The Universe and Us

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(Photo by icon0.com from Pexels)

What is it to be free? What does it look like, for you?

This week with my young writers, we had freedom in mind. We talked about personal freedoms. We discussed free verse and poetic form. We read a poem that’s overflowing with freedom in its use of language, music and powerful self-expression. We did some free writing. We felt free.

I’ve cheekily borrowed the title of this blog entry from that poem I’ve just been referring to: Toria Garbutt‘s joyful reminiscent song that celebrates the downtime of her past schooldays, ‘That inbetween space/ after school/ before tea/… just t’sunshine/ and t’tele/ and t’settee/ and me’

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It’s such a punchy poem: wild and free. In our free writing time, when we let all ideas come, writing down everything (always applying our mantra: #nofilter), we borrowed Garbutt’s lines, using them as a point to launch from. We explored our own ‘inbetween spaces’, celebrating the moments when we’re released from timetables, revision, expectations, worries, responsibilities… The list goes on.

I’m so proud of the fact that this Young Writers’ mentoring programme at DGS opens up a window of freedom for these brilliant students. A chance to step back and just BE. From this place, they can produce stunning writing.

But it’s not just about the writing.

Being free to be creative, to fulfill our creative potential, is an essential part of our lives. I recently ‘listened again’ to the important episode of BBC Radio4s Front Row, ‘Arts Education in Schools’. There were so many  views presented from a range of relevant viewpoints, on the devastating decline of the arts subjects in England’s secondary schools, the reasons for it (EBacc, League Tables, Gove, to name a few) and the damaging impact this is likely to have on the next generation of Artists (of all kinds) in our country. It was an unmissable debate, please catch it up if you can.

Most importantly, the discussions in the programme highlighted the unlimited benefits of creativity for our young people. The debate was an essential reminder that being creative isn’t only good for the individual, it’s good for society as a whole. WE NEED CREATIVES, now and in the future, to bring their blue sky thinking, their innovation and wide-ranging problem-solving, to our industries – both creative and otherwise. We need ‘that inbetween space/ before bed/ after tea/ …just t’sunset/ n t’moonlight/ n t’universe/ n me.’

(You can read ‘The Universe And Me’ in Toria Garbutt’s amazing collection of the same name, published by the stonking indie publisher, Wrecking Ball Press.)

 

 

An emerald forest of a book: A Review of Pascale Petit’s poetry collection, ‘Mama Amazonica’

590f9f5c5b381If you’ve been bewitched by ‘Blue Planet 2’, incredulous at its scale of underwater life, shocked by its prey and predators, then be prepared to be equally transported by the poetry in ‘Mama Amazonica’.

Petit’s collection is an emerald forest of a book.

The power of Petit’s poetry here, I think, lies in her grafting and splicing of worlds. She transplants experience and trauma into the most unexpected of places: rainforests. Her mother, who was mentally ill, is perpetually reincarnated within this tropical world as an array of dangerous and glorious creatures, and in the poems we witness Petit’s struggles as she encounters these, and attempts to make sense of her altered world.

The metaphorical leaps in Petit’s writing are swift and full-bodied. At times, she shows us glimmers of harmony between mother and daughter, but mostly we get an overwhelming sense of alienation and displacement, experienced by Petit:

‘…I wanted warmth/but you are all the colours of drought.’      (from ‘in the Giraffe House’)

Her pain resonates and reaches us.

Cries for preservation of the rich ecosystems of the rainforests also ripple through the poems, reminding us of what we’ve lost, and what we still stand to lose if we continue to decimate these precious parts of our planet.

After reading ‘Mama Amazonica’, I think what Petit leaves for us is a reminder of our essential ties to each other, along with the knowledge that our damage and scars can potentially be transformed into something vital and vibrant.

A Happy Clearing

pexels-photo-396714There has been some movement in my head. One way to describe this might be to say that, for months, I’ve been a bit like someone trying to take a stroll through a deep jungle, as if it were my local High Street. Which is, of course, impossible and ridiculous.

