Dualities

My poetry collection ‘Dualities’ is scheduled to be published by Hedgehog Press on 28 September 2020.

This is what I think it’s primarily about … but it might, instead or in addition, be about a whole lot of other things!

Partnership

Partnerships are demanding. Reconciling two sets of expectations, hopes, ambitions, desires and demands is an exacting business. The ideal is surely a mutually agreed balance between give and take, rights and compromises, constraints and freedoms. Any intrusion into a partnership is capable of challenging it, rocking it, even destroying it … but mutual recognition of a greater good can seal and cement a relationship. With mutual well-being as an agreed aim, supported by good humour, grace and forgiveness, individuals might grow the kind of partnership that becomes something more than both of them, something greater than they might have imagined.

More insightfully, here are what other poets are saying about ‘Dualities’:

“There’s a lot to be said for / being an outsider inside,” and Sharon Larkin’s perceptive collection perfectly explores the dualities of being a stranger in one’s social and personal spheres, as well as in one’s own body. The poems explore the paradoxical intensity of dissociation, with delicate touches of domestic surrealism and scorched-black wit chalking the outline of desire, deception, and a secular redemption of sorts. This is uneasy reading, full of the naked-edged truth that lies unseen beneath so many magnolia-painted lives.”
Oz Hardwick – Professor of English and Programme Leader for Postgraduate Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University.

“Sharon Larkin is a keen photographer and her trained eye is evident in this collection; not only in the precise, sensory, detail but also in the care she takes with the angle of approach for each poem. The poems cover a range of themes but the Dualities of the title is evident throughout, always subtle and often in the form of a surprising twist which delighted me as a reader. Sometimes it is a line, other times a single word which re-focuses the whole poem such as in ‘Mismatch’, where the word ‘proprietorial’ in the last line turns tender care to something else entirely.” Angela France – Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing, University of Gloucestershire.

“This is both a romp and a skirmish, a disturbing dream and a garden of delights. Larkin forces us to encounter what we might call love, lust, longing, and examine these stormy forces through all the stages of life. Honest, sometimes cynical, the poems explore the sparks, flames and embers that burn us all. Perhaps the most stark warning concerns times in our lives we might compare with dusk, when our vision is not always clear, and we “must chance a snarl” in order to discern dog from wolf.” Pat Edwards – Welshpool Poetry Festival.

Dualities is available from Amazon:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1913499278/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_btf_awdo_4BTAFbJ2F8T8Z



Or visit my Shop page to order a copy … signed, if you wish!
https://sharonlarkinjones.com/shop/

Somewhat Like a Pregnancy

Waiting patiently for gestation to culminate in delivery is an obvious analogy for the period between sending off a manuscript and its publication. There are moments of delight en route; hearing the MS has been accepted can be compared with the thrill of the ‘Yes’ – or blue line – on the pregnancy test stick. But the publication of a book will not, of course, be anywhere near the rewarding and life-changing event a baby will be. The analogy can only go so far.

As well as delight at the good news of acceptance, there may well be anxieties en route. You want to shout about your book it as soon as you know it’s coming but, as with pregnancy, you probably feel it prudent to wait until certain other ‘tests’ are passed. Each communication with a publisher is like a visit to the ante-natal clinic. Sometimes, during pregnancy, blood tests raise questions about the baby’s wellbeing … or the mother’s. The arrival at a ‘proof’ is somewhat like a scan … where you, at last, get to see something resembling a perfect ‘baby’.

You ask others who have been through the process for reassuring words … endorsements for the collection’s cover, perhaps. You work with the midwife-publisher to ensure that everything is ready for the big day of delivery-release. Is everything looking right? Is everything looking good (including the cover design)?  Have you acknowledged everyone who needs to be recognised for this body of work?

Is the name you have chosen the best one for your baby? Obviously in the case of an infant, there is the possibility of waiting until after the birth before the final decision on a name. Not so with a book. Again, the analogy can only go so far.

You make plans for the big day; the ‘where’ if not, precisely, the ‘when’. Whereas babies may arrive a little early, the publication of a book is unlikely to emerge ‘pre-term’. Requests for ‘induction’ – hurrying along – are not appropriate. The precise timing is tricky; the printer is, after all, an indispensable member of the ‘delivery suite’. 

