Monthly Archives: October 2013

It’s a cat’s life

My lovely kittens, Jimbo and Rosie are keeping me busy. They are little eating and pooing machines! They are so inquisitive, into everything. Rosie got stuck behind the kitchen skirting board last week: we didn’t even know there was a hole she could get through. I’ve found them in the dishwasher as well: always check now before I switch on. We took them to the vet for a check up and were given worming tablets. Oh my, I love giving tablets to cats! However, these two are gold medallists in the eating event, so I crushed the tablets into a small amount of food. Gone in a flash! 

On the poetry scene, I’ve been busy too. On Saturday 18th October it was the Poets and Players/Manchester Litfest event at St Peter’s Church in Ancoats, Manchester. Music from Nat Birchall and Friends and poetry readings from Michael Symmons Roberts and Michael Schmidt. What a lovely venue St Peter’s is: it’s the practice venue for the Halle, and the musicians had the benefit of a beautiful Steinway grand piano that we wouldn’t have enjoyed had we been at our usual venue in the Whitworth Gallery. We were lucky to have booked Michael Symmons Roberts prior to his collection ‘Drysalter‘ winning the Forward Prize for Best Collection, so it felt like a bit of a coup having him read for us so soon after the announcement of his win. Well deserved win, too. I bought it before it was famous; I remember sitting in the park in Fermoy on a Sunday morning in August, enjoying quiet time and reading it. I have recommended it to so many people. If you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for? I got Michael to sign my copy to add to my collection of autographed books. A delightful afternoon all round.

Both Michaels read beautifully: Symmons Roberts so assured and calm. A master class in reading to an audience. Schmidt was entertaining and I was pleased to see he was quite nervous; not because I take any delight in anyone being nervous, I’m not a sadist. But it sort of makes me feel better that I get nervous when I read to an audience too. I’m learning all the time.

On Tuesday I went to Rachel Mann’s house. Rachel is a poetry friend I met when we were both doing the MA Creative Writing at MMU. Last year we worked together on a project based in Manchester Cathedral, where Rach is Poet in Residence. My East Manchester and Tameside Stanza have written and recorded poems based on sites in the Cathedral. They will be recorded onto  Q card technology for visitors to the Cathedral to download and listen to/read as they walk around the Church. The recordings are being done by Andrew at North West Sound Archive who gives his time free of charge as long as he gets to keep a copy of the recordings. He drove down to record the poems with the group in July in Ashton-u-Lyne library, but the traffic noise from outside was intrusive (I’m being polite!). I met with Rach this week to listen to the recordings and the upshot is that most of them will have to be re-recorded in studio conditions at NWSA headquarters in Clitheroe Castle. Last time I went there (with Rach to set up the project) I slipped on a wet paving slab and fractured my right humerus right up near the shoulder. Andrew  said he would appreciate it if I would wear crampons when in go back in November!

Lastly, I have been asked to be one of a group of six past MMU MA graduates to work with composers from the Royal Northern College of Music to collaborate on a piece of work for the Richard Strauss festival next year. We poets are to write poems based on Strauss songs, inspiration can come from the music or the lyrics, in German or translation. We have been paired with a composer from RNCM who will set the poems to music and they will be performed at the Bridgewater Hall (main auditorium!) in February. The song I’m working from is ‘Sehnsucht’, a melancholy song about longing and love. I’ve made a start. We have to have our poems ready for a poets workshop at MMU on 12th November. Exciting stuff.

Oops, must go, Jimbo’s just knocked my marble solitaire off the speaker and marbles are rolling around the living room floor. It’s the best fun he’s had for at least an hour!

poetry and other animals

I’ve had another brilliant week! 

On Monday night it was the monthly meeting of Spelks, a group of poetry loving friends. We meet regularly at each others’ houses to share ideas for writing opportunities and to share our poetry. This week we met at Hilary’s house. I thought there might be home baking, but Hilary’s mum is in hospital so home baking was a task too far. But there were lovely crystal ginger biscuits covered with dark chocolate, so they came a close second. Keith set the activity this time, an opportunity for ekphrastic poetry. No, I didn’t know either, but it is writing stimulated by another artform and it can be descriptive or imaginative. He sent us some postcards of Stacey Manton’s art work depicting people in various states of ‘outsiderness’. It was a fantastic activity. I don’t normally write from art work because I don’t let my imagination fly far enough, but this time I made up backstories for three women sitting on a bench, and for a man lying on the pavement propped up against a wall. He looked like the father of someone I taught once, in my other life before poetry. We all brought some good work to share; some poignant, some sad, some funny. Hilary wrote about the four of us eating chips from the paper after the Armitage workshops last week, called it ‘Stacey Manton’s Missing Picture’, which was brilliant.

