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New release: ‘what colour is my brain?’

Poetry is often a highly effective balm when working through the difficult things in life, as Jules Whiting and I have found in the creation of our new petit-pamphlet ‘What colour is my brain?’, released by Hedgehog Poetry Press this month.

Meeting through our poetry group Thin Raft, Jules and I happened to connect over our shared experience of having an Electroencephalogram (or EEG), and the fact that we were both compelled to write about this.

We were thrilled to win Hedgehog Press’ stickleback competition with our joint endeavour, and even more delighted to see our four poems presented so beautifully in the trademark Hedgehog format.

This little pamphlet means such a lot to us. It’s about turning a negative into a positive. It’s about the power of imagination to go beyond and create something ‘other’, something positive, something that connects and is relatable.

I am so very proud of this gorgeous little book. Mark Davidson, editor of Hedgehog, has worked his magic, and I can’t wait to share the result. I’m proud of what it stands for, and to have my name on the cover next to my friend, Jules, a hugely talented poet and wonderful human being.

What a privilege 😊

If you would like to order a copy, priced at £3 including P&P, email vicpickup@gmail.com.

Blog, Poetry

A thing of beauty

I have the great privilege of hosting a gorgeous little open mic once a month on a Friday lunchtime, on behalf of Poets’ Café online. All who come are gifted, warm and receptive to the work of others, hence why I feel blessed to be a part of this monthly poetry meet.

One of our regular readers is the talented Karen Izod, whose work I have come to greatly admire. The sharp observation and poignancy typical of Karen’s poetry lingers long after it is heard. And so, when she arrived to one online session with a rather beautiful little book in hand, I was keen to know more.

Karen was one of two winners of Coast to Coast to Coast’s fourth poetry prize in 2021, with 35 of her limited edition journals created this year.

Bright and beautifully crafted, each of Karen Izod’s ‘While there is hope’ editions is a work of art, with the design, creation and stitch from the fair hands of Maria Isakova Bennett. My admiration of these books goes further than aesthetics, with Karen’s poems every bit as lovingly formed – precise, contemplative and powerful – this short series of poems is a bundle of perfection.

As her preface, Karen explains that early in the pandemic, when so little was known about the virus, she found herself exploring ideas of how hope sustains, what we hold on to in ourselves and in the world and questioning how long we can hold out for something before we give up or allow in feels of despair.  As the pandemic continued with feelings of being trapped, coerced, or caught up in much larger environmental concerns, themes of loss and change, questions of how we might bring ourselves to these changes, and what we might see as progress emerged.

For more information, visit https://www.mariaisakova.com/coast-to-coast-to-coast-news and https://twitter.com/MariaIzaB1/status/1479212780100198402

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Back to school

As my youngest heads off to her first year in school, I too am preparing for a return to education with sharpened pencils and packed lunch in tow.

I’m thrilled to be starting a part-time PhD at Reading University this September, working in the English Literature department, but more specifically embedded in the Mills & Boon archives which are (fortunately for me!) located within the University’s special collections.

The University has very generously funded my course, to enable the continuation of my running local poetry events and raising the profile of poetry and creative writing within our communities.

The MERL at Reading, home to the University’s special collections archive

I’m also very fortunate to be spending much of my time at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), poring over the M&B collection, consisting of some 75,000 documents. I think if I read very fast, I can get through them in a year… 🙂

These archives are full of correspondence between publisher and authors, and only 10 boxes in (out of 100), I am already enraptured, and the poems are beginning to flow.

Not a moment of this privilege is wasted on me. I am determined to make this project of discovery count, revealing untold stories, awakening characters stowed in boxes, seeing what can be created from this rich source of history. Watch this space!

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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).

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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