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Poet of the Week – 18: Adrian Blamires

TWO RIVERS PRESS POET OF THE WEEK—18: ADRIAN BLAMIRES

Adrian Blamires was born in Cornwall in 1964, near the Culdrose naval base where his father was stationed with the Fleet Air Arm. He spent his first ten years in various towns in the south of England before a move north to Lancashire. He now lives in Reading with his wife and son. His main career has been as an English teacher in sixth form colleges; he currently works at The Henley College. In 2017 he completed a PhD in Renaissance drama at the University of Reading, where he also taught on the English and Creative Writing programmes. He is the author of two collections of poetry, The Effect of Coastal Processes (2005) and The Pang Valley (2010), both from Two Rivers Press. Eliza’s Entertainments, a Tudor-themed pamphlet produced in collaboration with the artist, Robert Fitzmaurice, was published in 2015.

Adrian Blamires writes:

My mum recently discovered a poem I wrote when I was about ten years old, a rhyming squib on the school Sports Day. I have no recollection of it and haven’t yet been reacquainted with anything other than an unfortunate line about ‘girls’ behinds’ which amused my mum. This poem pre-dates by two or three years my earliest memory of actually writing a poem, a homework task I found excruciating, having nothing to say and no facility for saying it. In the end I decided, for no good reason, to describe a floating bubble. I wrote in free verse – I’d evidently been told that poems don’t have to rhyme – and produced several lines of ‘waft’ and ‘iridescence’ before ending with the word ‘POP!’ in capital letters. It prompted a succinct critique in red biro: 6/10. Sad.

I’m intrigued by my mother’s discovery because most of the poems I’ve written as an adult rhyme. I don’t have any ‘new formalist’ agenda, no sense that rhyme is integral to poetry; I simply struggle (still) to write in free verse. No spire without a scaffold. Out of the initiatory babble and doodle (Northrop Frye’s terms) it’s nearly always a rhyme which catches my ear, my eye, and about which a poem starts to take shape. It’s a choice of instrument, I guess – a period-instrument, perhaps, but one that I hope still lends itself to lyricism in the here and now.

Juvenilia might be on my mind because I’m starting to write poems again after several fallow years. Intensive farming leaches the land, of course, and I’ve been happy enough to wander uncultivated fields, admiring lady’s smock and milk-thistle, only occasionally visiting those marshy spots where old, failed poems despondently lie. But after this phase of mental rewilding, I’m learning anew the pleasure of planting, and even trying out different ways of doing things. Almost inevitably though, the first few shoots have leaves that rhyme.

INTRODUCTION TO VIRGIL

in memory of Gerry Nussbaum

As Gerry read from The Aeneid, Book VI,
His quick fingers hesitated over the braille
(The skiff yet to leave the margins of the Styx),
Having sensed a shift in the lecture theatre,
Always alert to a flaw, a faltering metre.
All eyes followed a paper plane’s slow trail.
Someone stifled a laugh. I still feel the smart,
Each time it descends, that poison-tipped dart.

There’s something more I summon from that hour,
As he continued with his passage – And this is how
It sounds in Latin – a conjuring of vatic power,
The changed voice, an ancient otherworldly boom,
A sonorous authority that held the room:
Virgil himself presenting a shield, a golden bough,
To the boy from Köln, eight years old, whose eyesight fades,
Passing through a throng of six million shades.

[From The Pang Valley]

OS EXPLORER DRESS

Her degree-show dress,
…….never-before-worn,
was based on a map
……….of where she was born.

Green-sewn woodlands,
…….streams of blue thread,
a permitted bridleway
……….in long-stitch red.

‘I was christened here
…….by the River Frome.’
A church with a spire
……….in the contoured combe.

[uncollected]

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Poet of the Week – 17: Kate Noakes

TWO RIVERS PRESS POET OF THE WEEK—17: KATE NOAKES

Kate Noakes is a poet and non-fiction writer now living in London, previously resident in Caversham, Reading, for over thirty years. Her seventh and most recent collection is The Filthy Quiet (Parthian, 2019), which received enthusiastic reviews in Poetry Wales, Poetry London and from the Poetry Book Society. Alumna of Reading University, she reviews poetry for The North and cultural website, London Grip, amongst others, and acts as a trustee for London writer development organisation, Spread the Word. Real Hay-on-Wye, her personal take on that famous place, is forthcoming from Seren this year. She is widely published in magazines in the UK, Europe and beyond, and has been asked to read at festivals and reading series all over the country, most notably Poetry at Aldeburgh in 2019. Her content-rich website, which is archived by the National Library of Wales, is at www.boomslangpoetry.blogspot.com. Her poetic subjects vary from the environment, to contemporary culture, and autobiography.

