Voices from the Blog

Tuesday, May 14 – an evening of poetry from eight poets present on the Mary Evans Picture Library ‘Poems and Pictures’ Blog.


An evening to remember and honour Gill Stoker (1954-2024), who first devised the Blog in 2015 and continued to curate it until she was stopped by her illness last year. By the way, the Blog continues under the stewardship of Mark Braund. Do explore the website and find out how to submit poems, and also more about Gill ad the Library.

Gill and I collaborated on a number of poetry and poetry-related events, and continued to plan during her illness. This event was the result of this planning. It had to be on Zoom because of the location of several of the poets. Despite minor techie issues (minor, but giving me major panic!), the evening went smoothly.

The voices we were treated to were so diverse and the poems were moving, sombre, political but also funny and quirky – and always word-perfect.

The readers were Natan Barreto, David Bottomley, Wendy French, Sue Hubbard, Maggie MacKay, Marion McCready, Hugh McMillan and Jill Sharp.

Each read one poem from the Blog, accompanied by the image that inspired them or best echoed their words, plus a few other poems from recent collections. They took us from war zones through historic expeditions, London Soho, ekphrastic poetry, imaginary conversations between Dylan Thomas and his wife, Moscow in the ’70s, the NHS, hedgerows and near-anthropomorphic flowers and birds to family memories, migration, buses and their passengers, Dirk Bogarde, to end with the ubiquitous round paper lantern (it will never look or feel pedestrian again, after Jill Sharp’s perfectly observed verses…).

The contrasting tones, styles and forms danced beautifully together, bouncing off each other and making us sit up in recognition as images, like the words in Natan Barreto’s poem about language, emerge as never predictable, but inevitable…

As a sort of brief ‘interval’ I shared a recorded message from Mark Braund, in which he spoke a bit about the Blog and Gill and read a poem by Gill’s late husband, the composer Richard Stoker. Gill was so proud of Richard’s achievements, it seemed fitting to end the ‘interval’ with Mark’s reading of Richard’s poem inspired by the death of Francis Poulenc. Richard was in Paris at the time, studying with Nadia Boulanger, and was shocked by Poulenc’s untimely death.

The event was recorded and I shall post the precise way to access it once some editing has been carried out if necessary. It is likely to be made available on the Mary Evans YouTube channel.

Here’s some information about the poets, their publications and their impressive achievements. I shall shortly add some more information about where to purchase their collections. In the meantime, if you’re interested, you can contact the publishers or myself.

Natan Barreto was born in Salvador, Brazil. He has lived in Rio, Paris, Rome, and, since 1992, in London, where he works as a primary school teacher. He is the author of seven collections of poetry in Portuguese. Fluent in many languages, he has also published a novel and a volume of translations from French of work by Madagascan writer Jean-Joseph Rabearivel.

David Bottomley is an award-winning poet, playwright and librettist with a passion for environmental and ecological conservation. His play Waterton’s Wild Menagerie was a finalist of the Nick Darke Award; Britain for Breakfast, finalist Enter Stage Write Award and Limboland, finalist at Herts and Essex Playwriting Festival. His plays have been performed at Edinburgh, Manchester, San Diego Fringe Festivals, Birmingham and London theatres. He works nationally and internationally with composers to set his writing to music. He was commissioned by the charity Rising Tides to write the environmental play King Neptune and the Mermaid. David recently obtained an MA in Opera Making and Writing at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, for which he was commissioned to write the opera Lanternfish. 

Wendy French has three collections of poetry published: Splintering the Dark (Rockingham Press, 2005), surely you know this (Tall Lighthouse, 2009), and Thinks Itself A Hawk (Hippocrates Press, 2016), the latter resulting from her time as Poet in Residence at the UCH Macmillan Cancer Centre, 2014-2015. She was joint editor with Dilys Wood of Fanfare (Second Light, 2015), a book of poems written by women poets, and also co-edited The Hippocrates Book of the Heart (Hippocrates Press, 2017) with Prof Michael Hulse and Prof Donald Singer. She won the Hippocrates Poetry and Medicine Prize (NHS section) in 2010 and was awarded second prize in 2011. Her collaboration with Jane Kirwan resulted in the book Born in the NHS (Hippocrates Press, 2013). She has judged or co-judged three major poetry competitions: the Torbay International Competition, the Torriano Competition and the Tongues and Grooves 10-year celebration competition, as well as the Hippocrates International Poetry Competition for poems relating to medicine or the body. For the past twenty years she has facilitated creative writing in healthcare settings, having finished her formal teaching career as head of the Maudsley and Bethlem Hospital School in 2003.

Sue Hubbard is an award-winning poet, novelist and freelance art critic, with an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. She is twice winner of the London Writers Competition, with a third prize in the National Poetry Competition. Her publications include Everything Begins with the Skin (Enitharmon), Ghost StationThe Forgetting and Remembering of Air (Salt), and The Idea of Islands (Occasional Press). Swimming to Albania, her fourth collection, was published by Salmon Press in 2021, and Pushkin Press published her fourth novel Flatlands in 2023. Twenty of her poems were included in An Anthology: Carcanet 2000. Her poetry has been recorded for The Poetry Sound Archive, read on Poetry PleaseThe Verb and Front Row, and appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, as well as in The Irish Times and The Observer. She has published a collection of short stories, Rothko’s Red (Salt), and two novels, Depth of Field (Dewi Lewis) and Girl in White (Cinnamon Press), for which she received a major Arts Council Award. Her third novel, Rainsongs, was published in 2018 to great critical acclaim from The GuardianThe Irish TimesThe Irish Independent and The Jewish Chronicle, among many others. As an art critic she has written regularly for many leading newspapers and art magazines. Her selected art writings, Adventures in Art, are published by Other Criteria. As The Poetry Society’s only Public Art Poet, she was responsible for London’s largest public art poem, ‘Eurydice’, in the IMAX tunnel at Waterloo, commissioned as part of the South Bank regeneration.

A retired Scottish support teacher for young people with additional needs, Maggie MacKay took up her writing again and began a thrilling new life. After studies at Manchester Metropolitan University, her pamphlet The Heart of the Run (Picaroon Poetry 2018) with Kate Garrett was followed by her debut collection A West Coast Psalter  (Kelsey Books 2021). In 2020 her poem ‘How to Distil a Guid Scotch Malt’ was awarded a place in the Poetry Archive’s WordView permanent collection and was a runner up in The Liverpool Prize. Steve Cawte at Impspired Press published her second collection The Babel of Human Travel in November 2022. She reviews poetry collections and pamphlets at The Friday Poem (https://thefridaypoem.com). Maggie loves a good malt and cool jazz as much as daydreaming on the sofa with Hattie, her marvellous rescue greyhound.

Marion McCready lives in Argyll. Her poems have been published widely including in Poetry (Chicago), Edinburgh Review, The Glasgow Herald and have appeared in multiple anthologies. Her pamphlet collection Vintage Sea was published by Calder Wood Press (2011). She is the winner of a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award and the Melita Hume Poetry Prize and the author of two poetry collections from Eyewear Publishing: Tree Language (2014) and Madame Ecosse (2017). Her most recent collection, Look to the Crocus, was published by Shoestring Press in 2023.  

Hugh McMillan is a well published, anthologised and broadcast poet, writer and performer who lives in South West Scotland. His last collection Haphazardly in the Starless Night was published by Luath Press in 2021 and Diverted to Split, his latest, is due out in summer 2024.  In 2021 he was appointed editor of the Scottish Poetry Library’s anthology ‘Best Scottish Poems’ and was also chosen to be a Saltire Society judge for Best Scottish Poetry Collection of the Year. His cult classic ‘McMillan’s Galloway’ was reprinted in paperback form in May 2023, and ‘Whit If’, his Scottish History poems are to be reprinted in April 2024. His website is at https://www.hughmcmillanwriter.co.uk/

Jill Sharp has worked as a tutor with the Open University and has also taught excluded teenagers. Her poetry has been published in many magazines including Acumen, Envoi, The Frogmore Papers, The Interpreter’s House, Mslexia, Prole, Poetry Salzburg Review, Stand, and Under the Radar. Her work has also appeared in various anthologies, most recently Pale Fire (Frogmore Press) and Contemporary Gothic Verse (Emma Press), as well as online at And Other Poems, Ink, Sweat and Tears and London Grip. Her pamphlet Ye gods was published by Indigo Dreams (2015), and she was one of six poets in Vindication, an anthology from Arachne Press (2018). Her poem ‘Cemetery crow’ was placed joint-second in the 2020 Keats-Shelley Prize. Jill was a founder member of Swindon’s BlueGate Poets, and she has run regular writing workshops at the Richard Jefferies Museum at Coate.

Shakespeare night at West Greenwich Library

It’s taken me longer than usual to get down to updating this site with an entry about Tuesday’s event. Various reasons for this – life, sorting things in the house and in my head, lingering glow after that terrific evening, thinking how lucky I am to have the opportunity to learn so much while being entertained, responding to many kind and enthusiastic messages from audience and performers alike. Anyway, here I am now, with a non-review of the event, only a short account of it and its two halves.

Difficult to put into words the depth of knowledge, the ease of delivery, the interesting facts, the amazing connections that Neville Grant gifted us in his illustrated talk about his book Shakespeare in an Age of Anxiety (Greenwich Exchange 2023) – covering, of course, history, religion, politics, romance and literature in a seamless and totally engaging way, with wit and scholarship, holding the large audience spellbound. If you missed the session, or regret not buying the book at the time, go to https://greenex.co.uk

Equally hard to put into words the creative, poetic skills of the six wordsmiths who concocted a unique buzz during the second half. Poets Nick Eisen, Doreen Hinchliffe, NJ Hynes, Rosie Johnston, Lorraine Mariner and Gillie Robic read from 154, a Live Canon publication where each of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets bears a response from 154 different contemporary poets. The six poets above are all part of that tremendous project, and read (and explained) with wit, reverence and irreverence, both the original sonnet ‘allocated’ to them and their own responses. The irreverence continued, in the most respectful sense, of course, in the following section, when the poets read/performed another piece, still with a connection to a Shakespearean work or work by a previous artist or poet. Their diverse choices and voices were stunning and highly entertaining – disguising the depth of their knowledge and the hard hard work that goes into making and sharing poetry.

To buy 154 and poetry by NJ Hynes and Gillie Robic, go to www.livecanon.co.uk

For works by the other poets, please google them or check their publishers in the biographies below.

A HUGE THANK YOU to all who spoke and all who attended and, as always, to Debra and Em at the Library for all their generous help.

Neville Grant, best known locally as former editor of the Westcombe News, is a professional author who has published many textbooks on language and literature used in countries around the world. His  latest book, Shakespeare in an Age  of Anxiety (Greenwich Exchange 2023), written for the general reader, celebrates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio – the collection of his plays published seven years after his death. The book looks at how a grammar school boy made it in London’s theatre-land, how he survived Tudor politics, and gives an appreciation of each of his works in the order in which they were written, so one can trace his development as a writer.

Nick Eisen is a writer and performer whose spoken word, poetry and plays have appeared at venues such as Battersea Arts Centre, the late, great Man In The Moon Theatre, Riverside Studios and Chocolate Poetry. His more recent spoken word performances and collaborations have been for Wansdworth’s contribution to the London Design Festival, Wandsworth’s Arts Fringe, London Metropolitan University and Arcus Pride in Canary Wharf and other venues.

Originally from Yorkshire, Doreen Hinchliffe is a retired teacher who has lived in London for many years. Her poems have appeared in a wide variety of poetry anthologies and magazines, and her sonnet sequence, The Pointing Star, was recorded by Live Canon on their Poems for Christmas CD in 2011.To date, she has published three poetry collections – Dark Italics (Indigo Dreams, 2017) Substantial Ghosts (Oversteps Books, 2020) and Marginalia (Stairwell Books, 2023). Her first novel, Sarabande in Blue, was recently published by Blossom Spring Publishing.

NJ Hynes is a South London based poet who enjoys flamenco, piano playing and climbing every hill in Greenwich Park. Her latest pamphlet Tracking Light, Stacking Time, was published by Live Canon in 2023 and launched at the Royal Observatory. Her collection The Department of Emotional Projections won Live Canon’s inaugural First Collection competitionIn between, she’s been longlisted, shortlisted and commended in numerous competitions, and in 2019 she won the Battered Moons poetry competition. In the same year a poem commissioned for the launch of Maritime Radio Greenwich resulted in an award-winning broadcast. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post as well as in literary journals, train stations, art galleries and Soho shop fronts. She is currently working on poems inspired by a month-long residency in the Atacama Desert, Chile.

Rosie Johnston’s writing spans journalism, drama, fiction and poetry, with novels published in Dublin and London and four books of poetry by Lapwing Publications in her native Belfast. Her most recent, Six-Count Jive (Lapwing, 2019), describes the inner landscape of her complex post-traumatic stress disorder and led to readings at Glasgow and Vigo universities and inclusion in Her Other Language (Arlen House, 2020). Rosie’s poetry also appears in the Northern Irish section of Places of Poetry (OneWorld, 2020), the Mary Evans Poems and Pictures blog and various magazines. Her first venture back into fiction in ten years, Laughing and Grief, was published in American Writers Review. Her fifth book of poetry, Safe Ground, will be published by Mica Press early next year. Rosie reviews poetry for London Grip and is a generous and inspirational teacher and mentor. rosiejohnstonwrites.com

Lorraine Mariner lives in Greenwich and works at the National Poetry Library, Southbank Centre. She has published two collections with Picador, Furniture (2009) and There Will Be No More Nonsense (2014) and has been shortlisted for the Forward Prize twice, for Best Single Poem and Best First Collection, and for the Seamus Heaney Centre Poetry Prize. Her most recent publication is the poetry chapbook, Anchorage with Grey Suit Editions (2020). She edits regularly for Candlestick Press: Ten Poems About Libraries has just been published, following on from Ten Poems About Friendship, Ten Poems About Love and Ten Poems About Tea.

Gillie Robic was born in India, a place that remains her abiding passion. She is a puppeteer and her voice is used in film, theatre and television. Gillie’s poetry collections, Swimming Through Marble, Lightfalls, and her latest, I think I could be wrong, are all published by Live Canon, as is her pamphlet Open Skies, written and published in aid of Ukraine.

