Stocking fillers [11] Song and dance acts

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It’s been an up and down sort of week. Showers and bright periods. Whole days of sub-aqueous gloom, afternoons of sunlit autumn colour that made bits of our garden look like a Kaffe Fassett jumper. Flu jabs and boosters, and Boris the Gladiator on the front page of the Sunday Express today. And then there’s the actual exrement pumped into or rivers and onto our beaches by companies siphoning billions out of the system. The sun’s out now. This morning the rain was torrential and some of it was making its way through a bedroom ceiling. The most recently decorated one, natch.

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It’s hard work getting into that particular loft space. There’s a patch of sodden insulation, but not a sign of any slates missing, no wet patches in the brickwork, no crumbling mortar, no torn roofing felt. As near as I can tell, because the rain and wind were coming from an unlikely direction, it’s blown hard under the solar panels and managed to set up some capillary action, siphoning (gosh..siphoning, again) rain water down the cabling. It’s remarkable how much water can get shifted like that.

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What’s a boy to do. Apart from going out and breaking windows. What did Jimminy Cricket say? Give a little whistle. When in doubt, let’s have a laugh. Of sorts. Three stocking fillers, increasingly bittersweet.

The first one stems from when I taught in a huge Comprehensive school in the 70s. I would sometimes wind up some of my stroppier 15 yr old girls by telling them straightfaced that the Bay City Rollers were (like The Archies) a made-up group, that they only existed on film. I can’t remember the prompt that dredged it up from my memory. But here we go.

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Not many people know this, but

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I’m not thinking about Theresa May lying about wheatfields,

or the one about Jacob Rees-Mogg once being a rent boy 

in Winchester, who would sing, for senescent clerics,

in a pure treble As long as he needs me; and not the one

about Margaret Thatcher liking latex underwear, or the one

about Donald Trump’s secret friend. The secret’s the friend’s idea.

He’s terrified the truth will come out, and that’s him finished

at the snooker club. No. I’m thinking of the Bay City Rollers

not being an actual band, (unlike The Archies, who were

but just looked like Hanna-Barbera cartoon figures);

the truth is they were all Action Men 

and if you look closely at archive film you can just make out

the metal screw and bearing that joined the gripping hands

to the thin wrists, because sometimes the tartan scarf would slip.

The Bay City Rollers could not be seen with real screaming fans

because they were only six inches high and thiose teenage girls

would have looked bigger than King Kong. So all the fans 

were Action Men as well, and then there was the problem

of the theatres and the cinemas where they played, and the hotels

where they stayed, and then you had the streets where the hotels

were supposed to be, and the cars and buses, and taxis 

and here’s the problem with lying, you have to keep on lying

till it gets too complicated. Which is why you suddenly

didn’t hear any more of the Bay City Rollers. It was easier

to set fire to the model sets and all those tartan Action Men,

and then put out a press release to say The Rollers had retired

the act and would be concentrating on their individual careers.

So tell me the name of a single song that any of them recorded.

There you are then.

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I blame Peter Sansom for this. I’ve just tracked it down in a notebook. Whitby. 2017. The past is another country. Which may just be a segue for the next poem, which I wrote for a band that used to play support for Tom Russell in various venues around Castleford, back in the day. The last time I saw them live was in The Lupsett pub in Wakefield. That shut down this year, which makes this poem just that little bit more poignant.

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Tribute 

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The Collier/Dixon Line has only changed

its lineup once in thirty years. Last year

Dennis sacked his lead guitar. ‘Fancied

taking new directions. Couldn’t be doing 

with that.’ They played cruise ships all along

the coasts of Scandinavia, sang Johnny Cash

to rivers throwing themselves off mile-high cliffs.

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They don’t do upstairs rooms these days. ‘Sorry,

pal,’ says Dennis (though he’s not), ‘we don’t do steps.’

In gigs in estate pubs and Working men’s

they have a faithful following. Wives 

and friends of wives who have danced together

since they were at school. They can do it

with their eyes shut. So they do. The spins,

the checks, the turns still glamorous in dreams

of stocking-tops,  layers of paper nylon underskirts,

beehives brittle and scratchy with spray, 

and pearlised mouths that lipsynch every song.

