spinestripphotoPoems don’t come easy these days; but when they do I’m generally pleased with them. I suppose I always was, but nowadays I like to think that if I were to look back at them in 30 years I would find a much higher proportion of them acceptable than I did when I looked back at my poems from the 1970s (I found 6 out of about three hundred that I could ‘live’ with!).

Perhaps I’m due for another disappointment in a quarter of a century….

Poetry has been on my mind recently as I’ve been working with a student who, for the purposes of the education system – never a good reason – has been put in poetry’s way. The student doesn’t seem to have a natural affinity for poetry, which seems suddenly to be an absurd thing to say about anybody. I should re-phrase. The student hasn’t realised that innate affinity yet. Poetry might go back before prose, must, I think; as song goes back before speech. Poetry in fact, might have been the missing link between song and speech. But even if it wasn’t, it remains a natural thing to do and to engage with.

This was brought home to me a few years ago at a country wedding where a family that could justifiably be described as non-literary (though not non-literate) thought fit to produce several pieces of original doggerel as part of the public celebrations. We turn to poetry for important rites of passage, even if we don’t turn to poets, or to academia, to provide it. The voice of poetry, however peripheral to our lives, however seldom heard or used, belongs to us all, and we know when to get it out and dust it off, and use it, after our own fashion – which, it might be added, will always be fit for purpose even if not fitted for publication.

Poetry has been on my mind also because in the next edition of Southlight (#15) there will be two or three of my recent poems. These come from a rather elastic and accidental unpublished collection of between 9 & 14 poems written during and in some ways centred on, my experience of working as a garden labourer – groundsman on the pay slips – at the fellside garden of a property overlooking Ullswater.

I worked part-time at this for just shy of nine years, from 2004 onwards, and it led to the writing of many poems. The Ullswater Requiem sequence, which won, as part of a larger grouping, a Sir Patrick Geddes Memorial Trust award – the first made to a work of creative writing – was one of them. This sequence has a page to itself on the blog. No-one wanted to publish it in print – not that many had the chance – but I felt it had been worth writing, as was therefore worth a reading. Several of the shorter poems were published, In The Journal,and in the Crichton Writers’ Windfalls anthology, and in Acumen, in both the magazine and the celebratory First Sixty anthology.

It’s curious how poems cluster. Individuals themselves, some seem to belong together. Sometimes this is due to overlaps of content, something we haven’t finished reflecting upon yet. Other times it might be considerations of form. One of the UR poems was in my experimental ‘Valanga’ form, and became part of a second group, all in that form and published by Ben Wohl’s Freerange Press in Carlisle. Ben let on recently that he might have some copies left! I certainly don’t! Ben, by the way, is running a poetry workshop on the subject of poetic forms at Tullie House in Spetember as part of our The Writers Quarter day (6th September), part of the Borderlines – Carlisle’s Festival of Reading & Writing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The latest cluster of my poetry, including those to be published in Southlight 15, shares with the earlier group the place of inspiration. They were all viewed from my platform above Ullswater, and much of the imagery is drawn from the same natural world, but the underlying themes have changed, perhaps from a generally philosophical to a more personal. If you get a squint at them and think they are worth the reading, I have a recording of nine of the poems, almost all of which have been published now over a period of several years.

If there were sufficient interest – a group of half a dozen would suffice – I’d be up for running a Facets of Fiction series of workshops on the poetic theme. Let me know if you are interested.

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