City of Culture and much more

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Working at the Humber Street Gallery in Hull during its City of Culture year has been a time of marvellous meetings, both aesthetic and physical, of collaborations across the art-forms with established artists and young people at the beginning of their engagement with the arts. But most of all I cherish the experience of extraordinary things happening in the spaces in front of and between the wonderful exhibitions hosted by the Humber Street Gallery during 2017.

And it’s been joyous.

Moved by Art and Humber Street Gallery organised groundbreaking work with a growing cohort of young people around exhibitions by Sarah Lucas, ‘Somewhere Beyond the Sea’,. ‘The House of Kings and Queens’ and the ‘Portrait of a City’ exhibition with photographs by Martin Parr and Olivia Arthur. Each exhibition was the focus of a creative workshop with a variety of artists Hayley Youell musician and composer, David Cleary artist, and Ruby Deverill photographer. Watching our participants write poetry, compose, make art and take photographs of their city has been utterly inspiring.

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This project demonstrated very powerfully how creative vitality can be generated by engaging with an audience in art spaces, and how a multi-disciplinary approach can open up art to everyone, and give them the chance to develop their own talents.

Happy Christmas

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The iconic and gorgeously poetic Candlestick Press have published six titles for the Christmas season. Four of them poetry, Christmas Garland, Christmas Crackers, Fourteen Festive Sonnets and Christmas Stocking. I was lucky enough to have edited the sonnet collection and what a joy it was to choose the poems, and help launch the title in Leeds and Nottingham. I tried to include poetry that felt wintry, had thoughts of home and loss, might make the reader smile, but finishing with a sonnet that is full of hope.

Happy Christmas everyone.

Im reading a lot at the moment

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I always read a lot but those of you who have known me for some time will know the slightly shifty ‘must get back to my book’ look I have at this time of year. It’s festival season and I’m reading the latest books of writers I will be interviewing for different events. I think it’s polite to read a book before you talk to the author about it, particularly in front of an audience of several hundred folk.

I am always reminded of the final exams for my English degree of forty-seven years ago. I was reading then at a highly accelerated pace, and although it was notionally revision, for some of the writers it was for the first time. And with some of them I wished I had read them more slowly at the time I should have read them, they were so good. Reading pretty well the whole of George Eliot in a week [not ‘Romola’ though, has anyone actually read that one all the way through?] was a super-charged experience like no other. I think it was then that I gave up on Milton, finally and with some relief, having sweated through him at A Level too.

I have a similar sense of urgency each autumn, but it’s always alleviated by the knowledge that I will have a chance to talk to each of the authors before each event and on stage. And sometimes I’m blown away by the quality of the writing, the subjects covered, thee issues raised, and sometimes I make a mental note to read more of their work after the festivals.

Books I have enjoyed so far include Linda Grant’s ‘The Dark Circle’ and ‘The Bedlam Stacks’ by Natasha Pulley, but I’m already lost in Michele Roberts, with Katie Hickman destined for tomorrow…

It’s a filthy job but someone’s got to do it!

What an extraordinarily busy time it has been in the last few months, working at the delicious Humber Street Gallery in Hull with a feisty group of students looking at and writing about the Sarah Lucas exhibition there,

Sarah Lucas

interviewing the very brilliant best-selling crime novelist Amit Dhand [who also happens to be my pharmacist] at the Headingley Literature Festival . I appear to be grinning like a fool…

Me and Amit

and helping launch the Valley Press Anthology of Poetry later that week at The New Headingley Club, alongside a brilliant score or so poets…

Yorkshire Anthology

Other highlights have been reading with a brass band and young people, playing on marvellous hybrid instruments, in a huge tent in Thurnscoe. This followed on from working with primary schools in South Yorkshire around a Cornelia Parker brass-themed exhibition at the Barnsley Civic Gallery [another fabulous Moved By Art project, see Humber Street above]

Brass posterBrass instruments

And taking part, for the second year running at the marvellous Milim Jewish Literature Festival to a packed audience., and with a host of other great writers and performers.

Incidental and ongoing pleasures have been reviewing with my two Otley Writing Groups the lovely collections being produced at regular intervals by Candlestick Press.

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I’m working on my next collection of poetry too, of which this month’s featured poem will be part, sixty-nine poems to celebrate sixty-nine years of life. PHEW!

The Year in Brief...

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And what a year it’s been. Busier than ever it seems.

Edited highlights.

Glorious meetings with writers and talking with them about their books in front of audiences at Beverley and Ilkley literature Festivals. The moment when the lights when up at an event in Ilkley and I realised that I knew about twenty folk in the audience, two of whom from college days of nearly fifty years ago

Reading from latest collection ‘Cinema Stories’ and previous collections everybloodywhere [see google maps] from Ledbury Poetry Festival [where I met up with an old friend and his wife], to Cardiff to Sheffield, Haworth and Rochdale and even in Leeds, sometimes in the company of my estimable co-writer Matthew Hedley Stoppard, and sometimes on my own. The journeys themselves have often been particularly memorable, coming back to Leeds by the replacement buses [three I think] from Ledbury to Shrewsbury on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and evening through astonishing countryside. The next parts of the journey were just as beautiful as I took the train from Shrewsbury to Manchester and then another on to Leeds.

Working in schools continues to delight, and I would like to celebrate the work I carried out in Otley primary schools, and then Headingley primary schools [as part of the Headingley Literature Festival]. Only this morning in Headingley I bumped into a parent who had been at an assembly I had taken showcasing children’s writing. The prompts I use to stimulate the young people ranged from dragons, to Beowulf and to a tin-plate rhino [pictured]. In each school I wrote a poem using the same focus. It may be that there’s a collection of poetry for children developing there.

May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very lovely end to 2016, and best wishes for 2017.