Category Archives: The New Generation

Death Door Dave, the Turtlejack

When I lead an Able Writers’ Day for Authors Abroad, I like to write a group poem with all the pupils working on a different stanza. I take ideas from the participants and try to incorporate as many as I can, discarding the ones that don’t fit. Then each small group works on an aspect of the topic, feeds back to me, then I shape it and write it up. This teaches them structure and consistency.

This is the most recent one, written last week at Mill Lane Primary. The pupils suggested we make up our own mythical creature. I split the topic up into things like physical appearance, habitat, diet, behaviour and so on. THis is what they came up with in half an hour!

 

 

Death Door Dave, The Turtlejack

His head is a barking jackal with orange eyes.
The wet-noser has a turtle body,
a creature with wire wings and green blood;
wolverine-clawed, its scorpion tail is green-flamed.

Invivible he can be, or camouflaged,
breathing fire, water or air. If he knows
you are coming he lies in wait.
He can fly high or low, scary in the sky.

You cannot hear him come, you cannot hear him go,
you cannot hear him run from all the things he fears.
He may look like a blood-thirsty savage
but his heart is a baby’s touch.
Diaphonous smoke curls around him
with a reek of gloom and loneliness.

At night he steals dinosaur eggs, seasons them with fairy dust,
eats with a salad of brussel heads, lettuce and carrots.
By day he kidnaps humans to make friends
and wonders why he fears them.

Death Door Dave used to be a happiness thief
a life crusher, a human eater, a dream disintegrator.
That was before pest control put him in prison.
Now he’s a changed monster, vegetarian, wise.

He was first created in a meteorite accident,
the only one of his kind. Now he lives in
a groovy flat, a moose-head on the wall.
candles lit, a massive double bed, waiting for a mate.

Written by the group on Able Writers’ Day at Mill Lane Primary School, Thame, Oxford

 

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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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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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Much Wenlock Poetry Festival

Much Wenlock Poetry Festival was a delight. I wish I had been there on the Saturday to see the Wirral Alliance of Poets doing their street readings, but maybe next year I will go for the whole festival.

My two events were both on the Sunday. The first was a workshop in Wenlock Books – everyone’s dream of the perfect bookshop, full of cosy nooks to sit down and read, a splendid second hand section, real coffee and an enchanted atmosphere.

The workshop was primarily intended for children, but was also suitable for adults who write for children. So it was good to have one other adult there, as well as a granny who stayed to watch. The children were an absolute delight and they all wrote some amazing work. After we had got to know each other, using an alliteration game, and I had read a few poems to show the sort of thing I write, we got down to work. The first exercise produced a Kennings poem, followed by a sharing of work. One of the boys did his in the shape of a shoe, a girl wrote a beautiful poem about the sea. There were also poems about cats, a computer and penguins. An artist came and did a sketch of us while we were working, which I will share on here as soon as I have an electronic copy.

Over refreshments half way through we wrote a group poem:

Our Picnic

Spreading thick butter on the crispy crackling bread,
now things were ready we skipped merrily to the park.
As we arrived we set out the meal on a cloth.

Bread and butter, cheese and ham are all eaten
with lots more. We sip lemonade from plastic cups.
Everyone plays cricket. After the last wicket
we sit in the shade together.

We brush away the crumbs but some sandwiches are over
so we charge to the ducks, watching them fighting over the bread.
What a magical picnic we had with lots of fun today.

What a shame, it’s time to go home.

After break, we settled down again to write a mythical creature poem or story. The random generation of creatures with everyday locations game gave everyone some interesting combinations to work with. We had a werewolf in a left wellington boot, a frightened fairy, a vampire in a wardrobe who was obsessed with the colour purple (not the novel, but the shade), and many others. All the participants produced quirky and original pieces of writing. Some of the parents arrived back in time to hear the sharing part of the scond task. Everyone had fun and went home with two new pieces of writing – a lot to accomplish in two hours.

There was time for a quick lunch at the excellent festival cafe (all home-made food), a chat with the Welsh poet Liz Loxley, whose work I admire, a quick reconoitre with Roz Goddard, before moving off to my next event, which was a children’s reading.

