Tag Archives: trumpet playing

Sunday Poem – Claudine Toutongi

Sunday Poem – Claudine Toutongi


It doesn’t seem very long since the last time I wrote, and the week has flashed by again.  I decided this week to blog about any interesting reading I do for my PhD for a number of reasons.  First of all, it will stop my overwhelming guilt whenever I spend the day reading and have nothing physical to show for it.  Secondly, I’m hoping it will help me clarify my own thoughts and opinions about what I’ve read. If you missed it, you can find this post here, and feel free to join in/add your thoughts. I’ve really enjoyed reading responses to the last post, and they’ve given me a lot to think about!

Apart from finishing reading the Vicky Bertram book, and starting to make my slow and painstaking way through some articles that my supervisor recommended for me to read, I’ve been doing a lot of running.  I’m up to 21 miles so far this week and today I’m going out on a ten mile run which will be the furthest I’ve ran since coming back from injury.

This week I had a five hour, non-stop meeting with Pauline Yarwood, my co-director at Kendal Poetry Festival.  It was non-stop because we forgot to stop to get a drink.  We got a bit over-excited with our discussion of possible poets for the festival.  We only have room for twelve poets so each one has to be fantastic, in their own inimitable way.  WE haven’t quite got our final list yet, but we are getting close.   This job is my (and I think Pauline’s as well)  favourite bit of the festival.  We also spent a lot of time on something a lot more boring – working out our expenses and budget.  Not my favourite bit of the festival – but it has to be done!

It was Poem and a Pint last night with the wonderful poet Miriam Nash.  I had mistakenly booked myself to do a gig with the Soul Survivors the same night, so I was only able to attend the first half of A Poem and a Pint.  I did hear all of Miriam’s first set though and thought she was brilliant.  I bought her collection and am looking forward to reading it – there was a strong thread about lighthouses, and lights and the sea and the dark running through the poems I heard her read last night.  There were some good open mics as well – Clare Proctor stood out for me, with her poem about penises being kept in jars (it’s a great poem – you had to be there), and also Gill Nicholson, whose first poem exploring grief and the inability of the dead to return (If Jesus could do it, why can’t you?) I think was the first line, made me cry.

Anyway, I listened to the first half open miccers, and then whizzed off to the Soul Survivors gig back in Barrow.  I have had a bit of an epiphany with my playing recently.  Basically, a couple of months ago I lost my trumpet mouthpiece, which is worth about £90.  I’ve had this mouthpiece for a long time, and a teacher advised that I buy this particular make and size probably 13 years ago, because I was doing a lot of classical trumpet playing.  In particular, myself and said teacher were performing the Vivaldi double trumpet concerto.

Anyway, I’ve always hated what I call ‘gadgets’ and an over reliance and obsession with different size mouthpieces and fancy bits of kit.  I’ve always been of the opinion that if you are a good player, it doesn’t really matter what you play, within reason.  How stupid I am! I spent a good three hours researching mouthpieces on the internet, FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER (bear in mind I’ve been playing since I was ten).  I spent another couple of hours on trumpet forums and lurked about reading responses from it must be said mainly male trumpet players as they discussed in-depth about different sizes of mouthpiece.

I realised that I’ve been playing on a large size mouthpiece to get a big classical sound and actually that might not be ideal for the type of playing I’m doing now (soul band stuff).  So I decided to buy a smaller mouthpiece – found a half price one on Ebay and ordered it.  Then after having the summer off playing, I’ve spent the last two weeks practising – building up from a five minute splutter as my face tried to remember how to play, to an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening every day, and ta-da! I can suddenly play for higher and longer than I’ve ever managed in my entire playing career.

The gig last night was so much easier – I actually enjoyed it instead of worrying about high notes and getting tired.  My tuning was even better – on the big mouthpiece, I used to go sharper and sharper as the night went on – last night, once I was in tune, I was in tune.  I’m so excited by the fact that playing was easier that I think I might just have to keep my practising up now.  This is my problem though – I get obsessed with things. I can’t just practise once a day – I have to do it twice a day, for longer and longer.  But I will have to keep control of it otherwise I will still be doing this PhD by the time I’m 65.

