Centenary Special..and a Christmas star: Kim Moore

Welcome to the 100th post of the great fogginzo’s cobweb !!!!

And I have to say, I don’t know which I am more of..surprised or happy? No problem. Surprised and happy in equal measure, and delighted that you could join me and my extra-special guest, and Polished Gem number 15: Kim Moore.

Actually, if you’ve not been with me since the beginning, it’s probably worth my explaining the title I chose for this weekly ramble through the lusher meadows of Poesie. It was like this:

schoolroom 1

There’s a story behind the grandiosity of ‘the great fogginzo’ which it would be well to have out of the way. This is it. As the English and Drama adviser for Calderdale, I got to visit all sorts of schools, some in the middle of old mill towns, some on moor edges, one tucked into the valley side where the trains that emerged from a tunnel, to run over a viaduct, came right past the staff-room window, feeling close enough to touch. There are small Victorian buildings in villages hidden away in side valleys, in deans and cloughs. Villages like Luddenden, say; villages that are like Haworth but interesting. Anyway, one winter (snow never closes these village schools) I  was supposed to do some kind of visit with a clip board and write a report about this school in a steep sided twisty valley. What happened was this. The Head, a 5 by 5 force of nature, greeted me. Don’t take your coat off, she says. We’ve not time for that. Come on. And she sweeps me off down a corridor and, with a flourish, flings open a classroom door.

Understand, this is a school of high ceilings and traditional virtues. These are the Top Juniors. (they can’t be doing with this Year 6 stuff). There are 34 children in proper desks with lids and holes for ink wells. Now then, says the Head. You didn’t believe me when I said he was coming, did you? She lets the silence hang a beat. The children of traditional virtues look at me and back at her. You didn’t believe me….ye of little faith. Well. She pauses just long enough. Here he is.

She turns to me. Fogginzo, she says. Fogginzo. They won’t believe me, but they’ll have to believe you. Go on. Tell them how you and I toured the circuses of Europe before the Second World War.

She knows that I know that she knows that I cannot back down and have any credibility. I am supposed to know about drama. She does. This is a small LEA, and all the Primary heads know each other. I have to tell the Top Juniors how me and Mrs. L. toured the circuses of Europe before World War Two.

So I do. I tell them, in my halting, heavily accented English (for which I apologise…I am Hungarian, you understand)  how their stocky little Headteacher danced on the high wire, like a jewelled dragonfly in the haze of an amber spotlight, and how she broke men’s hearts with her fragile beauty. The children look at her for confirmation. She nods. Yes it’s true, all of it.

schoolroom 3

I don’t do my clipboard inspection. It has been one of the best mornings of my life.”

And so it started. I had no idea about a direction or even of a purpose. I suppose I had a vague idea that I’d like to repay the debt I was beginning to feel to the community of poets as I started to write more and to send things out. I especially wanted to publish work by people whose work I liked..mainly through poetry readings and open mic.s….who had not yet been published. Actually, as it turned out, several of them had, which tells you a good deal about how little I knew (still don’t) about the world of poetry, and all its magazines and small presses. I began by calling them ‘undiscovered gems’ (thank you Thomas Grey), but then had to create a new category of ‘(un)discovered gems’. Finally, I got up the courage to ask well-known poets to let me write about why I liked their work so much; hence the third category of ‘polished gems’. Today is unique, because for one post only we are having a Christmas Star. The reasons for this will become clear once I get into my stride and I can stop thinking about what comes next, and just write.

Anyway, I realised that I couldn’t just reproduce formats that other bloggers and cobweb weavers had made their own. I wrote about the four who mattered most to me a couple of weeks ago in a post called ‘Running on empty’. I’ll try not to say the same thing all over again. What I missed in that post was the way that the pressure to develop a post meant that I was reading more and more, and that some posts were more like mini-essays. I was wanting to share what I’d just read….say, about landscape writing, or autobiography, or drafting, or competitions, or keeping notebooks, or workshops, or…and I was wanting to share it to find if I’d understood what I’d read. Which seems to me the ultimate reason for writing anything, apart from shopping lists. The upshot is that I find my Kindle stuffed with books that I buy around 1.00am. Sometimes I forget that I’ve done it. I’m reading someones stuff on a blog or on Facebook, and thinkk: ‘Mmm. Sounds interesting. If X likes it, I’ll have a bit of that.’ And the next day, or a few days later, I find I’ve got a copy of ‘Swithering’ or ‘Bright travellers’ or Don Paterson’s rumbustious take on Shakespeare’s sonnets.

And so it is that this week’s post will be lit mainly by the bright and wonderful light shed by Clive James and his Poetry Notebook 2006-2014. It makes me wonder what I’d have made of my degree course all those years ago if I’d been taught by irreverent and learned iconoclasts like James and Paterson, blown away by the exuberant breeze of their mixture of nonchalant scholarship, and their easy take on familiar, demotic, contemporay, and, above all, individual, personal language. I might have learned earlier, rather than later, that poetry was actually about the business of living. Whereas the academics who tolerated me in various tutorial rooms at Durham University in the 60s were more like Dickens’ Miss Blimber who ‘was dry and sandy from working in the graves of deceased languages. None of your living languages [for them]..they had to be good and dead and then [they] dug them up again, like a ghoul’.

