Category Archives: Festivals

Split Screen at Manchester Lit Fest

Brian and I reading our Dr Who poems.
Photo courtesy of Chris Keller-Jackson

Featuring: Brian Johnstone, Andrew Philip, Sally Evans, Jo Bell, Julie Boden, Carolyn Richardson, Charlie Jordan, Andrew McMillan and Angela Topping.

Having taken part in two Split Screen readings so far, one at Norwich with George Szirtes, Helen Ivory, Martin Figura and Andy Jackson, the editor, and one at Callander Poetry Festival with Andrew Philip, Carolyn  Richardson, Sheila Templeton, Sally Evans, who performed Yoda with props, in a never-to-be forgotten paper hat, and others, I was greatly looking forward to the Manchester event. Each one has been special in its own way, as different contributors have attended each time, and Andy gives us the chance to choose poems we enjoy reading in addition to our own, to make for a varied show.

The poems in the anthology, from Red Squirrel Press, are placed in juxtaposition, with, for example, Marilyn Monroe opposite Doris Day; Max Miller V Ken Dodd; Pete and Dud, Kirk and Picard. The Manchester launch was special to me because it was the first time my Dr Who poem on Jon Pertwee had been performed back to back with Brian Johnstone’s Tom Baker one. It’s been rare at performances that both of the poets are there.

Each event is chaired by Andy Jackson, the editor, who came up with the quirky idea in the first place and who puts together a workable running order and a slideshow of the relevant characters and shows. All this helps the show to be slick. Andy creates the illusion of an evening’s TV watching at some point in the past, with adverts in the middle and a poem about closedown and the white dot at the end. These poems have been performed at every launch, but at both Callander and Manchester, we were lucky enough to have both their authors, Sally Evans and Andrew Philip, there to read them. Ian Parks’ ‘Flake’ poem and Adam  Horovitz’ ‘Orange poem’ have been chosen at most of the launches, to be read by others. After the ‘9pm watershed’ the poems are more hard hitting, less ‘family’ than the ones before the ads. And the show ends with The National Anthem, which we all stand for with great solemnity, only to be treated to a surprise which I wouldn’t want to reveal here: its delight lies in the unexpected.

The poems are wide ranging. Some are hilarious, some moving, some reflective. The standard of performance has been top notch at every event.  This anthology reaches a wide audience as the programmes and films included are ones that transcend age and generation, and have in many cases become cult viewing. The poets offer new slants on familiar things and a second book is in the offing. I’ve been delighted and humbled to be involved in this project and there are more events to look forward to in the series. Glasgow, Newcastle and Pitlochry are coming up fast. If you can’t get to the show then at least you can read the poems, if you buy the book.

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Bonfire Night

Bonfire Night

Fireworks blossom on
the black sugar paper sky.

The spicy smell of first frost
makes nostrils tingle.

The bonfire burns like a furnace.
My face is as hot as an iron.

My fleece jacket is snuggled
Round me to keep me warm.

I write my name in air
with my white hot sparkler.

Before bed, there’s hot chocolate,
floating cushions of marshmallow.

From The New Generation by Angela Topping (Salt 2010)

This poem was based on my own memories of Bonfire Night as  a young child and also as a parent when the girls were younger. We used to have a small bonfire in the back garden and a few fireworks lit by my dad or later, my husband for our children. I always loved Bonfire night, it seemed to me magical and comforting, though the notion of the guy used to upset me, particuarly as I knew Guy Fawkes was a Catholic who has been killed horribly for trying to blow up Parliament. I now know he was a mercenary employed as a pyrotechnics expert by the plotters. He was very brave: to avoid the cruel death of being hanged, drawn and quartered, he jumped when hanged, effecetively breaking his own neck. I cannot understand why he became the focus of such hatred, especially as James I was an unpoplar king and the laws against Catholics at the time were horrific. It is only now that the law against Catholics marrying into the royal family is considered to be outdated and might even be changed.

Although I loved bonfire night, I uset to be traumatised the next day by items in the news about children who had been badly burned. As teenagers, we used to build our own bonfires and cadge combustible materials from houses near us, save up pocket money for fireworks and beg spuds to roast in the fire. I wlecome, therefore, the growing trend of organised bonfires, put on by the council in parks and so on. Much safer and a lovely act of community bonding. Ever since the Millenium, though, fireworks have been set off on almost any occasion. I don’t like this trend. Once a year is enough to traumatise pets and disturb neighbours, and worse, overdoing things can soften their impact. In a society that demands and gets strawberries in winter, for example, we are blurring the lines between the seasons with our excesses.

Where I live now, and have lived for the past 25 years, I have a good view of other people’s fireworks and prefer to recreate a favourite memory of when my oldest daughter Laura was around three years old. We had just moved to this house and I sat on her bed with her, having finished the bedtime story routine, opened the curtains and spent a happy half hour with our noses pressed to the pane watching the sky flash orange, white, blue and green, shooting stars swim by our window and sparkle off into the navy blue above our trees. It was unplanned, the baby was asleep in her cot in the next room, full of breastmilk and my husband downstairs.

The best pleasures are the simplest by far.

 

Happy bonfire night everyone! And remember, light the blue touch paper and retire. Keep the fireworks in a tin and drop our sparkler on the ground when you have finished writing on the night.

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Hallowe’en

Hallowe’en is a festival I feel strongly should be celebrated. It is based on the Celtic festival of Samhain which honoured ancestors and marked the passing from summer to winter.It then became subsumed into the Christian festival of All Souls, which serves to remember people who have died. November is the month of the dead in Christianity.

There is a wealth of Literature, much of it from the Romantic Movement, which concerned itself with the world of the imagination, among other things. From this period we have texts like Dracula, Frankenstein and many more. This period also saw a revived interest in the traditional tales and ballads from the past. We love the thrill of being scared, safe in the knowledge that it is not real.

I fear that, in the increasing commercialism, the festival itself is being lost. Dressing up (in home-made costumes), carving a turnip lantern (nowadays pumpkins are favoured), bobbing for apples and telling stories were all delightful ways to have inexpensive fun. Trick or treat is a fairly new idea, but there is a misconception about it: as the dressed-up children come, the idea is to give them a treat or show them a trick. It is a pity that visiting each other has almost died out and people lack the ability to interact with their community, seeming to privilege the internet over flesh and blood friends.

When I was teaching I always used to tell my classes the wonderful Hallowe’en story of Tam Lin and Janet. It’s a Scottish ballad and tells how Janet meets a beautful knight in the forest and falls in love with him. She has to free him from the Faery Queen on Hallowe’en before he is sent to Hell as a tithe. The Queen turns him into several scary things but Janet holds fast as he has told her and eventually the Queen gives up.

There are many poems and short stories too, which are worthy of reading aloud by candlelight, to create magical memories for children, friends and family. Here is one of mine:

 

White

 

White Face at the window.

White face in the hall.

White sounds in the garden,

seeming to call.

 

White skin in the glooming.

White teeth in the night.

White moon in the darkness,

a world–weary sight.

 

White bones of the forebears

buried in clay.

White tomb stones standing

against the day.

 

White Face in the garden,

white hands scrape the latch.

White Face coming closer

with sharp nails to scratch.

 

White feet are mounting

the stairs one by one

searching for something

or maybe someone.

 

White fingers feeling

for the key and the lock;

White Face is greeting

white veil and white frock.

 

White two united,

they join their white bones

their faces meet lightly

to silence their moans.

 

White lovers meeting-

their time apart done,

they drift away hellwards

before the first sun.

 

 

This poem appeared in Kids’ Stuff, my Erbacce chapbook for children.

 

 

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Somethingeveryday

This week I will be posting new work on somethingeveryday, the blog of Max Wallis. I’d love to see some of you over there.

http://somethingeveryday.co.uk/

This is a busy time for me. I am in the throes of my exam board work as a senior moderator for a leading exam board, while continuing with life as a freelance poet. It’s Halton Talkwrite Festival and I have 5 gigs, no less. Today was LOL in Libraries, and I was glad to be the cause of gales of laughter, including my own, as we LOLed our way through poems, plays and prose extracts. Performing the warfare over the teacups between Gwendolen and Cecily from The Importance of Being Earnest with the wonderful Jan Dean as Gwendolen is a memory I will always treasure. Thanks to members of the audience for bringing along plenty of funny things to share, and for taking part in my lucky dip game of daft short poems.

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Miriam Margolyes reads my poem at Wenlock Poetry Festival

Mine is the last one, as the anthology was alphabetical. If you like this, there are two other videos of her reading the rest of the poems on Much Wenlock Poetry Festival website.

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Artist’s Impression

Here it is! The artist’s impression of my workshop at Much Wenlock, in my children’s poetry workshop at Wenlock Books as part of the Poetry Festival.

