Tag Archives: Manchester

Tree frog – poem

Credit: David Dixon

Manchester Museum, part of the Victoria University of Manchester is closed for a 15 million redevelopment. It will open February 2023. Part of the Museum is the Vivarium, home to some of the most critically endangered neotropical species. Some years ago, a good friend became a sponsor and, by way of thank-you, she was invited to bring someone along for a ‘behind the scenes’ visit to the Vivarium.

Credit: Katja via Pixabay


The Department is a key player in the education about, and conservation of such beautiful creatures as the Lemur Leaf Frog, Yellow-eyed Leaf Frog, and the Splendid Leaf Frog. It was thrilling to have the small creature sit quietly in the palm of my hand.

Tree frog

Here is the coolness of its orange feet
splayed onto my hand. The slow bulge
of its breathing throat. Two unblinking eyes
the colour of black Morello cherries.

Laughter – poem

Credit: Mike Goad via Pixabay


On Tuesday evening my local Stanza poetry group held it first ‘live’ meeting since the start of the pandemic. It was a hybrid session which worked very well: some poets in the station bar of Stalybridge station, some of us at home in the UK and abroad. I was pleased that I could take part. I have also joined the Groningen Stanza here in The Netherlands which alternates live and Zoom meetings.

I saw fresh rhubarb at the supermarket yesterday which reminded me of another group I used to belong to in Manchester. My third poetry book is dedicated to Elaine, Hannah and Jackie; here is a poem written in a back garden in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester.

Laughter


The laughter swaying across the lettuce,
strong knotted rope in the old Bramley tree.
A grandmother sits quietly in a wooden chair;
she counts knitting patterns in her head.

The dappled shade is a cool alleyway
between her life and her daughter’s world.
Laughter slides away from them, low
down across the grass; it hides
between the rhubarb and redcurrant bushes,
waiting until night time for the moles
to come up and breathe into it.
Yesterday’s laughter a small pile of earth.

(published in Another life, Oversteps Books, 2016).

Revelation – poem


It is an enormous pleasure to introduce this month’s guest poet Hilary Robinson. We met many years ago on writing workshops in Manchester.

Hilary Robinson


Hilary Robinson has lived in Saddleworth for over 40 years. Publications include The Interpreter’s House, Obsessed with Pipework, Strix, The Morning Star, Riggwelter, Atrium and Poetry Birmingham and several anthologies including Please Hear What I’m Not Saying (Fly on the Wall Poetry 2018), A New Manchester Alphabet (Manchester Writing School 2015), Noble Dissent (Beautiful Dragons Press 2017), Bloody Amazing! (Yaffle/Beautiful Dragons Press 2020) and The Cotton Grass Appreciation Society. In 2018 twelve of her poems were published in the first joint DragonSpawn book, Some Mothers Do . . . alongside Dr Rachel Davies and the late Tonia Bevins. Her poem, ‘Second Childhood’ was shortlisted in the 2016 Yorkmix Poetry Competition.


Hilary has collaborated with composition students from the Royal Northern College of Music as part of the Rosamond Prize and was involved in the 2016 Leeds Lieder Festival. She is currently collaborating with composer, Joseph Shaw, on an opera to be performed at the Royal Northern College of Music.

In June 2021, Hilary’s debut pamphlet, Revelation, was published by 4Word Press. Hilary has an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University. The central section of Revelation is a series of poems which explore the aftermath of betrayal in a marriage. From this section I have selected four poems. Nikolai Duffy says that these poems ‘sing with a lyrical precision that is as authentic as it is unflinching.’

Revelation

And I beheld the last seven years open up before me
and they gave up their secrets.

And I beheld my beloved’s face concealed by a fine beard
and his feet that were turned to sand.

And I beheld seven office chairs, unoccupied except
for two, on which sat my beloved and his shame.

And surrounding my beloved and his shame were all the places
they had been while I had slept on in our bed.

And all the places they had been were also all the places
he had taken me. And I wept that this was true.

And I beheld his eyes turn to streams as his remorse descended
from him. And lo — his arms reached out for mine.

And I tightened my golden belt around my waist, knelt down
by his side and said that I forgave him.

That September

Every time he went to the window
he saw them. Gangs hired to find us,
gangs armed with torches burning
even though it was early September
and still light. Gangs getting closer.