But when the baby is pressing to see the light of day, to take that very first breath … mother is obviously subject to high levels of agitation. She must, however, follow best practice and definitely NOT push too early. So parent, or poet, must just pant … with intense anticipation.

My collection ‘Dualities’ (twins perhaps) is due out from Hedgehog Poetry Press in September. I am patient … quietly knitting … preparing the nursery.

Y Border Bach – Another Crwys Poem Translated

 

A few years ago, I was approached by fellow poet Chris Hemingway about a poem by William Williams Crwys  that he had found on an information board at a ruined mill at Trefin in Pembrokeshire,  I translated the poem here  and several interesting spin-offs happened subsequently, including my trip to Trefin, visit to the mill and chapel, having my translation of Melin Trefin included in a tapestry at the chapel and a magazine, and being contacted by a descendant of Crwys, resident in the southern hemisphere, and consequently locating out-of-print books containing further poems by this well-loved Welsh poet.

It’s funny how these out-of-the-blue events develop a life of their own, and all seem to connect up in some mysterious way.

A few days ago, in early August  2020, I was contacted by someone whose father, soon to be celebrating his 90 birthday, has an interest in another poem by Crwys – Y Border Bach.  I quickly located the text … and not so quickly … attempted a translation.

As with all translations of poetry, a literal rendition of the original language sacrifices the poetic language of the original. Rhymes, assonance, alliteration and …. in translating Welsh specifically, cynghanedd … are inevitably lost. However, if one strives towards preserving these elements in any translation, liberties have to be taken with the meaning, and the poet’s apparent intent. Compromise is therefore necessary.

I have made some decisions which stray a little from a literal translation in order to achieve a ‘feel’ for the original intent, as I perceive it. I believe Crwys wished the simplicity of the modest flower border in this poem to ‘stand for’ Wales, and Mam – the central figure, and ‘planter of the plant’ in any Welsh home – along with her neighbours, to represent the people of Wales.  ‘Plant’ is the Welsh word for ‘children’.

With such a reading, it is possible to infer something about the showier blooms in the mansion gardens, and their ‘pedigrees’, as well as seeing the dandelion colonising the garden – as an upstart interloper.

As Crwys was a minister of religion as well as a poet – or rather a bard and an eisteddfodwr – other assumptions can be made.  Particularly, the Old Man referred to in the poem, as well as being the common name for a specific garden plant, is more than likely a reference to God … especially as this ‘Sage’ is seen as standing over and caring for the other ‘plants’ in the border  … ie the people of Cymru, and the speakers of the Iaith y Nefoedd (the ‘language of Heaven’).

As a lover of simple wild flowers rather than brightly coloured, highly bred garden flowers, I can relate to this poem. My Welsh father was of similar mind … “y pethau bychain” … the little things … were important to him, as was his garden, and always a preference for the unpretentious.

Here is the poem, followed by the translation. While I have learnt Welsh to an advanced level as an adult, I am, naturally and in all humility as a non-native speaker of Cymraeg, open to correction,  So if Welsh is your mamiaith, please do comment in kindly manner if you detect error in my translation, or misinterpretation of the sense and intent of the poet.  Thank you.

 

Y Border Bach

 

Gydag ymyl troetffordd gul
A rannai’r ardd yn ddwy,
‘Roedd gan fy mam ei border bach
O flodau perta’r plwy.

Gwreiddyn bach gan hwn a hon
Yn awr ac yn y man,
Fel yna’n ddigon syml y daeth
Yr Eden fach i’w rhan.

A, rywfodd, byddai lwc bob tro,
Ni wn i ddim paham,
Ond taerai ‘nhad na fethodd dim
A blannodd llaw fy mam.

Blodau syml pobol dlawd
Oeddynt, bron bob un,
A’r llysiau gwyrthiol berchid am
Eu lles yn fwy na’u llun.

Dacw nhw: y lili fach,
Mint a theim a mwsg,
Y safri fach a’r lafant pêr,
A llwyn o focs ynghwsg;

Dwy neu dair brlallen ffel,
A daffodil, bid siŵr,
A’r cyfan yn y border bach
Yng ngofal rhyw ‘hen ŵr’.

Dyna nhw’r gwerinaidd lu,
Heb un yn gwadu’i ach,
A gwelais wenyn gerddi’r plas
Ym mlodau’r border bach.

O bellter byd ‘rwy’n dod o hyd
I’w gweld dan haul a gwlith,
A briw i’m bron fu cael pwy ddydd
Heb gennad yn eu plith.

