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Now is the time

Blog 29th May 2017

My Writing Life

One week has passed since the attacks in Manchester and the horror is still sinking in as each day there is more detail. I have been feeling too numb to write and hoping to do something for the writing group on Wednesday.

Here the flag is flying at half mast on our Town Hall. Yesterday I heard there were young people from one of our local high schools present at the concert. They all survived unhurt but are traumatised by what they saw as they made their escape from the arena.

In the days immediately following the bombing there were messages from all over the world offering shared grief and expressions of compassion and solidarity. The most immediate and powerful of these came from our neighbours in Europe, many of whom have experienced recent terror attacks and could voice their understanding of what we are going through as a country.

Of all of these messages the image that stays with me is of the newly elected president of France, Emmanuel Macron. He walked from the Elysee Palace a few hundred yards along the street to the Faubourg St Honore to the British Embassy. The television pictures showed him walking along the pavement with the Prime Minister and two security guards. The image was of a man walking along a street in his own city to visit a friend how had received bad news.  It managed to be at the same time simple, touching and statesmanlike.

Images like this bring us back inevitably to the big question. Why, in our time of trouble are we leaving our closest and best friends, leaving the European Union,  walking away in pursuit of a misguided sense of identity and of independence both of which we have already?

Surely after the catastrophic and tragic events of last Monday we should think again. As a country we could do worse than take a leaf out of Manchester’s book.  All week report after report has been about w Manchester is coming together, standing strong against the backlash of Islamophobia, against our real enemies who seek to destroy our civilisation, our belief in democracy, our way of life.

Our European neighbours, and among them those who come here to be members of our families and to live and work with us, are not our enemies. They share our values and our aspirations for a liberal and free society.

Now is the time when we are up against it, challenged by the evil of extremism and fanaticism. Now is surely then the time for us to come together, and now is not the not the time to walk away.

My Reading Week

I am currently reading Helen Dunmore’s latest novel, Birdcage Walk. I have found the story moves slowly, but I do enjoy the way she writes an historical novel in contemporary idiom. The end is pleasingly surprising and dramatic!

Hare in the Headlights

 Lots coming up

Most importantly I am helping Alan rice to organise Elizabeth Burns: legacies on the 23rd June her in Lancaster at the Gregson Centre. It will be an opportunity to hear some of Elizabeth’s poems, .to see the film of A potter, a Painter and a Poet her collaborative venture with artist Ann Gilchrist and potter Paul Tebble  and was the last work  she undertook before her death on 2015, and to hear tributes form poets and writers here in Lancaster who have been inspired by her and had the privilege of working with her in  workshops and groups.

Also gearing up to give a workshop in Ambleside early in July as well as writing on …

 

 

The Untold Story of Yesterday

Poets, and all writers, should always be concerned with what is said and what is left unsaid. So when we watch or listen to the news we are always looking for what is not reported for what is left out of the headlines. It is not so much the fake news as the unreported that gives the bias of the media source away.

With a general election in the offing, and I can’t ignore it, sorry, I am a political creature, I find myself thinking about what I know has happened and has not been told. My duty as a writer and poet is to tell the untold stories, so here is one from yesterday, and I don’t mean long go, I mean yesterday, Saturday 13th April 2017.

The radio the TV and newspapers and the internet were busy reporting the endless and very boring and predictable exchange of personal insults between politicians that now passes for campaigning, (Yes we know you don’t like him Teresa, so what?) and the ransom ware cyber attack and the Eurovision song contest.

While here where I live something much more important, and in some ways more significant, was happening. Having been a teacher for the best part of forty years I remain passionate about education. So I joined a gathering of some 900 people in outside the Town Hall to protest against the education cuts proposed by the current Tory government which will take place if they win the election.

