Poetry in Aldeburgh 2017

Above is a thank you from Chris Agee and a blessing (in Irish) from Paddy Bushe. A thank you and a blessing began and ended my time at Poetry in Aldeburgh. A thank you and a blessing is what I give for the chance to continue to be involved in bringing poets to this small seaside town – the thing I brought my family down here to do! It has been quite a journey.

The first thank you was from author and critic Amit Chaudhuri, for reminding him that he also wrote poetry. A blessing in disguise was his not being able to make the festival in the end, which lead to me being asked by the Trustees to read in his place with Tiffany Atkinson, one of my favourite poets in English. Her originality of image and language is a model for how to write poetry, so it was quite nerve-wracking to be asked to read with her, but she was graciousness itself, and the audience was very warm in its reception. I chose to read some of Amit’s poems as well, old favourites and some new poems he sent, written in Calcutta, full of colour and taste and life.

A blessing too came from Michael Laskey, the founder of the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, who was reading this year. As I climbed to the top of the Lookout Tower to see Issam Kourbaj’s sobering exhibition of tiny boats full of burnt matches, Dark Water, Burning World, with Ruth Padel’s poems playing in the background, Michael walked past in his trademark beret. ‘I was just this moment thinking of you,’ he said in his quiet way. ‘How are you?’ The answer was too big, so I smiled, he nodded, and we parted again.

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Highlights of the festival? Top would be the Irish contingent. I was lucky enough to be involved in bringing Chris Agee over from Belfast, and with him he brought Bernard O’Donogue to give the Irish Pages lecture, and then read with Paddy Bushe. Very close after that would be the Jamaican-British contingent: Ishion Hutchison and Raymond Antrobus were particularly gripping – ‘blown cane’ and life with deafness in a hearing world were among the revelations that complimented the festivals themes of place, identity and language. The night in the Cross Keys afterwards was fabulous, as the conversation continued. Refugee Tales, a book of poems on the model, photographer and child rape victim Lee miller, and a big poetry community thank you to Mimi Khalvati after 20 years of The Poetry School completed my festival. Helen Mort’s The Singing Glacier, with accompanying film and atmospheric music by William Carslake, also deserves a special mention. All in all the blessings were many. Thank you Daphne Astor – stepping down as curator this year – and Robin Boyd, our Chair, for a wonderful time.

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Oh frabjous day!

11th hour save for @tellitslantbook! What a Christmas present for Glasgow.

tell it slant

STOP PRESS!!! Tell it slant poetry bookshop has been saved for Glasgow at the 11th hour by Basil Blackwell, musician, social entrepreneur and events organiser, a favourite face and sound at many a Project Cafe Open Mic!

Basil will be taking over the shop from Ellen and Anna in the new year. The goodbye party is cancelled! There will be a celebration party instead in the Project Cafe on the 27th of January, just in time for Burns’ birthday…

More about Basil below. Please take the time to make him feel welcome. He will be sharing his plans for the shop shortly. Poets and publishers can contact him through the shop email: tellitslantbooks@gmail.com.

Basil Blackwell was born in Dumbarton and schooled in Helensburgh and Glasgow. He avoided university and college whilst there and after busking round Europe for 4 years ended up with a mobile workshop in the North…

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Tell it slant is moving!

Sad news. After three very good years in the wonderful Project Cafe in Glasgow, Tell it Slant is going to follow its founder down South. Ellen McAteer, who set up Tell it Slant in December 2013 wit…

Source: Tell it slant is moving!

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| 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…

Source: | Beccles Library Reviews on WordPress.com

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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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