I am aware that I am starting to write this blog at 11.19pm which is way too late. Most of you, in fact will probably read this in the morning – even my most loyal followers are probably tucked up in bed by now. But never mind.
This week has another week of painting our house – poor unloved creature – some of the rooms have not been decorated since I moved in which will be 8 years ago in April. I have learnt a few things about painting this week.
1. Don’t worry about patches on the first coat – it all evens out second time around.
2. It is much more exciting to paint in colour – I got to do a blue wall today but also much harder as you actually have to have straight lines instead of just slapping paint on wooden skirting boards.
3. Painting is really hard work
My favourite job is painting the woodwork because I can sit down to do that. I don’t really like standing up. Today my office which is also our spare bedroom got its coat of paint – there are just the skirting boards in there to do now. The next job I think is the living room. Then after that we have the kitchen, our bedroom and the bathroom to do. I’m quite enjoying it though – but then I have always loved monotony at work. One of my favourite jobs was working on a check out in the Co-op in Birmingham. I loved the robotic nature of it – not saying that people who work in supermarkets are robotic – but I definitely was. I couldn’t be bothered to make small talk or smile at people but I did enjoy scanning food items and judging people on the contents of their trolleys.
Other exciting things that have happened to me this week include getting two poems accepted in The Rialto http://www.therialto.co.uk/pages/
which has a swanky new website which is worth checking out. The Rialto is a prince among magazines I believe for a number of reasons – its production, its beautiful smell, its glossy pages, the lovely editor who even when sending a rejection always took the time to write a little note on the rejection slip, but best of all, when you do get a poem in you get a twenty pound note in an envelope which is a wonderful feeling.
The event page for a project I’ve been working on has gone up as well at https://tickets.bridgewater-hall.co.uk/single/eventDetail.aspx?p=23124
This project involved poets who were once MA students at Manchester Met being paired up with postgraduate composers from the Royal Northern College of Music. The poets were given the text to a song by Strauss, or a literal translation of it anyway and we then had to write a poem in response to the text. We also had to provide a short explanation of how we got from the Strauss text to our finished poem. I forgot about this and then got an email asking for text and when I started to look into the process found out all kinds of interesting things.
The poets then had to send their poems to their composers. I have no idea what my composer has done with poem. I don’t mind really not knowing – it will be exciting to hear it though.
This is all happening on February 8th which is another poetry marathon day for me. So I’ll be off to the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester for 10.30 which is the start of the performance. Then I’ll be going to the Poets and Players event where ALICE OSWALD is reading. I saw her read at Swindon Poetry Festival last year and it was the best reading I went to all year, so I clearly have to go and see her again. That is at 2.30 – http://poetsandplayers.co/
and then I’ll be driving quite briskly back to Ulverston for 7.30 to Poem and A Pint where the wonderful Moniza Alvi will be our guest poet and I’ll be reading two poems as one of the warmup acts. I’m hoping lovely poet Rachel Davies, who is as bonkers as me is going to accompany me in this madness and maybe stay at mine for a glass of wine as well afterwards…
The other lovely thing I did this week was work with Andrew Forster at the Wordsworth Trust to run a Young Writers session in Kendal. This project is going to run for the next two Fridays and will culminate with a session with the young writers at Dove Cottage. We had a group of four and they were the dream group – enthusiastic, keen, funny, engaging – I really enjoyed it. It was nice to be working with Andrew as well – I am always slightly apprehensive about working with friends – it’s like going on holiday with them isn’t it – it can end in disaster when you wind each other up and leave the toothpaste lid off the toothpaste – but I think we worked well together and it was good fun. Hopefully we will still be speaking to each other in a months time…
Which brings us to today’s Sunday Poem which is by Kim Lasky, another poet shortlisted for the Michael Marks award. Kim was a winner in the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition last year with her pamphlet ‘Petrol, Cyan, Electric’ but she hasn’t let that slow her down – she has just had another pamphlet published with Templar called ‘Eclipse’. I must admit to not having ‘Eclipse’ yet but I do have the PB pamphlet which is fantastic. Her poems are very different – full of science, but in an approachable, readable way. You can order ‘Petrol, Cyan, Electric’ from the Poetry Business at www.poetrybusiness.co.uk
I picked ‘Pylons, 1929’ because it was the poem that I enjoyed most in the pamphlet. I enjoyed the story it told of the man who tends pylons, which most of the time are unnoticed in the background of any landscape. Unless you are like me, who had an obsession with Watership Down and used to look for pylons that looked like the pylon in Watership Down, halfway up a hill where a rabbit could hide itself in a clump of grass whilst a black dog ran past but that is beside the point, slightly. I love the description of the pylon in the first section – particularly ‘lit strange as silver, a gateway in metal/on mapped land.’ I like the way Kim deftly creates two characters with her portrayal of insignificant details – the woman who ‘fetches/hair from her face with the back of her hand’. Isn’t that a beautiful way of putting it – ‘fetches’ – not ‘wipes’ or ‘pushes’ or ‘brushes’ – fetches is just right. I also really like the description of the pylons in part 3 as ‘advancing like metallic warriors’. It strikes me now that the most active parts of this poem are the pylons – they advance, they ‘staple the land’, they crackle and hum. They are closely followed by the man, but his movement is not so immediate – we are told he turns for home and we have to imagine his movement for ourselves – and the woman is captured like a photograph – the way she ‘fetches’ her hair from her face. By the end of the poem, it seems the only thing left that is active and can move in the poem are the pylons while the man and woman lie in bed. The pylons have the power…I should also say this poem was highly commended in the 2012 Bridport Prize.
If you would like to know more about Kim Lasky and her work she has a website at http://kimlasky.com/
Thanks to Kim for letting me use her poem!
Pylons, 1929 – Kim Lasky
All day he has climbed
the ledges of outstretched arms,
finding footholds in their soldered webs.
Sweat has matted the hair beneath his cap,
tobacco flecked his tongue. Now the sun is falling
towards the horizon; amber comes to mind
as it aligns behind the half-built tower
lit strange as silver, a gateway in metal
on mapped land. He turns for home, thinks of her
watching the skillet on the gas, the way she fetches
hair from her face with the back of her hand,
how he’ll tell her there’s nothing troubling here,
just this― the uneven tilt of the earth,
the rising green of the hills, unconcerned.
The terraces line up just the same,
grey pavements, the smell of grease in the alley.
He lifts the latch, swings in;
the gate is all she hears in the kitchen.
At the door, he’s stopped by the curve of her back,
the knot of cotton at her waist that flounces
to the hem of her skirt. She checks the flame
before she turns, oblivious to the sweat of gas
on the window, the sulphur air. What she notices
is the breeze he carries in that pricks
like static on her skin, his matted hair,
how he looks before he leans to untie his laces,
something that’s beyond her knowing, half-denied,
lurking beneath the surface of his eye.
Then, when he lies awake at night
he thinks of them advancing like metallic warriors
charging, passing leaping arcs of current from arm to arm.
But he knows they are only waiting to crackle and hum
among the sheep in the fields, the circling birds.
So he fills his mind instead with things he knows:
tomorrow the drays will pull the cable; guy wire,
ground wire; 50 Hz, three-phase.
Against this, the weight of her sleeping next to him,
the callus on his hand, a thigh muscle flinching.
As, outside, the pylons stretch from striding legs,
stapling earth to sky― the threads of his labour
clinging mutely to the hillside, promising blue arcs:
proud, stock-still, unafraid of the dark.