“Do you just do this for something to do?”

Denton West End Community Library

This week I wrote more detailed instructions on my hand and managed to find the library. I was met by an impressive poetry section and a very nice volunteer called Jean (“what are you doing? I’m intruiged”), who told me that this community organisation had been run primarily by four dedicated volunteers since Tameside Library closed about five years ago.

The library puts on a vast range of activities for the community including: a community choir, yoga, street dance, a quiz night, pilates, knitting group, kickboxing, weight watchers AND a film club. So it’s fair to say they’re doing their bit.

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It seemed to be a quiet area with more cars than people, which meant the few people that passed were even more confused to see me waiting for them. One lady who was returning three novels back to the library answered my regular question of “do you like poetry?” enthusiastically with “I do, actually!” Another answered, equally enthusiastically, “I’ve not read much poetry!” and walked off reading the poem as she went. And then all at once a woman riding a horse came around the bend, and as I distractedly gave a poem to two young women chatting to each other, one shouted back at me: “do you just do this for something to do?” and when I answered yes she nodded knowingly, “Ahh, nice!”

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Remember that nice lady in the spotty dress I met a few weeks ago outside Stretford Library who accused me of “poetry spamming”? It turns out Joanna Hope Bricher is a poet and printmaker who loves goats! Last week I went and met her in The Robin Hood pub and we sat on a tiny bench and talked about letter-pressing and her favourite poems to read before she goes to sleep.

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We also talked about the poem ‘Julian of Norwich’ by Rebecca Tamás, from her pamphlet Savage (Clinic, 2017). I was nervous about choosing the poem, because I didn’t have any idea what was going on in it. Luckily Joanna loves anything cryptic, knew who Julian was (an anchoress who published the first book known to be written by a woman in 1395), and could fully identify with the idea of ‘food congealing on the hob’!

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Julian of Norwich

Come home if you can bear it, the same divine, familiar beds,
the same wall hangings with your name written in purple,
the same glasses smashing, the same food congealing on the hob.
She fastens milky attachments to your sleep,
cups your head in her hands and sings softly,
cigarette ash sliding down her warm legs onto the bare boards.
God is not the far off, steely mountain gazer, the slick night bus
you missed, crying and retching.
God is already in your arms and breathing up against your face,
so close it hurts. You know the fresh and bloody pith of her,
the damp redness between her legs, the wet tense stomach,
the eyes black and rolling.
Inside her mouth she licks your own muddy spit,
calls birds into the house, breaks hidden skulls,
reads your diary, leaving subtle and deliberate yellow smudges in the margins.
She made you, is remade,
love that’s virulent, ugly, nutshell tight,
love that throws out a tender and extravagant brightness,
calling you with torn crying into vision.

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Football (was) coming home…

 

Denton West End Community Library (failed)/ Levenshulme Arcadia

This week I tried and failed to find Denton West End Community Library – I cycled around for about an hour in the midday sun, and finally got to Gorton station. I asked in a health centre nearby and the lady at reception told me there were TWO Gorton stations! Sadly I was “miles away” from Denton, but I did see this house which made the journey worthwhile…

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Not wanting to be late for my show, I gave up and headed to Levenshulme to hand out the poems outside Arcadia Library. In the the wake of the big World Cup semi-final between England and Croatia (try and take yourself back to when we thought football was “coming home”) I decided to give out ‘About The Shoe’ by Croatian poet Miroslav Kirin, translated by Boris Gregoric. I gave out the original and the translation, and like the idea that some of the people who took the poem might be able to read it in both languages. You can read and listen to the original here.

My guest on the radio was taxman and football-lover Joshua Flew, who came straight from work with an England shirt and ‘Football’s Coming Home’ on his USB stick to play at the end of the show (before we headed to the pub to watch them lose).

We talked about why even poets should pay tax, played some songs from the compilation White Boy Blues (So Much To Say), and decided to take a positive spin on the poem – because why not?

 

About The Shoe

What is a shoe doing in the grass of the park? Ask her at once.
Let her know it is outrageous. Ask her why she’s alone,
where her left or right match is, why she’s not looking for it.
Why she has agreed to be alone. After the shower she’s full of
murky water. At night, insects crawl into her. But that does not
warm her up. Ask her how she got this far, so that she knows not
where her match is. Does she feel no need to meet the other, to apologize
and be at ease afterwards? Ask her also about her sock, someone must have taken her off, because of the heat and the sweat. She must look for her, too.
So that the sock will not feel abandoned. Therefore, search quickly.
The pants are someplace too, the pockets on them, when you turn them
inside out, the ID cards fall out, or nothing at all. The belt, if there is one
on these pants, does he still hold the body, or the body hold him?
The shirt is a leafy tree to him, and a flower, a source of its pride.
But most worthy is the head, if it is still above, knowing where
her left and where her right shoe is. But if the head is missing,
there’s no shoe, neither the left nor the right one,
and the shoe in the grass of the park is just a shoe without its living body,
and that is the sorrow the rain soaks her with.

 

 

 

 

“I like poetry in small doses!”

