NOTHING BUT HEADLINE ACTS….

Bath Writers & Artists Meetup 19th May

Yesterday’s meetup of the Bath Writers & Artists group was outstandingly successful and very well attended considering that we were competing with blissful weather, the FA Cup Final, multiple events in the Bath Festival and the Wedding of the Year.

With the dazzling exception of Claire Dyer’s book launch (more later about this) the meetup was devoted to poetry.  The morning workshop focussed on the meaning and uses of form in poetry while the afternoon readings offered a selection of pieces demonstrating how differently master practitioners have employed form in their work. 

The morning workshop participants brought in poems of their own, reconfigured word for word and repunctuated appropriately as prose. The task for everyone was to discover the ‘inner’ form which (visually) had been removed by this exercise. This task brought into discussion the huge question whether the form of a poem is from the outset indivisible from the content, or whether form is a vehicle for taking the first idea of a poem into a further, better place. Does form exist organically in each individual poem, or is it gathered in from the tradition, to enrich and augment the work? Is it the poet’s task to discover the form inside the poem it falls to him to write?  Or is it his task to fit his first thought into a form which pre-exists?  These are not of course ‘either’/‘or’ questions, though it is hard to tease them out without suggesting that they are. The idea of form, perhaps, is like the string on a musical instrument.  The poet and the poem must find the place on the string which will produce the note they want to play.

As it happened, our afternoon poets – chosen, eloquently introduced and beautifully read by Frances-Anne King, Shirley Wright, Claire Dyer, Ama Bolton, Harry Thurston, Margaret Heath and Roger Whelan – gave us a wonderful demonstration of the breadth of possible uses of form in poetry. At one end of the spectrum, we heard Elizabeth Bishop’s much liked villanelle, ‘The Art of Losing’, a famous  example of extreme formality. Intensely concerned with form, also, are the 150 poems in Michael Symmons Roberts’ collection Drysalter which was strongly presented at the start of the afternoon. It was interesting that the villanelle form could communicate itself so powerfully sight unseen, whereas Roberts’ chosen 15 line ‘constraint’ for Drysalter seemed not to have a strong aural existence, but to be more about appearance on the page. This was something we had encountered in the morning workshop when Louise Green’s ballad form poem refused to surrender its form when converted into prose, while Shirley Wright’s terza rima poem kept the secret of its formality until we saw the original poem on the page.

There is a contemporary interest in poetic form as a desirable discipline, or perhaps as a constraint to free the poet from what he or she might regard as the prison of the self.  Michael Symmons Roberts spoke about this at his Holburne Festival Reading later in the day, saying that he did not want to write ‘another Symmons Roberts’ poem’ and hoped that imposing formal constraints might help him to this end.

Conversely, poets sometimes want to subvert traditional forms to show that they are not trapped inside the constraints of history.  This might mean rejecting punctuation, something explored by Claire Dyer in her morning workshop speculum poem, and explored very differently, by W.S. Merwin, whose poems Ama Bolton presented in the afternoon.

The morning workshop had considered punctuation as an element of form – the way it works, with line and stanza breaks, to ‘score’ the poem for the reader, and, by showing a reader how the poem should be read, or delivered, to add to the clarity of what the poem has to say.  The absence of punctuation – visually so arresting but aurally undetectable – is a powerful formal possibility which a future workshop might explore another day.

The Pass on a Poet contributors gave us a marvellous feast of good poetry and I hope many of the pieces will be reviewed in the comments boxes below.  The three poems which remain most vividly with me this morning are Sue Sims’ poem from Hawthornden, George Mackay Brown’s poem about the falcon, and Kei Miller’s ‘Unsung’.  Sue’s poem held me because its subject was simple and powerful, its expression was disciplined and direct, it wasted no words, it knew exactly where to end and Sue has mastered the use of the microphone so that she can deliver her writing as it should be heard, giving her poem an apparently effortless journey from the writer to the listener’s heart. I don’t know whether the Holburne Museum hadn’t provided  microphones for Michael Symmons Roberts and his interviwer last night, or whether for some reason they had chosen not to use them, but the resulting loss of resonance, range  and expressivity throughout that event was quite striking. The poems were entirely audible, at least for me, but swallowed up and flattened out dismally by the space. There is probably a counter-argument that a festival audience likes the sense of privileged eavesdropping on a private conversation, but this is a rather tired formula now and personally I prefer poets to look on themselves as musical performers whose duty is to envelop their listeners in the magic of the sound and meaning produced by their chosen instrument, the human voice. I want to be spellbound (as I was earlier in the week by Ben Okri, and yesterday by Kei Miller) by every syllable. At £10 an hour for the Holburne ticket, that doesn’t seem too much to ask.

