During the 1st UK Lockdown, (which for me lasted 6 months before I was back to face to face work), I signed up to many workshops and writing classes. It was not just a way of navigating the pandemic, coping with mental health or a way to travel when grounded, it helped me find community.
The pandemic came after 15 months of ill health, in which I barely worked or lived and was, aside from hospital appointments and the occasional tea out with friends, pretty much locked down. I had been back at work for a few weeks and was trying to find my writing mojo again. I managed to edit my collection on morphine (not recommended) and through the kindness of friends was able to attend Stanza meetings and the join the Worcester Poetry Film Collective, I even made one event at the Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe in 2019. But I struggled to be at the desk and it was a long journey back to creating. The realisation of the global pandemic hit and … those of us lucky to have story, have story.
Poets in Motion was a great class with US/NZ/UK participants, a real international mix and a range of lives and stories. CelenaDiana Bumpus was a joy, there is no other word to describe her. Sadly, Celena passed away in 2020, before she had chance to make many of her plans realities. She is missed dearly and I am so grateful that we were able to write a class poem in her honour, which appears in the anthology too.
The day I received my book in the post I was so excited, I knew Inlandia Institute had planned a LIVE USA launch event and I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to read, then they announced an online launch event.
I am a panelist this evening AND so are some of my much loved and missed class members. It will be a great event, it is a splendid Anthology and I am blessed to have some words on the pages.
Join Inlandia Institute for a special online reading of selected works from 2020 Writing from Inlandia! This yearly anthology has been published since 2011 and is an Inlandia tradition, with contributors from sixteen of Inlandia’s creative writing workshops in the 2020 edition. Packed with over 300 pages of stories, poems, and essays, 2020 Writing from Inlandia explores the experience of being alive through memoir, food writing, reflections on the COVID pandemic, and more. Participants will read their work aloud in reflection of the myriad challenges – and rewards – of being human. Don’t miss it!
In memory of Candace Shields, Morris Mendoza, and CelenaDiana Bumpus.
The Writing from Inlandia series was created to celebrate the participants in our creative writing workshops program and to serve as a record of who we are at the present moment. May these writings pay tribute to a year unlike any other.
It took a pandemic for the world to wake up to all sorts of issues, mental health is just one. There’s hope that in the future mental health will be as accepted as physical health. Today there are many events for World Mental Health Day. Whatever you do, or don’t – be gentle on yourselves and others.
Here are some helpful websites:
I encourage anyone (but especially young people) to Journal for health.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on people’s mental health. Some groups, including health and other frontline workers, students, people living alone, and those with pre-existing mental health conditions, have been particularly affected. And services for mental, neurological and substance use disorders have been significantly disrupted.
SpeakEasy is finally able to offer LIVE events. We follow in the footsteps of former Worcestershire Poet Laureate, Leena Batchelor and Ade Couper, Worcestershire Poet Laureate. Both Leena and Ade have been involved in and organised LIVE events throughout the pandemic. Worcester Festival managed a successful SLAM at the Swan Theatre/ Worcester Theatres back in the summer. Finally, last week WLFF joined the LIVE events listings too – after 18+ months.
The first LIVE SpeakEasy in 1.5 years… we feel that’s to be celebrated.
We don’t usually post write-ups after monthly events, but in these times and for all those who couldn’t make it – we thought it was too wonderful not to share.
So here are some incredible photos which capture all the energy of the 9th September, taken by Kevin Brooke. They ironically put us all back in little boxes.
WLFF are holding two Mental Health & Wellbeing events this year, a LIVE one on the 9th October and an ONLINE SpeakEasy on the 10th – World Mental Health Day.
It’s a chance to raise awareness of mental health through creativity but also a chance to check-in with ourselves and those around us.
The LIVE event on the 9th Oct. includes speakers and people you can talk to, find out more details here.
Poetry & Spoken Word from the Heart & Soul, Sat. 9th Oct – 4pm – Worcester Quaker Meeting House, 1 Sansome Walk, WR1 1UG
An open mic spoken word event for World Mental Health Day, featuring the 2021 Worcestershire Poet Laureate Ade Couper; a Speakeasy special; selected readings & talks from the Hard Times Happen anthology, sponsored by Time to Change Worcestershire.
Over my morning coffee, I took great pleasure reading social media feeds and seeing all the poems people were sharing. I was lucky enough to be busy on NPD (and working from home, which is rare these days). I had hoped to post here, especially as there have been several blank months – but like most things in 2021 it was delayed.
You will recall I dived into a year of online poetry/learning in 2020 during the 1st Lockdown, there were a multitude of reasons, including my mental health. I was back face to face work in November (after 3 months of zero income, our Furlough set for only 4 months and for me was 80% of nothing as I had been off sick for a year)! So work was a battle, navigating my way through the 10 day self isolation rules and the possibility of Covid. After 9 months I was exhausted and spent most of the summer offline and away from the desk. This term work has picked up (thank goodness) after several non-existent/fallow years!
I had decided to cut back the amount of online activity but it naturally happened when the laptop was out of reach. I also tried a LIVE event and discovered I have a huge amount of anxiety about any indoor gathering other than family and work (which makes no sense but is one of those things we have little control over). Work IS the biggest risk of all, but is one I have to take/make.
So I paced down the events… however, this was NPD… so I was back to full throttle.
I loved catching up online with everything poets were doing to mark NPD and catching up with friends and not having to wear work trousers!
Just like Christmas (NPD for me/poets) a special meal is created… for me it was my mentoring session – when I booked it I had no idea it was NPD. A very brilliant way to spend an hour!
Prose poetry is something I write infrequently (I think I have managed 3 or 4), there is only one I am proud of. I do love Jennifer Wong, both her poetry and workshops. It was a last minute spot and a gift from Pen to Print! I absolutely loved spending time with Jenny and an international group (as most are) of writers & poets and I ended up with some decent material to work with!
