The New Year began with readings of work from several favourite poets including Seamus Heaney, Anna Akhmatova, Jane Draycott, Gillian Clarke and Ted Hughes. After a break for refreshments, the achievements of the past year were discussed as were plans for the year ahead. This was an enjoyable and relaxed evening.
On Saturday, 19th March 2011 Mole Valley Poets gave a presentation of their poetry at St. Mary's Church, Fetcham. Classical music interludes were provided by Mr. Ian Codd. Proceeds from the evening's entertainment were donated to the charity "Kids for Kids".
Sylvia introduced us to the work of Kenneth Steven who was born in Glasgow in 1968. His family moved to Perthshire in 1976. He went to Edinburgh University and while there spent two years in Norway. He speaks fluent Norwegian. He studied the history and culture of the Lapps and aims to create a greater awareness of their struggle for survival and their political and cultural rights. He is both a novelist and a poet. He writes for both children and adults and has translated a number of works from Norwegian. Two of his novels have been nominated for the British Fiction awards and two of his poems have been nominated for the Forward Prize. He has led courses in Geneva, New Jersey, North Carolina and Austria.
Steven's central theme in all his work is his deep love of wildlife and nature. He is active in Forest Conservation and has a cabin in a forest where he does much of his work. There is no mobile phone there and no computer. He has called the cabin Fredheim which means House of Peace in Norwegian. "Stories for a Fragile Planet" has been written with primary school children specifically in mind. "Making the Known World New" is a collection of essays and new poems inspired by a tiny patch of land in Dunkeld, Perthshire. It concerns the survival of nature and finding God in small things. It is a book to inspire hope in a time of nihilism and despair.
In his poem "Hebrides" written in 2009 he talks of "This shattered place, this place of fragments, / a play of wind and sea and light". He talks of how "if you have faith, if you wait long enough / there will be the miracle of an otter / turning water into somersaults". He says that "you will take nothing home with you / save your own changedness" and talks of how all your life there will awaken moments of "yearning to return".
His poem "Island" from the collection "Iona" talks of "wood rooms bleached by light", of how "the wind / tugged at the strings in the grass like a hand / in a harp" of how he rejoiced in something he could not name and "celebrated a wonder / too huge to hold".
In "A Little Miracle" he likens ducklings to "little bits of thistledown" at the mercy of "the lion roar of the river" and wonders "that such little things survived at all".
In "Old Woman", "the threads that wove the fabric of her mind / fray one by one and will not mend" and yet for "those who know to look beneath the skin" she is still the girl she was and full of dance and light.
"Now and Then" tells of the old ones who "read the land and the sea like books" and of how they are almost all gone so that those who are left glint like "the odd gold grain / swirled from a stream".
And from the collection "Wild Horses" the poem "Kittens" talks of "black scraps of softness" with purrs "louder even than the snow wind / snarling the door" and imagines their meagre future on the edge of the Highlands.
These images are all so vivid and clean and clear with the sense of a west wind splintering sunlight and breath of sea air under an open sky where even the slightest living creature is welcomed and celebrated.
Or does the poem find you?
not thinking, thinking, joined up words/sentences/stanzas
writing, stringing words along the lines, down the page
using poetics, merging language and form
Chronology of emergence:
giving the experience its time
giving the poem its time
The workshop as the initiator
The topic as the motivator and other motivators
National Poetry Day 2011: topic GAMES
Tony Marcoff began with several quotations which illustrate the link between music and poetry such as "the music of men's lives" Shakespeare, Richard II, Act III v 42 and "Give me books, fruit, French wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors, played by somebody I do not know". Keats 'Letters' to Fanny Keats 29 Aug 1819.
Readings were then taken from the novels of DH Lawrence, 1888-1935 'Aaron's Rod' in which the music of a flute and the freedom of unhampered song transcend the moment and of Patrick White, 1912-1990 'Riders in the Chariot' in which the cathedral is filled with organ music where bars of music are lashed together in "a whole shining scaffolding of sound" reaching to the heavens.
Vaughan Williams considered that "he who does not sing is not fully alive".
In RM Rilke The Duino Elegies - 'The First Elegy' the Void of loss is a startled space filled with a vibrant amazement which is called music.
Shakepeare 'King Henry VII Act III i 3 tells of Orpheus and how his song accompanied by his lute "made trees / and the mountain-tops that freeze / Bow themselves" and "In sweet music is such art, / killing care and grief of heart."
The discussion that followed drew on Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. Fragments were taken from Wordsworth 'Tintern Abbey' - "The still sad music of humanity", from Shakespeare 'Merchant of Venice' "The man that hath no music in himself" "Let no such man be trusted" and from Byron, Shelley and GM Hopkins "Elected Silence" "be / the music that I care to hear."
