Gems revisited: Bob Horne (and Calder Valley Poetry)

sea eagle

As Garrison Keillor would never have written: it has been a busy week, here in the West (and North) Riding of Yorkshire. Three book launches, and a reading with more poets than you could shake a stick at.

In reverse order: yesterday was an afternoon of Irish roots and more or less loose connections at The Midland Hotel in Bradford. Bradford is a handsome city, even now, and the Midland is a proper hotel. The reading was in the Princess ballroom, which is pretty much as you might imagine something on the ‘Titanic’…about half the size of a football pitch, with mirrored walls, sconces, and the biggest chandelier in the universe. And a line up to match. In the company of Tom Weir, Steve Ely, Bob Horne (today’s guest) and a big audience dwarfed by the huge room, I listened to Anthony Costello, Tom Cleary, John McAuliffe, Natalie Rees (who was a revelation, and who I want to write about in a longer post), Peter Riley, my lovely poetry mate Kim Moore, and Ian Duhig. Came home poemed-out and ate fish and chips. And mushy peas.

Friday night in York, at The Basement, for the northern launch of Paper Swans Press: ‘The chronicles of Eve’. It’s a handsome book with lovely red endpapers, handsomely edited by Wendy Pratt (who was there and who read, as did Jane Kite and Carole Bromley, and Vicky Gatehouse, among others). And it’s down to the work of the exceedingly lovely Sarah Miles…how do they get the energy and comitment, these amazing people who set up and run small poetry presses? They are utterly wonderful.

Which brings us neatly to Thursday and subsequently to Tuesday, for the launch at the Albert Hotel in Huddersfield of Mark Hinchcliffe’s pamphlet: ‘The raven and the laughing head’ and to The Blind Pig in Sowerby Bridge, for the Calderdale launch of Steve Ely’s Werewolf. Both of which are published by a brand new small poetry press, Calder Valley Poetry, which is the brain/lovechild of my friend and publisher, Bob Horne.

In 2014, I wrote how Bob Horne and the other Heads of Drama in Calderdale kept me sane,  how I got early retirement, and how that was it for twenty years, until I met Bob again at a Monday workshop session of the Albert Poets in Huddersfield. And how twenty years was an eyeblink. Since then, we have somehow found ourselves running The Puzzle Poets Live monthly sessions, which, with the demise of the Puzzle hall Inn, is now at The Blind Pig, just round the corner, 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). Oh, and Bob has become a poetry publisher. More of that later.

Two years ago he wrote:

“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.

And so it stayed, until 2013, when I hit 65. 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 lots of research for his poems, whether they’re about railway navvies or Edwardian photograhers. Also, I now know what a punctiliously painstaking editor and proof-reader he is. 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.

(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. One day I’ll persuade him to write the story of that 2000 mile walk. He goes 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.”…

(I love that detail of the slow creak and rustle of ‘the page of an enormous book. )


You’d think that having walked two thousand miles would justify putting your feet up. Bob Horne doesn’t buy that. So, what’s he been doing since appeared as a cobweb guest two years ago. Well, he’s been writing poems, like this one, that inhabits the precisely identified landscape of a 1950s childhood.


Below the Methodist chapel,

across from Smallwood’s farm,

Charlie Soothill’s chip shop.

Saw to the bets until it became legal

and someone opened a bookie’s.

Spent each-way pennies

down The Travellers on a Saturday

after he’d cleaned the green range,

Frank Ford Halifax across the top.


Best batter in the land.

Took a chip from each frying,

tested it between finger and thumb;

a look was enough for the fish.


In the window next door, Charlie’s daughter.

Laughed when we offered a seasoned chip,

laughed at summer sunsets, snow,

dust blown down the street on darkening days.

We’d never heard the word Downs,

only two-syllabled insults

we couldn’t call her. Christine,

always on the other side of the glass.


