Meeting Notes 2019

Social evening

We each in turn read a poem to the group and we then had a break for refreshments before continuing with another couple of rounds of readings. There was work by contemporary poets including Mary Oliver, Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay, Sheena Pugh and Roger McGough as well as poems written by MVPs. There was a speech by William Shakespeare which echoed our times. There was work by Gerard Manley Hopkins and by Jorge Luis Borges as well as work by Canadian poets. There was writing of great depth and solemnity and writing with much humour and resilience.

There were images of wild geese, of dragonflies over a river and of an olive underfoot. There was a rescued monkey and a single bat and a snake that met death. There were red dogberries with caps of snow. There was a mimosa and a caterpillar with yellow bristles.

There were themes of justice, of politics, of the peace to be found amongst wild things, of loss, and of calm reflection on life at a great age. There was a sewing of shirts, a summoning by bells and an engagement with washing-up the dishes. There were refugees. There was climate change.

There was a specular poem in which the reversal of line order at the mid-point turned negativity into positivity. There was a long almost ballad-like poem in which repetition reinforced and deepened the sense of loss. There were jaunty poems in which rhythm and rhyme accentuated the humour. There were haiku and haibun and gogyoshi.

This was indeed a celebration of poetry in many and various forms.

Notes by Helen Overell.

7th January 2019

Alice Oswald, presented by Rose Wagner

Rose provided an illuminating introduction to the work of Alice Oswald. As some of the group had not read any of Alice Oswald's poetry before, we began by concentrated listening, with eyes closed, to a reading of 'Shadow' from her latest book 'Falling Awake'.

After outlining biographical details and her publications and many awards, we then read, analysed and discussed a selection of her poems: two of her short poems: 'The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile', from her first published book, and 'A Short Story of Falling' from her most recent book, 'Falling Awake'. Also extracts from two of her longer poems: 'Dart', a book-length poem inspired by conversations with people who live and work on the river Dart, which she calls : 'a sound-map of the river, a songline from the source to the sea', and 'Tithonus', also from 'Falling Awake', which is a 46 minute performance poem about the dawn.

In the course of discussion, we highlighted Oswald's rich use of varied vocabulary, metre and imagery, noting her characteristic use of anthropomorphic metaphor and frequent skilful articulation of the insubstantial (e.g. the gap in the squeeze stile).

Through our reading aloud, we felt the flow and flexibility of her use of different forms, rhythms and structures, from free form to iambic pentameter, often incorporating rhyme, half-rhyme and repetition to create song-like effects. This helped make reading the longer poems less daunting.

We considered how she creates a poetry that is light, lyrical, visionary, meditative, musical, and beautiful, while still being grounded in everyday reality - a poetry that is original, challenging, both modern and traditional, and experimental.

We saw how she uses her mastery of poetic techniques and skills to express an intense love and observation of nature, and deep understanding of classical literature.

We noted how her wide-ranging use of imagery and metaphor can be shocking yet always pertinent, and concluded that she demonstrates how a modern poet can incorporate in their work a range of styles from Homeric and Shakespearian to the spoken English of today.

The group were encouraged to follow up after our discussion by listening to Alice Oswald's own readings of her work on YouTube. Steeped in the oral tradition of poetry, she is also a consummate performance poet, since her poetry is written to be spoken, and she memorises her own work to perform it.

Brief biography

Born in 1966, Alice Oswald read classics at Oxford. She then trained as a gardener. She lives on the Dartington Estate in Devon with her husband and three children. She has won most of the major awards for her poetry, which reflects her intensive observation of the natural world, while depicting it through an oblique use of language and imagery that is completely her own.


Acknowledgements and references

Recommended follow-up:

BBC Radio 4 Bookclub on Alice Oswald's 'Falling Awake' to be broadcast on 03/02/19, 07/02/19 and subsequently archived on the BBC website

Notes by Sharon Williams and Rose Wagner.

