Category Archives: News

Above a thousand feet of space

 

D Wilson action

 

In the Balance

You pause beneath a boss of ice
above a thousand feet of space.
The picks of your axes barely bite:
it’s bullet hard, black with rock dust.
You’ve run out forty feet of rope,
placed only an ice-screw and screamer.
You’ve dreamed of this route for half your life.
Your calves ache. You can’t wait long.

Decision time. Weigh the following:-
an abseil retreat to blankets, pasta, beer;
the taste in your mouth if you bottle out;
November at work without a fix;
glimpses of where the pitch might ease;
a face at a window, Dad come home,
and you not knowing where you’ve been
or how to get back from it.

 
David Wilson turned to writing poetry a few years ago after being inspired by reading Derek Walcott’s poem ‘Midsummer, Tobago’ on the wall of a hospital waiting room in Leeds. He then discovered the Writing Days run by the Poetry Business in Sheffield and started writing poems of his own. His pamphlet Slope was published by Smith/Doorstop in 2016 and he has a collection coming out with them in 2019.

David was born and brought up in North London and studied at the London School of Economics, followed by a Master’s degree at Leeds University, which at the time had the only indoor climbing wall in the country and was close to excellent outcrop climbing. He has climbed extensively in the UK, Alps and further afield, at a standard best described as erratic.  In mid-life he got hooked on windsurfing, but writing about climbing has led him back into it.

After living in Leeds, David settled with his family in Harrogate. He has worked freelance for many years as an organisation development consultant. He now works part-time, exclusively in the area of academic leadership, helping people like Heads of Department to tackle the many challenges they face. He mainly works 1:1 with people and the diversity of their subject areas is a delight: from Medieval Welsh Poetry to Theoretical Physics to Cancer Research to Arabic, and that’s just in the past few weeks!  Favourite poets include Jane Kenyon, Les Murray, Jane McKie, Norman McCaig and Seamus Heaney.

Slope cover

David and I met on the 2012/13 Writing School and I’m delighted to share his work. Below are more poems from the pamphlet Slope. Everest was awarded 1st prize in the 2015 Poets & Players poetry competition, judged by Paul Muldoon. For a few technical terms: a cam is a device fitted into cracks to protect a lead climber. It has spring-loaded metal cams which grip the rock. A Micro-traxion gadget is a pulley that locks the rope, capturing what’s gained as a climber is hauled from a crevasse. A screamer is a sling which has stitches designed to rip and thereby absorb the energy of a fall. Typically used with doubtful ice-screws.

Stanage Edge

Summer’s returned for one day only,
blue sky, no wind, mist in the valleys,
bracken bronzing every hill,
the Edge’s gritstone silver in the sun.
Rock warm to touch. But holds won’t sweat.

I check my harness, knots and rack,
lay away, step high and up again to poise
off-balance, wriggle a cam into place,
then smear a slab, heels low, until
a crack grips my outstretched hand.

We linger on the edge. Smoke rises
straight up from the chimney at Hope.
It’s not a day to hurl ourselves against
but for dancing with, to feel alive
on Black Slab, Inverted V, Goliath’s Groove.

And it will light the long edge in our minds,
where name after name spells a life,
Flying Buttress and Left Unconquerable,
holds we could trust to be always there,
winds which threw every word away.

 

Everest

Once it was Chomolungma,
Mother Goddess of the Earth,
a face whose veil rarely lifted,
its whiteness the White Whale’s.

Now it’s like Elvis near the end,
a giant in a soiled jumpsuit,
blank, useful for percentages,
a sheet from which the music’s fled.

 

Alpine Partner

I was thinking of glaciers as metaphors,
you knew the car park’s exit code.
And you’d practised techniques
for rescue from a crevasse.

to dig a T slot, bury your ice-axe,
attach our micro-traxion gadget,
then fix the rope as a Z-haul
across the sweating surface, so that inch

by inch you heaved me up when I fell,
up from that cold place – its white walls
and longing, fins of green ice, pale blue caves,
darker blue depth beyond saying.

