2016: My favourite bits (cont.) ..August and September

2016: My favourite bits (cont.) ..August and September

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August:

Andy Blackford:  Flitwing

 

Padmaloka June 2016

 

Flitwing Pipistrelle careers into the thickening dark

crazy, restless

lancing boils of dancing flies that burst

in swirls of black confetti

 

The river dawdles in dementia

lost in reedy mazes

gravid, oleaginous

 

In the meadow by the bridge

a bullock moans the old complaint

solitary, stubborn

mist brimming to his matted haunch

 

Flitwing, come and corkscrew with me

through the midgy dimness

We’ll swoop and dart and loop the loop

and tease the glaring owl

our talons plucking oily wrinkles

on the moonstruck fen

and we the manic navigators of the night.

 

 

 

Julia Deakin:  Checkpoint

 

We come from hell. A history of short measures, rough justice,

public executions. Rules of thumb. From backs bent in fields,

mines and furnaces, we walked miles in rags through becks

clogged with debris, hitching lifts on carts down rutted tracks

or shut for days in cramped, smoky carriages on splintered slats

with cocky strangers leering legally,

to cities ruled by horses

in the hands of drunks, the sound of klaxons, screeching,

oaths and tolling bells obscuring backstreet screams of birth,

crude amputations, barber dentists, TB wheezing up the stairs,

spit and spittoons everywhere, cataracts and goitres rampant,

fingers green with nicotine and ink, the tang of coins fished

from gutters, rivers heaving with the dead. Rain and slime

between our toes came with us into dim rooms close with soot

and sulphur, clogging nostrils picked for smuts flicked into rugs

thick with grit, chairs with dust and hair oil, privies cold

and wet or fetid, just vacated, hands from here unwashed

to hack food with a penknife used for fingernails and hooves

in kitchens home to cats, dogs, beetles, maggots, grubs in fruit

and slugs in greens at tables wiped with cloths boiled with kerchiefs,

bandages and nappies brought from bedrooms shared with mice,

bedbugs, nitcombs, pisspots, plaster peeling onto damp bolsters,

clammy sheets and memories of leeches, layings-out and wakes,

clothes seamed with sweat heaped souring in moth-filled closets

next to pictures over mould and trapped birds in chimney breasts

and hard soap scum in aluminium tubs of cooling water

fanned by draughts from grey net at the streaming windows,

springtails in the rotten frames and in the attic, books and papers

pulverised, riddled rafters, wasps’ nests, pigeon lime.

 

We’re here now. Gated, lighted. Vaccinated, regulated.

Vacuumed, smokeless, enzyme clean. It’s been

so long, like centuries.

 

Everything stank. Tanneries and pits and breath.

This is the past. Do not turn us back.

 

chagall 2

 

 

Mark Hinchcliffe:    Pieta

 A fox slowly swayed

down the middle of Cowlersley Lane,

eyes glassy and dazed.

 

People ran out of their houses

to look

and you brought a bowl of milk.

 

Dressed in a pink tutu and purple glittery wig,

you knelt beside it as it lay down

in the gateway to a garden.

 

The people peered into

the darkness of its eyes

as if they looked into a stable

or a volcano slowly burning out,

holding up their hands

to catch the sparks

from its glowing tail.

 

September:

roy-3

Roy Cockcroft:   Ninety-three

 

No one knows exactly where the river ends

And the sea begins,

But there are signs

that things have changed –

 

After the comfortable dialects

Of dapple and glide,

The river finds new voices –

Herons shuffling around

On smeared branches, coughing

Or going hysterical,

Dredging their vowels

From sluice-gates –

And there’s the slow grinding of rock

In the bed’s unstoppable machinery

And the guarded whisperings of sedge.

 

And features change –

Boats hang skewed on cable,

Or stretched out,

Exposing their keels on a wet slab;

Fences of reed split water

Into shallow lakes;

Banks are uncertain;

Every day the tide invents a new channel;

And later, when the fog clears,

We notice the wading of submerged roots,

A twist of wire fishing for its own reflection,

Low branches watching for hours

Before they stab.

 

And now the river has a new name.

And new colours –

Traces of black –

A suspicion of red –

Browns, purples and yellows leaking from ancient storms.

 

Levelling out, the greasy current slows,

Dithering in blocked drains,

Smelling of salt and ammonia,

Going backwards,

Muttering to itself,

Revisiting the same places.

 

ulster-3

Tom Cleary:  War Photo

 

Policemen in black and helmets squat on their haunches.

One sits on his bottom, legs spread, staring through a Perspex face shield.

They look like small boys in costume playing jackstones on the road,

skidding lumps of broken paving over the tarmac.

 

Beyond them there’s a woman in a striped sweater,

a man in a shirt as white as an advert,

figures with blank Os for heads,

like mannequins in a field to frighten birds.

A screen of metal with a mesh of gauze

hides a delicate blur that might be a child.

And Michael may have been hunched for hours, nursing his camera,

stepping back and sideways to avoid the bricks,

steaming cups of tea between the heels of his mittens.

 

Then these two women promenaded through holding hands.

One, her face fat with flush,

bundled her raincoat with her handbag under one arm,

and pressed the older woman’s hand to her thigh.

The companion blinked through the flash of her glasses

and surrendered her hand as if it was no longer hers.

It almost looks staged, back-projected from a comfortable suburb

where people had more time to talk

about supermarket bargains and boozy nights out,

Grania’s wedding and a June flight to the Canaries.

2016: My favourite bits (cont)….July

2016: My favourite bits (cont)….July

copeland-winter

July:

Stephanie Conn:   Winter

 

We are cut off from the mainland again;

a pile of unopened letters sits in Donaghadee;

there is flour and salt and treacle in the grocer’s,

bags of coal and paraffin to fill the empty tins,

but the boat keeps close to the harbour wall.

Tide in, tide out and the beam of light,

and a distant moon – waxing and waning.

Still, the bread is baked and the butter churned,

the blocken cured and the rabbits trapped,

mussels are plucked from the island pools

and pickled in jars on larder shelves.

The firewood and driftwood is stacked.

Tide in, tide out and the beam of light,

and a distant moon – waxing and waning.

