Thursday, 3 September 2015

Can poetry save your life?

I am coming to the end of what has turned out to be an extended period away from work, due to difficulties in my current post. As things were becoming completely untenable at work I discovered Anthony Wilson’s Lifesaving poems.  This anthology is of the poems he feels most passionately about. Each poem is accompanied by an essay or meditation about how Anthony first discovered the poem and why it matters to him and resonates for him. The collecting of the poems started out as notebook entries, then became blog posts before being published as a book by Bloodaxe.  He imposed a limit of one poem per poet and a quick glance through the contents revealed that these were not the poems I might have chosen. Thom Gunn is represented by ‘Autobiography’ but not the more obvious The Hug.  Reading the accompanying essay I could see that Anthony Wilson chose the poem which led him to want to read more of the poet’s work and to want to write poems. Finding a poem for the first time is a moment of epiphany and if I am being honest my Thom Gunn poem is one of his more obscure ones, ‘Breakfast’ which was published in ‘Touch’ in 1974. I read it as a teenager with its message of the speaker continuing to go through his days, 

'without love, without hope but
without renunciation’.

Can poetry save your life? They don’t change how the world works nor do they rescue the drowning but they can alter how you view the world. Anthony Wilson put together his book as a thank you note to the people who had shared the poems with him and to the poems themselves. I came to it at a time when I was at a very low point after a hitherto successful career as a university administrator.  I wasn’t feeling that good about my ability to read and write poems either. But poetry was still there as bedrock, as something which would not let me down. I discovered I could still comment on drafts of other people’s poems and prose.  In a gesture of generosity (and on a most difficult day at work) various writing friends (you know who you are) sent me poems to fill up my in-box.  Then came the books for me to review and various messages of support and the shadows began to lift.  Can poetry save your life? Well in my case it helped save my sanity and for that I am grateful.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

End of term

The Poetry Cafe from

It feels like there is a school’s out atmosphere this week with children being let loose for the summer. Yesterday evening I went to the last session of advanced poetry workshops with Katy Evans-Bush. These are held in a room above the poetry café in Covent Garden once a fortnight and provide for me a chance to escape to London for an evening of poetry. More important it is the chance to share work (and poetry gossip) with a group of other poets who are all writing excellent poems. I have learned so much over the last couple of years about what works and what doesn’t work in a poem.

The evening begins with a catch up of what is happening in our poetry worlds, which books we’re reading (I shall revisit Jean Sprackland’s earlier collections after last night) and then it is on to the critiques. It is a small group so we know each other’s styles of writing well now. There is such a level of trust within the group that people are willing to bring along first-ish drafts that are still a little rough around the edges or one of those poems that is at the stage of development where you can no longer see the wood for the trees and need an external eye. I’ve come to enjoy hearing and discussing the others’ poems as much as receiving feedback on mine.

I can’t wait until September when the workshop will start again. If anyone reading this would like to join you’re welcome to contact Katy Evans-Bush via her website. And one of our group, Sue Johns  is reading with Louder than Liberty on Wednesday 5th August at the Colour House Theatre,  Watermill Way, Merton SW19 2RD


Friday, 3 July 2015

August Poetry Postcard Fest

There is less than a day to go before registration opens for this August's Poetry postcard fest. This involves poets from around the world sending a poetry postcard a day to other poets. It's been happening since 2007 and I discovered it last year and took part for the first time.

I wrote about my experiences last summer. This year I will be better organised and will have bought more than enough cards in advance. Last year although I had more than thirty cards, I found it difficult to get inspired by some of them. I am also going to go with the flow more and not ever write out a poem in advance in my notebook to check it will fit on the back of the card. The point of the exercise is a spontaneous creation of a poem on the spot each day and not writing carefully crafted poems! I will learn to quell the inner editor as mentioned by David Sherwin on his blog.

And I may see if I can find some postcards of seaside donkeys to add to my stash.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Victor's Family

Victor was born at 10 Clonmel Street, Llandudno on 10th June 1897, the second child in the family. His sister, Mary Eleanor was two years older. His father, Robert Samuel worked as a printer and his mother Mary Grace (nee Pritchard) was from Amlwch.

At the time of the 1901 census the family with three year old Victor was still living at 10 Clonmel Street, next door to the Alexandra Hotel. I assume they were living on the premises of his father’s print workshop.

Was he a happy child I wonder? He was the only boy and grew up in a household of sisters, Grace Elizabeth b 1901, Nora (my grandmother) b 1903, Edith Hannah (my aunt Edie) b 1906 and Robina (my aunt Bena) b 1908.

In 1908 the family were struck by disaster as Victor’s father, Robert died on 11th February of influenza and pneumonia. He was only 39 years old and his death was registered by his brother and Victor’s uncle John Henry Davies who had been present at the death. Victor was ten when his father died and his youngest sister, Robina (Bena) was born on 23rd March. How on earth did his mother cope with no husband and six children to care for? John Henry who lived nearby at 5 Hills Yard, Madoc Street, Llandudno will have helped I expect.

By the time of the 1911 census the family was living at 20 Alexandra Road Llandudno. His mother, Mary Grace was working as a dressmaker. Victor aged 13 was at school as were three of his sisters Grace Elizabeth, Nora, and Edie with the three year old Bena still at home. The family had taken in lodgers, a married couple John Richard Williams and Lydia Williams and Emily Gadd with her two children George Henry aged 6 and Annie May aged 1. His uncle John Henry, a 44 year old widower was still living at 5 Hills Yard with Mary Davies, Victor's grandmother. 