Probably trumpet mouthpiece talk is as boring for non trumpet players as my running talk is for non runners, so I’d better stop there.  Next week I have quite a busy week – I’m giving a lecture on the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy tomorrow at Mancester Met University for a group of visiting Australian students (teenagers).  I’ve got meetings for Poem and a Pint, and for Kendal Poetry Festival.  I’m reading at Bad Language in Manchester as the guest poet on Wednesday, and Friday I’m going over to Settle to present prizes to the winners of the Settle Poetry Competition, and give a short reading of my own poetry as well, alongside the fabulous Carola Luther.   On Saturday I’m reading in Ilkley at Ilkley Literature Festival to launch the Poetry Business ‘One for the Road’ anthology, celebrating pubs in poetry and prose.  I’ll be reading alongside Stuart Maconie and Peter Sansom for that event.  Then I’m staying in Ilkley before catching the train down to Swindon to be reunited with Hilda Sheehan before heading over to be the guest poet at Buzzwords in Cheltenham on Sunday.  At some point on that Sunday, maybe on the train on the way down to Swindon, I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to do my blog!

I have such a good Sunday Poem for you this week! I read this poem – and wow.  It blew me away straight away.  Today’s Sunday Poem comes from Smoothie by Claudine Toutongi which has just been published by Carcanet.  I’m halfway through my second read of the collection and I’m really enjoying it.  It feels very different to the kind of poetry I write, but maybe that is why I like it so much.  It feels very fresh.  Mark Waldron talks on the back of the book about the ‘lightness of touch’, and a ‘kind of unafraid honesty’ which I think sums the book  up really well.

After reading the poem, I thought the ‘you’ in the poem was an ex-boyfriend, or at least someone that the speaker has had some kind of physical and emotional connection with, but it’s not entirely clear.  Maybe it was one of those connections filled with longing/yearning and not much else, the worst kind, I think as there is never any real life experiences to give any real-life disappointment.

And thinking back to my PhD musing post, and who poems are addressed to, and that idea of ‘slyness’ or ‘doubleness’ in a mode of address – I think this poem illustrates this perfectly.  On a surface level it is addressed to a ‘you’ who I unequivocally see as a man (maybe because of that first simile: “You’re there in front of me/looking like the longest,tallest/coolest glass of water.” but actually, I think the poem is one of those rare poems addressed to women as a collective – although maybe I’m just over-identifying with the content of the poem, and reading that as a call to women to remember the times when we’ve stood in front of someone we’ve fancied/loved/longed for and not been able to speak.

The foregrounding of female desire (“You might as well have/Drink me written on your collar”) is beautifully done (“the longest, tallest/ coolest glass of water”).  I also think it’s a wonderful example of the female gaze in poetry.  Although desire is at the centre of this poem, and the desire seems to go both ways (“every time/you touch my elbow things feel worse”) the object of desire is actually not an object.  He isn’t on display.  The only physical description of him is the ‘longest, tallest/coolest glass of water’.  After that, the physical descriptions are centred on the speaker.  It is her reaction to him (“My heart swims in my chest like a fairground/goldfish trapped in plastic) and their interaction together “the way/we don’t make room for others in our conversation” that are central to the poem.  Even the one physical description of the man looking like a glass of water, actually serves to remind us of the thirst of the speaker, her desire.  And the ‘Drink me’ on the collar echoes back to Alice in Wonderland, where Alice picks up a bottle with ‘Drink me’ on which transforms her.  I couldn’t remember at first whether the potion she drinks makes her smaller or larger – interestingly it makes her smaller – so she can fit through a tiny door and go on to have various adventures, which throws an interesting light on the poem – if the speaker gives in to her desire, will it will make her ‘smaller’ in some way?

