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

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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.

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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’)

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before we re-assembled in the Jazz Club

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Doings, plans and a missed opportunity

Doings: 

Literary Leicester

Last week, I attended two back-to-back Literary Leicester festival events:

  • A ‘Poetry Recital’ by Douglas Dunn and Rory Waterman, each reading from their respective new collections, The Noise of a Fly (Faber & Faber) and Sarajevo Roses (Carcanet).  Dunn had travelled from his home in Scotland to read from his first collection to be published in seventeen years; his audience were not disappointed.  I confess to having read none of Dunn’s poetry previously, and have add this eminent poet to a growing list of those whose work I should seek out.  Waterman’s reading, equally engaging, convinced me that I will enjoy his new collection at least as much as I did Tonight the Summer’s Over (his first, also from Carcanet).
  • Sir Jonathan Bate on Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life.  A fascinating talk on the four years of research, the ups and downs and paths taken in writing this biography.  Another hour well-spent, to say the least.

Plans:

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Four months into retirement (so-called, anything but) is far enough in to underline the fact that time does indeed fly.  Thus I’m ever mindful of that wish list I started making last year, once I knew that leaving the chalkface a year early was financially do-able.  As part of my ongoing poetry education, I’ve already completed one MOOC since July and have embarked upon another (juuust).  I plan to blog about these at some point (yes, ever the list-maker, I’ve started another one: Things to Blog About).

With an eye to the poetry New Year (and fulfilling one wish from The List), I’ve booked my ticket for the TS Eliot prize shortlist readings at the Southbank Centre on Sunday 14th January.  I’ve heard much about this annual event from other poets and bloggers over the past few years and I’m so looking forward to spicing up the inevitable post-Christmasness with a slice of the poetry high life.  Although we’ll have to wait until the following day for the result, I’ll be rooting for Jacqueline Saphra.  Who’s your hot favourite?

A missed opportunity:

ModPo in London: as a previous (and present) course participant, I had this early-September happening on my poetry radar, but the date neared, came and went whilst our house-move-in-waiting put most things on hold.  If any readers of this post attended either or both of the organised events, I’d love to hear all about it via the comment box below.