Category Archives: Readings

Leaving Czechoslovakia, 1964

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I was invited to read at a European Language Day, held at the Instituto Cervantes here in Manchester. I selected poems that all had a European connection, including the poem below.  It was a joy to take part in the evening event. And I very much enjoyed watching and listening to Hungarian dancers in traditional costume, and a young woman singing melancholy songs from the Balkans and Romany songs.

The next morning I did a bit of clearing through photo albums and found a black-and white photo of that red Trabant! The young woman leaning on the driver’s door had only just passed her driving test and advertised for someone to go with her.  In the event her father drove us to Munich from Amsterdam, and after that we were on our own.  Her mother was Czech, so we met a lot of family out there.  The poem was included in Songs for the Unsung anthology, published by Grey Hen. It will be included in my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous which will be published shortly by Indigo Dreams Publishing.

 

Leaving Czechoslovakia, 1964

When we reached the border
in her small red Trabant
our cases were lighter: the pleated dresses,
jeans we’d given to aunts and nieces;
our footsteps behind us on the mountain
where we walked with her family
up towards the border with Poland,
our plimsolls wet, our hair lank from drizzle;
sweet and savoury Knedlicky we’d eaten;
songs we’d sung, drunk on vodka,
already flown, small skittering birds;
the yellow Objizdka sign in Prague diverting us
into the path of a funeral, black plumed horses.
The border guards with their guns gather
around us as we try again to open the boot,
our stiff smiles telling us not to think
of the airmail letters for America
hidden under the back seat.

Rain, rain, rain …

 

rain

 

This poem by Lemm Sissay is a great example of “concrete” poetry: the physical shape of the poem fits with the subject matter. Rain is on a wall on Oxford Road, Manchester, between the Whitworth and Manchester University. It’s the partner of Hardy’s Well, the poem by Lemm Sissay that is on the wall of a pub. I blogged about that in July last year. The title of the piece is What a Waste!

The last few days it has been raining here in Manchester, though the sun comes out now and then. It made me think of the famous poem Rain by Don Paterson. You can find it on http://www.poetry.org the site of the Academy of American Poets. It’s mostly in four-line stanzas and has end-rhymes, and starts:

I love all films that start with rain:
rain, braiding a windowpane
or darkening a hung-out dress
or streaming down her upturned face;

The poem ends with a one-line stanza which is a very striking “turn”. Many poems have turns, most famously, of course, the sonnet form with its volta. Paterson has:

and none of this, none of this matters.

 
My rain poem is in my collection Another life. There are several turns in the poem, including in the final stanza.

The Lido, Clifton

It is dry this Monday morning.
I wonder what it’s like swimming here
when it rains. Just then the drizzle starts,
a gently pulsating rhythm.

Bristol had the oldest open-air lido
in the country. Refurbished Grade II
it sits between the backs of offices.

The water is warm, kept at this
steady temperature. Floating on my back
I see the movement of clouds.

The following year my friend
would abandon me once I became ill,
but here we are drawing small ripples
in the water, each of us in our own lane.

Annoying Utterances

Christopher North has said: To me the ten most annoying utterances from the lectern at a poetry reading are:
1. Have I got time to squeeze in a short one?
2. Now let me see if I can find it…
3. Now if I can just get this thing to work…
4. This is one I wrote on the way here…
5. We were asked to write a villanelle…
6. I know it’s here somewhere…yes. Oh no erm let me see…
7. How long have I got?
8. It’s a load of rubbish but I read it anyway.
9. So all you need to know is that a ‘squawk bogger’ is a New Zealand newt, and that ‘ramping in the dolditts’ is an expression used by Romany folk from the Upper Silesia referring to their annual bean throwing festival, and that Durnstadt-terminum is a Village in Bavaria where they make clay pipes – well you’ll see what I mean when I…
10. (Already 15 minutes over allotted time) – ‘…and here’s one that I have to read. It came about after my son’s first session in Rehab – he’s out now and all seems Ok, Hooray! Hooray! And it’s an important poem for me because it was like a coming to terms emotionally with …blah blah blah.
(in an interview with William Oxley in Summer 2014, published in Acumen, September 2014)

I can tick all of these of on my list of readings that I have attended!

CN

Christopher, who owns the Old Olive Press (Almàssera Vella) in Relleu, Spain is a published and prize-winning poet. His first pamphlet A Mesh of Wires (Smith/Doorstop) was shortlisted for the 1999 Forward Prize. Oversteps Books Ltd published two collections Explaining the Circumstances (2010), The Night Surveyor (2014) as well as a joint bilingual collection with Terry Gifford: Al Otro Lado del Aguilar (2011). His pamphlet Wolves Recently Sighted was published by Templar in 2014.

blue house back view

The Old Olive Press (Almassera Vella)

It does add a special quality to being on a writing week at the Old Olive Press when your host is himself a poet. We were delighted to learn that Christopher is one of the four winners of the annual Poetry Business pamphlet competition. His collection The Topiary of Passchendaele will be launched at the Wordsworth Trust on 22 September this year. The title poem has just been awarded the 3rd prize in the 2018 Poetry on the Lake competition. With Christopher’s permission I’m publishing three poems of the new book below:

Last Word

In 1997 it was calculated that that there are fifty languages on the planet with only one speaker still alive. By 2015 there were just eight.

Lost in distant steppes
of somewhere to the East

there is a bank of evening primrose
beside a mud road with

a centre strip of mayweed,
hardheads smelling of pineapple.

The man at the window
has no word for pineapples.

He has a word for the ‘Via Lactea’,
that nightly glows above his roof.

