June Review

June was a busy and rewarding month for me. The Wandsworth Heritage Festival, postponed from last year, kicked off at the end of May, and on the third of June Joolz Sparkes and I gave an online reading from our co-authored poetry collection London Undercurrents. We’d chosen poems that related in one way or another to the Festival’s theme of Homes and Housing, and accompanied each poem with one or two images. And although we hadn’t given a live reading together for quite some time, as soon as we started it all seemed to flow and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. More importantly, so did the audience! The reading was recorded and is available to view on Vimeo, thanks to the Battersea Society who hosted our event.

I attended several other Wandsworth Heritage Festival events, and continue to be inspired and excited by the area’s rich heritage. A number of online talks are still available on Wandsworth Libraries’ YouTube channel, and I’m particularly looking forward to watching A Tooting Childhood, with best-selling author Beryl Kingston sharing memories of growing up in Tooting.

Nine Elms was a featured destination of this year’s London Festival of Architecture. Alongside all the new buildings going up, new public spaces and through routes are being created. One of these is Arch 42, under the Nine Elms to Waterloo railway viaduct, which is being opened up as part of a new pedestrian route through Nine Elms. I was commissioned to research the history of Arch 42 and the impact of the railways on the local area for a webinar as part of the London Festival of Architecture. The timescale was tight, which made it quite a challenge, but I quickly felt that buzz of delving deep into obscure corners of history and suddenly becoming a bit of railway nerd! Once again, too, I felt so grateful for library and archive resources, and the patient staff dealing with my requests and queries. I was surprised at how many books about the railways there are in Wandsworth’s libraries, though I shouldn’t have been, given the huge impact they had on the area’s development, and Battersea in particular.

The next challenge was whittling down all that research into a five minute talk for the webinar. On the day, I was pretty nervous, but took some deep breaths to calm the nerves, and delivered the talk without any waffle or hiccoughs. There was also a panel discussion and I surprised myself by feeling quite relaxed as I contributed, helped no doubt by knowing my subject quite thoroughly by then. The history of the railways, and their infrastructure, is really fascinating, and I now view the numerous railway bridges and viaducts near where I live with a deeper appreciation.

I hardly had time to catch my breath before my next challenge – delivering an online workshop for Capital Growth. I’d seen their callout for online workshops earlier this year, and pitched my idea for a workshop themed around writing about gardens and gardening as a way to create a deeper connection with your garden and nature. The process then of developing my initial ideas into a full presentation including some writing exercises I found rewarding, though I did have to tune out of those doubting voices in my head, which love to undermine my ideas. I did a couple of practice runs with my willing guinea pig, Nick, to check the timing and test the content. Again, some deep breaths needed before the workshop started, and then the hour and a half flew past. Although I’d suggested after my first couple of slides that participants could unmute and chip in (it was a manageable sized group), this didn’t really happen until the end, so it was hard to gauge as I went along how engaged people were. But there were a few favourable comments in the chat, which encouraged me, and, as we wrapped up, in person too. And Capital Growth forwarded more lovely feedback afterwards. There are a few things I will do differently next time, for instance one of the participants pointed out that the Chat function on Zoom is useless for people who are visually impaired. But I’m definitely giving myself a pat on the back for delivering my first online workshop.

I’m also, in a very small way, involved in this year’s Wandsworth Arts Fringe. Nine Elms based creative duo WHABBstudio asked for community responses to the question ‘How do you feel about climate change?’ I sent in a reworked version of a short poem I’d posted on Twitter in response to Poets for the Planet’s #BeginAfresh prompt last year. You can see this and other responses online and at various sites around the borough during the Fringe. My poem is on display at Downshire Field, Alton Estate SW15 4PS.

Lastly, my absolute cultural highlight of June was the Women Making History exhibition at London Scottish House. This is a display of over 100 banners made by groups of women in 2018 for PROCESSIONS to mark the centenary of some women in the UK getting the vote. The variety, creativity and passion displayed in these banners is uplifting and inspirational. They are also a reminder that the fight for equality is not won. As Charlotte Despard enjoined, we must BELIEVE IN DISCONTENT. The exhibition is on until 11th July – do see it if you can.

Nine Elms banner for Processions

a run of knock-backs & keeping going

Despite the pandemic, last year was a pretty good year for me in terms of publication acceptances and other creative projects. This year, so far, has felt like a drought. I’ve submitted to quite a few magazines and not had a single acceptance. I’ve applied for numerous paid opportunities and, bar two or three, not made the cut. I know it’s a lot worse for many people, and I’m lucky to have a secure roof over my head, but even so dashed hopes still sting.

