Monday, 23 November 2015

The 2015 Aldeburgh Poetry Festival

 Image result for aldeburgh poetry festival programme 2015

(Only two weeks late...)

Attending the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival is habit forming. Last year I went to Aldeburgh for the first time and went again this year. By now there are many blog posts out there and I’m aware I’m adding to the list, but it takes me a while to process things. For example, last year I was thinking about some of the events and readings ages after they’d happened. This year I’m already looking back to some astounding readings by Helen Mort, Kei Miller and Kim Addonizio, but also poets I wasn’t so familiar with like Valerie Rouzeau, Dorothea Smart, Michael McCarthy, Choman Hardi, Peter Sirr and Christine Webb.  Perhaps that’s one of the draws of this particular festival, is that you go to discover new things rather to confirm what you know. Both years I’ve felt as if gained a great deal by going. It’s not near where I live, so there must be a special reason for travelling all that distance to get there. And yes, it wasn’t easy travelling through Friday rush hour and missing the first few events. But as soon I arrived I went straight to Snape on the bus and got on with it all. 

Unlike last year, I hadn’t brought any advance tickets, which was useful, as I would’ve missed things, but I found I could get my tickets quickly enough anyway. I went to Kim Addonizio’s close reading of a Don Patterson poem and conversation between John Burnside and Helen Macdonald on language and nature.  It was all a bit of a rush and I had to eat my sandwiches like a schoolkid during Kim’s talk, but no one seemed to mind. I saw lots of people I knew and settled in quickly. The main reading was a real highlight; I went to the main reading with Helen Mort, Kei Miller and Jeremy Reed. I should say Jeremy likes glitter. He was throwing it around as he read. He said he ‘likes glamour’ at poetry readings. Very memorable. I knew the readers would be good, but I didn’t realise how good. At the beginning of the event, Andrew McMillan was awarded the Alderburgh first collection prize for Physical which I’d recently reviewed for The Compass. Afterwards I got the bus back, ended up in The Crosskeys with various people and then got lost on the way home. It’s very dark in Suffolk.

Next morning I woke up and listened to the seagulls. I brought a few going home presents for the twins and got a lift to Snape with Carole Bromley and her husband. It was a really full day. Even if people don’t stay for the whole three days, then Saturday is the day when most people seem to overlap. In general, one of the amazing things is how you meet people who actually exist in real life, not just on screen or in print. It was a pleasure to meet people in the flesh like Josephine Corcoran, Robin Houghton and John McCullough. There were so many others too.That’s another reason for going, it's nice to chat with people you only meet on a screen or in letters. Mainly the conversation revolved about the poetry and feeling overwhelmed - in a good way - by all the poety things going on. I went to a great main reading and the Open Workshop, ambitious to say the least with a roomful of about - who knows- seventy people there.  I had a bit of a break in the middle of the day and I’d recommend leaving Snape for a bit and having a walk around the marshes and surrounding countryside for a breather. I also made good use of the second hand book stall and The Rialto one, and ended up buying, among other things, many copies of seminal poetry publication Joe Soap’s Canoe. Even though it’s all on-line, it’s good to have the real thing.

Then back for more craft talks, coversations and readings. A word on the main readings, they are one hour forty-five minutes long – yes really. There’s usually a break of 15 minutes or so. I have to say and I really mean this, they don’t feel like one hour forty-five minutes. Honestly. The poetry’s top notch. I loved listening to Valérie Rouzeau reading in French, she had a gentle, charismatic presence. Kim Addonizio was incredibly entertaining, she played the harmonica and in homage to Jeremy Reed threw petals over her head. She also had time for a little drama. She asked three male volunteers to come up to the stage and be her backing chorus of, erm, male appendages. I was sitting next to Roy Marshall who bounced up to the stage, good for him. If I were a man, I could have been an appendage too. It made everything very lively and John Burnside was going to have a tough act to follow. I didn’t think he’d be quite my thing at first, but I enjoyed listening to him and his reading rounded off the evening for me. He also had a good sense of humour and knew how to follow after Kim. Another thing that struck me is that the organisers must be pretty damn good to choose readers who can make the most of their readings. This was Ellen McAteer's first year as director of the festival, but due to a family matter was unable to come. Nevertheless it all ran like clockwork.

