Oldham Library on National Poetry Day

Now as the metaphorical poetic dust settles on National Poetry Day 2016 it is time to look back and reflect on a busy and rewarding day. My day started with an early trip to Pleckgate High School in Blackburn and my morning there is the subject of its own blog post HERE. In the evening after a quick change and a bite to eat I was off to run a session for Oldham Libraries.

Way back in May I had a message from Oldham Library asking if I was available to run an evening poetry session for National Poetry Day in October. A little discussion followed around the nature of the session required, times and fees and the session was duly booked. Some basic biographical information, detail of the workshop and a photo were provided for publicity purposes and all was set with 5 months still to go.

A few days before the event I was contacted by the super-helpful Sam Thornley from the Library to enquire if there was anything I would need for the session and make sure all was in hand. On the day it was Sam who met me as I arrived at the Library, showed me to the performance are and to the dressing room complete with tea and coffee and a key so that I could leave things securely. This this was the first time I’ve been offered a dressing room; I found myself wishing that I’d not get ready before leaving the house.

I started the session by sharing a few of my poems and a couple by Seamus Heaney and Pablo Neruda and followed that up with a brief chat with the participants. It turned out, as it often does, that some people were already fairly accomplished writers with a number coming from various local writing groups, others were keen to refine or develop skills and techniques whilst some others had not yet written any poetry at all.

I based the session on my Power of Poetry workshop (see details of my workshops HERE) and everyone got involved in discussion and creating something brand new. Samples of some lines/thoughts from the participants are shown below:

img_2585

 

As we headed home Sam was already collecting the first feedback from participants so that the next morning he could email me with some feedback including:

  • the audience found the session to be fantastic!
  • We have had many rating the workshop as excellent
  • one lady told us it was “life changing”; many have even requested that we host similar events more often in the future.

I am of course delighted with this feedback and look forward to further opportunities to work with Oldham Library.

 

Poeting for National Poetry Day 2016

workshop-prep-aug-16smallThis Thursday, 6th October, is National Poetry day here in the United Kingdom and there is no shortage of poetry related activity around the country. If your diary isn’t already full

Tonight I’m looking forward to a busy poetry packed day which will see me working with as many as 200 young people in a Lancashire high school in the morning. We’ll discover more about the messages in poetry, head off on an adventure and of course write and share some brand new poetry; all without leaving the library (or learning resource centre as we call them in schools these days).

If your diary isn’t already full then I’ll be off to Oldham where I’ll be running my “The Power of Poetry” workshop in the evening. There are still places available and the event is provided free of charge by Oldham Library but places should be booked online at https://oldham.spydus.co.uk/Events/Events/EventDetail?PgmId=98

Starting at 6.30pm I’ll be sharing some poems, and showing how poetry can convey our stories, ideas and emotions with great power. I’ll guide and inspire new writers (and those with more experience) with handy techniques to create writing full of power and feeling. Everyone will be able to leave with a brand new work to be taken away, to be polished, nurtured and to be proud of.

 

Kultura – August 2016 with James Nash

A short trip up the road to Todmorden for Kultura at Kava is always rewarded with a mixture of quality poetry, unexpected insights from the guest lecturer and of course and excellent cup of coffee.

kultura james nash

The guest lecturer last week was James Nash, top Yorkshire poet, who gave an interesting talk about how growing up in urban environments and now spending a significant proportion of his time in the country has influenced his writing, reading and life. He referenced influential writers, poets and songwriters  and I particularly enjoyed the section about walking along a dark country lane in Wales with references to both Wordsworth and Henry Vaughan. Having spent much of my time in the country James’ experiences often contrasted with my own and I was inspired to draft a little piece after the lecture reflecting my own experience of the total darkness in the countryside as a teenager.

Picture of James Nash lecture and my notes

James Nash’s lecture and my notes from the evening

Feature poet for the night was Atar Hadari, Israeli born poet, writer, playwright actor and mentor with a mix of poems giving new ways of looking at familiar stories from the Old Testament in his own words and translations of works from other writers. He read from his translation of Bialik, from his own book, Rebrandt’s Bible and spoke fondly of his mum rescuing the lamps of deceased Jews. Entertaining, thought provoking and (for some perhaps) a little controversial – great stuff.

John Foggin then read and led the discussion of his favourite poem (at least for the moment) and the evening ended with the open mic session featuring:

Anthony Costelloe, Shirley-Anne Kennedy, Jessica, Jonathan, Simon, Annie, Robert, John and myself.