Nevertheless, I have a few events coming up that I’m looking forward to. On Thursday 3rd June at 7pm Joolz Sparkes and I will be reading from our poetry collection London Undercurrents as part of Wandsworth Heritage Festival. It will be the first live reading Joolz and I have done together for ages and we’ve enjoyed selecting poems that speak to the Festival’s theme of homes and housing, and sourcing images to accompany them. The event is online via Zoom, kindly hosted by the Battersea Society. More details including how to book here. It would be lovely to see your friendly faces there!

Then on Bloomsday, Wednesday 16th June, I’m running an online workshop for Capital Growth, London’s food growing network, on the theme Write Your Garden. Writing and gardening have been intertwined for me for some time now, so it feels a natural progression to explore the connections and share some of my writing approach through this workshop. More details including how to book, should you wish, are available here.

Also keeping me going is the monthly Clapham Originals Stanza group, where we bring a poem to share for feedback (online for the time being). It’s a good discipline to get me writing at least one new poem a month, and the discussion and sharing of other members’ poems is always stimulating and enriching. Writing, reading, being outdoors in nature – these are the things that keep me going. How about you?

Photo: Nick Rogers

I wanted to be Nancy

On World Book Day, I’m remembering one of my most mortifying school experiences. It was my first year in secondary school, Melbourne, the winter term, 1975. There was a day excursion, though to where I can’t now remember, and we didn’t have to wear school uniform. For some reason I decided I was going to dress as my favourite character Nancy, the fearless pirate captain of the Amazon, in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons.

I’d been obsessed with Arthur Ransome’s books for several years. I vaguely remember writing a play in primary school which borrowed heavily (ahem) from Swallows and Amazons. My parents had paid for sailing lessons on Albert Park Lake, and bought a Mirror sailing dinghy kit, which my Dad and brother built in our back garden, and we sailed on school holidays when we stayed at Anglesea on the southern Victoria coast. My Nanna even knitted me a red woollen pirate hat, just like Nancy’s.

I don’t know what possessed me to dress as Nancy for the school excursion. There wasn’t an instruction to dress as a favourite character from a book – World Book Day hadn’t been dreamt up then. I was excited though. Mum had made me a pair of dark blue corduroy knickerbockers – Nancy wore knickerbockers. I also wore a brown shirt, like Nancy, and my red pirate hat. But my pirate pride was rudely squashed when I turned up outside school by the waiting coach and saw my peers in all their fashionable get-up. In that moment I realised I was quintessentailly a dag – the polar opposite of cool. I don’t remember the rest of the day – just that realisation and the sneers and laughter of the cool girls.

Thankfully that experience didn’t put me off Arthur Ransome’s books. I still hold them dear, and in the last couple of years have reread Swallows and Amazons and one of my favourites (though Nancy doesn’t feature) We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, and have been transported all over again. I still have the pirate hat Nanna knitted for me, though it’s too small for me to wear now. One day I may get it framed. As for school – I’m glad those days are well and truly behind me.

starting the day with a poem

For some time now, Nick and I have taken it in turns to read a poem aloud before we get up. I’m not quite sure when this habit started, and we don’t stick to it every day, but more often than not now we start the day with a poem.

Sometimes I’ve read from The Poetry Review, which I get as part of my Poetry Society membership. Then there was a period when Nick read poems from Out of Everywhere – linguistically innovative poetry by women in North America & the UK edited by Maggie O’Sullivan, and published by Reality Street Editions in 1996. That had its challenges! How to read aloud a poem with very strong visual elements? It was also a revelation, the anthology packed with exciting work by poets and performers such as Susan Howe, Denise Riley and Carlyle Reedy.

At the moment, I’m reading poems from Making Your Own Days – The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry by Kenneth Koch. In the first part of the book (which I confess I started but haven’t finished), Koch sets out his ideas about the language of poetry (making the case that poetry should be considered a separate language from day-to-day language) and suggests ways to approach reading and writing poetry. The larger part of the book is taken up by an anthology of poems selected by Koch, ranging from Homer and Sappho to Frank O’Hara and Elizabeth Bishop. Each poem or extract is followed by a short commentary by Koch. Once Nick has had a go at guessing the poet (his hit rate is impressive!) and we’ve briefly discussed our responses, I read out Kenneth Koch’s take on the poem, which is often illuminating or helps us appreciate something in a poem which is otherwise not to our taste. And of course we don’t always agree. It’s very rewarding and we’ve made discoveries, for instance the extracts from Chapman’s translation of Homer’s Iliad, and Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, are wonderful. They’re on our list to read aloud together once we’ve finished Don Quixote (currently stalled… ).