Finally, I love the cleverness of the word ‘congrats’ being the ‘shrunken cousin’ of congratulations as well – this line made me smile when I read it because it felt so correct, like a truth you don’t know you know before a poem speaks it for you.

I met Claudine a few years ago on one of the residential courses that I ran but haven’t been in touch with her for a while, so I was really pleased when she messaged to say she had a collection coming out with Carcanet.

Claudine grew up in Warwickshire and studied English and French at Trinity College, Oxford.  After an MA at Goldsmiths, she trained as an actor at LAMDA and worked as a BBC RAdio Drama producer and English teacher.  As a dramatist, her plays Bit Part and Slipping have been produced by The Stephen Joseph Theatre.  She adapted Slipping for BBC Radio 4, after it was featured in an international reading series at New York’s Lark Play Development Centre.  Other work for BBC Radio includes Deliverers and The Inheritors.  She lives in Cambridge. You can find out more about Claudine by heading to her website https://claudinetoutoungi.weebly.com/

If you would like to buy Smoothiehead over to Carcanet, where it is available at the moment at a discount –  for the bargain price of £8.99.  I promise you, this is a collection that deserves to be read – it’s funny, inventive, sharp but with some punch-in-the-gut moments as well.


Reunion – Claudine Toutongi

You’re there in front of me
looking like the longest, tallest
coolest glass of water.  You might as well have
Drink me written on your collar.
My heart swims in my chest like a fairground
goldfish trapped in plastic and
whether it’s the fact we’re gulping coffee
after coffee from the buffet, or that every time
you touch my elbow things feel worse, or the way
we don’t make room for others in our conversation – I can’t
tell, but it seems to me your tongue sticks to the roof of
my mouth, though it doesn’t and I can’t pronounce the
words I need to say and even when my friend, your wife,
arrives it doesn’t come and so I say congrats.  Not
even the whole word just its shrunken cousin –
and your expression hovers right before your face
and doesn’t seem to want to land.

Sunday Poem – Bob Horne


I’m sat in my writing room looking out at darkness once again.  That isn’t entirely accurate of course.  I can see the edges of the houses whose back gardens lead onto ours.  I can make out the shape of a tree in one of the gardens, although our hawthorn tree is invisible.  To the right, the lights in a conservatory glow and every now and then, I see a car pass between the gaps in the houses.  I know if I opened the window, I would hear nothing until a car made its way up the hill.

I used to live in a street where at night the whole place would come alive. The arguments that had simmered quietly in the daytime would burst out once darkness fell.  Once I was woken up by somebody kicking a front door in across the road.  Once I was woken up by a fight.  Once I was woken up by somebody smashing someone’s car windscreen in.  Once a man who lived across the road, who was an alcoholic opened my front door and stumbled in, then stumbled out again.

In my old house, the morning was filled with seagulls crying.  We were closer to the sea than we are now, although we couldn’t see it.  We lived in an area of Barrow where the terraced houses seemed to make the sky smaller somehow.  Up here, at the top of a hill, the sky seems bigger, and the birds that I hear first thing in the morning are the sparrows. I realise I’ve never lived anywhere where there were birds before.

In Birmingham, where I lived for a year, there was the constant hum of a main road outside the front door.  There was a garden, but I never ventured into it.  In Leeds, the noise outside was of traffic, and a nightclub that held afternoon raves, as well as evening ones.  I’ve never lived anywhere so quiet before as here.

Everything links to everything else doesn’t it? Thinking about Leeds, and Birmingham, in the time when I still wanted, more than anything to be a professional trumpet player.  It’s no coincidence that this is on my mind this week, as I’ve spent more hours than I have in years playing the trumpet.

I’ve been playing in a production of The Wizard of Oz every night in Ulverston.  I started the week in agony – I went to a soul band rehearsal and could hardly play because I had a painful back and neck.  After talking to Julie (the sax player) I’ve really been working to try and keep my shoulders relaxed when I’m playing.  I’ve literally been forcing my shoulder blades down.

