Sunday Poem – Josephine Dickinson

Afternoon all – today I’m writing this blog from the Animal Concern West Cumbria branch which is also my twin sister’s house.  She is the Site Manager for the Egremont branch of Animal Concern.  She lives on site in a large bungalow owned by the charity.  Half of the house is used for charity business – there is an office, a room where families can meet dogs they are thinking of adopting and at the minute there is a dog who has just given birth to two puppies living in a room at the end of the house.

The charity has nine indoor heated kennels and four outdoor ones which are only used in emergencies if the indoor kennels are full.  I had a look around the site quite a few months ago when my sister had just moved in.  Now she’s been here just over six months and is managing a team of volunteers as well as looking after the various dogs that come in.  The kennels are all finished now as well and she seems to be enjoying her job.

Living on site means that you are basically working all the time though.  It’s Sunday but she still has to get up and start walking the dogs before the first volunteers arrive.  This morning a family came to meet a dog and she is currently in the office with a volunteer who will be going to do a home check on another family who want to adopt a dog.

The line between work and home life is not just blurred, it’s non existent.  It is lucky that she’s obsessed with dogs – you couldn’t do this job without it.  I think dogs are the equivalent of what poetry is to me now – it is something I do as a job, for at least part of the week, but it is much more than that as well – it is my social life and the thing I do to relax.

For example, here I am on a Sunday as well.  This morning I read a fabulous poem by Josephine Dickinson which Deborah Hobbs had posted on Facebook and sent Josephine a message to see if I could use it for today’s blog.

I always collect four or six weeks worth of Sunday Poems if I can, and I came to the end of the last batch last week, so this morning I’ve been reading to gather some more in. I can’t tell you who I’ve been reading though, because that would give the game away as to who the next couple of Sunday Poems will be by, and I like to keep it as a surprise.  My point is, this is work and it isn’t.  I’m reading for pleasure, but also for the blog, which is also both work and not work.  It isn’t work in the sense that I get paid for it, but it is work in the sense that many of the people who book onto the residential courses that I run come through this blog.

It has been a slightly less manic week this week after the craziness of last weekend.  I think I worked out I spent about 21 hours driving to poetry events which I don’t really want to repeat any time soon.  On Monday evening I let the junior band and myself have the night off as we have been working really hard for the last couple of months, getting ready for various extra concerts.  I was going to go for a run, but when it came to it, I was so tired I just went to bed instead.

On Tuesday I went to Barrow Writers, one of the monthly critiquing groups I go to, run by lovely poet Jennifer Copley.  This week I’ve also been sending emails back and forth to Holland as I’ve been asked to read at a poetry festival on an island called Vlieland.  I’m really excited about this as I get to see some good friends that I first met in Ireland a couple of years ago – Tsead Bruinja and his wife Saskia Stehouwer – both excellent poets and I’ve just found out that my ‘other husband’ and fabulous poet and photographer Jan Glas has arranged to come as well.  Luckily both husbands get on really well with each other – in fact Chris tried to kidnap Jan and take him back to the UK when he found out he could cook.

Tsead is also arranging for ten of my poems to be translated into Dutch which is amazing so I sent those over this week as well.  So rather randomly, I will now have poems that have been translated into Croatian and Dutch.

I’m also reading over in Ireland this summer – all the details will be on my Readings page (when I get round to editing it, which SHOULD be today) but basically, on the 24th July I’ll be running a workshop and then taking part in a reading at The Elbow Lane Inn in Fermoy and then I’m reading again in Dublin on the 28th July with Arthur Broomfield and Jane Clarke.

So that is my summer holiday pretty much sorted – full of poetry already which makes me very happy.  There is one more week of term left and I still have one more school concert to do, but it feels like the end is in sight now.  It feels like this school year has flown by when I look back.  In September I will only be teaching music for 2 days of the week – on a Tuesday and Wednesday which will leave me the rest of the week to write, read and pick up work as a writer.

Other things that have happened this week – I drove to Endmoor with Chris and two friends from the running club on Wednesday to do the Endmoor 10k – a notoriously hilly race.  Last year I did it in 56 minutes and 56 seconds – this year I managed it in 50 minutes and 33 seconds.  I would have loved to have got under 50 minutes, but I have to be happy with knocking over six minutes off my previous time I think.

On Thursday I had a school concert in the afternoon and then went straight from there to Halifax to read at The Square Chapel, a monthly reading series organised by my friend and fantastic poet Keith Hutson.  It was a lovely event – I was reading with Peter Sansom and Keith had bought two cakes – one to celebrate the fact that both Peter and I had new collections out and the second to celebrate Peter Sansom’s birthday.   Peter is a fantastic reader, very entertaining, not taking himself too seriously but the poems are so well-crafted, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, but all written with a very light touch.

