“That’s just my interpretation!”

Abraham Moss Library 

Today I ventured back into North Manchester and this time I got a friendlier welcome! I met Elizabeth who worked at the reception, who asked for a poem for herself and tried to read it between questions about how to use the computers. She said she thought it was about a relationship of some kind: “they can’t be together for some reason. I don’t know why – that’s just my interpretation!”

It was quiet around the library this afternoon so people were all the more perplexed at the sight of me waving my poems around – a few people looked back to check if they’d imagined it, and I got a thumbs up from across the road from a group of ladies who’d shared the poem between them.

I gave out the poem ‘Until the Next Time’ by Amryl Johnson, from the book Long Road to Nowhere (Virago, 1985). I like the intimate voice of the poem that seems to be trying to share something private with us, to help us ‘understand’ in order to keep us ‘warm’ and  ‘in good stead’.

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Until the Next Time

I will put on
my overcoat
and tiptoe
through the ashes
of a love which took
so long
to die
And it is not my feet
you understand
but my arms
which feel the cold
Maybe in time
they will grow to know
the logic of my ways
and
still
these precious embers
may melt my thoughts
may warm my soul
may keep me
in good stead
until
the next time

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“It’s just a bit random”

Miles Platting Community Library & City Library (again)

This week I wanted to go to a library in North Manchester, so I cycled up to Miles Platting, getting a bit lost along the way. When I got there the manager told me I should have rang up in advance and that I couldn’t hand out poems there because “it’s just a bit random”. I felt a bit like I’d been denied marriage by the father of my desired bride just because he didn’t like the look of me. It was a bit disheartening, but at least I had a pretty cycle along the canal! 

After this failure I cycled back into town and handed out my poems outside City Library. I gave out the poem ‘Place’ by Kapka Kassabova, from her book Someone else’s life (Bloodaxe, 2003). Kassabova was born in Bulgaria and now lives in the Scottish Highlands. This poem really hypnotised me – I want to know who the ‘we’ is, and where ‘we’ are going next.

 

Place

This is why we come

To wake up to the crowing of plucked roosters
from a sepia childhood

To watch the merging of dawn and dusk,
as matter-of-fact as a lesson in evanescence.

To see without a warning white herons in the bay
still with rarity, guarding their reflection.

To spot a hooded figure on the hill in a yellow raincoat,
in a flashback of self-recognition.

To lie, then stand and fall into the deep storm
from a great height, emerging on the other side of here.

To sleep and when you wake up, to remember it
as something that did not exist, and that will never be again.

This is why we leave.

 

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If you haven’t already, check out the first issue of Lager Magazine, co-edited by me and my friend Will – and submit your poems or short stories for the next issue!

“Horse Racing and Football”

Didsbury Library – Week 4

This week I gave out a poem called ‘The Moment’ by Caroline Bird – my favourite from her most recent collection In These Days of Prohibition (Carcanet, 2017), about which I have just written a glowing review.

I like this poem a lot, and I got a very good response from the people of Didsbury. One woman liked it so much she came back five minutes later to ask me the name of the poet, and a teacher said he would do it with his year seven class tomorrow. 

I gave a poem to a baker who took it with her little finger because she was carrying a tray of freshly baked bread, and to a bin man who said he would “give it a read later, but, to be honest – horse racing and football.” 

This was my last stint in Didsbury – but I’ll have to go back soon to read DJ Rhino’s finished story, as I must have missed him today.

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Watch this video made by Alex at  Jam Jar Productions featuring some shots of Caroline Bird doing her mesmerising reading for Poets & Players last weekend:

 

The Moment

It has rotated in my mind like a paper-napkin
accidentally left in the pocket of a pair of jeans
in the washing machine

and now it’s disintegrated into tiny flecks, and
these damn flecks are stuck to all my other thoughts
like lint or glitter.

Some people have a phobia of glitter.
Maybe that’s because it looks like
the disintegrated memory of that moment.

Perhaps I should have pickled it within my iris, just
revisited in dreams, but it’s done now, scattered,
spun to pieces; I can’t

reassemble the actual occurrence, or
think of anything else.

 

“I’m writing a ghost story”

Didsbury Library – Week 3

This week I gave out the poem ‘Hide’ by Prestonian Michael Symmons Roberts, from his book Corpus (Cape Poetry, 2004). At first, when I read this poem today, it just seemed relevant because it starts by talking about rain. Then, when I got to the end all I wanted to do was read it again and try to work out why it made me feel a strange shudder of sadness. But instead I made lots of photocopies and tried to persuade other people to have a go.

As usual I received a lot of grateful, knowing smiles, and met a couple who told me they like poetry but prefer older stuff. I asked if they had tried modern poetry and they said they had: “But you just end up going back to what you know, don’t you?”

I also saw DJ Rhino again, who told me he’d been working on a ghost story/rap about someone trapped inside a mirror. I was very intrigued and even got a sneak-peak at the unfinished first draft! I look forward to seeing the finished piece next week.

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Hide

Water. Streets are coated,
flat roofs sag. There has been
a great spillage, a night-long
letting-go. A fat dog stands
foursquare in the road,
hypnotised by rain
and car horns.

We were lost last night,
between the shutter slats
and curtain’s swell. The sap
of each of us – our electricity –
escaped among the vixen cries,
the cherry trees’
black blossom.

