Archives for the month of: July, 2014

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

I started the week well with a mid-morning visit to Cramlington Writers’ Group. I had a fantastic, enlightening, enjoyable time with nine other writers and several packets of biscuits.

The group has about 15 active members and has been meeting for around the same number of years. Members have come and gone as have venues but the unique energy of the group keeps it motoring along.

A mix of backgrounds and literary leanings blend with shared core creative values. This group likes to push itself creatively. I found this inspiring. I had set a task for the group involving Haiku. The members rose to the challenge and read out an awe-inspiring amount of wonderful Haiku. I was impressed.

The group shared their thoughts on issues big and small as well as the names of favourite books. John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath got two votes so here’s a picture of the great man. They don’t make ’em like John anymore….

john Steinbeck

Thank you to David for initially inviting me and to Pat for co-ordinating the visit. Thanks to the rest of the group for being so welcoming. I hope we meet again.

Just back from another poetry appreciation evening in The Mission, North Shields. We listened to each other read and then discussed poems by writers including A.P Herbert, Edwin Morgan, Stevie Smith & John Clare.

Here’s a picture of the multi-talented, prolific A.P. Herbert.


Conversation flowed from sushi squashed on public transport, toilets, the Edinburgh Fringe festival, systematic map theft, war and being mistaken for an IRA terrorist. The stories shared between the stanzas took us from North Shields to London, New York, Paris, Ostend, Amsterdam and Edinburgh.

Mr Kipling cakes and homemade biscuits were enjoyed alongside tea and coffee.

We are taking a short summer break from our Tuesday gatherings but will be back on Tuesday 29th July when the theme will be journey/travel.

Booking is essential via Happy Planet Creative Arts CiC. Please visit their website

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