March 2010


Not posted for a while because I’ve been to Scarborough to watch the sea and write. Following the end of my Exploding Poetry exhibition, I’ve switched attention mainly to writing my children’s book: “How to Kill Francesca. Twice.” I hope to finish it in May, which means I need to write something like 1000 words a day between now and then.

I’m very fond of Scarborough, both for its memories (we regularly stayed with our three children, now all grown) and for the many little pleasures it offers. But particularly for the drama of its landscape and seascapes. This time we were particularly lucky in the flat we found, which had a nice view of the North Beach, but a fabulous panorama of the harbour and the South Beach, and much of the town was well. It was also sited only five minutes from the castle and the historic church where Anne Bronte lies (in fact, we parked our car in her graveyard – it seems somehow sacreligious, but also slightly charming, as much of the rest of the town pitches cultural stereotypes against daily reality).

So I could sit all day in the window, staring at the sea and occasionally dropping words onto the page. In this idyll, I managed 16000 words in five days (okay – it’s only a draft, but I was still pretty pleased with myself).

And then we came home, and I found notice of five more poems being published. Except, when I looked at it, I had to withdraw two, because they’d been taken for publication without letting me know, and I’d meanwhile re-sent them elsewhere. This is the first time I’ve had to say “don’t publish” my work – and it felt pretty miserable.

So three poems are due to appear soon in Champion Poems #2, published by Sentinel Poetry Movement. They’re “Found Objects”, which came out of the MA Writing at Hallam, “A Civilised Woman”, which has come from my “Woman and War” project, and “Unspoken”, a little love poem.

How often do you hear poets complain about that?

What? Not very often?

Not at all.

In my case, it’s not quite true. I went to St William’s College in York to receive my prize and read my prizewinning poem. The building is a wonderful fifteenth century place, lovely to read in, but, like all such buildings, a nightmare for health and safety. So, rushing to be in time for the reading, I missed my step crossing a dangerous landing, and plunged into the door jamb, lashing out with my right hand to stop my fall. For a moment my fourth finger assumed an agonising angle something like Captain Hook’s hook. I grabbed my hand in pain, and this seemed to reset it, though it proceeded to swell like a carrot on helium.

Usually if there’s anyone in pain in a poetry reading, it’s the audience but on this occasion the tables were turned. I was even considering refusing to shake hands with George Szirtes, and shocking the poetry-listening public, imagining myself wincing in agony as I palmed the cheque, but in the end it was over so quickly I didn’t have time for a wince.

However, my reading was upstaged because some poor woman arrived late, just before I read, to suffer almost exactly the fate I had, stumbling on the stair and reduced to tears before she could enter the hall, which rather spoiled the drama of my introduction. Nevertheless the poem went well, a couple of people took the time to say they liked it, George Szirtes’ comments set me beaming: if it wasn’t for the fact that every penny of the prize was already spoken for because we were returning to Sheffield to celebrate my daughter’s 21st with a meal, it would’ve been a pretty good day. (And the meal was great in any case: almost as good as the poem).