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The Hawthorn Halls (the anniversary edition)

As the weight of 2013 finally see-sawed to a staying position where the New Year could creep towards an unlocked door then it was time for the wave of reviews, top tens and ponderings to crash against the Windows. At what seemed an unstoppable pace, my hotmail doormat became loaded with lists of the best music, books, films and gadgets and gradually I began to lose the will so, with the type of wild abandonment that only a forty three year old knows, I did the one and only decent thing – turned the computer off.

You might have guessed – I was in a mood. I know that some people shudder at the annual round-ups but for me it’s great fun. Somehow time has an ability to trick you into a false sense of security until you suddenly find yourself sat in the same chair, at the same table, on the same day with the only difference being is that a year has passed between you and your memories.

This was my first full year as a poet (I’m using the term loosely as someone who has had some poems published) and a blogger (very loose term as someone who tries to write a bit and share the odd poem and some good music) and one in which I tried and tested a few ideas, allowing the blog to grow into the armchair of organic ramblings where it now sits. It’s just about there but with each new week comes a new idea so watch this space, as the marketers say.

Amongst the poetry round-ups where Greg Freeman’s excellent review of the year for Write Out Loud, Josephine Corcoran skipped to all the good bits bringing back some great memories of the Derwent Poetry Festival whilst Robin Houghton’s Poetgal blog is quickly becoming a favourite with a chatty style and great insights into the world of poetry publishing. Both Josephine and Robin also celebrated the blog of fellow poet, Anthony Wilson, who’s series, Lifesaving Poems has been a personal favourite throughout the twelve months.

I first came across Anthony’s story at the beginning of 2013 and was immediately struck by the honesty and integrity of his writing.  Perhaps it was the fact that at forty two I was the same age as Anthony had been when he was first diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; perhaps it was the family, the children, the home, the job, the friends and everything else in his life that mirrored my own which the disease tried to break. I immediately ordered the book Love for Now and read it in a couple of sittings. My wife thought I was being a little morbid after discovering what the book was about and that I wasn’t secretly indulging in romantic fiction. The book is described as a hymn to everyday living and in a year in which cancer has broken the lives of both close family and friends it’s sometimes worth being reminded to stop and count your blessings.

Anthony recently published the most read Lifesaving Poems of 2013 and I was sorry to see that my favourite from the year wasn’t on the list. Swineherd by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin is a poem that seems to resonate the more it is read. It is shrouded in its own mystery and all the more better for it. In response to Anthony’s post I commented that Swineherd was in my new top ten. The sentiment was right but the world is too big to have top tens. Perhaps I should have said it’s a poem I’m jealous of, one I wish I had written.

The reader and keeper shelves are sagging under the weight of new purchases this year and of particular note in the anthology section are Sculpted – Poetry of the North West edited by Lindsey Holland and Angela Topping and 1914 Poetry Remembers edited by Carol Ann Duffy.

Sculpted was launched at one of the monthly poetry nights organised by Sarah Corbett at The Bookcase in Hebden Bridge. I’m keeping quiet about these wonderful evenings as it’s already hard to get a seat but for November we listened to Peter Riley telling stories of his trip to Andorra which inspired the book The Glacial Stairway published by Carcanet. Another favourite, also published by Carcanet is Parallax by Sinéad Morrissey. Finally the long awaited debut collection from Helen Mort landed on the doormat proudly wearing all its South Yorkshire colours. At first glance everything about Division Street seems perfect and the recent release of government documents from 1984 will only serve to enhance the power of poems such as Scab. This is a book I need to savour.

In the world of prose, in 2013 I discovered two masterpieces. The Music Room by William Fiennes and To A Mountain In Tibet by Colin Thubron are both exquisitely written and deserve to be read by everyone. The shelves are already being filled with more Thurbron and the anticipation is wonderful.

Musically, 2013 was a mixed bag and we should have known something was afoot when David Bowie made a surprise release in March with The Next Day – possibly the best album cover ever? Go on – I dare any other artist to simply stick a white square over one of their previous best album covers when they’re two years a pensioner.  Musically it’s as sharp as anything he’s done in the last twenty years and in parts his voice sounds alive with the excess of the nineteen seventies.

The album of the year – and yes, in a musically indifferent year there is just one – comes from an artist who, admittingly, I’ve struggled with over the years. I nearly got Murder Ballads, I very nearly got Dig Lazarus Dig but finally I’ve really got Push The Sky Away by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. It is absolutely startling and deserves to win every award going. Here’s to the next year with more poetic ramblings, a dose of good music and a few surprises along the way.

