This week I’ve been on a poetry retreat in St. Ives. The worst bit was the journey here, the best bit was all the rest. Sun, sea, fresh air, pasties, cream teas and poetry: I feel so revived.
I left home at 8.00 a.m. on Sunday last to get the train to St. Ives from Manchester Piccadilly. I met Hilary Robinson in M&S Just Food where we bought a picnic for the long journey. In the event it was a good job we over-purchased: it’ll be a long journey, Caruthers, and we’ll need to use our rations wisely.
We caught the train in plenty of time for ‘take off’; we settled into our seats, reading materials and rations close at hand. The train left on time. I read my Cambridge Companion to the Sonnet en route, and took notes of the journey for the long poem we have start to write for Spelks next week. First stop, Birmingham. We made our connection, settled into our new seats and waited for departure. We waited and waited. At last an announcement: we apologise for the delay, we hope to be able to leave shortly. Thirty minutes passed, by which time we were stressing about connections at Taunton. At last another announcement: we apologise for the delay, one engine is not working, we have only one engine. We will be leaving shortly but will need to travel slowly as we are an engine down. Thank you for your patience. The last sentence was redundant; we didn’t have any patience left, we knew we would definitely be missing our next connection. But the train did leave ‘shortly’ and we settled down, read, took notes and ate our rations sparingly, Caruthers.
The train, rather than getting to Taunton by the shortest route, actually called at Newport, Gwent, so I guess you could say it was international travel. We pulled into Newport and backed out, travelled onto Taunton; except by now we had decided to not get off at Taunton: our connection was well missed by now, so we would go on to Plymouth and get a Penzance train from there. The train attendant agreed that was probably best. Except, approaching Newton Abbot, the announcement came across that this train will terminate at Newton Abbot. Passengers for Plymouth and Penzance should leave here. So we were stuck in Devon, needing to find our own way to St. Ives; thank goodness for thetrainline.com We met Helen Kay on the train just before Newton Abbot, so we three musketeers journeyed on together. Hilary had the foresight to ring the hotel to ask them to save us a meal: they said it would probably be a salad, which was most disheartening on a cold February day. I so needed stodge.
We managed to get a train in Newton Abbot which took us all the way to St. Erth and our last connection to St. Ives. Except that train was also running slightly late and it pulled into St. Erth two minutes after the last train for St. Ives had left. So we are stranded on another station, with a young man and his daughter, looking like an Enid Blyton book cover: Five don’t go to St. Ives. Thank fully there was an MPV taxi in the car park. It seemed a tall order, but the lovely taxi driver got us all in, including copious luggage, and eventually we made it to Treloyhan Manor, more than twelve hours after we left home. We were sent straight to the lounge for our meal: huzzah, it wasn’t a salad it was a reheated roast dinner. We made it Caruthers: eat, drink and be merry. We washed it down with a Rattlers Cider. While we were eating, Bernice turned up: she’d also had a train journey from hell. She is not good on her feet and, although she travels alone, she has assistance with her connections. Her first connection, also at Birmingham, had separated her from her luggage, which she didn’t get back until midweek and for which she had to pay the enormous sum of £70.00 for the courier. Outrageous.
Enough! I realise I have ranted on for 700 words and haven’t even got beyond day one! My room has a lovely sea view, so that was restorative:
and I’m pleased to say, the rest of the week has been wonderful. Hilary and I had Monday to ourselves until the course proper began at 4.00 p.m. (actually 3.30 if you count the wonderful cream tea the hotel provided every day)! We walked into St. Ives after breakfast, looked around the shops, planned to go to the museum to see the world’s smallest dog (yes really) and visit the Tate, but both were closed for refurb; so we had to make do with the shops and a beach bar for al fresco Rattlers looking out to sea.
