Desire paths, sheep and serenity

desire-path-1We just got back from the Isle of Skye…yes. You can sing the rest of the song if you like. We set off at 4.00am. My partner Flo drove 75% of the 430 miles. I could not be more grateful…and I’m still travel-dizzy. We’ve just unpacked everything. It’s astonishing that two small people can take so much stuff. About half of it is art materials (Flo does big landscapes, in situ), but I’ve no excuses. Why do I continue to pack absurd amounts of cookery stuff? No matter.  I wasn’t going to write a post this week, but it rained, desperately and greyly, one day, and so I thought I’d write a sort of journal, and post that. So here it is

“A couple of weeks ago I ended a cobweb strand with this

I started off by making handmade books, just for the fun of it. Then I got a printer- a chap who prints things, that is. Then I won a competition. Then I won another. I’m a lucky boy. My first collection’s coming out in November. I may even post pictures of it. Or, like Jane Clarke, go to sleep with it under my pillow. You’ll never be a rock ‘n roll star. That’s not what it’s about.  But whatever you do, just do it. You know you want to.

Before I kick off about how unbelievably happy I am that my first proper collection’s out next week, let me do two things.  I’ve always liked Kim Moore’s ‘Sunday Poem’, obviously because of the array of poets she’s introduced me to over the last three years, but also because of the way she uses it as a journal….a review of the previous week, which invariably involves many miles of travel, many kilometres of running, many poetry readings, occasional rueful accounts of flu, and even more rueful tales of home improvement. She doesn’t need an elaborately conceived hook to hang the post on. She just tells you what she’s been doing, and then introduces her guest poet. I’m envious. So envious, in fact, that I’m going to do the same myself. The journal bit, that is.

The other thing is to tell you how happy I am about two new pamphlets, which came out in the last couple of weeks. I’ll do that first. One’s by my good mate and mentor, Keith Hutson..

Keith is one of those people who inspires me to constantly strive to write better. He works prodigiously hard at his poetry, maintaining a daily routine of voracious reading and hard drafting. His commitment shows itself in the regularity of successful submissions. A former Coronation Street and comedy writer, he has been widely published in journals including The North, The Rialto, Stand, Magma, Agenda, and Poetry Salzburg Review. He has also had several competition successes, and is a Poetry Business Yorkshire Prize winner. And now he has his first pamphlet. For the last couple of years, Keith has been minutely researching the world of the musical hall and variety artist…it stems from an early love of variety theatre, and meeting the likes of Dick Emery and Les Dawson. He goes back into the 19thC to recover the work of nearly forgotten, and sometimes frankly bizarre, performers, like one whose whole act consisted of miming the frying of fish and chips. And he celebrates them all (more than sixty of them) in beautifully crafted, witty, bittersweet sonnets. The pamphlet is Routines, and it’s published by Poetry Salzburg: [ October 2016. 40 pp £5.00 (+ 1.00 p&p)] . It’s going to be a winner, a bestseller. Get yours while stocks last.

The other pamphlet is by my Poetry Business chum, Maria Taylor. (Both Keith and Maria have been guest poets on the cobweb, and will be again). I loved Maria’s last collection, Melanchrini, which I reviewed in The North. You can find some of the poems from it in a post of October 18, 2015, and share my enthusiasm. Maria announced the arrival of the new pamphlet in her own blog, Commonplace . Here’s the link   miskinataylor.blogspot.com/

This is what she said

 ‘After a few months of silence, it’s become absolutely necessary to update this blog as I have something to say. I am very happy to announce that I have a new pamphlet out with HappenStance and it’s called ‘Instructions for Making Me.‘ I wasn’t going to say anything official until I had the actual publication in my hands. Nell Nelson via Jane Commane at the Poetry Book Fair sped a few copies over in time for my first reading last night. Luckily the winged gods of Hermes did actually manage to deliver the rest of the pamphlets in time, which I found under a bush in my front garden…………………………………….

So there you go. (According to various readers), I am an exclamation mark. I am a glass of Rioja. I am Spring. This is ironic as a shop assistant t’other week said my choice of top was the ‘perfect colour for transitioning into autumn.’ You get different seasons catered for in this pamphlet. Why not have a look, please and thank you.’

So there you go. Two new pamphlets by two people who keep my batteries charged. Off you go, and buy them.

desire-path-2

Meanwhile, I’m writing this in a cottage …or a chalet or a cabin; I’m not sure which would be correct…down by the shore in Ord on the Isle of Skye. A mile or so of rough moorland behind the cluster of cabins brings you to where you can look back over Loch Eishort, and beyond that, Loch Slapin, to the moorland along which runs the road to Elgol. There’s a stony track that goes up and over the saddle of An Mam, and you can look down at one of the most breathtaking views on Skye. There’s Bla Bheinn to your right and straight ahead the whole of the Black Cuillin Ridge. The cliffs across Eishort run out at the headland of Suishnish. Sometimes the dark cleft in the scarp is white with a furious waterfall. And basically I can see pretty well all of this from the window I’m sitting at, a couple of hundred feet down from where I took this photo a couple of days ago.

I should be happy as Larry, but I’m fighting the frustration of looking at places I want to walk, and just at the moment, and possibly for good, can’t. I can’t face the discomfort of coming down that steep and stony track from An Mam. I long ago gave up any notion of going all the way up Bla Bheinn. I’d love to be on the track that runs on the shoreline below the cliffs and along to Suishnish. There’s a fantastic 12 mile circular walk that takes you from the old marble quarries by Kil Chriosd, over the hill and down into Boreraig and then along the rocky, muddy shore and up a line in the cliff to Suishnish. Two Clearance villages, a ruined mining operation, a cranky road put down in the 30’s in an attempt to repopulate the crofts, another marble quarry, and huge huge views.

I need the serenity to put it all into perspective. The first time we came here, 30 years ago, I could make no sense of Skye. Too wet, too big, everything too far away. And we were timid. We made small forays along the shore, or went on short safe walks. Year on year we got bolder and began to learn how the land worked; not to mind the rocky boggy awkwardness of things. The firm that had built these cabins at Ord went out of business. We were offered, in the 1980s, first refusal on any of them. We could have bought the one I’m sitting in for £12000…fully furnished and fitted out. We could, if we’d had the money or second sight, or both. For a time they were unavailable to rent, and for years after, we shifted for our annual (sometimes bi-annual trips to Skye) to the next but one valley of Achnacloich.

