Heading into the light

Last Tuesday, I left school at 3.40 PM (oh, the decadence of it) and drove home (via the coffee shop) in glorious sunshine – seems an age since I last saw such glorious daylight. With the car window open a crack, I could almost smell the promise of spring.

I’ve witnessed some stunning skies at sunrise and sunset, and once or twice have stopped to snap them on my camera phone.  Sadly, they fail to show the full effect, so I’m not about to post them on here!

It’s still early enough in the week not to feel that the February half term is slipping by (no To Do list, this time; no day return rail ticket to St Pancras; just pottering/chillin’ with my hubby and the cats).


Yesterday, drive-everywhere me walked to the village Co-Op.  Twice.

The garden, which hasn’t stopped growing through the mild winter, beckons.  I spent a happy hour with hand shears and secateurs: one of the few ways I can switch off mentally and just ‘do.’ The snowdrops are out, the daffs fit to bust.  A gang of noisy sparrows gave me momentary hope that they’d occupy the nest box on our garage wall (never used in the fifteen plus years it’s been up there).

And there’s music.  Radio 6 Music to smooth the ironing.  David Bowie’s Black Star album on CD: a true artist.  And Adele’s 25.  I like her: she fits no mold, defies pigeon-holing.  And I’ve rejoined a local orchestra after a break of two-and-a-half years.  It’s as if I’ve never been away.  I’d forgotten how much I enjoy playing orchestral second violin.  And gigs with the ceilidh band are booking up.  Last Saturday was a blast: Little People UK’s 4th birthday bash:

imageAnd the writing, you ask?  My WIP folder is bulging with writing that hasn’t yet been typed up (mainly because I think it’s not heading towards a workable poem):


I’ve a bagful of notebooks begging to be plundered, in my Writing To Go bag:


All a drop in the ocean compared to the subfolders of subfolders of in progress/unfinished/dubious poems that lurk in the bowels of my laptop, defying a final draft (as if there is ever such a thing).

I’m also behind on a couple of MOOCs: Robert Burns (University of Glasgow) and Literature and Mental Health (Warwick University).  Procrastination has many forms.

When I’ve posted this, I’m heading to the kitchen to get some lunch, do a spot of cooking with my hubby, look out the window.


Whatever you’re doing today, I hope you’re enjoying the sunshine.



2016: the year in which…

I’m bucking the trend for year-end reflection, here.  Reader, this ain’t no retrospective.

I’m feeling purposeful:

  • I’ve dealt with the ironing pile (small, but, oh, how I hate those cotton shirts that cling to their wrinkles…)
  • I’m resisting the urge for a wardrobe purge (far too depressing)
  • I’m feeling smug in the way that teetotallers/designated drivers can, on New Year’s Day:)
  • I’m planning on this being a speedier-than-normal blog write, as I’ve not had any lunch yet
  • I might even clean another kitchen cupboard (not the one with out-dated baking products, and packets of bread sauce mix I couldn’t find on Christmas Day 2014 – that box has been ticked already)

I’m not about to make any New Year resolutions, either.  Instead, I’m hoping (or wishing – or both) that 2016 will be the year in which:

  • my hubby gets better from the injuries resulting from an RTA two years ago – or receives treatment/surgery/alternative therapy to alleviate symptoms/pain and improve his mobility – or at least is able to better control his pain level with drugs. This wish comes a post script: that we get out and about more, together.
  • the world I am leaving for my grandchildren will become a safer, more harmonious and caring place where people put aside their petty differences (and that includes inter-party and party-specific political argy-bargy – on which I have maintained a steadfast silence on social media – I want no part of it), misguided beliefs and greed for power and material wealth
  • I shake off the self-doubt that means I waste so much of my available time for writing, resorting more and more to the fail-safes of reading and social media
  • I look even harder for the chinks of light and let the passage of time take care of the dark days

I’m longing for my too-late-to-call-it-lunch, now!

I wish you all health, peace and happiness for 2016 – whatever that means for you, however you set about achieving this for yourself and your loved ones, and whoever you choose to spend the wealth of these intangibles with.

I’ll leave you with some lines of Emily Dickinson:

“Hope” is thing with feathers
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all-

You can read the whole poem (314) here.




