Annie is a much-loved member of the Cheltenham Poetry Festival team and her Book Launch was hosted by them. Presented by Howard Timms. Annie’s collection has been described by Ankh Spice as ‘a clarion call to find the edges we have forgotten’, and by Ben Ray as ‘a haunting love letter to the natural world’.
It was a pleasure listening to all the poems, a delight to watch her excitement as Guest Readers shared some of their own poetry and read poems picked from her first collection. It is always exciting to hear your words coming from the mouth of another. Something magical about that process. I was touched when several readers shared poems written especially for Annie or inspired by poems in this collection. Annie’s Special Guests were Ben Ray, Anna Saunders, Zoe Brooks and Ankh Spice. In addition to these four powerful poets, Annie had asked other members of the poetry community to read a poem from the collection.
It was an honour to be there, to listen, to watch, to see. The witness and kinship. Annie’s poems bring nature in until it becomes us (as it should be, as it is). We are, after all part of it, we are it, it is us. As more people (through Lockdown Nature) are realising and we’re all bearing witness to the proof of our ecological impact.
About the Book
Nature at a Cost is a collection of poems essentially focusing on the interaction between humans and the environment. Poet Annie Ellis explores the impact that our way of life is having on other species that share our planet, offering a unique perspective on the disturbing situation we are currently creating. Her words send a powerful message to all of us to protect rather than exploit the natural world, to bring harmony and balance for a better future.
Extracts from the testimonials for Nature at a Cost A collection of vivid and beautifully observed poems by a writer who loves nature in all its manifestations – from the jack-of-all-trades to the king of the pack, all the creatures in this charming collection are depicted with awe and delight. Anna Saunders, CEO of the Cheltenham Poetry Festival and poet
A raw, real and honest update on the Romantics’ odes to the natural world, Nature at a Cost is an engrossing and challenging collection which flows from the page as naturally as the rivers and forests it describes – a haunting love letter to the natural world, which stays with the reader long after the final stanza. Sometimes unsettling and uncomfortable in its questioning of our self-centred perception of the world, Ellis is not afraid to explore the nature’s raw and often violent mechanics: seals twist in water to escape ‘a cave of daggers’, millions of ladybirds bury a small town, and the seasons turn unstoppably in ‘pompoms of autumn fizz’. Ellis is disarmingly honest and open about her own position in this wildness, which she finds reflected inside herself: ‘I feel the pain of solitude, / with the twist of time coming round.’ Yet throughout this collection, Ellis’ writing consistently holds a deep love and respect for nature and its inhabitants. This is twinned with a keen and subtle eye for observation: goats ‘wander like lost pebbles’, whilst ducks swim in an ‘army of ripples’. As the collection’s title suggests, there is an underlying tension between the human and wild here: but Ellis masterfully negotiates this distance, using poetry as the bridge to carry us from the familiar into the wilderness. In the final poem, a tree speaks of this innate connection: ‘find me in the pencil / you are holding.’ If you are looking for this entry point into the wilds, look no further than Nature at a Cost. Ben Ray
‘Nature at a Cost’ beckons you to step beyond your comfortable human skin and allow your boundaries to be repainted in a wilder shape. Ellis’s poetic gift is for suspending time on the wing, on the hoof, the claw, or the branch – she offers vivid moment after moment as a series of natural Attenborough-esque observations, still moving as we watch – or better still as we step in with the poet to channel our consciousness into her global family of flora and fauna, weather and wile. In this time of disconnection from the deep and intimate living our own animal experience could, and should, offer us, this collection is a clarion call to find the edges we have forgotten, and to redefine what we notice and protect as valuable. ‘Because of you I want to keep living’ realises Ellis in ‘Wolf’, and it is truly that simple. We are in the quietly clamouring presence of every reason to persist in symbiosis, not at odds, and every beast captured by this poet’s keen and tender lens shows us how – from revelling ladybug to nursing doe to goats on the edge. This collection is, in every sense, a vital one. Ankh Spice, Co-Editor of Ice Floe Press.
We continued to have snow in the beginning of the month and towards the end of the month. We had to contend with Storm Christoph and many areas of the UK (including this county) were flooded. It was often cold and frosty! Close friends contracted Covid, fortunately none were hospitalised, all are either recovering or recovered. One family saw it soar through inter-generationally. Closer to home, Mr G. who has been out to work for all 3 Lockdowns had to self isolate for 10 days after an employee caught covid. Fortunately, he’s all clear.
