A Poetry Kick

The first session of Kickstart Poetry in Cheltenham on 3 January exceeded my expectations in terms of numbers attending – given that it was so early in the New Year, and a cold night at that. We were very grateful to Parmoor House for finding us a bigger room than the one we normally use, which would have been a little too cosy!

Early feedback suggests that fellow Kickstarters agree that the workshop and supplementary information posted in our own Facebook group is helpful.  Here are some of their comments:


“Thanks for this wonderfully detailed information … and for hosting us yesterday. I really enjoyed it and enjoyed hearing some wonderful poetry.” 
“Really enjoyed the workshop last night. A good kickstart to the new year. Very helpful info thank you … No excuses but to get started now”.
“Have already put down ideas for three of the poems. Couldn’t stop poetry thinking last night.”
“I enjoyed it, thank you … lots of interesting ideas.”
“It was fab and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
“Thanks for a great session … Your group has a good mix of people, poetry and styles. I really feel that I can gain from the structure of it.”

“I very much enjoyed the session … and look forward to more in the coming months and working on the prompts in the book.”
“Fab time this evening at CPS Kickstart poetry workshop based on Jo Bell’s 52 … Good to have a structure to work with.”

“Very well done … pace, tone and level just right … generating plenty of enthusiasm.”

So, the new-style workshops under the auspices of Cheltenham Poetry Society seem to be a worthwhile addition to the Society’s calendar.

Credit must go to Jo Bell, whose book 52 – Write a poem a week.  Start now. Keep going published by Nine Arches Press is the inspiration for the workshops.  We’ve identified 12 primary prompts to write on in the monthly workshops in 2017, but also drawn up a timetable to keep people on track if they want to take up the challenge of writing 52 poems during the year.

Writing a first draft for one of the 12 primary prompts occupies the first part of each workshop, followed by a read-round, and a ten minute break for a drink and a chat – perhaps about publication opportunities and successes.  In the second half we’ll be   bringing pre-written poems (on the 3 or 4 other prompts for the month) to the workshop for feedback.  There will also be a quick look forward to the prompts for the following month.  Comprehensive handouts accompany the sessions but all participants have been encouraged to buy a copy of the 52 book … and The Very Best of 52 book from Nine Arches Press.

Thanks to Roger Turner, Annie Ellis, Samantha Pearse, Michael Skaife d’Ingerthorpe, Gill Wyatt, Penny Howarth, Frankie March, Belinda Rimmer, Kathryn Alderman, Judith van Dijkhuizen, Alice Ross, Marilyn Timms and Howard Timms for supporting the workshop.  See you on 7 February!  Meanwhile, feel free to post draft poems in the closed Facebook Group for kindly comments from other members of the workshop series.  This does not amount to publication; your finalised poems will be free to be submitted to magazines, ezines, anthologies and competitions.  And build your (next) collection with Kickstart Poetry!

Another Exciting Poetry Year Beckons

Lots of new ventures lie ahead in Larkin (no relation) Poetryland next year:

1.  The Good Dadhood Poetry Project.

Between 1 January and 17 June (Father’s Day), the website Good Dadhood will be live, receiving submissions of poems in honour of fathers.  Why?  Why not!  More information about the project is being posted on the site shortly. By mid-June, we should have a good store of Good Dad poems. I’ll then take stock and decide what to do next in terms of bringing the Best Good Dad Poems together in some form.

2. The Kickstart Poetry Project

This new venture starts on 3 January, under the auspices of a Cheltenham Poetry Society. This is a monthly series of workshops, following Jo Bell’s book 52 – The Book and picking up on the success of Jo’s 2014 on-line poetry writing project.  I’m really looking forward to working with a group of local poets who are all eagerly anticipating getting started!

3. Poets Alive

Another year of the poetry reading group meeting begins shortly, under the benevolent banner of Cheltenham Poetry Society! The first meeting on Tuesday 17 January will be considering the poetry of W H Auden. Poets are invited to bring poems by Auden – and also examples of their own work which make an interesting comparison or contrast with the ones they have chosen to bring by Auden. Other poets on the menu for 2017 include T S Eliot, Billy Collins, D H Lawrence and Gillian Clarke.  It’s going to be lovely being back in the CPS chair after a much-needed break last year.

4. Poetry Café – Refreshed

Held at Cheltenham’s unique venue, Smokey Joe’s, this popular monthly “guest poet and open mic night” restarts on 18 January when we (host Roger Turner and I) look forward to welcoming David Calcutt as guest poet.  We have an equally exciting line-up of poets for the rest of the year, and also look forward to the open mic participants who go from strength to strength month on month.

