Shortlist, Costa Poetry Award 2017

Shortlist, 2017 Costa Poetry Award


Moniza Alvi    Poet

Kiran Millwood Hargrave     Author

Nicholas Wroe Guardian Writer and Editor

This (from below my italics) is from the poetry page of Costa, for the results of all shortlists click for link:   Costa Awards 2017 shortlist

Many other links you could choose as alternative, I would also offer the Guardian pages

The main question for me is which title/author  will I plump for reading as I have not read any of the books?  ‘All’  is not a useful answer as I have to start with one and the judges comments guarantee each one needs to be read.

So, its the debut collections first as the poets are new to me.  Next, is it the new take on ‘Nature’ (Useful Verses) to  ride on my long-term interest in said subject or the challenge of race and identity (Kumukanda)   which also ticks a large box despite my being ‘old, white and British’?  …… but it is ‘being an outsider/onlooker’ that marries into both, maybe all poetry……  so maybe for me the interest is also a challenge of  seeing and feeling through other peoples eyes what I cannot expect to really understand but would like to try.                      So Kumukanda, is the one I will   buy and review first


by Kayo Chingonyi     (Chatto & Windus)

Translating as ‘initiation’, kumukanda is the name given to the rites a young boy from the Luvale tribe must pass through before he is considered a man. Kayo Chingonyi’s debut explores this passage: between two worlds, ancestral and contemporary; between the living and the dead; between the gulf of who he is and how he is perceived. Underpinned by a love of music, language and literature, this debut collection is a powerful exploration of race, identity and masculinity, celebrating what it means to be British and not British, all at once.

Kayo Chingonyi was born in Zambia in 1987, and moved to the UK at the age of six. He is the author of two pamphlets, and a fellow of the Complete Works programme for diversity and quality in British Poetry. In 2012, he was awarded a Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, and was Associate Poet at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in 2015.

Judges: ‘Energetic, skilled, tender and bold – this is an outstanding collection by a major new talent.’



Inside the Wave     by Helen Dunmore (Bloodaxe Books)

To be alive is to be inside the wave, always travelling until it breaks and is gone. These poems are concerned with the borderline between the living and the dead – the underworld and the human living world – and the exquisitely intense being of both. They possess a spare, eloquent lyricism as they explore the bliss and anguish of the voyage. Helen Dunmore was a poet, novelist, short story and children’s writer. Her poetry books have been given the Poetry Book Society Choice and Recommendations and won several prizes including the Cardiff International Poetry Prize, the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award and the Signal Poetry Award.  Her poem ‘The Malarkey’ won the 2010 National Poetry Competition.  She published fifteen novels and three books of short stories – most recently, Birdcage Walk in 2017.  She died in June 2017.

Judges: ‘We were all stunned by these breathtaking poems.’


On Balance by Sinéad Morrissey (Carcanet)

Set against a backdrop of ecological and economic instability, Sinéad Morrissey’s sixth collection revisits some of the great feats of human engineering to reveal the states of balance and imbalance that have shaped our history. The poems also address gender inequality and our inharmonious relationship with the natural world. Sinéad Morrissey was born in 1972 and grew up in Belfast. She read English and German at Trinity College, Dublin, from which she took her PhD in 2003, and has published five collections including Parallax (2013) which won the T S Eliot Prize. She’s lived in Germany, Japan and New Zealand and lectured in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University in Belfast and now lives in Northumberland where she’s Head of the Creative Writing programme at Newcastle University. She’s also Belfast’s inaugural Poet Laureate. Judges: ‘This collection appropriately strikes a balance between technical mastery and range and depth of enquiry.’


