Tag Archives: Gillian Clarke

Say It Again, Sam

In memory of summer, since the clocks went back today and evenings are now SO long…

Some writing is best heard rather than read.  That goes for poems, too. Especially mine. Some of them work out loud, others don’t.

I’ve been fortunate this week to have had the opportunity to read my poetry to large enough audiences, first at The Word in Sligo Library (an open mic) and then in Galway at the launch of the Crannóg Magazine.

Same poem. Different audiences. Same response (a puzzled silence before the polite applause).

It’s one of those poems you need to look at on the page, perhaps savour a little. It’s yet another poem inspired by one of my parents (oh yes, they tuck you up, your Mum and Dad…). This one is called ‘Beacon’ (which was the name of our first hot air balloon many years ago, although that’s totally irrelevant here. You’re welcome). The poem concerns a stone I use as a paperweight which reminds me of my late father and wet weather holidays in Wales when I was a child.

The poem appears in Crannóg 49, which is an excellent compilation of contemporary Irish fiction and poetry with work from writers whose work I know, including Kevin Higgins, Mari Maxwell, Ruth Quinlan, Una Mannion and others, as well as some writers I’m not yet familiar with.

The poem ‘Beacon’ is one of those included in ‘Soft Touch’, my forthcoming poetry pamphlet, chosen by Carol Ann Duffy for her Laureate’s Choice series  2019.

Another poem from that pamphlet, ‘Roots’, appeared recently in an Irish poetry anthology that I’m very pleased to be included in, The Stony Thursday Book, again with a stellar cast of contributors, including Louis de Bernières, author of ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’.  I was particularly pleased with my inclusion in this annual anthology, since I’ve tried several times before to be included, but failed.

I’m always banging on to my writing group members how important it is to be able to take rejection with a pinch of salt. It goes with the territory. Just because your work isn’t accepted by one editor doesn’t mean it isn’t any good, just that it wasn’t right this time for that publication or competition. Try again. Re-write and try again.

For a few months I’ve been getting rejection after rejection for work I’ve submitted to competitions and literary magazines. I was particularly sour about one high profile publication I didn’t get into this summer, but I got over it. I only cried myself to sleep once, although I did stop writing for a while (I think it was a whole 24 hours) because my fragile ego could barely cope.

As if.

I’m champion of denial that one size fits all. It doesn’t, and so don’t try to make it. As I just said, try again. Re-write and try again. If you like it, someone else will too, I promise.

One of my Hennessy winning poems had done the rounds, been accepted, rejected, re-written and all, but I had enough faith in it to keep going, and thankfully persistence paid off.  That poem was ‘Fur Coat and No Knickers’ which took third place in the 2016 Strokestown Roscommon Poets’ Competition, and was published in Crannóg Magazine 43, before I read it out at a Tŷ Newydd Poetry Masterclass with Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke last year. I came home and re-wrote it (again), re-submitted – and look what happened.

You can see what here  and here

and (some might say) the best bit? Here 🙂

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Iechyd da!

I say you chaps! I’ve found some splendid new words to play with since coming to Tŷ Newydd. Welsh ones, as well as some half-forgotten English ones.

Apparently, the Welsh language has been around for 1,500 years, despite various attempts to kill it off; it is now spoken by more than half a million people in Wales, plus another 160,000 around the world.

Being married to a Welshman, I should have known this already. In my defence, I might not speak the language, but I can bake passable Welsh cakes when tasked. But not this week, this has been all about (my) use of the English language.

The Autumn Poetry Masterclass with Gillian Clarke (who wrote ‘Storm’,  today’s Friday poem from Picador) and the lovely Maura Dooley has been a challenging but very rewarding experience. I have discovered lots of unknown (to me) brilliant poets, made some new friends, and stand in awe of the talent of my fellow participants. We’ve had some fun, too. What is there not to like about the surrealism game as a rich source of writing prompts?

Our guest poet this week was Jonathan Edwards (‘My Family and Other Superheroes’), whose dead pan humour reminded me why I love this country and its people so much. He’s from Newport, which is in South Wales, and bears a particular brand of Welshness that I’m partial to. I defy anyone to read Jonathan’s collection without a smile on their face.

