I recently helped to judge The Koestler Trust’s poetry award scheme. The Koestler Trust is an organisation that uses the arts to engage offenders, to channel their energies towards positive ends, to build their self-worth and help them learn new skills. Over two days Declan Ryan, Anna Robinson and I read many hundreds of entries at The Koestler Trust’s headquarters next to Wormwood Scrubs. What is fantastic about the scheme is that it doesn’t just reward a handful of poets. We were able to recognise around 200 of the poets who entered, either by awarding one of the main awards (platinum, gold, silver and bronze) or through a commendation. Many of the entries come from people in prison. The subject matter was often brutal and bleak. It was terribly sad at times and left me even more uneasy than I already was about our criminal justice system. But there was also something incredibly joyful and inspiring about The Koestler Trust’s work and being able to see all the amazing artworks people had submitted – categories including matchstick modelling, watercolours, sculpture, dance…the building was a total treasure trove. It was a total honour to be involved. An exhibition of winning works is at the Southbank Centre from 24 September.
Since last writing I’ve seen three more reviews of my book in Poetry Review, Poetry Wales and The Warwick Review. I’ve found reading what others think really fascinating, though it’s uncomfortable at times. I’ve summarised my favourite quotes from the reviews here. After reading all the reviews so far (and reviews of Camellia Stafford’s book Letters to the Sky) I feel like there’s something I want to say about queasy attitudes to femininity, girlhood and young womanhood in poetry but I’ve not quite stewed on it long enough. I hope to blog about it in future.
I also took part in some events for The Emma Press as part of the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love. I kind of adore the festival-mania of the Southbank. To be honest, I’d move into the Royal Festival Hall if they’d let me – I’m sure it would take a while before they’d notice and I have some nice mid-century furniture that would fit in just dandy. My role was to sit in a booth for a couple of hours and read saucy poems to strangers. Personally speaking I’d NEVER go into a booth to have a sexy poem read only to me. I’d be completely embarrassed, but so many people are up for it and it was lots of fun. Later in the evening I read along with other poets from The Emma Press’s Poetic Primer to Love and Seduction. Given my poems are made up of advice from a terribly dated self-help guide by Helen Gurley Brown I’d not recommend people listen to anything I say. It was a great reading though, and I especially enjoyed Ruth Wiggins’s wry and knowing poems.
I’m also in Issue 2 of Riposte Magazine, with a 16-page monograph of my poems, illustrated by the wonderful Giada Ganassin. I adore this magazine because it celebrates amazing women (the latest issue features an interview with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie no less), it is beautiful visually and in the writing and it’s the labour of love of Danielle Pender, who is a total inspiration.
This month I’m doing two things. On Thursday 24th I’m reading at The City Pride, Farringdon, as part of The Summer Season series of readings (8 poets each week). It’s free and starts at 7.30pm. Then a Q&A with my friend and mentor Annie Freud at the London Review of Books cakeshop on Sunday 27th. There’s only a couple of tickets left so book fast! Annie is always fascinating and particular and there is a promise of tea, cake and dry sherry!
On the Poems in Which front, I’m so pleased Mark Ford has selected some poems from recent issues for this year’s Best British Poetry. Nia and I are reading for the next issue until the end of the month, so if you’re thinking of submitting now’s the time. (On a related note, I’m so proud of and excited for Nia – her first issue as editor of Poetry Wales is out now!).
There are so many deadlines for things I’d like to write about coming up: Lana Del Rey, Riot Grrrl, the gurlesque. For me it seems the more I want to write about something the harder it is. I’m off to listen to ‘The More You Ignore Me The Closer I Get’ in the hope it switches a gear in my brain.
Oh, and I’m reading these two poems by Sophie Robinson and this magnificent poem by Alice Notley. This wonderful essay by Dorothea Lasky in Poetry and Katherine Angel’s Unmastered, which has just come out in paperback.