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Bye bye love

Bye bye happiness

Bye bye sweet caress

I think I’m gonna die.

Bye bye, my love, bye bye

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Apologies for the sentimental slant of today’s cobweb. The clocks went back last night, and suddenly it’s dark at teatime. Just one more and then I promise to spend at least part of next week planning a post about a new collection by someone whose poetry I like a lot.

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A captive audience

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the recumbent elderly, stuffed like bolsters

into Parker Knoll wing chairs, hard

of hearing, rheumy-eyed, incontinent,

medicated to docility. 

Neurones flickering  on and off;

there are no spare batteries. 

This is how it ends. 

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And here they come,

the ones with smiles sincere as rictus,

the ones with Casio keyboards,

with tinny snare drum tracks,

chivvying the old and unprotected

into faltering songs of bicycles made for two,

white cliffs, lilacs, sweethearts.

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Songs their mothers (Dot and Doris,

Ruby, Gladys, Edith) may have sung.

Their memory’s not what it was.

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You wonder if they’ll still be at it,

the entertainers, when the chairs are full 

of Kimberleys, Courtneys, Shannons, Chardonnays.

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Today, they’re Marys, Lindas, Donnas,

Debbies, Paulas. Every once in a while, a Keith. 

No-one turns up with a Fender Strat,

no-one gets them singing

Is that Jimmy’s ring you’re wearing?

No-one chops out Summertime Blues,

or Cut across Shorty, or even Three steps

to Heaven. And no-one turns the lights

down low; no one sings, just for them,

Don’t forget who’s taking you home.

Save the last dance for me.

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Stocking fillers [10]. Kinda blue

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Of late I’ve been taking some comfort from the fact that Anthony Wilson has revived his poetry blog, and I look forward to each new post, partly because there’s sometimes a wistful quality about them that chimes with me for complex reasons I’ll not be sharing. His latest one struck a chord. Particularly because he’s writing not just about struggling to write poetry, but also with the idea of putting it ‘out there’. I’ll add the link in a moment but I just want to share this extract in which he ponders on the ins and outs of keeping away from ‘social media’ …. which he elected to do for the sake of his spiritual/mental well-being; I understand that, totally.

“On another level altogether, it (ie, this deliberate withdrawal) just feels  lonely. I have been battering away at some stuff for a while now, which, thanks to the help of some very kind people, might one day see the light. Some of it is emerging, slowly and cautiously. But it still feels lonely. My instinct is to hide, both the poems and me. Yet out it must. I wish there was another way.

On the plus side, a huge advantage of following McLaverty’s advice is that it can insulate you from what Heaney describes so acutely in the ‘Singing School’s’ final poem, ‘Exposure’: ‘friends’/ Beautiful prismatic counselling/ And the anvil brains of some who hate me’; and ‘what is said behind-backs’. The poets I look up to, Kennelly and Heaney among them, seem to (have) be(en) able to navigate a path between the private and the social (in the fullest sense) which fulfils the obligations of each without cancelling the other out. I aspire to be among them.”

https://anthonywilsonpoetry.com/2021/10/23/do-your-own-work/

Anyway, while I, like Anthony, am tentatively working on new stuff that may or may not turn out to be the real deal, and while I am less and less confident about sending stuff ‘out there’, whether as submississions or competition entries, I’m re-engaging with new poetry from other folk. I can’t cope with writing appreciations of new collections every week…there’s a bucket list that I’ll deal with as and when. In the meantime, to keep the Cobweb ticking over, I’ll go on making do with stocking fillers. I think today’s suit my mood. And the first one lets me share my pleasure at encountering a new word. Haruspex. Did JKRowling pinch it as the name of a character at some point? If she didn’t she missed a trick.

A premonition

Things could only get better. Or worse.

It was hard to tell. I was cleaning a mackerel.

Or maybe it was a chicken. Definitely

not a rabbit or a squid. But the light that fell

on the wet insides made a kind of pattern.

One of those like when you see the face of Jesus

in a muffin. Though it wasn’t that kind of pattern.

