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Neil Bowen
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boutnothing at May 4, 2016 at 3:43 PM

Neil Bowen at May 4, 2016 at 3:23 PM

I would read 'On her Blindness' and 'Effects' as using form in a similar way. The holding pattern of the couplet form in the former, for example, is put under considerable strain, akin to the rational mind trying to deal with grief.

Thank you so much :)

No problems. Thanks so much for your excellent contributions. And good luck with exam - sock it to them.

May 4, 2016 at 3:46 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Aimee
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Posts: 3

Neil Bowen at May 4, 2016 at 3:42 PM

Aimee at May 4, 2016 at 3:39 PM

What do you think the Fox represents in ' A fox in the national history museum of Wales'?

Hi Aimee, well a colleague has written about this poem at length in our second 'Art of Poetry' books on this anthology, so that's the best place to go. In my opinion Minhinnick's fox is like Ted Hughes' and embodies the imagination and perhaps even more specifically the spirit of poetry. What do you think?

That's an interesting idea, and well at first I thought it symbolised mankind but that didn't quite fit at some points ( e.g. The "fox is in the flock" part)

May 4, 2016 at 3:48 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Astral
Member
Posts: 22

Neil Bowen at May 4, 2016 at 3:36 PM

Well, if no-one's got any more questions, perhaps I should start marking my sixth formers essays on 'King Lear'. Or perhaps just lie down for a bit in a darkened room. Bit annoying how new posts are not showing up under 'Recent Forum Posts' - I'll get on to webs.com and see if I can get it fixed. 

I don't think that the is a definitive answer to this. 

You might consider the symbolism of the fox in a variety of contexts. Foxes are often seen as wily and cunning but also quick-witted and survivors. If you look up how a fox is viewed in Celtic mythology (something that, as a Welsh poet, Minhinnick is presumably familiar with), it implies that a fox is seen as a guide in a spiritual way. The fox seems to transcend time and space in the poem, thus possibly representing man's resilient spirit and creativity. 

What at might also be useful is to consider the closing of the iron doors at the end. Why "iron"? Who are "they"?

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May 4, 2016 at 3:49 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 837

He's a mercurial, magical, disruptive, but also creative force that brings unlikely things togeher and he's impossible to pin down or catch. 

May 4, 2016 at 3:51 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Astral
Member
Posts: 22

Regarding "the fox is in the flock", notice the playful humour in the use of language. Flock can refer both to fabrics but could also suggest people (sheep) - if the fox is in the flock, either the idea is that it is part of all the exhibits in the museum or that it is amongst people. If the latter, the effect of a fox being amongst sheep would be to scatter them and to make them alert. What could they need to be alert for?

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May 4, 2016 at 3:53 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 837

Astral at May 4, 2016 at 3:49 PM

Neil Bowen at May 4, 2016 at 3:36 PM

Well, if no-one's got any more questions, perhaps I should start marking my sixth formers essays on 'King Lear'. Or perhaps just lie down for a bit in a darkened room. Bit annoying how new posts are not showing up under 'Recent Forum Posts' - I'll get on to webs.com and see if I can get it fixed. 

I don't think that the is a definitive answer to this. 

You might consider the symbolism of the fox in a variety of contexts. Foxes are often seen as wily and cunning but also quick-witted and survivors. If you look up how a fox is viewed in Celtic mythology (something that, as a Welsh poet, Minhinnick is presumably familiar with), it implies that a fox is seen as a guide in a spiritual way. The fox seems to transcend time and space in the poem, thus possibly representing man's resilient spirit and creativity. 

What at might also be useful is to consider the closing of the iron doors at the end. Why "iron"? Who are "they"?

You're definitely right. And that's the great thing about symbols, they compress multiple possible meanings into them. What we can know is what the fox does and how he/it is alien to the museum, too elusive to be pinned down and turned into stuffy exhibit. Indeed why 'iron', who are 'they' and why are they closing the doors if they haven't even seen the fox? And, if that was the case, who alerted the narrator? Mystery within mystery! 

