I was delighted to make the longlist in the National Poetry Competition this year. The competition received over 13,000 entries, and after months of reading, judges Roddy Lumsden, Glyn Maxwell and Zoë Skoulding selected a longlist of 140 poems, including this one below. The top winners will be announced on 2nd April at an awards ceremony and online, and published in the Spring issue of The Poetry Review.
Onwards and upwards! I hope you enjoy the poem. Churn Milk Joan is also featured in the work of Ted Hughes. It is very difficult not to be inspired by his words living in this landscape. I have always loved his writing, even before I moved to this area. I worry whether there is a new way of approaching writing about the land, but hopefully my own voice can come through in the work.
Alice needs a stone dress with a granite skirt and flint buttons,
wants to be rooted on the moors like Churn Milk Joan
pointing to higher ground―above the bogs, water-logged fields,
paths choked with knotweed and balsam.
She needs shoes speckled with mica that catch the light
and warm her feet with the memory of summer
when the hills were hoverfly-drowsy; cattle lounged
on heather roots and chewed the cud, udders rosy with milk.
The days grow short and wet. Her front door begins to stick
and swell. Her lover has deserted her for the open road.
Her heart is strung out like a line of telegraph poles.
Find her a sharp chisel, a mallet, a large boulder. There’s no time to lose.
This semester at the University of Bolton seems to have been busier than ever. I have been running a live literature series as part of my post and all the guests have been fantastic. Helen Mort, Les Smith, Simon Holloway, Beverley Bie Brahic and Marli Roode all came to Bolton and read to great audiences. Students have also performed a selection of first world war poetry and some read for the first time. There were lots of nerves but I was very proud of them. I have seen a great progression in my third year students’ work and I am looking forward to working with them on their dissertation projects. All in all, it has felt like a very positive autumn. I have also managed to submit a new manuscript to Cinnamon Press and a proposal for a Phd. I would like to spend a Christmas recovering a little and perhaps switching interests - it would be good to have a couple of weeks that are non-word based - so lots of swimming, walking and film-watching are in order! (I do understand film contains language but I am sure you know what I mean…)
It is festival season in Calderdale! I am reading as part of the Halifax festival at
The Square Chapel tomorrow alongside
Gaia Holmes, Keith Hudson and Clare Shaw
Look forward to seeing you there if you can make it.
I am reading in Hebden next friday….
Friday 27th June 2014 7 – 9 pm
The Hebden Bridge Arts Festival 2014 and Poetry Night at The Book Case
Present: SPOKES, Poetry on Two Wheels, An evening of poetry about cycling
A reading from this wonderful, (and timely!) anthology with a fabulous line-up of poets
Anne Caldwell, Char March, Jane Kite, Tony Boltini, Greg White, Sandra Burnett, hosted by as usual by our resident poet Sarah Corbett
Tickets £5 in advance or on the door from The Book Case, 29 Market Street, Hebden Bridge, 01422 845353, firstname.lastname@example.org, or the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival Office. Includes refreshments.
The Book Case
29 Market St
I am running a workshop for NAWE as part of this summer festival:
It should be of interest to people who work in schools or who are interested in the theme of poetry and memory.
I am delighted to be part of this series of poems for Children’s Heart Week
that Rebecca is featuring on her blog:
Thank you Rebecca for including me in a worthwhile cause.
The Children’s Heart Federation (CHF) is a registered charity. There are lots of ways you can help this charity raise important funds by organising your own event or taking part in some of the CHF events. There’s The Big Heart Bike Ride, The Dragon Boat Challenge or the slightly less strenuous Bring a Bear Day – to work or school. There are fundraising opportunities for all ages, things that you can get involved in independently or as a group. Find out more about fundraising for the CHF here: http://www.chfed.org.uk/events-and-fundraising/
I have just come back from the NAWE retreat this year. It was a wonderful week. This essay came from an exercise set by Jane Moss:
A response to George Mackay Brown’s article, The Art of Writing
(Under Brinkie’s, Brae, p60-61 Savage Publishers)
Nothing inspires me. I am driven to write by the necessity to eat, drink, and pay the rent. We are all tradesmen together, and we work because we have to keep body and soul together for as long as we can; and a roof over our heads; and dependents from starvation. 
