The Red Shed Poetry Competition 2016: the shortlist and the winners

 

We had a lovely afternoon, today, at Mocca Moocho in Wakefield, for the prizegiving, and readings of the winning poems. Brilliant to know that there were entries from as far away as the West Country, and lovely to have poets coming over from Sheffield, from up Wharfedale, from Merseyside…and their friends, like Michael Brown, who seem to travel miles from Middlesbrough on a regular basis. It was great that last year’s judge, Julie Mellor was there to keep an eye on me.  It was great to be able to read some of my stuff, and then to listen to such a range of work from the shortlist and the eventual winners. There’s not enough time to give everyone feedback on the day, but there’s always time to write it and share it via the Currock Press site, and via the Cobweb. So here it is: my very first report on a poetry competition.

Let me start with repeating what last year’s judge, Julie , wrote in her report:

“John Irving Clarke at Currock Press does a phenomenal job of promoting live literature in Wakefield and entering the competition is a great way of supporting the work he does.”

In fact, the entry fees for The Red Shed Poetry Competition ensure that a whole season of poetry readings is funded, and that guest poets are properly paid for their readings. This is a Good Deed in a naughty world, and I take my hat off to John Clarke and to Jimmy Andrex for the huge amount of work they do. Thank you, John and Jimmy.

There were more than 250 entries this year: this competition keeps on growing, and so it should. When I sat down to read the entries (and I read all of them aloud, and read all of them at least twice) I’d already sought the published advice of Carole Bromley ( judge of the Yorkmix Competition) and particularly I read and re-read what Julie Mellor wrote ahead of the 2015 competition:

“So, what am I looking for?

I ask myself the usual questions: has the poem got pace/ drive/ energy, is it revealing something new in every line , is the title doing sufficient work, do the line endings feel right when I read the poem out loud?

A winning poem can make you feel as though your work had been validated, but it’s worth remembering that not all good poems will be winners.

In earlier posts on the great fogginzo’s cobweb, I riffed on my own reasons for entering competitions. First comes the dream. What next? I look out for competitions run by small publishers, because when you pay for your entry, you’re in a win-win situation. Your entry fee is going to keep these small concerns alive…I’m thinking of ones like Prole and The interpreter’s house especially. Or you may be helping to promote a small festival, like Havant. The point is, you’re not wasting your money. And then I went on to say what I’d be looking out for:

Titles.

They don’t win competitions but they can snag the attention. Ones that explain exactly what the poem is about don’t do that. But this one does:

Sometimes you think of Bowness

It holds your attention even more because it’s also the first line

First lines (which may also be the title).  It may not have been where the poem started in its first or later drafts. Basically you know what the poem’s ‘about’, so you’re playing to get an uncommitted reader’s attention. At the same time you don’t want to give the game away. A good first line will certainly make me pay attention.

The moment. Of late I’ve found myself going again and again to Clive James’ beautiful Poetry Notebook and his insistence on the memorable, the hard-to-forget. Here’s the thing that strikes me as the heart of the memorable poem, the one that sticks, the one that may just win the prize. ‘Everything’ says James

depended on, and still depends on, the quality of the moment……whatever kind of poem it is, it’s the moment that gets you in.

Technique, form and structure. Clive James talks about ‘the spectacular expression that outruns its substance’. It’s not about formal structures or freeform or rule breaking or experiment. It’s a question of whether the words and their arrangement are doing their job, that they have to be as they are, rather than being flaunted to make an impression. Sonnets, sestina, terza rimas, rhymed quatrains, couplets, tercets, villanelles. Just so long as they’re not like that to be decorative.

Endings This is a personal thing. But I like to know that a poem’s finished. And it’s not always the case. It doesn’t have to be a rhyming couplet. And I like to be brought up short by endings that surprise, that turn the poem on its head, that make you reconsider what you’ve just read.

There’s an art to an ending that encompasses and goes beyond the neat sign-offs of the rhyming couplet, or the rhetorical tying-off of a well-crafted sonnet.

