Work-wise I’ve been immersed in judging Next Generation 2014 (a lot of reading, with 120 collections – half of those submitted – showing up in huge boxes at my door.) I also have a very intriguing commission, which means I have to write ten poems in a month (more to follow…)
There have been trips too. There was a hen party in Margate. (Not as tacky as it sounds. Well, a bit tacky on Saturday night, but oysters, Aperol spritzes and a yacht were also involved). Then St Albans last week, to give the prizes for the Ver Poets Competition. It was lovely to put faces to the wonderful poems, particularly that of the first-prize winner, Maria Isakova Bennett, who had come from Liverpool, and whose poem ‘Adrift’ blew me away. A wet afternoon, but it was a classy theatre space and warm audience, and there were strawberries and cream, so it was all enjoyable and civilised. Ver Poets strike me, generally, as one of those Very Good Things- the kind of society that quietly keeps poetry alive in the UK.
And then last week I did my last ever classes at the City Lit, and felt both celebratory and sad. I’ve decided to take a break from regular adult classes, as after eight years I was getting a bit stale (and once childcare is factored in, commuting an hour each-way to work a couple of hours makes less financial sense.) Still – the City Lit is a great institution. I can still recall how excited I was when I first got the job, to know I was following in the footsteps of teachers like Julia Casterton and Michael Donaghy, and I’ve seen some remarkable poets take their first steps on my beginners courses (Hannah Lowe, Kate White and many others). And then there’s the sheer, joyous diversity of the enormous classes (often 20+). There were groups where I had someone translating the poetry into sign-language at the front. Where people with severe learning difficulties sat next to postmodernist professors. Barristers and builders. Ninety-year olds and teens who smelt of weed. Homeless people and Home Counties Tories. Recent graduates sick of writing CVs; frustrated mums taking a precious breather from childcare. Immigrants from the Middle East, the Caribbean, Africa, Poland… And I heard such stories! That’s the great privilege of teaching creative writing to adults – how honest people often are, and how much you learn. So, the end of an era. (Champagne and cards from my students helped a bit.)
Apologies to those who were hoping to come to one of my classes next year – although I will be doing some fun, one-off things, like this online Poetry and Parenthood course. I’m really looking forward to planning some different sessions, shaking things up a bit for myself.
The rest of the month means festivals, and also this – the launch of ‘My Voice: a Decade of Poems’, as part of Poetry International on the Southbank. I’ll be proud to be there on Friday celebrating the Poetry Translation Centre’s important work, and catching up with many marvellous fellow translators, poets and friends. Tickets are free but need booking – do come along. I also apparently have recordings of a poem or two included in the installation ‘I Leave this at your Ear’.
And then Gruff’s started walking, and my garden is in full swing – this year’s new successes have included a few fistfuls of broad beans and strawberries, peppery french radishes, foxgloves, and (currently) rainbow chard and the most delicious-smelling sweet-peas. (Gruff prefers the wigwam). Think that’s everything for now. Proper post soon, promise.