May to December

The year is almost up. I can’t believe it is seven months since my last post. Regular posts don’t come easy. My resolution for 2016 is to write once a month and to focus more on the books I’m reading, rather than trying to keep a diary. There is an incredible diversity of poetry blogs out there and I’m sure I can take inspiration from others. Well, to recap a little:

In July I attended the Poetry School’s week of summer school classes with half-days and full-days of writing in Lambeth led by experienced poets including Nick Field, Nicola Deane, Dai George, Rishi Dastidar, R A Villanueva and Kelly Swain. This was a great format, the idea of a week meeting different tutors and participants, and in each session exploring a new theme. I am sitting on drafts and free writing that came out of the sessions, and look forward to the revisiting the material. The subject matter ranged from ‘celebrating your history’, ‘epiphanies and moveable feasts’, ‘surprised by joy, ‘call and response’, a ‘festival of opposing forces’ and ‘playing with the past’. We wrote using various textual and visual stimulus – poems, images, diaries, video footage – plus pop songs.

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In October I took the plunge and started a part-time MA in Creative Writing with the Manchester Writing School at MMU. I’d been hesitating whether to commit to a course, what with a full-time academic job in a field unrelated to poetry. Would I have enough free time? And the Sheffield Writing School that I did a couple of years back used to run as an accredited MA. In the end, realizing that the conditions will never be perfect, I thought the online option over 3 years might work for me. I got in touch with Jean Sprackland having been on an Arvon led by her and Jacob Polley a few years back at Lumb Bank and then had an interview with Adam O’Riordan. My main motivation was to have some kind of formal structure to enable further, sustained dialogue around poetry. This first term has been fantastic with a critical reading course, covering 20 poets from Hardy to Larkin. So I have been online one evening a week with Jean and three other poets discussing the stylistic features of poets and then going away and ventriloquizing them to write pastiches in their voice, but on my own subject matter. Really stimulating, and proof that online software such as Moodle and Chatzy really do allow you to participate fully and actively in postgraduate studies at distance.

In November I attended my third Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, which was truly fantastic. Such a beautiful part of the world. I am gutted to hear about the recent demise of the Poetry Trust, and the doubts around the future of the festival. It’s the one national festival that manages to bring in top international poets from the US and elsewhere, as well as established voices in translation, and introduce new voices. And this year was no exception with Tony Hoagland and Kim Addonizio, as well as Valerie Rouzeau with Susan Wicks. How such a brilliant, professional and broad-ranging festival has to fall by the wayside is truly shocking. Some events were free, the shorter ones cost 5 pounds, with the main readings 7 pounds 50. No more expensive than any of the other festivals I’ve been to such as StAnza and Ledbury, and with a healthy audience and a truly committed staff, some of whom have dedicated the best part of two decades of their professional lives to building up the festival. And it’s easy to get to: just an hour and a half from London on the train, then a 20 minute taxi. Last year I had the chance to take part in the fantastic Aldeburgh Eight scheme, through which I got the title poem from my recent pamphlet. It was an unforgettable week and one I’ll not forget. It was great meeting the poets this year who were taking part, and I so hope there will be future cohorts. Here’s hoping the Arts Council steps up and helps find a financial model that can keep Aldeburgh alive as it is so vital in bringing poets together and keeping contemporary poetry alive. My favourite week of the year.

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I also read poems from my pamphlet as part of the Coffee-House Poetry series at the Troubadour in Earl’s Court in London. I travelled to the UK  on the Monday after the Paris attacks and the Eurostar was eerily empty. But the evening was thoroughly enjoyable and I was grateful for friends turning out to support me, and to Anne-Marie Fyfe for inviting me to read alongside US poet Tom Sleigh, and the lovely Forward prize-winner Mona Arshi. The summer had flown by after the Grasmere launch in May and this was really the first reading I had given since.

I was really pleased to have two poems on living statues appear in the beautifully made-over Rialto issue 83, among the poems chosen by the series of rotating editors. Last year I attended the amazing international living statues festival in Arnhem in the Netherlands – by night and by day – with almost 200 living statues from all around the world, adults and children, and these are the first of a series of poems around that theme to see the light of day. In the autumn two poems appeared in South Bank Poetry issue 22, and one in the superb recent issue of Magma on the theme of ‘conversation’.

And finally, I have two readings lined up in the New Year: on Friday 8th at the Torriano as part of Magma event in the run-up to the competition deadline; and on Monday 11th which will be a great Poetry Business evening where I’ll get to read at the Poetry Society Cafe in Covent Garden alongside the other pamphlet competition winners.

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