Top Marks: Charlotte Wetton, Calder Valley Poetry and the Poetry Business

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[At The British Library after the Michael Marks Awards. Charlotte Wetton, winner of the pamphlet prize for ‘I Refuse to Turn into a Hatstand’ (published by Calder Valley Poetry), her mum, Jenni, to her right, Chief Judge Ruth Padel to her left.]

What a month it’s been for poetry in general, for the poets and poetry of the north, and for good friends in particular. A couple of weeks ago it was Kim Moore with the Geoffrey Faber Award. Last night it was the prestigious Michael Marks Pamphlet awards in London.

I’m doubly happy about Charlotte’s success. I heard the title poem in November last year at a Sheffield book launch for The Poetry Business. Billy Collins had picked it as one of the winners of the Yorkshire Prize for a single poem….part of the Poetry Business International Pamphlet Competition.  And now it’s won a prize that carries many good things with it…including, I think, a residency in Greece. What’s also nice is to open the pamphlet and recognise poems that I’ve seen in Albert Poets Monday night workshops in Huddersfield. Because Charlotte is one of the many poets who’s been part of the mutual support service that is the Albert Poets.If you follow the cobweb, then you’ll know all about how much I and so many others owe them.

And here’s the thing. It was because of the Albert workshops that I met up again with Bob Horne, who I worked with in the the 80’s and early 90’s, and then didn’t see again for over 20 years. And guess who published Charlotte’s pamphlet…Calder Valley Poetry. What an achievement! Two years ago, Calder Valley Poetry didn’t exist. Since Bob started it he’s published 15 titles. There are many more in the pipeline. The story of the C V P has been told on the cobweb before. You can read it by following this link.

https://johnfogginpoetry.com/2016/12/28/first-pressings-2-bob-horne-and-calder-valley-poetry/

Or you can get the picture from this extract

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There seem to be hundreds of small poetry presses about, and I imagine they struggle to make a living, competing as they do for what is essentially a niche market;something led you think: there’s room for another. What was the trigger that persuaded you to set up your own publishing venture?

“Publishing had been on my mind for 12 months, since a conversation at The Albert Poets with Stephanie Bowgett and John Duffy.  I asked why they hadn’t published anything since the 90s. They’re both such good poets that it seemed odd to me. They both replied, immediately, that they couldn’t be bothered with all the hassle. I thought then, well,  I can be bothered on your behalf. I then helped Simon Zonenblick  with Nuala Fagan’s chapbook Not All Birdsong, and thoroughly enjoyed the design and editing parts of the process, which is when I decided I’d set up my own small press. Actually, I think I was intending to continue assisting Simon, and he suggested I set up my own. I came up with the name Calder Valley Poetry, wondered how and when I’d get going.”

 

Hang on to that simple thought.  I can be bothered on your behalfCalder Valley Poetry was created out of an impulse of generosity, and continues to publish poets who you may not have heard of (unless you happen to go to readings and workshops around West Yorkshire, and the Calder and Ryburn Valleys in particular)and some, like Steve Ely* and Peter Riley, who you’ll certainly know. Alison Lock, Gaia Holmes* & Winston Plowes, John Duffy*, Mark Hinchcliffe*, Michael Haslam, Mike Di Placido*, Neil Clarkson, Nigel King, Peter Riley, Stephanie Bowgett* (and me). All the starred *poets have featured as guests on the cobweb; check them out  And then head over to the Calder Valley Bookshop by using this link

Bookshop

And, finally. There’s hardly a post goes by when I fail to sing the praises of The Poetry Business. So many of us owe so much to Ann and Peter Sansom, who for over 30 years, have been discovering, nurturing, championing and publishing new poets. And you know what? I love the fact that their house journal is called The North. So well done and tickertape parades to them for winning the publisher’s award this year.

Right, break out the bubbly, raise your glasses and raise the roof for Charlotte Wetton, for Bob Horne and CVP, and for the utterly wonderful and awesome Poetry Business.

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A church full of trees and a Polished Gem: Sue Vickerman

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Sunday Dec 1oth : 12.30

This time last week I  was heading out of Pickering, not on my usual route to Whitby, past the Hole of Horcum and over Fylingdales Moor (which is as close to flying as you get in a car) but by Rosedale, through villages in the tight little valleys that were still full of snow and snowmen. Proper snowmen, with twig arms and carrot noses and scarves and c aps…they do things right in the Dales. Then up over the Castleton Road, with its endless horizons, and glimpses of distant grey sea, to stop and visit The Seated Man. I’ve wanted to see him ever since pictures of him started to turn up on social media. Over 3 metres high, cast in bronze and painted in what seems to be enamel…..sitting on his campstool with his satchel on his knees, looking out over Westerdale.

It’s hard to tell what he’s thinking. For me he was thinking that he’s got miles to go before he sleeps. Perhaps it was because I was trying to shake off a cold, and I was heading off to a writing week, and thinking that maybe I had nothing that I especially wanted to say;  there was a cold wind, and though it’s an easy half mile walk over the moor, it was wet and mucky, and I felt as though the batteries had all run down. Whatever. The seated man has the air of one who does what he sets his mind to. It might be hard, and he might not feel like it, but it needs to be done and it will be. I think he will be my role model.

So off I went to Whitby, worrying about whether I’d write anything worth a tinker’s toss, and equally, about Christmas, about things done and not done in preparation, and the annual resentment of supermarkets all tinselled up in November…all that. And then you walk into a church full of christmas trees and lights, and you watch a sunset through the dark ruins of the abbey, and stare at the grey sea running and breaking white, and everything’s fine. You might write. You might not. It doesn’t matter, because the world is complicatedly wonderful, and doesn’t care whether you write anything or not. It’s just that if you worry about the writing, you’ll miss what’s going on. Eliot had it nailed down. You have the experience but miss the meaning. Let it be.

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I had a nice week with people I like a lot, came home, and yesterday  bought a Christmas tree, trimmed it to fit in its base, and we got all the Christmas trimmings down from the Christmas cupboard. The house is full of coloured light, and I cannot understand how grumpy I felt a week ago. The Seated Man understands….just do it. It’ll be right.

So, enough with the ‘what I did on my holidays’, and on with what you come here for, which is poems and poets. I met today’s guest, Sue Vickerman, when we were guest poets at the Beehive Poets in Bradford in early November. I didn’t know her, or about her, or her work. How that could be, I have no idea…..I don’t get out out and about enough, I suppose. What I do know is that I liked her voice and her poems; I liked the moments that draw you in. The moments that make you want to buy the book and hear it all again. As it happens, Sue’s newest pamphlet Adventus could not be better timed….because it’s an Advent collection, and a lot more sustaining than an advent calendar with cheap chocolate behind the doors. As we shall see. But let me introduce her.

