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Just as I start this back up again, I find that I’m doing other, separate, more directed journal work, and letting this slip. Certain things in my life at the moment though feel imperative. Not with a frantic urgency, but with the feeling of get it down quick and messy now. So this blog I think may become irregular. I have only so much time and energy. 

The end result may be a book though. That’s the secret of it. A not so secret. But something that you whisper, in any case.

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Meanwhile look at this. I heard from Lynne Rees recently, and she has started this really fine site, with regular writing prompts. Lynne Rees is very, very smart about writing generally, and about poetry in particular. She’s a stupendous teacher. And a rather fine poet. 

You will find if you go there that she’s put up a couple of prose poems from How to Be a Dragonfly, in order to illustrate the imperative. Aha! There’s that word again. The must-be-done-ness of it. Anyway, there are some responses to the prompt, and they’re good. Enjoy.

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Once again, a fab night had by all last night for the Canterbury Festival Poet of the Year awards. This year’s ultra-deserving winner is Sue Rose, for her sonnet ‘When You’ve Gone’. It was a unanimous and almost immediate decision. Such a great piece.

There was a large audience again too (85+) — more proof that there is a rich seam of poetry and poetry lovers around these parts. Very heartening. I read some old and some new work, and enjoyed myself thoroughly — though announcing winners is terrifying!

For the record, the other places were as follow: 2nd prize to Wendy Holmes for ‘On Perranporth Sands’; and 3rd prize to Rupert Smith for ‘Woodwind’. As it happens, Rupert is a second year creative writing student at Uni Kent. In fact, Uni Kent students and former students were very well represented last night, accounting for no fewer than five out of the 11 shortlist places! Heavens. (And in case you are of a suspicious nature, all the shortlisting was done anonymously!) Nicky Gould, another Kent student (3rd year) received an honourable mention for her reading.

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Also for the record, the labyrinth workshop was wonderful. Loved it. Hope everyone else did too. I think so!

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Next on the horizon is the Booker verdict night on Tuesday 14 October, where all of the featured writers around the Canterbury Festival Booker clubs will get together, read from their own work, and await the winner of the Man Booker Prize 2008. With a crowd of course. And wine. I hope.

And just when you thought it was safe to go out, as promised, me on digital tv. John Prebble of the Canterbury Festival looks likes a relaxed old hand, whereas I look little like an ex-dancer academic. Which is kind of what I am. Oh well.

Then on Thursday night, 16 October, is the launch of the WriteHere anthology, which showcases my year as Canterbury Laureate. I’ll give this event a proper post later, but if you are interested, there will be readings from the book — children and adult writers — and once again, I’ll read for a few minutes. It’s a free event, but you need to book a ticket so numbers can be judged (so far, so good — over 100!) This promises to be a really thrilling evening… There’s nothing quite like holding a book — a book with new writing, written by people in this very room — in your hands.

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Before all that though (!), this Sunday 12 October starting at 6 pm is another Orange Street poetry event. Again, I’ll try to pop more details about this on tomorrow, but if I can’t, here’s the website for Canterbury Poets, who are the key organisers, for more details. All being well, I’ll be there Sunday to read a very new piece.

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Do I sound out of breath?!


Well, we had a great time last night — how much fun to get excited about a book in a crowd! If only I had time, I’d belong to a reading group. Really a blast. Nothing like getting all worked up.

Books on the brain at the moment, although I am now officially not reading anything, what with two novels in ten days under my belt. Help! What do I do? (Actually, don’t answer that. I have a stack of ’em. Just don’t know where to start, or when.)

M just finished Northern Lights this evening. Down the stairs she came, rag-a-muffined in her father’s old t-shirt: it’s the best book, ever. The saddest, the most exciting… She was nearly crying. What really got her was Lyra on her own, just left on her own, everything around her not as it seemed, going into another world. And the loss of the loyal Iorek. This would particularly appeal to M, being a particular soft toy fan. And bear-lover. And loyal.

I must say when I read the His Dark Materials trilogy last summer (for the first time, embarrassingly), I was completely blown away. Completely. If I’d read them as a child, they might well have occupied my imagination in the same way as the Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper did. I re-read these every year, from age eleven, waited with intense anticipation for the next and then the next to come out. In fact, I’d go so far as to say they informed my entire creative imagination — and image of England. Parallel worlds, hidden worlds, something just out of sight and out of reach, and the belief in essential wisdom…Variations on these themes have occupied my entire writing life, one way or another. And I wanted to be an Old One. Desperately. Still do, to tell the truth. I want to know what’s Good, and be able to act upon it. Every time.

