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 andtechnology, 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

Poetry at an Exhibition, presented by Denise Bundred

For the evening's presentation Denise provided an interesting and illuminating talk which was entitled, 'Poetry at an Exhibition'. This introduction enabled the group to explore different aspects of ekphrastic poetry which is a written response to a work of art usually a painting but can also apply to a sculpture, furniture or any other beautiful object. Denise on this occasion specifically made reference to poetry and explained that the talk was initially based on a blog by Martin Crucefix in which he describes the various ways to write ekphrastic poetry. Denise also added some of the other poems she came across that fit this genre.

Poems discussed and read

Firstly, William Carlos Williams 'Landscape with the Fall of Icarus' which describes Breughel's painting 'Fall of Icarus'. Then looking at different ways of responding to an image as demonstrated by UA Fanthorpe's 'Not my Best Side' in which modern voices are given to the three main protagonists in Paolo Uccello's 'St George and the Dragon' which was painted c1470.

Next, 'In Santa Maria Del Populo' Thomas Gunn portrays observers of the painting 'Conversion on the Way to Damascus' by Caravaggio. Whereby, in WH Auden's 'Musee des Beaux Arts' the old masters are contemplated and in the last stanza, we again see Breughel's painting 'Fall of Icarus'.

In contrast, Seamus Heaney's poem 'Summer 1969' records a visit to Madrid and draws parallels between the troubles in Northern Ireland and three paintings by Goya 'Shootings of the Third of May', 'Panic' and 'Fight with Cudgels'.

Denise has suggested reading:

Metamorphosis: Poems Inspired by Titian (2012) has 14 leading poets' responses to three great masterpieces by Titian all found in the National Gallery. Readings by the poets on the gallery website.

Also some wonderful poems were produced in response to a competition run by the Royal Collection Trust in response to drawings by Leonardo da Vinci of fetuses in the womb. The poems are on line together with the pictures that inspired them.

Further reading

Notes by Sharon Williams.

24th June 2019

Benjamin Zephaniah, presented by Jules Shipton

The evening's presentation from Jules was on the life and poetry of Benjamin Zephaniah (born 1958). With an interesting introduction explaining that he has many creative skills, not only as a poet but also included in his repertoire: reggae artist, children's writer, actor, novelist and playwright. He was born and lived as a child in Birmingham. His poetry is often influenced by the poetry and music of Jamaica.

Then, Jules provided the group with the opportunity to see and hear on video him speak about his life and read some of his poetry. Such as Benjamin Zephaniah in 'Dis Poetry', where the rhyme and rhythm carry the lines forward, the words are full of energy and humour and this performance poetry 'is not afraid of going ina book'.

Jules also read some extracts from his autobiography, 'The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah'. Some of the poems that the group explored and read included 'Ride' which held the double meaning of 'going on a ride' and 'being taken for a ride'. In 'We Refugees' the places we come from may become places to which we cannotreturn, our history no longer told and yet 'we all came here from somewhere'. Also read was 'The Race Industry' which exposes and rails against racism and a wonderful very moving and life-affirming poem that Benjamin Zephaniah had written for his mother.

Website Links

Notes by Sharon Williams.

29th July 2019

Summer School: Contour Lines, presented by Helen Overell

The MVP Summer School was well attended with 12 people present. The workshop began with a brief description of contour lines and of contour ploughing and contour bunding. There was then a reading of poems on this theme including work by Seamus Heaney, Imtiaz Dharker, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Thomas Hardy. The writing exercises that followed reflected the use of line in representing the world. There was consonance and resonance in the writing shared. There were lines of wisdom and connection.

Notes by Helen Overell.

10th August 2019

Beyond Hubble, presented by Sue Beckwith, Heather Shakespeare and Helen Overell

The presentation 'Beyond Hubble' was a wonderful session which introduced a kaleidoscope of ideas, new language, opened out windows onto the universe, and gave insight into an innovative way in to writing. It was divided into three parts, the first led by Sue B, the second by Heather and the third by Helen. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international co-operation between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA). A joint ESA/NASA mission launched the Hubble Space Telescope on 24th April 1990.

Firstly Sue B gave an interesting and inspiring talk based on her father's contribution to the building and testing of the Hubble Space Telescope together with insights into the teamwork involved.

out in deep space
the faintest glimmer
ignites imagination

She explained that the physical stresses and strains endured by Hubble such as extremes of temperature, physical vibration during take-off were all explored and tested. A handout gave further details and was illustrated with visual images and with haiku written by Sue B.

arming rockets and satellites
against the slings and arrows
of outer space

Then Heather introduced the group to Maria Mitchell, a 19th century astronomer who held regular "dome parties" being evenings of telescopic star-study and conversation. During which her students composed poems about whatever they were pondering astronomically. She used to tell her students "Mingle the starlight with your lives and you won't be fretted by trifles". In addition, Heather spoke about 'The Universe in Verse', which is an annual celebration of science through poetry, and read a poem from this year's selection 'Hubble Photographs: After Sappho' by Adrienne Rich.

Helen provided a handout and the group read poems which included the Adrienne Rich poem together with 'My God It's Full of Stars (Part 5)' by Tracey K Smith (whose father also worked on the Hubble project). Plus 'Delay' by Elizabeth Jennings, an extract from Isaac Newton who developed the first reflecting telescope and an extract from Albert Einstein. Helen brought posters to do with the night sky and invited everyone to choose an image from a poster or from Sue B's handout and to use this as an impetus for writing for 'five minutes'. Afterwards there was the opportunity to share what was written. There were images which included a falling star, a blanket of stars and the view from the Tardis. Finally, Helen then read Miroslav Holub's poem 'Brief reflection on accuracy'.

