Thursday, 30 September 2010

September Song

This is one of those September days that I always love, the nip in the air is unmistakable now. I could smell it mixed with coffee and my husband's aftershave - Polo, I believe - when I came downstairs this morning. That autumnal combination sent a charge through me, despite the desperate sadness of the past few days.
This is one of my working from home days when I'd normally get a couple of things done, then head across to Chorlton meadows with Benji and soak up the beauty across there with him. A few times in the early days I'd get caught short without a pencil to write down some of the ideas that seemed to flow as we were walking. After a while and a few lost ideas, I hit upon writing draft texts on my phone to tide me over till I reached a notebook. I will get back there sometime, but that walk just feels too painful at the moment.
Too soon and too sad, I know, but I looked at photos at the Manchester Dogs' Home website. It brought to my mind that poem I met a couple of weeks ago - Don Paterson's version of Antonio Machado.

The Eyes
When his beloved died
he decided to grow old
and shut himself inside
the empty house, alone
with his memories of her
and the big sunny mirror
where she'd fixed her hair.
This great block of gold
he hoarded like a miser,
thinking here, at least,
he'd lock away the past,
keep one thing intact.

But around the first anniversary,
he began to wonder, to his horror,
about her eyes: Were they brown or black,
or grey? Green? Christ! I can't say ...

One Spring morning, something gave in him;
shouldering his twin grief like a cross,
he shut the front door, turned into the street
and had walked just ten yards, when, from a dark close,
he caught a flash of eyes. He lowered his hat brim
and walked on ... yes, they were like that; like that ...

Don Paterson
(from The Eyes - A Version of Antonio Machado, Faber and Faber, 1999)

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Best Dog in the World

Before today, I've never had to make the decision to put an animal to sleep.
I posted this poem last year but here it is again for Benji, and all those last times that we didn't know were last times - and all the better because of that.

The Last Swim
September, October ... one thing
you don't know at the time is when
you've had your last swim: the weather
may hold, may keep nudging you in.

Only afterwards, sometimes days on,
it dawns on you that you've done:
just the thought of undressing outdoors,
exposing bare skin, makes you wince.

And that's best, to have gone on swimming
easily to the end: your crawl
full of itself, and the future
no further than your folded towel. 

Michael Laskey
From The Tightrope Wedding, 1999

Sunday, 26 September 2010

A Local Swim For Local People...

...well not really - but it was great to be only minutes from the venue!
Here is the medal awarded at the end of the swim - yes!! we made it!
And here are some happy people who have just had a workout to Lady Gaga before entering the water to Oasis Roll With It - fantastic!!
Book us in for next year - wonderful course! And take a peep in the Manchester Evening News tomorrow!!

On the Shoulders of Giants...

Sunny Lowry - cousin of L.S. (painter of matchstick people and after whom the Lowry Arts Centre is named) yes she of cross Channel fame - ate eight-egg omelettes before her Channel swims. 
I've had one egg, two rashers bacon, two slices bread and butter (Warburton's medium white) half  a sausage and two cups delicious coffee.
Here we go...

Saturday, 25 September 2010

On Your Marks...

Another bad night's sleep - a combination of pre-match nerves and knowing that I needed to be up early. Anyhoo, we woke to a crisp, clear morning, bright but very chilly as we made our way down to the docks. There were fewer people in than last Saturday, only about a dozen, and as we approached the dark waters (14 degrees C  and barefoot this week, I decided to leave the socks off) I would happily have turned round and gone back to bed. But I am made of sterner stuff, so in we jumped! 

Ohhhh, that initial shock, physical, physiological, psychological, - mind and body shouting danger, get out of here fast. But gradually the breathing calmed down and off we went. One lap, chatting about Roger Deakin, sidestroke, dog paddle, breaststroke and finally crawl...with the face underwater... just enough to take the edge off tomorrow's fear...