May 4, 2016 at 3:55 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Aimee
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Posts: 3

Neil Bowen at May 4, 2016 at 3:55 PM

Astral at May 4, 2016 at 3:49 PM

Neil Bowen at May 4, 2016 at 3:36 PM

Well, if no-one's got any more questions, perhaps I should start marking my sixth formers essays on 'King Lear'. Or perhaps just lie down for a bit in a darkened room. Bit annoying how new posts are not showing up under 'Recent Forum Posts' - I'll get on to webs.com and see if I can get it fixed. 

I don't think that the is a definitive answer to this. 

You might consider the symbolism of the fox in a variety of contexts. Foxes are often seen as wily and cunning but also quick-witted and survivors. If you look up how a fox is viewed in Celtic mythology (something that, as a Welsh poet, Minhinnick is presumably familiar with), it implies that a fox is seen as a guide in a spiritual way. The fox seems to transcend time and space in the poem, thus possibly representing man's resilient spirit and creativity. 

What at might also be useful is to consider the closing of the iron doors at the end. Why "iron"? Who are "they"?

You're definitely right. And that's the great thing about symbols, they compress multiple possible meanings into them. What we can know is what the fox does and how he/it is alien to the museum, too elusive to be pinned down and turned into stuffy exhibit. Indeed why 'iron', who are 'they' and why are they closing the doors if they haven't even seen the fox? And, if that was the case, who alerted the narrator? Mystery within mystery! 

Thank you both so much!

May 4, 2016 at 3:58 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 837

And time for me to make like the fox and do a disappearing act before the school caretaker or some other mysterious symbolic force closes the doors on me (iron or not). Thanks to everyone for taking part. Hope the seminar has been some use! It's been interesting and entertaining for me, but also totally exhausting! Good luck with the exams...:)

May 4, 2016 at 4:00 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Astral
Member
Posts: 22

Neil Bowen at May 4, 2016 at 3:45 PM

Astral at May 4, 2016 at 3:41 PM

To respond to some of the earlier comments...

1) Eat Me can be interpreted as a sensual poem - it explores the whole rather dubious sub-culture of fat-fetishism and the role of the male as a feeder. This also links in with patriarchal ideas as the feeding eventually ends up in the speaker's complete dependence upon him. The swift change in events creates, as you have said, a supreme irony at the end - she has killed the hand that fed her.

2) I think that the structure of 'Furthest Distances' becomes more stable at the end to symbolise the speaker's growing acceptance and understanding of their lot in life, albeit rather a poor one. The Volta seems to occur with the word "however" indicating that the speaker is appraising themselves. The reference to "routine evictions" suggests a regular moving on whilst the acknowledgement that "these are my souvenirs" indicates that the speaker has gained a new level of understanding.

3) One of the most interesting and powerful poems in the collection seems to be 'Giuseppe' in my opinion, as it explores the way in which apparently ordinary people can become involved in dreadful acts of violence. The poem's simplicity of language allows the reader to ponder on the images. The lines "they took a ripe golden roe/ from her side" allow interpretation. What is the roe? Why is it golden? Why is it in her side? The use of magic realism serves to make the poem very disturbing.

4) The other poem that I found powerful was 'You, Shiva, and My Mum' - there is a lot of mileage in analysing the title to begin with...

Hi Astral and thanks for these helpful and incisive comments. Entirely agree with you on all points! Except a 'volta' refers, I believe, specifically to the turn in a sonnet. I'm intrigued too by your comments about Padel's title. Would you care to elaborate?

Yes, you are right that in an exact definition volta, as a term, would refer specifically to the sonnet form but it does seem to be used more widely these days to denote a shift or a turn in thought, which is the way that I was using it here.

