‘Chimney-Bird’, the poem which won the Southport competition, is now on their website, at: http://www.swconline.co.uk/n1/?cat=12

I’ve also been lucky enough to have a couple of poems accepted by The Journal, namely ‘Behind Kibuye Church’ and ‘Letter to the Dead’. These are both interesting poems to me, in that they came out of the Women and Warfare work I was doing in 2010, so it’s good that those poems are still finding homes.

Most of the 70 or so poems I wrote then  these days I find rather slight, but a handful do seem worthwhile, and ‘Behind Kibuye Church’ is one of these. Tackling a subject such as genocide which, of course, I cannot know the reality of in any meaningful way, is a tough thing to get an “honest” poem out of. ‘Letter to the Dead’ is one of seven such letters, but probably the most interesting of them, as I hit on the intriguing idea of using redaction in a poem, to signify censorship, and use the device to indicate the way that a distant soldier is eroded by distance, time and the nature of his situation. (I’ve used redaction again recently, in another poem, but for a different purpose).

It’s that time of year again: Sheffield’s Literary Festival, Off the Shelf. 

It’s a busy time for me. Yesterday I read at John Clare’s cottage in Helpston (it turns out I won second prize). The poems are here: http://www.clarecottage.org/poetryprize.htm

Tomorrow (Monday) I’m in an Off the Shelf debate on the Future of the Book. (Sheffield’s Quaker Meeting House, St James St, Mon, 10th Oct, 7.30. Freed admission.)

Weds: we’re running the usual (free, open invitation) poetry workshop at Bank St Arts Centre (12.00 to 3.00, Bank St, Sheffield). If you want to take part, bring copies of a poem to workshop, and we’ll have a discussion of Sean O-Brien’s November, too.
(Also that evening Rachel Genn launches her novel The Cure at Blackwells – should be a pleasant event).

Thursday I’ll be reading on the Speakers Steps at the House of Commons, again for the John Clare competition  – a strange prize, but an exciting one. Around 11.30, I believe, if you’re in the vicinity.

Monday 17th: I’ve a ten minute reading as part of the launch of new mag Uroborus, at Sheffield’s West Street Live (7.30). Another free event.

Weds 19th: Launch of Matter magazine no #11. I was part of the editorial team, but won’t be reading, merely listening to all the fine contributors (including Fay Musselwhite, Angelina Ayers, Rosemary Badcoe – lots of great writers)

Also sometime “real soon now” as they say in the software industry, I hope to have the website of Sheffield’s Public Poetry available for OTS to launch. This is proving harder than I thought to get together, but I think I’ll make it.

If you want to choose other OTS events, you can find a programme at: http://www.offtheshelf.org.uk/programme.php

And whilst all this is going on, Rosemary and I are putting the first fabulous issue of Antiphon together. I think it’s going to be particularly good and will, naturally enough, post a notice when it’s there for your delight and delectation. (Apologies to all poets who’ve not yet had a decision from us: we both need to agree to a poem before including it, and that’s caused a fair series of debates).

The Forward Prize is one of the most coveted of UK poetry prizes. So, along with most poets in the UK, it’s one of my ambitions. Unlikely, of course, but we all need aspirations.

Today Carole Baldock, who edits Orbis, told me she’s putting forward my poem “Presumably Butterflies” for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem in memory of Michael Donaghy, and Wasafiri has already selected my poem “The Anthropology of Loss” for the same honour. Realistically, there’s little chance of being shortlisted: last year the six shortlisted poems came from the Bridport, the National, Staple, the TLS (x2) and Magma although, to be fair, most were by poets who are not that well known. But simply getting into the Forward anthology would be quite an achievement – and now I’ve two chances of doing that!

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………

I had a pleasant time at the Newark Prize reading yesterday. C.J. Allen, who has many competition successes, also read, and I was pleased to find that a friend of mine also had been recognised in the competition: Lou Wilford, with two poems in the runners up.

On the way home I suddenly realised I’m already involved in as many poetry events this year as I was in the whole of last year. This is partly because of my recent luck in competitions: following Newark, I’ve the event at the Moorland Discovery Centre, Longshaw Estate on March 12th, and the Awel Aman Tawe award at Pontardawe in late Feb – although that’s perhaps a bit far away.

