Monday, 29 September 2014

Tuesday Poem: Pascale Petit - Blackbird

When they locked me
in the cellar

and told me to count
slowly to a hundred,

each number
became a blackbird's feather

and all the darkness

through the keyhole
of my yellow beak.

© Pascale Petit
From 'Fauverie'  published by Seren Books Sept. 2014

This week is National Poetry Day in the United Kingdom.  It is also the publication date of Pascale Petit's eagerly anticipated collection 'Fauverie'.  This collection does not disappoint - it's brilliant, moving, hard-hitting. I feel very privileged to have seen an advance copy.  For more poetry from Fauverie and a full review of the collection, please click over to the main Tuesday Poem hub where it is being featured.   And please check out what the other Tuesday poets are posting through the links on the sidebar.

PS - 'Caracal' from Fauverie is the Guardian's 'Poem of the Week' chosen by Carol Rumens.

 Fauverie, published by Seren Books, Sept. 2014

"The Fauverie of this book is the big-cat house in the Jardin des Plantes zoo. But the word also evokes the Fauves, ‘primitive’ painters who used raw colour straight from the tube. Like The Zoo Father, Petit’s acclaimed second collection, this volume has childhood trauma and a dying father at its heart, while Paris takes centre stage – a city savage as the Amazon, haunted by Aramis the black jaguar and a menagerie of wild animals. Transforming childhood horrors to ultimately mourn a lost parent, Fauverie redeems the darker forces of human nature while celebrating the ferocity and grace of endangered species. Five poems fromFauverie won the 2013 Manchester Poetry Prize and the manuscript in progress was awarded an Arts Council England Grant for the Arts.”

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Autumn Leave-taking

It's time to leave and drive back down across Europe.  We're taking it slowly, so it may take a few days to cross France and Switzerland and then make our way down through Italy.    Neil's sculpture is now properly installed in its new home in a garden opposite John Clare's cottage and the car has been given a clean bill of health for another year.

Hard to leave home when the trees have just begun to burn on the river bank, but we have to get back to Italy before I fly off to New Zealand next weekend.  I feel like a migratory bird, taking wing across continents, following the swallows south.

Nice news before I go though - just been emailed to say that Ink Sweat and Tears are featuring one of my poems 'Remembering the Trees', next week (Oct 2nd) for National Poetry Day, and Flash Fiction Magazine have accepted one of my short shorts (3 sentences!) for October 9th.  Yay!!!  Makes me feel better about being rejected by Bare Fiction.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Tuesday Poem: Cliff by Jennifer Copley

She and her sister stand at the top, looking down.
They can see the sea, the lighthouse
and the salt-walled church.

She and her sister think what it would be like to jump –
long hair, brown dresses,
tumbling into the giant water.

This morning they sat in church,
heard the story of the pillar of salt
and how Lot lay with his daughters.

She and her sister became aware of a shuddering
along the pew, a straightening of spines,
a pinkening of their father’s ears.

Always they dread Sundays – the motherless day –
left to the will of God, the will of the wind.

From the collection Sisters: © Jennifer Copley
Published by Smokestack Books
Buy it here . . .

Who are these girls?  Why are they standing with their backs to the camera?  These questions appear on the back cover of Jennifer Copley’s latest collection ‘Sisters’.  The answer is that both girls are dead – for this is one of the ‘post-mortem’ photographs taken by Victorian photographers for grieving parents.  Often, when loved ones died, the family didn’t have a photograph and they were desperate for some memorial.  It seems bizarre to us, as well as ghoulish, to think about the dead bodies being dressed and then propped up on frames in a photographic studio to be pictured as if they were still alive.  Sometimes their faces would be over-painted to resemble the living, but if the photographer wasn’t skilled at this technique, a view was chosen that portrayed them asleep, or avoided showing the face.

Jennifer Copley became fascinated by this photograph in particular and began to think about sisterhood and death.  The poems in the collection explore both, as well as other complicated family relationships.  They have been described as ‘urgent, visceral . . . not for the faint-hearted’.

The motherless sisters stray in and out of fairy tales – Snow White and Rose Red, Hansel and Gretel – grandmothers, mirrors, apples and trails of pebbles feature in their lives as they make assignations with dubious boys (who might or might not turn into geese) and walk in the dark woods.  They dress up in their mother’s clothes;
‘Watching themselves in the mirror.
One drowning in a long pale dress.’

They fantasise about imprisoning their drunken father in the spare room and grinding his bones
‘a little at a time
into their gravies and stews’.

And then one day ‘there is no more us’.

