Public libraries

I came across this book at my village library, last week:

20180625_122141.jpg

I’d just returned How To Be Both, discovered this on the shelf and promptly took it out on loan (cue a new author crush). The short stories in this collection concern themselves with our relationships with books and their effect upon us. Between each story are anecdotes – from writers, friends and people on the street – or, rather, affirmations of the real value of public libraries at a time when this free and openly-available public resource is under threat as never before.

The testimonials in this book set me thinking about my own relationship with public libraries. I’ve been a bookworm for as long as I can remember. As a young child, I spent many a night reading by torchlight under the bed covers. Aged 8, I’d cycle to the nearest branch library just over half a mile away and spend my Saturdays getting lost in the worlds of books. During school holidays, I’d sometimes take a book into the blissful silence of the reference room and copy out whole passages, for the love of words. O’ and A’ level English Lit followed by a B. Ed degree (English Lit and History) meant I did fall out of love with reading for a while (all those holidays spent chewing my way through set books for the following term’s syllabus). Then we emigrated to South Africa and, when the new life we’d craved seemed largely unfamiliar and daunting, the town’s public library became my sanctuary.

I don’t remember when I went from borrowing books to buying books. Perhaps it began with the appearance of cheap paperbacks on supermarket shelves. Or when library stocks no longer satisfied my growing appetite for poetry. But I do know that, for years now, my buying habit has out-stripped both my reading speed (I’m a slow reader as I sub-vocalise everything) and available time for reading. Concerted efforts to quit have been short-lived. My habit is fed by my poetry social life, social media links to reviews, publishers/small presses, book vloggers, etc. My collection of poetry books remains relatively intact despite a massive cull of ‘stuff’ when we down-sized last year. The reading of poetry is a vital part of my writing process and my ongoing education. Much of what I read is published by small presses and unavailable on library loan. But I do wonder if my buying habit is, in part, consumerism by another name.

Of course, public libraries offer so much more than books. Our village library is a real community hub (and it’s one of many public libraries in the county that are now community-run and will soon be entirely self-funded). Most Thursday afternoons, I go there to knit and natter, drink tea and scoff cake (oh, the joys of retirement). I’ve very recently completed my training and induction as a library volunteer and I’ve learnt there’s so much more to do than stamping books for loan and shelving returns. Library loans are once more part of my TBR pile. Only the other day I came away with this 5-CD box set from the audio bookshelf. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a certain recent second-hand book purchase:

20180627_125829.jpg

Oh – and I’m also listening to BBC’s Book at Bedtime abridged version of Salley Vickers’ The Librarian, set in 1958: my birth year! It’s available on iPlayer Radio for the next month or so, here.

I’d love to read your public library testimonials via the comments box below.

Advertisements

Happy 10th birthday, Nine Arches Press!

I had such a lovely day, yesterday.  In the normal run of events I’m not a huge fan of birthday parties but this particular birthday bash was one I couldn’t resist.

The venue: The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
The vibe: relaxed, fun, informal
The flow: smooth, seamless
The pace: plenty of time for refreshments and mingling in poetry company

20180624_100946.jpg

It was good to catch up with poetry folk I haven’t seen for some time and interesting to meet and talk to others for the first time.  How lovely it was to meet face-to-face those I’ve only ‘met’ in the virtual world, not least among them Josephine Corcoran who also signed my copy of her collection, hot off the Nine Arches Press.

Of the two concurrent opening workshops, I opted for The Big Read-in with Jacqueline Saphra and Roz Goddard.  (as you may know, I’m a huge fan).  In conversation with Roz, Jacqueline provided some insights into, and read, several poems from All My Mad Mothers, an ‘unreliable memoir’ (her words).  We were then invited to discuss the collection in groups (with a few suggested questions provided by Roz) before a Q & A conversation between readers and the poet.  It was good, too, to hear comments (and praise) from one or two reading group attendees who said they wouldn’t normally choose to read poetry.  Roz wrapped things up by inviting the circle to share their favourite lines from the collection.  Poetry needs readers and I thought this read-in was such a refreshing approach.

