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The sky shalt never be gunmetal

9 Oct

At the post-lunch reading slot at Poetry Swindon yesterday, young local poet and singer Olivia Tuck stepped in for a poorly Camilla Nelson.

Now while I’m sure Camilla would have been great (because Poetry Swindon has impeccable taste), Olivia made the most of her surprise moment. Funny and revealing, Olivia tells the trials and tribulations of youth, with a backdrop of in and out-patient mental health services and dark fantasies like Changeling. Today, chronicler Milo age 11 – still hanging around after the Children’s Open Mic, chilling on a bean bag and catching the reading – can still recall much of Olivia’s poem about her 12-year-old self.

She was in great company with two 2017 highly commended Forward Prize poets, Rishi Dastidar and Jessica Mookherjee. Continue reading

On iced buns and rubbish trees

8 Oct

 

 

A few bleary adult faces were prepping the Children’s Open Mic Talent Show this morning after the 3am mini party finish in the Tent Palace of the Delicious Air last night. Alas it started waaay after I had retired to bed but at least I didn’t look green today.

We were chewing our nails a little. At first it looked like the only kids were going to be the host (chronicler Milo), the guest poet Sophie Daniels and their siblings. But it was alright on the night (morning) when the chairs and bean bags filled with children anxious to take a turn on the mic.

So we had poems, jokes, poem-jokes, a bit of Milo, a welcome lot of A.F. Harrold the honorary adult poet and even more of Dr Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham. A.F. tackled serious business like iced buns in an iced bun shop, the perils of a midnight feast, and rubbish trees. Nine year old Sophie’s set showed her a miniature poet-in-waiting with an edge of darkness. Milo had to bravely act his way through Michael Rosen’s Little Rabbit Foo Foo – with the assistance of Sophie’s sister Grace and audience participation – after his sister Sydney got a serious attack of stage fright and not even the extreme bribery of chocolate cake would entice her onstage.

A.F. Harrold was a consummate professional, even when toddlers tried to upstage him by taking the mic mid-poem, and Milo (and the other kids queuing to get their A.F. books signed) finished the event with a big fat smile on his face.

Written by Louisa Davison

Children’s Open Mic Talent Show took place at the Richard Jefferies Museum, 8 October 2017, as part of Poetry Swindon Festival.

My Surprise Workshop

8 Oct

It is fair to say that some participants didn’t get what they came for on Sunday morning when they turned up with their rolled up mats and tired faces expecting relaxation and poetry. I was a late replacement for the relaxation teacher who wasn’t able to make it. There was a meditative quality to this workshop, but I don’t think you could say it was relaxing. This was a mixed group of experienced poets and some completely new to poetry. But every single one of them moved me with their willingness to dig in, dig deep and take on challenges. By this point in the festival I reckon most participants are steeped in poetry and they’re just ready to go. Continue reading

Mad and Glow – the experiment

8 Oct
Mad and Glow

Mad and glowing (photo by Nine Arches Press)

INSIDE

I met Tania Hershman, Poet in Residence at Swindon and my now partner-in-poetry, at the Nine Arches Christmas party last year. When we heard each other read, we were both struck by the ways our work resonated, although our styles are very different, and began to wonder whether, given that we both have a background in theatre, we might put together a two-woman show. As we were beginning to focus on this idea, we realised that we were going to be at Swindon at the same time. This seemed to be too good an opportunity to miss, so we tentatively asked Hilda Sheehan whether we could have ten minutes for little scratch performance. Hilda being Hilda, lover of experiments, gave us a one hour slot and left us to it. And so Mad and Glow was born. This is a two-woman show directed by my daughter Tamar, involving tea, sandwiches, audience participation and quite a lot of poetry. Continue reading

Politics and Provocation

8 Oct

Daljit Nagra’s was a packed workshop in the holiday Inn and we were grateful for the posh bottles of water, Holiday Inn notepads and pens, and thankfully, air conditioning. Things got quite ‘balmy’ as Daljit put it as this workshop progressed. I had intended to come as an observer but found myself quickly and irrevocably drawn in.

The political became more and more accessible as a way into poetry as the workshop progressed. Daljit talked about his experience of writing British Museum, that a way to get into the structures of politics, for him, was to look at the structures of buildings; beautifully concrete images to work from. He talked about the joy of taking on The Big Poem, of doing the research without an authoritative or didactic voice, and mentioned my favourite Yeats quote: ‘Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry’. From this, he invited us, amongst other things, to be non-partisan and to write from another’s point of view. Continue reading

Poets and Publishing #2

7 Oct
Poets and Publishers 2017

From left: Mary Jean Chan, Carrie Etter, Amy Wack

For the second year running, much-published poet and University Reader Carrie Etter quizzes two publishers from the world of poetry for tips on getting published.

This year, Carrie talked to Seren Books editor Amy Wack and Mary Jean Chan, co-editor of Oxford Poetry.