The selection of poems contains a fair few translations – good; and a fifth of the poets included are women – could have done better. Shakespeare gets four entries – extracts from Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet plus two poems – which is hard to argue against. On the other hand, including four poems apiece from Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams seems surprising to me. Nevertheless, we’re enjoying the journey, and I might even go back and read the first part of the book in due course.

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End of November round-up

Wowee. I’ve been busy. I sat down yesterday morning and began a list of things I’ve been up to since I last blogged:

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Words for the Wild – I’ve had two poems published on this beautiful site, as part of their autumn ‘Fruit’ themed issue. I love the mix of poetry and fiction, and the gorgeous images that complement the words. There are recordings of the writer reading their work on many of the posts too. Words for the Wild is open for submissions on their winter theme – Gift. And if your work is selected, the editors send a proof for you to check before it’s published online – it’s something I always appreciate, and shows the care that is taken with each author’s work.

Severine – another online journal that publishes both fiction and poetry. And I was delighted to have a short fiction piece I submitted accepted and published in a very quick turnaround. You can read it here, it’s the first short story I’ve had published in over two years!

P1070901Nine Elms boards – along the stretch of river between Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and Vauxhall, there are several display boards with news and information about the evolving Nine Elms area. The Battersea Society has been contributing articles for the boards about the rich and colourful history of the area, in particular the industrial heritage. I’m on the heritage committee of the Battersea Society, and when the committee chair was looking for someone to write a new article for the boards, I put my hand up. I thought I’d write about the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company, which I’d first heard about when I was a tour guide on the construction site at Battersea Power Station in 2017. The Power Station was built on land formerly owned by the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company, and I’d come across several references to the notoriously poor quality of their water supply. As I researched more deeply for the article, I decided to focus on this aspect, and in particular the deadly cholera outbreak of 1854, which claimed over 10,000 lives across London. Nearly half of these occurred in households supplied by the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company. It was the physician Dr John Snow who carried out the detailed investigation and analysis which established the link, and effectively proved his theory that cholera was a water-borne disease. There is a lot more I could write about this, but for now it’s satisfying to see my words up on the boards, sharing this important story with passersby.

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haul

Small Publishers Fair  – I should know book fairs are dangerous. We went on Friday 16th November, early afternoon, and after a couple of hours I emerged, lightheaded, and definitely light-walleted. Four Bad Betty Press Shots; two intriguing and beautifully produced books from the Lost Rocks series published by the Tasmanian press A Published Event; the irresistible Wollstonochlincraft by Annabel Frearson; and more…

Then there was the Musicians Against Homelessness fundraiser where Joolz and I read from our London Undercurrents collection, and we also ventured to the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to watch our very first women’s football game – a North London derby, no less!

Veganism – I’ve been vegetarian for most of my adult life, but have always said I didn’t think I could become vegan. That I’d find it hard to give up cheese, yoghurt, eggs… but after joining the Global Climate Strike on 20th September, seeing the hundreds of thousands of determined, passionate and rightfully angry young people protesting in central London, seeing the evidence daily  of the catastrophic situation we are lurching towards – well, changing our diet seems the least that we can do. So Nick and I have started on a journey towards veganism. I’ve been surprised by some people’s reactions, but overall we’re feeling fine and enjoying adapting and discovering new tastes. A small step, but hopefully part of a much bigger wave of change. I often post photos of our meals on Instagram! If you’re interested, you can find me at: @hilaireinlondon

QEH LRB – A different kind of poetry night, part of the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the London Review of Books, held at Queen Elizabeth Hall. A friend who had a spare ticket invited me along. Billed as Paul Muldoon’s Against the Grain, we were treated to music from Nico Muhly – a name I recognised but wasn’t sure what to expect, thankfully I liked what I heard!; imperial presence and poetry from Anne Carson; poetry and song from Amit Chaudhuri; and sophisticated conversation between Paul Muldoon and his guests.

Louise Michel talk – Housmans – this was a fascinating talk about about the French anarchist Louise Michel, focussed on her later years spent largely in London, where she set up an international anarchist school in Fitzrovia, for children of political refugees. Although I knew a bit about Michel, thanks to Nick’s interest in the Paris Commune, the two speakers, Martyn Everett and Constance Bantman, drew a much fuller picture of her life and radical activities. Her utter commitment and tireless campaigning reminds me of Charlotte Despard, though their backgrounds were so different. Another inspirational woman to add to my pantheon.

Fourth FridayJoolz and I headed to the Poetry Café on the 22nd, for the last ever Fourth Friday. For 15 years, the wonderful Hylda Sims hosted a monthly evening of poetry and acoustic music, and as many people attested on this last night, she’s one of the most encouraging and supportive figures on the scene. Hats off to Hylda!

