Meeting Notes 2018

Social event with visit from Ali Clarke of Surrey Hills Art

It was good to welcome Ali Clarke from Surrey Hills Art who shared ideas about her Surrey Unearthed project and possible ways for MVP to become involved in this – one being the next anthology – and also her Travelling Reading Room project.

It was good too to welcome Maureen Jivani who thanked all in MVP for donations to CRY.

We shared refreshments and read out favourite poems. These were many and varied and included work by Anna Akhmatova, Carole Satyamurti and Jackie Kay as well as Brian Patten, Seamus Heaney and RS Thomas. There was work from the beginning of the last century and some written within the past year. There were solemn themes as well as joyous ones. There were German, Russian and American poems. There was a great interweaving and overlapping of many threads of themes.

Notes by Helen Overell.

8th January 2018

Poetry in Translation, presented by Rose Wagner

Rose led a lively and thought-provoking discussion on whether poetry is lost in its translation. With so much to discuss on this theme, the group looked at why it is important for us as poets to read poetry in translation, to help understand and learn from poets of other backgrounds, cultures and languages. The group explored the difficulties of translation, the need to convey social context and the problems that arise when there is no literal translation for a particular word or phrase. Also, discussed were the difficulties in doing justice to the original rhythms and rhymes and whether or not this is possible and how much of this is necessary.

There was an interesting conversation regarding how poetry differs from prose and the problems arising for translation from poetry techniques such as rhyme, rhythm, imagery. Not forgetting the differences between languages in structure, idioms and style. The methods and challenges of poetry translation were considered, together with the modern practice of pairing poets with native speakers/linguists to collaborate on a final translated poem. For example, beginning with a literal translation as used in 'Modern Poetry in Translation' (the magazine started by Ted Hughes in 1965) and also by Sarah Maguire who founded the Poetry Translation Centre.

The group reflected on the depth and resonance of a poem and how this might be enfolded and expressed in a different language. Rose illustrated this point by providing the group with poems to read that had been written in French, German and Spanish and translations of these into English. In addition, further looking at poems translated from Russian and from Hungarian. At the same time, it was considered that the act of translating seems akin to building a bridge between different cultures and different times.

By discussion and reading of a number of poems with their translations, Rose provided the opportunity to enhance the group's appreciation of the complexities and pitfalls of the task. In conclusion, it seemed apparent that poetry is not necessarily lost in translation when the work is carried out with sufficient skill, care and sensitivity.

Poems considered that had been translated from the original language

Suggested further reading
'Centres of Cataclysm – Celebrating 50 years of Modern Poetry in Translation'
Edited by Sasha Dugdale and David and Helen Constantine, Bloodaxe Books, 2016

Notes by Sharon Williams.

29th January 2018

UA Fanthorpe, presented by Heather Shakespeare

The presentation from Heather provided a fascinating insight into the poetry by Ursula Askham Fanthorpe (UA Fanthorpe). Born in Kent 1929 and from a somewhat privileged background, she attended St Anne's College, Oxford then later taught at Cheltenham Ladies' College for 16 years. However, she felt unfulfilled in that role and only started writing poetry in 1974 whilst working as a medical receptionist at Burden Neurological Hospital, where she felt she had found her subject matter at last. A fascination with hospitals came about as a result of an accident when she rode her pedal cycle in Oxford. From the mid 1980's onwards UA Fanthorpe wrote prolifically and also took up residencies at Lancaster, Durham and Newcastle universities, as well as receiving many awards and honours such as the Cholmondeley Award (1993); first woman to be nominated for Professor of Poetry at Oxford (1995);CBE (2001) and the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry (2003).

Heather explained to the group that she had only encountered the work of UA Fanthorpe four years ago and had been drawn to reading further. Heather's knowledge and enthusiasm provided a lively discussion on UA Fanthorpe's style of poetry which displays her humour, empathy for the outsider and a need to 'drop out' in order to find her voice.

