December 26, 2006

Boxing Day

In The Bleak Midwinter (post Dec 7)

I wrote this on Boxing Day 1994, in Cranham, Gloucestershire, and feel a bit the same today in Sedgeford, Norfolk. Boxing Day was the day the servants got their Christmas Boxes, incidentally. It had nothing to do with boxing. Imagine the day after the Lord Mayor's show, with all the teams you support losing, and nothing in your Christmas box. The imagine an Indian spiritual master appears in your woodland path and says, "Yeah, but you knew that really didn't you?"


watched
by the rich guarded
silence

of cotswold
farms

and a blinding sun
through bare trees

and the jagged saw
of a dog at the gate,

i wonder
what my pilgrimage
to an indian summer
half a world distant
taught me

about this old track
of unchanged england

wrapped up in compliments,
temporary as tinsel,
a feast that goes cold,
a santa that never
really delivers

as i slide

down my frozen hill
of ignorance

on slight city shoes
made in ahmednagar

towards
a painful wisdom.

December 17, 2006

December Poem Of The Month (Part VII)

My webmaster's away so I'm doing this myself. Hope it works. Happy Christmas everybody!!!

3. Christmas Eve 8 pm. (from Norfolk Carol 1996)

My daughter's dropped the torch
From iced fingers
Snowing the bulb
So the batteries don't connect
To its heart-warming glow
And we can't see the carol sheet...
But the wagon is hung with fairy lights
Frosted with moonshine
And we look like a Christmas card.
And we finally get
Past the too-crowded Inn
To the Promised Place-

A stable of prototypes:

Some faithful sheep farmers
With a vision of angels
If not of the road;

Three love-crazed riders
As seen on Look East
(Come out of the sunset
On secret paths
Across low fields
Of mud-chastened pasture
And shoots of corn the green
‘Green’ used to be
When the world was young,
Through winter-silent
Norfolk afternoon villages,
Church windows glinting
Like texts of mediaeval Latin)


An unmarried mother
(With a "lily-white"
King Herod of Sleaze
Biting her back,
Her face pure as Venus,
Her faithful Joe
Not quite the winner
Her parents had hoped for)

And tucked out of sight
Behind a bottle bank -
A babe in a crib.
The outlook
None too bright
As I lift our broken lamp
And the brass strikes off
And my voice stumbles in flight
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light,
The hopes and fears
Of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

December Poem Of The Month (Part VI)




from Norfolk Carol, 1996

1. Christmas Eve, 3pm

The elements of Christmas -
Fire and ice -
In this tempered Arctic sun
That burns in the trees.
In these pools like skating rinks
Deep and dark and even.
Ice
In the flinty ground
And the bitter Easterly.
Fire
In the solstice sunset
Bleeding the black woods
And its ice-pink afterglow
And its fire-blue areola.
Ice
In the barn-wide rising moon.
Ice
In my soul as I'm turned
To the unlit wings
That cradle and grave
The sunset's light show.
Fire
In my soul
At a rising star
Burning like ice
In the polar blue.

Fire
In my hearth at home
(Crackling through logs),
In the farmer's field
(Roaring through twigs),
Red-raw and orange
Tongues of life-lust:

The vital, stripped down
Simplicities of winter.


This poem’s companion piece will be posted on Dec 24

December Poem Of The Month (Part V)

Final Assembly (post Dec 17)

The unpurged images of term recede
And, hark, the herald angels with dirty faces
Sing in excruciation.
They get younger each year and I,
To serve them half my days resolved,
Get no younger with them.
The praised boy who fishwise leapt with joy
Five Christmas terms ago
Grins at the clapping school now, sardonic.
Where has he gone - are we going - so fast?

O Jesus! still these discordant Years,
That carping torn, that gong-tormented Sea.

If Kpiling Was At The Waca

If you can keep your bat when all about you
Are losing theirs for nought ‘protecting’ you,
If you can trust yourself when coaches doubt you,
But make allowance for their cod-calls too;
If you can wait and not be stressed by waiting,
And, being dissed, don't deal in disrespect,
And, being slated, don't give way to slating,
And yet don’t gloat at those who can’t select.

If you can spin a dream ball like the master
And bowl him too, and blunt that Aussie’s aim,
If you can meet Disaster and Disaster
And laugh and add a Five For to your name,
If you can bear to hear that name mis-spoken
By commentators, pundits, toffs and fools
And watch the chance you span your team to, broken,
And turn, and spin again with worn-out tools:

If crowds that jeer you, never jar your virtue,
If crowds that hail you king don’t halt your touch,
If neither Poms nor Aussie foes can hurt you,
If records count with you, but not too much;
If you can fill the series-losing innings
With finger spinning glory and some runs,
Then England’s yours and everything that's in it,
And, Pan EH Sar, you’re the Man, my son.

If Kipling Was At The Waca

"If Kipling Was At The Waca" was broadcast to the world, by an Indian woman broadcaster, at 2.15 on Saturday 16 December, with the correct pronounciation of Panesar's name. And Bristol City were 1-0 up v Millwall at the time...

December 13, 2006

Don't You Know Who I Am?

Don’t you know who I am? - 07 Dec 2006


Article from Sec Ed Magazine, Thursday 6 Dec 2006.

(Posted on my staffroom wall all week but I don't think anyone's noticed! Case proven, I think.)

Fifty is a dangerous age. Just as dangerous is 25 years’ teaching experience. Last November, with both measures clicking creakily and noisily into place, I decided to meet the challenge head on. I’d suffered for my art. Now it was the nation’s turn.

I planned a book, and a national tour promoting it. The book is called Exile In His Own Country and includes a prominent school section called Marked for Life. The tour would take in theatres, arts festivals and schools and in the latter include poetry workshops for pupils and staff. The final tour date – a home fixture just outside the old Smithdon Hundred close to my school catchment area – brought the project to a close last month. It has been a life-affirming, and life-changing year.

It has also had its funny moments. Writers in schools often complain that their presence and purpose has not been made clear (to pupils – or even staff) in advance of their visit. Never mind a cogent introduction, staff sometimes don’t even know who you are – or what you’re doing in their assembly, or even their classroom. They’re grateful, but puzzled.

You have to explain your function to them there and then, with the pupils listening in. After decades of working in schools myself, none of this surprises or fazes me. The person who has set up the visit is sometimes away that day or double-booked starting an exam somewhere or in a vital, or at least compulsory, briefing, or managing a pupil no-one else can deal with, or maybe even talking to the press about your visit.

They have forms to register (or fill in) and no-one to cover them. It’s no-one’s fault. Schools have remorseless routines with staff rushing from pillar to pigeonhole all day long – bells driving at them as if they were Pavlov’s dogs – and any variation in the day requires a major effort to facilitate or even to remember.

Staff are also very protective of their classes. They know what these pupils have to learn by the end of term, what exams they’re taking, what coursework hasn’t yet been done. They know their names and their needs – special and ordinary.

However, once you’re in the room and working with pupils, a kind of liberation comes over the teacher concerned and they tend to be the greatest assistants on God’s earth, grasping what the writer is trying to do immediately and doing everything in their power to help make it happen. They are sometimes like translators – “It’s like the refrains in the war poetry we’ve been doing Craig” – and they are invariably your right hand man or woman with anything you need to make the most of your time with the pupils.

Even the function of the teacher in the room with you as simply a supportive presence is a vital part of the writer-in-school experience. Schools pay good money to get the writer in and the role of the teacher is never mentioned or prepared, but it can double the value and make the time go an awful long way.

The writer meanwhile is usually trying to adapt the hours of creative tuition he has planned to the clock-oppressed slot he has been allotted with each group. The teacher who’s booked you wants the best for all his or her pupils, naturally, and so sometimes sets up well meaning but unworkable arrangements.

One school hilariously asked me to perform my complete 90-minute show non-stop to each entire year group in succession all day. When I do the show in the professional theatre, I get an interval at half time, an adult, theatre-literate audience, all sorts of technical protection, lights, music etc, and it still almost kills me. And that’s just doing it once.

In the desert heat of last summer, in different schools, I performed the show to year 9s. My own idea and not a good one. I have learned my lesson (it wasn’t funny at the time when my use of a mild swear word at the end of a poem about my Uncle Dai was greeted with the heckle “language!” from a mock-indignant year 9 boy, though I treasure the experience now).

Apart from the physical impossibility, such non-stop “performance” is not a good use of time. Teachers themselves can often help you improve what you are offering for their pupils with feedback, though of course this usually comes afterwards – hence the value of a return visit.

A writer works best with smaller groups over an extended time, with the emphasis gradually moving from his own models to the pupil’s responses. The ideal would be one – or at most two – groups worked with intensively all day, from warm ups to a finished piece of writing. It’s an ideal and, as a teacher myself, the realities of budgets and of the greatest benefit to the greatest number obviously come in to play, but it’s worth bearing in mind. The experience can and should be priceless. Don’t spread the writer too thin. The experience has much more value in the long run if it’s focused towards more time with less people than the reverse.

It’s also unsatisfactory if the writing has to be left as a follow up for homework. The writing requires the professional’s response at that stage as much as – if not more – than any other, and there’s always the chance that, with curricula being as crammed and hectic as they are, the follow up won’t get done. Some work is so good, too, the writer might be able to recommend possible publication outlets or competitions.

I came home on National Poetry Day in October – a wet miserable Thursday – after a day’s workshop in a seaside town school in Norfolk and felt exhausted and elated at the same time.

This was not because my photo and news of my tour were on the front page of this publication (though that was nice), but because I had got some year 11 boys drumming the desks and chanting call-and-response football poetry, then writing their own war chants with absorbed and conscientious grasp of structure, rhythm and all the devices. It was real work. And, at 50, you don’t want to be doing anything less.

