I was reminded by the Harvey Weinstein ‘affair’ about the hundreds of little microagressions that can make a woman feel unwelcome in a workplace. A few years ago I listened to a senior manager I was working with tell a joke that not only wasn’t funny but was in poor taste. The joke took place in a lift that was stuck. I wrote a poem to try to analyse how that joke made me feel. The lovely website, amaryllis – an offshoot of the remarkable Swindon poetry scene – featured my poem and here’s the link.
My journeys along the River Tees are continuing, and I’m writing as I go. I guess I am about a third of the way along my poetry journey but I am doing a little bit here and a little bit there, as time allows. The landscape certainly is inspiring. Here’s a shot at Cow Green reservoir, near the source of the river. Cross Fell, the highest mountain in the Pennines, is in the background.And at the other end of the river, this is the old steelworks at Redcar, seen from Teesmouth. Such a mixture of rural and urban landscapes.
I believe there are good people still;
kinder, more patient than I could be, who ask
for nothing, but to go about their ordinary tasks
giving it their best shot, as you know they will.
Who, when a drunken evening hiccups to an end,
pretend to be ironic, hug each other, solemnly state
I love you mate. You’re my best friend.
The sort of people who don’t forget to feed
the birds, who plant the flowers beloved of bees,
who stoop to pat the mournful dogs who wait
outside the supermarket, asking them, who’s a
a good girl, a good boy? Yes, you are.
Who are more likely to weep while they are clearing weeds
from their smalltown gardens, than in a public place,
who smile at passers-by with open faces,
who put more than they can afford in the charity box
who pop in with cakes to visit neighbours.
Who draw the curtains in their children’s rooms,
switch on the nightlight, wish sweet dreams
and softly close the door. Who go downstairs
to watch the news and wonder what we’ve come to.
When it seems, on days like these, the poor old world
and all its folk are battered, beat, betrayed, do
what they have to; keep on keeping on,
and whether or not they have a god to pray to,
think to themselves; let the world be blessed,
and whisper quietly, beneath their breath.
Amen, let it be so, again; Amen.
It’s great to be teaching poetry again! I spoke to the people at the marvellous Witham Arts Centre in Barnard Castle and we’re going to be running some introductory poetry classes on Tuesday afternoons, starting on January 17th. I loved doing this in my previous location – everyone in the group seemed to get so much out of reading and writing poetry – so I am looking forward to working with some Teesdale people, to spread the poetry love and turn them into creative writers along the way.
So if anyone wants to join us, it would be great to see you there. Here are all the details of the new, ten-week Poetry for the Petrified course. After that… well, I’ve got some further ideas but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
We’ve been in Teesdale for two years now. I’ve written quite a few poems about being uprooted from the place where I spent almost twenty years – poems about place, home and belonging. We’ve been working, decorating our house and dealing with a big garden; it feels like we haven’t had a lot of time to get to know our new surroundings.
Then a couple of weeks ago I found out that a really interesting symposium was going on, right in my new home town of Barnard Castle. Artists, Farmers and Philosophers was a discussion promoted by the wonderful Heart of Teesdale Landscape Partnership about landscape, how it is formed, recorded, enhanced and preserved by the people who use it and respond to it. I learned something about hill farming, land art, and aesthetics, which made me think about how, as an ‘offcomer’ I can get to know the landscape of my new home. (I’ve updated the photographs that form the header of this site with my photos of the local landscape, and I promise to add more.)
This made me think about Teesdale and the River Tees that shapes it. There’s a long tradition of writing about rivers, sometimes as an allegory of a human life or as the life of a civilisation, sometimes as an observational study. Alice Oswald’s 48-page poem ‘Dart’ played a huge part in my own interest in reading and writing poems. I love the way Oswald is equally lyrical about a milk-processing plant as she is on kayakers and wading birds. It also gives me some courage that Oswald was not a native of the area she captured in her poem. Then there’s this:
Nobody seems to know much about Anne Wilson, who, in 1798, self-published a 1600-line poem tracing the Tees from its source to its mouth. It was written, unsurprisingly, in heroic couplets; with many classical allusions, appeals to the muses, and a long, rambling Arthurian story that gets in the way somewhere just east of Barnard Castle. Since that time, a lot of water has passed under a lot of bridges. The Industrial Revolution has been and gone, Sir Walter Scott wrote ‘Rokeby Abbey’, John Cotman and J.W.M Turner sat on the banks of the Tees and painted. Lewis Carroll grew up on Croft-on-Tees. But many places that Wilson invoked are pretty much unchanged after 220 years.
I think I should have a go at writing an updated Tees journey. It will make sure I really get to know the place, to look at it and listen, and to walk as much as possible of the Teesdale Way, which goes all the way from the highest point on the Pennines to the South Gare breakwater in Redcar. I’ve already made a start.
