Tag Archives: Wayleave Press

April/May news and the Occasional Poem


I can’t believe it’s been so many weeks since I last blogged! Arrgh…where does the time go etc etc?

I’m currently sat on a train but unusually for me it is not the train from Barrow to Manchester across the bay.  Today I’m going to Newcastle which means the slow train along the west coast of Cumbria – one of the most beautiful and bleakest train journeys in the UK I think.  We’ve just pulled into Seascale and on the beach are various dogs running around in a state of excitement, apart from one rather sedate St Bernard, walking calmly along next to his owner who had one hand on his back as the train pulled up then pulled away.

The photo is the view from just outside Barrow from the train.

I’ve got a couple of hours until I get to Carlisle and then I change there for the last bit of the journey. I’m going to Newcastle to meet up with other artists who are working on a project called ‘The Backbone Of Our Land’ which will be a performance piece about what it means to be northern.  I have been worrying and worrying away at this for weeks without coming up with anything, but I’m hoping inspiration will strike during the train journey.

As soon as I start to talk or think about the North I find myself sliding into cliches and it is hard to pin down what it is that I loved about the north from the moment I set foot in Leeds in 2000 and felt like I’d found somewhere I could feel at home.  Maybe it’s something to do with unpretentiousness – but that is a huge abstract word and I can’t use that in a poem without questioning its purpose there.  The people seemed friendlier and more open, more down to earth – but again, here I am slipping into stereotypes and abstractions.  Tomorrow is a R & D day with the other artists so I hope being around other creative people will jolt something poetic into existence.

So I have lots of news to share with you all because it has been so long since I blogged. First and rather excitingly, the news is now public that I will be judging the Primers Volume Four pamphlet competition.  I really like this competition because the prize includes editorial support and development from Jane Commane and mentoring with yours truly, so it is very much an ongoing support for writers who are chosen.  There are also up to 25 free entries available for low income writers which I think is fantastic news, and I hope is the sign of things starting to change with the problem of working class writers being shut out of publication opportunities.

The Primers pamphlet competition is run in association with the Poetry School and Nine Arches Press – both wonderful organisations and you can find more information about the entry terms and conditions here.  So my July/August is going to be filled with reading poems – which is pretty standard actually, but exciting to be looking for three potential mentees to work with on a longer term basis.

Last Saturday, if you are Barrovian, you were probably either walking the Keswick to Barrow, the Coniston to Barrow, or standing drinking beer at the finish line, waiting for someone you knew to come in.   I decided to run the 21 miles between Coniston and Barrow a while ago in a moment of madness and I am very pleased to tell you I survived and managed to complete the course in 3 hours and 12 minutes which I was pretty chuffed with, considering some of those 21 miles go over Kirby Moor and the rest could kindly be described as ‘undulating’.  I’m not sure where overall I came as the results aren’t out till Thursday so I will let you all know whether you’re interested or not!

I thought I would have a great sleep after running that far, but the muscles in my legs were so sore that I kept waking myself up in the middle of the night, and eventually gave it all up for a bad job and got up at 6am.  I am pretty much recovered now and walking almost normally, and I’ve even bought my trainers to Newcastle in the hope that I’ll be able to get out for a short run around the city once I’ve checked in to my hotel.

Plans for Kendal Poetry Festival have been progressing and the full lineup for the programme is now live and up on the website.  You can book tickets for the Brewery Arts Centre – and they are selling really well.  We have less than half of our Festival Passes left, which is the cheapest way to see all of the readings and discussions at the festival, and workshop tickets are also looking low – so if you have been thinking of coming, do book soon!

We are also offering three bursary places for writers who identify as disabled, or low income writers – please check out our latest blog on our ‘Opening Doors’ project to find out more, and do pass this information on to anyone who you think might be interested.  It is a relatively simple application process but do get in touch via the festival website if you have any questions about it.  One of these places is funded by the generosity of the wonderful poet Christine Webb, so thank you again to her.

Getting the programme up and presentable on the website is a HUGE amount of work – Pauline Yarwood and I have been working so hard on the festival stuff.  We had a few days respite and then got on with the next job – editing the information on the website down so that we can fit it all onto a hard copy brochure.  We are still in the joyful throes of this and due to meet our brochure designer in the next few weeks.

