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A Review of the 2015 Poetry Carousel

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A Review of the 2015 Poetry Carousel

 

The poet Elisabeth Sennit Clough was one of the 32 participants on last year’s sold out Poetry Carousel.  I asked Elisabeth to write an account of what the experience was like.  If you’ve been debating about whether to come, this is a must-read! Elisabeth is a fantastic poet, and has a pamphlet forthcoming after winning the Paper Swans Pamphlet Competition in 2016.

This year’s team of tutors are myself, Clare Shaw and Dutch poets Saskia Stehouwer and Tsead Bruinja.  You can find more information about the 2016 Carousel here

2015 Poetry Carousel

by Elisabeth Sennit Clough

Cumbria is about as geographically and aesthetically distant from my present home in a West Norfolk village as possible, but a current obsession with poetry retreats compelled me to abandon my husband and three children and travel to Grange-over-Sands for the weekend.

As I trundled my case along the short distance from Kents Bank Station to Abbots Hall Hotel, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I couldn’t remove the definition of ‘carousel’ from my mind: 1) a merry-go-round at a fair or 2) a conveyor system at an airport from which arriving passengers collect their luggage.  

On the first evening, we were assigned to groups and stayed in those groups as we rotated through the four workshops (the premise of the poetry carousel being to move around four workshops, each with a different tutor). Like the merry-go-round, it had the potential to be great fun while it lasted – or, like the baggage carousel, it could just go round and round monotonously and I could end up right back where I started (I have an ambivalent relationship with airport carousels). 

My first workshop was with Kim. In my group were fellow MMU student Hilary Hares (whom I’d met on a Teaching Creative Writing Course) and Helen Kay – whom I had never met – but had corresponded with about the Nantwich Festival. Given how small the UK poetry world is, it was somewhat inevitable (and lovely) that I would bump into familiar names and faces.

The coincidences continued: Kim is a huge Philip Levine fan and I used to live in Fresno (where Philip Levine ran the MFA Programme at CSU). Kim adopted the title of Levine’s award winning collection What Work Is, articulating the lives of Detroit factory workers, for her workshop. What exactly is work? Our ice-breaker involved trying to answer that deceptively hard question. Having read poems such as ‘My People’ and ‘A Psalm for the Scaffolders’ in Kim’s The Art of Falling, I could see why work as a subject matter was important to her.

I learned that many people on the carousel had attended previous poetry workshops with Kim – a testament to her engaging teaching style and ability to put people at ease. For example, her workshop helped me find a way into writing successfully about a subject I’d been battling with for years; that is, my own experiences as a teenage factory worker.

Kim describes the carousel as promoting ‘a festival atmosphere in the evening, when we come together for dinner and readings from the tutors and invited guest poets.’ This is a very accurate description: in the evening, Kim read some of her work, along with guest-readers, Jennifer Copley and Lindsay Holland. Lindsay is co-editor of The Compass and one of six poets shortlisted for the 2015 Manchester Poetry Prize. After reading, each poet discussed aspects of her work: Jennifer, for example, has published collections with several different imprints and spoke about that experience, while Lindsay discussed long poems and the significance of thoroughly researching your subject matter.

My next group workshop (the following morning) was with Andrew Forster, the other editor of The Compass. Andrew’s ‘Encounters Workshop’ involved writing about ‘an encounter that made you see things differently.’ This inspired me to write a poem about a migrant farm worker that went on to be accepted by The Rialto. Andrew commented on the strength of voice in the poem and this gave me the confidence to continue developing the poem in the same tone.  

My third workshop was with Ian Duhig. His latest (and seventh!) collection, The Blind Roadmaker (about the incredible Jack Metcalf), is one of those books that I read initially because I was interested in the subject matter, but then found myself reading again and again just to admire the exceptional craft of it.

Ian’s workshop prompted me to take an imaginative leap with my subject matter (it’s the first poem I’ve written that’s set in space!), but this freed my poem from the constraints that were constantly working against me as I wrote. Another useful device for my toolkit involved possibly turning a negative outcome in a poem into a positive one. This inspired me to change the ending of one of my poems to great success. Now, when struggling with an ending, Ian’s voice pops into my head, asking, ‘what would its opposite be?’