Useful Verses by Richard Osmond (Picador)

Richard Osmond’s debut collection follows in the tradition of the best nature writing, being as much about the human world as the natural, the present as the past. Osmond, a professional forager, has a deep knowledge of flora and fauna as they appear in both natural and human history, as they are depicted in both folklore and herbal – but he views them through a wholly contemporary lens. Chamomile is discussed through quantum physics, ants through social media, wood sorrel through online gambling, and mugwort through a traffic cone. In each case, Osmond offers an arresting and new perspective, and makes that hidden world that lives and breathes beside us vividly part of our own. Richard Osmond was born in 1987. He works as a wild food forager, searching for plants, fruits and fungi among the forests and hedgerows of Hertfordshire and co-owns an award-winning wild food pub, The Verulam Arms, in St Albans. He received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 2017.

Judges: ‘A contemporary, agile and original take on the intersection of the natural and human worlds.’

Category winners announced 2nd Jan. 2018;  main winner announced 30th Jan. 2018.



Poems for April

Poems for April.

April may have been overtaken by May and Spring is now sliding into Summer so apologies for being a laggard.  Or maybe I can claim to be presumptious for 2018!   Another small selection for the seasons covering  700 years.

Short extract of beginning of Prologue to Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.   Modern translation by Ecker and Crook  (online & published by Hodge and Braddock 1993)…. I would highly recommend this translation of the complete Tales for those in study now or for nostalgia of days studied and how it should really be translated!!

When April’s gentle rains have pierced the drought

Of March right to the root, and bathed each sprout

Through every vein with liquid of such power

It brings forth the engendering of the flower;

When Zephyrus too with his sweet breath has blown

Through every field and forest, urging on

The tender shoots, and there’s a youthful sun,

His second half course through the Ram now run,

And little birds are making melody

And sleep all night, eyes open as can be

(So Nature pricks them in each little heart),

On pilgrimage then folks desire to start.

The palmers long to travel foreign strands

To distant shrines renowned in sundry lands;

And specially, from every shire’s end

In England, folks to Canterbury wend:

To seek the blissful martyr is their will,

The one who gave such help when they were ill.


April Showers                              John Clare

Delightful weather for all sorts of moods

& most for him – grey morn and swarthy eye

Found rambling up the little narrow lane

Where primrose banks amid the hazly woods

Peep most delightfully on passers bye

While Aprils little clouds about the sky

Mottle & freak unto fancy lie

Idling and ending travel for the day

Till darker clouds sail up with cumberous heave

South oer the woods & scares them all away

Then comes the rain pelting with pearly drops

The primrose crowds until they stoop & lie

All fragrance to his mind that musing stops

Beneath the awthorn till the shower is bye

This poem taken from Midsummer Cushion, the manuscript that Clare spent a tremendous amount of time preparing for publication but it  never was in his lifetime.   It took 150 years.   Published by MidNAG &Carcanet in 1978, intro.  by Anne Tibble.    A collection of poems we know selected and ordered by himself makes this a particularly special book.


April                                        Jean Whitfield

I saw into the eye of the month with its moist buds

not quite contained on quivering branches

and an embroidered sky beyond white mazes

of yellow-cream green-shining almost-leaves

mere prickings spinning webs with sunlight

and the wild plum tree hazy with dabs of thick leaf.


A crazy Crow clowned an April trick

balancing a leg a wing a hooded beak

on one slender single-budded branch

bending low with him and springing up

against the sheer cliff-top blue

as the carrion trampolines and grinned gleaming.


Sky is all-at-once a whipped and curling ice-cream sea

with wave-tops flashing peaking into one another

and down here grass reflects its silver in these bending blades

that goldfinches skim on the surface light

and carry its message in their joy lifting and flowing.


April’s music laced with wings rejoices in its murmurings

it is all surprises at the heart of it, is a gift for us

an unfolding of the ceaseless year that is happening again.


I tasted April sharp and clear

a spring of a day bubbling out of the gill

it wet my lips filled my cold throats and flowed

like light lapping tree-tops fresh through me

and my toes shot sparks in the icy dew:

in the warming sun my skin became April.


A poem from ‘Moments’, reprinted by permission of Bakery Press.  Another example of the quality of this poet’s work.