With the proposed cuts to funding per pupil our town stands to lose across its 16 schools an estimated 92 teachers. That’s 92 redundancies of hardworking professional people, 92 families directly affected, 92 mortgages compromised, 92 times 3 to 4 years of training and Heaven knows how many years of experience, dedication and expertise. It means bigger classes and less attention for individual learners. It means hundreds of children suffering from a loss of quality of education. And why? Nowhere on the all-knowing internet can I find an answer, except that it is part of the current government programme of cuts to public services. It is just ‘the cuts.’ Yet nowhere can I find our march reported, although it will probably get a page in the local paper out on Thursday.

The following questions arise; are the squabbles of politicians and success or failure of singing contests of more relevance and importance to our future that the compromising of our future itself and that of our children? There were lots of children at the protest who will be here when I and all the big names in politics are long gone, and what kind of a world will they inhabit if we take away from them the chance of a decent education?

So let’s put personalities and media distortions and lies to one side and look at real policies that will shape our lives and those of our children. Let’s behave like educated and intelligent human beings. Let’s make a sensible and informed choice. Let’s write the story of the future with imagination, compassion and foresight and not with prejudice and gullibility and fear. Let’s stand up and tell the stories that matter loud and clear.

Reading Week

Oh dear! nothing too hefty tome-ish to report. I read detective stories a lot, especially when I have insomnia …nuff said!

Hare in the headlights

Last Wednesday I attended the launch at UCLAN of the catalogue of the exhibition ‘A Potter, a Painter and a Poet.’ There is a long story attached to this which I will tell my next blog. Suffice it to say for now that I am helping to organise  an event here in Lancaster to celebrate the legacy of the poet, Elizabeth Burns, who died in August 2015.

More on this very soon

It used to be the number 9 bus

My Writing Life

You wait all winter for the poetry festivals to come along and then in March they all come together, just like the buses from Hammersmith to Mortlake that I used to wait for after a night  out or a ate rehearsal long ago when I lived in London.  Sadly, it is not the number 9 anymore … same route though, I looked it up.

A small group of tired people, we would wait at the bus stop on Hammersmith Broadway and then just after eleven o’clock the number 9’s would all come along at once. If I got on the last of the line of buses I was often the only person left by the time we got to Barnes and I would sit leaning against the window looking through out my own transparent reflection, watching the bright lights of Chiswick, a promised land across the dark water of the River Thames.

The Stanza festival now seems a long time ago, and, of the Lancaster Litfest, in March, the my best memory is the evening of poetry shared by Kim Moore and Hannah Lowe. The Litfest itself was well attended and interesting, and how wonderful to see it revived at last and the evening with these two women poets was outstanding.  It seemed that they had some kind of connection with each other, whether in their political preoccupations or their imaginations. This sense of connection gave the reading a particular and satisfying coherence.

Since then there has been the April Poets in late March, here in Lancaster, and the more recent Feminist Poetry Jamboree at Ulverston. This latter was a timely reminder that politics is not only about Brexit and Trump, although they both got a mention of course, as they continue to preoccupy us as individuals, to dominate conversations, and to linger in the sense of uncertainty tinged with fear with which we listen to the news each day.

By the time we get to the Kendal Poetry Festival, (16th to 18th June) this year we will have had the General Election. Last year the first ever festival started the day after the referendum and we were all reeling with the shock.

I wonder if this year we will feel, as a relatively small group of poets and writers gathered together, as I used to feel those dark nights long ago, that the promised land of our sane and liberal democracy is over the other side of a dark river and we are on the last bus home; but at least we will not be travelling alone.

My reading week(s)

Lots of reading, and not much blogging recently; I have just read Days Without End by Sebastian Barry for my reading group discussion tomorrow. It is a wonderful book, and even the gory bits, and my goodness they are gory, are all woven into the thread of the story. It is one of those books that looks at the great events of history from the intimate perspective of a small group of individuals, caught up in what is happening around them, and, unlike the reader, not able to understand the full significance of what is happening.

A very different joy and delight was re-reading Carl Ann Duffy’s collection Bees while on holiday a couple of weeks ago.