Inside the lamps are lit and curtains pulled,

while out at sea, the wind and waves confront

each other in torrents of eddies and pools

and the gulls circling above the spume

could be vultures in the thick sea-mist.

Tide in, tide out and the beam of light,

and a distant moon – waxing and waning.

But we know what the darkness brings;

it drags us from sleep into nightmare, lost in fog

we’ll be struck by ship after floundering ship;

forced into the driving rain, where muffled voices call

from their wreck. We’ll run to the shore to save all we can.

Tide in, tide out and the beam of light,

and a distant moon – waxing and waning.

In a place such as this, we are used to the ghosts,

but not to their dying; never to the bodies of young men

washed up on the shore, with their puffed up faces

and gaping sockets where the eyes should be; or the tiny crab

emerging from a silenced mouth to scurry, ever sideways.

bubamara_blog_cottura_raku00

Gaia Holmes:  Hygge

hygge (n): A Danish word which, roughly translated, means, the art of building sanctuary and community, of inviting closeness and paying attention to what makes us feel open hearted and alive. To create well-being, connection and warmth. A feeling of belonging to the moment and to each other.

 

Tonight, with you calm, clean,

smelling of lavender in your new pyjamas

and the fire I’ve been trying to kindle for hours

finally settling itself down to blaze

and crackle and glow,

I light all the candles I can find,

put Tallis on the stereo, sit holding your hand.

Tonight the sea will be too wanton

to carry a ferry.

No one will come and no one will go

and in the morning there will be

no fresh bread or milk

on the shelves of the village shop.

Tonight we will keep the cats in.

Tonight, we will be landlocked and cosy

as rain pelts the windows like little pearls

and bolshy wind rocks the caravan.

.

Tonight I will feel your knots unravelling,

our bond thickening

as love and thin motets chase the cold

from the corners of the room,

and I will almost forget

that you are dying.

girders 3

Jim Caruth:   Play the harp backwards

Who taught them to sling bridges from wires,

to walk straight-backed as convent girls,

along the narrow girders of high towers,

backs to the wind, never daring to look down.

Clustered in the tenements of Brooklyn

and the Lower East Side, like raucous gulls

lining the white hem of a small island

whose name comes in a half-remembered tongue.

At nights you’d find them in the bars

along the waterfront, reciting a catechism

of names as they listened to the old songs,

while outside snow fell on the desolate streets

and the Hudson heaved like a wounded animal.

When the money ran out, they fingered

the dust in their pockets, staggered home

to small rooms, to dream of a mail-boat

rounding the Head, a town shivering

in the yellow glow of street-lamps.

street

Yvie Holder:   Milkman

                                                                                   

I can’t help

this: all my life

the early song,

first one ringing,

piercing the near-light,

cracking my night-shell,

then another, almost an echo,

like a chuckle, then a love-call

and more and more, scooping me up

out of sleep into life, out to the scent of dew-damp earth

and the clinking rhythms of glass and crate, out into my secret bliss,

my own street chorus, the swirl and the whoop of it –

every dawn my rebirth.

Here, no-one remembers the way things were, no-one knows who I am:

as soon as I wake to the music, the calling, they’re swishing around

in plastic aprons, smothering me at four in the morning,

flushing away my crimson dawns, weighting my limbs

with sleeping-pills. I’m gagged, bound

and buried inside

their antiseptic

days.

But

I can’t help

this: straining

to break the muzzle in my head,

to breathe, to stretch and touch the pristine air,

sense its pinch on my cheeks, gulp its moist breath, be airborne

among warbling eaves and aerial-staves and silhouette-quavers

on whispering wires, riding the breeze in the morning streets, ascending

to my invisible choirs, my madrigal joy.

2016:My favourite bits (cont.) May and June

2016:My favourite bits (cont.) May and June

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More of the best of the cobweb’s guest poets of 2016

May:

Di Slaney: Bildr’s thorp

 He ran from the farm like he was learning to slay,

great grandfather’s hounds snouting his heels

with low battle howls, an invisible axe twirling

through grass downhill to the ditch. The half-

remembered hearthtale of severed hands

hovered somewhere north, somewhere hard

and cold and red, somewhere near a shore

far from here, when boats were more

important than carts and jewels as big as

skimstones pinned the eyelids of the dead.

Nothing was owned or held, only wanted.

Movement was everything and settlement a

rumour of old age few would see, or wish for.

He ran from the softness of straw and the comfort

of cattle. He ran because his mother called him

darling, kept him closer than the hounds and

tighter than the bindings on his fox fur boots.

And as he ran, something small and fierce burned

through his chest until it burst on his tongue,

sprayed through the story of the morning in

one long eulalia, herald warrior in waiting

for a past buried under this rocky mound, safe

behind the ramparts of his father’s steading.

Bob Horne:  My Parents Kept Me

My parents kept me from children who were smooth,

lived behind high walls at the top end of the park,

went to boarding school, came home for half-term

in braided blazers and caps, went out

with the doctor’s dark-haired daughter.

Carried in Jags to each other’s houses,

lunched at the golf club, spent the summers

playing at sailors somewhere hot and south;

drilled in the skill of the straight bat,

while we just slogged at everything.

You never saw them near our terraces,

unmade streets; queuing on light nights

for threepenn’orth with bits at the chip shop.

They didn’t look (but knew we were there)

when they drove in the rain past the bus stop.

One winter we smashed them with snowballs,

forced them back to their iron gates

in a frenzy of venom and envy,

jeered at their feeble retreat.

A peasants’ revolt that altered nothing,

or so says the doctor’s white-haired daughter.

June:

Graínne Tobin:  The Catholic Graveyard in Armagh

Push away the feather quilt,

alert for the small hours review.

Here comes the siren, whoo, whoo,

to rattle your dazed heart.

Now the compulsory tour

of the raw trench where you left her,

wearing her navy dress as waked at home

among chrysanthemums, china cups

and a murmur of rosaries in her own back room.

Neighbours in sequence are addressed

as if they live here: Mrs So-and-So?

Third on the right.  The sister and the father

under their slab in the new vernacular,

polished black marble, inscribed in gold,

carried from China for twelve weeks by sea.

She’s two plots away from the tidiest grave in town.

Fresh flowers always, though it took a year

to find a lad his executioners hid.