Just this simple act has completely transformed my playing.  My lip has lasted for the whole show instead of for 20 minutes.  I’ve been playing the high notes and it has felt easier.  I’m trying to remember now whether my teacher at music college ever said to put my shoulders down.  I can’t remember it if he did.  Maybe he said ‘Relax’ without explaining how to do this.

On Saturday I had three gigs – a matinee and evening performance of The Wizard of Oz and half of a soul band gig to do, and my lip held out! Before this little trick of keeping my shoulders down, I’d have been goosed after the first matinee.

Imagine meeting an ex who you loved more than you loved anybody before, but you met at the wrong time, or you were not ready, your head wasn’t right when you met, and the chances, the ones you were given, passed you by, or you did not reach out and take them.  Now imagine you meet that ex, but you have got older in the normal course of things, but they have stayed at whatever age they were when you met them.  They are unchanged.  That is how I feel about playing the trumpet  – I start playing again, and all the old ghosts that I didn’t deal with in the past, come back again.  I didn’t stop playing because I didn’t love it still, or that I wasn’t good.  I stopped playing because I didn’t feel good enough, because I couldn’t handle the feelings it brought up of doubting myself.

As you can probably tell, I’m still working through all of this in my own head.  I am really happy to be playing again, and there is some sadness as well that I’ve taken this long to get to this point – it feels like coming full circle in some ways, without even meaning to.

So apart from my epiphany (put your shoulders down) and my trumpet angst, and my joy at the feeling of playing my trumpet every day for the first time in many, many years I’ve had lots of other stuff going on as well.  I haven’t done as much running this week because I’ve been busy with other stuff, but I used the opportunity of a low milage week to have a go at Park Run on Saturday and get a new personal best time for 5k of 21.54.  I am very chuffed to be under 22 minutes for 5k.

I’ve also had an interesting week poetry wise.  I’ve been asked to be the ‘Artist of the Month’ in a local paper ‘Ulverston Life’ so on Monday I went to Ulverston and was interviewed by the lovely Helen Shacklady who has promised to turn my incoherent ramblings into something that is worth reading.

On Wednesday I went to Furness Abbey to record a poem that I’ve been commissioned to write for National Poetry Day by the BBC.  The brief was to write a poem in the voice of a landmark. I decided to write a poem in the voice of Furness Abbey, telling its life backwards.  If it is good enough for the story of my niece and her first boxing match, (see my first collection if you don’t know what I’m talking about) then it is good enough for Furness Abbey.  My interview for this was pretty dire – I forgot to mention anything about my publications which would have made me sound like I knew what I was doing and instead told the journalist about how I started writing poems every time I got dumped.  Oh well. It’s too late to worry about that one now as well!  The poem will be broadcast on BBC Cumbria on National Poetry Day and apparently there will also be a Facebook video of me walking around the Abbey looking up at the walls.  What could possibly go wrong with this?  Let’s hope the journalist wasn’t still recording when I did my Kate Bush impression whilst leaping through the Furness Abbey arches…

On Thursday I did my first day of teaching at Manchester Met.  I did a five minute talk in the lecture to about 100 students about a poem that I loved, alongside Angelica Michelis and Martin Kratz, the other lecturers on the unit that I’m teaching on, and then I did my first two seminars with my student groups.  I was really nervous about the lecture part, but once I got going I was fine, and  I really loved the teaching part.  There were no problem behaviours to manage.  I didn’t have to ask people repeatedly to be quiet.  I didn’t have to convince them that my subject was worthwhile and interesting.  I didn’t have to bite my tongue and keep my temper.  I didn’t need any patience.  It was bloody marvellous!

I also managed to get to the library and got out far too many books in one go, but I got a bit over-excited.  Tomorrow, I’m going for my Induction Day for my PhD, and I’m hoping this will kickstart me into getting to work, as I don’t feel that I’ve really knuckled down yet.  Oh and joy and rapture – I also got my staff card sorted so it is in my actual name rather than my married name.

