Tag Archives: working class

June News and a poem by Martin Kratz

Standard
June News and a poem by Martin Kratz

I’m writing today’s blog post from my back garden in blazing sunshine.  I keep thinking longingly of my hammock but I don’t think I’ll be getting it out of the shed.  The problem with a hammock is that it’s impossible to do anything in it other than relax.  It’s even hard to read in a hammock because the book has to be held above you – and I’ve still got far too much on to be able to justify lounging about doing nothing.

It has been a really busy month for me since I last wrote.  One of the projects I’ve been working on is a commission by The Sage in Gateshead to write some poems about what it means to be northern.  This is a huge project of which I’m only a small part of – there are two other poets that have also been commissioned to write some poems – Degna Stone and Andrew McMillan, and then four or five amazing musicians.  I’ve been over to Newcastle again to be interviewed for a Sky Arts documentary about the project, although i doubt very much my ramblings will end up being used and to have a short rehearsal with the musicians.  This was really interesting as I’d sent a recording of myself reading one of my poems over and they’d managed to compose music to go with it which chugged along in perfect time – who knew I was reading poems in a steady tempo of about 100 beats a minute?  And it wasn’t even a poem in a particular form or rhythm – what people would call a ‘free verse’ poem.  So we rehearsed that and I felt briefly like a bit of a rock star.

It’s not all been work though – I had a weekend holiday to Scotland with the husband at the beginning of June which was really lovely.  We stayed in a nice B & B and the weather was really hot.  I don’t think I’ve ever been in Scotland when it hasn’t rained so this was a novelty! We got a ferry down Loch Katrine and then decided to run the 13 miles back.  It was very hot and we took our time but it was still really hard work.  I felt fine but in the middle of the night woke up and was sick everywhere – I don’t know if I got too hot, or too dehydrated or just pushed it too much on the run but it wasn’t much fun.   We were supposed to be going up a mountain the next day, but as we’d both had about three hours sleep due to me being ill, and I was a bit shaky still we decided to amend our plans and we went to New Lanark instead and had a look around the old mills before coming home.

I also found time to see the Rolling Stones in Manchester! I went with my dad, my twin sister and my brother in law.  My sister and I succumbed to the over-priced T-shirts and even bought matching ones, which is kind of funny when I think of how much we hated wearing the same thing when we were younger – now I quite enjoy it! Here we are before the concert.  The Stones were amazing – I felt I had to dance non-stop seeing as Mick Jagger is over twice my age and was skipping up and down the stage without a care in the world.

IMG_20180606_004315_956.jpg

I’ve also had a few poetry readings this month – in Kendal at Brewery Poets with John Foggin, in Bradford at Beehive Poets  with Nick Toczek and in Hawkshead at a cat cafe called KITTchen with various open mic-ers and managed to sell a few books along the way.

I’ve had a busy time PhD wise as well.  I had my Annual Review at the beginning of June and it all went well.  Even I can see my critical writing has come on a lot since last year’s review.  I even submitted some of my PhD work to the Ivan Juritz prize and got longlisted – sadly I didn’t get any further than the long list but I’m going to have another go next year, when hopefully my thinking (and writing) will be that much further on.

I also gave a paper at a poetry art symposium called ‘I See You Seeing Me – Engaging the Female Gaze in Visual Art and Poetry.  organised by Kathryn Maris to raise funds for Poetry London.  I got really anxious in the run up to the day writing my paper with the usual imposter syndrome stuff and then when I got to London was freaking out when I realised I’d forgotten to bring any ‘smart’ shoes with me and would have to give my paper in my trainers which in my panic the night before, seemed like the worst thing to happen in the world.  However it all turned out fine, and as someone on Twitter pointed out, as I was giving a paper about The Female Gaze, I really just needed to turn up and not worry about how I ‘looked’.  Kathryn Maris was so lovely when I turned up as well a bit flustered that I felt much better.

