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 This kind of residential literary course is viewed by many to be outdated in the current creative writing boom in the digital age .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

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Evening everybody.  I’ve just got back from my week at Ty Newydd – I stayed at my lovely friend Manon’s house last night.  I had a fantastic week – but it is now 11.48pm and I have twelve minutes to write this blog and get it in before midnight!  The course tutors were Ian Duhig and Ruth Padel.  I’ve been on quite a few residential courses now and Ian and Ruth were two of the hardest working tutors.  Their work rate was relentless, they were available for repeated tutorials with all of the participants.  The other thing that really impressed me on the course was how they sat in on each other’s workshops.  It was obvious that they were really interested in what the other one had to say and were learning from each other, which I think is an excellent example of how learning from other poets doesn’t stop even when you’ve published dozens of books!  I met lots of lovely poets on the course as well – some really talented writers – Tom who was cooking in the kitchen was great – I ate stuffed marrow, chickpeas, porridge and various other concoctions that I hadn’t eaten before so was quite proud of myself.  And more excitingly I wrote some poems!  I’ve got eight rough first drafts – whether they will all survive as poems is anybody’s guess but here’s hoping.  I’m very relieved as I was beginning to wonder if I was going to ever write another poem again!  But I think they have all been bottled  up and waiting for me to have some time to write.  As well as my eight first drafts I also managed to almost finish my play for the show on September 7th – the deadline is now imminent and as soon as I’ve finished writing this I’m going to rewrite the ending and send it through to the director so he has it ready to give to the actors on Monday…and rehearsals start the following Monday!  Which is very exciting.

I’m also playing trumpet in this show – it’s going to be apparently a call and response thing with a norwegian drum..one of my very talented pupils is going to play the other part…

So this is a very short blog post compared to normal – but I’ve had a wonderful week.  Today’s poem is very short, but beautifully formed.  I heard Helen Ivory read a couple of weeks ago at Grasmere and I bought her new collection ‘Waiting for Bluebeard’.  Helen Ivory has had four collections published with Bloodaxe Books and her own website can be found at http://www.helenivory.co.uk

She also edits the online magazine Ink, Sweat and Tears http://www.ink-sweat-and-tears.com/

I really enjoyed the book and particularly the way it is structured.  The poem I’ve chosen comes from a sequence of poems in which Helen gives a voice to inanimate objects.  Again, this has been done a lot in poetry – but I love the way that Helen has brought a fresh take to this subject, largely created by the scaffolding that she has put around the poems with the titles.  The sequence of poems are spaced out throughout the first section of the book.  So there is

What the Moon Said
What the Dark Said
What the Stars Said
What the Cat Said
What the Sea Said
What the Snow Said
What the Bed Said
What the House Said
What the Earth Said

Now if that list of titles doesn’t make you want to go and buy the book….

I’ve asked Helen if I could have the first of these poems ‘What the Moon Said’.  I like how Helen has woven our different concepts of the moon into this poem, from the nursery rhyme of the cow jumping over the moon to space travel.  But the thing that really makes me love the poem is the last image in the final stanza.  If you would like to order ‘Waiting for Bluebeard’ you can get it from http://www.bloodaxebooks.com

I hope you enjoy the poem

 

What the Moon Said – Helen Ivory

If you send me your jumping cows,
your space rockets
peopled by monkeys and dogs,
I will flatter you with my light.

And if you compose tunes,
I will choreograph
the bodies of the sky
for your delectation.

Cut open your church roof
let me drink milk
from a bowl on your floor.

Sunday Poem – John W Sexton

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Evening folks.  It’s only been a while since the last post here – but in between the last post and this post I’ve read at a breastfeeding festival and been hiking around Rydal Water.

On Saturday I read at Ulverston Breastfeeding Festival – the main reader was Hollie McNish, whose poem about breastfeeding went viral on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiS8q_fifa0)

I must admit to being slightly reticent about this gig before hand.  I was worried because I didn’t have any poems about breastfeeding, or having children, not having breastfed or had children.  But it was a great night – my friend who does have a child came with me (without the child) and another local poet Kate Davis was performing too.

