Poets: Fleur Adcock and Julian Stannard

Report by David Easforth.

Barbara Large opened the meeting by welcoming everyone and reminding us that the purpose of the HWS was for all of us to learn to write to ‘industry standard’.  Our membership was growing and now included many people from outside Hampshire, in fact from West Sussex to Dorset.

Barbara welcomed Fleur Adcock and Julian Stannard, the speakers for the evening, and then introduced Dr Stephen Wilson, Trustee of the Poetry Society, and Brian Evans-Jones, who was to be the competition adjudicator for the evening.  Barbara then invited Judith Heneghan to talk for a few moments about the upcoming Writers’ Festival.  Judith outlined the main schedule, which would comprise a series of workshops, talks, and courses over the period of the festival: Friday to Sunday, 20-22 June, 2014.  There would be opportunities for one-to-ones with literary agents and publishers, and Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, would be the keynote speaker.  Free events would include two book launches on the Friday, and there would be an “Open Mike” session where new work could be introduced.  On the Friday, poet Rhian Edwards would be present, as would Sathnam Sanghera.  There would be many other literary figures attending, including Julian Stannard on the Sunday.  She reminded everyone that full information could be obtained from the festival website: www.writersfestival.co.uk.

Barbara then announced two very sad events, the deaths of Keith Bennett and Hazel Donnelly.

Keith had been a great champion of young writer’s poetry, and had managed the Tesco-sponsored National Poetry Day competition, which had resulted in 850 entries from the three age groups: 6-11, 12-15, and 16-18.  Keith had written comments to the entrants on all 850 entries, which had indicated his enthusiasm and commitment to the event.  Keith, a probation officer by profession, had passed away at his desk.  All contributions will go to the British Heart Foundation.

Hazel had been a great supporter of the HWS and sadly had passed away after suffering an asthma attack.  Hazel had won several of the monthly competitions and, as a tribute, Brian would read her entry for April.

Dr Stephen Boyce then spoke about the Winchester Poetry Festival.  Stephen explained that he came to poetry late in life, but had now edited two collections of poetry which were being published by Arrowhead Press.  The Winchester Poetry Festival had been the brainchild of a group of poetry enthusiasts who had noted that while there were a number of poetry festivals in Britain; St. Andrews, Ledbury, Aldburgh, the “south coast” was not represented.  Thus the Winchester Poetry Festival had been born, and would take place 12-14th September, 2014 at the Discovery Centre.  The group of trustees had raised £40k.  There would be three strands: WWI, Poets with a Hampshire connection, and contemporary poetry.  Stephen gave examples of some of the activities; Patience Agbabi, author of a modern rewrite of the Canterbury Tales would be present on the Friday, and there would be a poetry slam.  On the Sunday there would be a commemorative reading of WWI poetry, with poems from Britain, France, Germany, and Russia.  On the 14th of May, there would be a big preview event at the Discovery Centre, and the band “Epic” would perform three thousand years of poetry in sixty minutes.  The aim is to make the festival a biennial event.  Full details are to be found at www.winchesterpoetryfestival.org.

Fleur and Julian were then introduced, and in turn read a number of their works, which were under the heading of “Travels in Poetry”.  Fleur, bravely continuing despite being afflicted by a bit of a cough, read a number of poems which reflected her personal experiences. “The Saucer” was a poem about sighting a flying saucer which she had started and then returned to some years later. “Alumni Notes” was a poem addressed to a friend, and “Charon” asked where the ferryman was when he was most needed. Fleur took a well-earned break and Julian took over.

Julian Stannard & Fleur Adcock
Julian Stannard & Fleur Adcock

Julian began with a poem to his first father-in-law, Bruno, “Bruno Cuts My Hair In A Place Called Ether” which recalled Bruno’s talent as a barber. “Horizontal” made the remarkable link between the French poet Rimbaud and a green wheelie bin. “September 1939” about the day war broke out, “I’m Homesick for Being Homesick”, about dressing up in an assortment of hand-me-downs before taking the dogs for a walk.  “The Blessing of the Octopus at Lerici” recalled Julian’s time spent on Genoa. There were also poems about lunch: “Lunch with Margot and Tinker”, “Lunch with Alex and Mildred”, and even “Lunch with Fleur”.

Fleur then returned to read “The Royal Visit” about the royal visit to New Zealand she witnessed in 1953, and “Slaters”: an interesting species of arthropod.  At this point, Gary took over to handle questions from the attendees.  There was, naturally, interest in how Fleur started her career in poetry, and she replied that she had always been fascinated by poetry from a young age, and had started writing in earnest by the time she reached adolescence.  The more she read, the more she wrote.  The question was also asked as to what time of day was the most productive for her, to which the answer was early morning or late at night; being half asleep seemed to trigger the creative process.  In answer to the same question, Julian remarked that inspiration always occurred at a time when he was not carrying a notebook.  However, sparks often began to strike when in conversation.

The question came up as to what would poetry be like in two thousand years, to which Fleur replied you could also ask what it would be like in ten years. In answer to the question “Do you follow a theme?” Fleur’s reply was yes; the years her father spent running a farm in New Zealand. This had inspired a recent collection which was now with the publisher. And if Fleur was “inspired by places she had lived in” what did she think of modern Britain? Fleur replied that some thoughts were not publishable! Julian also responded to the question, and said that living in Southampton provided most inspiration; especially Shirley High Street, where gems such as a goat butcher and 1970s pubs were to be found, with the distinct possibility that, at one end, the end of the world was likely to be encountered.  Brian asked Julian if place names meant something just to him or were they also intended to affect the reader.  Julian replied that it was always nice to mention place names; very self-satisfying, and the readers seemed to like it.

Fleur was asked if writing poetry was natural, or did she have to work at it.  Fleur replied that the more she did the more easily it came; one was always thinking and refining.  To finish the session, Julian read Fleur’s “Smokers for Celibacy”, an Ogden Nash’ish appraisal of sex which pretty well brought the house down.

Barbara closed with some comments about the next two meetings; James Wills, literary agent, in May; and would people please email their questions for James in advance so that as much material could be made available for him prior to the event?  Lady Carnarvon would be the speaker in June, where the venue would be Chawton House, and the usual strawberries and cream would be available, as would an area for people to bring their own picnics.  Finally, Brian mentioned that he had a workshop in plan for Saturday the 26th of April, 10.00 to 16.00, for which there were still places.

Funeral of Hazel Sara Donnelly

Family flowers only please, but donations in Hazel’s memory to ‘Asthma UK’ would be gratefully accepted.

Links to a gift aid form and to Asthma UK can be found below:

If donating cash or by cheque, please consider including a Gift Aid form available on this link: http://search2.hmrc.gov.uk/kb5/hmrc/forms/view.page?record=qcUc55GzefQ&formId=734

Alternatively, if you wish to do this online and therefore make the Gift Aid element slightly easier, please visit this link:  http://www.asthma.org.uk/Pages/Appeal/#

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