Tuesday, 22 July 2014


Sometimes, when something needs to be said, poetry can say it better than any other way. 
Take this beautiful poem about childhood by Les Murray, from his collection Subhuman Redneck Poems (Carcanet)

Below Bronte House

The children pouring down,
supervised, into the ravine
and talking animatedly all over
each other like faces in a payout
of small change, now come in
under a vast shadowy marquee
of native fig and tree of heaven.
In their indigo and white
they flow on down, glimpsed
between the patisserie trunks
of green coral trees, and as
they go on towards the ocean
they are still tangling and grabbing
at an elusive bright string
that many want to pick off others
and off themselves. It is
of course childhood, which they
scorn as a disabling naivete
even under the enchanted rotation
of gun-sleeved sky-propellor trees.

It's the lines about the "bright string" they want to 'pick off others and themselves' that for me are most moving.  Lines I think only an adult can really understand. 


Today was our son's final full day at primary school. He is raring to go, he is restless, but he doesn't really comprehend what he is leaving. Why should he, at eleven years old? All he knows is he is ready to walk (run) through the school gates tomorrow, and probably never look back. This is how it should be, I think, for a secure child. Perhaps it is the best way to live ?

It is parents, I think, rather than children, who attach emotional import to ends and beginnings. The edges of things are always interesting. Leaving primary school is the edge of something. Not adolescence, exactly, but an innocence.

There was a ceremony at the school and a program was made with pictures of each child holding a sign saying what they wanted to be when they grew up. Brain surgeon, cricket player, funeral director, song writer, midwife, artist, F1 driver. They are still young enough to dream.
They also sang Pharell William's 'Happy' with gusto, all 90 of them. They were given dictionaries and a bookmark. Everyone clapped. All this was, unexpectedly moving.

I found myself thinking of the last lines of Gerard Manley Hopkin's poem Spring and Fall, dedicated to a 'young child' - I think he is right. Perhaps when we wave our children away - to school, college, down the aisle, we are also truly mourning ourselves, the 'blight man was born for'

Spring and Fall, by Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1880.
To a Young Child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Poetry International

I'm pleased to be involved in an exciting installation at London's Southbank Centre as part of Poetry International. 
The project is called I Leave This At Your Ear and is a 'listening wall' open for the public to sit and listen to poems recorded by  80 contemporary poets.
It was fun recording them in a hushed sound room last year. We each recorded one of our own (mine is 'Afterlife') and one classic. Mine is the beautiful The Lake Isle of Innisfree by Yeats which is always a joy to read for the mouth, mind and ear.
The wall will be installed on the Clore Ballroom floor of the Royal Festival Hal next week. 
It includes new work by Andrew Motion, Mimi Khalvati, Alan Hollinghurst, Emily Berry, Vahni Capildeo, Heather Phillipson and Carol Rumens. 
The whole Poetry International festival looks like a wonderuful gathering of words and cultures. I've treated myself to a Rilke translation masterclass later this month as part of the event which I'm looking forward to already.

You can find some details here - http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/i-leave-this-at-your-ear-1000569

PS It's free!!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

some rather fanciful notes inspired by July

already the spiders are spinning
touching the edges of autumn,
sleeves of lace and filigree

over the fields
autumn turns,
rippling waves of shadow,

seed heads bend to the earth
the weight of their work
gathered at their throats

as decades ago I ran
over the meadows, 
childless, a child,

down to the water's edge
turning stones over for larvae
holding fast in the stream

Wednesday, 25 June 2014


Ah well, I didn't make it to the Aldeburgh 8. Although I got through a first cut, it was down to the most exciting poems in the end. I'm genuinely glad for those who are going (whoever they may be) and I hope to apply again another year (this was my first time) - with a whole new batch of poems. ..fingers crossed, it will happen for me at the right time, which seems to be how things work.


I've started on a longer fiction project. I'm only working on the ten minute rule. Ten minutes writing as a minimum every day. I'm writing it out rough in long hand and not really reading it back. Usually I end up doing more than ten minutes, but I haven't got carried away enough to do hours. I started it because it was more pleasant in the end to take charge and at least attempt something than have the nagging feeling of not doing it. If that makes sense! It's very early stages but I like the feeling of putting something more substantial together, even if it proves to be not very good and is only read by me.
A bit like the dictum: 'it is better to have loved and lost than never loved at all'


We did the North Downs Run on Sunday. It was fantastic. I ran with my sister and two other ladies/friends from her running club - the Springfield Striders. It was hot and fun, hilly and intense and I fell over a tree root near the end. Got some nice bruises. It reminded me how much I enjoy running, the challenge and adventure and feeling of strength and freedom.  Also that sense of earned exhaustion. How lucky we are. I loved running through the Kentish villages, downs and ancient woods.

