The Sarah Broom Poetry Award

 

Now that I am settling down a bit from the giddy whirl of the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival, I want to repeat here how much admiration I have for Michael Gleissner and the other trust members who set up the Sarah Broom Award. To do this so soon after losing Sarah must have taken an enormous amount of energy and focus at a very raw and vulnerable time. I know from all the positive feedback and well-wishing I was lucky enough to receive even as a short-listee, that the wider poetry community has been highly aware of the award and the chance it offers to local poets.

It was a hoot to meet Sam Hunt at the session, and Kirsti Whalen showed really professional slam-background confidence. I’ve owned Sam’s poems since I was 13: though back then I didn’t have a clue what all the fuss about love and desire was. Adults seemed tortured by such bizarre emotions. Sam not only takes poetry to the people but also does a mean tap dance — look him up on YouTube. Also his interview on National Radio about the Sarah Broom Award is a marvellous recording. It’s the kind of radio that makes you forget how to multi-task. You just end up frozen in place, dishcloth at the window, struck in an attitude of intense distraction.

Poet, editor, blogger, reviewer and judge Paula Green put an enormous amount of work into the publicity and the ‘bits and pieces’ of event planning too. Right down to making sure I had cash for the airport shuttle! I wouldn’t be surprised if Paula took to her bed for a week to recover from the hoop-la. If anyone else has to take to their beds after festival overdose, they should also take her latest collection, The Baker’s Thumbprint. One of my poetry favourites in 2013, it made me think how a traditional form like the sestina can seem so utterly revitalised and contemporary when unusual teleutons are chosen, and I really warmed to the way a wide cast of figures from literature and history accompany the voice in the poems. It seemed to capture the way certain ideas, concepts, books thread through and alter the ordinary day; we might seem to be eating a tomato sandwich at the beach, but on another level we’re chewing over the theory of relativity. The poems imagine the figures into contemporary contexts; they play surreal little private games; there’s also the sense in which some absences loom larger than whatever seems physically, tangibly present. So much of our life is in the elsewhere of memory, of imagination.

An odd confession now maybe: it gave me mixed feelings to be short-listed. I was lucky enough to have met Sarah in the very early days of motherhood for both of us. So each time someone mentions the award, I’ve felt sadness for everyone connected to her, as well as gratitude that the poems made it through to the final stage.

I dithered and delayed about entering, for all kinds of personal and artistic reasons, but in the end I took the plunge as a way of remembering Sarah, her friendship, and above all her writing: its combination of control and ardor, its lyricism and its powerful undertow of hard-won, bittersweet wisdom.

I first met Sarah when I sidled along to a friend’s mother and baby group shortly after giving birth to my first son —my own antenatal group hadn’t really cohered. It was a huge relief to find the group that Sarah and her husband Michael were part of: they were like-minded, able to laugh at parenting misadventures, and to be frank about many of the things that can make other new parents either uncomfortably competitive, or guarded for fear of losing face.

I suppose I’m trying to say they were honest both about the elation and the feeling that raising a baby is — as another poet has said — ‘like trying to build a ship while you’re already at sea’. (If anyone can let me know who said that, I’d be grateful! I know it was in a memoir of parenthood written by a British male poet, but Google is boggled by it and I can’t locate my copy…)

In Sarah’s case she entered motherhood while also still trying to have an academic career. So I suppose it was not only like trying to build a ship while already at sea, but also while having to sustain intelligent conversations about the theory of aviation and smoothly pilot a plane through air pockets. To an outsider she seemed to handle the pressures so gracefully. When I think back to those years, I visualise her first son Daniel’s white-blond hair — that almost translucent thistledown blond some children have — and Sarah’s smile. I reckon you could have taken a tape measure to and it would have won world-wide, wide grin competitions.

All the time, of course, alongside her teaching and parenting, Sarah also had the creative impulse thrumming away. Thank goodness she listened to it. We’re all the richer for her having focused on it when she and Michael had to move to Auckland. I only managed to meet up with her twice more in the seven years or so she was living in the north; but one of the poems from The Truth Garden (Otago University Press) was written in response to the bravery and directness of her emails to friends, family and the poetry community about her condition and medical treatment. It’s actually not a whizz-bang poem, I don’t think; but Sarah was gracious enough to accept it in the spirit I meant it —which was a kind of atheist’s prayer. (Actually I think Kirsti Whalen might have mentioned this as her  attitude to poetry overall: so this posting tunes itself to her oboe as well.) The poem starts off with the kind of blunt medical language Sarah dealt with in her letters.

