Milestones and landmarks (3)…with Kim Moore

drowned village 2

[Just to bring you up to date:

Today’s post will be the 275th since the cobweb was started in April 2014. I realised a short time ago, on the the basis that each post averages out at about 2000 words, sometime recently we passed the half million word mark. I reckon that’s worth celebrating, so I asked three poets to be guests again. I could have asked lots of people and namechecked many more…Hilary Elfick, Andy Blackford, and The Poetry Business in particular.

However, I wanted to say thank you for three landmark moments…

first solo guest poetry reading,

first invitation to be a guest blogger,


first time as guest poet on a poetry blog. Which, for me, was April 2013

So. Here we go.]

Like I say, there are so many people in the poetry world to whom I owe so much. Almost all of them have been guests on the cobweb, and some of them are extra special. However, I thought I’d stick to ‘milestones‘, and the final one of three is Kim Moore. She’s been a guest more times than anyone else, and she’s probably name checked more than anyone else (though it may be a very close-run thing with the Poetry Business).

I’ve been a fan of her poetry blog, The Sunday Poem for a long time, so when Kim invited me to send her a poem for her poetry blog it was a very big deal. I’d gone to a Puzzle Hall Poets Live night, in the days when Gaia Holmes was running it. Kim was the guest poet;I did one poem on the open mic and Kim took a punt on it.  Now, four years ago I’d had very few poems published, and I’d certainly produced no books or pamphlets. It’s moments like this that show just how important to your confidence it can be to have your writing validated by someone sharing it.

But that’s not all. Since then, Kim has been inspirational in all sorts of ways, not least via her residential courses. I’ve had two prize-winning poems come out of those. She’s taught me how to be rigorous with my own stuff ,how to read,  how to breathe through poems with long sentences (we both like those). She helped me to write honestly about the death of my son, and to find a language to frame it in. She gave me (and others) the example of her own courage in confronting personal trauma in her poetry, and also (for me) the way in which the myths of transformation can be a holding frame for our own stories. She has never stopped encouraging me to believe I can do it. Whatever ‘it’ is.

I’ve said thank you before. If you have the time, you can follow the link to something I wrote the year her first collection The Art of Falling came out

When I read that collection I was convinced it would make a big splash. I couldn’t understand why it didn’t win every prize going. I felt personally affronted when it seemed to very quietly slip out of sight. But two years on, it’s suddenly got the recognition it deserves. Kim writes about this in a moment. So. On with the post.

I asked her for a poem from an earlier blog, and this is the one I chose. Whenever I read it, I think of the drowned villages that appear in times of drought. I like everything about it, its fully imagined landscape, that strange (but right) image of the man and woman whose hair flowed to their waists…and the bleakness of its vision, its pity for the human condition makes me weep.


drowned village 1

How The Stones Fell

(after Ovid)


We learnt that we were born from stones, that the last

man and woman to survive the flood climbed from their raft

onto the shoulders of a  mountain and looked across the water

which had swallowed everything.


For days there had been a sea but no shore, now as the water

curled back its lip and let go of the tops of trees

the man and woman followed, walking down the slope,

their feet touching the edges of the water,


their arms full of the bones of the earth, their hair long

and flowing to their waists.  They cast stones behind them

and from the hand of the man a stone fell and grew into

another man and from the hand of the woman


a stone fell and grew into another woman and so we grew,

our eyes like flints and our mouths tasting of the earth.

We were born from stones and we were destined to live

like stones, warming ourselves in the sun,


cracking when the temperature fell, we said there was

something of the sea in us, but in this, like many other things

we lied, it was never water in our hearts, we carried stones

in our pockets, we carried them in our hands.


It’s a poem that matters, isn’t it? It’s a real poem. A real poem?  I stick with Clive James’ definition. A real poem is  ‘Well separated’ . You hear ‘the force of real poetry at first glance’ . It’s marked by its clarity, its avoidance of ‘the spectacular expression that outruns its substance.’ What an important idea that is ..just that one word ‘substance.’ How good it is to be reminded that a poem has to be about something real and concrete, because ‘everything depended, and still depends, on the quality of the moment…whatever kind of poem it is, it’s the moment that gets you in.’ 

That explains to me why some poems simply nail ‘it’ for me. Poems that are memorable for themselves, that hold together, and surprise, and make themselves your friends for life. Like the poems that Gordon Hodgeon let me share with you. Like Jo Bell’s ‘The archaeologist of rivers’ and ‘Eve naming the birds’. Like Fiona  Benson’s Bright travellers. Robin Robertson’s ‘At Roane Head’.  But above all, and especially in these last three years, poem after poem by my inspiration, involuntary mentor, and special landmark/milestone guest, Kim Moore. And here she is to bring us up to date:

“The last time I appeared in the Cobweb was Christmas 2015 as a ‘Christmas Star’.  I can’t believe it was a full two years ago!  Back then, in 2015, I was still working as a peripatetic brass teacher for two days a week, which involved working in three schools and conducting three junior brass bands every week.   The rest of my gainful employment was spent as a freelance writer, running poetry workshops and reading at festivals. 

The biggest change since then is I’m no longer a brass teacher.  In September 2016  I was lucky enough to be awarded a Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship to study for a PhD, which meant I could take a step away from music teaching and become a full-time student.  My PhD is a creative-critical PhD, which means that part of my thesis will be my second full-length collection. 

Brass teaching is the only job I’ve known – although as a student I had part-time jobs, brass teaching was the first job I had which became part of my identity.  It feels strange to not be a brass teacher anymore.  At the same time, I know it was the right time for me to move on.  It’s easy now to feel nostalgic about teaching, and if I go and see the junior band that I set up and built over those 13 years, I’m filled with longing to go back into my old life.  I almost enjoy that feeling of longing though – because it means I don’t remember the annoying aspects of the job. 

My PhD project is to write poetry which explores and represents experiences of sexism and I’m particularly interested in whether poetry can play a part in changing the way we talk about sexism, or even who talks about it.  A member of the audience at a reading came up to me a couple of weeks ago and said they  hadn’t even thought about the fact that they hadn’t read any women writers during their degree, until they’d heard me read poetry about sexism.  For me, this proves that poetry can be part of a conversation that will hopefully change the way we think and discuss sexism.  I know that writing poetry about my own experiences of sexism has changed the way I think about those experiences  – so poetry becomes a way of investigating, a way of knowing about not-knowing. 

