Monthly Archives: August 2016

October Residential Poetry Course

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October Residential Poetry Course

I had a great meeting with my co-tutor Jennifer Copley today.  We spent the afternoon planning the timetable and workshops that we’ll be running at our upcoming Poetry Residential at Abbot Hall Hotel in Grange-Over-Sands.  The residential is running from Monday 24th October to Friday 28th October 2016.   The course costs £424 and this includes workshops and evening readings, a tutorial with either myself or Jenny, accommodation, breakfast and three-course evening meals.  

During the week, there will be time in the afternoons to work on poems, swim in the hotel swimming pool or go for a walk along the prom to Grange.  I will be nipping out for a run, so if there are any running poets that fancy signing up, it would be great to have some company! There is a lovely flat run along the prom or nice hilly runs in the country roads around Grange.

Below is a description of the workshops that we’ll be running during the week.  If you’d like to book a place, please get in touch with the hotel on  015395 32896.  Spaces do tend to fill up quite quickly – but if you have any questions about the course, do get in touch.  The course is suitable for beginners or more experienced writers.

I’ll be putting the timetable up for the course in the next week or so, but the basic format is workshops in the morning and readings in the evenings.  In the afternoons, participants will have the chance to have a tutorial.  We have a mystery guest poet and some mystery musicians joining us mid-week and they will also be revealed very shortly!

Poetry Residential Workshops (24th-28th October)

The Collection
Jennifer Copley

During this workshop we will be exploring how to create a life and history of a person from a mystery selection of objects, provided by Jenny.  These objects will be drawn from the beaches and fells of Cumbria and from corners and forgotten cupboards in houses.  This is an object workshop – but not as you know it! Be prepared to be inspired and delighted by Jenny’s collection of quirky and unusual objects.

Painting a Portrait
Kim Moore

How can we paint a portrait with words? No paintbrushes necessary – in this workshop we will be looking at how to capture the essence of a person in a poem.  We will be writing  using family, friends, random strangers and ourselves as inspiration.  We will look at how we can use dialogue and description to create colourful and vivid poems about people.

Suspended in Time 
Jennifer Copley
What stories do we leave behind us when we die? During this workshop you will be given photographs of abandoned homes, gravestones with unusual epitaphs and other memorials and asked to imagine the stories of the people associated with them.

I Am The People 
Kim Moore
During this workshop we will be looking at what happens in a poem when a poet speaks for a group of people, and how we can write about groups without slipping into stereotyping.  We will also have a go at writing our own monologues for some famous and historical characters.

 

 

 

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Sunday Poem – Andrew Hopkins

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Sunday Poem – Andrew Hopkins

I’ve spent this week trying and failing to get to sleep at a reasonable hour. I don’t usually struggle with sleeping – so this has been a whole new experience for me. I am blaming this on over-excitement – I had my first meeting with one of my supervisors for my PhD – Michael Symmons Roberts, who will be my main supervisor for the Poetry part of it.  The meeting could have been a disaster – we had awful flash floods and rain up here which meant I was an hour late getting to the meeting,because various trains were delayed.  Anyway, I eventually made it and Michael was very nice about me arriving late and dripping rain water all over the table.

So I feel like I know a bit more now about what the PhD will involve.  Michael suggested a list of poets to look at and advised me to get a Kindle so I can read books and use the highlighter function etc.  So on Monday or maybe Tuesday I ordered myself a Kindle Fire and spent the next day haunting the doorstep waiting for it to arrive.  The postman seemed quite alarmed when I dashed through the backyard gate and shouted ‘Huzzah!’ as he came through the front gate, but never mind.

I’ve decided to use the Kindle for prose books and continue buying hard copies of poetry collections.  I ordered ‘The After Party’ by Jana Prikryl, ‘Our Andromeda’ by Brenda Shaughnessy and ‘The Beauty of the Husband’ by Anne Carson.  And Alice Oswald’s new collection – not for the PhD – that one was just because I love Alice Oswald and needed her new collection in my life.

