So much to look forward to

Bath Writers & Artists’ News 3rd September 2018

I hope you have all kept up with the marvellous collective post about  the meetup in July.  It has contributions now from thirteen people – VERONA BASS, AMA BOLTON, RACHAEL CLYNE, CLAIRE COLEMAN, SARAH GREGORY, MARGARET HEATH, CAROLINE HEATON, ROSIE JACKSON, MICHAEL LOVEDAY, ANN PRESTON, LINDA SAUNDERS, CONOR WHELAN and SHIRLEY WRIGHT  – to all of whom, many thanks.

For those of you who were spellbound at the July meetup by the Mikis Theodorakis’ song, Ena to Helidoni, and its place in history, here is a link to his own extraordinary performance at the open air concert on the Rosa Luxembergplatz in East Berlin in front of a huge audience just before the fall of the Berlin Wall.   https://youtu.be/QOKBFtKZmOQ

Theodorakis 1987

Bath Writers & Artists has been gathering some very interesting new followers and I am looking forward very much to discovering how they choose to develop their personal Pages on this blog.  Of the original 20 subscribers, I am abashed that only VERONA BASS and SUE BOYLE have updated their Pages in July.  Do check out PETE SMITH‘S new Page.  He is busy finishing a project at the moment, but is managing to come to the Bradford Homeric Afternoons and will soon be featuring with us in Queen Square.  We have also been promised content by Corsham designer JOHN MAGGS. The second Homeric Afternoon will owe a great deal to CONOR WHELAN’S inspired suggestion that we should look at some of the Odyssey and The Waste Land in one afternoon. Reading great literature followed by great food seems a winning formula.  Do get in touch if you feel like hosting something similar to extend the joy.

Plans for the October 6th Programme are well advanced, thanks to the terrific contributions which have already come in from so many of you.  There is a Page for the Meetup on the Header Menu which shows the evolving programme for the afternoon, and another, dropped down from that,  titled Writing the Wilderness where I am collating the stunning variety of concert pieces which have come in.  Do read these as soon as you have a moment, not just for their own sake, but in case you would like to be one of the readers during the meetup afternoon.

There is a Page on the Header Menu for Writing Workshops, which at the moment is looking rather sparse. If you are a member of Bath Writers & Artists and you give open workshops, or workshops to which people can come by special arrangement, please broadcast them here.  My workshop, Sharing Our Bright Fields,  for Moor Poets in Devon is coming soon.  It will be good to have some company on our Page!

BRIGHT FIELDS

I am altering the Header Menu Subscribers Page so that all our Friends, Associates and Followers appear on the same Page with the rest of us. For anyone who doesn’t already know how our regrettably hierarchical system works, it seems a good moment to explain.  Bath Writers & Artists has no public funding.  We raised enough money to rent space for our bi-monthly workshops and meetups by finding twenty wonderful people willing to split the cost.  Those twenty subscribers get a share of the available morning workshops and the privilege of launch readings for their new books.   This makes it possible for the afternoon meetups to be free for everyone. Everyone involved in Bath Writers & Artists gives their time for free, even when they are so prestigious that in other circumstances they would rightly expect to be paid to read.

I’ve recently been asked to write about us ( and had the article accepted ) for the Artemis Journal.   I will tell you more when I’ve seen us actually in print.http://www.artemisjournal.org

Lastly, for the moment, a little plea to everyone who has a Page on this blog.  If you can keep up the habit of monthly updates – inserted at the top – it is so interesting for everyone as well as being a useful little exercise in reflective thought. I have stripped out the preamble about Project 2017 from my Page now, just to give the ongoing text a fresher start. And when you do read Pages, if you enjoy them, please click the ‘Like’ button…..

These are the last lines of a poem by Mary Oliver called Wild Geese ………

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

SUE

 

 

 

 

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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-20 at 15.29.35

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.)

Screen Shot 2018-05-20 at 15.28.01

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.

Moving Into Spring

Although Saturday 25th February was actually the second meetup of the year, it had a special inaugural quality of its own…..