Giraffe

Seren Books had a brief 50% discount offer, so at the end of July I dashed to the website to make a purchase. In the library at Ty Newydd I’d seen a copy of In a different light, Translations into English of fourteen contemporary Dutch-language poets. Scrolling I suddenly spotted a picture of a giraffe!

giraffe-cover.jpeg

Bryony Littlefair was the Winner of the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition. Seren Books published her pamphlet last year. In her testimonial Myra Schneider says Her work, with its unexpected imagery and juxtapositions, is witty, ironic, frank, and poignant. Giraffe is a striking debut collection.

There are some intriguing titles: The year she asked for a scrubbing brush for Christmas; Poem in which not everything is lost; Visitations of a future self; The meaning of employable.

The tone of the poems is conversational, but Bryony has a clear eye for the detail. Dear Anne Monroe, Healthcare Assistant celebrates the “quiet beauty” of NHS nurses in Archway where the light is piss-yellow and everyone is angry. In The sadness of giftshops we see the owner’s thin, teal scarf, smattered with small white horses and the way she writes down everything she sells on a plain sheet of A4.

I enjoyed reading Bryony’s pamphlet, including the memorable poem Maybe this is why women get to live longer.  Here is a woman in a wrap dress/and brown hair tied loosely at the nape/of her neck, slack as an otter’s tail.  This woman is listening to a man with the thick/tufty eyebrows of a politics professor -/permanently raised, as if hung by them/to a washing line -.

The title poem is the last poem of the book, placed opposite Sertraline. It was previously published in Popshot Magazine, and I appreciate Bryony’s permission to share Giraffe with you.

Giraffe

When you feel better from this – and you will – it will be quiet and
unremarkable, like walking into the next room. It might sting a little, like
warmth leaking into cold-numbed hands. When you feel better, it will
be the slow clearing of static from the radio. It will be a film set when
the director yells cut! When you feel better, you will take: a plastic spoon
for your coffee foam, free chocolates from the gleaming oak reception
desk, the bus on sunny days, your own sweet time. When you feel better,
it will be like walking barefoot on cool, smooth planks of wood, still
damp from last night’s rain. It will be the holy silence when the tap stops
dripping. The moment a tap finally starts to make sense. When you feel
better, you will still suffer, but your sadness will be graspable, roadworthy,
have handlebars. When you feel better, you will not always be happy,
but when happiness does come, it will be long-legged, sun-dappled:
a giraffe.

 

Yorkshire Day

A suitable day for checking up on the Northern Poetry Library project: a series of poems in the new 821 form. I posted about the competition a few weeks ago. The picture is of Fountains Abbey, near Ripon, North Yorkshire.

img_20171126_1349339_rewind-003.jpg

The first canto of poems is up: poems about Liverpool, drystone walling, the journey North, a poem titled Notes made on Hadrian’s Wall by Catherine Ayes, and Ghost Crossing by Harry Man which has been Commended in the competition, and starts:

Making an enemy of the wind, a crow
backtracks on its own trajectory against

Two poems have just been added to the second canto and you can follow the growing sequence on https://poemsofthenorth.co.uk

Illness poems

Emma Press have recently put out a call for submissions of poems on Illness. The closing date for your submission (maximum of three poems and up to 65 lines each) is 31 August. To be able to submit you must have bought one printed book or e-book in this calendar year. Emma Press is an active small publisher with a range of anthologies, individual pamphlets and collections. So that one book could pay for several submissions. I will be submitting and have ordered Postcard stories, mini-stories about Belfast.

The editors are looking to “express the experience of illness right across the spectrum” and are “keen to uncover invisible symptoms, as well as unravel the stigma of mental illness”.

Signs and humours cover0001

I have Signs and humours: the poetry of medicine on the shelf. This anthology holds 100 poems written over the last 2,000 years and it includes subjects such as autism, infertility, pancreatitis. It was edited by Lavinia Greenlaw who commissioned 20 poets to write on a topic of their choice. The poets were then introduced to medical specialists on that subject (for example, PTSD, glaucoma, malaria, psoriasis). Since 1982 I have had tinnitus in my right ear, so David Harsent’s poem Tinnitus spoke to me; a short extract:

A single note drawn out
beyond imagining,
pitched for a dog or a rat
by a man with a single string
on a busted violin.

