Tag Archives: versopolis

Sunday Poem – Mike Farren

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Sunday Poem – Mike Farren

I’ve been on holiday for the last week in Benidorm with three friends that I run with.  Our women’s running holiday is turning into an annual tradition.  It feels slightly false to call it a running holiday as 90% of the time we laze about by the pool.  However every morning at 7.15 am we put on our running kits and we’re out running by 7.30 am.  The staff in the hotel looked very bemused by us going out running each morning, and on the only day when there was actual clouds in the sky and a bit of a breeze, they looked completely confused that we were actually venturing outside.

I’m trying to remember what else we did apart from running and sitting by the pool, but it was one of those weeks that go by very quickly, even though nothing much is happening.  We did spend a morning going round the market in Benidorm, and we had a day out to Altea, which was beautiful.

I also read five novels on holiday – some of them came from recommendations from people on Twitter and some are just ones I’ve come across from reading articles.  The first one was South of Forgiveness by Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger.  Stylistically this book was my least favourite to read but as a true story it is a fascinating read.  Thordis and Tom are co-authors of the book, although the majority of the book is written by Thordis, diary entries from Tom are included as well.  Tom was Thordis’ first boyfriend, and raped her when she was 16.  She got in touch with him years later by email to confront him, and eventually they decide to speak face to face.  The book is really about that journey, and it is not a comfortable read.  It is much easier to think of rapists as being evil, faceless strangers, but the truth is that many women know their attackers.   I found the book interesting because it asks questions about why men like Tom behave in that way – questions about entitlement and power, questions about the impact of trauma, and how to move on from trauma and violence.

I then read Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor.  This was recommended by Helen Mort, and I knew nothing about it when I downloaded it on my Kindle.  After being firstly quite suspicious of the style, I completely fell in love with this novel, and I think it is one that will stay with me for a long time.  I don’t know if it is the correct terminology to call it an experimental novel – and that label, I think has negative connotations, but it did feel quite radical and different to me.   It explores the impact on a community of the disappearance of a young girl – but the novel is made up of observations of that community.  And by community I don’t just mean the humans that made up the town, but the wildlife and the plants and the animals and the river.  There would be a couple of sentences about the school caretaker and then a couple of sentences about the foxcubs in the woods, and the leaves on the trees.  At first it was strange and distracting, but once I got used to it, it felt like it was this wonderful level field where everything was as important as everything else.

After that I read Who Runs the World? by Virginia Bergin.  This came from reading an article about good dystopian novels, and although I enjoyed it, I think it’s a Young Adult novel (or felt like it to me).  It’s set in a world where boys don’t exist and women run the world.  I finished this in one day – great story, but I felt a bit old for the tone and it’s audience, and it didn’t quite feel believable for me.

My favourite was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.  This post-apocalyptic novel felt completely believable – a deadly virus wipes out most of the human race. The novel has flashbacks and jumps around in time and I think I’d definitely read this again as I know I’d get even more out of it the second time around.  I also liked this novel because despite the collapse of civilisation, one of the characters travelled around with a group of musicians and actors, putting on concerts and plays for the isolated settlements remaining.   I like that art and music and literature and drama survived.

The last novel, which I started on holiday and finished today was The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey.  Another post-apocalypse novel – and again, a great story, told from start to finish, no jumping around, no flashbacks and easy to read.  So I didn’t read any poetry at all on holiday – I find it impossible to read poetry while lounging on a sun bed.  Also my running friends have no interest in poetry whatsoever so there would have been nobody to talk to about any poetry that I read, so I normally just avoid it altogether.  I only really read novels whilst I’m on holiday, as basically I have no self control and don’t get anything done once I start a novel.  For example, today I was supposed to be catching up with all the emails that have been piling up.  Instead, I had to finish The Girl With All The Gifts and then it was the last night of the athletics, and lo and behold I’m writing my blog at 10.30pm at night and I haven’t answered any emails.  Whoops.

I’m only home for nine days and then I’m off again to Macedonia to take part in the Struga Poetry Evenings as part of the Versopolis project, so no more novels for me this week – tomorrow morning I’m going to get up early, answer my emails and get organised.  I’m hoping I can get a bit of PhD reading done this week as well so I can go off guilt-free to Macedonia.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Mike Farren, who I met for the first time when I was Poet in Residence at Ilkley Literature Festival a couple of years ago.  Mike came along to a workshop and wrote a fantastic poem.  I hope he won’t mind me saying this, but he seemed very unconfident and not really aware of what a good writer he was.  Anyway, fast forward to 2017 and he has his first pamphlet out with Templar after winning the Templar Quarterly Portfolio Pamphlet Awards   with his pamphlet Pierrot and his Mother.    

