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.

October Highlights

South Magazine Launch in Newbury

A busy month performance-wise. On Tuesday 10 October, fellow poet, Dave Ashbee, and I read at a launch event held by South Magazine in Newbury.  Dave and I were asked along, as we were co-selectors for Issue 56 of the magazine.  Dave’s set included the always-enjoyable found poem – The Gloster Birder, and my set included my seasonal poem – Shaggy Inkcaps.  The evening’s programme continued with poems read by a number of contributors to South, including many of the poems which Dave and I had selected for this issue.  A most enjoyable evening featuring impressive poetry and hospitable company – with thanks to Patrick Osada, Peter Keeble and other members of the South Magazine management team. South’s report on the evening can be found here: http://www.southpoetry.org/readings

Cheltenham Literature Festival

Next day, Wednesday 11 October, Cheltenham Poetry Society read at Cheltenham Literature Festival. The programme comprised poems and projected photographs from our anthology Cheltenham 300 … published to mark the tercentenary of Cheltenham as a spa town.

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Cheltenham 300 anthology

Poets reading at the event featured (left to bright in the photograph below):
Roger Turner, Stuart Nunn, Robin Gilbert, Alice Ross, Sharon Larkin, Sheila Spence, David Ashbee,  Belinda Rimmer, Michael Newman, Annie Ellis. Howard and Marilyn Timms (not in the photograph) also read at the event.

CPS members read at the prestigious Cheltenham Literature Festival

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Villanelles at Waterstones, Cheltenham

On Monday, 16 October our friends in Gloucester Poetry Society ran their monthly event, Villanelles, in Waterstones, Cheltenham. The evening included performances by guest poet, Clive Oseman from Swindon, Jason Conway, Rose Chanter, Sarah Snell-Pym, Lania Knight, Kurt Schroeder (thanks for the photographs), George and other poets from Cheltenham and Gloucester. Thanks to Rose Chanter and Waterstones, and Jason Conway and GPS, for these enjoyable monthly events.

Reading with Gloucester Poetry Society’s Villanelles at Cheltenham Water stones

Poetry Cafe Refreshed, at Smokey Joes, Cheltenham

On Wednesday 16 October, several Cheltenham and Gloucester poets read at the monthly Poetry Café Refreshed event at Smokey Joe’s in Cheltenham, where we were thrilled to have Matthew Stewart as our guest poet.

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Guest poet Matthew Stewart
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David Clarke and Jennie Farley
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Gill Wyatt, Jennie Farley, Annie Ellis, Belinda Rimmer, Sharon Larkin

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Roger Turner, David, Chris Hemingway, Charlie Markwick
The Wurlitzer Juke Box – always a star of the show
Reading at Poetry Café Refreshed,        Smokey Joe’s, October 2017

 

Gloucester Poetry Festival

Later in the month, on Thursday 26 November, Roger Turner, Michael Newman, Dave Ashbee and I read a selection of our poems in the Black Cat Bar, The Dick Whittington pub, in Gloucester, as part of the first-ever Gloucester Poetry Festival, organized by Ziggy Slug and Jason Conway.

Awaiting the poets
Sharon reads in the Black Cat Bar
Roger Turner at the mic
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Michael Newman’s spot
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Triumphant Triumvirate

Poetry Cafe in Cheltenham Library

And, finally, next day, Friday 27 October, Roger Turner, Michael Newman, Belinda Rimmer and I read in Cheltenham Library with a number of poets from the University of Gloucestershire, with memorable poems especially from George and Ziggy.  There was also an open mic. This was the latest event in the library’s monthly  lunchtime Pop-up Poetry Café programme. Thanks to poet and UoG lecturer, Angela France, and Rebecca Sillence of Cheltenham Library for making the event happen.

 

Another Exciting Poetry Year Beckons

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

1.  The Good Dadhood Poetry Project.

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

2. The Kickstart Poetry Project

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

3. Poets Alive

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

4. Poetry Café – Refreshed

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

5.  Cheltenham Arts Council’s first meeting of 2017

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

6.  Regular and Special Poetry Events

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

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

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

Keep poeting!

