Brenda Read-Brown

Gloucestershire Poet Laureate, 2012-2013

London calling

I love going to London; it still gives me a buzz. Even a trip on the underground fills me with wonder that it all works – although someone I know who lives in London reminded me that quite often it doesn’t. But still.

Monday was mostly prep and emails, and a continuation of my attack on the rampant bramble. I know it will win, but I have to try. I went to a TADS meeting in the evening.

On Tuesday I had to see the doctor, but he was very reassuring and the cause for concern no longer worries me, so that was good. It was a bit of a medical day all round – next thing was a trip to my dentist, which is always good fun, and in the afternoon I had a great session at the hospital with an amazing woman. I wrote a poem in the evening.

On Wednesday I did the hospital writeup, and loads of shopping. I seem to be doing a lot of shopping at the moment; must be a bit disorganised. And on Thursday I went to London! I spent a bit of time shopping (again) in the afternoon, revisiting the places I knew well when I used to live in London. They have all changed beyond recognition, but that’s hardly surprising, because I last lived there in 1973. In the evening I went to a Lightning Seeds gig in the London Palladium, somewhere I’d never been before. The Son is a great Lightning Seeds fan, and I quite often go to gigs with him – although this time, he was with The Daughter-in-Law and they had VIP seats, so I wasn’t actually with him. It was an excellent gig.

All this meant that on Friday I had loads of emails to catch up on, and lots of Poetry on Loan work to do, and the TADS minutes to write, and that all continued into Saturday – but I also managed to clear two big bags of stuff from one of my lofts.

And on Sunday – I went all the way to Rye, to scatter my cousin’s ashes. Seventeen people were there, friends and relations, and it was good to meet everyone again. I had written a little poem for the occasion, and it seemed to go down well.

But I’m a bit tired today. This morning I worked with my lovely Hereford group, who do so well to keep meeting and writing, and had a phone call about an exciting new project…and now here we are, with another week, and no exciting trips lined up…I’ll just have to find another reason to go back to London soon.

 

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One down…

According to my diary, I don’t seem to have done much this week. I had a really good session at the hospital, did my end-of-month accounting, covered quite a bit of Poetry on Loan work, wrote two poems and got completely up-to-date with emails and mail. And I’ve done a lot of bramble clearing, which has resulted in many scratches (despite the protective clothing) and even more midge bites. I’ve still go a lot to do on that.

But I have completely cleared one room. The floor is visible; everything is neatly put away; all the drawers and cupboards close – it looks like a proper room now, and I feel much better for having done it.

The only problem is that now I want to do all the other rooms. One down…

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Cleansing

Well, I’m not cleansed yet – that’s going to take much more than a week. But I’ve made a start. On Monday I wrote two poems, did lots of Poetry on Loan work, finished cutting down the butterfly plant and started clearing stuff. In the evening I went to a TADS workshop, although I didn’t feel too good, and got up-to-date with the emails.

I had an amazing session at the hospital on Tuesday; it’s days like that that really make me feel that my work is worthwhile. I tried to mow the back lawn, but the grass was long and wet and kept sticking in the mower pipe; it took ages, and I had to have the cut at the highest setting, so I’m going to have another go today. Note to my reader: never live in a house with a garden that is too big for you to manage. I wrote up the hospital stuff and did some final prep for a prison session…

…which was on Wednesday – all day in a prison in Shropshire. We had small groups of varying abilities, but they all wrote something, and I think they all enjoyed it. In the evening I caught up with emails and typed up all the pieces written.

On Thursday I did lots of clearing, and in the afternoon went to an Artlift team meeting in Gloucester. It’s always good to meet the other Artlift artists, but this was a business meeting and we didn’t get time to chat.

Friday? My weekly finances, and yes, more clearing. Bear in mind that this is just one room, and so far I’ve done about two-thirds of it; after that, I still have four more rooms in a similar state of chaos. And then I can start the painting and decorating.

Over the weekend I did yet more clearing, and some Poetry on Loan work, and wrote another poem (quite pleased with this one), and fought a brave battle against the rampant bramble. That’s about half done now, but I had to stop because the garden waste bin was full. And I made my Christmas cakes, and took a load of stuff to the tip.

