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.

Sarah James micro-reviews Beyond the Tune

In her most recent micro-review post, Sarah James says:

The vivid sensual details of the first half of the pamphlet bring a whole era to life, with subtly startling yet apt memorable lines, such as “tannin, bitter through the Tate & Lyle scree”.

Of the collection’s darker side:

Not all stories from the era are sweet though, a darker side revealed in the hauntingly beautiful poems of the second half that gradually bring us back through poems that could be then or now to the present day and then the present day looking back, linking us again to the pamphlet’s opening.

On her journey as a reader:

Each re-reading brings new connections with these evocative and atmospheric poems.

and:

From “my spine | a river of running quavers that stick | to the soles of my sensible shoes” (Sin É) back to “ re-set your body clock to seal a time line” (Grace Notes), and then immersed again in a constant invitation to “Slip beyond the tune.” (Grace Notes)

 

Sarah James has been widely published in poetry magazines and anthologies.  She has published four full-length poetry collections, most recently The Magnetic Diaries (Knives, Forks & Spoons Press) and plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press).  She co-edits poetry small press V.Press.

Beyond the Tune review: Under the Radar

Deborah Tyler-Bennett, reviewing for issue 15 of Under the Radar magazine (Nine Arches Press):

…the volume of poems that really blew me away this time was a slender pamphlet collection from Soundswrite Press, Jayne Stanton’s Beyond the Tune.  I’d heard Stanton read a few times, but that did not prepare me for the sheer elegance and grace of her first volume.

On lines from Flown, and Suave and Debonair:

…her collection… has a musicality to it and rare lyricism

On first reading Beyond the Tune:

…a collection I’d return to time and again, as poems were economic and demonstrated that, in the poetic line, less really can mean more.

 

 

February, I’m so over you

February’s the low point of the year, for me: a wilderness of sorts between  resolutions/new beginnings and the official start of spring. It’s the colour grey.  It’s moody blue.  And, if social media’s a barometer, I’m not the only one who feels that way.  But it’s over!  Light levels are noticeably better, my garden’s budding and cat junior is swapping the close vicinity of various radiators for outdoor high jinks.

February’s bright side:

Me at Fire & Dust

 

 

 

Fire & Dust and Nine Arches Press open mic: my first feature reading of 2015, alongside Matt Merritt at The Big Comfy Bookshop in Coventry.

 

Matt Merritt at Fire & DustMatt’s reading included several poems from The Elephant Tests (NAP) including one of my favourites from the collection, The Elephant in the Room.

Nine Arches editor Jane Commane read too – a rare treat, as the poetry-packed Leicester Shindig! events seldom allow time for her to showcase her poems.

Penelope Shuttle’s long-awaited headlining at Word! in Leicester on 3rd Feb.  Wow!  I only wish I’d been able to attend her pre-event workshop.  Kathleen Bell’s feature reading finished the first half of the evening with some of her poem sequences.

The List Cause: a Poetry School open online workshop.  I wrote a poem.  (There’s a plait in a paper bag in a box in our loft.  It’s been trying to get into a poem for a while…).  It’s been redrafted and workshopped again, since.  It’s recuperating in a subfolder.  It may become two or more poems.

Carol Ann Duffy’s reading as part of De Montfort University’s Cultural Exchanges festival.  Boy, can she play her audience!  I love how she allows the words breathing space, her measured delivery, her deadpan eyeballing of the audience.  The Laureate included several poems from The World’s Wife, my personal favourite amongst her collections.

Rosie Garland’s second headlining at Word!  When she appeared in 2012, she’d just won the Mslexia Novel Competition.  Since then she’s published two novels: The Palace of Curiosities, and Vixen, now out in paperback.  I loved both.  Good, then, to hear excerpts from each as well as several poems.  A consummate performer.

Towards a better balance in life: half term, and a two-night sleepover by all four grandchildren for starters; pottering in the garden, secateurs in hand; a day trip to London (Grayson Perry’s Who Are You? exhibition at the NPG, Portobello Road Market, browsing the magazine shelves at The Poetry Library).

Softening the blow of the latest rejection email (high hopes), is this afternoon’s news that issue 11 of The Lampeter Review is now available to read/download online, with my contributor’s hard copy to follow.  You can read it on ISSU/download it for free, here.

Good stuff to come:

Our daughter’s arrival on Sunday for a week’s stay.

States of Independence on 14th March: DMU’s annual hosting of this independent publishing fair.  A diary highlight.  A stint at the Soundswrite Press table and reading poems from Beyond the Tune as SWP marks its 10th anniversary.

Soundswrite Press goes to Inzine Fest III @The Pod, Coventry on Saturday 21st.

A feature reading, alongside Bare Fiction magazine editor Robert Harper, at Poetry Bites in Birmingham on Tues 24th.  Details here.

The Easter hols: Writing East Midlands Writers’ Conference in Nottingham; a five-day poetry residential in Cumbia; Adam Horovitz at Word! (and this time I can make the afternoon workshop).

Life’s good!  What are you looking forward to, this month?