The PhD has given me the time and space to think about the type of poet I want to be, and the type of poetry I want to write, and what I think poetry is for.  I don’t know all the answers to those questions yet, but I feel like I’m getting closer.  In 2015, I mentioned a sequence I was working on – ‘All The Men I Never Married’.  Who knew that this would grow into a fully-fledged PhD? Not me!

I’m still continuing with my freelance work as a writer around the PhD.  Luckily for me, I have a mortal fear of being bored, and I like working till late at night – usually till midnight, so I manage to fit in everything I want to do.  I am part of Versopolis, a European-funded poetry project which helps promote the work of ‘young’ poets in Europe – this year I got to read at the amazing Struga Poetry Festival in Macedonia as part of this project.  I run Dove Cottage Young Poets**, a fortnightly writing group for teenagers, which is one of my favourite things I get to do as a writer.  My friend Pauline Yarwood and I set up Kendal Poetry Festival in 2015 and we’ve had two successful sold-out festivals, and are planning our third, which will be running 7th-9th September 2018.  My favourite part of my work as a freelance writer is running residentials.  A residential poetry course changed my life, and I believe they can be powerful and exciting.  This will sound cheesy, but the participants who come on my courses feel like part of my poetry family now.  Many of them return year after year, and it is a real privilege to work with them as writers over the years.

Perhaps the most exciting thing that has happened to me happened very recently – my book, published in 2015, won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize.  Maybe I’m destined to win prizes with the name Geoffrey in the title? The judges were Gillian Clarke, Katharine Towers and Tom Gatty, and Gillian said such nice things about my collection in her speech that she made my mum and dad cry.  It was particularly nice to win this prize because I knew nothing about it until I’d already won it, so no nail-biting shortlists, just a lovely surprise that I wasn’t expecting.

**I should have said something earlier about Kim’s generosity, and about how hard she works, and about her concern for those young poets, too. Hannah Hodgson is one of them, and she’s been a guest poet on the cobweb. Not only a poet, then, but an inspirational teacher too.

I’m going to finish with three poems I chose from the many she sent me. The first one I loved the first time I heard her read it at the Chemic Tavern in Leeds. It’s got the long sentences that she effortlessly breathes through, that never lose their balance, and possibly my favourite image, the moment that draws me in, that memorises itself


 we lay twice a week

in each other’s beds like two unlit candles.



 All the Men I Never Married
No 1.
(after Andrew McMillan)


There was the boy who I met on the park

who tasted of humbugs and wore

a mustard yellow jumper, and the kickboxer

with beautiful long brown hair that he tied

with a band at the nape of his neck, and the one

who had a constant ear infection so I sat always

on his left, and the guy who worked in an office

and could only afford to fill up his car with £2

worth of petrol and the trumpet player I loved

from the moment I saw him, dancing

to the Rolling Stones. The guy who smoked weed

and got more and more paranoid, whose fingers

flickered and danced when he talked, the one

whose eyes were two pieces of winter sky,

a music producer, long-legged and full of opinions

and more trumpet players, one who was too short

and not him, and one who was too thin and not him,

are you judging me yet, are you surprised?

Let me tell you of the ones I never kissed,

or who never kissed me, the trombonist

I went drinking with, how we lay twice a week

in each other’s beds like two unlit candles.

We were not for each other and in this we were wise,

we were only moving through the world together

for a time. There was a double bassist who stood

behind me and angled the body of his bass into mine

and shadowed my hands on its neck and all I could feel

was heat from his skin and the lightest breath

and even this might have been imagined.

I want to say to them now though all we are to each other

is ghosts, once you were all that I thought of.

When I whisper your names, it isn’t a curse or a spell or a blessing.

I’m not mourning your passing or calling you here.

This is something harder, like walking alone in the dusk

and the leaves, this is the naming of trees,

this is a series of flames, this is watching you all disappear.


Previously published in The Dark Horse


The next one reminds me of an exercise that Kim set…I think it might use a Clare Shaw poem as a starting point….but the focus is on those sins of omission that plague us sometimes before we wake up properly. The memory of a wrong that passes without our intervention, because we’re afraid to do what we think is right.

street row



   All the Men I Never Married
No. 15


Remember that night we’d been out drinking

and on the way home heard raised voices,


saw a couple across the road, arguing, leaning

towards each other and then he slapped her,


once, across the face then turned and walked away.

She stood there for a while and then she followed,


down Rawlinson Street as the lights from passing cars

fell on her, then swept on by.  We didn’t call out


or phone the police.  We didn’t speak, not to her

or him or to each other.   When we got home


we didn’t talk about the woman in the denim skirt,

holding her white shoes by the straps.  I wasn’t


close enough to see her feet, yet I remember them,

the blackened soles from walking on the pavement,


the sore on the heel where the strap had rubbed

and raised a patch of red.  We did not speak of her


and so we made her disappear, limping into the night,

trying to keep up with that man, who knew she’d follow


so did not turn around, hands thrust into his jeans,

front door key hot between his fingers.


Previously published in Poetry Ireland Review


Finally, an absolute stunner, a showstopper. A poem that should make you rethink what you feel about Keats’ ‘Ode to a Grecian urn’ and its ‘still unravished bride of quietness’. How easily that ‘unravished’ can slide past your attention. It makes me think especially of Bernini’s “Apollo and Daphne” that’s so astonishingly made, so flawless, that you forget what it’s about, what’s happening. I chose this to say thank you for the gift of Ovid, and the tales of metamorphosis and transformation, and for the way Kim’s poems that confront the business of domestic abuse and its trauma made me see the Greek myths differently, and made them help me to see my own life more clearly.


 When I Open

When I open my ribs a dragon flies out
and when I open my mouth a sheep trots out
and when I open my eyes silverfish crawl out
and make for a place that’s not mine.

When I open my fists two skylarks fly out
and when I open my legs a horse gallops out
and when I open my heart a wolf slinks out
and watches from beneath the trees.

