Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Doors Close, Doors Open

I was chatting to an old school friend of mine last week and we both commented on how sometimes your life can suddenly change: doors close and new ones open. They certainly have for me over the past year.

My life in the Czech Republic has ended. Out of the blue a buyer came forward with an offer for my house there and I could not refuse. Last month I spent a fortnight in the country getting rid of most of my things and storing a few others, handing in my Czech residency papers, and handing over the keys. The door to my Czech home literally closed.

I am near to closing another literal door. As I said in the a previous post my mother died at the end of June and my life as a carer came to an end. Of course there has been work to do for her since her death. Over the last month I have been clearing one room a week in her house. It will take me another four weeks before the house is in a state ready to be put on the market.

The door that has opened is of course poetry. With my collection with Indigo Dreams (now called Owl Unbound) due out later in the year I have work to do. Firstly there is the editting of the collection prior to sending the finished version to Indigo Dreams, this I think is pretty well done. Then there is the need to get some readings sorted. The best place to sell books is at readings and that means getting my name around ahead of the book launch.

In the last two months I have given readings in Gloucester and Bristol, as well as at the launch of Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal (I had three poems in the magazine) and at open mic's in Stroud, Gloucester and Cheltenham. I must confess I loved performing my poetry. It gives me such as buzz.

The other poetry work I have been busy with is helping Anna Saunders with her Cheltenham Poetry Festival. As I may have said elsewhere in this blog I have a background in organising community events, so it isn't hard to get back into the swing of working on an event. It is great to be able just to help out, rather than be the director.

There will be more about the Festival in another post, but for now here is the link to the amazing programme Anna has put together: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/cheltenhampoetryfestival
With performers as diverse as hip-hop legend JPDL and former Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, there really is something for everyone.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Blogging about the Czech Republic

My first venture into blogging was with my Czech blog. I have just posted a post on it about why I blog, here's the link

Adventures in the Czech Republic: Blogging: One wonderful thing about my life in this country has been this blog. I don't think I fully realized its importance to me until ...

Friday, 15 November 2019

Aldeburgh Poetry Festival - some lessons

Last weekend was the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. My husband and I had been planning a trip to Suffolk for over a year and the festival gave the perfect motivation to go. Whilst I was at the Festival primarily as a lover of poetry, I was also there as a member of the Cheltenham Poetry Festival team. Aldeburgh, like Cheltenham, is run by volunteers, so I was making mental notes as to what worked and what didn't.

On the Friday we only went to the evening event a storytelling session led by Martin Shaw, having spent the rest of the day at Thorpeness, Snape and Sutton Hoo (more of that in a future blogpost). Shaw was a revelation, he kept the audience rapt with his retelling of two folktales. On Saturday I dedicated myself to poetry, while my husband visited churches and villages for his English Buildings Blog before rejoining me for the evening reading. On Sunday we went together to two back-to-back readings before heading off to our B and B exhausted.

This is the first time I have so intensively attended a poetry festival and it won't be my last. I really enjoyed it, but it takes some stamina! I listened to four hours of poetry on the Saturday plus taking part in the Paint me a Poem workshop led by the excellent Grace Nichols. When I was to organize training and conferences professionally I learned that the maximum length of time someone can listen in one session was 45 minutes and that was for much younger brains than mine.

The structure of the readings at Aldeburgh helped keep my concentration by having (with the exception of Martin Shaw's storytelling session on Friday more a theatrical experience that a poetry reading) multiple readers for each one-hour session. In the Carcanet 50th anniversary celebration there were six poets, but most sessions there were three. The festival was programmed to allow a 30-minute break between readings, which was good allowing me to stretch my legs, visit the loo and peruse the bookstall, but not enough to allow for buying and drinking a coffee.

But what about the poetry I hear you say. There were usually two readings and a workshop going on at the same time, so inevitably I was unable to get to everything I wanted to, but it was great to be spoiled for choice. The highlights for me were the workshop, Carmen Bugan's amazing poetry, Alison Brackenbury, Martin Shaw, Kaddy Benyon, Sean Hewitt and young poet, Jamie Osborn. The last three were poets whose work I was unfamiliar with.

We drove back on Monday and had the added pleasure of conversing with Alison Brackenbury as we did so.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Indigo Dreams Publishing

Yesterday I received an email from Indigo Dreams Publishing to say that they want to publish a collection of my poems. I have to keep pinching myself to make sure that this is really happening. I had managed to persuade myself that there was no chance of an acceptance, so their response came as a complete surprise.

Indigo Dreams were the first poetry publisher I submitted my collection to. They were top of my list for a number of reasons.

Firstly I think my poetry fits with their list. Their magazine The Dawntreader was the first one to accept my work when I started sending it out again last year. The poem they published was the "Credo" from a sequence of mystical poems about returning to the Cotswolds. It was one which I felt might be hard to place, but The Dawntreader specifically is interested in a range of subjects , such as myth, legend, landscape, nature, spirituality and love - that play an important part in my work.

