Tag Archives: Smokestack

Sunday Poem – Peter Raynard

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Sunday Poem – Peter Raynard

I’m writing this post today feeling more weary than usual.  I’ve had a fantastic week away as the course tutor at The Garsdale Retreat but I am completely exhausted now! The Garsdale Retreat is a new creative writing centre, set up by Hamish Wilson and Rebecca Nouchette.  I say new, but this is their second season of running courses there now.

It is a beautiful place, surrounded by hills and far enough away from the nearest village to feel wonderfully lonely, whilst only being a two minute walk away from Garsdale train station.  The unique feature about the courses (compared to other residentials) is the small group sizes – the maximum group size is eight, so participants get a lot more individual attention during both tutorials and workshops.  The food is absolutely beautiful as well – Rebecca does the cooking and pretty much everything was home made.  I don’t think I ate anything processed all week! Every afternoon she made a different cake for afternoon tea as well – I was in food heaven.  Below is a picture of my favourite – scones with jam and cream!

scones

Tutors stay in a cottage next door.  It was one of those cute cottages you drive past and idly think about living in so I am glad I got to try one out! The first night was very cold because the snow was still hanging around on the hills, but it gradually got warmer throughout the week, and Rebecca and Hamish gave me a portable heater so I could make my bedroom toasty!

cottage

Workshops went on till 1pm and then in the afternoons I sat in front of my electric fire in the cottage, and did some writing or prepared for tutorials with the participants.  Two of the days I managed to get out for a run, but I have a slightly sore Achilles heel, probably from too many long hilly runs last week.

The participants were great as well – a real pleasure to teach, and full of ideas and conversation around and about poetry, which was lovely.

So I was in Garsdale Monday to Saturday morning, and then I got the train to Carlisle.  A woman sitting next to me was reading over my shoulder whilst I was working on a poem and asked me if I was a lawyer! She looked disappointed when I told her I was a poet.  It took me a while to realise the poem she was reading was an account of a story that someone told me about a date rape.  She obviously thought it was some sort of witness account or something and didn’t seem embarrassed about the fact she’d been reading over my shoulder without asking.  We got talking then all the way to Carlisle so the journey went very quickly.

I was taking part in an event called Woman Up! in Carlisle, a day of events exploring what it means to be a woman.  There was a variety of events on, including speakers from the Carlisle Refugee Action Group and writers from Wigton Writers group.  I read some of my poems from my collection about domestic violence and then some of my new work around sexism.

The responses from the audience were pretty amazing.  One woman was crying. What touched me the most though was a young girl in the question and answer session, who put her hand up and said

‘I’m going to university next year.  What advice would you give me to help me if I get into a situation I can’t get out of?’

It actually breaks my heart that young women are having to worry about this, to think about this, to negotiate this, to use their energy worrying about how they are simply going to keep safe, instead of putting their energy into learning and being creative.  And there are no easy answers.  Everything I thought of and said sounded so trite.  To speak out and tell someone.  To speak out and say no.  To not let things get bad – to trust your instincts.  To surround yourself with good people, who help you to feel good.  I’d be interested to hear what answers readers would give to young girls to help them deal with sexism and to help them avoid getting into damaging relationships.

I stayed in a hotel, and after being cold all week, I then nearly baked to death in the hotel room which seemed to have the heating up really high.  I got back to Barrow mid afternoon today.  The first thing I did when I got back was to walk the dogs, then I went for a run to test my foot – still a bit of pain there after a couple of miles, so I’m going to rest for another couple of days.

So that has been my week – full on and enjoyable, but also emotionally draining.  Today I’ve been steadily trying to catch up with all the emails I couldn’t cope with answering whilst I was on the course.  This week is a lot quieter, which is a huge relief.  I’m going to spend it catching up with some PhD work because the week after is manic with visits to London, Manchester and Poland.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by a fantastic poet called Peter Raynard.  I first came across Peter via his excellent blog (www.proletarianpoetry.com) which has featured the work of over 100 poets writing about working class lives.  This poem comes from his debut collection Precarious, published by Smokestack Books which you can order here.  He is a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen and is currently completing a poetic coupling of The Communist Manifesto, to be published by Culture Matters in May 2018.