‘Lest we Forget’ – an evening to remember and honour all victims of racial, ethnic and religious hatred.

‘Celebration’ might be the wrong word for what a large audience took part in last night at the wonderful West Greenwich Library. And yet the word did crop up a few times. As well as deploring cruelty and crying for the victims, we must also celebrate the resilience, courage and selflessness of survivors and of the individuals and families who put their lives at grave risk to protect others.

Shivaun Woolfson presented ‘Surviving History: Portraits from Vilna’, a documentary made in 2008 (and still sadly relevant) by her and her sons Daniel and Jesse Quinones (Wolfcub Productions) in Lithuania, where their family originated from. A trip that was much more than ‘fact-finding’. Having recently lost both her parents, Shivaun felt the urge to find some meaningful family and cultural traces. What she found was a town where skinheads still marched chanting ‘Jews Out!’, where the remaining Jewish community had dwindled to a small number of elderly and very old people. The memory of what happened to the once thriving community would disappear with them, were it not for a small, tucked-away Jewish museum, dedicated to preserving those memories, to recovering the faces and names of those who were killed by their neighbours, as well as by the German SS.

Shivaun interviewed some of the survivors, who showed such humanity in the face of indescribable and still-fresh sorrow. All we could do at the end of the short film was to sit in silence for a short moment.

After some questions to Shivaun and an interval, we watched ‘Hidden Childhood: Vesna’s Story’. The documentary, produced and kindly supplied by the Zagreb Festival of Tolerance, charted, in Vesna Domany Hardy’s own words, the terrible events that affected her and her family during WW2, with the assassination of her Father, the Resistance work of her Mother – through to the post-war years and her Mother’s two year internment under Tito’s communist (but not Stalinist) regime on the notorious island of Goli Otok. This complicated, painful story is also populated by courageous, selfless people, by quiet heroism and startling resilience.

There were some questions, too, at the end of Vesna’s Story, and many heartfelt pleas for peace, tolerance (or, even better, a welcoming, open attitude to differences and diversity).

Just for one night, to coincide with this event, a few library shelves were devoted to a display of prints of very poignant poems and pictures written and drawn by Palestinian children in early 2023, as part of an English language project (www.handsupproject.org) and now collected in a book called Moon Tell me the Truth. This display, and its explanatory notes by Mick Delap, who promoted the display, added to the poignancy of the evening.

We all feel that oral histories and testimonies, in whatever form, are essential to our mutual understanding at this time of great global turmoil and appalling suffering.

A big thank you to Shivaun and Vesna (I feel privileged to be their friend).

I also wish to thank Natasa Popovic of the Zagreb Festival of Tolerance, Wolfcub Productions, Mick Delap and the amazing audience and, as always, Debra Sullivan and her staff at the Library for all their help and support over this important event.

Shivaun Woolfson is a writer and lecturer, with a special interest in life history writing, research and practice. She holds a PhD in history and has taught extensively in the US and the UK, most recently at Goldsmiths College, University of London, where she served as Senior Tutor in Community Studies and visiting lecturer in life writing. She has facilitated workshops, seminars, public readings, performances and writing residences in hospices, prisons and community centres. She has also developed numerous interdisciplinary arts projects based primarily on the life experiences of participants. In 2002, she published an autobiography, Home Fires (Atlantic Books). Between 2008 and 2009, Shivaun fielded a team and made numerous trips to Lithuania to conduct fieldwork research for the project ‘Surviving History – Portraits from Vilna’. The project ultimately culminated in the short documentary we have watched, and a travelling exhibition, which opened at the Tolerance Centre in Vilnius in September 2009. Between 2009 and 2011, the exhibition toured – among other locations – the Holocaust museums in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban, University College Dublin, Shropshire Council’s Shire Hall, Central Synagogue in London, London Jewish Cultural Centre, and Biddenham Upper School, Bedfordshire. During that time, Shivaun also conducted several teachers’ seminars and public talks relating to Holocaust legacy in Lithuania.

Vesna Domany Hardy was born and educated in Zagreb, Croatia. She obtained a degree in Comparative Literature and English language and Literature at the University of Zagreb, and much later an MA in Art History from Goldsmiths College, London. In 1974 she left Yugoslavia to join her English husband in his British Council posting in Pakistan. That posting was followed by one in Paris and, after two years in Greenwich, by two in Italy, in Milan and Rome, before the family returned to London. Vesna made the most of these experiences by continuing to study, write, translate and work for radio, schools and cultural institutions. Vesna was one of ten women who founded the Croatian Peace Forum to counteract the lies about the causes of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, and to lobby for peace. After Croatian independence, she continued working with refugees from Bosnia, especially children, and coordinated a project, aiming to reunite war-dispersed families. She also worked as an interpreter on the ICTY investigation into the war crimes committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Vesna’s links with her country of origin and her own roots are deep and important: she is continuing to write and to collaborate with several newspapers in Croatia, contributing regularly to a Croatian Jewish cultural magazine and sitting on the board of the Jewish Festival of Tolerance in Zagreb. She is on the Holocaust Education Trust’s list of survivors and provides talks on the Holocaust to schools.   

‘A Life in Verse’ – the collected works of Patrick Early

A wonderful compilation of Patrick’s poems, published by Our Glass Publishing

The Early family treated a large audience to readings from this fabulous book on Thursday 7th at St Alfege Church Hall in Greenwich.

I was so happy to be asked to help organise and co-host the event. Patrick’s poetry is so accessible and yet so profound. He died almost exactly three years ago and is so missed… His wife Stephanie put together this collection, a true labour of love. And their children, grandchildren, other relatives and close friends took part by reading some of the thematically arranged poems.

Patrick remembering his childhood under the Raj, his father and grandfather, his later travels both for leisure and work. The latter in particular, taking him and family to different countries for the British Council. The conflict in the former Yugoslavia, his beloved Ireland, France… and eventually older age in Greenwich, where he and Stephanie lived for many years.

There was some beautiful singing by one of Patrick and Stephanie’s granddaughters, accompanied on the guitar by her father, her voice pitch perfect.

Despite the sadness inherent in the event, there was a lot of laughter (Patrick’s wry sense of humour surfacing often) and smiles, and palpable love and admiration for the man and the poet.

Nevada Street Poets – Five Voices

On Tuesday evening, September 5th, a live and a virtual audience were treated to some moving, amusing, profound and stimulating poetry by five members of the Nevada Street Poets group.

Apart from a few issues with the audio experienced by some members of the Zoom audience (a mystery for me why it happened this time, and to some and not others…), the evening was a thorough success. Jocelyn Page, Graham High, Sarah Westcott, Richard Meier and Lorraine Mariner read from their published collections and some poems that haven’t yet been published, touching on themes such as sport, parenting, ageing, death, children, nature and the environment – and as with all poetry, the themes didn’t mean that you could pigeonhole each poem into a particular category.

We also heard two poignant tributes marking two significant losses. Lorraine Mariner ended the first set by reading ‘The Otter’ by Seamus Heaney and Jocelyn Page ended the second set reading the poem ‘A Story about Water’ by the young award winning poet Gboyega Odubanjo, who lost his life tragically just over a week ago.

A big thank you to poet Wendy French who managed the Zoom side of things with grace and patience despite the sound problems. And as always a big thank you to Debra and staff at the wonderful West Greenwich Library for being so helpful, flexible and generous.

The event was recorded and it’s available for private perusal. Please email me irena@in-words.co.uk for the link.

And here is how you can buy their books:

Sarah Westcott: https://sarahwestcott.co.uk/contact

Lorraine Mariner: https://www.panmacmillan.com/authors/lorraine-mariner/5624 and https://www.candlestickpress.co.uk/biography/mariner-lorraine/ 

Richard Meier: https://www.panmacmillan.com/authors/richard-meier/misadventure/9781447208464 and https://www.panmacmillan.com/authors/richard-meier/search-party/9781509851980

Graham High: www.grahamhighartist.com

Jocelyn Page: http://www.jocelyn-page.com

And here are short bios of the poets in alphabetical order…

Graham High is a widely published poet with eight chapbooks and collections to date. He is also involved with other forms of writing, including haiku and haibun and was President of the British Haiku Society for four years. Graham is also a painter and sculptor with exhibitions and commissions both in the UK and abroad, an Animatronic Model Designer in the Film Industry working on the effects of over 40 feature films since 1981 including ‘Aliens’, ‘The Golden Compass’, Labyrinth, Babe, The English Patient and the ‘Harry Potter’ series.  He now shares his time between London and Norfolk where his sculpture studio is.

Lorraine Mariner lives in London and works at the National Poetry Library, Southbank Centre. She has published two collections with Picador, Furniture (2009) and There Will Be No More Nonsense (2014) and has been shortlisted for the Forward Prize twice, for Best Single Poem and Best First Collection, and for the Seamus Heaney Centre Poetry Prize. Her most recent publication is the poetry chapbook, Anchorage with Grey Suit Editions (2020).

Richard Meier won the inaugural Picador Poetry Prize in 2010. He has published two collections with Picador: Search Party (2019) and Misadventure (2012), which was shortlisted for the Aldeburgh Prize. 

Jocelyn Page, a poet from Connecticut living in London, has published in various journals including The Spectator, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Salzburg, South Carolina Review and Poetry Review. Her debut pamphlet, smithereens, was published in 2010 by tall lighthouse press and her 2016 You’ve Got to Wait Till the Man You Trust Says Go was the winner of the Goldsmiths’ Writer Centre’s inaugural Poetry Pamphlet award. She has held residencies at The Reach Climbing Centre in Woolwich and the 999 Club homeless centre. She teaches English and Creative Writing at Goldsmiths College and the University of London Worldwide. http://www.jocelyn-page.com

Sarah Westcott’s first collection Slant Light (Pavilion Poetry), was highly commended in the Forward Prize. Her second collection, Bloom, also with Pavilion Poetry, was longlisted in the 2022 Laurel Prize for ecopoetry. Sarah was a journalist for twenty years and now works as a freelance writer, editor and tutor. Work has appeared on beermats, billboards and buses, baked into sourdough bread and installed in a nature reserve, triggered by footsteps. She is shortly starting a PhD in zoopoetics at the University of Birmingham.

‘Across the Line’ – launch of Jane Clarke’s and Maura Dooley’s new poetry collections

Thank you to all who attended in person and virtually on June 15, and a very big and special thank you to poet Wendy French, who managed the Zoom session splendidly, poet Sarah Westcott who stood by to liaise between Wendy and us at the Library, and as always to Debra and the Library staff, Katherine and David in particular, who are helpful and generous way beyond the call of duty.

A few members of the audience , both in person and on Zoom, asked me about a brief quotation I read at the end of this engaging, moving, lively and thoroughly enjoyable event, so here it is. It comes, appropriately, from a book called This is Happiness, by, also appropriately, the Irish author Niall Williams:

It seems to me the quality that makes any book, music, painting worthwhile is life, just that. Books, music, painting are not life, can never be as full, rich, complex, surprising or beautiful, but the best of them can catch an echo of that, can turn you back to look out the window, go out the door aware that you’ve been enriched, that you have been in the company of something alive that has caused you to realise once again how astonishing life is […]

Rarely more true than our experience of listening to these two beautiful, different and complementary voices. Nostalgia, loss and love – for Nature, family, the changing world. Never sentimental, often witty, even sharp and always word-perfect. The moment of anticipation before something changes, or starts (or doesn’t) was a common theme in both collections, A Change in the Air (Jane’s) and Five Fifty-Five (Maura’s) – both with Bloodaxe Books, 2023.

Too many times I have felt that poets rush a little while reading in front of an audience. It did not happen with Maura and Jane. We, the 50 or so in the audience at the Library and the 17 on Zoom, knew and appreciated that moment of anticipation, that short intake of breath before the next poem, and were richly rewarded.

It is hard to ‘review’ an evening of such profound, musical and thought provoking works, with perfect sense of place and time and so beautifully read.

A member of the audience sent me these lovely comments:

Jane Clarke and Maura Dooley shared their unique poetry in beautifully lyrical and musical tones that captured images and characters so well in one’s mind and imagination. The opportunity for Q&As was much appreciated and the poets’ reply over the best conditions for writing poetry … ‘carry a notebook to write down ideas and be aware of those snagging moments that prick the mind and can germinate into seeds for later poetic inspiration…’

If anyone would like to add their thoughts on the poems and the poets, do send them to irena@in-words.co.uk. I would love to add your words to mine… Thank you.

If you want to buy a signed copy of A Change in the Air or of Jane’s earlier collections please contact Jane Clarke directly, details on www.janeclarkepoetry.ie

For Maura’s Five Fifty-Five and many other collections you can contact her via M.Dooley@gold.ac.uk .

Jane Clarke is the author of two poetry collections, The River and When the Tree Falls (Bloodaxe Books 2015 & 2019), as well as an illustrated chapbook, All the Way Home (Smith|Doorstop 2019), which she launched at West Greenwich Library in 2019, introduced by Blake Morrison. This book was her response to a collection of family letters and photographs held at the Mary Evans Picture Library in Blackheath. Her third collection, A Change in the Air is published by Bloodaxe Books in May 2023. Her Greenwich reading is the only in-person launch, and she is travelling from Ireland to be with us. Jane’s awards include the 2016 Hennessy Literary Award for Poetry and the 2022 Ireland Chair of Poetry Travel Award. The River was the first poetry book to be shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize in 2016 and When the Tree Falls was shortlisted for three Irish poetry prizes and longlisted for the Ondaatje Prize in 2020. She grew up on a farm in the west of Ireland and now lives with her wife in the uplands of Co. Wicklow.

Maura Dooley is a Professor of Creative Writing at Goldsmiths College, University of London and has directed the MA in Creative and Life Writing there since its inception. Maura’s family background in Ireland and Wales has long been central to her work. Kissing a Bone and her later collection Life Under Water, a Poetry Book Society Recommendation in 2008, were both shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. Her poem ‘Cleaning Jim Dine’s Heart’ was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem in 2015, and was included in her collection, The Silvering (2016), also a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Maura’s most recent collection, published in April 2023, is Five Fifty-Five (Bloodaxe). Anthologies she has edited include The Honey Gatherers: Love Poems and How Novelists Work. Her translation (with Elhum Shakerifar) of the exiled Iranian poet Azita Ghahreman’s Negative of a Group Photograph (Farsi title: نگاتیو یک عکس دسته جمعی)  was published by Bloodaxe Books with the Poetry Translation Centre in 2018. It received an English PEN Award and was shortlisted for the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation 2019. Maura is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Jane reading from A Change in the Air
Maura reading from Five Fifty-Five
Answering questions…

Irish Voices – in collaboration with Mary Evans Picture Library ‘Poems and Pictures’ Blog.

