Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Night and Day

I took these pictures of St Mary's Island last weekend - Saturday night and Sunday morning, tide on its way in, tide on its way out.

Tomorrow evening less than a mile from the lighthouse there's a relaunch of the first novel of poet Julia Darling at the iconic Rendezvous Cafe.

The Rendezvous has played a key role for decades in many family trips to the seaside. And what a stroke of fortune that my husband hails from Whitley Bay! So regular visits to this special coastline continue to be a highlight in our lives.

Ten years after Julia died the event looks set to be a lively celebration of a cherished and much missed contributor to the North East writing scene.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Decency of the Irish

A happier outcome than the last report on this blog.

Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won't slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job's done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be 
Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.

Seamus Heaney  

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Two Nations - It's Official

Reuters: Stefan Wermuth 9/5/2015

Grim start to my birthday yesterday with the depressing news that the unadulterated Tories are back in for another five years. Bad times to continue for the National Health Service, Education, the Arts .....

Riots today outside Downing Street and a remarkable lack of reporting about it but thanks to social media the word is spreading. The people's news channels  - Twitter and Facebook -  and foreign broadcasting agencies are spreading the information that Cameron wants to suppress. Nice try Mr Cameron, turbulence ahead ......

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Spring sprung

My Auricula Theatre 

I first encountered this poem a few years ago and I've kept going back to it. It says so much about so many things. It's no surprise that the story of Persephone is so intriguing and compelling - nature, mothers, daughters, letting go, hope, despair, regeneration - all life is there. 

And that final couplet - well, what can I say ?!!

Demeter to Persephone
I watched you walking up out of that hole

All day it had been raining
in that field in Southern Italy

rain beating down making puddles in the mud
hissing down on rocks from a sky enraged

I waited and was patient
finally you emerged and were immediately soaked

you stared at me without love in your large eyes
that were filled with black sex and white powder

but this is what I expected when I embraced you
Your firm little breasts against my amplitude

Get in the car I said
and then it was spring

Alicia Ostriker

Friday, 3 April 2015

Are you on the path to mediocrity?

Hell yeah!
This question was posed yesterday on Swimming Without Stress, the excellent swimming shop with additional features where I recently bought new goggles and the stylish hat featured above.
I know the question wasn't intended in the way I'm taking it, but after a long dry period with no swimming, followed by several stop-start attempts to get back in the pool on a regular basis, the path to mediocrity definitely seems like a move in the right direction.
Spurred on by that question I got down to the pool this morning just after 9 o'clock, anticipating bank holiday madness, but no, we pre-empted the hordes. There was just a handful of us, all adults, focused on doing our own thing, ploughing up and down. As always, once in the pool, energy begets energy and creativity, and I get home buzzing.
In recent months writing has been difficult, I've found a hundred and one good reasons not to get down to it. Yet when I'm swimming, writing follows in its slipstream and the world's a brighter place.
So am I on the path to mediocrity? Let's hope so! Then who knows what might happen?!!

Monday, 19 January 2015

South is the word, is the word, have you heard...

One of my poems is in the current edition (Number 27) of the excellent journal Southword. The  guest editor is Matthew Sweeney and the assembled company is star-spangled. Needless to say I am very chuffed ..... Can you spot me? (Clue: I'm not wearing my swimming hat .....)

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Speculate / Accumulate

Plant IX-XII the instructions said, so I was out in the garden till 9.30 tonight, making sure the little sack of narcissus bulbs is safely established in containers before the month's out. Brrrrr that soil is chilly .......

Next,  the Red Squirrel James Kirkup Poetry Pamphlet competition, closing date 31/12/14. 
Ten previously unpublished poems selected and assembled on a word doc. 
£10 entry fee paid via Paypal. 
Send button pressed.

Now a glass of fizz and Jools Holland's Hootenanny.

I'm reasonably certain the bulbs will appear and brighten our lives in 8-10 weeks .....

Happy New Year 2015 !!!

(top photo - Lux exhibition at Cragside earlier this year)

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

What It Is Like

Birds in L's Garden

" Poetry is the kind of thing you have to see from the corner of your eye. You can be too well prepared for poetry. A conscientious interest in it is worse than no interest at all, as I believe Frost used to say. It's like a very faint star. If you look straight at it you can't see it, but if you look a little to one side it is there.

If people around you are in favor, that helps poetry to be, to exist. It disappears under disfavor. There are things, you know, human things, that depend on commitment; poetry is one of those things. If you analyze it away, it's gone. It would be like boiling a watch to find out what makes it tick.

If you let your thought play, turn things this way and that, be ready for liveliness, alternatives, new views, the possibility of another world –– you are in the area of poetry. A poem is a serious joke, a truth that has learned jujitsu. Anyone who breathes is in the rhythm business; anyone who is alive is caught up in the imminences, the doubts mixed with the triumphant certainty, of poetry. "

William Stafford
Writing the Australian Crawl

Friday, 9 May 2014

East Coast West Coast

My husband had a meeting yesterday in Blackpool so I decided to go along for the ride, it being my birthday and no commitments in the diary.

He dropped me off in Cleveleys, just slightly north of Blackpool and I went for a walk by the sea with Dash. I'm not so accustomed to the beaches on the west side of England. They've a different character to those on the East coast which are so much more familiar to me. For a start, when the tide goes out the west coast beaches are very wide.

The beach at Cleveleys is beautiful but quite bleak, divided up every hundred yards or so by breakers running down into the sea. I had to clamber over these and the tide lapped in unevenly round the sandbanks which were soft and very silty in places. There are warnings about incoming tides catching visitors unawares, so being on my own and a bit cautious, I was slightly jumpy as I got used to my surroundings. Dash however was in his element, all he wanted was for me to sling his ball as far as possible.