Gareth Calway is head of English at Smithdon High School in Norfolk. Exile In His Own Country is available via www.garethcalway.co.uk or www.bluechrome.co.uk To talk to Gareth about poetry workshops on football, schooldays or other themes, call 01485 571828.

December 11, 2006

December Poem Of The Month (Part IV)

Advent Calendar Selection Box

from Sheer Paltry

Bard Of Bristol

"You’re supposed to be at ’ome!!"

Standing in my team red before a game, yelling the chants - in and out of sync,
The main feeling is of being a complete fraud.
It's not that the team doesn't matter to me:
It matters enough to give me a heart attack.
It's just that, with only distant memories of 2-3-5 to fall back on,
I never really understand what's going on.
There are fifty blokes with a view I could ask from anywhere around me
But they each seem to be commentating on a different match.
And I live five hours from Bristol so it's hard to stay in touch.
And, however you market it, the match atmosphere is just like you get in a men-only garage -
Oily, reductive, ferociously competitive about everything and nothing-
Aggravated by six pints of booze and ten thousand men-brains,
The kind of thing I went to University to get away from.
If it weren't for the tightening in the stomach every match day,
The inferno of baying noise - purged by love and loyalty
(And comradeship and chantorion and cheer,)
The shiver of the perfectly pitched pass,
The tantalising tactical one twos, the toothsome tingling tackles,
The faith-affirming final ball through the box,
The frantic flash of foot through frenzied ball
The fluent flight of ball through air into flapping net,
The fabulous tapestry of red against blue over green,
The red knights tilting at perfection,
The pavilions of banners, pennants and scarves,
The child’s red and white Christmas of the goal consummations -
Then I probably wouldn't bother.

December Poem Of The Month (Part III)

Advent Calendar Selection Box

In The Bleak Midwinter (post Dec 7)

watched
by the rich guarded
silence

of cotswold
farms

and a blinding sun
through bare trees

and the jagged saw
of a dog at the gate,

i wonder
what my pilgrimage
to an indian summer
half a world distant
taught me

about this old track
of unchanged england

wrapped up in compliments,
temporary as tinsel,
a feast that goes cold,
a santa that never
really delivers

as i slide

down my frozen hill
of ignorance

on slight city shoes
made in ahmednagar

towards
a painful wisdom.

Cranham, Glos. Christmas ’94

Forward To Adelaide

Listen out for it on the World Service!

The Second Test (with apologies to Tennyson)

'Forward to Adelaide!'
Was England’s team dismay'd ?
Not tho' the Aussies knew
Fletcher had blunder'd:,
Freddy the heart of the side
Made head, its head belied
Monty again denied
Back to the valley of Death
The bruised and bashed lumbered.

S. Clarke to right of them,
McGrath to left of them,
Brett Lee in front of them
Volley'd & thunder'd;
Storm'd at with seamers’ spell
Boldly, they batted well,
Left-hooked the jaw of Death,
Right-jabbed the mouth of Hell,
Boundaries plundered.

Flash'd all their willows bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air
Sabring the seamers there,
Charging the bullies while
All the world wonder'd:
Spun by that portly bloke
Right thro' his line they broke;
Colly and Pietersen
Dealt him the boundary stroke,
Blocked him and bludgeoned
Knocked off a fifty – then
Knocked off a hundred….

S. Clarke to right of them,
McGrath to left of them,
Brett Lee in front of them
Volley'd & thunder'd;
Shane warned and cast his spell,
But all to no avail
They that fought back so well
Came back from cricket death
While ancient records fell
Knocked off a century,
Knocked off two hundred….

(to be concluded, hopefully with something along the lines of “When can their glory fade…?”)

When can their glory fade?
Oh, in a couple of days.
What COULDN'T be blundered
They managed it just the same.
Collapsing at Adelaide
The almost-six hundred!

December 02, 2006

December Poem Of The Month (Part II)

Advent Calendar Selection Box

Kings Of The Forest

The Robins went back to the Forest
And did what they didn't before.
The robbers got two goals and two pens
The Robins the same and two more.
To go to the top-of-the-tree club
And sing out our victory song
Is brave and adventurous and merry
And shows us both plucky and strong.
This may be the day that the Robins
Proved to themselves they can be
The kings of the forest come April
And end it atop of the tree!

Forward to Adelaide!

This one was written on Friday and Saturday Dec 1-2 after long nights half awake to the progress of the Adelaide test. I posted it to Sportsworld and for the second week running, they broadcast it to the world shortly afterwards in the middle of interviews with proper grown up Australian cricketers, the nearest I've got to facing some of the bowling my heroes are currently dispatching...

Forward to Adelaide!'
Was England’s team dismay'd ?
Not tho' the Aussies knew
Fletcher had blunder'd:,
Freddy the heart of the side
Made head, its head (Strauss) belied
Monty again denied
But into the valley of Death
The bruised and bashed lumbered

M. Clarke to right of them,
McGrath to left of them,
Brett Lee in front of them
Volley'd & thunder'd;
Storm'd at with seamers’ spell
Boldly they batted well,
Back from the jaws of Death,
Out of the mouth of Hell
The once-losers clambered.

Flash'd all their willows bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air
Sabring the seamers there,
Charging the bullies while
All the world wonder'd:
Spun by that portly bloke
Right thro' his line they broke;
Colly and Pietersen
Dealt him him a boundary stroke,
Blocked him and bludgeoned
Knocked off a fifty - then
Knocked off a hundred….

November 29, 2006

Vitae Pompada

Vitae Pompada

I

There's derisive jeers at the Gabba today,
First ball wide as an Aussie grin,
First day lost and a series to play,
Three ton behind and Ponting still in.
And it’s not for the sake of a Wisden's vote
Or some grevious bodily Harmison's name
But Fred's flinty hand on his shoulder smote
"Pitch up, pitch up and knock down Shame."

II (third day)

The dust of the Gabba is stained with sweat
Wet with the wreck of a team that broke
The plan is dead and the bowlers wrecked
And the batters are blind with Ashes’ smoke
The Aussies are rubbing our nose in the dirt
And England’s far and honour a name
But don’t kick a Pom when he’s bloodied and hurt,
"Stand up, pad up - and fight again!"

III

There’s a gallows laugh at the Gabba tonight
Two hundred made, four hundred to win,
Five men gone in the fading light,
The captain down and the wickie in.
And it's not for the sake of a hope that’s gone.
Or to make good the boasts now proved to be vain,
But the battle joined and the heart proved strong
Come rain, come Warne, let’s play the game!

November 26, 2006

Pompada, Verse II

On Saturday 25 November I wrote a poem about the Ashes based on Sir Henry Newbolt's Vitae Lamapda. I called it Vitae Pompada. Five minutes later, it was being broadcast to the world....

Pompada, Verse II

The dust of the Gabba is stained with sweat
Wet with the wreck of a team that broke
The plan is dead and the bowlers wrecked
And the batters are blind with Ashes’ smoke
The Aussies are rubbing our nose in the dirt
And England’s far and honour a name
But don’t kick a Pom when he’s bloodied and hurt,
”Stand up, pad up - and fight again!”

November 06, 2006

Radio Norfolk Interview

You can listen to Radio Norfolk's interview with he through a link at their website:
click here

Last Night of the Tour

Friday November 3 River Studios, West Acre



Well I finally got 50 in – the right number for a 50th birthday tour. And it was good to sense 50 souls following the first half action (growing up, leaving home, attempted manhood/ home-building and the would-be 'home' of football). And in the second half all 50 were rocking in their seats for The Beatles and (especially) the school poems. It really was a laugh a line for the latter and the skill of the comedian came into it – timing the next line just after the laughter peaked etc. A tricky manoeuvre? Well, I'll happily accept it. It's a hell of a lot easier than declaiming lines into a tumbleweed silence, that's for sure, and though this tour has been well received wherever it's gone it IS harder when the audience is small. Then the introduction of some tragic Boudicca poetry (from a vintage 1997 show but new to this tour since Wiveton) hard on the heels of the comedy show Marked for Life where I exploit the difference in meaning between 'schooldays' and 'education'. Such a key change from major to minor might have failed but it didn't. The Boudicca tour will always feel unfinished so it was great to be performing a slice of it again - notably without the constraint of half a ton of latex over my head…. Both halves seemed to go a lot quicker than usual last night. The consummate professionalism and physical suitability of the venue – as well as that big warm chuckling audience - also helped.