20180624_101031.jpg

Josephine Corcoran launched her collection, What Are You After, to a packed room, with special guest readings by Rishi Dastidar, Jackie Wills and Susannah Evans.  I found Susannah’s apocalyptic poems really engaging (and funny, too; I love poems that make me laugh aloud) and I’ll be watching out for her forthcoming Nine Arches collection.  Rishi and Susannah also paid tribute to Josephine’s online treasure trove that is And Other Poems by reading one of their poems published on the site.

I had my copy of What Are You After to hand for Josephine’s launch reading but found myself so drawn by the voice of the poet and the poems themselves that her book stayed on my lap (instead, it was my travel companion for the return train journey). Her poems have their feet planted firmly in everyday language; they are frank, funny, human, poignant.  Afterwards, we were able to watch ‘Poem in which we hear the word ‘drone” as a film poem by Chaucer Cameron and Helen Dewbery of Elephant’s Footprint along with other poems from recent Nine Arches collections.

The party continued with buffet food, drinks, birthday cake and candles (yes, we did sing ‘Happy Birthday’)

20180623_182959.jpg

before we re-assembled in the Jazz Club

20180623_184630.jpg

for a party mixtape of favourite Nine Arches poems read by the various poets from ‘the family’ (Rishi’s words).  It was a chance to hear poems I’ve enjoyed reading from my growing collection of Nine Arches Press collections.

20180623_185050.jpg

Jane Commane thanked all those who have contributed to the growing success of NAP over the past ten years.  Rishi, as co-compere for this part of the proceedings, paid tribute to Jane’s vision, innovation and hard work.  In my opinion, she rightly deserves the standing ovation that followed.

 

 

 

 

 

Fathers and the poems they inspire

Today, my social media newsfeeds are a joy to behold: Father’s Day messages of love and gratitude, photographs of fathers (the late and the living) and the memories they evoke.  Our son, father of our five grandchildren, is enjoying a day of indulgence: handmade cards incorporating chocolate bars and a family day out at a car show.  My husband returns this afternoon from a weekend away with friends.

Some poet bloggers have posted poems, photographs and memories of their fathers that, in turn, evoked memories of my own father (I don’t refer to him as my ‘late’ father; he remains present in memories and in the poems he has inspired).  Angela Topping’s post includes a poem, ‘Dad’s Tea,’ which reminded me so much of my paternal grandmother’s very strong brew which inspired my poem, ‘Ritual’ (coincidentally, you can read it here, on Angela Topping’s Hygge poem series).

John Foggin pays tribute to a multi-talented, hardworking father with three poems. His post struck a chord:

My father won the Art Prize in his final year at Secondary Modern school, aged 14.  He wanted to go to art college but obeyed his father’s instruction to get a proper job: a nine-year apprenticeship as a coach painter, three years in the RAF regiment as a signaller, and an ever after of hard graft with overtime, latterly spraying cars for a local car dealership. Early retirement with a heart condition afforded him time to indulge a long-denied passion for painting and sketching, and a dawning realisation of repressed left-handedness (his legacy to me, perhaps).  He died too young, aged 63.  Only this morning (thanks to the internet’s wonder web) I discovered this photograph of my father, aged 14, with his prize-winning stallion painting:

dad's painting

Photo credit: The Garton Archive, Christ’s Hospital school, Lincoln

You can read three poems inspired by my father on Sharon Larkin’s Good Dadhood poem series.  Incidentally, all four of the above-mentioned poems by yours truly are also published in my 2014 pamphlet, Beyond the Tune (Soundswrite Press, 2014).

In other news:

I’ve had a poem acceptance for the Humanagerie anthology, to be published by Eibonvale Press in October.  I was particularly pleased to read poetry editor Sarah Doyle’s email comments in response to my submitted poem; an acceptance with a personal touch.

The accepted poem, Rough Music, was written out of Jen Campbell’s online workshop, Poetry and Fairy Tale, which I blogged about here.  I’m currently doing another of Jen’s excellent workshops, The Response Poem, which I’ll blog about in due course.  When I click Publish on this post, I’ll be settling down to work on Jen’s assigned tasks.

