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’

Suzannah Evans, poet, Uncategorized

Guest Poet, Suzannah Evans

MY FACE (1)

Suzannah Evans is a poet, creative writing teacher, tutor and mentor based in Sheffield.

Her poetry has been widely published in magazines including Magma, The Rialto, The North, Poetry Review and The London Magazine. 

Her pamphlet Confusion Species was a winner in the 2011 Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition, and in 2013 she received the Andrew Waterhouse Award from New Writing North.

She has taught courses for The Poetry School and workshops for Museums Sheffield, Leeds Museums and at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery at Leeds University. She has also been mentoring poets to develop their work since 2013. She also works as  Production Manager for The Poetry Business, which is where I first met her during a writing day I attended in around 2011. I subsequently had the great pleasure of meeting up for a few coffees and poetry chats with Suzannah at Sheffield Hallam University, where she had recently completed an MA and where I was studying for mine.

Hi Suzannah, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed.

Hello! It is nice to be asked, thank you.

I wondered if I could start by asking you when and how you got into poetry, and when you began to send your own work out for publication.

I wrote poetry when I was at school – I went to a  high school that nurtured creative writers very well. We went on a trip to Ty Newydd when I was 17 and I’ve written poetry ever since then really, although with some long breaks.  I didn’t start to do proper sending out until some time later than that, when I was about 25.  I got my first poem published in a magazine called Libertine which I don’t think is going any more. It was about some trees being cut down in Kidderminster.

You are a creative writing teacher and mentor. How did you first come to these roles? Were you nervous when you delivered your first workshop?

The workshop teaching came about through a project I did while on my MA at Sheffield Hallam. I met Layla Bloom, who is the curator at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery in Leeds and she seemed to think I was trustworthy, so I ran three workshops on various themes over the summer and they’ve asked me back periodically ever since. I’ve since run workshops for Leeds Museums, Experience Barnsley and Museums Sheffield, so museum-based creative writing does seem to be a bit of a specialty now. I also teach online courses for the Poetry School and they’re great as you get to know the work of your group really well over the course and I always miss them when they’re over.

I applied for a job as a mentor with Writing Yorkshire in 2013 and was trained and matched with my first mentee, an excellent Barnsley poet named Kay Buckley. Writing Yorkshire sadly no longer exist but I’ve since done freelance mentoring work with a few more poets. I love mentoring because of the sense of progress you feel as someone starts to gain confidence in their writing, and when they win something or have a poem published it’s an amazing feeling.

What insights have you gained from working at The Poetry Business? Do you think you would ever be tempted to set up your own publishing venture?

I have learned a lot from working at The Poetry Business – my job is the production of books and pamphlets and The North Magazine so I’ve learned more about different kinds of paper and how to laminate it than I ever thought I’d need, and quite a lot about design and the technical side of things. If someone could teach me an infallible method of proofreading where you never miss any mistakes that would be the icing on the cake.

I think setting up a publisher would definitely be harder now than it was 30 years ago when the Poetry Business started out. Having said that there are some wonderful newer small publishers around such as Valley Press, The Emma Press and Longbarrow Press who produce really interesting, innovative stuff and have an admirable passion for what they do. I don’t know if I have that drive at the moment but that’s not to say I never will.

Would you be able to say a little about what you are working on? Anything else you would like to mention?  

I’ve written a LOT of poems about the end of the world  – I think it’s a rich theme for poetry, particularly in these times of climate change and conflict. I also think there is something almost preparatory about my desire to write this sequence, as if I am testing possible survival scenarios through poetry! I realise this makes me sound like something of a doom-monger. But it’s not like I have a house full of canned goods or anything.

I have been writing steadily for the past couple of years and I am hoping to publish some more of it soon. I have difficulty saying when things are finished. I have considerable anxiety about reviews. But I keep writing, and hope to overcome those things.

I hope you do too, as I’m looking forward to your book!
Thank you.

 

A Contingency Plan

What if we’re apart when the asteroid comes,
or the magnetic storm that shuts off the power?

You could be waiting for a train as the sun’s bulb
flickers out, high above the glass-panelled roof.

I’ll be at work. We’ll lose the phone lines,
the door-entry system will go haywire.

I will eat from the vending machine,
drink from the competition cupboard

and sleep on nylon carpet with my colleagues
all of us three-weeks unwashed. Stay where you are –

I’ll abseil down eight floors on a rope
fashioned from the supply of festive tinsel,

loot M&S, steal a bike and make for the M1
forty miles of silence and abandoned cars

so we can witness the collapse of civilisation
with a picnic of high-end tins

so I can lie in your arms on a rooftop,
our dirty faces lit by fires.

 

Originally published in Magma Issue 56

 

The Taste

Once every mouthful of your soup would have been stung
with the taste of spoon; lost now, but at a guess

the metal-cold of Don-water meeting Sheaf-water
in the great drain below the city of cutlery

or the rain that slips down the windows of the Industrial Museum
while a razormaker puts steel to stone on repeat.

It’s the song in the mouths of fish swimming upstream,
flashing their knives in five rivers.

The taste of grit-salt mixed with four-day snow
on Blake Street. A dark pint at the end of the day

or the blood that drips from bust noses onto tarmac
after chucking-out time at the Three Cranes.

It’s a lick, when no-one’s looking, of the English Heritage plaque
on the house of Harry Brearley. The relish.

Originally published in The Rialto Issue 82