(yes, if you're looking closely - that is a shopping trolley in Fisherman's Wharf...!!!)
  And tomorrow, if anyone's in Salford Quays, I'm in the 2.30 wave, you'll recognise me by my wetsuit and green hat, oops, just like 199 others. Well, my number is 5085 - please come over and wish me luck!

Friday, 24 September 2010

It's the Salford Countdown

Last weekend the temperature in Salford Quays was a balmy 18c. 
There's a distinct autumn chill in the air today. Over the last few days, texts and emails have been arriving from the organisers to inform swimmers that the water temperature has dropped to 15c and is still falling.  So wetsuits are now compulsory for everyone.
This morning we popped down to see how the venue is shaping up.  There was a swimming session in Ontario Basin, boats were out surveying the scene, marquees being bundled out of air of purposeful preparation. 
Up above is the start area - a little pool for adjusting to the cold, and the start enclosure with plenty of space all round for spectators.
And here's the first stretch - Huron Basin up to the bridge, Erie Basin beyond it.
Tomorrow morning final practice - all finished by 9am, then a simple matter of keeping nerves in check till Sunday!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Poetry Workshop

Looking for a poetry challenge? 
Fancy having a poem commented on by Colette Bryce and published by the Guardian online? Then follow this link
Thinking caps on and get writing, closing date - 3rd October.
And - NO FEE!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Blog Gongs

A couple of weeks ago, Niamh at Words A Day was kind enough to single me out for this lovely award for my blog. Thank you Niamh for this acknowledgement!
It has taken me an age to post it here because there are a couple of conditions attached which just require a bit of thought - hence the delay. 
The  conditions are: reveal seven facts about yourself and choose favourite blogs to bestow the award on (a bit like a chain letter!). Notify the new recipients of their award. With all the swimming and writing that's been going on around here of late, I've been  distracted from this pleasant task, but today, without further ado, I'll rectify this. So...

Seven facts about AquaMarina...

1 That is not my real name (!), although my real name sounds like a part of this pseudonym.

2 I don't look like my blog photo.

3 It's exactly 33 years since I came to Manchester - to university to study German. I've never left the city so by now I guess I'd consider myself to be a Mancunian. 

4 Ten pools in the Manchester area that I've swum in: Chorlton, Levenshulme, Withington, Sale, Stretford, the MacDougall Centre at Manchester University, The Galleon, Manchester Aquatic Centre, Living Well, Birley High School (now demolished).

5 I started writing poetry out of the blue just under three years ago, shortly after my mother died. The poet Neil Rollinson came to talk to a creative writing class I was attending at Manchester University. In the Christmas holiday after his visit I wrote my first poem.

6 My first poem featured hens.

7 I'm hoping to start an MA in creative writing in Autumn 2011.

AquaMarina's Versatile Blogger Award goes to:

for Martine's colourful creativity and insightful literary reviews 
for Sophie's intrepid swims and adventures around the Devon coast and countryside
for Chris's photos and musings about swims in Australia (and elsewhere) 
for Elizabeth's action photography and ability to swim - without a wetsuit! - in unfeasibly low temperatures
for Dominic's music, poetry and jaunts into the great outdoors
for Fiona's amazing pictures and thoughts about the artistic process
for Sally's unique view of Sydney ( and her incredibly informative Swimming blog )
for his gift of the gab and caring sensitivity underneath that zany exterior...

(I could go on...many other blogs deserving of this award...some already have it)