I mean, it wasn’t Jesus. It wasn’t a face at all.

It was more runic, I suppose. Though that’s not it.

Anyway, it was the strangest feeling.

One that says: something awful is about to happen.

Not instantly, but fairly soon.

It wasn’t a cataclysmic flood or purgatorial fire

or death of the firstborn sort of thing,

but it would be awful in a diffuse,

non-specific way. You know when

someone writes in a story about 

a nameless dread. It was exactly that.

I thought perhaps I should tell someone,

but thought I might feel silly. So I didn’t.

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And here’s another that was kicked off by a workshop prompt. I think I must have been reading Middlemarch , and, as usual, being much moved by the way Casaubon’s need to be remembered by posterity makes him blind to the fact that he’s essentially a sad failure in the here-and-now

When I come to write my memoirs

I shall hesitate over many things. Pens

for a start. Inks. Nibs. And paper. Lined or plain?

And a routine. A fixed time every day, like Trollope?

Stop after two hours, mid-sentence, regardless.

Or after two thousand words. Or as things dictate?

Middle of the night, esprit d’escalier. Perhaps

a dictaphone? Though transcription is a bore.

An amenuensis would be nice, 

but who would you trust, and they’d want paying,

regular hours. Food and drink and board?

Who knows. Anyway, that’s out.

Notebooks, perhaps. But not Moleskines, in case

people notice, and ask if you’re a writer and then

tell you that they do a bit themselves

and wonder if you’d like to take a look,

and tell you how they’re fascinated

by Temperance, or the evolution of the urban bus.

And then, of course there’s the problem 

of chronology. Alpha to omega? Or start

at the end, work back? Or in the middle?

How do you know where the middle is?

Will there be photographs? And the voice?

Wry? Authoritative? Detatched? Assertive?

Ironically diffident…like Esther Summerson

I have great difficulty beginning my portion of these pages.

That would irk, I fancy. As to a publisher…

a small press, or something with some clout?

Fuck it. I’m off on Facebook.

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See you next week. Hopefully. xxxxxx

My kind of poetry: Ruth Valentine’s “If you want thunder”

A key theme that runs through Ruth Valentine’s latest collection is the idea of the shadow line, the one between the living and the dead, and between sea and sky, that utterly notional ‘horizon’ . I’ll come to the business of the sea later, but given the story of death and resurrection and the way this Grunewald altarpiece contains both like a conjuring trick, it’ll be nice to start with this tour de force .

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Grünewald

To make water flow wherever it’s told, you need

a wooden box with four divining-rods,

a compass, several men with boots and shovels,

a pump to shift it by its own volition,

and me, Meister Mathis, hydraulic engineer,

clerk-of-works, model maker, stonemason,

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also painter of many-hinged altar-pieces,

so men and women with St Anthony’s

sacred fire charring their blood and skin

stare and are healed.  I work in tempera

I mix myself, with just a little oil

so the colour goes on clear, like a held note

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on an angel’s trumpet: here it’s cinnabar,

red mercury.  Jesus dies,

his whole weight hanging from his nailed-up hands,

blood from his head wounds; but when the fathers turn

the panels outward on feast-days, his linen shroud

flames in the up-draught of his resurrection.

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I observe where I am, and paint: the leering faces,

green skin, festering lesions, how the sinful

imagine their souls.  For the Last Supper,

I sit the ungainly tired apostles round

an oval table, in twos and threes, arguing,

and Christ the least of them, or the least human,

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already half disincarnate.  At the far end,

fingertips pressed together in explanation,

is my namesake, Mathis, Matthew the tax collector,

a clever man, used to working out the cost,

already glimpsing the next afternoon

when the sky will darken and the saints’ graves open. 

It’s a poem that stopped me in my tracks, in much the same way as UAFanthorpe’s ‘Tyndale in Darkness’, because of its easy familiarity with the world of the drainage engineer/visionary painter, and also with his imagined dreams in what feels like a wholly authentic voice. Stunning.

