Saturday, 28 December 2013

Sun Bathing in December

At this time of year it's customary for blogger to round-up their books of the year. I find that a hard thing to do in terms of poetry. Some of the poetry I've come across this year was published before 2013, this would include work by Mark Halliday (have blogged about him before) and two stunning books by Catherine Smith: 'Lip' and 'The Butcher's Hands.' I read those two from cover to cover and was struck by the range of subject matter and Smith's ability to write about darker (and therefore rather interesting) aspects of human psyche. I'm looking forward to getting a copy of her latest book, 'Otherwhere.' What an intriguing title. Another non-2013 favourite, also published by the fabulous Smith/Doorstop press was Carole Bromley's 'A Guided Tour of the Ice House.' That book sustained me through a evening of cancelled trains on the way home from Sheffield. Bromley's work is a pleasure to read: clear-sighted, direct and utterly engaging. Poems like 'In Another Life' and 'The Lovers' and 'South Bank and Eston Rotary Club, 1951' really grabbed me and there was so much in the book to curl up into. Funny, sad, wry, honest. I have the book by the bed and keep returning to it, that's a big mark of admiration for me.

So, I'm not done with 2013 yet. I have no doubt that 2014's blog posts will have some focus on things published this year. There's one book I'm going to focus on though and that's Roy Marshall's 'The Sun Bathers' published by Shoestring. Regular readers of this blog will know I have praised Roy's work over the last couple of years. In 2012 his pamphlet 'Gopagilla' was published as a part of a series of our Crystal pamphlets and it was packed with strong, memorable pieces, many of which can be found in 'The Sun Bathers.'

Front Cover

A first collection from Roy is a very huge deal, especially when you've seen a poet's work develop and grow over time. I know it's not just me though. When I read at Beeston Poets in November with Roy a couple of things struck me. Firstly, I noticed the audience was hanging on every word in his poetry and we experienced 20 minutes of lyric power tempered with a plain-spokeness which made the poetry immediate. One of the first times I heard Roy read was at Leicester's WORD! back in 2010, and I heard a remarkable poem called 'No Signals Available' which made me sit up and take notice. That poem is also in the book I'm happy to say. When I read 'The Sun Bathers' many of the poems were familiar to me, not least because they've appeared in a plethora of magazines but also because I've been lucky enough to have seen them at the drafting stage as well. Don't just take my word for it, at the Beeston reading an audience member requested a poem, which shows to me that readers form attachments with these poems. A great sign to my mind. You can find details of how to track down a copy here.

It's hard to pick an individual poem to share with you as there are so many notable poems. Many of these you can find on-line, but you should of course buy the book! My favourites include the 'Leonardo' sequence, 'Presence', 'Rose,' 'A Western Australian Piano Graveyard,' 'Relic' - this list could be longer, you get the picture. These are well-formed poems with a personal edge. They speak to you. As I said many of Roy's poems are on-line, so to avoid overlaps I've chosen 'Cimetero' which draws on the poet's Italian heritage. There are some sumptuous and evocative words and images, 'gellateria' honey heat and scent of rosemary, the child's innocence at the father 'who'll live forever' and the understated sinister sense of death and corporeal decay, colours 'deepening from terracotta to crimson.'


The gate kept a world out: scooters humming
along the road that ran down to the lake,
gellateria and monument.

Lizards froze, slipped into cracks, past photographs
set in granite, chrysanthemums on marble beds,
so different from the grassed churchyard at home.

I loved the honey heat, scent of rosemary
and privet, plots to walk between, adding dates
to calculate the ages of the dead.

One day, a grave, freshly dug, sides shored,
colour deepening from terracotta to crimson,
waiting not for Dad, who brought me here

because I asked, Dad, young and fit who'd live
forever, but for Nonno; next year, behind
polished glass, the face I'd know.

Friday, 27 December 2013

The Launch of 'Maps and Legends'

The Book!