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Testing the Water

Last night I didn't sleep too well as I knew we were swimming at Salford Quays this morning.
The session was from 7.30 until 9.00, we were up with the larks, rubbered up and into the waters of Ontario Basin at 7.48. Woo hoo!
I decided to wear my swim socks, but the water was surprisingly warm. In fact, I quickly realised that I'd rather have been swimming without a wetsuit. I know it's an aid to buoyancy - you aren't going to sink when you're wearing one - but it certainly interferes with my ability to swim as efficiently and really tires me out. Next year I think I'll invest in a thinner one. In the meantime I'm considering whether to cut the suit's legs off just above the knees to give me a bit more control when I'm swimming breaststroke.
Anyway, the whole experience was fantastic - I'm so glad we did it. Where Windermere is sweet, brown and translucent, the water today was sweet and green. At one point I thought I saw an eel swimming in front of me, but decided not to dwell on this as eels are a bit snaky and I didn't want to think about them too much.
The course was 400m, and 4 laps equals a mile - the length of next Sunday's swim. We decided to do 2 laps - which felt like quite an achievement after our limited outdoor swimming this summer.
When we got out we were buzzing, home for a high carb breakfast - I was ravenous - then the exertions caught up with me and I spent the afternoon sleeping!
A couple of pool swims, another trip to the Quays next Saturday, then the real thing next Sunday. I'm looking forward to seeing the venue taking shape this week!

Chauvinist Piggery

Women 10, men 24.
Sorry, my patience has worn thin.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Poetry Launch

On the writing course at Ty Newydd in July, I had the pleasure of meeting Shirley McClure and getting to know her and some of her work. The grand finale of the week was a celebration on the Friday night, when everyone took centre stage (one at a time!) and read some of their poems to the group. The atmosphere was jubilant and everyone's work was fantastic, I particularly loved Shirley's poetry and engaging style of presenting. 
She's currently launching her first collection and my copy arrived from Ireland yesterday. Needless to say, I read it from cover to cover last night, and so did my daughter who found it hard to put down. Shirley's launching the book in various places at the moment, so if you get the chance to go along and hear her reading, grab it! And I strongly recommend the collection which you can get via her website.
Follow this link to read two of the poems from the book and one other for good measure!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Preparing To Take The Plunge

The weather is changing - blustery and autumnal but still with a warm wind - and Rainy City is living up to its name. However, we've committed to swimming in Salford Docks on the 26th, so we signed up at the watersports centre for Saturday morning's open water swimming session to familiarise ourselves with the water and a part of the course.
Saturday's session will start at 6.30am!! so we nipped down to watch the Monday evening session to prepare ourselves (didn't have time on this occasion to jump in).
The training takes place in Ontario Basin, which is where the Great Swim finishes
 and here are some people getting in ...ulp... look at those hardy souls in shorty wetsuits and those brave boys in their trunks...eek! I will be in full wetsuit, possibly two hats and at this point I'm wondering whether I'll wear the swim socks I bought in January. I do like the feel of the water on my feet though, so maybe not, we'll see.
I hope the organisers will have cleared these guys out of the way
they were looking a bit territorial...
Niamh from Words A Day visited my blog and mentioned The Handless Maiden by Vicki Feaver. There is a poem in this collection called The River God which is a great poem, but here's one by Stevie Smith which I believe Feaver was nodding to when she wrote hers. 
He is another character I'm hoping not to meet while I'm swimming...

The River God
I may be smelly and I may be old,
Rough in my pebbles, reedy in my pools
But where my fish float by I bless their swimming.
And I like the people to bathe in me, especially women.
But I can drown the fools
Who bathe too close to the weir, contrary to rules.
And they take a long time drowning
As I throw them up now and then in a spirit of clowning.
Hi yih, yippity yap, merrily I flow,
O I may be an old foul river but I have plenty of go.
Once there was a lady who was too bold
She bathed in me by the tall black cliff where the water runs cold,
So I brought her down here
To be my beautiful dear.
Oh will she stay with me will she stay
This beautiful lady, or will she go away?
She lies in my beautiful deep river bed with many a weed
To hold her, and many a waving reed.
Oh who would guess what a beautiful white face lies there
Waiting for me to smooth and wash away the fear
She looks at me with. Hi yih, do not let her
Go. There is no one on earth who does not forget her
Now. They say I am a foolish old smelly river
But they do not know of my wide original bed
Where the lady waits, with her golden sleepy head.
If she wishes to go I will not forgive her.

