Saturday 7 November 2015

Aldeburgh Poetry Festival 2015 (Post 2)

We have just returned from a second day at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. We were mainly out at Aldeburgh, where there were some strong autumn gusts at lunch time by the iconic Scallop, followed by a stormy panorama as we left the town on our journey back to Snape this evening.

Highlights included an excellent and lively talk by John Burnside on the poetry of birds. We were riveted by his selected bird poems from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and by his engaging commentary. I particularly connected with the poems by Edward Thomas and Marianne Moore.

Alison Brackenbury delivered a delightful reading and brought great illumination to 'Christmas' by John Clare from December in The Shepherd's Calendar.

I have been particularly thrilled to find much of this year's poetry linking back to the land in a variety of ways. This, of course, is a personal preference, and perhaps it is not surprising that land in all its guises (edges, boundaries, borders, soil, seasons, owned land and wilderness ...) has played a significant part when you consider that one of the official festival themes for 2015 is 'poetry and freedom'.

Perhaps my ear was acutely attuned to this current (was it an overcurrent or an undercurrent? The emphasis seemed to waver) as a result of my visit only three days ago to the extraordinary exhibition of Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy.  

Friday 6 November 2015

Aldeburgh Poetry Festival 2015 (Post 1)


So here we are once again in the throes of the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, and judging by the number of people standing during events, it seems that poetry is alive and well here in the east.

I spent the afternoon at a poetry workshop on the theme of led by Peter Sirr. It took place in the extraordinary surroundings of The Red House.

My second event was a Craft Talk, delivered by one of the 2014 Faber New Poets, Zaffar Kunial. The poet took us through selected texts, including two versions, a 'before' and 'after', of his own. He demonstrated how the writers had created a sense of balance and space (or perhaps 'distance').

My final event of the day was to have been Richard Mabey, who had to withdraw from the festival. In his absence, John Burnside and Helen Macdonald read from their respective books and held a lively conversation about a number of ecological and natural world issues, touching on taxonomy and the naming of species, the pros and cons of re-wilding and the question of mass (the importance of regaining vast numbers of e.g. insects) or diversity (the importance of keeping as wide a range of wildlife as possible). 

I look forward to another round of talks tomorrow, and a second chance to mingle with poets from far and near. I also hope to catch a breath of bracing sea air and to do a bit of book browsing.

My thanks to Ellen McAteer and all those at The Poetry Trust who have worked so hard on behalf of those of us who wish to come together to share poetry in all its rainbow guises.

Feather, Aldeburgh beach

Wednesday 14 October 2015

The Poetry Society Annual Lecture by Rita Dove - and other Poetic Events

It has certainly been a poetic few days!

I was in London last night, listening to Rita Dove as she delivered The Poetry Society Lecture for 2015. Rita served as Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant to the Library of Congress from 1993 to 1995 and as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 2004 to 2006.

'How does a shadow shine?' ... such an evocative title

Rita Dove preparing to begin at King's College, London, 13 October 2015

Taking questions at the end, helped by Judith Palmer

* * *

Last weekend included a lunch event at The Wentworth Hotel in Aldeburgh to celebrate the 2015 winners of The Crabbe Memorial Poetry Competition organised by the Suffolk Poetry Society. Here are the winning poets, with Caroline Gilfillan taking First Prize. Robert Seatter was the judge.

Overall Winner, Caroline Gilfillan with the Rose Bowl; Robert Seatter on the right

In addition to a lovely lunch, we were treated to a reading of the winning poems. Robert Seatter also read us a poem from each of his three collections.

* * * 

Some days ago I attended a stimulating poetry workshop led by Gregory Warren Wilson on the theme of Textiles. I came away with work to polish and at least one poem still to write, though it just might be the beginning of a series.

I took a piece of my Scottish family tartan to the workshop as a prompt. I saw more tartan and other Scottish items yesterday at the current exhibition at the British Museum on the 'Celts - Art and Identity'. I was excited, but not surprised, to find displays relating to the poetry of 'Ossian', linked, of course, to James Macpherson (1736–1796), who came from the same Kingussie area of Scotland as my ancestors. You may well have read in the press about the recent discovery of the Kingussie time capsule, dating from a century later.

The remains of Ruthven Barracks (built from 1719), edge of Kingussie

And finally, working back in time to National Poetry Day, I had a Haiku on the theme of 'Light' in the Paper Swans online presentation, which you can watch and read here.  

Thursday 8 October 2015

Happy National Poetry Day!

I learned this morning that this is also World Octopus or Cephalopod Day, so here is an octopus from a reconstruction of Nestor's Palace in Homer's 'sandy Pylos' in the western Peloponnese. We visited this remarkable site five years ago. Over 1000 Linear B tablets came to light on this place alone.

And now for a little poetry. Alexander Pope may not be in vogue these days, but his rhymed version of The Odyssey gives a flavour of the storyline in the old epic (and it is a version that is out of copyright). What follows (in blue) are three excerpts from Pope, concerning the arrival of Odysseus' son, Telemachus, at Nestor's Palace. Telemachus is anxious for news of his father, who left his island home of Ithaka to fight in the Trojan War. Nestor is making animal sacrifices on the beach when his visitor arrives. 

Reconstruction of Nestor's Palace floor in the Chora Museum - octopus motif

Now on the coast of Pyle the vessel falls,

Before old Neleus’ venerable walls.

There, suppliant to the Monarch of the Flood,

At nine green theatres the Pylians stood.

