Rochdale Artists 30th Anniversary Celebratory Event

A few months ago I was honoured to be invited to write and perform a poem for the 30th Anniversary of Rochdale Artists. In the run up to the event I worked on my poem which went through several iterations before I finally settled on placing a number of well known artists from the past in the context of Rochdale, past future and present.

The event took place today at The Coachhouse in Littleborough with a buffet lunch and an exhibition which will run for a month.

George Hardy, president of Rochdale Artists introduced the Mayor of Rochdale who spoke about the exhibition, his own interest in art and the importance of the arts to our society.

The Mayor’s comments were added to by Councillor Janet Emsley, cabinet member for communities and culture, who spoke of the value of such organisations and the people who run them. It was then time for my poem to have its first outing, having been previously only read out loud in an empty room.

I’ve reproduced the full poem, The Artists in Rochdale, below:

 

The Artists in Rochdale

By Broadfield’s pond, I paused,

to sit on Monet’s stool,

as rare morning-dappled-sunlight painted the lilies,

en plein air.

I wondered at Gaudi’s natural forms on the banks of the Roch,

and MacIntosh’s tulips grew in the borders

beyond the gates of Falinge Park.

In Healey’s deep Dell I listened to the water

tumbling, turning and smoothing the rocks

and I glimpsed Hepworth’s hammer and chisel

through the mid-day mist

and she knew; that I knew.

In the early afternoon,

just below Littleborough’s Summit,

under ominous clouds

Constable was painting the lock gates.

And as Lowry sketched the early evening workers

leaving Townhead Mill,

I saw Paul Gauguin painting the town,

in greens, oranges and reds with a dash of purple,

and was that Banksy skulking in the corners

on Toad Lane?

I found Braque’s brushes, still wet

In the bushes by Touchstones.

And Picasso’s palette blue, and blue

and blue

abandoned on a bench by the Butts

Beside half a can of Special Brew

And an uneaten slice of pizza

Mondrian taking “as little as possible of reality”,

shared his disapproval of Rochdale’s,

gone but not forgotten, Black Box;

It needed more lines, some blocks of colour.

It was just there;

that Boccioni

glimpsed a different future

on Riverside.

Matisse was still cutting cardboard corners

in Yorkshire Street.

Damian Hirst was counting sheep

by the Arndale

and that tent pitched at Rakewood?

not camping with the scouts,

but artwork with Tracey.

As evening faded to night

Vincent gazed into the sky over Cronkeyshaw

And whipped up a storm in oils.

I caught a dazed Dali doodling

and dallying a little too long in the Baum

and time just melted,

merged

and drifted away

I met Toulouse living it up in the Olde Boar’s Head

and in a quiet corner Miss Stansfield posed for Leonardo.

Seurat and Signat were arguing at the bar

each making their point,

by point,

by point,

a million times.

And Rembrandt peered out of the darkness

And was that really Duchamp I saw,

taking the p*** in The Regal Moon?

And I swear I found a piece of Vincent’s ear

in the gutter by the Flying Horse

And where are the artists now?

The creation, the endeavour, the wit

Where now, the watercolours, the oils,

the pencils, the inks,

the charcoal and pastels?

Well the artists are still right here

and only the names have changed.

With their riggers, their filberts and mops,

with Kolinsky sable and Russian squirrel

with Taklon and badger and hog.

An apothecary of Cambium, Cobolt and Zinc

With their Prussian Blue and French Aquamarine

And their whites; their whites

So many shades of white

And they’re talking and painting,

and looking and drawing.

And they’re;

on the walls.

And they’re watching and waiting.

If you linger, to look, a little longer

you might be an unwitting model,

like Miss Stansfield with Leonardo.

You may be drawn

or drawn-in,

to a chat,

a cup of tea

and a Rochdale world of art,

because after 30 years;

there is life-still

in the artists,

in Rochdale,

today.

 

 

Weaving Words Radio Show on Defiant Radio

I was delighted to be invited by Eileen Earnshaw (top Rochdale Poet, cooperator, leader of writing and reading groups, student of creative writing and of course mother and grandmother) to be the guest on her very first “Weaving Words Poetry Radio Show” recorded and broadcast yesterday on Defiant Radio, Rochdale’s newest and fast growing radio station.

