Tag Archives: poetry workshops

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.

 

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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.

Sunday Poem – David Borrott

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Firstly, apologies that this week’s Sunday Poem is late, but it will be worth it!  I’ve had a busy week but my ‘days off’ (my writing days) have been full of driving and poetry and more driving.  As well as being at work and conducting my junior band, I spent Monday night writing the last assignment for the online course that I’ve been running for The Poetry School.  I’ve really enjoyed being a tutor on the course – it has been amazing seeing the different poems that have originated from the exercise.  On Tuesday I went to a reading by Simon Armitage at The Wordsworth Trust.  Simon did a great reading as usual, but it was a sad occasion for me, the last of the Tuesday night reading series.  Michael McGregor, the Director at the Trust announced that they had not been successful in their second Arts Council funding application.   So I will have to get my poetry fix elsewhere.

There are other, more positive things happening though. I think I’ve mentioned befoe that I’ve taken up the post of Reviews Editor for The Compass, a new online magazine with Andrew Forster and Lindsey Holland as the Poetry Editors.  The first issue went live on Friday.  The content of the magazine is released bit by bit over the next two weeks, so do go and check it out.  The first review is up now – written by Penny Boxall who reviewed Englaland by Steve Ely, ‘Bones of Birds’ by Jo Colley and ‘The Midlands’ by Tony Williams.

I’ve not had anything to do with the poetry submission side of things so it has been really interesting reading the poems as they’ve gone up.  I haven’t read it all yet, but my favourites so far have to be the Matthew Olzmann poems.  I’d not come across him before but will be seeking his work out now.

Choosing books to review has been good fun but it has made me aware of how many books there are out there.  I’m finding it particularly hard with the first collections – there are so many good ones, or maybe I’m more aware of them all because that is the stage I’m at as well – but we can’t review them all, much as I would like to.

On Wednesday I spent half the day at work and then half the day at a Women’s Poetry Celebration at the Wordsworth Trust.  I came straight from work and drove through my dinner hour which left me about five minutes to scoff a sandwich before my reading.  I read with Penny Boxall, Emily Hasler and Eileen Pun, all of whom had been inspired by living or working at the Trust.  I came home with only two books as I had to borrow £20 from Polly so I had to exercise some restraint, which was a good thing I think, as my shelf of books to be read is now starting to overflow.

I sold five Falls and two Wolves so I was pretty pleased with that and then I had to dash off home to get ready for the fourth live chat of the Poetry School course.

On Thursday I left at about 11am to go to Cardiff as I had a reading at First Thursday, which my editor Amy Wack runs and hosts.  Amy had invited me to stay for the night and I was planning on arriving mid-afternoon with time to get something to eat before the evening.  However, the M6 was clearly planning otherwise and I eventually pulled up outside Amy’s house at about 6.15pm.  I was stuck in traffic all day – thank goodness I had a really good book on my phone to listen to – The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, which I managed to listen to from start to finish this weekend, yes the whole 15 hours of it.  That is how much time I’ve spent driving about and stuck on the cursed M6!

I met lots of lovely people in Cardiff though, which more than made up for the marathon drive.  I read with Robert Minhinnick who was reading from his new novel ‘Limestone Man’, which is written in a beautiful poetic prose.  I really enjoyed the open mic afterwards. The lovely Emily Blewitt read a poem – I got to know Emily last year when she was a participant on the Grange over Sands residential course that I run.   I’m really excited about her first collection, which will be published by Seren in 2017.  I read the proposed manuscript for Emily a couple of weeks ago and wrote a supporting statement for her, and I think it is already a very special collection of poems.  By the time she has had a couple of years to work on it, I think it will be amazing.  I found the whole open mic really interesting though – lots of good poets and everybody was well behaved and stuck to time.

After the horrors of the traffic on Thursday I decided not to leave anything to chance and left early on Friday morning – maybe about 9am.  I had to be in Kendal by 3.45 to run Dove Cottage Young Poets so I thought this left me plenty of time.  Again, the M6 defied me – there were accidents, roadworks and I eventually got to Kendal at 3.15pm, just in time for my workshop and feeling quite sorry for myself and my poor bottom, which had been sat in a car seat for over six hours.

