On everything, very little and nothing at all

In a way, this post is not about poetry at all.  And then, in some ways, it is.

Those who know me in the physical world or follow/happen upon my infrequent blog posts at this site or read my all-too-frequent social network status updates may remember that , in January 2014, I had hip replacement surgery.  Now, in a bid for equality, my left hip is demanding the same rights as (erm) the right (and, after a life-time of differing leg length, I’m hopeful that surgical wizardry will bring about equality that respect, too).

So, on 3rd Sept (yes, on a Saturday), we (my wretched joint and I) are (jointly) going under the knife (sorry folks – am giddy with excitement).  It’s an understatement to say – we can’t wait!  We’ve had our hopes raised (an end-of-May op date) only to be dashed (said op deferred – nothing to do with an NHS in crisis and everything to do with a low blood count) but we’re nearly there, now: fourteen days and counting down.  Bring it on!

Increasing pain levels and decreasing mobility pretty much put paid to my original plans for the summer holidays:

Sunday sundowner session with Blanche and Thelma

 

 

My annual fiddle ‘fix’ that is five days of music-making, merriment and mayhem with friends at Burwell Bash traditional music summer school (my second enforced ‘gap year’ out of fifteen).

 

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A day trip to London, its endless possibilities – the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition, for instance.

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Keeping the garden in check.

 

 

 

Suffice to say it’s been a restful few weeks:

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I will, sadly, be missing out on a few events on my poetry social calendar as late summer moves into autumn:

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The Free Verse Poetry Book Fair at Conway Hall in London.

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Last year’s swag:

 

 

 

everybodys-reading-festival-logo

 

 

Leicester’s Everybody’s Reading festival (nine days jammed-packed with events, many of them free, lots of them poetry/writing related)

 

…and, not least, sharing/discussing/workshopping poetry at my regular groups: Soundswrite women’s poetry group and South Leics stanza.

I’m hoping that cabin fever doesn’t hit me too hard (my husband and I will be effectively housebound for six weeks while I’m unable to drive).  I’m hosting a MacMillan Coffee Morning for a group of ex-colleagues (oh, how I’ll miss my coffee shop caffeine-&-cake) and I’ve already had one or two very kind other offers from friends. I’ll be doing the household shopping online for the first time (I actually like doing the supermarket shopping).

When the general anaesthetic and other prescribed drugs are out of my system I plan on doing more reading – a novel or two (Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, for one), the odd poetry magazine (having renewed my subscription to Magma) and several hitherto unread anthologies are waiting in the wings.

Then there are the MOOCs I mentioned in a previous post.

And my physio exercises will take priority, of course – the key to regaining full range of movement and muscle strength.  And life as I knew it.

See you on the other side🙂

 

A Writing Residency

In my last two blog posts my aim was to bring readers up to date with my reading activity over the last few months.  I do so much poetry reading that, at times, I wonder whether it becomes a displacement activity for writing.

In my work life, I like the challenge of a deadline.  If I have all the time in the world in which to write I’ll take forever to get down to it.  If, however, I have a remit and a due date I work much better.  That’s why I like the challenge of a writing commission.  As winner of the Bru Leicester Writes poetry prize I was granted a writing residency and commissioned to write a sequence of five poems on the theme of Life in the City.

What’s not to like?  A busy, bustling city base from which to soak up the atmosphere/people-watch, a first-floor bird’s-eye view of city-centre street life, a paid commission, space and dedicated time to write – with coffee and cake to hand (those who know me know…) and a gift card to spend on eats and drinks at the till.

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So March 11th saw me meeting up with founder of Leicester Writes and editor of Dahlia Publishing, Farhana Shaikh, at Leicester’s Bru Coffee & Gelato (my place of residency) to discuss the finer details.  Back then, the June deadline seemed a long way off.  I wasn’t necessarily confined to the ideas I’d originally outlined in my proposal, and such a broad theme could be interpreted in many ways.  Just one ‘ask’: with Leicester City Football Club’s track record for the season to date, would I also consider writing a ‘bonus poem’ capturing the spirit of the underdog team and the city’s rising fan fever.  Moi?  With not a sporting gene in my body? [insert, here, any emoticons you know for ‘ brain freeze’]  Okay, I said, I’ll give it a go (eek!)

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Although I did a fair amount of online research for my poem sequence, inspiration came mainly from my walks between the rail station on London Road (or, more often, Dover St car park) to the Clock Tower (beating heart of our city) via Granby Street and Gallowtree Gate (with Bru Coffee conveniently situated half-way between these two points).

 

King Richard III

King Richard III, Cathedral Gdns

 

I could have written a poem about any or all of Leicester’s famous names and nameless faces immortalised and memorialised in statuary.  This one, for instance.