We became friends with Effie and Norman who owned the bungalow we rented. It was Norman who told me ‘You can walk wherever you like over these hills..you can tell them Norman said so.’ There’s a huge difference between ‘can’ and ‘may’. Pretty well at the point where I was becoming happy to walk over these big moors on my own, and simply explore, my hips gave up the ghost. It was just too painful, and twenty-plus years after I was told to have them replaced, I did. It was like dying and going to heaven. Four months after my second hip replacement, I did the 12 mile circular walk through Boreraig and Suishnish, whizzed over the An Mam track, skipped to the Point of Sleat, and, the following year,belted up to Corrie Lagan out of Glen Brittle, invented a strenuous moorland circular and found two lochans I had no idea existed…… and, back home, floated up over Horse Head Moor above Buckden. Brilliant. Truly brilliant. Pain-free hill-walking. Inevitably I damaged both knees. Got them cleaned out. Had a revival.

And now it’s ankles. One in particular. Last year I thought maybe I’d broken something and wandered into A&E for an X-ray. Good news and bad news said the man. There’s nothing broken but you’ve got a condition that sounds worse than it is. What’s that? I asked. Catastrophic disintegration. And fair play to him. It sounds infinitely worse than it is. But essentially, there’s a lot of loose chippings floating around in there, and they do not like my walking on rough ground or down steep hills, of which there is an abundance on Skye. Which is where serenity kicks in, if you’re lucky, and I reckon I’m remarkably lucky. After all, I got to do all the stuff I thought I never would. And if I can’t do them now, well that’s the way it is. That’s what I tell myself.

Which brings us to sheep, and thus to desire paths. I don’t mean the tracks and paths that I earnestly desire to stride about on. It’s a term that’s turned up relatively recently in books about the poetry and semantics and psychology of landscape, and the shifting cultural assumptions about what landscapes signify. You’re entirely familiar with them…the paths made by folk in public places like housing estates, or around hospitals, or on grassy patches by shopping centres and car parks. The paths that ignore the paths the planners decreed, and opt for the most convenient route (usually the shortest distance). I think of them as diagonal paths because they cut corners. They’re made by the people who live there or regularly and routinely go there. They are paths that evidence local knowledge, familiarity. There’s an argument that ancient holloways are desire paths of a sort. I’m not convinced, but looking at the desire paths created by sheep (and deer) in wild moorlands and uplands, maybe the argument’s not so farfetched.

I have grown to be respectful of sheep. Norman Macpherson..who I mentioned earlier…was a shepherd all his life, from the time he left Skye at the age of 14 to work, first on the Lomond, and then on the Nevis ranges, before he came back to Skye to manage the Clan Donald estates, to meet and marry Effie, and to run his own flocks on the moors around Achnacloich. He did that till he died, as his father had done before him. Effie still maintains a couple of hundred sheep. Out of sentiment she says. It can’t be out of any hope of profit. If it’s not too dry, it’s too wet, and sheep are heir to a thousand natural shocks. As Ted Hughes was careful to record. And they can seem remarkably stupid around people. But Norman loved his sheep and talked about their intelligence. I’ve come to believe in it.

The walker’s guide books to Skye are apt to dismiss the Sleat Peninsula where we stay. ‘Nothing to interest the serious walker’ they’ll say, and move hurriedly on to the Red Cuillin.The first time I came I was inclined to agree. Miles and miles of apparently featureless drab, wet, brown moorland. Featureless till you start to wander about in it. For a start, it’s higher than you think, with scoured quartzite tops that gleam like snow in the sun. It’s gullied by small burns that are rapidly impassable in heavy and prolonged rain. There are odd transverse flat bottomed ‘hanging’ valleys. The underlying rock’s been heated , heaved, twisted, up ended, and where the softer strata’s been eroded, the valleys fill with peat and silt and reed and spaghnum, or they’re blocked at either end, so they fill with water. There are lochans in surprising places. There are sudden sharp scarp edges and surprisingly big drops. And always you can see the sea, the outer islands, Rhum floating on the horizon, the whole Cuillin range to the north. And, if you’re used, as I was, to places like Upper Wharfedale, you are quickly aware there are no footpaths, no fingerposts, no National Trust acorns, no tea shops, no gift shops, no car parks, and nobody but you, sheep, and, if you’re lucky, red deer.

As you learn to look, it all rapidly becomes not featureless at all. You rely on a rock outcrop to give you a rough line on where you’re going. You learn to avoid the bright green bits. And faced with a quarter of a mile of what looks like wet, boggy land that you can’t go round, you learn to see that sheep (and deer) being intelligent and helpful creatures, as well as creatures of habit, have made paths through the tussocky, reedy stuff. If the sun’s in your eyes, you can’t see them easily, but otherwise they’re clear, like the ones in the picture at the top of this post. I’ve learned to love sheep tracks, not only for showing me the way across flat wet stuff, but over becks and burns in deep cut gullies and ghylls. Look for the bruise in the bracken, or the shine of small stones, and sooner or later you’ll find that they’ll take you to the spot where it’s easiest to cross running water, and the way up the other side. And they’ll take you to sheltered spots, too. Stands of silver birch and rowan, with a bit of turf to sit on. Desire paths. That’s what sheep make.

desire-path-3

And that’s what I’ve followed on my wonky ankle, on the days when it wasn’t pissing down. Not far, but far enough to take photographs of lovely places. I’ve not gone far, but far enough to acknowledge that I’m not going to get to the top of that quartz hill top in the far distance. It’s only about half a mile off, but what you can’t see till you get higher up is that there’s  a great big gully between you and  it. The sheep have wandered down and up the other side. You can see their paths. But the ankle says no. On the other hand, if I hadn’t come up here on Wednesday I wouldn’t have come across four red deer who watched me for a bit, and then went. They don’t run. They levitate and flow and vanish into the hillside. Magic.

Magic, too, to watch a pod of six dolphins playing with the bow wave of a fishing boat coming into Eishort. And also having Effie round for afternoon tea and cake (no cheese, thank you). We’ve not seen her for over three years, one way or another, and  we caught up with news of her daughters who’ve moved back from the mainland to live in the same crofting valley, and build a new house, and….And I  tell her that she’s in some new poems and  that so is Norman. She doesn’t mind, she says. Gives that deprecating och.

So I’ve followed desire paths, and found the serenity. Which is nice. We’re off home tomorrow morning at some unearthly hour to to be home in time to pick up the cat. Then we’ll unpack, I’ll post this, look out of the window and wonder where the sea and the mountains went.

And next week is the start of a lot of poetry stuff. A book launch for Steve Nash up at Mytholmroyd on Monday….Helen Mort’s supporting. Yay.! Thursday we’ll be at The Red Shed in Wakefield, when the hugely talented Di Slaney will be guesting.And on Friday I’ll have in my hand a copy of my very first full collection.!!!!!!!!! The Poetry Business are having an evening for the winners of the Yorkshire Prize…individual poems picked out by Billy Collins from shortlisted entries in the Pamphlet Competition. And among them, I’m really chuffed to see friends like Charlotte Whetton and the amazing Mike di Placido. Plus I get to read with Stuart Pickford (Swimming with jellyfish). What a week….and more readings coming up. I’ll put them on Facebook.

