Tag Archives: Philip Gross

Writing a place, invoking an instant: Jean Atkin on writing off the scale

4 Mar

Atkin, Jean,  credit Zvonko KracunOur guest blogger, Jean Atkin, has much to say that is relevant in this Year of Natural Scotland, having written extensively about  landscapes and places, including her recent pamphlet The Dark Farms (Roncadora Press). She will be launching her first full collection, Not Lost Since Last Time (Oversteps Books), at her StAnza reading on 9 March.

When I was 14 or so and dipping into a borrowed Penguin Classics paperback (no internet on those long 1970s afternoons) I read the words of an unknown Irish poet who had lived in the eleventh century.

‘In the black season of deep winter/ a storm of waves is roused along/ the expanse of the world./ Sad are the birds of every meadow plain/ at the clamour of winter, except/ the ravens that feed on crimson blood./ The dogs are vicious in cracking bones/ and the iron pot is put on the fire.’

I was astounded by the dizzying, momentary sense the words gave me of seeing a long-lost place exactly then through the eyes and thoughts of another person – even if they’d been dead for almost a thousand years and even if the coast country in question was now under a car park.

Dark Farms Glenhead

Dark Farms Glenhead

Place is strangely and intimately important to humans.  It’s our backdrop to memory, our stage set for pain and joy.  We grasp human emotion through the evocation of place.  Place holds significance so deeply that we visit scenes of atrocity with a sensitised perturbation about what we made be made to feel there.  There are ghosts.  The natural and built environment surrounds us all, and both is, and symbolises, who we are and what we inherit.

When poets write about place, they explore cycles of continuity and disruption.  Esther Morgan’s wonderful poem Bone China traces the event of the servant girl who smashed the dinner service and disappeared
‘That dawn she walked out of her story forever,

though her flavour salted the servants’ tongues for months,
and clearing the ground a hundred years later

of this self-seeded scrub of ash

I can still piece bits of her together – white and sharp –

as if the earth were teething.’ 

In her poem Glid, Jen Hadfield calls up measures of our own lives against an atavistic, ancient sense of place when she turns the camera on her ‘dissolving self’ and then
‘I turn the camera on dazzled
Everything –

Plain rain – the loch –

The incandescent horses


Forged black against the broch – ‘

Place is so very near to us.  Philip Gross’ poem Globe blurs the distinction between.

‘on the half-landing newel post, a near-

sphere, scratched and grainy, oiled

with the sweat of our palms,

            our turns and hesitations on the stair,


till it reflects, no, recollects us – ‘

And we know what he means.  Have you ever been back as an adult to the house you lived in until you were 6?  It’s most peculiar.

Places shape our memories and help to make us who we are.  They are more than backdrop – places are nothing less than creative atmosphere and texture for the stories we all tell ourselves to help make sense of life.  Places become mapped in our heads in flashes of detail: the particular click of a particular door closing in your face; the dark step you sat brooding on when you were banished from the family dinner table; the field where once you galloped on stubble, years ago, with horse sweat greying the backs of your fingers.

It’s not the Ordnance Survey.  It’s off the scale.  What you need is a poem.

Jean Atkin  http://thedogdaysofdumfriesshire.blogspot.co.uk/

Philip Gross wins major children’s poetry award

13 Jul

Congratulations to Philip Gross (left) who has won the  CLPE Poetry Award — the UK’s premier award for children’s poetry — for his volume of selected poems for children, Off Road to Everywhere, which was illustrated by his son, Jonathan Gross. Philip’s event for children, based on the book, was one of the highlights of StAnza 2011 and complemented his evening Poetry Centre Stage reading for adults. The poet won the T.S. Eliot Prize last year for his collection The Water Table, and also received the Wales Book of the Year award for another work, I Spy Pinhole Eye.

The CLPE Poetry Award (the letters stand for Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) honours excellence in poetry written for children. Previous winners include the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy (who assisted with this years’ judging), Jackie Kay, Roger McGough, Fiona Waters, Grace Nichols and John Agard.

Listen to Philip talking about his work in this Scottish Poetry Library Reading Room podcast which was recorded at StAnza in March. And read Susan Mansfield’s interview with him, published in The Scotsman prior to the festival.

Photograph: Stephen Morris

A Gruffalo, a cave baby? – StAnza’s inspirational children’s poets take the imagination off road

14 Mar

StAnza’s children’s programme features two writers who are household names thanks to their writing for children and young people. Both of them have made poetry, appealing and entertaining: as the budding poets in their audiences will attest.

Julia Donaldson (left) is most famous for The Gruffalo, which has delighted generations of children and has been a big hit on BBC television. She has written poetry books, novels and songs for children of all ages, which she talks about in this interview at the Scottish Book Trust. For StAnza, Julia and her husband will be performing Wriggle & Roar, (Saturday 19th) at the Byre Theatre, a fun filled hour of poetry and song for children aged 4+ and featuring some of her favourite characters. Afterwards, Julia will be signing copies of her latest book, Cave Baby.

Philip Gross is a prize-winning poet, whose collection The Water Table won the T S Eliot Prize. But he is immensely proud of his poetry, plays and fiction for young people. ‘I feel quite fierce about that,’ he told Scotsman writer Susan Mansfield in an interview last week. ‘If I’m writing anything that an adult reader would feel short-changed by or patronised by then I shouldn’t be doing it to young people either.’ Philip started writing when his own children were growing up and his writing matched their ages. His latest book, The Storm Garden, is a novel for teenagers. Philip’s show Off the Road to Everywhere, for children aged 8+ is at on Sunday 18th at the Town Hall in St Andrews. During it he will be presenting prizes to the winners of the StAnza Poetry Competition for young people during the show. The winning poems will be on display at the Byre Theatre.

Click here for more details about the Children’s Programme.

Read Philip Gross’s full Scotsman interview here.

StAnza ‘takes off’ at the NLS in Edinburgh

9 Feb

New festival director Eleanor Livingstone hosted a preview of StAnza’s festival programme at the NLS in Edinburgh last night, offering a taster of  the poetic and musical feast to come.

Poets Rab Wilson and Claire Askew and the traditional group Lurach showcased three aspects of the festival programme: the two themes, Timepiece and the Poets Ark, and a special focus on Gaelic poetry and music. Eleanor and members of the StAnza team read a selection of  poems by some of the UK and international poets who are coming to StAnza in March: Philip Gross, Carrie Etter, Selima Hill and Tom Petsinis among over 60 talented voices to look forward to.

Picking up on the theme of history (Timepiece) Rab unearthed the hidden history of  Fife mining and Claire Askew explored the intersections between her own ancestors and history. Lurach gave us some slip jigs and reels and heartstoppingly lovely melodies: a sample of the Gaelic riches to come.

If you are in Fife or Tayside area, don’t miss the Preview on Tuesday 15th February at Dundee Rep with guest poets Stewart Conn and Dawn Wood. For more about the programme and to view our brochure online, check the StAnza website: http://www.stanzapoetry.org

Poet Claire Askew at the Preview (Photo Chris Scott)

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