Whitby Folk Week Summers

The first time I ever went to Whitby Folk Week, in 2003, the very first artist I ever heard perform was Gordon Tyrrall, in the 3pm concert at the Metropole Ballroom. I was very excited to hear he had set John Clare poems to music. And then he sang this, entitled Song, by Clare, but known by its opening line, Sweet the Pleasures I do Find. The song is to be found in A Midsummer Cushion. It remains one of my favourite songs ever.

Last year I wrote this poem using some of the phrases from it as hooks. Whitby is now a regular feature on my calendar, and I now run the poetry workshops (and have for about 8 years). Being a very small thread in such a rich festival feels wonderful. Already looking forward to seeing the friends I’ve made and welcoming people to my writing poetry sessions. And of course, hearing Gordon Tyrrall again. I wrote a book about John Clare, which is available from Greenwich Exchange publishers.


Whitby Folk Week Summers

after John Clare

Sweet the pleasures

Turkish delight ice-cream

Gin and tonic on the balcony

Scented pink roses in damp gardens


When every green is fresh with flowers

                        Spice of earth after summer rain

Cut grass on evening air

Walking back from concerts


And linnets sing to cheer me

                        Seagulls screaming

Sailing ships in the bay

Fish and chips in Royal Fisheries


Heaven to be near thee

                        First sight of the sea from the moor road

Golden hours with special friends

The heather song on the closing night


Banished to some barren isle

                        Warm afternoons of sea swimming

The last sweet notes of every concert

Bunch of heather drying on the window sill



Angela Topping



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Whitby Folk Week Poetry Workshops

I have been running poetry workshops at Whitby Folk Festival for quite a few years now, and I love being part of the festival, which is a rich weaving of a range of wonderful music drawn from many traditions, with storytelling, spoken word, instrumental and singing workshops, dance displays and so much friendship and exuberance, it’s very hard to explain to non-regulars.

My sessions are free-standing, so there is no need to attend every one, and are aimed at any stage of writing, whether a beginner or an old hand. Although I focus on poetry, many of the exercises also work for flash fiction. This year the sessions are starting at 1 p.m. and ending at 2.20, and take place in the school. I always provide paper and pen, as people sometimes decide to come along and give it a go until the day.

There is always a friendly and welcoming atmosphere, and coming to a regular workshop like mine, is the best way to make those friendships the festival is famous for building. I do have some regulars, who look forward to it every year, but it’s always marvellous to see some new faces.

The sessions start on Sunday and run daily, culminating in a final workshop on Wednesday, at which everyone is given a two poem slot, to read either their own work, or a favourite poem. I will give a short reading from my work also.

I put a great deal of planning into my sessions, and I am pleased to say that some of my attendees have gone on to be published in poetry magazines. One completed an M.A in Creative Writing, which he said he wouldn’t have thought of doing without these workshops.

I hope to feature some of the poems written in 2017 workshops on this blog after the festival.



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Knitting and Poetry

Knitting and poetry do go together, as I found out earlier this week when I led my first ever knitting workshop, combining it with some poems of my own about knitting and sewing.

I began by talking briefly about my own knitting practice. I learned to knit aged four, when my mum taught me. I made a cardigan for my big doll, which she wore for years. It was in yellow garter stitch, and by the time I had finished it, it was grey from all the times it has been undone and fixed by mum. When she died, I felt compelled to finish her knitting project: a deep turquoise cardigan.

I’ve had a passion for knitting ever since, and have always knitted, apart from a break during my teaching years when I just had too much marking to do. I have a fund more stories about my early efforts. I adapt and even invent patterns, love cable, lace and Fair Isle, and rejoice in lovely yarns and wooden needles, which are lovely to knit with. The scarf pictured here, I made from two balls of alpaca bought at a car boot sale for £1 each. I used a lace pattern I already knew how to do. I love the wavy edge it creates.

Knitting is a lot like poetry. Each piece is unique and the pleasure of finishing each piece gives me a buzz. I am always planning what I am going to make next and often have a queue of ideas and several projects on the go at the same time. That is exactly how I work with my poems too.