Next week we’ll be back to normal. We’ll have a guest whose work I think is really exciting (as well as technically very very clever). In the meantime, you could be ordering the collection that I still have to hold in my hand. Much Possessed.  You could pre-order it. Just follow the link. http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/shop/933/much-possessed

And if you don’t want to, that’s OK. Follow your desire paths.  In the meantime, here’s a poem as a taster. See you next Sunday.

11, Achnacloich

A flicker of white water  on the burn

below the alders where the heron roosts

A flirt of dunnock in the short grass

that sets the sheep trotting

Rain dragging its skirts

across the skerries in the ebb

Right on the rim of the moor

three hinds , watching

A curl of bluegrey turf smoke

from the red-roofed croft

I keep it like this.

The heron just crumpling

into the alders,

like a broken kite

the deer watching

between the moor and the sky

small birds lifting from the field

like the hem of a skirt in a breeze

the lamentations of sheep

the bright red tin roof of a crofter’s house

desire-path-4

Postscript: when I got home I opened an email that told me I’ve won 2nd Prize in the Canterbury International Poetry Comp. How good is that!!! I told you I was lucky.

Poetry venues, and poetic gems revisited: Anthony Costello

reading-2

I keep meaning to write about small poetry venues…like the one I do the compereing for. I sort of found myself as an organiser of the Puzzle Hall Poets Live after being a happy customer for some time. In doing so, me and Bob Horne, who does all the bookings, more or less inherited a happy situation…a long established poetry club with well established regular guests and open-mic.ers like the lovely Genevieve Walsh (who also runs her own Spoken Weird club in Halifax). We inherited traditions like the Puzzle banner which has been signed by scores of guests…Andy MacMillan, Kim Moore, Helen Mort, Steve Ely among them. A banner made by the mum of Gaia Holmes who used to organise everything with Sean Bamfoth, and Freda Davies (who is still its presiding genius),before me and Bob took it on.

We didn’t have to do any ground work. It was all there for us. Neither of us knows what it takes to actually start a poetry club/venue from scratch. Here’s a promise; I’ll actually research a post that sets out to record the experience of a number of folk who did just that. Tell you what; I’ll do another about the business of starting a small poetry press from scratch. There. I can’t back out now. Hold me to it, won’t you.

kultura

Which brings me neatly to today’s returning guest poet, Anthony Costello, who has not only set up his own poetry event and kept it going for three years, but also launched an on-line poetry journal, The High Window now looking to its fourth issue. What has always struck me about both these ventures is their ambition. The Kultura evenings at the Kava (best coffee for leagues) include a Poetry Lecture. Anthony has each lecture transcribed and printed in a small pamphlet format…and he sells the pamphlet at the reading. I have to say (as the first guest lecturer) that I thought it wouldn’t work.  But it does. It might even end up as a book, which would be wonderful. The thing is, Kultura has its own distinct identity. And so does  The High Window about which Anthony wrote when the third issue appeared this year:

“We have been delighted with what appears to be a positive response to our quarterly journal. Judging by the reach of our occasional posts and the ‘likes’ on our webpage our readership is wide and growing fast. This issue contains part 2 of our feature on Italian poetry in translation, a specially commissioned feature on troubadour poetry, an essay celebrating the poetic impact made by the work of Ken Smith, six book reviews that shed light on six poets including Vona Groarke and Victoria Kennefick, and a feature exploring the work of the American poet, Philip Fried. Philip is one of four poets featuring in the High Window Press’s autumn publication, an anthology called Four American Poets. See the Press page for more details and a review of this book by the esteemed American poet, Thomas Lux.”

the link, if you’re interested, is    https://thehighwindowpress.com/ 

“We have been impressed with the quality of work submitted.  We have been unable to publish good poems because of the constraints of space, but we found in the (often) cultured poems appearing here great poetic awareness, erudition and subject matter ranging from Gustave Mahler, elephants and salt. The natural world features in many poems but often nature in the form of spirit or animism. Undoubtedly there are searching and questioning poems in this issue, but the collective mood is one of earnestness, resolve and, perhaps, resolution…summed up in these lines:

to build some better notion of this life
of what it means and aims towards… [Maitreyabandhu]”

See what I mean about ambition? It’s a handsome journal, and you could do a lot worsse than check it out.

When Anthony was last a guest on the cobweb, in January 2015, I realised I needed to sort out my headlines for some of my posts. I wrote this:

It’s a roundabout way I’ve come to introduce tonight’s guest poet, Anthony Costello, and to introduce the cobweb’s new category of ‘the polished gem’. I’ve been caught out by calling some of my poets ‘undiscovered gems’ only to find out they are pretty well known. From now on, I’ll be more careful. The polished gem will be a cobweb category for poets who are reasonably well-known around my neck of the woods, but not necessarily in other parts of the country. They will be recent discoveries for me that I want to share.

Anthony was my first ‘Polished gem’ who had recently had his collection, The Mask, published. He’s added another title to it since: Angles and visions.

two-books

I wrote this about him at the time:

I met Anthony at the world-famous Puzzle Hall Poets when he signed up on the open mic., whose book launch I read a jazz poem at, and who invited me to guest at his own poetry venture at the Kava in Todmorden.

Three things struck me on that first meeting. The first was the silence that followed his poem ‘Feeling blue nr. Russell Square’). The second was that Anthony didn’t read the poem. He didn’t recite it. He said it, almost as if it was extempore, improvised, an entirely natural way of speaking. I’ve seen/heard him do this several times since. It never fails to set me back on my heels; it’s impressive, without any intention of seeming so. The third was the conversation we had afterwards. But here’s the poem first. Anthony apologised in advance in case we would find it sentimental, and explained it was for someone he loved who had died.

Feeling blue nr. Russell Square

for an Essex girl

A good place to feel blue, Bloomsbury

all those bookshops, all those cafes,

I imagine a life

of the could have been a writer kind

with coffee breaks to be a kind soul

talking with a tourist about jazz

transporting America’s luggage

along a charming London Road,

the trail of blue plaques – Lenin,

Roger Fry, Jerome K Jerome,

*

I’d travelled by Tube to the weald

to sprinkle ‘Country Meadow’ on the grave

I sat under pines and sweet chestnuts,

the trees friends and the morning sun

the dappled seeds’ friend.

I spoke to the grave in the present tense.

I put a name to love.