What’s excited me, reading Clive James is to discover that I’ve found him at just ther right time..that is, a time when I can understand him. If I’d read him 4 years ago, I don’t think anything much would have happened. I think you’ll understand what I mean. The core notion that gripped me was that of ‘Poetry v. Poems’ and among the welter of stuff, the importance of the memorable, the unforgettable. Because I’m still at the stage of being excited and uncritical, I suspect the way to explain myself is to share a collage of quotations and simply assume you’ll share my enthusiasm: here we go:

James writes about the ubiquity of bad poetry:  ‘At a time when almost everyone writes poetry, but scarcely anyone can write a poem…. there are…..Slim volumes by the thousand….full of poetry…but few..with even a single real poem in them’

A real poem?  A real poem is  ‘Well separated’ . You hear ‘the force of real poetry at first glance’ (I love that!). Because ‘Even if you don’t set out to memorize a real poem, it somehow seems to be memorizing itself for you’. I think I probably punched the air when he wrote about ‘poets who want to keep technique out of it, because they don’t have any’ and set this side by side with ‘the spectacular expression that outruns its substance.’ What an important idea that is ..just that one word ‘substance.’ How good it is to be reminded that a poem has to be about something real and concrete, because ‘everything depended, and still depends, on the quality of the moment…whatever kind of poem it is, it’s the moment that gets you in.’ Of course, you have to have the ability to be alive to the moment that insists you write it, and ‘Confidence is the attribute that can’t be taught’. Like a class rugby player’s sidestep. Like the way Picasso or Hockney put down a clean simple line that’s the only line that will do.

Well, that wouldn’t get me a high grade in a university essay. But it says what I want it to say. It explains to me why some poems simply nail ‘it’ for me. Poems that are memorable for themselves, that hold together, and surprise, and make themselves your friends for life. Like the poems that Gordon Hodgeon let me share with you. Like Jo Bell’s ‘The archaeologist of rivers’ and ‘Eve naming the birds’. Like Fiona  Benson’s Bright travellers. Robin Robertson’s ‘At Roane Head’. All of Christy Ducker’s alphabet poems for Grace Darling in her collection Skipper. And a good many others. But above all, and especially in these last three years, poem after poem by my inspiration, involuntary mentor, and special centenary guest, Kim Moore. (featured here, appropriately enough, on a bandstand with a silver band. It should be a brass band, but you can’t have everything.)


This will come as no surprise to my handful of regular readers, since scarcely a post goes by without a passing reference to Kim, but if you don’t know her, here she is to introduce herself.

‘I’m currently working two days a week as a peripatetic brass teacher. During my two teaching days I work in three different schools and conduct four different junior brass bands. The rest of the week, I’m free to float around the place in a poet-like fashion, giving readings, running workshops, planning residential courses, writing reviews or articles, writing poems, reading poems, blogging about poetry, traveling to readings or traveling back from readings. I work as a freelance tutor for The Wordsworth Trust and an online tutor for The Poetry School.

In 2012 my first pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves won the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition, judged by Carol Ann Duffy. The pamphlet was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award, named in the Independent as a Book of the Year and was the runner up in the Lakeland Book of the Year. This year my first collection The Art of Falling was published by Seren and a poem from the book ‘In That Year’ was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Poem.

I’ve been lucky enough to perform at readings and festivals in Holland, Ireland, Croatia and at various locations throughout the UK. This year my poetry has also been translated into Dutch and Croatian. I’m the Reviews Editor for a new online magazine called The Compass, alongside poetry editors Lindsey Holland and Andrew Forster.

Next year, I’m running three residential courses with a brilliant team of co-tutors. I’ll be Poet in Residence at a festival but I’m not allowed to say where yet! I’m hoping to keep carving out time for my writing and to continue working on a sequence that I’m having great fun writing at the minute which is called All the Men I Never Married. In my spare time, I enjoy playing trumpet in a ten-piece soul band called The Soul Survivors and I also love running.’

I love that phrase. In my spare time. If you follow Kim’s poetry blog ( https://kimmoorepoet.wordpress.com/ ) you’ll know that ‘spare time’ is probably about as common in her life as a transit of Venus. One of the inspiring things about her is that she’s one of the most hard-working and committed people I’ve ever met. Poetry matters, with Kim. If she sometimes makes it looks easy, you would do well to remember the golfer who said that not only was he lucky, but the harder he worked, the luckier he got. And also Fred Astaire’s remark that if it looks difficult, you’re not trying hard enough. She’s sent me three poems for the post. I’ll try to say why they are special to me, and also try to keep in your mind what the quotations from Clive James have to do with it.

The first poem of Kim’s I ever heard was still in a handwritten draft in a workshop when she read it. What it had was James’ notion of ‘the moment’ and also the sense that it insisted on memorizing itself for me. I’ve quoted from it before, but here’s the whole poem. Just listen to the way it moves out of the banal here-and-now, where there’s chewing gum stuck to the table, and the guard bashes you with his ticket box, out of it into the wide spacious light of the estuary, and its unchangeable history, and into the curious certainty of abstractions: choices, directions, decisions (like the end of The Whitsun Weddings). And then back to the here and now, which might just be a dream.

