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beccipoet

Handing out words

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January 2017

The Roving Poet Part 10: Of Old Clocks and Aliens

January, that hardest of months, is at an end and, though it is still cold and I have spent a fair amount of time picking myself and my trusty bike up off the ice and applying plasters (to myself and my bike), we begin to look towards the Spring!

And already, there is too much to do. As always, I am only one person, only one poet, but there is enough to keep one poet busy that can, hopefully, undo some of the world’s injustices and sow a tiny seed, even if the soil is dry and cold and hard. I have faith. Last week, I worked with the first of several schools I will be working with in conjunction with the National Literacy Trust. A school in South London, its students had visited Keats’ House in Hampstead, with all its tall, expensive houses and its kitchenware shops that cost a fortune. I had also been to Keats’ House the week before in preparation. I’d written a poem about the bone saw behind glass upstairs. The children, however, focused on the clock in Keats’ sitting room, looking over the old sofa on which Keats’ lay on as he was dying, though he did not actually die until he got to Rome. They were learning something new; personification, that simplest of compassions for the inanimate, to understand that even if something lacks sentience, it does not, in the words of Philip Gross ‘like being ignored’.

Over two hours, I worked with these youngsters to unpick poems they had written at Keats’ House, improve them and learn to perform them. Children are ever surprising. Yes, it was just an old clock they were writing about, but even a ten-year-old can tell you that an old clock mourns the loss of its dead master, hurts when its glass face is smashed, is indignant when wine is spilled on it, is frightened on a ship in the storm, is relieved to be remade again when it is washed up on the beaches of New Zealand, where it was taken briefly after Keats’ death. This mix of emotions was documented in the poems of the students, where the old clock now has more than a single face.

And of course, after their impressive writing bonanza, they wanted to ask questions.

“are you famous?” they asked me. I gave them the simple answer. No.

“what are you writing now?” It’s a secret.

“Are you published?” Ask me that question again in October!

And then, the loveliest of all. “How do you become a writer, and what advice would you give to somebody looking to be a writer themselves?”

She was one of the quieter ones, hair in beautiful braids, glasses, a deep little voice, and she watched me with those deep eyes as I told them all about the depression, the teaching, the struggle with anxiety, how poetry was a remedy, how she should write every day, how she should get her work out there, how stubbornness is more a mark of a poet than talent. When I’d finished, she said “thank you.” And the bell went.

As I was walking back to the station, I realised I was smiling. It took me a while to work out why and I realised it was because, for the first time this year, I saw a student who could turn her compassion into a firebrand, someone who understood the emotional complexity of a several-hundred-year-old clock and who might one day turn her words towards the complexity of people.

In my opinion, we are, all of us, in need of comfort at the moment—some more than others. We are, all of us, in need of strength, all of us need to feel powerful. The simplest of human connections is a rebellion against forces that want to barricade us inside our own psychological islands, build walls between us, shut the gates. But they have not reckoned yet with the poets, the artists, the activists—all those working now and all those yet to blossom. We are taking a breath, but when we roar, you will hear it.

So we must make pockets of happiness for ourselves. We must find them and hold them sacred. I found one such beautiful pocket at the Berkshire Music and Arts festival yesterday, where I performed three poems; one from my upcoming collection with Two Rivers Press (Octopus Medicine, out in October) and two from my bespoke collections that are on sale through etsy.com.

One of the poems I read was called ‘An Alien in the Back Garden’. Pretty much, it’s what it says on the tin: a little Martian flies to Earth to visit the humans and ask them what there is to do on their marvellous planet. As it talks to the humans over tea, the Martian realises that humans do not deserve this beautiful planet, they are wrecking it. It flies away and the humans realise that they will never see this amazing little being again, they have disappointed it forever. After I’d read it, several people came to me and told me they loved it, that it spoke to them on so many levels. It was wonderful to connect with people over this story, to know I was not the only lost soul who felt this way. And then we watched the wonderful awards ceremony of the young and older writers’ competition winners, all the way from little ones just starting school to those writing in their sixties, seventies, eighties and beyond…

A little girl read a poem about a Giant who meant no harm.

A teenager read a poem about poppies in a field.

There were specular poems, poems about paintings, poems about homework, poems about friendship. Human experience is varied and cavernous but it is something we all share.

And yes, the conversation turned to the news in the car on the way home. It was raining and dreary and the sun was already going down. Already, the fairy lights hanging off the eaves of the barn at the festival were growing dim in our memories. But we were there for the sake of other people, to share and to give. We were there to apologise to aliens, to give voices to old clocks, and the gifts must continue to travel.

I have three new collections available on Etsy.com now: They are:

THE VISITOR: A collection of seven visitations about human experience, prejudice, power and sustainability. (The Martian poem is in here!) You can get it here.

THE HONEST GENE: Was commissioned by Carnstone Partners Ltd for their Spark Salon on January 25th. It is a science fiction narrative verse about genetic engineering. Think Brave New World. You can get it here.

And KEYS TO THE MICROCOSM: A collection of seven alternative love poems for those whose Valentine’s days may not be the norm. This includes love across cultures, within gender, love of the land and love of the self among others. Perfect for the resolutely and beautifully single. You can get it here.

All collections are £6.00 and each is individually handmade by the poet (me). Poetry is a gift. It’s a gift to the writer, to the audience, to the reader, to the passer-by. Please help it spread as far as we can get it. If all those who are bullying, barricading, wall-building would sit down and read a poem for five minutes, perhaps when they got up again, their vision would be very, very different.

