During the past year, with Covid concern easing and more poetry events starting up again, I still had to remain cautious of face-to-face meetings, for reasons I won’t go into here. Zoom therefore continued to offer lifelines in the form of poetry launches, readings and workshops … and opportunities to spend time polishing my Welsh, with classes offered by Learn Welsh Gwent. I was, and remain grateful to everyone who has provided an outlet for creativity and learning via Zoom over the past two and a half years.
Not least among these ‘generous providers’ of time and expertise have been Mark Connors and Gill Lambert whose Wednesday Wordship sessions I enjoyed, on a long run of Wednesdays in 2021/22. The formula Gill and Mark have developed for these, based on single-word prompts, is particularly fruitful. Encouraging everyone attending to ‘pitch in’ with examples of ‘the word’ in phrases and sayings, fires up the creative energy in all the ‘classmates’ … and, importantly, breaks the ice and keeps it bubbling throughout the session. There is a break for about 45 minutes where we all ‘go away’ to write drafts of poems inspired by the words, phrases and ideas generated in the first part of the workshop, then we rejoin Zoom to share our drafts. A very productive method of writing, from which I personally ended up with some 25 poems from the sessions I attended.
One of these was the poem ‘Knit’ which has subsequently proved popular in various on-line poetry readings. It was inspired by the word ‘cast’ and its drafting coincided with the final stages of the Yaffle Competition 2022. Why I didn’t enter the competition I don’t really know … except that I enter very few! I was therefore surprised, and delighted, to be contacted by Mark and Gill to play a part in the final round of judging the competition, basically considering the shortlist and putting the anonymised poems in order of merit, as I saw it. Obviously, Mark and Gill had already gone through this process themselves, but it’s always handy to have a ‘third opinion’!
I enjoyed the process immensely, marvelling at the range of subjects and voices presented by the shortlisted poems. There were many memorable poems … but three, very different, poems leapt out at me and I had no hesitation of awarding them marks which placed them in first, second and third position on ‘my list’. I believe these decisions lined up with those Mark and Gill had already arrived at which gave us all assurance that we had ‘got it right’.
The Yaffle website carries the results of the competition, and Mark and Gill generously gave space for the notes I made when I was considering the shortlisted poems, You can read them here:
Hearty congratulations to Sue Burge, Ian Harker and Holly Bars whose poems were placed in the First, Second and Third positions respectively.
Assisting in the judging of the competition was reward enough for me! But Mark and Gill kindly invited me to offer a poem for the editors’ section in the Whirlagust III anthology of Yaffle competition poems which has just been published – containing the prizewinning, highly commended and commended poems on the shortlist … as well as the longlisted poems, and poems by Mark and Gill. It promises to be a rich and varied volume! I look forward to reacquainting myself with the shortlisted works … and to discovering more poems and poets in the longlist.
The icing on the cake was attending the launch of Whirlagust III, and the celebration of the winners and shortlisted poems, at the event on Zoom on 22 September. It was a really lovely event, made all the more so by the hosts, Gill and Mark, who make all their events and workshops so enjoyable with their welcoming, relaxed and affable style. Thank you, both, for a thoroughly positive experience all round.
Continuing ‘a mission, against the odds’ might sound like an over-statement in the context of writing poetry, publishing and getting published, during a pandemic, but for many writers and publishers, it has been nothing short of heroic. Vanishing opportunities for meeting with kindred spirits, performing work and maintaining a ‘platform’ have, of course, been mitigated by the ‘mushrooming of Zoom’ – thanks to which, poetry readings, ‘open-mic’ opportunities, workshopping, mentoring and book launches have all continued to happen. These have in many cases provided national and international ‘stages’ in contrast to the pre-pandemic local poetry venues many poets loyally attended every month. Poetry podcasts, streamed events and spots on digital radio have also been growth areas.
All very positive, but perhaps the bigger impact of the pandemic on the ‘poetry mission’ has been ‘mindset’ rather than ‘opportunity’. The lockdowns, with the isolation and loneliness for many, had a depressing impact for some, reducing productivity and the inclination to do anything other than slump. Mercifully, I have not spent the last eighteen months alone, as some fellow writers … the heroes amongst us … have done. I don’t know how I would have fared without Mr. L. Thank you, my love.
Post-lockdown, justifiable caution of face-to-face events continued for the more vulnerable poets among us, and for all of us, socialising in-person, after so long, was met with mixed emotions … pleasure and anxiety, to greater or lesser degrees. Let’s hope 2022 will be better for us all.