Further information:

Notes by Sharon Williams.

10th September 2019

Sofa Poet: Stewart Henderson

It was good to welcome our Sofa Poet, Stewart Henderson, and his wife, Carol, to the Narnia room at The Old House Pub in West Street, Dorking. The event was well attended with 20 people present plus one very well-behaved small dog, Poppy, who listened to the proceedings with great attentiveness. Stewart is a poet, songwriter and broadcaster. He began with reference to Robert Frost for whom to be a poet is a condition not a profession, Arthur Miller who wrote as much to discover as to explain and to the Liverpool poets Roger McGough, Brian Patten and Don Paterson. Stewart then read some of his poems including 'In the parlour' inspired by his grandmother's life and the poems 'I've got to look right' and 'Lesson plan' informed by visits to schools. Carol read some of the poems including 'The Avenue'. 'Somewhere in the library' was written with the Abergavenny public library in mind. Poems arise from the unexpected, the incongruous and the everyday. The workshop exercise, circulated in advance to participants, invited a response to an everyday household conundrum such as tools that are kept even though they no longer work or attics full of boxes of 'memories' awaiting sorting out. This gave rise to writing inspired by such items as a set of old weighing scales with lb weights, a table with dove-tail joints made in a woodwork class and the presence of 'puffins' of every description throughout a holiday cottage. Memory, observation and imagination combined to give resonance and rhythm, imagery and shared experience.

Notes by Helen Overell.

7th October 2019

The Trouble with Poetry: an evening with Billy Collins, presented by Heather Shakespeare

The evening's presentation from Heather was titled 'The Trouble with Poetry: An Evening with Billy Collins'. The group were given the opportunity to engage with an interesting introduction to the work of the American poet Billy Collins (b.1941), a renowned academic who was awarded the position of US Poet Laureate (2001 – 2003) and New York State Poet Laureate (2004 – 2006). In addition, Collins in 2002 wrote a poem commemorating the first anniversary of 9/11 which was read to Congress. Collins was influenced by many well-known poets and writers such as Karl Shapiro, Howard Nemerov, Wallace Stevens, Philip Larkin, Thom Gunn and Ted Hughes.

Heather delivered an interactive presentation for those in attendance. This included listening to audio clips of Billy Collins reading his own poems. Furthermore, Heather provided an illustrated handout with information relating to Collins. By reference to the handout, therefore, the conversation was enhanced. The group discussed details of publications, the media and public response to Collins. Plus, his creativity, relationship with the reader and interestingly Collins own thoughts and perspective on writing.

Next, members of the group read several of his poems including 'You, Reader' in which he wonders if the salt and pepper pots standing side by side had become friends after all these years or were still strangers. As well as 'On Turning Ten' where the child whose imagination can make him invisible has to leave his imaginary friends behind. Then a relevant poem for some of the group 'Japan', relating to haiku and this was read by members who wrote haiku.

Further poems read included 'Design' where a circle drawn in a coating of salt on the table becomes the Arctic Circle, the bitter moon and a wheel to roll through the rest of his life. Plus, 'Man in Space', 'Grand Central' and 'Monday'. As an addition, Heather provided a really thought provoking writing exercise whereby she suggested using one of the phrases (on the handout) from Collins's poetry as a starting point for a poem.

Further information



Billy Collins

Notes by Sharon Williams.

28th October 2019

Planning ahead, presented by Helen Overell

We discussed the year's events. Meetings included themes of Love Poetry, Hubble and Alice Oswald. There was a Haibun workshop led by Diana and a Summer School led by Helen. The Sofa Poet in the Narnia Room with Stewart Henderson as part of Arts Alive was well attended. There were two Poetry Walks with Alison Carlier - one led to writing for 'Under the Canopy' sponsored by the National Trust and the other gave the opportunity to enjoy the 'Sounds of a Shallow Sea' podcast to which we contributed. There were trips to hear Jo Shapcott at the Watts Gallery and Benjamin Zephaniah at the Rose Theatre in Kingston. Our second Christmas Anthology is about to launch at Poetry Pub.

We were involved with three Surrey Hills Arts projects – Inspiring Views, Box Hill Harvest celebration and Fading of the light – giving rise to a booklet including poems by MVPs, a reading by an MVP and poems and haiku exhibited alongside art works at Leith Hill Place.

We were invited to take part in a poetry afternoon at Downsvale Care Home, engaging with residents and sharing work.

Some MVPs read at the Dorking is Talking Performance Poetry and Spoken Word group which began in 2018.

Plans for next year include the meeting schedule, Sofa Poet, Poetry Pub, walks, workshops – haibun and Summer School, our next anthology, collaborations with arts groups, visiting Downsvale and of course, continuing to write!

Notes by Helen Overell.

25th November 2019

Poetry Pub at the Stepping Stones

Poetry Pub was well attended – there were 28 people in total. There were 14 readers in the first half, some of whom read again in the second half. Barbara Christopher played Christmas music on keyboard at the beginning of the evening and during the interval. This was the launch for the Christmas Anthology and for every copy sold, 1 goes to CRY – Cardiac Risk in the Young. Themes included Christmas, the climate emergency, the political situation and the celebration of life and love. There were published poems as well as newly written work, solemn poems as well as humorous ones. There was much for listeners and readers to enjoy.

Notes by Helen Overell.

2nd December 2019

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