Poet Laureate for Bournemouth
Poet Laureate Year 2015
January got off to a creative start with a new theme of ‘journeys’ for the online Celebrating Poetry pages. It was also an honour to be asked to write a new poem for Holocaust Memorial Day Naming the Darkness and present it at Bournemouth and Poole’s Act of Commemoration at the Lighthouse. On Holocaust Memorial Day itself it was also read at the unveiling of a special plaque in Bournemouth gardens to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
In February it was a pleasure to MC the Dorset regional finals of ‘Poetry by Heart’ at County Hall, Dorchester, and present a new poem The Patient Heart for the occasion. Poetry by Heart is a national competition designed to encourage pupils aged 14-18 and at school and college in England to learn and to recite poems by heart. There were some wonderful recitations and congratulations to winner Michelle Ezigbo & runner up Jacob Hulland, both from Shaftesbury School. Michele will now represent Dorset in the national finals in Cambridge in March.
February also saw a new poem Rivers for the Women’s Institute (celebrating its 100 year anniversary) and National Libraries Day – Libraries as well as the completion of the Bournemouth BIG POEMS project – a community poetry initiative launched as part of Bournemouth Arts by the Sea Fringe festival last autumn. These poems were written collectively by residents – children and adults – who posted their lines online or added them to physical BIG POEMs at venues in Bournemouth Triangle, Southbourne and Boscombe. Special thanks to The Mad Cucumber Lounge, the Shelley Theatre and NumberWorks’nWords, and to everyone who participated. You can read those poems here – BournemouthTriangle, Boscombe, Southbourne.
March began with the enjoyable judging of the Mayor of Bournemouth’s (Children’s) Poetry Awards, the winners in each key stage to be announced at the special awards ceremony in May. The following week, it was a pleasure to be invited by the Mayor to attend the annual Commonwealth Day flag raising ceremony, and to read a poem The Lamps during a special First World War Commemorative Act of Lighting in the Mayor’s Parlour.
March also saw the opening of ‘Weave it Real’ – a collaborative, interactive writing and art exhibition all about gender and identity, now running at Bournemouth Library. Organised and designed by Jane Skellett, it features a weave of art, writing, and poetry from various local writers (including one from me Weave It Real) and showcases just some of talent currently bubbling away in the writing career and development sessions being led by Simon McCormack as part of this year’s LitUp programme.
Later in the month I had a lovely time visiting the ‘Park Manor Residents Poetry Group’ at Park Manor Care Home, to give a reading and hear some of the group’s poems. Their collaborative poem ‘Nature Alphabetically’ is just one of the poems featured on the online Poetry Wall on March’s theme of Nature Poems. It was also an honour to perform my poem The Forget-me-nots at the ‘Lest We Forget’Lest We Forget performances at the Bournemouth International Centre. The 400 strong children’s choir drawn from schools across Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset were amazing to watch and the county youth orchestra were superb.
Of course 21st March was World Poetry Day, and I had great fun at the Hengistbury Head Visitor Centre, presenting a new poem The Skylark Field in order to launch a Hengistbury Head Poetry competition. (The competition, which is free to enter, includes Adult, Teen and Children categories, entry forms are available at the Visitor Centre , and the closing date is 22nd May. Good luck!)
April got off to a fun start with a poem for the Mayor’s Charity DuckRace. Later in the month I enjoyed a Poetry Inspiration Walk with members of the public and the very knowledgeable staff at the Hengistbury Head Visitor Centre. (The Hengistbury Head Poetry Competition, free to enter, is still open, closing date Fri 22nd May, Hengistbury Head Poetry Comp flyer 2015 pdf). Material from our Saturday walk helped inspire the poem BournemouthinSpring which I later read for the Mayor and other distinguished guests at the annual Bournemouth Founder’s Day dinner on 23rd April – a big thank you to Harry and all the staff at the Royal Exeter Hotel for hosting us. There is such a rich heritage and string of current success stories to celebrate in the town. Speaking of which, what better way to finish off the month than the Cherries win against the Bolton and (pending this weekend!) their promotion to the Premier League? Surely that calls for a little poem too, I think – CherryGold Such great news for the team and the town.
On 6th May a great time was had by all at the presentation of the Mayor of Bournemouth’s Poetry Awards at the Wessex Hotel. It was a pleasure to speak and to be one of the judges this year. We had so many wonderful entries from children in schools across Bournemouth – many congratulations to all who entered and especially to the winners and runners-up in each key-stage. May also witnessed the 70th Anniversary of VE Day, for which I wrote a new poem Fire Basket , as read at the morning wreath-laying ceremony at the Bournemouth War Memorial and also later that night during the lighting of a commemorative beacon on the cliff top at Fisherman’s Walk. Later in the month I was delighted to be invited by Bournemouth University to present the 2015 Fresher Press Writing Prize for Poetry at the Shelley Theatre – a great night for fresh writing talent – and again, congratulations to all the winners. Speaking of new writing, May also saw a popular ‘overcoming adversity’ theme on the online Celebrating Poetry link with a whole range of poems sent in from local poets and residents.