When I get a poetry collection, I usually do a speed-read first – and I’ve done that with the Anne Carson.  I’ll go back in a couple of days and read it properly but I really enjoyed this first time through.  I’ve been re-reading a book called ‘I Love Dick‘ by Chris Kraus which i read while I was on my holiday.  I absolutely love this book – and would recommend it.  It is genre-bending – part memoir, part fictional account, part, art critique – it traces the failed falling in love of a woman with a man she has a chance meeting with.  That isn’t a good description of it either, because mixed up in all of that is an exploration of ‘who gets to speak and who doesn’t’ and in depth critiques of conceptual artists.

One of the artists she discusses is Hannah Wilke and she quotes Hannah as saying

“If women have failed to make “universal” art because we’re trapped within the “personal”, why not universalize the “personal” and make it the subject of our art?”

When I read this, I felt like I’d been hit between the eyes with something.  The poems I want to write as part of the PhD are attempting this, I think.  To take personal experiences of sexism and universalize them.  And what happens when these small, personal stories, these sometimes petty annoyances are transformed into art – what happens to them then? Do they shrink and become even smaller – or do they take on a significance of their own?

Two of my poems that are exploring sexism and my own reactions to it will be in the forthcoming Poetry Ireland Review, which is due out, I think in about two weeks.  It’s my first time in the magazine, so I’m quite chuffed about it.  The poems are from the sequence I’ve been working on ‘All The Men I Never Married’.

Anyway, all of these ideas have been buzzing around my head, and I’ve been reading pretty much non-stop all week, so instead of getting to sleep at a reasonable hour, my brain has been going round and round in a circle, thinking about PhD’s and poetry and feminism, and it all feels so exciting that it is basically impossible to sleep.

Other things that have happened this week – I did another reading to 70 teenagers at a National Citizenship Scheme week in Ambleside on Tuesday night.  I had a meeting with Pauline Yarwood – the co-director of Kendal Poetry Festival, to plan for next year’s festival.  I ran 11 miles on Wednesday night and absolutely loved it.  I ran a Dove Cottage Young Poets session on Friday and then went straight from Kendal down to Leicester, as my big sister got married on Saturday.  So the weekend has been full of family stuff – dancing to Time Warp at the wedding, going to see my niece and great-niece dancing with a dance group in the city centre, hanging out with my sisters, aunties, parents.

Next week is a lovely, quiet week.  No readings.  No workshops to prepare for.  No gigs.  My parents are visiting till Tuesday, but I’m planning to spend the rest of the week reading, writing and running, not necessarily in that order.  So maybe my blog next week will be nice and short.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Andrew Hopkins.  I’ve met Andy a couple of times as a participant in workshops that I’ve ran, and then I heard him read a brilliant poem on the Open Mic at Kendal Poetry Festival called ‘evil’.  When Andy gave me a copy of his pamphlet Dark Horse Pictures a couple of weeks ago, I was expecting to ask to use that poem on the blog, but there were lots of poems in the pamphlet, which were as good, so I was spoilt for choice really.  In the end, I chose ‘Yes Michael No Michael’ because it made me laugh, and feel sad, and I like poems that can do that.  It also seems to fit with the time scale, as it is about school, and everybody, apart from me will be going back next week.

The poem is spoken in the voice of a teacher to ‘Michael’.  Michael’s responses are not recorded, but we can often guess them.  One of the things I loved about this poem was that I believed in the voice of the teacher, full of exasperation but caring, calm but not a pushover.  And I love the bit at the beginning, when the teacher is interrupted: ‘Now if you cou.’  and ‘Can we j.’