NPG – Pre-Raphaelite Sisters – on my birthday, we went to see the Pre-Raphaelite Sisters exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. It’s stunning, moving, inspiring, so good I took out a membership and have already been to see it again. There’s a room devoted to Marie Spartali Stillman, one of my Battersea women featured in London Undercurrents, so it’s especially thrilling for me to see her work in the flesh.

Sunday Service – last Sunday afternoon, my LRB QEH poetry friend and I ventured up to Soho for this new poetry reading series at the newly opened Boulevard Theatre. In the bijou auditorium Helen Eastman, the tour-de-force behind Live Canon, introduced readings by Hannah Sullivan and Antony Dunn. Contrasting styles and subject matter, both consummate performers and a relaxed-but-stimulating way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Now, I’m looking forward to December being a quieter month. Ho ho ho . . .

 

National Poetry Day Vibes

I woke up yesterday morning thinking about National Poetry Day, which is next Thursday 3rd October. I’m going to a reading the night before, but had nothing planned for the day itself, and wasn’t aware of anything happening locally. And then I thought why don’t I do something myself? Something that wouldn’t take too much organising at short notice, something local, informal.

There’s a lovely cafe that opened on the estate a couple of years ago, with an upstairs room which I’ve often thought would be a good space for a reading or workshop. Maybe they’d be up for hosting an informal poetry reading? I did my best to dampen the chattering doubts and nerves, and after lunch I popped into Vibes Cafe and put my embryonic idea to Chauntelle, one of the managers: an hour in the afternoon, I’d read some of my own poetry, plus other poems relating to ‘truth’ (this year’s NPD theme), and invite people to bring and share a poem they’ve written or a favourite poem. Chauntelle said yes!

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Upstairs at Vibes Cafe

So now I’m committed, and mostly excited, and nervous of course. I’ve made a poster and started sharing details on social media. I’ve no idea how many people will turn up – it may just be me and my latte. But it’s worth a punt. If you’re nearby on the day, please do drop by!

When: Thursday 3rd October, 4:00-5:00pm
Where: Upstairs at Vibes Cafe, 293 Battersea Park Road, London SW11 4LX
Bring a poem you’ve written or a favourite poem to share, or simply sit and listen!

NPD 2019 Website Banner

Three readings, a workshop, a virus and a Fun Day

That was my May, and I’m still recovering.

I eased into the month with a double reading at Loose Muse on 8th May. In the first half, Joolz Sparkes and I read from our joint collection London Undercurrents, recently published by Holland Park Press. Over the five or so years that we’ve been working on our project, we’d performed earlier versions of some of these poems at Loose Muse, and Agnes Meadows, the dynamo behind Loose Muse, has been tremendously supportive. So it was wonderful to return with our book and share reworked poems, and also answer questions from the audience about our journey to publication. After the break, and more readings from the floor, I read poems and short fiction from my individual practice. Then listened to my writing pal Joolz perform some fabulous poems, mostly developed from sessions she’s attended as part of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen collective. Loose Muse is on again this Wednesday 12th June, upstairs at the Sun Pub, 21 Drury Lane WC2B 5RH, and will feature Nancy Charley, a truly spellbinding performer, as well as Susannah Rickards, and a special guest all the way from Atlanta, Georgia – “blonde bombshell Dame Colleen”. Doors open 7:30 for 8pm start. Should be a cracking night!

Just over a week later, on 16th May, Ink@84 bookshop hosted a London Undercurrents reading as part of Feminist Book Fortnight. You can read Joolz’s account of the evening here. It was a really uplifting event, and the icing on the cake for the south London posse (Nick and me) was a swift journey home on the 19 bus.

PoemAThon

Two days later I was in the air-conditioned basement of the Poetry Café, kicking off the Poem-A-Thon to raise funds for The Poetry Society. Over 10 hours, sixty poets performed for 8 minutes each. The whole shebang was recorded for posterity, and you can listen here to the first 2 hours (I’m up first). Further 2 hour chunks, plus other listening gems from The Poetry Society,  are available here. And you can still donate online to support all the work The Poetry Society does to promote poetry and poets!

[Enter stage left: The Virus]

I had two more tasks on my May horizon: helping to organise the annual Fun Day for my local community garden; and preparing a creative writing workshop on the theme of Endangered Species. I had not factored in the arrival of a particularly nasty virus. Cue aches, pains, congestion, and a cough that made me sound as if I smoke 20 Woodbines a day. I’ve recovered enough now to sound like I’m down to 10 a day. And with the aid of an array of legal remedies, and a pinch of bed rest, I survived – in fact almost enjoyed – the Fun Day, helped in no small part by the sun coming out to play on the day.

