The Road Back to writing…

This week I attended my first open mic poetry night in a long time. The venue was the Queens Head in Carmarthen and the event organised by Roundy House poetry magazine. Having always considered poetry to be the weakest of genres for me, I went along not entirely convinced that I would be taking part. I took a copy of my published poem ‘In his Boots’ and a few others that I felt could do with a read and some feedback. The venue was the small lounge bar area of the pub which went through into a second small room. I was startled to see a microphone in the centre of the two rooms. I have never read any of my work, at least not in the last few years, with a microphone. But here, this seemed to be the done thing. After all, poetry is and has been for centuries,  all about the sound and rhythm of words. It is meant to be read aloud in its true form. Reading my work has never been a pleasure for me. Sitting alone in a room, tapping away at the keyboard for hours, creating a world and characters…. that is the best part about being a writer. Presenting your work to the world? That is the part that is most terrifying for me.

So I watched slightly jittery as my name was added to the list, admiring my friend whose excitement was barely containable as she bounced up to the microphone and read some of her very first poems. I sat and listened to a variety of work; from a very real version of a llandovery town – read by a man who’s voice and passion reminded me of Dylan Thomas; to a stunning picture of the Welsh landscape in a poem called ‘meteor showers’ by a Roundy House poet and a humorous look at Britain’s ‘bargain’ culture in a poem called ‘buy one get one free’. The thing that stood put about the evening was not just the wide range of talent on show but also the friendliness and support of the group. Speaking to some of the members, who regularly meet once a month at the venue, i discovered that they came from a wide range of backgrounds and areas. But they were all here for one thing; to share their love of the written word. To either listen or to contribute. There were also familiar faces such as Robert Nisbet and Phil Caradice (Roundy House) who read their work during the course of the evening.

As the evening began to draw to a close, my name was finally called and I took my place at the mic. Looking out into the sea of unfamiliar faces, I felt the unforgettable mix of fear and adrenaline. There’s something about reading your work that makes you vulnerable; you are essentially opening your heart to an audience. For me, writing tells people so much about you, it comes from deep inside somewhere. So, with a slightly shaky voice I began to read – my words; words that I had so carefully crafted together for the page. And it felt, after a while, quite liberating. For those few moments, I was living the dream. Ladies and gentlemen, I was back!

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Dinefwr Festival

At the end of June I had the opportunity to attend the first ever literature festival at Dinefwyr park in Carmarthenshire. Organised by Literature wales, it promised a weekend of literature, arts and entertainment for all ages. Having never been to Dinefwyr before, from those first moments when we turned into the drive, i found the surroundings breathtakingly beautiful. Green fields full with cattle were either side of the drive and mountains stretched into the distance. The perfect setting to inspire and enthrall. Bright coloured circus tents brightened up the grey sky and people were scattered about the lawn in front of the house, some enjoying circus skills demonstrations while others sipped coffee and browsed their programmes. The atmosphere was one of excitement and anticipation. Various events were going on throughout the day, around the grounds and in several rooms in the house, including a talk on the history of the Dinefwr estate and castle as well as appearances by several writers and artists.

The highlight of the day was a nature walk with writer Horatio Clare who took us around the grounds of the castle, while talking of and reading extracts from the romantic poets. He talked of walking as a way to access ideas for writing. How Colleridge liked to compose his poetry ‘thrashing through thickets’ and Wordsworth wrote his whilst ‘walking in a straight line, down a gravel path.’ He claimed that he liked to do his writing whilst walking over hills. Maybe the reason for one of his books being titled ‘running for the hills’.

So as we walked, surrounded by wildlife and open countryside, I let my mind clear and thought only of the things invading my senses. The swallows looping the air, the birds of prey circling above the field, the rush of the breeze and the swish of the grass beneath our feet. There is something inspiring about standing out in an open field, listening to the words of shelley.

A nature enthusiast, who’s name I don’t recall, joined us on the walk and pointed out several things to us along the way. Of particular interest was a very old tree at the edge of a meadow. He explained how strong trees can be, how things can live in the bark of an old tree, and be protected, in a way that’s not possible in a younger one. He described them as spending ‘300 years growing, 300 years living and 300 years dying’ – such a beautiful image. I thought of everything that particular tree might have seen, including the sight of thousands of men going into battle.

We talked of the Legend of Dinefwr, of it’s significance in welsh history as the place that Henry VIII seized and chose to gather troops in battle. Ravens feature in the coat of arms for the Dynevor family as they are seen as a symbol of protection. And they are constant features in the skies over the grounds reminding us of a history not forgotten.

As the festival programme notes, Twelfth century ruler Rhys Ap Gruffudd resided at Dinefwr and was reponsible for several achievements such as sponsoring court poets and organising a festival of music and poetry in Cardigan in 1776 – the first example of the National Eisteddfod. As a place so rich in culture and history it was a perfect setting for the festival.

After lunch we browsed the book shop and craft stalls inside the 12th century house. There was something very right about having the rooms filled with like minded people to join together and discuss their love of the arts. From a top window of the house i looked down upon the grounds to see a group of deer grazing: an unexpected moment of beauty. I plan to visit the area again soon, away from the bustling atmosphere of the festival. Just me and my notebook. I have a feeling it could be a place of great inspiration.