Tag Archives: The Compass

Sunday Poem – Penny Boxall


I’m writing this from a motorway services station at midnight on Wednesday night.  It is a very strange place to be.  There are two men who are sitting in front of the slot machines – they’ve been there for the last half hour.  They probably think I’m just as strange though, sitting here with a laptop cursing at it because it won’t connect to the internet.  A family has just walked in who are using the baby feeding station to warm up a pizza which seems strange, but then it’s that or paying a ridiculous amount of money for a cake or a limp sandwich.

It is my sworn oath this year that no Sunday shall pass without a Sunday Poem being unleashed onto the world.  Unfortunately for my sworn oath, I only remembered at about 4pm today that I would be in Holland on Sunday, at a campsite, maybe in the middle of a poetry festival, and it would be an absolute pain to try and find a computer and an internet connection.  So I am trying the whole scheduling a blog-post to publish in advance.

But what a strange thing to write this on Wednesday when only half the week has happened! By the time you all read this, I will have been in Holland for four days and I’m hopefully having a great time.  Although I might be a little sad because my lovely friend Jan Glas will be leaving on Sunday to go home.  But I will be happy because it will mean only two days till I see Mr C, the husband.

Anyway, of necessity, today’s post is going to be short.  My flight is at 5.55am on Thursday morning from Manchester, and tonight (Wednesday) I had another reading to sixth form students who are on a trip and staying at the university campus in Ambleside.  The reading went ok – this week only a third of them stayed for my bit of the poetry reading and I was slightly thrown when I saw another one of my ex-pupils who used to play in the band. After the reading finished, I went for a Chinese in Ambleside and then drove here – it wasn’t worth me going back to Barrow as I’d just have to set off again, but once I’ve finished this I’m going to try and get a couple of hours sleep in the car.

I’m really excited about this trip.  The poetry festival is in Vlieland which is a very small island off the coast of Holland.  There are not many cars there apparently, but lots of cycle paths, which means lots of paths to go running on and nothing much else to do apart from read and write and hang out with people – sounds like my ideal weekend!

This week I’ve had my friend Lindsey Holland come to stay and we’ve had a really nice time.  We decided to have a poetry day on Monday and spent the whole day in our pyjamas, writing and reading.  I managed to get two submissions sent off for the first time in god knows how long.  I had to finally admit to myself that I have in fact been hoarding poems, not sending them out and thinking they were all rubbish.  Precisely what I tell other people not to do.  So twelve are now out in the world seeking their fortune.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Penny Boxall, who I met when she was an intern at The Wordsworth Trust, but more recently at a Canada Poetry Day, organised by Polly Atkin.  I really enjoyed Penny’s reading and bought her book ‘Ship of the Line’ published by Eyewear Publishing.  I’ve read the book today while I was eating my Chinese and I really enjoyed it.  The poems, on the whole, are very outward looking, taking their inspiration from objects and interesting stories, so when you arrive at a poem that is in a more personal vein, like ‘The Advantage’, describing a tennis match between a father and daughter, it provides a great contrast.

There is a huge range of subject matter in the collection.  One of my favourite poems was the very first one ‘Taxidermy Outpost’, full of striking images and finishing ‘here is a chipmunk/paddling a canoe/ his little fist/just like yours’.  I also liked ‘Common Use’, ‘The Old Magic’ and ‘Halfway Up an Elephant’ in particular – but I read the book start to finish and was never bored.  It’s actually another of my favourite first collections I’ve read this year, along with Jane Clarke’s ‘The River’.

I’d have loved to have posted ‘The Old Magic’ but as I still haven’t worked out how to do indented lines on WordPress, I’ve decided to go with another wonderful poem – ‘Williams, Who Lived’, which is just a great example of the interesting stories you can find in the collection.  The notes in the back of the collection tell me that ‘Three men – each named Hugh Williams – were the sole survivors of three separate shipwrecks in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.’