Bob says : ‘I seem to gravitate to writing about my childhood but I hope the poems are not self-centred, by which I mean that I don’t for one moment imagine the experiences are unique to me. I’m a representative of an age, born after the Second World war ended, very different from today. Michael Longley says (can’t remember whether I read this or heard it in an interview) that his generation never got over the First World War. I know what he means. I’ve written about my four grandparents. In only one of those poems did I set out to write directly about the First World War, but it’s there in each of the four. When I think about them, their contemporaries, neighbours, their homes in the 1950s, I feel the great unspoken knowledge of horror, a sadness that defined all their lives. A bond as well. Survivors. Interestingly, the one of those four poems which deals directly with the war doesn’t really work, although that may be just my own failure. Definitely is, on reflection.”


Here’s the one that I think I like best.


Christmas Morning


Cold rain in an east wind

on grandad’s allotment

where I wasn’t allowed –

He likes to be on his own

when hes back from work

except this once a year.


Icicle fingers ripping sprouts

from their stalks for dinner,

then into the frowsty shed

for his tale of the Territorials,

trained to fire a rifle, the time

they won the Bingham Trophy


when the town brass band

met them at the station,

marched them past a crowd

of neighbours and workmates

and folk they didn’t know

along the High Street.


See the Conquering Hero Comes

in perfect four-part harmony

cornets thrilling to the high notes,

August nineteen-twelve

as hot a day as they’d known

the whole summer.


Bob continues: “A big part of the memories of those days centres around our annual holiday to Broadstairs. I can measure growing up through the successive years – being able to swim out to a raft anchored in the bay, dive off the jetty, walk along the beach to Ramsgate and back with my friends, drink Coca Cola and play the juke box in Morelli’s, holiday romances, under-age drinking. “ I choose Raft as my favourite.



That summer I was strong enough

to swim out, haul myself from the water

on to the black wooden boards

as the tide smacked at its sides.


From harbour to headland

chalk cliff to shoreline

summer colour covered the sands,

spilled into the fringes of the sea.


I turned my back on the shallows

busy with the clamour of paddlers,

swayed on the ups and downs of waves

reeling in through grey-green emptiness,


balanced on the raft, still not adrift

but out of my depth, loving it.


“This and many other poems have run the gauntlet of the discerning band of poets who meet in The Sportsman Inn,  in Huddersfield on Monday evenings. I’ve learnt much from their different approaches to the appreciation of poems, and always receive excellent advice. Someone always sees something I’ve missed.

Another category of poem has crept into my repertoire over the past 18 months, coinciding, I think, with beginning to attend Gaia Holmes’s Igniting the Spark workshops on Tuesdays in Halifax. I’d never done this before, but the need to think quickly has given rise to some poems which are lighter in tone . Not all of these originated in the workshops but my point is that the influence is there.”

(I’ll just sneak in to say that ‘lighter’ sometimes disguises an edge, and often a sense of thwarted hope or frustrated justice. I think that this happens with the next poem Bob’s let me share, and one that also shows that he can have a smart way with a title)


My Parents Kept Me

My parents kept me from children who were smooth,

lived behind high walls at the top end of the park,

went to boarding school, came home for half-term

in braided blazers and caps, went out

with the doctor’s dark-haired daughter.


Carried in Jags to each other’s houses,

lunched at the golf club, spent the summers

playing at sailors somewhere hot and south;

drilled in the skill of the straight bat,

while we just slogged at everything.


You never saw them near our terraces,

unmade streets; queuing on light nights

for threepenn’orth with bits at the chip shop.

They didn’t look (but knew we were there)

when they drove in the rain past the bus stop.


One winter we smashed them with snowballs,

forced them back to their iron gates

in a frenzy of venom and envy,

jeered at their feeble retreat.

A peasants’ revolt that altered nothing,

or so says the doctor’s white-haired daughter.


Bob now has a collection coming out, launch date tentatively set for Wednesday 6th July. It’s to be called Knowing My Place and includes poems mainly written in the last three years, though there are one or two from his earlier, brief, incarnation as a poet when he did the Huddersfield Poetry MA in the mid-90s. His publisher will be Simon Zonenblick and his Caterpillar Poetry small press.