One of my favourite poems, at the end of the collection is called ‘There’s Another Graveyard’ which was a prize-winner in the Bridport Poetry awards in 2010.

‘far more overgrown, brambly at the edges.
Sheep step across the threshold
liking the taste of this grass.
Our grandmother brought us here.
It was like a jar of quietness with a lid of sky –
the only place where you never cried.
She’d crochet, sitting straight-backed
against the wall, while I hunted four-leafed clovers
and you made grass and dandelion pies.
They say there’s no sound when someone crochets
but I can remember the rasp of wrinkled fingers
against wool, the sucking of teeth as a corner was turned.’

Sisters by Jennifer Copley

This is an unusual collection by a very accomplished poet who has published 6 collections, had poetry included in the Forward Prize anthology and set for GCSE exams.  She won the Ottakar's and Faber's poetry prize in 2006.  Jennifer Copley lives in Cumbria, where she was born in her grandmother's house in Barrow in Furness.  She has a wonderful website at

The Tuesday Poets are 28 poets from all over the world who share poetry every Tuesday.  We take it in turns to edit the main Hub.  This week's editor is Helen Rickerby, who also edits Jaam literary journal and she's chosen an unusual  poem by New Zealand poet Anahera Gildea.  Click on the link to take a look at the poem and see what other Tuesday Poets are posting. 

Monday, 22 September 2014

Monday Music: Happy in Tehran

It is illegal to be Happy in Tehran - particularly if you want to dance to the Pharrell Williams soul hit.

A group of young men and women were sentenced to 91 lashes each and six months imprisonment - the latter fortunately suspended.  ‘All were convicted of vulgarity and illicit relations’ and the women for dancing with their heads ‘illegally bared’, and for ‘jumping and jiving with the men’.  Apparently one of the judges described the video (which was uploaded to YouTube) as ‘pornography’.

The New York Times has some good coverage of this which you can read here.....

Friday, 19 September 2014

Eric Poitevin: A Hundred Men

On our way north from Italy, we called into LAM - the Museum of Modern Art at Lille in France. This  particular exhibition, being staged for the centenary of  World War I, was one of the highlights of the trip for me, and a welcome rest after spending 12 hours in the car driving yesterday and another 4 hours this morning.

In 1983, photographer Eric Poitevin, who studied at the School of Fine Art in Metz, had the idea of photographing a hundred veterans of the 1914-18 war.  He was influenced by Roland Barthes' work on photography - Image Music Text - looking at photography ‘not as art, but as evidence of what was’.

The Hundred Men, without names or any other identification, are lined up on the walls of one big room.

There are farmers and butchers, priests and teachers, members of the bourgeoisie, all side by side, in a moving record of a conflict that also killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of their compatriots and millions of others.
The photographer, the photographed and the exhibition!

Outside, the landscape is scattered with cemeteries where foreigners who came to fight and die were laid under identical white stones. Under the soil of Picardy is a root crop of bone and shrapnel.  The place-names slide past the autoroute like movie subtitles - the roses of Picardie, Vimy Ridge, the marshes of the Somme. . .

My own grandfather lost his health, his sanity, and almost his life in this landscape.  Like most of those who fought, like these men staring benignly at the camera, he came back changed both mentally and physically.
My grandfather in his private's uniform in 1914. He was a sergeant when invalided out.

The LAM museum houses one of the best collections of modern art in Europe.  Barry Flanagan’s ‘Boxing Hares’ stand in a corridor, perfectly framed by the window.

I particularly liked Daniel Buren’s stained glass shed, which you can walk around, like being inside an illuminated Rubic cube. It had a wonderful, calm feeling.

And there’s an extensive sculpture park outside where you can walk and picnic in acres of countryside.  This is Picasso’s Angel with Outstretched Arms.

The Channel Tunnel tomorrow and then northwards through England and East Anglia!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Started early - took the car ....

It's time for the annual trek back to Britain through Europe so that our English car can get an MOT and be in the UK for the one week a year demanded by our insurer.  You would think that the European Union would be able to standardise such things as MOTs wouldn't you?  In Europe a car is certificated for two years before having another check, but in England it has to be done every year and they don't recognise MOTs done in any other European country.  Crazy!

So, tonight was the last night in the Piazza for a while and tomorrow the alarm clock has been set for an 'extra presto' time to begin the long drive north.  Planning to stop somewhere in southern France the first night and then make for Lille to visit the museum of modern art there before diving under the Channel Tunnel.   Possibly Cumbria by Sunday afternoon. We're not planning to break any records!  Our car is getting quite elderly and needs nurturing.  No internet for three or four days probably, as we're staying in cheap motels, but hopefully back on line on Sunday. Fingers crossed for traffic and weather and the car!