The reading took place in a wonderful venue, the Methodist Chapel, which has wonderful acoustics and character – obviously a well loved building. The audience was small but I was able to hold them rapt for an hour and could interact with them individually. Reading at a festival is very different to doing a school reading to a full hall: the audiences are smaller but each child wants very much to be there.

I would have liked to have lingered in this picture-book town and taken in more eventsl, but we needed to get back. Before leaving I was presented with my copy of the festival anthology, to which every poet performing at the festival contributed a poem, most of them previously unpublished. I do urge everyone to purchase a copy of this book, reasonably priced at £7.99. Not only will it help support next year’s festival, but it is a really strong anthology. I spent a happy couple of hours reading through it.

Much Wenlock Poetry Festival has completed two years now, and we can only look forward to the 2012 one. Wonderful poets in a beautiful place set in stunning countryside – what more could anyone want?

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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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Cheltenham Poetry Festival

Cheltenham Poetry Festival starts this week on Thursday 31st March and continues till 3rd April. I am reading at Waterstones at 11.30 on Saturday 2nd April, and giving an illustrated talk on John Clare at 1.45 at the YMCA, closely followed by a wonderful concert given by Gordon Tyrrall, who has set some of Clare’s lovelist poems to music.

There are many other wonderful readings including George Szirtes, John Cooper Clarke, John Hegley, Alwyn Marriage, Angela France, Cliff Yates, Clare Pollard, Philip Gross, just to name a few off the top of my head.

The organisers have worked really hard to put together an amazingly varied festival and I urge everyone to support it.

Here is the link:

http://www.cheltenhampoetryfest.co.uk/

Before that I am over in Oxford, reading and doing a school gig with my hero of old, John Foster, who was the very first person to put my work in a children’s anthology, apart from the ones from the Bees Knees collective. That was in 1992, in Can You Hear? poems for Oxfam, published by Macmillan.

I love going off to new places to do readings. I also love staying at home writing and making things, like I did today.

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Able Writers #3

My Cat is a …

In daytime he is a

milk slurper

food snacker

But at night time he is a

night walker

squeaky singer.

In the springtime he is a

butterfly chaser

outside sleeper

but in the summertime he is a

high pouncer

tree climber

In the autumn and winter he is a

paw licker

newspaper ripper

Cat poem postcard designed by Chris Hamilton-Emery at Salt.

by Hazel Heard

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Paul Hughes’ review of my schools readings in Reading

Paul writes on his blog Jake the Cake:

“And so I had the pleasure of watching her perform a variety of these poems to children (aged 11-14) in two local secondary schools.  Her performances are interactive, entertaining, educational and full of nuggets of poetic brilliance and inspiration for the poets of tomorrow. She has a lovely way with students and they warmed to her personable manner. I intend to visit schools in the future and watching her perform was a wonderful demonstration of what can be achieved when a skilled poet, with a warm personality, meets with students.

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She is currently willing to perform for free, particularly to schools local to her Cheshire home, and I’d advise any teachers reading this to have her visit ASAP!”

I am still offering these promotional readings and Cheshire schools are welcome to contact me. I am equally comfortable in primary and secondary, have a full CRB and plenty of enthusiasm. It is important to me to make my book accessible to children and the best way is through readings. They can be as short as ten minutes or as long as a hour.  In return I expect schools to inform pupils that the author coming in has books for sale, and the cost of them, which is £6.99. Travel expenses are appreciated, or enough book sales to cover my outlay.

I do workshops at £250 per day (and pro-rata) plus expenses.

A school in Kent said this about my workshops:

‘Every girl and boy enjoyed the poetry workshop with angela.  From Kennings to collaborative poetry, we were all given the opportunity to write and explore our own thoughts and feelings.  each child recited at least one poem to the group and they were all well received and appreciated.
My girls were desparate to share what they had learned with the rest of the class.  Even I was motivated to twrite possibly the best comparative, descriptive verses I have ever done!  Thank you’
Wayne Rhodes (Year 6 classteacher)

If any parents or grandparents reading this want to suggest me to schools their children or grandchildren attend, I would be very grateful. I am also interested in doing inset work with teachers. I did do some leading of inset days when I was teaching, which were very well received, and I have written GCSE textbooks on how to teach poetry. I am also an A level moderator for a leading board and have led A level workshops and written critical works for A level and undergraduate students. I have led teacher training sessions for trainee teachers and given talks for OUP on the new GCSE specifications.

