After 12 months where many of our normal daily activities have been severely curtailed it was really great to hear that one of my poems, “Pigments”, will be published in the 2021 edition of the Bolton Review.
During the periods of lockdown, weighed down with concerns about the safety of our loved ones, friends and the public at large, it has sometimes been difficult to concentrate on writing. I’ve always tended to write best when I have a good clear head and can experience the world and emotions without them being clouded.
That means that I’ve only written a handful of poems in the last year so for one of that small number to be published is not only exciting, but also a reminder that sometimes it isn’t how much we write that is important but what we write.
Pigments is a poem about how stories are created and how, like life, they change with each retelling. I wouldn’t pre-empt the published version yet by sharing on this blog, but here are a few lines to whet appetites:
My metal nib scratches and slides,
scratches and slides,
laying its snail-trail of ideas.
Whilst writing less than usual I’ve managed to keep stoking the metaphorical fires of creativity by focusing more on my photography and image making including starting on a new series of linocut prints of which I will write more in a forthcoming blog post.
Having previously reviewed the book, England; Poems from a school, by poet, author and teacher Kate Clanchy I was glad of the opportunity to hear her speak at the Rochdale Literature and ideas festival in October 2019 and write a review of the event for the Rochdale Observer and All Across the Arts.
Kate’s new book “Some kids I taught and what they taught me” is genuinely engrossing, thought provoking and inspirational. I’ll write a fuller review of the book when I have re-read it but in the meantime I can say with confidence that reading this book would benefit all teachers and people who work with young people and is especially valuable to the of us who work with young people who have had traumatic lives.
Many of the audience for this event were teachers and all enjoyed the talk and there was lots of chatter and discussion afterwards. You can see my review, as it appeared in the Rochdale Observer, below;
Recently I was invited by my friend and fellow poet, Eileen Earnshaw, to play a small part in a project with a Bolton creative writing group.
The article reproduced below gives some information about the project which looked at the Worktown project in Bolton from 1935to 1942 and in particular to look into the Cotton Queens to inform some new writing. A 30 minute audio play and a number of poems have already been produced. My role was to accompany the writers as they visited the Blackpool Archives to carry out further research and to make photographic records of the event.
Whilst in Blackpool for the project I was also inspired to write a poem inspired by my time with the ladies from the project.
The whole project will culminate in an exhibition, performance of the play and a documentary recorded with the support of the media faculty at Bolton University.
An interesting and inspiring day out with an enthusiastic group of writers and the opportunity to have a close look at some of Blackpool’s archives with the added fish and chips.
A selection of my photographs from the event and my newly written poem will feature in the exhibition in Bolton.
When I first noticed my picture in the Rochdale Observer I was surprised as I hadn’t expected to be the focus of an article by Norman Warwick. I’ve known Norman, as he says, for quite a long time and have on occasion had the chance to work alongside him. Reading the words Norman had written about me I was genuinely moved.
The paragraph “He faces straight ahead into concerns that even poets often turn away from and he addresses those concerns with an honesty and courage too many of us lack” really hit home, making me think about why I write the things I do. If I can continue to live up to that in my writing and in creating and leading workshops for writers and young people then I will be more than satisfied.
As a poet I don’t always choose my topic or subject, often they tend to choose themselves in the way that events are thrust upon us and cannot be ignored. Sometimes when things happen I find it impossible not to respond poetically; such responses are not always immediate and I tend not to use writing as a catharsis.
The poems that emerge from life events are some of the hardest to create and I feel that I only write well when I am thinking clearly and although emotions have a massive part in that writing they must take a back seat in the drive to a finished piece.
When we write all of us are influenced by our own personal experiences but when we write for an audience, for readers, then each person hearing or reading the work needs to feel a connection to it. If I write about a personal event I don’t want to exclude others so I talk about the feelings that all of us will have experienced at some time. For example when I wrote about the loss of my own Dad in “A platform I don’t know” I didn’t talk about the amazing man I had lost but rather about how that loss makes you feel about we respond to it. You can listen to “A platform I don’t know” but clicking HERE or you can find it in my book, Thinking Too Much, which you can buy HERE.
