Poem a Month – December 2016

Well, it is with sadness that I have to say that this is the final poem both of 2016, and of  the Derbyshire Poem a Month blog.  It’s been wonderful sharing poems with you all over the last 7 years and I’d like to thank all of the poets who have allowed us to feature their poems, my fellow poem a month bloggers Will and Priscilla, and to you all for following and commenting on the poems.

We’re finishing on a high with this wonderful poem, First Bike,  by Jacob Polley.  Enjoy the poetry. – Ali

‘I hope the poem is pretty self-explanatory, as it more or less describes its own writing, a process that was ignited by the sight of a child’s bike in a river. Sometimes moments of time interleave, or a gap in time sighs open to let you touch the past from the now, and this happened to me with the child’s bike. I learned to ride a bike in a back garden, near a stream, and somehow seeing the same elements – bike, running water – reconfigured many years later released the poem for me.’ – Jacob Polley

First Bike

There, at the bottom of the river.
Time slips. The leaves are the leaves
of woods long felled, gold still, like treasure.
The current turns one wheel as if

you had just laid it down to run
from year to year, from bright to shade,
across the bridge from being young
to here where you stand, unwise and afraid

in grown-up shoes. Your father’s hand
once steadied you. When he let go
you rode, because you didn’t know;

you rode across the yard to find
your balance always was your own.
You rode on after dark alone.


Jacob Polley

Jacob Polley
is the author of three acclaimed poetry collections, The Brink, Little Gods and, most recently, The Havocs, as well as a Somerset Maugham Award-winning novel, Talk of the Town. Born in Cumbria, he now lives in St. Andrews and works in Newcastle.
In 2004, he was named one of the ‘Next Generation’ of the twenty best new poets in Britain.

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Poem a Month – November 2016

Asperatus over Schiehallion, Perthshire, Scotland. © Ken Prior.

Asperatus over Schiehallion, Perthshire, Scotland. © Ken Prior.

As a fellow member of the Cloud Appreciation Society I simply had to feature this poem, undulatus asperitas by Katharine Towers, I love it.– Ali

‘I wrote the poem just before I became Poet in Residence at the Cloud Appreciation Society.  I saw a photograph of a new and unusual cloud formation, which hasn’t yet entered the International Cloud Atlas.  Slowly, the idea formed that seeing such a strange cloud might be like some kind of religious experience – a crowd gathering, people looking up and marvelling, etc.  The poem begins with the word ‘once’ which for me feels like the opening of a fable – of something mythic or folkloric. This was the atmosphere I was after – the sense of wonder and mystification when we stumble upon something that’s beyond our understanding.’ – Kathy

undulatus asperitas

Once we saw a great cloud, made of ice
like any other cloud but wind-sheared
and drooping in the heavy air.
It lolled against the hill but no storm fell.
Barometers dropped like stones and it was
purple-dark, even in the early afternoon.
The ruckled sky had us standing pointing
in the fields like scarecrows, and mostly afraid.

Girls fainted under the weight of ions
and some of us made thankful prayers
for the wonder of that rolling sea above.
They say that waves from underneath
are kind and do not mean us harm –
even seem to love us; and it’s bliss to drown.


Katharine Towers

Katharine Towers  is a Derbyshire based poet.  Her first poetry collection The Floating Man was published by Picador in 2010 and won the Seamus Heaney Centre Poetry Prize. Her second collection  The Remedies is also published by Picador and is shortlisted for the 2016 TS Eliot Prize.  She is Poet-in-Residence at The Cloud Appreciation Society.

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Poem a Month – October 2016

Happy National Poetry Day for Thursday 6th October!  There are several poetry events taking place in Derbyshire Libraries over the next week including a celebration of the life and work of Dorothy May Walters-Godfree at Ilkeston Library on Wednesday 5th October. Dorothy was a writer and poet who was born in Ilkeston in 1918 and lived in the town before moving to Bath in 1960.  Dorothy, who passed away last year, continued to write poetry throughout her life with poems such as  In the Care Home written during her later years. – Ali

In  the  Care  Home

I visited the Old
And found them quite bold!
Not easy to walk,
But loving to talk.
And seeking romance,
Given half a chance.
All the same,
It’s a shame,
Their youth will never come back,
The body’s too slack.
But they look out for the post,
And constantly boast,
“I will never give in,
I could have a lottery win,
And then I’d be rich,
And buy my own pitch,
With enough cash to spare
For one-to-one care!”

Dorothy  May Walters


An interpreter of beauty in the world at Ilkeston Library on Wednesday 5th October 2016, 3.30 to 4.30 pm. Join us to celebrate the life and work of Ilkeston born, writer and poet, Dorothy May Walters-Godfree. The event will include readings of poems inspired by Dorothy’s life and work which were created during a poetry workshop led by Cathy Grindrod. Free event, places limited, please book places in advance. Call 01629 533275 for more information

Poetry workshop: Messages with Judy Brown on Thursday 6th October 2016, 2 to 4 pm at Buxton Library. Join poet Judy Brown for this workshop using images and writings from the museum collection to inspire your own poems about local places and people. Free, but advance booking essential. Places can be booked online via Eventbrite. For more information ring 01629 533540.