Thanks for reading

Tuesday, 17 June 2014


People going on about their dreams is usually as dull as people talking about their minor maladies but bear with me.
I had a strange dream last night (this morning) -
I was waiting in a room full of people for my 'turn'. It was a classroom/waiting room scenario with people all bunched together, sitting in rows and an electronic, enlarged screen at the front of the room with lines of names that moved up as they were 'seen'.
Who were we waiting to be seen by? It was not quite clear. An authority figure, perhaps a vet? I say this because I had a mouse with me. A dark brown, quite skinny one, quite feisty and lively. I kept it in my hands for ages, trying to contain it, but after a long time waiting it began to escape and run over the desk and other people waiting began to notice it. Some recoiled, most tolerated it, because it was not meant to be freed, or really seen. I was meant to contain it and not inflict its presence on others. Some people are scared of mice or find them disgusting. The people closest to me knew it was there,  that I had it in my hands, but they largely tolerated it.
Eventually I made a small space for it, a temporary cardboard house that was not big enough at all, and to my surprise and relief it stayed there for a while, becalmed. I peeped in and saw it was sleeping. it was tired, poor thing.
But soon enough it broke out and was over the desk again, a rippling brown streak, a live wire.
I looked in desperation and impatience at the scrolling screen and saw my name was still not up there yet. It scrolled on to a whole new page of people, lines of names, and I realised we had longer to wait than I'd hoped. I noticed Will Self's name was there, and then I woke.

Pretty obvious really but I have been worrying about not writing this past month or so. There's a little voice that says 'that was it'. Was that it? I can make it so by stopping and ignoring the urge to write. It's easier to go and run 15 or 20 miles than write 1,000 words.
I've been reading a lot. A Girl is a Half Formed Thing has left me battered and altered (sounds melodramatic, but read it..) And Jim Crace, and Barbara Kingsolver, and Patrick Ness and Les Murray and Louise Gluck. And then I think, it's all very well reading but what about writing yourself? I make false starts and then I stop, or I put it off, and off, and off, by doing other more useful, earthly, practical things like shopping and cooking and cleaning and earning money, but all the time I am carrying round this dis-satisfaction with me and I can't bring myself to begin.
Yes I know, indulgent, but there it is...


So I've been sending stuff out into the world as well as reading. I applied this year (for the first time) for the Aldeburgh Eight, which is a week away writing in the autumn. I hope I get a place. I feel I need it (as of course others do).  If not, I will try again as I need to let that mouse go where it wants to go, wherever that may be.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Stag beetles (again)

I love this time of year the most. 
Its beauty and lushness. Flora at its peak, seed pods visible but flowers still intact. It was one of those lemony suburban dusks, fine-grained and sieved,  swifts feeding and scrying, the air fuzzed with traffic sound, heat hanging on, generously. 
Sorry, getting carried away ... anyway, the children and I (and dog) were walking along, at about 9.30 and were somewhat startled to notice large flying insects, just above head height, flying haphazardly with a metallic flittery noise, like tinnitus. 
I thought they were hornets at first but then remembered seeing flying stag beetles two years ago, at a similar time of year. 
There were dozens of them,  cumbersome contraptions, and they moved as if they were testing the mechanics of flight and just managing to lift off. 
They looked like they'd been put together with pins and tiny pinions. 

I felt sorry for them, butting and dinging into scrubby bushes and chain-mail fences with their split carapace and grand mandibles and sense of purpose. They had a sort of blind reproductive fervour about them.  
I picked quite a lot of them out of the road.
When I came out the next morning, it was hard to believe they had been there. There was a sort of midsummer magic in their existence and that evening. I wondered where they were hiding and resolved to make a log pile in the corner of our garden. Why there are so many here in outer London/suburban Kent. Is it a particular tree and soil combination?

I'm wary of anthropomorphising but I hope they made it, wherever and whatever 'it' is. Such a lot of time went into making them what they are. It takes seven years for a stag beetle to incubate, and the males fly between late May and July. They only live for three or four weeks in beetle form.

The web tells me they are also called billywitches, oak-ox, thunder-beetle and horse pincher - what wonderful names - and are most likely to fly on humid, thundery evenings. I hope to see them again - I remember my father showing me a magnificent one in France when I was seven. 

Monday, 2 June 2014


I really enjoyed reading at the launch of Niall Campbell's Moontide last week, in London. There was a lovely, attentive audience gathered in what seemed to be a disused/obsolete loading bay cleverly converted by architects into an ambient, rectangular reading space. With low lighting and low slung canvas seats it felt quite intimate even though it was a large(ish) audience for poetry.

Each time I read my stuff I enjoy it more and I feel more confident, although I am not a natural performer. Gladly, I managed to shift a few copies of 'Inklings' despite not reading any poems from it, only new ones. It was a bit of a gamble reading new work for the first time but I think the poems made their first foray without crashing and burning (hopefully). I'm grateful to Declan Ryan for asking me to read. Really looking forward to Dec and Zaffar's Faber New Poet pamphlets coming out this autumn.

I enjoyed hearing Zaffar Kunial, Rory Waterman and Niall read. There's just something magical about hearing poems from their makers' mouths (and hearts) - although I enjoy poring over them on the page too. Once you've heard them read aloud, they are changed and informed by the cadences and tones of their author's voice. Some voices are so distinctive (Plath, Larkin) that I hear them clearly when I read their work on paper.

Moontide is a distinctive, meditative book. The poems are both pared down and expansive in their reach and language, palpable with place. If that sounds all romantic and wishy washy, they are anything but...do buy it or get it from your library (if you still have one...)
I see today it is shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, along with (amongst others) Liz Berry's Black Country (which is going to be just exquisite when it is published this August) and Fiona Benson's Bright Travellers which is compelling and often beautiful. I've already read it several times and will be back for more.

Finally, there was a good review of Inklings in the latest edition of Artemis Poetry by the writer and editor Adele Ward.  I won't regurgitate it in full but I like it that she praised poems with "a botanist's eye for the tiny details of nature".