She was born in Bradford and has lived on four continents. She spent five years in a remote Scottish lighthouse where two of her poetry collections Shag and The social decline of the oystercatcher came into being. She has supervised the publication of Kunst, a poetry collection by her invented protegee, the erratic poet and life-model Suki;  Sue has co-written a third poetry collection with Suki, Thin bones like wishbones (Indigo Dreams 2013). An international readership follows the ‘Suki’ character’s online serialised life-story – a tale both funny and desolate.

Sue‘s paid employment has been incoherent, ranging through teaching for a decade with long stints abroad, picking apples, writing academic and current affairs articles, working for the Methodist Church, support work with the homeless, cathedral tour-guiding in Berlin, mindless grafting for local authorities, German-English translation, and delivering poetry workshops in Scottish schools. Returning latterly to Yorkshire, Sue co-founded The word birds Poetry Showcase with whom she has performed UK-wide.

She has received three Arts Council (UK) awards for her poetry, novels and short stories, and garnered some glowing reviews and endorsements:  ‘Passionate, laconic poetry’ (UA Fanthorpe), ‘salt-drenched – I loved it’ (Sandi Toksvig), ‘Excellent’ (Bloodaxe’s Neil Astley), ‘piercingly topical – a glorious achievement’ (Magnus Magnusson).

Her poems have appeared in Orbis, The Rialto, Acumen, Stand, The North, Smiths Knoll, Other Poetry, Mslexia and Envoi, and have been included in anthologies by Diamond Twig, Polygon, the 2001 Lancaster LitFest, and others. One of her poems was shortlisted for the 2010 Bridport Prize.. Sue’s work was also highly commended in the Arvon Postcard Competition and commended in the Ver Poetry Competition.
(at which point I chip in with a mea culpa…she’s been around for ages.Why didn’t I know? It seems that everyone else did.)

Sue’s latest poetry collection Adventus is 24 poems which, though perennials, may be read as daily pre-Christmas reflections from 1st December. Or, this year, from the 11th. Sue sent me three poems for the cobweb, and before we get to Adventus, I want to start with one that gives you some idea of the range you can expect.

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A translation of Verspielt by Kathrin Schmidt

 

so the buzzard let go of the berries

he was carrying under his wings and soared

over the village church, casting his shadow

into the yard onto the child, a girl

skipping on the forecourt, her little legs

dictated his imminent

split-second timing, plaits

bouncing on quick breaths, ratatat

of wingbeats, his attack so fast our eyes

barely took in the impact, and us so slow

to react, realize

it might be our daughter.

 

Sue’s provided the background to the translation:

“I went to meet and interview the writer GDR-born writer Kathrin Schmidt for the first time this summer at her Berlin home. She is now supporting me to try for an Arts Council grant to translate her poems, only seven of which currently exist in English – and I think I can do a better job than her first translator.

Kathrin is a renowned novelist. She won the German Book Prize in 2011 with Du Stirbst Nicht which was translated into 20 languages but never yet into English. I could start a rant about what this says about the English-language publishing world and how ‘worth’ is evaluated, but you’re probably in the picture. Anyway as a poet I am focused on her four poetry collections dating back to the early 80s.

My motivations are various and personal. I want to have a foot in mainland Europe to help me bear the grimness of Brexit. I don’t need to extoll the virtues of Berlin; I did live there for a couple of years, have always revisited regularly, and have just counted up that I now have more friends there than in London, where I also lived once and which now gets a sour look from me, up here as I am in the disadvantaged, disdained and ignored north.

Which brings me to my intentional selection of an East German poet of roughly my own age. The reason is, I would always, when living in East Berlin shortly after reunification, identify more closely with East German peers than West Germans.  As a little child in grey industrial working-class Labour-voting Bradford in the sixties, my circumstances and experiences more closely parallel those of the just-get-on-with-it Osies than the affluent Wesies who had cars, fridges, central heating, cameras, house telephones…

So I sought out East German women poets in their fifties and chose Kathrin for her biography as well as her poems. She is a left-wing feminist and was politically active at the time of reunification. Her poems are not the easiest. I’ll need to go on speaking to her and reading everything I can about her and also discuss with native Germans to be sure of getting all the cultural references. Furthermore she uses a lot of wordplay – sometimes as playful as the supreme word-play poet Ernst Jandl, whose poems are often transmuted rather than translated, which would be impossible; his poems’ messages or points of fun have to be conveyed by poems of parallel ideas.  Kathrin’s poems are a massive challenge to me: I studied Theology, not German. But I’m really excited by the whole new world of poetry translation unfolding before me. And another motive for this endeavour is to use Kathrin’s poems as triggers for poems of my own.

So Brexit is at least proving good for my brain’s health, making me stuff German  into it daily with the ambition of becoming bilingual so I can give this my best shot. ”

I thought this well worth posting…and not just for its sense of mission, and its fellow-feeling. I just wanted to say that though I know no German, and next to nothing about the principles and challenges of translation, here’s a poem that makes me want to know more of and about Kathrin Schmidt. This poem drew me in from the first line, the way its alliteration sets up a kinetic dance that energises the whole poem, which is full of staccato movement. I love the precision of all those consonants, the way the narrative is packed into one short sequence; I love the filmic editing, the perspective shifts, and finally, the dark turn of the last line which switches the world into that of the folk tales of careless parents, lost children and shapeshifters. As I say, I don’t know the original and I know no German, but I’m prepared to bet that if this was my poem I’d feel well-served by its translator and her ear and her craft.

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*Adventus is a slim pamphlet, but jammed with riches. It starts with The coming, the Brexiteers’ imagined nightmare of a horde of refugees appearing as a deluge on the rim of the moors above a Pennine valley….it’s comically, horribly realised. And it’s right. This is Advent, the coming of a child from a temporarily displaced small family in the Middle East. The collection riffs on themes of motherhood, of the condition of the refugee, on marital stress, on sibling rivalry. There are many voices. The landscapes range from Nazareth to Withernsea via Berlin. The forms range from couplets, triplets, blank verse, a prosepoem, regular 5 and 6 line stanzas to Ginsberg-inspired 17-syllable lines, and (one splendidly insouciant) ghazals. It’s serious, playful, loving,  bleak and joyous. So you know that you just have to buy it…the ultimate stockingfiller for someone you love who knows good writing. Two poems to give you the taste…then off you go (please) to Amazon. First, the wise men of good northern stock….who you hear via the distracting echoes of T S Eliot’s Journey of the Magi. A cold coming.

The three wise men

 

To cap it all it was cold. Really cold,

and rough terrain, and all of us old,

and nearly coming to blows over the route

through those dark dunes to get to the bairn,

 

and we were loaded up. So heavily loaded

and the camels weren’t good. How they groaned

under all that gold. But we had a role,

and there is no record of us moaning,

 

nothing of three wise men with frost-bitten toes

missing strong brown Yorkshire tea

in that strong-brown-tea-forsaken desert

and nobbut camels’ milk, no cows,

 

and no really boiling water, nor proper pot,

and blaming each other for who’d forgotten it

and as we plodded, read in the stars the laddie’s fate –

what we each thought we could well foresee –

 

but disagreed on every time and every date,

and finally had to agree to disagree.

