Latecomers and undiscovered gems (Number Two): Bob Horne


Here’s another story of a reunion. When I was an English Adviser in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the job become increasingly dispiriting as we were pushed away from the business of professional development in schools, and into the miserable business of inspections and clipboards and tick lists. One of the things that kept me going was finding the funding to work with a committed group of Secondary Heads of Drama. We set up an LEA Drama consortium for a GCSE drama syllabus that, quite wonderfully, was entirely content-free, and wholly assessed on the basis of performance, process and journals. We wrote our own LEA Guidelines for drama as a learning medium, and we had weekend residential workshops with the likes of the multi-talented Proper Job Theatre Company. It kept me sane, but it would have been an uphill struggle without the enthusiasm of Bob Horne and the other heads of drama. Then I got early retirement, and that was it for twenty years, until I met Bob again at a Monday workshop session of the Albert Poets in Huddersfield. And twenty years was an eyeblink. That was a few months ago; since then, we have somehow found ourselves running The Puzzle Hall Poets live monthly sessions at the Puzzle Hall Inn in Sowerby Bridge. (If you live in West Yorkshire, or in Pennine Lancashire, here’s an open invitation. First Monday of the month, starting at 8.00pm. Guest poet on July 7th is Wendy Pratt, fresh from triumphs at the Bridlington Literature festival. Second half, we’ve spaces for 8-10 slots on the open mic. Come along!)

Bob has effectively written the rest of this week’s post. Any typos or slips of syntax will be mine. After all, he was a Head of English before he was a drama teacher. Here we go. He says:

‘Writing poetry is something I’ve been going to do all my life. And I’ve repeatedly put it off, because there was always plenty of time, wasn’t there? No urgency. I’d get round to it one day.

In 1990 I went to Lumb bank for a week (Sean O’Brien was one of the tutors) but nothing lasting came of it. A few years later, I did a part-time Poetry MA at Huddersfield University, and came under the guidance, in one module, of that sensitive and encouraging facilitator, Peter Sansom. I wrote a couple of dozen poems,one or two of which I can still read without feeling too uncomfortable. But, once again, the writing stopped when I was left to motivate myself.

And so it stayed, until, last year, I became what used to be called an old-age pensioner. I thought the only change in my life would be a marginal rise in income. Being 65 couldn’t be that different from being 64. But it was. Perhaps the death of my closest friend was a factor. Whatever it was, a lifetime of procrastination (or bone-idleness) had to end.

I started going to the weekly Albert Poets writing workshops, and the monthly Puzzle Poets Live, and I was getting invaluable feedback on my poems,and getting to know other poets and what they were writing. And standing up with a mic. and performing to an audience.

Now, I compose very slowly, partly because I’m constantly distracted by ideas being generated by what I’m writing. Each poem is a product of hours of near-despair, occasionally alleviated when a mist of indecision briefly lifts.’

(At this point, I’m going to butt in and say that Bob does huge amounts of research for his poems, whether they’re about railway navvies or Edwardian photograhers. Also, his claim to bone-idleness doesn’t stand close scrutiny. However, at this point, here comes a poem which makes me delighted that the mists cleared for long enough for me to get to hear him perform it).

White-tailed eagle

I cross the trackless parph.

Behind me indifferent Atlantic waves

break along the length of Sandwood Bay,

with its red-haired mermaid,

its bearded sailor still knocking at night

on the windows of the broken bothy.


Beneath the dunes, shepherds say,

wrecks of longship, and galleon

have been smothered for centuries.

Massive tussocks make hard going.

I rest on my stick, face north

towards the oldest rocks there are

then nothing but cold seas

to the Pole and beyond.


Like a sheet of white shadow

close enough to disconcert

it climbs from the cottongrass,

iolaire suil na greine –

eagle of the sunlit eye –

smoulders for a moment

still as a Stone Age carving

until it rises in its own time,

above this wilderness, the bay, the ocean,

leaves me at best

a fleck of a far-off star

whose gleam may never reach

this earth.


