Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Poetry, Events and Being on Trains a Lot: York Mix Competition and Two Poems from Rory Waterman

On Sunday March 23rd I travelled up to York as I'd been commended in the York Mix Poetry Comp, which is part of the York Literature Festival. I normally have mixed feeling about entering poetry comps, but this one was different. For starters it was judged by Carole Bromley and I really admire her poetry so I thought I'd support her and the festival. Also, it was only a fiver for three poems! Normally I wouldn't travel so far, but in the spirit of the poem I'd written I thought 'why not?' and off I went.

I made it to York, left the station and had a rather buoyant feeling of being somewhere I didn't know but was happy to visit. It seemed like a city with many visitors, lots of people were rushing past with wheeled suitcases and even on a Sunday you could feel a buzz. I wondered around the city peering into all the attractive shop fronts and was delighted by the sight of the river. The twins had asked me to take photos, so I did:

The prize event was very friendly and many of the prize-winners and commended poets were there to read their poems, including a poet called Clifford Hughes who'd travelled all the way from Hayward's Heath. It was also good to see my mate John Foggin who is going through a golden patch at the moment poetry-wise, winning all sorts of things, including the Lumen/Camden Poetry Prize. It's not easy getting first place in comps (understatement), so well done, and well done to Kay Buckley who won first Prize at York Mix with her poem 'Huskars' which is about a tragic incident where young children working down a pit were trapped and drowned. Many thanks to Carole for all her hard work judging the comp, no mean feat as there were nearly a thousand entries. I liked her approach of dealing with the poems as they came through on email. If you'd like to read about the judging process, read the winning and commended poems and look at photos of the event then do click here.

So I was on the train for 4 hours or so and the next weekend went up to The Poetry Business for one of their writing days, so another two hours and of course inevitable work journeys into Leicester. So I needed some reading material. Poetry and trains are quite well-suited. I think there must be a whole sub-genre of poems about writing poems on a train. The journey gave me an opportunity to re-read one of my favourite collections from last year, Rory Waterman's 'Tonight the Summer's Over' (Carcanet).

Cover of Tonight the Summer's Over by Rory Waterman

Rory's poetry is full of emotion, experience and observation. A significant part of the collection for me deals with the feeling of being torn and not quite belonging anywhere, 'I'd brag about that 'other home' / and other me - not here, like them - / the Irish me that never was.' Rory's mother left his father and their family home in County Derry and moved with Rory to rural Lincolnshire. The child's home is Lincolnshire, but 'home' is also Ireland too. Rather than being comfortable in two places, the poet feels estranged from both:

And Lincoln was a blessing and a curse,
where Daddy lived each month, and lived with me.

Oddly enough being on a train means you're nowhere; powering through anonymous fields and the backs of towns and cities for most of the journey. Perhaps this enhanced my enjoyment? Matthew Stewart has written an incisive review of this book on his blog Rogue Strands, which is here. If your tempted by the book I'd recommend a read, and to further whet your appetite here are two poems which Rory has kindly allowed me to use. The first has a terrific energy and a really sharp pair of end lines. 'Two' really moves me and is distinctly memorable.


A heron burst from the bank where we hadn't seen it
to out of sight beneath the tree-bitten sky
            the way we were heading.
Let's follow! So, a dawdle became the pursuit
of something we couldn't realise.

We paddled and ruddered, slick through spilling rapids,
round snags and boulders, churned small dark-skinned deeps
          as otters and crayfish hid;
sparrows and what-not cheeped; cows chewed at the lip
of a sudden meander, and watched us ignoring them;

and inverted willows shivered with river-weeds,
where toppled half-drowned boughs cut withering chevrons
           along each shadowed straight.
We were happy - weren't we? - because each bend was blind.

We must pursue and not expect to find.


The toddler with fat red cheeks in a blue Babygro,
legs skew-wiff, blond hair in a motherly clump,
face trapped in cute consternation, lets me know
through widened eyes that what happens to him matters.

