Meeting Notes 2021

Social evening

We met on Skype and after brief business matters we each read a favourite poem 'going round the table' (i.e. in the order of a list based on those present) a couple of times. Our own work was read as well as work from several poets including Seamus Heaney, Simon Armitage, Robert Frost, Roger McGough, Carole Satyamurti, Louise Gluck, Sheenagh Pugh and Wendy Cope. There were familiar favourites as well as newly published poems. There were images of downpour within a cactus stalk, words as portholes and a crisp ironed shirt. There were celebrations of nature, acknowledgements of gift and recognition of the extraordinary in the ordinary. There was humour, poignancy and connectivity. There were words to sustain and enlighten as well as to support and encourage. Everyone contributed gifts of words to the evening.

Notes by Helen Overell.

4th January 2021

Hydrogen and Light, presented by Judith Packer

The first presentation of the year given by Judith provided an atmospheric introduction to 2021 with an interesting and wide-ranging exploration of the theme 'Hydrogen and Light'. Judith provided thought-provoking writing prompts as well as a selection of poems that mainly focussed on Hydrogen with the challenge that there is much room for creative writing and more poetry about this evolving technology.

Hydrogen, the lightest element, is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, non-toxic highly combustible gas. Most of the hydrogen on Earth exists in molecular forms such as water (H2O) yet is also a core component of hydrocarbons. Hydrogen as fuel will be pivotal in the global quest to replace fossil fuels and is already being used for some forms of transport. It is also being used in combination with renewable energy generation including solar and wind energy to help decarbonise electricity generation.

The presentation was enhanced by the use of slides. We explored the elemental contrast of hydrogen and light with the reading of the poems: H20 (Senryu Poem) by Ency Bearis and then Mrs Mendeleev by Emily Boyle.

With reference to scale and perspectives, Judith explained how poetry can help us think about solving climate change; as poets we often look at something close-in and micro-small scale and then that helps us understand the big picture or context of an ecosystem. We illustrated this by noticing light and rainbows, light and the visible spectrum and enjoyed a reading of how to be an ocean by Ella Standage.

The group looked at commodities and energy sources used over the past year and noted any changes in use. Reading the poems Hydrogen And Helium (Hhe) by Jenayah Hela Tekali and Tesla Saw it All also by Jenayah Hela Tekali. Judith invited members to write about something we would like to change/do/see come about next year whilst finishing with the Ella Fitzgerald song referencing light: Beginning to see the light.

In 2015 the Poetry Society celebrated 'Light' and links to the combined poetry/videos were shared for further inspiration.

Members of the group commented on how they had enjoyed the presentation with such positive comments as: 'A huge richness', 'Got me thinking, the depth of the presentation' and an 'Interesting and complex subject'.

Further information

Hydrogen and light poems can be found at:

Notes by Sharon Williams.

25th January 2021

The Dance of Haibun, led by Diana Webb

Diana Webb led the Dance of Haibun workshop via Zoom – there were ten people altogether on the Zoom call of whom seven were MVPs. This was an inspiring exploration of haibun which can be considered to be haiku dancing with prose. Diana described a haiku as a breath-length poem where perceptions seem to come together within a moment and resound beyond it. We read examples of haibun and we were invited to write in response to prompts from the world of ballet and to share our writing. The feedback was affirming and insightful. We were invited to bring a feather, a flimsy scarf and a piece of pottery to the session and also wrote in response to these. This was a well-choreographed and much enjoyed workshop.

Notes by Helen Overell.

13th February 2021

Weaving the strands, presented by Richard Lister

This month's online presentation by Rich was 'Weaving the Strands'. It provided the group with an opportunity to create poetry and explore the use of detail and strands. A strong poem can be considered to be one that demands a second reading, has layers of story, imaginative use of language and appeals to both head and heart. Rich introduced ideas of how to find strands such as: talking to people, reading books, jotting ideas in a notebook and also researching on line.

The group when asked 'How do you add depth to poetry?' responded with many good ideas. These included: park it and read other poetry, let things rest and days later re-work it, plus write about something completely different. The talk was illustrated throughout with poems by several poets including; Elizabeth Barton, a member of Mole Valley Poets: Leaves of a Sibyl, William Carlos Williams: This is just to say and Philip Larkin: Dawn.