I’m not going to say too much about this poem, it being nearly 1am now, but I do want to draw your attention to the lovely use of the verb ‘hauled’ in the first line – it could have been pulled, or dragged, but hauled is so much better.  The line breaks all the way through the poem are really deftly handled but my favourite line break (yes I do have them) has to be in the penultimate stanza, in the third line, when Penny breaks after ‘did’, so we get ‘did/or did not like onions’.  I also really like the fourth stanza with ‘Williams married Susan, married/Mary, married Anne’ – another good line break at married! I like the repetition of ‘and died – and died’ in this stanza and the headstones which ‘read the same, like yesterday’s paper’.

The poem is also a good example of what I talked about before, the way that Penny draws inspiration from stories and objects outside herself, rather than looking inward.

Penny was born in 1987 but already has an MA with Distinction in Creative Writing from UEA.  Her work was commissioned in 2012 for the WEYA festival on the theme of ‘Treatise’.  She won the 2010 Frederik van Eaden poetry competition and has been shortlisted for an Eric Gregory Award.  You can order Penny’s book from her publisher here.  Penny also wrote a brilliant and thoughtful review for The Compass magazine recently for our inaugral issue which you can find here.

Thanks to Penny for allowing me to use her poem.

Williams, Who Lived  – Penny Boxall

When this man was hauled from the foam
and, shaking, asked his name, the news spread fast.
They skimmed him back to shore –
a talisman, breaking the waves like eggs.

Hugh Williams had lived before.  The name
confounded shipwrecks, made men float
through salted depths towards the aching
light.  Williams was a lonely but a living sort.

It seemed the surest way to last gulp air not water,
to die dry, was to be him; or if not him
another of his kind.  The parish registrars
scrawled Williams upon Williams as though they kept

forgetting.  Williams married Susan, married
Mary, married Anne; and when he died,
(and died – and died -) the headstones
read the same, like yesterday’s paper.

Williams stayed at home and picked rocks
from the binary of ploughed earth.
Or travelled, wrote a book, did
or did not like onions; wet the bed.

And when he went to sea – as captain,
passenger, stowaway – he kept himself
to himself; threw his name around him,
vein-strung, tenuous as a caul.

Sunday Poem – Arthur Broomfield


Evening folks – it feels like much more than a week since the last time I wrote on here, so much has happened.  Sometimes it is difficult to write exactly what has been happening, especially if it concerns other people.  I am constantly thinking about whether what I’m writing about will upset anybody else, whether I’m revealing something that I shouldn’t.  However, if I don’t say anything, I would feel like I was blithely carrying on without acknowledging what has happened, which is uncaring and unfeeling.

So, I think for now, I will just say the bare minimum, which is that due to a family emergency, my husband had to get a flight to Australia yesterday.  We spent pretty much every minute together in Ireland for nearly a week, and now I’m suddenly not going to see him for three weeks or so.  It feels very strange to be unexpectedly on my own.

I promised that I would write another instalment about my time in Ireland.  Two Fridays ago I was staying at my friend Ita’s house in Fermoy.  I ran a 2 hour workshop for the Marketplace Poetry Group with 20 participants.  The workshop was great fun and they were a lovely group to work with.  In the evening I did a reading and there was an open mic afterwards.  The pub was full of poets – not only the workshop group, but a whole contingent of poets that had come from Cork with the fabulous Paul Casey, who runs the O’Bheal night there.  Other poets that I’ve seen every year I’ve been in Fermoy – Louis Mulcahy, Noel King, Kevin Griffin, Matthew Sweeney, Mary Noonan had also travelled over for the open mic – it was a fantastic night and finished with people playing violins and singing – as most nights in Elbow

Pat O’Connor who is known as the Bard of Fermoy, a talented musician, poet, and artist is doing a series of paintings of poets and he showed me a painting of me that he’d been working on, which was lovely and moving and surprising.  The painting is going into an exhibition soon.  Pat is one of my favourite people in Fermoy – he is not on social media – I don’t even know if he does emails actually, but he is such a big part of the community there.  He is such a good poet and performer that at the open mic, people were shouting for him to perform poems that were their particular favourites.