(Despite reading William Horwood’s ‘The Stonor Eagles’ too many times, and going to Skye for years, and making silent prayers, I’ve never seen a white – tailed sea eagle. But when I heard Bob read this poem for the first time, I thought I might have. And there’s a backstory to the poem which I held back till you’d read it. Bob will tell you it.)

‘Many of my poems are about the landscapes I have walked and cycled and run in the fells of Northern England and Scotland, and usually alone; they begin with particular experiences, but always connect with the historical context of what I’m writing about. White-tailed eagle started from something that happened in 2000, on the final day of a 2000 mile walk (There you are! 2000 miles …one for each year of the millenium. Bone idle, indeed. One day I’ll persuade him to write the story of that 2000 mile walk. Sorry, Bob…go on) I’d just crossed Sandwood Bay, with all its ghosts and legends, and I had just 8 wilderness miles to Cape Wrath and the end of the journey…and then there was a noise, like the page of an enormous book being turned, and this huge bird languidly took to the air, slowly climbed above the tussocks and the lochan, and flew out over the ocean.

(Bob says that he actually thought that if he had died at that moment he could have been content. And I think I have an inkling of what he means.

The next poem I asked for is set in the heart of the Lake District, and it has, for me, the precision and ghostliness of a fading sepia photograph. It’s an un- dramatic monologue)


[W A Poucher, aged 89,photographs the Wasdale screes]

It is evening.

I have waited an hour,

walking to the shore and back

a dozen times.

I like the sound of my brogues

on the bright pebbles,

the give of the turf

as I return to my tripod.

Cloud is building in the north.

Sometimes I am angerd

by this loitering for the light;

days are easily wasted.

I think of Haskett Smith,

Father of English climbing’

striding across an early frost

on Wasdale fields,

pushing through bracken

as it brushes his plus-fours.

He is going to solo

the first ascent of napes Needle.

While others scrambled in gullies

he weighed up each pitch

till hand and body followed

the eye from hold to hold,

fingers firm in untouched cracks,

half-inch seggs scoring the greenstone.

Patience is my art.

I select, compose and frame.

There is a limit to an old man’s passion.

The water is almost still.

Burnt umbers

of autumn’s fading fronds

will blur on its surface.

Boulders flock like sheep

over shifting screes.

Soon, with luck, sunlight

will slant along the lake.

I am ready, lens focussed

at infinity.

Two poems that head off into an infinity, then. Bob explains that Exposure came from a Poucher photograph of the Wasdale screes at the moment the sun was setting. He also writes that Poucher was a chemist in the perfume and cosmetics industry, that he worked for Yardleys, and that, nearly 90, was in the Lakes, gathering material for a publication. The fact that Bob imagines him thinking about Haskett Smith, nailed boots and all, composing his balanced climbs while the rest of the world shuffled about in mossy gullies, says a lot about his research, and about the way he finds writing a poem will set up its own distractions.

I hope you like encounters with eagles at the ends of the earth, and with elderly photographers who are angered by loitering, as much as I do. Thank you, Bob Horne.

I’m in two minds about next week.  Not about if but about what. Just turn up and see.


latecomers and undiscovered gems (Number one) : Yvie Holder

Just over a year ago, Kim Moore chose one of my poems for her Sunday Poem slot. Now, if you’re used to having your poems in magazines, and to being invited to read at poetry venues, this may seem no big deal. But it changed the way I thought about myself….and not just as a writer. Since then, I’ve been writing flat-out. I’ve been lucky. I’ve won three poetry competitions. I’ve been handed a cheque by Michael Morpurgo. I’ve had poems accepted by magazines. Someone said I was a gem. It sometimes doesn’t take much to give you that sense of self-belief, but it’s beyond price.

I should also say that I’ve not been very good at keeping in touch with people. I work closely with them. I love them. Then I get a new job and I move on. I’ve never been one for going back, because I’m afraid of how it will have changed. It’s another country, and they do things differently there. But then you cross paths with the past, and it can be wonderful. Recently, I’ve rediscovered friendships with folk I’ve not seen for decades. They all write, and they all write poems. So I’ve decided to invite each of them to let me put a couple of their poems on ‘the great fogginzo’. That will ensure they all win competitions and get collections published. Oh yes it will.