Osip Mandelstam 1891-1938 in Poem 54 from 'Stone' tells of "Bedouins under the stars" who "improvise songs / out of the troubles of the day." The poem concludes with "And if the song is sung truly, / from the whole heart," then "nothing is left / but space, the stars, the singer"
There is a resonance here with Siegfried Sassoon's poem 'Everyone Sang' where "Everyone suddenly burst out singing" and the song is likened to the flight of birds set free to wing across orchard and fields "and the song was wordless; / the singing will never be done."
In Wallace Stevens 1879-1955 from 'The Man with the Blue Guitar' the lines "They said, 'You have a blue guitar, / You do not play things as they are'" in the first poem are followed in the second poem by a description of how a serenade may not quite match up to the reality of the man being serenaded and then "Say that it is the serenade / Of a man who plays a blue guitar."
In Thomas De Quincey 1785-1859 in DREAM-FUGUE there are funeral bells and choirs and trumpet blasts and fugues woven into the theme of sudden death.
Music and Poetry have always been linked. In the discussion that followed we considered the oral tradition from earliest times which used rhythm and rhyme so that experiences could be memorised and passed on from one generation to the next. We brought to mind the troubadours who performed both music and poetry. The Japanese tanka is a short song. Music and Poetry have always worked together.
Michael began with a recording of W H Auden reading his poem "In Memory of W B Yeats" which, as well as being an elegy, pays homage to Yeats' gift - his way with words. "The day of his death was a dark cold day" is repeated at the end of the first and fifth stanzas and the line "For poetry makes nothing happen" appears in the sixth stanza.
Byron had a reputation for social justice. W H Auden's "Letter to Lord Byron" was written in 1936. There is speculation about Byron's response to social injustice in the present day. The lines "The dragon rises from his garden border / And promises to set up law and order" refer to the beginnings of fascism. This poem has 7 lines per stanza while Byron's "The Vision of Judgement" was written in 8 line stanzas. Both have a regular, unobtrusive, end-rhyme pattern.
Marianne Moore appears in a poem from "Birthday Letters" by Ted Hughes. He and Sylvia Plath visited her "bower-bird bric-a-brac nest" and found that her talk "darned incessantly / Chain-mail with crewel-work flowers". Sylvia sent her carbon copies of some poems with "bell-jar air-conditioning" themes. These were returned with the comment "I shall not engross them". For Ted Hughes this rebuff was "like a bristle of glass, / Snapped off deep in my thumb". Ten years later Marianne Moore visited England and he listened to her "heavy as a graveyard".
Thomas Hardy in "The Last Signal" writes in memory of William Barnes. The "sudden shine" sent from the "livid sad east" is a farewell "as with a wave from the hand" from the coffin on its grave-way. This last journey to the grave being over land he had trudged so many times.
Sidney Keyes, a World War II poet, writes on William Wordsworth. There is "No room for mourning: he's gone out / Into the noisy glen" and "you'll hear his shout / Rolling among the screes, he being a boy again." The "iron sarcophagi / of fame" would not hold his bones as "he'd rise at the first summer rain" and would "seek / His rest among the broken lands and clouds". There is a strong sense of place and "words flower like crocuses".
Laurie Lee is celebrated in U A Fanthorpe's "Dear Mr Lee". A young girl writes to say she has loved reading "Cider with Rosie". This book has made up for her having to read Shakespeare as well as "T Hughes and P Larkin". She has bits of the book "by heart" and does not want to answer exam questions on themes and characters. "I'd like to be just like you, not mind about being poor, / see everything bright and strange, the way you do."
T S Eliot is remembered in Henry Reed's "Chard Whitlow" which was written in World War II The poem has deliberate echoes of T S Eliot's "Burnt Norton" and "East Coker". The first and penultimate lines are "As we get older we do not get any younger". Listeners are entreated to "pray, not for your skins, but for your souls". There are references to the blitz and to Kharma and the returning of the seasons.
This was an interesting and illuminating talk on poets and relationships which gave new insights into the work of both subject and author.
Helen began the evening with thoughts on revisions from various writers including Mary Oliver in A Poetry Handbook and Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones.
Both of these highlighted the difficulty of separating yourself sufficiently from the origins of the poem and from your own personal connections to the writing. Poems exist in order to be poems and although they begin in experience, poems are not in fact experience but imaginative constructs.
In Mary Oliver's words "The poem is an attitude and a prayer; it sings on the page and it sings itself off the page; it lives through genius and technique." And she goes on to say "For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry."
Flaubert observed that "Talent is long patience, and originality an effort of will and of intense observation."
Emerson considered that a poem is a confession of faith.
Natalie Goldberg points out that the great value of art is in making the ordinary extraordinary and awakening ourselves to our own lives. She suggests writing in a notebook every day and then going back over the work a month later. This enables the recognition of good writing. She suggests further that the writing be observed with a clear piercing mind and not with sentimentality. This eases the process of cutting where required.