Stevie Smith
from Modern Women Poets ed. Deryn Rees-Jones

...see what I mean?!

Monday, 13 September 2010

Mile Or Bust

The pool was fairly crowded to start and we nearly settled for less, but we kept going, dodging the Monday morning jellyfish and clocked up our mile, as planned.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

To Swim or Not To Swim?

that was the question.
To help us make the decision, I thought it would be a good idea to go down to the docks this afternoon and check out the course for the Great Salford Swim. After puzzling over the geography of the route, we asked at the water sports centre and suddenly it all made perfect sense...
Starting in Huron Basin between The Lowry and Media City - the new location for the BBC...

 ...the course for the swim goes down to Erie Basin

hooks round and left into Fisherman's Wharf...

where the water was clear with the sun on it...

and into Ontario Basin for a final triumphal circuit 

The course is varied and we felt excited enough to sign up, without further ado.
So tomorrow's task is a mile in the pool to get the next two weeks of training off to a cracking start...

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Poetry Saturday - Goes Round Comes Round

Saturday Poem today is Miniature Poodle by C. K. Williams. (Bringing the count so far this year to women 10, men 23). As I don't know this poet's work, I had a quick spin round the internet and found him on I only had time to listen to one poem so I chose My Mother's Lips. His voice is lovely, I felt a connection and wanted to read more of his poems.
When out and about on my own, as I was this morning in Chester, I can't be trusted not to go into a bookshop. So predictably, I went into Waterstones, only for a look, you understand. 
Of course there was no harm in just popping upstairs for a peep at the poetry, to see what's what. And to see if there was anything by C. K. Williams, which there wasn't. 
Then my eye snagged on Don Paterson, who I have mixed feelings about. The first of his poems I ever met was Imperial in Ruth Padel's 52 Ways of Looking At A Poem. I really didn't like this poem, a bit clever-clever and macho, so I left DP alone for a while. Some time later I read Why Do You Stay Up So Late, which I found beautiful and very moving. I warmed to him when I read Rain, the collection that this poem comes from. 
So today I read the title poem from The Eyes - a collection of DP's versions (as opposed to translations) of  poems by Antonio Machado, and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. This made me think of Emily Dickinson's maxim that she knew what was poetry because of the sensation of the top of her head lifting off! 
Spurred on by this experience, I took a look at Landing Light, by now moving towards an inevitable purchase. What finally made me buy Landing Light was that I noticed in it DP's version of Rilke's poem which I featured here yesterday. I just took it as a sign. 
(Skimming through Ruth Padel's book when I started writing this post, I noticed that she analyses Harm by C. K. Williams. I look forward to reading her appreciation of this poet, which I must have overlooked, first time round...)

Archaic Torso of Apollo
after Rilke

You'll never know that terrific head,
or feel those eyeballs ripen on you -
yet something here keeps you in view,
as if his look had sunk inside

and still blazed on. Or the double axe
of the breast couldn't blind you, nor that grin
flash along the crease of the loins
down to the low centre of his sex.

Or else he'd sit, headless and halved,
his shoulders falling to thin air -
not shiver like the pelt of a wolf

or burst from his angles like a star:
for there is nowhere to hide, nothing here
that does not see you. Now change your life.
Don Paterson

Friday, 10 September 2010

Poetry Hunt

If you were struggling to choose a poetry book to read, you might find this article in the Guardian and the readers' comments helpful. I think there are loads of really good suggestions there - volumes I know and love, some I've never heard of, but now feel inspired to seek out.
One such poem which I just tracked down this morning is this by Rilke, translated from German by Stephen Mitchell. Follow this link and you'll also find an illuminating commentary on the poem by Mark Doty. And some links to Mark Doty's poems - which are also worth a look! I always was a big fan of treasure hunts! 

Archaic Torso of Apollo
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
Rainer Maria Rilke
translated by Stephen Mitchell