We went to bed very late on Friday night and we had quite a relaxed Saturday.  We got up late and had a late breakfast and then an even later lunch.  I’m sure I left Ita’s house a stone heavier than when I arrived. We drove to Killarney after leaving Ita’s and after much knocking on doors, managed to find  a really cheap but lovely B and B which I think was called Greenacre.  Although the room was small, it was spotless and the landlady was very kind and wouldn’t hear of taking the tip we tried to leave her the next day.

On Sunday we drove to Dingle to see the lovely poet and potter Louis Mulcahy and his equally lovely wife.  He has an amazing and famous pottery studio and he showed us all around the workshop and called us eejits when he found out we had ordered lunch in the cafe instead of coming to the house to have lunch.  We bought two vases, one for Lindsey Holland, who has been staying at our house looking after our dogs while we were away, and one for us.  I also tried to buy Louis’ latest poetry collection but he’d told the girls on the desk to give me a copy so I wasn’t allowed to pay for that either!

We’d booked into an expensive hotel in Dublin – much more than we would normally have been able to afford called No.39 or No.31 – something like that.  The problem with expensive hotels in Ireland is that it would be hard for a hotel to top the level of service you get where ever you go and I didn’t think it was really worth the extra money we shelled out for it to be honest.  We spent the day seeing the city on an open top bus and eating in cafes – we had a great time.

The next night we had great fun staying at Arthur Broomfield’s, who is the Sunday Poet for this week! More on Arthur’s poem later but suffice it to say, his poetry is much better than his direction giving.  If you want to know what I mean, read Kei Miller’s poem ‘In Which the Cartographer Asks for Directions’ and you will get an idea of what I’m talking about, except instead of a big white house and an old woman with only three teeth in her mouth, we were looking for a roundabout with a statue of the Virgin Mary, a row of birch trees and a very slight incline in the road.

Anyway, we arrived eventually at Arthur’s house to find a huge meal awaiting us there as well, cooked by his wife Assumpta (more on Assumpta later as well!) The whole time we were in Ireland, I couldn’t believe how hospitable and welcoming people were.  I know it’s a cliche that Irish people are very friendly but it is true – but what we experienced over the last week was beyond friendliness really – it was complete, no strings attached hospitality.  I think I left Ireland 2 stone heavier than when I went.

The next day, we had a lovely, long breakfast with Arthur and then headed back to Dublin.  We went into the Natural History Museum, full of exhibits of stuffed animals, which seemed very poignant considering what has happened with Cecil the lion this past week.  There are hundreds and hundreds of stuffed animals in the museum.  It made me wonder about the human beings that killed them, whether this would have been their job, to bring animals back for the museum.

In the evening, I read with Arthur and Jane Clarke.  It was a small audience, but a quality one.  I met a couple of readers of this blog who introduced themselves and Una, a woman I was on a course with quite a few years ago, who has gone on to have a collection published with Lapwing and is about to start an MA.  Michael Farry, a poet I first met in Fermoy was also there so it was nice to see him again.

After the reading, once everyone else had gone home, Chris and I went for a run in Phoenix Park just as it was starting to get dark.  At one point some of the wild deer that live in the park ran across the path in front of us – it was great to get out in the fresh air and it’s a lovely place to run, completely flat unlike our local park! We got the overnight ferry back to England after this and arrived back home Wednesday lunchtime.

I’ve been pretty busy since then.  On Thursday I was running a half day workshop with Mungrisdale Writers – another lovely group of people who really got stuck in with the writing exercises.  They also paid promptly on the day – a rare thing I’m finding in the world of poetry freelance work!  On Friday I had my Young Writers Workshop and of course having to help Chris get sorted so he could go to Australia.

Yesterday was my first day alone in the house and I actually got lots of work done.  I emailed invoices through and chased up review copies for The Compass.  Please go and have a look at The Compass if you haven’t already – it’s a really high quality online magazine.  I’m only in charge of reviews, but the magazine is open for poetry submissions. I also drafted the timetable for the Poetry Carousel which will go up tomorrow.  I’ve been emailing back and forth with Clare Shaw and we have our theme sorted for our St Ives Residential Poetry Course in February 2016.  I did a tiny bit of writing as well.