You can read an earlier post about Ruth from 2017 via this link

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https://johnfogginpoetry.com/2017/10/01/a-grenfell-alphabet-and-and-a-polished-gem-ruth-valentine/

Or you can jump straight in with this introduction:

Ruth Valentine has worked as an undertaker and as a celebrant at secular funerals. In Downpour she draws on her experiences to compose an extended meditation on dying and death, its emotional grammar and its painful but necessary rituals. Bleak and brave, serious and sad, Downpour is an unflinching study of the physical realities of dying

Ruth  grew up in Sussex, but has lived most of her adult life in London. She has been a teacher, advice worker, voluntary sector manager and consultant. Currently, as well as writing, she conducts secular funerals. She began writing seriously at the age of forty. ……. In 2000, looking for a new direction in her writing, she enrolled on the MA Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. Her novel, The Jeweller’s Skin, was the somewhat unexpected result.

In her website (http://ruthvalentine.co.uk/index.php/about/) she writes. “I write poetry, novels and short stories, and non-fiction. You can find details here of my published work, and sample poems and extracts.  Go to the poetry page for details of my latest books, Downpour and Rubaiyat for the Martyrs of Two Wars. 

To this we can add A Grenfell Alphabet [2017]., and now If you want thunder [Smokestack 2021]

And it’s this latest collection that I’ll be celebrating today.

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The Smokestack publisher’s blurb will you that:

“Ruth Valentine’s tenth collection encompasses the tragedies of the public world – civil-wars in Syria and Sudan, knife crime in North London, the Iraq-Iran war – and our private griefs. At the heart of the book is an extraordinary alphabetical sequence about the Grenfell Tower dead and the society that allowed them to die. It’s a book about the morality of politics and the mortality of us all, a study in remembrance and forgetting, about the indifferent sea with its soft lullabies and cold temptations, time spreading its blankness over everything, and ‘busy humanity with its suitcases and phones, its sudden weeping…”

I enthused about and shared several of the Grenfell poems in my 2017 post, as well as a wonderful poem about Tolstoy and railway stations (which reappears in the latest collection). I want to concentrate, though, on the business of mortality which is never far away in this collection.

You’ll search Google in vain for detailed reviews of Ruth’s work….a fact which is both astonishing and inexplicable…..but I picked up a couple of  comments that resonated in this portmanteau review via Happenstance. Here’s the link

https://www.sphinxreview.co.uk/index.php/sphinx-2009/220-the-announced-ruth-valentine

and here, the comments which I wish I’d thought of first:

“Valentine is a very gifted poet. She has mastered the craft of starting a poem in a low key, almost conversational style, describing a past event, quietly dropping a single disconcerting word into the lines which unsettles but you’re not sure why. So you read on, and there are further hints, subtle, understated, but always pulling you towards an exploration of something you realise has universal importance—but by being brought there as a travelling companion of the poet, you discover it in parallel with the poem. It’s almost as if you’re walking around in the poem itself, seeing the whole landscape of it.”

and

“Ruth Valentine is able to reach across from the living to the dead, bridging that great divide in tender ordinary words.” 

It’s the business of the living and the dead, and also of the divide between them which, in this new collection, seems to me to be symbolised by the transition from land to sea, and the sea in all its multifarious and drowning shapes. 

In August I wrote in a post:

“I read a long time ago, that the Victorians (officially) couldn’t write about sex but wrote with amazing freedom about death, whereas, since the late 60s exactly the opposite has been the case. 

I was brought up to distrust generalisations, but there’s an element of truth in there, isn’t there? I have a sense that we are much more uncomfortable with the physical facts of death and dying than much contemporary poetry acknowledges. It may be, of course, because we know so little about it. When each of my parents died, I wasn’t there, in the house, in the room, and both had been neatly removed before I was told, the whole business being managed and sanitised by the funeral business. That would have been unthinkable in a Victorian household. I have only seen two dead people. One was my son, coffined in a Funeral Director’s nicely lit room. The other was in a morgue where I went with my partner to identify another body. I’ve never been able to write about either moment, not properly. “

Which is why, I suppose, I’m so grateful for poets like  Ruth Valentine, who can write about ‘these moments’, about living with the dying and considering the business of setting out to die. And who, I should add, can do it via utterly memorable/unfogettable moments that draw you in, like these

