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A day of reading –reading does make you happier

When was the last time you spent all of most of your day immersed in a book? Last week, last month or back when you were a teenager? I expe...

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Poets let loose in the Natural History Museum

Thanks to the Poetry School and John McCullough I spent a Saturday at the end of May ransacking the Natural History Museum for poems.

My day began early and I was even offered Prosecco on the train into London after I’d unwittingly joined a hen party as they had a spare seat in their midst. They were happy and giggly and two of them were going to London for the first time. It was a lovely start to the day although I did decline the alcohol.

I paid a brief visit to the Imperial War Museum and then sat in a nearby café with a hot chocolate and a poem to be edited. This one was inspired by the exhibitions featuring the work of Claude Cahun at Oxford Brooks University and the National Portrait Gallery

Then it was off to Lambeth Walk to begin the process of immersion. We considered the work of poets who had been there before; including Kate Clanchy's The Natural History Museum from Samarkand (1999)
“They are glassed and boxed like childhood.”

Rita Dove’s The Fish in the Stone and Anne Carson’s Audubon. The first exercise was to plunder our memories to find the most memorable museums and exhibits. Mine were all recent as nothing seemed to have stuck from childhood until I remembered the mummified corpse in the Norfolk and Norwich Museum.

The second group of poems were Relic of Memory by Seamus Heaney from Door into the Dark, Museum of the Forest by Matthew Francis and Claire Trevien’s The Museum of Water. 

I found Museum of the Forest surreal and wonderful and it led beautifully into the second exercise.... 

The Natural History Museum was busy, as it was Saturday afternoon but I kept to the brief of focusing on the particular and before long I had left the crowds behind and found parts of the Museum I didn't know about. As well as taking lots of notes I took photographs as prompts

 Here are just a few examples and now I have until the start of July to turn my notes into poems.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Out and About and Weekend Reading

This blog post was going to begin with welcoming the warmer more summery weather and the chance to get out and about but we've had heavy rain for the last couple of days and the temperature has dropped.

Nonetheless I have been on various writing and poetry excursions recently with more planned for June and July.

First I'd like to mention the wonderful Westbury Arts Centre in Milton Keynes and the 'Time to Write' sessions hosted by writer in residence, Karen Littleton. In return for a modest fee you can spend the whole of a Sunday afternoon writing in the drawing room with plentiful supplies of tea and cake. There is something magical about giving yourself permission to write and by the end of the last session I had five poems, a new poem and revisions of four others. 
I was back at Westbury last Thursday for the May soiree, listening to Heart Strings and being won oer by their playing, particularly Karl Jenkins Palladio. Four of us including Karen shared our poems with an attentive audience and the evening ended with The Sofa Ensemble, who brought the house down. 

I have another reading coming up on 15th June at the City Pride pub near Farringdon with Katy Evans-Bush and members of her Thursday Advanced Poetry workshop. 

Meanwhile I've been reading Poems of the Great War a handy pocket sized book for the War and Literature readalong. 

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Friday Poetry and Happy Weekend - Ritsos, Gebbie, Jenkins and Kinsella

I've been reading novels recently and it has been a while since I wrote about poetry reads so I'm glad to get back to it.

I have three poetry books on the go at present; Diaries of Exile by Yannis Ritsos, Memorandum poems for the fallen by Vanessa Gebbie and Marine by Alan Jenkins and John Kinsella.

It's thanks to the work of translators Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley that I've discovered the work of Yannis Ritsos. He wrote the poems in Diaries of Exile between 1948 and 1950 which he was a political prisoner. They illuminate the life around in the prison camp and the hopes and fears of the prisoners. The poems become shorter and shorter as his exile continues. I wonder if he was running out of energy, or perhaps there was less paper or conditions had become harsher or all of these things. I admire anyone for writing under these conditions.

During May I've been re-reading Memorandum, by my friend and fellow poet, Vanessa. As has been told before we wrote poems inspired by the Frist World War alongside each other but though the poems in the book are familiar I find like all the finest work you gain a new perspective by going back and re-reading them. Vanessa's book is one of the choices for May's War and Literature Readalong.

My other book is Marine, published by Enitharmon Press in 2015. It resulted from an unplanned collaboration between Alan Jenkins and John Kinsella who discovered they were both writing poems inspired by the sea. My favourite poem so far after a rapid first read is Albatross (after Baudelaire)

Monday, 27 March 2017

A Midshipman’s Tale – Operation Pedestal Malta Convoy 1942 by M K MccGwire

It gives me great pleasure to welcome Lucinda Neall to the blog today. Lucinda is the daughter of Michael MccGwire who was a midshipman in 1942 and served on the H.M.S Rodney during Operation Pedestal. He later went on to have a distinguished  career as an academic after serving in the Royal Navy. Lucinda is a writer, coach, communications guru and mostly recently a publisher with her own press, Leaping Boy Press. Their latest book is A Midshipman’s Tale so I asked Lucinda if she could tell me about the process of transforming her father’s Journal into a book.