When I open my arms a hare jumps out
and when I show you my wrists a shadow
cries out and when I fall to my knees
a tiger slips out and will not answer to me.

Now that the tree that grew in my chest
has pulled up its roots and left, now that I’m open
and the sky has come in and left me with nothing
but space, now that I’m ready to lie like a cross

and wait for the ghost of him to float clear away,
will my wild things come back, will the horse
of my legs and the dragon of my ribs,
and the gentle sheep which lived in my throat

like a breath of mist and the silverfish
of my eyes and the skylarks of my hands
and the wolf of my heart, will they all come back
and live here again, now that he’s left,

now I’ve said the word whisper it rape
now I’ve said the word whisper it shame
will my true ones, my wild, my truth,
will my wild come back to me again?


Previously published in The North



What a way to end the year. Here’s a prayer and a candle lit for 2018. May your wild come back to you again. Although , in Kim’s case, I think that it possibly has.


If you haven’t already bought her books, then now’s the time.

If we could speak like wolves:  [smith|doorstop 2012]

(available via the Poetry Business)

The art of falling   [Seren 2015]


Milestones and landmarks (2)…. with Roy Marshall

Roy 2

[Just to bring you up to date:

Today’s post will be the 271st since the cobweb was started in April 2014. I realised a short time ago, on the the basis that each post averages out at about 2000 words, sometime recently we passed the half million word mark. I reckon that’s worth celebrating, so I asked three poets to be guests again. I could have asked lots of people and namechecked many more…Hilary Elfick, Andy Blackford, and The Poetry Business in particular.

However, I wanted to say thank you for three landmark moments…first solo guest poetry reading, first invitation to be a guest blogger, and first time as guest poet on a poetry blog. So. Here we go.]

In the five or six years since I started to take this poetry business seriously, and started to read poetry blogs, and to go to poetry readings on a regular basis, and, indeed, to to read at poetry readings, I’ve started to be aware of poets who regularly travel considerable distances to read and listen. There are a lot of them around, but I’m thinking of some in particular (pleased don’t be miffed if I’ve missed you out). For instance, there’s Michael Brown who I first saw at an event in the West Riding. He’d come all the way from Teesside to read…and , as it happened, got a shorter amount of time than expected (as was one who’d travelled from Barrow. I’ve written about this before. Nuff said.) Since then I’ve seen him in Leeds, in Halifax, at the Square Chapel…where he’d simply turned up to support the guest poets. He rocked up to a mini-launch in Staithes. Last Tuesday he was in Liverpool for the launch of Coast to coast to coast which he co-edited with Maria Isakova Bennett. And She’s another I’ve seen in Sowerby Bridge, in Leeds and elsewhere. A poetry traveller. She lives in Liverpool.

And then there’s today’s guest, Roy Marshall…Halifax, Hebden Bridge, Sheffield, Leeds; recently he was up in the north-east…….and then all sorts of venues in London, and around the Midlands.

roy 6

An indefatigable traveller, he lives in Leicester. The point is, none of them do poetry for a living. It costs them in time and cash. God bless them, every one. And Roy also writes poetry reviews, and a regular and well-followed poetry blog. Which is why he’s our guest today, because he offered me a milestone moment. My first guest blog post…which was about landscapes and a sense of place. You can find it in the archive..October 2015. Time to meet him again.

Roy 3

Roy Marshall was born in 1966. His mother was born in Italy, his father in London. Roy wanted to be a writer as a child and young man but became distracted for about twenty years during which time he found himself variously employed as a delivery driver, gardener and coronary care nurse, amongst other occupations.
His pamphlet ‘Gopagilla‘ was published by Crystal Clear in March 2012 and was very favourably reviewed by Andrew McCulloch in the TLS.
‘Gopagilla’ has sold out and is no longer available. A full collection ‘The Sun Bathers’ was published by Shoestring Press in November 2013 and has been shortlisted for the Michael Murphy award. The book has also been received very positively in ‘The Warwick Review, ‘Under The Radar’, ‘The North’ and elsewhere. You can buy a copy by clicking on the ‘Sun Bathers’ page of his poetry blog. at

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He’ll be giving us an update very shortly. But first, here’s the poem I specifically asked for on the last post about him, because I heard him read it in Halifax and new it was the real deal….it did what Clive James asks of a poem. It’s a moment that draws you in; it seems to memorise itself as you hear in.

Being no twitcher
I can’t tell if it’s a black swan or cormorant

speeding beside the train, the near-naked trees

to turn a glimpse of what must be
the most elegant of trajectories

into a zoetrope that strokes
the rooted eye,

wings fully open and now
closed, neck stretched to spear the sky,

and me in the carriage, alone
and transfixed, as far from that bird

as a child, his eye to the slot of a spinning drum
in an empty Victorian nursery.
First Published in New Walk Magazine

First I liked, a lot, the elision of the zoetrope’s imperfectly synchronised moving image with the flick/flick of something seen from the windows of a fast train. It seems to me exactly right. I like the exactness of verbs: interloping, strokes, transfixed. I like the simple honesty of it all.  I can’t tell. It comes without the knowing self-deprecation of that line of Larkin’s that I’ve never liked, in a poem that I love: someone should know. And finally, that image of the poet, alone, transfixed, not knowing, being involved and ‘outside’, simultaneously. It’s a beautifully crafted poem, I think. So, let’s find out what he’s up to now.

 Thank you for having me back. What’s happened since October 2015?

I started and finished an MA in creative writing at Sheffield Hallam University. I applied for and won an award to do it, so it didn’t cost me anything except time and travel costs. My expectations were high. I believed I might learn a lot.  Maybe I did. I’m still figuring out what I learnt. I guess it was partly what I already knew- that is, to trust yourself and don’t acquiesce or automatically give undue authority to those who hold positions of authority.  I’m glad now I went back to university. I could leave the chip on my shoulder behind on the way out.  One tutor was very dedicated. Others, far less so. I know all courses and tutors are different so perhaps my experience was atypical. The best part of the course was making new friends and hanging about in Sheffield. I eventually received a distinction. However, I thought feedback from one or two tutors was poorly delivered, discouraging and very confusing in some instances. As a bi-product of this experience I became interested in what makes good, useful, constructive feedback and put down a few thoughts about this subject on my blog.  (you can link this if you like John –

I’ve also used my blog to share poems by new poets. I like to keep an eye out for work that excites me and then I ask the poet if I can feature some of their work. Several of these poets have since gone on to have collections published, including James Giddings, Emily Blewit, John Challis and Keith Hutson.