5.  Cheltenham Arts Council’s first meeting of 2017

This takes place on 11 January when we will be looking forward to the awards we will be making in the coming year, and especially the award ceremony in March. I’m slightly daunted at the prospect of heading up these ventures, in what is my first year in the CAC Chair, but there is a wonderfully  supportive committee to keep me on track.

6.  Regular and Special Poetry Events

Back to Cheltenham Poetry Society – I’ll be collaborating with other talented members to run our monthly series of workshops, reading and writing groups .. and also our special events, including the annual lecture in March, when David Clarke will be talking on the subject of German Poetry, and the annual Awayday retreat scheduled for May.  I’m also looking forward to continuing promoting the ‘Cheltenham 300’ anthology of poems and photographs – which came out of workshops at the 2016 CPS Awayday.  We’re especially looking forward to giving a reading – with photo projection – at Cheltenham Poetry Festival in May, thanks to CPF Director, Anna Saunders.

7. Finally – and personally – I’m full of anticipation at the prospect of attending a Cinnamon Press poetry residential in North Wales later in January. There will, no doubt, be a separate blog post about it after the event!

So, there’s an exciting start in prospect to a poetry-full year.

Keep poeting!

Poetry Café – Refreshed, December 2016

We were pleased to have Anna Saunders as guest poet at our last Poetry Café – Refreshed of 2016, with her honed, image-rich poetry and delightful introductions. And the open mic was joyously eclectic!

Here is a photographic record of the event, including all the open mic poets on the night.  It features guest poet Anna Saunders, Refreshed’s host Roger Turner, Martin Lytton, Clive Oseman, Aled Thomas, Robin Gilbert, Jennie Farley, Dee Russell-Thomas, Belinda Rimmer,  Christine Whittemore, Najiba Mrakadeh-Keane, Michael Newman, Annie Ellis, Dave JPDL, Gill Wyatt, Chris Hemingway, Peter Wyton, Refreshed’s organizer Sharon Larkin, Howard Timms, Marilyn Timms.  With thanks to all friends and supporters in the audience too!

See you all in 2017.  Until then have a HAPPY CHRISTMAS and JOY-FILLED NEW YEAR!

With best wishes from Poetry Café – Refreshed.

 

 

 

Review of 2016 – mentor, monitor, mantra

It has been a year of mountain climbing and a little valley exploring.  High peaks have included:

Taking over the chair of Cheltenham Arts Council from Karen Jones – a hard act to follow. But there is a  lovely, dedicated committee of people from across the wide spectrum of the arts in Cheltenham to keep me on track. I’m learning so much – thanks to these mentors – and ‘network like an over-excited millennial’ has quickly become my mantra in this new ‘job’.

Working with Roger Turner to establish Poetry Café – Refreshed at Smokey Joe’s, Cheltenham has been an ongoing pleasure. I have loved welcoming all the guest poets and open mic performers – from Glos, South Glos, Worcs, Somerset, Oxon, Berks, Herefords, Wilts, Avon and Dorset! ‘Refreshed’ has become known for its friendly, relaxed, welcoming atmosphere, and – of course – its exciting poetry. Monitoring the rise and rise of this monthly event has been a source of considerable satisfaction.  With thanks to Smokey Joe’s for such a great venue – and a menu that is definitely worth monitoring at regular intervals!

Publishing Cheltenham 300, the Cheltenham Poetry Society’s anthology of poems and photographs to mark the Tercentenary of the town as a spa, offered a rich learning experience for me personally. It all sprang from an inspiring Awayday idea, very image-focused from the start … and so it was inevitable that the ensuing book would combine two passions shared by a number of CPS members  – poetry and photography. The richness of this particular learning experience came from choosing poems from those submitted, collaborating with Roger Turner (trusted mentor) on editing, sequencing and taking/selecting images. Investigating sources for some of the images and pursuing copyright permissions were other opportunities to ‘learn stuff’ … as were working with the printer to optimise layout, with a couple of ‘back to the drawing board’ moments!  Chris Griffiths at Stroudprint has been a most patient mentor!  His experience and advice were invaluable. The book was published in November, and according to my monitoring – akin to that of a new parent – it is selling well, at the Suffolk Anthology Bookshop, thanks to Helene. Many copies are also being sold  by the contributing poets, and by mail order (via email  cheltenhampoetrysociety@gmail.com). We have two events/readings coming up early in 2017, when my mantra will no doubt be:  ‘the book will be on sale at the end of the reading’.