Mike was born in Bradford and works as an editor in academic publishing.  His poems have appeared in various journals and anthologies, including The Interpreter’s House, Prole, Ink Sweat and Tears, and Valley Press’s Anthology of Yorkshire Poetry.  He lives in Shipley, where he is one of the hosts of the Rhubarb open mic night.

Mike kindly sent me a copy of this pamphlet a while ago, and I’ve really enjoyed reading it.  When I was re-reading it again today, I thought it would be appropriate to share his poem ‘York Street Furniture, 1981’, which is one of those rare things, a poem about work, and especially appropriate to share it today as all I’ve done is go on about my holidays!

I love the way the relationship between Colin and the speaker is set up in this first line.  We immediately know that Colin is the one with the knowledge, the experience.  He knows where to smoke, and he’s also the one who decides when to have a break.  The speaker in this first stanza is a passive follower or observer who obviously admires Colin and his ‘long, buff jacket’.  Despite this, there is obviously a mis-connection between the two.  Buried in line two of the second stanza there is the line ‘We talk, but say nothing’ – they have nothing in common, no shared ground.  The speaker is kicked out of the toilet while the foreman goes in, maybe to smoke himself. The difference of the speaker is underlined throughout the poem, but especially in Stanza 2 when we read ‘The fifty quid/a week is college beer money for me -/for him, it’s life-long beer money, perhaps.’  That word ‘perhaps on the end of the line shows that the speaker doesn’t actually know if this is true, and I think this acknowledgement makes the poem much stronger.

The  colloquial tone, or register of the poem is established and maintained as well, through the use of the word ‘gasping’ and ‘bog’, and later on with the word ‘quid’ and ‘wagging’, as well as the foreman with his ‘What the fuck?’.

I also like how the first line of the second stanza ‘I don’t, but then he doesn’t even ask’ is slightly ambiguous.  I assume that the reference is ‘I don’t smoke’ but it could also mean ‘I don’t have a break’, although we soon realise the speaker is standing around with Colin while he smokes.

The poem reminded me of my first day working behind the bar at Leeds College of Music.  There was a small kitchen behind the bar, and at the end of the shift, I was packing away food that hadn’t been used, and thought the manager told me to ‘sling’ the jacket potatoes that had been part-cooked.  I chucked about 30 of them in the bin.  He’d actually said ‘cling’.  He used a few choice swear words as well, just as colourful as the ones in Mike Farren’s poem.

I think the naivety of the speaker – thinking he can stand with the smokers, although he doesn’t smoke, his lack of size or strength ‘Can’t even span/my arms across’ and the self-knowledge of ‘We talk, but say nothing’

This poem has a great circularity to it – we start off at the beginning with breathing in Colin’s smoke and finish with breathing the ‘reasty, hot machine-oil air’.  I love poems that capture moments like this – I’m not quite sure why.  Maybe because if someone didn’t write a poem about them, these stories of being a worker won’t ever be told, and I think they should be, because they’re not just about work of course.  This poem is about work and what work is, but it’s also about being young, and about social class, about ambition and realisations.

If you’d like to buy Mike’s pamphlet, you can get it by going to the Templar Poetry website for the modest sum of £6.  Thanks to Mike for letting me use his poem here, and hope you enjoy it!

York Street Furniture, 1981 – Mike Farren

Colin says he’s got to have a break:
he’s gasping, and the bog’s the only place
they let them smoke.  He takes the Players pack
out of the pocket of his long, buff jacket.

I don’t, but then he doesn’t even ask.
We talk, but say nothing.  The fifty quid
a week is college beer money for me –
for him, it’s life-long beer money, perhaps.

And when the tab’s half-done, the foreman slams
in, takes one look, says, “What the fuck?” and kicks
me out, for wagging off when I don’t smoke.
I’m back to loading king-sized mattresses

myself.  I try just one.  Can’t even span
my arms across, so I stand and sniff
the reasty, hot machine-oil air, sweetened
by seasoned timber, as it turns to sawdust.

