I promised you last week that we’d be having a guest, and also that I wouldn’t keep you waiting with a lengthy lot of musings about whatever had distracted me during the week. On the other hand, I did say I’d explain the business of an important Rugby League game. If you’re not passionate about big lads knocking lumps off each other on cold hilltops in West Yorkshire, then you can skip the next bit.
Last Sunday, I not only had the huge pleasure of telling you about Vicky Gatehouse and her poetry but also the infinite pleasure of watching Batley Bulldogs snatch a last-second draw against much-fancied full-time professionals, Bradford Bulls. You really had to be there. This is what made me extraordinarily happy.
Right. Enough of that. Because what you came for was poetry, and poetry you shall have. If you read Kim Moore’s blog posts in The Sunday Poem on a regular basis, you’ll have come across our guest, Mike Di Placido before (September 2013), as you will if you go to Poetry readings at places like The Albert in Huddersield. You’ll probably know him if you’re from North Yorkshire. But the chances are you’ve not come across him despite his being published by Smiths/Doorstop. As far as I’m concerned that’s like a lot of Michelin stars; it means Ann and Peter Sampson say he’s good, and that’s good enough for me.
I first heard him before I heard of him…at the Albert, one of four poets that included Kim Moore. And, like Kim, I was a fan straight off. He’s got a stand-up comedian’s dry delivery and sense of timing. He knows how to deliver a line. Low-key and quick on his feet. There are poets who do a lot of self-publicising. Mike Di Placido isn’t one of them..all light under bushel and low profile. So, if he won’t blow his own trumpet, I’ll blow one for him.
Time for introductions: Mike lives with his wife and two daughters in the village of Seamer, near Scarborough, North Yorkshire. He is an ex-professional footballer and England Youth International – although that time seems to be, increasingly, like some previous incarnation.
His debut pamphlet, Theatre of Dreams (Smith/Doorstop: 2009), takes its title from his magical trial with Manchester United in the early seventies. His time there is warmly recorded in snapshots of Messrs. Busby, Stiles, Law and, not least, his fourth person of The Trinity, George Best.
After peddling his soccer wares from York City to Australia and New Zealand in the mid-seventies, Mike returned to study, eventually taking an MA in Poetry at Huddersfield University, in 2000, while working as a househusband
His second collection, A Sixty Watt Las Vegas (Valley Press 2013), features poems in celebration of his home town of Scarborough, North Yorkshire. He is currently working on a Poem/film about the town’s literary, cultural and historical legacy.
Mike’s poetry has appeared in magazines such as Pennine Platform, The Rialto and his spiritual home The North; and also in Poetry Anthologies by Templar Poetry, Poetrypf and Valley Press. His poems have been shortlisted four times in The Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition and once for The Bridport Prize (2012). He has appeared at numerous literary festivals including those of Manchester, Wakefield, Bridlington and Scarborough. His poems have been translated into Romanian and German, and have also been broadcast on both British and European radio.
He is currently working on a new poetry collection, a celebration – in his own poetry and prose – of the work of Ted Hughes, and on a verse drama, based upon the malevolent dragon of Old Norse and Germanic myth and literature, entitled: Delivering the Dragon Stone. AND he is also involved at the moment with a theatrical touring outfit, called Live
Canon (www.livecanon.co.uk), who have invited him to respond, with a poem, to a
Shakespeare sonnet, which will be included in a forthcoming anthology as part of
this years 400 year commemoration of the bard’s death. There is publicity about
it on their website. AND he had two poems on a CD they produced, in 2012, celebrating
Scarborough, entitled, succinctly enough, ‘Scarborough in Verse.’
He also still harbours a lifelong ambition to be a Frank Sinatra impersonator on a cruise ship. (I can also vouch for the fact that he is a mean pool-player; one of those things you can learn on a Poetry Business residential)
Three things to pick out. How many ex-international footballers do you know who write poetry? How many poets do you know who’ve been shortlisted four times in the PB Pamphlet Competition? How many poets do you know who are not only working on a new collection, but actually know what the title is? I reckon that should have whet your appetites. Time for poems.
One extract to start us off, from a poem about an encounter with Simon Armitage.
(The Oak rooms, Byram Arcade, Huddersfield; 13th June 2008)
We were getting on famously ….
Then he was gone, Time to melt into
the Huddersfield air, he said, poetically,
leaving me wondering if he ever took a night off
and if I’d upset him somehow? Pictured him
padding up the darkening lane to Station Street,
nervously checking over his shoulder
as he made his way back to his golden life.