 

On displacement

One of the prospects I most looked forward to, on retiring from teaching, was having more time for writing.  During my years of envy, I lost count of the number of times retirees would gleefully tell me they had less free time than ever and how did they ever manage to fit in a work life.  I was warned.

I’ve always liked a deadline (well, maybe not all those May half terms spent report-writing…). For this reason, I enjoy writing commissions.  If I have all the time in the world in which to write, it takes me that long to get around to doing any.  Over the years I wished away my life in half term blocks, I did most of my writing in what Anthony Wilson calls the cracks.  My cracks tended to be late at night/in the early hours.  Almost a year into retirement, its scary how a day whizzes by, and how days morph into weeks.  If time had a shirt tail, there’s not a chance I’d manage to hold onto it for long!

Life’s full of Doing and Not Doing (the latter, when I’m having a break from doing too much).  Then there are the Goings. Over the past eleven months, many Goings have been health-related: the Necessaries.  Thankfully, the Goings will very soon be much more pleasure-focused.  I’m really looking forward to more of the Pleasures (including a couple of up-coming poetry plans I mentioned in last week’s post).

As an ill-disciplined writer, I have made efforts to grow good habits. In April, NaPoWriMo saw me writing something daily.  I’ve also kept to my promise of writing weekly posts for my teeny, tiny blogsite. And I’m enjoying doing so, even if my poetry head sometimes tells me it’s displacement when there are notebook scribblings waiting to be crafted into poems.

Displacement activities: my Top 5 current favourites (in no particular order):

  • Watching Youtube channels (on books, poetry, the minimalist lifestyle, sustainable fashion)
  • Reading (Yes, it’s vital for a writer to read, but there comes a point…)
  • Getting lost in a social media labyrinth of amusing video clips/cute cats/interesting articles that might spark a po/other folks’ Goings and Doings/Must Buys (books)…
  • drinking coffee; drinking tea; browsing supermarket shelves for a new favourite/limited edition beverage; discovering a newly-opened coffee/tea shop
  • Gardening: anything from hard labour to pottering (a patio weed hand tool is my latest toy)

What are yours?

In other news:

I’ve had a poem acceptance, on the theme of Staying, for issue 16 of The Lampeter Review.

20180610_123151.jpg

 

Poetry plans

Life as I’d like it to be is on the horizon, at last.  By way of a celebration, I’ve booked some poetry jollydays:

Ten Years of Nine Arches Press: a Celebration
At just over £20 for my all-day ticket and return rail travel to Birmingham, it’s a snip (and I shan’t feel quite so guilty if I splurge on books, will I?).  I’m particularly looking forward to Josephine Corcoran‘s launch reading from What Are You After? and to meeting her in the real world, at last.  I’m hoping my pre-ordered copy will arrive in the post before 23rd June, so I can get it signed.

Ledbury Poetry Festival has been on my Wish List since I began growing it, last year. I’ve plumped for an overnight stay on 5th July, thus splitting the ‘leisurely’ return journey along the A46 and enjoying a night’s B & B in a lovely country cottage I’m delighted to have discovered on Airbnb.  Here’s my chosen itinerary:

20180603_135416.jpg

Closer to home, I’m pleased to be part of the editorial team for an exciting new publication from Soundswrite Press:

SWP_Take Three flyer

If you’re making poetry travel plans, I’d love to hear about them in the comments box below.

After GDPR: some thoughts on my inbox

My inbox seems to clear of a rash of GDPR-related emails, at last.  A disconcerting number of them were from sites I don’t remember subscribing to.  I updated my preferences for receiving updates and newsletters (mainly of the poetry kind) but consistently failed to find ‘unsubscribe’ links for those companies who expected me to wade through the legalese of their Updated Privacy Policies (I tried; I gave up).

I’d already begun reducing my email subscriptions, anyway.  Online reading seems to occupy an ever increasing amount of my time.  Instead, I could be bramble-wrangling in the garden, cracking the spine of ‘shelved’ recipe books, relieving the loft of a burden of boxes.  Or mining the TBR pile for treasure.  Or writing.

