| Beccles Library Reviews on WordPress.com

“Chosen by readers, for readers” Brave New Reads is a project that taking place across Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, offering an immersive shared reading…

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Pedalling Poetry IV: Stanza 2016

As an avid pedalestrian, I would have loved the idea of cycling all the way up the east coast from Suffolk to St Andrews. However, that would have taken days I don’t have since I went back to my former trade of Librarianship, so it was the train and bike again for Scotland’s poetry festival, StAnza, where I have some work in an exhibition. I had a morning community forum in Stowmarket for Suffolk Libraries Monday (where we enjoyed great presentations on Our Year of Reading and Chatterbooks, an initiative to help improve Suffolk’s dire literacy rates by making books the centre of a series of fun activities for kids, in our case pirate bingo and a short story vividly performed by Literacy Ambassador Matt Shenton: ‘a pirate’s favourite country? Aaaargentina!’). I therefore got the bike to Stowmarket the day before and booked the train from there.

My brilliant plan went haywire though when I realised that in my change from very luminous scruffy cyclist to briefcased power dressing librarian I had lost the key to my bike lock! A typical McAteer moment ensued when I dashed from taxi rank to car garage around the station with an hour till my train asking if anyone had a bolt cutter or a hacksaw (‘Wot do I look like love?’ ‘I don’t need to get arrested, cheers!’) Finally Econorent Van Hire came to my rescue with a disk cutter and, braving the security cameras at the station, their mechanic sliced through my cheap D-Lock scarily quickly, refusing my offer of a tenner for a drink on me (‘Have a drink on me when you get there, you nutter!’) Suitably chastised and confirmed yet again as an eccentric I jumped the 2.11 to Peterborough, changing trains twice more bike, bags, books and all before sliding in to Leuchars at 9.37pm. An extra special shout out here goes to Max, the owner of the beautiful Inn at Kingsbarns, who came to meet me, got me bike and all into his white van (first time I’ve ever been glad to see one of those on a bike!) and drove the 20 miles through diversions, snow and rain. That would have been quite a cycle to end the night with.

The Inn at Kingsbarns’ Annette does a beautiful breakfast that will last you all day (it would in fact last most poets a week). I took a break from cycling yesterday and walked to John Burnside’s workshop Machines for Belonging, which addressed the subject of home, a painful one for this London-born English-voiced Scotswoman who left Glasgow’s warm and radical poetry community for an English institution she didn’t fit with at all. A rich vein then, naturally, which John unusually for him forced us all to tap by building in writing time and making us read aloud. I have never known him do that in a workshop before, but I was glad of it, for the poems it gave me, and for the chance to hear some words from the other participants – quite stunning ones for a mere hour’s work in some cases. I spent the time in between walking Cambo’s snowdrop-encrusted woods and the sea path, delighted to discover a series of memorials to Sadako Sasaki, the child who lived through the Hiroshima bombings, in the form of strings of paper cranes with the #bairnsnotbombs hashtag, as well as willow sculpture playhouses and a mirror buried in the bracken wearing the legend ‘what do you see?’ (A sad surprised self in the woods, surrounded by snowdrops and paper cranes, with her back to the sea.) Here was a sort of home after all, because in fact I’d walked those very same woods on a family holiday once as a child. It’s amazing where poetry takes you.

This morning I cycled the 7 miles in from Kingsbarns to talk to the pupils at St Leonard’s School about poetry. My commission was ‘to make poetry a bit less scary.’ They are in the middle of exam angst, but a blast of Gil Scott Heron, a couple of poetry comics, and some Edna St Vincent Millay later, everyone was smiling (some derisively, they are teenagers after all.) All power to their teacher Mr Crisswell, whose passion for poetry is clear, and who interviewed me with the skill of a television host. Looking forward to seeing lots of old friends and meeting many new at StAnza’s launch tonight. Honey I’m home! I’ll leave the last word to the marvellously named Paisley Rekdal, in a poem that John Burnside introduced us to:

From ‘Happiness’

…. Does it offend them to watch me
not mourning with them but working
fitfully, fruitlessly, working
the way the bees work, which is to say
by instinct alone, which looks like pleasure?
I can stand for hours among the sweet
narcissus, silent as a point of bone.
I can wait longer than sadness. I can wait longer
than your grief. It is such a small thing
to be proud of, a garden…

There is no end to ego,
with its museum of disappointments.
I want to take my neighbours into the garden
and show them: Here is consolation.
Here is your pity. Look how much seed it drops
around the sparrows as they fight.
It lives alongside their misery.
It glows each evening with a violent light.