Barrow To Sheffield

Even though the train is usually full of people
I don’t like, who play music obnoxiously loud
or talk into their phones and tell the whole carriage
and their mother how they’re afraid of dying
even though they’re only twenty-five,

even though the fluorescent lights
and the dark outside make my face look like
a dinner plate, even though it’s always cold
around my ankles and there’s chewing gum
stuck to the table and the guard is rude

and bashes me with his ticket box,
even though the toilet smells like nothing
will ever be clean again, even though
the voice that announces the stations
says Bancaster instead of Lancaster,

still I love the train, its sheer unstoppability,
its relentless pressing on, and the way the track
stretches its limb across the estuary
as the sheep eat greedily at the salty grass,
and thinking that if the sheep aren’t rounded up

will they stand and let the tide come in, because
that’s what sheep do, they don’t save themselves,
and knowing people have drowned out there
like the father who rang the coast guard,
who put his son on his shoulders as the water rose

past his knees and waist and chest, the coast guard
who tried to find him, but the fog came down,
and though he could hear the road, he didn’t know
which way to turn, but in a train, there are no choices,
just one direction, one decision you must stick to.

This morning the sun came up in Bolton and all
the sky was red and a man in a suit fell asleep
and dribbled on my shoulder till the trolley
came and rattled in my ear and he woke up
and shouted I’ve got to find the sword.


Unstoppable as the train, a poem of only two sentences, one of them six stanzas, thirty lines long. It’s a delight to read aloud. It insists on being read aloud, just do it, and you find, like a piece of music, it tells you exactly where to breathe, check, pick up pace. It never wrong-foots you. It just lines you up to arrive exactly on the moment when ‘This morning the sun came up in Bolton and all / the sky was red’,  exactly as it should be and inevitably as it must. What you have is a technically stunning poem that hides is technique, where every moment is true, and necessary. And I love the quality that I can’t find a name for that doesn’t sound condescending…but it’s a kind of innocence or naivete, where thing are seen in a clear childlike way. Actually I think in retrospect I CAN find a word for it. The word is ‘wonder’. There’s scarcely a word in the poem that announces itself as ‘poetry’ and yet the syntax could only be that of a poem. It fits James’ dictum that ‘declaring itself to be a poem is one of the the main things a poem does.’ I love the way the poem expands out beyond the dark window of the train to encompass the whole estuary, the ways of sheep, the heartbreak and history of the drowning saltflats. And then comes back to a different earth where we waken out of a dream of Tolkien. Wow!

The next poem I asked for is to remind myself how Kim shared her discovery of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and the way she found how myth might help her to come to terms with dark and destructive memories. It’s why I have at least four retellings of Ovid on my Kindle..including Ted Hughes’ adaptation. It’s why my own poetry took a turn that let me write about some of the most difficult things in my life. I owe Kim Moore a lot that she was unconscious of giving me.


How the Stones Fell
after Ovid

We learnt that we were born from stones, that the last
man and woman to survive the flood climbed from their raft
onto the shoulders of a mountain and looked across the water
which had swallowed everything.

For days there had been a sea but no shore, now as the water
curled back its lip and let go of the tops of trees
the man and woman followed, walking down the slope,
their feet touching the edges of the water,

their arms full of the bones of the earth, their hair long
and flowing to their waists. They cast stones behind them
and from the hand of the man a stone fell and grew into
another man and from the hand of the woman

a stone fell and grew into another woman and so we grew,
our eyes like flints and our mouths tasting of the earth.
We were born from stones and we were destined to live
like stones, warming ourselves in the sun,

cracking when the temperature fell, we said there was
something of the sea in us, but in this, like many other things
we lied, it was never water in our hearts, we carried stones
in our pockets, we carried them in our hands.


This one I like for, amongst many things, never even coming near having ‘the spectacular expression that outruns its subject’. Because the language of Kim Moore’s poetry is so often as clear as glass that you see right through to the substance. And then you listen to the music of it all, the internal rhymes and half-rhymes that are like the language of everyday and also of a solemn incantation. It’s a heartbreaker, too, this poem, carrying a weight of grief for the stone in the human heart, that is suddenly felt in the switch from ‘them’ to ‘us’. They cast stones behind them’ and ‘so we grew, / our eyes like flints and our mouths tasting of the earth’. It’s a poem that made me change the way I wrote and the rhythm that I wrote in. Not consciously, or deliberately. I just fell in with its rhythm, and was lost.

Finally, a poem that comes from a sequence in which it feel as though Kim wrote herself free of a dark period in her life. It’s a sequence without a shred of self-pity, but an overwhelming pity for the self she makes herself confront and acknowledge. Have you read Ursula le Guin’s A wizard of earthsea? The hero, Ged, pursues a dark Shadow to the ends of the earth; he thinks he must destroy it. Instead, he learns he must name it with its true name, and its true name is his own name. Shakespeare did it more succinctly in The Tempest: ‘This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine’, says Prospero of Caliban. Until he does, he can never be whole. It’s not the best way of explaining the power of this sequence for me, but it’s the best I can do. Everything I like in Kim Moore’s poetry is in this poem, which, unusually, is crammed with images, like an Old Testament psalm, and which, for me, meets all Clive James’ criteria of ‘well-separatedness’, memorability, craft and substance.

In That Year

And in that year my body was a pillar of smoke
and even his hands could not hold me.

And in that year my mind was an empty table
and he laid his thoughts down like dishes of plenty.

And in that year my heart was the old monument,
the folly, and no use could be found for it.

And in that year my tongue spoke the language
of insects and not even my father knew me.

And in that year I waited for the horses
but they only shifted their feet in the darkness.

And in that year I imagined a vain thing;
I believed that the world would come for me.

And in that year I gave up on all the things
I was promised and left myself to sadness.

And then that year lay down like a path
and I walked it, I walked it, I walk it.


I don’t want to say any more about it. Because it doesn’t need it. Except that it’s been an enormous pleasure to celebrate the 100th cobweb strand with a Christmas Star. Kim Moore…thank you.

