Monday, October 31, 2016


Heron in Amsterdam
In the clean water of Amsterdam's sprawling city centre park this summer I watched a heron.

It seems an unlikely bird for a city. I associate it with country rivers, with a particular Welsh beach and a poem by Michael Longley in memory of Kenneth Koch which is about the relationship between poets, friendship, illness. So Longley made the link between that New York writer and this ash coloured bird.

Tonight, Halloween, the kids outside are shouty and excited. Mums and small kids have done with the door to door knocking and now there's a gathering somewhere on a corner of younger teenagers who filling the early dark with screams. I am in the middle of my first batch of marking, distracting myself with novels by Walter Mosely - such a stylist - and Annie Proulx. The Airbnb guests left in the afternoon sunshine, Giya went back to Cardiff last night, Mrisi has a gig and the house is still. Tonight I'm not answering the door because I'm unprepared - no sweets to distribute, not even biscuits or cake and for no apparent reason, I remembered this heron.

Is that the sequence of thought then - summer over, day of the dead, Longley the poet of the dead as a master of elegy, the elegy to Kenneth Koch which has always lingered in my mind for its honesty and its craft.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Autumn falls

What autumn brings is a sudden rush of things to do. The garden neglected, the allotment neglected, I have been spending hours on emails, Open University work and studying the poems of Susan Wicks. But most of all, in common with friends - Hilary, Jane, Jane, Allie - I have been looking after mum.

Last week she fell in the garden, fracturing her arm and dislocating her shoulder.

Since then it's been days of cups of tea (the poster for the Poem-a-thon so aptly mirrors those Penguin author mugs), discussions about pain killers and regular sit down lunch and supper at regular times of the day.

I have decamped to her house with the cat, my laptop, iPad and books. We've been shopping to buy her a tablet because one arm is out of action. We've been to M&S for elasticated-waist trousers that are easier to get on single-handed. We've wondered about how we take mobility for granted.

I managed a five minute experiment using just one arm.
Imagine. One hand to eat with. No cutting up food that might slip off the plate or need force.
One hand to butter bread. One hand to shower and towel yourself dry.

Feeling out of it from pain and from pain-killers. Feeling out of it because you can no longer drive yourself to the shop.

Friends ring her, have sent flowers, a DVD, a book. But five more weeks loom with an arm in what the NHS calls a 'collar and cuff'. She has so far seen just one nurse at the hospital and the radiographer. All other care is on the phone. Exercises are emailed and viewed on YouTube.

This morning I walked on the Tye and saw layers of mist to the east, over the fields, merging into the grey of the sea. This evening the sun went down red as virginia creeper and now the first fireworks are being set off in the valley.

Sunday, October 16, 2016


Dorothea Lange,(1895 - 1965)
Oklahoma Refugees from the Dust Bowl, 
Looking for Work on the Cotton Fields, 
Now Encamped Near Bakersfield, California
November 1935
Sixty poets reading non-stop for 10 hours makes a Poemathon.

It's an idea which successfully raised thousands of pounds in Sheffield and London in 2015 and on December 11, a group of us in Brighton are doing the same.

The Brighton Poemathon will take place at Komedia in Brighton, starting at midday and ending at 10 pm.

We're raising funds for displaced people - migrants, refugees. It started when I put out a call on social media for poets who wanted to do something locally. And how it's snowballed - such interest, such enthusiasm and generosity.

Mark Doty, a wonderful American poet I read with years ago at a TS Eliot prize reading said this in a seminar on why poetry matters: "it has never been more important in human history that we learn to listen to the voices of others".

He goes on to say: "Poetry’s work is to make people real to us through the agency of the voice."

This is, I hope, what the Poemathon will also achieve on Sunday, December 11, Komedia, Brighton.

Tide of Voices, Why Poetry Matters Now, Mark Doty for Academy of American Poets, 2010.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Ambivalent autumn

In Amsterdam
I've had an ambivalent relationship with writing over the last few months, producing individual poems that contribute to a couple of strands of thought and ideas and revisiting the memoir Venda Sun.

The big achievement, if that's the right word, at the end of this summer was seeing The Workshop Handbook into the world, with the help of Arc Publications.

Now I want to get back to my own writing and it is a question of re-forming the habit. This summer I have put it off. The allotment and launching myself into Airbnb have been a priority - Airbnb because I need the income, the allotment because it gives me the concentration and quiet I have needed.

I've missed a long summer break, the chance to be somewhere new. Three days in Amsterdam was tantalising for what I might have seen.

Autumn is ambivalent. Brilliant, golden sunshine and fabulous light balanced by fresh, nippy evenings. I am rootling around for scarves, need to pull winter clothes out from under the bed and hang up my coats again. A small pile of summer dresses sits on a trunk near my bed because I can't quite bring myself to put them away for another year. Distractions of the present.

Bar Old Wembley made me chuckle. My grandfather's house was in Wembley. It smelled of coal fires and upstairs, in the attic, of chalk. That was where he made the casts of people's mouths, for dentures.
He ate an orange a day and when I took Giya back to Cardiff the other weekend, in her house was a glass fronted, built in cabinet exactly like the one in my grandfather's house. Just below it was where the phone sat. I am sure I remember him having a three figure number when I was very young. And no party line!

In that glass cabinet were the special glasses, including four tawny gold tumblers. I have no idea how they came to me, perhaps my aunt kept hold of them. There are three now. When I look at them I am also looking out of that small back room into the garden of the house (long demolished) in East Lane, Wembley towards the tall fence and behind it the tennis courts. In the long garden were raspberry canes and to the right of the back door, an outside loo. My grandfather once built a working light plane in his garage and sometimes flew a fine, paper covered model glider over the lawn.

And despite his appalling views on race and immigration, I remember him telling me the story of a man who couldn't afford to pay for his teeth to be fixed, so my grandfather did the work and was paid with a small marble statue which sits on my bookshelf, to my left.

It's a young man picking something out of his foot. He makes me think of a flyer, Mindfulness on Lewes Road, tied to a tree at the bottom of my street, the weight of the past.