Sunday Poem – John Foggin

This week has been a strange one – in some ways it feels like the laziest Christmas/New Year period I’ve had for a long time.  The husband has post-viral fatigue syndrome – which I had a couple of years ago and is truly horrible.  It basically means you’re exhausted all the time but he has had other symptoms -feeling sick, sore throat, not eating (first time in ten years I’ve ever known him not to eat) so to show solidarity with him I have been sitting on the sofa for hours re-watching Game of Thrones.  But also because I was tired as well – it felt like I was hovering on the edge of getting better so I decided I would start running again and do some jobs but spend most of my time sitting/lying on the sofa.

Apart from lying on the sofa watching TV and cooking – how we have both survived my cooking all week is anybody’s guess – although the thought has just occurred to me that maybe it is my cooking which is making the husband ill – anyway, apart from all that, I’ve started running again.

I went last Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.  I think every single one has been painful, frustrating and has felt like such hard work.  I’ve had three weeks off due to being ill but it feels like three months.  It feels like starting again, although of course I’m not.  I haven’t lost that much fitness, but every time I run, part of me is in a complete sulk that the speed I’m running at is much slower than what I was doing, and what is worse, feels hard.  My legs feel heavy, I’m getting out of breath at a pace that I could have easily carried out a conversation at before.  I think a lot of it is psychological as well and I just need to push through this slightly rocky patch now.

My New Year’s Resolution this year is to spend at least one hour every day reading and writing poetry.  I promised myself I would do this after coming back from tutoring with Clare Shaw on our residential poetry course but if I’m honest, I didn’t really stick to it.  So far, this year, and bearing in mind we’re only on the 4th January, I have stuck to it.  I was inspired again to have another go after reading Josephine Corcoran’s blog in which she is promising to write for an hour every day.

I don’t want to write for an hour every day because I don’t work like that, in concentrated periods of time.  I like reading poems and then writing a bit, reading a bit, writing a bit, so that’s why I’m saying I’m going to read and write.   They are so bound up together for me anyway.

So in my hour a day since New Year I’ve finished off The Deep North by Bronwyn Lee which I’ve really enjoyed and have just finished today a book by Ron Egatz which I bought at Aldeburgh as well.

The other thing I’m doing which I suppose is shaping up to be a New Year Resolution, although I only decided to do it yesterday was to learn a poem by heart a month.  Here I am with my Poetry Promise


Have a look on the Poetry by Heart website if you would like to find out more information – it is basically a national competition for school children to encourage young people to learn poems off by heart, but this week on Twitter they were asking for people to make a ‘Poetry Promise’.  You can download the piece of paper I’m holding from their website and fill in your own goal here if you like.  I can’t claim the credit for this – the poet Ben Wilkinson made me aware of it first and even came up with the goal and I know a bandwagon when I see one!  BUT if anybody wants to join me, I would love to hear what poem you are going to learn this month.  I’ve decided to go for a poem I’ve always loved and one I would like to know by heart – ‘The Voice’ by Thomas Hardy.  I’m guessing that I can copy it out below, for those of you who might not know it and that I won’t get in any trouble as it is out of copyright…

The Voice – Thomas Hardy

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed, from the one that was all to me
But as at first, when our day was fair.

Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you then.
Standing as when I drew near to the town.
Where you would wait for me, yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!

Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?

Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.

I loved this poem as soon as I heard it – the yearning in that first line – and the lovely repetition.  And to rhyme wistlessness and listlessness.  And I love the commas and the faltering, stop, start rhythm of it…So far I have managed to remember accurately the first two lines…

This week I’ve also been working on a translation of a Burmese poem – the poem is by Moon Thueain.  I’m working from a literal translation and then emailing back and forward between Moon, her translator Pandora and the lovely Sasha Dugdale, the editor of my current favourite magazine Modern Poetry in Translation.  Last night found me trying to find a replacement for the line ‘We are not fools’ which was first translated as ‘We are not lemons’.  The original Burmese used a fruit whose name translates as ‘to be insulted’.  Of course we don’t have an equivalent in English – so at first I went for ‘We are not fools’ but Pandora asked me to try and find a metaphor that would encapsulate what Moon wanted – the word ‘fools’ was too direct.  So at the minute I have

‘We are not here
to stand like donkeys,
silent at your words’

which is not a literal translation.  It could be argued that it is not even a translation! There is no donkey in Moon’s poem – but I think it captures the intention of the poet.  Maybe this is hard to explain as well without showing you the whole poem, and I can’t do that, because it will hopefully, if I can get it right, be published in Modern Poetry in Translation at some point.  I should reassure you all that the poem I’m writing will be a version of Moon’s poem – it won’t be presented as a direct translation.