So, I’m looking back over the tour dates. The biggest theatre audience – until the last date – was the first – at Cwmbran. (I can't count the captive audiences of assembled Year Nines at Abersychan and Diss and the Year Seven assembly at Wells). Biggest books sales were at Cwmbran and Westacre though I think the biggest in proportion to audience size were probably Chepstow and Wiveton. The most severe disappointment – at a time early on in the tour when I wondered if it would ever really get going – was Sheringham where I lugged all my stage furniture and props and scoops in the Times Educational Supplement only to have to lug it all away again along with the stigma and chagrin of a cancelled show. (I hope the six who had booked tickets in advance got to see it somewhere anyway.) The lesson is, I think, that hot summer Bank Holiday dates at the seaside are not the best time to fill a theatre and that my show has to be marketed as the poetry/theatre crossover it is, not as the 'Literature' that audiences might preconceive as being a bit like homework. However, no venue on the tour was wasted and Sheringham produced the excellent laser printed colour programmes for several of the other dates, notably Westacre. Even The Lord Mayor's Chapel Bristol, where I went to perform with the whole of the city walking the other way to the Ashton Court Festival, provided some slick posters and displays in the heart of the city that looms so large in the book and show. Of the schools, all were special in some particular way. Abersychan, my alma mater, where it all began, gave me that wonderful feature in TES Cymru and TES as well as a day I’ll treasure for the rest of my life (see report, May 19 2006) – and a "Famous Poet Visits" feature in their posh newsletter which is the sort of thing all ex pupils must dream of. Diss was my biggest and boldest workshop/ performance combination and reversed a small run of low turn outs at a key time as well as putting the tour funds well into profit for the first time. It is also a specialist college that puts English where it should be – at the heart of the curriculum. Wells School was the best cold rainy Thursday a poet could have: a front page feature in Secondary Ed magazine on National Poetry Day turning up mid-workshop on the staffroom table. (See forthcoming article in same magazine about the tour and the joys of tabeleaux with top sets and the different but equal joys of bottom set Year 11 boys I spent an hour chanting with). Real work and a real joy. And finally, my own school, delayed from July (when I was laid up with a fever at a time when my own temperature was about the same as the Sahara summer outside) into a four day stint with Year 7s. Another front page (Lynn News, who'd covered the launch with a most intelligent article way back in April) and a gradual loosening of the Head of Department tie as I eased into the role of SMPISS (Slightly Mad Poet In –Smithdon - School). Ending that week in Wiveton, the gentlest and in many ways most intimate audience of the tour – poetry direct without theatre, the theatre for once not needed – and the rediscovery, for that venue, of my Boudicca poems, notably Safe European Home which an old afficinado requested. Then the little extra mini-reading in Camden Town as part of Bluechrome Live – Saturday 28 October – which, being a provincial from a tiny Norfolk village, I found extremely exciting just for being a Saturday night in London (the Halloween/ Sauvain-celebrating / Neo-punk crowds in the streets were a tremendous contrast from Sedgeford where a passing stranger brings us to the window) and where I confirmed that Boudicca was back on the Calway performance programme. I also met Guinevere Clark, a woman with an Arthurian name and the same initials as me whose book was published and marketed by Bluechrome at the same time, and many other up and coming Bluechrome poets.

I really wanted some kind of big harvest tour date to finish and, what do you now, I really got it at Westacre. There was the excellent fifteen-twenty minute feature on Radio Norfolk (URL for Listen Again etc. is on this website) the previous Sunday afternoon. Then several people who had been meaning to come to one of the shows finally made it, including some people who share the Welsh upbringing experience and now (like me) are based in Norfolk. And even, would you believe, an ex-colleague from a Lynn school (now North Norfolk) who shares my own particular hybrid West Country/ Welsh exile – Welsh mum/ Bath dad. There were budding poets and sixth formers (and a Year 9) from my own school – one of whom I spotted from behind stage in the bar with some nervousness but who certainly attended more last night than he often does in class! (I won't embarrass him by naming him but he knows who he is!) He was laughing his head off, though that's not the phrase he used to describe it. There were people I know quite well but never expected them at a poetry performance – nor did they perhaps – but it was great to have them 'with' me in every sense. There were lovely beautiful people from my village I have hardly seen since the last show they attended about six years ago. There were people I didn't know from Adam (a rare occurrence in Norfolk) who came up and said lovely enthusiastic things and bought books at the end – just what you want after a ninety minute one man performance. (In case anyone ever wonders what to say in these situations, "That was brilliant, much better than I expected, you’re a genius, wise, beautiful and very very funny, please may I have a signed book, here’s eight pounds" will usually do the trick! The one flaw in this whole set up is that after giving everything in a Friday one man show after a week at work, I then have to talk as I sign books to people who really want to make contact – as I do - but there’s always someone else behind them holding a tenner and wanting the same (and another two or three behind them). Lots of people had a different favourite poem or section and that’s really gratifying and I want to ask why but there’s never much time. It’s a wonder I even remember what my name is to sign it let alone maintain a conversation. Still, I have a few months ahead now where I can have all the solitude and quiet that I want. And probably will have too much of it before the month is out!

Next little gig, a Christmas poem from the book in South Creake. That'll do nicely.

Meanwhile, thanks to everyone who came to the show, bought the book, helped organise or host any of the events and crossed paths with me in any way on my little Exile pilgrimage. It’s made being 50 feel like 40 was supposed to – well they say 50 is the new 40:- a new beginning.

BBC Radio Norfolk Article

Reproduced courtesy of BBC Radio Norfolk

Exiled: Gareth Calway

Poet and teacher Gareth Calway plays truant from school to bring his Beatles-inspired performance poetry to the Westacre River Studios, near King's Lynn, on Friday, 3 November, 2006.

Gareth Calway turned 50 this year and wasn't afraid to shout about it. Most people would throw a party and feel a little worse for wear the morning after, but as a showman Gareth decided his birthday celebrations should be shared with most of the UK.

He chose to take his latest literary work Exile In His Own Country, the seventh collection of his poems, on tour.

"I was 50 this year and it was a bit of a landmark, so I thought let's mark it in some way. Celebrate it rather than worry about it," he said.

The tour started in South Wales, where Gareth spent his teenage years. After making his way around England, he brings the tour to a close in his new homeland - Norfolk.

"Some poets write brilliantly and don't read well, other people perform meaningless 'performance poetry' – with vim and gusto but it's hardly worth hearing," he said.

"What I'm trying to do is make both things happen at once. So you get literary quality work in a funny, moving, exciting way.

"The times that people have come up to me afterwards and said 'If I'd known it was like this I'd have come years ago'.

"If only I could get that message over and pack a few theatres - I could give up the day job," he added.

Bard or Beatles?
Gareth Calway is head of English at Smithdon High School in Hunstanton.

He admits his pupils are probably amused that his inspiration for poetry started not with Shakespeare, Wordsworth or Keats, but The Beatles.

"The Beatles lyrics are what got me started. They were about something, they were about things that I'd got going on in my world," he said.

"They were also incredibly talented and famous and got lots of girls so I thought that a good way to make a living," he laughed.

"It was the lyrics of Eleanor Rigby, that story that it tells, I thought it was amazing when I was a kid.

"That's what got me going in the first place and in a kind of homage to that, there's a section in the show called Beatles: A Prose Poem and I do The Beatles moment that was just so brilliant in my childhood, that Beatlemania period," he added.

Gareth Calway performs at the Westacre River Studios on Friday, 3 November, 2006 at 7.30pm. For more details call 01760 755800.

October 15, 2006

Can You See Me?

Bard on tour. The next three appearances:

Bluechrome Live
Date: Saturday 28 October
Venue: The United Reform Church, Buck Street, Camden NW1 (Map, 1 minute Camden Town Tube)
Show: A brief reading as part of the Bluechrome 2006 celebration.

Exile In His Own Country Tour
Date: 7.30pm, Friday 3rd November
Venue: River Studios, West Acre (Map, Website)
Show: The final date in my fourteen venue, eight month Exile In His Own Country tour. Ninety minutes one man show. And a fond fifty year old goodbye to all that...

North Creake Village Hall
Date: 7.30pm, Friday 15th December
Venue: North Creake Village Hall, where the music & poetry group meets once a month (Map).
Show: "Norfolk Carol" (a modern nativity poem from "Exile In His Own Coutnry" as part of the village celebration). I can't remember whether North Creake or South Creake is the Communist one, but I do remember the people there are the friendliest and most erudite on God's earth.

October 09, 2006

Front Page of Sec Ed. on National Poetry Day!



This article is reproduced courtesy of SecEd. You can view the article at their website, here.

Teaching Poet Spreads Creativity Across The Nation
Pete Henshaw

A teacher and published poet is marking national poetry week with a series of workshops. Gareth Calway, head of English and media at Smithdon High School in Norfolk, has been touring the nation’s schools for much of the year hosting poetry workshops in schools and promoting his seventh publication Exile In His Own Country.

The book is a selection of new poems, including one on an Ofsted inspection, which carries the lines: “Wesley won’t shut up of course. He never shuts up. I thought that this week that just for once he would shut up. I hear myself pleading, wheedling, whingeing.”

Gareth’s workshops are based on the football and schooldays sections of his latest book. The football section includes getting pupils to write about their sports dreams coming true, as well as looking at Greek tragic Chorus, African call and response chants, the roots of poetry from both thousands of years ago and on today’s football terraces.

The schooldays workshop begins with Gareth’s writing about the “monsters” who taught him, and goes on to explore the thin line between realistic comedy/characterisation through judicious hyperbole and the limits of this in daft over-exaggeration, sacrificing reality for (unconvincing) comedy.

This week is National Poetry Week, and to mark the occasion Gareth is today (October 5) visiting Alderman Peel High School in Norfolk for a workshop and has been doing a number of workshops in his own school all week.

Asked why poetry is important in a child’s education, Gareth said: “The English teacher should be the champion of poetry and is all too often its worst enemy, partly because such teachers have been pursued with the stick of measurable results, league tables, and exams for so long, and partly because English teachers are sadly often frightened of it.

“Poetry isn’t like that. It defies formulas and judgements. It is subjective, personal, profound, life-enhancing and fun. It is the joy of language – as music, gut-feeling, pattern, art, play and mischief as much as semantics, and much more than most exam answers.”

Gareth, who is the offical poet laureate of Bristol City Football Club, has also been confirmed as “poet in residence” at the National Association for the Teaching of English Easter conference next year at the University of Manchester, where he will be doing workshops and seminars on poetry and sport. Schools can request Gareth to stop by with his workshops. For details, visit www.garethcalway.co.uk

October 02, 2006

October Poem Of The Month

Sedgeford October

somewhere mellow between

the end of the overblown blackberries

_________and

the start of the harvested leaves

fused flies

on clinical sills

hint at bleached sun

_________and

in the hedges

thistle winds to come

to eyes trained on histrionic heights

of Welsh adolescence,

this stubborn serenity,

these mediaeval colours

_________are

endlessly reassuring:

a great grey blanket billowing unbroken from the North Pole

wild chords of geese in its folds;

the flinty, dependable noun

behind mists of adjectives



Poem Notes: This was when Octobers were a lot colder, children. The Rialto published this in the early 90s. It was originally written for the King's Lynn Festival in the summer of 1993 - an evening called "Poems and Places" - where I shared the billing with the uniformly excellent Alan Brownjohn, Kevin Crossley Holland and Paul Berry. They, like so many other poets, all live round these here parts and all continue to do sterling and likeable work. As I have a busy month or so finishing off my Exile tour in Wells, Wiveton and West Acre (along with workshops in my own school) I thought I'd choose a very local Norfolk poem from the new book to announce it. It will probably be a lot colder by the time I get to West Acre on Friday November 3 - but these days you never know.

