A gem revisited: Jane Clarke



(Before you begin: an apology. I’ve repeatedly rest the poems with the proper stanza breaks, and WordPress doggedly keeps eliminating them. I have no idea why nor how to stop it. So, just in case it does it for the third time, I’ll tell you the stanza breaks for each poem as it arrives)

Jane Clarke was our guest on the cobweb in July 2015. It feels too long ago. Her rightly-praised first collection The River had just been published by Bloodaxe, and I loved it, as so many others do.You can catch up with that post, if you wish, via this link https://johnfogginpoetry.com/2015/07/25/a-river-runs-through-a-polished-gem-6-jane-clarke/

In any case, I’m going to lift part of it to start today’s post. I was riffing on the the significance of landscape and the feeling of belonging in, and to, a place. Jane’s place was, and probably still is, Roscommon, and the water meadows of the River Suck. Anyway, I wrote this:

“ I don’t know what to make of woodlands and forests and greenery. I can make even less of flat places, saltmarsh, estuaries. I’m starting to wonder if it’s because I grew up in relatively (though undramatically) narrow valleys. I live on a hillside where I can look up and down the valley, or across the valley to the opposite hillsides, and beyond to the Pennines. I begin to think that what I’m conscious of is hillsides and gradients and the stone underneath them. It’s as though what I’m aware of is ‘valley’, and that the river is incidental, as though it came from the hillsides and not the other way round.

I’d not considered this until I was reading and re-reading ‘The river’ , the first collection by today’s Gem, Jane Clarke. I began to wonder if growing up by a river among green fields under a wider sky than mine might be a key to poems that are full of time and the passage of time, of transience and spaciousness. I suspect this will not hold water, but maybe there’s a sort of truth in there somewhere. And so we find ourselves by the River Suck, that flows through Roscommon. ‘It was where  /  we’d go to talk, or cry, or be quiet  /  in the company of the current’, writes Jane in her poem, The Suck.

It’s a river, she says, that flows, rolls, that drifts, smooth and slow. The Suck, An tSuca, the origin of whose name is lost (says Wikipedia) in the mists of time, and may be derived from an older Irish word for ‘amber’. Or not. Nobody knows. It flows and rolls and drifts through limestone country to the Shannon. Lakes appear or disappear in rain or drought. Turloughs. Lakes that  swell and shrink as though the earth was breathing. What a lovely word. I don’t know how it’s pronounced. I imagine long vowels. A soft fricative ff, or an even softer glottal. Whatever the truth, the river runs sure, through that stunning first collection.”


Of course it’s not just the physical landscape, and its psycho-topography, but also the landscapes and inscapes of family, and those who farmed it down the years. I think of The Rainbow, and the Brangwens who had lived on the Marsh farm for generations, the way a family may be bound with the land they worked. That feels especially poignant today. Jane’s father Charlie died four days ago. She’d written to me some time ago when she was looking after her Dad who’d had a fall, and said this in passing:

My parents love music – folk music, Percy French, Thomas Moore, anglican hymns and even now Dad regularly quotes Hiawatha, Julius Caesar, the psalms, the bible, Yeats (even though he left school at 14) – must have influenced me without my knowing it all those years. 

That found its way into a poem at some point…I just hunted for and found it. It was on Josephine Corcoran’s poetry blog : And other poems…almost exactly a year ago. This excerpt…. the first three stanzas….is what I thought of:

The Finest Specimen                                     [3 line stanzas]

When I was a child my father wrote the twelve fair days

of Roscommon on the back of a Players pack

and taught me to recite them as farmers used to do.


He showed me where the blacksmith had inscribed

1865 on a gate – the year Yeats was born, he’d say.

There’s one date you have to remember, your great


great great grandfather, the one with the whiskers,

was born the year of the rebellion, 1798,

any family history before that is just imagination.


(previously published in the Fish Anthology 2015)

A couple of days ago, she posted another poem for her Dad on her Facebook page. It ends like this, with a wish, or a prayer:     [it should be in 2 line stanzas]

That I could take him back

to his cobblestones and barn,

his rooks in the birch trees, his nettles

and ditches, limestone and bog.

That I could find the words to tell him

what he will always be,

horse chestnut petals falling pink in the yard,

the well that’s hidden in a blackthorn thicket,

cattle standing orange in the shallows,

a summer evening’s hush.

(From: That I could .,First published in One online journal,with thanks to Richard Krawiec.)

