Poetry day in Carlisle

The Carlisle Poetry Symposium – November 2018

The biannual Carlisle Poetry Symposium on the 24th of November featured nationally and internationally regarded poets, as well as writers based in this corner of the world. The Phil and Lit Society in the Fisher Galleries, Fisher Street, were kind enough to let us host the event there.

The whole idea of the Symposium is to promote the poetry and the poets of Carlisle/Cumbria and to provide a link between the open mic element of live events here (like the redoubtable Speakeasy poetry nights) to wider poets, to poetry presses, and poetry on the page, too. Each Symposium includes input from specific poetry presses, or magazines, or specific editors. This means that it is a rare opportunity for different writers who are at different stages in their careers to read at the same event – and buy each others’ work. Across six hours there are various readings from the ‘Featured Writers and the open mic readers, as well as a panel discussion on the state of poetry publishing in the country, and – very importantly – lots of time for people to buy poetry from the pop-up bookshop – which was humanned by younger poets from the community.

The Symposium has specific ‘Featured Writers’, who have a twenty minute ‘set’. There is also some specific Q&A time for other writers to ask about the work they have heard. There are also upwards of twenty open mic slots available on the day, too. The first Carlisle Poetry Symposium (in May) had Josephine Dickinson, Jennifer Copley, Annie Foster, Mike Smith, Vivien Jones, Alan John Stubbs and Nick Pemberton as its ‘Featured Writers’. That’s quite a line up. So, we had a job to do to keep up the momentum.

This time the event was kicked off by Judi Sutherland, who came across from Barnard Castle. I heard her read at the Kendal Poetry Festival and booked her on the spot. She read from her excellent pamphlet The Ship Owner’s House (available from Vane Women Press). She read newer material fantastically as well, including the poem that first brought her to my attention (‘The Masked Ball’) was every bit as biting and relevant as I remember. I have tried to book Malcolm Carson before, so I was very pleased to land him this time! Malcolm used his set to construct a set of his ‘Edgar’ poems: poems that all use the persona of Edgar from King Lear; these were stirring and elemental poems – so good to hear them in a single sitting, especially when they have been published across so many different publications (mostly published by Shoestring Press). It is a treat when readers use their set at the Carlisle Poetry Symposium to shape something unique – as Malcolm did with these identically-viewpointed poems to be heard in one sitting.

The next ‘Featured Writer’ was Autumn Richardson who read from two collections The Heart of Winter (including her translations of Inuit songs) and An Almost-Gone Radiance (both published by Corbel Stone Press); she introduced the poems as ‘quiet’ – you could feel the audience move forward to hear; they were richly rewarded for doing so. We were very lucky to hear the Corbel Stone editors read together today, as well as have them for the panel discussion that covered issues that beset the poetry publishing business in this country. Of course, many of these would be solved if we all bought more contemporary poetry; stop me if you’ve heard me say this before. After the panel discussion Richard Skelton read – ensconced in a Phil & Lit chair – sequences from two of his collections: The Look Away and The Pale Ladder; I will not be able to forget the Corbel Stone poets readings – you need to experience them. The pop-up bookshop sold out of the Corbel Stone poetry journal Reliquae as a result of Richard and Autumn’s powerful (and ‘quiet’) readings. The last ‘Featured Writer’ was Kim Moore; she read from The Art of Falling (published by Seren) and also read her new material, which offers a laser sharp critique of both the subtle and the overt sexism in contemporary society – especially from and amongst those who should know better: as her poem about the comments of a fellow writer showed in her reading.

We were very lucky that Josephine Dickinson agreed to close the poetry part of the event by reading her poem ‘Peat’ – which was spellbinding. If you haven’t heard Josephine read you should come to the Freiraum event on December 9th, where she’ll give another electric performance of her poem ‘Alphabetula’.

We had tipped our hats and our hearts all day to those who ‘build the road’ for others to follow. So, it was an honour to ask Combo Zombo (i.e. “AcoustiCombo”) to close the day with a set of (my) requests from the EPs that they released in the 1980s which were played on the radio by John Peel. The next Symposium will be in May – see the Phil & Lit brochure for more details.