The following was my contribution to a regular feature in the Ver Poets members’ newsletter, Ver Poets Poetry World. It was published in the Winter 2022 issue. To join Ver Poets and receive a free copy of the newsletter together with the other benefits of membership visit their website here.
Friday 24th June
Chatting to Greg Smith as we gather in St Michael’s Parish Centre for Sarah Doyle’s “An Evening with Dorothy Wordsworth”, I experience a moment of panic when he tells me he’ll be covering the same week in his own Poet’s Diary for the Summer Issue. I don’t normally keep a journal (what would I put in it?), so I’ve deliberately chosen a week with some poetry events guaranteed. The Editor has assured me that the Diary is meant to show that even everyday life is interesting, but I suspect he’d change his mind, if I wrote instead about the meetings I attend as a local councillor, so I hope he’ll accept this synchrony.
Sarah’s talk about Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals was fascinating. It included readings from her own pamphlet, “Something so wild and new in this feeling”, which is a collection of collage poems constructed entirely of extracts from Dorothy’s journals. The vivid descriptions of nature and the changing weather certainly made her everyday life sound interesting.
As manager of our social media accounts, it’s my job to advertise Ver Poets’ events on Facebook and Twitter and to give a brief account of them afterwards. I’d been using the well-known portrait of Dorothy in her dotage to illustrate Sarah’s talk, but our Programme Co-ordinator quite rightly told me it was too off-putting. I managed to find a miniature of the young Dorothy instead. It’s definitely an improvement and more appropriate for the journals, which were written when she was about thirty.
Saturday 25th June
Two of my poems have been accepted by the Scottish poetry magazine, “Dreich” (to be published in December). One is an elegy for an old friend who died of a heart attack, while out hiking alone in Tasmania, where he and his family settled some years ago. I’m pleased to have found a home for it in a Scottish magazine, as Bill himself was a Scot (we met while working in the Glasgow University Library). The other poem is from a series I’ve been writing about drawings in Hokusai’s “The Great Picture Book of Everything”. “Dreich” pride themselves on their quick turn-round and my acceptance came the next day. Usually, I have to wait months, sometimes years, just to get a rejection.
Tuesday 28th June
I made my regular monthly visit to the National Poetry Library in London. I’ve been a member for many years and joined when it was still in Long Acre. It’s at the Southbank Centre now and is a terrific resource. You can borrow up to four books for a month (renewable by phone or online). There’s also a reference section and a wide range of poetry magazines, including our very own “Ver Poets Poetry World”. Proposals to introduce a membership fee a few years ago were dropped and it remains free. These days, I often borrow or consult books as background to the reviews I write for “The High Window” and “London Grip”. Otherwise, I just keep trying to broaden my horizons.
There were no mishaps among the rolling stacks today. On one occasion, I was hit in the face by a crank handle springing back, when I bent down to unlock it. On another, I was trapped between stacks, when another reader started winding a handle without first checking that the coast was clear. Poetry isn’t for wimps! The Library would have had more room for its collection, if the proposed extensions to the Southbank Centre had gone ahead, but they were scrapped after the Mayor, Boris Johnson, sided with skateboarders who objected to losing the undercroft.
I normally visit a gallery as well (the Hokusai drawings were in an exhibition at The British Museum last year). Today it was Edvard Munch at the newly-refurbished Courtauld Gallery – 18 paintings collected by an industrialist friend of his, which normally live in the KODE art museum in Bergen. Some are well-known paintings, including “Evening on Karl Johan” with its scary street crowd, “Melancholy” and “Woman in Three Stages”. Munch often produced multiple versions of his paintings (including “The Scream”, which wasn’t there), so you may think you’ve seen a picture before, when you haven’t. I like his work, despite – perhaps because of – the angst. It’s very much the world of Ibsen and Strindberg.
