Polesworth Poetry Trail

What a day! David Calcutt’s excellent Dig the Poetry workshop, a guided tour of the dig by head archaeologist Tim Upson-Smith, then, to top it all off, another guided tour:

Not being good with maps and such [read sniggers from family and friends] I asked Mal Dewhirst to point me in the direction of a likely starting point from which to explore the Poetry Trail. Offering to walk with me for the first part, the man behind the project ended up conducting my very own guided tour, complete with the stories behind the project and readings of the poems in situ, such is Mal’s passion for his brainchild (click here for the rationale that helps put a village with such a rich heritage back on the poetry map).  I’m sure of two things: that Mal certaily is a man who ‘gets things done’ (see here) and that he underplays the incredible amount of hard work and tenacity this must have taken.

Do check out the website, click here, check out images here, google.

I’ll finish with a slide show of Penny Harper’s poem, Osanna:

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Dig the Poetry: Spirit of Voice

Yesterday, I returned to Polesworth Abbey for David Calcutt’s excellent Dig the Poetry workshop.  Twelve of us gathered in the refectory of the Elizabethan manor house where John Donne wrote Good Friday, 1613.  Riding Westward.

Elizabethan manor house, Polesworth Abbey

Polesworth Abbey’s Norman tower

David bade us listen to voices from the past and find a voice for our observations.  We were taken on a brief tour of abbey, garden and grounds (including the archaeological dig).  Then, a flash write: six ‘gut reaction’ words on anything that struck us.  (On entering the abbey: That smell – antiquity, history’s bones, beeswax).

Next, using five given lines from the pens of Donne, Drayton, Jonson and the unknown author of The Cloud of Unknowing, write a line in response to each and begin to shape them as a ten-line poem.

From a selection of dig finds, we each selected a talisman for our silent writing, over lunchtime, in a solitary site.  The task: to explore and interrogate our physical and emotional response to the artefact; to listen and give it a voice (as distinct from imposing our own). Our tutor described the contemplative state as ‘stilling the conversation in our head and allowing the silence to speak’ (the Benedictine way).

My talisman: a shard of Nuneaton Green Glazed ware, the type used by the abbey’s Benedictine nuns in the frater (refectory).

I ate lunch in the Sensory Garden against the Norman nave wall, attempting to quell my usual ‘head noise’ and listening to snatches of A Whiter Shade of Pale and The Wind Beneath my Wings between hymns (all from the funeral service taking place inside).  Inside the abbey, I spent time observing an effigy of Osanna, much-loved abbess of Polesworth, 1100-1135.  I stroked a stone face worn featureless by centuries of devout pilgrims…

The Fizz

Tuesday 24th July: our first visit to The Fizz at Polesworth Abbey.  

Hosted by Mal Dewhirst, this bi-monthly poetry and spoken word event takes place in the abbey’s refectory, readers standing in front of the fireplace where Drayton, Donne, Jonson (and possibly the Great Bard) once warmed themselves.

Terri Jolland, one of the Polesworth Poetry Trail poets, was the evening’s guest performer.  Her prose and poetry reflect her sense of humour, zest for life, love of family, and her various interests.  Poems included:  The Dressmaker, a tribute to her mother whom she now envisages ‘sewing wings on angels’ and ‘riding the clouds’ on her Harley Davidson; a poem of firsts for her firstborn son, written in rhyming couplets; Margaret, for her daughter, employing jewel imagery to describe a precious newborn; Ladies of the Wood, her Polesworth Trail poem.  Terri also writes collaboratively with her husband, Ray; they read a sketch as Will Shakespeare and his wife, interweaving their own words with Bard-penned quotes for comic effect.

Amongst the open mics:

– Margaret Tor’s telling of an ancient tale from the tundra had a spellbinding effect upon her audience.

– Gary Carr’s Clay Mills Pumping Station, which I admired at last Friday’s Spoken Worlds (and, I now know, is written in trochiac tetrameter).

– Barry Patterson read three summer poems of light, reflection and barefoot days; punchy rhythm.

– Gemma Hogg delivered a confident reading of four poems, hot on the heels of her open mic debut at this month’s Poetry Alight. Legoland describes a certain housing estate where ‘technology sucks life out of the robots who reside there.’

– Dee Costello read three poems on the theme of leave-taking as a prelude to Remembering You with its lingering sweetness of friendship after parting.

Yours truly, reading in front of the auspicious fireplace

Next The Fizz date: Sat 8th Sept

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to returning to Polesworth on Friday for David Calcutt’s Dig the Poetry workshop and to explore the Poetry Trail (watch this space).

Spoken Worlds

Friday 20th July saw our first visit to this monthly spoken word open mic event, ably hosted by Gary Carr in the upstairs room of The Old Cottage Tavern, Burton-on-Trent.

The formula: an evening in three halves (Gary’s words); relaxed, congenial atmosphere; diversity of spoken word styles; live music; quality sound system; breaks for chat and drinks from the bar.

Being able to sign up for three slots gives performers the opportunity to showcase a range of styles/themes/moods at the open mic.  Added to the mix were penned songs with guitar accompaniment, fiddle and melodeon tunes. ( I love how each event has its own character and recipe for success).

Yours truly at the open mic.

Some of the highlights from my notebook:

Terri Jolland’s Paint it Black: a piece about her son’s penchant for the colour (title taken from the Rolling Stones’ song).

Margaret Tor’s Magnificat, in praise of a friend’s forgiveness (after ‘pouring her heart into an envelope’).

Tom Wyre’s Autumn’s Funeral under a ‘tangerine and satsuma-sprayed sky.’

Gary Carr’s Clay Mills Pumping Station, a hymn to Staffordshire: superbly crafted.