It made me smile and remember all the times I’ve done that – stopped mid-word because I’ve been interrupted.  It also made me think of the Catherine Tate sketch with the teenager ‘Lauren’ who interrupts constantly…

I think the poem is wonderfully honest as well about the realities of being a teacher:

‘Yes, I do cry sometimes at the end of the day
when the classroom and school are empty,
but, no, not because of what you say.’

and very moving: ‘Yes, all the praise for you in genuine’ as well as very funny

‘Yes, that’s a paradox, Michael.  No, look it up, Michael’

I hope you enjoy the poem – and do feel free to comment below! Lots of the Sunday Poets check back to see if anybody has read their poem, and I know they’re always pleased to hear responses to their poems.

Andy Hopkins has worked as a teacher in London and Cumbria. He has two pamphlets to date: Dark Horse Pictures, published by the now defunct Selkirk Lapwing Press, and It Will Always Be Like This, which was published as an e-pamphlet by Philistine Press. You can hear poems from Dark Horse Pictures read by Andy here. There are also more examples of spoken word pieces with post-rock accompaniment here.

Thanks to Andy for letting me use his poem this week.

Yes Michael No Michael
By Andrew Hopkins 

Yes, if you could just sit there, please. No. Yes.
No, just.  Just.  Yes, in y. No, on the s. Yes.

Now if you cou.///////////Can we j.
Listen pl.///////////////////Ok, i.

No, knowing about Macbeth isn’t going to get you
the job you deserve.
Yes, I know you think I wrote you off
when you wrote ‘DIE HOPKINS DIE’
in six inch letters on the wall.  Without any punctuation.
No, I never told you I knew.
Yes, I knew about the things that you stole off me, too.
No, I am not paid to be insulted,
and no, your mum won’t be coming to parents’ evening;
yes, I will spend an hour on your report,
trying to turn the phrase ‘vindictively ignorant’
into empowering standard English.
No, I don’t mind that you can’t stand me;
yes, I hear everything.
No, corporal punishment is a bad idea;
yes, it would mean that your attitude improved.
Yes, that’s a paradox, Michael. No, look it up, Michael.
Yes, I do cry sometimes at the end of the day
when the classroom and school are empty,
but, no, not because of what you say.
Yes, you have made a lot of progress this year;
no, I don’t think you’d believe me.
Yes, I agree with you, your dad is a radgeful prat.
No,
not to his face, Michael.
Yes, all the praise for you is genuine;
no, I didn’t think it would change your life.
Yes, I do believe in you, I just don’t think that you do.

Now then, wh.///////////Could you p.
Please can y./////////////Alright, one l.

Dismissed.

 

 

 

Sunday Poem – Jennifer Copley

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I can’t remember if I told you all about this last week, but while I was away in Malaga my husband built wall-to-ceiling shelves in our box room, which is now going to be my writing room.  Although I’ve had the words ‘A Room of One’s Own’ tattooed on my arm for a couple of years, this is the first time I’ve actually had a room of my own.  It is very small, but I love it. It feels like a real luxury to have all my books in one room.  Just this morning, Chris put the door back on the frame for me, and when I shut the door it feels very peaceful in here.  If I can’t write a PhD in here, then there is no hope for me!

Talking of PhD’s, it is starting to feel a bit more real now.  I’m meeting up with Michael Symmons Roberts on Monday to have an informal chat about it all, and then I’m meeting up with Martin Kratz to have a talk through the module I’ll be teaching next term. Even though I’m writing all of this very calmly, I still can’t believe I’m actually doing it.

Last night I decided to pack away all of the leaving cards I got from my pupils.  Some of the things they wrote are very funny –

“Thank you for everything.  Play that country tuba cowboy!” (a reference to a song we used to sing and play along with)

“Hope you have lots of poem books and a good career”

“I hope you enjoy your future life” (me too!)

and my personal favourite “Goodbye Mrs Alan” (poor Mrs Alan has no plans to leave as far as I know)

My (except it’s not mine anymore sob) junior brass band did a little book for me and they all wrote a message in there – and one of the young people wrote ‘Thank you for the gift of music’.  This really struck home with me – that music is a gift.   It is only ever something to be offered, something that you hope to pass on.  When it was passed to me, it sent my life off down a road I would never have travelled without it, and it has brought such riches to my life – which sounds cheesy, but it is true.  I guess it is hitting me now, what it means to have done this for 13 years, and to be finally leaving.  I haven’t been teaching for 13 years, I’ve been passing on the gift of music, or trying to, at least.