Hollie was lovely – very friendly but very professional.  She read three poems first and then I read for about 15 minutes.  Then Kate read for 15 minutes, then Hollie read another poem to finish the first half off.

At the interval, Hollie already had a queue of people waiting to buy her book.  I managed to sell nine of my wolves which I was quite pleased with because NONE of the audience were poets.  There was no one there who normally comes to the poetry events that I go to – I think most people there were there for the festival or had come down just to see Hollie – one woman had come from Manchester.  I always get a warm glow when I sell any poetry books – but especially so when it is to people that aren’t poets.  The audience seemed so positive – I think they had a really good night and hopefully this will encourage them to come to more poetry events maybe.

In the second half Hollie did about 45 minutes from a show she is writing about the experience of being pregnant and then having her daughter.  Normally this kind of stuff really wouldn’t interest me – because I don’t have children I kind of tend to switch off from it…but she writes about the experience in a really clever way and brings in politics and feminism and humour – and the way she performs is so good you can’t help but be interested.

Today I’ve been hiking with the hubby and the dogs around Rydal Water- we were going to go up Skiddaw but the forecast was horrendous so we bailed it.

And tomorrow – glory day! I’m off to Ty Newydd – it feels like this place is my second home!  I went on my first residential poetry course there – that was with Sarah Kennedy and Nigel Jenkins as tutors.  I think that was 2007.  Then I went on a Poetry Masterclass one with Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke.  That must have been 2008.  And then I think I went on a course in 2009 with Fiona Sampson and Alan Jenkins.  And then I went on a course in 2010 with Jo Shapcott and Daljit Nagra.  And I haven’t been back since then – in 2011 I got married in the summer of course and swanned off on honeymoon for most of the holidays which meant no writing courses for me.  And in 2012 – I went on a writing course at Holland House with the Second Light Network.  The tutors then were Mimi Khalvati and Myra Schneider.  And tomorrow I’m off on one again – the tutors are Ian Duhig and Ruth Padel.  I’m really looking forward to it – going on writing courses was one of the best things I’ve done – meeting other like minded people is just as important as the tutors really…and now I’m co-tutoring on writing courses..which I love just as much as going on them!

But that is tomorrow – and there is still a bit of Sunday left.    Today’s Sunday Poem is by John W. Sexton, a poet that I met on my recent trip over to Fermoy in Ireland.  John was a great laugh and a pleasure to hang out with but it was a relief to find he is also a great poet too!  He was born in 1958 and is the author of five poetry collections: ‘The Prince’s Brief Career’ (Cairn Mountain Press, 1996), ‘Shadows Bloom’ (Doghouse, 2004), Vortex (Doghouse 2005), ‘Petit Mal’ (Revival Press, 2009) and ‘The Offspring of the Moon’ (Salmon Poetry, 2013).

I bought Vortex, Petit Mal and The Offspring of the Moon from John in Fermoy – (what can I say, I got a good deal on all three!)

and haven’t read the first two yet, but did read The Offspring of the Moon in one sitting – a couple of days after I’d recovered from the poetry hangover.

The main feature of the book are these strange poems which are almost like riddles, except the answer is in the title.  There are lots of these throughout the collection.  The first poem in the book is called ‘Daddy-Long-Legs’ and starts

‘We’re those lopsided puppets awkward
in motion through the air.  Our wings
are fractured windows of pale glass looking
out, looking in, to nothing.’

I really liked this poem – later on the daddy long legs are described as ‘Ghost Needles’ – that is beautiful isn’t it?  And I quite like having the answer to the riddle in the title because I’m too lazy to work it out.  Written in the same vein is ‘Frog’, ‘Sunlight’, ‘Pulls’, ‘Cat’, ‘Sandman’, ‘Comb’, ‘Grass’, ‘Crow’, ‘Badger’, ‘Brain’ and ‘Bog Asphodel’.  They’re spaced out throughout the book and they were a real delight – very inventive language used throughout.  And then the other thing about this book is a vein of fairytale/fantasy/folk lore running through it – a twist of strangeness which I really enjoyed.

