Craft or sullen art?

ways with words in the city of Wells

IMG_7815
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.

a post from Mark Haworth-Booth

A new discovery for me and perhaps for you

Have you heard of a poet called Bodil Bech? I am assuming that you haven’t but if I’m wrong please leave me a reply and tell me more. She was Danish and wrote in the 1920s and ‘30s. This is her most famous poem:

In the Tram by Bodil Bech

Why I wonder am I so strangely happy?

It’s as if two birds were living

behind my tense breasts –

golden sweetness rises and falls

each time I breathe –

this tender quivering is almost painful –

my feet have an urge to leave the ground,

and my arms to row up into the heavens.

So I am

no ordinary lady –

Or maybe I am

extremely ordinary –

for am I not sitting here

in the tram

paying the conductor

and turning a calm profile

towards the window?

Perhaps there are many such women,

also turning a calm profile

towards the window

who are just as profoundly happy as I am.

Are we all sitting

with birds behind our breasts

and with a lap quivering

like a fiery rose?

Trans. John Irons, 100 Danish poems – from the medieval ballad to the present day (University of Washington Press, 2011). ‘In the Tram’ was first published in 1938.

If you were not impressed you will need read no further – but everyone I’ve shared this poem with has been impressed so I am assuming you are still with me.

This poem has been on my mind recently for several reasons. I’ve just started reading the lively new anthology The Zoo of the New edited by Nick Laird and Don Paterson. They feel pleased that they have upped the percentage of women poets considerably from previous anthologies like the Heaney / Hughes Rattlebag. However, I found that I’d assumed (rightly as it turns out) that they would not include Bodil Bech or what has become her signature poem. Although it is easy to find online these days, Bodil Bech is a very unfamiliar name to Anglophone poets. Which is why I have been advancing the cause of this poem in small ways.

I read ‘In the Tram’ at the Teignmouth Poetry Festival a few weeks ago. I’ve attended all the festivals so far – this was the fourth. From the beginning Teignmouth has included a very welcome innovation – an evening of poetry in translation. Such a great idea. There seems to be an abundance of linguists in the area and the number of languages covered is impressive. I asked if I could add the Danish of Bodil Bech this year and was accepted. I read the English first, then the Danish. I wanted the audience to have the pleasure of picking up echoes of those words we adapted from what became Danish into our English word hoard: words like brysterne for breasts, ro for row and, best of all, skd. The last word is the most interesting. It is pronounced ‘skerth’ and means ‘lap’. It looks a bit like English skirt, which might be considered to relate to lap – so I looked up skirt in the OED. I was very happy to find that, in Middle English, skirt occasionally meant lap.

I should perhaps explain that my mother was from Copenhagen. She died almost 60 years ago but I remain a loyal half-Dane in her honour. She might well have taken that same tram and, who knows, had those same thoughts and feelings. In preparation for reading the poem in the original in Danish at Teignmouth, I had a cousin read it in her lovely Danish into my phone. I played it back endlessly, trying to copy her lovely, subtle intonations. I think I got away with the rendition – it was, of course, a labour of love.

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/

Project 2017 Getting Underway

The new Cafe Writing Days series, Project 2017, has made a remarkably strong start over the Christmas/New Year Holiday, with 22 writers already booked in and starting to build up their personal Pages on the blog. The series is for any writer of prose or poetry who wants to pursue an extended  project during the year and would enjoy sharing their journey with others on the same path.  The six-weekly meet ups in the Open House Centre in Bath are booking now – 60 spaces already taken / February and April already full.

If you would like to join Project 2017,  you can check the available vacancies on the blog, as well as exploring ( as of today)  personal Pages from Ama Bolton, Claire Dyer, Ann Preston, Susan Jane Sims, Verona Bass, Robin Thomas, Marilyn Francis  and John Richardson.  Other Project Writers are creating and adding to their Pages. More will follow soon….

If you like the blog, then this series might be for you. Contact Sue Boyle if you would like to learn more, or to join.

New project for a new year

The seven dates for the Project 2017 Saturday group sessions have now been confirmed. Here are the dates and current vacancies.

January 14th 2017 :  FULLY BOOKED     

February 25th 2017: FULLY BOOKED 

April 8th 2017 : FULLY BOOKED 

May 20th 2017 : FULLY BOOKED  

July 1st 2017 : one vacancy 

August 12th 2017 : three vacancies

September 23rd 2017 : FULLY BOOKED