 

 

 

The month of firsts: January doings

What happened to January?  One minute I’m wondering how I’ll ever get back up to speed for the start of the spring term at school – next thing I know, I’m receiving e-newsletters full of the joys of February poetry events!

I haven’t set myself a daily writing goal but this month I have managed to redraft some poems-in-progress, resurrect one or two others and generate some new writing ranging from a few lines in my notebook to a fledgling poem in response to an online workshop assignment.

My first poetry foray of the year was for a brief chat with DJ Tony Wadsworth on Radio Leicester’s Saturday morning programme.  By all accounts, I didn’t come across as a blithering idiot, I managed to turn questions around to mentioning some of what I’d planned in my head/on post-it notes.  And I read the opening poem from my pamphlet.

My first featured reading of the year was as supporting ‘act’ for talented performance poet (and Leicester’s own) Jess Green, at Word! on 6th January.  I cut my teeth at the open mic there, five years ago or thereabouts, so it was a real pleasure to take the floor for a 10-minute spot in front of an audience of friends and many familiar faces.  It’s no coincidence that this monthly spoken word event (the longest-running in the Midlands) gets an honourable mention from several Leicestershire poets on Robin Houghton’s first Regional Poetry Focus blog post.  I relaxed and enjoyed the open mic slots in the second half, followed by Jess’s accomplished performance of Burning Books, Restart and Dear Mr Gove.  I sold a few copies of my pamphlet, too (not bad, considering most of those assembled already have a copy).

I attended the first Poetry Business’ January writing day, too.  I’ve a feeling that my trips to Sheffield will be more of a regular thing, this year.  I thrive on workshops anyway, but I feel privileged to spend a day in the company of the talented wordsmiths that comprise the PB regulars.  And it’s good to meet, face-to-face, poets whose blogs/poetry/social media quips and commentary I enjoy.  John Foggin (The Great Fogginzo) and Carole Bromley, for instance.

My first 2015 poem acceptance (yay!) came via email from The Lampeter Review.  It’s one I wrote as a result of participating in my first Poetry Society open online workshop: Kim Moore’s Put a Poet in your Pocket.  It will be published in issue 11 (not sure when), on the theme of Magical Realism.

Not a first, this, I’ve booked a place and my return rail ticket for a five-day poetry residential in Cumbria.  It’ll be my third (it’s the third one, too).  Co-run by Kim Moore and Jennifer Copley, this year’s theme is ‘The Stories we Tell Ourselves.’  I have to tell you it’s now fully booked, though.  I can’t wait for the Easter holidays!

Before I sign off, here’s what I’ll be poetry-doing first next month: a featured reading alongside Matt Merritt at The Big Comfy Bookshop in Coventry on Wed 4th Feb (only five days to go!).  It’s a joint Fire & Dust and Nine Arches Press event.  Open mic slots are available, too.  I’d love you to come and join us if you’re local, willing and able.  Or if you fancy a change from your usual haunts. Details here.

Looking back, looking forward

Almost four months after my last blog post, the WordPress stats helper monkeys (and the excellent posts I’ve enjoyed reading on my favourite poetry sites, lately) have shamed me into rousing my little blog from hibernation.  Suffice it to say I won’t be making public my 2013 ‘year in blogging’ stats!  I could offer all sorts of reasons for my lack of (blog) activity – the day job, my ageing hip, an addiction to social networking and coffee shops (I know, I know)… Let’s face it, stuff happens, life gets in the way, etc, etc.

Looking Back:

I do read a lot of poetry – an increasing amount online, some e-reads (on my iphone – I’ll probably get around to buying a Kindle in about 10 years time when I’ll no doubt be able to pick one up for a fiver along with the rest of the supermarket shopping)but I’m a tactile creature and there’s nowt quite like the sensory experience of a paper book. I’m loving everyone’s ‘shelfie’ pics posted online.  My shelves are far too rammed to be deemed at all photogenic, but here’s a selection of my 2013 book reading:

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and my favourite magazines/journals:

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Successes: In October, my poem, You Do Not Have To Say, was published in the Wild issue of Popshot magazine (above).  Here’s a photo of it, alongside Jessica Durden’s illustration, inspired by the poem:

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You can view all the Popshot illustrations on Pinterest, here.

Outlook was accepted by Hinterland, a new journal co-edited by talented poets Ian Parks and Rebecca Bird.  Lovely to see mine sharing cyber space with work by poets I really admire. You can read all the poems inspired by the spur colour, red, here.  And a first print issue is planned, too, I believe.

Tasseography was longlisted for the Desmond O’Grady competition.  Sadly, it didn’t make the shortlist, but it was rather exciting to read my poem to a live audience at The White House, Limerick via Skype link. In a way, this was a return visit, having guested there alongside fellow O’Bheal poet Janet Smith in August 2012.  Encouraged by this result, I’ve submitted it to another competition across the water.  We’ll see.  In fact I’ve got rather a lot of poems ‘out there’ at the moment – a flurry of submissions to magazines and anthologies.  Again, we’ll see.