There are only a few more of these monthly sessions left, as after three busy and successful years, Anthony will be folding up his compere’s music stand with a final flourish at the end of this year.

Remaining dates are – 29 September, 27 October, 24 November and 15 December 2016

And did I mention the coffee – it will still be served at Kava after Kultura has gone….

 

Hannah’s Bookshelf – Guest poet on North Manchester FM – 3 Sept 2016

What a great time I had on the radio yesterday afternoon. Having appeared in a brief slot to read some poetry on North Manchester Radio back in July I was delighted to be invited back as the guest on Hannah’s Bookshelf yesterday.

You can find the program on North Manchester Radio HERE.

For a reading, performance or a workshop we (writers and poets) can always prepare fairly comprehensively; usually having a plan with a few extra options so that it can be varied to fit the mood and needs of the audience.

Photo of Seamus reading on the radio

Reading on the radio – photo courtesy of Hannah

As a guest on the radio that preparation is a little different. In this case I knew the show consisted of two sections. In the first I’d be chatting about writing and poetry so it was just a case of having poems, being myself and being prepared to discuss whatever came up. In the second I would talk about three books I’d choose to save in the event of an apocalypse; for this section I could have a good think in advance, select my books, find something to say about why I’d chosen them and make sure they were not already saved by previous guests.

Each guest on Hannah’s Bookshelf selects three books and the choices are added to Hannah’s The Library at the End of Days  which is well worth a look and gives an insight into the range of guests on the show. My choices will be added to the site shortly and are titles by Gerald Durrell, Pablo Neruda and Seamus Heaney.

The whole show will be available online in a couple of days and I’ll post a link HERE.

Hannah has a great, relaxed and supportive style and the discussion flowed naturally including how I first got into poetry, when we reach the point of calling ourselves “poets” and a discussion about some of the things poets do as well as writing poems (e.g. workshops, events, readings, listening to and reading other poets etc.). A handful of poems were added into the mix and two hours simply flew by.

Great fun this radio stuff and it certainly gets easier with practice.

Feedback from Weaving Words – 22nd August 2016

Wow! What a great night over at Heywood Library on Monday.

Manchester pens 1Usually for an event in August we can expect low numbers as people are busy childminding, taking holidays and have lots of things to do other than go out and listen to a poet and take part in a writing workshop. Not this time – the room was full to capacity pushing the Edwardian air conditioning (little windows that opened with a pole) to its limits.

After a lovely (and not yet earned) brew and biscuits and a quick reorganisation of the furniture so everyone had somewhere to sit I was introduced by Eileen Earnshaw for the first “performance” part of the session. As I had planned I used mostly more recent poems supplemented by a few from my book and with excellent responses from the audience we all had a good time talking about bike racing, being an outsider, family, money, politics and modern society.

After the half hour “reading” (performance/reading/telling? – that is a discussion for another post) had flown by it was time for the workshop. We talked about what poetry is and I laid out a few simple rules for the session, gave some examples and offered some advice as I steered the group into creating their own poems of 16 lines. As always in workshop situations I was amazed by the way 20 people can put such different slants on a subject and the stunning and varied ways in which words could be combined to add impact.

New poemWe had poems about people, about places, about words and even about motorbikes and as the session went on I spent time supporting each of the participants whether through ideas, phrasing, choice of words, rhymes etc. Every now and then I’d come across something that really grabbed my attention and that was so clever, unique and powerful that with the permission of the writer would share it with the whole group.

We ended with some of the poets reading their work or having me read to the group on their behalf. Several of the attendees had never written poetry before but you really would know from hearing or seeing their words.

I’m grateful to Weaving Words and Eileen Earnshaw for inviting me to run this session, to Rochdale council and Punam Ramchurn for organising the venue and funding, to Heywood Library for their welcome and facilities and of course to to participants who threw themselves into the session and produced work to be very proud of. Thanks all. Below is some of the feedback received at the event:

Responses:

  • Did you enjoy the session   –  Yes:15     No:0
  • Was the session useful   – Yes:16     No:0
  • Would you attend future sessions   –     Yes:14 No:1
Comments:
  • Excellent, Inspiring
  • Very innovative, learning something new every session
  • Very useful for a technique to write in a more interesting and layered way
  • Really enjoyed the session and I nearly wrote my first poem (to be completed). Thank you very much
  • Great workshop, thought provoking
  • Lovely poetry and great workshop
  • Learnt loads, Seamus was great, loved the poetry and was helpful & encouraging during his workshop

Touchstones Creative Writing Group – Sketching with Words

Looking forward to facilitating at Touchstones in Rochdale on Thursday and currently putting the finishing touches to this edition of my workshop “Sketching with Words”.