The group read a diverse number of poems. The first poem For Saint Peter had been written by UA Fanthorpe in 1984 in a caravan in the grounds of Burden Neurological Hospital where she used to take her lunchbreaks. Next, the group read Casehistory: Alison (head injury) and then the List. These poems, all from her first anthology (Side Effects), reflect her fascination with the stories behind the medical case notes she handled in her job. They also express her connection with people who had no voice, and her sense of vocation in speaking for them through her poetry. The poems Earthed and Stanton Drew were then read, providing evidence of UA's love of England, its landscapes, archeology and history.

UA Fanthorpe regarded a poem as "a conversation between the poet and the reader", but some of her poems read as conversations in their own right. Knowing About Sonnets, in which UA wrily debunks literary criticism, was read as an example of this. The next poems explored by the group were BC: AD and Not the Millennium, both of which express UA Fanthorpe's Quaker faith. Her preoccupation with the futility of war was examined in the funny yet disturbing poem The Young Person's Guide To Arms, whilst Fanfare, a poem addressed to her mother following her death, considers the affections and tensions within the mother/daughter relationship. Rounding off an interesting evening, the final poem Atlas is one in which UA Fanthorpe illustrates the maintenance of everyday issues – such as undertaking household tasks and administration – as being the sensible side of love.

Further reference

Listen to an interview with UA Fanthorpe and hear her reading the Master of the Cast Shadow

Collections by UA Fanthorpe

(All published by Peterloo or Enitharmon)

Notes by Sharon Williams.

26th February 2018

Haibun workshop, presented by Diana Webb

Diana gave an excellent presentation on 'Haibun: Landscape and Portrait' beginning with a brief description of haibun in which prose and haiku are each enhanced by the other. A haiku is a breath-length poem in which perceptions come together within a moment and resound beyond this. Haiku need not follow the 5–7–5 syllable rule – there are single line haiku called monoku as well as two line haiku. The link between the prose and the haiku can be one of counterpoint, refraction, condensation and narrative momentum. The haiku can provide an oblique link & shift to the prose thus opening another dimension to the writing and the journey of the reader.

Diana led an exercise on matching up prose and haiku which had been separated for this purpose. In this way we explored the nature of the relationship between the haiku and prose within a haibun. We were invited to write a haiku and then prose in the voice of the child in a Banksy picture. We looked at examples of haibun written in response to landscapes from around the world and were invited to write our own in response to landscapes on postcards. We then looked at haibun giving portraits of people including Diana's 'Formidable' which holds a vivid and affectionate account of her aunt and also two haibun in response to portraits by Cézanne. We wrote our own haibun based on postcards of portraits by Cézanne, Modigliani etc. Diana has invited us to submit our finished pieces for consideration for publication in 'Time Haiku.'

Notes by Helen Overell

24th March 2018

Poetry of Rivers, presented by Tony Marcoff

This evening Tony conveyed a comprehensive presentation on 'The Poetry of the River'. Tony explained how he had incorporated his own work within the poems to be reviewed. By way of illustrating how the river had contributed to his own creativity. Firstly, the group looked at an image of a Japanese Ukiyo-e wood block print. It was explained that the river scene represented the floating world of pleasure relating to the old world quarter of Tokyo. Which tied up to the reading of The Floating World by Ryoi Asai (written after 1661).

The group was given the opportunity to read the poem Rising Damp – U A Fanthorpe (1929–2009). This poem highlighted the rivers of London and provided a wonderful ending with a sinister twist by reference to the rivers from Greek mythology. Further poems to read relating to London include: Windsor-Forest – Alexander Pope (1688–1744) and The Wey – Ravil Bukharaev.

The poem the Four Quartets – T S Elliot (1888–1965) was discussed in terms of how the river in this poem could be interpreted as an indication that rivers are sacred. Tony read to the group his own prose poem The River Mole – Tony Marcoff (2017). Explaining, how Ezra Pound spoke about sacred spaces being in the mind whereas for Tony, the sacred space is the River Mole.

Next, the poem In a Notebook – James Fenton, written with three stanzas in italics and the remaining two in standard text. So, it was effectively read by two members of the group to illustrate the change of mood in the poem. Followed by The One Book – Velemir Khlebnikov (1885–1922). The many rivers mentioned, enabled this poem to facilitate a moment of beauty; as each river has its own personally. Other river poems to consider reading are; Old Leaves from the Chinese Earth – Sadanand Rege (1923–1982) and Japanese River Tales – Ted Hughes (1930–1998).