Another reason for choosing IDP is that Ronnie and Dawn at Indigo Dreams have a reputation for looking after their poets. I saw them in action at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival in April and liked what I saw. I also liked the poets who read in their showcase at the Festival, especially Jean Atkin and Allyson Hallett.

One thing that matters to me is that Indigo Dreams seem to choose the poets and poetry they like and think their audience will like, rather than follow fashion. Indeed I rather think that some publishers would have turned me down simply because of my age!

This last year has been an amazing journey for me. I little thought as I looked at the new Indigo Dreams books on display at the National Poetry Library only last September that in 2020 my name would be on the cover of one of their books. I want to thank Dawn and Ronnie for this opportunity, especially Dawn whose kind words when accepting "Credo" for The Dawntreader gave me much-needed confidence. There are a few other poets I owe thanks to - Angela France of Buzzwords and Anna Saunders, both of whom suggested I apply to Indigo Dreams; Alison Brackenbury, who was so kind to me when I arrived at my first Buzzwords meeting; Christine Whittemore for reading the collection and giving feedback; and Michael Horovitz for reminding me that I was good.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Learning To Have Lost

The following review, first appeared on my magic realism review blog here: https://magic-realism-books.blogspot.com/2019/10/learning-to-have-lost-by-oz-hardwicke.html

Oz Hardwick’s collection of prose poems Learning to have lost  the passing of time, memory, old age, illness, death and how these resonate and move within and around each other . True to form, Hardwick achieves a sense of a musical refrain and rhythm underpinning and connecting this absorbing collection. While the subject matter is weighty and the pain from the litany of loss candidly expressed, a resolute humour asserts itself throughout that is sometimes sinister, sometimes surreal, often surprising and enormously engaging.
Goodreads description

I was fortunate to hear Oz Hardwick read from this collection and from his most recent book The Lithium Codex at the Poetry Cafe Refreshed in Cheltenham. Both are collections of prose poems - put simply poems without line breaks, or prose with the rhythm and sensibilities of poetry. But that definition does not do prose poetry justice, it combines elements of both prose and poetry, existing in some sort of liminal space, not unlike magic realism. Maybe that is why I found so much magic realism in these poems. 

In Graduation a man opens his old school bag and sees that the books had all grown back into trees, with damp grass all around, and there were birds, like notes on telegraph wires, singing a song he'd written in an abandoned bandstand. The Universal Petting Zoo opens with the words Every time she returns from feeding the animals, she is smallerI could go on quoting sublime bits from every poem, where reality shifts as you read and suddenly you are somewhere else, somewhere no less true. I love the way Oz Hardwick's poems riff. It isn't a surprise that  Hardwick is also a musician. Nor was I surprised to hear that Hardwick is influenced by Richard Brautigan ( I reviewed Brautigan's Sombrero Fallout in this blog here). 

I love this slim book of poetry. Do buy a copy, but guard it. I lent my copy to my husband and had to fight to get it back! 

Friday, 27 September 2019

New on the blog - recordings

As a follow-up to my last post I have recorded readings of four of my poems. They are to be found in the Recordings page here: https://zoebrooks.blogspot.com/p/recordings-of-poems.html

If you are interested in booking me for a reading, please get in touch. My email is zoe.brooks@googlemail.com

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Speaking Poetry

A young Zoe reading poetry at the Young Arts Centre

I have always believed that poetry is primarily a spoken art. It certainly is for me and has always been. My mother told me that I composed poetry before I knew how to write it down and the same is true of poetry historically or should I say prehistorically. 

I still like to see the poem on the page and indeed usually buy a book if I have enjoyed a reading, but listening to a good reader of poetry can be an awesome and illuminating experience. Alas not all poets know how to read well. A good reader will reveal the poem's structure and music, giving it another dimension.

Now that I am back on the poetry scene, I have started reading to audiences again. The other day at Buzzwords, Anna Saunders complemented me on how I read and I replied that I learned young. Last Friday I went to Alison Brackenbury's party to launch her new book Gallop*, where we met up with an old friend, Christine Whittemore. Both Christine and I read in the open mic and frankly you could tell that we both had been trained in reading. When I say "trained", I don't mean taught in the conventional way. We both went to Cheltenham's Young Arts Centre, where we were active members of the EOS poetry group. Every year the group would put on at least two public poetry readings. Those readings would include our own poems and those of famous poets. I don't recall being taught how to read or project my voice, but then the Centre's director, Elizabeth Webster, was a teacher with such skill you weren't aware that you were learning from her. 

When I moved to London, I started reading with Michael Horovitz's Grandchildren of Albion crowd, which included some amazing poet readers. And now here I am again reading and loving it. Anna has asked me to read at next year's Cheltenham Poetry Festival. I am so looking forward to it. You can hear me reading four poems here.

*Alison is an excellent reader and Gallop, a selection of some of the best poems over her long career, should be on everyone's Christmas list. There is currently a discount on it on Carcanet's website: https://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781784106959