Here I am again. The blog seems to be mended and I'm like a child with a new toy. The launch of Maps and Legends - Poems to Find Your Way By, a new anthology published by Nine Arches Press, took place in the new library of Birmingham, earlier this month. The anthology is edited by Jo Bell and Jane Commane and marks the fifth anniversary of Nine Arches Press. 2008 was a very big year for me, I gave birth to my twins and life was never the same. Writing poetry, however, was not at the top of my priorities then, but at the end of 2009 I was beginning to write and had also just heard of a local  Midlands publisher named Nine Arches Press. A few years later and they'd published my first book and my reading - and thus my life - had been dramatically enriched by various Nine Arches publications and poets. This also included setting up the regular Shindig events in Leicester, which has meant bringing lots of fabulous poets to the Midlands and regular contact with Jane Commane. Jane has always been extremely modest about her successes with Nine Arches and is to my mind one of the key editors out there in contemporary poetry. There are some very exciting publications from the press to look forward to in 2014, but back to the anthology.
At the launch we were treated to some very fine readings from Nine Arches poets. It was great to hear Angela France's 'Canzone: Cunning' poem, 'Oh, woman / your grin seeded such an itch in my bones' as well as work from Matt Merritt, David Morley, Daniel Sluman, Roz Goddard and Myra Connell. The event was compered by Jo Bell, who many poetry lovers will have heard of and she brought a great deal of energy to proceedings. I have a few poems in the anthology myself, including a certain poem about a certain poet called Larkin. I've been reading the book over the last few weeks and though much of the work is familiar to me, the poems gathered together feel fresh and inventive in the context of the anthology. In addition to the readers listed above there is some great poetry by Claire Crowther, Peter Carpenter, Alistair Noon, Luke Kennard, Tony Williams, really I could go on. Obviously I'd recommend this book, but if you're interested in contemporary poetry you will not be disappointed! Oh yes and details of how to get hold of the book are available here.

L-R Roz Goddard, Angela France, Deborah Tyler-Bennett, Myra Connell, Jane, Commane, Matt Merritt, Jo Bell, Daniel Sluman and yours truly.


'I've seen the future '
Josephine Corcoran

I've had a few problems with the blog of late, there have been some Malware warnings coming up on screen. Fingers crossed you're able to read this now and the problems been sorted. Back to poetry... or more specifically poetry bingo. In the summer I put together a light-hearted bingo card of words and concepts which I noticed were cropping a lot in the poems I was reading. These words were mainly gathered from magazines and all of them were from contemporary sources. I shared one as a bit of fun with Helena Nelson and she decided to print them as a set, published HappenStance press! They soon became a set of four cards. The cards are an avant garde poem, bingo card, and postcard in one, they also look rather nice on a wall!  Here's a brief explanation from the HappenStance website explaining what the cards are about:

The set of four different cards can also fulfil a useful slot in terms of entertaining postcards for poetry friends. A5 in size, they contain the key words on the back as well as plenty of space to scribble messages, poems or aphorisms.

The bingo cards are available for purchase on the site, so click here to have a look.  A little eccentricity does you good!
Moi and cards...

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Joel Lane 1963 - 2013

I was very upset to hear of Joel Lane’s passing last night. He was a terrific writer. I know his poetry better than his prose and perhaps in time I’ll read more of his fiction. He’d won major awards as a Fantasy writer and that just goes to show his remarkable scope. Joel was a contributor to Overheard, Stories to Read Aloud published by Salt and edited by my husband Jonathan Taylor. There is a very moving post here by Jane Commane about Joel and his writings on the Midlands.

Joel had a very unassuming presence as a poet, even though he was extremely good at writing poetry. He seemed to shy away from the limelight. We once spoke briefly about him putting together a new poetry collection. He told me he wanted to but he felt a little disconnected from the poetry world. That was about a year ago. Many thanks then to Flarestack for publishing his final pamphlet of poetry, Instinct, a beautiful book I’d strongly recommend.  I’m including the poem below as an example of his ability to marry clarity and evocation so distinctively. I had tears in my eyes as I was typing this up.

Ghosts of the Living

After a day of bruised silence
you finally answered the phone
in a child’s voice. That night
your blank side came to my house

and stood on the doorstep, thin
and trembling, unable to hold on
to yourself. It took me an hour
to bring colour back to your face.

In the morning you left your shadow
pinned to my bedroom wall:
another still for me to run through
the projector of broken sleep.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Catching up....

