Thursday, 23 October 2014

Experimental Poetry (2)

What makes a poem when all the traditional forms or rules or what we think of as poetry is not there? I began to think about this more after my art history class when we discussed performance and conceptual art and I realised the same questions applied to poetry. These questions include (now adapted for poetry!) who decides what is poetry, the poet, the reader, the critic, the publisher? How do you display it/sell it/perform it?

Performance art and conceptual art was a huge break from tradition. Art works were no longer confined to a gallery and became 'street entertainment' using new skills and media coverage but even artists had to make a living so they had to film the performance or do other works that could be shown in a gallery. Conceptual art often had explanatory notes, some quite long making it more a piece of writing than art.

Experimental poetry is similar. It break boundaries and uses new skills. At the Poetry Fair in September there was a free guide which contained a page each dedicated to the different publishers attending, their website and details of their history/what they publish and alongside one poem from one of their collections. Here I found several experimental poems - one was done as a sort of art work which I couldn't understand, a picture with different shaped 'boxes'. If it was meant to represent words I couldn't see it. What was I looking for? This was art in my book, not poetry. Another poem featured a sort of text-speak which I gave up on. Another was in signs such as  @&£>. What's that all about? It can't be read, makes no sense to me and could be just randomly put together by anyone on a computer, even a child. Now someone tell me if I am wrong! If I have to decipher codes I at least need an explanation on how to do it. Perhaps it's clever and I'm just dumb but this is like modern art gone mad. Anyone can throw paint at a canvas and say they did it when their subconscious was at work. We only have the artist's word for this and some art works done in this way could be done by a kid in nursery (and sometimes their imagination is better!). Some poetry seems to be going this way. I'm all for new ideas but I fail to get this. How do you perform a poem in nonsense language of signs? Who buys it? Can anyone make any sense of it? And what about the publishers? What are they seeing in this that I can't?

It's hard enough getting into print. I wonder how these 'poets' do it. I bet if I tried something off the wall no one would look at it twice.

I am reminded of the scene in an art gallery. There is a chair which looks a little like the one in van Gogh's painting with sort of basket weave seat. On it is a book. Now is this a piece of installation art or the chair for employee from the gallery who watches over the room?!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Experimental Poetry (1)

Ooo I've had great trouble getting into my Blog this morning. Phew, deep breath and relax and hope what I wanted to say is still there behind the frustration!

Once in a while a poetry collection comes along where you return again and again to certain poems or you discover a new writer who's work you really enjoy reading. Unfortunately I can't say that about the collection I am reading at the moment. I am struggling. No disrespect to the poet because she obviously knows her subject but it all goes way over my head.

Ephemeris by Dorothy Lehane (Nine Arches Press) is technical. Her background is in science and I guess it would inevitable that she would write about these subjects. If I had read the page from the link highlighted I probably would not have bought this collection.  But I was drawn to buy a copy because having learned a little about planets in the days when I drew up astrological birth charts and knew what an Ephemeris was, I thought I'd enjoy this collection. But I knew early on that this was too scientific (math and science are a whole new language I don't get!) so I have been unable to appreciate her poetry. I'm still plugging away (I've read about half) but it's like reading a text manual when you have no idea which wire goes where!

I guess we all make mistakes in our purchases. I was disappointed though and it did get me thinking about how popular this type of writing is. How well would it sell? My own view is that this would only appeal to those who understood space and galaxies and the cosmos as a whole in all its technical ways. This is not mainstream poetry but experimental. It does actually say that on the back cover! I just wonder how a poet gets this stuff into print when the subject matter is only going to appeal to a few. Maybe I'm wrong - do tell me if I am missing something here because this interests me.

I do have more to say on experimental poetry but time now has slipped away. I will return to this subject next time.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Inspiring writer

I have been reading Iona, a book of poems by Kenneth C Steven. In fact I took it away with me when I was on retreat. His poems are a beautiful representation of nature. The words he uses to describe scenes are surprising and I find that I am inspired to get writing myself.

It has been a long time since I wrote much nature-inspired poetry but Kenneth's visual portrayals of Scotland's desolate shores, communities and nature are so breathtaking that it made me think. Having been on retreat and walked the country lanes in Surrey where virtually only the farmer and the post van visits, I came across God's abundant nature in a big way and found beauty in odd things like the stumps of sawn trees and reflections in puddles. I had written a few short poems mainly about the sheep field (I was so drawn to those sheep!) but I hadn't written anything about the lanes I had walked. This morning I sat down and remembered what I had seen and ended up with a poem I am pleased with. It's possible that I wouldn't have even written it if I hadn't been so absorbed by the poetry of Kenneth C Steven. I don't think I can emulate him and wouldn't want to because we all write in our own way but he has made me think about my writing and that there are more poems to be written about my experiences over the retreat days.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Poems by Anne Boileau - a lucky find.

