I haven’t posted in 6 weeks for some odd reason. This more or less corresponds with the week I had my bag stolen at the Culture Rapide Thursday poetry night in Belleville, and then last night, when I returned for the first time, pockets bulging, but no bag. It was of course a wonderful evening at ParisLitUp with a guest reading by A F Harrold and the ever-supportive crowd and cosy feel, with a glass of red for 3 euros. A chance to read a few poems and wonder at the brilliant open mikers, with poems, songs, diary extracts, from paper, memory and iphone. And despite the low temperatures, when I walked down to the metro afterwards, the terrasse at Aux Folies was reassuringly heaving.
Not that the last 6 weeks have been devoid of poetry. I had my first visit to the Aldeburgh poetry festival in November, hiring a cottage in the town with some others from my Lamb Conduit Street workshop group. (Thanks to Daf and Jan for making it so homely and providing logs, spuds, candles, vino, to Tim and Susannah for all the chat). A really intensive 3 days of readings, close readings and performances, followed by all the dissecting and swapping of opinion that goes on afterwards. Highlights included Robert Wrigley‘s brilliant reading of poems from his new 9-collection strong UK release by Bloodaxe ‘The Church of Omnivorous Light’ and seeing actor Ben Wishaw perform as part of the Christopher Logue tribute, replete with jazz band, directed by Michael ‘Smiths Knoll’ Laskey’s son, Jack.
It was my first experience of the festival. Most events now take place at Snape, 6 miles away. I have heard from some that the atmosphere used to be different, perhaps friendlier, less corporate-seeming, back when it all took place in the town, with pop-up events and people bumping into each other down the little lanes, taking impromptu walks on the beach etc. But the move to Snape has enabled larger audiences for the main events thanks to state-of-the art venues with a main auditorium that can house 350. So this is ‘progress’. It’s an attractive complex with cafes and a pub and a boardwalk along the reedbeds. I guess the one advantage is that the morning car ride (they lay on buses) enables you to all cram into a car and listen to Ginsberg’s Howl blasted up loud all the way from Aldeburgh to Snape, so that you are truly awake and really turned on for that first morning live poetry fix. Anyway, can’t wait to go back and do some writing by the sea.
Then last Saturday had my last of 7 writing days in Sheffield as part of the Writing School. It has been a year now of these brilliant but exhausting writing days. I have been lucky to get to know such a talented group of 14 poets that includes Pam Thompson, Noel Williams, Kim Moore, Jim Caruth, Jennifer Copley….not to mention the tutors, Peter and Ann Sansom. People seem to write so effortlessly and pull small gems out of the bag there and then. Really hope we are going to stay in touch for workshopping beyond our final reading in Grasmere in February. It was also a chance to finally see a bit of Sheffield. I went up the night before and discovered the charms of Division Street, (as in the title of Helen Mort’s book), including the amazing Rare and Racy bookshop, as recommended by Peter. Two hours and fifty quid later I emerged with a massive bag of books, minus a recent Ashbery (Quick Question) that I went to buy. But the shopkeeper was aghast when he realised it had got past him onto the shelves and looked so forlorn that I told him he could have it. And he seemed so pleased, that he could keep his own book, apparently a major Ashbery fan. Anyway, seems like a great city to be a student with some really good urban regeneration and interesting public spaces. I’ll see a bit more in the Spring.
Oh, and of course, there was meeting up with the other Jerwood/Arvon mentees mid-November in London on the 22nd floor of Centrepoint, followed by lunch on the 32nd floor. And I hate heights. Anyway, if ever you end up in the Paramount bar at the top of the building – soon to be converted into residential – order the club sandwich as it will fill you up. Yvonne ordered the Waldorf salad and when it came it consisted of 3 leaves, 2 shavings of cheese, half a walnut and a little skinned baby pear sat there all proudly like an over-priced Christmas decoration. A Mexican wave of *aghast disbelief* when it arrived, liked it was some kind of joke. And she did say to the waiter, ‘Oh no, you’ve got to be joking’. He wasn’t, but probably also thought it was utterly ridiculous. Thankfully she sent it back and got a club sandwich too. We concluded it must be the dish for dieting executives that want to look like they are eating but really have no intention of doing so. A comedy moment.
And in between, well, it doesn’t feel like I’ve been up to much. But I’ve a new poem in the brilliant new-look Brittle Star issue 33 and a review of pamphlets in The North issue 51. Anyway, looking forward to the holiday period to catch up with poet friends and attack the pile of cardboard enveloped new arrivals.
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