A trio of Thistles: three poems by poets; Clare, Lee & Whitfield

Thistles                                                                       by John Clare        1793- 1864

Where the broad sheep walk bare and brown

With scant grass pining after showers

And winds go fanning up and down

The little strawy bents and nodding flowers,

There the huge thistle spurred with many thorns

The suncracked uplands’ russet swells adorns.

Not undevoid of beauty, there they come,

Armed warriors waiting neither suns nor showers,

Guarding the little clover plats to bloom

sheep nor oxen dare not crop their flowers,

Unsheathing their own knobs of tawny flowers

When Summer cometh in her hottest hours.

The sheep when hunger presses sore

May nip the clover round its nest

But soon the thistle wounding sore

Relieves it from each brushing guest

That leaves a bit of wool behind

The yellow hammer loves to find.

The bee will make its bloom a bed,

The bumble bee in tawny brown,

And one in jacket fringed with red

Will rest upon its velvet down

When over taken in the rain

And wait till sunshine comes again.

And there are times when travel goes

Along the sheep tracks’ beaten ways

That pleasure many a praise bestows

Upon its blossom’s pointed rays

When other things are parched beside

And hot days leaves it in its pride.

ed:   I am guilty of leaving out verses 3,4,5,7 and 8, purely for  reasons of space ( included are 1,2,6,9 and 10).  Punctuation and spelling is likely to have been ‘tidied up’from his original mss.  This and another, shorter, poem entitled ‘The Thistle’, in full, can be found  in ‘This Happy Spirit‘  published by the John Clare Society  978 095641133 4, with superb linocuts by Carry Akroyd.


thistleThistle.                                    by    Laurie Lee                                                               1914-1997

Thistle, blue bunch of daggers

rattling upon the wind,

saw-tooth that separates

the lips of grasses.

Your wound in childhood was

a savage shock of joy

that set bees on fire

and the loud larks singing.

Your head enchanted then

smouldering among flowers

filled the whole sky with smoke

and sparks of seed.

Now from your stabbing bloom’s

nostalgic point of pain

ghosts of those summers rise

rustling across my eyes.

Seeding a magic thorn

to prick the memory

to start in my icy flesh

fevers of long lost fields.


Thistle’s….                                                  by  Jean Whitfield       1941-84

…… roots quiver

like thin people


bunched for warmth

leaves corrugate

would probe fingernails

pierce feet

score skin

ready for basting

made of wirewool

its head of hair

would scream through goblets

that tormented


bulge of purple.


I was certain Edward Thomas and DH Lawrence had written on ‘Thistles’  but it seems not:  ‘Nettles’, yes.  At least not in the places I have looked.  I may well end up researching for an ‘Anthology of Weeds’ but then ‘what is a weed but a flower in the wrong place?’   or someone else’s quote to that effect!

Three poems:   Clare following mostly the rules of the day using iambs (feet) and ABABCC ryme scheme pretty strictly throughout his observational poem. Pure detail and simple acceptance of the existence and beauty and usefulness of this plant, as he had for all things in nature.

Lee writing in simple blank verse; visual but less specific in details.   5 verses, each with four or five lines.    You could, in fact, reduce each verse into two longer lines or even write them each as a single line sentence. Would this change anything?    Quite likely, the spaces between the lines give your mind time to form an image which gains definition as you read the finallines.  Starting in ‘the present’, by the end the author may be seen as old  (‘icy flesh’)  and the ‘magic thorn to prick the memory’  maybe suggests a rising sense of loss at the rousing of memory for ‘fevers of long lost fields’, of  childhood exploits.

Whitfield:    No chance of lining this short poem into a pure single sentence as the words descriptive clash against each other.  The lines breathe the punctuation but you might have to read it more than once to find the sentence stops rather then the commas.    The only poem to include, let alone start with the root (uniquely?) and it slides gratingly upwards to its ‘bulge of purple’.   No minute observation, no hint of self-absorption but maybe this time an anger at its apparent intention to hurt.  As they can.  Another poets view of that self-same jack-of-all-soils, the thistle.