At what point and why did you consider making this available as a book?

In 2004 when he was eighty-four Dad was reminiscing about his life at sea and he found his journal and typed up the parts which were about Operation Pedestal, the four days which he spent with the convoy en route to Malta. He typed it up properly with annotations and footnotes  (he was an academic after his naval career) and sent it to me and my brothers and sisters. As far as he was concerned the job was done once he’d completed the typescript.

Some years later and during a regular visit to see her parents Lucinda and her husband Peter spotted the original Midshipman’s Journal on a table. They both read it from cover to cover. It provides a moment by moment account of the convoy, as seen through the eyes of a seventeen year-old midshipman, and is illustrated with hand-drawn maps.

Lucinda says ‘in the meantime I’d become a publisher, with my books about bringing up boys and I’d published the books which my Mum wrote for us as children, so I was in a position to do something for Dad. I wanted to do it properly and originally intended to do this while he was still alive but with his health failing that was not to be.

So what gave you the final impetus to publish the book?

Lucinda says ‘Dad died in March 2016 and I had so many emails and messages from people about how much they had respected and looked up to Dad. Many were from people who were much younger than him which made me understand how many people he’d mentored and supported. Publishing his book felt like giving them a gift.'

H.M.S. Eagle 11th August 1942

Caroline adds
I was grateful to Lucinda and her Dad for letting me read his journal shortly after my book, Convoy, was published and while he was still fit and well. We had a telephone conversation about the Operation Pedestal convoy during which he explained to me how paravanes worked. He was self deprecating about his journal which he said were 'two a penny' as every midshipman had to write one. I had no doubt that he put far more work into his and was a better writer than many of his fellow seamen.
One of my favourite parts of the journal was from the afternoon of August 11th when they'd just settled down to enjoy the lovely weather. He writes

" Glancing idly round the convoy, I noticed that the Eagle was making rather a lot of smoke and was about to add a caustic comment when it seemed to me that she was taking a list to port. And so she was. While we watched she gradually heeled over until her flight deck was awash and then she paused before finally subsiding beneath the sea 4 mins 17 secs after she was hit. ....
This event sobered up the ship [Rodney] most noticeably."

Was the process of getting the journal into print straight-foward?

Lucinda - Well I wasn’t actually sure if I was allowed to publish the contents of the journal as technically it belonged to the Ministry of Defence. It should have been handed in at the end of his training but, for reasons which are in the book. it wasn't. I asked the advice of  Sir Derek Thomas who knew Dad from when they worked at the British Embassy in Moscow, who put me in touch with the Archives Collections Officer at the National Royal Navy Museum.I sent some scanned pages from the journal and eventually received the message

This is just to confirm I have heard from the records review team. There is absolutely no issue with publishing any of this material.

I  also wanted to include Dad's drawings and had invaluable help from Deborah Hawkins and Rebecca Chapman who assisted me with the graphics and helped make it stunning. And Professor Eric Grove, naval historian, agreed to write a historical context for the journal.

Editor’s note – it is as close as you can get to holding the original journal and the cover has the hand-drawn map of the route of the convoy, together with little drawings of whales and winds.

Who is the audience for the book?

Anyone with an interest in the Second World War and its naval history. It also gives you a picture of what it was like to be a seventeen year old in 1942 and it is about real people and their experiences, emotions and thoughts.

Where can people buy it?

Via the links on the book’s page, to Hive, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Waterstones.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

A rare public screening of the 1916 Battle of the Somme film

The Poetry School has been given permission by the Imperial War Museum for a public screening of the Battle of the Somme film at the Cinema Museum, London on Saturday 4th February 2017.   
A group of ten poets, including myself, guided by Simon Barraclough and Julia Bird, have been working on poems written in response to the film.  The poems have been woven together into a script for us to perform on Saturday before the film is shown.

I’m currently learning my lines. My poems feature a dog which you glimpse for a couple of moments in the film running alongside the columns of marching men, and Lt Geoffrey Malins who was one of the two cinematographers who made the film ready for its first screening on 10th August 1916. The Battle continued until November of that year and the silent black and white film was seen by twenty million people.

