Today it feels much longer than a week since I updated my blog – maybe because it has been a really exciting week. First of all I did my first public reading from my new collection. Although I did read from it whilst tutoring on the residential course I was running with Carola Luther in Grange over Sands, that was to a small audience of 17 people and it was a lovely, intimate atmosphere. This time I was reading at the Heart Cafe, in Leeds – it was still a lovely, intimate atmosphere, even though there were maybe 30 or so people there – the room was full with just enough chairs for everybody.
It was a really special evening, not least because it was a bit of a repeat of history. In 2012, the night before my official pamphlet launch at The Wordsworth Trust, Peter Sansom drove specially over to Leeds to drop off a box of my pamphlets at The Heart Cafe so I could do a pre-launch reading there. I got stuck in traffic, and by the time I’d got there, David Tait had already sold about 20 copies of my pamphlet. Peter White, who now organises the readings had bought the first copy and came straight up to me and asked me to sign it.
Fast forward three years and I find myself in Leeds again, just two weeks after the book is officially published. This time I drive over to Leeds the longer way on the A65 instead of using the motorways with the wonderful poet Andrew Forster and my equally wonderful husband Chris, who puts up with us talking about poetry all the way from Grange over Sands to Leeds. We went straight to get something to eat in a small Greek restaurant and were joined by Lindsey Holland and her daughter and then the lovely Abigail, who used to be an intern at the Wordsworth Trust, and so far has the coveted title of ‘Kim’s favourite intern.’
The box of books has been living under my desk for the last two weeks, since their brief outing into the world at Grange. I’m not quite sure why, except after that initial impulse to read it cover to cover, I then couldn’t even bear to look at them. Not because I didn’t like it, but I just wanted to wait to enjoy it until the reading. It felt a bit like when I was younger. At Easter my sister and I would both be allowed to eat half of an Easter egg in the morning which we would eat really slowly to annoy each other by being the last one to have any chocolate left. It felt like if I got the book out of the box before Wednesday it would be like scoffing my easter egg in one go.
Anyway, we got to the reading with moments to spare because the restaurant were quite slow at serving our food. Andrew and I basically ate a whole leg of lamb in about five minutes. I felt really bloated and was quite relieved to not have to read till later.
Peter White, who organises the reading series had asked me who I would like to read with me and between us we came up with the poetry dream team of Andrew Forster, Mark Connors, Keith Hutson, John Foggin and I decided to prod Peter into reading, as he has always been a great supporter not just of my poetry, but of poetry and poets in general, and I thought it would be nice to let him have some of the limelight.
I was really touched by the people who turned up to the reading. There was quite a few people that I didn’t know, but lots that I did. When I looked round the room, I realised that there were lots of poets sitting there who I’d thanked in my acknowledgements to the book, people that had read various versions of the manuscript and sent comments and feedback. Clare Shaw was there – the first person I sent the whole sequence of domestic violence poems to. If she hadn’t been as enthusiastic and excited about them as she was, I would not have sent them to Amy Wack at Seren, telling her that I was thinking of making a pamphlet out of them. Amy told me they had to go in the collection. I’m glad she did – that is what an editor is for. I can’t imagine the book without them now. It would be like its heart was missing. Ian Duhig was there and Carola Luther and lots of people that I’d met during my residency in Ilkley, people I met when I ran a workshop at Leeds Writers Circle a few years ago now, my lovely cousin Vicky and her partner Tom, who had never been to a poetry reading before and who I’m hoping are not too traumatised by the whole experience.
John Foggin nearly made me cry three times – once by saying nice things about me, the second time by reading an amazing, amazing poem that I would ask to have for this blog, except that it needs to be published and reach a wider readership than I do here, and then the third time by bringing an early version of my manuscript that I sent him, that he commented on that he has had bound in beautiful leather. Flicking through it very quickly, one of the main differences was that this earlier version was back to front.
Keith Hutson read a fantastic set of his poems about Troupers – these poems are going to make such a good pamphlet when he puts them altogether. It was the first time I’d heard Keith do a longer set so that was a real treat. Andrew Forster was his usual poised self, delivering a perfectly balanced reading of his work, ending with a new poem about his father, which I really enjoyed.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten to mention somebody who turned up, and I apologise if it is you. It is 11.15pm now and I have till midnight to get this finished, and I’ve only half told you about Wednesday! I wasn’t going to read from the sequence of domestic violence poems because they are by their very nature a bit grim, but then when it came to it, I felt like I had to, because they are a huge part of the book. There will be readings, I think when I won’t feel able to read them, but this didn’t feel like one of them. When I’m reading them it feels like I’m standing in a black hole, but I know the way to get out, and that makes all the difference.
You can find some photos of the event here
I sold 24 books on Wednesday, bringing my total sales up to 48. This means I have to write to Seren to order another box of 100 because I’m estimating I will probably sell the last 52 by the end of May. Boxes of books are a lot more expensive than boxes of pamphlets, so here’s hoping I sell them all. Failing that, as David Tait says, they make good door stops.