I’ve also been rehearsing with Soul Survivors – we had a gig last Saturday and have another one coming up in June, reading in Manchester with Clare Shaw at an event organised to raise money for Greenpeace by the wonderful Ann Heathcote and going to the pamphlet launch of one of my fabulous Dove Cottage Young Poets Hannah Hodgson. Hannah did a brilliant reading and speech, complete with powerpoint slides – it reminded me of a Ted Talk – she was so professional.  The same couldn’t be said of me however, as I nearly cried in my introduction to Hannah and then nearly cried at the end…

The pamphlet is called Dear Body and it’s published by the fantastic Wayleave Press, run and edited by Mike Barlow.  The whole pamphlet will make you think differently about the body and ability and disability and all the things that can be taken for granted if you are able-bodied.

So although the Sunday Poem has temporarily ground to a halt, I thought that the Occasional Poem might be more fun, as I can post them as and when I feel like it.  It feels rebellious not to be blogging on a Sunday – this is about as rebellious as I get you see – blogging on a Tuesday!

I’m really happy that Hannah has agreed to let me publish the title poem of the pamphlet on the blog today.  I haven’t checked with Hannah, but I’m sure I remember her writing this poem in response to the C.P.Cavafy poem ‘Body, Remember‘.  I think you can hear the echo of that Cavafy poem in any poem that addresses itself directly to the body – but whereas Cavafy’s poem is full of longing and a desire to remember  ‘those desires glowing openly/in eyes that looked at you’, Hannah’s poem is an admonishment to the body, in an almost parental voice, asking it to ‘look over the job description/for a body./Read it over -/ let’s start again tomorrow.’

Even though this is a poem filled with exasperation and disappointment at the body for not doing what it is supposed to do, there isn’t a shred of self pity here – there is even a kind of wonderful  black humour in the first and last stanzas, while the middle of the poem is wonderfully tender: ‘I never learned/how to calm the heart’.

Hannah has been published in literary magazines AcumenUnder the Radarand Poetry Salzburg Review. She has won several young poets competitions and been poet in residence at Lakes Alive and Kendal Poetry festivals. She has a YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/c/HannahHodgson) where she talks about her illnesses and reviews books and poetry collections. She has just been selected as one of the young writers for the next instalment of The Writing Squad.  

You can also find Hannah’s blog here     where you can buy a copy of her pamphlet and make her very happy!  Thanks to Hannah for letting me share this poem and I hope you enjoy reading it

Dear Body – Hannah Hodgson 

I’d be handing you
a redundancy notice
if the end of you
didn’t mean
the end of me.

My brain is filled
with corrupted code –
error alarms
in my organs.

I never learned
how to calm the heart
how to stop it battering
my chest, acting out
like a child.

I never learned
the nursery rhyme
to quieten it down.
I need to learn how
to parent these organs.

Go home,
look over the job description
for a body.
Read it over –
let’s start again tomorrow.



Sunday Poem – Mark Carson


hove-toIt’s been my first week back at my job as a peripatetic teacher this week.  I’ve been doing this job for 12 years now – I can’t quite believe it’s been that long.  It feels different this year though because I’m only working 2 days a week, so technically I have more days as a poet than I do as a music teacher.  Last week I only actually did 1 day of teaching because I was away for a kind of training day for a new exciting project that I’m not allowed to say anything about.  So I’d better not – but that day away made it seem like the week went by very fast.

The rest of my week was made up of the usual mix of random things – a meeting with Pauline Yarwood about Kendal Poetry Festival, which we’re slowly starting to put together.  We’ve managed to secure a venue for the festival, which is going to take place at Abbott Hall Art Gallery, hopefully in June next year.  We’re now at the stage of finalising a first application for funding.  It is a load of hard work putting a festival together!  That might sound really obvious, but I didn’t realise how hard it was until we started.  It still feels very much like an uphill struggle at the moment, and we both have to keep telling each other that we are making progress.  We’ve got a draft programme, a venue and a nearly completed funding application so we are on our way!

I also drove to Preston with Mrs A to pick up a baby Eb Bass for the junior band which someone was selling on Facebook.  While we were there, I also bought a tenor horn as well – always a useful thing to have in the cupboard!

On Wednesday I took part in the Ulverston 5k and ran round with my friend Ian, who would usually be too fast for me to keep up with.  However he has took it upon himself this week to do some DIY and managed to stand on a nail which has slowed him down a bit, so he agreed to pace me round the course.  My best time for 5k, on the same course last year was 22 minutes and 54 seconds, so I thought a sensible time to go for would be 22 and a half minutes.  Ian had other ideas however.