Personal highlights over the last two years have included reading at Manchester John Rylands Library with Liz Berry, a beautiful place, and at the wonderful Swindon poetry festival which has a lovely vibe. I also enjoyed a reading with Kim Moore and Alison Brackenbury in Halifax, not least because I love visiting my friends in the North. I’ve received a few prizes, one being awarded by Don Patterson at Wenlock poetry festival. He told me my poem,’ The Pack,’ was ‘f- ing brilliant.’

roy 5

My second book, The Great Animator, was published by Shoestring Press in spring 2017 and has had some lovely reviews. Also, some cardiac nurses wrote to say my poem ‘Carrying the Arrest Bleep’ is up on the staffroom wall, which I was very pleased about.

After the book came out I wrote almost nothing for a while. The political situation, both domestic and abroad, obsessed and depressed me. I found my energy drained by reading reams of updates on political developments here and elsewhere. I felt that if I wrote anything at all it needed to reflect societal changes, but I didn’t want to write ‘political’ poems that were simplistic and crass. Now I accept that it is all right (and maybe a political act in-itself) to create and keep on creating whatever you feel you must.  There is no obligation to make every poem political with a big ‘P’ and it is not an abdication of responsibility if you don’t. I do want to write work that is reflective of my concerns, but I am happy to be patient while my conscious or unconscious mind figures out how to do it. In fact, as I write this I am realize that some of my recent work already does reflect my social concerns, one way or another.

I’ve also been through a period when my writing seemed to fall short of my own standards.
It took me a while to remember that it is normal for confidence to fluctuate. After a productive five years (one pamphlet, two full collections) I now understand that it is all right to take time away from writing and reading poems. Most important to me are the few good relationships I have developed via writing, and it is a great bonus to have the knowledge that poets that I like and respect also like my work. Poems will come if, and when, they are ready. Nothing is quite like the feeling when a piece of writing feels as if it might be going somewhere.  I first experienced this ‘caught up’ or lifted feeling as a child, and I feel blessed every time I rediscover it.

What he doesn’t say is that he regularly posts his beautifully observed and composed photographs on Facebook**….’beautifully observed’. That’s the keynote. Like me, he doesn’t ‘know’ a lot about birds in the way an ornithologist knows birds. But he sees and ‘knows’ individual birds at precise moments and records them in ways that go a long way beyond lyricism. He’s in the tradition of Heaney and Hughes in this. And, like Hughes, he can’t resist a crow.

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From the Book of Crow Etiquette

To avoid association with a crow’s death
feign a limp or otherwise disguise your gait
when passing a crow funeral. In order to escape
a scolding, don’t contest a crow’s right
to your roof or disrupt its visceral business
among fledglings and eggs. Crows have memories
like wet tar, can recognize the white-stitched ribbon
of a fruitful carrion road, the location of a yard
from which a stone was thrown. Tame crows
give pet names to their keepers; make of this
what you will. Crows that are damaged or ill
are often assisted by others, or else
done in. Decades may pass before a widowed crow
casts the cross of her shadow
on a long abandoned farmyard. A murder might mob
the one-time owner of a slingshot, now
a grandfather in the park. Crows bring gifts
to those who feed them, to children with no prejudice
or fear of crows. You might not need
a stash of broken necklaces, Airfix kit
of sparrow bones, lens cap rinsed in a birdbath,
nor a half heart locket inscribed with ‘Best’.
You may not wish for ‘friends’ to priest a garden fence
or wall, who call before your alarm sounds
and pick at your open dream.

From ‘The Great Animator’ (Shoestring Press, 2017)

There you are: The Poet’s Book of Crows. I like the even tone of this, it’s absolute assurance, and the way I never feel disposed to argue with it as I read. I like the assurance of the line breaks, and, above all, the ‘moment that draws you in’, which, for me is this:

Crows have memories
like wet tar, can recognize the white-stitched ribbon
of a fruitful carrion road.

Just listen to the way everything is pinned and stitched by all those precise consonants, all those ‘t’ sounds. I love its texture. Finally, though, just in case you think his poetry is all about birds and photographs (when it’s not about the life of a cardiac nurse), lets finish with one I specifically asked for. It doesn’t get a commentary, because it speaks for itself.

 Waterloo Teeth

Wigmakers, jewellers and blacksmiths
all dabbled as dentists, wrenching surrogates
from the jaws of the sugarless poor, fixing rotten grins
with ivory, tacks, and piano wire.

Grave robbers bolstered the enamel supply
until a windfall arrived; Tobacco stained, cracked
or drummer-boy smooth, a harvest from Belgian fields
where soldiers flapped like rooks,

knelt or crouched with string and pliers, moved
from head to head, filling pockets and purses, noses pegged.
Handfuls of nuggets, sorted and sized, tipped
into boiling vats, the ends chopped, each set matched

for colour and shape as if sprung from the gums of a child;
enough, if a cart overturned and spilt its load, to make
a sewer-cleaved street into an ivory road, or turn
parliament’s blackened smiles off-white.

From ‘The Great Animator’ (Shoestring Press, 2017)

So there we are. Thanks for being my milestone guest poet today, Roy Marshall. One more to come before the year’s ending. And thank you to all of you for listening. Have a great Christmas.


** all photos, apart from the those of the book covers , are Roy’s  intellectual property  should be treated as copyright

















Milestones and landmarks (1)…. with Gaia Holmes


Today’s post will be the 270th since the cobweb was started in April 2014. I realised a short time ago, on the the basis that each post averages out at about 2000 words, sometime recently we passed the half million word mark. I reckon that’s worth celebrating, so I’ve asked three poets to be guests again. I could have asked lots of people and namechecked many more…Hilary Elfick, Andy Blackford, and The Poetry Business in particular.