 

There’s more to this than meets the ear, isn’t there? A story of redemption, about which no one can agree. Especially the officially wise. I’ll finish with another monologue which, unsurprisingly, stood out at the reading at The New Beehive. It’s the one that straight away made me want to buy the collection. It’s another with a distinctive voice, another with its own dark humour. It’s not ‘typical’ of the poems in Adventus…mainly because there are aren’t any that are ‘typical’. Each is distinctive and different, as befits an advent calendar of a book, where each turned page is a door into a new and fresh surprise.

Jesus’s big sister

 

It’s not in the bible, what he had to put up with

in that stable, poked with a sharp straw –

his torn, sore mother too weak, Joseph

dealing with guests – that poor child

smothered nearly to death with false kisses.

What did it do to him,  having hot wax

dripped on his cheek, his blanket set fire to?

 

The shepherd starts saying All I’ve brought is

but Big Sister snatches his lamb: I want that!

You take the brat. The scuffle wakes Jesus.

She stings his face with donkey-poo bullets

then spots a gift tucked into the manger.

Frankincense. She flings it everywhere, Joseph

laughing it off, putting the myrrh on a top shelf,

the kings nice about it – she has made a temple,

holy air, the first woman to honour him.

Take our word – they’ll come in droves, beg

for his touch, clean his feet with their hair.

Big Sister gives them the finger.

 

And when her brother shines at theology

she snickers at the back mocking him,

smokes pot, flunks her catechism.

My brother thinks he’s so good. Arsehole.

Down the souk Saturdays, she starts nicking

 

and at night, on the shared roof where they lie

on their mats beneath the stars, she spits

bad words at him – When you were born

I dropped out of our parents’ orbit. Bastard –

he silent, she sneering into the dark  –

you make me puke. Why love everyone?

People hate people like you.

 

Every good thing, she does a big yawn.

When it turns out he has healing gifts

she goes in the dunes with camel-men

then when his ministry takes off full-blown,

she steals the gold and elopes to Babylon.

 

What made him forgive so much sinning?

Why didn’t he hate all females? His mum

For letting her bully him; Mary Magdalene?

How come, right through, Jesus still loved women?

 

There’s a poem that ends with a question worth the asking. Thank you Sue Vickerman for being our guest on a December Sunday with snow coming down.

The next three posts will celebrate a particular milestone, with three special guests who have been in one way or another inspirational for me. They won’t necessarily appear on Sundays, but I’m hopeful that the third will be on New Year’s Eve. I’m looking forward to seeing you all again, and hope that your Christmas tree hangs on to its needles. Oh, and if you were wondering, the church full of trees is St Mary’s in Whitby. Worth climbing all the steps for.

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*Adventus.    [Naked Eye 2017]    £7.50

 

 

Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize

The Great Fogginzo’s Cobweb was expecting to celebrate a particular event with three guests posts. The headliner was to be Kim Moore. Well, this puts the cherry on the cake, the angel on the tree and the star in the heavens. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll be hearing from her on the cobweb before Christmas. Kim Moore, my mate and my inspiration.

Kim Moore

A quick interruption of the 16 Days of Activism posts I’ve been doing for some happier news.

My book The Art of Falling was awarded the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize yesterday.

The Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize is awarded to a poetry book one year and a novel the next.

I’ve been in London for the last couple of days – on Wednesday evening I went for dinner with my husband and my lovely editor at Seren, Amy Wack, and her husband.

Yesterday at lunchtime we went to the Faber offices and I was presented with the prize.  It was a really lovely event – I just had to read one poem from the book.  Everyone was really friendly.

I also did an interview over the phone with The Guardian, which happened so quickly that there wasn’t much time to get nervous about it – you can read the article here

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Crowdfunding with Anthony Wilson: in praise of anthologies

Anthony Wilson’s crowdfunder is something you can really get behind. You can be part of a venture to launch a new anthology of poems that really ought to get more attention. All the details you need are available by following this link

https://unbound.com/books/no-one-you-know

Not only that, but in support of crowdfunding their new anthology of poems, No One You Know, with Unbound, Sue Dymoke and Anthony are starting a series of blog posts about anthologies which have influenced us as readers and writers. The first one is about an anthology that inspired me. Again…just follow the link

Discovering Geoffrey Summerfield’s Worlds

Anthony also writes

We would be interested to know which anthologies got you, our readers, going.

So here goes with a reworking of a post I wrote a couple of years ago. Your favourite anthology might be something like The Rattle Bag. Mine are ones that initially kept my head above water as a young teacher, and then introduced me to a world of poetry. Here we go:

 

The Best of…………..

……..punk, bluebeat, blues, rhythm and soul, Bob Dylan, the 80’s, Motown, Stax, Atlantic, Leonard Cohen, ska, Reggae Greats, Miles Davis. A flavour of my record collection. I reckon 80% of it is compilations. Very few single albums that hold my attention all the way through. Albums without a dud track. Cohen’s ‘I’m your man’. Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ (although you could argue that it’s actually a compilation of great artists). ‘Who’s next’. Tom Russell:’The man from God knows where’. I’m pushed to think of many more, off-hand. And I’m a bit like that about poetry, though that’s been changing over the last three or four years. Anthologies. That’s been my thing. Maybe that’s why I frequently go blank at poetry events when friends talk with great familiarity about poets I’m not sure I’ve heard of, and feel a bit gauche when poet friends post photographs of new collections they’ve bought in a retail frenzy at this or that poetry festival. So this week’s cobweb strand is in praise of anthologies and anthologists…or, at least, one particular anthologist. OK. Close your books, tidy your pens, sit up straight, look this way, remember it’s your own time you’re wasting and now…..

….let me take you back to 1972, when the then Education Minister, one Margaret Thatcher of blessed memory, ordered a review of the teaching of English. It was the first of a long series of attempts (which grew more successful over the years) to take political control of the school curriculum, and of English in particular. What it produced was hardly what she hoped for. The report was ‘Language for life’ (popularly the Bullock Report)…a generally humane and informed document, which you might have expected of HMI. It’s taken SATS, league tables and OFSTED to put the kibosh on that kind of subversive lefty nonsense. What we have in its place is government ministers sounding off about how we should teach the history of the First World War, and what poetry should be force-fed to the children of Albion, and how. And now…..

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….as the wheel turns inexorably full circle, let me take you back another twenty years when I passed my 11+ and went to Batley Grammar School and was presented with Book One of a series of five English course books written by a man who sold at least 70 million copies of his prolific output by the time he died in some comfort in the 1990s. You might not remember just how drab and battered English course books used to be, but just to be clear, that jazzed up ‘contemporary’ later stuff was just as stuffed with clause analysis, punctuation exercises, comprehension exercises, jumbled proverbs and all the rest of the nonsense. Oh, and each chapter would begin with a bit of text, an extract of prose and, maybe twice in any one book, a poem. The one I remember from Book One was something by Masefield. Followed by exercises that sqeezed every last ounce of syntactic, grammatical, and vocabulary juice out of it.

