JackdawQuarterly writers’ group: Summer meeting

30 04 2016

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Feel welcome to read a poem or an extract of prose, or to simply listen along to others on the theme ‘panic’.

 

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Confessions to a Literary Agent

25 10 2015

She sits, silently shrinking into the hard leather seat,
palms joined, knees folded like a scolded child,
her body crossed by conflict.

There is a voice beyond the closed door,
persistent, protracted as candlelight;
then another, interrupting the guttered monologue.
A kindly intonation, leaning in
like someone at a lost car’s window,
a familiar accent pointing the way home.
Then the quiet apologies string together,
clinking like rosary beads, louder, nearer,
until the door opens and a faceless writer
falls out, back as bent as a broken book,
leaving the door ajar.

Though she enters the agent’s office
with a sheaf of papers swinging resolutely,
her tongue quickly kneels her down.
And both then know this pattern by rote
so the murmurs behind the screen
become a predictable Latin
while I note the following confession:

‘Our last meeting was fifty-two weeks ago,
I have despaired of my writing and know
I’ve broken the promise to write every day,
Neglected to read, forgotten to post
Entries to competitions (unless when drunk).
I’ve watched my blog become lazy and ‘like’
Posts without reading them. I’ve stolen
Similes, collected characters, I’ve sunk
To emulating ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’
And write about vampires my daughter’s age,
Now I borrow her books.  I even bought
My husband a kindle for his birthday.
I am sorry for these indiscretions –
The limitless sins of my non-profession.’

The agent swaps the sacrament for sacrifices,
‘Absolution will be your first publishing deal,’
she promises.  The writer can’t look at the words
as they chime, nor can she meet the eyes
of the next confessor outside on the pew.





That Talk: Glyn Maxwell and Simon Armitage at the Chester Literature Festival

24 10 2015

The hall is pleasantly packed and hums
with whispered voices like a weekday wine bar
or an autumnal garden near the village road.
The space echoes handsomely.

The compere stands outside, a robin
singing warm welcome, his wings wider
than the open doors. He shuffles from foot to foot,
checks his watch, nibbles a fingernail.

Across the room is a face I see and recall. Remember?
We talked on a commuters’ train to Crewe, before you
interviewed me for a place on a teaching course there.
Then shared the trainride back home, a decade ago.

The poets arrive, bless the congregation
with a shared prayer and then sit. The raised stage
quickly becomes a kitchen conversation and invisible smokes
of cigarette coax concealed wine glasses,

chandeliers soften to down lights,
coughs become the dog yawning and both men forget the crowd
that listens like an eavesdropper to their secrets,
complicit. Each hopes the other won’t reveal them.





The shout

20 10 2015

Birthplace (Glyn Maxwell)

She traced her forefinger beneath each line,
as slowly and deliberately as one learning to read,
stroking the skin of the page
so the words stood up like tiny hairs.

‘The task,’ I said, ‘is to make it louder
by hiding some of the poem in the dark.’
But she stared down at the marker pen
as though it was a bullet or a spent shell,
its damage pre-empted, permanent

and, instead, closed her eyes.  In her dark,
she shadowed out the sounds of classroom chairs
being clunk-stacked on the tables, the goodbye bell,
the ‘don’t run down the corridors.’
The poem and the pen and girl were gone
when I returned to the room after bus duty.

‘This poem is about silence, not shouting,’
she tells me the next morning, while the class,
cold and uncaring, slip from their slick coats
into echoing conversations.

Her markings have devoured the poem
so the silhouette that remains is skeletal;
bones she has spat are now shards,
the remaining ribs sharp and dangerous.
All the flat noise has been carved from the paper

and when I rub my finger over the scars made
by her scalpel, to gauge the gulleys there,
the wet marker pricks my fingerprint with ink,
and the sentiment sinks into me anew.