The month was finished off nicely with one more poem from me The Chain that Bears written for this year’s Mayor-Making; it was a privilege to read it during Bournemouth’s annual ceremony at the Pavilion on Friday. Many thanks to outgoing Mayor (now Deputy Mayor) Councillor Chris Mayne for a wonderful year, and congratulations to our new The Worshipful The Mayor of Bournemouth Councillor John Adams.
In June I had a wonderful time at the Hengistbury Head Visitor Centre announcing and presenting the prizes for the Hengistbury Head Open Poetry Competition – very worthy winners in both the adult and children’s categories, and a difficult one to judge!
I was also delighted to be invited to read again at Hear My Voices, and hear a whole range of work by volunteers and service-users/clients of local voluntary organisations – such a lovely and supportive atmosphere as usual. June also saw poems by the public on the theme of ‘moods’ go up on the Poetry Wall at Bournemouth Library to complement an exhibition of engaging and atmospheric photographs by Grant David Read. And there was a new poem from me – ‘The Lion Tamed’, written to mark the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta.
It was a pleasure to be interviewed by Dorset Writers Network in July, and to write a poem – ‘Home’ – in support of Bournemouth’s AOK (Acts of Kindness) Rucksack Appeal for the Homeless ( a new collection of poems on homelessness is out now and for sale directly from the charity at: firstname.lastname@example.org). And I was delighted to be asked to read at the inaugural ‘Spread the Verb’ showcase at Poole Museum, launched to kick off the 2015 Poole Festival of Words. Thanks for inviting me along, LitUp.
August saw the 70th Anniversary of VJ Day, and it was a pleasure to be asked by the Mayor to write a poem – ‘August ending’ to mark the occasion, and to read it at Bournemouth’s civic service commemorations. August also saw members of the public writing haiku poems on the theme of the ‘unexpected’ , and also haiku to celebrate the annual Bournemouth Airshow, including some from me, penned as the planes flew.
In September it was very touching to be presented with a crafted version of my poem ‘Rivers’ written to mark the 100 year anniversary of the Women’s Institute, by the Stour Power WI (Many thanks Jane – it’s lovely!) September and October also saw local poets and residents challenged to write brand new poems using a list of some famous first lines, or writing on the theme of illumination / enlightenment, including one from me.
In October I had a great time chatting about poetry and reading a ‘Batty Rap’ with children from reading groups from across Bournemouth in celebration of National Chatterbooks Week. My favourite bits included the collective invisible ink poem and the ‘eyeball and spoon’ race! A big congratulations to all our amazing young readers and writers.
On 8th October it was a pleasure to present the Mayor of Bournemouth with a new ‘Ode to Bournemouth’ written in celebration of National Poetry Day. For halloween I had a thrilling time reading spooky poems and stories at Hengistbury Head Visitor Centre’s ‘Ghost Stories by Lamplight’ event, run by Jane Skellett and Richard Hesketh; and on a personal note, it was exciting to finish off the month by being shortlisted for this year’s Bridport Prize.
November kicked off off with call for poems on the themes of ‘colour’ and ‘celebration’, published as usual on the online link and the physical Poetry Wall. I had a great time reading some poems in Westbourne in celebration of Robert Louis Stevenson Day, and it was also a pleasure to write a children’s poem ‘Light Watching’ for some young poets working on firework poems in Kinson. Towards the end of the month I had a wonderful time reading at the Southbourne Literary Society (a remarkable society – founded 70 years ago), and also visiting Meyrick Rise care home. November also saw me judging the poetry category of the 2015 Peacock Open Planet Art prize – and it was pleasure to award the prizes at the exhibition opening at Upton County Park -many congratulations to winner Maureen Dew for her poem ‘Geology Now’.
Poet Laureate Year 2014
It’s been a privilege and genuine pleasure to serve as Bournemouth’s first Poet Laureate this year. Gathered below are some highlights from the last twelve months.
Alongside setting up a Poet Laureate social media presence, January saw the launch of the online monthly themed Celebrating Poetry link from the Council’s website, which has now posted over 130 poems by Bournemouth residents and poets. By the beginning of February the physical Poetry Wall at Bournemouth Library was also constructed and busy displaying poems and promoting local poetry events and organisations.
