What an exciting evening we had; poems about animals, surgical instruments, being a step mother and morris dancing! Here is the link to the reading, I hope you enjoy. There is a poem about the death of an animal which a friend said should carry a ‘mascara warning’ as it made her cry, so be prepared for that one all you mascara wearers!
Here is a link to a couple of the poems from Auscultation
Roadblock, was Seren’s featured Friday poem at the end of June and is the story of an evening visit to an injured horse. Below that is a video of Miss Freak’s Whelping Forceps, a poem about the design of this specialist instrument and how men and women have different approaches and ultimately
in the feral hours where instinct loosens
itself from shadows, it’s Miss Freaks we reach for
to coax the unborn to crown the light.
The launch night for the collection is Tuesday 13th July, it would be lovely to see you there. Tickets are free.
My first collection, Auscultation, will be available from Monday 21st June from Seren. https://www.serenbooks.com/productdisplay/auscultation
It’s a collection of poems written over the last 8 or 9 years but I suppose really a record of 30 years experience as a veterinary surgeon, stepmother and mother.
Auscultation means listening and specifically, in medicine, listening to sounds that come from the body’s internal organs. I have spent 30 years listening to animals and their inner sounds but also the concerns of owners and the stories of how animals play a central role in many of their lives. I’ve heard stories of cruelty and horror but also of such love and empathy I have been moved to tears. The consulting room really is a privileged place and the role of a veterinary surgeon can feel like a balance between healer, confessor and counselor at times.
The language of animals; how to restrain, coax and understand them is a skill learnt over a lifetime and I am still learning. I am constantly in awe of animals, their ability to adapt to situations and interpret them, their stubbornness, playfulness and honesty and in the case of horses and farm animals, their sheer bulk and majesty too. There are also poems about euthanasia and ending an animal’s life, the part of the job that all vets dread. These are the animals that wake you in the dark hours and make you question what you do. It’s a sad fact that the veterinary profession has the highest rate of suicide of any of the professions and this is explored in a few of the poems.
Other poems in the book are about my childhood and my experiences of being a stepmother and mother and the rollercoaster ride that parenthood takes you on. Here, listening and being listened to are central themes too, how the voice of a child can be ignored and the damage that can do and how we interpret motherhood according to our own experiences. The last section in the book is about being a step mother, the joy and heartache that brought and how, in fairy stories, stepmothers are always portrayed as the evil ones. These poems are deeply personal and a record from my point of view and of course the situation for all blended families is different and highly nuanced.
There will be a launch reading on Zoom on 13th July. Do get in touch if you’d like to be sent an invitation.
It’s not the mistake you make, it’s how you deal with it that matters
This is a saying I used all the time at work and I found how people reacted to their mistakes was often a good judge of character. I preferred working with people who were open and honest; who, when they realised something had gone wrong, apologised for it and asked how they could do better in the future. rather than people who tried to deny or cover up their errors. It’s not easy when we’re embarrassed or ashamed but our reaction is a measure of who we are.
Recent events across the world involving people of power have shown their true character, even though we may have been pretty sure of it before. This is the poem that came out of events in recent weeks.
The photo? It’s a horse gag. Let us never be gagged.
The Measure of a Man
It’s not surrounding yourself with gimlet- eyed sycophants
reclining on cushions in your own private echo chamber,
it’s pulling out the barbs of critics from your skin,
however hard they sting and seeing their truth;
that is a measure of your humility.
It’s not indulging in the gluttony of the feast
grabbing the tastiest titbits of wealth and supremacy,
it’s in the modesty of taking only what you need
and giving the rest to those without hope or privilege;
that is a measure of your morality.
It’s not the self-delusion of seeing the world
through the eyes of your own class or colour,
it’s having the courage to walk unfamiliar streets
and greeting those you meet openly and with enquiry;
that is a measure of your understanding.
It’s not how you accept the responsibility of power
put on it dazzling crown, wield its weighty sceptre,
it’s how you step down from the throne and pass on
those enticing burdens to waiting hands;
that is a measure of your grace.