Rich provided some research material on Rembrandt's 'Belshazzar's Feast'. He invited the group to write in response to this with a view to develop or start writing a poem, with five minutes allocated to each activity – reading, writing and sharing.

Next the group looked at weaving the strands using narrative arcs and at the way strands travel within the internal forms of a poem. Rich shared his ideas on different internal forms used in poems and illustrated this on a handout. The group were invited to develop ideas for a narrative poem on the theme of 'home' or 'away' using one of the internal forms.

In conclusion and reflecting on the presentation, members of the group gave positive feedback. They found that it was interesting to think about and explore internal form and structure, together with ways in which things are woven. In addition, the discussion on research was thought-provoking and gave new ideas on how to progress from a first draft of a poem.

Further Information

Notes by Sharon Williams.

22nd February 2021

Wordsworth – Walking with Poetry, presented by Elizabeth Barton

The evening's presentation was a really interesting talk on William Wordsworth – Walking with Poetry. Liz enriched the presentation with the depth of her knowledge, interpretation and enthusiasm for the work of William Wordsworth. Wordsworth's friend, Thomas De Quincey, estimated that the poet walked between 175,000 and 180,000 miles during his life. He composed his poems while walking. He often walked with his sister Dorothy and her notes were a resource for his work.

The presentation began with the poem The Prelude (1805 version), an autobiographical epic poem which explores Wordsworth's personal interior and external landscape. The second poem to be read was Song (1800) in which he brings a powerful sense of longing and love of nature into his writing. The group discussed how this poem was written in ballad form and was both emotional and moving.

Liz described the next poem, taken from Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey (1798), as her all-time favourite Wordsworth poem. This is a poem looking at nature which has a beautiful depth with a prayer-like quality. Having been inspired by walking with his sister, it seems to be portraying both a sense of sadness and loss and hope.

The group read Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. (1807) which has so many famous lines. This was followed by the poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud (1807) which still feels fresh and alive.

Finally, we read Gillian Clarke's poem Miracle on St David's Day (1982) in which Wordsworth's daffodils are brought vividly to mind and the song of the poem rings out in a newly found voice. The poem demonstrates the memorable nature of Wordsworth's poetry and its power to move people. Liz's presentation was positively received by members of the group who commented that it was lovely, moving and thought-provoking. Some people commented that they write while walking too.

Recommended Reading

Notes by Sharon Williams.

29th March 2021

John Donne, presented by Jacky Power

The poet John Donne (1572-1631) was the choice of an enlightening and insightful talk presented by Jacky. To open, Jacky explained how and why John Donne is of interest to her. Reading Donne at school sparked the joy of her continuing enthusiasm for the intellectual gymnastics of metaphysical poetry. She described Donne's poetry as a fusion of passion and intellect. In a style that can be both witty and shocking, Donne's poetry had a unique approach, influenced by his eventful and, at times controversial, personal and professional life.

Poems read included 'The Sun Rising' in which he chides the 'Busy old, fool, unruly sun' and 'The Canonization' where 'We'll build in sonnets pretty rooms'. The marital argument in 'The Flea' was in sharp contrast to the reflective interconnectedness in 'For whom the bell tolls'. Two Holy Sonnets followed: 'Batter my heart, three-person'd God' and 'Show me dear Christ, thy Spouse so bright and clear'.

Before members of the group read the poems, Jacky helpfully précised each poem. This enabled members to have an enhanced understanding of the language and meaning used by Donne. For example, the first poem to be précised was 'Good Morrow' an example of a metaphysical poem. Donne writes this love poem about being together and uses the reflection of lovers' faces in each others eyes to create an argument that they are indeed like two hemispheres and thus, an entire world in and of themselves.

The members of the group expressed that Jacky's presentation had been really insightful in providing an understanding of Donne's poetry and the meaning of metaphysical poetry.

Further Reading

  1. Selected Poems of John Donne by Mr James Reeves
  2. Superinfinite: The Unique John Donne by Katherine Rundell

Notes by Sharon Williams.

