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Private David Jones, the 15th (1st London Welsh) Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers


Friday, 21 October 2016

Friday Poetry from Stuart McKenzie and Happy Weekend

This Friday is the launch of the first of Laudanum's books, featuring the work of my fellow poet, Stuart Mckenzie. It also includes poems by Joey Connolly and Philip Terry.

I pre-ordered the book and have had it for several weeks. I was so pleased to see Stuart's work in print, having becoming familiar with it through workshops with Katy Evans-Bush.  I turned to his section ‘the dead weight of beauty’ first and took great pleasure in reading his sharply observed poems with his characteristic forensic eye for detail as you might expect from someone who works as a fashion illustrator. It’s not all fashion as the brief selection includes poems about growing up Birch Services M62 and rediscovering a relic in Action Man. My favourite is ‘After Snow’ which captures perfectly the vanishing of the transformation brought about by snow.

Laudanum is a new venture and the aim according to editor, Anne Anne Tondut, is to provide a niche for shorter works and to introduce new talent. An advantage of a combined chapbook is the opportunity as a reader to discover poets by association. After reading Stuart's poems I turned to ‘Du Bellay’ by Philip Terry, a sequence of sonnets sending up life as a head of department at the University of Essex. Each one is a 21st century answer to Du Bellay’s sonnets although you do not need to know this in order to be amused and there was much that was familiar from my time as a university administrator.

The final section is joey Connolly’s Moderns which are versions of previously translated poems by poets such as Lorca, Montale and Cavafy. In the latter case I knew the original poem ‘The God abandons Anthony’ and in Connolly’s hands it becomes two poems ‘Your Room at Midnight was suddenly’. I really liked the way Connolly plays with the ideas in the poem and in the second version how you might encounter the poem when
we sip our coffee and your eyes

are darker than any history or coffee, than any

Greek coffee ever was…

Friday, 7 October 2016

Friday poetry and Happy Weekend

This weekend's reading is going to be Andrea Holland's Broadcasting. The first print run had sold out when I first came across it in 2013 but happily it has been reprinted. This is very much a book to my taste as the poems are about the five Breckland villages in East Anglia which were requistioned in 1942  for D-Day preparations and about the people who lost their homes.

I will be over in France next Friday and so there won't be a blog post for next weekend. But as I'm going back to the Somme I will be taking In Parenthesis with me.

Enjoy your weekend.

A life in libraries

I wrote this in the library of the university where I worked for a decade and a half. These days as I concentrate on writing I’m using the library space as a form of mini-retreat. I know there are writers who can take themselves off to a nearby cafĂ© or coffee shop but I get too distracted watching the other people and too self-conscious about whether I should order another drink and how long one can stay.

So this morning I and my writing notebook and laptop are in the history section, with the diaries of Samuel Pepys to my right and a life of Nye Bevan to my left. I am at my happiest surrounded by books. Of course when I was growing up books were the main sources of information, entertainment and enlightenment. They opened doors into other worlds and still do.

Like many writers I read voraciously as a child. My parents were willing to buy me a book a week but I could borrow far more than that on my yellow cardboard library ticket. At the time public libraries were not so keen on my preferred reading; Elinor Brent-Dyer, the Pullein Thompson sisters and Enid Blyton so I read other books, discovering in the process a spirit of adventure and that you can’t judge a book by its cover nor necessarily by its title. You have to open it and start with the first page.

While I was attending school in Salisbury, the public library moved from its old fashioned premises into a new building with floor to ceiling windows at the back and lots of light and seemingly lots of books. This was when I discovered the travel section and oh the places I visited. 
© Copyright Chris Talbot and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The main library in my school was small and mostly reserved for sixth formers but I discovered there was an even smaller junior library at the end of one corridor. In my memory it was scarcely larger than my bedroom and hardly any one used it. So I did and during one of my periodic spells of worrying that I wasn’t keeping up academically and that my grades weren’t good enough I discovered Dickens. There was a book of Christmas stories with A Christmas Carol and also a copy of A Tale of Two Cities. I was hooked.

At university I had a wealth of libraries to choose from; the main University of London library was in a tower in Senate house which was often dark and gloomy but secluded. My college library at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies had all the books I needed as reference copies and across the road from my hall of residence was Birkbeck College which in those days was empty during the day.

During the summer vac I found out I could go to Southampton University library. This was excellent as my father worked at the Ordnance Survey headquarters nearby and could take me there on the way to work and bring me back at the end of the day. Without these whole days at the library I doubt if I would have got my final year project started or finished.

As a graduate living and working in London I left behind university libraries in favour of public libraries. You needed either proof of your address or for someone at your place of work to sign the form saying that you worked in the area. This was how I acquired tickets for a number of London borough, including Islington thanks to a two week stint working at Mecca Bookmakers on the Essex road. The manager was somewhat bemused at being asked to sign but being firmly working class he approved of anyone who wanted to improve their life by reading.

By the time I left London books seemed to have become much less expensive, or perhaps I was earning more and so could buy the books I wanted to read.

My love of libraries returned in full measure when I began studying for an MA at the Institute of Education and it was the peace and quiet the library offered as well as all the journals which I valued.