Hen estron gwyllt o ‘ddant y llew’,
A dirmyg lond ei wên.
Sut gwyddai’r hen doseddwr hy
Fod Mam yn mynd yn hen?

               gan William Williams Crwys

 

Translation:

The Small Border

 

Along the edge of a narrow path
that divided the garden in two
my mother had her little border,­
the prettiest flowers of the parish.

A little root of this and that,
here and there, now and again
and, in this way, a little Eden
came quite simply into being

somehow, by chance, every time.
I don’t know how, but Dad always
swore that nothing ever failed
when planted by the hand of Mam.

Yes, almost all the plants were
simple flowers of poor people
and miraculous vegetables, notable
for goodness rather than appearance.

Among them were snowdrops,
mint and thyme and moschatel,
winter savory, sweet lavender,
and a vigorous bush of box.

Two or three primroses
and daffodils were sure to be
– all the plants of the small border
in the care of some ‘old man’.

They were a host of common folk.
None of them in that small border
could claim the pedigrees of those
blooming in the mansion’s gardens.

With a stab to the chest one day,
I came across an old alien, wild,
without precedent in the border –
a dandelion blown in from a distance,

smiling an insolent smile
in sun and dew, and­ I wondered
how that old coloniser knew
that Mam was growing old.

Notes:

  • Moschatel is Adoxa moschatellina, also known as muskroot or townhall clock.
  • Old man is a common name for Artemisia abrotanum, also known as sagewood.

    ………….
    Translated from the Welsh by Sharon Larkin, 3-5 August 2020

 

Poem for Pentecost

In the Upper Room

 

There is this fluttering, like palpitations,
or quickening, or perhaps butterflies
except not in the stomach, not low down.
This is up, aloft … a-hover now,
like a dove above a river
except that we are not outside.
This which we have waded into
has a strong current which is also electric.
There is a fragrance on the air,
and a wave-of-roaring sometimes,
a light tongue-lap other times,
or a flame a-flicker, a-dance overhead.
This is a presence that encompasses,
circumscribes like arcs around a radial dot,
except not one of us is just a dot.
Here, we are radiant motes
in the light from a scintillating source,
a focus for espousing photons – a touch
sometimes airy, featherlike, particulate
sometimes bright, irradiating, burning,
other times pulsing and as comforting
as a mother-hen, warm wings brooding.
This presence protects but is not safe.
This is like a breeze in the face sometimes,
other times, forceful – a gushing wind
to knock you backwards into a catcher’s arms
or to knee-buckle as if by your own free will,
whatever your will is anymore.
And sometimes there will be laughter
and sometimes groaning and sobbing,
or those silent tears that heal.
For This is That which was without,
and is now He who is within –
who is and was and will be …
up there, in here, now this side, now that
and, yes, even down
where we’d rather cover over.
He who blots out all trouble
calms all fear and flesh-nonsense,
retunes arrhythmia at the core,
clutches at lungs and announces
This is Pneuma
before breathing fresh life inside,
blowing the top of your head right off
for an instant neuroplasty
to rewire pathways, remap networks,
reignite dulled synapses,
wipe corrupt memories, install new software,
rewrite histories, recast futures.

 

 

Sharon Larkin, 31 May 2020

Postcards from Malthusia DAY FOURTEEN: Sharon Larkin

new boots and pantisocracies

Noli Me Tangere

We avoid alley, ginnel, snicket, jigger,

    favour wider lanes in rural areas

for dubious doses of fresh air, sun.

     Handshakes, hugs are supplanted

first by elbow bumps, then clasping 

     our own hands across our chests, 

gestures of intent, no eye contact. 

     A raised palm declares touch me not.

A nod while staring at our own feet.

     Perfume from that girl trails 

behind for yards, sneaks sideways 

     up nostrils, stirs unease, disgust.

Late night treks to supermarkets, 

      scarf bandit-like around mouth

and nose. Gloves, strict time limits,

     bills kept below the swipe amount, 

breath held at checkouts, gasping 

     to the door as if already a case.

Fingers wagging through glass: 

     Leave it on the step, sign for me.

Spraying deliveries and doorknobs. 