28th January 2019

Notes on a haibun - a musical workshop, presented by Diana Webb

Diana invited us to take turns to read aloud some haibun with musical themes. These included 'The Mute Note' in which 'middle C goes mute as stone' and is eventually coaxed into life by the monkey in the music box and 'After Vermeer' in which a woman is tuning her lute. Other haibun portrayed the music from an accordian, the singing of a scythe to a whetstone, the rattle of dry leaves and Bruch's violin concerto. We looked at the way in which the haiku, a breath-length poem, interacts with the prose so as to bring a new dimension to the writing. We were invited to write a haibun in response to a favourite remembered piece of music and to write haiku in response to photographs of the natural world. We listened to a piece of music and wrote a haibun on the imagined journey that this created. We also wrote using a postcard of a painting as a prompt. We shared our work and Diana offered insight and encouragement and invited us to send our completed haibun to her for consideration for publication in Time Haiku.

Notes by Helen Overell.

16th February 2019

Love poetry, presented by Pauline Watson

Pauline introduced the group to the theme of her presentation; poems on 'love and romance' together with insights into the lives of the poets. The poems spanned centuries and included work by Anne Bradstreet, Yeats, and Rawland Storm. There were 'new' poems and 'old' favourites. There were moving affirmations of love, wry comments on being in love and the lingering ache at the loss of love.

A wonderful introduction to the topic was made using the poem 'The Sexes' by Dorothy Parker (b.1893). Pauline expressed how much she enjoyed the cynical wit of Dorothy Parker who wrote poetry that reflected her lifestyle. Then, to provide a contrast, the group read a poem from nearly three centuries earlier, 'To My Dear and Loving Husband' by Anne Bradstreet (b.1612), who incidentally moved to America, had eight children and achieved the title of the American Colonies first female poet. Next, another poet who wrote about their spouse was Robert Louis Stevenson (b.1850), his poem simply entitled 'My Wife'.

To add to the conversation on poetry and romance, Pauline chose a number of other romantic poets and also gave an overview of their writing and romantic life. The group read Lord Byron (b.1788), the poem 'To Ellen', also Percy Bysshe Shelley's (b.1792), 'When Passion's Trance Is Overpast' and William Butler Yeats (b.1865) 'When You Are Old'.

Finally, a personal story of a poem handed to Pauline by a friend who had kept it for many years folded up in his wallet. This was by an American preacher of strong beliefs, the contemporary poet Rawland Storm's (b.1948) poem 'The Test'.

Further reading

Dorothy Parker

Anne Bradstreet

Rawland Storm

Notes by Sharon Williams.

25th February 2019

The Weather, presented by Tony Marcoff

Tony Marcoff provided an interesting and in depth talk on 'Weather: Illuminations'. It was explained to the group that the Modern Greek poet Odysseus Elytis said 'The duty of a poet is to cast drops of light into the darkness.' Furthermore, indeed one of the members of the group elegantly commented that indeed Tony's talk cast drops of light into the evening.

To begin with, a reading of 'Frost and Snow, Falling' by JH Prynne. A poet who writes poems of becoming and that speak of moments of living more deeply. This was followed by an extract from a short story called 'The Dead' by James Joyce. In this story Gabriel's wife tells him of a man who loved her and who had died. Gabriel watches the flakes of snow and hears 'the snow falling faintly though the universe'. Next, parts were allocated for a reading from King Lear Act III Scene 1. In which King Lear speaks of the tempest without and within his mind and pities the homeless out in all weathers.

Then exploring various writing such as Thomas Hardy's 'A Light Snow-Fall after Frost' about an ageing man who appears to be on a road transformed by snow. Also the seashell in Shinkichi Takahashi's 'Beach Rainbow' lives in the moment in this meditative poem. Whereas, Anna Akhmatova in 'July 1914' tells of terrible times and yet also of the miraculous 'longed for from time immemorial'.

Yet, Yang Lian who survived the Cultural Revolution and the banning in China of the writing of metaphors writes in 'Biography' of a wind that 'calmly changes the direction of day' and birdsong that floods the sky. The group looked at haiku and tanka including work by Diana Webb and concluded with Tony's poem 'the world, & rain' where stillness and silence and light shone as if raindrops held the mind of God.

Further Reading

Notes by Sharon Williams.