January saw a balance between much needed paid work and writing, for a day at least and then we went into the 3rd Lockdown. My contract was eventually renegotiated and I went back to work out there.
WEEK 1 & 2:
I am working on a couple of projects which took chunks of January time. I took a booking for a Reader Series in March in the USA, which was then rearranged for January!
I sent some submissions. By the 2nd Jan.I had 2 new poems published and by some miracle (December submissions) by the 7th Jan – I had 7. This almost makes up for 2019/2020! Then I had a break of 3 weeks which dragged me over some deadlines. At the end of 2020 I was approached for work in two anthologies.
A portion of my time is now spent typing up notebook poems from last year and I have been sending these through the editing mill. In one of these editing groups I discovered the joy of the Muppets doing Robert Frost! After watching it I have a vague recollection of seeing it before, when I was too young to get the poetic reference.
I signed up to some new classes for 2021 which will continue as a year of Learning (which is what I decreed 2020 as), but unlike Lockdown times I also need to get the house straight so shall not be returning to a full time life online. I have classes and workshops rolling over from last year with Judith Redwing, L.A Marks and Celena Diane, all in the USA and Rakaya Fetuga in London. I love working with and listening to International poetry, I have always enjoyed reading translated poetry, even in my teens. Most events attract global audiences nowadays which is silver lining to poetry on Zoom (and other platforms).
I saw Sean O’Brien, Joelle Taylor and Memoona Zahid Live at The Butchery, which was a lively and fabulous event. Martin Figura and Helen Ivory are masters at making the hosting and organising of such feats look easy! Luke Wright and Jennifer A McGowan wowed audiences at Yes We Cant, PPP did their usual sterling job of providing a thoroughly entertaining, high energy evening!
During the week I saw David Clarke at Crafty Crows, it was a great reading and I finally made sense of the numbering in some of his latest work. It was a wonderful chance for people to hear current work before it makes it out in book form (which I am almost certain it will). It was lovely reading comments from people who had not had the pleasure of hearing David read before. It was also great to hear an extended set by Catherine Baker.
I was excited to return to Fire & Dust the next evening featuring Clive Oseman , it was great fun and I felt a real sense of reunion. Helen Ivory & Martin Figura featured at Poet’s Cafe, another incredible evening.
The week was finished off with news of a project going LIVE. Read all about it here. Dear 2021, The Start of It was part of Sheffield’s Year of Reading & the BBC The Novels that Shaped our World, it stemmed from a two part workshop with Nik Perring who was Writer in Residence at Sheffield Libraries.
It was great fun and some of our poems were selected to be part of the book which marks this project. I have seen the book online and am waiting excitedly for a copy. Dear 2021
I was accepted for a workshop with John Brantingham later this month and after several unsuccessful applications in 2020, I made one that was accepted! The weekend was spent back in Sheffield Libraries with the Poetry sharing group and in the evening I hot-footed over to America to join the Ohio Poetry Association (OPA)for a few hours on a workshop with Diane Kendig. This was a thoroughly absorbing experience, one I felt lucky to be part of. It finished off the notebook I started in December. A sparkling new notebook for January then, well almost. I am working my way through shelved stock, it was one bought 15 years ago.
To finish the week I went on Cath Drake‘s Refresh 2021 class. I knew the mindfulness was just what I needed and by now I had news that my contract in the real world had been reinstated and that I was due back in work the next day. So I double needed these few hours. It was a heart-warming experience in a supportive group and I loved the meditation. I had a workshop with Sarah L.Dixon and wrote a poem from a wondorous prompt.
I intentionally attempted to do less writing events this week, I was working all week and needed some down time and my creative projects need full focus at the moment, which is another reason I let submission deadlines slide. There are only so many plates you can spin!
I listened to advice and found motivation from Rommi Smith, Jo Clement, JT Welsch & Hannah Bannister at the Northern Writers’ Awards and spent an evening with Sarah L.Dixon & Tom Sastry at Cafe Writers. Later in the week I spent a wonderful couple of hours enjoying Zelda Chappel‘s New Beginnings class, again a great group of writers. Followed by the Poets in Motion, where I discovered my Reading Series slot was to be later this month. I spent a wondrous night with Rosie Garland. Love her performance, poetry and enthusiasm for her publishers, Nine Arches Press. This event was from Trafford Libraries. By now work in the real world was well underway and it was a challenge not to be asleep by 7PM! I also dedicated some writing desk time to myself to whittle away on the projects.
