More Collaborations...

November 01, 2019

There have been many great artistic collaborations over the years, Lennon and McCartney, Rogers and Astaire, Laurel and Hardy etc. etc. where both artists brought something extra to the mix.  Famously Ginger Rogers commented on her pairing with the magical Fred Astaire,’ I did all he did, but backwards and in high heels’.  Apocryphal or not, it’s a good story and it got me thinking of the collaborations I have taken part in over the last twenty years.


Last month I wrote about working with Dortmund poet Thorsten Trelenberg, but I realised I could go even further back to look at just how many times I’ve worked with other poets or visual artists.


So I worked with the brilliant poet and performer Char March twenty years ago, and we produced a book of some of our performance pieces, ‘Deadly Sensitive’.  After that it’s a roll-call of artists and photographers, Kevin Hickson, Murat Oskasim, Casey Orr and many others who brought something to my words while hopefully my poetry gave an extra dimension to their wonderful images.  And then my most recent poetic work-mate was Matthew Hedley Stoppard in our collection ‘Cinema Stories’ [Valley Press 2015].  It was a joy to work with another poet on a shared enthusiasm, the old suburban cinemas in Leeds, and a lovely antidote to the usually solitary activity of writing.


Just recently me and my old pal, writer and photographer Bob McBurney, got to talking about a project we might embark on, showing the Leeds we have both known for many years in a book of images and writing.  It’s Bob’s terrific photograph of the Black Prince in City Square that recently accompanied September’s Poem of the Month. 


What an exciting idea! 


Watch this space, as someone unafraid of clichés might say.


October 03, 2019

I have been involved with a lovely project these last few months celebrating fifty years of the twinning of the German city of Dortmund and Leeds.  The demon-organiser Peter Spafford who presents arts programmes [amongst many other ventures] at the iconic Chapel FM teamed up ten Leeds writers and ten of their Dortmund counterparts to share their writings and with the help of translators to turn them into poems and pieces in the ‘other’ language.

My poet was the irrepressible Thorsten Trelenburg, my translator Oliver Lawrie, a student of German [and diplomatic tact] at the University of Leeds.

The theme we were working with was ‘neighbourhood’ and it was immediately fascinating to see how Thorsten and I interpreted this idea.  For Thorsten it clearly had European dimensions in the light of the current situation. For me already embarked on poetry celebrating the city I’ve lived in for nearly fifty years, it was much more an exploration of the neighbourhoods of urban life.  To add to the challenge I tend these days to write exclusively in the Shakespearean sonnet form which to put it mildly might offer quite a challenge to the translator who wants to convey the flavour of the original form as well as the words.

The next month or so saw us exchanging writings and then working on our versions of our partner’s poems.  Oliver was my continuing support here, able to give advice on tone and intention in Thorsten’s very amusing pieces, and helping me get it closer to the original poems.

Then this Wednesday I appeared in the first of two programmes celebrating our collaborations.  Peter Spafford held the whole thing together with immense skill and charm in the face of some technological meltdowns and I sat open-mouthed at the power of the poetry and the skill of the translators.

The wonderful Barney Bardsey, another of the Leeds writers involved, read her own work and we both shared some of the  poems of  Zoe Carty and Jo Brandon who could not be there. We  were much aided Nicola Good, German teacher from Benton Park School, who gamely allowed herself to be hauled from the live audience to read many of the German texts for us.

For a close up of the work and collaborations:

And to hear the programme:…/09/write-across-borders-part-1/

Isle of Wight

January 01, 2020

Some years seem to come laden with the past, particularly if one has reached a significant birthday as I did with my seventieth a few months ago.  It’s brilliant to be able to say that one was doing a certain thing fifty years ago and the five decades seems to give it all a special significance.


This week had a resonance all of its own.  I met up with a friend from my undergraduate days.


‘What’, asked John, ‘Is our schedule?’


‘To just keep talking until it’s time for us to catch our trains back home’. 


And that’s what we did, with great brio.  Oh the joy of discovering that one had made such good friendship choices all those years ago, and that we still shared the same political views, the same sense of humour, and many of the same key memories.


The next day I received a text from another college friend Bob which said, ‘Fifty years ago today you and I sat huddled in a one-man tent [designed for a twelve year old boy scout], about to survive on a sliced white loaf and jar of apricot jam and preparing to force our bodies not to have a crap for three days because the facilities were so disgusting.  Happy Birthday Isle of Wight 1969’


And those three days in a field were brought back so vividly.


