Archive for June, 2015

Since I last wrote, I’ve attended three very different but equally inspiring poetic celebrations.

First up, the 20th Anniversary London bash for Gerry Cambridge’s magazine The Dark Horse in Vout-O-Reenee’s, a private club which was everything you imagine clubs to be – an atmospheric, subterranean drinking den run by the magnificent Sophie Parkin, full of amazing characters and writers (nice to see Alan Brownjohn in a pink suit). It was a wonderful night. Gerry showed slides of the caravan where The Dark Horse began and played harmonica. And I got to perform on a bill with Wendy Cope, Niall Campbell and Kei Miller (possibly my favourite reader right now). Then there was the whisky, and some truly handsome copies of The Dark Horse anniversary issue to take home.

I also attended the Stand Up and Spit: The Big One, a celebration of ranting poetry organised by the incomparable Mr Tim Wells. The bill was quality: Mark Thomas, John Hegley, John Cooper Clark and, most of all, Linton Kwesi Johnson, whose ‘All Wi Doin’ is Defendin’, written about racist police oppression forty years ago, was so horribly relevant today the hush was electric. Then he performed ‘Mi Cyaan Believe It’ by Michael Smith, in tribute to the poet he first heard read on the very same stage, and the room seemed to shiver. Just an undeniably important poet.

And having been the Jerwood/Arvon poetry mentor for the last year, last week I went to the launch of Wassailing, an anthology of works from writers on the Jerwood/Arvon Mentoring Scheme 2014/15. There was wine. There were canapes. There were tears and whoops. We’ve had such a lot of fun the last year, and all my mentees have written such ridiculously good poems, I was extremely proud of them as they read (they stormed it).

photo-1Look out for the poets in this picture! Holly Corfield Carr, Ian Dudley and Debris Stevenson – if you’re not already familiar with their work, I think you’ll be hearing plenty about all of them soon.

Whilst I’m on the subject of former mentees, I should also point you in the direction of ‘Blueprint’, an e-pamphlet that’s just been published by the Poetry School, featuring the New North Poets I worked with two years ago (and for which I’ve written an introduction.) A really lovely read, including work by Kate Davis, Jenny Hockey, Andrew Fentham, Amy Ekins-Coward and David Keyworth. And it’s free.

In other news, I’ve got four events coming up in July myself – there are performances of Ovid’s Heroines at the Oxford Playhouse on the 9th and Latitude Festival on the 19th, details here. I’m also taking part in a panel on ‘Making Poetry Work’ at the Poetry Cafe on July 23rd at 6pm (with Kayo Chingonyi, Kirsten Irving and Kate Potts), and will be doing poetry workshop at the Idler Academy tent at the Port Eliot festival on the 30th… The summer of shows is just beginning!

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Gruff is 2! At the moment he’s completely obsessed with the TV show Octonauts and the ocean, so his favourite presents were a toy orca, white shark and manta ray, which he has been swishing around the house all week. For his birthday I took him to London Sea Life, which is weirdly in a leaky ex-county hall, with dank narrow corridors and empty vending machines, but the shark tank was pretty cool. We just stared at it for over an hour. The graceful rays soaring overhead and the giant turtle.


A two-year old’s curiosity about the world is very inspiring. He can’t even say his own name, but can recognise tiger sharks, bull sharks and whale sharks, and name five types of whale (Orca, Minke, Humpback, Bowhead, Sperm). He’s discovered my reef-guides (I’m an avid snorkeller) and we’ve been looking at them every morning, trying to find Nemo and eels and an octopus. I’ve found myself enchanted by the names: muddy argonaut, mourning cuttlefish, moonsnail, kimono, obscure damsel… I’ve ended up getting two poems out of it, one about the Red Sea and one about Jonah. And I reread Robert Lowell’s great aquarium poem For the Union Dead this morning, thinking of Gruff (‘Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass; / my hand tingled / to burst the bubbles / drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish’)

Also inspirational was Patti Smith performing Horses at Field Day this Sunday, with her wild straggle of grey hair and jacket sliding off her shoulders, completely rocking. Is ‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine’ the best opening line for an album ever? (And talking of horses, hope to see some of you at the Dark Horse launch in London this Friday)

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