Amy is more of an unashamed traditionalist, a ‘sucker’ for form but ‘like it when people change my mind’. She is drawn to universal themes of nature, love (‘it worked for Shakespeare’) and bereavement. But she hasn’t had a transgender-themed submission and thinks it’s about time. There is a discussion about the importance of themes in collections – what if you have lots of good work, but no particular theme? It’s all about marketing, says Amy. Themed collections are easier to sell. Continue reading

Deathcap mushroom babies and other stories

7 Oct
Poetry Primers

From left: Ben Bransfield, Cynthia Miller, Jane Commane (Nine Arches Press), Marvin Thompson. Bottom right: Tony Hillier

Regarding the quality of Poetry Swindon’s hosts, as I’ve written before, if you want a note-free host who knows more about the poet’s work than their own mother, Sam is your man. He makes the kind of celebratory introduction that forces an advance apology from the poet. And not forgetting Poetry Swindon’s finger-clicking and foot-stomping founder and leader, Hilda. I remember when Hilda could barely stand in front of a crowd. These days she has comic timing that would cause a stand-up to ask if she ran performance workshops and encourages us to encourage the poets with the clapping, cheering and whooping usually reserved for slams.

Yesterday, Tony was the cheerleader for Poetry Swindon Festival’s Poetry Primers, who had not a droney ‘poetry voice’ between them. I wasn’t sure at first about Ben Bransfield’s slow pace but then realised this enabled the absorption of unfamiliar words, phrases and lines, when the norm is for whole poems to gust by on a gale of inattention. One memorable poem owned the line ‘as you do’ as Ben contemplated fatherhood of a deathcap mushroom baby (I’m guessing in the vein of ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’). Later he riffed on Scrooge and Jacob Marley as lovers which makes total sense if you think of it in the context of waking up drunk and imagining randy ghosts. Continue reading

Friday evening and going strong

6 Oct

And today, how the day has stretched out. From the Holiday Inn breakfast and the specially made poached eggs, I made my way to Tania Hershman‘s working on ‘Liberation through Constraint’ and found a bunch of hardy writers ready to take on the four incredible challenges she set us, smiling, as if she were offering us bars of chocolate. Which of course meant that we were all up for it, and launched ourselves in with some incredible results, judging from the pieces people read out. The culmination of the workshop was the introduction of the ‘Drabble’ – nothing to do with the very wordy novelist – a flash fiction form that has to be exactly 100 words. Discoveries and surprises all round, I’d say.

The open mic after lunch yielded more surprises, with its theme of ‘strange days’. The star of the show was probably the large German shepherd whose name I think was Rory; he actually stepped up to the mic on cue when his owner name-checked him in a poem. Apart from that particular surprise, there were powerful and impassioned poems on all kinds of subjects ranging from mental health to an opera singer in a washing machine to  the sculpture of Barbara Hepworth. The man with drums and a very long political message was strangely fascinating, and a couple of poets read the poems they’d written that very morning whilst in Daljit’s workshop.

I spent a good part of the afternoon in the tent with Tania Hershman rehearsing our two-woman show, ‘Mad and Glow’ which we’re premiering tomorrow afternoon. We tripped over a few microphone wires, Tania corrected me on a line of hers that I had inadvertently rewritten in my live rendition, and I got marmite on my script – but we eventually staggered through it and are excited to take it to an audience and see what they make of our particular madness. As Monty Python would say, it’s all in the best possible taste.

After the briefest of sojourns in my room I returned to the tent to hear Emma Simon, Sue Rose and Simon Williams – three contrasting poets in a beautifully curated reading. Emma’s actually in the seminar group I teach, so I couldn’t help feeling proud. I’ve known Sue Rose for a few years and it was great to hear her read a breadth of work over a full twenty minutes. Simon Williams is new to me, and closed the reading with some serious and some really really funny poems that the audience adored.

I can’t close this without mentioning the ‘festival bread’ – proper sourdough that’s properly excellent, and the delicious meals. I’m starting to feel slightly institutionalised as I turn up like a cow fresh from the pasture ready to be fed at the appointed times.

 

Singh Songs and other poems beginning with S

6 Oct

You know that moment when you finally get what a poem means and then you realise – aghast – that every time previously you’ve heard the poet read it you’ve been smiling faintly or staring at the floor and then you realise IT’S A SAD POEM. This happened to me before when I submitted a poem celebrating my newly born daughter for critique to a writers group at the same time as another writer submitted a poem about her dead baby son and I still didn’t realise until critiquing it at the group when suddenly the penny dropped. Continue reading

Poetry and the film and the lecture

6 Oct

The second two Poetry Swindon Festival events were proper clever. Left me with a lot of thoughts which, to do the whole process justice, I’ll pose as questions.

The first asked us, is poetry film, poetry?

After a series of mesmerising shorts from the 1920s to last year – Swoon, Man Ray, Eduardo Yagüe, Hans Richter, Barbara Hammer, Tom Konyves, Dave Bonta – I wondered if poetry film is an intellectual exercise, or whether it speaks to us emotionally at a deeper level that bypasses intellect. Not that there’s anything wrong with ‘intellectual’ – unless it’s trying to shut others out with its cleverness. If you’ve met the lovely poetry film makers Elephants Footprint A.K.A. Chaucer Cameron and Helen Dewbery, you’d know inclusiveness was the only thing on the table.

Like contemporary dance, poetry film creates its own visual language of movement that feels beyond text. In appreciating poetry film, do we let go of brains instead of trying to hold onto them? Continue reading