WPL, Charley Barnes – Blog post #1

Anyone who knows me (well), knows I’m notoriously late for most things: coffee with friends, starting open mic events and, as it turns out, writing three-monthly blog posts. That said, I hereby publicly promise to catch up with myself before the year is out.

I don’t know where these past months have gone since the Worcestershire Poet Laureate competition closed. Previous laureates warned me things would move quickly, but I didn’t realise they meant this quickly. I’m nearly halfway through the tenure and I’m delighted by the experiences I’ve had so far in the laureate role, and excited by the ones still to come.

The biggest job up to this point was convening an event of some kind for National Poetry Day, the theme for which was ‘truth’ – then an idea struck (famous last words)! I decided to run a poetry competition that was entirely anonymous from start to finish, including when the winning poems themselves were printed. The LitFest committee kindly approved the idea and off we went! I opened the inbox, posted the announcements and eagerly awaited entries – which, when they came, were marvellous. With the help of Martin Driscoll – one of the Worcestershire LitFest and Fringe Directors – I was able to put a pamphlet together of the winning poems, none of which had the authors’ names listed. To this day, the poets remain undisclosed (except for the few who have confessed, a second time over, to being involved).

To avoid giving people too many events to choose between on National Poetry Day itself, we ran a launch event the following evening, on October 4th, at The Hive, Worcester. Poems were pinned around the room, pamphlets were piled up for attendees to peruse through and, to continue the anonymous theme, all of the readers signed up to read a poem that may or may not have been their own – we’ll never know! It was a tremendously fun project to put together and I’m sincerely grateful to people who submitted their work, and to Martin for putting up with my incessant emails.

Around this project there have been visits to schools, my continued work at the University of Worcester, the release of my second poetry pamphlet (Body Talk, published by Picaroon Poetry), and there has also been a collaboration with Polly Stretton from Black Pear Press.

Black Pear Press are a local-to-Worcestershire publisher that is headed up by Tony Judge, Rod Griffiths, and Polly Stretton. After hearing ‘Helianthus Forest’, which was my themed poem for the Worcestershire Poet Laureate competition, Polly was kind enough to share her own sunflower poem. With a level of excitement that only poetry can bring, Polly and I came up with an idea – we would invite poets whose work we enjoy and admire to write to the theme of Pressed Flowers. In a whiplash time-turnaround, we invited, poets wrote, we read and edited, poets agreed, we designed a cover – and now it’s nearly ready for its official launch into the world as a printed poetry collection!

The launch will take place on November 13th at Parks Café in Droitwich (WR9 8DS). Doors will open at 6:30pm for a 7:00pm start and poets featured in the collection will be coming along to read their work (and there will be books available to buy, of course). It would be lovely to see new and familiar faces alike, so if you’re in the area please do feel free to come along, say hello, and enjoy some poetry for the evening.

This project has been another joy to work on and I was delighted and honoured at the chance to work with Polly in an editorial capacity. I’m so grateful we were able to collaborate in this way, and I’m also incredibly grateful to Tony and Rod from Black Pear Press for giving the project the go-ahead, too. They’re a wonderful team through and through.

I suppose how it looks from here is the next order of business. I’m headlining a few events in the coming weeks, further details of which can be found here, and I’ve now started work on the laureate-to-laureate project. This project has involved getting together eight or so Poet Laureates who are working in the United Kingdom and orchestrating a call and response poetry sequence between us all. It will start in Worcestershire – with me writing the first poem – and once it has made a tour of the surrounding areas it will end in Worcestershire, with our Poet Laureate Emeritus, Maggie Doyle. There will be more details on that in the coming months but it feels like a blog post in itself, so I’ll save further details for my next check-in.

And that’s all, folks! There will be another blog post soon (slightly earlier than this one, honest) but for anyone who wants to check in with Worcestershire Poet Laureate plans in the meantime, I’m updating my personal website regularly with details (and you can access that here). I’m also often tweeting (here), Facebook-ing (here) or even sharing the odd poetry picture (here), so there are plenty of ways to keep in touch.

Thanks so much for reading! Until next time, wrap up and take great care.

Warm wishes,

Charley