So, on to today’s Sunday Poem.  I hope you’ve managed to read this far.  Bob Horne was kind enough to send me his first pamphlet, Knowing My Place, published by Caterpillar Poetry.  As well as being a great poet (as you’ll see from the poem) Bob is also a publisher, having set up the small press Calder Valley Poetry at the beginning of 2016. Since then, he has published five pamphlets by writers including John Foggin, Peter Riley, Steve Ely, Mark Hinchliffe  and John Duffy, with a pamphlet by Stephanie Bowgett in the pipeline.

I don’t know Bob very well, but when I have met him, the impression I got was one of generosity towards other writers and enthusiasm about poetry.  This has been borne out in the brief email exchange we’ve had, where he was very humble about his own work, preferring to talk about his work as a publisher.  So it is nice to put the spotlight on Bob’s own poetry for once!   Bob did tell me he did a Poetry MA at Huddersfield University in the mid 1990’s but then had a break until three years ago, when he started attending local events at The Albert, Puzzle and other local venues such as Anthony Costello’s Kava Kultura in Todmorden and Keith Hutson’s Square Chapel sessions.

This poem reminded me at first of one of my favourite poems – ‘Those Winter Sundays’ by Robert Hayden.  It seemed to me as if Bob was tipping his hat to this earlier poem – so I’d be interested to see if he has read the Hayden poem or not! If Bob has read the poem, then I think it is a lovely way of building up the layers of this poem.  The similarities between the two poems lie in the physical action of a ‘he’ lighting a fire, and in the use of the word ‘austere’ which seems, in my mind at least, to link them both together.  Bob’s poem is much more, I think about the self, and looking back on quite a solitary figure, of looking at a small space, and what happens when you move from the past to the present, from small spaces, to spaces without any boundaries, whereas the Hayden poem explores the relationship between a father and son, and the emotional dynamics of a household.

I love the focused concentration on the physical actions in the poem – there are lots of wonderful details that are very carefully observed: ‘Then, a scratch/ and a bud of flame’.  I love both the scratch and the bud of flame.

The title of the poem tells us where we are, and at first there is a narrowness, an inwardness to this poem.  The speaker is looking back to a particular season, a particular year, a particular house and room.  But by the end of the poem, it completely opens out, both to the wider world: ‘a rush of smoke/slid up the sooty/blackness of the chimney/to vanish in faraway air’ but it also opens out from the past to the present with that wonderful ending with the grown up shadow gazing back.

I do think this last stanza is extraordinary – it is both situated in the past and the present, the statue being the thing that time pivots around.  We’ve all been small and had our shadow, larger than ourselves thrown against a wall.  But this last stanza could equally be taking place now, in the present moment.

Thanks to Bob for letting me use his poem.  I hope you enjoy it!

Living Room – Bob Horne

I remember winter mornings
in nineteen fifty-one,
standing on the corner
of a ragged hearth-rug,
austere light from outside
screened by clothes on the creel.

With a hand-brush’s worn bristles
he swept cold ashes
from under the grate,
shovelled them onto paper
to be parcelled and stuffed
in the dustbin.

Then, a scratch,
and a bud of flame
felt along the ends
of knots of newsprint.
As they browned and flaked,
fire flowed through a stack

of sticks and coal from the cellar,
a rush of smoke
slid up the sooty
blackness of the chimney
to vanish in faraway air.

I turned to look across the room,
the heat at my back.
Still, in the middle
of a flickering wall,
my grown-up shadow
gazed back at me.


Sunday Poem – Heidi Williamson

Sunday Poem – Heidi Williamson

trumpet bag

This is a photo of my triple gig bag, which is now 15 years old.  I bought this bag in my first year at music college.  Sometimes it did have three trumpets in, my Bb, my D/Eb trumpet and a cornet, but most of the time it had one trumpet and then various mutes and music and a metronome and a tuner and my purse and maybe a couple of changes of clothes, a spare pair of shoes, in case I stayed out at a friends or went to the pub straight after work.  When my dad fell thirty feet from a scaffold when I was about 21, one of my teachers came to fetch me from the lecture I was in, and I got straight on a train from Leeds to Leicester with this bag, which happened to have enough clothes to last me for a few days.

