THE LIONS OF LEEDS TOWN HALL – Ian Harker
Drawn from life at London Zoo
you could catch one from the corner
of your eye curling an oversize paw
like a cat in a square of sunlight
on the kitchen floor or flicking the dirt
from its mane – blackbright lions
lazing in the haze of fading might.
Here they come up Park Row,
claws clack-clacking on flags,
leaping parked cars, nosing over litter bins.
The city after dark is an outdoor enclosure
for owls and sheep, gargoyles and eagles
and a family of roe deer grazing placid
in Mandela Gardens.
At the Mechanics’ Institute the security guards
can hardly hear themselves think for the squawk
and scream of the treetops, yawning hippos
and an extinction of dodos hopping down the stairs
towards Millennium Square.
And who dare check that Nesyamun,
three thousand years dead, hasn’t shifted
his shrunken bones, sat up
and started tapping against the glass.
Today’s Sunday Poem is from Ian Parker’s first pamphlet, The End of the Sky, which was one of three winners of the 2015 Templar Pamphlet Awards and was published in November. I got to know Ian a couple of years ago, through my good friend David Tait. I remember David telling me then that he thought Ian was a great poet and to watch out for his poems. Ian has had a great 2015 – I’ve been noticing his poetry popping up in magazines and on various shortlists for competitions including the Bridport, The Troubador and the Guernsey International Prizes. He’s also been published in numerous magazines including The North, Stand, Agenda and Other Poetry.
I haven’t seen Ian for ages so it was great to see him at Word Club in Leeds a couple of weeks ago. I’m a bit lazy about buying books and pamphlets online now and much prefer to get them in person – so I’m glad I got the opportunity to get a copy of quite a few pamphlets from various poets based in and around Leeds.
As soon as I read the title of this poem I knew I would love it. I thought I was the most unobservant person when I lived in Leeds – if it didn’t look like a trumpet, I wasn’t really interested, but even I apparently, had noticed the lions because I got a kind of pang of nostalgia just from reading the title – I remember those lions!
I love the idea that you could catch one ‘curling an oversize paw’ or ‘flicking the dirt from its mane’ when you are not looking. I have no idea if ‘blackbright’ is a real word – it sounds made up, and yet, completely right and fitting.
I think the second stanza has captured the movement of the lions beautifully, even while keeping it in the reader’s mind that these are stone lions – their claws ‘clack-clacking on flags’. It’s all a bit Museums at Night by the end, with that image of Nesyamun sitting up and ‘tapping against the glass’ – I love it!
Thanks to Ian for allowing me to use his poem forthe blog this week – I would heartily recommend his pamphlet, The End of the Sky, which you can buy by heading over to the Templar website.
Talking about Nesyamun and his three thousand year old bones, I feel a strange affinity with him tonight, except he maybe has a bit more life in him! I’ve just got back from an amazing weekend, running the first ever Poetry Carousel.
In the days leading up to the Poetry Carousel, I started to worry that there might be a reason why nobody had done this sort of course before. Thirty two participants, divided into four groups of eight. Each group of eight had a two-hour workshop with four tutors, rotating around, from one tutor to the other. Tutors for this year were Ian Duhig, Amanda Dalton and Andrew Forster who were all great to work with and a brilliant support throughout the weekend.
I can only imagine what it was like for the people taking part, moving from one workshop to another, one energy to another, one teaching style to another, one topic to another. It must have been exhausting, and by the end of the weekend, there was certainly a sense of hysteria setting in with the tutors and a few of the participants. But I hope it was also inspiring and exciting and fun and made them think and question and think again. I hope it was challenging as well – I think we need to be challenged sometimes, and prodded out of our comfort zones. The quality of the work produced during the workshops was outstanding and although at times, I felt sad I wasn’t getting to spend as much time getting to know people as on a ‘normal’ residential course, it was lovely to walk around the hotel and hear the buzz and chatter of people talking and laughing.
We had two wonderful and very different guest poets, Jennifer Copley on the Friday night, and Lindsey Holland on the Saturday night, both at very different stages in their careers. Jenny will be running a more ‘normal’ residential course with me in October: ‘From the Ordinary to the Extraordinary’ and it was great to hear some of the new poems she has been working on, including some surreal takes on nursery rhymes. Lindsey has now finished a pamphlet she has been working on about her family history, and read three long poems as her set, including one of my favourites of hers, St Elmo’s Fire, which was one of the set of poems recently shortlisted for the Manchester Poetry Prize.
The carousel will be running again from the 16th-19th August 2016, and I’ll be making an announcement about the other three tutors very soon!
Apart from preparing for the course, which seems to have taken a huge part of my week, last week I spent two evenings at a school show, where I’d rehearsed a school band so they could perform in the afternoon without me as I had to be somewhere else teaching. They apparently were brilliant in the afternoon, counted themselves in, finished together, kept in time and in the evening, when I was halfway on stage ready to conduct them, they counted themselves in again and off they went, so I scuttled off stage again! It was a strange mixture of pride that they didn’t need me and grumpiness that they didn’t need me, but the pride was definitely on top, as it should be!
I also ran far too much last week and now have sore shins again, which I’ve rested this weekend in the hope they will make a speedy recovery. I also went for a lovely afternoon tea with my friend Helen who writes a great blog detailing her experiences at some of the county’s finest afternoon tea establishments. My alias is ‘Princess K’ on the blog and I am the only one of her friends to be photographed and featured on said blog. This might be because I kept photobombing the pictures she was trying to take of the cakes but never mind
Next year, starting towards the end of January, I’ll be tutoring on an online course called What Work Is through the Poetry School. You can book onto the course here, but if you’d like to find out a little more about it, I’ve just written a blog post which talks about what we’ll be doing on the course which you can find here. Half of the places have gone already, so if you’d like to book, do get in touch with the Poetry School.
In February, I’m running a residential course in St Ives with Steve Ely – again, half of the places for this course have already gone so do get in touch with the hotel if you would like to book a place. You can find more information here
This is always a strange time of year – it feels like things are starting to wind down, but they aren’t really. Next week I have a school concert, I’m taking Barrow Shipyard Junior Band busking twice, a soul band rehearsal and a trip to Galway to read at the Over the Edge reading series and then a soul band gig when I get back. It’s not really winding down at all, but there is that sense of time running out, or running away.
The end-of-year lists are starting to come out – this blog is even on one of them, which I’m very, very happy about. Matthew Stewart over at Rogue Strands has compiled a list ‘The Best U.K Poetry Blogs of 2015’ and happy to say my blog is on it. My friend John Foggin has just blogged and included his four poetry blogs that keep him going and I’m happy to say this blog is mentioned there as well.
Poetry, and blogging can be like that. I liked John’s analogy of it being like a long walk and needing friends to carry your rucksack and motivate you sometimes. John was saying thanks to me for doing that today on his blog, not knowing that I was feeling like a three thousand year old corpse and trying to think of an excuse for not writing this blog . Reading his blog made me remember why I like blogging – I like sharing other people’s poetry just because I like it, without expecting anything back, just because something in the poem spoke to me. Writing a blog every week does feel like a long walk with a really heavy rucksack sometimes – there is no denying that. Sometimes I wonder whether it is worth the time and the energy – but mostly I feel proud of it – that is what is mostly on top – which is how it should be.