I am lucky enough to be retreating from Real Life for a while: a week (ish) away near the Galloway coast in a house where there’s no internet and only a very feeble, intermittent phone signal. So this column will be on holiday along with me, though back as usual in a fortnight’s time. To give you a virtual visit to the sort of place I’ll be, and a vision of the sorts of creatures I hope to be gazing upon, here’s the vivid and wonderful ‘Rhu Mor‘ by Norma MacCaig. (Unfortunately I can’t find this anywhere on the internet with the poet’s own layout on the page, so we’ll have to make do with this. As consolation, you can hear MacCaig himself reading it here.)Read More
It’s very often time for Mary Oliver, I find, though I know those who do not agree. For those readers, best pass by. Today I wanted to read ‘Wild Geese‘, so I am. I know most people have already read it. I know that (like other Oliver texts) it’s been plundered for Pinterest posts and self-help-seminar titles and many, many Inspirational Items (posters, mugs, t-shirts, who knows what). Still, its beauty and wisdom persist—just as the Mona Lisa survives being a jigsaw. So: enjoy ‘Wild Geese’ all over again (with the plus of hearing Oliver read it).Read More
shades of blue will be published on the 24th of August!
Unfortunately because of The Current Situation launch events and parties have had to cancelled. I was so looking forward to having a bash, and had booked my friends Peter and Tony for a reunion gig of the Po Lauries. This was the name under which the three of us performed some of my songs-with-new-words-to-the-tune-of-a-well-known-song (there must be a word for that but it escapes me for the moment) in the year I was South Cumbria Poet Laureate. Peter was on keyboards and Tony shared the vocals with me. What larks we had, what larks… Alas, The Comeback Tour will not now be happening until some unforeseeable time in the future when something nearer to Normal Service is resumed for us all. So, until then, please do feel free to share this post and help get the word out.
I reckon lots of us are currently in need of encouragement to keep on keeping on. This poem, ‘Wait‘ by Galway Kinnell’, does it for me. I only discovered it recently but it’s already installed itself in my Emergency Lanterns anthology. Scroll down the linked page a bit to hear the poet reading it himself, and find the text underneath.Read More
One of the many weird, sad things about living during this time of pandemic is what it does to how we look on other people: suddenly everyone is threat, or potential threat, and connection is something to be avoided, not sought. I’d like to offer a little antidote to this—a reminder of connection as protection—in the shape of ‘Shoulders‘ by the deeply gifted Naomi Shihab Nye.Read More
Like most people, I imagine, I’ve found it hard to keep going with my usual activities these last few months—including writing, though it’s central to my life both as process and product. There’s just so much energy needed to keep so much stuff at bay; so much effort going into not shouting with rage or terror or sheer frustration (well not in public anyway)… Time, I thought to do some celebrating. Share some good news for a change.Read More
In an essay written just before her first published venture into fiction, Eliot claimed that ‘The greatest benefit we owe the artist, whether painter, poet, or novelist, is the extension of our sympathies’. She continues: ‘art is the nearest thing to life, it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot’. It feels worth remembering this at the moment, when so many arts organisations and institutions seem to be staring down the twin barrels of Covid and being insufficiently valued/funded anyway (don’t get me started on what happened to the humanities when Literacy Hour and the National Curriculum came in…). And Eliot’s line rings round my head as I think about this week’s poem, ‘A Litany for Survival‘ by Audre Lorde. (You can find a tantalising trailer for a film about Lorde here.)Read More
I was wondering why ‘To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing‘ swam to the surface this week. Then I sat down and thought about it and wondered no longer. A poem about shamelessness? about the difficulty of honour in a time when Might is Right? Hmm, not so difficult to fathom, perhaps, after all.Read More
Apparently that’s the name for the torture whereby a board was placed on top of you and weights gradually added until the life was crushed out of you (or you made a plea in relation to the crime of which you were accused). “Pressing”, as it was also known, comes to my mind every now and then these days when I turn on the news or check out The Grauniad website and hear what the latest Thing is. I have a distinctly physical sense of another weight being added, another piece of bad news and difficulty on top of what already felt like a crushing load. Thus half an hour ago I was to be seen sitting with my forehead on the desk trying to summon the energy and will to sit upright. I’m sure this is a common experience. What works, apart from coffee, chocolate or a walk in the wood, is acknowledging to myself what I’m actually feeling; and so I give you ‘Talking to Grief‘ by Denise Levertov.Read More