I’m still trying to process all the politics that has gone on since the Referendum. There seems to have been far too much news and most of it bad. Things have been happening so fast that it’s hard to keep up, and even harder to stop and think about what one’s reaction is. The death of Jo Cox MP, as she served her constituents in Batley and Spen, hit me pretty hard, as have all the other senseless shootings, and knifings, and the use of a truck as a weapon in Nice. So I wrote a poem that shows me thinking about why these gunmen, who seem both to be deeply troubled and radicalised, do what they do, and why the ever think it is going to do any good, or further whatever twisted cause they espouse. I found a home for my poem with Marie Lightman’s new anthology, Writers against Prejudice, which I am sure is going to feature some wonderful and thoughtful poems over the next few weeks. I’m delighted to have the honour of providing the inaugural poem in that anthology. Thank you, Marie!
Here’s a link to the poem. For Jo Cox.
Today, a video clip or two for you to enjoy. We had a launch for the Dark Matter 6 chapbook at the Python Gallery in Middlesbrough on 27th February, and there is a recording of me reading some of my poems here:
Also on the same night, the great Jim Burns read a few poems although most of them weren’t in his half of the chapbook… Huge thanks to P.A.Morbid for editing and printing the chapbooks and organising the launch. I’ve got a few of the chapbooks left if anybody wants one…
And shortly after that, I found that my poem ‘Lutyens on Jekyll’ was Highly Commended in the York Literature Festival poetry competition. Which was lovely and very cheering. Several of my friends were there among the commended and highly commended, and we had a great day in York at the award ceremony, listening to some stunning poems and generally hanging out together. Many thanks to Carole Bromley for organising and judging the competition. Here’s the lovely Newcastle poet, Jane Burn, who was also in the Highly Commended group. We got the same train down to York and stopped for tea and cake at Betty’s.
…until Dark Matter 6 is launched!
I’m sharing the chapbook with Jim Burns, who is a bit of a poetry legend and has his own Wikipedia page. There’s also a lot about him on line. For example:
I know you will enjoy his poems and I hope you will enjoy mine.
Hoping to see as many of you as possible at the Python Gallery, Middlesbrough on Saturday 27th February.
It’s taken some time but I am proud to say I have a little chapbook coming out at the end of this month. My new poetic home in the North East, the Black Light Engine Room in Middlesbrough, curated, or do I mean stoked, by the inimitable Mr P.A. Morbid, is including me in its lovely little series of chapbooks called ‘Dark Matter’. Each tiny gem of a book has poetry by two poets and I am sharing Volume 6 with the legendary Jim Burns, which is exciting.
The poems I’ve sent to Morbs are all written since I moved ‘up north’ and to me at least seem like a largely coherent set. I’m looking forward to reading them at the launch on February 27th. More details later.
We are in those leftover days – between Christmas and New Year. A time for taking stock, reducing it, putting it in a tupperware box and storing it in the freezer – or at least that is what I generally do with the turkey bones.
I finished work on 18th December after a very busy few months in the office. I was so tired I would get suddenly lightheaded on the way round Sainsbury’s and wonder if there was something wrong with my health. Looking back on the year it is no wonder I got tired.
This was the year I got active in politics. We began by slithering along the icy January pavements, canvassing door-to-door for Labour at the General Election. I carried on running The Stare’s Nest for a few months after the election, but at the local branch AGM I took the job of Secretary to the Teesdale branch of the party, and I realised I’d got too busy to keep the editing work going; besides it seemed like the quality of poems submitted was diminishing and I suspected the project had run its course. And then a “casual vacancy” came up on Barnard Castle Town Council and I stood, and was elected, on December 10th, as a town council member. If I do that job properly it will take up even more of my time.
In August, I organised a poetry workshop day at the Bowes Museum. Fifteen poets wrote in response to the Yves St Laurent couture exhibition. I think I was the only poet who wrote nothing.
Add to that a house to clean, a garden to manage, an all the concomitant Stuff To Do – we’ve had a lot of decorating done over the last few months – and something had to give. Of course, it has been the writing. I’ve produced very few poems in the last few months, and have done no work on the Great Novel. I was worried that I couldn’t write any more. But, happily for my creativity, though sadly for my Christmas preparations, I treated myself to a weekend in Grange Over Sands at Kim Moore’s lovely “Poetry Carousel” workshop, and a few poems did pop into my head, proving that with bit of downtime and a relaxing atmosphere, I can get back into the swing of it.
Sixteen days off work over Christmas and we have hosted two drinks parties and three sets of house guests, with all the cleaning, shopping and cooking that involves. Today (Day 11 of my “holiday”) I finished a giant basket-load of ironing and started washing the next overflowing laundry binful of clothes.
This can’t go on! I am going to have to make time to write or I will go mad. Wordsworth famously said that: ‘Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility’.
Somehow, we have to make the time for that recollection, a time to empty our minds of chores and worries. I’m not sure how I am going to manage it yet, but I have to create my own tranquility.