W B Yeats, W H Auden, memorial, poetry

Poetry lives on

W H Auden reads his poem about the death of W B Yeats (anniversary today) – not only the passing of the man, but the way poetry lives on in the world after the death of its writer.

Interesting to bear in mind that we are listening to the spoken words of a poet who has been dead for over 40 years (died September 1973). Powerful to hear them read by the writer.

This poem is in fact one of 3 parts.  In the 2nd, he memorably sums up W B Yeats as “Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry” and in the 3rd it winds up the set by a simple four line verse:

“In the deserts of the heart

Let the healing fountain start

In the prison of his days

Teach the free man how to praise.”

The full poem is found in Auden’s writings 1939-1947.


Stephen Roach: Writing on the road

Stephen Roach, lyric writer for “Songs of Water” wrote about creativity on his blog “Words that Bloom” as he was on the road in Australia:

Creativity begins in rest,
in a moment outside of moments,
in a place where we may pause and reflect
on what has been and what is to be
or perhaps upon that which has escaped the entire notion of being.

We become an observer peering over the shoulder of our own bustling life.
But do we recognize her in the magnificence of this disentangled, free-verse prose?
Creativity is never hurried, for it perceives time in a manner much different than 
the persistent ticking of wrist watches and on-time departures.
It knows her as a mother knows her child.

And if we are able to slip through the cracks of what must-be-done 
and slow ourselves to the pace of eternity’s un-rushed sprawl, 
we might glimpse ourselves in a way heaven has drawn us all along 
– a bouquet of luminesce echoes-
From here, we can enter in again to the movement and the must-be-done 
with a washed countenance, 
a baptized habitation. “

Listening in on the Oscars for Poetry, T S Eliot Prize

Without even the pressure to dress up, you can listen with the leaders in UK poetry to the annual prestigious award ceremony for the T S Eliot prize – audio recordings now available here.

Thanks to the time machinery of your internet device, you are present to hear a master class in reading and presenting your own poetry.  Each poet has 8 minutes to read their work.  This is poets under pressure, reading to a roomful of experts in writing and performing poetry – with a leading prize of £25,000 at stake.

  1.  Ian MacMillan introduces the shortlisted readings.  (2 minutes 29 secs)
  2. (Second track, although this clearly happened before Ian spoke) Bill Herbert, Chair of this year’s judges, reads one of T S Eliot’s own poems – this year a particularly political one “The Difficulties of a Statesman” (5.16)
  3. Leontia Flynn (originally from Northern Ireland)
  4. James Sheard (good at explaining the personal starting point for the poems and engaging with the audience)
  5. Tara Bergin (originally from Ireland) reads from her collection based on the death of Eleanor Marx, daughter of Karl Marx, who committed suicide after her lover married someone else
  6. Robert Minhinnick (Wales) reads from “Diary of the Last Man”.  He edits “Poetry Wales” and writes with passion about the environment
  7. Roddy Lumsden reads from “So glad to be me”
  8. Jacqueline Saphra “All my mad mothers” – reads short poems with humour and insight about family and art and motherhood (her grownup kids in the audience)
  9. Ocean Vuong (Vietnam/America) reads with intenseness and drama of the fall of Saigon (his mother is Vietnamese/American) and a poem speaking to himself
  10. Douglas Dunn (Scotland) reads from his collection “The sound of a fly”
  11. Caroline Bird reads from her collection “In these days of Prohibition” – which Ian MacMillan describes as being about the surreallness of real life.  7 minutes into the reading, she reads a fantastic poem – which I’ve heard her perform, live – and it’s so vivid and funny, it’s like you join her in the scene
  12. Michael Symmons Roberts reads from his collection “Mancunia” – things to do with Manchester (an English city) are described as “Mancunian”


All in one place, we hear ten poets, current, contemporary, performing – selected by the poetry community as important at this moment in time.  We hear different accents and varieties of ages and styles of poetry.  It will forever be on these poets’ c.v.s that they were shortlisted for the T S Eliot prize.  One will win.  (The result is out now, but I’ll let you find it out for yourself.  Can you guess who it is?)

The Poets talk about their work

If some of these readings made you interested to hear more of these poets and how they work at poetry, the T S Eliot Society has made brief video interviews with them on that theme.  (Thank you, T S Eliot Society!)

Leontia Flynn talks about her work

James Sheard

Tara Bergin

Robert Minhinnick

Roddy Lumsden

Jacqueline Saphra

Ocean Vuong

Douglas Dunn

Caroline Bird

Michael Symmons Roberts


Poetry Writing 101 Hands-on

Reader, if you are a wouldbe poetry writer, then get your hands on this book “Writing Poetry” by W N Herbert.  It’s like having a writing tutor patiently helping you – because that’s exactly what is happening – its writer is Bill Herbert, Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University.

dictionary meaning of spondulicks

Please do take that book token Christmas present, or lean over your local library counter and demand that they order it, or borrow the spondulicks from a pal, to buy this instantly useful and enjoyable book.  