On Saturday I played at a mass at Our Lady of Furness Church in Barrow.  I played at the church for the first time last year.  Anthony Milledge, a talented local musician wrote a rather complicated fanfare for trumpet and organ.  We played the same thing this year and I was slightly worried that after sightreading it last year without a problem, I wouldn’t be able to do the same thing this year, which would mean my playing had actually got worse over the year but it was all ok and went off without a hitch.

I then had to jump into the car and drive to Ulverston to an afternoon rehearsal with my junior band and Furness Music Centre.  Richard Bagnall, the conductor of Furness Music Centre was conducting so it was nice to have the chance to listen from the back of the hall, rather than in the middle.  I stayed for the first half of the mass concert and then had to jump in the car again to go to my own gig with the Soul Survivors.

I spent most of the gig feeling like I was going to pass out from the heat.  I must remember to get myself a water spray before the next gig because throwing water on my face is the only thing that seems to help and it is probably not that advisable with all the electrical equipment.

I finally got to sleep at about 1am on Saturday night – it took me an hour to slow down after the gig and my ears were buzzing from the loud music.  When I woke up on Sunday morning, my arms and shoulders were aching from holding the trumpet in the same position and although I had time to go running, I felt too tired, so instead I had a rather lazy morning of eating choocolate croissants and drinking tea.  I did manage to type a poem up and enter it for a poetry competition – my first submission in absolutely ages.

If I write a poem that I think is any good, I always like to enter it into one competition.  It feels like buying a lottery ticket for me.  It gets one chance to earn me lots of money and then after that, I usually put it in a group and send it to a magazine.  Having said that, I haven’t got enough poems to make a magazine submission yet…

I set off for the Ted Hughes Festival where I was reading yesterday evening.  Yes, I got stuck in more traffic – how unlucky can one person be in one weekend?  I managed to find an alternative route with the sat nav but at times it felt like it was sending me down some farm track into the middle of nowhere.  I eventually got to Mexborough and managed to catch a few of the other readings – including the first half of Helen Mort’s set.  Her new poems are amazing and I was really excited to hear that her second collection will be out from Chatto some time in 2017.  I also heard the first half of Matthew Clegg and Ray Hearne’s collaboration.  I loved Matthew’s poetry and bought the book just before I left and am determined to read it this side of Christmas.

I had something to eat at a Wetherspoons before I left – the Wetherspoons in Mexborough is much classier than the one in Barrow.  We sat in a booth with a frame full of photos of Ted Hughes – one of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath on their honeymoon, another with Ted Hughes standing with W.H Auden, T S Eliot and some other rather famous male poets.  Can you imagine what that would have been like – to be standing there having a drink with them all?  I knew this before, but looking at that photo, it really struck me how difficult it would have been to have been a woman writing in those times.  I know that might sound like an obvious thing to say, but it felt like I hadn’t known it till then, that looking at that photo made me suddenly know it.

I finally got back to Barrow at 2am and I have spent the whole day feeling like a bit of a zombie.  I knew I was in trouble last night when I decided to go into the garage and buy the cheesiest compilation album I could find (Rock Ballads for Driving) and sing at the top of my lungs to stop myself falling asleep.

This trick worked brilliantly though and set me thinking about all of the family holidays when we used to drive to Cornwall, listening to the same songs.  I remembered sleeping in a caravan with my sister, our beds so close together I could reach out and touch her.  In the morning the seagulls would wake us up, tapping away on the roof as they walked about and whoever got up first and opened the caravan door was the one to scare away the wild rabbits, busy eating the grass in the drizzle.

All of this just from listening to some songs.  Now I think about it though, this is where I get my habit of enjoying reading the same books over and over again or watching the same TV series over and over again.  It was those car journeys, listening to the same album on repeat, knowing not only every word, but also what song would come next and what would come after that, and after that, and no matter how drawn out the ending of the songs were, how repetitive they were, my parents would never forward to the next track. Each song must be endured until the end.

Anyway, this is all a bit of strange tangent and nothing at all to do with today’s Sunday (Monday) poet, David Borrott.  I’ve known David a long time now, maybe six or seven years.  I met him on the MA at Manchester and he has been on nearly every residential that I’ve ran.  He is a lovely man and a great poet and he has been long overdue a pamphlet in my opinion.