Eileen opened by asking about the role cycling had played in my past and recent work on the Connect2Poetry project leading into a discussion of what it is to be a poet. We also talked about forthcoming events especially the Fringe event for the Rochdale Literature and Ideas Festival which will take place from 11.00am to 3.00pm on Sunday 22nd October, at which I will deliver a poetry set alongside other local poets and performers including music from Between the Vines.

Eileen played music from Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash and of course a tune from Tom Petty who had sadly passed away the previous night.

We had a great chat with great music and a few poems, a couple of which had not been aired before – the poems included:

  • Come on Hat
  • An Understanding
  • A Platform I don’t know

If you are looking for an insight into how a radio show like this is recorded you can hear some of the conversation accidentally recorded on an open microphone whilst John Mellencamp’s Pink Houses was playing – but for her ever radio first show I was very impressed with my host.

You can here the show by clicking on the link below:

Pleckgate High School – National Poetry Day 2017

Picture of Students' poetry display at Pleckgate High SchoolToday I was delighted to be at Pleckgate to provide a series of sessions for students as part of National Poetry Day.

The welcome was lovely and I have to say that each time I’ve visited I’ve found both students and staff to be attentive and supportive. More importantly perhaps they’ve been open to learn about poetry, hear examples, to get involved in active discussion and even a little acting.

With four groups of students including years 7, 8 and 10 I was kept busy, and happy, helping to inspire and being inspired myself. Each group had a discussion of concepts of freedom and each student wrote a sentence or just their thoughts some of which are shown in the images below.

All of those thoughts, 180 or so, of them will be read and collated to create a poetic interpretation to be shared back in school. My early reading is proving to be really enlightening and I’m looking forward to reading the remainder.

Once we’d done the “hard” work around freedom it was time to have some fun with poems; and we certainly did.

At lunchtime students and staff came together to share some of their own new work and some favourite poems. The variety and the quality of the writing by the young people was astounding and bodes well for the future.

Links to the school’s own report and photos from the day will be added here as soon as they are available.

Why do I read poets from other cultures?

Image made up of many words relating to poetryAs a poet one might be expected to read quite a lot of poetry.

That isn’t a universal truth, but then nothing is; or if there is we haven’t really discovered and understood it yet.

Some poets do not read any other poet’s work for a wide range of reasons, examples I’ve come across include; not wishing to be influenced too much, concern that they might accidentally copy or plagiarise someone else’s words and quite commonly that “these are my thoughts, my words, they come from inside of me and they have no relationship to anything else that has been written, they can’t be changed” (or words to that effect). These are sometimes similar reasons why some poets chose not to edit. Maybe that will be the topic for a future post.

I am not one of those poets.

I do read other poets’ work.

Apart from British and Irish poetry my current bookshelf includes poetry from Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, Russia, Poland, Spain and of course the USA (yes, that counts as overseas too).

Why?

Firstly reading poetry is fun, sometimes thought provoking, annoying or sad but always enlightening.

Poets from all cultures tend to write about pretty much universal themes; family, love, loss, death, society and nature; but different cultures tend to view some of these things differently and that in itself makes their work interesting to read. Added to that the actual structures of language are fundamental to how poetry works and in different languages poets will by definition express themselves differently.

Sadly I can only read fluently in English so I am relying on the translators to have kept as much of the original cultural, rhythmic and feel of the poets’ native language versions. Ideally for European languages I prefer to read the English translation with the native language version alongside because although I can’t really read the originals properly I can get a feel for the rhythm and flow and see how the language was structured.

This is where things get interesting; word sequences vary from one language to another and in poetry those word sequences are carefully chosen by the poet rather than always using the most obvious or common turns of phrase.

Additionally the subject matter varies between cultures. Almost all poets talk about a mixture of autobiography, life, death, hardship, love, society, politics and frequently nature. Views of such things are very different between cultures.

For example in countries where freedoms are very limited the poets will often write about freedom as much as they will about the lack of those freedoms whereas in countries that have much greater freedoms those freedoms can be somewhat taken for granted and the poets tend not to place so much emphasis on them.

Another example is the poetic treatment of death. In the UK death is something people don’t talk about if they can help it, something that although inevitable can be ignored and something that people and society find hard to address. Contrast the UK attitude to death with that in Ireland or Latin America where, although life is valued and celebrated, society doesn’t hide death and makes a much bigger fuss of it. A quick read of Seamus Heaney or perhaps Pablo Neruda will show the different attitudes.