I’m rubbish at planning blog posts, I like to just ramble on.  That way, sometimes it feels like writing a poem, discovering something in the act of writing.  As I’m writing this post, I realise I’m looking forward to enjoying the gift of music for myself for a while, which immediately sounds, to my ears, a little selfish, but it is the truth.  I’m looking forward to doing a bit more playing in shows.  I’m going to have some repertoire lessons with a local piano player.  I’m going to be playing with the soul band. I might even have some time to do some practice, so it doesn’t feel like I’m leaving music behind.  If anything, it feels a little like coming round full circle, to playing the trumpet, but without the horrendous pressure that I used to put on myself.

This week I’ve been busy running a residential poetry course – the Poetry Carousel.  Rachel Davies has done a great blog about the course, which you can find here, if you’re wondering what it was like from a participant’s point of view.  I am proud to say that I invented the concept of the Poetry Carousel, after the success of the more traditional residential courses I was running. The Poetry Carousel has four tutors, and the group of 24 participants were divided into groups of 6, with each 6 getting a two hour workshop with each tutor, before moving on the next day to another tutor.

They are different from a traditional course in that there is a real festival atmosphere in the evening, as everybody gets together for the readings.  For me as a tutor, it feels like a telescoping effect – you are working very closely with a group of 6 in the morning, and then in the evening this broadens out and you meet the whole group.

We were very lucky with the weather this year – blazing sunshine the whole time and we were lucky with our participants – a real mix of poets with a lot of experience, to poets that had never been to a workshop before and everything in between, but all showing a real commitment to their writing and producing high-quality stuff in the workshops.

I’m running another residential poetry course from October 24th-28th at Abbot Hall Hotel in Grange-Over-Sands.  This is more like a traditional course, with two tutors, and a maximum of 16 participants.  The other tutor will be the wonderful poet Jennifer Copley, who just happens to be the Sunday Poet today.

The course will consist of workshops in the mornings, a chance for tutorials in the afternoons, readings from tutors and guest poets, and a chance for course participants to share work in an evening reading (if they want t0).  Although I love the Poetry Carousels, I also like running these courses.  You get to know the 16 people very well, because you are working together all week, and amazing things can happen during this short, but intense amount of time – not just poetry, but friendships, laughter, tame robins…

If you would like to book, there are still some rooms left. You can find more information about the theme of the week, and how to book, by going here.  If you know anybody who you think might be interested, please forward on this information -I don’t have a marketing budget, or even anybody to do any marketing apart from me, so I do rely on word of mouth to fill the places on the courses.

My co-tutor for October is Jennifer Copley, who is a wonderful, and I think, not made-a-fuss-of-enough poet.  She doesn’t do Facebook, or Twitter, although she does have a website.  She is an incredibly talented and widely published poet, whose writing is surreal, playful, dark, funny, poignant.  She has featured on this blog before, but I’m posting a poem up today because her new pamphlet Vinegar and Brown Paper has just been published by Like This Press

This pamphlet is completely bonkers in a good way.  It is a series of prose poems, loosely based around nursery rhymes.  Each poem is accompanied by an illustration by Martin Copley, Jenny’s husband.  The pamphlet itself is a work of art.  The paper is brown paper, with a kind of raggedy edge.  These little prose poems often made me burst out laughing.  They are unexpectedly funny as well – twisty to get hold of, and walking a fine line between absurdity and profundity.  She reminds me, in this pamphlet at least, of Hilda Sheehan, another favourite poet of mine.

