Sunday Poem – Paula Cunningham

Morning folks!  I am writing this from my hotel room at the Torbay Festival of Poetry

I have had a lovely weekend here – on Thursday I drove to Leicester and stayed at my mum and dad’s house for the night and drove over to Torbay on Friday morning.  I was really lucky with the traffic and managed to get here with enough time to have lunch and see Alison Brackenbury read.

The organisers of the festival, Patricia and William Oxley and their wonderful committee are very friendly.  The whole festival is in one hotel, which is where I’m staying, which is a genius idea I think.  I love being able to go to my room in between things, although yesterday I went to my room to send a couple of emails and ended up falling asleep and missed half an event….

I read on Friday at 5pm with Emily Hinshelwood who was lovely to read with – I’m hoping to have a poem from her for the Sunday Poem once I’ve read through her book.  What has been nice is that a lot of people seem to be around for the whole weekend so I met people for the first time at the reading and then I see them again later on – this is how I met the lovely Arthur Broomfield, who has come over from Ireland just for the festival – he came up to get me to sign his pamphlet (get me!) and then I bumped into him yesterday and we have been gabbing non stop since then and having a really good laugh – I often tend to meet people at poetry events who it feels like I’ve been friends with for years  – I hesitate to add names here in case I miss anyone important out but recent examples of this have been John W.Sexton and Ben Johnson at the Fermoy Poetry Festival in August and Michael Scott at the Swindon Poetry Festival – so for me a festival is worth going to for that alone, never mind the poetry!

Yesterday I went to part of a Pat Borthwick workshop which was good fun and then I had to sneak out before the end to do a Poet to Poet question and answer thing, chaired by Danielle Hope with Mike Bartholomew-Biggs as the other poet being questioned.  I was a little nervous about this because I’ve only ever done it once before and that was  last week but it was actually really enjoyable and good fun – and I’m sure this was because Danielle was so professional and good at keeping the whole thing going.

Last night Gillian Clarke read – I’ve seen Gillian read quite a few times but she was on fire last night – a brilliant reading, very warm, very passionate – maybe it was because the tables were all set for everyone to have a three course meal afterwards, maybe she felt like she was reading poetry for her supper but I really enjoyed it.

Which brings us to today – I’m off to a workshop this morning as well and then depending on the weather – I’m hoping to stay for Allison McVety reading this afternoon and Angela France and John Greening later on.

The other major thing that happened earlier on in the week was a joint concert with my junior band (Barrow Shipyard Junior Band) and the Barrow Steelworks Band at Trinity Church Centre in Barrow.  It was a great night and although there were a couple of empty seats in the hall there weren’t many.  We raised nearly £600 which will be split between the Furness Branch of the National Autistic Society and the Junior Band.  I’m still buzzing from the concert actually – the junior band played brilliantly and I was really proud of them.

So today’s Sunday Poem is ‘Driving North’ by Paula Cunningham, which is a very apt title as I will be driving north today and tomorrow on a bit of an epic journey from here back up to Cumbria.  This poem comes from Paula’s brand new shiny collection from Smith/Doorstop called ‘Heimlich’s Manoeuvre’ which is currently shortlisted for the 2013 Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize.  You can buy the book from the Poetry Business by clicking on this link:

I love the honesty of this poem  – it is one of those poems that as soon as I read it, I wished I had written it because it brings that jolt of recognition and that feeling of ‘Of course this happens – why didn’t I think of that?’ when I read in the poem of the ‘angels and ogres’ from the past who come into our present day relationships through the power of gesture – and it is all held together by the lyrical way the words relate to one another – all the wonderful internal rhymes that are threaded through the poem – ‘back’ and ‘scratch’ and ‘crack’ and ‘that’ in the middle of the poem and ‘alive’ and ‘smile’ and ‘time’ towards the end.

Finally, I would like to mention before you read the poem, Phil Read.  Phil died yesterday from cancer.  I haven’t seen Phil probably for over ten years – he was one of the conductors of the junior brass band I was in and he played baritone in the senior band when I was in Leicester.  I have been friends with Phil on Facebook and sent him a message when I saw he was ill to wish him well and thank him for everything he did when I was younger – so although I haven’t spoken to him (apart from online) for ten years, I felt profoundly sad yesterday when I heard he had died.   I learnt how to run a brass band from him and our other conductor, Rob Boulter.  Rob used to jump up and down on the spot when we made a mistake in rehearsal and we used to think it was funny.  Phil did the same – although not as often – and I have been known to do my own jumping up and down in mock frustration.  The kids still think it’s funny.  So Phil carries on in a very small way – as well as with his family, friends and the musicians down in Leicester, he will be remembered up in Cumbria as well.  Which again, fits with the Sunday Poem today as well.

I hope you enjoy the poem.

Driving North – Paula Cunningham

Returning late in rain from Connemara,
each time we pass a ‘Welcome to our County’
I slow and sound the horn, a single toot,

Galway toot Mayo toot Sligo…
and I’m explaining ‘Davy did this,
my first real boyfriend, twenty years ago.’

And when approaching sleep you call me sweetie,
I know your friend, your ex, still calls you that,
and later when you flex and click your knuckles

you will tell me of a lover, way back,
who’d twist and stretch so ardently
that each and every vertebra would crack.

And when you make me scratch
your back it’s childhood and your daddy;
the wheaten bread each Saturday’s my ma;

that thing when I touch the back
of your hand with the back of a hot
coffee spoon’s a man I loved abysmally

and that man’s granddad.  And this is how it is:
angels and ogres jostle at our shoulders,
anxious for their chance to vanquish time,

and these fleeting appearances, toot, brief
visitations that make us scowl or smile, keep
all of our losses, even our dead, alive.

2 comments on “Sunday Poem – Paula Cunningham

  1. I heard Paula Cunningham read ‘Driving North’ at Sheffield Poetry Festival in June, which was also the launch for ‘Heimlich’s Manoeuvre.’ I enjoyed her reading, and talking about the significant borders of her childhood that inspired some of her poems. Her reading/launch followed Gillian Clarke’s, who had requested that they sat and shared the stage throughout – a lovely touch in itself.

  2. it’s a fine and splendid thing to fly over the house where you’ve spent a week writing (or not writing) poems, listening to Jane Draycott drilling into my heart and brain the way to seek the moment when a poem detonates, and hang on to it like the ledge on a rockclimb or the rope thrown from the shore, and then come home to the reliable and trustworthy. The Sunday poem. This one detonates over and over like the crack of knuckles. I shall read it again at once. Toot sweet.

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