Thursday, February 16, on Zoom.

A line-up of nine wonderful poets from Ireland (North and South) entertained, moved and kept a large virtual audience spellbound with memorable words and voices.

It is so special to hear poets read their work aloud, often giving a bit of fascinating background to how they came to write each poem.

Maurice Devitt, Linda McKenna, Maureen Boyle, Geraldine Mitchell, Rosie Johnston, Noel Duffy, Catherine Phil MacCarthy, Geraldine O’Kane and Eithne Hand beautifully projected their poetic skill and their enthusiasm, clearly enjoying sharing the reading with poets they admired but in some cases had not met or read with before.

As one member of the audience, herself a poet, said afterwards, “I have seldom heard, in one evening, so many poems I could enjoy and relate to.”

Below are brief bios of the poets and the titles and publishers of their books, if you wish to buy them. If you have any problems with that, email me irena@in-words.co.uk and I’ll put you in touch with the authors themselves.

Maureen Boyle lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She began writing as a child in Sion Mills, County Tyrone, winning a UNESCO medal for a book of poems in 1979 at the age of eighteen. She studied in Trinity College, Dublin and in 2005 was awarded a Masters in Creative Writing at Queen’s University Belfast. She has won various awards including the Ireland Chair of Poetry Prize, the Strokestown International Poetry Prize and the Fish Short Memoir Prize. She has received support from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in the form of Individual Arts, ACES and Travel Awards. She was awarded the Ireland Chair of Poetry Inaugural Travel Bursary in 2017 to research the stay of John Donne’s wife, Ann More, on the Isle of Wight in 1611.  This resulted in a limited edition pamphlet ‘The Nunwell Letter’ appearing in June 2019. Some of her work has been translated into German and Dutch. The Work of a Winter, her debut collection of poetry, was launched in December 2017, and is currently in its second edition. The collection was shortlisted for the 2019 Shine/Strong Award. Strabane, a long poem, appeared in 2020.  Her second full collection, The Last Spring of the World was published in June 2022 with Arlen House, Dublin.

Maurice Devitt is a previous winner of the Trocaire/Poetry Ireland, Bangor and Poems for Patience competitions, was a featured poet at the Poets in Transylvania Festival in 2015 and a guest speaker at the John Berryman Centenary Conference in both Dublin and Minneapolis. His poems have been published widely and he has been nominated for Pushcart, Forward and Best of the Net prizes. His Pushcart-nominated poem, ‘The Lion Tamer Dreams of Office Work’, was the title poem of an anthology published by Hibernian Writers in 2015. He is curator of the ‘Irish Centre for Poetry Studies’ site and in 2018 published his debut collection, Growing Up in Colour with Doire Press, who will also publish his new collection, Some of These Stories are True, in 2023.

Noel Duffy was born in Dublin. He has published four collections of poetry to date, most recently Street Light Amber, a narrative sequence of love poems set in his native city. He has twice been a recipient of an Arts Council of Ireland Bursary for Literature and more recently he was awarded the Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in Poetry. He lives in Dublin’s dockland district.

Eithne Hand is a writer, radio and theatre producer from Greystones, Co Wicklow in Ireland. In 2021 she was an Artist in Residence at the Hawk’s Well Theatre in Sligo. Her first poetry collection Fox Trousers was launched by Salmon Poetry in February 2021 and her second collection will be published in spring 2024.

Rosie Johnston’s four poetry books are published by Lapwing Publications in Belfast, most recently Six-Count Jive in 2019, with a fifth Off the Map due for publication in 2023. Her poems have appeared in Snakeskin, The Phare, London Grip, Culture NI, FourxFour, The Honest Ulsterman, Mary Evans Picture Library’s Poems and Pictures blog, Words for the Wild. Her poetry is anthologised by Live Canon, Arlen House, OneWorld’s Places of Poetry anthology, Fevers of the Mind and American Writers Review. She reads her poetry widely, most recently at Faversham and Gloucester Poetry Festivals. rosiejohnstonwrites.com

Geraldine Mitchell is a Dublin-born poet and writer who has been living on the Co Mayo coast for several years, after a career combining teaching and freelance journalism in France and Spain. Her fourth collection of poems, Mute/Unmute, was published in 2020.  Geraldine is a Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award winner and was runner-up in the 2021 Troubadour International Poetry Competition. Her previous collections are Mountains for Breakfast (2017), Of Birds and Bones (2014) and World Without Maps (2011).  She is published by Arlen House. Geraldine has also written two novels for young readers and a biography. Her website: www.geraldinemitchell.net

Linda McKenna’s debut poetry collection, In the Museum of Misremembered Things, was published by Doire Press in 2020. The title poem won the An Post/Irish Book Awards Poem of the Year. She won the Seamus Heaney Award for new writing in 2018. She has had poems published, or forthcoming in, among others, Poetry Ireland Review, Banshee, The North, Abridged, The Honest Ulsterman, Crannóg, Acumen, Atrium, One, The Stony Thursday Book, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Skylight 47, The High Window, Raceme as well as on the Mary Evans Library Poems and Pictures Blog. She is from County Dublin but lives in Downpatrick, County Down and is working on her second collection which will be published by Doire Press next year.

Catherine Phil MacCarthy was born in Co. Limerick, Ireland and has lived in Dublin for over thirty years. She has published five collections of poetry including Daughters of the House (2019), and The Invisible Threshold (2012), both with Dedalus Press Dublin. She is a former editor of Poetry Ireland Review (1998/99). She received the Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Irish Poetry from the University of St Thomas, St Paul, Minnesota, in 2014. In 2022, she was the recipient of Varuna’s International Writer Exchange and awarded a month-long residency at Varuna, the National Writers’ House, NSW, Australia, to work on her forthcoming collection, Catching Sight.

Geraldine O’Kane is Northern Irish poet, writing facilitator and mental health advocate. Her debut poetry collection Unsafe, explores her working-class background and the trauma of the everyday. The collection navigates the safety found in writing as it much as it does the unsafe spaces we occupy. Unsafe was published by Salmon Poetry in 2021. Geraldine is working on her second collection, Broken.

Arachne 10

Arachne Press is celebrating 10 years as a small, independent publisher of award-winning short fiction, award winning poetry and (very) select non-fiction, for adults and children. And on Tuesday November 29, Arachne’s Cherry Potts co-hosted a reading to celebrate this amazing achievement and to launch recent collections – the most recent being the wonderful, evocative Routes by Rhiya Pau, British-born poet of Indian heritage, winner of the Eric Gregory Award 2022. The book celebrates and chronicles the long journey Rhiya’s family undertook over lands, languages and cultures to finally land in Britain 50 years ago. To quote Sarah Howe, the 2022 Eric Gregory Awards judge, “This is a collection in which routes and roots tug against one another…[…] This is a work of humane intelligence, formal experiment and linguistic verve that promises much.” And I want to add the word ‘moving’, ringing as it does absolutely true in its emotional universality.

This last sentence is also completely appropriate to the poetry of Claire Booker. Claire’s poetry collection, A Pocketful of Chalk, was published by Arachne Press in July 2022. In it light, sea and sky are always present, reminders of loss and sorrow while consoling and reaffirming. The title of the collection reflects Claire’s living environment, the wonderful South Downs.

Despite being certified as disabled with Ehlers-Danlos at the age of 16, Jennifer A McGowan has led several exciting and creative lives. Latterly, poetry saved her life when she nearly died from Covid, and some of her poems in How to be a Tarot Card (or a Teenager) (Arachne, October 2022) echo that time, while others wittily transport us backwards and forwards to different, and always fascinating, places.

And talking of different and fascinating places, what about Michelle Penn‘s dystopian island, the protagonist of her book-length poem, Paper Crusade, published by Arachne in June 2022. The poem, with its interesting format and fonts, but above all its fable- and nightmare-like characters – a veritable Tempest through the looking glass – truly transported us elsewhere.

All poems were beautifully and clearly read. If you want to revisit them, buy the books at https://arachnepress.com/shop/Poetry-c12178370

Many thanks to Cherry Potts for co-hosting (actually doing most of the work!) and congratulations to her for 10 years of great publishing. All Arachne publications have stunning covers, so much so that there will be an exhibition of them, and their production process, at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery in Greenwich in mid-late January. Well worth a visit!

And many thanks to the audience for turning up on the night of the England v Wales football match…

See you all in the New Year. Very best wishes and Seasons Greetings to you and yours.


A couple of ‘firsts’ and a 50th all in one? Yes! First time back in person at the wonderful West Greenwich Library, first time attempting a hybrid event, with some of the audience on Zoom, and fiftieth in-words event… So, a lot to be excited about. And when the live audience kept growing…and growing… the buzz was terrific.

Debra and Catherine from the Library had been busy rigging up the microphone and amp to my laptop, and taping the considerable number of leads to the carpet, and everything was ready just in time. Very kindly, Gill Stoker (some of you may remember her from two past events involving the Mary Evans Library’s Poems and Pictures Blog, the brainchild of Gill’s), who attended on Zoom, offered to co-host the Zoom side of things, thus making sure everyone on that platform was welcomed (and muted!). In retrospect, I don’t think I could have done it without her.

There was a delightful taster before the programme got underway – a sonnet sent in by Mick Delap, beautifully read by Janet Stott. Mick is the person responsible for setting me on the road that led to the founding of in-words. A good friend and an exceptional poet, who couldn’t take part because away in a corner of Ireland (or even off Ireland!), he thanked me while I thanked him…

In the first set we heard NJ Hynes’ word-perfect verses bringing to life in original and always accessible ways themes ranging from railways to cosmic images; Colin Pink followed, joining the celebratory mood with his poems celebrating poets and poetry, totally meaningful even to the less erudite listeners like me; Jane McLaughlin provided a change in pace and rhythm by reading her award-winning short story inspired by Samuel Palmer’s sketchbook, drawn while walking around the Dulwich area. Alex Josephy brought the first set to a close with her lively verses inspired by London – a kind of odd nostalgia from someone who’s recently moved out of the city! Beautiful and, again, word-perfect. Rosie Johnston should have been part of this set but sadly couldn’t participate because of illness.

This is when we all proceeded to the refreshments and books tables and it was a bit like a party, after two years of not meeting in person in such a large gathering. I hope the Zoomers had their own happy refreshments to go to!

The second set featured Lorraine Mariner, who made us all giggle with her quirky verses, and catch out breaths with her more poignant ones, while Graham High’s gentle and at time surprising haiku from his collection ‘Wave on Wave’ lulled us in the ebb and flow of this particular rhythm. Fiona Moore followed with a new poem inspired by her unexpectedly long sojourn on the Isle of Harris during lockdown, and brought us back to more troubling realities, more political themes, such as the Ukraine. Last in the set was Sarah Westcott, with a mixture of sparkling poems, all taking different shapes, sizes, colours and scents like the flowers and creatures that inspire her.

The purpose of these events is not to make ME happy (to make me learn, yes, to expand my understanding, yes), but they do make me very happy! Especially when I see how happy the audience is – easier to notice when we are in the same room! I couldn’t interact with the Zoom audience as much as I would have liked to, but from their smiles I did deduce that they were happy, too (thanks to Gill again…).

In case you missed them or you wish to go back to them, below are the short biographies of the poets, including Rosie Johnston’s and Mick Delap’s. It’s also a way to find out where to purchase their books from.

With warmest thanks again to Debra Sullivan and Catherine at the Library and to everyone who continues to support the poets and authors who so generously share their words with us.

MICK DELAP is a long time Greenwich resident, with Irish connections. He waited till he had retired from the BBC World Service in 2000 to turn seriously to his writing.  In 2003 Lagan Press (Belfast) published River Turning Tidal.  In June 2015 Arlen House (Dublin) brought out his second collection, Opening Time. 

GRAHAM HIGH’s interest in haiku, and in Japanese literature in general, stems from 1999. He was editor of the British Society of Haiku society’s Journal, Blithe Spirit, before becoming its President. Haiku’s distinctive qualities of being in the moment, experiencing joy in the minutiae of nature, maintaining a philosophical distance from the self and from the turmoil of world events seems to hit a more positive note than the more ‘mainstream’ poems he is writing at present, which are responding to the current turmoil of current affairs and to the individual’s place in the world (which arguably is also a poet’s function).  Graham is also a distinguished painter and sculptor www.grahamhigh.info  www.gallerywhitebox.com  instagram  grahamhigh1

NJ HYNES is a South London based poet who enjoys flamenco, samba, ragtime piano and climbing every hill in Greenwich Park.  Her new pamphlet “Tracking Light, Stacking Time”, responses to astronomical photographs at the National Maritime Museum, will be published by Live Canon later this year.  Live Canon also awarded NJ’s  Department of Emotional Projections first prize in their first collection competition. Since then, she’s been longlisted, shortlisted and commended in numerous competitions, and in 2019 she won the Battered Moons poetry competition. Her work has been published in many magazines and has appeared in train stations as well as art galleries and Soho shop fronts.  In 2019 a poem commissioned for the launch of Maritime Radio Greenwich resulted in an award-winning broadcast. She recently completed a Djerassi art/science residency in California, and two of her poems will be published in the MAGMA physics issue.   leonardo.info/leonardo-at-djerassi/2022. She’s also working on a memoir combining poetry and prose, titled “Learning to be white”; exploring her experiences growing up in mixed-race and racially segregated neighbourhoods in the US and South Africa.  A selection of poems from this series was published last year in Long Poem Magazine. 

