Emily Blewitt, poet, Featured poet, Keith Hutson poet, Suzannah Evans, poet, Uncategorized

Mark Pajak, featured poet

I first met Mark Pajak last year in Manchester. It was a splendid day for me since I had the great pleasure of reading in the John Rylands library with the wonderful Liz Berry. I bumped into him again at the launch of my friend James Giddings pamphlet in Sheffield. Mark mentioned that he had been invited to read in Leicester, and although I was unable to attend the reading I was able to meet him for a brief chat and a coffee.  He had copies of his newly published pamphlet with him and I duly purchased a copy.

I read through it in one go. The abundance of vivid and inventive imagery makes the collection compelling and many of the pieces are instantly memorable. There are poems which deal with childhood and adolescence but manage to skirt nostalgia. Narratives are coloured with startling word choices. The work is precise, controlled and measured , unfolding carefully and without hurry.  It is economic without being sparse or losing its internal music. While many of the poems deal clinically and chillingly with themes of violence and tragedy, the work never feels emotionally ‘cold’. Other poems confront illness and loss in a way that is moving without being overtly sentimental. And while there are echoes of Heaney, Hughes, and Farley, particularly in thematic concerns such as the interaction between the be spoiled urban environment and its ‘nature’, Mark has a distinctive and unified style of his own. I particularly liked the three poems below and asked Mark if I could them. He kindly agreed.

mark

Biography

Mark Pajak was born in Merseyside. His work has been published in MagmaThe North and The Rialto among others, been highly commended the Cheltenham Poetry Competition and National Poetry Competition and won first place in the Bridport Prize. He has received a substantial Northern Writer’s Award from New Writing North and was 2016’s Apprentice Poet in Residence at Ilkley Literature Festival. His first pamphlet, Spitting Distance, was selected as a Laureate’s Choice and is published with smith doorstop.

Tickling the Canal

Believe in the dream… Beware the danger
Marie-Nicole Ryan

Lured to the canal on her dad’s yarn
of Alaska and how he’d tickled fish

from icy rivers. And though this is only Bootle,
Liverpool, and rats wicker in the reeds,

a mallard rasps and a condom eels by
on the current, she thinks herself Inuit

in this northern wind that shivers the water
as a magnet will skitter iron shavings.

So she dips her small hands, motions
as if beckoning and waits for the trout.

But there are no trout. Instead, in the sunk
smoke of algae, sticklebacks scatter

like a shoal of razors. Under the drowned
hull of a bathtub, a pike as long as her arm

slys its snout upwards. The rusty ring
of its gullet ready to slip on a finger.

 

Brood
… and in their glance was permanence
John Berger

At sixteen, I did a day’s work
on an egg farm.
A tin shed the size of a hanger.

Inside its oven dark
two thousand stacked cages,
engines of clatter and squawk.

My job, to pass a torch
through the bars for the dead hens
and pack them tight into a bin bag.

All the time my mind chanting:
there’s only one hen. Just one
ruined hen repeated over and over.

In this way I soothed the sight
of all that caged battery,
their feathers stripped to stems,

their patches of scrotum skin,
their bodies held
in the dead hands of their wings.

But what kept me awake
that hot night in my box room,
as I listened to the brook outside

chew on its stones and the fox’s
human scream, was how
those thousand-thousand birds

had watched me. And really
it was me repeated over and over,
set in the amber of their eyes.

Me, the frightened boy in jeans
stiff with chicken shit, carrying
a bin bag full of small movement.

A foot that opened. An eyelid
that unshelled its blind nut.
A beak mouthing a word.


Camping on Arran, 1992

Dad, you had shared with me your sleeping bag.
And we lay like hands held in one pocket.
When the dark flickered and a pause before

thunder; a sound like the sky waking.
And waking with it, I trembled, trapped,
a boy in a storm, in this tight space

ripe with your sleeping man’s body.
But when the canvas flared again
white with a hem of shadow grass,

you were awake and counting
down the seconds to thunder.
And I, listening, was struck still.

As each count became less
-the storm brighter, louder-
I could feel a closeness

like breath in the air.
And I fell asleep
as rain would fall; soft,

then in a rush.
You counting us
into the eye.


From ‘Spitting Distance’

Keith Hutson poet, Uncategorized

Featured Poet, Keith Hutson

I’ve found that in poetry one often meets friends of friends who become friends.

Keith Hutson has recently become the submissions editor for Hinterland which was set up by Rebecca Bird, who I used to meet up with to talk about poetry when she was studying in Leicester a few years ago.

Rebecca  originally set up Hinterland magazine with Ian Parks, who I had the pleasure of interviewing on here in August 2013. I will always be grateful to Ian for kindly offering to read through the manuscript of my book before it was published. He was very encouraging and made several useful suggestions, not least pointing out that the giant in the film ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ was in fact Talos and not Achilles as I had written in my poem.

Back to Keith. His work has recently featured on the blogs (or cobwebs, as John would have it) of my friends John Foggin and Kim Moore, although I didn’t know that Keith knew either when he said hello to me at a reading in Manchester a few weeks ago and asked if I would like to read at a poetry night he hosts in the Square Chapel in Halifax.

Keith has many strings to his bow, having run a landscape garden business for many years as well as writing scripts for Coronation Street and material for several comedians including the late great Les Dawson.

Keith currently delivers poetry and performance workshops to schools in the Calderdale area as part of a Prince’s Trust initiative. He is a keen runner, and as I mentioned in my last post, Keith and his partner Fiona keep a small herd of sheep on the slopes of the valley above Halifax.

I have only recently discovered Keith’s work but have already become an admirer of his skill and economy. The poems of his that I have read combine acute observation with gentle humour and understated elegance. I look forward to seeing a collection from him in the future. Keith has kindly agreed to let me feature the three excellent poems below.

History

That chap in the crowd, about to toss
his top hat rafters-high and shout
as, pristine and colossal
under steam, the locomotive
heaves and billows
from the shed: who was he?

Owner, backer, engineer,
or just a gent who had to let astonishment
escape, straight up, before he blew
– buttons, lungs and limbs –
in utter wonder
at the coming of an age?

Previously published in Prole magazine

Journeyman

Half-hidden in the fog,
grey and trembling
like the shredded remnant
of a sail, he bent
to open up his battered case
on grandma’s step.
I gripped her hand.

Shell-shock, or gas, sweetheart,
she told me afterwards.
I always buy from him –
what’s a duster after all
he did for us?
I nodded solemnly –
grateful he’d gone away.

Previously published in The Rialto

 The Gloves Are Off

 Do not be fooled: they’re looking
like a pair of proper loafers
on the bench, but never
do they fully disengage.
The cheeky left may loll, skew-whiff,
across the napping hammer
of the right, but these are bruisers,
built to stay in shape,
perpetually flexed,
ready to fly, put on a show,
and elevate a scrap
to craft.

No one’s watching: slip
the rascals on, and feel them float
your hands up to your head,
like helium. Now you’ll bend a bit,
perform a fidget-jig, call
it your Ali-shuffle, laugh out loud,
then try a jab accompanied
by the customary hmmnph!
and swagger. That’s the way –
get in! You just can’t help yourself!
Soon you’ll want a skipping rope,
a heavy bag, a chin.

Previously published in Hark.