The poem that I’ve selected stands out from these two concerns that run throughout the book and I think that is why I like it.  I was all set to ask John for one of the wonderful riddle poems and then I got to this poem, which is near the end of the collection and it kind of jumped out at me – delightfully bonkers and as in a lot of John’s poetry – the title is of utmost importance to the reader’s understanding of the poem – it gives us insight.  It almost feels like the writer has let us in on a secret  that we are not supposed to know!

I think this poem is very funny and very sinister at the same time.  You can’t help but laugh – but then you feel uncomfortable for laughing.  I love the line ‘for they could not be/forced to do anything against their will’.

If you would like to buy ‘The Offspring of the Moon’ you can buy it from his lovely publisher here

http://www.salmonpoetry.com/details.php?ID=298&a=244

I hope you enjoy the poem!

On the Morning a President Ordered the Invasion of Iraq – John W. Sexton

Fascinated by the ants in the sugar-bowl first thing
in the morning, black-helmeted and moving about
as if pedalling on low and invisible bicycles,
he tried several experiments, starting with feeding them
to the goldfish; but found the goldfish disdainfully
disinterested.  More fascinating was the fact that
the ants appeared unable to break the surface of the water
and paddled shallowly from one end of the fish-tank
to the other.  Admiring of their perseverance he
rescued them one by one, gave them all a chance to dry out
on the window-sill with a heap of sugar to keep them
focussed.  Then he tried to see how many he could keep
in a teaspoon without them crawling out, but found it almost
impossible to put them in there in the first place, for they could not be
forced to do anything against their will.  All in all
he spent over an hour playing with the ants, found it difficult
in the finish to leave them and make his way to work.  The last he
glimpsed of them was a swirling spiral of black dashes with legs
busying themselves around the tipped honey-jar he’d left
on the kitchen floor.  He watched momentarily the viscous golden mess
spreading out along the tiles, then turned his back and made his way
towards the car and his dull job.

Sunday Poem – Julie Mellor

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It’s back!  The Sunday Poem I mean.  I’m sure there was a bleak hole in your sunday last week when I didn’t post a sunday poem up – for only the second time ever since I started (I think)

I got back from Fermoy Poetry Festival (www.fermoypoetryfestival.com) very late on Wednesday.  So most of Thursday was a write off – I got up, went and picked up a pile of books that I’d ordered that arrived while I was away (felt slightly guilty at picking large pile up – it always seems worse when they all arrive together).  One of the books was ‘Edgelands’ by Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley.  I’m reading this as part of one of the tasks I’m doing for my Writing School course and really enjoying it.  It’s beautifully written, as you would expect from two poets, and I like how it’s grouped into sections of the various things you find in the ‘Edgelands’.  So far I’ve read a section on ‘Cars’, ‘Paths’ and ‘Dens’ and I’m just about to start the next section which is about ‘Containers’.  I’m aware that maybe those headings don’t sound particularly exciting, but they really are interesting and well written.

The two authors went looking for dens built by children – I remember building a den!  They report “even though our forays into fields and waste ground were hardly scientific and exhaustive, we didn’t once find anything we could call an active den.  Still, it’s possibly all still going on, somewhere out of sight of prying adult eyes…”

After I went and picked my books up, I then went up to Calderdale Bridge to pick the dogs up from the dogsitters.  I am pleased to report that they have behaved very well and have not disgraced themselves.  Lola was very pleased to see me, but Miles looked at me with disdain, as if to say ‘Oh.  You again.  You remembered we were here.  How kind.’

Whilst I was away in Ireland, I wrote my first poem in quite a while so Friday was spent typing that up ready for Brewery Poets, a poetry critiquing group that meet at the Brewery in Kendal on the second Friday of each month.   We had a really lovely night – only a small group this month of seven but it meant there was more time to look at people’s work.  I’m quite pleased with my poem but I think I’m going to let it settle in my folder for a while now.

