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.
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!)
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, 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
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.
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.
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!
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:
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).