I am still reading through poetry books I bought at The Poetry Fair earlier this month and one I have enjoyed very much is Shoal Moon by Anne Boileau. I was attracted to it because there were moon poems included (I have been trying to write a series of such poems myself), but also I liked the art work on the cover! I had never heard of Anne Boileau before but she has won me over. I love the way she uses internal rhyme and her subject matter clicks with me. Her description of the birth of a male calf is so well crafted and it is only in the penultimate stanza that I realised where this poem was going. Anne's poems stem from the countryside and our ancient past with stories unfolding. I was drawn into her world completely. This is one poetry book I will return to again and again. A short imprint (30 pages) from Grey Hen Press, who are also new to me but having just quickly checked them out I am pleased to see they publish poetry by older women - definitely worth my while reading their web site again!  At the fair they had several interesting looking books on their stand and I was tempted to indulge further but finances said otherwise!

Do take a look at one of Anne's poems called Pete's Forge which is from her small collection.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

I'm in an e-book!

My poem Night Feasting is now published in the Anthology Spooky Tales and available on Kindle from Amazon. The link is here.
Also great to be published along side my friend Lynda Bullock.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Where do poems come from?

Working draft
I'm sure I've spoken about where poems come from before but something happened this morning which made me think about it again and to share it with you.

I was reading an article in acumen  79 by Dannie Abse entitled Poet in a White Coat when a line suddenly hit me and I stopped reading. The line was about the German poet Rainer Marie Rilke who 'related how he would worry about a piece of soap left behind in his hotel lest it become lonely!' Wow! I understood this.....because some years ago I wrote a poem about something similar! It is somewhere written in pen on a sheet of yellow paper, probably buried under magazines under the coffee table (see I even remember where it is....hopefully). Anyway, I was amazed someone else thought about these same strange things.

Having read the line I immediate had to write. So I left the article which I hadn't finished and grabbed my notebook. Just from that one line came the bones of a poem. And ta dah! I'm going to share it with you. Written very quickly with an even quicker edit this is how it is now. The last two lines took me the longest and were re-written several times. (I admit I edited a little more as I typed it up to show here. There is more still to do!)

Of Things Left Behind

The strand of hair on the dressing table,
a flake of skin on the bed sheet,
the lone banana meant for the lunch box,
a garden cutting going solo on the lawn.

The crumb brushed absently away,
the last square of chocolate in its foil,
the one cup draining in the kitchen,
the bulbous tear hanging from the tap.

The lone sock in the washing drum,
the book discarded now its read,
one flower in the dead heads,
a single item in the rubbish bin.

I wonder about the loneliness
of all those things left behind,
abandoned to the silence,

parted from others of their kind.

(©Heather Walker 2014)

When people know I write poetry they usually ask me two questions - what do I write? and have you had anything published?

Thinking about the last two poems I've written (before this morning's effort), one was written about something I observed while I was sitting in the garden and the other went right back to the time I was in my late teens doing something I didn't want to do and wishing! Why I went back to that time I don't even know. It was a stray thought. 

So, inspirations comes from everywhere. Something will happen, like the line I read this morning, and I will have to write. Next time it might be a picture, something overheard, music, an experience (mine or someone elses), a prompt from a book or workshop. I never know what my next poem will be about. I don't write only about nature or love. To me there is nothing off limits, even the most terrible things in life. Poetry can be comforting, funny, clever, disturbing and everything in between. If it causes a reaction in you, it is doing its job. Like art and music, writing is to be experienced, sometimes on many levels. It is also a personal thing and you will bring those experiences with you when you read.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Winchester Poetry Festival


I arrived back from the Winchester Poetry Festival yesterday. It turned into a full-on weekend and there is only so much you can attend! I also had to divide my time a little as my hubby came with me. He is not a poet so there was compromise.......we took a couple of great walks around Winchester together between the events I booked. Actually, that worked really well as it was good to get out into the fresh air now and then, especially as the weather was so good.

