Collaboration and Networking – Keys to Happy Poeting

I’ve been active on the poetry scene in Cheltenham since about 2004 and shortly after began to go to Angela France’s Buzzwords (when it was upstairs at The Beehive) and Cheltenham Poetry Society (CPS) meetings at Parmoor House, Lypiatt Terrace. A highlight for me during that time was winning a place in a Gloucestershire Writers Network (GWN) competition to read at Cheltenham Literature Festival and, soon afterwards, I began an MA in Creative and Critical Writing (Poetry) under Nigel McLoughlin and Kate North at The University of Gloucestershire, graduating in 2010. Shortly after that, I became Chair of CPS and was also on the Committee of GWN for a few years, when Rona Laycock was in the chair … and I co-judged the GWN competition one year. In recent years I’ve also judged the Chipping Sodbury poetry competition and co-selected poems for South Magazine. These are the kinds of poetry activities I enjoy most, along with selecting and publishing poems for my Good Dadhood project which I ran on-line a few years ago, attracting wonderfully affirming and positive poems in praise of fatherhood from poets all over the UK. I also enjoy doing occasional reviews of poetry collections, but as my method of reviewing is very ‘in-depth’ I don’t undertake many of these a year!

I began organizing Poetry Café Refreshed in August 2015 – a popular monthly guest poet and open mic event at Smokey Joe’s, Bennington Street, Cheltenham. I’ve booked nearly 70 guest poets (and one or two musicians) from all over the UK since ‘Refreshed’ began, hosted on the night by Roger Turner. One of the things I enjoy offering at ‘Refreshed’ is a good photographic record of guests and open mic poets, thanks to my husband who is a keen photographer. Usually, I share a video slideshow to Facebook within a few hours of the event, and this seems very popular. We welcome everyone to ‘Refreshed’, from beginners to experienced poets, whether they favour page or performance poetry or spoken word. Everybody is welcome.

As for Cheltenham Poetry Society, I’ve been Chair for most of the past 10 years, with a couple of ‘respite’ breaks, while I’ve nevertheless continued in a ‘communications’ role. At present, Roger Turner has taken the chair back for a period while I try to focus on my own work, but I still attend all CPS meetings, and organize events with the corresponding promotion and publicity. CPS runs workshops for developing poets, a monthly series of writing group meetings for experienced poets, and a poetry reading group, as well as the popular Annual Awayday Writing Retreat at Dumbleton Hall in May … and occasional readings and recitals. We’re always keen to link up with other groups for joint events, as we’ve done previously with Winchcombe Poets and Evesham-based poets. We’re especially looking forward to a joint event with other Gloucestershire poets during Gloucester Poetry Festival in October 2020, thanks to Gloucestershire Poet Laureate, Ziggy Dicks. CPS takes its community engagement programme seriously too. In recent years we’ve run various readings and recitals in local churches, and one of the most rewarding activities for some of us is reading poems and running collaborative workshops in local care homes. This led to me giving talks to groups of community workers in Cheltenham and Gloucester last summer, about the kinds of activities CPS are able to offer. Demand seriously outstrips the number of volunteers to participate in these activities, alas.

As well as writing, reviewing and event management, I also edit and publish anthologies through my publishing label, Eithon Bridge Publications. The most recent book to appear from the press (January 2020) is an anthology on behalf of CPS – Poetry from Gloucestershire. The book features 33 poems by 12 members of Cheltenham Poetry Society, and over 30 photographs illustrating the poems. It was thrilling to have endorsements from Alison Brackenbury and Angela France for the back cover, and I am very much looking forward to the launch of the book at Suffolk Anthology Bookshop on 24 March, with readings from the contributing poets. We are also presenting an illustrated performance of poems and photos from the book at Wotton under Edge Arts Festival on 21 April.  I am hoping for many more opportunities to promote the anthology over the coming year or so. The book is on sale for £9.99 from Suffolk Anthology Bookshop in Cheltenham and Alison’s Bookshop in Tewkesbury, or is available direct from the contributing poets, or for £9.99 plus £1.80 p&p by email to eithonbridge@gmail.com  More information about the book, and about Cheltenham Poetry Society is available by emailing cheltenhampoetrysociety@gmail.com or watch out for an article in March’s edition of The Local Answer! 

Publishing this book came hard on the heels of another anthology – Invisible Zoos – which I co-edited with poet/editor/publisher Simon Williams and published through Eithon Bridge in November 2019. This book featured 36 poems by 12 poets who had been on the weeklong residential Invisible Zoos masterclass with me at Ty Newydd in North Wales in September 2018, tutored by two wonderful poets, David Morley and Pascale Petit. The poets attending the course and subsequently contributing to the book came from all over the UK … and also from Canada/USA and France/Switzerland. Previous to that, I co-edited and published the illustrated All a Cat Ca Be anthology in support of New Start Cat Rescue in 2018, featuring poems from poets all over the UK. Before founding Eithon Bridge, I also did the bulk of the work to edit and publish the illustrated Cheltenham 300 anthology for CPS in 2016 … for Cheltenham’s tercentenary as a Spa Town. All four of these anthologies, and an earlier CPS one, Unexpected Encounters, were printed by Stroudprint, based unsurprisingly in Stroud, who provide an excellent and very helpful service.

As for my own poetry, I’ve had over 150 poems accepted/published in anthologies (from Cinnamon Press, Eyewear, Indigo Dreams, Smokestack, Fair Acre, Zoomorphic, Beautiful Dragons, Yaffle and others), in magazines (eg Magma, Obsessed by Pipework, Prole, Here Comes Everyone, Reach, Picaroon, and more), and on-line in many ezines such as Ink Sweat and Tears, Atrium, Rat’s Ass Review, Riggwelter, Amaryllis, Algebra of Owls, Snakeskin and many more. I’m also a fan of Visual Verse website, and enjoy writing to the time constraint stipulated. My pamphlet Interned at the Food Factory was published by Indigo Dreams in 2019. I’ve enjoyed ‘touring the book’ with readings locally as well as in Bristol with Silver Street Poets, Wells with The Fountain Poets, Welshpool with Verbatim and the highlight, The Poetry Café at Betterton St in London last September, with fellow Indigo Dreams poets Brett Evans, Holly Magill and Marie Lightman. Other places I’ve read in recent years include Colwyn Bay (with Prole magazine) and Llandudno Pier (with Prole and Picaroon). I’ve also very much enjoyed going to Welshpool Poetry Festival in 2018 and 2019, curated by the indefatigable Pat Edwards, which has fabulous visiting poets and workshops … as well as a bumper open mic on the last day.  A visit to the excellent Poetry Pharmacy in Bishops Castle, pioneered by the wonderful Emergency Poet, Deborah Alma, was also a highlight last year.

So, what began as a hobby fifteen years ago has mushroomed into a varied portfolio of activities and a widespread network of contacts … many now firm friends … throughout the UK. This networking was facilitated further by participating in Jo Bell’s ground-breaking 52 Group on Facebook a few years ago, and attending festivals in various other towns not too distant, eg Swindon and Evesham … but, most of all by the collaborative and supportive poets throughout Gloucestershire, and bodies such as Cheltenham Arts Council and Gloucestershire Writer’s Network, Rona Laycock’s wonderful Writer’s Room sessions on Corinium Radio, and Anna Saunders’ Cheltenham Poetry Festival which runs an incredibly rich programme of events each spring. I especially valued being one of the reader’s at the Indigo Dreams launch for For the Silent anthology in support of the The League Against Cruel Sports last year, and CPS gave an illustrated reading for their Cheltenham 300 anthology at Cheltenham Poetry Festival in 2016 – rerunning a similar event at Cheltenham Literature Festival’s Locally Sourced programme that October.