I like George’s idea of being a craftsperson, of writing being a trade. This gives the act of writing poetry an edge: it could be a wall to paint, a door to plane down or a socket to re-wire. A good honest trade, my mother would say. But she had a family of girls and this is where the metaphor gets a little complicated. My mother had ‘aspirations’ for us all. She worked hard to get us into Grammar School. This was a single sex environment where ‘trade’, in the late seventies, was a dirty word. The education diet was not plain bread and jam, but the rich fruit cake of reading The Brontes, DH Lawrence, Shakespeare’s late plays and Milton’s Lycidas. I had an inspirational English teacher with a square cut bob and a husband who was a Marxist professor. I had a music teacher with silk bloomers who played Bach and Chopin each morning on a grand piano on the school stage to her ‘girls’.
Congleton Girls’ Grammar School’s dreams for us all were of scientific discovery, studying medicine or at least getting a nice job in Marks and Spencers. No one actually mentioned writing, or saw it either as a trade or possible profession, but all the same, the seeds of something were sown for me with all that reading. There was nothing I could do about it. We ‘girls’ wore dungarees as a feminist protest out of school, but did not intend to get them covered in sawdust, engine oil or grease. Our minds were being indoctrinated for higher things.
I began writing more seriously when I was an undergraduate at UEA. This time in my life felt a little like a writing apprenticeship. I was studying English and American Studies, but the place was buzzing with writers in the early eighties. You could trip over them in the concrete university corridors and hear them read at Premises Arts Centre in town. I met Hugo Williams, Fleur Adcock and Margaret Atwood. I thought nothing of it. My poetry was basic, self centered and influenced by Hughes, Larkin, and Plath. But at least I had the ball rolling. It came to a full stop after I left this environment: when I made the decision to stop writing for a while until I felt I had something worthwhile to say. This decision feels quite arrogant now! But at the time I was involved in politics and CND protests and discovering sex. There was too much going on to sit still and write anything…
Now I realise waiting for something worthwhile is another name for procrastination. I write in snatches. Before breakfast, when my son is sleeping, in my lunch hour at work, late in the evening or in the middle of the night. I have the writing bug and it won’t go away. Writing helps me feel here in the world and I allow myself to produce trash as well as material I might send off for publication. I write poems about everyday things – sitting in a garden, trying to find silence, watching the pattern of light on a window, driving down a long straight road. What Raymond Carver would call ‘The stuff I live with everyday. What/ I’ve trampled on to stay alive.’ Seeing myself as a writer has taken a long time to develop and is hard to hold onto all the time. I have a love hate relationship with creativity, that’s for sure. But when the words are flowing, I understand what George Mackay Brown was trying to explain when he defined inspiration:
That’s was inspiration is: hard work. And, if it has been passably done, a glow in the mind that might last for half an hour or so. 
 George Mackay Brown, Under Brinkie’s Brae, The Craft of Writing, p60. Savage Publishers, London 2003
 Raymond Carver, This Morning.
 George Mackay Brown, Under Brinkie’s Brae, The Craft of Writing, p61. Savage Publishers, London 2003
1) What am I working on?
i am putting a new collection of poetry together at the moment. The working title is ‘Painting the Spiral Staircase’. I do actually own a staircase that is a fire escape into my back yard! I have not yet written the poetry that goes with this title, except perhaps in my dreams.
The rest of the poems are at the stage of trying to work out which to keep and which to put on a maybe pile.
I am hoping this Easter to begin that process and to see if they are linked with an overall shape or theme. I think my father features quite a lot, and a strong sense of place.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This feels difficult to answer. I think what is unusual about my work is its strong sense of voice - a voice that is particular to me. It is a well travelled, but rather Northern one. Also, I think I have a very visual way of looking at the world, quite surreal in places. Other writers often comment on my use of image and metaphor. I am very physical and sense-based in my writing.
3) Why do I write what I do?
I think I write for a sense of play, and I always feel more here in the world after spending time writing, particularly poetry. So I do think the process is connected to my identity. I write when I am full of joy, or upset or simply want to work out an imaginative take on the world. I do respond to what I see, over hear, touch, taste or listen to on the radio. I am not overtly political but it seems to creep in as an undertone in my writing. I do like telling stories!
4) How does your writing process work?
In short fast bursts. Late at night, early in the morning, when my son is asleep. I write when I have insomnia and I write in workshops. I have a really good group of writing friends who I like sitting with and writing with. I also write after reading other poets’ work - which inspires me. I don’t have a particular routine but I do try and write at least every other day. I also keep a notebook and diary.
The writers who have agreed to take part next week are Jane Moss and Robert Graham.
Follow their blogs:
I know I need to find one other writer but quite a few of the people I know have already taken part…