The T S Eliot Prize Readings and other news

Last Sunday saw me high-stepping it to London for the T S Eliot prize readings.  A week has passed; there’s been much social media discussion of the short-listed poets, their readings, their respective collections, and, not least, last Monday’s announcement of the winner.  Robin Houghton slightly pipped me at the post with her own account (see here).  And, sticking to my newly-acquired habit of weekly blogging, what follows is my own retrospective, albeit a tad ‘late’.

As a first-timer, my expectations were based on poet friends’ experiences as regular attendees.  I wasn’t disappointed.

I’d booked for Malika Booker’s preview event as, having read only two of the short-listed collections, I decided an overview of all ten would be useful and enhance my enjoyment of the evening to come.  I arrived slightly breathless after a very brisk walk along the South Bank from Tower Bridge tube station (this provincial having stopped for lunch along the way and under-estimating the remaining walking distance/time).   I found the ongoing reprographics issue (too few copies of  poems for discussion, handed round singly before each of ten readings) rather irksome (proof that you can’t take the teacher out of the poet!).  That said, I did appreciate Booker’s overviews, insights into recurring themes in each collection and more.  She had much to unpack/unpick in the two hours allotted, and she did it well.

Afterwards, I headed for Foyles to purchase a copy of James Sheard’s The Abandoned Settlements (I’ve reduced my poetry TBR by half, lately, so I felt entitled…) as I’d particularly enjoyed his readings amongst the T S Eliot shortlist recordings.

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Then there was tea and cake (those that know me know…), and much poetry talk as I was joined by fellow Soundswriters and others before it was time to find our seats.

With the Royal Festival Hall lighting, temperature control and seats just right, nothing detracted from the proceedings, from Bill Herbert’s opening with Eliot’s ‘Difficulties of a Statesman’ through Ian McMillan’s informed yet informal introductions steering the auspicious programme of ten poets, ten readings.  For once, I wasn’t longing for the interval – and it took me by surprise when it came.

My Top Five high points (in running order):

James Sheard was an engaging reader; his measured pace allowed his lyrical poems breathing space.  I looked forward even more to cracking open my latest poetry purchase on the return train journey.

Tara Bergin oozed confidence and composure.  ‘Making Robert Learn Like Susan’, a deliciously tongue-in-cheek poke at pedagogy, made me smile.

Jacqueline Saphra’s feisty but polished delivery and considered choice of poems from a collection I loved on first reading (am biased, having enjoyed everything she’s published to date). And Ian McMillan’s praise for the small poetry press did not go unnoticed. What an accolade, for Saphra, her editor Jane Commane, and Nine Arches Press, when the poetry-publishing big guns so frequently hog the limelight when it comes to the ‘top’ awards.  (Jacqueline adds her own praise, here).

Ocean Vuong’s wisdom and humility belie his age.  For the duration of his allotted eight minutes the audience held their coughs (mostly); the hush before applause for ‘Aubade With Burning City‘ was almost tangible.  He is a worthy winner.  I wasn’t at all surprised by Monday’s announcement, despite the stiff competition.  (And, yes, Night Sky with Exit Wounds should be popping through my letterbox any day now).

Caroline Bird was in her comfort zone, I thought, moving swiftly on from an early hiccup in an otherwise consummate performance, finishing with  ‘A Toddler Creates Thunder by Dancing on a Manhole’ to an enthusiastic response from her punters.

You can listen to recordings of all ten T S Eliot Prize 2017 readings here.

 

In other news, my poem, ‘Towards a Safe Return,’ was shortlisted in the WoLF (Wolverhampton Literature Festival) poetry competition.  I’m pleased, especially as this means said poem now has ‘published’ status, being included in the competition anthology of winning and short-listed poems.  I’m looking forward to receiving and reading my contributors’ copy (Another poetry parcel?  Yes, please!).  You can read Rachel Plummer’s winning poem and the full results here.

