Last night was the last night – of my poetry teaching in Newbury, which is a splendid town, and I wish I’d got to know it better. (Hi to the lovely staff at Costa Coffee, next to the Kennet & Avon!). I’m getting ready for our house move to the north – not quite sure yet whether we will be living at the very top of North Yorkshire or just over the border into Country Durham – but I couldn’t commit to another term, in case we had to up sticks halfway through. I’ve loved it. The course, called, rather tongue-in-cheekily “Poetry for the Petrified” was intended for those who hadn’t thought much about poetry since school days but wanted to re-engage with contemporary poetry and express themselves in their own writing. Every one of my regular customers got something out of the sessions, judging by the way their writing morphed, and grew in confidence. Every one of them had a story to tell in poetry about their own lives, loves and experiences. I know I am leaving them in good hands, as the Corn Exchange Theatre has asked the amazing Ben Parker to continue teaching after Easter.
We looked at rhyme, rhythm, metre, the white space on the page, the sound of words, alliteration, imagery, writing in persona, ekphrastic poems, poems about memories, families and dangerous weather, with the help of Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Philip Gross, Carol-Ann Duffy, Wilfred Owen, Ann Sexton, W.H. Auden, Roddy Lumsden, Alice Oswald, Philip Larkin, Wendy Cope, Jo Bell, Jacob Polley, Claire Trevien, Stevie Smith, Edward Mackay, Ian Duhig, and a few others.
I’ve really enjoyed it – it was my first chance to teach and I learned as I went along, but have already found it very rewarding to share some of the joy of poetry with other people. I really believe it’s both therapeutic and transformative, it helps us sort out what we think of the world. All poets are special people, because, by definition, they are living “the examined life” as they think about what they need to write.
And above, there’s a picture of a wonderful surprise – a cushion made by my student Jenny Saady, who is a talented quilter, depicting the thriving creative hub that is the Corn Exchange Theatre. A unique souvenir of a wonderful time and place and lovely people. There, I’m tearing up now.