Saturday, 19 October 2019

A busy week

In a week that has seen a significant birthday, I've had much to be thankful for. I was joined for lunch on Tuesday by writing colleagues I've worked with over the past eight years and I was so aware of how much I owe them - for the inspiration they've provided, the constructive criticism they've offered when they've fed back on my work, the encouragement they've given me when the going's been tough. I free-lanced for many years in my professional life; much as I enjoyed the freedom that afforded, it could have been a comparatively lonely existence. However, I was fortunate then to have a network of peers to whom I could turn for support and I now value my writing groups for the same reason.

And, having been dog-less for the past eighteen months or so, this week also saw the very welcome arrival of Carys, a six year old Beagle. Having been a breeding bitch on an Irish puppy farm, I'm so glad to say that she's now in honourable retirement here with us. The poor girl has never experienced home life so certainly comes with her challenges, but she's already taken up residence in my writing room and listens very attentively when I read drafts of work in progress ...

...before snoozing in the sun!

Monday, 7 October 2019

Poems and Patients

A bit of a hiatus since my last post, largely due to seeing too much of hospitals over the last few weeks! However, with health issues hopefully looking to resolve now, it's back into harness and on with several waiting projects.

Sitting around in different wards and departments has given some food for thought though. Whilst most hospitals have a reasonable variety of art on their walls, brightening up otherwise cold and  clinical environments, and at least giving patients and visitors something to look at, few hospitals seem to use poetry in any significant way. I've found the odd poetry book or pamphlet in hospital chapels but only at Neville Hall in Abergavenny have I seen lines of poems used decoratively. In Neville Hall lines from Owen Sheers "Skirrid" greet you, painted on the walls in Reception; stand outside the hospital and you can glimpse the mountain itself across from the town.

In recent years so much work has gone into researching the therapeutic uses of poetry. You may be familiar with the work of the inspirational John Fox and the Institute of Poetic Medicine in the States, or practitioners such as Victoria Field in this country; you may have comes across the annual Hippocrates poetry competition for poems on medical topics. I was delighted a few years ago to have a poem in an anthology for medical students about to qualify as doctors. But the idea of using poems formally or informally in the wider hospital setting doesn't seem to have really gained much of a hold. In a week that's seen a very successful National Poetry Day with events all over the country, perhaps it's high time to work on changing that situation.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Ways To Peace

I don't know what it is about the Ways To Peace project at Tintern Abbey that does it, but the weather has it in for us every time! Last year our outdoor Festival readings took place in a spectacular downpour and last night's launch of the anthology invited similar conditions.... However, the event itself was a great success (indoors!) and the final product is a delight. Contributors come from all generations and many cultures; the writing encompasses peace in its widest sense - between peoples and cultures, with nature and the environment and inner peace. It was an enormous privilege to stand alongside a Palestinian refugee fleeing from Syria, a schoolchild desperate to preserve an intact world for his generation and older people whose memories of world conflict still haunt them seven decades on, to read and reflect. Thanks so much to Pascal Bidois, the custodian at Tintern Abbey, and to Val Ormerod, the driving force behind the anthology.

At the launch with Gloucestershire poet
Kathryn Alderman

Friday, 6 September 2019

Picking up where we left off ...

Part of my "getting straight over the summer" plan involved sorting out the filing cabinet - and that led to some interesting discoveries! Unearthing half-written poems, abandoned pieces of prose, some of which could be usefully resurrected. And they in turn reminded me of other sorts of projects which for one reason on another hadn't come to fruition but might still have some mileage in them - two quite literally.

Ten years ago I started the Wye Valley Walk and covered the ground from Chepstow to Hereford, well over half the total distance. Life got in the way and the project went into abeyance, but - especially as we now live not much more than a stone's throw from the river - it seems a good time to pick up on it again. We've only done two more days so far but they were both really enjoyable.

Another walk started but making only intermittent progress over the last few years has been the Wales Coastal Path. A real challenge that one - all 870 miles of it! So far we've covered about 170, from Chepstow to the far side of the Gower. But earlier this week I was in North Wales to undertake some research for a new writing project planned for the winter and I had the opportunity to do a few miles of the path just south of Barmouth on a glorious, windy afternoon, the Cadair Idris range soaring to my left and the sea pounding the shore to my right. I never fail to be inspired by such surroundings. Hopefully we'll be back on the trail there too before long.

The Mawddach Estuary

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Summer Twenty Nineteen

I can no longer get to the Wye Valley Writers Group meetings in Chepstow, but the members kindly invited me along to their summer celebration on Wednesday and we spent a beautifully warm and sunny afternoon sitting under Pam Robinson's pergola enjoying tea, cucumber sandwiches, scones and a variety of cakes - but it was afternoon tea with difference, with added poetry and prose! All written in response to this season that's now too rapidly drawing to a close.

Recently I've been doing some work with a group looking at "found poems", so I was delighted to hear Pam's contribution on Wednesday - a reading for two voices based on her experience of the summer this year and newspaper headlines outlining less happy events around the globe. Thank you, Pam, for giving me permission to use this on line; it's a great example of how we can use "found" material very effectively within our own writing.

Summer twenty nineteen

A double acrostic sums up a summer bathed in natural glory against the backdrop of ominous news. Alternate lines paraphrase a single day’s headlines (6 August 2019). The remainder are snapshots of my summer.

