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ICE, ICE BABY

I’ve just submitted the final essay for my last module on the PG Certificate in Teaching Creative Writing at Cambridge University’s Institute of Continuing Education.

I’d pined over this course for two years, and plucking up the courage to apply was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Over the three modules, I have learned so much about the history of Creative Writing and how to teach and assess it properly. We’ve had incredible, inspiring tutors and been lucky enough to have the opportunity to do it all in person.

The setting makes for a perfect place to immerse yourself in the subject. Madingley Hall is utterly beautiful, and we were well fed during each of our three residentials – the decks clear of life’s usual ‘stuff’ gave us the perfect opportunity to bond as a group and soak up every minute of this amazing course.

Madingley Hall

I’m hugely grateful to our tutors, Dr Lucy Durneen and Patricia Debney, for their wisdom and support in what has been a rather incredible journey. I finish this course feeling invigorated and excited about bringing all I’ve learned to the real-world teaching environment. What’s even better – the friends I have made along the way. We have created a rather special community and already have plenty of collaborative projects planned for the future.

If you’d like to find out more about this course and others available through ICE, visit Institute of Continuing Education (ICE) | (cam.ac.uk).

Blog, Poetry

and the winners are…

It was a great privilege to attend a special ceremony at the Civic Offices recently where winners of the Mayor’s poetry competition were presented with their prizes.

The competition, which ran in December last year, invited young poets to celebrate the River Loddon through the creation of poetry, encouraging them to treasure their local environment.

The winners display their certificates with pride

The judging panel, myself included, had a tough job choosing winners given the high number of entries and quality of the poems. After much deliberation, we chose our winners, who were each presented with an iPad Air, and runners up receiving a £100 book token.  

Mayor of Basingstoke and Deane Cllr Onnalee Cubitt said: “We were blown away by the poems, particularly the emotion they conveyed, the interpretation of the themes and the range of styles that were submitted.”

You can read the winning poems on the Mayor’s webpage by clicking here.

Featured image L-R: Judges English teacher Jean Elliot, Mayor Cllr Onnalee Cubitt, publicist Atlanta de Jersey-Lowney and poet Vic Pickup (fellow judges English teacher Chris Fielding-Smith and bestselling author Lucy Jones not present).

Blog

A part of something special: #breakthebias

I was delighted to speak at #breakthebias recently, an event held on International Women’s Day at Reading University. I left inspired, educated, devastated and enthralled – a complex cocktail of emotions stirred by the many remarkable speakers that day.

Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Parveen opened my eyes to gender bias from a personal and cultural viewpoint, and the difficulties of being subjected to limitations when coming from society and within the home. Professor Rosa Freedman delivered a talk on the realities of trafficking and sexual exploitation during the conflict in Ukraine, and how we are not powerless to stop it. With so much contemplation needed on these powerful presentations, the women’s choir and cheerleading squad provided exuberance and a hugely positive performance, celebrating all that it is to be a woman.

So, where does poetry fit in? Right in the midst of it all! The arts in general are continually devalued in society, with a perceived view of the them taking up a small space somewhere near the peak of Maslow’s famous ‘pyramid of needs’. But, amidst the devastation and chaos we are witnessing at any one time in the world, self-expression, the ability to speak and the benefit of being part of a collective, are all things that are paramount in keeping ignited the spark that makes us human.

A friend recently drew my attention to an extract from the diary of Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin DSO who was among the first British soldiers to liberate Bergen-Belsen in 1945. The below paragraph spotlights the need for the things some might consider superficial, but to others are a lifeline, are a reminder of who we are and what we are fighting for:

“It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we men wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don’t know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.” (Source: Imperial War Museum)


I have seen the impact first-hand that creativity can have upon a person. The solace and motivation that writing can bring to a life. During my course, I have heard of women who have risked their lives to be able to express themselves poetically – because it’s all they have to say who they are in a world that doesn’t care, that exploits them.

#breakthebias affirmed my pride in being a woman and a poet, in the importance of education, and community. I thank the organisers for an unforgettable event, one which galvanised my personal ambitions to make poetry accessible to all.

Read more about Reading University’s International Women’s Day in student Hamnah Hayaz’ blog here.

Blog

What’s New…

I’ve been a proper worker bee so far this year, and what an adventure it’s been!

Since restrictions have eased, I’ve been out and about, offering workshops in a number of different settings. National Poetry Day was celebrated at Charles Kingsley’s School in Hampshire, where children delved into their imaginations to describe their fantasy ‘dream day’, whilst older ones focused upon communicating climate issues through the medium of eco-poetry, inspired by Julia Donaldson’s Tiddler.