For today, while her Dad was still alive, I asked Jane to choose a poem for us to revisit, (ie one that I used in the first post) she chose ‘Every tree’ from The River.

Every tree                                                  [ 2 line stanzas]

I didn’t take the walnut oil,

linseed oil,

the tins of wax

or my lathe and plane

when I closed

the workshop door.

I left the grip of poverty

on the bench

beside my mallet,

whittling knife

and fishtail chisel

with its shallow sweep.

I quit the craft

my father had carved into me

when I was pliable

as fiddleback grain,

left all at the threshold,

except for the scent of wood,

a different scent

for every tree.


It says what I’ve tried to describe about the nature of work in Jane’s poetry, or, specifically, about the work of hands. I think it’s also about legacies and about moving away, about becoming, about why we can’t go back. And also, perhaps, why we shouldn’t want to. I’d give a lot to learn the art of its quiet economy. The weight that a short sentence can bear. I left the grip of poverty / on the bench. Do you see what I mean about spaciousness? About resonance? It’s lovely.

I also asked if we could  have a new poem or more that she was happy to share. Jane replied: Here are three new poems, attached. Feel free to choose your favourite. They were published in a US Irish Studies Journal in Spring 2016 (New Hibernia Review Volume 20, Number 1, Spring, 2016) so it’s unlikely that your readers will have seen them before.

I can’t choose. So I’m sharing all of them.

The first, The yellow jumper, I liked especially because of the sense of shared riches in a family story that stretches back and back, and the love that’s implicit in the best story tellings. That clinching word in its last line: splendid

The Yellow Jumper                                     [3 line stanzas]

We weren’t married long when I saw

a turtle-necked jumper in Murray’s window –

yellow as happiness, as the flash on a goldfinch’s wings.


I imagined your father wearing it at the fairs,

standing out from all the rest in their greens

and greys. Eighteen shillings and sixpence,


I paid for it on tick, thruppence a week.

For all that he smiled on his birthday,

it remained on the back of the bedroom chair.


One day I folded and packed it in the chest

with the spare candles, letters, photographs

and the other questions I didn’t ask.


I like to think of him there, among pens

of breeding heifers, weanlings and hoggets,

splendid in yellow.


The second poem is in that same tradition of shared memory.


The Pianist                                            [3 line stanzas]

I don’t know how she did it,

smuggled a spinet,



all the way from Beijing.

We didn’t want trouble,

neighbours said we should burn it,


but if you saw how she touched it,

you’d know why we found

a hiding place in a faraway shed.


Like everyone else,

she spent long days in the fields

but come the night,


she’d be gone for hours at a time.

We didn’t ask,

didn’t want to know;


only sometimes we heard notes

carried, as if from the heavens,

by hard frost or on the wind.


What I like so much is the combination of the matter-of-fact …..the plain telling…and the mysterious, the sense of a kept secret, the deliberateness of ‘not knowing’ as though knowledge would be dangerous, or fatal to the music. It’s a haunting poem in so many ways.

The third poem brings me back to the work of hands and trades, but it’s also unobtrusively a poem like Heaney’s Digging ,  and, I suppose, The door into the dark , that connects the work of hands with the work of words in a communion of craftsmanship.

When winter comes                                                   [ 2 line stanzas]


remember what the blacksmith

knows, that dim light is best


at the furnace, to see the colours

go from red to orange


to yellow, the forging heat

that tells the steel is ready


to be held in the mouth

of the tongs and it’s time


to lengthen and narrow

with the ring of the hammer


on the horn of an anvil,

to bend until the forgiving metal


has found its form

in the sinuous curve of a scroll.


Then file the burrs, remove

sharp edges, smooth the surface,


polish with a grinding stone

and see it shine like silver, like gold.


When I read Jane’s post on Facebook last week, I said I’d light a candle for Charlie Clarke; I suppose this post is part of that promise.  And her poems remind me that Larkin’s cautious qualifications and ‘almosts’ miss the point. Because without qualification: what will survive of us is love. Thank you, Jane, for sharing that love.

[With my ‘revisited guests’ I’ve usually let them tell you what they’ve done in the interim before sharing new poems. That didn’t feel quite appropriate. I’ve left it to the end, and let the poems Jane sent me to work their magic. But if you’re meeting Jane for the first time, then you’ll want to know.

