The August Bank Holiday always feels like the end of summer, and I’m getting that back-to-school feeling – especially as I’ll be heading to King’s College Cambridge this weekend, where I did my undergraduate degree, for the naming day of a friend’s daughter. It’s 16 years now since I arrived there from Bolton, with a case full of lycra mini-dresses more suited to Ritzy than a seat of learning founded by Henry VI. I think I survived most of my first year on chilli-chips from the ‘Van of Death‘ on Market Square (the ‘Van of Life’ was on the other side) and gin I ‘distilled’ in my room with a kit from Boots (you poured blue powder into water, basically), but I also discovered Susan Sontag, Nabokov, Jacobean tragedy and broadsheet papers; met my husband and had my first book signed by Bloodaxe. It was the most thrilling year of my life, and I’ll feel horribly nostalgic going back.
Meanwhile, my garden thuds with apples and I’ve been snagging myself on the blackberry bush trying to get the squelchiest berries. I even made piccalilli last week, filling the house with sour vinegar fumes (it’s a triumph, if I may say so myself).
I’m going to be back to work after my summer off with Gruff, which at the moment mainly means teaching. I’m doing an Arvon at Lumb Bank with Neil Rollinson in October – a time when the Calder Valley always looks particularly moody and beautiful – and mentoring the winners of this year’s New Poets Bursaries from the Northern Writers Awards. In a couple of weeks I’m also starting my three London classes – beginners and intermediate courses at the City Lit, and my intermediate course ‘What Makes a Poem‘ at the Poetry School. If you’d like an excuse to buy new stationary in September, at the time of writing there are still places on all of them, and The Poetry School just interviewed me for their blog, where I explain a bit more about what I teach.
Whilst I’m writing, I’ve also been meaning to mention how much I’m enjoying Modern Poetry in Translation under new editor Sasha Dugdale. It looks lovely, for one thing, with bible paper and a cleaner font.
The autumn issue arrived this week with a cover in the colours of falling leaves, and has a feature on Romanian poets that (having hung out with the wonderful Doina Ioanid at Parnassus last year) I’ve found interesting – I love this Elegy by Mariana Marin, for example, where the nausea of grief makes ordinary sickness seem almost desirable. I often start my beginners group off with an exercise in Anaphora, and there are some really remarkable ‘list’ poems too: the Faroese poet Joanes Nielsen’s ‘My Breath is my Passport’ is a meditation on male sensuality (‘I come with a tempest out of a meat-sun / Whose hair contains the hidden powers of animals and people / I find solace between breasts with nipples big as hungry roses’), and I’m very struck by the futurist Khlebnikov’s ‘Garden of Animals’, where St Petersburg zoo becomes a kind of metaphor for Russia in 1909, ‘where a rhino’s red-white eyes carry the unquenchable rage of an overthrown king…where seagulls, with long beaks and eyes so ice-blue they seem bespectacled, look like international stockbrokers’. The issue feels an education in itself.