It is similar to his word
for the blur caused by a stone or rain

hitting a puddle of clear water.
He had a word for evening primrose

but has forgotten it;
now they are nothing more

than his word for ‘flowers’.
The flowers have no words.

They only know their mechanisms:
their stretching upwards

their brief flare
and then a falling back to earth.

Sometimes a jet roars across the sky
leaving a tracer line that fades slowly.

He has never had a word for that.

 

From an Armchair

Beyond the range of the King’s photographer
the forest of the meteorite
and its star of blasted pines;

beyond the islands of the Gulag
and the road of bones through endless forest
where winter is norm, lives pass unrecorded,

epics unfold their progress in silence,
towns work through unknown narratives —
all outside the great conversation;

beneath sky-scapes lashed with stars
and the unfolding green of borealis;
through Sakha, Yakutsk and ice crushed bridges

lies Omyakon between frozen mountains,
where they say in winter words freeze
as they leave your mouth to fall forgotten in the snow.

They make a tundra littered with gossip,
cries of love, argument and greeting,
speeches and shouts petrified in depths of ice

until one midday when larch are greening
and golden root makes a brief smile at the low sun,
words fall into air as if from a door flung open

to fill the town like birdsong and running water

 

(From an idea of John Catanach – originally a story from Colin Thubron)

 

Trestles

Wise is knowing how much
you don’t know, have no conception of.

Unravel ignorance. Cover a trestle
with all those things not known.

The trestle groans, add another,
then more, fill a hall, then an annexe,

spread into the street,
become a neighbourhood,

grow to a city, a region,
a country with unmarked frontiers.

Maintain in a corner, dimly lit,
a timid altar of things you think you know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greenpeace

Last night I did an open mic slot at a fundraising event for Greenpeace. There were two fabulous readings by the poets Kim Moore and Clare Shaw, as well as music. The open mic slots were four minutes each which meant three poems per person.  This gave a good flavour of each poet’s “voice” and offered plenty of variety. I’d come back from Holland 36 hours earlier, so only just got my tongue round the English…

In the afternoon Clare Shaw ran a short workshop. One of the sample poems was The Low Road by Marge Piercy. The poem starts: What can they do/to you? Whatever they want. The first stanza is then a list of things that can be done, e.g. “bust you, break your fingers, blur you with drugs, burn your brain with electricity.” After a short second stanza starting But two people fighting/back to back can cut through/a mob, there is this third stanza. The recent news in the UK (the ongoing Brexit saga, the “Windrush generation” scandal, the NHS failure with 450,000 women missing out on mammograms and treatment) has been deeply depressing. So, this was a timely reminder of people-power and I found it immensely encouraging and heartening to read.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organisation. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fundraising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter’
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

 

Light After Light

In Halifax last night my friend Victoria Gatehouse read at the Corner Bookshop to launch her debut pamphlet published by Valley Press. Their representative made us all welcome. It was a packed house. Vicky read alongside Wendy Pratt and Jo Brandon.

Vicky is a clinical researcher by day and in this “beautifully balanced and sure-footed debut” there are poems about science, such as Recording the Phlebotomist, Burning Mouth Syndrome, Phosphorescence, as well as poems set firmly in their locale (The Geese of Sowerby Bridge, In Praise of Pylons) and some which are, like folk tales “on the threshold of mystery”. I particularly enjoyed these and the poems which are inspired by art work made by Susie MacMurray: Pillion, Velvet Shells, Widow.

The bookshop is based in the Piece Hall, which recently has been renovated to a very high standard. I walked across this large open space to the sound of trickling water, marvelling at the lights against the last light of the day.

Vicky’s book is now on the shelves, between Rosie Garland and Kahlil Gibran. She keeps very good company, that’s for sure!

 

Finding the Words

I enjoyed my final reading of the year, at York Explore last week.  For almost ten years I used to come to York often, to facilitate on the accredited EMDR trainings, running at either the Bar Convent (a “live” convent with nuns still living there) or Kings Manor.  So, it felt a little strange to travel to York in a different capacity.  Also reading were Nairn Kennedy, an expat Scot who’s lived in Yorkshire for many years, and Laura Potts.  She is twenty-one years old, has twice been named a London Foyle Young Poet of the Year and Young Writer.  This year she received a Shadow Award in the US, and became a BBC New Voice.  Her first BBC radio drama Sweet the Mourning Dew will air shortly.  She is definitely someone to look and listen out for!

Building Bridges: an International Anthology of Ekphrasis

Building Bridges cover

The cover of Building Bridges, published by Ek Zuban, 2017.

Yesterday was the Manchester launch of this anthology, edited by Bob Beagrie and Andy Willoughby of Ek Zuban.  It’s truly an international anthology: work by poets from the UK, Finland and elsewhere – several poems have been contributed by asylum seekers.  Many of the poems have been inspired by well-known art work, but the book also contains pictures of contemporary art.

Before the reading some of the contributors took part in a short workshop where I learned a new form – triadic gnome.  There are some examples in the anthology.  Apparently, it’s usually in four lines, where the first line gives the explanation and the following three lines extend on this.  Kieren King’s Three Things I Never Said To You was a clear example.

I took one of the illustrations (Waiting Nightmare) and came up with the following:-

Three ways of keeping the nightmare waiting
Keep walking, skipping over the bulldog, the mastiff, the dead pigeon.
Do not, under any circumstance, take a body-builder to bed.
Keep your crop circles small.

It was good fun practising with this and I’m almost sorry that I’m going to miss the next launch.  That will be Helsinki in January 2018.