In her neat suburb of the dead

you’ll need no A to Zed,

killers and killed housed side by side

when booby trap or bullet

levelled their last breath.

Weeds came up over her while your back was turned.

Geraniums from Cemetery Sunday,

candles in plastic holders and a varnished cross

maintain old decency until granite

can name her true and final death.

old workings2 002

July:

Gordon Hodgeon:   For George, Paternal Grandfather

You never reached your seventy third birthday,
I am struggling to reach mine, so let’s
get a few things straight. Through all my adult life
you’ve been a pain, kept slipping out
the shades, sliding your name into my affairs.
I have been George on conference lists and sticky labels,
on business letters, on hotel bills, once even on a poem.

Sometimes, so weary, I went with the flow,
so folk could go to the grave
thinking I bear your name. No chance of that.
Your only son, our father, wanted it grander,
landed me with that general’s name,
my brother with Lord Clive’s.
Not sure why. Dad read the News Chronicle.

But last Tuesday the ultimate put-down.
I was in hospital and gave my name and d.o.b.
to about fifteen nurses and my carer answered
the same questions to half a dozen doctors.
Then I got moved to my place for the night.
In comes a new nurse, greets me warmly:
“Hello George, I am Amanda, I’ll be looking after you
tonight.” How do you manage it?
Have you nothing better to spend your time on?

Given the state I’m in, quite soon
we might meet up. I warn you now,
just one more trick, I’ll alter every entry
in the eternal register, make sure that
all the angels and devils call you my name,
Gordon, your deserved reward.

But I’ll still love you, Grandad,
love how you have walked with me
all the way, more than sixty years
from Leigh Market to just now
when I stopped walking, stopped
being able to carry your basket.

You fed the children from that grid of streets
when their dads were on strike or had no work;
you lent money, thinking it would not come back,
it didn’t. You ran the Sunday School, you
made a gift to me of well-thumbed books,
Sir Walter Scott, Dickens, George Eliot.
You let me learn your sense of serious fun.
How you tormented the old ladies
reading their teacups, winking at me.

I am just as bad, laugh at my own jokes.
I never was as good at giving, never
as well-behaved, never as upright.
I should have been your namesake,
and now I see why you’ve been nudging,
dropping hints, not about names at all.
I let you down, still you raise me up,
George, Gordon, share this bittersweet,
this lifelong lovefeast cup.

venus-transit-preview-planet-night-sky_54376_600x450

 

2016: my favourite bits

2016: my favourite bits

minions-at-the-firworks

I started the year (or ended 2015) by playing with my best Christmas present…making scores of Minions out of card. I’m easily distracted. Even more easily distracted by photoshop, which lets me give you, and the Minions, a New Years Eve firework display.

I’ll end this year with a big thank you to everyone who’s made it a busy and happy year of poetry (the other stuff out there in the big world I’d rather briefly forget, just for a hour today. There’s nothing I can do about Brexit, about Trump, about the liars and cheats and egomaniacs hell-bent on destroying everything I, and, truly believe, you, hold dear. Grant us serenity to accept what we can’t change, and the courage to change what we can. Let us love each other better.)

Let me say thank you to all the people who recharge my batteries, and inspire me, and who inspire so many others. Particularly, to Kim Moore and Steve Ely for their residential course in St Ives in February. To Ann Sansom..again..for her course in Spain in June, and to Ann and Peter Sansom for the sheer exuberance of their end-of-the-year course in Whitby in December. To the Poetry Business Writing Days in Sheffield. To everyone who runs the open mic. poetry nights that give an audience to so many poets, and give confidence to those just starting out : Keith Hutson’s Word Play poetry nights at the Square Chapel in Halifax; everyone at the Puzzle Poets Live in Sowerby Bridge; Keely Willox at the Purple Room in Ilkley; Mark Connor’s Word Club at the Chemic Tavern in Leeds; South Street Arts Centre in Reading; Jimmy Andrex and John Clarke’s poetry nights at The Red Shed in Wakefield; The Albert Poets in Huddersfield. Thanks and ever thanks.

I’ve been very lucky this year. I had a pamphlet Outlaws and fallen angels published by Calder Valley Poetry in January. I was one of the winners of the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition; because of that I’ve had my first full collection, Much Possessed, published by smith|doorstop. And my friend and former pupil, Andy Blackford and I will be having a collection published in 2017 as a result of winning 1st prize in the Sentinel Poetry Book Competition. None of it would have happened without the network of creative support from those residentials, open mic.s, and workshops. None of it. So thanks and ever thanks.

Huge thanks to all the indefatigable curators of poetry blogs who do so much to provide a platform, particularly for new and emerging poets. It’s invidious to pick out favourites, but that’s never stopped me. Thank you especially to Kim Moore and The Sunday Poem, to Josephine Corcoran for And other poems; to Roy Marshall and his thoughtful, helpful essays https://roymarshall.wordpress.com/; to Anthony Wilson for being the best of the best; and to Ben Banyard and the splendid Clear Poetry. Plus a special word of gratitude to Greg Freeman who travels the country in order to sustain Write Out Loud. What a labour of love that is. If you feel so inclined, they could do with a bit of financial help to support their day-to-day running. Every little helps. https://www.writeoutloud.net/

And, finally, thank you to all the poets who’ve been guests this year on the great fogginzo’s cobweb: Carole Bromley, Wendy Klein, Tom Weir, Mike di Placido, Vicky Gatehouse, Bob Horne, Di Slaney, Graínne Tobin, Stephanie Conn, Gaia Holmes, Jim Caruth, Yvie Holder, Mark Hinchcliffe, Andy Blackford, Julia Deakin. Tom Cleary, Roy Cockcroft, Anthony Costello, John Duffy, Stephanie Bowgett, Wendy Pratt, Laura Potts and Yvonne Reddick.

Two poets who I loved and who were featured during the year have died. Gordon Hodgeon and Shirley McClure. They made the world richer and we are poorer for their loss. Light a candle for them. You don’t have to be religious. Just light a candle.

