When this is all over: Breaking News

When I started this small project, it was on a whim.

I thought : Everyone is locked down and frustrated at the moment. And will be for the foreseeable future. Weeks at least. And I thought Why not invite anyone who wanted to, to send me poems inspired by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s beautiful poem ‘Swineherd’ and its opening line : When this is all over ?

It would be appropriate, I thought, for a time when people are asking the question on a daily basis. So I put out a request for submissions throughout April, and promised that every poem I got would be published on the Cobweb. Over the days and weeks, 80 poems arrived, which kept me busy and very happy.

Then it got even more interesting. Bob Horne, the primum mobile of Calder Valley Poetry gave me a ring and said he had an idea. Which was to take the best of the poems and publish a pamphlet/chapbook. It would sit alongside poets like Peter Riley, Steve Ely, Emma Storr and many others, including Michael Marks winner, Charlotte Wetton’s I refuse to turn into a hatstand , and the following year’s shortlisted pamphlet, Ian Parks’ If possible: Cavafy Poems. Who could refuse?

The next thing was to decide who should decide which poems were ‘the best’. Obviously, it couldn’t be Bob or myself, since we knew who had written the poems, and they needed to be read ‘blind’. We needed an impartial judge. We kicked the idea around for a time, but in the end the answer was obvious. We’d ask Kim Moore.

Just in case you’re recently arrived from a distant galaxy, here’s why:

She was awarded the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize in 2010 and an Eric Gregory Award in 2011. 

Her pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves was a winner in the 2012 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition and went on to be shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award and was a runner up in the Lakeland Book of the Year. 

Her first collection The Art of Falling won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 2016 and was shortlisted for Lakeland Book of the Year.

Since then, her poem from The art of falling ‘In That Year’ was shortlisted for the Forward Prize, and she is currently on the judging panel for The Forward Prize 2020. 

And guess what. She said YES!

So this is how it will work. First of all, if you’d rather not be considered, just email me. You can find the address in earlier posts in this sequence.

If your poem is one of the chosen ones, we’ll ask you for a short biog, and contact details so we can send you your copy of the pamphlet ‘once this is all over’. Which will take some time, but it will happen.

In the meantime, I’ll be publishing all the poems, a few each day, five days a week, until there are no more left to print. They’ll be published in alphabetic order of trades, occupations and professions, and the authors’ names will not appear until they have all been published and the selected twenty six announced.

At this point, the selected poems will vanish from the blog, to appear later in beautiful hard copies. At the same time the names of every contributor will be published after the last poem in the sequence.

I hope every one who’s contributed, and filled my days with joy for a month, will be content with all this. If you’re not, tell me privately, and not, PLEASE on social media. All will be well.

And now, the poems. I said right at the start that I’d repost the poem that Ian Parks sent me, and which Bob and I have chosen as the Prologue to the 26 selected poems (whichever they are)

When This is All Over

While we were sleeping they were still awake.
While we were hiding they were in the light.
The cold dark angel passing over us
left nothing but the flutter of its wings.
We huddled in our places, locked from sight
each waiting for the hush that daylight brings.
So empty out the squares and thoroughfares,
make criminal the handshake and embrace.
There is no other future except this:
the bolted door, the window and the face;
all of our journeys cancelled or delayed –
and if we meet we cough instead of kiss.
When all of this is over we’ll creep out
astonished by the new world they have made.

Ian Parks

Artist (Pam Thompson)

I like to catch the sun first thing 

through the window of my son’s bedroom 

which is all I have for a studio

but it’s better than no space at all. 

I gesso my boards—12 x 12 birch plywood—

it calms me, a kind of meditation on these disordered

lockdown mornings when no news is good news.

While they dry, propped on the sill, 

I drink strong coffee, line a roller-tray 

with wet paper towel and greaseproof paper,

and squeeze out heavy bodied acrylics

to lose myself in one board after another,

smearing paint like butter then standing back

to see if I’ve got the values right.

I can always add more white or black.

I’d rather have a studio like Georgia’s –

pulling curtains across a morning view 

of red hills and a flat-topped mountain.

This bedroom’s not being slept in.

