Poetry in Prague

 

 

After Poetry in Aldeburgh just keep going east and there is the water of the Vltava rather than the sea…

IMG_0036 and it’s two weeks of poetry in Prague.

 

  • Den poezie is an annual international and multicultural poetry festival held for two weeks every November around the birth anniversary (16.11.1810) of the great Czech Romantic poet, K.H. Mácha. It is the most widespread poetry event in the country with events now taking place in around 60 Czech cities, towns and villages. Almost all the events are free. This year’s Den poezie runs from 12th – 26th November and its theme is Labryrint světa / Labyrinth of the World (after the work of the great Czech humanist and educator, Jan Amos Komenský – Comenius.
  • In the 2017 programme there are two events in English – on Tuesday, 14th November at 7 pm in the library of Anglo-American University, Letenská 5, Prague 1 there is a reading by poets Stephan Delbos (US) and Jane Kirwan (UK), who will read their own poems, and the Irish poet Justin Quinn will read from his new translation of the works of Czech poet, Bohuslav Reynek, The Well of Morning. David Vaughan of Czech Radio will moderate. The second event takes place on Tuesday, 21st November at 7 pm in the Literary cafe Řetězova, Řetězova 10, Prague 1 when Scottish poet, novelist and playwright Alan Spence, recently appointed ‘Makar’ of Edinburgh, will read his poetry.
  • Den poezie first took place on just one day in 1999, and marked the launch of a Poezie pro cestujíci (Poetry on the Metro) project initiated by the festival founder, the Literary and Cultural Club 8 (Renata Bulvová and Bernie Higgins). The festival is now coordinated by the Poetry Society (Společnost poezie), a small group of people involved in literature/teaching who work as volunteers to organise events and promote interest in poetry. Year by year, the length of the festival extended, as more and more organisations and towns participated, until it reached its current two-week duration

 

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Herrings – BDP’s first book of poetry

 

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Blue Door Press is pleased to announce the publication of HERRINGS, our first poetry volume,  published in collaboration with Poetry In Aldeburgh.

HERRINGS is an anthology of poems reflecting the gathering of poets at the first Poetry in Aldeburgh festival in November, 2016. Daphne Warburg Astor and Andrew Hewish have edited and designed  HERRINGS in celebration of the poetry community far and wide.

In this beautiful hard-backed volume you’ll find over 100 poems written by first time poets as well as internationally respected poets, including – Moniza Alvi, Mona Arshi, Maura Dooley, Ian Duhig, Matthew Hollis, Ruth Padel. Many take inspiration from Aldeburgh, the North Sea, East Anglia, the energy and warmth of the festival, friendship, family and more.

At the heart of the volume is collaboration, discovery and the generosity of the included poets because every penny from sales will be donated to Poetry in Aldeburgh to help create the festival for years to come.

HERRINGS will be launched at Poetry in Aldeburgh 2017 at the special festival price of £10.  from 6th November the retail price will be £12.

Hidden – a memoir

Here at Blue Door Press we’re delighted to be publishing our first memoir, Hidden by Annabel Chown, a beautifully written, thoughtful book, scheduled for Spring 2018.

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Aged 31, Annabel was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time a successful architect with a busy London social life, this came as tremendous shock. In Hidden, Chown charts each stage of the treatment and her growing understanding of different kinds of architecture – those of her own body and the structure of the life she’d built up. Is this what she wants?

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Annabel Chown, in the Swiss Alps, 2017

As Annabel recalls, “It was a very challenging time, but also – in a strange way – an intriguing time, as I was catapulted from my familiar worlds of architecture deadlines and dating into the hinterland of cancer and its treatments. I wrote Hidden because I wanted to create something meaningful out of the devastating diagnosis.”

Fast forward almost a decade and Chown makes another startling discovery about her illness which has meant having to make more choices.

This is not a gloomy book. It’s one woman’s story about learning to accept what life throws at you, learning how to make positive changes. Now she’s ready to share that story, “I’m excited to be putting my book out, and I hope it can support and inspire others in the same situation. Recently, I’ve been revising the manuscript as I prepare it for publication and it’s been interesting to realise how much I’ve changed and my life has changed. Life can actually be better after cancer, something I would never have believed at the time.”

You can read more about Annabel’s story in the November issue of Red magazine, but do come back in Spring 2018 when you can read the full story in Hidden.