Kate Noakes writes:

The Wall Menders was published by TRP over ten years ago. That doesn’t seem possible, but it is. The theme of this collection is the destruction of the planet, and hopeful suggestions for how to live harmoniously on it in the future. The volume is organised in two distinct sections: the worrisome and the positive. Distressingly, the topic has not gone away, in fact things have become a great deal worse, and my latest manuscript, entitled Goldhawk Road, and which I am busy editing, is threaded with rather bleaker poems on climate change, pollution, species loss and the like. It is hard to remain hopeful a decade later, but I try. My next poetry project concerns the lungs and breathing. I started work on this about a year ago, long before anyone had heard of Covid 19, but not before the BLM quote: ‘I can’t breathe’ came into common parlance as a protest slogan. This book focuses on my personal experience as a lifelong asthmatic and more recently a Covid sufferer (don’t worry, I’ve recovered, or at least I think I have). It’s not as depressing as it sounds, I promise.

The poem I have chosen from The Wall Menders is the title poem. The scenario is a former miner and his son building a drystone wall; the father being glad his son did not have to follow him down the pit. It is a father doing the speaking and not a mother as several critics have mis-interpreted it. That pesky ‘I’ in poems always causes trouble. I have not read this poem for years, until asked to write this piece. I am still rather pleased with its music and description.

THE WALL MENDERS

I see him now as a man:
my boy and I work together
making music of boulder and grit,
passing stones over this growing wall.

We fill the brief space between us
with small notes, flat, sharp,
coming closer in building a barrier
that forgets the contours of the fells.

I see him now in the air
and never-harming rain, a man spared
the heat of the pit. We make
our own small monuments.

We were here and we thought about
scored coping, lunkies for sheep,
made stiles and badger smoots
and paused for breath on the mossy clefts.

I might hear the gush of water
pumped from galleries and shafts,
whispers of re-hiring. But I’m too old
and spoiled by the open.

My boy lacks the skills of prop, board
and pick, spends his days
in this uplifting labour, his voice
quavering between whistle and hum.

[from The Wall Menders]

THE SICK SPRING

Thirteenth March, a Friday with which comes
a most lauded play, Stoppard’s last contract:
Vienna, and a family succumbs,
fortunes and losses in Leopoldstadt.

I am treated to the stalls by a friend
of a friend, a nice man I do not know.
His cancelled cultural holiday ends
with a short email critique of the show.

I give him scenes, chronology, pictures,
timings avoiding history’s clichés;
how I stepped into busy Leicester Square –
with foreboding that hurried me away.

And how I scurried home to a semi-death:
headache, sore throat, cough, and struggling for breath.

[uncollected]

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Poet of the Week – 16: Jack Thacker

TWO RIVERS PRESS POET OF THE WEEK—16: JACK THACKER

Jack Thacker was born in 1989 and grew up on a small farm in Herefordshire. His poems have appeared in numerous magazines, including PN Review, Stand, The Clearing and Caught by the River, as well as on BBC Radio 4. In 2016, he won the Charles Causley International Poetry Competition. He has been poet in residence at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading and is currently the ArtfulScribe writer in residence at Lighthouse, Poole. His debut gathering of poems, Handling, was published by Two Rivers Press in 2018.

Jack Thacker writes:

I only started reading and writing poetry seriously in my early twenties, and the two practices have continued to inform each other ever since. I recall being in the second year of an English degree at the University of York and feeling a bit lost. What had started out as pure pleasure, the study of literature, had begun to feel a bit like a chore. I wasn’t getting the grades I hoped for and was finding writing essays increasingly difficult. Looking back now, I was probably burnt out, but at the time it felt like I was suddenly overthinking things, when before I had been able to trust my instincts.

