Meeting Notes 2017

Social Event: Reading of favourite poems with refreshments

The first meeting of the year took the form of a social event with members of the group reading their favourite poems. The poems chosen spanned from the 6th Dynasty translated from Chinese to 20th Century poems translated from German. In addition, poems written about Ireland, America, Britain and Canada.

The following are some of the poems that the group shared:

The evening of reading and sharing favourite poetry provided an insight into the diverse inspiration that poetry has given to the Mole Valley Poets.

Notes by Sharon Williams.

9th January 2017

The role of poetry in our modern world, presented by Rosemary Wagner

Rose began the evening with a writing exercise based on imagery practice and an individual's response to 14 words. This prompted the group to think of metaphors and similes relating to such words e.g. pylon, the new moon, a lone oak tree in a field, puddle, a cough in a concert. This exercise culminated in the word 'Brexit'.

Linking to the above exercise, Rose discussed the role of poetry in our modern word. Specifically the divisive political situations such as the UK referendum on Brexit or the USA's presidential election of Trump. The group looked at how best poets find a way to express strong feelings through poetry. Also, how do you write serious and moving poetry on political subjects that will stand the test of time?

The group considered a number of 20th century poets and how they had defined what poetry is and why it is important for all of us, and even more so in times of deep turmoil and emotion: e.g. W B Yeats, Wilfrid Owen, R S Thomas, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Also discussed was Seamus Heaney's thoughts concerning what he calls 'the Redress of Poetry'. For him, poetry has a special ability to redress spiritual balance and to function as a counterweight to hostile and oppressive forces in the world.

Next, the group looked at poems which illustrate the concept of the redress of poetry: firstly Keith Douglas' war poem: 'Vergissmeinnicht' – 'Forget-me-not'. Such as the powerful impact achieved; not by writing propagandist verse, but rather by focussing on the pain and pity of the soldier's lost life and in particular his personal life. The imagining of his girlfriend's reaction to his undignified death by means of her photograph. Evoking universal human feelings that transcend national boundaries and move us all.

Then R S Thomas' poem 'Reservoirs', where the central image of the reservoir powerfully symbolises through its drowning of villages the loss of the Welsh language caused by the invasive use of English. A political, patriotic and very personal poem expressing difficult political feelings of anger and outrage symbolically. Briefly considered was Seamus Heaney's poem, taken from 'Lightenings', relating the story of the monks of Clonmacnoise, which, in his words, affirms the reconciliation of 'the practical and the poetic', where each 'redresses the other'.

Notes by Sharon Williams.

30th January 2017

Reading at Well Versed

A group of six Mole Valley Poets gave a reading of their poetry to the 'Well Versed' group which is led by Rosemary Harbridge – there were fifteen people present including a visitor, Anne Ferret, who read poems written by her late mother. The group was well-received, and there was a pause at half-time to take some refreshment. We are grateful to Rosemary and her group for making us welcome.

Notes by Sylvia Herbert

13th February 2017

C Day Lewis, presented by Sylvia Herbert

Sylvia provided a thought provoking presentation on the life and poetic work of Cecil Day-Lewis. This was accompanied with appropriate poems to show the development of his art. The group learnt that Cecil Day-Lewis also known as Day Lewis (1904-1972) was an Irish born poet who was brought up from childhood by his father in London. He identified himself as an Anglo-Irish poet. He was educated at Wadham College in Oxford, studying Classics. Here he met fellow student, and belonged to the group surrounding, W.H. Auden, whom he assisted in the editing of the 1927 Oxford Poetry publication. Day-Lewis was politically active and belonged to the communist party which he left in 1938.

During the 1930's to supplement his income and support his work as a poet, Day-Lewis wrote a series of popular detective novels under the pseudonym of Nicholas Blake and indeed sporadically published under this name up till 1964. Moving forward to the 1950's and 1960's, Day-Lewis was at the height of fame and in 1968 he become The Poet Laureate.

Sylvia took the group through the years by means of a journey using poems by Day-Lewis.

1935The Ecstatic A Time to Dance
1943Where are the war poets?The Room
1943The AlbumThe Word Over All
1943-1947The Christmas TreePoems
1962Walking AwayThe Gate and Other Poems
1962Getting Warm – Getting ColdThe Gate
1965This LoaferThe Room

Day-Lewis died in 1972 and on his grave are inscribed his own words:

Shall I be gone long?
Forever and a day.
To whom there belong?
Ask the stone to say,
Ask the song.

Further reading and listening:

Notes by Sharon Williams.

