Sunday Poet – Pascale Petit

For the past couple of years, I’ve kept the mystery guest poets that come to read mid-week on the residential courses that I run a secret.  The main reason for this has been that it is fun for me.

Over the years at the residentials at Grange-Over-Sands we’ve had Mike Barlow, Jane Routh, Andrew Forster, Carole Coates, Jennifer Copley and Lindsey Holland as our guest poets.  Last year at St Ives the fabulous Katrina Naomi came to read for the participants on the course.

This year, I’ve decided to break with tradition,and to announce the guest poet for St Ives.  There are still a few places left on the residential and I’m hoping this will tempt those last few poets who might have been wavering between taking the plunge or staying at home.

This year participants of the residential course in St Ives will get the opportunity to hear the fabulous Pascale Petit on the Wednesday night of the course.  Pascale is on her way down to London tomorrow to judge the T S Eliot Prize, a prize that she’s been shortlisted for a total of four times – in 2014 for her sixth collection Fauverie, published by Seren, for her fifth book What the Water Gave Me: Poems after Frida Kahlo in 2010 and for her two previous books The Zoo Father and The Huntress. Bloodaxe will be publishing her seventh collection Mama Amazonica in September 2017.  Pascale has had three collections chosen as Books of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement, Independent and Observer.  She received a Cholmondeley Award in 2015.

The residential takes place from Monday 15th February – Saturday 20th February 2016, Treloyhan Manor Hotel, St Ives.  The cost of the course is £395 and this includes your accommodation, breakfast, three course evening meal, workshops and the evening readings from the tutors and Pascale, as well as a chance for you to read your own work.  If you would like to book to come on the course, please get in touch directly with the hotel on 01736 796240.

If you have any questions about the content of the course, you can contact me on here or by email via the Contact page.

For once, I’m writing this in daylight, although it probably won’t still be light by the time I’ve finished.  Today the husband and I went for a run on some very quiet roads around Grizebeck.  It was very windy and very hilly – 8km and 200 metres of ascent but it is one of my favourite places to run, especially when we’ve had bad weather and lots of rain.

Yesterday I had the second in my series of monthly workshops based in Barrow.  My quest to get more people involved in poetry in Barrow and the local area seems to be progressing nicely – at the first workshop in November there were ten participants: 2 from Barrow, 2 from Dalton, 2 from Ulverston, 1 from Kendal and 1 from Lancaster. This time there were 3 from Barrow, 3 from Dalton, 2 from Ulverston, 1 from Kendal, 2 from Penrith and 3 from the Lancaster/Preston area.  There was also five people who had never attended a poetry workshop before.  It was a great day and seemed to go really quickly.  The next workshop is booked for February 13th and I’m expecting this one to sell out, so if you know anyone who might be interested, ask them to get in touch or they can join the Barrow Poetry Workshops group on Facebook.

I’ve had quite a few readings this week – on Monday I read for a luncheon club at Abbot Hall Hotel. The luncheon club meet each month during the winter and they have a different after lunch speaker each time on a variety of topics.  Although they were supposed to have a talk on ‘Gun crime in Manchester’ they didn’t seem too disappointed when they got a fey poet instead.

went over to the Puzzle Inn in Sowerby Bridge.  The venue had thankfully escaped the horrible floods from last week.  The readings are organised by John Foggin and Bob Horne who did the MCing between them.  Bob has also set up a new press – Calder Valley Press, and their first publication is a pamphlet by John called ‘Outlaws and Angels’.  I got my advance copy on Monday night which was very exciting but John is launching the pamphlet next Tuesday at The Blind Pig in Sowerby Bridge.  I would love to go, but three hours there and three hours back is probably realistically too much on a school night.

On Thursday I was back over in West Yorkshire again reading in Wakefield at the Red Shed reading.  I really enjoyed both readings, both had a very high standard of open mic poets, and Elaine Borthwick did a grand job with her longer slot at the Red Shed.