There are also poems about how we respond  when faced with a diagnosis. The first few lines from Raymond Carver’s What the Doctor Said:

He said it doesn’t’ look good
he said it looks bad in fact real bad
he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before
I quit counting them

There is Sharon Olds who accompanies her father to a meeting with the doctor who says that nothing more can be done: My father said /‘Thank you.’ And he sat motionless, alone,/with the dignity of a foreign leader.

Around AD 842, when he was paralysed, Po Chü-I wrote a short poem that ends:

All that matters is an active mind, what is the use of feet?
By land one can ride in a carrying chair, by water be rowed in a boat.

The anthology Signs and humours was published in 2007. It will be interesting to see the similarities and differences between this and the Emma Press Anthology. Will there be poems about eating disorders, body dysmorphia, internet addiction?

Writing retreat with yoga

The writing retreat with yoga at Ty Newydd last week was very productive. I drove through torrential rain to North Wales, but it cleared as soon as I arrived, and we had three gorgeous days – warm and sunny.

TN house

Ty Newydd, North Wales

Ty Newydd, the National Writing Centre of Wales is a Grade II listed building. Part of it goes back to the 15th century. It was extended into a more upmarket three-storey Georgian residence in the mid-1700’s. A full renovation with new additions (such as that curved library window) was undertaken in the early 1940’s. The client was David Lloyd George, the politician and PM, who died in the house only a few years after moving in.
I didn’t know this, but the architect was Clough William-Ellis, better known as the creator of the nearby Italianate fantasy village Portmeirion. His motto was Cherish the past, adorn the present, construct for the future.

garden through librarygarden and sea 2

 

I had been apprehensive about the yoga, but Laura Karadog, our tutor, was reassuring. I managed three of the four morning sessions, 7am start, lasting for a full 75 minutes: grounding/breathing book-ending an active sequence of movement. Laura was excellent and very generous with her time, offering an afternoon and evening close-down, and individual slots. After the sessions I was grounded, focused and hungry!

My goal for the retreat was to go through all my poems and select enough to form the basis of a submission. After yoga I parked myself on that blue settee and spread my white papers around, then read or relaxed in the garden in the afternoon. Meal times were an opportunity to chat with the others. A nice and interesting group, writing diverse material: short stories, flash fiction, performance poetry, non-fiction, plays. And then there was the young woman composer from Colorado, US who had come to work on the libretto for an opera!

library

DRYING HER PRAYERS

Kasane

DRYING HER PRAYERS

As the rains of spring
Fall, day after day, so I
Fare on through time
While by the fence the grasses grow
And green spreads everywhere.

                           Izumi Shikibu (late 10th C)

Mother, you are hanging out prayers on the willow
but the ink hasn’t dried;
little flies scenting sweet gum embellish
your latest calligraphy.

I breathe on my hands, it is March,
My fingers are white as bamboo.
On the bridge, I hear the sisterly
slop of our sandals, still wait

for the god, hiding behind our gate,
to give chase, tap me on the shoulder,
offer a pale green scroll
with your name written there, words

golden, scattered like pollen.

 

This is a poem from Parting the Ghosts of Salt, a sequence of 15 poems. They are a series of letters exchanged between a mother, Tamiko, and daughter, Kasane, both of whom are married to sumo wrestlers. Each poem starts with a striking quote, from medieval and modern Japanese poetry. All the poems are entirely imagined, but they ring true. And it’s an interesting form.

Pam Thompson

Pam Thompson, this month’s featured poet, has published several pamphlets and her second collection Strange Fashion was published by Pindrop Press last year. Pam and I met on the Poetry Business Writing School in 2012. Pam has recently completed her PhD in Creative Writing. She is a free-lance writer, lecturer, writing tutor and reviewer. Her poems travel widely. There may be humour, but this is always combined with a clear eye for the telling detail and with compassion. Pam blogs at https://pamthompsonpoetry.com

Near Heaven – a journalist encountering Virginia Woolf is at once surreal, humorous and poignant. In the Abecedarian for Liam Pam uses the form – which can be tricky – in a natural way to tell a family story rich with detail.

