One of the biggest disappointments of the whole Covid pandemic has been the cancellation of all the summer folk festivals. One of the longest running and best folk festivals in the world is Sidmouth Folk Festival. In the first week of August every year, a little seaside town on the South coast of Britain explodes in a jubilation of traditional song, dance and music. People from all over the world come back year after year to participate in an astounding variety of workshops, concerts, dances and sessions. I am lucky enough to lead the poetry events at the festival with a series of workshops and other events. The festival had already incurred costs this year before it had to be cancelled and they have just launched a crowdfunding event to ensure the viability of the festival next year. There are some amazing rewards, so please check out the site and consider donating. There is also a 1 to 1 poetry mentoring workshop with me and you don’t have to come to the festival to make use of this. It can be done online. More details here
Great to be involved in this initiative from the Cambridge Writing Retreat. A poem every day in June. Honoured to be in the company of some amazing poets. Have a listen, post some feedback .Listen to the poem here
What makes a poem a poem? So many things that books have been written in answer to to the question! What is interesting me at the moment is the use of white space on the page. As Glyn Maxwell famously wrote in On Poetry ‘Poets work with two materials, one’s black, one’s white’ and it’s the interaction of the two that not only frames a poem but allows it to breathe. Even more than that, the white space has been likened to a musical score, giving instructions to the eye on how to read and the ear on how to receive.
Line breaks are an integral part of these instructions, the emphasis they bring to the word at the end of the line or the word at the beginning of the next is central to the construction and interpretation of a poem.
Holly Pester used a great example in her article in Poetry News Vol 109:2 Looking at ‘The other plum poem’ by William Carlos Williams
To a Poor Old Woman
They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her
In four short lines, moving the line breaks has created a pattern of different meanings and emphasis and intensified the sensation within the poem. Wow, powerful things these line breaks!
Here’s one of mine, the title poem from the pamphlet and one where line breaks play a significant part in the reading and meaning of the poem.
The dogs that chase bicycle wheels
stare out of windows,
checking the boundaries
checking the boundaries.
They have territories to protect,
from the backs of sofas
to front doors,
whole worlds held in their flat eyes.
Postmen breach defences,
to be bitten, ripped and pissed on.
Straining to a point always
just in front of their noses,
clicking of bicycle wheels
tricking them into the frenzy of a chase
for the white scut of a rabbit.
Unceasingly they scout crowded horizons
for what is not there,
will never be there.
I’m not really one for prayer but it strikes me that in these times when it seems like the whole world has been put on pause, people are still reaching out to each other with words of care or comfort and support is being given in surprising and inventive ways. One phenomenon I’ve noticed is the way that people are signing off emails and messages has changed. It got me thinking and so here is my wish for you.
Valediction in the Time of Covid.
I am no longer yours in faith or sincerity,
I cannot be the granter of wishes
in these interrupted days,
I can however issue instructions
in the hope they fall as talismen
We all know that poems can be beautiful things, powerful things. A poem can make you laugh, cry, all the cliches but occasionally poems are presented in a beautiful way too; one of these is in Maria Isakova Bennett’s glorious stitched journals, Coast to Coast to Coast. I was lucky enough to be included in the summer edition and was so excited to open the envelope when my copy came. As you can see, a thing of beauty.
Maria is also a poet in residence at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival and is producing a special Aldeburgh edition of the journal. The brief was to spend an hour in a chosen location on a coast or by a river or lakeside and using as inspiration a favourite poem that links sea, coast, river or lakes and/or lines from excerpts of poems that Maria gave; write your own poem. The place I chose was Stickle tarn in the Lake District, just as the sun was going down one summer evening…
The journal is being launched at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival on November 8th. Aldeburgh is a unique festival, a high quality series of workshops and readings set against a soundscape of the waves breaking on the pebbly Suffolk beach, not to be missed.