Do not go ungraciously
history will remember you for it.
The wonderful group CAM4Animals has put together a celebration of dogs and what they mean to us. They’ve included my poem ( inspired by Alice Oswald) about my little dog Broccoli. What a place these animals hold in our hearts!
What makes a poem a poem? So many things that books have been written in answer to to the question! What is interesting me at the moment is the use of white space on the page. As Glyn Maxwell famously wrote in On Poetry ‘Poets work with two materials, one’s black, one’s white’ and it’s the interaction of the two that not only frames a poem but allows it to breathe. Even more than that, the white space has been likened to a musical score, giving instructions to the eye on how to read and the ear on how to receive.
Line breaks are an integral part of these instructions, the emphasis they bring to the word at the end of the line or the word at the beginning of the next is central to the construction and interpretation of a poem.
Holly Pester used a great example in her article in Poetry News Vol 109:2 Looking at ‘The other plum poem’ by William Carlos Williams
To a Poor Old Woman
They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her
In four short lines, moving the line breaks has created a pattern of different meanings and emphasis and intensified the sensation within the poem. Wow, powerful things these line breaks!
Here’s one of mine, the title poem from the pamphlet and one where line breaks play a significant part in the reading and meaning of the poem.
The dogs that chase bicycle wheels
stare out of windows,
checking the boundaries
checking the boundaries.
They have territories to protect,
from the backs of sofas
to front doors,
whole worlds held in their flat eyes.
Postmen breach defences,
to be bitten, ripped and pissed on.
Straining to a point always
just in front of their noses,
clicking of bicycle wheels
tricking them into the frenzy of a chase
for the white scut of a rabbit.
Unceasingly they scout crowded horizons
for what is not there,
will never be there.
I’m not really one for prayer but it strikes me that in these times when it seems like the whole world has been put on pause, people are still reaching out to each other with words of care or comfort and support is being given in surprising and inventive ways. One phenomenon I’ve noticed is the way that people are signing off emails and messages has changed. It got me thinking and so here is my wish for you.
Valediction in the Time of Covid.
I am no longer yours in faith or sincerity,
I cannot be the granter of wishes
in these interrupted days,
I can however issue instructions
in the hope they fall as talismen
We all know that poems can be beautiful things, powerful things. A poem can make you laugh, cry, all the cliches but occasionally poems are presented in a beautiful way too; one of these is in Maria Isakova Bennett’s glorious stitched journals, Coast to Coast to Coast. I was lucky enough to be included in the summer edition and was so excited to open the envelope when my copy came. As you can see, a thing of beauty.
Maria is also a poet in residence at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival and is producing a special Aldeburgh edition of the journal. The brief was to spend an hour in a chosen location on a coast or by a river or lakeside and using as inspiration a favourite poem that links sea, coast, river or lakes and/or lines from excerpts of poems that Maria gave; write your own poem. The place I chose was Stickle tarn in the Lake District, just as the sun was going down one summer evening…
The journal is being launched at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival on November 8th. Aldeburgh is a unique festival, a high quality series of workshops and readings set against a soundscape of the waves breaking on the pebbly Suffolk beach, not to be missed.
More information on Maria and Coast to Coast to Coast and Poetry in Aldeburgh can be found here;
Not long to go now, the week long folk extravaganza that is Sidmouth Folk Festival is only a couple of weeks away! Music, dance, singing, storytelling and now poetry are all on the programme. In the elegant and relaxed atmosphere of the Drawing room of the Royal Glen Hotel from 11.30- 1pm Sunday to Thursday, we’ll be using a variety of prompts and devices to stimulate our poetry brains. No previous writing experience is necessary, the workshops are suitable for novices as well as more experienced writers. They are stand alone but the more you come to, the more fun you’ll have! The subjects for this year’s workshops include ‘poetry of sound and silence’, ‘how to write a ballad’ and ‘poetry games’. If you’ve never experienced ‘Poetry Countdown’ or ‘Poetry what’s in the Bag?’ come along and find out! There’s also a chance to perform in the poetry slot in the Friday Morning Showcase concert.