I finished in a time of 21 minutes and 55 seconds which I was absolutely chuffed with – not only because I knocked nearly a minute off my time, but also because I’d broken the 22 minute barrier, which I didn’t think I would do this year.  It was a very fast course, and I don’t think I’ve got the mental discipline or the confidence to do it on my own yet.  Ian was convinced I could have gone faster, because every time he told me to ‘get on his shoulder’ I did it.  I tried to explain that this wasn’t because it was easy, it’s just that I’m obedient…

Anyway, that little effort put me completely out of action for the next day and I spent most of it in the garden, lying on my hammock.  I was quite relieved it was my day off and I decided to not do any writing but just to spend the whole day reading.  I actually fell asleep in the hammock and only woke up because the dogs ran out barking at a cat that was peering over the fence.

On Thursday night I went for another run (probably foolishly – but routines must be upheld) and then went to quintet rehearsal.   The other thing that happened this week is the quintet I run – the South Lakes Brass Ensemble were booked to play at a 30th anniversary dinner at the Coronation Hall.  We only had a couple of days notice as the people who booked us to play had been let down at the last minute, so I was pleased with how the gig went.

On Friday, I was running Dove Cottage Young Poets and then I went straight from there to Settle, where I was due to be reading that night with Meg Peacocke.  Traffic coming out of Kendal meant I was late arriving to the organiser’s house who had made lovely soup and laid out salad and bread and cheese and all sorts of lovely things, but I did manage to scoff some food.

Reading with Meg was lovely and the audience were really welcoming and friendly.  I managed to sell 8 copies of The Art of Falling and two If We Could Speak Like Wolves which I thought was good going.  I read from a lot of new poems in the second half, and in retrospect, I think that might have been a mistake.  I think next time, when I have two 20 minute sets, it would be better to mix the new poems up with the poems from the book.  The poems from the book can act as the scaffold then, to hold the new poems steady.  You live and you learn though!

Today I’ve been for a 15 kilometre run.  I’m trying to get one long run in each week in preparation for the Lancaster Half Marathon which I’m doing the first weekend in November.  If I manage it, it will be the first half marathon that I’ve done with a few long runs in the bag before hand and I’m hoping this will translate into an improved time.  Last year I ran 1 hour 52 minutes – this year I’d love to get as close to 1 hour 45 minutes as possible, although that seems like an impossible task, to take seven minutes off.

A few reviews are starting to come in for The Art of Falling.  David Cooke has reviewed my book alongside collections by William Bedford and Patricia McCarthy in the recent issue of The North.  Matthew Stewart has also written a really perceptive and generous review over on his blog Rogue Strands.  There will be a review essay about the book appearing in the next issue of Poetry Salzburg and they have also taken a new poem to publish alongside the essay – the first one I’ve had published since the collection came out.  This is my own lazy fault, as I have been hoarding poems instead of submitting them.

I’m feeling quite lazy at the minute.  Although it doesn’t sound like it when I list what I’ve been doing, I’ve actually spent a bit more time this week deliberately resting.  I am prone when I’ve been ill to getting post-viral fatigue syndrome, so after the cold I’ve had I’ve been trying to take it a bit easier.  I know running 15k isn’t taking it easier, but I’ve been doing the minimum amount of emailing I can get away with.  I’ve also been trying to keep away from social media a little bit.  I’ve been posting on Facebook and Twitter probably just as much as usual, but I’ve been trying to stop wasting so much time scrolling down newsfeeds.  I must admit, I decided to do this after reading Anthony Wilson’s blog – at the minute he has taken himself off Twitter.  I don’t want to come off completely, but I remember when I was younger, I used to walk around the house with a book in front of my face reading.  The last thing I did at night before I went to sleep would be to read.  Now, the last thing I do is check Facebook and Twitter.  So I’d like to get back to reading more.  Plus, my shelf of books that I haven’t read yet is getting seriously crowded and I’m getting further and further behind.