Against the dying of the light

This post is not about poetry (apart from plundering a few words from Dylan Thomas’s most famous poem for a title).  It’s my response to winter’s shortening days and low light.

Lately, I’ve craved colour as a substitute for the lack of light.  A couple of weekends ago (feeling rather sorry for myself for being too poorly to go on a planned weekend away with my husband) I walked around the garden for a breath of fresh air:

IMG_5956 IMG_5959 IMG_5964 IMG_5966 IMG_5976 IMG_5967 IMG_5980












































This is not about poetry.  It’s pure self-indulgence on the shortest day of the year (and feeling under-the-weather for the third week in a row).

I’ve treated myself to a DVD of this documentary film:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/Fo8jwJ_2l0c” target=”_blank”>http://

Iris Apfel’s colour and style, at 93, is as enviable as her energy and joi de vivre (to say nothing of her CV).

I’ve recently discovered Anna Parkes’ blog, My Island Style.  A 57-year-old (like me) with a love of charity shops and bargain-hunting (me, too), she wears colour fearlessly (yup – in my dreams!).

I’ve followed Textile Treasury from the start.  I met Lynne several years ago in the fiddle class at an annual folk music summer school.  Between summer schools, we keep in touch via social media.  She’s also a talented crafter (Me? I barely know the eye from the point of a needle) and her blog is a horn of plenty for colour-cravers.

Not a poetry post, it’s likely that most readers have not got this far!  So here’s a link that includes some poetry:

I discovered CALM THINGS via Antony Wilson’s blog.  Canadian writer Shawna Lemay’s Monday blog is a calm and contemplative e-space on the least calm day of my working week.  I like the mix of commentary, poetry and photography – yes, there are lots of photographs capturing light and colour, as the eye behind the lens has sought them out, even at a time of year when one has to look harder.  A kind of meditation, I guess.

Yesterday necessitated a trip to Asda for new Christmas tree lights.  Unlike the loop ones I’ve cursed over for years, these went on like a dream:


I wish you all peace, love and happiness over the festive season.

After ModPo: a few thoughts

I’ve blogged about MOOCs and ModPo (Modern and Contemporary American Poetry) on more than one occasion.  After two previous attempts, I’ve just completed ModPo 2015’s 10-week course: I read the poem texts, watched and made notes on podcasts and videos of poem discussions. I decided not to write any of the four assigned essays.  Neither did I offer comments on discussion forums.  There just aren’t enough work-free days in my week to fulfill those commitments.

Why did I ‘do’ ModPo?  Maybe I wanted to prove to myself that I do have ‘staying power.’  Maybe I wanted to devote even more time to reading, for a while.  The more I read, the more I’m aware how poorly read I am – woefully so, in terms of American poetry.

Anyway, before I consign another A4 spiral-bound notebook to the nether regions of my study, I’m allowing myself time for reflecting on what I’ve learned.  Said notebook is rammed with cut-and-pasted-in poem printouts, annotations and contextual notes. The wretched thing won’t shut.  As I type, it’s on the dining room table beside my laptop – mouth half-open.  It’s got so much it wants to say but that’d make for a very long blog post.

I’ve spent the past ten weeks reading/listening to the modern and contemporary American poetry that constitutes the ModPo syllabus – meeting almost all of the poems and poets for the first time.  Many of them are what you (read ‘I’) might call ‘difficult’ poems.  I would certainly have moved swiftly on, had I encountered them during solitary web browsing.  I might not have persevered as far as a second, never mind a close reading.

ModPo has been a ten-week act of interrogating the language of each poem: its sounds (including sonic translations of the work of others), the writer’s creativity – or deliberate uncreativity(?!), choice of form or constraint (or lack thereof) and whether form reflects content.  And what of the writer’s choice of words? What happens when Gertrude Stein frees a subject/object from its imposed name?  What happens when language is freed from the conventions of syntax?

That notebook is making me ponder how much I might have missed/passed over in my poetry reading to date.

Some commonalities amongst the ModPo poets:

Each poet interrogated language – its sounds/words/syntax/structure – to extract or communicate new meaning or truth.