Subsequently, Tony guided the group through an exploration of various poet's haiku, tanka and monoku (one line haiku) of the river. A most thoughtful presentation on 'The Poetry of the River' concluded with the group listening to Tony reading his own prose poem, a hymn to the mother – Tony Marcoff (2017).

Further reading and listening:

Notes by Sharon Williams.

26th March 2018

Surrey Unearthed Poetry Walk

Eight poets and friends met at Abinger Roughs National Trust Carpark to walk a circular path from there to Piney Copse. The weather was kind and the sun shone, if a little hazily, later in the day. Setting out from the carpark, we shared impressions as we walked, marvelling at the gnarled Witches Broom Tree and wondered at the reason for the vase of daffodils perched amongst the branches, identified the various birds from song and sight; wrens, tits, jay, pheasant, buzzards, crows and, of course, pigeons, commented on the many signs of spring; tiny tree buds on the beech, yellow star flowers of lesser celandines, the bunches of green leaves that herald bluebells, and marvelled at the slow worm that basked on the grass in the middle of our path – a rare sight for most of us with its copper scales and black flickering tongue. Another rare and unexpected sight was the steam train chugging its way along the base of the North Downs, distinctive whistle blowing, heading back towards Dorking.

Three stops along the way allowed time to write on the sights and sounds of the walk and to digest the notes handed out on some of the historic and landscape facts about the area – details of the water wheels, mills and hammer ponds powering 12 diverse industries through the ages along the Tillingbourne – how Thomas Henry Farrer, who owned the land as part of the Abinger Hall estate, helped Darwin's research on earthworms by keeping a worm journal – the memorial cross for "Soapy Sam", Samuel Wilberforce, a bishop and son of William Wilberforce who lead the movement to stop the slave trade – and the purchase of Piney Copse by E.M. Forster from the proceeds of A Passage to India to deter developers.

A companionable and relaxed walk in beautiful surroundings which will hopefully unearth and inspire poems for Surrey Unearthed, the Mole Valley Poets Anthology, to be launched in June.

Notes by Sue Beckwith.

7th April 2018

Poetry Library, presented by Sharon Williams

The evening's presentation was an intriguing and animated discussion on The National Poetry Library. Beginning with a short quiz on basic facts and following on with work from Philip Henderson (b 1906 d 1977) published in 1930 and from Stewart Henderson (b 1952), a poet and Radio 4 presenter, published in recent times.

As a valuable poetry resource, The National Poetry Library was founded by the Arts Council in 1953. The National Poetry Library is the largest public collection of modern poetry in the world and has a vast catalogue searchable on line. A number of Mole Valley Poets are also published and to be found in this collection. Since 1988 it has been situated on Level 5, Blue Side, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre. The opening hours are; Tuesday to Sunday from 11am – 8pm. In addition it provides a quiet space in which to think and read and write.

Sharon discussed her recent journey to the poetry library to research Haiku after attending a work shop facilitated by Mole Valley Poet, Diana Webb. Sharon explained how the evening's presentation of poets found in The National Poetry Library had shifted from Haiku to Henderson. As a result of a search for a Haiku book by Harold Henderson on the library shelf, she discovered two other Henderson poets.

Firstly, Philip Henderson (b 1906 d 1977) who has five books/collections catalogued on The National Poetry Library website. The group read the poem 'WESTMINSTER EMBANKMENT'. To be found in his collection 'First Poems' which were published in 1930. Interestingly, this poem prompted a conversation with reference to the language and punctuation used in the poem written over 85 years ago. But, places and times have changed for example, there are no trams nor the Grand Hotel at the Embankment today. Even so, one aspect remains current today and that is the location of Cleopatra's needle.

The second poem of the evening came from a collection of work by the poet Stewart Henderson (b.1952). He has six books/collections catalogued on The National Poetry Library website. The poem chosen to be read from the 1989 published 'A Giants Scrapbook' was titled 'POEM FOR AN IRISH WOLFHOUND'. Members of the group enjoyed this observational poem about the poet's dog. Also, commenting on how 60 years later this was written in a different style and presentation format to that of the previous poem 'WESTMINSTER EMBANKMENT'.