Monday, 15 September 2014

Tuesday Poem: Black Sun


`Where does this black sun come from?  Out
of what eerie galaxy do its invisible, lethargic 
rays reach me, pinning me to the ground,
to my bed, compelling me to silence . .'
Julia Kristeva

There is a black sun
that shines on me
sometimes.  Her light
illuminating inner
landscapes;  cadences
of darkness,

every object
newly signified.

Through the black holes
of her eyes
new spectrums of vision
make the nakedness of things

There is a pause
between one linear moment
and the next.

In its silence
I hear the inter-stellar
static of the universe

alive with volcanic

She is a black mirror.
In her face I see
my dark self

© Kathleen Jones

This is dedicated to all my friends, and everyone else, who suffers from depression.  If you would like to read more poems around this subject, then please take a look at 'Voicing Shadow, Singing Light,' Carolyn Jess-Cooke's project exploring depression with poems by Ian Duhig, Andrew Forster, Kim Moore, Carrie Etter, Sean Burn and a host of others. 

Real depression isn't just getting 'a bit low' or 'feeling depressed' - everyone feels like that at times. No, real depression blanks out the sun and can even make you question your identity.  Adrienne Rich describes it in 'Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law' - 

"Sometimes she's let the tapstream scald her arm,
 a match burn to her thumbnail,

 or held her hand above the kettle's snout
 right in the woolly steam . . .
 since nothing hurts her anymore, except
 each morning's grit blowing into her eyes."

 In episodes of depression I've held my hand over a candle flame in order to see whether I could still feel anything at all. Suicidal thoughts creep in because you can't see any reason for staying alive and may even believe that your loved ones are better off without you. But many writers and artists find that in some extraordinary way, the darkness has a creative side to it, though it's also possible that we are more likely to suffer from depression because of the amount of introspection and self-searching that creative activity involves. It's a question I can't answer.

The Tuesday Poets share a poem every Tuesday.  There are 28 of us from all around the world.  This week Helen Lowe in NZ is sharing Anna Akhmatova's 'July 1914'.    And the Tuesday Poem hub is featuring  'SS Ventnor' by Chinese poet Chris Tse. If you would like to read this and see what else the Tuesday Poets are sharing please click on this link...... 

Friday, 12 September 2014

Comings and Goings

So now I'm back in Italy and struggling to unite body and soul in one place and one time again.  I have a long list of things I need to get done before I go back to England again next week - we're driving the car through Europe to deliver a sculpture and then put the car through its yearly health check.  Then it has to be driven back and a few days later I'm off to New Zealand.  All this toing and froing isn't good for me - I know this - and it isn't good for the planet either.  I dread to think what my carbon footprint looks like and it's no longer possible to argue that the way we live isn't having a major effect on the planet.

Italy is in the grip of turbulent weather - the wettest, coolest summer since records began.  I've only been back a few days and we've had thunderstorms that raged for more than 12 hours, bucket loads of rain, alternating with warm, sunny intervals.  The olive groves, usually brown and crisp at this time of year, are green.  There are very few olives left - most battered from the branches by the wind and rain. And the figs aren't as good as usual -  loads of them but flavourless and not as ripe as they should be. Last night it rained again. This afternoon is sunny, but already the rain clouds are building up on the horizon out over the Mediterranean.  A lot of this is blamed on the unusual behaviour of the Jetstream which is dragging warm air off the Atlantic across southern Europe.  But it's also the case that hot air is regularly coming up from Africa across a warm, wet Mediterranean mopping up the moisture and then shedding it over the mountains.
The jet stream this week - splitting in two directions
The Med is warming faster (and becoming more polluted) than other seas because it is small, shallow and more enclosed than others.  We've witnessed mass strandings and huge blooms of jelly fish in the past year or so and friends with boats report that  predators like barracuda are beginning to proliferate, and other species of warm water fish have been seen sneaking in from the Red Sea via Suez.  The ecology is changing fast.