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Of course, we were offered books of poetry which contained no exercises. But generations of desperate pencilled marginal notes. Palgrave’s Golden Treasuries, and the deeply dispiriting, but jauntily alliterative Paths to Parnassus: The poet’s pageant. I remember the second one from the  stock cupboards in my first teaching job. Exercises and heritage. Whose heritage was never in question. Probably not that of the lads I taught on my first teaching practice at Wharrier Street Secondary Modern School in Walker on Tyneside..alma mater to the great Eric Burdon, as it happens. So the question would arise. If you don’t want this stuff, what’ll take its place? All my secondary and university education in English Lit. stopped dead round about 1916. I was well up on prose fiction…northern realists like Sillitoe, Stan Barstow, John Braine, Keith Waterhouse, and I was totally sold on the short stories of Dylan Thomas. And I was shortly immersed in a golden age of children’s fiction. Alan Garner, Joan Aiken, Robert Westall, all of them. But I simply didn’t know enough poetry to offer an alternative to what seemed to be on offer.. The Bullock Report noted it was still a problem in 1972.

‘The teacher is often faced with the task of showing that poetry is not some inaccessible form of utterance, but that it speaks directly to children, as to anyone else, and has something to say which is relevant to their living here and now.

BUT

It is exceptionally difficult for the individual teacher to keep abreast of all the new poetry that is published. Indeed, except for those with a particular interest in it there is often a time lag, so that the teacher is not aware of much of the work produced in the last two decades. A good anthology will do a great deal to introduce teacher and pupil alike to new and unfamiliar material, but it should not be a substitute for the extensive reading of poetry by the teacher himself.’

I remember reading that bit about anthologies not being a substitute for extensive reading. I didn’t know whether I felt guilty or indignant. Because what I believed then, and still believe, is that the best anthologies offer the shared experience of an committed enthusiast’s extensive reading. It’s taken me a long time to get round to standing up for anthologies. But here goes.

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For years, the BBC ran a schools’ radio series called Books Plays and Poems,  lovely landscape format booklets that accompanied the programmes and in the mid 60’s they were the first source I had of an eclectic mix of poetry that included contemporary work (including the lyrics of Penny Lane). They had photographs in them, too! Imagine. And then, in my fifth year of teaching along came Geoffrey Summerfield’s Voices [Penguin. 1970]. It was the first of a series of four anthologies, and pretty soon accompanied by four more Junior Voices.

 

And here’s the thing; they not only didn’t look remotely like school books, but they didn’t read like school books either. They were full of surprises, and, in the case of Junior Voices, they had stunning imagery in colour. They were books you could sit and browse, and every page brought a fresh surprise, if, like me and the rest of the teachers The Bullock Report talked about, you didn’t know much about poetry and poets and poems (unless they were on O and A Level syllabuses).

What’s more, none of them seemed to have designs on a reader, other than to share a boundless enthusiasm and apparently encyclopaedic knowledge. They were eclectic and exciting. They weren’t overtly thematically organised, so there was none of that invitation to compare and contrast we were all programmed into. It was all done by smart juxtapositions.Let me tell you who they introduced me to. Roethke, Elizabeth Jennings, e e cummings, John Clare, Basho, Stanley Cooke, Norman MacCaig, Woody Guthrie, Elizabeth Bishop, Gary Snyder, Patricia Beer, Yevtushenko, Neruda. They sold me on Sylvia Plath’s ‘You’re’, and Ted Hughes’ Hawk roosting, and Auden’s Musee des beaux arts. There were medieval riddle poems, and playful stuff like ones from Alastair Reid’s Ounce, dice, trice. Haiku and and shape poems. Carlos Williams. Maybe it was Summerfield’s connection with NYU, but there were lots of American poets who I would otherwise never have come across. It was the inclusion of MacCaig’s I took my mind a walk that ended up with my reading his collected works, beginning to end. Years later. But that was the seed. Those anthologies opened my eyes and ears to world I had no idea existed.

And that wasn’t all. Hard on their heels, in 1974, came Geoffrey Summerfield’s Worlds

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And for me, as for Anthony Wilson, this one was truly a revelation.  ‘Worlds, says Anthony, ‘is one of the most important books in my life.’ I’ll second that. It will come as no surprise, I suppose, to discover that you can now only buy second- hand copies of these lovely books. Meanwhile, Coles Notes go from strength to strength, and supermarkets stock books of exercises to drill your children through their SATs and their phonics, and so the world turns,and the mills of Gove grind exceeding fine. Thank god for Geoffrey Summerfield and Michael Rosen and the rest, and whoever picks up their mantle in coming years

Now, it may well be that lots of you have parallel experiences. Anthony and Sue would be delighted to hear about them. But before I go, I want to say a word about about a different way of encountering an anthology. I’ve been going to Ann and Peter Sansom’s Poetry Business writing days for a good long time. In the process I realise they’ve assembled a very special anthology for me. Very often, a writing exercise will begin around, or from, a photocopied poem. I’ve religiously trimmed them down and stuck them in my workbooks so I know which poem triggered which draft or prose ramble. And now I have probably a couple of hundred, and in the process I’ve realised that these workshops have done for me now what Voices and Junior Voices and Worlds did, way back when. Without them I’d never have met Alison McVety, Thomas Lux, Billy Collins, Liz Berry, Martina Evans, Frank o’Hara, Tishani Doshi, Matthew Sweeney, Robert Van Dias, Claudi Jessop, Stewart Conn…and on and on it goes.

That’s what a great anthology is. The shared experience of folk who know more than you and who fill you with enthusiasm to know more than you do. To want more of the best of the best of. If that was all very teacherly, I guess it’s what I do. Certainly what I did for 40 years. Hard to shake off.

Not sure who’ll be the guest next week. But he or she will be stellar. Promise.

 

Family affairs and other stories. With Laura Potts, and a Polished Gem: Rebecca Gethin

Putting together a post some weeks ago about ‘Sequences’ (thank you, Pascale Petit, Keith Hutson and Steve Ely) I said something on the lines that we could all write sequences about our own families, and that many of us do. I discover photos that were stuck in envelopes among my grandma’s effects in a desk I inherited. I know that her dad was a coachman, that she started work in a mill before she was 8, that her husband John had been a travelling asphalter ( among other things). I look  at these photos, and wonder if John is one of the gang of lads working on that pier, wherever it might be, or if my great-grandfather is in this group on the steps of what seems to be a grand house. We  tap in to the natural curiosity that drives TV programmes like ‘Who do you think you are?’ in which folk with varying degrees of celebrity discover, with what sometimes feels like theatrical distress, that folk they never knew were criminals, or were incarcerated in asylums, or were bigamists, or…well, you know the kind of thing. Programmes like this have no time for quotidian lives, ordinary lives, not liking to face up the the truth that there’s no such thing as ‘ordinary’, or recognising the truth of what Norman MacCaig spelled out

“how ordinary

extraordinary things are or

how extraordinary ordinary

things are, like the nature of the mind

and the process of observing.”