 

 

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My two week absence

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My two week absence

Afternoon all – this is just a short blog post to reassure anybody that is wondering that I am still alive after my two week absence from blogging. I don’t need to know if you didn’t notice – you can keep that to yourself!

Normal service will resume next Sunday with a new poem from Billy Letford’s forthcoming collection.  How exciting is that?? But until then, you will have to content yourself with the stories of my travels which are about to unfold.

I’ve just got back from Ledbury Poetry Festival – I was reading as part of the Versopolis European poetry reading, alongside poets from England, Norway, France, Wales, Croatia and Germany.  The photo attached to this post was taken after our reading – just Daljit Nagra is missing as he had to dash off home.  It was a wonderful reading to be part of and I feel very lucky to have been chosen by Ledbury Poetry Festival to be one of the UK poets involved, especially given recent events – Versopolis is funded with EU cash, and the project gives young ’emerging’ poets the opportunity to go abroad to European festivals.  Here’s hoping that the project continues to grow and develop, as it has been a wonderful thing to be part of.

I also ran a workshop at the festival, and took part in a reading to launch Hwaet!, an anthology published by Bloodaxe to celebrate 20 years of Ledbury Poetry Festival.  I’m really excited to be in a Bloodaxe anthology – have never been in one before, and with a poem about scaffolding, that most noble of occupations!

Ledbury is unique in its huge network of volunteers and supporters drawn from the town. My host was a lovely lady, J who was also hosting two interns at the festival.  J whizzed me up and down to the town all weekend, stopped me falling down the stairs one morning and has got me addicted to plain croissants with jam, instead of my usual chocolate croissant.

There were two many highlights to list them all, but perhaps the one that stuck most in my mind was the reading and discussion with Mark Doty and Andrew McMillan.  Instead of a normal reading where each poet takes it in turns, one read a poem and then the other responded, on the theme of Desire.  Andrew was very open about the influence that Mark Doty has had on his own writing, and I wondered if this format of reading poems in response to each other would work with other pairs of poets.  This was also the only reading where I cried – Mark Doty read a particular poem about his partner, who was dying, reaching out a hand to his dog, and I just started crying.  I’ve read that poem before to myself, and never cried before, it was something about being in that room and hearing it in his voice, and the honesty with which both poets spoke.

By the time I got to Ledbury I was feeling a bit like a zombie.  I’d had a five hour train journey to get there, and the woman sitting next to me was not feeling well and ended up throwing up all over the train, narrowly missing my suitcase.  The train was packed and there was nowhere to get away from the vomit.  I spent the next couple of hours panicking I was going to catch a sick germ and puke up in the middle of my reading.  So far, I can report I am healthy.

I was feeling like a zombie because the weekend before Ledbury, we had the Kendal Poetry Festival! It was a great weekend – all of the events were sold out, and there was a lovely atmosphere.  It was pretty exhausting though, and straight afterwards I had some visitors from Ireland who had been attending the festival.  The husband and I borrowed my twin sister’s camper van so our guests could have a bedroom each, and so we could have a living room to sit in.

We all went to Dove Cottage on Monday for a day trip out.  Tuesday and Wednesday I was back at work, probably in a bit of a daze, and as I told my Year 3 class on Tuesday morning, without brushing my hair as I couldn’t find the hairbrush in the camper van! The kids didn’t seem to mind.  On Wednesday my Irish friends went back to Ireland and I spent Wednesday night after I finished teaching at 7pm, in a mild state of panic, planning two workshops that I was due to run the next day.

The first was for a meeting of English teachers in Penrith and the second was the next session of my Poetry School course in Manchester.  I ended up going to bed at about 1am, but with everything planned and printed out.  So my Thursday consisted of the morning in Penrith, a drive down the motorway to Manchester, met up with an old friend for coffee and then my Poetry School course in Manchester.  I then drove back home, and planned and printed out my workshop for Ledbury at about midnight.

I set off for Ledbury early Friday morning. It has been really full-on, but very enjoyable.  In amongst all that, I’ve had two bits of good news.  I’ve had two of my ‘All the Men I Never Married Poems’ accepted for publication in Poetry Ireland Review, so I’m really pleased about that.  So that is six of them that have been, or will be published now! My other bit of good news is that starting in September I’ll be doing some teaching for a couple of terms at Manchester Metropolitan University as well as starting my PhD there.

