Sunday Poem – Matthew Clegg

I’m writing this blog post from my mum and dad’s house in Leicester, sitting at the dining room table because it is the only place I can sit and not be smothered by their rather over-enthusiastic border collie Taz who shows love by first of all, sitting in front of you.  Next he puts his front two paws on your knees.  Then he starts to try and climb on you and I can’t work out if he is trying to sit on your knee or just suffocate you because he secretly doesn’t want you in his house.

Anyway, I’ve worked out there are only two ways of putting him off.  Sitting at the dining room table makes him lose all interest – I have no idea why or putting the oven off – apparently he associates it with the smoke alarm (snigger) so whenever the oven goes on he goes very quiet and hides under the table.

The end of term happened this week! I’m not really feeling very refreshed yet though – the end of term tiredness hasn’t worn off yet.  Last week I had three concerts at different schools which is obviously a bit more work than usual.  I am taking over the conducting of a school band in September so I went and had a rehearsal with them and opened the rehearsal to any other children that I teach in school who are interested in taking part, which was a bit of a mistake as we ended up with maybe 70 children turning up.  It looked and sounded amazing, but if they all turn up in September, I might be in trouble!
On Wednesday it was the last session of the online course I’ve been running for the Poetry School.  It has been a real learning curve for me.  I’ve written five online assignments, which is so much harder than running a workshop face to face, to put down in words the exercise that you are setting!  I’ve taken part and led five Live Chat sessions which are really intense, fast and furious typing sessions where I’ve not only had to give a considered opinion on somebody’s poem, but also had to be prepared to respond to other people’s opinions and sometimes to change my mind because of what other people say.  I’ve really enjoyed it, although it has been hard work and I’m probably going to be running another online course for the Poetry School in Spring 2016, so watch this space.
On Thursday I went to meet the lovely Rachel Mann in Lancaster and took possession of a rather large folder of poems that have been entered for the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competition.  I’ll be reading these poems over the summer.  I’m actually really excited about it, but this is the last thing about that process that will pass my lips until it is over! I went via Ambleside on Thursday night to do a reading for a group of sixthformers on a trip and I will tell you about that in two years time and not before, for reasons best not discussed here!
On Friday I had an all day meeting with Pauline Yarwood – we are trying to cook up a poetry festival in Kendal.  It is going to be a lot of work, but we are slowly progressing with it.  The next step, of course is funding, so if anyone has any ideas about how to go about getting funding for similar projects, please get in touch!  Pauline made a lovely lunch – pasta and salmon – one of the healthiest things I’ve eaten for ages.
After our meeting I drove over to Kendal to run the Young Writers session which was a pleasure as always- some amazing poems written in the session.  So although I finished music teaching on Wednesday, it’s actually been pretty full on since then.  I have had a bit more time though so I’ve been doing a lot more running.  I’ve been planning all week to do Park Run as I won’t have a chance to do it the week after but when it got to Saturday morning I really didn’t feel like it at all but I decided to go and just jog round with the husband.  We nearly didn’t make it in time as I couldn’t find the car keys and we got there just as everybody was lining up on the start line.
In about two seconds I realised that my two friends from the Walney Wind Cheetahs who normally are 1st and 2nd women back  were not there so I went from just jogging around to pedalling my legs as fast as they would go, like the true terribly competitive glory hunter that I am and managed to be first woman back in 23.06 which isn’t my fastest time (22.49) but isn’t that far off.
I’ve spent the day today getting up late and doing some editing of some poems and even typed one new one up.  When I’m writing I really enjoy it, but afterwards I always feel a bit rubbish – it’s a bit like going out drinking and having a good time and then feeling hungover afterwards as you start to doubt everything you’ve done that day and wonder whether you’ve juts been wasting your time.  I also went round to see one of my big sisters and had a cup of tea and scrounged some of her dinner and tried to guilt trip as many members of my family into coming to my reading tomorrow night as I could.
Sadly, my family are not poetry fans, so I have to use guilt or bribes to get them to come along…but if you are a poetry fan and you are within striking distance of Leicester, it would be great to see you! I’m reading at Shindig! at The Western, 70 Western Road, LE30GA alongside Tom Chivers, Zelda Chappel and Anna Lewis.
Next week I’m reading in Ireland.  I’ll be in Fermoy reading at the Elbow Lane Inn on the 24th July and in Dublin on the 28th July reading with Jane Clarke and Arthur Broomfield at The Workmans Club, 10 Wellington Quay.
On to today’s Sunday Poem which is by Matthew Clegg.  I saw Matthew perform his work at the Ted Hughes Poetry Festival in Mexborough recently and I was really impressed with his work and bought his most recent collection The Navigators, published by Longbarrow Press.  The Navigators is a beautifully produced book and I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for more titles from Longbarrow Press in the future.  Their website is really interesting as well – in the ‘About’ section it says
“The ethos governing the output of the press is that the poem should dictate the format of publication. The resulting objects – matchboxes, acetates, maps – allow poet and publisher to explore alternatives to the book without resorting to gimmickry.”
Which sounds pretty interesting!  Anyway, I really enjoyed the whole of Matthew’s collection – and it really is a collection of poems.  It feels as if the whole concept of this book has been threaded carefully together – there isn’t a poem here that doesn’t link to another – sometimes in a sequential way, sometimes in a thematic way but water is the one constant that makes its way through the book.  My favourite section of the book was the section that told the story of the Navvies that built the canals and waterways of the UK.  Some of them are monologues, some of them are observations, always carefully researched but each poem is tightly written.  Many of the poems are written with wonderful end rhymes which are very well crafted and put together. I really would recommend the book if you are looking for a collection that is doing something different – it is probably one of my favourite collections I’ve read this year actually.
I’d originally asked Matthew for another poem, and then I got to this poem and loved this even more!  This is a really good example of what I’m talking about when I say Matthew is doing interesting things with rhymes – this poem is full of half rhyme and echoes and full rhyme.  Aside from the fantastic technique that has gone into writing this, with every line ending on those one syllable sounds of boat and gut and said and nook, the poem is written in long winding sentences that negotiate their way around those stone-like syllables.  The title ‘The Passage’ is a lovely one, poised between so many meanings, the passage of time as the boy changes, the passage of the waterway, the passage from one world of water, to another of earth.  I love how the poem rocks between two things as well all the way through – the boat rocking in the water, the boy being nervous of sleeping in the boat but obviously enjoying sleeping there as well, the not knowing where you belong.  It’s beautifully written and if it doesn’t make you want to buy the book then I don’t know what will!
Matthew Clegg’s collections include Officer, Lost Between Stations, and West North East (all from Longbarrow Press). He teaches creative writing for Derby University and for the Open College of Arts. His most recent collection is The Navigators, also from Longbarrow Press
Thanks to Matthew for letting me use one of his poems, and I hope to see some of you at a reading somewhere soon.