August 13, 2006

September Poem Of The Month



Pointless In Yorkshire

So here we go again: initial hope
Becomes despair in better stadiums
Against name teams who’ve faded and fallen
From higher flights than us, yet more old rope
For which I’ve paid new hard-earned cash, old dope
That has me driving endless hours for some
Receding goal that never seems to come
To seasoned losers, favourites who can’t cope.

And though I know by Tuesday I’ll be thinking
“At home we’ve won all of our games so far
(Even if it’s just one) and taken leads
In games away, not had the rub of the green,
It’s got to turn –” well, maybe, but it’s wearing
Thin as the air on a dead wishing star.

July 31, 2006

Granary Theatre, Wells - Report




Granary Theatre, Wells, Friday July 28 2006

So, the last tour date of the summer for Exile In His Own Country. (The next –and last - time you can see the full Exile show will be at the River Studios, West Acre on Friday November 3 2006, 7.30).


The schooldays poems (which I now do with introductions) got their best sustained reception of the tour. It is a bit spooky having the actual lectern of my old school in Wales (on loan from Abersychan) on stage with me. The Beatles section feels increasingly like an evocation of some shared moment in our culture, or certainly in the lifetimes of the 30s-60s. This was probably my funniest evocation of a teacher preparing for the visit of an OFSTED inspector, And the final summer love poem for Norfolk – After The Show - had a special resonance in this venue and at this time.

So, that’s it. I’ve hung up the Beatle wig until November and put the bookstall away for a couple of months. See you in October.

July 27, 2006

Review of Exile Book and Show


EXILE COMING HOME:

Exile In His Own Country by Gareth Calway, Chepstow Festival, July 22 2006

Chepstow, being both Fortress and Gateway, seemed fitting for ‘Exile In His Own Country.’ The poet enjoyed a special rapport with his audience. ‘I could hear you listening’. A Bristol-Welsh Bard sounding the changes of his personal journey through fifty years, he connected us with the past, often through the noble forms of poetic tradition.

The attractive printed programme explained the meaning of poetry in performance, and its journey, from Beowulf to the present time. The ‘sound-craft of a poem. . . is part of its larger meaning’. With a bit of help on the night from minimalist props, astute lighting and a great soundtrack.

A first memory at Bristol Zoo, at two years old, ‘A toucan’s eye/Explodes into I’ would be enough to exile anyone.

Indeed, bravery marked this performance. Not least for the reminder of school dinners! In ‘The Canteens of Moria’, he connects the ‘webbed, corrupted, gothic, grave-like things’ of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ to 1960s school canteen traumas , and realises we are always ‘part of what we’re forced to eat’. Ditto, Spiritual food, fed to engender everlasting lack of self-worth, in the humorous yet bitter ‘Dear God, ‘elp us to feel ashamed of our bodies’ - a reminder of those Sunday School misguided souls teaching humiliation instead of humility.

Faith was definitely a requirement, however, as any Bristol City supporter knows. 1966 is there all right, ‘refashioned as Hendrix . . . a minishort beauty born to die young’. So is Rugby. Terry Cobner of Pontypool and Wales taught Calway . . . very little, except the imminent ambush familiar to the Welsh. Ah, but Ma Kinnock ‘is as beautiful as the Barley Mountain in spring’ and anyway, ‘I don’t want to be Gareth Edwards. I want to be The Beatles’.

At seventeen -
‘The river’s prophet tongue I now understand;
I am heir to my druid realm at last’.
- Calway still needs ‘Help’ and a ‘real home’.

‘Student House’ poignantly expresses separation from childhood. the ‘cold but not keen’ nostalgia where telephone and door knob ‘hold no communion with (father’s) memory’. Perhaps it is the power that makes people afraid of poetry. Well, get over it – it’s worth it. Who could not relate to being ‘so very far away from the thing I burn for, I can almost touch it’?

The performance was haunted by the pounding hooves of the Ages of Romance, and the metred tread of Pilgrimage, carrying us on through the pain of first love lost: ‘My heart feels nothing of the sudden lance/That smashed its Jericho walls’- to the joust of ‘red knights tilting at perfection’. Football.

Here, the Bard of Bristol examines his own fervour of ‘the inferno of baying noise’ but then goes on to pitch us line after line of why the f-word, played out in ‘pavilions of banners’, continues to exact such consummate devotion. Calway shows it as one way a man can prove his loyalty - the pitch as a kind of tournament lawn on which physical skill combines with abstract virtues. ‘I know it’s all balls but I’m City till I die’.

The rollicking ‘Ballad of Ashton Gate’ is a carol, ending the first half with ‘The Atyeo End in excelsis . . .’

The second half kicked off with an energetic rap, an instant hit.

‘I came here for Eden and got Bill Gates.
Life is a Bitch, but the songs are great’

leading into Calway’s tribute to the ultimate hitmakers, the “toppermost of the poppermost” Beatles, complete with childhood mime playing Mam’s laundry slats to their “raw whoops of joy in four part harmony.”

There followed the ‘long siege’ of mock examinations, like watching a no goal match on ‘desk terraces’ in freezing classrooms:

Stoned on cold and boredom
With fifty-two minutes still to go’.

More laughter followed for Calway’s teacher waiting to be inspected by the ‘little blue-eyed men from Saturn’. Having now been ‘exiled’ in a Norfolk he loves for a quarter of a century, Calway is ‘subconsciously still waiting for teacher to come’ This was, for me, the most moving poem of the evening.

‘O Jesus! Still these discordant Years,
That carping torn, that gong-tormented Sea’.

Calway’s work is rooted and grown in real life. This means that, although the poems are written in demanding forms, they are fluent and require only to be heard. It’s a song of life that is sometimes ‘like trying to tune a pitchfork in a sow’s ear’ but includes the unexpected hilarities, -

“The assembly on healthy Norfolk won’t be given this morning
As both members of staff concerned are ill”.

- a whole life in two ‘halfs’ (as one audience member put it) Desperate but reaching for the stars, just as the ‘Star Teacher’ tells his pupil to do. Not bad, for someone once ‘marked for life’ by a teacher, lipstick matching her vicious red pen, who ‘delighted in Literature as some might in torture’. ‘Mark this’, says Calway, offering back Petrarchan sonnets, ballads, villanelles, iambic pentameter, and liberating free verse.

This is an heroic performance of warm, living, accessible - often very funny - poetry of great stature, which shows how extraordinary ‘ordinary’ life actually is.

Madeline Jones

July 25, 2006

Review Of The Exile Show


A Review of Gareth Calway Exile In His Own Country – The Drill Hall, Chepstow 22nd July 2006

Something odd happened in Chepstow on Saturday and I'm quite sure that the audience at The Drill Hall will never forget it. When I was at school, one of the highlights was the annual visit of the piano tuner, who unusually was deaf rather than getting the job via the then Government's sponsored 'Jobs for the Blind' initiative. Luckily for the appreciative audience on Saturday night, where Gareth Calway's one-man-tour had landed after visiting Bristol earlier in the day, Calway's recollection of his school-days is a lot funnier than my own and certainly not as off-key.
For those of you that don't know, Gareth Calway is a serious, high quality poet, but before you switch off expecting a pseudo-intellectual discussion of a dry poetry reading by a refugee from a 1970s Open University program, his approach is a little different to most.

Little, as in worlds apart.

Whilst his work stands up against the best on paper (his Exile In His Own Country tour is currently promoting his new book of the same name,) it is when you see him perform the work in a live setting that it truly comes to life.

To paraphrase Dervla Kiwan in her famous M&S adverts, this isn't just poetry, this is the finest hickory smoked, pine nut scattered verse-on-the-vine. This isn't just boring old fashioned classical da-di-da-di-da poetry, this is poetry that is about real lives, that is meant to be read by real people and has all that hear it nodding in recognition at its basic truths. This isn't just another detached academic discussing the ancient Greeks and the Roman gladiators, this is a football fan showing us exactly what it feels like to stand on the terraces in the near certainty that he will ultimately be disappointed, this is a music lover growing-up and then feeling discarded by his bedroom poster heroes to a soundtrack of the Beatles and the Stones, and this isn't the poorly recollected days of your own piano tuner, this is an acute eye detailing exactly what it was like to grow-up under the watchful gaze of teachers who were still allowed to bare their teeth and playtimes spent firing wooden guns and lobbing imaginary grenades.

But what of the show? Well, Calway's approach encompasses all of these things as he takes you on a whistle-stop journey from his schooldays in Wales, his exile in Bristol where he became the Official Poet Laureate of Bristol City - and given the attendance of the club's smiling Chairman, I would imagine he will continue to be so for a while longer - up to the modern, where as a teacher in Norfolk, the current reality of OFSTED and government interference provides a telling contrast to what had come before and the circle is truly squared.

All of this and much more is put across in an highly entertaining way to a lively Rock 'n' Roll soundtrack, without ever descending into amateur dramatic farce or stilted self-consciousness. Calway does what many see as impossible, he makes poetry accessible without 'dumbing down' and he tells it like it is without ever feeling the need to preach. It is an approach that should please all but the most elitist poetry lover and would give a couple of hours genuine enjoyment to young and old alike. In summary, highly recommended and if there are any TV executives reading this, you could, and often manage to, do a lot worse on a Saturday night.

Reviewed by: Erik Ryman, erik@erikryman.co.uk

July 15, 2006

Diss High School Workshop and Exile Show Tour Date, July 10 2006

CHEPSTOW FESTIVAL SHOW JULY 22- A GREAT NIGHT. HOT CONTENDER FOR THE MOST APPRECIATIVE AUDIENCE AWARD!!! REPORT TO FOLLOW.

