Monday 23 September 2013

Poetry ~ Paragram Competition

Waterfront by night ...

Congratulations to the Paragram winners, whose poems you can read here.

My sonnet, 'Meteor Shower', made it through to the short list of the Paragram Poetry Competition, judged by Adrienne Dines. The competition theme was 'a certain slant of light', and my poem was written in response to the Perseid meteor shower seen from my home in August.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Anthology Alert ~ Book Launch and Reading at Ystrad Fflur aka the Abbey of Strata Florida

We are just back from Strata Florida, where we attended a  Beirdd a Thywysogion / Poets and Princes Day laid on by CADW in conjunction with the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies.

David peeping through the arch

The ruined abbey nestles in the Cambrian mountains, and is one of our favourite corners of Wales. We were treated to bilingual talks on the 'manuscripts and princes' (Ann Parry Owen) and 'food in medieval Welsh poetry' (Alaw Mai Edwards). Martin Locock led tours of the site, and I was surprised to learn that Bath stone had been used in this remote location for part of the entrance. 

Preparing for action ...

Medieval fayre was available at lunch time, thanks to the Cegin Cartref chefs. A potter and printer were on hand to help with the production of pots and decorative printed pages. I was fascinated by the 'smelting' work of a 'Medieval' metal-worker and by the weaving and cording techniques of the costumed textile artisans. 

Martin Locock launched his new anthology, Poetry from Strata Florida, an Anthology inspired by the Ystrad Fllur Landscape, 1350-2013 (Carreg Ffylfan Press 2013). The anthology includes my poem, '1st May: Red Kite at Strata Florida'. The illustrations in the volume are by Linden Fletcher, with photographs by Scott Waby

Martin Locock, editor of 'Poetry from Strata Florida'

Martin writes, 

"This volume brings together medieval and contemporary poetry inspired by Strata Florida Abbey and the supposed grave of Dafydd ap Gwilym. The landscape of the area has provoked a powerful response in writers, whether from the natural and architectural beauty, sympathy with nature, meditations about the Welsh nation and language, sombre thoughts about mortality, or closeness to God. 

The volume is mainly English language, with those poems originally written in Welsh presented as parallel texts with a translation.  It contains poems by Dafydd ap Gwilym, Hedd Wyn, Harri Webb, Ruth Bidgood, R S Thomas, Gillian Clarke, Gwyneth Lewis and members of Red Heron: Lampeter Writers' Workshop, with an introduction summarising the landscape's heritage.  The volume is illustrated with historical prints and new linocuts and photographs."

Martin introduced the book, before handing over to Professor Dafydd Johnston, Director of the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, Aberystwyth. Dafydd gave an introduction to the Medieval poems about the Abbey. 

Professor Dafydd Johnston introduces the Welsh poets in the anthology

Time for the launch. Anthology illustrator, Linden Fletcher, in light blue rain jacket.
Martin reading his poems

I read my Strata Florida poem from the new anthology, and appropriately we spotted a number of Red Kites gracing the higher slopes of the Cambrian hillside behind the Abbey arch. 

Yours truly ...

I stuck with the theme of poets and their resting places, reading two of my chapbook poems, 'Monte Testaccio: Mound of Potsherds' (about the feral cats who live near the grave of Keats in Rome) and 'Elegy for Idris Davies', the colllier poet from Rhymney. As it happens, Professor Dafydd Johnston is the editor of The Complete Poems of Idris Davies (University of Wales Press, 1994).

Readings from Kathy Miles and Josie Smith followed. In one of her poems, University of Wales Trinity St David Librarian and poet, Kathy Miles, homed in on the exquisite work of illuminated manuscript preparation in the Scriptorium. 

Kathy Miles

Josie Smith's piece, 'A Last Farewell' (from the Lampeter Writers' Workshop anthology, A Star fell from Orion), was inspired by Keats' final journey, and resonated with my Monte Testaccio poem. 

Josie Smith (left)
Martin brought the poetry proceedings to a close with samples of his own work. His poem 'Scribe and Scripture' evokes so much of what this place means to me ... a sunlit cloister and a poised quill. 

The Taliesin Stone (words by Gwyneth Lewis, stone art by Rob Turner) ...

... and a Medieval tile, showing person with mirror

Do consider buying a copy of this anthology. It covers almost all known poetry works about the site, with perhaps the notable exception of 'Lament for a Leg' by John Ormond. Ormond's Strata Florida poem pays tribute to the inscription on a grave containing 'The left leg and part of the thigh of Henry Hughes, Cooper', which 'was cut off and interr'd here, June 18, 1756.' Henry Hughes subsequently crossed the Atlantic, leaving the severed limb behind him . . .

Thank you, Martin and the Strata Florida 'team', for organising a truly inspirational day!

Monday 9 September 2013

Poetry Events ~ (Workshop at) Free Verse Poetry Book Fair, London

So what was this all about? To be revealed ...

We visited the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square in Bloomsbury on Saturday. It was good to be welcomed by poetry advocates like Chrissy Williams from the Poetry Library at the Southbank Centre. There was a huge buzz in the hall as publishers and poets jostled their way around the benches of books, pamphlets, chapbooks, magazines, postcards, badges (I couldn't resist an Adlestrop one), free cloth bags and roller stands. Poetry came in all shapes and sizes, and its representatives flocked from Devon, Berkshire, Northumberland, New York and beyond to share publications and ideas.