Summer Solstice Readings for National Writing Day at the Word Bookshop, New Cross

I had a very enjoyable day at Goldsmiths on the summer solstice to celebrate National Writing Day. The summer solstice is:

“the time at which the sun is at its northernmost point in the sky(southernmost point in the South hemisphere), appearing at noon at its highest altitude above the horizon.”

It is midsummer; the heart of this glorious season, a time when Vikings used to resolve legal disputes, when the sun would align with the Wyoming’s Bighorn medicine wheel and magnificent Aztec architecture, and the Ancient Chinese would honour the earth which embodied the feminine force known as yin. It’s no surprise then that storytellers, poets and writers have been drawn by its power. In 1987, myself and a group of students from Sussex university put on a play on the summer solstice to honour the trees that fell in the 1986 hurricane. I wrote a fictionalised account of this night in my novel, Who Do You Love, and this prompted me to see if I could celebrate the solstice again. The fact that it was also National Writing Day meant that there were many people interested in getting involved. The following things happened:

First, Goldsmiths English PGCE students hosted a writing workshop in the Goldsmiths allotment. You can find the excellent worksheet they produced on Scribd here.

 

English PGCE students in Goldsmiths allotment, June 21st 2017
English PGCE students in Goldsmiths allotment, June 21st 2017

Second, although she could not be at Goldsmiths, Ursula Troche wrote these two poems to celebrate National Writing Day and the solstice.

 

Third, myself and a number of other writers, including Ian McAuley, Helen Bailey, Peter Daniels, Julie Hutchinson and Magda Knight read at the Word Bookshop. Here are the videos of their readings. They are audible, but the noise in New Cross can be heard at times; it was very hot and we had to leave the bookshop door open!

What Makes a Successful Book Group?

I’ve visited a number of groups to talk about Taking In Water. Most memorable was a visit to the Luton Women’s Book Discussion Group. I was curious to know how they’d kept going for over thirty years, so asked a few questions – fiction, feminism and food are at the heart of it …

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PJ: How did it all begin?

The Group: We grew out of one of a number of Women’s Groups which met in Luton during the early 1980s. One initiative in 1985 was to create special interest groups alongside the smaller Consciousness Raising groups. Book Group was one of these. We did arise from the ideology of the Women’s Movement, and a belief and interest in the principles of feminism have continued to remain fundamental to our approach. We’ve met eleven times each year, starting in December 1985. The pattern of a monthly meeting on a Thursday evening with a break in August, has continued since.

PJ: Do all current members go back to 1985?

The Group: Five women who attended the early meetings continue today alongside other longstanding and newer members. Sometimes the group can barely fit into the room and sometimes it’s tiny. By and large it seems to self-regulate and usually we have a core group of about twelve.

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 PJ: You only read books by women – no exceptions?

The Group: We’ve always met as a group of women to discuss books written by women. This doesn’t mean, as some critics have suggested over the years, that we reject or ignore literature by men. Most of us read books by both men and women outside the group and books by men may well be cited in discussion. However, we remain a group of female readers who believe that, more than thirty years after our inaugural meeting, we still live in a society where there’s sexism. By maintaining a focus on women’s literature we’re doing something to counter a male-dominated view of the world. In this context, at least, we pay attention the voices of a diverse range of women writers.

PJ: How do you choose your books?

The Group: We choose books two or three times a year. One principle we’ve adhered to is that all books should be readily available in paperback, so not too expensive, although many members order them from the local library. We note down books that interest us and throw them into the pot, sometimes supported by a clipping or a review. A consensus emerges through discussion. We’ve read around 345 books over the years, predominantly novels. But we do incorporate non-fiction, usually biographies and autobiographies, sometimes books about feminist theory. We’ve read The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir and The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf and, more unusually, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Kloot, which deals with racial discrimination and scientific developments in the US. We do our best to include a wide range of cultural perspectives. Not all books are popular and some such as Dolly City, an allegory about the creation of Israel, have been regarded as unreadable. The best discussions to seem to be generated by books which divide opinion

PJ: Have you noticed a shift in your interests, over the years?