World Poetry Day and The Chester Literature Festival 2015

17 10 2015

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Step 1: Find your favourite poems (the ones that you have gathered and nurtured and given and have given unto you)

Step 2: Photocopy them onto coloured paper, hand out the scissors, put some chopping/thrashing/paring music on

Step 3: Watch the carnage spread from the desks to the floor – imagine the cleaner’s face when she sees the devastation

Step 4: See young pupils handle old words with a freshness and fearlessness

Step 5: Acquiesce, permit them to leave with their poems and that snaking promise they’ll ‘finish them at home’

Step 6: Look at their proud faces, their proud poems, feel a little lighter about life

FullSizeRender (5)  (A ‘found poem’ based on Tony Harrison’s ‘Long Distance’)

FullSizeRender (6) FullSizeRender (7) (A ‘found poem’ using Simon Armitage and Glyn Maxwell poems)

FullSizeRender[1] (A ‘found poem’ using Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Seal’ and ‘Hippo’)

FullSizeRender (4) (A ‘blackout poem’ using Glyn Maxwell’s ‘The Birthplace)

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(Blackout Poetry’ using Luke Wright’s ‘Ballad of Fat Josh’)

Step 7: Take the new poems to their original creators, ask for kind words and signatures, return them to their new homes





Poet in Residence – Dylan Thomas’ Writing Shed – Chester Literature Festival

13 10 2014

The one way system to the city’s traffic had tide changed. There was a new estate in the street I had expected to park my car in.  Chester had been building in the six years since I’d left it and my walk to Dylan’s writing shed was diverted by streets newly formed and structures newly thriving.

In the centre, however, the city remained similar: same pubs, The Red Lion (where I will forever remember watching Liverpool’s fortnightly Champions League melodrama simmer as surprisingly as any Dickens’ potboiler), same squares of grass (the Cathedral cricket strip that I watched fallen catches break like birds’ eggs, then clutched a fizzing ball on the boundary in the gloom), the slightly squalid Town Hall square (that my girlfriend of a decade, in the middle of Christmas Markets, let me leave our lonely love behind).

It was exhilarating to step in the Writing shed again, to sit in the sagging wicker chair and look up at the portraits of Brooke, Lawrence and Dylan himself.  It was a relief to be away from my nostalgia and enter somebody else’s.

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The first gentleman who asked for a poem declared, ‘I’m not a great lover of poetry, music is the new verse’ and, thus, verbatim, I wrote down the opening lines of a piece which tracked the calm cadence of his voice and compared him, albeit kindly, to sheepdog and candle smoke.  He took his poem like a medicine, wincing, then swallowing the concept whole.

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The next couple, watch checking restlessly, requested a poem for their forty-fourth anniversary.  They told me that, four years before, they had celebrated their Ruby Anniversary but this one was one for a dinner, calm, the afternoon, a walk on the walls.  I don’t think they came back to claim it.

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And the afternoon strode on and I was quickly left clutching a pad of bespoke poems that had nothing but titles.  I wrote one about a local charity, one about the journey on the A55, one about poetry, one about a woman’s wonderful neologism, one about pens, one about pain, one about, one about, one about.

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When it began raining the crowds huddled away and I held on to a stack of orders.  But instead of filling them out, I contrasted the swollen, pencil point-eyed poet from the Collected Stories I was using to lean on, with the one in the Augustus John painting above the shed window.  I wrote for a minute and cursed him his infinite flaws.

The final poem I hung to the washing line was for the festival organiser, who asked for something to remind her of a Bucket List success in Moorish Spain and the watercolours it had stirred in her.  The poems I have still to produce are for a creative writing student from the local university, for a kind fellow of the festival who gave me the compelling catalyst ‘hedgehogs’ and for the two people who have rolled the Writing Shed both around their imaginations and the country for the past year.

So, when I left and followed my footsteps back to the car, I tried to think of how I write something that would do more than acknowledge the efforts of the last pair, something instead that could crown their commitments.  Something that will aptly say thank you to them for taking Dylan Thomas to schools and imaginations, something that will thank them for bringing him back to me.

Somewhere damp, burrowed under the crimsoned leaves of Aumtum, I’ll find the right words searching for worms and tease them out into the weak winter sun.

In a fortnight, when we will fill the space again at the Touch and Go: Dylan Thomas in Montgomery event in Mid-Wales, I will begin by pinning up these poems.