27th February 2017

Quest for freedom: visions of William Blake, presented by Tony Marcoff

Tony introduced the group to the 'Quest for freedom: visions of William Blake'. This topic provided an interesting and illuminating introduction to the life and work of William Blake, who was both a visionary poet and artist. Blake was born in 1757 in Soho, London. He remained in London and all his life was an artist, illustrator and engraver for booksellers. Indeed, Blake was a brilliant colourist and Tony recalls that as a young boy he himself first saw the artwork at the Blake Room in the Tate Britain.

Blake fretted for freedom and as a child refused to go to school as this confined him. He was a true visionary, as a boy of 4 years old he saw a vision of God at his bedroom window and throughout his life he saw visions of angels. Tony encouraged the group to look at and then discuss Blake's poetry. Such as, the looking at the image of 'The Ancient of Days', reading 'A Memorable Fancy', and some proverbs of hell from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The group read 'Auguries of Innocence' which begins:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
and a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
and Eternity in a hour.

These poems to be found in the Pickering Manuscript (transcribed to a fair copy in about 1803). The next, poem looked at:

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sunrise.

Tony then introduced readings from 'Songs of Innocence and Experience'. William Blake recorded the poverty, slavery and prostitution in the London of his time and the group learnt that he opposed all these. He wrote of his vision of angels and of the essence of God within creation. In his essay 'To the Christians' he begins with:

I give you the end of a golden string
Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven's gate
Built in Jerusalem's wall.

He died impoverished in 1827 forgotten and singing loudly. The font where he was baptised is at St James, Piccadilly.

For further information the following websites reference William Blake

Notes by Sharon Williams.

27th March 2017

The Poetry of Medicine, presented by Denise Bundred

The evening's presentation by Denise, focused on reading and a discussing 'The poetry of medicine'. Denise is a retired Paediatric Cardiologist, also an award winning poet who wrote the winning poem in the 2016 Hippocrates Poetry and Medicine NHS Prize category.

This was most interestingtopic and led to giving consideration to the many poems by doctors and medical experts whose work was unfamiliar to the group. There were discussions on writing from the point of view of either doctor or patient and of the conjunction of the two, on the fragmentation of medicine, on the all-embracing workload, on the teaching of medical students by means of poetry and on the importance of the human story within all of this.

The reading began with a striking and haunting poem 'In the Theatre' by Dannie Abse (b.1923-2014, British physician). This poem clearly showed the difference between the boredom of routine and the drama of an emergency. Leading on from this poem, the group discussed how poetry gives permission to doctors to acknowledge strong feelings.

Denise explained how she connected too and was engaged with the poetry of Rafael Campo (b.1964, Cuban-American physician) and the group read his poems which evoked memories of real life medical situations; 'Towards Curing AIDS' and 'The Distant Moon'. Next, the poem of Glen Colquhoun (b.1964, New Zealand practitioner) 'Today I do not want to be a doctor'. This poem was written in a style that does not take work too seriously! Followed by 'Heart Transplant' by Miroslav Holub (1923-1998, Czech immunologist) and 'Open Heart' by Maureen Jivani (British nurse).

Other poems showed empathy and compassion for the patient, such as 'He Makes a House Call' John Stone (1936-2008, American Cardiologist) and a doctor writing from the point of view of the patient, 'Two Weeks' by Marc Straus (American oncologist). Finally, from William Carlos Williams (1883-1963 ) the poem 'Complaint' illustrates how poetry has recorded and continues to show the pressure of, and the changing role of doctors.


Notes by Sharon Williams.

24th April 2017

Haibun - the art of prose plus haiku, presented by Diana Webb

This was a most interesting and inspiring workshop. Diana began with an overview of the characteristics of haibun in which prose is usually concluded with one or two haiku or breath-length poems. The 5-7-5 syllable rule associated with haiku is more of a guideline than a strict rule – some people prefer the discipline of keeping to this. The prose is brief, abbreviated in syntax, imagistic and objective and while seriousness and beauty concern the writer, a haibun usually demonstrates a light touch. The connection between the prose and the haiku is oblique – there is a link and shift between the two with the haiku being distinct from and yet complementing the prose. In good haibun, the prose deepens the understanding of the poetry and the poetry gives greater energy to the prose. A haibun needs to be written in the spirit of haiku with the ideal of yugen, that is deep, mysterious and graceful. There needs to be space for the reader.

