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.

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 – 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.

Poetry at Eroica Britannia 2017

Photo of Seamus reading at Eroica Britannia 2017

Shay the Poet at Eroica Britannia 2017 (picture courtesy of Howard Broughton)

The weather often plays an important role in outdoor festivals and this vintage cycling festival is no exception; following last year’s event on waterlogged site this year the unusually hot and dry weather meant there would be plenty of people queuing in the shade of the beer tents for liquid refreshments ad a break from the searing sun.

I was proud to be back at Eroica for the third year and sharing live poetry and spoken word to new audiences away from the traditional libraries and back rooms of pubs. Poetry is becoming more mainstream and my 2.00pm set was staged in the Britannia Arms, temporary pub for the weekend, and the place was packed and noisy; fortunately there was a good sound system and my voice carries well.

As always I had my set list prepared in advance and also as always I had additional material to hand so that changes could be made depending on the mood of the room or indeed my own mood.

Having been announced on stage I began my set with a cycling poem, People Riding Bikes, which was well received and confirmed that people near the far end of the marquee could here me. You can listen to a recording of that reading by clicking play below:

 

The rest of the set consisted of:

The Curse, Standby, A minute and a half, Entitlement, Truncated, Dead Eyes, Domestique, Saffron Vultures, Seahorses, Mental Stuttering, A platform I don’t know and Honed.

I was particularly pleased with the audience reaction to my new poem, written for and completed in time for this event, “Saffron Vultures” which is about cycle racing and in particular motor-paced racing at the Saffron Lane Stadium in Leicester which sadly closed some years ago. The poem is perhaps my longest at about 4.5 minutes so I had been concerned about holding the audience’s attention – fortunately I needn’t have worried.

Picture of Seamus with Brian Robinson

With Brian Robinson at Eroica (pic courtesy of Howard Broughton)

To cap a great afternoon I had the good fortune to sit and chat with an all time cycling legend, Brian Robinson (now aged 85) the first British cyclist to ever win a stage in the Tour de France amongst many other world class events.

A brilliant day, although the sun could perhaps have been turned down a tad!

 

 

Images and video from Recall project at Falinge

After last weeks session At Falinge Park High school I am delighted to see that the school have now added some video and images to their web site.

Click here for more from Falinge website

Click here for the video

Thanks once again to Simon De Courcey for inviting me to be part of this excellent project and to the young people from Rochdale, Bury, Swinton and North Manchester for their
enthusiasm and hard work during a very busy morning – well done to all!

Hopefully I’ll soon have a couple of audio samples of the work produced by some of the young people and they’ll be posted here shortly.

 

 

 

Brilliant morning with young people at Falinge Park High School

I had  the privilege of working with some great young people at Horse Carrs next door to Falinge Park High School. A group of young people from Falling were joined by students, and staff, from three other schools:

St. Ambrose Barlow, Swinton

Abraham Moss, Manchester North

The Derby High School, Bury

The session was part of the joint “Recall Project” funded by the excellent Ideas Foundation. With the aim of helping to develop learner’s understanding of poetry from the GCSE Anthology they took part in a physical/dance session with CantDanceCan and a creative poetry session with myself.
With a surprise burst of snow in the morning there were travel delays from some schools and the first session was shorter than planned. In spite of this a group of around 20 young people listened to a little poetry and advice about writing before getting stuck in to creating some brand new work the their own with topics ranging from sport to family and the challenging topic of bullying. The short time left a number of the students with unfinished poems and little chance to memorise and perform their work but everyone had the basis of some really interesting writing. The degree of enthusiasm and also the willingness of all of these young people to ask for help, discuss options and then act on them really was inspiring.
It was also a lovely surprise to find the when some of our street-wise young people with all the modern language and mannerisms go off to “chill” in Falinge Park with their mates they chat about stuff that matters to them and they still play cops and robbers like so many generations before them.

While I worked with one group of students the other half worked on physical interpretations of the GCSE poems with CantDanceCan. After a brief break the two groups swapped over and the second workshops began.

The young people from all of the schools were superb and in as little as 75 minutes we had poems produced on topics ranging from travel to the importance of family, discrimination and personal stories of overcoming adversity. Some of the young people were even able to perform their new work from memory while the less confident had the chance to have their work read to the group.

As always working with young people, enabling them to express themselves in new ways, building confidence to think and talk about issues, led to a rewarding and inspirational experience.

Enormous thanks to Falinge Park High School, and Simon De Courcey in particular, for inviting me to run the poetry sessions.

I’ll post further links with images and perhaps some samples of the work created once the school has edited video and images from the morning.

Working with high school students in Rochdale

In a couple of days I’ll be working with high school students in Rochdale running a session that will not only help them to create some brand new work of their own but inspire them and help them with memorising and performing their poems.

During the morning they’ll also be working to create physical interpretations of a couple of poems from the GCSE syllabus so of course I’ll be referencing those poems and activities in my session.

 

I’ll post much more in a review, including revealing which school is involved, after the session.

For now I’m full of anticipation looking forward to what should be a really interesting and inspirational day.

 

 

New writing – who, what, where & why?

In my last post I said that I would talk about some of my new writing; so this post, albeit somewhat later than expected, is built around that idea.

I thought it might be interesting to look at who or what I am writing about, where I write and the most important question which is why. So for a number of my more recently completes poems I’ve set out answers to those questions – I think I may learn more from this than my readers do – it would be really interesting to hear back from readers perhaps with their own answers to some of those questions….

So here goes, some poems I’ve completed recently (there are always a few still in development at any time and in some ways my poems are never really finished):

Mental Stuttering

Who? – This is partly about me but also about anyone reading or performing with an audience.

What? – The poem looks at how whilst being calm and professional on the outside we can still be stuttering and stumbling on the inside.

Where? – I started to make notes on this idea straight after a poetry event and then worked on it at home over a period of time.

Why? – This is always likely to be the hardest question and in this instance it came from watching people reading for their first time and remembering how that felt. Perhaps I wrote is as a reminder to myself that the poem always differs a little every time it is read – because of my own internal mental stuttering.

 

An understanding of cattle

Who? – This is a poem about my Dad and there’s a fair bit of my uncle Dan, one of his brothers, in there too.

What? – The poem talks about the nature of people through the way they can develop an understanding of other animals. The understanding of cattle becomes a metaphor for a much wider understanding of life and the attributes that make that possible.

Where? – I can’t remember when I first started on this poem but it has developed in my notebook for a good few months before becoming a single piece to be edited and formed into a “completed” poem. The work has often been done in quiet moments wherever I happen to be and strangely that matched the theme quite well.

Why? – Something reminded me that most people don’t seem to understand most animals very well and the concept of the poem was there straight away. It quickly became a poem about my Dad and memories of my Uncle Dan also fitted in so it becomes part of a growing collection of writing about family.

 

Swabbed for MRSA

Who? – This one is about my own personal experience.

What? – I wrote this about being in hospital overnight to be checked over for some sort of heart irregularity. It turned out to be a fairly fruitless visit because my heart refused to misbehave while I was there but I wrote about some of the things going on overnight.

Where? – I actually started making notes and putting together a few lines on my mobile phone while I was in the hospital. The development then took place over a year later whilst pausing for a brew or whilst working in my office.

Why? – It started as a record of what it was like to be admitted with an erratic heart beat and it felt significant and topically current that the first thing they did was swab me for MRSA.