Which brings us to something that I have real reason to be grateful for: Since he featured here last in June 2014, Bob has created his own small poetry press, Calder Valley Poetry. Here’s how it happened.

“Twelve months ago I helped Simon with his Caterpillar Poetry publication of Nuala Fagan’s Not All Birdsong. He suggested, as I was interested in publishing, I start my own small press. I had previously considered this after a conversation with local poets and presiding spirits of the Albert Poets, Steph Bowgett and John Duffy. I asked them why they hadn’t published anything since the mid-nineties. They both said they couldn’t be bothered with the hassle. Hmmm, I thought, I can be bothered on your behalf.


The idea for Calder Valley Poetry came about soon after my conversation with Simon. Originally a collection of Simon’s was going to be the first pamphlet. For various reasons this didn’t materialise at the time (but will later this year). When I asked John Foggin who his next publisher was to be, his response of “You, if you like” took me by surprise, and delight. We were off. Energising meetings over coffee as Outlaws and fallen angels took shape. Realising that the little jobs took up a lot of time. I suppose these can be summarised as ‘Making Sure It Looks Right on the Page’: not just the poems; the whole package – font (I love Garamond because it’s stylish without being flashy), how to present notes, style of Contents. I use Word; I prefer to stick with what I know best, even if I don’t necessarily know it well. Then there’s liaising with the printer.

Of course, the model used was The Poetry Business pamphlets, specifically, Kim Moore’s If we could speak like wolves. This is what I based Nuala’s on. I liked the format and thought it would transfer to the larger A5 pamphlet, using good quality paper for the contents and the dust cover. And it did.

That’s when events took a surprising turn. Steve Ely had written some blurb for Outlaws and fallen angels. I sent him a couple of copies by way of thanks. He emailed me to say he thought it was ‘beautifully produced’ and was I interested in publishing a pamphlet of his. This was flattering and encouraging. I didn’t know Steve – we’d met only once, when he was guest poet at The Puzzle Poets in 2014 – but there followed a succession of exchanges of email as, for the second time, a pamphlet slowly took shape and became Werewolf. We both felt the upsurge in enthusiasm for what was developing. Again, the little things took time – a space here, an indent there, altering the sequence of poems so that those on two pages were on opposite pages (I’ve noticed that most publishers don’t bother about this), occasional consideration of punctuation.

There was a repeat of events when Peter Riley, having written a blurb for Werewolf, contacted me to say he had a pamphlet of poems called Pennine Tales. He was looking for a local publisher and had heard from Steve that I could ‘turn them round quickly’. Once more the delightful process of ‘designing’ commenced (I was actually still working on Steve’s at the time). I love opening the document on my laptop, tinkering, envisaging the finished pamphlet.

Peter sent copies to Roy Fisher (yes, the Roy Fisher) who’d provided some blurb. Roy emailed him, saying, ‘I’m glad to see your man made a good job of it, particularly with the presentation of the text.’ So proud of that. I‘m your man!

And now there’s a fourth pamphlet : Mark Hinchliffe’s The Raven and the Laughing Head. which had its launch at The Albert Hotel in Huddersfield on Thursday 19th May, two days after the Calderdale launch of Werewolf at the Blind Pig

I now have about a dozen collections in the pipeline. Half of these are by poets I’ve sounded out, but I’ve also been approached by a number of people. I’m busy, and I’ve been thinking I could do with a partner. Perhaps I’ll have to slow down, but I think I’ve become addicted.

Is there a downside?  If there is, it’s the lack of time and energy to write. I’ve hardly written a thing for three months, and what I have started is unfinished and half-forgotten.”

So, there you are. My unabashed tribute to my friend, Bob Horne. Poet and Publisher, and a dab hand with a mic. You can find out all about Calder Valley Poetry by following this link.

And you can go and buy all four titles via the site. Go on. You really must.

