Monday, 6 June 2016

End of May '16: Jo Dixon and Kathy Pimlott

If you were taking notes – of course you were – you’ll remember that in May’s blog post I said I’d discuss a Nottingham event. The slick team behind Commonplace travel all around the East Midlands you know. Last Tuesday, I went to Five Leaves Bookshop to attend the Nottingham launches of two pamphlets; Goose Fair Night (Emma Press) by Kathy Pimlott and A Woman in the Queue (Melos Press) by Jo Dixon. It definitely had a sense of ‘place’ about it. Kathy comes from Nottingham originally, so lots of her family were there. Kathy now lives in Seven Dials, which is slap bang in the middle of central London. Can you imagine what it would be like? It reminds me of a Kinks’ song, ‘every night I look at the world from my window.’ Jo is a native of Nottingham now, but some of her family come from Bethnal Green, so there was an exchange there between the two cities.

Kathy Pimlott & Jo Dixon...May 31st Five Leaves, Nottingham

Both readers complemented each other very well; there was a genuine sense of harmony between them. Like a certain ball game, it was an evening of two halves, with both Kathy and Jo delivering two short readings in each part. I’d never heard Kathy read and I’d only heard Jo read out one poem before. That poem was ‘NICU’ and one of my favourites by Jo, a very honest poem about the experience of having a newborn in a Neo-Natal ward. It’s also featured in the pamphlet and she performed a moving reading of it on the night. One of the things the staff do for parents is to take photos of the babies, as the poem says, ‘just in case.’ The emotion is reined in, but it’s there.  Exactly like a parent who has to be practical in this situation and deal with the day to day aspects of having a new baby: even though the threat of something dark is there, ‘A Polaroid, 2” by 3 ½”... tuck him under your pillow.’  Jo’s reading also took us away from England and some of the poems were about South Africa. These were rich with images and full of the language of that region. One of the poems featured phrases from Xhosa (hope I got that right).  Commonplace is yet to travel that far physically, but has now done so in a poetic sense.

Until a few months ago, I hadn’t heard of Melos Press, but I think we’ll be hearing a lot more. That’s a tip off if you’re planning on submitting a manuscript for a pamphlet by the way. They are producing beautiful pamphlets and the poetry is of a high standard, as evinced in Jo’s pamphlet.

Place and memory also featured heavily in Kathy’s poems. For those of you who don’t know Goose Fair is Nottingham’s big annual event and it’s been going on for a very long time -  a mere seven hundred years or so. Even D.H. Lawrence would pop back home for it when he was in London. It made perfect sense to include Kathy’s poem, ‘You Bring Out the Nottingham in Me' on Commonplace. I love this poem; I love the energy, the imagery and its atmosphere. I think I first read it in The North and was struck by it then.  More about the poem below.

Kathy’s pamphlet is published by The Emma Press who you’ll remember from all those varied and imaginative themed anthologies. The Emma Press equally publish single-author collections too. They’re definitely becoming established now and feature lots of exciting titles, with some beautiful designs and illustrations included in their work. Their poetry has a kind of gutsiness I really admire. Sometimes in poetry we look to our ‘non-poetic’ friends and relatives as a barometer of what’s good and I can reliably say my ‘non-poetic’ cousin thought their anthology of dance poetry was amazing. In other words, The Emma Press are very good indeed. Go seek.

I asked Jo if it was ok to feature ‘Dead Ringer’ here and she kindly agreed.  Ostensibly, I chose this poem as it’s linked to place. Something similar to events in the poem occurred on Trent Bridge, but having typed out the poem I can see (and hear) there’s a heck of a lot going on that’s worth commenting on aside from place. Firstly, the poem deals with alcoholism,  in particular its physical impact on the body. We could discuss the emotional one too, but I think the poem leaves that open to interpretation. That's a hallmark of Jo's poetry, she keeps the emotion watertight and lets the details do the talking. To me, this poem is very honest about the effects of alcoholism on the body. It achieves that through sound as well as description, ‘spine into the bricks / disc by disc by disc.’ Then there’s the other physical indicators of ‘vascular spiders’ and ‘her eyes will be bilirubin yellow.’ Ok, I didn’t know what ‘bilirubin’ meant at first, but I can confirm it’s that sickly, thick shade of yellow you sometimes see around people’s eyes. So, how does the man in the poem know ‘her eyes’ will be ‘yellow’? This is where you get the chills, because he can see it in his own wife, as revealed in the last verse.

Dead Ringer

Waiting at the lights he spots
a woman leaning against
the wall of the Hope and Anchor.
She grabs at the air. Misses.
Her shoulder smacks the concrete slabs.

She levers herself up from the dog ends,
presses her spine into the bricks
disc by disc by disc. The string
of a storybook-balloon seems to tug
at her crown; she is tall.

