Tag Archives: Poetry Carousel

Change to the Poetry Carousel

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Change to the Poetry Carousel

Due to ill-health, Saskia Stehouwer will not be able to take part in the Poetry Carousel this year.  I hope she will be able to come and  tutor on a future course, and wish her a full and speedy recovery.

The gap on the Poetry Carousel tutoring team will be expertly filled by Scottish poet William Letford, who has  agreed to join us on the residential course this year. The full team of tutors will be William Letford, Clare Shaw, Tsead Bruinja and myself.

William Letford’s debut collection Bevel was published by Carcanet in 2012. He has received a New Writer’s Award from the Scottish Book Trust, an Edwin Morgan Travel Bursary, and a Creative Scotland Artists’ Bursary, which allowed him to travel through India for six months. He has taken part in translation projects through Lebanon, Iraq, and Palestine, and in 2014 a chapbook of his poetry Potom Koža Toho Druhého was translated in Slovakian and published by Vertigo. His work has appeared on radio and television and his second full collection Dirt will be published by Carcanet this August.

Bevel was one of the best first collections I’ve read for a long time, and I’m not only excited about working with Billy Letford on the Carousel, but also that he may have the first copies of his new collection with him, hot off the press!

You can find more information about the Poetry Carousel here.  To book a place, please ring the hotel direct on 015395 32896

 

Here are the details of William’s workshop

Workshop – William Letford
The beauty in the mundane 

I keep a journal, nothing fancy, just a notebook I can turn to whenever I see fit. No pressure, I don’t force myself to fill the pages but over the years the journals have built up and now I have quite a collection. Looking back over the books and entries has convinced me of one thing. I am boring. And I’m sure I’m not alone. In between the birthdays, marriages, rollercoaster rides and funky dance moves our lives are mostly mundane. But that’s where the beauty is. I’d like to invite you to a workshop on exploring the poetry of the everyday. Bring all your boring bits with you.

 

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.

Sunday Poem – Ian Harker

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THE LIONS OF LEEDS TOWN HALL – Ian Harker

Drawn from life at London Zoo
you could catch one from the corner
of your eye curling an oversize paw
like a cat in a square of sunlight
on the kitchen floor or flicking the dirt
from its mane – blackbright lions
lazing in the haze of fading might.

Here they come up Park Row,
claws clack-clacking on flags,
leaping parked cars, nosing over litter bins.
The city after dark is an outdoor enclosure
for owls and sheep, gargoyles and eagles
and a family of roe deer grazing placid
in Mandela Gardens.

At the Mechanics’ Institute the security guards
can hardly hear themselves think for the squawk
and scream of the treetops, yawning hippos
and an extinction of dodos hopping down the stairs
towards Millennium Square.
And who dare check that Nesyamun,
three thousand years dead, hasn’t shifted
his shrunken bones, sat up
and started tapping against the glass.

Today’s Sunday Poem is from Ian Parker’s first pamphlet, The End of the Sky, which was one of three winners of the 2015 Templar Pamphlet Awards and was published in November. I got to know Ian a couple of years ago, through my good friend David Tait.  I remember David telling me then that he thought Ian was a great poet and to watch out for his poems.  Ian has had a great 2015 – I’ve been noticing his poetry popping up in magazines and on various shortlists for competitions including the Bridport, The Troubador and the Guernsey International Prizes.  He’s also been published in numerous magazines including The North, Stand, Agenda and Other Poetry.

I haven’t seen Ian for ages so it was great to see him at Word Club in Leeds a couple of weeks ago.  I’m a bit lazy about buying books and pamphlets online now and much prefer to get them in person – so I’m glad I got the opportunity to get a copy of quite a few pamphlets from various poets based in and around Leeds.

As soon as I read the title of this poem I knew I would love it.  I thought I was the most unobservant person when I lived in Leeds – if it didn’t look like a trumpet, I wasn’t really interested, but even I apparently, had noticed the lions because I got a kind of pang of nostalgia just from reading the title – I remember those lions!

I love the idea that you could catch one ‘curling an oversize paw’ or ‘flicking the dirt from its mane’ when you are not looking.  I have no idea if ‘blackbright’ is a real word – it sounds made up, and yet, completely right and fitting.

I think the second stanza has captured the movement of the lions beautifully, even while keeping it in the reader’s mind that these are stone lions – their claws ‘clack-clacking on flags’.  It’s all a bit Museums at Night by the end, with that image of Nesyamun sitting up and ‘tapping against the glass’ – I love it!

Thanks to Ian for allowing me to use his poem forthe blog this week – I would heartily recommend his pamphlet, The End of the Sky, which you can buy by heading over to the Templar website.