Worcestershire Poet Laureate, Ade Couper was on FB Live for NPD, I managed to catch the video after the Livestream. There are always multiple events happening and NPD that ramps up!
Malika’s Kitchen were celebrating NPD with a special online event featuring Malika’s Poetry Kitchen contributors to the recently published Too Young, Too Loud, Too Different anthology. The event was hosted by the Director of the MPK writers’ collective, Jill Abram, and featured poets Dean Atta, Be Manzini, Soul Patel and Joolz Sparkes. And Nine Arches /celebrated in partnership with Birmingham Literature Festival with a Planetary Poetics event featuring Gregory Leadbetter, Khairani Barokka, Caleb Parkin and Cynthia Miller. I managed to catch all streams at leisure a little later on. Nine Arches had an enlightening Q&A and I loved Dean Atta talking age… he’s still YOUNG! Both events were a joy and I glad I managed to get to them, all be it in a different time-zone!
Hoping I wouldn’t have work the next day (I DID)! I stayed up late to attend a workshop in US for Ohio Poetry Day with the Riffe Gallery. A Creative Writing Workshop with Kari Gunter-Seymour (SHIFT). Another fantastic workshop, but after the first hour (bedtime) the brain fog started to get to me. I wrote some of the prompts down to try another day.
I don’t know how Santa manages to get to all those houses, it’s impossible to get to every poet or do all your social media posting on the day! CHOICEs had to be made… but I had a FEAST of a day. Huge gratitude to everyone involved.
After the Worcestershire LitFest I really needed a rest, but I couldn’t resist attending a few readings. Cafe Writers and Cheltenham Poetry Festival events started my week – I was looking for a few post-festival days off and I did manage to have a quieter – away from desk weekend followed by a WHOLE day off work. I didn’t want to miss Jill Abram or Rishi Dastidar at Cafe Writers – so even though I felt like I needed to be propped up like a scarecrow I went and had a brilliant night! A real feast of poetry.
However, I was really exhausted by the time I was home on Tuesday, after a great distance travelling for work. and could have gone to bed at 7 PM instead of the Cheltenham Poetry Festival. I didn’t know Christine Whittemore‘s work and I admire Angela France and Penelope Shuttle‘s work, so I knew it would be worth it! And it was. Felt like an age ago when I booked the ticket!
I received my copy of The Brown Envelope Book, I will be posting more about this important and necessary book edited by Alan Morrison and Kate Jay-R.
I had one of the worst medical appointments so far this year and worked the rest of the week. When I wasn’t in pain I was in online readings.
I went to a Verve reading which was brilliant – I had been looking forward to it. Sadly Annie Fan couldn’t make it but Cynthia Miller stepped in and gave us a sneak preview of her new collection Honorifics (Nine Arches), which I was looking forward to the launch of.
Verve Poetry Press presents Meryl Pugh, Anne Fan, Geraldine Clarkson with special guest Victoria Kennefick – Reading & chat.
Reading from and answering questions about their VERVE pamphlets with very special guest poet Victoria Kennefick. A short reading from each poet will be followed by a short chat.
Hosted by Verve publisher Stuart Bartholomew.
It was a great event and was the first zoom experience for on e of the poets – not that we would have known that. I managed to stay up late enough to be at the Summer Issue Launch for Paris Review.
I had a twisty day which started with a rejection (one I had been holding on for) and also an offer to facilitate more poetry workshops.
I finished the week with a special workshop provided by Ledbury Poetry Festival based on the Ghazal with MaryamHessavi. Which was intense and wonderful – although I still have to polish my effort!
I had another poem accepted for an anthology which launches this summer, I am making a video performance to be shared on the night.
I spent an entire day asleep and one chasing my tail through to do lists. I managed to do most of a Walking Tour at the WWBPA with Andrew Rimby. It was the William Cullen Bryant Tour and we actually got to go inside the house!
I had an entire week of work booked in, which started well and then I got the call. The call used to mean OFSTED but nowadays it means Track & Trace or COVID. I am still waiting for all the admin to be tied up but it was a call from the agency. My mobile chose this day to freeze and stop working (later had to restore factory settings, losing all the numbers and all my photos).
Despite testing negative I completed my no-pay 10 day quarantine – losing all my potential wages. I am not only trying to keep head above water but never have an income for a few months over the summer, I try to earn/bank enough to stretch. We only have 3 weeks (more like 2 for us) left of the term so I am not going to make future pay for the summer. I just hope this is the last quarantine for me. It is proof that PPE and double vacs can protect you though. Thank goodness all the tests were negative. I missed 2 important family birthdays during these 10 days too! I may have something secured for the autumn though – which is a relief. And it meant I could attend a few workshops.
I went to a York Libraries event – Finding the Words, a reading from Rachel Bower, Hannah Hodgson and MaggieMackay.
Rachel Bower is an award-winning writer based in Sheffield. She is the author of Moon Milk (Valley Press, 2018) and a non-fiction book on literary letters (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). Her poems and stories have been widely published, including in Anthropocene, The London Magazine, Magma, New Welsh Reader and Stand. Rachel won The London Magazine Short Story Prize 2019/20 and the W&A Short Story Competition. She edited the Verse Matters anthology (Valley Press, 2017) with Helen Mort and she is currently editing an anthology with Simon Armitage (Faber & Faber). Her new poetry collection, These Mothers of Gods, will be published by Fly on the Wall Press in July 2021.
Hannah Hodgson is a poet living with life limiting illness. Her work has been published by BBC Arts, The Poetry Society and Ambit, amongst other outlets. She is a recipient of a 2020 Northern Writers Award for Poetry. Her first poetry pamphlet ‘Dear Body’ was published by Wayleave Press in 2018; and her second, centred around life with serious illness was published by Verve Poetry Press in Feb 2021. Her first full length poetry collection ‘163 Days’ is due to be published by Seren in 2022.