Literally. I’m doing a lot for the brilliant Canterbury Festival this year, and the first of my ‘engagements’ is tomorrow night at Waterstones, St Margaret’s Street, Canterbury. The idea is this: you know the Man Booker Prize, yes? The shortlist announced two weeks ago, yes? Well, six writers from the area are ‘championing’ one book each from this list, then we are bringing our thoughts to three meetings for local reading groups. That’s two books per meeting, if you’re struggling with the maths… (Other writers include Andrew McGuinness,Tim Binding, Nina Bell, and Tom Boncza-Tomaszewski.

Anyway, I’m holding out for The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry — which I’ve read and very much enjoyed. The voices will stay with me, and the complicated central character Roseanne Clear/McNulty… She too will stay with me, and her oddly beautiful life in the midst of real darkness… Anyway, that’s mine. 

The other writer with me tomorrow is Danny Rhodes. He’s championing The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, and like a good girl I’m reading that too, in order to have a conversation. Since that’s what the get-together is about: discussion. A completely different book, with perhaps unreliable narrators in common — and perhaps too, this underlying deep violence and darkness. Through very dark comedy in the case of the The White Tiger.

Reading groups have been invited separately, but if you’ve read either of the books and want to join the discussion, do stop in. Admission is free but booking is advised; it’ll last about an hour, from 7.30 pm.

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The cool thing behind this two week extravaganza of reading is that on 14 October — that’s right, the night the winner of the Booker is actually announced — we will have our own Booker night, a final word about each and a counting of the online vote for Canterbury and environs. A little party. Fabulous idea, and so much fun. 

(Another cool thing is that I did a digital television slot about this series of events. When it comes online week after next, I’ll link it through!) 

 

Someone else f(l)ailing rather is Tom, over on The Weirdie-Beardie Chronicles. Apparently his Master is 42 as of last Sunday, and is feeling his age. I say pah! to that as a hardened 44 year old myself — but it’s true that at certain ages certain things seem to turn and turn again.

In response I thought I’d post a poem from How to Be a Dragonfly, about the 42nd prime number. Writing this one just about killed me, for some reason. Well, I know why: the whole book waited on this poem before going to the final edit — the last poem, the 42nd poem, about the 42nd prime number. The confluence of it all just did my head in.

Reading it now, I try to remember the source of all the fuss. I remember that I wanted it to be about (if there is such a thing) the mystery and impermeability of — well, art. Even though all my poems were going into a book, somehow to be ‘understood’ by a larger audience… I wanted nevertheless to hang onto their essential nature, to remind myself anyway of central things that can’t — refuse to be — captured.

Now I see why it was so rough. Trying to capture something I didn’t think could or should be captured. Threw the whole book into question. Ack! Talk about a rock and a hard place.

Here it is, anyway. I hope your Master takes heart, Tom. If nothing else, maybe it says that we are in this for deeper, underwater things, for glimpses. Life out-manoeuvres us and our logic. Which is probably a good thing too.

 

Prime Number 42


We need to know you’re for real, not just some illusion, but bona fide one of a kind.

After all, almost everything is made up of components, the pieces of our lives:  foundation, construction, selling point.  Everything has angles and fractions.  So it makes sense that we look for second thoughts, for other hands, and even, etc.  First we look for a way to hook you and reel you in.

On screen, your seven point eight million digits snake down in scales, a shimmering skin.  We throw everything at you, all manner of dissection, but the surface holds — it’s not that long before we have to believe what we’ve always known:  that nothing can break you, or make you, for that matter.  Your lowest common denominator is only ever you. 

We get exactly what we came for, and throw the rest back in.  Here, you can pretend:  one swish of your tail, and you’re gone.

I HAVE MOVED

From January 2010, my new blog is Waving and Drowning

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Who am I?


A writer born in Texas, who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (yes, like the song), and who's been living in the UK since 1988. I've published two books (see below), and teach creative writing at the University of Kent. I'm married to a composer, and we have two young children. See About for my full profile.