I realise I’ve used this ‘company you keep’ tagline before without explaining why. So, in a minute or so, I’ll put this to rights. But first, I should explain why there was no post last Sunday. Basically, I’ve been too busy, one way or another. The Friday before I drove up to Kendal to read with the inspirational Kim Moore, and with Jean Harrison at The Brewery Poets. I’d been looking forward to it for months. They only have two poetry nights a year and if you miss your window of opportunity, you have to wait a long time till another opens.
It’s not that long a drive from Ossett to Kendal; according to the AA, whether you take the shorter direct route through the Dales or the longer motorway route, it should take about two hours. Either way, and I’ve tried both, on a Friday at the start of Whit. it takes over three and a half. With the company of Terry Pratchett audiobooks, it doesn’t matter that much, but you do get tired. And if you’re incautious, you may need to stop at the Lancaster services on the M6. It is probably the ugliest, worst designed, motorway stop in Britain, if not the world. I mention this in passing, should you think it a good idea to try it. And Kendal has one of the trickier one-way systems; I always think I have the hang of it. But I haven’t. The Brewery Arts Centre, on the other hand, is lovely, and the cafe that hosts the readings is a delight of a space, furnished with big leather sofas, and hung with genuinely good art work. I loved it, and listening to Kim, whose current project All the men I never married just keeps better and better and better, as she shifts it into a more emotionally and intellectually challenging exploration of gender politics and its personal dimensions. Like I say, she’s an inspiration. (And she’s also one of the judges of the National Poetry Competition this year; get in for that).
Nevertheless, I had to jump in the car and drive home (2 hours!), get to bed and get up about 7.00 to drive to Sheffield for a Poetry Business Writing Day, where I had promises to keep…particularly to keep Louisa Campbell company on her first Sheffield writing day. I really must ask her to be a guest poet. In the meantime, I can tell you that her poetry has appeared in Acumen 87, Prole 22, Obsessed with Pipework 78, and The Interpreter’s House 65, she’s made the Bridport Prize shortlist in 2016, and right now she has a new book out. The ward. [Paper Swans]. Check it out.
It was a very nice day, and pretty productive. I think I think more clearly when Im tired. I think. I didn’t think very clearly that night at our lovely next door neighbour’s 50th birthday party. Dress code: golf-club posh – sort of blazer/Pringle pink sweater/air hostess scarf/cocktail frock; vast quantities of Prosecco and casual right wing politics. Alarmed and intrigued by a stocky woman in a canary-yellow blazer who told my partner Flo, at great length, what an admirable and inspirational woman Treeza May is. Fortunately, I’ve not had a drink in over five years, and understand that sobriety is the only defence against this stuff, and left before 11.00 to sleep the sleep of the virtuously knackered.
Sunday was prize giving and readings for the Red Shed Poetry Comp, in Wakefield. Wouldn’t have missed it for anything, especially to listen to judge Maria Isakova Bennett read her own poems and introduce the winners and commended poets. It goes from strength to strength, this competition, now in its 10th year and this year attracting over 350 entries from all over the country…and one from New Zealand (or was it New South Wales? a long way away, in any event). All credit to John Clarke and Jimmy Andrex who started it up from nowhere and made it a significant event.
And since then I’ve spent an unconscionable amount of time trying to organise three launch events for my new pamphlet Advice to a traveller (sales pitch: you can buy it via PayPal ..see the My Books page). I’ve been trying to juggle the availabilities of 7 guest poets against those of four or five possible venues. It’s like herding cats and knitting fog. I’m in open-mouthed admiration of anyone who manages to run a poetry festival. How are they sane afterwards? Right now I’ve not managed to book a single venue. At this rate I’ll be putting it off till September. We shall see.
And in and amongst all that, I’ve been doing a lot of reading for the first time in ages. Comfort blanket books (early John le Carre, and also A S Byatt) and The Loch of the Green Corrie. that gentle tribute to Norman MacCaig. I want to share couple of bits I bookmarked. Not to explain or discuss. Just to say: this sticks in my mind. This seems right and true.
“Climbers, fishers – we are players and sole audience. A bit like writing poetry…..The absence of audience, the tiny readership…guarantees it is written for its own sake. We trust poetry because it’s not trying to sell us anything.
MacCaig referred to himself as an Edinburgh schoolteacher who sometimes writes poetry. The idea of ‘being a poet’ as though that were a different and higher form of life was abhorrent to him”
[At the Loch of the Green Corrie: Andrew Greig]
So that’s why there wasn’t a post. I’m making sure today, by writing it on a Saturday, taking advantage of a dull damp day when I don’t mind being indoors. So. As it seems you are required to say these days before starting a sentence. So. The company you keep. In particular the poetry company you keep…the readings you go to, the books you choose, the courses you go on, and, particularly, the small group you can come to rely on (as did MacCaig, and Sorley McLean and the other Edinburgh poets who would meet in the pub) because you trust their criticism and charge your batteries on their support and talent. In my case it’s The Albert Poets in Huddersfield, and their regular Monday night workshop, which used to be in The Albert, and is now in a curtained-off room in The Sportsman’s…a place where I meet lots of talented people including today’s guest, Regina Weinert. High time to let her introduce herself.
