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The concert last night — given by the Ensemble Intercontemporain in the Canterbury Cathedral crypt –was…one of the most powerful musical experiences of my life.

Words can only gesture toward what happens when players at the top of their form engage with music sublimely suited to the place and time. People all around me were crying. I was crying. Nancy and Hamish were there. I saw Nancy at the interval and she said she had a struggle not to cry in the first bars of Debussy’s … — and that was only the first piece!

The silence in the Cathedral crypt  always crackles. It seems to hold everyone’s thoughts and emotions, somehow turning it all, like a big ship, back upon us. The silence washes over in waves.

This was music of course that privileges silence.  I’ve always found the contemporary/modern music of French composers such as Messiaen and Boulez resonant. It’s an aesthetic not far from R’s, and not far from my own, at heart. Lots of space, breath, and a sense of elevation, suspension. Where the quality of pure sound, the sound of sound, if you like, is valued. (Or so it seems to me. I realise I am quite the pleb when it comes to musical analysis…)

But I sort of digress. I suppose some of what I’m saying is that I was up for it. As was the whole audience it seemed. The clarinetist Alain Damiens and the cellist Pierre Strauch, well. It’s difficult to say without seeming mad, but I wanted to climb inside their instruments and live there. I wanted to be in that, all day every day. I thought, in another mad moment, keeping in mind that this was in a church — so I probably prayed it — just let me always hear this, be there, and I will never be without joy. I wanted it to last forever.

The final piece was Messiaen’s astonishing Quartet for the End of Time. After the last, almost inaudible strains of the music finished, the audience did not clap for perhaps 20 or 30 seconds. It was as if everything we knew had stopped in its tracks. And we were waiting for some sign, any indication of where to go next, what to do. Waiting to be reborn. Which never came. Because we had no choice but to return to our lives. And clap.

I feel particularly quiet today, like I’ve been through a crisis and must recover. I don’t know how we are to carry on after a night like that. The transience is almost too much to bear.

The programme:

Claude Debussy Sonata

Gerard Grisey Charme

Tristan Murail Les Ruines circulaires

Olivier Messiaen Quatour pour la fin du Temps


Thank you, Sounds New.

Yes, we had actually QUITE A LOT OF FUN today at Word on the Street — truly! From Ed who arrived with half a dozen friends at 10 am (having been up for three days, hmm…), to Alis, to Stewart, to Vicky, to Lyn, Arwen, Hannah, Richard, Luigi, Chris, Gary, Pat, Nancy…To Cassy at the council, to Daren at the library, to Whippersnapper: it was all very jolly, and despite the bone-chilling wind, there were some audiences, some laughs, and chins scratched over Beach Reads, the new anthology, etc. As everyone knows by now, parties are amongst my favourite things. Next in line are gatherings of any sort, even of near strangers, which is what this was.

There were loads of photos taken, some for the Gazette apparently, but John T is in there first, so I’m popping this one up for now. His caption is Camera never lies. Find this at once endearing and horrifying: the pasted-in stonework is hilarious, but the happy jowl is disturbing. Oh well! At least the hair is glossy (or is that my silver grey catching the light?!)

Word on the Street by John T

More photos of more participants promised from various quarters, so stay tuned….



Also discovered today that a short interview with me has appeared in:




In my heat of the moment rampage last post, I clean forgot to mention important stuff about Thursday:

1) M had a violin exam that morning. Who knows how it went! We were all a bit perplexed when she came back downstairs saying that the examiner had asked her to play D minor to the 5th. Apparently she paused, then said that she didn’t think she knew that one, she knew E minor to the 5th. Whereupon the examiner shuffled papers and asked her to play what she knew. Good for M for speaking up. But we wonder if he thought she was doing a different grade….Oh well. She played like a trooper anyway.

write here

2) Also spent last Thursday arranging WORD ON THE STREET, a Canterbury City Council and Kent Libraries event connected to the Laureateship. In celebration of the National Year of Reading, and the launch of the 2008 Write Here programme, we are holding open mic (and open air!) readings and performances on the steps of the library (the Beaney!) on the High Street Saturday 29 March, 10-4. There are three reading slots, 10 am, 12 pm, and 1 pm, and so far — hey — a great and varied line-up, FREE OF CHARGE.
10 am: yours truly, Alis Hawkins — and three super students

12 pm: Stewart Ross, Poet-of-the-Year Vicky Wilson, Lyn White — and two super students

1 pm: six members of Save As, a thriving local writing group…(hey guys, where are you on the web?!)

AND — Danny Rhodes says he’ll be lurking. Perhaps in true performance manner, he will have a little baton of work in his back pocket. Pick a slot Danny!