What caught me when I heard it was the voice. What catches me now when I read it is the memory of the quietness that settled around that poem when Anthony said it, and the deceptiveness of what looks simple. You don’t notice the repetition of ‘kind’ in the time it takes to say the poem, nor the shift of meaning that happens. You don’t notice the odd syntax that disturbs the even surface like barely suppressed grief. Anthony quotes Fiona Sampson’s editorial in Poem where she writes about the way mediocre poems may be improved by being read aloud. Now, I think some accents, some voices, can make anything sound good, but I don’t think this poem is mediocre, and I think it grows with being seen on the page. He thinks this poem is sentimental. I don’t.

I also wrote in that post about the eclecticism and intellectual range of Anthony’s writing. It’s very ambitious. I like that. I like the risks it involves, in much the same way as the idea of a poetry lecture on a Thursday night in Todmorden is risky. So let me share something of that range and its risks, with clips from Angles and Visions. I’ll let Anthony introduce them:

“It was a chance meeting with the poet Carola Luther that prompted my second collection Angles & Visions. Carola pointed out that some of the poems she had heard me read at poetry venues in the Calder Valley were about the cinema or used film references. I looked at my earlier poems contained inside three dusty memory sticks and noted that I had thirty poems that referenced films or inhabited personae relating to actors or were related to the movies in one way or another. In this sense, the poems in A&V were collated from the cutting room floor of previous attempts at formulating poetry pamphlets and collections. I then set about writing ten more poems with cinema as a theme, including The Battle of the Sexes and The Age Gap. There is no tour de force of a cinema poem in A&V that you can see in, say, a poem like Sean O’ Brien’s ‘Cahiers du Cinema’ (November), and the style of writing in A&V isn’t cinematic in the way Jorie Graham’s poems are said to be cinematic (i.e., constructed and framed like a director might present a film). My poems are portmanteau pieces, more Pret a Porter than My Darling Clementine (which is a classic film I love, by the way). Perhaps The Age Gap is a very short film? What do poetry and cinema have in common? A not inexhaustible list could include: images, the Unconscious, narrative, symbol, light that sometimes fails, language, sound, four edges to the frame…”

The age gap

Dressed in flannel & holding a boater
to his chest – a leading man entreating
a leading lady – he kisses her gloved hand
& cuts to the chase in a white convertible,
follows the script to a fork in the road
and a location scouted earlier, scene:
a picnic in meadowgrass, a crane shot,
the ‘moral code’ broken by a nineteen-
fifty something making hay.

The battle of the sexes

A strange treatment on love, with echoes
of Sirk and Rosselini: anachronistic sex
in a cable car above some alpine state,
a pencil-skirted, platinum blonde … American?
A dark-haired man in suit and tie … Italian?
She considers their fleeting romance ‘platonic’
but, empathetic to his character and need,
hands the gentleman a handkerchief.
She turns her back and he turns his,
as- cut to mise en scène – he masturbates.

As an act of kindness, it seems
enlightened, unlike the attempted rape
of Athena, the shot load of Hephaestus,
her foster-son, on her virgin’s thigh.
Wiped off and dropped to earth
on a scrap of wool, a boy germinates,
who is reared by Gaia and placed,
on Athena’s orders, into the box where
he grows to the length of a serpent:
Erichthronius
frightening to death the women who lift
the lid and look inside, the kind of half-man
half-snake that curls around your neck.

Carola Luther wrote a review of Angles and visions which youll find on the Press page of The High Window website (link above). It’s accurate and generous, and I don’t really need to add to it…so there you are: homework. Now, what since then, apart from The High Window ?  Anthony reminds me that he’s a co-translator of Alain-Fournier:Poems due to be published by Carcanet in December, and also since the first polished gem article he’s written six book reviews for Sabotage Reviews, written essays, and lectured at the Bradford Literature Festival. He’s recently commmissioned and edited an anthology of contemporary American poetry – Four American Poets – which is receiving good reviews. He also posts a monthly blog on his website:luddpoet.blogspot.co.uk

When he sent me the update on the last 20 months he added:

I haven’t written any new poems for nearly two years,  except ‘Election’ which I wrote a couple of weeks ago and which I am not sure about.

Well, I’m surprised he’s had time to write any poems at all. But I’m sure enough about this to say, thank you, Anthony. And then let it speak for itself.

Election

May — and dandelion clocks
gather on the streets
like an ageing population,
celandine yield to buttercups
and a woodpecker appears
as if on cue, and pokes its beak
in the birdbox hole — fear grips
the household, the chicks
are circumscribed, will they heed
the routine song outside,
that blue call to fly?

What now? Well, I’m off to the Isle of Skye next Sunday. I’ve not been for two years, and it’s hard to describe how much I miss it. There’s no wifi where I’m going. No phone signal. unless you drive some distance up a big hill. So, no cobweb posts for two weeks. I shall miss you all when I remember. Otherwise, I’ll be looking at wind and weather and water and mountains, and I shall be inordinately happy. See you again in November xx

So you wanna be a rock ‘n roll star: some thoughts on ‘being published’

To put it all in context. In the last year or so, I’ve reviewed – or blogged about – collections that I love. Kim Moore’s The art of falling. Christy Ducker’s Skipper. Fiona Benson’s Bright travellers. Jane Clarke’s The River. Work by Shirley McClure, Maria Taylor, Hilary Elfick, Tom Cleary, Bob Horne, Steve Ely, Clare Shaw., Wendy Pratt…loads of them. I’ve been asked to read manuscripts of draft collections and wished they were mine. For the last three days (with the invaIuable help of Sandra Blackford) I’ve been collating a new collection of poems by me and my friend Andy Blackford, fiddling about and agonising over sequence and continuity and beginnings and endings. I just signed a contract for a first collection of my own poems…of which more in another post. And I’m involved in a frustrating email exchange about the cover design. How did I get here? Because I never set out to get here. Let me tell you how.

bwf-2007-book-signing

We can all dream. Write poems. Get them accepted by The Rialto, Magma, Poetry Review...all of them.Find a publisher. Bloodaxe would be nice. Get great reviews, prizes. Sit in Waterstones and sign copies while the queue stretches out of the door and along the street. We can dream, and so we should; our reach should exceed our grasp, or what’s a heaven for?  But.

Some time ago I was riffing on the various cries of pain I hear on Facebook. We’re a fragile lot, us poets, I wrote.  You find yourself, for reasons you can’t fathom, writing, or trying to write, poems; meeting other bewildered and enthusiastic folk in the same pickle. And every now and again hearing (or reading on Facebook) the complaint that someone is ‘blocked’ or ‘stuck’ or has ‘hit a blank period’. You become addicted to Anthony Wilson’s blog, and his dialogues with The Book. The self-doubt, the angst…and the casual indifference of the mephistophilean Book. You understand every bit of it. But.

