Daily Archives: January 24, 2016

Poetry: feasts and festivals

I’ve had a poetryful week. It started with arranging to meet Manchester Cathedral Poet in Residence, Rachel Mann for lunch in early February. In November we were both published in an anthology themed around the periodic table. I published my poem, Phossy Jaw, on my blog. Well, Rachel couldn’t attend the launch party at the Anthony Burgess Foundation so I agreed to collect her copy for her. February will be the official handing over. Yes, I know it’s taken a long time, but Rach is a vicar and Christmas/New Year is a busy time for vicars, apparently. So, arranging the lunch sent me back to the anthology for a read. It is really rather good! You can find a copy here:


On Monday a friend sent me a FaceBook link to an unusual poetry festival in London in March. It is the Psychoanalytic Poetry Festival, held at the Freud Museum. Details are here:


So I booked myself onto that one, I hope it will be a useful contribution to the PhD as well as being really, really interesting. The wonderful poets  Pascale Petit and Maurice Riordan are involved, so it should be a good day. Apparently, the Freud Museum host these psychoanalytic poetry festivals regularly; I’ll look out for future events then, if it’s worth the hotel stay in London.

Then, possibly the highlight of the week, I had an email from Michael Symmons Roberts. Michael teaches creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University; he was one of my tutors on the MA. Anyway, his email invited me, and four other PhD researchers from the writing school, to be involved in an interesting project to work with composers from the Royal Northern College of Music to produce new pieces of work for Music Theatre Wales. Well, it took me all of two seconds to send an affirmative reply to that one. I’ve worked with RNCM composers before, when I was doing my MA, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. As a result, two of those pieces have been performed at Manchester’s prestigious Bridgewater Hall. And now, thanks to Michael, a chance to do it again. Four other PhD poets are also invited to be involved: Rachel Mann, Zafar Kunial, Andrew Forster and Martin Kratz, so I am keeping good company in this project. The introductory session to the project is in February, so I’ll report on progress after that. As with the MA, it is the ‘extra-curricular’ opportunities that come with the course I signed up for that make doing these courses such wonderful open-minded learning experiences. Bring it on!

On Thursday I had another email, from two poet friends. They are going to Wenlock poetry festival in April, would I be interested in house-sharing for the festival weekend? Yes, I would, along with another friend. These are the friends I went to Aldeburgh with in November. So I duly became a friend of Wenlock to take advantage of early booking opportunities and booked myself onto poetry events with Lemm Sissay, Daljit Nagra, Holly McNish, Jonathan Edwards and many more exciting poets. And I get to spend the weekend with a wonderful trio of friends, so I expect wine and poem-sharing to be big parts of the deal. Details of the festival are here, so perhaps I’ll see some of you there:


On top of all this excitement, I have been reading. I finished the Andrew Wilson biography of Plath: mixed feelings about that one. The work was good, the publication less so, as I outlined last week. But it was a good taster session for reading Ted Hughes Birthday Letters (Faber and Faber 1999), which is my current bed-time read. Such a poignant read and wonderful to have Hughes’s poetry interpret her journals and their shared memories. I’ll get to the end and then read it all over again. Several times, probably. And, of course, my relationship with Sigmund continues. So I’m feeling on top of the reading target I set myself at the beginning of this journey. And I’m learning so much.

And I’m still writing. I belong to a closed poetry group: the Spelks. I think I’ve mentioned them before. This is my favourite group. We meet regularly at each other’s houses to share our writing. We set tasks for each meeting, write to those tasks then share the resulting poems over a glass or two of wine and lots of nibbles. The theme for this latest meeting, next Friday 29th January, was to experiment with form and write poems headed by an epigraph. So this week I have written a villanelle I am quite pleased with and a Shakespearean sonnet which  I feel is rather anal. It just seems too tight to be comfortable; so I wrote Mk2 retaining the sonnet form, but relaxing it so that the line breaks don’t necessarily happen at the end rhymes. I’ve retained the final couplet intact. I’m more pleased with Mk2, but I look forward to feedback from the group. I don’t think it’s going to be snatched up by any publishing houses any time soon, though, but the writing exercise was interesting. Both of these poems, unsurprisingly, are based in Sylvia Plath’s journals. I’ve still got almost a week to come up with another poem too. I’m planning to write one shadowing the form of one of Plath’s poems, possibly Lady Lazarus.

I can’t post these poems until I’ve had feedback from Spelks, it wouldn’t seem right. So I’ve chosen a poem I wrote a couple of years ago, which won the Fermoy International Poetry Competition and earned me a long weekend in Fermoy at the poetry festival there. It fits my PhD theme of mothers and daughters, a light-hearted look at a difficult relationship. The stanza about boyfriends is particularly amusing. When my sister found her first boyfriend my mother told her she was too young to have a boyfriend (I think she was fifteen at the time). ‘They only want you for one thing, anyway,’ Mum says. ‘Well tell me what it is and I’ll give it to them,’ says sis. Not the answer Mum was hoping for, but that is a measure of how naive we were in our teenage years. We learned all we knew of dating from Boyfriend, Valentine and other romantic teenage mags. We picked up real life as we went along!

So that’s it. May all your weeks be as poetryful and rewarding as mine has been this week.

The poem:

Ten Things My Mother Never Said To Me


You are every bit as interesting, funny, beautiful

and precious to me as your brother


When I made your brother, I was an apprentice;

by the time I made you, I had perfected my art.


I ate three slices of the Victoria Sponge

you brought home from domestic science.


Boys will love you for the way you consider them your equals.

They will love that you can change a light bulb, fix the car,

redecorate the lounge, cook a nourishing meal and all this

while reading Ulysses.


Mostly boys will adore you because you have the ability

to make them laugh. And because you are adorable.


Trust your boyfriends, sex will be the last thing on their minds.

When it is on their minds, it will be a beautiful expression

of how much they love you for your drive, personality,

intelligent conversation and well developed sense of humour.


Don’t be afraid to show the world you care.


Caring will sometimes cause you pain but don’t worry,

I will always be there to hug the hurt away.


There is no age restriction on hugging.


Hug your children every day. When they are too far away

for a real hug, hug them tight in the arms of your imagination.