We explored the relationship between the prose and the haiku by looking at several haibun where the prose and haiku elements had been separated and printed on different pages. We were invited to find the right haiku to go with each piece of prose. We then read Diana's prizewinning haibun 'A Small Act'. This was followed by a writing exercise in which we wrote first a haiku and then a small paragraph in response in the moment to a work of art on a postcard. We read further haibun by different people including Geoffrey Woodward, chose another postcard and wrote a piece of prose followed by a haiku. We looked at examples of found haibun in the works of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Richard Jefferies and Virginia Woolf. We were then given postcards which included portraits of people and we were asked to write in either the third or first person with autobiographical details or else to give a story to the person in the picture. We were encouraged to work further on our writing over the next few days and to submit haibun for consideration for publication in 'Time Haiku'.

Notes by Helen Overell.

29th April 2017

Trains, presented by Sharon Williams

This evening's presentation was themed around trains and poetry. Firstly the group thought about their last train journey and other favourite rail journeys. The conversation included local train travel and the splendid views on the train journey from Dorking to Redhill. Also further afield, journeys by the night train to Scotland, trips to Cornwall and memories of travel when a child. The five poems selected, explore trains in differing ways with comedy, the recalling of youth, state of mind and arrival to a new country.

W.H. Auden (1907-1973) Night Mail: As a fun introduction to the chosen poems, the group all read Night Mail out loud and in unison! This showed the rhythm of the poem and the feel of the wheels of the train turning on the journey to deliver the night mail. Albeit this poem was written over 80 year ago as part of the documentary film and advertising campaign for the GPO (General Post Office) in 1936. It has remained a favourite and indeed members of the group recall it having been part of their school lessons.

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) The Railway Children: We discussed how writing about a child hood memory, Seamus Heaney draws the reader into the world of telegraph wires that are adjacent to the railway lines. With swallows thereon and the belief that words travelled those wires in raindrops.

John Betjeman (1906-1984) Summoned by Bells: Trains, Victoriana and architecture are synonymous with John Betjeman. A statute of this poet can be found as St Pancras train station in recognition of his role in saving the station. Hence this presentation would not be complete without reference to a Betjeman poem. Summoned by Bells is a 1960's poem, which also was published in the collection of Poems on the Underground (1996). It evokes a time when the poet as a child travelled the underground freely with a friend. With imagery and references to Metroland and property sold by the Highgate estate agents Goldschmidt and Howland; who are still trading today. Betjeman also wrote train related poetry in the Metro land collection.

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) Travel: Then moving on to the American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay who in the poem Travel appears to be using the train track as an example to symbolise the many paths in life that can be followed. Yet, red cinders and whistle shrieking provide vivid imagery to this short poem.

Moniza Alvi (1954-) Arrival 1946: The vibrant short eight line poem; Arrival 1946 describes Alvi's father's arrival in England from Pakistan and travelling by train from the boat in Liverpool to London. The group discussed how cleverly crafted, this poem presents her father's keen observation of washing and underwear openly on display in gardens and how that contrasted with the expectation of what constituted a quintessential 'Englishman's garden.'

Further reading for poems on trains and railways

Notes by Sharon Williams.

5th June 2017

Poetry of Maya Angelou, presented by Jane Freimiller

Jane provided a thought provoking introduction to the poetry of Maya Angelou (1928-2014). Starting with an explanation of Maya's varied and interesting life and career; as a poet, dancer, essayist, playwright and a civil rights activist. In addition, Maya read at Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993, the poem 'On the Pulse of the Morning'. It could be said that by the end of her life she had become a national treasure and particularly well known in relation to her six books on her life, such as 'I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings'. The poetry of Maya Angelou being informed by the language of the bible, the call and response style of preaching and the singing of spiritual hymns.

A number of thought provoking poems were selected by Jane, starting with 'And Still I Rise'. The group listened to the tennis star Serena Williams recite this poem with a soulful interpretation. Yet, we learned that Maya herself performed this poem frequently in a joyous manner. The poem 'Phenomenal Woman' is a powerful poem, by a women who is positive about inhabiting her own body and in doing so Maya tackles the legacy of slavery and perception of the body in this poem. The group discussed how this poem echoes an oral preaching tradition of call and response; i.e. use of the words phenomenally and I say. Also to illustrate African American women writing about their bodies, we read 'Homage to my hips' by Lucille Clifton (1936-2010) a contemporary of Maya Angelou.

The next two poems; firstly 'Woman Work' with a beautiful sadness, demonstrates a recognition of the never-ending nature of domestic tasks and the need for rest and spiritual nourishment. Whereas, there is immense power and dignity in 'Momma Welfare Roll'. Finally, the last poem of the evening to be read was 'Caged Bird', written in 1983 by Maya Angelou.

Further information

Notes by Sharon Williams.