 

 

 

photo credit: crosbyheritage.co.uk

photo credit: crosbyheritage.co.uk

 

 

In the end, I chose (or rather the destination chosen by my poem was ) Thomas Cook, whose statue greets rail passengers outside the station on London Road.

 

 

 

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Maria, a The Big Issue vendor no longer occupying her usual Granby Street spot opposite Bru, became the subject of a poem following a conversation I had with a regular customer and one of the baristas on enquiring after her whereabouts.

 

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Leicester’s Clock Tower is a babel of voices clamouring to be heard.

 

And my LCFC poem?  I confess to becoming a Foxes fan at least for the remainder of the season as our team’s path to Premier League King Power & Glory unfolded and I trawled the Twitter feeds around each nail-biting match.  As the saying goes, you couldn’t make it up!

photo credit: leicestermurcury.co.uk

LCFC open top city bus tour                                                           photo credit: leicestermurcury.co.uk

My six poems were duly submitted (ahead of the deadline – yay!), typeset, printed and made available on customers’ tables at Bru for my reading on June 28th as part of the Leicester Writes Festival of New Writing:

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Three of my residency poems –  The Art of Winning, The Big Issue and Time Traveller – will be published in Welcome to Leicester, an anthology of poems (Dahlia Publishing) to be launched on Friday 7th October as part of Leicester’s Everybody’s Reading festival.  It’s free but bookable in advance (click here for details and scroll to page 23 of festival programme).

 

 

 

Catching up on reading #2

In addition to printed material I’ve been reading, lately, the onset of the summer holidays (still wired for work but with no pressing reasons to be) seemed like the ideal time to continue my poetry education via MOOCs I started way back in January and abandoned part-way through as work life, etc took precedence.  So here’s what I’ve been up to, online:

Robert Burns: Poems, Songs and Legacy (Glasgow University via FutureLearn):

‘Pop Art Rabbie’ by Sheilagh Tennant

Format: a three-week course comprising videos, articles, texts/lyrics, memory quizzes(!) and forum discussions

My verdict: a comprehensive introduction to life and works of Scotland’s bard.  Does what it says on the tin but this one failed to engage me in the way that other MOOCs have done (videos were mini lectures rather than debate between academics or tutor-student workshops/tutorials and I felt ‘talked at’).

Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing (The University of Warwick via FutureLearn):

futurelearn.com

futurelearn.com

Format: a six-week course comprising video discussions, poem/novel/play texts, articles, surveys (for research purposes) and forum discussions.

My verdict:interesting discussions on the physiology and treatment of stress, heartbreak, bereavement, PTSD and trauma, depression and bipolar, ageing and dementia, and the benefits of reading/sharing literature for therapy and wellbeing.  What niggled me: Stephen Fry’s dismissive remark regarding ‘free form’ poetry during a week 1 video discussion (in fact, the wealth of contemporary poetry was largely ignored throughout the course).

Whitman’s Civil War: Writing and Imaging Loss, Death & Disaster (The University of Iowa via novoed.com):

iwp.uiowa.edu

iwp.uiowa.edu

I’m a late starter to this MOOC (week 3 of which starts tomorrow), but the beauty of this beast (as far as I’m aware) is it’s available year-round and one can begin at any time (provided you don’t wish to join in the discussions on the online forum – which I don’t).  I’m currently engaged in week 1: Circumstance & Documentary.  Each week there’s an introductory video (engaging discussion between academics; approx 40 mins) followed by a series of reading texts including study notes and afterwords, then a question for discussion via the forum.

I’ll let you know how this one goes but, in my experience of MOOCs to date, UK universities have much to learn from those in the USA.

Still on my MOOC To Do list is Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales (Hans Christian Anderson Centre via FutureLearn).

I’m also looking forward to a return visit to ModPo in September (I intend doing ModPoPlus, this time around).

Which MOOCs are you currently engaged in, have enjoyed to date or are looking forward to this coming autumn?  I’d love to hear your views and choices via the comments box below.

Catching up on reading

First, the confessional: it’s been over five months since I last clicked ‘Add New’ on the drop-down menu under ‘Posts’ on this site’s Dashboard.

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I’ve either been too busy (Really?  Then how come…):

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Warwick Davis ‘auditions’ for Moggy in the Wood

Or too tired (Ditto).

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Or both.

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Okay, you get the picture(s).

Whatever I’ve not been doing, I have been reading.  Lots. I’ve made real inroads into that To Read jenga tower.  Here’s a just small selection of recent poetry reads:

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I have subscribed to Magma for years; I consider it to be one of the best ‘shop windows’ for the breadth and the best of contemporary poetry.  Warsan Shire’s Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth both shocked and enthralled; compelling reading.  Annette Boehm’s The Knowledge Weapon is Bare Fiction’s newest pamphlet publication.  I bought this online after Boehm’s reading of poems from the pamphlet, with introductions, on Transatlantic Poetry.  You can watch the podcast, including Victoria Kennefick’s fine reading, here.

