Monday, 2 June 2014

Personal Highlights from the 1st Suffolk Poetry Festival

Suffolk Poetry Society Chairman, Ian Griffiths

Huge thanks and congratulations are due to the committee members of the Suffolk Poetry Society for their gargantuan labours in presenting the First Suffolk Poetry Festival at the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket last Saturday. Thanks are also due to The Limbourne Trust for their sponsorship. The festival day proved to be an eclectic and inclusive mix of homegrown poetry from Suffolk - and judging by the applause and the enthusiastic conversations, it was a great success.  

Festival Organiser, Colin Whyles

I attended one of the workshops in the morning. It was on the Sonnet, and was led by Suffolk Poetry Society President, James Knox Whittet. James led us through a number of sample Sonnets, proffering tips to follow and pitfalls to avoid, before encouraging us to create a Shakespearean Sonnet of our own. My attempt certainly needs more polish, but I hope a finished poem may emerge from my scribblings once I have had a chance to add some final touches.

Colin Whyles preparing the microphone for the Festival launch of 'so too have the doves gone'

Café Green provided vegetarian snacks and meals all through the day. It was good to have the chance (albeit briefly) to chat with fellow poets and to look at the bookstall over lunch. I treated myself to a copy of Orinsay Poems (Orphean Press 2012) by Mike Bannister on the subject of 'happy times and adventures in and around Orinsay on the Isle of Lewis'. The afternoon was given over to presentations from the Poetry Cafés that are such a feature of the Suffolk poetry scene. Each cafe had been allocated a 30 minute slot, and the offerings ranged from a group Renga to the demonstration of the Sestina form to the presentation of Peter Hood's songs about the east coast.

There were presentations from ...
In addition to these planned presentations there were also short open mic slots between the scheduled events in the programme. It was good to hear poems from Tim Gardiner (you can read about his insect poems here) and others.

Chairman, Ian Griffiths, representing the Woodbridge Poetry Cafe

Given the rich wildlife of the county, it is not surprising that birds featured in a number of poems. Ian Griffiths narrated a poem that featured not only the imagery of a Robin and a Blackbird, but also included a whole host of other feathered companions. 

Yours truly at the mic!

I planned some days ago to read my poem about the Woolly Bear Caterpillar. You can imagine my amazement when I noticed a British cousin of this species walking across a presenter's hand (Chris Packham's, I seem to remember) on BBC Springwatch from RSPB Minsmere earlier in the week. My poem is published in my 2012 chapbook, The Holy Place, co-authored with John Dotson and published by Peter Thabit Jones of The Seventh Quarry and Stanley H. Barkan of Cross-Cultural Communications in New York.

David Gill, reading his poem and introducing the UCS slot

A University Campus Suffolk slot was included in the reading programme. David read his Edward Thomas tribute poem, 'Gloucestershire in the Negev', alongside excellent poems from two UCS students.

There was just time for a welcome cup of tea and large slice of chocolate cake before the evening session. This began with the launch of so too have the doves gone, an anthology of poems largely from Suffolk and Essex to mark the centenary of the Great War. Judith Wolton led the way. This time it was my turn to read an Edward Thomas tribute poem. This new 2014 anthology was edited by Stephen Boyce and initiated by Pam Job and Judith Wolton. It was published by Jardine Press Ltd.

Florence Cox was next up on the programme and we enjoyed her witty and meticulously observed poems on the foibles of human nature. Florence was followed by 2012 Crabbe Memorial Poetry Competition winner, Caroline Gilfillan who gave a presentation of her Pepys poems. The final performers of the evening were Kate Foley and Luke Wright.  

My thanks to all who made the day such an enjoyable one for so many. May it be the first of many!

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Monday, 12 May 2014

Museums at Night Festival ~ Coming to a Museum near you?

Who dares to loiter in our lofty halls
while scholars burn their midnight oil at home?