And if you haven’t bought it yet, then do so. You have Christmas booktokens and Amazon Vouchers. Why are you waiting. Even better, use the link to Kim Moore’s poetry blog. It has a PayPal button. She’ll be more than happy if you use it.



Running on empty

Two things on this dreich Sunday afternoon.

One : I have just discovered that WordPress analyses one’s posts in astonishing detail; I have simultaneously discovered that I wish I had not discovered it. I’m not at all sure that I wanted to know that most people read my cobweb posts at 4.00pm on Mondays. I’m not sure why it bothers me, but I worry that every Monday round about teatime I’ll be wondering who will be reading what I wrote the day before…and how many. If any.

Two: Is it Yeats..‘The circus animals’ desertion’ ? ‘I sought a theme and sought it for a week’. It’s a sudden realisation that I’m starting to find Sunday afternoons hard work, starting to worry for days before what it is I’ll be writing about, and why anyone would want to be reading it.

So maybe it’s a good time to think about why I started to write the cobweb posts in the first place. I’m fairly sure I had no clear plan that it would be a weekly business, or, indeed, if it would be anything at all. I do know that once I’d written for four successive Sundays I’d created a routine that I would have felt guilty about breaking.

More than that, I looked forward to each Sunday. I had a notebook full of titles for posts I wanted to write. This more or less coincided with starting to write poetry on a regular basis, and I strongly suspect that this was because there was a log-jam of things I wanted to make sense of. And I know for a fact that I was missing teaching, and, especially the two bits of teaching I liked best. One was thinking up new lesson-plans and course outlines (usually about things I wasn’t entirely sure I knew enough about), and the other was having an audience. I am suspicious of any teacher who claims that having a captive audience is not part of the charm of the job. The other thing with the cobweb, of course, is that there’s no marking. Teaching an audience of volunteers, and no marking. I think that’s it.


You forget that sooner or later you’ll hit a patch when you realise you’re repeating yourself, recycling the same old stuff, and starting to bore yourself. Running on empty, desperate for the service station signs on the infinitely receding road dwindling into the prairie. (yes. I’ve watched too many movies). I think that’s what teachers’/writers’ block is. Block is the wrong word; it implies that you have tons of stuff to say and something’s stopping you. I don’t think that’s it at all. I think it’s not having anything fresh to say. Running on empty. So here’s my tribute to four special poetry bloggers who I follow faithfully, and who each, in his or her own way, has found a formula (or formulae) that keeps them ticking over, endlessly interesting, always inspirational. Whenever I feel like calling it a day, they’ll be there, carrying my rucksack for a bit, offering a sandwich or a ciggie, a bottle of water, a flask of tea, that bit of encouragement that says: come on, it’s not far, it’s just over the hill, it’s just round the next bend. It isn’t, of course, but by the time you get there you know you might as well keep going. So here we go. With stats.


Roy Marshallhttps://roymarshall.wordpress.com/ ]

He has clocked up, I see, 4.5 thousand hits. One of the things that unnerved me about his blog was the blogroll. Last time I counted there were at least 75 poetry blogsites on the blogroll (jeez…it’s a horrible thing, this language of the virtual world. But what’s a girl to do.). It makes me think a) how could there be so many? b) how does he know? c) crikey..has he read them all? No wonder he seems to know so much AND d) if he has, how come he’s so disarmingly modest?

Because the reason I follow Roy’s posts is the unfailing generosity with which he shares his experience of all sorts of things to do with writing poems and getting poems published, and about reading at poetry events…….It occurs to me that the tone is always reflectively analytic and always not-exactly tentative but never dogmatic. It’s a voice you can trust, if you’re feeling your way into this strange business of writing poetry. It’s the voice of someone for whom the experience is still fresh…he knows how you feel. Like this

if all or most of the work you are sending out is being returned to you without offers of publication, you are in the majority. There are a lot of people submitting work and only a small minority can be published. That doesn’t mean that this will always be the case. And there are many possible reasons for this. One possibility (and a difficult one to accept) is that perhaps your work isn’t ready yet. Perhaps your poem needs a tweak or even a re-write. One or two clunky lines or even a word could be enough to put the editor off. There is also the question of originality. Editors read thousands of poems and many are adept at spotting something they have seen before and possibly done better. I imagine the only way to know if this is the case is to read as much poetry as you can.

At the moment, then, this is Roy’s theme. A beginner’s guide to the poetry business by a poet who seems to know that this is what he would have appreciated when he was himself a beginner.

Common sense. No messing. Understanding. But reminding you that if you want to be any good and you want to be heard you need to knuckle down, and work at it. And you know, as you follow his posts, and read back through older ones, that this is exactly what he’s done himself. So thank you, Roy Marshall for keeping my feet on the ground, for the ciggie, for the flask of tea. It’s just round the corner. And if it isn’t, that’s no reason to stop.


Joesphine Corcoran  [ https://josephinecorcoran.wordpress.com/     and     https://andotherpoems.wordpress.com/    ]

A special place in my affections for this indefatigable poetry blogger, who maintains TWO distinctly different blogs. I first came across her via Facebook, when the poet Carole Bromley shared a post alerting me to the possibilities of and other poems. As a writer of a poetry cobweb, I could see the attraction of this (without the attendant work and responsiblity). You invite people to send you poems. Every week you post a couple of poems that people have sent in. You publish the biographical details they send in. You don’t comment on or analyse their poems. Simples. People get published. Everyone’s happy.