“I’ve lived roughly a third of my life in each Hamburg, Edinburgh and Sheffield and have spent most of my career researching and teaching linguistics and language. Over the last few years I made more time to write and started to read more contemporary poetry, which I’d liked for a while. I’d written for pleasure or to reduce stress, including a few poems, then had a lightbulb moment while looking through some short prose pieces that weren’t turning into longer stories. It seemed a good idea to get a reality check at an early stage and very much thanks to the gentle feedback and encouragement of Sharon Black and to Bill Greenwell’s Poetry Clinic, I kept writing poems. Through the generous support of the “Clinic” I learnt an enormous amount in a short time. (See links below).
I feel in my element with short poems and was very pleased to be shortlisted in that category of the Plough Prize 2017. I also enjoy writing narrative poems – although holding their shape and scale is somewhat alarming. I’ve had poems published inThe Northand Poetry Salzburg Review.
Two key things; Regina researches language and linguistics; she writes ‘short’ poems. Put them together and you have the economy and precision that I’ve come to admire in her work. And also to envy it. My own writing sprawls. I don’t do short, especially ones built out of crafted couplets, and I’m fascinated by poets who can and do. She’s sent me four to share, and it’ll be a pleasure.
Neither of us paid much attention to birds,
we never chased pigeons,
noticed gulls only as a threat
to our picnic or to our Sunday skirts.
If I remember rightly, your interest
was limited to a duck’s sense of timing,
how it pretended to study the grass
before snatching the bacon from dad’s plate.
I don’t know why it’s taken me so long.
It’s all in the movement, the way you swoop
and dive in and out of your daily doings, yes,
you’re some kind of low flyer.
What always struck me was the lack
of doubt. Now I see the hesitation
I took for nonchalance, all that chaperoning,
how pristine you keep your wings.
( first published in Somewhere to keep the rain, [Winchester Poetry Festival 2017, Sarsen Press])
What has always struck me in Regina’s writing is the way she understands line breaks. Look at the work that’s done by the big space between swoop / and dive, all the expanse of air it implies. Or the space between lack / of doubt. Lovely. I like the way that apparent conversational tone, the unselfconsciousness of the voice, works with the accurate, careful diction; that’s where that immersion in language and linguistics pay off. It’s expressive and tight at the same time, like a confident etching. Here’s another.
I haven’t swept under the bed,
the stairs are garlanded
with the abandoned efforts
of long-legged spiders
on their way up or down,
never mind which, because
the fridge flashes by, cradling
mustard, beetroot, milk
and I’ve remembered
the crinkled parchment of jeans
blouse, cotton vest on the arm
of the spine-tingling settee
and it’s too late to beat the coir mat
into shedding a shovelful of grit,
too late to bin the pink rose, its bloom
hard to retract, once assumptions
are speed-budding, as they will be, since
I’ve opened the door to you.
I like the slightly harassed (or is it? it’s beautifully ambiguous) voice, the way it starts in the middle of something, that sounds like anxiety, or a diffuse kind of small guiltiness, that opens out into the beginning of a moments surrender (which an age of prudence will never retract). Another thing: I like the moments/images that stick. The juxtaposition of mustard, beetroot, milk; the crinkled parchment of jeans. I like the economy with which a real environment, a real place and lifestyle is constructed, and a real character inhabits it…one that I’m involved with and hope for.
The next poem, not in couplets as it happens, demonstrates Regina’s eye for the shape and texture of the moment that makes the image significant.
She dangles in her sleep
like the last bramley
from a winter-brittled branch
she’s tired as peat
with its memory of plants
her dreams are coal seams
(First published in The North, Issue 57.)
If I could only keep one moment from all her poems, I think it would be
she’s tired as peat
It’s the inchoate tiredness of tedium, of a long long process of small accumulations that grow inert and heavy. And eventually offer the hard brilliance and the promise of fire in coal seams.Beautiful. I love the way that it moves in a short space from the laxness of ‘dangles’ to the solidity of ‘coal seams’. Just one more, then, and minimal commentary. Just enjoy its clarity and quiet. Like a Rothko. Less is more.
The foghorn intones all night,
like a well-adjusted contrabass,
mooring my sleep with perfect pitch
and phrasing. In the morning
I’m drawn to its silence. Everything
hasbeen wiped to a polish –
the lapis vein of the water line
below a pale-blue cloche,
the sheer air, enamelling my neck
and sending a jet of birdcall
skidding along the shore, as if this sky
has lost its grip on the clouds.
So, a week late, but thank you so much, Reginert, for being our guest poet on a Saturday afternoon when the sun has suddenly come out.
Next week I’m hoping for another guest poet from the Albert Workshops. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, enjoy the sun, and wish me luck in trying to book three venues on dates that work for everyone. See you soon, and thank you for being here.