Hare in the Headlights

There have been a couple of these recently because after months of not airing my poetry I have done two open mics, recently at April Poets and at the Feminist Jamboree. Not as scary as it might have been and the poetry was well received. Hoping soon to start sending stuff out to magazines.

Till soon

 

 

Fest-Blog 1

The first of a series that will become a Blog-Fest!

My Writing Life

Ok, I am still slightly dizzy after two days at Stanza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival at St Andrew’s a week ago. Now I have had time to digest and feel able to share some of the highlights over the next two blog posts.  The festival itself was five days and I packed as much poetry as I could into less than half the time.  I felt quite proud at the end of Thursday having heard 8 poets in a day.

The themes this year were ‘Roads’ and ‘Heights,’ so there were lots of ( usually quite hairy) mountaineering  and rock climbing poets and many travellers from as far apart as Iceland and Syria. Since returning I have been reflecting on the way that poets often have another activity that they devote a lot of time and energy to as well as their writing and which they often seem to find a wellspring of imagination and inspiration for their work. It is not so much that mountaineering poets write about mountains, although they do, but also that they find the act of climbing the mountains a source for the energy needed for their work and the way they approach it.

I garden as well as writing and for me gardening is an opportunity to empty my mind and do physical things quite routinely after which I can return to my desk refreshed.

The first reading I went to on Thursday was the first in a regular Stanza series, Border Crossings and featured the work of David Wilson, a climber and Janette Ayachi, a traveller. I bought David’s book Slope but unfortunately Janette had run out of copies, or I would have bought it as well. I loved Janette’s excitement about travelling to new places, and David quiet humour linked with metaphors of mountains. A really good beginning to the day.

The lunchtime session that came next could not have been more of contrast , with the noir of Steven Watt up against the lyrical gay love poetry of Katherine McMahon and both of them contemporary and immediate in their concerns. They are two young poets of contrasting ideas and presentation and both a joy to listen to. Their session was poetry lunch with a pie and a drink included in the price of the ticket.

Thus sustained I went on poets five and six of the day. I another very different session of Border Crossings.  We heard from Maram Almaasri from Syria and Paul Stevenson who is British but lives in Paris. Both these readings reduced me and most of the audience either to tears, or certainly to feeling very choked up. Paul’s pamphlet was an account of the days after the Paris attacks and Maram’s poems reflecting the sad and desperate situation of her country.

Last and the highlight of the whole day, and for me of the whole festival, was the evening reading by Alice Oswald. Sold out as you can imagine, she held two hundred people listening in gripped silence for 45 minutes and wanting more at the end. I have struggled with her latest collection Falling Awake which I was given for Christmas,  on the page, but from listening to her reading from it I  learned that I should  read it slowly and not too much at a time, as a kind of meditation. Truly wonderful!

You will all have to wait until next time for the second day of Stanza and for the booklet launch of my autumn writers group. So watch this space

My reading week

I finished Alan Bennett’s Keeping On Keeping On while still in St Andrews and particularly enjoyed his collected essays about his plays and their productions included in the second half. I am afraid it is detective stories now as the holidays approach!

Hare n the Headlights

I chickened out of reading at the open mic. at stanza, but got my courage together for the April poets this week, of which more next time.

While Rome Burns

My Writing Life

It is so easy to lose track of public and political events as the media usually go for the dramatic moment rather than the continuing horrors. They give us one heart-breaking image and then move on the next. However in the meantime the horrors are still going on and not going away or getting any less horrific.

In recent weeks I have become interested in the ideas and writing of Hannah Arendt circulated in the papers and on Radio 4. (Listen to the ‘In our Time’ programme if you can.) She is best known for coining the phrase ‘the banality of evil’ in her writing about the trial of Eichmann in 1960. ‘Banal’ is not a word we would use about evil nowadays as it has the connotation of something a bit trivial and unimportant. However, it does now seem to me that the current spate of evil and misguided doings and decisions affecting all of us is moving towards becoming more ordinary and every day, more acceptable because we are not constantly given dramatic reminders of it, as the headline news moves back to its preoccupation with the lives of celebrities and the football results, fiddling while Rome burns..