John Foggin:  Outlaws and fallen angels

Steve Ely:      Werewolf                            

Peter Riley      Pennine Tales                  

Mark Hinchcliffe The raven and the laughing head


Thanks to hard-working Greg Freeman you can also read an article about Calder Valley Poetry by following this link to the excellent Write out Loud site

Oh. One more thing. The photo of the white-tailed eagle at the top of the page is a bit misleading. Bob saw his, close up, right in the north of the mainland. Whereas, some lucky blighter saw this one not far from the cottage where we stay on Skye, over the loch, looking towards the shoreline track between Suishnish and Boreraig. I am deeply envious.

Next week all will be revealed when I tell you all about Judging the Red Shed Poetry Competition. The tension’s unbearable, I know. But put everything away tidily. I shall count the scissors and pencils. Off you go. No running.








Sunday Poem – Steve Ely

Sunday Poem – Steve Ely

Great piece by Kim Moore on Steve Ely’s latest pamphlet, ‘Werewolf’. Uncompromising, uncomfortable work that deserves a huge audience. Calderdale launch this Tuesday at 7.30pm, The Blind Pig, Sowerby Bridge. It’ll be a great night.

Kim Moore

I’ve discovered this week that I’m not very good at being ill.  I have quite a few friends who live with chronic pain or illness and they always seem to be cheerful and full of good humour, and to just get on with things.  I was ill on Thursday with some kind of stomach bug.  It only lasted one day – by the time I woke up on Friday, I felt much better, just very weak from not eating the day before. On Thursday though, it felt like I would never get better, and that I was in fact, mortally ill.  I told you I’m not good at being ill.  I get very dramatic and imagine that I’m dying.  I also get bored very easily because I felt too ill to even sit up  and watch TV, I couldn’t concentrate on a book, and I couldn’t go to sleep.  Anyway, very luckily…

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Knowing your place: Di Slaney’s “Reward for winter”


Perhaps it started with a book I was given at the age of 8. The wind in the willows. I’ve still got it. What lodged in my imagination were the end-paper maps of the River Bank , of Toad Hall, Mole’s house. I knew where they were, how to get from one to the other. For me, via the Narnia Books, The Lord of the Rings and the rest, a map has always validated the story, put it in a navigable place. And then there was Treasure Island, where maps were the clue to treasures that might be dug up and make me richer. When there were no maps provided with a story I would draw one; it was the way I could visualise the where of the what. I once devised a cross-sectional drawing of Alderley Edge so I could figure out the underground journey in The weirdstone of Brisingamen. It didn’t work too well because it needed to be 3-dimensional, and I reckoned that was a step too far. But you get the point. I love stories and poems rooted in place ( like Jane Clarke’s The River, say), and maps make places real.

Why am I telling you this? Well, because of a close encounter with our guest today. I met, and didn’t meet her, on Arran, at the McLellan Poetry Prize awards evening. There we were with Simon Armitage, and although Di Slaney wasn’t there, her commended poem Ingar’s Holt was, and Simon read it out. I didn’t pick up the poet’s name, but like Simon Armitage I was much taken by the fact of an OS map reference, or, more accurately, a reference to an OS map in the title. It was a short poem, but amongst other things it taught me just how a title can grab your attention. And I remember that U.A.Fanthorpe has a poem with an OS grid reference for a title, and that it once sent me off to write a landscape sequence based on notes made once a month for a year from the same place on the OS Map Sheet :110. 

This poem isn’t the one I heard on Arran, but it’s the one that gives the third sequence of the collection its title:

Bildr’s thorp

 He ran from the farm like he was learning to slay,

great grandfather’s hounds snouting his heels

with low battle howls, an invisible axe twirling

through grass downhill to the ditch. The half-

remembered hearthtale of severed hands

hovered somewhere north, somewhere hard

and cold and red, somewhere near a shore

far from here, when boats were more

important than carts and jewels as big as

skimstones pinned the eyelids of the dead.

Nothing was owned or held, only wanted.

