Poetry Thanks and Praise, 2020

This blog article aims to record my appreciation of the many wonderful ‘people in poetry’ I have met and worked with over the past year. I would like to thank each and every one of them for their extraordinary efforts in a year when we have all had to overcome immense challenges simply to handle everyday life. To achieve anything additional to getting through each day has required greater determination, patience and flexibility …  and more creativity and ingenuity in finding new ways of doing things.  So thank you to everyone in the world of poetry who has helped anyone to find ‘an outlet for their output’ during a year that seemed determined to lock everyone in and close everything down. Thanks for your resilience and energy … in spite of everything.

Publications and Launch Events

Firstly, huge thanks to the hard-working and astonishingly innovative publisher, Mark Davidson of Hedgehog Poetry Press https://www.hedgehogpress.co.uk for all he does to publish pamphlets and collections, to inspire and encourage new writing through competitions and challenges and via the unique ‘Cult’ and a new Weekly Book Club, tirelessly promoting poets’ work by social networking and newsletters. Without Mark’s determination, quick thinking and kindness, my collection Dualities would not have gone to print in the autumn, in a thin sliver of time between lockdowns. Thank you, Mark … and thank you TJ Books, Padstow. I was thrilled to take delivery of my ‘box of books’ and it was lovely to see the Cornish language featuring on the package: Gwrys yn Kernow – Made in Cornwall. https://www.hedgehogpress.co.uk/product/sharon-larkin-print-edition/ 

Thank you to Oz Hardwick, Angela France and Pat Edwards for reading the manuscript of Dualities and providing such insightful and quotable words of endorsement.  Thank you too, Michael Newman, David Ashbee and Catherine Baker for timely reviews after the book came out. (I’d naturally welcome more reviews if you, dear reader, are so inclined!) https://sharonlarkinjones.com/2020/10/14/dualities-reception/ https://sharonlarkinjones.com/2020/11/

Thanks to Stroudprint in Gloucestershire for doing a great job printing the anthology of poems and photographs, Poetry from Gloucestershire, which I collated and co-edited with Roger Turner and published under my Eithon Bridge Publications label in January. http://EithonBridge.com/anthologies Thanks to the other eleven contributing poets from Cheltenham Poetry Society: Roger Turner, Michael Newman, David Ashbee, Stuart Nunn, Robin Gilbert, Gill Wyatt, Sheila Spence, Belinda Rimmer, Catherine Baker, Annie Ellis, Alice Ross. A big thank you to Alison Brackenbury and Angela France for words of endorsement for the book, and to Tom Hadfield of The Local Answer for a two page spread promoting the anthology. https://tinyurl.com/ycb8mu98

Thanks to Helen Hewett of Suffolk Anthology Bookshop in Cheltenham https://theanthology.co.uk/ and Ian Nicholson at Alison’s Bookshop in Tewkesbury https://www.alisonsbookshop.co.uk/ for taking copies for sale in their bookshops. A launch event at Suffolk Anthology and an illustrated reading from the book at Wotton Under Edge Arts Festival in the spring had, alas, to be cancelled because of the pandemic but we are hopeful of opportunities to do (illustrated) readings from the book in 2021.

Thank you to Leo Boix and Nathalie Teitler, editors of Magma 76 (the Resistencia issue) https://magmapoetry.com/archive/magma-76/ for publishing my poem La Trinchera https://magmapoetry.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Magma-76-Contents.pdf and for the invitation to read at the launch via Zoom. It was exciting to be involved in this international event … a highlight of my year.

Thank you to Brett Evans and Phil Robertson of Prole Magazine for publishing a cheeky poem Another Proposal (one of my ‘Middlemarchian sonnets’) in Prole Issue 30. https://www.prolebooks.co.uk  Prole is a rare treasure of a magazine, not least in no-nonsense content … and actually paying royalties for contributions.  