With regard to 'You, Shiva, and My Mum', I would draw attention to the three part construction of the title, where the commas seem to separate the individuals being referred to. The use of the pronoun "you" without a specific name, indicates that the speaker knows who this is and the placement of "Shiva" between the "you" and "my Mum" suggests that perhaps the inference is that Shiva might be getting in the way of the relationship between the other person and the speaker's mother. This would hint at a religious or cultural divide. Additionally, the possessive pronoun "my" indicates a possessiveness or protective quality that the speaker seems to show towards her mother, perhaps also inferring that the "you" is not so considerate. As later in the poem, we realise that the "you" refers to "her last unmarried son", we might question why the speaker does not refer to "our Mum". As she does not, this would indicate a friction between the speaker and her sibling.

Some delving produced the contextual background that Ruth Padel's brother, Felix, married a woman from the Oriya tribe in Orissa (an eastern Indian state) in 1993 at the age of 38. I believe that this does, perhaps, help to unlock the poem a little more.

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May 5, 2016 at 7:19 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Ciaran O'Driscoll
Member
Posts: 20

A fastidious note on ‘Please Hold’ and some other texts from Poems of the Decade.

Depending on whether you have the edition of Poems of the Decade published in 2011 (the grey one with the wonky-looking figure 10, made up of books, on the cover) or the edition published in 2015 (with the classier cover featuring an urn) you will find the following difference in line 18 of my poem ‘Please Hold’:

This call is free of charge, says the mind-reading robot. (2011 Edition, page 142)

This call is free of charge, says the robot. (2015 Edition, page 132)

The reason for this change, which first appeared in my collection Life Monitor (2009), was that on reflection I thought the humour was quite obvious in the situation where the narrator is ranting about ‘paying a robot for doing nothing’ and the robot immediately responds with ‘This call is free of charge.’ Dropping out the word ‘mind-reading’ was a close call for me, however, as it could be considered to add to the surrealism of the atmosphere!

However, I understand from the Exam Board that students can discuss the poem according to either the 2011 Edition or the 2015 Edition, whichever they happen to have studied. Also I am told that the Exam Board intends to alert all examiners to the fact that there are two versions of this line.

There are also a few other poems in Poems of the Decade where changes have been made by the poets between editions, and the same allowance applies in all such cases. As Claire Haviland of Pearson EdExcel says: 'Examiners will be fully briefed about the differences between the versions and will be ready to accept responses to either.'

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May 6, 2016 at 7:59 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Matthias
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Posts: 6

Matthias at May 4, 2016 at 3:23 PM

regarding the poem out of the bag which do you beleive is the best poem to go with it in the comparative esssay and why ? 
many thanks in advance

Thank you but surely the poem would make a good match with material would it not however the mythlogical referances could link with giuseppe surelly with the referance to the "mermaid" Though i can't see many poems that referance it too the scientific side another question i have for you ist one the poem fantasia. how can i link the ideaa of miners strikes to another poem

May 6, 2016 at 12:01 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 837

Matthias at May 6, 2016 at 12:01 PM

Matthias at May 4, 2016 at 3:23 PM

regarding the poem out of the bag which do you beleive is the best poem to go with it in the comparative esssay and why ? 
many thanks in advance

Thank you but surely the poem would make a good match with material would it not however the mythlogical referances could link with giuseppe surelly with the referance to the "mermaid" Though i can't see many poems that referance it too the scientific side another question i have for you ist one the poem fantasia. how can i link the ideaa of miners strikes to another poem

I'd link 'Fantasia' to other elegiac poems, such as Effects and On Her Blindness. Though it would require a sophisticated and demanding approach, the intertextual element of O'Brien's poem could also be compared with poems such as Balaclava, Look we are Coming to Dover! and Ode to a Grayson Perry Urn. Alternatively, you could compare the maleness of the miners and their world with masculinity presented elsewhere in the collection, such as in The War Correspondent, Chainsaw and Journal of a Disappointed Man

May 9, 2016 at 5:03 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Ciaran O'Driscoll
Member
Posts: 20

THE SINGING OF THE DEAD: Sean O’Brien’s ‘Fantasia on a Theme of James Wright’.


