Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Hidden Nature

A week on Saturday, May 5th, I'm running a poetry workshop - Hidden Nature - at Attenborough Nature Reserve, just outside Nottingham, in conjunction with Nottingham Writers' Studio. It starts at 10.30am and runs until 4.30pm.

We'll attempt to translate birdsong into poetry, track down long-distance travellers in transit, turn the tables by watching the birdwatchers, and make maps of our experiences. The morning will be spent out on the reserve (which should be full of migrant birds at this time of year), and the afternoon in the comfort of the new visitor centre.

If you don't know Attenborough, it's a great reserve created out of gravel pits next to the River Trent. Although there's still a working quarry on site, it's got a great record of attracting interesting birds, especially migrants on passage.

You don’t need any previous experience of watching wildlife - the emphasis will be formly on writing, rather than rarities. Just bring a pen, paper, bags of energy, and a pair of binoculars if you have them (don't worry if you haven't, I'll have some spares available to borrow).

Price is £55, £40 for NWS members. To book, download a form using the link here, or call 0115 959 7947. Lunch is available at the Visitor Centre cafe. More details on other NWS workshops, courses and events can also be found here.

Poetry and prizes

There's a good article here, in the Fortnightly Review, about prizes in poetry. I haven't really got time at the moment to get any coherent thoughts about it down, but I think I agree with the central thrust of Peter Riley's argument. It's not that I object to some poets or books being singled out as better than others - clearly they are - it's what Riley calls the "culture of the superlative" that starts to put my back up. I'm not entirely sure John Burnside is the best example to choose, but I'll have to give it some though, and return to it when I've got a few minutes.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Cold comfort

I didn't realise quite how cold I'd got in All Saints Church, Aldwincle, until I got up to leave at the end - testament to how riveting a show Riverlands: A Journey On The Nene was.

In fact the atmospheric, cleverly-lit venue, one of two impressive churches in this pretty small Northamptonshire village, added plenty to the occasion, but it was the words of poet Jo Bell and storyteller Jo Blake-Cave that really illuminated the darker corners of the old building, and warmed the heart.

Taking as their starting point the writings of Denys Watkins-Pitchford (better known as 'BB') about the River Nene, they approached their subject through a variety of voices, including birdwatchers, boaters, anglers (they might have a thing or two to say once they've seen the show!), and of course local residents. And although Jo Bell's pieces, for example, seemed to work very differently from her work on the page, it struck me later that one of the things that was most enjoyable about the performance was how much it trusted the audience to sit and listen, and listen hard.

Further performances are planned, across the country, so keep an eye out, and go and see it.

A couple of things more. Aldwincle already has a literary claim to fame, as John Dryden was born in the village rectory. And I found myself wondering if the church was one of those that inspired J L Carr in writing A Month In The Country. He lived locally, in Kettering, and it felt like his sort of building.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

A journey on the Nene

As I've mentioned on here before, last April I joined poet Jo Bell, storyteller Jo Blake Cave and visual artist Jo Dacombe for a dawn chorus walk along the River Nene at Wadenhoe in Northamptonshire, following in the footsteps of nature writer BB. We walked, we heard the birds sing, and we talked poetry over tea on Jo's boat. 

Now the Three Jos In A Boat project has borne fruit in the form of Riverlands – a journey on the Nene, the national premiere of which is being staged at All Saints Church, Thorpe Road, Aldwincle, NN14 3EA, this Saturday, April 21, and Sunday, April 22, from 7.30pm. The hour-long performance promises atmosphere, mesmerising stories, humour and humanity. The evening will also see the first availability of Alwalton-Wollaston, a visual response to the journey on the Nene by Jo Dacombe and Kate Dyer. A limited edtion will be for sale at the performances.

Tickets are £10, or £8 for senior citizens, students and the unemployed, and include a £2 donation to The Churches Conservation Trust. If the event is not sold out, tickets will be available on the door.

For further information, you can contact Rosalind Stoddart, tel: 01536 370 108, email:; website:

Friday, 13 April 2012

Some poems to enjoy

Stride is a reliable source of excellent poetry and reviews, and this week I've been enjoying these poems from Steven Waling, particularly My Father's Ship and Front Rooms: An Essay.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Peter Redgrove

I spent part of the Easter weekend reading Dr Neil Roberts' fine biography of Peter Redgrove, A Lucid Dreamer. I'm sometimes a bit wary of biographies of poets, especially when they start dealing too heavily in material best left on the psychiatrist's couch. Here, though, it works well, perhaps because Redgrove believed so passionately in creativity's power to heal psychic hurt, and above all Roberts does justice to a writer who's too often been left in the shadow of Ted Hughes and others.

I bought the e-book version (much cheaper than the hardback), and soon found myself going back for the e-version of the Collected Poems, too. As anyone who ever tried to keep up with Redgrove's prolific output could tell you, a real Collected Poems would occupy a small room, so it's actually a selection, by Roberts, from across Redgrove's career. But whatever - it's as highly recommended as the biography.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Epicentre launches

Epicentre is a new online poetry magazine with rolling content, and Issue One is out now. There are poems from the likes of Helen Ivory, Roy Marshall, J T Welsch and Claire Trevien, plus Mark Burnhope on a biography of David Gascoyne. Plenty to get your teeth into, there – I look forward to having a good long browse later.