The Title of Poet: praise word or description?

I am not the only one who thinks like this.

Angela Topping

There has been discussion about what a poet is and whether one can confer the title on oneself. I was tentative for a long time about calling myself a poet. Many say a poet is someone who writes poems. But what makes something a poem? When I was a very young poet (13 or 14), I used to show my work to people and ask’ is this a poem?’ by which I meant ‘does it do what poems are meant to do, is it magic?’That is why I don’t believe in bad poems, if it’s bad, it’s not a poem. William Carlos Williams said ‘if it ain’t a pleasure, it ain’t a poem’.
By calling oneself a poet, if one simply means that one writes poems, I don’t have an issue with that. But the secondary definition is that a poet is a ‘person with great imagination and creativity’. I…

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Nothing but Rain

Thiepval

Edward Thomas joined up to fight of his own free will. He was just starting to come into his own as a poet when he was killed. This poem of mine refers to two of his poems, ‘Rain’ and ‘Words’, two poems I have loved for years.

In this poem, from The Five Petals of Elderflower, I have wishes for him but for every other person killed in war. World War One, like all wars, was indiscriminate in its killing: ‘poets and painters and musicians,
labourers and farm hands, thinkers and doers’ all perished, along with those killed by their own side who had become too traumatised to fight, conscientious objectors, who deserve to be admired for taking a stand, but who also suffered from poor treatment and even imprisonment in many cases.

The great war deprived me of three great uncles. Two were killed in France: Nicholas Lawler and Frederick Coyne, and James Lawler survived the war but died in his 50s as a result of bad health caused by being gassed. He walked with a stick and only had sight in one eye. As a child growing up it never occurred to me why I only had great aunts.

I was moved to see Nicholas Lawler’s name on the Theipval monument, but next time I go on a battlefields tour I hope to find Frederick’s grave. Nicholas’ body was never found.

This poem is for all of them.

 

Nothing but Rain

The window pane is streaked and spotted.
The beech hedge offers little comfort to birds.
Water puddles in the road, car headlamps sheen.
The bird feeder bobs on the almond branches.

Edward Thomas wrote about rain like this,
that drenched and seeped through fustian uniform.
He sheltered in a shed and heard rain drum
on the corrugated iron room, in such despair

as he’d been able to assuage by tramping
fields and woods where he lived in England.
No such warmth for him now, days or weeks
away from death, in a war that wasted

poets and painters and musicians,
labourers and farm hands, thinkers and doers
as trenches filled with mud and blood.
Even the weather was against them.

Rain is still as wet, and drips into poems
like this one, but each one after his
calls out in fellow feeling, as if his Rain
and ours is the same, as if shelter would come

and safety, and warmth and life, like mine
by this coal fire, time for his English words,
to flock into his mind with feathery lines,
so he could once more sing of birds.

Angela Topping

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Reviews of my book on Amazon

I am grateful to David Cooke (of The High Window) for this review of my latest book on Amazon:

 

Beautifully crafted and accessible, The Five Petals of Elderflower, is convincing testimony to Angela Topping’s unwavering pursuit of poetry as a vocation. Undistracted by fashion, she writes with authority about the things that are important to her: family, childhood, the natural world, in poems that are beautifully cadenced, honest, and rooted in real experience. Throughout this collection, there is an admirable clarity and musicality. Nothing is overstated and time and again the poet delivers in images that are freshly minted. This is a poetry where ‘each house has its own story to tell, / each door keeps its own secrets.’ It deserves to be widely read.

 

Amazon is saying the book is not available, but they are wrong. It is available from me. £10 including postage, which gives a small discount.

 

The Five Petals of Elderflower Angela Topping book cover

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“The Five Petals of Elderflower” Angela Topping (Red Squirrel Press) – poetry review

I am very grateful to Emma Lee for this thoughtful review of my most recent book. Red Squirrel Press is sold out but I have some copies at home for sale, so if you are interested, contact me.