I suppose he is glad that he waited now though because his pamphlet is published by Smith/Doorstop in a new series of pamphlets called ‘Laureate’s Choice’, which are basically poets selected by Carol Ann Duffy.

David’s pamphlet is very beautiful and the poetry is fantastic.  It is called Porthole and I would urge you all to buy it.  Regular visitors to this blog will know that David has already been a Sunday Poet a while ago with his poem ‘Self Portrait with Fiddling Death’ and so has now gone into blog history as one of those rare poets invited back a second time.

I’ve chosen the poem Boggart for this week.  I love poems that create a believable world that is not quite reality.  I like poems that have little creatures in them, like boggarts. poems that make me see the thing that is not real, like this line about the boggart: ‘the crowing mouth sipping the crack of light’.  I like poems with philosophical questions thrown in, as if they are an afterthought: ‘Are we not all held down by a rock?’ and poems with commonplace details that ground us: ‘I remember brambles, a spider on a gate/a mud path looping the field’.

I think this is a strange and beautiful poem, very poised and with lovely line breaks which make reading it aloud like reading a musical score.

David was born and grew up in Ilford, Essex and now lives in Lancashire with his partner and their three sons.  He has an MA in Poetry from Manchester Metropolitan University and his poetry has been anthologised in Watermark by Flax Books and in CAST: The Poetry Business Book of New Contemporary Poets.

I hope you enjoy the poem.

Boggart – David Borrott

The rock, in fact, was somewhere down a lane,
I went the wrong way but still got there.
I remember brambles, a spider on a gate
a mud path looping a field, then I found it.
And under it the ghoul, held by its weight,
nobody at the farm, nobody in the fields.
Are we not all held down by a rock?
I thought and touched the stone, which had no
markings except what time had laid on it.

Of course, this is a thing of the mind,
one has to tune the thinking to unveil,
the lank fiend in his burrow, his furred limbs
the crowing mouth sipping the crack of light
as I prise the boulder up – he sizzles free
and I take in that hatred of imprisonment.
Imagine the surge, I can’t control it yet but when I do
havoc will stampede through my skull
and such mad words will rocket from my beak.

2015 Residential Poetry Courses

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It is quarter past midnight and once I’ve finished writing this, I’ll wake up and it will be the morning of New Year’s Eve. Tomorrow I’ve somehow managed to make my day quite busy but filled with nice stuff.  I’ll be going on my last run of 2014 at 10am in the morning (I really should get to bed).  Then I’m meeting lovely poet Jennifer Copley for lunch.  More about Jenny in a minute.  Then I’m going to meet the other 8 members of Soul Survivors to have our photo taken for the local paper to promote our first big gig on January 30th.  That’s at 3pm.  Then I’m going round to my friend’s house who is pregnant and due any day now.  I’m having a quiet New Year’s Eve this year apart from all that, probably just staying in with the husband, who is currently ill and has spent the last couple of days languishing on the sofa with post viral fatigue syndrome.

On Sunday night, after posting my last blog post, I realised I’d forgotten to tell my lovely poetry news in all the excitement.  Poetry Review arrived and it has two of my poems in – one poem ‘The World’s Smallest Man’ which my lovely friend John Foggin helped me with when I sent an early draft to him, and ‘How the Stones Fell’ which is a rewrite of Ovid’s Creation Myth, again linked to John Foggin.  We both became a bit obsessed with Ovid last year.

I felt really annoyed with myself for forgetting.  I originally started this blog to document what it was like to be a poet and do everything else alongside, and last weekend I forgot the important parts.  I’m not talking about being published although that is lovely, but the process of being a poet.  I’m not sure I’m explaining what I mean properly.

It has something to do with not reading enough which leads to not writing enough, to being too busy to go to my regular writing groups.  It’s something I want to (am going to) change in 2015.

Anyway, I know this is a stupid time to blog.  It’s gone midnight, most of you will be in bed I’m guessing.  And I’m doing my proper round up tomorrow where I look back through 2014.

But first I want to look ahead and draw your attention to the residential course I’m running in Grange Over Sands in 2015.  Details are below.  I’d love to see some of you there.  Half the spaces have gone already, despite me forgetting to publicise it with everything else going on.  It will be a week of nothing but poetry.  Maybe a bit of wine and good food as well actually.  But there will be time to read, write, talk, think about poetry.  It won’t break the bank.