Three poems which follow the core of their periods.

For a Late October Evening…okay……Hallowe’en!!

October Evening                                           J Johnson Smith

The moon creeps through the glimmering autumn mist

to hang, a wolf’s eye, scarred by baring branches that loom

overhead as a net to catch the fall.


The dark crowd stands around, silently akimbo

as the fairy ring grows spads of white

that creep and open grey hoods to hide their gills

swaying gently to the rhythm of the breeze.


The beasts, lying in wait in the tall fronds hesitate

at the cry in the night.

The shimmering silence pitched headlong, pierced, strung through

and hung, hanging in the silence. Lost to the darkness,

overlooked by the wolf and the fairies setting their spells.


In the glade, where the beck dreams on

with its hallowed evening song in it’s soft gritty bed,

no soul sees the mingled stream red.


All Hallows Night                             Lizette Woodworth Reese

Two things I did on Hallows Night:—
Made my house April-clear;
Left open wide my door
To the ghosts of the year.
Then one came in. Across the room
It stood up long and fair-
The ghost that was myself-
And gave me stare for stare.

Black Cat                                 Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 – 1926

A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:

just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.

She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,                                                                                                         she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.

The Apparition             John Donne, 1572 – 1631

When by thy scorn, O murd’ress, I am dead
And that thou think’st thee free
From all solicitation from me,
Then shall my ghost come to thy bed,
And thee, feign’d Vestal, in worse arms shall see;
Then thy sick taper will begin to wink,
And he, whose thou art then, being tir’d before,
Will, if thou stir, or pinch to wake him, think
Thou call’st for more,
And in false sleep will from thee shrink;
And then, poor aspen wretch, neglected thou
Bath’d in a cold quicksilver sweat wilt lie
A verier ghost than I.
What I will say, I will not tell thee now,
Lest that preserve thee; and since my love is spent,
I’had rather thou shouldst painfully repent,
Than by my threat’nings rest still innocent.

visiting Milton’s Cottage

Well, last weekend I was visiting Clare’s Cottage at Helpston and five days later I visited Milton’s Cottage in Chalfont St Giles.

Two cottages, two poets, almost two centuries apart but each has a cottage they lived in preserved for today’s visitors.    And that word ‘cottage’ is as near as their worlds ever get, the buildings themselves are almost as far apart as the language and content of their poetry.

milt cott1So, to my visit to Milton’s world  where for two years he was keeping well away from the plague in London, accompanied by his daughter and third wife.

Not a time for biography here but knowing how I wander no doubt it will out!

The cottage is just off the town centre, an easy walk through the main street into Deanway and partway up the hill is the cottage, well signed as both his cottage and a Milton Museum. Just passed the house is a small track up the hill,  just wide enough for cars and at the top a small flattened area enough for about nine cars.  All easy to get into as long as you don’t miss the turning and there is space to park. If not then turning round may be a nuisance.

However, for me it was a beautiful day and  plenty of space to park.

Rang the bell-pull and two delightful ladies took me in, apologised for taking my entrance fee and explained it went towards upkeep of the cottage trust.    I was the lone visitor at the time so I was shown round the rooms of the ground floor that composed the museum. The great man’s actual chair was the first prized possession to be seen and the chat continued as we wandered round the rooms.  Typical style as you would see or imagine from experiences of pictures of the period or researched historical dramas.    ‘When did you last see your Father’ sprang to mind though that picture was of a much larger room.  The rooms had leaded windows and dark furniture so quite dim except where the sun shone in directly.  However they were pleasantly cooler than in the road.