 

Growth

Nodules, tumours, chemo, oncologist:

a harsh jargon it’s hard to think your way clear through

when pain closes in with its white haze.

We read your careful message

and find all we’re left with

is a primitive want

I wish, I wish, I wish ―

it’s the sound of the blood’s own steady breath,

the lungs’ airy wax and wane,

the heart’s secret metre.

Where is the shaman

to snip harmless cuttings

of seasonal luck,

coax rootlets of stubborn health

to stretch and grip

in the body’s winter bed?

I wish, I wish, I wish

words on tongue, page, screen

would seed a wellness as bold

as our kowhai in spring

when it stands proud-bellied

as a woman in pregnancy

and in its leaves a thousand yellow flowers

glitter and sway

as if the sun were a flock of pilgrims

who have pinned trinkets, bells, sequins to her skirts

Our Lady of Blossoms

Our Lady of Fantails and Waxeyes

Our Lady of Summers Past, and Now, and Still to Come.

 

Congratulations to Karl Stead on his win— a steady career indeed!

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Poetry Shelf interviews the finalists for the Sarah Broom Poetry Award: Today Emma Neale

Poetry Shelf interviews the finalists for the Sarah Broom Poetry Award: Today Emma Neale.

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The Personal is Pah-litical

My residency at the Pah Homestead ends this week. It’s been a productive, stimulating yet also restful time: a honeymoon for one. I’ve finished the first draft of a novel, pulled together a sheaf of poems, written a short ten minute film script, started notes towards two more projects, edited a little for Otago University Press, read far more than usual, and also managed to do a small amount of ‘back room’ work for Wise Response.

The support that the university and the Wallace Arts Trust give to this short-term residency still astonishes me. The Pah Homestead staff are more than professional and kind: they’re also witty, warm, wise and fun. I couldn’t have accepted the residency without the support of my own small family, who have managed alone in Dunedin, sustained by Skype, FaceTime, email, cell phone, parcels and cards…and the ability to count to ten. (Today’s broadcast was brought to you by the number 2! Only two more sleeps till family reunion…)

I developed a kind of a routine while here: on alternate days, run to Cornwall Park in the morning; come back to the apartment to work; and then late afternoon, around half past four or so, uncrick from the keyboard, head out to the glorious Mount Cecilia Park; walk through it to run any errands on foot. That’s much easier for a single-person household than a family of four, but one small way I tried to live by my ideals while I’ve been here. Reducing energy consumption where I can: lugging supplies back up the steep Mt Cecilia Park hillside (recycling all those absinthe, wine and gin  bottles, oh ho ho….)

Being away from the day to day responsibilities of family life has meant I’ve had more time to think about global issues — or rather, more time to try to pitch in to a cause I believe in. I do plenty of thinking about environmental issues when I’m at home; we cycle when we can, even with a four-year-old in a bike trailer; and as a family we have been struggling for nearly 2 years now with the practicalities and financial realities behind the ideal of building a sustainable home. Plans currently in the too-costly basket: dream deferred. Usually, I rarely have little extra time on top of editorial contracts and parenting to attend meetings or roll up my sleeves and do anything otherwise tangible about eco-concerns. The trick is to think about the issues without feeling paralysed by dread; without the physical symptoms of migraine gearing up; without hitting the inbuilt tripwire of anxiety disorder.

There are many reasons we all disengage from major social and political issues. Less of it now seems to be because people disbelieve the science behind peak oil or climate change. From the people around me, and the strangers I’ve actively petitioned on foot, I don’t think it’s always because of greed, either. (Although I don’t know any oil company executives or right wing politicians; and I’ll admit, I avoid reading right wing blogs if I can, because I start to feel those migraine symptoms start up again….) Part of our disengagement is that we’re all so embedded within and dependent upon the system as it stands; and the prospect of dismantling the entire thing can end up blowing a few psychic fuses in our own thought processes.