And my first guest is Yvie Holder, from York, who I would have met for the first time in more than twenty years…..if only she’d been able to be at the York Literature Festival Poetry Competition presentations earlier this year, though Maria Taylor was there, so that was nice. All three of us had Commended poems, chosen by Carole Bromley, the indefatigible editor of the YorkMix poetry blog. Without Yorkmix, I wouldn’t have known that Yvie wrote poetry. Now I do.

I first met her in 1980 (I think) when I interviewed her for a post in what she calls ‘my’ English dept at Boston Spa Comprehensive School. I think I probably did think of it as ‘mine’……to my abiding shame. I still think it was the best school and the best English Dept I’ve known, and as an English Adviser, I saw a lot. Now, I am a noisy person. Noisy, rather than loud. I like to tell myself. So when Yvie came for interview, via the York PGCE course, (and the influential anthologist, Geoffrey Summerfield), what appealed to me was that she was quiet, centred, and clear-eyed. She had both feet firmly planted. She was a great teacher.

I only realised in a long retrospect what a talented bunch I had to work with. Malcolm Barnes had been published alongside Roger McGough and self-published some stunning pamphlets. Roy Cockcroft later won the Elmet Prize with a beauty of a poem about the fishermen of the East coat, and the knittedĀ  codes of their woollen jerseys. Julia Deakin, who was appointed pretty much at the same time as Yvie, (and also via the York PGCE) has won more competitions than I’ve had hot dinners, including the Poetry Business Pamphlet Comp, and the Yorkshire Open, and has two collections under her belt, with another on the way. I’m reviewing the first two in a couple of weeks. Reserve your seats now. Bring a chum.

Now I find Yvie is a poet, too. She describes herself like this:

My writing reflects on childhood, identity, people on the margins, love and loss, with an upbeat element drawn from family, community and professional life. I’m a writer of mixed UK/Caribbean heritage, with over twenty-five years work on equality and diversity; my experience has included school-teaching and governing, trades union work, race equality, tutoring for mental health, supports for elders, and managing a University Equality office.

My writing has been highly commended in the Yorkshire Open (2008), commended in the York Literature Festival Poetry Competition (2014), shortlisted for Pier pressure’s short story competition and the Peepal tree Press anthology : Closure. It has appeared online at YorkMix, in a local newspaper, been requested for a wedding, at community occasions, and in a memoir/lecture for Black History Month.

Yvie was reading last week at a gig for Amnesty, so, knowing her, this is understated. I really like the two poems she’s chosen for me. They have a precision and a quiet clarity (I don’t do quiet/succinct). I love the strike that ‘knocks old men speechless/when air ignites’ and the quirky, unnerving invention of ‘Cracked’ which reminds me of the way Guillermo del Toro scares me in ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. But make your own minds up. Here they are.


It smacks and thumps

the mother in her bed;


a newborn’s downy skull;

induces shrieks

from children’s mouths; knocks

old men speechless

when air ignites

and imprecisely

snuffs out, deletes.

yet when it chimes

over city squares, how

it can impress;

catch the dawn-white

on a swan’s wing;

help a rose take root;

discover by chance

how friendship sparks;

begin to celebrate,

play, sing.


Don’t step on the cracks. You might

slip. Lie flat across pavements,

peer in, one-eyed: you’ll see us,

broken, like crumbs, packed into

an ill-fitting darkness, lost,

straining up to the greylight.

Some of us once spanned the sky

between the dawn and dusk, lolled

in the space between telegraph

wires, between words; wove love-talk

around hushed voices, formed air

between leaves and breezes;

we dappled green through branches,

we rode the blue among stars.

Fault lines opened, or, we slipped.

How to return to you up there,

you, the sure-footed who

never need to lok down? Will

we stay forever between

cracks, trying to recall

the idea of firm ground

and how broad the daylight is?

I fully intended to rattle on about memory and imagination, but I hate an anticlimax. So that’s for next week. Thanks for the poems, Yvie.

Say ‘thankyou, Ms Holder’. Put your chairs away quietly, and show her how good we all are. See you next week.