So I sent her some poems, and after a short delay she wrote back and said ‘thank you, but these aren’t quite up to scratch’. Of course she was much gentler than this, but even if she had used those words I would have had to admit she was right. She also said: send some more; try again; they weren’t all that bad; just not quite good enough. [Though not in so many words]. So I did, and the next time there was a poem she liked, and she published it. That’s not the reason for that ‘special place in my affections’. The reason is the courage it takes to have high standards, to stick to them, to be prepared to disappoint people. Because there are writers out there with a strong sense of entitlement, people who take exception to being ‘rejected’. It takes courage to run a blog like and other poems. And hard work. But I wouldn’t miss it, because of the surprises it throws up. And nary a dud.

Her other poetry blog is something else. I’m not sure how to describe it. It’s personal, it’s reflective, it’s sometimes painfully honest. It’s sometimes like a journal. It’s sometimes like an essay. It’s sometimes like a holiday postcard. But its strikes a chord. It must do. According to her wordpress stats she has 4.2 thousand followers. I currently have about 350. She’s worked hard for everyone of them. BUT the thing that strikes me is not the numbers but the number of comments she gets and the fact that she answers every single one. Her readers trust her, they share all sort of things, primarily because she’s not afraid to share things with them. I don’t know how she’d describe her formula, if it is a formula. But it’s winner. Joesphine, thank you.


Anthony Wilson  [ http://anthonywilsonpoetry.com/lifesavingpoemsblog/ ]

6.9 thousand followers. 350,00 hits.The blogfather, the daddy of them all, the doyen of poetry bloggers, the ne plus ultra….what do you say about life saving poems that hasn’t been said already? I’m not going to try, but I know why I follow his posts, and what I can learn from them. I have some sort of handle on Anthony’s themes and formulae, and I think he’s a teacher after my own heart. I’m a good deal older than him, but he makes me feel like his contemporary. Let me pick out three things in particular that show me how a blog can be structured, as well as the holy grail of the theme that will carry you for a good long time, save you agonising every Sunday what you’re going to talk about. This is where it started: The post is called BLOG

‘ I was struck by a remark of Seamus Heaney in an interview he gave some years ago now. He was musing on how many poems can affect the life of an individual across that person’s lifetime. Was it ten, he said, twenty, fifty, a hundred, or more? This is the question that has underpinned this pet project of mine since I began it in July 2009.

Since then I have been copying out poems into a plain Moleskine notebook, one at a time, in inky longhand, when the mood took me. Allowing myself no more than one poem per poet, I wanted to see how many poems I could honour with the label ‘lifesaving’. I quickly realised it was a deeply subjective and unscientific exercise. Frequently, the poem that was copied into my book was not especially famous, certainly not representative or even the ‘best’ of that poet’s work.

My criteria were extremely basic.  Was the poem one I could recall having had an immediate experience with from the first moment I read it? In short, did I feel the poem was one I could not do without?

The list below is, therefore, not a perfect anthology-style list of the great and the good. It is a list of poems I happen to feel passionate about, according to my tastes. As Billy Collins says somewhere: ‘Good poems are poems that I like’.

Copying them out into my book has not always been fun, but now that I am finished, I am in possession of a deeply satisfactory feeling of having learnt more about myself and about each poem that I copied.

Over the next weeks and months I am going to be blogging here about the stories behind the choices I made, the influences upon them, and what I learnt in the process. (Before anyone writes in, I have noticed that William Blake snuck in with two choices).

For what it is worth, here are my

Lifesaving poems

And what follows is a list of about 180 poems by 180 poets. That’s more than three years’ worth of blogposts sorted, at one fell swoop. Bloggers’ Nirvana. Shangri La. Provided, of course you know at least 180 poets, and you know their work well enough to choose one from each of which you can say, hand-on-heart: ‘this is lifesaving’. What I love about reading Anthony Wilson is the effortless erudition that is never exclusive or scholarly. It’s what great teachers do…like Bronowsky in ‘The ascent of man‘, or John Berger in ‘Ways of seeing‘ (and not remotely like Kenneth Clarke in ‘Civilisation’). It’s like the introduction to poetry you get if you regularly go to Poetry Business workshops. I’d not heard of half the poets Anthony chose. But I have now. All I want now is another holy grail, no more running on empty.

Of course, Anthony’s Lifesaving poems are not unconnected to another theme of his blog which was essentially a shared journal of his experience of the diagnosis, and subsequent treatment for a particular cancer. I’ve been treated for two kinds of cancer, and I’m currently being treated for a third, so it’s going to resonate. But I doubt I’d have that kind of courage to share the experience. On the other hand, it seems to me that the best poetry blogs are those ones where people declare their own vulnerabilites and doubts as well as their successes and undoubted talents.

Finally, let me pay tribute to two running gags in the script. The Book and The Thing (or Things). Anthony will frequently find himself at a Thing. Which means he is never short of blog copy. And he has written several successful books. A book can take on a life of its own. It can answer back. It can sulk. It can involve you in Pinteresqe dialogue. That’s another thread, then…the narrative of The Book, the occasional drama of Things. But especially the lippy Book. If you’ve not read it then you can now via links in Anthony’s blog to The Parable of the Book. Here’s a flavour. He does great dialogue, does Mr Wilson. The first line is his, the second is The Book’s. They alternate.

 I’m here, aren’t I?’

‘I don’t know, are you?’

‘You know I am.’


‘I thought about you all the time.’

‘I’ve only got your word for it.’

‘You’ve only got my word for anything.’

