Teignmouth Poetry Festival 2016

Teignmouth Pier March 2016

Watch this Space!

Some unspecified time ago, the  Poetry Teignmouth website promised to immerse you in the art of poetry … to bring more live poetry to Teignmouth …to entice potential poets to the table … to encourage, nurture and support poetic writing… to work towards organising a poetry festival in Teignmouth ….

of all these , please notice especially the words in the final promise

work towards!

I have just been lucky enough to spend a whole day at the Third Teignmouth Festival of Poetry.  How magically and triumphantly that promise – indeed all the website promises – have been fulfilled.  This poetically was a truly glorious day. The open mic session, in the excellent Ice Factory in the early afternoon,  was electrifyingly good with a marvellous variety of contributions, eloquently delivered by poets who were masters and mistresses of their craft. The included cake was also mouthwatering.

In the later afternoon, at the Teign Heritage Centre, Jennie Osborne introduced the packed audience to the three very fine poems which had been awarded prizes in the Keats’ Footsteps section of the competition. Competition judge Martyn Crucefix then took us delicately and persuasively through the process which had led to his chosen shortlist of ten.  Many of the successful competition poets were in the room to share their poems so as well as the insights into the judging, we were treated to a session of sumptuous poetry.  Again, as in the open mic, the variety of the poems on the Teignmouth shortlist was astonishing .  The range of subject matter, the poise of the presentations and the technical accomplishment were a joy.

Poetry Teignmouth will be publishing the six winning poems soon. Please use this link as a pathway to the excellent final six. There are, of course, always good reasons why poems emerge as the final prizewinners , but in the case of this competition, it must have been unusually hard for the judges to make their choice.

Only one day in Teignmouth…all the website promises already fulfilled to overflowing… and to complete the day, a dazzling evening of performances in the Teign Heritage Centre from Rebecca Tantony, Ian Beech, Robert Garnham and Festival Organiser Ian Royce Chamberlain.

This is a gem of a poetry festival in a truly delightful place.  I think someone should amend the Poetry Teignmouth website now.  A Poetry Festival can hardly be “worked towards” when it has so thoroughly and beautifully












Safe Passage with the Fire River Poets

Written over the four years following the publication of Too Late for the Love Hotel, the poems in Safe Passage were not imagined as part of the collection in which, last summer, they so happily found themselves. For each poem that reached the book, there was at least one waiting in the wings, unchosen, clamouring, finally uncalled.  Composing the collection was rather like making up a jigsaw from twice the number of pieces that were required.  The final picture was therefore more provisional and tentative than it was complete.

The guest reading slot at the Fire River Poets‘ evenings in Taunton is arranged in two halves, interleaved with the open mic sessions, one half either side of the convivial interval.  I wanted not to repeat the mood of the first half – whatever that would be – but to give Fire River Poets a programme that rose to the opportunity offered by being allowed in one evening to suggest two contrasting pathways through my book.

Preparing for this Taunton guest reading, I seem to have discovered at last what Safe Passage is about.

Uccelli di passo  ( birds of passage ) is the title of the Aldo Patocchi woodcut I chose for the cover design.

Flying to the Light

A wooden surface carved and chiselled away to discover light within the dark plane of the inked-up printing block – this became my personal metaphor for my book on Thursday night. It was important that the cover image was a woodcut rather than a pen drawing : this would have laid dark thoughts/ black moments on a clean white field and made quite a different statement about the lives who passage through my book. My more fortunate characters find ways to discover light in a rather sombre, often alarming world.  Light has to be worked for/ is threatened with extinction/ is found in surprising places/ is all the more dazzling against the background of the dark.

L’amore, la morte, how close they are ….

I ended my first half-reading with ‘Waterlilies at Schönbrunn’, the poem from Report from the Judenplatz twice chosen by Matt Holland for his reading at the cenotaph on Swindon’s Holocaust Memorial Day.  The image of the crowded waterlily leaves ‘imploring light from the indifferent sun’ was the closest that poem dared approach the unbearable truths about what happened to the Jewish citizens abandoned by the gentile populations of the european cities to which they belonged. Imploring light ….hoping for illumination…. imagining a brighter world….the denial of light ….the awareness of the tantalising proximity of light … working towards light …losing the light …that hunger linked so many of the poems in Safe Passage –  I wondered whether it was peculiarly an ex-picture dealer’s way of interpreting the world.

A dealer in pictures is what I am, a poet said…

The light in the Safe Passage poems doesn’t seem to be a metaphor for an otherwordly state of grace. Light is simply standing in for / the visual equivalent of its near namesake, life. The incalculable blessing. The incalculable good. Planning my Fire River reading, I realised that in its quirky, metropolitan, troubled, yearning, rather old-fashioned, unambitious way Safe Passage is a passionately hopeful and optimistic little book.  If you look again at the cover, you can see that darkness does indeed seem to be gathering about the buildings, but the birds are flying, together, out of the dark passage in the left hand sky  and towards the light. 

Life does sometimes engineer the reprieve of her Illyrian nightingales.

I have to thank the Fire River Poets for allowing me to spend such a pleasant evening in their talented and receptive company. But I also have to thank them for making me think properly about my little book.  I suspect every future reading from Safe Passage will be shaped in some way by the March Thursday evening I shared with them.

So I will end this post with the lines that mean so much to me, for very personal reasons, from ‘New Things’, one of the poems there wasn’t time to read….

Look at our lagoon, signori.
Luce sull’acqua. The light of heaven.
The dancing of the water.


Safe Passage is available from Oversteps BooksFlying to the Light

Conversations about a Honey-Coloured Girl

What a privilege it is to take part in this online discussion of the honey-coloured girl and her strange ‘chorus’ of older observers in the leisure centre in Bath. Today has been particularly rich in absorbing, intelligent enquiries – far too rich for me to reply to all of them in one evening, even if I could find the helpful answers they all deserve. Thank you so much EMILY and PHILOMENA and EVELYN and ABI and JOSIE and REMY and LOLITA – and DAVID, too, not for asking a question this time, but for letting me know why you like Dr Seuss and that reading Keats aloud did help you overcome some of your resistance to  this fascinating and tragic young poet’s work.

If I could give one answer to today’s readers, it would be to tell all of you how delighted I am is that every one of you , in your own way,  understands my work so well.  The questions you all ask are exactly the responses that this poem wanted to provoke. Why is this young woman required to devote all this detailed and expensive attention to her body?  what has taught her to see herself in this way?  for whose benefit is she honing herself so assiduously?  why are the older women so attentive to her and so fearful on her behalf? are they partly responsible for shaping the world around the honey-coloured girl, or are they also victims of a culture which requires women to make objects of themselves?  are we, the readers, simply celebrating beauty as we watch this poem unfold, or are we voyeurs of a spectacle we ought not to watch?  and why is Remy so right to be asking how different this poem would be if a male character were the centre of attention rather than a young girl?

What today’s comments are proving is that a poem, if it works properly, is not a COMPLETED STATEMENT made by a poet instructing a reader how to think, but the written half of an OPEN-ENDED CONVERSATION between a poet and a reader, where very often ( perhaps always?) the most interesting and important questions are not the ones raised by the poet but the follow-up questions the poem brings into being in the reader’s head. What is so wonderful about this conversation about the honey-coloured girl ( for the poet ) is that, thanks to the new technology, she has the unusual privilege and joy of being able to listen to what her readers have to say.