Maggie Mackay is an MA Poetry graduate of Manchester Metropolitan University with work in a number of online and print journals and anthologies. Several pieces have been shortlisted, commended in competitions, or nominated for the Forward Prize, Single Poem and the Pushcart Prize. Her pamphlet ‘The Heart of the Run’, 2018 was published by Picaroon Poetry and her full collection ‘A West Coast Psalter’, Kelsay Books, is available now. In 2020 she was awarded a place in the Poetry Archive’s WordView permanent collection.
I know Hannah and Maggie and have admired Rachel’s poetry since I first heard her read at the start of Lockdown. So I had been counting down the days to this event! I knew the readings would be incredibly powerful – and they were.
I did a Ledbury Poetry Festival workshop with Sara-Jane Arbury.
I caught up with family members on the phone – and attended Cynthia Miller’s wonderful book launch. I was truly excited when she shared the success of this first collection in the spring.
Cynthia Miller plus guest writers Khairani Barokka and Jenna Clake celebrate the publication of Honorifics.
Cynthia Miller‘s Honorifics is an astonishing, adventurous, and innovative exploration of family, Malaysian-Chinese cultural identity, and immigration. Poetry is interwoven with the words for all the things we honour; our loved ones and our ancestors, home and homecomings. From jellyfish blooms to glitch art and distant stars, Miller’s mesmerizing approach is experimental and expansive with longing: “My skin hunger could fill a galaxy”.
Cynthia Miller is a Malaysian-American poet, festival producer and innovation consultant living in Edinburgh. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Ambit, The Rialto, Butcher’s Dog, Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal, harana poetry, The Best New British and Irish Poets and Primers Volume Two. She is also co-founder of the Verve Poetry Festival.
Khairani Barokka is a writer and artist from Jakarta, based in London. Her work has been presented widely, in more than 15 countries. Among Okka’s honours, she was Modern Poetry in Translation’s Inaugural Poet-in-Residence, and is currently Associate Artist at the National Centre for Writing and Research Fellow at UAL’s Decolonising Arts Institute. Okka’s books include Indigenous Species (Tilted Axis; Vietnamese translation, AJAR Press) and Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (as co-editor; Nine Arches), Rope, and most recently Ultimatum Orangutan (Nine Arches).
Jenna Clake‘s debut collection of poetry, Fortune Cookie, won the Melita Hume Prize, received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors, and was shortlisted for a Somerset Maugham Award. Her second full collection, Museum of Ice Cream, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2021.
I know Jenna, Romalyn and Cynthia and I am delighted they are spreading their poetry wings as fully as they are. It was unfortunate that Romalyn couldn’t make it but Jane read a tender message from her. I always enjoy discovering a poet I have not yet seen/read so it was a treat to listen to the incredible work of Khairani Barokka.
I attended Food for Thought as I do every Friday , enjoyed a Sheffield Libraries Poetry session on Saturday and a poetry group on Sunday. I had a lazy recovery day, cleaned the house, facetimed for the missing birthdays (one was my mum)! Did a workshop with Sarah L. Dixon, organised book promotion had the Post Festival Committee meeting and enjoyed a night at Worcester, 42. I finished the month with a LPF Workshop, listened in to a panel at the Tamworth LiteratureFestival and FINALLY sent some submissions!
June – we finally got our summer after perhaps the wettest May on record since 1967! The sunshine has made up for it since. The plants are finally thriving (with a bit of watering help). Festival season continues although I have made a conscious decision to calm the diary down and get back to the desk work (actually writing)!
Despite having to quarantine for 10 days, I didn’t have time to complete this post. So I will share it in two halves, like every wonderful Euro match!
HAY festival – ran until 6th June
Roxbury Poetry Festival 5th June
Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe 6th -11th June
I spent most of the week enjoying events at the Hay Festival. I blogged the 2020 Digital Hay extensively here on AWF – but this year I got to fewer events than I hoped. By the end of the week I was busy spending days organising the WLFF Festival. I managed to make Ade Couper’s Amnesty International event on Friday night. A deeply touching experience. I was quite involved with Amnesty International as a young person, it shocks me that are still having to do the same work decades later and more. I used to write quite a few social activism/political poems, I need to dust this part of my brain off because our words and actions are still necessary!
The weekend was complete madness! I discovered Roxbury Poetry Festival at the end of May and booked tickets. Three weeks before in a workshop with Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton, I met an Anglo-American poet, Chloe Firetto-Toomey. We collaborated together in the workshop and Maureen presumed we knew each other and had worked together before… well we are now and Roxbury was a chance for us to experience a festival together in real time! It was a fantastic programme of events and beautiful knowing we were there together. There were several simultaneous events and we had no communication over any of them* and yet we turned up attuned in each session the same.
*We did discuss going to Rachel McKibbens Craft Talk – as Chloe had sent me one of Rachel’s poems days before.
Roxbury was an amazing hybrid festival. I watched a reading, participated in a wonderful workshop, attended a craft talk reading and the Keynote Speaker Reading:
POETRY IS NOT A LUXURY Reading & Discussion with Janice Lobo Sapiago & Angelo Geter.
Hosted by the Academy of American Poets, this reading and discussion brings together the Poet Laureate of Rock Hill, SC, Angelo Geter and the Poet Laureate of Santa Clara County, CA Janice Lobo Sapiago. Poets will perform a reading of their work and engage in conversations around poetry, civic service, and landscaping spaces for youth poets.
Connecting Body, Breath, and Image: Writing Workshop
In this workshop we will connect and constellate the poet’s body to the literary image and to the poetic line.Taking a tip from breathing exercises, we will work together to create unexpected and deep images that bear our understanding of what the body can do as an antenna for our experience of being human. Central to this will be thinking through the various migrations and motions our bodies make and have a memory of making. This will include engaging the concept of home in its complexities for the poet and the poem’s speaker.
This workshop with Rajiv Mohabir was intense and generative. Some incredible things came up for me, I was so glad to have the experience and with Chloe too. So much of what we’re tackling came up in theme or thought throughout the day, it was almost as if the organisers had seen right into our minds.