Now a fresh wave of ‘poetic energy’ is sweeping over the county thanks to Gloucestershire Poet Laureate, Ziggy Dicks; Cheltenham Library’s Poet In Residence, Josephine Lay; and other poets from Gloucestershire Poetry Society, with whom I’ve read a few times … and will do again, with the CPS anthology poets, during Gloucester Poetry Festival on 18 October 2020. I also read with Gloucester poets for International Women’s Day in March 2019, with Angela France and many other great women poets … and I’m looking forward to another IWD event in Gloucester this March, thanks to Josephine Lay.

It’s wonderful having poets like Alison Brackenbury and Angela France in the county. I’m indebted to Alison for supporting the anthology and launch for All a Cat Can Be, and for inviting me to be one of the readers for the launch of Candlestick Press’s Ten Poems About Horses, which Alison edited, and which was launched at Alison’s Bookshop in Tewkesbury last year. It’s also good to have poets locally like Jennie Farley, running New Bohemians in Charlton Kings. Readings I have coming up this year are at Piranha Poetry, Stroud, with Jonathan Muirhead from Swindon … thanks to Gary Death; and Writers at the Goods Shed in April, with Belinda Rimmer … thanks to Phil Kirby. This will be the second time I’ll have read with Jonathan Muirhead already this year. We enjoyed sharing a poetry event for Burns Night at The Rising Sun on Cleeve Hill on 25 January. It’s good to read with Belinda again too.  We shared a launch event for our Indigo Dreams pamphlets at Suffolk Anthology Bookshop last summer, and will be reading together again at Buzzwords in July, thanks ­– again – to Angela France. I’d also like to give a big shout out to Philip Rush, a fabulous poet, who also runs great workshops at Museum in the Park, and the wonderful Yew Tree Press which showcases the work of poets in Gloucestershire and beyond.  Phil’s Wool and Water pamphlets, timed to appear alongside the exhibition of that name at Museum in the Park, were super … and I was thrilled to be invited to contribute to the Wool one, sheep being close to my heart!

What’s next on my ‘Poetry agenda’? I ran a couple of workshops last year for a group of poets near Cirencester, under the ‘Stanza’ banner, having taken over the Gloucestershire Stanza Representative baton from Angela France earlier in the year. This year I want to develop more activities as the county’s Stanza Rep. The next such event will be a workshop at Parmoor House on 7 April, in conjunction with CPS, where I’ve invited Chaucer Cameron and Helen Dewbery to come and give us a workshop on the genre of poetry film. I would love this to spark a flourishing of poetry films from Cheltenham/
Gloucester poets over the coming months and years!

I hope readers of the foregoing can detect my enthusiasm for poetry in the county … and beyond! There are so many opportunities for collaboration, reciprocation and mutual support throughout the poetry community in the county. If you’re not yet into poetry, why not join CPS at a workshop soon? Or perhaps the special Poetry Film workshop coming up on 7 April, when we will be gaining lots of valuable information on how to get started with this incredibly powerful genre … or why not come to Smokey Joe’s to hear wonderful poets like David Briggs (19 March) and Raine Geoghegan and musician partner Simon Callow (15 April) … and grab your spot at the open mic. New poets are always welcome!

You can contact me via Facebook http://facebook.com/sharon.larkin or Twitter SharLark, or Instagram Sharolarki, or you can email cheltenhampoetrysociety@gmail for details of the Society’s activities.

2019: Another Wonderful Poetry Year

This has been another fantastic poetry year, with many people to thank for their generosity and encouragement, and for their warm-hearted contribution to the world of poetry, and to projects I’ve been involved in. I’m recording my appreciation here, with links to social networks so that these lovely people can, I hope, read my words of gratitude and appreciation for all they have done to make last year such a memorable year.

Interned at the Food Factory
Publication, reception, reviews, readings

My deep thanks are owed to Ronnie Goodyer and Dawn Bauling of Indigo Dreams for publishing Interned at the Food Factory which tiptoed out into the minefield of eating disorders in January 2019. Thank you, both, for taking the risk with me!  https://www.indigodreams.co.uk/sharon-larkin/4594486683

Thanks to Brett Evans and Kate Noakes who kindly read the manuscript ahead of publication and responded with endorsements for the book.

An especially big thank you is owed to Rosemary Muncie for reviewing Interned from the Food Factory in issue No. 60 of South Magazine and to Holly Magill and Claire Walker for making Interned at the Food Factory Atrium’s featured publication in April.  https://atriumpoetry.com/2019/04/07/featured-publication-interned-at-the-food-factory-by-sharon-larkin/

Thanks, too, to so many other kind people for their encouraging written or verbal feedback on the poems, including Dawn Bauling, Deborah Harvey, Belinda Rimmer, Catherine Baker, Dee Russell-Thomas, Anna Saunders and more. A selection of their feedback can be read here: https://sharonlarkinjones.com/2019/10/11/interned-at-the-food-factory-still-serving/

Out of the blue, one Sunday morning, I also received this: “A brave and necessary topic to tackle. Some great poems in there. Congratulations”  You know who you are. Thank you, I’m encouraged!  Be encouraged!

Thank you to everyone who has bought copies, and for asking for signed ones … so many sold that I had to reorder to ensure I had enough for events in the second half of the year!  Thanks, again, to Ronnie and Dawn for putting in the order just as they were about to go away on holiday!  Bless you, both.

Thanks to Belinda Rimmer … whose Touching Sharks in Monaco was also published by Indigo Dreams this year https://www.indigodreams.co.uk/belinda-rimmer/4594596027 … for joining up for a combined launch celebration of both books in June. A big thanks to Suffolk Anthology Bookshop’s, Helen Hewett https://theanthology.co.uk for hosting the celebration in Cheltenham … and thanks to the lovely audience that came to hear us read, and provided such warm and encouraging feedback.

Thank you to Rona Laycock for interviewing me about Interned at the Food Factory for Corinium Radio’s Writers’ Room programme in June, and giving me the opportunity to read poems from the book, as well as more recent work. The programme, broadcast on 12 August 2019, can be heard here: http://www.coriniumradio.co.uk/blog/2019/08/the-writers-room-with-sharon-larkin-3/

Thanks to The Poetry Cafe in London for hosting a reading with Indigo Dreams stablemates Brett Evans, Holly Magill and Marie Lightman, on an unforgettable evening in late September. Thanks to Ronnie and Dawn for their generous support towards the event. Thanks also to my son, David, for coming along on the night, and taking photos (and also for coming with me to The Poetry Library earlier in the day on my terribly egotistical quest to track down a copy of Interned at the Food Factory … which we did, at the end of a very long shelf of Philip Larkin’s poetry!)

Thank you to Deborah Harvey and Colin Brown of The Leaping Word for the kind invitation to me to read at Silver Street Poets in Bristol on 1 March … a preliminary event in the lead-up to Bristol’s Lyra Poetry Festival; great to slip surreptitiously into the brochure!

Thanks to Sue Johnson, Bob Woodroofe and Colin Pitts for the invitation to read with them at Evesham Library in the spring … an early event leading up to Evesham’s Festival of Words, for which thanks to Sue Ablett. It was good to read some ‘Asum’ poems, as well as a few from Food Factory. Thank you to friends and family who came to support me at that event: a special mention for Ann, Aaron and Susan.