One evening, when I was sitting idly reading, a voice entered my head. It sounded as though it was being spoken from underground, as if emerging from a badger sett or a warren. I couldn’t make out the words, but the sound of the voice, the gravity of it, felt familiar. For quite a while I couldn’t remember when or where I had heard it before. Then, suddenly, it dawned on me. In the very first seminar I had attended at York we had looked at a poem by Ted Hughes, one of his best-known poems, ‘The Thought Fox’, and I had listened to a recording of Hughes himself reading that poem on The Poetry Archive website in preparation for the seminar. It was unmistakable: the voice I could hear was Hughes’s.

This all sounds very Hughesian, doesn’t it – a tamer retelling of his own burnt fox dream, that talismanic origin story of ‘The Thought Fox’ and the moment Hughes decided, for the sake of his poetry, to switch from English to Anthropology. I stuck with English, and soon got back on track, but subliminal or not, whether genuine or a product of hindsight, I look back on that moment as significant in terms of my own awakening as a poet.

As soon as I placed Hughes’s voice, I returned to the recording and listened to him reading other poems as well. The real revelation came with ‘February 17th’, written during a period Hughes spent farming in Devon. Having grown up on a farm myself, I immediately recognised the scenario described in the poem – its messiness and its rawness. I had a go at writing my own poems about my upbringing on a farm. The first few were clearly pastiches of Hughes and Seamus Heaney, but I soon began to find my own voice, as it were.

I’ve spent a whole decade now writing those kinds of poems. They were the poems I absolutely had to write. Now that I’ve written them, I’m looking forward to writing about other subjects under different influences. The natural world will always be a rich source of inspiration, but my life is very different now. I’m always listening out for both new and old voices in case they should enter my head.

FOOT AND MOUTH
Lindsay Anderson (1955)

A farm somewhere in England, sometime
in Autumn. This is Bury Farm,
its crops, livestock (soon to be buried).
It’s November now. How to read
the signs but not commit yourself –
leave that to officials. For this calf,
too late. The whole thing’s deadly efficient:
a touch / a tyre / a train / a footprint.

The poetry survives. It’s not in the voice
explaining protocol, it lies in the face
of a woman watching (shots off-screen),
shot of a herd, of a vet, of a gun,
shot of an empty field on a hill,
shot of a farmer shot of it all.

[from Handling]

‘I, Sheep’, a collaboration with filmmakers James Rattee and Teresa Murjas, from the Department of Film, Theatre and Television at the University of Reading, is a filmpoem created across two years, which interlaces poetry, film and performance to explore the relationship between intangible cultural heritage and sheep consciousness. It is part of the larger project at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading called The Museum of the Intangible funded by Arts Council England.

The premiere of ‘I, Sheep’ is on July 24th 2020.

HOW DO YOU GRIEVE?

I knew a sister who lost her lambs
inside her. It took her
too long to recover –

her face was never the same.
She lost her wool, she lost
in truth, her purpose.

Day after day, she just stood there.
She absorbed them. That’s how we grieve
when we grieve

for the weather,
for ourselves in winter,
for the ground in the endless wet.

We spend our lives in mourning.
We never forget.
Move on.

DOES THE SUNRISE STARTLE YOU?

Yes, every morning, every single one.
Nothing can prepare you for the arrival of the sun.

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Poet of the Week – 15: Rosie Jackson

TWO RIVERS PRESS POET OF THE WEEK—15: ROSIE JACKSON

Rosie Jackson lives in Somerset and works as a creative writing tutor. Her poetry collections to date are: What the Ground Holds (Poetry Salzburg, 2014), The Light Box (Cultured Llama, 2016), and Two Girls and a Beehive: Poems about Stanley Spencer and Hilda Carline Spencer (co-written with Graham Burchell, Two Rivers Press, 2020). She enjoys working collaboratively: she’s done projects with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment; letter cutter Andrew Whittle has turned one of her poems into a copper sculpture in the grounds of a Dorchester hospital; and Hedgehog Press will soon publish Aloneness is a Many-Headed Bird, a pamphlet of poems she wrote in dialogue with Dawn Gorman.