Further reading and reference

Notes by Sharon Williams.

30th April 2018

Helen Dunmore, presented by Sylvia Herbert

Sylvia provided a considerate insight in to the work of the English poet, novelist, and playwright Helen Dunmore (1952 – 2017). Prior to her death, Dunmore was open and transparent about her terminal illness and spoke on Radio 4's Open Book, saying that she hoped her work would be read by her loved ones after her death.

A prolific author who had published in excess of ten poetry collections, including The Malarkey (2012) and Glad of These Times (2006). Furthermore, her novels span from Zennor in the Darkness (1993) to include Exposure (2016). With a number being shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Whitbread Novel of the Year Award and the Orange Prize. She also authored a dozen children's books. Posthumously, 2018 the Costa Book of the year award went to Dunmore for her final poetry collection Inside the Wave.

Sylvia mainly focused the evening's poems on the poetry from Inside the Wave. The collection Inside the Wave is understood to have been written shortly before her death. The group discussed how the collection was a metaphor for Dunmore. She wrote about her illness and being curious of the journey, the direction and how she was going to get there.

Firstly, an introduction to the work of Dunmore with the poem Hold Out Your Arms. This poem provided a thoughtful analysis of Dunmore's words. Such as, questioning why did she write like this? Also, how the poem relates to going back in to memories of being a small child, comfort, being looked after and the symbolism of an iris flower. Whereas, Nightfall in the Ikea Kitchen is a reflection of the past. A witty kitchen poem demonstrating how utility of the kitchen was important in her life. Other poems read out included, On Looking Through the Handle of a Cup and the The Shaft.

Next, the prize winning poem The Malarkey. A reflective poem, forty years on from children misbehaving in a car. On the face of it, this poem seems simple but the group suggested that it could relate to the missing of one's youth and had a darker, in-depth meaning. The final poem of the evening by Dunmore was Inside the Wave. With so many images in this poem of the sea, a sea mariner, woman and the waves as memories for the poet.

Further information

Poetry Collection

Notes by Sharon Williams.

4th June 2018

Launch of Surrey Unearthed anthology

The book launch for the MVP anthology 'Surrey Unearthed' filled the Narnia room in The Old House to capacity with standing room only available for some. There were about 38 people present of whom 15 were Mole Valley Poets. This event links with the work of other artists taking part in the larger 'Surrey Unearthed' project. This year colour images were included in the anthology for the first time and 49 copies were sold. As in previous years, a donation will be given to CRY.

Notes by Helen Overell.

25th June 2018

Reading the poem, presented by Denise Bundred

This evening, Denise presented an illuminating interactive themed presentation 'Reading the Poem'. The group explored how the 'close reading' of a poem could enhance enjoyment, understanding and provide learning for one's own poetry writing. Firstly, Denise invited the group to read through a poem more than once also taking time and paying attention to details such as form, shape, line endings, assonance and alliteration.

Then, Denise led a discussion on the impact of the first line, whether or not this draws us into the poem. The group looked at time and place and point of view as well as use of tense. Furthermore, explored the idea of shift; in tone, time, place, imagery or topic and where this occurred. The chosen poems were; Amphora by Philip Gross, What was Happening by Adam Foulds and Brilliance by Mark Doty. Each poem was readout anonymously and the group were encouraged to make notes on ready prepared worksheets after each one. Consequently, the ideas were shared with a view to fit the name of the poet to the poem.

Discussion on the poems identified that 'Amphora', is a concrete poem with short lines and lots of enjambment, the precise, scientific language leading to a philosophical last stanza with reference to Homer's wine-dark sea. Next to be listened to 'What was Happening' set on a train in Africa, presenting the haughty, privileged character of Jenkins and his blowing of smoke toward the waiter which highlights the tensions of a colonial past. In the third poem, 'Brilliance', Maggie's friend is dying, has put his affairs in order and is coming to terms with the closing of a life. The poet tells us of a Zen master who 'was reborn / in the stunned flesh of a fawn' and the poem continues with images of 'an opulent tail, / undulant in some uncapturable curve' and of bronze chrysanthemums and copper leaf.

