I was almost on the point of saying that I’m feeling my age. But that wouldn’t be accurate. Somewhere inside, I feel as young and confused as I did at thirteen. I was on the point of saying it last week on Skye when I was struggling to do much walking. What I was actually feeling was my crumbling bones, and I should be used to that by now. It’s been going on for 70+ years, after all.
However. It just happens that this morning I decided to try and make sense of my study; I’ve been steadily acquiring poetry, and books that I need to supply material for more poems, and once more running out of shelf-space. I’ve got a big collection of picture books and children’s fiction. That was fine when the grandchildren who visited were of an age for picture books and stories. But they’ve grown up through that. Now THAT makes me suddenly feel my age. Wow! What’s to be done? The answer’s simple. Keep the few you can’t bear to parted from and give the rest to a small school (our youngest lad’s best friend is headteacher of one such small primary school)…and another bag to eleven-year-old grandson who I reckon is ready for Alan Garner, and also for Earthsea, now he’s worked his way through Susan Cooper (and all my William books). And now I feel unencumbered and youthful, and the shelves breathe a sigh of relief. It’ll not last, but it’s nice for the moment. And, hey, it’s given me a nice hook for the cobweb strand.
But before I introduce today’s guest, a bit of ego-trippery feels unavoidable. And if not that, then certainly irresistible. With the magic of copy and paste, I can share this that I put on Facebook yesterday:
“Still dazed and starry-eyed from last night in Sheffield. No experience quite like being handed a copy of your own book for the first time. It never palls. Lovely to read in a very handsome room in The Art House, surrounded by some very handsome artwork, and a very handsome audience. Steve Ely, Keith Hutson and Sally Goldsmith were among them. And I met and heard Stuart Pickford for the first time…which was great. Met Ann Pilling, one of the Yorkshire Prize winners, and also one of my heroes of the wonderful world of children’s fiction. And then there was Mike di Placido, who I could listen to all night, and the 1st Prize winner, Charlotte Wetton who can do no wrong. Thank you, Poetry Business, thankyou Peter Sansom and Suzannah Evans for setting it all up. I am very very very happy. And this is why.Every picture tells a story. (ps there’s a celebration of 30 years of the wonderful Poetry Business at the Loom Lounge in Dean Clough in Halifax on Wednesday November 9th. 7.30pm. There will be cake.Please come).”
I should add that if you want to buy a copy (and I sincerely hope you do) then you’ll shortly be able to do so via the My Books link and the magic Paypal button. It’s just waiting on my IT-savvy son, Mick.What I’d do without him I cannot imagine.
Ego-trip over. On with the young ones.
Actually, when I typed the title of the post, I wasn’t thinking of this lot, much as I loved them. I was actually thinking of a film I never saw, and a single , which I never loved at all, on the grounds that it swung like a ship on a sea of Mars Bars. He was never hip, was he, Cliff? About as edgy and dangerous as a bag of Skittles.
But despite the naffness of the single (and someday, when the years have flown, darling we’ll have young ones of our own…….It’s not rock ‘n roll, is it? Hope I die before I grow old. That’s more like it) I’m happy to pinch the title. The Young Ones. Ladies and gents, let me introduce this week’s guest poet, Laura Potts.
I met Laura first, and subsequently, at The Red Shed Poetry nights in Wakefield. She actually looks like a poet. I’ve never seen her without a small notebook, in which she writes neatly, minutely and concentratedly. And she wears a small stylish hat. I notice these things. She also looks younger than she is. This is, I was told by the headmaster who gave me my first teaching job, a Good Thing. I remember that at the age of 24, and with two small children to support, I was refused service in an off-license in Marske. On the other hand, she’s still at university and has already has twice been named a London Foyle Young Poet of the Year and Young Writer.She’s in the same distinguished company as Holly Hopkins, Luke Samuel Yates (who was a Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition winner in2015), Charlotte Wetton (see above) and the illustrious Helen Mort.
And here’s the thing; I sort of feel my age. She’s not 21 yet, and she writes and performs with a rare poise and confidence. How do they do it, the young ones? Because I only have two or three poetry friends who are older than me, I tend to think of 50+ year olds as young ‘uns. I sort of think of the likes of Kim Moore, and Helen Mort, and Tom Weir and Andrew Macmillan and Yvonne Reddick as precocious talents. I mean. They’re in their 30’s and they’ve got at least 30 years start on me. And here’s Laura, with about 50 years’ start.
I’ve written before that I come late to writing poetry. Writing seriously that is. Working at it. My friend Hilary Elfick said it was like a dam bursting, that a weight of stuff had been building for decades. And, as a teacher and voracious reader, I’d absorbed a lot of intuitive understanding of words. I understand that. But what grabs my attention and admiration is not just the technique of these young writers, but the obvious confidence that they have things to say. I thinks it’s wonderful, if not actually miraculous. I have to pinch myself to remember that Keats was dead in his twenties. What did he know about life? What indeed. I guess I needed to write that, to get today’s guest in perspective. I worry it will come across as condesencion. Because it isn’t. It’s gobsmackedness.
Let’s crack on. Laura writes about herself: (3rd person first)
Laura Potts is a Yorkshire-based poet and is currently an English Literature student at The University of York. In 2014 she became a Lieder Poet at the University of Leeds. In her spare time Laura is co-editor of creativity at The Yorker and edits The Poets’ Nook, promoting spoken word and emerging writers around the UK. This summer she has returned from studying at The University of Cape Town, South Africa, and working at The Dylan Thomas Birthplace, Swansea.