By chance that evening I already had a telephone call booked in to talk to my great friend Angie whom I first met in 1971 when I began my MA in Leeds.  She was embarking on her Ph.D. and we got on immediately .  We had a very happy hour catching up on our pasts and presents.  At some point I will board a train and go down to Devon to visit her and husband Johnnie.


And the sheer restorative medicine of being in touch with folk whom we knew when we were still boys and girls and who knew us from that time.  Some things with such long-lasting friends don’t need to be explained or recounted [apart from the pleasure that such retelling can bring] for they just ‘know’.  If I felt exhausted at the end of this week I think it was the pleasurable fatigue I feel sometimes when I’ve watched a particularly poignant film, read a brilliant novel ori listened to some thrilling music.


Except on this occasion the film, novel or music recalled me to my younger self.  Watch out for some sonnets; they’re on their way.


August 06, 2019

People often ask if I’m enjoying retirement.  It happened again last week.  I have to rally myself a little, because writing every day, running workshops for adults, working in schools and hosting literature festival events doesn’t actually feel like the retirement they might mean.  It mostly feels like fun, but not as if I have vast empty spaces to fill in my life.


I think that me being on the cusp of elderly confuses folk, as does the fact I left full-time teaching about twenty years ago.  What I have done in that time is what artists often have to aim for [so they can write, paint, compose etc.]  which is to balance their ‘art’ with a freelance career.   For me as an extra bonus books and writing have always been at the core of what I do. And all that experience of teaching has never let me down in terms of a confidence in public speaking, preparing workshops, and the simple act of engaging with a roomful of complete strangers.


So in the past few months I’ve been in schools, worked with LGBTQ groups and with folk dealing with mental health issues, performed in public several times and written quite a lot.


Standout experiences amongst all these [and to be honest they all had their own magic] were working in the very lovely Benton Park School in Leeds with extraordinarily talented young people and handing out prizes at King James School in Knaresborough a few days later.  I felt inspired by both occasions, which probably proves the old saying, ‘You can take the boy out of teaching but you can’t take teaching out of the boy’.


All in all, if this is retirement bring it on……

Looking at the world through fresh eyes

July 06, 2019

I’ve been reading the wonderful Annie Lamott on writing, in her book ‘Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life’ [and now I’m reading pretty well everything else she has written].  What startles me is the quality of her observations.  How open and noticing her eyes and senses are.  How big her heart is, and how ready she is to embrace new experience.


Lately we have been exploring the small nature reserve at South Landing [of course] and watching the seasons change from winter through spring to high summer.  We have seen deer, countless birds and butterflies and wild flowers.  It has been marvellous and the dog likes it too.


One of the joys of these few acres are the sculptures scattered through the woods, some are objects which are part of Flamborough’s maritime heritage, some commissioned to enhance this space. 


Mean, moody and magnificent?

June 03, 2019

I am in a cave.  To one side of me a large, flat, white light shines on my face.  I am sitting in a Mastermind chair in front of a black background looking at a camera.  It looks large and rather technical for someone who uses his iPhone like a Brownie box-camera [remember those?].


My friend Bob McBurney artist, photographer and writer of the wonderful memoir ‘Nearly 79, Laughter and Loss’ is taking some pictures of me.  It’s a chancy business for large, round-face bald men who have rarely been satisfied with images of themselves.  But I am in safe hands and the whole experience takes about thirty minutes, rather like a thorough dental check-up but less uncomfortable.


I hosted the recent launch of Bob’s book at the iconic  Leeds Library and he, in the generous way of artists, is repaying me with an exchange of skills. These pictures will be used for publicity over the coming year, replacing those of a younger, larger me.


And of course this is 2019 so within minutes we are looking at the images on a big screen in his office.  It’s a joyous experience because apart from a couple of shots where I seem to attempting whimsy, not a good look for a seventy year old man, think Shirley Temple on steroids, I look pretty good.


Bob uses the words, ‘mean, moody and magnificent’ once part of the publicity used to describe fifties screen siren Jane Russell. This is funny but demonstrably untrue,  and what I mostly see are glimpses of my mother and father in these shots.  My skins has all the tags and bumps of age and experience. But there seems to be humour and humanity in the photographs. I do hope so.  You can judge for your self from the accompanying picture.


Thank you Bob.  You’ve made an old[ish] man very happy.


May 08, 2019

At a bit of a loss in terms of what to write next is a luxury really after having had a new collection recently published.  But the sensitive poet, all sixteen stones or 100kg of him, will always have a reason to question himself, and wonder if that’s it.  End of poetry.  End of poet.