Rosie has won or been placed in many competitions, including 3rd prize Hippocrates Open 2020, 1st prize Poetry Space 2019, 1st prize Wells 2018, 2nd prize Torbay 2018, 1st prize Stanley Spencer Poetry Competition 2017, 3rd prize Hippocrates Open 2017. Poems have appeared in Acumen, Ambit, Critical Survey, Domestic Cherry, Frogmore Papers, High Window, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, Scintilla, Tears in the Fence, The Interpreter’s House and anthologies.

She runs the Frome Stanza group, is a founding member of Knucklebone Poets Bath, and teaches poetry groups in various settings, including Ammerdown and Cortijo Romero, Spain. Her books of prose include Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion; Frieda Lawrence; The Eye of the Buddha (fiction); Mothers Who Leave; The Glass Mother: A Memoir (Unthank Books, 2016).

www.rosiejackson.org.uk

Rosie Jackson writes:

Although I’ve spent all my life studying and teaching literature (I did my degrees at Warwick and York, then lectured at the University of East Anglia), I only came to writing poetry myself relatively late, in the last ten years. Initially a prose writer, my creative writing began with a book of short stories then longer fiction, but, after seven years of hard work and two unpublished novels, I turned to poetry, and my success with my poems has surprised and delighted me. I just love metaphor and, perhaps because of my strong spiritual bent – I’ve spent a lot of time in India – I love seeing the world in a metaphysical way.

Visual arts are also a great passion of mine. In many ways, I’m a frustrated painter, which is probably why I write so many poems about art and artists – Hepworth, O’Keefe, de la Tour, Gauguin, Picasso, Masaccio, and now, of course, the Spencers – and about light and colour.

The last couple of years I’ve been working on poems about anchorites – religious women who opted to be enclosed for life – so the recent lockdown has felt to be almost an imaginative extension of that, and I’ve responded to it in poems which are on the wonderful website WRITE Where We Are NOW initiated by Carol Ann Duffy. I think poetry is at such an exciting juncture right now, so much happening, the reinvention of old forms and always someone new to discover. It took me too long, but at last I’ve found what I want to do when I grow up!

DINNER ON THE HOTEL LAWN

after Stanley Spencer’s ‘Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta: Dinner on the Hotel Lawn’ 1957

We must get the cutlery right, lay clean linen cloths,
tables he can’t overturn. We must hide love letters
behind our backs, though surely he knows everything:
how the earth will one day turn to pebbles,
the Thames to dishwater. We must remember
to thank him for the kind weather, daisies underfoot,
pelargoniums in pots, the miracle of white sliced bread,
tinned fruit and salmon. We must give one last spit
and polish to our spoons, then sit and shine
like marigolds waiting to be picked, our clothes
the colour of barley sugar. We must stretch our arms
as wide as a crucifix, undo our hearts,
pluck feathers from our heads that he might believe
he is once again in the company of angels.
And someone must paint a picture, capture the scene,
so on our death bed we may point to it, remind him,
‘This is the day you promised we would be with you in heaven.’

[from Two Girls and a Beehive]

IN THIS PERIOD OF STRANGE CALM

In this period of strange calm
I have become a distant witness
to other people’s suffering,
the way a woman in Ancient Greece,
say, whose hours are spent worrying
if yesterday’s dish of food will stretch
to another meal, or how many goats
are lost on Mount Pelion, is dumbfounded
to hear what is happening skies away
in Delphi, it being hard for one
with simple ideas about goodness
to understand the necessity of sacrifice
to appease gods who have, apparently,
reached their limit of enduring human folly,
and perhaps she too stands outside
under a full pink moon, sends thanks
to white-robed figures attending
the dead, tears off leaves of oregano,
sage, wild mint, raises her hands
in prayer towards the gods hiding
on Mount Olympus, says –
This is enough, now, surely this sacrifice
is enough, we can change our ways
then waits under the chestnut trees
for signs she has been heard.