Knitting can even be a subversive activity. A trend for knitted external pockets I started in school ended up being so popular it was banned!





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Group Poem by Northwich Stroke Club 2017




KPA Workshop


After Thomas Hardy

This is the weather my friends like, and so do I:
Sunny days with a breeze but warm enough for breakfast outdoors
Birds singing with the promise of a good day ahead
And the scents of herbs and hedge parsley float everywhere
Washing dries quickly on the line, and it’s good to spend time outside
In the garden or walking through fields or climbing in Snowdonia
With the wind in our faces and unusual places
But rain is good too: it waters the soil; it’s good for the complexion,
as my grandmother used to say; and when it hits the conservatory hard
and we are warm and dry inside, and the garden gets a good soak;
rainy walks in wellies with wet dogs and the rain on faces.
At sundown clouds in the sky are outlined in red and gold.
In winter, frosty mornings smell sharp, remind of schooldays.
The virgin snow makes everywhere pristine, at night it’s a mirror.
Snow brings back memories of sledging and throwing snowballs,
frost on the inside of windows, or outdoors, crisp grass and lacy trees,
the beauty of a frozen spider-web, delicate like crochet.
It isn’t Christmas unless there is a roaring fire to warm us.

This is the weather my friends dislike, and so I:
When it’s too hot for walking or cycling, and even to sleep at night;
a constant fight against dehydration, and with perspiration.
Rain and wind combining together, when storms destroy trees
that have lived for centuries, and we are indoors worrying about damage.
Thunder and lightning can be terrifying as they rumble and light up the sky.
Winter weather causes my hands to be cold, and paths to be slippy;
I shun the dark rainy days when the sun hides and night comes too early.

Every season brings weathers we like.

Group poem: Northwich Stroke Club 4 July 2017
Workshop and reading by Angela Topping


Northwich Stroke club meets regularly at Brio leisure centre and organises speakers and outings for people who have had strokes. Partners are welcome.

Angela Topping is available for themed readings with optional workshops for local charities, for a small fee.










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Working for Examination Boards

In 1993, I began working for a leading examination board, starting on the Tragedy paper of A level English Literature, because I wanted to sharpen my teaching and keep up my skill level, having taught A level English Literature for three years at Mid-Cheshire College, but moving to a school where I knew it might be years before I got any A level teaching. I also marked GCSE English Literature for two years alongside the A level. When the specifications changed, I worked on the Shakespeare Open Book paper, then in 2000, moved over to English Language and Literature because I was starting to teach that new syllabus and wanted to do it as well as possible. I learned such a lot about linguistics and how to apply it to literature. I worked on two coursework units and one examination unit, and was blessed with having wonderful colleagues who made the work a pleasure, and a superb administrator who was incredibly helpful. I was promoted to senior moderator on both coursework units, and I really enjoyed helping my teams and working even more closely with colleagues I admired. I also did two years on Creative Writing A level. Until fairly recently, there were January submissions and remoderations to do as well, and I even got to lead some staff training sessions in schools.

Now there are new specifications, and everything is changing. I recognise things are of their time. But the exam work made me feel valued and taught me so much about my academic disciplines, stretching me and sharpening my teaching. It gave me confidence when marking my own students’ work and standardising our department’s coursework in both the schools I taught in. It got me through some dark days in school, because my exam colleagues always valued my commitment and consistency.

I would strongly recommend to teachers to take up the challenge to try exam board work. You can earn extra money while gaining wider experience and the training given by all the boards in understanding how to award marks positively and apply judgements is absolutely invaluable. It will widen your reading and make you a better teacher. It will also allow you to see that examiners don’t want rote answers; they want to see students thinking for themselves and writing relevantly, making discoveries as they apply their knowledge and understanding to the task they have been set.

This year will be the first since 1993 when I will no longer spend May and June in my study, working every day to meet deadlines. I will miss the focus of our meetings and the professional discussions, I will miss the sense of purpose and the dialogue with teams. Of course I will miss the money. Most of all, I will miss working with some of the brightest, most professional people I have ever met. We worked hard and cared passionately about getting things right and being fair to students.