Today I’ve been for a run with Walney Wind Cheetahs and then a concert in the park with Barrow Shipyard Junior Band who were taking part in a project called Floodtide.  They had to play music generated by a sensor in Walney Channel so that was an interesting afternoon! This evening I went to Jennifer Copley’s house and her amazingly talented husband ( I know he reads this – if he hasn’t got fed up by now and given up) took pity on my husbandless state and made dinner for me.  In between scoffing dinner, we also sorted our theme out for the residential week we are running in Grange Over Sands in 2016.

News of the themes for the upcoming courses will be going up on the blog very shortly, so please keep watching this space.

Ok, on to today’s Sunday Poem.  As I’ve already told you, it is by Arthur Broomfield, who I first met at Torbay Poetry Festival a couple of years ago.  Last year, Arthur was a participant on the course in St Ives and it was great to see him again this year and meet his wife, Assumpta.  Assumpta is a professional gardener and is currently writing a book about snowdrops – she is a really fascinating person to talk to and has travelled all over the world in her capacity as a gardener.

I heard Arthur read this poem at the Dublin event and asked him afterwards if I could use it for my blog.  This is a quiet poem, which suits the title, about that most unassuming of flowers.  I like how it starts as if it is in the mdidle of a conversation, and how all the way through, a hidden story is hinted at but not revealed.  In fact this hidden story is hinted at in two lines really ‘after the last descent into alcohol’ and then ‘and for the bleak days’.  The rest of the poem is very tightly controlled and the emotion is held in check by the slow and careful description.  It is a strange and puzzling little poem – puzzling in that it feels very bleak all the way through, until that last image of the snowdrops on the doorstep, which seems to me so hopeful and optimistic.  Those last couple of lines lift you out of the rest of the poem.  The other thing that is interesting is that the ‘you’ in the poem and the speaker are very seperate.  In fact, we don’t ever meet the ‘you’, only her door and her doorstep, yet the relationship between the speaker and the ‘you’ is of great interest.  As you can probably tell, I’m still puzzling away at this poem and enjoying doing so.

Arthur Broomfield is a poet and Beckett scholar from County Laois, Ireland. His poetry has been widely published in Ireland and in Orbis, Agenda and Envoi. His chapbook The Poetry Reading at Semple Stadium (Lapwing) was published in 2012. Arthur is editor of Outburst, an online poetry journal that encourages innovation. His study on the works of Samuel Beckett, The Empty Too :language and philosophy in the works of Samuel Beckett  (Cambridge Scholars’ Publishing 2013) is available through Amazon.co.uk.  Arthur also tells me that he has a poem accepted in Acumen today which he is really chuffed about!

I hope you enjoy the poem and thanks to Arthur for letting me use it

Snowdrop – Arthur Broomfield

For Assumpta

And then,
after the last descent into alcohol
I’ll go to your door,
shuffle down the step  stones, your design,
through the beds where in summer
Arum Lilies and Gladioli disguise
the dun earth
and for the bleak days, leave,
on your doorstep,
Snowdrops, gathered that morning,
moist with dew.

Sunday Poem – David Tait


I never know how to start these blog posts, not because I don’t know what to say, but I often don’t know where to begin.  Should I start with what is freshest in my mind, which is what’s happened today, or start at the beginning of the week and proceed in a logical order?  I’ll start with today, because nothing particularly interesting happened at the beginning of the week.

I can now declare (in case you were interested) that I am injury free! My rather inconvenient and very annoying inflamed tendon in my leg has left the building and I am very happy about it.  Today I did my longest run since being injured, nine miles at a relatively steady pace with the Walney Wind Cheetahs and my tendon didn’t have anything to say for itself.  My leg muscles in general were really sore from the training I’ve been doing this week, but it was kind of a sweet pain, rather than an injury pain.  The kind of pain that comes from working your muscles rather than destroying them.  At least I hope that is what it is!

After the run I came straight back, no dallying at the cafe for me today  because I had lots of work to get on with.  I had two friends that have been waiting for email replies regarding poems they had sent, I had an invoice to send and Sunday Poets to hunt down.  I normally write to people in small groups to gather Sunday Poems so today I wrote to four poets and got their permission to use their poems on my blog so I now have four weeks of grace where I know whose poem I’m going to use on the blog.  This is all quite time-consuming – but it is probably my favourite part of doing this blog.  Most poets are so happy that someone, out of the blue has said that they like not only their work, but a particular poem, that it makes it completely worth it.