The floppy-eared teddy he clutches in that studio
is a prop, not a gift. He doesn't realise
yet, but soon he'll have to let it go.
He hugs it because he's told to, looking up at the camera,

at the trap of a violent flash-bulb exploding. So
thirty-year-younger eyes stare blind at their future.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

More Jazz, Poetry and States of Independence 2014.

It's been another busy week. Am starting to really miss actually writing poetry, though in the last seven days I've certainly heard a great deal of poetry. Seven days ago I read with poet, colleague and all round kind soul Simon Perril at 'Jazz and Poetry' in Nottingham. We also read with some local student poets and the jazz came from John Lucas' band 'Four in a Bar.' Geddit? Simon read from his new Shearsman book 'Archilocus on the Moon.' I've said it before and I'll say it again that Simon's collections are some of the most cohesive I've every read. So the readings went on and jazz was played between them and the Hotel Deux was an intriguing venue. A former hotel, with the downstairs divided into different rooms and the 'jazz room' itself had lots of fascinating instruments pinned to the wall. There was even a bouzouki, my dad would've loved it. I met my first Liverpudlian poet of the week as well, Andrew Taylor, and want to read more of his work. If you'd like too see video evidence of Simon and I reading then click here. It's on Facebook. Event organiser David Belbin was the camera man.

Then Saturday and De Montfort held it's fifth annual book festival 'States of Independence'. There were lots of interesting panels and book stalls. I ended up buying loads of things. States was also the venue where I met my second Liverpudlian poet of the week, Sarah Crewe. She was reading with Alan Baker and my other colleague Kathy Bell, as part of a panel of Oystercatcher readers. Sarah's poems were a breath of fresh air for me. Alan's were full of intricacy. There was so much energy in that room and it was great to hear poems from Kathy's new pamphlet 'At the Memory Exchange.' I also attended the Soundswrite panel. They're a local group of women writers who meet up regularly in Leicester. Caroline Cook delivered a strong reading from her new Soundswrite pamphlet 'Primer' and there was a host of other poets reading too, including Jayne Stanton who will soon have a pamphlet out with Soundswrite as well. Also went to Deborah Tyler Bennett's and Ann Featherstone's Music Hall panel. For a few moments I dreamed of being Vesta Tilley, wouldn't that be an interesting way to live?

I also hosted a panel with Rich Goodson, Cora Greenhill and Gregory Woods about 'The Poetry of Sex' anthology. We read poems about and around the theme. Some more 'about' than others! We all have poems in the anthology of the same name. There were some mixed feelings about the book aired in the panel. Suppose all anthologies run that risk. I don't really write about sex directly (is this sometimes a 'female' thing?), so I placed the work in the context of my upbringing, life and culture. One of the poem's I read was 'Ante' which appeared in New Walk magazine last year, and was about the decision to have children:


Our children are only a blueprint. We imagine their milky bodies
flickering in a sonogram. We unpack our cases. They’re hiding

under our crisp bed in the hotel. The sun sinks into a cocktail glass.
Mouth the Spanish word for blood, think out loud: there will be

so many things to learn. Drink one guilty mouthful; let bubbles
fizz between your teeth. Mark this occasion of knowing in silence.

You no longer recognise the tilted face on the curve of your glass. 

Obviously that decision changed mine and my husband's life considerably! Our twins were also at States and were jubilant at having won a box of chocolates in the WORD! raffle and having a go at printing out letters courtesy of Cleeve Press. There were many stalls and it was great to see Jane at the Nine Arches Press one, as well as Jacqui Rowe at Flarestack. Brought three pamphlets! Was good to see 'The Interpreter's House' on sale too. Editor Martin Malone was selling copies of the magazine and the latest issue (55) is great. Also nice to see the poet David Clarke over from Cheltenham, we chatted about the pleasures and pains of poetry reviewing during lunch. There were lots of things I wanted to attend, but it was impossible as the sessions were back to back. Roy Marshall and Rory Waterman would've been a treat, as would've Renni Parker and the WORD! Crew. Sorry I couldn't cover everything!