ROSIE JOHNSTON‘s four poetry books are published by Lapwing in her native Belfast. Most recent is Six-Count Jive (2019), a description in 17-syllable stanzas of the inner landscape of her post-traumatic stress disorder. Irish reviewer Billy Mills chose it as one of his top three poetry books of 2020 and Fiona Sinclair described it in The Lake magazine as ‘a superbly crafted piece of work whose language is at times sublime’. Rosie’s poems have appeared or featured in many magazines and a prose piece was published last year in American Writers Review (San Fedele Press). Rosie is an inspiring teacher and mentor and has led a writing group in Cambridge since 2011. She hosted Words on Waves in Whitstable’s Harbour Books before the pandemic and has read her work at many festivals in England, Scotland and Ulster.  www.rosiejohnstonwrites.com

ALEX JOSEPHY divides her time between Rye in East Sussex and Italy. Her collection Naked Since Faversham was published by Pindrop Press in 2020. Other work includes Other Blackbirds (Cinnamon Press, 2016), and White Roads (Paekakariki Press, 2018). Her poems have won the McLellan and Battered Moons prizes, and have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the UK, Italy and India. Her Cinnamon Press Award winning pamphlet ‘Again Behold the Stars’ is due out in spring 2023. You can find out more on her website: www.alexjosephy.net

LORRAINE MARINER lives in Greenwich and works at the National Poetry Library, Southbank Centre. She has published two collections with Picador, Furniture (2009) and There Will Be No More Nonsense (2014), and has twice been shortlisted in the Forward Prizes for Best Poem and Best First Collection, and for the Seamus Heaney Centre Poetry Prize. Her latest publication is the chapbook Anchorage (2020) with Grey Suit Editions, in which she explores her Greek and Irish heritage.

FIONA MOORE‘s first collection The Distal Point was a Poetry Book Society recommendation and was shortlisted for the TS Eliot and Seamus Heaney prizes.  She is on Magma’s editorial board. Fiona lives in East Greenwich and is active locally with the Greens, Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition and Extinction Rebellion.  In late 2019 she went to the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides to house-sit for a friend for six months, and ended up staying in Harris for nearly two years. Some of her latest poems are inspired by that experience and those landscapes.  

JANE MCLAUGHLIN’s poems and short stories are widely published and have been awarded and placed in national competitions. Her poetry collection Lockdown was published in 2016 by Cinnamon Press (not prophetic, the title poem is about a stabbing incident).  Her short story ‘Trio for Four Voices’ was included in Best British Short Stories 2018, has been made into a short film and was used as an English text on the Danish national curriculum. Her short story ‘Sketchbook’ was included in the Arachne Press Solstice Shorts festival 2020, performed by Patsy Prince. It is available on Youtube and is included in the anthology ‘Tymes Goe By Turnes’. It is based on Samuel Palmer’s sketchbook of 1824 when at the age of 19 he was walking and drawing around Dulwich.  It is told in the voice of the wife of one of the market gardeners who held and worked land there.

COLIN PINK has to his credit several poetry collections: Acrobats of Sound (2016), The Ventriloquist Dummy’s Lament (2019), Typicity (2021) and Wreck of the Jeanne Gougy (2021). Copies can be ordered from the publishers. Colin’s latest manuscript collection called Shimmer has been shortlisted for the Live Canon poetry book prize. His current project is posting a six-line poem on Instagram every day for a year. To see the poems follow him on Instagram @colinpinkpoet 

SARAH WESTCOTT is a poet originally from Devon who now lives in Kent.  Her debut collection Slant Light (Pavilion Poetry), was Highly Commended in the Forward Prize and her pamphlet Inklings was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice. Her second collection, Bloom, also with Pavilion, was published last year and long listed in the 2022 The Laurel Prize for ecopoetry. Sarah’s poems have appeared in many magazines, on beermats, billboards and buses, and in anthologies including Best British Poetry, The Forward Book of Poetry and Staying Human. Sarah was a news journalist for twenty years and now teaches poetry at London’s City Lit and elsewhere. She has a lifelong interest in the natural world and is currently working on a collection of fragments inspired by a small, newly-dug garden pond. 

The Writer’s Eye: Poets who Paint

This event took place on April 26 on Zoom and was the first collaboration between in-words and Pindrop Press (pindroppress.com). Pindrop is run single-handedly by Sharon Black – publisher, editor, mentor, designer… Her interest in the visual (book covers in particular) and my own interest in pairing (in a very loose sense) images and verse led to this choice of theme. The result was a challenging mix, as far from ekphrastic poetry, if that’s what one expected, as one can get. Sharon introduced Mike Barlow, Pam Thompson and Ole Hagen.

The word ‘consolation’ is one that resonates in many fields at these difficult times. Poetry provides consolation in various, very personal ways. But as the poet laureate recently said, ‘there’s consolation in concentration’ and for our attentive international audience, concentrating on, and later discussing, the poems and visual artworks by the three poets provided consolation as well as stimulation.

Mike Barlow’s poems and paintings (and one sculpture) did not shock but provoked a pang of recognition that grew as each verse, each choice of words reached a depth all of their own. Themes like ‘elsewhere’ and ‘lost and found’ challenged us while we were allured in by the seemingly ‘conventional’ form.

Pam Thompson’s work bounced us between the immediately recognisable and the experimental. I for one found it comforting that it is possible to play with written words, even those by our ‘heroes’. Her paintings expanded on this, with ‘elsewhere’ being a repeated theme.

This crescendo of playfulness reached its apex with Ole Hagen’s set, which brought a non-English absurdist turn to the evening, with surreal images, gestures, chanting and use of repetition.

I feel delighted that such a different event, a true end-of-term-extravaganza, marked the beginning of in-words summer break.

Do contact pindroppress.com to buy collections by these amazing poets, and others!

Growing Well

Last night Zoom allowed us to connect with two poets from Norfolk, Peter Wallis and Jenny Pagdin, and it was a moving and memorable evening. The title united the main themes – illness, recovery and… allotments. And for me there was a further meaning: the word ‘well’ as a noun, signifying something dug deep, from which life emerges as pure water. There was so much sense of love and consolation as well as deep pain, sorrow, raw honesty and plain hard work in the very different but somehow parallel sequences of poems. And yet no self pity or self indulgence. As Phil Hawtin, a member of the audience, commented, Peter and Jenny “demonstrated the craft of dealing with near impossible subjects, and seeking the positive.” And another one, Caroline, said, “Such inspiring and thought-provoking works: where the poets also gave us a window into their lives, which made it all the more relatable.”

Jenny’s experience of post-natal psychosis and her subsequent recovery were mapped in raw, immediate language, her reading accompanied by some original images. Peter’s reading unfolded in seven ‘episodes’, which included verses inspired by his twin brother’s illness, by his family’s involvement in an allotment and by his own involvement in different and unique projects – assisting Ida Affleck Graves in getting her poems ‘sorted’ (http://www.peterwallis.co.uk/ida-affleck-graves/), becoming Submissions Editor for ‘Poems in the Waiting Room’ (http://www.poemsinthewaitingroom.org) and using poetry with people in care homes.

I feel so grateful for such an uplifting experience provided by Jenny and Peter at this difficult time.

Peter’s signed collection of poems about being an identical twin, Articles of Twinship, is available from the Contact Page at peterwallis.co.uk

Jenny’s pamphlet Caldbeck can be bought following this link https://blackspringpressgroup.com/products/caldbeck

A deeply relaxing, moving tonic of an evening listening to some beautiful poetry being read where the poets shared their life stories with us in both words and in their works (Nadia Ostacchini, Artistic Director, Tricolore Theatre Company)

A beautiful, brave, and graceful reading (Wendy Klein, poet)

tall-lighthouse redux

On Thursday 20th a collaboration between in-words and tall-lighthouse brought together four very different poets, whose innovative, unusual and interesting voices contrasting in the most stimulating way.

This was a great celebration of tall-lighthouse’s return to publishing ‘bloody good poetry’. It is owned and run by Les Robinson, who often acts also as mentor and editor, and you could tell that, despite the marked differences between the poets, the common theme was the depth of their empathy, skill and enthusiasm. And that is probably also thanks to Les and his empathy, skill and enthusiasm.

For this event, Les also prepared and managed the powerpoint slides of the texts. For once, I felt I was part of the audience, I could sit back and simply enjoy the readings.

Christopher Horton read from Perfect Timing, the perfect title for his precise, yet playful and sensitive poems. “Christopher Horton’s many voices are equally at home in the city and in the wilds. Perfect Timing surprises with what often goes unnoticed.” Katrina Naomi.

Joshua Calladine-Jones read from Constructions [konstrtukce]. Based in Prague, his poems are experimental sequences assembled from snippets of online conversations, notes and fragments in incorrect English as used by Czech people during lockdown – somehow managing to create narratives out of them.

Sarah Shapiro, born in Chcago and living in Boston, read from her first pamphlet, The Bullshit Cosmos (ignitionpress), and from Being Called Normal. Her poetry grows from a dialogue between her and the impersonal language of diagnostic assessments, and urges us to challenge the easy labelling of children and adults.

With Mark Wynne, we were treated to words and images. Frank Auerbach’s strong, sensuous paintings and drawings work as more than mere inspiration for Mark’s pared-down verse in Frank & Stella. Like Auerbach, Mark scrapes away at what he finds to be not essential “[…] to produce something distinctive and disorienting.” John Clegg.

The pamphlets can be ordered by emailing tall.lighthouse@yahoo.com

A big thank you to Les, Christopher, Joshua, Sarah, Mark and the audience.


On Thanksgiving evening, we had the pleasure of listening to the four very different voices of Konstandinos Mahoney, Maggie Butt, David Cooke and Isabel Bermudez. The title was a kind of unifier, but as often happens, a theme or two emerged from the reading and the introductions to each poem, which were powerful and moving and totally topical: one was the plight of the people who flee the horrors of war in their countries, only to find horrors of other kinds in the countries where they are hoping to find refuge. Even the lighter touch in the sketch of Konstandinos’ eccentric Aunt Alice and her thesp-like antics was tinged with sadness and the memory of the flight from a burning Smyrna. Maggie’s everlove was inspired by heartbreaking photographs of migrants by American photographer Mary Behrens (we watched a brief video of some of them, with voiceover by Behrens herself). The construction of her poems and words, sometimes amalgams of words, themselves mirroring doubt, fear, urgency. Maggie manages to be tender and brutally unsentimental at the same time. David took us on a journey in which we had to adjust to different scales, from ants to elephants, and then led us back to the most familiar of landscapes, a back garden. Isabel gave us glimpses of Colombia (but also of England) – powerfully evoking situations, places and people with the precision of her words, never in excess, always exact and essential. Again, a strong theme was that of being ‘foreign’, of belonging and yet not belonging. The second theme was nature, and the threat to it through climate change, present in the poems by all the wonderful readers.

But don’t just rely on my words…do buy the books and see for yourselves!

If you want to buy signed copies, it’s probably easier if you email me irena@in-words.co.uk and I can pass the request on to the poet/s in question, who can then get in touch with you.

For unsigned copies:

For Konstandinos Mahoney’s Tutti Frutti https://spmpublications.com/shop/tutti-frutti-konstandinos-mahoney.html

For Maggie Butt’s everlove https://www.maggiebutt.co.uk

For David Cooke’s Sicilian Elephants https://tworiverspress.com

For Isabel Bermudez’s Serenade www.paekakarikipress.com

Some comments from poet Jane McLaughlin: […] the excellent quality of the readings – these poets understood so well how to engage their audience and read with sensitivity, clarity and drama. […] Another theme is that of love, especially in the first section.  With Bermudez and Mahoney the love of a country, culture, family shines through.

‘Grasp what it is that makes of love

a weed so ordinary and rare’ (Bermudez in “Cow Parsley”)

David Cooke’s sharp and precisely honed poems convey a love for the strangeness and diversity of the world and its history. Maggie Butt captures the love of the refugee woman for her child.

While Zoom loses some of the personal connection of an in-person event it also has some features that the ‘in real life’ does not provide so easily: we could see examples of Isabel Bermudez’ exquisite textile art and the poignant images of exile and displacement preceding Maggie Butt’s poems on refugees.

Thank you Jane.

Launch of John Barnie’s poetry collections, with Cinnamon Press

Last night a truly international audience of poetry lovers shared the experience of hearing John Barnie’s exceptional reading of poems from two of his collections published by Cinnamon Press. Cinnamon’s Jan Fortune introduced John and his poetry, and conducted the proceedings in her customary engaging and profound manner. It is a credit to her and to John that the reading was followed by a series of interesting and insightful questions and comments, which enlightened us further on John’s journey into poetry and language, his Welshness and many other interesting topics.

In Afterlives John responds to Welsh paintings in Peter Lord’s collection, with economical, often tongue-in-cheek and socially argute words, masterfully read. As a member of the audience has since commented, we were offered ‘…a kind of tridimensionality – the sitter’s, the artist’s and the poet’s, with his interpretation, in many cases, of the sitter’s possible thoughts.’

A Report to Alpha Centauri is dark, at time despairing and alway urgent, a vison of the slippery slope to humanity’s ultimate self destruction and the destruction of nature. John’s skill with, and love of, words from languages from different eras and places come across in the poems’ musical and rhythmic qualities, enhanced again by his extraordinary reading voice.

Both books, and all the volumes on Cinnamon’s exhaustive list can be purchased from cinnamonpress.com

Use the code AUTUMN20 to get a 20% discount on all books in any one basket.

Family, Animals and Other Things – Zoom reading on June 24

For former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins, a poem is ‘a flashlight, an instrument of discovery’. I don’t think this can be surpassed as the most perfect concise definition of poetry.

Sarah Westcott, Gordon Meade, Gillie Robic and Neetha Kunaratnam confirmed this definition last night with verses that shone a light on and helped us discover many different ‘elsewheres’ – some painfully real, like the moment a cancer diagnosis is received; or when a parent is desperately worried about a child’s health; or when one witnesses a parent’s sickness or when caged animals are given a voice. Others almost mythical, where one flies again with an injured bird, watches hawks, listens to ‘the old man by the sea’ or floats out to the ocean without flipflops through a flooded London… And others again, where you’re taken for a literal ride with family members to times and a society so different that it feels like watching a Hollywood movie.

Beautiful voices and not only in the poetic sense. Sarah, Gordon, Gillie and Neetha have beautiful reading voices and I could have listened to them for a lot longer. Comments from the audience expressed the same. If you enjoyed the evening, or if you didn’t make it and would like to read their work, here are some links:

You can order Sarah’s books from the publisher https://liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/books/

Gordon’s Zoospeak is published by Enthusiastic Press.

Gillie’s books are published by Live Canon https.//www.livecanon.co.uk/store

Neetha’s collection Just Because is published by Smokestack Books.