Of course one of the main reasons we switch off from the facts and the need to agitate is crippling fear and worry. Feeling overwhelmed by how huge and complex the problems are. Feeling terrified of what global financial and environmental meltdown will mean for us and the people we love. Feeling powerless, as ‘little people’ against a massive tide of consumption, and in the face of the ‘any growth is good’ model. Finding that doing things the ecologically sensitive way is bloody hard work, time-consuming, or even impossible. (Tell the people in wheelchairs I’ve seen around Royal Oak that they should be doing their groceries without a motorised vehicle…)

It’s difficult to find the time to stay informed and fully understand the complexities of peak oil and climate change; it’s difficult to take action when there is either a job to hold down or work to hunt for, and there are the immediate needs of young children to attend to: illness, tantrums, meltdowns (yes, they’re different!) homework, after-school commitments… And it’s not a happy place to be in, staring down the dark tunnel of an ecologically decimated future. So much easier to retreat to comedy on YouTube, drink a wine, light a ciggie, or ‘like’ funny animal photos on Facebook (Oh yes! Some of the species we’re wiping out, hilarious! With the extraction of petroleum that helps to build the very computer and power the communications I’m singing my protest song on, oh the irony!)

There are all the social risks we take if we try to question the status quo. The inner critic that says, “You’ll seem like a crank. You’ll seem like an obsessive. You’ll bum everyone out. You’ll seem like a spammer. You’ll seem like a naïve idealist. You’ll kick the plug out on the party.” Some of the things that inhibit us from acting are neatly described here, where Dave Gardener quotes the psychologist and social behaviorist Alan Berkowitz.

http://transitionvoice.com/2014/02/peak-oil-and-the-ignorance-of-crowds/

That blog is inspiring: thank you to the dynamo Dugald McTavish for alerting me to it. If you start to shift the way you do things, it can lead to other people around you questioning the way they do things, too. If you start to cycle to work, or with your kids to daycare or school as often as you can, other people around you might feel that little extra nudge to make the change. (I’ve seen that particular one happen: elating!) If you decide, ‘to hell with who thinks you’re a fruitcake, blog about the Wise Response cause!’, others may help to spread the word.

So, what’s Wise Response?  It’s a group calling for a cross-party risk assessment of the challenges New Zealand faces in a deteriorating environment. Once an assessment is made, then the government can take practical action.  To quote from its website:

“A risk assessment is the first step in determining the scale, timeframe and interactivity of the risks faced by New Zealand. It would build on international risk assessments such as the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2013 report.  Such a report for New Zealand should then be used as the basis for engaging the public and businesses of New Zealand in informed discussion as to what choices need to be made to buffer New Zealand from such risks and to work towards genuine well-being.”

The group is supported by figures like Dame Anne Salmond, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, Nigel Brown, Tim Hazeldine, Anton Oliver, Brian Turner… and many more. You can find out more about the group here:

http://wiseresponse.org.nz/

 

And you can sign the petition here:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/New_Zealand_Parliament_Seeking_your_support_for_Paliament_to_endorse_a_risk_assessment_for_NZ/share/

Sometimes I think it’s not simply a worthy cause, but the only cause. Because every inequality, stress or injustice you can think of will only be exacerbated by the severe competition for resources that ecological crisis entails.

 

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Oom Pah-Pah: Poetry at the Pah Homestead

Paula Green, poet, anthologist reviewer, children’s author and general one-woman literary workforce is enormously generous with the time and effort she puts in to promoting other writers’ work. It was a privilege to read with her and Siobhan Harvey last night at the Pah Homestead. She read spirited, playful, tongue-twistingly comic new poems for children due out later this year, and tough, funny, lyrical work from The Baker’s Thumbprint about the 1970s protest movement, beach walks, and imagined encounters between other writers. There’s a sly wit; a sensuous response to colour and line; an eye for the quirks, foibles and also the virtues of an era. Paula handled that sticky question ‘is there a woman’s voice’ insightfully and deftly.

Of course any answer worth its salt takes years of research: Paula answered robustly: yes, there is a woman’s voice, she argued; yes there has been historical bias and denigration of subject areas traditionally perceived of as female. (To this I add, young women editors can also dismiss aspects of writing about motherhood and the home: it’s not just a guy thing.) The bias in reviewing and anthologising may be shifting – yet discussion of one bias may also conceal another: when we get the balance of women and men in an anthology, will we also get the balance of of north island versus south island writers, not to mention a balance of sexualities, of white/Maori/Pasifika/Asian? How do these things affect our sense of aesthetic quality? Should we see through them as if through clear glass to the poem? Or should work be actively selected on the basis of the writer’s provenance? My own off the cuff answer last night to the gender question was that there may be women’s concerns, and women’s work has definitely been shaped by historical circumstances, but if we’re talking about the technical components of style, then no. To expand:  place a Lisa Samuels poem alongside an Anna Jackson poem, for example; place a Paula Green poem alongside an Emily Dickinson; place an Ann Carson alongside a Marianne Moore. Chalk, cheese, wine, milk, scoria, astronaut. (No particular link between the lists!).