26th April 2021

The Role of the Children's Laureate, presented by Sharon Williams

For this evening's presentation Sharon provided a lively and interesting introduction to 'The Role of the Children's Laureate'. Firstly, the group talked about how this role arose from a discussion between Ted Hughes and Michael Morpurgo. Henceforward, the first Children's Laureate was Quentin Blake in 1999. The position is held for 2 years and further laureates include Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen and Julia Donaldson. The current Children's Laureate (2019 – 2022) is Cressida Cowell who is an author-illustrator of such titles as the 'How to Train Your Dragon' and 'The Wizards of Once' book series.

Then Sharon explained that her choice in selecting the children's laureate for the presentation had emerged from the following: Looking at the BookTrust website, and an opportunity to study poets. Also, by research and this enabled the keeping up with thoughts on education and the relevance of poetry to children today. Next, there was an overview of the role of the previous children's laureates and the way they had promoted poetry for young people.

To illustrate the diversity and range of poetry written for young people, the group read and enjoyed the depth and humour in poems selected from Michael Rosen's 'A to Z the Best Children's Poetry from Agard to Zephaniah'. The following poems were read:

Further Reference

Notes by Sharon Williams.

7th June 2021

Anthology Book Launch by Zoom. Readings from Home book launch

The launch for the 'Home' anthology was held online on Monday 14th June using Zoom. This was an enjoyable and well attended event. Fourteen of the contributors read their work – there were about twenty five people taking part in the Zoom call. There were themes of searching and finding, of the small realities of raindrops racing down a windowpane and the large realities of planet. There were glimpses of homes observed from walking along a street as dusk falls. There was homelessness and home as sanctuary.

Notes by Helen Overell

14th June 2021

Poetry of the Spanish Civil War, presented by Tony Earnshaw

Tony E. delivered a moving presentation on 'The Poetry of the Spanish Civil War'. Tony supplied the group with a set of well researched handouts. This therefore provided the group with context relating to the poets who wrote and many who took part in the Spanish Civil War.

Firstly, there was a discussion on the background to the Spanish Civil War. Also on how the war, viewed as a class struggle, attracted many artists and activists from abroad. Hence Stephen Spender's reference to it as 'the poets' war'. Spender and a number of other British poets and writers went to Spain at this time; and included; W H Auden, George Orwell, Sylvia Townsend Warner and Julian Bell. On the other hand, many have said that that the most enduring and powerful poetry of this time was written in Spanish for example by Federico Garcia Lorca and Miguel Hernandez. The group read a poem by Cesar Vallejo: Mass.

Members of the group commented that they were touched by poems written by 'ordinary' people who joined the British and Irish international Brigadiers and died in the war. For example, poems read by the group and referenced by Tony included; Valley of Jamara by Alex McDade, The Tolerance of Crows by Charles Donnelly, Rest, I will know your all-pervading calm by Norman Brookfield and Dressing Station by George Green.

This prompted a discussion on the influence of WW1 poets such as Wilfred Owen, whose graphic imagery paved the way for future soldier poets to write more truthfully about their harrowing experiences. The evening finished with readings of some powerful poems by more established poets such as Louis MacNeice, Dylan Thomas, Stephen Spender and John Cornford.


Notes by Sharon Williams.

28th June 2021

Poetry for the Pandemic, presented by Susan Thomas

The evening online presentation was provided by Susan Thomas. Susan, facilitated a compassionate and enlightening presentation on Poetry for the Pandemic. She illustrated the presentation with a thought-provoking PowerPoint.

Susan explained how Poetry for the Pandemic encompassed and resonated with many who may have experienced such feelings as loss, anger, loneliness, fear and hope. Indeed, the magnificence of poetry is that it has healing powers, connects us and serves as a witness in real time.

Some interesting questions and thoughts discussed by the group included: How will this pandemic affect poetry? Will there be enough poetry to go around? Will poetry go viral? Furthermore, it was explored how people accessed poetry during the pandemic: by reading books, poetry journals, online media – watching poetry on television. Notwithstanding, new initiatives were demonstrated for instance with online poetry festivals.

The group read poems that described how poetry might be affected by the pandemic. Also read were poems of loss and of resilience, which included Geoffrey Chaucer Cleans the Beach by Jill Hadfield and Susan's poem Visit to Poetry Library 2021. The poem This is Just to Say (Lockdown) by Paul Stephenson was read, as well as They Say the Last Colour We See is Blue by Gill McEvoy. Thank you to Susan for enabling the group to have the opportunity to reflect on 'Poetry for the Pandemic'.