You go on writing, and maybe you get some poems accepted by magazines. And for a bit you feel sort of content. And then folk start asking: have you got a collection out yet? And you look at the growing files of poems you’re more or less pleased with. Your ouevre. And that ‘what shall I write about?’ morphs into ‘when will I be published?’. More specifically, ‘I want a collection’. Which morphs into ‘When will I be famous?’. And then poet-envy. Then doubt. Despair. Oblivion.

chatterton

It doesn’t have to be like that. This won’t be one of those helpfully informative ‘how to’ posts. I leave that to folk who are better at it than me ..lovely folk like Roy Marshall (https://roymarshall.wordpress.com/). Specifically, the post you want is at the end of this link https://roymarshall.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/putting-a-poetry-pamphlet-together/ .  And  other lovely folk like Josephine Corcoran (https://josephinecorcoran.org/), for instance. Everyone’s route to a collection is different. ( I nearly wrote ‘journey’ and caught myself just in time). This was mine.

I had one abortive attempt at taking the business seriously a few years ago, when I did a part-time Creative Writing MA. To be honest, I really did it because I was semi-retired, and struggling to cope with free time. I thought that committing to a course would put some discipline into my life. It didn’t, but that’s another story. On the other hand, I was struck by the diffuse ambition of my (much younger) fellow students. None of them asked questions about how to make their work better. But they constantly asked about how you set about getting published. I didn’t get it. I genuinely thought it was hard enough to actually learn something about the craft of writing, and to actually write some poems. In the end I didn’t do much of either, and I got an MA, and that was that for some time.

But. I’d got a taste for it, even if I didn’t acknowledge it. It was Poetry Business Writing Days that set my feet right. You learn from the company you keep; I was taken along for the first time by Julia Deakin, to whom I shall be eternally grateful. I sat in rooms with people who seemed to write as though writing, and getting it right, was enough. I was comfortable in their company. Eventually, though, the conversation would turn to magazines and pamphlets and collections, and I realised after all that just writing better wasn’t enough. What was the point, if no one was reading your stuff? But.

lots-of-books

Why would they would be reading yours? Who would notice? How will they find it in the multiverse of books and bookshelves and libraries  and bookshps? I remember saying to Ann Sansom that I couldn’t see why folk would pester publishers. Or why poetry publishers put themselves through it. There’s no money in it for anyone, that’s for sure. Or you might get published by someone who it turns out isn’t that bothered about the most important thing in your life.

publishing

Something that’s stuck in my mind since then is an anecdote that Simon Armitage put in his account of walking the SW Coast Path and reading at various venues along the way. (Walking away. Faber). He’s staying overnight at what was the home of Peterloo Poets…who, inter alia, were the publishers of U.A.Fanthorpe. At some point, they simply went out of business. And left behind thousands and thousands of unsold copies, gradually falling prey to dust and damp. There you go. No one’s going to see your stuff on those crowded shelves, and eventually you’ll be remaindered or pulped. It’s a profoundly depressing thought. But.

You send stuff out, you enter competitions, you do open mics. You realise (well I did) that even if someone offers to publish you, it could be over a year before anything happens. And maybe you think you haven’t the patience for it. That’s what I felt like, but at the same time there’s something deeply unsatisfying about a whole bunch of poems that sit there in their Wordfiles, that have no physical heft. As it happened, still struggling to cope with semi-retirement, I enrolled in a bookbinding course at the Tech in Leeds. Learned very simple techniques, learned kettlestitching, all about endpapers, about boards, and even about embossing. Decided that for my assessment projects, I’d make books of my own poems. So I did.

img_1621

Two things happen. Well, they did for me.

The first is that when you go through the business of choosing and sequencing your poems, you realise that you didn’t really know your own work. You knew it, if you knew it at all, as this poem or that poem. And then it hits you that there are themes and preoccupations you were barely aware of. It’s fascinating and possibly unnerving. I’m reminded that last week, Roy Marshall (see above) was guest poet at The Puzzle Hall Poets and said, in passing, that he was surprised how many birds there were in his poems…especially since, unlike Steve Ely, say, he knows next to nothing about birds. That chimed with me. I’ve just assembled a collection and realised that I write a lot of poems with birds in. And a lot with God .. or gods…in.It’s an odd thing for a card-carrying atheist to discover that he may be in the wrong club after all.

The second is that when you have your homemade book in your hands, you’re the only one who knows it’s homemade. You can head off to an open mic. and read from it. At which point you realise the snag. There’s only one copy. Someone asks: where can we get that?(if you’re lucky) and there it is. A seed’s been sown. So what do you do if you want multiple copies? The answer is ridiculously simple. You make a template. You page set your poems. You design a cover and think of a smart title, and you type that seductive line: Poems by Me. You find a nice printer, show him the layout…just take in your memory stick…sort out a price and you pay for a properly printed batch of poems. If you’re active on Facebook and you go to open mic.s and you have lots of poetry chums (and I’ll bet the farm you have) you’ll have no problem selling 50 or more. That’s what I did. I did one, and that went well, so I did another. I used any ‘profit’ to pay for a reprint, and each of mine have gone through three reprints. I’m still selling the odd copy via the My Books link at the top of the page.

img_1622

Not all small printing firms will do perfect binding …forget the chapbook. A pamphlet, though is perfectly realistic. Stapled. Have a look at the pamphlets you’ve collected here and there. Size varies, but don’t go smaller than 12 X 18.5 cm, whatever you do. (A5 is nice.14.5 X 21 cm)  And learn from the best. Design a dust jacket. If you want to see just what a difference a dustjacket makes, look no further than the Poetry Business pamphlet competition winners. Hide the staples…which just look amateurish. It really is that simple. One other thing. If you want to persuade a bookseller to take some copies, you need to get an ISBN. You can find all sorts of isbn. suppliers on line. Just make sure you get get one that comes with a bar code. Bookshops need the barcode, usually. And note that unit costs are cheaper if you buy  more than one. Because you may develop a taste for it. You want to be published? Just do it. And feel that surge of pure joy when you collect your box of fresh-printed  pamphlets, and you just want to have that smell of new paper and ink in your life for ever. Two of my happiest memories are seeing the big smiles on the faces of Kim Moore and of Jane Clarke when their brand new collections came out. Is there a downside? Depends how you judge the market. Accept pretty well that whatever your plans, you’ll be torn between a book that goes out of print and a box of as-yet-unsold stuff. Like this.

img_1623

There are other ways of doing it and you choose one that you think suits you. I enter a lot of competitions, and the prize for some of them is to have a pamphlet or a chapbook published. That’s how I come to have copies of Larach to sell. Quite a lot at the moment, because the publisher let me have all his remaining copies at a generous discount. I suppose it’s officially out of print, now. But if you go to My Books, I’ll sell you one. I’ll sell you lots. At the moment I’ve another (jointly authored) pamphlet collection on a shortlist. We’ll see what happens with that. Whatever happens, we’ve had the pleasure of squencing, and editing and discovering things we didn’t know about our poetry.