Looking back at previous end-of-year reviews, it is clear that my productivity was lower in 2021 than in preceding years – even lower than in 2020, when we had stricter lockdowns, and more fear and uncertainty generally. However, there have been a lot of ‘poetry things’ to be thankful for in 2021 … and a lot of ‘poetry people’ to thank …
Dualities in 2021
First of all, a big thank you to Mark Davidson of Hedgehog Poetry Press for including my collection, ‘Dualities’ (published in late 2020) in the bumper Hedgehog Poetry ‘goodie box’ sent out to subscribers in the first quarter of 2021. I was thrilled that my book was in such great company, along with Dawn Gorman’s & Rosie Jackson’s ‘Aloneness is a Many-Headed Bird’, Margaret Royall’s ‘Where Flora Sings’, Gaynor Kane’s & Karen Mooney’s ‘Penned In’, Patricia M Osborne’s ‘The Montefiore Bride’, Darren J Beaney’s ‘Honeydew’, Adele Cordner’s ’The Kitchen Sink Chronicles’, Damien B Donnelly’s ‘Considering Canvases With Boys’, and Jenna Please’s ‘The Underside of Things’.
Next, I am indebted to Nigel Kent for the generous review of Dualities on his website in April 2021. This was preceded by an invitation for me to submit one of the poems in the book for Nigel’s ‘Drop-in’ feature. The two links are here:
I was very encouraged by comments received in 2021 from a former colleague who, having recently read Dualities, wrote: ‘Thoroughly enjoyed it. Some gorgeous imagery, delightful turns of phrase and the occasional construct I simply didn’t understand – which adds to the enjoyment. Great stuff. Thanks for sharing your talent!’ I was delighted that the imagery, turns of phrase … and the puzzles too … pleased this particular reader, whose judgement I very much respect.
The year started well with Ink Sweat and Tears, taking my poem ‘Post-operative’ in January, thanks to the wonderful Helen Ivory.
I wrote the poem ‘At the Foot of the Tree’ for Good Friday 2021, at the invitation of Elim Church, Cheltenham. Thanks to Bean Baker for creating the poetry film, with music, and uploading it to You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xi3OUOR8LP8&t=38s and thanks to all the lovely feedback, especially from Sandra Kemp and Sheila Hurst in Cheltenham … and Elaine and Carri in Arizona!
Thanks to Visual Verse for taking three of my poems, in April, June and September 2021.
I was grateful to Veronica Aaronson for taking two of my poems for her anthology ‘Despite Knowing’ in support of a charity providing counselling for those in recovery from addictions.
It had long been an ambition of mine to print-publish an anthology of poems celebrating fathers and fatherhood (see Good Dadhood, below). Now, thanks to Aurélien Thomas, I can let that ambition lapse because in 2021 he selected and edited ‘To Dads – with Love’, illustrated/designed by JinQue RD and published by Ayo Gutierrez. I’m glad that some of my ‘Dad poems’ are in the book, along with poems by poet-friends Angela France, Michael Newman, Catherine Baker, Christine Griffin and Frances March … and many other poets, worldwide. I was pleased to be invited by Aurélien Thomas to write the foreword for the book. The resulting volume is a handsome one … available from Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dads-Love-Aurelien-Thomas/dp/B096TN7NN7
I’m always pleased when my love of poetry and love of Wales and Welsh coalesce. Thanks to photographer Ieuan Morris for including part of a translation I did of the poem ‘Melin Trefin’ by William Williams Crwys in Ieaun’s splendid book ‘Photographing Pembrokeshire’ (published, September 2021) and thank you to Victoria Bookshop in Haverfordwest for supplying me with a signed copy of the book. Copies are available from the publisher y Lolfahttps://www.ylolfa.com/products/9781784617547/photographing-pembrokeshire as well as Amazon.
Another Welsh opportunity came in September when I was contacted by Ennyn, a community interest company based in Ceredigion, delivering bilingual educational art workshops in schools and communities. They commissioned a folk singer, Owen Shiers, to compose and sing a sung version of the poem ‘Y Border Bach’, another poem by William Williams Crwys, which I have translated and which Ennyn found on my website https://sharonlarkinjones.com/…/another-crwys-poem…/. My translation is to appear on the Ennyn website, alongside a recording of the song.
I’m hopeful that one of my poems shortlisted for Hedgehog Poetry’s ‘Looking Out, Peering In’ competition, will be included in the anthology at some stage.
Readings given … and in prospect
February brought my first opportunity to read in 2021, thanks to Veronica Aaronson who invited my to share poems in two 10 minute slots, along with Frances Corkey-Thompson, at Poetry Teignmouth at the Mill, via Zoom, on 23 February. There was a lovely audience on-line, with wonderful sets from Frances and an excellent ‘open mic’. A big thank you to Veronica for making it all happen, expertly organizing and sensitively hosting such a welcome opportunity for poets to present their work to an audience during the lockdown. The first and last poems I read were the first and last in my Dualities – Two Old Sticks and Firewords – seemed to go down best at the event. And one of the additional benefits of Zoom is that comments in chat are quick to copy before shut-down, so that responses to individual poems can be captured … valuable feedback!