Apart from these smaller jobs I also had three larger jobs to get done today – this blog being one of them.  The other is printing out and making notes on the poems that have been submitted for Week 1 of the online Poetry School course I’m tutoring and the third job was editing reviews that have come in for The Compass magazine and then writing to the reviewers to check that they are ok with suggested changes.  I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself for managing all of this today, and remembering to feed myself (boiled egg and toast at lunchtime, thai takeaway in the evening!).

I’m going to jump back in the week now to Wednesday, which was the open mic at Zefferelli’s in Ambleside, run by Andrew Forster and the Wordsworth Trust.  For the second week in a row I’ve had a house guest – lovely Lindsey Holland has been staying at my house since Wednesday evening because there are lots of poetry events in Cumbria that she wants to go to – open mic on Friday and a reading on Saturday.

There was a great turn out at Zeff’s this week – probably because Pauline Yarwood was the featured poet.  Pauline can often be found in the audience of various poetry events and workshops so it was nice to see her being given the chance to read her own poetry and lovely to be able to listen to her doing a longer reading of her work.

On Thursday I spent the morning writing references for two people who are applying to do an MA in Creative Writing and then I had to go to a meeting to do with work in Milnthorpe.  On the way back I came as close to dying as I ever have before when a complete idiot was overtaking a caravan on a corner and driving straight towards me on my side of the road.  I have no idea how I missed hitting him because that stretch of road is not narrow enough to get three cars past, let alone a caravan but somehow I did it.  I didn’t even have time to be scared, I just had to wrench the wheel to the side, and then it was done.  It should have been a head-on crash and I don’t know how anyone would have walked away from it.  This sounds a little dramatic, and as it happens, nothing happened.  Everyone was ok, I was ok, I wasn’t even that shaken really but I was trying to think if there was anything I would have regretted not doing if something had happened and I couldn’t think of anything, so that was quite reassuring!

I went to my first interval training session in about 15 years on Thursday evening, hence the sore legs all day Friday and the still sore legs today.  On Friday Lindsey and I drove to Manchester.  I was meeting Rachel Mann, poet and vicar to talk through arrangements for the judging of the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Prize.  I think a lot of people might be put off entering this prize because they think you have to enter a ‘religous poem’, but I will be interpreting this broadly!  The most important thing is to find some excellent poems.  I don’t know if Rachel knew how obsessed with tea I am but we met in Propertea, which is just next to the Cathedral.  When you order your cup of tea you get a little timer to use which tells you when your tea has brewed perfectly.  I would have quite liked to steal the timer, except I realised I would have to steal all the paraphenalia, the two teapots, the tea strainer, and some tea leaves to make it worth it.  I don’t think the timer would have worked with a PG Tips teabag.  Of course this is a JOKE.  I would never steal a tea timer.

After that, I went to the glorious bookshop that is Waterstones on Deansgate with its fabulous poetry section.  Sadly, I couldn’t find a copy of my book in there – maybe it sold out by the time I got there!  However, I did go a bit crazy and buy lots of other poetry books: Here Comes The Night by Alan Gillis, Paralogues by Evan Jones, Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe and Maninbo: Peace and War by Ko Un.  I’ve been wanting Loop of Jade for a while but the other collections I didn’t specifically go in for, I just brought them after browsing, which proves that bookshops need to keep their poetry sections stocked up for hopeless addicts like me who will spend far too much money if the books are there to look at.

After that, we drove to Kendal to Abbot Hall Art Gallery who were having their ‘Night of a Thousand Selfies’ event as part of Museums at Night.  As part of the event I was asked to organise and compere an open mic night but this was an open mic with a difference.  First of all it was in a gallery and there was something wonderful about reading amongst all the portraits that made up the current exhibition.  There was also free pizza from a stand outside, a temporary tattoo artist, a photo booth and a band in different parts of the gallery.