Thank you to Andy Jackson and Bill Herbert for so swiftly providing a home for pandemic poems: Postcards from Malthusia, at New Boots and Pantisocracies … and for publishing my poem Noli me Tangere on the site on 9 April https://newbootsandpantisocracies.wordpress.com/2020/04/09/postcards-from-malthusia-day-thirteen-sharon-larkin/

Thanks to Ziggy Dicks of Gloucester Poetry Festival for giving my poem Noli Me Tangere another airing in the GPF’s Pandemic Poetry anthology. I also had a stanza in a collaborative poem in the same anthology (more information later in this blog). Thanks to Ziggy too for the 10 November Zoom launch of Pandemic Poetry, when I had the pleasure of reading my poem with 25 other contributing poets. Copies of the book, in hardback and softcopy, are available here: http://www.gloucesterpoetryfestival.uk … profits going to charity.

Thank you to Claire Walker and Holly Magill for taking another of my pandemic poems, Herd Mentality, for Atrium on 10 April https://atriumpoetry.com/2020/04/10/herd-mentality-sharon-larkin/

Thank you to Helen Ivory for taking my pandemic poem Waiting for Ink Sweat & Tears on 27 April http://www.inksweatandtears.co.uk/pages/?p=21737

Thank you to Tracy Gaughan for taking three of my poems Green Turtle, Conspiring for Beginners and The New Circadians, for Abhaile, at The Blue Nib on 24 July https://thebluenib.com/three-poems-by-sharon-larkin/

Thank you to Paul Brookes for including my poem At the Apple Orchard Clinic for Eating Disorders in the International Mental Health Day feature at The Wombwell Rainbow. Paul does so much to promote poetry and poets; it’s good to have the opportunity to reciprocate here … in modest measure. https://tinyurl.com/yyfxlacd

Thank you to Visual Verse for taking the following poems during 2020:
Synoptic Accounts https://visualverse.org/submissions/synoptic-accounts/,
Gearing Up https://visualverse.org/submissions/gearing-up/ and
Reports to Mission Control https://visualverse.org/submissions/reports-to-mission-control/

Thank you to Edwin Stockdale and Amina Alyal for including my sonnet The New Middlemarchian in An Insubstantial Universe published by Yaffle Press in collaboration with Leeds Trent University (an anthology in celebration of George Eliot’s bicentenary).  Thanks too for a very enjoyable launch event via Zoom – a wonderful tribute to a wonderful novelist. https://tinyurl.com/y9dl5l2t

Thank you to editors Rebecca Bilkau and Gill Lambert for including another sonnet, entitled Lessons Learned in the anthology Bloody Amazing and to Jane Burn for the amazing illustration for the book’s cover … also for all the extra work Gill did to dispatch copies to contributors. A wonderful collaborative effort by Dragon Yaffle publishing.  Thanks to Gill too for two launch events over a weekend 17/18 October in order to accommodate the many contributors to this fine, and long overdue, anthology … so many brilliant, powerful, pain-filled poems from brave and sensitive poets. https://www.bloodyamazing.co.uk/the-anthology

Thanks for all the poets who rose to the call for poems for Good Dadhood on line (March to June 2020): Alwyn Marriage, Wynn Wheldon, Sarah James, Veronica Aaronson, Kevin Reid, Luke Palmer, Sarah L Dixon, Beth McDonough, Simon Williams, Rachel Burns, Paul Waring, Catherine Baker, Susan Taylor, Roger Turner, Sanjeev Sethi, Aaron Williams, Charlie Markwick, Z D Dicks, Maggie Mackay, Hilary Robinson, Steven Kedie, Sheila Jacob, Patricia Ace, Zoe Mitchell, JLM Morton and Jenni Wyn Hyatt.
The poems represent another major contribution to an already substantial Good Dadhood on-line anthology of poems celebrating fatherhood. https://gooddadhood.com

Thank you to Aurélien Thomas for taking my poem What Passes Between for a forthcoming print anthology of Fatherhood poems.

Thanks to Bean Baker for taking my poem The Well for the You Tube channel of Cheltenham Elim. Thanks too for providing the sensitive musical accompaniment for the video, and thanks to Bean’s mother for the excellent drawing of the well, which she develops as the video progresses. I was very pleased to be involved in this collaborative project. Thanks also to Dave Wellington for encouragement, kind words and posting my poem Pentecost on the Elim Website.