Hi, it's been a long while I know. Can't believe my last entry was back in August. It's been a little overwhelming for me both home and work wise, but I'm trying to remedy things. Some poetry related highlights over the last few months have included attending some excellent readings by Jo Shapcott and Cherry Smyth, as well as being in the audience for Nine Arches Press's first 'Poet-tea' reading in Leicester. Also managed to catch a couple of writing days at The Poetry Business in Sheffield. Other than that it's been EDITING! Yes, EDITING! This hasn't been easy. Over the last two or so years, (I started wrapping up the Melanchrini manuscript around December 2011), I've written nearly 70 or so (maybe more, hard to tell in a way) poems and come to the conclusion that only around 25 of those are acceptable. That seems low in a way, but I'm getting very fussy. Some poems will need redrafting, some are just sketches and some are not worth reviving. There is a poem cemetery in my hard drive, many poetic corpses are lying around in unmarked graves. I think most poets like to think about new pieces, but I've wondered about those other 'abandoned'  poems and what their value was and still might be. Maybe their value was to write other poems alongside them where the original intent was actually realised. I've sent out a lot of 'not ready' poems as well as 'ready' ones and it's only time that makes your realise that. The moral is perhaps to hold on or to get decent feedback.

Anyhow, I have a reading coming up in Beeston! Here's a fabulous poster designed by Pippa Hennessy:

I am reading with John Gallas and Roy Marshall. Readers of this blog will know my high opinion of Roy's work and I'm also looking forward forward to hearing more of John's work. Roy Marshall has an EXCELLENT new collection out now with Shoestring, The Sun Bathers. I hope to write more on this very soon and include a poem from the book. It's wonderful that Roy's work is being so well-received in the press at the moment. His Crystal pamphlet Gopagilla has just been reviewed in The TLS alongside other great pamphlets by Kim Moore, Suzannah Evans, Ian Parks, David Clarke and others.

Come and join us in Beeston!

I will try and keep-up-to-date with this blog promise.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

A Few Words on Seamus Heaney

It's been just over a day now since we learnt of Heaney's death. In place of flowers, social networks are full of tweets and updates featuring quotations and indeed whole poems written by Heaney. Some people are sharing anecdotes about him, creating vivid impressions of the man. There was one story somewhere about his kindness to a boy before a reading and him later dedicating a poem to his 'young friend' in the audience.

Today I have somehow done my back in a bit, which is a pain as well as painful. Hoping it will go away soon as. On the other hand it means I have some time propped up on pillows, re-reading Heaney's poetry and watching a documentary where he talks about his own poetry and some of the inner conflicts about reconciling the 'lyric' with the 'dramatic'; the need for poetic truth as well as everyday truth. Heaney managed to achieve that balance. His language was hard and real like a mouthful of toffee, yielding sweetness.

Sunday, 25 August 2013


Roy Marshall has been posting interviews with poets on his blog. I find that people who write poetry like to find out what other people who write poetry are thinking about poetry. (That's not intended to be a tongue twister by the way).  I know this as a fact because whenever I go to events discussions tend to involve thoughts on poetry shared liberally over pop and wine.

These interviews often bring up some fascinating details about interests, practices and general thoughts on poetry. These interviews have included poets such as Jodie Hollander, Ian Parks, Matt Merritt and Rebecca Bird. There will probably be more. He interviewed moi as well. I talked quite a bit about what advice I would give new poets, influences and some general thoughts on editing, ideas and so on. Why not make yourself a cup of tea, or a glass of red wine or lemonade, and have a read right here.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

What I Read On My Holidays...

Summer is usually reading time. For some it’s writing time, but I seem to do an awful lot of reading in the holidays; sometimes for reviews, sometimes when someone wants me to cast an editorial eye over something and sometimes even for pleasure. As for the writing I’m working on a few things, including the odd commission which I’ll say more about later.

My summer reading kicked off with a novel, John McGregor’s ‘If nobody speaks of remarkable things.’  It was all about an unremarkable street full of apparently unremarkable people, but there was a type of spell cast over all of them by the narrator. The ending especially was particularly gripping, but I probably shouldn’t talk much about that. As a side note, I like the book’s title. I like the way it sounds like an unfinished sentence. Another book to stay with me for a long time I think.