Poetry Café – Refreshed, December 2016

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

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

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

With best wishes from Poetry Café – Refreshed.

 

 

 

Review of 2016 – mentor, monitor, mantra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October – Poetry Month

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

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

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

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

Yes, October is a month of feasting on poetry!

Happy birthday, Refreshed!

On 10 August 2016, Poetry Café – Refreshed celebrated its first birthday. We were delighted to welcome Patrick Osada, who is on the management board of South magazine, as the guest poet on this special occasion.

Poetry Café – Refreshed, a monthly event, hosted by Roger Turner and organized by Sharon Larkin (yours truly), is held in the unique surroundings of Smokey Joes in Bennington St, Cheltenham – a café with an informal and relaxed atmosphere, an American diner-inspired décor given a British twist … and offering an irresistible menu.

Smokey Joes – a relaxed, informal atmosphere

We’ve been enjoying some superb poetry. Over the past year, we’ve had a succession of exciting guest poets come to read and perform for us:

  • John Alwyine-Mosely – August 2015
  • Tom Sastry – September 2015
  • Nina Lewis – October 2015
  • Avril Staple – November 2015
  • Brenda Reid-Brown – December 2015
  • David Clarke – January 2016
  • Sue Johnson, Bob Woodroofe and Joy Thomas – February 2016
  • Paul Harris – March 2016
  • Matt Duggan – April 2016
  • Rachael Clyne – May 2016
  • Lesley Ingram – June 2016
  • Ben Banyard – July 2016
  • Patrick Osada – August 2016

… and the quality of the poetry from the open mic poets has been high too!


At the ‘anniversary edition’ of Poetry Cafe – Refreshed  on 10 August 2016, at the open mic we had:  David Ashbee, David Clarke, Miki Byrne, Annie Ellis, Jennie Farley, Robin Gilbert, Sharon Larkin, Michael Newman, Stuart Nunn, Belinda Rimmer, Roger Turner, Gill Wyatt.        

We’ve had many more poets join us at the open mic over the past year, including Kathy Gee, Sarah Bryson, Polly Stretton, Judi Marsh, Holly McGill, Anna Saunders, Howard Timms, Marilyn Timms, Kev Alway, Courtney Hulbert, Briony Smith, Chris Hemingway, Aled Thomas, Gill Garrett, Elizabeth Chanter, Michael Skaife d’Ingerthorpe, Samantha Pearse … and on one memorable occasion Dom Joly.

We look forward to the next year of Refreshed.  Guest poets for the next three months are:

  • 21 September 2016 – Deborah Harvey
  • 19 October 2016 – Kathy Gee
  • 16 November – Claire Walker

Please make a note of 16 November and 14 December, the last two Poetry Café – Refreshed events for 2016 … and we already have a number of exciting guest poets lined up for 2017!

We’re most grateful to Vickie Godding and the staff at Smokey Joes for being so welcoming and accommodating towards us. We love your waffles!

And thanks to TL for taking photos at Poetry Café – Refreshed.

Some photographs from our first year:

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John Alwyine-Mosely, guest poet August 2-15

Tom Sastry, guest poet, October 2015
Nina Lewis, guest poet, October 2015
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Christmas Special
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Guest Poet, Brenda-Read Brown, December 2015

David Clarke – guest poet, January 2016

Sue Johnson, guest poet with Bob Woodroofe and Joy Thomas, February 2016 
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Bob Woodroofe, guest poet with Sue Johnson and Joy Thomas, February 2016
Joy Thomas – guest poet with Sue Johnson and Bob Woodroofe, February 2016
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Paul Canon Harris – guest poet for March 2016

Matt Duggan, guest poet, April 2016
Dom Joly (uninvited guest, April 2016)
Rachael Clyne, guest poet, May 2016
Lesley Ingram, guest poet, June 2016
Ben Banyard, guest poet, July 2016
Patrick B Osada, guest poet, August 2016
Deborah Harvey, will be guest poet in September 2016
Roger Turner, host of Poetry Café – Refreshed
Sharon Larkin, organizer, at the open mic

Cheltenham – Part 2 (and other news)

Super write-up of Ben Banyard’s visit – as guest poet – to Poetry Café – Refreshed, Cheltenham in July,

Ben Banyard

As regular readers of this blog will know, and possibly roll their eyes to hear again, being part of Jo Bell’s 52 has brought me an embarrassment of riches. Take my recent reading at Poetry Café Refreshed in Cheltenham, for instance – one of its organisers, Sharon Larkin, was a fellow 52er and I was delighted to accept her invitation to be their guest reader.