But at least if it's raining I'm not tempted to spend too much time lazing in the sun.  I'm trying to finish my Italian stories - working name 'The Piazza' - before I go off to New Zealand.  Ten of the stories are complete, but there are two more still in bits and pieces of ragged prose.  I write in a patchwork kind of way, scribbling little scenes and then stitching them all together.  The last story is the most difficult, because it has to unite the other eleven and round it all off.
The Piazza, cover painting by Alexander Kleinloh

Then there's the submissions - one of my new resolutions is to try to submit more work to magazines and competitions.  It's good to have deadlines for completion and it's also good to have targets. Magazines and publishers these days tend to have 'windows' for submissions to prevent the editors from being swamped all year round by desperate authors.  So I'm trying to be very organised. Magma is a really good magazine for poetry, and then there's Bare Fiction, which has just begun. I've also recently discovered The Moth.   So far the submissions seem to be paying off - about 50% rejections, but the other 50% is very satisfying.  Two poems in the new issue of Domestic Cherry and a couple of stories in an Australian anthology coming out next year.  I've just got to do more!

Ironically I'm reading The Book of Silence by Sara Maitland, which is an analysis of solitude (though she doesn't distinguish between silence and solitude clearly enough).  At the moment, I could do with more of both, but I have as much chance of getting it as a raindrop does of surviving in hell!.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Tuesday Poem: Seamus Heaney - Blackberry Picking

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

© Seamus Heaney

If you'd like to see a video of Seamus Heaney reading the poem please click on this link. 

The blackberries are ripe here at the moment, just as the northern skies begin to take a silvery tint and the leaves curl at the edges.  There's the nip of autumn in the air, though it's hot enough in the afternoons.   I've been out with my stick, pulling the hedgerows down, spiking my fingers on the brambles, making sure I leave some for the birds and some for others.  I'm covered in scratches,  but they taste so good boiled up with apples and sugar!   Seamus Heaney's poem is about desire and hope and disappointment as much as blackberries;  a remembered childhood idyll that had a 'rat-grey fungus' over it.  I love the images - if you look down into the can you're picking into, it really does look like 'a plate of eyes'.  Favourite lines?  'summer's blood was in it/Leaving stains on the tongue' and 'our palms sticky as Bluebeard's'. 

Blackberry and apple crumble anyone?

We're a group of 28 poets from New Zealand, Australia, USA, Canada, France, Italy and the UK.  If you'd like to see what the other Tuesday Poets are posting, why not click through to the Tuesday Poem Hub for more really great poetry from around the world. 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Cheer up! It's Monday - with the Unthanks

This weekend there were amazing celebrations over in Newcastle for the millionth runner in the Great North Run.  There were parties along the river Tyne, fireworks and a massive live music event.  Sting was performing with the Unthanks.  So I thought I'd share The Unthanks singing 'On a Monday Morning'.  If you haven't heard this folk duo before - they're brilliant.  This is Rachel Unthank singing with Winterset.

I'm on my way back to Italy at the moment and hope to get myself together later this week!

Friday, 5 September 2014

Do Authors Dream of Electric Books?: Uncomfortable Statistics - Kathleen Jones takes a ...

Do Authors Dream of Electric Books?: Uncomfortable Statistics - Kathleen Jones takes a look at the current state of publishing in the UK.

Some uncomfortable Statistics for traditional publishers - Good news for Indies - The Big 6 are not so big any more.  According to the latest figures for 2013, Penguin Random House came top of the table with a 24% share of the market, but its sales were down £342m (15%).  All the others - Hachette, HarperCollins, Pan MacMillan, Bloomsbury, Simon & Schuster and Pearson were also down.  Their total share of the market was only 59% - down from 70% in 2001.  Is this a sign that their dominance of the book trade is fading?  I think it is.  But they won't go down without a fight, so - more turbulent times ahead.

To read more please click on this link ....

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Having fun at Seven Stories

Seven Stories, in Newcastle, is the National Centre for Children's Books.  During the school holidays, with a houseful of  bored children and young people aged from 16 years to 10 months we decided to take a day out and go and explore.

Seven Stories, arranged on 7 floors of an old industrial building, is the perfect place to get children involved with books if they haven't tried them already and absolute heaven for everyone - including grown-ups - who loves books.

There are cosy places to settle down with your kids and read some of the thousands of books in the bookshop.

Bright window seats to sprawl on.

A very good selection of young adult fiction as well as books for teeny tots.

There are whole floors devoted to individual books where you walk through the pages.

This was the entrance to Alice

You could downsize for the Borrowers

pose on the film set for Lost and Found

climb into Cinderella's coach

and fool about with Angelina

Some of us were very silly indeed!

At the top there was a room where you could dress up as any kind of fairy tale you fancied

And there was someone to read us all a story

In the basement we coloured and cut out and were generally messy.

This was one of the best days out I've ever had - indulging my inner child (or entering my second childhood!) and the other children all enjoyed it too.  If only there were more book places like this for children and adults.

Seven Stories, Newcastle upon Tyne