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Ten previously unpublished poems selected and assembled on a word doc.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)

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Pick 'n' Mix

Our five-year-old nephew is addicted to collecting Match Attax football cards, just like our son at the same age. Our daughters had a dolls' house, and were similarly fond of collecting Polly Pocket dolls when they were small – I've still got three sitting in my kitchen cupboard.

Well, today at Drointon Primula Nursery near Ripon, I reconnected with that powerful urge to amass – those pretty little plants were completely irresistible!

We wandered through the display beds and the growing tunnels, admiring the flowers in their teeny pots, totally spoilt for choice. In the end we selected ten and took a catalogue so we could browse at our leisure and save up for another batch.

Here's a few of the sweet-smelling beauties we chose:

Langley Park


Old Irish Green


Hetty Wolf

Arundel Stripe

And the others - every one a poem - Cooper's Gold, Wild and Grey, Dick Rogers, Trouble.
This being a Bank Holiday weekend, maybe we'll start building a theatre tomorrow for our diminutive collection !

Friday, 2 May 2014

Auriculì, Auriculà

Who can resist the charms of the Dusty Miller, the Primula Auricula?

A favourite flower.

           Primula Auricula Hinton Fields

Tomorrow we're going to a primula nursery near Ripon for an open day.

I hope I'll have my very own theatre one day.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Ne'er cast a clout .....

Spring has sprung in Manchester, the temperature's rising, I've been casting clouts, but that's ok as the may is out now, looking and smelling totally gorgeous.
Here's Sharon Olds, her wonderful poem from The Gold Cell (1992). It always makes me think of those old photos of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes when they looked so happy and content.

I Go Back to May 1937

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father striding out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips black in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don't do it –– she's the wrong woman,
he's the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don't do it, I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips like chips of flint as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Why swimming is sublime ......

Tynemouth beach again at New Year

My writing has dried up  - has my pilot light blown out ?
At least I'm back in the pool - twice a week at the moment - and articles like this one just make me all the keener. Incredible writing.