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a poem, slipping in mildly off the broad

inarticulate river

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cobalt:   goes into the furnace a black powder

and comes out radiant, butterfly, dragon, dolphin

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The goddess of forgetting

is pale and very old, with long stained teeth

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     and, of course the constant reminders of the the sea and its mutability

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What use to the world is water that thinks it’s stone

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…sun covers the sea in silver-leaf

and the Icarus wind falls into the water

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…sea…snatching a child of a cliff, and twirling him

in swaddling clothes of spindrift

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As I said, I’ve chosen to concentrate on poems that place themselves where the sky is enormous and isolating and where the landscape inevitably ends in a shadow line like the numinous dividing ‘lines’ in Rothkos great canvasses.The collection is in six sections, or chapters, and each one contains a tidal river, or a sea shore, or saltings or estuaries reedbed and marsh and the dangerous unstable effulgent light off such places. As though you find yourself in a Turner that’s suddenly become live and cold and dangerous. This first poem is the opening poem of the first section, and and contains whole millennia of refugees

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Jettisoned

on the passage between the islands the boat was clutched

in the hands of drowned farmers, who pulled it down

into the wave’s ploughed furrows, bellowing

my carrots fresh from the earth? where are my oxen?

in the hands of drowned merchants with topaz rings,

fingers of fishermen clawing through the traps

of their lobster-pots  

                                                the wild boat shook them off

and headed out to the plain of cormorants

folding themselves like paper, plunging down

to the wrecks and the jetsam, all the jettisoned,

whoever steps awkwardly away from land,

unborn children venturing on an ocean

though grandmothers weep and the soldiers shrug and yawn

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I found it next to impossible to clear my mind of the appalling image of the fleeing being dragged down by all that had gone before, drowned by the clawing hands of history. Who can tell if they escaped in that wild boat, or who may plunge down with the cormorants ‘folding themselves like paper‘ into the detritus of the jettisoned and abandoned and wrecked.

I’ll stay with the business of water and of drowning in the three poem sequence that ends Section 2. I’ll remind myself of what one reviewer wrote about the way that

Ruth Valentine has mastered the craft of starting a poem in a low key, almost conversational style, describing a past event, quietly dropping a single disconcerting word into the lines which unsettles but you’re not sure why. So you read on.

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The Inshore Waters

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all water inland     silent     do not disturb

the shoremen at their hedging and ditching dreams

you could drown in this stuff     lingeringly     a dancer

past the leap of his youth     your port-de-bras superb

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the staithe then the river     channels across the marsh

basalt    molten but cold     all unmet depth

paralysed motion     weedless     no pulse no splash

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as if it were flowing backward     as if the waves

might thicken and surge between the reeds     upstream

the low pale sun catch a silky flash of green

on the throat of a breaker before it broke     you’ve seen

just such a choker glint at a beach and gone

ii

What use to the world is water that thinks it’s stone?

When you choose to drown

you’ll have to get into a rowing-boat and make

oar-scars on the polished surface.  You’re facing back

to the staithe you left, willows and reeds.  It’s miles

to the sea from here.  You’re flagging.  You pull the sculls

across your thighs, rest, float; but the water wants

to haul you in to the bank.  Far off, in front

(if you turn your head) there’s a bit of sheen in the sky,

a taste of salt to the cloudscape, so you try

again for the open ocean.  A starting swell

rocks your coffin-cradle.  Keep going.  You’ll do well

to reach the sea before sunset, but the dark’s

just as good to drown in.  That isn’t a meadow-lark

or a seagull crying, it’s you as you smell the tide,

as you hear the scrape of the shingle.  Now, decide:

do you sit in your boat till it’s toppled, or pull in

to the riverbank, step out to the sea wind

and the sky, the breakwaters, the flying spindrift – 

if it ever was stone – fire-opal and amethyst.

A breaker rises and roars at you.  Safe at last,

you pour down its throat.

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You won’t do it of course, walk into the sea and drown.

More likely a bout of asthma, a derailed train.