I’ve been reading a few poems from Precarious out aloud each night to my husband, and he is really enjoying the collection.  ‘Scholarship Boys’ is one of my favourites in the collection because it explores something that isn’t talked about – what happens when someone from the working class breaks the mould and gets a scholarship.

At MMU there is a poster advertising a scheme to support students who are the first in their family to go to university – there was nothing like this around when I went to university.  I remember thinking my flat mates were really posh because they bought hummus (I’d never heard of it!).

The poem sets out its stall straight away with that first line, with the first word, which is unexpected following on from the title.  I like the phrase ‘the likes of us’ in there at the end of the stanza.  It almost has a motto-like feel to it – how many times have people told me in tutorials or workshops about parents saying that something isn’t ‘for the likes of us’.

I was puzzling over that phrase ‘claw-crane selections’ for a while until I worked out that I think it is referencing the arcade machines with the claw that you use to try and pick up a soft toy.  What a brilliant metaphor! The idea of it being a game and the boys being the soft toys, inanimate, unable to control their own destiny, and someone playing games with their lives, picking them up and then letting them drop.  Actually, the whole class of boys is part of this arcade game.  The scholarship boys are the ones who are picked up and moved elsewhere, at least for a while.

The threading through of Latin words is really interesting as well here, illustrating that feeling of them being ‘dropped’ into a different world and the ‘pictured corridors’ gives the feeling of grandness, of long corridors stretching into the distance.  I had to look up all the Latin words here – spiritus vicis means spirit time according to Google, although I’m not convinced about that one as I thought it sounded like a school motto, and that doesn’t sound like a particularly inspirng school motto.  And amo, amat means I love/You love (again Google told me this, so apologies if it’s wrong)

There are lots of great phrases in here which seem simple until you start to unpack them.  The head teacher ‘wielding’ his cloak – the cloak is indicative of his status and he is ‘wielding’ it like a weapon. The phrase ‘Mouths swabbed for memories’ – that made me think that the school, or the teachers tried to make them change their accents.  This was something that happened to me – except mine was self-inflicted.  After finally getting into Leicester Schools Symphony Orchestra, I tried to change my accent because the other children took the mickey out of the way I spoke.

The idea that the boys, despite getting scholarships, were always bound for the factory and had just taken ‘the long way around’ is really heartbreaking.  I also like how we don’t know why they left early – the reasons are left unclear.

Thanks to Peter for letting me use his poem this week – do check out his blog, and if you have some spare cash, order his book.  It’s a fantastic, challenging and interesting exploration of class and masculinity and also touches on issues of mental health as well.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

 

Scholarship Boys

Unlucky enough to pass our eleven plus
we were claw-crane selections
from our class dropped into a history
the likes of us had never read.

Inducted with pictured corridors
of Spiritus Vicis spouting opportunity
from the mothballed grammar
of the cloak-wielding Headmaster
and his fountain of Latin characters.

Amo, amas, a matter of opinion
was to know our place. Our mouths
were swabbed for memories.
We were to become
someone else’s nostalgia.

By the time we left early,
five of a seven-year stretch,
we stooped off to the factories
that laughed at us
for taking the long way around

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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 – Gordon Hodgeon

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The weather cannot make up its mind today.  I spent most of my morning standing on Walney Island as a marshal for the Walney Fun Run with the wind blowing (although maybe not as hard as it could have done) and pouring rain.  I had waterproof trousers on, which I quickly discovered weren’t really waterproof and my outdoor hiking coat which did save the top half of me at least from the rain. I must admit, I longed to be running around in the wind and the rain- at least you are warm when you are running!