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Pedalling Poetry III – Aldeburgh Poetry Festival 2015

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Photographs by Peter Everard Smith http://photosmithuk.com/apf15

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Pedalling Poetry II

My next mission on bike and train for #APF 2015 was Bury St Edmunds, in particular a writer’s group set up in St Nicholas Hospice there. At 42 miles (three and a half hours) it’s a bit far to bike, so I took the train, changing at Ipswich, then cycled the remaining two and a half miles. I nearly got lost, till I hit upon the rather grim trick of following ambulances. I made it in time for lunch, and met the group there.

It was a wonderful session – and a rather wonderful place. They have a garden there with a small wood, lawns and scented flowers, and a memorial tree set up by the widow of a patient, a beautiful metal sculpture on which silver or copper leaves commemorating loved ones can be hung. Many of the group are bereaved, and some are patients. Having been through family deaths myself, either at home or in hospital, I was very impressed with the atmosphere of the hospice, which was calm, pretty, respectful and welcoming. Very necessary to patients and their families at such a time. Also nice for visitors – I was reminded of my summers in Donegal as various grandmotherly ladies fed me cake!

The group was very advanced – one lady, who has a brain tumour, was incredible sharp about poetic forms, and has written some fantastic haiku for their anthology. We did an exercise on the five senses, using the garden, as well as Ursula Le Guin’s ‘Being Gorgeous’ exercise and a session inspired by Valérie Rouzeau‘s ‘Thirty-Two Teeth‘ poem. I even managed to get a poem out of it myself, just in time for my own writer’s group.

Best of all, they all want to come to the Festival! We are laying on a special bus thanks to Suffolk Coastal District Council and Suffolk Artlink, and the wheelchair-accessible venues at Aldeburgh Music‘s Snape Maltings will mean that the group can take part in many events. Their vote? Jack Rooke’s ‘Good Grief’, the main daytime reading on the Saturday, with Jane Duran, Peter Sirr and Dorothea Smartt, and the Open Workshop, which is free and open to all. We’d be very pleased to welcome more groups to our gorgeous poetry retreat – get in touch with me at the Poetry Trust or go straight to the box office at Aldeburgh Music: https://tickets.aldeburgh.co.uk/Online/2015_poetry_festival

On the way back I was very proud to be on the cycle commuter special – 7 bikes on one carriage – two of them schoolkids! We organised ourselves politely in order of stop.

Now for the next challenge – how to get 40 road signs out onto verges the length of Suffolk on a bike? I may have to beg a lift for this one – and some strong arms! Any volunteers?

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Pedalling poetry

Well, it looks like I won’t be driving in time for my first Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, and I’ve decided to embrace this and see how much of my work in Suffolk can be done via train and bike! It’s been great fun so far – last week I went to see Maggi Hambling at her studio, then cycled out to Snape Maltings, one of the sites of the Festival, for a meeting with Aldeburgh Music, our partners, who own the site and run the Box Office for us.

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It was a big cycle, but very beautiful, especially up on the ridges with not another person in sight, and wheeling my way past churches and pubs and fields. Suffolk is a very beautiful county. You often get a nice rare treat on the road, when someone has left their windfall Bramleys outside their door for free, or farms are selling eggs and fresh local vegetables on the honesty system. For those interested, the cycle from Saxmundham Station to Snape Maltings is 30 minutes – and I am NOT very fit!

