Tag Archives: Maria Walker

Call for Submissions: Hygge Poems for January and February 2017

IMG_0788.JPG I have become very interested in the idea of Hygge, the Danish term for cosiness, intimacy and taking pleasure from simple things. It’s about candlelight and cosy throws, knitting, sharing comfort food with good friends, reading, country walks,and enjoying everything in the present moment. It’s a hug for the soul. With all that happened in 2016 on the world stage, and the consequences we might face in 2017, we need this concept just to keep going through the drear months. The poems don’t have to be all sweetness and light. I am interested in the darkness and how poetry can shine a light in dark corners.

So I have decided to do a blog feature of hygge poems and am seeking contributions. You can email them to me on anji.topping@gmail.com. I can’t pay you anything but my blog does have a good following. I am looking for poems in any style, that speak to me about hygge, and the things it represents. If you have a photograph that you own copyright for and would let me use, do send those as well. Credit will be given for any images I use. Please include your name at the bottom of your individual poems, as that really helps.

I will reply to everyone who submits, and I aim to start posting poems very soon. I don’t mind poems which have been previously published, but please include a credit to the first publisher. If the poem is in a collection, include the publisher’s details – they will appreciate that.

Here is one of my poems from The Five Petals of Elderflower, first published on InterlitQ, which expresses the concept of hygge (though I had never heard of it when I wrote the poem). The collection of the same name was published by Red Squirrel Press in September 2016.

 

The Glass Swan

 

January midnight, a numbness of winter,

not for the first time, I am last awake.

The house is silent except for the hum

of the coal fire, the blue song of the fridge.

 

All the winters I have been alive, the weather

has been teaching its hard lessons:

those who lived so intensely are gone.

I shall not see them again, though I speak with them

 

in all the aching chambers of the mind.

Ice has hold of the earth, as those things

which are true but unwelcome, grip memory.

Look at this fire in the hearth, feel it.

 

Bank it up against the night. It is all we have, these

corporeal things: these candlesticks, this glass swan.

 

Angela Topping

Photo credit: artwork by Maria Walker

Submissions for this feature are now closed.

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StAnza 2014: The Lightfoot Letters

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We set off on Tuesday morning, with all the art work for the exhibition, ‘The Lightfoot Letters’, neatly stacked in the car. Wednesday morning was spent putting up the exhibition in the Preservation Trust Museum, assisted by the curator, Sam, who was a fantastic help. It took over four hours but we were very pleased with how it all looked. A lot of people came up to me during the week wanting to discuss the exhibition, which was lovely. It really was an amazing co-incidence that Maria Walker had purchased the letters long before she met me and we had both produced work on the family prior to starting to work together. As I said at the artists’ talk, in a sense both of us were collaborating with the letter writers as well as each other. Maria often used words from the letters as a title for a work, or included the words on the art. I referenced the letters a lot in the new poems I had written for the project, for example, in my poem about my grandmoher Ada Lightfoot, nee Woodward, whom I never met as she died in 1933, I synthesised details from her marvellous letters.

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We managed to hang these large versions of the letters, scanned and printed onto cloth, above the door lintel in the Preservation Trust, with sterling work from my husband scaling tall ladders to screw the battens in. One of my grandmother’s letters is on the right. The one on the left is from my grandfather, and includes the words about the hot pot supper he is attending: I will have to use a knife and fork but I would rather have a spoon’. He always liked his food, but was tall and slim all his life. Maria produced two stunning pieces inspired by his words; you can just see the spoons piece to the left of the doorway. 

Maria had not yet done any work on the theme of skating when we met, as one of her main research interests is women’s lives. But my dad wrote three letters to his older sister during this intense 3 month period when she was away from home, and in all of them he is obsessed with skating. I worked hard at a poem to do him justice, and Maria found it a good way in to produce several wonderful pieces about skating, culminating in the amazing hanging she made, which appears to be floating from a typewriter.

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Eleanor Livingstone, the Director of StAnza, suggested that my poem, ‘Father, Skating’ be displayed on a window in The Byre, as a trail to the exhbition. It’s the first time that the poem has not been in large vinyl letters in the actual exhibition, but there would not have been space in the actual upstairs room where everything else was shown, so this was an inspired idea. I am grateful to Anja Konig for noticing it as at that point I had not been up to the studio theatre, so I hadn’t actually spotted it. 

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It was gratifying to have pointed it out to Paul Muldoon as we were walking past it discussing his masterclass, though I did not of course mention the fact that I had submitted the poem to The New Yorker, with a disappointing result! It’s more important to me that people tell me they love this poem, and the main thing for me is that my dad skates on between the lines and is still 12 years old and carefree.