On Saturday I had another meeting at the Theatre By The Lake to talk about the play ‘Cartographers’ which I’m writing part of alongside Ian Hill, another local writer and The Alligator Club.  The play will be set in the woods at the back of the theatre and there will be four ten minute plays.  Three of these the audience will see in a different order, depending on which group they are in, and then all three groups will come together at the end to see the final ten minute play – which will be my bit.

Last night I was motivated enough after the meeting to sit for about three hours and try to get ten minutes worth of material down so I could then start editing and moving things around.  I haven’t looked at it this morning – haven’t got the courage up yet, in case it is rubbish.  I’m enjoying writing it, but there is a time pressure – we are all aiming for our first full ten minute drafts to be sent round by Thursday as there is music still to be added in yet.  The play is being shown in two matinee performances – at 1.30 and 3.30 on September 7th – and you can find more information here http://www.theatrebythelake.com/production/10963/Cartographers

The other thing I have to get started this week is a commission – my first paid commission!  I don’t know if I’m allowed to say too much yet, but I’m off to Lancaster today to do some research – again the deadline for this is September 1st – so everything is feeling a bit tight this summer.

It doesn’t help that I’m off to Ty Newydd on a weeks residential writing course on the 19th August.  I’m really looking forward to this – the tutors are the wonderful Ian Duhig and Ruth Padel – but I’d really like to get all the script things and the commission writing done, or nearly done before I go so that I can concentrate on my own poetry whilst I’m there…not that I’m complaining – I am very happy to be busy and sometimes I think – am I really writing a script?  Am I really being paid to write some poems?  and I remember dancing round my living room when I got my first poem published in a magazine – Obsessed With Pipework (http://www.flarestack.co.uk/obsessedwithpipework.htm) and I feel very happy, but then I also start to panic with a crisis of confidence….can I do this? and then I start to babble, as this last paragraph shows…

AND BREATHE!

Which brings us to Sunday and Julie Mellor’s wonderful poem which was supposed to burst onto the blog last Sunday.  Julie Mellor was one of the winners in the 2012 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition, alongside Rosie Sheppard, Suzie Evans and myself.  Julie is a lovely lady and a great poet.  I hope Julie won’t mind me saying this, but I noticed that she was shortlisted lots of times for the pamphlet competition before actually winning.  I think this is a great testament to her – she didn’t get offended or annoyed, she took it on the chin and just kept trying and eventually she won.  A lesser poet would have given up – and maybe that is the difference between being published and not being published – not just talent but sheer bloody minded determination and perseverance.

Julie lives in Penistone and read English at Huddersfield University and has a PhD from Sheffield Hallam.  Her poems have appeared in magazines and anthologies including Brittle Star, Mslexia, The Rialto and Smiths Knoll.   You can find more information and poems about Julie at Michael Stewart’s blog where there is an interview and review   at http://headspam.poesterous.com/

This is an interesting blog by Suzannah Evans about her residency at Bank Street Arts and Julie has a poem here too.. http://poetrymap.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/white-tiger-julie-mellor/

and another poem here at  Excel for charity at: http://excelforcharity.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/another-story.html

The poem I’ve chosen for the Sunday Poem is from Julie’s Poetry Business pamphlet ‘Breathing through Our Bones’.  I loved this poem straight away – the language is very thick and heavy and rich.  I think it is a masterclass in how to write and closely observe – and each image and metaphor she pushes and pushes at to take it further and further.  One of my favourite lines is ‘Clusters of sorcery, we store the sun’.  I think that is a brilliant line – an unusual image yet completely right for blackberries.  And these blackberries are evil aren’t they?  They have a personality all of their own – I wouldn’t like to meet them down a dark alley…

If you would like to read more of Julie’s poems in an actual book rather than on websites, get yourself over to http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/shop/791/breathing-through-our-bones-julie-mellor and order a copy of her pamphlet!  It’s only a fiver and you will make Julie and her publisher very happy!  I hope you enjoy the poem, and thanks to Julie for letting me post it here.