As a poet I hope that I bring new perspectives to issues, that I talk about them in new and different ways and I know that by reading overseas poets I can broaden my own experience and further develop my own abilities as a writer.

In a series of future blogs I intend to focus each piece on a poet (or poets) from a different culture and show why I find that work interesting, broadening and worth reading. Perhaps that would be useful for any poet.

 

National Poetry Day 2017 – 28th September – Freedom

Photo of early autumn seed pods

Early Autumn seed pods

As Autumn begins National Poetry Day also arrives, on 28th September 2017, with its annual celebration inspiring people throughout the UK to enjoy, discover and share poems.

Could there possibly be a bigger or more pertinent theme for National Poetry Day than this year’s choice “Freedom”?

There will be events around the UK with schools, libraries and writing groups and I’m delighted to be heading over to Pleckgate High School in Blackburn where I will work on some classic poems with young people and share the work of pupils and staff. The day is intended to inspire and there is no doubt that working with young people is always inspirational.

You can read about last year’s event by clicking here and I will of course report on the event afterwards.

Is a poem ever really finished?

As a poet who also runs writing workshops one of the most frequent debates I come across is about when or whether a poem is finished.

On the face of it it might seem a fairly straight forward issue, especially to anyone who isn’t a writer and more specifically a poet. Say I’ve written a poem, I’ve read it through a number of times, made some changes, taken it out to live events and considered the audience reaction and the way the words flowed (or didn’t) and maybe made some more changes. Eventually I might well have submitted that poem for publication or included it in a book. Is that poem now finished?

In the past I might well have thought so but recently I’ve realised that such a view might have been a little short-sighted.

Take a band who become famous and tour around the world for 20 years. Everywhere they go their audience expect to hear that old favourite song, the one that everyone knows. But the band have played it so many times that they’ve started to make little tweaks, the odd word here or there or maybe a change in the instrumentation. They still perform the same song but not exactly as it was 20 years ago. They’ve become more accomplished as singers, songwriters and musicians and it is really no surprise that they now see better ways with that old song.

What about Bob Dylan’s “Knocking’ on Heaven’s Door” which Dylan himself has recorded in various versions, mostly longer that the original and which has been covered and changed by many others including some cases where whole new verses have been added and some cases where a band has recorded more than on different version of Dylan’s song. Will “Knocking’ on Heaven’s Door” ever really be finished?

Poems are a bit like that, they can evolve.

If they were a B-side that never got played or did little more than balance out the numbers on an album, the track everyone skipped over, then maybe they are finished. They’ll lie there unlisted, unread and certainly no longer performed. Those poems and those songs might well be finished; maybe.

But the rest?

I doubt that I could ever say definitively that any of my poems are finished.

And what if someone changes it after I’m gone?

A whole new world of finished/unfinished would open up. Maybe all of Beethoven’s Symphonies were unfinished and all of them change each time a new conductor and a new orchestra, or even just a new audience, get their hands and ears around them.

“I’m not supposed to be here” workshop reviewed

This afternoon members of the Touchstones Creative Writing Group had invited me along to facilitate their session and I delivered my brand new workshop.

The importance of writing groups for very many writers, whether novices or very experienced, should not be underestimated. A group like this creates both the space and motivation to write and of course the support of fellow writers and on occasion the support and encouragement of professionals. All of this helps development and also helps writers to extend their range and experience styles and subjects they might nor otherwise have tried.

Today in Touchstones those were exactly the aims of the session and it can be quite challenging to get writers to stretch beyond their confidence zones. It is also highly rewarding for those writers when they find a new approach and create something that even an hour earlier they would not have envisaged. The smiles, thanks and acknowledgments from all of the participants are ample reword for the facilitator (although of course the fee is most welcome).

Using a set of scenarios randomly selected by participants we watched and listened as new work took shape from a completed, well structured, poem to short stories encompassing Yorkshire’s tribal elders, a dodgy regime exiling people to space, being unwittingly stuck in a cupboard in an academic establishment, representing a Neighbourhood Watch and spiritual experiences on a mountaintop. None of these things were included in the original prompts and none were written from the direct experience of the writers. The writers were unanimously surprised by what they had written and very happy to have stepped beyond the realms of personal experience.

It is a measure of the success of a workshop when a participant books the same workshop for their own group so I was particularly pleased to be invited to deliver the “I’m not supposed to be here” workshop in two weeks time for the Langley Writers group.

