Friday, 22 September 2017

From India to the Fens: Poetry, Prose... and Cuckoos

Lantern Tower, Ely Cathedral, UK
The latest annual edition of Metverse Muse, edited by Dr. H. Tulsi, has just arrived from India. It contains a small selection of my poems, including one about a Cornish mining valley and one set in the very different landscape of the Fens. 

Ship of the Fens rising from the Isle of Ely

I am currently reading a splendid book about the Cuckoos who breed on Wicken Fen. Years ago we lived in a village poised between the edge of Cambridge (on the one hand) and the edge of the Cambridgeshire fens (on the other). Wicken Fen, in the care of the National Trust, was always a favourite haunt, and indeed remains one of our top destinations for a day out, despite the fact we have a bit further to travel these days.

Cuckoo by Nick Davies (Bloomsbury) bears the subtitle 'Cheating by Nature'. It is, in effect, a fascinating detective story, revealing how the Common Cuckoos at Wicken Fen 'cheat' on their Reed Warbler hosts, ensuring that the Cuckoo egg is given the best chance of survival. Nick Davies is Professor of Behavioural Ecology at Cambridge, and what I particularly appreciate about the book is the clarity with which Davies writes, enabling those of us without backgrounds in science to journey with him in his discoveries. His enthusiasm is infectious, and although I knew little about Cuckoos at the outset, my eyes are steadily being opened to their strange place in our ecosystem. This is an exquisite book of lucid and compelling prose. The field drawings by James McCallum are a delight. 

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Celebrations Afoot at Orizont Literar Contemporan (Romania)


With Professor Donald Riggs in Philadelphia, 2011

I was delighted to receive this link today, taking me through to a summary of what has been a truly international rollercoaster of a decade for Daniel Dragomirescu and his colleagues who work tirelessly across languages and genres to produce Orizont Literar Contemporan, the self-styled 'world in a journal'.

This literary magazine, celebrating its 60th issue, has now been in production for ten years, and you have only to read the summary of its history to see how it has evolved, expanded and diversified during this time. There is a huge library of multicultural books and now a Dictionary of writers' biographies.

Thanks to Daniel, Katherine Gallagher and others, I have been associated with the journal for much of its existence. It has been a pleasure to introduce a number of poet friends from Wales and elsewhere through my early Dialoguri interviews, and friends from Suffolk and beyond through other ventures. It has been a wonderful way of making new literary friends, too, from a range of countries.

I am grateful to the teams of translators (see this post by Anne Stewart) who work so hard behind the scenes, ensuring that a poem, for example, can appear in up to three languages, most frequently Romanian, Spanish and English.

Many happy returns to Daniel and his A Team! Here's to the next decade and the next 60+ issues...

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Spirit of The Stour Festival - A Poetry Recital


Readers at the Poetry Recital (photo: James Clarke)

Here we all are at the foot of the elegant staircase in the Munnings Museum after the Poetry Recital on the theme of the 'natural world', hosted last night by the museum staff in conjunction with the museum's Poet-in-Residence, Tim Gardiner. 

Poets who took part...
Front row: Matt Annis, Alex Davis, Tim Gardiner (Master of Ceremonies for the evening), Sue Wallace-Shaddad, Alex Toms, Caroline Gill
Middle row: Emily Hasler and Ian Griffiths
Back row: Gerry Donlon, Rebecca Goss, Judith Wolton and David Gill.

Tim introduced each poet who proceeded to read a set lasting about ten minutes. It was a most enjoyable evening. I would like to thank Museum Director, Jenny Hand, and her team for their hospitality and Tim for all the work he put into organising the poetry side of things.   


David Gill taking us to the Inner Hebrides...

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Third Prize in Milestones Competition judged by Brian Patten

The Milestones Competition, organised by WriteOutLoud on behalf of the Milestone Society, was judged by Brian Patten. The results have just been announced, and I am delighted to say that my entry, 'Penwith Finger Stone' gained me Third Prize from a field of over 500 entries. Huge congratulations to my fellow poets who took First and Second Prize, and to the winner of the Under 16s section: their names are listed on the web and you can follow the 'results' link above.

My poem can be found here, together with bio-details etc.

Thank you to Brian Patten, Steve Pottinger, Greg Freeman and all who have been involved with the competition in one way or anther. Thank you, too, to Paul McGrane at The Poetry Society for this press release.

