Sunday Poem – Peter R White

It is not Sunday, it is not Sunday.  It’s barely still Monday.  And yet.  Better late than never I suppose! This week has been slightly bizarre.  There was the come-down from the high of the Forward Prize ceremony.  The night of the ceremony I felt incredibly zen-like and calm and the difference between poetry and the private act of writing which means everything to me and the excitement and anxiety and hoo-ha of prize giving ceremonies and readings never felt so clear cut and this was a relief – to know that winning both matters and doesn’t matter.

I was worried beforehand about being onstage and not looking suitably happy for the winner – I know I am terrible at hiding my real emotions and I kept imagining the whole of the festival hall noticing that I was annoyed/devestated/weeping as my face contorted into some hideous grimace.  However, by the time we got to the evening readings, I’d spent about five hours with the other poets who were shortlisted, as we had to arrive in the afternoon for rehearsal and photographs and interviews, and they were all so nice that it wasn’t hard at all to feel happy for Claire Harmon, who was a deserving winner with her poem ‘The Mighty Hudson’.

Anyway, the week started going a bit crazy once I got back from London. The actor Sam Heughan who stars in the TV series ‘Outlander’ saw my poem in the Financial Times and shared a photo of it on Twitter, simply saying ‘Love this’.  After that, the poem was retweeted on Twitter 580 times and ‘favourited’ 2545 times and a rather long conversation can be found about the poem on Twitter from Sam’s numerous fans underneath his original tweet.

The next day I got the train to the BBC at Media City in Salford and recorded a podcast with Ian McMillan, discussing one of the poems on my book.  I was so stressed about doing this before hand, and cursing myself for not saying no and saving myself the trauma of it.  However Ian was so lovely and kind and friendly, as was the rest of his production team, that I think I managed to conquer my nerves most of the time.

From there, I went straight to the airport and flew to Amsterdam, where I was reading at a fantastic festival called Read My World.  I got the chance to work with a fantastic Dutch poet, Dennis Gaens and musicians Zea and The Valopian Solitude all day on Friday to create a performance for the Friday evening, with Tsead Bruinja directing and organising us.  It was a brilliant experience and there was something incredibly moving about trusting other artists with your work and them being able to trust you with theirs.

On the way back, someone messaged me to let me know that Cerys Matthews (of Catatonia fame) was about to read my poem about Chet Baker on BBC6 Music.  I met Cerys at the Forwards and I did speak to her a little, but I had no idea that she was going to read my poem out on the radio.  So, all in all, not winning the Forward has not been that bad.  Lots of other, lovely things have happened instead.  I didn’t disgrace myself by sulking on stage and I was genuinely happy for someone else instead of secretly envious and bitter.  I call that a good day, and a good week!

I got back about 7.30pm last night and spent the evening planning for a poetry workshop which I was running today at Tullie House today with some children from Dent Primary School.  After I’d planned the workshop, I then couldn’t sleep because I was too wound up and excited about Amsterdam and Cerys Matthews and that I’d written a draft of a poem while I was in Amsterdam but I was too tired to type it up so at the minute, it is sitting cooking in my notebook.  I eventually got to sleep around 2 but kept waking up so today has been pretty tiring – I left home at 8am and went straight from the workshop to my junior band rehearsal.

So I am having an early night tonight, to ensure I can treat my lovely trumpet students with some patience tomorrow but before I go I would like to introduce today’s Sunday Poem, by Peter R White, who I first met when I was running a workshop at Glenridding Youth Hostel for the Leeds Writers Circle about five years ago.  Peter is a good friend of David Tait and was responsible for running the acclaimed Poetry By Heart reading series at the Heart Cafe in Leeds, which sadly doesn’t happen anymore.  Peter was the first person to buy my pamphlet when I launched it at the Heart Cafe, and invited me back there to launch my full collection.

I was really pleased to hear that Peter was publishing his first pamphlet.  It’s called Ways to Wander and is published by Otley Word Feast Press, whose recent successful anthologies include Spokes, celebrating Le Grand Départ from Yorkshire, and The Garden.  You can order a copy here

Peter tells me that, in his former life as an engineer, he used to write precise specifications and contract documents,  but. since retiring he’s obtained a BA (Hons) in Literature from the Open University and now enjoys the luxury of writing ambiguities and downright lies in the name of art.

It seems a little unseasonal to post a poem about snow today, when the weather has been so lovely for a few weeks now.  However, today there was definitely a wintry chill in the air.  I like this poem as a teacher – I recognise the impossibility of getting children to concentrate on anything else when there is snow falling outside!  I think Peter has captured something that people can identify with – that idea of getting the same feeling when you see the snow, or the sea for the first time, as we did when we were younger.  I like how the first line seems to start mid-conversation, and the voice of the poem seems to grow younger and this idea of the voice of the child coming back through seems to manifest most clearly in the stanza that starts

More than a hundred; more than a million;
more than the sum of all the pale white numbers
Mr Wandless ever chalked across a blackboard.

which is actually one of my favourite verses, I think the rhythm is great, and the innocence of that child like voice coming through and the ‘pale white numbers’ all add up to something special.

I hope you enjoy the poem!

Number – Peter White

It’s the same for me today
as when we were eight or nine,
when Ronnie Smith created a distraction
from Mr Wandless’s addition and subtraction
by bellowing
It’s snowing!

Attention leapt to the window:
we gawped and sighed as pale flakes
dallied, floated down,
while those that drifted near the misted pane
rallied in the thermal lift.
Feathers from an eiderdown
multiplied and blanketed the cold playground.

Not mere dots, but clusters,
maybe half an inch across. They wafted
by the classroom, spangled grey sky;
their lightness glowed,
dividing wintry dreams from arithmetic,
more mystical than magic.

More than a hundred; more than a million;
more than the sum of all the pale white numbers
Mr Wandless ever chalked across a blackboard.
They added four inches to their depth by playtime.

And afterwards, we all — except Mr Wandless —
thawed out blue fingers that tingled
number than pins and needles, stuck deep into armpits.
We grinned at our shivering.

I feel that same grin as I ache by my window today,
quiver at the echo of a distant voice, rejoicing.
It’s snowing.

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