Friday 5 December 2014

Pushcart Nomination 2014

Sharmagne Leland-St. John and her team at Quill and Parchment (USA) have selected my poem, 'Elegy for Idris Davies', for a 2014 Pushcart Prize nomination.

The poem concerns the miner-turned-poet, Idris Davies, from the Rhymney Valley in South Wales.

A dram for transporting pieces of coal

Wednesday 12 November 2014

ZSL 2014 Poetry Competition Win

I have just been sent a link to the Results Page of the 2014 ZSL Poetry Competition on 'Conservation' ...

Rule 15. The competition will be judged by members of ZSL Discovery & Learning department, ZSL Resident poet Ahren Warner and Poet and ZSL council member Ruth Padel.

Overall winner: Caroline Gill - Raft Race

My poem is about the plight of the Fen Raft Spider. 

One of the few locations in Suffolk where the Red Listed Fen Raft Spider still resides

Tuesday 11 November 2014

11 November - Laurence Binyon and the British Museum

David in the British Museum

'They shall grow not old ...'
from 'For the Fallen' by Laurence Binyon

Many will have seen the poppy installation at the Tower of London. David and I attended a fascinating event in honour of (Robert) Laurence Binyon (1869–1943) at the British Museum on 11 November 2014. Binyon's granddaughter, Sophie Gray, assisted a member of staff from Prints and Drawings with the delivery of a presentation about the War Poet's life and work. 
Binyon, who was immensely interested in art from Europe, China and Japan, was invited to head up the new Department of Oriental Prints and Drawings in the British Museum in 1913, just before the outbreak of war. His career at the British Museum spanned 44 years.
Binyon was too old to enlist as a soldier in the Great War, but was keen to serve and volunteered with the Red Cross as an Orderly. He became a stretcher bearer. 
Basil Gray, Binyon's son-in-law, took over his British Museum work. The new Department of Oriental Antiquities was created in 1933.
We were able to listen to a recording of Binyon's voice and to see documents in the poet's hand, along with prints and watercolours that he had acquired for the Print Room. Two portraits of Binyon by William Strang were on display.

Monday 10 November 2014

26th Aldeburgh Poetry Festival


'Aldeburgh is the UK’s pre-eminent annual celebration 
of national and international contemporary poetry'

A sweep of unpromising grey cloud dissipated around noon and the sky brightened over Snape and Aldeburgh. The 26th Aldeburgh Poetry Festival took off in Suffolk sunshine to the delight of those who had come from far and wide to take part, to be informed or entertained and simply to imbibe poetry of all sorts and descriptions.

I made my way to the front at Aldeburgh to sniff the sea and to take my festival photograph near the iconic Scallop on the beach. It was soon time to head off to The Red House for a workshop led by Karen McCarthy Woolf. What an experience to write in such a distinguished and musical venue! Karen kept us on our toes, as urban, coastal and rural horizons began to dance before our eyes. We tried to capture something special in our writing as we cast our nets widely. Most of us came away with pages of material and poems in draft. Thank you, Karen, for such a stimulating, eye-opening and wide-ranging session.

Snape Maltings

The Aldeburgh Poetry Festival is largely based around the complex of Snape Maltings, with its boardwalk at the edge of the reeds and its wide skies that provide wonderful starling murmurations on autumn evenings. I attended the Open Workshop on Saturday in the Oyster Bar, led by Michael Laskey, founder of the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, and Jeni Smith, and once again found every poetic muscle in my body (or brain?) being contorted in new and occasionally uncomfortable ways!

Sadly the event with Jen Hadfield was cancelled due to bad weather up north, but it was great to catch up with a good number of friends and to meet new ones. By the time I headed for home my book bag was bulging with a mix of shiny and secondhand volumes and pamphlets by Edward Thomas, Tony Harrison, Karen McCarthy Woolf*, Chrissie Williams, Jen Hadfield and Kevin Crossley-Holland ...