Thanks to Ama Bolton for the kind invitation for me to read from Food Factory , and more recent work, at The Fountain Poets in Wells in July.  A lovely attentive audience, with some excellent poems at the open mic.  Thank you Ama, Jinny Fisher, Morag Kiziewicz … and everyone! https://wellsfountainpoets.wordpress.com/archive/

Thank you to  Pat Edwards for the invitation to read at Verbatim in Welshpool in July.  I so much enjoyed sharing poems from Food Factory, as well as older (son-inspired, Wales-inspired) poems and recent (sheep and butterfly-inspired) poems. The open mic poets were great … a wide variety of voices, including rap!  A lovely poetry group, so well run by Pat.

Thank you to Ziggy Dicks for organizing ‘Raised Voices’ for International Women’s Day at The Fountain in Gloucester in March, and for inviting me to read alongside some super poets. Thanks to Josephine Lay for organizing on the night, and to Chloë Jacquet for brilliant, spontaneous compering. I enjoyed hearing poems from Angela France, Josephine and Peter Lay, Jason Conway …  and many moving poems from poets at the open mic, especially those bravely performing for the first time.  A big, heartwarming evening of powerful words for International Women’s Day.

Thanks again to Ziggy – by then elected Gloucestershire’s Poet Laureate – for inviting me to read alongside Sarah Leavesley, David Ashbee, Roger Turner and Derek Dohren during Gloucester Poetry Festival in October.

Looking ahead, thanks to Phil Kirby for the invitation to read at Writers at The Goods Shed in Tetbury next spring … with Belinda Rimmer … and a big thank you to Angela France for the opportunity to read … alongside Belinda again … at the justly celebrated Buzzwords at The Exmouth Arms in Cheltenham in July 2020.

 

Anthologies Published
Establishing Eithon Bridge Publications

At the turn of the year, I am involved in publishing a sixth anthology, the third as Eithon Bridge Publications. Thanks to everyone who has helped me over the past year or so to consolidate Eithon Bridge as a publishing enterprise.  The books I’ve seen through to publication so far includes:

Beyond the Well-Mapped Provinces (published by Cheltenham Poetry Society, 2013)
Chance Encounters (published by CPS, 2014)
Cheltenham 300 (published by CPS, 2016)
All a Cat Can Be (co-edited with S MacIntyre; published by Eithon Bridge, 2018)
Invisible Zoos (co-edited with Simon Williams; published by Eithon Bridge, 2019)
Poetry from Gloucestershire (co-edited with Roger Turner; published by Eithon Bridge, 2020)

Invisible Zoos

Thank you to David Morley and Pascale Petit who were tutors on the residential masterclass entitled ‘Invisible Zoos’ that I attended at Ty Newydd near Cricieth in September 2018 … and for generously endorsing the resulting anthology which I edited with Simon Williams and published as Eithon Bridge in November 2019. The book contains 34 poems by 12 of the poets who attended the masterclass: Laboni Islam, Derek Littlewood, Karen McDermott, Caroline Messenger, Marion New, Lesley Sharpe, Theresa Sowerby, Susan Taylor, Joy Wassell Timms, Simon Williams, Annie Wright (and me).  Thank you to each of the contributing poets, especially co-editor Simon Williams, and designer Karen L McDermott who provided an array of images and options for the cover and a wealth of layout advice. Thanks to Chris Griffiths of StroudPrint  https://www.stroudprint.co.uk who arranged for the printing of the anthology.  Copies are for sale from me or via Eithon Bridge https://http://www.EithonBridgeBooks.com
Most of all, thank you to the all poets for their patience in the l-o-n-g editing process … and for buying copies for friends and family! And a final word of appreciation for the wonderful place that is Ty Newydd and the staff there who make it such a warmly welcoming and efficiently run location for first-rate writing retreats.  Diolch o’r galon.

Poetry from Gloucestershire

Thank you to Alison Brackenbury and Angela France for endorsing another anthology that Eithon Bridge will be publishing early in 2020 – Poetry from Gloucestershire, containing poems inspired by the county from poets who attended the Sixth Annual Awayday at Dumbleton Hall in May 2019.  The book contains 33 poems by the 12 poets attending the Awayday: Michael Newman, Belinda Rimmer, David Ashbee, Roger Turner, Sheila Spence, Gill Wyatt, Catherine Baker, Stuart Nunn, Robin Gilbert, Annie Ellis, Alice Ross (and me).  Thanks to contributing poets, some of whom also provided photographs to accompany the poems, and gratitude is also due to the staff at Dumbleton Hall who always make us so welcome, and keep us well sustained with food and drinks at our writing retreat!  Thanks will again be due to Chris at Stroudprint who will arrange for the printing of the Gloucestershire anthology.  Copies will again be available from me or from https://www.EithonBridgeBooks.com

Poetry Café Refreshed

Poetry Café Refreshed held its first event at Smokey Joe’s in Cheltenham in August 2015. As it enters its fifth year, we owe a big ‘Thank You’ to owner, Vickie Godding, for allowing us to hold the event at her wonderful café every month. I’m keen to thank the café staff, too, for all they do to help us make the event run smoothly. And, of course, an especially big ‘Thank You’ goes to all the guest poets in 2019:

Stephen Payne, Brett Evans, Holly Magill, Melanie Branton,
Maggie Harris, Philip Rush, A F Harrold, Raine Geoghegan,
Julia Webb, Oz Hardwick, Luke Palmer, Sarah L Dixon, Phil Kirby.

Thank you for your wonderful poems and performances, all the miles you travelled and all the expense you incurred in coming to read for us.

Thank you to Mr L for taking photographs, to Roger Turner for hosting and taking care of funds, and to everyone who has come to support the events and contribute poems at the open mic.
Stalwarts and regular supporters I’d particularly like to thank are Michael Newman, Gill Wyatt, Annie Ellis, Catherine Baker, Belinda Rimmer, Ian Parker Dodd, Chris Hemingway, Charlie Markwick, Howard Timms, Marilyn Timms, Jennie Farley, Dee Russell-Thomas, Christine Griffin, Cliff Yates, Ruth and Neil Richards, David Gale, Holly Magill, Claire Walker, Ian Glass, Kathy Gee. Thank you, too, to Alison Brackenbury Angela France, Ziggy Dicks and Josephine Lay for supporting Refreshed; and thanks for coming, Chloë Lees, Abdul-Ahud Patel, Sarah, Zoë, Tish and more!  Hope to see you again in 2020, which is shaping up to be another great year.  Here is just a taster:

Jinny Fisher – 15 January
David Briggs – 19 February
Raine Geoghegan – 18 March

Thank you to everyone who has made Poetry Café Refreshed such a success and such an enjoyable evening in the past … and  here’s to continued success in the future.

Festivals and workshops attended

I was thrilled to have a poem in the anthology edited by Ronnie Goodyer and published by Indigo Dreams in 2019. ‘For The Silent ‘ was published to aid the work of the League Against Cruel Sports.  It includes work by so many wonderful poets, including Ronnie himself, Simon Armitage, Pascale Petit, Philip Gross, Alison Brackenbury, Angela France, Carole Bromley, Matt Duggan, Phil Knight and many more.  It was good to share a stage at Cheltenham Playhouse with Ronnie, Alison, Carole, Matt and Angela for the launch event at Cheltenham Poetry Festival in May.  As well as my own poem, Fawn Drinking, I was privileged to read poems by Alwyn Marriage, Sheila Aldous, K V Skene, Pat Edwards and Belinda Rimmer.

