Sunday Poem – Greg White

Evening all – this week has been another busy week (is there any other kind?) It feels like I’ve been in non-stop rehearsals.  On Monday I had junior band rehearsal as usual and then Wednesday I had a rehearsal with the Soul Survivors, the nine-piece soul band that I play in.  It’s the first rehearsal I’ve been to in a month because I’ve been away.  On Thursday I had a rehearsal with the South Lakes Brass Ensemble – we are the musicians for the next Poem and a Pint on April 25th, held at Greenodd Village Hall.  The event starts at 7.30pm and it would be great to see some of you there.  The guest poet is Beatrice Garland.  Traditionally, our numbers go down when we go out into the village venues, so I hope any Cumbrian admirers of brass music, poetry or open mics will come and support us and Beatrice, who is travelling all the way from London to read in South Cumbria.

After the rehearsal with South Lakes Brass I went straight to the Nines Nightclub in Barrow for a soundcheck with the Soul Survivors, ready for our gig on Friday night.  The soundcheck can be a frustrating process and it is so different to playing in a quintet, where the players control the volume that they play at, or at least they are supposed to!  At the soundcheck the sound engineer has control over the sound of the band, having to mix everything that he gets through the speakers to get the right balance of sound.  Sometimes there is random feedback with no logic as to why it is there.  It is like there are little ghosts in the wires and the speakers that like to make mischief when they feel like it.  Luckily we have an excellent sound engineer and it all got sorted in the end – but we were rehearsing there till 11.30 when the bar staff let us know that they wanted to go home!

The gig on Friday night was amazing.  It sold out within a couple of weeks of the tickets going on sale.  We were playing to over 350 people at The Nines nightclub in Barrow but there was a great atmosphere in the room – it being Barrow most people seemed to know each other.  It was lovely to see so many of my friends there as well – poets, runners, teachers, teaching assistants amongst many others.

I’ve played in lots of different bands in the last twenty years – orchestras, chamber orchestras, new music ensembles, big bands, jazz bands, brass quintets, brass ensembles, brass bands but I think playing in the Soul Survivors is both the most challenging and the most rewarding.  For both of the gigs we have done so far we have done two sets which are about an hour long.  It is physically hard work.  You have to play in the same position because you are playing into a microphone so after a while your shoulders and your arms start to hurt.  It is always too hot on stage with the amount of bodies in the room and the stage lights, which often feel like what I imagine it must feel like in a tanning studio.  The music is not usually technically difficult, but it is usually quite high.  I woke up the next morning after the gig feeling like I’d done a half-marathon again – I was aching all over.  This might sound like I’m moaning, but I actually really enjoy playing in the band, but I guess I’m learning now how physically different it is to the other types of playing that I’ve done.  The other thing that is enjoyable is the other people in the band are really great – we have such a good laugh at rehearsals.  We have quite a few gigs coming up over the next few months so I will keep you posted.

My friend, the poet Keith Hutson also came up on Friday to the gig and then stayed for the weekend to help me and Chris with the garden.  We also had my running buddy Jeff and Chris’s friend Eddy helping out to.  I am normally very squeamish about insects but I don’t know if there are less about or if I was just not noticing them, but I only saw one slug which fell onto my arm from a bit of chopped down tree I was carrying and a worm when I was sitting on the floor eating my lunch.  Apart from that the insects didn’t bother me and I really enjoyed working at something which I didn’t have to think about too much – my job was getting rid of a huge pile of chopped down hedge from the bottom of the back garden to the front garden so the council can hopefully come and pick it up next week, so I could just get on with it.  Keith has rotovated the lawn and put down grass seeds and the fence has been concreted in.  I can’t wait for the grass to start growing – at the minute it looks like a bit of a wasteland.

Today me and Keith had a poetry day – it has been ages since I’ve sat down with a friend and looked at each other’s poems which was really useful for me as I’ve been telling myself for ages that I’m not writing and that what I am writing is rubbish.  To get a more balanced view on it was really useful.  Keith has a really exciting pamphlet in the making, exploring the lives of Troupers – artistes from the past but he is also writing about masculinity and what it is to be a man and also what it is to play a role.  It’s really interesting stuff.

