Such is my life that there are so many coincidences that coincidences themselves become circumstance. It's a good place to be. I am for the next three days poet in residence at The Association of Directors of Childrens Services. It is at the request of visionary and Director of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, Maggie Atkinson. I met Maggie twenty or so years ago when she was an English teacher in dewsbury and I a poet at her school, but time has passed and we have both grown with mutual respect and admiration. I awoke this morning with the most horrible itchy throat and runny nose. no doubt about it today was going to be fighting illness.
On arriving at the conference I am told that it has been put back two hours as Scotland Yard have a private briefing for the entire conference. I have no idea what this is about but it has to be both serious and matter of national significance that they would need to talk to all conference delegates. Finally the conference begins.
These first two days are for the Directors of Childrens Services only. I am the only outside guest. There's a facinating plenary by Tom Jeffery and Lesley Longstone of DCSF and then another by Ray Shostak, head of the prime ministers delivery Unit, HM treasury. The tone is honest and open from both delegates and speakers adn full to bursting wth abbreviations. This is a new day and the mood is bouyant. Why abbreviations? Because without them the conference would be ten days rather than three. Children's services is high up on the governments agenda. So much so that a cabinet speaker will be coming to talk with the delegates on friday. I have coughed and spluttered my way through the whole day.
How I am going to boil all this down into a poem to be read on the friday I have no idea. But I scribble notes and various options and chemicals start to percolate. Tomorrow, thursday night, I shall be reading poetry on stage for the entire audience. But on Friday, I shall be delivering what is entitled the conference poem. With my work on Saturday Live, the possibility of something special happening is high, but only if I put the work in.
On the bar in the cafe of The Midland I notice large pices of framed paper – each as large as a flag. Upon them are verses, parts of WH Audens poem Night Train. The title of this conference is Building resillience: Reducing the Impact of family poverty. Night train is about the Mail train delivering letters to the nation. The rhythm of the poem is that of a train clackety clack clackety clack. In fact this entire hotel was built for the trains.
I start to make notes, memory triggers. Don't I remember one of the manchester to euston trains being called The Midland. isn't there a whole train company called The Midland Line. This hotel is called The Midland. The poem about trains is on the wall. This hotel was built in the golden era of train travel. In the conference their is talk of letters from Providence, the company that offers loans to the indebted at 180 percent interest. Letters of Demand. I made a BBC radio Four documentary on the poem Night Train.
The words gift horse and mouth come to mind. Night Train, poverty letters, going of the rails, steam, scream, get on board…… I start to write notes…. After a minute on the internet the concierge pulls two pieces of paper from the printer. “voila” he says theatrically. I thank him and wonder why the hotel has not got the poem ornately printed on the wall in full. But now is not the time.
The poem is already out there waiting to be discovered much the same way a sculpture could believe the piece of art is in the block of stone waiting to be found. At least now I have the stone…. now for the gold. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world right now.