     Neural networks retrained 

to ban fingers from facial orifices, 

      handwashing to Happy Birthday, 

Jerusalem, God Save the Queen

      or Killing in the name of. Asking

will…

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How to Carry Fire by Christina Thatcher (Parthian) – a review

“Keep it lit until you learn to glow” 

The two sections of Christina Thatcher’s collection How to Carry Fire are set in Pennsylvania and Wales respectively. The book takes the form of short, predominantly narrative poems, many presenting flashbacks of cinematic clarity, acetylene intensity. The first section follows a girl/young woman growing up in Pennsylvania, in a family challenged by financial hardship, where addiction, abuse and anger are mirrored – in the main protagonist, at least  – by determination, a sense of responsibility, compassion and remarkable resilience. She also displays an understandable appetite for renewal, regeneration, and, above all, love.  These she finds, although troubled by self-recrimination at not having been able to ‘save’ or ‘rescue’ her drug-dependent brother, and by an irrational, post-trauma fear that she might, in some way, have been complicit in his addiction.

In the first part of the book, the reader rapidly becomes aware that there has been a devastating house-fire, probably resulting from drug use, if not arson. This spreads a shadow across the family as a whole, but also casts shade forward, to haunt the second section, where tragedy and trauma are translated, as is the habit of PTSD, into fear and anxiety … as difficult to shift as any addiction.

The second section follows the protagonist’s ‘flight’ to the UK, with ensuing themes of learning (an important word in the collection), growing self-knowledge, attempted resolution of past trauma, and the beginning of a new relationship, fuelled by passion, where trust can flourish and anxiety can be challenged. Recovery is painful and partial but there are glimpses of a happier present and the hope of a promising future, fuelled and fired by a startling creativity … and love.

The poems that ‘carry the fire’ are fresh-minted, spare and beautifully controlled, with an eye and ear for quality. There are many examples of inspired word selection where vocabulary works overtime.  A notable example is in the late poem Subtext – a poem about the legacy of poverty, neglect and ignorance … where the protagonist learns that she

“… must eat
green leaves until your insides gleam, pop enough blueberries
to grow neurons … shed your cells
like thousands of colourful scales.  Only then will you be new.”

In this poem – as much about healing and regeneration, as about healthier eating – ‘cells’ double up as lock-ups (associated with her brother) as well as her own anatomical building blocks, and ‘scales’ serve as the easily-shed outer covering of aquatic creatures – recurring symbols in the collection – as well as tyrannical measurers of superfluous pounds.

Ingenious line breaks are another notable feature of the poems, often intensifying meaning (fanning flames) or intentionally subverting it (acting like firebreaks).  Here is an example from the early poem Sentry:

“I was ready:
camping all those nights
on the living room floor, broken
door locks rattling.

In another example, from the later poem Detox Passage, we find:

“You tell the pastor you can do it. You believe
you can do it. God is with you, my son.
The jerks in your arms and teeth begin
to go. All you had to do was rid yourself

of temptation”.

The narrative impels the reader through the collection at pace, but rereading pays dividends, enabling slower-burning embers of nuance to be detected, repeated motifs and recurring images to be registered … for example, those associated with birds and animals (particularly aquatic creatures, of which there are many in the collection).

Loss is another key theme of the book. From the first poem, Insurance Report, an inventory is attempted, following the disastrous house-fire:

“the stained glass unicorn
that Sioux tribe necklace
our grandfather’s final brick”

The items tell of identity, heritage, ancestry and uncertain dreams – impossible to put a value on, but priceless in respect of shared experience, memories, inheritance and hope.

“We cried out for these totems:
Who are we without them? Who are we?

Only the inspectors answered back:
But what were they worth?”

We only have hints about the start of the fire: ‘the burn of bad people who’d let themselves in” (Sentry) but we recognize that the main protagonist will henceforth, be destined to remain ‘on duty’, since tragedy could happen again. She is called to be an “Ever watchful daughter” for ever-present, anxiety-inducing, danger. Such hair-triggers are the plight of any PTSD victim:

“ ….. It’s your job, house canary.
Just watch the door and call
if we need to run.”

We note the use of canary, as a caged predictor of air quality … and cannot fail to compare this role with that of her ‘parrot-brother’ later in the collection. Birds abound in this book. Unsurprisingly, in a collection with fire as its primary focus, temperature is also a recurring theme, as much to do with intensity of emotion as with the house-fire itself. A poker, associated with encouraging fire to flare, is also a potent symbol of family dysfunction and abuse.