Notes by Sharon Williams.

26th July 2021

Summer School: Water, presented by Helen Overell

The Summer School provided a space for writing and for receiving feedback. There were eleven people in total and we met using Zoom. We read poems by Mary Oliver, Alice Oswald, Kathleen Jamie and Seamus Heaney as well as work by Helen Overell. The writing exercises encouraged the use of more than one of the senses. There were photographs such as a rock tugged by the tide and feathers of frost on a window to use as a springboard for writing. There was the opportunity to share what had been written and there were many striking images such as a dragon in the sand and a puddle swallowing raindrops. Each person chose a phrase for the group to work from and this gave rise to further writing. There were beginnings of poems to take away and work on further.

Notes by Helen Overell.

14th August 2021

Visit to Keats House, organised by Heather Shakespeare

Did you know that Mole Valley Poets enjoys a local connection with John Keats? The poet stayed at the Fox and Hounds, now known as the Burford Bridge Hotel, when he was writing his epic poem, 'Endymion'. The hotel is located at the foot of Box Hill, near the River Mole. According to one of Keats's letters to a friend, it was after he climbed the hill at twilight in search of the moon that he found the inspiration to complete the poem.

To mark the 200th anniversary of the poet's death, members of Mole Valley Poets visited Keats House, Hampstead. The trip was organised by Heather Shakespeare whose brother-in-law, Rob Shakespeare, is the house's Principal Curator.

It was a welcome reunion after 18 months of online meetings and an opportunity for some of us to meet in person for the first time. We were treated to stunning views of London's skyline as we picnicked on Parliament Hill in the September sunshine. After visiting the Keats200 outdoor display, we enjoyed a tour of Keats House by Rob, who gave us fascinating insights into the medic-poet's brief but astonishing life.

We were moved by the artwork of former Artist in Residence, Elaine Duigenan, whose installations were inspired by plants in the garden and Keats's training as a surgeon-apothecary. It was heartrending to learn of how the poet, having already lost his mother to consumption, then cared for his younger brother, Tom, as he was dying of the disease. Remarkably, though Keats probably caught the disease himself at this time, he went on to write his greatest poems in a single year at Keats House. We read some of these aloud in the Chester Room, such as Ode to a Nightingale, believed to have been written under a plum tree in the garden.

Virtual tour of keats house

Notes by Elizabeth Barton.

13th September 2021

Ecopoetry Poetry Workshop, Heartlands: Poems of Longing and Belonging, presented by Elizabeth Barton

Liz led the Ecopoetry Workshop 'Heartlands: Poems of Longing and Belonging' online using Zoom – there were 12 people in total. We were encouraged to write and to share what we had written. We read poems including 'Digging' by Edward Thomas, 'Castlerigg' by Tony Earnshaw, 'Childhood' by Kathleen Raine and 'Earth' by Derek Walcott. We were invited to write in response to landscape and to give voice to elements within a landscape. As John O'Donohue says in his book 'Anam Cara', 'Landscape is not all external, it has crept inside the soul. Human presence is infused with landscape'.

Notes by Helen Overell.

25th September 2021

Poetry and Art, presented by Tony Marcoff

The evening's presentation Poetry and Art was given by Tony Marcoff. This was accompanied by a comprehensive handout. Tony explained that the theme Poetry and Art related to looking at various art approaches to poetry and reality. Which is personal and variable to each person.

The group began with art by John Constable (1776-1837) looking at Cloud Study and Glebe Farm. Then lines from William Wordsworth (1770-1850) Tintern Abbey. These illustrated the topics of work by these poets and artist relating to humble and everyday objects. Often portraying a love of nature which Tony has himself found in the peace, beauty and joy of the Mole Valley that he found in the present.

Next, the surrealism of art and poetry by Salvador Dali (1904-1989) The Metamorphosis of Narcissus. Then a discussion on the painting Blue Interior with Two Girls by Henri Matisse (1869-1954) an escape from reality to a world within a world. Tony contrasted the Matisse painting with a poet's view of the art by Anthony Hecht (1923-2004) Matisse: Blue Interior with Two Girls.

