Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Workshops with a Whizz

In normal circumstances, not only would you have to travel to a festival such as Poetry in Aldeburgh or StAnza if you wished to attend a workshop run by the whizz that's Helena Nelson, but you'd also have to get in quickly once booking went live, as her sessions are invariably among the first to sell out.

However, lockdown, or partial lockdown, or the dismembering of lockdown by a caring father, does bring certain advantages, and one of them consists of Helena Nelson's forthcoming double-header of online workshops. The first (with the help of Annie Fisher) is titled Writing about Fear, and will surely develop fresh slants and approaches to our latent feelings about the current situation and beyond, while the second (with Charlotte Gann's assistance) uniquely concentrates on the art of writing reviews.

It's my firm belief that writing reviews is one of the best ways for a poet to improve. By doing so, we're forced to get to grips with our thoughts about other people's writing, implicitly reassessing our own work at the same time. Moreover, the juggling of prose to formulate opinion and argument can only help our use of language, prose feeding back into poetry. Of course, writing reviews is an intimidating task, which is why this workshop is such an excellent opportunity to throw off any nerves and take the plunge under the guidance of one of the best editors around.

Here are the details of these exciting workshops, including all the information you need to sign up for them while there are still places available...

Unlocked: Writing about Fear
Helena Nelson & Annie Fisher
Monday, 1 June: 10.30 am – 12.30 pm
Thursday, 4 June: 10.30 am – 12.30 pm
Duration: approximately two hours, with some optional follow up.
Cost: £25.00 (one place available free to those on low incomes)
Number of participants: 9 (this excludes the two presenters)

If you'd like to reserve a place, please email nell@happenstancepress.com, with your preferred date. She will send you more information and explain how to pay.


OPOI REVIEWS: for new or low-confidence reviewers
Helena Nelson & Charlotte Gann
Wednesday, 10 June: 10.30 am – 12.30 pm
Duration: approximately 2 hours.
Cost: Free
Number of participants: 6 (this excludes presenters)
This is a fully participative workshop, in which we will

  • read and talk about poetry pamphlets and how an OPOI review is developed 
  • clarify the house style and principles of the OPOI reviews
  • share some experience of the editing process
  • encourage participants to write their own OPOI
Email nell@happenstancepress.com for more information and/or to reserve your place.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Ama Bolton's poetry blog

Today brings another lovely discovery that I've made during lockdown: Ama Bolton's long-running and unique poetry blog, titled barleybooks, pages from an unbound book. It might be new to me in spite of having been started way back in 2012, but that simply means there's now even more enjoyment to be mined from its archive!

Ama's blog gives particular pleasure thanks to its exploration of the creative process (both as an individual and as part of a group), often linking visual elements to poems and vice versa. Somehow, as a reader in partial lockdown, I feel comforted and reassured by these displays of imagination at work. All in all, thoroughly recommended!

Monday, 11 May 2020

Another excellent offer

Back in 2015, when reviewing D.A. Prince's award-winning collection from HappenStance Press, Common Ground (click here to read the post in full), I stated that...

D.A. Prince is a specialist in the almost-unnoticed accumulation of emotional impact. Her work builds imperceptibly, detail on detail, gathering momentum line after line.

In other words, her poetry provides the reader with the chance to draw breath and have a proper think. As such, Common Ground is an ideal purchase for these strange times, especially now it's been discounted from 12 to 9 quid at the HappenStance webshop. What's more, while you're there, you could also browse exciting new pamphlets from the likes of Nancy Campbell and Annie Fisher.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Julie Mellor's poetry blog

It's always a joy to discover an excellent poetry blog, and all the more so during lockdown. That's why I was delighted to encounter Julie Mellor's site the other day.

I found it via her lovely review (see here) of Matthew Paul's top-notch collection, The Evening Entertainment, at which point I realised just how much other content there was to savour as well. I'd long known that Julie Mellor was a fine poet, but her blog had somehow slipped under my radar. It's time to put that right...!

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Our first walk

Over here in Spain, we've been in lockdown, or confinamiento, as we term it, since 15th March. The rules have been that nobody is allowed to leave their house unless it's to work, shop for essentials or go to the doctor. In other words, no exercise has been permitted outside the home.

These rules have been widely accepted, especially as cases have dropped significantly since their implementation. The good news is that as a consequence today we were able to go out to exercise for the first time. Of course, the rules are still far stricter than in the U.K., as we're not allowed, for instance, to drive anywhere to have a walk. Moreover, we're also limited to a certain time slot by age group (ours was 6-10 a.m. or 8-11 p.m.).

We decided to have our first walk in the vineyards that begin about two hundred yards beyond our house. It was exciting to see how much the vines have grown over the past six weeks. As you can see in the first photo below, bunches of grapes are now starting to form, new life and fresh hopes taking shape in spite of everything. As for the views over the rolling hills, deep blue skies set against clay soil, they're as gorgeous as ever. The proof is in the second photo...

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

No News: 90 poets reflect on a unique BBC newscast

I'm please to report that I have a poem in an excellent new anthology from Recent Work Press. Titled No News: 90 poets reflect on a unique BBC newscast, it features my work alongside pieces by the likes of Maura Dooley, Ian Duhig, Philip Gross, Glyn Maxwell, Ian McMillan, Helen Mort and Robert Pinsky, etc, etc. A brief description of the project reads as follows...

On 18 April, 1930, at 8.45pm, the BBC announced: ‘There is no news.’ Piano music played for the rest of the 15-minute bulletin.  
90 poets from across the world reflect on a this marker of a time before the 24-hour news cycle, before the ubiquity of news and information that seems to haunt us through our daily lives. Through this anthology there are poems that capture that moment of nothing but piano music making up an evening news bulletin, poems that contrast this with today’s news, and personal stories grounded in the intervening years.
Moreover, the publishers asked me to record my poem for their YouTube channel. You can now watch the video here...!

Friday, 24 April 2020

Tastes in wine, tastes in poetry

Wine snobs and geeks are forever turning their noses up at easy-drinking wines that shift millions of units at supermarkets, but I've always argued against this stance. My view is that almost everyone (except the offspring of millionaires and landed gentry!) starts off drinking such wines, often at parties. My own memories of Bulgarian Rizling (sic) are vivid but also extremely hazy!.

Most of us don't progress beyond these wines of course. We're happy to keep consuming them for the rest of our lives, and that choice is completely valid. Other people, however, use entry-level, generic brands as a stepping stone. Maybe they'll move on to wines that are made by famous names or maybe they'll end up browsing the shelves at their local independent wine merchants, ready to take a voyage of discovery.

I'm convinced there's an analogy here that can be applied to verse. Supermarket wine could be compared to easily-digested, go-to poems that are immensely popular at christenings, weddings and funerals, thus playing a pivotal role in many people's lives without creating a need for further exploration of the genre.

However, many readers then progress to renowned names, both in terms of poets and publishers. What's more, for more curious readers, an independent bookshop has loads in common with privately-run wine merchants, especially in terms of the profile of stock that they often keep, attracting customers who want to seek out exciting products from beyond the mainstream.

In other words, my experience in these two fields tells me that it's important to recognise the value of stuff we ourselves might no longer want to consume. Popular wine and poetry provide people with pleasure and enjoyment, while also encouraging them to explore further if they so wish. I'm not going to turn my nose up at that!