So a birthday blog! My present to myself this year was a weekend workshop in Suffolk. On Friday 13th, at Belstead House, 13 poets gathered. As a furore of winds and rain broke outside, we settled into the library for a warm welcome from the weekend's hosts, Michael Laskey and Joanna Cutts, editors of the Smiths Knoll magazine. We shared the well-equipped Conference Centre, a Tudor Hall in lovely gardens, with a group of quilters. As the weekend went on, it was clear the quilters were engaged in some huge and colourful undertaking, patches being laid out on the sitting-room carpet. We were similarly engrossed but never worked as late as those quilters.
Saturday opened with some free writing - two 7 mins. poems - to stretch our versifying muscles. Outside, a tree flamed orange against a wall of dark firs before a sheet of rain and hail drowned everything. Then it was the main business of the day, workshopping one poem by each poet. The group worked closely with each poem, sifted detail and asked useful questions. 13 is enough to hear a range of readings, some unexpected, of your poem. And experienced poets can not only sense a false note or a misplaced line but offer alternative ways in. You get as much out of doing the same for others, honing skills of snipping and sounding out and rejigging.
In the afternoon, Joanna and Michael gave individual 15mins. consultations. As a writer, you're always trying to develop your internal editor so it's a great opportunity to sit with two professionals who handle your work with care and insight. And these two enjoy poems and are good company. The rest of the time, we were free to walk, sleep, write, whatever. For Saturday evening's 'editorial meeting', Michael and Joanna brought a real sample of this week's submissions to select for publication. Joanna said they often end up placing a poem after 'a dialogue' with the poet i.e. they go through a process of drafts first. That's typical of the care taken with Smiths Knoll submissions - you get your work back quickly, sometimes even with a helpful comment.
The quilters were up at the crack of dawn on Sunday for the final push, stitching before breakfast. We continued with a successful format of free writing, workshopping and readarounds of favourite poems. When not busy with our 'poetry bee', it was great to share experiences and information with writers who really know the contemporary poetry scene. If you're looking for a good poetry workshop, I can really recommend the Smiths Knoll annual event. I liked very much the painstaking attention to craft, the encouragement to raise my game. And scores of poems by writers present and beyond, in every mood and form, stitched into the weekend's cloth. My thanks go especially to Michael and Joanna but also to my fellow poets who made it such a pleasurable 3 days. A good birthday treat.
Writing is a journey, both imaginary and physical. My first book took me to the Arctic to 'catch the colours' of the Northern Lights. Then I hunkered down to catch the wind-blown voices of polar explorers on Shackleton's 1914-17 Endurance expedition. More recently I'm obsessed by space: the race, the rockets, the final frontier.
Hear a BBC Radio Leicester interview about my space poetry at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03wfpyp
Explore my digital narrrative PHILAE'S BOOK OF HOURS, published by the European Space Agency, at:
My prose-poetry collections FIREBRIDGE TO SKYSHORE
and MAD, HOPELESS & POSSIBLE are both published by Original Plus Press at:
Contact me for signed copies or bookings at:
- Leicester, East Midlands
- As a storyteller, my work crosses boundaries of myth, science, history and spoken word. It has been presented in the British Science Museum, Ledbury Poetry Festival, National Space Centre and the European Space Agency website. In 2014 I ran a digital residency on WW1 for 14-18NOW and Writing East Midlands. I teach Creative Writing at De Montfort University and have experience of leading school events, workshop tuition and mentoring.