Victor's medal card (WO372/5) has him serving with the Welsh regiment (Soldier Number: 1466, Rank: Private,) and then the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (Soldier Number 56806 and rank Private. He was with the 15th Battalion of the Royal Welsh when he was killed on 31st July 1917 in the attack on Pilkem ridge. He had just turned twenty years of age.

His mother had gone home to Amlwch and he was remembered by the family with a notice in the local paper every August

2 August 1918 IN MEMORIAM Davies – In loving memory of Private Robert V. Davies, who fell in action July 31st, beloved and only son of Mrs Davies and the late R.S. Davies, printer, Llandudno. At his country’s call. Sadly missed by his mother and sisters, Mona Café, Amlwch. 

For years there was a photograph of Victor in uniform which stood in the front parlour with all the family photographs so he remained a part of their lives long after he'd gone. I've no idea what might have happened to the photograph. My cousin Elizabeth remembers decorating it with holly in the 1940s and 1950s.

My father, Norman was born in April 1919 and in a way Dad took his place as he was raised by Mary Grace, Victor's mother as Nora was too young and unmarried. It would have been out of the question for this baby to have been given away for adoption when Mary Grace had lost her only son, just two years earlier. So Norman was brought up in the family home with Edie and Bena.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Captain Thomas Sydney Horn, OBE, Master of the Sydney Star 5 May 1899 – June 1971

Thomas Horn as a young man

 I have recently returned from a writing retreat at Anam Cara in Ireland, where I had the chance to share some of the poems from Convoy. 

I came back to find an email from Thomas Horn's grand daughter, Moya. She had read the Convoy blog posts about the men who inspired the poems. One of these was Captain Thomas Horn, master of the Sydney Star. It must have taken sheer determination on his part with the support of key members of his crew, including his chief engineer George Haig and Chief Officer James Mackie, to get the Sydney Star to Malta in the summer of 1941 after she’d been torpedoed and almost sunk.

I had a clear idea of what Thomas Horn's character was like; gleaned from various maritime histories but I had been unable to find a photograph of him, despite trawling through the various archives. This was rather surprising as he received the OBE in December 1941. 

His grand daughter and god daughter have kindly provided me with photographs and permission to share them. So here he is

Thomas Horn on right

Receiving  the OBE?

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Percy's brothers and sisters

Percy Honeybill 20th May 1887 - 2nd September 1918

Percy grew up in a family of boys. His parents, William and Harriet, had eleven children of whom only two, Evelyn (born 1880) and Edith May (born 1894) were girls.

Percy had four older brothers, Albert, Evelyn's twin (born 1880), Alfred (born 1882) , William A (born 1883) and Frederick (born 1885) and four younger brothers, John (born 1888) the year after Percy, Granville (born 1890), George (born 1892) and Edward (born 1896). Two or more of his brothers died in childhood, baby Granville died in 1890 his birth year and Frederick died five years later in 1985 having only lived for ten years. It is possible that his oldest brother, Albert, Evelyn's twin also died as a baby as there is no mention of him in the 1881 census which simply records William and Harriet and Evelyn as living at The Lodge, Brighton Grove, Rusholme so we can assume that Percy will never have known Albert.

In 1891 the family were living at Portland Grove, Withington with his thirty eight year old father William still working as a Coachman and domestic servant. By then there were six children, Evelyn aged 10, Alfred aged 9, William A aged 7, Frederick aged 6, Percy aged 3 and the toddler John aged 2.

By the time of the 1901 census they had moved to what was then called 1 Lancaster Road, South Manchester and the three older children were working; twenty year old Evelyn as a dressmaker, nineteen year old Alfred and seventeen year old William A were both Joiners (Journeyman). Percy was aged thirteen and with his younger siblings,John, George, Edith May and Edward, will have been at school. Percy attended the Manchester Dulcie Avenue School from 1892 until 1901.

By 1911 Percy was the oldest child still living at home aged twenty three and working as a bookkeeper. John aged twenty two was a plumber and George was a joiner apprentice. Even the fourteen year old Edward was working as an office boy and the sixteen year old Edith May's occupation is described as 'at home'. 

Percy got married in 1914 to Dorothy Mabel Lummis and presumably left home that year. In the National Probate  calendar just four years later on 1st November 1918 their address is recorded as 15 Wilton Road,Cholton-cum-Hardy.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Lance Sergeant Percy Honeybill 1917

Percy Honeybill with Sergeant's stripes - taken in 1917
 Thanks to Percy's grandson, Peter I am now able to share a photograph which was taken on him in his uniform. Please note the three white chevrons denoting his rank as Lance serrgeant.

Peter also sent me the copy of a page from a diary of the time in which someone, mostly likely Percy has written a summary of his military service from 1916 to the end of 1917. I am still deciphering the handwriting but what it tells us is

Joined up Dec 1st 1916

The second military service Act of May 1916 had extended conscription to married men so Percy will have had to leave his wife and three young daughters.

Reported Ashton Dec 2nd 1916
Sent to P?? Dec 11th 1916

I'm assuming that he will have spent much of 1917 in training and he also became an NCO gaining the rank of Lance Sergeant on 30th June 1917. 

On 13th Dec 1917 the notes indicate he transferred to KO (RLR) - King's Own Royal Lancaster regiment. I don't know which regiment he was with during 1917 as neither his notes nor his medal card tell us. Having been transferred his notes then say

reverted to unpaid LCpl (Lance Corporal) Dec 20 1917

An internet search has revealed that Lance appointments could be paid or unpaid and were under the control of the commanding officer (CO) and these appointments could be removed at will by the CO.  

Now it's back to the war diaries to find out where he might have been with the KO (RLR) during 1917 and 1918.