© Caroline Gill 2009
from 'Sleepover at the Museum'

Did you know that the annual  Museums at Night Festival  takes place this week from 15-17 May?

You can read about the organisations behind the festival here and here.  

Back in 2009, The Haddon Library (of Archaeology and Anthropology in the University of Cambridge) arranged a poetry competition to mark its own 70th anniversary in 2006 and the University’s 800th. My poem, 'Sleepover at the Museum', was awarded Third Prize. You can read it here.

Cambridge at Dusk

There are lots of night time museum activities going on, so why not take a look here and see what you can find in your neck of the woods. 

BBC Arts Editor Will Gompertz will be hosting a documentary about the initiative on BBC2 this Saturday night, May 17, at 19.00hrs.

Here are some links to a variety of Museums at Night activities ...
 ... and there are many more. Do check the dates and times carefully as the events take place over a three day period. You may need to book in advance for some of the activities. 

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Poetry at the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

I can hardly believe that my 'three-month museum residency' as part of a group at the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) in Cambridge, via The Poetry School, is into its final month. It has been an unbelievable experience so far, with input sessions from poets and SPRI researchers alike.

We have studied and handled artefacts. We have looked at documents and charts. We have spent time in the museum and we have flexed our poetry muscles in unexpected ways. It has been exciting to learn a different vocabulary and to meet new people.  
three-month museum residency√
three-month museum residency
three-month museum residency
three-month museum residency
three-month museum residency√
three-month museum residency

Cambridge from the Backs

Back in the 1990s I worked for five terrific years in one of the Cambridge University archives, and I have been aware of a certain sense of 'return'. It is often the case, however, that one fails to appreciate one's surroundings and local resources to the full until it is time to move on!

'Behind the Scenes at the Scott Polar Research Institute' developed out of the Cambridge 'Threshold' residencies that took place in a number of university museums and institutions in 2013. The project was showcased at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas last autumn, and I was very inspired by what I heard at the event.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Update from Romania ~ Orizont Literar Contemporan

Daniel Dragomirescu in the centre

Orizont Literar Contemporan continues to go from strength to strength. Daniel Dragomirescu, Romanian-based editor-in-chief of this international literary journal with the strapline, 'all the world in a magazine', has written an updated account of the story so far. You will find his account here.

The photo above shows me interviewing Donald Riggs, Teaching Professor of Creative Writing at Drexel University, when I was in Philadelphia in January 2012. The interview appeared shortly afterwards in Orizont Literar Contemporan.  

There was an excellent feature recently on a dozen Scottish poets, and more recently still, I have been delighted to find work by my publisher, Peter Thabit Jones (The Seventh Quarry Press, Swansea) in addition to poetry from Gillian Clarke, the National Poet of Wales, and Owen Sheers, Welsh poet, author and scriptwriter.

If you would like further information about the journal, please leave a comment here or contact Daniel via the website.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

'Fur, Feather and Fen' by Elaine Ewart

Fur, Feather and Fen 
by Elaine Ewart 

'a year's poetic journey in the land of the three quarter sky: 
poems about landscape, wildlife and people, grown from the fertility of a thick dark soil.'

Cover design credit: © Karen Harvey

Fur, Feather and Fen, has just come out from FlightFeather Press as an exquisitely produced poetry pamphlet. It is the culmination of Elaine Ewart's year (2012-2013) as the first Fenland Poet Laureate. I first heard about the Fenland Laureateship from Karen Harvey, who initiated the scheme and designed the stunning cover for Elaine's collection. I have since had the pleasure of meeting both Karen and Elaine. I have also met Leanne Moden, Elaine's successor, who held the post from 2013-2014 and has just handed over to Poppy Kleiser.