More information on Maria and Coast to Coast to Coast and Poetry in Aldeburgh can be found here;
Not long to go now, the week long folk extravaganza that is Sidmouth Folk Festival is only a couple of weeks away! Music, dance, singing, storytelling and now poetry are all on the programme. In the elegant and relaxed atmosphere of the Drawing room of the Royal Glen Hotel from 11.30- 1pm Sunday to Thursday, we’ll be using a variety of prompts and devices to stimulate our poetry brains. No previous writing experience is necessary, the workshops are suitable for novices as well as more experienced writers. They are stand alone but the more you come to, the more fun you’ll have! The subjects for this year’s workshops include ‘poetry of sound and silence’, ‘how to write a ballad’ and ‘poetry games’. If you’ve never experienced ‘Poetry Countdown’ or ‘Poetry what’s in the Bag?’ come along and find out! There’s also a chance to perform in the poetry slot in the Friday Morning Showcase concert.
New for this year is also Sidmouth’s first Poetry Open Mic. It will be held at The Woodlands Hotel on Tuesday 6th August from 5-7pm. Sign up on the door to read for up to four minutes, either your own work or bring along a favourite poem or two you’d like to share. Experienced writers or new poets welcome, or if you don’t want to read, the Woodlands is a perfect place to relax for a couple of hours and just listen to poetry. There will also be a chance to hear me read, I can always guarantee some poems about animals but also watch out for one or two about Morris dancing! I will be joined by a local poet, the amazing Jan Dean, whose work as a Poet-in-Schools has inspired new generations. She also writes ‘Poetry for grown-ups’ and her reading style and unique take on life are guaranteed to have you entertained and enthralled.
Contact me on email@example.com for more information.
What can we do in the face of the challenges that we are presented with either on a personal or global level but use what skills we have in any way we can? For this reason and because I believe passionately about the responsibility we have to care for our environment, I will be joining fellow poets to read at an evening of poetry in support of the XR and Fridays for Future Movements at the Waterside Cafe in Kendal on Sunday 23rd June 7-9pm. Hosted by Grey Hen Press it will feature readers from Dove Cottage Poets, The Brewery Poets and others from Cumbria and Beyond. There is a £5 donation on the door and all proceeds will go to the UK Youth Climate Coalition.
I’ve just realised that the poem we created in the poetry workshops last year is up on the Festival website! We had such a great time, the participants were enthusiastic and inspiring, all I really had to do was draw the whole thing together. I’m running the workshops again this year, they are open to all ages and suitable for people that write poems regularly or people that have never written one before. Rumours are, there’ll also be an open mic this year…
Do come and join me, you can just come to the poetry events or join in with some of the other amazing music, singing or dancing events. Folk week really is one of the most special weeks of the year, ‘a rainbow coloured riot of colour and sound’
I’m really looking forward to reading at the Seren Poetry Festival in February. What a fantastic series of readings and lectures. I’ll be reading at the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet prizewinners lunch on Sunday 10th and am excited to meet the prizewinners from other years. You can book tickets from the above website.
The poetry workshops at Sidmouth Folk Week were so much fun. We wrote poems about Great Grandfather’s violins, dragon mountains, Brexit, the inventor of the shopping mall and of course the seagulls The quick and hungry Gods of the Church of the Webbed Feet. It was such a great experience to lead the sessions with people of all ages and backgrounds and they worked so hard and with such energy and enthusiasm, despite some of them being up to the early hours singing and dancing and maybe having a little drink or two. The performance on the main stage of the Ham marque was amazing and a several of the participants joined me in reading our collaborative Sidmouth poem which had people laughing out loud as well as bringing a lump to the throat as someone in the audience told me later.
So thank you to all of the people that came to the workshops over the week, to the Folk Week organisers who took a chance and incorporated poetry writing into the festival line up and to all the kind comments from people who came up to me afterwards and said how much they’d enjoyed the poem. Special thanks to Jan Dean a very special local poet and friend who came to some of the workshops and contributed the line in the collaborative poem which sums up the joy and feeling of Folk Week – Folk Week is Sidmouth with it’s corsets off!
And the best thing? They’ve invited me back next year, so we can do it all over again!