Which leads me nicely onto the Sunday Poem for this week, which is by my good friend Mark Carson.  I’ve been friends with Mark for as long as I’ve been writing.  I don’t quite know how many years that will be now but Mark was at the first writing group, Fourth Monday Poets that I pitched up at.  We are now in two writing groups together – Barrow Writers and Brewery Poets.  He is also on the committee for A Poem and a Pint, taking on the least popular job of treasurer.  Mark is a lovely man – very kind and generous with a great sense of humour.  He has spent many, many years supporting other people with their work, including me, and I have never heard him be anything but enthusiastic and pleased at the news of other people’s success – and he really means it – he isn’t pretending!  He travels widely to attend readings in Cumbria and Lancaster, again to support other people’s readings, but he is also a very good poet.  He has been working quietly away at his poetry, sending submissions out and resending them if they come back without fuss or complaint.  He works hard at his writing but he is not the type of person to write a blog about it! Luckily he has me to fill that gap for him!  He has been on the blog before, and I’m sure I said similar things that time too – but this time Mark has a pamphlet out with Mike Barlow’s Wayleave Press.  The press has been going a year and Mike has already published some fantastic pamphlets but I was really pleased when I heard Mark was going to have his own pamphlet out.

Mark’s pamphlet is called Hove-to is a State of Mind and the poems draw on his Irish roots, a career as an ocean engineer and time spent in Africa. Mark also told me some interesting facts about the pamphlet, which might be of interest to those people putting together their own pamphlet.  One of the poems, Per Ardua ad Nauseam, dates back from 1980 (here is that hard work thing I’ve been talking about).  One of the poems collected 18 rejections before finally being published (here’s that hard work again).

Mark’s poems have been published in various poetry magazines – I can’t tell you which ones because he has been very modest in his biography and not listed them but I know one of the magazines he’s appeared in is Other Poetry.  He’s also done well in competitions – a commended in The Troubadour Competition in 2011 and the poem I’ve chosen for the blog this week ‘Donegal’ was longlisted in the 2013 National Poetry Competition.

I’ve always loved this poem, since the first time I heard Mark read it.  He evokes the place very powerfully, with those details that tumble after each other – the ‘crunching’ of the shingle, the light as it ‘bleeds into dark’ and the ‘thin wedges of cloud’.  These are all lovely, sensuous lines, but this is not just a poem about place.  It has a real mystery – we don’t know why the ‘I’ is walking the beach ‘for the last time’.   We don’t know why the ‘I’ is leaving.

This poem has a real loneliness, or a sense of the outsider to it.  That lovely word ‘sneck’ and the yellow light from the cottage make the cottage seem like a warm, inviting place, that is until we get to the last line of the second stanza and the reference to the people inside ‘murmuring’ secrets.

The last stanza though is the strangest – again the vocabulary is really rich – lots of lovely words – ‘curragh’ and ‘kelp’ and ‘bladderwrack’.  And the mystery of this stanza – why does he need a ‘wet brown cow’.  Where is he going?

Mark possibly has one of the most interesting biographies of any poet I’ve feature here –

Born in Belfast and educated in Dublin, Mark Carson went to Cambridge to do a PhD – Corrugation and the Dynamics of Rolling Contact –­ which should have led to a career in railway engineering. Instead he joined the National Institute of Oceanography, giving engineering support to geophysicists, marine biologists and meteorologists, and spending quite a lot of time at sea.

Later he went to Nairobi University as a teacher of engineering, only to return to Cumbria where he co-founded an offshore engineering software business, Orcina Ltd.

I hope you enjoy the poem, and if you would like to order Mark’s pamphlet you can order it here, direct from the publisher. Mark is also available for readings – get in touch with him through his publisher.  He enjoys performing and he is a great reader of his work and very good company!

Mark will be launching his pamphlet at Ford Park, Ulverston on the 8th October at 7.30pm.  There will also be music from Braddyll Friends and the South Lakes Brass Ensemble! What’s not to like?

Donegal – Mark Carson

I am walking the beach, for the last time crunching the shingle –
though the sun sank hours ago, light still bleeds into dark
and the trails of geese are stretched to the farthermost island,
thin wedges of cloud are nudging into the west.

Hear from the headland the sneck click and hinge squeak;
yellow light spills on the grass from the door of the cottage;
the dog makes his snuffling round, while murmuring speech
leaks secrets I don’t wish to know across inlets.

Bring me a curragh and a crew of hard-armed lads
and a wet brown cow with a bucket of kelp and bladderwrack.
We’ll push out bravely into the inky waters
and the oar’s creak will blend with the wingbeat of swans.

Sunday/Monday poem – Paul Stephenson


I had a bit of a disaster with last night’s post.  I got back from my reading at the South Yorkshire Poetry Festival and frantically began typing, having completely forgotten what day of the week it was (yes, who knew that was possible?)  In fact the only reason I remembered at all that it was Sunday was because poet Jill Abram posted on Facebook that she was waiting up for the Sunday Poem. I got back to Suzannah Evans’ house, where I was staying for the weekend and started the blog post.  I finished it in bed and thought I’d published it, but I woke up this morning to find it had completely disappeared.  It is a mystery as usually unfinished blog posts can normally be found in a draft folder where they are automatically saved on WordPress but there was no sign of it.