Next was Matt Merritt’s ‘The Elephant Tests.’ Having heard so many out loud, many of the poems felt very familiar, but I think that’s part of the skill of Matt’s work. The tone is familiar, almost confiding, but then the poet slips in a line, word or image which surprises and engages. There were some fabulous poems, including a longer one called ‘Ravens, Newborough Warren’ which appealed to me for its repeated line, ‘don’t be surprised if nothing happens.’ There were so many poems I could talk about but you can find out more here on the Nine Arches Press website. Earlier in the year we read together in Leeds and I was struck by the way Matt’s work really connects with an audience and heartened to see lots of books sold and going to good homes.

I’m including a poem from the book on the blog. It’s called ‘Azul.’ Considering I was abroad visiting my family as the time of reading, there was something in the vividness of the images that made me look up the skies and consider the ‘inadequacy’ of the words for blue. Ironic perhaps, there’s so much vitality in Matt’s presentation of the colour:


The sky high and no limit at all.
Each time, the mind’s migration. Sky-blue
sky. Enough to understand
You live on an island. The distance

At once turquoise, cobalt, cyan. Blue
As eyes exactly açor-blue. Shades of the hawk,
Caught on its amphetamine rush against
A sea-blue sea. Caldeira-blue, hydrangea blue,

And the lights coming on
on ships in the harbor.
A navy-blue, and now the night,
Lunar-blue, celeste-blue, shot through

with silver-blue star wounds
that will only heal to a horizon
blue with mountains behind heat haze
or slipping in and out of cloud, like

The piecing together of dreams,
Like realising there are other
islands, and the inadequacy
of the word for blue.

I took a few Happenstance pamphlets with me as well. Recently, I've been reading quite a lot from the press. Fiona Moore’s ‘The Only Reason for Time’ is a pamphlet I’d really recommend, I've been re-reading many of the poems. Many of them deal with the loss of a partner and this is done in a way which is moving, incisive and elegant. The pamphlet initially sold out, but I'm happy to report it's back in stock and be ordered here, so do get hold of a copy before they sell out again. Here's a remarkable poem from the collection called 'The Shirt.' In earlier drafts of this entry I included a link to the poem, but I've found that the site didn't always work on my computer, so I've typed it up: 

The Shirt

I didn't find it for months, your shirt
bundled into a corner of the airing cupboard.
I shook it out. It had been cut
with long cuts, all the way up the sleeves
and up the front, so it looked like a plan
of something about to be put together.
They must have had to work so fast to 
save you there was no time to unbutton it.
An office shirt, because that's where 
it happened. The thin stripes slashed through - 
terrifying, unprecedented - a reminder
of everything I wanted to forget.
I'd washed it afterwards, not knowing what to do
with it, or that in three weeks the same thing 
would happen to another shirt, a favourite,
dull cotton whose thick weave made it look 
as if all the pink shell-grains of sand 
had come together on one beach, 
a shirt for a gentle hug; and from on,
nothing happened that we would forget.

Another special and very different pamphlet was Mark Halliday’s ‘No Panic Here.’ It was recommended to me and I finally found out that the quirky, conversational poetry I’m often drawn to has a name, it’s called ‘ultra talk,’ a phrase Halliday coined himself. It’s quite different in style to a lot of things you’d find in magazines. One bright, peachy Cypriot morning, before anyone else was up, I opened up the pamphlet and this was the first poem I read:

Numerous Swans

So many brooding swans like floating inkstains on a lake of
slender wakefulness. Really a lot, like more than fifty.
Across the narrow hips of the lake they glide,
dark and darkling, their plumes so silent yet not at all sleepy

Nor is the lake itself sleepy; it is a body of water
deep and liquid with liquidity of apprehension
as I turn my phrase like a dinghy and the oars clack
in the melancholy oarlocks. Ah there they pass again,

so many, I had not figured th’ineffable had bred so many,
possibly as many as sixty, swans the inky colour of night,
they are my thoughts if you haven’t twigged to that already,
and I delight to see them there, slender and brooding

and feathery and light and pensive and dark upon the lake of moi.

Mark Halliday 

Click here for more info about the poet himself and the pamphlet from Happenstance.

I like what this poem does and the humour achieved with the swans that become more numerous in the final stanza. The repetitions and images satisfied. The poem offers a way of stepping out of a poem, in the same way you might watch an old cartoon and Bugs Bunny may have stepped out the frame and be talking directly to the audience. Another way of putting this, I suppose may be Brechtian, but that's an overused term. On the other hand, poetry as theatre? Something to think about.

