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Poetry and Mince Pies

I am buzzing from having been among such talented and varied voices for the evening and don’t think that I’ll be able to sleep for quite some time to come. Maybe I should seize the moment, pour myself a glass of amaretto and put pen to paper?

To launch the Women’s edition of Roundyhouse poetry magazine, there was an evening of poetry and mince pies at the Oriel Canfas Gallery in Cardiff. I met some people I knew and hadn’t seen for a long time, like Phil Carradice and his wife, Trudy, and Emily Hinshelwood, but also met some new faces, which is always fun. I particularly enjoyed poems by Alexandra Trowbridge-Matthews, Ivy Alvarez, Nick Fisk and Simone Mansell Broome.

A Novel in a Month?

I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m sorry, NaNoWhat? Oh, that. Curses, you remember. Yes,okay, confession time. I did mention that I was considering signing up for NaNoWriMo – that stands for saying goodbye to your life for a month in order to write a novel, or, at least, 50,000 words of one. When I said that I was thinking about it, we were still on the 4th or 5th of November, so not too much of the month had passed and I felt that it was do-able. You’ll be pleased to know that I successfully managed to procrastinate well into the next week and, by that time, it no longer resembled an achievable goal.

Would I like to achieve 50,000 words in a month? Yes, which writer wouldn’t? But I would need to have mapped out enough of the story and characters in order to make that feasible. You might work differently but I need time to mull and ponder before committing anything to the computer or notepad. It’s important for me to have that space and let things ferment. I run ideas around and herd up the possibles before heading for the pen. It’s just how I work. When I started writing classes in 2003, it was something that drove my other half mad. Each week I would have “homework” for class and, each week without fail, I would be up into the small hours of Friday morning (the day of the class) writing whatever it was, be it short story, poem, article or report. I tried to get it done earlier so that I wouldn’t have to go to class the following day on minimal sleep but it rarely worked, or I seldom wrote anything that I was happy with. If my ‘thinking time’ was curtailed in any way, my writing was the poorer for it. I believe that’s still the case and make sure that I make full use of whatever time I have in order to get a piece of writing done. Writing against the clock, down to the wire, whatever you want to call it, works for me.

NaNoWriMo sounds like it should be tailor-made for someone like me. Maybe it is, but I’m not so convinced. I have a picture of a month of fairly intense and constant writing. Where, then, is the thinking time and how the heck would I manage without it?

The Dust Diaries by Owen Sheers

This is a beautifully written book that vividly imagines the extraordinary life of a remarkable man.

Owen Sheers finds a book in his father’s study which puts him on the trail of one of his distant relations, Arthur Shearly Cripps, also a poet. The journey takes him from the Rhodes Library in Oxford to modern-day Zimbabwe to London as he traces the life of his missionary ancestor, who left England at the turn of the twentieth century for what was then Southern Rhodesia.

Armistice Day

In July 2008, on the way back from Italy, I visited the Becourt Military Cemetery, Becordel-Becourt, near Albert in northern France. Years earlier, my mother had made a promise to her own mother that she would make the trip and find the grave of one of my cousins, Private W S MacKay of the Seaforth Highlanders, who died there on 14th September 1915 aged 19.

Der Vater eines Mörders (The Father of a Murderer) by Alfred Andersch

At first sight this looks like a lightweight school story about a single 45-minute Greek class at a German Gymnasium in 1928.

The school director comes into the classroom and takes over from the usual teacher, Kandelbinder. He proceeds to test, torment and humiliate not only the students but also Kandelbinder.

Poetry on the Border

One of the reasons I like listening to writers read their work is so that afterwards, when I’m reading it myself, I can hear their voice in my head. (It keeps the others company. – just kidding!) What it does is help give me a feel for the rhythm of their writing, which, in turn, enhances my own reading of their work. Assuming, of course, that they read well. It doesn’t always enhance my enjoyment and understanding of their work.

No such concerns over having Don Paterson read his poetry to me. Driving through heavy rain for over an hour to get to the Drill Hall in Chepstow seemed like such a small effort to make in order to listen to him introduce and read a selection of his poems. He is quite brilliant. I do have a soft spot for his wonderful accent but it’s not that alone which makes him such an excellent reader. You truly get the impression when he’s reading his work that he lives and breathes it and understands it inside and out, backwards, forwards and every which way. He is, also, very entertaining in the links between each poem with what could be throwaway remarks and anecdotes but are, in fact, intelligent and witty insights into the inspiration behind his work and what they mean to him, the poet. I would drive a lot longer than an hour if I had the opportunity to listen to him read again. If you get the chance, seize it.

Check out the website to find out more about On the Border events

Creative Writing Workshop with Patrick Jones

I went to a Creative Writing Workshop at Garth Olwg Lifelong Learning Centre in Church Village today and, shortly after sitting down in the classroom, I almost bolted out of there and ran home. What was it that caused me to do this? Those fateful words of the tutor’s: “Today, we’re going to be working on some poetry.” Poetry. The one word guaranteed to strike fear into my heart and make me break out into a cold sweat.

National Novel Writing Month

Apparently, November is National Novel Writing Month, which doesn’t just mean that we should be celebrating that fact that novels get written.  No, it means that some crazy brave souls out there attempt to write an entire novel in one month flat.

Initially, this proposition filled me with wonder and awe, especially when I look back on how long it’s taken me to write my own novel thus far.  Then this mad thought crept into my head: given that it’s still only the 4th November, maybe I should sign up and give this a shot and see if I can write a complete novel in one calendar month?  I can’t quite decide whether to go and lie down in a darkened room until this feeling passes or to just sign up and be done with it.  Will keep you posted on what I decide.

If you’re also interested in such madness and/or would like more information, check out the website at National Novel Writing Month.

Drowning, not waving, in Swansea

Last night’s event at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea was a wonderful fusion of music, poetry and prose readings.  Before going, I’d been intrigued by how the evening might work.  Reading the promotional blurb, it sounded interesting, although with only one term of Welsh classes to my name, I was worried about the amount of Welsh language readings there would be.  I needn’t have worried on that score, as there were only a couple of songs in Welsh (and I have no problem listening to Welsh being sung) and all the readings were in English.  Not that I have a problem with things being in Welsh, I hasten to add.  It’s just that it frustrates me greatly that I haven’t taken the time and effort to learn it and events like this remind me of my shortcomings – or have the potential to do so, at any rate. Read more

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