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.

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.

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!

 

 

Eroica Britannia 2017 – Shay the poet returns

In just a week’s time I’ll be stepping up to perform at Britains festival of cycling and all things vintage, Eroica Britannia.

The Festival runs from from Friday 16th to Sunday 18th of June 2017 and Frinden Grange in the Peak District and I’ll be performing at 2.00pm on Saturday.

My health has not allowed me to take part in the ride around one of the spectacular Peak District routes this year but I’m looking forward to sharing some of my poetry with an audience including old friends and new, poetry enthusiasts and those who “only came for the vintage bikes”. Well you might ask:

What has that Eroica Britannia festival got for me?

Well there’s all the vintage bikes

Yeah but apart from the vintage bikes what has the Eroica Britannia festival got for me?

Well what about the rides, and the vintage bike rides?

Yeah the vintage bikes and the vintage bike rides obviously, but what has the Eroica Britannia festival got for me?

There’s the stunning Peak District scenery

Yeah, yeah, the vintage bikes and the rides and the stunning Peak District scenery, but what has the Eroica Britannia festival got for me?

And the music

Yeah, OK the vintage bikes, the rides, the stunning Peak District scenery and the music, but what has the Eroica Britannia festival got for me?

And the vintage outfits?

And all the activities for kids?

Yeah the vintage bikes, the rides, the stunning Peak District scenery, the music, the vintage outfits and all the activities for the kids, but what has the Eroica Britannia festival got for me?

And the shopping?

And the amazing range of food and drink?

And the roaming entertainers?

And the best in show?

Yeah, that goes without saying; the vintage bikes, the rides, the stunning Peak District scenery, the music, the vintage outfits, all the activities for the kids, the shopping, the amazing food and drink, the roaming entertainers and the best in show, but what has the Eroica Britannia festival got for me?

And the mini velodrome, the Lancaster Bomber fly past, and the camping and glamping?

Yeah, the vintage bikes, the rides, the stunning Peak District scenery, the music, the vintage outfits, all the activities for the kids, the shopping, the amazing food and drink, the roaming entertainers and the best in show, the mini velodrome, the Lancaster Bomber fly past, and the camping and glamping, but what has the Eroica Britannia festival got for me?

And the bloke doing poetry?

What? There’s a bloke doing poetry? at a vintage cycling festival? Well why didn’t you tell me? What’s he doing?

Well he’ll do some poems about people and places and bikes and stuff

So this Eroica Britannia festival has the vintage bikes, the rides, the stunning Peak District scenery, the music, the vintage outfits, the shopping, the amazing food and drink, the roaming entertainers and the best in show, the mini velodrome, the Lancaster Bomber fly past, the camping and glamping, and the bloke doing poetry about people and places and bikes and stuff. You know what I think I might give it a go….

 

 

Metaphor: the long story – Touchstones Creative Writing Group

Having facilitated two sessions for Touchstones Creative Writing Group in 2016 it was lovely to be invited back to do two more sessions in 2017 for the well established Rochdale group.

For my first, on Thursday 6th April, I decided to go with my brand new workshop “Metaphor: the long story”. The blurb (which of course I’ve written myself) says:

Metaphor can add interest, power and character to writing in any form. This workshop will concentrate on metaphor in poetry giving new and experienced writers the chance to learn about and experiment with new ways of using metaphor to add character and interest to their writing. We’ll look at examples and develop our own knowledge before taking the leap (metaphorically) into creating some brand new work.”

Bringing out a brand new workshop for the first time is always fun and keeps things interesting and in this case with a relatively technical sounding session I hoped that people would not be deterred….

Far from it….

Over 20 participants arrived and after a brief introduction they were ready to go. Within such a large group there will always be a wide range of abilities and experience so we started off with discussion and examples of the use of metaphor and explored the knowledge the group already had.

That introduction was followed by a competitive game, The Metaphors Challenge, where two teams were pitted against each other to score points by coming up with unusual or preferably brand new metaphors.

After some further exploration including the use of extended metaphor it was time to write and if with a bit of imagination we could harness the power of so many pens furiously scratching their ideas and stories (with plentiful use of metaphor) onto paper we could surely reduce our need for both fossil fuels and television.

The end result was over 20 brand new pieces of writing, stories and poetry, and everyone with some new ideas, something new to work on or develop.

Overall a lovely and productive afternoon.

Looking forwards to the next session in September!

 

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.