At Zennor Quoit in the 1980s

The milestone I wrote about stands in Penwith, near the coastal village of Zennor, with its 'mermaid chair' in the church and other notable features. The poem, 'Zennor', by Anne Ridler is discussed here, and is among my favourites.

Sadly I do not have a photo of the stone, so I am posting a few of my photos of this magnificent and rugged area between Land's End and St Ives in which it lies. 

At Zennor Church on a rather grey day, about 2001

The legendary Zennor Mermaid with her mirror

A plaque in Zennor Churchyard in recognition of John Davey, speaker of the Cornish language
1737 sundial, Zennor

Monday, 14 August 2017

'Spirit of the Stour' Festival Reading at The Munnings Museum, Dedham

Constable Country: The Stour, between Dedham and Flatford Mill

David (Gill) and I are looking forward to reading our poems alongside ten other poets at The Munnings Museum in Dedham in Essex on Friday 8 September 2017. The evening recital of poetry of the theme of the natural world is being organised by the museum's 2017 Poet-in-Residence, Dr Tim Gardiner.

Online tickets for the event are on sale here. Do come and support the event if you can!

Further details can be found here


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Parson Hawker of Morwenstow Poem


My Parson Hawker of Morwenstow poem features in the current edition of Reach Poetry, #225, Indigo Dreams Publishing. Morwenstow is a favourite haunt on the North Cornish coast, with its wild scenery. Hawker's Hut is a fascinating shack, almost built into the cliff.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Suffolk Poetry Society's 4th Festival of Suffolk Poetry, 27 May 2017

SPS Chair Florence Cox

I took these photos on Saturday 27 May 2017 at the 4th Festival of Suffolk Poetry. It was a riveting day, with poetry workshops (thank you, Gregory Warren Wilson, for the one I attended on music and poetry), mini-workshops provided by the students at Suffolk ONE - not forgetting readings from our special guests and presentations from representatives of the Suffolk Poetry Cafes. David and I each read a poem in the Open Mic slot (photo here). It was a privilege to hear Lord Phillips interviewing Terry Waite CBE about his new book, Out of the Silence.

Huge thanks are due to all and particularly to Colin Whyles, Festival Director, 
and the SPS Committee members, who masterminded the day. 

Guest reader, Dr Elizabeth Cook, reading from Bowl and from her St Edmund poem

Festival Director, Colin, announces Lord Phillips and Terry Waite CBE

Sue Wallace-Shaddad reading for Arlington's Poetry Cafe

Elizabeth Bracken takes the stage

Elizabeth Bracken

Beth Soule at the microphone

Caroline Gay Way

Terry Waite CBE in the wings

Nancy Mattson at the reading desk

Gregory Warren Wilson reading in his guest slot

Florence offering a vote of thanks to all

Concluding words from James Knox Whittet, our SPS President

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Immagine e Poesia: the 2017 Anthology of Poetry and Art Pairings can now be downloaded

Zennor mermaid chair (dating from 1400-1500) in St Senara's Church

One of the joys of poetry is the opportunity to experiment and create collaboratively either with other poets or with practitioners in another art form. For the last few years I have submitted a poem to the annual eBook produced by Immagine e Poesia, based in Italy. Aeronwy Thomas, Dylan and Caitlin's daughter, became Patron of the Immagine e Poesia movement in 2007.   

The annual eBook contains pairings of poems and visual art from across the globe. My poem in this year's anthology was written in response to an artwork entitled 'Voice of the Sea' by South Korean artist, Jongo Park. There have, of course, been many takes on the mermaid-meets-mortal story, but this Zennor mermaid was uppermost in my mind. Zennor is one of my favourite villages in Britain. It lies on the Cornish coast in West Penwith, between Land's End and St Ives. The village has many literary connections, including 'Zennor', a favourite poem of mine by Anne Ridler (which was once played at my request on BBC Poetry Please).

This year's anthology, containing contributions from visual and word artists from 35 countries, has been produced by Huguette Bertrand and Lidia Chiarelli.

You are invited to download a copy - here.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Cookham Festival Launch of 'Stanley Spencer Poems: An Anthology' (Two Rivers Press)

me (left), Jan Dean (middle) Alwyn Marriage (right, with red bag)

We have just returned from a wonderful launch and reading event at the Cookham Festival in Cookham Dean, Berkshire. A big thank you to all who organised the evening.


The launch with readings took place in the Village Hall at Cookham Dean, which is opposite Cookham Moor, a large area of grass (like a village green) in the care of the National Trust. 


