Tag Archives: The Compass Magazine

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 – Lindsey Holland


Today I was supposed to be running the Great North-West half marathon.  However, with my dodgy inflamed tendon and random hip pains I decided it probably wasn’t sensible.  In fact, yesterday, after doing 5k at Barrow Park Run and having to slow down after the first three kilometres I decided I’m going to have a week off running this week, give my body a complete rest and then slowly start building up again.  This week I’ve only done three short runs of between 3-4 miles each time, and although it feels like it’s better, it still doesn’t feel right.  It’s a strange pain because it doesn’t feel bad enough to stop running, it’s not that painful, more uncomfortable, but I have a feeling that if I just rest it completely it might repair itself a bit quicker.  In between the short runs I’ve been doing Pilates and exercise classes, which I reluctantly admit probably haven’t helped things to be honest.

Looking on the bright side though, I have lots of work to keep me occupied so I’ve decided to use this week where I will be literally sitting on my behind to get on with all the things I didn’t do last week because I was gallivanting round to various exercise classes.

The weather has been so awful here and in Blackpool where the half marathon was taking place that I was kind of relieved not to be going – they have apparently had gale force winds and hailstones.  Here, the husband tells me that it is very cold and raining.  I can see the rain but I haven’t felt the cold because I haven’t been out at all today – just lounged around the house in my pyjamas.  Last day of the half term holiday and all that.

I have, however, managed to get some emails answered that were overdue and to plan one of the workshops for the residential course that I’m running in April.  The hotel tells me it has now sold out and they have started a waiting list! Rather than starting at the beginning of the week and working my way through, I’ve decided to start in the middle and plan the ‘Fencing In Your Poems’ workshop.

Yesterday I started reading ‘What have I ever lost by dying’ by Robert Bly which is an amazing, amazing collection of prose poems.  ‘The Starfish’ is the second in the collection and it was when I read this poem that I realised that’s it, I’ve found another poet to be obsessed by, I need to buy everything he’s ever written etc etc.  You can find ‘The Starfish’ on The Writer’s Almanac.  All of the poems in the collection I have are prose poems, and in all of them he is looking out at the world and writing with incredibly careful details but then he uses the observations to launch off – so the colour of the starfish is ‘old carbon paper, or an attic dress’.

At first when I was reading the collection I felt a mild sense of outrage – why had none of my poetry friends told me about him before?  And then I remembered the lovely Hilda Sheehan enthusing about him at Swindon Poetry Festival a couple of years ago – I’m sure I do, which is probably what made me buy the collection at Aldeburgh this year from the second-hand bookshop.

So this is the answer to the question of why aren’t more people buying poetry books, I’ve decided.  We need to enthuse about our favourite poets more to each other.  Yes, I know, I bought Robert Bly from a second hand bookshop, which isn’t going to help his sales very much.  BUT I have such an obsessive nature I will now have to go and buy more of his books brand new – I can’t wait for them to turn up in second hand bookshops any more…

One of my favourite things about writing this blog actually is when someone likes the Sunday Poem enough to go and seek out a book by the author and buy it.  Especially if you don’t get it from Amazon – so please keep letting me know if you liked the poem enough to buy the collection.

I’ve had quite a nice week this week – I’ve been doing a lot more reading.  I’ve got a shelf of poetry books that I’ve not read yet, or only read once and very quickly, so I’m making my way through those.  I’ve read ‘Smith’ by Don Paterson, which discusses the poetry of Michael Donaghy (really interesting), two first collections for the second time – Arundhati Subramanium’s ‘When God is a Traveller’ (very good) and Mir Mahfuz Ali’s Midnight, Dhaka (excellent) and ‘The Customs House’ by Andrew Motion which I bought back at Ilkley Literature Festival last year and haven’t got round to reading yet.   I really enjoyed it, especially the first half which consists of ‘found’ poems and poems made of reported speech from soldiers.

On Monday I went to Manchester Metropolitan University to talk to some soon-to-be graduates about employment after graduation, the irony not being lost on me that this is the least ’employed’ I’ve ever been in my life, down to only three days a week teaching and freelance stuff the rest of the time.  There were only a few students there, and no writers, so I’m not sure if they found it relevant or not as there was me and a lovely novelist there, Sarah Jasmon, who graduated the year after me and is about to have her first novel published this summer.

