Sunday Poem – John Mee

Technically it’s not Sunday anymore, but having spent the whole weekend running Kendal Poetry Festival, and as the days have blurred and lost their usual boundaries, I figured I would just post this weeks Sunday Poem anyway, and depend on my readers patience and forbearance.

Kendal Poetry Festival, the culmination of a year of planning from myself and Pauline Yarwood has been and gone this weekend.  I can’t quite believe it’s all over. Tomorrow, I’m meeting up with Pauline to have a look through the feedback forms from our audiences, and then we are going to look through the photos and choose which ones we’d like to go up on the website.  So the work hasn’t finished yet, in fact, we’re already starting to think tentatively about next year.

The best thing about the weekend was the fantastic audiences.  All of the readings were sold out in the end, and there was a lovely atmosphere at the festival – energetic, enthusiastic, friendly.  I was very proud of my Dove Cottage Young Poets as well who all read so well over the weekend, and it was lovely to see them talking with the Festival Poets and the audience members about their work.

I am obviously bias but I think that the programming of the festival was a work of genius from myself and Pauline! It’s hard for me to pick out highlights, but I was really happy to hear Tim Liardet, whose work I’ve admired for so long.  Kathryn Maris’s reading made me laugh the most, and Linda Gregerson made me cry.  I also loved the infectiousness of Malika Booker’s demonstration of her celebratory dance when she got the call from Penguin to say she was going to be in a collection with Warsan Shire and Sharon Olds, two of her poetry heroes.  It was also lovely that lots of the Festival Poets came to other readings at the festival and hung around for the whole weekend.

Apart from festival stuff, in the last two weeks I feel like I’ve really got into a bit more of a rhythm with the PhD.  After my meeting three weeks ago and setting a target of writing 5000 words to show to my supervisor at the beginning of July for a meeting mid July, I’ve been steadily writing away.  It feels like the reading I’ve been doing all year is paying off.  I’m approaching the critical writing a bit like writing a poem at the minute.  I’m just trying to get down the words without worrying too much about whether they are rubbish or not, and then worry about quality when I’m editing.

I went on a Facilitated Writing Retreat for university staff and postgrads on the 15th June at a hotel in Fallowfield in Manchester.   This came at the perfect time for me as I’d already done 4000 words and my target was to write another 1000 by the end of the day which I managed.  There was no internet, and we had to write for an hour before having a short break, and then writing for another hour and continuing this all day. There was no sharing of work, it was literally just turning up and writing.  It was great to have no distractions, and be unable to answer emails even if I wanted to.  I finished my 5000 words which made me feel better about having a few days off working on my PhD whilst Kendal Poetry Festival was on.

I also took part in a poetry reading on the 13th June – organised by the ‘Feminisms in Public’ network in association with Bad Language.  Each poet or writer was given six minutes to read something around the theme of gender and sexuality.  It was a great event, and I got to hear Natalie Burdett’s work – another PhD student whose poetry I haven’t read before and I met a fantastic writer, Sue Fox whose work was visceral, shocking and powerful.  It was a great event to be part of, and there is obviously a real appetite for work around feminism and gender, as we read to a sold out audience of about 70.

Apart from this, it has been a lovely two weeks of getting up in the morning, working on my PhD and staying in my pyjamas until I have to get up and walk the dogs.  Contrast that with the madness this weekend of the festival.  It was a really brilliant weekend – packed out readings and enthusiastic audiences, conversations in the sunshine and I got to walk around with a walkie talkie which gave me an exaggerated sense of power.

There will hopefully be some photos going up on the Kendal Poetry Festival website very shortly – so do keep an eye out for those, and sign up to follow our blog! We are already starting to think tentatively about next year.

This is going to be a short blog post today, basically because I’m still absolutely knackered.  I slept till 10.30am this morning but I’m still tired! This week’s Sunday Poem is by John Mee from his debut pamphlet From The Extinct, published by Southword Editions.

I’ve had this pamphlet on my ‘to read’ list for a while where it has sadly languished, but I’m glad I finally got round to it! John was a student on one of my Poetry School courses, and then kindly sent me his pamphlet after it was published.

I love the image of what I think of as a little boy climbing up into a tree and getting stuck (why do I assume it is a boy actually – there is nothing in the poem to indicate this).  I imagine that this is an older brother speaking who has been charged with looking after a younger.  I like how the active words of ‘finding’ and ‘trusting’ are at the end of the line, driving the poem forwards.  The line ‘where I always turned back’ is interesting, shedding light on the character of both siblings.

I love the image conjured up by ‘a bird-eyed ghost’.  It makes me think of a pale face, peering through leaves, with wide eyes.  But what is ‘bird-eyed’.  Is it eyes that are wide and can see more than most, like an owls, which would fit to some extent with the word ghost? Or does ‘bird-eyed’ mean quick, and never resting? Do birds have good eyesight at all?

This poem is actually full of pairs – and pairs that contrast as well.  There are the two siblings of which ever gender,one with daring, and one with caution.  There is one out of sight, and one in full view ‘on the path’.  There is the mother, and Queenie Daly, who appears to be a neighborhood gossip, full of unhelpful stories in a time of crisis, and then finally ‘young Quinn’ is paired with the sibling in the tree.  It’s strange that the speaker of the poem is the one who calls out at the end, the mother doesn’t speak in the poem.  This feeling of the speaker, the child being in charge has been there since the first line.  We don’t find out what happens to the ‘bird-eyed ghost’ in the tree, so we’re left with the image of him, peering down from the branches of the tree, peering out from between the lines of the poem.

Thanks to John Mee for letting me publish his poem here.  John won the Patrick Kavanagh Award in 2015.  His poems have been published in The Rialto, Prelude, The SHop, Big Wide Words, Poetry on the Buses (London), Cyphers, Southword and The Cork Literary Review, as well as in various anthologies.  He was selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series in 2008.  He was born in Canada and has lived in Cork since he was seven years old.  He is a professor in the Law School at University College Cork.

If you’d like to order his pamphlet, you can do so here.  If you’d like to find out more about John Mee, check out his website here.

Michael – John Mee

Out of my sight
in the big tree, finding
a way past the fork
where I always turned back,
you rose calmly, trusting
the thinner branches,
ruffling the sky.

And there you froze,
a bird-eyed ghost.
I ran for our mother,
stood with her on the path.
Queenie Daly stopped to talk
about young Quinn’s fall
that broke his back.

I called up to you
to stay where you were.

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