So many bees in my garden

Shootings in El Paso, and in Ohio too 

Under the long grass, crickets chirp

UK is second-largest arms exporter – fourteen billion pounds in sales

Many butterflies dance on the buddleia

Markets fall as US-China trade war looms

My vegetable patch bright with uninvited guests

Modi splits Kashmir and tensions rise with Pakistan

Everywhere apple trees bend beneath the weight of fruit

Egyptian president gives condolences as car bomb kills twenty

Raspberries, plums and peaches give way to blackberries

Royal Navy ships respond to threats in Gulf

The artichokes flaunt punkish purple petals

The residents of Whaley Bridge talk about their plight

White lilies light the evening, scent assaulting

Water stress ‘alarming’ in forty-four countries

Elderberries ripen and crab-apples redden

Environmental activist killings double to four a week

Nigel, the dog, surveys the scene with satisfaction

Nuon Chea, who killed a million Cambodians, dies aged ninety-three 

The cats, for once, are absent and the birds are glad

Tesco cuts 4,500 jobs across the country

Young and foolish blackbirds, though, crash kamikaze in my window

Youth crime is declared ‘emergency’

Nice to hear cuckoos calling in the Newport levels

Nicola Sturgeon says most Scots will vote ‘yes’

I’ve yet to see the glossy ibis preen at Goldcliff

In Hong Kong, China and the West confront

Nightjars clatter in the dusk at Trellech Beacon

New funding for the NHS – or is it?

Egrets roost in plenty by the lake at Magor Marsh

European diplomats told PM intends a hard Brexit

The herons nest, considerately, in full view of the hide

The gap between London and the rest increases

Evening light shimmers as we camp on Gower cliffs

Even now there’s hope MPs will avert No Deal

Everything seems unchanged for so many years

End of the shipyard as Harland and Wolff go under

Night falls as the fire glows

Not guns but video games caused shootings, Trump declares.

(Copyright Pamela Robinson 2019)

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Keeping faith

As writers I sometimes think we all fall into the "comparisons trap"; we compare our output with other, more prolific writers or even with ourselves at other stages in our creative careers. When, for whatever reason, we're not turning out what we'd like to, what we'd hoped to, and we hold ourselves up against others, it can be so depressing - and so demoralising too. Far from prompting us into action, it all too often makes it even more difficult to get our own show back on the road, even harder to keep faith in ourselves.

With this in mind, it was very refreshing earlier today to read Jan Fortune's blog, Becoming A Different Story. You may not have come across it, but Jan runs Cinnamon Press and blogs each week about different aspects of writing. I always look forward to it - it's a good Sunday morning read. Today she included an Oliver Sacks quote that I hadn't come across:

"Creativity = time + forgetting + incubation"   

The more I think about that, the more sense it makes. No experience is ever wasted for writers; it may not be of immediate use, but it's filed away (to all intents and purposes, forgotten) then quietly incubates, to be resurrected who knows when. The "fallow patches" we all endure may not be as fallow as we think.

This week I was certainly energised by the creativity of a group of photographers at Newport MIND. I'd been very impressed earlier in the summer when I was given a copy of "More Than Just My Mind", an anthology produced last year to celebrate the organisation's 40th anniversary. Some of the photography that accompanied the poems in that anthology was stunning. I'm now starting a couple of projects with the group, one in tandem with Women Aloud, my Cheltenham based poetry group, and one working on another anthology of my own poetry. The enthusiasm of the photographers is certainly infectious; the ideas I've been incubating for some time have, I think, found their soulmates!

Friday, 9 August 2019

Those lazy days of summer ...

I can't believe how quickly the summer is flying past - and not a lot of the projects I meant to catch up on have made the envisaged strides forwards! But I have caught up on a lot of reading and a lot of visiting - friends to hear how their work is going, festivals to see what's new and Welsh events to try to progress my language learning.

Emergency Blanket by Daniel Trivedy
A day at the Eisteddfod in Llanrwst last Saturday certainly helped on the Welsh front. Everyone there was so welcoming towards learners and people went out of their way to be helpful. I loved the music (especially the folk groups) and spent far too much in the book tents. But my favourite of the day had to be the art exhibition - there was some amazing work there. The Gold Medal for Fine Art had been won by Daniel Trivedy for his installation "Emergency Blanket". It takes symbols of two worlds and marries them; the survival blankets seen wrapped around so many refugees and migrants rescued from the ravages of the sea and the Welsh carthen (wool blanket), warm and comforting, reinforcing identity and belonging. The installation makes a very powerful impression. My one regret was that my Welsh is still far too basic to understand the poems that had been written to accompany each exhibit and for which there were no translations.

No translation needed on Wednesday, though, at the Wye Valley Seasons event at Pygmy Pinetum near Coleford. Celebrating the area where they, and we, live, the Forest of Dean poets (Elizabeth Parker, Meryl Pugh, Stewart Carswell and David Pownall) read their poems to accompany the composer Justin Nicholls' new jazz symphony "Four Seasons". It was a magical evening, sitting out in stunning gardens in the heart of the Forest, listening to superb musicians and very talented poets interweaving their work with consummate skill. It must be something in the Forest air or the Wye water, but the locality certainly produces some very gifted artists!

Justin Nicholls conducts