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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

Reviews

REVIEW: ‘History of Forgetfulness’ By Shahe Mankerian

Shahé Mankerian’s debut collection, History of Forgetfulness, recalls his childhood in 1975 Beirut through a series of shocking and heartfelt observations which depict the horrors of growing up in a warzone.

The poet’s battleground exists on the streets where he plays, at school, at home—even in his bed at night, where monsters lurk. Indeed, issues of abuse, domestic violence, loss of innocence and puberty all feature heavily in the turmoil encountered by our subject.

The book opens with ‘Educating the Son’, and a stanza which prepares the reader for the continuing juxtaposition of the mundane everyday with the horrific circumstances the poet finds himself in.

I got my schooling at the morgue:

a summer job, my mother thought,

would keep the streets out of her son.

Ready yourself, dear Reader, for the details to unfold—the ‘faceless men’, ‘their faces like shoes with no soles’:

and mothers who, like doves,

descended slowly on their sons’

decapitated corpses.

The poet writes beautifully, even when what he observes is marked by darkness and terror, as in ‘Before the Deluge’:

Ruptured copper pipes filled bomb craters

like cereal bowls. Bones and body parts floated like

cornflakes.

Here, the child’s eyes (through which we observe) and their innocence help the reader to somehow relate to these atrocities. But the real fear seems to be of the abuse he suffers when ‘Father wanted to speak / with his belt’ in ‘Baker’s Son’:

I closed my lids—

tight—to fake sleep.

When he reached

for my covers,

the hair of his hand

brushed my face.

By teasing the senses so subtly, Mankerian summons the dreadful feeling of what this simple gesture means.

A large part of the poet’s writing focuses upon growing up. In ‘Moses’, boys target a nun called Sister Francis, throwing rotten eggs at her and stealing her shoes.

On Saturdays, she disappeared. Once we followed

her to the basement of the chapel. There, she lay

on a bed of thorns and cried all night. We stopped

throwing things at her and never stole her shoes again.

The ‘normality’ of life continues as our subject attempts to navigate puberty, as shown in ‘Madame Bshara’s Black Skirt’:

Her ruler poked me.

I stared at the maroon

lipstick and the chalk

prints around her breasts.

This is our subject’s reality: the typical everyday contentions and life lessons amidst chaos, as people attempt to navigate the violence, lack of food, and have the resilience of their faith truly put to the test.

Our windowpanes shattered. The mosque collapsed

on the bridge. The violin broke from the neck.

The eggplants charred. Brother bled on the couch.

I waited for the rug to magically rise

and take flight into the night.

In this poem, the child holds on to the hopes and dreams of innocence in the final couplet of ‘Dear Mr. President:­­­­’ (above) – until experience teaches otherwise, as shown in ‘The Fall of the Welder’:

Don’t laugh, don’t cover

yourself anymore, because pleasure,

like a popsicle, melts before you eat it.

To buy ‘The History of Forgetfulness’ from Fly on the Wall Press, click here.

Reviews

A beautiful portrayal of love and loss

I was told I’d need tissues. Indeed, Victoria Bennett’s poetry about her mother’s passing evoked much emotion from me – but not always in the way I’d expected.

In To Start The Year From Its Quiet Centre, the poet spares us the dramatics, instead staying true to the title and portraying death with calm observation of the details, seemingly small in many cases, but deeply meaningful. So attentively put together, this pamphlet is filled with a warmth which I found ultimately uplifting.

‘The Suede Shoes’ opens the collection. The first line of which reads ‘No good news from now’. But the poem continues:

Why bother planting that seed?

Why turn the beds

for a summer that will never come?

Why bother buying the pretty suede shoes?

We choose the shoes because

we can still find joy in a step.

We plant the seed because

we still love the way

it insists itself into life.

In its final line, the poem confirms: ‘and there is still good news.’

Of course, there is anger within these pages. Where there is love and loss, this is inescapable. But there is also a furious energy which liberates, at once brutal and bright.

At night, I brush your weeping hair,

button the new nightdress,

fingers tender like a mother’s,

tracing each lace flower.

When she can no longer move,

the doctor cuts it from her skin,

frees her flesh from its hold.

This garden has grown wild.