Moving on, the group listened to the poem by a Polish poet Tadeusz Rozewiez (1921-2014) From Francis Bacon or Diego Velazuez accompanied by the paintings it referenced. These works of art had been seen in Tate Britain. The group read a number of poems by artists and poets who wrote poetry about artist's paintings. These included; Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) and Tony's own poem blue & rose on works of art by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).

Tony spoke about the paintings of Mark Rothko (1903-1970) how they were a contemplative reality by means of observation, feeling and colour. Tony shared and read his own poems tanka prose; a Rothko text and the red night; Rothko. Furthermore. Tony spoke about the combination of Chinese and Japanese poetry and art and illustrated this by reference to haiku, tanka, calligraphy and haiga (haiku and art).

Members of the group provided positive comment and remarked that Tony's presentation: was like a masterclass in art and poetry, a long journey; food for thought; makes me want to go the Tate Britain and held and illustrated my attention.


Notes by Sharon Williams.

27th September 2021

Reading: 'Choice' by Zoom, presented by Mole Valley Poets

The reading, 'Choice', held via Zoom, was an enjoyable and convivial evening – there were 13 MVPs and 7 visitors. In the first half there were poems inspired by the making of choices and acknowledgement of decisions, there were difficulties and challenges as well as humour and joy. In the second half there were poems inspired by photographs and paintings as well as by conversations and orchids, there were themes of remembrance and of hope.

Notes by Helen Overell.

11th October 2021

I've started so I'll finish, presented by Heather Shakespeare

The evening's presentation was 'I've started so I'll finish...' Heather provided an interesting and thought-provoking discussion regarding the opening line of poems. These included some poems that are mainly referred to by the first line and not the title. A comprehensive handout was provided as reference.

The group looked at the opening lines of a variety of poems and the different approaches used. Heather pointed out that the first line always needs to grab the reader's attention and often gives an insight into the writer's style, as well as setting the tone and inviting a response. In addition, members were invited to share their favourite first lines and to consider why these lines were memorable.

Heather explained some of the devices poets use to write the first line of a poem, which include creating expectation and 'in media res': plunging the reader into an event which is already happening. Heather read to the group an example of direct address to the reader. This was a poem by Kathleen Jamie, the first line 'Pass the tambourine, let me bash out praises' (Poem title 'The way we live'). The group commented on the clever first line leading to the next, the repeat of the first line at the end of the poem, and the use of contrast to reflect a mix of life challenges and experience.

Carol Ann Duffy's poem 'Water' was included to show how a first line can engage the reader emotionally, the poem then building on it to evoke a sense of longing and regret. Other poems read out were: 'The Joy Bringer' by Thomas Lux and 'Days' by Philip Larkin, which begins with a question 'What are days for?'.

Reading and discussing 'The Back Seat of My Mother's Car', a specular poem by Julia Copus, generated comments from the group. There was admiration for the way in which the poet had written about a painful personal experience. Heather also incorporated a number of writing exercises for the group to participate in and these related to first lines. The group thanked Heather for an enjoyable, informative and interactive presentation.

Notes by Sharon Williams.

25th October 2021

This is where we start from, presented by Helen Overell

Helen introduced the evening's presentation: 'This is where we start from' – new beginnings in anticipation of a new year. Helen's presentation provided an interesting, informative and interactive session with a number of writing exercises that the group took part in.

Initially, reading first lines from selected poems included quotes from TS Eliot (from Little Gidding, The Four Quartets), Emily Dickinson (from I started Early – Took my Dog), Eavon Boland (from The room in Which My First Child Slept) and 'Everyone sang' by Siegfried Sassoon. Then during the first exercise, members wrote a poem in five minutes having used a title line from the selected poems. This acted as a springboard for writing. The group brought vivid images into their own poems, using words such as canaries and lost coins.

Next, Helen explained the concept of a pantoum poem. This form of poetry introduced a new way of writing to many of the group. The exercise incorporated lines from the first piece of writing or else borrowed from the handout. These were then set out using the prompt of a template so as to form a pantoum. The repeated lines acted almost as a refrain and presented in a new way with change of position in the poem.

Helen received ample positive feedback, which was given at the end of the presentation. Such comments as; interesting and thought provoking, a challenging exercise and such vivid poems. Also, people said that it was good to try another form of writing poems, it was enjoyable, and they learnt a lot also many said they would give it a go!

Notes by Sharon Williams.

29th November 2021

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