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Urge for going

geese

 

Geese

Our seventh ghosting in as many days; a thrill
of honking overhead, curtains still drawn
and silver edged. We speculate

over breakfast; are these practice migrations,
training runs from lake to lake; from the Business Park
near the motorway to the reservoir

at Thornton? And if so, could it be the same flock
returning now, a low V fanned across pink cloud
as I drain steaming pasta at the sink? Or is it another band

entirely, travelling west to east, working their turn
like cyclists in a peloton?  And that staggered pair,
gapped and off beam, are they frantic

to close, to make the arrow whole? Or do they only
see each other, become one beating wing?

First published in The Rialto, Spring 2016.

 

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The Rialto

I don’t keep ‘rejection’ slips, or notes accompanying returned poems, but I do keep acceptances and records of where I sent things.  The Rialto, along with The North, was one of the poetry magazines I discovered in a really good bookshop towards the end of the first decade of the new millennium.

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I was blown away by the quality of these publications, both in terms of design and production values, and I was enthralled  by the variety and quality of the work within them. I sent both of these magazines some poems in 2009, the first work I’d ever sent anywhere, and the Rialto took one and published it. I remember the letter from the editor, Michael Mackmin saying he would like to take a poem, along with an apology for the delay in responding. I also remember the  arrival of a contributors copy and twenty pound note.  Since then, I’m delighted that the Rialto has published three more of my poems and it remains one of my favorite magazines. I love the fact I can find new work by, for example, the great Les Murray, alongside poems from people whose names I’ve not encountered before.
A new development for this venerable publication is the launch of the  poetry pamphlet competition, details for which you can find here.

I am mentioning this as I received a subscriber’s e-mail today
which contained two quotes I wanted to share. The first is from Michael Mackmin.

‘As an editor who reads a lot of submissions I need to know that a poet is working on the balance between the thing said and the way of saying it (the essence of a good poem), and that she is engaged in the search for the ‘right’ word, the exact right word. This is often quite a difficult judgement to make when a submission only contains a couple of pieces. We hope, by opening this window for submissions of twenty poems, to discover important new voices. At the very least you’ll be able to check if there are certain words, or phrases, or concepts that you over use. At most you’ll be the winner.’

The second is from Gerry Cambridge, editor of another of Britain’s great ‘little’ magazines. It is taken from his book about The Dark Horse, and is published by Happenstance.

‘Like poetry itself, at heart a poetry magazine is a celebration of the human spirit beyond awards, issues of reputation and all the attendant palaver. It is a free space of expression that transcends commercialism and other involved interests. It aims for the high ranges even as it scrabbles in the foothills.’

 

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Sundries

Sundry- from the old English for syndig- distinct, separate; related to ‘sunder’ .

I’ve just been up to the Newcastle, neighbour to Sunderland, for the fabulous poetry festival. The festival included the launch of the new issue of the Butchers Dog poetry magazine, and I was fortunate to have been invited to read my contribution. I’d been to the northeast of England once before, to visit a friend some thirty years ago, and needed little excuse to return.

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I love the geography and architecture of Newcastle and the surrounding country, and find the people to be extremely friendly. If you haven’t bought the Butcher’s Dog, I recommend you check it out. It’s a beautifully produced magazine packed with an eclectic range of fine contemporary poetry.

Angel by Phil Pounder

Angel of the North, photo by Phil Pounder  

Another brilliant, albeit much older British poetry magazine, The Rialto, has arrived, and continues to surprise, provoke and delight with its selection of poems and discussion.  It is well worth checking out the blog for a considered response to a letter from a reader who responded to the editors request that they be challenged on their selections.

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The Rialto, issue 85

My poem in this edition, ‘Geese’, benefited from a suggestion from the editors that the ending wasn’t quite right. Without overtly suggesting a change, they subtly, gracefully and succinctly explained why they felt this, and thereby sent me and my poem to a new and improved conclusion. I am grateful for their astute reading and careful comment.