26th June 2017

MVP Poetry reading

Mole Valley Poets held a Poetry Evening on Saturday 1st July at St Mary's Church Hall Fetcham in which members of the group read from their own work, including poems from their most recent anthology Murmuration. Musical interludes were provided by Ian Codd. This was a relaxed and enjoyable evening with poems on many different themes. The audience was attentive and appreciative. The takings amounted to 150 and this was donated to CRY.

Notes by Helen Overell.

1st July 2017

Rudyard Kipling, presented by Tony Earnshaw

Rudyard Kipling was an early 20th century poet. Tony's interest stemmed from recalling schoolboy stories of Stalky & Co. Currently, Kipling may not be so much in favour but is remembered for The Jungle Book and the poems If and My Boy Jack, believed to be influenced by the death of his son during World War 1 (WW1). Kipling was a poet at the time of the First World War – although he did not go to war he was involved in the work of the War Graves Commission. His poetry is striking and contains elements of the politics of the time and is often long! There is a Kipling Society and many of his books are still in print. The group discussed Bateman's, the National Trust property that was Kipling's home, a visit to which is highly recommended.

Tony provided a thought provoking look at Kipling, whereby the group read and discussed an interesting selection of poetry. Firstly The Comforters selected as it differs from Kipling's other poems. It is written in a style that has both construction and argument and the ending 'go away'. The group questioned and considered that it may have been written from his own personal experience and loss, pre-war, of his young daughter.

This was followed by reading a number of Kipling's WW1 poems; such as Gethsemane (1914-18) an effective and affective poem. Possibly related to Kipling's son John, who had joined the army, My Boy Jack portrays a sense of guilt, the rhythm and repetition of the word 'tide' makes it a serious poem. Also in The Children (1914-18) there are echoes of guilt in this poem possibly related to Kipling's regret of his son joining up. The group reflected on how Kipling's WW1 poems do not feature commonly in WW1 poetry collections.

In the final section of the evening the members of the group each enjoyed reading a verse of a typical example of Kipling's poetry Gunga Din and to end the presentation an example of a sea based poem Coastwise Lights.

Further reading

Notes by Sharon Williams.

31st July 2017

Summer School: 'Writing in the margins', presented by Helen Overell

MVP Summer School 'Writing in the margins' on Saturday 12th August went well – there were 8 people in total of whom 2 were visitors who are interested in joining MVP. The theme was explored from a variety of viewpoints and contemporary poetry was used to illustrate these including responses to geographical boundaries, imprisonment, childhood, old age and bystanders in a familiar story. The writing exercises evoked some vivid imagery involving several of the senses. The individual voices found ways of expression in musicality of language. 'Found' poetry observed on a road sign was shared in response to one exercise.

Notes by Helen Overell.

12th August 2017

Poetry workshop: 'The Self-Conscious Poem', presented by Heather Shakespeare

Poetry workshop 'The Self-Conscious Poem' by Heather Shakespeare. This was an interesting and insightful exploration of the journey of a poem which begins in delight and ends in wisdom and self-consciousness. We looked at the startling impact of poetry, the joy in words and the hope that is carried in language. We experimented with reasons for writing and with applying metaphor to the speed, shape and colour of writing. We wrote down what we might say about our poems bequeathed to a reader – in just enough words to fit onto a luggage label. We considered the sense of freedom within language that is there for the writer. We discussed the way a poem takes on a life of its own once launched into the world.

Notes by Helen Overell.

23rd September 2017

RS Thomas: a sideways glance, Presented by Liz Barton

As an opening, Liz provided an interesting insight as to her choice of R.S. Thomas as a poet. This was as a result of having been introduced to the poetry of R.S. Thomas in a session run by Helen who is also a Mole Valley Poet. We learnt that R.S. Thomas was a prolific writer of poems and also a Vicar in the Church of Wales. He wrote each morning, then went out birdwatching in the afternoons and visited his parishioners in the evenings. He had one son Gwydion with his wife Elsi an artist. Subsequently, R.S. Thomas learned to speak Welsh in his thirties and while he wrote Welsh prose he found himself unable to write poetry in Welsh and regretted this.

The first reading of the meeting was the poem A Blackbird Singing. The group commented on the use of simple words nevertheless the poem also being full of imagery and hidden depth. Liz commented on how the last line was typical of R. S. Thomas, as it surprises and turns the poem on its self. Followed by the The Bright Field which prompted the title of this presentation 'A Sideways Glance'. The Bright Field is a positive upbeat poem. Some words when read aloud could be compared to the singing of a hymn and also the notion that if you look sideways you find the divine. On the other hand, The Chapel is not an optimistic poem. It reveals that R.S. Thomas was fearful of technology and described by Seamus Heaney as being a loner against the Universe. However, R.S. Thomas was drawn to out of the way and forgotten places and these maybe gave him poetic inspiration.