Though if one day it comes to it, the cancer back,

some antibiotic-resistant inward muck,

you’d do something to finish, you hope. Not a rowing-boat:

you’ve never learned to row anyway.  No note

to whoever was going to find you in your bed

or more likely, sprawled on the kitchen floor.  So you could

buy a one-way ticket down to some drab resort,

walk into the waves.  Get a tide-table first,

you don’t want to be striding out across the sand,

the water knee-high for miles; you might change your mind,

which isn’t the point.  Or is it?  But are you brave,

could you keep on walking deeper until the waves

felled you and held you under?  You’d hold your breath

as it spun you below the surface.  It seems that death

may not come when you call.  Or you have to yell

again, at the top of your lungs, before they fill.

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What I like so much about this sequence, apart from the unnerving way the three poems address the unthinkable, is their versatility. The first announces itself very frankly as a poem, happily parading its technique in much the same way a a wave breaks over a rock and runs back on itself and reforms. DHLawrence wrote a praise poem for that, didn’t he. But the next two seem so easily conversational, unnervingly, apparently prosaically and rationally discussing (or advising on) the likelihood of attempted suicide by water going right or wrong, that it’s easy to overlook the craft of it all. It’s so easy to not notice that they are both sequences of rhyming couplets. When you do and go back, the music of full and half rhymes seems obvious. I love it.

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I did say that I’d concentrate on the shadow line poems. There’s so much more (not least, the Grenfell Alphabet in full, as well as a remarkable poem sequence Cobalt, about the dying of a friend) but you’ll need to go and buy the book. I really think you should. For a taste of the range you can expect, though, I’ll finish with one that’s darkly, wickedly funny. The Notes at the end explain that for Valentine’s (Who else?) Day 2016 Bic relaunched its pink ballpoint pen ” designed specially to fit the hands of the ladies”.

I’m pretty sure that the last bit is Ruth’s take on it, which is whyI’ve put it in inverted commas.

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Sonnet Written With a Pink Pen

My tiny hand is frozen, having cleaned

mould out of the fridge.  I’ve scoured the loo,

made chicken soup, altered a pair of jeans,

addressed a meeting.  It’s what women do.

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I’ve dressed a dead man in his football shirt

and laid him in his coffin; known the stench

we all may melt to; comforted the hurt

partners and enemies.  I didn’t flinch,

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or not in public.  For thirty years I’ve written

poems of death and exile, sex and grief,

Pinochet, Kosovo, London riots, love.

Now that I’ve got this pen, though, I can prove

my feminine vocation: violets, kittens,

cupcakes and curls.  Imagine my relief.

Thank you, Ruth Valentine for sharing so many of your poems. It was a joy to have you back as a guest.

And now, the rest of you will want details of the book you will surely buy before the day be out. Here you are.

Published by Smokestack Books [2021] £7.99

Stocking fillers [9]: Holiday jobs

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Well here we are, on an unfeasibly sunny day in October when the stuff in the planters can’t work out whether to put out more blossom or just curl up and die, and the country in its sleep of reason is out in force, unmasked and undistanced. 

We went up to the cinema complex in Birstall this lunchtime, determined to overcome our suspicions and nervousness about Out There (where There Be Tygers, and the world’s winds puff their cheeks from the corners of the map). We have been in no enclosed public spaces for at least 18 months, and it makes you timid. Cautious, anyway. Neverthless, we want to see James Bond on a big screen, and we went to check out the seating and booking arrangements for a showing at 10.15am next Tuesday, when it’s plain we will not be jostled by crowds.

Which is just as well since there were queues of cars happily burning fuel as they waited to get through the DriveThru Macdonalds; Nando’s car park was rammed as was every other fast food joint. Goodness knows what it was like in IKEA. No one…or hardly anyone, was masked. Everywhere seemed happily oblivious to the parlous state we’re in. It was unnerving.

I’ll tell you how serious the state of England is. You can’t find anywhere with Auntie Bessie’s Giant Yorkshire Puddings in stock. I remember the dismay when, some years ago, there was a fire at Auntie B’s factory in Brid, and there were no giant Yorkshires to be had for months. I remember the joy when they came back.

I guess this put me in a nostalgic frame of mind…you know the kind of thing. We didn’t have two pennies to rub together but we were happy. That kind of nonsense.