It's still August, there's still more reading to be done. I've got a few review copies to get stuck into. There's also the magazines of course, the most recent issues of 'Under the Radar' and 'The North' have been top reading material. I'm also open to any other recommendations.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

'Whistle' - Martin Figura

On Friday, took a trip into Beeston for a performance of 'Whistle' by Martin Figura. This was part of the Beeston Poets series at the library. The ingredients of the show consist of a poet, a backdrop of images and brief recordings of a mother's voice. Sounds straightforward, but the results are mesmeric.

When Martin was a boy, his father murdered his mother. That much I knew about the show's content, but the story didn't begin there. Martin describes how his parents met and married, had three children and were a seemingly 'normal' happy family. That was especially moving as you knew where the story was heading. It's not just the story though which makes the performance so individual, the show is delivered with some sharp poetry and carefully arranged images. Not just still photographs, but images which speak to the audience and establish a type of dialogue with the poems themselves. In the Q&A after the show Martin explained how photographs are like poems, which I'm inclined to agree with both in this context and in the wider sense. The narration was so smooth that when I picked up the copy of the book after the show I was surprised to see a collection of individual poems, almost thought at times I was hearing an extended poem.

The delivery was quite something. Most poets read poems with brief (or not so brief) introductions. They 'um' and 'erm' a lot, some can even be quite apologetic about their work. Martin's poetry was delivered with pure conviction, nothing was explained, everything was there in the verse. As a performer there was something trance-like about this, it felt almost like a spell was being cast over the audience. When the show finished everyone needed a few moments to come-to. There was a brief interval and then the Q&A which I've mentioned, and there were lots of questions, such was the interest in the work. 

There are some clips here, and do take a look. Finishing though with a clip of 'Vineyard Boys' a poem about the Vineyard children's home to which Martin was sent. I love the way the children are described in a way which is moving and yet unsentimental.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Two Things...

Tonight's homework...

1. I'm getting less keen on poetic buzzwords. Every time I hear the word 'emerging,' I wonder if it's a  misnomer. Emerging from what precisely? Surely you either write or you don't write; you've either just started, been doing it for a few years or donkeys years. Get something half decent on a page and the 'emerger' (for the purposes of this blog post that word exists) has emerged. Just a thought.

2. On this emergent subject I am currently the keeper of 5 painted lady butterflies. I've nurtured them from the caterpillar stage in May; watched them turn into chrysalides and right now they're 3 days into butterflyhood. I help out in a Primary school on Wednesdays so I took them in and the children were fascinated. I'm keeping them in a sort of netted basket. While walking to school, a few members of the public wanted to have a look at them because they are stunning. The difficult bit will be having to let them go, adult butterflies only live for 2-4 weeks, so they're already some way of the journey. Rather than push this 'emerging' thing till it snaps, I don't feel there are any hidden metaphors. My advice to you is simple, keep some butterflies, it's wonderful and you'll make new friends. Don't worry so much about writing.

2a. The butterfly net's covered in red splodges because they drip meconium when they push out of the cocoon, apparently it's left over from the colour in the wings. The other thing that happened today was 'Hinterland' magazine appeared online. It's a brand new magazine which features work on a particular colour, this issue happens to be red. Editors Ian Parks and Becky Bird asked me for a poem which you can read here. Have a read. Submit! Red is today's colour! QED.

Monday, 17 June 2013

1) When is a Poem Finished and 2) Is it any good?

Sestina Production, mid 1960s
Hello again. How many times have you heard someone say, 'oh here's something I wrote last night?' Having been to many readings and being a 'social networker' in my case it's heard it quite a lot. I'd say that most poets drafted assiduously, cutting, re-shaping, re-ordering until they've either got something good or something which has been so heavily edited that the goodness has been sucked out of it. It's become a mouthful of over-chewed Hubba Bubba. Paul Valery said 'a poem' is never 'finished', only 'abandoned.' I'd agree but also say there's such a thing as an optimum draft.  Knowing when this is can be difficult, especially if you keep tinkering with the piece. 'Ah, but the competition deadline is tomorrow, who cares! They won't notice!' This probably isn't a good way to think about it. They will notice. It's easy to think you've written something brilliant, but give it a little rest in your notebook or hard drive. Things take time.