I’m really excited, and nervous about both the PhD and the teaching, but I’ve been doing this for long enough now to know that this feeling of excitement and nerves usually means good things. This Wednesday I’m off to the award ceremony for the Lakeland Book of the Year – my book has been shortlisted, and although I’m not expecting my rather slim volume of poetry to win, I thought I would go and enjoy the afternoon anyway.

 

 

Sunday Poem – Josep Lluís Aguiló

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Evening all.  I’m writing this in daylight for once.  This week I’m determined not to be doing this at midnight, hovering between being asleep and awake while I’m typing.  In my new house I can hear birds singing away outside, real birds, not just the seagulls which  patrolled my old street who had a nasty habit of divebombing you in the months when their chicks were hiding under the parked cars.  We do get seagulls here, but they tend to congregate around a house down a long lane because the woman who lives there feeds them.

The beginning of last week seemed to pass by in a blur of tiredness.  I was really suffering from poetry festival hangover, which should be a recognised condition and has nothing to do with alcohol (or maybe not very much to do with alcohol) and everything to do with the kind of mental fatigue you get when you have spent three days concentrating and listening and talking about poetry and then you are thrown with little ceremony (apart from the five hour train journey) back into your real, normal, every day life, which involves going to work, which involves thirty trumpets and valve oil and stuck mouthpieces and exam preparation and once again, poetry is squeezed into the edges of each day, or sometimes, if I’m honest, squeezed so much it just *poof* disappears from my life for that day.

You find poetry in the strangest places though.  This week the husband and I went to a funeral of Andy, one of his closest friends from childhood who died aged 45.  It seemed such a terrible waste of a life, which I know is a cliche but it hit me so hard at the funeral.  I’ve been to three funerals in the last year or so and although each one was sad in a different way, this one was the worst.  I felt like there was a band tightening around the front of my head – I thought I was getting a migraine, which I’ve never had before, but I remember thinking, this must be what it feels like.

I hope none of Andy’s friends or family would mind me saying on here that Andy struggled with alcohol all his life – and when I say struggle, I mean it.  Sometimes it had hold of him and nearly dragged him under – other times he seemed to be winning but he was fighting it even ten years ago, when I first met him.  It has been a struggle for me to watch this over the years so god knows what it has been like for his family and his friends, like my husband who knew him before all of it started.

We have been really down today, thinking about what we could have done differently, whether we could have done more to help.  I suppose there is always more you can do and that is the problem.  We are left behind thinking of all the times we didn’t help because it was inconvenient, because it got in the way of what you were doing, because you were too busy.

Andy was a wanderer – someone said at the funeral everywhere was a home from home for him, which was true.  He would come in for a cup of tea and sometimes he would stay for two minutes, sometimes he would stay for two hours.  Then he would decide it was time to go and he would set off, to the next house, the next set of friends to pay a visit.  I would often bump into him while I was walking the dogs and he would walk them with me.  He never ran out of things to say, or stories to tell.  ‘Here’ he would say, touching your arm to get your attention, but the word ‘here’ would sound ‘he-are’ in his accent.

I wanted to go up to his daughter at the funeral and tell her how proud Andy was of her.  I don’t think I ever saw him without him mentioning her name, telling me what she’d been up to at school, showing me a text message she’d sent him.  If she told him she loved him by text he would show anyone who would listen – it meant everything to him.  I’m sure there were times he let her down because of his illness, but I hope she knows how much he loved her.  I didn’t go up to her  – I don’t know why.  I thought about it, and then turned to speak to somebody and when I turned around the moment had passed.  I keep thinking now I should have.

Chris says that when he first came back to England after living in Australia for a while, in the days before mobile phones were invented, Andy met every train coming from down south with a cup of tea in his hand, in case Chris was on it.  He was always generous and would lend somebody his last fiver and leave himself short.

But back to finding poetry in the strangest places – I know it is not that unusual to hear poetry at a funeral but the funeral was full of poems – two famous ones that are probably often read at funerals, but also Andy’s stepdad had written one for Andy and so had one of his friends which I found incredibly touching – it is  well documented about people turning to poetry in times of grief, but I’d never seen it in action before.

So Friday was pretty traumatic really – I stupidly hadn’t cancelled what I was doing for the rest of the day – I think I thought, I’ve been to three funerals, I’ve read eulogies at two of them, I can handle it.  So I didn’t cancel my young writers workshop and was in a bit of a state by the time I got there.  However there is nothing like having to get on with things to make you get on with things.