Word on the Street is the first of several ‘well-public’ things the Council and the Laureate (er, me) have arranged in the hopes of encouraging literary activities, and especially of consolidating what already exists in the region. And I have to say that putting this together has been nothing but pleasure: the response has been so positive, so willing. I’m particularly grateful to Alis Hawkins and Stewart Ross — I’ve never met Alis and only spoken to her once online, and she just said ‘yeah, alright’ — and Stewart Ross — known him for years, lives up the road, a busy man…he just said ‘sure’ as well. Ian Hocking too was all up for it…but is on his way back from a far-flung place. Thanks anyway Ian! And with a 20% student take up — hey, it’s pretty good!
It’s beginning to feel like there may actually be a writing community hereabouts…

Also on the day: drama and word games by Whippersnapper Theatre Company; Great Beach reads survey; details of a Call for Work (I love this: come one, come all!) for an eventual anthology; and notification of the website — currently holding…but I’m informed its life is imminent.


Phew. And just in case that isn’t enough Thursday for you, Word on the Street (arf arf) is that I’m supposed to be on BBC Radio Kent this afternoon at 2.30. Talking about it all. I think.

word on the street

Oh my goodness. What a week! Rarely so fried… You know how I like lists…. So I’ll do one and try not to use ellipses to the point of ridiculous…. (sorry).

1) Monday: M’s first solo violin concert. Plus three other group pieces. Did beautifully, despite meltdown over the previous weekend. Too much! Was supposed to do a maths challenge and a cross country run the same day. Hmm. We pulled her out of the run. Her violin teacher fetched and carried: playing the instrument, playing with dogs, a snack. That evening, she soared.

Oh, and we forgot E was off to London, to the Barbican to hear a concert. Oops. Got text: am on the bus to London. Have no money or lunch. Double oops. He begged, borrowed and stole. Apparently.

Beautiful food.

2) Tuesday: can’t remember a thing about it. Teaching.

3) Wednesday: M picked up by gorgeous Nancy, who took her for a picnic and brought her to Dance Warehouse, where I met them for an open lesson. E with me, and we both pas de basque-ed at some point…heavens knows when or how. Sandwiches in the car. E whisked into his concert — in two choirs — R showed up 10 mins beforehand from meeting. I went to Sainsbury’s to get something to take to writing group (hello Andrew, Nancy, Craig, Jeremy and Mark!). Ran into M’s drama teacher, who enthused about her and informed me that M had (once again) come home with Distinctions for top effort points in her form. Heavens! Forevermore. Lights under barrels and all that.

Writing group — a new combination — fantastic.

4) Thursday: admin, both kids home. Facing the chronic disaster of the house. Ikea building.

5) Friday: another concert, E on piano this time. Tear-bringing good. Again. Debussy and jazz. Not at the same time. A buzzy couple of hours, particularly seeing so many teenage boys in their element, being respectful, enjoying the music. Hurray Sam Bailey!

Ikea building.

Beautiful food.

6) Saturday: MY BIRTHDAY! Chocolate cake made by all, tulips for present still blooming. And beautiful food.

Laundry and Ikea building.

7) Sunday: Chocolate. Lamb, flagelet beans, mashed carrot & swede, potatoes dauphinoise, roasted parsnips.

Lordy. More laundry and vague Ikea building.

8) Today: end of laundry and end of Ikea building. Unpacking into it all! Trip to dump and a silly play a the swimming pool. Absolutely glorious chicken risotto.

25,000 words reading for next week. Hello students, hello world.


Don’t really want to do that again. Hoping to stop by here in two days rather than seven…! Thanks for listening.

p.s. if you come back later, you may find some rightful links added…I…just…can’t…do…them…now…

As soon as we wake, we know it’s the sharpest frost yet this season. Just lying in bed, the air — or imagined air — feels like the holidays.

Of course, we have to struggle up and get E moving — a difficult job after many late nights of first play performances then yet another concert last night (samba band, choir, and wind band – heavens!). To his credit, by after breakfast he’s awake enough to notice the lightening sky, brushes his teeth looking out the new (lowered) windows, over the fields and out to Blean Wood. He stands at one, I stand at the other, and we don’t need to say much. Fine mist rises from the tops of hedges, and every branch and leaf, blade of grass, stands out in white relief. He’s out the door at twenty to eight, no doubt sliding first down, then up the hill to the bus stop.

Losing You launch tonight. Some long-standing friends will be there, some new ones, and doubtless others I’ve never clapped eyes on! Good. This morning I’m feeling thankful for all sorts of things.

Tree in winter frost

(image from a British wildlife site)


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.