It was also great meeting up with Holly Magill, Claire Walker and Ian Glass at the Black and Gold Café in Cheltenham in May, ahead of Holly’s reading at the Festival – a super reading!

Thanks to Pat Edwards for the superb Welshpool Poetry Festival in June.  I particularly valued a seminar led by Jonathan Edwards, which included helpful, detailed comments on poems that delegates sent in advance.  Liz Berry’s and Caroline Bird’s workshops and readings were excellent too.  I felt really privileged to be there.  Meeting up with so many friends from previous Welshpool poetry festivals is a real joy.  If I mention just a few of them, I’ll be in danger of omission, but here goes: Maggie Mackay, Angi Holden, Kathy Gee, Finola Scott, Helen Kay, Paul Waring, Gareth Writer-Davies, Deborah Alma, Bethany Rivers, Nadia Kingsley, John Mills,  Liz Mills, Ruth and Neil Richards, Ruthie Starling … and please forgive me because I know I’ve missed a lot of names, eek!
Tell me off in June 2020!

Thanks, again, to Pat Edwards for an excellent poetry workshop a few weeks after the Festival, which encouraged us to look with keen eyes at works at an exhibition at Mid-Wales Arts, Caersws, (where Mr L and I also had the good fortune to stay overnight, enjoying the wonderful hospitality of artist Cathy Knapp, surrounded by beautiful prints, paintings, ceramics and sculpture).

Thanks to Pat Edwards – again – for inviting me to her launch for Only Blood (Yaffle Press) and thus for the opportunity first hand to see the wonder that is Deborah Alma’s Poetry Pharmacy in Bishops Castle.  It was a wonderful occasion, absolutely full of familiar, happy faces to hear Pat read.  Great to meet Mark Connors and Gill Lambert of Yaffle Press, and to catch up with Paul Waring (whose launch I was sadly unable to attend in the summer) and so many other friendly poets from the borderland and beyond! A fabulous reading by Pat.  Lovely hearing Paul Waring, Jen Hawkins and Gill Lambert read too.

Jonathan Edwards also led an excellent workshop in Cheltenham later in the year, with lots more inspiration, ideas, suggestions and recommendations.  Thank you, again, Jonathan. And thanks Anna Saunders/Cheltenham Poetry Festival for organizing the event, and to Josephine Lay and the Sober Parrot – an excellent venue.  How wonderful to have the opportunity to attend TWO workshops with Jonathan this year!

Thank you to Philip Rush for an inspiring Haiku workshop at The Museum in the Park in Stroud in March, and to Lania Knight for introducing Adam Vines from Alabama, who led an unforgettable ekphrastic workshop at the Museum in March, drawing inspiration from ‘Room in New York’ work by Edward Hopper.

I’m still feeling the benefit from all these workshops, months later, and I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Angela France for her ongoing inspiration, feedback on poems and submissions advice, and for mutual encouragement from so many supportive local poets, notably Belinda Rimmer, Christine Griffin, Catherine Baker, Frankie March, Penny Haworth, Gill Garrett and Judith van Dijkhuizen.  Thanks also to Claire Thelwell for her ‘poetry friendship’ and some memorable evenings talking over poems in cafes and pubs!  And, as always, thank you to the members of Cheltenham Poetry Society’s august Writers’ Group: Michael Newman, David Ashbee, Roger Turner, Stuart Nunn, Robin Gilbert, Sheila Spence, Gill Wyatt, Alice Ross and, again, Catherine Baker. Thanks to everyone who supported me as Chair of CPS until I handed over to Roger Turner at the end of November.  (About time I took a break … and gave everyone else one too, although I remain on the committee and will probably keep as busy!)  Thanks to Roger and Michael as fellow committee members, to Roger, Dave, Stuart and Alice for running workshops in 2019, and to everyone who attended these, as well as meetings of the Poetry Writing and Poetry Reading Groups. Thanks also to Sheila and Gill for their valued friendship (and help with refreshments!) and thanks to Phil Collins and Cheltenham Civic Trust for providing the wonderful venue of Parmoor House for CPS meetings.

 A special thanks to everyone who came on Cheltenham Poetry Society’s Sixth Annual Awayday at Dumbleton Hall in May 2019, and who made the day such a success: Roger, Michael, David, Stuart, Robin, Sheila, Gill, Belinda, Cathy, Alice and Annie Ellis. Finally, thank you to Terry Hall and all the staff at Dumbleton Hall who made the day so smooth and successful for us … as always.  We’re looking forward to our Seventh Awayday in May 2020!

Other publication successes

An especially big thank to Leo Boix and Nathalie Teitler, editors for Magma 76, for taking my poem La Trinchera for the forthcoming Resistencia issue of Magma. This is my first poem in Magma, so I am delighted.

As well as the For the Silent anthology (IDP), I have been pleased to place poems in other anthologies during the year.  Thanks to Andy Jackson and George Szirtes for including some of my clerihews in the wonderful Call of the Clerihew anthology, published early in 2019.
Thanks to the multi-talented poet Philip Rush for the excellent Wool and Water poetry project (which accompanied the exhibition of that name at Stroud’s wonderful Museum in the Park), and the launch of two pamphlets, in September.  I was very pleased to receive the invitation to take part, and to submit poems for the Wool pamphlet.  The launch was a wonderful occasion, on a sunny Sunday afternoon where we heard excellent poems from Rowan Middleton, Lesley Ingram, Mark Huband,  Caroline Shaw and Jacqui Stearn with a guest reading from Rick Hool. I also read three of the five wool-themed poems I had accepted for the pamphlet.  Thanks to everyone who made the event so enjoyable.  I was sad not to be able to make it to the launch of the Water pamphlet at an event shortly afterwards.  The Water pamphlet, with poems from Jo Bousfield, Kim Baker, Eley Furrell, James Holliday, JLM Morton, Maxine Relton and Maria Stadnicka, is a companion delight.

Thanks to Rebecca Bilkau for taking a poem for the Well, Dam! anthology from Beautiful Dragons Press and to Rachael Hooson for sending me my copies of the book!

Thanks to Brett Evans for taking poems for Prole;
Kate Garrett for taking poems for Bonnie’s Crew and
George Simmers for taking a poem for Snakeskin.
One or two of my poems have appeared at Visual Verse … thank you!

I’m delighted to have five poems up at the Places of Poetry website and map.  It was a chance to put some delightful but less well known places in England and Wales ‘on the map’.  Thanks to The Poetry Society, National Poetry Day, Paul Farley, Andrew McRae, The Universities of Exeter and Lancaster, and everyone involved in running and funding this amazing project. I could spend hours map-hopping, enjoying poems all over England and Wales.  https://www.placesofpoetry.org.uk

Competitions

Thanks – again to Ronnie and Dawn – for commending my manuscript, Sol y Sombra, in the Indigo Dreams’ Geoff Stevens Collection Competition in March 2019.  Congratulations to winners Jenny Mitchell and Carl Griffin and all the commended and highly commended poets, and especially Rufus Mufasa, Pat Edwards, Rebecca Gethin & Marilyn Timms.  http://indigodreams.co.uk/geoff-stevens/4594095381

Other lovely poetry things that happened in 2019

Thank you to Alison Brackenbury for the kind invitation to be one of the readers in June at the launch at Alison’s Bookshop in Tewkesbury of ‘Ten Poems about Horses’ selected and edited by Alison, and published by Candlestick Press.  It was a lovely warm-hearted event, with a reading and words about the book from Alison, and supporting readings from Tony Curtis (who also performed music, playing the guitar at the event), Neil Richards, Iris Anne Lewis & Christine Whittemore.  Thank you to Candlestick Press for the wonderful event, which included a fabulous bag of goodies for readers, including copies of Candlestick Press’s Ten Poems about Bees, Sheep, Dogs, Cats, Birds, Chickens … as well as Horses, of course … and some ‘horsey treats’ including Polo mints, and an apple! Thank you to the excellent Alison’s Bookshop in Tewkesbury to which I have … obviously …  returned for ‘visits’!

