Sunday Poem – Cheryl Pearson

I’m writing this in my still-lovely writing room.  It’s now finished! I put another floor-to-ceiling cupboard in yesterday and filled it with various bits, so now, although it’s small, I’ve got floor space to scoot around on my office chair.  I’m working so much better in here.  I’ve decreed that Chris has to knock if the door is shut and it feels like a little haven.  My desk is right in front of the window so I have a view of the back garden and the hawthorn tree, covered at the moment in red berries, and the houses behind ours, covered in scaffolding because they are getting their roof redone.

My legs feel pleasantly tired and aching as I did the Burton-in-Kendal 10k race today.  The course was pretty brutal – a fast downhill start and then a steep hill for about a kilometre, and then I would describe the rest of the course as ‘undulating’.  I managed it in 48 minutes and 10 seconds – nowhere near my personal best of 46:16 but I am fairly happy with my time.

Last week was fairly quiet in terms of freelance work.  I didn’t have any readings or workshops, or anywhere to be apart from soul band rehearsal on Monday night and the studio on Wednesday night to  record a demo for Dave McGerty, the keyboard player in the Soul Survivors.  He’s been asked to write a  song by a very well known soul singer, so we were in the studio recording it on Wednesday. Here’s a picture of the brass section with our headphones on.

soul survivors in the studio

One exciting thing that happened is that I’ve been commissioned by the BBC and National Poetry Day to write a poem in the voice of a landmark in Cumbria.  The poem will be broadcast on BBC Cumbria on October 6th which is National Poetry Day.  I’m quite nervous about this, as I haven’t done very many commissions so who knows how it is going to turn out.  I did spend a lot of time last week visiting my landmark and trying to soak up some atmosphere though, and I started an idea which I think might work.  I haven’t looked at this idea since Friday though, as I’m following my own advice and leaving it to ‘cook’ in my notebook for a couple of days.

This week has been a good insight into what doing a PhD might feel like though.  I’ve spent a lot of the week in my pyjamas, at my writing desk, reading and writing, and making notes on what I’ve been reading.  If I haven’t been in my pyjamas, then I’ve been in my running shorts – as usual, my life seems made up of extremes!

Another strange thing that happened – I turned down some freelance work this week! I realised it’s the first time I’ve ever done that, as a writer.  The project sounded really exciting, but it was a massive time commitment.  I think if I’d flogged myself this term I could have managed it, as well as the freelance work I’ve already got booked in, as well as the PhD, but I realised that the point of getting funding is so that I don’t have to work myself into the ground taking on everything that comes in.  It is hard turning things down though! I love working as a writer, but it felt strangely liberating to commit instead to writing, to the act of writing, rather than the act of being a poet, which is very different.

I’ve just booked my train tickets for the Poetry Swindon Festival, taking place in October.  I read in  Swindon a couple of years ago now, and I’m really looking forward to going back as one of two Poet in Residences (the other is the marvellous Andrew McMillan).  I’m reading on the 6th October with a wonderful poet called Michael Scott and running workshops on the 7th and 9th October.  You can find more information about all of the events and the poets who are reading here.

This week’s Sunday Poem is a poet called Cheryl Pearson, who I got talking to on Twitter, so we’ve never actually met in real life! I asked Cheryl to send me some poems to consider for the blog and she sent me wonderful poems to choose from.  Which was a relief!

I loved her poem ‘The Victor’ as soon as I read it – it seemed full of mystery, and the images and her language surprised me all the way through.  I imagine the ‘her’ of a poem is a bear, although this is never actually spelled out.  I’ve never seen salmon described as ‘fat hammers’ but I think it works. The bear, if bear it is, is humanised with the ‘Ankle-deep’ reference, which was one of the places that made me wonder if it is a bear.  The next line is surprising as well – the fish ‘caught her eye like a hook’ – this is one of the surprises I’m talking about.  The next line makes me think definitely bear – the ‘great fur heft of her’ as well as the reference to a planet – that made me think of the Great Bear and the Little Bear constellations.  Then in the next line she turns this around again – the bear is a star, and the fish are smaller stars.  Then the fish become a ‘book of matches’ and here I think the poem soars off.  What a wonderful line ‘death brightening each tooth’.  It is one of those lines that I wish I’d written!  And a fantastic ending to the poem – the ‘last lost race’ of the fish.

I’m really looking forward to reading Cheryl’s first full collection, which is forthcoming in Spring 2017 with Pindrop Press.   I hope when it comes out I can wrangle another poem out of Cheryl, as I’m sure the book will be great, if the small selection of poems she sent through is anything to go by.

Cheryl  lives and writes in Manchester. Her poems have appeared in publications including The Guardian, Envoi, Antiphon, and Skylark Review (Little Lantern Press). She placed third in Bare Fiction Magazine’s 2016 Poetry Competition, and has been shortlisted for the Princemere Poetry Prize and the York Literature Festival Poetry Prize.

You can find more of Cheryl’s work at the Bare Fiction website and she is also on Twitter as @cherylpea

Thanks to Cheryl for letting me use her wonderful poem, and for getting in touch.



The Victor
Cheryl Pearson

I saw her catching salmon in July – fat hammers that gleamed and beat
against the river where she waited, still as a boulder. Patient. Ankle-deep.
Until that one fish caught her eye like a hook, and she leaped –

the great fur heft of her crashing like a planet from the clear sky

to stun against the rock that smaller star. I watched as fish after fish
went dark, a book of matches struck and snuffed. One by one,

light by light. Later, I would see their radiance again, like a memory:

death brightening each tooth, the way skulls might brighten a hunter’s belt –
fishscales, shining in her mouth like a brace. I would see the fish in her belly,

griping, stripped. Her mouth lit with trophies from their last, lost race.

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