I have made some lifelong friends in the process but this year I am looking forward to being able to work in the garden at the best time of year, sneak in a few extra holidays and generally reclaim those two crucial months for myself. I left full time teaching in 2009, this feels like another step away from that role and makes more room for poetry and socialising with friends and family. So long, exam board, it’s been good to know you. writingCentre-792358

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Old Poetry Magazines

Recently I have been involved in attempts to de-clutter the loft, and have been bringing down boxes of books to look through. It was a rather sobering experience to discover a box of old poetry magazines, some of which have ceased publication or are under newer editors, others have ceased altogether. These were magazines I used to avidly study in the hope of being admitted through their hallowed portals into the world of publication. Now they are covered with a faint grit of plaster dust. Some I got into, some I never did, but I am only keeping the ones which have meaning for me. Or to put it another way, issues I got my poems into.

Looking through them, several things struck me. One was the quality of the publications, which has improved massively since the days when magazines had to be typed up rather than word processed, and standard of paper and binding used is now closer to book quality, compared to some of these very basic stapled pamphlet style books, probably done on a photocopier, though Ambit (one I never cracked), Stand (only got in for the first time last year) and Other Poetry (which I eventually reviewed for as well as having poems in lots of issues)  are rather glossy and professional-looking. I do have a fondness for the simpler designs, done on a budget by someone who clearly loved what they were doing but had no funding. The glossies, however, were the more prestigious ones. Orbis was the first magazine to publish my work after my self-appointed apprenticeship of a decade, and in those days, they even paid!



Another thing was the names of the successful poets. Many have disappeared without trace, who may have stopped writing altogether; others were being published all that time ago and are still writing now, such as Pippa Little, Roger Elkin, Jonathan Davidson, Katharine Gallagher and Philip Gross. This also applies to me. Others went on to become favourite poets of mine, like Jeni Couzyn and Elma Mitchell. Some of these poets I really liked have died and their work all but forgotten, casualties of changing fashion and the fact they are not here to promote their work: Dannie Abse, Geoffrey Holloway, Ken Smith, Evangeline Paterson – all fine poets. I wonder what happened to Lisa St Aubin de Terran after George Macbeth (another fine forgotten) died. There are plenty of poems here by people I never heard of again.

Flicking through these once so familiar publications from the 1980s made me realise, above all, that they are ephemeral. It is barely relevant now who was published in them and who isn’t. Poetry magazines come and go, they are of their time and showcase new work that might not even make it into the poet’s collections. They are try-outs like open floor nights. Of course we all try to gather lists of excellent magazines who have taken our work, but eventually they only exist in bibliographies.

Nowadays many magazines are on line, either in addition to or instead of print magazines. The content can be viewed as long as the website remains live. Print journals often seem more prestigious, but online has a wider reach and a greater chance of longevity. That’s a valuable lesson.

Another valuable lesson concerns rejections. In 20 or 30 years, you will no longer care whether or not you got into a particular magazine or not. Success and failure will mean the same thing, when these old magazines are archived if they are lucky and pulped if they are not. It’s a sobering thought.



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Poetry and Handbound Books

I am leading in a holiday in a country house near Keswick this coming September. The company arrange transfers from Penrith station, if you come by train. There is plenty of parking, if you drive. And if you come with a partner who doesn’t want to do this holiday, there are others running concurrently. 
It runs Monday afternoon to Friday morning, all the cooking is done for you and meals served in a beautiful dining room. At the moment, there are three people booked on the course and I’d love a larger group, though I’ve been told it’s viable already and will definitely run.
We will be reading nature poetry by a wide range of poets, and writing our own, using the stimulus of the extensive grounds. Alongside that, we will make a handbound watercolour paper concertina book with a hard cover, illustrated by a range of possible methods and including a poem you have written on the holiday, of your choice. There will be evening activities too, including a talk on bees.
The early bird discount is still valid. It’s cheaper than Arvon, but guests are waited on and served three course meals, restaurant style, extensive grounds, a footpath to Keswick, materials provided and everyone will take home a book they made themselves. 
This is the link to the holiday:


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