All the best,

David.

Higgs Boson Blues by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

The Hawthorn Halls (the saltwater edition)

If I was to step out of my front door and leap in to the air and whilst doing so grow wings then I would almost certainly join the crows to see if they do, in fact, fly in straight lines. It would be quite easy to tell by simply watching the passing towns below; first there would be Hebden Bridge to my left and then over moorland towards Colne before dissecting the M6 at Kirby Lonsdale and coming into land at Windermere or possible Ambleside to avoid the tourists. I might, if feeling adventurous, carry on towards Scafell Pike but perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m guessing it would take little less than an hour travelling at a constant speed and I would most definitely be home for tea. Regardless of all this, however, I still do not live in the North West.

Although, due to the Yorkshire watershed, I will never be a North Westerner, it was still a pleasure to hop over to Hebden Bridge (albeit by car) last week for the launch of the new poetry anthology, Sculpted. Described as the poetry of the North West, Sculpted is a collection of poems by sixty two of the NW best contemporary poets and to prove it, six of those poets crammed in to the sell out (yes, sell out) launch on a wet and windy Thursday evening.

Hosted by Hebden’s very own independent book shop, The Book Case, the line up included readings from J.T. Welsch, Andrew Oldham, Melissa Lee-Houghton and John Siddique. Also adding to the impressive line-up were the book’s editors, Angela Topping and Lindsey Holland.

J.T. (I don’t know and didn’t dare ask) opened the show and for me was the surprise hit of the event. There’s not a hint of red squirrels in his poem, Formby which he opened with and immediately mesmerised the audience into silence. Buy the book for this one poem alone and read it out loud in your best American accent to fully appreciate the playful use of language and imagery. And if you’re familiar with Formby, you or the kids won’t be disappointed by the lack of squirrels.

Angela Topping’s The Visited brought back some wonderful memories of being dragged around to people’s houses by my mother and very simply just popping in for a cuppa. This was something that just happened, and whilst mums would be knocking on the neighbours it was just as likely that the neighbours would be offering the courtesy of three knocks on our own door before tramping in and plonking themselves down at the kitchen table. Imagine Facebook in real life and you’re somewhere near.

John Siddique was the last to read and it was a joy to finally hear him in the right environment. The last time I saw John was in a busy Waterstones in Bradford where he battled against the piped pop hits of the day and where the manager had very kindly provided only three seats for the audience. You may not be surprised that there was only one shelf of poetry, tucked away at the back of the shop with a fantastic collection of Larkin, Duffy and Shakespeare (sales, however, were down).

John began by reading his contribution to the anthology, I Think of You in which he tenderly uses the sense of a place, this being ‘Spring Wood’ at Hardcastle Crags to recall a lost love. After several poems from earlier books, John ended the evening with poems from Full Blood. His moving introduction that recounted the horrors witnessed in Woolwich earlier made the poem, Thirst particularly thought provoking and, in many ways, healing. http://www.johnsiddique.co.uk

Many a fine wine was drunk throughout the evening and it was a joy to meet so many wonderful poets and supporters of poetry in one swoop. The continued absence of wings meant that I could only watch the wine being soaked so eventually bid farewell and joined the one road out.

Lying next to John, in an editorial sense, in the anthology is a new poem from the very hard working, Kim Moore. Being Married retains the same voice that created many of the poems in her wonderful, prize winning pamphlet, If We Could Speak Like Wolves. I’ve been a fan of Kim’s poetry since reading some of her work through The Poetry Business but refrained from buying a pamphlet as I’ve been trying to catch her live at one of her many readings – it seems that Kim could also possibly do with a set of wings after following her adventures on the blog. Sadly work commitments have led me astray so it was a nice coincidence that together with last week’s Sunday Poem, Kim announced the arrival of a PayPal button on her site. Without further ado, the button was pressed and two days later the pamphlet arrived, signed and with a thank you note. Find out more at http://kimmoorepoet.wordpress.com

Also on the reading list this week is Gillian Allnutt’s How the Bicycle Shone, Garry Ely’s Angel Visits and, courtesy of the PBS, Michael Symmons Roberts’ Drysalter. You may not see me for a while.

Musically, the Heavy Rotation award this week goes to The National with their new release, Trouble Will Find Me. What, with the lack of wings and everything, it’s been on constant play in the car which is a good thing as with any The National release, several plays bring gifts from music heaven. As a taster, here’s the opener which will very soon be taken its leave from the Halls and probably flying into a digitally sundrenched North Western sky.