The weekend saw a plethora of events: I went to Redwing‘s Food for Thought Cafe and Oooh Beehive, Clive Oseman and Nick Lovell had booked none other than Elvis McGonagall! It has been more than a year since I last saw this King of poetry in action and it was a real treat! I did Rakaya Fetuga‘s workshop and learnt a lot about forging. On Sunday I had double events. I wanted to catch Marvin Thompson at Cheltenham Poetry Festival’s event also featuring Simon Alderwick but it clashed with RYT – I haven’t made it to Run Your Tongue and I missed seeing everyone and Dominic Berry was headlining. I hate it when events overlap but I also hate missing out and choosing.
Nearly two weeks of real-world work, which feels like months and evenings are harder to stay energised enough to fill with anything other than sleep. However, I had booked events before the contract was renewed for Lockdown and wanted to go to as many as I could manage.
At the end of December I was asked to contribute to two anthologies, the news of launch dates came through, more on this soon, exciting! As well as weekly classes I filled myself with the poetry of: Manuela Moser, Padraig Regan, Stephen Sexton at Poetry at the Lexicon, R.M Francis at Dear Listener, Richard Skinner, Bernard O’Donoghue and Anna Saunders at the Book Launch of Feverfew, Anna’s new collection. The weekend reading was by Dante Micheaux and I discovered Chrysalis and caught Inua Ellams in action. I finished the week at Culturama and had some poems workshopped with John Brantingham, who is also taking part in the Reader Series next week on the 27th.
Later on the same evening I attended a very special event hosted Susan Roney-O’Brien, a tribute reading for Patricia Fargnoli, Celebrating Pat Fargnoli. Pat (and many of the WCPA poets) took part in my Transatlantic Poetry Project in 2018, A Tale of Two Cities. It was a moving experience hearing a multitude of voices reading Pat’s work and I had not expected Pat to be able to read some too. It was an honour and a blessing to be there.
My main focus was to prepare my hour for the Reader Series this week. The great element of this event is you get to talk about the story behind the poems as well as read them. We each have an hour in a back to back series from 10:30am (PST). Unfortunately this series has been postponed until February and I am not free for a booking before April. I will be ready for whenever it is rebooked though. I also had one day where I slept after work for 5 hours and was too tired to boot the laptop up!
It was an enjoyable hour, a fantastic discussion and her poetry pamphlet, Finding Sea Glass is now on my wishlist!
I also attended a workshop with Sarah L. Dixon, which, as usual was great. Except I had tidied up my bookshelves and then we create book spine poems. I used the nook upstairs rather than piling all my books again in the lounge! It was a full afternoon and evening schedule. I received an email which tipped me off to a Talk by Don Paterson. I couldn’t resist the title (he claimed this is why he called his lecture this) ‘Why Bad Metaphors Destroy Everything’. In a few months I am rolling out some work around metaphor so that’s another reason my interest was peaked. This talk was from St Andrew’s Alumuni and is available online. Following this I went to the Brittle Star MagazineLaunch, it was an enjoyable hour of poetry and a lovely launch. The lockdown has enabled us to attend lots of magazine launches which usually take place too far away to travel to. I set an alarm for Midnight and joined many people who were watching Poetry In America – An Evening with Two Poet Laureates of the United States: Natasha Trethewey and Joy Harjo. Which was a moving experience.
Another wonderful magazine launch this week was the Poetry Review Winter Launch with the Poetry Society. Emily Berry was the Editor for this issue and we heard readings from four contributors: Graham Mort, Meredi Ortega, Rushika Wick and Jason Allen-Paisant.
It was a powerful reading and a great way to spend an hour. I particularly enjoyed listening to Jason Allen-Paisant who wove a soulful magic with his words.
I have read the Poetry Review for years but it is special to hear the words from the mouths of the creators.
I am finishing the month with clashing events. Jane Hirshfield & Rachel Eliza Griffiths at Hudson Valley Writers and Rick Mullin & Nicca Ray at GWFM.
It always feel inappropriate to post about loss this way, especially tagged to the end of a review of the month. But I don’t feel I have the words to write more and as with other poetry friends I have lost this way, testimony has been posted elsewhere. I also feel I can’t get through looking back on January without this being here. Sadly, we lost a friend, a big part of our poetry community this month. It is a tragic loss and something I cannot find the right words for. The tight rawness of the situation has hit us all hard. He remains strong in our hearts.
