Visit to Aberdeen and Lumb Bank Reading

Over the Easter break I went on an extraordinary trip north to Aberdeen where my dad was born. I had a collection of photographs that he had taken as a young father when I was small and went in search of some of the locations. I had not been back there in 30 years so the whole experience was an emotional roller coaster. I did fall in love with the city, the sound of people talking, it’s granite buildings, the way you can leave so quickly and head for the mountains.

I am reading at Lumb Bank tonight (17th May) as part of a writing course. This is the first time i have been a guest reader for Arvon and the house is one of my favourite places on the planet. Although it is tucked into the hillside, I am sure I am not the first writer to comment on the quality of light in the building. It feels as if the greenness of the woods colours the space inside.

Some of my poems are being broadcast on Leeds FM this summer and I will post up details as part of Peter Spafford’s ‘Writing On Air’ project. I am also being interviewed about my book and work in education on the 14th June.

Further details to follow.

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5 thoughts on “Visit to Aberdeen and Lumb Bank Reading”

  1. Good luck with your reading tonight. I live in Nw halifax and simply love the landscape hereabouts. I read at Arvon in Devon years ago. It is exciting and the writers on the courses are so attentive.

  2. Hi Anne

    I’m the NAWE person (an American) with whom you did a very helpful PDP telephone session some time ago. I subsequently met you at a NAWE conference, and I said hello to you at your Lumb Bank reading (I was there as a poet). I just thought I’d respond to your message above by sending you my ‘report’ on what the Lumb Bank week was like for me.

    Lumb Bank, May 2011

    I took the 12.10 (unembarrassed to be reading a poetry book on the “Poetry Express”, as a friend named it) then another train then a bus then a walk “until the tarmac runs out” to a week’s retreat at a 200-year-old house in West Yorkshire, where the poet Ted Hughes once lived.

    The arts group Arvon runs writers retreats at the house – Lumb Bank – for anyone who’s interested and can afford it. Hundreds of writers have come here over the years to teach or learn, and we all sat in the simple, old chairs, wrote in the barn at the bank of computers, ate at the giant wooden table and stayed up late by the fireplace in the sitting room like those before us.

    Handwritten poetry was framed on the walls, along with black and white photos of the writers and a Shakespeare quote: “The fire i’ the flint shows not till it be struck”. There was no TV, radio or internet connection, though people had Kindles and laptops and iPads and could access the net.

    We were a group of ten – unusually mostly men, ages about 35 to 75 – and 2 poet tutors, the main one a man, a Quaker (as were two of the students) from Liverpool, the other a Taiwanese American woman living in London. A number of the group and both tutors smoked, most had partners, and many had had fairly recent breakups. Most were much more widely read in poetry than me.

    The group included the former head of a Sheffield English department; an American creative-writing student, perhaps a banker-to-be, who’d come over for the course; a Hallmark-greeting-card writer; and a researcher at the House of Commons.

    The ones I got on best with were a retired physicist, the oldest student; a quick-to-laugh, garrulous Glaswegian teacher of literacy; and a poker-playing, part-time number cruncher for the Office of National Statistics who gave me a ride to the station.

    The bathrooms were shared but we each had our own room; mine was a monk-like but cosy, low-beamed attic room in the main house, with a simple wooden table and chair, single bed, chest of drawers, some wooden hangers on a wooden rack and a couple of small windows in the roof.

    We’d get our own breakfast from the kitchen, then at 9.30 as a group we’d have tutor-led discussions about various contemporary poems and techniques, then be given writing exercises. A number of impressive poems were written and read out during these sessions.

    Tea was at 11; lunch at 1 was made and served by the three women running the house, two of them published writers. The cleaner’s name (“I should be writing”) was Elizabeth Browning.

    The “students” would take turns washing up or communally cooking good dinners at 7 from prepared recipes: South African bobotie to stews to couscous and cake. A few of us, including me, volunteered for extra table-clearing and washing-up duties, opting out of the cooking.

    After dinner there would be readings: one night by the tutors, then by a guest poet, then us choosing a favourite poem (mine being Philip Larkin’s “Aubade”; some had memorized theirs), and finally us reading a couple of our own poems.

    The weather seemed writerly – drizzly mornings then some sun for a stroll or to sit in on the bench overlooking the wooded valley. One afternoon I walked past pastureland into Heptonstall to see Sylvia Plath’s (Ted Hughes’ wife) grave.
    In our individual tutorials of around 40 minutes each day, we got feedback on our own poetry. This was the most useful part of the week for me. The tutors’ comments were helpful and positive and I’ve now got a sense of how one day I might fit into the world of published poetry.

    I had come to have my poetry pushed and I feel it has been, into an ocean of possibility, and I’ll see what new shores I might wash up on.

  3. Dear Jeff
    thank you so much for sharing your report on Arvon with me. it sounds like the week was a success! Good luck with your writing.
    Did you do this report for the staff at Arvon as well?

    Best wishes

  4. Just a short note to say I enjoyed the youtube video of the reading. Good luck with book sales and the assembling of the next one.

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