But that’s enough of my rampant rambling; back to the cleansing process. I know I’ll feel good when it’s done…

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Resolution

For several years now, my New Year’s resolution has been to sort my house out. And I’ve started – only just, though, and already I’ve managed to lose my prescription reading glasses – but still. And other things have come to an end, too.

I wrote up all the evaluation stuff for the training session on Monday, and did lots of Poetry on Loan work. Tuesday was mostly emails, and hanging on the phone waiting for someone, anyone, to talk to me, while listening to awful phone-waiting music. I remember, when I had a proper job, that sometimes I had to call Ralph Lauren (not personally) in Paris, and their waiting music was Why worry, by Dire Straits, which I thought was an excellent choice. In the evening I saw Joker, which was dark and miserable and not that well crafted, in my view.

Wednesday was better. One of the Poetry on Loan poets phoned early to say that he was unwell and couldn’t fulfil a commitment for that evening. After many phone calls and emails I found someone to replace him, and the whole thing went off successfully. Poetry on Loan does not like to let people down!

The next day was a Ledbury Poetry Festival Board meeting; I wrote up the minutes yesterday. We have a new Chair now, who seems very good. And I did some practice for an important gig on Saturday.

Friday was busy – more practice, accounts, a very good session at the hospital, and loads of emails, and in the middle of the night I wrote a long poem which I’m really pleased with.

And on Saturday, something else was resolved. I’ve been Gloucestershire Poet Laureate for seven years, and I had planned to try to organise my replacement this year, but to my delight, someone else did all the organisation. On Saturday I handed over to the new Poet Laureate for Gloucestershire – Ziggy Dicks, who will, I think, make an excellent job of it. I did a 20-minute farewell set to say goodbye, and it seemed to go down well.

And yesterday the big clear-up started. It’s going to take ages, and I’ll need to do other things, like chop down the butterfly plant (half done yesterday) and attack the rampant bramble that will otherwise take over the whole garden. But still, it’s a start, and I might at least succeed in clearing one or two rooms before it’s New Year again.

 

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Burnout

I’m in the situation where I have so much to do that I don’t know where to start. Last week was busy, as expected, and this week will be no different.

Monday was mostly emails, as it so often is, with quite a bit of Poetry on Loan work thrown in. I forgot to say that I wrote a couple of poems over the weekend, and I typed those up, and in the evening went to a TADS meeting, which wasn’t quorate, so we couldn’t really decide anything.

On Tuesday I had a good session at the hospital, and a good Pilates session – two words of congratulation from the class leader, which as someone said, is like getting two Paul Hollywood handshakes in one Bake Off programme. Yo. In the evening I saw Judy; a phenomenal performance by Renee Zellweger, I thought, and generally good all round.

I wrote up the hospital stuff on Wednesday, and prepared for Thursday, when I did some poetry on demand at Solihull Core library with Spoz. We did a little performance, as well as writing poems for people, and a good time was had by all. I got up to Tuesday’s emails, and did lots of prep for a training session today, and for the Gloucestershire Poet Laureate competition.

On Friday I had to do more prep and overcome the vagaries of my laser printer, which sometimes decides it’s just going to print what it wants. It has no care at all for wasting paper, let alone the environment. And I wrote up the TADS’ minutes, and answered yet more emails.

More Poetry on Loan stuff on Saturday, and more emails, and in the afternoon I was one of the judges for the Gloucestershire Poet Laureate competition. For some reason all the nominees seemed terrified, and I felt myself growing more and more into the rôle of scary judge as the afternoon went on; it was quite strange. We’ve selected the winner now, but s/he doesn’t know yet, so I’m certainly not telling you.

And on Sunday I drafted emails to all the nominees. My fellow judge, the lovely Alicia, has okayed them so they need to be sent off. And this morning I left home very early to run, with Roz (another lovely poet) a training session for Poetry on Loan, which went really well, with a great group of trainees, and I have to write it all up…and meanwhile everything in my house – including me, I think – is falling apart, and when I’ll be able to do anything about it I don’t know. Burnout isn’t far away…

 

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Poetry makes nothing happen

That’s a quote from W. H. Auden, and I’ve been thinking about it, what with it being National Poetry Day last week ’n’ all. Poetry has changed my life completely; Auden was wrong. On the other hand, I wish sometimes that poetry could actually make nothing happen; that for each line I wrote there was an equivalent time when absolutely nothing happened. I wrote a poem about this last night.

