Archive for July, 2012

All my courses for the autumn are now open for booking.  September usually fills up quite quickly – that back to school feeling – so best to book sooner rather than later.  I am teaching three classes next year:

for beginners – Ways into Poetry at the City Lit (thurs 2.45-4.45)

for intermediate students – Paths through Poetry at the City Lit (mon 7.40-9.40) and What Makes a Poem? at the Poetry School (wed 6.45-8.45)

All 2-hour classes involve a taught hour on a topic (with exercises), and an hour workshopping poems that students have brought in.  The main distinction between the two levels is that the beginners isn’t really very critical – it’s a warm, supportive environment for people taking their first steps.  The intermediate courses have a bit more rigour, and I’ll also assume you know what metre is/what a sonnet is.  I hope they’re all fun.

There are also still some spaces on my course in Crete in September for Espirita, which should be magical.

It’s on a secluded cove that can only be reached by boat, and I’m planning sessions on myth and stargazing and the sea.  The groups are small (8 max), so there’ll be lots of one-to-one time on your manuscript, and although I’m not sure how much flights currently are, the course and accommodation are competitively priced (the course itself £275, accommodation E175-245 for the week, so cheaper than an Arvon).

But for now, it’s my summer holiday from teaching, and I’m enjoying writing and cooking (laska on monday, tomato and avocado tortillas last night) and the sunshine. Maybe see you in London Fields Lido.

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I’ve had a manic couple of weeks, and this afternoon I’m off to teach an Arvon course in Devon, so won’t be online for a bit.  Just thought I’d bring the site up-to-date first with a few links.

I spent most of last week writing a play for Radio 4’s ‘From Fact to Fiction’ strand with W.N. Herbert.  We had a meeting at BBC Broadcasting House on the Monday afternoon, and only three days to write it.  We ran with the news about missiles being stationed on the roofs of tower-blocks around the Olympic site without the residents’ permission – it’s just such a dark, absurd story.  As one solicitor commented in The Guardian, defending the residents of the Fred Wigg Tower (who lost their right to challenge the MOD on Tuesday): “We have always believed an Englishman’s home is his castle – not a forward operating base.”

As Shakespeare is in the air too, with ‘The Hollow Crown’ series of his history plays, we’ve done it in blank verse, with nods to Henry V and the John of Gaunt speech (‘This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land, / Dear for her reputation through the world / is now leased out.’)  It’s called ‘Surface to Air’, went out this Saturday and will available to listen to until July 22nd.

I guess it’s a political piece, which seems to be becoming a theme – in the last couple of weeks my poem about youth unemployment in Europe, ‘Los Indignados’, has been published along with an interview in the ‘Well Versed’ poetry column run by Jody Porter for The Morning Star.  And I’m just back from Latitude where two of my highlights involved political poetry – Tony Harrison reading his poems of class and war, and Rufus Wainwright singing one of the great modern protest songs, ‘America’.

I also enjoyed The Horrors, the poetry tent’s rap-battle and dancing with Luke Wright, Martin Figura and Helen Ivory.  And I performed some of my translation of Ovid’s Heroines for the first time – the monologues by Ariadne and Phaedra – and tried to do them by heart which was pretty nerve-wracking (I got what the poet Helen Mort called ‘sewing-machine legs’).

One of the nice things about festivals is the random encounters with old friends.  It was a pleasure to bump into Polly Wright of the musical project Tiger’s Bride there (named after an Angela Carter short story) who told me that her song ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ was inspired by my post on this blog in December – a very pleasing thought.  It’s a gorgeously eerie track with some with some heart-thuddingly sad piano – after watching this I’m hoping to see her perform it live soon:


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The Parnassus is over.  It’s probably for the best – I couldn’t survive much longer without sleep or hydration – but I still have that melancholy, morning-after feeling.  I think I can honestly say I’ve had one of the best weeks of my life, and it seems to have passed in a lovely blur.

Somewhere during the last three days I read translations at two events, prose poems for Doina Ioanid at the brilliant Maintentant Balkans reading, and the work of Corsino Fortes and Conceicao Lima for the Poetry Translation Centre, where it was also wonderful to hear Reza Mohammadi (Afghanistan) – a mesmerising performer.  I heard mini-lectures on Vietnamese and Korean poetry and how the CIA covertly funded translations of eastern European poets.  I went to an ‘intimate’ reading with the brilliant Canadian poet Karen Solie, where she performed and chatted with just twelve of us, and one poem made me cry. I heard the heartbreaking poems of Jang Sing Jung, once court poet to Kim Jong-il until he fled North Korea.

On Friday, of course, there was the big gala reading compered by Simon Armitage, and I thoroughly enjoyed Kay Ryan, especially as she deconstructed the cliche of chickens coming ‘Home to roost’ (‘the sky is dark / with chickens’).  Wole Soyinka was amazing – and dealt extremely gracefully with his mobile going off whilst he was on stage.  And I think everyone agreed that Kim Hyesoon’s performance was one of the highlights of the week.

Other memorable events included a ‘Women of the World’ breakfast, where Bidisha asked whether a gender bias was still holding women back in poetry.  The Italian poet Elisa Biagini spoke brilliantly about how in Italy female poets are expected to fit into one of three categories: mysticism, erotica or ‘poor women losing their minds.’ She was hilariously dismissive of women writing populist ‘vaguely sexual stuff’ and pretending that this is a feminist statement – that it declares they have control of their bodies when they are actually just ‘an idiot amusing perverts’.  The Paraguayan poet Lia Colombino was also very funny, telling us ‘If you’re a woman in Latin America you have to have a parrot on your shoulder, a moustache and dance a lot.’  Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (Liberia) showed us the front cover of her book ‘Before the Palms Could Bloom’ foisted on her by a publisher– a naked woman – and cried: ‘There’s nothing about naked women in this book!…It is about war and bullets!’  Although there are still arguments that can be made about inequality in the UK poetry scene, I was actually left with a sense of how lucky we are and how far we’ve come, and that we have a responsibility to support those woman writers whose countries to silence them.

Then there was the Poetry London reading, with Christopher Reid and the charming German poet Jan Wagner and the astonishingly good Valerie Rouzeau (France) reading with her translator Susan Wicks, the London Eye slowly turning behind them. (If you haven’t bought Cold Spring in Winter from Arc yet you must)

And just the festival village: hanging out drinking coffees and cheap wine, and bumping into so many friends and heroes.  It closed each night at 11 and everyone was always indignant – there were so many people we hadn’t had chance to say hello to yet, so many conversations that needed to happen, so much more dancing we needed to do…

Still, we got six days and they were brilliant days.

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