This evening brought a festive close to the season and the promise of new beginnings for the year ahead. There were gifts in the poems each of us read out and in the sharing of nibbles and drinks. We listened to work by the Navaho and Tennyson and Thomas Hardy, by Gillian Clarke and Elizabeth Jennings and Maya Angelou, by Leonard Cohen, WS Merwin, Seamus Heaney, Billy Collins and Simon Armitage and many more. We brought to mind the old year and the new, the way the reading of poetry inspires the writing of poetry and the way words address loss. There were stars choosing to be flowers, beetles with spruced-up sheen and rills amongst hidden crags.
Notes by Helen Overell.
During the evening's presentation Tony E provided an illuminating introduction to Lemn Sissay. This was enhanced with video links, biographical notes and poems. Tony conveyed a wide-ranging insight into Lemn Sissay's background relating to: his birth mother, fostering and adoption (his given first name was changed to Norman). Also explaining that Lemn had a number of rejections which led to him being placed in care homes during his teens. At 18 he discovered via his birth certificate that his name was Lemn not Norman. Consequently at 21 he found his mother in Ghana.
In June 2015 Lemn Sissay was elected chancellor of the University of Manchester for a seven-year term. He is involved with projects on lunches for the hungry, Ted talks and in Landmark poems such as 'Let There Be Peace' - Said the sun to the moon/Said the head to the heart/We have more in common/Than sets us apart. This is painted onto a wall two-storeys high on the University of Huddersfield's Creative Arts Building.
Lemn's poetry features his experience of growing up and his roots and background. Tony also pointed out that Lemn's sense of humour is also conveyed in his poems such as in the story 'Gold from a stone'.
The group read and listened to Lemn's poetry from the books; Tender Fingers in a Clenched Fist 1988, Rebel without Applause 1992 and Morning Breaks in the Elevator 1999. The poems selected by Tony included; 'Anthem of the North', 'Invisible kisses' , 'Mother' and 'Gold from the stone'.
These choices provided an opportunity for the group to discuss and explore how identity and belonging feature strongly in Lemn's poerty. This was illustrated by Lemn Sissay's Manchester chancellor poem using YouTube. Accordingly, Tony facilitated an exercise relating to identity and belonging asking the questions: Where do we come from? Where do we feel we belong? The group was given five minutes to jot down some thoughts, maybe a poem or a start of one.
The final poem of the presentation was 'Open up' from New poems, Gold from the stone.
Notes by Sharon Williams.
Diana led an afternoon of Haibun with her normal insights and talent for the form. Haibun by Fran Masat, David Jacobs, Matthew Caretti and Diana herself were read aloud and discussed, noting the use of dialogue within the prose, the range of subject matter and the variations in form. Some of those read were prose with a single haiku at the end, some interspersed several haiku within the body of the prose, each one had a relationship between prose and haiku in which the haiku was not strictly 'about' the subject of the prose but was relevant and built on what was being said in the prose.
We were then challenged to write some ourselves with writing prompts ranging from a portrait by Lucian Freud of his wife holding a kitten to a piece of lego or of Turkish Delight. These exercises including the collaborative and the individual and prompted some nice pieces of writing in both the prose and haiku sections as well as in the whole. Subject matter ranged quite widely, even given a common prompt, demonstrating the power of the creative imagination.
Notes by Tony Earnshaw.