Sonnet of the Week: Resolution

Resolution: just the word takes me back to Whitby, a residential week with school students, and the rich historical material there was to work on. The Scoresbys, father and son, were legendary whalers, unjustly overshadowed by the fame of Captain Cook. As for the New Year variety, ‘nuff said.

Paul Francis.

That was the ship that Scoresby’s father sailed and he took on. He had the old man’s eyes and will. Add science, and you get the man to find the whaler’s grail, the Arctic Pole. Across the ice he aimed his mind’s harpoon into the centre of an Arctic waste. Missed, by a whisker. Just five hundred miles. And now, there’s me. New Year. A humbler role but I’ll make changes, mean to make them soon. I’d guess the ghost of William Scoresby smiles to see the pale ambition of my plan: less swearing, keep a diary, exercise. Such feeble good intentions, briefly placed on paper, then ignored. I too have failed.




Sonnet of the Week: ‘Tis the Season

It’s not an accident that I shan’t be at home this Christmas. There’s a powerful ambivalence at work as soon as anyone says the C-word, and the two halves of this poem typify the forces pulling me in opposite directions.

Paul Francis.

Just one more time. The migrant pair, amazed by angels, brand new possibilities, are offered shelter. Kings and shepherds meet united by fresh hope. Who can resist Messiah, candelight? We know it’s hard not to be greedy. Listen, girls and boys. This is the message: now, it’s time to give.  In Freegle adverts parents ask for toys they can’t afford. The expectations raised, the mad consumption, reasons to get pissed. An annual date with stress for families; for loners, lots of reasons not to live. So am I, as I send just one more card, spreading the love - or turning up the heat?



Sonnet of the Week: Mrs. Wordsworth Remembers

It’s 1998 and I’m attending my first Arvon course. Carol Ann Duffy is describing her forthcoming collection The World’s Wife and wondering if it should include a sonnet. Shakespeare seems the obvious choice, but just by way of encouragement I offer her this.

Paul Francis.

He’s come a long way, and it’s better now he’s Laureate. I parcel out his pills, get him his slippers, help him cope somehow with feeling jocund over daffodils. He used to pester people, make a note of every lass he met; each reaper, worse. When he was just a kid he nicked a boat and claimed it was the prelude to some verse. Embarrassment, or what? I could have died. Does your bloke mutter odes along the ridge? In London once, he wandered round wide-eyed and held up all the traffic on a bridge. It’s easy for a lad to miss the track; he’s much more tranquil these days, looking back.


Sonnet of the Week: Outrage

This comes from my recent booklet Us and Them: the war in error. I argue that the worse the atrocity, the clearer our thinking has to be. One of Lee Rigby’s killers had been tortured, and then repeatedly pressured by MI5. That doesn’t excuse the killing, but it’s something we need to know.

Paul Francis.

This is what terrorism means. It’s meant to fill you with uncomprehending fears. A young man in the street, hit by a car and then beheaded, filmed by passers-by.  The clip goes viral. Ministers are sent round all the studios. They are insane these monsters. Evil. If we had the rope... Next best is lock them up and don’t ask why.  We need informers, vulnerable men with contacts. No, they won’t be volunteers. We probe their weakness, sometimes probe too far. This guy, a torture victim, did complain but we still probed. He’d had enough. And then? That’s stuff we’ll cover up. You couldn’t cope.


Sonnet of the Week: Change of Mind

Poets pinch stories, and always have. This one was told to me by my American friend George. When we first met we were both over fifty, but his memory of this incident came through as clear as if it were yesterday. And for me as a teacher it had an extra charge.

Paul Francis.

She knows it’s what they need, this history play. A special project for her eights and nines, a memory that won’t ever go away. She hands out parts, gets them to learn their lines. Her Daniel Boone’s a gamble: small, withdrawn. He’s flattered, but ambition’s spiced with doubt then overpowered by his classmates’ scorn. Late, after school, he says he’s pulling out. Ready for anger or reproach, her silent tear punches his gut, a slow disabling ache which takes him down, and out, guilty but clear. Can he go back? Erase this huge mistake? He sprints upstairs to hold her, be made whole, cancel his cowardice, reclaim his role.


WPF headliner Andrew McMillan wins the Guardian First Book Award

Book cover for Physical by Andrew McMillanWe are pleased and proud that Andrew McMillan has won the prestigious Guardian First Book Award for his collection, Physical.

Andrew will be joining us at WPF2016 where he will be headlining on Saturday 23 April with Don Paterson. Andrew and Don are both shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Prize, won last year by Jonathan Edwards, who is also appearing at WPF2016. Andrew will also be leading a creative writing workshop on the Sunday, on the theme ‘Time does not bring relief’. This will be Andrew’s third time at the festival. He says:

“Every time I’m blown away by the scope, ambition and depth of programming on offer from a relatively small place – for the weekend of the festival Wenlock feels like the centre of the world and ties in well to other events happening in the region, such as the regular poetry nights in Shrewsbury – it’s always a delight and a joy to be there.”

Festival Founder Anna Dreda says:

“I am pleased and proud that the Guardian have awarded Andrew their prestigious First Book Award, and they have got it exactly right. It’s a wonderful confluence of poetry moments: Andrew’s book is important, lyrical, muscular and accessible. It’s a joy to read.

Thanks in great part to our Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, Founding Patron of Wenlock Poetry Festival, many more people are seeking out poetry, either on the page, or at readings and festivals, than has been the case for many, many years. Acceptance and inclusion of the many sexualities we embrace freely, publicly, legally and joyfully in this country is greater now that it has ever been. Andrew’s poetry speaks to all these issues, and the Guardian has recognised and rewarded that.

Since first hearing Andrew read the incredibly moving poem ‘Urination’ at Wenlock Poetry Festival in 2013, and subsequently read from the long sequence ‘Protest of the Physical’ in a café in Shrewsbury in 2014, this moment has been written in the stars.”

Tickets for WPF2016, including those for Andrew’s headline event and workshop, will go on sale in January 2016, with a two-week priority booking period for Friends of Wenlock Poetry Festival. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates.

Sonnet of the Week: Expansion

Often in political poems I’m adopting the voices of those to whom I’m most strongly opposed. This was written before I’d read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, but that experience has reinforced my view even more strongly. It really is the climate v. capitalism.

Paul Francis.


OK, so there’s a problem. Let me guess. Our larger trawl nets, with the smaller hole, mean fish stocks take a dive. The new hotels displace the fishermen, spread toxic mess along the coastline. Plus, the deal smells of exploitation; the utilities we took to cancel debt mean we control it all. The locals haven’t got a prayer. You see? I know this stuff. I do. I care. I’m also paid to check realities – the highest profit and the lowest tax form my horizon. They’re my bottom line. This is a hiccup. Give it six months, max. Get me another planet. We’ll be fine.

Sonnet of the Week: Pattern of Failure

It’s a central theme of my book Writing for Blockheads that there isn’t a clear border between success and failure. Jack Nicklaus, one of the most successful golfers of all time, said, “This game is mainly about failure.” Dr. Johnson, early in the career which established him as one of the most versatile writers of all time, might well have said the same.

Paul Francis.


Pattern of Failure