Elaine, an Oxford graduate in English Literature, writes with a passion for her subject, handling words and phrases with consummate skill and consistently applying what Flaubert called le mot juste to achieve her ends. The collection opens with 'Drowned Lands', the poem that won Elaine the Laureateship. The piece also appears in Words for Wide Skies, the anthology edited by Elaine as part of her Fenland remit. The poem begins with the emotive word, 'Digging', which immediately took me back to Seamus Heaney and his poem about his ars poetica. It led me on from that rich Irish soil to Elaine's home turf, a place that is far more familiar, a fenland landscape scented with 'water mint' and filled with 'butter-billed Bewicks':

'Across the field banks hem in the horizon, sky hanging
Heavy over silver coin-puddles of squealing wigeon ...'

Much of Elaine's poetry is written in free verse, but there are also more formal pieces with regular rhyme and repetition schemes such as 'A Visit to the Guild Workshop', which comprises the first part of the sequence, 'Celebrating Octavia Hill'.  

In this pamphlet of poems that reflect the natural rhythms of the world on our doorstep, it is not surprising that we are transported through the changing seasons. The collection ends with

'Love in a manger,
Winter sun-crowned' 

in 'A Fenland Christmas', a commissioned piece that has been set to music by John Lawson Baker as an anthem for a four part choir.

Before we reach the festive season, however, there is just time to join the eccentric Parson Hawker on his beloved but treacherous Cornish cliffs for a poignant 'Harvest at Morwenstow', where, when it comes to the need for burial 

'... at this outpost of the eternal, 
No-one is given up for lost.'

* * *
Fur, Feather and Fen by Elaine Ewart can be purchased from the following places:

WWT Welney
Hundred Foot Bank
PE14 9TN

01353 860 711
Price: £4.50. Copies can be ordered by telephone and posted: please enquire from the seller about the added cost of p&p.
Wisbech and Fenland Museum
Museum Square
PE13 1ES

01945 583 817
Price: £4. Please enquire from the seller about ordering by post and the added cost of p&p.
Toppings Bookshop
9 High Street

01353 645 005
Price: £5. Please enquire from the seller about ordering by post and the added cost of p&p.

Monday, 24 March 2014

My Part in the Poetic Blog Tour

My thanks to Martin Locock for inviting me to join the current Blog Tour.

My understanding is that I have to answer the four questions below and then invite a fellow writer or two to do the same. So here goes ...

What am I working on?

As some will know, my first chapbook of poetry, co-authored with John Dotson in California, came out in 2012. It was called The Holy Place and was published by Peter Thabit Jones of The Seventh Quarry (Swansea) and Stanley H. Barkan, editor of Cross-Cultural Communications (New York). The chapbook was part of a commissioned 'Poet to Poet' series in which a UK poet was paired with a poet from elsewhere. The chapbook was launched at Number 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, birth place of Dylan Thomas. 

Copies at £3.50 inc. p&p in UK (leave a comment or send an email)

The poems in my half of the collection find their focus in the landscape and its creatures. Ecological issues - climate change and the declining numbers of certain native species - are not overlooked, but I hope my chosen words stand or fall on their own merit before any 'message' protrudes from the page. The title of the chapbook is taken from one of John's poems, and although I write from my perspective as a Christian, these particular poems are not 'religious' in any traditional or overt sense.
So that is my starting point. Since the publication of the chapbook, I have been trying to consolidate my body of work inspired by the natural world. I have made a conscious effort to become a better observer so that my writing in turn becomes more incisive. That's the theory! I use notebooks and a camera to record my sightings. They don't all worm their way into my poems, but I like to watch the birds on the Silver Birch I have chosen as part of the Tree Following project, and to follow the story of 'Mabel', the Tawny Owl in one of our local parks. I have been looking for Ladybirds and logging my findings on the UK Ladybird Survey for some years now.

Small may be beautiful, but I am keen to embrace the wider picture, too. I passed my O level in Biology at school, but veered away from science and mathematics as much as possible. These days I am fascinated by the interface of poetry and science. A sonnet written as a result of observing a Perseid meteor shower was shortlisted in the 2013 Paragram competition.

