2020 was a year like no other. Tune in live for the launch of a specially commissioned poem by internationally touring poet, playwright and performer Inua Ellams. A unique chance to not only take stock of last year but also to look forward to the future.
This event will also include a live Q&A, giving you the chance to ask Inua about his writing, his experience of 2020, and his process for creating this poem.
I feel so privileged that I caught the premier of this work and was there for the enlightening Q&A afterwards. What a brilliant end to a poetry filled morning. I started in Sheffield Library beforehand with Claire Walker’s Poetry group, this week looking at poems with plants/flowers/gardens. I woke to unrealised snow, childlike excitement hit my soul when I saw out the window!
It is always a pleasure to listen to Inua, he is incredibly insightful and generous in his tips and conversation around his work. It was great to hear his approach for this particular commission. I won’t paraphrase the entire hour, I am sure you will want to watch and enjoy.
But here is my positive take away: Be present. /Stay present. /Who I am? Why I am. /Stay weird/ Harness it – we are lucky.
September brought the kids back to school and students back to university and huge peaks in cases. After five months off work I was due to go back in as soon as bookings came through. This was a bleak month of no work. Something which is sadly the fate of millions since the beginning of the pandemic. It was a month that left me feeling pretty empty, so I filled it!
Like a new student, I signed up for a new class Hybrid & Experimental Memoir with Tawnya Renelle and looked at courses on Future Learn. I was having to complete Covid related staff training even though there was no work, which I found frustrating – necessary yes, but the only people who could possible struggle with gaining the certificate at the end of it are those who have literally buried their heads in the sand and watched/read no news for the past year!
There were a few festivals and book launches to keep me buoyant (and more importantly busy). I recorded the audio for Connect Dudley project (hoping to tell you more about this soon). I was Poet in Residence for Cheltenham Poetry Festival and I had a LIVE interview with Kate Justice for BBC Radio Hereford & Worcester. UEA hosted Noirwich, Crime Writing Festival and Worcestershire LitFest hosted a Festival 13-19th. Which was the same time as Tell It Slant Festival over the pond at the Emily Dickinson Museum. And Perth Poetry Festival was 18th -27th they managed to get LIVE events, a hybrid of live and virtual and some virtual all mixed into the programme. It just made me want to be there again!
I went to Kevin Reid‘s Book Launch for Suitcase (4word, 2020). It was a real treat. Discover the book for yourself here. https://eyeosphere.com/ Later in the month was the launch of Carole Bromley‘s new collection The Peregrine Falcons of York Minster (Valley Press, 2020) https://www.carolebromleypoetry.co.uk/books/. I have missed Carole’s readings and it was a joy!
As festival Poet in Residence for Cheltenham Poetry Festival I attended and performed at CPF events this month including: Z.D.Dicks Reading & Open Mic and Across the Oceans with David Hanlon and Elisabeth Horan. I headlined for Cheltenham Poetry Festival alongside Joe Cook, it was good to see/hear him again – a magical experience! And speaking of magic…
One of the workshops I attended was pure magic too – in fact, it was in the title, but we’re writers… we know titles give no guarantee! It was called The Magic of an Ordinary Day and it was mindfully slow paced with an entire offline section for lunch and encouraged wanderings. I met my mum (socially distanced) at the local park and we had a catch up and I took a bounty of pictures to inspire my afternoon writing. Plenty of people watching in amongst nature and for someone who rarely leaves the house now it was a blessing. Sue Emm was the facilitator of this online wandering & writing workshop from Open School East. It was a wonderfully, relaxed and I was certainly glad I’d committed a day to do it. Huge gratitude to Sue Emm.
The Worcestershire LitFest started, as it always does, with the Worcestershire Poet Laureate Competition. This year’s finalists were all worthy of the crown. The new Worcestershire Poet Laureate was announced for 2020-21 as Leena Batchelor – read more here.
Festival posts and links to follow.
I managed to attend a few open mics and events including Philip Gross and Heidi Williamson at Cafe Writers, That Poetry Zoom (Canberra), a Masterclass in writing and publishing, Wordcraft, Jerwood Arts Events, some PPP gigs and I visited the real library building (where the covid measures far outrank some places of work) and returned my 3 loans read by April and borrowed 9 books, fearing they would have to close again. I have PLENTY of books at home I could be reading, but they are mainly chosen and I feel I want to read them in pleasant(er) times. Perhaps now is the time to challenge my genres, pull out those books I would not otherwise attempt and that’s why I use the library. Plus I love the library, most people have been missing the night out, the pub… me, that room full of books none of which are mine.