So the joke was finally on me. I have written for years in novels and poems about a fictional school called Driftwood Comprehensive, situating it in a fictional Norfolk town called Dis Next the Sea, where all that can go tragic-comically wrong with a modern secondary education does. And on Monday July 10 I set off in beautiful summer morning sunshine through the gentle Norfolk countryside and peaceful woodland towards the A1066 (Not the A10666) where I would start the day in room 66 (Not 666) to encounter the real Diss High School.

Needless to say, Diss High School is a purposeful English/Humanities-led specialist college - and anything but the drifting equivalent of the one I’ve created in Dante’s underworld. The Head and the Head of the English department are inspiring and energetic and the school is obviously going places.

This time, I gave the football workshop to the Year Nines and the schooldays workshop to the Year Eights, the reverse of my arrangement at Abersychan. In both cases, I think the drama activities went down best. Some lively writing ensued. In the afternoon, I performed the full show either side of an afternoon break to the entire population of Year Nine (approx 200) on an old-fashioned heavyweight hardwood school stage that was itself as deep as some modern halls are long! It was very hot and muggy for performer and audience alike but being British we all survived. I noticed that the theatrical elements of the show went down best, particularly me being an infant reliving my first memory through the trellis (zoo cage) and being naughty at Sunday School.

The rap at the start of Act 2 got generous applause (despite some technical difficulties with the sound system) and as always the Beatles wig got one of the biggest cheers. It is a wry fact that a performer can spend a lifetime perfecting some unique combination of words, sound and movement but still it’s a silly wig that gets the plaudits! I was also engaged by the occasional heckle – eg Language! when I used a mild swear word and a word that sounded like Shipped vying between my chants of “England” in the 1966 poem. (This was the day after the 2006 World Cup Final that Italy won for the fourth time and we didn’t win – again.). The final writing tasks of the day included descriptions of “My Ideal Teacher.” Many of these were riveting stuff but, shall we say, the most amusing were not always ones you could put on a school display board!

There is great potential for excellent writing at Diss. There are plans to take the students off for a weekend retreat in some Norfolk stately home near the sea for an intensive creative writing experience next year and I hope very much indeed to meet students again on one of those. Meanwhile, thank you Diss High School for making me so welcome. And thanks for not being the Dis Next the Sea Comprehensive of my novel, poems and nightmares…

July 10, 2006

Western Daily Press Article

This article is reproduced courtesy of the Western Daily Press
WESTERN DAILY PRESS: TUESDAY JANUARY 17 2006-07-09
NEW GOALS FOR POET LAUREATE OF ASHTON GATE

How do you mark your 50th birthday? If you're Gareth Calway, you aim higher than you've ever done before as a poet, with a book that brings together all your best work, and then some. It's an exciting prospect, and Exile In His Own Country is due out in a few weeks' time, produced by the cutting-edge poetry publishers blue chrome.

It's his seventh book, and his admirers say it sums up all the qualities the late poet laureate Ted Hughes once praised in his work - strength, wholesomeness and the best kind of simplicity.

The publishers see Calway as an erudite writer, and one steeped in the lore of Eastern mysticism, myth, history, the East Anglia countryside - and Bristol City Football Club. And what? Yes, that's right, because in among all his other attributes, this head of English at a Norfolk high school is the official poet laureate at Ashton Gate.

His family is steeped in Bristol City fandom, even though Gareth himself was brought up in Frome and spent his teenage years in the South Wales valleys, escaping back this side of the river whenever he could.

One of the joys of living in Frome was seeing his winter idol John Atyeo in summer mode for the town's cricket team, though he was clearly not at the ground on the day Big John rose majestically and headed a rearing bouncer away for four byes.

Knowing Gareth Calway's taste for words and Atyeo, that single act would have been worth seven volumes of poetry in itself.There is certainly City aplenty in the forthcoming book, however, along with vivid memories of inedible Frome infant-school dinners in the early Sixties and the poet's first memory - of being attacked by a toucan at Bristol Zoo in 1958, at the age of two. Odd how one's first memories are so often frightening ones.

All that's a few weeks away, however. A new book of Gareth's is already out, and Bristol City from start to finish, is Sheer Paltry, published by the club at £5 and with all profits going to Ashton Gate. With its clever play on the Bristol "L" in the title, it's 40 years of football stories and verse, developed from the Calway CD Bristol City Ruined My Life - And Made My Day of a couple of years ago.

Though Calway is a mere stripling, born in 1956, the book is full of baby boomer lore, and rich in nostalgia for the Sixties and Seventies.

It's also an interesting insight into a man whose story is not unusual but speaks of an uncommon life, for all that: the alienation from working-class roots imposed by grammar school and university, an atavistic identification with one part of the world while becoming ever more deeply entrenched in another.

Gareth Calway is known to hundreds, if not thousands, in his adopted East Anglia as "a bald head of English", the man behind poetry anthologies and competitions for teenagers and sometime regional organiser for the Schools Poetry Association.

Yet he will still sit for five hours in his car to watch 90 minutes of who knows what at Ashton Gate, screaming and shouting with the rest of the lads - one of them, yet in some ways, forever one step removed.

So why be there? He writes: "If it weren't for the tightening in the stomach every match day. . . the shiver of the perfectly pitched pass, the tantalising tactical one-twos. . . the frantic flash of foot through frenzied ball. . . the red knights tilting at perfection. . . then I probably wouldn't bother. . ."

Sheer Paltry, price £5, is on sale in the Bristol City club shop or via the website: http://www.garethcalway.co.uk/purchasepage

June 21, 2006

The Lord Mayor's Chapel - July Show


Photo reproduced courtesy of Si Barber

FROM THE BRISTOL CITY COUNCIL WEBSITE; WHAT'S ON JULY 2006
Exile In His Own Country

The Lord Mayor's Chapel

22 Jul 2006 Start: 2:00 PM

Gareth Calway takes poetry to places it doesn't always get to: from Hindi Picture to the boardroom at Ashton Gate Stadium; from punk history to world jazz rap; from the pulpit of the Lord Mayor's Chapel to the streets of Wells-next-the-Sea. Calway performs his new work "Exile in His Own Country" at the Lord Mayor's Chapel.

Cost Details:
Adult: £5.00 Child: N/A Family: N/A
Concession: N/A O.A.P: N/A Group: N/A

Booking: Tickets available from the Verger at the venue 0117 929 4350 or call 01485 571828
CAR PARKING - IF YOU DON'T KNOW THE AREA AND ALL ITS LITTLE CAR PARK SECRETS, THE BEST OPTION IS PROBABLY THE MULTI STOREY CAR PARK AT THE TOP OF PARK STREET (ON THE TRIANGLE)
TICKETS FOR THE EVENT CAN BE RESERVED AND PICKED UP ON THE DOOR: YOU CAN DO THIS ON EITHER NUMBER.

June 18, 2006

World Cup Football Poetry Workshop for children, Millennium Library, Norwich, Saturday June 17

Ronaldo goes into a burger bar and asks for two whoppas. The sales assistant responds, "You’re not fat - and you’ve still got it..."

Well the mums got the joke anyway!

I met two splendid young poets, appropriately called Sophie and Hannah, and Jamie who turned up wearing a Norwich City baseball hat looking very nervous and ended the day with the biggest grin I've seen on a Norwich fan since the Sunday they all celebrated their last promotion to the Premiership.

Three organisers - from at least two organisations, I lost count - also turned up at various stages of the proceedings and John Thompson, an extremely helpful librarian - and keen comic poet in his own right - popped in several times, beyond the call of duty, with some much appreciated assistance, and colourful World Cup stickers. (He also put in an order for my latest book to join the library stock.)

The mums read a copy of Exile while waiting and laughed a good deal. Special thanks to Jamie's mum who helped the (initially almost silent!) group make a genuine racket during the final call and response activity, with Jamie on rattle and Sophie/Hannah on big drum, as we composed an England tribal "Everywhere We Go" chant for the terraces. "We are the boys in blue and white, Love to watch tv all night, We 'ate Argentina, Crespo is a plonker..."

Other tasks included writing the Imaginary Madrid fantasy news report in which England (or in one case Spain!) win the World Cup Final and of course making that tableau of poor old Tommy Doherty's goal on the front cover of "Sheer Paltry" before writing captions and then poems in role as one of the characters. (The fed up steward was as usual a great favourite).

Then we had squash and biscuits provided by Creative Arts East. The ages today were 9-11 and two differences from the secondary age group I noticed are (1) I have to go a bit slower at first as the kids find their confidence and comfort zone and (2) Their imaginary world is extraordinarily bright and vivid and, with a bit of care and guidance, activities like these can open up a rich vein of intelligence that will hopefully never leave them. Sadly I don’t think they get this sort of self-discovery from cramming for SATS!

Western Mail report

This article is reproduced courtesy of John Jones and the Western Mail

Exile In His Own Country, by Gareth Calway

Jun 17 2006

AUTHOR Gareth Calway returned to school at Abersychan Secondary School in May, 35 years late but with all his homework done.

He was there to launch his seventh book of poetry, Exile In His Own Country (Bluechrome, £7.99), playing truant from his job as a teacher in Norfolk to revisit the school that provides the setting and themes of a whole section of his book, Marked For Life.

The new book adds to the literature of the Eastern valley and is the first to combine a sequence under the title Torfaen Monologues, wry and bitter-sweet accounts of teenage valleys life in the 70s. It also records his lifelong love for Bristol City Football Club, for which he's official poet laureate.

