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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Jim’s Guitar Fund


We did it!!!! Thanks to all who gave a gift, my lovely brother Jim is so lucky in his friends and family. He is going out to buy his guitar and has promised to post a photo of it on facebook. Happy Birthday Jim! xxx

If you didn’t get a chance to donate, you still can:

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In Jim’s own words:

Jim's missing guitar

“My guitar, it has gone far!
Maybe it’s gone to Zanzibar?
It didn’t even say “Ta-ta”,
Or, in Norwegian – “Ha det bra”

“In Norway, was this photo shot
The last known image that I’ve got
Of this thing, which I forgot
Where last I put it…dot, dot, dot!

“Even though it has my name,
Taped upon its wooden frame,
It wanders wild. It is not tame,
Some day soon, I’ll do the same!

“Farewell to you, dear wood and glue,
With strings and things for tuning too,

Maybe one day we will renew,
Our music partnership so true!

“Meanwhile, I’ll buy a guitar NEW!

“If I could find some money too!”

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5 Hour Fundraiser

Excellent cause, fantastic event. Sign up and donate to join the Mirrorball open mic at Tell It Slant in aid of the Scottish Poetry Library!

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Sunday 22nd February, 12 noon- 5pm

An open-mic afternoon hosted by St Mungo’s Mirrorball and Tell It Slant in aid of the refurbishment of The Scottish Poetry Library. Come and read your favourite poem or perform one of your own or just be part of the audience of a wonderful one-off event at Tell It Slant/The Project Café, 134 Renfrew Street, Glasgow. All welcome!

To guarantee your chance to read a poem – email Jim Carruth with your preferred reading hour.

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Wool, words, feathers, fathers.

christiewilliamsonphotoA lovely last night at tell it slant, our old poetry bookshop in The Project Cafe, now admirably run by Kathrine Sowerby, launching another Clydebuilt poet on his way with a first collection before I launch myself South and East across this island to work for The Poetry Trust.

Christie Williamson‘s Oo an Feddirs, published by Luath Press, is a book I have been waiting for since I first heard Christie read at St Mungo’s Mirrorball five years ago. Christie with his long fair hair and strong Shetlandic voice seemed to come from another age, and his poems tangle Shetlandic Scots and English together in a weave so subtle as to be both intriguing and accessible – a rare pattern. “Oo” is Shetlandic for wool, while Feddirs can mean feathers or fathers.  He speaks of the ambivalent  nature of fatherhood, juggling boats for his son, and remembering “when someone else/was the clown/wishing he/was the child again.” He writes of his daughter’s first Carnival, music and dreams mingling “under her tuft of hair.” He speaks vividly of his passion for his partner Hazel Frew, herself an excellent poet, and literally writes her body as it writes on his.

But it is the Shetlandic poems which grip me most – an ancient voice is speaking of the things of everyday and making them seem eternal, as in his poem, Truth, where “da answer phone’s caald/unblinkin licht” says “‘Look at de…./fir aa dy runnin aboot an rantin/an tinkin an bellin desel at life/an gallavantin, du’s come hem/ower laet, an dis truth/can nivvir be erased./Du haes nae new messages.'” That poem certainly rang true with me, as did another, in which he bewailed every liberal parent’s realisation that “raisin’ the bairn wi his ane ideen” is “aa very well, till he starts spikkin back”.*

Being a weaver of voices by nature, Christie chose to interlace readings from the book with “a poyim or twa” from other poets who had helped him on his journey to this point, including myself, Kathrine, Jim Carruth, Cheryl Follon (whose new poems about Russia and love were an eye-opener!) and “da man who give me the best rejection letter of my life”,  Gerry Cambridge, editor of Dark Horse magazine, who finished the night with a bit of music with a young singer songwriter he knew and some harmonica of course. Alexander Hutchison sadly arrived too late from another event to give us his traditional song at the end. But all in all, a lovely way to say farewell to the Glasgow “poyits” for now, though many of them will hopefully join me at future Aldeburgh Poetry Festivals once I get settled in… in the meantime, you can of course buy Christie’s book from tell it slant.

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* There is a very helpful glossary provided at the back of the book by Luath, from which these translations come: du/de– you; aa – all; hem – home; laet – late; bairn – child; oo – wool; feddirs – feathers (or fathers).

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Off the Beaten Track

Nice review of the Female Beat Poets night Maggie Graham and I did by Douglas Thompson from the Scottish Writers’ Centre in Off the Beaten Track.

DCART-20141114104-55-EditPhotography by Dominique Carton:


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