I think this worry about ‘looking the part’ is a symptom of wider anxiety around class – whenever I move through these spaces there is part of me that feels I don’t belong there.  I feel ‘working class’ when I am in spaces/places that are not working class.  The times when being ‘working class’ rubs up against the surface of my life are always the times when I am in a space that has been traditionally shut off to people like me.

The first time I was aware of it was when I joined the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra when I was 17 – this was after 9 years of playing in brass bands and never thinking about it or even being aware of it.  And ‘joining an orchestra’ doesn’t sound very working class does it? But this was after receiving nine years of free lessons at school, and a free instrument from the brass band, and I joined the orchestra with my teacher’s second hand trumpet, which I’m sure had bits of gaffa tape holding various bits of it together.  I then got a job selling double glazing over the phone (horror of horrors) and saved up £1800 to buy myself a new trumpet.

Anyway, the symposium was great – my highlight were Katharine Engel who gave the keynote speech.  She wrote an amazing book called ‘Unmastered: A Book on Desire Most Difficult To Tell’ which is brilliant.  Her talk covered pornography, female desire, the difference (or not) between the body and the mind – it was really fascinating.  I also really enjoyed Ruth Padel’s thoughts on ekhphrasis and managed to get a copy of her new collection ‘Emerald’ which I haven’t read the whole of yet, but am enjoying so far.

I’ve also just found out that a slightly extended version of my paper is going to be published in Agenda magazine which I’m very happy about.  So most of my PhD time this month has gone into writing my paper, and then working on it to make it suitable for publication in Agenda.  It doesn’t sound like that much when I write it out like that but it has taken hours and hours!

I am also looking forward to the rest of 2018 which will be filled with me being extremely judgemental about poetry (wait for it)

I’m judging the Primers Volume Four Mentoring and Publication Scheme along with Jane Commane from Nine Arches Press – an amazing opportunity to have your pamphlet published by The Poetry School and Nine Arches as well as receive mentoring from yours truly. I’ll also be judging the National Poetry Competition alongside Kei Miller and Mark Waldron which I’m really excited about.

My other big news is that I was on Private Passions on Radio 3 yesterday being interviewed by Michael Berkeley.  I did the interview a couple of months ago and it was one of the nicest and least stressful experiences I’ve had on the radio! You can listen to the interview and my amazing and trumpet-filled choices of music here  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b7dqmy

I think that is all my news for now – phew.  A month’s worth takes a while to type up! Underneath all of that is Kendal Poetry Festival of course – still humming along with only 3 Festival Passes left now.

I will leave you with a poem from one of my favourite people Martin Kratz.  Martin’s first pamphlet A Skeleton’s Progress has just been published by Poetry Salzburg.  As well as being an excellent poet, Martin has also kept me sane throughout my PhD, offering advice and also being terribly English and pretending not to see when I have had the odd crying fit in my favourite cafe (Eighth Day in Manchester if you’re wondering)

Every poem in the pamphlet starts ‘Skeleton Man’ – the speaker of the poem is always talking to him, but really the speaker is addressing us, the audience and reader, telling us things through the conduit of Skeleton Man.  I’ve chosen this poem because I think it’s a great example of how Martin manages to ask big questions about the world but the poems wear those big questions really lightly.

Skeleton Man has various adventures throughout the pamphlet, including being elected to be prime minister and shot into space in a rocket before appearing again in another poem, as if nothing has happened to him.  He swims with sharks, goes into a pub and inexplicably hangs worms all over himself.  Lots of these poems are funny, but they’re also very moving as well.  There is something vulnerable or innocent in the character of Skeleton Man, but he also seems to possess more wisdom than the rest of us somehow.

If you would like to order A Skeleton’s Progress you can buy it from Poetry Salzburg here: http://www.poetrysalzburg.com/skeleton.htm for the measly sum of £6.50 plus postage and packing.  Thanks to Martin for letting me use his poem!