I haven’t used this gig bag for years – in fact I lent it to one of my pupils to test it out before he bought himself a triple gig bag, but this week I’ve been playing in a show for the first time in years and I remembered the bag, searched the house for it, remembered I’d lent it to someone, got it back and voila! Here it is, in all its glory.  I’ve been trotting round Barrow with it this week, filling it with clothes and music and my trumpet, just like the old days, except without the terrible hangovers and having to catch a bus with it.

Abbey Musical Society’s production this year was ‘White Christmas’ so I’ve been playing in that all week.  It has been good fun, but I’ve been exhausted! I’m usually not in bed before midnight, but this week I’ve been getting home at 10.30pm and going straight to sleep.  I can’t remember trumpet playing being that tiring!

I should introduce you all to my new carpet- inspired by John Foggin’s own stripey carpet on his stairs.

Despite feeling kanckered at the end of the show, I’ve felt pretty good for the rest of the week and have managed to get a long run in again this week – 12 miles on Thursday and today the husband and I went running up on the fells.  It was all going great until we ended up going down what I call a cliff.  The map and the husband insisted it was a path, but there was no path to be seen, just mud and gorse brushes and scree and it was so steep, we were basically climbing down, if we weren’t sliding down.  I pointed out that the husbands walks/runs often turn into these epic adventures but he is in denial.  I can write this safely as I know he doesn’t read my blog!

On Friday I had my next Read Regional event in South Elmsall Library in Wakefield.  The staff were lovely and I gave a reading to a book group there, and then drove back as quickly as I could to get back for the show in the evening.

The other thing that has preoccupied my time this week  is an application for something that I really want to do.  It has taken every spare minute I’ve had to put this together, and I’ve been obsessing about it all week.  I don’t want to say too much about it at the minute for various reasons.  It has been a bit stressful pulling this application together but the lovely thing is that it has made me realise how many amazing friends I have who have helped me with it, read through my application, written references for me,talked to me on the phone and stopped me panicking.  Another lovely thing is that through writing the application, I’ve had to really think about what I want to do next, and how I’m going to do it, and that is definitely a good thing for me, as I find it hard to admit to myself, let alone anybody else what I want.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Heidi Williamson, who has featured on this blog before, in 2013, with a poem from her first collection, which you can find here.  I was slow on the uptake last time, as her first collection came out in 2011, but I didn’t feature a poem on here until 2013.  I don’t make the same mistake twice however, or not very often anyway.  This week’s Sunday Poem comes from Heidi’s new collection The Print Museum, which is officially published on the 24th March by Bloodaxe.  I managed to get my hands on an advance copy however and read it in one go in one of my early morning readings.  It is a fantastic book and I really would recommend it.

As many of you may know already, I’m currently running an online course for The Poetry School called ‘What Work Is’.  We’ve been looking over the last eight weeks at various poems about work and the poems in this book would have been perfect for many of the assignments. I’m running the course again as a face to face course in Manchester in the summer term, so I’ll definitely be using some of these poems then.

Heidi Williamson is the daughter of a printer, and this knowledge obviously comes through in the book – the poems ring true, and the collection is, of course about printing, the art and the industry of it, but it is also about work and the place it has in our lives, it is about family, about how things are learnt and passed down, how we communicate.  It is about the body.  There is a beautiful poem that I wish I’d written called ‘My Father’s Hands’.  It is about how things change.

I’ve chosen ‘Letterpress’ because I love the tone of it – I like the imperative, the no-nonsense feel of it.