Add to these several novels and the odd fashion/lifestyle mag (all now shared/re-homed via the staff room coffee table), links to articles and other ‘stuff’ on Twitter and Facebook plus a growing number of blogs I follow and – well, you get the picture.

In the spirit of catching up, I’ve just unearthed four unread copies of NAWE Writing in Education periodicals from my Writing-Stuff-(Not)-On-The-Go bag after the latest issue landing on the hall floor with this morning’s post:

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The focus of the current issue is Teaching Creativity, a subject close to my heart, both as a writer and as a Primary Teacher.  In fact, it is Robert Hull’s article, Testing Times for Schoolchildren, that has prompted this post.  From a Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem, ‘Where go the boats?’ being washed up on the barren shores of comprehension testing in a KS1 Reading test to test rehearsal and time devoted to wrestling with grammatical concepts like ‘cohesion’ and ‘fronted adverbial’ in primary classrooms across the land at the expense of a creative, integrated narrative of reading and writing.  Hell, yes, I’m right with you, Mr Hull.

I must add, at this point, that the ‘Poetry By Numbers’ and end-of-year league-table-posted-on-the-form-room-wall of exam results approach of my 1970’s ‘Girls’ High Schooling’ was not dissimilar to the current regime.

Nevertheless, teachers then, as now, did/do succeed in fostering a love of words/books/reading and in enriching children’s lives in spite of national legislation by politicians in ivory towers and ‘education professionals’ with vested interests (oh, yes, ye pedlars of products).  I don’t remember her name but I do remember the A’level English teacher who brought to life Cantos I to IV of Byron’s Don Juan as if it was a  pop-up book.  And there were other inspiring teachers, too.

And poetry worked its own magic:  the vivid, shocking imagery of Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum est and Mental Cases brought home the horrors of trench warfare better than any History lesson ever could; the sound echoes of W H Auden’s On This Island led me to rediscover the poem forty-odd years after studying it, when I could only remember the pluck/and knock of the tide and the shingle scrambles after the suck/-ing surf.

There are many talented writers and artists in education who inspire creativity.  Last October, poet David Harmer got ‘down with the kids’ from Nursery to our uber-cool Year 6s for Whole School Reading Day during Leicester’s Everybody’s Reading week.  (He came highly recommended by Year 5 pupils and their previous teachers who’d attended his workshop session funded by Whatever it Takes during Author Week).  He engaged and involved every pupil with his lively and comical performance of poems about space aliens, pirates, parents and teachers.  In writer-led creative writing workshops, Years 2 and 6 wrote their own class poems which they performed to the rest of the school before our visiting poet presented each class with a set of signed copies of his poetry books.

And the legacy, minister? Since then, poetry has appeared regularly throughout the school in displays of pupils’ creative writing; a Year 5 pupil gave me a personal performance of her ‘latest poem’; an increasing number of poetry book loans from our KS1 and KS2 libraries appear as ‘table top’ reads or go home in book bags.  And, in a post-SATs teacher swap, our Literacy Coordinator was treated to an impromptu rendition of Harmer’s ‘Mr Moore’ poem as their own Mr W retreated down the corridor.

As More Able, Gifted & Talented coordinator, I’ve another To Read pile:

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Whatever you’re reading this summer, may the power of words continue to delight/surprise/shock/educate/inspire/transport/transform.

One for left-handed readers.

For left-handed readers.

Heading into the light

Last Tuesday, I left school at 3.40 PM (oh, the decadence of it) and drove home (via the coffee shop) in glorious sunshine – seems an age since I last saw such glorious daylight. With the car window open a crack, I could almost smell the promise of spring.

I’ve witnessed some stunning skies at sunrise and sunset, and once or twice have stopped to snap them on my camera phone.  Sadly, they fail to show the full effect, so I’m not about to post them on here!

It’s still early enough in the week not to feel that the February half term is slipping by (no To Do list, this time; no day return rail ticket to St Pancras; just pottering/chillin’ with my hubby and the cats).

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Yesterday, drive-everywhere me walked to the village Co-Op.  Twice.

The garden, which hasn’t stopped growing through the mild winter, beckons.  I spent a happy hour with hand shears and secateurs: one of the few ways I can switch off mentally and just ‘do.’ The snowdrops are out, the daffs fit to bust.  A gang of noisy sparrows gave me momentary hope that they’d occupy the nest box on our garage wall (never used in the fifteen plus years it’s been up there).

