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…

View original post 45 more words

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.

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!

Poetry Cafe Refreshed with Guest Poet Sarah Leavesley

 

 

 

Poetry Café Refreshed

IMG_6561 Sarah Leavesley

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

IMG_6552

IMG_6568

IMG_6567

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

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

IMG_6683 Sarah with Refreshed’s hosts, Sharon…

View original post 38 more words

Happy 2nd Birthday, Poetry Café Refreshed

July marks the second birthday of Poetry Café – Refreshed, held on the third Wednesday of every month at Smokey Joe’s in Cheltenham.  We are looking forward to celebrating our continuing run of fine poetry from gifted poets – welcoming David J Costello as our guest poet on Wednesday 19 July.

For the record, here is our roll of honour – our guest poets – during our first 2 years, from August 2015 until July 2017:

John Alwyine-Mosely – August 2015
Tom Sastry – September 2015
Nina Lewis – October 2015
Avril Staple – November 2015
Brenda Read-Brown- December 2015

David Clarke – January 2016
Sue Johnson, Bob Woodroofe, 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
Deborah Harvey – September 2016
Kathy Gee – October 2016
Claire Walker – November 2016
Anna Saunders – December 2016

David Calcutt – January 2017
Stephen Daniels – February  2017
Jennie Farley – March 2017
Sam Loveless – April 2017
Michael W Thomas – May 2017
Stuart Nunn – June 2017
David J Costello – July 2017

And we are looking forward to welcoming more talented poets in future months!

Jeff and Dan Phelps – August 2017
Angela Topping – September 2017
(October and November – being confirmed)
Ann Drysdale – December  2017

Here are some random photographs of guest poets’ posters and performances!

 

We look forward to another great year of Poetry Café Refreshed!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheltenham Poetry Society’s Annual Awayday 2017

Every year for the past five years, Cheltenham Poetry Society has gone away for a full day of writing and getting to know each other better at the delightful venue of Dumbleton Hall on the Worcestershire/Gloucestershire border.  Every year, we have had glorious weather which has enabled us to break out of the excellent conference facilities in The Bredon Room into the grounds, which are truly excellent.  This year was no exception with regard to the weather – and the delights in the grounds included black swans and their cygnet on the lake, a heron in the trees, yellow flag irises in full bloom at the margin of the lake and vibrant rhododendrons.

As usual, Dumbleton Hall Hotel looked after us very well, with generous supplies of coffee, tea, pastries, cake and biscuits … and a hot buffet which catered for a wide variety of tastes.  David Ashbee and Stuart Nunn led the workshops on the theme of wood, trees and the landscape … which we gathered under the title ‘Seeing the Wood and the Trees’.  A record number of attendees (17) ended the day with at least a poem or two … some of us many more!  Attending were: David Ashbee, Stuart Nunn, Roger Turner, Michael Newman, Robin Gilbert, Belinda Rimmer, Gill Wyatt, Alice Ross, Marilyn Timms, Howard Timms, Judi Marsh, Annie Ellis, Kathryn Alderman, Gill Garrett, Samantha Pearse, Michael Skaife d’Ingerthorpe and me.

Oh, and the date is already in Dumbleton Hall’s calendar – and our own – for May 2018!

Here are photos from the day: