The Poetry Weekend


Papers presented at conferences have been my regular current engagement. This has kept the voltage high, figuratively speaking, after a period of low emotional intensity which followed the termination of classroom teaching and research based on literature. After five presentations at local and international conferences in Lithuania in 2008, four papers given at international conferences in Milan, Szczecin, Warsaw and Brno in 2009, three presentations awaited me in 2010. The paper I gave at the 4th international conference of the Lithuanian Association of Language Teachers in May 2010 at the Kaunas University of Technology focused on social and cultural interests in  foreign language teaching. The year was drawing to a close but before I gave a paper on new words in English at the 4th international conference at the Pedagogical University of Vilnius on 18 November 2010, which was very well received, an exciting event was to double this accent at the end of the year. It was an international conference, The Contemporary Poetry Weekend, organized by the Literature, Media and Cultural Studies Special Interest Group (LMCS SIG) of IATEFL and hosted by the British Council, Spring Gardens, London. The poetry Weekend took place on 6-7 November 2010. It was a chamber event in a kingdom, which “had a very pleasant atmosphere about it”, as the Organiser of the Conference later put it.

The Poetry Weekend opened with a Plenary given by the Organiser of the Conference, David Hill, who is the Coordinator of the LMCS SIG, a freelance material writer and teacher educator based in Budapest, as well as a poet (his most recent collections: Singing to the Seals, 1999, and Mothworld, 2010, both published by The Collective Press). David’s poetry speaks the voice of a reflective author who shares his impressions of friends and family as well as those of incidental encounters in different geographical localities. The turn of the phrase and delicate details create the atmosphere of places distanced from one another as far as the borders of Eastern, Southern and Western Europe. David Hill’s poetry is tender but not familiarly common. He also keeps a critical eye on his subjects, as in the poem, At the Conference:

People presenting new ideas.

People presenting old ideas as new.

People presenting.


Publishers selling new books.

Publishers selling old books with new covers.

Publishers selling.

It must be said that no publishers were present at The Poetry Weekend. It was David’s own collection of new books of poetry that was on display for the participants. I appreciated David’s poetry because he cared to encourage the writers to write in Advice from the Author at Fifty.  This is very generous these days when many, even such an author as Margaret Drabble, admit that there are too many books published.

David entitled the Opening Plenary, Islands of Voices: Current Poetry from UK and Eire. He presented an overview of “very recent poetry from the UK and Eire” through a commented list of over 60 names and books of poetry published in 2008-2010. This list included such celebrities as the Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, Geoffrey Hill, the Oxford Professor of Poetry, the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Andrew Motion, ex-Poet Laureate, the T.S.Eliot Prize winner twice Don Patterson, the T.S.Eliot Prize winner George Szirteš, the National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke, a Scottish poet John Burnside, one of the 20 New generation Poets in 1994, who was said to be “the great and powerful spiritual writer of his generation”, and a great number of poets, prize winners where the book was “a Poetry Book Society Choice or Recommendation”, such as: Caroline Bird, Jen Hadfield, J.O.Morgan, Sinéad Morrissey, Glyn Maxwell, Alice Oswald, Ros Barber, Vona Groarke,  Simon Armitage, Lachlan Mackinnon, Robin Robertson, short listed for the T.S.Eliot Prize for the collection, The Wrecking Light, John Glenday, Annie Freud, Ruth Padel and others. In the Opening Plenary, David appreciated  not only the many voices but also their concern with matters spiritual, as the collection, A Scattering, by Christopher Reid, dedicated to his dead wife, with human values and nature, as Weeds and Wild Flowers (2009) by Alice Oswald, Seeing Stars (2010) by  Simon Armitage or What the Water Gave Me (2010) by Pascale Petit and The Hunt in the Forest (2009) by John Burnside. If this is not the best of times in poetry, it is very good.

Some of the poets in the overview (David Morley, Enchantment, Adam Foulds, The Broken Word, and Matthew Welton, ‘We needed coffee but…’) appeared to be also teaching creative writing, while some have published prose and plays (Fred D’Aguiar, Adam Foulds and Caroline Bird).