My son can’t stay over even though

he’s not coping in his flat. There’s paint

in my hair, on my sleeves and on my jeans.

When this is all done, I’ll go to Santa Fé –

when the sun tints the sides of the mountain

I’ll be ready with my brush.

Grounded (Stephanie Bowgett)

When all this is over, said the aviator

I will unlearn how to fly, fold 

my wings, let the sky revert 

to a blue strip crayoned by a child; 

an off-white page scribbled by birds;

 a star-chalked blackboard. I will look 

to dandelions for sun and clouds; craze

the moon in a puddle. Under my lens, 

the world will appear in a flake of skin,

a drop of blood, a gob of spittle. Wax-melt

from my wings will give candles for light, 

their sharpened feathers, quills. And I 

will write on the palm of my left hand

in small dark words, all that I have learned.


……

More poems tomorrow. See you all then.

So you wanna be a rock ‘n roll star: some thoughts on ‘being published’

To put it all in context. In the last year or so, I’ve reviewed – or blogged about – collections that I love. Kim Moore’s The art of falling. Christy Ducker’s Skipper. Fiona Benson’s Bright travellers. Jane Clarke’s The River. Work by Shirley McClure, Maria Taylor, Hilary Elfick, Tom Cleary, Bob Horne, Steve Ely, Clare Shaw., Wendy Pratt…loads of them. I’ve been asked to read manuscripts of draft collections and wished they were mine. For the last three days (with the invaIuable help of Sandra Blackford) I’ve been collating a new collection of poems by me and my friend Andy Blackford, fiddling about and agonising over sequence and continuity and beginnings and endings. I just signed a contract for a first collection of my own poems…of which more in another post. And I’m involved in a frustrating email exchange about the cover design. How did I get here? Because I never set out to get here. Let me tell you how.

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We can all dream. Write poems. Get them accepted by The Rialto, Magma, Poetry Review...all of them.Find a publisher. Bloodaxe would be nice. Get great reviews, prizes. Sit in Waterstones and sign copies while the queue stretches out of the door and along the street. We can dream, and so we should; our reach should exceed our grasp, or what’s a heaven for?  But.

Some time ago I was riffing on the various cries of pain I hear on Facebook. We’re a fragile lot, us poets, I wrote.  You find yourself, for reasons you can’t fathom, writing, or trying to write, poems; meeting other bewildered and enthusiastic folk in the same pickle. And every now and again hearing (or reading on Facebook) the complaint that someone is ‘blocked’ or ‘stuck’ or has ‘hit a blank period’. You become addicted to Anthony Wilson’s blog, and his dialogues with The Book. The self-doubt, the angst…and the casual indifference of the mephistophilean Book. You understand every bit of it. But.

You go on writing, and maybe you get some poems accepted by magazines. And for a bit you feel sort of content. And then folk start asking: have you got a collection out yet? And you look at the growing files of poems you’re more or less pleased with. Your ouevre. And that ‘what shall I write about?’ morphs into ‘when will I be published?’. More specifically, ‘I want a collection’. Which morphs into ‘When will I be famous?’. And then poet-envy. Then doubt. Despair. Oblivion.

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It doesn’t have to be like that. This won’t be one of those helpfully informative ‘how to’ posts. I leave that to folk who are better at it than me ..lovely folk like Roy Marshall (https://roymarshall.wordpress.com/). Specifically, the post you want is at the end of this link https://roymarshall.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/putting-a-poetry-pamphlet-together/ .  And  other lovely folk like Josephine Corcoran (https://josephinecorcoran.org/), for instance. Everyone’s route to a collection is different. ( I nearly wrote ‘journey’ and caught myself just in time). This was mine.

I had one abortive attempt at taking the business seriously a few years ago, when I did a part-time Creative Writing MA. To be honest, I really did it because I was semi-retired, and struggling to cope with free time. I thought that committing to a course would put some discipline into my life. It didn’t, but that’s another story. On the other hand, I was struck by the diffuse ambition of my (much younger) fellow students. None of them asked questions about how to make their work better. But they constantly asked about how you set about getting published. I didn’t get it. I genuinely thought it was hard enough to actually learn something about the craft of writing, and to actually write some poems. In the end I didn’t do much of either, and I got an MA, and that was that for some time.