Whether you are a beginner, near beginner or have written a couple of hundred poems but still feel like you’re at the start of a writing apprenticeship – this book takes you through the process of developing the skills/craft and – more difficult to explain – the feel for, writing poetry.



Poetry of Resilience – Irina Ratushinskaya

Poetry can inspire by acknowledging a person, telling their story, celebrating their life’s witness.  I just came across a poem by Luci Shaw, which tells us another poet/person’s story, their persistence through harsh circumstances.  Encouraging.  Luci’s poem begins with her introduction to Irina, in italics.

Irina Ratushinskaya
—Russian poet and physicist who was sentenced
to seven years in a Soviet labor camp for writing about
freedom and God. We met at a conference in Oxford
and gave a joint poetry reading.

In the gulag, denied paper, she wrote her
words on soap, then rinsed them off into the icy air
like breathing hope into the world. The words
she held safe in the wide freedom of her memory.
They were words of faith and love and outrage.
They were like her children, held in her mind’s
embrace for all those years until she could
speak them aloud and own them without fear,
un-silenced and un-cowed.

I have her little gold pill box, a love gift, still
holding in its minor space a breath of her courage.

Luci Shaw

Irina Ratushinskaya

Irina Ratushinkaya‘s account of her gulag imprisonment and how she and the other women survived, supporting one another, is published in her book: “Grey is the Colour of Hope” (resissued Hodder and Stoughton, 2016, Sceptre imprint.  ISBN: 9781473637214 available as paperback and e-book/Kindle)

Part of Irina’s poetry, in the poem “I will live and survive” is quoted in the Guardian’s fascinating obituary:

And I will tell of the first beauty
I saw in captivity.

A frost-covered window! No spy-holes, nor walls,
Nor cell-bars, nor the long endured pain –
Only a blue radiance on a tiny pane of glass,
A cast pattern – none more beautiful could be dreamt!
The more clearly you looked the more powerfully blossomed
Those brigand forests, campfires and birds!
And how many times there was bitter cold weather
And how many windows sparkled after that one –
But never was it repeated
That upheaval of rainbow ice!

If you’d like to read more of her poetry, its books are titled:

  • “No, I’m not afraid”
  • “Beyond the Limit”
  • “Pencil Letter”
  • “Dance with a shadow”
Bookjacket "In the Beginning"

early formative memoir: Irina Ratushinskaya

She has written the memoir of her earlier years as: “In the beginning: The formative years of a dissident poet”.

Her novels are “Fictions and Lies” and “The Odessans”

Creative Takeaway

Do you know someone who you deeply admire for their persistence through life, despite great difficulties?  Perhaps they could be a theme to inspire your song/poetry/visual art/dance/craft.  You may find this an encouraging exercise, which strengthens your own resilience in life.

bookcovers by Dobby Gibson

A poet recommends….

American poet Dobby Gibson (featured in blog posts on previous 2 days) took time during his New Year to give us the low-down on what poetry book inspires him to write poetry.  Also, a personal note on how the writing of his next book is progressing….

Question: What are you reading now?



Dobby Gibson: The book I’m reading now is a 2017 book I’m rereading for probably the tenth time already. It’s called “There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé” by the American poet Morgan Parker.

This book is a total delight. Parker combines the unpredictable swervy-ness of a New York School-style of poetry with a wit, urgency and voice that is contemporary and completely her own. It was the most exciting book of poems I read in 2017. It’s a book that makes me want to write poems (the best kind!).


Dobby Gibson: A poet, a press, an editor

Having met Dobby Gibson in yesterday’s blog post, we get more of a sense of a practicing poet’s world with today’s video, including an interview with his editor (Jeff Shotts), his publisher (Graywolf Press) and Dobby reading at the book launch.  (This is his third book of poetry).

*CommandCo Exclusive Tomorrow* We’ve been in touch with Dobby, and found out his favourite poetry book of 2017 – the one which makes him want to write more poetry.  Also, the latest progress on his next book….  All this coming on tomorrow’s blog post!


More about the poet

If you’d like to find out more about the poet, his website will give a good indication of what books he has read, poems of his on the internet, and audio and video recordings and interviews.  In fact, it’s a good example of a poet’s website, for those of us in at the beginning of life as a published poet, or working towards that.


Screen shot 2017-12-29 at 12.03.53

Booklaunch Reading: Dobby Gibson reads “it becomes you”, his third book

Writing a Poetry Book

In today’s video, Dobby is honest about the time taken to write this third book – even though it was a book with his usual publisher, he began by sending the editor about 8 poems, and then taking 3 years to accumulate enough other poems to make this book.

Useful to hear that kind of realism, to budget for the time it will take.