 

So, with that in mind, here’s my thoughts on the winners, and the might- just –have- been -winners.

Open Competition:

Highly commended poems

Turning the tide :  A K S Shaw. Templecombe, Somerset

I was heartened that there were a number of poems exploring the business of prostate cancer. Women poets, I think, are more in tune with the business of their own bodies. I think of Shirley McClure, Wendy Pratt, Fiona Benson and others. So I’m glad that more men are joining them. Though that wasn’t the reason for the time I spent on this poem, it was what caught my attention.

What I liked was the formal control of its 8 line stanzas, it half-rhymes, its diction, its rhythm, and the way it elides the narrative of the end of a day with the ending of a life. And one line that stopped me and made me think: ‘we’ve come a long way since King Canute’

Tom :  Jack Faricy, Slaithwaite

This is an artful short poem which expects you to do a little bit of work; it assumes that the reader knows his or her ‘Waste Land’. It’s a deftly handled sonnet with a clever final couplet. The pivot of the poem is a conceit : if you’d not noticed that T S Eliot is an anagram of toilets, then neither had I.

It’s not that I don’t believe in ghosts :  Jo Peters, Otley

First lines! It was that that hooked me. ‘I just can’t see them / my mother could’

This is a haunting poem in so many ways. The narrator’s mother did believe in ghosts, in a matter of fact way, and could see them, too. But can she, the narrator asks, see the living from ‘the other side of the thin wall’? Apparently she can. The last stanza will stop you in your tracks. Well, it stopped me.

Dream thief:    Genevieve Carver , Sheffield

I found this intriguingly unsettling. I’m not normally interested in the detail of other people’s dreams (nor, for that matter, of their sex lives…there were quite a lot of them in the submissions) but an argument about whose dreams are whose, and how a partner might borrow the narrative of the other’s dreams snags the attention. I like the voice of this poem. a rueful accusation, direct to the dream thief him/herself.

The Gadarene swine : Pamela Trudi Hodge, Plymouth

On the very first reading, this one went straight into the envelope marked ‘probables’.

The title? Tick. First line?‘The vicar’s wife pious in thick stockings’ Tick. The memorable image or moment? ‘felt hat hammered to her head with a jay’s feather’ Tick. Three boxes ticked

It’s a disturbing narrative, with the familiar trope of a disturbed and dangerous mind; I thought it didn’t quite hold its nerve to the end, but still manages a filmic finale

 

2nd Prize : Maria Isakova Bennett,  Liverpool

maria

 

I hop you are well

When I was a child I played by myself

in a room without books,

talked to my dressing table mirror.

 

I typed letters on a pea-green Petite,

hated board-games, and hated sports but loved

slow cooked rice pudding with burnt skin.

 

On my typewriter, I made spelling mistakes

but my letters were full of wishes,

I hop you are well.

 

Miss Elmore told me I lacked imagination

so I copied out pages from library books –

images of ventricles; and I coloured veins

 

with a one-and-four Platignum felt-tip pen.

I practised swimming on a stool in the kitchen,

breast stroke and frog legs, held my nose

 

and ducked my head in a bowl of water.

But at Woolton Baths, I shivered on the pool-side

afraid to swim in case I drowned,

 

ashamed of my legs that touched at the top

and peeled apart.     Now I know

what it is to bathe in the Irish Sea,

 

my ventricles pumping, what it is

to have a head full of stories, and what it is

to hope but not to know if you are well.

 

Here was a poem that hooked me with its title, as did the apparent plainness of the opening stanza

‘When I was a child I played by myself

in a room without books,

talked to my dressing table mirror’

It’s a familiar trope, but lifted out of the expected by that image: a room without books. And also the business of the teacher who might have crushed a lesser spirit…I loved the surprise of the child copying, from library books ‘images of ventricles’. No one will see that one coming . I loved the ‘moment’ of practising swimming on a stool in the kitchen. And I liked the ‘that was then and this is now’ structure of the poem that gives it its edge and purpose as it ends with a wistful return to the hopeful title. Lovely.