All are welcome, including non-members, for the session which runs from 2.00pm to 4.00pm.

Image of Flyer from Touchstones Creative Writing Group

Flyer from Touchstones Creative Writing Group

Participants will ideally bring something to write with (pen, pencil, paper, back of an envelope, tablet, computer etc.) and other than that just an open mind and their own imagination.

We’ll run through some techniques and ideas and of course there will be plenty of opportunity to write and develop new pieces.

See you there….

North Manchester Radio

It was really great to meet up with fellow poets Joy France, AndyN, George Mellor, Sharon Lowe and William Michael Neary for the North Manchester Radio Bookshelf poetry special with Kate Hannah.

Seamus performs on North Manchester radio

Seamus performs on North Manchester radio

I was on along with Joy and enjoyed sharing a few poems, listening to a few of Joy’s and then we were off to be followed by the next poets. Here you can see a photo snapped by presenter Hannah as I performed my short set of poems.

If you missed the show you can find more information on Hannah’s site HERE and you can also listen to the show on mixcloud by clicking HERE

North Manchester FM Radio – Sat 23rd July

A few days ago top poet, Tony Walsh (Longfella), put out a call on behalf of North Manchester Radio and Hannah Kate for poets to appear on a special live version of her regular Bookshelf programme.
After a look at the station’s website – Northmanchester.fm – I decided that this was a show I’d be happy to involved with. Hannah broadcasts her Bookshelf programme weekly with a range of literary guests and topics and does this alongside her other life as an academic researcher, lecturer and writer. You can find out more on her website here – hannahkate.net

Time

So tonight I’m busy finalising a short set for tomorrow’s programme where I’ll be appearing (if one can “appear” on the radio) along with fellow poets Joy France, Andy N, William Michael Neary, Sharon Lowe and George Melling.

You can pick up the programme locally on 106.6FM or online at northmanchester.fm/listen and the broadcast will run from 2.00pm to 3.00pm.

 

 

An 80th birthday poem; “Can you hear it?”

My father-in-law turned 80 last week so my wife organised a party at award winning local pub; The Baum in Rochdale.

A few days before the event the question of maybe producing a poem to be read at the event was raised and of course I was delighted to offer to write something for the occasion. It is at times like this, when the poet has to produce something suited to an occasion and on a short time-scale, that all the techniques I pass on through workshops really come into their own.

First of all there are a few decisions to be taken which will help shape the final work e.g.;

  • What is the function of the piece (this one was mainly to amuse or entertain)
  • What is the target audience
  • What style of poem are we aiming for

In this case I knew that the poem needed to entertain, to make people smile or laugh and at the same time perhaps tell them something new about the subject. For an 80th birthday the subject had to be the octagenarian himself. Even with someone you know there will be interesting and amusing things you don’t know about them that might well make very useful content for the poem (adventures, misadventures, specialist skills or knowledge etc.) so it is well worth talking to others to research your subject.

A picture of my notebook showing the original ideas

The initial ideas – words and images

Using the idea generating techniques I frequently promote I initially jotted ideas into my notebook both in words and visual forms. In this case I knew the subject was well-travelled and having found out some of the places he had visited I did some on-line research so that I could include relevant details in the poem. Ideas from the research were added to the initial notes.

A picture of a print of the finished poem "Can you hear it"

The finished poem, “Can you hear it?”

At the start of the process I often have little idea as to the eventual form of the finished poem, I start with ideas and words and as lines start to form then the rhythm of the piece gradually establishes itself. For an amusing piece I find that rhyme can be quite useful and once I have a set of rough verses I will spend some time considering some rhymes and the patterns they might form. I never treat rhyme as a strict rule and if for example the second and forth lines of the verses have rhyming words to finish them that won’t stop me including a verse (or more) without the rhymes or with a completely different pattern.

Once I’ve reached the stage of a fairly complete poem I will read it out loud to see how it sounds and how it can be improved. After 2 or 3 edits I will, if possible, share the work with someone else to get feedback and help to further refine it. In this case my wife, Maggie, provided valuable input to the development process. There comes a point where I’ll decide that the poem is complete, it has usually migrated to the word processor by that stage and I will save a “final” version and often print it. Of course after that whenever I look closely at the poem and read it a few more times I often make further changes; About then the poem acquires a title, this one became “can you hear it?”. I’m not sure if a poem is ever fully completed.