Just to remind you of the riches they all shared during 2016, I’ll be posting a bunch of poems every day for the next few days. My favourites, the best of the year. Today, from January:

Wendy Klein : South from Bakersfield

Town after town, farther and farther apart; you’re looking
for differences, no matter how small, haunted and baffled
by their alikeness: the filling stations with their dirty rags, tied
to the handles of tin buckets that hold grey water to swill
the desert dust from your windscreen. You know you’ll leave
streaks and tracks–the definition of clean seems different here.

There’s a half-grown boy to fill up your tank if you’re able
to rouse him, and if he likes you, he’ll wipe your windscreen
with fresh paper towels and he’ll grin, display a front tooth
missing, lost in a brawl at night on a rickety porch, over
a mousy girl who could be his best friend’s sister. Now
you’re ready to drive a hundred desert miles or more
to the next one, its twin, you guess, as you pass
the Baptist church, its pink neon cross blinking.

Carole Bromley : Touch

There wasn’t a lot of it in our house.
We learned to live without

though I do remember one time
when my friend, Rosemary, died

and, on the same day, my boyfriend
told someone to tell me we were through

which was a shame since he
was one of the first people

in my whole life to touch me
and I loved it. That night my father

asked me to come down from my room
and watch the news with them.

Three and a half inches of snow
had fallen that day in Alamo.

I lay on the sofa while dad stroked my hair
like an awkward teenager

and, a quarter of a million miles away,
the Russians made the first soft landing on the moon.

from February:

Tom Weir :  Day Trippin’ for Thomas

‘I’d ride horses if they’d let me’— Will Oldham

We talked all morning about the horse
that, if we’re honest, none of us actually knew existed

but it seemed worth it just to get you into the car,
to stop shouting. We mentioned it so often

you began to repeat it from your child-seat
like a mantra, and you’ll never know the relief,

having arrived and not been able to see a stable,
having stalled you with an ice-cream which you wore

like a glove as it melted over your hand,
of finding the woman who showed us where

the horse rides took place, where you waited
so quietly in line, where I stood and watched

as you approached the man with a five pound note
scrunched up in your tiny hand. You spent

the rest of the day repeating the words too little
like a radio breaking bad news every hour on the hour.

We took you down to the lake and watched
you throw stones at the water, watched clouds fall apart

and mend as rowing boats left the harbour and you
sat still, refusing to join another queue.

from March.

Mike di Placido:    Not Quite Birdsong

A butcher where I worked once
was a whistler – you know the type:
aggressive, soulless. I’d stand around
being useless somewhere planning his death.

Days at his block and bacon slicer
rending the air, making his shrill statement.
Clocking on to clocking off –
Colonel Bogey or The Sheik of Araby.

And you could tell he worked at it –
thought he was good. I’d think
of his family, how they coped.
Thought about sympathy cards.

And the other butchers? Surely
he was pushing his luck
next to all those knives and meat-hooks.
Not forgetting, of course, the mincer.

Vick Gatehouse:  Burning mouth syndrome

The doctor says it’s nothing serious, something
she’ll just have to live with, a malfunction
of the nerves perhaps, not uncommon in women of her age
and she leaves with a script for a mild antidepressant,
a leaflet counselling moderation in alcohol, tobacco
and spicy foods and when she returns, he says it again
after taking a look at lips, teeth and tongue –
‘nothing to see’ and he says it with a smile when she can feel
the bees humming in her blood, the tips of their wings
chafing artery walls and she knows without being told
they’re house bees, the ones who feed, clean
and ventilate the hive, pack nectar into the comb
without really tasting it, the ones who wait for mid-life
to take their first orientation flights and she can really
feel the smart of them, the bees in her blood, unfurling
their proboscises to touch the corolla of her heart,
so many years spent licking out hives, all the burn of it
here on her tongue and they’re starting to forage now,
to suck sweetness into their honey stomachs, and the doctor
he’ll keep telling her it’s nothing when they’re rising
like stings, the words she’s kept in.

[Runner-up, Mslexia Poetry Comp, 2015 (published Mslexia 2015)]

from April

Shirley McClure:  Engagement

Nurse dresses the wound,

we talk hormones, oestrogen,

how the levels will drop

like water in a summer pool

that yields only a dry ring,

a glaze of salt.

She says I can swim in salt
water, now that the wound
is healing; she says to ring
if there’s a problem. Oestrogen
used to be my friend. The pool
is out of bounds, but I can drop

down into the waves, swim till I drop,

crawl out covered in salt.

Sea water gathers in a pool

at my feet, and even the wound

shines. Sunbathers beam oestrogen,

and I stand, hopeless in a ring

of bare-breasted women. Can’t ring

any nurse about this. Can’t drop

out of the world because of oestrogen.

I change in our room, taste salt.

My sun-dress won’t cover the wound,

I pull on an old t-shirt, curl up by the pool.

You find me at the pool.

Still not used to your ring –

the ring came before the wound,

before the floor dropped

out of the world, before salt

baths and the war against oestrogen.

– Was it the oestrogen                                            

you fell for, or the reflecting  pool,                

or my image conserved in salt?                         

Would you rather I gave back the ring,                

would you rather we dropped                               

the whole plan? I wound

you with questions, wound with oestrogen,

the drops I have left, run from the pool,

your ring glued to my finger with salt.

Tomorrow, poems and poets from May, June and July.

May 2017 be all you hope for, and nothing of what you fear.

First pressings (2)..Bob Horne and Calder Valley Poetry

First pressings (2)..Bob Horne and Calder Valley Poetry

letter-press

First off, I hope you all had a good Christmas…and it is nice to see you all again, always. Second thing: I need to declare an interest. I have nothing but respect and gratitude for all those selfless souls who run themselves ragged to put published poetry in your hands, but I owe a special debt to today’s guest, who is not only a very good friend, but also the publisher of my fourth pamphlet Outlaws and fallen angels which appeared early this year. So I know at first hand the painstaking attention he pays to every element of the business of putting your poetry on the page. I am biased; no getting away from it.

But just consider the achievement of Bob and his Calder Valley Poetry in 2016. And remember that in 2015 it didn’t exist except as an idea based on a chance conversation. Here’s the list of this year’s titles:

Outlaws and Fallen Angels                 John Foggin                 Jan

Werewolf                                            Steve Ely                      April

Pennine Tales                                      Peter Riley                  April

The Raven and the Laughing Head     Mark Hinchliffe           May

Glamourie                                           John Duffy                   September

A Poor Kind of Memory                      Stephanie Bowgett      November

Not bad for the first year, is it? But as I say, I’m not impartial. Right. On with the post. As with the post featuring Caterpillar Poetry, it’s based on a list of questions sent out some weeks ago.