Jenny has had numerous books and pamphlets published – she was one of the first winners of the Poetry Business pamphlet competition in 2001 with Ice.  Since then she has published House by the Sea in 2003 with Arrowhead, Unsafe Monuments in 2006 (also with Arrowhead), Beans in Snow in 2009 with Smokestack, Living Daylights in 2011 with Happenstance, Mr Trickfeather in 2012 with Like This Press and Sisters in 2013 with Smokestack.

I could have picked any of the prose poems in this pamphlet, and they are even better when read as a set, but I loved this one straight away, for its strange but believable logic, for the surprise at the end, and of course for the wonderful illustration.

If you’d like a copy of the pamphlet, you can order it through Like This Press, or you can email Jenny at jennifermmcopley@gmail.com if you’d like a copy, and I’m sure she would be happy to post a signed copy out.

The Robin – Jennifer Copley

was dead but no one knew who’d killed him.
–Snow in the wind, said the sparrow.
–Ice in the water butt, said the wren.
–Frost on the five-barred gate, said the blackbird.
–A poisoned snail, said the thrush.
–God, said the canary who had no respect.
–Then they all turned on each other, shrieking and accusing, although
no one had liked the robin since he’d bullied the goldfinch children to death.

 

22the robin

Sunday Poem – Elisabeth Sennitt Clough

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Another two weeks has rolled by and I gave myself another pass last weekend, as I was on a much-needed holiday in Malaga with three friends from my running club.  After a busy few months of teaching and poetry related stuff, it was a relief to go away for a week and not have anyone to talk to about poetry.  For once, I didn’t even take any poetry books to read! I did however take my Kindle and downloaded a few novels to read.

I also took a textbook with me that I bought in preparation for my PhD.  My PhD is provisionally called ‘Poetry and Everyday Sexism’.   I want to write poems about small, everyday, ‘insignificant’ sexist behaviour and explore what happens when these ‘minor’ incidents are turned into poetry.

However, I don’t feel like I’ve got enough background knowledge about the history of feminism – it is a bit like coming to a party that has been in full swing, where everybody knows each other.  I wanted to get an overview of the main developments in feminism before I rock up to university in September, so I bought this textbook called ‘In Their Time: A History of Feminism in Western Society’ by Marlene LeGates, and although I put off starting it until the last couple of days, because I thought it would be dry and dull, once I began, I really enjoyed it.  It does read a little like a novel – there have been whole chapters that I couldn’t put down until I’d got to the end.

I didn’t realise that the book actually starts in the early Christian era, and discusses notable women like Hildegard who found an alternative way of living to the normality of marriage and childbirth.  The first chapter is called ‘From Jesus to Joan of Arc’ and I found this chapter so moving – unexpectedly so, because I didn’t expect to feel a strong connection with women who lived hundreds of years ago, who had ‘visions’ and were one of a few women who were allowed to speak publicly.

In the book a Puritan called Elizabeth White describes herself as outwardly ‘somewhat more Mild’ than other women but inwardly ‘like a Wolf chained up’.   Charlotte Woodward, a 19th century American working woman said there was no community ‘in which the souls of some women were not beating their wings in rebellion.’  Maybe it was being on a holiday with a group of women for the first time ever, and noticing the way the conversation shifts and changes and circles in a different way to the way it does in a mixed group, and the topics of conversation as well, but I found the whole experience of reading those first few chapters, with these women with their souls ‘beating their wings in rebellion’ in so many different ways strangely moving, in a way that was troubling.  I guess I didn’t expect to feel such a connection with the women that the book describes.

The night before I flew to Malaga, I was invited to be the guest reader at a course at Ty Newydd.  The tutors were the lovely Patience Agbabi and Jonathan Edwards.  They made me feel really welcome, and the group they were working with were very kind.  If you’ve ever been to Ty Newydd and took part in a writing course, you will know what a special place it is.  It is the place where my life completely changed direction – I can still remember the moment.