 

Ist Prize :  Sarah Wimbush,  Leeds

sarah

 

Things My Mother Taught Me

So, know how to recognize a female brown crab?

Hens are by far the juiciest and most delicious, naturally.

Cock crabmeat leaves a slight aftertaste, like ammonia,

Mum would say. And a bacon sandwich is best cut

with a pair of dress-making scissors and if you see black steak

in the reduced section at the supermarket, buy it quick.

Except pork with a rainbow glaze, avoid that like the plague.

 

A spoonful of sugar or cake helps a fire to catch

in place of firelighters and wrapping paper can be re-used

at Christmas and birthdays by removing the sticky tape

– forget the scars, no-one would dare to complain.

Left-over Dulux mixed together makes an interesting wall colour

and the best thing to feed the kids after swimming is pancakes;

first with orange, then treacle if you have it, or more sugar.

 

A pair of pants on top of your tights (as well as underneath)

keeps them up all day and a silly green bobble hat will

stop you catching that cold, and washing-up liquid cleans the bath

almost as well as Ajax but without the itchy residue. Never

cross on the stairs, do not touch wood, or open an umbrella indoors,

and if Copydex turns to rubber in the middle of a school project

flour and water is a good stopgap, even with the lumps.

 

On Doncaster Market you can buy crab in all sorts of ways.

Brown paste, arm-and-a-leg white meat or a hotchpotch of both.

Or from regiments of ceramic croissants with pie crust edges –

boiled into pink oblivion next to the uncooked – wide-eyed

and numb on their bed of ice. Antennae twitching. Touching.

Males have pointed bellies and by far the larger claws, whereas

the female has broader shoulders. Her heart pinned to her chest.

 

I had serious difficulty in choosing between Maria’s poem and this. At the end of the day, you can’t rationalize it. This one caught me early on and stuck. The title  –  a cliche-   lays down a challenge to itself. How will this be fresh, new, surprising? It’s answered in a brisk, no nonsense way, in the very first line:

So, know how to recognize a female brown crab’

That did it, I guess; the unexpected question; the moment that gets you into the poem, followed by a cornucopia of stuff, a great gleeful jumble sale of advice and nostrums, but beautifully curated in well balanced stanzas, and sure-footed diction. It’s a pleasure to read aloud. And the last line does the job I like. It answers the question of the first line, and it changes the whole colour of the poem. So, for its extra richness of detail, finally, this is the winner.

 

the Wakefield Postcode Prize

I don’t know why it should be, but there was a higher incidence of nostalgia in this tranche of entries than in the entries overall. I’d just say that there’s a nostalgia that’s  like someone showing you their family photos and expecting you to be interested or connected in the same way that he or she is; this is not made better by starting at the beginning of the album and working through, chronologically. It’s simultaneously predictable and exclusive. All imagination is rooted in memory, but your own past has to connect with the reader’s present if it’s to be to any purpose in poetry. (Advertising is different, as Hovis successfully proved.) On the other hand, there was any number of poems that I was happy to read and to re-read, and a great variety of forms and themes that I think is represented in the short-list.

Highly Commended poems

Skaters glass:  Judith Ashton

What caught my ear and attention, perhaps because, technically, it’s not quite sure-footed, was the authentic broadsheet ballad quality…which reminded of me of why I like Charles Causley so much….the wistfulness and the the repeated questions of the refrain. And the mystery of John Benn. I knew I wanted to hear the poet read it aloud.

Thanks to Einstein:  John Dart

This poem sold itself to me in its first and last lines: ‘there’s a ripple in gravity like the wind’. and ‘Finally we have reached the stars / they are soft like daisies’. That last image sticks and sticks. I’d like to see what happens if we override Word and remove all the capitalisation at the start of each line so that it all chimes with the deliberate lack of punctuation, and makes the line breaks do that little bit more work. But the last line is lovely, nevertheless.

