Sunday Poem – John Foggin

Last week has been unusual for me because I’ve managed to get some writing done.  It’s not a surprise that this has coincided with the school holidays.  Although I only teach two days a week, which doesn’t sound like very much, it has made a difference not teaching. I have felt less stressed, less rushed, less guilty (about not doing enough), less pressured. When I think about the various things in my life – working as a music teacher, working as a poet, and actually writing, I know the writing time always gets squeezed.  It is always the thing that is sacrificed, if something has to give.

This hasn’t happened this week though, and I’ve got lots done.  I’ve edited some  poems that have been sat waiting for me to take a scalpel to them and managed to get a submission of six poems to send to a magazine that I haven’t tried before.  I’ve got another set of six that I want to work on and get sent out at some point this week.

I found out in the last couple of weeks that I’d been longlisted in the National Poetry Competition, the last 138 out of 13,000 poems so that was a confidence boost for my new work.  I’ve sent that poem to another competition now to see if it can get any closer.

I don’t know if anybody else has had this experience but after my collection came out, and I had a gap of not writing, and then eventually started writing again, it feels like I’m having to relearn how to write, edit, and submit poems.  I’m having to go over all the old tricks to get myself to send the poems out into the world instead of hanging onto them.  I feel much more protective of them now than I used to.  When I was first starting out, I used to send poems out as quickly as I could.  It was like shooting arrows over and over again into the dark.  Nobody noticed what I was doing and I had a whole load of arrows to throw about the place.  Now I feel like I’m heading out in broad daylight, cradling one poem at a time in my arms.

Last week I told you all I had an interview but couldn’t say what it was for.  Well, I had the interview and it was terrifying, although the people interviewing me were lovely and friendly and actually very encouraging.  I still can’t say what it is for, as I don’t find out whether I’ve got it or not until May. Since the day of the interview, it’s been taking me ages to get to sleep as well – this usually happens when I work myself up – my mind goes round and round, worrying away at things.


I’ve done quite a bit of running this week as well – a six mile beach run on Monday, ten miles around the country roads on Wednesday, five miles on Friday and five miles today.  I also did my last live chat for the Poetry School online course which I’ve been running on Thursday.  I’m running the same course face-to-face in Manchester in the summer term for The Poetry School.  It sold out online, so I’m hoping it will be as popular face to face.  I’m looking forward to getting the train to Manchester and being able to read and write on the train on the way there – it will be just like the old days when I was doing my MA at Manchester Met.

The brochures for Kendal Poetry Festival were printed and delivered on Friday, so it was a very exciting Brewery Poets session this Friday when we all got to see the brochures.  They are beautiful! And they smell really good.  I haven’t been able to stop looking at them this weekend.  Organising a festival is a bit like that game where you hit the things that pop up and then another one pops up somewhere else.  Pauline and I sort one problem out, and another one pops up.  Pauline and I like to let out our stress by ringing each other and swearing down the phone – not at each other, just at Life.  Anyway, so far, we are keeping the wagon that is the poetry festival running smoothly down the road.

Last night was A Poem and a Pint with the wonderful poet Liz Berry.  Liz arrived on Saturday afternoon and we managed to squeeze a visit in to Piel Island before we went to Ulverston for the reading.  If you haven’t seen Liz perform, make it your business to this year.  She is a fantastic reader, and seems to really inhabit her poems when she is reading.  Right from the first poem, a silence settled over the room.  It sounds cheesy, but it really was like a spell being cast.  We had a great turn out at the Laurel and Hardy museum, which must get the prize for the quirkiest venue for a poetry reading!

So today’s Sunday Poem is the lovely John Foggin, who often can be found commenting on this blog, or writing his own blog over at The Great Fogginzo’s Cobweb.  I’ve been meaning to feature one of John’s poems for ages, as he had a new pamphlet Outlaws and Fallen Angels, published by Calder Valley Press a couple of months ago.