I was again grateful to Veronica Aaronson for including me in the zoom launch event for the anthology’ Despite Knowing’ (see above) which took place in October. I was glad to read one of my poems from the book, in excellent company alongside a large contingent of contributing poets, including poet-friends Stella Wulf, Marc Woodward, Oz Hardwick, Vivienne Tregenza, Rachael Clyne, Kevin Reid, Hannah Stone and Jenny Robb.
Now I am looking forward to attending a live launch event for ‘Despite Knowing’ at the Pavilions in Teignmouth in May 2022, Covid permitting. Thanks again to Veronica Aaronson for this invitation.
Another opportunity to share a poem or two on Zoom came thanks to Josephine Lay, at a reading for International Women’s Day on 8 March, joining with 17 other women poets, sharing one of our own poems, and one by another poet. I was pleased to share one by Christina Thatcher, whose work I very much enjoy.
Two opportunities came to read on The Poetry Place, West Wilts Radio, thanks to Dawn Gorman. The first of these was an ‘open mic’ opportunity in August, when I shared three short poems on the programme at which Penelope Shuttle and June Hall were the guest poets. The second, exciting, opportunity came in November when I was a guest poem on The Poetry Place with David Cooke, with another great band of poets at the ‘open mic’. Thanks again to Dawn Gorman for The – wonderful – Poetry Place on West Wilts Radio
I opened the Good Dadhood on-line poetry project for submissions on 1 April, publishing poems at the rate of twice a week until Father’s Day in mid-June, I’m proud of what Good Dadhood has become over its three ‘editions’ (2017, 2020. 2021) and the response from poets has been uplifting … in terms of the quantity and quality of poems submitted, often accompanied by photographs of or with Dads. It has been so good to have an opportunity to celebrate fathers and fatherhood in this way. You can read the poems and see the photos here: https://wordpress.com/home/gooddadhood.com Thanks to the following poets for their contributions in 2021: Angie Holden, Sarah J Bryson, Suzanne Iuppa and Val Ormrod, Mark Connors, Ben Banyard, Zoë Siobhan Howarth-Lowe, Helen Kay, David Callin, Rodney Wood, Neil Elder, Janet Dean, Hannah Mackay, Carmina Masoliver,Hilary Robinson, Maggie Mackay,Kate Jenkinson, Finola Scott,George Colkitto,Catherine Baker,Peter Raynard, Rachael Clyne, Tom Kelly, Susan Castillo, Greg Freeman, Louise Warren, Jenni Wyn Hyatt.
My biggest publication project of the year came in the last quarter of 2021, with ‘Inspired by Music’, a new anthology from Cheltenham Poetry Society and Gloucestershire Stanza, which I published through Eithon Bridge Publications in November. Produced in just 12 weeks from the submission deadline to collecting the books from the printer, the anthology features 57 poems by 17 poets, with 25 carefully selected images to accompany the words. It was good to gather together with a dozen of the contributing poets at Pittville Pump Room in Cheltenham in early December, to collect copies, catch-up, and have an outdoor Covid-safe celebratory coffee together. Thanks to all the poets: Kathryn Alderman, David Ashbee, Catherine Baker, Annie Ellis, David Gale, Gill Garrett, Robin Gilbert, Chris Hemingway, Sharon Larkin, Iris Anne Lewis, Michael Newman, Stuart Nunn, Gillian Ridley-Wells, Belinda Rimmer, Sheila Spence, Roger Turner, Judith van Dijkhuizen; an especial thanks to Roger Turner for co-selecting/co-editing and to Stroudprint for first-rate printing services. Thanks to Mr L who helped enormously with proof-reading. Thanks to Oz Hardwick, Mark Connors and Mark Blayney for providing endorsements for the book. Further information and ordering info are here: https://eithonbridge.com/anthologies/
We still haven’t officially launched ‘Inspired by Music’ … or, indeed. our previous anthology ‘Poetry from Gloucestershire’, the launch for which had to be cancelled in early 2020 because of the pandemic. I hope we will have opportunities to read from both books during the coming year. We are open to offers!
Thanks for Mark Connors (again) and Gill Lambert for their great Wednesday Wordship workshops on Zoom which I joined in the last quarter of 2021.
And thanks to Angela France for her excellent workshops I attended while they were on Zoom in 2021 with other members of the Women Aloud group: Penny Howarth, Judith van Dijkhuizen, Frankie March, Gill Garrett, Christine Griffin and Catherine Baker.
Thanks to so many poets for their poetry friendship, especially local friends Belinda Rimmer, Catherine Baker and Gill Wyatt.
Thanks to Sarah L Dixon for the invitation to be part of her Quiet Compere event in August 2022,
and, again, thanks to Veronica Aaronson for the possibility of reading a poem at the live launch of ‘Despite Knowing’ in Teignmouth in May.
As ever, I am open to other reading opportunities!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org More information about the book, and about Cheltenham Poetry Society is available by emailing email@example.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, ChanceEncounters, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org). 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!”
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
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.
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.
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…