To return to the Duncan Room….

Screen Shot 2018-05-20 at 15.29.05Margaret Heath had chosen three pieces by George Mackay Brown.  I knew The Hawk already and already loved the fierce trajectory of its taut writing and the rigour of its form. I thought Margaret’s reading conveyed the poem’s formality and economy very well.

None of us will forget the last poem of the Pass on a Poet set.  It was Kei Miller’s ‘Unsung’, which we heard, for the first time, read by Kei Miller himself, thanks to a clip I was able to purchase from the internet. There he was, in a still image, above us on the screen while his immaculate voice surrounded us in the room.  (If I had been more technically courageous, we could have had a clip of the live reading.  I am still floundering a bit with the move from my Mac to the Duncan Room’s PC.)  Roger Whelan was then generous enough to give us a live reading of the same piece and to let us share the powerful effect the poem had on him. ‘Unsung’ is a poem calling out to be read – and we were fortunate enough to have a reader knowing how to use the resources of the voice and microphone to deliver what the poet meant to say while also making the piece utterly his own. I hope we will all learn to read to each other as well as Roger Whelan does.

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If nothing more had happened in our meetup, it would already have been an outstanding day. But we had four more terrific experiences in store.  A truly excellent tea, provided by the Writers & Artists – too generous, as usual, but sumptuous to share.  Sue Sims then gave us a rivetting take on her experiences at Hawthornden Castle, speaking with great poise and accomplishment to her specially created slides. Thanks to Sue’s energy and professionalism, we were right there, at Hawthornden. This was a marvellous example of how good it has been for us to make the expensive move to the technically equipped BRLSI.  Sue and Paul’s presentation of their son Mark’s memoir was one of the highlights of the March meetup. It was a great treat for us that Sue was willing to offer us another illustrated talk.

Finally, our two star launches, with Claire Dyer not only reading from The Last Day, but taking us on a really fascinating journey through the process of successive drafts and giving us insight into the roles of agent and editor.  Claire will be speaking again at the Waterstone’s event on Thursday 24th May in Reading Library – an evening, for anyone within reach of Reading, which should certainly not be missed. We returned to poetry with Shirley Wright’s presentation of her latest collection, Sticks and Stones.  Beautifully structured, beautifully paced, these poems manage to be intricate and powerful, formal yet organically alive, and Shirley’s reading, as always, had tremendous power, conviction, variety and grace.  I hope some audience members will add reviews of our two launch books in the comments box, or mail me appreciations to augment to this post.

Thank you so much to yesterday’s contributors and to the attentive and sympathetic audience members whose presence made the afternoon so special for us all.  Your comments will also be extremely welcome and I will be delighted to add them to this post.

Our next meetup is at the end of July when we will explore the theme of journeys with a particular inclination towards the travels of Odysseus.  RWA artist Malcolm Ashman has just become a Friend of the Bath Writers & Artists group and we will open our July session with an introduction to Malcolm’s landscape paintings ( on slide ) and a homage reading from the Bath Poetry Cafe’s own great journey, The Listening Walk, for which Malcolm provided the cover image, so well loved by us all. I have already received a few other fascinating Homeric suggestions, including one from Lesley Saunders,  and I am eager to have more.   Graphics will be hugely welcome. I think we may already have an exciting offer from Larkhall artist  Jude Wisdom, if her forthcoming exhibition at Chapel Arts leaves her time to share her journey thoughts with us. I am also hoping that Nikki Kenna will be home from her art course in Newlyn in time to contribute to the show.  We will need good readers and this is an advance warning to them both that I am hoping to coax in Margaret Heath and Roger Whelan from among our Friends.  I will send a begging message to everyone very soon. In the meantime, do get to the Emily Wilson Odyssey reading in the Bath Assembly Rooms on Saturday 26th May if you can. ( And, unlike the Holburne Museum, let’s hope the Assembly Rooms provide a microphone.)

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For those of you who couldn’t join us yesterday, I will post the Pass on a Poet programme notes up on the blog, with a few of the slides, so you can share at least some of the afternoon. I will also ask the readers to send me the titles of their contributions so that we can all revisit them.

And to the well-behaved dog who didn’t materialise….a kindly greeting and a hope we might meet you and your carer in July. As everyone knows, a poetry event without a well-behaved dog is like a well behaved fish without a bicycle.

Please comment on this post, either directly, or by sending me in your thoughts, which I be pleased to post.

Upcoming BW&A meetup 19th May

All the details seem to be in place now for the second meetup of the Bath Writers & Artists Group.  We will be in the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution in Queen Square all day on Saturday 19th May. The morning workshop subscribers have a gruelling few hours probing rather deeply into poetic form.  Afternoon guests have a wonderful range of readings and book launches, combined ( we hope ) with a delicious brought-in tea.  Sue Sims also plans to tell us about her month at Hawthornden.

The new ‘Pass on a Poet’ feature has already proved extremely popular with friends and subscribers and now has a Page of its own on this blog. Thanks to Ama Bolton, Harry Thurston, Conor Whelan, Claire Dyer and Margaret Heath,  the May meetup will showcase the work of Elizabeth Bishop, Kei Miller,

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Kei Miller

WS Merwin, George Mackay Brown and Helen Dunmore, with a very special appreciation by Frances-Anne King and Shirley Wright of Forward Collection prizewinner Michael Symmons Roberts who will be guest reading for Bath Festival at the Holburne Museum later in the day.

Do look at the excellent new entries on the blog ( and some not so new, but not flagged up before in one of these posts) .

VERONA BASS has updated us on her progress towards a second pamphlet. CLAIRE COLEMAN has written very eloquently about her ongoing work with the Memory Café Project.  Since we have CLAIRE DYER‘S book launch at the end of the afternoon, it is fascinating to revisit her entries on the Project 2017 blog. SARAH GREGORY has updated her Page and included a wonderful image from her recent visit to Myanmar. MICHAEL LOVEDAY‘S update introduces us to his recently published flash-fiction novella, Three Men on the Edge, which he will be launching with Bath Writers & Artists in October this year.  Those of us who were bowled over by MIRANDA PENDER‘S

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Miranda Pender

performance at the Letters from Mexico Larkhall launch in March will love her  Page entry which introduces the songs on her new CD Lifting the Lid.  And, shamed by all these, I am at last about to update my own Page, which always seems to come second, third or ninth to other things.

That leaves more than a few subscribers whose Pages are a little more dormant than the rest of us would like!

I have been encouraging members of the afternoon audience who contribute to events to join our Friends & Associates Page. Rosie Jackson has already sent me a biography for this ,which I will be posting up very soon, and I will be very pleased to hear from other people who want to identify themselves as active supporters of our group.

And here, to end, is a picture from our Almanac which says that it’s May again in Kipling Avenue……

March frog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Meetup of the Year

The new Bath Writers & Artists Group is now fully subscribed with its full 2018 schedule of meetings booked at the Bath Literary and Scientific Institution in Queen Square, Bath.

The afternoon events are FREE  and OPEN TO ALL.  We will be delighted to welcome the many writers who have shared Writing Days with us in the past, but equally pleased to welcome new writers and artists to our afternoon audience.

SATURDAY 24TH MARCH 1.45pm – 5pm

(Find fuller details by clicking here to the linked page….)

We are very honoured that our inaugural meeting will be attended by the Chair of Bath and North East Somerset Council, Councillor Cherry Beath.  The afternoon will include readings by Verona Bass, Sue Boyle, Claire Dyer, Linda Saunders, Harry Thurston and Shirley Wright.

We are also very fortunate that William Heath and Tessa Strickland will be presenting a special sequence of photographs to capture the magic of William Heath’s Kelston Barn, where 26 of us worked together last autumn to produce the collaborative performance piece, Building the Kelston Barn.

Experienced stage director Graeme Ryan from Taunton is going to lead us in a  performance ‘from scratch’ of this remarkable and moving piece.

The last part of the afternoon is dedicated to Doctor Mark Sims, whose memoir P.S. I have Cancer launches in Bath with us.  This remarkable book, described by author Danny Wallace as “brave and sobering, funny and inspiring” holds a very special place in our affections.  Mark’s mother, poet Sue Sims, is a long-standing member of the Bath Cafe Writing Days group, and Mark himself was able to join us to hear Sue’s powerful reading during Other Lives, Readings from the Chairman’s Writing Days which Sara-Jane Arbury,  Heidi Beck, Stephanie Boxall,  Claire Coleman,  Annie Fisher,  Ray Fussell,  Rick Rycroft & Shirley Wright presented in the Elwin Room on 7th March 2015.

 

 

 

 

Craft or sullen art?

ways with words in the city of Wells

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The word “sea” is small and easily uttered.
They utter it lightly who know least about it.
A vast ancient terror is locked in the name
like energy in an atom.
– George Mackay Brown, The Sea.

In spite of lashings of wind and rain, we met last night, 6th January, with Sara in the chair. As at previous January meetings, most people brought poems by other people. It was a lively and interesting evening.

Where I could find them, I have added links to the particular poems. Seamus Heaney, Dylan Thomas  and John Betjeman are reading their own poems, and the Billy Collins link is to a particularly charming animation. Each one is well worth reading/listening to, if you have the time!

Wales was represented by R.S. Thomas, Dylan Thomas and Gillian Clarke,  Ireland by Greg Delanty and Seamus Heaney, Scotland by Robert Burns, W.S. Graham

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The Many Joys of May

MAY 20th : Claire Coleman , Claire Dyer, Sarah Gregory, John Richardson, Graeme Ryan, Ama Bolton, Michael Loveday,Ruth Sharman, Morag Kiziewicz, Conor Whelan

The meetup on Saturday 20th May was particularly rich in talent and in variety.  It showcased outstanding work by many of the Day’s participants and lead us all into deep and dark places where – given the sense of trust and community which has developed this year among the meetup writers – we all felt safe to go.  An extraordinary Day, even by the standards of the already remarkable Project 2017 year.

Arnold Böcklin’s iconic painting, The Isle of the Dead helped to define a working ‘space’ for the morning where many disparate pieces of writing, and many different approaches to writing came together in fruitful synthesis.  We were very fortunate that Straid prizewinner Ruth Sharman was willing to speak at length about her marvellous collection, Scarlet Tiger, which Ama Bolton had reviewed.  Ruth’s poem inspired by the Böcklin painting also gave us a springboard into the topic of ekphrastic poetry, which Michael Loveday had already written about very usefully on his personal Page on the blog. Michael had referred us to a piece in which Martyn Crucefix explored the poems in the recent Holburne Museum anthology, From Palette to Pen.  We looked carefully at Martyn’s suggested list of approaches to writing about works of art and tried to relate them to some of the individual poems we were sharing through the Day.  The result of this enquiry seemed very interesting: few of the project writers’ poems actually  ‘fitted’ the categories on the list, but the list provided a wonderful set of starting points for attempting new ekphrastic work.

There was strong resistance among the meetup writers to becoming ‘trapped’ in the dark heart of Böcklin’s piece.  This came over in our first writing exercise, and even more strongly when we considered two further powerfully  life-affirming poems –one  by John Richardson of Brokenborough Poets and the other by  Graeme Ryan from Taunton – whose movement in both cases was out of darkness into light and hope. The diptych pieces written in response to this morning session seem likely to emerge soon as an unusually powerful record of an unusually powerful writing day.