You’ll be glad to know that myself and Jennifer Copley, although we forgot to really publicise the darn thing, have planned it meticulously.  There will be a detailed timetable going up at some point in the next two weeks with a short summary of each workshop.

I’m also going to try and get some testimonials from previous participants, just in case you needed any more convincing.

Here is the most up to date information about the course

Residential Poetry Course – ‘The Stories We Tell Ourselves’
Monday 30th March – Friday 3rd April Abbot Hall Hotel, Grange Over Sands

£370 includes accommodation, breakfast and three course evening meal and all workshops and readings

During this week we will explore how to use narrative in our poetry.  Using fairytales, myths, legends and your own family history we will start to create our own untold stories.  Suitable for all ranges of ability – come and join us for a week of workshops, discussions and readings. We will be joined by two mystery guests mid-week.

Booking is now open – please ring the hotel directly on 015395 32896.

If you have any questions about the course please get in touch via the Contact Page.

 

Lakeland Book of the Year Awards

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Evening everybody.  In an attempt to not do a mammoth post on Sunday I’ve decided to do a mini update about the week so far… It’s been absolutely full of poetry, which, as you all know, is how I like it.

On Monday, I did my first poetry workshop at a secondary school in Rochdale – invited by a friend of mine, Michael Conley, who was a couple of years below me on the MA at Manchester.  He is an English teacher at the secondary school but he is also a very good poet, and in fact I have used the opportunity to appropriate a poem from him as a Sunday Poem.

I love working with other teachers – both in music and poetry settings – I feel like I learn a lot from watching how other teachers work – and although Mike was supporting the workshop rather than doing any active teaching – I learnt a lot from him – he had a very calm manner with the teenagers.  He moved amongst them when they started writing, and they obviously trusted him, and wanted to show their work to him.  One of the Year 10 boys decided to write a poem entitled ‘What Mr Conley sees at night’ instead of, for example, ‘What the Cat sees at night’ but Michael diffused the situation with humour and took it as a joke, but then shut it down before it got out of hand.

So, I enjoyed delivering the workshops – the Year 10’s were brilliantly behaved and we found a way of sharing their work without embarrassing them – a variant on the ‘Secret Poem’ exercise! And it was great seeing Mike working as well.

So that was my Monday – and then Tuesday I was off to the Lakeland Book of the Year awards.  There were four categories, and I was on the shortlist of three books for the Art and Literature category.  To be eligible for the award, your book had to be about or based in Cumbria.

I was the only poetry book on the shortlist – and it felt kind of cool to be being judged against novels and glossy photography books and guide books and all sorts of other things, and my little pamphlet managing to hold its own.

The nice thing was that the judges said a bit about each shortlisted book, so even though I didn’t win, I had lovely things said about my poems and Eric Robson (of Gardener’s Question Time fame) read one of my poems out!  I went up and got my certificate and it was all quite nice, and then the judges announced that there was an overall shortlist for the Lakeland Book of the Year, drawn from the winners of each category, but because of the high standard this year, they had five books on the shortlist, and my poetry book was one of them!  So that was even nicer – I nearly crawled under the table when Hunter Davies, one of the other judges, said his favorite poem was the one rude poem in the pamphlet – and then proceeded to read the one rude line out at the very posh awards ceremony.

It was good for sales anyway, because I sold ten copies of my book so although it was mortifying at the time, it was also quite funny.

On my table there were some lovely people – a lady called Ros and her husband who has the most brilliant idea for a book that I’ve heard for a while – she was given a bursary from the Lakeland Book of the Year to help her write it- and Chris Stanbury, whose book ‘Wainwright’s Secret Lakeland’ was longlisted for the award, and Chris’s friend Stan, who took the photographs for the book and lovely Pauline Crossley, one of the lovely organisers of the Lakeland Book of the Year…

The winner of the award was Stephen Matthews for his book ‘Lazy Tour in Cumberland’.  I haven’t read it yet, but I’m planning too!

I then made my way to Grasmere to see Simon Armitage read – not much to say about it, except he was very good, very dry and funny, but I was so tired I scarpered off pretty quickly after the event finished…