Poetry makes nothing happen

It has been a whole month since the last time I wrote on here – this is the longest time I’ve gone without blogging since I started.  I didn’t plan to take a break, although at first it seemed necessary.  After the second Sunday of not writing to you all, if I am honest, it felt like a weight lifted from my shoulders.  Then the third week cycled round, and I decided to have the whole of February off before I started again.  Last Sunday, the last Sunday in February, my fingers were itching slightly to get going again, but I resisted.  If there is one thing I’ve learnt about writing poetry or prose, it is that resistance is good.  To resist the urge to write, to hold back sometimes is an important thing for me.  Now I’ve started writing the old feeling passes over me again, of enjoyment, excitement.  It is something to do with knowing that people are listening, but also that they might not be, that these words could slip through the gap, or be ignored and it won’t matter to me, because I’ll never know.

Last time I wrote I was recovering from my fright of having to pay an unexpected tax bill.  I’ve recovered from that now, although my bank balance hasn’t.  I’ve only spent two weeks of February at home.  The first week of February, I went to Ty Newydd to be a co-tutor with Clare Shaw.   We were working with 16 teenage girls all week.

Driving to Ty Newydd was actually quite an emotional experience for me! As I got closer to the house, and turned off the main A road onto a quieter, narrow country road, all the memories of my first time driving to Ty Newydd came flooding back.  I think it was maybe 2008 that I went there for the first time, and I got lost, or at least, I thought I was lost, because of this road.  It seemed so long and empty.  The trees and hedges were a brilliant dark green and everything seemed strange and unfamiliar, even that green and the way the world sounded when I pulled over, turned the engine off and listened to the dusk falling.  I was panicking about being away from home, a voice in my head asking me who did I think I was to be paying money to go on a writing course, what was the point, what a waste of money, to spend all of that money for selfish reasons, just because I wanted to etc etc.

Of course, looking back, going on that first course at Ty Newydd was the start of my life lurching off in another direction to the one it had been travelling along previously.  Or maybe I lurched off the road I should have been following way before that, and going to Ty Newydd shoved me back to the road I should have been following.

This time I didn’t get lost and instead of staying in a shared room in the house, I was staying in the tutors cottage, with a bookshelf next to the bed, and a writing desk, which I didn’t have time to use in the end, and a wooden balcony that I did sit out on, a little. The week was really full-on, intense, challenging, exciting, inspiring.  It felt strange being back there as a tutor and watching the Ty Newydd magic work on the young writers.  One of the wonderful things about working with young people is that they make huge leaps in their writing from one end of the week to the next.  I think with adults progress is steadier and more considered.  I’ve seen this happen with many young writers that I’ve worked with – they throw themselves into it, and their writing leaps onward without looking back.  There were many times during the week when I had goosebumps when the girls read their work out loud, or had to stop myself crying – it was that kind of heady, emotional week.  The other side of that was the laughter verging on hysteria with the lovely teachers and Clare of course.  It made me resolve to laugh more when I got back to my normal life, to see the funny side of things.

I came back home exhausted and then by the end of the week I was off again to St Ives, this time to tutor on a residential writing course for adults with Steve Ely.  Again, I had a fantastic week.  It’s the first time I’ve worked with Steve and he was a brilliant tutor – very conscientous, organised and great to work with.  I got the train to Crewe and then John Foggin and Steve Ely picked me up at the train station and we drove down to St Ives.  We had great poets on the course and a real mix this time of people I’d met before and strangers, who are now friends.

Steve and I went for quite a few runs along the beach and the coastal paths.  Everything was wet and muddy and on one run we both fell into a bog up to our knees.  We found a dead gannet on the beach and Steve picked it up and spread out its wings.  Steve also had a jackdaw nest opposite his hotel window.  It was a bit like hanging out with Ted Hughes all week.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if a fox had started loping along next to us.  Pascale Petit came to read halfway through the week, which was a real treat, as she read some new work from her forthcoming collection Mama Amazonica.

I also started my online Poetry School course ‘What Work Is’  in February.  Today is the deadline for the third assignment and the poems are starting to trickle in from the participants.  I’m running this course in Manchester because the online version sold out – if you’d like to join in, you can book a place through The Poetry School here.

