Sunday Poem – Allison McVety

This week has gone by really quickly – it’s been pretty busy but in a manageable way, rather than a manic way.   On Monday I drove to Kendal to pick two of the young writers, Ellie and Lizzie who attend Dove Cottage Young Poets which I run on behalf of the Wordsworth Trust.  We then drove to Manchester to the Royal Exchange where I was standing in as House Poet for the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends Reading Series.  Liz Venn, the usual House Poet, was off on her holidays.  Although I’ve done the House Poet job before, it was a long time ago. I think I stood in once for David Tait when he was ill, but it is all rather hazy in my mind now.

Ellie and Lizzie were great fun on the journey and I was treated to recitations of Spike Milligan, Christina Rosseti and the first half of the first chapter of Pride and Prejudice.  I kid you not.  I also had a go at reading my Thomas Hardy poem which I’m learning off by heart, and although I had a couple of stumbles I got through it.  It has made me more determined to learn some more poetry to amuse myself whilst I’m driving now.

The star poet on Monday night should have been Kit Wright, but he had to cancel due to illness, so Adam O’Riordan stepped in at very late notice to fill in. It was a great evening over all and lovely to meet lots of students who are currently on the MA at Manchester.  I will admit to a surge of jealousy – I absolutely loved doing the MA and wish I could do it all over again – but I suppose that would be a bit sad, to keep turning up every year to do the same course…

Apart from Carol Ann Duffy and Adam O’Riordan and myself, there were two other readers, Martin Kratz and Paul McGhee.  Paul is a current student on the MA and is just starting his writing-up year.  I hadn’t met him before so it was great to hear some of his poetry.  Readers of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of Martin Kratz’s poetry – you may remember one of his Skeleton Man poems which featured on this blog quite a while ago.  Martin doesn’t have a pamphlet out yet, but I will be first in the queue to get one when he does.

I managed to sell ten pamphlets as well which I was very happy about – not sure if this was due to my sparkling delivery, or thanks to Ellie and Lizzie who positioned themselves near the book stall and whilst waving my pamphlet about, said in very loud voices ‘wow, look at this book it’s amazing’ etc before the reading started.

By the time I got back to Barrow on Monday night after dropping Ellie and Lizzie off in Kendal, it was about 1.30am so teaching classes of trumpets on Tuesday seemed to be particularly loud to my slightly foggy brain.

This week has also been shaped by the fact that we are having our bathroom completely redone – it is taking about two weeks because everything is being ripped out.  This has meant I have had to be creative about where I get my showers after my runs – on Tuesday night after a 12 kilometre run with the Walney Wind Cheetahs, I went and imposed on my friend Janet and took advantage of her lovely power shower.  I also had a brainwave later on in the week and went and did a spinning class at the gym and used the shower there as well.  It has actually been fun coming home from work and seeing the bathroom slowly change from being full of an avocado green suite to being completely empty and stripped down by Tuesday, to what it looks like at the minute with the bath plumbed in, and the sink and toilet in place but not connected.
I’ve got quite a few writing jobs done this week. I’ve been working on the proofs for my collection by email with Amy, sending it back and forward for most of the week.  I’m looking forward to the moment when I’m not allowed to mess about with it any more, because until then, it’s quite hard to think about anything else.  If you would like to have a look at the cover you can find it over at the Seren’s blog as well as information on other collections that are forthcoming from Seren.  I’ve also been working on the blurb for an online course that I’m running with the Poetry School and with the help of the ever patient Will Barrett finally got that finished this week.  I won’t say too much about it, but it will be running in the summer and is based around Transformation in poetry, referring specifically to Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  I’ve been taking the first tentative steps towards putting together a project combining a brass band and poetry.  I can’t really say too much about this either at the minute, mainly because I haven’t actually got too far with any concrete planning, but I can say that one of the best brass bands in the country is potentially interested in being involved.  My next job for this is to arrange a face-to-face meeting with the Chairman and the Musical Director to talk through what the project could entail, so that is one of my jobs for this week.  The residential poetry course which I’m running at the end of March is filling up nicely.  I have the timetable ready to go and I will remember to put it up tomorrow night – I was meant to put it up last week but with everything else going on it slipped my mind.   At the last count there were only two places left on the course, so if you are thinking of coming, please book to avoid missing out.  You can find a general overview on the ‘Residential Courses‘ page on this blog or you can go to the Abbot Hall website.

On Friday I spent the day at South Walney Infant School, running a poetry workshop for two Year 2 classes.  It was my first time working with Key Stage 1, as a poet anyway.  I have done curriculum music teaching in Key Stage 1, but not poetry.  I think it went well and I think I probably learned as much as the children did.