We arrived on Thursday afternoon and after we'd unpacked we set off to the Discovery Centre to pick up the tickets I'd booked many weeks ago. I was excited to finally be here and immerse myself into poetry. It was a chance to hear poets read, both those I knew of and new ones. I soon realised how limited my knowledge was!



Friday morning was the very first event. I had booked a workshop entitled The Matter of the Poem which was led by Maura Dooley, who despite being the author of three poetry collections (shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize) I had never heard of! Over the the next two hours we were given prompts based on our name (we had each shared something with the group about our names) and what it meant to us.We wrote short pieces which we were able to share. The first prompt found me drawn to something I had previously written about my Christian name but I basically ended up with just lines of notes. We were then encouraged to to pick one line (or was it the last line...I forget) to form a poem. I was stuck! My poem was going nowhere. The next prompt was to look at the piece and draw out four things that our writing was trying to say and then to write a poem entitled The Heart of the Matter. Lastly we were each given an object as a prompt to a new piece of writing. My object was a key which felt cold and smooth and led me to the lino in our front room at home, the north facing room which was forever cold. This was the only poem I was able to share. I felt there was potential in this and I will work on it in the future.

I always find workshops hard because (a) I am always anxious (yet I keep putting myself through it!) and (b) I am not usually able to produce anything much to share - my ideas don't come in such short spaces of time. However, I do end up with lots of notes, some of which will develop into poems and sometimes even good ones! Workshops also give me fresh ideas and new ways of writing. Workshops are good places to mingle with others because writing is a lonely occupation. On this workshop the writing level of participants ran across the board from beginners to published poets. Everyone had something to share, everyone was supportive and people chatted with one another.

This was what I found generally over the weekend, the friendliness of people whoever they were. We mingled in the cafe, in the queues for the Performance Hall and wherever poets/readers gathered. There were strange moments too. I found I was sitting next to Liz Berry at one time, though I wasn't 100% sure then that it was her. I had taken an online course with her through The Poetry School (I can't even remember which course) but I was too embarrassed to ask her if it was she! Then a little while later I heard her reading on stage as part of the New Voices spot. She has a lovely accent (she's from Dudley) and is wonderful to listen to. She performed alongside Olivia McCannon and Jacqueline Saphra on Saturday afternoon. Before that I'd been to see Patience Agbabi read from her book Telling Tales, a retelling of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. She is an extraordinary performance artist and her work includes rap pieces. I love listening to this type of poetry....poetry meant for performance. She holds you there in the moment as her stories unfold. This was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend.
A view from St Giles Hill

Looking down on the town

In the time between these performances hubby and I did a couple of walks. On the Friday afternoon we walked up to St Giles Hill and viewed Winchester from the top. It looked so beautiful and was just what I needed to clear my head and wind down after the workshop. We used one of the walking guides from the Tourist Information Centre and followed the route back down to the river Itchen. We kept bumping into wedding parties, maybe it was the same group or it was a good day to marry! In the car park near the river we spotted a yellow Robin Reliant complete with white ribbon and suitcase on top. On the side it said Trotter's Independent Trading, well I had to take a photo of that!

The Almshouses at St Cross

The gardens

The church at St Cross taken from the gardens
On the Saturday morning we walked along The Weirs and Water Meadows to St Cross. What a beautiful walk. The Hospital of St Cross is open to the public. It was founded in 1132 and is still home to 25 brothers who live in the Almshouses. The church is wonderful........there was a wedding that morning - people were gradually arriving (I'll come back to this). Also on the site is the Hundred Men's Hall which also contains the old kitchens and beer cellar. And there there is the beautiful gardens complete with lake. Here it was so peaceful and no one else there. I would have been happy to stay there and just enjoy the flowers. There is a cafe and a shop where you can ask for the Wayfarers Dole and you are given a small piece of bread and a beaker of ale....very nice it was too! It was in here that the assistant told me about the wedding bingo they played. They hold many weddings throughout the year and they have devised this game to look for certain people. She told me who they all were and though I can't remember them all I do remember a few - the lady over 50 wearing the dress meant for someone younger, the man who turns up in tartan trousers, the young lady (not the bride) who is in love with the bridegroom. If they find every one of these people they have a full house!

