Three years ago, PENfro Poets transitioned to become a peer-led group. The format has worked well, encouraging members to draw on their resources and share them in formal / informal workshop settings. Members have come and gone, but the core membership is remarkably stable. As 2018 draws to a close, the group continues to devise workshops that fire our imagination and support our writing. As ever, this quarter, we are publishing a wide variety of poems that range from the humorous to the reflective, from deeply serious to light-hearted. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we’ve enjoyed creating them.
Helen May Williams.
September 1st, 2018
It was with great sadness that the July meeting of PENfro Poets heard of the death of one of our founder members, Ann Byrne-Sutton. Ann was a remarkable woman who led a varied and adventurous life. A gifted published poet, her work ranged from the lyrical to the witty and comical. She was a much-loved member of our group and her contributions were by turns, richly imaginative, deeply evocative and delightfully funny. With the permission of her children, Fiona and Quentin, and her editors, Phil Forder and Peter Oram, we are publishing a poem by her, ‘Green Man,’ which demonstrates her ability to capture an elusive yet profound perception with simple elegance, and two of her contributions to the PENfro Poets 2013 anthology, alongside poems by Jackie Biggs and Dave Urwin that were also published in that volume. In addition, we are publishing two poems that are dedicated to Ann, ‘Sonnet for a Shearwater’ by Jules Angell and ‘Sky Burial’ by Patrick de Broux. Finally, we are posting a poem hot off the press from Annie, written in response to a recent workshop led by Brenda Squires.
June 1st, 2018
This quarter we are concentrating on postcards. We have held three workshops using postcards as prompts; two on ekphrastic poetry led by Ros Watson and one by Helen May Williams, in which we looked at Lee Harwood’s poem, ‘South Coast Postcard,’ then each selected a postcard and imagined sending it with a message to someone we had lost touch with. Ros Watson’s workshops used ‘art’ cards and challenged us to write both a collaborative poem and our own poems prompted by the images she brought for us. One resultant collaborative poem, ‘I wonder,’ is featured this month. And since postcards go with summer hols, we also have a poem by Jules about ‘Road Rage’!
Helen May Williams
March 1st, 2018
PENfro Poets continues to thrive. At our AGM in December 2017, we reviewed the past year and everyone had positive comments. We agreed that have grown to become a thriving, peer-led group, where we can challenge one another to aim for excellence in our writing, within a collegial, supportive, collaborative framework. We also reflected that we have all benefitted from our membership and several poets have now achieved great success, thanks in part to the encouragement they have received at PENfro.
Two notable successes have been in the R.S. Thomas Festival Competition at succeeding Festivals. In 2015, Peter George, a founder member and co-leader of the group before we transitioned to the peer-led system, won first prize with his sensitive response to ‘The Morrow’ by R.S. Thomas, entitled ‘Elsi’. This poem combines Peter’s own poetic voice with an eerie sense that this could well be a poem written by R.S. himself. We are proud to publish this poem here. Two years later, another long-standing member of the group, Anne Marie Butler, won first prize in the same competition. We hope to be able to publish this poem on 1st 2018 June, once it has appeared in the anthology commemorating the 2017 festival.
Other poets featured in our March 1st posting are: Jackie Biggs, Anne Marie Butler, and Wendy Smit-Taylor. Their poems have been written in response to various workshops: including one on prose poetry presented by Kittie Alys Belltree, and the workshop on how contemporary poets might respond to the to The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot. We featured the latter already in November/December of last year. We are also revisiting one we featured last October, where we were given as prompts a table with a variety of clothing items, including Peter’s battered, straw gardening hat. The hat reappears here in Wendy Smit-Taylor’s poem of the same name. Many of the poems featured this time work on more than one level. On the surface they may seem frivolous or light-hearted, or just plain spooky; dig a little more and they will reveal hidden emotions that are serious, deeply felt, uncanny, even traumatic. Poetry should be a pleasure, but not all pleasures are superficial!
This is our first posting of 2018. From now on, we shall post poems once every three months. So, watch out for June 1st too!
November / December
Our last posting of 2017 looks back to a workshop which Peter George ran in autumn 2014. Peter asked us to look again at The Four Quartets, the great war-time poem by T. S. Eliot; more specifically, East Coker, first published in 1940. Peter felt that Eliot seemed fascinated by time in a way which was prescient, in the light of the latest scientific opinion. He drew our attention to a quality in the poetry that could be described as ‘hovering at the edge of reason.’ Whether we responded to those or other aspects of Eliot’s writing, I leave our readers to judge.
This month, we revisit an early workshop held at the 2013 PENfro Book Festival. Held in the Orangery, Brenda and Peter laid out a table with a variety of clothing items, including Peter’s battered, straw gardening hat. We were asked to pick one or two objects from the motley assortment, and to include them in a poem. We have poems by Jackie Biggs, Annie Butler, Ros Watson and Helen May Williams, all of which respond to the challenge of making a piece of clothing or accessory intrinsically poetic.
During August and September, we have published more poems by PENfro poets that were written in response to Schubert’s Winterreise or his Schwanengesang. These include poems by: Julia Angell, Wendy Smit-Taylor and Ros Watson. Schubert’s music holds a special place at the heart of Rhosygilwen arts events. It could be said that a Schubert sonata played in an empty Rhosygilwen Mansion by Martin Morris was the catalyst for all that followed. The song cycles continued the Rhosygilwen tradition by inspiring several PENfro Poets to write lyric poems of exceptional quality.
This month we are posting more poems inspired by Schubert’s song cycles and performed at a Rhosygilwen Schubertiade. Firstly, two poems by Anne Marie Butler, one written in response to Winterresise and one in response to Schwanengesang. Then three further poems written for and performed at the Schubertiade in October 2014; these poems by Vivien Boyes, Patrick de Broux and Helen May Williams were all composed in response to Schubert’s Schwanengesang.