On Tuesday evening it was the Poets and Players planning meeting at Jeffrey Wainwright’s flat. We are planning next year’s programme and competition on a tight budget. If you see these advertised, please come to events and enter the competition. The events are high quality poetry and music events. For instance, on Saturday 19th October we have Michael Symmons Roberts (fresh on the heels of his Forward Prize) and Michael Schmidt reading, along with saxophonist Nat Birchall who  pays tribute to the spiritual jazz of the 1960s and 1970s with his uplifting music. He will be playing with his band including pianist Adam Fairhall, drummer Paul Hession, bassist Dave Kane and percussionist Corey Mwamba. And all this for a free entry, no need to book. St Peter’s Church, Blossom Street, Ancoats, Manchester. If you’re in the area, you’d be daft to miss it!

On Friday I was doing a live broadcast of my ekphrastic poem ‘Bookends’ (the one about the women on the bench) on Tameside Radio. I run the East Manchester and Tameside Stanza and since May this year we have had regular readings on David Peek’s Midday Mix show. However, sad news on that front: David Peek is being made redundant in about three weeks, so the poetry broadcasts might well come to an end. It’s been good coverage for the stanza, and good experience for our members. Thank you David for your support of poetry and good luck in the future.

On Friday evening I was reading at Ilkley Litfest with the East Lancs and Pennine Stanza. This stanza is run by Theresa Robson and Jo Harding, and Theresa arranged the reading at the Literature Festival. The event was called ‘The Family Skeleton’ and involved poems about family and the most famous of Yorks literary families, the Brontes. It was held at the Wildman Theatre at the Ilkley Playhouse. This is the Litfest’s fortieth year and we were all give great wodges of chocolate birthday cake with dark purple icing (much nicer than it sounds!) to celebrate. The readings were fantastic, the small audience appreciative. It was a good experience for aspiring poets, thank you Theresa and the Litfest team.

On my way to Ilkley, I had a call from my daughter, Amie. Her fiance was in Colne checking out a ‘Harry Cat’: Harry is her British Shorthair Blue and I love him so much. My own cat, Manjo, was killed on the road in May and there has been a Manjo shaped hole in my life ever since. So, Angus was checking out a ‘Harry Cat’ replacement for us. When we left the reading I had a text from Amie to say he had got the cat and ‘he is a stunner!’ So 11.30 p.m. saw us visiting my daughter to meet my stunning new British Shorthair. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at her house to find they had got us two, one each! One is a peach, blue and white tortoiseshell and one a spotted silver tabby, a female and a male. They are indeed stunning, both of them. We have called him Jimbo and her Rosie. I think I’m in love again!

Poetry and good friends

Where would we be without friends? And how did I get to be nearly 60 before I knew about poetry festivals and stuff?

This has been another week of poetry related ‘stuff’ involving good friends. I spent Tuesday writing ‘ekphrastic’ poems for a small group of poetry friends who meet monthly. We call ourselves ‘Spelks’, one of our number being a Tyne-sider. An ekphrastic poem, apparently (I didn’t know until one of our number set the task!) is a poem stimulated by a piece of art work; it can be descriptive or imaginary. These poems we are writing relate to a series of pictures involving elderly people in various states of ‘outsiderness’, and my poems involve both description and imagination. We meet up tomorrow evening at Hilary’s (there’s sure to be home baking!) to share and discuss the poems. I have written two and look forward to getting some feedback. 

On Wednesday it was Saddleworth Writers Group. We meet on the first Wednesday of each month at Uppermill library, 2.00-4.00. This is a writing group rather than a poetry group, so we have short story and travel writers as well; although three of my fellow Spelk-poets also attend. We take turns to chair the meeting and suggest ideas to stimulate the writing muscle if it needs an adrenalin boost. We usually have a fun writing activity at the meeting as well. This group is never going to leave its mark on literary history, we are all much to kind to be critical; but they are good people to be around and make an enthusiastic audience for each other’s work. We are currently working towards self publishing an anthology of poems and short prose pieces from the group, hopefully to launch in time for the Saddleworth Festival in 2015.