‘One Year On’

March 25th

If you wanted to look for a mirror of all the different emotions, the heartaches, fears, fury, disbelief, warmth, solidarity, nostalgia and love experienced these last twelve months, you needn’t have looked further than the words written and read so beautifully by Rosie Johnston, Alex Josephy, Colin Pink, Jacqueline Saphra and Rob Walton.

Voices and styles so different and so complementary, painting what we have gone through so far in the pandemic with an astonishingly varied palette – confirming that we would be so much worse off without poetry!

If anyone who was part of the large audience attending on the 25th is reading this and wishes to send me (irena@in-words.co.uk) comments on, even a short review of, all or part of the evening, please come forward, don’t be shy! I am so involved in the whole event that it takes me a while to put finger to keyboard and write anything sensible….

In the meanwhile, here are the short biographies of the readers, and information on how to get in touch with them and/or purchase their publications.

Rosie Johnston‘s four poetry books are published by Lapwing Publications in her native Belfast, most recently Six-Count Jive in 2019, a description in 17-syllable stanzas of the inner landscape of post-traumatic stress disorder. Last December top Irish poetry blogger Billy Mills chose it as one of his top three Irish poetry books of 2020.  Rosie’s poems have appeared or featured in the Mary Evans Picture Library’s Poems and Pictures blog, London Grip, Culture NI, FourxFour, The Honest Ulsterman, Ink, Sweat & Tears and Hedgerow. Anthologies include Live Canon’s ‘154 Project: In Response to Shakespeare’s Sonnets’ (2016), Her Other Language published by Arlen House in 2020 and the Northern Irish section of Places of Poetry (OneWorld, 2020). Before being distracted by poetry, Rosie had two novels published, in London and Dublin. For this event read the first fiction she has written in over ten years. You can find her and her books online at www.rosiejohnstonwrites.com

Alex Josephy lives in London and Italy. Her collection Naked Since Faversham was published by Pindrop Press in 2020 (http://www.pindroppress.com). Other work includes White Roads, poems set in Italy (Paekakariki Press, 2018, https://www.paekakarikipress.com), and Other Blackbirds (Cinnamon Press, 2016, https://www.cinnamonpress.com). Her poems have won the McLellan and Battered Moons prizes, and have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the UK and Italy. As part of the Poetry School Mixed Borders scheme, she has been poet-in-residence at Rainham Hall, Essex, and in Markham Square, London.  Find out more on her website: www.alexjosephy.net. Her books can be ordered from the publishers, or for signed copies email Alex on alex@alexjosephy.net.

Colin Pink’s poems and fiction have appeared in a wide range of literary magazines and anthologies. His first book of poems, Acrobats of Sound, was published in 2016 (by Poetry Salzburg Press) and The Ventriloquist Dummy’s Lament, a pamphlet of 21 villanelles, with woodcuts by Daniel Goodwin, was published in 2019 (by Against the Grain Press). He is having two new collections published this year: Wreck of the Jeanne Gougy another pamphlet published by Paekakariki with woodcut illustrations by Daniel Goodwin and Typicity, his second full-length collection, to be published by Dempsey and Windle in April. You can obtain copies of his books directly from Colin by emailing him on colinpinkconsulting@gmail.com or order them from the publisher’s websites. Visit Colin’s Facebook page to see announcements: https://www.facebook.com/colin.pink.37/

Jacqueline Saphra’s The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions (flipped eye 2011) was shortlisted for the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. If I Lay on my Back I Saw Nothing but Naked Women (The Emma Press 2014) won the Saboteur Award for Best Collaborative Work. All My Mad Mothers (Nine Arches Press 2017) was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot prize. Two of her sonnet sequences A Bargain with the Light: Poems after Lee Miller (2017) and Veritas: Poems After Artemisia (2020) are published by Hercules Editions. Her third collection, Dad, Remember You Are Dead was published by Nine Arches Press in 2019. She read from her latest book, One Hundred Lockdown Sonnets, published in February 2021 by Nine Arches Press. She is a founder member of Poets for the Planet, lives in London and teaches at The Poetry School.

Scunthorpe-born Rob Walton lives in Whitley Bay.  His poetry has been published by The Emma Press, Strix, The Interpreter’s House, Sidekick Books, Frances Lincoln, Macmillan and others.  His works of fiction have been published in the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada and New Zealand.  Arachne Press has just published his debut poetry collection, This Poem Here, with a launch the night before our reading! He collated the New Hartley Memorial Pathway text.  You can follow him on Twitter: @anicelad. 


I’m always humbled by so many things at my events: the poets’ or authors’ generosity, their depth of knowledge and skill. Few times have I felt more humbled than at this event, held on Zoom on the evening of February 25, when a large audience heard the words of seven poets reading their own works and those of a European poet of their choice.

I would like to quote a comment received from a member of the audience, which puts my thoughts in a much better way than I ever could: “I cannot explain how I feel when I hear pieces where the writer shares a deep experience of a place or of a piece of art, which isn’t directly part of their life, but they have extended their world to encompass it.”

The idea for the event came while perusing the fabulous ‘Poems and Pictures’ Blog, edited by Gill Stoker on the Mary Evans Picture Library website www.maryevans.com. Over 130 poets have been inspired by images held by the Library to write original works, and the Blog shows this pairing. Many images were of European artworks or of other subjects with a European connection – and I decided I wanted to devote a whole evening to Europe in images and verse.

The poets who agreed to participate were also asked to choose a European poet from any period, and to bring one work by them in translation, and if possible in the original. Images and texts were displayed throughout thanks to Gill Stoker’s mastery of Powerpoint (and her patience during the run-up to the event while dealing with a plethora of tweaks).

So, what can I say about this special evening? First a big thank you to Sarah Lawson, Fiona Moore, Gabriel Moreno, John McCullough (unfortunately unwell, but some of his work was read by others), Emma Page, Jacqueline Saphra and Richard Westcott and of course to Gill Stoker. Thanks also to audience member Alex Chronis, who read in Greek for us.

The poets brought us vastly diverse aspects of Europe – many unexpected ones, and many showing the darker heritage that still resonates, or still exists in its heart and at its periphery.

These were complex, profound works with uncomfortable angles. If we expected pretty vistas and nostalgia for the Grand Tour, we were in for a surprise. Even the Piazza della Signoria in Florence had, in Richard Westcott’s hands, a sinister side of murderous persecution of dissenters. We heard, and saw, the proud survivors of abuse in Jacqueline Saphra’s series of ekphrastic poems based on the paintings of Artemisia Gentileschi; the brave demonstrators protesting en masse in Belarus right now in the poems by their compatriots, chosen and read by Fiona Moore together with one of her own poems on the same theme; the grey sky falling on the poet’s head in John McCullough’s poem on Notre Dame (sadly, John was unwell and unable to join us in person) and the almost surreal image of a Polish bodybuilder in John’s choice, a poem by Szymborska; the bloodstained words of Lorca and about Lorca, performed by Gabriel Moreno; the short and tormented life of Therese de Lisieux, the young Carmelite nun brought into poetic focus for us by Emma Page. There were lighter moments, notable among them the guffaws provoked by Sarah Lawson’s clever pun at the end of her short P G Woodehouse spoof: Watteau, Jeeves! And Sarah’s choice of Jacques Prevert in the original and in her own translation; and in Emma Page’s ‘Three Kisses’ celebrating 1960s French cinema. And then one of the great favourites: the universal words of Cavafy’s ‘Ithaca’; and much, much more…

If you were there, feel free to email me your comments about the event at irena(at)in-words.co.uk and I shall post them here (anonymously if you prefer).

And if you wish to find out more about the poets and/or purchase their books and pamphlets, here are some links for you. Thank you!

Night Watched

I told myself I must avoid using words such as ‘stellar’, ‘out of this world’ etc. when describing the readers at this zoom event on January 19th and their work. But there are other superlatives I could use for Graham High, NJ Hynes and Oliver Morton – members of the large audience suggested several in their complimentary emails following the readings…

Graham’s first reading was from a series of poems both disturbing and beautiful – about loss of direction, failure to preserve the planet we have and the (doomed?) search for personal and collective meaning and a route to a safe place. They mirrored, as someone pointed out, the plight of migrants on earth, turning dystopia topical.

Graham’s second set included three poems on 18c Astronomers Royal, Edmund Halley, James Bradley and Nathaniel Bliss. A very different mood – witty and irreverent. Unfortunately, neither collection is available in print, the first out of print and the second not yet published.

NJ Hynes’ poetry is word perfect, giving expression to every emotion with wit, irony and tenderness, always finding an unexpected but completely ‘spot-on’ way to describe both personal and collective experiences. So, as always when listening to or reading her poems, we were moved deepy, entertained greatly and impressed immensely! And she left us with questions about how the moon feels about its role, and about us…

Oliver Morton’s latest book The Moon: A History for the Future, which was serialised on R4 in 2019 shortly after its publication, contains not only scientific details and amazion photographs, but also Oliver’s original musings and statements linking science and art and culture in general. The images he chose to share with us were stunning and interesting, from the rather ‘retro’ picture of people waiting for the launch of Apollo 8, to images of the launch itself, to the views from the lunar module (with transcript of some of the conversations among the astronauts), culminating with the undoctored image of Earth Rising, in which the Earth, partly in shade, is reclining off centre and the moon surface is also at an angle. This image, more than the better-known symmetrical composition, showed the immediacy and awe of that sight.

At a time when we are shut indoors for so much of the time, and, when outside, we are often looking down, trying to avoid (as NJ said) discarded masks, or look straight ahead trying to decide whether we or others should step aside and keep out of the way, spending an evening thinking about the magical vast space around and above us, was, at least for me, like therapy!

All That Has Been

On Remembrance evening a large virtual audience was treated to moving, incisive, witty and evocative readings by Chrissie Gittins and Wendy French, and original ‘poem songs’ composed and performed by The Moonpennies (Steve Halliwell and Clare Harriot).

At his time of travel restrictions, we were transported to the Indian mountains, where Chrissie retraced her father’s footsteps during WW2, the the Welsh farm of Wendy’s family memories and the chilly markets of South East London.

We were there. We smelled the places, heard the sounds, felt the discomfort, fear, comfort and losses. We joined them on their journeys to discover, or perhaps own again, bits they were missing from their narratives – something we all feel the need to do at different stages of our lives. The resonances were vivid.

We also giggled at funny anecdotes and felt the strength of loyalty and gratitude to our NHS with Wendy’s reading from Born in the NHS (co-written with Jane Kirwan).

We listened to Emily Dickinson’s words as never before, one of the settings The Moonpennies performed, and, appropriately at the end, to their setting into music of Yeats’s ‘An Irish Airman Foresees His Death’. Wonderful.

Chrissie’s collection Sharp Hills is available from indigodreams.co.uk

Wendy’s Bread Without Butter is available from rockinghampress.co.uk and Born in the NHS from The Hippocrates Press

Two Girls and a Beehive

In-words’ first Zoom event took place on Tuesday, October 13 at 7.30. Rosie Jackson and Graham Burchell read from Two Girls and a Beehive, their joint collection of poems inspired by the lives and works of Stanley Spencer and his first wife, Hilda Carline. It was much more than a reading. Paintings and photographs illustrated the context of each poem, as details of the complex relationship Spencer had with both his wives (he divorced Hilda to marry Patricia Preece, but remained – or became again – very attached to, almost obsessed with Hilda) was explained. As was his much easier relationship with Cookham, where he was born and lived for most of his life.

Each poet had found, in the writing, a preference for focusing on particular aspects of Spencer’s life and a distinct style. Graham’s poems are ekphrastic, with a more obvious connection between verses and images, while Rosie’s start from the image and expand into a more emotional universe.

Here is a taste of Two Girls and a Beehive. I’m sure you will enjoy it. The title poem, with the accompanying early painting by Stanley Spencer – also the book cover – is by Graham. The other is Lady in Green by Rosie, accompanied here by the portrait Hilda painted of her rival, Patricia Preece, the woman for whom Stanley left her. The book was published in April 2020 by Two Rivers Press, after the collection won first prize at the Stanley Spencer Collection Competition in 2017. It is available to order from rosie@rosiejackson.org.uk as well as from from tworiverspress.com and Amazon. It’s a real treat.

Two Girls and a Beehive
after ‘Two Girls and a Beehive’, 1910

He has these butcher’s daughters
(both ginger-haired as honeycomb and sunset),
smelling roses, just that, as if oblivious
to the hovering of the holy ghost behind
and that box of whispering bees.

He loved them both, those Wooster girls,
dressed them in shades of privet green,
gave them an evening glow and posed them
on puddles of light; the last gold lily-pads
of the day.
    At times they would sit, Dot
and Emmie, on his garden wall, chatter
and giggle, backs against black railings,
and hedge of that same viridian hue.

Perhaps he felt himself to be
supernatural, as he watched
from the nursery window, thinking,
I can look and linger on you my two loves,
but you cannot see me.

But what of the bees, the honey-makers
in their Mill Lane hive? He paints them at rest,
contained, still as evening, a potential
for both sweetness and pain.
Just that.

Lady in Green
after Hilda Carline Spencer’s ‘Portrait of Patricia Preece’, 1933.  

She must like butter, Hilda thinks,
for her skin has that buttercup glow
as if she’s rolled all morning in a meadow
of wild flowers and is covered in pollen.

Hilda’s palette is limited,
she doesn’t like the muddy browns
of mistrust, but paints people as if light
were spread equally inside them,

as if it were possible to capture the soul
in its invisible perfection, as clear
as water, able to run into any shape.
But she knows how yellow turns to green

in the shadow and has to push away
the thought of what Patricia has
that she doesn’t – her husband’s longing,
a certain knack with necklaces and hats.

She mixes canal green for Patricia’s blouse,
starts on the string of glass beads
Stanley probably bought.
If her canvas were a mirror, she thinks,

she might catch sight of her own tall soul
standing behind her,
watching over her shoulder,
solemnly wringing its hands.

A taste of what we missed…

…in March – Three poets from Cinnamon Press:

Heartbreak Hotel

You’re cold and tired and grubby
and struggling to know how to be
when you check into the Heartbreak lobby
to pick up the Heartbreak key.

It’s down on Lonely Street
inside a crowded quarter
your past is packed and folded neat
then handed to a porter.

The walls and carpets flash their logo,
sheets, and boxes of matches:
deeply its square tattoo
brands you with its H’s.

