Monday, 31 October 2011

The Shout

Simon Armitage* was the first contemporary poet I took a shine to when I stopped regarding poetry as a secret compulsion and started submitting, performing and reading poems.

His poem 'The Shout' had a powerful impact on me. You could read it HERE now but I worry you'll get distracted and go off surfing and end up looking at a series of knitted body parts on a Czech website! So I've embedded a video of Simon reading it below. (Followed, if you have the patience, by a delightfully quirky poem about whales.)

It's the last line that does it. I like the poem and the story which inspired it, but the thing I LOVE is that I will always remember it: like the man can still hear the boy I can still hear Simon Armitage reading out those lines.

That is the impact of a good poem. It is what I want to achieve when I write. The best thing is when someone quotes one of your own lines back at you years later, and yes, it has happened to me.

* Related post - Out of the Blue, Simon's piece on 9/11

Buy it from here: The Shout: Selected Poems

Friday, 28 October 2011

Cold Calling

Do you get 'cold calls'? People trying to save you energy, sign you up or sell you something? I give them short shrift, ask them to take this number off their list, but they keep coming. Sometimes I just put them on hold until they go away but I feel mean doing this. Mostly I just hang up to save my time and theirs, but here's what I should say:

The other person knows you are waiting

Thank you for calling my home
I value your calls. You are a valued caller.
Please press your hash key now.

Press one if you are calling
to sell me something I don’t want or need,
have never wanted or needed
will never want or need.

Press two if you are calling
to try and convince me to change my mind
when there is nothing wrong with the one I have.

Press three if you are calling
for somebody other than me
no matter how convinced you are
that I am lying
when I say I am not them.

Press four if you are calling
to shame me into a contribution
to a charity that will use that contribution
to pay people like you
to call people like me.

Press five if you are calling
for information about my lifestyle,
income, habits and desires
- which you think I will disclose
in return for your shoddy free gift.

Press six if you are calling
with a completely unintelligible regional accent,
or speaking as fast as you possibly can, to get it over with, tick the box,
then have to repeat everything three times
because I can not understand a word you are saying.

Press seven if you are calling
from a call centre in the third world
because you will work for lower wages
and your employers don’t have to worry
about health and safety, holidays or unions.

Press eight if you are calling
Because you have to, because you can’t get another job
and you hate doing it and you’re on the brink now,
and if you don’t get a sale tonight they’ll sack you
and who will feed the children?

Press nine if you are calling
the last person on your list
at the end of a twelve hour shift
of saying the same line over and over again
and care even less about your product than I do.

If this is a personal call, please hold for an operator.

©  Clare Kirwan

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Blurb

As promised yesterday when I was bigging up new books by Maria Zanini and Inky Fool,  here's the blurb I'll be shortly sending to potential agents about my novel. I welcome comments.

It's the first in a series planned in the same general location with the same main characters:

The (Un)Dead Residents Association

A rom-com with added zom!

Conscientious but accident-prone, Laura Moon* – the council’s new community engagement officer - has discovered shifty goings-on at the Town Hall, but where’s the proof? The planning officer and his files have vanished, one of the Councillors is a little tied up just now – literally – and Laura's efforts at damage limitation have started an escalating cycle of disasters: leaks to the press, community unrest and some residents not being quite as deceased as they used to be.

It's going to take all her witand tenacity to sort out friend from foe and find out what’s really goingon.  Who is the mysterious figure lurkingin the cemetery? What ingredients didthe library users put in their ‘special’ recipe? Why do all those builders look so hungry? And how do you get a dead person to hold apress conference?

* I'm still struggling with name for main character - she's about thirty, British lower middle class, bright, quirky, not too 'girlie'. Do we like Laura Moon? What about Julie Moon? Noon? I know I went into all this with you in Naming the fish but I got some very silly answers then... Cressida Trout, Anna NotherMess, Donna Hatt... although The Invisible Woman's suggestion is still in the offing - Liz Pelling (Miss Spelling to you!)

p.s. Although this isn't a horror book - it's more a comic satire - yes there are zombies in it - it was sort of an accident but took the book in a really interesting direction. However it raises the thorny issue of genre. Am I digging a hole for myself here?

Sunday, 23 October 2011


I'm delighted to announce that the normally shy and retiring Fran - author of the very funny and popular 'Being Me' blog - has emerged into the limelight of YouTube.

So in case you don't follow her (and if not why not?) I'm posting one of her comedy/poetry performances below for your weekend edification.

It will appeal particularly to parents of teenagers/young adults. If, like me, your nest has always been empty (except for that cuckoo incident in 1993), I can also highly recommend her other poems about poetry versus sex and getting to 'gwips' with twitter.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

A Big Rant (about publicity)

I don't rant a lot - which is a shame because I actually enjoy it - but I'm going to rant now.

I was at an event this week organised by Wirral Libraries. On the way out a friend of a friend (and I'm not dissing her - she's a nice person - but this sort of thing happens ALL THE F***ING TIME!!) said:

'It wasn't very well publicised.'