Poetry Readings with Cora Greenhill and Geraldine Monk on Friday 7th October 2016, 7 to 8.30pm at Chesterfield Library. Join us to celebrate National Poetry Day with highly acclaimed poets Cora Greenhill and Geraldine Monk. Tickets priced at £3.00, £2.00 concessions, available from Chesterfield Library Help Desk or call 01629 533400.

Messages: an evening of poetry on Thursday 13th October 2016, 7 to 8.30pm at
Heanor Library – join Ali and Samantha for an evening of poetry exploring this year’s National Poetry Day theme – ‘Messages’. Bring your favourite poem to share or sit back, relax and listen with tea and cake. Free, please book places at Heanor Library or ring 01629 533795

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Poem a Month – September 2016

As a fellow lover of rummaging in charity shops I really like this poem, The Madonna of Oxfam, by Judy Brown. Her description is so vivid I can see the dress and wish I had found it myself! – Ali

I have a big fascination with wandering round charity shops.  There are some fantastic ones in Derbyshire.  Because of the other lives in them, the clothes you get always feel more like dressing up than anything an ordinary shop could sell, as well as being considerably cheaper.  I love old-fashioned summer dresses. This poem was inspired by a specific dress, although it doesn’t feel quite as potentially haunted as the poem suggests!  Sometimes, after readings, people come up and tell me about good charity shops to go to.  I’m always delighted with such recommendations.Judy Brown

The Madonna of Oxfam

The tangerine dress comes with its own breasts –
higher and bigger and closer together than mine.
I’m not ungrateful: I’ll borrow their secondhand air
in stiffened cones let into the bodice lining.  I like
the hand-embroidered label, the trouble she took,
the specialness cotton dresses once used to have.
Fifty years on the material still feels live, unpapery,
not just an exhibit of how she lived.  For the rest,
the Le Creuset-coloured frock fits like a dream –
not, as things do now, with Lycra’s eager adjustments.
It’s someone’s just-married summer again, as soon
as the splashy pattern lays itself out in pleasure
on my bones.  It comes to mind how the English
took to imported cotton; people said silk underwear
never felt clean.  You think you know what’s what
on days like these, then some other woman steps out
from behind the curtain for trying-things-on,
more than dressed-up, a great deal less than decent.


by Judy Brown

From Crowd Sensations published by Seren, 2016.

Judy Brown lives in Derbyshire and has worked as Writer in Residence at Gladstone’s Library and Poet in Residence at the Wordsworth Trust.  Judy has written two collections of poetry, Loudness, (published by Seren Books, 2011) – shortlisted for the Forward Felix Dennis first collection prize 2011 and the Fenton Aldeburgh prize 2012.  Her second book Crowd Sensations is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Judy works as a freelance tutor and mentor, gives Poetry Surgeries in Derby for the Poetry Society and is a Royal Literary Fund Associate Fellow.

Judy will be running a poetry writing workshop on Thursday 6th October 2016,
2-4 pm at Buxton Library inspired by the National Poetry Day theme Messages.  You’ll have the opportunity to use images, postcards and messages from the Buxton Museum collection to inspire your own poems about local places and people.
Free but advance booking essential.



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Poem a Month – August 2016

As we celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of 18th century landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown this month’s poem has a gardening theme.  Although there are several poems which have been written about Brown I have chosen Digging by Edward Thomas.  I’m sure a lot of hard work and digging was required to create Brown’s gardens and I like to think that those gardeners employed to bring his plans to fruition would appreciate this poem.  As a keen gardener myself I love the way Thomas uses descriptions of smell, it’s perfect. – Ali


Today I think
Only with scents, – scents dead leaves yield,
And bracken, and wild carrot’s seed,
And the square mustard field;

Odours that rise
When the spade wounds the roots of tree,
Rose, currant, raspberry, or goutweed,
Rhubarb or celery;

The smoke’s smell, too,
Flowing from where a bonfire burns
The dead, the waste, the dangerous,
And all to sweetness turns.

It is enough
To smell, to crumble the dark earth,
While the robin sings over again
Sad songs of Autumn mirth.


by Edward Thomas


Edward Thomas was born in 1878.  He wrote all his poetry between 1914, when he wrote his first poem and 1917, when he was killed on Easter Monday, 1917, on the first day of the Arras Offensive. This poem was written in March – April 1915 shortly before he enlisted in July 2015. The poem is featured in Poems for Gardeners edited by Germaine Greer, published by Virago, 2004. To find out more about Edward Thomas visit the Poetry Archive website.