However, I wanted to say thank you for three landmark moments…first solo guest poetry reading, first invitation to be a guest blogger, and first time as guest poet on a poetry blog. So. Here we go.

Ladies and gentlemen, the altogether wonderful Gaia Holmes!!!!!

Gaia has been very important to me. One of the people who validate what you’re doing. They may not know they’ve done it, or think that what they did do was no big deal. As a teacher, I’m often thrown when I encounter folk I taught years ago, and who say that I did X or Y or Z that changed their lives. Every teacher has had this experience, and very often don’t have any memory of what it was they did. They were just doing their job. Anyway, to cut a long story short, Gaia gave me my very first single billing guest poetry reading at The Puzzle Hall Inn. This was before I’d had anything published, but it was one of those occasions which made me feel I should do something about it, if only to have something to sell at poetry readings.

Gaia’s been a guest twice before…why not check out what I wrote about her? here are the links


Right. Good to have you back. Now here’s my Milestone Thankyou to Gaia Holmes. I’ll start with a poem she shared with us previously, and then let her bring us up to date.


Whenever I read Gaia Holmes’ poems, or hear her read, I’m put in mind of the world and work of Peter Blake. To nail my colours to the mast, this image of Alice is how I’d picture Gaia’s narrative voice.

QUEEN peter blake

Not quite other-worldly, but knowing things I have no immediate access to, and aware that the world is strange and lovely and that it can make us vulnerable. It’s a voice that makes me think of the doughty, unworldly, resourceful, compassionate clear-eyed heroines of folk tales. The ones who have no expectation of the kindness of  stepmothers and stepfathers and spiteful siblings, who are stoic about their work among the ashes, who undertake unnerving journeys through forests to the hen’s leg houses of cruel aunts, who understand that everything you are given is a gift to be used for the betterment of the world….all that.

As soon as I open up her her poems and read, rather than rely on this memory, then before long I’ll be chilled and close to tears. There’s a lot of ice; there’s even an Ice Hotel. There’s the cold of loneliness and love gone wrong, and broken things that might be hearts or dreams that make you think twice about walking in bare feet. There’s the orphan voice of a narrator who sees things that no-one seems to notice her seeing. Like this.

The Allure Of Frost
Boxing day.
No fire in the grate and unopened presents
stacked around the base of the tree and fairy lights muted,
switched off, and the brandy that swells the fruit starting to eat
the cake in its tin and all the mirrors doused with tea towels
and your raw-eyed mother keening into a pillow in her bedroom
and too many men in black whispering and nodding
and I don’t know what the rosary is and whether to curtsey
to the priests when I hand them their tea
and the phrase ‘fruits of thy womb’ seem too ripe and too rich
for this and, Mary mother of God, I don’t know
how to cross myself and fear I’m invoking the devil
and the scent of death’s so thick
that it’s tainted the water and it’s heavy in the curtains
making them bend the rail
and your lips taste of the oils that grease your dead sister
and when I kiss you, you push me away and I want to spit
and weep and slap the corpse where she lies in her coffin
all done-up with hair grips and lipstick,
her sunken cheeks plumped out with wads of cotton wool
and the rictus of sin softened
by the crust of Rimmel Natural Beige powdering her face
and it’s so hot in here
that the cheese is sweating and the butter is liquid.
The chocolate coins are dripping from the tree.
Your Aunt’s un-bitten sandwiches
are curling upwards on her plate
and the lilies are wilting and stinking in their vases
and the cat stands quivering and retching
against the cold crack beneath the back door.
Outside the frost, not knowing any difference,
continues to sparkle. And I’d like to go out there.
I’d like to stand in it until my feet turn blue.

I think this poem has everything in it that I think of as ‘Gaia’s poems’. The piling on and on of sensory detail, the Alice in Wonderland, or folktale, sense that the logic of things is wrong, the wistfulness, the vulnerablity, and the pluck of a girl who will stand in a sparkling frost till her feet turn blue and the world becomes real again. Lovely.


And now your update and two new poems. Over to Gaia.


“Gosh, is it a year since I appeared on the cobweb?! Phew! Yes, looking back at that post I see my poems were a chilly little bunch- full of winter, death, hospitals and shivering islands. I think I’ve written most of that time out of my system, for now at least…though most of my poems are slow walkers and tend to come to me two or three years after the experience…since that blog post some nice things have happened in my writing life…I spent the whole of January reading and writing within the cosy walls of Hawthornden Castle near Edinburgh. I was there with 5 other writers and all we were expected to do, all day, every day, was to write. It was like being a child again. We were fed, coddled and given a whole rich month without our usual responsibilities. Whilst I was there I wrote loads of new poems and sequenced and edited poems for my 3rd full-length poetry collection which will be published some time in 2018. I also learned that my poem ‘Guests’ had won 1st prize in the Bare Fiction Poetry Competition and this was a great boost which added fuel to my pen. After returning from the castle with the manuscript of my 3rd collection ready, at last, to be sent out into the world I focused on a collaborative project with fellow poet, Winston Plowes which culminated in a joint poetry collection called Tales from the Tachograph, published by Calder Valley Poetry. The poems in this collection all deal with the realms of roads, service stations and motorways. I haven’t written much lately but I’m not panicking about this as I used to do. I am using the time to read about colour, to immerse myself in the wonderful art of Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Andrea Kowch, Catrin Welz-Stein, and I am learning how to draw flamingos as I think that someday it might be a useful skill to have. I am filling my notebook with them.”

And now, the poems. She sent me loads. I’ve chosen two.




In transit


How heavily they lift

their paper coffee cups.

How heavily they sigh

and plough spilt sugar off the table

with the sides of their hands.

How heavily, like arthritic camels,

they turn away from each other,

pretend to study

the barista bashing coffee grounds

into the stainless steel bin,

observe the man walking his dog

between the service station trees,

stare at rain or a moon

that isn’t there.


How hungrily they gobble down

these distractions, this transient space

where women, wet-necked with perfume,

and men, carrying neat bunches

of forecourt flowers,

prepare to drive home.