The group meet monthly at Demesne Community Centre, Langley, Middleton and the session on 23rd September will run from 2.00pm to 4.00pm and all are welcome regardless of experience.

 

Shay the Poet @ Hidden Altrincham Arts Festival – 20th Sept 2017

 

On 20th September I’ll be both performing my poetry and compering an evening including open-mic slots for this relatively young arts festival in Altrincham.

The venue is Riddles Emporium, a new specialist shop specialising in spirits and based in a beautiful, traditional building at 35 Regent Road, WA14 1RX.

Expect a varied poetry set with things to make you think, smile or cry and for this specific occasion there will be something brand new in keeping with the nature of the venue.

This is a free drop in event for all ages although you can also book online with a £5.00 deposit to pay for snacks and drinks.

Those wishing to read at the event should ask Seamus to add them to the list on arrival or may apply in advance through the link below:

CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS

Apart from the poetry evening the Hidden Altrincham Arts Festival runs over 10 days in September featuring artwork in 30 locations; an art trail around this historic town and daily events and live experiences.

An image from the Hidden Altrincham Flyer

Flyer for Hidden Altrincham

YOU CAN FIND DETAILS OF ALL THE OTHER FESTIVAL EVENTS HERE

 

 

 

I’m not supposed to be here – Touchstones, Rochdale, 7th September

With just one week to go to this event here’s a picture of my temporary workspace as I produce some new writing using the same prompts and processes we’ll be using in the workshop. Its a bit early to be sure, as titles for me tend to come at the end of the writing process, but I think this one might end up being titled “A short walk”, Remember the Touchstones Creative Writing Group meet on the first Thursday of each month the with a different facilitator each time ensuring a wide range of workshops and activities. The session is open to all and new members are always welcome.

 

 

On Thursday  7th SeptemberI’ll be at Touchstones to deliver my brand new workshop entitled “I’m not supposed to be here” for the Touchstones Creative Writing Group.

In this session I will challenge writers to put themselves, metaphorically, into situations they wouldn’t expect to find themselves in. I’ll have something new written for the session to give a starting point for discussion after which we’ll launch ourselves into our unexpected situations and with prompts and encouragement create some new writing with brand new perspectives

In technical terms the overall aim is to encourage writers to go beyond their own personal experience and bring their personalities and skills to bear on unfamiliar places, situations and times, thus broadening the range of their writing.

The Touchstones Creative Writing Group has a strong group of writers across all genres including poetry, prose, monologues and scripts as well as new and aspirational writers looking to develop their skills. This workshop is designed to support both new and experienced writers across all genres and is open to members and prospective members of the group.

“I’m not supposed to be here”- Touchstones, Rochdale, 2.00pm, 7th September –  I’m definitely supposed to be there so why not come along and join in the fun.

The Art Café in Touchstones will be open so why not pop along for a brew and a chat before the session? You’ll probably find me there eating their handmade cakes!

If you’d like to talk about booking one of my workshops for your own group or organisation please email me at info@seamuskellypoetry.co.uk. Details of my other workshops can be found by clicking here.

A sad withdrawal from adult education teaching in colleges

This blog usually concentrates on my work as a poet including running workshops etc. Readers may not be aware that I’m also a teacher and have produced and delivered many successful college courses mainly focusing on photography and electronic imaging.

I love teaching photography as much as I love running writing workshops. The feeling when people learn something new, gain new insights and develop ideas of their own is priceless. Unfortunately the paltry price that colleges put on such teaching is now untenable.

It is with real sorrow that I’ve watched the decline in adult college courses, the appalling lack of funding and of course the loss of teachers from the sector.

So if I’m saddened why is it that I’m no longer teaching photography in colleges?

Well, way back in 1987, 30 years ago, I was able to earn £17 per hour teaching IT skills to adults in evening or weekend classes (I wasn’t even a qualified teacher then). Recently the going rate has been dropping year on year. Now, 30 years on, I’ve received a recruitment email from a Leeds based organisation looking for a photography teacher to run a course for adults for 2 hours a week on Saturdays for 8 weeks. It’s the kind of course I’ve run numerous times but my hat is definitely not in the ring, not for the current going rate of £17.70 per hour!

