Just over a year ago, Kim Moore chose one of my poems for her Sunday Poem slot. Now, if you’re used to having your poems in magazines, and to being invited to read at poetry venues, this may seem no big deal. But it changed the way I thought about myself….and not just as a writer. Since then, I’ve been writing flat-out. I’ve been lucky. I’ve won three poetry competitions. I’ve been handed a cheque by Michael Morpurgo. I’ve had poems accepted by magazines. Someone said I was a gem. It sometimes doesn’t take much to give you that sense of self-belief, but it’s beyond price.
I should also say that I’ve not been very good at keeping in touch with people. I work closely with them. I love them. Then I get a new job and I move on. I’ve never been one for going back, because I’m afraid of how it will have changed. It’s another country, and they do things differently there. But then you cross paths with the past, and it can be wonderful. Recently, I’ve rediscovered friendships with folk I’ve not seen for decades. They all write, and they all write poems. So I’ve decided to invite each of them to let me put a couple of their poems on ‘the great fogginzo’. That will ensure they all win competitions and get collections published. Oh yes it will.
And my first guest is Yvie Holder, from York, who I would have met for the first time in more than twenty years…..if only she’d been able to be at the York Literature Festival Poetry Competition presentations earlier this year, though Maria Taylor was there, so that was nice. All three of us had Commended poems, chosen by Carole Bromley, the indefatigible editor of the YorkMix poetry blog. Without Yorkmix, I wouldn’t have known that Yvie wrote poetry. Now I do.
I first met her in 1980 (I think) when I interviewed her for a post in what she calls ‘my’ English dept at Boston Spa Comprehensive School. I think I probably did think of it as ‘mine’……to my abiding shame. I still think it was the best school and the best English Dept I’ve known, and as an English Adviser, I saw a lot. Now, I am a noisy person. Noisy, rather than loud. I like to tell myself. So when Yvie came for interview, via the York PGCE course, (and the influential anthologist, Geoffrey Summerfield), what appealed to me was that she was quiet, centred, and clear-eyed. She had both feet firmly planted. She was a great teacher.
I only realised in a long retrospect what a talented bunch I had to work with. Malcolm Barnes had been published alongside Roger McGough and self-published some stunning pamphlets. Roy Cockcroft later won the Elmet Prize with a beauty of a poem about the fishermen of the East coat, and the knitted codes of their woollen jerseys. Julia Deakin, who was appointed pretty much at the same time as Yvie, (and also via the York PGCE) has won more competitions than I’ve had hot dinners, including the Poetry Business Pamphlet Comp, and the Yorkshire Open, and has two collections under her belt, with another on the way. I’m reviewing the first two in a couple of weeks. Reserve your seats now. Bring a chum.
Now I find Yvie is a poet, too. She describes herself like this:
My writing reflects on childhood, identity, people on the margins, love and loss, with an upbeat element drawn from family, community and professional life. I’m a writer of mixed UK/Caribbean heritage, with over twenty-five years work on equality and diversity; my experience has included school-teaching and governing, trades union work, race equality, tutoring for mental health, supports for elders, and managing a University Equality office.
My writing has been highly commended in the Yorkshire Open (2008), commended in the York Literature Festival Poetry Competition (2014), shortlisted for Pier pressure’s short story competition and the Peepal tree Press anthology : Closure. It has appeared online at YorkMix, in a local newspaper, been requested for a wedding, at community occasions, and in a memoir/lecture for Black History Month.
Yvie was reading last week at a gig for Amnesty, so, knowing her, this is understated. I really like the two poems she’s chosen for me. They have a precision and a quiet clarity (I don’t do quiet/succinct). I love the strike that ‘knocks old men speechless/when air ignites’ and the quirky, unnerving invention of ‘Cracked’ which reminds me of the way Guillermo del Toro scares me in ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. But make your own minds up. Here they are.
It smacks and thumps
the mother in her bed;
a newborn’s downy skull;
from children’s mouths; knocks
old men speechless
when air ignites
snuffs out, deletes.
yet when it chimes
over city squares, how
it can impress;
catch the dawn-white
on a swan’s wing;
help a rose take root;
discover by chance
how friendship sparks;
begin to celebrate,
Don’t step on the cracks. You might
slip. Lie flat across pavements,
peer in, one-eyed: you’ll see us,
broken, like crumbs, packed into
an ill-fitting darkness, lost,
straining up to the greylight.
Some of us once spanned the sky
between the dawn and dusk, lolled
in the space between telegraph
wires, between words; wove love-talk
around hushed voices, formed air
between leaves and breezes;
we dappled green through branches,
we rode the blue among stars.
Fault lines opened, or, we slipped.
How to return to you up there,
you, the sure-footed who
never need to lok down? Will
we stay forever between
cracks, trying to recall
the idea of firm ground
and how broad the daylight is?
I fully intended to rattle on about memory and imagination, but I hate an anticlimax. So that’s for next week. Thanks for the poems, Yvie.
Say ‘thankyou, Ms Holder’. Put your chairs away quietly, and show her how good we all are. See you next week.