The first two open mic sessions were fairly traditional.  I divided the fourteen readers into two groups and half read in the first set and half in the second set.  After the second open mic session we had a ‘lets see how many poets we can fit in a photo booth’ session – the answer was five and a half, especially if one insists on wearing a large horse’s head and taking up lots of room!  For the third set, I decided it should just be a free-for-all as everybody had already read once and this turned into poetry’s version of The Hunger Games, where poets raced each other to the mic, running up to the front before the audience had finished clapping the last poet.  It was great fun and my young writers rather brilliantly and cheekily got up twice to read, which drove the adults to be much more active in their leaping for the stage.

On Saturday I dragged my husband Chris to Barrow Park to take part in Park Run.  I still had Thursdays interval session in my legs but I managed to knock a whole second off my PB, taking it down to 23.08.  Chris managed 22.44 which is an amazing time considering he has only really been running regularly for the last month or so.  Not annoyed at all that he beat me…

After that, we drove up to Grasmere for the launch of the Poetry Business Pamphlet winners.  This is always one of my favourite events of the year.  It’s free and I like seeing what colour the pamphlets are and seeing Peter and Ann.  This year was a little bit sad for me because my wonderful friend and poet David Tait was one of the winners with his pamphlet Three Dragon Day but he couldn’t be at the reading because he was in China, busy working.  Peter and David asked me if I’d read David’s poems for him, so I did get to relive what it was like to win the competition, but without having to do any of the work, like actually write the poems.

Reading the poems out was a strange experience, because I couldn’t do any introductions for the poems, because I wouldn’t have known what to say, so I just read them one after the other.  It is a little like walking in another person’s shoes.  Luckily, I knew David’s poems pretty well, and he gave me a set list of what he wanted me to read.  The poems are extraordinary.  They conjure up such a vivid picture of what it is like to live as a foreigner in China – they are funny and sad and frightening and moving.

The other winners were Paul Stephenson who has been long overdue a pamphlet, Luke Samuel Yates who I met and read with in Aldeburgh two years ago and Basil Du Toit.  I’m hoping to feature work from all four on this blog in the next few weeks or so, but I thought I’d start with David’s work. I didn’t read this poem yesterday at the launch, it wasn’t on David’s list of poems for me to read but it is one of my favourites in the pamphlet.

This is one of those poems that moves from funny to shocking to sad and he does this almost effortlessly.  I love the list of different things that the class bring in, and there is something moving about this list of objects.  For most of the objects we are not told why they care about them.  I laughed out loud when I first read this and got to the line about the lady bringing in her husband, who then sits ‘sipping lemon tea’.

A lot of the poems which seem lighthearted have this sense of menace hanging over them and a sense that history and politics are somehow closer and more vivid in this country, more dangerous.  We are left thinking about The Great Leap forward, and wondering if the family survived as well as the photo.  I think it’s a brilliant poem and packs in a lot in a short space.

David was a winner of The Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition in 2010 with his pamphlet Loves Loose Ends, judged by Simon Armitage  and he then went on to publish his first full length collection Self Portrait with the Happiness with The Poetry Business in 2014. This collection was shortlisted for the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize.  He received an Eric Gregory Award and now lives in Guangzhou in China, where he teaches English. You can find more information about David on his Author Page on the Smith/Doorstop website.

This week I’ll be reading at the South Yorks Poetry Festival in Sheffield next Sunday night with Ian McMillan and Andrew McMillan which I’m really excited about – I hope to see some of you there.

Writing Class, Guangzhou – David Tait

I ask them to bring in a thing
that they care for.  They bring:

a hairpin carved in the shape
of a carp; a policeman’s flask;

young elephants engulfed
by their mother’s trunk, a statue;

a picture of a rabbit, the only toy
they left her after joining school.

One lady has brought in her husband.
He sits in the corner sipping lemon tea.

The others: a silver coin that dates
from the Qing dynasty; a string of pearls

that survived The Great Leap Forward;
the only surviving photo of a family.

She remembers the day it was taken,
her sister crying and not keeping still,

the hesitation she felt looking into the lens,
her father’s hands gripping her shoulders.