If you could kick off by describing what you’ve done so far, that would be nice. A story is always a nice beginning. Then tackle the following questions. If it’s OK, I’ll then create the illusion of a dialogue, as though we’re both sitting in a room, with cake and coffee. That sort of illusion.

So:

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. In October 2015 I had a brief conversation with a chap name of Foggin.

Me: “Who’s your next publisher?”

Fogs: “You if you want.”

And that was that.

How about the poets you’ve chosen? Did you have any particular criteria, or were you blessed by happy accidents?

(I guess I should ‘fess up to knowing something of the answer to this in advance. When Bob was one of my first guest poets for the cobweb in 2014, I explained how we came to work together. Here’s the link, so you can also pick up on Bob’s own poetryif you haven’t already encountered it:

https://johnfoggin.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/latecomers-and-undiscovered-gems-number-two-bob-horne/

“Here’s a story of a reunion. When I was an English Adviser in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the job become increasingly dispiriting as we were pushed away from the business of professional development in schools, and into the miserable business of inspections and clipboards and tick lists. One of the things that kept me going was finding the funding to work with a committed group of Secondary Heads of Drama.  It kept me sane, but it would have been an uphill struggle without the enthusiasm of Bob Horne and the other heads of drama. Then I got early retirement, and that was it for twenty years, until I met Bob again at a Monday workshop session of the Albert Poets in Huddersfield. And twenty years was an eyeblink.

Since then, we have somehow found ourselves running The Puzzle Hall Poets Live monthly sessions , now at The Blind Pig in Sowerby Bridge. If you live in West Yorkshire, or in Pennine Lancashire, here’s an open invitation. First Monday of the month, starting at 8.00pm. Guest poet on Jan 9th 2017 will be the wonderful Ian Duhig. Come along!

The point is that we met at The Albert Poets which is how we both came to know Carola Luther…who will soon be a guest poet on the cobweb…..and also John Duffy and Stephanie Bowgett, who already have been“.

And here’s Bob’s reply. In case you thought he wasn’t going to get to answer.)

I decided to have two short pieces of blurb/endorsement on the back cover of each pamphlet.. Steve Ely and Kim Moore wrote a few sentences each for Outlaws and fallen angels. Steve, who I’d never met, got in touch to say he had a pamphlet he wanted to publish. Was I interested? Of course I was. That turned out to be Werewulf. Steve asked Peter Riley for a blurb, and there was a repetition of what had happened with Steve. Peter got in touch to say he had a pamphlet of poems based in the Calder valley. Was I interested…? That’s how Pennine tales came to be the third title in the series.The fourth publication was Mark Hinchliffe’s The Raven and the Laughing Head. Carola Luther had approached me on Mark’s behalf at about the time Outlaws came out. Next was John Duffy’s Glamourie. I’d intended to approach John but he beat me to it one evening in The Sportsman. The sixth pamphlet is Steph’s A Poor Kind of Memory. I approached her quite early in the year and asked if she’d allow me to publish her. And she did.

 

Of all the lovely small poetry press publications, which are the ones that you particularly like yourself, and why?

Tell us something about your design choices. Did you consciously decide you wanted a house style? Did you have any models that you wanted to borrow from?

Happenstance is the one that caught my eye, really because I liked the feel of the paper. Helena Nelson uses good quality paper. To me that says the contents, the poems, are valued. They’re special. She also designs the pages well. The poem has a dignity on the page. Part of the same value, respect, given to the product. (Helena Nelson deserves to be Dame Helena for the way she runs Happenstance, for what she does for poetry.) I also liked the Poetry Business pamphlets for the way they’re put together. (Not suggesting PB is a small press!) The contents are stapled to strong card, then the whole is wrapped in a dust cover, again in good quality paper, and this hides the staples on the spine. It gives the pamphlets an attractive appearance that belies their simplicity. These two ideas are what I’ve based CVP pamphlets on.

6-books

I’ve mentioned this already  that we used Palatino for Nuala’s chapbook. I like this but I prefer Garamond because it has a bit of eccentricity about it, such as the italicised upper case leaning at a slightly different angle to the lower case ones. It has a flourish without being ostentatious. I’m not keen on Ariel, Times New Roman, Calibri and such for poetry. To me, they’re for reports, documents, maybe novels. I’ve been delighted at the response to the appearance of the pamphlets I’ve done so far. People with no need to say anything have been complimentary. Reviewers and blurb-writers with the experience of Roy Fisher, Sheena Pugh, Billy Mills, have all complimented the design and appearance.

I stand by my original aim to come up with a good quality product. It must look good at first sight, and it must feel good when the pages are opened. I’ve been gratified by the number of positive comments about both the appearance and the design. As far as design is concerned, I think (as you’ll appreciate) it’s something which is second nature to a teacher. We’ve been doing this since the banda days, haven’t we? I work on a common sense approach. A poem which takes two pages must be on opposite pages; the first line of its second page must be at the same level as the first line of the poem; the lines are indented 1.27 cms; the titles are in 18-point italic. I don’t want more than one poem on a page, even if some poems are short. To me, this demeans the poems which share the page. You’re giving the message that they are of less importance than poems which have their own page. Each page must look ‘clean’. The poem must sit comfortably in it, not look as though it’s been forced into place.

Tell us something about the snags you encounter…how about how you set about the business of marketing, about getting the brand out there. It may be that it’s something you feel a bit at sea with. How do you get folk to review the stuff, for instance? How do you feel about the business of competitions for small publishers…stuff like the Michael Marks, for instance? Riff on this topic as you feel appropriate

I’ve just changed printers. The first one was very good in the way they helped someone who had little idea of the pitfalls to sort them out. However, there were a number of growing niggles with certain aspects of the quality of the product. No one has mentioned these minor issues but I can see them when I look at some of the pamphlets. Occasionally things had to be sent back to be done again. It reached the point where I wasn’t easy in my mind about them, would wake up in the night worrying about the things that had gone wrong, and could go wrong in the future. I’ve changed to a company I know through local history publications. They’ve done Steph’s and I’m delighted with the result and with the concern and interest they have shown.

