I’m still alive….

Evening all – I just wanted to let you all know (in case you are worried) that I am still alive but have been really busy the last few weeks which has caused a severe dereliction of duty in regards to this blog.  I’m writing this from St Ives on the first day of a poetry residential that I’m running with the wonderful poet Clare Shaw.  It feels strange writing this as I know some people who read this blog are actually on the course!

Anyway, normal service of Sunday poems will begin again from next weekend and I have a real backlog of fabulous poems and poets lined up which will probably keep me going until Christmas.

Last weekend was the last weekend of the Ilkley Literature Festival and I’ve already told you all how wonderful it was.  Last Thursday I ran two workshops, one in a secondary school in Bradford and one in a primary school in Ilkley.  Then I ran an hour long session looking at how you get from the first draft of a poem to the last draft of a poem .  I used examples of my own poems and an example of a poem kindly donated by the ever generous Ian Duhig which worked out really well, as from looking at Ian’s draft, it seems he expands outwards from his first draft, making more and more links between words and ideas, whereas I contract inwards – I like to think of my first draft as a huge lump of rock that I have to chip away at to get at the shape of the poem inside.  After this workshop it was a sprint to the next venue to introduce the fabulous John Hegley, who gave a brilliant performance.  John’s performance was a masterclass in comic timing and how to keep an audience in the palm of your hand.  I also really like how John engages with the audience – he doesn’t just present poetry passively and expect the audience to listen quietly.  My favourite moment was when he got the audience members who wear glass to tap their glasses with their finger nails at the same time in answer to his own spectacle tapping…

On Friday I ran another workshop in a primary school in Bradford and then I had my own poetry reading with Matthew Sweeney and Michael Laskey.  This reading was a real treat because the competition winners of the Ilkley Literature Festival Poetry Competition read their winning poems out and one of the winners was my lovely friend John Foggin who came second.

On Saturday I got up early and dragged Phoebe Power, the apprentice poet in residence to Skipton Park Run, having not done a park run for weeks.  We couldn’t find the park in Skipton and parked the car and legged it across the field just as the runners were all lining up at the start ready for the whistle to go.  My fancypants Garmin watch couldn’t find me in time which was very disappointing so I had no idea how fast I was going or how far I’d gone.  The only thing I did know was that 4 laps in the park at Skipton felt much worse than 2 and a half laps of Barrow park.  My time was a minute slower than my Barrow park run time which I was a bit disappointed with..

On Saturday afternoon I had one to one tutorials with various poets, which I really enjoyed. If I had to redo my time at the festival, I would definitely put myself down for another afternoon of tutorials.  It was really fascinating having the chance to sit down with people and talk about their work and the half hour went by so fast.   The people who came for the tutorials were all at very different stages as well and I found it really interesting working with them all.

So last Sunday was the last day of the festival and it was probably my busiest day.  At 9am on Sunday I lead a group of intrepid and possibly foolhardy runners on a 5k run up on to Ilkley Moor – we made it to the top and back down again without any mishaps and then we went straight into a workshop about writing about the body which produced some brilliant poems.

After the workshop I went back to the hotel, had a quick shower and then went straight to the Mushaira which was a gathering of poets reading in lots of different languages which was a wonderful thing to be a part of.  After that, I hung around and caught up with the lovely Rodolfo Barradas, who worked at the Festival and belongs to a small group of people who I meet and instantly feel a connection with, and as if I’ve known them forever.

In the evening I was judging the Open Mic competition alongside Phoebe and Rodolfo and I must admit, the prospect of 18 open mic slots was not filling me with delight, after the afternoon of open mic at the Mushaira (lovely as it was).  However, it was such good fun!  And each competitor got five minutes and at the end of their slot a big timer came up on the screen so nobody could go over.  A great poet called Mark Connors won first place and he was very chuffed.  Everyone was great though.  I wasn’t bored once which can’t often be said at an open mic session!

I stayed in Ilkley on Sunday night which was maybe a mistake, because driving back from Ilkley at 11pm would probably have been a lot better than driving back from Ilkley at 6am because of traffic, but I was so tired I knew I wouldn’t be able to face it, so I went back to the hotel instead and got up early to get back from work on Monday morning.

I was saying to someone only today that I really feel proud of myself for the last three weeks, which might seem big-headed to say so, but I don’t care, because I rarely feel like that.  I normally feel like I ‘should’ feel proud about something because people tell me I should, but I usually don’t.  But this time I do – I feel proud that I not only got through my first real life residency, but I got some lovely feedback from people I worked with during it.  I kept up all of my teaching commitments although it would be dishonest to say I did this without losing my rather frayed patience by the end.

The one slightly terrible thing that happened this weekend was that my lovely friend Maggie who was looking after my dogs fell and broke her ankle.  My normally placid and mild mannered terriers apparently barked and growled at the ambulance workers but eventually were persuaded to let them put Maggie in an ambulance.  So my lovely new neighbours, whose daughter happens to play in my junior band have been helping out by looking after Maggie and the dogs whilst I was away.

This week I’ve been planning for the residential and finishing off printing out the last bit of stuff for my workshops so it’s not exactly been a relaxing week.  On Friday I ran my Dove Cottage Young Poets group in Kendal and then went straight from there to Preston to read at The New Continental with Judy Brown.  It was lovely to see Judy again and hear some of her poetry but I did too much nattering at the end and left rather late, and then on Saturday I got the train down to London and read at the Poetry Society Cafe on Saturday night with Jo Bell and Hilda Sheehan and various other poets and had a lovely night.

On Sunday I got up late and only just managed to get my train from London to St Ives and having located Clare Shaw on the train slowly realised that I couldn’t find my tickets anywhere.  I went to confess to the train guard that I had in fact lost my tickets – but I did have the collection reference number in my filofax.  My opening gambit was ‘Hi, I’ve lost my tickets, but I’m not a criminal, look I have a filofax’ which went down suprisingly well and the guard said I wouldn’t have to pay and to just explain to the next guard that got on what had happened.

The next guard was not quite so easy to convince and I didn’t get away without a lecture but it could have been a lot, lot worse and I managed to get to St Ives without having to pay for another ticket.  Which brings us up to date!  So there will be no Sunday poem because for a start, it is now very early on Tuesday morning but I will get back to normal Sunday Poem service next week.


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