Then the Sheffield Poetry Festival and its fringe in late March and early April (the festival proper starts on April 1st) has me down potentially for a poetry walk and a garden party (for Art in the Park), a rather exciting event from the Tuesday Poets called “Out of Place”, a reading as part of the celebration of ten years of Matter, and then our annual MA students’ reading, too, although that’s not really part of the festival, I guess.

Then there’s also the open mike Speakeasy next week, which I haven’t been to for ages; and I’ve been asked to read at “Unquiet Desperation”, a local poetry get together.  Finally, I’m working on an installation of children’s autumn haiku for the Winter Gardens, due to be installed in the first week of Feb, and then repeated with a variation as “Four Seasons” again the in the Winter Gardens in April.

A busy time. Really nice that my work is being enjoyed, though.

I won!

This was a real surprise, as I was pretty sure I knew who the winner would be when I saw the shortlist. But it turns out I was wrong.

In an interesting, though perhaps a little self-indulgent literary salon (a first for me) discussing new writing at Somerset House (a first, too) meeting Romesh Gunesekera (also a first, of course) the announcement and presentation was made. This is my best prize so far, because this is an international magazine of some repute, and it was judged by Moniza Alvi, who’s a pretty sharp poet. I’m really pleased, so thanks to Wasafiri.

I think the only downside was that I more or less confirmed some of the characteristic failings of contemporary poetry lit culture which were being discussed in the salon prior to the award, by being a white, middle-aged, British male winner of a prize in a magazine which is trying hard to promote writers of colour, an international agenda, and young writers wherever possible. I think my poem, “Anthropology of Loss”, fits the agenda, even if I don’t, but I did feel a little ambivalent taking the prize: overjoyed at the success, but slightly concerned that there might be others better suited for such a wonderful award.

The poem, along with the winners of the Fiction and Life Writing prizes will be published in the March issue of Wasafiri. You can find the list of winners and the shortlisted works at: http://www.wasafiri.org/pages/news_01/news_item.asp?News_01ID=205

It’s busy, busy, busy at the moment.

Sheffield’s Literary Festival, “Off the Shelf” begins in October. I’m in five events, and most of them are attached to other activities. Matter #10 will be launched, a golden magazine, so there’ll be two events launching and reading from it (at Blackwells on 13th Oct and Riverside on 21st Oct) and a third, excitingly, at the London Review  Bookshop (7pm Nov 4th). With Angelina Ayers, we’ll also be Bank Street’s Poetry Cafe reps at the Word Tent Launch of OTS on the 9th Oct. Angelina and I will also be running a day long workshop at Bank St Poetry Cafe linking poetry and art (you get to do a bit of both). I’ll be running a community writing workshop at Greenhill Library in Sheffield on the 13th. Finally, as a member of the brilliant Tuesday Poets we’ll be launching our new CD of poetry on the 26th Oct at Fusion Cafe.

Additionally, for the length and breadth of OTS Angelina and I are organising a “Poet in Residence for a Day” scheme at Bank St, so budding writers can drop on every day and work with a different poet. Some great poets are committing to this idea, making themselves available for what is a programme of free poetry workshops/consultations nearly a month long. I’m not sure there’s been an event like this before.

All of these things, in different ways, need organising and preparing for: whether it’s sorting out a programme, rehearsing, recording, planning the CD or simply encouraging fellow poets to sit in the Poetry Cafe and share their expertise.

But I’m also delivering several workshops for Art in the Park. I did a couple for Nook Lane Junior School, in Stannington and the year 3s seemed to have a great time. They certainly produced dozens of wonderful poems. Today we gave poetry workshops in Wither Woods, at Denby Dale (near Wakefield). Although the weather was a bit fractious, around 30 people turned up to write poems in the woodlands.

If you live in or near Denby Dale, I’m also running a series of free writing workshops in the evenings. Although they’re primarily focused on poetry, I’ll be aiming to deal with the whole range of interests of whoever turns up: whether its short stories, novels, life writing, children’s writing – even journalism, perhaps. You can come along to one session or all of them.

And I’m still continuing with the Poetry Business Writing School. This month we have to write a poem a day for a fortnight, and send six poems for commentary by a fellow poet AND find a poem that we can face receiving feedback on from Michael Laskey, of all people. (And also read Coleridge and Wordsworth in our spare time).

The upshot is, I’ve not been sending out so many poems for publication or competition. It’s nice, therefore, to find this week that readers of Orbis #51 have voted my poem “Presumably Butterflies” the best in the mag, and the Yeovil Poetry Competition gave me a Highly Commended, which is pretty good, too.