Blackberries by Julie Mellor

We have darkened like the end of the year,
the knuckled hulls at our core
white as a maggot or a baby’s first tooth.

Clusters of sorcery, we store the sun.
The juice of us is a blue flame.
Even the wary fall for our frumenty smell.

Between children’s fingers we bleed black,
store our vengeance until Michealmas
when the devil unleashes himself in spit

and piss, and we rot like the underside
of hide buried in lime, lose ourselves
in softness, sink back into what we are,

almost fruit, almost tar, resist the creeping nights,
the toll of winter curfew, wait
in our thinned clusters like the eyes of the blind,

until eel worms eat at our ingangs,
hang on to the last, juice thick as oak bark liquor,
seasoned, vile,

then shrivel back to seed,
like the mole on the back of the neck
that marks you for hanging.

 

End of the Holidays and other stuff…

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I’ve had a great week so far – feel slightly sad that the holiday is about to come to an end, but looking back just over this week, lots of lovely things have happened.   Tuesday was my last session in the prison and the group of prisoners that Tony Walsh and I have been working with did a performance to about forty other prisoners.  Because of the size of the library, the prisoners and I sat facing the audience at the front.  Tony Walsh was coming in and out from the stacks of books to introduce each person before they read, so he may have had a slightly different view to me, but I thought the audience looked quite scary.  I think this has something to do with the fact that at most poetry readings I’ve been to, the audience is dominated by women.  Obviously, it being a male prison, they were mainly men, although there were a few female guards or education staff there.  I don’t know if this is true of performance poetry nights, I’ll have to ask Tony if there are more men than women or vice versa.  Anyway, even though the audience looked quite scary, they didn’t make a sound while the prisoners were reading.  They listened to every word they said, clapped in the right places and seemed to generally enjoy themselves.  I hope when our group get out of prison, they start to engage with the poetry community. They have a lot to offer, not just their talent and life experience, but the respect and support they showed for each other during the ten sessions.  They would be an asset to any poetry group.

Then on Wednesday, my good friend Manon came to visit with her two daughters.  It was a flying visit, they were off again on Thursday.  I met Manon at the first ever writing residential course that I went to at Ty Newydd, which I think must have been four or five years ago.   The tutors were Nigel Jenkins and Sarah Kennedy, and I can safely say that course completely changed my life.  Nigel gave me the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given, which was to write every day, and read every day.  He told me to think of it as being the same as practicing a musical instrument, which I could relate to.  As much as I can, I’ve followed his advice to the letter.  By a spooky coincidence, exactly a year after he first said that to me was when I had my first poem accepted for publication. 

And Sarah was brilliant as well – warm, funny, encouraging, supportive.  Sarah is an American poet, and I would recommend anybody to look her poetry up. 

And of course, I met one of my closest friends on this course as well, Manon.  After the course had finished we started a tradition of meeting up in random places (Hull, Bristol, Manchester) and going for a night out.  Sometimes this would coincide with a literature festival, but mostly it would just be an excuse for a night out.

And yesterday, Friday I went to meet Ann Sansom, who is my editor for the pamphlet.  She was really brilliant to work with,  and had asked me to send her some new poems to look at as well.  I think I’m going to replace a few of the poems in the pamphlet with a few new poems on her advice – and save the ones I take out for the first collection, whenever that happens. 

It was interesting to discuss the poems with Ann in that much depth – a poem that I had bought to the last writing day which I thought was what I call a ‘something and nothing’ poem Ann thought should definately go in, because ‘it couldn’t have been written by anybody else’.  The poem is about teaching the trumpet.  I haven’t met any trumpet playing poets yet, but now I’ve written this, and agreed the poem should go in, I’m sure one will pop up!

And tonight is Poem and A Pint with Carole Coates, one of my favourite poets.  When I hear her tonight, I might ask if I can put one of her poems up on here from her collection.  She is a fantastic writer, and probably not as well known as she should be.