We’ve been blessed with fine weather this week, rain only stopping me from going out to play (a dated concept which probably gives my age away) on our last afternoon. And I should have been writing anyway, so I did. Lots. Not sure if quality and quantity are evenly distributed, but we’ll see.

Our grand finale has been the production of ‘Y Dryw’ an anthology of some of our work from the week. It means ‘wren’ – there are lots of them in the grounds here, and they have a particular affinity with writers, so Gillian tells us.

The last evening included another fabulous feast from chef Tony (delicious chocolate brownies for afters), followed by a poetry reading in the wonderful Tŷ Newydd library, which during daylight, has a beautiful view of the sea. Tonight it was echoing to the voices of some lovely new poets…

And just in case you’re wondering, Iechyd da! means Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

Purple Poetry? Pretentious? Moi?

Do you think I’m finally getting the hang of selfies?

I’m here at Tŷ Newydd, at the Welsh Literature Centre, enjoying an excellent Autumn Poetry Masterclass with Gillian Clarke and Maura Dooley, but trying hard to ignore some of the literary pretentions of some of my fellow participants, aka the Dead Read Poets’ Society.

In the company of such well-versed writers, I could be intimidated. But I’m wearing my bullet-proof knickers and choosing not to give-a-damn about what anyone else here is doing/has done/will do any minute now. Anyway, I’m writing poems in purple ink – isn’t that pretentious enough? Perhaps not.

No, I haven’t read Homer and can’t quote from Joyce, Beckett or *Yeats. I’ve never heard of Bolshie Wiseman McEverybody whose spoken word performances are to die for. I haven’t just spent three years mastering the nuances of Heaney/McNeice/Whitman. I’m just a fairly ordinary wordsmith (albeit with third level education from too many decades ago), who finally realises she has something to say, and poetry is the way she wants to say it.

And now I’m talking about myself in the third person.

Gillian Clarke (left) and Maura Dooley

Meanwhile, Gillian Clarke is encouraging us to hear the music of words, but to attend to the shape of the poem on the page. Maura Dooley is helping us look through windows to find the right words, but to remember why we write, suggesting a poem is a temporal art making an incision in time. I like that analogy, since I do a lot of cutting and (imaginary) knife-wielding as I’m writing.

This is the second residential writing course I have ever done, the first being the Spring Poetry Masterclass earlier this year with Gillian Clarke and Carol Ann Duffy (I waxed lyrical about that experience on this blog in three parts: here 1, here 2 and here 3).

More gushing is unnecessary; the place is lovely, the tutors are experienced, generous and patient, the food is delicious, the sun has shone (for some of the time, anyway), and Magi the cat is as friendly as ever. And my fellow participants are an interesting, eclectic bunch, and while some of them seem to be trying too hard, there is some serious talent here, and I am in awe.

Criccieth

We have plenty of writing/thinking time between workshops, so I’ve managed to walk into nearby Criccieth, a lovely little seaside town with a castle.  But of course, I don’t go anywhere without my (purple) pen and a notebook to capture sudden flashes of inspiration. There seems to be a lot of them about just now.

*OK, so I can quote Yeats, really. I mean, I live in Ireland, it would be a scandal if I couldn’t, wouldn’t it? Heaney, too.  But I draw the line at Joyce.

The Luck of the Draw

Ashley Cole

Touch wood, I don’t have to worry about being superstitious.

I mean, most of that stuff is just common sense isn’t it? You wouldn’t walk under a ladder if there’s someone up it with a bucket of something sloshable, would you? And why would you need an umbrella open in the house unless you had a very leaky roof? As for putting shoes – new or otherwise – on the table, who would do that?

We have a black cat in our house; I’m not sure if she is lucky or not. Depending on which side of the Atlantic you live, you might have different ideas about omens attached to black cats in your path. When ours get under my feet (she has a thing about cheese and can stir from a sound slumber three rooms away at the sound of the grater), I’m not sure which one of us is the luckiest. Me for not quite breaking my neck as I trip over her, or her for not quite getting trampled underfoot?

