Featured poet

Pam Stocker

How should I tell you my story?

Here’s one way:
An English teacher for many years, I loved helping youngsters to appreciate and wield words well. I remember sitting in the dark auditorium at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford watching The Tempest, when my entire class of 14 year olds, grinning, started to whisper the words of Caliban’s speech, which they had learnt by heart. ‘Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises…’ People nearby turned and smiled in recognition at what was happening. ‘Shhh,’ signed their teacher, as delighted as they were. Shakespeare’s wonderful words had become their own.

I’ve been a lay school chaplain. (Not revved up. Don’t put me in a box). ‘Don’t leave school,’ I would say to the upturned faces in the chapel, ‘without at least beginning to ask the big questions about life, death, faith. The questions are more important right now than the answers.’ I continue to lead retreats in creative expressions of prayer and Christian spirituality.

A chance to study enabled me to change course again, to do an MA in Christian Spirituality and Literature, and a Gestalt therapeutic training. I now earn my living as a therapist, accompanying clients as they come to terms with often very difficult stories. Being alongside others, facilitating their growth in creative ways is a thread that runs through my whole professional life.

Here is another:
I am the daughter of a prizewinning craftsman tailor who built all the houses we ever lived in and could make anything beautifully. He once chopped our small sofa in half because we three children were quarrelling about who sat where for our nightly story time. By the end of the weekend, we tucked up peacefully on a perfectly-upholstered three seater. We took it completely for granted. Didn’t all fathers do things like that? Only the best was good enough for him. The coveted heights of my father’s approval were ‘Not bad’, and ‘It’ll do’. I still glow with pride at understated praise.

I am the daughter of a textile artist who, a wartime teenager, was forbidden to go to art college – ‘nice girls’ didn’t in those days. Finally, at 53, she completed a creative arts degree. She spent her first term making a full-scale stage set out of inflatable plastic tubing. You can imagine what my father thought about that. She founded and ran an arts centre, and led large-scale textile projects in Cheshire. She was brave, creative, and cared about community. I inherited her wonderful archive of textiles and art materials which I both treasure and use for my own work.

I am the sister of identical twin brothers 20 months younger than me. They arrived one Saturday morning when my parents were expecting just one newborn. Suddenly they had three babies under two years old. I often felt the odd one out; it was a complicated dynamic, and peace-making between the boys was a rather dangerous thing. I am skilled at defending myself, and resourceful at resolving conflict!

I am a dancer. Long years of training taught me to delight in discipline, perseverance, and well-trained technique. My long-held dream to dance professionally ended suddenly in my teens with knee injury. It was a devastating blow. I had to find my way all over again.

I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a brand new grandmother. Briefly said, but full of treasure, hopes, fears, joys and longings.

Here’s a third way:
I am a poet and an artist: I’ve always written, always painted, made, stitched. I’m happiest being creative, but I have held back from going ‘out there’. Instead, I’ve done worthwhile work, brought up a family, been practical about income, and written in private. Do I wish I’d been braver sooner? Of course I do. But, right now, I am daring what I’ve wished and longed to do, to see what I have it in me, creatively, to become. I have the privilege of working for a year with a fine poet. Philip Gross, as my mentor (www.philipgross.co.uk). His latest collection Between the Islands was published in March this year. It’s challenging and exciting. I am guarding my studio time and writing days. I am growing in courage.

But perhaps a poem is the best way for me to tell you something true about me...


Marked

Recently, readers voted this poem one of their favourites in the journal Orbis, #190. This incident didn’t actually happen, though it’s a fact that I’m not a fan of tattoos. Honest fictions tell truth too.

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What if...?

This next poem is quite an old one, written when I was still teaching. Perhaps it’s about what it was like to be me as a teenager; perhaps it’s about the teenagers I was teaching, especially those who were reticent, and didn’t think that anything they wrote would be worthy of anyone’s attention. But perhaps it’s really about somebody, anybody, who wants to dream and to dare, despite what others may say. I truly do think that ‘silence is a sad way home.’

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Weather House

I like to tell stories in poems. This one describes an incident from my childhood, the only time I remember wanting something badly enough to steal it. I so longed for a weather house of my own like the one in our road.

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Taking tea round Grandma

Sometimes you cannot know if the poetic voice is telling the truth in this literal sense. Some poems have their genesis in all kinds of fragments of experience that somehow cohere. This next poem owes a debt to John Betjeman.

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Parenthesis

Parenthesis is a tiny poem, as tiny as the fly’s wing that fell out of a poetry book. It uses typeface, layout and brackets to lay two ideas against each other, letting them resonate without explaining exactly what I mean.

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His Master’s Voice (Francis Barraud 1898).

I enjoy the process of finding the shape a new poem wants to be. It can be like finding form in a piece of wood or stone. Recently, a poem I was struggling with suddenly announced it wanted to be a sonnet when it grew up. It’s promising, but it isn’t quite ready to make its way in the world.

Here’s a poem that also decided it needed to be a sonnet, with a twist at the end. It started life when I discovered the touching story behind the famous image of the dog on the old 78rpm records.

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The Agony

The Agony by Theyre Lee-ElliottThis last poem was written to accompany an exhibition of the Methodist collection of modern art in Leicester last year called Wondering Soul. Artists, poets, dancers and art historians were invited to take part in a collaboration that led to a poetry reading, and a wonderful dance piece by students at de Montfort University’s dance department. The poem was published in the Zine that accompanied the exhibition, and in Sarah Middleton’s article about the exhibition that appeared in Artserve Magazine.

This poem is my response to the picture allocated to me. It is called The Agony, an oil painting by Theyre Lee-Elliott, a 1930s graphic artist who designed, among other things, the logos of the London Underground and BOAC. The double vision of words and image is rich for me.

The process of finding the form was interesting: the octave describes the painting, the sestet has a feel of a prayer or a hymn. The final couplet, with its strong rhyme, invites the viewer, the reader, to enter into the painting and allow it to bring transformation. You can find the image online.

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