I’ve enjoyed a writing relationship with my nephew, the admirably talented Ben Nash, for some time now.  We share our widely divergent writing regularly and generally keep each other motivated.  He recently read my New York sonnet, last month’s Poem of the Month about cycling through Manhattan, and suggested I write a collection of New York sonnets.  Something about the idea caught my attention and for the first time in ages I felt a little jolt that felt a bit like inspiration.


A few days later cycling to the gym at 5.45am as part of my new regime [slightly bonkers I know] I passed the lovely little space that is Burley Park in Leeds 4 and I thought, ‘I need to write about this waking city of mine.  This big, messy and sometimes beautiful place that I’ve lived in for nearly fifty years’.


And so I’ve started. And it feels very exciting, trying to write about favourite places, the highways and byways of a city. Leeds Town Hall which was black when I arrived in 1971, then cleaned to golden sandstone, and is slowly darkening again.  Park Square where I first got married in 1974.  City of Leeds School where I taught for nearly a decade….

New York Dreams

April 09, 2019

New York Dreams


So here we are in New York.  Our hotel bedroom is above a busy highway, with the Hudson River ‘across the road’.  I am here for my seventieth birthday staying in the Jane Hotel which used to be a seamen’s mission and has now been transformed into a glorious retro retreat in West Village bordering Chelsea and Greenwich Village.  It’s my fourth time in the city, but the first in twenty years, and I still feel the excitement I did way back in the nineties.


The hotel has bikes and we have an ambition to cycle as much as we can, with my wish to pedal up to and around Central Park on my actual birthday.  We spend a few days wandering about, discovering Chelsea Market, the High Line and going to an Andy Warhol exhibition.  We eat a different country at every meal, with David wanting to have pancakes for breakfast at a diner at least once before we return home.  We spend a wonderful day with my cousin Janice who comes in from Connecticut on the train, having lunch in the Chelsea Market, Joni Mitchell’s ‘Chelsea Morning’ on repeat on my internal iPod.


And then on my birthday we set off north up the Hudson on the cycleway up, up into Manhattan.  Ella sings ‘Manahattan’ and then after that Billie takes the cabaret floor in my head and sings ‘Body and Soul’, ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Business’, ‘These Foolish Things’, ‘Solitude’ and ‘Big Stuff’ [written for her by Bernstein].  And then we walk four blocks across the city to reach Central Park.


Lunch of coffee and bagels and cream-cheese at The Boathouse café after a cycle round the park and we are now New Yorkers. And I am seventy.

Return to Cyprus

March 06, 2019

I have just spent a week in Cyprus working in the British army schools.  I did it last year and was so pleased to be asked back.  As ever the schools and young people I worked with were delightful.  Poetry filled my head throughout the week, the brilliant efforts of the youngsters and revisiting my poems written last year in response to being on the island for the first time. 


I mentally checked them off against the real island on this second visit and was relatively happy with them, though it seems on my drive to Ay Nik primary school I had imagined a monastery on a hill, which try as I might I could not locate again from my taxi window.


Th other thing I was doing in my week was trying to locate a poem, a poem for a friend.  And then on a bus-journey around Larnaca we came across Angeloktisti Church, a tenth century church hung with ikons and wonderful vaulted arches.  I lit a candle there and put it with the others, realising with a shock that I had lit it for my friend and that she had gone for ever.  Hence this month’s poem of the month, ‘Candle for Mags’.

The East Riding Poetry Competition.

February 10, 2019

It’s a Saturday morning in North Bridlington Library.  I’m sitting with one of my fellow judges for the East Riding Poetry competition, Wendy Pratt, waiting for the winners and highly commended poets to turn up for the award giving event.  It seems that the room is empty one moment and then full of excited and slightly nervous writers the next.  No-one knows if they have won, or been placed, just that they may be up for a prize.


[Wendy, Matthew Hedley Stoppard and I had a happy time judging all the entries in four categories.


With many of the two hundred or so entries there was the buzz of reading something that was new, exciting and original in thought and expression.  And to make it more interesting it was totally anonymous.  None of us judges knew who had written the poems or indeed who had won.]


And then everyone has arrived and we move into a larger room set out for an audience and we have the privilege of presenting prizes to many fine poets and listening to them reading their entries.  It is a beautiful and often moving occasion where poets share tender, joyful and memory-laden experiences with us.


Here are the winners and highly commended in each category.


Primary:  Highly commended, Emma Lindley

                  Winner:  Daniel Williams


Secondary: Highly Commended, Robin Howley

   Winner, Max Falcus


Adult:  Highly Commended, Gail Mosley, Sandra Burnett

            Third place, John Wedgwood Clarke

             Second place, Di Slaney

             Winner, Alison Riley


Prison:  Highly commended, Christopher Baker, Ahmed Ghaddafi.

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