Now your voice is thinner,
and you listen for the missing
notes in mine.Your skin
is stripped of conductivity, as dead
as silk. Behind your eyes
lie memories learnt by heart.
We have gone,

but in our place are replicas,
exact in every blemish.
We begin to act the day.
It is understood that since
our simulacra are so perfect,
we will go on as if
nothing changed.

“Oh, that’s a library!”

Didsbury Library – Week 2

This week I met Jason (nicknamed ‘The Rhino’) who told me he writes songs and is “a bit famous” and two young sisters carrying shopping who fought over who would get to read the poem first. I also met a man, who’s name I didn’t catch because he had to run for the bus, who came back to me and confessed he had “said no already but I didn’t know what I was saying no to…” He asked me what was in it for me because I don’t get to see the reaction: “you won’t see how it affects people’s lives”. I said I like not knowing whether someone bins the poem or sticks it on their fridge or shows it to their friend or finds it days later in their coat pocket.

I gave out a poem aptly named ‘Poem’ by Louise Glück, from her book The House on the Marshland (1975).

Listen to a very thorough conversation about the poem in which me and my colleague Alex Horn, who hasn’t read or wanted to read a poem since school, try and get to the bottom of the series of spooky images it employs:

 

Poem

In the early evening, as now, a men is bending
over his writing table.
Slowly he lifts his head; a woman
appears, carrying roses.
Her face floats to the surface of the mirror,
marked with the green spokes of rose stems.

It is a form
of suffering: then always the transparent page
raised to the window until its veins emerge
as words finally filled with ink.

Am I meant to understand
what binds them together
or to the gray house held firmly in place by dusk

because I must enter their lives:
it is spring, the pear tree
filming with weak, white blossoms.

“I told them you had three months to live…”

Didsbury Library – Week 1

I took the rare opportunity of a sunny day to cycle down to East Didsbury, to a library which opened in 1915 and is ‘still going strong’ over a hundred years later (as the website asserts). I come to Didsbury quite often because of the high volume of charity shops and one of my favourite second-hand bookshops in Manchester, so I know this library well.

I gave out the poem ‘Studio Apartment: Sunday’ by Eileen Pun, which I found in a Bloodaxe anthology called Ten: The New Wave (2014) edited by Karen McCarthy Woolf. Pun was born in New York and now lives in the UK, in the Lake District.

Some of the images in the poem got me straight away, others took a bit of sussing out. Listen to a bit of that sussing out on the latest PODCAST:

While handing out poems in Didsbury Village I received a lot of enthusiasm from passers by. Especially from Raymond, a retired cardiologist, who wanted to help while he waited for his bus so grabbed a handful of poems and shot across the road to hand them out.

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He kept pointing to me and when he came back I asked how he gave them all out so fast and he joked (I think) that he was telling people I only had three months to live – “Not really, I’m just good with people.”

Then Raymond hopped onto his bus and gave me a big wave from the top deck, and I gave out the rest of my poems – “Thanks love”. I went to look in some charity shops quickly before work, and found this book which fits with the recent theme of loveheart sweets:

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Studio Apartment: Sunday

Sunset honeys the bijou palace. Its dweller wishes
to turn the soft, grey page of a newspaper until his leisure
becomes unbearable. He senses nothing of merit can ever
happen in here. Neither a succession of great decisions,
nor great love.

It seems the studio and its dweller will fill and
empty like any good organ. Gold flecks on the glass
of wine that he is drinking from, the mandolin lies aslant
on the rented sofa (although, only an hour ago, it was seeking
so much playfulness).

He begins peeling a clementine. Now, this is very much
like the introductory part of an evening spent kissing – citrusy.
The bijou flares of gold bead oil miasma, while its dweller
derives and derives – thumbing the natural breaks
of what will come off, next.

Lady Pedal Festival 2017

Alexandra Park – Whalley Range

This week’s poem-handout wasn’t in a library but a park. I came to volunteer for Lady Pedal Festival – a celebration of women and cycling – for the second year running, and spent the first half an hour walking round the park, handing out poems and telling people to come down to the festival.

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The poem I gave out was ‘Machines’ by Michael Donaghy, which instantly came to mind when I thought of giving a bike-related poem. Most people in the park were happy to receive a poem from a strange person in a high-vis jacket, and I even ventured outside the park to give one to a man just as he was stepping onto a bus – maybe it’ll inspire him to ride his bike next time, or learn the harpsichord…

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From 3-4PM I also ran a haiku writing workshop. Here are some of the cycling haikus people came up with:

I love my red bell
Bing bing bikes by your elbows –
OOT the bloody way!

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What a big old hill
Full english and a stodgey cake
Eyes water downhill

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Potholes everywhere
Ringing Manchester council
Twenty-third in queue

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Machines

Dearest, note how these two are alike:
This harpsichord pavane by Purcell
And the racer’s twelve-speed bike.

The machinery of grace is always simple.
This chrome trapezoid, one wheel connected
To another of concentric gears,
Which Ptolemy dreamt of and Schwinn perfected,
Is gone. The cyclist, not the cycle, steers.
And in the playing, Purcell’s chords are played away.

So this talk, or touch if I were there,
Should work its effortless gadgetry of love,
Like Dante’s heaven, and melt into the air.

If it doesn’t, of course, I’ve fallen. So much is chance,
So much agility, desire, and feverish care,
As bicyclists and harpsichordists prove

Who only by moving can balance,
Only by balancing move.