Saturday, 29 January 2011

The Dashing (Black and) White Collie

One of these flingers has been kicking around in our hall for several years, rarely used because our darling Benji, one of the Seven Great Dogs, wasn't really interested in charging about fetching tennis balls for humans. He was more of a sniffer, who liked to follow tracks, mark his territory, square up to bigger dogs and generally commune with other canines, wherever possible.
For the last few months I've visited Dogs Blog, grieving for Benji and working out when we'd be ready to let another dog romp into our lives. A couple of weeks ago I saw smiley, dashing Dash and thought he might well be the one.
We went to see him in the RSPCA kennels last Saturday, took him for a walk and decided to invite him to join our pack.

Just look at his lovely white eyelashes! And his twinkly eyes!
He moved in yesterday,  so this morning I was back on Chorlton Meadows in the frost and sunshine.
Dash is a five-year-old Border Collie, the gentlest dog, just as sweet as he looks in his photos, but owing to his recent history, several kilos overweight. However, he is mad for ball games and today the ball flinger came into its own as I took him for three long walks. He ran and ran and ran, chasing the tennis ball, throwing it back to me to start all over again. For a big lad he is very agile! When the RSPCA took him in he was 30kg. Today at the vet's he weighed in at 26kg. With all the exercise we'll soon have him back in shape and with a bit of luck I might drop a dress size as well!


Saturday, 22 January 2011

Back To (Poetry) School

Some people sit down and poems seem to come to them, unbidden. I find courses help me to enlist the Muse's help - or is it self-belief? - and tap into my creativity.
After a fairly dry month poetry-wise, I started a Poetry School course with John McAuliffe last Tuesday evening. It's absolutely great to be back in the classroom! John is such a fun tutor - enthusiastic, energetic, knowledgeable - and how! But more importantly, supportive and encouraging. We took a look at Archaic Torso of Apollo by Rilke - a poem I love and which I've featured on this blog. Then Leda and the Swan by Yeats which was new to me. Our homework is to write a sonnet, but to deconstruct the form and make our own of it. Yikes! I left the class buzzing, but with no idea of what I would write. By the time I got home I knew what I wanted to write about and started as soon as I got in, aided by a couple of glasses of red wine, which I frequently find helpful! I woke early on Wednesday with more thoughts and by Wednesday night I had a first draft to work on. To me, this is always the start of the most exciting stage of making a poem. Now I've been through several drafts, my poem is looking in ok shape and I'm relieved to be back in the saddle.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Eurydice Restored

I am thrilled to report that the wonderful poem by Sue Hubbard is to be restored in gold lettering in the Waterloo Underpass in London. 
All thanks to a Facebook campaign!
Power to the People!
Power to the Poetry!!!
Hip Hip Hurray!!!!!!!!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Sun Arise

Here's yesterday's sunrise in Hull which I uploaded when I got back to Manchester last night.
And if you'd like, here's a musical accompaniment by Rolf Harris who, as well as being a talented artist and musician, was apparently also a champion swimmer in his youth!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Artist's Date

The hotel windows face in a south south-easterly direction, so this morning I took a beautiful photo of the sun rising up out of the sea. Unfortunately I didn't pack the lead which lets me transfer photos from phone to laptop, so I'll put it on here when I'm back on the other side of the Pennines in the land of the setting sun. In the meantime, I found this stock photo of the Humber Bridge which is just a couple of miles away.
Left to my own devices I can happily while away hours on the internet. I give myself a hard time for this, saying I should be making the most of peaceful writing time. So how am I squaring that with myself today?

Well, in her book The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron writes about two practices which facilitate the creative process. The first of these is Morning Pages, the second, the Artist's Date. 
Morning Pages involves getting up a bit earlier and writing three sides in an uncensored, 'free expression' way to get the creative juices flowing, to air gripes and grumbles, to see what the still-sleepy brain throws up before the watchful, organised side of the brain gets going. I'm coming round to doing this, but I'm still in hibernation mode, so can't quite take the plunge and get on with it yet.
The Artist's Date involves taking a weekly trip to some place or other which nurtures the inner artist, stimulates the Muse, generates ideas. So I'm treating today as a virtual Artist's Date. 
I'm looking down at the river and reading what a dangerous stretch of water this is. This took me back to the Spurn Lightship which I mentioned yesterday.

In turn, this led me to this website about other lightships. 
I'm always drawn to watery phenomena. A while back I was investigating bell buoys 

and found this incredible film on youtube. I find it hypnotic, irresistible, scary. I come back to it on a regular basis. I know all this nautical stuff is fermenting a poem but it hasn't chosen to reveal itself yet.

Bridlington, another place I've never visited, is only 16 miles from Hull. Next time I'm here I'd like to drive across there and get to know that stretch of Yorkshire coastline. 