Despite this, I’m glad I volunteered – it’s nice to give something back and I do enjoy seeing the different ways people run, the different ways they react to the marshals.  Most of the runners at the front were completely focused and gave no sign whether they heard us or not.  When I’m in race mode (although I’m not at the front) I hear the marshals but I don’t look at them or acknowledge them – not because I’m not grateful to them, but more because I’m conserving energy, and I’m concentrating, but it does make a difference to have people there cheering you on.

As you get further and further back in the field though, people smile and are happy to see you.  One man even had enough breath to say ‘thank you for coming out marshals’ which was nice!  The children often pick up the pace if you cheer them on, going from a walk to a trot, or a trot to a little sprint.  So from 9.15am when I arrived until about 12 it was raining and spray was blowing in from the sea.  Then suddenly the sun came out and it is now a glorious day with blue skies.  By that time though I’d had enough and felt all damp and cold and bedraggled and decided to go home, but I have been sat in the garden for a little bit this afternoon at my new table and on one of my new chairs which I bought yesterday.  This is an exciting event for me because I’ve never owned a garden or a table and chairs to go in a garden.

I’ve also been having great fun picking plants to go in the garden and have rather irresponsibly just been picking ones I like the look of and randomly sticking them in the garden.  Yesterday I spent a couple of hours pulling up bindweed which grows so fast – it is a bit like that plant in Little Shop of Horrors – it seems to have a mind of its own.  I left a stick propped up against the fence about a week ago and yesterday there were tendrils of bindweed growing up it – how is that classed as a plant and not an animal with a mind of its own?

I have some weeks where I have to accept that I’m doing lots of music teaching and poetry has to be put on one side but this week it feels like I’ve been yanked from one world to the other.  On Monday I had a 2 hour rehearsal with my junior band to get ready for our end of term concert on Thursday. This was to go through the music with my friend who had agreed to play drums for us.  Disaster struck on Thursday as my friend had a family emergency and couldn’t play in the concert.   I had two hours to find another drummer and heard that an ex-pupil of mine was back from university, so he came along at the last minute and played brilliantly.

The concert was made up of the Barrow Shipyard Junior Band which is pupils ranging in age from 8-18 (about 30 now) and my other band Brasstastic, which has 14 primary school pupils in it.   They both played really well and to finish off the night we played a mass piece which we’d not rehearsed together before but which they managed brilliantly.  I couldn’t believe how well my ex-pupil played the drums – he is also a talented cornet player and singer but he followed every single tempo change – I was really impressed with him.

On Saturday I was at another rehearsal with the Barrow Shipyard Junior Band at Furness Music Centre because we have one more concert on July 4th where we are playing with an orchestra, wind band and choir at the Coronation Hall. Again, the kids were really good and it was nice to not have to conduct and to sit and play along with them a little bit.

I also did Park Run on Saturday and managed to get a new PB – 22.49 which I am really, really pleased about.  I’ve wanted to go under 23 minutes for a while.  I think it will be another couple of months before I can shave anything more off that time – this is the problem though, as soon as I achieve one goal, I start thinking ‘hmm wouldn’t it be nice to go under 22 and a half?’ Anyway, we shall see!

On Friday morning I was still buzzing from the junior band concert but I had to force myself to settle down and plan my workshop for Dove Cottage Young Poets which was Friday afternoon and then I drove straight back from Kendal and went to Bardsea for A Poem and a Pint’s collaborative night with ‘The Quiet Compere’ aka Sarah Dixon.  Sarah Dixon is travelling around the UK, putting on an event made of ten poets reading for 10 minutes each.  It was nice to have the chance to hear a lot of local poets read – it made me realise how much talent there is in the local area.  I enjoyed hearing everybody read but the most exciting set for me was David Borrott, whose new pamphlet Porthole has just been published by Smith/Doorstop as a ‘Laureate’s Choice’.   David was very funny and read really well.  I know how hard he has worked at writing and I’m really happy that his work is now going to get a wider audience.