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The Poet Activist Part 2: The Silence of Politicians

Last November, I sent an email to the MP for the constituent in which my residency school is based, asking him to address the issue of funding for comprehensive schools in the UK. Although I was assured of a response by a member of the MP’s staff, it is now January and I have had no response.

As you can imagine, this silence concerns me. It’s no secret that our politicians, while endlessly spurting the rhetoric we want to hear regarding education, continue to cut at it. Now, I do not pretend to know about the national economy and how it is distributed, I am no politician and do not, and do not wish to, have to make the difficult decisions regarding where and how this money is spent.

But I would hope that a politician might at least share the concern of their constituents in this matter.

Perhaps I am being unfair to this person. I am sure they are extremely busy, inundated with emails and queries from a number of constituents with a variety of concerns. I am certain they are not idly twiddling their thumbs, but are working diligently for the members of public in their care.

Still, a response to my concerns would be welcome. As a result of the failed response so far, I have sent a follow up email. You can read this email below:

 

Dear [Member of MP’s staff],

I remain very concerned by the long delay in [MP] replying to my query regarding funding for the comprehensive education system. I have not yet had a response regarding this. I am aware that the government has been considering the implementation of the national funding formula since my email to you, but the issues within our schools continue to affect the education of our young people.

[MP] may not be aware that schools are among some of the most stressful places to work, with rates of mental illness rocketing. [MP] can refer to this article by the BBC from March 2016: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-35900499 and I can assure him from personal experience that the problems have not relented. I am sure, however, that [MP] is aware of the national teacher shortage, and the staggering numbers of young teachers leaving the profession within their first five years. Given the instability of the job, the thoroughly unreasonable workload as a result of teacher shortages, increased responsibilities and demands for constant assessment, and the infuriating mixed messages from OFSTED about teacher expectations, the uncertainty about school funding and concern over jobs is a worry that teachers do not need.

Unhappy teachers cannot teach well. Uncertainty and instability inevitably breed bitterness, fear and anxiety, making the teaching profession a thoroughly unhappy place for many individuals to be. If our government does not address the chaos in which our schools currently operate as a result of financial strain, a shortage of skilled staff and an increasingly overburdened curriculum, the next generation of workers will suffer greatly, and end up ill equipped to tackle the issues left for them by their elders, despite the valiant efforts of their tired and underappreciated teachers.

The government need to address the issue of funding for schools immediately, showing respect for the teaching profession and a commitment to equal education of high quality for all.

I look forward to [MP]’s response.

Kind Regards,

 

The Roving Poet Part 9: 2017 is the Year of Action!

It’s January, the month of mental despair. We are cold, fat and having to take all our tinsel off the walls. The diet ads have started already and we’re pinching the extra person about our middles and feeling inadequate. Thank you, social expectation!

But. January is also the start of a new year, a whole world of possibilities. We are setting ourselves New Year’s Resolutions, getting excited about ‘being a better us’, all the while fully aware that by mid-February, our dreams will have been abandoned and we’ll be as muddled as we were before.

Well! Not this time! I have done something special for myself this year, I have bought the Maker’s Yearbook 2017.

I am determined this year, that I will brighten my little corner of the world with poems that bring smiles to those grey winter faces, with gentle conversation, with determination to enthuse the youngsters I work with. I hope that those who buy from and work with me can find some catharsis and comfort in what I offer them. So, here’s to 2017, and a whole lot more action from the Roving Poet of Reading!

Organising 2017: The Maker’s Yearbook.

We may only be a week into the New Year, but I am already so pleased that I’ve bought this! As a maker and artist, it is an incredible way to maintain focus and has already helped me to prioritise my goals for the year. As an artist, and as someone trying to make a living from their art, I highly recommend this little tool.

You can find it here: The Maker’s Yearbook 2017.

Although it appears cheaper to order digitally, it is 214 pages and cost me over £40 to print, so if you don’t own a printer, it is worth buying the hard copy. It might seem expensive, but we are only 7 days into January and I can already see how this book will help me. I have managed to:

  • Review my achievements in 2016
  • Lay out my main goals for 2017
  • Consider areas for my art that I hadn’t previously though about
  • Organise a monthly focus and schedule in key tasks for January.

I would highly recommend it as a way to maintain artistic and business productivity in 2017. Like any positive product, it only works if you use it, but I love it!

New Announcements

So, given the success of ‘A Quiet Land’ in its infancy in December 2016, I will be selling my new bespoke collection, ‘#Ugly’ at the Nomad Bakery in Caversham on January 20th. #Ugly was written in protest against the idea that all art celebrates beauty. It is a reclamation of the word ‘ugly’ and does its best not to shy away from the meaning in all its brilliant, gory, grotesque glory.

It is a ten-poem collection, but the poems are a little longer than those in ‘A Quiet Land’ (which is fourteen poems) so the collection is actually the same length. Bought in person, these collections will also come with a personalised poem to order. Details of the event can be found here:

A Poet in the Bakery.

However, if you can’t make the 20th, do not fear! The collections are now available on my brand, spanking new ETSY SHOP! PoeticalTreasures is my modest craft business. There are currently two bespoke collections for sale: ‘A Quiet Land’ and ‘#Ugly’, but by the end of the year, I will have added a pocket collection of 20 haiku and a short verse-story. These will be marketed at £4 and £6 respectively. These little collections make really nice gifts, and I love the idea of a world where we give poetry to each other as a way of talking, expressing love, celebrating achievement and offering comfort. These are poems for smiling at, for thinking about, for pumping fists with and for being human with. 2017 is a year for healing, for human connection and for looking to the future. We have much to make up for, and I hope that these little books, handmade with love, can go some way towards beginning to heal the bruises and battering of 2016.

Happy New Year!

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