Other Poetry Events

I was grateful to The Rising Sun Hotel, Cleeve Hill, Cheltenham, for inviting me to put together an event to celebrate Burns Night on 25 January 2020.  What started out as being a quartet of poets turned out on the night to be simply a duo … including Jonathan Muirhead who took the train up from Swindon just for the occasion.  I was very grateful to him for providing an essential Scottish authenticity to what would otherwise have been a much less convincing event! Alas, this was to be the last occasion I would see Jonathan, which causes me to look back on 25 January with great sadness, as well as huge appreciation for his talent and kindness. I was devastated in August to learn that Jonathan had passed away. Terrible, shocking news. Jonathan was a warm, kind-hearted, gentle person and, after our Burns night reading, I had envisaged many more evenings of poetry performances in his company. Sincere condolences to Jonathan’s family; his many poetry friends will deeply miss his talent, kindness and warmth.

Poetry Café Refreshed was held in January and February.  Thank you to Roger Turner for hosting on the night, and to Vickie Godding who owns and runs Smokey Joe’s in Cheltenham, for accommodating the monthly event for the last five years. Thank you to Jinny Fisher (the guest poet in January) and David Briggs (guest poet in February) for travelling to Cheltenham to appear at Refreshed and for giving the audience such powerful and enjoyable readings. Unfortunately, live events had to be cancelled after February, including guest readings by Raine Geoghegan, Ziggy Dicks and Mary Gilonne in March, April and May respectively. However, I now have an opportunity to thank the stalwarts in the audience of Refreshed over the last five years … including Gill Wyatt, Michael Newman, Catherine Baker, Chris Hemingway, Annie Ellis, Marilyn Timms and Howard Timms to name just a few of the many Gloucestershire poets who supported Refreshed month by month. Thank you, too, to those who came from, time to time … and especially those who travelled from further afield when they were able eg Nina Lewis, Kathy Gee, Claire Walker, Holly Magill, Ian Glass. Your support was much appreciated by Roger, me … and, especially, the guest poets.

Thank you to Josephine Lay for inviting me to be one of the headliners for the event Raised Voices for International Women’s Day in March, just before lockdown, alongside Angela France, Alby Stockley, Sharon Brown, Tish Camp, Zoe Brookes, Annie Ellis, Carol Sheppard, Drea MacMillan, Halima Malek, Iris Anne Lewis, Jennie Farley, Julie Allan, Juliette Morton, Maggie Clutterbuck, Marion Feasey, Tanya Feasey, Emma Lord and Kuma San. Around 60 people attended, and proceeds from the event went to The Nelson Trust, a women’s charity devoted to addressing addiction and all that stems from it. Thanks to Josephine for organizing the splendid event, at St Mary de Crypt, Gloucester.

Thank you to Gary D for inviting me to co-headline at Piranha Poetry, at The Ale House in Stroud, just before lockdown in March.  It is another poignant memory that Jonathan Muirhead was booked to headline too, but could not make it on the night. Much appreciation to Ziggy Dicks for stepping in and sharing the stage on the night.  Thanks to Gary for putting on such a professional and entertaining event, augmented with musicians and a strong open mic crowd. Thanks too to Susie Roberts for her warm welcome on the night.

Thanks to Charlie Markwick for giving me the opportunity to try Zoom for the first time in March, in anticipation of ‘real life’ events transferring to on-line platforms.

Thank you to Helen Ivory and Martin Figura for their Live from the Butchery events via Zoom.  I thoroughly enjoyed the occasion on 9 May, which featured excellent readings, discussion and fun! It was lovely to see so many poet friends gathered together.  

It was great to hear Helen Ivory read again at the Ledbury Poetry Festival’s Salon via Zoom on 12 June and to enjoy the open mic poems – with such diverse voices. Thanks to Chloe Garner who was brilliant at hosting the Ledbury Salon sessions via Zoom.

Thank you to David Ashbee for inviting me to read some poems from Dualities at the launch of his book Poems from the Mind Shop on 28 October, organized by his wonderful publishers Donall and Janice Dempsey (at Dempsey and Windle). It was a very enjoyable and well-run Zoom event. Thank you to David, too, for inviting me to join the Holub group of poets that used to meet at The Anchor, Epney, in Gloucestershire until moving onto Zoom. I enjoy the mix of music and poetry at these events which are well-run by David. Finally, thanks to David for selecting one of my poems, Two Christmases, for the Christmas edition of readings for BWBF – British Wireless for the Blind http://www.bwbf.org.uk/player/?url=http://www.bwbf.org.uk/localtns/cotsvalemag/TOPD_playlist.pls

Many thanks to Damien Donnelly – a fellow poet published by Hedgehog Poetry … hence a ‘hoglet’ … for inviting me to read on his Eat the Storms poetry podcast, episode 6, on 10 October https://open.spotify.com/episode/2rDglwxlGAGQFmAJ4elXr3?si=VyRer88IRJ2QVYsVK5RhXA  These innovative weekly podcasts, in which Damien so generously provides a platform for fellow poets, are very much appreciated.