Ok, so here's my obligatory shot of all the books I brought..actually they're pamphlets:

It's good to go to such events! Especially at a time when I'm finding little time for my own writing. The small presses save the day... again.

p.s. I have two poems on Josephine Corcoran's excellent blog 'And Other Poems' including the one about a certain actor, which you can read here.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

All That Jazz... 'Love in Leamington.'

photo by Joanna Ornowska

It's almost a month now since I read at the 'Love in Leamington' event. What a lovely evening that was. Before Christmas I was asked if I'd like to take part. I had to write a poem along with my husband, Jonathan Taylor, on the theme of love. The poem would then be performed with a jazz accompaniment. The musician in question was Steve Tromans, an EXCELLENT pianist and composer. One lyrical Saturday afternoon in late Jan, Steve came round to ours with Charlie Jordan. Charlie's a fab poet and she's also a radio broadcaster, so you can imagine how smooth and engaging her delivery would be. So there I was on my own sofa listening to Charlie and Steve practising their music and poetry on our piano in the front room. Bliss! Our house had become a sort of Jazz commune for a while. Beret wearing will follow...

Jonathan and I reading the poems. Photo by Joanna Ornowska

On the 14th of February, Valentine's of course, we all performed our pieces, with jazz piano from Steve, percussionist  Lydia Glanville and singing from Alyson Symons. Everything was new and specially commissioned for the evening. The other commissioned poets were Roz Goddard, Spoz, Julie Boden, Roy McFarlane and of course Charlie. Roy managed to battle against the storms outside, various cancelled trains and made it to the show just in time to perform his very passionate piece. It was an evening of uplifting poems and music. Roz moved everyone with her poem about her daughter leaving home; Spoz made me giggle with 'Writing You'; Roy's piece 'A Love Supreme' was powerful and deeply felt; Julie's dealt with the loss of love and Charlie's piece 'Beginnings' was about the moment of starting a new relationship. One of the many highlights of the evening was Charlie's red dress. I'd be working on a poem about wearing red and Charlie inspired me to finally figure out where the poem was going.

Charlie rocking the red dress look. Photo by Joanna Ornowska

Talking of writing I learnt something rather interesting about how we order poetry into verses. When I gave the original copies to Steve, they were neatly organised into stanzas of particular lines. When he worked his jazz magic the poems came back to me looking very different. The words were the same of course, but the line endings and overall structure of the poems had changed. He managed to needle out all the lyricism which was there that maybe I couldn't 'hear.' It's made me really appreciate the 'sounds' involved in writing poetry and even a plain-spoken conversational style can have that going on. Our poem was a question and response style piece and Steve's imput was invaluable. What a special treat to have your poetry set to music.

The event was a sell-out and held at Leamington Library. It was funded by 'Poetry on Loan' and hosted by Librarian Jan Dawson and Radio Wildfire impresario David Reeves. Photos were taken by Joanna Ornowska. The idea for 'Love in Leamington' was devised by Julie Boden and a round of applause for her.

I am also writing this after another Jazz and Poetry event last night in Nottingham. More on that later. It'll be berets, stripey tops, capri pants and black shoes for me perhaps.

Of course if you'd like to see all the photos and listen to the performances do click here.

Monday, 10 February 2014


Hi, a few weeks ago. I was asked to take part in a blogging tag tour by the wonderful poet Kim Moore. The questions looked interesting and hopefully the answers might be of some interest to you. Her blog can be found by clicking here.

1) What am I working on?

I always seem to write poems with not a great deal of conscious thought as to how they might link up or might fit in a collection. Sometimes I wonder how other poets seem to have these big ideas that result in the ‘cohesive’ collection, with all the poems in the book following similar paths. Maybe that will come? I love having a constructive poem to work on, but feel a bit at sea when I haven’t written for a while or working on something that I think is going nowhere. So I’m not working on a ‘book’ as such, just writing individual poems. At some point many of these poems will probably find themselves in a manuscript. I like the idea of not having a map.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It does and it doesn’t, part of me thinks ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’ Surely everything is influenced by something or has some echo from the past? My aim has to be to make “it work,’” which, “might be more revolutionary an objective than making it new” as David Morley once wrote. I don’t compare myself to other poets in that way, although there are plenty I’ve learnt from. Rather than differing from ‘others’ I like to differ from what I think of as my own style of writing now and then. Hence the ‘Poetry Bingo’ card set published by HappenStance and poems about topics that take me out of my comfort zone; writing about sex and science matters for instance. I’ve just finished a poem on the French astronomer La Caille. That’s very different for me!