In 2016 Jane won the inaugural Listowel Writers’ Week Poem of the Year at the Irish Book Awards as well as the Hennessy Literary Award for Poetry. Jane’s first collection, The River, was shortlisted for the Royal Society for Literature Ondaatje Award, which celebrates literature evoking a sense of place. She has been continuing work on her second collection and has had poems published in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Irish Times, Poetry Ireland Review, New Hibernia Review, Resurgence and Ecologist magazine, Elementum magazine and the US on-line journals, One and Prelude. 2016 reviews of The River were published in The North, Poetry Wales, the Dublin Review of Books, New Hibernia Review, Resurgence & Ecologist and Artemis Poetry. She also continued a series of readings from The River, which took her to Wales, California and Washington DC as well as Sligo, Limerick, Newcastle West, Dublin, Cavan, Roscommon and Limavaddy.

The River [Bloodaxe 2015. £9.95]

The textured language, vivid imagery and musical rhythms of Jane Clarke’s debut collection convey a distinctive voice and vision. With lyrical grace these poems contemplate shadow and sorrow as well as creativity and connection. The threat of loss is never far away but neither is delight in the natural world and what it offers. Rooted in rural life, this poet of poignant observation achieves restraint and containment while communicating intense emotions. The rivers that flow through the collection evoke the inevitability of change and our need to find again and again how to go on.”

Poetry readings, and a polished gem: Ian Harker


Some Sundays I’m scratching around for a hook for the cobweb post, and some Sundays (like today) I’m offered a gift on tailor-made platter. I was playing around with the reasons why I’ll buy books at a poetry reading and not at others. Or why I come away sometimes buzzing with something I can only describe as excitement. Or not. So god bless Facebook for someone’s sharing Lemn Sissay’s succinct musing on the importance of ‘the voice’. This is part of it:

“Authenticity in the performed poem is in the voice – high low mumbled screamed inhibited or expressive –  and the voice is shaped by the words.  I remind myself to read the poem as if I had just written it.  This allows me to feel the text.  The space between feeling the text and speaking the text is vast.  It needn’t be.   It is the role of the poet on stage to close the gap to capture the feeling they had when they wrote the poem.  A performed poem needn’t be outwardly expressive but it must be internally explosive. Believe me. However  quiet the poet is on stage, however inhibited they may be, if they feel their poem the audience will too.   Move and be moved.”

– See more at: http://blog.lemnsissay.com/2017/01/13/100-words-on-your-vocal-in-poetry/#sthash.PXhKyocK.dpuf

And he’s just summed up what I’d have struggled to articulate; I went to three poetry readings in four nights this week, and at each of them I heard poets who ‘closed the gap’, who moved and were moved.

Monday was the Puzzle Poets Live in Sowerby Bridge, where an attentive audience crammed itself into a small upstairs room to be treated to a master class by Ian Duhig. If anything, Ian is an understated reader, quiet though emphatic. But there’s no mistaking the passion; what he writes about is important to him, and he makes it important to the listener. He frames his poems, he gives them context, he shares the processes of their making in a way that makes coherent and accessible a huge range of ideas …a blind roadmaker who he invited us to think of as ‘love’; Franz Kafka and the (apochryphal?) story of a lost doll, and the letters she may or may not have written; England as ashtray land; a character who asks ‘what the fuck’s the Holy Grail?’ ; the Book of Job and one individual against the world; the reminder that ‘by the breath of God, frost is given’; the makers of meaning (all poets and lawmakers, I supposed) ‘whose words they feared betrayed it’. Running through all this was his advice on constructing a pamphlet , or a collection. ‘Don’t overplan…let your poetry surprise you’. What kind of voice were we listening to? One that convinced you that poetry would always become accessible if you listened hard enough. And one other thing. He read and talked for twenty minutes, and then stopped, leaving everyone wanting more. Like I say. A master class. If I hadn’t already bought ‘The blind roadmaker’ I’d have bought it there and then, feeling I’d been invited into its world.



And so to Wednesday in Halifax, at The Loom Lounge, in Dean Clough Mills. Keith Hutson who organises the WordPlay monthly readings in Halifax has done an amazing job of attracting poets from all over the country, but I reckon he surpassed himself on Wednesday, when David Constantine came all the way from the Isles of Scilly….thankfully to  good sized audience. Two of the support readers I already knew, and knew I’d enjoy their readings. Bob Horne treats his poems as actor would a text, I think. Every word gets its appropriate attention and no more. His timing… comic, ironic, reflective, whatever’s required…is always exact and felt. Ann Caldwell reads her work with a quiet conviction, and the authority that comes from knowing what you’re talking about.

