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Callander Poetry Weekend 2017

Gosh, all those motorway services!

Owing to various delays, we were late setting off on the Friday, much too late with around 300 miles to cover. I’m never good behind the wheel when tired, so we had to break our overnight journey for essential refreshment at practically every other services along our northbound route, finally arriving in Callander, Scotland, “the Gateway to the Highlands”, at six o’clock on the Saturday morning, a thin mist hazing the deserted streets of this lovely little town and the slopes of Ben Ledi beyond.

Huge relief! We’d made it!  We were here for the Callander Poetry Weekend 2017, Days 2 and 3.  The proprietor of our guest house kindly admitted us despite the early hour, and after a short sleep and quick breakfast, Maureen and I were off to the Kirk Hall, where the day’s readings were about to begin.

And what a rich and varied feast of poetry it was. We greatly enjoyed the ‘Fierce Poetry in Motion’ poem-films presented by Lesley Traynor and Janet Crawford, especially Angela Hughes’ poem that began, “The heart that beats within me is not the one I was born with…”  Also the musical interlude during the afternoon session with the Tone Poets on mandolin and guitar.  This opened, much to Maureen’s delight, with ‘The Moorlough Shore’, the traditional Irish air which the great W.B.Yeats’ poem ‘Down by the Sally Gardens’ was set to.

Maureen read a number of her poems, a great set, concluding with our joint Somonka, which I joined her at the lectern for, stooping to her microphone to read my part.

Later Sheila Wakefield of Red Squirrel Press gave Maureen the anxiously awaited news that yes, her manuscript of short poems was accepted for publication as a pamphlet, though it could be up to three years yet. And we were overjoyed: Maureen Weldon was now a “Squirrel” in waiting!

Leaving the Kirk Hall, we joined up with Gerald England for a bite to eat in a café. Gerald is an old friend of Maureen’s, whom I was delighted to meet for the first time as his book The Art of Haiku 2000 had really shown me the way with traditional Japanese-style poetry.  After a good chat the three of us headed over to King’s Bookshop for the evening session, which I was due to read at.  My set comprised four poems from my debut collection Twin Dakotas (Cestrian Press, 2016) followed by three newer, Japanese-style poems.  And I marvelled yet again at how good it felt to take part in this wonderful poetry weekend.

On the Sunday morning, in the Friendship Garden, Maureen gave a half-hour talk, with poetry, about ballet in Ireland, focussing on her own career as a professional dancer with the Irish Theatre Ballet under Ireland’s First Lady of Dance, the legendary Joan Denise Moriarty (1912 – 1992). And what an amazing, inspiring talk it was.  She concluded by demonstrating ballet exercises and a gasp went around the garden when she did the splits in the gravel wearing Doc Martens.  Maureen’s talk and demonstration will surely be long remembered by all present, and I’m certain of this: that Miss Moriarty would have been proud of her.

Further terrific readings followed through the day. And huge thanks are due to our hosts Sally Evans and husband Ian at King’s Bookshop for their generosity and tireless efforts in making this a most brilliant Callander Poetry Weekend.

FESTIVAL

Poets

from all points come,

more new faces this year,

an old friend back and loving it:

pure gold.

 

Paul Beech

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

 

 

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North of the Border

With under a week to go until we’re off to Scotland again, Maureen and I are busy preparing for, and greatly looking forward to, the Callander Poetry Weekend 2017 (1 – 3 September) hosted by Sally Evans and husband Ian at King’s Bookshop.

I’m down to read on the Saturday evening. On the Sunday morning, Maureen will give a talk interlaced with poetry about ballet in Ireland.  And what a great time we’ll have for sure, in such wonderful company, in this gorgeous little town, the “Gateway to the Highlands”.

It’s a good feeling, being part of something like this, and following last year’s Callander Poetry Weekend I attempted to capture the flavour in a short poem. Here it is:

 

NORTH OF THE BORDER

 

We press on,

the sky frowning now

as wind turbines between mountain slopes

threaten Scotland’s proud raptors.

 

Three hundred miles weary,

adrenaline bright,

we squeeze into a bookshop packed with poets

to be carried aloft

on winged words

and fly a few of our own.

 

We do well,

we both do,

and returning to my seat

a warm hand takes my shoulder

in tartan friendship.