Stretford Library

I spent a windy Wednesday morning outside Stretford library handing out ‘Poem on Beyoncé’s Birthday’ from Morgan Parker‘s second collection There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (Corsair, 2017). Another poem from this book, ‘So What’, was one of the first poems I gave out in Manchester almost a year ago.

I met one man who told me he liked poetry “in small doses” and another who asked me if I was promoting the poet (“yes I suppose but more like promoting the reading of poetry in general”) said it was “very civilised,” which I think he meant as a compliment!

I also met Jean, who said she likes poetry – especially Maya Angelou – but doesn’t read it that much these days. She told me she keeps a scrap book of poems she’s heard or found, that she is one day going to pass on to her son, who is a shadow puppeteer currently working on a shadow puppet performance with a local spoken word artist!

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Today is not actually Beyonce’s birthday, but one of the reasons I chose this poem was because I knew I was going to have some musicians on my show on ALL FM. Two students from the Royal Northern College of Music – soprano Vanessa Guinadi and (maybe) the only lutenist in Manchester, Sara Salloum – came in and played some Elizabethan tunes for me live in the studio.

Listen to Sara’s lute skills and Vanessa surprising me with her Beyoncé fan-knowledge:

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Poem on Beyoncé’s Birthday

Drinking cough syrup from a glass shaped
Like you body I wish was mine but as dark
As something in my mind telling me
I’m not woman enough for these days
Colored with reddish loathing
which feels, to me, more significant than sun
My existence keeps going
Ripple in other people’s mouths
Pools of privilege and worship
I want, I keep thinking
I am exclusively post-everything
Animals licking my chin, new leaves stretching
From a palm plant like a man’s greedy arms
Today your open eyes are two fresh buds
Anything could be waiting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Rowan Met Annie

Somewhere along the Bridgewater Canal

Last year my friend sent me a little BBC clip of the Door-to-Door Poet saying ‘this looks right up your street’, and today I had him – otherwise known as Rowan McCabe  – on my show on ALL FM.

Currently knocking on the doors of Salford for a project about the Bridgewater Canal, I met up with him along the way and interviewed him on a bench. With the sound of birds and dogs and bikes whizzing past in the background, Rowan performed his opening gambit and one of the poems he’s written for a non-paying customer (his services are completely free). He also told me some of the stories he’s heard so far, including ice-skating to the pub and swimming rabbits…

Then we moved across to a pub where we met a Fentiman’s salesman named Pat who was equally disappointed about the pub being closed (it was 10:30AM). When we told him we were poets, he started talking about how we are all born, all die, and all we can do in the middle is do our best…

We talked about the poem ‘Torso of Air’ by Ocean Vuong, from Night Sky With Exit Wounds (Cape, 2017), which Rowan decided Pat would have loved.

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Torso of Air

Suppose you do change your life.
& the body is more than

a portion of night – sealed
with bruises. Suppose you woke

& found your shadow replaced
by a black wolf. The boy, beautiful

& gone. So you take the knife to the wall
instead. You carve & carve

until a coin of light appears
& you get to look in, at last,

on happiness. The eye
staring back from the other side –

waiting.

“Oh yea, that would be lovely!”

Stretford Library

This week I went back to Stretford and gave out the poem ‘Hyphen’ by Glyn Maxwell, from his first book Tale of the Mayor’s Son (Bloodaxe, 1990). I saw the same librarian (Zach) again who said he’d liked the last poem: “keep ’em coming – I’m always here!” I also gave poems to quite a few happy faces, including an old man in a bright yellow t-shirt: “I’ll ‘av a look at it, lovely”.

My guest on ALL FM was Morgan Williams, a recently retired baker, who had a lot of ideas about the poem. We reminisced about the 90s and the Noughties, and together we broke through the rational structure of the numbers to something much more mushy and real.

Hyphen

That the third digit
of the year I live in
will never be 7,
will never be 6,

occurs to me this
lengthening Friday,
makes me think of
tomorrow and someone –

The second digit
will be a dark 9
then a clear 0.
The first digit

has always been 1,
will always be 2,
makes me think of
tomorrow and someone

adding a year
to the end of a hyphen, then
breaking for lunch
in the brilliant sunshine.

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There are also a few radio shows that haven’t made it online until now because of technical difficulties!

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Last week I had Moss Side based artist Ekua Bayunu on my show to talk about her residency at this year’s Pankhurst in the Park, and the poem ‘Seawater Stiffens Cloth’ by Jane Hirshfield.

Ekua – coincidentally a cloth expert! – found this poem uncomfortable, and not just the awkward grammar!

Seawater Stiffens Cloth

Seawater stiffens cloth long after it’s dried.
As pain after it’s ended stays in the body:
A woman moves her hands oddly
because her grandfather passed through
a place he never spoke of. Making
instead the old jokes with angled fingers.
Call one thing another’s name long enough,
it will answer. Call pain seawater, tree, it will answer.
Call it a tree whose shape of branches happened.
Call what branching happened a man
who job it was to break fingers or lose his own.
Call fingers angled like branches what peel and cut apples,
to give to a girl who eats them in silence, looking.
Call her afterward tree, call her seawater angled by silence.