Thank you to Mark Connors and Gill Lambert of Yaffle Press for WORD CLUB events.  They have a lively, informal style of hosting that makes the events a friendly place in which to enjoy hearing and sharing poetry. The excellent guest poets on 1 August were:  Julia Webb, Alison Lock and Natalie Scott.  I had heard Julia read previously, at Poetry Café Refreshed in Cheltenham … and especially love her poem We is in the bank.  A strong open mic included Jinny Fisher, Sarah L Dixon and Oz Hardwick whom I have also had the pleasure of hearing at Poetry Cafe Refreshed. It was also great to ‘meet’ Kevin Read who has been a long-standing Facebook friend to so many of us. It was also a great opportunity to hear poets I’d not met before, including Adrian Salmon whose poems inspired by music were enthralling. A super night all round. I was doubly grateful to Mark and Gill for inviting me to read from Dualities and my pamphlet Interned at the Food Factory (Indigo Dreams 2019) at the WORD CLUB on 28 August, co-headlining with Jinny Fisher and Tony Hill.

The Quiet Compère event organized by Sarah L Dixon, co-hosted with Kevin Reid, on 16 September was another wonderful Zoom event, which also included Sam Loveless, Math Jones, Chris Hemingway, Neil Laurenson, Nina Simon, Stuart Charlesworth, Anna Tuck, Hannah Stone, Steve Pottinger, Rose Condo, Ken Evans, Carolyn O’Connell, Anna-May Laugher. A strong body of poets with a variety of voices and themes … from a wide geographic area. I was so happy to have been included.  Thank you, Sarah and Kevin!

Looking ahead, thank you to Veronica Aaronson for the opportunity to read some poems at an on-line event being held by Teignmouth Poetry Festival in February 2021.

Poetry Communities and Support Networks

Thank you to Paul McGrane who until relatively recently ran the Poetry Society’s Stanza network throughout the UK, providing inspiring leadership and effective communication. Following his retirement from the position, he will be much missed for his enthusiasm, good humour and positivity.

Thank you to Alison Brackenbury for her kind, gracious, ‘poetry presence’ in the county … and splendid photographs too. Thanks to Michael Newman for being a steadfast, positive and encouraging poetry influence in the area. Thank you to both Anna Saunders and Ziggy Dicks for their energy, and undaunted efforts on behalf of Cheltenham and Gloucester Poetry Festivals during this difficult year. 

Thanks to Simon Williams for running Poem a Day (April and September) on Facebook and to Jo Bell for running Try to Praise the Mutilated World providing a prompt a day during the pre-Christmas lockdown … and thanks to everyone who participated and commented on each other’s poems.

Thanks again to Angela France for inspiration, encouragement and information on publication opportunities, and thanks to a great group of local women poets sharing constructive feedback on work. Thanks especially to Judith van Dijkhuizen for efficiently setting up meetings and Zoom sessions, as well as thanks to Penny  Haworth, Christine Griffin, Catherine Baker, Belinda Rimmer, Kathryn Alderman, Gill Garret and Frankie March. And thank you to Frankie for coordinating our collaborative poem for inclusion in the GPF Pandemic Poetry anthology (see above).

Thank you to Roger Turner and members of Cheltenham Poetry Society’s writing group: Michael Newman, David Ashbee, Stuart Nunn, Robin Gilbert, Sheila Spence, Catherine Baker, Gill Wyatt and Alice Ross for feedback on poems in meetings early in the year, then via email. Hoping the writing group will be able to hold regular meetings again some time in 2021.