It was that last phrase ‘his golden life’ that stuck in my mind when I heard him read it, deadpan. Self-deprecation edged with irony. It made us laugh. But there’s a lot more to his work that that. Like poems about animals.
You wouldn’t be surprised if you heard
the clanking of metal when he took off.
Perhaps you’ve wandered into Jurassic Park?
Ridiculous, this gangling oddball.
But not that skewer of a beak
you imagine a fish seeing
through the shattering glass,
the whirl of water.
I love the way this nails the strange ungainlines of the heron as it takes off and lands, like a broken kite…and then the unwavering stiletto concentration of the bird, motionless in a stream, and hunting; I love that switch of perspective that makes the heron not funny at all. Mike does a similar thing with the hare in a stubble-field
in a fallow field
as though he can’t be seen.
(And you amazed, again,
at just how big they are.)
Not the brightest of course:
like jay-walking pheasants
or partridges, losing it,
just when the gun’s being cocked.
But you really like him. Just know
he’d be a riot if he could talk –
how well you’d get on.
And those semaphore ears!
Now he’s off again:
going like the clappers
over the furrows, doing that
bicycle wheel number
just for the hell of it. As though,
those clenched gnashers,
he just can’t keep it all in.
I think what I really like about this is the quality of observation and the way that apparently conversational, idiomatic language makes you see that hare doing that
buckled bicycle wheel number, the sense of barely contained energy….and the ears!
Two more poems, now, this time from the human menagerie. A lot of Mike’s poems are drily streetwise, and these are two of my favourites.
Not Quite Birdsong
A butcher where I worked once
was a whistler – you know the type:
aggressive, soulless. I’d stand around
being useless somewhere planning his death.
Days at his block and bacon slicer
rending the air, making his shrill statement.
Clocking on to clocking off –
Colonel Bogey or The Sheik of Araby.
And you could tell he worked at it –
thought he was good. I’d think
of his family, how they coped.
Thought about sympathy cards.
And the other butchers? Surely
he was pushing his luck
next to all those knives and meat-hooks.
Not forgetting, of course, the mincer.
What I like here, apart from being reminded that I no longer have to work alongside men like the butcher, in warehouses, or on conveyors, is that shift of attention or perspective that lifts the poem from being an entertaining anecdote. I’d think of his family, how they coped. It’s that sudden imagining that this insistent whistler has a life beyond work and that while the poet can go home, the butcher’s family are already there. Work and pleasure…the next poem makes me wonder about the wisdom of a certain kind of family day out.
Cracking some gag about tomato juice
outside ‘Drac’s Diner’, I’m Harry Houdini
escaping from the family rucksack. Shouting
“I’ll catch you up by the Zebras!” I collapse
on a bench. A woman’s yelling “Ro-ry!”
as grown-ups go skipping by with their kids
till superego’s wagging finger
puts them sharply back in step.
A wrist-slashing jingle repeats itself so that
I see the attendant losing it,
ramming the throttle on full pelt and running
screaming into the Lion pit.
Those cockatoos seem happy enough,
and a red-arsed monkey’s
attempting to brain another with a stick
while a third looks on masturbating.
All things considered, it’s quite heroic really,
families making a stab at it under
an August thunderscape—though Rory’s
mother’s at it again (what could he be up to?).
Then at ‘Thunder Mountain’, I pass a man dressed
as a pterodactyl, and a strapping young lass
in t-shirt and shorts with an ad across her chest
which I try not to read.
I guess we have to overlook the poet’s escape from responsibility, and try to forget who’s left looking after the shop. I’ll forgive him (well, I’m a bloke…what do you expect) but just for that one conceit.
I’m Harry Houdini
escaping from the family rucksack
It’s the image of stout canvas, of straps and buckles that does it, and the insouciance of a Houdini, pulling off another trick. Sleight of hand and misdirection, and there we are, sitting on a bench, watching the stressed-out world go by, or trying to ignore that strapping young lass.
So there we are. Thank you Mike Di Placido for being our guest and sharing your poems…the last four are all from Theatre of Dreams. Queue nicely, buy your copies, and he’ll sign them, and possibly tell you a joke.
Next week I’ll be revisiting the business of Residential Writing Courses, and still telling you why they are A Good Thing. Should you feel tempted to take the family to Flamingo Land this Easter, read the poem, and think again.
Theatre of Dreams : [Smith /Doorstop 2009] £5.00
A 60 watt Las vegas : [Valley Press 2013] £7.99/ Kindle edition £2.99