Festival Photo of the Audience

Then back to Aldeburgh on the coach that the festival put on. Instead of going back to the B&B it was a mild evening (yes really for November) I went for a walk along the sea front, sat on a bench and phoned home. It was so dark. You could see lots of stars but I didn’t walk into the water or anything so that was ok. I was in a lovely B&B. I always meet a few people who tell me about the festival when it was all by the seaside, but I tried to make the most of  being near the beach this year. That night I stayed up late and leafed through my various purchases. Then ZZZs. Then morning, seagull cries and breakfast. Then 4 hour drive home past the Llama farm and some mysterious Suffolk villages. 

I was sorry not to stay for the Sunday, but it’s amazing I was able to squeeze it in at all with work and family. There were quite a few more things I would've liked to have attended. I did manage to photograph some of the twins’ teddies on the beach before driving home, to provide photographic evidence for the girls that Owl and Giraffey had indeed been to the seaside. I was still buoyant from the festival and didn’t care how silly I looked. If you were there wondering, yes that was me.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Spots of Time: Marty McFly and the Time-Travelling Poet

Today’s Back to the Future day. Marty McFly will be joining us all the way from 1985. How could I let this anniversary slip? The first time I saw Back to the Future was at the end of the 80s with a hall full of pupils as our end of term treat. It was on a box shaped TV and if you were sitting near the back it was pretty much postage stamp size, but it was still considerably better than maths.

Anyway, I am using the film as an excuse to talk about poetry. Or I’m using poetry as an excuse to talk about Back to the Future. Not sure. The title (not the Marty McFly bit obviously) refers to Wordsworth’s ‘spots of time’ passage in The Prelude, which is about how poems bring into present consciousness certain memories or moments in time. Recently, I’ve been thinking about how many poems crystallise moments in time, while clarifying something about the present and we owe a debt to the Romantics for this approach. Certainly a lot of workshop exercises ask students to think of a particular happening or thing.  Then there’s James Schulyer’s method of writing about a moment in time, or more specifically, writing about the present tense. Schulyer isn’t remembering or reminiscing he’s writing about now, or his now, as something like ‘Dec. 28, 1974’ shows. His now isn’t ours, so to me those poems feel like a form of time travel and, oddly, also an exploration of the present.Can you draft such a poem, or do you write it all in one go?

This is a long way away from discussing DeLoreans and Flux Capacitors. There were always bits of Back to the Future that got my imagination going, like the photo of the disappearing McFly children; If mom and dad don’t kiss at the dance, then no family and no Marty. In a photo he's taken along with him for the journey, all of them are fading fast. So Marty has to work fast to bring romance into his parents’ lives.
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Of course if you haven’t seen the film, you won’t know what I’m talking about. Sorry. But it did occur to me that the key years in the film, 1955, 1985 and 2015 are relevant dates for me right now. Quite a coincidence. Firstly, some years ago I wrote a poem with 1955 in the title, which is currently on John Foggin’s blog and can be found here and is halfway through the piece. I’m very grateful to him for writing about my poems. Secondly, 1985 was the year I went to Cyprus to visit my family over there for the first time as a girl. I wrote a poem about that experience which features on Warwick University’s 50th anniversary poetry page. I’m sharing that page with some fantastic poets, so have a look here.  It also features a recording of the poem. I was asked to take part by David Morley as I was a student there. Finally, I’m also including a 2015 poem, which is very different to the other two, and is a tongue in cheek look at my now, on the Poems in Which site you can find here.

And still no hoverboards...


To finish off, you may remember that at the end of Back to the Future, when the lovers kiss and everything’s funkydory at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, Marty plays something a little far out for 1955 on his guitar. He utters the line, "I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet... but your kids are gonna love it."If you click on the link below and listen, it’s possible Marty underestimated some of his mid-50s audience.

Monday, 14 September 2015

August/September '15: London, Ladybirds and Lots of Coffee

Mr. Commonplace and I were sitting round the breakfast table debating the pros and cons of social networking. I had a moment of insight, I said 'If it didn't happen on Facebook, then it didn't happen at all.' So the following blog post is what didn't happen, except it happened to me.

