Catching up on reading

First, the confessional: it’s been over five months since I last clicked ‘Add New’ on the drop-down menu under ‘Posts’ on this site’s Dashboard.


I’ve either been too busy (Really?  Then how come…):


Warwick Davis ‘auditions’ for Moggy in the Wood

Or too tired (Ditto).


Or both.


Okay, you get the picture(s).

Whatever I’ve not been doing, I have been reading.  Lots. I’ve made real inroads into that To Read jenga tower.  Here’s a just small selection of recent poetry reads:


I have subscribed to Magma for years; I consider it to be one of the best ‘shop windows’ for the breadth and the best of contemporary poetry.  Warsan Shire’s Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth both shocked and enthralled; compelling reading.  Annette Boehm’s The Knowledge Weapon is Bare Fiction’s newest pamphlet publication.  I bought this online after Boehm’s reading of poems from the pamphlet, with introductions, on Transatlantic Poetry.  You can watch the podcast, including Victoria Kennefick’s fine reading, here.

Add to these several novels and the odd fashion/lifestyle mag (all now shared/re-homed via the staff room coffee table), links to articles and other ‘stuff’ on Twitter and Facebook plus a growing number of blogs I follow and – well, you get the picture.

In the spirit of catching up, I’ve just unearthed four unread copies of NAWE Writing in Education periodicals from my Writing-Stuff-(Not)-On-The-Go bag after the latest issue landing on the hall floor with this morning’s post:


The focus of the current issue is Teaching Creativity, a subject close to my heart, both as a writer and as a Primary Teacher.  In fact, it is Robert Hull’s article, Testing Times for Schoolchildren, that has prompted this post.  From a Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem, ‘Where go the boats?’ being washed up on the barren shores of comprehension testing in a KS1 Reading test to test rehearsal and time devoted to wrestling with grammatical concepts like ‘cohesion’ and ‘fronted adverbial’ in primary classrooms across the land at the expense of a creative, integrated narrative of reading and writing.  Hell, yes, I’m right with you, Mr Hull.

I must add, at this point, that the ‘Poetry By Numbers’ and end-of-year league-table-posted-on-the-form-room-wall of exam results approach of my 1970’s ‘Girls’ High Schooling’ was not dissimilar to the current regime.

Nevertheless, teachers then, as now, did/do succeed in fostering a love of words/books/reading and in enriching children’s lives in spite of national legislation by politicians in ivory towers and ‘education professionals’ with vested interests (oh, yes, ye pedlars of products).  I don’t remember her name but I do remember the A’level English teacher who brought to life Cantos I to IV of Byron’s Don Juan as if it was a  pop-up book.  And there were other inspiring teachers, too.

And poetry worked its own magic:  the vivid, shocking imagery of Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum est and Mental Cases brought home the horrors of trench warfare better than any History lesson ever could; the sound echoes of W H Auden’s On This Island led me to rediscover the poem forty-odd years after studying it, when I could only remember the pluck/and knock of the tide and the shingle scrambles after the suck/-ing surf.

There are many talented writers and artists in education who inspire creativity.  Last October, poet David Harmer got ‘down with the kids’ from Nursery to our uber-cool Year 6s for Whole School Reading Day during Leicester’s Everybody’s Reading week.  (He came highly recommended by Year 5 pupils and their previous teachers who’d attended his workshop session funded by Whatever it Takes during Author Week).  He engaged and involved every pupil with his lively and comical performance of poems about space aliens, pirates, parents and teachers.  In writer-led creative writing workshops, Years 2 and 6 wrote their own class poems which they performed to the rest of the school before our visiting poet presented each class with a set of signed copies of his poetry books.

And the legacy, minister? Since then, poetry has appeared regularly throughout the school in displays of pupils’ creative writing; a Year 5 pupil gave me a personal performance of her ‘latest poem’; an increasing number of poetry book loans from our KS1 and KS2 libraries appear as ‘table top’ reads or go home in book bags.  And, in a post-SATs teacher swap, our Literacy Coordinator was treated to an impromptu rendition of Harmer’s ‘Mr Moore’ poem as their own Mr W retreated down the corridor.

As More Able, Gifted & Talented coordinator, I’ve another To Read pile:


Whatever you’re reading this summer, may the power of words continue to delight/surprise/shock/educate/inspire/transport/transform.

One for left-handed readers.

For left-handed readers.

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:” 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:

and its revised treatment in 1994:

4th Edition, 1980 - Page 1

web source:

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

4th Edition, 1980 - Page 1

web source:

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…