I’ve also been editing reviews that have come in for The Compass magazine, which should be going live very soon, and writing a review of Linda Gregerson’s latest New and Selected for Poem magazine.  Last weekend I hosted the Cumbrian final of the Poetry By Heart competition, and again, met wonderful and inspiring young people who reminded me why I love poetry.  It was great to hear some of my favourite poems recited and I could have sat there all night and been read to!

This Friday night I’m reading with young writers from my Dove Cottage Young Poets group at the Picture the Poet exhibition at Tullie House in Carlisle.  Ian McMillan is also reading, and I’m really excited about the whole event.  I’ve been working with the group for six weeks now, writing poems about identity and they have written some brilliant stuff.  It is free to go, but you should book a ticket in advance if you want to be sure of getting a place as I’m suspecting it will sell out.  You can find more information about the event here.

On Saturday, I’m running the fourth Barrow Poetry Workshop. I’ve now got enough people attending the workshop that I’ll be bringing in a second tutor, Jennifer Copley, to help run the afternoon session of the workshop.

I’m now going to break with convention as it is not Sunday, and I’m posting a poem that is one of my own.  I wrote it in Ty Newydd in Clare’s workshop in response to a discussion about the truncated quote ‘Poetry makes nothing happen’ by Auden.  We talked about how this quote is misinterpreted and you can read more about this take on it in an article by Don Share over at The Poetry Foundation.  I wrote this poem anyway, and I think I would struggle to get it published in a magazine because it is ‘about’ poetry.  I think it is walking a borderline between sentimentality and sentiment and it probably falls over on its face into sentimentality a couple of times. Having said that, I like it and I mean every word of it, except of course poetry did all these things and more for me, so it can stand here as a thank you to February, which although I disappeared from view on here, was so full of poetry and poems and young people and enthusiasm.  Really the poem is a salute to the residential writing courses that changed my life, to poetry that continues to change my life, and always for the better, poetry which has led me to such wonderful friends, to standing outside in the garden at Ty Newydd at midnight and seeing stars, everywhere, and the sky blacker than I’ve ever seen it, to laughing so much that I cry, to talking about poetry from Crewe to St Ives, to that moment when a young writer read a poem in the group and looked up and smiled and I said ‘You know that it’s good, don’t you?’ and she smiled again, and said ‘Yes.  Yes, I know it’.


Poetry – Kim Moore

It didn’t make my heart move or tilt or shake.
It didn’t make me cry a hundred times.
I don’t remember sitting in a café or a library
just to write.  If I was ever soothed
by the sound of other people’s hands
moving across a page it was temporary.
It didn’t lead me to a prison to work
with men who moved like wolves,
who carried poems folded in their pockets
or stuffed inside their socks.  It didn’t make
me cry.  It never made me change my life
or change my job.  It never gave me back
my voice or taught me what silence was.
I didn’t learn about truth or balance
abstractions on my palm.  I never sat
and wrote in front of a fire and let it lay
its burning hand across my face.
I never used language to work out
how much the leaving cost.   I didn’t let
someone else’s words push against my chest,
never wrote a poem about a man
I almost loved.  It wasn’t me on the beach
at midnight, my heart feral and full
of the violence I’d just spoken of.
It taught me nothing of repetition,
of circling back to have another look.
If there were wolves I didn’t see them,
if there were birds they did not speak.
I did not listen to my body, I didn’t write
its song. I didn’t set off on a journey,
I didn’t open up the box.



3 comments on “Poetry makes nothing happen

  1. So good to have you back. ‘It’s OK to have a couple of weeks off your blog’ I told myself. And it was. But anyone else? There’s the rub. I’m going to treasure that thing about resistance being good. I think I’ll make it into a sign, and hang it over my computer screen. And thank you for the poem. I like being asked, at The Poetry Business, say, to write a poem in which every line is a lie or a half-truth. This one takes it off up to a new level. So pleased the wolves came padding out of the snow. I’m puzzled by that comment about ‘sentimentality’. I can’t see any.x

  2. Yes! – ‘To resist the urge to write, to hold back sometimes is an important thing for me. Now I’ve started writing the old feeling passes over me again, of enjoyment, excitement. It is something to do with knowing that people are listening, but also that they might not be, that these words could slip through the gap, or be ignored and it won’t matter to me, because I’ll never know.’ …

    This wonderful reflection is pointing me in the direction of (getting lost on the way to) Ty Newydd! Thanks Kim.

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