I don’t suppose it was a wonderful post anyway, being written at midnight but I’m more upset because I’ve broken my resolution to try and post a poem every Sunday, so that’s annoying.  However I’m sure my readers will be forgiving and I will be back on time and organised next Sunday.

The reason I forgot what day it was is because I’ve been in Sheffield since Saturday.  I haven’t been to a Poetry Business Writing Day for at least six months and I’ve really missed going.  This is the first one in six months that I’ve actually been able to make.  I had a really nice time at the workshop and wrote a few things that I could develop into poems.  Afterwards I went with poet Lindsey Holland to get something to eat.  After dragging Lindsey around the streets of Sheffield with her heavy bags we finally found a Cafe Rouge and sat outside to have something to eat.  After Lindsey looked a bit alarmed when I asked for half a Stella, I decided to try a Hoegarden which is what she was drinking and it came with a slice of lemon – my first time having lager with a lemon in so I am now, surely, officially Very Posh.

Afterwards we headed over to the Open Mic at the South Yorkshire Poetry Festival, hosted by James Giddings.  I was a bit worried as two minutes before the open mic was due to start, there were only about four people in the audience, then suddenly lots of young people appeared as if by magic and the room filled up.  James was a great MC – very funny and spontaneous and I really enjoyed the two poems that he started and finished the night with.

On Sunday Suzy and I went for a walk through the various parks of Sheffield which seem to just keep going and going forever.  We both got a bit carried away and managed to break Suzy whose ‘fascist foot’ (her words not mine) started to hurt.  I would love to say I gave her a firemans lift/piggy back to the flat but sadly no, she had to limp back unaided.

I was reading in the last night of the festival with Andrew McMillan and Ian McMillan.    I don’t know which of the two was more excited about seeing the advance copies of Andrew’s collection.  Andrew hadn’t even seen it – in fact he had to buy a copy of his own book so he could read from it.  This seems to happen to poets a lot – the books arriving in the nick of time I mean.  Anyway, the book is very beautiful and has a beautiful naked man on the cover which Andrew tells me is Definitely Not Him.

It was also interesting hearing Andrew and Ian reading together.  They obviously are very different in their writing styles and their approach to poetry but I think they have some common ground as well.  Andrew’s first collection is about masculinity and exploring masculinity.  Ian says he likes writing about language and politics, but he didn’t mention masculinity, but I think a lot of his work does explore it as well, but in a different way.  I loved Ian’s poems about someone who lives near him called ‘Norman’ and would love to see a whole pamphlet of Norman poems.  I got to see quite a few friends that I haven’t seen for ages – lovely Noel Williams and Jim Carruth were there in the audience which made me feel less nervous.

On Friday Brewery Poets put on a reading at The Brewery in Kendal.  The guest poets were Andrew Forster, Jane Routh and Ron Scowcroft who were all excellent as expected.  Two of the young writers from Dove Cottage Young Poets came along to the reading as well.  It was lovely to hear some new poems from Andrew and to see him getting a chance to be centre stage after all the work that he does organising poetry events and providing opportunities for other poets.  Jane Routh was the consumate professional as usual, well prepared, engaging and with a lovely calm reading style.  Ron read from his very recently published Wayleaves pamphlet – another poet that I’m hoping to nab a poem from for the blog in the next few weeks or so – I particularly liked his poems around the Falklands War.  We had the wonderful singers The Demix performing as well which seemed to go down really well with the audience.

On Wednesday I had my first live chat with my Poetry School online workshop group.  I decided to make handwritten notes on the poems and then touchtype comments during the live chat which I think worked ok except that it was quite full on and I couldn’t take my fingers off the keyboard.  I’m going to try a combination of cut and paste and touchtyping this week and see how I go.  They are a great group though and I’ve just had a peek at a few new poems that they’ve written for Assignment 2 and some revised versions of poems that they have written after getting feedback and I’ve been blown away again!

Before I tell you about the Sunday Poem, I want to remind you all about my launch which is taking place on Thursday, May 28th at 7.30pm in the Supper Room of the Coronation Hall in Ulverston.  It is free to get in but please bring some food because we will be having a ‘Jacobs Join’ after the poetry and before the Soul Survivors start playing.