Straight away you are healing
when that pillow marks your head,
so where there was that feeling
there’s a corporate sign instead.

You broach the Heartbreak minibar
to chase away your distress,
peering through a glass of beer
at the Heartbreak trouser-press.

You check out but discover
it’s a chain,
you thought you’d erased your lover,
but now you’re checking in again:

the vistas diverge and climb
but you wear your brand on your sleeve,
where you can check out any time,
but you can never leave.

Ian Gregson


Clutch and release, grasp, clinch and let-go
In a small part of this curving parcel of life,
Black and thorough in the frame of the machine

Needling an eye through the seamless pouring
Of love twined by two—I sing my first and my
Final song, a lyric I hear on a harp without strings.

All my nightmares have led to the dream of you;
All the lived, the viscid horrors, turn at the beauty
Of one who cannot be anything as yet, but true

As nightfall and sunrise, the light at its seam,
The bright corner where all things are enough, this choir
Of one violin, and a drum and a pea-small sound

Like the gabbling of gold from a golden halo. Half-
Moon, beloved nut—never was anything so round
As you, who walk down the leaf-strewn avenue of

The daft and singular cleverness of your mother
And I; the womb of your sturdiest ground, the bard
Quick to lose his tune, poor before the price of words.

Omar Sabbagh

Poem After Catullus

I live in luxury.
The water cooler vibrates cold.
Noodle-laced bowls

steam daily upon a table
I did not build. A bottle
of wine waits uncorked

whilst the clinic
obediently holds the line
as I consult

the colourful,
cascading blocks
of a digital calendar.

I live in luxury:
like a partially lit room
where anything could happen.

For a week I have lived
without poetry
and return to it now

with all the passion
of a lover begging
forgiveness finally.

So that one understands
not the misery of others
—none other understands—

but the luxury of the poem
inviting its way
into the daylight sun.

Where the word sunlight
matches the sunlight
upon the floor.

Where the word forgiveness
matches the forgiving
air of a partially lit room

any thing
could happen.

I am in the giving vein:
a choice among others,
having taken so much

from the world,
this world
I have not built.

Even the punctuation
has an impressed quality:
like moments of breathing.

And in that generosity
there has risen
a lungful of poetry.

And if we breathe,
carefully, may find
a heartful, a stomach even:

the strength of walking words
and the hips, thighs
and calves of the poem

whose kisses we have craved
not a hundred times
but a thousand more.

They may decry this poem
of poetry. They may.
Muddling the dissatisfaction

of a verse falling
from a ledge with any poem
of outward resemblance:

the surely remarkable
difference between suicide
and high climber.

But look to the last line
with its eyes staring like a tiger’s
blinking calmly in the daylight sun.

Edward Ragg

… in May… but rescheduled for a zoom reading on November 12!

The Unseen Life of Trees.

for Esther and Jess

When the fraying skeins of silver birch
sway in the wind they think of
lulling water in the floating harbour,

the dried out plants on a deck,
the bespoke barge door cut to close
on a trapezium.

A sparse beech globe of yellow
holds an afternoon with two young friends,
who will walk through their vivid lives

beyond the end of mine.
A ball of mistletoe hangs
way up in spindle branches balancing

a trowel, a ginger cake,
and a framed copy of Jessop’s 1802
‘Design for Improving the Harbour of Bristol’.

Umber banks of oak climb the hillside
dragging children by the hand.
‘There will be time,’ they whisper,

canopy to canopy.
‘There will be time, before
all our leaves stretch out across the frosted ground.’

Chrissie Gittins
The poem is from her new collection Sharp Hills (Indigo Dreams), available from the publisher and Amazon.

Keshite uchi wasurenai

I’d call you and you’d answer in grunts,
huh, uh, um,

and your step-father would despair
money wasted on French exchanges

our reward back home was huh, aw, gawn.
That was when landlines carried messages

but now on visits home you speak to colleagues
from a tiny phone in Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese,

And we have come to places to visit you.
We thought the door was closed on your past

but you left it ajar – on your bedroom walls
are photographs of haystacks, a farmhouse,

you in a rock pool with your brother,
the old oak that overlooks our house and

one of me with you, tiny, in my arms
taken with a polaroid and fading.

Keshite uchi wasurenai Japanese I’ll never forget home

Wendy French
To be published in ‘Bread Without Butter‘ from Rockingham Press later this year 2020.

WRITING DOWN DEEP – an Alchemy of the Writing Life

The talk on February 25 by Jan Fortune as she launched her book on writing was totally inspiring, and had the audience spellbound with its insights, suggestions and ideas – leading to a plethora of questions from the floor.

Jan’s son Rowan, himself an author and editor, interviewed Jan, giving a framework to the evening.

Digging deep, letting the story take you, becoming your story, not being bogged down by ‘end gaining’, writing with joy and freedom, being generous to (and curious about) yourself and your characters, using exercises and journalling…

I for one will definitely read the book and take Jan’s advice!

Jan and Rowan in full flow…

University Poetry Challenge

I couldn’t resist using this title, but what we had the evening of February 4 was not a competition between the University of Greenwich and Goldsmiths. It was an opportunity for us to appreciate the students’ skills with words and for the students to read in front of an audience – something which some had not experienced before. All showed great courage, writing confidence (and many were confident readers, too), a touching solidarity with each other and a wide range of interests and focus, from the very intimate and personal to the fate of whales (which felt equally intimate and personal…). The students had been asked by Cherry Smyth and Blake Morrison to submit a few short poems each, and poet extraordinaire Sascha Akhtar had kindly agreed to select three winner for each university. And to perform some of her poetry at the beginning, while Cherry and Blake did so at the end, after a lively students’ open mic session.

The prizes (book tokens) were presented by Sascha, who commented on the chosen poems. With infinite thanks to PnSEL (Poetry network South East London), who channelled a donation from an anonymous donor to in-words to make it all possible. A memorable evening with a large and very appreciative audience.

Some (rather poor) images of Sascha and some of the winners below. More to follow.

Nevada Street Poets 10th birthday

Nine distinct voices, ten years of writing, critiquing, growing and having fun – all demonstrated and celebrated during an evening at the lovely West Greenwich Library, made possible again by the generous presence of librarians Debra and Bear.

l-r: Richard Meier, Jocelyn Page, Dominic McLaughlin, Sarah Westcott, Kelley Swain, Lorraine Mariner and Mick Delap

Group members Malene Engelund and David Nash live mostly abroad now and their poems were read by Mick and Lorraine.

It was clear, listening to and looking at the poets, that there is a special trust and affection between them, which no doubt has contributed to the development of their voices. Intimate, revelatory, surprising, touching, funny, structurally free or formal, the lines read made us discover a 12-year-old’s disappointments and hopes, the meaning of owls in our hearts, how scientific tools can trigger poetic imagination, the deeply personal musings about growing older, almost-empty nests. With nature and human connections always present.

I am delighted that a large audience was there to help the celebrations. Thank you all for coming, and may 2020 bring you peace, serenity and health.

IN LINE October 12

As part of the Greenwich Performs festival, in-words and The Greenwich Gallery joined forces to organise a ‘meeting of words and images’. The Gallery’s open exhibition of photographs on the theme of ‘lines’, all taken within the SE10 area, were the inspiration for members of the public, poets and year 6 students from James Wolfe Primary School to write short poems, ditties and…anything really. All the writings were posted on a board and most were read by the four established poets who participated in the afternoon event. Mick Delap, Jane McLaughlin, NJ Hynes and Susannah Hart also read their own works that had a relevance to lines – some were very much about Greenwich and the Meridian, others were about bus lines, train lines, shipping lines, cable lines under the ocean…and most were found, in one way or another, to have a connection with Greenwich.

It was an informal event, with people visiting the exhibition and staying to listen, or deciding not to, or even writing impromptu pieces, all in the lovely, friendly atmosphere created by Tony and Helen Othen at the gallery. Hopefully the first of many collaborations.

With thanks to Joseph Armson from James Wolfe School and all those who contributed. The children’s poems were truly impressive, and may be collated in a booklet. Photos to follow.

HEAD LINES October 8

To mark Mental health Awareness Week and to honour everyone who has suffered or is still suffering mental anguish – and indeed those who care or have cared for them, in-words invited four superb and very different poets to read at the lovely West Greenwich Library.

Mick Delap started us off with readings from Gerard Manley Hopkins, mapping his descent into the gloomiest of depressions, and brought the evening to a close with his latest poem – a moving, heartfelt reaching out to those who think differently about certain issues (I let you guess which ones) – and the sadness at being spurned, at the unwillingness to bridge the gap.

Tessa Foley read from her published collection, Chalet Between Thick Ears (Live Canon) and from her more recent poems and her ‘work in progress’. Raw, funny and moving, Tessa’s words go way beyond ‘standard’ feminist poetry. They are a mirror of the dilemmas and struggles that young women face, bold statements alternating with lines of disappointment, confusion, anger and great courage.

Peter Wallis is a twin. As his twin brother, a young man at the time, underwent a long series of brain operations, Peter started undergoing a process of ‘untwinning’ as he witnessed his brother’s physical illness and analysed his own parallel mental turmoil caused by it. His verses, with their almost obsessive rhythm and medical connotations, perfectly portrayed the brothers’ closeness, their despair and hope and the sense of loss that was never far away. Peter’s experience of hospital waiting rooms led him to start and edit the free pamphlets ‘Poetry in the Waiting Room’.

Sally Festing is the daughter of Derek Richter, the founder of the Mental Health Foundation. Derek’s two siblings, very artistic young people, and his own mother suffered from serious depression – something they could only express, in those days, as ‘being unwell’. Treatment was brutal and Derek had the courage and the drive to work towards a better awareness of mental ill health and better treatment for it. Sally worked on the vast archive of letters and documents inherited from her father, some of which she put into verse, coupled with her own words, put at times into her ancestors’ mouths, creating her latest published collection, Darling Derry.

The whole evening was riveting and I know it will stay with me for a long time. If you wish to donate to the two chosen charities, please go to www.mentalhealth.org.uk and www.thecalmzone.net (or in particular www.justgiving.com/fundraising/daniel-hill52

Thank you

Baudelaire with Graham Fawcett and Sue Aldred

What a treat it was to hear Graham and Sue give an eye-opening account of this often-misunderstood poet of Paris, yes, but also of the sky, of lust, pleasure, anger and disgust… Canonic translations, mostly by Edna St. Vincent Millay, offered the small select and very engaged audience a glimpse of the dreamer, the lover, the iconoclast, and someone with a definite, if not frequent, twinkle in his eye. We also heard how he became fascinated by Edgar Allan Poe, so much so that he translated many of the American’s works into French, and we discussed other influences on the French poet, Shakespeare’s in particular. As an art critic in his earlier years, visual arts also had a bearing on his view of the world and he in turn influenced later poets, T S Eliot in particular.

We admired Graham and Sue’s mastery of French in both poetry and prose, which highlighted the musicality of the texts with their crescendos, chiaroscuro and dynamic undulation of sounds and moods. Wonderful.

I in particular was delighted that with his Baudelaire Graham completed for me his Seven Olympians cycle (Ovid, Chaucer, Byron, Pushkin, Dickinson and Neruda). If you’ve missed any or indeed you wish to hear any lecture again, please look at grahamfawcett.co.uk

Cinnamon Press Book Launch, September 10

Jan Fortune and Carole Strachan treated us to a very different evening, as they ‘interviewed’ each other about their latest works of fiction, how they differ from, or fit in with, their previous ones, what inspired and inspires them, their editing process, their love for and empathy with the characters they invent and their ways of tackling that most difficult aspect of fiction-writing: endings.

Carole’s works gain strength and credibility from her familiarity with the world she portrays, that of opera – and with the geographical areas in which the plots unfold. And yet she adds dynamic devices like varying points of view, quite a bit of mystery and suspense and different time frames.

Jan’s latest work is the third of her trilogy, and she assured us that there won’t be a fourth in the ‘series’, although her next book will have as protagonist a very minor character from the trilogy. She also uses different points of you and her story fluctuates withing a span of a thousand years and hugely different places.

The Truth in Masquerade and A song of Thyme and Willow (Carole’s) and This is the End of the Story, A Remedy for All Things and For Hope is Always Born (Jan’s) are available from Cinnamon Press (cinnamonpress.com)

Photos by Adam Craig

Cinnamon Press Poetry Book Launch, June 25

Cinnamon Press should be proud to be nurturing, mentoring, editing, publishing and promoting such interesting and diverse poets as Hugh Dunkerley, Mark Fitzgerald, Lizzie Fincham and David Gilbert.

Unfortunately, Lizzie Fincham was unwell and unable to travel over from Wales, and was replaced, very generously, by David Gilbert. Jan Fortune of Cinnamon Press read one poem from Lizzie’s moving three-act collection Green Figs & Blue Jazz, which follows the seasons mapping loss, hope and resolution, so she wasn’t completely absent.

David’s poems made us laugh and touched us deeply, portraying as they did mental illness, family life and couple dynamics. His new collection, comprising these poems, will come out in the autumn.

Hugh Dunkerley’s book, Kin, is a series of poems and prose-poems on the theme of fatherhood from the first glimpse of the foetus in a scan to the unexpected birth of a premature son, and more via science, iconoclastic humour and domesticity, but always original and resonant in content and form.

Mark Fitzgerald read from his second collection for Cinnamon Press, Downburst, a very different voice and not just because Mark lives in Virginia and teaches in Maryland. ‘As rich in sound as in sense, the book is about finding magic in the ordinary, the afterglow of time, family inspirations and resurgences across seasons.’

Books available from Cinnamon Press’s own website and Amazon, or to order from bookshops.

Photos to follow, hopefully…

Four Voices – Dino Mahoney, Jane McLaughlin, Colin Pink and Cherry Smyth

Well, what can I say… On May 7 at the fabulous West Greenwich Library, aided and abetted by the most generous staff (Bear, Daniel and Emma), we were thrilled, moved and entertained by four poets whose inspiration, voices and styles are so different and yet melded beautifully to create a spellbinding evening. No apologies for the superlatives! If you were part of the capacity audience, I’m sure you will agree with me. I nearly forgot to take photographs, but thankfully I did remember, though the dimmed lights didn’t help their quality (see below).