Skeleton Feelings 
Martin Kratz

Skeleton Man,
00000Where do feelings come from?
Here you are
00000Where you think no one watches
Reaching down under your ribcage
00000And back up past false
Ribs towards true.  To make a fist
00000Where a heart should be.

Skeleton Man, this muscle
00000Click-clacks when it should b-boom;
Grinds when it should m-murmur.
00000This is no centre for your pain, but
Take it away and I say
00000Something real remains.  Hand on heart.

Advertisements

Sunday Poem – Peter Raynard

Standard
Sunday Poem – Peter Raynard

I’m writing this post today feeling more weary than usual.  I’ve had a fantastic week away as the course tutor at The Garsdale Retreat but I am completely exhausted now! The Garsdale Retreat is a new creative writing centre, set up by Hamish Wilson and Rebecca Nouchette.  I say new, but this is their second season of running courses there now.

It is a beautiful place, surrounded by hills and far enough away from the nearest village to feel wonderfully lonely, whilst only being a two minute walk away from Garsdale train station.  The unique feature about the courses (compared to other residentials) is the small group sizes – the maximum group size is eight, so participants get a lot more individual attention during both tutorials and workshops.  The food is absolutely beautiful as well – Rebecca does the cooking and pretty much everything was home made.  I don’t think I ate anything processed all week! Every afternoon she made a different cake for afternoon tea as well – I was in food heaven.  Below is a picture of my favourite – scones with jam and cream!

scones

Tutors stay in a cottage next door.  It was one of those cute cottages you drive past and idly think about living in so I am glad I got to try one out! The first night was very cold because the snow was still hanging around on the hills, but it gradually got warmer throughout the week, and Rebecca and Hamish gave me a portable heater so I could make my bedroom toasty!

cottage

Workshops went on till 1pm and then in the afternoons I sat in front of my electric fire in the cottage, and did some writing or prepared for tutorials with the participants.  Two of the days I managed to get out for a run, but I have a slightly sore Achilles heel, probably from too many long hilly runs last week.

The participants were great as well – a real pleasure to teach, and full of ideas and conversation around and about poetry, which was lovely.

So I was in Garsdale Monday to Saturday morning, and then I got the train to Carlisle.  A woman sitting next to me was reading over my shoulder whilst I was working on a poem and asked me if I was a lawyer! She looked disappointed when I told her I was a poet.  It took me a while to realise the poem she was reading was an account of a story that someone told me about a date rape.  She obviously thought it was some sort of witness account or something and didn’t seem embarrassed about the fact she’d been reading over my shoulder without asking.  We got talking then all the way to Carlisle so the journey went very quickly.

I was taking part in an event called Woman Up! in Carlisle, a day of events exploring what it means to be a woman.  There was a variety of events on, including speakers from the Carlisle Refugee Action Group and writers from Wigton Writers group.  I read some of my poems from my collection about domestic violence and then some of my new work around sexism.

The responses from the audience were pretty amazing.  One woman was crying. What touched me the most though was a young girl in the question and answer session, who put her hand up and said

‘I’m going to university next year.  What advice would you give me to help me if I get into a situation I can’t get out of?’

It actually breaks my heart that young women are having to worry about this, to think about this, to negotiate this, to use their energy worrying about how they are simply going to keep safe, instead of putting their energy into learning and being creative.  And there are no easy answers.  Everything I thought of and said sounded so trite.  To speak out and tell someone.  To speak out and say no.  To not let things get bad – to trust your instincts.  To surround yourself with good people, who help you to feel good.  I’d be interested to hear what answers readers would give to young girls to help them deal with sexism and to help them avoid getting into damaging relationships.

I stayed in a hotel, and after being cold all week, I then nearly baked to death in the hotel room which seemed to have the heating up really high.  I got back to Barrow mid afternoon today.  The first thing I did when I got back was to walk the dogs, then I went for a run to test my foot – still a bit of pain there after a couple of miles, so I’m going to rest for another couple of days.