I spent a wonderful afternoon at Reading’s Red Balloon Centre, chatting about being a poet and encouraging students to have a go at a few exercises. We had lots of fun, and I was astonished by the poetry which came forth from the session.

More recently, my poetry wingman Zannah Kearns and I led a workshop on performance poetry with undergraduates at the University of Reading. What a lovely group, and how willing they were to have a go (even when I asked them to project bits of Shakespeare with their arms in the air…) We concluded the session with a staged open mic and were flabbergasted by the talent exhibited. What a treat.

I’m hungry for more opportunities, so if you’re keen to arrange a talk, tutorial or workshop for a class, group or business, then do get in touch.

Performances

Zoom has been a blessing to us poetry lot, and I am so thankful that despite the chaos of the last two years, our community has put its best foot forward and branched out, using every tool available to keep sharing our lovely words. I’ve made some great friends who I’ve never even met(!), and their support has made all the difference. It was such a joy reading at Poets, Prattlers & Pandemonialists alongside the great Kevin Higgins, and I’m looking forward to supporting TS Eliot Prize nominee, Dan Sluman at Cheltenham Poetry Festival later this month.

Course

I was thrilled to be offered a place on the PG Cert ‘Teaching Creative Writing at Cambridge’s Institute of Continuing Education (ICE). The reading has been intense, but my brain has soaked up so much in a short time. I’ve met some truly wonderful people, and I’ve even found that writing an assignment can be (dare I say it) enjoyable – providing the subject matter is right! Three long weekends spent at Madingley Hall (pictured) in Cambridge, being catered for and generally spoilt has been incredible too. I’ll be applying all I learn to my workshop offering, and I’m already bursting with ideas to get people writing and discovering the poetic voice within.

New micro-pamphlet

One year on from the launch of ‘Lost & Found’, I’m delighted to announce that a collaborative micro-pamphlet written with the talent that is Jules Whiting will be published by Hedgehog Press next year. Based upon our experiences of Electroencephalograms (what else?), this mini-collection came about organically, and I’m so proud of the resulting poems. ‘What colour is my brain?’ will be released as part of Hedgehog’s gorgeous ‘Stickleback’ series.  

Well, that’s enough to be getting on with. The next update will be showing off my new office (shed) where I shall be hibernating amongst piles of paper into the start of the year.

Well wishes and warmth to you all x

Blog

I’m a nominee!

Try saying that after a glass of giggle juice…

I’m delighted to announce that my debut pamphlet Lost & Found has been nominated for the prestigious Michael Marks awards and submitted to the Poetry Book Society. The third poem in the sequence, ‘Social Distancing’ has also been put forward for the Pushcart Prize.

I’m grateful to Hedgehog Editor Mark Davidson for holding these poems in high regard and putting them out into the world. I’m heartily proud of this pamphlet, just for being born!

If you would like to order a copy of Lost & Found, visit my shop to buy an Ebook download (£2.99) or a deluxe first edition pamphlet with end papers (signed or annotated, if you wish). For a limited time, you can also enter any competition from Hedgehog Poetry Press with a purchase of the hard copy for FREE. So it could be YOUR collection on the shelf next year!

Many thanks to all who have purchased a copy of my pamphlet and supported me along the way. I’m extremely grateful x

Blog

and tonight, your host will be… me?

I’ve attended my fair share of live events, open mics, slams and zoom poetry sessions, so imagine my glee when the fabulous and hugely talented Claire Dyer approached fellow poet Zannah Kearns and I to host Reading’s Poet’s Cafe? Of course, we jumped at the chance to be involved – it’s a fantastic event, always promising a diverse and rich array of voices. September’s night featured Angela France with her remarkable presentation to accompany readings from The Hill. We had a blast – overcame technological issues (thanks to the good grace of Angela), and managed to host a wonderful event with almost forty poets attending from as far as Canada, California and (ahem) Caversham.

So what next? We are delighted to be hosting Reading Poetry Jam – a wonderful evening featuring five dazzling poets to celebrate National Poetry Day 2020, and this year’s theme is Vision. Tickets are now on sale, with all funds raised going to support South Street Arts Centre in Reading. What a wonderful thing to be a part of on so many levels. But what’s really important to me is this opportunity to help bring together an event which shows poetry to be what is should be: accessible, entertaining, relatable, clever, diverse and inclusive. I really can’t wait to see such a promising collective of poets perform together for the first time – well – ever!

I am filled with gratitude to find myself in the position of hosting this kind of event – it reminds me how much I believe in the power of ‘the right words in the right order’ (thank you, Coleridge) to reignite a glow in the hearts and souls of those who wish to hear.

Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash

Blog

something exciting…

I have a grand (and very prickly) announcement to make, in that my debut pamphlet will be published by the wonderful Hedgehog Poetry Press later this year.

