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Andy Hopkins, with the help of a team of students organised by Ruby Evans, gave Carlisle its first Poetry Symposium at the weekend. It was staged at Room 8, Fisher Street Galleries, the home of Darren Harper’s Phil & Lit Society.

Eight invited poets were supported by a dozen ‘open mic’ readers, which merry (and not so merry) band held their audience of fellow writers, readers and friends from 11.00am to around 4.30pm, give or take a break for networking and buying from the pop-up bookshop which sold over £300 pound worth of local publications.

Most dazzling of all, for me, was the finale, during which Josephine Dickinson read her poem ‘Alphabetula’ designed, and performed to give the hearing reader an experience of the profound deafness that overtook her from the age of six. Astonishing is a difficult word. Is the astonishment a quality of the astonished, or of the astonisher? Whichever, I found the performance astonishing. Working at break next speed from a breeze-block sized stack of single sheets upon each of which was written in capitals a single ‘word’, or rather a single group of seemingly random letters, and which she flung from the pile to face the audience, Josephine grunted, squeaked, wheezed and harrumphed her way through what to call a ‘nonsense poem’ would be to do to (or even oo-bee-do-be-do) an injustice.

Forget Jabberwocky. With this poem we were not invited or encouraged to mould the gibberish to our usual grammar or to a simulacrum of our normal speech, but were rather demanded to look, and listen on, in bemused incomprehension – as those who are profoundly must often have had to do.

It was a break neck performance, not least because of the sheer physical weight of the poem being read…and make no mistake it was being read, it was a poetry reading, a mad, compelling soundfest of a poem, the meaning of which was not meaning, but incomprehension itself.

Writing this I’m reminded of Bob Cobbing reading in the seventies – he toured the Lake District one summer in the company of other pop poets on a poetry bus or van that colonised, and re-vitalised a series of car parks if memory serves -but by comparison his poems, broke down some barriers of language and languages, were models of linguistic simplicity. It seemed to me, glancing at the audience when I could tear my eyes away from Josephine and her crazed turning of the pages, that she was taking us on a wild ride, no less, I think, than we might expect from this mistress of words.

For those of an arboreal persuasion, let me say that the title of Josephine’s poem contains no co-incidental pun, as she will explain, when and if you ever get the chance to take the ride. You can take a peek at Josephine reading, and what the poem looks like on the page, here.

There will be another poetry symposium, I hope, and, I hope I shall be there!

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We have an all day poetry symposium in Carlisle (England) on Saturday, May 19th, at the Phil & Lit Society on Fisher Street (Room 8, Fisher Street Galleries).

I’m one of the poets who will be reading. I have a twenty minute slot to fill. I don’t do introductions, or at least not the twenty-minutes-to-introduce-a-twenty-line-poem sort of introductions. It seems to me that if the poem doesn’t speak to you it’s no use the poet telling you what it should have said, and besides, the poem you experience is the one you hear, not the one the poet tells you that you are going to hear. So it’ll just be the poems, mainly, apart from a word or two.

There’s a Neil Young concert, with Crazy Horse, I have on CD – you remember those – at the beginning of which someone yells out ‘They All Sound the Same!’, and Young shouts back, ‘It’s all one song’. The perfect grammar makes me wonder if it was a plant…but either way, if my poems attracted the same sort of comment I’d have to give a similar sort of answer.

I set about choosing the poems I won’t be introducing.

I have a new collection out, which I should attempt to promote…we’re having a pop-up bookshop too, so I’ll bring a few copies to sell…. and I’ve included a couple from that, at the end of the reading.

But which other poems? Well, I thought, pick ones you like. Pick ones you’d like to have read if you were never going to read in public again, and who knows if you are ever going to read in public again? Who knows if you are going to make it through to the 19th of My anyway?

I discovered I liked quite a lot of my poems. That’s why I wrote ‘em, I suppose.

A.E.Coppard, that short story writer whose stories I rather like, published a couple of collections of poems, and he too liked his own poems. He got into a deal of trouble for mentioning that. Perhaps I shall too.

And then there’s the matter of which order you read ‘em in. I sent fellow poet Andy Hopkins – whose event this is – a copy of the intended poems, and he suggested which one I start with. I’d placed it nearer the middle, but the suggestion unlocked the logic of the ordering.

Start with the poetry, then the biography, then poems that matter, to me, and perhaps, if I’ve done the job properly, to you too. End with the poems in the collection you’re trying to promote (I added one extra comic poem – always good to end on a high note, if there’s time to squeeze it in).

There are several others readers, too good to be among really, and lots of ‘open mic’slots in between. The show runs from 10.00am until 5.00pm. Come along. Listen. Read. Buy books. Ask questions. Chat. Make sure Andy reads some of his poems too!

