Today I am Mainly Wearing Black

So tonight we leave the EU. Whilst this is a poetry blog, I don’t write in a bubble, so will occasionally write on other issues. I am deeply saddened by what has happened to the UK since 2016, and very concerned with what comes next. I am sad for the opportunities that I, and more pertinently the younger generations will no longer have due to the loss of freedom of movement. I am sad for the friends, and others, whose livelihoods have already been damaged, and for those whose lives have been impacted by the casual xenophobia and racism that has been unleashed by those who feel Brexit gives them the right to spout their poison wherever they want.

So today I am mainly wearing black. I would be more sanguine if Brexit was not the result, at least in part, of 40 years of unchecked lies printed in so many of our so-called newspapers, and of the politicians who have used this undercurrent of disinformation to enhance their careers, wallets or both. People should be held to account for this, but as usual, in the UK, as with most countries, if you are rich enough, or powerful enough, you can say and do pretty much what you want. It was always thus.

I wrote an article about my own MP’s actions in the original campaign – you can read it on the star and crescent website here –https://www.starandcrescent.org.uk/2017/05/17/election-17-penny-mordaunts-turkish-tall-story/ – it was staggering to discover so easily that her claim was a complete lie. More worrying to me was the complete absence of any proper journalistic investigation and subsequent impact on her political career for espousing such untruths. Is it any wonder we are where we are as a country?

The EU is far from perfect, but suffice to say, I am struggling to see any genuine upside at this time, particularly against the risks to our economy, environment, public services and societal well-being. I guess the next eleven months will determine if my fears are justified. I hope that they are not.

Learning the Wild Geese

I’m not very good at memorising my poems, and am in awe of those poets and spoken word performers who can stand on stage and recite their work without having a paper prompt.. Despite having read some of mine 30+ times I remain unconvinced that my memory is good enough, and always have a safety net to hand.

I am therefore beginning to regret my decision to be part of an event on March 1st at the Theatre Royal Portsmouth, where alongside about twenty others I will be reciting someone else’s poem from memory – especially as the poem I have chosen, Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese, is very well known.

I love this poem, from the direct statement of the first line, the conversational tone of language, the use of repetition, internal rhythm and subtle imagery. It takes a lot of skill and effort to create a poem that seems so effortless and unforced – as a comparison compare this to the haibun I posted earlier (Springwatch 2029). I know which is the better poem by far – and if you think it’s mine then thank you, I’m flattered – but you’re wrong!

You can find plenty of other articles about this poem online ( I really am beginning to wish I had chosen something more obscure!) but if you are going to follow any one link then choose this one – an audio recording of Mary Oliver reading Wild Geese

https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/09/24/mary-oliver-reads-wild-geese/

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and soft pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


 

An Interview with a Poet

I’ve just started reading (and very much enjoying) We Are The Lizards, Margaret Jennings first published poetry collection. Margaret is also published by Dempsey & Windle, and I will be interviewing her as part of Portsmouth Bookfest on February 17th – in fact, it’s the first event of Bookfest this year – no pressure then!

If anyone has any particular questions they would like asked, please let me know in the comments below

Details on the event are below –

An evening full of poetry: an interview with local poet Margaret Jennings, readings, discussion and the chance to share your own work.

About this Event

An Evening of Poetry – brought to you by T’Articulation.

 A convivial soiree with local poets, published and from the spoken word circuit.

An interview of Margaret Jennings, Portsmouth’s recently published new poet, will be conducted by Richard Williams who has a most excellent collection of his own with the same publishing house. This will be followed by themed readings from the work of a number of local poets. We will also delve into their techniques. Following on, there’ll be opportunities for the audience to share their own work. Oh, and a surprise on the night, if we’re lucky – which we will be because I’ve just had availability confirmed.

Food and drink can be bought from the cafe, throughout the evening.

A book stall of poetry books by local authors (who would love to sign one just for you) will be complemented by secondhand offerings of anthologies from other, well established, poets.

For further details, and to book tickets to this and other Bookfest events, please go to http://www.portsmouthbookfest.co.uk/2020-festival-programme/

This event is organised by T’Articulation, a Portsmouth based writing collective, who have their own Facebook page listing various events, including open mic readings, here. They are a friendly bunch and won’t bite if you want to have a go! https://www.facebook.com/TArticulation/

Oh and you can find more about, and buy Margaret’s book here; https://www.dempseyandwindle.com/margaret-jennings.html

Springwatch 2029

I just found an attempt at an environmental themed haibun on the Poetry Magazines website at the South Bank. This was one of a pair that originally appeared in South – this one in issue 41, from April 2010. It’s interesting looking back at old magazines, plenty of familiar names whose work I admire and who are continuing to develop as writers, following their own path.

