The Community of Poets

A poetryful week. It is amazing that when I retired from primary school headship 13 years ago, I knew nothing of the wonderful community of poetry: poetry was just the angst you wrote in the privacy of your own home, something secret you didn’t tell other people about. How pleased am I that I found my way into this community? This week has been all about the community of poets.

I spent last weekend with three friends at Much Wenlock for the poetry festival. I mentioned this last week. On Sunday morning three of us went to a Holly McNish writing workshop. Holly is the kind of poet everyone should spend time with: she is so joyful, you can’t help feeling good in her company. She ran a fantastic workshop that involved sanitary bags from women’s toilets and lots of secret information about ourselves written on scraps of paper. We all came away with an unusual poem that we never would have written without her input. Later in the day, she did a reading from her new book, Nobody Told Me, a reflection on pregnancy and new-motherhood. Poetry and prose, it is an interesting take, personal, political (small p), and entertaining. After lunch we went to a reading by Greta Stoddart and Paul Henry. I enjoyed Greta’s reading very much; Paul Henry’s poetry seemed very ordinary by comparison, although I think he had some groupies in the seats behind us who probably wouldn’t agree with me. We ended our Sunday with dinner at the Plume of Feathers, about 200 yards from our hired cottage.

Home on Monday, still buzzing from the poetryful weekend. On Monday afternoon I had to clear the hard drive on my Sony Handicam. I have been using it to record the Poets and Players events for the last year or so; but it got poorly at the last event and messed up the Jackie Kay and competition winners’ recordings. So, I wiped the hard drive clean, thinking it was a space issue: I’ve had it since 2007, so there was a lot on it; all backed up, of course. I prepared an instruction sheet for a friend to use it at the Thursday Late session at the Whitworth this week; I couldn’t go. Ira Lightman, Andrew Macmillan and the cellist Heather Bird. Well, the upshot is, the Handicam still didn’t have enough room despite being wiped clean, so I think it’s probably on its last legs. Ho hum! The event went well, I believe; different from our usual Poets and Players events, but it was a different audience. You can find out about up-coming P&P events here:

On Tuesday I met with four poet friends to plan our up-coming poetry retreat in Bowland Bridge in the Lake District. We hire a cottage every year and organise our own writing workshops, one a day. We incorporate ‘touristy’ stuff as well, so we have a brilliant week away. This year, after I asked on FaceBook if there were any open mic events in the Bowland area during that week (i.e. next week), lovely Kim Moore actually organised an event especially for us. The event will be at Natterjacks tea rooms, hosted by Kim on Wednesday 11th May, 7.30 p.m. If you are in the area, come along. Details here:

On Tuesday evening, it was Stanza. I co-ordinate the East Manchester and Tameside Stanza in the Buffet Bar, Stalybridge Station.  This week was a reading week: we chose to read the poetry of Jackie Kay. There were only four members there this week, several had sent apologies, so we were a small and select band. We read several of Jackie’s poems and had interesting discussions about and beyond them. It was a good night despite depleted numbers. Our next session is on 31st of May, an anonymous workshop. You can find details on our Facebook page:

On Wednesday morning, in bed, very early, I wrote three poems for Spelks. Yes, three. I didn’t mean to, they just came to me as I was writing the first one. The theme this month, set by me at our last session, was ‘anniversaries’. These could be personal anniversaries, national or international ones, for instance 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, 200 years since Charlotte Bronte’s birth, 100 years since the Easter Rising. You can have two poems this week. Here is one I wrote in bed on Wednesday, to commemorate the day 50 years ago when Pickles found the stolen world cup:


 not onions not Branston

not walnuts not limes

not piccalilli not gherkins

not cauliflower not beetroot

not eggs not silverskins


in 1966, I remember, the Pickles

on everybody’s lips was

that cold nose that sniffed out

the stolen trophy, saved

the tournament.


Who’s a good boy then

—yes you are!

The other poem, one for my PhD project, I’ll post at the end. On Wednesday evening my partner and I went to the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester for a performance of King Lear in collaboration with the Talawa theatre company. I can’t say too much about it here because some friends have still to see it, but I can say it was fantastic. I love the play, have seen several versions of it, but this was up there with the best, in my opinion. Don Warrington played Lear brilliantly. And ‘Blow winds, crack your cheeks’ is one of my favourite lines from Shakespeare.

On Friday it was Spelks. I was worried, because it was also the snowiest day of the year so far: we had to dig our way our of our lane. We had about three inches of standing snow overnight and I had a dental appointment at 8.30. We just got the lane cleared of snow when it started to come down thick and fast again, large fluffy flakes, sticky snow. So I rang the dentist to cancel; again: this was a replacement appointment for cancelling when I had the head cold a couple of weeks ago. So I was worried I would have to cry off from Spelks and you know by now how much I love Spelks: seven friends who meet monthly to write, read and share poems. But it was OK. The snow had receded by lunchtime and the lane stayed clear, so I put emergency rations in the car (just joking!) and set off for Mossley. By the time we went home the snow had practically gone: that’s the nature of it at this time of year, thankfully it doesn’t hang around for long. The theme for Spelks this month was anniversaries; it inspired some brilliant work. We shared, laughed, ate and drank. In short, it was everything that is good about the community of poets.

In among all this, the PhD has been progressing apace. I spent several spare hours (?) reading and taking notes on Julia Kristeva’s Melanie Klein: object-relations theory,  fascinating stuff. I think I am beginning to understand what she is about and how I can use her theories to inform my own research. I have also been reading Promises Promises, Adam Phillips’s collection of essays on psychoanalytic theory and literature criticism. Very readable. Very interesting.

So, my PhD themed poem this week. It was inspired by the Spelk theme of anniversaries: it is twenty five years this July since my mother died. This poem reflects on that night, and the death of my only brother thirty years earlier, a catastrophic event for the family.


Twenty Five Years

since you died and I’m thinking

how I held your hand

tried to reach you across the barren land

you retired to that devastating summer


how I held your hand and waited

as your breath changed from shallow

to rasping to rattling then one long hiss

like a puncture

and no more opportunities for love


how I tried for years to reach you

and even that night I couldn’t find the way.

I thought we might have made it then

but now I’m in a place where everything

has a familiar strangeness

a sort of half remembered landscape


where he still is, where he’s always been,

still seventeen,

still the same oppressive absence he became

that summer. As far as I can see

the only one missing is you.


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