Other choices? Well there’s the sheer hard slog route. Kim Moore, for instance, has indefatigably submitted to journals and magazines for years and built up a portfolio of published work (as well as winning the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition) that she could take to a publisher and have published as a collection. The art of Falling [Seren 2015] is, as I never tire of saying, a stunner. Or my mate Keith Hutson, who maintains a rigorous routine of writing every morning, of submitting and submitting (about 60 poems published in major journals over the last two/three years), and is rewarded with the breakthrough of being asked to put together a pamphlet. It’s out now. Routines [Poetry Salzburg 2016]. And that’s a stunner, too. Or if you work at your open mics and submissions, you gradually become aware of small poetry publishing firms. We’ve got two in Calderdale: Caterpillar Poetry and  Calder Valley Poetry. And in Wakefield, The Currock Press. Find what’s around you. Make friends with them. Email them. Talk to them. But here’s the thing. Don’t sit around mithering about wanting to be published. If you really want it, you’ll do it.

I started off by making handmade books, just for the fun of it. Then I got a printer. Then I won a competition. Then I won another. I’m a lucky boy. My first collection’s coming out in November. I may even post pictures of it. Or, like Jane Clarke, go to sleep with it under my pillow. You’ll never be a rock ‘n roll star. That’s not what it’s about.  But whatever you do, just do it. You know you want to.

So you wanna be a rock ‘n roll star: some thoughts on ‘being published’

To put it all in context. In the last year or so, I’ve reviewed – or blogged about – collections that I love. Kim Moore’s The art of falling. Christy Ducker’s Skipper. Fiona Benson’s Bright travellers. Jane Clarke’s The River. Work by Shirley McClure, Maria Taylor, Hilary Elfick, Tom Cleary, Bob Horne, Steve Ely, Clare Shaw…loads of them. I’ve been asked to read manuscripts of draft collections and wished they were mine. For the last three days (with the invaIuable help of Sandra Blackford) I’ve been collating a new collection of poems by me and my friend Andy Blackford, fiddling about and agonising over sequence and continuity and beginnings and endings. I just signed a contract for a first collection of my own poems…of which more in another post. And I’m involved in a frustrating email exchange about the cover design. How did I get here? Because I never set out to get here. Let me tell you how.

bwf-2007-book-signing

We can all dream. Write poems. Get them accepted by The Rialto, Magma, Poetry Review...all of them.Find a publisher. Bloodaxe would be nice. Get great reviews, prizes. Sit in Waterstones and sign copies while the queue stretches out of the door and along the street. We can dream, and so we should; our reach should exceed our grasp, or what’s a heaven for?  But.

Some time ago I was riffing on the various cries of pain I hear on Facebook. We’re a fragile lot, us poets, I wrote.  You find yourself, for reasons you can’t fathom, writing, or trying to write, poems; meeting other bewildered and enthusiastic folk in the same pickle. And every now and again hearing (or reading on Facebook) the complaint that someone is ‘blocked’ or ‘stuck’ or has ‘hit a blank period’. You become addicted to Anthony Wilson’s blog, and his dialogues with The Book. The self-doubt, the angst…and the casual indifference of the mephistophilean Book. You understand every bit of it. But.

You go on writing, and maybe you get some poems accepted by magazines. And for a bit you feel sort of content. And then folk start asking: have you got a collection out yet? And you look at the growing files of poems you’re more or less pleased with. Your ouevre. And that ‘what shall I write about?’ morphs into ‘when will I be published?’. More specifically, ‘I want a collection’. Which morphs into ‘When will I be famous?’. And then poet-envy. Then doubt. Despair. Oblivion.

chatterton

It doesn’t have to be like that. This won’t be one of those helpfully informative ‘how to’ posts. I leave that to folk who are better at it than me ..lovely folk like Roy Marshall (https://roymarshall.wordpress.com/) and Josephine Corcoran (https://josephinecorcoran.org/), for instance. Everyone’s route to a collection is different. ( I nearly wrote ‘journey’ and caught myself just in time). This was mine.

I had one abortive attempt at taking the business seriously a few years ago, when I did a part-time Creative Writing MA. To be honest, I really did it because I was semi-retired, and struggling to cope with free time. I thought that committing to a course would put some discipline into my life. It didn’t, but that’s another story. On the other hand, I was struck by the diffuse ambition of my (much younger) fellow students. None of them asked questions about how to make their work better. But they constantly asked about how you set about getting published. I didn’t get it. I genuinely thought it was hard enough to actually learn something about the craft of writing, and to actually write some poems. In the end I didn’t do much of either, and I got an MA, and that was that for some time.

But. I’d got a taste for it, even if I didn’t acknowledge it. It was Poetry Business Writing Days that set my feet right. You learn from the company you keep; I was taken along for the first time by Julia Deakin, to whom I shall be eternally grateful. I sat in rooms with people who seemed to write as though writing, and getting it right, was enough. I was comfortable in their company. Eventually, though, the conversation would turn to magazines and pamphlets and collections, and I realised after all that just writing better wasn’t enough. What was the point, if no one was reading your stuff? But.

lots-of-books

Why would they would be reading yours? Who would notice? How will they find it in the multiverse of books and bookshelves and libraries  and bookshps? I remember saying to Ann Sansom that I couldn’t see why folk would pester publishers. Or why poetry publishers put themselves through it. There’s no money in it for anyone, that’s for sure. Or you might get published by someone who it turns out isn’t that bothered about the most important thing in your life.

publishing

Something that’s stuck in my mind since then is an anecdote that Simon Armitage put in his account of walking the SW Coast Path and reading at various venues along the way. (Walking away. Faber). He’s staying overnight at what was the home of Peterloo Poets…who, inter alia, were the publishers of U.A.Fanthorpe. At some point, they simply went out of business. And left behind thousands and thousands of unsold copies, gradually falling prey to dust and damp. There you go. No one’s going to see your stuff on those crowded shelves, and eventually you’ll be remaindered or pulped. It’s a profoundly depressing thought. But.

You send stuff out, you enter competitions, you do open mics. You realise (well I did) that even if someone offers to publish you, it could be over a year before anything happens. And maybe you think you haven’t the patience for it. That’s what I felt like, but at the same time there’s something deeply unsatisfying about a whole bunch of poems that sit there in their Wordfiles, that have no physical heft. As it happened, still struggling to cope with semi-retirement, I enrolled in a bookbinding course at the Tech in Leeds. Learned very simple techniques, learned kettlestitching, all about endpapers, about boards, and even about embossing. Decided that for my assessment projects, I’d make books of my own poems. So I did.

img_1621

Two things happen. Well, they did for me.

