Another evening of appreciating poetry at Happy Planet Creative’s HQ, The Mission in Rudyerd Street, North Shields.

Two new poetry lovers joined the regular crew and work discussed included Emily Dickinson’s Ample Make this bed, Jenny Joseph’s Dawn Walkers and Heather Buck’s  Evening.

The theme for the evening was Night Life but we went wandering down different conversational cul de sacs before being called back for tea and cake.

dead poets society

Walt Whitman’s  By the Bivouac’s Fitful Flame led to a chat about the late Robin Williams. This seemed like a good excuse for a still from  Dead Poet’s Society. Oh Captain my captain.

The full list was:

Emily Dickinson Ample Make this bed

Walt Whitman’s  By the Bivouac’s Fitful Flame

e.e. cummings Nobody Loses All The Time

Alison Chisolm The Office Party

Jenny Joseph Dawn Walkers

Marc Travis Car Far

Anon The Curse of Cruising: It Must Be Time To Eat

Thomas Moore Oft in the Stilly Night

John Betjeman Slough

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Wanderer’s Night Song

Seamus Heaney An August Night

Philip Larkin Wild Oats

Heather Buck Evening

Dylan Thomas Should Lanterns Shine

Edna St Vincent Millay First Fig

The next poetry appreciation evening will take place on Tuesday 26th August and the theme will be Nautical.



Phil Punton is a gifted photographer. He makes his subject feel at ease and gets that certain je ne sais quoi  out of the photo opportunity.

He excels at wedding photographs but loves capturing musicians, dancers and writers in full flow. See his website

I had fun messing around with Phil and his cameras in his impressive garden last month. Hard to believe this one was taken in the Derwent rather than Douro Valley…

Colour in towelling

Phil has captured the thoughtful poet as well as specific family features in these two photographs. It’s wonderful to see glimpses of the dearly departed in my eyes, around my mouth and along my hairline.

B&W thinkingB&W Pulizter crop

Photo credits: Phil Punton Photography

Norman Cornish lived and painted North East mining life. He captured his hometown of Spennymoor on canvas.

Sid Chaplin, the novelist from the Durham railway town of Stanley and Cornish’s contemporary, once described him as a “mystic with a total grasp of what makes matter vibrate, from coal to colliery rows, from the workings 1,500ft below ground to the bus stop and the chapel at the end of the street. In himself as well as in his work a prime example of being with it and staying with it”.

norman cornish

Cornish part of the artistic seam that ran throughout the Great Northern coalfield and produced pitman painters and writers. Here’s his obituary from The Guardian and his official website

If you’ve seen Lee Hall’s Pitman Painters or read William Feaver’s book then you should read A Way To The Better by Robert McManners and Gillian Wales. The book charts the story and explores the legacy of the Spennymoor Settlement, which incubated the talents of Cornish, Chaplin plus artists Tom McGuinness and Robert Heslop.

Cornish’s death on August 1st comes shortly after Bob Abley’s. Bob was a local historian and art lover with what I saw as a great eye for how to display art. I met him last year at Spennymoor Town Hall and he showed me splendid examples of the work that came out of the Settlement, including work by Tisa Hess.

Bob was also instrumental in the setting up of Tynemouth Station’s legendary Book Fairs. I wish I’d had the chance to meet with him again.

Norman Cornish and Bob Abley contributed to North East culture and both leave legacies.


Poetry appreciation has returned to the Banks ‘o’ the Tyne. Our fortnightly gatherings hosted by Happy Planet Creative Arts at The Mission in North Shields have restarted after a short break.

Newcomers as well as old faithfuls shared poems, homemade biscuits and stories. The theme of the evening was journey/travel and our narrative arc included Scotland, Spain, wet plate collodion, Paris, budgies, Hull, railways, Bill Nighy, Tynemouth and Teignmouth.

One of our “regulars” Angie told us all about her recent work experience in the world famous Paris bookshop, Shakespeare and Company. She is now a fully fledged Tumbleweed, the name given to all the young students and would be writers who worked in the shop by its founder, the late George Whitman.

shakespeare and company

Poems shared included Last Post by Carol Ann Duffy, Auden’s September 1st 1939 and two bods brought the same poem, The Journey by Mary Oliver.


Two attendees shared their own work and regular Alan entertained us with poems about North East legend, Geordie Broon of Backworth.

A grand night was had by all. Next evening on Tuesday 12th August when the theme will be Night Life.

Seems like everyone enjoyed Under the Dome Festival. Something for everyone: children, music lovers, admirers of poetry and theatre goers.