The First World War Commemoration Poetry and Knitting Project was launched in March, which included some very enjoyable visits to local knitting groups alongside a call for commemoration poems from Bournemouth residents, of which over 40 have so far come in and been showcased.
In April it was a pleasure to speak at the Mayor’s Short Story and Young Journalist of the Year Awards, and to write my first official Poet Laureate poem Tregonwell’s Staircase which was read at a Bournemouth Founder’s Day dinner attended by the Mayor and other distinguished guests the Royal Exeter Hotel. I also particularly enjoyed visiting the Bournemouth and Poole Writing Squad for 15-19 year-olds.
A Dementia Awareness support session in May inspired the poem TeaTime which was read at the Southbourne Dementia Action Alliance. Bournemouth also had its first Wheels Festival for which I wrote Festival of the Wheels. The month was then rounded off in a very special way for my wife Monica and me by attending a wonderful dinner at the Mayor’s Parlour – a chance to thank the Mayor and meet the Mayor-elect.
May 30th saw our new Mayor appointed and a new poem Bournemouth read at the annual Mayor Making Ceremony. In June the Bournemouth Poetry Archive was launched, and a special feature published in BH Life promoted Bournemouth’s vibrant spoken word and performance poetry scene.
Marking the centenary of direct British involvement in the First World War – and a watershed in British Poetry – August was a busy month, including four new poet laureate commemoration poems – The Roses , Children 1914 , The Lamps , 2014 – and over 40 poems collected and showcased from local Bournemouth poets and residents.
It also saw the culmination and exhibition of pieces from the WW1 Poetry and Knitting Project, and two civic appearances and readings from me – at the Bournemouth WW1 Commemoration Civic Service and the Bournemouth LIGHTS OUT event.
Bournemouth summertime just wouldn’t be the same without our famous Air Festival – and of course a new poem Air Show.
After much consideration of war and its legacy, it felt fitting to in September to write a poem Peace for the International Day of Peace. I was also asked to write a poem for A Space for Peace at St Peter’s Church, attended by the Deputy Mayor and Mayoress, where songs were sung and music played from Judaism, Islam, Christianity and other faiths – all melting into one another in the name of companionship and peace. It was one of my favourite events of the year.
Bournemouth Arts by the Sea Festival, whose theme ‘The Edge’ I took as inspiration for the poem ‘Meet Me’, blazed through October full of spectacle and wonder. It was a pleasure to read a selection from the First World War poets at the festival’s ‘Trench Composers’ event, supporting music from the Jack Maguire Ensemble, with fellow poets Anne Peterson and Bob Hill, and to launch three Community BIG POEMS as part of the Arts Fringe festival. National Poetry Day also saw the launch of Poet Profile Pages, an online initiative to offer local poets a chance to make their themselves and their work more widely known.
November began with a new poem The Forget-me-nots published on Armistice Day in the Daily Echo. Later in the month I was delighted to be invited to read at the Wimborne Literary Festival, to take part in a panel discussion ‘Dads and Daughters’, organised by local poet and artist Jane Skellett, and to judge the Bournemouth Writers’ Circle First World War short stories and poetry competition. The month was then rounded off nicely with a special presentation evening at the Kasbah Club in Pokesdown to accept on behalf of Alzeimers Research UK a cheque for more then £1200 raised by the sports club – and to read a poem of course!
With autumn and winter festivals such as Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year, and the launch of the ‘Gardens of Light’ installations in Bournemouth’s lower gardens, December has been all about ‘light’, with poems by local poets and residents written on the theme posted online via the now well established Celebrating Poetry pages and also physically in a ‘light’ themed display on the Poetry Wall at Bournemouth Library – including The Consummation of Light from me, and also The Carol Singers, as read at this year’s Carol Service attended by the Mayor.
Alongside civic occasions and official appearances, it has of course been wonderful throughout the year to read at and to visit various groups and events, including coffee mornings, social clubs, WI groups, knitting circles, Memory Cafes, and poetry groups and events such as, Poetry Corner, The Freeway Poets, Verbal Remedies, The Platform, Tuckton Poetry Group, Bournemouth Writers’ Circle, Poole Poetry Group, Wimborne Poets, Westbourne Poetry Reading Group, Bournemouth Triangle Poetry Reading Group, Bournemouth and Poole Writing Squad, and Hear Our Voices. It’s fantastic to have so much poetry going on in the town.
There have been ten poems from me as Poet Laureate this year and you can find those here.
On a personal note, I also have a new book of poetry just out – When We Were Slugs – a nice way to finish off the year.
Happy Christmas everyone, and may you have an inspiring start to 2015. Happy writing! – James