My final workshop was with Amanda Dalton. Amanda helped me to focus on the drama in my poetry: where should I place the tension on my dramatic arc, for example? We used postcards as prompts and placed emphasis on movement (or not as in the example of my poem below from Amanda’s workshop). I wanted to capture the idea of stark animal nakedness, the sense of unpleasantness inside and out that I interpreted from Freud’s work.

 

Sleeping By the Lion Carpet

After a painting by Lucian Freud

Like the lioness, I am alert
to the alpha in this female, feigning sleep
in an armchair: how her flesh demands
attention from the artist’s brush.

I know the mind of a woman
like this – the way she plants
her ego on the floor, stands back
and laughs as you trip over it.

Her milk contains so much venom,
her thick-ankled daughters will grow up
to puncture the limbs of prettier girls
with the points of school compasses.

She has named them Immaculate
and Conception. She has no sex –
the artist has painted her:
a fat child with breasts.


Far from ending up right back where I started, the carousel took me to unexpected places. I learned a lot of new techniques, resulting from a combination of different teaching styles melding over the weekend. Several months on, I am still developing poems inspired by the carousel weekend and re-reading my notes. And yes, my head does still spin from time to time with all the new skills and poems I brought home.

Clare Shaw at Kendal Poetry Festival — Kendal Poetry Festival

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When we applied for Arts Council funding last year, our venue, the Abbot Hall Art Gallery had a small cafe on site. However, Kendal suffered terribly in the floods, and the cafe at Abbot Hall is now unusable. Pauline and I have been working hard to research alternative arrangements for food and Blackwells have come […]

via Clare Shaw at Kendal Poetry Festival — Kendal Poetry Festival

Kendal Poetry Festival

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Kendal Poetry Festival

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you will, by now, know that the website for Kendal Poetry Festival has finally gone live!  You can find us at http://www.kendalpoetryfestival.co.uk.  The festival will take place from the 24th-26th June 2016, at Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal.

The full programme is now up.  Over the weekend we have two open mics, four main readings, three discussions about poetry and two workshops.  There are a few free events as well, all taking place in the beautiful surroundings of Abbot Hall Art Gallery.

Please head over to the website and have a look at the programme – we have some fantastic poets reading at the festival.  This has been the culmination of about a years worth of planning between myself and Pauline Yarwood, the co-director of the festival.

We found out in January that we’d got funding to go ahead with the festival, so it has been pretty hectic trying to pull the website and marketing together since then, so the website finally being live and kicking is a massive milestone for us.

We’ve got our wonderful poets for the programme, we’ve got a beautiful venue.   We’ve got a limited number of weekend passes at only £33 which will get you in to all the readings and discussions at the festival.  All we need now is an audience to make the festival a success.  We haven’t got a huge marketing budget, just enough to build a website and print our brochures.  We’ve got our Twitter account (@KendalPoetry) and the Facebook group but what we are really relying on is word of mouth, and the support of the poetry community.

The cuts to the Wordsworth Trust Contemporary Literature Programme hit writers in Cumbria hard.  This will be the first summer that we don’t all head up to Grasmere on a Tuesday evening to hear poets read.  The loss of the programme has left a huge hole, and in all honesty, a weekend festival can’t fill that summer long gap.

However, on a personal level, the loss of the readings at the trust galvanised me into action, to stop talking about running a festival, and actually go and do it.  It was a happy coincidence that I bumped into Pauline Yarwood and we got talking at Brewery Poets one week and I discoverd that Pauline  had already been making enquiries about running a poetry festival in Kendal.   I hope we can go back to the Arts Council next year and show them something astounding – audience figures much larger than what we predicted, and a festival that needs to become a yearly fixture in the calendar.

Kendal has been devastated by the floods recently.  In January, we didn’t have a venue, as much of the gallery was under water.  Coming to Kendal Poetry Festival will not only support poetry and writers in a rural county, which can feel quite isolated at times, it will also support the local community of businesses and cafes who have been flooded sometimes two or three times in as many months.

Finally, I hope you consider coming to the festival because there is something on the programme that inspires you, something that makes you want to travel from where ever you live to sit in a room and listen to poetry.