Other than that this week, I managed to write up a poem to take to Brewery Poets on Friday evening and I’ve been spending my spare time planning for the residential.  Although it is still a couple of weeks away, I have limited time now.  I’m flying to Croatia on Wednesday to take part in the Goran’s Spring Poetry Festival.

I’ve been chosen to take part in the Versopolis project, which you can find out more information about by going to the website.  Versopolis is a European poetry platform that creates new opportunities for emerging European poets and is supported by the European Commission’s Creative Europe programme.  What this means in practice is that there is the possibility I’ll be invited to read at up to two European poetry festivals per year.  For each festival I read at, some of my poems will be translated into that language and made into a pamphlet.

On the website, the 55 poets from various countries all have a profile page with a biography and poems, so it is basically like a free international anthology.  I spent an hour or two on there last night reading through some of the poems – it is a really interesting website.  Mine can be found here. The other UK poets who are taking part are Harry Man, Liz Berry, Eleanor Rees, Adam Horovitz and Meiron Jordon.

One of my favourite readings at Stanza last week was one I went to because the lovely poet Allison McVety was reading and I wanted to show my support and to hear the wonderful ‘Lighthouses’ poem which has featured on this blog here.  I wasn’t disappointed because she read it beautifully.  However, the other poet I hadn’t heard of, but I always like hearing translated poetry so I remember vaguely being confident that it would at least be interesting.

Josep Lluís Aguilós charmed the audience with his apologies for his (very good) spoken English, and his obvious connection and admiration for his translator, Anna Crowe.  It was one of my favourite readings of the festival, maybe because it is exciting to discover a new poet to admire.  You can find Josep’s work in an anthology produced by Arc Publications called ‘Six Catalan Poets’.  So far I’ve only had time to read Josep’s work in the anthology, but I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the poems.

I could have chosen any one of Josep’s poems, but I’ve decided to go for The Devil’s Bridges.  I really enjoyed this poem, which has the air of a yarn being spun or a tall tale.  I like the lovely touch of bringing in the ‘I’ in the fourth stanza:

‘I wonder what he does with his collection/of shadows and beasts’

which almost made me feel sorry for the devil, sitting surrounded by shadows and cats who are probably ignoring him.  When I googled Devils Bridges Wikipedia tells me that Devils Bridges are found all over Europe, and are so called because they represented a significant technological achievement for them to be completed.  The devil in this poem however, is a character to feel sorry for, always outwitted, never learning from his mistakes.   There is a lot of humour in the poem as well – the swindlers with their ‘shocking hobbies’ of putting ships into bottles and painting watercolours.

In the introduction to the selection of Josep’s work, it says that his poems are often peopled with fairytales and myths and in the short selection in the anthology, there is a poem about The Flying Dutchman and the Minotaur.

Josep Lluís Aguiló (born Manacor, Mallorca, 1967), poet and businessman, works as a marketing and advertising director. In 1986 he published his first collection of poems, Cants d’Arjau (Songs from the Helm), which he wrote when he was between sixteen and eighteen years of age. After an interval of eighteen years, he published two further collections, La biblioteca secreta (The Secret Library) and L’estación de les ombres (Season of Shadows), both in 2004. His collection Monstres (Monsters, 2005) was awarded the Premi Ciutat de Palma Joan Alcocer Poetry Prize in 2005 and, in 2006, the National Critics’ Prize for the best book of poems written in Catalan, while it also received a special mention from the jury of the Critics’ Prizes for Catalan Writers. In 2007, the Manacor School of Mallorcan Language gave him its Recognition of Merits Award for his work in writing Catalan poetry and helping to make it better known. The University of the Balearic Islands has published his collection Antologia Personal (Personal Anthology). In 2008, Josep Lluís Aguiló was the winner of the literary competition Jocs Florals de Barcelona with his work Llunari (Calendar). His writings have appeared in several anthologies and have been translated into a number of languages.

I hope you enjoy the poem and thanks to Josep for allowing me to post it this week.

The Devil’s Bridges – Josep Lluís Aguilós

The devil builds bridges and afterwards
demands payment for them.  Those who carried out the work,
invariably more wide-awake, always outwit him.