Thank you – again – to Alison Brackenbury for inviting me to read a poem at her launch of Gallop at New Bohemians in Charlton Kings, Cheltenham in the autumn. It was a lovely celebratory occasion for Alison’s collected.

Thank you – diolch – to Ieuan Morris who contacted me, out of the blue, in late 2019 to ask if my ‘erudite translation’ of the William Williams Crwys poem ‘Melin Trefin’ could appear, acknowledged, in his forthcoming book on Pembrokeshire from Y Lolfa Press. (I’m thrilled. I always wanted to have something in a book published by my favourite Ceredigion-based publisher!) Looking forward very much to acquiring a copy in 2020. Thanks … yet again … to Chris Hemingway for contacting me about the poem initially. This story continues to run and run!

Thank you – again – to Angela France for passing on the baton to me as the Gloucestershire Stanza  (Glostanza) representative.
Thanks to lovely poets from the Cirencester area for inviting me to lead, as a Glos Stanza activity, a couple of workshops at Somerford Keynes during the year: a lovely warm and welcoming group.  Thank you, especially, Iris Anne Lewis, for the invitation.
Thanks to the Poetry Society’s Stanza Coordinator, Paul McGrane, for a wonderful Stanza event at The Poetry Café in London in March, and for the opportunity to meet up with so many other Stanza Reps there, to hear a mini report on events in their area … and a poem from each representative present.  Hoping to meet them again … and probably other Stanza reps …  in 2020.
While talking about Stanzas, congratulations to Belinda Rimmer on being a joint runner up in this year’s Poetry Society Stanza competition.  (Glad that my poem about the Bayeux tapestry got a mention (described by the judge as being one of ‘two crackers’ on the subject!)

I enjoyed being invited to read a preview copy of ‘Everything Rhymes With Orange’ by Derek Dohren, ahead of providing an endorsement for this entertaining and accomplished first collection. *Do* buy a copy of the book! (It’s on Amazon).

Thanks to Michael Newman, Gill Wyatt and Alice Ross for joining me as a small team holding readings and collaborative workshops for residents at Cheltenham Care Homes and thank you to Jenny Spencer especially for inviting us, in the spring and again towards Christmas.  We always enjoy our visits, and are pleased the residents seem to enjoy it too!

I also gave two talks, to the wonderful people who work in residential care homes in Gloucester and Cheltenham. On consecutive days in September, I explained, first in Cheltenham and then in Gloucester, what a small group from Cheltenham Poetry Society have being doing in recent years in Cheltenham Care Homes. Basically, 3 or 4 of us read poems on a given, often seasonal, topic (eg Christmas, Easter, Spring, Autumn). These are a mix of poems by well known poets, and our own.  We use music to break the ice initially, playing a song patients are likely to know so they can sing along if they want to.  Then we use a flip chart and ask patients to suggest words and phrases on the theme.  We capture those, and encourage people to work with us to write, for example, a collaborative poem (perhaps 3 four-line rhyming stanzas with a good rhythm).  We encourage reminiscence which might be helpful to dementia patients.  The number of care workers attending the two information-sharing sessions averaged around 20-25.  It was good to discuss with them how poetry might help patients, and to consider suggestions from the care workers how our little CPS team might improve our sessions.  More volunteers are needed, so if you live or work in Cheltenham or Gloucester, and would like more information about serving your society in this way, please do get in touch.  It is both rewarding and enjoyable!

Thanks to Paul Brookes for giving me a poet’s interview for his website Wombwell Interviews. https://thewombwellrainbow.com/2019/01/09/wombwell-rainbow-interviews-sharon-larkin/

Thanks to Oliver Tipper and the Wilson Art Gallery and Museum’s open Thursday events during 2019, a highlight being The Enduring Eye exhibition showing photos from The Shackleton expedition to the Antarctic.  Local poets were invited to a private showing of the exhibition and then an event in February 2019 to read the poems we had written, inspired by the photographs.  A super initiative.  Thanks again, Oliver!

Thanks to Gill Wyatt, Belinda Rimmer , Claire Walker and Holly Magill for unforgettable chats about poetry … and life.  Thanks especially to Holly to for a super day out in Worcester in the autumn.

Thank you to Trustees, Committee and Members of Cheltenham Art’s Council for their support during my Chairmanship (2016-2019) and especially at the Arts Awards event in March and at the AGM in June.  Thanks to Paul Scott for hosting the awards night at The Playhouse and also speaking at the AGM about the exciting plans for redeveloping The Theatre as an Arts Centre.  An exciting prospect!  Thanks also to everyone who supplied articles and photographs for Perspectives magazine for which I was editor.  Thank you for the huge bouquet as I relinquished both posts at the AGM after 3 years as Chair, and a couple of years as Perspectives editor.

 

THANK YOU EVERYONE for the part you have played in my Poetry Year.
Glad to have played a part in yours too!

Finally … You don’t really want to hear my poetry plans for 2020 do you?
Oh, all right then! Here are 15 things I want to do:

1.  Go to Wales more often!
2. Find new ‘quiet places’ to write every day!
3. Join an online ’52 type’ group again for 2020.
4. Submit something every week!
5. Plan to go to Teignmouth Poetry Festival in March.
6. Buy tickets for Cheltenham Poetry Festival (done!)
7. Plan to go to Welshpool Poetry Festival in June.
8. Go to Evesham Festival of Words.
9. Go to Chipping Camden Festival of Literature.
10. Look at going to events at Bristol and Swindon Poetry Festivals.
11, Go to Cheltenham Literature Festival.
12. Explore regular poetry events in nearby towns/cities!
13. Publish ‘Poetry From Gloucestershire’ and organize a launch event.
14. Continue running Poetry Café Refreshed.
15. Enjoy being a member of CPS rather than its chair!

Interned at the Food Factory – still serving!

Now that my book’s been ‘out there’ for nine months, I thought it was a good time to review how it’s been getting on ‘in the world’.  So I updated my Facebook page for ‘Interned at the Food Factory’ (Indigo Dreams Publishing, January 2019) https://www.facebook.com/InternedatTheFoodFactory/
and thought it was time for another update here on my blog.

First, to recap, the poems in this book deal with eating disorders of various kinds, including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, early years abuse, bullying and neglect, body dysmorphia and appetite confusion; food production and especially factory-processed food; gourmets and gourmands; predatoriness and predation in various guises  …  and the search for healing/possibility of recovery from food-related conditions. But there’s quite a lot of humour and fun in the book too!

Thank you to Ronnie Goodyer and Dawn Bauling of Indigo Dreams Publishing for being such positive and supportive editors and publishers of a book touching on what are ‘tender’ areas for so many people.

Reception – update

There are several mini-reviews in my previous blog post (see below), and quotes from longer reviews. Now I can add a few more: including a recent review from Rosemary Muncie in South Magazine (October 2019):

“There is no evasion in these well wrought poems.”

“Only a true poet would stand apart from themselves to observe this process and report back with such intriguing detail.”

“A cool and sensitive final poem”.

Jude Cowan Montague has described the pamphlet as ‘powerful’.

