Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Night of 'The North' in Leicester and a Poem by Ann Sansom

A couple of months ago, a Londoner told me they were planning to head to Leicester. According to her, Leicester wasn't just north of London, it was (emphasis on the definite article) the North. I wasn't sure how to break it to her that Leicester is in the Midlands. Being a Londoner once myself, however, I was aware that everywhere north of Watford is usually the north to most Londoners. At the beginning of April, however, Ann and Peter Sansom, two poets utterly linked with the north on the poetry map, came south to join us for a reading in Leicester, the Midlands. This was for WORD! at the Y Theatre, a regular spoken word event which includes Open Mic readings, which I often write about here. There were Open Mic readings from Richard Byrt, Jayne Stanton and Michael Brewer and others.

I was lucky enough to be the support act, along with Roy Marshall, and read a few poems that had appeared or about to appear in the next issue of The North, the magazine edited by Ann and Peter. Earlier, the pair had held a workshop at De Montfort Uni, which was great for me as I literally finished work for the day and nipped over. Readers of this blog will know that I often pop up to Sheffield for workshops with Ann and Peter, run as part of their organisation The Poetry Business.

The evening was compered and organised by Pam Thompson, who also read some fine poems too. Both Peter and Ann read really well and Peter’s reading was warm and entertaining. I had heard him read once before in Leicester at States of Independence.  I’d never heard Ann, although I’d read quite a bit of her work, including the Bloodaxe collection In Praise of Men and Other People. Here's a pic of the cover:

I’m sharing Ann’s poem ‘Confirmation’ here; Ann very kindly gave me permission. This poem has previously appeared in The Rialto. Ann read it at WORD! and I thought there were so many interesting things going on in this poem. The tone is conversational perhaps and actually quite funny: ‘what miracle’s he going to perform on this, godforgiveus?’ but there’s a great deal of menace here.  I also learnt a new word, apparently ‘slaumed’ is a dialect word for smear.  What struck me in this poem is the way the school girls are made to literally work on their ‘knees’ for their visitor and then in their own social lives behave in a servile way. That final couplet, where the roadie is ‘here / and cocky and think yourself lucky.’ is compelling and you feel a bit sickened for the girl. I thought this poem was pin-sharp and here it is:  


In honour of His Grace, you had us on our knees for weeks,
‘a blessing on this visit and please god no silliness.’

Run ragged with dusters, shouted at for holey plimsolls,
threatened with expulsion, some broke down, distraught

in the branches of the forsynthia arranging, or, bright black with Brasso,
muttered in the trophy cupboard, ‘he’d better be worth it the bastard.’

We slaumed silver paint on the refectory radiator, lugged planks
to make an altar in the gym, ‘what’s up with the table we always have?

What miracle’s he going to perform on this, godforgiveus?’
But we were whispering by then, disappointed by the almighty

but holding our breath when He drew up. We queued and bobbed
to kiss his glove, got te absolvoed, took the slap to strengthen us.

Amen. Friday night: Roy Orbison invited Kath McMahon
to his dressing room at the Odeon, Bo Diddley’s drummer

got Jacintha Malley’s phone number, Gerry Marsden’s roadie
Instructed, I forget who it was, on the needs of the elderly

balding purple silky not so godly nor entirely manly, but here
and cocky and think yourself lucky. Obedience. We knew our place.

Thank you, Sister Mary Frances. 

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.