Featured poet; Sarah Westcott

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One of the joys of attending poetry events such as the Free Verse Poetry Fair (see previous post) is that such gatherings provide the opportunity to meet other poets and discover something of their work.
Last week I found myself seated at a pub table with a group of poets that included Sarah Westcott, and in the course of our brief, amiable discussion, we discovered that we had both had our poems printed on beer mats that very week (please see previous post again.) Such is the small world of poetry.

I like to use this blog to share and promote work I like, and Sarah’s caught my eye for its concision, its dense and precise imagery, bold choice of unusual language and for its emotional power.
Sarah has kindly provided the three poems here, including one previously unpublished piece.

Sarah Westcott’s debut pamphlet Inklings (Flipped Eye) was a winner of the Venture Poetry Award and the Poetry Book Society’s Pamphlet Choice for Winter 2013. Her poems have been published in Poetry Review, Magma and Poetry Wales, on beermats, and a poem is forthcoming in The Best British Poetry 2014. Sarah lives with her family on the London/Kent borders and earns a living as a newspaper journalist. Her interests include pug dogs and running marathons.

Messenger

We found her in the shadow
of the gas drum;
a pleat of otherness
pinched from her dominion.

Maw like a whale,
head slit to gill air,
a dark scythe
at our feet.

We willed her wings to open
her form take shape,
conflate to airy spaces.
A new crescent moon.

We picked the whole contraption up,
brindled, tawny, creamy throat;
she spilled over our hands
into awe.

Her claws were shriven,
her eyes the eyes
of something fallen,
the weight unbearable

so we sent her onwards,
to beat at the heels
of a young god’s sandals,
set her away, windward.

Previously published in Poetry Review, spring 2014.

The Cannots

They are afraid of dolls.
Their genitals are dry.

They are drawn to mountains and motorways.
There have no fear of flying.

Their temper cannot be lost – it is chained
like a dear dog.

They think the Bible is valiant.
They mourn Patrick Moore.

They cannot come, or hiccup,
but convincingly fake both.

They can see through our clothes, into our guts,
read what we are made of.

They are always on the surface of the sea -
they cannot get wet.

They cannot drown either: they loiter
on the inter-tidal zone.

They use onions or pepper to cry
when watching soap operas or weddings.

Their feet are always very pretty,
soles soft as a new-born.

They learn white lies, learn to tell them like a joke.
If they win a race it is not deliberate.

They make vigilant life-guards and paramedics.
They like to think about magic.

Music does not work
but their singing voices are always astounding.

They think Mystic Meg is a hoot.
They love the way starfish can grow back a limb.

They remember every birth,
find the vanishing point in shop windows,

walk over hot coals, and pray
they might, one day, burn.

Vegetable

they call you,
hair fanned over hospital corners,

but what sort of vegetable
grows perfect crescents of keratin

after years of gnawing,
or swells with the moon,

bleeds bright
every twenty-eight days?

I soap your hands and paint your nails
deepest beetroot red.

Previously published in Magma 55

Swimming, beermats, fairs and waiting rooms.

It’s been quite a busy poetry week for me.

Not in terms of writing, although I have produced a draft or two that I’ll have another look at tomorrow. Several pleasing things have happened.

Firstly, I received a nice surprise when the organisers of the Bradford on Avon Arts Festival got in touch. A few months ago I had entered their Poems on a Beermat competition. This was for poems of up to 12 lines, and the shortlisted poems where to be printed on beermats and distributed in pubs throughout the Bradford on Avon area.  I was pleased that my poem  ‘Night Swimming’ had been chosen by poet and Interpreter’s House editor Martin Malone, who was judging the competition. You can read a little about the prize giving evening see the winning poems on Josephine Corcoran’s blog and read some of the poems via a link Josephine has on there. My poem tells the tale of a swim I took  with some poet friends off the coast of Wales near the town of Cricceth  one magical midnight a couple of summers back. The swim was the idea of the force of nature that is Joan Hewitt, whose work I have featured  here before.

Here is a picture of Cricceth beach at sunset. Our swim took place much later, under moonlight beneath and nearer to the castle’s  silhouette.

CRIccieth
Cricceth

It is always good to have poems in places other than on paper or on-line, and I am very much looking forward to receiving my 25 beermats.

Yesterday I attended the Free Verse poetry book fair in London. It was a great pleasure to read my contribution to the new Happenstance ‘choclit’ anthology ‘Blame Montezuma’ alongside Alison Brackenbury, D.A Prince (who was also launching her new collection), Clare Best and others.

I also sat in on a couple of discussions, but the best part of the day was spent wandering around the main hall and chatting to poets and publishers. It was great to meet up with Alan Baker, Jane Commane, Matt Merritt and Ross Bradshaw of Five Leaves Press, amongst many others

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Conway Hall

I was pleased to meet Liz Berry, and was able to tell her how much I love her book ‘Black Country’.  I wanted to attend the reading Liz gave later, but was so busy chatting with Greg Freeman of ‘Write out Loud’ that I missed it. I do hope to see Liz read in the near future.