As part of my wanderings on my virtual Artist's Date, I've found this beautiful poem - The Seashells of Bridlington North Beach by Jack Mapanje - read by the poet on the Poetry Archive. Truly inspirational.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

To Hull In A Handcart

This weekend my husband is working in Hull, so I decided to come along for the ride as I've never visited this neck of the woods before. Not that I'm intending to do any sightseeing. I'm still in the aftermath of the Xmas flu bug and I've got a knee injury, so I'm pleasantly holed up in the Premier Inn (just as good as Lenny Henry says in the adverts, and only £29 per night) - with a top floor view of the Humber as it courses along towards the estuary. I've got a pile of books and a newspaper to read, and two poems to work on so I am in seventh heaven. However, I've still not picked up my pencil yet, I'm such an excellent procrastinator.....
The wind is whipping up a storm outside and the river is phenomenal - so wild and wide, I could watch it all day

There are many interesting things to see in Hull, including - 
the statue to Philip Larkin at Paragon railway station

 the slavery museum in Wilberforce House 

the house where Andrew Marvell spent part of his childhood

the Spurn Lightship 

I'll be back to explore in May when the weather improves and my husband is working here again. Now I'll get on with those poems.....after I've checked on the river.....

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Get Back In The Pool

Yesterday entries opened for the Great North Swim -  Windermere on 18/19 June 2011. Before I went to bed last night I looked at the pool timetable for the aquatic centre. This morning I had some work to do, but beforehand I packed my swimming bag and put it by the front door. 'Hmm,' I thought. 'It looks like I'm intending to go swimming.' 
Sure enough, I did. First time since Sunday 26 September. I swam 16x50m lengths and came out buzzing, and buzzed for the rest of the day.
Although my swim bore no resemblance to this one described by Vicki Feaver, the title is just right.

Swimming in January
Because, like every new lover,
I want to enter the underworld
and take you with me, I lead you 
into the sea in January - naked into a sea
that flows round our calves and knees
like green fire: deeper and deeper -
feet off the shingle now - gulping half air,
half salt-water, drifting almost to the edge
where there's no returning
before we strike back
to the beach - past windsurfers
sealed in rubber wet-suits, struggling
to lift orange sails, past wading birds
dipping yellow beaks into a film
of mirrored cloud - emerge,
white legs moving like sticks over
oil-blackened sand, at the breakwater
where we draped clothes and towels,
rubbing each other back to life.

Vicki Feaver
(ps. she didn't select any of my poems in Mslexia's competition in 2010, but I bear her no malice.)

Monday, 10 January 2011

Balancing The Books

There are poems to be written, stories to be read, swims to be swum - a thousand and one interesting things to do but they are all off-limits until our accounts have been written up and put into the hands of the accountant. Every year we vow to do this laborious job month by month. Every year we find ourselves in this high-pressure January scramble to assemble receipts etc and get the whole thing logged in the big red book...

To compound the misery, the holiday is finally over. Empty-nest syndrome kicked in yesterday when our eldest daughter went back to London for the start of term. Our middle daughter's flat is only five minutes away, but the three of us left behind all notice how roomy the house feels when the girls are gone.
Now, back to the books...

To A Daughter Leaving Home
When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you
as you wobbled away
on two round wheels,
my own mouth rounding
in surprise when you pulled
ahead down the curved
path of the park,
I kept waiting
for the thud
of your crash as I
sprinted to catch up,
while you grew
smaller, more breakable
with distance,
pumping, pumping
for your life, screaming
with laughter,
the hair flapping
behind you like a
handkerchief waving
Linda Pastan

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Twelfth Night *

I took this picture in the dark but the flash lit it up and so doesn't really do the Christmas tree justice - it actually looked very magical. The tree comes down tomorrow I'm sad to say. I always get the decorations down by 6 January but I'm embarrassed to admit that sometimes they don't get put back in their boxes until June or July. 
I discovered Jane Kenyon at the Poetry Foundation. Here's a fitting poem of hers from a collection which I've just ordered. An ex-library copy (my favourites!) from Amazon Marketplace. A bit of post-Christmas retail therapy (£1.91+p&p).

*Twelfth Night

Taking Down the Tree

"Give me some light!" cries Hamlet's
uncle midway through the murder
of Gonzago. "Light! Light!" cry scattering
courtesans. Here, as in Denmark,
it's dark at four, and even the moon
shines with only half a heart.

The ornaments go down into the box:
the silver spaniel, My Darling
on its collar, from Mother's childhood
in Illinois; the balsa jumping jack
my brother and I fought over,
pulling limb from limb. Mother
drew it together again with thread
while I watched, feeling depraved
at the age of ten.

With something more than caution
I handle them, and the lights, with their
tin star-shaped reflectors, brought along
from house to house, their pasteboard
toy suitcases increasingly flimsy.
Tick, tick, the desiccated needles drop.

By suppertime all that remains is the scent
of balsam fir. If it's darkness
we're having, let it be extravagant.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Poetry Please!

If you're anything like me you can't get enough poetry, so here are a couple of links which are just too good to keep to myself.
The first is the blog How A Poem Happens, in which poets discuss how they wrote one of their poems by answering questions about the creative process. I love hearing how other people go about making poems, so I relish this blog.
Sign up to this next link - Poetry Daily - and you'll be able to read a new poem on the site every day!