Sunday Poem – Carole Coates

The Sunday Poem this week is by the fabulous Carole Coates, published by Shoestring Press

Before I start writing my blog, I always look back through my diary to remind myself of what I’ve done in the week.  On Monday I drove from my parent’s house in Leicester back up to Cumbria.  I stopped off at a Little Chef to get some breakfast.  I used to love Little Chef when I was little – in fact I remember my parents driving down the motorway from home to take us for dinner there and then driving back home again.  However, it isn’t quite as cheery an experience when you are an adult, and you’re driving five hours away from your family, knowing you won’t see some of them again for a while.  I had to move tables because I had a terrible view of a man whose bottom was hanging out of his trousers and it was probably this that pushed me over the edge!

I went back to Leicester because my Dad has been ill and was in hospital for nearly a week.  By the time I got there last Thursday, he’d had an operation and he was out of hospital and starting to get back to normal.  I also got to spend some time with my sisters and my nieces and nephews.  My brother-in-law has started running now as well so I even had someone to go for a run round the park with.

On Thursday I went to my fifth Read Regional event in York – although I’ve loved all of them, I think this was my favourite one so far, mainly because of the audience who were so friendly and interested.  The great thing about Read Regional is that there are often people who have never been to a poetry reading before.  The librarian showed me a feedback card afterwards which said something like ‘Came under sufferance – but I loved it,and bought all the books!’.  I love that someone was FORCED to come to a poetry reading – what had they done for such punishment?

Ok, for those of you who have no interest in running, or trumpet playing, you might want to miss the next couple of paragraphs, as I wax on about my Friday which was, even by my standards, slightly manic.  I drove to Kendal in the afternoon and met Pauline Yarwood for a cup of tea and a stress relieving shout of ARRGGGH about all the annoying things that happen when you are trying to put together a festival.  I then had my Young Writers Group until 5.30 and then drove like a madwoman (whilst always keeping to the speed limits of course) to get to Dalton for the Dalton 10k which I’ve been looking forward to all year.

Writing this from the vantage point of having completed the Dalton 10k, I can’t quite remember why I was looking forward to it all year.  It is that pesky nostalgia again, this was one of the first races I did when I first moved to Cumbria when I was 21 (I ran for about a year before giving up).  I’ve done the race for the last three years – in 2014 I ran it in 56:56 and in 2015 I ran 47:42.  I think I had good memories of the race last year, because I’d knocked such a big chunk of time off.  Of course this year, I knew it would be harder to beat my time but I really wanted to do it.  I’ve been doing a few long, hilly runs lately, and I was hoping they would pay off.

Anyway, what I’ve realised about running is that it never gets easier, and there were moments in the race this year, when I turned a corner and there was another bloody hill that I wanted to cry! However, very pleased to report that I ran 46:16 which I’m absolutely chuffed with. Next target is to get to 45 minutes!

I jumped in a taxi straight after the race at 8.15pm, as Chris had taken car to go camping, went back home, showered, changed and jumped in another taxi at 8.40 and went to the Soul Survivors gig at the Soccer Bar which started at 9pm.  Playing trumpet till midnight was pretty tough going, but I think I was still hyper from doing the race.  The after-effects of pushing it in the race, playing trumpet and not having time to eat anything hit me on Saturday – I spent the whole day feeling slightly hung over but without having consumed any alcohol.   I had another gig with the Soul Survivors last night which was easer playing wise but I woke up again this morning feeling terrible – again, it feels like a hangover, I’m tired, groggy, have a bit of a headache.  So I’m taking it easy again today and hopefully not leaving the house for anything other than to maybe amble round with the dogs.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Carole Coates- I’ve posted a poem from Carole on the blog before – in fact, looking back at the archives, I think her poem was the first Sunday Poem I ever posted.  You can find that poem ‘Stalker’ here – it is still one of my favourite poems.

