"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde
A mixed week, as the weather forecasters say. On the one hand, I’ve been on the receiving end of grumpiness from people I was trying to give work to (so I won’t be doing that again). On the other hand, the world didn’t end with The Rapture, as predicted by those dear little mad people. So on balance the good news wins.
Likewise, whilst the English poetry establishment points a loaded gun at its own foot, the grass-roots poetry scene (especially in the NW) is almost embarrassingly fecund. I’ve been out and about, devising new projects and seeing other people’s work. I visited the Cheshire Record Office with archivist Liz Green, to pore over old documents and see how we might put them to creative use. Liz has a glint in her eye for anything involving vellum, and in my former life as an archaeologist I spent days at a time in county record offices. They hold all the papery goodies of a county – from seventeenth-century recipe books to love letters and company records. It’s fantastic raw material for a writer, and it’s YOURS. Go and look at it in your county record office. I’ve also been thinking about the project I invented over lunch with Clare Conlon the other day… it may be turning into a radio programme as well as an online one.
Meanwhile, the course I’ve been leading for Winning Words has come to an end – six weeks of in-depth critiquing and commentary. It was pretty hard work for me and the students alike, but the feedback has been amazing. “A truly positive experience,” said one. Another said “I have written more poems in the last six weeks than I usually write in a year.” And one rather touchingly wrote, “I can’t speak highly enough of this online course. Jo Bell has produced a perfectly pitched poetry masterclass! The exercises were stimulating, the feedback constructive and excruciatingly honest.” This was anonymous feedback so I’m guessing they meant it. The online model worked really well – Tom Vowler’s short story course is beginning next week, and Calum Kerr is leading one later in the year. These really are useful courses and great value, though I say so meself.
Back to the fecund NW (say that carefully, dear reader). I was at Contact Theatre for the pilot of Dominic Berry’s poetry show Wizard. The snippets I saw in advance seemed to be about talking kettles. But in context the script was both fanciful and down-to-earth; moving, tight and a courageous sharing of work in progress. It was such a pleasure to be in this audience. There was more of the same at Manchester’s Bad Language spoken word evening: a friendly, unpretentious welcome with high production standards. They’ve produced a pretty anthology of mostly Mancunian writers. I’m in it with this little number.
My father does not know I know
Anaïs Nin is in the dining room.
In that plain space with its cold carpets
dust blows in through floor vents
to the Wilbur Smiths and Flashmen;
gilt-flushed encyclopaedias with plates
of quagga and ichneumon.
My father does not know I know
his porn is stashed behind the
Angostura Bitters in the front room cabinet;
but I’ve no interest in pictures.
In soft covers on the bottom shelf
Anaïs Nin will bide her time;
a self-lit icon in an old tobacco tin
waiting out the war.