Art Surgery Required

It has been frequently argued whether or not Art can exist in isolation from the rest of the world or whether Art’s oxygen is created by an ever-changing world. In these days of lockdown with so many of us, including our artists, locked in virtual solitary confinement against covid19, another prevalent question should be whether or not our artists can create in such isolation. Come follow your art down the Sidetracks & Detours of writers working in isolation.

We often think of our poets and writers as living a life of solitude and recluse but we would do well to remember that Wordsworth for instance, was a man of the world, engaged with its politics and revolutions, and out of such trauma, created not only fields of golden daffodils but also cities of ´towers, domes, theatres, and temples.´

Bel Mooney, writing in The Daily Mail on Friday 25th September suggested that ´in testing times,´ (like these virus fearing days) ´people need words to channel their feelings, uplift and console — and they often turn to poetry.´

Whilst recommending a few titles that might ´uplift and console´ the Daily Mail contributor mentioned the Forward Book Of Poetry. This is a new publication by Faber, at £9.99, published to mark National Poetry Day on October 1st. Its introduction, written by Alexandra Harris makes just that same point. Harris served as chair of the judges of this year’s Forward Prizes, and noted that, during lockdown, ‘almost everyone, it seemed, wanted a poem of some sort’.

The always useful Forward compendium is usually more challenging than calming, Bel Mooney reported. However, it is none the worse for that, and it remains an indispensable yearly introduction to what the reporter calls ´the best of the new.´

Perhaps because of his so many other talents, it is sometimes forgotten that the late Clive James, comic, writer, tv presenter and go-to talking head on any number of topics, was also one of the finest of poets.
The Fire Of Joy (Picador £20), the book he completed just before he died last year, somehow anthologies the feeling of joy as described through poetry.

He selected a number of our old favourites, as well as his own, including Byron, Wordsworth, Masefield, and Owen from a lifetime’s reading. He penned personal notes on each one. Notwithstanding the singularity of its title, Bel Mooney found the compilations of other emotions as well as a joy.

Her favourite living poet, Michael Longley, is now 81, with an imagination fired by thoughts of mortality: ‘We gaze on our soul landscapes / More intensely with every year.’ he writes in one of his latest poems, in The Candlelight Master (Cape £10). It is a contemplative collection with profound thoughts on art, memory, war, nature and family love. According to her review Longley makes Bel Mooney ´shiver with a sense of the miraculous.´

Family is a central theme of the prize-winning American novelist Barbara Kingsolver. How To Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons) (Faber £14.99) is eloquently recommended by Mooney as ´a revelation.´ the reviewer describes the ´penetrating wisdom of her prose distilled into poem-sequences about taking her elderly Italian mother-in-law on a trip home, accepting imperfection,´ and our connections with the dead become all the more as we age and, I would wager, the longer we live with a malevolent, invisible and global disease threatening us and our loved ones.

Kingsolver writes in a mature voice with a dry, slightly mocking humour that suggest her awareness that she is putting into words the thoughts, that we, her readers, are stuggling to articulate. you were thinking all along, but couldn’t put into words.

For new voices, Cannibal (Picador £10.99) is the dazzling debut volume of Safiya Sinclair, born in Montego Bay, Jamaica and living in the U.S. Her poems capture the rich colours and sounds of her homeland, but running through her work are thoughts of escape and of exile.

Sinclair has described being brought up by a tough Rastafarian musician father and the poem Autobiography recalls how she ‘wore the bruisemark/of my father’s hands to school in silence’.

Another lists the ways a black child’s skin might be whitened by well-meaning adults with anything from talc to baking soda. This seems all the more shocking for being told in a sparse, laconic tone.

Yet another fresh, exciting voice is Rachel Long’s, who writes of family, race and sexuality — and her debut, My Darling From The Lions (Picador £10.99), was shortlisted by Forward, which brings Bel Mooney´s round up to a full circle. Mooney concludes that the exhilarating work of these two young women reminds her that ´although we age like autumn leaves, the greenness is always there, waiting for spring.´

The publication of these books has been timed to anticipate National Poetry Day, the annual mass celebration on the first Thursday of October that encourages the nation to enjoy, discover and share poetry.

