12 Jul 2009

Hearing Voices - Dartington, 11th July 2009

Yesterday, Mim Darlington and I performed at a ‘poetry walk’ in the beautiful grounds of Dartington Hall, Nr. Totnes. It was an event hosted by Ways With Words Literary Festival, and despite a constant drizzle of rain, we enjoyed the company of a fifteen audience members. Our walk takes in views and vistas founded by gardener Dorothy Elmhirst, and maintained exquisitely since.

Mim & I have been leading poetry walks regularly at Ways With Words under the moniker 'The Honey Tongues'. Mim read some poems from her book ‘Windfall’ (publ. Oversteps Books) and I enjoyed reading mostly new ones of my own.
Mim Darlington reading from 'Windfall'

In the afternoon, I attended the Ted Hughes Memorial Lecture, given by Sir Andrew Motion. Sat on the high gallery of the stone built Great Hall, surrounded by the oak beams of its vaulted ceiling and amidst a crowd of Hughes devotees, I tried not to fall asleep. Not for any fault of Andrew Motion, but there were a lot of people in that room, it was a muggy day, and heat rises…

The Great Hall, Dartington. photo from Dartington Hall website

Andrew Motion’s lecture kept my soft brain sharp. He discussed the rivalry between Hughes and the poet Phillip Larkin, citing quotes from personal letters from each to close relatives, and press articles, written throughout the decades of their fame.

It seems that each perceived the other as a manifestation of their own shadow, worthy opponents in each other’s artistic quest: Larkin’s uptightness, Hughes’ wildness.’ Hughes embraced modernism, Larkin scorned it.

Hugh’s creative process involved him keeping the channel between conscious and unconscious, open, finding connection with wildness. Motion quotes of Larkin’s poems: ‘their rage or contempt is always checked by the ... energy of their language and the satisfactions of their articulate formal control’.

Motion used the phrase ‘the librarian and the shaman’.This inner-world and outer-world conflict, projected or not, is what significantly helped to shape each poet’s unique voice.

I enjoyed the lecture immensely. I am deeply interested in writers’ creative processes. In part as I live out the myth of my own, and in part because I teach creative writing classes with adults and work with children in schools.

It is something that I enjoyed discussing with other writers on the Isle of Arran residential, last month; and enjoy discussing often with Mim Darlington and other poetry peers. Each conversation is as valuable as any lecture by one former Laureate about another; though I’ve yet to experience a ‘worthy opponent’ of the Larkin-Hughes style.

I don't think it's necessary. Cooperation and appreciation breed a stronger, more positive culture in which to work rather than one undermined by blind projection and self-limiting rivalry. Identifying the nature of one's own inner shadows is an opportunity to grow both into them and out of them.

After leaving the Great Hall, I had two hours until a short performance of two of my poems, with the group Moor Poets.

Moor Poets logo, Artwork by Petra Tilly

I had bought a book of poetry with me to read: Planet Young, (Flapjack Press) by Liverpool born poet Gerry Potter; but there were all these lovely new poetry books to be bought at ways With Words, so I browsed, bought one. I will not say here by whom it is written, but someone of academic proportions and whose work, as I have come across it, has been very enjoyable.

Sat in the Roundhouse Café with tea and cake, I read my new book, its posh pages smelling of delicious poetry secrets. I enjoyed a couple of contemporary sonnets, then Gerry’s book began to jangle from my bag. A silent jangle, yet with a strong sense of scouse accent.

Jangle, I have learned from the introduction to Planet Young, is a Liverpudlian term for a particular kind of gossip. I carried on reading my new book, enjoying the thoughtful adaptations of traditional form, appreciating the subject matter and poetic insights within the carefully, consciously edited verses. But by now, Gerry’s book was hollering from the depths of my bag as if it didn’t give a shit about sonnets, and The Sons of May Butler demanded my heart to give it a second read that day.

The ongoing inner conflicts of the poet are an interesting phenomena en route to each finding one's voice, but it is another thing when the conflict in a poets psyche occurs between two others.

The new book went back in the bag. Out came Planet Young. Half an hour of reading later, I found my pen and a petrol receipt from the depths of the bag, and was inspired to write. It's about a voice finding its feet...

I was interrupted delightfully by the arrival of Jackie Juno, poet, singer and comedienne and good friend. We are both in Moor Poets, and exchanged stories of our recent adventures (she’s been to Ireland while I was in Arran) before going to the Moor Poets performance (I will write about Moor Poets quiet a lot in other blogs) in the Duke’s Room.

Each of the twelve of us present, read two poems from our recent, stunningly good (if I do say so myself) compilation CD ‘Uncharted’.

'Uncharted' CD, artwork by Sean Hellman

Apart from Mim, Jackie and myself, there are more than a dozen others on the CD – a delicious assortment of voices that illuminate vibrant and unexpected worlds. Many of us read a more recent poem, too. I am always surprised by and grateful for the brilliance of my peers; I especially enjoyed John Daniels and Rebecca Gethin’s new poems, and wonderful to hear and to meet with all the others again. To buy the CD, details/enquiries via the Moor Poets website. £5 well spent.

After the performance, our good-sized audience asked intelligent questions; and then a perve made inappropriate comments about some of the poets and I was gripped again by inner conflict: whether to speak harshly or just to cringe and shudder. The cringe and shudder won instantaneously; and a few moments uncomfortable silence was well managed by compere Jennie Osborne. After the performance I managed not to make eye contact. Disturbing men are not that common at Moor Poets readings, thankfully.

Two of the audience had also attended The Honey Tongues poetry walk, and requested a copy of a poem I had read that morning. Its new and I couldn't think of a title so have called it 'Zen Poem'. It began life with a exercise based on the I Ching, facilitated by John. G. Hall.

Hunt opportunities under shadows.
Stalk the impossible -
teach it to fly.
Learn soft landings in broken places.
Take up the martial art of the pen

and circle the circle of thought
that defines: you.
Close in on every

moment upon moment.

Capture it -

savour every


I went out that evening with my family to hear Siberian Nenet singer Tatiana Lar performing with Nigel Shaw and Carolyn Hillyer, in a large marquee in the middle of a rainstorm on Dartmoor. It was an awesome end to a surreal day.

Planet Young has just started whispering from my bag.

Shhh; I’m writing a blog.