A Round-up of 2021 …  or Poetry, in Spite of Everything

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.

Copies of ‘Dualities’ can be purchased from Hedgehog Poetry Press: https://www.hedgehogpress.co.uk/product-category/for-sale/hoglets/sharon-larkin/
or from my website https://sharonlarkinjones.com/shop

Poems in Magazines/e-zines and Anthologies

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 Lolfa https://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


Publishing

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!

Workshops attended

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.

Looking ahead

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!

A Poetry Kick

The first session of Kickstart Poetry in Cheltenham on 3 January exceeded my expectations in terms of numbers attending – given that it was so early in the New Year, and a cold night at that. We were very grateful to Parmoor House for finding us a bigger room than the one we normally use, which would have been a little too cosy!

Early feedback suggests that fellow Kickstarters agree that the workshop and supplementary information posted in our own Facebook group is helpful.  Here are some of their comments:


“Thanks for this wonderfully detailed information … and for hosting us yesterday. I really enjoyed it and enjoyed hearing some wonderful poetry.” 
“Really enjoyed the workshop last night. A good kickstart to the new year. Very helpful info thank you … No excuses but to get started now”.
“Have already put down ideas for three of the poems. Couldn’t stop poetry thinking last night.”
“I enjoyed it, thank you … lots of interesting ideas.”
“It was fab and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
“Thanks for a great session … Your group has a good mix of people, poetry and styles. I really feel that I can gain from the structure of it.”

“I very much enjoyed the session … and look forward to more in the coming months and working on the prompts in the book.”
“Fab time this evening at CPS Kickstart poetry workshop based on Jo Bell’s 52 … Good to have a structure to work with.”

“Very well done … pace, tone and level just right … generating plenty of enthusiasm.”

So, the new-style workshops under the auspices of Cheltenham Poetry Society seem to be a worthwhile addition to the Society’s calendar.

Credit must go to Jo Bell, whose book 52 – Write a poem a week.  Start now. Keep going published by Nine Arches Press is the inspiration for the workshops.  We’ve identified 12 primary prompts to write on in the monthly workshops in 2017, but also drawn up a timetable to keep people on track if they want to take up the challenge of writing 52 poems during the year.

Writing a first draft for one of the 12 primary prompts occupies the first part of each workshop, followed by a read-round, and a ten minute break for a drink and a chat – perhaps about publication opportunities and successes.  In the second half we’ll be   bringing pre-written poems (on the 3 or 4 other prompts for the month) to the workshop for feedback.  There will also be a quick look forward to the prompts for the following month.  Comprehensive handouts accompany the sessions but all participants have been encouraged to buy a copy of the 52 book … and The Very Best of 52 book from Nine Arches Press.

Thanks to Roger Turner, Annie Ellis, Samantha Pearse, Michael Skaife d’Ingerthorpe, Gill Wyatt, Penny Howarth, Frankie March, Belinda Rimmer, Kathryn Alderman, Judith van Dijkhuizen, Alice Ross, Marilyn Timms and Howard Timms for supporting the workshop.  See you on 7 February!  Meanwhile, feel free to post draft poems in the closed Facebook Group for kindly comments from other members of the workshop series.  This does not amount to publication; your finalised poems will be free to be submitted to magazines, ezines, anthologies and competitions.  And build your (next) collection with Kickstart Poetry!