Emma Lee's Blog

The Five Petals of Elderflower Angela Topping book cover“Five Petals of Elderflower” uses the title poem, also the first poem, as a structure for the whole collection giving it a sense of unity. It’s important to note, though, that the collection does not have to be read in order, each poem can stand alone too. The title poem can be thought of as ‘five ways of looking at elderflower’, one for each petal. The first section zooms in for close examination, the second explores a different voice – here the poet’s father, the third focuses on memory, the fourth uses synaesthesia and the fifth a promise. In the fourth section,

“Elderflowers sing jazz, each petalled phrase
plays another variation on the last.
Its saxophone voice rises above twanged strings
of cello and double bass, holding the melody
as it flies high. Notes dance round our feet:
we wade in sound. It’s a five bar blues,
scrolls of baroque…

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The Mersey Sound and Me

 

By the time I was 13, I was already writing poetry seriously, and read vast amounts of it from Widnes library for pleasure. In the early 1960s, Penguin started producing black paperback showcase volumes of three poets at a time, and when a bookshop opened in my home town, I began to buy these from my pocket money. They were affordable and introduced a wide range of contemporary poets than I had seen in the public library. I read through them, sometimes without comprehension, on long Crosville bus rides home from Liverpool, if for some reason I had had to miss the coach home, for rehearsals etc.

T.S Eliot was my current favourite at the time. I loved the music of his poems, and wasn’t too bothered about the complexity of the meanings.

My sister moved away from home with her husband and baby, and we went to help her unpack. The previous owners of the house had left some things behind, and I was sorting through an understairs cupboard when I found this tatty book. It looked different to the other Penguin Modern Poets, which had white flowers on a back background. This cover screamed at me with its orange Liverpool skyline and its pop art feel. I sat on the floor with my back to the wall, in my customary button-front jeans and aran jumper, and started to thumb through it.

Half an hour later, having been gobsmacked and enthralled by these poems, I came to, pins and needles in my legs, and ran to my sister to ask her if I could have the book. It became my constant companion and immediately influenced my writing, making me experiment with running words together, and writing about the ordinary everyday things which surrounded a working class Northern lass, like me. These poems told me about a lifestyle very different to my own. A way of living that included clubs, all night parties, smoking, and wall to wall poetry, in Liverpool, where I was going to grammar school at the time. It was electrifying, as out of reach as a fantasy land, yet I could walk the same streets, smell the same air, later go to the university at the top of Brownlow hill and worry about the same things as these three poets. I learned list poems and surrealism from Adrian Henri, the flexibility of rhyme from Roger McGough, and the value of strangeness from Brian Patten. The poems became part of the soundtrack of my life. Poetry was fun and serious at the same time. It possessed me.

Fast forward a decade. Adrian Henri was reading in my area. I had moved to Northwich with my husband and we had had one child and were expecting another. I was invited to read alongside, and in support of, Adrian Henri, at the Harlequin Theatre. Of course I took my copy along to be signed. Not only did he do so, but he said kind things about my poems, and signed the book  ‘for Angela and her poems’.

Fast forward again, faster. During my last few years teaching at Upton Hall, I took my writers group to hear Brian Patten, performing a lunchtime show at The Brindley in Runcorn. They loved it. We were waiting in the foyer for the school minibus, when the man himself came down the stairs. One of my year 7 pupils rushed over to him and spoke to him, then she pointed to me. I could hear her saying ‘my teacher is a poet’. There was nowhere to hide, but he came over and spoke to me, said he knew my name and thought we had been in some of the same anthologies. We had, including one edited by Roger McGough. My life overlapped briefly and beautifully with these amazing poets. Roger presents Poetry Please, where my poems have been featured several times. Lucky me.

I was of course close friends with another Liverpool poet, Matt Simpson. He knew the Mersey Sound poets well, admired them too, read with them many times. So I felt I knew them through him as well. Adrian stayed in Liverpool, so I had more chances to hear him read. When he died, I was moved to write him an elegy. I read this at the Wirral Festival of Firsts in a bar, and someone came up to me afterwards who knew Adrian because he used to play the trumpet at his performances, and I am pleased to say he reckoned I had caught him, just as he was.