Finally, Denise facilitated an interesting examination of the groups observations made on the above poems. Also, it was deliberated on how we as poets could use what had been noticed to improve and develop our own poetry writing.


  1. Amphora in The Water Table by Philip Gross, published by Bloodaxe in 2009. It was the winner of TS Eliot prize.
  2. What was Happening in The Broken Word by Adam Foulds published by Cape Poetry. Random House 2008. It won the Costa Book Award for Poetry.
  3. Brilliancebrilliance by Mark Doty. He also won the TS Eliot Prize 1995 for My Alexandria.
  4. Pax in And by Michael Mackmin published by Happenstance Press 2017. He has been the Editor of The Rialto since it started in 1984.

Further Reading

Notes by Sharon Williams.

30th July 2018

MVP Summer School 'Journeying', presented by Helen Overell

There were 9 people in total at the MVP Summer School. We read poetry on the theme of 'Journeying' including work by Brendan Kenelly, Fleur Adcock, Eavon Boland and Seamus Heaney. We took part in writing exercises, individually and in small groups, so as to explore the ideas and put the beginnings of poems down on the page. There were images of the misty breath of a dairy herd at daybreak, of the tyranny of the treble clef and of hope being "a hop with an 'e' at the end". There were difficult journeys, straightforward ones and the sense of interconnectedness in the confluence of all those other journeys round about us – of birds and of butterflies.

Notes by Helen Overell.

11th August 2018

Dogs in Poetry, presented by Susan Thomas

Susan chose 'Dogs in Poetry' as the evening's presentation. It was so interesting to hear and consider how diverse the poems relating to dogs are. Having researched this theme at the Poetry Library she identified many poems and poets on this subject. Firstly, Susan began by introducing the history of dogs and poets and pointing out there is evidence of a relationship between dogs and humans from as long as 13,000 years ago. Dogs can be devoted companions as well as working partners. Furthermore, then illustrating examples of dogs appearing in poems by many writers that span the centuries as far back as that of Geoffrey Chaucer (1342–1400) to W. H. Auden.

Susan suggested that she had noticed there are themes that reoccur when poets write about their dog such as friendship, loyalty, respect love and loss. An example, which demonstrates the role of the dog is the poem 'Flush'. This is about the beloved cocker spaniel who belonged to Elizabeth Barrett-Browning (1806–1861). Yet, there are also poems written from a dog's point of view which tend to be in a simplistic format. Such a poem read by the group is 'Ergo Sum' by John Walsh. Next, the group read a long poem 'Dog' by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. An observational poem of a time in history (1958) where the dog trots freely in the street and sits with head tilted as though to have his photo taken for the label on His Master's Voice records. Possibly, discussed by the group as a metaphor for a young American.

Other poems discussed and read were 'For Pine Goose the best dog in the world' by Sharon Young. Then 'Lives Overlapped' by Jennifer Clark which illustrated how some people have dogs in succession to maybe counter act loss. The final poem read out was by an American Poet Laurette Ted Kooser and titled, 'January 19, Still Thawing, Breezy'.

Further poems by poets on dogs

Notes by Sharon Williams.

24th September 2018

Sofa Poet

It was good to welcome our Sofa Poet, Tamar Yoseloff, for her third visit to the group. The event was well attended with 9 people meeting beforehand for a meal at the Cafe Rouge and 5 more joining for the evening giving 14 people in total. Everyone was invited to introduce themselves and include a brief description of current writing projects. These included poetry in translation, the inclusion of science, the finding of form, the need for compressed narrative and the use of more than one voice in a poem. Tamar read some of her poems beginning with 'The Black Place' inspired by Georgia O'Keefe's painting of that name. There was discussion on the difficulties of writing political poems and the need for a slant approach. Draft poems can be re-ordered, lines can be moved to new places. Writer's block was discussed and writing on a particular theme or working on a challenge such as writing a sea poem were suggested as ways of shifting this. A ten minute writing session followed, each person in the group having been handed a postcard of a work of art to use as a prompt. Feedback included thoughts on how to address writing issues raised during the evening. There was a good-hearted and convivial atmosphere throughout and the whole evening was an inspiration for further writing.

Notes by Helen Overell.