New for this year is also Sidmouth’s first Poetry Open Mic. It will be held at The Woodlands Hotel on Tuesday 6th August from 5-7pm. Sign up on the door to read for up to four minutes, either your own work or bring along a favourite poem or two you’d like to share. Experienced writers or new poets welcome, or if you don’t want to read, the Woodlands is a perfect place to relax for a couple of hours and just listen to poetry. There will also be a chance to hear me read, I can always guarantee some poems about animals but also watch out for one or two about Morris dancing! I will be joined by a local poet, the amazing Jan Dean, whose work as a Poet-in-Schools has inspired new generations. She also writes ‘Poetry for grown-ups’ and her reading style and unique take on life are guaranteed to have you entertained and enthralled.
Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
What can we do in the face of the challenges that we are presented with either on a personal or global level but use what skills we have in any way we can? For this reason and because I believe passionately about the responsibility we have to care for our environment, I will be joining fellow poets to read at an evening of poetry in support of the XR and Fridays for Future Movements at the Waterside Cafe in Kendal on Sunday 23rd June 7-9pm. Hosted by Grey Hen Press it will feature readers from Dove Cottage Poets, The Brewery Poets and others from Cumbria and Beyond. There is a £5 donation on the door and all proceeds will go to the UK Youth Climate Coalition.
I’ve just realised that the poem we created in the poetry workshops last year is up on the Festival website! We had such a great time, the participants were enthusiastic and inspiring, all I really had to do was draw the whole thing together. I’m running the workshops again this year, they are open to all ages and suitable for people that write poems regularly or people that have never written one before. Rumours are, there’ll also be an open mic this year…
Do come and join me, you can just come to the poetry events or join in with some of the other amazing music, singing or dancing events. Folk week really is one of the most special weeks of the year, ‘a rainbow coloured riot of colour and sound’
I’m really looking forward to reading at the Seren Poetry Festival in February. What a fantastic series of readings and lectures. I’ll be reading at the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet prizewinners lunch on Sunday 10th and am excited to meet the prizewinners from other years. You can book tickets from the above website.
The poetry workshops at Sidmouth Folk Week were so much fun. We wrote poems about Great Grandfather’s violins, dragon mountains, Brexit, the inventor of the shopping mall and of course the seagulls The quick and hungry Gods of the Church of the Webbed Feet. It was such a great experience to lead the sessions with people of all ages and backgrounds and they worked so hard and with such energy and enthusiasm, despite some of them being up to the early hours singing and dancing and maybe having a little drink or two. The performance on the main stage of the Ham marque was amazing and a several of the participants joined me in reading our collaborative Sidmouth poem which had people laughing out loud as well as bringing a lump to the throat as someone in the audience told me later.
So thank you to all of the people that came to the workshops over the week, to the Folk Week organisers who took a chance and incorporated poetry writing into the festival line up and to all the kind comments from people who came up to me afterwards and said how much they’d enjoyed the poem. Special thanks to Jan Dean a very special local poet and friend who came to some of the workshops and contributed the line in the collaborative poem which sums up the joy and feeling of Folk Week – Folk Week is Sidmouth with it’s corsets off!
And the best thing? They’ve invited me back next year, so we can do it all over again!
After the success of the Kimpton Folk Festival poetry workshop, it’s on to Sidmouth Folk Week 3rd- 10th August. I’ll be holding five poetry writing workshops from Sunday to Thursday at the lovely Royal Glen Hotel, 11.30am – 1pm. These are stand alone workshops so you can come to individual ones or even better all five. We’ll be reading poems about the sea and ballads about doomed lovers ( always a popular folk theme!) and then using these and other writing prompts to write our own poems. There’s also a chance to read poems written during the week at the Friday showcase concert. It’s the first time there’s been poetry at Sidmouth, so a chance to show how poetry fits in anywhere. You can also swim in the sea, eat lots of ice cream, dance the night away as various ceilidhs and listen to some of the best folk music in the world, how exciting is that!