My debut pamphlet – the story so far: Following many sessions spent at the dining room table sifting, sorting, rejecting, substituting and re-arranging paper copies of my (hopefully, best) poems, I’ve sent my proposed selection, a contents list in (proposed) order and a (working) title to my editor.  A big step, not taken lightly.  And her initial response is encouraging, positive – I’m thrilled that I seem to be on the right track, anyway.  I may be asking a few willing volunteers (with no existing knowledge of my poems) to play a little Word Association game, soon…

Workshops: I co-ran a rebellious writing workshop, Make Love Not War, with Leicester’s very own Tim ‘Bombdog’ Sayers as part of the city’s Everybody’s Reading festival in October.  The workshop was attended by both experienced and beginner writers who produced some amazing poems inspired by images, artefacts and writing about conflict.  I’m hopeful of applying for funding to run my own workshop next (ok, this) year.  I’m currently thinking of a suitable premise/my own slant…

I’ve also attended poetry workshops.  Highlights include my first Poetry Business writing day (a little scary, totally worthwhile) and a women’s poetry workshop entitled ‘Put your Hand in a Poet’s Pocket’ run by Kim Moore, (am biased) also as part of Everybody’s Reading.  I came away with several starters for poems, some of which are current WIPs.

Events: a  Poetry Tea, a first, hosted by Nine Arches press with readings by Mario Petrucci, Matt Merritt, Clare Trevien and Alistair Noon.  One of the cherries on my October half term, I hope Jane Commane has plans for more of these!

Kate Tempest at The Cube, Corby.  A Lyric Lounge event and an opportunity I couldn’t resist.  I even took my son (to show him what a night out on the town really should be, IMHO).  Not a poetry lover, he probably came along to humour his ageing mother – but thoroughly enjoyed both the open mic and Tempest’s stunning performance.  So self-effacing, such rapport with the audience!  And wonderful to see the audience really did represent all age-groups, including lots of local secondary school pupils who’d been lucky enough to participate in her workshop.

Jo Shapcott’s reading at Leicester University as part of the Literary Leicester festival.  If numbers are anything to go by, their publicity machine seems to be more efficient than in previous years.  Having heard her read at Lichfield cathedral last year, I was prepared for another hour of being drawn into this quiet poet’s created world.  And I wasn’t disappointed!  I can never understand why free events such as these don’t seem to have the punters queuing down the street…

Exhibition: I was delighted to have the opportunity to exhibit two of my poems alongside four other Leicester poets as part of Drawing on Words, an exhibition by Leicester Society of Artists.  We all read our work as part of the launch night at New Walk Museum & Art Gallery on December 12th.  Although I did get to view our poems and the art work it inspired in LSA members, I enjoyed going back for a more detailed look during the run-up to Christmas .  I’m always fascinated by collaborations between artists, both as exhibitor and visitor.  The exhibition runs until 11th January if you’re interested and fairly local.  If not, you can hear recordings of all the poems and view photos of the launch/some exhibits, here.

Looking forward:

Tomorrow kickstarts my poetry year with a second poetry workshop I’m running for the same group that kindly invited this novice facilitator in September.  Following on from Telling Lies, my chosen theme for the first one, tomorrow’s theme (after much deliberation into New Year’s Eve) is Tell the Truth, but Tell it Slant (thank you, Ms Dickinson).  A mixture of several poems to discuss and inspire, and a couple of writing exercises.

I’m contemplating a ‘last poetry fling’ by booking a place on The Poetry Business Reading Day on 11th Jan.  ‘Twill be an excellent day, I’ve no doubt, an opportunity to catch up with friends in poetry I met last year and, hopefully, will preoccupy my mind with matters other than my hip replacement surgery the following Monday (currently, my main worry is missing breakfast and that first cuppa of the day, being last on the operating list (oh, please, not), feeling sick with hunger and panicky with thirst…).

I’m hopeful that, after the initial post-op pain, I’ll have a new lease of life.  In the meantime I shall console myself (for the lack of a poetry social life and my daily caffeine fix – not the same at home or even in a takeout cup) with daytime TV, a backlog of films on my Sky planner, spoiling our six-month-old kitten even more and working my way through that To Read Jenga tower.  Below is just a selection:

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And, if I’m feeling up to it, writing poems.

Easter treat to self: a five-day residential poetry course in Cumbria, entitled Encounters and Collisions, run by Kim Moore and Jennifer Copley.  I enjoyed last Feb’s three-day course a lot.  I came away with several fledgling poems, lots of ideas, a raft of poems by others and having met a thoroughly great bunch of fellow poets, several of whom I hope to catch up with this time around.  And Janet Lancaster from South Leics poetry stanza is going, too.  Lovely 🙂

If you’re in need of a poetry wake-up this New Year, why not subscribe to Jo Bell’s new write-a-poem-a-week initiative, 52? Check it out, here

And here’s wishing you all that’s wonderful in the way of poetry happenings and personal writing successes in 2014.

Enjoy it all!

Jayne