25th March 2019

Poetry Walk: Sounds from a Shallow Sea

Thank you to Sue Beckwith for organising another exhilarating Poetry Walk, this time on Ranmore Common. Starting at Dorking West Station, we followed the coach road through woods of beech and oak. We were rewarded along the way by breathtaking views of the North Downs and fields full of cowslips. We were joined by award-winning artist, Alison Carlier, who has created an audio walk to accompany the route. Her podcast, Sounds from a Shallow Sea, with its unique mix of geology, folk song, recordings of the sea and poetry by MVP members Helen Overell and Tony Earnshaw, enhanced our connection to the chalk hills as we walked.

Notes by Liz Barton.

27th April 2019

The Poetry of Science, presented by Judith Packer

The evening's presentation from Judith was both comprehensive and insightful on The Poetry of Science: 'First Sparks'. Starting with reference to Maria Popova who writes a blog and is a website resource, Judith began with the idea of spark and the conditions needed for a spark to exist i.e. oxygen, fuel and ignition. This brought to mind the wonderful images obtained by the Hubble telescope – in particular the recent black hole image and the global collaboration that gave rise to this.

The first poem to be read was 'Hubble Photographs: After Sappho' by Adrienne Rich in which the sight of the person you love walking into a room is compared with the images obtained by mathematics and optics equations that let sight pierce through time. Judith then read 'Dear Space-time Traveller' by Lucianne Walkowicz and the group were invited to jot down ideas and feelings to do with science. Such ideas and concepts that were considered included advances in science and technology, with thoughts around whether these help or hinder our relationship with the natural world. Next to be read 'Start close in' by David Whyte and 'Working Together' also by David Whyte which celebrated the science of flight.

Whereby, a nearly satirical poem on the Royal Society presented Newtonian science, 'Wolf Moon' by Franny Choi brought no moon in sight and the wolf howling at the red neon exit sign. The group discussed ways in which poetry and science illuminate each other and concluded with 'Dear Reader' by Jon Scieszka which celebrates the superpower of reading.

To conclude the presentation 'First Sparks' Judith highlighted the following: new discoveries (far galaxies, deep oceans), also new technologies and new words, which both inform our understanding and broaden the possibilities for poetry. She spoke about our relationship with the planet as evolving and our evolving understanding about the impact – one on the other. Likewise, 'Climate Change' and thinking about our relationship with our world differently. Then thinking about the use of vocabulary, to create new 'poetry of science' there needs to be people who have a foot in both camps and who can translate and understand. Together with the principles of poetry and of science and the use for multiple applications and combined uniting of arts and science.

Further Information

Notes by Sharon Williams.

29th April 2019

Charles Causley, presented by Tony Earnshaw

This evening's presentation provided by Tony E was a really insightful and interesting talk on Charles Causley, a Cornish poet who was born in 1917 and died in 2003. His father died shortly after the 1st World War of a lung condition induced by the conditions under which he served in the trenches. Causley was seven and was brought up by his mother to whose care in her later life he devoted himself. Charles drew on folk songs, hymns and ballads and his use of traditional forms gave a timeless quality to his poetry.

Charles Causley volunteered for WW2 and enlisted in the Navy although severe seasickness meant he was given work on land. He was an inspirational and understanding primary school teacher and went on to work in adult education. Tony enabled the group to hear recordings of Charles reading some of his poems including 'Timothy Winter' which is much anthologised.

Tony explained that given the oral roots of some of his favourite forms, it is immensely valuable to be able to listen to Causley's own interpretation. His Cornish burr imparts a story-teller's magic to the ballads, and an intimacy to more personal poems such as the moving elegy to his parents, 'Eden Rock'. As he says in the last line of this poem "I had not thought that it would be like this", a fitting epitaph for a poet who continued to be surprised by the world throughout his long life.

Furthermore, his poetry was recognised by the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 1967 and a Cholmondeley Award in 1971. In addition to these public honours, the clarity and formality of his poetry has won Causley a popular readership, making him, in the words of Ted Hughes, one of the "best loved and most needed" poets of the last fifty years.

Themes relating to Charles Causley:

Further information

Notes by Sharon Williams.

3rd June 2019

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