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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?!


Yikes! Reeling at the moment….Apologies for too much empty cyberspace. Okay, cyber-corner. Of Kent.

And it continues. Only time to say hey here’s my day:

1) A labyrinth workshop with MA students! Can’t wait. In case you’ve forgotten about this walk I did a few months ago, go see. This time it’s an actual workshop which I’m fortunate enough to help lead: writing, walking, meditating. I long for the peace I know the few hours will bring, and the opening out. Long for it. Ends at 4 pm. Kid pick up — first M, then E — home by 5.30 pm.

2) THEN the Canterbury Festival Poet of the Year gig. Now this promises to be a great night. Last year’s winner Vicky Wilson, Friend of Canterbury Festival Nick Hunt, and yours truly have combed the longlist to come up with the shortlist. The shortlist read. Music plays. I read, Vicky reads. We all enjoy listening to each other. Music plays. Winners announced! Photos taken! 

I had a wonderful time last year. If you fancy hearing some poetry — some good poetry — come along. If you fancy some good music — original music — come along. Fine, fine players and writers all. Believe me I know. I’ve read it and heard it.

Details:

Poetry & Music Evening

Thursday 9th October

8.00 pm at the Dominican Priory, Canterbury

(Bar available from 7.15/30 pm)


Tickets £5, available from
Festival Box Office 01227-378188
online : www.canterburyfestival.co.uk
or at the Door on the day from 7.00 pm.

Just to say that last Thursday I was invited to — and attended — a turf cutting ceremony for the new CLASSICAL LABYRINTH being built on the University of Kent Canterbury campus. Oh yes I was and did.

This labyrinth thing is no joke. All sorts of people are involved. The University apparently passed through the permissions in 13 days. Unheard of. Finance people nodded. Unheard of. The site is off a minor path, and the entrance will line up almost directly with the spire of Canterbury Cathedral, easily seen through the trees and down the hill.

People from learning and teaching were there. From counselling. From the chaplaincy. One of the deputy vice-chancellors. I think. Lots of other people. A gorgeous little girl in red trousers and jumper, with bright red shoes. At one point she held herself upright by holding the shiny shovel, stuck deep in the ground.

It’ll be 30 feet across, paved in old stone. Get ready, oh ye of little faith (e.g. second year students): you’re there whether you like it or not.

By the way, anyone interested will find one at this very moment  white-painted on the green grass behind Keynes College at U Kent. There for the Earthworks conference I opened on Thursday (as well! I’d forgotten both happened the same day). 

Heavens. I only just realised that both were ceremonies to do with the earth. Getting down to business.

A bit haunting. Perhaps real change is on the way….

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.