Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Spooky Poems for Halloween

Here's a poem for Halloween from Warwick's past, attributed to the Elizabethan poet and courtier I'm in the process of researching, Lord Brooke Fulke Greville:

In night when colors all to black are cast,
Distinction lost, or gone down with the light;
The eye a watch to inward senses placed,
Not seeing, yet still having powers of sight,

Gives vain alarums to the inward sense,
Where fear stirred up with witty tyranny,
Confounds all powers, and thorough self-offense,
Doth forge and raise impossibility:

Such as in thick depriving darknesses,
Proper reflections of the error be,
And images of self-confusednesses,
Which hurt imaginations only see;

And from this nothing seen, tells news of devils,
Which but expressions be of inward evils.


And above are my three youngest children celebrating Halloween last year. Little devils, perhaps, but not 'evil', like the spirits conjured up by Fulke Greville's poem!

My older children were brought up in the Isle of Man, where they always celebrated Hop-tu-naa (Hop Choo Nay) at Halloween, carrying hollowed-out turnips or pumpkins with candles inside as lanterns and singing a traditional Hop-tu-naa song. Some people believe this descends from a type of ancient New Year celebration rather than being linked to the US-style 'trick-or-treating'. Whatever the truth, these old rural practices are certainly good material for poems!

This is a very short and spooky poem I wrote a few years ago, imagining someone who was half-man, half-nocturnal creature:

Whose Hands Were Made of Velvet

He held up his hands
and they were the place of dreams.

Inside each hairy palm, small softnesses of bats
took root, clinging
with astonished intelligent feet
to a skin-space
sweeter than milk.


Have you ever written a poem for Halloween, or perhaps on a spooky or supernatural theme? Do please email it to me for publication on this blog or - if it's short enough - leave it below as a Comment.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Sir Fulke Greville: first poet-in-residence at Warwick?

In my quest to write poems about Warwick, I've been investigating the history of the town. Amongst other fascinating things I've turned up - the recent Mop fairs, for instance! - is the fact that one of the earliest Lords of Warwick Castle was Sir Fulke Greville (1554 - 1628), an Elizabethan courtier-poet and statesman.

Most famous for his close friendship with the poet Philip Sidney, Greville was born in Warwickshire and attended Shrewsbury School. Later, as a royal courtier, he was made 1st Baron Lord Brooke by James I. This was in recognition of his services to the crown, particularly in the Treasury.

Now a peer of the realm, Fulke Greville was also granted Warwick Castle.

He made substantial improvements to the Castle, allegedly amounting to some £20,000 - a vast sum in those days! It became his pet project, and he was still working on the renovations when he died in 1628, attacked by a disgruntled servant.

The most fascinating part of this story, for me at least, is that Sir Fulke Greville was clearly the first poet-in-residence at Warwick!

A member of the élite literary group, the 'Areopagus', along with the likes of Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Edward Dyer, Greville was a poet of high seriousness, keen to import classical metre into English verse, which he presumably saw as lagging behind the rest of European literature in the wake of the Italian Renaissance.

Influenced by the Italian poet Petrarch and his beautiful sonnets of unrequited love, Fulke Greville himself wrote sonnets as well as longer poems on difficult political and moral themes. A great intellectual, many of his poems have been criticised for being too obscure!

When his friend Sir Philip Sidney died on military campaign in the Netherlands, Greville famously wrote his biography, commemorating the greater poet's life and work.


So that's the story of our first ever poet-in-residence at Warwick!

Over the coming months, I'm going to investigate Fulke Greville more closely, and hopefully some new poems of my own will come out of that investigation. Perhaps even a sonnet or two!

First of all, a fact-finding trip to Warwick Castle needs to be planned. Meanwhile, you can find out more about Sir Fulke Greville here on Wikipedia.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Crowned Warwick Poet Laureate!

Earlier this month, I was delighted to be at the launch of the Warwick Words Festival where I was crowned Poet Laureate for Warwick. It's all been a bit of a whirl since then, and there's plenty to discuss on this new Laureate blog, but first I thought it might be interesting to talk about how the Laureateship came about and what the post actually entails.

Firstly, the Laureateship is decided on the basis of a poetry competition run in conjunction with the annual Warwick Words Literary Festival. In past years, there was only one judge, and only one poem was chosen as overall winner, with the Warwick Laureateship awarded to that poet. Last year's winner was Helen Yendall with her excellent poem 'Kettle'.

For 2007 though, it was decided to make life more difficult for the would-be Laureates. The committee decided that four poems should be submitted. One had to be on the National Poetry Day theme of 'Dreams', and the whole entry had to be accompanied by a Statement of Interest.

Furthermore, the competition was judged by three judges this year: one female, two males. In spite of that slight gender bias - and acknowledging that all entries are judged anonymously - the three top prize-winners were all women!


Anyway, I was delighted to have been chosen as the overall winner, and I'm looking forward to writing poems about Warwick (and Warwickshire) over the coming months.

There will also be community poetry projects for me to arrange or oversee, perhaps some more interviews - the local papers have already been on the phone - and some projects which are either brand-new or entirely connected to my own work as an individual poet.

Launching this special Warwick Laureate blog is my first official task. The blog is designed to provide an online space for people to make contact with me, find out more about contemporary poetry, or touch base with my activities as Warwick Poet Laureate.

So if you have any comments or Warwick-related suggestions for poems or poetic activities, please do drop me an email, leave a comment on this blog, or contact the Warwick Words Festival via their website. Although I often twist commissioned subjects to suit my own individual approach to writing poems, I'm always open to good ideas!