The first is that when you go through the business of choosing and sequencing your poems, you realise that you didn’t really know your own work. You knew it, if you knew it at all, as this poem or that poem. And then it hits you that there are themes and preoccupations you were barely aware of. It’s fascinating and possibly unnerving. I’m reminded that last week, Roy Marshall (see above) was guest poet at The Puzzle Hall Poets and said, in passing, that he was surprised how many birds there were in his poems…especially since, unlike Steve Ely, say, he knows next to nothing about birds. That chimed with me. I’ve just assembled a collection and realised that I write a lot of poems with birds in. And a lot with God .. or gods…in.It’s an odd thing for a card-carrying atheist to discover that he may be in the wrong club after all.

The second is that when you have your homemade book in your hands, you’re the only one who knows it’s homemade. You can head off to an open mic. and read from it. At which point you realise the snag. There’s only one copy. Someone asks: where can we get that?(if you’re lucky) and there it is. A seed’s been sown. So what do you do if you want multiple copies? The answer is ridiculously simple. You make a template. You page set your poems. You design a cover and think of a smart title, and you type that seductive line: Poems by Me. You find a nice printer, show him the layout…just take in your memory stick…sort out a price and you pay for a properly printed batch of poems. If you’re active on Facebook and you go to open mic.s and you have lots of poetry chums (and I’ll bet the farm you have) you’ll have no problem selling 50 or more. That’s what I did. I did one, and that went well, so I did another. I used any ‘profit’ to pay for a reprint, and each of mine have gone through three reprints. I’m still selling the odd copy via the My Books link at the top of the page.

img_1622

Not all small printing firms will do perfect binding …forget the chapbook. A pamphlet, though is perfectly realistic. Stapled. Have a look at the pamphlets you’ve collected here and there. Size varies, but don’t go smaller than A5, whatever you do. And learn from the best. Design a dust jacket. If you want to see just what a difference a dustjacket makes, look no further than the Poetry Business pamphlet competition winners. Hide the staples…which just look amateurish. It really is that simple. One other thing. If you want to persuade a bookseller to take some copies, you need to get an ISBN. You can find all sorts of isbn. suppliers on line. Just make sure you get get one that comes with a bar code. And note that unit costs are cheaper if you buy  more than one. Because you may develop a taste for it. You want to be published? Just do it. And feel that surge of pure joy when you collect your box of fresh-printed  pamphlets, and you just want to have that smell of new paper and ink in your life for ever. Two of my happiest memories are seeing the big smiles on the faces of Kim Moore and of Jane Clarke when their brand new collections came out. Is there a downside? Depends how you judge the market. Accept pretty well that whatever your plans, you’ll be torn between a book that goes out of print and a box of as-yet-unsold stuff. Like this.

img_1623

There are other ways of doing it and you chose one that you think suits you. I enter a lot of competitions, and the prize for some of them is to have a pamphlet or a chapbook published. That’s how I come to have copies of Larach to sell. Quite a lot at the moment, because the publisher let me have all his remaining copies at a generous discount. I suppose it’s officially out of print, now. But if you go to My Books, I’ll sell you one. I’ll sell you lots. At the moment I’ve another (jointly authored) pamphlet collection on a shortlist. We’ll see what happens with that. Whatever happens, we’ve had the pleasure of squencing, and editing and discovering things we didn’t know about our poetry.

Other choices? Well there’s the sheer hard slog one. Kim Moore, for instance, has indefatigably submitted to journals and magazines for years and built up a portfolio of published work (as well as winning the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition) that she could take to a publisher and have published as a collection. The art of Falling [Seren 2015] is, as I never tire of saying, a stunner. Or my mate Keith Hutson, who maintains a rigorous routine of writing every morning, of submitting and submitting (about 60 poems published in major journals over the last two/three years), and is rewarded with the breakthrough of being asked to put together a pamphlet. It’s out now. Troupers [Poetry Salzburg 2016]. And that’s a stunner, too. Or if you work at your open mics and submissions, you gradually become aware of small poetry publishing firms. We’ve got two in Calderdale: Caterpillar Poetry and  Calder Valley Poetry. And in Wakefield, The Currock Press. Find what’s around you. Make friends with them. Email them. Talk to them. But here’s the thing. Don’t sit around mithering about wanting to be published. If you really want it, you’ll do it.

I started off by making handmade books, just for the fun of it. Then I got a printer. Then I won a competition. Then I won another. I’m a lucky boy. My first collection’s coming out in November. I may even post pictures of it. Or, like Jane Clarke, go to sleep with it under my pillow. You’ll never be a rock ‘n roll star. That’s not what it’s about.  But whatever you do, just do it. You know you want to.

On Enchantment. ..and a polished gem: John Duffy

abandoned-buildings_4

I’m going back in the archive for a chunk of something I wrote that seems entirely appropriate as an introduction to today’s special guest, the prolific and indefatigable John Duffy.

“A long time ago I wrote a retelling of a Finnish fire myth, from the Kalevala. In the original, at the making of stars by the god Ukko, fire falls to earth through the inattention of one of the anonymous star maidens . The spark is finally captured by the hero Vainemoinen; he’s the one who gets the credit. But you never know where a retelling will take you. In my version, though I never intended it, the gift of fire becomes an act of rebellion by the star maiden, who pities the creatures of the earth in their blood-chilling winters. She becomes Promethean, a bright star, and the god Ukko just another divine and appalling tyrant.

I’d forgotten all about it till one morning, when I was waiting for a man to change two rear car tyres for ones that wouldn’t readily blow out on a motorway, and I was reading Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks’. There’s a chapter marvellously called The tunnel of stones and axes. Just like that, I was reunited with Vainemoinen. The hero has been set to find the Lost-Words. For want of the names he cannot build his ship right. Without the thousand Lost-Words he cannot name the world to make it real.

‘Synonyms are of no use,’ writes Macfarlane. ‘ The power of each name is specific to its form.’

To understand this is to understand enchantment; we grow accustomed to the story of the enchanted castle, spellstruck, sleepstruck, drowning in thorn and briar, and to its cold, enchanted sarcophagus princess, white as marble. To be enchanted is to be made helpless and probably immobile. Macfarlane urges a truer meaning. To en-chant. To call into being. To summon by chanting, when only the true Lost-Words will do.”

