Sunday Poem – Tom Weir

Talking to You in Hanoi – Tom Weir

Talking to you isn’t talking to you, it’s talking to myself;
my voice, not yours, on the other end of the line.

The half-second delay between here and Hanoi
feels like a lifetime, interrupts everything I say.

The sound of you crying doesn’t break, is constant,
but every word I speak, every awkward stutter,

finds its way back to me, the way a cat returns
to an old house; the mouth piece throwing back

the disembodied echo of every word I speak.
My voice hasn’t been revealed to me this way

since the first time I heard it played back
as a child.  Is this the voice you always hear,

how I sounded the first time we spoke,
god, the first time we made love?

When you do say something it catches me by surprise.
I don’t hear you at first, forget, almost, that you’re there.

I try to buy myself time, think of something to say,
but I buy too much – the long pause multiplied

as we let each other speak, then the sound of our voices
crashing somewhere between us.

I envy them, our voices, passing this way;
close enough, I imagine, to touch.

I think (although I could be mistaken)that I first met Tom Weir at a reading in Leeds at the Poetry By Heart reading series.  I remember him as being very generous and open and saying nice things about my reading. Last week when I read in Leeds at Word Club, Tom was one of the poets who read on the Open Mic.  I’ve not heard him read before and he was really, really good.  Very funny and self-deprecating and I loved the poems that he read.

This poemm comes from his first full-length collection ‘All That Falling’ which has been published by Templar this year.  I hope he won’t mind me telling this story, but apparently, the week after he’d decided on his title, but not told anybody, I popped up on social media and announced my book ‘The Art of Falling’ was going to be published! How annoying must that have been!  By rights he should have wanted to at least trip me up in revenge.

I absolutely love Tom’s book, and it made me realise what a shame it is that there are so many fantastic collections which we don’t hear about because they haven’t got on a prize list.  I think Tom’s book has only recently been released so he still has time to climb onto a shortlist, but even if he doesn’t, it’s still a good book, and people should buy it, but they might not hear about it.  I guess this is where this blog comes in.

I’m really happy Tom said I could use this poem for the Sunday blog this week.  The subject matter is one we can all relate to of course – and we can all recognise the frustration of talking to someone down a phone line that has a delay  or a phone line that pushes your voice rudely back at you.

However, it’s the other things that happen that make this poem take off.  I love the fact that it’s in couplets, reflecting the subject matter of two people talking on the phone.  I love that simile of ‘every awkward stutter/finds its way back to me, the way a cat returns/to an old house’.  I think that is such a fantastic leap into the darkness – which is what simile and poetry should do, to take two seemingly unconnected things and make a giant leap to bring them together.  I also love the use of the word ‘god’ in this poem – I love that it is marking a real realisation that the speaker is having, to see himself through another’s eyes.

I also love the subtext behind this poem – that the relationship between the people in the poem is breaking down, or possibly broken down, and it’s all tied up with being able to speak, or not able to speak, only being able to echo each other.  The ending is great as well – the idea of the voices being the only thing that touches the other by the end of the poem.

Tom Weir’s poetry has featured in various journals and anthologies including, lung jazz; Young British poets for oxfam, the 2014 National Poetry Competition winners’ anthology and this year’s Forward Prize anthology. His pamphlet, The Outsider, was one of the two winners of the 2014 IOTA Shots competition and his first full collection, All That Falling, was brought out through Templar earlier this year.  You can order a copy of his collection through Templar

I’m sure most of you know about the terrible floods that we’ve had here in Cumbria on Saturday.  On Saturday morning I drove to Penrith to run an all day workshop.  We carried on till lunch time and then decided to cancel the afternoon session as everybody was worried about getting home.  I’d driven through a pretty flooded part of the road out of Barrow on the way here, and I wasn’t keen to go that way again on the way back, but in general, I don’t get frightened of driving in any weather conditions usually.

However, this was the worst journey ever – coming down the M6 and seeing two lorries over turned, the wind felt like it was trying to take my car the same way – and all the time, torrential rain.  I kept telling myself it would be better once I got off the motorway, and to be fair it was more sheltered and seemed less windy.

I went down country roads to get to Barrow, trying to avoid the flood but there were more floods where ever you went.  We have been relatively safe in Barrow, but that journey was definitely the worst journey of my life.  Now I’m glued to social media, looking at photos and videos.  It feels very close to home – if we’d carried on with the workshop, I wouldn’t have got home and I’d have been stranded somewhere on the road.

Perhaps the saddest thing I’ve seen was the collapse of Pooley Bridge.  It was such a beautiful bridge and it feels horrible to think of it being washed away in pieces by the water, and I think there have been other bridges washed away as well by now.

So that is all going on in the background of writing this post.  Other than nearly being washed away down the M6, I taught my young writers group on Friday, went to A Poem and A Pint committee meeting.  I’m really excited about the 2016 programme already – we have some amazing poets coming to read for us next year.  For those of you who don’t know, A Poem and a Pint is a bi-monthly reading series based in South Lakeland.  I also had a rehearsal with the Soul Survivors and a night at Barrow Writers, critiquing poems.

Next weekend is The Poetry Carousel – I’m looking forward to meeting Some of the readers of this blog will be there I think!

Right I’m doing that thing where I fall asleep and type so I’m going to say good night, and thanks again to Tom for allowing me to use this fantastic poem



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