As for the subject matter, irrespective of the merits or otherwise of this poem – which didn’t appear in my (only) collection, I’ve struggled over the years to write about the environmental catastrophe we are facing. It’s a theme I often return to, more so now. This poem was a relatively early attempt to tackle this subject. I’m not sure it works – but would be interested in any comments.

It was also an early attempt at a haibun -a form I really need to revisit and learn more about . If anyone has any suggestions as to writers or poems to read then please comment accordingly, thank you!

Anyway, enough waffle – the poem…

Springwatch 2029

If CCTV cameras still worked, still ran their twenty-four-seven-three-six-five loop,then it would end like this. A breeding cliff of guillemots on the high Guildhall walls. Fulmars nesting in a roofless ruin of pubs. A cormorant drying wings on the balcony of the Theatre Royal as the tide licks what remains of the Walkabout Bar. A beach of glass stars, ground down rubble and shipwrecked steel. Girders the ribs of near-skyscrapers. Corralled at the storm line on Winston Churchill Avenue, a twisted pile
of cars, waiting in turn. A church near-obliterated by the shock of it all, roof tiles scattered as confetti. Thrift greens the gaps between pews, pink flowers carpeting the nave. Further out, salt water rules. The Solent flows around museums, swallowing debris. Foundations split open, currents pull history into the sea. As tower block stacks collapse, windows guillotine reflections, slicing the past. What’s left of the harbour station, a reef of brick and metal, train tracks ending in mid-air. Above churned-up surf, gulls roller-coaster a spiral of wind. But underneath is calm. Go deep enough and underneath is always calm. The soundless feeding of a slowly
dancing shoal. A silver slivered slick-stream of eels. The swaying ballet of seaweed.

Endlessly shifting
the margins of existence
a mud-spit of life

Chichester Poetry Reading

My first reading of 2020 will be in Chichester, on Wednesday 29th January. I’ll be reading mainly from Landings, and the longer time slot will enable be to read poems that don’t normally feature due to time pressures, including potentially the very long title poem. The full blurb for the event can be found below – and there are open-mic slots available. If you are reading this then hopefully I’ll see you there.

OPEN MIC POETRY WITH RICHARD WILLIAMS

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020, 7.30pm. JUBILEE HALL, NEW PARK CENTRE, CHICHESTER, PO19 7XY.

Heading the bill at Open Mic Poetry at New Park Centre on Wednesday, January 29, is Portsmouth based poet Richard Williams. He’ll be treating audiences to poems from his first collection, Landings.

Richard ’s poems have appeared in various magazines and anthologies, including South, where he was the featured poet for the most recent edition, launched in Southampton. His collection Landings was published by Dempsey and Windle recently.

Open Mic spokesman Barry Smith says, ‘We’re delighted to feature Richard’s poetry for our Chichester audiences. I’m sure his work will appeal to a wide range of poetry lovers. Richard and I have read together several times in the past, so I’m pleased we can now introduce him to Chichester.’

There will be a chance for local poets to share the spotlight with Richard in the open mic section of the evening. Barry says, ‘Visiting poets are always impressed by the energy, commitment and sheer quality of the poems read by our local writers. It’s a chance for people to get their message across, whatever the subject or style of their poetry. Listeners are equally welcome.’

Open Mic Poetry, Wed 29th January, 2020, 7.30pm, Jubilee Hall, New Park Centre, Chichester. 

 Café/bar for refreshments.

Tickets: £4 on the door.

More information on Chichester Poetry can be found here, including details on a range of other readings and events. http://chichesterpoetry.simplesite.com/

Places of Poetry

Places of Poetry was open for writers to pin their poems to places from 31st May to 31 October 2019. It is now closed for new poems but remains available for readers. It welcomed writers of all ages and backgrounds, with a mission of wanting to gather as many perspectives on the places and histories of England and Wales. With over 7000 poems in total, I think it can safely be described as a great success!

Led by the renowned poet Paul Farley and the academic Andrew McRae, it is based at the universities of Exeter and Lancaster, and generously funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England, and underpinned by national partnerships with the Ordnance Survey, The Poetry Society, and National Poetry Day.

I found out about the site via a Facebook post by another poet and started posting fairly early on. Many of my poems are about specific places, so it was of great interest to me. It was wonderful to be able to position a poem on a specific building and I got a bit carried away! . You can find 27 of mine on the map, mainly around Portsmouth. Some have been placed elsewhere, but for others, such as Wilhelmina J, this is the first place it has been published.

The Wilhelmina J was a scallop trawler that was hit my a much larger vessel on 10 April 1991 with the loss of all 6 of her crew. This poem was placed on the building where the memorial to the tragedy is displayed – The Bridge Tavern in Old Portsmouth – you can find it on the map here;

https://www.placesofpoetry.org.uk/

Darkside Portside

Darkside Portside is a digital poetry trail celebrating the darker history of Portsea. Fourteen poetry films were selected, all of which can be viewed online. The best way to experience them however is through the Dark Side Port Side Walk. You can find full details here: https://darkside.nautoguide.com/

Thanks must go to John Sackett and Big Adventures for creating and running this really enjoyable project.

