Tracy K Smith at the Bristol Festival of Ideas

In these days of sweeping funding cuts, the chance to see top poets reading locally come along only a couple of times a year, yet I can think of no more valuable a way for poets to learn and be inspired than to listen to the best of their peers reading their work in person. So when I learnt that Tracy K Smith, the US poet laureate, was coming to Waterstones in Bristol as part of the Festival of Ideas, I seized the opportunity of seeing her.

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Most poets tend to write about a corner of their own experience or a particular interest – for example, you might think of yourself as  an eco-poet, or someone who is especially good at capturing what it means to be a survivor, or a poet suited to political declamation. Smith herself is known for poems about the body, focusing on intimacy, love, and sexuality, but her work also encompasses, apparently effortlessly, political poems of enormous sensibility and empathy, such as the sequence she read from her second collection, ‘Duende’, which gives voice to Ugandan women kidnapped by rebel commanders, and such vast subjects as … well, the universe.

‘I don’t have a great brain for science,’ she claimed, to a frankly disbelieving audience during her reading of her sequence ‘My God, it’s full of stars’ from her 2011 Pulitzer-prize winning collection, ‘Life on Mars’. But in case you’re starting to think her work might be altogether too rarified, the quote about stars is from Arthur C Clarke’s novel, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, proving that Tracy isn’t afraid to tangle with pop culture either. She even writes affectingly about that ultimate starman, David Bowie.

And as you wing out across the universe of Tracy’s poems, you are being lifted on the most perfectly pitched reading of them. I would urge any poet who wants to improve their delivery of their work to listen to her read. There are lots of videos on line, or you can buy a CD of Duende. Better still, go and hear her read in the flesh … though now her book tour has ended, you might have to fly to America for that.

 

Letting poems take their place in the world

When it comes to poems inspired by a certain area or landscape, that have a story to tell about that spot, being able to connect the poem to its place adds an extra, vital dimension.  I often go on walks with a site-specific poem in my pocket. I’ve taken U A Fanthorpe’s ‘Stanton Drew’ to the eponymous stone circles south of Bristol, and, as she urges, listened to the past’s long pulse. I’ve sat on Ted Hughes’ memorial stone near Taw Head on Dartmoor to recover from all the tussock-jumping required to get there and read aloud his wonderful litany, ‘Rain-Charm for the Duchy’. I’ve wept over Eliot’s Four Quartets in East Coker churchyard.

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Stanton Drew stone circles

Then there are the poems we write ourselves. It has be be said that going around sellotaping poems to lamp posts and telegraph poles isn’t practical. But now you can pin them to an online map of England and Wales, which is another, less polluting way of letting them take their place in the world.

Places of Poetry is led by poet Paul Farley and Professor Andrew McRae. The project is open to readers and writers of all ages and backgrounds, with the aim of prompting reflection on national and cultural identities in England and Wales through creative writing. Writers are invited to pin their poems to places on the map from 31st May to 4th October 2019, after which date it will be closed to new poems but remain available for readers. 

The site will also contain news about events and activities to promote the project and generate new writing. You can also follow Places of Poetry via social media (@placesofpoetry).

Places of Poetry is based at Lancaster and Exeter Universities, and funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council, The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England.

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Ted the border collie at Ted Hughes’ memorial stone, Dartmoor

 

The new venue for Silver Street Poetry

With just ten days to go before the first meeting of Silver Street Poetry in its new home, it feels timely to share our photos of our visit there today and remind our poets of its location.

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We parked in the Galleries – although Trenchard Street car park is nearer, of course – and took the scenic route to get there, via Christmas Steps. (Other, less precipitous approaches – for instance, walking up Colston Street from the Centre – are available.)

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Hours is at 10 Colston Yard, which is reached from Colston Street. What fascinates me about it is that although the entrance is at ground level and therefore fully accessible, it is built into the side of the hill, and the views are amazing. I’d only been there in the dark before, so I was quite excited to get a new perspective on a familiar area.

We checked and it’s fine for poets to bring their own refreshments from nearby cafes, of which there are many.

We returned to Broadmead via Johnny Ball Lane, which passes below Hours and the other buildings of Colson Yard. Here they are, perched atop this magnificent Victorian wall.

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Just time for a quick coffee in Revive Cafe at the top of Corn Street.

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See you on Friday 7th June at our original time of midday and at our new venue of Hours, for hours – well, an hour and a half – of poems shared with friends.

 

Gorge

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Whitebeams and rock cress, speedwell and squill
think they’ve grown here for ever.

Only the stones remember
the webbing of sunlight and water
sharks silhouetted against the sky

fall open like books to share their story
show their collections of teeth and shells,
jostling corals and crinoids pressed like wild flowers.

They’re trying to warn us. The smell of salt is in the air,
coffined creeks and culverts stir
under tarmac
black water rising

                   this shiftless city lulled on dreams
        the mud-bound boat under Stephen’s church
                                                                           starting to    drift 

The fossil shells and corals indicate that the limestone of…

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For the Silent – a poetry anthology in aid of the League against Cruel Sports

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Here at the Leaping Word, we love wildlife enough to have a hare as our logo. What’s more, it’s not some terrified creature, hunted to the point of exhaustion and then killed in the name of ‘sport’ – no, it’s a confident, poetic beast.

Yes, foxes can be a pest on farms, and sometimes their numbers need to be controlled, but we’ve never been able to imagine our way into the mindset of someone who supports the hunt.

Nor can publishers, Ronnie Goodyer and Dawn Bauling of Indigo Dreams, and to spread the word (literally), they have produced this beautiful anthology of poems, For the Silent, proceeds from the sale of which go to the League Against Cruel Sports.

Our Deborah is delighted to have a poem in it, rubbing its humble shoulders with poems by Mary Oliver, Simon Armitage, Thomas Hardy, Margaret Atwood, Pascale Petit, Liz Berry, Seamus Heaney, Alison Brackenbury, Siegfried Sassoon, John Clare, Ted Hughes and many more.

If you have a heart and a soul, this book is for you. It costs £10 + p&p and is available from the Indigo Dreams website. (Buying directly from Ronnie and Dawn will maximise funds for the League.)