Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Family that Swims Together.....

Family outing to Hathersage today as it's our middle daughter's twentieth birthday and we often go there for a swim in the open air pool as part of her celebration. Three generations ranging from 81 down to 6 months - not everyone had a dip, but I think everyone enjoyed the day.
It was a bit chilly, which kept the crowds at bay, but when the sun came out - heaven in a pool. And the water, as always, warm and welcoming. Best bit of course was when the heavens opened. When raindrops hit the water it's truly wonderful to witness and be part of it at their level.
Next Saturday it's the Great North Swim and all our documentation etc arrived today. I feel very unprepared. To paraphrase Scarlett O'Hara, I will think about that tomorrow...  

Friday, 27 August 2010

Picador Poetry Prize

Only a few days left to assemble a sample collection of ten poems for the scrutiny of the judges of the Picador Prize. Incentives to enter this competition include - 
  • NO FEE! 
  • winner gets £1000 prize and   
  • poetry collection published by Picador 
  • under the eagle eye of Don Paterson who will edit the book!
Well, you've got to be in to win! Closing date 1 September. 

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Through My Letterbox

Shamshad Khan is teaching a course at the Poetry School in Manchester from October. As I don't know her work, I ordered and just received this collection to find out more about her.
I'm really impressed by her poetry and like it very much. It's easy to sit down and read the book from cover to cover. Follow this link to her poem 'pot' (commissioned by the Manchester Museum) which finishes with the following inscription: 
'Dedicated to a Nigerian pot currently incarcerated in the Manchester Museum without charge or access to legal representation'.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Blackberry Time

Back home and poor Benji is ailing so we took him across to Chorlton Meadows, one of his favourite walks. He rallied and his spirits seemed to lift, being back on familiar turf.
By the side of the brook the hedges were laden with blackberries, so I found a bag in my pocket and we filled it in rapid time. Tomorrow we'll get some tasty apples from Unicorn, the organic grocers we're lucky enough to have as our local. I will bake a bramble and apple pie... mmmmm
And here's two blackberry poems to feed our souls


Late August, given heavy rain and sun

For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.

At first, just one, a glossy purple clot

Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.

You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet

Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it

Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for

Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger

Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots

Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.

Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills

We trekked and picked until the cans were full

Until the tinkling bottom had been covered

With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned

Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered

With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.

But when the bath was filled we found a fur,

A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.

The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush

The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.

I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair

That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.

Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

Seamus Heaney


Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,
Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries
Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
With blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers.
I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me.
They accommodate themselves to my milkbottle, flattening their sides.

Overhead go the choughs in black, cacophonous flocks --
Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky.
Theirs is the only voice, protesting, protesting.
I do not think the sea will appear at all.
The high, green meadows are glowing, as if lit from within.
I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies,
Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen.
The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven.
One more hook, and the berries and bushes end.

The only thing to come now is the sea.
From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me,
Slapping its phantom laundry in my face.
These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt.
I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me
To the hills' northern face, and the face is orange rock
That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space
Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths
Beating and beating at an intractable metal.

Sylvia Plath

Monday, 23 August 2010

An Old Sea Dog

On a flying visit to Whitley Bay to collect our dog Benji who's been on holiday here while we were away. He will be fourteen in November, although he often behaves like a much younger dog. He's been with us for the past five years since we found him via the internet at an RSPCA dog rescue centre.
Last summer he had a mast cell tumour removed from behind his front left leg and made a great recovery from the surgery. This summer the tumour has come back and is inoperable. Yesterday when we got here, he was pleased to see us but seemed a bit confused, which is not like him. We took him for a walk on the beach and when we lifted him down from the car his legs seemed to crumple under him.
I took this photo of him last December in Tynemouth which is one of our favourite winter spots for walking (dogs not allowed May - September). He barks and whines at the waves, then gets in and has a paddle.
Have you ever seen Dean Spanley? It's an incredible film featuring dogs in a very powerful quirky way, with a great cast and brilliant performance by Peter O'Toole.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Quest for an Even Keel

The last six weeks have been a rollercoaster and I really don't think my feet are properly back on the ground yet.
In the middle of July I did a week-long poetry workshop with Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke at Ty Newydd in Wales. It was just as inspiring and challenging as you'd expect, working with creative tutors and talented participants. I did an Arvon course with Carol Ann two years ago at Moniack Mhor and it took me about six weeks to get back to normal after that, so I did know what to expect. Even so, such an intense and wonderful experience still takes quite a while to come down from afterwards.
Hot on the heels of that, we went off on holiday to Mallorca. We haven't been abroad for three years, so that was another exciting experience, and challenging in its way as I'm not the world's most confident flyer.
The hotel we stayed in had a proper swimming pool - 25m long and 2.6m deep at the deep end. I had the blissful luxury of being able to swim outside - 1K or more nearly every day for 10 days. Given half a chance I think I could get used to that lifestyle...eating, swimming, reading books. Ahhhh dream on.....

Friday, 20 August 2010

Happy Blogday

Today it's exactly one year since I started this blog! 
During the last twelve months I've written 125 posts and received 95 comments. The statcounter informs me that my blog's had 2172 hits - thank you to everyone who's visited or left remarks!
Since last August I've completed the Great North Swim once and hope to do it again in two weeks time. My commitment to swimming has grown stronger and my technique and stamina improved over the past twelve months, but at times I've struggled to swim as frequently as I'd have liked. Lah de dah..... 
I'd say that blogging on a regular basis has certainly helped me to establish more routine in my writing patterns. At times it's offered a very pleasant means of procrastinating and putting off tackling the job in hand, but on the whole, it's helped me to focus in on my poetry writing rhythms and be more more creative and productive. And one of the best things has been swimming around in the blogosphere and appreciating the quirky uniqueness of all the different approaches to blogging. 
Here's to the next twelve months!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Holiday Hydrotherapy

Just getting ready to go on holiday, why does the preparation take so long, why do I find it so hard to get out of the door? Here I am doing this, when I should be ironing or getting off to bed or something.....
There seems to be an evening of swimming on BBC Four and at the moment Alice Roberts is introducing wild swimming. It's late, so I must turn off and turn in, but maybe I'll steal a quiet moment tomorrow to catch up on this programme. And I think I'll go and pack Roger Deakin's Waterlog to take with me as inspirational holiday reading.....