Review of 2016 – mentor, monitor, mantra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October – Poetry Month

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

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

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

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

Yes, October is a month of feasting on poetry!