I fuelled some of my grief into The Loss Project and found solace in a group I have been attending since the summer over in the States with Judith Redwing Keyssar, who has provided Food For Thought Poetry Cafes and Loss, losing, Loosening workshops weekly. https://redwingkeyssar.com/. Just letting it pour out is important and for me, part of the healing. I attended the Collective Trauma Summit, they had an amazing selection of poets/ poetry readings.
By September, Lockdown had lifted, but I was still living very much in isolation. With no money it wasn’t so much a challenge to stay inside. I had to go to hospital in September, they are places some of us need to be brave and use, but it was the biggest challenge I have faced. I had to go alone – the whole experience pre-covid would have been bad, in addition there was the wearing of the mask for hours and the additional safety test requirements. I counted every day after carefully indeed, but looking back I needed something this big because in a few months time there would be much needed work. The first day back was terrifying but it would have been worse without this bridge.
August was still patchy with sun and I was able to enjoy the garden. I was beginning to feel the edge of cabin fever. I slowed down online with extra events and focused on writing and reading. It was as strange as all the other months this year. I had hoped my birthday wouldn’t be in Lockdown – I’d seen and attended some awesome, creative celebrations online – I just couldn’t face the extra screen time. Mr G. and I planned to use one of the socially distanced restaurants and go out for the first time since March, but I got too scared.
I finally made some submissions. I spent hours writing applications, which were unsuccessful in results but updated all my paperwork ready for when the right one does come along!
We had a wonderful International Reading again for Cath Drake‘s Writing course Reinvent the Future – this time with Malika Booker as Guest Poet. It was another wonderful event.
Melbourne Spoken Word Festival continued, Army@Fringe hosted a Virtual Festival with lots of programmes about theatre writing, Jinny Fisher hosted another Poetry Pram event, Wendy Pratt hosted one day retreats, and PPP continued with many events and classes. I finally got to some events in New Zealand and made it back to Fire & Dust (Coventry) to see Genevieve Carver, I saw Joelle Taylor and Laura Scott at Cafe Writers. I managed to Zoom to StaffordWORDS Myths & Legends. I started attending some of the creative writing workshops held at Sheffield Libraries, they have raised a whole community online. Wonderful work. I started workshops with Nik Perring , Reader in Residence at Sheffield Libraries, who have all been great and productive. I attended a few seminars and talks.
I joined Celena Diane‘s Poets in Motion and had a great time at the Wirral Poetry Festival with Brian Wake, writing from ‘At the Circus’ prompts and artwork. Love an ekphrastic poem & poet/artists projects. I get involved with them as often as I can. I was asked to be Poet in Residence (virtually) for Cheltenham Poetry Festival.
I finished my Connect Dudley commission and Worcestershire LitFest went online. We held the delayed interviews for the next Worcestershire Poet Laureate.
So, my birthday was quiet – but we are still safe.
Five months into the pandemic and most of us know someone who has suffered. My heart goes out to all the families who’ve lost more than birthdays this year. The Lockdown is difficult to cope with – but suffering from Covid – there are no words, just huge thanks to those tasked with trying to help us.
For some reason I attempted Yoga again this month, Lockdown has made us all a little crazy, I think I did a fusion of Yoga and Pilates, basically the warm up and then filled in most of the class with exercise my back could manage.
I saw my first human being other than my mum and Mr G. since the beginning of Lockdown. It was my eldest nephew’s birthday. I stood in the garden, he stayed inside. It was the hardest not-hug to give/not give. Delighted I saw him. He couldn’t believe he was only the 3rd person I had seen since the end of March! By the end of the month I shared garden coffee with a few friends.
My actual travel/ life may have diminished to something which resembled 2019 (without the pain) but my screen life was exploding. I stretched my Zoom poetry wings further into Australia, out to New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, America and Coventry – if you have ever driven the route from here you will understand why I include that UK destination in amongst my international travel. Other local events found the wonders of Zoom and FB and moved events online. Library services also extended online content.
Poetry and writing has gone Global this year, writing is also (like baking, making sourdough, planting, painting and photography) one of the hobbies/ escapes people turned to. Even people who never appeared online have probably scribbled journals or feelings down at some points in this Lockdown. There have been wonderful local/ national/ international community projects popping up all over the place. Letter writing has become fashionable again, or at least it did before people realised the dangers of post. The world has creatively adapted. We have held each other (metaphorically) up in a year that made us all feel like we no longer had bones!
The other thing which began to take seed was the funding artists had applied for through the Arts Council. With this emergency funding came a flurry of projects and workshops. Funding was also received from other revenue sources.
PPP – (Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists) celebrated the Black Country/ Lockdown and isolation with Stay Up Your Own End– which offered people both a microscopic and magnified view of their locales as seen through the eyes of people with pens. It encouraged people who had never written before or never openly written before to pick up a pen and write. It was set up as a round of competitions, prizes included a video film produced & £25.
The judges/prompt writers for each round were local favourites of the Black Country poetry scene Richard Archer, Rick Sanders, Roy McFarlane, Kuli Kohli, and Heather Wastie.
PPP were commissioned by Creative Black Country to run a series of online poetry activities across the region.
I did workshops with Anna Saunders, Adam Horovitz, Liam Brown, Zena Edwards and joined Malika Speaks and Poets In Motion. I went to Book launches including The Estate Agent’s Daughter – Rhian Edwards (Seren), Wild Persistence – Katrina Naomi (Seren), Pack of Lies – Roz Levens (Black Pear Press)
More Festivals and Events: ART IS… Festival, Trim (Ireland), Own It! Online Festival, Wirral Poetry Festival, Cheltenham Poetry Festival, Kit De Waal Creative Writing Wonder Women, Ledbury Poetry Salon with Philip Gross & Lesley Saunders. Sarah L. Dixon moved The Quiet Compere online and created a series of reunion shows. I made video poems for Wordcraft, PASTA, performed at Fire & Dust, 42, That Poetry Zoom, Perth Poetry Club, Poets’ Cafe and watched Dear Listener. Oooh Beehive, Run Your Tongue, Yes We Cant and others. Room 204 continued to support us with opportunities.
Personal highlights for the month (other than braving the company of friends) were:
A reading for the end of Writing to Buoy Us – Reading to Buoy Us with Cath Drake. The courses drew both established and new poets in from across the world.
It was an uplifting event which featured both class groups and Australian poet Mark Tredinnick as the Guest Reader.
Writing and creativity are how most of us are continuing to process this pandemic 6 months later, the connectivity shared at this time was invaluable. It was special.
Poetry Film Live Relaunched their website and featured one of my animated Poetry Renewed Films ‘Tailspin’ to Launch it. Like every business Elephant’s Footprint have adapted during this pandemic and shifted their courses online.
Exciting talks started with the committee about moving WLF online, we were holding off in the hope the postponed annual festival (mid-June) could be pushed back to early Autumn, by this time it became apparent that Covid was going to be with us for some time.
I took part in my first online SLAM (I don’t really do the SLAM poet thing but this was in Australia and I couldn’t resist). My poems appeared in the keepsake gift book the Art Is Festival released.
I wrote down submission opportunities and promptly missed the deadlines. Seems like I have the horse ready but a little unsure of getting back on!
March Lockdown was only a week – but those 7 days felt like a lifetime!
I was one of the many people who actually found life online a blessing, it was a way of staying connected during Lockdown and after a week I realised the Writing Community had gone full throttle into Teams, Crowdcast, Webinar platforms, Zoom (of course) and suddenly INSTA and FB were brimming with events, workshops, performances and festivals. I was a little slower to fill my diary as I was adjusting and juggling concerns for family, finances, future etc. (as we all were).
I realised having suffered depression and my year of incapacity last year (where I couldn’t be online for 6 months due to not being able to concentrate/focus/work/ use a desk/chair and was off social media for a while longer as by the time I finally reached the desk the manuscript was 5 months overdue an edit)! That this online connection is essential for some of us.
It was also a blessing as my body had time to heal, I wasn’t running ragged or trying to push driving distances. I also hadn’t found a solid way back into the poetry community after a year away. This exodus online, bridged that gap and gave me the ability to travel again – although it was a while (months) before I realised international waters were open!
I didn’t leave my home territory for the first month of lockdown and after that was only brave enough for one nature walk a week (it was still restricted back then that you can’t drive to walk and we live in an urban area), there are trees lining the dual carriageway, but we have a garden so I sat with nature rather than walking.
Looking back, I knew even then it was a gift that we had Lockdown in the Spring, for much of the world it wasn’t as warm or abundant with nature. A few months into lockdown I was one of two people wearing a mask to supermarket shop and only once or twice a month. Mr G. had to work throughout lockdown so there was always a possibility even when I was keeping myself from the world. So thank goodness for life online.