June 06, 2006

June Poem Of The Month

The Beautiful Game

Football is art’s reflection of oneness
In a world of divisions; of beauty’s truth
Leaping muscle-bound fouls; the dreams of youth
Without its injured ordinariness
Or age’s silting of its genius;
The Best without its thickening uncouth
Slurred self-disgrace or bruising disproof
By yobs in boots; the angel dance of studs:

-Like Pele’s pass, to gift a certain goal
He’d made his own, to some more mortal bloke
He’d knew without a call or look was there;
-Or Maradonna’s second that turned a whole
Defence, a childhood’s poverties, to air
More light than hand of God or head of coke.


Note: For some reason, my mind is turning to football - and the World Cup - this June. This poem is from the Tribes section of "Exile In His Own Country" and celebrates the Pele-eyed vision of the whole event. It's a more serious version of my football fantasy piece, "Imaginary Madrid" in which Bristol City win the European Cup 4-0 over "Real" Madrid and Calway gets the third. I really do think that football can be "art's reflection of oneness in a world of divisions." Really. Of course, if it's England's World Cup, the oneness will be that much easier to feel, but it's there anyway.

June 01, 2006

TES Cymru Article

This article is reproduced courtesy of TES Cymru and Nerys Lloyd-Pierce and was published on Friday May 26.

FOOTBALL IS SHEER POETRY FOR BOYS

Returning to Abersychan comprehensive school after an absence of 35 years conjures up a string of memories for prodigal poet, Gareth Calway.

He recalls the anxiety of his first day, aged 12, newly arrived from Somerset, wearing the hideous brown uniform that was the order of the day then; the furious red pen of the English teacher, "Ma Bart", slashing through his homework.

Yet despite her uncompromising attitude to marking schoolbooks, the classroom dragon inadvertently encouraged him to write.

"She ran an Eisteddfod poetry prize, which I entered aged 15. The theme was Spring, but I thought that was boring, so I based my poem on a Beatles' lyric. With the arrogance of youth, I was convinced that I¹d win."

He didn't, having failed to stick to the brief. But the joy of self-expression through verse remained.

A lifelong Bristol City fan, and the club's official poet laureate, Calway, 50, uses football metaphors and his book of football poems, "Sheer Paltry", as a tool to pass on the power of poetry to the group of 30 Year 8 schoolboys attending his workshop.

"Football chants echo the call-and-response form of poetry that harks back to Greek theatre, and is also found in African tribal chants and blues music," he explains.

Now based in Hunstanton in Norfolk, where he is head of English at Smithdon High School, Calway has just published his seventh poetry book, Exile in His Own Country.

The title refers to his own experiences of being an English boy entering the Welsh Valleys, and conversely being a Welshman in Norfolk.

This duality was part of the appeal when Abersychan head teacher, Mike Conway, invited him back to perform.

"I feel that it's important for the pupils to experience someone coming in from the outside, but Gareth, ironically, is also from their own community, so there's a lovely touch to that."

And, as boys and girls at Abersychan are taught English in a single sex environment (following a pilot scheme run in conjunction with Bath University), the football theme is appropriate.

"In order to engage boys, and hold their concentration, lessons have to revolve around topics they can relate to, and need to be broken up into manageable sections," adds English teacher, Sian Agland. "Gareth succeeds in doing both by using football as a reference point, and by keeping the session hands-on and active."

Calway's work seems to strike a chord with the Abersychan lads.

"I'd never really thought that football and poetry would go together," says Liam Cowels, 13, "And I always thought poetry was boring before, but this is fun."

Like Ma Bart before him, Gareth Calway aims to organise a poetry competition at the school. But one thing is certain, entrants won't be penalised for failing to write about spring.

May 30, 2006

Poets Corner Exam Pathos


Photograph reproduced courtesy of Si Barbar


This article is reproduced courtesy of Warwick Mansell and The Times Educational Supplement and was published on Friday May 19, 2006

Warwick Mansell compares and contrasts two writers' verses on the season of GCSEs and A-levels

Examination papers blowing through doorways like seafront litter.
Pupils racking their brains for ideas "like a grim crowd at Norwich
City". Oh, and a pile of warm vomit.

Such is exam invigilation for poet Gareth Calway, an English teacher, brought to you in the week GCSE and A-levels began.

As hundreds of thousands of teenagers embark on weeks of hand-ache and, for some, heartache, the works of Mr Calway and Ian McMillan, the Barnsley bard, illustrate the potential pathos of the subject.

Mr McMillan, a regular television and radio guest, has penned a special poem for The TES this week (see box). More seriously, though, he said exams were a malign influence in classrooms and should be banned.

For Mr McMillan, host of BBC Radio 3's The Verb programme, which considers the spoken word around the world, and a regular on Newsnight Review, exams are a blot on the education landscape.

He has visited more than 1,000 primary and secondary schools, and said:

"Every school I go to is obsessed with exams."

He visits schools to read his poetry. But because his poems have been in GCSE and A-level syllabuses, he said he was often asked to give the "answers" to the meanings behind his words.

"Schools are teaching kids how to answer the exam questions, which seems to me to be amazing," said Mr McMillan. "I always had the idea that education should be about teaching someone to be a better human being, not to pass exams."

In his poems Mr Calway, who has taught at Smithdon high, Hunstanton, Norfolk, for 12 years, reminisces on tests in a new collection which also provides a sideways look at school inspections and parents' evenings.

In Mocks (see box below), he writes of teenagers "stoned on cold and boredom/ With fifty-two minutes still to go/ And nothing left to write about or remember".

Things have heated up for Exam Invigilation, based on his experiences of pupils struggling with their real GCSEs the following sweltering summer.

"Today in Norfolk, a boy has thrown up/ Over intermediate science paper 1 and the era/ Of caretakers with buckets arriving within the hour/ Is history."

The poem continues: "The June heat is on... it's beginning/ To cook the boy's dinner a second time./ Our caretakers -Godot and son plc -/ Send a memo to say they will arrive asap.

"Let's go." "We can't." "Why not?" "We're waiting for Godot."

Mr Calway seems to have a problem with janitors, to judge from On Being Locked Inside a Tiny Room by a Well-Meaning Caretaker, a cry for help from the poet as an appointment with a cover class looms.

In another poem, he writes wryly of an assembly on "healthy Norfolk" having to be cancelled "because both members of staff concerned are ill".

In Ofsted, our narrator finds himself being judged by an Inspector Clouseau lookalike. The school's inspection is two days old before his class is visited, he writes, with the result that he's "climbing the walls", yelling at his pupils for talking.

Parents' Evening offers a portrait of a world-weary mother challenging the teacher's view that her child's "Promise and beauty... has gone/ Even before it's in bloom."

But Mr Calway's vision of education is not entirely jaundiced. Star Teacher, which he said sets out his ideals, simply asks a child to "look at the sky... (and) reach".

warwick.mansell@tes.co.uk

More information on the poets from www.garethcalway.co.uk and
www.ian-mcmillan.co.uk

May 28, 2006

Exile: Tour Report


Photograph reproduced courtesy of Si Barbar

May 19 2006 Abersychan Comprehensive School, Torfaen.

Dad dropped me off in exactly the same way he had done in 1968 when I was 12. I walked down the same steeply-sloped playground feeling pretty much as nervous as I had then. What the hell was I doing, bringing Bristol City football poetry into a Welsh Rugby heartland? A polite kid opened the door and a couple of others greeted me, without being prompted, in the corridor. Then the Secretary greeted me wearing full Bristol City regalia. It was going to be ok! I found that I had been given the old gym for the whole day. Quite a coincidence. It was the actual setting for several of the poems – notably Welsh Rugby, with its description of Cobner’s beating of yours truly in 1969 – and it retained almost entirely the infrastructure of my youth. The vaulting horse brought before the public in my play "Getting On" and my comic novel "River Deep Mountain High" was as prominent in the actual room as it is in my writing. The lectern I was lectured from for six years by my old Headmaster and his deputy was also still there and I delivered my comic version of their assemblies later that day from it. (It is also now accompanying me on tour as a key piece of stage furniture). When I asked the Year 8 boys what football team they supported – ready with a quip about how few seemed to follow Bristol City – I was given the usual litany 'Man United', 'Arsenal', 'Tottenham Hotspurs' only in that same valley sing song that had first set my ears ringing in December 1968. Of course, the Rugby Only heartland idea is a myth: Rugby is the official school sport, yes, and rightly so, and the locals are very good at it: but just as we did, the kids play and follow the round-balled variety at every opportunity. All the same, when TES Cymru took photographs at the end of a long day , it still felt peculiarly evocative of the 'Exile in his own country' themes of my book, that these valley kids should be chanting Bristol City slogans in Bristol City shirts in a Welsh playground. Even more fittingly peculiar, when I performed a schooldays section to the whole of Year 9 in the afternoon, two of my own teachers from the 60s (and very briefly colleagues in 1980) came out of retirement and were watching me at the back. The Head of English gave me a tour of the old Main Block at the end of the day and promised to erect a blue plaque over the Victorian radiator in the form room where I had my First Real Kiss. The radiator that day was blisteringly hot but the girl was even hotter. I'm not sure what kind of plaque about us could be raised in the Old Geography Room next door, which like all this floor was now the English suite, making me feel even more like I was still there. The Old Head's office where I was regularly caned now houses voluntary SATs papers. The punishment goes on in different forms. Though (like me) everything in the old block was 35 years older, little had changed or grown less solid. It was just about half as big.