That was it for poetry until the weekend, then. The time between was taken up with aerobics and body toning, shopping and other necessary but less artistic activities. Even poets have to keep healthy and eat sometimes! Then whoah! Saturday was the big one.

On Saturday I went with three good friends to Ilkley Literature Festival. We set off at about 10.30 a.m. arriving in Ilkley at 11.45ish. We found somewhere to park and then went to Betty’s Tearooms for lunch. Betty’s proved to be unsurprisingly popular and we had to queue for about half an hour for a table, but oh my it was so worth it. We had a lovely lunch involving kedgeree, steak pie, omelettes, salad and chips- not all on the same plate obviously. After lunch we all bought some of their fantastic home baking to take back to our real lives. I bought Bill two ‘fat rascals’: sort of sconey/cakey things with faces of glace cherries and almonds. If you’ve never been to Betty’s, do it. You won’t be disappointed.

After lunch we walked to the Manor House where we were lucky enough to have tickets for Simon Armitage’s Masterclass writing workshop. How good was that? Only two hours long, but so many fantastic ideas for writing poetry; and we all came away with two or three poems to work up. A poem about place (I wrote about Fermoy) had to be written on a postcard that we could send to ourselves, to put us in the role of reader when it drops on the mat. Simon had put a second class stamp on the postcards, so I’ll expect it sometime next week! That was the best two hours I’ve spent all year. Simon was one of my tutors on the MA at Manchester Metropolitan, so it was lovely to see him again. A fantastic poet, and so generous with his time and support (I just wrote suppoet, I think it was Freudian!)

We left there at 4.00ish and had a look around the Ilkley shops. The charity shops in Ilkley are like expensive boutiques that you can afford to go in. I found at least two dresses that I would have bought if I had anywhere posh enough to go to! Gradually we wandered down to the Playhouse/Wildman Theatre for the next event. This is the 40th anniversary of Ilkley Lit Fest and there was a reading by past poets in residence. I’m reading at the Wildman next Friday with the East Lancs and Pennine Stanza so it was good to do a reccy of the venue. Eight or nine current or past poets in residence read and they were all really good. But ‘fantastic’ is reserved for Rommi Smith who read poems about the sea. Hers was a masterclass in reading as her voice ebbed and flowed like the tide. I loved it, I’ll be putting her name forward to the Poets and Players committee when we meet in the week. There was a champagne reception in the bar afterwards. OK, it was prosecco, but it was free and it was lovely to meet the poets and give them positive feedback. Earlier in the day I had bought Bernadine Evaristo’s new novel Loverman and who walked into the bar while I was on my second glass but Bernadine herself, so I got my copy signed. 

We left the theatre and went off in search of the next venue: oh, yes did I mention this was another poetry marathon? We stopped off in a pub for beer and crisps then went to  Kings Hall for another Simon Armitage event. We read our poems from the workshop to each other over our drinks, an impromptu poetry workshop. We got to Kings Hall in plenty of time for the reading, but already the venue was filling up and we could only find four seats together about six rows from the back. Simon was giving a talk on Ted Hughes and sharing his memories of that great poet and how Hughes influenced Armitage’s own life as a poet. What was really special was to hear recordings of Hughes reading his own poems. ‘Thought Fox’, obviously; but also ‘Full Moon and LIttle Frieda’, which is a stunning poem, emotional and full of parental love. And several others. The whole session was spell-binding. We left there buzzing. It made me deseperate to revisit Hughes’s poems now.

We found a chippy and sat on the wall by the parked car, like four bag ladies, eating chips from the paper. It was a lovely warm night for October and we shared some more poems by the light of a street lamp. Penny had brought a sliced ginger cake with her to Ilkley so we had that for pudding. I’m not saying it was the best meal I’ve had this year but it runs a very close second! We drove home at about 9.30, tired but replete with carbs and poetry. When I got home I made a brew and shared one of the fat rascals with Bill; I should say he shared it with me, as I really did buy them for him!

I love my Spelk friends: they make me feel like a schoolgirl again. Thanks for a wonderful and memorable day, ladies. See you tomorrow night!