An ordinary day [1964]

 

We’ve got two guests today who demonstrate exactly what he was getting at. Laura Potts, first. I went to a reading at The Beehive Inn in Bradford a few months ago, when Laura, in introduction to one of her poems, said something about an unnerving discovery she made while exploring her NE roots. I asked her to write about it for the cobweb. And I’m delighted to say that she did.

Newcastle in the 1800's (10)

” I come from an unknown people.

Grandparents gone, siblingless parents, and none of my own. No cousins or uncles to speak of. That old, lost and probably long-dead aunt in the highlands or even entirely off this island ceased to be named years ago. It is a stranded existence to live in a city without ties at all. We were dropped here and everyone fled.

Stranded, maybe, but free too. I have never been bound by the figures and facts of family, or a history which is true and absolute. Doubt and endless hope have been the impetus behind my work. The sheer not knowing, and the search to find a past in which truth will always elude me, have formed the stimuli to write. That past can take a thousand forms and speak in countless tongues. Few photographs exist. It is a vacuum which promises endless creation, and I know nothing else that burns so brightly.

So how does the becoming begin? In this void, without the touchstone of truth (if such a thing even exists), from where does the narrative come? The process is threefold: observation, instinct and artefact.

Living between the same two people for my twenty-one years, I have come to see them as the only living gateways to my past. They think therefore they are much more than single sets of DNA, and for the last few years my end has been to study them intensely: from simple physicalities to interacting with the world around them, my parents are the opposite of ‘whole’ or ‘structured’ bodies. In sudden mood switches and changes of heart, in moments of pain or startling danger, and in their convergence/divergence from the different dogmas which move around them I find the fragments of many people. Even in the slightest idiosyncrasies and facial quirks I see the sparks of bygone lives. They may now embody two very different forms, but they live nonetheless.

Some may call this ‘people-watching’, and it is a process I find even more difficult to apply to myself. ‘Instinct’ is the rough word I give to self-appraisal and contemplation. Simply, this is the process of asking yourself how you might react in a given situation. When I have written of the past – of a dockland prostitute, of a grieving mother, of a cheated wife – I have taken long days to let the scene clot and grow in the subconscious mind before writing. Usually, this is a protracted period of pain and a series of feelings I have rarely felt before. I usually also find that this is where the structure of a piece might evolve: painful contemplation often produces a fragmented structure without regular rhyme or meter, for example. Often this is a time of pleasure-pain: as an intensely private person, long and lonely contemplation is more cathartic than anything else, but can also give the ‘thousand shocks’ of sadness.

And finally, much of writing is reading and I will always believe that the best writers are the best readers. Where else to find the life of art than in the living, breathing world outside? This is the ‘artefact’: the hours of reading and headached research that goes into each poem I write. This is never just art for art’s sake: my work has always been a historicist endeavour. Contemporaneous and secondary sources, from paintings and poems to historical and legal documents, are always at hand if you look long enough. True, I have few family photographs of my own. But that does not mean I cannot find those out there that do. There are endless resources right at your fingers: The British Library, The Oxford English Dictionary, The Carlyle Letters Online, Literary Manuscripts at The Brotherton Library (Leeds University), Vogue Archive, Project MUSE, The Times Digital Archive, Victorian Popular Culture, 19th Century British Newspapers… I could go on. But if (as unfortunate as the thought may be) I am going to take my place in Eliot’s ‘Great Tradition’, then I am going to do it knowing exactly what that Tradition is. And where I would like to be.

This should see me right.”

 

And so it should. It caught me off-balance, that flatly stated fact of felt dispossession. It caught my breath because I come from a big extended family full of cousins and aunts, who all, it seemed, told stories about the family. There were gaps and mistellings, and downright untruths. But, a lot of stories that somehow I belonged with. I had to read this more than once:

Grandparents gone, siblingless parents, and none of my own. No cousins or uncles to speak of. That old, lost and probably long-dead aunt in the highlands or even entirely off this island ceased to be named years ago. It is a stranded existence to live in a city without ties at all. We were dropped here and everyone fled.”

At the same time, I’m excited by Laura’s manifesto:

“But if (as unfortunate as the thought may be) I am going to take my place in Eliot’s ‘Great Tradition’, then I am going to do it knowing exactly what that Tradition is. And where I would like to be.”

What it’s made me think of is that argument thread on Facebook recently….the one about ‘writing what you know’. Laura reminds me that the best poetry comes out of writing from what you know into the unknown, the stuff you want to know, the stuff that helps you define your identity, the stuff that you don’t ‘know’ until you find what it is by writing it.

Which brings us to our guest poet for today. I’d ‘discovered’ Rebecca Gethin via Kim Moore’s wonderful blog The Sunday Poem’ and then finally met her this summer at the Lewes Poetry Festival, where she read from a new collection of poems All the Time in the World based on her discovery of a bundle of her mother’s letters, and from that, via her poems, the discovery of a mother she didn’t have enough time to know.  Rebecca Gethin’s mother died of cancer at the tragically early age of thirty-two, leaving two very young children. These poems are the poet’s response to the letters that her mother wrote when she was dying, which have only recently come to light. And here’s Rebecca to tell us about the process of that discovery.

All the Time in the World was written in one month while I was on a retreat at Hawthornden Castle.  If I hadn’t had that concentrated amount of time on my own to think and reflect and with no domesticities to do I’d never had written it.  I needed to enter into and stay attentive to that space in my head and heart.  The ordinary interruptions of life would have made this impossible.

Only two years before, I’d been given a small envelope of frail and flimsy letters written by my mother to her sister and her mother as she lay dying in hospital (60 years before).  A cousin found them in an attic. Before that I had never seen her handwriting so seeing her script gave me a massive shock in my heart.  It was as if her handwriting conveyed her voice to me.  The few scraps of letters answered a few questions and provoked more unanswerable questions.  I had actually put them away because it was all too much to take in.  But something made me pack them when I was leaving to go to Hawthornden as I did feel I wanted to write a poem or two about them and I was worried about running out of subject matter while I was there and this was to be my emergency fall-back kit.

As soon as I got there I read the letters many times and began to know them off by heart. I’d use her own phrases to start me off on a line of thinking which I’d write about.  There was no date order so I couldn’t be sure of chronology and I guessed that.  I deliberately cut out too much poetic technique as I wanted to stay as close to the experience as possible and not be distanced by metaphor, simile, rhyme.  One or two poems turned into a short sequence which morphed into more and yet more.  I wasn’t sure if any of them were any good and as I was determined to write at least one good one, I just kept going.  They were short on the whole, little flames of thought and feeling that came in response to her words. I wanted to bring her back to life for myself and leave out myself right out of it.  Over a period of time I began to think she was with me and, in fact, had been so all my life but I hadn’t noticed.  (I have no faith although she had bucketloads. )  I walked every afternoon and she came with me, just a comfortable presence. I remember wondering if I became her!