I’ve known John for a few years now and he has been a good friend who is always full of enthusiasm for poetry and poets.  He lives in Osset, West Yorkshire, and organises the Puzzle Hall Poets in Sowerby Bridge.  He’s won first prizes in The Plough (2013 and 2014), the Camden/Lumen 2014 prize, the McLellan 2015 poetry prize and the Ilkley Litfest 2015 competition.  This list is probably out of date already – knowing John he has won something else and not said anything.  He has some other pamphlet out as well Running Out of Space, Backtrack

This latest pamphlet concerns itself with responding to works of art and sculptures, and the poem I’ve chosen for today ‘Miss Muriel Foster’ is one of three poems in the pamphlet which explore the life of the artist J.W. Waterhouse.  A note in the pamphlet tells me that Waterhouse died of inoperable cancer in 1917, by which time his work had become unfashionable, it declined in value until the 1950’s, although it has since sold for millions at auction.  Waterhouse painted scenes from myth and legend, and from the poetry of Keats and Tennyson.  The next poem is in the voice of Waterhouse and the poem after that is in the voice of his wife – but you’ll have to buy the pamphlet to read those two.

Muriel Foster  was ‘the painter’s famous model, and ‘sat’ for Waterhouse from 1892 until his death.  Trained as a nurse in the late 1890s, she died, aged 90 in a nursing home in St. Leonards on Sea.’

In this poem, John gives Muriel Foster a voice.  As she is rather a mysterious figure, I’m guessing most of the poem is conjecture, but I think John does an excellent job of putting himself into the mind of Muriel.  Also, any poem which mentions the excellent book and subsequent brilliant film The Water Babies deserves a perfect 10 in my opinion.  It’s on a par to getting a sly reference to Watership Down in there.

I know John is as obsessed with Ovid as I am, although maybe for different reasons.  The idea of transformation, and transformation by another runs throughout this poem, although Muriel, the transformed, seems to welcome and enjoy the way she is changed by Waterhouse.  Transformation in Ovid is violent and brutal – here it seems like an escape from a normal and conventional life.

If you would like to order John’s pamphlet, you can do so from Calder Valley Poetry by emailing Bob Horne at  Calder Valley Poetry is a brand new and rather exciting pamphlet press, who have also just launched a new pamphlet Werewolf by Steve Ely.  I haven’t read this yet, but I’ve been told it’s brilliant!

That is me, all blogged out.  Underneath the poem, you’ll find one of Waterhouse’s paintings.  Hope you enjoy the poem!

Miss Muriel Foster – John Foggin

He asked if he might do a pencil sketch;
a simple head and shoulders;
and my hair would grace ‘his mermaid’;
told me of a vision of combed silk,
of autumn-umber leaves against white skin,
a sea impossibly green and cold,
iridescent scales, warm flesh. . .
and it seemed that I could hear the mermaid’s song
and that I sang it.
So, suddenly, I said I’d sit for him.  Unclothed.
That’s how things came to be.  That first time.

You know The Water Babies? Yes?
You see, I thought that as a water child,
like Tom, or Ellie,
I would be unafraid –
no, unaware – of nakedness.
So, I imagined
high grey crags, sweet turf, the limestone beck,
and how poor Tom, all hot and trammelled
became so cool and clean.
It was simply done.
How to put it?
All was loose and lovely.

Stillness? Quiet? I’d always loved the Meeting’s
silences. And, oh, his eyes were grave
and serious. I think I never felt so much
myself before. I think I never felt so real.

So many sittings, so much peace. Such dreams.
So many stories in that steady gaze.
He transfigured me; I was Danae
inaccessible in a tower until Zeus came
in a shower of gold.. and so was set adrift…

Naiad, dryad, temptress, nymph, Ophelia;
so many lives he drew for me to live
in his quiet studio; or even, by a river bank,
La belle dame sans merci; my kneeling knight
in all his heraldry, his armour softly gleaming,
and the air starred with flowers, a heart on my sleeve,
my living hair ensnaring him, there in the dark copse,
and I pulling him close, and his eyes so dark.
Oh my.

In all those years among the weak, the hurt
along the wards,soiled dressings,
starch and metal, antiseptic air, I knew
that there were always other worlds
that only he and I could make.

The last work that I did for him
was never finished.The Enchanted Garden.
There I stoop to prove
the scent of one pale rose.
Never kissed his living face.

He was my Hylas, and I, desire multipled.
See how he painted me. Each nymph
wears a flower in her hair,
but I the only one to wear a rose.
The one who holds his hand, who clasps his arm,
is me. Or who I used to be.



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