I haven't written much of late, but I'm hanging on waiting for something to happen. A poem takes as long as it takes, sometimes this is 3 hours and sometimes this has been 18 months. Most of the time I draft something for a little while, feel my eyes hurt, lose the will, abandon it for a while and then go back. Not all the time though. As I pursue this poetry thing more and more I am sure there will be many 'abandoned' drafts at the back of drawers that might come in for more editing at a later date. Some people, who are either very skilled or fibbing will say, 'oh I can write poems that come to me very nearly complete.' Maybe. Even so, you'd still need a bit of time to figure out if it was any good or not.

Don't force yourself to write if it's not working, STEP AWAY from the poem, go out, take a walk, clean a window, skip. Don't force it. I know I've sent off things too early and that's part of the learning curve I suppose. At least when you send something out it can stop you tinkering, and when it comes back your eyes and brain may be able to deal with it afresh. Here's Helena Nelson:

Fast or slow, it’s hard to see a poem properly when you’re close to it. They need a little time and emotional distance. Although fresh rolls are the only rolls worth eating, this analogy doesn’t work for la poé not send out fresh poems. Put them in a drawer. Read them again when you can read them like a reader, not a poet. Then see how the little bastards shape up.

Helena's full post can be found here. Read it. It's very interesting.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The Michael Murphy Memorial Prize

I have been meaning to update the blog recently, but here's a short entry with some good news! Yesterday my book 'Melanchrini' was shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize. I'm really excited to be on a list with some incredible poets and also really happy for my publisher Nine Arches Press who also have Alistair Noon on the list as well. They have been wonderfully supportive. Also honoured to have been shorlisted for an award in memory of the poet Michael Murphy, who died in 2009.

The official website is here

Here are all the shortlisted poets:

  • James Brookes, SINS OF THE LEOPARD (Salt)
  • Oli Hazzard, BETWEEN TWO WINDOWS (Carcanet)
  • Judith Jedamus, THE SWERVE (Carcanet)
  • William Letford, BEVEL (Carcanet)
  • Alistair Noon, EARTH RECORDS (Nine Arches)
  • Michelle O'Sullivan, THE BLUE END OF THE STARS (Gallery)
  • Maria Taylor, MELANCHRINI (Nine Arches)
  • Ahren Warner, CONFER (Bloodaxe)

Friday, 12 April 2013

Thatcher, Ice Lollies and a Poem by Tom Warner


It seems that everyone has got an opinion on Margaret Thatcher. It would be difficult not to to have an opinion on her as she is such a divisive figure. Since her death it feels as if everyone has time-traveled back to the 80s, reliving their 80s youth or middle age whether they were there or not. Like many people I have quite a few memories and experienced quite a lot living under Thatcher. She came into power during my babyhood. My mother and father lived in Tuxford, North Notts. My father wasn't a miner but he worked in various coal-fired power stations in South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire. Before I was born he lived in a static caravan, much to my newly-wed mother's horror. He was a classic itinerant worker, going from job to job, saving money for a house. In the 60s and early 70s these jobs were often plentiful. By the time my mother was pregnant with me these jobs were starting to become scarce. One of my earliest memories is the sight of him coming home from work covered from head to toe in soot. His face was the colour of liquorice. Nevertheless I didn't mind getting grubby and I remember running towards him, arms out-stretched with my latest artistic creation.

Having an ice lolly under Thatcher circa '83,
blissfully unaware of my father's imminent unemployment.

Another thing I do remember very clearly is the sense of identity our village had based around coal. There were Working Men's Clubs, pub gatherings and a community that felt very close. Everyone has something to do with coal and everyone had a open fire with few people having central heating. There were many nights when fire engines came round as chimneys got blocked and sparks lit up the dark. After we moved, many years later, I opened a bin liner full of baby clothes and there it was the smell of soot. You couldn't get away from the stuff, it hung around.