Me ... with feather bag ...
and copies of An Aviary of Small Birds (Carcanet, 2014) by Karen McCarthy Woolf
Photo credit: © Karen McCarthy Woolf (used with permission)


Monday 3 November 2014

Valentine Haiku in Bilingual Anthology from Romania

This 'eye-catching' international anthology arrived through my letterbox this morning from Romania. The book is bilingual, beginning at one end with pieces and translations in Romanian and at the other with texts in English.

The English title is The Light Singing, with lyrical mosaic as a subtitle. The editors are Olimpia Iacob and Jim Kacian. The cover image is entitled 'Floating Eyes' and is by Italian artist, Gianpiero Actis. The book has been published by Emia in Romania.

Peter Thabit Jones, editor of The Seventh Quarry, has written the dedication to Aeronwy Thomas (1943-2009), and the anthology begins with three Haiku by Aeronwy, written in response to the cover artwork.

The anthology contains my Valentine Day Haiku, which appears in English (one end of the book) and in Romanian (the other), thanks to the work of Olimpia Iacob. 

Monday 27 October 2014

Dylan Thomas - Centenary Celebrations

Dylan Thomas would have been

 100 today

 Monday 27 October 2014

Dylan Thomas outside the Dylan Thomas Theatre, Swansea

I lived in Swansea for nearly twenty years and was able to visit the heron-priested shore at Laugharne on numerous occasions. I had the privilege of meeting Dylan's daughter, Aeronwy Thomas Ellis, a few times. I attended one of her poetry workshops at the Laugharne Festival.

Dylan's 100th Birthday has been the cause of worldwide celebrations, and it seems a fitting tribute to throw links to a number of these ...



Number 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Swansea, birthplace home of Dylan Thomas

Saturday 25 October 2014

Poetry and Pilgrimage ~ an ECAT Writers' Day at the Cathedral

The St Edmundsbury Cathedral tower through the ruins

I have just returned from the cathedral at Bury St Edmunds, where I attended the latest in a series of ECAT (Edmund Centre for Arts and Theology) days.

Our Diocese has been celebrating its centenary this year, and a number of events have been planned under the title 'Pilgrims in Time'.

The Dean, the Very Reverend Frances Ward, presented a number of poems with a pilgrimage or journey theme before handing over to Sarah Friswell, the Cathedral PR and Media Officer. Sarah led us round the Cathedral, pointing out the significance of a number of features such as the font and tower. We were given the chance to think about Bunyan and Pilgrim's Progress. We began to discuss and attempt to formulate the difference between a 'guided tour' and a 'pilgrimage tour' in the session before lunch.

Dr Elizabeth Cook, the first Writer-in-Residence at the Cathedral, led a wonderful poetry workshop in the afternoon. Once again we had the opportunity to look at some journey and pilgrimage texts. Matters such as the place of community chatter (as in The Canterbury Tales) and the role of silence were considered. It was soon time to put pen to paper, and I think all the participants will have gone home with new material and a number of poems in draft.

This is the third ECAT day I have attended, and each one has offered a fascinating insight into the relationship between art (in the broadest sense) and theology. My thanks to all who make these days so rewarding, enjoyable and worthwhile.

  • An account of a previous ECAT poetry day from Elaine Ewart's FlightFeather blog.

I did a little personal reading in advance of today's workshop and soon began to realise that the notion of 'Christian pilgrimage' has many applications in the church. An outward journey (for example to the Holy Land) usually runs along parallel lines with an internal journey of faith. Some Christians, however, would adhere to the view that the only journey of significance is one through time (as opposed to a physical journey) as lives are lived on earth with hearts set on what Bunyan's character, Pilgrim, called 'the Celestial City'. I was surprised (in a positive way) to discover that the eighteenth century Puritan theologian, Jonathan Edwards, preached a sermon entitled 'The Christian Pilgrim'.  

Tuesday 14 October 2014

The Crabbe Memorial Poetry Competition Lunch 2014

It was lovely to join with members of the Suffolk Poetry Society and the 2014 Crabbe Memorial Poetry Competition prize-winners for a celebratory lunch at the Wentworth Hotel in Aldeburgh. 

The judge was Gregory Warren Wilson (second from the left in the above photo) and the winning poem by David Healey (fourth from the left) was about a particular swan feed at WWT Welney, a place I know well.