Jane McLaughlin read from her book Lockdown (Cinnamon Press), a collections of poems both flowing and incisive. In Jane’s work these two terms are never in conflict. I don’t know how she does it! Glowing with deep humanity and empathy, her poems are often inspired by her work with students, migrants and refugees.

Dino Mahoney’s poems and his words of introduction to them, made us laugh out loud, but also think and empathise and reflect. His collection, Tutti Frutti (SPM Publications) is full of personal memories and a perfectly pitched sense of time and place, which can, and does, suddenly switch to things like now and Brexit…

Colin Pink’s Acrobats of Sound (Poetry Salzburg) comes from a deep knowledge of classical art and philosophy, which he translates into verses for today, always surprising and acute. Colin also read from his just-published collection, The Ventriloquist Dummy’s Lament (Against the Grain), a book of poems accompanied by woodcuts by Daniel Goodwin.

Cherry Smyth’s Famished (Pindrop Press) is a book-length poem about the Irish Famine – bleak, raw and shocking, but also deeply musical, with more than a hint of the ballad about it and clear parallels with the plight suffered by today’s migrants. Her tour launching the book normally involves reading the entire poem, with the accompaniment of musicians. Spellbinding.

Getting ready to start…

Cherry, Dino, Jane and Colin

The attentive audience…






All the Way Home

On April 9 we had the pleasure of hosting (at West Greenwich Library) award-winning Irish poet Jane Clarke reading from All the Way Home, her sequence of twenty-one poems responding to one family’s experience of WW1, hot off the press (Smith Doorstop). And what a treat it was!

The backstory: Gill Stoker of the Mary Evans Picture Library (Blackheath), having received a vast archive of letters, drawings, documents and photographs relating to the Auerbach family from Patricia Aubrey (niece of the ‘protagonists’ of this pamphlet) had asked Jane if she could write something in response to it. Jane was awarded a literary bursary form the Arts Council of Ireland, which allowed her to spend eighteen months researching and writing. We were privileged to hear the result just days after publication and the Dublin launch, and before next week’s Manchester launch. Almost by chance, Jane had met Blake Morrison in Dublin late last year, and he agreed to introduce her works on the night, reading two beautiful poems from her previous book (River, Bloodaxe 2015) and from the one due out later in the year, also from Bloodaxe.

The emotional landscape of war for those at the Front and at home is illustrated by Jane’s sequence and the poignant photographs accompanying it. And ‘landscape’ is the key word here, because as Jane explained, the natural world offered her a way in, becoming a unique facilitator with its gift for metaphor and beauty, the everyday and the extraordinary, for echoing losses and the small joys one can experience even in the midst of a catastrophe.

For a ‘proper’ review, do read The Yorkshire Times

Photographs by Paul Brown (Mary Evans Picture Library)

Blake Morrison introducing Jane Clarke (left), with Patricia Aubrey

Gill Stoker and Patricia Aubrey giving the background to the book project

Jane Clarke introducing her pamphlet, in the background one of the photographs from the Auerbach archive

Jane and captive audience in the beautiful Library rotunda


As a Man Grows Younger

This new play for one voice by Howard Colyer, performed at the Jack Studio Theatre 19-23 February, was the fruit of an idea and subsequent conversations between myself and Howard a couple of years ago, when it transpired that he was one of the miniscule number of people I knew, who had knowledge of the Italian writer Italo Svevo. Thanks to the play, the number is no longer miniscule! Svevo, pen name of Ettore Schmitz, lived, mostly in Trieste (but also in Charlton…) across the 19th and 20th centuries and was greatly inspired by the Austro-Hungarian culture of the time, Freud included. He was ‘a mixture of things’, full of contradictions and self irony – the perfect basis for James Joyce (his English teacher and friend) to transform him into Leopold Bloom of Ulysses. Well, if you came to the play you’ll know all this. And if you’re intrigued enough to read Svevo’s works, I recommend his novel Confessions of Zeno.

Let me just add that feedback and reviews have been mostly complimentary and I want to thank Howard, Director Kate Bannister, Designer Karl Swinyard and their technical crew for a fantastic job. And of course David Bromley, who in his portrayal of Svevo and Joyce gripped us for 70 minutes with his energy and acting skills. A superb, faultless performance.

Stage photography by Tim Stubbs Hughes.

David Bromley as Svevo

David Bromley as Joyce

Three Cinnamon Poets: Kay Syrad, Maria Jastrzebska and Patricia Helen Wooldridge

West Greenwich Library was the venue for this lively and lovely wordsmithing display on December 4th. Jan Fortune and Adam Craig of Cinnamon Press introduced three very different poets, who entertained and moved us. Deliberate or not, a theme emerged – and as it often is, it was water – ocean, sea, river.

And so another year is coming to an end. Inherent in all endings there are beginnings.

in-words hopes to continue to renew itself, thanks to your presence, support and ideas.

Stay well, everyone, and see you in 2019.

RIVERINE – Poetry with Fiona Moore, Oona Chantrell, Mick Delap, Kate Miller and Stephen Elves

On 27 of November at the lovely Greenwich Tavern the many who were brave enough to come out on a cold and wet evening were treated to readings by five poets, headed by Fiona Moore, who chose and invited the others to participate. The theme was water, rivers in particular, while Fiona (all-year swimmer extraordinaire and passionate about rivers and the sea) read from The Distal Point, her collection published by Happenstance, which has been shortlisted for the 2019 TS Eliot Poetry Prize (readings by all shortlisted poets Jan 13 at Royal Festival Hall, winner announced the next day).

Fiona and the others delighted, amused and moved us with their beautifully crafted words and images as diverse as their personalities – contemplative, feisty, erudite, ironic (in no particular order…) with so many powerful resonances for us all.


Anna Akhmatova – lecture/performance by Graham Fawcett and Sue Aldred

The Treehouse hosted another stimulating and fascinating event and we were treated as always to Graham’s erudition and wit, and Sue’s beautiful reading voice.

Anna Akhmatova lived through two world wars, two revolutions and Stalin’s purges, and never stopped writing, suffering, loving. Her output is extraordinary. Despite being intensely personal, her published work was deemed anti-revolutionary and she, her family, many of her friends and fellow writers were persecuted (and some killed) because of it. And in the 1940s her poems came under attack because ‘decadent’ and ‘vulgar’ and therefore against Soviet culture and literature. Akhmatova wrote much more than what was published at the time. She fought to have her son released from prison and out of fear of further danger to him – as well as herself – everything she created was committed to memory (her own and others’) until danger finally passed. She died in 1966, recognised the world over as ‘the one who kept the Russian word alive.’

Bright Scarf Poets at Poetry Cafe’ (October 6)

“Peter Pegnall’s Bright Scarf poets harmonise and clash, paint with their voices, dance with their words

Unfortunately, Peter himself was unable to be there because of a chest infection. Colin Pink stood in for him and delighted us all with his mixture of very funny and more serious verses, and joined Rosie’s 17-syllable non-haiku sequences (funny, sensual), Dominic’s more intimate poems and Quentin’s erudite and witty ones.

A very special evening indeed, rewarding the audience for braving a horribly wet night.

Captive audience at packed Poetry Cafe’

Rosie Johnston, Colin Pink, Quentin Cowdry and Dominic James

Hopkins 100 with Graham Fawcett and Susan Aldred (on September 11)

“And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”

(‘God’s Grandeur’)

A big thank you to Graham and Sue, and also to Fiona Moore and Mick Delap for an evening I sadly had to miss. Wonderful feedback from all those who attended.

At First Sight: floating islands, floating lands

in-words’ first-ever event at the British Library played in front a full room on the evening when people could easily have dropped out to watch football or tennis… And we were all treated to an evening of storytelling, poetry and music from voices and sounds from England and Oceania, highlighting issues raised by the voyages of James Cook (the subject of an excellent exhibition at the British Library)

Vanessa Lee Miller – poet, journalist, playwright from Hawaii was the force behind the project, and her enthusiasm, grace and perseverance ensured the participation and support of many diverse creatives. Her own beautiful poem, recited in English and then read in Hawaiian, and her evocative short end-poem focused appropriately on water: fresh water as source of life and death and the ocean penetrating a bay haunted, according to local legend, by Cook’s spirit in the shape of a great white shark. I am truly grateful to her for involving me in this exciting project. I learnt so much working on it!

We had live music played on many instruments collected, and in some cases constructed by Giles Leaman, from a didgeridoo to percussion to the smallest whistle, providing the mood for the readings – eerie, martial, gentle and always evocative.

Rich Sylvester’s story followed the young James Cook getting his sealegs and fulfilling his passion for mapping and cartography, and had us spellbound as it recounted his encounters with Oceanic peoples and the blunders and heavy handed attitudes and responses that led to the killing of many indigenous men, the abuse of many women and ultimately to his own demise in Hawaii.

Rich was also the voice of Cook in the reading of the final pages of Cook in the Underworld, a long poem/libretto by Maori poet Robert Sullivan (b.1967). The part of Orpheus was read by Crystal Te Moananui-Squares, photographer and member of the Interisland Collective of Maori/New Zealand descent, and the ‘judge’ was Jo Walsh, a London-based artist and Pacific Arts Producer of Maori/Scottish ancestry.

Sara Taukolonga, a freelance journalist and performance artist of Tongan/Latvian Jewish descent, read a poem written by the longest-reigning queen of Tonga, Queen Salote Tupou III (1918-1965), translated into English by Sara herself, who then sang it in Tongan, accompanied on guitar by her brother David.

Australian Rhys Feeney gave a sharp and painfully accurate potted history of the Aboriginal People and of the contemptuous disregard for their status as human beings by the colonial powers since 1770, and ended his performance with a cutting poem by Australian poet Steven Oliver.

I know I’m biased, but I feel really happy to have been part of this. My thanks to all the participants, the audience and to Jonah Albert and Steven Gale of the Cultural Events Department at the British Library for giving Vanessa and me the space and time to produce this wonderful and moving evening.

Sadly, no one was available to record it in video or photographs…

Cinnamon Press Book Launch

Jan and Adam of Cinnamon Press, fresh from their travels to research material for their own books (we’ll have to wait till October 30th to hear more about this) came to scorching, buzzing central Greenwich to introduce the work of two very different but equally intriguing fiction writers: Hazel Manuel and Jean Harrison.

The heat, the football and the lure of Greenwich Park next to the lovely Greenwich Tavern didn’t keep supporters and friends from joining Jan, Adam and Hazel (Jean was sadly unable to come) for an evening with a distinctive party atmosphere.

Jan (below) read the final pages of Jean’s moving The Fern Hedge. Written partly in stream-of-consciousness style, it deals with the tension, loving and caring surfacing in three generations of women of the same family as illness and old age take hold.

Hazel spoke beautifully about what made her turn to fiction-writing after a career in psychology and teaching, and how her own move to Paris and rural France inspired her to write Undressing Stone, her third published novel. Her enthusiasm and love for her heroine Sian was infectious, as she read two passages to illustrate the multifaceted character of the protagonist. What she didn’t reveal was the secret that follows Sian to France. For that, one has to read the book. Quite a number of people will do that straight away – the books (Jean’s too) sold out on the night and are now available on Amazon and from Cinnamon Press itself.


4 Poets

Another thoughtful and varied offering from Cinnamon Press. The voices of Robin Thomas, Neil Elder, Frank Dullaghan and Daphne Gloag were so distinctive and yet a theme emerged through the evening. I bet it wasn’t coincidental – Jan Fortune KNEW… The theme was ‘time’ and ‘love’. You may say that in poetry these are ‘normal’. But the way they were treated and delivered was so different – touching, funny, full of unexpected images which were so perfect that they didn’t feel unexpected but just right.

Unfortunately Daphne couldn’t join us in person but her intimate, moving and original words were beautifully read by Jan.

Frank Dullaghan

Jan Fortune reading Daphne Gloag’s poems

Robin Thomas

Neil Elder

Do support cinnamonpress.com. In the increasingly complex world of publishing they continue to operate with great generosity.

Walt Whitman with Graham Fawcett and Susan Aldred

I’m embarrassed to admit it again: no photos of this superb event… Listening to Graham and Susan reading from Whitman’s copious, generous and expansive writings, and also hearing about his life , about what influenced him and about those who were so deeply influenced by him was like listening to musical chiaroscuro, a dialogue between fine-tuned instruments bringing to life this poet whose capacity to love (nature, men and women) was so absolute. No wonder I forgot to take pictures!

And if you wish to read something quite surprising, have a look at this… A Whitman ‘society’ in Bolton, Lancashire! http://www.paulsalveson.org.uk/whitmania/

We said a (temporary?) farewell to the Crypt – with many thanks to Cilla, Guy and Liz for making it easier to set up my events there – as Graham is returning to Greenwich for his next two lectures (September 11 and November 13), also with Susan Aldred. See bottom of ‘Events’ column.

World’s Words – Civilisations Festival

It was a privilege for me to be asked by the Library to organise an event during this week-long, nation-wide celebration of human creativity in all its forms. Thanks to the generous suggestions by my now extensive network of poets and authors, and the even more generous participation of eight supremely talented poets, I and the large audience enjoyed a terrific and moving evening. Although the event was all about ‘words’, it is hard to convey in words the emotions elicited by the music, rhythms and meanings of the many poems read in Arabic, Bangla, Greek and English. There may be a recording of it and shall post it if I’m able to… The theme of ‘words’ stretched to migration, war, asylum, identity. But it is words that people take with them as they move from place to place, and their translation allow us entry into their lives and experiences. As someone said, translation is the essence of hospitality. And as we all know, hospitality is the essence of civilisation.

Adnan Al-Sayegh reading with (l-r) Milton, Stephen, Farah and Mick

Me getting the session started, with (l-r) Fiona, Kostya, Mick and Lorraine

Mick Delap reading, with Milton, Stephen, Adnan and Farah

Stephen reading. As well as a fantastic poet in his own right, Stephen performed his translations of Adnan’s poems. He also compiled, and read from, a bilingual anthology of Bangladeshi poetry.


Left to right: Lorraine Mariner, Kostya Tsolakis, Milton Rahman, Stephen Watts, Adnan Al-Sayegh, Farah Naz, Fiona Moore and Mick Delap

And, as part of the same project, on Wednesday March 7, storytellers Farah Naz and Rich Sylvester http://richstories.mayfirst.org/ ran three sessions with year 4 pupils of James Wolfe Primary School in Royal Hill. I sat in on one of the sessions and learnt all about the origin of sunlight, the first sandals ever made and how to make a lazy young man into one with a decent work ethic… Here are a couple of images from the session. Thank you Rich and Farah, and the Head and Deputy head of the school (Steve Harris and Taniya Ahmed) for being so enthusiastic about this project.

Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere

It was standing room only for the talks by Ann Dingsdale and Jane Grant on the birth of the women’s suffrage movement in Greenwich and Blackheath. A fascinating account from Ann of how ‘ordinary’ women (admittedly mostly middle class) living in the area were instrumental in creating the critical mass necessary for a change of such magnitude and the passing of the 1918 Act. Ann, a textile artist as well as historian, displayed her magnificent silk-embroidered hanging featuring all the names of the 1499 women who signed the 1866 petition. Millicent Fawcett, whose statue will be unveiled near Parliament in April, was the main focus of Jane’s talk on the struggle led by Suffragists and Suffragettes that led to the 1928 Act. Anecdotes and slides added to the interest and kept us all spellbound. To top it all, Halstow Community Choir sang three rousing Suffragette songs with audience participation and Claire Eustance of Greenwich University brought in, on their very first outing, some very informative banners “Celebrating women and men’s contribution to gender equality in Royal Greenwich from the 1860’s to the present”. The consensus, after a Q&A session, from both men and women in the audience was that there’s still some way to go to achieve true equality. So, onwards….

Bright Scarf Poets

Last night a small but very appreciative audience delighted in the readings (and musings and a bit of coughing…) by Rosie Johnston, Quentin Cowdry (l) and Dominic James (r), three members of Bright Scarf Poets. Sadly, health reasons prevented Peter Pegnall, one of its founders, from joining them. His quirky and profound work, taken from his published collections, was read by the others, but we did miss him and we wish him well. Perhaps the words ‘quirky’ and ‘profound’ apply to all three poets despite their very distinctive voices, their choices of form and focus. They had decided to make ‘love’ (yes, why not?) the theme of the second set, and what surprising, different takes on it we were treated to!

If you wish to read their work, Dominic’s collection is published by Sentinel Poetry Group. Rosie’s and Peter’s by Lapwing (Belfast). Quentin is working up his first collection, definitely something to look forward to.

Chrissie Gittins

Chrissie reading from one of her collections of poetry for children

With her gentle but economical, unsentimental and often surprising language, her humour, irony and acute power of observation (and memorable titles) Chrissie has rightly gained a high profile in the literary world, especially for her poems for children. The audience at West Greenwich Library were enchanted and entertained – and also moved when in the second half Chrissie read from her semi-autobiographical short-story collection Between Here and Knitwear about her father’s dementia. Her books were snatched up by the parents and grandparents in the audience. And if you missed out, they are available in bookshops and, of course, on Amazon. www.chrissiegittins.co.uk

A big thank you to Chrissie, the audience and, as always, to Debra and staff at the Library for making us so welcome and comfortable.

Cinnamon Press Book Launch

On Tuesday evening Jan Fortune of Cinnamon Press introduced two talented and original authors and their newly published works of fiction.

Stephanie Percival (and husband Adrian) read from The Kim’s Game. The non-linear narrative follows Hal’s life, marked by many losses – and the reading left us in suspense about his fate: will all those losses lead to some gains? How will all the ‘minor’ characters fare in later life (we got to know them so well as children…)? The Kim’s game is a memory game, where objects laid out on a tray are taken away one by one. Dark, tense, and beautifully written.

Jennifer Young read from her Cold War thriller Cold Crash in which Max, the female heroine, a marine archaeologist, becomes embroiled in a complex and dangerous espionage ‘adventure’. Even a theatre outing with her genteel parents is tinged with intrigue and suspense… Moving between London and Mull, this is a real page turner, with rigorously researched period elements giving it an authentic 1950s feel.

Jan introducing Stephanie and Jennifer.


WH Auden with Graham Fawcett

Oh I did it again… Or rather I didn’t do it again! No photos of this exciting, stimulating and illuminating event at St Margaret’s crypt in Blackheath.

And, of course, Graham Fawcett did it again… I mean he had the large audience spellbound from beginning to end with his wit and erudition, weaving together all the facets of this twinkling, chain-smoking, complex, wordsmithing and, above all, loving poet. He conveyed the joy of hearing Auden live five times, and being so awestruck once when in a small crowd gathered Auden in a pub that later he couldn’t even remember being there, let alone what had been said.

I wish I could remember everything Graham said. After his talks I am always left with a desire to learn more. If you want to see Graham’s programme of lectures and events, go to www.grahamfawcett.co.uk

Many thanks to Guy, Jenny and Cilla from St Margaret’s church for all their help.

Poems and Pictures

Two years ago almost to the day, Gill Stoker of the Mary Evans Picture Library in Blackheath had the brilliant idea of combining her love of the spoken word with the fascinating collection of images stored at the Library. With the help of local poets Mick Delap and Lorraine Mariner she began to invite other local poets to submit poems inspired by or seeming to illustrate one or more images from the Library. The ‘Poems and Pictures’ blog was born, and in two years it has attracted poets from all over the world and more and more poems are being posted on it, all of fantastic quality. Its second birthday was definitely something worth celebrating.

The evening was a wonderful mixture of voices and styles and the projected images were intriguing, funny, surprising… and so much more. The central rotunda of West Greenwich Library was full beyond capacity, with many extra chairs being carted in by the ever-helpful staff to accommodate everyone. Those who took part were: Mick Delap (who also MCd), Harvey Duke (read by Gill Stoker), Ken Evans (read by Mick Delap), Robin Houghton, Sarah Lawson, Lorraine Mariner, Gabriel Moreno (with and without guitar..), Emma Simon, Fiona Sinclair (read by Gill Stoker), Peter Wallis, Richard Westcott and Sarah Westcott. Poets also chose and read works by others, which they selected out of the hundred plus poems on the blog.

I think the blog’s third birthday will call for another celebration, so watch this space!

Gill Stoker introducing the work of the Mary Evans Picture Library to the packed audience

Below: Mick Delap reading ‘Lady with an Ermine’ by Maja Trochimczyk, Gabriel Moreno reading his own ‘Ode to Hull’, Sarah Lawson reading Rowland Hill’s ‘Gin Slings in Singapore’ and Gill Stoker reading ‘If I was Not’ by Jeni Braund. All photographs © Paul Brown.
Visit http://www.maryevans.com/poetryblog.php for the entire collection of poems and related pictures.

Cinnamon Toast!

What better way to celebrate National Poetry day (September 28) than to listen to five talented, amazing and entertaining poets published by Cinnamon Press (cinnamonpress.com). Alex Josephy, Louise Warren, Jeremy Worman, Tamsin Hopkins and Jane McLaughlin (left to right in the photographs) read from their books and pamphlets, taking us to real, surreal and often unexpected worlds and bringing people, creatures and memories to life through their unique voices. THANK YOU poets, publishers, audience and West Greenwich Library staff, as always.

Tiger and Clay – book launch from Istanbul

Last night was a first for in-words, the audience and the wonderful West Greenwich Library and its staff: on a clear skype connection, author Rana Abdulfattah read four extracts form her book of memoir and poetry as her London launch. Her publisher, Camilla Reeve from Palewell Press, co-hosted the event in the central rotunda filled to capacity. There was also a small photographic exhibition by Rayan Azhari and a great meze spread by the Damascus Chef, as well as a presentation by the Chief Executive of the Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network.

Rana lives in Istanbul after leaving her native Syria. Her writing is a moving mixture of nostalgia, sorrow, hope and positive determination. The book is available on Amazon and from Palewell Press http://palewellpress.co.uk/Palewell-Publications.html

Central rotunda filling up…. Other photographs from top: listening to Rana; Alaa the techie man smiling at the camera, Camilla the publisher and myself before the start of this amazing evening. At the back, Jane getting the bookstall organised and Abdullah the Damascus Chef setting up the meze spread.

DH Lawrence, Poet – with Graham Fawcett

I was so lost in the beauty of Graham’s and Lawrence’s words (it’s often hard to spot the boundary between Graham’s own words and the poems he reads…) and the lovely stillness of St Margaret’s Crypt, that I forgot all about modern technology and didn’t take any pictures… I’ll try to remember next time, on November 1st when the mood will change with the poetry of WH Auden.

I will also try to make online booking easier – apologies to those who found it difficult and unsatisfactory (irritating? infuriating?)

If you’re not yet on my mailing list and would like to be, or you would like to unsubscribe, please drop me an email at irena@in-words.co.uk

4 x 4 Poetry Group

What do you do when you find a stash of old photos showing your long-gone parents? Or when you think about the allure of the opposite sex? Or when you look at a double-headed knave of hearts on a playing card? Well, you sit down and start writing poetry of course! The double-headed knave inspired Peter Wallis to think and write about his relationship with his twin brother; Graham High was inspired by his own charcoal life drawings and the graphic patterns found in physics and…fishnet stockings; Wendy Klein and Sally Festing wrote about their fathers, memory and the complex relationships of earlier generations – sometimes known and sometimes guessed.

Wendy’s husband Stephen provided the technical support to project on a screen the photographs and images connected with each poem and sometimes accompanied by music and singing (by Sally). The audience was totally involved, and part of the second set was devoted to questions and discussions, so lively because the poems, while intimate and personal, touched on themes we all share.

4 x 4 + 1! From right: poets Wendy Klein, Peter Wallis, Graham High and Sally Festing and Stephen the invaluable technical support. At West Greenwich Library, July 11.

Not the General Election

A.E.Houseman said “The business of poetry is to harmonise the sadness of the universe”. Particularly poignant at this moment in London, we had a fabulous, varied evening of poetry and some prose at West Greenwich Library on the theme of politics, democracy etc.. It didn’t only harmonise the sadness of the universe, but also the joy, humour and humanity of the universe.

We were treated by Mick Delap, Fiona Moore (reading in the photograph), Jazzman John Clarke, Lorraine Mariner, Sarah Westcott and NJ Hynes to serious and satirical works – their own and by other poets and writers from all over the world and eras (Amichai, Frost, Hardy, Angelou…). Two poems by Kate Foley and one by Carl Griffin were read by Mick. There were contributions through open mic, including extracts from the diary of suffragette Marion Wallace Dunlop, who went on hunger strike and refused force-feeding, and was eventually released; we heard how Plato predicted that we would eventually be ruled by bullies and many other thought-/laughter-/tears-provoking pieces of writing.

Thank you to all those who read and all those who attended and who continue to support in-words and local talent.


Graham Fawcett on Edward Thomas

May 11th at The Prince of Greenwich pub.

As always, Graham delivered something that is so much more than a lecture. The audience was spellbound listening to how Thomas’ tormented life unfolded, and how he blossomed out of ‘melancholia’ once he allowed himself to be uncompromisingly a poet. So sad and such a terrible waste then that he should be killed in April 1917 just before the ‘real action’ started on the battlefield…

Another unforgettable evening. Watch this space for an autumn lecture/performance!



Launch of Anjana Chowdhury’s debut novel

It was full house at West Greenwich Library on March 28th for the launch of Under the Pipal Tree by Anjana Chowdhury.
Evocative is the first word that springs to mind to describe this remarkable debut novel, published by the independent, ever-innovative Cinnamon Press. Jan Fortune of Cinnamon Press introduced Anjana and the book, and then the author introduced and read three extracts, and explained how the book grew almost of its own accord, lead by its characters. The interlinking stories of the three women protagonists, narrated along different timelines, is intense and psychologically complex, so ‘evocative’ is a rather reductionist description of the book. Buy it (from Cinnamon Press or Amazon), read it and you will find many more adjectives to add to it.

Anjana’s presentation was full of humour. Fabulous.

Four Poets at West Greenwich Library

On Tuesday, March 7th, we were delighted, moved and entertained by Frances Spurrier, James Flynn, Mel Pryor and Michael Loveday (left to right in the photograph), who read from their published collections and their latest, as yet unpublished, writings. As a group they were beautifully balanced with their different voices complementing one another giving us humour, pathos, politics, memories and strong images. All even more evident in their final salvo, when they read one poem each, without introduction, on the theme of ‘chaos’.
Many thanks to them and to everyone who attended.

Cinnamon Press Book Launch

Jan Fortune and Adam Craig of Cinnamon Press launched their latest works of fiction at the wonderful West Greenwich Library. Jan’s This is the End of the Story is about friendship, identity, power and the search for resolution (the end of the story?) in a book constructed in a non-linear way and yet totally easy to get into and follow, and in fact a real page turner – I can vouch for that! Jan read two excerpts beautifully and had everyone on the edge of their seats, because there is also a dark element to the story.

Adam read one of the short stories from his collection High City Walk. It is about art as alchemy, and it is steeped in European literary tradition. Other stories are much more rooted in Britain and the British tradition, but never pedestrian and always surprising and exquisitely crafted.

The Library is now stocking both books, or you can buy them via the Cinnamon Press website.

And here I am, gesticulating as always, as I introduce Jan and Adam…

Here’s to 2017

Well, the Winter Holidays are officially coming to an end today, the sun is sort of shining and the snowdrops and crocuses will soon be out. Having given up the ‘get fitter, lose weight, enrol in some amazing course’ resolutions years ago, my one resolution is realistic: to make 2017 a creatively fulfilling year, working with amazing people (you!) and honing my own writing before perhaps going public with it..

If you have ideas or even a space you’d like to use through in-words.co.uk try me! And above all, please continue to support the writers and poets who come in front of us with so much skill, creativity, humanity and courage.

One door closes and another one opens….

Sad as I am to say goodbye to Made in Greenwich, I’m looking forward to new events, different venues and initiatives, and a continuing relationship with all the wonderful people I met at the gallery.

Please keep in touch via irena@in-words.co.uk
Invitations will continue to come from my personal email address, at least for the time being, in case they end up in trash!

I’m always happy to hear about and discuss possible themes, ideas etc.

In the meantime, I wish everyone a happy holiday time and a serene, creative and healthy 2017.

Irena Hill


Dear poetry friends,

As summer approaches, unpredictable and full of surprises as the best verses, I will continue to plan future events – but don’t expect any to happen before September.

I wish you a happy, healthy time, the right amount of sunshine and better world news…

Don’t forget in-words, you’ll hear from me again before too long.