“Read it with passion!”

Fallowfield Library – Week 3

When I turned up this afternoon, Tony wasn’t there and it was starting to rain. So I was glad when Dorothy turned up and told me to come inside and show my poem to the weekly crochet and knitting group, ‘Knit & Natter’.

The group were very welcoming and showed me all their creations – Christine has been knitting her blanket for about thirty years, picking it up every now and again when she had a long train journey to go on. She said it was “on its last legs now…”

In return I read them the poem (“with passion!”) – this week it was ‘One Art’ by Elizabeth Bishop about ‘the art of losing’. It led to a discussion about things we’ve lost – Christine´s friend could’t come to visit her this week because she lost her train ticket, and Dorothy lost most of her possessions when she came to Manchester from Salvador and could only afford to bring two suitcases.

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Then, when I came back outside I was happy to see Tony there sitting on his bench. I read him the poem too and he told me about the time he lost his watch in a field in Ireland and found it twelve years later – “And it was still going!”

 

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

 

“I’ve got lots of stories to tell”

Fallowfield Community Library – Week 2

This time at Fallowfield Library I shared a bench with Mohammed Rafik who included me in a video call to his friend in Pakistan and said his son would read the poem to him at home because his English isn’t good. He didn’t have a lock so I looked after his bike while he checked if the library had an Urdu newspaper.

Mike from last week turned up but there was no sign of Tony, who was apparently expecting me yesterday. Mike knows almost everyone who passes and has been coming to this library for about 35 years (the library is celebrating its 85th birthday in August) – he said he used to cycle here and had two allotments nearby. I also spoke to Donnie from Liverpool who was once an extra in the film Gladiator, as well as being trained as a theatre fireman on Shaftesbury Avenue. All his stories seemed to begin with: “I was completely broke, then…”

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I gave out a poem by Helen Dunmore from The Raw Garden (1988). I love the way this poem slips seamlessly between different generations using a repeated image of a shadow and the universal task of trying to get to sleep.

 

Shadows of my mother against a wall

The wood-pigeon rolls soft notes off its breast
in a tree which grows by a fence.
The smell of creosote,
easy as wild gum
oozing from tree boles
keeps me awake. A thunderstorm
heckles the air.

I step into a bedroom
pungent with child’s sleep,
and lift the potty and pile of picture books
so my large shadow
crosses his eyes.

Sometimes at night, expectant,
I think I see the shadow of my mother
bridge a small house of enormous rooms.
Here are white, palpable walls
and stories of my grandmother:
the old hours of tenderness I missed.

“There’s a lot of truth in them”

Fallowfield Community Library – Week 1

I had barely set up my sign in a sunny spot when Tony came along and sat next to me on the bench. He can’t read as he’s partially blind but says he listens to poetry sometimes on Radio 4 and accepted the offer to hear the poem I was handing out “if it isn’t too long.”

We didn’t have much time to discuss it before his friend Mike came along. He said he used to read a lot of poetry in the Ireland’s Own magazine. Both originally from Ireland, they told me they sit here together pretty much every day.

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I’ve never been to this library, on the corner of Platt Lane, and spending some time near it made an area I often pass come into clearer focus. The library is completely run by volunteers who kindly let me use the photocopier for free because they don’t keep any money on site and I didn’t have any change.

I gave out a poem by John Ashbery called ‘In Those Days’, published in his collection Where Shall I Wander (2005). This poem will now always remind me of Tony who put what I love about poems into words so wonderfully:

“There’s a lot of truth in them, poems. Not always at first, but when you think about them again later.”

 

In Those Days

Music, food, sex, and their accompanying
tropes like a wall of light at a door
once spattered by laughter

come round to how you like it—
was it really you that approved?
And if so what does the loneliness
in all this mean? How blind are we?

We see a few feet into our future
of shrouded lots and ditches.
Surely that way was the long one
to have come. Yet nobody

sees anything wrong with what we’re doing,
how we came to discuss it, here, with the wind
and the sun sometimes slanting.
You have arrived at this step, and the way down

is paralyzing, though this is the lost
youth I remember as being O.K., once.
Got to shuffle, even if it’s only the sarcasm
of speech that gets lost, while the blessed
sense of it bleeds through,

open to all kinds of interpretations.

“Poem? Roses are red, violets are blue…”

City Library – Week 4

This week I gave out a poem called ‘Family Holidays’ from Michael Hofmann’s first collection Nights in The Iron Hotel, published in 1983. Hofmann is a German-born poet, translator and literary critic. I really like the way the speaker of this poem turns every member of his family into objects in an almost cartoon-like way.