Thursday 30th June
I drove to Woking for a reading with Write Out Loud Woking at The Lightbox, a local gallery and museum. I got to know the organisers, Greg Freeman and Rodney Woods, from the Zoom launch of my second pamphlet, “The 3-D Clock”. I’ve missed a number of their monthly online readings because of council meetings (one of the reasons why I won’t be standing for re-election next year) and thought it would be good to attend an event in person. I read three poems – one from each of my pamphlets and a more recent one. It was an excellent evening and I even managed to sell a few pamphlets. My next outing with them will be on Zoom, but I’ll definitely be going back to The Lightbox.
Saturday 2nd July
Online again for the 2022 Ver Open Competition reading. Zoom is particularly useful for this, as competitors come from all over the country. It was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon and a pleasure to hear poems read by the poets themselves (or by the judge or members of the Ver Poets Committee, if they couldn’t make it). A pleasure, too, to hear John McCullough’s perceptive and enthusiastic comments on the poems he’d chosen, as well as to listen to him read from his own two most recent collections.
Sunday 3rd July
Another moment of panic, when I realise that my Facebook and Twitter posts about the Competition didn’t include a thank-you to our Editor, Terry Jones, for organising it – an unforgivable oversight, especially as he’s done such an excellent job. My only hope is that thanking him now may go some way towards making amends.
6 thoughts on “A Poet’s Diary”
I have a poem somewhere about Munch. Good to hear from you and Happy New Year.
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I’d be interested to read it. I have one too. Thank you and Happy New Year!
An old man, never married, stands between his clock and bed, with a line-up ofmedicine bottles – some red, some green – that keep himticking over. And there are stairs which no one climbsexcept the postman (who knows better than toknock, and drops off gas bills, circularsetcetera). He’s eighty-five. His mother never saw that young good-looking man she hoped somuch for, and yet the baby face, though lengthened,coarsened, is recognisable. Even the cats ignore him when he steps out after dark. Meantime, he circles round his stuffychamber, paints in a northern light, now waxingdim, blacks out. The generations stop with him. He had an exhibition at Tate Modern a few years ago when my friend kept dragging me off to see the works of Damian Hirst on the other floor. No comparison! All best wishes for you and your poetry in the new year, Merryn
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Thank you for this. It would be great to see you at Ver Poets. There’s been a bit of a gap in our programme recently, but–in addition to the usual workshops–we’re hoping to hold three meetings a year with a guest reader and open mic. I’ll let you know, when I hear more. I loved your Munch poem, which I think captures very well what a difficult man he must have been–thank you for sharing it. Here’s my own, which I wrote after going to the same exhibition at Tate Modern.
THE NIGHT WANDERER
It’s lonely in the big house out at Skøyen.
Munch paints himself as if he’s been surprised
between the piano and the conservatory door,
posing himself like a question.
Is that really him, dishevelled, hollow-eyed?
The harder he looks, the harder it is to be sure.
He lays it on thick with bold, expressionist strokes,
one side lit by an oil lamp’s yellow glow,
moonlight frosting the window behind his back.
His shawl-collared overcoat could be a dressing gown,
but the day clothes dabbed underneath
show that his wanderings take him out of doors.
Inside, he finds no peace.
After la vie Bohème, it’s been hard to settle down.
Paris – Berlin – Christiania, he’s left it all behind:
alcoholism, a breakdown, drunken brawls.
Recovering now after nearly going blind,
he tries to anchor himself in the ordinary world,
paints himself “By the Window” or “Between Clock and Bed”,
does cabbage fields and plough horses en plein air.
He hopes the new place will provide a permanent cure.
All his life, he’s returned to the subjects locked in his head:
“The Sick Child”, “The Vampire”, “The Scream”.
Paranoid, quarrelsome, he arms himself
with gouges, chisels, knives, gravers, dry points, acid,
trying to etch each painful memory out,
or paint them over – over and over again.
A reviewer said it had a promising opening!
Happy New Year and very best wishes,
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I enjoyed your diary post, Stephen and the two poems in the comments. And I intend to read more of your reviews and poems on your web site (which is very nicely designed). 🙂
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Thank you very much, Elly. I hope you enjoy the reviews and poems. I must say I struggle to deal with the web site, so your kind comment is most welcome. (I may be coming to you for tips, though.)
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