 

“Something to read on my break!”

Stretford Library

Opposite a huge main road, and the all seeing eye of Stretford Mall, the library stands tall and full of good books. It seemed quiet when we arrived, but lots of people came out of the woodwork, going in and out of the library for different group sessions. When I mentioned what I was doing to librarians, they told me to: “knock yourself out, love!”

The poem I chose this week was ‘Death says’ by Jack Underwood, from his debut collection Happiness (faber, 2015). I was slightly self-conscious of the title but confident that the poem is not as morbid as it sounds.

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I was assisted by Joël, who was a bit shy at first – asking people if they want to poem as if he was asking them if they…maybe…want to go for a drink with him? But then he got into it, wandering off down the road to catch people, always beaming “have a nice day!” at them after they took one.

He gave one to a young woman in a spotty dress, who came up to me after and asked if I was part of the “poem spamming club?” I said yes and she laughed, then a few seconds she came back and asked why I was doing this. I said I give a poem out every week in the hope I might give one to someone who has never got into poetry and didn’t know where to start. And she nodded knowingly and said it was “really great!”

We met lots of people who didn’t have time to stop, but were still happy to get a poem for when they had a spare moment. One passing man said: “go on, gi’z a poem then, it might make me smile!” Another woman stopped and read it as she finished her cigarette: “I like it – I haven’t finished yet – I’m very late!” And one of the librarians came out and took one: “something to read on my break!”

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Then we did a few quick translations before heading to Levenshulme, where Joël was the guest on my sixteenth show on ALL FM 96.9. He talked about his recent art projects, including one where he recorded non-French speakers reading out poems in bad French to imitate how he it felt attempting to communicate when he first came to Manchester from Alcase two years ago.

We talked about the Jack Underwood poem, which we decided was more about life than death, and wondered how big a part Harry Potter had to play in it all? Unfortunately we are still facing technical difficulties as ALL FM so the show will not be available online until next week, but here is some fudge for you in the meantime.

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Death says
Death says the atoms of men have already spent infinity
as part of something else and all your human fudge
is the passing of a thread through the surface of a light.
If you are made of thinking, then being is a breath between the slats,
which is why I itch your collar when a fly taps the pane.
I am your address, and the hand that delivers you through.
I am the socket love must plug itself into.
I am the lie that runs along your ribs, the gap between the rock
and the wet place you will make there for yourself.
You will know my hand by the back of your own.
I am talking to you now with the voice you read with inwardly,
private as the name you say to the bottom of a tall felt hat.

“What you selling?”

Huddersfield Library & Art Gallery

I spent a sunny afternoon in Huddersfield browsing the second hand market, and handing out the poem ‘Buffering 15%’ by Sam Riviere, from his first collection 81 Austeries (Faber, 2012).

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I was assisted by Harley, who braved the sun while I cowered in the shade in front of a big ‘TO LET’ sign. The library, opposite a big shopping centre, was unfortunately closed for the afternoon for staff training so we didn’t get to see inside. But at least a few people who turned up left with something to read anyway!

The first person I met was waiting for his wife, and said the poem seemed “like a random selection of images,” and wanted to find out how they were connected. Another woman asked me what it was about, and when I said I didn’t really know she laughed and seemed excited to take it away and figure it out for herself. One man said he didn’t have time to read because he was working: “give me a poem when I’ve got a beer!”

Then I met Joseph, who was defensive at at first, demanding to know what I was selling or promoting. When I told him I just wanted to give him a poem to read and see if he liked it, he told me he’d had an accident a few years ago and couldn’t work, and has just decided to start a creative writing course at The Writer’s Bureau to occupy himself. He’s also about to buy his first laptop and has promised to follow my blog when he does!

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My guest on ALL FM this week was Olivia Havercroft – the founder of two zines, Can You Hear Me Now and Murmur, who is currently writing a pHd on the psychological history of the environment. We left no stone unturned when discussing this busy poem, and using her knowledge of scary monks and my expertise in being a ‘remorseless self-publicist’ I think we may have got somewhere!

Unfortunately I couldn’t upload the show to Mixcloud yesterday, so you will have to wait until next week to hear what we thought. This gives you time to try and work the poem out for yourselves, and of course to catch up on past episodes!

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Buffering 15%

you aren’t thinking clearly as you enter the bank
on the day leslie nielson dies
the coldest december ‘in living memory’
mark’s badge reads
‘have a good time all the time’
maybe you should think about getting a motto
maybe you should think about painting the fridge blue again
maybe then you’d feel less like the shape of a person
suggested by the fall of light on a bookcase
you find you’re thinking a lot about your friend the monk
who won’t share with you his secret
to be sure he is a very complex gentleman
but hardly deep even if he can burn leaves
with nothing but the power of his mind
he is a remorseless self-publicist
maybe that’s his secret
or his secret is he doesn’t have one
he claims to remember where he buried
a live beetle in a matchbox
but afflicted as you are with awful memories
you’re not sure you believe him
filling out the paying-in slip is difficult
maybe you should stop growing your fingernails
“shhh” he went this morning
pretending to be listening