Poetry in the classroom and in language teaching was one of the themes of this Conference which featured in parallel sessions and workshops. The presentation entitled ‘Flash Poetry – Creative Dialogues in the Classroom’ by Fitch O’Connell, a teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer, reported on a pilot project in which students designed and created “animated videos inspired by the poetry of Moniza Alvi” and on how the poet herself contributed to the students’ success. The paper ‘Shared Writing via Contemporary Poetry’ by Daniel Xerri, a teacher and researcher into   applying of literature in teacher education,  informed of the uses of contemporary poetry in spurring the students’ cooperation in creative writing, their engagement with poetry in groups while practicing verbal expression and finally producing valuable individual papers. The paper ‘Metaphors and Strategies for Teaching Response to Contemporary Poetry: between high tech and Going Eco’ by Hanna Mrozowska, a teacher of English and lecturer in British literature, also engaged in teacher education from Poland, reported on the development of a range of teaching strategies beginning “with a teacher-led approach based on precisely-staged steps … (high tech)” and finishing with “the students’ authentic reactions to texts … (going eco)”. This paper resorted to poems of the famous poets, such as: Paul Muldoon, Penelope Shuttle and Carol Ann Duffy. Connie Gűntelberg, a teacher from Copenhagen, and Yolande Deane, a teacher from Italy, reported on how they exploit poetry in teaching at the beginning, intermediate and secondary level.  Chris Lima, a Moderator for the LMCS SIG in online discussions, reported on how readers may be encouraged in individual reading and how this can shape their reading experience in general while focusing on a poem, Author’s Ghost by Muriel Spark and initiating the audience’s responses to it and to two poems by Simon Armitage and Henry Shukman.

Several papers focused on the poet’s art, which was another theme of the Conference. Alan Pulverness, a Committee member of the LMCS SIG, author and editor of English classics for students, focused on “key themes in Martin Figura’s second published collection Whistle, a book-length sequence of poems”. The speaker showed how this autobiographical poetry touching upon shocking traumas bypasses the guise of ‘confessional’ poetry known from modern classics and “achieves a degree of detachment” which any reader can appreciate. John McRae, Special Professor of Language and Literature at the University of Nottingham in 1994, a Visiting Professor to many countries and author, focused on the most recent poems of Carol Ann Duffy “written as Poet laureate” to show “the universal appeal of her poetry” created by implications of cultural character, by historical and classical allusions. Marija Liudvika Drazdauskiene spoke of the inevitable imprint of the poet’s stance in his works and of the possible ways of deciphering it for the gain of the reader/student and the stylist. The assumed result of this paper derived from three poems by Seamus Heaney. (Saying this, invites a personal note to mention the gain my presentation brought me: one participant showed the book The Author by Andrew Bennett to me, drawing my attention to the fact that there are books on everything in this world, while we, public speakers and authors, appear to be only better or worse informed about them.)

The fine moments at the Conference were Poetry Readings at the end of both days of the Conference. Moniza Alvi, born in 1954 in Pakistan and living in Norfolk, read her personal and feminine poetry on the 6th of November. I found her tender character recur in her collection of poems, Europa, (Bloodaxe Books, 2008) both in her short poems and in her long poem of XXV parts ‘Europa’. This poetic voice is so susceptible of the delicacy of emotion that it impresses the reader with its very pulse. Glyn Maxwell, born in 1962 in Welwyn Garden City and living in London, who is a poet, a novelist and a playwright, read his poetry at the closing of the Conference on the 7th of November. His voice was a powerful contrast to Moniza Alvi. Manly impressions, rough images and the like words gave the picture of a strong person in a firm grip with the world. The Poetry Weekend was an event which encouraged an exchange of shared reflections on poetry and gave a chance to enjoy live poetry. It was a brief and intense event, emotionally and intellectually.

The Poetry Weekend taking place virtually on the Eve of Remembrance Day, it was touching to see real people wearing red poppies to mark the Day with a real feeling and to know that they were sensitive to how this symbolic token was worn by strangers. The London of the early November 2010 was mild and misty, with graceful flowers of cyclamens adorning richly the lawns along Roads and Lanes and peeping from patios.