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Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Round up of recent and planned poetry happenings

One of the poems in Voices from Stone and Bronze inspired by the work of historian Peter Barton has been commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Competition. Judge Roger Elkin comments 

"Peter Barton’s Lessons of History admirably celebrates the photographic and archaeological research into the mass graves of soldiers and tunnel excavations at the Somme by First World War historian and author, Peter Barton. Each of the four short verses begins with a negative “A trench is not just a trench”, “A tunnel is not just a tunnel”, “This passage is not just a passage”, “A map is not just a map”. This connective structural device, while echoing the cataloguing of historical findings, gives the poem a factually-unsentimental tone, but without any dilution of sentiment. This in turn endorses the celebratory nature of the soldiers’ work “dug out spade by spade”, and with “perfectly square shaft”, while recording the fact they “have no headstones” or just “a cluster of crosses”. This is a moving poem, made more moving by the fact that it does not tug at emotional strings."

A poem I wrote more recently “From Whitsbury Copse to Mametz Wood” about following in the footsteps of David Jones, author of In Parenthesis is being included in the anthology ‘A way through the woods’ being launched at the inaugural Binsted Arts Festival. I will post more details in June when the anthology has been published. 

I’m looking forward to Ouse Muse in Bedford this evening and a chance to hear Anne Berkeley read and then on Saturday I’m off to London to take part in the Poetry and Visual Art workshop led by Tammy Yoseloff. I really enjoyed the workshop in the autumn term, and having been unable to do the spring term,  I am pleased to be doing this again.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Is it worth your while to do a Writing Retreat?

Recently Sarah Selecky has published series of articles   recently about writing retreats, both the tutored and non-tutored kind and I’m starting to make plans for a week on retreat in North Wales later in the year. The person I’m currently mentoring with Cinnamon Press recently been on a retreat with Arvon so I’ve been thinking about retreats and whether they are useful.

I came across an article by Max Dunbarwhich takes a critical look at the whole idea and comes to the conclusion that they are not worth the expense. I disagree as in my case it would have taken far longer to complete the two poetry collections which I’ve had published were it not for the opportunities which Cinnamon Press provide at T’yn y Coed. I want to make the distinction between going away to do a week’s course on writing with workshops and tutor-led sessions (often described as a retreat) and having a week away from home in which you focus completely on your work.
The article makes the point that you don’t have to go away to deepest Devon or elsewhere to enable you to write. You could save the money and do the writing at home. Whilst this is true there is something effective and efficient about having that week away which I would find hard to replicate whilst doing runs to school, hanging out washing and other domestic errands. Of course I write at home but at crucial stages in the development of both books I have needed to get away to spend time with the book and nothing but the book. The other interesting thing which happens psychologically is feeling that you should come back with something to show for the week’s absence. With Convoy I wanted to tackle the difficult subject matter of the final convoy, Operation Pedestal, which reached Malta in August 1942.  I found it the hardest part of the book to write because of the number of ships that were sunk and men killed and also because of the volume of research material I had amassed. The week away gave me permission to get on with the writing.

With Voices from Stone and Bronze I used the time on retreat in April last year to take a critical look at how the manuscript was shaping up and to make decisions about the order of the poems and which ones to leave out.

The social aspect of writing weeks should not be under-estimated. I am still in regular contact with the writers on the first retreat I did organised by Cinnamon Press. It helped that the numbers was limited and you got a chance to get to know other people’s writing reasonably well and we were all writing work of a similar near publishable standard. I only have one experience of Arvon which was a long time ago and the group size was about twenty which seemed to lead to a rather competitive atmosphere with people being keen to impress the tutors. Nonetheless I did get a lot written during the week. I think that with the more long standing organisation like Arvon it is your responsibility to make the week away productive and to focus on what you want to finish. 

You do not have to free up the whole of a week to go away. You can just escape to a nearby library for the day as Rachel Lucas  does, although she has Gladstone’s library up the road from her.
Of course the ultimate in retreats has to be Haworthen Castle, which offers fellowships for a month away. I have that in mind for the book after the next one by which time my household will be finished with A levels and GCSEs and the guilt factor about taking a whole month out will have diminished.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Voices from Stone and Bronze

I’m launching my second poetry collection, Voices from Stone and Bronze today, and I will be  reading in Milton Keynes, London and North Wales.  You can order your copy from Cinnamon Press.

With thanks to Jan Fortune, Vanessa Gebbie, and Jeremy Banning and also all the members of the Thursday advanced poetry group who read and commented on the poems as they were being written. 

Caroline Davies is writing poetry like no one else’s, embedded in shared, lived history. Her poems are quiet, direct, understated –and full of restrained power and emotional depth. Very moving, beautifully written, and unique in contemporary British poetry, this sequence deserves attention.
                                                Katy Evans-Bush

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Ways into Poetry - A Year with Rilke

Often when I suggest to people that it would be good for them to read more poetry they sigh and reply 'I wish I could but I just don't have the time'. But we all make the time to eat every day don't we and spending time on poems is another form of nourishment.