Inspired by listening to Inua Ellams, I focused on ‘we are lucky’ and we are and I have been, so I wanted to post some thanks for life so far this month. Lots has happened off screen that makes me appreciate this gift of a new year even more.
We haven’t reached the end of the month yet and there is already a long list of people and groups to thank. I am grateful that I finally have some work, even if a daily trip into the outside world scares me rigid. This was the first month since March 2020 that I haven’t had to worry about paying the bills. I am grateful that I do not live in an area of the county currently flooded. I have in the past lived by a river and canal that burst, back in the floods of 2007. My heart goes out to all the people having to deal with this right now. I am grateful that after 10 days of self isolation my partner shows no signs of Covid.
Thank you to all poets for generosity and spirit, for providing such top quality events during this time. For weekly workshops and poetry meets I thank: Rakaya Fetuga & the CARAF Centre, Redwing Judith Keyssar & the Meri Center UCSF and the wonderful people who make these groups the comfortable, expressive places they are. LA Marks for her fabulously fun thirty minute writing workshops/ Therapeutic Poetry & Society X. Celena Diane for her weekly classes and for creating a relaxed and caring Poets in Motion group. As well as keeping my mind and heart balanced, these groups welcome new and non-writers, many people have discovered the power of the pen during this pandemic.
I am grateful to all the organisations and individuals who take their time to provide events, readings, interviews and entertainment for us. I am grateful poets have engaged with online platforms and this has bought global mics to the forefront of weekly schedules.
To Helen Ivory & Martin Figura for opening up The Butchery and bringing spectacular poets to us every month, to the Lexicon for showcasing some incredible talent from Northern Ireland. To Trafford Libraries for the event with Rosie Garland and another chance to hear her read her new collection What Girls Do in the Dark. To New Writing North for hosting the Northern Writers’ Awards: Poetry Roadshow, to the speakers: poet Rommi Smith; poet and editor Jo Clement; poet and editor JT Welsch; and Hannah Bannister, Operations Manager of Peepal Tree Press. To Anna Saunders, the powerhouse behind Cheltenham Poetry Festival for launching Feverfew and giving generous time to Bernard O’Donoghue and Richard Skinner. This book launch buoyed my heart! To the National Centre for Writing for having a Lit Up scheme for Young People and for those enthusiastic members who created Chrysalis, for commissioning Inua Ellams to provide the 2020 Vision poem. To Writers & Books for bringing us Dante Micheaux to read from Circus (2018) and answer questions about his work.
To all those hosts and organisations who moved monthly open mic events online and provided awesome features. This month I particularly enjoyed returning to Fire & Dust and Run Your Tongue. Gratitude to the Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists for Yes We Cant and bringing us Luke Wright to kickstart January, to the Gloucestershire Poetry Society for Crafty Crows with David Clarke and Catherine Baker, for Fire & Dust and Clive Oseman for entertaining us, for Poets’ Cafe for giving Helen Ivory and Martin Figura the spotlight, for Cafe Writers featuring Sarah L. Dixon and Tom Sastry, to Oooh Beehive for bagging Elvis McGonagall and bringing him LIVE into our lounges, for Cheltenham Poetry Festival for Marvin Thompson and Simon Alderwick, for Run Your Tongue and Dominic Berry, for Dear Listener, bravely changing event formats monthly, this time featuring Rob Francis with a reading and Q&A.
To the library services around the UK who continue to provide support and opportunities for readers in the locale and beyond. Worcestershire Libraries and in particular The Hive have provided local poets many opportunities through the lockdown, but I am greedy and a lover of libraries, so the library I would love honorary membership to is Sheffield. Sheffield Libraries really rolled our the red literary carpet over the past 10 months providing so many groups and events that it would take a website to almanac them… of course they have a website! Go and check it out.
April 2020 –
Creativity during Corona
Sheffield Central Library hosts a wide range of regular groups, talks and workshops to spark creativity and connect people with culture and their community. During these strange times we’ve temporarily closed the library and had to pause all of our face to face meetings. However, there’s no reason for the creative process to falter, or for people to stop sharing their thoughts and enthusiasm for poetry and prose. In fact, perhaps more than ever, we all need to keep the creativity flowing.
