What I’ve been reading this summer

The UK summer heatwave rendered me incapable of doing little else but hugging the shade with a goodly supply of water, tea and reading material.  I granted myself leave from writing a blog post, last Sunday.  Writing output amounted to little more than notebook drivel on nights when it was too hot to sleep.  I never find it too hot to read, though.

I’ve blogged before about collecting poems that I’ve read in magazines or online: the ones I love and those I might wish to re-read or refer to, at some point in the future.  There are more than a few I’ll cut out and keep from the Europe issue of Magma.  As a long-term subscriber, I think it’s quite possibly the best issue in years (I can’t comment on my TBR copy of the Film issue).  It could so easily have been Brexit-centric but issue 70 was, as always, a net cast wide in terms of style, subject and takes on a theme.  Poems that made me smile: Duncan Chambers’ Les Vacances; Sarah Juliet Walsh’s Le Rêve.  One that made me laugh out loud: Astra Bloom’s Sacré.  My absolute Top Three poems of political/social comment: Fiona Larkin’s Hygge; William Roychowdhury’s Farage for a Migrant Worker; Katriona Naomi’s Slowly, as the talk goes on, we are getting nowhere.

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Occasionally I admit to abandoning a book I wasn’t enjoying.  I did enjoy Lemn Sissay’s lecture, Landmark Poems, at University of Leicester in May.  I follow his morning tweets.  I was looking forward to reading Gold from the Stone, New and Selected Poems (Canons).  However, despite my best efforts, it wasn’t for me.  So I will gift it to someone who will read and treasure it.  If you think that could be you, do let me know in the comments box below.

Hot off the TBR pile, my current poetry read is Deborah Alma’s Dirty Laundry, (which I pre-ordered at the same time as Josephine Corcoran’s What Are You After?)  It’s daring, direct and highly readable.  I’m enjoying it immensely.  I have a large and growing collection of Nine Arches Press poetry collections, and justifiably so.

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I’ve recently re-subscribed to Shawna Lemay’s blog, Transactions with Beauty.  It’s a tranquil space amidst the clamour of the world-wide web.  I related to her latest post, Ways of Being a Writer. I think I’ve been several of these kinds of writers, at certain points in time.  It’s a reminder to stop beating myself up over my (lack of) writing (as in paragraph one, above, for instance!).

On Thursday evening, I attended an author talk at a neighbouring village library, organised by the lovely Debbie James, independent bookseller extraordinaire, of The Bookshop, Kibworth.  (Do drop by if you’re in the area.  The Table of Temptation is aptly named).  Damon Young, author of The Art of Reading, gave a fascinating and thought-provoking talk: a philosopher’s perspective on the power (and responsibilities) of the reader.  Damon is appearing at Edinburgh Book Festival, if you’re interested. I’m looking forward to reading this, my latest book purchase:

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What have you been reading, this summer?

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One year on: Thank You, NHS!

Today, my husband and I are celebrating a first anniversary, of sorts. One year on from a subarachnoid haemorrhage, David continues to do well after making a remarkable recovery from a life-threatening condition.

We have much to be thankful for, not least the expertise of health professionals, and the treatment and quality of care he received from staff at all levels: from the neurosurgeon who explained the risks one Saturday at 2am, to the nurse on placement at QMC Nottingham who stayed beyond the end of her shift because she’d promised her patient she’d do what was needed.

I LOVE our NHS! Though there are those that do their damnedest to break it, the dedicated individuals that are its backbone continue to do the best they can for the patients in their care, in spite of this.

Many poems have been commissioned to mark 70 years of a healthcare system to meet the needs of everyone, free at the point of delivery, and based on clinical need, not the ability to pay. One such is Owen Sheers’ film-poem, To Provide All People; a tapestry of personal and universal experiences, historical narrative. Depicting 24 hours in a regional hospital, it is based on 70 hours of interviews with individuals: patients, health professionals and NHS workers at all levels. It is a love poem, of sorts, and available to view via BBC iPlayer until tomorrow at 9pm.

In my Ledbury blog post, I mentioned Martin Figura’s show, Doctor Zeeman’s Catastrophe Machine. I was deeply affected by the image of the couple on sitting on the steps of Great Ormond Street hospital and the doctor who told them, “I have held your daughter’s heart in my hand and it’s fine.” (Our son, born with a congenital heart condition requiring surgery at five days old and again, aged 3, is now 33). I heartily recommend this life-affirming show, if it’s touring in your area.

I’ve also experienced a deep connection with ‘NHS’ poems by poets whose work I’ve read over time:

Roy Marshall’s poems in the Traces section of his latest collection, The Great Animator (Shoestring Press), are inspired by his nursing experience in coronary care and research. Self-effacing to the last, Roy is one of the most talented writers I know. Having read the collection soon after its publication last year, I was pleased to hear Roy read some of these poems at Lowdham book festival, last month.

My pre-ordered copy of Josephine Corcoran’s What Are You After? (Nine Arches Press) arrived just in time for me to read it from cover to cover before her launch reading at the Nine Arches Press tenth birthday bash. I was particularly pleased, then, that she included ‘Love in the Time of Hospital Visits’ among the poems she chose to read on the day. To say that I identify strongly with this poem is an understatement. You can read it here on the Bookanista site.

Poet and indefatigable blogger John Foggin has around 70 years of ‘form’ with the NHS. Last year, he invited his blog readers to send him poems about hospitals and their experience of them. They make for interesting and varied reading. You’ll find them all in his How Are You Feeling? series of posts starting here.

What I’m working on, and other poems

Over the last few blog posts I haven’t made much mention of my writing, or what my living, breathing poems are getting up out there in the real world.

What I’m working on:

Last month, I completed another of Jen Campbell’s excellent online workshops: Response Poems. I like Jen’s workshop format:

  • the workshop material is emailed
  • a week to complete two tasks: comment on a published resonse poem in relation to the original poem; write a response to own choice of poem
  • a two-hour (text-only) Skype workshop session for group discussion and feedback on both tasks
  • Jen’s detailed feedback on participants’ poems, attached as Word documents

I wrote a deeply personal response to Emily Dickinson’s ‘Hope’ is the Thing with Feathers.  The first stanza of this poem has been my personal mantra over the past few months, so it was a natural choice.  It was really useful to receive some ‘distance’ critical feedback on an early, still-raw draft.

This is not the first, nor will it be the last poem mining the same seam.  My current poems-in-progress are borne out of my notebook writing over the past six months or so. They are poems of anger, fear and pain, as well as of hope and healing.  I am grateful, too, for ‘distance’ feedback on three of these poems, from Helena Nelson during her (still-open) HappenStance Press July ‘window’.

Published poems:

I have two poems in the brand new issue 21 of Under the Radar magazine, from Nine Arches Press, which arrived in Wednesday’s post:

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Forthcoming:

All a Cat Can Be, a poetry anthology in aid of New Start Cat Rescue, is forthcoming from Eithon Bridge Publications.  It includes my poem, My Cat is Sad; a line from the poem is also a caption for one of the gorgeous feature photographs.  As a cat lover (and Chief of Staff to cats Senior and Junior) , I’m doubly pleased to found a new home for an old (previously-published) poem, here.  Sadly, I can’t make the launch (distance, diary clash) but I’m looking forward to receiving my contributor copy.

In other good news:

DIVERSIFLY anthology (Fair Acre Press) has been short-listed for this year’s Rubery Book Award.

A long shot:

I’ll be scanning the Bridport Poetry Prize longlist when it’s published online, this coming Tuesday.  I’m one of thousands (no doubt) who are dearly hoping to see their name/poem amongst them…

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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:

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

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

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.

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.