Have a look at the final two lines of O’Brien’s poem: ‘The living will never persuade them / that matters are otherwise, history done.’ That is to say, the miners referred to here are ‘dead but they won’t lie down’, a bit like the murdered lover in the film Ghost who initially cannot believe that he is dead. But while Patrick Swayze’s character eventually succumbs to reality, the poem suggests an incorrigible refusal by the miners to accept their fate.


What does ‘history done’ mean? The idea that we have reached ‘the End of History’ was itself a kind of fantasy of Post-modernism, a philosophical movement of the late 20th century, which has by now been more or less discredited, even though it came up with some concepts still valid in literary and artistic criticism, such as intertextuality and meta-narrative.


Even though O’Brien’s poem concludes with a reference to this post-modern canard ‘the End of History’, it is unclear whether the poem ends in total pessimism: the dead cannot be persuaded that matters are otherwise, that history is done; but perhaps the dead are right not to be so persuaded. In this interpretation, the penultimate lines take on a new resonance altogether:


The singing of the dead inside the earth

is like the friction of great stones, or like the rush

of water into newly opened darkness...


Fantasia...’ asserts that the dead still sing inside the earth, and that their singing has great power. In this the poem is like many elegies which simply refuse to believe that the death of the poem’s subject is the end of the matter. I am reminded of, for example, Dylan Thomas’s ‘After the Funeral’:


These cloud-sopped, marble hands, this monumental

Argument of the hewn voice, gesture and psalm

Storm me forever over her grave until

The stuffed lung of the fox twitch and cry Love

And the strutting fern lay seeds on the black sill.


Fantasia...’ bears comparison with Duffy’s ‘The Map Woman’ where, in the final stanza, the town which is etched on the woman’s skin does not go away after the skin has been shed, but while she is sleeping ‘Deep in the bone / old streets tunnelled and burrowed, searching for home’. Just so, O’Brien’s miners remain disturbingly present through the power of the poem’s evocation: they have not gone away despite having lost the political struggle to keep their livelihood.


Fantasia...’ is a poem which has a political dimension to it, and is impossible to read without thinking of Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill. It is unclear who is addressed in ‘Oh my brothers...’ but perhaps they are the people who still hope and act for a better world. I think the poem also finds a resonance in George Szirtes’ ‘Song’, which deals with the circumstances in which stagnation (the End of History?) eventually gives way to action, and the final stanza of which declaims the more sanguine anthem:


Nothing happens until something does.

Everything remains just as it was

And all you hear is the distant buzz

Of nothing happening. Then something does.


There are also echoes with other poems mentioned by Neil Bowen in the previous post. ‘Ode on a Grayson Perry Urn’ is a strong contender for comparison. I think students should look up James Wright, the poet tagged in the title of O’Brien’s poem. To show knowledge of the connection (similarity of theme) between this poem and the work of the famous American poet might add both to understanding and marks.

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May 11, 2016 at 10:05 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 837

Here's an extract from our piece on Carson's The War Correpsondent from The Art of Poetry, volume 2. This section is on Gallipoli:


Order is imposed on colossal disorder by the stanzas:  The internal content of each stanza may be an ill-matched mayhem of intercultural details slammed together in a list that’s bursting out of metrical constraint, and the entire poem is, indeed, one enormous, sprawling, winding sentence, itself a mega-list that lasts for an extraordinary 50 lines, but the regular stanzas doughtily hold back the pressing chaos. Each stanza is a solid-looking cinquain and each ends in the same orderly way – like a well drilled troop of soldiers semi-colons hold the riotous material in check. And on closer inspection each stanza also has a distinct, coherent subject: The first four establish a sense of place and atmosphere, the fifth focuses on the eclectic inhabitants, the sixth describes their fantastical costumes the seventh refocuses on locations, the eighth on food and drink. There is a change of tone in the penultimate stanza with the apostrophe ‘O’, as if the poet is throwing up his hands in despair at the impossible task of capturing this place, addressing the ‘landscape’ as if it is a deity. Although there isn’t a regular metre, a strong emphatic rhythm runs through the poem, kick started by the opening ‘take’.