We arrived very early, not wanting to be late on account of the Friday rush hour in Maidenhead, which gave us the chance to visit the churchyard and Church of John the Baptist.


There were several Red Kites overhead, but they were a bit fast for my camera!


This is the evocative view of the churchyard, with the Berkshire countryside rolling out into the distance.

We felt there were a lot of excellent poems read out during the evening. Congratulations to those whose work has been shortlisted for the three Stanley Spencer Competition prizes, which will be awarded on Friday 19 May. Eleven out of the 79 poems in the anthology made the shortlist. 79 out of over 200 entries made the anthology.



I read my poem, which was inspired by Spencer's painting, 'The harbour, St Ives' (1937).

St Ives - rather an old photo as I haven't been there for rather a long time!

  • The anthology costs £9.99, and can be bought from Two Rivers Press - here

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Poetry and Pinhole Photography at Arlington's Poetry Cafe

Jaywick Martello Tower

This Martello tower...
solid, strong and undefeated

from 'The Rifleman's Ghost' by Judith Wolton


I attended the April gathering of the Ipswich Poetry Cafe last night. Essex poet, Judith Wolton, and photographer, Alan Hockett, treated us to a presentation of poetry and pinhole-photography from the Essex coast. I am always fascinated by the extra spark of creativity that is invariably produced when two dedicated practitioners collaborate on a project.

The shared work had resulted in a book, Words from the edge and other Drosscapes (Estuarine Press, 2016), in which Judith's evocative poems complement Alan's striking pinhole photographs.

Judith's poems, springboarded into being by Alan's images, feature mythology, topography, local culture, birds, barges, batteries and narratives of the imagination. I love the way in which old buildings like the Playdrome have been given personalities. In 'This old show girl' we find the 'old dame' of a building with...

her lipstick smudged,
her wrinkles showing

It was fascinating to learn a little about Alan's practice as a pinhole photographer. Some of the swirling effects were achieved by shaking the chemicals during the development stage. Apparently the photograph failure rate is quite high, but for every few failures, an experienced pinhole photographer like Alan can achieve a couple of stunning and unique images. I came away still not quite sure whether his recycling bin was actually as full of old bean cans as he would have us believe! If you click this link you will see how to make a camera from a Coke can. There are secrets that can be (and indeed were) shared, but it is surely a good thing in art when the viewer feels that some dots have been left unjoined. The photographs themselves have a misty, ethereal quality about them, somewhat reminiscent of the paintings of John Atkinson Grimshaw or perhaps works in Whistler's series of Nocturnes. 

I was struck by how different, how very different, the chosen places were to the leafy inland areas of Suffolk and Essex that comprise Constable Country, especially when you realise that Manningtree (which features in the book) and Flatford are near neighbours on the map. Essex has a wild and windswept coastline, haunted by pirates (and at this point Baring-Gould's Gothic novel, Mehalah, comes to mind), ghost boats and rusting bolts of iron.

Appearances can be deceptive to the traveller, but those with local knowledge and an artist's eye are less easily fooled into believing that the drosscapes presented in the volume have had their day. Piers and cranes may have become bare skeletons, but the tide is constantly re-shaping, recreating, the coastline – a process mirrored in the work of Judith and Alan. These artists have given a sense of new life to some of the forgotten stretches of shore along the county's zigzagging sweep of 350 miles.

Essex Coast

Saturday, 1 April 2017

A Poem in Reach Poetry

David striding out...

I was delighted to open the April edition of Reach Poetry (Indigo Dreams Publishing) and find that my 'Lost' poem had been published. It begins in Kent on the expanse known as Romney Marsh, where there is a shepherd's hut* in the form of the small brick structure in the photo above, known as the Looker's (or Lookers') Hut. These lookers were responsible for the sheep. You can read more about them here.



* For a couple of shepherds' huts on wheels, this time in Suffolk, you can click here to see one of my Christmas posts...

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Natural World - a Poetry Event for UNESCO World Poetry Day 2017

Fin whale jaw at Clachtoll in Assynt, Scotland

We marked UNESCO World Poetry Day last night with a reading event at the University of Suffolk, attended by students and local (and not-so-local) poets. Suffolk Poetry Society hosted the evening, and our guest readers were members of Poetrywivenhoe. Huge thanks are due to those who organised the event, providing refreshments, amplification and so much more.

Our theme, 'the natural world', produced poems on edgelands, coastlines (including a magical depiction of the essence of low tide from Pam Job) - and wildlife along railway tracks. There were seasonal references and a few slant-allusions to climate change and conservation initiatives. Subjects ranged from a female eel-catcher (Alex Toms) to a view from the train of the iconic swans at Manningtree (David).

