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:

[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]

just follow this link for more details

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