I realise despite writing 38 poems in the past 4 weeks for NaPoWriMo, you haven’t seen any of them – so I can treat you all to a full poem today care of IS&T who kindly published‘Where We Begin’, it is the featured poem today.
Much of the poetry I wrote in 2020 (beyond my own ongoing projects), was as a result of fantastic, generous workshops. When I reminded myself of the origins of this poem I knew I needed to add thanks to Zelda Chappel.
Zelda ran several classes/workshops throughout Lockdown. This poem came from the Week 1 Writing in New Spaces, so thanks Zelda for making me write in the fresh places.
It was written over a year ago, a few weeks into the 1st Lockdown, it reminds me how far we have and have not come.
With gratitude to IS&T and Helen Ivory for considering this poem.
I was lucky enough to be at this Reading, hosted by Cheltenham Poetry Festival at the beginning of March (4th). It was incredibly moving and the whole time I was thinking what a powerhouse of a project it was, what an undertaking. Although, in the Q&A Carl Griffin (curator) brushed it off as not being overly complicated. Many of us feel we wouldn’t have known where to begin. He started with a kitchen table and some cut up pieces. Carl looked for pattern and he was certainly able to orchestrate that. It was interesting to hear about the process of the book coming together from the initial idea to the finished product. I am still amazed at the seaming of 100 voices into one book length poem.
Here is the information from Cheltenham Poetry Festival about the event and the Publisher (Against the Grain Poetry Press) promotion.
A reading from the epic, pandemic-inspired book – Arrival at Elsewhere( Against the Grain Press).
Arrival at Elsewhere is a ground-breaking, book-length poem, curated by Carl Griffin, in which poets from across the world speak in one voice in response to 2020’s life-changing pandemic.
Arrival at Elsewhere symbolises the fact that all people, no matter our differences, are equally vulnerable, and this rich and eclectic joint voice is a made up of a multitude of individual experiences.
This book-length poem contains lines from T.S. Eliot Prize winners (Philip Gross, Sean O’Brien, George Szirtes), National Poetry Competition winners (Linda France, Beatrice Garland), and a Pulitzer Prize winner (Yusef Komunyakaa), alongside several newcomers and overlooked veteran poets, and seeks to raise money for NHS.
The book is edited by Carl Griffin. Carl Griffin lives in Swansea, in South Wales. He has written extensively on Welsh poetry and poets, in the form of reviews and essays. Though born in Stockton-on-Tees, in 1984, he has spent most of his life living in each of the Welsh cities, and these are the places that inspire many of his poems. His poetry collection, Throat of Hawthorn, was a winner of the Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize and was published by Indigo Dreams Publishing.
Readers at the event include Abegail Morley, George Szirtes, John Glenday, Julian Stannard and Graham Clifford.
In this book-length poem, curated by Carl Griffin, poets from across the world speak in one voice in response to 2020’s life-changing pandemic. Not a definitive voice, nor an authoritative one. But a contrasting, contradicting, confused voice, set both in the UK and everywhere else, represented by one narrator who, just like the rest of us, is made up of a hundred different people. A narrator cohesive only in his/her/their contemplation of Elsewhere.
Elsewhere has arrived…
to everyone affected by the Covid-19 pandemic – in aid of NHS Charities Together
When the idea for this book was pitched to us it was still fairly early in the global Covid-19 pandemic. We were all still probably in a state of shock. All locked down, uncertain what was happening – we certainly felt we had landed in a new place. All three of us, like many poets, were unsure how to creatively assess this new situation. That’s why we wanted to support this book. A collaboration of sorts, a creation of a road through all the work of poets who contributed to its making and a maker who has sensitively crafted this winding path of a poem from all our tongues. We are happy to support this work and its intention to support the NHS.
Abegail Morley, Karen Dennison and Jessica Mookherjee Against the Grain Poetry Press
As you were reminded yesterday, Lockdown 2020 saw many notebooks being filled. By Lockdown 2, I was back in the scary world of work and Lockdown 3 is a mixture of both (after 3 hours on phone calls yesterday afternoon)!
Some of my notebooks were filled with words from the Lockdown Writers’ Club, organised and facilitated by Mab Jones, a poet I have had the pleasure of knowing for quite some years. The daily prompts offered a lot of material across a range of genres and (like all good starting points), were springboards which encouraged the sparks of ideas to fly. Both Mab’s course and Cath Drake’s workshops, inspired me for sometime after they finished.
2021 has not started the way, in the depth of the summer, we hoped it would. Lockdown offers new and established writers time to write. We all want/need more than the 4 walls of our room and CO19 in our brains.
This rerun is an email only course, so is perfect for people who have restricted access to other platforms.
Lockdown Writers’ Club is an online / email course for writers of any experience. ✅Receive 30 prompts in 30 days. ✅Respond in poetry or prose. ✅Learn, be inspired, have fun! Just £25 Contact @mabjones for details: mabjonescreativeATgmailDOTcom
Mab JonesCardiff Wetlands Writer in Residence Biography Mab Jones is a “unique talent” (The Times) who has read her work all over the UK, in the US, France, Ireland and Japan. She is winner of the John Tripp Spoken Poetry Audience Award, the Word Factory Neil Gaiman Short Story competition, a Royal Society of Literature ‘Literature Matters’ award, the Aurora Poetry competition, the Rabbit Heart Poetry Film Festival Grand Jury Prize, and the Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize, amongst others.