Revision can be seen as "envisioning again." In writing each subsequent version the writing that works becomes apparent and can be cut-and-pasted to give the final version.
In Natalie Goldberg's words "If something works, it works. If it doesn't, quit beating an old horse. Go on writing. Something else will come up."
The beginnings of a poem sometimes flow and sometimes struggle onto the page. This unfinished piece of work needs appraisal.
It is a good idea to wait awhile before rereading as time allows for distance and objectivity. It can be helpful to imagine that the writing belongs to someone else.
Does the written piece have all the details it needs? Does it have too many? Sometimes the poem is burdened with "true" but unhelpful details.
Some lines arrive nearly perfect, as easily as a dream. These are gifts of grace. The rest is hard work.
Try reading the work aloud and pay attention to the pace and energy of the words. Any awkward stumbling blocks can be identified and worked on.
Try reading the poem to other people and ask for feedback. The very act of reading aloud to an audience can reveal a problem which was not apparent when reading aloud to oneself. Constructive feedback is a valuable tool.
If there are muddled areas then it can be helpful to return to earlier versions to see if there is greater clarity there. Sometimes an essential line may have been lost in the revision process.
A poem written in the past tense may have more energy in the present tense.
It could be that the lines which began the poem are not needed any more.
It could be that the language is inconsistent with content.
The poem may be struggling in an unhelpful structure - in couplets perhaps when it would work better as a block.
Does the title work well or does it confuse the reader?
Does the ending have life?
After rereading and revision it can be helpful to put the poem aside again for a while and then return to it refreshed.
Mary Oliver usually revises through forty or fifty drafts of a poem before she begins to feel content whereas Elisabeth Bishop wrote about fifteen drafts of "The art of losing things" and William Carlos Williams wrote seven drafts of "The Clouds".
Helen illustrated this discussion on revisions with an examination of the various drafts from first notebook jottings to final "typed up" version which became a published poem.
The Mole Valley Poets/ The Poetry Society Stanza Group ran an enjoyable Poetry in the Community event at the Star Pub, Dorking on September 27th, 2011. There were readings, creative activities, and lively chat in a hospitable atmosphere where the acoustics were good, the audience joined in and poetry flowed from pen to paper to stage. Congratulations to Kevin Connelly who won the loudest applause prize for his 'list' poem (see below). Our thanks to landlord Ian for hosting us once again; we hope to see you there in 2012.
A rather dented Walker's shortbread tin
That makes a rattley noise. Contained within
a deck of cards, complete but for the hearts
a model Messerschmitt with missing parts
three football cards signed by Nobby Stiles
a V and I that once were scrabble tiles
nine Chinese checkers, seven pawns from chess
a Barbie doll, sans head, and missing dress
one childhood, only slightly damaged.
Our links with the community continued in October as part of the Mole Valley Arts Alive Festival. Tamar Yoseloff was our Sofa Poet on the 10th; we were back in the front room of the hospitable Lincoln Arms with pens, paper and the anticipation of writing by request on an unknown topic. Tammy eased us into the poetry mode with work from her new collection The City with Horns and her thoughts on narrative in poetry. She spoke of the challenge of this when writing very short poems, about the need to capture archetypes, to suggest and the use of symbolism. We were also introduced to the idea of writing poetry that begins with a flashforward: so good to have a suggestion for an approach to writing a poem that borrows from another genre. From this, and our imaginations and experiences, we wrote and shared our first drafts –it's amazing how strong these can be and we listened to many examples around the table. The evening finished with more of Tammy's poems, including some of those linked to the work of Jackson Pollack. Thank you, Tammy, for an inspiring evening.
On October 27th members of MVP participated in an evening of poetry, dramas and short stories in the Mezz Bar, Leatherhead Theatre, organised by Trevor Danby. Poets read from their own work, others read their short stories and poems from the English canon were performed by two guest actors. In between, we all become part of the scene for three one act plays. A great way to enjoy local talent ... let's hope this initiative continues.
Finally, on the 31st, as the last Arts Alive event, Mole Valley Poets hosted an open mic event, again in the Lincoln Arms. Our Poetry Pub has become a mix of music and poetry and we welcomed a guitar duo with a repertoire of 60's music that remains contemporary. It was also an evening to celebrate the publication of the new MVP anthology Seen and Not Heard and to hear some of the poems it contains and from visiting poets, who had travelled from near and far to join us. We heard a melange of poetry: long performance pieces, personal work about family and travel, many with the unplanned theme of the sea! Thank you to everyone who read, played and listened.
The extended workshop included poems inspired by place, by works of art and by found language in everyday conversation. This was an interesting and rewarding session with much support and constructive criticism. The business meeting which preceded this was full of innovative ideas to be put into place in next year's programme.