Incidentally, I have long been a cat ‘owner’ and thereby have got through many cat names, although I have a file on my laptop with more than 50 kitty names for future use. This black cat is called Ashley because, back when she was a kitten 12 years ago, she liked to chase balls. Football, black, Cole, Ashley – get it? Cheryl’s ex, back in the day.

Anyway, as I’ve already said, I’m not superstitious. Except that perhaps I’d like to be this week.

Some people think things come in threes and I’ve had two strokes of good luck in the past couple of days, so I’d quite like to believe there might be another, just around the corner. My good news is that I’ve (finally!) had a poem accepted for publication in the next Skylight 47 magazine – and I’ve been selected for a place on the Autumn Poetry Masterclass with Gillian Clarke and Maura Dooley in the Welsh Writers’ Centre at Tŷ Newydd. I had such a good time there in the Spring that I gushed all over this blog with the news. I may yet get to go the same way.

Meanwhile, I’m out looking for magpies. Two for joy, of course. The rest can keep away, thank you.

Losing The Windmills Of My Mind

Views over the garden to the sea

I’ve waited for the dust to settle before writing the final instalment of my what-I-did-on-my-writing-course essay. I figured the gushing was a bit OTT and I needed to come back down to earth a bit.

Or not.

So. Tŷ Newydd (no, I still can’t pronounce it properly, despite being married to a Welshman and having lived in the country for a brief time during my formative years).

Well, what else is left to say? I had a BRILLIANT time. The place is lovely, the actual building as well as the surroundings. The accommodation was exactly fit for purpose. The tutors were generous and skilled in sharing their love of the form.

Collating the anthology,  L-R Alice, Sally, Louise and Oenone
Chef Tony with Maggie, the Tŷ Newydd cat

I learned a lot about poetry and enjoyed the workshops and the banter. I still haven’t got over the thrill of having my poems critiqued by Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke (did I mention they are the UK’s Poet Laureate and the National Poet of Wales respectively?). I met some very interesting fellow poetry writers, and ate some seriously delicious, home-cooked vegan food.

Even the sun shone on the final day as we raced around the gardens on an Easter Egg Hunt set by Carol Ann. There was an egg and spoon race, then a hopping game, but I settled on being a spectator at that point.

Gillian Clarke

We all had poems published in ‘Song House’ an anthology I will treasure – not least because my words are now in the same publication as those of our highly respected tutors.

I learned to look out for abstract nouns and unnecessary adverbs, to look at the form of a poem on the page, and to weave texture with language to produce mystery rather than obscurity. I also learned to work with rhythm and metre, to kill my precious darlings (no matter how loved they are, if they don’t fit, they have to go) – and to avoid daft nonsense in the style of ‘The Windmills of My Mind’.

 

In the Library

The final evening was spent in the Library reading our work to each other (and to David, Gillian’s husband who also shared a poem with us).

Since then, I’ve re-visited most of my poems and realised how they can be improved; that should keep me quiet for a while.

I am trying to think of what were the week’s negatives, because things that sound too good to be true often are. Except in this case.

True, I found the narrow bed a bit tricky (spoiled brat that I am), and the Welsh water had a nasty taste if it wasn’t flavoured with Earl Grey or coffee. How awful, eh? It’s a wonder I coped.

Oh, and I left my phone there. On charge, blissfully forgotten until I was well on the way home.

What? A whole week without a phone? Yep, but that’s another story.

Dammit, I Couldn’t Marry a Tree

Carol Ann Duffy
Carol Ann Duffy reading her poem for Tracey Emin ‘Stone Love’

The time of my life is now drawing to a close. Well, not literally, I hope, just poetically speaking.

I’m on the last day of a Masterclass with Carol Ann Duffy (the UK Poet Laureate) and Gillian Clarke (Welsh National Poet) at Tŷ Newydd, the National Writers’ Centre of Wales.

I’ve never before been on a residential writing course, though I’ve experienced the good, the bad and the ugly in workshops, seminars and classes, the you-too-can-spend-a-fortune-and-become-in-a-day-a-best-selling-author/poet/playwright/wordsmith (delete as appropriate).