The Rochdale Literature and Ideas Festival 2019 took place in late October at various locations across the borough of Rochdale. For local creative writers a highlight is the Writers Showcase event which on this occasion took place in St Mary’s in the Baum, one of Rochdale’s impressive historical churches.
I was delighted to have the chance to close the session with a set of my own poetry following some great performances from others including a standout set from Sue Devaney and a remarkable and moving performance from “Sing Along With Us” – Jade Kilduff and her younger brother Christian.
The newspaper review of the event is shown in the image below.
When Touchstones Creative Writing Group asked me to deliver a writing workshop on 4th July it was always going to be themed around Independence.
But I felt this workshop needed to be much wider than the best known “Independence Day” as celebrated and commemorated on this day in the USA so I brought along research about some of the 150+ other countries who also celebrate their independence on days throughout the year. Discussion included the easiest and most recent cases of countries gaining their independence and some cases where a country has gained independence more than once.
This led to discussion about various types of independence and what they mean to different people in order to help to inform some new writing.
I read a brand new poem titled “I can do it” written specially for this workshop and there were periods for writing and the participants shared their work with the group. The quality and variety of work was genuinely excellent, feedback was supportive and positive and it was a real pleasure to lead such a session.
The writers produced, poems, prose, factual accounts, a formal letter, a song and flash fiction. Topics covered included The American Civil War, children growing up, a granddaughter’s first steps, Zimbabwe, dementia, bravery, recovery from dependence on prescribed medication and a story about receiving a first pay packet. There was lots of discussion and reminiscence around the work shared in the room and I will certainly workshop around this theme again – even when it isn’t 4th July!
Perhaps the best feedback a facilitator can hope for is when a participant waits at the end of the session to explain how it has helped them. On this occasion a lady told me she had been blocked, unable to write, for the last 3 years after having trouble with physical illness but she had written two very promising and effective pieces during the session and she felt enthused and inspired and could not wait to get home to write some more. That is what creative writing groups like this aim to do, to provide the encouragement and support to enable people to enjoy their writing and develop skills and confidence and comments like these prove their worth.
Touchstones Creative Writing Group meet monthly from 2.00pm to 4.00pm on the first Thursday of the month at Touchstones on The Esplanade, Rochdale and sessions are led my professional writers.
we began the workshop with quick introductions and a chat about why people had come along. Some were very new to poetry whilst others had been writing poetry for some time and some wanted to reignite their own poetry writing.
We spent a little time looking at the exhibition and using images selected from each section from A to C created lines or phrases which were gradually developed into poems.
We also selected a single image to consider in more detail using it for the inspiration to develop another piece of writing using a mind mapping approach.
The participants had fun, produced some great new writing and with an age range from 5 years old to a little older than myself proved that as long as you have the basics of the language and some suitable inspiration you can produce worthwhile poetry.
The tweet shown above from the Library service, who arranged the workshop, shows that the use of Dave Ball’s exhibition for inspiration was successful. I’m looking forward to meeting Dave this weekend to talk about his work and how the workshop was able to draw on it for our inspiration.
There is still time to visit the exhibition and tomorrow, Saturday 9th February, the artist Dave Ball who is normally based in Berlin, will be at the gallery to give a talk about his work. The artist talk will take place at 1:00pm and there is no need to book for this free event. You can find out more HERE
This afternoon I was able to go over to Oldham and spend some time in the gallery taking in David Ball exhibition “A to Z: The First Seven Years”.
On Saturday 2nd February I’ll be running a poetry workshop in this space using David’s exhibition and ongoing project for inspiration so today was all about finding some of that inspiration in preparation.
I had a good look at lots of the pictures and spent quite some time soaking in the atmosphere and even watching the reactions of those visiting the exhibition.Things that occurred to me included:
The scale of the exhibits surprised me
The scale of the task for the artist is hard to comprehend
The word “scale” is a good few years further through the alphabet
What if the dictionary were indexed by years and months rather than pages?
I wonder if he can really complete it
What happens when he reaches the word “unfinished”?