I bought a copy of Ornith-ology from the book table. This beautiful anthology of birds in poetry and art was edited by Tim Cunningham for Poetrywivenhoe and the Mosaic stanza. M.W. Bewick, one of the Wivenhoe readers, brought copies of three Dunlin Press books, including his striking poetry collection, Scarecrow, which has just been launched.  

I read a couple of my poems, 'Moonshine', about the appearance of a Snowy Owl in Cornwall in 2009, and 'Notes from a Netting Station' about the fin whale bone in the photo above that lies, rotting, in the north of Scotland, near the old salmon netting station at Clachtoll in Assynt.

Poetry gatherings often find their own organic themes when no theme is proffered, but I felt the subject last night provided a sufficiently wide canvas to allow plenty of scope for interpretation, while, at the same time, making us feel we were travelling together on a journey of discovery.


'Nature is ever at work...' John Muir


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Celebrating UNESCO World Poetry Day



'we share in Basil Brown's suspense...'
words from: Shepherd’s Hut, Sutton Hoo (C.G.)


Our friends at NT Sutton Hoo, guarding the mounds



...and here in Suffolk we are celebrating with an event at the university. Writers from Poetry Wivenhoe will be joining us and presenting their poems on 'the natural world' in the first half. David will be giving a welcome at the start. Do come and join us if you are within range.



The East Anglian Daily Times/Eastern Daily Press ran a poetry supplement on Saturday to mark this auspicious day. My Sutton Hoo sonnet was included alongside poems about Norfolk and Suffolk by poets 'old' (Wordsworth, Crabbe...) and 'new'.


Friday, 17 February 2017

Poet Profile: The Seventh Quarry Poetry magazine

Leaving Ellis Island and Liberty Island, New York, 2013
Issue Twenty-Five of The Seventh Quarry has just been published.

It hardly seems possible that this poetry magazine from Swansea has reached its quarter-century of issues already. Editor Peter Thabit Jones has worked with tireless enthusiasm to make the magazine the eclectic and international publication it is today. Thanks are also due to Stanley H. Barkan of Cross-Cultural Communications in New York, who has collaborated with Peter from the outset, and to Vince Clemente, the magazine's Consultant Editor in America.

The current issue contains contributions from America, Wales, Israel and Czechoslovakia, to name but half the places mentioned on the back cover.

I feature in the Poet Profile slot in this issue, along with four of my poems - including one about Ellis Island, hence the picture above from my visit to this unusual destination in 2013.

The issue includes the poem, 'Oasis', by Jean Salkilld. This poem about Syria is particularly poignant at the present time. Jean has just brought out her first full collection with The Seventh Quarry Press - The Familiar Road, which I am reading which much enjoyment.

If you would like to take out a subscription to The Seventh Quarry, details can be found on Peter's website here

And finally... back in 2012 Peter published my Poet to Poet chapbook, The Holy Place, co-authored with John Dotson: I am posting a picture of the cover.

The Holy Place


Friday, 3 February 2017

In the Footsteps of Dylan Thomas...

Swansea ~ Abertawe (my photo)

Swansea ~ Abertawe (my digital artwork of the scene)

My Dylan Thomas tribute poem, 'Salubrious Passage', has been published in Reach Poetry #221, Indigo Dreams Publishing. 

You can just make out the exit to the left of the 'angels' sign in my photo. I wish I had a picture of the Wind Street entrance to this hidden yet iconic thoroughfare, but you can see one here


Wednesday, 4 January 2017

2017 - New Year News




 Happy New Year 
2017


The Tawny Owl in the photo above is known as Mabel. She is well known to those of us who live in the Ipswich area as she frequents the town's Christchurch Park and has for many years returned to the hollow branch of the tree in the picture. 

I was delighted to begin the year with a cheque representing the fact that my Barn Owl poem had been voted 'Second' in the readers' votes for the December issue of Reach Poetry, one of three flagship magazines from Indigo Dreams Publishing. 

I heard today that my entry for the Indigo Dreams Pamphlet Competition had gained a 'Commended'. More good news, but of a kind that leaves little room for complacency as it would be good to see the poems published as a batch. Unlike Mabel, I intend to keep my eyes wide open.

As for specific 2017 writing goals, well, I have an 'illumination of ideas' but am still at the formulating stage. I wonder what goals you have in mind?