“That weakness, years later, led you,
hot-tempered, to the fireplace,
to the poker you slid across

my mother’s neck,
pinning her to the wall
until her breath became so shallow
you cooled, and when you slept
she gathered up her things
and just enough courage
to brave the cold
and leave you
for good.”

In this poem, Making Fire, we witness fire ignited and kept stoked. We detect weakness, hot temper, a poker used as a weapon, followed by rapid cooling and the braving of the cold, Pictorially, the poem shows the gradual loss for words and the dying of love.

In Detox Passage we are presented with a clear picture of the paraphernalia of drug-taking (spoons everywhere) associated with the cause of the fire. We also note the inefficacy of faith and deliverance to counteract addiction. In Relapse, with few words and the utmost clarity, we see the hallmarks of the addict: the hiding, the lying, the secrecy, the thrill of anticipation, the tension, the temporary relief. The dark humour of Becoming an Astronaut presents us with the utter improbability of the brother ever attaining the qualities and qualifications necessary for such a career – as opposed to being on a high, getting out of his skull, being spaced out: “Instead: you picked up a needle and took yourself to the moon”.  Hearing My Brother’s Name on the News comes as no surprise, given what we know. Yet this short poem is, paradoxically, a poem of happier times too, in the yard in summer, when the brother tellingly “makes his shirt a basket for fireplace twigs” and teaches his sister ‘to calm / chickens: holding their wings tight between / soft palms”  It is, on the face of it, a lovely scene … where fire only gets a passing mention. But that is enough.

In Vigilante, the main protagonist becomes theoretical accomplice, complicit (in dreams) with collecting tools, a “torch, gasoline, glyphosate” but, unlike the men in this family, who never seem strong enough, she is “strong enough to carry them” … to a deadly cocktail of countries associated with narcotics and conflict. In her dream she surveys ‘thousands / of hectares covered in poppy heads” and she, too, plays with fire “I light the torch: / throw flames with the expert aim / of a forest patrolman.”  There is again a sense of complicity, shared responsibility, shared guilt, when she might instead have had “the power to save” her brother from his dangerous dependency. In Rescuing a Hummingbird, the bird is associated with him, helpless and tripping … and, again, her sense of failure in trying to rescue him:

“Everyone else leaves it banging
its tiny beak against the glass,
its high-speed heart whirring
into body rippling panic.”

“I have no answers but take
the risk – cup my hands and coo:
it’s okay, little one, it’s okay,
as the bird terror-spreads

its wings through my fingers
until we reach the open door
and it flits into the jungle trees,
a flash of iridescent green”

In an Improper Kindness, her sense of failure in saving her brother sinks to a new low. She both regrets, and accepts as necessary, the kindness, compassion and understanding she shows him – improper though these could be regarded. She releases him to ‘halcyon’ … as she previously did the hummingbird. In Nodding off (a symptom of the opiate addict), she imagines him, not drawn towards the psychedelia of halcyon, nor as fragile and frantic as the hummingbird, nor as an astronaut-hero … but as a bathetic caged parrot with shrinking pupils, ‘miles away’. Chillingly, she visualises putting him to sleep – “sliding a pillowcase”, shroud-like and “the same weight as a body bag”, over his parrot prison. We wonder whether death will be the only rescue she will be able to offer him.

Earlier in the collection, the sister is more than once drawn to, and warned of, danger. In Temptation, it’s a salamander (“These colors mean / it’s poisonous … / watch out for them”) and she is no stranger to physical pain, as when her uncle roughly tugs her arm from the danger “so hard / the socket opened / briefly releasing the bulb / of a shoulder”.  She was thus drawn to the threat, then saved from it, but was hurt and damaged in the process. Similarly, in Learning to Escape she is drawn to a jellyfish which she wants to rescue  … as she does her brother, but our first view of him is urinating on her jellyfish sting, attempting to rescue her:

“… unzipped his pants to help with the poison,
but before his yellow stream broke, I wriggled free
and ran as fast as I could towards the sea.”

Running towards water, and the rescue/salvation it offers. is another repeating idea in the book, foreshadowing her crossing the Atlantic – an opportunity to escape the trauma of the past. The phrase “to help with the poison” is ironic, given the liability the brother is to prove. But another irony is that, in running away from the jellyfish and her brother’s attempt to deaden the sting, she runs toward the sea … where there could be even more jellyfish, more stings. Other themes in this book are surely blind panic … and blind self-destruction.