I HATE it when people say this. How are they expecting to hear about local events? It's not going to be on telly during your favourite programme. No-one's going to knock on your door to tell you about it. Probably no leaflet through the door either - it's a pricey business advertising and really hard to do effectively on a tight budget - especially when you're trying to do it along with your regular job.

I used to work in press and PR so I know my stuff. I now work in libraries where we literally have no budget for promoting our events, or running them for that matter - we made cakes and sandwiches for our Centenary paid for out of our own personal pockets.

So can I just say, for the record (and general principles apply here):

a) It was advertised in the local paper. There was also an article about it - no mean feat as the only guaranteed newspaper space is a paid-for advert and a half page costs around £500. So if you're interested in local events - try checking the local paper. Just a thought.

b) Like author readings? Why not visit your local f***ing library and pick up the f***ing leaflet? Or go online to the council's website or library page on Facebook (try 'friending it' even!) and see what's coming up?

c) It was a poetry event in Wirral. It was on my 'poetry events in Wirral' page which I know you know about. Try checking it out occasionally.

d) The event was sold out

e) You were there, so you must have found out somehow.

I really don't know what people are expecting when they say something wasn't well publicised. As the potential audience for said publicity you have to be open to it, keep looking in places where sorts of things you like would be publicised.

You'd only complain if we found a way of beaming this sort of stuff directly to your brain.

Going through the Motions

I saw Sir Andrew Motion last night as part of Wirral Bookfest and he was rather charming and very easy on the ear (also the eye, in a Charles Dance sort of way)

He said a couple of things which were really encouraging (to me anyway):

1. That he didn't come from a family that read. But a teacher - Mr Wade - opened up his mind to poetry and "...changed my life. Gave me my life." If I were a teacher I would be so inspired by this - and I needed to know this having just read in this article on 'the rise of rhyme' that:

"As recently as 2008, a survey
of 1,200 British primary school
teachers for the UKLA found that
22% could not name a single poet."

2. How poems are partly the creation of your rational, educated, manipulative, conscious mind (he was talking more about himself than me here!) and partly the murkier depths of the unconscious - so you don't always know instantly what they're going to be about or what form they should take nor should you try too hard to make them conform to shapes they don't want to be.

3. That he tweaks and twiddles, puts away, tweaks again, passes to friends, tweaks, leaves a while, gets published, hates it, tweaks again etc etc

4. That his Poetry Archive project - which makes available poets reading their own work - historic and contemporary is a massive success despite struggling for funds. And with 250,000 unique users and 1,500,000 poems listened to every month more poems are being listened to now than probably in the history of the world.

My only regret of the evening is that I never got a chance to get to the bottom of the story my colleague was telling me about a conversation she'd had with him earlier involving 'moist gussets' - it has to be some kind of 'favourite word' game... hasn't it?

Saturday, 8 October 2011

On the Library Wall

We put a lot of things on the library wall: posters, pirates, pictures, plaques and post-it notes, fire extinguishers, directions, instructions, clocks and lists.

But last week I was delighted to find myself on this most beautiful library wall at Paraxis. Go over there now! It's rich with treasures - stories, art and poems all related to libraries.

My contribution is about third along on the bottom - each item opens on it's own if you click on it. I especially love Fat Roland's 'Libraries that no longer exist' which is very silly as you'll see from the first line: "Hayle Library: wheeled down th road by monkeys"

I'm afraid it knocks my own '100 words' library-themed competition (which I haven't mentioned here as it was only open to Wirral Library members) off the leader board. This is how I showed our winning entries. It's not nearly so pretty is it?

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Games you can play in a library

Now I don't want to risk monopolizing National Poetry Day (today folks!) but I just thought I'd mention that this year's theme is 'games'.

I assume it refers not just to games in the traditional sense, but to mind games, war games etc and also to sports... which I don't 'do.'

You don't need to be a mastermind to realise lots of games are relevant to library work. Just yesterday I was playing Jenga with the crime books... which is a bit of a taboo. Then someone called my name out, which distracted me: 'Clare Kir...?'

Plunk! I'd dropped them all - it was quite an operation sorting them again - I needed a couple of people to help me scrabble around and then check them. The checkers had been looking for a copy of Othello, or some other trivial pursuit.

One of them - Marj Ong - kept complaining about the draughts in the crime section until I had to poke her and twist her name tag till she shut up and went off to look for a book about pontoon bridges requested by a Mr Cribbage. Then a borrower came up to me and said: "Have you got 'The Hungry Hippo' by Sue Doku?" I said: ' I'll have to check, mate.'

I'd go on, but I haven't the patience...

But before I go, of course I've written a poem for National Poetry Day... but it's quite long so I'll just leave you with the final stanza (I have to say 'stanza' on NPD):

At least in a game at the end of the round
as the bricks fall or the buzzers sound
you slide down the snake without visible bruises,
it's back in the box for the winners and losers:
the tiles and the tiddlywinks, aces and kings
the pawns and Park Lane hotels and such things
and your hurt pride or your pile of winnings,
back in the box till the next beginnings -
operation successful, hippo fed,
game over and time for bed.