We met the other course participants, and its leaders Kim Moore and David Tait, over said cream tea at 3.30. The course was themed ‘Panorama! Poems from around the world’. Through the week we read poets from China and the far east, the Americas and Eastern Europe. It was refreshing in this awful age of closing perspectives to raise our eyes above our own horizons to celebrate the power of the human voice to cross continents. We had a couple of hours writing on Monday before dinner, then in the evening we all took a favourite poem by a poet who wasn’t us and had a read around. We had a wonderful evening with a variety of poetic voices. You probably won’t be surprised to hear I took a Selima Hill poem.
Tuesday, Wednesday: full-on days of workshop. We wrote poems responding to the poems we read, and I have to say the standard of response was amazing. Most of the poets on the course were experienced, published poets so the work produced was impressive. I loved the poems David brought from China, his adopted home. No, they weren’t comfortable poems, they were often disturbingly troubled; but they often gave a voice to the voiceless, the anonymous worker. Wonderful and disturbing in equal measure. I feel I got some poems worth the effort, and worth working on when I get home.
On Tuesday after dinner, Kim and David gave us a reading of their own poems, which was really enjoyable; and on Wednesday the wonderful Penelope Shuttle was the guest poet. She read two fifteen minute slots. I decided she was a Time Lord: she read for fifteen minutes that passed like fifteen seconds and she managed to pack in fifteen hours worth of words. The time passed so quickly: she was so entertaining to listen to; and I have two more signed collections to add to my poetry library at home.
On Monday the headcold I brought with me to Cornwall was in full swing, so Hilary and I walked to a near-by Tesco for Hall’s soothers and Vicks Vapour-rub (the old remedies are the best!). While we were there we found Rattlers cider on offer, three bottle for £5, compared with the £4.50 each in the bars, so we availed ourselves of the offer, chilled it by hanging it out of the window in a carrier bag, and drank chilled cider in Hilary’s room, like the two devoted students we are.
On Thursday, after a very short workshop indoors, Kim sent us out into St. Ives to find a poem among the speech we heard, so Hilary and I set off together through the hotel grounds down to Porthminster Beach, not really knowing where a poem was going to come from. Imagine our delight when, as we were walking down The Warren, we bumped into Simon Armitage walking up–of all the streets in all the world…! We stopped for a chat–I know Simon from when he was a tutor on my MA Creative Writing course at Manchester Met. Here was the first stanza of my poem arriving fully formed, then. The rest took care of itself as I relied on conversations I had in charity shops, and even with a fledgling seagull over the pasty I had for lunch. Back in the classroom, the consensus was that we had made it up, the bit about Simon, but it was absolutely true and a highlight of the week for me.
On Friday we had a critiquing workshop; we all took along twelve copies of a poem we had written in the week, or one we had brought from home for feedback from the group. I took a poem I wrote during the week, about a spider who used to live in my house and whom I called Harold Abrahams on account of the rapid circuit of the lounge he made every evening. I might post it here one day, but not yet; it still has places to go. Friday night was the chance for course participants to read their work to an audience, which included other participants and a group of serious walkers who were also on holiday in the hotel and had asked if they could come along. It was a lovely night; and the walkers mostly managed to stay until the end despite most of the poetry not being rhymed. We had very positive feedback from them.
Saturday most of the group left for home; Hilary and I had one more day to enjoy so we took ourselves off on a jaunt to the Eden Project near St. Austell. I’m happy to report the connections we planned for public transport worked like a well-oiled machine; and we got our student concession on the price of entry plus an extra discount for proving we arrived by public transport. Oh my, what a wonderful day that was. We only got to see about half of it, due to the shortish time we were there, but we visited the Mediterranean and the Rain Forest biomes. Oh, the plants, the blossoms and the gorgeous little Rourou birds in the Rain Forest. I fell in love.
On top of all this, I have kept up the reading on the sonnet and maintained the processing of the P&P competition entries. I’ll have a lot of printing to do when I get home, but at least all the entries are on my spreadsheet.
It’s been a busy but wonderful week. We’ve booked for Kim’s next carousel at Grange-over-Sands in December; and will almost certainly come back to St. Ives for her next course in Feb 2018. I think I might drive down next year though. Or fly. Trains? I’ve yet to be convinced I’d do that again.