This freedom in death is further explored in ‘The Last Vigil’:

I almost missed you leaving.

You travel upwards,

weightless,

turning cartwheels […]

You leap from star

to star and then,

you are gone.

The quiet of the dark,

faint night-singing.

Next, in ‘December Hovers On The Advent Hour’, the poet writes ‘I am sure I hear you laughing, riding / the back of the storm, all the way.’

The aforementioned tissues are indeed a requirement when reading Victoria Bennet’s pamphlet. But what I draw from my multiple readings of it is a message of love which shines through the sadness, inextinguishable, making the grief worth surviving.

A perfect example can be found in the final lines of ‘How To Watch Someone Die’:





watch the morning come.

Try all over again

to let go,

and live.

‘To Start The Year From Its Quiet Place’ by Victoria Bennett is published by Indigo Dreams (2020).


		
				
								
	
Reviews

The colour of hope

Despite being written during the dark days of the pandemic, The Colour of Hope is full of beauty and splendour – based upon a simple idea: what makes people happy?

Former Young Poet of the Year, Jen Feroze, started the collection by writing a poem for a friend based upon three things which brought her joy. This evolved into forty-five heartfelt poems for forty-five women in the poet’s life, each unique yet echoing similar sentiments and images.

This book is a treasure chest stuffed with jewels. The poet’s ability to capture a moment and give it lasting definition is masterful, and though each poem is personal, the moments and objects are universally meaningful.

In poetry, repeated expressions and familiar symbols are sometimes ringed with a red pen, but here they take on the freshness of their original meaning. Bring on your rainbows, flowers, dawn skies, your sun-bathed afternoons, laughter and bubbles – for these are the things which have made our everyday beautiful during this time.

There are so many golden lines I wanted to pull off the page and hold close to my heart, as in ‘For Andri’:

‘This is a howl for summer unfettered. / For ageless hot nights, rich beats, / for salted hair and perfumed sky / and the ballroom of the stars’

‘FOR ANDRI’

The poet’s writings are evocative and full of wonder:

‘The warm winding of cats / like smoke around my ankles […] / In the hazy blue distance / the mountains rise. Cold and certain. / Full of their own stories.’

‘for sarah’

Born out of friendship, more than once in this collection we drink tea, sit a while, are drawn to small observations which imply shared time.

 ‘We’ll sip lemon-scented tea, / while the bees play drowsy symphonies / among the young flowers, / and the sun slips away to other gardens, / other distant shorelines.’

‘for gayle’

Food and drink must have featured on many lists, as a large number of these poems appeal to the sense of taste:

‘salt-bite of squid, lemon tanged; / bread that drips with golden oil, / sun-warmed green olives, / bigger than a thumb.’

‘For charlene’

My mouth is watering. Then there’s the (much missed) communal eating in ‘For Kate’:

‘happy chatter / on full stomachs. Pass the bread, / mop the sauce – every last glossy drop.’

‘For kate’

The rousing of senses closely linked to memory is highly effective at sharing an experience with the reader.

My favourite poem of the collection is ‘For Sophie’, which captures the blurry haze of having young children, and cherishes the loveliness of an idle Sunday morning breakfast:

‘Instinctively wrapping you in our arms / and our duvet when it’s too early / for adult brains to be awake.’

‘Then pancakes, the hot drop / and sizzle of batter and bacon / in the pink heart of the kitchen. / Pools of syrup on the table. / No rush to be anywhere but here.’

‘for sophie’

The sounds of ‘hot drop’, ‘batter and bacon’, the simple imagery, and the sense of time slowing down is  pure and joyous. The lull of each line invites the reader to step into the picture and savour each moment alongside its subjects.

What a wonderful example Jen Feroze is setting here. In today’s world, we are surrounded by politics, opinion, scandal and unreachable expectations, so it’s hardly a surprise we’re leaving a pandemic and stepping into a mental health crisis. The Colour of Hope is an important reminder – that gratitude, friendship, and seeking refuge in what’s around us is paramount in being well.

This is beautiful writing, full of gorgeous moments, a wonderful book to give as a gift for any lovely lady in your life (including you). To echo the poet’s closing line of the foreword: ‘Here’s to resilience. Here’s to joy. Here’ to hope.’

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

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