So, gaining a wider audience brings me on to today’s Sunday Poet, who I’d never heard of before my friend John Foggin sent me his book as a present.  Gordon Hodgeon is published by Smokestack and was born in Leigh in 1941.  He was active for many years in NATE, in Northern Arts, Cleveland Arts, New Writing North and Mudfog Press.  HIs previous books of poetry include November Photographs (1981), A Cold Spell (1996), Winter Breaks (2006), Still Life (2012) and Old Workings: New and Selected Poems (2013).  He lives in Stockton-on-Tees.

Writing that list of books makes me a little ashamed that I hadn’t come across his work before so I’m grateful to John for bringing his poetry to my attention.  I’m going to quote from the back cover of the book to give some context to the Sunday Poem today:

“For the past five years the poet Gordon Hodgeon has been confined to his bed.  Following a series of unsuccessful operations on his spine, he is now unable to move his arms and legs, and cannot breathe without the help of a ventilator.  In the last few months he has lost the power of speech.  Today he can only communicate with the outside world by blinking at a Dynavox computer screen or by dictating to his carers, letter by letter.”

After reading this, I was prepared for a book of poems that felt hard won, laboured, as if every word had been dragged out to lay on the page.  I wasn’t prepared for poetry that made me conscious of my own body and consciousness, in the way that running does.  I wasn’t prepared for the first poem in the collection which is now the Sunday Poem.  I have to warn you that reading this poem may have a strange effect on you.  I read it and then I had to shut the book.  I couldn’t read any further – someone had just articulated for me the edge between the body and the soul, the difference between feeling powerful and being powerless.  It is only a tiny poem but I came back to it the next day, read it again with the intention of going on with the book and had to stop.  The third time I read the book cover to cover, without stopping.

Of course the title of the Sunday Poem ‘I Walked Out This Morning’ contains within it a sly nod to Laurie Lee’s ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ memoir of leaving his life to travel through Spain.  There is also W.H.Auden’s ‘As I Walked Out One Evening’ but the poem it really made me think of was W.B. Yeats ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ with its first two lines ‘I went out this morning/because a fire was in my head’.  I don’t know why this jumped into my head when I read the title of Gordon’s poem, but there you go.

The title and the first line have a fairy-tale feel though, or the air of settling down to tell somebody a really good story.  Only yesterday I was telling someone I don’t like poems with the word ‘memories’ in and then, I find it in this one, and it works perfectly.  There is also something very subversive going on here.  Nothing is quite what it seems.  The speaker in the poem ‘walks out’ but in walking out finds a man in his bed with a ‘fly on his nose’.  Then that shocking sixth line ‘Only his weeping eyes could move’ and there is something of the fairy tale about this as well and this is continued with that childlike line which sounds like a refrain ‘Oh dearie me, oh dearie him.’  The last five lines are the clincher – look how deftly he turns this around – suddenly the speaker is the one who cannot speak, the walker is the one who cannot move.  Even without the background information provided on the back cover, this is a strange and discomforting poem.  The writing is skilful and measured and controlled, full of insight and questions.

The collection is called Talking to the Dead which sounds quite macabre, but don’t let this put you off.  The second poem is the title poem and what struck me in this one is that even in the act of Talking to the Dead, the speaker wants to learn something new.  He says ‘Who can teach me/guide me through their dark palaces/their ungrowing fields?’

This poem reminded me of why I started the Sunday Poems in the first place – that feeling of reading something amazing and feeling like you might burst if you don’t tell someone about it.

Anyway, here is the wonderful ‘I Walked Out This Morning’.  I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you are moved to buy a copy from Smokestack.  You can order Gordon’s book here.  It is a short book, only 47 pages, which I’m guessing is why it is only priced at £4.95 but this seems ridiculously cheap for such quality.

I Walked Out This Morning – Gordon Hodgeon 

I walked out this morning
from the jigsaw jumble of
dreams and memories
and found a man in my bed
with a fly on his nose.
Only his weeping eyes could move.
I asked if I could help him
but could not understand his reply.
Oh dearie me, oh dearie him.
So I turned away to go and saw
him in the mirror standing
about to leave the room, and me
supine in the bed with a fly on my nose
and only my weeping eyes could move.