The subtle, inter and intra-stanza, rhyme scheme imposes sonic order on the interior cacophony. Specifically a sonic bond is forged between the first two stanzas: Each line in sequence in the first stanza is rhymed with each line in sequence in the second stanza, first line with first line, second with second and so on, so that the two stanzas form a stable sonic block. The same pattern is repeated in the third and fourth, but with new rhyme sounds and a subtle deviation in the last two lines where the rhymes cross over. This pattern is securely repeated in the fifth and sixth. There is a greater shift in the seventh and eighth, where intra-stanzaic rhyme is introduced in the second and third lines. Check the rhyme scheme in the concluding pair of stanzas and you’ll see that it’s scrambled, as if the poem can no longer maintain its hold on such turbulent content. Except that, there still is a pattern and there still are rhymes. We might be moving towards total disorder, but we haven’t got there, just yet. With such crammed density of detail to explore, we need some method to help prioritise. We could focus on how Carson employs a range of sensory imagery to create a multi-dimensional impression. Picking a few examples illustrates the exotic vividness of the poem’s visual details: ‘glittering’, ‘as black as tin’, ‘smoking’, ‘pink flamingo’, ‘green cantaloupes’. Adding to this rich mix is aural imagery - ‘jangly music’ and the ‘squawks of parakeets’ - and a heady stew of pungent smells – ‘the reek of dung and straw’, ‘smells of rotten meat’, ‘the stench of pulped plum and apricot’ – and tastes – ‘garlic-oregano tainted’, ‘rancid lard’, ‘sour wine’ - and movement - ‘tumbledown’, ‘fishes fly’, ‘leaking ballast’, ‘houses teeter’, ‘linguini twists of souks’. 

May 16, 2016 at 3:39 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Ciaran O'Driscoll
Member
Posts: 20

A Note Regarding Robert Minhinnick’s ‘The Fox in the National Museum of Wales’.

There is a very insightful discussion of this poem in The Art of Poetry, Volume 3. I just want to add a few thoughts here.

As a symbol, the fox is multivalent or polyvalent, i.e. susceptible to many interpretations. Here are a couple of opposing possibilities of interpretation.

(1) The fox is declared to be ‘the future‘ toward the end of this poem, perhaps because he is outside the structures of the museum (outside history). He has found himself in the museum by some accidental freak, or been attracted by a smell from the cafe/restaurant or the kitchen. His travel through the various parts of the museum, random from a classifying curator’s point of view, is illustrative of his differing agenda (self-preservation in an ever-changing present) and it is this which makes him a candidate for the future: which is to say that the poem’s view of the future is fairly dark, a future where the cunning ‘foxy’ virtues of improvisation minute by minute are the best means of survival.

The fox has survived through history, not by joining the project, but by remaining on the margins. In the future, the poem seems to suggest, the best survivors will be the ones who do not depend on the structures/resources of civilisation, for example those who go to the woods these days to practise self-sufficient survival skills, those who go to live in remote areas and establish their ‘killing zones’ in anticipation of the barbarism following a nuclear war. A plethora of current TV programmes and video games is also heavily preoccupied with the idea of survival ‘in the Wild’– perhaps unconsciously anticipating the Wild that will come after the breakdown of civilization.

And yet ‘The Fox...’ is a highly alliterative poem, and the frequency of the alliteration (with puns) seems to lend the poem a light-heartedness and humour which counterpoints the darker interpretation outlined above. And this brings me to a second interpretation.