He’d let everyone down, his partners,
clients, staff, his family. Most of all
he’d let me down in ways I’d never imagined.
Now they were at the end of our drive. Now
he’d found a way to stop the fire he’d caused.

It took four of us to prize his fingers
from the Swiss Army Knife’s twin
blades. I never knew what happened
to that knife. I wiped blood from his hand,
found the doctor’s home number.

The rest is a history of ashes, scorched
earth of a marriage that somehow
bore new life after hospital, after
ECT, after many hours of therapy.
This house still stands.

Brittle

In the kingdom of glass everything is transparent, and there is no place to hide a dark heart.
Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

To become glass, learn to make yourself
fluid as egg-timer sand.

Hone yourself to brittleness with just a little
give to accommodate rough winds.

Research your ancestry — try to enter
the mindset of silica.

Practise the occasional sharp look,
the cutting remark — hide in the shadows.

To become glass, give in — become transparent;
melt into the view from this bedroom.

Trying to Take my Husband to the Antica Carbonera

There is no chance I’ll find the Calle Bembo
with its kinks, its turns, its lamps
hanging above shops of antique Murano beads,
its shiny cobbles and those buskers
trotting out Vivaldi through the season.
No chance I’ll find what translates

where Cath and I ate wild mushrooms
cooked four ways and spent so much
they brought us Limoncello on the house.

Yet here we are. This is the first Venetian street
our feet touch on the way to the Al Codega.
The food is perfectly seasoned. Tonight
we’re on the roof. I have another angle on this street.

Lockdown Latitudes – poems

I am delighted to introduce this month’s guest poet Steven Waling. I first met Steven over 30 years ago after I’d moved to Manchester and joined the local poet’s group. Manchester Poets is the successor to South Manchester Poetry Group, started in 1978 by Dave Tarrant and still going strong!


His brief biography says ‘Steven Waling lives in Manchester and is apparently a stalwart of the Manchester poetry scene. His latest books are Disparate Measures 1: Spuds in History, and Lockdown Latitudes.’


From his most recent book Lockdown Latitudes I have chosen three different poems. Steven ‘writes overlooked life into vibrant presence’ says Scott Thurston. It is this quality I particularly admire and love in Steven’s writing.

Photo Credit: Steven Waling



Jesus Strolls Down Market Street

All he wants is new underwear and a coffee in Starbucks, time to himself to phone his dad and see he’s looking after himself during the lockdown. He sees they’re back again on the corner of Piccadilly Gardens and Market Street, shouting his name like a weapon at random strangers. He sneaks past, hand in front of his face. He’d like to shout in their faces, ask them what the hell they thought they were doing. Not that they’d recognise who he was, and anyway, these days he just gets embarrassed, avoiding the hassle of conflict that won’t get anywhere. Everyone ignores these men in old-fashioned suits sweating in the heat, lifting holy books like clubs to beat the sinful air away. So he goes to buy his pants, dashes into Primark before they clock him. People don’t, he thinks, realise how shy he is. He’d much prefer they found him by accident, when they needed him. Like later in the coffee shop: some old lady confused because they don’t take cash for drinks any more. Someone pays with his own card and when she looks up, they’re gone

Back to his bench to sleep with the pigeons

Snow Moon

Night stands at the tram stop
over head the moon a

soluble aspirin slowly dissolves
into the big black night goes

nowhere the spider in my right
eye is flashing again I walk

past the street they’re planting
non-aggressive trees spindly roots

spring flowers berries in autumn
that won’t disrupt the neighbourhood

kids kick the moon down the road i
wait for light rapid transit late

due to police incident keep my
distance from the moon its snow

face bending over the quick brown
cat crossing the tracks quick quick

Links to Steven’s books below:

Some Roast Poet – Manchester Poetry Magazine and Pamphlets (wordpress.com)

Steven Waling – Lockdown Latitudes (leafepresspoetry.com)

Table 64 – a poem

Credit: Pexels on Pixabay

This week my friend Valerie celebrated her birthday. We met 30 years ago on a residential week in Spain. To celebrate our friendship, here is a short poem in which we’re together. Bowler’s is a very large indoor and outdoor carboot sale location in Manchester.