We moved in 1984. Jobs related to the coal industry were becoming obsolete. I didn't want to go. London was the work of the devil. No one spoke to each other. You couldn't ride a bike in a flat with just a balcony.The other night we watched an episode of 'Spitting Image' from around this time and it seemed very edgy and controversial. It was hard to believe that this was aired on the same channel that shows 'X factor' and 'Dancing on Ice'. I'm not saying this was typical of ITV, but it appears to me there were more contrary and satirical voices around back then in TV media then there are now.There was a scene in which Margaret gets gardening advice from her neighbour at No.9, who just happens to be an aged Nazi dictator (guess who) who also enjoys dispensing political advice as well. Ironically, it's been said that pop culture was quite good under Thatcher and perhaps it's her only positive legacy for many. The Smiths may not have been The Smiths we know so well if they didn't have her to react against. We may not have had the force of feeling that defined an alternative pop generation. See below for Robert Wyatt's cover of Elvis Costello's 'Shipbuilding,' a song about the changing face of industry in the 80s. The song describes how the shipyards were kept open only because of the need for ships for the Falklands war. That voice is so naked and vulnerable. Put that in your pipe Simon bloody Cowell:


I was part of the Nottinghamshire exodus. A lot of people moved, communities were broken up and those who were left had to begin to live without a reliance on coal for heat and industry. This is why I've decided to end this blog with a poem by Tom Warner called 'Scabs.' Tom read at the Nottingham festival of Words and has a pamphlet published in the 'New Faber Poets' series. You can read more of his work at his website here. I like this poem because it reflects what was going  at the time from a child's point of view:


All through those weeks off school our fathers watched us
our mothers took extra hours in part-time jobs

and the news was men in denim thumping coaches
police playing British Bulldog or riding horses

while Mr Oxby lined up rollies in a tin
pinched bitter shreds of Virginia from his tongue

and taught us kids exactly what was what
whose parents were digging deep and whose were not.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

States of Independence '13

I have found myself with a bit of time to catch up with the blog. It's over two weeks since States of Independence was held at De Montfort University and by now most of the keen bloggers have blogged so before March is through I'll write about the event. Certainly 2013's 'States' seemed to be one of the busiest, well so it appeared to me. There were some fabulous panels, such as Ian Parks' talk on Chartist poetry; a talk on sex and censorship before 1963 by Kathy Bell, Gina Greaves and Elaine Aldred, and I read with Jonathan Taylor in the afternoon. A husband and wife act if you will. Jonathan's novel was shortlisted for the East Midlands Book Award and it was made public on the day.The shortlist also included Will Buckingham's novel The Descent of the Lyre which was a book I enjoyed reading last year. It was rather lovely to hear a reading from Alison Moore too. There was also ample opportunity to buy books as well and I purchased Angela France's Hide and Joel Lane's Flarestack pamphlet Instinct as well as others. It was also good to catch up with friends as well. If you're curious to have a look at exactly what the day consisted of have a look here.

The Opposite of Money

I have been miles away. My head is in another country. My thoughts are with my family in Cyprus, many of whom will be losing jobs, houses and a way of life they took for granted only a few weeks ago. For the last couple of weeks I have been plunged into a crash course on EU economics. I'd rather I didn't, but it's been necessary. This isn't a problem affecting a few wealthy people but an entire country. Even those with less than than the magic sum of 100,000 Euros are still going to be hugely affected. Schools and hospitals cannot afford to pay their staff. I worry that my mother, who has a long list of medical issues, won't be getting adequate health care. There is no NHS in Cyprus and right now there is no money. Of course I am scared.

Then I remember that I'm a writer. I should say 'oh, the guilt, what I do doesn't help anyone financially. I don't make any money out of poetry.' Hang on, I always knew poetry was the opposite of money, no one expected to make serious money out of writing did they? Especially poetry. I have a part-time job and I write poetry. That's me. I read this by Alison Brackenbury from 'In Their Own Words,' edited by George Szirtes and Helen Ivory: 'I think our planet is almost ruined. In poetry, as in life, I am now intent on survival...' and something struck a chord.