But. I’d got a taste for it, even if I didn’t acknowledge it. It was Poetry Business Writing Days that set my feet right. You learn from the company you keep; I was taken along for the first time by Julia Deakin, to whom I shall be eternally grateful. I sat in rooms with people who seemed to write as though writing, and getting it right, was enough. I was comfortable in their company. Eventually, though, the conversation would turn to magazines and pamphlets and collections, and I realised after all that just writing better wasn’t enough. What was the point, if no one was reading your stuff? But.

lots-of-books

Why would they would be reading yours? Who would notice? How will they find it in the multiverse of books and bookshelves and libraries  and bookshps? I remember saying to Ann Sansom that I couldn’t see why folk would pester publishers. Or why poetry publishers put themselves through it. There’s no money in it for anyone, that’s for sure. Or you might get published by someone who it turns out isn’t that bothered about the most important thing in your life.

publishing

Something that’s stuck in my mind since then is an anecdote that Simon Armitage put in his account of walking the SW Coast Path and reading at various venues along the way. (Walking away. Faber). He’s staying overnight at what was the home of Peterloo Poets…who, inter alia, were the publishers of U.A.Fanthorpe. At some point, they simply went out of business. And left behind thousands and thousands of unsold copies, gradually falling prey to dust and damp. There you go. No one’s going to see your stuff on those crowded shelves, and eventually you’ll be remaindered or pulped. It’s a profoundly depressing thought. But.

You send stuff out, you enter competitions, you do open mics. You realise (well I did) that even if someone offers to publish you, it could be over a year before anything happens. And maybe you think you haven’t the patience for it. That’s what I felt like, but at the same time there’s something deeply unsatisfying about a whole bunch of poems that sit there in their Wordfiles, that have no physical heft. As it happened, still struggling to cope with semi-retirement, I enrolled in a bookbinding course at the Tech in Leeds. Learned very simple techniques, learned kettlestitching, all about endpapers, about boards, and even about embossing. Decided that for my assessment projects, I’d make books of my own poems. So I did.

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Two things happen. Well, they did for me.

The first is that when you go through the business of choosing and sequencing your poems, you realise that you didn’t really know your own work. You knew it, if you knew it at all, as this poem or that poem. And then it hits you that there are themes and preoccupations you were barely aware of. It’s fascinating and possibly unnerving. I’m reminded that last week, Roy Marshall (see above) was guest poet at The Puzzle Hall Poets and said, in passing, that he was surprised how many birds there were in his poems…especially since, unlike Steve Ely, say, he knows next to nothing about birds. That chimed with me. I’ve just assembled a collection and realised that I write a lot of poems with birds in. And a lot with God .. or gods…in.It’s an odd thing for a card-carrying atheist to discover that he may be in the wrong club after all.

The second is that when you have your homemade book in your hands, you’re the only one who knows it’s homemade. You can head off to an open mic. and read from it. At which point you realise the snag. There’s only one copy. Someone asks: where can we get that?(if you’re lucky) and there it is. A seed’s been sown. So what do you do if you want multiple copies? The answer is ridiculously simple. You make a template. You page set your poems. You design a cover and think of a smart title, and you type that seductive line: Poems by Me. You find a nice printer, show him the layout…just take in your memory stick…sort out a price and you pay for a properly printed batch of poems. If you’re active on Facebook and you go to open mic.s and you have lots of poetry chums (and I’ll bet the farm you have) you’ll have no problem selling 50 or more. That’s what I did. I did one, and that went well, so I did another. I used any ‘profit’ to pay for a reprint, and each of mine have gone through three reprints. I’m still selling the odd copy via the My Books link at the top of the page.