I have been enjoying the process, and am gearing myself up to have a go at another one of Moon’s poems.  The first step is to have a look at the literal translation and send a long list of questions and queries to Pandora, so I may do that in my hour of reading and writing tomorrow!

Would you believe me if I said I started writing this blog at 7pm? I did have to stop about 8pm and make dinner but still – I have no idea why it takes me this long.  But here we are, at this week’s Sunday Poem.  John Foggin wrote a great post today, talking about form and how he doesn’t usually use form-

“What I can’t do is sit down and plan to squeeze an idea or a feeling into a terza rima, or a sestina or a sonnet. I can’t see the point of it. I’m not saying there isn’t one, but I find it quite hard enough to find out what I think I’m thinking or feeling, and what it might mean, without things being edited out by form or rhyme.”

I would have completely agreed with John until a couple of months ago when I ran a workshop for the Young Writers I work with on sonnets, and sat down to write one myself.  But I want to talk about writing a sestina, which happened more recently and was more extraordinary to me because I hate sestinas.  I wanted to do a session with the young writers though, and reading about sestinas, and making some notes that I could give to them about the form, I wrote that sestinas normally tackle obsessions, which fit with the obsessive nature of the form.  When I read this to the group, I suddenly knew what I was going to write about, the thing that obsesses me, the thing that I don’t stop thinking about, which is the domestic violence that the sequence I’ve been working on for my new collection deals with.  The sestina has turned out to be the title poem of the sequence.  I’ve always had the title, I just didn’t have the title poem.

I would never, ever start with a form usually, but I just wrote the first stanza, and then whatever words ended up at the end of each line, I just went with them.  It was like following a meandering path around and above and over and under this thing that has haunted me for years.  So I think that is what form can do – it doesn’t do it for me personally very often, but when it works, it works.

I’ve only quoted a small part of John’s blog as well and it is a fascinating read and I would urge you to read the rest of the post where he goes into more detail about his thoughts on writing and reading and resolutions – the link is further down the page but I would like to meander, finally to the Sunday Poem which is by the lovely John.

This poem seems to me  a poem to be read at the beginning of a new year, which is also, of course the end of an old one.  It is a poem of crossroads, of being between things, of being nowhere that has a name.  I love how each stanza creates an image, like a freeze frame from a film.  The poet gives us just enough information to be able to picture what he means exactly, but enough room to be able to bring our own imagination to it as well.  I’ve just read the Introduction to Don Paterson’s ‘Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets’ and it he quotes Antonio Porchia who says ‘I know what I have given you; I do not know what you have received’.  This articulates for me what a good poem is and I think this poem illustrates it beautifully.

This poem is the title poem of John’s new pamphlet Larach.  Larach is published by Ward Wood Publishing  and was part of John’s prize for winning the 2014 Lumen Camden Poetry Competition, judged by Andrew Motion.  The winning poem in this competition, ‘Camera Obscura’ was also Highly Commended in the Forward Prize.

I could have picked any of a number of poems in John’s pamphlet to feature here.  He ranges widely, exploring Greek mythology, but with a tenderness and a searching whilst doing so, as in the opening lines of ‘Hephaestus’

‘ugly and lame, whose mother threw
all down the sky; you know how falling feels’

but you will also find some beautiful poems of landscape in the pamphlet, very carefully observed.  Probably my favourite poem of the pamphlet is ‘Our David’s Pictures’, which describes a son who has died and the pictures he drew when he was alive.  Each stanza is so carefully controlled and contained but the emotion behind this poem can’t be contained.  I haven’t put this poem up because you can find it on John’s own blog The Great Fogginzo’s Cobweb . You’ll also find another one of John’s Greek mythology poems ‘Dedalus’ in the same post as well.

John Foggin’s poems have appeared in The North, The New Writer and The Interpreter’s House.  He organises and comperes The Puzzle Hall Poets monthly readings at The Puzzle Inn, in Sowerby Bridge.  In 2013 he won The Plough Poetry Competition and in 2014 he won The Red Shed Competition.  His first two pamphlets Running out of space and Backtracks were published in April and August 2014.