There was an open mic session afterwards as well – I always enjoy open mics, but especially in a new area, where I don’t know the readers so I don’t know what to expect.  I stayed over at Keith’s and we managed to go for a run, put plans in place for a running and writing project that I’m really excited about, swap poems, gossip and feed Keith’s sheep, all before 2pm when I had to leave, which is pretty impressive going.

Yesterday I spent the whole day purging the garden of bindweed while Chris put up a new shed.  I think I would have been a good manual labourer – I love doing jobs where you don’t have to think or speak to anybody, where you can just get on with something.  I think I would have been a good labourer as long as I didn’t have to do a job that required any common sense or initiative, but digging bindweed I enjoyed because I can just get on with it and not stop until it is done.

So today’s Sunday Poem was a bit of a lucky find – I randomly read this poem after someone else posted it on Facebook.  It is by Josephine Dickinson, who lives on a small hill farm in Cumbria.  This poem isn’t a recent one – Josephine tells me she wrote it in 1998 which makes me think I should really have another of Josephine’s more recent poems on the blog in the next couple of months.

Anyway, it is nice to know that a poem has a long life, past the flurry of excitement that accompanies book publication, that it can carry on speaking to people.

This poem is a beautifully crafted sonnet and on the face of it, seems fairly simple.  The language is direct, the rhymes well handled and it has a lovely turn, as all poems purporting to be sonnets should.  However, it also carries all the weight of the relationship that is at the heart of it.  The poem is attempting to map out what this relationship is, who does what to who, maybe who has power and who doesn’t, which is a question in even the most benign and happy of relationships.  For all its gentle and loving tone, it does have an air of combativeness about it – look at the penultimate line ‘So, say I joined your river if you dare’.  The poem seems to be questioning whose life was joined to whose, whose life stayed the same and whose was changed in the joining together.  The use of the word ‘tributaries’ is interesting as well, especially as the word ‘tribute’ is buried inside it.  It makes me think that one partner paid ‘tribute’ in a kind of praising or worshipping.  Ultimately the poem says it doesn’t matter, but I am not convinced.  I think this kind of working out of the borders and edges of a relationship and people is one of the only things that does matter!

I’m writing this in a bit of a rush as we are about to go off and walk five rather restless terriers down to the beach.  I hope I don’t return and think WHAT on earth am I going on about.  I’ll be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on the poem as well.

Josephine Dickinson has published four collections of poetry: Scarberry Hill (The Rialto, 2001), The Voice (Flambard, 2003), Silence Fell (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) and Night Journey (Flambard, 2008).  If you would like to find out more information about Josephine you can visit her website here.

‘Josephine Dickinson has published four collections of poetry: Scarberry Hill (The Rialto, 2001), The Voice (Flambard, 2003), Silence Fell (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) and Night Journey (Flambard, 2008). She lives on a small hill farm in Cumbria.’

Do I Sleep with You? – Josephine Dickinson

Do I sleep with you or you with me?
It’s splitting hairs to say I came to you
and use your brush and comb, and therefore we
don’t ‘sleep together’. But it may be true.
In any case I say you sleep with me.
The action’s mostly yours. You made me stay.
Made staying perfect, future and to be.
Apart from that, it’s what most people say.
Tributaries join rivers, but they mix,
go to somewhere, neither cares to where.
Both stand and swell their bank beside a tree.
They’re not concerned with any verbal tricks.
So, say I joined your river, if you dare.
In any case, I say you sleep with me.

8 comments on “Sunday Poem – Josephine Dickinson

  1. It’s a stunner. It really is. Artful, tender, rueful, clear-eyed….and turned to music by those circling rhymes.I’m now wondering what possessed me to take time out from the cobweb. I think of your schedules. I’ve no excuse, really, have I?

  2. This poem is marvellous, Kim. It’s tender, understated, with a great rhythm and simplicity. Super. And it was a great pleasure hosting your reading at the Square Chapel on Thursday, and really enjoyed your company.

  3. I love this poem – from JDs wonderful Scarberry Hill. I was co-editing Staple at the time and remember the thrill of excitement I felt at discovering some of Josephine’s work in the postbag. Ann and I published some of her poetry in Staple that year and Josephine also wrote a fantastic article for us, ‘The Truth of the Line’, about (among other things) her life as a deaf musician and poet on Scarberry Hill. Marvellous stuff. I will re-read Scarberry Hill and The Voice (also terrific!) this week. Thank you!

    1. Hi Elizabeth – what a lovely story! I was talking about Staple to someone the other day – is it still going? It was one of the first mags to take some of my poems and reviews so will always have a soft spot for it – but I thought it had ceased..

      1. I know that feeling 🙂 Smiths Knoll was my first so I always had a special affection for it and was sad when it closed. I’d be sad too if Staple was no longer running (though not surprised). I was co-editor 2000-2005 so it was a while ago now…

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