Poetry by heart 019

Finally, Kim Moore  [ 3.7 thousand followers       https://kimmoorepoet.wordpress.com/ ]

I’ve been following Kim Moore’s Sunday Poem posts for two and a half years. She has published a post every Sunday (but for the very few occasions when we’ve had to wait till Monday ) for four and a half years. I know that this afternoon she got back home after teaching a poetry residential course at Grange over Sands, and will almost certainly publish a brand new post tonight. In any week she will be teaching children how to play brass instruments, in many weeks she will be playing the trumpet in a brilliant band called The Soul Survivors (specialising in the faithful reproduction of Stax, Atlantic and Motown classics); she may be compiling bids for Arts Council and other sorts of funding for poetry projects; she may be planning a poetry festival; she may be getting ready to be Poet-in-Residence at a literature festival like Ilkley; she may be flown to Ireland or the Netherlands or Croatia; she will certainly be literally running, with an eye on another PB; she will be involved in the on-line poetry magazine, ‘The Compass’; she will be eating chocolate croissants, heading for another reading in another town, kipping on someone’s sofa or in a B&B, driving in horrible weather, somehow and somewhere along the way, writing stunning poems, but ALWAYS every week she will write the Sunday Poem.

Kim has her own specific formula, which in many ways is self-sustaining, albeit horribly demanding. Like a dearly-loved child. Every week she will write a guileless and action -packed account of what she’s been up to, so it’s like a journal. And she will post a poem she’s requested from someone she’s met up with, or recently read, and tell us why she likes it. She’s recently changed the formula to starting with the poem and her thoughts about it, and then writing about her week. Either way, it works because what you get to share is the working life and enthusiasms of a gigging, working, inspirational poet.

All four of my inspirational bloggers teach me something, and I’ve tried to suggest what it is. If I haven’t, then mea culpa. I will try harder. But they have all taught me the importance of being open, of taking risks, of sharing doubts and uncertainties, of championing what you think is important. And of doing it every week no matter what. I think the best bloggers are like sharks. If they stop swimming they die. They just need a flask of tea, or a friendly word, or a hand with the rucksack, or a ciggie, or a chocolate croissant. And the consoling lie that the end is just round the corner, or just over the hill.

Listen. I’ve not forgotten all those other poetry bloggers…Robin Houghton, Jo Bell, Maria Taylor, Jayne Stanton, Mark Connors, Julie Mellor. It’s the Desert Island Disc thing. There’s always someone great left out. Don’t be hurt. Please don’t unfriend me on Facebook.

Next week…a very special post with a Very Special Guest. Clean collars and ties. Think on.

Ways with words (with a nod to Mr Ely)


A couple of days ago I was sure I had a recollection of someone talking/writing about the way no-one knows the Bible any more. Turns out to have been one of those false memories; I’d actually saved an extract from an interview with Steve Ely in which he talks about what the Bible did, or didn’t, do for his writing.
I strongly suspect that this will be a bit disorganised. I’ve had five days in Whitby with sixteen  poets, under the kindly gaze of Ann and Peter Sansom. We were given twenty-seven writing tasks in four of those days. We were given no more than ten minutes to write a first draft in response to each of them.
We ate unfeasible amounts of custard. Custard is Sneaton Castle’s signature dish. There is also a lot of date and walnut cake. And scones. Every night we read poems to each other.
I know, because I’ve been there before, that after a suitable period of fasting, my mind will be clear again, and I will have a shape to my thoughts. But not right now. On the other hand, I’ve made promises, and one of them has been to stick to my routine, and write a cobweb post every Sunday. Here goes…but don’t expect coherence.
I’ve just popped into the local Nisa shop to get my Sunday paper. Three of the red-tops gave their complete front pages to an attempted burglary chez Simon Cowell. I realise I actually sort of know who he is. I know he’s famous. I think he managed the Spice Girls. I sort of knew about them at one time. One paper headlined ‘Machete terror on the Underground!!!’. Another told me NHS patients are being betrayed by the EU. I can’t get my head round that. One gave pride of place to a hypothetical witch-hunt of anti-Corbyn Labour MPs. Mine told me that I needn’t worry quite so much about greenhouse gases.
It makes you pause. It makes you think that the world is fragmented by language. All sorts of conversations in workplaces all over Britain will be shaped tomorrow by words printed on the front pages of newspapers. All sorts of words will become evidence, fact, reality. We will all talk ourselves into separate and exclusive worlds.
And this has what to do with poetry? I can hear you thinking. I can. It’s going to be tenuous, I suspect. But I’ll do my best. There are three or four disparate ideas jostling for attention in my head.
One is a memory of a writer who told me my chapbook, ‘Larach‘ was a ‘surprise’. It didn’t, apparently, sound like ‘me’. It turned out that he expected me to sound Northern and ancdotal, and to write about cobbled streets and rationing. Apparently that was ‘my voice’. The surprise was poems full of myth and legend.
Another, more famous, poet said that ‘of course’ I had this surprisingly rich and wide ranging vocabulary. She hastened to tell me that this wasn’t exactly a disadvantage, but she still managed to imply that it was, and to make me feel like an idiot savant.
Somewhere, or somewhen, recently, someone told me that Biblical language and reference would make something I’d written ‘inaccessible’.

