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.
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.
Cold rain in an east wind
on grandad’s allotment
where I wasn’t allowed –
He likes to be on his own
when he’s 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,
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. 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
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.