There were moments of hilarity, too, including Rob Stevens’ sung rant about cyclists in the Peak District, in danger of ‘finding his carbon footprint on their seats.’

Cherries on the cake of my evening were two poems by Chesterfield poet, Tony Keeton:

– ink still wet, The Rules: of games children play, learning the ways of the adult world,  revolutions, history revolving: sparsity of language used to striking effect.

Donner Und Blitzen: hilarious kebab poem by a veggie: read it here.

For a detailed account of the evening, read Gary Longden’s excellent review here.

Next Spoken Worlds night: Friday 24th August

PS: Terri Jolland is guesting at The Fizz, next Tuesday at Polesworth Abbey.

16th July: Leicester Shindig

Another brilliant night of poetry at The Western pub – indeed, one of the best Leicester Shindigs to date, according to numerous Facebook and Twitter comments from attendees.

Those visiting from the West Midlands were treated to a second helping of Maria Taylor‘s poems from her newly-launched debut collection, Melanchrini (Nine Arches Press) after her guest appearance at last Tuesday’s Poetry Alight in Lichfield.  I’m currently re-visiting my favourites after a hungry first read, cover-to-cover (as I’m wont to do).

Kim Moore‘s pamphlet, If We Could Speak Like Wolves (Smiths/Doorstop) is the latest addition to my Poetry Library To Go that masquerades as a handbag.  Her closing guest slot was one of the high notes of the evening.

I enjoyed Robin Vaughan-Williams‘ reading with a difference: pairings of poems – about the wind, and pilots and doctors; ending with three poems from his Happenstance pamphlet, The Manager, read as a continuous piece – each one beginning with  ‘The manager sits behind blue curtains,’ – same line, taken in different directions.  The silences between phrases/line breaks – a delivery not unlike that of Mark Goodwin, to which I find myself listening intently.

Alan Baker‘s latest collection is Variations on Painting a Room (Skysill Press).  He read the lyrical Chilwell; then from The Book of Random Access, a collage of prose poems with quotations and found text; Today in the Snow, a poem borne out of working life on the road.

Open mic poems included Richard Byrt’s My Backyard Bannockburn (crafted sounds), Jonathan Taylor’s Our Price 1995  and Exchange (I do so enjoy his brand of humour), Tom Wyre’s The Lucid Door and Cellophane Man (measured rhythm, rhyme), Gary Longden’s The DJ (a tribute to the names behind the ’70s music I loved…oh, sweet nostalgia), Gary Carr’s Love Letter (written for his daughter), John Kitchen’s The Takeover (alliterative, and one of several weather-related poems of the evening).

For a different take on the night, here’s a link to Gary Longden’s eloquent and comprehensive blog review.

Next Leicester Shindig: Monday 17th Sept

Lichfield Festival

My second trip to Lichfield, this time to the cathedral’s Lady Chapel for back-to-back readings by two of my favourite poets:

Jo Shapcott opened with her series of Bee Poems inspired by spending time with a beekeeper.  Her introduction to readings from her award-winning Of Mutability explained the choice of green for its Faber and Faber cover: the collection’s focus is on the green shoots (at least as much as the grim aspect) of change.  Water versus solid matter matter, ideas about inner and outer body, imagined and real death are themes explored.  And I now know the origin of her Piss Flowers, the collection’s closing poem.  Shapcott’s quiet, unassuming demeanour drew her audience into this uncertain world.

Time for tea and scones (topped with jam, cream and strawberries – yum), free to ticket holders, over at The Chapter House cafe.  Good to chat with some of the Lichfield Poets before we returned to the Lady Chapel for the morning’s second reading:

Jackie Kay: what a character!  Every bit as colourful as her gorgeous coat, she certainly knows how to hold court (with some comments fit to make the resident saints and angels blush).  She read by turns from her poetry collection Fiere, her memoir Red Dust Road and her short story collection Reality, Reality.  Her use of the Scots vernacular serves to bring her poetry and short story characters to life.  Fiere is the poetry companion to her moving account of the poet’s search for her birth parents.  She read an extract describing her first meeting with her Nigerian birth father, and later, tellingly, the poem, Burying My African Father.

Before leaving, I took in Stephen Raw’s colourful banner, commissioned to commemorate last year’s 30th Lichfield Festival: a working of Carol Ann Duffy’s similarly-commissioned poem, A Lichfield History.

Lichfield: Alight with Poetry

The first of two visits to Lichfield this week:

Poetry Alight

On Tuesday, The Spark Cafe was once again packed out for an evening of poetry, hosted by the Lichfield Poets and ably compered by Gary Longden.  The chicken and roast veg couscous went down a treat with the help of a pot of Earl Grey or two – just the ticket at the end of a working day followed by an hours’ drive.  The formula: same as Shindig – ten or so open mics plus two guest poets in each half.

Hotfoot from their weekend at the Ledbury Poetry Festival, Crystal Clear Creators’ Jonathan and Maria Taylor guested to close the first half.  Jonathan amused and entertained with a poem and a short story on a musical theme.  Maria read poems from her new collection, Melanchrini (Nine Arches Press).  Needless to say, said publication is currently gracing my handbag cum poetry swag bag.  Jane Seabourne and Nick Pearson of Offa’s Press opened the second half.  Two contrasting voices: Jane’s beautifully-crafted behind-the-facade imaginings and Nick’s sharp and humorous take on the world of work.

My reading at the open mic.

Once again, a high standard of open mic poetry.  And good to catch up with Janet Smith, my fellow poet on the O Bheal Twin Cities Poetry Exchange in August.

Next Poetry Alight: Tuesday 2nd October