Claire Walker is the creative dynamo behind the Central Library poetry and writing groups.
Ⓒ Sheffield Libraries
I am grateful for all the workshops Nik Perring did last year and for the outcome of the projects this month. I look forward to receiving my copy of the anthology produced, I had a sneaky on screen peek of it yesterday. And to Claire Walker at Central Library for providing inspiration and virtual spaces for sharing poetry and writing. During normal times Claire ran these groups at Central library and I have been delighted to join her Sheffield crew as they expanded across the globe. I look forward to these workshops and poetry gatherings. The hope season has been wonderfully positive.
I am grateful for workshops with these wonderful women: Zelda Chappel, Sarah L. Dixon, Cath Drake and Diane Kendig. Zelda ran a series last year which I thoroughly enjoyed, it made me feel like I did when I was first writing, the magic of writing. For 2021 she has developed a series of 4 classes, ‘Beginnings’, which can be taken as a block or individually. They are intense (in a good way). Sarah’s workshops run on a combination of Zoom and Facebook, there are always several interesting prompts and I always end up with a decent workshop poem to go away and bake and batter some more. Cath Drake produced wonderful opportunities last year to deal with Lockdown. As well as being a talented poet, she is trained in Mindfulness coaching, the session she delivered this month was powerful and necessary. I went to Refresh 2021 and we enjoyed several hours of meditation, deep thought and writing. My experience with Diane Kendig at the OPA workshop was great. It was a concentrated session and I learnt a lot about poetry from Ohio, we explored lots of form and came away with poetry written and a library of resources. I have pages of notes to go back and munch my way through.
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!
Back in April, I performed at Cheltenham Poetry Festival. I was asked to do Cheltenham PF in 2016 but I was too shy about the ‘how to’ and waited on emails, leaving it too late to secure the booking for the 2017 Festival. So I had the pleasure of being in the 2018 Programme instead. Booked way in advance (as these things are), I was gutted when an email from Jill Abram popped up in the inbox asking me to be part of the V.Press Stablemates in London, and of all the dates – YES, you guessed it – 26th April when I was already booked for Cheltenham. Clashes. They will be the undoing of me!
Still, I was very excited to be part of CPF and very much looked forward to it for months.
I arrived at Smokey Joe’s in time to see the INDIGO DREAMS SHOWCASE and get a pre-launch preview of Anna’s new collection (her 5th) ‘Ghosting for Beginners’.
NINA LEWIS – FRAGILE HOUSES
PLUS PETER MCDADE, GUESTS AND OPEN MIC
9-10.30 pm, Smokey Joe’s ‘In our family, minds go missing’. Nina Lewis writes, in one of a series of moving and poignant poems about family life from Fragile Houses (V. Press), a pamphlet commended for its ‘tremendous warmth and descriptive power’. In this highly praised volume Nina Lewis explores the people, places and memories carried through life and deftly examines the human condition through the lens of family relationships.
Nina is joined by Peter McDade – expect deliciously surreal, and thought- provoking poetry from this talented and erudite poet who has drawn comparisons with Ivor Cutler. This event also includes an open mic. Come and share your poems on the subject of home.
I was incredibly nervous, but had worked on a perfect story arc set and despite a mass exodus to the bar in between events, people came back. I thoroughly enjoyed getting Fragile Houses to new ears and it was a pleasure to be back in the venue reading. There were a few last minute additions to the night, poetry from another IDP poet- Ben Ray, who joined Peter & I with a set of poetry before the open mic.
It was a wonderful evening of poetry and afterwards, on a complete high I joined Neil Richards (who performed in the first event of the evening, which I was sadly stuck in traffic for) and Ruth Williams in a pub where we were joined by Elvis!
I thoroughly enjoyed this event organised by Anna Saunders as part of Cheltenham Music Festival. I liked the idea of starting late, it certainly makes arriving on time easier!
Chapel Arts is an amazing renovated Baptist Chapel. The gallery space has been organised flexibly to allow for various events.
Arriving early gave me a chance to have a good look around.
The space was set up perfectly for Poetry and complete with pews. The tables had fairy lights in vases, there was a bar and plenty of seating.
There was a good number of people who turned up for this FREE night of poetic entertainment and I daresay for the Headliners: Tyler Keevil and Bohdan Piasecki. I know that Bohdan does not perform as often as anyone would like him too (although he performs internationally & at Festivals), when there is a rare chance to enjoy the man in action it causes quite a stir. Having missed his final Hit the Ode as MC for Apples & Snakes, it was good to catch up.
