Well, Sheffield Poetry Festival has now ended. I gave a Poetry Walk, helped with a Poetry Garden Party, performed in a collaborative poetry event (“Out of Place” with the Tuesday Poets), read with Matter writers past and present, read with current MA Writing students. All of this was fun, enjoyable, interesting, successful. As was almost every event I attended. And I attended nearly all of them.

Simon Armitage’s opening reading was great, flanked as he was by the excellent Nell Farrell and Ed Reiss, neither of whom I’d heard before. I found Matthew Hollis’s talk on Robert Frost and Edward Thomas enlightening and perceptive, and he’s sent me back to both poets. I enjoyed his poems, too. The poets I was most amazed by, though, were both new to me: Elizabeth Barrett and Kathy Towers. Liz Barrett’s reading I was enthralled by: the drama and sensuality of her reading I found mesmerising. I’ve not read her book yet (“A Dart of Green and Blue”) but it’s there tempting me. Kathy is a graduate of the MA Writing I’m studying. If my first collection is half as good has hers (“The Floating Man” – check it out) I well be well pleased. “Music and light” abounds in that work, a wonderful lyricism.

However, one event stood out above all others for me. Perhaps not for a good reason, and perhaps I shouldn’t be blogging about it. But I can’t resist.

As a bit of fun Peter Sansom and The Poetry Business set up “University Poetry Challenge” – an homage to the TV programme, containing entirely poetry and song questions, although, Peter being Peter, quite a few of the questions were a little skewed from mainstream poetry. Somehow, I found myself captain of my university’s team (Sheffield Hallam University, since you ask). Now, I’m not a lecturer in poetry, creative writing or English literature. When I taught literature last, Margaret Thatcher was doing her best to destroy the UK. My team consisted of three English lecturers (Chris Jones, a great poet who ought to be wider known; John Turner, a local poet who excels in performance work; and Keith Green, a linguist, who also writes the occasional poem) and my daughter, Natasha, who volunteered to stand in at the last minute because one member fell ill. She’s a poet, just starting out, graduated from Hallam last year.

Ranged against us were a team of Professors of Literature, Sheffield University’s finest. And their captain? No less than Simon Armitage himself. Simon has recently been made Professor of Poetry at Sheffield, a well deserved role which he seems to be fulfilling well – but a rather formidable opponent for me. I’d attended a workshop he gave for the Poetry Business. He’d workshopped my poem. He knew my mettle.

All set then, one would expect, for Sheffield University to walk over Sheffield Hallam University, and grind us into the dust. And, in fact, they probably should have. Their knowledge of “real” poetry and its literary context proved much greater than ours. However, and luckily for us, and certainly for the entertainment of the audience, Peter had liberally sprinkled the questions with local info, jokes and lateral questions: “In poetry, what do Robert and Gravy have in common?” Answer: Browning.

To cut a long gloat short, we won. According to the scorers, by one solitary point. Admittedly, the scoring systems seemed a little, er, flexible, with points being awarded and deducted for somewhat strange reasons. (We lost six, I think, for suggesting that a quote about tears was definitely not by Ken Dodd.) Nevertheless, a point is a point, and that difference is enough for victory, and we had it.

Of course, it now means that I’ll never be able to attend a workshop run by Simon Armitage again. At least, not if I want my poem to remain intact. And I’m grateful that every competition he judges will be anonymous, because I suspect he won’t be too keen on my presence in any other competitions.

But he’s a generous man, and a forgiving one, I’m sure.

I hope.

Or my poetic career may well be over………

logoSheffield is holding its very first Poetry Festival on the weekend of April 1-3rd, with “fringe” events in the days preceding and following.

You can find out more at: http://www.sheffieldpoetryfestival.org.uk/home.html where you can also download the full festival brochure. There are 34 events to choose from (I’m involved in a couple) including readings by Simon Armitage, George Szirtes, Geoff Hattersley, Geraldine Monk, Helen Mort, Ben Wilkinson, Chris Jones (on the Forward Prize shortlist last year), Elizabeth Barrett, Mark GoodwinMatthew Hollis, Maurice Riordan, Harriet Tarlo, local laureates Ann Atkinson and River Wolton and many local poets, less well known, but well worth hearing nevertheless.

The group I belong to, The Tuesday Poets, have a themed event “Out of Place” planned for March 29th, 7.30 at Bank Street Arts.

There are also launches of new books, an event for children, a poetry walk, a garden party, talks, social gatherings where you can meet many of the poets taking part and even a “poetry university challenge” in which notables from the two Sheffield universities show how little they really know about poetry.

It’s bound to be fun and interesting. Some of it might be exciting. If its successful, the hope is to make it a regular event, so please come along and support it.

Sorry: but this event has been postponed due to technical difficulties. I’ll post an update when I’ve a new date.

If you’re in Sheffield on Weds Sept 1st around 7.30, come to Bank St for a private view of Catalyst.

Catalyst is a new poetry and photography exhibit.  Bank Street Arts writer in residence, Angelina Ayers, invited Sheffield poets to write in response to a photography slideshow called Triptych, curated by James Dodd of Statement Images.  The poems that came from this experience were then sent out to another set of photographers.  These photographers were asked to take images in response to the poems. Catalyst presents the three stages together.

The private viewing will include readings by the poets: Chris Jones (currently shortlisted for the Forward Prize), Matt Black, Matthew Clegg, Mark Goodwin, myself, Fay Musselwhite and Angelina Ayers. Sound artist Hervé Perez from Sndsukinspook Music will also create a live sound installation in response to the images and text.

The event is free, should be interesting, and you’ll be supporting local artists and writers.

You can find more details of the project here: http://www.artsheffield.org/listings/?p=3383 and read Angelina’s blog on her work here: http://angelinaayers.wordpress.com/

Details on finding Bank St are here: http://www.bankstreetarts.com/

Bank Street, in collaboration with Sheffield’s Children’s Festival and the City Council is currently running a massive and fun project which has created a trail of haiku through Sheffield. Local poets taught the basis of haiku in several local schools, and the result is spread across the city centre, and also collected in exhibition in Bank St itself.

You’re also invited. Anyone who would like to contribute one or more haiku can submit through the website.: http://sheffieldhaiku.co.uk/

You can also find my offering: http://sheffieldhaiku.co.uk/submitted-haiku/ I found myself writing about summer, so decided to write the biography of my summers in haiku. (Actually, I’m not that brilliant at haiku writing – very hit and miss – so this was quite a useful exercise. If you want brilliance in haiku, a good poet is Chris Jones: http://www.chris-jones.org.uk/ )