Supplementing their previous comments, included in my previous blogpost, Brett Evans Deborah Harvey and Dee Russel-Thomas have added:

“A cracking collection of poems” – Brett Evans, poetry editor, Prole magazine.

“A really thoughtful and thought-provoking collection” – Deborah Harvey.

‘Anyone who has any kind of love/hate relationship with food will relate to this gem of a book. It unravels a myriad of feelings and yet manages to find humour in the depths of despair. Privilege to have read it!’ –Dee Russell-Thomas

Thanks, again, to Rosemary, Jude, Deborah, Brett and Dee for this encouraging feedback.

Readings – update

I’ve had the pleasure of giving readings from the book in a number of places including:

• The Poetry Cafe in London with IDP stablemates Brett Evans, Holly Magilll and Marie Lightman, on 25 September.

Silver St in Bristol thanks to Deborah Harvey;

• Fountain Poets in Wells thanks to Ama Bolton;

Verbatim in Welshpool thanks to Pat Edwards;

* a joint launch event with Belinda Rimmer at Suffolk Anthology in Cheltenham thanks to Helen Hewett

• Gloucester Poetry Festival on Saturday 26 October with Sarah Leavesley, David Ashbee, Roger Turner and Derek Dohren thanks to Ziggy Dicks, and

* a reading leading up to Evesham Festival of Words, thanks to Sue Johnson and Sue Ablett …

… and on Corinium Radio, Cirencester thanks to Rona Laycock. Here’s a link to the programme which was recorded for The Writer’s Room, hosted by Rona: https://www.mixcloud.com/coriniumradio/the-writers-room-12-aug-2019/

Forthcoming readings (with other poets) include:

• Writers at The Goods Shed in Tetbury next spring with Belinda Rimmer thanks to Phil Kirby and

• Buzzwords, again with Belinda Rimmer, next summer, thanks to Angela France.

I’d be thrilled to give more readings, especially at places within 90 minutes of Cheltenham, so please get in touch if you organise events within that radius. I’m very happy to do joint readings with another poet or poets. Please just ask!

I avoid including – in public readings – any of the more triggering poems, concentrating instead on the hopeful, humorous and healing aspects of the book. I’ll include more recent work in readings too … from a wide variety of other topics, which could include ecological-environmental themes, the natural world/countryside, Wales, relationships, dystopia, eschatology and more!

Thank you to everyone who has bought and read Interned at the Food Factory so far. Further copies are available from me (signed if you like, just comment below) for £6 plus p&p … or from my author’s page on the Indigo Dreams website: https://www.indigodreams.co.uk/sharon-larkin/4594486683

Photographs below are from the Indigo Dreams Showcase at The Poetry Cafe in London on 25 September with Brett Evans, Holly Magill and Marie Lightman:

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Reading at The Poetry Cafe, London

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Sharon Larkin, Marie Lightman, Holly Magill and Brett Evans at The Poetry Cafe, London

Finally, while in London, I found ‘Interned at the Food Factory’ at The Poetry Library on the South Bank … at the end of the copious shelf of Philip Larkin books (no relation!) …

 

Interned at the Food Factory

My pamphlet, Interned at the Food Factory, was published by Indigo Dreams on 7 January 2019. The poems are dedicated to anyone who might describe their relationship with food as ‘complicated’.

Reception of the poems, prior to and following publication, has been pleasing. Observations received have so far included the following:

From Brett Evans, poet and editor of Prole magazine:

“… gets better with each read, and the initial read knocked me for six. …”
“By turns vulnerable and sassy, heartbreaking and funny, consistently insightful and readable, the food in these poems is no spread for some twee picnic.  In an age of increasingly innocuous poetry, Sharon Larkin is to be applauded for the rawness included here and for an exceptional instinct for the emotional weight and balance of her poems”.
 
 
From poet Kate Noakes:
 
“In these poems Sharon Larkin weaponises the language of food; sometimes witty, always moving. Watch out. This is a place where you must check whether ‘the knife drawer [is] closed.’

From Dawn Bauling, Indigo Dreams Publishing:

“Full of wit and cheeky humour but a nonetheless serious intent. This collection has a real glisten to it – that makes you want to read on and on…”

From Poet Deborah Harvey:

“So much that resonates … What I really like about it, though, is the exuberance that offsets the sadness; that was unexpected. I found it very funny and very earthy.”

From poet Belinda Rimmer:

“A sense of menace runs throughout the book. Food comes to fill in gaps of many shapes and sizes, to compensate for lack? There are lighter tones too – food is treated playfully and lovingly, as well as with disgust. This is a place where self-denial and overindulgence collide. Everyday language is used in surprising ways….Wonderful and painful poetry.”

From poet Dee Russell-Thomas:

“ I very much enjoyed reading this…food for plenty of thought and a most apt dedication. Well done on a perceptive collection of painful poetry.

From Anna Saunders, poet and founder-director of Cheltenham Poetry Festival:

“… an excellent collection … Vivid and sparky and original. Beautifully written”.

_____________

Thank you to all the above poets for taking time to read the poems with perception and understanding. Your kind comments are much appreciated.

______________

Food Factory on Tour

The following readings from Interned at The Food Factory are coming up this year. (Open to further invitations; please contact me to arrange).

Evesham Library – 10 May 
(thanks to Sue Johnson and Susan Ablett) 

Cirencester – 20 June 
Corinium Radio Writers’ Room programme 
(thanks to Rona Laycock) 

Wells, The Fountain – 1 July
(Thanks to Ama Bolton)

Welshpool, Verbatim – 29 July
(thanks to Pat Edwards) 

Poetry Café London – 25 September, with Brett Evans, Holly Magill and Marie Lightman. (With thanks to The Poetry Society)

Gloucester Poetry Festival with Sarah Leavesley, David Ashbee, Roger Turner and David Dohren at The Folk Museum, Gloucester – 26 October, 
(thanks to Ziggy Dicks)

Fine Lines

A review of Stella Wulf’s After Eden (4Word Press, 2018)

 

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In the words “Fine lines between truth and distortion” from Stella Wulf’s poem Drawing from Life we find keys to the book as a whole. All thirty poems are indeed fine, superbly crafted by a poet with a keen ear for the musicality and playfulness of words, and with the added advantage of an artist’s eye. In her work, Stella Wulf explores the contrasts and paradoxes of life. She excels in the art of ambiguity, many phrases working overtime, and with multiple meanings, wordplay, and homophones employed to invite the reader to consider more than one version of ‘truth’. We are welcomed to experience life in Wales and France, also travelling figuratively, to the moon and back, to meet a range of characters – highly credible or playfully imagined – in various relationships. These figures act out the major themes in the book, encompassing attraction and seduction, commitment and domesticity, reproduction, nurturing and motherhood, genuine love and affection … and potential exploitation. The moon, its association with the feminine, and its pull on the earth, is a significant presence in the book, as are various male figures including suitor, lover, husband, artist, miner, gardener and minister of religion. Creatures in the world of nature are also presented, memorably swifts, fox, crow, peacock and heron. My favourite poems in this fine array are Sweet Dreams, Painting with Swifts, A Light Proposal, In the Light of Yesterday, Drawing from Life, Boreas, Vixen and the poems set in France, featuring Monsieur and Madame Dubois … but all the poems in the book are fine poems, with countless fine lines. There are no makeweights.

