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I absolutely cannot believe how long it’s been since I’ve been able to get to this page, this computer. I can’t even bear to make a complete list of what’s been going on. Chickens, lack of heads. Hedges backward. Meeting myself coming. Etc.

Despite my general meltdown, everything seems to have gone just completely swimmingly. Where did I leave you? Ah yes, after wonderful Canterbury Poet of the Year. Then there was the Booker verdict night: really good fun, a good read, good writers — and a surprise winner in The White Tiger. Canterbury’s verdict was Philip Hensher’s Northern Clemency. I’ve read the former (which is why I was a little surprised). Will now read the latter, which got absolutely rave reviews, particularly from Andrew McGuinness, one of the writers there.

Then on the 16th there was the Canterbury Laureate reception and launch of the anthology from the year, called Entirely New: which was wonderful. I was digging deep as they say that day, starting exhausted. But the readings — the children, the adults — and my purple cardigan and tights — kept me going. Another good turnout, and a chance to read some new work. A real corker of a night, an uplift.

THEN at the weekend, a write around town day, only I didn’t do the around town bit. I went down and set up some triggers for whomever was there, then fetched and carried E to piano, made lunch, etc. Then popped into town for the end, to see how it went. By that point I was feeling altogether grey with it all.

Meanwhile the poems from the labyrinth day have been exhibited, and Jan Sellers and I have spent the last couple of days fine-tuning those to go up on — Canterbury buses! Yes, wonderful isn’t it? More on this when it comes to fruition.

Finally (for me, anyway) the Tuesday Readings I’m organising at University of Kent. We had Matthew Welton, then last week Perdika poets, and coming up I am thrilled to say that we have Moniza Alvi and Marianne Boruch joining us. I just can’t, can’t wait. They are both just superb, and exciting, and…if you don’t have your tickets and can get one, come. You won’t regret it. (Meanwhile I am charged with the nuts and bolts which are always the pain of it all: where to get the wine from, how to pay for it, how to pay the guest house, how to make sure the tables get set up when I’m busy with the writers and no one seems to be able to do it, surprise surprise. Etc. Hair-tearing.)

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But beyond all this, more and most importantly, two things:

1) M went to Howlett’s zoo with wonderful friend Nancy (see photos from flickr in sidebar). And how lucky were they?! Lions, tigers, bears…and M’s favourite show, Roar, being filmed! Nancy being Nancy, they managed to keep out of camera shot as requested, watch the whole thing, and get a photo of M with the presenter (who happens to be the one on this clip!). M has been drawing lots of animals this half term, freehand, and has committed whole books of information about them to memory. Hmm…a vet in the making?!

2) E played 5 different instruments in 5 different ensembles on Wednesday night at the Simon Langton Boys Grammar concert. Oh yes he did. Triangle in orchestra (hilarious! not as easy as you’d think, but it doesn’t half look funny); bassoon in wind band (again, an odd instrument really), sang in the choir (by the Rivers of Babylon, fab), some kind of massive drum in a New Orleans jazz band (that woke M up!). And his first piano solo in this school, Brubeck’s Take Five. He did a stunning, stunning job, strolling on without music, jazzing through it, standing up with a nod, and strolling off. Needless to say. We forget he’s only twelve. He seems to have a huge capacity for life, and remain essentially level-headed. We try not to be embarrassingly proud.

 

So, just so we remember what’s important (apologies for sound quality — went for a decent performance rather than purity of sound…amazing just how many performances of this piece are quite, well, below par, speeding up all over the place, messy…makes me realise just how accomplished E is, she says, once again basking in her son’s talents…):

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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?!


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!) 

 

Okay, not quite. It’s always on the verge of raining here, truth be told. Sigh.

However, there is quite a spring-y competition to tell you about. One in a line of several. This time it is for Canterbury Festival Poet of the Year. See lovely brochure photo.

Like last year, I’m one of the judges for it — and last year believe me we had a whale of a time. The judging was as it was (always interesting) but the celebration night was pretty spectacular. The way it works is: long-listed poems go into an anthology (available on the night); short-listed poets read their work on the night (along with yours truly). From that the top three places are decided, along with, this year, a performance prize. And there’s music. And all in all, it’s a ball. We had well over a hundred folks last year.

So. See flyer. And here are the entry form and rules. Deadline is the end of May. Once again: you know you want to. (p.s. sorry about the darkness of this: it’s colourful in ‘real life’. Can’t figure out why it’s coming up black-y! Oh well. Details are in the rules anyway…)

There are medieval ones apparently, and classical ones. And they are not mazes, which are designed to tease you and get you lost etc. Exactly the opposite: labyrinths are one-way systems, that you walk. And walk. And before you know it, you’ve reached the centre. And you sit. And think. And then when you’re ready, you come back. 

My mother used to say that she was always afraid of waking up one morning and suddenly becoming born again. She felt she was the sort to whom that might just happen. Somehow.

Whereas my grandparents were devout Baptists. Not born-again, but sure.

I’ve never been much more than agnostic, and somewhat share my mother’s fear of losing my free will all of a sudden.

However. Today, courtesy of the University of Kent and their Unit for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, I walked the labyrinth. It felt strange, walking into the Senate Chamber, this 36 foot pattern in cream and green laid out on the floor, calm music playing. I thought, oh dear (but in different words) what have I got myself into? Because, believing in creativity and imagination as abstract concepts, and as mysterious forces in themselves…I’d said that I’d be interested in working with the possibility of the labyrinth. Creatively, that is. But first I had to try it.

It’s the kind of experience to which words don’t come easily. Suffice it to say that I really wouldn’t have much of a problem being born-again in that context. Suffice it to say that it’ll probably turn up in my work somewhere.

Afterwards, I made the decision to see where this will go. Working with Jan S and we hope the Canterbury Festival. And some interested students. It isn’t wishy-washy earthy-crunchy namby-pamby — though it kind of looks like it might be, granted, when you peep in the door. It feels ancient. And a tool. And a kind of unassuming revelation.

It looked just like this. 

Stay tuned.

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.