However, I remain preoccupied, checking the media, usually the BBC website, for Trump horror stories every day, and searching, in vain, for signs that someone has called to a halt the mad road to Brexit we seem to be following. When I look back at the blogs I wrote this time last year, they are all about my writing and don’t mention politics because at that point neither Brexit nor the Trump presidency seemed a possibility, let alone a reality with which we are coming to terms. So if my blog has turned political then I make no excuse, as so has my writing. Since completing the sequence about the homeless shelter I have found myself writing, and indeed struggling to write, two poems about the present political disasters, and my feelings about them. I think this is all we can do is watch and keep watching, and wait and write.

As I finished writing the above paragraph, the doorbell rang. It was my friend Christine, an artist with whom I collaborated in 2008 on a project entitled Watching Walls for which I wrote and performed an integrated performance entitled A Place Among the Stones. So Christine arrived at the door to say she was clearing out her art stuff and had brought round photographs and the script for me. The piece was performed for Holocaust Memorial Day 2008, the day that this year saw Trump impose his immigration ban. The last section of the piece reads like yesterday’s newspaper. It ends with the admonition ‘Watch your step!’ I’ll find an electronic version and share some of it with you next time.

My reading week

I have just finished reading Angela Carter’s Wise Children (1991) to discuss at the reading group this week. I didn’t enjoy as much as the others did as it seemed to me dated and overdone, although here is some very wonderful writing to be enjoyed. I’m not recommending it because to be honest it is not my taste.

I have just started on Alan Bennett’s Kkeeping On Keeping On, a work full of sharp political comment and theatre gossip, lovely!

Hare in the Headlights

Just a few plugs for forthcoming literary and poetic events:

March 9th is an April Poets here in Lancaster (yes, I know it’s March but it’s a long story) there is a workshop with David Tait and a reading with David, Jenny Copley and Carola Luther in the evening at the Storey Institute, Lancaster. Visit April Poets for more information.

Then there is the Lancaster Litfest with lots of treats, Jackie Kay a poetry day and much more

And last but not least all of us at Brewery Poets are waiting for news of our bid to the Arts Council for the next Kendal Poetry Festival. We will hear this coming Tuesday and if successful the festival will be in June.

That’s it for now.

Keep Calm and Carry on Writing

My Writing Life

Not sure myself, whether the writing goes on because of everything, or in spite of everything. This week I have caught fragments of the writers from the United States who have been on Radio 4 talking about their thoughts and ideas leading up to the  to the inauguration yesterday. It has been interesting but not encouraging, although many of them tried to strike a note of hope.

Thinking back over my life, I think that the last time I felt this frightened and depressed about politics was when I was very young, about 17, and the Cuban Missile Crisis was hanging over us. I tried to capture the feelings from this time in my poem ‘1962‘, published in my pamphlet Gardening with my Father, and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize in 2013.

I can remember how scared I was in 1962 and now realise how little I understood of what was happening in the world at that time. I feel now I understand only too well what is happening and my imagination of the consequences occupies my thoughts constantly — so I have no recourse but to keep calm and keep on writing.

In recent weeks I have been working on a series of poems about working at the Night Shelter for Homeless People here in Lancaster. I worked there as a volunteer for two years and then managed it for a year. I find it interesting that it is only now that I feel able to reflect on and write about the experience. I have struggled to find the right point of view and avoid being patronising, and  I hope what I have now written will tell stories of another world which I visited for a while. I recently received notice of a forthcoming anthology and intend to submit the sequence to it, so  I have been sharing these poems with the writing group week on week and their comments, as ever, have been invaluable.

I have also, at last, returned to the booklet that will be published at the end of February which will be a collection of the writings of members of the Meeting House Writers, to whom I gave my writing course before Christmas. Yesterday I met with the illustrator about the cover design and will be working on the editing this week.