Many men have asked to paint me, and I always refused, especially to the one who said ‘it would be so interesting to depict all those curves’. In this case the artist was female. I don’t know her name -she hadn’t brought her business cards with her, but this is very good indeed, in my view, even though it doesn’t really look that much like me. I was moving around, so it was hard for her to get me down.

She tiptoed in and sat on the stairs with her sketchbook and paints, and I think she did this in under an hour as she had to go on to another event. This artist’s visit was a wonderful surprise and is typical of the magic of this wonderful festival, set in a little gem of a town. Do go next year!

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Cheltenham Poetry Festival

This shiny new festival was a joy from start to finish. I wasn’t able to attend any of the Thursday events as I was in Oxford doing two readings with the wonderful John Foster, but we arrived in good time for Philip Gross’ reading. He was, as ever, wonderful, and was joined by accordion player Mike Adcok, whose own compositions resonated hauntingly with Philip’s words. Philip and I were booked to read together at the LRB bookshop in November 2010, which was unfortunately postponed. We are still seeking opportunities to read together. We both write for both children and adults – and make little distinction between them, as both deserve well crafted and intelligent verse.

The next event we attended was with George Szirtes, Nigel McLoughlin and Kviria, the Georgian harmony singers. The venue at Francis Close Chapel, was perfect for the meditative poetry of Szirtes, who, as I am sure people know, is an excellent reader, always leading his audience on a journey of discovery. I hadn’t realised before this event what Nigel’s Ulster accent would add to his poems. The music of them was enhanced for me. Nigel and I were both published by bluechrome, so we shared some commiserations over their mysterious disappearance.The singers were enchanting. We were sorry we had to miss the last five minutes to get to John Cooper Clarke’s performance whish turned out to be not to our taste. However, there was a huge audience of people who were loving it, so we slipped out unnoticed after a while.

The next day I had to concentrate on my own two events. The reading at Waterstones was fun, although it can be somewhat challenging at times to make oneself heard on the ground floor of a busy shop. It’s very good to see my books in a prominent position on the shelves! On the plinth in the poetry section my book is cheek by jowl with one of Owen Sheers, festival patron, ace poet and thorougly lovely person.

In the afternoon I was giving a multi-media talk on John Clare. I chose to structure the talk around arguably his most famous poem, ‘I Am’. This allowed me to concentrate on the positivity of his life rather than the asylum years. The representative of the sponsors, This England magazine, commended my approach. I do not see Clare’s life as tragic despite his mental illness. He lived it intensely and had great joy in his love of nature.

Shortly after I had finished handling questions and packing up, we dashed over to Francis Close Chapel to hear Gordon Tyrrall singing his settings of Clare songs, accompanied by his friend Caroline on the flute. I know these songs well, as I play the CD (A Distance from the Town) , but I had heard them all live before. Gordon has a gift for composing tunes which bring out the words and meanings of the poems with great sensitivity. His performances are enhanced by his obvious enjoyment in sharing his talents.

John Hegley, unlike the other John mentioned above, did not disappoint us. This was an extraordinary evening of fun, poetry and music. Hegley is an engaging performer, and I have seen him before, but I had never seen him play his mandolin accompanied by a fantastic jazzy double bassist. See, Hegley is a stunning wordsmith but he can also amuse, impress, involve and entertain. Hats off to him, I did not want this concert to end.

Next day was a little quieter in the events I sought out. We went to hear Cliff Yates, fellow Salt poet, give a quirky reading to a good crowd. He was joined by singer/songwriter Men Diamler, who provided a good contrast: his angry young man style set up some lively tensions with Yates’ gentle and laid back delivery. Later at the same venue, Angela France gave a strong reading. She was joined by Jennie Farley, whose narrative poems I had not heard before. This was a lovely reading. I knew Angela’s work already and enjoyed her readings on other occasions.

The last event I went to was Buzzwords. I will be leading this in September so I wanted to get a flavour while I was already in beautiful Cheltenham. Pat Borthwick was the guest. I have been familiar with her work for a long time and like it very much. The workshop gave me three quick drafts which I intend to work on when I have some time, and the standard of the open mic before Pat’s reading was truly impressive. Angela is an excellent event manager and host as well! Pat’s own reading was both powerful and entertaining by turns. Cheltenham is very lucky to have such a great event happening every month. Buzzwords is running its first national competition, so do get some entries together to support this smashing event.

Anna Saunders and her team deserve hearty congratulations for the success of the first Poetry Festival. Let’s watch it grow.

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Filed under Children's Poetry, Everything else, Festivals, John Clare, Poetry Collections, Salt, The New Generation