CRAFT TALK W/ RACHEL MCKIBBENS
This event is in partnership with GrubStreet
As poets, we use devices to resurrect or bury, but how often are we willing to lean into our own wickedness, to give it its rightful placement as the second face of our vulnerability instead of an agent of confession? This craft talk encourages participants to bring their lunch on screen while enjoying a craft talk from poet and performer, Rachel McKibbens.
There was so much deep honesty in Rachel’s talk, that sometime afterwards in an email exchange with Chloe, I wrote the darkest, most honest work I have ever shared. Darker than any of my 42Worcester poems or anything I wrote in gloom. I have Rachel McKibbens to thank for opening that door.
KEYNOTE ADDRESS W/ JERICHO BROWN
2020 Pulitzer Prize winner, Jericho Brown, will read from his book The Tradition and answer a few questions from the audience. This talk will be moderated by a local artist.
I always love it when I am in a room with people who have never seen Jericho read live before. Such intense atmosphere and performance. I am grateful for the fortune of watching this man in action throughout 2020 and 2021. I have never seen him perform without tears, his and mine.
A truly exceptional spirit!
I saw Holly McNish & Simon Armitage at HAY. And Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe kicked off Festival week with the Launch and crowning of the NEW Worcestershire Poet Laureate.
You can read about the whole festival (link in Week 2).
For any Fast Show fans… this week I have mainly been organising and facilitating Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe Festival events. I am one of the Directors but also in charge of tech and port of call for a lot of the poets /judges involved in events. I was prepared for a HARD WORK week — what I didn’t bank on, was a week at the chalk-face too. Timing!
The whole WLFF Team worked exceptionally hard to make the mini-festival 2021 as successful as it was.
Read all about it!
Congratulations to Ade Couper – Worcestershire Poet Laureate 2021-22.
I kept things small the weekend after LitFest but did manage to have breakfast in Australia back with Perth Poetry Club, followed by a Sheffield Libraries workshop with Claire Walker and a night in America at the WWBPA with the Poet in residence 2021 – Forrest Gander.
On Sunday I went to the fabulous Black Pear Press Launch for Brian Comber and Beth O’Brien.
Summer’s late to the UK this year and so is my May review. I didn’t manage to finish the content in time before getting swept up with festival programming. Rather than leave people out I decided to delay the post.
Better late, than never… May.
May and June are always Festival busy and life online is no different. I also had a few exciting projects I was working on, so it has been another packed month.
The Stay at Home! Literary Festival celebrated a 2nd year of stunning, FREE events and brought us a fortnight packed with Readings, Interviews, Workshops, Panel Discussions and Books! It was fantastic.
You can read my posts about the SAHLF events starting here.
Saboteur Awards Festival (10th – 15th May) The team have been working hard on how to adapt the awards to a digital platform for the 2nd year and have introduced the Saboteur Awards Festival -a Panel Discussion, Workshop, Reading Series ‘specifically to promote work that had been impacted by the pandemic and/or the various lockdowns throughout the UK’. At the end of the festival this year’s winners will be announced and then you can lock forward to the Spotlight Winners Series running all the way into June.
https://www.stayathomefringe.co.uk (11th -26th May ) The Still-at-Home! Fringe Fest is the punk-brat little sister of the award-winning Stay-at-Home Literary Festival. Now a year old, and on our third festival, we’re letting loose one last time because we’re still at home!
MASS Poetry Festival (13th – 16th May) This was an absolutely packed programme of events – ‘more than 50 events in total featuring well over 100+ poets‘ – no wonder it’s a biennial event! The festival is a mix of in place events and virtual. I attended a lot of MASS PF workshops and have always had an eye on this one so it is a delight to be in a position to join in.
This was an incredible festiand I am so glad I had a chance to catch it and be part of it online.
I was delighted to see the Urban Tree Festival back after its award winning 2020 Festival.
‘2021 marks the Urban Tree Festival’s fourth year As lockdown eases in the UK, we hope to bring some on-the-ground events and activities, however, the majority of the Urban Tree Festival is online. Building on the success of our entirely on-line festival last year, that introduced us to new audiences across the UK and far beyond…’
There were lots of great readings this week. Cheltenham Poetry Festival had more wonderful offerings, I went to the reading by Jonathan Davidson and Wendy Pratt. It was a joy. Pavillion Poets 2021 Reading (Liverpool University Press), featuring Alice Miller, Alice Hiller & SarahWestcott. I enjoyed the fine new work from these poets.
I managed to catch a wonderful reading at White Whale Book Store, with Adrienne Su reading from her latest collection peach state. She was joined by Kazim Ali & Erika Meitner. It was another reading worth staying awake for. Beautiful event. The flipside of no work for a 5th week… meant I managed to get back to the Live Canon Lunchtime reading series and enjoyed sets from: Nora Nadjarian, Benjamin Cusden, Sara Levy and Jeffery Sugarman.
I experienced the final MASS PF PEM Museum Workshop with Kirun Kapur which was a delightful look at epistolary poetry. Well worth staying up late for. I am now busy crafting these poems.
After seeing Rachel Bower again at SAHLF this year, I was delighted to discover her‘Glimmers: Writing out of the Ordinary’ Workshop with Union Street (which had a similar theme to the workshop I planned for Cheltenham Poetry Festival Freeverse series this month). And I found it just in time to attend this wondrous hour!
I took part in the final (of a series) Mindful Poetry Workshops with The Well. This week was Sarah Yeung of SKY Sound Yoga who opened our time with a sound meditation. And, Eddie Gonzalez, Director of Engagement at The On Being Project who led the poetry workshop. It was a fantastic experience to be a part of. I am now baking these poems too.
I finally submitted toIS&T earlier this year, a magazine I have read for years. I was delighted to have a poem accepted by them ‘Where We Begin’, was featured on the 2nd May.