At this point I confess, guiltily, that I didn’t know David Constantine’s work. There’s a huge amount I don’t know about poetry and poets. I knew that he’d judged the McClellan Poetry Competition this year, because I entered it, but other than that I had no idea what to expect appart from knowing that he has an amazing cv..He read for 30 minutes and it felt like 30 seconds. What was remarkable to me was the complexity of poems made out of entirely accessible lexis, and the way long looping sentences that turn back on themselves are stitched together by barely noticed slant and full rhymes, by a precisely placed set of rhythms that are exact and reliable, and simultaneously unobtrusive. And I noticed all this because he made me hear them. His control is remarkable…he makes the business of breathing through long sequences seem effortless. I sat and wondered if he’d been an influence on Kim Moore, who also is adept at breathing through sentences that can run over a 5 or 6 stanza sequence. The thing is, I was simultaneously entranced by the performance, as by a skilled instrumental musician AND by what the poems say.  The monologue of the monomaniac; the voices of the Greek chorus and messenger; the adaptation of fado that name checked Ewan McColl’s dirty old town, the Manchester Ship Canal…and never once seemed odd or forced. Do you see what he did? I have never heard or read this poems before, but they’re lodged in my mind. And that’s why I bought the Collected Poems. Because I already knew I would read and re-read them. I’ve not started yet. I have to finish my rationed reading of the Collected U A Fanthorpe. That’ll take another month, but then I can start on David Constantine..and all on the basis of his reading in a cafe/bistro in a monumental former carpet mill in Halifax.

And to finish my ‘week’, the Albert Poets in Huddersfield. I’ve rarely heard a poor reader there, one who mumbles, or faffs about, or does the ‘poet voice’. but from Thursday night’s readings, among many good things, I want to pick out two. One of the guest poets was Tom Cleary, who read a poem about his father, about the terror of being brutally interrogated during the Irish Civil War, about being repeatedly beaten, about the demand that he SPEAK. Now, I can signal that this word is important. I can capitalise it. I could surround it with  white space                speak                     but what I can’t do with written text is what Tom Cleary could do in performance, in the line that dissects the phonics of the word, and then in the performance of those phonic elements inthat one syllable. And then in the silence that he let surround it, so that you had to understand its bleak irony, and the ambiguities of Tony Harrison’s line:

“in the silence that surrounds all poetry”.

When this poem is finally in print I shall buy it. The same is true of a poem that David Borrott read, and equally, it will be because of hearing it as the writer heard it (I believe) in his own mind. David’s poem was written around a childhood memory, an anecdote of being caught by the incoming tide on the mudflats of Southend. Why was it important to hear it in performance? Because the voice is that of a child refracted through the memory of the adult. The child has no language for the enormity of what is happening as the cold sea rises above waists and chests…and makes one anyway. Like Riddley Walker in Hoban’s astonishing novel. All the bafflement of how we got into and out of this near-drowning was there in David’s reading. So, on the evidence of this week at least, there’s no default poetry voice around my bit of Yorkshire, and I understand what Lemn Sissay meant about closing a gap, about moving, and being moved.

Which brings me handily to our guest for this week. Because I heard Ian Harker reading at Mark Connors’ Word Club at the Chemic Tavern in Leeds, and I knew straight off that I wanted him to let us have some poems for the cobweb. He reads with that clarity and confidence that I like, readings that follow the meaning of the poem and let the rhythms work as understated counterpoint or harmony, He can do drily ironic, too. He has great timing. And he means what he’s reading. So here he is:

Ian Harker’s poems have appeared in magazines including Agenda, Stand, Other Poetry, and The North. He has been Highly Commended in the Bridport Prize, and has been shortlisted in the Troubadour and Guernsey International prizes.

His debut collection ‘The End of the Sky’ was a winner of the Templar Book & Pamphlet Award in 2015, and his first full collection, ‘Rules of Survival’, is forthcoming through Templar. I asked him to say a little about the influences that have gone into his poetry…I suspect that what he writes about Paul Durcan put the seed for the introduction to this post in my mind. This is what he says about himself:

“For me, a poem always starts when a voice starts speaking. It usually begins with a first line, or at least phrase. From then on, I try and work in what I admire in other people’s poetry. Much as I dislike him personally (and politically) I can’t get away from TS Eliot – the energy and intensity of his poetry up until ‘The Hollow Men’ is stunning.