[uncollected]

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Poet of the Week – 14: John Froy

TWO RIVERS PRESS POET OF THE WEEK—14: JOHN FROY

John Froy was born in Leeds in 1953 and grew up in south-west England. After gaining a degree in Fine Art at Falmouth School of Art, he taught English as a Foreign Language in London and Costa Rica. Five months on a desert island resulted in On Cocos Island, a fictionalized account (unpublished) and the start of his writing career. He settled in Reading with his wife and daughter in 1986 and set up a decorating business. He juggled decorating with writing for many years: novels (The Driver, To Be Frank), an account of his mother’s death (Mum, So Far), and three volumes of memoir: Waterloo Road: A Childhood Memoir and Teacher, Squatter, City Farmer (self-published) and The Art School Dance (Two Rivers Press, 2010). He began writing poetry in 2001 and has published two collections: Eggshell: A Decorator’s Notes (2007) and Sandpaper & Seahorses (2018) both with Two Rivers Press. John ran Two Rivers Press from 2003 to 2009. He retired to write full time in 2018.

John Froy writes:

A seed blows in from somewhere – first thing in the morning, or out on a walk. Catching yourself unawares is part of writing a poem for me. It might come at times of emotion or stress – a birth, a death, a revolution – but also from the work-out of a good long walk. Wordsworth’s ‘emotion recollected in tranquility’ still applies. This seed – word, phrase, feeling, thought – I scribble down and keep. It may stay in the notebook for some time, as a link with the original impetus and as a spur. It will nag. Usually several more of these elements will spin in. Some will be kept, some discarded – most seeds don’t germinate – or they may go into another poem. It’s about dreams in a way, bits from the unconscious being caught as you wake up, or in the physical exertion of that walk. And let’s not be precious, material may come from anywhere: the book you’re reading, a concert, art exhibition, last night’s TV, a child’s remark at breakfast. There, you’ve got a little heap of words that are important to you and need to be looked at.

You start to build. This is going to be something new to you, unknown; you hardly know where you’re going. You might brainstorm these words all over the page, write them automatically, in a block. Which form will it take? They may suggest themselves: this is a sonnet, ballad, villanelle, prose poem, half-rhyme couplets; a few poems do still happily arrive ready-made. But most are work – the inspiration of popular imagination surely comes through work – and there are several forms any poem can take. The words from the heap go in, some are discarded, new ones added, and you have a first draft. There will be many drafts, the draft and graft of the poem. Not that this is unpleasant! Here lies the joy of it all really, the working over and over, honing until finished. Is it finished? Put it away for some time and see. It may be helpful to show the poem to someone, read it aloud, take it to a group (graciously accept their criticisms). Back to the graft, until you can do no more, until it no longer changes. Title? The all-important title might have come straight from the pile, chosen itself, or evolved with the poem, jumped out at the end. Now leave it alone. Probably a poem is never really finished. You change and so can it, but mercifully, in the case of the published poem, you can’t fiddle with it anymore (though Auden did). No, it is done. Move on. This is how I see it, more or less.

And what are they about? Well, they will be a reflection of me. I used to be drawn into the storehouse of my own history, my family and childhood memory, now I find I’m digging new ground: nature and the environment, climate change, the mess we’re making of everything. This matters. Auden, the tinkerer, whose poems were never finished, said nothing was ever changed by a poem. Maybe not directly, but its existence can be an instrument of change. Currently I want to make poems that embrace the environmental issues of our time.

SEAHORSE

One, dripping in my palm –
soft-boned hippocampus,
curl-tail, bug-eyed charmer.
We rescued her with cupped hands
far outside the bay in a Zodiac,
saw fighting seabirds drop their prize,
brought her back to the sea grass.

A million dry in boiling sun
for seaside souvenirs.
Millions more are crushed to powder
for Traditional Medicine Trades
where they’re a catch-all cure.

Are there more?
There are, remote, in hiding.
They dance in the sea grass
at dawn, she lays in his pouch,
this rarest thing of the male
carrying fertile ova to birth
and probably their downfall.

[from Sandpaper & Seahorses]

COMMENT FROM A COATIMUNDI

All this, we believe, was made for us
as has been written for millennia.
‘Not so,’ says a coatimundi, rootling
along the forest trail, ‘I am older,
and there are others. It isn’t all for you.
We watch her go about her business,
tail up, unperturbed, while cataclysm
and pestilence tumble on our world.
Will we at last own to a step too far?
‘It was an animal market, I heard.’
And how helpless we are, have been
since the first cave. We are to blame
not you, dear gruntly creature.

[uncollected]