This was the first time the exhibition has been shown outside of Cheshire, and it is also the first time it has featured at a Poetry Festival. Maria and I will always be grateful to Eleanor for noticing the art and poetry collaboration in this way and inviting us. She is truly a director with a finger on the pulse of poetry. We would love it if other poetry festivals would take up the exhibition. We also offer an artists’ talk and workshops if required. And of course I love performing the poems in the sequence, which appear in my book Paper Patterns (Lapwing 2012) and the chapbook The Lightfoot Letters, which also includes the text of some of the letters themselves (Erbacce 2011). Maria and I still dream that a big publisher will one day be interested in publishing a book of the letters, poems and artwork. The letters themselves are amazing social history and there is still a lot in them to be mined.

 

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StAnza 2014

I have never been to StAnza before and had been hoping to fit a visit in this year, so imagine my delight when I was actually invited to attend as a participant, an honour I had only previously dreamed of! Eleanor Livingstone, one of the directors, had seen information and artwork from The Lightfoot Letters exhibition, which was a collaboration between myself and textile artist Maria Walker.  The exhibition has been shown at The Brindley, Runcorn, Visual Arts Cheshire in Northwich (the kind and generous poet John Hegley came to the private view on that occasion) and Waterside at Sale. But StAnza is the first time it has been shown outside Cheshire.

The exhibition will take place throughout the duration of the festival at the Preservation Trust Museum, with the artists talk taking place on the Saturday afternoon. My poem ‘Father, Skating’ will be in the Byre, in vinyl letters (which I still think of as a form of magic), acting like a trailer for the exhibition.

So this week I am busy preparing for the festival, sorting out my itinerary (because I hope to immerse myself in poetry and attend as many events as possible) and making notes of where I need to be and when.I hope to turn up to open mics to join in, bump into lots of friends and drag them back to the holiday house for coffee/wine/supper. I’m going to Paul Muldoon’s masterclass and John Greening’s events. Normally the exhibition has been mounted for us, but for the first time I am going to be involved in the curation, which was the best logistical way to do it this time.

I know that StAnza is a wonderful festival. Everyone has told me how much fun I will have. I am really grateful to Eleanor’s keen eye and awareness of what is going on, even in distant Cheshire. The programme is very full with lots of variety and many wonderful poets. And yes, I’ve been warned to take lots of jumpers and woolies! Image

http://www.stanzapoetry.org/index.php

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The Lightfoot Letters in Northwich

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The collaborative exhibition, The Lightfoot Letters, which Maria Walker and I created together, is currently visiting Northwich, in a brand new town centre art gallery. Maria likes to use text in her work and we decided to collaborate so she could use my poems. Maria had already created some pieces inspired by some 1923 letters she had purchased in an antique shop, and I had already written poems about stories my father had told me about his childhood.

A few months in to our collaboration, we met up again to see some of her work in an exhibition. It was then we made the amazing discovery that the letters which had so impressed her had in fact been written by people in my family, including my dad. This lent our collaboration new wings and we both created further work. The suitcase installation was my idea and we made it together, and Maria also taught me how to collage and how make button bracelets. We bounce off each other really well and love working together.

The exhibition premiered at The Brindley in Runcorn in 2011, and will be showing at The Waterside, Sale, later in the year. It came as a wonderful surprise that Visual Arts Cheshire wanted it to be the very first exhibition in their new gallery, which unfortunately might not be staying open long, as the space is only on loan. 

It is a wonderful space and the exhibition has created a buzz in the town, the like of which I have not seen for a long time. The opening night was packed with people who were interested in either aspect or both. There have been a lot of people with the surname Lightfoot (my maiden name) coming in to check out the family history aspect. Maria gave an artist talk, I read poems, and we are both doing workshops to pass on our skills. I was amazed to see John Hegley attending the opening – and he made some very supportive and enthusiastic comments, which I really appreciated. Poet Lindsey Holland came as well, which made me really happy.

On World Book Day/ International Women’s Day, there will be a poetry reading with me, Sean Body, Lindsey Holland and Gill McEvoy, starting at 5pm. This is a perfect chance to come and see the exhibition outside its usual opening time, and to listen to some contemporary poetry from carefully chosen guests. 

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‘The Next Big Thing’ Blog Tour

The Next Big Thing, for those who don’t yet know, is a way to network with fellow writers and to find out a bit more about what they’re working on. The idea is fairly simple. The writer answers a set of questions on his or her blog one week, and then invites five other authors to answer the same questions the following week. They in turn invite five more.

