Making the leap

The Leaping Word is delighted to report that one of the Friday morning poets, Dominic Weston, has won first prize in the 2019 Hastings Literary Festival Poetry Competition. In his report, Judge John McCulloch calls his poem, Ghost of a Flea, ‘outstanding’, and describes Dominic as ‘a fresh, exciting voice’, a view we endorse.

dominic

Dominic is a comparative newcomer to poetry, having first started writing it just a few years ago, when he attended an Arvon course to explore how to make the scripts he writes for the wildlife documentaries he produces more impactful. Instead, he got hooked on creative possibilities of poetry, and is, as you might expect, an accomplished poetry film maker as well.

Dominic has also been highly commended in the 2019 Indigo Dreams Collection Competition, and we’re confident that it won’t be long before we get our hands on his first published collection.

our hare

A Plague on Plagiarism

Magpie

I don’t understand why a poet would plagiarise another poet’s work. It goes so deeply against the reasons why people are drawn to poetry, both as readers and writers. It’s a betrayal of another and it’s a betrayal of self. It’s sad and it’s despicable. I suppose in the poetry community it’s just about the worse thing you can do. The financial rewards of writing poetry are not huge, certainly not worth risking one’s reputation for, because poets exposed as plagiarists pretty much become persona non grata to other poets. It’s worse than being a drugs cheat in athletics. You would have to be really lost to do it.

One of the worst ways in which plagiarism takes place, because of the intimacy and the direct betrayal of trust, is when a poet steals a fellow poet’s work in a poetry writing group or workshop, and even more so if it is the workshop leader actually doing the stealing! Real poets don’t magpie.

I run poetry writing groups in Bristol. Amongst the ground rules, discussed from time to time and always when a new person comes into the group, are the importance of confidentiality and the absolute prohibition against ripping off the work of fellow group members. Happily, plagiarism’s never been a problem for our groups.

Sadly, I’ve recently heard of a number of instances where plagiarism has taken place in poetry workshops, which is what prompts me to write this.

I would advise anyone attending a poetry workshop to raise the issue at the start of the workshop by reminding the group about the importance of respect, confidentiality and the prohibition against plagiarism, which includes nicking a line and altering it just a little bit. It might not stop a determined plagiarist but hopefully it will give them pause to consider what they’re doing.

And if anyone tells you it’s not plagiarism if the line concerned hasn’t been published, they are wrong and it is.

Be safe out there!

 

Only connect

One of the best things about running an open mic is when people who have never read in public before arrive with a poem and, after a little encouragement, walk to the front of the room and launch it for the first time. The look on their faces as they get to the last couple of lines and realise they’ve not only done it, they’ve nailed it, is marvellous; a mixture of delight and relief that spreads to everyone present, if the explosion of applause that follows is anything to go by.

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It’s a long time since I first got to my feet in Bristol Central Library, the then home of Silver Street predecessor, Can Openers, to read a poem about my great-great-grandmother, Mary Block of Christmas Steps. I was so nervous I managed to flick the black Bic I was holding (I’ve no idea why) right across the floor and into the listeners. Yet when I reached the end, I was amazed by how much I’d enjoyed the experience.

Since then I’ve learnt various techniques to improve my performance. (All page poets who read their poems in public are also performance poets.) Chief amongst these is preparation of my set – I time everything so I never have to ask ‘Am I doing all right for time?’ and I rehearse not just the poems but how I plan to introduce them too. I leave nothing to chance.

Until last Thursday evening, that is, when I read at Lyrical at Trowbridge Town Hall, along with Dawn Gorman, Anna-May Laugher, Shauna Darling Robertson, Chaucer Cameron and Helen Dewbery. Together with Pey Oh (who wasn’t able to be there on this occasion) we’ve formed a group called Strange Cargo, and have recently been discussing the possibility of improvised readings – ie taking poems on a loose theme to a poetry guest slot and then riffing off each other’s work, with no running order, no introductions, no safety net. Letting the poems echo and connect with each other, which is altogether scarier than a planned reading.

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Our theme on Thursday was walls and windows, and nerves were slightly calmed when we saw that our poems would have the perfect setting. And once we’d started, we realised it was nowhere near as terrifying an experience as we’d anticipated. We found ourselves tuning in to each other’s body language, so that the poems flowed well and there were no awkward pauses. If anything, perhaps we followed each other a little too eagerly.

The aspect that struck me most was the enhanced quality of listening this format requires. Usually at open mics or in more planned group readings, I find it quite hard to focus on the readings that come before my turn because half my mind is worrying away at my poem, intent on getting it right. We had no such luxury on Thursday; we had to concentrate on the other poems as they were being read so that we could find the best responses to them.

By the end we were brimming with ideas for improving the experience: for instance, managing the pauses better, so that they act in the same way the space around a poem on the page enhances the poem; and looking at whether even poem titles are necessary. What interested me the most, however, was the possibility of including the audience in the actual reading itself, rather than having separate open mic sessions. I would love the other poets present to be part of the process, and to take that involvement away with them so that they too can experience a different way of reading and listening to poetry.

Bob Dylan brings it all back home … almost

Bob Dylan

The celebrated American photographer Barry Feinstein’s famous photograph of Bob Dylan standing on the jetty at Aust in May 1966, along with a visit to the same spot earlier this year, was the inspiration for our Deb to write a poem about this small moment in rock history, and the subsequent changes to this spot in the intervening years.

‘Bob Dylan waits for the ferry at Aust’ was the result, and the Leaping Word is delighted to announce that it has just been awarded fourth place in the 2019 Welsh Poetry Competition.

Congratulations to the writers of the winning poems, and all those on the short-list or with special mentions.

 

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.

Tracy K Smith

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.