8th October 2018

Poetry Pub

Poetry Pub was well attended (about 30 people in total) with visitors from beyond Mole Valley – a couple of people from as far afield as Romney Marsh. There were 14 readers in the first half, some of whom read again in the second half. The folk group Shebang played and sang several songs of the sea with familiar choruses at the beginning of the evening and during the interval. The poems were many and varied. Themes included Surrey Unearthed, love and loss, the lives of people of note from the past, the writing of letters and the changing of the season. There was humour in face of difficulty, defiance in face of political shortcomings as well as joy and wonder. There were poems that had won prizes and poems recently written. There were those moments of grace when listeners and reader are at one. Video clip

Notes by Helen Overell.

15th October 2018

Kathleen Jamie – 'this small compass', presented by Elizabeth Barton

This evening's interesting presentation from Liz related to Kathleen Jamie. The group learnt that Jamie was born 1962. She lives in Fife and is Professor of Creative Writing at Stirling University. She writes in English and Scots. She came to notice as a young poet and extraordinarily she wrote her first collection (Black Spiders) and won a Gregory Award before she was 20. She studied Philosophy at Edinburgh and was chosen to be a New Generation poet. She wrote a travel book early on about her adventures in northern Pakistan. Now her writing focuses mostly on her native Scotland.

Liz illustrated the essence of Jamie, by introducing a quotation 'this small compass' from her essay 'On Rona' from Sightlines. This reminded her of Eastern Philosophy – 'serenity in accepting our limitations'. Liz also quoted Albert Einstein, who said that while we are 'limited in time and space' we are also 'part of a whole called by us universe'. Einstein saw it as our duty to widen, 'our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty'. Through the power of her imagination, Jamie helps her readers to do this.

Furthermore, Liz provided a clear overview of Jamie's style. The group discussed how Jamie chooses forms that are themselves a 'small compass' – short essays, sonnets – but they are deep, vivid, resonant. Her essays and poems are about small journeys and experiences which nevertheless have a profound impact. Her writing is understated, attentive, and realistic. It does not directly address the environmental crisis. Her approach is more subtle than this. She transports us to a particular place, a particular time, focuses on the small details that bring it to life; it is as if we are actually there.

Next for discussion was 'The Jamie Method'. Typically, it took Jamie five weeks to write a poem (and five years to write a collection.) In a Mslexia article, she recommended cultivating, 'a heightened state of awareness', opening yourself 'to spurious connections between apparently unrelated objects, people and events.' In 2014 she started trying to write a poem a week, limiting them to 14 lines. In a recent interview in Poetry Review, she said, 'What the project lacks in 'well-made-ness', it makes up for in energy.' 'Fianuis' is one example – 'wee pulses of energy', with the lineation 'all over the place'.

Liz commented that Jamie is part of a quiet revolution. She said in her 2001 Mslexia interview that she was excited about a new generation of lifelong women poets, who she predicted would, 'come into their own in their fifties'. Jamie says her prose and poetry 'are both coming from the same impulse, the same consciousness.'

Further Information

Notes by Sharon Williams.

29th October 2018

Looking ahead

The many and varied events of 2018 were discussed. Links with Surrey Artists led to Poetry Walks and Workshops and to MVP poems being used in the the 'Sounds of a Shallow Sea' podcast and the 'Harvest' project . MVPs were invited to judge a 'Poetry by Heart' competition at Gordon's School in Woking. The launch of the MVP anthology 'Surrey Unearthed' in the Narnia Room in Dorking was very well-attended. A donation has been sent to CRY from anthology sales and donations towards second-hand books given to us by a former MVP.

MVP tasks were discussed – most remain as this year except for Membership Secretary and the writing up of business matters. Looking ahead to 2019: Poetry Pub to take place in October as part of Arts Alive, Sofa Poet possibilities were discussed, a Poetry Walk was welcomed and an outing was proposed. There are two Saturday afternoon workshops planned: a haibun workshop and the Summer School. The timeline for the Christmas anthology 2019 was determined. Leaders for the 2019 programme were agreed with themes ranging from Alice Oswald to Benjamin Zephaniah, and from 'Poetry at an exhibition' to 'The Weather'.

Notes by Helen Overell.

26th November 2018

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