Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Getting to Wirk (sorry)

Driving the leaf-rich lanes that lead from South Derbyshire to Hathersage this morning, I thought back to last night's inaugural Derbyshire Laureate event in Wirksworth library and realised I still didn't know the answers to some of the questions that came up in the Q & A:

How do you select poems for a collection?

What's a typical writing day like for you? 

How do you know when a poem's finished?

The best questions are the ones you ponder for days and never quite get to the bottom of.

In fact, poems can make you feel like that too. For me, a good poem is often both question and answer at once. Lines that make all explanation seem unnecessary but, at the same time, subtly answer the reader. Perhaps that's why poets can seem so inarticulate in face-to-face settings: we're used to working things out on the page.

Thought-provoking questions and all, it was great to read some of my poems to a full house at Wirksworth library, including many members of the Wirksworth Word Miners. With the thriving arts festival and art trail, Wirksworth was an exciting place to start the laureateship. It had been years since I walked the calf-punishing back streets up to the quarry, or had a pint in The Hope and Anchor. This morning, I woke up to sunshine and dramatic pewter skies in Kirk Ireton, where I'd stayed with brilliant artist Heather Duncan and her family. As part of the laureateship, I'm looking forward to collaborating with artists who work in different mediums and it was inspiring to look at the ways Heather portrays landscape and perspective, a theme I talked about in the reading last night too.

Now, it's back to the desk where I'm working on my first commission - a poem to mark the twinning of Derby with Toyota City. Autumn's in full swing, there's a freshness in the air and, in the parks, whippets get leaves stuck on their heads....

Thursday, 17 October 2013

T'ta from Matt, Ay up from me

I'm sitting down to write this behind a small window in Hathersage, with a whippet snoring loudly in the corner and a fire-coloured garden on the other side of the glass: my neighbour's rowan tree all off-gold leaves and red berries. Somewhere behind this immediate view, another one unfolds to north and south: Stanage Edge, where my hands remember gritstone holds; the road snaking out to Bamford and Castleton; the woods that flank the river, dark at this time of year; the other road, the one that stretches to Calver and then, eventually, to Chesterfield, my hometown, where the houses crowd closer together and the shop windows are lit till late. All these markers make the landscape I adore.

My name's Helen, I'm the new Derbyshire Poet Laureate and, as you can probably tell, I'm just a little bit excited about exploring the county through words. For the next two years, it's going to be my honour and privilege to work with libraries, schools, community groups and other organisations around Derbyshire to share my love of poetry and place. Following in the footsteps of previous laureates Cathy Grindrod, River Wolton, Ann Atkinson and Matt Black is going to be a daunting challenge.

I was born in Sheffield and grew up in Chesterfield, a town I'm proud to call home (even if it sometimes gets called other names as well). Ever since I was a kid, I've loved hill walking and fell running and used to go out to the Peak District regularly with my dad. As I got older, I learned to rock climb as well and that became my obsession - most weekends, I can be found at a local crag, hanging on for dear life (or suggesting we pack up early and go to the pub). I've lived in other places around the country (in Cambridge for a few years and then in Grasmere, where I was Poet in Residence at The Wordsworth Trust) but a few years ago something carried me back to Chesterfield, and ever since then I've been glad to be home. I now live a stone's throw from Stanage Edge (please don't chuck rocks off the top at me) and spend a lot of time in Sheffield, where I'm in the final year of studying for a PhD.

I mainly write poetry - my first collection 'Division Street' was published by Chatto & Windus this year - but I'm interested in literature of all kinds both on and off the page: I run a regular open mike night in Chesterfield, 'Spire Writes', which takes place on the first Wednesday of every month at The White Swan.

What does the laureateship have in store....? It's too early to tell, but amongst other things, you can expect football poems, projects involving maps, performances in unusual venues, poems that climb...and a lot of surprises. In fact, I hope most of it is going to be a surprise to me. I'll share some of my experiences as a laureate diary here on the blog and I hope to be in touch with as many of you as possible along the way!

My first event as laureate is on October 28th in Wirksworth Library as part of Derwent Discovery Days 2013.

I've got a lot to learn about Derbyshire. And I can't wait.

Last post, t'ta for now (but see you again soon), and big thanks from Matt

Hello there, this is Matt saying fare thee well from Laureate blogging. It's been a fantastic 2 years, and all thanks to everyone I've worked with, all the writers, readers, groups, schools, festivals, all the organisers, to Ali, Cathy, River, and the Arts Team, and to everyone else.
I've learnt so much, working with different groups, writing for different audiences, the joys of Derbyshire hospitality everywhere, fuddles indeed, and lots of good times. Delighted to say that I shall still be working in the County, so do hope to see you somewhere at some point soon. 
Meanwhiles, the fabulous Helen Mort, who is a wonderful poet, is starting her Laureate journey, which I'm quite sure is going to be brill - try and get her to your group or event soon! 
Of course, a major source of delight and inner-glow satisfaction is my end of Laureateering book - as above - which is now available!! Poems on all subjects - the essential nature of libraries, Belper Joe, the Peak District, Chesterfield taxi-drivers, the A6, Swizzels Love-Heart factory, speed awareness classes, and lots more.  Copies are available to borrow in Derbyshire Libraries or if you would like to buy a copy, please contact Ali Betteridge, Literature Development Officer on 01773 831359 or email alison.betteridge@derbyshire.gov.uk

So, that's all for now folks, t'ta for now, and big thanks, Matt