Of course there were strains and worries, fears and concerns, waking every day for months… well we all lived it right, it has been tough financially and I know people who were very ill with Coronavirus. I am choosing not to address it in these posts (other than excusing myself for not mentioning it in this first one).
At first my online meets were just for virtual coffees and a few regular events I attend which had moved online. I want to give a big shout out to Poets, Prattlers and Pandemonialists https://www.pandemonialists.co.uk a.k.a. Emma Purshouse, Steve Pottinger and Dave Pitt who have grown to adapt to many platforms this year but immediately moved events online and were making them fully accessible no matter what your situation, lots of hard work.
I am delighted that after putting the hours in and giving so generously they have maintained working status with lots of projects online. They always are busy people and it doesn’t look like they are about to let a pandemic stop that ethic!
Polly Stretton immediately moved 42 online, a regular event in Worcester that we have been enjoying on Zoom since March.
I was writing for a Worcester Cathedral Poetry Project, organised by their poet in residence, Amanda Bonnick.
And then Carolyn Jess-Cooke gave us the STAY AT HOME FESTIVAL – https://stayathomelitfest.co.uk/about/ the first in a long line of festivals online – it was brilliant and on a massive scale and conceived (as many things are) on Twitter.
I unfortunately missed the call (as I was working F/T until lockdown) but I attended most of the festival weekend and was lucky enough to be one of the showcase poets.
I will write an entire post about the festival, I was hugely grateful and it was also the beginning of filling my notebooks – (2 over this weekend), avoiding household chores and unpacking boxes!
Tickets £7; £5 to current supporters of the Wordsworth Trust.
Simon Armitage was born in West Yorkshire and is an award-winning poet, playwright and novelist. In 2010 he was awarded the CBE for services to poetry and in 2019 he was appointed Poet Laureate. This year we have invited him to take over Dove Cottage for an exclusive performance of his own poetry, bringing to life the house that Wordsworth lived in 200 years ago.
By the summer I had secured a project I could work on (even in the state I was in) and I started to think about new writing. It had been a while, my Stanza meeting efforts were old poems saved in files on the laptop. I wanted to write again, the urge came a long while before the possibility – and like any writer I know one of the best ways to guarantee work is to find a deadline and write to it.
So I started looking for opportunities and found a call out for the Asking For It project curated byChloë Clarke and Gabby Ellison.
We are the ‘Asking for it’ exhibition. Our aim is to create a place for people to share and feel and come together over adversity. Through expression of art – in a variety of mediums such as film, photography, poetry, art and sound – the exhibition will take the viewer on a journey from the beginning to recovery and survival.
The exhibition not only looks at the experiences of the survivor but the societal judgements and miseducation around the topic of sexual abuse/violence. We believe that art is a powerful tool to express and empower artists and viewers, while educating those who have not experienced this.
I made a poetry film and submitted some poems. My poetry was accepted.
Unfortunately I was not able to read at the gallery opening as my physical health made it impossible to travel to London.
Private Gallery Exhibition Opening and Performances 23rd October.
It was a brave and successful exhibition. Here are some more photos from the opening night.
This year I have been invited to perform on National Poetry Day as part of the Autumn Malvern Festival.
I performed as part of Credo last year at Elmslie House and it is a lovely venue. This year five Poets Laureate, including this year’s Worcestershire Poet Laureate Betti Moretti, will be performing on 4th October. This event was organised by Tim Cranmore.
Autumn In Malvern Festival
The Autumn in Malvern Festival is a renowned series of artistic events & exhibitions held annually in the surroundings of the glorious Malvern Hills. Some of the most prestigious musicians, poets, writers, film makers and other artists perform during Autumn every year.
We had 9 poets from the 24 UK poets reading both their own poems and those from their partners. It was a true celebration of the project and it was lovely to hear people talk about their experience of the partnering. One thing we all acknowledge is poems existing which otherwise wouldn’t and the pleasure of working with Poets based in Worcester, MA.
You can read more about Artsfest and our ATOTC reading here.
Our American poets were pooled from the Worcester County Poetry Association with support from Bob Gill and Rodger Martin. They will be reading their poems and the response poems from the UK will be read by Brian Evan-Jones.
Brian is a touring artist with both the Maine and New Hampshire Arts Councils and was the former Poet Laureate of Hampshire, England. He currently resides in Kittery, Maine, and received his MFA at the University of New Hampshire where he studied with former U.S. Poet Laureate Charles Simic.
The Transatlantic Project was part of my Laureate Legacy. You can read more about it here.