Sunday Poem – Noel Williams

Evening folks.  It has been a strange, and lovely week.  I have been kind of overwhelmed by the reaction to my previous post – people have got in touch, both by commenting on the blog – by sending me emails or messages, by tweeting – people who are close friends, people I’ve met at readings, people I’ve never met before.  I feel very lucky to know you all.

So apart from getting all your wonderful messages – I’ve been at work doing the normal stuff.  Thursday and Friday are my normal days off but I worked all day Thursday to make up for the time off I had to go to London – then I walked the dogs and drove straight over to Lancaster for April Poets where I was one of the guest poets, along with Jim Turner, Mike Barlow and Jean Harrison.  Sarah Hymas and Steve Lewis performed an excerpt from ‘Sealegs’ which is a nautical mix of music and poetry – I would recommend if you want to hear something completely different.  It was nice to read alongside Mike, who has been really supportive of my poetry over the years.

And then Friday, I finally had a day at home and a real day off.  I decided to not get dressed till lunchtime, when I had to get dressed because I had to walk the dogs.  Then I went for a catch up with a friend and then came back home and did some more work on the sequence I’ve mentioned before.  I’m now up to 12 poems, although they still need some work – but I’m still enjoying writing them – every now and then I will see a preoccupation rise to the surface through the muddy water of 12 poems and then the larger picture becomes a little clearer.

Today I’ve been at the Dickensian Festival in Ulverston which involves some of the people who live in Ulverston dressing up in Victorian costume and lots of stalls selling various burgers and various musical acts throughout the town and crowded pavements and stewards in green vests and morris men and…well…lots of things really, but at 1.15pm my wonderful junior band, the Barrow Shipyard Junior Band were playing.

There was a musical act on before us so I gathered the children behind them.  The older children were setting up the music stands and some of the younger children were dancing to the three musicians, which I thought was quite cute.  I would be quite flattered if I was performing and that happened.  A woman came up to me shouting that the children ‘had ruined that musical performance by dancing’.  HOW CAN A MUSICAL PERFORMANCE BE RUINED BY DANCING?????

Unfortunately, this woman ( I don’t know who she was) only wanted someone to shout at, and barely gave me a chance to get a word in edgeways before she stormed off.  I spoke to the musicians who were performing and they said they didn’t notice the children dancing but they would have been flattered if they had.  I don’t know why I’m telling this story, except that I’m still annoyed by it.  The woman also shouted at the children – all between ten and eleven, at that wonderful age when they do dance spontaneously, without any self consciousness at all.  It angers me that she might have stopped them dancing.  I often randomly dance in music lessons – I’m joking around most of the time – breaking into dancing if the children are playing well – sometimes I’ll put on a power anthem and do some over the top miming to it just to make the kids laugh – what does this teach them?  Probably no anything about music, but I hope it teaches them not to care so much about what people think – and the best way to do this is by example – I think a lot of us care too much what other people think of us, and this inhibits us all the time in destructive ways.  That is part of the reason why children are great – up to a certain age, they don’t care so much.  But maybe the main reason I’m annoyed is because I didn’t get to say what I wanted to say because she walked away!! And even if I had said what I wanted to say, it is not like she would have said ‘yep you’re right, I’m sorry for shouting’.

Anyway, apart from that, we had a great time!  By mistake I picked up a bag of broken music stands instead of the bag of working musical stands which was very foolish.  So it was a bit stressful at the beginning – we had to have three children round a music stand and my music stand spun round randomly when ever it felt like it.  I should stop being surprised by the ability of the children to pull it out of the bag at every concert, but they always do surprise me.  The stewards and organisers at the Dickensian Festival were great, and apart from the one shouting woman, everyone else at the festival seemed determined to have a good time.

After the Dickensian Festival we went to my lovely friend Mark Carson’s 70th birthday party – he doesn’t look a day over 60 to me – maybe he is just saying he is 70 to get attention…

And now I’m back home in time to put a Sunday Poem up by a great poet called Noel Williams.  I met Noel at the Writing School that I’m a member of, run by the Poetry Business.  We have a meeting roughly every other month and in between we work as a group of three normally, looking at each other’s poems and discussing poetry books.  I worked with Noel a couple of months ago and had the opportunity to read a sequence he has been working on which I really enjoyed, so I asked him if he had any poems to donate.

I chose ‘Sunburn’ because I loved the energy of this poem -it is obviously a poem that is looking back, but it has managed to capture the energy of being young and that sense that summers lasted longer than they do when you are older.  And I think the poem manages to capture the sense of heat really well – I love the line ‘smouldering up to that solder sky’ with its assonance and internal rhymes.  And it is one of those rare poems – a poem about work! AND it is lovely to have a poem about summer to brighten up November – my least favourite monthI wasn’t surprised to learn that ‘Sunburn’ was awarded 2nd place in the Sentinel Literary Competition this year.  Noel, rather excitingly, has a collection coming out with Cinnamon Press next March ( called ‘Out of Breath’ – so do look out for it!

Noel is also one of the editors of Antiphon, an excellent online poetry magazine which can be found at

Antiphon is currently looking for new submissions – the window is only open until the 28th November so you haven’t got long – but Noel has told me there is still room for some more poems.  Please check out the magazine – they have published some fabulous poets and have over a 1000 readers for each issue and submit some poems!

Noel’s own blog can be found at

Sunburn – Noel Williams

The sun was bigger then, easily swallowed the sky,
so burning that at night there was no night,
in the swell of summer at the height of my life.
And the heat blazed back out of cornstalks and corrugated earth,
off the barn and chestnuts, elms and oaks,
smouldering up to that solder sky.

Every day I was new to the fields.
Turning and tedding the freshly mown
or straddling the baler behind the tractor
red as three fire engines, hauling out bale
after bale like squat logs, hefting them
off the conveyor, a hand slung under each twine.

That summer lasted years.
There were no rules – the future like sunburn
on my shoulders, peeling new skin,
cool pain under the skim of a single sheet
dreamless as the swifts scooping gnats
above the mud of the pond.

Knotting a headscarf over my mouth,
I stepped down the ladder into the grain bin.
It held the sunheat in its sheet steel box
a cake-tin to bake a man, lined with grain
so fine on walls and floor and clothes that it clogged
my nostrils with rich silt; a warm, perfumed frost.

I was stripped to my jeans and barefoot
sweeping dust like soot or fine plaster.
And the water was brought out to the field
in a bucket. And you threw mugfuls over me
streaking the grime off my back, making tears of my face
on the hot straw you laid under the hedge.

1 comment on “Sunday Poem – Noel Williams

  1. What lovely music in the poem – as you said it certainly has energy too!
    I am currently following up your recommendation for the Antiphon site too – what a cheering day it is turning out to be!
    Thank you.

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