Rime’s an odd concept. I don’t mean that crust of ice that clings to cold metal, but the poetic technique that sings the last syllable of some preceding word, often at a line end; absurd, round the bend.

It brings us up sharp against the subsequent word, or down heavyily on it, logically without warning, but if the rhythm’s right, the poem’s like a song and to not get the rime, at that point precisely in the tune would be somehow wrong. Rimes can be weak or strong. Sometimes, when we hit them, unintentionally as we speak, they sound out of time. Some poets put them in the middle of a line, which is fine. Others, I’m thinking Wilfred Owen I suppose, does something not quite the norm – echoing consonant but not vowel – but no-one cries foul! (or thinks him a fool or it bad form). Riming two syllables at a time often sounds silly, weakens the line, willy nilly.

It comes down to the tune, more often than not, and whether it will scan, but there’s one poem springs to mind, where it does not.

I’m thinking of Robert Frost’s Fire and Ice where the rhyme scheme is rigid, but instead of singing like music, it turns each line to come down like a mechanism, a verbal steam hammer rather than the lyric of a song. Instead of marking a musical beat, it makes the line-end an anvil on which the sense rings true, and is beaten out on the two rimes in it: the words of the title, echoed, pile driven home: ire, ice. The fact of the actual rime of ‘Fire’ being ‘ire’ adds a little something that must surely have been fortuitous!

Find it here.

I wrote a few days ago about failures, of one sort and another, quoting William Faulkner. If you’d like to experience Me attempting to be a (failed) poet…here are a couple of collections where you can:

A successful poet, you might think, is not one that gets published, but one that nails the poem.

More than ten years ago I started writing what became a sequence of poems about the fictional character ‘Martin’. Between 2005 and 2011 about a dozen poems turned up. They were never exactly planned, but I knew them when they arrived, and not always because of his name. Often it was a tone of voice, or the ambience of the first few words to arrive that alerted me!

Several have been published, in Acumen, Tears in the Fence, Beautiful Scruffiness, and most recently, with the latest addition, Martin Removed, in the second Speakeasy Anthology here in Carlisle. Eight of the poems were gathered into a short run chapbook by the Carlisle based Freerange Press.

Over the years since 2011 a handful of new poems have been added to the sequence, and they have now been collected into a new edition in paperback and for Kindle. You can find it online here.

I’ll be reading from Martin? Extinct?, followed by a Q & A session, at the poetry symposium on May 19th, at Carlisle’s Phil & Lit Society (Room 8, Fisher Street Galleries), and will have a limited number of numbered & signed copies of the new collection for sale.

Acumen poetry magazine issue 90 is now published, and available here. With one of Mike’s poems inside. Other poems of Mike’s are in An Early Frost, which you can buy following the link on the image:

She was only the ornithologist’s daughter, but she did it for a lark. Or, to bring it up to date, only the ornithologist’s offspring.

So much for the non-PC stuff. Somebody passed on to me three publications by the late Philip Larkin (High Windows, The North Ship and Required Reading). I can’t remember reading any Larkin, though I know what he said about our parents. That raises the conundrum, for people like me, of whether we should go for blaming the adoptive, or biological ones, and erring on the safe side seems to suggest both.

That’s not what this is about though. It’s about the realisation (which has crept in over years, rather than suddenly), that I don’t buy many poetry books. Partly that’s because I’m spoilt for choice, and most of them will be disappointing (and money has always been tight – at least in a local context). Over and again, magazine editors in the small press world have made the point that if everyone who submitted bought a (bloody*) copy they would be laughing. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha, ha!

We don’t of course, and all sorts of inhibitions, critical judgements and parsimonies prevent us. It occurred to me though, perhaps because of the time of year – when humbug is in season – that if we were to buy such publications (and not only poetry, but short stories too, or even books of essays, hmn?) and give one to our friends – two to enemies – we all might be laughing: Hahahahahahahahahahah, haha!

I shall look forward to reading the PL, especially the RW.

*in deference to the article on Radio 4 ‘this’ morning that told us swearing is good for us WTF? Ed.)

I’ve got to that stage – I came across a handful of magazines not on the ‘boasting shelf’. How they’d been overlooked I don’t know. Perhaps because they were so ragged: covers off, staples rusted, pages dog eared – dog eared? Fighting dogs I suppose.

Even the names I’d forgotten, of the magazines, that is. The names inside sprang back to mind. Half of them must be dead by now, the others half dead. Radix, Muse, Raven. In one I was ‘Midland Poet of the Month’ with a half a dozen poems about Burton-On-Trent that I couldn’t remember writing, until I read them again.