Over the late summer months I've been reviewing again. I realised it had been a while. It's a long process for me. I read the books, then read them again with a pencil and add lots of scribbles and dainty star things that are meant to remind me of something. Then I start drafting a review, and draft again. Then I usually draft again. I show it to Mr. Commonplace as a trial reader and ask if it makes sense. I don't set out to lavishly praise or destroy, I just want to give a reader an idea of what's going on and make sense of the poems for myself. I make a point of including lots of quotations so I can back up what I'm saying. The more poetry I read the more critical I become of my own. Overall I think that might be a good thing, but it doesn't quite feel like that right now.

Because it was summer, with everyone at home, I got up early on some days in order to have some review writing time. I'm less of a night owl now. So by the time it was officially breakfast I was already on the third or fourth super-caffeinated drink and making strange conversation about why lots of poets use those extra spaces between words and I still don't know what they're called. Then a little 'My Little Pony' on TV.

Photo of Real Life

In terms of attending readings, it's often quiet during summer, but I did manage to catch Maitreyabandhu in Leicester, reading new poems and earlier ones, notably from The Crumb Road which I reviewed a couple of years ago. I love his 'Stephen' poems. Stephen died in a road accident when he was a teenager. There was a connection between the two, but as Maitreyabandhu said they were too young for it to be called love as such. Only the made-up future remains, 'Now you're twenty five / and have learnt the art of smiling.'

The new issue of Under The Radar came out in August. I'm Reviews Editor for UTR, which involves lots of reading and admin. It's a always a relief to see the reviews in print and I am indebted to the reviewers. In this issue they included: Peter Carpenter, Deborah Tyler-Bennett, John Foggin and Michael Thomas. There was also a special feature by Richard Skinner on his series of Vanguard Readings and the anthology which came out of this event. For the next issue there will be more female reviewers than male ones. I already have a review by Kim Moore. The one thing that bugs me about the editing is that so many books arrive and we can't review them all. It's a shame, but I'm so grateful to all those enthusiastic reviewers out there who write out of love and/or because they feel they need to and receive little if no pay. I thank you!

There was another reading was in early September in London and this time I was reading there myself. I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. Joanna, (cousin Commonplace) came along again, and although she's not a poetry type she probably will be before long if she keeps attending things. I brought a snazzy raincoat and Joanna said I looked smart and it gave the impression I had a proper job.

I read at the Betsey Trotwood with three other poets in my half of the evening, these were: Miriam Nash, Richard Osmond, Rena Minegnishi. They were great. I felt like an older thirty-something as they were all in their 20s. After the break there were readings from Stephen Kendall,  Kirsten Irving, Chris Dodd and Jasmine Cooray. But I missed those as I had to dash back to St. Pancras before I turned into a pumpkin. It was a lovely night though, organised by Miriam Nash and Roddy Lumsden. I also met a poet called Kathy Pimlott who had Notts connections and had written about the Carillon tower in Loughborough. It's a small world. When I got back to the Midlands it was very late and there were about 4 people around. It was quite a contrast to London with its huge crowds and diversions and pubs where people stand outside swigging £5 pints. It had a sense of unreality. Perhaps I dreamt it.

This is where the Ladybirds come in. This year is the 100th year of Ladybird books, which were initially published in Loughborough until 1999 before being sold off to Disney. Sad isn't it. I could just see myself  at Ladybird books cycling off to work everyday. Anyway, there is a lovely display in Charnwood museum in the park where the Carillon Tower is - spooky. 

Some images from the Exhibition.

So now I have a week or two before Uni kicks in (like a mule!) and autumn scatters all its leaves.  It's early days, but there are plans for a new poetry thingy next year. A pamphlet. Won't say more yet. 

See you later. Happy leaf kicking!