I was invited by Geraldine Green

What is the title of your new book?

Paper Patterns

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How did you choose the title?

I spent a long time deliberating this and then went back to my original idea. One of the poems is called Paper Patterns, and it came out of collaborating with a textile artist, Maria Walker. There are a few poems in the book which she has used on in her art work, and one of the sequences was written for a joint exhibition with her, all based on some family letters she had bought in a junk shop before she met me. After collaborating for a few months we met up, when we made the astonishing discovery that these letters she’d found so inspiring had been written by my father’s family. So the title reflects the work I had done with Maria.

The cover art is actually a piece of her work on which she embroidered words from the poem, Paper Patterns. I love that picture and she kindly gave me permission to have it as cover art. (Actually ALL my books have cover art by friends apart from my Salt books and my Rack Press pamphlet, because those publishers have a certain style and took charge of the covers for me.)

Also, the title resonates, because poems themselves are patterns on paper.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

As a poet, I tend to write the poems as I go along, and when I am putting a collection together, I think about which poems I want to include. Because this is a full length collection, it has several different themes and moods. It’s important to cut in some variety in poetry books. Although I know most readers will dip in and out, I have carefully arranged the poems so they speak to each other and take the reader on a journey throughout the book. For instance, the last few poems are about regrets and ageing, whereas near the start there are more light-hearted ones. The book also includes several sequences. One is The Lightfoot Letters which includes the poems written for the exhibition, another is Catching On, which brings together ten poems from the Rack Press pamphlet with 6 poems from my Salt collection I Sing of Bricks, about my friendship with poet Matt Simpson. There is also a new coda to that sequence, which charts the stages in our friendship and also the stages of coming to terms with his death. The third sequence is a small one of miniature poems in which wild plants speak their story.

Some of the poems were written on a course with Penelope Shuttle in France, and one was written after attending an inspirational reading by Pascale Petit. There are also some poems about birds, one of which was in Poetry Review, and several poems about fruit, written at a workshop by Jan Dean. Some were even written at my own workshops, where I tend to write as a way of timing the exercises and seeing whether they are good to work from. It’s not for me to track themes – I will leave that to the critics, who can be very perceptive.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry. It’s not highly experimental. I write poems which are accessible but complex in terms of their layers and resonances. I think every poem is an experiment. I tend to write instinctively and then bring my intellect to bear at the redrafting stage, where I am quite a harsh self-critic. I like poems which both stimulate the intellect but ultimately move the reader, so that’s how I aim to write.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

That scenario is very unlikely in the case of a poetry collection. But sometimes poems are performed by actors. So actors I would most like to perform my work: David Tennant, Miriam Margoyles (who already did a splendid job with one of mine), Patrick Stewart, Frances Barber, Colin Firth, Dervla Kirwan, Sarah Lancashire.

Who has published your book?

My publisher is Lapwing, an independent press owned by Dennis Greig, who is based in Northern Ireland. He expressed an interest in my work when we were discussing, over email, a mutual friend, the late James Simmons. Dennis had published a few friends of mine including Janice Fitzpatrick, Ian Parks and Andrew Oldham. I felt that the house style would suit Maria Taylor’s artwork and Dennis and I very much see eye to eye on the current state of the poetry world, so I decided to send him my collection. I hope to do an Irish tour to promote the book, as soon as I have arrange some free time. I am of Irish descent and very proud of it. I’ve started to explore it more in my work.

What other books would you compare ‘The Other Side of the Bridge’ to, within the genre?

I think this one is best picked up by reviewers too. I hope I write in my own way and not leaning on the shoulders of others. My favourite poets include John Clare, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Edward Thomas, Elizabeth Bishop, Matt Simpson, John Agard, Pablo Neruda, Ian Parks, Martin Figura, so it’s possible that their work and mine has some similarity. Helen Ivory is another poet I admire, as is George Szirtes, but I wouldn’t say this particular collection is similar to their poetry.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think this book is a development from my earlier collections, although family and friends are still inspiring poems. Myth and nature are strong themes and everywhere I go I am writing poetry, so this book includes poems set in Egypt, France, different parts of the UK including London and Scotland, Whitby and the North York Moors. I also wanted to bring the sixteen elegies for Matt Simpson, which appeared in two different publications, together so I could finally call the sequence complete. I have touched on some of the elements that went into the book in my previous replies, also.

What else about the book might pique a reader’s interest?

