Overlooked poets, open mics ... and how a blog got its name
I started blogging around the same time as my friend and co-organiser of Puzzle Poets Live, Bob Horne, set up his poetry publishing venture Calder Valley Poetry. We both support the same poetry events in West Yorkshire, and kept meeting and hearing poets who were flying under the poetry world’s radar (as it seemed to us). Real talent that hadn’t found a publisher, or was just absurdly modest and unaware how good they were. Poets like Stephanie Bowgett and John Duffy, for instance - who in turn support new and emerging talent - but are not properly recognised as writers in their own right.
And there was also the motive to keep up with what’s going on, to read more poets, to be involved. A self-chosen responsibility to an imagined audience. The blog helps me to feel as though I’m a paid-up member of a big, mutually supportive community.
I come quite late to the poetry world, not really tackling writing seriously until I was nearly 70. I was encouraged by three poets in particular … Hilary Elfick, Gaia Holmes and (especially) Kim Moore. I’m indebted to them, and wanted to repay the debt by encouraging others in my turn.
What can Write Out Loud readers expect?
I’m constantly on the lookout for poets new to me. On the whole I buy poetry because I’ve heard a poet read, and I have the tune of it in my head. We learn most from the company we keep. It helps to put my own writing, my own poems in perspective. I suppose you can write in your own little bubble, but I can’t imagine much good would come out of it.
Initially at Puzzle Poets Live I stuck to booking guest poets who were unpublished, but it gets increasingly difficult to find them. Everyone and her granny seem to have at least a pamphlet under their belt these days! When I hadn’t got a guest to invite, I started to write pieces on technique, or running open mics, or on competitions, or on smaller publishing ventures..- Paper Swans, Prole, and so on. I started to pluck up the chutzpah to ask established poets to be guests. In one of his Lake Woebegon stories, Garrison Keillor says of the storyteller’s dilemma: “You’ve got to surprise them, but you can’t disappoint them.”
The audience expects the reliability of the familiar, but you can’t just go on churning out the same old song. Here’s looking forward for new tunes, along with some golden oldies for Write Out Loud.
Just one thing to sign off with. The blog I’ve been writing for nearly five years has a ridiculous title. The great fogginzo’s cobweb. This is how it came about. I don’t like the word “blog”. I wanted something that suggested putting out feelers that would hopefully reel readers in. Cobweb. But the other part?
The story behind ‘The Great Fogginzo’
There’s a story behind the grandiosity of “The Great Fogginzo” which it would be well to have out of the way. This is it. As the English and drama adviser for Calderdale in the late 1980s, I got to visit all sorts of schools, some in the middle of old mill towns, some on moor edges, one tucked into the valley side where the trains that emerged from a tunnel to run over a viaduct came right past the staffroom window, feeling close enough to touch.
There are small Victorian buildings in villages hidden away in side valleys, in deans and cloughs. Villages like Luddenden, say, villages that are like Haworth but interesting. Anyway, one winter (snow never closes these village schools) I was supposed to do some kind of visit with a clipboard and write a report about this school in a steep-sided twisty valley. What happened was this. The Head, a 5 by 5 force of nature, greeted me. “Don’t take your coat off,” she says. “We’ve not time for that. Come on.” And she sweeps me off down a corridor and, with a flourish, flings open a classroom door.
Understand, this is a school of high ceilings and traditional virtues. These are the Top Juniors. (they can’t be doing with this Year 6 stuff). There are 34 children in proper desks with lids and holes for ink wells. “Now then,” says the Head. “You didn’t believe me when I said he was coming, did you?” She lets the silence hang a beat. The children of traditional virtues look at me and back at her. “You didn’t believe me….ye of little faith. Well.” She pauses just long enough. “Here he is.”
She turns to me. “Fogginzo,” she says. “Fogginzo. They won’t believe me, but they’ll have to believe you. Go on. Tell them how you and I toured the circuses of Europe before the second world war.”
She knows that I know that she knows that I cannot back down and have any credibility. I am supposed to know about drama. She does. This is a small LEA, and all the primary heads know each other. I have to tell the Top Juniors how me and Mrs L toured the circuses of Europe before world war two.
So I do. I tell them, in my halting, heavily accented English (for which I apologise … I am Hungarian, you understand) how their stocky little headteacher danced on the high wire, like a jewelled dragonfly in amber spotlight, and how she broke men’s hearts with her fragile beauty. The children look at her for confirmation. She nods, yes it’s true, all of it.
I don’t do my clipboard inspection. It has been one of the best mornings of my life.