Where Jane Austen lived and died
On Sunday morning there was a poetry walk and I'd persuaded hubby to come with me on that.  It was led by Keiran Phelan, literary detective and editor of the Literary Winchester blog He took us to a dozen sites around Winchester where famous poets and writers had lived or had a connection including Wendy Cope, John Keats, Thomas Hardy. Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Matthew Francis and former local poem and rector David Scott as well as Julia Darling and William Whiting (who wrote the hymn Eternal Father, Strong to Save). Parts of the King James Bible was written in college rooms in Winchester (I remember reading about this in a book a few years ago). At each spot there was a reading from the poet/writer. At the end of the walk we received an information sheet with a note of the readings. There are a couple of poets I'd like to look into more when I have time.

There was time for some lunch and as it was Heritage Open Weekend hubby was keen to look at the local Quaker Meeting House. For me it was a flying visit and I had to leave him to it in the end. I know something of the Quakers and have read one of their books and obviously there was a lot about their beliefs on display, especially about war which is in everyone's minds with the WWI anniversary. The house had a lovely wooden staircase and we were able to go into the warden's flat which has the most stunning view across Winchester. As it so happens the warden is also a poet and she showed me her little book which she offered to lend me but I wouldn't have had time to read it and get it back to her before we left. But I wrote her name down and intend to look her up.

I did manage to read one of her poems before I had to dash back to the Discovery Centre for the next event which was entitled Things Being Various - Christopher Reid on the Poet's Craft and Inspiration. I have to admit I'd never heard of Christopher Reid but the subject matter interested me. Christopher was in conversation with Jon Sayers from Magma magazine (I realise I'd met Jon before - though not to really speak to - at two past events). Anyway, Christopher Reid was wonderful. He had brought along five items which meant something to him. I rather liked his poetry, both amusing and poignant. He seemed a thoroughly genuine man and I was glad the subject of light verse cropped up. Light verse gets bad press as if it is a sub-species of poetry not worthy of note.  (I love light verse). Christopher was given an award in America for light verse - he was offered it and told no one else wanted it! Christopher was very pleased to accept it.

The final event was Ros Barber and Jackie Kay reading from their work. I have read many books by Jackie Kay, both poetry and novels and have always wished to see her read in person. I had studied one of her poems on a course I took with the Open University. It was one of the first times I had 'taken apart' a poem to analyse it. The course had included a conversation with Jackie Kay about poetry (on cassette!) and I loved what she said. I became a fan. She did not disappoint and had us laughing with her anecdotes. I had not come across Ros Barber, who read from her verse novel The Marlowe Papers. That must have been some undertaking. Not my kind of subject matter but we all have our own preferences.

And so the festival ended. On many levels this was brilliant - the poets. workshop, discussions and meeting new people. I also kept bumping into Joan McGavin my tutor for the day in Basingstoke, along with Angela Hicken who I also met a that workshop. For the duration of the festival Angela was co-ordinating the Close Readings, a series of 15 minute talks held at various venues across Winchester. There were various events I didn't get to - one on Friday night with main readers including Imtiaz Dharker who I had heard read at the Poetry Book Fair the weekend before, but also included Matt Harvey and Brian Patten. There were also other workshops I fancied, especially Performance Skills (which I feel I should do but I couldn't quite pluck up the courage) and Getting Published. Well, I couldn't do it all. This was the first ever Poetry Festival in Winchester and I'm pretty sure it will back next year.

This is the first proper poetry festival I have been too and I enjoyed it so much. They pulled in some big names and I'm sure their success will spread and attendance will be even higher next year. I curbed my impulses to buy every book on the stalls and just picked up a collection  by Joan McGavin and took out a subscription to Magma. In some ways the effects of the festival will stay with me for many weeks to come. There are always new poets to look up, poems to write and for everything to sink in.  I feel as if I am still coming down from it.

If you would like to read a little more about the festival and some events I didn't get to here is a link to  poet Josephine Corcoran whose blog I follow.

I didn't take any photos as there was an official photographer and hopefully those photos will be available somewhere soon (maybe on the Facebook page).

Fireman inspecting the roof and surrounding
area - Winchester Cathedral
I should also mention that one day (I think it was Saturday) we saw four fire engines flying by. Later I found out where they ended up. There was six of them at the Cathedral. A ladder was raised to the roof of the oldest part of the Cathedral (which had been closed) and they were inspecting the area. They must have been there for a couple of hours (I was lounging on the green watching) but later in the day they'd gone and the Cathedral was open again. There was nothing on the local news but there are works going on in that old part with scaffolding up around the roof and flying buttresses. I guess there must have been some movement or something that could have seriously taken place. Thankfully all was well.
Some bits and bobs from the festival