Movement was everything and settlement a

rumour of old age few would see, or wish for.

He ran from the softness of straw and the comfort

of cattle. He ran because his mother called him

darling, kept him closer than the hounds and

tighter than the bindings on his fox fur boots.

And as he ran, something small and fierce burned

through his chest until it burst on his tongue,

sprayed through the story of the morning in

one long eulalia, herald warrior in waiting

for a past buried under this rocky mound, safe

behind the ramparts of his father’s steading.


There I was on Arran, aware, and unaware of Di Slaney. It was only retrospectively that I realised I’d met, and not met, her before, at an Interpreter’s House launch at The Fenton in Leeds, I think in 2014. (I met Maggie Mackay there for the first time, and Maria Iasakova Bennett, too). And Di Slaney, who I actually remembered because I had never before seen a poet turn up at a reading to perform AND to sell wool. I still haven’t properly met her, but we are Facebook Friends, and after reading and re-reading Reward for winter I feel as though I know her pretty well, as you will when you buy her book and read and re-read it yourselves.


So, by indirect and serpentine ways we come to the poet and her poems. Di Slaney lives with her husband in the Grade II Listed, 400 year old Manor House Farm in Nottinghamshire with more animals than is sensible. If you look up a site called Historic Nottinghamshire, you come to the image of the farmhouse, seen from the churchyard. The post, written in 2003 describes it as ‘sadly empty and delapidated’. Which is an important nugget of information when you come to read the collection. She runs an Egg Club to raise funds for British Hen Welfare Trust and sells speciality yarn from her small flock of rare breed and rescued sheep under the name Hooligan Yarns. Di has a degree in English and European Literature from the University of Warwick, an MA in Creative Writing from Nottingham Trent University and has co-owned Candlestick Press since 2010. She has been a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing for over 15 years, and founded Nottingham marketing agency Diversity which employs 70 people. Her poems have been anthologised and published in various magazines as well as being shortlisted for the Plough Prize and the Bridport Prize, and commended in the McLellan Prize.  Two of her poems won joint first prize in the 2014 Brittle Star Poetry Competition and she won first prize in the 2015 Four Corners Poetry Competition. Her debut pamphlet collection Dad’s Slideshow is available from Stonewood Press, and her first full collection Reward for Winter is available from Valley Press.


Let me tell you what I like about Reward for winter. One thing surprised me; I’m not an animal lover, or, I’m not someone who is comfortable around animals, apart from cats, who don’t give a toss anyway. But I have to say I was sideswiped by How to knit a sheep, not just for its wit and invention, but also for its knowledgeableness, that works much as Ted Hughes’ poems in What is the truth do. As do the poems in the sequence ‘Washing eggs’ which will teach you as much about chickens as you are ever likely to need to know.

I’ve written in another post [Matters of fact: August 22,  2015] about how I like poems that grow out of absorbed research. It’s why I like the poetry of Julie Mellor who explores the esoteric side by side with the everyday, and of Christy Ducker, and her painstaking discoveries of Grace Darling. I love the way the language seeps into the fabric of the poetry and fast-dyes it With me it’s been John Prebble’s Glencoe, and Highland Clearances, and Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways, Mountains of the mind, Landmarks..except, of course, it’s their research and my reading of it, and their language that colours and forms my writing. I think this is partly what happens in Reward for winter, which has 7 satisfyingly packed pages of Notes at the end. I enjoyed them enormously.

What else? I like writing that grows out of specific, realised places. I think that it probably started with Akenfield, which took me to reading work like Twenty years a-growing, Roger Deakin’s Notes from Walnut Tree Farm (which, like Di Slaney’s collection, grows out of living in a place that has been been restored to life by the writer), Adam Nicholson’s Sea Room; Ted Hughes’ Remains of Elmet; Norman Nicholson’s poetry of Cumbria , Roethke’s of market gardens and greenhouses, all suffused with the language and textures of loved, known landscape. Let’s add to that stories that evolve through generations lived in a single place. The Rainbow, and Alan Garner’s wonderful Stone Book Quartet, and the more puzzling Thursbitch.