In Sweet Dreams a young woman, impatient with the familiarity of home, is eager to take off on an adventure. Right from the first line, we experience Stella Wulf’s gift for delighting the ear with assonance and alliteration. Sonic interest propels the reader through the poem as the young heroine jettisons the pedestrian and predictable, with their “jam-on-Sunday-stale-bread-pace”. She can’t wait to leave the “land-locked-and-keyed lubbers”. These ingenious wordstrings create multiple layers of imagery and meaning. The reader smiles at the wordplay (“in cahoots … with owls”) and admires the beauty of “plunders bliss from the nightjar’s chirr”.

In Painting with Swifts, the poet-artist captures birds and movement in both words and pigment: “a cobalt stroke … a slake of grey … a lick of buttercup yellow”. The poem is an audio-visual treat, with repeated hard consonants and long vowels contrasting with short vowels and soft ‘sw’ alliteration. The fourth stanza, summer, brings more long ā sounds (“hay-days … away”), with a play on heydays understood. The last stanza softens and blurs: “a feather-edge of owl smudges” … ”the essence of mouse”. There are countless examples, such as these, of fine word-painting by Stella Wulf throughout After Eden.

Drawing from Life changes medium and mood. The poet’s mastery of ambiguity, conveyed by words doing double duty, is again obvious here. Sex is in the air, but the charged language (“scribes”, “neat incision”) hints at exploitation and the potential for violence. There is a detached and calculating coldness in the draughtsman’s rendering of the “arc of her face” as his strokes “contour hollows, accentuate planes; for now he has her measure”. He dominates his subject (“like an emperor”) and there is more than a chill in the way the artist “thumbs her body / divides her’. This is just one example of the many masterly line breaks in After Eden, here inviting imaginations to do their worst. The male’s actions leave her in pieces (“abstract parts”) and the strong hints of abuse break out again with “the scythe of light that slices her back / carves … flesh” and the “plunge of shadow that etches her spine” which “draws a sickle moon beneath her buttock’s rise”. This is one of many occasions in this book that the moon, emblematic of woman, makes an appearance.

In Fabric the poet’s exploitation of texture reminds us that interior design is another of Stella Wulf’s accomplishments. The poem charts a progression from early attraction, consummation, drudgery, infidelity, withdrawal, trying again, starting over … ingeniously achieved through the weave and warp of extended ‘material’ metaphors, brilliantly layered … one on top of another. The wordplay here is masterly, as the fabric of life moves from static-laden nylon, to seductive satin to serviceable cotton and linen (“worn cast-off … tied to the iron … hard-pressed”). Meanwhile, infidelity is signalled as the “nylon lover … flirts with Georgette”. Small wonder that the moon invites the main character to “make a run for the sea of tranquillity” with the hope to “sparkle again” in a “clean sheet”. In Boreas sex makes its presence felt again, big-time. Here there is no courtship, no nonsense, no foreplay. This man is a “wham-bammer, a tequila slammer / whisking up skirts before the chat-up line”. With an echo back to Fabric we learn, unsurprisingly, that “the delicates” are suffering, and there is a “tangled mess” to be ironed out. However, this poem has a delightfully unexpected ending, unambiguously complicit!

Whether in Wales or France, the sense of place is convincingly portrayed via gradations of dark and light, monochrome and colour, cold and warmth, hard graft and rich pickings. In Mudlark, a young beachcomber (surely on a Welsh beach) finds broken pieces of pottery – small prizes, especially a piece of Ming china, evidence of foreign travel. (How brave and self-mocking of the poet to use ‘shard’ in a poem!) Another find, the sheep’s jawbone, conjures up the shadow of R S Thomas and there is a hint of cynghanedd about “lip of plate, a clay pipe”, In the light of yesterday opens up the gloomy caverns of Welsh mines, personified: “The black face of the pit / the swallow and spit of its shovelling mouth”. After a heart-wrenching reference to Aberfan “extinguished / beneath a spew of slack”, we migrate to the north Welsh mining areas where “houses hunker under a pitiless drab / like consonants pitched against hard-pushed cenllysg, glaw, mining the light to its core”. The spirit of RST broods again over the last two lines: “and always the spectre of harrowed men / hacking, and picking at the bowels” which surely reminds us of the last lines of Thomas’s A Welsh Landscape. Another poem set in Wales, Mr Morgan’s Fall, features that familiar figure – the minister of religion who loses the confidence of his flock. Morgan is associated with trees, birds, river, land, hills, brook, rook and ewe and – significantly ­– a “heathen’s tractor humming along”, this latter reminding us of R S Thomas’s Iago Prytherch and his tractor.

In France, we move on from the chaos of Boreas’ washing line and the hint of a whirlwind dalliance. Now an “upstart breeze” playfully puffs over Monsieur Dubois’ potager and “licks, ruffles, chicanes … to blow at raspberries”. We are painted an intoxicating picture of Gascony: its gardens, its crops, how heat defeats the breeze, how hay is baled, how cows whisk flies from their eyes, and graze beneath oaks, accompanied by croaking frogs. This fourth stanza is particularly fine sonically and presents a heady contrast with the monochrome hardship and cold of Wales in the previous poems. Here, Monsieur Dubois, sweating in his work clothes, “pulls radish, plucks string beans, turns beetroot” … examples of Stella Wulf’s enjoyable wordplay accompany us throughout this poem. The wife of Monsieur Dubois offers us superior preserves to the mundane British bread and jam we encountered in Sweet Dreams. Her husband rises early to pick “for his wife, a petit déjeuner / plump figs ripened by a fine promise”. In three playful lines of end-rhyme, we learn that “Madame Dubois … likes to pluck from her husband’s tree” and with this image still suggestively hanging in the air, we learn “She craves the flesh of his Mirabelles, devours his juicy Bergerons, until she’s overcome with the yield”. This poem is warm, sumptuously saucy, deliciously brimming with good things.

In A Light Proposal there are further generous helpings of the alliteration and assonance we’ve come to expect from Stella Wulf: “I’ve seen you leap on a knife-edge keen as a laser, / slide down the, blade of a cleaver. // I’ve watched you play in ladles, loom in scoops / of spoons. Now you beam at my moon face / in the kettle, give me back to myself in parody”. Stella’s vocabulary and imagery depict light as a beguiling lover. The rhyming couplet at the end of the poem is utterly captivating: “you dazzle me with wit, light me up / then balance a diamond on the rim of my cup”.

Vixen is a poem pregnant with death and sorrow but inspiring in its fortitude, determination and conviction that life goes on. The opening stanza is arresting in rhyme, metaphor and atmosphere: “She lies low, watches the last crow /fletch the bloodshot sky /straight as a quarrel home to roost”. The sonic interest of the poem is again a delight: “A tatter of bats whisk like rags mopping up dusk. / Night pitches in, its skin nicked by a sickle moon. / Stars break out in a bristling rash”. Clearly the dog fox has been killed and his mate must provide for herself and the cubs she is carrying. Poignantly “She hugs the shadow of his scent, rootles / the empty space of him /stalks his wake, / tomorrow lurching inside her. // Tonight she’ll shake new life out of the dead”. The end of the poem echoes its opening – with feathers. Vixen is my personal favourite in the book; it is loaded with sombre colour, arresting sounds, astonishing imagery, compellingly portraying death and new life, male and female, the natural world and the world of man.

The two myth poems, Mermaid and Grandma are full of purposeful ambiguity. In the first, a male/female, pursuit/pursued poem is again played out. It ends badly, the woman returning to her mother, freed from a toxic relationship, but like Penelope or the French Lieutenant’s Woman, still gazing at the horizon, waiting “for the billow of sail, the cut and well of prow”. In Grandma, a twist on the Red Riding Hood story depicts a benevolent grandma nevertheless capable of turning wolf. (We are compelled to ask ourselves whether there might be a wink and a nod to the poet’s surname in this poem!) Caring and protective, and having sniffed out neglect (real or imagined), Grandma feeds her granddaughter up, knits her a cape and rounds on the child’s mother for not providing adequately for her. The poet as needlewoman is much in evidence, especially when Grandma prowls the flea market for “off-cuts of calico, dimity, chintz, / rickrack, ribbon and gimp / for her Sawtooth patchwork quilt”.