Then there’s Louis MacNeice: he gets a bit of a raw deal because of Auden, but in a celestial poetry slam, I reckon Louis could beat Wystan poem-for-poem. I love the way he bends meaning to snapping-point, the way his poems quiver on the edge of sense. That, and the way he brings everyday speech – clichés and jargon into his poems. He picks up language we’ve hardly noticed ourselves using and turns them into poetry. Also his moral energy: he lived and wrote through the worst years of the 20th century, and I think all his poems are really trying to work out what the bloody answer was to so much brutality and crushing of spirit.

Finally (probably most of all) there’s Paul Durcan. I heard him read at Beverley Literature Festival in 2010, and I’ll never forget it. What I adore most about his work is the ways he finds to come at a subject. He’s always completely unexpected, surprising, but by the end of the poem you feel that how Durcan’s written the poem is the most completely perfect way to express just the thing he was driving at. That, and the fact that he can be laugh-out-loud hilarious in one line, then deadly serious the next; in fact he can be both at the same time. (I think this is what I noticed about Ian’s own poems too, when I heard him read in December)

So here we go. Ian’s sent me three poems to share with you. They are all from the upcoming pamphlet. As soon as it’s out, I’ll publicise it on the cobweb. It’s one to look out for. How do I know? because I’ve heard his reading.


Urban legend: Astronauts


They say it sends you crazy –

a range of hills at your back,

the ground ahead not much more

than an ellipse and you’re staring back

at everything you’ve ever known.


And what you thought was black

when you stood in the yard staring up

at the tailfins of meteors

or the appendix scar of Hale-Bopp

or the moon that’s now inches

from the soles of your feet

is in fact a solid wall of starshine

reflecting in the goldfish glass of your helmet

and you feel like you felt learning to swim

when your mom took her arms away

and the human mind is very very small.


I think I like everything about this artful, deceptively simple poem, one that make this reader dizzy with its queasily shifting perspectives, the uncertainty about just where we are and how we got here. The physical dislocation comes along with metaphysical and emotional ones, as the the ground that appeared close turns to a ‘solid wall of starshine‘ which, I suppose, is anything but solid; as the grown-up astronaut becomes a child, and ‘it’ clearly does make ‘you’ crazy’. And, by the way, I’d have given much to have come up with that oddly precise image: the appendix scar of Hale-Bopp…..there was a comet visible in daylight, and its tail as pale as a healed scar. Wonderful.


It struck me that Ian’s poems have that knack of making you see things differently, surprising you into all sorts of reappraisals by unexpected shiftes of perspective..and equally of assuming the voices that allow him to do that. Which is why I especially enjoyed the voice of the next poem.As I alsdo enjoyed the title, and, hard on its heels, the first line…I think of both of them as poential competition winners, ones to snag the unwary reader’s attention.And then the gradual discovery of the narrator’s voice and his subterfuges. Another to read aloud for yourself.


The caretaker compares himself to the happiest man alive


Freddie Mercury employed a butler

to serve cocaine on a silver salver.

Me, however – I’ve been a caretaker

for thirty years, give or take –


I had a spell

as Creative Director

of the Royal Opera House,

Covent Garden –


but now I’ve got to get up at half six

and work one Saturday in four, locking doors,

unlocking doors, switching off lights, moving chairs

for layabout provincial thespians.

But you get free tickets they say down the pub –

not seeing that I got free tickets at Covent Garden

but would give them away to incredulous

Community Support Officers,

who doubtless sold them on eBay.



the Happiest Man Alive

does not have to get up at half six

or work one Saturday in four and does not have to put up

with the square outside full of ladyboys.


How I wish I was caretaker for the ladyboys,

the ladyboys who come every year from Bangkok –

all the way from Bangkok and I would come with them

and move not chairs and water-coolers

but armfuls and armfuls of sequin bodices,

piles of lilies, stargazer lilies making me sneeze

and lashing my new tan with sticky bitter welts –

on my arms, my shoulders, the teeshirt I bought in Dortmund

so that when I go on my break and stand in the rain

smoking a fag people look at me strangely

covered in suntan and pollen and I smile and say

Yes! I am caretaker to the ladyboys

of Bangkok! And I’m on my fag break!

The Happiest Man Alive!


He seems a deliberately untrustworthy narrator..there are characters like him in Camus. What I’m uneasy about is who is being taken for a ride. But if he is a conman, he’s a conman with an absurd dream that makes me smile.

The last poem is more lyrical, but like the previous two, you (I?) can’t be quite confident about the perspective, although I know the voice is urgent.



Blue God

That first summer other boys

were tight shadows,

static at the tips of my fingers

till out of a steel-white sky

that could have been cold to the touch

came you – blue like Krishna.