The Passage – Matthew Clegg

The thought of sleeping on my granddad’s boat
would tie a little reef knot in my gut
in case it might be true what my cousin said
about the earwigs squeezed in every nook
that scaled your neck and face when you dozed off
and crawled into your ears and eyes and mouth.
It’s true that when you bed down on a boat
you feel a little closer to each pulse
that ripples through the never ceasing world –
and then you lie awake and listen hard
to every slosh or knock against the hull
from rats and water voles you’ve read about,
or sniping owls who probe and tense the dark.
And then you feel the press and seethe of cold
from water leaking through each seam or joint;
the dreams that chase your ebbing into sleep
are full of rain and water rising up
to flush you down the cellar of a lock.
But somehow the little plywood fort
is proof enough against the flood of doubt;
the hatch you close at night against the gnats,
you open in the morning to the light.
There’s a photo of my mum’s somewhere
of me with one leg on the boat, one off,
as if I’m not sure, now, where I belong
and nothing in my face gives it away
except at some remove I’m still absorbed
and at a stretch no boy can hold for long.

Matthew Clegg’s collections include Officer, Lost Between Stations, and West North East (all from Longbarrow Press). He teaches creative writing for Derby University and for the Open College of Arts. His most recent collection is The Navigators, also from Longbarrow Press

3 comments on “Sunday Poem – Matthew Clegg

  1. Canals and owls. Rhymes and pararhymes. And the final image which is pure and filmic. God bless the Sunday Poem. Tell Jane Clarke hello from me. And Greg Lodge if you see him xx

  2. I enjoyed this so much Kim! Just read it again, aloud, for fun. It’s full of energy. Lock/doubt. Terrific last lines. I went to a Longbarrow Press event at Ledbury PF just a week ago, was very impressed at the ethos of quality and attention to detail. Thanks for posting!

  3. One of the pleasures of Sunday is that my email sends me repeats of the previous week’s posts from the blogs I follow. So I got to reread the poem. I like the way a week’s gap creates a poem you think you haven’t read before. Why didn’t I say how deftly the blank verse is handled, how easily close to speech, and how artfully given those half rhymes and assonances. Lovely.

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