Tag Archives: Whitby Folk Week

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 Poetry Workshops Showcase

As some of you may know, every year I offer Poetry Workshops at Whitby Folk Week, which is one of the nicest, friendliest folk festivals out there. This year was my seventh year of workshops and my 12th year of attending the festival. This year was its 50th year, which is an amazing achievement.

I wanted to showcase a few poems from the workshops this year, so invited participants to send me some for my blog.

This one was sent by Vikki Appleton Fieldon, an American who now lives in Yorkshire. Vikki acted as our steward a few years ago and has been hooked on the poetry ever since. She is also a talented songwriter, and an excellent singer.

The Abbey at a distance stands,
Empty arches echoing the shape
Of whalebones placed to mirror one another
Upon the facing shore –
The friendly, somehow holy shapes
Inviting entry to a special space.

© Copyright Shaun Kynaston and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

© Copyright Shaun Kynaston and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Sharon Fishwick is another loyal attender. She runs a craft stall in the Craft and Music Fair, with her husband, who is a professional woodturner. Sharon contributes many different crafts to this stall, including sewing and designing. She works as a nurse, and this first poem of hers comes out of that experience:

“In sickness and in health”

Vows – distant history
We didn’t realise then
what they really meant.
It’s alright for you
you’re the one whose sick.
I have to care
and watch
and listen
and wait
not knowing
what or when?
Sometimes it feels a strain
Too much to bear
Now…are the memories
I don’t want to keep.
I’ll hold on to the ones
of happy times together.
They keep me going
through your pain
and mine.
We’ll take one day at a time
and keep hoping
and keep loving
until forever ends.

This one came from a prompt about focusing on one view:

Whitby Tide

The tide
ebbs and flows.
Predictable, constant
but never the same.
Surface bubbles
an eclectic mix
of sizes and spaces
flowing in, then
bursting with energy.

Bleached driftwood
Landing, amongst the pebbles
smooth and glistening
in the early morning sunlight.
Seaweed, littered with crustaceans
a myriad of colours
textures and forms
waiting for the returning tide
to float away.

And because Whitby was 50 years old, another exercise I offered was a tribute poem about an artist who made a big impact over the years. Sharon chose Chris McShane:

Children’s orchestra

Children surround him,
eager to learn a new tune.
His smile, never changing,
fiddle in hand – poised
full of enthusiasm, inspiring
and generous with empathy
of the difficulties
children played with.
Fridays procession
Crescent to Bandstand.
Like the Pied Piper
with his flock of
happy child musicians following.
All had achieved
learnt a tune
played together
stepped in time
down the hill.
Donkey Riding.
Salmon Tails.
Over and over
fiddles, guitars
whistles and flutes
even a triangle
for the toddler
who could only just walk.
Chris was their hero
their music teacher
their Whitby memories
their inspiration
for life.

Thanks to Sharon and Vikki for sending me these poems.

If you went to the sessions and wrote poems at any time during the last 7 years, you can send me your poems and I will feature as many as I can. Or you can paste them into the comments on this blog.

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Whitby Folk Week Poetry Workshops

The time for Whitby Folk Week is approaching. This annual, warm and friendly folk festival runs from noon on 22nd August to Friday 28th August. I will be running daily stand-alone poetry workshops in the early afternoon each day starting from Sunday 23rd. Each session lasts for an hour and twenty minutes. While there are regulars who attend every year, there is also a steady stream of new people who are made very welcome. I started leading these workshops about five or six years ago, taking over from the kind and friendly Yorkshire poet, Jay McShane.

Whitby is a rather special festival; it’s an annual date for many, and familiar faces seem to pop up everywhere. There’s something for everyone, from small intimate venues to larger ones like the Spa, The Metropole Hotel Ballroom, and the Spa theatre. There are traditional singers, transatlantic performers, every kind of instrument that you can think of, dances, dancers including Morris, and the mornings are given over to loads of wonderful workshops for beginners right through to advanced. There’s also a craft and music fair, which is a great place to informally meet up between events.

I love being part of this festival and my proudest moment every year is joining the other artists to sing the chorus to The Wild Mountain Thyme at the front of the stage, before the heather wreath is divided up and shared out as a pledge to return next year.

I’ve made many friends at the festival and have many special moments. This year is its 50th, and I have only been going for about 13 years. There have been many changes over this time, particularly of venues, which become available and unavailable as time goes on, even in the short time (relatively) that I have been going. Whitby is one of the most reasonable festivals to attend, and unlike many, it is not in a field with tents, but indoors with seats, so it’s much easier for me.