I write all of my own materials, use my own sample photos and update my previous materials to meet current standards in digital photography and provide specialist equipment for the sessions. Before every session I plan and prepare and when I get home I will review how the session has gone. For this 16 hour course I’d spend at least 12 hours preparing and reviewing. I’d spend 2 hours each session travelling and I’d arrive before and leave after the students. My total time commitment would be 48 hours.

If I take away the cost of petrol (about £50 in this case) and then Tax/NI (another £70) I’ll be left with as little as £3.40 per hour.

Frankly that is really insulting.

I am outraged that it is now considered reasonable to pay experienced professionals who are also qualified teachers so badly. It is even more outrageous when the fees charged to the students are not still at 1987 levels. How outrageous is it then that colleges can value providing useful education so poorly.

I’m not generally one to give up.

I really want colleges to be successful, I really miss the time when colleges provided a truly wide and inspirational training for local people.

So, much as it goes against the grain, in the future my photography training will be delivered privately rather than through colleges!

Pyramid Poetry for young people who have a disability


Here’s my promised update for my Pyramid Poetry session at Touchstones this morning:

A diverse group of young people arrived at Touchstones, dropped off by parents and careers and greeted by the very able staff from Sun Sports and Link4Life, with even less idea what to expect than this poet. Once everyone was happy, support allocated and introductions made we were all ready for action.

We played a rhyming game, we talked about poems and I shared some poetry from C S Lewis and Spike Milligan (deadly serious stuff obviously) and then we chatted about Egypt with young people telling me about the Nile, Pharaohs, tombs, pyramids the desert, oasis snakes etc.

Then we had a look at the format for Poetry Pyramids and put a few words together as  examples and handed out some sheets of Ancient Egyptian prompts and they were off.

For a frantic hour or so young poets looked for the right words, talked about what they wanted to say and jotting by down lines before adding their words to their poetic pyramids.

I wound up the session reading to the group from their pyramids and the room filled with praise and beaming smiles confirmed the pride in an excellent morning’s work.

Occasionally writers like myself get the chance to do something new and challenging and any such chance should be grabbed with both hands.

So in the morning on Friday 11th August I’ll be at Touchstones in Rochdale with my brand new poetry session.

Photo of ancient Egyptian tablet

Egyptian tablet

In the school holidays Link4Life, Rochdale’s cultural and leisure trust, run a range of activities for young people with a disability. I was delighted to be asked to run a session on poetry, as part of this programme.

As the current exhibition in the Heritage Gallery at Touchstones is “Ancient Egypt: Life along the River Nile” the session will take its inspiration from that exhibition and we’ll be incorporating a range of specific Ancient Egyptian themes into special pyramid poems (my new format specially designed and only to be revealed at this workshop).

Whilst planning the session I’ve spent some time in the exhibit and considering the age of these objects they are truly staggering. The exhibition itself has been well curated and there is plenty of information available including a range of books for young people to dip into and an activity area in the form of a boat sailing down the Nile. Here are a few photos showing some of the artefacts on display:

photo of Small ancient Egyptian statues

Small ancient Egyptian statues

 

Photo of Ancient Egyptian storage jars and utensils

Ancient Egyptian storage jars and crockery

I’ll post more details after the session hopefully with some samples of the work produced by the children.

Another awesome project begins

My use of the word “awesome” in the title above was carefully considered, that consideration is what poets aim for in our writing and hopefully much of the time we achieve it. Occasionally we may be prone to hyperbole but this time I’m confident even though the project has only just started to take shape.

Using a range of storytelling, songwriting, poetry, acting, singing and lots of sharing these young people can make a start on rebuilding confidence and dealing with past issues. Sure, I’ll be working with a great team of professionals, but the awesomeness, that comes from the young people and we are privileged to be a part of that process and to watch them unlock it.

The new project starting in Rochdale this week follows on from a highly successful “Stories we could tell” project in 2017 and will provide valuable support and development opportunities to young people who have experienced real trauma in their lives.

That project brought real benefits to a group of young people including some asylum seekers, some living in care and some living with mental health issues. The benefits were such that some of those young people have developed sufficient confidence and skills that they are returning to mentor other young people. To me that entirely justifies my use of the term awesome.

The team will include Steve Cooke (organising and leading), John Cooke (visual artist), Rebecca Whitehead (singer and songwriter), Sue Devaney (actor, writer and performer) and myself (poet and writer) with the facilities provided through Colin or Vibe Youth Music Project in Rochdale.