From a distance the outside and design is of an established cottage or small farmhouse, red bricked and tiled. It looks both substantial (relatively) and cosy.  When inside the age is undeniable. Low door lintels and ceilings with a few beams visible, some inglenook fireplaces in beautiful condition though you would have to be small to fit in the nook.  Is that right?

Many fine editions of his writings were visible in cabinets and samples of pamphlets and books on display, including prints of his mss.  Around the walls were portraits of him as a young man through to his last years and blind. There is a bust in the garden.  Assorted prints of events through his life whether personal or in his work as a ‘civil servant’.  Being more specific he was Secretary for Foreign Tongues in Cromwell’s government.  He had finished at Cambridge University and was touring Europe when news of the political unrest in England drew him back.  His preference for poetry was dropped as he became involved in the growing turmoil and events of the Civil War. He supported the Republican Cause and used his powers of language in writing and became the chief polemicist for Cromwells’s Commonwealth, issuing many pamphlets and writings of political, theological and historical subjects for the day.  Much of this is available still and a relevant study.   I suppose through all this time he was a Radical Media Man  and working for the Cromwellian Government ensured his writings were published and so historically secure. Following the collapse of the Commonwealth  and the reinstallation of Charles II to the monarchy in 1660 Milton’s position was far from secure.  His life likely hung in the balance at this change of events and time was spent in the Tower of London, now blind, poor and seriously out of favour.

Maybe his way with words, as a poet and his blindness saved him as well as old friends, especially Andrew Marvell. In the Tower he was back to writing poetry, or rather dictating to aides.  He had started Paradise Lost in 1658 and finished it at this cottage in Chalfont St Giles in 1664, when the first edition was published.

The Great Plague raging in London, his withdrawal to the country (as many did) and the Fire of London were all events towards the end of his life.  Being blind at this time was no milt bust1hindrance to his poetry as he would dictate, his mind was still hugely active   His family remained at the Cottage for two years and returned to live quietly again in London.  He died in 1674.

He led a life almost at the of one of the most tumultuous and important periods of English History.  His poetry was written in language that today maybe harder to understand literally but it ever was.  You need a depth of background to come close to realising the allegorical stories of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained (written after a suggestion at Milton’s Cottage by a friend and visitor) or plenty of time. It helps by reading the volumes of Longman Annotated English Poets on Milton’s Longer Poems and the other on Shorter Poems.    However if you persevere in reading just some of the (original) former out loud you might find yourself caught up by the sheer eloquence and grandeur of the language as well as the assault on the senses it seems to give.  Perhaps searching for the political meanings and interpretation within the text can be left for others of a more historical or linguistic bent.

You can wander into the cottage garden. I am not sure how it relates to his days there but it is pleasant enough today. Steeply terraced in the most part though a small flat lawn beside the house is an easy place to sit and view the cottage garden effect of the planting as it moves up the hillside.

milt back 1In the garden, looking at the nicely ragged flowers and overhanging trees, small twisting routes up the layered garden, I felt a calming that reflected being outside rather than peering at the old prints and leather books, interesting as they were.  The little water fountain that spattered down onto a gravelled base was attracting attention.  The sun glittered into it and on the white stoned face embedded in it where the water rippled the surface.  A small plaque had a line from Lycidas as a memorial to a University friend who had drowned.

Milton may have been the most educated, knowledgable English poet ever, combining as a high attaining Cambridge graduate plus his additional years of self-study and experience travelling round Europe. His writing distinguishes him as such.   But in that garden, the simplicity of it, I fell back to thinking of dear old John Clare and his struggle for life and poetry. How his poetry may well have a wider, greater audience today, even influence in this Eco-pointing world.

Four more visitors arrived as I left.  Milton’s Cottage is well worth a visit as a national interest, if you are inclined to following poetry timelines and places.  And when you leave the Cottage, just across the road is the Milton’s Indian Restaraunt, where I suspect John didnt visit.  Or maybe he did?

