Sunday Poem – Nia Davies

This week I have been mainly recovering from my cold.  A few incredibly exciting things have happened this week, which I can’t really tell you about, so maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned them.  As well as being very exciting, I’ve also been completely confused about what to do about incredibly exciting things, in my usual manner of consternation, procrastination and general indecisiveness.  When I can say something however, you will all be the first to know.  Well maybe not the first.  I’ll probably tell the husband and my mum and dad first.  But after that – definitely you lot!

On Friday I went to run a session with the Kendal Young Writers group.  The girls had asked if we could do something about form, so I decided to take in Julia Copus’s poem ‘In the Backseat of My Mother’s Car’ which you can find here.

The poem is a specular – or a mirror poem – the lines in the first half of the poem are used in the second half, but in reverse order.  Julia has quite a few in her latest book as well.  I really like speculars, because it feels to me as if you can feel the language twisting and turning whilst you are reading, as if it suddenly becomes alive through being put into a different configuration.  I’ve also always wanted to write one and I vaguely thought I would have a go in the workshop alongside the group, which I often try to do anyway.

After I read the specular to the group they had a really strong reaction to it.  I think three of the four actually gave a kind of shriek or squeal of excitement.  They were completely taken by the poem – their enthusiasm and spontaneous reactions were so lovely to see and I felt like I couldn’t wait to have a go at writing one.  I think this is the best way to work with form – to show something in the form that will hopefully cause delight and make you want to try it out.  I don’t really write in traditional form – in fact, when we did a workshop on sonnets with this group a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a sonnet which I think is good enough to keep and now I’ve written a specular (I think – I need to type it up first and see if it holds together or whether it just dissolves into thin air when I try to pin it down)

After the workshop I met lovely poet Jennifer Copley and we went for a Chinese in Kendal – and much plotting for our residential course in April ensued.  As far as I know there are only a couple of places left on the course, so if you have been thinking about coming – please book soon!  Have a look at the ‘Residential Courses’ tab at the top of the page if you would like to see what we are getting up to.  There is also a swimming pool which we can use which is a lovely thing indeed.

Today I’ve been mostly painting the kitchen – I wangled my way to doing my favourite job again which is glossing the woodwork – most satisfying as I just gloss over all the marks and they disappear into lovely whiteness.  I’ve also just got back from poet Mark Carson’s house – we have had a meeting to discuss Poem and a Pint’s Arts Council bid for funding when ours runs out in June.

Next week I have a full poetry week –  my friend Jill Abram from London is coming to visit and when she arrives on Wednesday I will introduce her to the husband, the cat and the dogs, show her where she is sleeping and then we will be off to the Open Mic in Ambleside at Zefferellis, with guest poet Zaffar Kunial, the new poet in residence at the Wordsworth Trust.  You can find more information about the open mic here

On Thursday I will be off to work in the morning and at the minute Thursday is a poetry-free day, but on Friday I will be performing as the guest poet in Preston at the New Continental.  You can find more information about this event here

There are lots of other great poets performing as well so it should be a good night! I haven’t read very much in Preston either so I’m looking forward to it.

So the Sunday Poem this week is by Nia Davies who I met last week at the XX Women’s Literature Festival in Cardiff.  Nia was born in Sheffield and is a poet, novelist and cultural activist.  Her poems have been published in several magazines and anthologies and she is the new editor of Poetry Wales.  I’m reliably informed that now is a great time to send over your poems to Nia! She is on the hunt for new voices to the magazine…

You can find out some more information about Nia here or find out more  about Poetry Wales here

I’ve chosen today’s Sunday Poem from Nia’s first pamphlet, ‘Then Spree’, published by Salt.  Amy Wack told me about this poem, guessing I would be interested because it is about a brass instrument.  More unusually, it was about a brass instrument I hadn’t heard of – an Ophicleide  At Mark Carson’s house, earlier this evening, he went and found a picture of an Ophicleide in one of his many books, joking that it was almost as quick as looking it up on the internet.  However for your delectation and delight, and if you would like to see what one looks like have a look at the Wikipedia entry which has a lovely picture, but even more impressively a bit of poetry about the Ophicleide – the Wikipedia article rather unkindly calls this doggerel, but I actually quite like it – it is not attributed in the article

“The Ophicleide, like mortal sin
Was fostered by the serpent”

This is a reference to the Greek word ‘ophis’ meaning serpent and ‘kleis’ meaning keys.  I really do like those two lines.

I can’t help but feel sorry for the Ophicleide in this poem.  I mean to start with, to be eclipsed by a tuba and a euphonium is  a sorry state of affairs indeed! (Sorry any tuba or euphonium players.) I should also say that musicians have a long history of mocking other instruments, so being a trumpet player, the tuba and euphonium are fair game!  The second line of the poem made me smile as well – the ‘careful marketing plans’ – the idea of the tuba having a marketing plan – and when I read down the Wikipedia article it does refer to the tuba replacing the Ophicleide because of ‘careful marketing’ which is kind of a bizarre idea!

I like the half rhymes and echoes in this poem that hold it together – look at the ‘um’ sounds in the first stanza ‘euphonium’, ‘plans’ and ‘arms’ and then in the second stanza the sounds become much sharper –  ‘jointed’ and ‘obsolete’  and ‘hooked’ and ‘archives’.

This poem is an example of one of my favourite type of poems –  a research poem.  In a research poem, it is normally clear that the poet has been on a kind of journey to find out the information required to write the poem, that they have discovered or learnt something new in the process of writing it – I find both writing and reading this type of poem tremendously exciting.

Anyway, yet again, it is nearly midnight before the Sunday Poem is up and live and kicking, so I will sign off now.  I hope you enjoy the poem, and thanks to Nia for letting me use it.  You can buy Nia’s pamphlet from

An Autobiography of the Ophicleide – Nia Davies

Eclipsed by tuba and euphonium
and their careful marketing plans,
I was a half-baffled shoulder pipe.
A thorny funnel coiled over biscuit-dry
jumpers.  I had thunder-rushing arms.

When you parped me you had to lean out-jointed, asymmetrical.  I was already obsolete.
But some hung onto me, hooked
their brassy passion around my u-bend or
atticboxed me in their instrument archives.

I was forced early into retirement but for rare
nights when I was glossed with
breathy spit and I picketed to be kept live.
But my throb fell flat in the pond of other pipes,
their other useful selves ascending.

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