved it straight away.  I have no particular love for rats to be honest – when I lived in Leeds because of the students in the top flat bombing their bin bags into the rubbish yard we had a period of time when there were rats living in the building, and they weren’t particularly shy.  I remember coming into the entrance hall of the flats and a rat sitting on a bin bag, and when the light from outside fell on it, it just looked at me and watched me as I scampered past. This poem rests in the journey the reader takes – the poem unpacks the statement the poet makes in the first line and the reader changes their mind about rats by the end of the poem as well.  I really liked the movement in this poem – nothing is still – the floodwater flowing, the quick movement of the rat as she picks the babies up in her mouth and we can picture the rat in the water because of the description of her swimming against the current and that lovely ending of the young rats not knowing whether to fear the water or being in their mother’s mouth… I realise this is not a very festive choice but it does go with last weeks choice of a cat poem!

Rat – by River Wolton

I changed my mind
after a documentary:
floodwater in a sewer.

She took them one by one
scruff of their necks
as if to eat them.

They shrieked,
didn’t know where they were going,
couldn’t see

the torrent forced
into a lethal channel by
excellent Victorian masonry.

Against the flow she swam,
her snakey tail, her bead-black nose,
her children in her mouth,

then scampered to a higher ledge,
and dropped them.
Back again

to where those remaining quivered,
not knowing what to fear most,
the cold thickening around them.