 Fire and water are arguably the most important metaphors in the collection, working at various levels, potentially cancelling each other out but also standing as inextinguishable elements in their own right. Fire at various times symbolises anger, violence, addiction, destruction and loss …  but also love, passion, desire and creative brilliance. Water in this collection has the power not only to quench fire, pain and memory, but it also enables buoyancy, escape and freedom. Water (the Atlantic) has to be crossed in order to begin the healing process, caused by fire. But it is also across the ocean that the fire of new love, passion and creative power begins to flare. Water, then, supports life, and facilitates new life. Representations of life, in various forms, are present throughout the collection, with a whole ‘inventory’ of creatures, especially spotlighting dangerous animals to which the main protagonist – let us assume it is the poet – is seen both drawn to and fleeing from. The effect of exposure to all of this, on a girl growing into young adulthood, creates a tender vulnerability, reactivity and alertness … but simultaneously an admirable resilience that is able to fan the flame of a fierce creative talent.

But, despite all the above, her childhood was not unremittingly awful. Ode to Ottsville is a delight of detail and sensory pleasures: “to splash barefoot in Tohickon Creek, / feel a hundred toe-hungry tadpoles wriggle,” “the fatness / of a sudsy sponge in my hands,” “leather oil soaking into my fingers”. There is gustatory appeal (waffle cones, ice pops, “plump blackberries from back pastures, / their juice staining my unwashed mouth for days”), olfactory reminiscences (“tire rubber stiff in my nose”), an assault of colour accompanied by ‘oohs’ of pleasure (“cool blue of a too-early morning”) and auditory memories (“sleeping hens’ soft cooing” … chickens recur throughout the collection). Fear, at this time, at least, was “just bats emerging from the paddock barn”.  A rare, happy flashback of a poem.

In the important title poem How to Carry Fire, we are invited to “conjure every fire you have ever read about … journals flaking / in the hot shell of your bedroom … / a furnace” and again we are reminded of the poker “your father pressed into / your mother’s neck.”  The poem continues “Take what those flames / can give you. Feel heat enter your stomach.” We feel that this is all a precursor to the creative process. Here we are introduced to the idea that as well as effecting loss, fire can also ignite ardour and passion … and we must not quench it. We met the terrible poker before … but now it has the potential to become, in the hands of a consummate poet, an instrument to stoke the fire of her art. She tells herself – and doubtlessly her brother –  “to stay wary” and “never let the light / go out, keep it lit until you learn to glow.”

In What the Newspapers left out, we hear for the first time about ‘that final call for me / from across the ocean: / Bring the fire with you. / Leave everything else behind.’ Here, is an indication that her escape (by water again) will take her to a new life in the UK … and she is told to ‘bring the fire’ – to make something out of previous disaster … something creative, such as a poetry collection of power.

In How to build a boat she is preparing to run to the sea … or is building an ark to flee from peril, to rescue herself … or is about to launch a boat in which to explore new worlds. But before she leaves she takes My last American Road Trip and entertains second thoughts about leaving for “some unknown country” admitting “I am afraid”. But, on learning about the geological connection with Wales: “rocks … broken apart over millennia / … once connected / to Wales, Pembrokeshire, famous / for its stretching coast, just like home” she bravely continues with her plan. Before long (in Transport Decisions), she is in a taxi, in the UK, lying about her parents, her “healthy” brother (“We’re close”) … and a fake picture of “a happy American family, / shining like polished apples, / clean as Sunday clothes.”

In Keeping warm (my favourite poem of the collection) she notes that:

“Wales is a small coat
with deep pockets, so I plunge
my hands in to search
for treasures …”

“…They are so much deeper
than I thought—these pockets
made of Brecon caves,
dark and light, hot and cold,
drawing me in to this good
and steadfast place.” 

Soon, she finds blackbirds …  and a place of salvation and healing:

“I pull out steeples, churches,
the sounds of singing, bells,”

There are new sensory pleasures where new scents are discernible:

“My fingers smell of damp /
and wood smoke, thin wisps
of cinnamon, strong home brews.”