This was my last time handing out poems outside the epic central library. Although the city centre has the benefit of a large footfall I will be glad to get back to somewhere more local next week so people don’t see me as just any old leaflet-giver.

Thank you to all those who have taken a poem from me so far this year, however hesitant, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it.

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Family Holidays

The car got a sun-tan while my father worked
in its compound . . . Mixed with the cicadas,
you could hear the fecundity of his typing
under the green corrugated plastic roof.

My mother staggered about like a nude
in her sun-hat, high heels and bathing-costume.
She was Quartermaster and Communications.

My doughy sisters baked on the stony beach,
swelling out of their bikinis, turning over
every half-hour. Still, they were never done.

The little one fraternised with foreign children.

. . . Every day I swam further out of my depth,
but always, miserably, crawled back to safety.

“Why does it have to be so complicated?”

City Library – Week 3

This week I gave out a poem called ‘Song (after Luna Miguel)’ by Emily Berry. Her second book Stranger, Baby came out this year and I had the pleasure of reviewing it for The Manchester Review.

I spent most of the time I stood outside City Library today talking to Ewen from Timperley who later admitted he was only going to the library for the nice toilets – he was very assertive about accepting a poem and said it was because he watched Bright Star recently and it made him wish he understood poetry. I said I didn’t understand it either and we talked about The History Boys for a bit. Then he went in and I had a burst of enthusiasm and quickly gave out all the rest of the poems to a blur of smiling faces.

I went to the Manchester Art Gallery after to warm up and this Lowry picture (‘Head of a Boy’) really seemed to work for the androgyny of Berry’s poem, and I felt like I understood it a little bit more somehow.

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Song

after Luna Miguel

When I became mermaid it was for this reason.
The girl I love is a beautiful boy.
So you would not ask questions.
Because I gave myself up to the rain
but it was too late; the rain could not save me.
And when I thought the line was straight,
I was wrong; I could not follow the line.
Thus the shore, infinitely. Thus these rocks.
There was so much to feel good and sorry about.
And I shut my legs up tight, I shut my eyes.
So I could see him better, so I could see her.

“Why not?”

City Library – Week 2

This week I gave out the poem ‘Restriction’ by Tara Bergin. It comes from her debut collection This is Yarrow published by Carcanet in 2013. I keep seeing her name around and nearly bought a signed copy of the book from a charity shop but decided to keep my £3.99 and get it from the library. I really like this poem and think its topic is very relatable but also difficult to put into words.

As always I spoke some lovely people. I met John who had just been for an audition for a play and said he took the poem because he was feeling in a creative mood – when another day he would have walked straight past, also a bin man who gave me a huge smile and took his gloves off the put the poem straight in his pocket for when he got home, and a man and his daughter who said they were going to read it together on the tram.

Here is the poem and here is a link for more information about Tara Bergin and recordings of her reading poems including this one:

 

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“I haven’t got the brain for it”

City Library – Week 1

I changed my mind at the last minute about which poem by Miroslav Holub to give out today, because I remembered it was Mother’s Day on Sunday and this poem has such an interesting take on motherhood. Holub was a Czech poet and biologist, and my copy of his poems was published in 1967 translated by Ian Milner and George Theiner.

I’m proud to say I got a bit burnt standing outside City Library today in the midday Manchester sun. It was very much worth it to speak to some great people today, including Cornel from Romania – a Big Issue seller who’s patch I was encroaching on, Bill from Bolton who said he know John Cooper Clarke when he was just starting out and reminisced about writing a poem a week with his ex-partner, and David who had come from London to take photos of trams on his old box camera and remembers making his dad bring him to Manchester from Leeds to see the old ones (see if you can spot him in my picture of the library). Thank you, too, to all the mothers rushing past with prams or walking arm in arm with grown up daughters that had time for one poem today.

I hope you like the poem from this beautiful book! The cover (designed by Harriet Walters) is based on a microphotograph by Professor P. Bassot.

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Waiting

The one who waits is always the mother,
all her fingers jammed
in the automatic doors of the world,
all her thoughts like
egg-laden moths pinned out alive,
and in her bag the mirror shows
time long gone by when
glad cries lingered in the apple trees,
and at home the spool and the thread are whispering together:
What will become of us?

The one who waits is always the mother,
and a thousand things whose fate is
ineluctable fall.

the one who waits is always the mother,
smaller and smaller,
fading and fading
second by second,
until in the end
no one sees her.