Wednesday, 8 March 2017


First the howl, or rather howls.

Today I was dismayed to read that America's National Endowment for the Arts is no more.  Can you imagine Arts Council England being scrapped? (no, please don't.  A few years ago the idea of closing public libraries would have been unimaginable).   It reminds me of Jane Austen's description of Sir Walter Elliot's futile attempts at economy by cutting off one or two unnecessary charities. There is an "obituary" for the NEA on the website  The obituary is heavy with irony, including one reason for the demise of the NEA - "It failed to make the case that the arts should mean more to ordinary Americans than whatever they did as children (overwhelmingly, Americans participate in the arts only when young)".  Sounds horribly familiar.

My other howl went up when I read that the wonderful CB editions list is now closed.  A fine small press run by Charles Boyle (who says he stood in a post office queue 1147 times during the 10 years of the press) it published amongst others, Beverley Bie Brahic's Hunting the Boar.  I was delighted to discover this accomplished writer through CB editions (whose graphic design is second to none).  The latest post on the lively Sonofabook blog written by Charles Boyle says that he is going into semi-retirement.  Let's hope that, like Mark Twain's death, rumours of the end of the press are greatly exaggerated.

But it's good to have some Hallelujahs for Words by the Water which is in full swing at Keswick.

Yesterday we had the treat of a double bill of Helen Farish and Adam O' Riordan reading "Poetry of Time and Place".  The pairing worked very well - there were several parallels between the two, particularly the importance of memory and nature in their work.

Last night I took part in the Celebration of Cumbrian Poetry in the Studio, a fund-raising event for RNIB talking books and the festival's own bursary scheme for young people.  The studio was full to capacity which was really encouraging.  The format - which to me seemed slightly crazy - of 9 poets each reading 2 poems for a maximum of 5 minutes went down well with the audience, several of whom said they enjoyed the variety.  At least there was no time to be bored.  I was last on and had chosen to read "Daffodils da capo"and "Nineveh".  The first poem likened daffodils to wind instruments (variations on the flower's "trumpet") and the second was about having a cup of coffee on the train.  Nothing too profound to wind up the proceedings.  As T S Eliot didn't say "Human kind cannot bear very much poetry".  But going last always runs the risk of being upstaged by the previous participants.  To my horror there had already been one wind instrument poem (Kim Moore) and one coffee poem (Helen Fletcher), but at least I didn't have to follow the Wonderbra in rhyming couplets (my worst ever poetry reading moment some years ago).  Kind soothers of delicate poetic souls told me it didn't matter because my poems were sufficiently different from those that had gone before.

I was encouraged to hear from the Matthews family who run the festival bookstore in the theatre foyer that books sales have been doing well this year.  It's good that our local independent booksellers (Bookends and Bookcase) are a vital part of Words by the Water.  Long may it continue.

On the end of the National Endowment for the Arts read

Charles Boyle's blog is at

I first heard the phrase "A Howl and a Hallelujah" from Gillian Clarke as a description of the essential ingredients of a poem.

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