I found also, two ‘Oakleaf Poetry Cards’, with front cover illustrations by artist Steve Muscutt – last seen running Fred Holdsworth’s bookshop in Ambleside – and inside poems by David Watkyn Price. Stockghyll in Autumn Flood ends with the couplet ‘fighting on the edge/to keep the earth.’ It’s a fitting pair of lines to remember David by, and he used it if I remember correctly, as the title of a collection, though I can’t recall the publisher. Perhaps there is a copy still lurking somewhere on my shelves. Here’s a glass raised to both him, and to Steve.

Poems come harder now than they did back then – the magazines date from the nineteen seventies – but the better for it, I hope. I remember faintly the excitement that publication brought with it in those days. It’s a different feeling now, more of gratitude than excitement; more to do with recognising a compliment being paid than with any sense of an opportunity being offered; a sense of acceptance, which of course in that obvious sense, it is.

I was a publication tart in those days. I sent my poems to every magazine I could find, and something like forty of them were accepted. It didn’t change my life, nor that of any reader I expect. I’m less promiscuous these days. I try the occasional ‘fresh’ magazine, but most of the poems I think of as worth having a go with are sent to Acumen. Few get a second chance if they are not taken there. Patricia Oxley has published perhaps a dozen of my poems over the years. She put me in the 60th, celebratory, issue. That earns a first refusal in my book.

Of course, some have gone elsewhere, mostly to local magazines, out of sense of neighbourliness. To be published locally is a privilege.

Finding those old poems reminded me that they have, or have not – and the poet is perhaps the last to know of it – a life of their own, quite disconnected from that of the poet.

In the midst of this unexpectedly re-kindled interest in my Valanga form, here are the first and third examples I wrote. The first, of course, is where the name came from:

The Avalanche

We cannot speak.

Our past is spoken for.

So we must keep our silences.

 

Don’t catch my eye.

We cannot speak,

and I will only look away.

Our past is spoken for.

There is no more to say.

So we must keep our silences.

 

Nothing will change.

Don’t catch my eye.

We have resolved to wait.

We cannot speak.

The distance is too great,

and I will only look away

across the field of years.

Our past is spoken for,

in forests where we lay.

There is no more to say.

I love you now as then.

So we must keep our silences.

 

Our love endures.

Nothing will change.

Only illusions fail.

Don’t catch my eye

while listening to this tale.

We have resolved to wait,

and you were always true.

We cannot speak

about this love we share.

The distance is too great.

Besides here’s not the place,

and I will only look away

to see you in imagination

across the field of years

with tears upon your face.

Our past is spoken for,

and we do not forget,

in forests where we lay,

on paths we walked together.

There is no more to say.

Make no mistake.

I love you now as then.

It’s only hearts we break,

and we must keep our silences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marooned

And I no longer look for ships.

We passed in darkness not in light

Where love falls unexpected in the night.

 

It seems so long ago,

And I no longer look for ships,

And leave the beacon fire unlit.

We passed in darkness not in light.

It’s pain that time from memory strips,

Where love falls unexpected in the night.

 

All loss lies in the past.

It seems so long ago,

And time slips by so fast,

And I no longer look for ships,

But sit with closed eyes on the beach,

And leave the beacon fire unlit.

The past is always out of reach.

We passed in darkness not in light.

Who learns the lesson this would teach?

It’s pain that time from memory strips,

Until we are alone at last

Where love falls unexpected in the night.

 

So keep the vigil on your side.

All loss lies in the past

Among the ones whom love divides.

It seems so long ago

We made our separate trips,

And time slips by so fast.

We’ve no regrets at all,

And I no longer look for ships

(There is no rescue yet)

But sit with closed eyes on the beach

To see what I recall,

And leave the beacon fire unlit

In case you see its signal flame.

The past is always out of reach,

And all fires burn the same.

We passed in darkness not in light,

But yesterday still grips.

Who learns the lesson this would teach?

By candle glow and lovers’ talk,

It’s pain that time from memory strips,

Beyond the sound of human speech,

Until we are alone at last.

I would be there if yet I might,

Where love falls unexpected in the night.

 

 

No Valangas here, but a collection of poems written overlooking Ullswater, and including the Ullswater Requiem.

 

 

 

I saw J— yesterday and later sent her the form for the Valanga along with my example. She was very taken with it, ‘loved’ my version and will be trying one of her own today…
S—- sent a message, ‘I took a valanga to Carlisle Writers Group tonight. They were intrigued by the new form and excited by it. And here is a description of it by my lovely friend and walking partner, J— G— “the valanga is a waterfall of words. Or a stream of consciousness. The repetition feels like the rills of water making the same chimes as they hit an outcrop of rock repeatedly’
Finally, K— has written one with the theme of ‘Dusk’ which she intends to send to the Solstice thing.
Seems that the word wants to live the meaning… or something like that.  – from Marilyn Messenger 190917.