What my (poetry) subscription emails do provide:

  • a window on what’s new and happening in the poetry world
  • updates on events I’d like to attend
  • publication news
  • new posts on my favourite blogs
  • reviews of poetry pamphlets I’ve read/can’t wait to read
  • discovering the interesting and surprising via linked content
  • discovering ‘new’ poets whose work I enjoy
  • information on MOOCs, workshops, etc

However, I’m mindful that my inbox currently holds 770 emails.  Almost all of these are poetry/writing-related subscription emails.   They’re fantastic resources for an ongoing poetry education (Brain Pickings, POETRY magazine, Poets.org, Poets & Writers) so why do these ‘Round-to-its’ continue to stack up?  I think most of the backlog is a legacy from my working life when I used to daydream about WHEN, of sitting in my favourite armchair, reading my way through the lot.  I thought I’d have oh, so much more time for all my Neglecteds when I retired.  How misguided I was!

One day, I’ll give myself permission to delete the lot and make a fresh start.  Maybe.  Right now, I’m heading for my lounger with a book.  The garden’s looking starry-eyed, despite last night’s storm.

20180519_115003.jpg

Collecting poems

I’m STILL behind with my reading of poetry magazines. And then there’s the question of what to do with them when I have read them…

I have a growing collection of paper copies of poems. I store them in box files.

Last year’s house-to-bungalow move necessitated a massive cull of STUFF that I hadn’t so much as glanced at in years. Operation Study took me three days of hard graft, during which time I faithfully reappraised just about every single sheet of paper in the filing cabinet and heaven knows how many ring binders, lever arch and box files. The poetry ones fared much better than a teaching career’s-worth of policies and planning but I decided to keep only those poems I love, or like enough to go back to (at some point…).

20180520_114829.jpg

Josephine Corcoran’s long-listed poem (Live Canon, 2017)

Since The Move, I’ve become firmer with myself about what I keep and what I give away. I no longer keep poetry magazines (I do keep contributor copies, though). Instead I pull out and box-file those poems that jump off the page and ‘grab’ me: the timely or current; those I wish I’d written; those that elicit a That’s it! or a fist pump; interesting forms, etc. In turn, I take some of these for discussion at Soundswrite and stanza meetings.

Recent ‘finds’ and why they’re ‘keepers’:

  • ‘Deer at Dusk’ by Cheryl Pearson (Under the Radar, issue 19): finding the extraordinary in the moment; lines I wish I’d written
  • ‘Quite a Fieldfare’ by James Richards (from The North, issue?): a That’s it! poem as I, too, had recently spotted (and had to google to identify) this uncommon garden visitor
  • ‘Present’ by Sue Dymoke (The North): timely
  • ‘Poets Give You Strange Answers’ by Jennifer Copley (The North): one of my favourite poets, I like pretty much every poem of hers

Poetry group ‘takeaways’:

  • ‘How to Parallel Park’ by James Davey (title poem of his V. Press pamphlet): masterly control of language; comic timing
  • ‘Throur’ by Brian McCabe (from Zero: Polygon, 2009): it transcends my maths phobia to mock education curriculum idiocy (don’t get me started…)
  • ‘For Those Who Walk Pavements’ by Pam Thompson (from Strange Fashion: Pindrop Press, 2018): I copied this one to share at Soundswrite; current, with local markers; no mere people-watching exercise, it’s thought-provoking

Online poems I’ve printed out (some, thanks to Carrie Etter’s NaPoWriMo prompts, and and comments from her Facebook group members):

  • ‘when you have forgotten Sunday: the love story’ by Gwendolyn Brooks ( Poetry Foundation site): its ‘when…when…then’ form; its hyphenated-phrase-as-nouns (more-than-compound nouns?)
  • ‘The End and the Beginning’ by Wislawa Szymborska (Poetry Foundation site): the cleaning up, tidying away and forgetting of war will always be current
  • ‘The Unspoken’ by Edwin Morgan: another ‘when…when…then’ love poem, it juxtaposes world events with the extraordinary power of touch
  • The first four lines of Emily Dickinson’s ‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers’: this one’s on the pinboard above my PC; it’s a mantra

If you have cut-out-and-keep poems, I’d love to hear about them.