Tag Archives: residential course

Tŷ Newydd and That Report

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Tŷ Newydd and That Report

Last week, I saw via a post on Facebook that an Independent Review of Support for Publishing and Literature in Wales had been published.  Within those pages the Tŷ Newydd Creative Writing Centre had received damaging criticism, which is so at odds with my experience of Tŷ Newydd that I feel obliged to write this in support of Tŷ Newydd

You can find the report here

The paragraph below is taken directly from the report.

Tŷ Newydd seems to be mainly aimed at ‘retired hobbyists’ but it was unclear who Tŷ Newydd caters for and why it is receiving public subsidy. It was also unclear how many individuals, who have attended a course at Tŷ Newydd, have gone on to publish a book. This kind of residential literary course is viewed by many to be outdated in the current creative writing boom in the digital age . Tŷ Newydd offers little for professional writers or disadvantaged areas  [despite being located in a convergence area where GDP is low which should provide opportunities for it to do so]

Where do I start with this? It seems strange to me that in a comprehensive report, the writers didn’t bother to find out from Tŷ Newydd who they cater for – surely this question would have been answered with a simple conversation? I’ve since found out that nobody visited Tŷ Newydd, prior to publishing the report, which perhaps explains this.

I first went to Tŷ Newydd in 2007.  Back then I was 25 years old and working as a full time Peripatetic Brass Teacher for Cumbria Music Service.  Hardly a ‘retired hobbyist’ then, but I take umbrage with that rather offensive term anyway – do they want retired people to stay at home and not engage in creative activities, despite the widely recognised health benefits?

However, I was definitely a ‘hobbyist’ – I had not published anything anywhere or even thought about publishing.  I hadn’t read a poetry magazine, or even many poetry collections.  I had a career as a music teacher and I was performing on and off in orchestras and shows. I was also extremely unhappy. Teaching was (and is) a difficult and stressful job.  I’d always wanted to be a professional musician, but anxiety and low self-esteem were making any professional work I did get as a trumpet player extremely painful.  I joined a poetry group, Fourth Monday Poets and one of the poets there, Jennifer Copley, gave me a brochure for Tŷ Newydd and told me I’d enjoy it.  So I booked a week’s residential with Sarah Kennedy and Nigel Jenkins in the summer holidays of 2007.

I was also quite poor after years of being a student, and the staff at Tŷ Newydd let me pay for my course monthly which was a huge help.  That week at Tŷ Newydd completely changed my life.  I’ve written before about the impact of the tutors, Nigel and Sarah, and how their encouragement and enthusiasm and kindness made a huge difference to me.  But Tŷ Newydd is a magical place, it has the same magic that Lumb Bank has that I wrote about last week.  That magic is hard to explain, but there is something special about going to a place that is dedicated to writers and writing and being creative.

So when I first went to Tŷ Newydd I was a ‘hobbyist’.  I remained a hobbyist for another five years or so, except I was an obsessive hobbyist, and poetry became this huge and important thing in my life.  Over the years I carried on going to Tŷ Newydd on other residentials and each one was the catalyst for other events.  I went on the Masterclass with Gillian Clarke and Carol Ann Duffy.  After this week, I decided to take the plunge and apply for a place on the MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University which I was accepted on to.  I went on a course with Ian Duhig and Ruth Padel and wrote many of the poems which made it into my first collection, published in 2015.  I went on a residential with Alan Jenkins and Fiona Sampson, which again, was a life-changing week which pushed my poetry further and gave me the confidence to raise my ambitions for my own work.

So in answer to the sentence in the report that asks how many individuals went on to publish a book after attending Tŷ Newydd, well I’m one of them, and surely as the writers of this report, they could find out this information fairly easily? I could put a Facebook post up and find out.   But this question kind of misses the point of Tŷ Newyddand of residential courses for me.  They are not there to make sure that all participants publish a book.  Residential courses are physical and mental spaces where like-minded people can come and escape from the stress and pressures of their everyday lives and put themselves and their own creativity first, not with the aim of publishing something, maybe not with any purpose at all except to be creative.

I didn’t go to Tŷ Newydd to become a published poet.  I went because I loved poetry and I wanted to sit and read and write and talk about it for a week.  I went because I felt like I was suffocating in my life and I needed to do something different.  Other people go to improve their writing.  Other people go because they are lonely and it is a holiday.  Other people go because once a year they like to go and write poetry and then forget about it until the next year.   Other people go because they want the chance to study with a poet they’ve always admired.  Other people go because they desperately want to be published.  Who is to say which reason is more valid, and one of the things I love about residentials is that there is a whole mix of reasons of why people are there.  If there was just a whole cohort of people desperate to be published it would make for a rather miserable week.

I’ve also met some wonderful people on these courses – call it networking if that makes it more ‘measurable’ in terms of report writing, I prefer to call it friendship.  I met one of my best friends  on a residential, who was then my bridesmaid at my wedding years later.  I met some fantastic poets who I’ve worked with and read with since then.  Living in a geographically isolated area, this is another aspect of going on a residential that is really important to me.