Friday, 21 August 2015

Now We Are Five

August is Commonplace's birthday month. Looking back, Commonplace was born on August 5th 2010, but I've only just got round to updating things, so no jelly and cake until today. When I started writing the blog it was a way of recording events and what I was up to. Keeping a poetry blog is never going to be be quite as popular as say paintballing, but I'm very surprised at how many people I seem to know have one too. Since 2010, I've read a great many blogs and new ones keep appearing all the time. I was never one for Sunday papers, but there have been many Sundays where I find myself catching up with different poetry blogs. It feels very odd that this has been an on/off habit for 5 years now. Like any birth there was a gestation period. I'd been 'poeting' a bit for a year or so before the blog. In spring 2010 I had my first poems published in 'Under The Radar.' It felt like quite a natural thing to want to discuss and make a record of some of the things that had been happening, like an on-line scrapbook or diary. It was also a way of talking about readings and the kind of poetry I was encountering.

I'm not sure what the future holds in store for Commonplace. I guess I'll keep going like I do now, but at some point things will be different. Some new form of technology may come in and make Blogger redundant, or I'll pack in poetry and join the circus perhaps. It did actually surprise me that I'd been keeping a blog for so long. Which leads me to the conclusion that I've actually been pursuing this poetry lark for a while now.  I like looking at the stats and finding out where readers come from. Thank you to contributors and readers wherever you are.

Me aged 5 with the way, the ashtray isn't mine

Monday, 13 July 2015

Some Recent Publications

A short blog entry on a couple of recent publications. At the beginning of the month, I had poems featured on both The Compass and the Proletarian Poetry sites.
The Compass Magazine

It's been very exciting to have two poems in The Compass because it's a brand new magazine with some wonderful poems and reviews. The editors have a slightly different approach to most on-line magazines, in that rather than publishing the whole thing in one go they're spacing out poems and reviews over the course of a week. For me this has meant reading nearly everything on the site, simply because there's more time and space to do so. At the time of writing there's still another day's worth of poems to go live. I'm very chuffed to have two poems in The Compass. One of my poems is from the point of view of Virginia Woolf's half-sister Laura Stephen. You may not have heard of her. By our modern standards she probably had a form of autism, but by the standards of her day she was considered to be a suitable patient for an asylum. I wanted to explore the family tension and possibly (artistic license) the sense of a resolution, albeit an unsettled one.

There are also poems from Ian Duhig, Philip Gross, Pippa Little, Martha Sprackland, Hannah Lowe, Jonathan Edwards, Charlotte Gann, Katie Hale and others. Please click here to have a look at the contents for issue 1 and then have a look at the other things the magazine has to offer. The editors are Andrew Forster, Lindsey Holland, with Kim Moore as Reviews Editor. 
I also have a new poem on the Proletarian Poetry site. It;s not really a new poem, but one I wrote a few years ago. PP (as it's known for short), is a fabulous site edited by Peter Raynard, This site's focus is on poems which focus on the working class and working class lives.  How's this for dedication - every week Peter publishes a poem which is accompanied with his own written commentary.  Recent poets featured have included Richard Skinner, Catherine Ayres, Daniel Sluman and Jonathan Edwards. My poem is all about the bookies and you can find it here. Peter has written a lovely, thoughtful piece to accompany the poem. I've really enjoyed reading the poems and the commentaries.
To me, both sites are excellent examples of where we might be going in terms of the future of on-line publishing and how flexible the medium can be. Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Lifesaving Poems During a Power Cut

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Lifesaving Poems, Ed. Anthony Wilson, Bloodaxe Books, 2015
At the time of writing I am sitting in my front room with all the car alarms going off outside and a poorly 7 year old. It appears the whole street has had a power cut.  There seem to be a lot of minor ailments in the Taylor household, days off from school are fairly common. Miranda’s ok for now. She has her little ponies. The internet’s off for a while, so while I have a full battery it seems like a good idea for another blog post. What follows isn't a review, but a commentary. I have a bit of a headache myself, bear with.