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Reading at The Shuffle

The guest list board.

I loved having a guest slot at The Shuffle on Saturday night. It was the first time I had ever read in London or set foot in The Poetry Cafe. We’d wandered round Covent Garden looking for somewhere to eat but everywhere was full, half an hour wait for a table was too long, and we weren’t all that hungry. So we had a drink in a pub on the corner of Betterton Street until the cafe opened. I was entranced with the photographs of poets on the wall who all seemed to be giving me a personal greeting, such as Elain Feinstein, whose collection Cities I had reviewed for Stride. She kindly told me that she thought it was ‘a generous assessment of what I was trying to do’. Do check it out on Stride.

Soon we were eating a wonderful soup and I made myself known to the hosts Jaqui Saphra and Gale Burns, who made me very welcome. They hosted the occasion admirably, and shared some of their own poems, which I enjoyed a lot. I was on last so I could sit back and enjoy the variety of readings, the wonderful audience and the poetic ambience. It was especially good to hear Salt poet Agnieszka Studzinska, though I have to say every single guest was excellent, and it was a really enjoyable evening.

I’d put together a set with a range of moods, starting with my Peter Pan and Wendy poem, ‘From the Wendy House’, which tends to go down well. I followed this with two more poems from The Fiddle, one about my dad’s death and one about my mum’s. I lightened the mood again with the poem Dialectic, about angels and devils and what it is like to have a relationship with them, then a sad one from The New Generation, and two poems which are coming out in my Salt chapbook in January, including the title poem I Sing of Bricks.

I had some wonderful comments afterwards, which really made my night, and an enthusiastic message from a facebook friend who came for the first time to The Shuffle because she wanted to hear me read.

All in all, I felt my London debut went perfectly and I hope I get to read down there again sometime soon.

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Feeling Positive

Being a writer can be a lonely occupation, which is why we all love doing readings. But we also love the company of other poets, al least I do. Recently I have had the priviledge to have Ian Parks staying over when he came to read in Northwich Library at my poetry series. We talked about poetry until we were both exhausted and happy, and Ian gave me lots of advice, for which I was deeply grateful, about which magazines might like my work, and people to contact etc. Best of all, we are now firm friends.

The same thing happened with Ira Lightman last night. We was just passing through, and I offered the use of our spare single room. It was fabulous to meet someone whose hero is Wordsworth, who loves Milton and Tennyson and is so knowledgeable about poetry, but in different ways to me. Ira will be coming back. So will Ian. And I feel at last that there ARE people I can really talk poetry with as well as dear Matt Simpson.

I seem to be moving forward at the moment. The New Generation is doing well, but I am waiting for a reprint at the moment. I have an offer to be interviewed for a Welsh radio station, seven glowing Amazon reviews, and several school bookings. Best of all, Salt has arranged for me to read at The London Review of Books Bookshop 0n 28th November because I am in their Christmas catalogue. I will be reading with Philip Gross! Yes, I know. PHILIP GROSS.

I am also making a London debut with my adult poetry (not that there is a huge difference – my adult poetry is more about things that children are less interested in) the night before at The Shuffle, at the Poetry Cafe. I have a guest slot, along with some other interesting poets I have heard of, who will be good to meet.

I am looking forward to my Salt chapbook, having done the proofs last week. It’s looking good and I am going to enjoy reading from it. I am also putting together a brand new sequence of elegies for Matt Simpson, looking back on our friendship and some of the happy memories I have. I suppose this is part of coming to terms with his sudden death last year. I recently wrote an article for a Liverpool magazine, The Accent. I was grateful to be asked, and am keen to do anything that spreads appreciation of Matt. I don’t want his poetry to disappear.

I feel very blessed right now and hope it continues. Sometimes trying to build a reputation and get bookings seems so hard. The quality of the work and performance should be enough, but it isn’t. It’s all about discoverability, as Chris Hamilton-Emery tells us in his book, 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell. I care about sales for the sake of my publishers. Personally, I want to share my work and be read &

A perfect Christmas present for children and adults in touch with their inner child.

enjoyed.

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