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Surprises by post this week

What’s the only kind of postal delivery better than a poetry package?  A surprise poetry package, of course!  And this week I’ve been thrilled to receive not one but two of these.

The first to arrive:

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I haven’t been a subscriber to The North for a few years, so I’m hoping that recent issues have been gifted (and, if so, I’d like to say a big thank you to whoever’s been so kind as to do so) as opposed to sent in error…

Then this little beauty arrived from Nine Arches Press:

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I’ve coveted this collaborative guide to twenty-first century poetting by Jo Bell and Jane Commane, but I hadn’t gotten around to ordering it (I know I hadn’t – I checked back through my online book purchases); it was dispatched from NAP to my old address and arrived by mail redirection a couple of days ago.  So, again, I owe a huge thank you to a very generous someone…

 

This blog post comes to you a day earlier than planned as I’m off to the great metropolis tomorrow for the T S Eliot Prize Readings event at Royal Festival Hall, ahead of Monday’s announcement of this year’s winner.  I’ve also booked for Malika Booker’s preview event in the afternoon.  This will be my first time attending what must be one of the highlights in the poetry annual calendar. It’s also one to tick off the top of my Retirement wish list.  I’m quite excited!  And I know there’ll be lots of familiar faces in the audience, too.

A poet friend emailed me the link to a YouTube playlist of this year’s shortlisters, so I’m currently working my way through all forty video clips of the ten poets talking about their work and reading poems from their respective award-nominated collections.

New Year, New Reading, News

The Christmas decorations have been re-packed into their boxes; all that remains of the festive goodies is the remains of a tub of Celebrations; life is returning to (what passes for) normal.

In the post-Christmas decompression chamber that is January, I look forward to those ‘happy pills’ that pop into my inbox in the form of poetry e-newsletters and notifications with links to new reading.  This week’s include:

  • The POETRY magazine newsletter’s selection of poetry, prose and audio from the January issue.  I was enjoyed ‘The Hermits,’ a poem by Karen Solie.  Since first ‘discovering’ her work a few years ago, this Canadian poet has become a firm favourite of mine.
  • The Academy of American Poets (Poets.org) newsletter: a selection of poems for the New Year, by Kim Addonizio, Naomi Shihab Nye and others.
  • The SlowPo version of my favourite MOOC (ModPo) beginning the year with a series of mini courses, discussing individual poems by Bernadette Mayer and John Ashbery, with others to follow.
  • This morning’s weekly Brain Pickings, by the indefatigable Maria Popova, which I vow I’ll explore, rather than allowing it to sit in my inbox, opened but largely unread.
  • Josephine Corcoran’s latest blog post includes a heads-up to a growing list of poet bloggers who aim to blog weekly during 2018.  I look forward to discovering new favourites.

This morning, I received some good news about one of the poems I entered for a competition.  I can’t say any more about it, just yet.  Suffice to say, I’m chuffed!

I’ve been busy diminishing my poetry TBR pile, too.  After a couple of rather unsatisfying reads (we’re individuals, with our own particular tastes, right?), Peter Sansom’s The Last Place on Earth (Carcanet, 2006) restored my faith.  My current read, the  Forward Book of Poetry, 2018, is a gripping one.  I’ve already page-marked a few favourites, including Richard Georges’ ‘Oceans’ and Ocean Vuong’s ‘Notebook Fragments.’  Next up is Pascale Petit’s Mama Amazonica – I can’t wait!

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Happy New Year, and happy poetry reading! 🙂

 

2017 year-to-view

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On a personal level, 2017 will live long in my memory as the year in which:

  • I retired from Primary School teaching
  • We down-sized
  • My husband’s sudden illness and ongoing recovery put everything else into perspective

Consequently, my poetry year has comprised short periods of intense activity and extended periods when writing (and reading, too, at times) could not have been further from my mind.  And, at one point, I felt less like reading and writing poetry than I have ever felt.