I’ve been having anxiety dreams about my launch and when I say dreams, I mean actual nightmares about nobody turning up.  Does this happen to other poets?  When the pamphlet came out, it was at the Wordsworth Trust so all I had to do was turn up but this time I’ve organised it, which has meant it has grown into an epic poetry-food-soul night evening of course.  I hope if you are within striking distance of Ulverston that you are coming – it will be lovely to see you and if you’re not, please don’t tell me as it might bring on another nightmare.  I know it’s the polite thing to do, but I’d rather not know!

Enough about me – I’d like to tell you about today’s Sunday Poem which is by the lovely Paul Stephenson, who I met through the Writing School at the Poetry Business.  Paul was born and grew up in Cambridge, and currently lives in Paris.  He studied modern languages and linguistics then European Studies.  In 2013/14 he took part in the Jerwood/Arvon Mentoring Scheme.  His poems have appeared in Poetry London, The Rialto, The North, Magma, Smiths Knoll and The Interpreter’s House.  In 2012 he was placed second in the Troubadour International Poetry Prize.  In 2014 he was chosen as one of the Aldeburgh 8 poets.  He teaches at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.  If you would like to find out more information about Paul you can go to http://www.paulstep.com

Paul’s pamphlet Those People was a winner in this year’s Poetry Business pamphlet competition.  You can order Paul’s pamphlet from The Poetry Business.

I have two poems that have the word ‘people’ in the title.  The ones in my collection are My People‘ and Some People and I was instantly drawn to Paul’s title poem which is ‘Those People’.  I like any poems that deal with ‘people’ as a generic group.  Paul’s poem is playing with stereotyping when he asks in the first line ‘What are they called? Those people who turn up/unfashionably early’.  I love the direct way he addresses the reader in this poem.  It feels like all the way through he is looking us in the eye, talking to the reader and he continues to qualify himself in the poem: ‘I mean the opposite of stragglers’ and ‘I’m talking eager beavers’ – each of these lines is an attempt to define what he really means, or to find a word for ‘Those People’.  I think the poem is funny – it made me laugh out loud when Paul read it, but I also think there is a sadness and loneliness in it as well: ‘Those folk who don’t often get to go to parties’ which then made me feel a little mean for laughing.  I like poems like this that upset our expectations, or make us feel one way and then another.

I really enjoyed the whole of Paul’s pamphlet.  All the way through he is experimenting with language and form – I think it’s really exciting stuff.  If I had to pick three other favourite poems in the pamphlet they would be Do You Have Any Questions, Gare du Midi and The Pull

I hope you enjoy the Sunday/Monday poem and apologies again that it did not arrive yesterday.

Those People by Paul Stepheson

What are they called? Those people who turn up
unfashionably early, too premature for it to be a party,
just a room full of drinks and square metres of carpet.
I mean the opposite of stragglers, not the hard core
with staying power and no home to go to, or the dregs
of the party who’ve no intention of going anywhere
but love to linger, end up getting chucked out into
the night, or if they’re lucky and it’s a good party,
into a warm sunrise. I’m talking eager beavers,
the party-goers who make a punctual appearance,
greeted at the door by hosts running around with
nibbles still in cupboards and half their face on,
the guests who arrive bang on and get shown through
to hover admiring the smoothness of wallpaper,
which they do politely, not entering yet into the spirit
of the party, swaying by a bucket of orange punch.
Those folk who don’t often get to go to parties,
so have it marked fluorescent for weeks in their diary
and make a mission of what to wear, but never sure
of the dress code, opt to play it safe and wear jeans.
Those characters who eight hours later could be
hitting Havana, sipping mojitos and dancing mambo
and rumba and salsa merengue with dollar-hungry
doppelgangers of Che Guevara in desperate need
of mechanical parts for dilapidated Dodges and
Chevrolets, but hey, instead revel in the refuge
of empty strip-lit galley kitchens, to sit on a ledge
of marbled Formica, slurring into sausage rolls
and spilling their life, is there a name for them?

Sunday Poem – Pauline Keith


This year I seem to have got off relatively lightly as regards Carol Services or Christmas concerts with schools.  However, I’ve made up for it by booking my junior band in to do a whole succession of busking at various supermarkets in a bid to raise money for the band funds, which have been seriously depleted last year when we had to buy quite a lot of new instruments.  I’ve been out carolling with them three times now and am due to go out another two times before Christmas.  We’ve been to Asda, Morrisons and Barrow Market so far and are due in Tesco and at the football ground next week.