The next poem Ninetieth Birthday prompted a lively discussion and evoked memories for some members of the group. Liz explained how in this poem R.S. Thomas in his role as a vicar was dutiful and had compassion for his parishioners. Albeit, R.S. Thomas lived in a modest place yet so much came out of it and this is reflected in his writing by the use of simple, transparent and powerful language. As illustrated by the first verse of this delicate poem being full of life and the last verse with a commanding end which is still relevant today. In contrast, his earlier poem Evans addresses the human struggling with and questioning of faith. The last reading of the presentation was R.S. Thomas's religious poem Via Negativia in which he captures an unfulfilled yearning and search for God.

Recommended Reading

Recommended Websites

Notes by Sharon Williams.

25th September 2017

Delivering the poem, presented by Darren Cheek

Darren Cheek facilitated this excellent and informative workshop. Topics included projecting the voice, breathing, commanding the stage and engaging the audience. The 14 participants practised techniques for increasing confidence and enhancing the way a poem is presented. The importance of stance, breath and eye contact was emphasised as was the placing of voice. Each stage of the exercises was illustrated with an example of good practice. The use of a microphone was demonstrated and discussed. Mole Valley Poets are grateful to Arts Alive for their support in enabling this workshop to take place.

Notes by Helen Overell.

14th October 2017

Poetry Pub

The Poetry Pub open mike evening was well attended – there were 25 people together with the Shebang folk band quartet who played at the beginning and during the interval. 19 of those attending were readers. There were serious thought-provoking poems, light-hearted humorous ones and a whole range of themes including those to do with the environment, politics, nature and relationships. There was much enthusiasm and good humour. Mole Valley Poets are grateful to Arts Alive for their support in enabling this evening to take place.

Notes by Helen Overell.

16th October 2017

The Poetry of Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), presented by Sharon Williams

This evening's presentation from Sharon, provided an introduction to the poetry of Dorothy Parker and included the opportunity to listen to recordings of her poetry. Dorothy Parker was an American feminist who seemed to peak in her heyday during the 1920's and 1930's. She had a colourful career writing for both Vogue and the New Yorker. She was married twice, firstly to Edwin Pond Parker (1917-1928) and in 1934 married film actor and writer Alan Campbell. Her poems appear in many anthologies and are noted for their sardonic humour which could have been a defence against the depression which troubled her throughout her life. Her poems have strong rhythms and a skilful use of end rhyme.

As an introduction and to illustrate the clever impact of the last line, the group listened to a recording of the poem Comment. In this short poem Dorothy Parker compares herself to the heartbreak of Queen Marie of Romania. Furthermore, it was noted how all the Dorothy Parker poems that had been researched on the internet or found in Sharon's poetry book collection always seemed to reflect on and often depicted Dorothy Parker failed romantic relationships. Such examples being the poem Love Song and the recording of Dorothy Parker herself reciting One Perfect Rose.

Other poems that the group read aloud included; The Danger of Writing Defiant Verse and Interview. The next poem discussed was the well know poem Resume, Sharon's favourite and the stimulus for this presentation. Finally, with reference to the 20th Century in Poetry Collection; the poem War Song written in 1944. This poem of course relates to relationships. However, it is in between the serious poems Vergissmeinnicht (1943) by Keith Douglas and Prodigy by Charles Semic. Therefore, demonstrates the influence and popularity of Dorothy Parker's poems today.

Further information

Notes by Sharon Williams.

30th October 2017

Looking ahead

Tony Earnshaw led the discussion on the full and varied programme for this year. The in-house Saturday workshops were successful as were the two linked Arts Alive events of Darren Cheek's workshop 'Delivering the poem' and the Poetry Pub open mic evening. It was proposed that there should be some remuneration for the leader of in-house workshops next year and this was agreed. There was a debate about external workshops and several were in favour of the Sofa Poet for next year. It was suggested that this should take place on a Monday evening, possibly in the summer. Ali Clarke from Surrey Hills Art would like to discuss possible MVP involvement with two of her projects "Surrey Unearthed" and "Travelling Reading Room". These could be linked with the next MVP anthology. Sue Beckwith reported on costs for the 2018 anthology and it was decided to use the usual format with a summer launch possibly in Dorking Library. The next Christmas anthology in the same small format as before was proposed for later in the year. There were no changes in positions held. Leaders volunteered for meetings in 2018 and dates were assigned.

Notes by Helen Overell.

27th November 2017

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