Sunday Poem – Billy Letford

Evening everybody.  I am writing this at the other side of a pretty full on weekend – even for my standards, it was a little hectic.  My mum and dad arrived on Friday from Leicester and I immediately dragged them off to Lancaster Spotlight ( as I was a guest reader.  To my delight, Sarah Fiske, one of the lovely organisers of Spotlight greeted my dad with ‘Oh, are you the scaffolder?’  His face was a picture!  Fame at last!

If you haven’t been to Spotlight before – it is really worth a visit.  Although it’s a long night, it is a really friendly event, lots of open mic spots and you get a mixture of poetry, comedy, music.  I was really happy to be reading with Ron Scowcroft.  I heard Ron read recently at an open mic but it was great to hear a longer set from him.

On Friday I was reading at Lancaster Spotlight along with various other readers, including Ron Scowcroft.  It was really nice to hear Ron do a longer set of poems – I think it’s been a while since I’ve heard him anywhere else apart from at the open mic.

Anyway, due to my uncontrollable urge to talk afterwards and gossip, we didn’t get home to after 1am.

Then on Saturday I went to a workshop at the Wordsworth Trust.  Ever since going to Poetry Parnassus last year I’ve been reading a lot of translated poetry – so when Andrew Forster told me that Sasha Dugdale was coming to Grasmere to run a workshop on Translating Poetry I knew I had to sign up!

And it was amazing!!  At first I wasn’t sure – we were ‘translating’ bird song from recordings but once we started I started to think about how we use consonants to define the rhythm of the bird song i.e ‘tikki tikki tikki’ but actually, birds don’t use consonants – I think their ‘song’ is made of vowels, and when humans use vowels, they come right from the body.  The use of consonants brings the sound up to the mouth, or more specifically, the tongue – but we do use vowels when we are in pain or when we are scared – think of if you hit your thumb with a nail – if you are Billy Letford you ‘roar like a lion’ – I would probably shriek but I think both would be made mainly of vowels…anyway…

After the bird song, Sasha read a poem in Russian and we had to write down a translation of the poem from the sound and from seeing the transliteration of the poem on the page – which was interesting – especially when Sasha gave us the literal translation.

Then we got another Russian poem, this one was by Boris Pasternak but this time we had a literal translation to work from.  I really enjoyed this – I don’t think I really understood before that there is no ‘right’ answer when you are translating – and it was so interesting seeing how the other people dealt with the tricky bits in the poem.

So then I hot-footed it home, this time without stopping to gossip, as I’d left my poor mum and dad at home to amuse themselves all day.  When I got back we drove up the west coast to meet my sister and her hubby for dinner.
And today I’ve been recording a CD with my junior band.  The band was brilliant – they played pretty solidly from 9.30-3.00.  They were shattered by the end of it – if you play a brass instrument you’ll know, or maybe you can imagine this is like running a marathon!  I can report I also had a very tired right arm from all that conducting –

We got ten tracks done so soon we will have our first album to flog to unsuspecting parents.  I might even put a paypal button on here for it, just in case there are any poets reading this who have always wanted a CD of a brass band playing Abba and other pop hits!

So marathon weekend is over and although it’s been good, I can’t say that I’m not relieved to have got through it!

Today’s poem is by the lovely William Letford – last Tuesday I went up to Grasmere to see him read along with Fred D’Aguiar.  It was a great reading and he kindly said I could use one of his poems from his first collection ‘Bevel’, published by Carcanet (

William Letford has worked as a roofer, on and off, since he was fifteen .  He received a New Writer’s Award from the Scottish Book Trust and an Edwin Morgan Travel Bursary which allowed him to spend three months in the mountains of northern Italy helping to restore a medieval village.  He has an M.Litt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow.

You can buy ‘Bevel’ from

William came to read for us at Poem and A Pint a couple of weeks ago – and he was brilliant – but it was great to hear some new poems at Grasmere as well – I’m already looking forward to his next book!

If you haven’t seen him read, you need to.  It is a masterclass in how to present a reading – he does everything by heart, always looking directly at the audience and it helps that the poetry is really good as well!   As you will see from this poem which I have appropriated from his book!

So here is the Sunday Poem – I hope you enjoy it.

Be Prepared – William Letford

wear three T-shirts and one hooded top
layers are important
they can always come off
remember your oilskins
it’s always raining somewhere
wear a scarf
cold air moves down from the neck
wear gloves
they’re useless when wet
but handy if you hit the wrong nail
pay attention to the moment
the way water drips
the way a spider scuttles
have a healthy fear of heights
when working from a ladder
know which way to fall
railings and slabs are unforgiving
flower beds and fuchsia bushes are better
practise your scream
if you strike your thumb with the hammer
don’t squeal
roar like a lion
when the pain subsides and you look around
you’ll know exactly what I mean
acknowledge the moon
it was part of the earth once
its loneliness can make you feel beautiful
lift properly
you’ll need your back to make your money

5 comments on “Sunday Poem – Billy Letford

  1. Here’s a poem of advice that sounds simultaneously practical and proverbial; it clearly knows of what it speaks, and it does it with huge economy. Ands then springs the surprise of the moon! Great stuff.

  2. Don’t you love advice that sounds proverbial and practical in the same breath? It’s a poem that knows of what it speaks, which it does with huge economy. I think what takes it out of the ordinary is the surprise of the moon. Whatever, it’s another $Sunday night winner. As are you, Kim.

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