For twenty years in the UK, it was always my own favourite day of the year. As a community poet I would work peripatetically in schools and libraries and many other community venues throughout the year but the week of the first Thursday in October was always busy, frantic and fun. I have fond memories of creating water-based poems with schoolchildren by Hollingworth Lake, looking at the flora, fauna and fish of the area. I worked with an adult writing group in Blackburn Cathedral in 2004 and another year enjoyed National Poetry Day at Blackpool Grand Theatre, and on several occasions in local libraries. For ten successive years I worked with A level students at Pleckgate High School and when I left to come and live here on Lanzarote I recommended Seamus Kelly, a great poet, as a replacement and he has done sterling work there since.

This year, National Poetry Day takes place on 1st October 2020, and the theme is Vision. I have no doubt the day will take on a different hue under the current covid cloud, and it might even be tough for schools to invite guest performers and facilitators into the bubble. That applies here on Lanzarote, too, I guess. Whenever I visited The British School Of Lanzarote to conduct creative writing classes with their senior pupils all the concerns then were the same as those in the UK were about having a Criminal Record Bureau confirming my suitability to be allowed in to a school. Nowadays, with schools here and across Europe having so recently re-opened, I´m guessing new protocols of security have yet to be introduced before artists can be invited in to demonstrate their skills and enthusiasm to our poetters, oainters and poets of the gnerations to come.

Whilst I’m sure all teachers will do a great job in presenting an absorbing National Poetry Day in the UK for their pupils it is a shame the young people will miss the opportunity to speak with ´real´ poets who can talk to them about ´where imagination begins´ and the ´five bums on a bench´ who are always asking questions.

Even if you are living here on Lanzarote I urge you to become involved with activities nationwide on the day, to See It Like a Poet and to #ShareAPoem details of which are available on The National Poetry Day website.

National Poetry Day generates an explosion of activity nationwide, thousands of amazing events across the UK – on doorsteps and at kitchen tables, in gardens and streets, in schools, libraries and public spaces both online and offline – all celebrating poetry’s power to bring people together. I am sure many of our readers will have children or grandchildren here or in the UK who will take part in their countries National Poetry Day events.

The Day starts conversations, it encourages love of language – and best of all, it’s open to absolutely everyone to join in, quietly or noisily in rewarding and enjoyable ways. As the art form’s most visible moment, it showcases the ways in which poetry adds value to society.

If you’re planning poetry in your school, whether it be reading, writing or performing, check out the range of resources available from the National Poetry day web site.

These are produced specially by a team ofpartners, and you’ll find lots to use, all for free. You will also find details of a schools-focused challenge, #MyNPDPoem with inspiring videos and prompts and resources to help you participate.

You can sign-up for regular newsletters that will up-date you with news, details of competitions and announcements of special offers and there is even a Toolkit For Schools to provide inspiration any day of the week.

Every event I worked on for National Poetry day in the UK was vibrant and enjoyable and the pupils, young and at school, or older and in adult education or local writing groups, always amazed me with their perception and willingness to share, and I always afterwards dropped an e mail to to report on the schools´ successes in the hope that such e mails could be used to ensure the continuance of the event.

At a time when our children’s education has been so disrupted by covid19 and a generation has become confused by adults and politicians unable to agree on what is best for them, the writing and reading of poetry can dispel confusion and help us all find our own voice to contribute to what remains an on-going debate.

The organisers of National Poetry Day, which is actually a stream of synergies and partnerships, can even help create our next generation of poets to follow in the footsteps of our laureate, Simon Armitage, and James Nash, and Ian and Andrew McMillan and Owen Sheers. After the Manchester bombing of a few years ago it was poetry, in the form of John Walsh, that delivered solace, that re-unified and that restored the dignity and personality of a city that had been split asunder.

As we now fight back against the new enemies of virus and mutation, check out the web-site to see how your donations can help National Poetry Day continue to raise awareness of the value and impact of poetry.

There are organisations in all the different art forms, both here on Lanzarote and here in the UK that offer ways that artists can engage with pupils to educate them in skills ranging from music to macramé.

It was Plato who said that ´poetry is nearer to vital truth than history´ so should you purchase one of the books listed at the beginning of this articles, for your younger family members, (or yourself, of course) or even simply mention to them the purpose and benefits of visit to schools by arts practitioners then you will be enhancing their learning.

Our children are back in their schools now and education in the sciences will be vital in long term dealing with covid19. However, it is the arts that will console and uplift students, as they have always done.

Read more about Lanzarote Schools.

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