It’s February. My least favourite month. T S Eliot wrote ‘April is the cruellest month’; I disagree. For me it’s February, coming at the end of a long winter of grey skies, grey light, grey, grey days, long, long nights. February. Its only redeeming feature is that it’s also the shortest month; although this year of course, it’s a bit longer. Twenty nine days to process. And to make it worse: B****t. It’s happened. We’re no longer part of the European Community. As if February wasn’t bad enough already without taking away that fundamental aspect of my sense of self. Truly, roll on Spring. If February’s here, can Spring be far behind?
Thankfully, I have poetry in my life and that lightens the greyest days. This week I’ve had loads of competition entries to process. The closing date was January 22nd, but various diary commitments at the end of last week meant I had to put off processing the last of the entries until early this week. We had a record number of entries this year, which is wonderful: thank you and good luck if you sent us your work. I eventually got them all processed by Tuesday. On Wednesday I wrapped a thousand poems, took them to Oldham Post Office to send them on their way to Sinéad Morrissey, our judge. So if you sent us your poems, thank you and good luck. They’re now with Sinéad and she’ll start the long process of reading and sifting until she comes up with our winners by mid-March. We’ll inform our winners; but we won’t make the decision public until our celebration event on April 4th. Be at the Whiworth on that afternoon to be one of the first to know. Keep up to date on our website, https://poetsandplayers.co/
Tuesday evening was our monthly Stanza meeting. We meet on the last Tuesday of each month, 7.30 to 9.30 at the Buffet Bar, Stalybridge Station.
Reading Simon Armitage at the Buffet Bar, Stalybridge
This session was dedicated to the poetry of our new Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage. We read and discussed his work. There were five of us at the meeting; and a plethora of Simon Armitage collections. He’s such a prolific writer; and we were impressed by the variety of his work. Poetry, prose, humour, sadness, philosophy, translation: it’s all here. We had collections from his residency at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, culminating in the publication of The Twilight Readings (Yorkshire Sculpture Park; 2008), a beautifully produced book of his writings with pictures from the park. I was given a copy of the book when I researched poetry residencies during my MA: Simon’s residency was one I concentrated on. I was able to get it signed eventually. One of his latest collections is Flit (Yorkshire Sculpture Park; 2018) in which he reimagines the Park as the European republic of Ysp. We read from these books, and from books honouring war veterans; international events like the 9/11 terrorist attacks; close readings and translations of literary classics: Sir Gawain, Death of the King, Homer: all these published by Faber and Faber, I think. And although we didn’t read from them, we discussed the prose and poetry accounts of his troubadour walks along the Pennine Way and the south-west coastal path. He is indeed a prolific writer and a worthy Laureate. Also, I found out I actually have Armitage collections on my shelves that haven’t been signed yet: not sure how that’s happened, but I’ll be putting it to bed as soon as the opportunity present itself, hopefully later this year.
On Wednesday evening I went with Hilary Robinson to an open mic reading, Bad Language in Gulliver’s Bar in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, with irrepressible hosts, Fat Roland and Joe Daly. Ian Humphries was the headline poet—another Manchester Writing School MA Creative Writing graduate: we are a large community! Ian gave a masterful reading from his collection Zebra (Nine Arches Press; 2019). If you haven’t read it yet, get it, read it. It’s good poetry. The poem that provides the title, ‘Zebra on East 55th and 3rd’ imagines a zebra in New York City, unnoticed by folk absorbed in their mobile phones: ‘Unfazed, he grazes on popcorn and nachos/from a Keep New York City Clean litter bin…’ Hilary and I both had reading slots in the second half of the evening. I was last to read. I took three of the poems I wrote after my daughter was diagnosed with malignant melanoma four and a half years ago. If I’d known I was going to read last, I might have chosen something less intense, a bit more cheerful, but I didn’t.
open-mic reading at Bad Language, 29.01.2020
However, they proved a good end to a fantastic night celebrating established and emerging writers. As we were leaving the pub a member of the audience, outside enjoying a fag, shook my hand and thanked me. It’s the little things; and I suppose cancer affects us all in some way. I’m very pleased to tell you that Amie is recovering well; she’s still being monitored, but we expect her to be discharged from the Christie’s outpatient care later this year. I had a message from my son, Richard, while I was at Bad Language: he’d fallen while out running, damaged his shoulder, bruised his face and leg. He was in A&E with a sling on his arm. Nothing broken, thankfully, just badly bruised. Fitness eh? It’s bad for you. When I feel like getting fit, I sit down with a brew until the feeling passes. Here’s a list of upcoming Bad Language nights at Gulliver’s: https://badlanguagemcr.com/events/
Poetry weeks are the best. Even B****t can’t cloud that. I still say ‘bollocks to B****t’: I’ve got the badge; I wore it on Friday when we left the Union. I hung my little European flag in my front window and played Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. However insular we become as a country, I’ll always see myself as a citizen of the world. So yes, bollocks to B****t; and hooray for Schiller’s ‘Ode to Joy’. There’s not much in the world that poetry can’t make better.
I’ll leave you with one of the poems I read at Bad Language on Wednesday: it addresses the biopsy of the mutant mole Amie had on her shin, early in the diagnostic process. I used to think melanoma was just a rogue mole; you had it removed and you were cured. I’ve learned a lot since that early naivety, and if you are concerned about a mole anywhere on your body I urge you to get it checked out, the sooner the better. Melanoma is not someone you want to mess with. Here’s the poem: it’s included in my 4Word pamphlet, to be published later this year.
A tiny room a doctor two nurses
you me a trolley a bed gloves masks
gowns a small jar a scalpel.
At last we’ll see it cut down to size,
a raisin in a raspberry jus, tamed
evil in a plastic jar. The nurse
slaps a label on, puts it in a bag
for the lab—a foreign body,
a pernicious collection of cells
turning back on themselves,
mutating, rolling time into an avalanche.
Look, it has ambitions to rule the world,
a tiny Brain of Morbius breathing.
I can feel its little pulse, hear it
croaking malice to other samples
in other jars in white coated labs, massing.
As we sip our coffees it’s multiplying,
rallying under the stare of the microscope.
We’ll see. We will. We
wait. Wait. Just wait.