So I’ve been trawling the stand-ups and the stocking fillers for something that fit the mood, and came up with these.

In the early 60s you could effectively get a job just about anywhere simply by knocking on the office door and asking. I’m not talking about salaried work. I’m talking about the kinds of jobs that someone has to do, the ones that Tory politicians call ‘low-skilled’ and have never themselves tried to do. Most folk of my generation have done them if they were students. “Holiday jobs’. I worked in a biscuit factory, a woollen warehouse, delivering Christmas post; I picked potatoes….The latter was the only one that would now be called a zero-hours one. The thing was, you didn’t get paid lots, but you did get paid. Everyone who’s done temporary jobs as a student has her/his own stories. Here’s two of mine.

The first is set in 1964. Eventually it was published in the first issue of Strix, and was used in an exhibition in Leeds celebrating the experience of work and immigration. But originally, it was just an anecdotal poem for open mics.

Tea break.

There’s jobs I’d rather forget like the biscuit-tin steamer at the biscuit factory and the paint factory machine that clamped lids onto tins of bright blue hot enamel and the drums of acetone that melted sacks of cotton and working with the engineer from Pakistan and the doctor and the tailor and the rest who lived in one small terrace house where the beds were never cool who came to work to work and nothing else these men who kept to themselves or were made to keep to themselves because in those days I didn’t know which was which but anyway would rather miss the break not just because it’s in a lavatory open to the sky and because they don’t understand this fifteen minutes in the smell of piss and cigarettes is sacrosanct because they only want to keep on running pieces through their big machines that turn miles of polyester stuff into something with a nap and tumble it to a semblance of a leopardskin for steering wheels and the seats of Triumph Heralds and Cortinas but any way they’d rather stand in cleaner air and wonder how soon they can get back to work and crank the pieces out piecework being the system and the point because they don’t smoke and they send every penny back to Pakistan because one day their children will own taxicabs and  chipshops barbers kebab houses small garages off-licenses that never shut and one day they will build mosques with golden domes and the men I have to work with don’t like work and the one I’m partnered with comes late every morning because he doesn’t have a family in Pakistan waiting on the next instalment for a ticket on a plane and neither do I but I need to work and turn the pieces out but I’m not let to start the machine till he clocks in and I don’t want to have to watch him have his breakfast which is always in his jacket pocket and always is a battered fish he bought the night before on his way home from the Institute and he swears it’s better the next morning and swears the smell of curry makes him sick.

The second is set in the following summer of 1965. The Silver Paint and Laquer Company was the creation of Leslie Silver who went on to become Chairman of Leeds United and be awarded an OBE, but in this incarnation, his factory was a fire hazard, and after three weeks I was the longest-serving person in the place apart from the permanent staff like the chemist, the drivers, the engineers and the folk in the office. For younger readers, Queen Salote of Tonga was the smash hit of the Coronation procession in 1953. She had a ball

A temporary post

In those days you could walk down Bradford Road and get a job with anyone

just for the asking, like the one I had working on a machine that turned printed

polyester fabric into  fakefur leopardskin for the steering wheels of Triumph Heralds                                             

and Cortinas but that was nothing in the light of the Silver Paint and Laquer plant

in Burnley’s old mill buildings where everything was a flat affront to Health and Safety

where the extractor fans were always breaking down and where I spent one summer’s 

afternoon pouring drums of acetone and bales of cotton pellets into a paint mill making 

white enamel without any ventilation, the day I rode home and up the wrong street on

my Lambretta and tried to get into someone else’s house, and after two days off 

sick I got shifted into filling tins, like the rush job for Queen Salote’s palace, and I

hope it got there quickly because she died five months later, but mainly I remember 

the bright blue gloss that came still hot from the paintmills and melted all the shellac 

seals of the tins I poured it in and lidded. It was cerulean. That kind of blue. I’ve recently

been told off for using it in a poem. If you know a better word than bright, I’ll gladly use it.

Well, that was a more than a tad self-indulgent. But next week proper service will be resumed, and I’ll be sharing my enthusiasm for a poet whose work never fails to move and excite. See you then.