In Touring Tenby with the Man I Will One Day Marry, the reader is delighted to meet ‘him’ so soon in Section 2 of the collection. But knowing ‘her’ propensity for being drawn to the dangerous, the reader might be alarmed to read “once, / as a teen, you bashed up a car / and ran, rum heavy, from the police.” Is this future husband going to prove as potentially dangerous as her brother?  But “children pocketing / fat slabs of Caldey chocolate, fleeing / from monks” …  is reassuringly innocent in comparison, and soon she and he “move closer until our legs touch / from hip bone to knee.”

In Proficiency we witness the couple’s growing intimacy, trust, knowledge of each other … and knowledge of self:

“All we know, in fact, is that our bodies

are ridiculous:
eager as geese after corn,
inelegant as windsocks, soft as chinchilla fur.

All we really know is we are gleeful ,,,”

… “just desire
fizzing up like Mentos in Coke.

All we know is our bodies are just bodies,
a tangle of sponge and limbs. All we know is
how they can cry and cry.”

Most Days is another consummately tender poem, looking back at the bad times and forwards to a contented present and future. In it we learn of:

“… the perfect cigarette burn
he seared into my calf, just out
of sock’s reach, the tiny craters
on my face.”

This cigarette burn might previously have escaped notice, and we must assume that there were other instances of abuse we don’t know about.

In the poem Husband, When You Go, the protagonist’s fear and anxiety bubble up again.  She thinks of losing him to “some incurable disease / or high-speed traffic accident,”  Despite this, she concludes “I will wait, let the poems come / back to me, back home”. She has the certainty that poetry, at least, will survive. But dread continues. In Hold she dreams of a plane crash two days after their engagement. It is a vivid nightmare, and a graphic poem. But she has a consoler now … someone, and something, precious she does not want to lose.

In Sex After Marriage, the couple are likened to aquatic creatures (that recurring motif of the collection):

“Together we are Coho Salmon cresting,
silvers slipping upstream. We are natural
…..

Here, in freshwater, our brains have no work to do.
Here we give over to our bodies.”

Reiteration is another important poem in this collection. The girl might have been taken out of Pennsylvania, but Pennsylvania cannot be taken out of the girl. She is tugged back by memory and family ties, and especially to the ‘complicit captivity’ of addiction, albeit not her own. Just as PTSD sufferers may imagine scenes from their past superimposed on current images they see, so she recognizes her brother in every subsequent falling addict:

“A couple falls
in a familiar alleyway,
limbs collapse, grit sticks
to the whites of their legs.”

“I recognize her …

… her thick film of need. /
She is you, my brother, you.
They are all you.”

Relation is another poignant poem in which the protagonist admits “I am addictions’ daughter sister cousin niece …  terrorist victim bomb builder bystander …. firefighter smoke water steam … next of kin.” The poem tells of the nightmarish and continuing sense responsibility, the memories and the guilt, that people in this position are rarely free of … even with oceans of space and time between. The PTSD of recurring memories, blame and guilt get in the way of living in the freedom of a new life, in a new country.

Despite all past and current pain, this collection remains supremely a love story, encompassing the new love – the lover and husband, but retaining the memory of intense bonds between siblings, however flawed and tested.

Knowing You is another tender poem, and another favourite of this reviewer:

“tell me something dark and fetid about Welsh history,
you still say things I never thought you’d say,
still unfurl yourself slowly, a wet fern
in the forest, so I can breathe deep
and keep going.”

How to Love a Gardener marks a significant development in the ‘Transatlantic transition’ through the protagonist’s observation of the specifically British flora and fauna mentioned in the poem: Horse chestnuts, red squirrel  pheasants, hedgehogs and newts. We are drawn, with the poet, to the acceptance that:

“Love like every green thing ever planted
will live long and never burn.”

This collection may have begun with dysfunction and tragedy but it moves … not only to a new continent, and specifically to Wales, but also moves from trauma towards healing through the power of love, experienced through patience, empathy and understanding – of oneself as well others – as continuing and residual fears and anxieties are worked through and resolved. In witnessing the devastation and courageous rebuilding, the reader – and reviewer – of How to Carry Fire are also moved … and privileged to have witnessed a powerful work of art taking shape, as a phoenix arising from the ashes.

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 Can 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, Chance 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.  Philip’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 February) and Raine Geoghegan and musician partner Simon Callow (15 March) … 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.

Edited 20 March to record the fact that many of the events mentioned as scheduled after 9 March have been cancelled or postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. A time, instead, for more writing … and learning new skills … including videoconferencing via Zoom, thanks to encouragement from Charlie Markwick.

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)