Thanks to Helen Dewbery and Chaucer Cameron for sharing their Poetry Film knowledge and expertise in the course we set up on Facebook. Originally, this was planned as a real-life event for Cheltenham Poetry Society, and under the banner of the Gloucestershire Stanza, but the pandemic offered an opportunity to move the course on-line and thus attract UK-wide interest. Thank you to everyone who participated, and congratulations to those who produced some fine poetry films, including Kathy Gee, Frankie March, Kathryn Alderman and Pat Edwards. Apologies for the film-makers’ names I have missed here; the content from the Facebook group was deleted on closing the project so I can’t go back and check who posted films to the group!

Thanks to Colin Bancroft for his brilliant Poets Directory which provides a platform for poets to advertise their publications, magazines, events, submission opportunities and so much more. https://poetsdirectory.co.uk

Thanks to the 18-strong group in Gloucestershire who have agreed for Cheltenham Poetry Society to continue holding their payment for the Annual Poetry Awayday at Dumbleton Hall which had to be cancelled last May.  Thank you to Dumbleton Hall for rescheduling us for May 2021.  We hope the Awayday can take place then.

Thanks to Angela France for her invitation to Belinda Rimmer and me to co-headline at Buzzwords in Cheltenham last summer, and thanks to Phil Kirby for Belinda and me to be guest poets at Writers at the Goods Shed in Tetbury last Spring. Both these events had to be cancelled because of the pandemic but we hope they might be possible some time in 2021.

Collaboration and Networking – Keys to Happy Poeting

I’ve been active on the poetry scene in Cheltenham since about 2004 and shortly after began to go to Angela France’s Buzzwords (when it was upstairs at The Beehive) and Cheltenham Poetry Society (CPS) meetings at Parmoor House, Lypiatt Terrace. A highlight for me during that time was winning a place in a Gloucestershire Writers Network (GWN) competition to read at Cheltenham Literature Festival and, soon afterwards, I began an MA in Creative and Critical Writing (Poetry) under Nigel McLoughlin and Kate North at The University of Gloucestershire, graduating in 2010. Shortly after that, I became Chair of CPS and was also on the Committee of GWN for a few years, when Rona Laycock was in the chair … and I co-judged the GWN competition one year. In recent years I’ve also judged the Chipping Sodbury poetry competition and co-selected poems for South Magazine. These are the kinds of poetry activities I enjoy most, along with selecting and publishing poems for my Good Dadhood project which I ran on-line a few years ago, attracting wonderfully affirming and positive poems in praise of fatherhood from poets all over the UK. I also enjoy doing occasional reviews of poetry collections, but as my method of reviewing is very ‘in-depth’ I don’t undertake many of these a year!

I began organizing Poetry Café Refreshed in August 2015 – a popular monthly guest poet and open mic event at Smokey Joe’s, Bennington Street, Cheltenham. I’ve booked nearly 70 guest poets (and one or two musicians) from all over the UK since ‘Refreshed’ began, hosted on the night by Roger Turner. One of the things I enjoy offering at ‘Refreshed’ is a good photographic record of guests and open mic poets, thanks to my husband who is a keen photographer. Usually, I share a video slideshow to Facebook within a few hours of the event, and this seems very popular. We welcome everyone to ‘Refreshed’, from beginners to experienced poets, whether they favour page or performance poetry or spoken word. Everybody is welcome.

As for Cheltenham Poetry Society, I’ve been Chair for most of the past 10 years, with a couple of ‘respite’ breaks, while I’ve nevertheless continued in a ‘communications’ role. At present, Roger Turner has taken the chair back for a period while I try to focus on my own work, but I still attend all CPS meetings, and organize events with the corresponding promotion and publicity. CPS runs workshops for developing poets, a monthly series of writing group meetings for experienced poets, and a poetry reading group, as well as the popular Annual Awayday Writing Retreat at Dumbleton Hall in May … and occasional readings and recitals. We’re always keen to link up with other groups for joint events, as we’ve done previously with Winchcombe Poets and Evesham-based poets. We’re especially looking forward to a joint event with other Gloucestershire poets during Gloucester Poetry Festival in October 2020, thanks to Gloucestershire Poet Laureate, Ziggy Dicks. CPS takes its community engagement programme seriously too. In recent years we’ve run various readings and recitals in local churches, and one of the most rewarding activities for some of us is reading poems and running collaborative workshops in local care homes. This led to me giving talks to groups of community workers in Cheltenham and Gloucester last summer, about the kinds of activities CPS are able to offer. Demand seriously outstrips the number of volunteers to participate in these activities, alas.