The Group: It would be interesting to analyse to what extent the books have reflected our own changing life stages. There was a phase in which we reread some of the classics of our childhood such as Little Women and Black Beauty. The latter proved a grave disappointment. We have reappraised classics that we had mostly already read such as To Kill a Mockingbird which did not disappoint and Wuthering Heights which did. Now that many members have retired, we are less concerned by the number of pages and more able to take on a lengthy read. We’ve never been successful in incorporating poetry despite a number of attempts at poetry evenings. This has never generated a coherent discussion though, interestingly, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s verse novel Aurora Leigh was read and appreciated.

PJ: You have a strong identity with your book lists that are mailed to non-members

The Group: One member produces a distinctively illustrated list of the books we are going to read over (usually) a six-month period. It’s a feature of the group that’s remained consistent over the years and promotes our sense of identity. The list is also distributed to a number of people who could loosely be categorised as ‘Friends of Book Group’. These include members who have moved away and friends of members who cannot attend but remain interested in what we are reading.

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PJ: Tell me about your Christmas meeting – I gather this involves food!

The Group: For our December meetings we, in principle at least, choose books incorporating recipes and cook some of these as the basis of our Christmas feast. However, we’ve unearthed only a few examples of that genre that are worthwhile for both reader and cook. Usually either the recipes take centre stage with little in between or they are included mainly to enhance authenticity and are of the ‘first skin your coyote’ variety. More recently, we have largely ignored the suggested recipes and devised our own in keeping with the book’s culture, which we try to vary so we can ‘eat around the world’.

PJ: You also go on literary outings – how did that start?

The Group: To celebrate milestones in the group’s life we started to go on outings to places where women writers lived and worked or used as the subject of a book. Now we try to go every year, and a convivial lunch is a prominent feature. Places have included: Sissinghurst (Vita Sackville-West); Chawton (Jane Austen’s house/museum); Nuneaton (where George Eliot lived until her early 20s – we had a charming and informative guide for this visit); East Sussex for Charleston (Vanessa Bell plus other members of the Bloomsbury Group), Monk’s House (Virginia Wolf) and Berwick Church (beautiful paintings by Duncan Grant, Vanessa and Quentin Bell); The Manor at Hemingford Grey (renamed Green Knowe by Lucy Boston and housing an amazing collection of patchwork quilts made by Lucy well into her 90s); Buckingham (Candleford) and Juniper Hill (Lark Rise) (Flora Thompson); Bletchley Park (to appreciate the work done by the Bletchley girls during the second world war).

PJ: What’s the secret of your longevity?

The Group: With a handful of exceptions we’ve always met in the same home. Maybe this consistency has been one of the reasons for our longevity. There’s no room for confusion about where to go! Some members have stopped attending for several years but when they return it’s to familiar environment and routine. Inevitably, there are times when the resident member has been unable to attend but everyone knows whereabouts of the glasses, bowls and corkscrew!

5 Ingredients for a Great Book Launch

ONE: Find a supportive publisher.

Blue Door Press have been wonderful to be part of because there is such a collaborative spirit. Pamela Johnson, one of the founders of the press, gave me a brief introduction (as you can see on the video) and along with Jane Kirwan & Daphne Astor have been real champions of my work. Who Do You Love is a personal novel, and in some ways quite challenging to write and publish, and I definitely could not have done it without BDP’s unstinting support. BDP has believed in my writing and given me a writerly confidence I haven’t had before.

TWO: Find a supportive bookshop.

The Brick Lane Bookshop were also very helpful; being a local author, they took extra care with things, keeping track of the people invited and offering to sell the books as well as opening after hours on a Friday. The shop was a great venue; cosy but with just enough space to contain the hoards.

THREE: Invite friends and family who like you!

The launch was a great excuse to catch up with family and friends who I hadn’t seen in a while. It was brilliant to see so many smiling faces who were willing to buy my book!

FOUR: Make the speeches short, snappy and include some brief readings.

It’s important to have speeches at a launch, but they do need to be brief; people need time to chat and socialise.

FIVE: Be merry in the moment.

A book launch is a time for celebration so being positive is important; take a moment to enjoy the beauty of people coming together to buy and read your work.

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Melissa Benn, Fiona Millar, Francis Gilbert
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Ian McAuley who launched his novel London Stone with me on the night as well.
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FG with Ayesha Kyrou & Abdul Hanan
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With Sonia Lambert & Andrea Mason (fellow novelists)
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With my father, Peter Gilbert & Tim Hewitt