Over the last few weeks I've been reading and re-reading Anthony Wilson’s remarkable anthology Lifesaving Poems, which is published by Bloodaxe. I've never read a book quite like this. For those not in the know, Anthony Wilson is a poet and a blogger. The book began life as a notebook where Anthony chose a single poem from a poet, that moved him, and then he copied it out in the book as a way of engaging with the piece.  I imagine that the physical act of writing out a poem must have really helped to get under the skin of the pieces and been a pleasure. In time Anthony went on to post these poems on his blog with a brief prose summary as to why he had enjoyed them so much. This is around the stage I bumped into the poems. These are not poems chosen with any bold claims about being written by the ‘great and the good’ but are quite simply poems that Anthony liked. So there’s a lot of love in the pages of this anthology. The reasons for the poems being there are often very personal and it’s very brave of Anthony to discuss such things. Brave is often an overused word, but I can’t imagine many people willing to write in such a way. In those prose passages we not only find out more about the poets and their poems, but also about Anthony’s life and we’re given an insight into his illness with cancer. Not only is this an anthology of poems but also an autobiography of sorts; another reason for really liking the book.

Reading Lifesaving Poems has also made me think about how I read poetry. I read quite a bit of prose but I hardly ever re-read a novel cover to cover unless I have to, say for reasons of teaching or studying. Even if I do there may be many years between readings. Poetry is different. You can never (ever) read a good poem once. It’s impossible. Like a piece of music, you’d never listen to a favourite song once. Have you ever heard of a music lover who adored an album but only listened to it once or twice. When I like a song I play it on repeat. With poetry I may read a collection cover to cover but feel afterwards like I've not really read it properly, there’s always more to dig out and experience. So when I read that Anthony copied out these poems by hand I was rather touched. It appeared to me that here was a reader who wanted to completely engage with the poems. This is poem-love.

The poems themselves cannot be linked together or grouped by any particular patterns, other than an exploration of what it is to be human. Some of the names and poems were familiar to me, but some were just names. The kind of poems by poets you suspect will be good but have never fallen into your lap. That’s where Anthony steps in. He’s an intermediary, introducing you to the poems like interesting strangers at a party. He’s a kind host too. I never felt lectured, not once. In fact I liked his honesty and gentle tone. Has anyone ever told you (or almost shouted at you) ‘oh you must have read X poet. What do you mean you haven’t read X! I read X in the playground in Juniors!!!’ I have never tasted all the puddings in the world either, despite being a fan of dessert. The point, I guess, is how willing you are to read different things and Anthony is a great guide in that respect.   I also liked the fact that many of the poems are not by ‘poets of note.’ Why should they be? It made me wonder what would go into my own ‘Lifesaving Poems.’

In this book you’ll find individual poems (among others) by Sylvia Plath, Thom Gunn, Carol Ann Duffy, Catherine Smith, Dorothy Nimmo, Ted Hughes, Ann Sansom, Sharon Olds, Galway Kinnell, Jean Sprackland, Elizabeth Bishop, Jo Shapcott, Cliff Yates, Moniza Alvi, Charles Simic, Hilary Menos, Janet Fisher, Adrienne Rich, Peter Sansom, Rose Cook, Peter Carpenter, Mary Oliver, Iain Crichton Smith, John Ash, Esther Morgan, W. N. Herbert, Kathleen Jamie, Mandy Sutter, Jackie Kay, Martin Stannard, Carol Rumens, Seamus Heaney, James Schulyer, Ian McMillan, Deryn Rees-Jones, Derek  Mahon and Geoff Hattersley (glad to read him here, hurrah!) I could go on there are so many poets here. Hopefully I'm giving you an idea of scope. I imagine Anthony is an excellent teacher in his day to day work, I certainly feel like I've learned a lot. In particular there’s a very generous supply of American poets too. The book is a great introduction or a very important affirmation of all these poems.

Lastly, there are many passages were Anthony talks about ‘poetry exhaustion’ or what I call being ‘over-poetried.’ Sometimes this is very funny. I can’t find the quote now (typical), but something about throwing it all in and ‘becoming, say, a banker.’ Luckily he comes back to poetry.

Oh yes, the power came back on at some point, but I didn't notice.


Anthony Wilson has published two collections of poetry, Love for Now and Riddance as well as Lifesaving Poems. To find out more about the blog and Anthony’s poetry and work click here.


P.S. I copy and pasted my blog entry from a word doc and waited for the web to heal, in case you were wondering how this got on-line! Apart from power cuts I've had lots of internet problems recently, perhaps this is trying to tell me something regarding time spent on the web...