This morning before our poetry marathon we went for a run with the Walney Wind Cheetahs and did the Dalton 10k route.  I am absolutely chuffed that I managed the distance without my injury flaring up and at a pretty good pace as well which I’m really pleased about.

This week writing wise there have been lots of exciting things happening.  I have been interviewed on the Seren blog and you can read the interview here. 

Seren also made ‘A Psalm for the Scaffolders’ their Friday poem and you can read it here. 

I’m also running an online course for The Poetry School called ‘The Act of Transformation.’   If you’re interested in transformation or Ovid or bodies and souls and illness and birth and death and aging, then this is the course for you! Please have a look on the Poetry School website – there are only a few places left so you will have to be quick.  You can find a recent blog post that I wrote about the course detailing the areas I’ll be exploring here and information about the course here

So today’s Sunday Poem is Greg White.  It seems like years ago that I met Greg but actually it was only last October at Ilkley Literature Festival.  Greg read some beautiful poems about dementia and also some very funny poems as well.  I bought his book ‘best before’ which is a beautifully made thing with lovely paper and a cover, but also it is jammed full with fantastic poems, so much so that I asked Greg if I could use two of the poems for the Sunday Blog this week.

Greg says  I wrote poetry at school, but I found my way back to it as an adult by blogging about my Mother’s dementia. Writing was a strategy to help me focus and deal with my fright at witnessing her rapid decline, but it brought me friends from around the globe and I eventually found myself helping support others going through the same experience with their loved ones.

“best before” is an on-going project, with blog episodes constantly resolving themselves into further poems. The eventual collection is likely to be about 100 poems long, but I can’t say when it will be finished since my muse is always distracting me with more whimsical work about unrequited love, bathroom fixtures and biscuits.

My mate John Foggin does an ‘Undiscovered Gem’ feature on his blog and I think Greg is definitely one of those  He has had poems in three locally published anthologies ‘The Garden’, ‘Spokes’ and ‘How Am I Doing for Time?’ but apart from that he hasn’t had any poems published in magazines.  It is rare to find a poet who writes so well who hasn’t got into submitting poems to magazines yet but I think I have found one!

‘exam’ does its work really well – describing with accuracy the guilt and conflict felt by a carer.  This is good poetry though with lots of rhymes to hold it together not just the subject matter – betrayed and changes as a half rhyme, clue and you as a full rhyme.  I like how Greg is also exploring how the roles of parent and child have been reversed – he is the one anxiously looking after his mother.

I couldn’t resist putting in ‘little stranger’ as well because it is a brilliant poem.  It is very Emily Dickinson in it’s feel with the capatalized Mother and Stranger.  Perhaps my favourite bit of this four line poem is the last line, again, Greg is balancing very deftly, between the two definitons of stranger.  The pamphlet continues to develop a narrative of sorts around the issues of dementia but I wouldn’t want you to think this is a dark book full of depressing things – it is actually really funny in some places

The sad thing for you all is that Greg only has ten remaining copies of ‘best before’ which he is selling for a whole £5, including postage and packing.   If you would like one, please email Greg

exam – Greg White

You sit placidly, while you’re betrayed:
I list your failings, your mistakes,
your passivity itself a clue.  I fear I may forget, that I won’t convey
the scale of all the changes
only I can see in you.
The GP listens, and instructs you to retain:
“Candle”, “ball” and “shoe”,
then asks you for the month, the day.
You guess wrongly at these two.
And the season?
August is late spring, you say.

Now for maths, and counting back
from a hundred, it’s clear you can’t subtract.
It’s pathetic and he stops you,
points to his watch, his pen, his desk,
can you name them? Yes.

He draws two squares that overlap,
and handing you the pad, suggests
you copy what he’s done.
You tell him that you’re finished, but you’ve only sketched one.
He reminds you of the list
he gave you at the start,
and you remember “candle”.


The exam had ended, and you glow.
Is that satisfaction? I don’t know
how you can think that this went well.
I feel vindicated and ashamed,
because it’s me who’s passed today.
Because I’m relieved to see you fail.

little stranger – Greg White

A little stranger every day,
My Mother has quite gone away.
Who this is I cannot say.
She’s just a little Stranger

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