Re-fuelling the writer: a day trip to London

Wednesday’s day trip to London for the Royal Academy’s 250th summer exhibition put another tick on my Life’s for Living list.  It was a full-on day in city heat but I like to think that a change of scene can be a re-fuel for writing if not a battery re-charge.

On arrival at St Pancras station, I was greeted for the first time by Tracey Emin’s message of love to the rest of Europe:


With the exhibition extending over more rooms than on my last visit, I spent over three hours taking in the eclectic mix of subjects, styles and media that typifies the RA’s summer exhibitions.  I became fascinated, too, with the ways in which others engaged, both on first response and at close quarters, with particular exhibits.


My personal favourites included labours of love, elements of surprise, titles as messages, the power of words harnessed, classics made current, quirks and the downright funny.

I used to feel so alien, so out-of-water in London but, over time, I’ve come to terms with that feeling of anonymity I experience there, more than anywhere else I’ve ever visited.  In fact, it’s quite freeing, on occasion.  Wednesday brought conversations with strangers: on the choice of breakfast breads with a woman on the next table at Le Pain Quotidien; on the joys of new babies and breastfeeding with a young mother as we shared a bench at St Pancras station; on poetry and discovering friends-in-common with three fellow passengers on the return train journey to Market Harborough (my copy of Under the Radar magazine proved a great conversation starter).

From my TBR pile:

Since finishing Rowan Coleman’s The Summer of Impossible Things (I do like novels that that play with the concept of Time), I’ve read two poetry books: Marion McReady’s Tree Language (its recurring themes and subjects are almost a series of studies; I enjoyed these quiet but affecting poems) and S. A. Leaveley’s How to Grow Matches (there’s a range of styles and sources of inspiration in this short collection of poems towards a ‘template’ for the visible, powerful woman).  I’ve just started reading Nell Stevens’ Bleaker House: a fact-fiction fusion on how far one writer is prepared to travel in order to fail to write a novel (and become a writer in the process).

In other news:

I was mistaken in thinking that the Bridport Poetry Prize longlist was to be published last Tuesday.  Only the longlist for the Peggy Chapman-Andrews award (First Novel) has been announced online, so far.  The rest of us will have to wait until September (winners and highly commended for Poetry, Short Story and Flash Fiction, by email) or October 22nd (full competition results published online).  Oh, well…

Instead of a poetry social life

This week, I’m suffering from a bout of cabin fever (life stuff, eh).  Just about everyone in the poetry world is sharing the love at Verve Poetry Festival (or so it seems, as social media serves to fuel my envy).  I’ve also missed two Midlands poetry open mic nights and Saturday’s South Leics stanza meeting.

I’ve not been totally bereft of a poetry social life, though.  Thanks to the kindness of a fellow Soundswriter who gave me a lift, I attended our poetry reading/discussion/workshopping meeting on Tuesday.  And there have been ‘injections’ of poetry to sustain:

A Valentine’s Day gift from my husband (okay, I did drop a very specific hint about this one):


I was pleased to find this sassy little number includes Jo Bell’s ‘The Shipwright’s Love Song,’ which I think I first experienced as a film poem, a few years ago.  (It might have been this one).

The latest e-newsletter from the Academy of American Poets comprised a themed selection of love poems; among them, Wislawa Szymborska’s ‘Love at First Sight.’  I love the narrative that belies the title of this poem – the premise that Chance has been toying with them/now for years. I’ve copied the last four lines into my notebook, to savour:

Every beginning
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.

I always get a poetry kick out of coming across another unfamiliar/new poem by one of my favourite poets.  Liz Berry’s poem, ‘The Republic of Motherhood’ is the subject of writer and book vlogger Jen Campbell’s latest (Dissect a Poem) video.  Berry’s poem is a journey through the unmapped territory of new motherhood; there’s a pervading sense of detachment and isolation right up to the last line’s turning point of this rite of passage.

Current reading also includes issue 58 of The North (I know, I’m really behind with my reading of poetry mags).  I nearly punched the air on reading Anthony Wilson’s ‘I Come to Your Shit’  Hell, yes! (If nowt else, I hope I’ll be remembered as a supporter).

Whatever you’re reading, I hope it nourishes the parts etc 🙂 x


When a book won’t let go

I might have said this before: I’m a slow reader.  It can take me weeks to read a weighty novel.  Dense text, small font size and narrow spacing puts me right off.

I like a page that’s easy on the eye.

With plenty of white space around the words.

Something that I can read




if I need (or want) to.

“Like poetry”  I hear you say?

So I understand, to some extent, how pupils with specific reading difficulties feel when faced with page after page of the stuff.  You can see the panic in their eyes each time they turn the page.

I love my work as a teacher and tutor of struggling readers. I love guiding them through the morass: facilitating background knowledge, making it relevant; ‘picturing’ powerful passages as screen shots (with sound effects.  Why not?); finding the poetry in the prose (goes without saying) and all that grows a lifelong love of books and reading.  (Yay, verily, the State Education policy-makers doth now acknowledge the importance of Reading for Enjoyment, gawd bless ’em).

One of the highlights of my teaching week is the hour I spend with a dyslexic pupil whom I’ve tutored for the past five years.  A large part of the ground we cover, these days, is the advance reading of class texts. Like this meaty (and mighty) read:


These lessons are very much a shared experience, down to the rollercoaster of emotions that comes from empathy with the main characters (even though I’ve read ahead).  Last Sunday afternoon, and having reached the Big Reveal on page 222, the book just wouldn’t let go.  I HAD to read the last sixty or so pages right there and then.  To leave the ‘picture’ on pause would have been unbearable. (The roast dinner could wait; the book wouldn’t). So I read on, with the text as my film script, the images and sound effects as captivating (and horrific) as any cinema experience.

Wednesday’s lesson was a hurtle to the end, with total immersion.  I read key passages and my pupil read the letters which moved the plot towards its climax (yes, we cued the soundtrack) and tied together the remaining loose strands.  The lesson ended in a three-way conversation as her mum (and shared reading partner, between times) joined us and talked about the profound effect the book had had on her, too.

Amen to the power of words and the art of writing.