I love it when people say to me that my poems have helped them work through difficult or meaningful times, like bereavement and childbirth. Readers can emotionally connect with my work; it’s not about me showing off or being clever, but a genuine attempt to communicate with others.
Also, I use a variety of forms, sometimes sonnets and other strict forms do the job, and other poems feel more comfortable in free verse.
The moods of the poems range too, and there is an unfolding narrative if one reads the collection in order.
Although I do write personal poems, I also reach further, for example I explore personae and history, myth and story. I also write for children and sometimes my playful side shows in my work for the general adult reader. I live a fairly ordinary life and celebrate the little things that provide moments of piercing joy.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

The book’s blurb begins: Angela Topping unravels the threads that hold families and friends together, exposing the frailties, joys and tenacity of love, in these strong, spare poems.

I think that just about sums it up.

The following writers are contuining the tour. Do vist their blogs to see their responses to these questions:

Lindsey Holland

Adam Horowitz

Steve Ely

Catherine Edmunds http://catherineedmunds.blogspot.co.uk/

Fiona Sinclair

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The Lightfoot Letters

Well, the chapbook arrived yesterday and I am delighted with it. The publishers, Erbacce, have done a wonderful job and Maria Walker’s cover design is really beautiful. I have dedicated the book to my brothers and sister and I am looking forward to presenting them with a copy. I wonder what my dad’s family would have thought if they had known their letters would one day be published, revealing so much about working class life in a Northern industrial town in 1923.

Maria wants me to write more poems, so my work is not yet done, but at least I have a publication to include in the exhibition at The Brindley, which will be happening in late summer this year. I have a feeling I will need to order another box of books by then as so many people have shown an interest in this project. A friend only remarked yesterday that Maria and I only discovered the connection of the letters in October – what a lot can happen in such a short time!

The discovery of the letters, and my doing some work in Widnes at my old library and Farnworth Church, has brought me back in time and back to Widnes in a very curious way. Having not thought much about the place for years, and recently severing my links with it when my in-laws moved away into a retirement flat near us, I suddenly feel closer to the place than I have for a long long time, even though I am a bit of a stranger in that it is all so different these days. The busy town square is pedestrianised, Simms Cross school has gone and the market has moved. The library now has a coffee shop – we would have loved that – and the road home past the foundry where my brother worked is now a dead end. Roots are so important and you can never dig them up.

£5 from me or from Erbacce

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The Lightfoot Letters News

Beautiful cover for my book, designed by Maria Walker

Maria and I had a very successful meeting at The Brindley last week and the project is all coming together nicely. We have seen the exhibition space and Maria is full of ideas for further artworks. I have typed up nearly all of the letters and these have been put into a book with 5 brand new poems and 5 older poems which were in my book The Fiddle, written before the discovery of the letters gave me new insights into the family situation. I have interspersed the poems with the letters and ordered the book person by person in what appears to be the most logical order, so that the narrative unfolds as the reader moves through the pages.

I have worked closely with Erbacce Press who are bringing out the book. We have endeavoured to keep the cost low so that hopefully people who do not normally buy poetry books will be prepared to invest their income for the sake of the letters themselves but will then enjoy the poetry.

The Brindley will organise an opening, at which I will read both poetry and extracts from the letters. It will be a gala occasion and I hope to see many of my blog followers there.  Many friends have told me they will be coming. There will be a video installation of my reading as part of the exhibition, and I am hoping to commission some commemorative bookmarks from Sumptuosity, who have already made bookmarks of quotations from my work in embroidery on silk, with appliqued motifs using vintage fabrics. The Brindley shop will stock all my books for the duration of the exhibition, which starts in July. Maria will be providing postcards of the artwork for sale. And we are offering workshops as well. These will be advertised in The Brindley brochure nearer the time.

I still can’t believe my luck that all this has happened. It’s brought me closer to my dad, even though we were very close when he was alive. My siblings too are very interested, if not fascinated, with it all and it has given us all a great deal to talk about and share in these past few months. Maria and I are firm friends as well, now. So many positive things have come from a strange coincidence, and it’s all down to the fact that my dad’s family were so tight knit that they write frequently to their sister in Manchester in the winter of 1923-1924, giving us a detailed picture of working class life at the time, which is of interest to those of us who came from a working class background and are now reclaiming our histories, as the histories of the real people behind social change.

