Round-up (overdue)

Almost 3 months since my last post. Again, I’m pretty useless at posting regularly but the end of the year gives me a chance – and a push – to post once more in 2014. So this a quick review of what I’ve been up to, as much for myself as anybody.

In October I spent 10 days in Spain, which was a tonic in every sense – sun, scenery, food, energy. I hadn’t realised they’d finished digging the tunnel through the Pyrenees so there are now Paris-Barcelona direct TGV services, which currently take 7 hours, but will be 6 hours once they finish the high-speed section from Montpellier to Perpignan. Still, it was incredible to go through the Pyrenees from France and come out 3 minutes later in Spain! To be able to just get on in the Gare de Lyon so easily and not have to go anywhere near an airport is phenomenal. The weather was glorious and I got to see two places that had been on my list for a long time: Cadaques, just on the coast near Figueras, where Dali used to live, and Sitges, with its long stretch of sand and beautiful art deco seafront just half an hour south of Barcelona. Both were relaxed and quiet.

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A brilliant few days travelling by the amazing Spanish AVE high-speed train to Madrid and back, with a chance to catch up with friends. It’s 15 years since I lived in Madrid, so it was amazing to meet up with my two flatmates from back then, as well as to literally bump into people I once knew in the street. Madrid seems changed – much smarter, but also more commercial and busier. And more vibrant than Paris, despite the supposed recession, though only seeing the centre of a city is of course deceptive. The creation of a massive new 7-kilometre river park and a huge new art complex in an old abattoir ‘El Matadero‘ in the southern suburbs was really impressive. Madrid never made much of its river – the Manzanares – before, but now I think I’d go there to walk before the often-crowded Retiro.

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In October I also started a Poetry School course online called ‘Transreading Central Europe’, run by Polish poet and translator Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese. There were 11 of us in total on the course which was really innovative and stimulating, mixing experimental translation techniques with the study of poetry and literature from Central and Eastern Europe. We ‘erased’, ‘expanded’ and ‘domesticated’ poems each fortnight and shared work with the group. The beauty was being concerned with the process and challenge of the task, without worrying too much about the end result. I wish I’d had more time to do all the readings, but even delivering work every two weeks was a challenge. Incredibly generous feedback on the new work from the tutor and a good online environment meant that it was liberating and social at the same time. And not having to all log on at a particular time made it much more flexible to fit around your own schedule.

November was Aldeburgh. A superb festival in every way, particularly on account of the excellent international poets that had been invited, including Adelia Prado (Brazilian), Finuala Dowling (South Africa) and Thomas Lux (American), not to mention the exciting and varied new voices of Chrissy Williams, Kayo Chingonyi, Suzanne Evans and Jonathan Edwards, who all read a polished set each. It was also a chance to see Dan O’Brien read his war poems after the photos of Paul Watson, which was immediately followed by the entertaining reading by Selima Hill – the first time I had seen her ‘perform’. My second time at the festival and hopefully there’ll be many more.

I was at Aldeburgh as part of the Aldeburgh Eight along with seven other poets who had been selected as part of the scheme, to take part in a writing week at Bruisyard Hall organised by the Poetry Trust. This was a wonderful ‘space’ to be together with tutors Michael Laskey and Peter Sansom, as well as Naomi Jaffa, who had just said goodbye to Aldeburgh after twenty-plus years of organising the festival. We walked, talked, ate, drank, wrote poems, played pool and didn’t want to leave the stunning confines of a Suffolk manor house built in 1354. An unforgettable week that led to many new beginnings. With feedback and close readings from several of the other poets, it also helped me think afresh about how to put together a sequence of poems for various pamphlet competitions. One day…

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December started brilliantly with an evening of the fortnightly Coffee-House Poetry reading series at the Troubadour in Earls Court, London, run by the ever-energetic and committed Anne-Marie Fyfe. I had a poem ‘Baltic Woman‘ commended as one of 23 prize winners in the annual Troubadour International Poetry Prize. It was a privilege to have my work selected by poetry editors Neil Astley and Amy Wack from more than 4000 poems entered this year, the eighth year it has run. My poem ‘The Teenage Existential‘ came second in the prize in 2012, judged by Bernard O’Donoghue and Jane Draycott. A great evening of winning poems with Dan O’Brien dropping in from Los Angeles to pick up first prize for a powerful, urgent and harrowing poem.

So that’s been the last few months. My playful poem ‘All the Men‘ (exploring the logistics of trying to sleep with all the men in Italy) came joint third in the Torbay Open Poetry Competition, selected by R V Bailey, while my poem ‘Oppositions of Want’ was a runner-up in the Poetry London competition, chosen by Michael Symmons Roberts. A poem ‘Duffle‘ has been published in the exciting new online magazine here/there:poetry, a transatlantic venture by Daphne Warburg Astor and Amy Schreibman Walter that accepts previously published work and has a theme for each issue. It means a poem I liked that had previously been published in Smiths Knoll has now got a new lease of life and new readers.

I have also had a few poems published in print magazines – two selected by Carole Baldock for long-establised Orbis international literary magazine issue #169, just published this autumn; two selected by Martin Malone to appear in The Interpreter’s House early in 2015 (the new graphic design is genius and the issues are all selling out); and one ‘The Guest’, which was chosen by Jamaican poet Kei Miller for Poetry News on the theme of ‘gold’. There will be an evening at the Queen’s Gallery in February where I should get a chance to read my poem before Kei reads from his stunning latest collection, ‘The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion’, which I recently reviewed, among others, for The North issue 53, out in the new year.

And finally, the latest anthology by Highgate Poets is now available to buy online. Its the 27th anthology of the monthly north London workshop group. I’ve been involved in editing the last three anthologies and this time my photo of the Clore Ballroom of the Royal Festival Hall was chosen for the cover. It’s a really professional end product thanks to the other editors, as well as Anne Ballard who oversaw the project and Robert Peake who did the layout. Such a great title too: ‘The Space it Might Take’.

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