Swans at WWT Welney


Saturday 11 October 2014

Poetry Workshop at Writers' Centre Norwich

I have just returned from an excellent afternoon at Writers' Centre Norwich. The poetry workshop was the first of two, with one session on the coast (today), led by Rebecca Goss, and the other on the land, which will be led by Esther Morgan

I have come back with the beginnings of three poems, and am looking forward to taking these further. Writers' Centre Norwich is a wonderful resource, and we were amused to find that the packets of biscuits on offer bore the name of Brontë!

On my return, David mentioned that Sir Andrew Motion had released his 10 Tips for 'being a successful poet'. You can read them here

Thursday 2 October 2014

National Poetry Day - in Suffolk

Ian Griffiths, Florence Cox and Sue Wallace-Shaddad

We had a great time marking National Poetry Day here in Suffolk. Ian Griffiths (Chairman of the Suffolk Poetry Society), Sue Wallace-Shaddad (Secretary), Florence Cox and I teamed up to read poems in Waterstone's, Ipswich. The next Pop-Up poetry performances took place in two venues in Woodbridge, namely the library and Browsers' Bookshop. Ian and Florence continued on to the coast, where their last poetry stop was in Aldeburgh.     

The theme was 'remember', which afforded plenty of scope. My thanks to Florence for her 'pop-up' car cafe, which offered elevenses in the form of lemon torte to hungry poets on the move.

Ian, Florence and me

Friday 26 September 2014

Metverse Muse, India - Joint Second Place

My triple-issue copy of the international journal, Metverse Muse, edited by Dr. H. Tulsi in Visakhapatnam, India, arrived today. A glance at page 20 revealed that my two contest poems, a Petrarchan Sonnet (about pandas) and a Shakespearean Sonnet (about Pylos), had won me Joint Second Place with fellow UK poet, Pamela Trudie Hodge, in the Fixed Form 'A' category of the 2013 competition.

Many congratulations to Catherine Lee for taking First Place.

Reconstruction in Nestor's Palace, Homer's 'sandy Pylos', Peloponnese

Friday 19 September 2014

Writing Poetry at NT Wicken Fen with Dr Charles Bennett

We spent a wonderful afternoon at NT Wicken Fen Nature Reserve, gathering inspiration for the set task in a stimulating poetry workshop, led by Dr Charles Bennett, the Writer in Residence

What could be better on a late summer afternoon than the chance to be immersed in nature and poetry beneath the wide fenland skies? We shared our draft poems at the end before adjourning to the adjacent tea room for a National Trust cream tea.

There were still good numbers of Common Lizards and Emperor dragonflies about. We reflected on a number of sample poems before sharing our own drafts. The two hours passed rapidly and it was soon time to adjourn to the tea room for Earl Grey and a National Trust cream tea. 

Watery reflections: Southern Hawker on the lode

Monday 15 September 2014

Anthology Launch at the Winchester Poetry Festival 2014

I heard some months ago that my Edward Thomas tribute poem, 'Literally, for this', had been selected for inclusion in an anthology to mark the centenary of the First World War. The book, so too have the doves flown, was edited by Stephen Boyce, Pam Job and Judith Wolton and published by Jardine Press. The poems were largely written by poets residing in Essex and Suffolk.

I initially came across the name, Edward Thomas, many years ago through the poet's most widely known poem, 'Adlestrop'. Since then I have visited the site of the small village station that fell victim to the Beeching cuts and I have also visited Dymock.

Prior to fighting in France, Thomas spent the last years of his life in the small Hampshire village of Steep. I knew the village through two other tribute poems, 'All day it has rained' and 'To Edward Thomas' by Alun Lewis, but had never had the chance to visit.  

so too have the doves flown was being launched at the Winchester Poetry Festival - and with Steep only twenty miles from the venue, the opportunity finally presented itself.

We found the Norman church of All Saints in Steep, nestling under Stoner Hill and the Shoulder of Mutton. The door opened and we were able to take a look around.

