So this weekend I’ve been down in Leicester for my dad’s 60th birthday – his birthday is actually Thursday but we had a meal for him on Saturday – there were 16 of us altogether, mainly sisters, brother in laws, neices, nephews and one great neice. I have one neice who I bought a Michael Rosen poetry book for this Christmas which she absolutely loves, and while waiting for dinner to arrive she asked me to write a poem with her. She decided she wanted to write one called ‘Rabbits and Dogs’ and then we played a game which I often do in school workshops – we listed as many words as we could beginning with a letter (in this case T) and then made a sentence out of them. The sentence was ‘I twirl and twist my tiny toes underneath the tall and tricky table’ which I was quite impressed with! She is seven years old – but even at that age when she was writing her rabbits and dogs poem she was worrying about using adjectives because that gets extra marks – it makes me sad – but playing the game of listing words and then making nonsensical sentences made her forget about that and have fun with language I think.
My eldest sister has been to one of my poetry readings, but since then has refused to attend any more so my plan of revenge is to turn her daughter into a poet, thus ensuring that she has to go to lots of poetry readings and read lots of poems. Both of my sisters also keep my pamphlet on a shelf but haven’t read any of the poems apart from the one poem that is a bit rude ‘Picnic on Stickle Pike’.
All of last week was half-term but I didn’t do anything exciting – I spent pretty much the whole week painting. We have finished the living room now for those of you who are following the painting saga with baited breath,which is probably nobody if I’m honest! Next weekend I’m away in Grasmere with the Poetry Business Writing School on a residential weekend which is the end of the Writing School course – we are giving a reading on the Sunday at the Wordsworth Trust which is free to attend https://wordsworth.org.uk/attend-events/2014/03/02/readings-from-the-poetry-business-writing-school.html
so unfortunately no painting for me! Am hoping to return at the end of the weekend and see either the bathroom or the kitchen transformed by hubby.
It was lovely getting back to the house tonight because there was lots of post waiting for me. There was the Poetry Book Society bulletin with the new John Burnside collection ‘All One Breath’. I really like John Burnside so I’m really looking forward to reading this. There was also a cheque waiting for me for a poetry workshop that I ran at the beginning of January so that was rather pleasant. And two books arrived as review copies from Under the Radar so I’m looking forward to getting stuck into them as well. This plethora of books almost made me feel guilty for buying the new David Constantine book when I spotted it on sale in the shop at Durham Cathedral but it was a momentary twinge and it disappeared when flicking through the Constantine collection I read this line ‘Nothing in a swallow says, I don’t want to leave this place’. Isn’t that beautiful?
So today’s Sunday Poem is by Paul Stephenson who is a lovely guy and a very good poet. He will be reading on Sunday as part of the Writing School event in Grasmere. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Paul a little better over the last 18 months while the Writing School has been running – he is an exciting writer I think who often surprises us all in workshops when he reads back his work – Paul’s poems never sound like that dreaded beast ‘the workshop poem’.
I asked Paul to send a biography over and he is so modest he didn’t mention his most recent competition wins – a 1st prize in the South Bank Poetry magazine competition, judged by Clare Pollard, a 1st place in the Magma Short Poem prize in 2013, 2nd in the Cafe Writers competition in 2013, 2nd in the Troubadour in 2012….He is also currently taking part in the Jerwood/Arvon mentoring scheme. His background in Modern Languages and European Studies has an effect I think in the way he plays with language and his interest in experimenting with words – Paul says that recently he often finds himself “looking for words within words, anagrams, palindromes, rhymes, that this helps give me a texture for the poem and a word constraint.”
Paul says that the context for this poem was that “I heard David Cameron on the radio in January 2013, I think, talking about multinationals avoiding corporation tax. And he said ‘Wake up and smell the coffee’, obviously referring to a large coffee shop we all know. And I thought, gosh, that is such a tired old expression, how can I play with it and travel somewhere unexpected….”
which I think gives a really interesting insight into the writing process, although I also think it is not necessary to know this to enjoy the poem. I didn’t know it when I read the poem, but I enjoyed the playfulness of it and the slow transformation of ‘coffee’ to ‘coffin’. I picked this poem as well because it is very different to the poems I normally choose, completely different from anything I would write – which is probably one of the reasons I like it – and maybe in my head it is linking back to this weekend and sitting at the table playing around with words with my neice….
The poem was previously published in Lighthouse – a relatively new journal which you can find more information about here http://www.gatehousepress.com/lighthouse/
You can find out more about Paul by going to his website at http://paulstephensonpoet.wordpress.com/
Thanks to Paul for letting me use this poem – I hope you enjoy it!
Wake Up And – Paul Stephenson
smell the coffee
smell the coughing
wake up and smell Cavafy
wake up and smell Kefalonia
smell the kaftan
smell the kif
wake up and smell the cufflink
wake up and smell the coffin