I always dread the question component of any public reading: yet here I am, on a Friday night, still chewing over it all. And it was a fierce line of questioning at another arts panel that got under my skin enough for me to write a poem about art and social responsibility – ‘Polemic’, which has appeared in Landfall and Jennifer Compton’s blog Stillcraic, and performed by other poets (Lionel Sharman in Wellington and Blondie Suede in California). So I guess that even though extemporising on these things never feels satisfactory, the long mull afterwards is deeply enriching.

Thanks to the University of Otago and the James Wallace Arts Trust for funding and supporting events like these – and thanks again to Siobhan Harvey and Paula Green for their illuminating readings.

Special Offer: As a nod to – a quotation from – Paula Green’s great giveaways on her blog: the first reader to correctly spot the fictionalist’s trick here will get a free copy of Spark (Steele Roberts).

Emma Neale’s poetry reading was witty, warm, sharp and utterly musical.

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Backstage Theatrics

The Truth GardenI’m in the throes of preparing for a poetry event at the Pah Homestead in Auckland. This involves a lot of pacing, choosing poems and soon throwing them over my shoulder in despair, then falling back on them again, saying, oh, take me back! This no doubt comes from what is known in my family as the histrionic gene. My mother and maternal aunt are both excellent stage performers; my sister could make a living as a stand-up comedienne if she wasn’t more interested in silver-smithing (check out Sarah Neale Jewellery here http://sarahneale.co.nz/). One of my maternal cousins, an opera singer like her mother, also has a powerful stage presence; there are other second cousins on the maternal side who are excellent dramatists. I’m no real judge of whether I have their any of their stage presence, but I do know that the gene shows its effects in me with private tantrums. My nerves are a crowd of queen-zillas: projecting their voices, over-acting, charging around demanding coffee now before they faint! It’s good to get this hysteria out of the system before the actual performance, don’t you think?

I’ll be reading with Paula Green and Siobhan Harvey on Thursday 20 March. Full details are available here:

http://www.tsbbankwallaceartscentre.org.nz/events/three-poets-2/

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The Poet is Working

What to do with a review that was commissioned, accepted graciously, nay, with warmest of compliments even, paid for, but then had to wait so long in the magazine’s print queue that it had to be dropped as now past its use-by date? Blog it! Because when is good poetry obsolete? Not ever, I hear you all cry through the fibres of the cyberneverland! I’m too lazy to go hawking it around other magazines now, and risk being turned down like the wandering cookie-salespersons who visit office blocks at Christmas time. So here it is: free content! Don’t ever say I don’t do anything for you, cruel world.

Review of Janet Charman’s At the White Coast AUP
and Kerrin P Sharpe’s Three Days in a Wishing Well VUP

The title At the White Coast seems to prepare us for weather and tides: either wild South Pacific shores, or Dover’s white cliffs. Yet the book’s preoccupation is with the land-locked: the often desperately constrained lives of London’s urban population.

Charman’s poetry is known for its alertness to gender politics and complex domestic intimacies. Here, these concerns fuse, as she captures the physical and psychological deprivations of numerous social work cases. Although interspersed with love and travel poems, overall the collection is an unblenching, realist file of case studies exposing inequality, prejudice, violence and impoverishment.

If social work itself tries to innoculate against, and repair, the distress and disconnection in lives in crisis, so too do Charman’s poems. They hoard up details of colleagues’ and clients’ circumstances: trying to find order by winnowing out empathy from judgement, distrust from acceptance, as they glance along the personal histories of grossly under-prepared young mothers; the frail elderly; teenage runaways; abuse victims; immigrants, prostitutes, thieves and alcoholics.

Several poems use a terse, abbreviated style, echoing the local demotic, pooling the ironies and the knife-turns of the unsaid. The book expresses quiet incredulity, restrained sorrow (and sometimes, reluctant amusement) at the oppressions, depredations, and trickery encountered. The poem ‘the changing bag’, for example, shows an ‘at risk’ couple where even the most elementary human currency — language — has run out. The mother “has yet to be convinced/that babies want you to talk to them/or anyone” and the couple “still don’t really use words with each other”. It ends with a sardonic political jibe, intensified through single-word lines and assonance: “with a nanny/perhaps/they/could/manage”.

