For the last 18 months or so I have been part of The Poetry Business’s Writing School – a writers’ development course for those who have already published. We’ve met up in Sheffield every couple of months to share poetry – our own and that we’ve been reading together – and to generate new work. Between the meet-up sessions, we worked through email and occasional local meetings, in smaller groups, focusing on poets we might not have read, exchanging notes, ideas, questions and suggestions. The School is led by the inimitable Ann and Peter Sansom, who steered us very gently to read and write out of what we know. The greatest gifts of the School for me were the chance to meet and forge friendships with poets from outside London and to laugh a lot – something that can get lost in the making of poetry and is, I think, too often undervalued.
This month we convened for the final, residential, session, a weekend in Rydal in the Lake District, culminating in the privilege of a group reading at the Wordsworth Trust. The setting was glorious in all its weathers, from snow to sunshine and everything in-between, often in the space of a couple of hours. The ‘grotte’ over the waterfall, the casually ravishing views from every window, the en-suite bigger than my front room, the breakfast buffet were all fab, but it was the company that made the weekend. It’s that curious phenomenon of ‘poetry friendship’ in which you end up knowing intimate things about people that you meet infrequently and then only through and about poetry.
You didn’t go to school or raise your kids together, work in the same office or meet in any of the other ways friendships spark up and grow over time. You probably haven’t met their partners or parents, didn’t share their growing up, haven’t been to their home or even their town, are way older or younger, but get to know a lot about personal hinterland through the poems they bring along. You talk about editors and editing, the cost of dental work, paper quality, who you’re going to send to next, self-doubt, the state of the Labour Party, what’s right and wrong with workshopping, learning to drive, competitions, feuds and poets only you love.
I find these poetry friendships light and liberating and thank everyone who shares them.
My new pamphlet, Elastic Glue, (Emma Press) is now out and can be bought here. It will be officially launched, along with two others, on May 10th at The Seven Dials Club, Covent Garden.
The poems are mostly about place – who owns it and how it makes us. One of these places is Covent Garden where I, an incomer, have lived for 40+ years, in the corner known as Seven Dials – home of the broadsheet and the ballad.
Most people think of the area as a honeypot of dinky shops, bars and restaurants, with some very expensive flats for short-term let or foreign investors – and that’s true. But it’s not the whole picture. It’s also home to successive generations of people who worked in the fruit and vegetable market, the theatres and the print. When two of these mass employers were relocated, the people didn’t quietly go away. They stayed to fight a prolonged and complicated community-led battle with developers – both the benign but misguided and the opportunistic – to save their neighbourhood. They were successful. Covent Garden was not flattened. The community was not 'decanted'. Most importantly, a substantial quantity of social housing was built, much of it tucked into gaps. But the success was double-edged as the area became an increasingly desirable proposition. The struggle now is to maintain a foothold in this heavily-marketed prime real estate and a sense of normality, surrounded as we are by pop-ups and fairy lights.
It's a political pamphlet, channelled through the personal, because I’m a child of my times, and, I hope, funny in parts, because how could we bear it otherwise? And there are lots of people in it, from Lenin and Renzo Piano to Chicken Jim, the Fred Collinses, the biodynamic Hippy and me in my knickers and vest. I hope you’re tempted to have a look.
Hannah Lowe's The Neighbourhood (Outspoken Press); Keith Hutson's Baldwin's Catholic Geese (Bloodaxe); David Underdown's A Sense of the North (Cinnamon Press); and Marie Naughton's A Life, Elsewhere (Pindrop Press).