Her most recent pamphlet is ‘111 Haiku for Lockdown’ (Infinity Books UK). She is the author of two other pamphlets, and two collections: ‘take your experience and peel it‘ (Indigo Dreams) and ‘Poor Queen’ (Burning Eye Books). Her work has been read or shown (as poetry film) at many festivals, at the Southbank Centre, and at various venues and a variety of platforms.
Mab teaches creative writing at Cardiff University, has written for the New York Times, and has presented three recent poetry programmes on BBC Radio 4. She previously coordinated International Dylan Thomas Day, and now runs the social media for world famous writer Wilbur Smith. She promotes adventure writing through his Foundation, in addition, and offers mentoring, critique and feedback for writers, most notably through the Poetry Society.
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!
If I thought April had been a whirlwind, I wasn’t quite buckled in for May!
I was enjoying off screen time in the garden, had already taken photos of the blossom and enjoyed the early Spring flowers.
You know it is easy to misremember how it was? I closed the last flashback with the realisation I had not travelled more than 1.5 miles from my home – actually my perimeter was a lot smaller in April. I hadn’t started walking outside of my home and the supermarket is not that far away so thinking back, the frame of my life was caught in a circle of 3 roads, just one small block of life!
This was the month it expanded to 1.5 miles.
I do remember I stayed in, if I wasn’t in the garden I was in the house. Most of the street were out in the back gardens, enjoying the sun, building new sheds, cabins, garden furniture, slides and swings whilst I was indoors fighting the good fight for Furlough or burying my head in the sand of a writing world that became my Narnia.
May started with more festivals: Avon Book Festival, Stay at Home Fringe Festival (organised by the Students/graduates of Glasgow Uni), The Urban Tree Festival and of course HAY (which I managed to blog in a timely fashion). Huge gratitude to everyone who has worked so hard to give creatives access to platforms and festivals at this time.
Big gratitude to Julia Webb for the prompt/course she ran this month. To Kim Moore for braving the online world of workshops and furthering my year of learning. To Carys Hannah who started a Golden Girls Watch Party, which reminded us what laughter is and made us all hope we get to grow old.
To Anna Saunders and the team at Cheltenham Poetry Festival for delivering a feast of poetic pleasure with numerous events and a great line up of poets. To Seren for creating a series of reading events, AWP for giving us a night with Joy Harjo (Poet Laureate of USA). For the universe for keeping my neighbour safe the morning she climbed up on our conservatory roof to clean and I couldn’t stop her!
Thanks to Helen Ivory & Martin Figura for events at the Butchery and to Jinny Fisher for her Poetry Pram Party. Thanks to Jane Commane at Nine Arches Press for videos, live readings and Book Launches, to Emma Wright at the Emma Press for Book Launches and webinar readings/Q&A. To Phillipa Slinger and Chloe Garner who moved Ledbury Poetry Festival and the Salons online.
This month I also enjoyed the Saboteur Awards and Book Launches for The Unmapped Woman by Abegail Morley (Nine Arches Press), Dorothy by Briony Hughes (Broken Sleep Books), Apple Fallen by Olga Dermott-Bond (Against the Grain).
And I finally realised online events meant we could travel after all… and travel I did, first stop back to Australia. I headed back to Perth and Freo. Thanks to all at VoiceBox. I reunited with some of the Perth crew at Zoomouth, which was brilliant!
I finished the 6 weeks Writing to Buoy Us course with Cath Drake and writers from Europe and Australia. I started a Hybrid Experimental course with Tawnya Renellehttps://tawnyaselenerenelle.com/ , who I also met through the Stay at Home Fringe Festival. And who also needs a huge shout out of gratitude. I was glad to help where I could at the beginning and have loved watching the take-off!
I completed work on the animations for Poetry Renewed with Elephant’s Footprint and wrote lots in journal form and a few poems. Covid had crept into the writing and I was attempting to not write about it in the beginning. And the BIG conservation started about the artists place in all this, whether it is our job or not to almanac the times (which is what a lot of writers/artists do). I believe most of us do, but also agreed that writing books about it probably wouldn’t even make it to the slush pile, of course I am sure there will be some, there already are. But I’m still processing last year and things which happened at the beginning of this one (pre-Covid).
May was the month: I realised my back can’t manage Yoga and gracefully I saluted the sun for one last time, started to walk in nature, used my walking stick for the last time (hadn’t needed it for 3 months), I blamed the yoga but looking at this it was more likely all that sitting at the desk! It marked the milestone of my first submission in 5 months! I have been very slow to get back on that horse!
April was Napowrimo and those of you who follow this blog will know I have done it every year since I discovered it existed (2014), this year – for the first time ever – I was home every day of the prompts and managed it without falling behind. As is tradition, by the end I was left with about 5 decent poems and another 5 to work with. Lots of new notes and scribbles, I did write 32 poems over the month but some are no more than a warm up exercise, you can whittle on after April and collect yourself a good batch of 30 decent poems, but as with all workshops some prompts will speak louder than others. There were some areas I continued to research and develop and other scrap poems I abandoned. Nothing wasted though.