‘I will tell you this. He is something to follow, / this red fellow./ This fox I foster – / he is the future.’

Interpreting these lines in a more positive way, they seem to me to have an echo of the tone of a punter recommending a horse or greyhound to bet on, or a stockbroker telling you what shares are absolute winners.

‘The fox seems to transcend time and space in the poem, thus possibly representing man's resilient spirit and creativity.’ So says Astral in a previous post, and I think this view is perhaps the strongest interpretation of all, the chief meaning of this fox which is fostered by the poet: the possibility, not just of individual survival, but of civilization’s survival. The human shaping spirit, poiesis, the creative imagination, is not tied down by already-existing structures; that is why the fox glides with such ease between the different epochs represented in the museum.

But that is also why it is important that the fox gets out of the museum before ‘the iron doors’ are closed. To be locked in the museum, on this interpretation, is to be stuck in the present dilemma without recourse, to be unable to adapt and change; in a word, to die. This implies that the fox must first be noticed: ‘no one has seen him yet’, i.e. no one has yet grasped his potential as the way out of the crux.

A third possibility (which occurred to me an hour or so after I thought I had said my say) is that the poem could have a personal aspect, that it is cryptically biographical, marking some change in the writer’s life which has led him to discovering ‘the fox within’, a new potential that will help him through the remainder of his days. I won’t dwell on this as it is speculation, a possibility that only the writer himself could confirm or deny. But I know from my own experience as a poet that personal experiences often find their way into my own poems in ‘encrypted’ forms.

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May 18, 2016 at 8:03 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 837

They say pictures speak louder than words, so we've :D to get another 5* review: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Art-Poetry-Forwards-Poems-Decade/dp/0993077889/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1466431420&sr=8-3&keywords=neil+bowen ��;



June 20, 2016 at 10:06 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 837

We're chuffed that vol. 3 has been reviewed this summer at length in The Use of English the journal of the English Association. The reviewer made some criticisms, such as the 'lamentable omission', as he saw it, of the poems themselves. The reviewer also thought the tone was sometimes too chatty and informal and that we should/ could have included more contextual information about the poets. Oddly they also thought some of the optional exercises and tasks we included as ideas for engaging with the poems were too 'prescriptive'. :(


To the first point we'd answer that we couldn't include the poems due to copyright restrictions. To the second, fair enough, it's a matter of taste, and to the third, if the reviewer understood the Edexcel exams then they would realise why we focused on analysing the poems rather than providing lots of context.


On the positive side, the reviewer commented on the 'erudite', 'sophisticated' and 'organic readings' and, amongst other things, liked the 'lively introduction', the way 'difficullt concepts...are made extremely accessible', 'the plethora of innovative observations, which are packed into each of these commentaries' and the 'most remarkable' pieces, as he saw them, on O'Brien's & Flynn's poems.


Overall, despite the reviewer's few criticisms he concludes that 'I would very much recommend the work to teachers and students of modern poetry'.   :)

September 5, 2016 at 8:15 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 837

Forward poet and staunch enemy of automated answer services Ciaran O'Driscoll has devised a quiz on the poems. Test your knowledge by finding the quiz in our documents section. Anyone getting full marks is a clever clogs and should let Ciaran know that he needs to make the next quiz more difficult. :D

September 21, 2016 at 3:12 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Ciaran O'Driscoll
Member
Posts: 20

Neil Bowen at September 21, 2016 at 3:12 PM

Forward poet and staunch enemy of automated answer services Ciaran O'Driscoll has devised a quiz on the poems. Test your knowledge by finding the quiz in our documents section. Anyone getting full marks is a clever clogs and should let Ciaran know that he needs to make the next quiz more difficult. :D

Bring it on! 

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September 21, 2016 at 6:39 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 837

Post here any questions you would like to ask Ian Duhig about his poem 'The Lammas Hireling'.

October 2, 2016 at 10:05 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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