That Generation Game is a tv game show in which teams of two family members, but from a different generation compete. The winners see a conveyor belt with goodies wobble past. No worries: if they can’t remember them all, the studio audience will shout to help …

Table 64

We carried the plastic crates and cardboard
boxes into Bowlers at bloody six o’clock.
The locusts, proper traders, picked items
from the piles we carried, threw us
pound coins and a few fivers.

The early flurry was good and then it was
like the Generation Game in reverse:
suitcases went, a pile of books, glasses,
a wok, costume jewellery, some cuddly toys.
We sat back in our folding chairs like regulars,
holding off sleep.

Sci Fi

This month I am featuring poems by Martin Zarrop. We met some years ago through the Poetry School workshops and are also members of one of the Poetry Society’s Stanzas. I start by congratulating Martin: the 2021 Cinnamon Press Pamphlet competition got 450 submissions. The results came out a few days ago – Martin’s manuscript was in the top five!

Martin is a retired mathematician who wanted certainty but found life more interesting and fulfilling by not getting it. He started writing poetry in 2006 and has been published in various magazines and anthologies. He completed a MA in Creative Writing at Manchester University in 2011.

His pamphlet No Theory of Everything (2015) was one of the winners of the 2014 Cinnamon Press pamphlet competition and his first full collection Moving Pictures was published by Cinnamon in 2016. His pamphlet Making Waves on the life and science of Albert Einstein was published by V. Press in 2019. His second collection Is Anyone There? was published by High Window Press in March 2020.

The five poems are all from Is Anyone there? Where Martin’s poems refer to science, they do so in an accessible way, often poignant, often with humour. Like Martin, I first came to Manchester in the early 1980s – a place where now around 200 world languages are spoken. I hope you enjoy this selection.

Sci Fi

The aliens are coming.
I can see them flicker in the flames
as I stare into the coal fire
and my mother asks me if I’m happy.
Has she been taken over by Martians?
I must take care not to fall asleep.

And here I am covered in mud.
The invisible predator can’t see me
as I try to leave the exam room.
Failure isn’t an option but the exit signs
are hidden under ectoplasmic goo.
The ice cream man ignores my screams.

It is bursting out of my chest cavity,
this other me I don’t want to know.
Why is my name missing from the credits?
Perhaps I didn’t wait long enough for the Z’s.
Out in the foyer, zombies are waiting
for the next show.

First Impressions
Manchester 1980

People talk to you here
but not in English
and the rain is cold
on the grim streets
that run for their lives
past empty Victoriana,
lost empires.

At night, the city
strips to its bones, lies
unwashed in the glow
of fag ends, crushed
and dying among
claggy debris,
northern mouths.

published by The High Window

Missing

She must be in here somewhere.
He turns another page and stares
at shapes, the outline of a face
and almost smiles.
The hair’s not right, he says.

Under his thumb, images move,
some not even close to human.
This one looks like a centaur, this a lion.
He knows how much he wants her
but he struggles to join the dots.

Across the table, the astronomer,
sympathetic despite the late hour,
is accustomed to darker matters.
Try this one, he grunts, and opens
another star catalogue.

Hands

UK’s first double hand transplant awoke from
a 12-hour operation with two new sets of fingers

(Guardian 23.07.16)

It’s not like wearing leather gloves.
This is for real, the weld of tissue,
bone to severed stumps; white flesh
imbibes the ruddiness of life, then
shudders at an alien command –

a finger twitches. It displays no loyalty
to donor meat, no tear or thought,
no dumb relief not to be ash,
no memory of goodbye waves,
past loves held close.

The patient chews his nails,
flexes each knuckle as if born to it,
admires blotches, childhood scars
from scraps he never fought,
holds out his hands.

To My Nineties

You’d better get your skates on
or at least your boots
and get out there, old dribbler,
before it’s too late.

I may not meet you in the hills
struggling through Kinder peat.
Thirteen miles, fifteen?
No problem!

Or so I thought as hair thinned
and Christmas followed Easter
as if in a time machine
that ate old friends for breakfast.

You stand patient near the finish line
as I pull myself up for the final sprint.
Nothing lasts forever, not hips,
not brain cells. I need a project.

I’ll make you my project.
Wait for me.

Missing Manchester …

Manchester_Art_Gallery_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1748756

I am settled in my caravan in Holland, enjoying the warm weather and making the most of the peaceful environment before the camp site opens 1 July when it will be the high season.