Then I think that writing can be liberating and that has little to do with money. I like starting a poem without a map, I don't want to write A Priori, I don't want to know where I'm going on a page even though in life I am bound to news reports, politics etc. I might have a moment of revelation and realise that I was writing about such and such after all. When I was a little girl I'd spend hours in Greek Orthodox churches. I didn't understand a word of what was going on most of the time, the services were in Middle Greek. I had one technique to keep me entertained. I'd look at the icons around me and try to make up a story which somehow plausibly involved jumping from one icon to another. One day I made up a story so terrible I burst into tears. I can't remember what it was now, but it moved me so much. The point is I was trying even then to make sense out of something that I couldn't understand, but without logic or a priori facts. Maybe that's what poets are trying to do, not bashing us with rhetoric or cold hard fact, but getting us to look differently so we realise we understood all along.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

My Father the Gambler...

I am somewhat allergic to writing competitions. I tend not to enter many and when I do I go for competitions where I know the money is contributing to something important. Most of them are. Call it poetry tax. The problem is though that I cannot see how anyone goes about winning anything, it seems so random and so subjective. Obviously someone does. I recently judged a poetry competition for Leicester Writer's Club and it was a real challenge settling on the winning and commended poems. I really enjoyed that experience and wanted to be a fair and considerate judge. I took the role very seriously indeed. It made me realise that being a judge is actually not straightforward at all, especially when you're giving feedback and dealing with dozens (or hundreds, or thousands) of hopeful entries. As an entrant are you competing or gambling?

My dad is about to turn 76 this year, he has gambling running through his veins. I swear that when his ship to England from Cyprus docked in '61 he must have headed straight for the betting shop. Growing up I watched my dad alternate from feelings of elation and frustration. He never watched the horse racing on TV quietly, there'd be a lot of high speed 'cmon, c'mon' and then a barrage of swear words when the wrong horse won. He always backed the wrong horse most of the time. When he did win he seemed generally very surprised, as if losing where in fact the expected outcome and winning was something alien. Me and my dad spent a lot of 'daddy-daughter' time engaged in gambling pursuits. I spent a lot of time outside William Hill waiting for him to place his bets, they were smoky, male places. Children weren't allowed. At home he'd read out the names of horses for me to pick and him to bet on. The 1989 Grand National was a lucky one. He read out the names and 'Little Polveir' stood out. 'Yes,' I said, Little Polvier!' He grunted a comment about it only being good for dog meat and put the bet on. I didn't like the Grand National much because I knew a horse was likely to die. Still, I insisted on Little Polveir. It won. I received £20 and my dad took out a commission fee. I was in Primary School by the way.

Spot the Ball
Spot the Ball was another family favourite. It seemed more artistic than the other games, you actually had to guess where the ball might be in the picture. It was like finishing off a painting for a great master.
I'm not sure if it was my father's favourite, but I loved that one. Then of course there was the Pools, everyone played the Pools until the lottery came about. You had to guess which football teams would achieve a score draw. My dad was convinced this was a science and not random. You could guess which teams could achieve a score draw. So when I was 8 or 9 I was brought a copy of Football 87, a sticker album which featured all the teams in the top divisions. You had to buy the stickers of all the players and teams. The album also featured lots of statistics and info about the teams as well. Somehow understanding football from the inside would help. The boys in my class were very impressed and we'd swap stickers and things. I think my dad really wanted to join in as well.

Fond Memories...

One Saturday I got several score draws and my dad was happy with the promise of £11 until he realised that one more and we would have been in the thousands. Or something like that, we were always one draw, horse, or ball away from a fortune. He would scowl, bemoan his lot, vanish into the kitchen.One more draw/ball/speedy horse and we'd be millionaires. Alack! Alas! Back to work on Monday then.

Then 1994 - the lottery. No more £3 or £10 there, it was £18 million here £7 million there. The good people of Acton were quivering with expectation and my dad was among them.

'Give me 6 numbers, Maria!' That would be on  a Friday.

I'd give him six numbers. Saturday night the lottery was on TV. Six little balls and a bonus ball would levitate on air and be chosen by an unseen force. We wouldn't win. It was of course my fault.

So the years went by, as they do. There was the odd win here and the odd win there. My dad aged in front of the TV. When he comes over from Cyprus he still sneaks into William Hill. What has this got to do with the more genteel world of poetry competitions? Surely there's more skill and delicacy involved. I suppose there is, but that feeling is just the same. I grew up with my dad experiencing that feeling. I'd see him waver between joy and scowling. He once won £800 on the horses, you should have seen the smile on his face. Bless him.