The poem itself may appear on this blog in due course but here are a few lines with references to John’s adventures through the years:

“The mighty Mekong isn’t flowing / as they try to catch the word”

“and beside the Seinne in Paris / Marcel Marceau paused; mid-mime”

“And as he strides across the mountains / Mr. Mills has all they style, /but he hasn’t had much water / walking mile after mile after mile.”

The acid test of course is the reaction from the chosen audience. Did they get it, did they enjoy it, did they smile, did they laugh in the right places, did they applaud naturally and did they do that terribly British thing of coming over quietly afterwards to say “Good poem, mate!”? Did the person you had written about appreciate and enjoy it?

Picture of John and Eileen at his 80th birthday party

John and Eileen

This time the answer was yes to all of the above so justifying my confidence in the creative processes and to some extent my ability to write to suit the purpose.

Poetic Summer Preparations

With students well into the exam season and schools starting to wind down towards the end of their year it is time for a poet to prepare for the Summer.

The great thing for a poet is having plenty of ideas to work with and I’m in the fortunate position of having, at least half a dozen in progress right now and a few themes waiting to be developed.

works in progress small

There is a new collection slowly developing with the focus of family and friends and a number of ideas for illustrating some of my existing work – more on that here as it progresses. My first collection, “Thinking Too Much”, is available as an ebook from Amazon or you can email here to buy a copy.

There are workshops to polish and refresh for a couple of writing groups, libraries and a reading group and for schools when they return from the Summer holidays.

National Poetry Day falls on the first Thursday of October and the theme for 2016 is “Messages” so I’ll be tweaking some of my workshops to fit in more closely. Unfortunately I am fully booked on the day itself but I still have some availability during the week.

Add to the mix the relaunch of a writing group, a couple of small commissions and the events I hope to take in it should be a fairly busy summer.

All the time I will also be working on my collections of photography and images. Images can be purchased on a range of formats including prints from 10″x8″ size to customisable framed prints and even printed onto mugs. To purchase images go to www.imagesbyseamuskelly.co.uk

 

Eroica Britannia – The Universal Citizen – a little irony!

So the big day arrived and there I was sitting waiting over to one side of the stage and as the announcer stepped up introduce me I waited for the signal to climb the few steps to the stage.

I’d finally settled on the poems to complete the set the previous evening and they were printed and ready in my hand with a copy of my book as back-up should I decide to make any changes to the set as I went along. All pretty normal except that my hand that was shaking less than it usually might and I was feeling quite calm.

The signal came I stepped onto the steps, thanked the compere for her lovely introduction and walked up to the single microphone in the middle of the stage. There had been no soundcheck so I was a little surprised by the strength of the foldback speakers but at least I knew the audience would be able to hear:

“Hello

I’m Seamus

And I’m

I’m a poet….”

With those first few lines of one of my longest lived poems I introduced myself and hopefully set the mood.

As I did so the organisers projected a massive fluttering Union Jack on the large screen behind me. I had absolutely no idea and as I talked to the audience I had no reason to look back.

Picture of Seamus reading with a large Union Jack projected in the background

Reading at Eroica 2016

Photograph courtesy of my friend Howard Broughton.

My poetry doesn’t shy away from issues and it is no secret that my strong beliefs in social justice and fair treatment for ALL human beings are dear to me and feature large in my writing.

So as I stood (unknowing) in front of that massive symbol of national pride I read “Universal Citizen” pointing out that we are all the same regardless of where we happen to be born, I read “Not like the rest” criticising successive governments for failing to treat some people properly and I read poems about my own Irish (immigrant) background.

I now know (because they told me) that some of the audience loved the irony of that juxtaposition of myself and my words against that flag.

To me Nationalism is all about pride based on things other people have done in a place where we happen to be born or originate from. Of course we can be justifiably proud of our backgrounds but the flag, like all national flags, is not just a symbol of pride and of belonging but it can also be an emblem of difference, a symbol of we are better than you and if not used with care it can become divisive.

I love the place I was born, I love the places my parents were born. There are also other places I have come to love.

I don’t wave flags because where I happened to have been born and where my parents happened to have been born makes me no better, no worse, no more entitled or no more deserving than anyone else.

I am the Universal Citizen; whether you wave a flag behind me or not!

 

As for the set itself? Well the audience were great, very responsive and very attentive. People reacted to all of the less obvious references in the poems although very few picked up the references to Pancho and Lefty. The applause was warm and I was particularly pleased when people I’ve never met before came along to buy copies of my book which of course I was very happy to dedicate for them.