a display, a reading, and a little poetry news

Late last year Stephen Graham, with whom I collaborated on the booklet indoors looking out, mentioned he was planning a show of new work at Putney Library, and that there was an empty display case in the library, which he suggested I could use to showcase some of my books and any related visual material.

The idea appealed to me, so I paid a visit to the library to check out the display case, and also spoke to one of the library staff, who was encouraging and also supportive of me doing a reading in the library.

Then last week I gathered up copies of a range of books my work has appeared in, including Paper Swans Press’s The Pocket Book of Suffrage, Salt Publishing’s Best British Short Stories 2021, my one published novel, Hearts on Ice (Serpent’s Tail, 2000), various poetry and short story anthologies, and of course London Undercurrents – over five years of research and writing with my poetry mate Joolz Sparkes packed into that handsome orange Holland Park Press book. I also ransacked our bookcases for books that are close to my heart, by writers who have influenced and inspired me. And how could I not include some of the music that fundamentally changed me, in my miserable late teens and early twenties? Bands such as The Birthday Party and The Triffids, who’d relocated to London, whose lyrics were burnt into my brain. London – the destination on my one-way ticket when I felt I had to force a change in my life. So, yes, I packed some vinyl. Nick helped me carry all those heavy books to Putney Library and set them up in the display case. Stephen’s Graham’s show of new work, which he describes as word or poem pictures, is on in the library until 6th February, alongside paintings by Gary Chappell. You can check out my book-and-record display until then, and maybe spot a few quirky items in there too.

To coincide with the display, I’ll be reading a selection of poems from my œuvre (please allow a little pretentiousness, the giddy delight of seeing my work in a display case has gone to my head) in Putney Library on Thursday 3rd February, 6:30 to 7:30pm. There’ll be some guest readers too, for added variety. It’s free, all welcome but please wear a mask unless you’re exempt. And make sure you check out the library’s Gallery space, showing Stephen Graham’s word pictures and Gary Chappell’s paintings.

Lastly, I was thrilled to be selected as one of the winners of The Poetry Society’s Members competition on the theme of ‘Survival & Extinction’, judged by Sujata Bhatt. She had to read 668 pages of poetry and could only select six poems as the winners, so it is quite an honour. The winning poems are published in the winter issue of Poetry News, which is sent to all members of The Poetry Society. The poems are also available on the Society’s website – you can read my poem Late Questions here.

tenth time lucky

I’m feeling very lucky, and rather giddy, and very grateful. My poem A Cure for Rosesickness is one of three highly commended in this year’s Live Canon International Poetry Prize, judged by Zaffar Kunial. It’s also published in the competition anthology, which features all 50 longlisted poems.

The giddiness may be due in part to a certain amount of Prosecco I imbibed at yesterday’s anthology launch/performance/prize-giving bash at Greenwich Theatre. It’s the performance part which makes this competition so special. All 21 shortlisted poems were performed, from memory, by three members of the Live Canon Ensemble – on this occasion Guy Clark, Jim Scott and Rebecca Hare. What an amazing achievement by these super-talented actors, who brought each poem vividly to life at such short notice – the shortlist was only announced on Friday! It was a privilege to hear Rebecca read my poem so beautifully. You can get a flavour of the Live Canon experience on their YouTube channel.

And after the performances, the prize announcements. The Borough prize for a local Greenwich poem was awarded to Steph Morris, for his funny and sharp poem Keep calm and cross off, one of several poems tilting at the current political climate. I’d come to enjoy the afternoon, and still couldn’t quite believe my poem was on the shortlist. So to hear it was highly commended – gasp! Really?? And by a poet whose work has moved me to tears . . . oh my word! Also highly commended, and coincidentally next to each other in the anthology, very fine poems by James O’Hara-Knight and E. E .Jones. The overall winner, for her wonderful poem Ouroboros, was Ella Duffy.

Then there was more Prosecco in the bar, catching up with poetry friends and making new ones, while I was still in a disbelieving daze that the poem I’d written over 4 years ago for a Mixed Borders residency that didn’t happened, that I’d sent out nine times before without success, was now, not just out in the world, but highly commended.

Thank you, Live Canon. Thank you, Zaffar Kunial. Thank you, well wishers everywhere. And congratulations to everyone who made it into the anthology, onto the shortlist, my fellow ‘commendees’, and especially Ella Duffy. What a super Sunday afternoon!

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in the bar at Greenwich Theatre, post prize announcements

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on the train home 

Photos: Nick Rogers

how my breakfast inspired a prize winning poem

I won first prize in the City Harvest Holiday Poetry Competition! My first first prize, and City Harvest’s first poetry competition. And it all came about thanks to the local surplus food project, Waste Not Want Not, that Nick and I have benefited from over the last couple of years.

WNWN circulated details to all their contacts a few weeks ago inviting us to enter City Harvest’s poetry competition. The theme was “What Food Means to Me”, with the top three winners receiving a crate of goodies from City Harvest, including a turkey. I’m vegetarian, so the turkey was not a draw, but the idea of a hamper of foodie treats just before Christmas was very tempting. The deadline was quite tight though – 1st of December – and I often struggle to write to a theme.

Nevertheless, I sat at my desk one morning, determined to give it a go. Eating my breakfast and thinking about food and what angle to take. I’m lucky never to have experienced hunger. Food can be one of the great pleasures of life. And one of the things I love about the surplus food we get from WNWN is having to be creative with the ingredients that end up in our bag. Food is definitely more than fuel in my book. So I mused, munching on my piece of tahini on toast. And lo and behold, a poem started to take shape on the page.

I emailed it off, and last Friday received the wonderful news that I won first prize! It was too late to save the turkey, but it won’t go to waste. Hadas from WNWN is planning a shared community Christmas dinner, where the turkey is sure to be enjoyed by the meat-eaters amongst us.

Huge thanks to City Harvest for running the competition, to Howard Altmann for judging it, and to Waste Not Want Not for prompting me to enter, and more importantly for keeping dozens of Battersea households supplied with fantastic food that would otherwise end up in landfill.

Here’s my prize winning poem:

More than Fuel

A piece of toast
to start my day

from which a world expands
in every bite

a crunchy thought
to chew upon

and savour distant
olive groves

whose drizzled oil
anoints my toast

and with tahini
slathered on

thoughts shift
to countless seeds

and what each sesame
may open —

a hoard of ancient knowledge
dancing on my tongue.

 

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prize winning breakfast