Sunday, 17 March 2019


I ventured back to the North last week and enjoyed a week of reading, listening and catching up with old friends.

First stop was Penrith where I was the guest tutor at the Reading Around group at the local library (yes, they still have one).  The usual format is poetry and short fiction - no advance reading required.  The group invited me to read my own poems, augmented, after the coffee break, with a short story.  I read 'You asked for a poem about listening', 'Six Studies of Pillows', 'Poem with a phrase from Amy Clampitt', and 'D' from my alphabet series.

The short story I chose was 'The Woman at the Well' by Sarah Beryl Jones, originally published in 1935 and recently re-published in the New Welsh Reader (#119 Winter 2018).  Beryl Jones taught classics at a girls' grammar school.  At the age of 60 she gave evidence at the Lady Chatterley's Lover trial: 'I think this book has considerable merit ... because it deals honestly and openly with the problems of sex which are very real to the girls themselves'.  Never type-cast a classics teacher.

On Friday evening I was in Keswick for the opening night of 'Words by the Water' (not in the water - a common mistake).  I listened to Julia Blackburn talking about her new book Time Song: Searching for Doggerland.  Julia Blackburn is a writer whose work defies categorisation - history, documentary, memoir, poetry - so thoughtful and unusual.  Her new book is based on the land, now submerged, that joined us to the Continent, Doggerland.

I spent the weekend with friends in the north of Cumbria.  Sunday turned out to be more adventurous than I had anticipated when I had to abandon the car in a snowbound car park (thanks to the four-wheel vehicle drivers who rescued me!).

On Monday I dropped in on the reading discussion group I started at Cockermouth some years ago.  They were reading Sinclair Lewis' 1920 novel of small-town America, Main Street.  Then it was back to Keswick for the festival week.

On Tuesday night I went to the charity poetry reading organised by poet and North Cumbria stanza founder, Nicola Jackson.  She read alongside four other poets: Emma McGordon, Steve Kendall, Raheema Sayed and Nadine Aisha Jassat.  I was particularly impressed with the work of the last two poets who had come especially from Edinburgh for the reading.

Now the festival is over for another year.  What a wonderful privilege it's been to hear such a wide variety of writers, including (to name but a few) Lally Snow talking about visiting gardeners in conflict zones (War Gardens),  Philip Walling on cattle farming (Till the Cows Come Home), Damien Le Bas sharing his gypsy heritage (A Journey Through Gypsy Britain) and the extrovert Irving Finkle from the British Museum with his hilarious presentation of The Writing in the Stone (ancient clay tablets have never been funnier).

Now I'm back in Wales.  While I've been away the white blackthorn blossom has come out on the hedge banks and there are a few primroses and violets flowering along the lane.  And I have a stack of festival books waiting to be read.

My poems:

'You asked for a poem about listening' is on my blog - see post 18 Feb 2018 (A Poem for February).

'D' from my alphabet poems - see my blog post for 6 February 2019 (A tent flap, a door, a tongue).

'Six Studies of Pillows' - go to click on Competition prior year results (2017), click on Read the poems and this poem is the first to appear.

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