I thought it best to explain why I’d be personally well disposed towards Reward for winter. Maybe it were well to offer more generally accepted criteria. For a start, Di Slaney writes what Jonathan Edwards has described as ‘sophisticated and dexterous poems…..beautifully crafted and very moving’. There are terza rimas,  every conceivable variant on the sonnet (and faux-sonnet) with crafty and elegant rhyme schemes. The poems have a sure-footedness that lets you know just where you are, and how to hear them; there’s a precise ear for line breaks, for diction, for rhythm, and so much richness of rhyme; slant rhymes, internal rhymes. So much music.

Two more things. Clive James nails it for me when he writes about how you ‘hear the force of real poetry at a glance’, ‘the stanza held together by its rhythmical drive’, and how ‘everything…depends on the quality of the moment….it’s the moment that gets you in’. I know when I read Reward for winter just what he means. My copy bristles with Post-its where I’ve wanted to highlight an image, a moment.

Like this from How to knit a sheep:  each click a kiss, /  each gartered purl a sweet low / riff to make him give it all’

You see what I mean about diction, about line breaks, about texture?

Or this image of the mother cat in Muck and straw:  ‘watchful that her babies stopped / fawning on the quiet girl nosefirst in a book.”  I do like that ‘nosefirst’,

and I like the surprising physicality of the dark in Doubtful words: Then  we lie / fallow, cut off by the dark with nights slamming / like sashes. It’s the guillotine slam of a sash window that’s memorable.

As is this from Bildr’s thorp:

            ……….when boats were more

           important than carts and jewels as big as

          skimstones pinned tothe eyes of the dead.

How precise and unexpected is that ‘skimstone’, that ‘pinned’

I realise I said ‘two more things’. The second may not win universal approval, but I like a collection in sections when the sections illuminate each other as they do here. Part One, ‘How to knit a sheep’ settles you into the landscape and the house as the poet has grafted to make it hers and sit happily in it. Part Two: ‘Washing eggs’ celebrates (often ruefully) the business of rearing chickens which justifies the work that’s gone into the house. If I have a reservation about this sequence it would be about the first-person testimony of the chickens, and I wondered how it would have worked in the second person. But maybe that says more about my own lack of comfort with the anthropomorphic; which is ironic give how much I loved ‘Wind in the willows’. I just wanted to put it up for discussion. Part Three ‘Bildr’s Thorp’ is perhaps my favourite, because of the way it celebrates the imagined history of the village where the farm and its chickens belong. This sequence inhabits the kind of territory that Steve Ely’s poetry does, where the past elides with the present, and where it isn’t hard to believe in ghosts.

So, there we are. I’m enthusiastic about this collection. To be honest, I wouldn’t want to write about one  I didn’t care for…I just want to share a pleasure. So I guess this isn’t a proper review. It’s a recommendation. If you are doubtful, even after you’ve read Bildr’s thorp, let’s see if we can convince you with a selection that Di Slaney has sent me to share with you.


A sonnet, first, to prove everything I said about the confident handling of rhyme, and because it makes me laugh.


 Look, I have to do this in the dark

where it’s quiet, free of all your

brainless interruptions that mark

and mangle every minute. The score


of stupid questions asked today is ten.

I’m getting to the point of no return,

brewing on the brink.  Remember when

I said don’t bother me in here?  Learn


to fend more for yourself?  Which bit

of ‘leave me’ can’t you understand?

You’ve always been a selfish shit,

get it in your dimwit that you’re banned,


banished, binned and duly bollocked.  Cough

and mutter all you like, as long as you fuck off.


and then three poems that encapsulate  all I feel about this poet’s absorption in the overlapping and eliding histories of a place that she so obviously loves.