 

Paul Beech

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

Horseshoe Pass

A couple of times last autumn, after visiting Llangollen, home of the annual International Musical Eisteddfod, in Denbighshire, North-East Wales, Maureen and I took a run up the Horseshoe Pass, a stunningly beautiful mountain pass rising to a height of 1,368 feet. On neither occasion did we quite make it to the famous Ponderosa Café at the top (we hope to do that soon), but I was inspired to write a short poem…

 

HORSESHOE PASS

 

sheep roam free,

this high pass dark we drive

cheerfully fearful

 

sheep roam free

skylarks sing

choughs party mid-air,

this high pass bright we drive

gleefully brimful

 

sheep roam free,

this high pass gold we drive

quietly grateful

 

Paul Beech

 

Note: The Horseshoe Pass, Denbighshire, is known as Bwlch yr Oernant in Welsh (“Pass of the Old Stream”).

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

 

Powys, Poetry and ‘Failed Haiku’!

My partner Maureen Weldon was guest poet at Pat Edwards’ poetry evening ‘Verbatim’ in Welshpool on Monday evening last week (24 July 2017). And what a great evening it was, friendly and welcoming with wide-ranging poetry of high standard; nibbles and drinks too!

Maureen, a former professional ballet dancer, is a natural when it comes to performance, and they loved her, the applause thunderous. Mind you, I didn’t do too badly myself when I read four of my poems from the open floor.

It was our first trip to the Welsh county of Powys; the countryside was beautiful with copses between the rolling hills, and the summer sun gorgeous. We spent the night in the village of Guilsfield, which we enjoyed exploring the following morning.  I composed a haiku in the lovely old church and recited it to Maureen from the pulpit!  Later we visited historic Powys Castle – a truly wonderful medieval brick castle, perfectly preserved, stuffed full of treasures, with beautiful gardens – before heading home.

One of the pieces I read at ‘Verbatim’ was my sequence poem ‘Curlew Sunset’, which I’m delighted to report has just been published in Mike Rehling’s wonderful journal of English senryu, Failed Haiku (http://www.haikuhut.com/FailedHaikuIssue20.pdf). 

Cheers, Mike!

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

Indra’s Net

My partner Maureen Weldon and I are both very proud to be included in this wonderful anthology, knowing the proceeds will be going to ‘The Book Bus’ charity promoting child literacy in the Third World.

And what a good feeling the title Indra’s Net will always give me as it was suggested by the amazing American poet Cynthia Jobin, one of its contributors, who was such a generous commenter on my blog Grandy’s Landing before passing away in December 2016.

Maureen and I have now ordered our copies.

Indra’s Net: all profits to The Book Bus charity

Poetry at St. Peter’s

On Tuesday afternoon, Maureen and I did a joint reading that will stand out in our memories as an especially enjoyable and satisfying one.

We’d been invited by Flintshire County Council to do a twenty minute poetry reading at ‘Living Well & Enjoying Life’, a fun day for sheltered housing residents held at St. Peter’s Church in Holywell, a market town west of the Dee Estuary in North Wales.

St. Peter’s is a lovely modern church, very bright and airy, which doubles as a community centre during the week, and we found everyone – Council staff, residents and other guests – very friendly and chatty.

Of course, for me, being a former social housing manager whose specialisms included sheltered housing, it was great to talk shop with staff. Maureen read her newly written poem ‘After the Inferno’ to representatives of the Fire and Rescue Service and they were pleased to be given a copy to take back to the Station.

Just being together on stage was wonderful for Maureen and I. We did ten minutes each then finished with our joint somonka.  And what a lovely, appreciative audience the residents were.  It truly was a most heartwarming experience for us.

Thank you, Flintshire County Council.

One of the poems I read was inspired by a painting in the Lady Lever Art Gallery at Port Sunlight on the Wirral. Here it is…

 

COULD HAVE BEEN US

 

Two Boys in a Boat,

they could have been us, Bro,

the boys we were so long ago,

they could have been us.

 

In their boat ELIZA,

they gaze out to sea,

the standing boy in white shirt,

trousers rolled, me;

the seated boy in floppy hat,

oar hung over stern, you.

Aye, they could have been us, Bro,

could have been us.

 

I’d have been looking out

for gannets and skuas,

you for passing ships,

but the far horizon

would have drawn our joint attention

as we pondered the unknowable future,

brothers true,

best friends too.

