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Poetry Telltale Press

Sarah Barnsley, the phoenix of ‘The Fire Station’

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The Fire Station by Sarah Barnsley is being officially launched on Thursday 12th November at Goldsmith’s, University of London, where Sarah teaches. It is published by Telltale Press so I can hardly claim to be impartial about it. But I have to say something, because her poetry is exceptional.

The Fire Station is a pamphlet which is partly autobiographical, detailing a relationship with a erratic — but plainly loved — father who once worked as a fireman. Some of the poems are set in the scorched aftermath of her father’s difficulties having lost his job through injury.

The poems collected here are the work of a writer who has emerged from these childhood challenges with her humour hardened and fire-tempered. She also has a clear perception of tragedy but never allows this to stoop to self-indulgence. My current favourite of the fire themed poems is called Big Hands. The poem smoulders with a hard-won black humour.

When you put my budgie
under the grill
and apologied for not being

able to afford a microwave
to resuscitate him
I didn’t think you were mad.

You didn’t think I was mad,
conducting a bird
funeral on the patio, reading

from Genesis, scattering
cornflakes on
the rosebud in lots of three.

I wasn’t I was seven. But
you were forty-two
when you shat in a bag in

Morrison’s car park and
laughed,

Gradually the fire abates in The Fire Station and a lyrical liquidity emerges. The poem Les Rapides Faciles describes with effortless originality two people kayaking to the supermarket, “slaloming around postboxes,/wheelie bins, silver birches”. But the poem surprises us with a gorgeous and candid declaration of love. Wonderful stuff, isn’t it?

We may rush corners,
tumble down the rapids of

Victorian-banked streets,
but it’s the gliding I like best,

the effortless, continuous flow
of being with you, the kingfishers

and dragonflies dipping into our
gentle wash like magic sapphires.

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Charity Guernsey Marketing Poetry Travel

Ready for Chad and missing writing poetry

Chad

Final stage of prep seems now to be done. Passport renewed, visa obtained, jabs jabbed (although inconveniently I had a fever when I went for my yellow fever jab so I had to return a few days later) anti-malarial Malerone tablets bought, while my wife has armed me with lots of practical things like wet wipes, hand sanitisers and so on. Final thing to buy is a mosquito net, and I need to locate and deploy my inner hairy-chested man of action.

My inner h-c man of action especially required after a day of compulsory security training. Essentially the training gave you an idea of what to do in every conceivable worst case scenario, delivered by a man who has spent much of his life working in the most hostile environments, bless his white-rimmed eyes. Lots of advice from what to do if you are being robbed (simply give them everything) right up to the best position to take on the floor if someone throws a live grenade into the room. Rather melodramatically a dummy grenade was thrown into our room, prompting us to flatten ourselves on the floor, heads pointed away from the blast. Hardly soothing stuff.

Nevertheless, the script I wrote which we are filming seems to have been approved by everyone, and next week we see how reality matches our expectation. I am hoping we can edge beyond the normal tropes of DRTV and see if we can get something exceptional. Fundraising DRTV advertisements have some rigid but proven conventions so it is definitely about striking a balance between abiding by conventions and managing to surprise people.

Poetry

I’ve not had much chance to engage with poetry over the last few weeks, due being very busy in my Peter Kenny The Writer Ltd mode. This is making me itch to write poems again.

I particularly enjoyed being on the Telltale Stand for the Poetry Book Fair. More than anything I value the chance to get a snapshot of what is going on in poetry in the UK, and also to drift about chatting to some old friends and putting some names to faces. I bought books too. One simply because I liked its name: Infragreen by Kate Bingham, and another because it was connected with Guernsey: Timothy Adès translation of How to be a Grandfather, by Victor Hugo. I spoke with Timothy who had just returned from the Guernsey Literary Festival, and had bumped into Edward Chaney there. I also bought a Carcanet New Poetries IV anthology. I love these Carcanet anthologies. They invite a kind of personal statement of its poets, which is a potential minefield. Some are illuminating while others make me hoot with laughter at their portentous vacuity. All adds to the fun.

Me, Robin Houghton, Siegfried Baber, Sarah Barnsley
Me, Robin Houghton, Siegfried Baber, Sarah Barnsley

My favourite moment on the Telltale stand was when a woman looked at the four free poem postcards we were giving away. Silently she picked up one after another, read the first line or two through her magnifying glass, and replaced the card on its pile with a visible shudder. She came to Sarah Barnsley’s card last, and lo! She regally retained it before moving on. Praise indeed.

In fact Sarah Barnsley’s new pamphlet is just out from TelltaleThe Fire Station contains some truly exceptional poems.When I get back from Chad I will write more about them.

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