After Eden, the penultimate poem – and the title of the book – sums up many of the themes, and specifically the lot and fate of woman: “bred / for domesticity, conditioned / to home … builder of nests”. She is a “daughter of Eve” with a lofty purpose but simultaneously a “slavish attraction / to earthiness”. There is so much to savour in this poem, and throughout the book as a whole, in the interleaving of serious intent and playfulness. There are astonishing contrasts in the multiple layers of meaning and purposeful ambiguities, whether portraying the urgency of seduction or the ferocity of a mother’s love. This book richly rewards a reader who enjoys close analysis. Light and shade, heat and chill, sun and moon, male and female, Wales and France are all held in close focus by a highly gifted, sensitive and humane poet who, like the warm and provident Madame Dubois, is “touched by … tenderness” preserving “sweetness to spread over winter’s long denials”.

After Eden is published by 4Word Press and May be purchased here: 4Word

Sharon Larkin, January 2019

Poetry Cafe Refreshed with Guest Poet Sarah Leavesley

 

 

 

Poetry Café Refreshed

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We had a fantastic Poetry Café Refreshed at Smokey Joe’s in Cheltenham on 17 October,  with guest poet Sarah Leavesley aka Sarah James, whose superbly read poems were a masterclass in making every word count and earn its place. We were treated to a rich variety of multilayered poems which spoke (in my interpretation) of disarming dress, listening to the landscape, remaining relevant across generations, net etiquette, art, love, myth, lessons from home and heritage … and, one of our British obsession, the weather. So much depth and so much to enjoy in terms of imagery, wordplay … and warm humanity.

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The open mic was of a high standard with super contributions from:

David Clarke, Jennie Farley, Cliff Yates, Chris Hemingway, Belinda Rimmer, Ross Turner, Gill Wyatt, Michael Newman, Annie Ellis, David Gale, the host of Refreshed, Roger Turner.  I also read a couple.

IMG_6683 Sarah with Refreshed’s hosts, Sharon…

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Review: Sloth and the Art of Self-Deprecation – by Brett Evans

Pamphlet, published by Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2018

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Sloth: an arboreal mammal with a very low metabolism, slow and deliberate in its movements, sloth being related to the word slow. (Adapted from Wikipedia)

 

On picking up this pamphlet, the reader quickly realizes that Sloth is both animal and philosopher … and that double meanings, clever wordplay and a jazz/blues soundtrack will course through the poems.

First contact is with Sloth on the rocks, linking the hero/anti-hero to the Martini in his three-clawed paw on book’s cover; the cocktail will be a recurrent metaphor in the book. Or perhaps the rocks hint that Sloth might at times feel imperilled, stranded on a diminishing outcrop while a foaming sea rages about him. Perhaps they foreshadow Sloth’s apparent affinity with the Icarus narrative – the rise, only to risk the catastrophic fall (one of the themes of the poem Bull).

The poet’s deployment of words with multiple meanings, startling images, occasional shock, and layered metaphors ensures that our experience of this slim pamphlet will be so much greater than the sum of its twenty five poems. Ambivalence about fame and success, a justifiable disinclination to reach up or reach out for fear of falling, can be discerned as major themes in this pamphlet, but what is diffidence if not an honest symptom of the daily struggle ­to survive, against the odds?

Most comfortable at home in his familiar habitat, you will most likely find philosopher-Sloth in a dressing gown or shirt, stained with some body fluid or other, or still abed in skid-marked sheets towards noon, no friend of the dawn chorus or the cold caller … and certainly not a willing entertainer of knockers with evangelical intent. Sloth is often encountered revelling in his mammalian glory – a belly-hauling, ball-scratching, farting, shitting, pissing organism par excellence. He laps and guzzles, and is not good at exercising restraint. Even as a sloth-child, he experienced “excesses driven beyond volition” (Philosophies and Maladies).

Philosopher-Sloth also enjoys certain refined pleasures, such as the Martinis, but these are knocked back with a penalty his mother (“the barmaid”) failed to warn him about. The risk of falling/fear of failing – of being similarly knocked back – prove to be companionable, but quite unworthy, drinking partners. It might feel safer, and less of an ordeal, not to stray too far from one’s comfort zone, whether that is “a tree of his own” or “the second-hand wingback chair / with torn upholstery” but, with sociable Sloth, the reader also visits a series of pubs, bars, jazz and blues clubs and boozy streets, in search of other comfortable perches, epitomized by the “well-padded bar stool”.

It soon becomes clear that Sloth is no sluggard or slouch when it comes to erudition. He is well read with a stack of books at one hand, balancing the inevitable Martini at the other. He knows his James Joyce, his F Scott Fitzgerald, his Hemingway; can recognize a Hogarth … and that shipwreck-saviour, the Raft of the Medusa; and he is intimately acquainted with the two-edged xiphoi of the Spartans who cut a dash across the upholstery of his comfy seat.

The sloth-heavy themes of the book are helped along by both humour and the ever-present soundtrack: a procession of mostly American jazz and blues musicians and combos in a variety of haunts. The reader soon becomes infected by foot-tapping, while the blues supply regular infusions of humanity. Sloth’s hallmark is a compassion for the underdog … and the abused. This finds ultimate expression in the final poem: Sloth and the Snake (for the Standing Rock Sioux), telling of the colonized first-nation inhabitants of North/South Dakota, victims of so many broken treaties, whose territory has recently undergone yet another episode of exploitation, imperilling water supplies and thus their very existence. I detect in this poem fellow-feeling for fellow-sufferers.

Having reread and reread this pamphlet since it arrived through my letterbox, I have come to enjoy more and more the consummate wordplay, inspired line-breaks, startling images, rich accumulation of metaphors and calculated shocks. There are even a couple of rhymed poems, cunningly wrought (I’m in awe of any poet with the audacity to rhyme Jew’s with billet doux). I have reached the conclusion that there is a virtuoso performer playing here, and that any diffidence (certainly not sloth) may have in the past dictated more modest ‘venues’ than the ‘arenas’ to which this artist might have aspired. I am glad this work has joined his previous volume (The Devil’s Tattoo, Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2015) ­… with the same worthy publisher.

While weighty questions are raised by this slim body of poetry, the work buzzes with wit and verve, belly laughs sharing space with a rare artistic sensibility, humanity teamed with courage. Solace comes mercifully, in the shape of an odalisque, in the nuzzling of freckled skin, and in a rather special two-course meal. Predictably and unashamedly, my favourite poem in the book is Big Women and Men of Imagination, closely followed by Sloth on Fine Dining both for its absolute filth and as a decent sonnet. Positively Shit Street – Rhyl to Venus deserves a mention for its splendid last line “goggling Venusians wondering what fucking planet we were on.” Other favourite lines from this master of one-liners come from The Martini as Big as the Ritz, (“Enough ice to reassure the polar bear”) and Bull (“The house of unrising bums” ­– hat tip to Eric Burdon).

Sloth notwithstanding, there is no excuse, at all, for the poet to be self-deprecatory about this latest volume. The craft – no, the art – in this pamphlet rises up, rampant, and bursts forth, unashamed and unapologetic.