An enjoyable morning was spent in early December with Rona Laycock – accomplished writer and experienced mentor – in The Writer’s Room at Corinium Radio, Cirencester. I loved sharing four of my poems from the ‘I Walk on Fire’ event (held in Cheltenham in October – to celebrate Dylan Thomas) … so my Corinium Radio spot had a Welsh flavour, satisfying another of my passions. Monitoring the programme as it went out – worldwide – was a ‘hold your breath’ moment … but I didn’t actually hate the sound of my own voice … because I thought it sounded like someone else! Another mantra:  it’s never too late to try something new.

Nor is it ever too late to have another go at something done previously.   A few years ago I participated in judging the poetry entries for the Gloucestershire Writers Network competition – the first time I’d judged one.  Earlier this year, Stuart Nunn asked me to judge the poetry entries for the Chipping Sodbury competition.  This was an enjoyable experience, with some obvious front runners during preliminary readings.  It took several more readings to place them in order.  The winner took me by surprise.  As I read and reread it, I began to realise that there were rich literary threads and social commentary running right through it. They had not been obvious on a preliminary reading, but an outstanding image towards the end of the poem alerted me to the fact that something deeper was going on in this poem than was at first apparent.  I appreciated the fact that this poet didn’t go for an easy option. The poem offered the reader the satisfaction of teasing out the meaning just beneath the superficial. A worthy winner.  And another lesson learned in the satisfaction and rewards of inviting a reader to ‘go deeper’ … another mantra.

Submissions-wise, it has been my most productive year ever, with a record number of acceptances and few rejections – according to fastidious monitoring via Excel spreadsheet. Much of this success can be traced back to the 52 Project in 2014.  Surely Jo Bell remains all participating poets’ favourite mentor! Her mantra – cut the last two lines – remains valuable advice.

But the ‘mentor of the year award, 2016’ for me personally has to be Ann Drysdale.  I can’t thank her enough for her experience, wisdom and patience as we’ve worked on my manuscript.

Glancing ahead to 2017, I look forward to more learning experiences – with a Cinnamon Press residential led by Jan Fortune – another brilliant mentor and champion of new writing.  This opportunity to learn will take place early in the New Year (back to Wales again – excellent!). I’ll also be beginning another stint in the Chair of Cheltenham Poetry Society next year, with a new series of workshops running throughout 2017 based on Jo Bell’s 52 book. As a new venture for the Society, I’ll be monitoring the success of the workshops, and learning much by mentoring some of those who attend. If there’s one thing my year teaching Welsh to Adult beginners taught me, it is that tutors learn as much by teaching learners as learners learn from tutors! My all-time favourite mantra remains “Never stop learning” …

At the head of this end-of-year resumé, is a word cloud containing elements from the titles of the poems I hope to see ‘out there’ in 2017.  I’ll be monitoring their progress with the utmost interest!  “Go, words!”

A poem … and photos

I recently revisited Powys – land of my fathers – continuing my ‘pilgrimage’ to sites important to Welsh history.  Cilmeri and Abbey Cwm Hir – associated with Llewelyn ap Gruffudd – resulted in a file of photographs … and a poem, in the form of a bardic lament, albeit in English, in honour of Y Llyw Olaf.  I combined words and pictures here:

October – Poetry Month

For poets, every month is a poetry month, but in the UK we have National Poetry Day and a series of festivals around Britain which make every October a feast of poetry.

This year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival includes: Gillian Clarke and Alison Brackenbury, Luke Kennard and Melissa Lee-Houghton, Matthew Hollis and Blake Morrison, Simon Armitage, Sarah How and Rebecca Perry … and local writers and poets in a Gloucestershire Writers’ Network event.  I’m delighted to have tickets for all of these (not to mention a ticket for Ian McEwan, taking about his new novel, Nutshell.  He read the opening few pages at his event last night and it struck me as not only witty, humorous, astute … but, yes, poetic).  Cheltenham Literature Festival

Nearby we have Swindon Poetry Festival 2016 and Bristol Poetry Festival 2016 going on, and later in the month, a weekend festival here in Cheltenham celebrating Dylan Thomas, run by Anna Saunders/Cheltenham Poetry Festival I Walk on Fire and featuring Rhian Edwards and John Goodby, artist Anthea Millier, and local poets and writers:

img_9064

Meanwhile, regular events continue in the town:  Angela France’s Buzzwords featuring David Clarke and Cliff Yates on 2 October, Cheltenham Poetry Society’s ‘Views on Ted Hughes’ night on 4 October, Poetry Café – Refreshed at Smokey Joe’s on Wednesday 19 October, Cheltenham Poetry Society’s regular poetry reading group and writing group meetings on 18 and 25 October.  In other Gloucestershire towns, monthly writing/poetry groups run by Rona Laycock in Cirencester and Miki Byrne in Tewkesbury will be meeting at New Brewery Arts and The Roses Theatre respectively.

Yes, October is a month of feasting on poetry!