 

When I invented the Valanga form, back in 2007/8 it was because I needed it for a particular poem I was trying to write. I was mid way through a Masters Degree at Glasgow University’s Dumfries campus at the time, and had been looking at poetic forms, and at the Pantoum in particular. I included examples of the Valanga form in my course portfolio.

It struck me that the ripple effect of the Pantoum didn’t enable the development I was looking for. I wanted a poem that got bigger, more powerful, as it went on; an explosive poem, but an explosion that had direction. The avalanche metaphor became the title of the poem I was struggling with. Originally, The Avalanche of Emotion, I think! The form was named after the poem, but I chose the Italian version of the word as a bit of sideswipe at the British habit of thinking something foreign is better than something home-grown.

The college authorities, at least their external markers, weren’t impressed with the form, nor, I think, with the temerity of believing one could, or should try to invent one.

I wrote about a half a dozen poems in the form. Having written that first one, I was intrigued to see if it could be made to work more generally. ‘The Avalanche’ itself I count as a success, but ‘An Instant’ is probably the best, – and it was later published and also included in a group of poems that won a Sir Patrick Geddes Memorial Trust Award in 2009. Ben Wohl published them all in a 50 copies only Free-Range Press series, along with one by Fiona Russell – another M.Litt student – plus a pantoum and a post-Valanga poem by me (I have only my reading copy left).

I ran the form past my Creative Writing students at Cumbria University, and one or two had a go at it. Marilyn Messenger, who went on to become a regular writing buddy, returned to her Valanga this year (2017) and took it along to Wigton Writers Group, where it was, apparently, well received. From there it spread to Carlisle Writers – hence the extract at the top of this article.

It’s good to see life breathed in to a writing experiment after so many years, especially after such a cool reception by the university. Quite by chance, on a brief visit to Rome, just outside the city gates, I saw the word scrawled, graffito, on a wall.

Outside the Pilgrims’ Gate, Rome

The form is simple:

The first stanza is of three lines. The second has the same three lines, but each with a new line inserted before it. The third has those six lines with six new lines inserted, one before each of the six. The fourth repeats the process, adding 12 new lines, one in front of each line of the 3rd stanza.

Length of line, rhyme schemes and the like are up to you. It’s worth noting that the first three lines are repeated most often, and the last twelve not at all, and that the third line of the first stanza ends all the stanzas, and will become the last line of the whole, 45 line poem.

I tell you all this not only because I am ridiculously pleased about it, but also because it just goes to show: the writing you did yesterday, and might do tomorrow and may have done today, might find and have its own day – like any dog – long after the ink has dried and the blood, sweat and tears have cooled.

Here’s the second, and to my mind, the most successful of the poems I wrote using the form:

 

An Instant

Suddenly we stop, the sheep and I,

Even the squirrel on the wall.

I’m carrying sticks. They’re in the field.

 

I heard nothing at all

But suddenly we stop, the sheep and I,

As if there were a distant call,

Even the squirrel on the wall,

Suddenly motionless eyes peeled.

I’m carrying sticks. They’re in the field.

 

Maybe there’s some message on the breeze.

I heard nothing at all.

Perhaps they’re more finely tuned than me,

But suddenly we stop, the sheep and I,

As if some deity had drawn us to a halt,

As if there were a distant call

From one who had authority over us all,

Even the squirrel on the wall.

For a moment we’re like a photograph,

Suddenly motionless eyes peeled,

As if something amazing had been revealed.

I’m carrying sticks. They’re in the field.

 

And the best of it is,

Maybe there’s some message on the breeze

That I can read too.

I heard nothing at all,

But we all know there are other senses.

Perhaps they’re more finely tuned than me,

Or can see more clearly,

But suddenly we stop, the sheep and I

And I’m included with them all,

As if some deity had drawn us to a halt,

Not with a command but

As if there were a distant call

Addressed to someone out of sight

From one who had authority over us all,

That we just overheard,

Even the squirrel on the wall,

That made us stop and realise.

For a moment we’re like a photograph,

Wondering if perhaps there is some deep intent,

Suddenly motionless eyes peeled,

Hiding behind this pure invention,

As if something amazing had been revealed,

Going about our proper business.

I was carrying sticks. They were in the field.

 

 

[An Instant first appeared in The Journal #22]

Did you know that Acumen #89 is now out? And it has a wee article by me on Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘Neutral Tones’ – now, hasn’t that got to be worth a peek?