No one else knew.

No one could see the cobalt stream

from under your shirt. I was hot

in a school jumper but my eyes,

closed like a corpse’s, opened

and found you – dancing

if you did but know it

at the end of the sky,

at all the far reaches.


And everywhere around you abundance –

petals and filigree, water

through dry earth.

And a point of light under your hand

where all the other light started.


Decide who it is who’s talking to you. I’m not sure, and I haven’t heard Ian Harker reading this one. But I want to. At least I can thank him for being our guest on the cobweb this Sunday, and promise we’ll buy the pamphlet as soon as it’s available.





Gems revisited: Maria Taylor


Self indulgent post today….even more than usual. Because it’s my birthday. Which I’m celebrating via my son Mick’s present to me: a redesigned slick new look for the great fogginzo’s cobweb. I hope you all like it as much as I do. I was getting a bit bored with those bookspines every week. Now it seems to be an everchanging panorama of photographs I’d forgotten were on my files. Wow!! And also it’s David Bowie’s birthday. And Elvis’s. And Shirley Bassey’s. (It’s Nick Neale’s and Mick Bromley’s too…you won’t have heard of them, but they’re both very talented, take my word for it).

74! And in the words of Micky Mantle, “If I’d known I was gonna live this long, I’d of took better care of myself“. Anyway, I’m giving myself a birthday treat, because, slightly out of sequence, my special guest today is Maria Taylor, and I can give another airing to some musings on reviewing poetry, I can reprise some of what I wrote about her in October 2015,  and then you can find out what she’s been up to since then. Are you sitting comfortably? Then off we go.

“The first proper review I wrote was for The North, and by a happy chance, one of the collections reviewed was by Maria Taylor. I’ll plunder some of that review for this cobweb strand, with due acknowledement to The North.

I remember I was very nervous about it, and I thought I’d better read some poetry reviews, not only in The North but in other magazines and journals; I have to say that my heart sank. Maybe I was reading the wrong ones, but I was instantly time-warped back to university and the strange language of ‘Lit. Crit.’ It was a register I had to learn, but I hated it. All of it. I was informed, in no uncertain way, that I was not, on pain of derision and contempt, to use the word I. The reasons were never made explicit, but it was made very clear I had to assume an authority I did not have, and to use the word we. ‘We are not sure of the perfect grasp of the conventions of the sonnet’s rhetorical structure and authorial voice in this less than authoritative sequence.’  That sort of pretentious claptrap. We recognise. We are profoundly moved. Never you. The reader is taken on a lyrical journey into darkness. And I would think: how do I know what ‘the reader’ thinks. I only knew (on a good day) what knew. I knew straight off what Tony Harrison was on about. Uz. Uz. Uz. I’m with Caliban. I’ll not thank you for learning me your language, Durham University. ‘We’. It’s an arrogant impertinence. I’ll tell you what I think. You can make your own mind up. We’re not in a fictitious, collusive relationship. It was still going on when, years later, I was marking undergraduate essays. I was told not to write on their work: What do YOU think? You’re not an authority. Just be plain and honest with me. If you don’t understand it, then tell me, and tell me why.

I have no patience with reviews that have an agenda of league tables and pecking orders, or with reviews designed to showcase the writer. Here’s an analogy. I’m addicted to Sunday Supplement restaurant reviews…well, to A.A. Gill’s, anyway, because I like acidulous writing. But you know the kind of thing when it’s bad. Where the reviewer riffs on his/her sojourn in Calabria or some remote upland village in the Tatras…for about 1000 words, and then spares a 100 for a dismissive review of a new Turkish/fusion joint in Notting Hill or Golders Green. Always in London. Or, at a pinch, Edinburgh. Their London. Their world. They sound like second rate Brian Sewells, but without the wit or scholarship that makes you not mind the strangely plummy enunciation. Stuff that, for a lark, I thought. Let me say thanks, right here, for Don Patterson’s new book on Shakespeare’s Sonnets. That’s the voice I want to hear, authentic, idiomatic, partisan and partial. I reckon it gives me permission to write the way I want. You’ll either like it or you won’t but at least you’ll know what I think. And make up your own minds.”

