Well, dear reader, I got there. Half term coincided with the best weather so far, and it was 4 nights in Northumberland at last. Believe it or not, a socially-distanced holiday is as good as any other when you’re in the right place and you’ve brought enough entertainment with you! I walked the endless beaches at Lindisfarne, climbed the vertiginous staircase at Preston Tower, explored the delights of Chillingham, and wore out my shoes on the streets of Berwick -on-Tweed. So many mysterious castles and early medieval churches up there, and thanks to having forgotten my OS maps, I have only discovered a fraction of them. I stayed at Wooler YHA, which has shepherd’s huts as well as individual rooms this season. I usually go economy class and get a dormitory bunk, but Covid has halved the bed capacity and everyone had their own room instead. I hope all these excellent places survive the pandemic; any hostel managers who haven’t falsely raised their prices or slapped an enormous ‘weekend supplement’ on their normal rates deserve to be supported. But it is bad enough seeing the effect of lockdowns and no tourism on the small towns. Empty shopfronts and closing down sales, opening hours cut to the minimum, and no choices left in the bakery takeaways when formerly, the chalkboard menus would have everything available. The weather says ‘Summer’, but the local economy says ‘Winter’. It’s going to be a long haul out of this dreadful time.
I’ve been preparing for the next real-life Newark on Trent Book Fest. which happens over the weekend of 10/11 July, shortly after this update has gone out. As the Literature Village has shorter hours on the Sunday when I’m going, I ought not to take so much stock that I’m bringing it all back with me at the end of the day. Realistically, poets only sell a few of each collection at these events. Last time – in 2019, a world ago – I also had open-mic instruments and sound effects with me, things I’d rescued and restored from junkshops and sales during the time when I worked in community arts. Needless to say, these proved more popular than my books… so I’m doing the same again. If I find that restored instruments produce more ‘result’ for a second time I’ll know what to bring in future. Generally, a mainstream novelist or a local historian can sell a shedload of copies locally – but poetry is always a slow seller unless one is fully backed with big performance credentials, or premiering a latest collection with other people at the same time. My next opportunity for the latter won’t arrive until later this year, when Jongleur is released. No details on that one yet!
Jongleur took up the project time I would normally spend on my own poems, which means I’m back on default setting now, i.e. writing assorted material which still doesn’t fit a particular group of themes. I am therefore on two pamphlets at the same level and wondering which one will take the next leap towards completion. As if confirming that problem, I can’t think of a title yet for either of them. Earlier publications came with a readymade title: Candleshoe was written to a design, and so was the earliest pamphlet, Newborough County. No such luck with the current two, although the place and landscape atmosphere continues in one of them and it looks like being the governing idea. Meanwhile, online journal 192 has published a poem in its number 3 issue: thanks to the editor Colin Bancroft for that. He also runs the Poets’ Directory, listing loads of outlets and opportunities. It’s a valuable resource, recommended if you never know where to look and where changing editorships mean that you have to change your outlets. The latter point can’t be emphasised enough. Sometimes it really isn’t your poem that’s wrong; new associates and interns always like to make their mark, and sometimes they are opening a new direction for a mag which isn’t you.
And by the end of June I am rattling with antibodies like a badly co-ordinated jingle stick. After my first jab in March, which produced a spectacular range of side effects similar to all of the menopause symptoms in one go – a more harmonious second jab sends me confidently into the summer. I hope those nasty little covid balls bounce right off. Solidarity to the poets out there, managing dayjobs and home lives as well as creativity throughout the pandemic.
Two fine paintings from the watercolour legacy are going back to Yorkshire in July: one of Kettlewell in springtime is re-homed at an independent hostel in the village where it was painted, while the same view in autumn is joining the permanent art collection at Craven District Council. Big thanks to the Museum team for their interest and enthusiasm.