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Willie says you will tell me off for Bad Spelling

Letter from Father 18 December 1923

Dear Frances

Just a few lines before i go to bed hopeing it finds you well and happy i expect you are getting ready for XMass we were very pleased to get your letters. I read them all for the Children last Night before they went to bed they said what a funny chip shop with a river under neath they were sorry for Uncle Tom because he could not eat meat and you haveing all them nice things in the house. Glad you enjoyed yourself at the party i hope it was a nice bottle of Cent. Willie said you would only get a paper cap so i said you would get a present he was thinking of them partys he as been to. well he does not (know?) everything. I am going to a Do on Wednesday a (hot pot) supper. But i will have to use a knife and fork. (But i would rather have a spoon) your Mam is not well at all the bad weather is makeing her Cough worse, Farnworth is just the same old place wet and Dirty. We are finishing work on Friday till the Thursday so i will come and see you on Saturday if it is convenient, and Ada as well so you must write and let me know one of my work mates is coming to Stalebridge so i will have some one to show me the road.  I think this is all your mum is going to write in the Morning so i will close with Good Night and God bless you hopeing to see you on Saturday

From your loveing Dad

xxxxxxxxx

P.S. Willie says you will tell me off for bad spelling if i have made any mistakes i am sure you will be able to make them out xxxxx

written probably 18 December 1923

Maria Walker has made an interesting piece of art from the sentence ‘I would rather have a spoon’, using five wooden spoons painted in crackle glaze and painted with the words. My grandfather loved his food and had a prodigious appetite, but always remained tall and skinny.

‘Willie’ mentioned in these letters is my Uncle Bill, as I knew him. All of us remember that he was always in his vest, quite shocking for us children. My nephew Steve once asked him if he was an athlete, with all the tact of small children. He sounds like he was a bit of a pain even then; I can’t say I ever liked him much. He always called my clarinet  my ‘liquorice stick’, which did make me smile, at least. Father’s written style takes little notice of full stops and he puts capital letters in random places, but his handwriting is beautiful. He seems quite defiant of Willie and his grammar school ideas. Uncle Bill died in 1976, the year of my wedding.

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Embroidered

 

Silk Bookmark of line from my poem Two for Dad

 

The wonderful company Sumptuosity have offered to use my words on their bookmarks, with the likes of William Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Robert Burns.

This is the poem the above one is from:

Two for Dad

Blackberry…

In it together:

conspiring against bramble,

holding down a spray

of beauties for me to pick,

showing how leaves

hide choicest fruit.

Finding docks to cool

nettled flesh, stained,

battlescarred, spoils dangling

in baskets, on handlebars,

we ride our triumph home.

…Pies

We dare not go through the kitchen

when you bake. There is

deftness, artistry at work.

The pies are crammed

with blackberries, plump

with pleasure at being picked.

a line of flour on your jumper

from rolling out.

The pinched edges of pastry

seal the boozy juice.

You cut large slices

to offer me.

The second one is from this poem:

From The Wendy House

Peter Pan: The Opera House, Manchester 1988

“Cramful of adventures” he’d promised, but this place

is packed with scruffy boys who can’t stop

walking planks and smoking peace pipes –

games they think too rough for me, their Wendy-bird.

They want me for Mother, darning socks, sewing pockets,

worrying what to cook them for their tea.

Peter doesn’t really want to hear of Cinderella’s bliss,

would have her picking over lentils,

peeling spuds forever, never find her Prince.

It wouldn’t be so bad if he’d play with me

but he wants to be one of the boys, not prepared

for Fatherhood. Why is it me that must grow up?

Yanking me from a warm nursery for this!

Whizzing my head with dazzling words, making me

feel light enough to soar between the stars.

 

Lines from From the Wendy House

 

I am delighted and hope the project is beneficial for both parties. I will be selling these at readings alongside my books. They do a range of different colours and lots of different items such as lavender bags, groovy notebooks, and the cutest range of brooches I have ever seen. Their goods can be bought here:

http://www.sumptuosity.net/home

I have been a customer for a while now and everyone comments when I wear one of their brooches. Lucky me – that’s two textile artists I work with now, Sumptuosity and Maria Walker. Maria and I are currently putting together exhibition proposals for the work on the lost Lightfoot Letters.  Exciting times.

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The Amazing Co-incidence of the Lightfoot Letters

The most wonderful and amazing thing happened to me this week. Maria Walker, the artist I have been collaborating with since July’s Zest for a Day, and I had a meeting at Castle Arts Centre in Frodsham where she had an exhibition. She was showing me work she had done using a series of letters she bought in an antique shop, when we made the astonishing realisation that these letters had been written to my father’s sister by his whole family, back in the 1920s. The bundle includes letters written by my father.

This is nothing short of a miracle. I feel as though I have been given my dad back. He died in 1978, at only 67, and I was only 24. I am writing new poems about all this and Maria is working at new art.

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