Tyler Keevil started the evening. Tyler Keevil is a novelist, screenwriter, and short story writer from Vancouver, Canada. He is the author of three award-winning books: Fireball, The Drive, and Burrard Inlet.
I know that performing at Spoken Word events falls slightly outside of his comfort zone, but anyone not privy to this would never have guessed. It is hard reading lengthy extracts and flash fiction, I have tried it! It was a captivating set and I could have listened for longer. Check out his website in related links.
There were lots of booked Open Mic-ers, the standard was high (which did not surprise me having attended the Cheltenham Poetry Festival and other events in the town), I know this to be a place of talent. We all missed the memo about it being a music themed evening, had I been on later I may have changed my set. There is one poem in Fragile Houses that I rarely perform which is really about something other than music but is all about music above the sub-text.
However, I had timed my set and knowing there were a number of readers was hesitant to make changes. My final poem fitted the theme and once I realised that none of us had realised there was a theme, I felt better.
Other performers included: Annie Ellis, Belinda Rimmer, John G., Dan Cooper, Neil Richards, Peter McDade, James Cornish in the first half.
I took the photos on my camera until the batteries let me down and will add these when I have uploaded them.
Poems which have stayed with me include Annie’s Young Deer poem, Belinda’s poem about the news story teenage boys protest about No Shorts policy by wearing skirts*, John performed an incredibly moving poem about carers, ‘Bricks’, Dan was unique with a mix between song lyrics and styles ‘I Hate Sunday Nights’ was amusing and entertaining, Neil performed his Grenfell poem and delivered a powerful set, Peter’s translated vocabulary super model poem hit all the funny buttons – he likes playing with language and dialect/ accents, I also enjoyed his ‘Everything is a Festival in Cheltenham’ – made more amusing by the fact that we were part of the Music Festival organised by Anna who is the founder and Leader of the Poetry Festival.
James completed the first half opening with the confession he had consumed an espresso, red wine and gin to calm his pre-performance nerves AND he still managed to get all the words out! I remember the lines… ‘It’s all gone a bit Spike Milligan… what are you going to do now? Aerobics?’ his work was suitably dark.
After the interval we heard a set from Willis the Poet (a.k.a Rick Sanders) followed by the next Headliner, Bohdan Piasecki.
Rick Sanders/ Willis the Poet
I always enjoy Rick’s sets and delight in a new audience discovering the humour bound in his collection of notebooks. Especially his fake commissions, an idea I like to remember as being conceived at Wolverhampton Arts Festival in my very presence! His Cheltenham SPAR poem deserves a mention too.
Bohdan’s set was incredibly moving and sparked lots of ideas that I needed to scribble into my notebook. He is a dynamic performer who plays with language and manages to stretch emotions. Nursing our hearts with his gentle humour between poems. Grounding us once more.
Bohdan Piasecki is a poet from Poland based in Birmingham. A committed performer, he has taken his poems to venues ranging from the upstairs room in an Eastbourne pub to the main stage of the Birmingham Rep, from an underground Tokyo club to a tramway in Paris, from a bookshop in Beijing to an airfield in Germany, from niche podcasts to BBC Radio 3 and 4. In the UK, he regularly features at the country’s most exciting spoken word nights, festivals, and readings. He enjoys the creative chaos of big field festivals just as much as the composed concentration of literary events.
He’s completed three international tours (with stops in over twenty countries and counting); working with the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project to engage people living with dementia; devising and delivering Palimpsest City, an ACE-funded live/digital spoken word show; and writing for the Spalding Suite dance/theatre/basketball crossover show produced by Fuel.
Bohdan founded the first poetry slam in Poland before moving to the UK to get a doctorate in poetry translation theory. He works as a Lead Tutor for the Roundhouse Poetry Collective in London and Bellows Poetry Collective in Birmingham. Bohdan worked as Director of Education on the Spoken Word in Education MA course at Goldsmiths University, and since 2012 has been a regular Visiting Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham. He also holds the post of Midlands Producer for Apples and Snakes, England’s leading spoken word organisation.
A busy man who has a lot of time for performers.
The evening was concluded with a few more open mic-ers: Chris Hemmingway, Fran Smith, Jonny Precious, Rod Griffiths and finished with Chloe the Storyteller outside the chapel in the graveyard.