I did manage to attend the launch of Michael Brown’s Eyewear pamphlet ‘Undersong’, and I look forward to spending some time next week having a closer look at his work.  If you have the new issue of The North magazine you will find one of Michael’s poems there.

I returned home to Leicestershire to receive another pleasant surprise. The organiser of Poems in The Waiting Room New Zealand had been in touch to ask if she could use one of my poems.   Poems in the Waiting Room is a charitable arts in health trust who, every year distribute 6000 free poetry cards to medical waiting rooms, rest homes, hospices and prisons throughout the South Island of New Zealand. Each season’s poems are also transcribed into Braille booklets. Of course I replied that I would be delighted and look forward to receiving my postcards. It’s lovely to think my work may be of interest to, and maybe provide a brief diversion for someone who is possibly in difficult circumstances.  Once again I am indebted to Josephine Corcoran for publishing the poem on her excellent And Other Poems, as I imagine that is where it was seen on a computer screen in New Zealand. Poetry travels faster and further in the internet age.  You can read the poem here.    

 

 

Free Verse Poetry Book Fair

1 Free Verse

I’m looking forward to attending the above event in London this coming Saturday.

Apart from enjoying the ambience of the occasion, hearing readings and discussions and meeting up with poetry friends,  I am pleased to be reading as part of the launch the lovely new Happenstance anthology ‘Blame Montezuma’.

 

Happenstance editor and publisher Helena Nelson will be hauling copies of this beautifully produced book all the way from Scotland so please do attend the reading and purchase a copy to lighten her load if you can.

The launch looks to be great fun  with participating poets handing out free chocolate samples and Helena supplying a selection of fascinating chocolate facts between poems.

Entrance to the event and all readings are free. You can find more details and a list of the poetry magazine, pamphlet and book presses that will be attending here.  

This morning I thought of Adrian Henri

Adrian Henri

This morning a friend of mine told me she has an upcoming reading at a school, and I recalled a letter, printed in its entirety in one of Adrian Henri’s books, in which, after a visit to a school, the head teacher describes him as unacceptably scruffy and unprofessional.  It is for this playfulness, uncompromising Bohemianism and self-aware humour that I remember Henri, as well as his poems which are often full of the images which, as a painter, he was so adept at capturing with a few light touches.   Henri was one of the first poets I read outside school, and he was very important to me in my early teens.
I wrote my first poem when I was seven or eight. It was called ‘I wish I had a dog’ (with the ‘b’ the wrong way round, a tendency I had at the time.) This verse was intended to convince my parents to buy me a canine pet. The poem didn’t have end rhymes, but I remember a good rhythm and a jaunty pace, a bit like AA Milne’s Winnie The Pooh might write, which could have only have contributed to its eventual success as a persuasive piece of propaganda.

Then followed my first long break from writing poems; I concentrated on filling exercise books with stories whose narratives and vocabulary I had plundered from the primary school library.
B fLIGHT

I received great praise for these semi-plagiarised epics, and, denying all knowledge of similar work published by Penguin and Puffin, was asked by Mrs Goodman to read aloud to the class as she recorded me on a cassette.

I didn’t really study much poetry at secondary school. In fact I didn’t study much of anything. But I recently remembered being awestruck by Seamus Heaney’s ‘ Tollund Man’ when I was about 13. I’m pretty sure I read it in a history class and that the book included photos of bog graves.
Tollund Man

I also remember being astonished by Ted Hughes’ ‘Pike’, and I loved a poem by Miroslav Holub called ‘Love’, which begins – ‘Two thousand cigarettes’ and ends ‘Believe me when I say/ it was beautiful’. This, in a different way from the vivid Hughes, seemed like the real thing- gritty and wonderfully romantic.
It seems that Anthony Wilson was similarly touched, and he writes wonderfully  of his discovery of the poem and reprints it in full here.   

Typically, I didn’t follow up any of these leads, and apart from these early stirrings I read little poetry except for a First World War anthology and some Dylan Thomas.

I found Penguin Modern Poets 10 ‘The Mersey Sound’ in the library of the FE college I attended at 16, and wanting to impress my girlfriend, began writing my own versions.
Mersey Sound

I still defend McGough, Henri and Patten to those who consider them lightweight or inferior. Each has his merits, and I think all three were hugely important in helping children and young adults like me think they might like, and also perhaps write, poetry. And so, for a short while, I wrote a poems. Then followed another hiatus – this time of about ten years- in which, with the exception of a few songs and an occasional jotted image, I barely wrote anything .

I missed the rise of Simon Armitage and Carol Ann Duffy, and with the exception of the occasional poem in The Guardian, had no idea of the modern poetry scene. A new relationship got me started writing poetry again, and after the birth of my son in 2004, I found myself in the now sadly defunct Borders bookshop where I discovered a poetry section which included Paul Farley, Robin Robertson, Jo Shapcott and Jean Sprackland.

Reading these poets and discovering the world of small magazines (Stand, The North, Poetry Wales and others where all stocked by this shop) set me off on the writing and publishing trajectory that brings me up to date.

