Monthly Archives: October 2015

What do you do when a poem doesn’t work?

My writing life

Well, what do you do?

You could tear it up and throw it out of the window and go into a decline.

You could throw your computer out of the window and go into a decline.

You could go under the duvet for a week muttering that you are a rubbish poet.


You could read it, as it stands, to someone else and see what they think.

I had a poem this week that just wouldn’t work, and although I felt like doing all three of the above things, I didn’t (partly because my computer is brand new!), I read it to someone else in order to try and find out what was the matter with it.

I am still not sure it will ever work, but the feedback was useful. Among other things I decided that it is either two poems, although I don’t want it to be, or one rather long one that is going to take a while and a lot more work to get right. So now it’s on my pile of poems to revise and revisit and it’s going to stay there for the moment.

The poem I did write was triggered by a conversation which in turn brought back a memory. A few weeks ago someone asked me what was the most worthwhile l thing I thought I had ever done. I replied that many years ago, when I was a primary school teacher, I taught lots of people to read, and I felt that that was a very useful thing to have done. This conversation in turn, brought back a very clear memory of one little boy who struggled to read and I wrote the poem about that. This is a new topic for me and takes me back to a time in my life I have never written about when I was in my twenties. It could, and I hope it will produce more poems. We’ll see.

Reading Week

More Carola Luther this week; these poems deserve reading slowly and so far I have managed to keep up my intention of reading some poetry every week. The book, Arguing with Malarchy, is in three sections and I have just finished the first one, entitled Cusp. This in itself is a lovely collection of poems about a variety of topics. I particularly enjoyed the long poem about Iceland, and the way that in short sections the poet captures the enormous variety and strangeness of the place. I remember when I went there back in the 1980’s thinking it was the first time I had been in the true wilderness, and that it was an alien environment,  and gave me a feeling of otherness that was really disturbing at the time.

Hare in the Headlights                                                                          

Nothing too scary this week that I recall, it’s been busy but there haven’t been any moments when I felt as though I was caught in the middle of the road and not sure what to do.

A friend, who really loves hares, told me she had seen a hare in the headlights for real once, and that it had turned and moved away and she had followed it. Is there a lesson to be learned from that, about going with the things that scare us?

Book Sales, Readings and Some Special News

My Writing Life

Lots of good news this week:

Firstly, I now have two readings booked for:

Thursday 19th November at Lancaster Library at 6 pm

Tuesday 24th November at Ambleside Library at 3 pm

I hope that all the people who couldn’t make it to my launch will be able to come and enjoy hearing my poetry. So pop the dates in your diary and tell your friends.

Secondly, my book Gardening with my Father is now on sale at the Lancaster Tourist Information Office and will shortly be on sale at Fred Holdsworth’s Bookshop in Ambleside.

And last, and certainly not least, I am now able to announce that my poem, Visiting the British Museum, was shortlisted for the Bridport Poetry Prize 2015. Come and hear it at one of the above events.

Apart from all that, it’s has been a good week on the writing front. I have managed to start three new poems, and even if two of them don’t go anywhere I love the feeling that I have something to work on. Every few weeks, I try to return to the poems I have written and aired at my writing group and do some editing, based on the comments received. This is a good discipline for me as I find it hard, for some reason, to revisit recent work. So apart from writing new stuff that’s my task for next week.

On Thursday I attended one of the highlights of our poetry year here in Lancaster, April Poets. This group of dedicated writers organise a poetry event twice a year in April, (hence the name) and in October. The events are always well attended and always feature great writers. This Thursday was no exception, with reading from Lindsey Holland, David Borrott, Hubert Moore and Kim Moore, as well as music from John Woodward, a fine classical guitarist. Because I know David and Kim, I particularly enjoyed their readings and it was really good to hear poems from David’s first pamphlet, Porthole. There were also readings from the group of six poets who started these events in order to celebrate that this was, in fact, the 10th April poets; and long may it continue!

 Reading Week

This week our reading group met to discuss Awakening by Stevie Davies. It is an absorbing historical novel focusing on the lives of two sisters caught up in the mid 19th Century religious Revival in the borders of Wales. We had a very lively discussion. As I only finished reading Awakening on Thursday, while waiting for the plumber to come, I haven’t had much time for poetry reading. However, I intend to share more of my thoughts on the books by Mimi khalvati and Carola Luther, as I continue to enjoy their work at a leisurely pace.

Hare in the Headlights

Not too scary a week really, but I had to pluck up a lot of courage to go into the libraries and enquire about doing readings, and an awful lot of courage to go into the Tourist Information Office in Lancaster, and the bookshop in Ambleside to ask if they would sell my books. Everyone was delighted to help and couldn’t have been more positive, thank goodness!

Till next time


National Poetry Day, or was it Week?

My Writing Life

Well, it’s certainly been a week for poets and poetry lovers. My week has been one of lots of different and exciting poetry experiences.

First there are three programmes available on Radio 4 Listen Again from last Thursday 8th October which was National Poetry Day(NPD). These were Woman’s Hour, Ramblings and We British: hopeful romantics. Lots of poetry and good discussion to enjoy and share.