 
But I am missing Manchester and, in particular, the monthly writing workshops with Peter Sansom of the Poetry Business These have been held at Manchester Art Gallery. It consists of three connected buildings, two of which were designed by Sir Charles Barry. The main building is Grade 1 listed, while the Atheneum is Grade II. A modern extension was added in the beginning of this century.

 
During the writing workshops we have the opportunity to be inspired by the permanent collection – works of international significance and Victorian art. The painting Albert Square (1910) by the French impressionist painter Adolphe Valette hangs in a central foyer. Valette lived in Manchester for a period and really caught the damp and wet conditions. My poem is included in the pamphlet A Stolen Hour (Grey Hen Press, 2020,

 

Albert_Square_Manchester_1910,_Valette

 

Albert Square

I am not that cellar man pushing 

his barrow loaded with crates of wine.
I am not the horse with its head
stuck into a nose bag, nor
the coach driver resting his
right knee on the plate,
nor the men with bowler hats
conversing by the railings.

Up there is the Town Hall
covered in a velvet coat of soot.
I am the greyness of the oil paint,
the rippled rain reflecting
the cellar man’s rounded boots.
I am the smog and the smoke,
half shielding these statues:
politician, mayor, consort.

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.

Bee Journal

9 (2)

The Love Bee with Distiller-Bee on the right

6

 

 

In the 1800s the Manchester textile mills were called ‘hives of activity’ and the workers compared with bees. The Borough of Manchester was granted city status in 1842; on the city crest seven bees are flying over a globe, signifying Manchester’s industry being exported. Images of bees can be found on buildings and bins. After the Arena bombing last year many Mancunians got themselves bee tattoos.

So, there is a lot of interest and excitement about bees currently dotted around town, in parks and public spaces. Over 100 large bees have been decorated by artists, while 130 little bees are part of the City Learning Programme. It’s how creative producers Wild in Art are celebrating their 10th anniversary, and there are some fabulous creatures to be found. The bee below shows some Manchester landmarks: the Town Hall, a Grade I listed building, the Manchester Central  Convention Complex (the original Central railway station) and the Beetham Tower with 47 floors, until recently, the tallest building in the UK outside London.

4 (2)

This is Manchester, C Elliott

On a recent trip to Leeds University to visit the Special Collection I was delighted to see a copy of the 1634 revised edition of the first English-language book devoted to beekeeping The Feminine Monarchie, the histori of bee’s. Charles Butler was also called The Father of Beekeeping. He was a priest and kept bees at his parsonage. Butler writes about bee gardens, hive making, enemies of bees, feeding, pollination and swarm catching. The book also includes a musical score: a four-part madrigal that mimics the sound of swarming bees!

Butler cover

One of the most original poetry collections I read in the last few years is Bee Journal by Sean Borodale. It was shortlisted for the 2012 Costa Poetry Prize. Borodale had previously published books based on walking and writing on location and Bee Journal was supposedly written at the hive, with the poet wearing a veil and gloves! The 90 pages chronicle the life of the hive, from the collection of a small nucleus on 24 May – extract below –

He just wears a veil, this farmer, no gloves
and lifts open a dribbly wax-clogged
blackwood box.
We in our whites mute with held breath.
Hello bees.
Drops four frames into our silence.

to the capture of a swarm two years later, with all the learning, joy and anxiety in between  The poem titles are all dates, some with additional notes, as below:

14th August: Bee Inspector
Today a DEFRA bee inspector clipped the wings of our queen.

Some days the poems are only a few lines, or a single word. 7th January starts:

Four inches of snow. The hive a hut
of silence and darkness.

A year later, there is the entry for 13th January: False Spring Week’s long hoax of mild weather/and bees wander like fools.  On the 15th January Sean makes herb tea for his bees, adding grains of salt and their own honey (10%) to boiling water.  Opposite is the devastating empty page, titled 24/25th January: Bees Die.

In between, there are many poems full of joy and marvel. Here’s a stanza from 2nd May:

A bee, a tine being struck was out:/sound like a rooting of thin flash/in liquid form poured from a bucket the size of an adult/tooth./Magnet of listening, I to hear it/turned the pole of my head.

Because of the regular small interventions the beekeeper has to make, his observations and devotion turn to a deep intimacy, with unusual imagery and dense, “clotted” language.  Reading it was an amazing experience.