I went on a residential course there probably eight or nine years ago, with Nigel Jenkins and Sarah Kennedy as the tutors.  Nigel Jenkins said to me to think of writing like practicing the trumpet – do it every day and read every day.   I was miserable – I’d stopped playing the trumpet because I was putting so much pressure on myself, and to realise that writing was something I could get better at, it wasn’t like a door opening, it was every door that I’d ever pulled shut myself in my own mind, swinging open.

I went to quite a few courses at Ty Newydd in the years that followed.  I went on the Masterclass with Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke next and then the year after, I went on a course with Jo Shapcott and Daljit Nagra.  The year after that I went on a course with Ian Duhig and Ruth Padel. I wrote a lot of the poems in my pamphlet and my book on residential courses.

I drove over with Chris and showed him round the house, and that was lovely as well, because we were together the first time I went there.  I wonder now if it had been disconcerting back then for me to drive away to Wales as one person, and to return as another.  I showed him the library, where Alan Jenkins recited The Wasteland as dusk fell and the bats flew back and forth across the garden, and the path down to the beach.

It sounds cheesy and over the top, but it was a huge honour to be asked to read in a place that has meant so much to me in my journey as a writer.  After the reading, Chris and I slept for about three hours, and then we got up at 1.30am and drove to the airport where I met up with my friends and got on the flight to go to Malaga.

It seems fitting that this week’s Sunday Poem should be by Elisabeth Sennit Clough, who was a participant on last year’s first Poetry Carousel.  On Tuesday, I’m off to run the second Poetry Carousel with tutors Clare Shaw, Tsead Bruinja and William Letford.  We have 24 participants booked on the course, so there are still a few last minute spaces left, if you are the type of person to book things very last minute! Our guest poets, who will be reading for us on the Wednesday night of the course are Helen Farish and Helen Fletcher, and you can read more about them over at the Poetry Carousel page.

Elisabeth has just had her first pamphlet ‘Glass’ published after winning a competition run by Paper Swans Press.  I asked her if I could use the first poem in the pamphlet as the Sunday Poem this week.  It’s a beautiful poem, full of mystery – who is the man in the first line? Is he the ‘new husband who appears in the last but one verse? The poem also sets out one of the main themes of the collection which concerns itself with both how we are seen, by others but also ourselves.  Does the ‘collapse’ of the peacock tell us that narcissism is dangerous?  The hundred-eyed bird is blind to the approach of the new husband, who cuts an ominous figure, creeping up with a bag.  He actually sounds more dangerous because of the description of presumably the mother’s face ‘reflected in the patio door’.  It is not just the peacock that doesn’t see however.  In stanza 2 we read ‘We watched it each day for weeks, but failed/to notice it jab the wire and free itself’.

There are lots of poems in the pamphlet just as good.  If you’d like to buy a copy, and support a small press, you can order one from the Paper Swans website.

Elisabeth Sennit Clough was born in Ely and grew up in a village near Cambridge, but spent much of her adult life living and working abroad.  She holds a PhD, MA and BA and is just completing her second MA (in Creative Writing: Poetry at MMU).  Her work has been widely published in magazines and anthologies, and has won prizes in several competitions.  She is a current Arvon/Jerwood mentee and hosts a local Stanza Group.  You can read more about her at her website.

I hope you enjoy the Sunday Poem this week.

Sightings

After my father died, a man bought my mother
a peacock.  She named it the rarest of gifts
this blue-green bird that fluttered its tail o

of eyes, kohled their rims in black fen soil.
We watched it each day for weeks, but failed
to notice it jab the wire and free itself.

The first sighting came from a boy
on his paper-round: its song, a call
to summer from a November morning.

With nets and sacks, we were a crazy act of hope
and hopelessness, as we found a feather
but no bird: Rarest of Gifts was lost,

until a new sighting came from a bungalow
estate.  The peacock had been drawn to a glint
of patio glass.  Seeing its own reflection,

it battered beak, wings and claw until collapse.
And as my mother’s new husband crept behind
with a bag, I saw her thin face reflected

in the patio door, watching the capture
of a hundred-eyed bird, blind to his tactic:
slow, slow, grab.