A Reading @ The Word Conwy – Sunday August 16th 1.15 Conwy Guild Hall

6 07 2014

A festival of words.

http://thewordconwy.com/wordsmiths/

conwy

http://thewordconwy.com

I will be reading before the national poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke, @ The Word Conwy this summer. The event is on the same weekend as the Feast programme and also features the linguist David Crystal.

“A festival of words. Sounds like heaven on earth to me” David Crystal, the world’s leading expert on the English language.

http://www.conwyfeast.com/feastattheword/





The Grave of a Ground (Port Vale 2 Crawley Town 2, Saturday 6th August 2011)

30 01 2013

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There is sense in cemeteries and symmetry
in gravestones. The cross is a puzzle of stations
but when I link the points I find flags,
badges, shields, coffins.

The workshop could be replanted with offcuts,
try oak Mr Williams grins. Stable for the table.
He traces calloused fingertips on a spiderweb grain.
Black ash is cheap and cheerless.

He shows me how to saw odd angles so they sleep
as snug as dovetails, then preaches to the class
of my dedication: lathing late, sanding all spring.
Diligence makes the best bookcase.

He never asks to see my plans, discerns cab’net
when I mumble casket. He signs a yellow slip
so I can work through lunch drawing and etch
three chalky white letters on the lid.
Dad is in the Head’s office all afternoon,
loudly warning my mother I’m macabre. He nods,
she sobs and my name is shadowed out from
the school show brochures in thick marker.
Sir wouldn’t look at me the Saturday,
my brother and me screwed on brass handles
and trudged it home. It was David’s idea to take it
to the stadium, prop it against the Railway Stand
to take turns stealing glances at the game
but men touched the casket like mourners
as we passed, offering to shoulder the weight.
‘A coffin’s not as heavy as a death,’ said a voice

outside the Bull’s Head and he lay a folded scarf
inside the lid. Pin badges and pennants and papers
thrown in as the landlord sang sermons. I rang
the pub bell’s lonely chime as the procession filed away.

People eddied in the swell outside the ground
rolling against the metal gates in grumbling waves
until sirens stanched the flow. Helicopters hummed
all evening and the heat dripped out the day.

While the weatherman’s arm covered the Potteries
from overnight storms, Mum warned me not to sleep
through my alarm. Her voice smoothed silences
dug up by news footage of a match day melee.

I found photos of the coffin and the crowds
in all but one of the Sundays and read reports
of riots until the print was fat with rain.
I posted the puddles with each paper.

They hadn’t even mentioned my name.
There was nothing noted of how I’d mixed ink
with filler to cover the screw holes,
contoured the edges so it’d be lighter.

Outside the club is an ashen mound. A handful
of black sawdust, weightless and portentous.
A coffin is not as heavy as a death.





Rubbing

11 12 2012

(Published in Roundyhouse vol.35)

There’s a smudge on the page, I’ve noticed,
from when I sketched
you brushing your hair in the long mirror
with your hands.

This isn’t the sheet i drew
the distant seagulls of your sides
or discovered how your tresses grew
in seven, quick months.

Here. Here, is the tip of elbow you scratched
on the hawthorn by the path. Here
the treasure of freckles, roused
from hibernation.

Near the top of the book the binding loosens,
the spine sags, the sketch a memory.
But the graphite flower had been pressed
enough to leave its reflection.

Behind each word you see here
is a grainy rubbing of your shape.
Dip your fingers into the words and feel
how everything is becoming you.





The Longest Day

2 09 2012

Silk of midnight cloud,

the tender reminder of an endless

June evening.

It is a lazy dark tonight, the moon

a pearl earring snagged on the penumbra

of Tryfan. The model village is dozing,

Then, a siren like a baby’s tired cry,

and helicopter flit as jarred insects.

Houses light up. The fire

is young but the windless night

shoulders the crackling.

The coil of flame drips down

the Conwy Valley and orange slick

snarls wider. Mist is choked

in a panic of smoke, the coolness

charged by risk. The tear

in the cloak of the mountain

is a sick loop through to the core

of centuries. It is midnight, the fire

grows like a rumour.