During January, the PROJECT 2017  blog had filled up with so much inspiring  and challenging material that for the first time we were able to structure the whole meetup day around the ongoing projects of the writers in the room. We are hoping to maintain this pattern for the remaining meetups of the year.

First up was the rich compendium of project writers’ thoughts about deciding which of their poems were most likely to achieve  competition success.  The list was compiled from group work in January and gave the February writers plenty of opportunity for discussion and food for thought.

We were able to apply these ideas to AMA BOLTON’S excellent poem, Fig, which had been highly commended last October in Torbay.  Groups considered Fig as a successful competition entry and took the role of judges explaining the reasons for their choice. One of Fig’s most striking qualities was the poet’s fierce and forensic attention to her word choices.  A piece of writing can only be as good as its weakest word is one of the main themes of this year’s meetups.  Fig, in the judge’s and February group’s opinion, simply had no weak words.

CLAIRE DYER’S project is exploring the ways that words carry meanings below their literal surfaces and the ways in which meanings can come up from the deeps of the mind and heart.  The conscious brain can sometimes be deaf to these subterranean messages so Claire introduced us to an anagram technique to free us from too much attention to the literal.  The music and patterning of her poem Owls was a very effective example of allowing the words to lead a poem’s ‘meaning’ rather than the intended ‘meaning’ putting a  straitjacket on a poem’s words.  Owls appears on Claire’s Page on this blog.

It is only a short step from the idea that words can give us doorways into deeper meanings to SARAH GREGORY’S exploration of the effect of bringing words and images together on one page, giving neither one priority.  Sarah brought seven specially made posters, each based on the same poem, but each combining the poem with a graphic image in a slightly different way.  Sarah has written about the usefulness of the ensuing discussion on her Page.

MICHAEL LOVEDAY had already raised questions about the problems of truth-telling in autobiography.  During the afternoon, we shared poems by several of the meetup writers for whom this was an issue and began to explore the boundaries between fact and fiction, straightforward personal narrative and revelation of the deeper self.

All the themes we explored in February  will play an important part in the April meetup, when LESLEY SAUNDERS will be bringing us into the magical space of her work as a translator and sharing with us some of the detailed decisions a translator has to make.  This close editing is crucial for every writer so we will all be both inspired and (probably) daunted by the experience of sharing Lesley’s work.  There is a recent entry about this on Lesley’s Page on the blog.

Other excellent recent blog contributions to explore….

  • new progress reports from Janet McClean, Marilyn Francis, Verona Bass, Ama Bolton and Ann Preston
  • the new Page from Sara-Jane Arbury outlining her project to create a collection around her neurological condition, with 2 fantastic poems by Norman Macaig
  • the new Page from singer/songwriter Miranda Pender
  • our first musical Page from Graeme Ryan
  • the new Page from writer/artist Paul Michael Browne who will be adding to our Words & Images exploration by introducing us to some of his work with film when we meet up in the BRLSI in June
  • a new Page on successful Pamphlet Submissions first published by the Poetry Business
  • 2 Max Ernst images to trigger experiments with Words & Images (on the Ekphrastic Page )

And, as RSThomas said, “That was only on one island”

We are still hoping to see personal Pages filling up with more project writers’ monthly Progress Reports, and more entries coming in for the Magazine Successes and Competition Placings, and for the upcoming Readings Page. 

It will also be very good to have more Almanac entries month on month, in the manner perhaps of the January contribution from North Devon poet MARK HAWORTH-BOOTH.  I have just added a new Page to the header list –ALMANAC  – to which you are all invited to contribute a brief but brilliant seasonal piece of writing every month.

The April meetup is under construction at the moment.  As well as Lesley Saunders’ translation project mentioned above, ROBIN THOMAS will be sharing his recent Eyewear pamphlet, A Fury of Yellow, which has already been reviewed by AMA BOLTON and SUE SIMS.   We will also ( hopefully) be sharing off piste outcomes from the February meetup with some new ‘anagram’ pieces, some explorations with Words & Images, and pieces inspired by the Böcklin painting, Isle of the Dead, which RUTH SHARMAN posted for us on our Ekphrastic Page.