Three witches




Ernehale 1971


Inside this plastic barrel, on this

playground, I see all the colours

of summer spin by like the kaleidoscope

in Mrs Blatherwick’s art class. They

roll me over and over and over. I know that

the marks on my legs and moles on my neck

won’t be any smaller when they let me out, so

I don’t make a sound.  If I squeak or cry

from fear, they will tip me all the faster

and they’ll win.  Even though the pounding

of their fists and the hiss of ‘witch, witch, witch’

makes them seem older, stronger,

harder, they are only five, just like me.



  Bilsthorpe 1595


I am Joan Bettyson of Bilsthorpe, healer of

cows, gatherer of herbs, loyal daughter and

god-fearing, church-going wife, falsely

accused this day by friends and neighbours

of the Devil’s work.

Shame on you – shame on you all,

who drink the milk and take your calves to

market with sleek round bellies

filled by their mothers’ flowing teats.

If I were what you say – and I protest

I am not with every breath, every

paternoster ave, my knees creaked to the floor

to crawl to Jesus – if I were such a woman,

then by God you would know a reckoning that

would make the church tower tremble as it

did in the day of Gilbert de Gand,

warmonger and whoremaster of this parish.


But I am not, and the earth and sky are

quiet, and light with summer, and

the scent of rosemary fills the air.

Smell it now, my good friends, and then

release me.


Bilsthorpe 2013


When she rang the bell, I really was

up to my oxters, between six different,

pulled from pillar. So it wasn’t a lie

to say I didn’t have time to buy, or offer an

upturned palm for forecast of doom or

happiness, depending on her taking of me.

And she took it well, looked me down and up,

saw the day’s stress in the falling hairgrips,

the mess of mud and straw on knees, the top

lip only pink stain and smeary specs.

But I was ready for her.  I’d rehearsed, was

quite prepared to catch her curse and blow it

back through tunnelled fist, with a gentle

whisper to be careful who you mess with.


Oops….With all the distress and confusion of losing this post in its near-entirety, and having to write it again from scratch, I almost forgot.

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Dad’s slideshow, of which Helen Ivory wrote:

“The pictures in this book are unfixed. Even though the shutter has clicked and folded its arms, the work of recounting a family’s history is still ongoing in Di Slaney’s sequence. These tender and questioning poems work at filling in the before and after of the decisive moment that Cartier-Bresson spoke of – that ‘dry silence after the shutter closes’, when a smile falls from a face, or a girl, turned woman, walks back into the fields she was born from.

I couldn’t have put it better. Obviously.Thank you so much, Di Slaney, for being our guest in this not-exactly-a-review-review. Next week we’ll be revisiting a guest from two years ago, and finding out what he’s been up to. And I promise you, it is amazing.

In the meantime, you can do no better than buy your copies of Di Slaney’s collection and give yourselves a treat; and a double treat if you buy her Pocket Book of dad’s slides.

 Reward for winter [Valley Press 2016. 98 pp] £8.99

Dad’s slideshow  [Stonewood Press 2015 40pp]  £4.99 (Thumbprint Pocket book)

STOP PRESS: as part of a book festival in June (here’s the link : :…/lowdhambookfestival/ ) you can actually meet Di Slaney , in situ. She’ll read from the collection and show you round the farm. How good is that! Details as follows:

Wednesday 22 June

Reward for Winter farm tour with Di Slaney – a trip to Hooligan Yarns at Bilsthorpe!
2pm to 4pm Manor Farm House, Church View, Bilsthorpe NG22 8TB

In 2005, Di Slaney abandoned her urban existence to become the custodian of an ancient farmhouse in Bilsthorpe, plus 150, mostly rescued, animals. Di’s debut poetry collection, Reward for Winter,tells the story of the earthy triumphs and tribulations of a novice smallholder, the history of Bilsthorpe from Viking settlement through Civil War to coal mining in the 1920s, and the quirky and affecting biography of one of the farm chickens.

Tickets: £5 each – please note that this event is open to a maximum of 30 people and there will be a possibility of mini-bus transport at an extra cost depending on numbers.