 

Love is… Finally this

So Adrian Henri’s gone. Affable host of Liverpool 1;
iconographer of Canning Street; genial soul of every bar
dispensing compliments and beer. What’s love now?

Haunt your old haunts, Adrian. That huge cathedral’s too grand.
You’re more the poet of chippies, back street pubs, backs of vans.
Your eyes-closed readings betrayed the shy lack of faith in self.

I hope there’s a heaven made for you, of scotch in the afternoons,
the stained-glass colours of your paintings and a procession
of dolly-bird angels for you to eye like the Everlasting Sixties.

From Angela Topping’s book The Way We Came (bluechrome 2007)

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More Poems from Whitby Poetry Workshops

 

 

 

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My Whitby Folk Week poetry workshops included writing invitation home poems, healing herbs poems, colour poems and a range of other ideas and hot penning prompts.

Here are a few more written by participants.

Three Poems from Fritjof Koerber

 

House Call
Hasten your steps, take down your tent.
Time from home is truly misspent.
You can fiddle right here in good company,
Even sit in the garden beneath your shady pear tree,
Whose ripening fruit, delightful in taste,
Without due care will go to waste.
Why do you shiver under canvas at night
When hot radiators are such a delight?
And two-pot meals are not much fun
When at home four hot-plates shine like the sun.
So hasten your steps, take down your tent.
Time from home is truly misspent.

 

Plantain

 

Oh plain plantain,
You saved my father’s life!
In World War II and nearly slain,
A prisoner away from his hive,
Fed on thin soup and bread,
He knew your healing skill.
Refused to die, instead
Bent nature to his will.
His wounds you cleaned,
Enriched his food.
He was redeemed,
You did him good.

 

Aquamarine
Aquamarine is a shade of blue,
Not red, not green, but a deep blue hue.
Look at the calm sea lit by sun’s light,
Slightly chilled and not too bright,
Spread like a cloth on a summer’s morn,
Out of which the day is born.

 

 

One Poem from Sarah Lough

Wrench

Your grandfather's gone, he'll
tramp no more Donegal hills,
whistle commands to dogs,
herd black-faced mountain ewes,
nurture his flock, count lambs. 

These farming ways that continued,
year after year, became
the sound-scape, the fabric
of our shared lives. 

Today, we pray in church. 
I watch you from a distance grieve,
think about our lost years - 
yours and mine -
the times we never shared

and stand in line to sympathise,
not knowing if you can bear
to hear me voice my words,
and take or shake my hand. 


 

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Whitby Poetry Folk Week Showcase

This summer, once again, I led stand alone poetry workshops at Whitby Folk Week. I have met some wonderful people doing this, many who come back year on year.

I always invite participants to send me poems I can share on my blog. There is no pressure to do so, and some will want to send them out to poetry magazines instead. But here are some wonderful poems from this year’s workshops. Enjoy.

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Foxgloves

 

Purple pockets, corked with bees

searching for every nectar blossom.

Stems rising through fiery nettle beds

to display flowers of amethyst digits.

 

Leaves and flowers pulped,

juice solidified, prescribed to heal.

Slowly absorbed, strengthening every

fibrillating heart beat of a tired old body.

 

A witch’s glove, mixed with the dandelions

ochre flowers and weeping leaves.

A colourful puree in the chalice tea,

seen only through haloed light, until the end.

 

Sharon Fishwick Whitby 2017

 

Gorse

When the Gorse is out of bloom

Kissing is out of season

Or so she learnt as they walked together

On hills bright with golden flowers

Across fields, over stiles, through kissing gates

 

Now she knows the prickles of gorse

Walks through kissing gates alone

But the herbal tells her

Gorse – a remedy for despair

 

Primrose

 

End of term gift

The primrose bloomed on the windowsill for weeks

Then was planted out

Next to the rose the builders had trampled and destroyed

 

Months later it flowered again

The rose threw up fresh shoots

Messages, when they needed them most

That life goes on.

 

Mo Waddington

Whitby 2017

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