Back in February I applied to be a (Trainee) Poet in Residence at one of the gardens open for London’s Open Garden Squares Weekend. A short biography and three poems were submitted to the Poetry School.
I soon heard that my application was successful. An induction day at the Poetry School followed where the other 29 or so Poets in Residence and I gathered to hear that, within reason, it was up to use what we did or didn’t do for our residency. We were then told which garden we had been allocated.
I was over the moon with the top-of-my-list garden I was given. St George’s Gardens has evolved from two 18th Century graveyards and source material for poems is overwhelmingly rich. Luckily my garden in Bloomsbury is open to the public so I was able to visit a couple of times before finally meeting up with the garden representative. Due to this happening much later than I had hoped I feel as though I am now in a bit of a mad rush to catch up.
So, this is where I am now: I have sent off a draft proposal of my ideas for the weekend to the garden representative who was wonderfully supportive of everything I pitched. This will give her and the other members of the ‘friends committee’ the opportunity to digest and decline / amend / expand any of the suggestions, and am waiting to hear back.
By the end of last week I drafted seven poems and send them off for feedback. I felt I needed to do this, firstly because I am a greatly motivated by deadlines (unless they are in workshops in which case they are a disaster for me) and this one definitely helped focus my writing. Secondly, I’m much more a prose writer and so relatively new to poetry. Thirdly, I’ve never done anything like this before, and owe it to the gardens and its visitors to produce the best work I can. This equates to feeding that little voice whispering ‘call that a poem?’ in my ear.
And now, with only a month to go, I wait for responses while still plowing on.
A few weeks ago in a ‘why the hell not give it a go’ moment, I applied to Faber & Faber for the rights to display Ted Hughes’ poem A Pink Wool Knitted Dress from Birthday Letters. I’m not optimistic this will happen for several reasons. Firstly, I applied a little late (it can take up to ten weeks apparently) and because no indication of cost is given on the website and therefore this may prove prohibitory. The online application process seems set up for including material in publications or for academic use so my request to display the poem for a weekend in a park seemed pretty small fry. I don’t want to waste Faber & Faber’s time and I do want to do the right thing with respect to copyright but I guess I am secretly hoping they will wave it through, free of charge. It would be lovely to be able to say ‘reproduced with kind permission etc.’
I chose this poem firstly because it’s a beautiful love poem (not always my favourite genre) and it has a both a wonderful local and timely connection. Hughes describes his austere post-war wedding to Sylvia Plath (‘Wrestling to contain your flames’) at ‘St George of the Chimney Sweeps’ which just happens to be St George the Martyr, the parish church of the graveyard that is now St George’s Gardens.
Needless to say I visited the church after one of my garden visits and it has changed considerably since Hughes and Plath’s wedding day in 1956. Although still very much a church it is now also a busy cafe inviting visitors to ‘Eat Drink Pray’! So I wrote a poem ‘On a Visit to St George of the Chimney Sweeps’. The timely connection is because they were married on ‘Bloomsday’, 16th June, the Friday of the Open Gardens Weekend.
The whole question of rights is difficult, obviously copyright should be protected but in another idea I had for the weekend – to provide a ‘Pot Luck Poetry’ lucky dip of poetry snippets – I am thinking in terms of what is fair use, which to be honest feels more like what can I get away with? From what I have read, my current approach is to use poems that are out of copyright, Emily Dickinson for example, or short extracts, no more than 25% of the poem length. All extracts would be attributed of course. I hope I’ve got this right.
If any contemporary poets would like an extract of their poems to enter the St George’s poetry lucky dip, please, please contact me (email@example.com) with suggestions (each extract, say 4-8 lines) including the poetry collection name and publisher. General themes are death, gardens, the air we breathe. I’d love to hear from you and share your poems. (Thank you Lesley for this suggestion)
At our initiation day some of the returning Poets in Residence kindly shared postcards of their poetry they had produced in previous years. I thought this was a lovely idea. Below is one that I have prepared. A ghostsign on the wall of an old chemist shop near to one of the entrances to St George’s Gardens provided the source for the found poem. It was a short leap to imagine the dead were trying to tell us something.
The London Open Garden Squares Weekend will take place on 18th and 19th June 2017 and over 230 gardens will be open. Tickets for the weekend cost £15 (or £13 in advance). There’s lots going on. More info here www.opensquares.org