Whenever I take the junior band carolling, it reminds me of going carolling with Unity Brass when I was young.  I absolutely loved going out.  Even though it was always cold and it usually involved standing up – two of my least favourite things in the world.  Most nights in December would involve playing under lamp posts in residential areas while our parents knocked on doors with collecting tins.  I learnt all of the carols off by heart, mainly because I couldn’t be bothered to turn the pages of the carol book.  There was something about standing in the cold together that I really liked.  I can still remember what it felt like to have the carol book rolled up inside my coat pocket.  I remember our conductor, Rob Boulter, showing me how to rock backwards and forwards on your feet to stop them aching, how to stop your lip hurting by putting it on the cold metal of the bell of the cornet.  Now I know I loved all the carols that were in a minor key – Coventry Carol, In the Bleak Midwinter.  I didn’t know that was why I loved them back then though but I always loved the words to In the Bleak Midwinter – although I only knew the first and last verse –

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
yet what can I give him: give my heart.

I didn’t know back then that the words were by the wonderful poet Christina Rosetti – but I remember loving that simile in the second line ‘water like a stone’ and then that wonderful daring third line with the repeat of the word snow, over and over again.

Every Saturday and Sunday the band would be booked to play Christmas carols all day in Asda.  There was none of this two hours business that I do with the junior band now.  It worked a bit like a relay – somebody turned up who could play your part and then you could go home or have a break.  If nobody turned up to take over you just stayed there until they did.  My mum and dad would stand again with the collecting buckets for hours on end.

Lots of parents of the junior band members hold buckets to collect money, or just stand and watch.  It doesn’t seem to matter to them how many times they hear the carols, they just want to support their children – I find this strangely moving as well.  I should say I wasn’t moved by it when I was younger.  I just expected that my parents would do it – and I think this attitude is typical of most of the junior band as well!  You don’t appreciate your parents and all the things they do for you until you get older – this probably isn’t a particularly exciting revelation for most readers of this blog but I rediscover this and realise it over and over again when I’m working with young musicians and I see the parents turning up time and time again. I always feel a little pang of guilt as the image of my mum and dad, sitting at every rehearsal on a Monday and a Wednesday night flashes through my mind – every rehearsal – can you imagine!?

Anyway, I didn’t set out at the beginning of this blog to write a nostalgic memory of playing carols when I was young.  I wanted to tell you about this fabulous book I’ve been reading by Thomas Lux, who I heard read at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival a couple of months ago.  He was a great reader – and he said he liked my purple hat when he was signing my book.  And he called me kiddo.  All things that go in his favour.  I enjoyed the poems but I was worried that without the force of his personality they would wilt into nothing when I was reading them on the page – but they don’t! They are so good.  He has just had a Selected Poems published by Bloodaxe which I would heartily, heartily recommend you go and buy at once.  I wanted to draw your attention to these lines from a poem called ‘An Horation Notion’.  In the last stanza he says

‘You make the thing because you love the thing
and you love the thing because someone else loved it
enough to make you love it.
And with that your heart like a tent peg pounded
toward the earth’s core.
And with that your heart on a beam burns
through the ionosphere. And with that you go to work.’

I read those first three lines this morning and I haven’t been able to stop saying them over and over again since then. Like the first two lines of Tithonus by Tennyson ‘The woods decay, the woods decay and fall/The vapours weep their burthen to the ground’ or the first sentence of Prayer by Carol Ann Duffy ‘Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer/utters itself.’ I know those three lines will haunt me…

‘You make the thing because you love the thing
and you love the thing because someone else loved it
enough to make you love it.’

The three things I’ve loved for most of my life – music, running and poetry.   Rob Boulter, my band conductor at Unity Brass loved music enough to make me love it.  Wayne Walker, my running coach, loved running enough to make me love it.  Poetry – poetry is different.  I feel like I found that on my own, although I suppose my dad loved reading enough to make me love it, which led to me finding poetry.  I’d be interested to hear if people think it’s true – think about the things you’ve loved all your life, or found out that you love late in life.  Was there somebody who made you love those things because they loved them?

A few people have laughingly said this week that they were looking forward to hearing about my epic drive to Sheffield on Tuesday but the journey was so awful I can hardly bear to recount it.  All you need to know is that I left Barrow at 3pm after work and didn’t arrive in Sheffield till 9pm.  I missed the reading by the other two poets, Noel Williams and Linda Goulden which I was really gutted about.