 
Near Heaven

The lift doors open
on the wrong floor but she’s perfectly cheery.
Ms Woolf, I begin,
and she gives me that haughty, beady-eyed stare
like an intelligent red setter,
What is it you’re reading?
She pats a huge leather holdall,
her voice trails, … Of course … in my day we …
and sunsets … Eliot, with his green-powdered face
smiled like a girl
She’s drifted off my point.

To bring her back I say
that what the reader wants is
your favourite pen, coffee or red wine.
Your top ten diary writing tips,
what to do when the novel gets stuck.

At this rate we’ll never make the launch
The Wings? Waving at the Lighthouse?
These days I never even read the press release,
just take along fizz, their favourite fags
or something stronger; usually they’ll give
me all I want, sometimes a little extra.

So, Ms Woolf, the most dangerous place you’ve ever …?

I’m thinking she’s not heard the question
when our lift bell dings –
This must be your party, dear, she says, in the voice of my mother
and there they are, uncles, aunts, my father, all my cats,
two hamsters,
and I’m about to greet them, waving fizz, posh ciggies.

A hiss of words …a Schaeffercoffee … then fainter,
write before breakfast, garden, then write again,
take a little float down the river

the river

then she presses the button, the doors close, she ascends.

 
Abecedarian for Liam

All those years you had blonde hair –
back in Hong Kong they considered it lucky.
Cake in a posh hotel, you were six, born in the Year of the
Dragon, old people touched your hair, no inhibitions,
even when we were at your side, you were golden, a charm
for locals. Remember how you wondered if the Sikh doorman was
God? The photo shows him laughing, me
helping you blow out your candles,
I hope I made you wish, then you and the other kids
jumped all over the beds and the settee in our room,
Kowloon was a day or so away, and getting
lost, both of you so little – Derry only three – to be
meandering along the wrong road, away from the lights, with
Nanna too, Derry tired and crying, I was crying inside but kept
on pretending, and I’ve blanked it, but Henry
probably got us out of it, then the day we
queued for the tram to Victoria Peak and I’ve just
remembered Stanley, the shanty town we all mentally
stepped over, physically routed ourselves around,
the tee-shirts painted with your name in kanji,
up late eating Pringles, on a speedboat with Derry, Rosie and Lisa,
visiting a Shinto temple, posing outside with Nanna,
with Tom and Fauna, your favourite smoked salmon, scrambled eggs,
Xmas breakfast with champagne, and I could lie to
you when I’m telling you twenty-one years later, that the
zoo trip was on Boxing Day when I think that was the speedboat.

Prose Poems

Submit your prose poems to Anne Caldwell who is editing an anthology for Valley Press. You can send up to three prose poems, each 300 words maximum. You need to be resident in the UK. The closing date is 3 September so there is time to create new work, though submissions may have been published elsewhere.

On https://www.prose-poetry.uk Anne explains what attracted her to prose poems and how this project came about. The site also has a definition of prose poems by Carrie Etter. She sees them as “circling or inhabiting a mood or idea, perhaps remaining in one place (although not static) rather than moving from A to B as a poem does”.

The Poetry Foundation gives their definition as “A prose composition that, while not broken into verse lines, demonstrates other traits, such as symbols, metaphors and other figures of speech”. Other key components are fragmentation, repetition, compression and rhyme.

I rather like the definition by Peter Johnson, Editor of The Prose Poem: An International Journal: “Just as black humour straddles the fine line between comedy and tragedy, so the prose poem plants one foot in prose, the other in poetry, both heels resting precariously on banana peels.”

It was good to see that the Anthology of Ver Poets 2018 Open Competition included two prose poems by Juliet Troy: Gold Umbrella and Meltwater which was Highly Commended.

My collection Another life includes three short prose poems. The maximum page width meant I had to edit two poems carefully to shorten the lines. I was not entirely happy with how one of them finally appeared on the page, but it couldn’t be helped. The prose poem Still casting a shadow is on this site.