Was a whirlwind of real world work, readings, workshops and multiple festivals. I also managed to make a submission and craft some new poems.
Live from The Butchery hosted another fabulous afternoon of poetry with Tim Liardet, Jennifer Militello, Jenny Pagdin and a week later were announced as winners of the Best Regular Spoken Word Night Saboteur Award 2021 , acategory full of stiff competition, so kudos to the team.
Followed by an equally exceptional evening at Cafe Writers featuring Tiffany Atkinson and support from Tristan Coleshaw & Eve Esfandiari Denney.
I did my usual sessions Line Breaks and Bronx Beats with Peggy Roubles-Alvarado which is always fast, furious fun and Redwing’s groups. The WLF team started finalising mini-festival 2021 plans and I had some wonderful readings and workshops from the Saboteur Festival and MASS Poetry Festival.
I made it to most of the Poetry Business Spring Launch and caught up on rewatch. Evesham Festival of Words have also been producing events online. I managed to get to Home and Away featuring the Cheltenham Poetry Festival – Anna Saunders, Ben Ray and Zoe Brooks.
I also missed some events and readings as I was working.
The festival events continued and a workshop I had been looking forward to for a long time with Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton. Great things have come from this session ‘Collision, Collusion & Craft’.
I enjoyed a workshop with Sarah L. Dixon and a Fair Acre Book Launch for Carl Tomlinson and Annie Freud’s wonderful launch event ‘Hiddensee’ with Jacqueline Saphra.
Last Autumn I was booked by Cheltenham Poetry Festival for the Freeverse Programme to facilitate a poetry workshop day. The theme I chose was‘Finding Fortune’and it was a pleasure to provide a bespoke Freeverse Workshop for this project.
To wind down afterwards I joined the Urban Tree Festival for Sounds of Plants with Planet Utopia. I discovered a while back the magic of tree communication – it was wonderful to hear it and lovely to be part of such a laid back hour.
I also caught another reading with Adrienne Su, for Caltech, a wonderfully generous event.
The organisation of Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe Festival ran full steam. I was busy with the tech side of the our 2nd Digital Mini Festival. Preparing for pre-festival meetings and Poet Laureate interviews as well as organising events and herding poets (and everyone knows we are like cats or badly behaved sheep)!
I had to miss events due to work and carved out one evening away from the desk.
I missed at lot of the Still-at-Home! Fringe LitFest (Fringe for SAHLF) – or as marketed, the punk-brat little sister of the award-winning Stay-at-Home Literary Festival. I did manage to get to enjoy Tawnya Renelle’s workshop and one at the Urban Tree Festival – Writing Wood Words with Electra Rhodes and the other with Chris Vox on ‘Serendipity’ as part of the SAHLFringe Festival. As well as a Magma Poetry Talk and I managed a couple of submissions.
I spent my weekend at a variety of festivals, went to a couple of workshops we had the 2021 Worcestershire Poet Laureate Interviews and I finally made it back to USA open mic with Great weather for Media. I missed some submissions, due to work commitments. I arranged an interview in June for BBC Hereford & Worcester radio. And the HAY Festival began with an amazing Gala event.
Sadly this year I didn’t make it to all the events I had hoped to catch at HAY. I haven’t been able to work properly for 2 years, so I am currently snapping jobs every time they come. I managed to catch some before they disappeared into Hay Player – which has a reasonable rate for an annual subscription. I was working and full of cold. I had lost my voice completely when 42Worcester came about and so for the 2nd time this year (after not missing any for the best part of 5 or 6 years) I missed it again, I managed to pop on for a few readings and then had to leave. I had managed to pen an on theme poem in my lunch hour and was fully prepared to join in.
I thought I had a quiet(ish) weekend to finish the month, especially after three weeks of work… but then, along came The Black Country Living Museum with a whole day of workshops facilitated by the Poets, Prattlers and Pandemonialists as part of the Loff Out Loud Festival, a Sheffield Libraries event and HAY.
May was finished off at the WWBPA where we celebrated Walt Whitman’s 202nd Birthday with a presentation of artwork and film inspired by Leaves of Grass. It was marvellous curation and an enjoyable watch.
This is the final part of my MASS PF write up, sadly I missed the Headline event which closed the festival but it was a fantastic weekend and I feasted well.
Sunday 16th May
The final day was absolutely superb! I started with a workshop.
Chaotic? Good!: Harnessing the Power of the Happy Accident in Your Poetry
James Merrill used a Ouija board to commune with the spirits of the dead. He got 560 pages out of it. French Surrealists described their dreams, Tracy K. Smith took an eraser to the Declaration of Independence, and Jericho Brown writes lines on slips of paper that he slides around until something interesting pops out.
In this workshop, we’ll use techniques such as erasure, web-surfing, tarot decks, and more to help attendees relinquish some control to outside forces (and the unconscious) during the drafting and revision stages of their processes. This can create work that functions less by logic than by juxtaposition, association, the element of surprise–what Robert Bly called poetic “leaping.”
Maria Pinto is a writer, educator, and mushroom enthusiast. She teaches at GrubStreet, reads for The Drum, and Peripheries, and has been awarded fellowships by Vermont Studio Center, The Writers’ Room of Boston, The Mastheads, and Garret on the Green. Find her work in Frigg, Necessary Fiction, and Cleaver.
Emily Franklin’s work has been published in the New York Times, Guernica, the Cincinnati Review, New Ohio Review, Shenandoah, Blackbird, Painted Bride Quarterly, The Rumpus, Passages North, The Journal, and Cimarron Review. Her poetry collection Tell Me How You Got Here was published by Terrapin Books in February 2021.
Walter Smelt’s poems have appeared in Colorado Review, Subtropics, Poetry East, Redivider, and Peripheries, and his translations of poems in The Battersea Review, and the Harvard Divinity Bulletin. Originally from Florida, he lives in Massachusetts and teaches English for Bunker Hill Community College and creative writing for GrubStreet.