Northern Rail : David Herdson

This is an exuberant rant of a poem which takes on the rhythm of Auden’s ‘Night Mail’ and gives it a real run for its money, right up to the last line..the only point where it falters. But this is a great open mic. poem, an oral poem, a performance poem, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Ancestors : Laura Potts

This was one of two shortlisted poems that wrong-footed me; I was sure it was written by a man. I can’t say why without dropping into inadvertent sexism. It’s muscular, the diction is chunky and dense, but the voice of the poem is that of the women ‘who wore the eyes of the damned’ and went through hardship and deprivation as harsh as that of the men on the Front. The last line is memorably bleak. ‘Don’t say I am nothing at all.’ I think that a sympathetic editor could have made this a winner.

White Air : Deborah Robinson

I really did have to read this aloud to get past the way the poem appears on the page. It appears fragmented and lyrical, but it’s more substantial and narrative. And it ticks all my myth-lover’s boxes. A poem of forging, of fire and ice and silver and gold. And a Smith who creates a woman and ‘slid her into the furnace’. Another poem that needs an editor, but one I loved listening to.

If you arrive home now : William Thirsk-Gaskill

This was the other poem I misattributed through the crass assumption that because the narrator was waiting for a partner to come home, and was worrying about the dinner spoiling, then I was listening to the voice of the wife. Perhaps I am, in which case the poet has done a very clever job. What I liked was the the repetitions of ‘if you arrive home now’ that build and build the increasing anxiety of one who wonders why someone loved is late home.

The Wakefield Postcode Prizewinner: :   Linda Burnett

 

Whit Walk promise from Horbury Bridge

Our legacy was Sabine Baring-Gould’s vexatious hymn,

penned to spur young Christian Soldiers onward on their march.

From Horbury Bridge he’d trailed his children, singing as they walked

through wind and rain, parading banners at St Peter’s Church.

This only claim to fame meant our Whit Sundays became locked

in tracing those historic steps with chiming leaden limbs.

 

But our reward! We’d worn white shirts and gloves with long white socks

and pumps (some hid their hats) to march behind emblazoned flags,

shushed by taut Sunday ladies who got harassed when we laughed.

We’d no idea what it was all about, but promised bags

of treasure lured us through the streets; no matter how daft

we felt, those church hall tea-bags called us to the collection box.

 

We licked white icing melded to the bag, released the smack

of soggy paper tamped between our teeth, eager to suck

each honeyed drop. Dishevelled Sally Lunns were set aside

while this first ritual was performed. We’d hoped to find, with luck,

our jam and potted meat exchanging fluids, lax applied

and mingling in a clinch, stewed for hours in its pack.

 

And when we’d had our fill, the dust and marge smells hovered there,

a pall of hazy disappointed mist above our heads.

The Whitsun cloud descended like a fug and drained the mood.

We’d had enough of this damp squib, routinely fraught with red

handprints on legs and frazzled scoldings served up with the food.

We’d paid the price with blisters, song-sore throats and unheard prayers.

 

The winner on points, just ahead of ‘If you arrive home now’. I’d have liked the poet to rethink her title, but once past that, the first line sticks a hook in: Our legacy was Baring-Gould’s vexatious hymn. I thought I might have been in for full-on nostalgia, but that one word : vexatious swings the whole poem in a different and more interesting direction, the Whit Walk being a trial for children ‘routinely fraught with / red handprints on legs, and frazzled scoldings served up with the food’. There’s a relish for the sound and texture and heft of words, and an assured technical control of a rhyme scheme that’s spot-on for the time recalled, and which never puts a foot wrong. Splendid.

 

Thank you, John Irving Clark and Jimmy Andrex, and thank you, the Currock Press, for the Red Shed Competition and for the Red Shed poetry nights. Thank you to everyone who entered this years competition, thank you to everyone who came and listened and read today, and congratulations to everyone on the shortlist. Thank you for a lovely afternoon.

There will almost certainly be some sort of lull for a couple of weeks while I head off on what has become an annual jaunt to Alicante, and a week of writing and walking and staring at limestone mountains and stony ridges. When we come back we’ll be having more gems, and even more gems revisited. In the meantime I shall miss you.