Along the way, I made discoveries, things like her doctor sister must have been asked to give her the bad news that she had a cancer which was terminal.  And I realised I remembered an incident she mentioned: my last visit to her in hospital although I didn’t know it was the last (so 2 year olds do remember things). They kept things from children in those days and I hadn’t a clue what was going on.  Strangely, I also remembered a perfectly ordinary bathtime and I wondered why. So that is also in the booklet but not strictly speaking part of the letters (okay, so I do sneak in now and then).

With growing excitement, I discovered I might have enough for a whole pamphlet so started shuffling papers around even though some of the poems seemed so incredibly small.  My confidence often left me however.  Even so, I decided on the order while I was in my bubble at Hawthornden where there was plenty of space to lay the poems out and I read them over and over again and found an inner logic. I thought that if I were writing a narrative I might well move the sections around to create suspense or mystery so I used what I had learned from novel writing. The title came from a phrase in a letter.

When I returned home I tried to edit them but found that having left the bubble I couldn’t fiddle with any of them apart from a little punctuation here and there: it felt like sacrilege. I tried to check on my ordering but it was fixed already and wouldn’t be altered. Helena Nelson read them and gave me a huge amount of encouragement for which I am very grateful.  But the title suddenly didn’t seem usable as there were at least two other books with that title and it was, I thought, a bit of a cliché.  But nothing else fitted half so well….

I never submitted any of the poems to magazines as I felt it was all one long poem and they stood or fell on their own.  And I also knew they weren’t to be a section in a collection. All together and separate or nothing.

all the time in the world

So there they are. I was astonished when Cinnamon Press published them and with the title ‘All the Time in the World’ (none of the other books of that title were poetry) and have been even more so when people say how touched they have been by something about my mother. It’s almost as if I am not there. ”

You can read a fine review of All the time in the world by following this link. https://thebelatedwriter.wordpress.com/2017/05/01/all-the-time-in-the-world-by-rebecca-gethin/#comment-232

And then you can buy it. In the meantime, you can ponder on the notion of a writer wanting to leave herself ‘right out of it’. The more I think on that, the more I want to emulate it. But it’s time for poems.

Frugality   

 

She likes to be of use, so in her hospital bed,

my mother is darning socks with fine wool.

With the needle she draws the yarn over

and under her warp thread without causing

a pucker, checking the tension to mesh a flat disc

across the hole. Smooth as an obol.

By the time each is done, she’ll have touched

the yarn all along its length as it moved through her hand,

felt its spring and bounce.   But before she finishes

her supply (there’s still two ounces left)

she asks her mother to bring in more wool

of the same colour so she can keep mending

enough socks to last.

 

Just like her –

 

She could read a book

do crosswords

or paint her nails

but she prefers to work.

So, on the subject of mending socks,

she writes I’ve all the time in the world.

 

I wonder if we have to wait to reach an age age where we can really imagine our parents. I think this is even more poignant because the actual memories stop when this poet is two years old, and what she brings to the ‘invented’ memory is an actual tactile, spatial, kinetic memory of the deft handling of yarns and needles. You really can’t write what you don’t know. Not well, that is.  What I love is the way the first poem turns on a phrase that’s right and surprising simultaneously:  Smooth as an obol. It carries the weight of practised ritual and ceremony, and anchors the apparently simple detail of what it is to darn a sock. I love that reflection that

By the time each is done, she’ll have touched

the yarn all along its length as it moved through her hand,

so that the wool keeps a memory of the hand, and the hand of the wool, the loving connection that underlies the understatement of having enough socks to last. To last for whom? we need to be asking. What will remain of us is love. That’s what outlasts the socks, the wool, the woman in the bed. This, it seems to me, is what gives the second poem its heft as a coda, and makes its last line so moving, so resonant. It lives in the same world as Eliot’s ‘these fragments I have shored against my ruins’ but makes them more real.

a-sprig-of-rowan

Two more poems now, the first from A sprig of rowan.

 

Apparition 

 

A wraith of the darkness drifted

down the twist of path ahead and hardly

was there time to believe it,

when it re-appeared

in a fluster of wings, tumbling

from between the trees and out

into the sunshine of open field –

nacreous, tinted with gold –

as if haunting the day

to hunt for the dusk it had lost.

 

It’s such a delicate-seeming poem, this, that if you only read it with your eyes, you might miss, at first, the the sheer frantic baffled energy of it, this bird, this owl (I suppose. It’s an apparition. It’s not named or identified),that belies it’s ‘wraith’ness, that twists and tumbles, flusters, haunts and hunts. I like the way the verbs get elided in the poem’s breathless moment, this thing that happens to fast and puzzlingly. And I like the way that the surprising word ‘nacreous’ sits naturally as does the ‘obol’ of the darning poem. I like the craft of it that doesn’t announce itself. But read it aloud, and try to figure out how fast or slow it needs to be. I like that. I like poems that make me look again at things… like birds that I imagine I know because they come into my garden, and because my dad was a birdwatcher. The thing that matters though is ‘this’ bird. ‘This’ moment. It’s in the same tradition as Hopkins’ Windhover. It’s what this last poem does

Blue

 

The colour of sky and sunlight

he acrobats

among the tree tops,

 

or with head on one side

he sometimes considers

the abracadabra

 

of the high twigs

where he splits open a seed

or spin-twizzles

 

a caterpillar

like a strand of spaghetti

and as he skitters

 

out of sight, you wonder

how his goblin wings

grew from the yolk of an egg.

 

 (published in The Broadsheet, 2016)

So that’s where we’ll leave you. Wondering. Thank you so much, Rebecca Gethin and thank you Laura Potts. I’ve had a great time writing this, this afternoon. I don’t invariably feel like that. I’ll leave more details about both at the end of the post, and then go and make something that’ll be good to eat at the end of a proper cold November Sunday. I’m not sure about the timetable for the next few weeks, but I’m pretty sure I can promise you a proper Advent sequence and also the celebration of a significant number. Thanks for your company.

 

Rebecca Gethin  won the Cinnamon Press Novel Writing Award with her first novel, Liar Dice, which was published in 2011. Her first poetry collection, River is the Plural of Rain, was published by Oversteps Books in 2009 and was followed by a second collection, A Handful of Water, with Cinnamon Press in 2013. What the Horses Heard is her latest novel and was published in May 2014. Her two latest collections are A Sprig of Rowan  [Three Drops Press], and All the time in the world  [ published in Feb 2017 :Cinnamon Press]

 

 

Wakefield-based Laura Potts was recently chosen from thousands of applicants to become one of the BBC’s Verb New Voices for 2017. The award, which includes a £2,000 bursary, expert mentoring and development support, will enable her to create a collection of poems Sweet The Mourning Dew. The poems will explore the nature of grief and examine the experiences of ordinary people living with loss as a result of war.