Maya Demissie’s work has appeared in Monologue Project, a student publication, and they are the news managing editor of The Newtonite, their school newspaper. They also co-host Miamas, a storytelling podcast for students at their high school.
It was very interactive, we discussed finding inspiration, we played with form and poetry. Dynamic play with ideas from each of the panel. We all created some surprising work and it was experimental and great fun! Enlightening alchemy!
Every Place Has Its Story: Writing About Region
Mark Doty will moderate a panel discussion with Alice Kociemba, Robin Smith-Johnson and Rich Youmans, co-editors of From the Farther Shore: Discovering Cape Cod and the Islands Through Poetry (Bass River Press, 2021). Mark Doty will give an overview of the anthology and lead the editors in a discussion about how they conceived, selected, and organized the poems in order to bring the region to life.
They will then read a selection that illustrates how poetry can capture the spirit of the region—its history, its people, its landmarks, its industries, and its beauty.
Robin Smith-Johnson teaches at Cape Cod Community College. She is the author of two books of poetry: Dream of the Antique Dealer’s Daughter (Word Poetry, 2013), and Gale Warnings (Finishing Line Press, 2016), as well as being a co-founder of the Steeple Street Poets. Robin lives in Mashpee, MA.
Alice Kociemba is a co-editor of From the Farther Shore: Discovering Cape Cod and the Islands Through Poetry (Bass River Press, forthcoming) along with Robin Smith-Johnson and Rich Youmans. She is founding director of Calliope Poetry and is the author of Bourne Bridge (Turning Point, 2016).
Rich Youmans’s work has appeared in diverse publications, including Contemporary Haibun Online (where he currently serves as editor in chief), Cape Cod Poetry Review, the Cape Cod Times, and The Best Small Fictions 2020 (Sonder Press). He lives in North Falmouth with his wife, Alice Kociemba.
Mark Doty is the author of more than ten books of poetry, most recently Deep Lane (W.W. Norton, 2015), and three memoirs, including What Is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life (W.W. Norton, 2020). Fire to Fire, his volume of new and selected poems, won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2008l He is a Distinguished Professor at Rutgers University and lives in New York City.
This event, as advertised was geographically local in content. The Cape Cod area is an area I am still to explore – but listening in to the panel discussion certainly gave me a real sense of place. It was a most enjoyable hour.
They all talked about poetry as well as landscape and landmarks. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour in words.
Headline Reading with Ariana Reines and Patricia Spears Jones
Sponsored by The Shipman Agency with an opening reading by Jennifer Martelli.
Patricia Spears Jones is the recipient of The Jackson Poetry Prize, one the most prestigious awards for American Poets via Poets & Writers, Inc. The $50,000 prize is among the most substantial given to an American poet and is designed to provide what all poets need: time and encouragement to write. She is the eleventh winner. In language that is simultaneously sensuous, wise-cracking, explicit, and rollicking, Spears Jones describes a world rich in beauty and longing, with pain tempered always by joy.
Ariana Reines is an award-winning poet, playwright, and translator. Her most recent book of poetry is A Sand Book (Tin House, 2019), which was longlisted for the National Book Award. Her other books include Tiffany’s Poems (Song Cave, 2015); Ramayana (Song Cave, 2015); The Origin of the World (Semiotext(e), 2014); Beyond Relief (Belladonna*, 2013); Thursday (Spork Press, 2012); Mercury (Fence Books, 2011); Coeur de Lion (Fence Books, 2007); and The Cow (Fence Books, 2006). Her poems have been anthologized in Corrected Slogans (Triple Canopy, 2013); Miscellaneous Uncatalogued Materials (Triple Canopy, 2011); Against Expression (Northwestern University Press, 2011); and Gurlesque (Saturnalia, 2010). Reines has been described as “one of the crucial voices of her generation” by Michael Silverblatt on NPR’s Bookworm. In 2020, she won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. She’s been a MacDowell Fellow, has judged the National Poetry Series, and writes regularly for ArtForum.
Jennifer Martelli is the author of MyTarantella (Bordighera Press), awarded an Honorable Mention from the Italian-American Studies Association, selected as a 2019 “Must Read” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, and named as a finalist for the Housatonic Book Award. Her chapbook, After Bird, was the winner of the Grey Book Press open reading, 2016. Her work has appeared in Thrush, Verse Daily, Iron HorseReview (winner, Photo Finish contest), The Sycamore Review, Cream City Review, The Bitter Oleander, and Poetry. Jennifer Martelli has twice received grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council for her poetry. She is co-poetry editor for Mom Egg Review and co-curates the Italian-American Writers Series.
Jennifer Martelli facilitated the only MASS PF Workshop I missed this year, back in February. It was great to hear her read.
Ariana Reines talked about generational trauma and guilt, her mother’s mental illness, the conflict in Israel and immigration, the reality of being an immigrant. It was certainly not what I expected from the reading but it was obvious she needed to speak her truth at this moment in time. As she said – it is a matter of the heart and she wanted to speak from the heart.
Ariana Reines & Patricia Spears Jones shared powerful poetry!
The difficulty with writing about a festival a month after you went (and have since filled the past 30 days with more glorious poetry) is things tend to get forgotten or blend as one. This is a sign of how stand-out many of the MASS PF events were. I only have to look at the title of the session and the event comes flooding back to me.
So, here for your pleasure is the 2nd part of my MASS Poetry Festival write up. After all, it won’t happen again for a couple of years.
Saturday 15th May
Ecopoetry: Words in Balance
As the rainforest burns and wildfires rage, as climate change threatens our world, poets can bear witness, reflecting on the intricate interconnectedness of humanity, our planet, and nature. We are nature. EcoPoetry offers us a lifeline to hidden worlds and reminds us of our shared reliance on nature. This session explores the role of the poet as activist, as chronicler of destruction, as truth teller. In this reading, poets Fred Marchant, Jennifer Barber, Deborah Leipziger and Myronn Hardy share their ecopoems and reflect on the power of EcoPoetry to transform and heal our world and ourselves.