 

 

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. )

Sandwood-Bay-Sutherland

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.

Christine

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.

RipleyWW1soldiers

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.

 

Raft

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.

caldervalley-poets-title

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. https://caldervalleypoetry.com/

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

http://www.writeoutloud.net/public/blogentry.php?blogentryid=56747

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…

View original post 1,589 more words

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

CeTyf-PWwAAQjpY

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.

bilsthorpemanorfarm

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.

Valley_Press_-_Reward_for_Winter

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.

17-Di-Slaney-(web)

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

Broody

 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

 

Witches-Northampton-500x500

 

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.

Layout 1

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 : : http://www.newark-sherwooddc.gov.uk/…/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. www.dislaney.com

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apologies and thank-you’s

Valley_Press_-_Reward_for_Winter

Apologies first. This is what today’s post was supposed to be all about..a warm appreciation of this collection by Di Slaney. I particularly wanted to post it today, because today is Di Slaney’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Di!  I spent a fair amount of time reading and reading the collection, and plastering it with Post-its, and making notes and wandering through the internet, collecting images, because, basically I like it a lot.

So there I was at 10.00am today, all my ducks in a row, sun warming up, and an enjoyable morning of writing, followed by a happy afternoon of digging and bricklaying in prospect. Coming up to 12.00, there were 2000 words that I was happy about, and which seemed to do justice to the quality of Di’s work; I was about to start on the easier bit of the process, copying in my three favourite poems from Reward for winter, and commenting on them. At which point the whole article vanished, and cannot be found anywhere.

There is a moral to this: it has been pointed out to me by helpful Facebook friends; although it’s very much stable door stuff, it was well intended advice, and I shall follow it. Apparently, WordPress will do this from time to time. Who knew? Well they did; but not I. Anyway, from now on I shall write my posts on Word, save them on Word, and copy and paste them to WordPress only when they’re done and dusted.

I am going to write the review again, but I’m going to give it time to settle; it’ll be a waste of time and a frustration to try to reproduce what I wrote this morning. I’ll post it next Sunday. Which means putting back a couple of planned posts, but their subjects will hopefully forgive me. In the meantime, here’s a taster. It’s not typical of Di’s poems in the collection…apart from its confident and witty way with a sonnet…but the final couplet made me laugh out loud. Even when the review vanished into the utter blank of cyberspace. Here you go:

Broody

 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.

 

Thank you’s now.

A labour of love this. For over two weeks I’ve known I was one of the winners of this year’s Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition. I’ve not been able to tell anyone. I went to a Poetry Business writing day last week and sat with friends who were wondering if anyone knew when the results would be out. I have had to be quiet and discreet. Those who know me know that this is not my forte.

As far as I’m concerned this competition is the ne plus ultra, the Rugby League Cup and Grand Final all in one. I know there are other, (arguably) more prestigious prizes around, but this one has a special place in my world of poetry and in my heart. So many people who have been winners are my friends and people whose work I admire and from which I’ve worked to learn. James Caruth, Julia Deakin, Julie Mellor, Kim Moore, Carole Bromley, Alison McVety. I always said if I could be a PB Pamphlet winner I could die happy. Bucket-list wish-making. I don’t think anything has ever so knocked the air out of me, and simultaneously inflated me with ozone and helium, as being phoned by Ann Sansom and given the news.

So thank you to them as made it possible, and particularly to the ones who gave me the confidence to write: Gaia Holmes, Hilary Elfick, and Kim Moore.

Thank you to all the judges of competitions I’ve entered in the last three years, especially the ones who gave me prizes.

Thank you to the Poetry Business Saturday Writing Days for teaching me just how rich is the world of contemporary poetry.

Thank you to the tutors of residential writing courses I’ve been on in the last three years, too. To all the ones who kept shifting the work up a gear, and another gear, who wouldn’t let me rest or settle, who kept taking me to new levels. Whether in hot and sunny Almaserra Vella, or drizzly Grange-over-Sands, or out-of-season St Ives they have proved again and again that you can be taught and inspired to get better. So thank you to Kim Moore, Carola Luther, Steve Ely, Ann Sansom and Jane Draycott. To you five especially.