But you asked about snags. Because of a software blip which we didn’t notice till it was too late, they’re reprinting the pamphlet, which will mean recalling what we’ve sold and replacing them with new ones. The printer has bought an additional piece of software to ensure this doesn’t happen again. One of those things.

I’ve also displayed some naivety in deciding on print runs but I think I’ve reached the ideal number now. The thing is, I’m not concerned with making a profit. Breaking even would be nice but that’s not going to happen in the first year. I look on it as a hobby, and hobbies usually cost something.

I’ve sent out a number of review copies to various people and organisations. Sheena Pugh reviewed Werewolf and Pennine Tales, The North reviewed Outlaws and Werewolf. Billy Mills has just reviewed Pennine Tales. (A few folk have reviewed PT; can’t remember them all.) Greg Freeman did a lovely article in Write out loud on the first four. Michael Longley, Carol Hughes, Christopher Reid have all said nice things in print about The Raven and the Laughing Head. Peter Sansom has just been in touch to say he’d like to feature Pennine Tales in The North, and he asked for copies of John D’s and Steph’s, so I suppose he might have them reviewed.

Steve Nash helped me, and continues to help me, with a website – www.caldervalleypoetry.com – and did a wonderful job. One of my problems is keeping up with the information that I ought to be putting there. I see now why poets’ websites always seem to be out of date. It comes at the bottom of the priorities. I know this is wrong, and I should be doing all sorts of things to attract people to the site so that they will look at The Bookshop page and buy something.

For me, design comes first. I’ve always known that I wanted to publish the manuscripts which have been sent to me, so the first job is to see how they fit into the appropriate format, usually A5. When that’s done I can look at the poems from the point of view of editing. Here I know I can be a pedant but I don’t think I’ve caused offence yet. I love that email dialogue with the poet as the collection approaches its final state and we submit to the printer for a proof. There’s a growing excitement that something worthwhile is being created. The arrival of the copies prior to the launch is a humbling moment when I realise that I’m merely the agent, a kind of midwife to perhaps years of solitary creativity, with all its anguish. It’s an honour to be the backroom boy.

I should be perhaps more concerned with competitions aimed at publishers, but I’m not. I did enter Pennine Tales for the Michael Marks because it’s the only one which was within the competition limit of 36 pages, and it’s so good. I’ve heard nothing so it can’t have been placed. All I can say is that there must have been some outstanding pamphlets published in the past twelve months

 What next? More in the pipeline?

(The minute I asked this question, I was prepared to be surprised by the reply. But not as surprised as I actually am….as you will be when you run you eye down the list of poets lined up for next year. Here we go!)

Untitled                                                           Neil Clarkson

Damaged Gods                                               Simon Zonenblick

Scaplings                                                         Michael Haslam

I Refuse to Turn into a Hatstand                     Charlotte Wetton

Untitled                                                           Tim Murgatroyd

Untitled                                                           Ross Kightly

What I Like about Daleks                                Nigel King

Untitled (Motorway Service Station Poems)  Winston Plowes and Gaia Holmes

Crow Flight across the Sun                             Mike di Placido

Jesus of Mexborough                                      Ian Parks

Untitled                                                           Tom Cleary

I’m also chatting to Alison Lock and Natalie Rees. (Don’t think I’ve missed anyone out there. Early 2017 will be busy because it’s possible that the first six in the above list will be published before Easter.

(and if that hasn’t taken your breath away, get yourselves to a doctor)

 Any advice for them as fancies doing it? If you could have done anything differently, what would you have done?

If anyone should fancy taking up publishing in a small way I would say just do it. For me the only downside has been that I’ve hardly written anything all year. I think about publishing now, not about writing poems. I regret this and probably need to organise my weeks so that I have days for writing. But it won’t happen until next summer. The way I’m thinking at the moment is that I’ll publish the list above but after that I’ll limit myself to three or four a year.

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So there we are. My thank you to all small poetry presses/publishers, and to two in particular…Bob Horne and Simon Zonenblick. And thank you to all of you out there who support the whole business of making poetry. See you very shortly, in 2017 xx

John Foggin’s ‘Much Possessed’

John Foggin’s ‘Much Possessed’

Roy Marshall

much-possesed
Sometimes I’m lucky enough to  buy a book of poems that is so compelling that, time allowing, I’ll have to read the whole collection in one go. This sort of collection transports me into another world (or worlds) so completely that everything else has to be put on hold.  Books like this tend to confirm our essential ‘aloneness’ while making the world seem a less lonely place.
Here is John Berger writing about poems in his book ‘and our faces, my heart, brief as photos’ 

‘Poems…bring a kind of peace. Not by anaesthesia or easy reassurance, but by recognition and the promise that language is acknowledged, has given shelter, to the experience which demanded, which cried out.’

John Foggin’s new collection is a book full of such poems. I wanted to share my enthusiasm for the book and so I recently contacted a magazine editor friend of mine to ask if I could review it…

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First pressings (1)..with thanks to small publishers, and to those who run poetry nights

First pressings (1)..with thanks to small publishers, and to those who run poetry nights

letter-press

It’s been a busy old week, apart from Christmas trees, and untangling Christmas lights, and remembering where they all go. IT’ll be time any moment now to get the boxes of clockwork wind-ups down from the shelf in the study and put them under the tree…the annual homage to Russell Hoban and The mouse and his child. If you want the story behind this, you can have a look at a post from last Christmas. Or the one before. Here’s the link.

https://johnfoggin.wordpress.com/2014/12/20/a-christmas-story/

Where was I? Ah, yes; a busy old week. Wednesday I was reading at the Loom Lounge in the great mill complex of Dean Clough in Halifax. This was for the Square Chapel monthly poetry event organised by Keith Hutson. I’ll come back to him in a minute.

