Tag Archives: poetry

The Gloves Are Off

25 May

Chronicler, Swindon’s community poet and maypole maestro Tony Hillier was inspired to write after poet and dancer Tishani Doshi’s Swindon Festival of Literature readings.

You search for the other glove
You search for cross-continent roots
Wales played India at cricket
Your mother the bowled-over maiden

The Maidan I know in Kolkata
its lung like Hyde Park you know
Indian lungs sleep in trees these days
pawning their time to save lives 

Your poetry is properer than mine
yet each of us dances with the word
to get unheard voices heard

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Blood and Water

9 May

Born in Nigeria, poet and vicar Catherine Okoronkwo has lived, studied and worked in many places around the globe. Just thirteen months ago, Catherine morphed into the Lockdown Swindon Vicar of All Saints and Saint Barnabas churches – serving some of our multi-cultural communities of our welcoming town.

Early in the session for Swindon Festival of Literature 2021, Catherine mentioned she is driven to tackle social injustices wherever she finds them – so she grabbed my attention straight away, I was hooked the whole forty-five enlightening and lightening-paced, minutes.

I was drawn in, then cast into the unknown when Catherine also opened with her unique perspective of being a “three culture child”, So what was all that? about I murmured to myself. The vicar poet simply and carefully explained that she was born in Nigeria and brought up by Nigerian parents but left the actual country early at three months to live with her father’s UN posting in Israel. Further Westernised influences followed throughout her life including in the USA. Umm a patchwork poet indeed I thought.

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Poetry, the Enlightening Art

19 May

The 23rd Swindon Poetry Slam did even more than what it said on the tin.

Co-organiser, Clive Oseman, has written elsewhere a detailed review of the poets’ performances. But I believe more has to be said.

This was not about competition but all about celebration. Of course we followed the established Slam knockout process and by common agreement, Jemima Hughes emerged as the rightful trophy holder. On another night, the way these things go, the winner could have been any of at least half a dozen other contestants such was the national-level standard of the poets.

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What the kenning? – Matt Harvey, writing workshop

21 May

Matt Harvey at the Festival Finale

Matt Harvey at the Festival Finale

Kenning, according to Matt Harvey, is a way of describing things and their function through creative language and metaphor.

Make sense? No, me neither at first. But, as he explained further it did, with his sharing of work and examples along the way: blood as battle dew, clouds as God’s pocket fluff, and slugs as soft-horned invisigoths.

It is a process that is taught to children. Books are even written about it: Valerie Blooms’  Things to do with Kids Kennings an example of one Matt explained. And, it was to be an important part of our first task. This was a workshop after all; a fact which I had appeared to have forgotten over a leisurely lunch and a spell in the sunshine in the serene surroundings of Lower Shaw Farm. Continue reading

Sunrise, stones and stardust

7 May

Rising before dawn prompts many questions; why am I awake again, whose idea was this, and will there be coffee?  Fortunately for me and the hundred or so early risers in attendance, the impressive line-up of entertainment and presence of a coffee van in the Lawn Woods served as a welcome reminder of why we were there. For, it was, of course, the launch of the twenty-fifth Swindon Festival of Literature, and the Dawn Chorus is an integral part of the carefully curated programme, as are the authors who attend.

As newcomers, to this longstanding event, I, and Millie (9) did not know what to expect; layered up, cashed up, and blanket laded we approached in the manner that life should be; open but prepared. However, our warm coverings were not necessary due to our fortunate timing of attending the hottest Dawn Chorus on record. Continue reading

Levelling up to Shakespearean

11 Oct

 

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George Fell – a welder by day, guitarist by night (imagine Jamie Dornan, not Flash Dancer Jennifer Beals) – opened the Poetry Swindon Festival Finale with fantastic finger twiddling of self-penned pieces. Inspiration, George shared, came from such sources as trapped bees behind a window and the dawn chorus at Glastonbury Festival mocking his hangover.

Poet and children’s writer A.F. Harrold made his second appearance after the Children’s Open Mic that morning, with added swearing and Greggs the Baker ejection anecdotes. He worried about the ‘judgemental’ big standee of the disconsolate Festival mascot, Dog. After the heavyweight poetry of the last four days, the audience was up for A.F.’s humour, even withstanding the affectionate booing greeting the lack of Dog love. Continue reading

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

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

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