This experience has been in a different league to anything I’ve ever done before. This has been intellectually challenging and stimulating, in the company of a lovely group of capable women poets ranging in age from 21 to someway past retirement. One of my initial fears was that I’d be the oldest here, surrounded by bright young things, and I’d be left wondering how I’d managed to let the poetry ship sail by without me. I’m still thinking that, but it seems I’m not the only one, and there’s hope for me yet, no matter how long of tooth I am.

The poetry writing exercises have been eye-wateringly challenging.  Group DiscussionsThis morning’s session began with Carol Ann reading a poem on, and then leading a discussion about, Tracey Emin’s marriage to a stone (Google it – fascinating!). It ended with us writing a poem ‘I married a….’ with each of us offered a random object to tie the knot with. I got a tree, but I couldn’t get past all the puns involved in branching out and leaving, so I failed miserably (although I may revisit that idea some time in the future).

Last night, after another delicious dinner (did I mention how GORGEOUS the food is here?) we took turns to read out anonymous poems, and tried to guess which one of us had done the writing. I got three guesses right – I even recognised my own contribution. There were some jaw-droppingly brilliant poems read out – one of them (not mine, sadly) was immediately identified by Gillian and Carol Ann as a ‘competition poem’, the sort that goes straight to the top of the judge’s pile.

I am humbled to be in such talented company; I’ve had a ball, but my brain is scrambled now, and I need to find a quiet corner to mull over what I’ve learned, find the time to put all that good advice into practice.

Maggie, the chef's cat
Maggie, the Ty Newydd cat

It’s not quite finished yet – there’s a little anthology getting printed this afternoon, with contributions from all participants, plus Carol Ann and Gillian.

And tonight, we get to read our favourite, self-penned poems in front of the Poet Laureate and the National Poet of Wales in the Tŷ Newydd Library. We get five minutes each to make our mark.

No pressure then…

 

 

 

Welsh Rare Bits

Ty Newydd

Spoiler alert – I’m inclined to gush when I like something, so be prepared…

I was going to love it or hate it, wasn’t I? No half measures – a week-long Masterclass with two poetry icons, Gillian Clarke and Carol Ann Duffy, in the beautiful Welsh countryside (and it hasn’t even rained properly yet).

Ty Newydd, the former home of the late British PM David Lloyd George, is now the National Writing Centre of Wales. When I applied for a place on a residential course with the UK’s Poet Laureate (Carol Ann) and the Welsh National Poet (Gillian) back in December, I was hopeful, but not convinced I’d be worthy.

Fast forward to March when I discovered I’d been selected to take part (gasp!).  Sleepless nights worrying if I have what it takes to step up to the mark manifested an annoying cough.

I needn’t have been quite so worried. Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke are an entertaining double act who know their stuff.  They are wonderfully approachable and supportive – and it is lovely to witness their great friendship. And of course, the words of wisdom are plentiful and helpful.

There are 15 of us here – all wimin (because none of the men who applied were up to scratch – ha!) and I know I’m not alone in finding the pace frenetic, and the intensity and enthusiasm of some of the other participants, mind bending.

There’s something in me that knows talent can’t be taught, but I also know that insider tips, advice and a professional eye can go a long way to nurturing a germ of creativity.  While I’m surrounded by stunning wordsmiths, I’m smart enough to recognise that I’m not the most (or the least) talented here.  But my work is already greatly improved from my participation.

L-R: Gillian Clarke, Imtiaz Dharker and Carol Ann Duffy

On Tuesday night, Carol Ann and Gillian gave us a poetry reading in the library – all new, unpublished material, much of it getting its first public airing, which was thrilling.  On Wednesday evening, they’d invited Imtiaz Dharker who had us enthralled with a selection of new and old poems, beautifully crafted and delivered.

We’re over half way through the course already – and I haven’t even mentioned the delicious food (a vegan chef in charge of the kitchen – heaven or what? And he has a cat, I mean, well…).

Clearly, there’s more to follow.