The venue is the splendidly quirky Smokey Joe’s in Bennington Street, which is decorated in the style of a 1950s diner, complete with period fixtures and fittings. The performance space is a lovely bright and airy room at the back, which includes a jukebox fashioned from the back end of a vintage Mini and even a selection of old coin-operated arcade games.

The format of the event is very civilised – there’s an open mic section where everyone gets to read a couple of their…

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Maligned Species

Delighted to have two poems in the Spiders e-book of the Maligned Species project from Fair Acre Press. Here’s a picture of the splendid cover:

The e-book will be available on this link shortly: Fairacre Press Bookshop. costing £2.99. Money from each e-book sold will be donated to Buglife… and could even save a species of spider from becoming extinct!  Please support the project by purchasing a copy.  Great value for some 40 poems in total, including work by John Siddique, David Calcutt, Jonathan Edwards, Nadia Kingsley Angela Topping, Jane Burn Storybook Art, Sarah Leavesley, Nina Lewis, Maggie Mackay, Jean Atkin, me and many others.

Thanks to Nadia Kingsley of Fair Acre Press for the project and for including our poems. Watch out for other books in the Maligned Species Project – Grey Squirrels, Stinging Nettles and Frogs – emerging on Fridays throughout February.

Refreshed by Poetry

Over recent months, I’ve been pleased to work with Roger Turner to support Poetry Café – Refreshed at Smokey Joe’s in Cheltenham.  Roger hosts this monthly event, set in the wonderful American Diner-themed café in an exciting area of the town which is currently undergoing redevelopment.  This will soon be a bustling social quarter of Cheltenham, including the Brewery Complex of cinema, leisure facilities and restaurants. Poetry Café – Refreshed includes an open mic.

It has been a great pleasure to invite poets I’ve come to know through Jo Bell’s wonderful 52 initiative to be guest poets at Refreshed.  So far this has included John Alwyine-Mosely (August) and Tom Sastry  (September), both from Bristol, and Nina Lewis (October) from Bromsgrove – all wonderful poets. Their readings were very well received and we look forward to welcoming other 52-ers to be guest poets over the coming year

On 11 November Avril Staple from Gloucester will be the guest poet at Refreshed.  Many poets in Cheltenham and Gloucester know Avril well from Angela France’s wonderful Buzzwords (7pm first Sunday of the month, Exmoor Arms, Bath Road, Cheltenham). I know Avril’s work first-hand from the Creative and Critical Writing MA we did at the University of Gloucestershire in 2010 – and also from Poetry Factory, a Cheltenham-based group we both belonged to during 2012-13, along with David Clarke, Anna Saunders and others.

I’m looking forward to reconnecting with Avril at Refreshed, and with a great crowd of open mic poets. But first, I hope to meet up with Avril and the regulars at Buzzwords this Sunday, 1 November, when Jonathan Edwards and Mike Jenkins will be running the workshop and reading as guest poets.  As an enthusiast for Welsh poetry, I am personally very much looking forward to this.

The open mic at Buzzwords is always first rate.  Local poets are indebted to Angela France for her tireless work in support of poetry; Buzzwords is the longest-running poetry performance opportunity in the area, with an impressive “back list” of guest poets.  Angela teaches at the University of Gloucestershire and gained her PhD there this year.  So it is great news that Angela was recently appointed Cheltenham’s Poet in Residence.

It will be great to reconnect with poetry enthusiasts during November at the many events Cheltenham has to offer.