And there’s music.  Radio 6 Music to smooth the ironing.  David Bowie’s Black Star album on CD: a true artist.  And Adele’s 25.  I like her: she fits no mold, defies pigeon-holing.  And I’ve rejoined a local orchestra after a break of two-and-a-half years.  It’s as if I’ve never been away.  I’d forgotten how much I enjoy playing orchestral second violin.  And gigs with the ceilidh band are booking up.  Last Saturday was a blast: Little People UK’s 4th birthday bash:

imageAnd the writing, you ask?  My WIP folder is bulging with writing that hasn’t yet been typed up (mainly because I think it’s not heading towards a workable poem):

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I’ve a bagful of notebooks begging to be plundered, in my Writing To Go bag:

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All a drop in the ocean compared to the subfolders of subfolders of in progress/unfinished/dubious poems that lurk in the bowels of my laptop, defying a final draft (as if there is ever such a thing).

I’m also behind on a couple of MOOCs: Robert Burns (University of Glasgow) and Literature and Mental Health (Warwick University).  Procrastination has many forms.

When I’ve posted this, I’m heading to the kitchen to get some lunch, do a spot of cooking with my hubby, look out the window.

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Whatever you’re doing today, I hope you’re enjoying the sunshine.

 

 

2016: the year in which…

I’m bucking the trend for year-end reflection, here.  Reader, this ain’t no retrospective.

I’m feeling purposeful:

  • I’ve dealt with the ironing pile (small, but, oh, how I hate those cotton shirts that cling to their wrinkles…)
  • I’m resisting the urge for a wardrobe purge (far too depressing)
  • I’m feeling smug in the way that teetotallers/designated drivers can, on New Year’s Day🙂
  • I’m planning on this being a speedier-than-normal blog write, as I’ve not had any lunch yet
  • I might even clean another kitchen cupboard (not the one with out-dated baking products, and packets of bread sauce mix I couldn’t find on Christmas Day 2014 – that box has been ticked already)

I’m not about to make any New Year resolutions, either.  Instead, I’m hoping (or wishing – or both) that 2016 will be the year in which:

  • my hubby gets better from the injuries resulting from an RTA two years ago – or receives treatment/surgery/alternative therapy to alleviate symptoms/pain and improve his mobility – or at least is able to better control his pain level with drugs. This wish comes a post script: that we get out and about more, together.
  • the world I am leaving for my grandchildren will become a safer, more harmonious and caring place where people put aside their petty differences (and that includes inter-party and party-specific political argy-bargy – on which I have maintained a steadfast silence on social media – I want no part of it), misguided beliefs and greed for power and material wealth
  • I shake off the self-doubt that means I waste so much of my available time for writing, resorting more and more to the fail-safes of reading and social media
  • I look even harder for the chinks of light and let the passage of time take care of the dark days

I’m longing for my too-late-to-call-it-lunch, now!

I wish you all health, peace and happiness for 2016 – whatever that means for you, however you set about achieving this for yourself and your loved ones, and whoever you choose to spend the wealth of these intangibles with.

I’ll leave you with some lines of Emily Dickinson:

“Hope” is thing with feathers
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all-

You can read the whole poem (314) here.

 

 

 

Against the dying of the light

This post is not about poetry (apart from plundering a few words from Dylan Thomas’s most famous poem for a title).  It’s my response to winter’s shortening days and low light.

Lately, I’ve craved colour as a substitute for the lack of light.  A couple of weekends ago (feeling rather sorry for myself for being too poorly to go on a planned weekend away with my husband) I walked around the garden for a breath of fresh air:

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This is not about poetry.  It’s pure self-indulgence on the shortest day of the year (and feeling under-the-weather for the third week in a row).

I’ve treated myself to a DVD of this documentary film:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/Fo8jwJ_2l0c” target=”_blank”>http://

Iris Apfel’s colour and style, at 93, is as enviable as her energy and joi de vivre (to say nothing of her CV).

I’ve recently discovered Anna Parkes’ blog, My Island Style.  A 57-year-old (like me) with a love of charity shops and bargain-hunting (me, too), she wears colour fearlessly (yup – in my dreams!).

I’ve followed Textile Treasury from the start.  I met Lynne several years ago in the fiddle class at an annual folk music summer school.  Between summer schools, we keep in touch via social media.  She’s also a talented crafter (Me? I barely know the eye from the point of a needle) and her blog is a horn of plenty for colour-cravers.

Not a poetry post, it’s likely that most readers have not got this far!  So here’s a link that includes some poetry:

I discovered CALM THINGS via Antony Wilson’s blog.  Canadian writer Shawna Lemay’s Monday blog is a calm and contemplative e-space on the least calm day of my working week.  I like the mix of commentary, poetry and photography – yes, there are lots of photographs capturing light and colour, as the eye behind the lens has sought them out, even at a time of year when one has to look harder.  A kind of meditation, I guess.

Yesterday necessitated a trip to Asda for new Christmas tree lights.  Unlike the loop ones I’ve cursed over for years, these went on like a dream:

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I wish you all peace, love and happiness over the festive season.