Milestones and landmarks (2)…. with Roy Marshall

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[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.

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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.

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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.’

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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

















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