Each held five hundred (a deputed train),

At each, nine oxen on the sand lay slain ...

Reconstruction of the Megaron floor in Nestor's Palace, Museum at Chora

Full for the port the Ithacensians stand,

And furl their sails, and issue on the land.

Telemachus already press’d the shore . . .

The Throne Room, with a huge central hearth

The youth of Pylos, some on pointed wood,

Transfix’d the fragments, some prepared the food:

In friendly throngs they gather to embrace
Their unknown guests, and at the banquet place.

Pisistratus was first to grasp their hands,

And spread soft hides upon the yellow sands;

Along the shore th’ illustrious pair he led,

Where Nestor sate with youthful Thrasymed.

from Alexander Pope's version of The Odyssey Book III. You can read the whole chapter here

Reconstruction of Nestor's Palace

Nestor's Palace - as it is now

  • If I was suggesting a good modern translation of The Odyssey, it would be the one by Richard Lattimore
  • You might be interested in Adam Nicolson's book, The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters, which I have just started to read.
  • And, of course, the poem, 'Ithaka' by Cavafy is one of my all time favourites. 
  • More octopuses! John Pinsent (1922-1995), a Classical scholar and Reader in Greek at Liverpool University, wrote a study called 'The Iconography of Octopuses: a First Typology' (BICS 25, 1978) about the development of octopus representations in late Mycenaean vase painting. I remember him giving a fascinating lecture on the subject in Newcastle when we were undergraduates. 

Thursday 1 October 2015

Reach Poetry #205, Indigo Dreams Publishing

Bracelet Bay and the Mumbles Lighthouse, Swansea

An A5 package came through the letterbox this morning containing two magazines from Indigo Dreams Publishing, Reach Poetry #205 and The Dawntreader #032.

I have written before (here) about my long association with the press, and am always delighted when the latest copies arrive in my home. I tore open the envelope; and to my surprise, a cheque fluttered to the floor. My small poem about Bracelet Bay had come Second in the September contest of readers' votes. Thank you, Reach Poetry editor, Ronnie Goodyer!

My poem is a take (or perhaps a slight variation, since the key mid-line is split) on the Folding Mirror poetry form, devised by Dr. Marc Latham and included in The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics including Odd and Invented Forms by Lewis Putnam Turco (University Press of New England).

Reach Poetry is a monthly publication. You can subscribe for a year or buy a single copy. The Dawntreader (editor Dawn Bauling) comes out each quarter, and again you can buy a sample issue or an annual subscription. 

Monday 21 September 2015

keeppoemsalive: a selection of poems about 'Time'


My Tercet Ghazal, 'The Ocean's Tears', features in the relatively new keeppoemsalive site this week. The site is described as 'a space for poems you like to read again and again.'

Other poets with work featured this week are Kevin Cadwallender, Neil Leadbeater, Alexander Hutchison and Vivien Jones.

All the poems on the site were published for the first time at least three years ago. Do click the link above and take a look.

Saturday 29 August 2015

London Launch: Poems for a Liminal Age in aid of Médecins Sans Frontières

We had an inspiring afternoon at the London launch of Poems for a Liminal Age, edited by Mandy Pannett and published by Nnorom Azuonye of SPM.

The book will raise funds for Médecins Sans Frontières, UK.

We only reached home about an hour ago, so these unedited photos are hot off the press. I apologise for the quality, but at least they give a flavour of the wonderful occasion.

Right: Poet and Publisher, Nnorum Azuonye, Director and CEO, SPM Publications

Editor, Mandy Pannett welcoming us at the beginning

Editor, Mandy Pannett

Wendy Klein

Alwyn Marriage
Lin Lundie

Richard Copeland

Alison Lock

Alison Lock

Sean Street

Bill Holdsworth

Margaret Wilmot

Beth Somerford

Diana Mitchener

Afam Akeh

Afam Akeh

Alison Lock and me

Alison Lock, Mandy Pannett (centre) and me

Nick Cooke

Helen Moore

Caron Freeborn

Spencer Edgar


Linda Black

Anthony Costello

Mark Howorth-Booth

Jacquie Wyatt

Poet and Publisher, Nnorum Azuonye, Director and CEO, SPM Publications

Mario Petrucci

Andie Lewenstein

Paul Matthews

Launch venue

Update: YouTube of some of the launch readings here.

Thursday 27 August 2015

The Poetry Trust's Poetry Prom at Snape

Snape Maltings, Suffolk, UK

We attended the annual Poetry Prom at Snape last night, and thoroughly enjoyed engaging presentations from two world-class poets who had flown in from the USA, Naomi Shihab Nye and Mark Doty.

It was Ellen McAteer's first Poetry Prom as Director of The Poetry Trust, and it was good to be able to exchange a few words with her at the end.

Naomi is described by The Poetry Trust as 'a passionate cross-cultural ambassador whose engaging grounded poems are a call for peace and international goodwill in these troubled times.'

There was sensitivity (Mark Doty's poem about an encounter with a young goat and Naomi Shihab Nye's piece about an unexpected gift). There was style - and huge appreciation from the audience.

Mark Doty read a hot-off-the-block (or tablet/iPad) poem which he had just written as a result of a call from the States.

I bought a signed copy of Naomi's collection, A Maze Me, which I much look forward to reading. 

It was a lovely occasion, and a chance to mingle with friends in the book signing queue, and over coffee and chocolate brownies in the interval.