Part of the answer if you are pressed for time is something like "A Year with Rilke; Daily Reading from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke". The book contains a short poem or piece of prose for each day of the year (plus an extra day for leap years). Today's poem is A Circle, written in December 1914 but as true today as it was then.

Allowing yourself to read at least once a day will take no longer than the time to drink your morning tea or coffee or to brush your teeth and you can carry the poem with you for the rest of the day. Don't be put off by the idea that Rilke is 'difficult'. This edition of his work by Joanna Macy and Anita Burrows is designed to be readable and accessible. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Ready for lift-off and a poetry launch

“There are some moments in life that are like pivots around which your existence turns – small intuitive flashes, when you know you have done something right for a change..”
                                                                                Robyn Davidson, Tracks

I have had a couple of these pivotal moments in the last year including making the decision to leave the day job in order to spend more time on my poetry. This is brave, foolhardy and I may regret it but it is making me happy. In Tracks Robyn Davidson is describing the moment when she arrived with her dog in Alice Springs and her ambition to cross the Australian desert with camels. At that point she didn’t know anything about camels. I’m enjoying reading her account and it does make my adventure of launching a second poetry book out into the world later this week seem straight-forward.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

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 expect that for many of us (apart from critics and perhaps book bloggers) reading is something to be fitted in around the other things which make up our days, work families, and other responsibilities and reading can be the thing which is left until bedtime when you’re tired and likely to fall asleep over your book.

And yet there is evidence that reading makes you happier so shouldn’t we all aim to do more of it? As a writer I am also an avid reader and I have been trying over the last six months to recapture that feeling of getting lost in a book which I remember from being a teenager. It seems to happen most easily when I have discovered a poetry pamphlet that I can’t put down.

Yesterday it was the novel, Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie which I spent time with. This was my local book group’s choice for the month and the meeting was last night and I really wanted to finish it. It is a feast of a novel, ambitious and moving, with an ending which was shocking and completely believable.

The poetry books I am currently reading  (or about to read) are Loop of Jade, alongside  several other people.  Technically this is a re-read and I am enjoying spending more time with these poems. Then it will be the turn of John McCullough’s Spacecraft which has just been published.  Those of us who loved ‘The Frost Fairs’ have had a considerable wait for this second collection and I have already broached the book, which begins with a marvellous poem ! about the exclamation point and ends with a catflap poem. In fact the prospect of spending the best part of a day with John’s book is rather enticing. I may be gone for a while….

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Pigeon Ravine on the Somme

As I have been writing this blog post I came across my hand-written notes from October 2013 when Jeremy Banning first took me and other writers to Pigeon Ravine and I found Louis Doffman amongst the graves. I can’t remember now whether it was Jeremy who pointed out his headstone (as is his habit of making sure you notice things) or if the part of the inscription ‘served as 242421 Private’ caught my attention because it was an unusual thing to find written. There was more information in the CWGC register.
(served as MOUNTFORD). Son of Charles and Ellen Doffman, of 82. Broad St., Hanley, Staffs.
I assume that it was his parents who provided the epitaph for their twenty-seven year old son. He had been single at the time of the 1911 census and I have found no record of him having married.
Ever in our thoughts
God’s will be done

As far as the official records are concerned Louis remains as Lewis Mountford I have no way of knowing if any of the rest of his company knew that he was really Louis Doffman but I assume he kept quiet about his German sounding name which would have made him a figure of suspicion. 

Photo by Jeremy Banning

The word ‘Ravine’ might make you think of hills and valleys but the landscape in this part of the Somme battlefields is level ground. It reminded me of how the farmland changes and flattens as you leave Bedford and head east towards Cambridge and the Fens. 

You can see for a long way (unless there is fog and mist).

Photograph by Jeremy Banning

 No cover but there is a sunken lane- Gloucester Road
a refuge from enfilade fire when they get there

From Voices from Stone and Bronze  

 As you will observe from my notes this attack by the 2nd Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment happened quite late in the war, at the end of September 1918. Of course the men who were fighting for the Germans and the British did not know the war would be over two months later.
The Pigeon Ravine cemetery is a typical battlefield cemetery where the men were buried very close to where they were killed and all buried together as a company.  I like to think that they will have been buried with a ceremony rather than hastily interred. The cemetery was created in October 1918 by the 33rd Division Burial Officer. It contains 121 known graves, the majority of whom were killed on 29th September 1918. The youngest was 18 and the oldest was a Lance Corporal named Robert Vincent Beare was 41. 

After the war and as the French regained their farms the remains in some of the smaller cemeteries  were moved into larger cemeteries but Pigeon Ravine was left as it was. 
Photograph by Jeremy Banning