And so, having got that off my chest, let me set about persuading you why you should be as enthusiastic as I am about Maria Taylor, who I first met, like so many others, at a Poetry Business Writing Day, and whose company I have looked forward to ever since. Let me introduce you. Or rather, let her introduce herself:

‘I am Greek Cypriot in origin and was born in Worksop and lived in Notts as a child. My family moved to London when I was 6, after my father found it increasingly hard to find work in the local power stations. We lived in Acton. When I was 18 I went to Warwick University to study English Literature and Theatre Studies, and then onto Manchester University to study for an MA in English. I worked as a Teacher until I had twins at 30. After the twins were born, I found myself going back to poetry. I’d actually studied Creative Writing with David Morley at Warwick, but had strayed off the poetry path. It was partly David’s influence that guided me back to poetry. Since then I’ve been busy writing and reading. I’ve had poems published in various magazines, including The Rialto, Ambit, Magma and The North. In 2012, my first collection Melanchrini was published by Nine Arches Press and shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize. I currently teach Creative Writing at De Montfort University in Leicester. I also have a blog, find me at: http://miskinataylor.blogspot.co.uk/.

[Lets’s also add that she’s review editor for Under the radar, and asked me to contribute a review for that. Told you. Shameless hook].

So what’s she been up to since then?  All my returning guests have been sent the same list of prompt questions. What I really like is that they all come at them in their own way. I was much taken by the fact that Maria wrote me a letter; I see no need to edit it.

“Dear John,

Hope you’re well. I thought I should write my response in the form of a letter, rather than a post. This is more to do with needing structure rather than a return to the past. So thank you very much for asking me back to your wonderful blog.

Not About Hollywood

I sit next to Uncle Tony in the waiting room
who says he’ll be lucky to get six months

and can’t be sure if it’s his blood pressure
or the ghosts in his head that’ll kill him.

He wears a jacket removed from a corpse
with his life savings stitched under tweed,

‘So they don’t get at it,’ he whispers,
they being banks, governments, wives.

My mother’s seen it all. I was born
into melodrama. But we’re still here for him

the way a scratching post is there for a cat.
He talks. We listen to the silences.

Magazines find their way onto our laps
and we lose ourselves in other lives:

premieres, evening gowns, red carpets.
He gets up, humming something staccato.

His step falters. We tell him not to worry
as his name flashes in blood-red lights.

Last year, one of the poem’s featured on the Cobweb, was a poem called ‘Not About Hollywood.’ This poem is now featured in my new pamphlet with HappenStance, Instructions for Making Me. The pamphlet came out this September. At one point the working title of the pamphlet was Not About Hollywood, but Nell Nelson thought that might be a clunky title for a collection as opposed to a single poem. If anything, this year I’ve started thinking more about poems working in collections as opposed to the usual flinging them out. There’s not much I’d change about this poem now, it was published in New Walk and in the pamphlet so I guess it’s a ‘grown up’ poem. It’s gritty and based partly on reality and it’s not a ‘pretty’ poem. Actually, I’d like to write more poems like this!


(I can’t resist adding: so would I. I commented at the time that  “There’s a line that arrests me,  My mother’s seen it all. I was born / into melodrama ; it makes me want to spend time with Maria Taylor’s poems . Over a year later, it still does.)

You also asked me what else I’ve been up to. I’ve had a poetry ‘sabbatical’ this year. This consists of taking stock and placing my energies into the pamphlet. Now it’s out it’s probably time to get back to the important business of generating and editing new poems. After all I am meant to be a ‘poet’ and writing poems is what we do! I’m sure it’s in the job description. This year’s been quieter. I think this is fairly normal, we’re not poetry machines. I currently have notebooks full of ideas that could be sculpted into poems. I do like the ones which come from nowhere, almost fully formed. Those don’t happen often, but I like their spontaneity. For the most part I think poems need graft; you have to spend a lot of time with them. You have to let them do your head in for a while. The rewards are often worthwhile though.

So in 2017, I hope to write lots of new poems that might ‘do my head in.’ This year, and I appreciate it won’t be 2016 for much longer, I’ve been working and teaching more workshops.  I’ve been ill a bit so I hope that will pass in 2017! My proudest magazine moment this year was having a couple of poems accepted by The North. This is mainly because I wrote the two poems after the poems in the pamphlet. That gives me some hope! I know we both love The North. I’m going to give you one of The North poems for your blog, ‘What it Was Like.’