I hope you enjoy the poem, and do pay a visit to John’s blog, where you can buy his first two pamphlets, and to Ward Wood Publishing if you would like to buy Larach.

Larach – John Foggin

On O.S. maps, the Gaelic
for a place that isn’t anymore.
The ghost of a place.

Like that road in Spain; a hot night wind,
the churring of cicadas.  Cactus;
salt in the air.

The little white-harled place, somewhere
in the Borders, prim and discreet
as a cough in a chapel.

Cut-down oil-drum drinking troughs
in roadside dust.  Goatbells,
olives, stone.  That place.

And where the stag stood in the yellow
of the headlight, the dark swirl
of blown snow.  There.

Or one grey dawn where
a flurry of buzzards flapped off
a sop of a sheep in the turf cut.

Larach.  A pibroch for places
passed by, passed over;
for the ache of forgetting
or not forgetting.

10 comments on “Sunday Poem – John Foggin

  1. Hi Kim

    Sorry to hear you’ve been that unwell – and sorrier about your husband’s post viral syndrome – it can be debilitating and protracted, and the continued weakness can be so horribly frustrating.

    I’m going to follow your lead (or Ben’s) and try to learn a poem a month, too – I’m MC for South Yorkshire’s Poetry by Heart heat this Feb, so it seems supportive to make the attempt. Conicdentally, the only poem I’ve ever succesfully learned is The Voice – though I usually struggle with line 7 (and the scansion of l.8 is a bit awkward). I think this is a brilliant poem, and used to teach around it because there’s so much going on. In the hope it will help with your learning it, I’ll email you a short note I wrote (you can always pretend it was useful!)


    1. Hi Noel – thanks for the message and the email, which I’m about to read properly. Chris was much better this weekend – nearly back to his old self. I think he just needs now to take it easy and factor in times to rest. Maybe we all do! Glad to hear you are going to learn a poem as well! Which one are you going to learn?

  2. Thank you for linking to my blog, Kim. There is so much in your post that I will have to read it in stages. I’m getting to know Hardy’s poems a bit through my work reading aloud with people who have memory loss. That’s a beautiful poem and I might take it in to share with my groups. Your comments are very helpful, too. I’m so interested in your translating work and hope you’ll share more about the process. I subscribe to MPT, too, and the poems have opened so many doors to different rooms in my head, if you understand what I mean. I am still sticking to my one hour a day of writing, not always in one sitting. The best thing, for me, is my new regime has made me reduce my time on social media sites which have become a distraction for me in recent times. Best wishes for the year ahead. Josephine 🙂

    1. Hi Josephine – thanks for commenting. As I was writing, I was thinking, this really could make a whole other post but then kept ploughing on regardless! I like Thomas Hardy’s elegies, and it gives me satisfaction to think he regretted the way he behaved. There is something fascinating about regret…I’m glad you enjoyed the stuff about translating. I’m making a conscious effort this year to document what I’m doing as a writer more. I think at times last year I got the balance wrong between writing about normal life and about the process of writing, which is what I wanted to blog about originally. I will see how it goes anyway. And I know completely what you mean about MPT – doors to different rooms is a great way of describing it!

  3. ‘The Voice’ is one of the few poems I (almost) have by memory, too. I really struggle with stanza 3, I think because of the change of rhythm and more abstract images. Would be interested to know if that is just me . . .

    The last stanza is v often quoted when feeling sorry for myself, as is Larkin’s ‘The lIfe with a hole in it’, which starts ‘When I throw back my head and howl’. Great wallowing material!

    Thanks for all the ideas in this bumper-post. I think I’m going to try to emulate your other resolution, of a daily dose of reading and writing.

    1. Hi Ramona – I struggled with line 3 in Stanza 1 and and line 3 in stanza 3 – it took me ages to get them. Eventually I discovered if I could remember the very first word of those lines I could usually propel myself onward…

  4. just doing my end of/beginning of/watershed weekly clean up of posts and messages and promises kept and unkept, and realise with shame that I never said thank you for this. It’s like winning the lottery and not telling the family. Deeply embarrassing. Still. Tahnk you now for the inspiration and encouragement. And I will try harder.

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