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:

 

Cheltenham 300 Poetry Reading #1

Cheltenham Poetry Festival performed a selection of poems from the Cheltenham 300 Anthology at Cheltenham Poetry Festival in May.  The anthology of photographs and poems came out of the Society’s summer retreat – the Annual Awayday – in May 2016 – and we were thrilled to be able to showcase poems and projected photographs from the book at this event.  Thanks to Anna Saunders for the invitation, and to St Andrew’s Hall in Cheltenham for the venue.  Poets reading were Sheila Spence, Roger Turner, Michael Newman, Robin Gilbert, Belinda Rimmer, Marilyn Timms, Howard Timms, Annie Ellis, Michael Skaife d’Ingerthorpe, Alice Ross and me.  Photographs in the book, also shown on the day, were taken by Roger Turner and me.  Thanks to Howard Timms and Mr L for their part in facilitating their projection.  Thanks also to The Gloucestershire Echo for taking group photographs in Montpellier Gardens after the event and for a short report on the event in the newspaper.

In June we were thrilled to receive an invitation to perform in October’s prestigious Cheltenham Literature Festival, reading another selection of poems from the book, which we hope will again be illustrated with projected photographs.  We are also pleased that David Ashbee and Stuart Nunn, unable to join us in May, will be available for the Literature Festival reading which is part of the Locally Sourced programme featuring writers local to Gloucestershire.

Meanwhile, Here’s a photographic record of the event in May’s Poetry Festival which I had the great pleasure of introducing – as well as reading one of my own poems from the book:

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Sharon Larkin
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Sheila Spence
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Robin Gilbert
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Belinda Rimmer
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Roger Turner
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Alice Ross
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Howard Timms
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Marilyn Timms
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Michael Newman
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Annie Ellis
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Michael Skaife d’Ingerthorpe

 

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!

Poetry Café – Refreshed, December 2016

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

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

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

With best wishes from Poetry Café – Refreshed.

 

 

 

Review of 2016 – mentor, monitor, mantra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy birthday, Refreshed!

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

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

Smokey Joes – a relaxed, informal atmosphere

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some photographs from our first year:

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John Alwyine-Mosely, guest poet August 2-15

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

David Clarke – guest poet, January 2016

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

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