I speak at around 100 words a minute so it would take me almost 20 minutes just to read a list of the words represented on the walls – only 20 minutes to list 7 years of work….
I wonder if, having moved from drawings and illustrations to photos, the artist will embrace other ways of visualising as the project develops
I wonder if I could talk to the artist about this….
Some of the pictures are what we might expect but others are really personal, unusual and clever interpretations of the word, I loved the image for asylum shown here:
I’m looking forward to the workshop even more having completed today’s visit.
The second Altrincham Word Fest will run from 11th to 26th May 2019 at various venues in the town and promises to be even more exciting that the first edition held in 2018.
Last year’s festival followed a poetry event created by Anne Early and Yoko Isami as part of the Hidden Arts Festival in 2017. That first festival in 2018 proved to be a great, popular success with demand for new events and bigger venues for 2019 and Anne and Yoko are putting the finishing touches to the schedule of events in May.
So why am I, a Rochdale poet, so keen to promote this event?
Is it because I’ve been invited back to Altrincham for the 3rd year in a row (1st year was the Hidden Arts Festival)? Perhaps a little bit….
Is it because it has a great line up of talent? Well it does….
Is it because it celebrates writing and literature? Well it does….
Is it because it is different from other Literature Festivals? Yes, absolutely!
This is a festival that does something different, this is a festival for writers; it puts its energies into encouraging all of us to go out and create, to write our own literature and to share the joy of writing; and it does that through workshops, performances, writer events and of course the open mic (that I’ll be hosting again in 2019).
As a writer I experience and see the benefits people from all walks of life, of all ages and with all levels of experience can gain from putting their thoughts and ideas into words. I know the value in terms of enjoyment, fulfilment, health and well-being that writing can bring and to be involved in a festival that promotes this is both a privilege and a great pleasure.
Dates for the specific events will be appearing soon on the www.altrinchamwordfest.com website and on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
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
Next Thursday, 5th July, I am honoured to once again be facilitating a workshop for Rochdale’s Touchstones Creative Writing Group (TCWG).
The workshop will include plenty of opportunity for the participants to write and there will be two separate but related writing exercises during the session. Usually I like to create a challenge where the writer will need to take different approaches for each piece of writing in order to help develop the range of their writing skills and in this workshop the challenge will be in the format as well as the content of the writing.
I will keep the detail of specific themes and styles under my hat until the day but there will be no shortage off ideas and there may be a connection to one of the new exhibitions at Touchstones.
As always I’m looking forward to working with some of Rochdale’s talented and enthusiastic writers.
TCWG is a friendly and welcoming group and they are always glad to see new faces so if you can make it to the session you’ll be more than welcome. The session runs from 2.00pm to 4.00pm.
My first event at Altrincham Word Fest last month was the poetry open mic, in the upstairs room at Coco’s Italian Restaurant, where poets and listeners enjoyed an evening full of top-notch and varied poetry.
Once we had managed to shoehorn everyone in we started off with a few of my own poems before the first of the open-mic performers took the stage. It was genuinely a pleasure to hear 16 year old Alex Swinton and 18 year old Nanda Saravanan, both students at Altrincham Grammar school, remind us that young people have depth, empathy, can see beyond the obvious and then translate what they see into words.
With a total of 14 people contributing their work in the open mic session we had poems about relationships, politics, Mills and Boon, mathematics, illness and bereavement, growing up, oran-utans, South Africa, whales, Metrolink, truth and lies, dreams, nature, a cosmic photo album and society. There were smiles and laughter, sad faces and perhaps the occasional tear; in fact everything we might hope for in an evening of poetry.
The atmosphere and support for all of the poets was superb and it was honestly great fun and a privilege to compere the evening.
Many thanks to the following poets for sharing with us:
Fred (the Urban Poet) Varden
As the event approached I had wondered how ticket sales had been going when I received a message from organiser Anne Early that the session had sold out and sales had to be closed. On the night we had even more people arrive and the capacity of the room was stretched beyond its normal limits but the atmosphere was calm, friendly and supportive (if a little warm).
Final thanks to Anne Early and Yoko Isami for organising the event and the festival and to Jane Eaton for providing the venue.