Letterpress – Heidi Williamson

>>>> A print is properly a dent on the page.
>>>>The whole history of letterpress
>>>>is the abolition of that dent.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Eric Gill

Your first challenge is how to read
upside down and left to right.
When you’ve mastered this, compose
your chosen letters on the stick.
Don’t fret at impenetrable text:
your fingers are pure muscle memory,
their movements to and from the case
will let you know what’s out of place.
Employ your shooting stick and mallet
to add leading strips and knurled
furniture to make a page.  Lock it
tight to form a chase.  Then place
your caged lead in its letterpress bed.
Next, the ink: essentially as Caxton used.
It quakes gelatinously.  You want it even,
but know its greasy mass responds
to its surroundings.  On certain days,
you need to roll it out repeatedly.
There’s peace in doing this,
though deadlines may be ticking.
You need it tacky and malleable.
Now, make ready.  This takes time,
as the type is worn: certain letters
take a beating.  Twists of paper, tissue…
use anything to build an even surface.
Prove until you have the perfect print.
Check for literals, the spread of ink,
then set it going, hell for leather.
Mind out the flying fingers flinging
paper in and out.  You mustn’t rest.
The ink will lesson, the type will stress.
You’re alert for tiny variations
creeping in.  A certain tolerance,
then you have to intervene.
Stop everything.  Begin again.
Remember, it’s impossible to render
the same way twice.  But you’re no
wet-behind-the-ears apprentice,
running off for stripy ink and a long
weight.  By the time the run is done,
you’ll be covered in ink and sweat,
cuts, bruises, burns and scars.
Your ears will sing with pain,
your lungs retain microscopic
remnants of paper, metal, chemicals.
Your back will creak, your knuckles
crack, your eyes will strain
from too much looking.
Remember too, that it takes time,
after.  To diss the type back
in its case, clean down machines,
yourself, your space. Unmaking
takes almost as long as creating.
Each element of every day
will take your mind, your body
and enduring soul to complete.
And if you do your job just so,
they’ll be no sign of you at all
in any sleekly finished sheet.

I love the physicality of this poem – the physical details keep piling one on top of another.  I wouldn’t have thought, until reading this poem that printing was a particularly physical job, but this shows how much I know – ‘By the time the run is done/you’ll be covered in ink and sweat,/cuts, bruises, burns and scars’.  What a great way of describing tinnitis as well – ‘Your ears will sing with pain’.

After my week spent waking my trumpet brain up again, and slowly remembering all the things I used to be able to do, reading the line near the beginning of the poem about the ‘muscle memory’ of fingers made me smile.

I also really like all the language in this poem that comes from the world of printing – the shooting stick, the mallet, the chase.  Heidi has a useful glossary in the back of the book – a shooting stick is a ‘Tool of metal or wood used to tighten the wooden quoins that secure the forme’.  A ‘chase’ is a ‘Frame holding type and furniture together while they’re printed’.  I don’t think you need to know what these things are though to enjoy the poem.  I didn’t realise there was a glossary at the back, the first time I read through the poems, so I just let the words I didn’t understand just wash over me.

I did take myself off to Wikipedia to discover that the Caxton referred to in the poem is William Caxton, credited with printing the first book in English after visiting Cologne and seeing the German printing industry.  The fact that the poem tells us that ink is ‘essentially the same as Caxton used’ is really interesting, as Caxton printed his first book in 1473.

I love the details in this poem as well ‘certain letters/take a beating’ and I can almost hear the letterpress in the line ‘then set it going, hell for leather’. And I love the wisdom of ‘Unmaking/takes almost as long as creating’.  Sometimes I feel like that if I have had a day of writing.  It feels like I’ve been swimming along underwater, and then coming back up to the normal world, and having to go shopping, or wash up or speak to somebody feels like a wrench. Maybe it is not the same, but there is something in that line, which fits with what you do when you create something, to get yourself back in a fit state to be in the world.

You can order Heidi Williamson’s new collection ‘The Print Museum’ from Bloodaxe from the 24th March onwards.  Her first, ‘Electric Shadow’ (Bloodaxe, 2011) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry. She works as a mentor, tutor, and writing coach for organisations including Writers’ Centre Norwich and The Poetry Society.www.heidiwilliamsonpoet.com