How tenaciously they cling

to the in-between,

wanting to stuff their mouths

and their pockets full of it,

wanting to soften their worlds with it,

because when they have walked

the distance from café to car,

when they have shut the doors,

sealed themselves into the miles,

there will be static,

there will be him and her

focussing on the rear-view mirror,

watching other people driving home

to warm houses that smell of bread

and oregano,

where red wine breathes

on the kitchen table

and touch is not a shock,


there will be him and her

craving the glow of those better lives

as they go back to the cold things

they cannot talk about,

the clean, unloved rooms

they sit apart in,

the draughts and silences

they breed,

the brittle cheese

and boiled potatoes

frosting in a fridge

that always ices over.

(From Tales from the Tachograph (Calder Valley Press, 2017).)



Though it seems so dark

and the ceiling of the world’s a wound

and so many hours have been bruised,

and so many lives have been broken,

there are stars up there tonight

and we must name them,

we must love them,

we must whistle them down like dogs

in faith of their shine

and they will be loyal.

They will show us where their bones are.

They will teach us

their soft, bright tricks of devotion.


And even on the blackest nights,

when hope and protest

are knotted in our throats,

when our smiles have been tarred

and buckled with the weight and stain

of shadows,

we have to remember they are there,

those glittering sky-hooked prayers,

prickling and humming,

embedded in that thick and lovely blue,

guarding us from spite,

keeping the moon from slipping,

herding the pale lamb-like dawns

into our sleeping houses

where they flow

through all our rooms

fluent and loving as milk.


Cold Dawn


Thanks for being my first milestone guest today, Gaia. Thank you for the poems.



Gaia Holmes’ poetry ….you know christmas as upon us.

Dr James Graham’s Celestial Bed  [Comma press 2006]  via Amazon: anything from £15 – £65

Lifting the piano with one hand      [Comma Press 2013]  £7.99

Tales from the Tachograph   (co-authored with Winston Plowes)                                                                    [Calder Valley Press, 2017).


Top Marks: Charlotte Wetton, Calder Valley Poetry and the Poetry Business

marks 1

[At The British Library after the Michael Marks Awards. Charlotte Wetton, winner of the pamphlet prize for ‘I Refuse to Turn into a Hatstand’ (published by Calder Valley Poetry), her mum, Jenni, to her right, Chief Judge Ruth Padel to her left.]

What a month it’s been for poetry in general, for the poets and poetry of the north, and for good friends in particular. A couple of weeks ago it was Kim Moore with the Geoffrey Faber Award. Last night it was the prestigious Michael Marks Pamphlet awards in London.

I’m doubly happy about Charlotte’s success. I heard the title poem in November last year at a Sheffield book launch for The Poetry Business. Billy Collins had picked it as one of the winners of the Yorkshire Prize for a single poem….part of the Poetry Business International Pamphlet Competition.  And now it’s won a prize that carries many good things with it…including, I think, a residency in Greece. What’s also nice is to open the pamphlet and recognise poems that I’ve seen in Albert Poets Monday night workshops in Huddersfield. Because Charlotte is one of the many poets who’s been part of the mutual support service that is the Albert Poets.If you follow the cobweb, then you’ll know all about how much I and so many others owe them.

And here’s the thing. It was because of the Albert workshops that I met up again with Bob Horne, who I worked with in the the 80’s and early 90’s, and then didn’t see again for over 20 years. And guess who published Charlotte’s pamphlet…Calder Valley Poetry. What an achievement! Two years ago, Calder Valley Poetry didn’t exist. Since Bob started it he’s published 15 titles. There are many more in the pipeline. The story of the C V P has been told on the cobweb before. You can read it by following this link.

Or you can get the picture from this extract


There seem to be hundreds of small poetry presses about, and I imagine they struggle to make a living, competing as they do for what is essentially a niche market;something led you think: there’s room for another. What was the trigger that persuaded you to set up your own publishing venture?

“Publishing had been on my mind for 12 months, since a conversation at The Albert Poets with Stephanie Bowgett and John Duffy.  I asked why they hadn’t published anything since the 90s. They’re both such good poets that it seemed odd to me. They both replied, immediately, that they couldn’t be bothered with all the hassle. I thought then, well,  I can be bothered on your behalf. I then helped Simon Zonenblick  with Nuala Fagan’s chapbook Not All Birdsong, and thoroughly enjoyed the design and editing parts of the process, which is when I decided I’d set up my own small press. Actually, I think I was intending to continue assisting Simon, and he suggested I set up my own. I came up with the name Calder Valley Poetry, wondered how and when I’d get going.”


Hang on to that simple thought.  I can be bothered on your behalfCalder Valley Poetry was created out of an impulse of generosity, and continues to publish poets who you may not have heard of (unless you happen to go to readings and workshops around West Yorkshire, and the Calder and Ryburn Valleys in particular)and some, like Steve Ely* and Peter Riley, who you’ll certainly know. Alison Lock, Gaia Holmes* & Winston Plowes, John Duffy*, Mark Hinchcliffe*, Michael Haslam, Mike Di Placido*, Neil Clarkson, Nigel King, Peter Riley, Stephanie Bowgett* (and me). All the starred *poets have featured as guests on the cobweb; check them out  And then head over to the Calder Valley Bookshop by using this link


And, finally. There’s hardly a post goes by when I fail to sing the praises of The Poetry Business. So many of us owe so much to Ann and Peter Sansom, who for over 30 years, have been discovering, nurturing, championing and publishing new poets. And you know what? I love the fact that their house journal is called The North. So well done and tickertape parades to them for winning the publisher’s award this year.

Right, break out the bubbly, raise your glasses and raise the roof for Charlotte Wetton, for Bob Horne and CVP, and for the utterly wonderful and awesome Poetry Business.


A church full of trees and a Polished Gem: Sue Vickerman


Sunday Dec 1oth : 12.30

This time last week I  was heading out of Pickering, not on my usual route to Whitby, past the Hole of Horcum and over Fylingdales Moor (which is as close to flying as you get in a car) but by Rosedale, through villages in the tight little valleys that were still full of snow and snowmen. Proper snowmen, with twig arms and carrot noses and scarves and c aps…they do things right in the Dales. Then up over the Castleton Road, with its endless horizons, and glimpses of distant grey sea, to stop and visit The Seated Man. I’ve wanted to see him ever since pictures of him started to turn up on social media. Over 3 metres high, cast in bronze and painted in what seems to be enamel…..sitting on his campstool with his satchel on his knees, looking out over Westerdale.