I am about to embark on a project with the Poetry School. It involves three study days in the Scott Polar Museum in Cambridge, where Kaddy Benyon is working alongside the Museum's staff to develop poetry-themed outreach. The project was inspired by the work that was initiated during the Thresholds residencies in 2013, and brought to a wider audience during the 2013 Cambridge Festival of Ideas.

Speaking of Cambridge, I recently attended the launch of Glass Cases and Curios in the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. The anthology, which contained one of my poems, was produced by 2013 Fen Laureate, Leanne Moden, with assistance from Karen Harvey. My background is in teaching (secondary and EFL) and archives. David, my husband, is an archaeologist. We are both fascinated by aspects of the past.

I am also intrigued by form in poetry in all its guises, and by the nature of metaphor. I was pleased to have work accepted for The Book of Forms, including Odd and Invented Forms by Lewis Putnam Turco (UPNE) in 2012. I have enjoyed experimenting with anglicised versions of the Ghazal, largely thanks to The Ghazal Page, and look forward to learning more about this kind of poetry.

I have begun the process of compiling a single authored collection. I am not renowned for my speed, so it will be a case of watching this space for a while. Meanwhile, I continue to be an External Collaborator for the Romanian literary journal, Orizont Literar Contemporan (OLC), under the editorship of Daniel Dragomirescu. The latest poet to feature on the OLC site is Gillian Clarke, National Poet of Wales. My interview with Martin Locock about the production of his recent Strata Florida anthology appears in the latest OLC Antologia

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

I have a reputation for approaching tasks in an unusual way. This may be partially on account of my left-handedness. It may be more to do with the fact that I am somewhat 'landless'. I have moved about a fair bit during the course of my lifetime, from Rome in the south to Norfolk in the east; from Newcastle in the north to Wales in the west. When I am asked the question, 'where do you come from?', I never quite know what to say. I have been involved in international enterprises and activities for many years and perhaps find myself caught in the balance between being a citizen of the world and a would-be local custodian of Blake's grain of sand.  

I am not a very political creature in the 'political' sense of that word. I feel passionately about certain things but my poetic voice, I'm told, often comes across as 'controlled' rather than 'outraged'.

My love of form makes my poems stand out (for better or worse!) from many that I encounter. I have great admiration for those who write free verse with flair.   

Why do I write?

I write because I have always written - well, almost. I am a shy creature by inclination, although I am more confident than I used to be. In the past I preferred to express myself on the page, whether through the medium of drawing (e.g. in the 'news book' in kindergarten) or whether through writing letters, which I did a lot in my teenage years, following a house move away from friends. I have always loved words, whether in the form of books or word games. I won my first poetry prize at the age of eleven.

How does my writing process work? 

This is a tricky question because there is no set formula. That said, there are certain traits or 'norms'. I aspire to using a pen or pencil because I like the idea of connection, of thoughts flowing through the brain and along the arm straight on to the paper. But I rarely compose in longhand these days. The computer keyboard is my medium of choice.

I might be inspired by a wildlife sighting or by a magazine article. I particularly like competitions and anthology calls that give a theme or subject. I sometimes blitz an idea by doing a spidergraph. I nearly always tap out the alphabet if I am looking for rhymes or near-rhymes.

Poems practically never 'arrive' on my page. Dylan Thomas spoke of labouring by 'singing light' and this rings true, particularly the labouring bit on occasions! I sometimes assist with creative writing groups, and always look forward to receiving prompts in any form. I enjoy art, and find that postcards and paintings can trigger a poem. I try to allow time for a poem to 'settle'. By this stage it may have been through twenty drafts in a quest to see if there is indeed a small pearl tucked away deep inside the oyster.

In Conclusion ...

I have invited a couple of poets to take part in the Blog Tour, namely ...

Do take a look at their posts about writing, the environment and more besides.

And finally, here are a couple of links to others who have already taken part ...