National Storytelling Week Poetry Work Shop – Inspired by Dave Ball – Oldham Gallery

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve been asked by Oldham Library to produce and facilitate a new poetry workshop in Oldham’s Art Gallery.

The workshop is linked to a current exhibition of work, A to Z: The First Seven Years, by artist David Ball. The exhibition runs until March 2nd in Gallery 2. The artist is producing a drawing visualising every word in the Concise Oxford Dictionary – starting from A (with 461 words) the work is currently at the letter C. The project has taken 7 years so far and Dave expects to take another 28 years to finish. Some of the drawings and photographs produced so far are currently exhibited in the gallery in Oldham and some can be seen on the artist’s website by CLICKING HERE.

Taking the work by Dave Ball as its inspiration this poetry workshop will give writers the chance to create some brand new poetry themed around words from the dictionary beginning with A, B and C.  We’ll look at how inspiration drives creative people and how inspiration, such as this exhibition, can be turned into a plan or outline for a new poem and will take participants through the evolution of the piece.  There will be opportunities (for those who want to) share their work during the workshop and the gallery and library have kindly agreed to display writing produced in the workshop.

No specialist equipment is required and all writers are welcome from those just starting out to professionals.

The event is listed on the Oldham library website HERE and you can book places through EventBrite by CLICKING HERE

 

 

 

OnePoetsVision for 2019

Self portrait with cameraI set up the OnePoetsVision blog so that all of my creative work whether it is visual or in words could share a home. In the last year I’ve also posted lots of my images, mainly photographic but also drawings and prints, on my OnePoetsVision Instagram page having set myself an image a day challenge #shaysimageaday .

Sadly 2018 has involved bereavements and health issues for myself and family and my work as a poet, writer and teacher of writing and photography has been impacted. My image a day challenge and this blog both stalled but are relaunching this weekend.

A batch of batteries in negativeAs a rule I don’t really do New Year Resolutions, but I am starting to feel recharged and have plans to make 2019 the year that I build on the work I began after giving up my full time work in Summer 2015.

 

 

What will 2019 look like?

Well there will be more of the following:

  • performances
  • events
  • new writing workshops
  • new poems
  • new photographic images
  • new drawings
  • new linocut prints

There are also a couple of specific projects I am excited to be starting one being a collection of poems and the other involving illustration – there will be more detail in the coming months.

 

A project to reboot the creative mind

Screenshot of the first image for my challenge - a dried poppy seed head

My first #shaysimageaday challenge image from Dec 2018

Pretty much every creative person will occasionally get stranded in the metaphorical doldrums, we suffer a creative block. The cause can be anything from tiredness, apathy or fear to events in our busy lives overtaking us. The solutions are many and books have been written about how to move beyond the block and regain our creativity.

Six months ago I found myself feeling creatively stymied, I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t drawing and I wasn’t making images. The circumstances that led me to that point are not important, the important thing is how I was able to more on. This post is an initial look at that process and how it has helped me. Should this approach help others then that would be a real bonus.

I decided in late December 2017 that to stimulate my mind and create something new to focus on I would set myself a challenge: every day I would make a brand new image and that image would be posted online on Instagram. The challenge would be called “#shaysimageaday” and I would use that hashtag on my posts. Images can be photographs (most of them are), drawings, prints or images made from words (as long as the words can create an image in the reader’s mind) and there is no target length for this challenge – as long a it is fun and I’m learning then I might as well keep going!

At first I expected the challenge might run for a few weeks. My very first post on the day I decided on the challenge was the poppy head pictured at the top of this article. There was no advance plan for the images and I generally decide on a subject during the day but strangely enough six months later I find myself posting images of poppy seed heads collected in the last few days from our garden. In the meantime there have been images of all sorts of man-made and natural objects and there have been plenty of shots taken outdoors. The latest image is shown here:

An image of a wild poppy seed head with others in the background being blurred

Wild poppy seed heads

The bottom line is that setting myself this challenge has really delivered as I hoped it would and I believe it has gone further than that and the personal and creative benefits have been, and continue to be of real value to me. A nice bonus is that I’ve amassed a collection of over 180 new images with which I am very pleased.

I’m sharing this post partly so that the challenge might offer some value to others as well.

In future posts on this blog I will show more examples of the images created and explain some of the methods I’ve used; meanwhile here area couple more of the images

A photo of my linocut print of Whitby Pier being carved

A photo of my linocut print of Whitby Pier being carved

A drawing from classic cars at Vintage Village in Stockport

A drawing from classic cars at Vintage Village in Stockport

Altrincham Word Fest – May 2018

Last year I was invited by Anne Early and Yoko Isami to perform and host a poetry event as part of the Hidden Altrincham Arts Festival.

The event, in September, at Riddles (specialist spirits retailer) was a great success but little did I know at the time that the seeds had been sown to create a brand new festival focused on writing and literature; but they had well and truly been sown and the result  is Altrincham Word Fest 2018.

Altrincham Word Fest has a unique selling point: all literature festivals focus on encouraging and sharing a love of literature and reading but this new festival on the block really focuses on giving people the chance, and a gentle nudge, to create their own writing.

I am of course delighted to be part of this exciting new event on the literary calendar and you can find details of all of the events and book places by following the links below:

Sat 12th May – 13:30 to 15:30 – Life writing and personal narrative workshop with Kate Feld

Sun 13th May – 13:30 to 15:30 – Creating powerful characters with Sarah Cassidy

Sun 13th May – 13:30 to 15:30 – The stories we could tell a workshop for young people 14-18 with Seamus Kelly

Thur 17th May – 19:00 to 21:00 – An evening with Paul Carroll self-publisher extraordinaire

Sun 20th May – 13:30 to 15:30 – Creating content online with We Blog North

Thur 24th May – 19:00 to 21:00 – Poetry open-mic night hosted by Seamus Kelly

Sat 26th May – 14:00 to 16:00 – The Power of Poetry with Seamus Kelly

Sun 27th May – The art of flash fiction – How to write a short story in 150 words with David Gaffney

…..

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).

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.

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!