Napowrimo was also the last time I was properly active on the blog. The Stay at Home Lit Festival continued (it was a glorious 2 weeks). I continued to enjoy events which moved online more from the PPP (Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists) team, as another of their brilliant nights Yes We Cant happened online and PASTA (usually at the Wolverhampton Arena Theatre). 42, Worcester and Run My Tongue were other open mic events I joined.
I signed up to Caleb Parkin‘s Napo group and enjoyed weekly sessions with other poets (some of whom I knew) doing Napo. These groups were great fun. Huge gratitude to Caleb for creating such a pleasant space to create from.
April was the start of crazy, for me it was a coping mechanism and also I was coming from that post-book release-writing-slump https://ninalewispoet.wordpress.com/books/, which followed on the back of the medicated break from writing, which I was convinced (at the time), had broken the camel’s back, so a certain amount of my packed scheduling was a liberation, a dance with words. It was also a sure fire way to bury my thoughts from what was really happening for a few hours most days. I was also trying to get over having to cancel all my real life bookings for a 2nd year running.
I read a lot, every writer should. But I have to say 2020 has opened me to more new writing and new to me poets than any year so far. So readily accessible at a touch of a button. The whole world at my writing desk.
Sarah L. Dixon needs another shout out of gratitude, she started to run workshops online, which were always fun and successful for me – as in I would always have a nearly completed poem by the end of it – I may have even submitted some of these out to the world and I have barely submitted anything anywhere since 2018.
A big shout out of gratitude to Zelda Chappel too – who it has been a pleasure to reconnect with. She offered a series of wonderful prompts which in the beginning refreshed my love for this gift of writing and over the weeks gave space for some different writing.
A big shout out to Mab Jones too who created Lockdown Writers’ Club and provided us all with in depth prompts and created a creative community.
I went to the book launch of Play – by C. S Barnes, The Shaking City by Cath Drake and Mutton Rolls by Arji Manuelpillai.
I started doing Yoga with Allison Maxwell who is another gratitude shout out, I helped people and artists learn how to use Zoom effectively, we celebrated the first birthdays online, never expecting we would still be doing the same by the end of the year! I started doing my pilates classes at home.
I finally joined INSTA as there were poets I admire doing things on this platform. My INSTA account is still nothing to shout about and I probably won’t be joining the INSTA Poetry movement anytime soon, but it is a great platform for short video/ workshops and has been fun exploring this year.
I took opportunities offered by Room 204 on developing characters, huge thanks to Stephanie Hatton for letting us be your guinea pigs, I hope the roll out went well. I enjoyed the National Ballet online, a workshop with The Poetry Business and started recording video performances for events. And I discovered the Cuirt Festival of Literature AND more importantly an Irish poet I had read in my teens, Michael Gorman – it was like being reunited with an old friend.
I also had the pleasure of watching Kei Miller and Carolyn Forché with Poets House and Roger Robinson with Writing East Midlands, all poets I have read and admire. I’m lucky enough to have seen Kei and Roger in action several times. These three poets started the pack of recurring poets who became a big part of my lockdown.
I was also working hard completing an animation commission from Elephant’s Footprint for the Arts Council funded ‘Poetry Renewed Project’. I wrote a poem for Rick Sanders PoARTry/ the digital version of his project. My ekphrastic poetry response was based on an artwork created by Alan Glover. I watched most deadlines zoom past and wrote covid and non-covid journals.
It was an action packed month which taught me: I was happy we’d had haircuts the week before the news of Lockdown, the forever-wanted GHDs probably weren’t going to be the most used Christmas present, that I was unlikely to run out of notebooks for a while, that the world is trying to hold itself together, that a smile goes a long way, that facetime and online platforms are a great way to stay connected, what it feels like to spend 5 weeks travelling no more than 1.5 miles from your home.
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!
Like many people right now, we are in Lockdown. I’m keeping very busy, possibly even busier than I would be if I was balancing the job and the writing. I am a lot better health-wise and this new lifestyle has the benefits of being easier on my body, enabling me to perhaps do more and I also find staying busy in times of crisis helps me cope. Believe me there is plenty to keep me busy beyond the desk too.
My normal to do list would be A5, at the minute I feel I need A3! Anyone else the same? I think part of this busy is coming off the back of being out of action for so long, especially in fast moving worlds like the Arts, so much has happened that I have not seen/read/heard as I wasn’t just away from the scene, I was away from my brain for most of the 14 months too! I am thoroughly enjoying being a glutton of creative endeavours and as the world moves online the globe shrinks too! I find I can reconnect with people I have not seen for a long while.
I have spent the past 3 weeks (since the end of NaPo) thinking I should blog about that, but because I am writing again after a long, fallow period, I am struggling to find time to write about the writing! I will be posting retrospectively but there are a few events coming up that I shall blog over the coming week. Some fresh content for you all to enjoy will come after that.
In the meantime, there’s plenty already in here – use the menus and have a splash about.