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

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A poem on display at the Willis Museum

Something to celebrate...and I am HAPPY. My poem Aftermath which came out of a poetry workshop last month is now on display in the Willis Museum, Basingstoke with other poems by those who attended the workshops as well as poem by The Basingstoke Writer's Circle. The poems are in a book as part of the gallery exhibits for the Artists Rifles exhibition. My poem was based on the John Nash lithograph German Double Pill Box, Gheluvelt. I wonder if I have time to go and see it before the exhibition moves on!


Sunday, 7 September 2014

A day of poetry and nothing but poetry

Readings in Red Lion Square
I spent a great day at the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair yesterday at Conway Hall in London. This was the first time for me and it turned out to be an expensive visit!

The day consisted of readings and discussions in one of the rooms and exhibitors, mainly book publishers, in the main hall. In Red Lion Square (just over the road) there were also readings going on all day. At 5pm there was a 'do' at the Rugby Tavern (round the corner) with more readings.

At first it was difficult to know where to start and I had to pace myself, especially with my cash! I already had an idea of the readings/discussions I wanted to listen to so I headed off to the first event at 10.30. Imtiaz Dharker read from her fifth book from Bloodaxe entitled Over the Moon. I enjoyed her poetry which switched between the continents and spoke of loss, reminiscence, wistfulness. Her poetry was often amusing.

My purchases!
I then headed out to the hall for a short while. Up on the stage were The Poetry Library, The Poetry Society and The Poetry School. They looked very lonely up there as no one was visiting them so I went up to say hello. The Poetry School were pleased to see me and I was given a small sweet wrapped in tissue paper which contained a line of verse. I also came back with one of their brochures.

The next event I attended was the launch by Happenstance Press of their anthology Blame Montezuma, a collection of poetry about chocolate! During the readings by various contributors were were plied with different flavoured chocolate buttons! At the end there was quite a collection on the back row! It was a fun event. (I did later go and visit their stand but I couldn't buy the book as I was out of cash and they had no card machine. Instead, taking pity on me, they gave me a lovely chocolate!)

I stayed on for the event following which was a discussion entitled Where is Poetry Going? The panel consisted of Tom Chivers (Adventures in Form), Mark Ford (Best British Poetry) and Karen McCarthy Woolf (Ten: The New Wave). I found this discussion a little bogged down at times and only Tom Chivers had things to say that inspired me. I took a course with The Poetry School on Adventures in Form using exercises from Tom's book. I loved it because I enjoy experimental stuff and Tom's ideas for poetry in the future I felt very akin to. At some time I must buy the book!

At that point it was time for lunch so I headed over to Red Lion Square to the Garden cafe. I knew there was to be a rally by NHS staff meeting in Red Lion Square so it was a little chaotic with new people turning up all the time with banners and placards but they were a nice bunch of people. I got talking to a few while standing in the queue for tea and pannini. The Police were standing on the sidelines and they all got some free entertainment as they took their refreshments. They seemed to enjoy the poetry and clapped as readers came up one by one (Ward Wood - Royal Holloway MA students were reading while I was there). We in turn cheered the marchers! I was able to direct a few to the toilet facilities in Conway Hall!

Back in the hall I began buying up books. I think before lunch I had maybe bought two books. I had taken quite a bit of cash because I know these events often don't have card facilities and I was right. I was able to use my card twice and once I had to split a twenty pound note elsewhere so I could go back and buy one book (small change is also a problem). The lady who changed my money was the editor of Acumen, Patricia Oxley. What a lovely lady. We had quite a chat. The man on that stall may have been her husband (I note the interview editor is a William Oxley) and they liked my analogy of my writing career being like a kids game where you play to move on to another level. I am moving through levels but am stuck right now between levels! Patricia was very encouraging and asked me to submit to them because publication there would move me up another level. She asked me my name and said to remind her when I write. She gave me some good advice and I left (with the latest copy of their journal) feeling very encouraged.

I also met other small press publishers who were so nice and I particularly fell in love with Roncadora Press because of their artwork and doing something different. The chap who runs it block prints pictures in black and white which is so effective and produces postcards, fold outs with a picture on one side and poetry on the other. It was beautiful. I bought Windows for Burns Night 2012 where all the poems are hand written or typed to fit on a small window. The little book is even stitched together and reminded me of the days when I worked for a Solicitor and we had to hand stitch Wills, Leases and other legal documents together. There is something very nostalgic about Roncadora Press which touches me.

I got to visit The Emma Press stand which I was thrilled about. This is another press I admire because again they are doing something different with poetry and design. I already have one of their books but yesterday I added to it with Anthology of Mildly Erotic Verse.

I bought a few other books by people I've read before, Christopher James and Marion McCready and a couple by poets new to me and suddenly I was out of cash! There was one more discussion I wanted to attend so I headed off to the event room to sit in on the current reading before the discussion started. This was the publisher ZimZalla with readings by Pascal O'Loughlin and Jesse Glass. The former I did not like at all. I found his poetry annoying and uncomfortable and he had that 'poetry voice' I hate - the one that seems on all one note, monotone. Who teaches that? Several poets seem to speak that way and it turns me off. Jesse Glass had flown in from Japan to read and was at least entertaining even if I wasn't keen on his poetry, sorry Jesse.

The discussion was What Do Pamphlet Editors Look For? On the panel was Peter Hughes (Oystercatcher Press), Helena Nelson (HappenStance) and Emma Wright (The Emma Press). This was a good discussion and I particularly liked what Emma and Helena had to say. They seemed very engaged and enthusiastic about what they do. I found them inspiring and would love to be published by them.

I left after that clutching my red bag full of books. It was a good day, a bit of buying, reading, discussions and a small amount of networking, It was great to be asked 'Are you a writer?' and to say yes! I still find it hard to tell people that's what I do especially as I don't have a book but I spend much of my time writing in some form these days. This year has been so different from others in that respect.