Thursday I was up the Calder valley to where it gets dark and narrow in Todmorden…it was the final monthly reading at Kava Kultura which Anthony Costello set up three years ago, and which has hosted more fine poets than you can shake a stick at. A bitter-sweet night, then, for many of us, but lovely to sit in one of the nicest coffee houses you’re likely to encounter in the company of folk like Anne Caldwell, Peter Riley, Zaffar Kunial, Keith Hutson (again), Simon Zonenblick, Clare Shaw and Kim Moore (who was giving the last of the poetry lectures that are one of the unique features of Kava readings). Basically, at least half the audience were published and accomplished poets, and none of them were reading. Egos left at the door. Wonderful.

Saturday afternoon I was reading at Word Club at the Chemic Tavern in Leeds. This is run by the indefatigable Mark Connors. All the Otley poets were there. Matthew Hedley Stoppard was there. Four hours flew by. They really did. Were there highlights? For me it was the delight of meeting two new voices for the first time, each on the open mic.. One was Alicia Fernandez. First language, Spanish; she writes with a lovely clarity and an authentic voice. And she channeled Pablo Neruda and name-checked Robert Jordan (For whom the bell tolls). Wow. And then there was Ian Harker who not only writes with an assured touch, but who also created lines and images that lodge in your mind as you hear them. His poems sound light, anecdotal, but they are layered, rich and moving. Imagine a poem about hamsters named after former Leeds United stars which sets them in a much bigger and altogether problematic universe ‘out there’. And one poem about a scientist/poet friend of his that should win prizes as well as move you to tears.His first collection will be out in 2017 and I’m looking forward to singing its praises.

3-birds

So. The first bunch of thankyous. To Keith Hutson, to Anthony Costello, to Mark Connors, and to all the hardworking, generous folk who run poetry clubs and open mic.s, and give a platform to folk who hardly know yet whether they’re poets or not alongside the accomplished and much-published. And also to all the hardworking bloggers like Kim Moore, Josephine Corcoran, Robin Houghton, Ben Banyard and all the others who do a similar job of letting new poets be heard, and finding their voice. God bless you, everyone.

And now to the main business of the day. The small presses. The ones who publish so much of the poetry on my shelves. The poor bloody infantry of poetry publishing. The ones who do it for love, (the ones like Sarah Miles and Paper Swans), much like the wonderful folk who do a similar job with their poetry magazines (take a bow Brett Evans and Prole).

It may be invidious to leave anyone out, but if I put everyone in, there’d be no time for the post. So take the wish for the deed. Just believe me; I’m grateful.

800px-uppercaldervalley

If you’ve not come across them yet, I’m going to introduce you to Caterpillar Poetry, (Simon Zonenblick) first, and Calder Valley Poetry (Bob Horne) who were generous with their time, and wrote honestly and expansively about the business of setting up and running a small poetry press. I’ll come clean and say that they are good friends of mine, that they have both been guest poets on the cobweb, and that none of that makes a scrap of difference when it comes to my admiration for what the do and have achieved.

(interjection at this point. I’ve just spent an hour or so editing what they sent me, and realised I’ve enough for two posts. I was going to cut and paste to give the illusion/effect of a three-way conversation. But I just made an editorial decision to let each editor to tell his own story uninterrupted, and to keep the post to a manageable length. So just for know, we’ll go with Simon’s story, and I’ll share Bob’s just before Christmas.)

Simon’s story

If you could kick off by describing what you’ve done so far, that would be nice. A story is always a nice beginning. Then tackle the following questions. If it’s OK, I’ll then create the illusion of a dialogue, as though we’re all sitting in a room, with cake and coffee. That sort of illusion.

Well, I had always entertained the idea of publishing volumes of poetry, both because I know how hard it is to find openings to get published, and because it struck me as an exciting thing to do.  I have aways had an interest in self-publishing, since I was a child.  Over the years I turned out various typed up booklets of poems and stories, and I loved reading about people like the Black Mountain Poets and Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Pocket Poets the whole DIY idea.  I love independent record labels and have always been inspired by the way things like Factory Records just kicked off from the back of a fag packet, without any resources, completely unaffected by the “rules.”  So, I just enjoy publishing and am actually surprised I haven’t done more of it!

My first Caterpillar Poetry publication was my own pamphlet, Little Creatures: Poems of Insects, Small Mammals and Micro-organisms, on 8th April 2013.

That autumn I published a further slim volume, Dream Sequence.

November 2015 saw my first publication of another poet’s book – Not All Bird Song by Nuala Fagan. This involved several months of working with Nuala on the selection and editing of the poems, with Bob Horne joining us and helping to deliver the boook; it was launched at The Blind Pig in Sowerby Bridge, with supporting readings by guest poets Victoria Gatehouse, Gaia Holmes, and John Foggin.

This summer, I was delighted to publish Knowing My Place by Bob Horne, which was launched at Brighouse Library. The poem selections took place over many one to one discussions in various coffee shops and at Bob’s home. In October this year we published Steve Nash’s The Calder Valley Codex, specially chosen for Halloween publication. Steve’s poems in the Codex are all on a folkloric and at times eerie theme.

The books I have produced at Caterpillar Poetry have all been so different – my own have been from the more offbeat spectrum of my writing style, Nuala’s centred on painful memories, snapshots of family life and responses to grief and loss, and underlaid with the emotional inheritance of Irish history.  Bob’s poems were deeply rooted in the Yorkshire identity, yet flung as far afield as New York,.  Steve’s collection is by turns mischevous and dark, with a very unusual cast of characters.

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. Which are the ones that you particularly like yourselves, and why?

Candlestick Press make very beautiful A5 booklets, with very tactile covers and distinctive, pastel-style colours. Their books are usually short anthologies on a theme. They also include beautiful bookmarks and similar items with their publications, usually decorated in the same distinctive style as the books. I think what Bob is doing with Calder Valley Poetry is fantastic, and very exciting. I have always been a big fan of Oversteps Books, Happenstance, Indigo Dreams and Indigo Pamphlets, Two Rivers Press and Cinnamon Press. But I am also an avid collector and frequently find pamphlets and collections by unknown authors printed by obscure publishers from the 70’s and 80’s, in second hand bookshops or at library book sales. So often, these publishers have seemingly bit the dust, and no research uncovers them. Perhaps that ought to be a cautionary tale, but it drives me more to want to be a part of this slightly mysterious world, and hopefully stay the course!