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Not all small printing firms will do perfect binding …forget the chapbook. A pamphlet, though is perfectly realistic. Stapled. Have a look at the pamphlets you’ve collected here and there. Size varies, but don’t go smaller than 12 X 18.5 cm, whatever you do. (A5 is nice.14.5 X 21 cm)  And learn from the best. Design a dust jacket. If you want to see just what a difference a dustjacket makes, look no further than the Poetry Business pamphlet competition winners. Hide the staples…which just look amateurish. It really is that simple. One other thing. If you want to persuade a bookseller to take some copies, you need to get an ISBN. You can find all sorts of isbn. suppliers on line. Just make sure you get get one that comes with a bar code. Bookshops need the barcode, usually. And note that unit costs are cheaper if you buy  more than one. Because you may develop a taste for it. You want to be published? Just do it. And feel that surge of pure joy when you collect your box of fresh-printed  pamphlets, and you just want to have that smell of new paper and ink in your life for ever. Two of my happiest memories are seeing the big smiles on the faces of Kim Moore and of Jane Clarke when their brand new collections came out. Is there a downside? Depends how you judge the market. Accept pretty well that whatever your plans, you’ll be torn between a book that goes out of print and a box of as-yet-unsold stuff. Like this.

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There are other ways of doing it and you choose one that you think suits you. I enter a lot of competitions, and the prize for some of them is to have a pamphlet or a chapbook published. That’s how I come to have copies of Larach to sell. Quite a lot at the moment, because the publisher let me have all his remaining copies at a generous discount. I suppose it’s officially out of print, now. But if you go to My Books, I’ll sell you one. I’ll sell you lots. At the moment I’ve another (jointly authored) pamphlet collection on a shortlist. We’ll see what happens with that. Whatever happens, we’ve had the pleasure of squencing, and editing and discovering things we didn’t know about our poetry.

Other choices? Well there’s the sheer hard slog route. Kim Moore, for instance, has indefatigably submitted to journals and magazines for years and built up a portfolio of published work (as well as winning the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition) that she could take to a publisher and have published as a collection. The art of Falling [Seren 2015] is, as I never tire of saying, a stunner. Or my mate Keith Hutson, who maintains a rigorous routine of writing every morning, of submitting and submitting (about 60 poems published in major journals over the last two/three years), and is rewarded with the breakthrough of being asked to put together a pamphlet. It’s out now. Routines [Poetry Salzburg 2016]. And that’s a stunner, too. Or if you work at your open mics and submissions, you gradually become aware of small poetry publishing firms. We’ve got two in Calderdale: Caterpillar Poetry and  Calder Valley Poetry. And in Wakefield, The Currock Press. Find what’s around you. Make friends with them. Email them. Talk to them. But here’s the thing. Don’t sit around mithering about wanting to be published. If you really want it, you’ll do it.

I started off by making handmade books, just for the fun of it. Then I got a printer. Then I won a competition. Then I won another. I’m a lucky boy. My first collection’s coming out in November. I may even post pictures of it. Or, like Jane Clarke, go to sleep with it under my pillow. You’ll never be a rock ‘n roll star. That’s not what it’s about.  But whatever you do, just do it. You know you want to.

Outlaws and Fallen Angels

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Shameless self-promotion to start 2016. Here’s a series of poems that buck the trend of the previous three pamphlets. All the poems in those, bar one or two, had been written between 2012 and 2014. Nearly all of them started life in writers’ workshops. ‘Outlaws and fallen angels’ is different because it took a very long time to come together, and because it took a lot of rewritings. Whether this is a good thing or not I couldn’t possibly say.

It sprung from a compulsion to find different voices, to get out of my default voice, and to explore different ways of thinking. It’s what playwrights do for a living. Amazingly they can inhabit a whole roomful of personas; they seem to know how their inventions and creations think and feel. I have no idea how they actually invent characters. It’s beyond me. But I had the idea that I might actually borrow characters. I didn’t think that up on my own. I borrowed it from Carol Ann Duffy’s wonderful The world’s wife. I borrowed from U.A.Fanthorpe’s George and the Dragon. I borrowed from With a poets eye: a Tate Gallery Anthology.