He always demands that he should carry off
the first or the last to cross the bridge.
If he has asked to be given the last one
then the final one to cross says to him, “grab this,”
pointing, cunningly, at his shadow.

If he has demanded the first, they let an animal cross over to him.
Often it’s a cat or a cock, a dog
is too much part of the family to be given away
to anyone, however much of a devil it might be.

He never learns, I wonder what he does with his collection
of shadows and beasts.  Probably nothing.

The devil, no doubt, enjoys building bridges.
Swindlers have shocking hobbies:
putting ships into bottles, painting watercolours,
writing chronicles of wrongs done,
hunting.  When one gets bored he comes and builds a bridge
and considers speaking about himself to generations
who will boast of how their ancestry
knew nothing of hydraulic works
but a lot about swindling devils.

Sunday Poem – Mir Mahfuz Ali

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Evening all – it has been a hectic week as usual here in the cultural hot spot that is Barrow in Furness.  Working backwards, I’ve been away all weekend as an extra staff member on a residential trip for 30 secondary school pupils from a local school.  It was a slightly strange weekend as I didn’t know any of the children.  It turned out in the end that I had taught two of them in the past, and although they don’t play a brass instrument now, it was gratifying to know that I hadn’t turned them off music completely, they had just changed to playing different instruments.

On the Friday night some of the children decided to play Knock Door Run – I managed to sleep through it but the escapades apparently went on till 2am.  On Saturday the children were in workshops all day.  I wolfed down a very quick dinner in the evening and then escaped to Ulverston for A Poem and a Pint with the always fabulous Kei Miller, who I think I’ve seen read about six times now and I’m still nowhere near fed up of hearing him.

It was the committee’s turn to read on the Open Mic with the added treat of hearing Caroline Gilfillin, who has just moved to Ulverston and who has been co-opted into the Poem and a Pint committee.  I read one old poem – my cursing-all-the-children-that-have-annoyed-me poem, that being the mood I was in, and a new poem that I’ve been working on.  I also  managed to sell two pamphlets – hurrah!

I won’t give a fuller account because there will be a proper review going up onThe Poem and a Pint website, along with a link where you can see photos of all the readers and maybe some of the audience as well.

After the event finished I then had to get back to Coniston.  I sat in the lounge and had a cup of tea with the other staff, who were verging on slight hysterics by this time (non-stop nose bleed, possible broken toe, suspected sprained ankle – three different children) and went to bed at about midnight and this time, the children having worked hard all day they all went to sleep without any shinanigans

I left Coniston just after 3pm this afternoon full of ideas about running my own residential for my junior band.  I’d like to either run a rehearsal weekend to get them ready for conquering South Cumbria Music Festival next year or to run a Chamber Music Weekend where they are all put into small groups and learn to play in a small ensemble.  The plan would be to raise enough money so that the band could pay for everybody to attend, or at the least just ask for a small contribution from parents.

I went away when I was about 13 or 14 with Unity Brass Band to Shell Island in Wales.  One girl in the band went into the baby swing and got stuck in it and couldn’t get out.  My dad randomly had his toolkit in the back of the car and had to take the swing apart to get her out of it.  The whole band was camping out together on a public campsite.  I remember that we had a rehearsal in the middle of the campsite – I remember being slightly embarrassed but not really minding.  All the other campers came out of their tents to see what was going on.

Our conductor, Rob Boulter used to tell the story about poor Cheryl getting stuck in the swing at every single concert that the junior band did, and make her stand up each time.  I was about to write ‘Oh, for a story like that to tell about someone in MY junior band’ but then I thought no, if that happened to me as a teacher, it would be a complete nightmare and really stressful!  But I don’t remember any of the adults being stressed – everybody just thought it was funny…

So I got back today at about 4.30 and after getting something to eat booked a holiday to Crete with the husband.  I’m really looking forward to it, although I feel slightly guilty because I don’t think I’m going to be at home very much in the next month!

On Wednesday next week I’m off to Stanza.  I’m reading with John Dennison on Thursday at 2.30.  The programme at Stanza looks really exciting, and I’m hoping, hoping I can just get some tickets when I get there because I have not been organised enough to book any in advance.  You can have a look at the whole programme here and if you’d like to come along to my reading, tickets can be brought here.