I could do with a spell of nothing – things are really busy at the moment. Good stuff, but lots of it. Monday was mostly emails, of course, with some prep and my end-of-month accounting. I had to take my car in for a recall job, so this week I’ve been driving around in a big wallowy thing. In the early hours of Tuesday morning, I was working on a new slam poem, and during the day I did all the prep for the Poetry on Loan meeting on Friday – it took ages! I did some more work on the poem and handled more emails, and in the evening saw Ready or not. It was stylish but derivative.

I’ve been feeling quite jumpy, and hoped that a Pilates session on Wednesday would be calming. It wasn’t, really. More emails, and in the evening a slam in Bristol. I did the new poem. Unfortunately it relied on a good proportion of the audience having watched Love island. One man clearly had, and chuckled at all the references, but it left the others cold. It didn’t do badly, especially for a first outing for a new poem, but I’ll have to try to gauge the audience better for any future performances.

Thursday was National Poetry Day! I emailed the winners of the Poetry on Loan poetry competition and put the results on our website, and did some work for the PoL training session next week. The Son came home for a while, which is always good fun, and in the evening I was in Hereford for the PoL poetry postcards launch. The postcards really are lovely, and seeing a display of the accompanying posters in Hereford library was a real boost. We had a small audience, but the gig went really well, and was a salutary lesson in not underestimating audiences; the very old lady in the front row lapped it all up, including the poems hat I thought she might find a little bit shocking.

On Friday I did my weekly accounts, and more prep, and went to the Poetry on Loan meeting in Birmingham. These meetings are always invigorating. The weekend was quite quiet, except that on Sunday evening I ran a workshop at Buzzwords, a poetry night in Cheltenham that I helped set up 17 years ago – it’s hard to believe that it’s been going so long! I was one of the two featured poets, too, and that went really well; they’re a lovely bunch.

And this week is busy too. I could really do with a bit of nothing – but at least I’ve got my car back.

 

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The good, the bad and the emails

It’s been mostly emails this week, of course – after a week away that’s always going to be the case. The week started badly, though – I lost my Fitbit, and then I lost my favourite pen. The pen rolled off my desk and disappeared; I just can’t understand where it’s gone. The Fitbit turned up later in the week, after I’d panicked and bought another one from eBay, that won’t connect with my phone (essential for this type of Fitbit) – and the seller won’t accept a return. Sigh. All my own fault.

Anyway, on Tuesday I had an exceptionally good session at the hospital, went food shopping and had a long call from a relative who is always interesting, wise and helpful, although not helpful with getting the emails handled. I did some invoicing, and got all ready for Wednesday…

which I spent in prison. I had two 3-hour workshops with different groups of prisoners. Three hours is a long time for anyone for a poetry workshop, and many prisoners have quite short attention spans – but they all engaged, and they all wrote poems. It was a good day, even though my main contact and I had a disagreement about Brexit. Sigh, again.

On Thursday I did quite a lot of Poetry on Loan work, and more emails, obviously… and some more on Friday. The PoL postcards poetry arrived, and they are beautiful – I’ve had quite a few emails saying this already.

Ok, we’ve had the good and the emails – now it’s time for the bad. I was in a slam in Ironbridge on Saturday – the first one they’ve had there. It’s a long way from where I live. I got through the first round ok, but in the semi-final, I overran the time. The poem I did is always tight on time, but I’ve never overrun before; the warning signal was a very short beep on a duck whistle. I’m used to two types of time restriction – either no warning, and 15 seconds grace so you’re allowed to overrun a bit; or a really loud blast on a whistle that stops you dead in your tracks. This quiet warning took me completely by surprise, and I didn’t stop straight away, so I had a 10 point penalty – which meant that instead of winning my semi-final (as the organisers told me I would have done), I didn’t get through to the final.

And it’s entirely my fault. I should have practised more; I should have been more aware of the time; I should have responded immediately I heard the signal. I know it’s only a slam and it doesn’t matter, but I am so, so cross with myself.

And then on Sunday it was my birthday present – a trip to the Bear Grylls adventure place, to do archery and an assault course and snorkelling with sharks. The archery and assault course were really good fun; the snorkelling slightly disappointing because the cage we were in was very small and we couldn’t move around. And the bad bit was that when we were very nearly there, we had an accident – a woman ignored some give way signs and drove out straight in front of us. The Bloke was driving, and although he braked, he couldn’t stop in time and just dinged the woman’s car; she panicked and drove into a post. Nobody was hurt, fortunately, but even small accidents shake you up.