As well as writing, reviewing and event management, I also edit and publish anthologies through my publishing label, Eithon Bridge Publications. The most recent book to appear from the press (January 2020) is an anthology on behalf of CPS – Poetry from Gloucestershire. The book features 33 poems by 12 members of Cheltenham Poetry Society, and over 30 photographs illustrating the poems. It was thrilling to have endorsements from Alison Brackenbury and Angela France for the back cover, and I am very much looking forward to the launch of the book at Suffolk Anthology Bookshop on 24 March, with readings from the contributing poets. We are also presenting an illustrated performance of poems and photos from the book at Wotton under Edge Arts Festival on 21 April.  I am hoping for many more opportunities to promote the anthology over the coming year or so. The book is on sale for £9.99 from Suffolk Anthology Bookshop in Cheltenham and Alison’s Bookshop in Tewkesbury, or is available direct from the contributing poets, or for £9.99 plus £1.80 p&p by email to eithonbridge@gmail.com  More information about the book, and about Cheltenham Poetry Society is available by emailing cheltenhampoetrysociety@gmail.com or watch out for an article in March’s edition of The Local Answer! 

Publishing this book came hard on the heels of another anthology – Invisible Zoos – which I co-edited with poet/editor/publisher Simon Williams and published through Eithon Bridge in November 2019. This book featured 36 poems by 12 poets who had been on the weeklong residential Invisible Zoos masterclass with me at Ty Newydd in North Wales in September 2018, tutored by two wonderful poets, David Morley and Pascale Petit. The poets attending the course and subsequently contributing to the book came from all over the UK … and also from Canada/USA and France/Switzerland. Previous to that, I co-edited and published the illustrated All a Cat Can Be anthology in support of New Start Cat Rescue in 2018, featuring poems from poets all over the UK. Before founding Eithon Bridge, I also did the bulk of the work to edit and publish the illustrated Cheltenham 300 anthology for CPS in 2016 … for Cheltenham’s tercentenary as a Spa Town. All four of these anthologies, and an earlier CPS one, Chance Encounters, were printed by Stroudprint, based unsurprisingly in Stroud, who provide an excellent and very helpful service.

As for my own poetry, I’ve had over 150 poems accepted/published in anthologies (from Cinnamon Press, Eyewear, Indigo Dreams, Smokestack, Fair Acre, Zoomorphic, Beautiful Dragons, Yaffle and others), in magazines (eg Magma, Obsessed by Pipework, Prole, Here Comes Everyone, Reach, Picaroon, and more), and on-line in many ezines such as Ink Sweat and Tears, Atrium, Rat’s Ass Review, Riggwelter, Amaryllis, Algebra of Owls, Snakeskin and many more. I’m also a fan of Visual Verse website, and enjoy writing to the time constraint stipulated. My pamphlet Interned at the Food Factory was published by Indigo Dreams in 2019. I’ve enjoyed ‘touring the book’ with readings locally as well as in Bristol with Silver Street Poets, Wells with The Fountain Poets, Welshpool with Verbatim and the highlight, The Poetry Café at Betterton St in London last September, with fellow Indigo Dreams poets Brett Evans, Holly Magill and Marie Lightman. Other places I’ve read in recent years include Colwyn Bay (with Prole magazine) and Llandudno Pier (with Prole and Picaroon). I’ve also very much enjoyed going to Welshpool Poetry Festival in 2018 and 2019, curated by the indefatigable Pat Edwards, which has fabulous visiting poets and workshops … as well as a bumper open mic on the last day.  A visit to the excellent Poetry Pharmacy in Bishops Castle, pioneered by the wonderful Emergency Poet, Deborah Alma, was also a highlight last year.