My fellow poets are Anna Kisby, Chrissy Williams, Eleanor Penny, Jo Young, John Haney, Patricia Ace, Roy McFarlane, Steve Kendall and Sue Burge. As I work through the script I've been marvelling at how much has been included and the different approaches that people have taken. . It feels like an honour and a privilege to be taking part.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Friday Poetry from Choman Hardi - Considering the Women

Today I've gone back to Choman Hardi's Considering the Women.
An important book with a central sequence of poems about the Anfal genocide of the Kurds in 1988 in which over a hundred thousand people were killed. I have heard her read twice at Aldebugh and in London at the Poet's quest for peace. There are two sequences on youtube of her reading from Considering the Women
and an earlier interview about the importance of poetry.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Sidney Greenfield, MC, the story continues

I’ve been doing some more reading and research after last week’s blog post on Sdney Greenfield. He was awarded the MC in July 1918. The citation as published in the London Gazette on 18th July reads

“2nd Lt. Sidney Richard, Greenfield, North’d Fus.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. As intelligence officer,when all communications had been cut owing to hostile shelling he went forward a distance of some 1,500 yards under intense hostile barrage and obtained important information which was urgently required. Throughout the whole period he rendered the greatest assistance to his commanding officer.”

 We read in Greenfield's account that he and his CO, found the water tower apparently empty...

"Col. Robinson said ‘come on we had better investigate’. He led the way and I followed with the revolver drawn and ready for action as we approached the dilapidated building. No glass in the window and doors adrift. On reaching the building we peeped over the sills and found it was apparently empty so we climbed through the window and went through the back and looking out from broken windows we could see about 20-25 yards away from us the Germans busily digging themselves in and fortifying the remains of the tower. They did not appear to have any sentries and were just digging as hard as they could.
We returned as quickly as possible and the C.O had made up his mind and immediately said to Darlington. ‘Mr. Darlington, fix bayonets and take the tower’. Then turning to me said ‘Get back to H.Q. Tell brigade the situation and get the artillery here at once. I want a barrage round that tower’. Whilst I was getting back Darlington's men rushed forward with fixed bayonets and the Germans ran for their lives. They took the tower and its environs and the only casualty was Mr. Darlington himself who received a bullet through his neck and the next and only time I saw him again was as he lay on the stretcher being carried back to the dressing station."

I knew that Greenfield had survived the war but what happened to Mr William Aubrey Cecil Darlington who is last seen on a stretcher and not mentioned again by Greenfield. I sent a quick email to Jeremy Banning who replied with the good news that he didn't die of his wounds and also survived the war. 

Greenfield's account continues with the defence of the captured tower by Darlington and a Lieutenant McCubbin.

"Darlington’s platoon immediately started to prepare the defence of the position and later the front line was joined up. Meanwhile the Germans retaliated by putting down a box barrage around the tower enclosing not only Darlington's platoon but also another platoon which was in support commanded by Lieut. McCubbin. They had dug into a bank by the side of a small farm road as the field on the one side of the road was about 5ft higher than on the other. We held this position until relieved several days later. At one period we were very concerned at B.H.Q because the heavy barrage had destroyed all communication. The field line had been severed and barrage stopped anyone getting through. We had no knowledge as to what had happened inside that box. Did we still hold it or had the Germans counter attacked? Driven our fellows out?"

This is  reasonably typical of what tended to happen to communications, with head-quarters waiting for news and not knowing what had happened to the men. Greenfield then earns his Military Cross by going forwards to find out what has befallen them.

As it was essential to know what was happening the colonel told me to go and find out instructing me to take two orderlies instead of the usual one. As we approached the barrage, the shells were falling all around us. It seemed as though they were throwing everything they had from ‘coal boxes’ to ‘whizz bangs’. I noticed that at some time during the advance little cubby holes had been dug in the bank by the side of the road so I pressed forwards darting quickly from cubby hole to cubby hole until I was through the barrage. Here I found McCubbin and his platoon in a larger hole dug into the bank.
McCubbin was not very pleased to see me, why I do not know. What are you doing here Greenfield? Explaining that the C.O wanted to know if they were all well his reply was ‘Of course we are all right you get back quickly’. Having also enquired about Darlington’ s men who McCubbin presumed were ok. I returned with the news in the same way that I had come, just dodging between the shells. I’m sorry to say that neither of my orderlies had followed me through and I was too busy to realize it until I returned when I was greeted with the remark from one of them, ‘I never thought you'd come back Sir’.

I can't say that I blame the orderlies for staying put.  I'm also not surprised that McCubbin, whose platoon was under attack was not that pleased to see him. Greenfield mentions him again later in his memoir referring to him as one of their toughest commanders.