Well, looks like there'll be no outdoor games today - there's a cold snap coming. When you've found the 22 games hidden in this post, you can have a look at this game you could play in your local library:

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Time Travel - ahhh, it takes you back

I need to go back in time for this... I was going to post this just before the Doctor Who series finale, but then I missed bits and ended up watching it all on iPlayer, so in my reality we haven't got to the end yet... and we're looking forward to a heatwave... and I am all the characters in a fictitious version of somebody else's life.

Confused? You may find Army of Dave's Guide to Time Travel useful.

I rarely know exactly what's going on in this sort of programme as I spend most of the time muttering darkly about anomalies in the plot. I've enjoyed the re-invention of the Doctor so I should swerve around the plot holes (they're nowhere near as bad as the dreadful latest Torchwood... don't start me on that). It's all tosh after all... and yet I still have unsettling memories of the old Doctor Who, especially that episode where giant slugs squeezed through mines eating people. Urgh.

But anyway - here's what I wanted to share - Bill Bailey's Belgian jazz version of the Doctor Who theme tune... "c'est lui, dans la nuit... Docteur ...Qui!" I heard this when he first did it and have been quoting it to people for eons so was delighted to find it on YouTube. Enjoy...

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Cautionary Tales

I grew up with The Penguin Book of Comic and Curious Verse, as I've mentioned before - and I loved those Cautionary Tales the best.

Matilda with her dreadful lies, Henry King (pictured left) who chewed string, Jim - who ran away from nurse and was eaten by a lion... the great Hillaire Belloc was the author of many of my favourites which can be found, nicely illustrated by The Baldwin Project which 'brings yesterday's classics to today's children.

It wasn't the horrible fates in themselves that attracted me, it was more the style of writing - faux serious, ridiculous rhymes and romping rhythms - and the escalating series of disasters where one thing led to another.

I attempted to write a cautionary tale this week - on the dangers of giving up blogging. It was addressed to Dave, (who is often first to comment on my blog): Reverend East – who gave up his blog but then realised he had nothing better to do. It sorto of works, but it's not nearly dark enough and while I was writing it he decided to start blogging again, which rather spoiled the ending I'd originally planned.

According to Wikipedia, authors of the cautionary tale were not obliged to abide by the usual rules of etiquette and gruesomeness was positively encouraged because they were meant to horrify a small child into Sensible Behaviour and Right Thinking.

I can't help thinking this sort of thing is probably a bit frowned on these days by those same right-thinking people due to their delight in disaster and uncomfortable overtones of child abuse.

There are no right-thinking people still reading this, are there? No? Then here's one you may never have come across . . .


Who caroused in the Dirt and was corrected by His Uncle

His Uncle came on Franklin Hyde

Carousing in the Dirt.

He Shook him hard from Side to Side

And Hit him till it Hurt,


Sunday, 2 October 2011

Went the day well

In case you were worried after my last post, I can now report that my library's Centenary celebrations went even better than 'best case scenario'.

For starters, we were presented with this fantastic cake by the sugarcraft group that meet in the library. A cake made out of books! Cake and books - what more could a woman want? (answers on a virtual postcard!)

Actually, lets start with Friday - comic poet John Hegley was on top form for his performance at the library despite it taking 4 trains to get to us from a gig in Wakefield!

He did some fab new material and yes, we ended up in the pub again, and, yes I gave him a lift again and YES! (everyone kept checking...) I had tunnel money this time! What a nice chap, well worth seeing live if you get a chance - great comic timing, surprisingly good singing and he read some of his fave poets too (a bit stressful as he asked me to find specific poems 10 mins before he started... and we've lots of poetry.)

Anyway, Saturday was the warmest October day on record, and there was a Liverpool / Everton Derby on but we still had hundreds of people turn up to help celebrate our 100th birthday (and no plumbers... although they still haven't finished)

We laid on a splendid 'Edwardian' Cream Tea ... you can see my perfectly edible cucumber sandwiches at the front there, and none of the borrowed china was dropped and nobody drowned in whipped cream.

And the speeches and prize-giving went swimmingly and I didn't even drop all the certificates and the winners read beautifully, including Cath Bore, who has talked about the event in her blog. And I met a few old friends and colleagues, and did a LOT of mingling. I could mingle for England.

The Wirral Ukulele Orchestra were the highlight. It had been a bit touch and go whether they were coming or not right up to earlier this week, but they stole the show with lively renditions of everything from Rawhide to Delilah, with oldies, rock and roll, TV themes, you name it. I'll upload a snippet to YouTube to give you a flavour and pop it on here.

Another plus point - I wasn't the only person who dressed 'in keeping' (which happens to me a LOT) and I even managed to get a group photo of all the staff to prove it.