The following afternoon I headed over to the Thrive main garden in Battersea Park to run my first Endangered Species creative writing workshop, as part of The Popsy Set ‘Rarely Seen’ series of creativity sessions. I’d spent quite a bit of time researching endangered species on the IUCN red list, in particular those where the Conservation Actions Needed include  ‘Education and awareness’. The headline statistics are shocking to the point of being almost mind-numbing: more than 27,000 species are threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN. And the range of threats species face is far wider then “simply” climate change; pollution, invasive species, habitat depletion, agriculture and more. I narrowed the focus for the workshop to six British species that are under threat, a mix of flora and fauna. I found Magma’s Climate Change issue helpful in thinking about different approaches to writing creatively in response to this overwhelming crisis. I’d put together an info sheet for each species; gathered some thought provoking quotes about responding creatively to the global crisis; tried out the exercises I’d devised. And though I was still feeling below par, the adrenalin kicked in and I was able to deliver the workshop satisfactorily. Tick. In fact, I had some lovely  feedback, reassured that I’d got a good balance between information and creative exercises, and praised for being ‘a skilful and sensitive workshop leader’.

Now, pass me another Woodbine.

If you are interested in attending an Endangered Species workshop in the future please email buy@popsyset.com to check available dates. Workshops are held on Sundays at 2pm and must be booked in advance. Requires a minimum of six bookings to go ahead.

crazy May

My month ahead, I mean, not the Prime Minister. No, no, no. May is looking a bit crazy for me, but I’ll get through it. Scratch that. I’ll ENJOY it! (Thanks, Joolz, for the ‘be more dog’ tip!)

First up, on Wednesday 8th May, Joolz Sparkes and I are featured readers at Loose Muse, London’s Premiere Women’s Writers Night, upstairs at the Sun Pub, 21 Drury Lane, WC2B 5RH. We’ll be reading from our recently published collection London Undercurrents, and also reading from our individual work, poems and perhaps some short fiction. There are open mic spots for women writers (men are welcome in the audience), and it’s a very friendly and welcoming night. Doors open 7:30 for 8pm start. £6/£5 concessions.

Just over a week later, Joolz and I will be appearing at the lovey Ink@84 indie bookshop and café in Islington on Thursday 16th May from 7pm. It’s part of Feminist Book Fortnight, and we’ll be reading from and talking about London Undercurrents. The event is free to attend but please book in advance. And support indie bookshops by buying a book or two and/or a drink at the café on the night.

Hot on the heels of that reading, I’m first up at The Poetry Society’s Poem-A-Thon on Saturday 18th May at The Poetry Café. From midday until 10pm you can experience a fabulous line-up of sixty poets, donating our time and talent for free with the aim of raising much needed funds to support The Poetry Society’s amazing work. Entry by donation on the door and you can dip in and out as you please. You can also donate online here. Each poet is reading for 8 minutes. I’ve got the first slot so I’m thinking of reading poems about beginnings, early starts, coffee…

Rounding off my crazy May month, I’m leading a creative writing workshop on the theme of Endangered Species, as part of The Popsy Set’s Rarely Seen series of workshops. It’s on Sunday 26th May from 2pm for 2 hours, plus a 10 minute break, at the Art Hut in Thrive Main Garden, Battersea Park. We’ll explore some of the endangered flora and fauna of Britain and try different approaches to highlighting their plight, using short forms such as haiku and prose fragments. Cost is £30, and the workshop must be booked in advance. For enquiries and bookings please email: buy@popsyset.com

I’m enjoying researching and planning the workshop, and will write a bit more about this in another post.

I just realised I could have titled this post Three Readings and a Workshop. But I’ll stick with crazy May. Current mood, and all that.

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prep for Endangered Species creative writing workshop

on your marks… for The Poetry Society’s Poem-A-Thon

I’m taking part in The Poetry Society’s second Poem-A-Thon, which aims to raise funds to help the Society continue their fantastic work promoting poetry and supporting poets across the country. The event is on Saturday 18th May from 12noon to 10pm at The Poetry Café, and features SIXTY poets, reading for 8 minutes each.

Having expressed a preference for being on earlier in the day, I’ve landed the actual starting gun spot – 12 noon! Please come and support me supporting The Poetry Society, and start your Saturday with poetry! Entry is by donation on the door, and you can come and go as you please. There’s an amazing lineup of poets, and you can see the timetable here. You can also support the campaign by making a donation to The Poetry Society online.

The Poetry Café is at 22 Betterton Street, London WC2H 9BX. Hope to see you there!

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