On Saturday I decided to have a go at Park Run so I could put a figure on how much fitness I lost in my three weeks off due to illness.  The official number, I can now report is about 36 seconds, which is how far I was away from my PB.  Afterwards I walked home because the hubby had taken the car and I felt half fed-up because I’d ran as fast as I could and was way off my PB, and half pleased that it was only 36 seconds I had to make up.

On Saturday night my friend Rodolfo arrived for a visit.  I met Rodolfo in Ilkley where he was buzzing around organising events and authors and we got on straight away.  It’s been lovely to see him again – last night we went to the pub with the hubby and Jeff, who I go running with quite a lot and today we’ve been for a walk near Coniston and a Sunday roast at The Black Bull.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Allison McVety.  As soon as I read this poem, I knew I wanted to feature it here.  It is the title poem from her latest collection published by Smith/Doorstop. 

I heard Allison read at Torbay Poetry Festival a couple of years ago, and in my head, I’m convinced that I heard her read this poem.  I don’t think the book was out then, but I’m sure I remember hearing her read this first line, which I think is one of my favourite ever first lines.  It feels so beautifully balanced to me in its rhythms, but also in its meaning – it makes both perfect sense and no sense at all.  I’ve always been a sucker for lighthouse poems – in fact, the first Sunday Poem on this blog was a lighthouse poem by Carole Coates, so a collection called Lighthouses is always going to be a winner, and a collection haunted by the spirit of Virginia Woolf, one of my favourite writers can’t really put a foot wrong in my eyes.

Many of you may know Allison’s poem To the Lighthouse which won the National Poetry Competition in 2011.  The poem is a interrogation of the writer’s relationship with the novel ‘To the Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf.  The poem has so many quotable lines.  Lines like ‘I learned/everything big happens in parenthesis’ which is so true, and so wise that it stopped me in my tracks when I read it.  Or the line ‘If not/the stew what was the woman on about.’ finishing off stanza 2 in exasperation.  You can find this poem here.

But back to our Sunday Poem and that beautiful first line, which leads to a row of trees described as a ‘beam of dark light’ which is so accurate it makes me stop before I read on again.  I love the echo of the fourth line and the shift to the ‘I’ instead of the you.  What is built up in this poem is the complicated dynamic of a relationship with the ‘you’ as a tree in a row of trees, and the ‘I’ as one bird in a flock of birds.

I really love the line at the beginning of the third stanza describing the trees as ‘lighthouses swallowing the sun’.  Although the title of the poem is ‘Lighthouses’ there are no real lighthouses in the poem – the trees are compared to lighthouses, something that guides travellers home to safety, but in this poem, the birds don’t seem to be interested.  Because they are together there are ‘something more than ourselves’.

I think this is one of those poems you can get more out of every time you read it.  It has a lot of mystery.  There is enough room around its edges for the reader to walk around and look at it from every angle – my favourite type of poem.  And a good one to be reading in bed at midnight, when your eyes are tired and drooping, if you are still up by now.  But also a good one to read tomorrow morning, instead of getting up and de-icing the car.

If you would like to order the collection, you can buy it from Smith/Doorstop.  Allison has also published two previous collections with Smith/Doorstop – The Night Trotsky Came to Stay in 2007 which was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection.  Miming Happiness, her second collection was published in 2010 and work from this book was shortlisted in the Manchester Poetry Prize.   Lighthouses was published in 2014.  Her poems have appeared in The Times, The Guardian and many other poetry magazines and her work has been broadcast on Radio 3

If you would like to find out more information about Allison you can find her website here. 

I hope you enjoy the poem

Lighthouses – by Allison McVety

when you were a tree you were one tree
in a row of trees – a beam of dark light
reaching from a fixed point far across the snow
and when I was a bird I was one bird
in a flock of birds – parcels of night

folding unfolding – I added data to the air
the air was a white noise of many voices
all who looked saw the pulse of my wings
saw the world grown bigger

the trees were lighthouses swallowing the sun
asking the birds to come home and when their leaves arrived
when they spoke they were persuasive –
all calling out to the birds and the birds
were sky-ships answering back

build your nests in the crooks of our arms
sang the trees let us keep you from hawks and kites

the air lifted to the swoon of their song
we listed to their flightless words
but we were something more than ourselves
by then and – no! – we didn’t want to land



5 comments on “Sunday Poem – Allison McVety

  1. My word…they’re seductive, transformations, aren’t they? Into trees, into birds, allprecisely ambiguous morphs. Dark light. White noise. And finally I am given the words for a row of poplars on a hillside above my house on a night of snow. Thank you for the Sunday poem. Where would I be without it?

  2. It is good isn’t it? The poem I mean. And you’ve just made me realise why I like it. Transformation. I could use it in my Poetry School course…thank you Mr Foggin!

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