Fast forward ten years, and I’ve been working as a professional poet for about the last five years, gradually reducing my music teaching and building up my freelance writing career.  I’ve performed at festivals in Croatia, Ireland, Holland and all over the UK.  I’ve ran workshops and residentials.  Two years ago I went back to Tŷ Newyddand tutored with the poet Clare Shaw on a schools course. Last year I went back as a guest poet on a course run by Jonathan Edwards and Patience Agbabi.  I’ve just got back from being a guest poet at Lumb Bank on a residential week with Peter and Ann Sansom as the tutors.  It felt pretty amazing to be sitting and giving a reading, knowing that my journey as a writer really started on a residential course.

As for the sentence in the report

This kind of residential literary course is viewed by many to be outdated in the current creative writing boom in the digital age

says who? Who are the many?  This sentence made me laugh out loud.  There is no evidence that I know of to support this.  I run my own residential courses now at hotels in the Lake District and Cornwall, and I never have trouble with filling the places.  This sentence shows again, a distinct lack of understanding about the atmosphere and magic of a creative writing course, which as brilliant as digital courses are (and I tutor on those as well) cannot be replicated online, no matter how good the course is.  And online courses are not trying to replicate residential courses anyway, nor should they try to – they are fulfilling a completely different need.  In my experience, again of tutoring on online courses and taking part in them, they are great for people who can’t put their lives down and go off for a week, so it is like comparing apples with oranges as the saying goes.

I would also like to say that there was a year when I couldn’t afford to go on a residential course I really wanted to go on. My husband had finished his full time job to start his own business and we were living on my salary alone.  I  wrote to Tŷ Newydd, explained my situation and they gave me a bursary for half the amount, and again let me pay the other half off monthly.  I wouldn’t class myself as a disadvantaged writer, but when I have struggled financially they have bent over backwards to ensure I could access the courses.

Lastly, I would like to say that over the years of becoming and working as a professional poet, Tŷ Newydd has been a sustaining and enriching force in my life.  I don’t think I’ve ever told them this.  I can imagine the staff are feeling pretty devastated by the report.  I wanted to write this blog post to let them know that they and the work they do has had a huge and immeasurable effect on my life.  Everything I’ve written about changing jobs, becoming a writer, everything that has happened to me since then are measurable things.  I’m now a full time PhD student and I get to read and write and think about poetry all day.  The immeasurable things – my mental health, my happiness, my feeling of finally realising what I wanted to do, the friendships I’ve made – I can’t quantify those things.

I haven’t got many photos of Tŷ Newydd (too busy at the time having fun to take photos) but I did find these ones.

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The group one is of the Gillian Clarke and Carol Ann Duffy masterclass.  I am hiding at the back. The next one I think is a course I went on with Jo Shapcott and Daljit Nagra where I was bullied into playing the trumpet in the evening.  This was 2010 – the rest are all of the CAD and Clarke course.  .

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Sunday Poem – Penelope Shuttle

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Sunday Poem – Penelope Shuttle

 

 

Back to my bad habits of writing my blog late at night! My excuse today is that I’ve been in Lancaster running a 10k race.  I’m not even going to play it cool, pretending to drop this in casually as part of the usual run of the mill blog post…

I ran 45 minutes and 1 second for 10k!

My last ‘personal best’ time was 46 minutes and 17 seconds, about seven months ago, which is why I’m so chuffed.  I’ve been doing a bit more training though, in the last few months, so I knew I would beat my PB, but didn’t think for one second I would be at the 45 minute mark.  I was also 5th woman back, and I got the V35 prize (first time I’ve ever won a prize in a race!) and won the Ladies Team Prize along with my two friends, J and K

This race was called the ‘Jailbreak 10k’ and you signed up to do the race inside a cell in one of the prison wings.  The prison is now shut down of course, but I was actually quite freaked out by the cells.  They were very small and there was a toilet in the corner with a board at the side of it, presumably to give a bit of privacy, and that in itself was shocking – that this tiny space was for more than one person.  It was also really cold in there – and the prison wasn’t shut down that long ago! I couldn’t believe that people were kept in there, that people would have lived in there.  It definitely gave me goosebumps.  I thought the prisons I’d been into were pretty brutal, but they had nothing on the Lancaster Castle prison!

So two photos, and then I promise I will say no more about it.  The first is at the start – I did eventually get away from the unicorn.  (It was optional fancy dress for the race – only three people wore fancy dress – a Ghostbuster, a Witch and the Unicorn).  The second is at the end of the race, having just got to the top of the hill – so am in a bit of pain here, and pulling my famed ‘running face’.

 

This week has been relatively quiet apart from today! I decided I needed to get organised and make myself a timetable, to ensure I’m getting enough PhD work done.  So I did that on Monday, and did manage to make some progress.  I ordered 2 poetry collections by Marie Howe, who I’ve only just discovered.  I absolutely love her work, but this hasn’t helped with narrowing down the possibilities of poets to focus on.