She was twice named a Foyle Young Poet of the Year and in 2013 became an Arts Council Northern Voices poet and Lieder Poet at the University of Leeds.

She appeared at Wakefield Literature Festival with Linton Kwesi Johnson and on  BBC’s Contains Strong Language Festival in Hull in September  and at Ilkley Literature Festival, in October

She is currently interviewing people in the north of England as part of her research. She will then be selecting around six stories to work from and is looking forward to getting started on the new poems which will be broadcast on Radio 3. “Writing is what keeps me going,” she says. “It is the reason I wake up in the morning.”

And she’s 22. Think on that.

 

 

 

 

Hunting for truth, and an (un)discovered gem: Zetta Bear

river

It’s been a busy old week…three poetry nights: the New Beehive Inn and the Beehive Poets in Bradford on Monday; Wordplay at Square Chapel in Halifax on Wednesday..a night of smith|doorstop poets; The Albert Poets on Thursday with Steve Ely, Ian Croft and Ian Parks.

One of the readers on Wednesday, Ed Reiss…whose dry, wry, oddly surreal poems deserve a post of their own…read one poem that muses about why there seem to be more funerals than weddings; it’s possibly because people marry as a pair, but die as individuals (there’s a ‘but’, but I’ll leave that hanging). It’s a handy hook to hang the introduction to our guest today, however. Like a recent guest, Ruth Valentine, Zetta Bear works as a celebrant (among other things). That is, she works with the living who are trying to understand death. I think this is an idea I’d like you to hold on to.

However, for a change, rather than rabbiting on about whatever bee happens to be in my bonnet, which is the usual thing, we’ll start with a poem.

 

Stalker

The man who thinks to woo me by explaining

how to shoot a deer strips by the fire

peeling clothes off his blue patterned skin

in his kitchen with the back door wide open

to the windy night he’s come in from

wet through after standing for hours

waiting for his doe to show herself

waiting for the heart shot.

 

While in his shed ten grey rabbits hang from a pole

one hind leg slotted neatly through the other,

his muddy graft hangs from a hook,

and the doe he has shot and gralloched,

turns and cools, waiting quietly for him

to return and undress her.

 

I heard this for the first time a couple of years ago at a prizegiving on the Isle of Arran. Simon Armitage had chosen it as a Highly Commended poem in the McClellan Competition for 2015, and he said he was initially nonplussed by it, unsure about the conflict you might feel between your reaction to the surface rawness of the subject, its powerful sexual/sensual energy, and the evident crafted tenderness of the poem. And I suspect, lots of the audience were slightly uncomfortable about the matter-of-fact way it deals with the hunting and dressing of animals. (By which we mean their undressing).  I suppose, too, about the way the poet feels comfortable, rather than threatened, by the elision of seduction and stalking. When Zetta sent me her poems, she wondered ” if my poems will cause a reaction – hunting is provocative “.

Well, I certainly hope any poem worth its keep will cause a reaction, but since Zetta hunts to eat rather than for fun (though she is clear that she also hunts for the sheer pleasure of it), I think I’ll spend just a short while exploring the topic. Let’s be clear that if I didn’t eat meat, I think I might have a different take on the subject. But I do, and I’m not about to make a distinction between meat that’s been butchered somewhere I never see, and then neatly parcelled up for a supermarket shelf, and meat that you actually catch for yourself. I wondered for quite a time whether I should raise the subject at all, but I was at a reading where some of the audience found Zetta’s poems ‘offensive’. That bothered me. I find adultery and casual sex ‘offensive’ in the sense that I disapprove of the harm they cause. But not poems about them. I’ll let that stand. Poems either justify themselves or they don’t. I might also chuck into the mix that I’m interested by the fact that folk seem less bothered about fishing, especially when the fisherman is Ted Hughes. As Keith Sagar pointed out

It had occurred to Hughes that writing poems was also a form of fishing

“The special kind of excitement, the slightly mesmerized and quite involuntary concentration with which you make out the stirrings of a new poem in your mind, then the outline, the mass and colour and clean final form of it, the unique living reality of it in the midst of the general formlessness.”                                       [Poetry in the Making, p.17]

Maybe I’m worrying needlessly. Why don’t I let our guest introduce herself. Ladies and gentlemen, Zetta Bear:

“When I was invited to be a guest on the blog, I started by having a look at what other people had said about themselves, and then stopped before I despaired. I don’t think of myself as a poet (I’m not published apart from one poem in Smith’s Knoll) although sometimes I feel compelled to write a poem. I don’t write many poems, either. I try to write well when I do, although as you’ll see from what I’ve sent, they’re mostly better read aloud than seen on the page. (I think they work beautifully both ways.)

Here, at random, are some of the thoughts I’ve had whilst wondering what on earth to say:

I recently read some of Kate Atkinson’s ‘A God In Ruins’ (I got bored and annoyed and didn’t finish it) but somewhere in there Teddy says he wants to live a life of the senses, and write about it, and I thought ‘yes, that’s it.’ I’ve never thought to articulate it before, but that, I think, is what I’m up to. What takes priority is being out there and doing stuff. Every now and then, a poem seems to grow out of that, and then I write it down and if people let me, I inflict it on them, with the greatest of pleasure. I love doing readings and always accept invitations!

I’m interested in direct, raw experience. I’m interested in being human and non-human and crossing boundaries. I like to feel, and I like poems and experiences which provoke feelings. I go on feeling above most other things. I’m not a particularly intellectual person, not especially mentally-identified. So I wonder, when I write things like this, if I will end up saying things that look ridiculous and ignorant to people in the know. (No. You don’t)

If there’s a purpose or consistency to what I write, its to try to both record, and also to communicate, the experience of being immersed in the beautiful, profound, demanding experience of hunting, the joy of putting meat on your own table and the shared rapture of hunter and dog in the pursuit of game. I’m heartbroken by the remorseless attack on rural life by an ignorant urban elite. I’ll stop now to avoid a rant, which is where these things almost always land up. In poems, I try to convey it with love, which, in my experience, is the only hope we have of communicating across substantial difference.

(and then she adds this…which I think is at the heart of the matter)

I seem only to be able to write love poems.

However, my poems aren’t excerpts from my diary. They start from people or places or beasts that I know, and they may sometimes include actual events (although probably less frequently than people imagine) but I feel frustrated when people think all I’m doing is writing the equivalent of ‘what I did today’ with line breaks. After one reading, someone commented that all my poems were about a particular person. Well no, they weren’t.”

So, what were they about? Let’s see.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

John The Baptist

 

Once I went to Lincolnshire

with a Born Again Christian

Gun Maker I’d met on the internet.