Three undone buttons lay bare
her collarbone and he pictures
multiplying vascular spiders
flat under her skin.
Her eyes will be bilirubin yellow.

And she’ll be wearing
the same boozy perfume
that once seeped
from the bedsheets as he
tucked them around his wife.

The flatbed in front pulls away.

On to to Kathy’s poems, one of which is about Loughborough, where the vast editorial team behind Commonplace live and thrive. How could I, sorry we, not feature a poem about Loughborough? The poem’s about the Carillon Tower in Queen’s Park, not just any old tower, oh no. The Carillon is a very nifty bell tower – someone plays a keyboard and the keys are linked to bells at the top. You can walk a scary staircase right up there and look at them, all hugely shadowy and sublime. The tower was built in memory of people who died from the town in the First World War and composers such as Edward Elgar wrote music for it. I suppose we take the bells for granted here, you often hear them and the sound’s unusual in itself when it’s carried on the air. It’s ethereal and sometimes hauntingly out of tune. Kathy’s poem brought home the real meaning of what those chimes mean when they travel across the town – loss. 

What struck me about the poem is how the carillon bells are made in such fiery, atonal circumstances and then made and shaped to play harmonically. Loughborough has a history of bell making. I once went to the Bell Foundry here and I have to say it was like an inferno. That image of fire rather poignantly suits the war theme. I first saw a draft of this poem when it was in neat tercets, but in a workshop Matthew Caley told Kathy to ‘explode’ it, so the poem’s shape is very different now and it suits the theme and overall sound. So, without any further explanation...

How to Make a Carillon

First, lose two boys to a terrible war,
a loss heavier than Great Paul, fierce
as a maiden casting in spaces blasted,

                melted away. You must know how
                to judge then make a core and cope,
                to wait and wait again, have the stomach

to handle a loam of horseshit, straw,
sand, a steady hand to carry and pour fire,

to balance

the hum, prime, quint, nomimal,
                                                 the tierce,
                                                               in a true harmonic tuning.

Someone, not you, must build a tower in a park, tall
enough to launch a peal
across a town, a plain town such as a temperance group
may once have visited.

A carillonist then climbs
                the narrow stairs, puts on leather gloves,
                                strikes batons with loose fists, treads
                                                the pedals to shift levers and wires

lifting clappers to sound the forty seven bells
whose partial tones
are in such precise relationship
they ring out loss,

concordant loss,
                                                all across Loughborough.

Loughborough is on the way to Nottingham and now we travel a few miles north, next to the window seat with some beige tea, to the Goose Fair. Nottingham’s a spirited city; it can get pretty boisterous of an evening. What I like about this poem is the speaker’s softer side, despite the city's apparent hardness ‘tunnels undermine me secretly.’ This is true as the city is full of tunnels, but I love the fact the city and speaker are the same person or thing. I’ll leave you with Kathy’s poem and in the meantime, take care but enjoy yourself and make sure your mother knows where you are.

You Bring Out the Nottingham in Me
                After Sandra Cisneros

You bring out the Hyson Green and Forest Fields
of me, Saturday night and Sunday morning love
bite signalled by a chiffon scarf.

My scent is Dangerous October, hot engine oil,
hot sugar, Mouse Town must. In electric dark
beyond the caravans, I take on all just

for the glory and floor them tenderly to rock ‘n’ roll,
chain and lever growl and lovely screams.
I am all of these: china saucers of acetic

mushy peas, pomegranate pips eased
out with pins, bows and arrows, bouncing
fairy dolls and cocks on sticks.

Lace cuffs and stockings catch and run as Ludd
spills out of me. Only with you I’m dun sandstone,
tunnels undermine me secretly.

You bring it out of me, me duck, you do, that mardy
Lawrence fuck. With you I’m Clough-strut right, so say it,
say I walk in beauty like a Goose Fair night. 


Thank you very much to both Jo and Kathy for allowing me to include their poems. I should probably get down to work on some of my own, I think Kathy and Jo have inspired me to crack on. Commonplace will be back soon, unless the world's ended due to Brexit or media saturation.

In the Spotlight

Image result for poetry spotlight
Poetry Spotlight
Very quick post to say a big thank to Poetry Spotlight for including an interview with me on their website. I'd really recommend this site as it's packed with interviews from a growing list of poets.
Here's something directly from the website about its ethos:

What hopefully sets Poetry Spotlight apart a little from other poetry sites is that all poems featured are accompanied by a short interview with the author. A poem doesn’t appear out of thin air and it’s nice sometimes to learn a bit more about the person who penned it. Turns out they are often as interesting as the writing they produce. Beyond that, there is no other agenda than the hope these pages reach some kind of audience.

I could tell you what my interview's about, but you can read it for yourself here. And do have a look at the vast array of poets, interviews and poems included. It's a fantastic idea.