Never would we have dreamt

of anything coming between us:

never, no, would we have dreamt it, Bro,

never back then.

 

So close all our lives

until now,

I’d bring you here if I could

to view this oil on canvas

by George Percy Jacomb-Hood,

Two Boys in a Boat.

Aye, they could have been us, Bro,

the boys we were so long ago,

they could have been us,

could have been us.

 

Paul Beech

 

(First published in Sunlight Poems, Cestrian Press, May 2016. Subsequently included in my collection Twin Dakotas: poetry and prose, Cestrian Press, August 2016.)

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

 

Alibis in the Attic

I’ve loved crime fiction since reading The Hound of the Baskervilles as a grammar school boy in Bolton, Lancashire, back in ’59. I went on to read all of Conan Doyle’s other Sherlock Holmes stories, both long and short, before exploring the genre generally.

One of my favourite contemporary crime writers is Martin Edwards, author of the Lake District Mysteries (latest, The Dungeon House) and a series set in Liverpool. He is also a leading authority on the genre and his ground-breaking study of detective fiction The Golden Age of Murder (2015) won the Edgar, Agatha, H.R.F. Keating and Macavity awards.  Martin is Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association and President of the Detection Club.  He is also series consultant to the British Library’s Crime Classics.

So you can imagine how pleased I was to learn from his excellent blog, ‘Do you write under your own name?’, that he’d be hosting an event called ‘Alibis in the Attic’ at Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden, Flintshire, to celebrate the official launch of the British Crime Writing Archives there, over the weekend of Friday 9th June to Sunday 11th June 2017.

I’d met Martin at events quite a few times over the last eight years but this promised to be the best yet, with a great line-up of speakers, and Gladstone’s Library is only just down the road from my home on the Dee Estuary. So, urged on by my partner, Maureen, I booked my place as a non-residential deligate (many from farther afield booked rooms as Gladstone’s is a residential library).

Gosh, what a venue! Gladstone’s Library, founded by the Victorian statesman and four-times Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone in 1894, and now housed in a gorgeous English Gothic style premises with lovely grounds dating from 1902, seems a world apart from the hurly-burly of today.  Indeed, I seemed to spend the whole weekend back in the inter-war Golden Age with the shades of Sayers, Christie and Berkeley ever-present; also Sherlock himself from the days of gas lamps and hansom cabs, of course!

Yes, there was an enthralling talk about our favourite “consulting detective” given by that splendid Sherlockian expert, author, playwright and editor, David Stuart Davies. I hadn’t known before that a meeting with Oscar Wilde in 1889 had helped Conan Doyle shape the character of Holmes.

Martin Edwards gave a talk titled ‘The Detection Club and CWA: Criminally Good Social Networks’, and explained how the archives of these two organisations had been combined at Gladstone’s Library to form the British Crime Writing Archives.

David Brawn from HarpurCollins talked about publishing Agatha Christie. Ann Cleeves talked about the adaptation for television of her Vera and Shetland novels on ITV and BBC respectively.

Murder by poison was a grisly feature of the Victorian age and Linda Stratmann gave a fascinating talk citing cases that prompted scientific advances and brought fame to forensic toxicologists.

Kate Charles, a former Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association, talked about clerical sleuthing. Kate Ellis, whose contemporary crime mysteries have historical roots, talked about how archaeology informs her work.  Rob Davies gave a very informative talk on the British Library and later, with Martin Edwards, discussed the Crime Classics series.

Stella Duffy OBE gave a tremendously punchy presentation on the New Zealand crime writer Ngaio Marsh, whose unfinished 1940s novel Money in the Morgue she’s been tasked with completing – a tall order with only four chapters and a page or two of notes to go on. Question: Why did Ngaio abandon this promising book?  Stella has heard different theories…

There were two interactive murder mysteries over the weekend, ‘The Glass Room Murder’ hosted by Ann Cleeves and ‘Death at the Dig’ hosted by Kate Ellis. And, with actors playing the suspects, tremendous brain-teasing fun they both were!

The weekend concluded with a panel event in which Alibis speakers discussed Golden Age detective fiction.

On my feedback form I summarised ‘Alibis in the Attic’ as “hugely interesting and enjoyable”. And I’m sure the British Crime Writing Archives will prove an invaluable resource for students of the genre.

I should just like to add that the staff of Gladstone’s Library were wonderful.

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017