An amusing tale, the poems featured in this mini collection didn’t ‘fit’ into the main pamphlet I’ve been working on for a while, but when I put all the offcuts together, they told their own story.

As luck would have it, Mark Davidson (Hedgehog’s Editor) was publicising a competition for a short collection based around the idea of ‘a time to think’. Ironically, I didn’t really think there was much chance of attracting any attention, but a phrase keeps bouncing around my head of late – ‘in it to win it’… and so off I sent my little series of poems, expecting them to arrive back very soon with tales of their adventures, who they’d met and so on.

But – unbelievably so – it would seem they have found themselves a home! Yes, ‘Lost & Found’ will be made into a proper book, with an ISBN and everything(!) due to hit the doormats of those interested in October/November – which makes me feel extremely happy indeed.

Affirmation in a time of doubt, realisation that the dream could actually be a reality, the prospect that somebody somewhere might want to own some of my poems – all this equates to a big slice of YESSS which I will forever cherish.

Thanks goes to Mark, for such a wonderful opportunity. And if you’re reading this – to you too, for your support.

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

Blog

I am officially a lover

What nicer news to receive on an idle Sunday than that you’ve been shortlisted for a poetry competition, only to then to be announced the winner.

This is a double joy for me – not only has the win picked me up and slapped me about the face a bit in the self belief department, it also means that my poem written for long-suffering husband gets an airing. So there, I AM romantic – let it be known!

This competition, the 2nd Annual Cupid’s Arrow Love Poetry Competition, really got me thinking about who we love, what we love about them – or perhaps just the little things we love about the everyday. This brought me back to one of our most successful Inkpot exercises: to list 99 things you love.

It’s that simple, and writing down all those things that make your everyday special has a profound effect on all who try it. There’s no need for poetics at this point, just a list. You will probably find some writing emerges in the process of the activity, but if it doesn’t, no matter – I can assure you, it won’t be wasted effort, as I’m lucky enough to have found.

Not only am I grateful for the kindness and generosity of Hedgehog Press Editor Mark Davidson, for the recognition at a time of self-doubt, but also for focusing the minds of all who entered on the positives in life, and showing appreciation for those we love. Hurrah, indeed.

For more info: https://www.hedgehogpress.co.uk/2020/08/02/the-2nd-annual-cupids-arrow-competition-results/

Photo by KS KYUNG on Unsplash

Blog

Poetry of the mundane

I was delighted to appear on BBC Berkshire recently as part of their Upload festival, reading my poem ‘Picking up my son before the Easter Holidays’.

It’s tongue in cheek, but not all of the poems I write about domesticity and family life are poking fun. The presenter asked me what I find interesting about the mundane things of being a stay-at-home-sort and in truth, I find SO much meaning and inspiration in the little trivialities of life – the fridge (see previous post), the bodged haircut, the melted Easter egg. As the old adage goes, it’s what you do with it that counts…

‘Picking up my son before the Easter Holidays’
Blog

What are ‘Normal People’?

How apt, to have polished off Sally Rooney’s ‘Normal People’ in a day of self-isolation.

How, indeed, do ‘normal people’ function in times like these? Do they shut off, in blissful ignorance of what’s going on around them, or do they sit at home in a sense of panic, washing their hands until they bleed?

I’m painfully aware that behind millions of doors, there are people alone and terrified. Whether they have cause to be, or not. There are millions more putting on a brave face, because they have no choice but to ‘get on with it’ – their ‘it’ being emptying hospital bins, delivering vital supplies or at the coalface of the checkout in Tesco.

Sally Rooney’s two protagonists are damaged, lonely and putting on a front in their own distinct ways. Their recognition of each other and of what it’s like to live in a state of permanent isolation, is what unites them and repeatedly tears them apart.

Central characters, Marianne and Connell, are both ashamed of their strange behaviours, their warped thoughts. Marianne, at one point ponders whether she has gone to far, is too obscene for anyone to love. The novel deals with what it is to spend your life worrying about what others think, to the detriment of your own happiness and of being yourself – truly, openly and honestly.

I think most of us can identify with the sentiments echoed there. Which is maybe why Rooney’s book has been so well received. And in the face of scary, strange times, where human behaviour and circumstance doesn’t resemble anything like normal life, it’s important to realise that whatever fears and worries you’re dealing with – be it a haunted past, an anxious future or worries for the here and now, you aren’t alone.

If there’s comfort to be had, it’s that there are no such thing as ‘normal people’. As a society we should stop punishing ourselves for consistently failing to live up to something that doesn’t exist and realise that, in more ways than one, we really are all in this together.