The Poetry Book Fair website describes the event as ...

'an all-day bazaar, market, library, meeting place, performance venue, information resource and more. Celebrating the vitality of contemporary poetry in the UK, publishers both large and small, both experimental and traditional, display and sell their work direct to the public,'

... and I, for one, am so glad that I was able to go along to experience the vibrant atmosphere for myself.

It was lovely to find familiar faces among the throng and it was also a great opportunity for meeting new people in the poetry world. So who was represented? You will find a long list of publishers large and small on the right hand side of this page. I suspect there was something for everyone. There were plenty of items for sale ... and the distinctive blue and orange Poetry School cloth bag proved the perfect receptacle for our purchases.

Inevitably the artwork on book covers or postcards caught my eye as I went up and down the aisles. This was particularly the case when it came to Two Rivers Press, and you can see some of the stunning designs here. I had not heard of this Reading-based publishing house before, and can easily see why it has been described as ‘one of the most characterful small presses in the country.’ I particularly enjoyed talking to the stall holders.

So ... why the fox-free poster? I signed up for a workshop at the Book Fair, laid on by the Poetry School and led by Simon Barraclough (standing in for Isobel Dixon) on the intriguing zoological and mythological subject of 'The Twilight of the Iguana'. Ted Hughes, of course, was mentioned - but I think we all succeeded in finding subjects other than the banned animal in the poster for our workshop muse.

Simon Barraclough leads the Poetry School workshop
Eels, tadpoles, a baby rabbit, an owl, an armadillo, (plenty of) pigs and mice were just a few of the creatures that slithered, scuttled or soared before our eyes during the course of an exhilarating two hour session. We considered poems by Elizabeth Bishop and others - and tried to respond to the vast 'bestiary' theme in our own words. Thank you, Simon and the Poetry School, for a terrific workshop. Thank you to all the organisers of Free Verse for a great day.

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Magazine Moment ~ Reach Poetry at 15 Years Old (and issue 180)

I have got a bit behind on this site, so in the hope that I will eventually catch up with myself by filling in the gaps, here is a new post.

I have been a subscriber to Reach Poetry since the days when Shelagh Nugent was editor and the poetry publication was known simply as Reach. This eclectic and well-loved poetry magazine has been under the aegis of Ronnie Goodyer and Dawn Bauling of Indigo Dreams Publishing for some years now. It has just celebrated its 15th birthday with its 180th issue, which sports a magnificent avian creature from the editors' new homeland of Devon, as you will discover if you take out a subscription for yourself.

So what is *so* special about this poetry magazine

I will list my Top Ten answers - in no particular order.

Reach Poetry ...
  • is more like an ever-expanding writers' circle. Well-known names in the poetry world sit comfortably alongside those of newcomers.
  • is a monthly poetry magazine, one of the few in the UK.
  • is eclectic in style and tone. You will find a healthy mixture of e.g. formal Shakespearean Sonnets and free verse poems. You will encounter poems for every mood: there are fine contributions that are elegiac in tone and there are humorous poems to make you smile.
  • is eclectic in its subject matter. The current issue contains poems concerning a samovar, a long shadow and a ride on a feather, to name but three examples. I never cease to be excited and/or moved by the editorial choice, which often results in serendipitous connections for the reader. 
  • has a monthly pair of book-end poems, one by Ronnie and one by Dawn. Judging by the reader comments, we all look forward to enjoying these. 
  • is a magazine that takes feedback seriously. Each month the readers are invited to offer comments and to cast votes for their favourite pieces. There is a £50 prize (which can be shared), and the top four poems are elevated to 'The Box' which appears in the following issue.
  • is a magazine with a perfect blend of the 'professional' and the 'personal'. 
  • is a publication with stunning photographic covers, designed by Ronnie. 
  • is perfect bound and feels good to handle.
  • Oh, and I mustn't forget to mention (as if I would) that each month brings the new challenge of spotting a photo of Soxx, the resident Border Collie, who will doubtless be hiding somewhere on the cover. 
I hope that you will be able to enjoy the latest cover photo for yourself. I will end this post with a couple of pictures of my own - no prizes for guessing what my poem in #180 is about ... and, incidentally, I read this poem out at our monthly Poetry Cafe at Arlington's last night.

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Poetry Venues ~ Walpole Old Chapel, Suffolk

One of the fascinating things about poetry readings is the venue in which they happen. I have enjoyed the opportunity of reading in large venues like the National Botanic Garden of Wales and in intimate interiors such as Dylan's parlour at Number 5 Cwmdonkin Drive in Swansea. I recently read a poem, 'Elegy to Idris Davies', from my chapbook (co-authored with John Dotson) in the exquisite venue of Walpole Old Chapel in Suffolk as part of a Poetry Evening, organised by members of the Halesworth Poetry Cafe. 

Walpole Old Chapel had been a sixteenth century farmhouse until it was turned into a chapel some 30 years after its construction by some Independent puritans under William Bridge. In 1955, after an unusual history, the chapel passed to the care of the Historic Chapels Trust. These days the chapel is used for suitable gatherings and for Quaker meetings. Its setting is rural, and as we drove up to it, the combine harvester was moving up and down, gathering barley from the surrounding fields.


On a different note, I have just found this timer, which is useful for preparing poetry presentations!