It’s hard to tell what he’s thinking. For me he was thinking that he’s got miles to go before he sleeps. Perhaps it was because I was trying to shake off a cold, and I was heading off to a writing week, and thinking that maybe I had nothing that I especially wanted to say;  there was a cold wind, and though it’s an easy half mile walk over the moor, it was wet and mucky, and I felt as though the batteries had all run down. Whatever. The seated man has the air of one who does what he sets his mind to. It might be hard, and he might not feel like it, but it needs to be done and it will be. I think he will be my role model.

So off I went to Whitby, worrying about whether I’d write anything worth a tinker’s toss, and equally, about Christmas, about things done and not done in preparation, and the annual resentment of supermarkets all tinselled up in November…all that. And then you walk into a church full of christmas trees and lights, and you watch a sunset through the dark ruins of the abbey, and stare at the grey sea running and breaking white, and everything’s fine. You might write. You might not. It doesn’t matter, because the world is complicatedly wonderful, and doesn’t care whether you write anything or not. It’s just that if you worry about the writing, you’ll miss what’s going on. Eliot had it nailed down. You have the experience but miss the meaning. Let it be.


I had a nice week with people I like a lot, came home, and yesterday  bought a Christmas tree, trimmed it to fit in its base, and we got all the Christmas trimmings down from the Christmas cupboard. The house is full of coloured light, and I cannot understand how grumpy I felt a week ago. The Seated Man understands….just do it. It’ll be right.

So, enough with the ‘what I did on my holidays’, and on with what you come here for, which is poems and poets. I met today’s guest, Sue Vickerman, when we were guest poets at the Beehive Poets in Bradford in early November. I didn’t know her, or about her, or her work. How that could be, I have no idea…..I don’t get out out and about enough, I suppose. What I do know is that I liked her voice and her poems; I liked the moments that draw you in. The moments that make you want to buy the book and hear it all again. As it happens, Sue’s newest pamphlet Adventus could not be better timed….because it’s an Advent collection, and a lot more sustaining than an advent calendar with cheap chocolate behind the doors. As we shall see. But let me introduce her.

She was born in Bradford and has lived on four continents. She spent five years in a remote Scottish lighthouse where two of her poetry collections Shag and The social decline of the oystercatcher came into being. She has supervised the publication of Kunst, a poetry collection by her invented protegee, the erratic poet and life-model Suki;  Sue has co-written a third poetry collection with Suki, Thin bones like wishbones (Indigo Dreams 2013). An international readership follows the ‘Suki’ character’s online serialised life-story – a tale both funny and desolate.

Sue‘s paid employment has been incoherent, ranging through teaching for a decade with long stints abroad, picking apples, writing academic and current affairs articles, working for the Methodist Church, support work with the homeless, cathedral tour-guiding in Berlin, mindless grafting for local authorities, German-English translation, and delivering poetry workshops in Scottish schools. Returning latterly to Yorkshire, Sue co-founded The word birds Poetry Showcase with whom she has performed UK-wide.

She has received three Arts Council (UK) awards for her poetry, novels and short stories, and garnered some glowing reviews and endorsements:  ‘Passionate, laconic poetry’ (UA Fanthorpe), ‘salt-drenched – I loved it’ (Sandi Toksvig), ‘Excellent’ (Bloodaxe’s Neil Astley), ‘piercingly topical – a glorious achievement’ (Magnus Magnusson).

Her poems have appeared in Orbis, The Rialto, Acumen, Stand, The North, Smiths Knoll, Other Poetry, Mslexia and Envoi, and have been included in anthologies by Diamond Twig, Polygon, the 2001 Lancaster LitFest, and others. One of her poems was shortlisted for the 2010 Bridport Prize.. Sue’s work was also highly commended in the Arvon Postcard Competition and commended in the Ver Poetry Competition.
(at which point I chip in with a mea culpa…she’s been around for ages.Why didn’t I know? It seems that everyone else did.)

Sue’s latest poetry collection Adventus is 24 poems which, though perennials, may be read as daily pre-Christmas reflections from 1st December. Or, this year, from the 11th. Sue sent me three poems for the cobweb, and before we get to Adventus, I want to start with one that gives you some idea of the range you can expect.


A translation of Verspielt by Kathrin Schmidt


so the buzzard let go of the berries

he was carrying under his wings and soared

over the village church, casting his shadow

into the yard onto the child, a girl

skipping on the forecourt, her little legs

dictated his imminent

split-second timing, plaits

bouncing on quick breaths, ratatat

of wingbeats, his attack so fast our eyes

barely took in the impact, and us so slow

to react, realize

it might be our daughter.


Sue’s provided the background to the translation:

“I went to meet and interview the writer GDR-born writer Kathrin Schmidt for the first time this summer at her Berlin home. She is now supporting me to try for an Arts Council grant to translate her poems, only seven of which currently exist in English – and I think I can do a better job than her first translator.

Kathrin is a renowned novelist. She won the German Book Prize in 2011 with Du Stirbst Nicht which was translated into 20 languages but never yet into English. I could start a rant about what this says about the English-language publishing world and how ‘worth’ is evaluated, but you’re probably in the picture. Anyway as a poet I am focused on her four poetry collections dating back to the early 80s.

My motivations are various and personal. I want to have a foot in mainland Europe to help me bear the grimness of Brexit. I don’t need to extoll the virtues of Berlin; I did live there for a couple of years, have always revisited regularly, and have just counted up that I now have more friends there than in London, where I also lived once and which now gets a sour look from me, up here as I am in the disadvantaged, disdained and ignored north.