Happy Writing, Everyone!

Truly Hot Off the Press!

Before many of us got home after today’s meetup, Janet McClean had already posted this poem for the blog!  What a wonderful gift from such an amazing day…. Thank you so much, Janet, and thank you also to everyone who brought such energy, grace of spirit and talent to the Pulteney Room today. 

Door 6516 into Project 17

And so to start

Sitting in this room full of writers

Listening to jewels echoing in the ear

Our lioness urges the pride

To strive for

Truth and excellence

Excellence in Truth

Kindness but no false flattery here

I scribble in pencil

A Papermate with rubber attached

For ease

To erase any clumsy word smudges

And so to start

February the Fascinating Month

Almost a month since the last Project post.  You can see from the way the blog Pages are filling what a creative month it has been.  Here are some February highlights, but this is by no means an exhaustive list!

THIRTY WRITERS are now actively engaged in Project 2017, from places as far afield as Taunton, Wimborne, Exeter, Malmesbury, Reading, Newport in Essex, Glastonbury and Wells.

Singer songwriter MIRANDA PENDER has just joined us as a long distance guest. Miranda is just completing her second album and has written about it extensively on her Page.

PAUL BROWNE  from the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute is planning to let us share and respond to his exploration of the relationship between writing and film.  ( This will be a special, extra workshop session, with details still to be announced.)

Those of us who have been brave enough to keep up with our online progress logs, are now running into obstacles… changing direction…. beginning to discover what our project commitments really mean.  There are eloquent new ‘progress’ entries from LESLEY SAUNDERS, VERONA BASS,  and MICHAEL LOVEDAY, to name three.

MICHAEL LOVEDAY’S progress piece draws attention to one of the core problems we all face when writing personal memoir/autobiography. He puts it very well.   The process of writing and gathering (poems about a relative ) has raised doubts about the viability of my  project. ….Tension and conflict is the stuff of writing, and the writer in me does not have the same agenda as the son. Can I produce a rounded portrait without risking offence? How does one write interesting biography about living relatives?  So many of us have been in this place. We will certainly be visiting this conundrum when we meet up on February 25th.

February’s principal theme is the how writers select the individual words which are the raw materials of everything they  do.  A piece of writing can only be as good as its weakest word.  What does this mean for our poems, our translations, our prose pieces, our magazine and competition entries?  We will have three extraordinary contributions on this, one from LESLEY SAUNDERS who will be drawing us into her experience of translating from the Portuguese, and another from CLAIRE DYER, who is exploring how differently meaning arises from the conscious and the unconscious selves.

Writer/graphic artist SARAH GREGORY will be bringing images to spark verbal responses, and helping us think about how the processes of moving from image to word / word to image really work. How do they feed each other?  How do they qualify each other?  How do they complement each other? How do they conflict?  All these ideas will inform our feedback sessions on the pieces of ongoing writing the thirteen workshop participants will  bring in.

We will also be visiting ANN PRESTON’S project in relation to her fascinating piece about artist Djordje Ozbolt whose work has featured recently at the Holburne Museum.  Please seek this out on Ann’s Page on the blog.  We will be using this as our first portal into the EKPHRASTIC theme which has already appealed to so many writers who have joined Project 2017.

And finally, three marvellously chosen quotes from JANET McCLEAN  who is rejoining the Writing Days this month.

QUOTE ONE :   Instructions for living a life.  Pay attention.  Be astonished.  Tell about it. 

