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!