I started collecting shells which caught my eye, thinking I'd take them home as mementos. But instead I decided to make a picture and leave the shells there where they belonged.

Tomorrow I'm going to London. I'll take poet Jean Sprackland's award-winning Strands to read on the train, deepen my acquaintance with this west coast that she loves.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

8 – 5 – 59

Bilbao - Santander Train
Tony Wilson

I took this photo of a line drawing by the artist Tony Wilson when I was at my friend Lucinda's house in Dun Laoghaire last September. The artist is Lucinda's uncle.

I love the people in the railway carriage and I recognise that type of Spanish train because we've travelled on a similar one that still runs between Soller and Port de Soller in Mallorca. The faces and hands are so full of character and life, the figure at the front - a little boy? - seems amused and invites the viewer to smile too.

What also caught my attention when I saw the picture was the date - my exact birthday! That uniquely magic combination of numbers that, if I'm writing the date, would always have me writing '59 instead of the current year if I'm not careful!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Meadow Sweet

Here's the raised bed I've sowed with flower seeds to make a mini-meadow for bees and butterflies. The plants in the front of the bed are Verbascum Bombyciferum - they develop dramatic furry candle-like stalks with tiny yellow flowers that bees can't resist. 
Many of the meadow seeds are well past the recommended planting dates on the packets, so it'll be interesting to see what comes up. I sowed the seeds last week, little plantlets are already making an appearance.

The bars should keep birds and the local cats at bay till the meadow establishes itself.
Here's an intriguing poem with a field and butterflies. Ok, rather dark. Beautiful, nevertheless.

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,   
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.   
Down the ravine behind the empty house,   
The cowbells follow one another   
Into the distances of the afternoon.   
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,   
The droppings of last year’s horses   
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.   
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

James Wright

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Poisson d'Avril

I was getting annoyed by this piece from the Guardian swimming blog about star signs and swimming. Then I noticed the date when it was posted .....

Monday, 5 May 2014

Bees in my Bonnet

Just finished watching the final episode of Martha Kearney's The Wonder of Bees on BBC4. 
I've been fascinated by bees for a long time and have enjoyed learning more about keeping them from this series. I'm planning to do an introductory course on beekeeping in September to find out more. My family are getting edgy and making jokes whenever I mention the subject .....

I read Sean Borodale's collection Bee Journal a while back but it irritated me, something rather disconnected, dissociated about his style left me cold. I may get it out of the library again and give it another chance .....

In the meantime, I've sown a mini-meadow in a raised bed - all the flower seeds that I've not got around to planting over the past few years. Most of them are long past their use-by dates, yet despite that, tiny plants are starting to appear - verbena, poppies, marigolds, nigella, snapdragons, pansies, cornflowers. I want to attract and feed the city bees and butterflies and to offer pleasure to our noses and eyes. It's too dark to take a photo now but I will log one here later in the week and monitor my meadow's progress.....

I took the photo up above in the entrance to Manchester town hall. The bee, representing industry, was adopted as one of the symbols of Manchester, a city built on the infamous cotton trade .....

And as for bee poems, no-one can offer a more thought-provoking and chilling take on the subject than Sylvia Plath.  

The Arrival of the Bee Box

I ordered this, clean wood box Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift. I would say it was the coffin of a midget Or a square baby Were there not such a din in it. The box is locked, it is dangerous. I have to live with it overnight And I can't keep away from it. There are no windows, so I can't see what is in there. There is only a little grid, no exit. I put my eye to the grid. It is dark, dark, With the swarmy feeling of African hands Minute and shrunk for export, Black on black, angrily clambering. How can I let them out? It is the noise that appalls me most of all, The unintelligible syllables. It is like a Roman mob, Small, taken one by one, but my god, together! I lay my ear to furious Latin. I am not a Caesar. I have simply ordered a box of maniacs. They can be sent back. They can die, I need feed them nothing, I am the owner. I wonder how hungry they are. I wonder if they would forget me If I just undid the locks and stood back and turned into a tree. There is the laburnum, its blond colonnades, And the petticoats of the cherry. They might ignore me immediately In my moon suit and funeral veil. I am no source of honey So why should they turn on me? Tomorrow I will be sweet God, I will set them free. The box is only temporary.

(from Ariel)

Sunday, 4 May 2014


Does writer's block exist? Probably not, but it's a seductive idea.

I like this motivational page on the subject by Amanda Patterson.

Between acting jobs, actors aren't unemployed - they're resting. At the moment I seem to be resting between my last poem and the next one, wherever that is lurking.
I do seem to write more when I attend weekly classes with homework and tight deadlines. Maybe the fact that I've just finished a fairly intense writing course means that my writing has dried up somewhat, but it's a temporary state and normal service will resume if I'm patient and stop fretting.

Mslexia have a memoir writing competition with a mid-September deadline. I've decided to take the pressure off the poetry and write something for this instead.
At the moment I'm reading Howard's End is on the Landing by Susan Hill. It's a bookish memoir, I'm really enjoying it. At one point she suggests it's perfectly achievable to write 50,000 words in three months so I've decided to be inspired by that and get on with it. Naturally, the central theme will be swimming. I'm limbering up to get started in the next week. (That's not procrastinating, I've made a new document and written the first sentence.....)

From time to time I get asked to participate in surveys from Mslexia. I completed one today on this very subject - writer's block.
Here's my response to Question 9 - I copied it to remind myself of things that help the writing process. (Others on the list also work well, but it says tick up to five, and Rules is Rules.....)

9. Have you noticed any factors that seem to cure, prevent or ameliorate a block? (Tick up to five answers)