Ok, so onto the poems. Two are from the pamphlet. Regarding said publication – and I know I’ve mentioned it quite a few times already – Matthew Stewart  kindly said that I employ ‘numerous different forms and deals with all sorts of thematic concerns, and yet…it all hangs together.’ I wonder if that’s influenced by reading different forms and styles of poetry. I like to have variety not only in form, but also in tone and subject. So yes, one minute I will be dealing with a horse, the next writing a lyric or cocking-a-snook or having fun with Daniel Craig.  I don’t see why not. When I was a starry-eyed teen I used to read Frances Stillman’s The Poet’s Manual and Rhyming Dictionary. It was already over 30 years published when I got my hands on a battered second hand copy. Francis said you could write a poem about anything, so I didn’t argue with Francis. My chosen poems for you are: ‘Poem in Which I Lick Motherhood’ , ‘Travelling on the 10:21 with Tom Hardy’ , and ‘What It Was Like.’ Ok, I’ve yammered on long enough! Here are the poems. Thanks again for asking and may your blog continue to flourish!


Poem in Which I Lick Motherhood

I have several children, all perfect, with tongues made of soap
and PVA glue running through their veins.

My boys and girls benefit from eating the rainbow.

I iron children twice daily. Creases are the devil’s hoof print.

I am constructed from sticky-back tape, pipe cleaners and clothes pegs.

There are instructions for making me. Look at the appropriate shelves
in reputable stores.

I am fascinated by bunk beds, head lice and cupcakes.

You will only leave the table when I have given you clear instructions.
So far I have not.

The school-run is my red carpet.

Yes, you’re right, how do I manage it? Though, I didn’t ask you.

Dreaming is permitted from 7:40 to 8:20 am on Saturdays, Bank Holidays
and on mornings when I will be engaged in healthy outdoor pursuits.

My children’s reward charts are full of glittery stars. I am the Milky Way.

Crying is dirty.

One housepoint! Two if you eat up all your peas.

I always go off half an hour before my alarm. In the morning I speak
a complex language of bleeps and bell tones.

Chew with your mouth closed. No. Don’t chew at all. Admire the presentation.

Underneath my ribs is a complex weather system of sunshine and showers.

Heat rises from me and blows across the gulf stream of my carefully controlled temper.

Sometimes I am mist.

(First published in Poems in Which)

(I relished this one…couldn’t resist trawling Google’s unnerving catalogue of terrifying magazines devoted to ‘mothering’ and the cultivation of sel-excoriating guilt in hapless parents. Favourite line in the poem? “Creases are the devil’s hoofprint”. And the wistfulness of the last line. And the guilty laughs all the way through. It’s rather fine to read the next poem hard on the heels of the last one…and particularly of its last line.)

What It Was Like

When the stranger’s baby cries, my body remembers

the shrill, tuneless song of need. It remembers

endless nights of cat and dog rain. It remembers

our road falling asleep, as we forgot to remember us.

That summer, clothes stopped remembering

to fit. We’d look through thin curtains and remember

the sun, mimicked by sodium light. I remember

the feel of warm, sleep-suited limbs, still breathe in

their powdery smell. The stranger I used to be lives

in the present tense now. The baby fidgets on her chest

like a rabbit. Then he’s calm. His blue eyes gnaw

on me for a moment till his head’s at rest,

the frail, dreaming head of infancy that only knows

a need for love and milk, that won’t remember any of this.

(First published in The North)

(for me there’s a moment in this poem that nails the pure egotism of babies, their amoral neediness; I think it’s what the whole poem spins around:

” ‘His blue eyes gnaw on me for a moment”.

That one verb is unnerving, isn’t it?  ‘gnaw’ .  Anyway, on to the last poem, which takes us into a different place, but oddly and equally wistful. Another poem about loss. About all kinds of loss. A very lovely and loving poem.)

Travelling on the 10:21 with Tom Hardy

Hardy calls to his dead wife

at Castle Boterel, St. Andrew’s Tower.

He calls quietly over Wi-Fi,

Can it be you I hear?


Fields fly without answers.

A smudge of rabbit hops away

and vanishes into a grassy tuft.

A horse’s silhouette awaits a rider.

My heart’s a dog-eared Metro.

I hold my book under the table

as if I’m keeping his love a secret.

I am. We’re both out of style

amid a one-upmanship of screens.

His simple question skims the roofs

of expanding towns. It pauses

over a clock’s stopped hands.

(Appears in  Instructions for Making Me, HappenStance 2016)

There you are, then. As I said; a self-indulgent post…a birthday present to myself. Thank you, Maria Taylor for sharing these poems. Thank you all for turning up and helping me blow out the candles. See you next week, when I know you’ll be showing me the newly purchased copies of   Instructions for Making Me [HappenStance 2016. £5.00]

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