And thank you to all the poets out there whose friendship and generosity consistently make the whole business a pleasure. Thank you xx

 

 

 

 

Why your vote matters

derby day still


Camera obscura              

 

(Emily Wilding Davison. June 1913)

 

The reason for your being here

is out of sight. They can’t be seen –

your Cause’s colours sewn inside

your decent coat: white, violet, green.

 

 

The camera sees the moment you began to die:

the jockey,  trim in silks, is doll-like

on the grass and seems asleep;

his mount is spraddled on its back;

its useless hooves flail at the sky.

 

 

Your spinning, flower-trimmed hat

is stopped, distinct, mid-flight;

your hair’s still not come down;

you’re frozen, inches from the ground;

your boots are neatly buttoned,

take small steps on the  arrested air.

 

 

You’re stopped in time. No sound, no texture, no sour odour

of bruised grass and earth. Just

silence and the alchemy of light.

 

 

How did you comprehend

the shock of heat, huge muscle, hair,

in that white moment

when the dark came down?

 

 

The camera cannot tell;

it’s business neither truth nor lies.

It shows a fallen horse. A woman falling. A crowd

in hats and blazers staring down a long perspective;

the field intent upon the distant fairy icing

grandstand. The waving flags. The finish line.

 

 

Until the image blurs, dissolves in silver flowers,

it’s there on celluloid in shades of grey;

the camera only says that in that instant

you are dying, and everyone has looked away.

 

Thousands of people thought it was worth being arrested, imprisoned, beaten, starved, force-fed, to be killed, in order that you and I can vote. Which is why, when I hear anyone say it’s waste of time feel something more than anger. And when they say it’s a waste of time, that it changes nothing.

The social contract that we’ve lived with since 1945 is being dismantled in an unprecedented way. Did you know a Prime Minister (and, who knows, government ministers) can simply not bother to turn up before a Parliamentary committee? Me neither. Try to think of you or me saying we’re to busy to turn up in a magistrates court to give evidence, or too busy to turn up for jury service, or too busy to send our kids to school, or too busy to fill in tax returns…..Jeez. We’ve got a government that has declared itself unnaccountable, and is protected by a collusive media owned by self-serving oligarchs and plutocrats. And bastards. They’re selling your hospitals, making the ownership of your own labour a matter of legal dispute by crippling the unions, selling your local schools to trough-swilling profit-making firms who you can not question, screwing up your children’s education with imposed tests that prove nothing, that hinder learning and deprofessionalise teachers. They’re treating doctors as though they are disposable wage-fodder rather than the most-highly qualified people in the land.
What will it take to get the people of England to protest? You don’t have to go on the streets with mayhem and burning in mind. You can go and vote. It should be compulsory if you want to live in a mutually dependent society. But since it isn’t, just do it anyway. Take a friend. Take all your friends. make a day of it. Have a street party. But vote. Ordinary people were deported, imprisoned and killed just so you can.

Remember Emily Wilding Davison.

 

 

 

 

 

Two poems from Michael Brown

Two lovely poised poems from Michael Brown

The Poetry Shed

Aerodrome

It crops up in some out-of-date stuff
and I want to give it the time of day.
Year 9. Lesson 5. A word writhes

and fidgets to be up and off the page,
mothballed to some vague, undefined space.
They don’t want to know.

I contextualise, draw a diagram.
They watch the clock from half-closed eyes.
I try to catch myself in full flight,

hold on to that sepia note,
its stifled Greek root,
something out of mind.



Beginner’s Lore
After Nimue

She’s learned a thing or two from him.
I wonder at her self-absorption, her lack
of tact . But now she’s got a taste for this.

I want her wildfire spell, her body’s
dialect. That flow. She’s quick
but not quite yet on top of it —

a child still to think her skill apart.
She’s got Merlin where she wants him:
mesmerised. Takes in what she…

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