So that has been my week – full on and enjoyable, but also emotionally draining.  Today I’ve been steadily trying to catch up with all the emails I couldn’t cope with answering whilst I was on the course.  This week is a lot quieter, which is a huge relief.  I’m going to spend it catching up with some PhD work because the week after is manic with visits to London, Manchester and Poland.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by a fantastic poet called Peter Raynard.  I first came across Peter via his excellent blog (www.proletarianpoetry.com) which has featured the work of over 100 poets writing about working class lives.  This poem comes from his debut collection Precarious, published by Smokestack Books which you can order here.  He is a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen and is currently completing a poetic coupling of The Communist Manifesto, to be published by Culture Matters in May 2018.

I’ve been reading a few poems from Precarious out aloud each night to my husband, and he is really enjoying the collection.  ‘Scholarship Boys’ is one of my favourites in the collection because it explores something that isn’t talked about – what happens when someone from the working class breaks the mould and gets a scholarship.

At MMU there is a poster advertising a scheme to support students who are the first in their family to go to university – there was nothing like this around when I went to university.  I remember thinking my flat mates were really posh because they bought hummus (I’d never heard of it!).

The poem sets out its stall straight away with that first line, with the first word, which is unexpected following on from the title.  I like the phrase ‘the likes of us’ in there at the end of the stanza.  It almost has a motto-like feel to it – how many times have people told me in tutorials or workshops about parents saying that something isn’t ‘for the likes of us’.

I was puzzling over that phrase ‘claw-crane selections’ for a while until I worked out that I think it is referencing the arcade machines with the claw that you use to try and pick up a soft toy.  What a brilliant metaphor! The idea of it being a game and the boys being the soft toys, inanimate, unable to control their own destiny, and someone playing games with their lives, picking them up and then letting them drop.  Actually, the whole class of boys is part of this arcade game.  The scholarship boys are the ones who are picked up and moved elsewhere, at least for a while.

The threading through of Latin words is really interesting as well here, illustrating that feeling of them being ‘dropped’ into a different world and the ‘pictured corridors’ gives the feeling of grandness, of long corridors stretching into the distance.  I had to look up all the Latin words here – spiritus vicis means spirit time according to Google, although I’m not convinced about that one as I thought it sounded like a school motto, and that doesn’t sound like a particularly inspirng school motto.  And amo, amat means I love/You love (again Google told me this, so apologies if it’s wrong)

There are lots of great phrases in here which seem simple until you start to unpack them.  The head teacher ‘wielding’ his cloak – the cloak is indicative of his status and he is ‘wielding’ it like a weapon. The phrase ‘Mouths swabbed for memories’ – that made me think that the school, or the teachers tried to make them change their accents.  This was something that happened to me – except mine was self-inflicted.  After finally getting into Leicester Schools Symphony Orchestra, I tried to change my accent because the other children took the mickey out of the way I spoke.

The idea that the boys, despite getting scholarships, were always bound for the factory and had just taken ‘the long way around’ is really heartbreaking.  I also like how we don’t know why they left early – the reasons are left unclear.

Thanks to Peter for letting me use his poem this week – do check out his blog, and if you have some spare cash, order his book.  It’s a fantastic, challenging and interesting exploration of class and masculinity and also touches on issues of mental health as well.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

 

Scholarship Boys

Unlucky enough to pass our eleven plus
we were claw-crane selections
from our class dropped into a history
the likes of us had never read.

Inducted with pictured corridors
of Spiritus Vicis spouting opportunity
from the mothballed grammar
of the cloak-wielding Headmaster
and his fountain of Latin characters.

Amo, amas, a matter of opinion
was to know our place. Our mouths
were swabbed for memories.
We were to become
someone else’s nostalgia.

By the time we left early,
five of a seven-year stretch,
we stooped off to the factories
that laughed at us
for taking the long way around