As Charman layers the portraits of how people manipulate and control each other, submit or struggle, her unease mushrooms. The narrator feels pushed into brutalism by institutional processes:

Miss Oatenshow
i’ve become
a monster
i don’t believe in making people
do things they don’t want to

but you did
she said
as if that is the beginning and the end of it

(‘Theatre Girls Club’)

Some slightly unusual patterning of syntax, changes to standard punctuation, and subject switches are occasionally irritating, but they seek to transcribe uncertainty, and to embody, at the level of style, the shift of focus from the ‘norm’, to the under-represented.

A crude comparison: if Charman is a poet of revolution, Sharpe is one of reverie. Some of Sharpe’s poems do travel with a critical eye into specific political and historical decades. Yet usually there is a powerful sense of the surrealist’s belief that authencity lies in a fusion of the life of dreams with the tangible, concrete, external world.

Reading Sharpe’s spare, elliptical lines reminds me of Manhire’s wryness, and frequently, of Michael Harlow’s tender surrealism. Take this:

in honey valley
each spoon flies
back to the hive

birds in a state of grace
convert letters from the village
to envelopes of wishbone
(‘washing his name with stone’)

Or this:

in the crown of a pear tree
the blackbird reads
a shipping invoice

(‘the embalmer’s son’)

Such phrasing brings to mind the tale André Breton retells in his surrealist manifesto: every evening, before sleep, Sant Pol-Roux posted a notice on his door that read ‘The poet is working’. Sharpe submerges the relations between events, and actions or responses, as dreams sometimes do. She lets literal and figurative slide around with the cloudy elusiveness of someone trying to recall someone else’s memory of a perhaps partially imagined past.

There is something very restful about this book, with its moons and stones, monks and honey, ponies and snow. Its comic élan, delicate melancholy and subdued music sit us down beside water — estuary and wishing well — let us dandle our toes, and hum to us quietly, goofily, about topics fanciful and factual: a fish on wheels/writes a folk song…

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The Quiet, the Less Quiet, the Unquiet, and the Loud

A few people in the audience at last night’s Circadian Rhythm poetry reading asked if I could post my scrappy MC notes online. Given I’ve been a neglectful blogger (there must be a word for that: I’ll ask Wordsworth at The Listener!) pinning them here seems a good way to make amends.

Last night was a double bill: Carolyn McCurdie and this year’s students from the University of Otago Creative Writing: Poetry Workshop.

Many of the audience already know Carolyn McCurdie as the mainstay of scheduling and publicity for these readings; but she has a past.

Carolyn has worked as a teacher and a librarian; mild-mannered, even-tempered and polite by day, so the archetype goes: yet she is also a steely, ethically driven force for good: someone who fights for truth, justice and the literary way on her own time. Actually, the Wonderwoman or Superman analogy quickly breaks down with Carolyn. Not only because there are so few phone-booths to use for quick changes into your star-sprinkled bustier, bullet proof bracelets, and Lasso of Truth these days, but because the split between super hero and alter ego doesn’t quite ring true. She’s the kind of writer and individual whose conscience permeates everything she does: no division, no concealment. For years she juggled work, writing, and acting as primary caregiver for her elderly mother, and she has long been active on behalf of NZSA Writers in Prisons scheme – helping to run readings and letter writing campaigns to defend writers here and internationally whose freedoms of speech and expression, and whose physical liberty, have been threatened or robbed.