 

He picked me up in the Co-op car park.

I climbed into his clapped out four by four

his gun dog and my terrier in the back.

 

He steered us there with his thighs

hands busy making roll ups. Veering

to aim at squirrels at the side of the road.

 

We turned off into tracks at the edge

of Tetris fields, scouting game for later.

Every living thing in that Landy wanted to kill something.

 

In the flat dark nowhere we stopped by a barn.

He rolled the wide door open to a caravan.

We all got out. The dogs went hunting.

 

Me and John sat down to tea. Cheese and raw onions.

He opened two bottles of wine and slapped

one by my plate, one by his. We drank the lot.

 

After, we drove round the fields, leathered,

shooting out of the windows down the headlights.

Charlie! He yelled, Quick, shoot the fucker!

 

This is not the way it’s done, but it is also the way

it’s done. He talked non stop, about his thousand

acres of permission, about knowing Kenzey Thorpe,

 

the Famous Fucking Chancer, about his boyhood

and the strange man who came to the door

and turned out to be his father, armed

 

with the key to all his mother’s secrets.

And now, his sister a doctor,

his brother in prison for murder, and him,

 

the Gun Maker. The beautiful

carved gun he planned to shoot

wild geese with in the morning.

 

In the morning I made him

bacon sandwiches and Irish coffee.

Then I took my terrier out among the crop

 

where she killed a rat and put up a deer

we watched bound out of reach

across the cabbages into grey sky

 

and I missed my old lurcher who’d died

and broken my heart which is why

I was here with a man who likely didn’t remember

 

my name. But that afternoon, he said I’ll take you

somewhere you’ll like and drove, to a river cut

deep into the mud, a fast deep

 

dangerous channel that poured with the force

of the tidal bore out to sea twice a day,

too fierce to resist, taking everything out

 

to disperse among the clean

white geese, to be washed away.

And I walked hard along its treacherous banks,

 

slipping, following it to the shore to watch it surge

into the bay and he didn’t tell me to be careful or catch

my arm. He watched me go, trailed

 

at safe distance until I sat down,

breathless, furious, heart sore and

happy, in the cold bare open land.

 

……………………………………………………………………………

 

That first stanza had me hooked, right at first hearing, and it’s great to have the written version to tell me why. It’s the way that prosaic first line is immediately subverted by the utterly surprising.   A Born Again Christian // Gun Maker. That line break is beautifully judged….it’s a feature of this poem and of Zetta’s ear and eye for guiding her reader, as in a later stanza, where we’ve been primed by a narrative of guns:…

his father, armed

with the key to all his mother’s secrets.

And the casual last line of the stanza is another twist. There’s at least two opening chapters of a novel here; the unwise dangerous journey into  a flat dark nowhere.
Unemphatic narrative voice is sustained right through the poem, full of the elision ofbeauty and potential violence. And danger.. which is what the Born-Again Christian Gun-Maker seem to understand the narrator wants:

I’ll take you

somewhere you’ll like

Which turns out to be the treacherous banks of a tidal river

too fierce to resist, taking everything out

 

to disperse among the clean

white geese, to be washed away.

The phrase ‘the clean // white geese’ with its artful linebreak nails it for me as the poem quietly expands outwards in the last stanza, like a sigh. I love it. Indeed, ‘love’ is probably the core of Zetta’s poems. It may not be a conventional notion of ‘love’, but it’s utterly authentic. As is the next poem, which is also a love poem.

zetta 4

The Hunter In My Heart

 

In the moment between thinking

I’ll call, and calling

he comes to me.

He uses old fashioned language

how can I serve thee mistress

although I’m not his mistress –

he chooses to please me

because it’s beautiful.

The curve of him floating

above the heath after a hare

is more glorious than

any handsome man.

He’s both bow and arrow

as sprung, as straight

as pure in his design.

Sometimes he presses

his forehead to mine

and we imagine his thick pelt

lying against the inside of my skin.

 

 

I’m not a dog person. But you don’t need to be to take in this one. There are elements of medieval verse in this address to a lover/loved one floating // above the heath after a hare, the dog

both bow and arrow

as sprung, as straight

as pure in his design.

And I’m slightly wrongfooted (in a good way) by the sudden elision of purpose and identity in:  and we imagine. That one word ‘we’ is what does the trick. Right; one more poem, which I’ll leave to speak for itself.

Winter Wedding

 

These past weeks I find I’m wanting

to say yes to what I’m asked.

Do I want a pot of strong tea?

Yes.

 

After, shall I wade through deep snow

to the moor top where the dogs hunt,

come down with a white wind-dancer

still warm in my poacher’s pocket

thinking of meat and fur mittens?

Yes. Yes please.

 

Shall I eat stew, slow cooked with oats

by the range in my dark kitchen

from an oak bowl with an oak spoon?

Yes, I shall.

 

And when that meat is gone, will you

come to my front door with your nets,

polecat hob in hand, to take me

to the old hedgerows that you know?

Yes, come.

 

Will we walk home swinging coneys,

lay them on the flags by my door?

That we will.

 

Do I want you to take my hand

kiss my muddy knuckles, my nails

rimmed with blood and then turning

place a kiss on my open palm?

Oh yes, say I. Oh yes I say.

I do.

 

Did I say I’d leave it to speak for itself? But I’m still going to say how I love the echo of Molly Bloom, and also that ‘white wind-dancer’. I hope I’ve persuaded you that Zetta Bear writes poems that do what poems should do, that memorise themselves as you hear them.

At this point I normally tell you all to go and buy the books. Right now there are none to buy. But I think it’s high time there were. There must be publishers reading this who can see what I’m getting at. In the meantime, let’s say thank you to our guest and hope to be reading her first pamphlet/chapbook/collection soon.

See you all next Sunday, when we’ll be having another splendid guest. xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All our yesterdays

for Sgt. Alfred TERRY (1882 – 1915) (King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry)granddad alfred's centenary 019

Never go back

 

That’s the wisdom. You can’t

step in the same river twice.

Where’s the bank, my chapel,

where’s the fire station?

 

But my grandparents’ grave

is where it was, not vandalised,

though the plinth’s knocked skew

by a clumsy tractor mowing grass.

 

Alfred’s been dead a hundred years

today. An actor’s dressed

in a sergeant’s uniform,

a faithful replica of everything

 

but mud, sweat, lice,

rips from snarls of wire,

fumbled stitches, burns, blood.

The rifle’s spotless. Never fired.

 

And all this is accurate.

Alfred never saw The Front,

knee-deep slurry trenches,

never trudged through Picardy

 

watching men and horses drown.

His uniform was always drill-hall smart.

Going back is fine, today .

The Chapel of Rest a museum

 

where reverence is on display

like something solid people

used to do, when the air was thick

with mill-smoke, lanolin, temperance.

 

(2015. A small ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of my Grand-dad     Alfred’s death. And for all the fallen in all the wars)