Chris performed his political Gove Cam poem, Fran is a healer and she treated us to some poetry spiritual in nature, Jonny performed a moving poem about a letter sent home from a soldier
and Rod performed an amusing story about a serial killer. The punchline of which recently resurfaced in my head.
Chloe the Storyteller was dramatic, her story was spooky… chilling in fact, which set me up for the drive home alone!
This year’s programme was fantastic and I wish I had managed more events than I did. I however, managed a full dose of Hegley – which makes up for missing the rest of the long list of performances and events I wanted to attend.
John Hegley is one of the few poets that I discovered in my Young Writer years – back when he was touring with his band, Popticians. In fact one of the few university birthdays I remember was watching them at the Phoenix Arts Centre and meeting him.
There was a Hegley shaped hole for a while – he seemed to have disappeared – possibly into fatherhood – for the past few years he has been back on the radar. Or on my radar at least. Some of you will remember my posts from his performances and workshops back in 2015.
I was delighted to see New and Selected Potatoes as an error in reading dates on a flyer meant I missed him at the MAC. It was an enjoyable show, thoroughly entertaining as one would expect – but the magic treat was bestowed on Cheltenham that night in the Playhouse. We were privy to a new poem, something he is working on for the Roundhouse. I always feel privileged when my ears get an inside like this.
I finally bought John’s book and had a lovely chat about the show, because he is a very kind man who always spends time with each person queuing for a signature. Someone in the line behind me nearly bought a book that wasn’t one of his – I am sure he would have signed it anyway, he has a big heart like that.
I made a night of it by going for an Italian meal with friends who had been to see the show too.
The following day, (I know I should have booked a B&B) I was back in Cheltenham to enjoy my second Hegley workshop. It was great fun, a good group and lots of people I did not know, which is always exciting for me. We had taken a poem and some art and most of our activities were based around these.
John had us all write about Potatoes too (of course) and crowd sourced a fantastic poem for Anna Saunders *Director of the festival – I will have to go and see if she has had time to use it anywhere.
It was a fabulous morning and finishing slightly before time I headed down to Waterstones with John and Anna, chatting and narrowly missing lampposts along the way! Once at Waterstones, I mingled with the poets from the Open Mic event which had finished and caught up with friends. Then John started his impromptu take over of the floor. (Photos to follow.)
We all joined in with a choral poem and had a great time before he was whisked away to that place festival poets go and I was left to retrace steps and try to find my car before the ticket ran out!
Next year, I have to plan work better to be released for this poetry festival.
I am delighted to promote Cheltenham Poetry Festival for Anna Saunders this year. My tickets are already booked, don’t miss out on yours!
Cheltenham Poetry Festival 2017 4 -15 May. Venues throughout the town.
‘ a poetry party with a healthy dose of anarchy’ – The Guardian. May 4 – 16, 2017
Poets speak out about Brexit, ISIS, Paris terror attacks and more.
Festival aims to reflect ‘ current state of the nation’.
The Regency town of Cheltenham is set to be the stage for an explosive showcase of new writing this summer.
The 12 day festival features drama, comedy, film and contemporary poets – and this year nothing is off limits when poets read new work inspired by Brexit, race relations and the Paris terror attacks.
Among the guests are internationally acclaimed poet Matthew Sweeney who will be reading new poems which address dramatic themes including Isis and the Paris Terror attacks.
Also on the bill – Rory Waterman reads from his edgy new collection Brexit Day on the Balmoral Estate, Roy McFarlane talks about identity and race in emotionally-charged poems and Jamaican-English poet Raymond Antrobus visits; a poet who is renowned for his uncompromising and powerful take on misogyny and cultural divisions.
Paul Stephenson reads from The Days That Followed Paris – poems inspired by his residency in Paris at the time of the Terror attacks, plus Jasmine Gardosi and Lexia Legend – politically conscious poets who aren’t afraid of speaking out – perform new work.
The events are part of Cheltenham Poetry Festival’s commitment to socially- conscious programming.
We wanted this year’s programme to showcase some of the UK’s most frank and fearless writers, to include bold and outspoken artists whose work reflects the current state of the nation.Cheltenham Poetry Festival Director Anna Saunders says.
This year’s festival shows how poetry is empowered when it takes risks –and we hope visitors to the festival will enjoy our fresh, and fearless exploration of the world we live in today.