Lycidas by John Milton                                  (only maybe 20% of the poem)

Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more,
Ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere,
I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude,
And with forced fingers rude
Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.
Bitter constraint, and sad occasion dear,
Compels me to disturb your season due;
For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime,
Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer.
Who would not sing for Lycidas? He knew
Himself to sing, and build the lofty rhyme.
He must not float upon his wat’ry bier
Unwept, and welter to the parching wind,
Without the meed of some melodious tear.
Begin then, Sisters of the sacred well,
That from beneath the seat of Jove doth spring,
Begin, and somewhat loudly sweep the string.
Hence with denial vain, and coy excuse,
So may some gentle Muse
With lucky words favour my destined urn,
And as he passes turn
And bid fair peace be to my sable shroud.
For we were nursed upon the selfsame hill,
Fed the same flock by fountain, shade, and rill.
Together both, ere the high lawns appeared
Under the opening eyelids of the morn,
We drove a-field, and both together heard
What time the gray-fly winds her sultry horn,
Batt’ning our flocks with the fresh dews of night,
Oft till the star that rose, at ev’ning, bright
Toward heav’n’s descent had sloped his
west’ring wheel.

first 32 lines

xxxxxxxx             last 31 lines

milt lycidasFor so to interpose a little ease,
Let our frail thoughts dally with false surmise.
Ay me! whilst thee the shores and sounding seas
Wash far away, where’er thy bones are hurled,
Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
Where thou perhaps under the whelming tide
Visit’st the bottom of the monstrous world;
Or whether thou, to our moist vows denied,
Sleep’st by the fable of Bellerus old,
Where the great vision of the guarded mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona’s hold.
Look homeward, Angel, now, and melt with ruth;
And, O ye dolphins, waft the hapless youth.
Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more,
For Lycidas your sorrow is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the wat’ry floor.
So sinks the day-star in the ocean bed,
And yet anon repairs his drooping head,
And tricks his beams, and with new-spangled ore
Flames in the forehead of the morning sky:
So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high,
Through the dear might of Him that walked
the waves,
Where, other groves and other streams along,
With nectar pure his oozy locks he laves,
And hears the unexpressive nuptial song,
In the blest kingdoms meek of joy and love.
There entertain him all the saints above,
In solemn troops, and sweet societies,
That sing, and singing in their glory move,
And wipe the tears for ever from his eyes.



Visiting the John Clare Festival 2016

At Helpston:

organised by the John Clare Society

The ‘Midsummer Cushion’ tradition is now continued the nearest weekend to Clare’s birthday when the John Clare Society hold their festival three-day weekend in his honour.

These days the ‘cushions are prepared by children from the local school and placed around clare midsummer cushionhis grave after which a small ceremony in the church and the announcement of the winning child for that year’s poem.  On the Friday evening there is a high old time of folk music and singing in the Blue Bell pub much used by John Clare.  He wrote a lot of songs that fitted the folk tunes of the day so these had a high priority for the night.

The Saturday is when even more society members and visitors arrive. Interesting in conversation to hear that there were some first-timers and a swathe of people of a few years but possibly greater numbers for the long haul and several that had been inaugural, or almost, members from 35 years ago.    It seems that once you become attached to Clare it is almost impossible to detach yourself.   I don’t know the numbers as they ebbed and flowed between a.g.m. and bookstalls and coffee shop and of course visiting the Cottage.

At the a.g.m. we listened to Carrie Akroyd’s (the new president) words; of her appreciation of Clare and his work and that his poetry inspired her art and determined her to promote his work beside her own exhibitions around the country.  The Wood is Sweet and  This Happy Place contain her superb linocuts next to selections of his poems.     In her speech she made the point that people can come to Clare’s poetry, and do, from many different directions.  The gist being:

His minute observation of flora and fauna is still critically acclaimed for its accuracy, his understanding of nature, the seasons and landscape. His love poetry, as social historian with a ground-level view or as a satirist that he knew would never be published in his lifetime. For his philosophy and learning that struggled up from his own strength of mind and determination to understand his personal world.  As a musician, a lover of tradition and collector of songs and likely a radical at least in the days of enclosure.  Indeed maybe just as a lover, and of course for his mental state as he aged; though his faculty for poetry, for writing natural history and letters, failed only slowly at the end of his life.