Writing:

  • April was a good month: Carrie Etter’s NaPoWriMo Facebook group, the prompts and spirit of mutual encouragement saw me writing daily – at best an early poem draft, at worst a few lines in my notebook.  There’s a legacy in lines for future fodder, poems-in-progress and poems already submitted.
  • Published: a poem in Eyewear’s ‘Best British & Irish Poets’ 2017 anthology and a poem in issue 66 of The Interpreter’s House magazine.
  • Accepted: a poem for the DIVERSIFLY anthology (Fair Acre Press) to be published next month; two poems for issue 21 of Under the Radar magazine to be published next spring.
  • Rejections: numerous, which is a good thing in that, for a while, there was hope for those poems, and I then had the choice of whether to re-draft or re-submit them.
  • Submissions still ‘out there’: 5 poems entered for 3 competitions.
  • Ready for submission: 9 poems, being 7 re-submissions and 2 first submissions.

Reading:

3 stand-out poetry collections/pamphlets:

  • Some Couples by Jennifer Copley (HappenStance)
  • All My Mad Mothers by Jacqueline Saphra (Nine Arches Press)
  • This is Not a Rescue by Emily Blewitt (Seren)

3 poems for our times that I keep going back to:

Online reading: far too much to include, but notably:

  • blogs by other writers/poets (you know who you are, and thank you all for enriching my reading with new-to-me poets, poetry and blog sites).
  • Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: rich seams to mine (and a reminder to self that I’m waaay behind on these weekly posts).
  • Jen Campbell’s Youtube channel: she’s responsible for numerous purchases of prose and poetry this year, including her own books.

Events:

Some helped to keep me sane when ‘stuff’ was way too stressful; others were highlights.  Since I’ve opted to limit myself to three worthy of mention:

My sincere thanks go to:

  • Soundswrite poetry group and South Leics poetry stanza: for lively poetry discussion and insightful feedback on poem drafts.
  • Farhana Shaikh and fellow writers across the genres at monthly Writers’ Meet-ups in Leicester.
  • Matthew Vaughan and Leicester Central Library: for monthly Write On events showcasing the work of Leicester writers.
  • And, not least, to all of you who have taken the time to read, ‘like’, comment on and share my blog posts this year.

 

Wishing you all a happy New Year! 🙂

Seasonal Reading: a blog/site tour

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There’s a bumper crop of seasonal poems on blogs and sites I follow or have come across via recent e-newsletters and social media, lately.  Whether it’s Christmas, the winter solstice, snow or winter trees that float your boat, there’s bound to be at least one or two poems to interest or inspire you from this selection:

  • At the time of writing, Roy Marshall has published not one but four selections of Winter Poems.  Click here for the latest and you’ll then be able to click back to previous ones
  • Two poems by Jean Atkin on Abegail Morley’s Poetry Shed capture the white season beautifully
  • Robin Houghton’s choice of Poems for a Christmas Concert includes one of my favourites, Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Prayer’
  • Anthony Wilson’s New Nativity Monologue – An Angel also has a link to more Christmas Poems, being a contemporary ‘take’ on the nativity
  • Modern Poetry in Translation is a site well worth visiting at any time of year; there’s a flavour of what they have to offer via their Poetry Advent Calendar
  • The Poetry Foundation‘s site has collections of Winter Poems and Christmas Poems, each containing a mix of classic and contemporary poems
  • London Grip New Poetry‘s latest issue: winter 2017-18 may be seasonal in name only, but it’s a pick ‘n’ mix if you’re tired of all things – er, seasonal
  • Anthony Wilson’s ‘What You Read in 2017‘ is a Top Ten of Lifesaving Poems and posts plus some of AW’s personal favourites
  • If you’re hungry for more, Matthew Stewart’s annual ‘Best UK Poetry Blogs‘ roll of honour is a chocolate box for the browser (I’m not sure my infrequent efforts warrant a place here, but I’m chuffed nevertheless)

If you’ve come across other seasonal pickings worth checking out, do add them in the comments box below.

