Saturday, May 26, 2007

"Supping Cuppas With A Poet Laureate"

Above: " The Muse Inspiring The Poet" ( Henri Rousseau)
Have a look below, because it's fascinating stuff; the words of the poets themselves say it all...

" Deprivation" said Philip Larkin "is for me what daffodils were for William Wordworth"
( Hmm...We all need stimulus!!)
and Robert Frost: " Writing Free Verse is like playing tennis with the net down."
( This paints a fascinating picture, doesn't it?!)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge ( crisply) : " Prose, that's words in their best order. And poetry, that's the best words in the best order"
( Would fiction writers agree, I wonder?)
And Carl Sandberg:" Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air..."
( So ARE poets frustrated beings??)
While in the 60's, Bob Dylan, declaring his first love is poetry with his music a mere second, said :" I live like a poet and I'll die like a poet"
( And he's still here, still writing, still singing...)
More recently, Andrew Motion, England's Poet Laureate since 1999 , said tellingly:"Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people"
( Possibly things are improving. Poetry IS more accessible, more "getattable"....)

This week, I met Cheshire's 2006 Poet Laureate, Andrew Rudd. He said how one of his briefs on being elected, was to change the state of affairs that Motion described.
Rudd wanted to take poetry to new places, to encourage folk to enjoy it as part of everyday life. In other words, he wanted to be rid of this ignorance and instead, find acceptance.
Andrew is a friend of Anne, a longtime member of one of my writing groups ; Anne invited him to run a workshop for us at her place. The workshop was fun; through exercises and conversation, we looked at connections between prose and poetry and we left Anne's house with smiles on our faces, with new ideas, with enthusiasm.
To some extent, we'd witnessed the loveliness of poetry, seen it hidden in prose, looked at its lyricism, but we'd also seen poetry "demystified" that we could " handle"it, enjoy and understand it.
Poetry hadn't lost its dignity, but we were more on the way to viewing its usefulness in our daily lives.
And hopefully, our visitor will visit our writing group again sometime...

Andrew Rudd was Cheshire's 4th Poet Laureate; each Laureate is elected by members of the county council and they " reign" for a year. At the end of this period, a book of their work is published. Andrew's collection has the fetching title: " One cloud away from the sky"
The 5th and present Cheshire Laureate is Jo Bell; she's a professional archaeologist, who lives on a narrow boat. She says she started writing poetry to win over difficult classmates; as good a reason as any!
Other Cheshire Laureates were Harry Owen, John Lindsay and Joy Winkler. Interestingly, their poetry is as varied in style and content as their backgrounds.
Andrew told us that there are half a dozen or so similar schemes throughout the country; Cheshire's Laureate was initiated by Literature Development Officer, Liz Newell, several years ago.
Once elected, the Cheshire Poet Laureate is expected to promote poetry within the county, to work on 5 separate commissions about significant events within the county and also to read and judge various poetry competitions.

Originally, England's Poet Laureate was chosen by the reigning king or queen. They would be paid a stipend and be required to pen a poem describing both national and royal events.
The first unofficial PL was Ben Jonson; later Edward Spenser wrote his " Faerie Queen" for Elizabeth 1st. Howvere in 1668, John Dryden was officially declared PL and his appointment was for Life. Later PL's have included Robert Southey, William Wordsworth, Tennyson, Sir John Betjamin and Ted Hughes, from 1984 until his death in 1998.
Andrew Rudd, Jo Bell et al, in their own special way, are clearly following in very special footsteps.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


I've no idea WHY comments were "banned" on my last posting; VeRy WeIrD. So... now just testing. And I shall have to brush up my seriously-silly technical skills. Or possibly NOT click the wrong button par accident...

"Following Roman footsteps"

My spirited future daughterinlaw, K, has just clocked up over £3oo for the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign; today she's run 13 miles in our local charity bash, the Chester Half Marathon.
This annual race runs on a stunning route in and around our Roman-walled city; it starts on the Old Dee Bridge by Handbridge ( see photo) and finishes in spectacular fashion ( amid cheering friends and family) on Chester's magnificent racecourse, the Roodee.
Over 2,600 folk took part and believe me, I saw all shapes, sizes and ages.
And as I slouched on the Roodee watching the finish, I spotted among the serious, well-toned athletes: Fred Flintstone, following a hairy-legged, testosterone-fuelled Fairy, also a Lowry man with match-stick legs running with two babes in pushchair, and the most dignified competitor of all, a poe-faced city gent striding out in immaculate pinstripe.
And of course, we saw K, smiling broadly.
Congratulations, K. We hope you're now fast asleep on the sofa.
PS Also very good to see loyal supporters N+L, R+T!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"Time Spent With Friends"

A good weekend:
On Friday, we took a trip to Theatr Clwyd ( ) with Friends of LitFest ( )
We enjoyed an explosive version of " Suddenly last summer" by Tenessee Williams....
AND yes, "explosive" WAS the right word! ( Angst, drama and madness!)
Our visit also included a fascinating backstage tour and a tasty supper in the restaurant before the play. An excellent evening.
(Theatr Clwyd, by the way, is in Mold, on the borders of England and Wales. )
And then we headed off to the Lakes, to our friends who live on the edge of lake Coniston.
HE rows acoss the water to work, SHE keeps bees, makes honey...
Constant rain on Sunday and no walking, but lots of chatter and laughter.
And a HUGE roast dinner compensated more than amply.....