Kate Johnson, who is the Post Graduate Student Experience Tutor, told us that her job at Manchester Met was advertised as a full-time job but she emailed the head of the department and said could she apply for it as a job share and the head of department told her to put an application in and then she got the job.  I would never do that – I often see jobs that I’d love to do but then I think it won’t fit around my other commitments and I don’t bother applying.  So that kind of taught me a lesson to not assume that I can’t do something – the old cliche about putting up your own barriers is so true.  Over and over again, what came up during the workshop was having confidence to go for something.

So after the workshop I felt so inspired I applied to do some freelance work that I suppose, publishing wise, I’m on the cusp of being ‘published enough’ but teaching experience wise, I’ve got more than enough.  So I will see what comes back – so far I’ve not heard anything but then it’s only been less than a week.

I entered two competitions this week as well – not because I’ve written two amazing masterpieces – they are definitely not that, but more to get back into the swing of submitting after having quite a long break.

So this week’s Sunday Poem is by Lindsey Holland, who I met a couple of years ago when she was one of the editors/publishers of an anthology called Sculpted: Poetry of the North West which I had a poem in.  Since then, Lindsey has become a good friend.  Where ever she goes, seals and dolphins appear – ok, maybe not absolutely everywhere she goes, but when she came to visit me a couple of months ago, we went to Piel Island and sat and watched a seal bobbing up and down looking at us for about fifteen minutes and then the next day we went to Whitehaven and saw a family of dolphins swimming up and down outside the harbour.

Lindsey sent me a few poems from a new pamphlet that she is working on called ‘Bloodlines’ which explores her family history, focusing on her great great grandmother Catherine, who was born in Greencock and moved to Liverpool where she married a mariner.  This poem comes from about midway through Catherine’s story, just after she has given birth and her baby has died.  Catherine’s cousin is looking after her.

I’ve read a few poems from Lindsey’s pamphlet and they are incredibly ambitious.  I picked this poem because I really enjoyed the ambition of it – it left me wanting to know what happens next, and also what happened before, and because it is a really interesting story – the idea of a pet ape being buried in consecrated ground is interesting but this is a secondary story behind the story of the birth and the mother so the poem has quite a few layers.

  I like how the poem starts right in the thick of action with that intriguing first line ‘You were still torn up after the birth’ which refers to both physical and emotional pain.  I think it’s also interesting that we get a sense of the time that the poem is set in without it being overtly stated – from the attitude of the men, from the list of medicines before we even get to the introduction of Jacko.

The desecration of Jacko’s body is drawn really vividly – a lot of the physical descriptions surround the description of his body after he is exhumed – ‘his body thrust out like a carnival dummy’ and the sympathy of the reader is centered on the ape and it is not until the last stanza when we read ‘she boils your herbs’ that the lost baby is suddenly brought back into focus.  I think the emotion of this poem is translated by the precise use of language and description – this is a harrowing story but it is told without sentimentality.

You can read two more of Lindsey’s poems at fab online magazine B O D Y .  Her first book Particle Soup was published by the Knives Forks and Spoons Press in 2012.  She’s the founder of the network North West Poets and she also co-edits the new online magazine ‘The Compass‘.  As well as editing Sculpted: Poetry of the North West she also edited another anthology Not On Our Green Belt.  She was Poet in Residence at Chester Zoo in 2014 and is currently working on a full collection based on her family history.  She has an MA in Writing from the University of Warwick and she now teaches poetry at Edge Hill University.

Thanks to Lindsey for letting me use her poem


Poor Jacko – Lindsey Holland

You were still torn up after the birth. A grief in clots
that stuck and swelled until they overflowed in the hush
of your rooms on Broad Close. You stuffed a fist

in your mouth so the women next door wouldn’t hear
and sympathise too well, the gossips, or their men complain,
‘it was a weak bairn anyway’. She heard you, stifled,

and being a good friend, didn’t tell you what she saw
whilst shopping for remedies — speedwell, figwort, lavender —
and cloth for bandages. She talked about the medicine

and not about the monkey even though, years before,
you’d have sniggered together at those boys’ antics:
how they watched old Cockin’ Kirsty, a spinster mocked

for her frills and limp, bury her darling ape
in consecrated ground. Poor Jacko, the lads exhumed
and lobbed his corpse over the fence, paraded him,

his body thrust out like a carnival dummy, targeting
the most well-laced pedestrians. How they hoisted him
to see, unseeing, through windows where workers

stooped and sallow, blinked at his crooked gape,
uncertain they were sober. How they ran, those boys,
his carcass trailing, cracking behind, knocking his ribs

and skull on the cobbles. How he broke so easily, his eyes lost,
jaw smashed. She boiled your herbs, and didn’t mention
the shapelessness. How quick it was. How fur can rip.