Sunday Poem – Roy Marshall

Good evening folks.  Yes, yes, I know it is not Sunday anymore.  Sunday got away from me unfortunately, which is why I’m writing this on Monday…I have been on another Poetry Marathon over a long weekend and have had a fantastic time.  I’ve been down in Leicester for the last two days of last week and then in Swindon over part of the weekend, but it does feel nice to be at home again, especially as I have a huge pile of books that I’ve collected, and even some that were waiting for me when I got home – so no poetry withdrawal symptoms as of yet.

I did a workshop last week for ‘Soundswrite’ women’s group in Leicester as part of the ‘Everybody’s Reading’ festival which I really enjoyed – a lovely group of poets.  And they gave me a t-shirt with ‘Everybody’s Reading in Leicester’ on AND an anthology of their members poems from the previous year, which I must confess I haven’t read yet, but that is because I’ve barely sat down in one place since the workshop! AND they paid me promptly and were very welcoming – any women in Leicester looking for a writing group to be part of wouldn’t go far wrong with these guys!

On National Poetry Day I read to about 70 De Montfort University students alongside Ian Parks and Rory Waterman.  I met lovely Leicester poet Roy Marshall for a cup of coffee and a gossip and bought a copy of his fantastic new collection ‘The Sun Bathers’, published by Shoestring Press, which I must confess I have read, because I was planning on using a poem from it for the Sunday Poem this week – I will make my excuses later about why that didn’t happen!

On Friday, it was my birthday.  In my usual attention-seeking way, I announced it on Facebook and lots of lovely people made my day by wishing me happy birthday.  It doesn’t take much to keep me happy!  I also went shopping with my mum because I had a bit of birthday dosh and went out for a family meal in the evening.

On Saturday I drove down to Swindon – it took me four hours instead of the two that I expected because of awful traffic – but I am so glad I made the effort.  Alice Oswald read in the evening – I’ve never seen her read before and she was amazing – really, really worth the four hour drive.  She read some poems, or extracts of poems from all of her books, and she knew every poem by heart, but she doesn’t perform them from memory in a show offy kind of way – or I didn’t think so anyway – it was very intense- she uses silence a lot in her poetry and her readings.  I wouldn’t say she was necessarily one of my favourite poets before I saw her perform – but she has always fascinated me as a poet.  She constantly reinvents, or develops from collection to collection – and I like how she challenges perceived notions of gender by tackling that most masculine of texts, the Iliad.  And she read an amazing poem about a fox and about writing, which bears the weight of Ted Hughes’ ‘Thought Fox’ and manages to stand tall under the load.  I had to buy Memorium which was the only Oswald book I didn’t have.

But even better than Alice Oswald was meeting up with lovely friend and poet Hilda Sheehan again – we first met on a residential course last year.  Hilda is the mover and shaker of all things poetry in Swindon and a wonderful woman who genuinely loves poetry and wants to see it flourish.  I also met Michael Scott, who also organises various poetry things in Swindon – Hilda and Michael alongside Director Matt Holland were the organisers of the Poetry Festival.  I felt within five minutes of meeting Michael that I’d known him my whole life ( a similar feeling that I got when I first met Hilda) and we were soon merrily insulting each other.

So, I am thinking of them tonight – probably all at home, recovering from the festival- all three of them were working really hard all weekend – whilst managing to keep a sense of humour and proportion intact.

I read on the Sunday night with the lovely Claire Trevien – swapped books with her so now I have her brilliant new collection by Penned in the Margins – and the lively Elvis McGonagall.  Hilda’s lovely son Aidan did a couple of songs on the guitar – I thought he had a really soulful voice which sounded older and wiser than his years….

And then I had to get off  because I had to drive all the way back to Barrow from Swindon on the Sunday night because I had to teach at 8.45am on Monday morning.  It was actually not too bad a drive because I was still on a bit of a high from the reading and the festival, so I didn’t feel too knackered – not until I got up this morning that is.

During all this excitement, I ordered some books from Inpress because they had a special offer on for National Poetry Day – so waiting for me at home was ‘She Inserts the Key’ by Marianne Burton, ‘Oswald’s Book of Hours’ by Steve Ely and ‘War Reporter’ by Dan O’Brien, as well as the latest copy of Acumen with a lovely cheque for a review I’ve just done of Fiona Sampson’s new book Coleshill.  The other nice thing that was waiting for me when I got home was my cheque from Buzzwords competition – I got second prize or runner up which landed me £300 which is definitely better than a poke in the eye!

So, here is the belated Sunday Poem by Roy Marshall.  This is especially for my good friend John Foggin, one of my loyal commenters on here – who writes a lot of wonderful ekphrastic poetry.  I’ve just googled it to find a definition of ekphrastic poetry and I came up with ‘writing that comments upon another art form, e.g, a poem about a photograph’ I must admit, I am not usually drawn to this type of poetry – it has to be really good to get past my inner bigot.  Fortunately, Roy’s poetry is good- the title poem of the collection ‘The Sun Bathers’ concerns a painting, which makes up the front cover of his book, but it is a poem that comes from a sequence at the heart of the collection which I would like to share with you today.

The sequence is simply called ‘Leonardo’ and concerns the famous painter of the same name.  I like this poem because it made me understand the painting a little better – it captures the oxymoron of the Mona Liza – possibly the most famous image we have, yet still hopelessly enigmatic and mysterious.  I love the turn in pace from the fourth stanza – Roy tells me this poem also came from a newspaper article and is a true story.  There are five poems altogether in this sequence.  I read the whole book from cover to cover – and could have picked any one of a large number of poems as the Sunday poem to be honest.

You can order Roy’s book from his blog at or from his publisher, Shoestring Press at

Leonardo – by Roy Marshall

1. La Gioconda

Da Vinci was amusing and witty, and on each day
that I sat he remarked upon my beauty.
And what was there not to smile about?

Francesco, who was rich with silk, had bolts brought to the Villa;
the olive of Tuscan hills spilt across my breasts and thighs,
the slope of my hips and shoulders were the blue of Tuscan skies,

but the creased cream of clouds was only for his eyes, and yes,
I knew true happiness inside our frescoed walls.

Nothing that came after could temper my smile;
not my husband’s death, nor life inside the convent,
not its cold crypt which the government demolished,

not obscurity nor fame before the cordoned crowd,
not the landfill beneath a green hill
where my bones lie ploughed.

2 comments on “Sunday Poem – Roy Marshall

  1. I agree that Alice Oswald is quite extraordinary. I saw her read at the T S Eliot Memorial Meeting and she was riveting, very intense, as you say. Something a lot of poets don’t come close to achieving when they read their work. So far I have only read her work in bits and pieces – need to remedy that – but I find it very varied but still with a strong distinctive voice. And somehow the language she uses seems simple, but it leads you in like the spirals of a seashell. Love it.

    Oh and congrats on your prize in the Buzzwords competition!

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