May 20 Congress Theatre, Cwmbran

Ah! The smell of the dressing room. I had a long mobile phone call with my old dramaturg David in the dressing room. He is the subject of the poem "Memorial"; in the book and he is younger and more foolish than me and he also rescued me from early middle age with theatre and a leather jacket in my mid thirties. I said I was very nervous. He said it was better than being bored. I wandered backstage with about fifteen minutes to go and saw Okker at the bar - I was at Abersychan with him and I'd forgotten how close we were 35 years ago. I'd not seen or heard him since I was 15. We exchanged a wondering smile. I recognised him before I even knew who he was. I went back up to the dressing room thinking how you can't bullshit people you've grown up with and what the hell was I doing putting on this 'show'!? What an arrogant act it all is really, charging people to come and see you tell your own story, especially when some of the audience are actually in it. There were in fact about six characters both in the show and in the audience this evening, in particular my parents, who were repeatedly featured in the poems and who were in the front row. Still, it kept me honest. There were 32 people in all and I was doing the show in the lounge with the audience seated around bar tables. So it felt pleasantly full and my little stage set of trellis downstage left and easy chair upstage right felt right - like an exile's home. When I bounded onstage to the clunking rock'n'roll of Bill Halley circa 1956 (the year of my birth) my mother was jiving in the corner of the performance space with another woman of similar age. How appropriate that my mother should be jiving at the edge of a poem I was presenting about my first memory. How ludicrous also. And how unique she is! (I’ve got to the age where I finally see her as a – genuine - character in her own right, though very glad she was my mother.) Anyway, I got on with it and got some laughs for my mime of infancy. I was doing some of the poems without the book and this was the very first time the show had appeared before the public so it was both thrilling and nerve-wracking at once. Another schooldays friend had said he might be bringing Chris Garland, the 1970s City, Cardiff City and Chelsea star and so I assumed the bloke next to him was my old hero. Later on, I thought he doesn’t seem to be enjoying the Bristol City stuff much. I found out afterwards he wasn't Chris Garland (though the old legend had sent me a signed programme and good luck wishes for the tour) and that he was deaf. In the interval, I listened to the Eurovision Song Contest on the radio and felt much better about the 'musical' opening of my second half. It's great coming on to a changed set – I’ve never done this before – and especially so when it’s that totemic microphone on a stand. Oh yes. The world jazz rap went down well and then my Beatle prose poem, complete with wig and guitar mime, was finally revealed. As so often, the riskier it feels, the better it goes. And as always, the magical love people still have for the Beatles made this the favourite section for several children of the sixties but also for some of the actual children they'd brought with them. (After all, theirs is a sort of fairy story.) If I'm not absolutely sure if I'm writing about Beatlemania or actually displaying its lifelong symptoms ("I need HELP") then at least I'm not basking in their reflected limelight while trying to shoot them out of it as is the case with so many Beatle-debunking 'exposés'. And it's a childhood fantasy come true getting applause as I do my deep Beatle bow at the end. The final section ushers in a third set – schooldays, including my old school lectern – and the comical reality of having to earn a living in ‘exile’ from my artistic vocation. My old French teacher from the late 60s queued up for a signed book at the end and his deadpan vocal delivery hadn't changed for 35 years. My younger sister (with whom I'd drunk too much the night before) said she'd wanted to applaud after every poem but wondered if you should. Anyone reading this, please note I (in common with I suspect most performers outside of the classical music circuit, if there) have no philosophical objection to applause between numbers! Outside the stage door I tried unsuccessfully to arrange an Indian meal out with some younger members of the audience before driving the set back to Pontypool, where I stopped off at Omar Simpson's to get a doner kebab and a 'small' portion fof chips for one person - ie enough for three hungry Weshmen - on my way home to a comfortable supper in with my parents. I have rarely felt so content.

May 25, 2006

Poet Who's On The Ball

POET WHO'S ON THE BALL

This article is reproduced courtesy of John Hudson, Western Daily Press

An avid Bristol City fan and a literary talent, Gareth Calway's seventh book has just been published. John Hudson reports

A FEW people in the West are sitting up and taking notice of Gareth Calway's literary credentials this spring.

Many round here know him only as Bristol City's official poet laureate, and he's happy to project himself in that role as a 50-year-old footie nut, an anorak who goes right back to the days of John Atyeo and Chrissie Garland.

But there's a great deal more to him than that, and a substantial collection of his best poems, spanning a quarter of a century or more, has just been published by Portishead's cutting-edge poetry imprint blue chrome.

Exile In His Own Country is his seventh book, and admirers say it sums up all the qualities the late poet laureate Ted Hughes once praised in his work - strength, wholesomeness and the best kind of simplicity.

It also positions Calway that little bit nearer to the literary mainstream, no easy task for a provincial poet without a comfortable university post to fall back on.

In fact he's head of English at a high school in Norfolk. And if you think that's where the "exile" bit in the book's title comes from, you haven't heard the half of it.

He feels as if he's never been anything but one.

His parents met on a train going to watch Bristol City, his dad was Bristolian born and bred, and his mum, Welsh, but living there.

A "Severn Beach honeymoon baby", he was born in Usk but spent his early childhood in Bristol before his family moved on to Frome and then the South Wales valleys, fromwhich he escaped back to Ashton Gate whenever he could. But his sense of living in exile goes beyond geographical boundaries.

Earlier on, there was the alienation from working-class roots imposed by grammar school and university, and now, while being deeply entrenched in the life and culture of East Anglia he still identifies closely with our part of the world, the land of his childhood

.He is known in Norfolk as "a bald head of English" and lively promoter of poetry, yet he will sit for hours in his car to enjoy or endure 90 minutes of what's on offer at Ashton Gate, roaring with the rest of the lads yet, in some ways, removed from them.

This, in part, seems to be a generation gap thing and, if so, it will only get worse.

He grumbles about the young men around him shouting stuff he would never dream of shouting and spotting things on the field that mean nothing to him:

Standing in my team red before a game, yelling the chants - in and out of sync, The main feeling is of being a complete fraud.

It's not that the team doesn't matter to me:
It matters enough to give me a heart attack.
It's just that, with only different memories of 2-3-5 to fall back on, I never really understand what's going on. . .

But then again, this is the kind of work many round here recognise in Gareth Calway.

What they will be less aware of is his sophistication as a writer who draws on everything from Eastern mysticism to myth, pre-Conquest English history and the East Anglia countryside to inform his poems.

That rather earnest list sells short the sheer sense of fun with which he makes serious points - and a rueful way of looking back, in which his childhood in Frome seems to fare particularly badly.

Of the school canteen, he recalls that:...

the smell Of boiled cabbage - as surely served in hell Would gas the stairwells, pied with potatoes Even pig swillers had sent back...

While his impression of Sunday school culture is summed up in a poem that ends:

Dear God, 'elp us to feel totally and completely useless, that human love is a sham that divine love is beyond us, 'elp us to deny every living moment of our actual experience, 'elp us to feel that we're better off dead...

Then there's the poet's first memory - of being attacked by a toucan at Bristol Zoo in 1958, which is recalled in infant Brizzle l ingo.

Gareth is at present in the midst of a spasmodic book tour that takes him to all the places that mean most to him - the West Country, South Wales and East Anglia.

The best day to catch him around here is July 22, when you can meet him (rather improbably) at Bristol Lord Mayor's Chapel on College Green in the afternoon (details tel 0117 929 4350) and at the Chepstow Festival's Drill Hall venue in the evening (01291 624836).

Gareth's Bristol City poetry, Sheer Paltry was recently published by the club at £5, with all profits going to Ashton Gate. Exile In His Own Country, just out through blue chrome, is a £7.99 paperback.

May Poem Of The Month

Exam Invigilation,
Dis-Next-the-Sea Comprehensive


Today in Norfolk, a boy has thrown up
Over Intermediate Science Paper 1 and the era
Of caretakers with buckets arriving within the hour
Is history. The June heat is on and, despite
Open doorways blowing papers like seafront litter
Between deckchair assembly desks, it's beginning
To cook the boy's dinner a second time. And the clock
-A candidate has just informed me - stopped on the hour
Ten minutes before I gave them their final time-check:
My shirt has melted from emerald green
To Monsoon purple.....

I haven't felt heat like this since Christmas
When, in response to parental complaints
About conditions unconducive to exam performance,
We hired four blast-heaters from a building site
To roar like rockets in the breezeblock corners
Of our neo-brutalist Sports-cum-Exam Barn
(Put out of commission shortly afterwards
By a Sixth Former trying to drive through it)
Which still failed to thaw its December heart of concrete.

Good to recall our cornered wellards though,
Microwaved to a turn, hair frazzle-permed at 100 degrees F,
Dysfunctional faces sedated for the first time in four years...

The rising smell of sick retunes me to the present.
Our caretakers - Godot and Son plc -
Send a memo to say they will arrive a.s.a.p.

-Let's go
-We can't.
-Why not?
-We're waiting for Godot.

It's like trying to make a silk purse out of a haystack

Like trying to tune a pitchfork in a sow's ear.


Very busy with the tour but just time to post this before May is out. It was featured in the TES on May 19, the day I went back to my old school to run a poetry workshop in the room I sat my O and A levels in. The TES photo pictures the room in my own Norfolk school where my pupils sit their exams and where all the events in this poem really did happen in the 90s. I wish everybody sitting exams over the next few weeks the best of luck and commend them to Warwick Mansell's TES article in which he gives two poets' views of the process. Any readers in Sheringham or Norwich, you can come and see me perform these and other poems from the book in your local theatre over the next two weeks. If first reactions are true, it's a lot more lively and exciting than expected!

May 24, 2006

Exile In His Own Country: TES Photo Shoot

EDP Article

Gareth Calway's poetic career spans being official poet for Bristol City FC through to being head of English at Smithdon High School in Hunstanton.

And he will be performing his work next weekend in a one-man show at Sheringham Little Theatre.

Calway, 50, has just launched his seventh collection of verse, Exile in his Own Country, which is described as "a harvest of his best work and an extensive selection of new poems".

His work uses his roots in the West Country and Wales as a foil to his adult life in East Anglia as a way of examining what 'home' really is.

In 2004 the EDP called his work "imaginative, evocative", saying "this sell-out show must be repeated", and now it is.

* Exile in his Own Country is published by bluechrome priced £7.99. Tickets for Saturday's show cost £7. Call Sheringham Little Theatre box office on 01263 822347.


