nine poems & carols

25 December, 2009

For the last couple of years I’ve been thinking about putting together my own take on the Nine Lessons & Carols. Finally, here it is. All a bit last minute, so forgive the quality of the spoken bits. Many, many thanks to all the readers, and to my brother Matt who basically made it all happen.

Nine poems & carols

Happy Christmas!

Launch by Jonny Baker (

Nine Poems & Carols

Processional hymn / Once in Royal David’s City – Alexander/Gauntlett
First poem: Fall / Forbidden Fruit – W.H. Auden
Carol / Adam Lay Y-Bounden – Ord
Second poem: Promise / Sarah’s Laughter – Gillian Allnutt
Aria / Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe – J.S. Bach
Third poem: Coming / Advent Calendar – Rowan Williams
Carol / Winter Lent – Venn/Dobson
Fourth poem: Saviour / Seven Advent Antiphons – K. Venn
Antiphon / O Weisheit – Pärt
Fifth poem:  Annunciation / The Annunciation, Tintoretto – Rhian Gallagher
Carol / Gabriel’s Message – Basque, arr. Willcocks
Sixth poem: Birth / Brother Hare – K. Venn
Carol / Balulalow – Britten
Seventh poem: Shepherds / The Shepherds’ Carol  – anon
Song / Do You Hear what I Hear? – Regney/Shane Baker
Eighth poem: Starlight / BC–AD – U.A. Fanthorpe
Motet / In Dulci Jubilo – Scheidt
Ninth poem: Incarnation / Canal Lock at Winter – K. Venn
Carol / A New Year Carol – Britten

shadows & reflections

23 December, 2009

Couple of quick links, both over at Caught by the River:
– a few thoughts on 2009, shadows & reflections;
– poem for the fourth week of advent, Seven Advent Antiphons

… and a hearty plug for Terry Eagleton’s fantastic How to Read a Poem (extract from it here). Highly recommended and I’ll probably post on it further at some point.

This post brought to you by The Carpenters’ Christmas Album, Mum & Dad’s sofa, and snow still on the ground

Eaton park, where I've been learning to put one foot in front of the other... on this morning's run

Well, term ended last Friday so I thought I’d give the blogging a rest over the holidays – especially as, with freelancing, coursework and all the usual Christmas preparation, I somehow feel busier than ever. The wall next to me is covered in post-it notes as I try to thrash out the structure of my Poetics essay; there’s a big freelancing job that needs to be finished urgently; I’m still (!) working on my advent poem – will it ever be finished? – and then there are the rest of this term’s pieces that need more work.

It’s been a funny old term. I’d like to write a longer post summing it all up, but I don’t think I can really do that online, to be honest. So I’ll settle for saying that it’s been much harder than I ever imagined it would be – but then that’s as much to do with moving to a new city and being a student again as the writing itself. Complete ontological freefall, as my dad described it. Still, in the same way that the running has just been a question of putting one step in front of the other and gradually getting better, here’s hoping that this term has shaped me and taught me somehow…

I may well post a link or two if I find anything entertaining or interesting poetry-wise over the holiday (and my advent poem if it ever gets done – I’ll be sad to break a four-year tradition the one year I’m taking a poetry course!). For now I’ll leave you with the link to my poem for the third week of advent over at Caught by the River, and this fantastic quote from Alice Oswald, which I’m using a starting point for my essay…

You should never write a poem till you can feel it in your bones. Because poetry is your whole body’s response to the whole world, not just your head’s response to a thought or a glimpse.

This post brought to you by post-it notes, Friday nights in and beautiful snow


10 December, 2009

I meant to post the first of these last week but completely forgot. Caught by the River – a website that ‘documents lazy days out’ – is running four of my advent poems from previous years over the four weeks of advent. Last week was Brother Hare; this week it’s Winter Lent.

This very short post brought to you by the end-of-term, burned out, tired-out December blues. Music courtesy of Sufjan Stevens

the poetic process

8 December, 2009

Last week in Poetics we were looking at the idea of the poetic process, which is where the majority of the quotes from my last post came from. It’s a fascinating area I think but of course we barely scratched the surface in the reading we did (Eliot, Mayakovsky, Poe, Bloom). I’m planning on writing my essay for the module on ideas of process and inspiration, but am currently scratching my head rather on where to start.

Our tutor suggested writing about a poet you like, and the obvious choice for me is Alice Oswald. I once read a fantastic piece by her about her own way of writing; sadly it was online and my link for it is broken, and I don’t seem to have my own copy of it. Disaster.

It’s not something I’ve ever really asked other writers/poets: how do you do it? For my part I’m very, very slow, and tend to let ideas gestate for a long time before I start writing. And then what I do write tends to need endless sifting and redrafting to get to what’s good within it. On those days when writing feels like pulling teeth, or at the very least like doing a magic trick behind your back in the dark, I find it heartening to look at old notebooks and see that some of my favourite poems started off as lumpen, prosy clichés.

The closest I get to ‘process’ I suppose is lots of magpie-like reading and thinking and thieving. Looking up words and the roots of words; in dictionaries of dreams and images (Brewer’s dictionary of phrase and fable is a favourite); stories from the Bible and from folklore… for the poem I’m working on at the moment (yes, it’s still this year’s advent piece – my third attempt) I’ve been delving into the Hebrew alephbet and ploughing, especially traditions around Plough Monday…

That said, although I like my poems to be full of ‘stuff’ they do also often spring from just one particular image or idea that will come to me, or an incident that demands to be thought through on the page. So I guess it’s some of one and some of the other. I do find the dictionaries a comforting place to start, though…

This post brought to you by a lot of freelance work and huge quantities of tea and biscuits

advice to a would-be poet

4 December, 2009

From my tutor, this week:

  • when you choose to write a sonnet remember you’re going into a furnished room rather than an open space, and act accordingly
  • given the above, it’s best to start loose, so that you’re not boxing yourself in
  • if you’re going to do something weird, do it at the beginning so that it’s on the menu straight away
  • be a daredevil
  • have a go at making up your own form
  • you don’t need to find a new concept – you just need to find it fresh
  • set yourself firm limits that you can attack with intelligence
  • if in doubt, impose a demanding regime on what you’re writing
  • intelligence is as important as feeling; control each word/concept as it comes

From Vladimir Mayakovsky (via How Are Verses Made?):

  • fill your storehouse [of words] constantly, fill the granaries of your skull with all kinds of words, necessary, expressive, rare, invented, renovated and manufactured
  • the work of the verse-maker must be carried on daily, to perfect his craft, and to lay in poetical supplies
  • don’t set in motion a huge poetry factory just to make poetic cigarette lighters. You must renounce the uneconomical production of poetic trifles. Reach for your pen only when there is no other way of saying something except verse

From T.S. Eliot (via ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’):

  • the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity
  • poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things

This post brought to you by a large dose of December