Thursday, May 10, 2007

"Italy Continued, Again"

And so our trek continued.
And my friend, S and I, years on.....

We remember the people, the laughter, the talk; the fascinating dynamics of the group in our bus.....the "organisers", the jokers, the serious travellers who checked history books each evening while others sprawled by a campsite fire and supped red wine.

We remember Rome in early morning, how sunlight glittered on the Colosseum; the back streets of Naples ( us, singing:" Where do you go to, my lovely?") , we talk of a shaded market covered by trees, where we bought grapes and lemons and peaches, where the Italians muttered about our blondeness, stared and whispered and watched.

We remember the glossiness of a plaza in Milan, the steep Amalfi coast where we visited a monastery and talked with monks in cool barren rooms overlooking a shimmering sea.
And we talk of Barletta by the Adriatic, where women in black clutched rosaries and blessed us and smiled wistful smiles.......
And the Town Hall, with its high domed ceiling, its rafters...where we sat straight-backed on high wooden pews beneath musty paintings as the mayor welcomed us with sweet amaretto biscuits, his wine of the region..

And S has photographs of us (a line of grinning grubby colourful travellers ) by the Solfatara of Pozzuoli, north of Naples, visited in the eighteenth century by European aristocrats as part of The Grand Tour. There are 40 ancient volcanoes there and we camped at the very enticing edge of one. ...

AND YES, EVENTUALLY we reached a village called Rappalla in the region of Potenza.
And yes, we were set to work.
Oh yep how hard we worked!
We rose at 5:30 and helped dig ground for the building of a school. At 9, home for bread, peach jam , coffee. Then a blissful kip! Then visits....often we drove to wild Adriatic beaches where we glimpsed the coast of Yugoslavia and talked of Next Year, of The Year After, even The One After That...

***Re picture above: 3 years ago, we visited Southern Italy again.
Very differently!
This time, no jolly bus, merely an efficient flight Gatwick to Brindisi, a small hired Fiat, and a wonderful little house called a "trulli" ( as above), but all on its own in an orchard..... near the Pugliese town of Cisternino ( eastern almost, with white houses lining quiet medieval streets...)
We booked through a great company specialising in holidays to Southern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia. Thoroughly recommend it:

Monday, May 07, 2007

"Italy Continued"

This is me last week, shopping in a hilltop town in Umbria. But a long time ago, I was 19 years old and I went to Italy on my first trip abroad.
I'd had holidays in Cornwall, Wales, the Lakes, holidays throughout the UK. But all those years ago, This Trip Was Something Else.

I was a student in Liverpool, my school friend S was a Geographer at Durham; her feller and his two best mates were dentists at Newcastle.
That winter, huddled in a pub up in the NE ( no doubt supping Newcastle Brown) the five of them, plus a few others, planned the Ultimate Grand Tour Of Europe....and I was cordially included.
This, you understand, was all A Good Few Years Ago.....when a Gap Year probably meant putting up with an ugly space between your teeth till the dentist could fix it....not hiking through India in Tiva sandals and a sari or swimming off Bondi Beach or sailing across the Gulf of Thailand to a Full Moon party with the youth of Australia in tow..
But this WAS, in its day, pretty exciting stuff.
We filled a mini bus with food, sleeping bags, tent gear and off we went.
Brussels, I think, was our first stop, then Strasbourg where we camped by the river and sang all night.
Even the place names were magic; there was Milan, Viareggio, Lake Como and Naples, there was Rome, Brussels, Brindisi, Bologna...
And there was us, new to travel, new to Europe, new to days of travelling in our jolly, friendly van....
Us, new to nights on sultry campsites (by beaches, in pine woods, on hilltops ) where people spoke many languages and some looked like Dylan and some like Baez and they smiled as they strummed guitars and all the while, the Beatles, the Stones, Velvet Underground sang out.... as we cooked and laughed and smoked and talked and drank.
And some of us were new to each other and probably new to ourselves.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

"Ambling About In Umbria"

I've just spent five days in Umbria with husband, son R, future daughterinlaw K.
We stayed in this lovely old farm house between Florence and Rome.
The countryside is gorgeous, the hilltop towns are magical.
We have relaxed and ambled and read and drunk and eaten ( oh yes, we've eaten...)
We are already planning a return..
PS. While in Italy, I read " Digging to America" by Anne Tyler.
It's a wonderful study of family; it paints a portrait of its complex relationships, countless celebrations, the ties of siblings, the love of parents, the loss of our loved ones. It introduces inlaws, ( and occassionally, outlaws) shows us the irresistible joy of family, the aching tensions, loyalties, jealousies, the untold's ALL there.
AND it's also a social and cultural commentary on life in modern day America.
But to me it was principally an accurate and astute word painting.... a picture of the frailty of family, and above all, its beautiful strength.