It’s my submissions month, so lots of fat brown envelopes are flopping onto the mat.

It’s my submissions month, so lots of fat brown envelopes are flopping onto the mat.

The furore of Christmas is also in the air. Pressure builds, pressure builds. Santa is King at the Kingdom Centre, with grandparents and small queuing up. When a poetry submission is sent recorded delivery, and I have to drive to the sorting depot at the other side of town to pick it up, I get testy.

But all three new pamphlet publications are here finally, as well as three new PoemCards. Consequently, packets are being parceled up and sent thither and hither, fro and to, hence and whence.

And as for the new hardbacked (the only HappenStance hardbacked) book by Gerry Cambridge, I have just ordered extra large padded envelopes for the customers who send for more than one (It is nice. It does make a good Christmas gift, and at the moment all copies come with a PoemCard featuring what I call ‘Gerry’s pink poem’ laid in).

I’m afraid all the special editions of Notes for Lighting a Fire, those lettered A to Z, are spoken for, so if you’ve asked for one and haven’t had it confirmed, it’s because I haven’t had your email (this sometimes happens when people hit ‘reply’ to the newsletter, instead of as suggested. If this applies to you, I am sorry.) If you would like a signed copy of either Gerry’s book or Peter Gilmour’s pamphlet and are in Scotland, come along to the launch next week at the Scottish Poetry Library — Saturday afternoon. There will be snacks. There will be something to imbibe. There will be some excellent people.

Stamps, stamps, stamps. I am keeping the post office going single-handed, I swear.

Rather than the usual blurb about new publications, I thought I’d share a few lines from each, some of the phrases or stanzas I’ve come to love while working on these them. Just a wee taste of the bits that crackle.  Looking at the extracts, I can see they look a little ominous—even a bit grim maybe. Remember what Kay Ryan said? “Poetry never adds to your burden. It never weighs you down.” These poems are charged with energy. They lift you up.

Besides, for anyone thinking of making a submission, there’s an insight into what I liked and continue to like, since I can’t explain that in words, only recognize it when I see it.


Sue Butler: Arson


as magpies, aging, luck. As women
gossiping. As Elgar, Tess, Kier and why.


Peter Gilmour: Taking Account

and how can they who lack holiness know

how the unhallowed spirit sticks and dies?


David Hale: The Last Walking Stick Factory

Between jobs, he designs a coffin,

roughs out measurements,
makes it snug
but with room for expansion

Sue Butler: Arson

Now she tells the tribal elders
she’s leaving the land. They mock
her desires: Fool. Look

which side your bread is buttered

(they like to speak
in metaphor).

Peter Gilmour: Taking Account

I married a woman who killed herself.
Our children then were thirteen and fourteen
and I, fifty, and God, they say, is ageless.


David Hale: The Last Walking Stick Factory

………………….Our work calls for edges,

the sharper the better. Even though I can see
what you say is true, we’re running out of lint and pins

and words for pain, and surely this is beyond probability,
this tendency of restless steel drawn as if by moon

or some other magnetic force through skin and nail.
No mere carelessness could spill so much blood.

Sue Butler: Arson

We drink tea and nothing happens
until something slight
puts down its mug, opens the door
with hardly a click.

Peter Gilmour: Taking Account

No, they are not my parents.
Mine were never that intimate,
as I have said, will say again
as many times as are required.
Were never that intimate!
Will that do? Is that enough?


David Hale: The Last Walking Stick Factory

There’s a man with a rope
running through the woods
this cold November day,

looking for a tree,
a bough—anything solid,
manageable, quick.


There was a time when I couldn’t have gone, and I haven’t forgotten it.

There was a time when I couldn’t have gone, and I haven’t forgotten it.

But last weekend I went. I was part of the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, part of the Aldeburgh audience, and it was a pleasure and a privilege.

Not everyone feels like that. More than one practising poet has told me how scary they find poetry festivals: they have tiptoed in to find themselves an outsider in an ‘in’ crowd. Some never get there at all: apprehension (or suspicion, or poverty) prevents them trying.

But others make it, and you can see the exhilaration in their eyes. It’s a restrained sort of exhilaration: no shrieking and bounding; not even much sign of alcoholic excess.

It’s the exhilaration of intent listening, nodding, murmuring – even arguing. It’s the excitement of applied intelligence and delight – the Aldeburgh hmmm.

This festival is generous and it is welcoming. Here is a crowd of people who embrace words, and love using them (but not exploiting them). A festival is for celebration, and these are the celebrants. It is quite a cerebral celebration, of course, but no less exciting for that.

And it is welcoming. It isn’t a set of punters all assembled to marvel at the feet of the GPs (Great Poets). The GPs – the people you pay to get in to see and hear – are there marveling too. They are wandering through the streets of the village marveling and talking and meeting all the others. They are out in the playground, playing.

What are they all marveling about? What are they all talking about out in the playground? Poetry.

What is Poetry? Nobody knows. And it doesn’t matter. Here, Poetry’s a way of reading.

You come away with snippets, fragments, musical sentences trailing round your ankles. Here’s one from Peter Sansom: “You start off by writing, don’t you? And then you get over that, and start to learn to read.”  And another from Kay Ryan, talking about the dark and sad: “Poetry never adds to your burden. It never weighs you down.”

What is Poetry? It is a kind of reading. It is reading like no other. It is listening like no other. It never adds to your burden. It never weighs you down.

I worry about one thing. When I was younger (in my twenties and thirties and forties) when I wrote alone and didn’t speak of it, when writing, for me, was a secret affair and blogs did not exist – I could never have gone to a poetry festival. It was all I could do to pay for the books I bought, and in those days, I got a huge number of them out of a library. Yes, I even ordered books from the library, which cost £1.00 per book, and I thought that quite enough.

I could not have paid for train tickets to run the length of the island, for tickets to get in, for places to stay, for food. I had obligations, and not enough money to meet them.

Now I am old(ish) and my children have left home and are much taller than me. They are even employed! So I can get to a festival, if I choose to, though the most precious thing in the world to me is no longer money, but time. And I can’t help noticing a huge proportion of the Aldeburgh celebrants are in my sort of age group and my sort of colour and even my sort of gender…. (the same cannot be said of the GPs).

But festivals are running out of money, Arts Councils have run out of money, culture is competing for your cash. My cash.  Dear me – I am even one of the competitors. I want you to buy HappenStance publications with the same money you might spend on going to a Festival or a reading.

But I want festivals to continue. I want the money to be found. The money pays for brilliant organizers and lovely venues and wonderful GPs. But I’d like there to be a way of sponsoring readers too: the practising readers, young and old, who can’t afford to get there, and need to get there. The people who don’t look like me, or at least lots of them don’t. They need poetry; poetry needs them.

Perhaps there should be Readers in Residence? No, that won’t work. At Aldeburgh that’s precisely what every single member of the audience becomes.

How can we keep these celebrations going? How can we share the intelligence? How can we make this exhilaration of reading accessible to all, even the totally skint? Could those who can afford to go, but can’t – for reasons of illness or indisposition or needing to be elsewhere – sponsor someone else who is desperate to be there but can’t? Could there be some sort of scheme for that? Am I just a dreamer?

The great advantage of the inter-world is at least you can read about it hither and thither and all over the place. Here are some links, most of them with splendid pictures. I took my camera but it stayed at the bottom of my bag. . . .