There was a photographer at all events and his images can be viewed here

Here is a selection from last Tuesday. Firstly Harry Gallagher and Mandy Maxwell

Under the Dome Festival, Whitley Bay, 22 July 2014

Under the Dome Festival, Whitley Bay, 22 July 2014

Myself and Sarah Hammersley

Under the Dome Festival, Whitley Bay, 22 July 2014
Under the Dome Festival, Whitley Bay, 22 July 2014

And finally Harry and Sarah plus the Bay Vox Choir

Under the Dome Festival, Whitley Bay, 22 July 2014Under the Dome Festival, Whitley Bay, 22 July 2014

Just back from the launch event for North Tyneside Steam subtitled A celebration of the bicentenary of the steam locomotive Blucher, together with the story of its creator George Stephenson in North Tyneside and of steam railways in the area.

north tyneside steam 001

That says it all, really. The book is compiled and edited by Keith Armstrong and Peter Dixon and published by Northern Voices Community Projects. It features creative responses to Stephenson and Blucher by writers and musicians including Christine Goodwin, Rachel Cochrane, Noreen Rees and myself.


The launch event was held in Killingworth’s White Swan Centre and featured performances by poets plus musicians including The Sawdust Jacks and Northumbrian piper Ann Sessoms.

George Stephenson: Father of the Railways.

george stephenson

What a delight to perform in the Spanish City Dome’s ballroom last night as part of the Under the Dome Festival which runs until the 27th of July


I really enjoyed performing alongside poets Harry Gallagher, Mandy Maxwell and Sarah Hammersley plus the wonderful Bay Vox Choir. The audience were appreciative and it was great to see plenty of familiar, smiling faces. Thanks for listening!


One of the poems I shared was a haiku written by the Dome’s only residents, Isadora and Nigella the dancing ladies. They are miffed that they never get asked what they would like to see the Dome become. They would love to see it used like Bexhill on Sea’s De La Warr Pavilion for exhibitions, live music and workshops. The gals would also like to see a cinema plus the ballroom restored to its former glory so they could use it through the night for free.

de la war

The Dancing Ladies’ Haiku
Spanish City Dome:
Moorish hothouse of coastal


Happy Planet Creative Arts are reopening after a short break with social crafting on Wednesday 23rd July.

My next poetry appreciation evening hosted by Happy Planet will take place in North Shields’ Mission next Tuesday 29th. Booking essential email

Our theme is journey/travel. I have been catching up with some summer reading. I think The Whitsun Weddings is relevant to next Tuesday’s gathering…

Colour reading

Photo credit: Phil Punton Photography

My collaboration with artist Anne Proctor is precious. Neither of us know why it works or how long it will last.


We have been working together for over 18 months and have so far produced two books: Allotments No1 and Swifts Screech and Circle in the Afternoon Sun which are available at our Tynemouth market stalls and on Etsy

allotments no1

Many ideas have flowed between us. Some stick beside us and others drift on and may or may not return.

Our current project is…a book about a place close to our hearts. The book is radically different from the first two. Anne is using an Albion Press, a blummin’ big Victorian printing press, to print the pages.

I visited her in Ouseburn’s Northern Print earlier this week and watched her typeset a page. Such a slow process but what a joy to watch.

Here is a link to Anne’s blog about the day

More news on this book as it is produced.

Anne has given me many things over the past year and a half: inspiration, a good belly laugh or ten, photographs, images, food and drink, lifts to interesting places, records and books.

Ah yes, books. One of the most amazing ones she has given me is The Fairburn System of Visual References: Male Age Groups, Characters & Expression. It’s a folder jam-packed with loose contact sheets featuring hundreds of photos of blokes from the 1970s with differing facial expressions. I’m mesmerised by it. Here’s part of one sheet. Enjoy.

Mad men 1 001

Joseph Skipsey’s poems are part of North East England’s cultural heritage. This coal miner from Percy Main wrote amazing poems including The Hartley Calamity and The Collier Lad. He started working down the mine aged 7 but went on to become the custodian of Shakespeare’s birthplace for a time. Dante Gabriel Rossetti said of him: “I found him a stalwart son of toil and every inch a gentleman”


Chris Harrison is the great-great grandson of Skipsey. He’s a singer and musician based in South London and our paths met at poetry and music performances relating to The New Hartley Pit Disaster of 1862. Here’s a shot of him at the Hartley Disaster Memorial in Earsdon last September.

chris Harrison

Chris has just released a CD Carols from the Coalfield filled with his versions of Skipsey’s poems set to music.

I went to the Bridge Hotel Folk Club on Monday night to see him perform. The evening sun was blinding which made it impossible to take photographs of the performers.

bridge hotel

It was a great night out. Fantastic singing in a supportive atmosphere including a turn by local legend Johnny Handle. And I won the raffle!

Chris’s interpretations of Skipsey’s poems are impressive and moving. Visit his website to find out more about the CD and the new edition of Joseph Skipsey: Selected Poems


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