3) Why do I write what I do? 

Erm...I don’t quite get this question. Actually if it means do you write about what you do, I’d be horrified if I actually did what I did in my own poems! Some of them are partly biographical, but if I were courting mermen and drinking from the rivers of the Hades it would be a worry! I don’t really write ‘what I do’, poetry is about real life through a hall of mirrors. For me, it’s about putting unusual thoughts into some sort of coherent shape and being concerned about the sound as much as the content.

4) How does your writing process work?

There are quite a few ways. Firstly, reading. If I’m stuck, I’ll read. I’ll read poetry that I love or new poetry I’m excited about reading. I spend lots of money on books! I’ll then pick up a pen and see where it takes me. There’s also nothing better than a good, immersive novel. The thing is, however, I don’t feel inclined to write poetry when I’m lost in a novel! That comes after.
Sometimes I just have an idea and I have to get it down on paper. This can happen at any time, I might be doing something completely different: swimming, walking, admin chores, and then bang! It has to be done, people sometimes say, as did the late Seamus Heaney, that they feel ‘commanded’ to write a poem. It’s sounds a bit grandiose, but it’s so special when that happens and feels much more natural and unconsciously done. You’re not drafting the hell out of a poem which doesn’t feel like being written. I think there should be an imperative for writing a poem, otherwise it won’t work. Also, I have no idea where a poem might be heading when I start to draft it. My notebook will be full of rough drafts and then I’ll underline the things that work and cut out what doesn’t. The only workshops I go to are the ones held in Sheffield by The Poetry Business, so I have lots of stream of consciousness poems in books waiting to be edited.

I feel sorry for the abandoned poems, the ones that Sylvia Plath refers to as the malformed ones. There are so many now, they had such good intentions, poor things. Sometimes, they manage to creep out of the drawer.

Next week it's Jayne Stanton's turn! Jayne has been published widely in many magazines and is an great poetry enthusiast! Not only is she a poet, but she's also a teacher and musician. She lives, works and writes in LeicestershireHer debut pamphlet is forthcoming from Soundswrite Press in autumn 2014. Her blog can be found here. 

Monday, 3 February 2014


When my twins started school in 2013 they developed a habit of getting very attached to the most bizarre objects, especially when out and about. Our walk to school takes us down an alleyway (or a jitty if you're from Leics) which leads on to a patch of green with a large willow tree. There's a busy crossing next, but before that bit we get a little bit of nature.  There are some railings next to allotments on one side of the jitty. Back in late summer 2013 this became the ideal hiding place for my daughter's collection of sticks. We'd go to school in the morning and she'd leave a stick in a special place in the railings and feel very pleased when we walked home in the afternoon when she found the stick waiting for her. The sticks changed everyday and eventually formed a pile in the front garden, but the point was that the same stick had to be retrieved at the end of the day. A sense of security, I suppose.

Of course one day the stick wasn't to be found. That provoked a lot of tears. I had to try and see the world from a 4 year old's perspective and think what it was to lose something which gave you a sense of place and security. I'm sure starting school had a lot to do with that. Eventually sticks became old hat and I had the idea of writing a poem about the event. It went through many drafts, at one point there was a cherry tree, but then there were too many trees! Tinkering ensued. I did an online course and this was one of the poems I submitted for feedback. Thank you Liz Berry and the other students! The poem is now available in 'Acumen 78' although there was a problem with the printing and the last 2 lines were lost from the page. The editor, Patricia Oxley, has kindly published the poem online so you can read it in full here. If you're reading this post months after it's been posted, then scroll down and you'll find it eventually. It's only been relatively recently that I've started writing about my children, so this is quite personal territory for me.