Saturday, 15 April 2017

From Blob to Blog

I have no idea how poets manage to find time to write a weekly blog, spend hours on Facebook and tweet all day long. Are they able to rattle off a poem in a few minutes? Do they sleep? Perhaps they live on a different space-time continuum altogether.

I really should make more effort though. My blog is is more of a blob. It sits there for months doing nothing.


Since my last update I've managed to win the Poetry Society's stanza competition, which was a very nice surprise. Lots of readings followed, one of which was at their AGM.

Belonging to a stanza group (mine is Stanza II in Oxford) is very rewarding. Not only do we workshop our poems (it's such an insular business, writing), but we also enjoy visits from other poets and artists. I am very much looking forward to joining my colleagues in Bonn this August for Diana Bell's Big Question Mark project. We shall be active participants in her outdoor installation and will also have the opportunity to meet and work alongside poets from Bonn that weekend. To that end, I am feverishly learning German at the moment!

Do check out Diana's website. She does amazing work:

The Making of Me project has concluded now. It has been a real joy working in OSJCT care homes around Oxfordshire and I have met many extraordinary people, not least one woman who at 100 years old could remember and recite Wilfred Gibson's poem 'The Ice Cart' in its entirety. I have never been able to commit poems to memory like that. I was utterly spellbound. So was the group I was working with that day.

Its a terrible thing to write off a human being once they've reached a certain age and we do a real disservice to write off someone  if they have dementia. In my experience, some of the most illuminating and insightful observations have come from people living with memory loss. The struggle to find words sometimes leads to really exciting linguistic constructions; access to the creative impulse seems far from lessened. A lack of inhibition can throw doors wide open. I don't think I left a single care home during this project without at least 90 individual and collective poems. Some looked back to a time of severe winters and ice storms; others reflected on the moon, childhood and early workdays. Some poems leapt to the interiors of radios and into the bowels of sunken ships. One poem most memorably described prayer as an act of listening and sharing - a poem for our secular times, though it would be hard to find a religious person who disagreed with what was being expressed.

If you want to eavesdrop on a Making of Me poetry workshop in one of the care homes, here's a link to Radio 4's Front Row. Once there, move the Seek Bar to 22:50 and you'll hear the amazing Jonny Fluffypunk in action. If you scroll further down the page, you'll see more about Jonny. He really is very gifted and dynamic.

Hopefully, the success of Making of Me will lead to further work with OSJCT care homes. Indeed, I am shortly to begin working with dance practitioner Angela Conlon at Chilterns Court in Henley (it's great fun working alongside other artists) and there are plans to explore mentoring relationships with activity coordinators and artists throughout the Oxfordshire. Watch this space.

Waving Hello goes from strength to strength. It's always tremendously invigorating working with Oxford Concert Party. This time we have  poet Helen Kidd and artist Anthony Lloyd on board. Waving Hello uses music, poetry, storytelling and the visual arts to examine migration and the rich cultural tapestry that is its inevitable  legacy. By the end of this summer we will have worked with four primary schools, Campsfield House IRC and women's refugee group BK-LUWO. None of this would have been possible without the support and resources of the Ashmolean Museum.

The Creative Future Literary Awards workshops are equally rewarding. Each month I facilitate writing workshops in Newcastle, Birmingham and Brighton for people who find themselves under-represented in literature  and publishing. One of the groups I'm most enjoying working with is Freedom From Torture. Between us, we have at least seven languages - probably more - and wisdom born from experience that is way off the Richter scale. As a couple of people said the other day - " hand cannot make a sound. We need to be together, like two hands."

And finally, I will be visiting Witney Community Hospital for the first time not as a patient with a suspected broken ankle or as someone with a gammy knee but as a writer with a bag of buttons and lots of pens and paper to see what wonderful poems and stories people can come up with. It's very easy to feel your identity has been totally subsumed by an illness and the hours of boredom can seem endless if you're hospitalised for a long spell. It's to Witney's credit that they have taken on Angela Conlon - yes, her again and I doubt she has time for Twitter and Facebook - as their arts coordinator. One way of freeing up beds must surely be to improve people's well-being, though I still think the NHS could do with a massive fiscal injection, never mind repeated boosters.

Lucky me. In this era of uncertainty I have a constant supply of work and it's also work I really enjoy. I am secure in my nationality, too. But it breaks my heart that my Polish and German friends are now wondering if they will be told to leave their long-established homes and families in post-Brexit Britain. There are many more who face an uncertain future, of course - not least, refugees and asylum seekers. Now, more than ever, our doors need to be open.

I am afraid of the slow steady march towards fascism. Pastor Niemรถller - a man who made a considerable political journey in his lifetime - warned us:

First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak for me.

The growth of Islamophobia is alarming and the attacks on young asylum seekers standing at bus stops is insupportable. We may risk a lot by speaking out, but I am sure we risk even more by remaining silent.

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