I went to an April Poets reading a couple of months ago which was the launch of Carole’s new collection Jacob.  This is a book-length sequence of poems following the life of a little boy called Jacob.  The collection is as readable as a novel and I read it cover to cover.  I think Carole is a real one-off – I can’t think of any poets that are doing quite what she is doing – her work is always ambitious and pushing at the boundaries of not only what a poem can do, but what a poetry collection can do.  She is published by Shoestring Press and you can buy Jacob and any of her other collections over at the Shoestring Press website.

I’ve chosen the poem ‘What Is He Like?’ because I thought it was a good introduction to the character of Jacob, although this poem comes towards the middle of the collection.  .

What Is He Like? – Carole Coates

what is he like//////////what is he really like
sometimes he feels like a box crammed with things
and people are pushing more in and sitting on the lid

or he feels like an eye///a lonely eye
set in a wall like a camera to see and remember
(he’d seen a film with that and it was frightening)

but his grandfather says You’re a dark horse, Jacob
which he doesn’t understand and his grandmother says
Still waters run deep – that’s you, Jacob

is he like the pond where the hedge turns a corner
where the water hides under alder branches?
it’s deep there he knows his mother told him

and she says there’s something strange deep down
at the bottom of the pond and it’s quiet there too
(probably a fish) so that’s “still” and “deep”

and he knows there’s something deep down lurking
in himself which he has to keep quiet about
and still as the pond but at school they’re asking

Where is your father? and he says he’s a soldier
but they say the war’s been over for ages 
and he ought to be back like all the others

he’s told Beryl his father’s in Middle-East
but Teddy says HER father is Father Christmas
and he lives up the chimney but this is all lies

One of the big themes that Carole explores is the unjustice of childhood, the unfairness of it, and the lack of power that children have in their own lives.  I love the description in the second line ‘sometimes he feels like a box crammed with things’.  It’s such an unusual way of saying something that a lot of people can probably relate to.   After this brilliant line, most poets would have felt quite pleased with themselves and left it at that, but Carole carries it on, developing it further, pinning down exactly how it feels to not be in control, to not feel part of what is going on around you with that line ‘or he feels like an eye’.  I think there is also something interesting here in the things we say to children, probably without thinking, that they then carry with them and puzzle over.  I also love the question ‘is he like the pond where the hedge turns a corner/where the water hides under alder branches?’  I also love that Jacob tries to make sense of himself in the world by comparing and contrasting himself to other things.

I am aware that I’ve taken a poem out of context here, in what is a meticulously put-together and beautiful book with a narrative arc, so I hope you will feel inspired to buy the collection, and I hope Carole gets the praise and acclaim this book deserves.

There is a great review of Jacob over at the magazine London Grip, which will give you more of an overview of the collection as a whole.  Carole has had three previous collections published with Shoestring Press.  In 2012 she published an extraordinary collection called Swallowing Stones – a verse narrative, set in the far-off imaginary, but very real country of Kor.  In 2009 Shoestring Press published her second collection Looking Good which was an exploration of anorexia, endured at a time when the condition was not diagnosed, discussed or even named.  More recently she has published a pamphlet Crazy Days with the excellent Wayleave Press.  You can find more information about her over at her website but if you haven’t heard of Carole Coates, or read any of her stuff, all of her collections, not just this latest one come highly recommended if you want to read ambitious and exciting poetry.



1 comment on “Sunday Poem – Carole Coates

  1. Well that’s made a grey cold Sunday afternoon warmer and suffused in a saffron glow. Thankyou for the poem….I like lots of things about it, but especially the way it inhabits a child’s language and his thinking. Reminds me of what Joyce does with the opening of ‘Portrait of the artist’. I think I’m very fond of that because it was the first time suddenly saw what a writer was up without being told it by a teacher.
    As to the hangover thing…that’s low body sugar. I regularly had it as a teacher, not eating enough because I thought I was too busy. Still do it…get dizzy and headache-y. So look after yourself or I’ll get all Granddad-ish with you

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