She continues (1st person)
My earliest memory of writing is of a seven-year-old me in my grandmother’s old armchair back home. She would read Kipling’s ‘If’ to me over and over again, and to this day I can still recite it. She wasn’t well-known in the writing world, but she’d had a few poems published in her time and was a great lover of words. I used to sit on her knee and she’d read in her great gravelly voice verses of Tennyson and Chaucer for hours. Of course, I didn’t understand it back then, but something about her vocal lilt made the words alive to me even when I was young. I often think of those times. That’s how it started. I owe my own love of writing to her.
As I grew through high school, writing became a form of escapism for me. I found those last years very mentally draining, and poetry was exterior to all of that. I wrote quite vigorously in the evenings, had a few pieces published here and there, and my break came when I became a Foyle Young Poet twice over. Someone actually thought there were sparks in what I wrote.
I guess these were the kinds of sparks they thought they’d seen and heard..Laura’s sent me three poems to share. The first fizzes with sparks:
But then parts of you
are dead. I sent the world a postcard from a fusty
window that said
I am wearing my grief.
Sling clothes into the bin: your socks, your skirts,
the notebook in the pocket of the moth-eaten dress;
that locket – yes – the one etched with that lover’s name
you would never speak, but traced with warmer words
in the tepid curls
of firelight. Death in his Sunday finery asleep in the hall.
I call. Mother. Hear you still singing while washing
Now. Minds do many things. Canteen food garden gate
passing-bells rings. A wind slips beneath the door and
I hear you humming,
a voice swollen with the years of rolled-up sleeves
and tired eyes. The cries of a child at its mother’s knee.
I remember Wordsworth, Tennyson, Keats, dripping
from your tongue in a terminal bed. Mother, I said,
forty years from
the child in your arms. There are parts of you dead.
Bottle and Bible. Now this is pleasurable. Somewhere
on the other side of the night I am hearing you say
The fields are alive
when the moon is bowed. Your name is stirring
in the trees and is gone. No. Look what you’re doing.
Look at me now.
It’s a curiously disturbing poem, I think…partly because I can’t quite nail the owner of the voice of the one who’s telling me all this. But there are memorable and memorisable things. Death in his Sunday finery asleep in the hall. It’s such a precisely located and unexpected image. It sticks and bothers. Whereas the tepid curls / of firelight simply sticks. As does Bottle and Bible. I think I’m missing out on some common knowledge. And I love the confidence, the easy assurance of Now, this is pleasurable. Yes. It is.
Laura continues: Since coming to university I’ve tried to drive my craft more than ever. A few magazines have picked me up and of course the rejections outweigh the acceptances, but that’s how every writer begins. It’s dispiriting, but having just one poem out there every now and then is enough to keep writing.
I’m glad that she does. And I do like that conviction, too, about driving your craft. Because that’s what pays off in the end, as it does in the next poem
a gull snaps its wings
as I stretch out the past
to the city with its dark heart
splitting our skins for a kiss.
On the rim of a memory,
like silver pins
on that street
My lover’s words I remember
like globed pearls on tepid stars
the hot dark of torchlight
from the pavement
as he went.
with eighty-six years in my face,
I read books
and play cards
and years have dried up,
in a vase.
in my crabbed hands his skin,
doused with river lights,
no foul breath of wartime but
a whole lost world of long-kissed nights,
thin films of eyes candled bright
in the lobes of my palms,
the four-medal arms deliberate,
Afterwards, the distant salute of a bomb.
I’m still not quite sure about that last line, but there a the moments that matter, that memorise themselves as you read them. The gull that ‘snaps’ its wings, ‘splitting our skins for a kiss’ as we ‘fizz like siver pins’. I like the way the poem recognises the vitalities of memory, and the way the distant past may be more vibrantly alive and particular than the presentness of age. It’s quite something, that. Just one more poem, then, after this last thought from Laura:
The process is really quite cathartic to me. And it’s even more rewarding when that one person approaches me at the end of a spoken word night to say I touched them in some way. For all those hours of quiet, contemplative study, writing becomes, really, a connective medium. And it’s something to hold on to, something higher, something separate from my everyman world.
This is our night,
so we dampen down
stars onto pavements
which sleep on the other side
of the city’s eyes.
The long slow slope of the hills
into the dark
In a park, the mouth
of a streetlamp gutters
and laughs. We are grinning
through a candle hour,
kicking back history
in the arch of our backs, the distant
chant of childhood a train wrecked
far off its tracks, a shadow lost
in some long-corridored past.
Cross the dark hills and
you hear them calling –
the other us –
the children down the hallway,
scrawling a sentence
which one day will speak
in the thawing smudge
of a kiss in this street,
where here and now
we are fizzing
when it is our night.
They are still letting off fireworks along the Calder valley, tonight, the night after Bonfire Night. Which seems right, where we are fizzing / and laughing /and dancing.
So, thank you for being our guest and for sharing your poems, Laura Potts. We’ll be seeing you again and again. And I know some of your more recent poems are full of crafted and complicated rhymes. That’s something to look forward to.
Next week we’re having a Poetic Gem Revisited, and the week after that I’ll be celebrating a memorable first pamphlet. See you all next Sunday. If you’ve nothing on on Wednesday, you’ll be more than welcome at The Loom Lounge at Dean Clough in Halifax. 30 years of the Poetry Business will be celebrated. How could anyone resist.