I’ve also been carrying on reading Kate Millet’s ‘Sexual Politics’.  It’s a pretty big book.  I’m now over half way through though and still enjoying it.  The RD1 form is my next big hurdle, and my supervisor gave me an example one to look at.  So I’ve read that through and had a go at writing the first part of mine, just to see how it went.

I’ve also been reworking a review from last week after some feedback, and on Saturday night I had a gig with the Soul Survivors in Ulverston.  I guess it doesn’t sound that quiet now I look at it, but there hasn’t been as much rushing about as there usually is.

I’ve got a few dates coming up of readings and workshops – on Thursday I’m reading at Brantwood with Geraldine Green and Kerry Darbishire.  There is also an Open Mic – tickets are £12 and include food.

On the 4th November, the Brewery Poets are putting a reading on at The Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal.  I’m the MC, and guest poets will be Pauline Yarwood, Jennifer Copley and Ian Seed.  These nights usually sell out, so if you’d like to come, book a ticket quickly!

I’m also running my Dove Cottage Young Poets group on the 4th November, and am recruiting for new members! If you know any young people (from the age of 14 to 25) who would like to come to a free fortnightly writing group, please get in touch.  We have lots of fun, and the young poets get lots of opportunities throughout the year to perform (if they want to) and to work towards Arts Awards.

And lastly for now, on the 12th November, I’m running an all day workshop for Lancaster Spotlight.  You can find details here, but to book a place, just email spotlightclub@btinternet.com

Today’s Sunday Poem is by the wonderful Penelope Shuttle. I’ve always loved Penelope’s work, right from when I first started writing eight years ago. Penny has featured on this blog before – you can read that post here.

As you will see from this previous blog post, Penny is one of my favourite contemporary poets, so I’m quite excited that she has sent me a poem from her forthcoming collection with Bloodaxe to put up on the blog this week.  I’m even more excited that Penny has agreed to be the guest poet for the Residential Course that I’m running in St Ives next year with co-tutor David Tait.  Penny will be coming to the hotel to have dinner with the course participants, and then she will be reading from her work on the Wednesday night of the course.  There are only four places left on this course, so if you’d like to book, please get in touch with Treloyhan Manor Hotel on 01736 796240.

In 2015 Penelope published (with John Greening) their exploration in poetry  of many aspects of Heathrow airport and Hounslow Heath upon which the airport now stands:  Heath (Nine Arches). She also published a pamphlet titled Four Portions of Everything on the Menu for M’sieur Monet! (Indigo Dreams Publications). Penelope has given many readings of her work, and has been a tutor for many organisations.  She is currently a mentor for The Poetry School.

This poem comes from Penny’s forthcoming collection Will You Walk A Little Faster? which will be published by Bloodaxe in May 2017.  It was originally published in The Manhattan Review.

I love the idea of this poem – to be able to talk to your Life, to make your Life a person, rather than a collection of events.  I love that the poem seems to start mid-conversation with Life.  There’s something unbearably sad about this poem – of course, Life is addressed and personified as a seperate thing, but the whole time, we know that Life is also the speaker.

The language that is used seems deceptively simple, but the poem is full of surprising turns of phrase: ‘I’m sad of myself’ and ‘days live me in vain’ and then at the end ‘the walls are spells’ and ‘the roof’s a star’.  Maybe just because I’ve been reading a lot of Emily Dickinson but the capitalization of Life and the short lines made me think of her.

The sounds throughout the poem – all those repeated ‘L’s’ string the whole poem together.  I also love the intermittent address to Life, that comes back throughout the poem, as if the speaker is turning to Life and making sure they are still listening.

The line breaks are very effective as well, particularly at the end with the line ‘I know you so well’ which then carries onto the next line to say ‘My Life, not at all’.  I was left trying to puzzle out whether Life is known or not, and maybe that’s part of the point. Until I read the poem more carefully, I thought the ending was a repeat of the beginning and then I thought it was a straightforward reversal of the beginning, which says to Life: ‘you know me too well’.  This statement is supported throughout the poem.  What is questioned is whether the Speaker knows Life as well as the Speaker thinks they do, and just writing that I realise that of course they don’t.  We can’t know our own Lives without distance, and time to reflect, and we can never do that while we are still living them.

I hope you enjoy the poem – and please keep a look out for Penny’s collection, coming out next year.  If you’d like to find out more about Penelope Shuttle, you can go to her website here.

 

 

My Life – Penelope Shuttle

My Life, I can’t fool you,
you know me too well,
I’m sad of myself,
days live me in vain,
you test me
but bin my answers,
you’re so busy, so tired,
evenings in the glass,
drink them, My Life,
but you won’t,
driving your bargains
of years gone by,
promising me
this and that till
the walls are spells,
the roof’s a star,
and
I seal the hour
in a tear,
a mortal tear,
I know you so well,
My Life, not at all

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.