So, that was Wednesday! The other exciting thing that happened this week was that I took part in the Dalton 10k race. Last year when I ran this race I’d only been running for a couple of months after a ten year gap and I managed 56 minutes and 56 seconds. Six months ago, I’d managed 51 and a half minutes for a fairly flat 10k course so I figured if I aimed for as close to 50 minutes as I could get, that was an ambitious enough target, considering I’ve been injured and I’ve not been getting as much training in as I would have liked.
I absolutely loved every minute of the race – and it is really, really tempting here to go into a blow by blow account of every kilometre and give you my splits for each kilometre, but I won’t because I understand, like looking at photos of other people’s children, it’s probably not that interesting for anybody else. All of those hill runs Chris has been dragging me on so he could look at the mountains definitely paid off, because I actually enjoyed the hilly course. I eventually ended up with a time of 47 minutes 42 seconds, which I still can’t believe. As in, I don’t know physically how I did that because I certainly haven’t been training at that speed or anything close to it. Oh well!
On Saturday I volunteered at Barrow Park Run and then spent the rest of the day writing. I bought myself another folder and decided to go through the poems I’ve half started in the last six months and print out any with potential. Every time I tell myself I’m not writing and then it takes me six months to realise I’ve been writing the whole time, but I haven’t been organised and the poems have been in a rather scruffy looking folder. You will be glad to hear they are now arranged in my posh new folder, ready to be edited and then make their way into the world. In the evening I spent time writing up the first assignment for the online course that I’m teaching for The Poetry School, which starts next Wednesday.
I actually felt like a writer for the first time in months. Not because I had a box of my own collection under my desk, or because I’d done a reading and sold lots of books, but because I was writing. I might be writing complete dross, but I was writing, for a sustained and concentrate length of time, which I haven’t done for a while, for so long, in fact that I’d forgotten how much I actually enjoy writing. Even when the poem is destined for nowhere more glamorous than the bin, I still love being in that moment of writing.
Today I’ve been to Printfest in Ulverston with a friend and stocked up on lovely cards and postcards and chocolate brownies and cookies. This evening I went for a 6 mile run with two friends to try and get some of the Dalton hills out of my legs – I’m not sure if it worked, the hills were definitely still in my legs when I was running!
Today’s Sunday Poem is by Stephanie Green, who I met at Stanza very briefly after going to her reading, where she read alongside D.A. Prince from her pamphlet Flout. I really enjoyed Stephanie’s reading and took the opportunity of getting my pamphlet signed to ask her if I could use one of her poems here. Stephanie moved to Edinburgh in 2000 and runs creative writing workshops and reviews Theatre and Dance. You can order Stephanie’s pamphlet from the fabulous HappenStance and you can find out more about Stephanie Green here.
I’ve chosen the poem The Njuggle from Stephanie’s pamphlet. A definition in the back of the book tells me that a Njuggle is a ‘demon water horse or pony found in Shetland and Orkney folklore’. I love the story in this poem. The language that Stephanie uses, like the word ‘scry’ in the second line, seems to fit with that folklore feel and that man’s face rising in the mirror in the third line reminds me of Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Mirror’ when her face ‘rises towards her like a terrible fish’. One of the things I love about this poem are the many wonderful words used to describe movement in it. The piebald pony ‘ambled up’. His muscles ‘shivered like water in the wind’. When the Njuggle turns into water he ‘poured through my arms’.
I also love the idea of it – I’ve not heard of an Njuggle before, but the use of transformation in poetry is one I’m interested in at the minute and the story of an animal carrying off a human woman is an old and time-tested story. The other thing to point out, which I’m sure you will have noticed is the wonderfully tight structure that holds this poem together. It is very carefully put together. The first and the third line of each three line stanza rhyme and many of the second lines of each stanza rhyme as well.
I’ve been reading so much Ovid recently, I can’t help thinking of it when I read this poem. Stanza 4 reminds me of Europa when she is carried off by Jove in the form of a bull, and in the last complete stanza, when the Njuggle turns into water, it reminds me of the women in Ovid’s Metamorphoses who were turned into water to escape the unwanted attentions of one of the gods.
Thank you to Stephanie for letting me use this poem and do feel free to comment underneath, if you feel so moved.
The Njuggle – Stephanie Green
At midnight on Hallowe’en, my back to the moon,
I looked in the mirror to scry my lover-to-be.
His face rose like a drowned man’s.
At twilight I walked by the lochan in the hills
where the whaap’s cry wavers from the reeds.
A piebald pony ambled up. His nostrils
pulsed as he blew into my hand.
Clicking my tongue, I patted his flanks
and his muscles shivered like water in the wind.
When he lowered his head, I knew I must mount.
I rode him through the night, gripping his back
between my thighs till I slid on our sweat
and he rolled me into cold, green fire.
I clung to his mane blooming with algae,
his shoulders encrusted with mussels and mire.
His hooves softened and opened into a fan
of fingers and toes. Belly flattening, spine
whip-lashing, he bucked and shrank into a man.
As the dark fled, he turned to plunge me under
but dawn broke and he poured through my arms.
I was alone, calling, calling with no answer,
only the widening circles on the loch.