It did not take long to spot the poet's name. There was also commemorative stained glass by Laurence Whistler. We left the church and drove past Bedales before proceeding on our way up Stoner Hill, under the leafy canopy of Ashford Hangers.

We arrived at the Discovery Centre, venue of the Winchester Poetry Festival, the following morning, in time to have a cup of coffee, buy from the secondhand bookstall, check out the Magma stall, vote for a favourite painting and peruse the Edward Thomas exhibition curated by the Petersfield Museum.

David checking out the exhibition area

We came across Pam Job and Judith Wolton with Stephen Boyce, who is not only editor of so too have the doves gone but also trustee and co-Artistic Director of the Winchester Poetry Festival.

Judith Wolton (with hand on top of board), CG, Pam Job and Stephen Boyce

It was soon time to wander across the road to the Green Room ... 

... before taking our seats back in the Discovery Centre in preparation for the event.

Stephen Boyce gave a welcome and an introduction before Judith and Pam delivered their presentation on the inspiration behind the anthology project.

Reading 'Literally, for this' ... with Pam Job behind the table

It was soon time for the readings.

The poems in the book are very varied and cover different eras and geographical locations, but all address the theme of conflict and our human response to times of war and unrest.

My thanks are due to the editorial team and to Stephen Boyce for inviting us to take part. The 2014 Winchester Poetry Festival 'had three interwoven themes: to commemorate the poetry of the First World War, to celebrate Hampshire’s contribution to our literary heritage and to bring together a fine array of leading contemporary poets.' I hear a rumour that a second festival is planned for 2016 ... 

* * *

I was sorry to miss the Edward Thomas talk by Edna Longley, but I was delighted to sample a small slice of what the festival had on offer. As David's biscuit poem below demonstrates, there was something to suit all tastes ...

A little light relief was provided by the two Poetry Posties, who allowed a certain intruder ...

... to pedal off on their tricycle. I hope he delivered the pile of special poem packets. I, for one, was delighted to receive one of these from the Poetry Posties at The Poetree. I'm hoping the surprise contents will bear fruit in organic ways, both in my garden and at the tip of my pen. 

David riding off on The Poetree Poetry Postie tricycle

 Festival Blog Posts

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Reading my Stonehenge Poem at Walpole Old Chapel

David and I joined other East Anglian poets for the annual Poetry Evening at Walpole Old Chapel. We were wondering whether Hurricane Bertha would prevent us from reaching this lovely and remote corner of Suffolk, but all was well and we were treated to some wonderful poetry, glasses of elderflower cordial and slices of Queen Mother's cake. Our thanks to Mike Bannister and all those who helped to make the evening such a delightful occasion.

In the light of a recent visit to the re-vamped Visitors' Centre at Stonehenge, I read my bluestone poem, 'Preseli Blue', which features in my recent chapbook, The Holy Place. The poem was first published in The Lie of the Land (ed. Jan Fortune, Cinnamon Press).

'Preseli Blue' was read on BBC Poetry Please as part of the programme from the Hay Festival in 2008. It was written in response to the rope-bound Millennium Bluestone on display in the National Botanic Garden of Wales. You can read the text here by scrolling down on the Shabdaguchha site. 

On our recent visit we arrived at Stonehenge too late in the day to contemplate a ride up to the stones themselves, though we much look forward to doing this. There was plenty to see at the Visitors' Centre, including a few 'retro' des-res huts ...

With David Gill

... and this rope-bound (model) stone that you could try to pull!

Needless to say all efforts proved useless!

We enjoyed watching the land-train, but I can't help reminiscing about my early visits to the site in the 1960s when we used to take the dogs and wander at will.

Storm clouds were brewing. It was time to beat a hasty retreat.

Wednesday 6 August 2014

Scott Polar Research Institute (Cambridge) and The Poetry School online eBook

Some of the poems we wrote earlier this year during the collaborative project between the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, and The Poetry School, are now online. They can be found on The Poetry School Campus site in an eBook entitled Sharpened into Absence, produced by Julia Bird of The Poetry School.

Thank you, Julia, for your hard work in preparing the publication.

Thank you to all who made this unique course not only possible but enjoyable, riveting, challenging and more besides.