So I had two late nights this week but I got to see lots of my favourite poetry people and sold some books (7 If We Could Speak Like Wolves and 14 of The Art of Falling. 

One big project that kicked off this Friday was in association with Apples and Snakes.  I’m working with them to deliver six poetry workshops to the Dove Cottage Young Poets group on the theme of Identity and in response to the Picture the Poet exhibition, which has been touring the country and is currently at the Tullie House Museum in Carlisle.  The young poets will be performing the work they have produced on the 4th March at Tullie House.  The first session of the 6 was this Friday, and I think it went really well.  As usual, the young writers always come up with amazing work in response to the exercises.

So back to the Sunday Poem – Pascale has featured here as a Sunday Poet before – I’ve always loved her work, and you can find another poem from her by following this link.  However, she’s kindly agreed to let me post another of her poems up.

The poem I’ve chosen is taken from Fauverie, which is Pascale’s latest collection, published in 2014 by Seren.  Fauverie is the big-cat house in the Jardin des Plantes zoo in Paris, and the whole collection is set in this city.  It explores childhood trauma and a dying father throughout the collection.  The poems are often shocking, full of myth and animals and pure colour.

I love this poem because I think it is trying to pin down the essence of a human being – the idea that humans can be both good or bad.  The speaker in the poem has seen the father be the type of man that sparrows help with ‘caresses of their wings’, the type of man ‘a nightingale serenades/just because he’s in pain’.  The child-like denial of  ‘not the man/who thrusts red-hot prongs in their eyes’ and ‘He is not the kind to tie their wings’ makes the reader certain that the father has done these things in the past.  I think this poem is powerful though, because the father, who obviously has this violence at his centre, is not capable of it now.  He ‘shuffles along’.  He’s ‘in pain’. He ‘struggles for breath’.   There is even the certainty that the father will die because the nightingale ‘will pine for him’.  At the same time as the father being unable to carry out his previous acts of violence, the speaker of the poem says that she chooses the good version of her father, the one the nightingale serenades.

Having said that, by the time I get to the end of the poem, what I really think it is about is power, and who has it, and who doesn’t.  By the end of the poem, we are suddenly aware that the speaker is one of the birds, and is in her father’s hand, which makes us aware that this violence must have been directed towards the speaker in the past, and the loyalty and love of the birds must have been given by the speaker to the father.

I think it’s a wonderfully clever and balanced poem, walking a tightrope of metaphor and questions about power and abuse and violence.

I hope you enjoy the poem and thanks to Pascale for letting me use it here.

Portrait of My Father as a Bird Fancier – Pascale Petit

The man with an aviary – the one
sparrows follow as he shuffles along,
helping him with caresses of their wings.
The one a nightingale serenades
just because he’s in pain – that’s
the father I choose, not the man
who thrusts red-hot prongs in their eyes
so the song will carry for miles.
He is not the kind to tie their wings.  No.
My father’s nightingale will pine for him
when he dies.  My Papa
with a warbler on each shoulder
and a linnet on his head, the loner
even crows chatter to.  He does not
cut the nerves of their tongues
so they will sing sweeter.
When my father’s bullfinch has a bad dream
only his voice can calm it.
The hoopoe warms itself on his stove.
It leaps in the air when he wakes
and rubs its breast against his face.
It can tell what mood he’s in at a glance
and will raise its crest in alarm
if Papa struggles for breath.
My father’s chaffinch can bring him
all the birdsong from the wood.
He does not glue its eyelids
shut so it will sing night and day.
He does not make canaries trill so loud
that the tiny branches of their lungs
burst.  I am sure of this, though I am just
an ounce in the fist of his hand.

3 comments on “Sunday Poet – Pascale Petit

  1. Pascale Petit. I could not be more excited.I knew it was going to be a special week in St Ives. Now it’s super-special. What a great ending to an extra-special week of poetry and lots of other good things.

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