Fred Marchant has authored five books of poetry, the most recent of which, Said Not Said, was named an Honored Book by the Massachusetts Book Awards. He has edited Another World Instead: The Early Poetry of William Stafford, and, co-translated (with Nguyen Ba Chung) works by several contemporary Vietnamese poets.
Deborah Leipziger is a poet, author, and advisor on sustainability. Her chapbook, Flower Map, was published by Finishing Line Press. Born in Brazil, Ms. Leipziger is the author of several books on sustainability. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, her poems have been published in literary magazines in four countries.
Jennifer Barber’s new collection, The Sliding Boat Our Bodies Made, is forthcoming from The Word Works in 2022. Her book Works on Paper was published by The Word Works in 2016, and her two previous collections, both from Kore Press, are Given Away, and Rigging the Wind.
Myronn Hardy is the author of five books of poems, most recently, Radioactive Starlings, published by Princeton University Press (2017). His poems have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Virginia Quarterly Review, the Baffler, Rhino, and elsewhere.
This was a generous event, introductory poems by other great poets and some wonderfully powerful poetry. The poets shared context for their poems and sometimes process. I could have listened to all four of them for hours! An incredible Q&A after the readings too. Great interaction with the audience.
My two main USA hangouts since Lockdown 2020 have been The Walt Whitman Birthplace and the Emily Dickinson Museum. Both organisations have offered amazingly creative online content. Emily Dickinson was my first poet. One I have loved the work of all my life. I started learning about her life as a teenager and have never let go. I can’t believe it took a Lockdown to get me searching online for the Museum. I have certainly made up for it since!
Walt Whitman didn’t hit my radar until I came back to writing in 2013, but swiftly found his place in my heart and bookshelf. There is something incredibly magic about words that last the centuries and are still relevant today.
I had booked on the Annual poetry walk before MASS PF released the programme – but it is great that it fell during the festival and was part of it.
“Called Back”: A Virtual Emily Dickinson Poetry Walk
Days before her death in 1886, Emily Dickinson wrote her final letter, “Little Cousins, / Called Back. / Emily”. On May 15, the 135th anniversary of the poet’s death, join the Emily Dickinson Museum for an engaging virtual poetry reading and “walk” through Amherst, the town she called “paradise.” At each stop, we will see historical and contemporary images of sites of meaning for Dickinson including her garden and conservatory at the Homestead, The Evergreens — home to the poet’s brother and sister-in-law; the town common; Amherst College; and more. Not a lecture, this program infuses place with poetry. At each stop contemporary poets share their Dickinson-inspired poems and volunteers read Dickinson’s own words aloud. The final stop is Dickinson’s grave in West Cemetery where we will share reflections and a light-hearted virtual toast!
Elizabeth Bolton has a PhD in Literacy Education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. She writes articles, essays and poems about the connection between writing and mental health. She grew up in northern California and now lives in Niagara Falls, Ontario with her husband and two daughters.
Lori Desrosiers’ poetry books are The Philosopher’s Daughter, Sometimes I Hear the Clock Speak, and Keeping Planes in the Air, all from Salmon Poetry. Two chapbooks, Inner Sky and Typing with e.e. cummings, are from Glass Lyre Press. She edits Naugatuck River Review, a journal of narrative poetry and Wordpeace.co, an online journal dedicated to social justice.
Hannah Baker Saltmarsh is the author of the poetry collection, Hysterical Water, published by The University of Georgia Press in March 2021. She has written a book of poetry criticism, entitled Male Poets and the Agon of the Mother: Contexts in Confessional and Post-confessional Poetry (Univ. of South Carolina P., 2019). She is the mother of three children, and lives with her husband in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where she teaches and writes.
Kate Godin lives in Western Massachusetts, where she tends to the writing needs of a small liberal arts college, a tween and a teen, a vigorous anxiety. She is a graduate of Bates College and the New School for Social Research.
Bonnie Larson Staiger is a North Dakota Associate Poet Laureate, the recipient of the ‘Poetry of the Plains and Prairies Prize (NDSU Press, 2018) and the ‘Independent Press Award: Distinguished Favorite’ (2019) for her collection, Destiny Manifested. Her second book In Plains Sight, is forthcoming from NDSU Press in 2021.
Robin Long is a queer poet and writer from Austin. She is expanding her fiction thesis on Emily Dickinson. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, 2020 National Poetry Month Editor’s Pick, and a digital poetry performer with FEELS Zine.
Siri Palreddy is a first-year at Amherst College, hoping to study both English and Neuroscience. An avid reader, she first discovered Emily Dickinson in high school, and has loved her work ever since. Apart from poetry, Siri enjoys writing creative nonfiction and is compelled by stories that navigate one’s identity (or identities) and roots. When not reading or writing, you can find Siri spending her free time volunteering, laying in the sun, or rewatching her favorite comfort shows.
Peter Schmitt is the author of six books of poems. “Emily Dickinson and the Boston Red Sox” appears in his new collection, Goodbye, Apostrophe (Regal House). A graduate of Amherst and The Iowa Writers Workshop, he lives and teaches in his hometown of Miami, Florida.
Don Skoog is a freelance musician, writer, and teacher living in Oak Park, Illinois. He plays Classical percussion and Jazz drums, as well as Latin American, Arabic, and Persian instruments. He authors books and articles on exploring culture through music—the latest, in Arabic, for The University of Chicago’s Majala magazine—and has written four novels (not all of them published yet). The poem Amherst, is from Adventures in the RhythmVerse, his first chapbook.
Rebecca Starks is the author of the poetry collections Time Is Always Now, a finalist for the 2019 Able Muse Book Award, and Fetch, Muse (forthcoming from Able Muse Press), and is the recipient of Rattle’s 2018 Neil Postman Award for Metaphor. She lives in Richmond, Vermont.