All these threads, once any one is found can lead you to a lasting appreciation of Clare.

Followed by a fine description of the out-going president, Ronald Blythe, by a long term friend and Clare enthusiast.  Blythe, the author of Akenfield and many fine books on landscape and Clare plus numerous contributions especially to the Church Times, is still busy writing but felt it time for another hand on the John Clare tiller and Carrie Akroyd fits the bill perfectly.

And so time to finish the business and mingle with the crowd amongst St Botolph’s church pews or outside between the lavender banks from the door.  Maybe a viewing of Clare’s grave with its recently placed memorial headstone repeating the words now almost illegible on the sloping sides of his tombstone.  Around which are the children’s mid-summer cushions.  Surrounding him on his birthday weekend for his and our delight.   A slow lunch for those who would walk the short distance to the village hall, maybe after visiting the specialist booksellers next to the Exeter Arms or the Society stall in West Street.

After lunch we heard from Margi Blunden on how her father, Edmund Blunden, discovered an early love of Clare’s poetry despite very little being published at that time. How a volume of Clare accompanied E.B. through his two years in WWI trenches (1916/18) and how his love of the poetry induced him to research for manuscripts and eventually led him to a treasure-chest (almost literally) of mss and personal scrapbooks and  book-plans belonging to John Clare.  A trail started and followed through his entire lifetime of researching and re-introducing Clare to the world.

This was followed by an hour of personal choice poetry by or of Clare spoken by visiting members and committee for the appreciation of the still quite large audience.

The first being written and read by Kelsey Thornton which was a thoughtful and joyous poem: For Peter Moyse,  a man of Helpston who spent  all his spare time enthusiastically photographing the present surroundings of Clare, promoting the man and the work and the poet.     Several of Clare poems followed, including a sonnet:  to Bloomfield on his death  (A poet neighbour he read and corresponded with but never met).  Numerous others and one recently found; recollections of an evening walk.

A break for tea and cakes or a trip to visit Swaddywell, one of Clare’s favourite spots, where oak trees had ben previously planted in memory of John Clare, Edmund Blunden and Peter Moyse.  Or maybe a beer at the Blue Bell before a well-worn stroll back to the church and the final event of the evening:

The Big Fiddle Band.

For this evening we had eleven members on violin (fiddles!) plus their leader Jenny Newman and a guitarist (Andy Glass) who joined with Jenny for a couple of tunes between manning the video camera.  Numerous tunes were played over the hour with interesting arrangements that allowed all the group to perform.   The assorted airs and jigs they played were performed superbly, faultlessly ( I am not a professional listener!)  and all the audience were delighted. Tunes offered were some of Clare’s period and ones he would have played, even written words for as well as some frequently played today at ceilidhs.  A particularly appreciated set after a reading of ‘Clover‘ by John Clare was The Sleeping Tune, Donald Willie and his Dog and, the Fall.

This was followed  by a jaunty 80 mile Waltz, written by Jenny herself.  The last to be played was written by a Northhants farmer…. Sorry, lost his name,……called the Sty at Night; starting as a slow counterbalance to the previous jogs and waltzes that burst into an almost classical arrangement of a jig that brought us into contemporary music for folk.

So for me that was the end of the evening.  Others also made their ways to home or maybeto that local pub for a couple of hours but I had a drive home.    Sunday I had to miss but john clare statuethere would be a family church service at St Botolph’s celebrating Clare followed by a gathering for wine or soft drinks to round off the Festival.  Yes, sorry to have missed that. Never mind, all the more reason for booking the diary for 2017.  So much more I could say but wouldn’t that be boring

Same again next year!