Here’s where I went wrong and misremembered. Nothing like that at all. Much more coherent stuff from the wonderful Mr. Ely (of whom more later). This is part of what he said:

Although there is a long history of engagement with Biblical texts in English poetry (think Milton, Smart and Hopkins for example), and many contemporary poets occasionally adopt Biblical subject matter and forms (Andrew McMillan has written about Jacob’s wrestling match with ‘the angel’ at Penuel, the rhythms and phrasing of Kim Moore’s ‘In That Day’ have a distinct, if generic, Old Testament feel and Michael Symmons Roberts’ Drysalter is modelled on the Psalms), it nevertheless seems to me that many contemporary poets implicitly share the casual received opinion that ……… the Bible is manifestly and primarily an outdated, discredited and frequently offensive Handbook of Truth, [and] it can now be properly consigned to the dustbin of history

and also this, which resonates with me. It truly does.
I wanted to be a poet. And I had decided to study the Bible for a reason that seems so perverse and hubristic that almost thirty years later, I’m still a little nervous about sharing it. I wanted the Bible (Biblical literature, history and ‘mythology’) to become for me what classical Greek & Roman literature, history and mythology had hitherto been for ‘English poetry’, particularly Yeats, Eliot, Pound and Graves.
but, he adds, ruefully (?) : in fact, it wasn’t until 2006 [20 years later] that the Bible began to seep into, inform and influence my poetry.
Key words for me, those: seep. inform. influence
I recognise what’s going on there; last week, in response to a prompt to write, very quickly, something with a bird or animal in it, I wrote a poem about a wren.
I know very little about wrens, though I do watch the wrens in my garden with a sort of interest. When I read what I’d written, I realised that I hadn’t written it. I was somehow borrowing half-remembered stuff from Ted Hughes’ ‘What is the truth’. My poem starts: ‘when God made the Wren’ and it goes on to channel bits of stuff from folk-lore that I must have picked up in folk clubs. They weren’t my words or rhythms. That is, I hadn’t invented them, though I thought I ‘knew’ them as true in the way readers of The Sun think they know Simon Cowell, or readers of  ‘The Daily Mail’ know that Jeremy Corbyn is a jihadist sympathiser.  Somehow, something had seeped, informed, influenced. Magic.We are what we read.
What I think I’m working round to is a question. We recognise the ‘voice’ of the poets we love, or we think we do. It will have something to do with what they write about, but fundamentally it comes down to words, syntax and rhythm. We each make our ideolect, but we don’t make it out of nothing. So how do you recognise what is your voice? How do you know when it’s authentic and when you’re faking it? How much does knowing a lot of words help or hinder what  you’re after, which is, after all, the truth. because if it isn’t, why are you writing?
Here’s a thought. It’s a truth universally acknowledged (though not necessarily factually true) that Anglo-Saxon poetry has almost no words for colour. It’s world is one of shades of light and dark rather than one of hues. An austere hard world. I was much taken by something I came across while I was rummaging for hooks to hang this cobweb on. I can’t remeber the sourse..I just copied and pasted it.
Many surviving color words from Old English — dun, wan, sallow, bleak, dusky, swarthy, bright, murky, dark — refer to colors which are not hues. These words have more to do with chroma (reflectivity, brightness, quality of light) than with hue (wavelength). We tend to think of color only as hue. Out of all this you can get an insight into that world. Look around you and subtract all the artificial, man-made pigments from your world. Then look at what is left, and you may see why glitter and dark mattered more than pink and purple in naming what you see. Northern Europe through most of the seasons is a landscape of brown, gray, and dull green. The eruptions of color in spring and fall must have been brief and amazing, with an almost hallucinogenic intensity.
 There you go. That’s what I was after, or what I though I meant. If we write about churches and cathedrals or Greek temples now, they’ll be white or grey, plain, austere, too. But they were painted, weren’t they? As full of colour as medieval heraldry. Medieval poetry is rich with colour words. It’s a lusher, more exotic world, like that of Renaissance paintings, when colours were painstakingly ground from amazingly expensive pigments; it must have been like painting with jewels, or money. And all these rich hues have names. Write them down and you colour the world, and you make dreams and songs.
Think about that the next time you’re browsing a Farrow and Ball, or a Dulux, paint chart, and you are charmed by Goosefeather or Savannah or Tuscany or Mallard or Rose Dawn. Metaphors every one. I know there are a lot of colour words in my writing, and I know it’s because I spend a lot of time with paintings, and because I have a predominantly visual memory. I should also say there’s a lot of stone and ash and grey and dark, because I write a lot about mountains and cold places and weather. But MacCaig spent a lot more time than I have in those landscapes and his are full of variegated colour. And he knows a lot about birds.
Where do our voices come from? From what we hear and from what we read.
Why do we use this or that particular element of all our reading and listening and chance hearing?
Because of who we are and who we were and where we’ve been and what we’ve done.
Because we want to say what some of it means.
But what I’m inclined to think is that so much of the discussion and analysis and talk about poetry is about poems and how they sound and how they’re put together and how they work. Whereas, as I think I may have implied in a earlier post, I suspect what matters to me is the voice. By which I mean the shadowy imagined writer. What matters to me is whether I think I want to spend my time in their company.
Let me try to ilustrate what I mean by talking briefly about three poets who could not be more different, superficially. In a couple of weeks I’m going to celebrate a Cobweb Milestone by featuring Kim Moore as my Polished Gem. Some poets (and I’m one) try to make you see the world by reconstructing it in words. There’s a lot of vocabulary. Kim’s poems don’t do that. You’re hardly conscious of ‘words’ at all. They’re more like clear windows you see straight through to what she’s looking at. Like this:
[from Barrow to Sheffield ]
‘        still I love the train……………….
      ……………. and the way the track
stretches its limb across the estuary
as the sheep eat greedily at the salty grass,
and thinking that if the sheep aren’t rounded upwill they stand and let the tide come in, because
that’s what sheep do, they don’t save themselves.
It’s the way the poem shares an immediate, unschooled-in-the-ways-of-sheep wonder. ‘because / that’s what sheep do, they don’t save themselves. I suspect I’d have been off researching the ways of estuary sheep and trying to explain why this should be, and otherwise sharing a new-found knowledgeablity. It’s not adjectival, it’s not complicated, the verbs are everyday verbs, it’s as simple and layered as folktale. It’s the result of a lot of hard work. It seem artless. That’s one way with words.
Here’s another. Gaia Holmes this time:
[from The allure of frost]
 I want to spit
and weep and slap the corpse where she lies in her coffin
all done-up with hair grips and lipstick,
her sunken cheeks plumped out with wads of cotton wool
and the rictus of sin softened
by the crust of Rimmel Natural Beige powdering her face
and it’s so hot in here
that the cheese is sweating
Much more ‘vocabulary’ in this; so much frustration at wanting to ‘spit and weep and slap’ but being claustrophobically constrained. So much surface. So much texture. So much heat. There’s a feeling in a lot of Gaia’s poetry that the world is uncontrollable and overmuch, and the voice is like that of Alice in Wonderland. I keep waiting for that ‘nothing but a pack of cards’ moment.
And, finally, Steve Ely:
[from Winter nightwalk]
bearing baskets on balks and byways, cottars
picking sticks in the gorsey assart; vardos
circled on the wood- smoke common,
colliers in mufflers, ploughmen harrowing
tilth: generations have trod these humdrum
acres, lives written and erased in the
palimpsest of earth; but in the snow-stilled
quiet of a winter’s night, in mind, in fancy,
or on the plasm direct, you can hear the
cacophonous landscape calling: a fair field
full of folk
It couldn’t be more different, on the surface, from Kim Moore, could it? Jam-packed and alliterative, with dialect words, medieval words, odd words like palimpsest, slant refences to Gerard Manley Hopkins, explicit lifts from Piers Plowman, contextually anachronistic words like plasm. Not a landscape seen through a train window without assumptions or detailed knowledge, but a rough south Yorkshire common buzzingly alive with its own history and the unrecorded people who made it. Poetry bursting with absorbed verse and texts.
And you know you’re in the company of someone who wants so much to wlak you through his landscape, persuade you of our common cause and heritage, and to make you want to hug your language to you, and also to wave it like a banner. What all three have is a way with words that is quite authentically their own, so that I would know them anywhere.
I’m intrigued about the business of where young poets get their words from these days, because, wherever it is, I suspect it is absorbed unconsciously rather than concertedly or intentionally. I was thinking of what I remember someone saying about Milton. This must have been 30 years ago, so I can’t remember the who or the where. But the argument was basically that it wouldn’t be long before no-one would be able to read Milton because no-one was being taught Latin and no-one knew the Bible. I suspect that it’ll be even fewer now. But I’m not sure that means we can’t read Milton. Who was it a couple of weeks ago saying that you can’t understand Shakespeare if you’ve not been to university? Not a shred of irony. I’m pretty sure we can use words we don’t completely ‘understand’. We can use words like ‘gravity’ and ‘atom’ and ‘electricity’ quite unselfconsciously. I doubt most of us can actually explain them. I grew up with the language of the Bible, and the language of hymns. It’s what happened every day at school. I was maybe 5 when I learned to ask God to ‘forgive us us trespassers’. Why God was concerned that we might be playing in Stubley’s mill yard would trouble me briefly. The rhythms of hymns and psalms leached into my language. They’ll still be there, vestigially. We are what we regularly hear and regularly read. The start of the school days was shared with jehovah, ineffable, satanic, almighty, holiness and wrathfulness, the dance of three and four-syllabled words. We sang lyrics by Milton, Bunyan, George Herbert, Wesley. We didn’t have a clue. Maybe it gave me a taste for unfamiliar lexis; maybe Shakespeare filled me with iambics so I can never lose them. It’s what I have to filter the world through, or what I have to recreate it. You can have a way with words. They’ll have their way with you.
[I’ve just reread this. It’s exactly as I feared. If you have made any sense of it, then congratulations. On the other hand, I’ve spent several hours wrestling with it, and I’m disinclined to press DELETE. I’ll leave it as it is, promise you something very uncomplicated next week, and chuck in a poem as an apology. Of sorts]


Even with coal fires and the fume of mills
the sky at night was clearer then
and there were far too many stars
to match the star-maps’ neatly labelled
white-on-black geometries; the join-the-dots
stick drawings never matched the lovely names –
Aldebaran, Andromeda, the Pleiades,
Orion, Aquarius, the Plough;
like the language of the hymns and psalms
that hung like sunlit dust in childhood chapels,
right on the edge of understanding:
bread of heaven, paths of righteousness,
ancient of days; I shall lift up mine eyes
to the hills, to the firmament
lost in the fraying weft and warp
of vapour trails, unravelling
saltires; faltering vectors
whose destinations can’t be guessed.
In the hazy underglow of crowding towns
the stars are slowly fading in the skies;
in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes.

(from my pamphlet, Backtracks)
FINALLY: should you want to pursue the business of biblical (and other fabulous) languages in your poetry, then follow this link to Steve Ely’s online Poetry School course, and you will store up riches in heaven.