Poetry Masterclass

Three factors made this afternoon a possibility:

  1. A subscribers’ monthly email newsletter
  2. My half day at work
  3. Paying for three hours’ parking (just in case…)

Thanks to Lydia Towsey’s monthly Word! newsletter, I found out about today’s free-and-open-to-all event at University of Leicester: a poetry masterclass with Seán Body, renowned poet and School of English Creative Writing Fellow.  This was the first event run by UL’s Centre for New Writing (details of the Centre’s forthcoming launch and further events at the end of this post).

Seán Body was born in Co Limerick and has lived his adult life in the Greater Manchester area. He joined Manchester Poets in 1988, establishing Tarantula as a Manchester Poets imprint. He is a founder member of Manchester Irish Writers, which produced several volumes of short stories and poetry, and is editor of the poetry magazine Brando’s Hat. His poetry has won prizes in competitions including, Ver Poets, Peterloo and Bridport, and a short story won the Irish Post Listowel Writers Competition. His many publications include: Seasons (2003); Lines of Dissent (2001); Witness (1995); At the end of the Rodden (as editor); Scríbhneoírí (1997); Poems from the Readaround (as editor). Lapwing are publishing his Collected Poems in 2 volumes, the first of which is out now.          (Biography credit: University of Leicester: News and Events)

Body opened by reading a new (and, as yet, untitled) poem of his own which demonstrated his “…awareness of the strength of restrained, clipped language.” (Sarah Tierney).  Before critiquing poems by three (very brave) English students, Body drew on a wealth of editorial and publishing experience to talk about what he looks for in a poem:

    • engaging from the start, an invitation from poet to reader
    • well-crafted in terms of rhythm and structure
    • a reverence for language: the weight of words; how words and spaces work together
    • fresh: the world through new eyes; what’s there, rather than what we are told to see
    • capturing the particular with accuracy and precision
    • attention to sound, and the pattern of sounds
    • words that chime with historical events: “hear it/unpack echoes…the myriad voices/vying for attention…grace notes lingering/in some abandoned room” from Workshop (Witness: Lapwing 2013)

And from his critical commentary:

    • be clear about what you are trying to say: why is it important?
    • images should be particular and arresting: a conscious camera click rather than an open shutter recording anything and nothing
    • make the poem do what you want it to do in the best possible way: ordinary language used well, rather than academically influenced

Afterwards, an opportunity to chat over a cuppa in the cafe with the students, Drs Harry Whitehead and Corinne Fowler, and Seán Body (thank you, Dr Fowler)

As if that wasn’t enough to make my afternoon, a question and answer session with the focus on editorship, sadly taking my leave before my parking time was up (and again, thank you).

I’m looking forward to reading my signed copy of Witness, a revised and extended edition from Lapwing.  Also to attending at least one of the forthcoming events:

John Siddique: Tues 30th April 6.30 – 7.30 pm in Ogden Lewis Suites, Field Johnson Building

SuAndi: Wed 15th May 4 – 5 pm in David Wilson Library, 1st floor Seminar Room

Launch of the Centre for New Writing: May tbc, with Meera Syal in conversation with Graham Rawle, Alison Moore and graham Mort

Further details from Dr Harry Whitehead: email at hdw5@le.ac.uk

Sea poems

In a week’s time, I’ll be escaping to the north-west coast for a much-needed break in the shape of a two-day residential poetry course on a sea theme, run by Kim Moore and Jennifer Copley.  And there’s scenery, writing and reading time to look forward to, on the train journey, too.  I can hardly wait!

Sea poems have been seeking me out for a while now, beginning with a piece of free writing that came out of nowhere on a flight to Barcelona last October.  Perhaps it had something to do with being away from land-locked Leicestershire, or the prospect of a week’s cruise, or flying over the sea – I’ll never know.  Anyway, I’m looking forward to developing these works in progress and to writing new poems sparked by the series of intriguing workshops that Kim and Jennifer have planned for us.

On the reading front, I’ve been revisiting old favourites and reading other sea poems for the first time.

This W H Auden poem I’ve loved since my A Level days:


Look, stranger, on this island now
The leaping light for your delight discovers,
Stand stable here
And silent be,
That through the channels of the ear
May wander like a river
The swaying sound of the sea.

Here at a small field’s ending pause
Where the chalk wall falls to the foam and its tall ledges
Oppose the pluck
And knock of the tide,
And the shingle scrambles after the suck-
-ing surf, and a gull lodges
A moment on its sheer side.

Far off like floating seeds the ships
Diverge on urgent voluntary errands,
And this full view
Indeed may enter
And move in memory as now these clouds do,
That pass the harbour mirror
And all the summer through the water saunter.

Listen to Auden’s reading here (such mastery of sounds).

Richie McAffery’s Flotsam is a wonderful piece of poetry-show-not-tell I loved at first reading on The Poetry Kit’s feature poet series Caught in the Net.

Then I happened upon a beautiful collaboration of art and poetry, Estuary, which I discovered on Michelle McGrane’s Peony Moon.  (Click here for a link to her blog post, or here to preview pages from the book).

John C Nash’s hauntingly beautiful Last Post: Holkham Beach, with accompanying photograph by Samantha Webster, appears on Helen Ivory’s poetry and prose webzine, Ink, Sweat & Tears. (Read it here).

And I could go on, but this blog post may already be over-long.  If you have any suggestions for my further reading, do write titles, links, etc in the comments box below.

Looking forward to hearing from you.