Her work includes short stories, fiction for children, and poetry. Her short fiction won her the Lilian Ida Smith award in 1998. Her children’s novel The Unquiet was published in 2006. A fantasy adventure aimed at ages 10 to 14, it first came across my desk as an unsolicited manuscript at the former Longacre Press. After reading it, I had to take myself off for a walk around the block, to get myself to calm down and make sure I was acting with the hard-nosed acumen the job demanded. I knew Carolyn vaguely from the New Zealand Society of Authors, and I guess part of me was suspicious that my literary judgment might have been impaired by thinking Carolyn seemed a thoroughly decent individual; wouldn’t it be nice if a local publisher could support a local writer, and everybody just loved everybody and we could all make daisy chains as we tripped along through the sunset in our kaftans. So I went for that walk, made a stiff coffee, ate a substantial baguette from the old Indigo bakery, to make absolutely sure that it wasn’t just hunger making me giddy. I re-read the novel. It confirmed my initial reaction, which was that the air of fantasy and fable combined; the natural similes and metaphors; the gentle use of abstractions, and the empathy for the child’s eye perspective, were a little like the Janet Frame of Mona Minim and the Smell of the Sun, or the early short stories from collections like Snowman, Snowman. I felt that rush that gamblers surely feel when the other two editors in the office also backed the novel after I handed in a reader’s report. The Unquiet was published, and went on to be named in the Storylines Trust list of ‘Notable Books of 2007′. Carolyn’s pellucid imagery in that novel foreshadowed her subsequent success as a poet. She has had work ‘highly commended’ in the Caselberg Trust International Poetry Competition, judged by James Brown; she won the ‘D-Scene’ prize in the Poems-in-the-Waiting-Rooms competition 2012, judged by Kay McKenzie Cooke; and won first prize in the NZ Poetry Society 2013 International Poetry Competition, judged by Vincent O’Sullivan. She now also has a collection of short fiction due out from e-publisher Rosa Mira Books.

It’s high time Carolyn took the spotlight here at Circadian Rhythm and it’s a joy to give up the mike to her tonight.

* * * * * * *

For newcomers, or those with memories as porous and tissue-thin as mine, I’ll just quickly explain a little about the poetry workshop that our next performers are emerging from. The English Department at Otago runs a one semester creative writing paper, where the students meet twice a week. It usually involves the participants tackling various set exercises: writing in traditional forms or responding to various prompts, such as digital poetry, natural objects; works of art; or spoken anecdotes borrowed from a workshop partner; either writing at white heat (‘hot-penning’), or taking away assignments to work on in their own time, then bringing their work back in for all of us to critique. The students are expected to do a lot of independent reading; they end up not just with a fat set text book, but also folders of additional poems, multiple online links (many generated by their own research this year) and articles on aspects of form or technique. This year we had a couple of field trips and some guest speakers, too, so the semester seemed very busy.

Sometimes students ask ‘why give us set exercises?’ It’s partly to offer starting points or challenges for students struggling with the blank screen or page; it’s also to force them to learn more about structure, and poetic technique. It also helps students break some of the habits they might have already formed: such as only composing haiku about what’s left in the fridge; or only ever writing about unrequited desire for the freckled boy on the hockey team in 2010. It can also help them shed the habit of using language which they think is appropriate to poetry, but which actually obfuscates; or writing syntactically contorted, heavily abstract lines which say little to the reader — other than here is someone still negotiating the tension between what they want to reveal, and what they can’t really, not just yet; here is someone still learning that once the work leaves the personal diary, the nature of an audience or a readership has to be actively considered.

I’ve already told the students themselves that this has been an exceptional year. Even so, it is still a diverse group. At least six of them are already publishing or being placed in competitions; others still use poetry as a private means to work out what they believe; some are still trying to decide whether poetry really is their form at all. Yet even with this range, it’s been exceptional in terms of the progress they’ve each made as writers, and as a group that began with some not insignificant tensions and abrasions, to a group that has become highly supportive, without ever letting poems off the hook if the language gets lazy, or unintentionally bigoted. It’s also a group that has sharpened its ability to offer practical critical advice. They’ve leapt from the kind of hollow, snack-food satisfactions of ‘That line is totally aaawwwwesome’ – to the more, I suppose, gourmet ‘Wouldn’t the ironic nuances of the word lie be released more powerfully if you left it poised on the fulcrum of the line break?’

They’ve extended my vocabulary and my general knowledge – I can now say, when my toast is burnt, that it is completely phlogisticated (thanks to Jonte Marshall). I was reminded that psychologists generally agree that sadomasochism isn’t necessarily the same as paraphilia; I’ve been introduced to the haibun, which I’d somehow never met even though we move in many of the same circles; and I deeply regret not having started a swear jar, as I would have earned more in cash from Eliana Gray than I would placing a poem in The Listener. I jest, I bluff, I tease, I play all hale and hearty, yet the thing that’s astonished me this year is how quickly students can become colleagues when they’re passionate about their work.

Some of them are scaring me tonight by reading completely new work that we haven’t discussed in class: but I’ve realised that’s actually got to be a good thing. They have the confidence now to test their own powers of judgment. It’s time for me to let go.

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