I will soon be getting down to planning my poetry workshops. We usually start with a hot penning to a simple prompt, as a warm up, then move into different exercises, always with chance to feedback and gain some pointers from everyone else, or just for the fun of it. We will often read some poems by published writers too, for stimulus and to help us get into the right zone, to ‘tune in’ as it were. Some of the attenders are musicians and dancers, others have come to the festival with family and are glad to find there are some different activities to do. On the last day, the Friday, we have a readaround, in which the available time is divided by the number of people who want to read and everyone gets their slot to come out to the front and entertain us with their work. I give advice on publication opportunities and encourage people to support poetry events local to them when they return home.

There is something very inspirational about Whitby itself: the literary connections, the spectacular coastline, the dramatic abbey, and the views of the moors. There are also some amazing eateries. It is a place I love to return to every year.



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The Whitby Anthology – more poems

This lovely poem by Gordon Jackson was written from my instruction poem stimulus, after looking as Jaques Prevert’s poem ‘How to Paint a Picture of a Bird’, and my own ‘How To Build a Sandcastle’, and ‘How to Capture a Poem’.

Making a Seahorse

When making a seahorse

the first thing to consider

is the type of woodto use.

Obeche – Triplochiton scleroxylon,

doesn’t splinter or have resin pockets,

is lightweight, soft, carves well

and cuts like a dream on the scroll saw.

Print your chosen seahorse pattern,

spray glue it to a piece of Obeche,

leave for five minutes to bond.

While you are waiting,

select the correct saw blade for the job –

a Rexon 32 teeth per inch would be perfect,

you’ll get a fine, clean cut with this wood,

very little debris to sand off later.

Right, mask and goggles on,

power up the saw,

slowly and without force,

feed the wood to the blade,

don’t push the piece

and the blade won’t bite.

Turn it carefully,

following the curves of the pattern,

no problem of wood grain turning the blade,

Obeche is too soft.


Turn off the saw,

sand any marks or debris away,

drill the eye with a 1 mm drill bit

and wipe the dust off with sticky web.

Paint with acrylics.

Mid-brown body coat,

fins marked in pale yellow.

Screw a small eyelet in to the top

ready for hanging.

Well done, pour yourself a drink.

Wooden seahorse

Gordon's handcrafted seahorse

Gordon Jackson. Stainland.

4th Sept. 2010. 2:25 p.m.

For Anji Topping’s web Site, by request.

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Whitby Folk Week: The Poetry Workshops

This was my first year of being a ‘performer’ at Whitby, stepping in to the big boots of the lovely Jay McShane, to do the poetry workshops. It was wonderful to get such a great turnout, particularly since the events did not happen last year.There were lots of new people, as well as the loyal regulars. It was particularly good to see Cynthia, Roger and retired pirate Gordon Jackson again.

The first day I took a theme of memories, with the hot penning exercise taken from Michael Frayn’s novel ‘Spies’, ‘even here, even now’. This was interpreted in a variety of ways – the test of a good prompt. An exercise to describe an old toy also proved very stimulating and produced some superb work. We read poems by Elma Mitchell and Li Young Lee, and had a fascinating discussion about line breaks.

Day two was all about the seaside, and Whitby in particular. Typicall, this was the day it chose to rain! We had great fun mentally owning our own beach huts. It was lovely for me that my friend Gordon Tyrrall came to lend his support and do some writing.

Writing an instructional poem based on my own ‘How to Capture a Poem’ and ‘How to Build a Sandcastle’ and Jacques Prevert ‘How to Paint a Picture of a Bird’ resulted in some lovely work. Ann wrote about how to make a patchwork quilt, using it as a metaphor. She illustrated this in the readaround by bringing her quilt; not a scrap of material in it had been purchased, so it literally was made of memories, in the shape of bits of her daughter’s skirt, and other fabrics from the fabric of her life.

Day three was about Special Places and Special things.  We designed a garden for a famous person, using an idea of Dave Calder’s, a wonderful Scottish poet who is based in Liverpool and works, like me, with The Windows Project, a charity which puts writers into community venues. We also looked at Pablo Neruda’s wonderful odes and as usual, these beautiful lyrics produced some inspired work from my happy group of blooming writers. They have all promised to send me poems I can upload and share.

After the three sessions, I handed over to Roger and Gordon, affable hosts of the readarounds which take up the final three days of the festival. We sit on a circle for this, and welcome an audience as well as anyone who wants to read or recite a favourite poem or indeed one they have written in the last few days. We chat a lot as well, but everyone gets two goes at reading. It’s really a ‘Do it from There’ for poetry. The spoken word thread is of vital importance at Whitby and it seems to be thiving.

There was much hugging as we all parted, to meet again next year. I hope our new recruits stay with us. Thanks to all for the wonderful participation. And thanks to Jay McShane for starting the wokshops, our lovely steward and Esther Ferry-Kennington (the workshop organiser) for getting us a great venue and for being so approachable. Here’s to next year!


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