My reading week

Apart from lots of post-viral rubbish reading, I have recently discovered a couple of Barbara Kingsolvers that I had not read before. I really enjoyed Pigs in Heaven and am now reading Prodigal Summer.

 Hare in the Headlights

Aren’t we all just now? Just returned to continue the blog after being at the women’s protest rally here in Lancaster. It was a very  good turn out of a couple of hundred women with plenty of supporting children and men in  the background. We all want change all right but let’s face it it’s going to be hard.

Till next time.

 

Back to the blog at last and I hope you have all missed me??

Happy New Year!

My writing Life

Looking back I realise i have not written a blog since September. I have no excuse to offer except to say that life has got in the way of most of my writing life and my writing life has been seriously on hold. Not entirely so because I have really enjoyed teaching my ten week creative writing course this autumn which has gone remarkably well. Starting with 10 students, they became a dedicated group of six and one of my first writing tasks this year will be to edit their work into a booklet for the launch in mid February. Given that most, but not all, of them started from not having shared their writing with others before they have produced some lovely work, and I will share some of it with my readers here in due course.

So why no blog? Well largely because the voluntary charity work that I do, organising volunteers, became enormous for various reasons, and my New Year resolution Number 1 is not to let that happen again in the coming months. I shall be very strict with myself.

The other bit of my writing life that has not gone completely to pot is the writing group and the poems I write for that. I have pretty well managed to write a poem a week despite other commitments and I now have quite a lot of reasonable poems ready to put together for various ventures I have in mind.

On Friday the Poetry Review came through my door and with it a leaflet for Stanza in St Andrew’s in March and I have decided to go, as there are so many good poets reading there this year and I  love the place.  I am also hoping it will keep my writing life on track.

Reading week

Not much of a serious week as I’ve been indulging myself in light entertainment while suffering from flu and a cold over the holiday. Barbara Kingsolver’s Pigs in Heaven, which I had never read before has been keeping me going.

Hare in the Headlights

Well lots, not many to do with writing; plenty to anticipate in the next few months as I resume battle with the world of publishing. Wish me luck, and my next blog will be soon, I promise

Till then

Life is a Carousel

My Writing Life

When I was child I used to go with my sisters, hold Christine’s hand, my mum would call out as we left the house, to the annual Redhill fun fair. It was exciting and strange and a little bit scary! I loved riding the carousel with its brightly painted wooden horses and loud jingly music. I also remember that when I got off I always felt a bit dizzy!

One of the reasons for no blog for nearly four weeks is that half way through August I spent four days on the Kim Moore Poetry Carousel at Kent’s Bank and I’m still recovering, in a good way, that is. The Carousel is a four day intensive poetry course. Each day you attend a two hour workshop with a different poet and in the afternoons there are tutorial/ mentoring sessions. In the evening, this being one of Kim’s courses, there are mystery guest poets and music.

What I loved about it was the rich variety of experience, the different workshop styles of the four poets, the opportunity to meet new poetry and new writers. I also particularly liked the way that we rotated round the poets as a group and so had a chance to get to know each other’s work.

I came away with four very roughly drafted poems and a lot of new things to think about. I didn’t need my sister’s hand to hold, but I did feel a little dizzy with it all afterwards.

Thanks for a great experience.

Reading Week

I have currently just started for the second time on The River of Smoke, part 2 of Amitav Ghosh’s trilogy. This time I am getting into it more, although still occasionally flummoxed  by the archaic and arcane slang that many of the characters use. Does anyone know what a ‘godown’ is?  Apparently you could rent one in Singapore in the mid nineteenth century. I just have make educated guesses. I can understand why there is no glossary, as it would be enormous, but his continual use of slang is sometimes irritating. However, I am going to stick with it for now.

Hare in the Headlights

Lots of news!