QUOTE TWO : Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that.” Mary Oliver

QUOTE THREE :  If not now, when?  Anon

a-february-sky

A February Sky

Remembered Days : One

With Marilyn Francis, Sarah Gregory, Verona Bass, Louise Green, John Richardson, Ann Preston, Sue Chadd, June Wentland, Linda Saunders

The first Day of Project  2017 turned out to be an excellent springboard for  the  good things that lie ahead – unsurprisingly, given the talent and energy of the nine writers who converged in Bath with such fine examples of their writing to create the day. What follows is the convenor’s view of some of the key issues and concerns.  Following on soon, I hope, will be additional thoughts from some of the other participants about moments and activities that highlight the day for them.

COMPETITION POEMS AND MAGAZINES

Many people in the room have joined Project 2017 with the intentions of publishing in good magazines, featuring in good competitions and gaining more recognition for their work.  This means that learning to edit for excellence is bound  to be a core concern. Taking inspiration from the poems which won First and Second Prizes in the recent Torbay Festival competition, groups discussed and presented their  ideas about what makes a good competition poem.  This is not quite the same,of course, as the question of excellence in all short poems, but close enough to provide an extremely useful checklist for anyone preparing to send a piece of their writing  out into the world. I hope that these collective thoughts on excellence will soon have a Page of their own on the Project blog.

PAMPHLETS AND COLLECTIONS

Six of the January writers are working towards these. Ideally, every poem in a collation would be excellent enough to win a competition, with added richness  provided by its being part of a greater whole and therefore able also to shine in the borrowed light of the pieces on either side.  Poems in collations should gather strength from their surroundings – providing someone is attracted in the first place to read the book.  We looked at pairs of poems from five of the poets and fed back our thoughts which poem of each pair would most attract us to the imagined book, and why.  This feedback will be very useful in telling writers what readers respond to most strongly in their work, and therefore where their appeal to a professional editor might  lie. We will repeat this activity on future Project Days.

THE POWER OF THE SINGLE WORD

Every writer knows that they have to edit every word in what they do, rigorously, before dispatching anything to the world beyond their room. But this is a process much more easily described than done.  We had a very useful discussion about one word in the last line of an otherwise immaculate sonnet – soon to be published in an excellent magazine  – a word raising issues for some readers who felt it introduced a distracting note. The word seemed to introduce a backstory at a very late stage in the piece which,  for some of us, weakened  rather than enriched.  A poem is only the sum of its relatively small number of words.  We have to learn to read our pieces through the eyes of strangers, and test the possible nuances of every mark we put on the page.

POETRY vs PROSE

One of the writers read us the statement about the personal memoir she is preparing to complete this year. It was a wonderfully graceful, moving, concise, eloquent piece of prose, intended possibly to  preface a sequence of poems which are also likely to work extremely well.  I am about to ask the writer whether she will allow this statement  to be featured on the blog. The question arose yesterday for me – if you can write so excellently in prose, is there any reason to use the alternative medium of poetry?  Prose does not need to be discursive and connected from page to page.  A prose passage can have the same  lovely self-sufficiency as a poem and might give some writers greater scope to express their thoughts and demonstrate their skills.  I am hoping that through the year that we will be able to consider this and that  more of the Project writers will be bring prose passages to share.

TELLING OUT YOUR TRUTHS

I have left this to last.  It is of course, for writers, an issue which never goes away,  but for various reasons it  came most vividly to the surface at the end of the Project Day.  The memoir project lead to a discussion about the difficulties  of personal, revelatory writing, and the different ways we all approach using our personal experience in our work. How does personal experience translate into ‘literature’?  Is self-revelation as important to the reader as it is to the writer?  When we read, is it enough for us to know that the facts as given are true, or are we looking to literature to give us something more? And if so, what is the ‘more’ we want?  Do we actually need to know whether what a writer tells us is ‘true’, or is it enough for us to be persuaded by the ‘authenticity’ of what we read and hear? Writing can be inventive, or confessional, or can find itself a space between these two.  Charles Dickens is and is not David Copperfield.  What are we really looking at when a writer appears to invite us into a life?  This is something we will certainly be exploring when we meet up at the end of February for the second Project Day.

That is scheduled for Saturday 25th February and is already full, with a waiting list.  But there are a few vacancies later in the year, for any writer who would like to join the group.