I’ve been hacking away at tangled ideas, attempting to make some kind of pathway to move myself through. Slow, messy work.

But I’ve had a ‘moment’ – the chaos has suddenly thinned out and I’ve unexpectedly tripped and fallen into a kind of thought clearing.

Let me elucidate. My head has been thick with contradictory ideas about what poetry is. Questions like: What should poetry be about? What should poetry do? What is it for? Pretty basic stuff but also pretty foundational. I’ve been continually interrogating my own writing impulse and its results. Perhaps no bad thing?

And the thought that’s opened up for me is this: I need to feel empowered to write what is true. So many philosophers/scientists/artists/thinkers have wrestled with the notion of ‘truth’, I’m not going to regurgitate any of their arguments in this blog, and I wouldn’t pretend to understand half of them! But in terms of poetry, I’ve come to think of ‘true writing’ as poems that are real, or become real while writing, to me at least. Poems that emerge out of a genuine moment/thought/event. I’m beginning to understand that, if the initial impetus is real, then the work has potential to initiate a change in someone, or something, somewhere, beyond myself.

Emile Zola, nineteenth century French writer and activist, believed that truth was potentially unstoppable:

“If you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way.”

Emile Zola, attributed, Dreyfus: His Life and Letters’

I’ve realised that it’s not only right and responsible, but do-able to grapple with meaty social issues in poetry, ideas that ripple out into the world outside myself. (Easier said than done to write like this, of course – this will forever be a work in progress!) However, at the same time I’ve also been welcoming the notion that if it’s true, if it’s real, if it feels like me, then it’s worthy of writing, and it can also have the potential power to change things.

I’d also go so far to say that it’s worthy of editing and publishing.

I’m delighted to have a couple of poems with political edge in the current issue of ‘Dream Catcher’ magazine (ed John Gilham, @literaryartsmag) and they sit alongside other work which doesn’t shy away from contemporary global debates. In issue 35 you’ll find honest, ‘true’ responses to Brexit, to Trump, to life. It’s a great read.

Finally, for my mantra, I’m going to borrow some words from the celebratory and momentous American poet Walt Whitman, quoting from his poem ‘All is Truth’:

“And henceforth I will go celebrate anything I see or am,
And sing and laugh, and deny nothing.”

 

Read more about Walt Whitman here

Read the editor’s overview of the current issue of Dream Catcher here

 

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Wishing I could have lingered longer

IMG_0590I know better these days than to pack in more than two events in one day at Ledbury Poetry Festival. I need time to bask in this chocolate-box town’s poetic tradition. Time to think. Drink coffee. And ultimately (hopefully): write.

But I was entirely satisfied by my two carefully chosen events (when the brochure arrives, how on earth to choose?) I had opted for a writing workshop with Tony Hoagland and an interview with the ‘Editors’, namely: Neil Astley, Amy Wack and Luke Allan, quizzed on stage by Debbie Taylor.

Led like a child by a poetic Pied Piper, I was enthusiastic to follow Hoagland’s lead and “write wildly” – sitting sipping my coke beside such a charismatic, mature thinker, quite frankly, who wouldn’t be? I came away with some pretty interesting free writing and some useful motivational quotations, including:

“Pleasure is a goal of art making …Get out and play!”

I love a poet who thinks, and works, like this.

I was caught off guard during ‘Meet the Editors’ – I wasn’t expecting Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books) to make me cry, but his reading of the late Helen Dunmore’s poetry was staggering in its beautiful precision, power and raw loss.

After hearing Luke Allan’s story of how he “got into the business”, I came away with nothing but admiration for these Indie poetry publishers and the sacrifices they make, to support and further the work of poets. It gives me hope. And a certain pride in this poetry community that I consider myself to be a part of.

It goes without saying that the Festival dates are already in my diary for next summer.