Happy seasonal reading 🙂

Jayne

Liz Berry at Rugby library

It’s been three years since the publication of Liz Berry’s Black Country collection.  I remember devouring it in one sitting (that was greedy of me; it’s a rich dish, the better for savouring).  It became my 2014 favourite, and remains high on my list of favourite poetry collections.

An infrequent Twitter visitor, I was pleased to spot a retweet for Saturday’s Warwickshire Poetry Voices event (thank you, @NineArchesPress) and promptly bagged a free e-ticket.  After a short drive across the Leicestershire-Warwickshire border, my sat nav obligingly located nearby parking and I had time to enjoy a coffee beforehand.

The programme began with readings of favourite published poems and own work by members of Rugby poetry group (fresh from a workshop with Liz Berry, the lucky creatures).  I particularly enjoyed hearing Maya Angelou’s empowering Phenomenal Woman and laughed aloud at Sophie Hannah’s If People Disapprove of You, both new to me, both striking a chord.

Liz Berry’s was a short reading in the time allotted, but a joy nevertheless.  She gave her audience full permission to stretch [your] legs and have a good wriggle (proving that you can’t take the Primary teacher out of the poet 🙂 ) before opening with ‘Bobowler’,  (a large moth) a poem commissioned by BBC local radio for National Poetry Day, celebrating the Black Country’s favourite dialect word.  Berry followed with ‘Homing’, her love poem to the Black Country accent with its consonants/ you could lick the coal from.  ‘Birmingham Roller celebrates this dull grey city bird, the tumbling pigeon, in a dialect poem rich with gems such as tranklement and jimmucking.  ‘Stone’ is a love poem for a rarer gem, the husband who gives a milk pan (and, more recently, we’re told, a glue gun) as a Christmas gift.  Before concluding her reading with’Christmas Eve,’ Berry explained that, in writing the poem, she wanted to do for the Black Country what Dylan Thomas achieved in Under Milk Wood.  And doesn’t she just!

Throughout, I barely glanced at my copy of Black Country.  It was clear from the outset that these are love poems to the local language this Dudley-born poet grew up hearing, borne out in Liz Berry’s responses to questions from the audience afterwards.

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Three poetry pamphlets

It’s always a joy to receive a surprise package in the post.

The most recent contained three poetry pamphlets, commissioned by the University of Leicester’s Centre for New Writing, and an accompanying letter from Dr Julian North at the School of Arts.

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I was pleased to discover that two of the pamphlets (containing, amongst others, my commissioned poem, ‘Slave Bird’) have recently been re-issued:

Friendship’s Scrapbook: a sequence of five poems by Deborah Tyler-Bennett and my own single poem, written in response to archive material comprising a range of anti-slavery pamphlets and hymns, letters and journals produced by Leicester abolitionists, Elizabeth Heyrick and Susanna Watts.

Women’s Writing in the Midlands, 1750-1850: poems arising from a series of Record Office workshops led by Deborah Tyler-Bennett, in response to the original material that inspired Friendship’s Scrapbook.

The newly-published Writing Lives Together is an anthology of poetry and prose written as part of The Centre for New Writing’s ‘Writing and Research Series’ in a series of workshops responding to nineteenth century archive material including journals, confessions, lyric poetry and autobiography by Dorothy and William Wordsworth, Coleridge, Dickens and others.

All three pamphlets were launched at Leicester Shindig on Monday 27th November. Contributors to the anthology (Richard Byrt, Jo Dixon, Aysar Ghassan, Anna Larner and Jonathan Taylor) read their poems, and I  read my ‘Slave Bird’ poem.   I particularly enjoyed the humour of Richard Byrt’s ‘To Asda,’ a sonnet after Coleridge’s ‘To Asra’ and Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale,’ and, by contrast, Anna Larner’s ‘On Reflection’ a sonnet after the same Coleridge poem.

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All three pamphlets are available for free by emailing newwriting@le.ac.uk or click here for further details.