Talking about Nesyamun and his three thousand year old bones, I feel a strange affinity with him tonight, except he maybe has a bit more life in him!  I’ve just got back from an amazing weekend, running the first ever Poetry Carousel.

In the days leading up to the Poetry Carousel, I started to worry that there might be a reason why nobody had done this sort of course before.  Thirty two participants, divided into four groups of eight.  Each group of eight had a two-hour workshop with four tutors, rotating around, from one tutor to the other. Tutors for this year were Ian Duhig, Amanda Dalton and Andrew Forster who were all great to work with and a brilliant support  throughout the weekend.

I can only imagine what it was like for the people taking part, moving from one workshop to another, one energy to another, one teaching style to another, one topic to another.  It must have been exhausting, and by the end of the weekend, there was certainly a sense of hysteria setting in with the tutors and a few of the participants. But I hope it was also inspiring and exciting and fun and made them think and question and think again.  I hope it was challenging as well – I think we need to be challenged sometimes, and prodded out of our comfort zones. The quality of the work produced during the workshops was outstanding and although at times, I felt sad  I wasn’t getting to spend as much time getting to know people as on a ‘normal’ residential course, it was lovely to walk around the hotel and hear the buzz and chatter of people talking and laughing.

We had two wonderful and very different guest poets, Jennifer Copley on the Friday night, and Lindsey Holland on the Saturday night, both at very different stages in their careers.  Jenny will be running a more ‘normal’ residential course with me in October: ‘From the Ordinary to the Extraordinary’ and it was great to hear some of the new poems she has been working on, including some surreal takes on nursery rhymes.  Lindsey has now finished a pamphlet she has been working on about her family history, and read three long poems as her set, including one of my favourites of hers, St Elmo’s Fire, which was one of the set of poems recently shortlisted for the Manchester Poetry Prize.

The carousel will be running again from the 16th-19th August 2016, and I’ll be making an announcement about the other three tutors very soon!

Apart from preparing for the course, which seems to have taken a huge part of my week, last week I spent two evenings at a school show, where I’d rehearsed a school band so they could perform in the afternoon without me as I had to be somewhere else teaching.  They apparently were brilliant in the afternoon, counted themselves in, finished together, kept in time and in the evening, when I was halfway on stage ready to conduct them, they counted themselves in again and off they went, so I scuttled off stage again! It was a strange mixture of pride that they didn’t need me and grumpiness that they didn’t need me, but the pride was definitely on top, as it should be!

I also ran far too much last week and now have sore shins again, which I’ve rested this weekend in the hope they will make a speedy recovery.  I also went for a lovely afternoon tea with my friend Helen who writes a great blog detailing her experiences at some of the county’s finest afternoon tea establishments.  My alias is ‘Princess K’ on the blog and I am the only one of her friends to be photographed and featured on said blog.  This might be because I kept photobombing the pictures she was trying to take of the cakes but never mind

Next year, starting towards the end of January, I’ll be tutoring on an online course called What Work Is through the Poetry School.  You can book onto the course here, but if you’d like to find out a little more about it, I’ve just written a blog post which talks about what we’ll be doing on the course which you can find here. Half of the places have gone already, so if you’d like to book, do get in touch with the Poetry School.

In February, I’m running a residential course in St Ives with Steve Ely – again, half of the places for this course have already gone so do get in touch with the hotel if you would like to book  a place.  You can find more information here

This is always a strange time of year – it feels like things are starting to wind down, but they aren’t really.  Next week I have a school concert, I’m taking Barrow Shipyard Junior Band busking twice, a soul band rehearsal and a trip to Galway to read at the Over the Edge reading series and then a soul band gig when I get back.  It’s not really winding down at all, but there is that sense of time running out, or running away.

The end-of-year lists are starting to come out – this blog is even on one of them, which I’m very, very happy about.  Matthew Stewart over at Rogue Strands has compiled a list ‘The Best U.K Poetry Blogs of 2015’ and happy to say my blog is on it.  My friend John Foggin has just blogged and included his four poetry blogs that keep him going and I’m happy to say this blog is mentioned there as well.

Poetry, and blogging can be like that.  I liked John’s analogy of it being like a long walk and needing friends to carry your rucksack and motivate you sometimes.  John was saying thanks to me for doing that today on his blog, not knowing that I was feeling like a three thousand year old corpse and trying to think of an excuse for not writing this blog .  Reading his blog made me remember why I like blogging – I like sharing other people’s poetry just because I like it, without expecting anything back, just because something in the poem spoke to me.  Writing a blog every week does feel like a long walk with a really heavy rucksack sometimes – there is no denying that.  Sometimes I wonder whether it is worth the time and the energy – but mostly I feel proud of it – that is what is mostly on top – which is how it should be.