Something led you think: there’s room for another. What was the trigger that persuaded you to set up your own publishing venture?

To be honest I didn’t really give an awful lot of thought to the existing numbers of publishers, because when I had the idea of publishing it was with self-publishing in mind (I didn’t expect anyone would want me, a comparative unknown with no publishing pedigree, to have anything to do with their poetry!) I was only minimally aware of the world of poetry publication, locally or further afield, and although I sent, and still send, my work to other publishers, my general assumption in life has always been that if you want to achieve something you had better set out and try to sort it out yourself, so I hit upon the idea of starting a publishing initiative through a combination of ignorance and impatience.

How about the poets you’ve chosen? Did you have any particular criteria, or were you blessed by happy accidents?

I am always moved to approach poets purely on the basis of being genuinely moved by something they have written. When I’ve come across something locally, or heard someone at a reading, I have been known to pounce! Equally, I have been approached to publish other poets and those with whom I am currently working on collections have offered something sufficiently unique to grab my attention. I want Caterpillar Poetry to publish work that is of high quality but by poets who might not, at the time of publishing, be all that well known in the wider world – or, as with Steve Nash, by poets who are well known but who have unexpected sides to their poetry that might surprise some of their regular readers. Nuala Fagan I wanted to publish as I was astonished she had only had one book before, and I had felt frustrated for some time that her poetry did not receive the right kind or amount of exposure or appreciation. To be frank, I was simply stunned that she was going largely unpublished.

This is something I feel very proud of being able to offer: all poet-publisher relationships are different, and some poets may arrive with a fully fledged idea of which poems they want to publish and in what order, but Nuala essentially gave me a blank canvas to arrange the poems into the sort of order which I felt formed them into a thematic narrative. Once I had arranged a sequence the work began on exactly how the poems would appear. This is where Bob Horne came in, and I must say that the few weeks and months the three of us spent, editing and finalizing, and getting to know the poems intimately, underlined the reasons I enjoy the publishing process.

It also set the blueprint for my publishing of Bob Horne’s collection, which is to say that we set about analysing and editing those poems just as zealously. It was interesting how Bob as the author did not initially regard the collection as overly place-specific: with the objective angle that comes from being the reader rather than the writer, I immediately latched on to what I interpreted as a very regional, autobiographical quality rooted in West Yorkshire.

steve-nash

My most recent collection, The Calder Valley Codex was a chance to arrange a new collection by someone who, ever since I first discovered his poetry, had seemed like a rising star – already an award winner, a name on the live reading and performance circuit. Appearing at the same readings, and sharing many ideas about joint projects and publications, a collection seemed a natural move, and I was delighted to bring it about.

When Steve said he intended to compile a collection themed around Calder Valley folklore and ghost stories, I knew this was a great idea, and encouraged him all the way! The editing process for this book was probably the most intense of the three: with Nuala’s book I already knew a lot of the poems, and got to know all of them virtually word for word throughout the process, but the editing was three-way, and as a relative newcomer I was happy for Bob Horne to largely lead the way, his experience as a teacher providing him with certain skills in approaching a text, and similarly with his own book it was very much a case of being guided by Bob – my role being largely focused on the selection of individual poems and the choice of cover image; but with Steve, I played a more active part. We would read poems back to one another, send emails back and forth, and over a period of about six months basically re-shaped the collection into something dramatic, almost like a play in verse.

Tell us something about your design choices. Did you consciously decide you wanted a house style? Did you have any models that you wanted to borrow from?

I have yet to really define a specific look for Caterpillar Poetry, though to be fair this is less to do with laziness or haphazardness than the fact I have wanted each publication to be quite individual, and each has embodied very different themes in any case. So I have no models to borrow from; it is always a blank canvas.

Tell us something about the snags you encounter…how about how you set about the business of marketing, about getting the brand out there. It may be that it’s something you feel a bit at sea with. How do you get folk to review the stuff, for instance? How do you feel about the business of competitions for small publishers…stuff like the Michael Marks, for instance? Riff on this topic as you feel appropriate

All the snags I have encountered have related to the costs of publishing, the technological difficulties of reproducing a text into a format workable for printers, and the administrative tedium of arranging ISBN’s, barcodes and the like. The technical side can actually be quite good fun, and once I know what I’m doing or have assistance from the more experienced, then I really enjoy discussing plans with printers and seeing it go from A to B. But the administrative logistics are a nightmare. I am very happy for anyone to review Caterpillar Poetry books and love the idea of competitions and other schemes designed to shine a light on the activities of small publishers and what we have to offer.

What next? More in the pipeline?

Apart from about half a dozen micro-collections from myself, I am delighted to say that I’m working on some very exciting projects for 2017. One of these will be a chapbook or pamphlet by a well known poet and editor, whose work has been at the forefront of innovative poetry for over 30 years. Friends from the USA and the English Lake District have Caterpillar collections in the pipeline for 2017/18, and I have a pamphlet coming out to raise funds for Animal Aid – poems about grouse, with illustrations by Calder valley artists, which will be sold to support AA’s campaigns against grouse shooting. The following year I will publish an anthology on the same subject for the same cause, but the poems this time will include works by poets other than myself. I also have, still in the early stages, various prospective collaborations with artist Nicole Sky, who produced the cover art for The Calder Valley Codex.

steve-nash-2

Any advice for them as fancies doing it? If you could have done anything differently, what would you have done?

I would probably spend a lot more time pre-planning things like printing costs, trying to become more technologically self-sufficient, and attending to the administrative nitty-gritty such as pre-ordering ISBN’s and barcodes, much earlier. I say “probably,” but anyone who knows me will tell you I will “probably” fail to keep this resolution – I’m just too disorganized!

 Anything else I’ve forgotten that you’d like to add?

Publishing poetry is tremendous fun, well worth the technical and administrative headaches.  Its a well known fact that poetry is hard to sell, so to have a bash at making this happen, and furthering the reputation of a poet, to arrange promotions, launches and readings foor writers you admire, and to see their books on a library shelf, is all part of a fantastic privilege.

And on that positive note, let me say ‘thank you, Simon Zonenblick, all the folk I’ve read with this week, and this years, and all of you regualr readers’ xxxx

Bob Horne follows very shortly.