Sunday, 19 February 2017


the poetry component

Not long to go now - Words by the Water, the annual festival of words and ideas at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, starts on 3 March.  As usual I've been looking out for poetry events.  

Imagining the Sun includes Northumbrian poet Katrina Porteous in a collaboration exhibited at the theatre during the festival.   Katrina is a fine poet and her performances on radio 3 and at Grasmere (in the good old days when there was a summer readings programme) have been utterly absorbing.  I'm intrigued - this is an arts/science collaboration and I am looking forward to seeing the exhibition and seeing how poetry fits into it.  All will be revealed on the first Saturday morning.

Helen Mort, a previous poet in residence at the Wordsworth Trust, is talking about The Clarity of Running (fell running, that is) on Monday afternoon.  In the evening poet Phil Houghton will be talking to film-maker Terry Abraham about the film Life of a Mountain: Blencathra (a ticket includes a showing of the film afterwards).  Of all the talented writers in Cumbria Phil is the one who responds most deeply to the landscape.  I always enjoyed the poems he brought to the Cumbrian Poets workshop.

On Tuesday there's a poetry double bill in the main house with Helen Farish (winner of the Forward Prize) and Adam O'Riordan (winner of a Somerset Maugham Award).  Like Helen Mort, both writers were former poets in residence at the Wordsworth Trust.  Helen Farish is a consummate reader of her own poetry and her latest book (The Dog of Memory) has several Cumbrian poems.  I am not familiar with Adam's work so I am looking forward to being introduced to it.

It's a pity that the reading clashes with Discourse with a Cumbrian Landscape - a session with micro publishers Autumn Richardson and Richard Skelton who run the Corbel Stone Press and include poetry in their work.

Straight afterwards it's A Celebration of Cumbrian Poetry, a free session which starts off with Jacci Bulman reading from her first publication and followed by a motley crew of 8 other poets.  We've all been given a strict time schedule to keep to.  I'm on last so I hope the others don't overrun or I'll be left stranded!  This is a free session, a follow up to last year's local writers' reading in aid of the flood relief fund.  This year donations are invited for RNIB Talking Books and the Ways with Words bursary fund for young people.  

The popular poetry breakfast is back on Thursday morning in the Circle gallery (coffee and croissants  included, bring your own - or someone else's - poetry).

I'm very pleased to see a good sprinkling of poetry in the festival programme this year.  Of course there are lots of other words and ideas too - I'm particularly looking forward to Chris Tarrant on The Romance of Railways, Diana Darke on her house in Damascus and Eriend Clouston on The Nature Writing of Nan Shepherd.

Now all we need is some decent weather. for the full programme of talks
017687 74411 Theatre by the Lake for booking tickets

Sunday, 12 February 2017


Brand names in poems - some people like them, some don't.  My poem was set on a Virgin (mentioned) train, drinking a cup of Starbucks (unmentioned but you might guess from the mermaid) coffee.  Someone in the poetry workshop said, "I think you should take out the Virgin", to which someone else responded, "Oh no, you should keep the Virgin" [the Virgin stays - for the moment].

Brand names can contribute all sorts of things - specificity, humour, colour, all the web of references conjured up in well-known brands.  Sean O'Brien's "The Plain Truth of the Matter" tells us everything we associate with Marmite in the first two lines:
"There are two tribes this world can boast -
  The Marmite-lovers and the damned"
(yes, you can see the rhyme with toast coming a mile off but there's such humour in that inevitability that I forgive him).

On Friday I went to Wolverhampton to meet my son at IKEA (Wolverhampton is half way between the far north of England where I live and the south west where he lives).  We bought coffees and lunch and browsed the room layouts looking for design ideas.

It set me thinking about IKEA in poetry.  Philip Gross's crown of sonnets "Fantasia on a Theme from IKEA" is a tour de force but it is not the first mention of the Swedish furniture company in poetry.  Edwin Morgan's poem "For the Opening of the Scottish Parliament, 9 October 2004" celebrates the leafy whimsicality of the parliament building's architecture:
"The parts cohere, they come together like petals of a flower"
 - it's not "a blissfully boring box", it's "no icon, no IKEA, no iceberg, but curves and caverns, nooks and niches, huddles and heavens, syncopations and surprises.  Leave symmetry to the cemetery".

Adam Thorpe describes a panic attack in a crowded store:
"Hitting Cuisines in the new IKEA,
besieged by hobs, I was paralysed
by the arrows on the floor.
This is the only way, they claimed."
The narrator starts to walk against the arrows and escapes into the dazzle of the outside world.

That's enough product-placement for one post.

Back to the wildness.  A few months ago I was travelling down on the same route and just before Wolverhampton station I saw a fox walking purposefully along the railway tracks of an adjacent junction.  An urban survivor and thriver.

Sean O' Brien "The Plain Truth of the Matter" November (Picador 2011)
Philip Gross "Fantasia on a Theme from IKEA" The Water Table (Bloodaxe 2009)
Edwin Morgan "For the Opening of the Scottish Parliament, 9 October 2004" A Book of Lives (Carcanet 2007)
Adam Thorpe "Panic" Voluntary (Cape 2012)