I read my two poems, 'Chattermarks' and 'Pepys Island', yesterday evening at our local Poetry Cafe ...

Julia adds a word about viewing the eBook online ...

'To view the book full screen, click the four arrow icon at the right of the grey toolbar at the bottom, and then you can make the print bigger or smaller by moving the slider between the ‘-‘ and ‘+’ magnifying glass icons.'

Monday 2 June 2014

Personal Highlights from the 1st Suffolk Poetry Festival

Suffolk Poetry Society Chairman, Ian Griffiths

Huge thanks and congratulations are due to the committee members of the Suffolk Poetry Society for their gargantuan labours in presenting the First Suffolk Poetry Festival at the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket last Saturday. Thanks are also due to The Limbourne Trust for their sponsorship. The festival day proved to be an eclectic and inclusive mix of homegrown poetry from Suffolk - and judging by the applause and the enthusiastic conversations, it was a great success.  

Festival Organiser, Colin Whyles

I attended one of the workshops in the morning. It was on the Sonnet, and was led by Suffolk Poetry Society President, James Knox Whittet. James led us through a number of sample Sonnets, proffering tips to follow and pitfalls to avoid, before encouraging us to create a Shakespearean Sonnet of our own. My attempt certainly needs more polish, but I hope a finished poem may emerge from my scribblings once I have had a chance to add some final touches.

Colin Whyles preparing the microphone for the Festival launch of 'so too have the doves gone'

Café Green provided vegetarian snacks and meals all through the day. It was good to have the chance (albeit briefly) to chat with fellow poets and to look at the bookstall over lunch. I treated myself to a copy of Orinsay Poems (Orphean Press 2012) by Mike Bannister on the subject of 'happy times and adventures in and around Orinsay on the Isle of Lewis'. The afternoon was given over to presentations from the Poetry Cafés that are such a feature of the Suffolk poetry scene. Each cafe had been allocated a 30 minute slot, and the offerings ranged from a group Renga to the demonstration of the Sestina form to the presentation of Peter Hood's songs about the east coast.

There were presentations from ...
In addition to these planned presentations there were also short open mic slots between the scheduled events in the programme. It was good to hear poems from Tim Gardiner (you can read about his insect poems here) and others.

Chairman, Ian Griffiths, representing the Woodbridge Poetry Cafe

Given the rich wildlife of the county, it is not surprising that birds featured in a number of poems. Ian Griffiths narrated a poem that featured not only the imagery of a Robin and a Blackbird, but also included a whole host of other feathered companions. 

Yours truly at the mic!

I planned some days ago to read my poem about the Woolly Bear Caterpillar. You can imagine my amazement when I noticed a British cousin of this species walking across a presenter's hand (Chris Packham's, I seem to remember) on BBC Springwatch from RSPB Minsmere earlier in the week. My poem is published in my 2012 chapbook, The Holy Place, co-authored with John Dotson and published by Peter Thabit Jones of The Seventh Quarry and Stanley H. Barkan of Cross-Cultural Communications in New York.

David Gill, reading his poem and introducing the UCS slot

A University Campus Suffolk slot was included in the reading programme. David read his Edward Thomas tribute poem, 'Gloucestershire in the Negev', alongside excellent poems from two UCS students.

There was just time for a welcome cup of tea and large slice of chocolate cake before the evening session. This began with the launch of so too have the doves gone, an anthology of poems largely from Suffolk and Essex to mark the centenary of the Great War. Judith Wolton led the way. This time it was my turn to read an Edward Thomas tribute poem. This new 2014 anthology was edited by Stephen Boyce and initiated by Pam Job and Judith Wolton. It was published by Jardine Press Ltd.

Florence Cox was next up on the programme and we enjoyed her witty and meticulously observed poems on the foibles of human nature. Florence was followed by 2012 Crabbe Memorial Poetry Competition winner, Caroline Gilfillan who gave a presentation of her Pepys poems. The final performers of the evening were Kate Foley and Luke Wright.  

My thanks to all who made the day such an enjoyable one for so many. May it be the first of many!