Each poet radicalised the conventional use of language and ‘made it new.’

Their poetry requires the reader – or listener – to work harder in search of meaning which lies in ‘how’ rather than ‘what’ is written.

To paraphrase a closing comment from one of the ModPo TAs: How can we, as writers, interrogate language to represent our own narratives and confront our shared experience?

Charles Bernstein said that the point of literature is not to give answers but to ask questions.

If poetry is about the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what,’ then am I looking – or listening – hard enough?

ModPo course materials are available for use until Sept 2016.  Today is the last day for registration if you’re interested.  There’s no fee.  Here’s the link.


Word Art

This is not the blog post I set about writing.  (That’s the nature of the beast, I hear you say).

In August, I visited the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition as a first-timer.  TV documentation of the selection process, exhibition preparations and the launch event didn’t come near.  I won’t gush.  Suffice it to say that I loved the juxtaposition of different styles, subjects and media against the vividly-painted walls:


and sculptures that parted the throng of visitors as they commanded floor space (not least among them, Cork Dome, by my favourite sculptor, David Nash).


By now, you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with the title of this post – unless, of course, you’ve seen Tom Phillip’s Humument.


This year, the artist was honoured with an entire room dedicated to what has become the work of a lifetime.



Chancing upon W. H. Mallock’s novel, The Human Document, in 1966, Tom Phillips imposed some constraints upon his love of wordplay but admits that “serendipity is [his] best collaborator.”

Here’s the first treatment of page 33, where he began in 1966:

First version 1973

web source: http://www.tomphillips.co.uk/humument/slideshow/1-50/item/5898-page-33

and its revised treatment in 1994:

4th Edition, 1980 - Page 1

web source: http://www.tomphillips.co.uk/humument/slideshow/1-50/item/5898-page-33

Here’s a re-working of page 4 (2007) that stopped me in my tracks:

4th Edition, 1980 - Page 1

web source: http://www.tomphillips.co.uk/humument/slideshow/1-50/item/5850-page-4

You can read about Humument’s origins, Phillip’s page treatments and revisions here.  You can also view the complete work as a slideshow (although there’s a lot of mouse clicking/navigation involved), including the original pages of text.

I’m still exploring…

When a book won’t let go

I might have said this before: I’m a slow reader.  It can take me weeks to read a weighty novel.  Dense text, small font size and narrow spacing puts me right off.

I like a page that’s easy on the eye.

With plenty of white space around the words.

Something that I can read




if I need (or want) to.

“Like poetry”  I hear you say?

So I understand, to some extent, how pupils with specific reading difficulties feel when faced with page after page of the stuff.  You can see the panic in their eyes each time they turn the page.

I love my work as a teacher and tutor of struggling readers. I love guiding them through the morass: facilitating background knowledge, making it relevant; ‘picturing’ powerful passages as screen shots (with sound effects.  Why not?); finding the poetry in the prose (goes without saying) and all that grows a lifelong love of books and reading.  (Yay, verily, the State Education policy-makers doth now acknowledge the importance of Reading for Enjoyment, gawd bless ’em).

One of the highlights of my teaching week is the hour I spend with a dyslexic pupil whom I’ve tutored for the past five years.  A large part of the ground we cover, these days, is the advance reading of class texts. Like this meaty (and mighty) read:


These lessons are very much a shared experience, down to the rollercoaster of emotions that comes from empathy with the main characters (even though I’ve read ahead).  Last Sunday afternoon, and having reached the Big Reveal on page 222, the book just wouldn’t let go.  I HAD to read the last sixty or so pages right there and then.  To leave the ‘picture’ on pause would have been unbearable. (The roast dinner could wait; the book wouldn’t). So I read on, with the text as my film script, the images and sound effects as captivating (and horrific) as any cinema experience.

Wednesday’s lesson was a hurtle to the end, with total immersion.  I read key passages and my pupil read the letters which moved the plot towards its climax (yes, we cued the soundtrack) and tied together the remaining loose strands.  The lesson ended in a three-way conversation as her mum (and shared reading partner, between times) joined us and talked about the profound effect the book had had on her, too.

Amen to the power of words and the art of writing.