Elsewhere, the wonderful poet John Foggin is one of the winners of this years Poetry Business pamphlet competition, judged by Billy Collins. I am delighted for John, who is a fine and prolific poet as well as a generous friend and supporter of many other writers. You can read some of John’s work here. I can’t wait for the launch of his pamphlet.

Social media occasionally leads me to gems. I found this in an interview with the poet Li-Young.

‘ The more we practice it, the more we discover how thinking in poetry is actually the closest thing we have to enlightenment. Poetic consciousness is the deepest, fullest form of consciousness there is. The longer we practice it, like a yoga, the more we uncover about ourselves, our identity as children of the cosmos, or of God. Whatever you want to call it….we can practice art not only as a way to make money, not only as a way to compete, not only as a way to aggrandize the ego, but as a way, really, of self-knowledge.

It seems to me the more we practice it, the more art gives us. That’s abundance. It’s infinitely abundant. You never stop discovering. You never stop.’

Also this month, I was pleased to be presented with second prize in the inaugural Aurora East Midlands International Poetry competition.
It was great to visit nearby Nottingham and be part of the award ceremony. All the facts in the poem, and there are many more fascinating aspects to these birds, are taken from research into crow behaviour. Any ‘crow’ poem will, I imagine, owe a debt to and fall under the shadow of Ted Hughes incredible poems in his collection ‘Crow.’ Here is my homage to Hughes and to these fascinating birds.

From the Book of Crow Etiquette

for John Foggin

To avoid association with a crow’s death
feign a limp or otherwise disguise your gait
when passing a crow funeral. In order to escape
a scolding, don’t contest a crow’s right
to your roof or disrupt its visceral business
among fledglings and eggs. Crows have memories
like wet tar, can recognize the white-stitched ribbon
of a fruitful carrion road, the location of a yard
from which a stone was thrown. Tame crows
give pet names to their keepers; make of this
what you will. Crows that are damaged or ill
are often assisted by others, or else
done in. Decades may pass before a widowed crow
casts the cross of her shadow
on a long abandoned farmyard. A murder might mob
the one-time owner of a slingshot, now
a grandfather in the park. Crows bring gifts
to those who feed them, to children with no prejudice
or fear of crows. You might not need
a stash of broken necklaces, Airfix kit
of sparrow bones, lens cap rinsed in a birdbath,
nor a half heart locket, inscribed with ‘Best’.
You may not wish for ‘friends’ to priest a garden fence
or wall, who call before your alarm sounds
and pick at your open dream.       

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Traces

The first poem from my sequence Traces about my time as a coronary care nurse has appeared in ‘The Rialto’. 

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It’s a few years since I worked in the role, but I found myself writing the first of these poems one evening, and drafts followed one another very quickly in succession over a period of days.

The poet Dannie Abse died recently, and I am indebted to him for helping me realise that I too could write about my experiences as a healthcare professional.  Abse, a Dr as well as a poet, suggested that he might have suffered from ‘too much empathy’ to be a Dr.  It is debatable if nurses can be hampered in their work by an excess of empathy- indeed, the opposite might be a problem.

I do feel that it is certainly the case that people working in such environments bury their emotional reactions to death and dying, partly out of necessity to continue with the job and partly out of a need to conform to cultural norms.   I like to think the gap of a couple of years between my working in this role and writing the poems enabled me to capture something of the experience- I know I couldn’t have written them at the time- and I’m pleased that they record some aspects of what was, in retrospect, quite an extreme environment both emotionally and physically.

Writing these poems is a way for me to record, examine and perhaps make sense of my experience.  Here is Seamus Heaney talking about how writing poems can help the writer discover a sense of self.

‘I have always thought of poems as stepping stones in one’s own sense of oneself. Every now and again you write a poem that gives you self-respect and steadies your going a little bit farther out in the stream. At the same time, you have to conjure the next stepping stone because the stream, we hope, keeps flowing. The challenge for the writer, book by book, is to conjure a stepping stone that carries you forward.’