So here we are. Enchantment. The power of truly chosen words to conjure, to tell truly.

johns-book

And here’s the cover of John Duffy’s new pamphlet…yes, it’s another from the the prolific Calder Valley Poetry. It’s the fifth title this year. Should you want to know more about them and ,indeed, order some, you can do no better than follow this link:

About

Werewolves, Pennine Tales, ravens, fallen angels, and now Glamourie. You don’t need to look it up. It’s a Scots word. It means ‘enchantment’, and it’s an enchanting collection of poems from a man who loves words and the craft of words. .You may be aware that it’s not the first time you’ve seen the word. Kathleen Jamie‘s already used it as the title of a poem that relives a moment of bewitchment in an everyday wood, of feeling a sudden loss, of a search for a lost one. Here’s a flavour of it. It explains ‘glamourie’ better than I ever could

“It was hardly the Wildwood,

just some auld fairmer’s

shelter belt, but red haws

reached out to me,

 …………………………. I tried

 calling out, or think

I did, but your name

shrivelled on my tongue”

Well, we know full well that the words rarely shrivel on Kathleen Jamie’s tongue, and neither do they on John Duffy’s. Time for an introduction. John writes of himself that he:

” was born in Glasgow seventy years ago, and has lived in Huddersfield since 1984. He has worked as a social and community worker in Glasgow, London, Huddersfield and Bradford, and as a bibliotherapist in Batley.He has run writing workshops mainly with community and mental health groups since the mid 1990s, and is one of the founders of Huddersfield’s Albert Poets, still going after 25 years.

He gave up employment in the 1980s to look after the house and children (not in that order), while Cathy qualified as a midwife (he calls this the practice of husbandry). When he moved to Huddersfield he made good use of Kirklees Council’s Writing in the Community workshops, and met the other Albert poets.

He likes reading, baking bread and making soup

walking and singing, and is much given to utopian speculation.”

He’s too modest to tell you what scores of poets around the West Riding (and beyond) will happily tell you…that there are scores of poets who owe him a huge debt for his quiet encouragement and support, for his  enthusiasm, for his sustained stewardship of the Albert Poets in Huddersfield, along with Stephanie Bowgett, (who will ere long be published by Calder Valley Poetry, and appear on the cobweb as a guest, and not for the first time). No surprise to see Geoff Hattersley turn up for the launch of  Glamourie, just over a week ago. Nor that Julia Deakin was there to read along with John. Steph and John have run the the Albert Poets for years. Norman MacCaig’s been there among others, and for 11 months of the year, on the second Thursday of each, you can treat yourself to a wealth of contemporary poetry. They also run a weekly Monday evening writers’ workshop, where I’ve grown accustomed to John Duffy’s shrewd editorial ear and eye. I’ve never taken a draft to a Monday night session without coming home with something tighter, righter, better. A labour of love for me, this post. As is obvious.

Right. Time for the poems.

 

Gravity and the bairn

I didna ken whaur I was, or what I was daein,

nae mair nor a soukin bairn. H. Hunter, Edinburgh. 1894″

Gravity grips the moses basket,

pins the baby to the sheet –

holds us to the Earth,

cradles Sun and planets.

 

Brick, stone, cement and wood

shelter this flight of stairs, this room;

stand tensed against that weightiness

 

and the baby, who knows none

of the words for gravity,

waves arms in the air, kicks off

the quilt, lets the hand teach –

reaches, grasps a toy, lifts and squints:

inside the skull, sparks leap

from lobe to lobe; beneath the skin

nerves, sinews, veins churn,

roots in a springtime meadow.

 

One day she’ll stand, this bairn,

speak and sing and cry and laugh;

rattle the bars; put down the mighty.

 

What I love about this is its passionate tenderness; it’s full of love, but it’s a deep-rooted love, one that finds its anchor in the sheer reliable physicality of the world, and the universe it turns in. It’s a poem that declares that we all have our place in a world that’s there for us to celebrate and shape. I’d love you to be able to listen to John’s reading- always quiet, precisely valuing the warmth of vowels, the structure of consonants. Every bit of it works. Imagine West Scots; a softened Glasgow accent, listen to the music of what may just be a prayer.

The next poem is darker; it invokes a world of conflict, of opposition; one where babies are born into a world that won’t guarantee to unconditional love of the first poem.

Fulcrum

 

An event’s a cloud

overhead, a shapeless thing

sliding beyond your hopes,

disappearing into blue

as you watch

its leading edge, or

 

intimate as the breeze

from a wasp’s wing

cool on the skin

on the back of your hand

before the slight tickle

of feet as it lands.

 

A baby gulps

for sobs, frets

from itch, stinks,

squirms from rage

of thirst; the mother,

tired and tethered,

 

looks to the other woman,

tired and sweating

from her strapload

of explosives. It balances

between them:

the baby draws breath.

 

Every word is doing a job here. It’s such a sure-footed poem. The title’s exact isn’t it…that business of the teetering awkward balance of things. It’s a fragile thing, balance. Balance is something that informs the next poem. And there’s a crow in it. There are a lot of birds in John’s poetry that ranges widely through many landscapes, though the ones he sent me are, I think are abstract or urban.

artwork-crows-1920x1080-wallpaper_www-animalhi-com_25

 

bodily into the air

 

1

in mid-air the crow

steadied then

planted itself

in the bare treetop

 

cocked its head and

with a tweak

of its neck

 

snapped off

a twig

two feet or so

in length

 

flapped away

listing

with the weight

 

with the heft

of the stick

gripped in its beak

 

 

2

two men canted

the piano

from their trolley

onto the camber

 

stooped

swivelled

scooped

and deftly

 

hoisted it

in one fluid

move

 

into the back

of the van

that dipped

 

its timbers

creaked and

took the strain

 

This one demands to be read aloud, to be heard. A poem of careful and exact consonants. A poem of balanced forces. A poem of en-chantment. There’s a poem in the collection called The  Strength of It  which starts:

I have tethered the moon .

It’s a poem of huge distances, mountains, oceans. The poets says

I could play it like a trout in a burn

that needs to wheedled,

coaxed from the brown bur

or

school it like a horse in a pen,

wheel it, twitch the reins

or

moor it like a ship ….The Moon –

its lunatic cargo rocks

in its hold.

He feels the tug of the moon   like the throb in the breast /  of a thrush in the hand

and ends with a resolution:

I’ll see if I can best it.

How’s that for a poet’s manifesto, and a commitment to a craft? Magic. That’s what galamourie is. Not the overgrown sleepstruck edifice. True naming, that’s what it’s about. That’s what John Duffy does. Head on down to Calder Valley Poetry, and buy the collection. You won’t be disappointed.

lost-buildings

Next week I’m going to ramble about pamphlets and collections. You may need to make notes. In the meantime, thank you, John Duffy, for being this week’s brilliant guest.