Cora Greenhill was hosting and managed to keep everybody entertained and happy in between the first half finishing and my arrival.  I was slightly flustered (to say the least) and relieved to find there was still an audience there.  I sold three pamphlets which I was pleased about as I think two thirds of the people in the room already had a copy.  Cora gave me a lovely, thoughtful introduction and everybody was very welcoming and friendly.  It’s a great little venue and if I lived closer I would definitely be attending more often.  It was lovely to see some poetry friends that I hadn’t seen for a while but it all felt very rushed after the reading, because of course I had to drag myself back to Barrow ready for work the next day.

And then there was the drive back.  Ugh is all I can say.  I was so tired by this point – a combination of this awful cold I’ve had, the awful drive and reading from my sequence which always wipes me out that I had to pull over three times on the way back home to try and wake up a little bit.  The third time I gave in and went to sleep for an hour in the car.  I eventually arrived back in Barrow at 3.30am which gave me time for a bit of a sleep before having to get up and get ready for work the next day.

This week’s Sunday Poem comes courtesy of my adventures last week at the Wayleaves launch of four pamphlets.  Pauline Keith’s pamphlet ‘By the Light of Day’ is absolutely fantastic.  The pamphlet describes Pauline’s childhood experiences of being brought up in the family slaughter-yard.  The poems are utterly compelling, and although they work very well on their own, when they are drawn together, as they have been in this pamphlet, the end result is wonderful.

I first met Pauline in Brewery Poets, a writers group that we both attend in Kendal, and I have come across some of the slaughter-yard poems before so I knew I would enjoy the pamphlet.  I’m sure Pauline won’t mind me saying that she doesn’t send her work out as often as she should so not enough people are aware of what a great writer she is, so I’m really happy that Mike Barlow of Wayleave Press has produced this brilliant pamphlet.

The poem I’ve chosen is called The Old Toll House and it is the first poem in the pamphlet, and really introduces the atmosphere and themes that are worked out in the other poems.  I also think it fits really well with the earlier Thomas Lux lines I’ve quoted, with both of them mentioning the word ‘work’ at the end.

The Old Toll House is so beautifully described in that first stanza.  We can picture the tall arches and the dusk, but it only takes until the first line of the second stanza where Pauline has used the word ‘seem’ to signal to us that this is not an idyllic place, and this is carried on in the next two lines with the ‘tainted river’ and the ‘half-derelict canal’ – both of these are hidden from view.  Things are not what they seem.

From this point on, the poem becomes darker and darker, almost relentlessly.   In stanza 5 the italics are used to good effect for emphasis. I also really like the line ‘Chained dogs rage at strangers.’  The master stroke of the poem comes for me in the last three stanzas.  Here the poem turns on its heel and goes in a completely unexpected direction: ‘lift the house roof like a lid’.  I really love this ending.  It gives us the sense of looking back into a far away past and also the feeling of being larger and more real than this past – as if the house is really a dolls house.  We know (whether we know we know or not) that these poems are going to explore power – who has it, and who doesn’t, family, cruelty, pragmatism and the world of work.  Which there aren’t enough poems about!

Pauline Keith has lived and taught in Turkey, Nigeria, Singapore, Holland and Canada.  She was a founding member of Lancaster’s pioneering Literature Festival in the late 70’s.  She received second prize in the 2005 Bridport Prize and commended in the 2007 National Poetry Competition.

Mike tells me a Wayleave Press website is currently under construction, but if you would like to order Pauline’s pamphlet, or any of the other Wayleave pamphlets, you can email Mike at on mike@goosewing.myzen.co.uk  and he will make arrangements to get the pamphlet to you in exchange for a small and reasonable sum of £5.

Thanks to Pauline for letting me use her poem.

The Old Toll House – Pauline Keith

Admire it, done in oils,
set near the viaduct’s tall arches
rising from the valley’s dusk.

Lit windows seem to welcome.
You can’t see the tainted river
or half-derelict canal.

No boats pay tribute here –
the Toll House now a family home
fronting a slaughter-yard

for sick cows and useless horses.
Their flesh, condemned for humans,
feeds the townsfolk’s cats and dogs.

There are few visitors –
no friends.  Just business.
Chained dogs rage at strangers.

Wait till those windows are dark holes
in white walls washed by moonlight –
then lift the house roof like a lid.

Look down on restless sleepers
separate in shared beds: mother
with daughter, father with son.

Replace the roof.  Later, light
will come and the day’s work:
a matter of knives and livelihood.