Please go and have a look at my new poem of the month page. The August poem is there for you to enjoy. Each month I will post a poem that is either already published in one of my two pamphlets or a poem that has not yet been published. So watch out for the poem of the month for September.

Also there are still a couple of places on my creative writing course in Lancaster this autumn and on the series of workshops loosely based on life writing that I am giving in Ambleside for learning plus. For more information contact me on: info@elizabethhare.co.uk

 

 

How hard is it to write a Villanelle?

My writing life

Well, it’s not easy! My role models are Dylan Thomas and Mimi Khalvati, and they are both hard acts to follow! However this week, for the first time ever, I had a go. I was inspired by the fact that two weeks ago I took a very rough poem to my writing group, partly because I wasn’t sure what to do with it next. At the group one of the other members had written a villanelle, a very good one. The group discussed in some detail how it had been composed and I went home thinking that I would give one a try. One of the ideas that emerged clearly from the discussion was that the first thing you have to do is find two lines that bear repetition. This is not easy. So back to Mimi and Dylan to look at form; five stanzas of three lines and one of four with a complex pattern of repeated lines and a very distinct rhythm.

First I mapped out the form marking the places where the repetition should take place and then I pondered long and hard, using my original half-baked poem, to find the lines and refine them. That done I typed out the two lines in al the right places and filled in the spaces. Oddly enough once I had the repeated lines on the screen, the rest kind of fell into place. (How did Dylan do it when he didn’t have a computer?) I just got carried along. I took the result to the writing group yesterday and they liked it. Tomorrow I’ll take it to the poetry group in Kendal. I’ll let you know how it gets on.

Reading week

At the recommendation of a friend who came to stay last week I am reading the John le Carre 1968 novel A Small town in Germany. It is not easy to get into, but now I am hooked by his languid prose and the subliminal hints at the sinister and unspoken threats.  The endless gentle conversations slowly reveal a terrible situation. If you’ve not read it, it’s worth a go.

 Hare in the Headlights

There are few things as terrifying as going on a four day poetry course as I am doing next week! What if I can’t think of anything to write? What if it is four days of blank paper? Help! I’ll report back next time.

‘bye

Displacement Activity

My Writing Life

What with visitors and the sunshine and taking on a new voluntary work when do I get time to write? I don’t know about other writers but I always have great plans for ‘Artistic Discipline’ which means getting up at the crack, writing the obligatory 3 X A4 daily pages, (see Julia Cameron) going for a vigorous walk, eating a hearty breakfast and then writing for three hours undisturbed. Does anyone out there do that? No, seriously? Anyone?

My routine is more about oversleeping, because I’m knackered from yesterday’s gardening, waking up and taking tea back to bed, reading for a hour, then breakfast and then OMG!,  it’s 11 o’clock and I have not even turned on my computer. I do hope most of the people who read this blog are like me!

Just lately with the hot weather I have experienced yet again two serious obstacles to said artistic discipline. I should be ready for them as they have visited before. The first is that all the vegetables have decided to be ready at once. Having watched them anxiously for months, after that heavy rain we are overrun with courgettes, broad beans, cucumbers etc etc etc. All of which have to be harvested, processed and frozen, and then there are the weeds….

The second is that hot weather brings the friends, the ones, that is, who know that we live in holiday land, and want to come and stay (and who can blame them with the queues at Dover) and be fed on our lovely fresh produce.

OK all the above is just an EXCUSE for not writing, although I have written a couple of poems recently, and I really must get back to the children’s book and some serious writing soon. Watch this space for more self flagellation….

Reading Week

However, I have been reading. Just finished Tessa Hadley’s new book The Past.  I had a bit of a slow start with it but once I had got into it I really enjoyed it. I found it intriguing and I just loved the very subtley implied revelation at the end. I recommend it.

Hare in the Headlights

Looming in September are my two sets of creative writing workshops here in Lancaster and in Ambleside for Learning Plus and all the preparation I have to do for them. If you want to sign up for the Lancaster course hurry, hurry, I have already recruited a few people…

Cheers