Which brings me to my intentional selection of an East German poet of roughly my own age. The reason is, I would always, when living in East Berlin shortly after reunification, identify more closely with East German peers than West Germans.  As a little child in grey industrial working-class Labour-voting Bradford in the sixties, my circumstances and experiences more closely parallel those of the just-get-on-with-it Osies than the affluent Wesies who had cars, fridges, central heating, cameras, house telephones…

So I sought out East German women poets in their fifties and chose Kathrin for her biography as well as her poems. She is a left-wing feminist and was politically active at the time of reunification. Her poems are not the easiest. I’ll need to go on speaking to her and reading everything I can about her and also discuss with native Germans to be sure of getting all the cultural references. Furthermore she uses a lot of wordplay – sometimes as playful as the supreme word-play poet Ernst Jandl, whose poems are often transmuted rather than translated, which would be impossible; his poems’ messages or points of fun have to be conveyed by poems of parallel ideas.  Kathrin’s poems are a massive challenge to me: I studied Theology, not German. But I’m really excited by the whole new world of poetry translation unfolding before me. And another motive for this endeavour is to use Kathrin’s poems as triggers for poems of my own.

So Brexit is at least proving good for my brain’s health, making me stuff German  into it daily with the ambition of becoming bilingual so I can give this my best shot. ”

I thought this well worth posting…and not just for its sense of mission, and its fellow-feeling. I just wanted to say that though I know no German, and next to nothing about the principles and challenges of translation, here’s a poem that makes me want to know more of and about Kathrin Schmidt. This poem drew me in from the first line, the way its alliteration sets up a kinetic dance that energises the whole poem, which is full of staccato movement. I love the precision of all those consonants, the way the narrative is packed into one short sequence; I love the filmic editing, the perspective shifts, and finally, the dark turn of the last line which switches the world into that of the folk tales of careless parents, lost children and shapeshifters. As I say, I don’t know the original and I know no German, but I’m prepared to bet that if this was my poem I’d feel well-served by its translator and her ear and her craft.


*Adventus is a slim pamphlet, but jammed with riches. It starts with The coming, the Brexiteers’ imagined nightmare of a horde of refugees appearing as a deluge on the rim of the moors above a Pennine valley….it’s comically, horribly realised. And it’s right. This is Advent, the coming of a child from a temporarily displaced small family in the Middle East. The collection riffs on themes of motherhood, of the condition of the refugee, on marital stress, on sibling rivalry. There are many voices. The landscapes range from Nazareth to Withernsea via Berlin. The forms range from couplets, triplets, blank verse, a prosepoem, regular 5 and 6 line stanzas to Ginsberg-inspired 17-syllable lines, and (one splendidly insouciant) ghazals. It’s serious, playful, loving,  bleak and joyous. So you know that you just have to buy it…the ultimate stockingfiller for someone you love who knows good writing. Two poems to give you the taste…then off you go (please) to Amazon. First, the wise men of good northern stock….who you hear via the distracting echoes of T S Eliot’s Journey of the Magi. A cold coming.

The three wise men


To cap it all it was cold. Really cold,

and rough terrain, and all of us old,

and nearly coming to blows over the route

through those dark dunes to get to the bairn,


and we were loaded up. So heavily loaded

and the camels weren’t good. How they groaned

under all that gold. But we had a role,

and there is no record of us moaning,


nothing of three wise men with frost-bitten toes

missing strong brown Yorkshire tea

in that strong-brown-tea-forsaken desert

and nobbut camels’ milk, no cows,


and no really boiling water, nor proper pot,

and blaming each other for who’d forgotten it

and as we plodded, read in the stars the laddie’s fate –

what we each thought we could well foresee –


but disagreed on every time and every date,

and finally had to agree to disagree.


There’s more to this than meets the ear, isn’t there? A story of redemption, about which no one can agree. Especially the officially wise. I’ll finish with another monologue which, unsurprisingly, stood out at the reading at The New Beehive. It’s the one that straight away made me want to buy the collection. It’s another with a distinctive voice, another with its own dark humour. It’s not ‘typical’ of the poems in Adventus…mainly because there are aren’t any that are ‘typical’. Each is distinctive and different, as befits an advent calendar of a book, where each turned page is a door into a new and fresh surprise.

Jesus’s big sister


It’s not in the bible, what he had to put up with

in that stable, poked with a sharp straw –

his torn, sore mother too weak, Joseph

dealing with guests – that poor child

smothered nearly to death with false kisses.

What did it do to him,  having hot wax

dripped on his cheek, his blanket set fire to?


The shepherd starts saying All I’ve brought is

but Big Sister snatches his lamb: I want that!

You take the brat. The scuffle wakes Jesus.

She stings his face with donkey-poo bullets

then spots a gift tucked into the manger.

Frankincense. She flings it everywhere, Joseph

laughing it off, putting the myrrh on a top shelf,

the kings nice about it – she has made a temple,

holy air, the first woman to honour him.

Take our word – they’ll come in droves, beg

for his touch, clean his feet with their hair.

Big Sister gives them the finger.


And when her brother shines at theology

she snickers at the back mocking him,

smokes pot, flunks her catechism.

My brother thinks he’s so good. Arsehole.

Down the souk Saturdays, she starts nicking


and at night, on the shared roof where they lie

on their mats beneath the stars, she spits

bad words at him – When you were born

I dropped out of our parents’ orbit. Bastard –

he silent, she sneering into the dark  –

you make me puke. Why love everyone?

People hate people like you.


Every good thing, she does a big yawn.

When it turns out he has healing gifts

she goes in the dunes with camel-men

then when his ministry takes off full-blown,

she steals the gold and elopes to Babylon.


What made him forgive so much sinning?

Why didn’t he hate all females? His mum

For letting her bully him; Mary Magdalene?

How come, right through, Jesus still loved women?


There’s a poem that ends with a question worth the asking. Thank you Sue Vickerman for being our guest on a December Sunday with snow coming down.

The next three posts will celebrate a particular milestone, with three special guests who have been in one way or another inspirational for me. They won’t necessarily appear on Sundays, but I’m hopeful that the third will be on New Year’s Eve. I’m looking forward to seeing you all again, and hope that your Christmas tree hangs on to its needles. Oh, and if you were wondering, the church full of trees is St Mary’s in Whitby. Worth climbing all the steps for.



*Adventus.    [Naked Eye 2017]    £7.50