Librarians are the nicest people. I have been fortunate in never encountering the starchy bossy librarians. Instead I’ve only met people who exuded encouragement; from the librarian in Fordingbridge when I was very much younger who introduced me to the idea of requesting books from the county book stock when I had exhausted the possibilities of the small branch librarian to the university librarian who recently wanted to ensure I could still borrow books as an alumni after ceasing to be a member of staff. In recent years the poetry library on the South Bank has become one of my favourite places in which to read and write, as they stock most of the UK’s poetry magazines. Best of all they have copies of Convoy (for reference and for borrowing), according to the online catalogue, somewhere on their shelves.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Friday poetry and Happy Weekend

For this Friday and the weekend's poetry reading I've gone back to Tamar Yoseloff's A Formula for Night, which contains her body of work from twenty years and four collections plus new poems. Hitherto I've not made the time to read all the poems so I am looking forward to doing that and to finding new favourites. It seems an appropriate thing to do during Milton  Keynes Arts Week, as Tammy facilitates Poetry and Visual Art courses for the poetry school. I've taken part in a couple of these and they really open your eyes to the possibilities of writing about and from modern art. The cover of the book is one of Cerith Wyn Evans light installations at White Cube

Tomorrow I'm off to Westbury Arts Centre for a day of Ekphrastic poetry organised by Karen Littleton. She has kindly asked me to contribute by reading from Voices from Stone and Bronze and to join a group reading work inspired by the artists who work at Westbury. The studios are open and I am hoping there will be time to have a look round. It should be a lovely afternoon.

Thanks for the Postcards received for the August Poetry Postcard fest 2016

August Poetry Postcard Fest 2016 cards received
And here are the postcards which have made their way across the Atlantic... all 27 of them. I think there are more en route for those who have carried the fest on into September.

In the mean time my thanks to Linda Malnack, Mary Beth Frezon, Rachel Barber, Pat Mirza, Lucia Lemieux, Sara Jameson, Rita Chapman, Karen York, H.V. Cramond, Amy Miller, Laura Snyder, Peggy Miller, L Lisa Lawrence, Gay Guard-Chamberlain, Gail Eisenhart, Christine Irving, Carla Shafer,Will Reger, Linda Barnes, Courtney LeBlanc, Rich, Roberta Feins, Jessie Lyle, Danita Smead, Marcela Villar M, Marc Thompson and the person from the UK who sent the M.C Escher card and a backwards poem.

Most of all thanks to Paul Nelson and Lana Hechtman Avers whodreamed up the whole enterprise.It's become part of my summer.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

August Poetry Postcard fest 2016

The poetry postcards from fellow poets continued to arrive until recently. So now it's time to look back on August and a month of writing and receiving poetry postcards.

Collage cards made by Caroline Davies

I was far better prepared this year with more than enough cards to allow me to write 31 poems to send to the other members of group 4. They are all based in the USA and I'm in the UK so I knew not to wait until the postal service started delivering cards before I got going. Some people who have taken part before are highly organised, but I just had a stack of cards to work from and began with the first card and first poem written about the Himalyan blue poppy on the card. Later in the month gorgeous hand-made cards arrived on my doorstep. These and a trip to East Anglia inspired me to get out scissors and glue to make some of my own cards - see above for the set of Snape Maltings cards. I only hope that they got through the post OK as they went out without envelopes.One of the participants Terry Holzman had the good sense to use envelopes.

I didn't write poems every single day. Some days I wrote several cards as the poems seemed to come in a rush. I made the happy discovery in my stash of a set of postcards of Greek art and artefacts from the British Museum which made me want to revisit Greece but which provided lots of inspiration and some of my multi-card days.
There were other days when we were busy with school holidays that I knew I wasn't going to get a chance to write and that was fine so long as I caught up at the end of the week.
Later on in the month I was able to write response cards to the poems I'd received which was good too.

So now I'm going back through my fuzzy snapshots to type up the poems and to decide which to submit for the anthology being produced to celebrate ten years of August poetry postcarding.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Friday poetry and Happy Weekend

I always make time for poetry on Fridays, preferably with a mug of tea. This week's reading material is Jane McLauglin's prize winning first collection, Lockdown, which is being published by Cinnamon Press this weekend.

I am really enjoying Jane's use of imagery and the way her poems capture moments like snapshots. As I'm not able to go to the launch at the 'Made in Greenwich' gallery I have to content myself with reading the poems. My favourite one, so far, is

Learning about Potatoes
On the convent vegetable patch, habit hitched up.
These are Edzell Blue she says, clearing the violet skins
of mud, clagged by August rains. I remember her holding
them, Inca jewels, digging and teaching.

You should learn these things. Theirs were purple too,
but yellow inside. The Quechua word is papa.

She’d pile them into the wicker trug, a violet pyramid,
stack the spent haulms on the heap to rot.

Then pray to her garden saint, headless St Martin de Porres,
found under the convent hedge. A pot of wallflowers
and a prayer against the Late Blight, Phytophthora Infestans.
‘Think now of what you eat, and the million dead.

They still turn up bones on my father’s farm.
Food enough for all, but shipped away
to feed foreigners. And they had not a clean tuber
the length of the land.

I remember a Mayo nun in her grey cotton apron
pitching the piled weeds onto the barrow
and crying with the pain of those who lay
where they fell. In the late summer light

she digs with the fierceness of one betrayed
by men and seasons, thanks God for her violet potatoes,
holds her trug of Edzell Blue
like a lost child found.

I used this earlier in the week as a prompt for a writing exercise with my Wing Writers which was very well received. We could all see and hear that nun with her trug of potatoes and her fierce determination. You can read a few more of Jane's poems here  and buy a copy of Lockdown here.

Have a good weekend.