I’m at Stanza for the whole weekend – in a moment of extravagance I decided that I would stay for the whole weekend.  Then I’m back for a week and then I’m off to Croatia the following Wednesday until the Sunday.  Then I’m back for a week and then it’s the residential in Grange and then it’s Crete.  The dogs may forget what I look like…

This week I’ve been writing an article for New Walk magazine and reading two books that I’ll be writing a review of for Under the Radar magazine.    I won’t say anything else about that because I don’t want to make my review pointless, but the books were so beautifully presented, all wrapped up in cellophane that I’ve already decided I love them and the poets would have to do something awful to make me change my mind.  Which hasn’t happened so far.  I’ve been doing a little bit of writing as well – I feel like I’m finally getting back into a habit of writing after a long spell of not doing it.

The summer programme for The Poetry School is now out.  I’m running an online course – The Act of Transformation.  Again I won’t say anything else about this, because Will at The Poetry School has asked me to write a blog about the course so I don’t want to pre-empt this.  If you, or anyone you know may be interested, do sign up, and please don’t let the fee put you off.  The Poetry School do have a bursary system in place.

The only other writing things that have been happening is back and forth emails to Croatia – as part of the Versopolis project, I will have a pamphlet of my poems translated into Croatian which is very exciting.  I’ve also had two offers of readings at festivals – one is not confirmed because the funding isn’t in place and one is top secret because the festival like to announce their line up themselves.  I think that’s it for writing news.

Running wise I have had to go right back to basics, starting like I did last April, running for eight minutes and walking for 2 minutes.  I did that 3 times on Monday and Tuesday and 4 times on Thursday and Friday and then today I managed 34 minutes without stopping, all on grass or sand.  Next job is to try it out on the road.  It is very annoying having to be patient, but I really don’t want to be injured when the good weather’s here.

So that brings us to today’s Sunday Poem which by Mir Mahfuz Ali.  This poem comes his first collection ‘Midnight, Dhaka’, published and available from Seren.  Like his fellow Seren poet Pascale Petit, who has featured on this blog in recent times, Mir Mahfuz Ali uses the animal world to express or explore trauma to the body.  On the back cover, the blurb says that Mir Mahfuz Ali is ‘reknowned for his extraordinary voice, a rich, throaty whisper brought about by a Bangladeshi policeman trying to silence the singing of anthems during an anti-war demonstration.

When you have this bit of information it makes the poem very immediate and shocking.  The  use of the words ‘teenage head’.  I think maybe one of the most shocking things in this poem is that the narrator doesn’t seem to change.  He is just trapped in the hospital bed, but the lizard does change.  He goes from being a simple lizard, to meditating, to finally providing a lesson in life ‘.

I really liked the line breaks in this poem as well  – to me they all felt perfectly in the right place and we get such a strong picture of the scene from all the detail.  There are many disturbing features – the ‘bloodless lizard’ the ‘cracked sound’ and the image of the lizard struggling for air.  The wonderfully vivid and brutal lines

Keep the foam clear so my voice doesn’t burst
through my trachea hole

like shrapnel in a pomegranate.

give such a weight.  Perhaps even more disturbing that that though, is the last couple of lines with the lizard as it escapes through the speaker’s throat.

I first came across Mir Mahfuz Ali in Poetry Review and loved his work.  I’ve been waiting patiently for his collection to come out since I read that first poem.  He was born in what is now Bangladesh and grew up in the early 1970’s when the region was struck first by a cyclone, then by civil war.  He has had  lots of different jobs  – model, tandoori chef, dance and acting.   He won the 2013 Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, given by the Poetry Society to the best poem in the magazine over that year who has not published a full collection.

I hope you enjoy the poem!

A Lizard by My Hospital Bed – Mir Mahfuz Ali

The mouth of silence trickles forward a bloodless lizard.
I take off my oxygen mask and allow

his cracked sound to crawl into my teenage head.
Like me he puffs for air.  I wheeze.  He pants.

He does not break his meditation as the hours pass,
my eyes still on him when he jumps on a thinking fly

with a fine open-air gesture.  An education by lizard:
focus, don’t rely on impulse.

Keep the foam clear so my voice doesn’t burst
through my trachea hole

like shrapnel in a pomegranate.
My eyes flick a question, city kerosene thuds

echoing in my head.  My friend says nothing.
Goes one step back, two steps forward.

How can I let him go?  I grab the fellow by his tail,
but he still escapes through the gap in my throat.