Abigail Price is a 24 year old English poet, writer and Undergraduate student studying Criminology, Criminal Justice and Social Policy at the University of Wolverhampton in England. Most of Abigail’s work is inspired by her past and significantly, nature which aided her recovery from mental illness in her early teenage years. Abigail is an avid writer & reader and her dream is to influence social change through British politics alongside writing beautiful poetry to leave people a little bit better, than when her poems found them.
This tradition has been ongoing for 37 years it was initiated by a group of Amherst based Dickinson enthusiasts and was adopted by the Emily Dickinson museum. And today it continues to draw new and returning devotees each year we’re so thrilled that you’re here with us.
A deeply celebratory event, one you can watch on the website link above. On the virtual poetry walk we visited six locations significant to the life of the have Emily Dickinson. Ten contemporary poets and volunteers read the poetry as we had the full text shown on screen, along with archive resources and photographs. Lots of historical information cleverly weaved through the event. It was beautiful.
It was one of those events which fully absorbs you! The laying of daisies towards the end was extremely emotional especially because of the pandemic and all those lives we have lost. A toast and choral reading at the end made us all feel connected across the world too.
After the event we were able to sign the virtual Guest Book.
A beautiful poetry walk to take with you all at teatime in the UK. Lovely choral reading to toast Emily and finish the event. Felt very connected, glad you could be part of the MASS Poetry Festival. Very excited to hear more about the restoration too. Carpets from England. …For what are Stars but Asterisks To point a human Life? (FR 1673)
A magical experience.
My final MASS PF event of the day was the Headline reading. I am a massive fan of Naomi Shihab Nye’s writing and always enjoy watching her readings. They have been a big part of my 2020+ Lockdown.
Headline Reading with Porsha Olayiwola, Tyehimba Jess, and Naomi Shihab Nye
Sponsored by The Grolier Poetry Book Shop
Black, futurist, poet, dyke, hip-hop feminist, womanist: Porsha is a native of Chicago who now resides in Boston. Olayiwola is a writer, performer, educator, and curator who uses afro-futurism and surrealism to examine historical and current issues in the Black, woman, and queer diasporas. She is an Individual World Poetry Slam Champion and the artistic director at MassLEAP, a literary youth organization. Olayiwola is an MFA Candidate at Emerson College. Porsha Olayiwola is the author of i shimmer sometimes, too forthcoming with Button Poetry, and is the current poet laureate for the city of Boston.
Tyehimba Jess is the author of two books of poetry, Leadbelly and Olio. Olio won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, The Midland Society Author’s Award in Poetry, and received an Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. It was also nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN Jean Stein Book Award, and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Leadbelly was a winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series. The Library Journal and Black Issues Book Review both named it one of the “Best Poetry Books of 2005.”
Jess, a Cave Canem and NYU Alumni, received a 2004 Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and was a 2004–2005 Winter Fellow at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. Jess is also a veteran of the 2000 and 2001 Green Mill Poetry Slam Team, and won a 2000–2001 Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Poetry, the 2001 Chicago Sun-Times Poetry Award, and a 2006 Whiting Fellowship. He presented his poetry at the 2011 TedX Nashville Conference and won a 2016 Lannan Literary Award in Poetry. He received a Guggenheim fellowship in 2018. Jess is a Professor of English at College of Staten Island.
Jess’ fiction and poetry have appeared in many journals, as well as anthologies such as Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry, Beyond The Frontier: African American Poetry for the Twenty-First Century, Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social and Political Black Literature and Art, Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam, Power Lines: Ten Years of Poetry from Chicago’s Guild Complex, and Slam: The Art of Performance Poetry.
Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Witter Bynner Fellow (Library of Congress). She has received a Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets, the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, four Pushcart Prizes, the Robert Creeley Prize, and “The Betty Prize” from Poets House, for service to poetry, and numerous honors for her children’s literature, including two Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards. In 2011 Nye won the Golden Rose Award given by the New England Poetry Club, the oldest poetry reading series in the country. Her collection, 19 Varieties of Gazelle, was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her work has been presented on National Public Radio on A Prairie Home Companion and The Writer’s Almanac. She has been featured on two PBS poetry specials including “The Language of Life with Bill Moyers” and also appeared on NOW with Bill Moyers. She has been affiliated with The Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin for 20 years and also poetry editor at The Texas Observer for 20 years. In 2019-2020 she was the editor for New York Times Magazine poems. She is Chancellor Emeritus for the Academy of American Poets, a laureate of the 2013 NSK Neustadt Award for Children’s Literature, and in 2017 the American Library Association presented Naomi Shihab Nye with the 2018 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award. In 2018 the Texas Institute of Letters awarded her the Lon Tinkle Award for Lifetime Achievement. She was named the 2019-2021 Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. In 2020 she was awarded the Ivan Sandrof Award for Lifetime Achievement by the National Book Critics Circle. Nye is professor of Creative Writing – Poetry at Texas State University.
It was a great introduction (for me) to both Porsha Olayiwola’s work and Tyehimba Jess. Olayiwola’s reading focused on social poetry, historical commentary and current issues facing black women. It was a totally enthralling and powerful set. She is a woman who harnesses poetic courage and uses it well.
Tyehimba Jess was fantastic – I could have listened to him for hours. So many hard hitting, grabbing lines.
‘What I know good starts with a brick and ends with a book
and bleeds in between,’
Jess bridges Slam and Academic poetry, I could hear the Blues influence in the rhythm of is work, the feel of it.
And as for Naomi Shihab Nye – wow. Generous and endearing as always. Quietly getting her point across. Passionate and dedicated to the work of poetry. The way she can approach such difficult subjects with complete gentleness is beyond me. She started with sharing her reasons for admiring MA poetic history, the poets who have come from this part of the world and she read a poem by a young Californian poet she knows, Emily Ligron. The MASS PF as a whole seemed to be very proactive in promoting unsung voices and the work of other famous, important poets from the area.