So, what began as a hobby fifteen years ago has mushroomed into a varied portfolio of activities and a widespread network of contacts … many now firm friends … throughout the UK. This networking was facilitated further by participating in Jo Bell’s ground-breaking 52 Group on Facebook a few years ago, and attending festivals in various other towns not too distant, eg Swindon and Evesham … but, most of all by the collaborative and supportive poets throughout Gloucestershire, and bodies such as Cheltenham Arts Council and Gloucestershire Writer’s Network, Rona Laycock’s wonderful Writer’s Room sessions on Corinium Radio, and Anna Saunders’ Cheltenham Poetry Festival which runs an incredibly rich programme of events each spring. I especially valued being one of the reader’s at the Indigo Dreams launch for For the Silent anthology in support of the The League Against Cruel Sports last year, and CPS gave an illustrated reading for their Cheltenham 300 anthology at Cheltenham Poetry Festival in 2016 – rerunning a similar event at Cheltenham Literature Festival’s Locally Sourced programme that October.

Now a fresh wave of ‘poetic energy’ is sweeping over the county thanks to Gloucestershire Poet Laureate, Ziggy Dicks; Cheltenham Library’s Poet In Residence, Josephine Lay; and other poets from Gloucestershire Poetry Society, with whom I’ve read a few times … and will do again, with the CPS anthology poets, during Gloucester Poetry Festival on 18 October 2020. I also read with Gloucester poets for International Women’s Day in March 2019, with Angela France and many other great women poets … and I’m looking forward to another IWD event in Gloucester this March, thanks to Josephine Lay.

It’s wonderful having poets like Alison Brackenbury and Angela France in the county. I’m indebted to Alison for supporting the anthology and launch for All a Cat Can Be, and for inviting me to be one of the readers for the launch of Candlestick Press’s Ten Poems About Horses, which Alison edited, and which was launched at Alison’s Bookshop in Tewkesbury last year. It’s also good to have poets locally like Jennie Farley, running New Bohemians in Charlton Kings. Readings I have coming up this year are at Piranha Poetry, Stroud, with Jonathan Muirhead from Swindon … thanks to Gary Death; and Writers at the Goods Shed in April, with Belinda Rimmer … thanks to Phil Kirby. This will be the second time I’ll have read with Jonathan Muirhead already this year. We enjoyed sharing a poetry event for Burns Night at The Rising Sun on Cleeve Hill on 25 January. It’s good to read with Belinda again too.  We shared a launch event for our Indigo Dreams pamphlets at Suffolk Anthology Bookshop last summer, and will be reading together again at Buzzwords in July, thanks ­– again – to Angela France. I’d also like to give a big shout out to Philip Rush, a fabulous poet, who also runs great workshops at Museum in the Park, and the wonderful Yew Tree Press which showcases the work of poets in Gloucestershire and beyond.  Philip’s Wool and Water pamphlets, timed to appear alongside the exhibition of that name at Museum in the Park, were super … and I was thrilled to be invited to contribute to the Wool one, sheep being close to my heart!

What’s next on my ‘Poetry agenda’? I ran a couple of workshops last year for a group of poets near Cirencester, under the ‘Stanza’ banner, having taken over the Gloucestershire Stanza Representative baton from Angela France earlier in the year. This year I want to develop more activities as the county’s Stanza Rep. The next such event will be a workshop at Parmoor House on 7 April, in conjunction with CPS, where I’ve invited Chaucer Cameron and Helen Dewbery to come and give us a workshop on the genre of poetry film. I would love this to spark a flourishing of poetry films from Cheltenham/Gloucester poets over the coming months and years!

I hope readers of the foregoing can detect my enthusiasm for poetry in the county … and beyond! There are so many opportunities for collaboration, reciprocation and mutual support throughout the poetry community in the county. If you’re not yet into poetry, why not join CPS at a workshop soon? Or perhaps the special Poetry Film workshop coming up on 7 April, when we will be gaining lots of valuable information on how to get started with this incredibly powerful genre … or why not come to Smokey Joe’s to hear wonderful poets like David Briggs (19 February) and Raine Geoghegan and musician partner Simon Callow (15 March) … and grab your spot at the open mic. New poets are always welcome!

You can contact me via Facebook http://facebook.com/sharon.larkin or Twitter SharLark, or Instagram Sharolarki, or you can email cheltenhampoetrysociety@gmail for details of the Society’s activities.

Edited 20 March to record the fact that many of the events mentioned as scheduled after 9 March have been cancelled or postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. A time, instead, for more writing … and learning new skills … including videoconferencing via Zoom, thanks to encouragement from Charlie Markwick.

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!

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!”