- A Celebration
Last weekend I was invited to take part in a celebration of my poetry. Yes, I know, it was a bit of a shock. I’m not famous nor have I won major competitions, or been published by Faber, but it was a generous nod of approval and very enjoyable.
It had been a number of months in the planning and I was rather surprised when the idea was initially mooted. Still, I thought, what a pleasant gesture on behalf of colleagues and friends. I should be there!
I’ve been writing poetry since I was about 14, getting work published from 17, and have devoted my life to poetry and supporting other poets. Even when I was teaching full-time (1982-1997) I gave time to reading and going to readings.
And there was always the business of building what’s called a ‘profile’, trying to get work into the more-noticed magazines and entering competitions now and again. I have managed to get work into Acumen, Smiths Knoll, Envoi and Orbis, all very good, but haven’t cracked all of the top outlets.
I’ve won prizes in a few of the smaller competitions and being a runner up in the Yorkshire Open in 1996 was very sweet.
I’ve had 4 collections of work published by small presses, the most recent Close to Home from Headland in 2015, and a pamphlet The Cherry Trees of Wyre (Angria Press) plus contributions to anthologies, notably Another Bridge (with Debjani Chatterjee, Brian D’Arcy and Basir Sultan Kazmi), Sahitya Press, 2012.
Critical reception has been warm on the whole and I particularly treasure a letter I had from Ted Hughes who said some very nice things about my first collection, The Occasions of Love, Pennine Pens, 1994.
I guess securing some Arts Council funding to get Mini Mushaira off the ground in 1997 was a big step forward. Working with Basir and Debjani has taken me to over 60 venues in Britain from London to Glasgow. And we’ve been invited to read, severally, at events in India, Pakistan and at the Oslo Festival, Norway in 2013.
Being selected to a do a residency at the Shropshire & Mid Wales Hospice in 2000, under the ‘Year of the Artist’ scheme, was another big step and made me feel some of the responsibility of being a writer/ poet.
In recent years I’ve been commissioned to write poems, and I’m currently a ‘Poet on Loan’ in West Midlands’ libraries, which is great. I’ve also been invited to send work off to anthologies and magazines, some abroad, and have seen work appear in the USA and India.
Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of my work has been seeing other poets develop and, while I was still the Literature Development Officer for Wolverhampton Libraries, I set up Offa’s Press, in 2010, to promote and publish poetry from the region. It’s great to mentor, edit, encourage and see talented poets begin to flourish. It’s been a challenging but interesting life.
I have to thank David Bingham and Marion Cockin for their efforts in organising last Saturday’s event and I have to say that standing and reading some poems to genuinely appreciative friends, family and colleagues was a great buzz. I’m still coming down.
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