We spent part of the afternoon , under Claire Dyer’s generous and lucid guidance, exploring more ideas which Claire is working on as part of the project she is sharing with the group.  Claire helped us to consider  two contrasting but linked ideas, both outlined on her personal Page on this blog, both experimenting with using  incomplete utterance to suggest meanings without committing ( and therefore perhaps without limiting ) them to the words printed on the page.  The exercise based on the alarming term aposiopesis produced some fascinating work.  A companion exercise I suggested to discover what could be created by deliberately rendering an utterance incomplete – how new meanings could be created by omissions from a text – was much less interesting than Claire’s  idea of actual redaction that had given rise to it. It seemed afterwards that the technique of redaction was necessarily one of shifting a poem into a graphic object.  It was therefore essential to see the redacted space, and perhaps even to see the ghostly residue of what had been blotted out. Merely abstracting parts of a piece of writing was not enough.

The final long session of the Day was devoted to a long poem by Graeme Ryan which brought to the surface a challenging series of questions: what level of difficulty an audience can cope with in a longer piece of writing; the nature and importance of narrative ‘thread’; the use of literary allusion; the desirability or otherwise of devising a new formal structure to suit an extended piece; and the problem of creating  work dealing with political/social issues without the piece being misread by people who have a pre-existing perspective on the subject the writer wants to treat.  Graeme’s poem was a meditation on a nuclear power station, about which there were  different strongly held and well-argued opinions in the room.  It was a brave and  ambitious poem and a remarkable testament to the Day that we were still able to grapple with such issues six hours after our working Day began.

This post is only a thin and inadequate record of an outstanding Day.  Thank you so much to everyone who took part and  who contributed so much.  Poems are already coming in to me from some of the writers who shared the Day.  Now this post is away, I can look forward with great excitement and joy to reading them.  The rest of you, I suspect, will have to wait until they find their much deserved way into ‘proper’ print.

If you were part of the May Meetup, please add your comments below this post.

Nothing but Good News

So many good things happening on Project 2017.  Here are just a few which came in this week…. click the names on this post to reach the personal Pages of the writers featured here and learn more about their news.

2016 Templar Poetry Straid Collection Winner RUTH SHARMAN has just joined Project 2017 to work on the poems of French writer Philippe Jaccottet. Ruth will be Guest Reading at Dawn Gorman’s excellent, Words & Ears at The Swan in Bradford on Avon,  on Thursday 26th January next week.

Widely published Exeter poet CHRISSY BANKS has just joined Project 2017 as a long-distance member of the group. Chrissy will be working towards a second full collection. Take a look at the website which heads her Page on the Project blog and which can also be accessed here.

Fresh from his success with  A Fury of Yellow from Eyewear in 2016,  ROBIN THOMAS now has a forthcoming collection to be published by Cinnamon.  Robin will be bringing a sequence of poems to share with us during the Meetups in April and July.

Project 2017 Convenor SUE BOYLE will be Guest Reading at Ware Poets in Hertfordshire on Friday 3rd February with  a new programme titled Safe Passage: the secret history of a poet’s life.

CLAIRE DYER and RUTH SHARMAN  both appear on the May 15th billing at Anne-Marie Fyfe’s impossibly  prestigious London Troubadour. A date for everyone to circle in their poetry diaries.  Be there if you can. And, if you haven’t been to the Troubadour before, prepare to be amazed!

 

glad-day

William Blake : Glad Day or The Dance of Albion

FINALLY, unless the tiny number of  stragglers don’t mail in their cheques by the end of this month, this year’s Cafe Writing Days  are now virtually fully booked.  This has been the fastest ever booking for a Cafe Workshop series – and no wonder, when you read the names of the talented writers already on the list, and the wonderful variety of challenging projects they intend to share.

A Message from Sue Sims

Dear Sue

Writing continues to help me. I intended a Facebook message this morning and the message so badly wanted to be a poem. It will be included in the collection but I am not precious about my work so I have let some out into the world prior to publication. 

Early morning in London, 

the room holds 

Mark’s peaceful breaths. 

London wakes beyond 

and below our window

steam rises

an aircraft gains height

in candy crush clouds

and a big fat hello of a sun

burns the horizon. 

Susan Jane Sims January 17th, 2016

Mark Sims’ blog is here : https://wrestlingmelanoma.com/