This article is reproduced courtesy of Kieron Pim and the Eastern Daily Press

May 17, 2006

Exile On Tour: Press Release

Gareth Calway: Exile In his Own Country.

To mark his 50th year and seventh book, Gareth Calway will be playing truant from his job as a teacher in Norfolk to attend the school in Abersychan, South Wales that he attended as a pupil from 1968-1974 and which provides the setting and themes of a whole section of his book, Exile In His Own Country. It is his first visit there since he returned to teach in its last term as a Grammar School in 1980.

The book was launched at King’s Lynn Ottakar’s last month as the start of a long combination of shows, readings and school workshops exploring the central theme of Exile.

The first leg of his tour is to lead a number of writing workshops at Abersychan comprehensive school before performing extracts from the next day's show, Exile in his Own Country. This performance will take place in the very hall he attended school assembly for six years as a pupil of Abersychan Grammar Technical School.

The new book adds to the literature of the Eastern valley and is surely the first to combine a sequence under the title Torfaen Monologues, wry and bitter-sweet accounts of teenage valley life in the 70s.

The book also records his Somerset childhood and his lifelong attachment to Bristol City FC, whose official poet laureate he is. His parents met on their way to a Bristol City football match and later honeymooned at Severn Beach, roughly half way between the Welsh and West country places that have shaped his writing ever since.

After his old school‘homecoming’, and another homecoming in Bristol and Chepstow, Gareth will return for a summer long tour of Norfolk venues, beginning with Sheringham Little Theatre (May 27) and the Norwich Puppet Theatre (June 2) and ending with a National Poetry Day harvest at the Cley Little Festival of poetry in October and the River studios at West Acre in November.

The book includes poetic accounts of his life as a teacher in the very different setting of Norfolk and a celebration of the East Anglian countryside. The music of Sinatra and the Beatles and the search for fulfilment in family, fatherhood, work, history, heroes/heroines, poetry and mystical searching all take turns as the sections of the book unravel.

All of these themes and settings bear on the central concern of the book which is an examination of home and exile and the position of the artist in modern life.

At 150 pages, the book is a harvest of 50 years of 20th century living and - in the 'Harvest' section - of the best of Calway's previous six books, "City Zen", "Coming Home", "Britain's Dreaming,"The Merchant of Bristol", "The House on the River" and the Bristol City-published "Sheer Paltry."

So Gareth Calway returns to school at Abersychan secondary school on May 19 2006, 35 years late but with all his homework done.

The book will be reviewed in the Western Mail on 17 June and featured in TES and TES Cymru in the last weeks of May. Reviews in poetry magazines, The Western Daily Press and The Eastern Daily Press are also scheduled.

Contact/ reviews/ further details: 01485 571828
Reviews: www.bluechrome.co.uk (new releases)

May 10, 2006

Exile book launch in Lynn News



This article is published here courtesy of the Lynn News

-----

Discover yourself through poetry, says Gareth

A WEST Norfolk poet is on a mission to encourage people to discover themselves through poetry as he promotes his newly published collection.

Prolific poet and head of English at Smithdon High School, in Hunstanton, Gareth Calway (50), launched his seventh poetry collection, Exile In His Own Country, at Ottakar's book shop in Lynn's Norfolk Street last Tuesday (11).

And he will now be kept busy touring and giving readings of his poems, both in Bristol and Wales where he spent his early years and around his current home in Norfolk.

A mixture of new work, plus the best of his back catalogue, the collection covers everything from autobiographical poems about going to school and later becoming a teacher himself, to pieces about the Norfolk landscape.

Unusually it also features poems about football, including one on the 1966 World Cup final, drawing on Mr Calway's experience as the official poet laureate for Bristol City Football Club.

While poetry and football might seem an odd pairing Mr Calway said football chants were similar to poems and hoped by showing the link he could help make poetry less daunting.

"I think sometimes people are a bit frightened of poetry and I've spent most of my career trying to make it not so frightening.

"It's a great way of expressing what you feel and if you teach it properly almost without realising it students can get in touch with aspects of themselves they didn't know about.

"A lot of education today is about literacy rather than thought and feeling and I think poetry relocates that. Poetry should be a voyage of discovery. It should move you or make you laugh," he added.

Mr Calway will be holding a poetry workshop at Smithdon High School on Thursday, July 20, at at Wells' Granary Theatre the following Friday (28), before a reading at Westacre River Studios at a date to be set in November.

He is also hoping to encourage students at Lynn's King Edward VII High School - where he worked previously - to write more poetry by sponsoring the school's sixth form poetry prize.

Copies of Exile In His Own Country, priced £7.99, are on sale at the Lynn and Norwich branches of Ottakar's, or available by emailing Gareth via this website purchase page or via publisher, Blue Chrome's website at www.bluechrome.co.uk.

Copyright Lynn News, Friday April 28 2006

April 12, 2006

April Poem of the Month



Coming Home

This is God. On the highest of highs through the gulf of a tomb,
(This is God.) I’m on top of the worlds born of mind, spirit, womb.

I am not. Now the bubble has burst, there is nothing but sea:
This is God. I’m as drowned in his kiss as the bud in her bloom.

I’m in Love. All the pain in my heart’s disappeared like a dream:
This is God. I am dead to the worlds yet awake to my swoon.

I am him. Now the primal beloved and lover are one:
This is God. I’ve become who I journeyed towards and from whom.

Oh my love! He’s embraced me and brought me at last to himself:
This is God. Now I see there is only myself in the room.

I’m the soul. “There’s no dark where there’s light, no unknown where one knows.
This is God. Little mind has been razed with its search and its gloom.

O my Self! You’re beyond the beyond but you’re found on the Earth.
This is God, All in All, in the flesh: its perfection, and tomb.


(*I have followed the convention of the soul being female, the divine beloved being male, here, as in The Song of Songs.)



We've just got back from Florence, where they start spring in April. Apart from attempting to interest Fiorentina in having a poeta inglese as their modern Dante (no reply yet), I spent a lot of time gazing at the visions of heaven that Florentine artists have been attempting since Dante, Giotto, Fra Lippo Lippi, Michaelangelo, Learnardo et al. The trouble with organised Christiaintiy is that there are far too many meditations on hell, sin and guilt and far too few visions of heaven. In Florence, this is not the case. Some readers say that Dante's Inferno is a lot more gripping than his Paradiso and that his vision of God in the final cantos - as a tiny spot of brilliant white light - is much too small a pay off for all the hell and purgatory that's gone before. If that's true, it's certainly not true of his descriptions of Beatrice and the Virgin Mary (the white rose petals of that spot of white light) which are truly heavenly. Anyway, my own modest efforts in this direction in my 1991 book "Coming Home" - with its three love-driven steps to heaven: evolution/ ghosts/ involution - are revisited in the harvest section of my new book, Exile In His Own Country. "Coming Home" (one of the selections) is my attempt at a vision of heaven as guided by such spiritual writers as St John of the Cross, Bhau Kalchuri and Meher Baba as well as through a fairly headlong (and heartfelt) leap of my own imagination. I wanted above all to avoid a set piece that lacked creative tension, and so located the tension in the agony/ecstasy of the self's surrender to the All of love. "When the bubble is burst, there is nothing but sea." and "I'm as drowned in his kiss as the bud in her bloom" seemed to strike the requisite exquisite, ravished and ravishing, note and remain lines I'm very pleased with. The form of the poem is the Persian ghazal, a divine love-lyric, one of a dozen or so in my first two books and of three in the "Harvest" section of my new "Exile In His Own Country" collection. The two photos from Florence here are a playful attempt at suggesting il poeta Dante at the start of Inferno - "in the midway of this our mortal life" - about to enter hell on Good Friday - and then a vision of heaven from the terraced slopes of Purgatorio.

March 02, 2006

March Poem of the Month

Look, I have come through

I hear a moan - of the earth, but unearthly -
On the other side of the wall.
I creep round, girding my loins from some horror.
"A lamb's having birth!" pipes a child, beckoning.
I join the haggle,
Watch the quiet kindness of humans
As the lamb's bud-horns lock her
In the coffin of her mother's womb,

Watch them wrestling with spindly legs, dashing for aid,
While, irrelevant but insistent,
A turkey courts hens round our shins,
Feathers at full sail, twirling in absurd vanity,
Tattered, matted, red-sore raw and ugly beyond belief.

A man returns with a lifeline of coarse string.
A woman helps him coax birth
From the patiently groaning ewe.

The lamb is dead on the hay.
They lay it at the mother's mouth for her to lick.

"Is it all right?" asks someone, stupidly.
I knew it from the start.

....But the lamb stirs.
My heart shouts with the joy of it.
Life!
Stubborn, hopeless, quivering
Life!

(Gressenhall, March 1993)

Notes:

This poem will be published in my new book "Exile In His Own Country" at the end of the month - to coincide with my 50th birthday - and will doubtless feature in my Harvest tour (April - November 2006).

The poem recounts an actual event. The allusion to Lawrence's "Look We Have Come Through" in the title is deliberate. I was just coming out of a very dark period brought on by where I was working at the time. I thought the depression would never stop and it was a shock because my life since adolescence and marriage (and fatherhood) had more or less kept getting better until then and I thought that was the natural order of things. Then suddenly I was going into work like I was going to war, playing The Clash ear numbingly loud and on one occasion punching out my own windscreen. I'm not sure why things eased exactly - I probably forgave someone the appalling wrongs they were doing me after punishing them for it a hundred fold for a over year. Then the spring came, I got commissioned to write some poems and perform them at the King's Lynn Festival and I began to see some light at the end of my tunnel vision. We took our six year old to Gressenhall and it reminded me of how good my own education had been - especially the social history - and how good places like Gressenhall are. Then we watched the lamb being born and all the unsung genius and kindness of human beings apparently proving futile in the face of its agonising tiny newborn demise. Dead on the hay. I wanted to howl. And then it stirred. I'll never forget it.