Modus Operandi – a reunion exhibition for Bolton PGCE group

Today’s opening of a new exhibition titled “Modus Operandi” in the Gallery at St George’s House, Bolton, was an apt reunion for some of the students who completed our PGCE courses at The University of Bolton 10 years ago (or a little over) was a great reunion event as well as the launch of an exhibition to be proud of.

The exhibited work includes paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography and a book and gives a good feel for the wide range of artists who came to Bolton in 2006 to train as teachers and we are delighted to be joined in the exhibition by Mary Rudkin who had been one of our tutors in the course.

The work currently exhibited include; paintings by curator Jonathan Hughes, a book by Tom Baskeyfield, photography by Irena Siwiak Atamewan, Emma Dunne, Claire Massey and myself, sculpture from Paul Gilmore and mixed media from our former course tutor Mary Rudkin. A few images below give a feel for the content – if you are in Bolton it is certainly worth a visit.

Pictures of the exhibited artworks

I had been asked some time ago if I’d do a poetry reading at the launch and had happily agreed. Today as I looked at my poems, ready to start my reading, I remembered how much more challenging it can be to read in front of people you know, especially if you know each other from some role in life other than poetry.

Photo of Seamus reading his poetry at the event

Poetry at Modus Operandi launch

With that trepidation echoing through me I cleared my throat, introduced myself and told the audience what I was about to do and introduced my first poem “Seahorses” to be followed by a specially adapted poem just for this event “and finally “Different Dad” for a little bit of fun.

I was really pleased by the reception my work received and spent a while answering lots of questions about the poems, my writing in general and about workshops, writing groups and so on.

Gallery manager, Emma Kelly, spoke to me about the possibility of using the venue to run some of my creative writing and possibly other creative workshops so watch this space for potential announcements in the not too distant future.

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).


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.

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.

Eroica Britannia – editing and practicing

Today I shall be mostly finalising my set for Eroica Britannia, finishing the one poem that isn’t quite done yet, practicing a bit, a bit more editing and so on.

Here’s a picture of a red editing pen, although it doesn’t really work on the computer.

Later on I’ll be getting the Tascam out with the microphone and have a proper listen back. A strangely busy, thoughtful and satisfying day is underway.

Here’s a picture of the set lists for my two previous years at Eroica and the one for next weekend.

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!


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.


Video released of “Stories We Can Tell” project

Screen shot from the video

I’ve posted here previously about the really successful young people’s project that we (All Across The Arts) ran in Rochdale culminating with a super event at the Middleton Arena.

Today I’m posting a link to the short video about the project.

Here’s the link:    CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO

The narration is by project organiser Steve Cooke and the video shows the kind of work and benefits we were able to deliver for a very diverse group of young people by giving them the tools and the support they needed to tell their own stories in the best way to suit them.

The gains in confidence and skills by the young people were highly visible as was the development of their social skills. The team members Steve, Rebecca Whitehead, John Cooke, Ray Stearn and myself all found the project inspiring and rewarding and the venue, Vibe Youth Music in Rochdale, enabled all of the work to be carried out in a safe, comfortable environment with studio facilities for discussions, composing, recording etc.

Aside from my role as poet I also surprised myself when asked to produce the video. I’ve recorded video often enough before but recording sound and editing to add still images, subtitles and content from PowerPoint was all new to me. I loaded some suitable video and audio software and set to learning in order to produce the finished work; this was just one of area where the project helped me to develop.


Heathfield School, Rishworth – poetry day


Monday the week saw a very busy but very rewarding day working with children and staff from Heathfield Primary School at Rishworth in West Yorkshire.

Working outdoors in the school’s own woodland we made lots of autumn and forest themed poetry with every year group in the school from 3 year olds in the Foundation stage through to the 10 year olds in Year 6.

I was really impressed by the enthusiasm and attention of the pupils and the staff and they should all be proud of what they have achieved. For that day we were all poets and I look forward eagerly to seeing the artworks they’ll be developing from their poems.

Here’s what the school tweeted to me after the session and above you can see a recent post on their twitter feed with photos taken by teachers on the day. It is so nice to receive such feedback but even better to hear the brand new work from children and witness their sense of achievement.

A great day, thanks to all at Rishworth, especially Miss Robinson who organised the day.

Image of Tweet from Heathfield Primary School

Tweet from Heathfield Primary School

Guesting at Write Out Loud – Sale – Tues 15th November

I started writing poetry as a result of working with college tutor, and now friend, Eileen Lee a good number of years ago. A year or two later through Rochdale library service and in particular Janice Brown, who helped us to set up a writing group based in the library, I found myself on stage for the first time for a National Poetry Day event.

Picture of myself performing at the Marden Poetry Jam - hosted by Julain Jordan

Reading at Marden Poetry Jam – hosted by Julain Jordan

Developing as a poet involves reading and listening to other poets and in that regard Write Out Loud was the organisation that really got me up and running (CLICK HERE for website) and gave me the confidence to take my work to new platforms. I have attended their events in Middleton, Bolton, Wigan and Marsden both reading my own work and listening to others. Founder Julian Jordan was always, and remains, very supportive and in the early days I was massively impressed by poets like Pete Crompton, Tony Walsh, Gemma Lees and Scott Devon. Seeing and hearing these poets made me want to take my own work further, to develop my own style as they had and to get out there and share the stuff that burns inside of me and has to be written.

I am therefore really delighted to be a guest at Write Out Loud’s session in Sale on Tuesday 15th November. The recently relaunched event takes place at the Sale Waterside Arts Centre at 7.30pm and I’m looking forward to renewing old acquaintances and making new ones….