I started with one of my favourite painters..J.W.Waterhouse. His staple was adaptations of myth and legend, frequently via Tennyson and Keats. I am very fond of his Lady of Shalott (mind you, so were most of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood) and even more so of his La belle dame sans merci. If you look at enough Waterhouse paintings, and there are lots and lots of them, you realise that the same face appears again and again. This one.

waterhouse_study_of_miss_muriel_foster

Four poems in the pamphlet try to tell the story of the artist, the model, and the artist’s wife. It took me nearly two years to write them. Maybe I should have written a novel about them. I wish Jill Dawson would.

The rest of the collection is about the sculptures that most engage me. I believe each of them imprisons a soul. I wondered what they would say if I listened hard enough. They took me by surprise; I had no idea they were who they said they were…especially Anthony Gormley’s.

Anyway, they’re out there, now, and I couldn’t be more happy for them.

I couldn’t be happier, too, with endorsements from two of my favourite poets: Kim Moore and Steve Ely. You can get the details of their collections on last Friday’s post. If you don’t own them yet, then you should put that right forthwith.

I’m relishing typing the next bit. I’ve never been able to quote what someone has written about my poems, and Ive no intention of resisting the opportunity. It’s just too much fun.

Kim says ‘This is poetry written with a keen and unflinching eye, that takes us on a whistle-stop tour of history and mythology via explorations of the lives and loves of artists and their work’.

Steve Ely writes: Intellectually, aesthetically, and politically engaged — the range of reference includes Cartesian philosophy, the Taliban, John Keats and Tony Harrison’.

How good is that!

Anyway. Thank you for bearing with me. If you want to buy Outlaws and fallen angels you can follow the link from the My books page. Me and my publisher, Bob Horne, have agreed that he’ll handle all the sales. So huge thanks to Bob. And thanks to all my readers who’ve followed the great fogginzo’s cobweb and made it worth the writing every week.

Next week we’ll be back to normal with a proper post and a proper guest poet. I’m already looking forward to it. Once I come back down to earth. Have a splendid 2016 xxxx

 

Latecomers and undiscovered gems (Number Two): Bob Horne

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Here’s another 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. We set up an LEA Drama consortium for a GCSE drama syllabus that, quite wonderfully, was entirely content-free, and wholly assessed on the basis of performance, process and journals. We wrote our own LEA Guidelines for drama as a learning medium, and we had weekend residential workshops with the likes of the multi-talented Proper Job Theatre Company. 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. That was a few months ago; since then, we have somehow found ourselves running The Puzzle Hall Poets live monthly sessions at the Puzzle Hall Inn 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 July 7th is Wendy Pratt, fresh from triumphs at the Bridlington Literature festival. Second half, we’ve spaces for 8-10 slots on the open mic. Come along!)

Bob has effectively written the rest of this week’s post. Any typos or slips of syntax will be mine. After all, he was a Head of English before he was a drama teacher. Here we go. He says:

‘Writing poetry is something I’ve been going to do all my life. And I’ve repeatedly put it off, because there was always plenty of time, wasn’t there? No urgency. I’d get round to it one day.

In 1990 I went to Lumb bank for a week (Sean O’Brien was one of the tutors) but nothing lasting came of it. A few years later, I did a part-time Poetry MA at Huddersfield University, and came under the guidance, in one module, of that sensitive and encouraging facilitator, Peter Sansom. I wrote a couple of dozen poems,one or two of which I can still read without feeling too uncomfortable. But, once again, the writing stopped when I was left to motivate myself.

And so it stayed, until, last year, I became what used to be called an old-age pensioner. I thought the only change in my life would be a marginal rise in income. Being 65 couldn’t be that different from being 64. But it was. Perhaps the death of my closest friend was a factor. Whatever it was, a lifetime of procrastination (or bone-idleness) had to end.

I started going to the weekly Albert Poets writing workshops, and the monthly Puzzle Poets Live, and I was getting invaluable feedback on my poems,and getting to know other poets and what they were writing. And standing up with a mic. and performing to an audience.

Now, I compose very slowly, partly because I’m constantly distracted by ideas being generated by what I’m writing. Each poem is a product of hours of near-despair, occasionally alleviated when a mist of indecision briefly lifts.’

(At this point, I’m going to butt in and say that Bob does huge amounts of research for his poems, whether they’re about railway navvies or Edwardian photograhers. Also, his claim to bone-idleness doesn’t stand close scrutiny. However, at this point, here comes a poem which makes me delighted that the mists cleared for long enough for me to get to hear him perform it).