I was lucky to be wearing my full weatherproof gear though, as mud was splashed over me top to bottom in the current weather. Of course a visit to the ladies to freshen up is essential before a big corporate meeting. I turned up looking reasonable smart but the mud-flecked satchel somewhat gave it away!

My visit to Maggi Hambling‘s studio was mindblowing – to see some of her sea pictures life-size is almost as terrifying as facing off the real thing at Dunwich on a stormy day. Big, child-eating waves and miles of ocean that seem to be crying for the melting icecaps. She was cheering me up and helping out with advice on fundraising – money for the Festival is so tight this year it leaves a mark – telling wonderful stories about getting funding for ‘Scollop’ as she calls it – her controversial sculpture on Aldeburgh beach (the boys and I are fans). I got a beautiful illustrated poem full of waves as a good luck present. This new life in Suffolk is never boring…

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Later that same week I did it all again to catch an afternoon of the Jerwood Opera Writing Programme showcase with #APF blogger and poet JL Williams as well as an Aldeburgh Eight graduate, Richard Scott. That was an ear-opener – poets often make the best librettists, and Jennifer and Richard did not disappoint, with three striking pieces: JLW on the awful world of battery chickens (which reportedly put the audience off its lunch!) and Richard with the story of a boy who traps beetles to play with them having the tables turned on him – a fascinating piece of music by Shiori Usui that imitated the bugs’ chittering vividly – and another opera about a rehearsal of the rape of Leda by Zeus as a swan. Other pieces that drew my attention were the heart-clutching music of Naomi Pinnock with Nic Green‘s story of grief and trauma in Susan Are You Ready? and Andrew Thomas and Daniel Solon’s Charlie Grimes,  which had me in tears, about the true story of the shooting of an eight-year-old boy. As Roger Wright, Chief Executive of Aldeburgh Music, remarked, “You poets rarely write happy songs do you?” JLW has declared her intention to write a comic opera forthwith!

A full and rich cultural experience in Suffolk – all done by bike and train, getting back in time to pick up the twins. Non-driving poetry Mum tries to do it all! Let’s see if I can keep it up…

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Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Progamme Launched

BIG NEWS! My first Aldeburgh Poetry Festival as Director will be 6-8 November 2015, and The Poetry Trust have just launched the programme. We’re very excited! American poet Tony Hoagland is launching his new collection and delivering the Festival lecture on the iconic Sharon Olds. There are conversions between John Burnside and Richard Mabey, and Cuban Jane Duran and Mexican Pedro Serrano to choose from, as well as a discussion on Poetry & Freedom, featuring Kurdish poet Choman Hardi, Q&As with Kei Miller, Valérie Rouzeau from France or record -breaking youtube sensation Hollie McNish. Craft Talks by Kim Addonizio and Helen Mort plus seven completely free Close Readings and three exhibitions, including a cross-art collaboration between Gerry Loose and Morven Gregor, round out the programme. We will also be featuring new and undiscovered voices and welcoming everyone at our annual open mic. Just some of the 60+ events and 30 poets in Suffok this autumn! Come and join us for a refreshing poetry retreat on the beautiful Suffolk Coast.

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Joanna Monks – Tell It Slant’s spring poet in residence

Tell It Slant’s second poet in residence has an exhibition in the shop just now! Come see.

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Below is a Guest blog by Joanna Monks, our Spring poet in residence at Tell It Slant, Come and see her exhibition, on now!

“I immediately loved the idea of a residency in Tell It Slant. The surroundings of The Project Café provides the warm bustle of a café sought by many as a workspace (don’t you always see someone at a coffee shop hunched over a laptop, or surrounded by books). Amidst the warmth, music and smell of food there is also an atmosphere of creativity, experimentation and activity, a multifunctional space for a broad community. Tucked in the corner, in the bright window, Tell It Slant has bookshelves filled with poetry, worlds and images, laments and accounts, a hubbub of voices. I have been fortunate to spend three months of dedicated writing within this space.

“Until the end of June, you can find segments of the work…

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