My poem, of Whales and Mermaids, was turned into a film by Marta Paslerova, and can be found on the map towards the far end of Queen Street. Do look at the other films as well though – they are all very, very different, and have a real range of styles and content. It might be interesting to read the poem first and then see how it has been interpreted in film – or watch the film first and see how it compares on the page. These types of multi-media collaborations are always interesting , as the poem is only really the starting point for the film maker’s skill and imagination.

Of Whales and Mermaids

So we trawled the world in search of myth,
watched dolphins leap waves from ferries to Normandy,
saw orca chase herring off the Lofoten isles,
imagined minke in the mist of the Labrador Sea,
and mermaids not narwhal under a high Arctic sun.

Now ship models in bottles are trinkets of time,
like pen and ink pictures on corridor walls,
the ghosts of scrapped ships and the ghosts of their dead
from the barriers at Whale Island to the remaining grey hulls,
and only one outfitter left now the rest have all gone.

So we scour the city in search of our past
as the tallow burns down on wonder and dreams,
till microfilm from paper is all we have left,
as stories in books become words on a screen
and gold leaf on rooftops means more and more less.

Running down Queen Street and on to The Hard
the route of all monarchs all of them bar one,
past dull council blocks and bright luxury towers,
a gilded tomorrow and history struck dumb
and only one outfitter left for the fleet.

And he is still there if not in that shot
as the memories of old sailors pipe the retreat,
out past the Victory and on to Spithead,
a review of ghost ships in a lucidity of thought
dripping in braid and faces and names.

Like listening to orca in some long-distant fjord,
the clicks of their sonar so out of our depth
we stand close together yet so far apart,
harpooned to this future and gasping for breath
lost to a language we can’t understand.

South Poetry Magazine Issue 60 Launch

I’ve had poems accepted a number of times by this magazine, which as it’s name suggests, is based in the South of England (though they accept submissions from anywhere). The contents are selected by different guest poets, and all submissions are judged anonymously. Each issue also has a larger selection of poems by a profiled poet, alongside an editorial piece to accompany the poems.

I was delighted to be the profiled poet for issue 60. The editorial piece was kindly written by Denise Bennett, who is an excellent poet whose books are worth checking out if you aren’t already aware of her writing.

There is a launch reading event for each issue, where poets appearing in the magazine can apply for a reading slot – the first time I ever read any of my poems was at a South launch event in Bournemouth.

The launch event this time was in Southampton. As a Portsmouth supporter with a couple of poems in the selection that reference Pompey, I was slightly concerned that I might be ambushed by Saints fans. Whilst this didn’t happen (despite some good natured banter!) my chair did collapse when I sat down after finishing my reading, so perhaps there had been an element of sabotage after all !!

The profiled poet’s reading is recorded – if you are interested you can see mine here on Youtube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYz764EhgoA&t=308starget%3D_new .

For more information generally on South Magazine, please go to www.southpoetry.org

Shaping Portsmouth Interview

Whilst searching for potentially relevant online links for this blog, I found an old interview that I had completely forgotten about, which was conducted for Shaping Portsmouth by Justine Arnold.

Shaping Portsmouth’s vision is for Portsmouth to be the best city in the UK to invest, live, work and visit and are organised and focussed on this vision. In partnership with several organisations their primary focus is to grow the number of jobs and increase the overall educational attainment of the population. As a consequence my interview was around the issues of self-motivation from the perspective of a writer who finally achieved an ambition to publish a book at the age of 53. You can read it here if it is of interest. http://shapingportsmouth.co.uk/rtac-blog/2188-rtac-i4-richard-williams

Landings – Fifth Review

The Fifth, and for now, most recent, review of Landings appeared on the High Window Press Website at the end of last year.

Sydney Whiteside completed her review by summarising: Landings gracefully articulates anxieties about the future, though these fears are balanced by an uncompromising sense of hopefulness. Williams grounds philosophical musings in brilliant, concrete detail. He evokes the history and topography of Portsmouth with confidence and honesty. The poems in Landings champion the power of memory, uniquely and powerfully reimagining the intricate city Williams calls home.

You can read the full review amongst the other Winter 2019 reviews here (including a few books I need to order myself!) here: https://thehighwindowpress.com/category/reviews/

The High Window is a quarterly review of poetry which, for its first twelve issues was co-edited by David Cooke and Anthony Costello. It now continues under the sole editordship of David. Its aims are wide-ranging and non-partisan. It publishes work in English by new and established poets from The UK and around the world. Alongside a lively and eclectic mix of poetry, each new issue contains an editorial, a literary essay, a selection of poems in translation, poetry reviews and occasional features. You can subscribe (for free of course) here: https://thehighwindowpress.com/about-2/