I’m lucky in that I saw Henri, Patten and McGough read together in the eighties, and I have since met and thanked Brian and Roger for their impact on my early life. Brian Patten wrote me a lovely postcard once, and I mention his poem ‘A Stolen Orange’ in my poem ‘Southbank’  from ‘The Sun Bathers .’  Brian is reading at the Aldeburgh Festival this year.  Go and see him if you can.

Finally, and written this morning, here is my small tribute to Adrian Henri, who by all accounts considered himself to be a lucky man. It is based on an anecdote told by Adrian to his friend the writer Nell Dun.   

Lucky Mr Henri

After the reading, he goes back to a girl’s room
where the bed is single, the wallpaper, damp.

He wakes to find he’s lost his wallet
and before breakfast

has to creep out, to walk by grey waves
in the desolate seaside town.  He hears a gull

and looks up; a piece of bread drops
into his open mouth.
 

The Poetry Business

North_52_cover

It is always good to have work published in magazines you really admire. The North, published by the Poetry Business, is such a magazine.

I first submitted some poems (in retrospect, probably not very good poems) in 2010. They came back with a note from Peter Sansom. He wrote that although they wouldn’t be taking any of my poems this time, they liked things in every poem. I was disappointed of course, but later realised that such encouragement isn’t always forthcoming from busy editors, many of whom send out printed rejection slips or standard e-mails.

The following year I took out a subscription to the magazine and went up to Sheffield for a workshop or two. I was extremely nervous at first, but after a couple of visits I was greeted by Peter and Ann as an old friend. I also got to meet some lovely supportive people, including John ‘The Great Fogginzo’ Foggin, Will Kemp and River Woolton.

My first poem in the magazine appeared in 2012 alongside poets whose work I greatly admire- poets like Rory Waterman, Kim Moore, Suzannah Evans and Julie Mellor. A lot has happened since my first forays into the poetry world in 2009 and I’ve been extremely fortunate. Earlier this year Pam Thompson invited me to support Peter and Ann, along with the brilliant Maria Taylor, at the Y theatre in Leicester. I’m pleased to say I have two poems in the latest Issue – actually three poems, since David Cooke quotes my little poem ‘Wren’ in its entirety in his rather generous review of ‘The Sun Bathers’. This issue of the magazine has been guest edited by Jonathan Davidson and Jackie Wills and contains 138 pages of poems, articles, reviews and features.

Mice nests and parcels

mOUSE

Apart from the process of writing of poems, the 21st century poet wishing to be read by more than a few friends and family has to send out of poems to magazines and / or competitions.

There are the seemingly endless periods where nothing seems to happen. Nothing falls onto the doormat for months. Every other poet  you know is reading at festivals and publishing everywhere. You may be happy for them, but you begin to wonder if anyone knows you exist.

a POET

And when poems are accepted there can be another wait for publication – sometimes for years.

For the poet published by a small press there are also periods when  you wonder if you will ever read to an audience again. So it goes.

Then, if you are lucky, hardworking and patient, there will be weeks when the outside world responds and several things happen at once.

My contributors copy of ‘Blame Montezuma!’ (Happenstance, 2014) was delivered by today. The post-lady brought me out of the garage where I had been emptying  the nests of mice  from a selection of children’s out-grown Wellington boots.

The London launch for this wonderfully elegant and brilliantly conceived book containing poems about chocolate from the likes of Alison Brackenbury, Hilary Menos, Clare Best, Rob A Mackenzie, David Mark Williams, Matthew Stewart and many other fabulous poets will be in September, and I look forward to posting more details then.

This week I also received a very generous review of my book from the renowned publisher and poet Peter Carpenter in Under The Radar Magazine.   Peter writes superbly and so it is a review I will cherish.

Another very kind review appeared on the website of the marvellous Nottingham based independent bookshop, Five Leaves. I also had two of my poems taken by New Walk, one of my favourite poetry magazines.

And finally my wonderful publisher John Lucas informs me he has sold out of the first print run of my book. Thank you to everyone who has bought a copy. I have four copies left as I write this, and due to the successful sales I can offer then at a reduced price of £8 plus pp. If you would like one you can order one from ‘The Sun Bathers’ page of this blog.

I wish any poets reading this similar weeks. They will come. They don’t happen very often, but when they do…

NB- No mice were harmed in the making of this piece.

Poem from Ver Open Prize, 2014

three-horse-riders-peebles

The Horses

In the first bright slew of laughter and bedclothes
we hear them, and cars slowing to pass,
the drifting talk of their riders.
They clop through gathering dark
as lights come on and the baby kicks and dreams
inside you. Hooves break the skin of our sleep,
wake us to green shoots
or rusted leaves, to shoe prints in early frost,
a puddled road and soft scatterings.
The boy grows tall and oversleeps,
as we lie tangled or back to back,
while the phone brings news
of a slipping away, a collapse
into nearly nothing.  Blossom glows
and is blown to blizzard, blackbirds return
to build in clematis. But always,
we hear horses, though we never know
their barrelled flanks, the sway
and tilt of a saddled back,
as they trot through the days
of promise, arrival, exit.

 

Roy Marshall

A version of this poem was first Published in The Ver Prize Anthology, 2014.