I’m having to listen again to all of the above as on Thursday I was in Edinburgh for a very special occasion, the highlight of this week. Well, actually I must admit I picked Thursday to go and visit a friend without realising it was NPD. My friend is a film maker and had recently filmed an exhibition called A Poet, a Potter and a Painter at the Edinburgh festival. This exhibition featured the poetry of Elizabeth Burns who lived in Lancaster and was at the heart of our poetry community here, sharing her poetry at readings and her skills as a teacher in poetry workshops and groups. Sadly, Elizabeth died in August and never got to see the exhibition.

In celebration of NPD the Scottish Poetry Library chose poems written by five Scottish poets and put them online asking the public to vote for which one should be put on a huge banner on a building in Canongate on NPD. One of Elizabeth’s poems, Spiral, was selected and won the competition. My friend was filming the opening on NPD and she and I went to see the banner after lunch. The poem was read by the Edinburgh Makar, Christine de Luca, and members of Elizabeth’s family were present.

Either side of this event, other poetry highlights for me were the weekly meeting of my writing group on Wednesday night, only three of us this week but, as ever a nourishing and enjoyable occasion, and on Thursday the meeting of local Stanza Group here at Lancaster Library, which takes place on the second Thursday of each month. I am not surprised that I haven’t had a lot of time to actually write anything.

Reading Week

However, on the train to Edinburgh I settled down to read Arguing with Malarchy, a collection of poems by Carola Luther, published by Carcenet in 2011. I met Carola as she led a residential workshop with Kim Moore at Abbot Hall last April and I very much enjoyed the experience of working with her then. Her poetry demands and rewards careful study and slow reading. So, I am going through it very slowly, and so far particularly like the poems Vernal and The Lamb.

Hare in the Headlights

A very big Headlights moment this week as on Tuesday morning I set off at the crack to drive to Ambleside to give my first workshop for Learning Plus. It’s always nerve wracking gong into a new teaching or facilitating situation, but the workshop went well and I found that after about half an hour I really enjoyed it. I really love teaching creative writing and I hope this is going to be a great experience.

So off to prepare the next one now, till next time!

Four Poets and a Harpist

My writing life

What a night! At about 7pm on Saturday 26th September people started to arrive at the Storey Institute in Lancaster to attend the launch of my recently published pamphlet, Gardening with My Father.

I read a wide selection of my poems, some from the pamphlet and some other more recent ones. The themes of my pamphlet are my family and reflections on their characters, and my relationships with them; my interest in gardening and in travelling, especially in former Yugoslavia, and a few at the end from a current collaborative project with photographer Sid Barlow called ‘Ways of Exploring Morecambe Bay.’

One of the really great things about a poetry launch is that it can offer other writers an opportunity to showcase their poems. Two of the three poets who read with me were local. Elaine Trevitt, coming from a medical background, writes funny and touching autobiographical poetry and read, among others, poems from her pamphlet Caught in the Net. Angela Christopher’s book The Memory Tree was published last year. As a visual artist, Angela writes wonderful descriptions of places and people. Yvonne Boyle came all the way from Coleraine in the north of Ireland to read. Yvonne’s poetry is sharply evocative of a country and a countryside she loves and expresses her emotional relationship with it.

The evening was made even more special by the lovely Celtic harp music from local musician, Celia Briar. The Nice cafe at the Storey provided food and drink and we all had a fantastic evening. Poetry, music, food and wine, could there be a better recipe for celebration? And the poets even sold some books as well.

As with all poetry publications this one has been a while in the making. The process started more than a year ago when Joy Howard, the editor at Grey Hen Press, agreed to publish. From then on it was hard work as the editing process is detailed and meticulous, but I found it most enjoyable. It was lovely to have someone else scrutinise my work in this way.

After weeks of planning and preparation I found that on the day I was relieved it was actually happening and surprisingly nervous. Mind you, I have always suffered from stage fright and on the whole I think it’s a good thing. However, once I got started I was fine and everyone was very appreciative, and as the evening wore on I became more and more relaxed.

Since last Saturday I have received cards and messages of appreciation and congratulation from many people who said they enjoyed the event. I now feel well and truly launched!

I cannot conclude this account without saying that without my partner, Pat, who was the M.C., and helped me so much with all the organising, and my friend Vanessa, who ran the bookstall, it would not have gone so smoothly.

Reading week

As you can imagine I haven’t found much time to read in the last week, so here are two forthcoming reading intentions. I am going to buy two books of poetry. Yvonne brought over with her the poems of Hannah Lowe, whom she had heard reading at the John Hewitt Summer School this summer, and whose collection is called Chick. I haven’t bought it yet, but I went to The Poetry Archive and listened to some of her recordings. Try it and let me know what you think.

Secondly I discovered that one of my favourite poets, Mimi Khalvati, has just published a new collection The Weather Wheel, also on my must have shopping list.

Hare in the Headlights moments

Lots this week…but here are the two most scary:

Arriving at the Storey on Saturday to find no wine had appeared for my guests! (Don’t worry it came!)

Ready to start the evening and the harpist had not arrived. (Don’t worry she did! The traffic is dreadful in Lancaster.)

Till soon!