The Capability Brown Festival is a celebration of the extraordinary life, work and legacy of 18th Century landscape architect Capability Brown. It brings together a huge range of events, openings and exhibitions. Visit the Festival website to find out more.
Events include a major series of more than 40 exhibitions by the Embroiderers’ Guild celebrating the works of Capability Brown and the nation’s landscapes. The series of exhibitions will run throughout 2016 and includes work by members of the Derbyshire Branches of the Guild.


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Poem a Month – July 2016

Over the last 12 months young people aged 16-30 have taken part in the
Courage of Conscience project to research the lives of Derbyshire’s World War One conscientious objectors.  Working with River Wolton they have created fictional pieces of creative writing in the ‘imagined voices’ of these individuals, their communities and families.

As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Somme these voices present a different perspective on war, from the point of view of those who resisted conscription.  Conscription came into force in March 1916, the first time there had been compulsory military service in Britain.

Richard Barry (1890-1949) a lace maker from Long Eaton, refused to be conscripted and was imprisoned at Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire in July 1916. Three lines that he wrote on the cell walls inspired the young writers’ poem below. After Richmond he was moved to several other prisons before his eventual release in April 1919. – Ali

Richard Barry

After Richard Barry

It was called ‘the war to end wars’ but –
you might as well dig a hole by chucking dirt in it
stop a fire by shovelling wood on it
get clean by bedding down with swine
stay sober by swigging jugs of wine
black your boots by coating them in mud
stay alive by losing all your blood
learn maths by going for a swim
wrap parcels by cutting up the string
cook your tea by throwing it down pit
clean dishes by smashing them to bits –
and …
you might just as well try to
dry a floor by throwing water on it
as try to end this war by fighting.

by Sara Moon, Katherine Robinson and Matthew Knighton

Courage of Conscience is a project of Pro Peace Chesterfield, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to discover the stories of Derbyshire conscientious objectors. To find out more about the project visit the Courage of Conscience website.  The Courage of Conscience exhibition gives more information about conscientious objectors in Derbyshire, and features some individual stories. The exhibition is currently on display at Chesterfield Library, on the upper level next to the Local Studies section, until 27th July.

The pieces written by the young writers have also been published as an anthology, Courage of Conscience: Imagined Voices of Derbyshire’s WW1 Conscientious Objectors, edited by River Wolton.  The book will soon be available to borrow from Derbyshire Libraries.

Several of the young writers who took part in the project are members of the Chesterfield Write Here group for 16-40 year olds, which meets fortnightly at Chesterfield Library. If you are interested in joining the group visit their website for more information.

Richmond Castle recently received Heritage Lottery funding to preserve the graffiti written by conscientious objectors who were imprisoned there.  Visit their website for further information.

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Poem a Month – June 2016

As it’s Priscilla’s last month with us she has chosen a poem about the joy of sharing books and reading.  This poem was written by Matt Black during his time as Derbyshire Poet Laureate . Matt created the poem from all the wonderful entries we received for our Book Chat writing competition when reading groups were asked to tell us what was special to them about their group. – Ali

The poem sums up many of the best experiences I’ve shared with Derbyshire readers over the last 16 years. It reminds me of the importance of reading in my own life and that of countless others. Working with the Derbyshire Poets Laureate has always been a highlight so this poem seems a particularly apt way to say goodbye. – Priscilla

Bookchat Villanelle

We always air our views with real zest.
In sitting-rooms and libraries, readers on the rampage –
wine, cake, conversation, and winter nights are best.

It opens up our minds, and every book’s a quest.
Down dark lanes with Dickens, and tales from every age,
we always air our views with real zest.

Fun, friendship, laughter, though sometimes we’re possessed –
we’ve argued over Shakespeare, IS all the world a stage?
Wine, cake, conversation, and winter nights are best.

It’s like therapy, a life-line, we get things off our chest.
We don’t like them all, we’ve been known to rant and rage –
we always air our views with real zest.

Horizons broadened, soul-food, stories from East and West,
we’re made to step outside our comfort zone, that cage.
Wine, cake, conversation, and winter nights are best.

A good old chat, smiles, open Julie’s next request,
slants of sunlight fall across the page.
If you haven’t read the book, it’s a night out and a rest.
Wine, cake, conversation, and winter nights are best.


by Matt Black
(Derbyshire Poet Laureate, 2011-2013)

A villanelle is a nineteen-line poem with two repeating rhymes and two refrains. If you’d like to find out more visit the Poetry Archive website or the Academy of American Poets website.

If you enjoy talking about books there are a few Book Cafe events coming up over the next few months including a Derbyshire themed discussion at South Normanton Library on Tuesday 7th June at 10.30am. No need to book – all welcome. Visit the Derbyshire Libraries events page for more details or checkout our Facebook page.

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