And today my car has gone in for some major recall work, and I’ll be without it for a week. I’ve got a loan car, but it’s not the same.

And now, of course, there are still more emails. Nothing stops them.

 

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Cruisin’

I’ve been away, on a cruise to the Norwegian fjords. It rained. It rained a lot, and one day the weather was so bad that we had to stay in the port where we were, and miss out one of our intended ports of call. But still, I saw some lovely scenery and met some nice people, and ran four really good workshops, so generally I had a good time. I even started work on my new collection, and wrote a few poems.

Before leaving, I sorted out the Poetry on Loan competition shortlist – all the marks are now in, and the winner has been decided, but I can’t say yet who it is. I did some more PoL stuff, and went to a TADS meeting. It’s all a bit disappointing, really. We decided on our next full-length play, and we knew we had a good director and crew, and now we can’t get a licence to perform it. Back to the drawing board.

Before I went away, I was pretty well up-to-date with the emails, but of course hundreds more have arrived – it’s not always possible to get Internet access onboard ship, so I haven’t been able to deal with them. Also, the Artlift books have been delivered, and I need to get those distributed, and the supposedly frost-free freezer needs to be defrosted, and I have loads of prep to do for things happening soon …no more cruisin’ now; it’s back to reality.

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A part of me is missing

Actually, I often feel that a part of me is missing, but this week it really is. The week started ok: emails; filling, sanding, painting the now-repaired doorframe; lots of Poetry on Loan work; end-of-month accounts. But by the evening, it was obvious that I had a gum infection, in a place where I have had three previous gum infections.

By Tuesday morning it was so painful that I couldn’t work. I got an emergency appointment with my lovely dentist, and, as I knew he would, he said I really needed to have the tooth out – he’s been telling me this for ages. He really is a good dentist, and did it all very well, but now I’m missing a big tooth. It seems to be healing well, and the pain was just about gone by Wednesday.

Meanwhile, I sorted out the longlist of poems for the judges of the Poetry on Loan poetry competition, answered more emails, and prepared for a prison workshop I’ve got coming up.

On Wednesday, I checked some of the designs for the PoL poetry postcards – they are nearly all ready now, and went to an Artlift visioning meeting. Despite the unpromising title (visioning? really?) it seemed quite productive, and it’s always good to meet the other Artlift artists, some of whom I’ve known for years. In the evening I saw Pain and glory, which was very good.

I had an excellent session at the hospital on Thursday, and made a video of a poem that’s been included in an anthology. I don’t think I’ll be able to get to the launch, and they said that they’ll show videos of the poems. I think it’s ok. I did the hospital writeup, and some more prep.

Friday was the usual weekly finances, and prep for Saturday… when I was in Stafford. I ran a performance workshop for the lovely group of teenagers who were up for the Staffordshire Young Poet Laureate position, and then acted as one of the judges. As always, they were all good, but I think we’ve made the right decision. And over the weekend I proofread the whole Artlift book, all 122 pages of it; I should be able to get the final version to the online publishers today.

Quite a lot done, really – but I still feel that a part of me is missing…

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Battening down

I’ve looked at my diary, and things get really busy in September and October – although actually it doesn’t feel as if I’ve stopped being busy, really. In the summer, work in the house and garden takes the place of proper work, or part of it, anyway. But now I have to get some things finished off, and others ready, so I’m not faced with huge amounts of work all at once.

I caught up with emails on Tuesday. On Wednesday I had a very good session at the hospital, and some lovely feedback from other people I’ve written poems for there. And then I seemed to spend hours shopping – all stuff that was needed, but from lots of different places. I did some Poetry on Loan work; the postcards are on their way and some background stuff was needed.

On Thursday I did prep for some work I’ve got this Saturday and later on, and started the preparation for judging the Poetry on Loan poetry competition. And handled the snail mail.

And on Friday I really caught up with emails! I did a lot of work on the PoL competition over the weekend, and took the plunge and bought a new TV. I don’t watch it much, but The Daughter is at home at the moment and she does, and it seems sensible to have a TV that we can actually see.

And today I have a huge list of jobs to do. The storm of work is already on me…

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