White-tailed eagle

I cross the trackless parph.

Behind me indifferent Atlantic waves

break along the length of Sandwood Bay,

with its red-haired mermaid,

its bearded sailor still knocking at night

on the windows of the broken bothy.

Beneath the dunes, shepherds say,

wrecks of longship, and galleon

have been smothered for centuries.

 

Massive tussocks make hard going.

I rest on my stick, face north

towards the oldest rocks there are

then nothing but cold seas

to the Pole and beyond.

 

Like a sheet of white shadow

close enough to disconcert

it climbs from the cottongrass,

iolaire suil na greine –

eagle of the sunlit eye –

smoulders for a moment

still as a Stone Age carving

until it rises in its own time,

above this wilderness, the bay, the ocean,

leaves me at best

a fleck of a far-off star

whose gleam may never reach

this earth.

(Despite reading William Horwood’s ‘The Stonor Eagles’ too many times, and going to Skye for years, and making silent prayers, I’ve never seen a white – tailed sea eagle. But when I heard Bob read this poem for the first time, I thought I might have. And there’s a backstory to the poem which I held back till you’d read it. Bob will tell you it.)

‘Many of my poems are about the landscapes I have walked and cycled and run in the fells of Northern England and Scotland, and usually alone; they begin with particular experiences, but always connect with the historical context of what I’m writing about. White-tailed eagle started from something that happened in 2000, on the final day of a 2000 mile walk (There you are! 2000 miles …one for each year of the millenium. Bone idle, indeed. One day I’ll persuade him to write the story of that 2000 mile walk. Sorry, Bob…go on) I’d just crossed Sandwood Bay, with all its ghosts and legends, and I had just 8 wilderness miles to Cape Wrath and the end of the journey…and then there was a noise, like the page of an enormous book being turned, and this huge bird languidly took to the air, slowly climbed above the tussocks and the lochan, and flew out over the ocean.

(Bob says that he actually thought that if he had died at that moment he could have been content. And I think I have an inkling of what he means.

The next poem I asked for is set in the heart of the Lake District, and it has, for me, the precision and ghostliness of a fading sepia photograph. It’s an un- dramatic monologue)

Exposure

[W A Poucher, aged 89,photographs the Wasdale screes]

It is evening.

I have waited an hour,

walking to the shore and back

a dozen times.

I like the sound of my brogues

on the bright pebbles,

the give of the turf

as I return to my tripod.

Cloud is building in the north.

Sometimes I am angerd

by this loitering for the light;

days are easily wasted.

 

I think of Haskett Smith,

Father of English climbing’

striding across an early frost

on Wasdale fields,

pushing through bracken

as it brushes his plus-fours.

He is going to solo

the first ascent of napes Needle.

While others scrambled in gullies

he weighed up each pitch

till hand and body followed

the eye from hold to hold,

fingers firm in untouched cracks,

half-inch seggs scoring the greenstone.

 

Patience is my art.

I select, compose and frame.

There is a limit to an old man’s passion.

The water is almost still.

Burnt umbers

of autumn’s fading fronds

will blur on its surface.

Boulders flock like sheep

over shifting screes.

Soon, with luck, sunlight

will slant along the lake.

I am ready, lens focussed

at infinity.

 

Two poems that head off into an infinity, then. Bob explains that Exposure came from a Poucher photograph of the Wasdale screes at the moment the sun was setting. He also writes that Poucher was a chemist in the perfume and cosmetics industry, that he worked for Yardleys, and that, nearly 90, was in the Lakes, gathering material for a publication. The fact that Bob imagines him thinking about Haskett Smith, nailed boots and all, composing his balanced climbs while the rest of the world shuffled about in mossy gullies, says a lot about his research, and about the way he finds writing a poem will set up its own distractions.

I hope you like encounters with eagles at the ends of the earth, and with elderly photographers who are angered by loitering, as much as I do. Thank you, Bob Horne.

I’m in two minds about next week.  Not about if but about what. Just turn up and see.

I