Cornwall may be cut off by the River Tamar from England; be surrounded by sea; be nearly 300 km from London; and be home to only half a million people, but the poetry scene here is well-rooted, globally influenced and vibrant. In fact, perhaps because it is virtually an island and has no funded literatureorganisation to support writers, poets here – whether writing in English or Cornish – have always made their own way, establishing their own support groups and networks.
The first point of contact with the Cornish poetry scene has to be Piccolina, the (little) Poetry in Cornwall Calendar of Live Activities, a newsletter e-mailed by its National Poetry Competition winner creator Caroline Carver to a vast network of poets who forward it. This lists all poetry events in Cornwall and beyond. Cornwall’s tin-mining heritage and historic mass-emigration created extensive cultural links around the world, which are built on by the Cornish Gorsedd, and by contemporary poets. Victoria Field, Penelope Shuttle and Caroline Carver toured Ontario and the US last October and now await the return visit by Long Island poet George Wallace.
Three lively, well-established poetry writing groups exist. One of the oldest in Britain, the Falmouth Poetry Group, established by Peter Redgrove in 1972, is currently chaired by Penelope Shuttle (Redgrove’s Wife). In east Cornwall Ann Gray chairs the Liskeard Poetry Group and Helen Wood facilitates The Indian King Poets in Camelford – also home to the North Cornwall Poetry Stanza. All groups offer constructive criticism and organise workshops by visiting poets – one way to combat insularity. The Poetry School runs a monthly seminar with Alice Kavounas and workshops with Penelope Shuttle. Angela Stoner’s FarWest organises courses in Penzance while Zeeba Ansari runs The Poetry Practice, a poetry consultancy.
Harry Chambers’ Peterloo Poets is the longest established poetry press, which also organises an annual international poetry festival on the first weekend in September. The newest press, fa publications, founded 2004 by Victoria Field, publishes high quality, visually interesting books by Cornwall-based writers including poets D M Thomas and Bill Mycock. Les Merton’s Palores Publications publishes Cornish poets including Jenny Hamlett, while Simon Parker’s Giss ‘On Books (to relaunch as Scryfa Publishing after Scryfa’s demise) is working on the collected works of a great unsung Cornish poet, Arthur Caddick, and a new collection of Kernewek poet Pol Hodge. Scryfa publishes a little poetry in English, dialect or Kernewek, with a Cornish dimension and with only two more issues to come, submit now! The only Cornish magazine dedicated to poetry – in English, dialect or Cornish – is Les Merton’s seven year old Poetry Cornwall/Bardhonyeth Kernow with a world-wide subscriber base. If you’re thinking of submitting work, subscribe or buy a back copy and study the guidelines to avoid your work being returned unread!
Few festivals in Cornwall give poetry a serious platform. The next Tip of Your Tongue festival will happen in October 2009; the first one started with anEar Tingling Soiree and included gorilla poetry, street sonnets, a rantology booth, poetic horoscopes… This and the lively cross-art form Port Eliot LitFest (July 2009) are both worth waiting for. While music rules the St Ives Festival, the living legend of Bob Devereux at the Salthouse Gallery, St Ives usually manages to squeeze in some poetry performance. He is also the man behind the hugely successful open mic Cafe Frug which meets on alternate Thursdays in the Arts Clubs of St Ives and Penzance. Howard Phillips’ Penzance Poetry Stanza meets in the Arts Club on the first Monday of each month, and Les Merton of Palores organises the annual Cafe des Arts for Esethvos Kernow: in 2008 it’s in Looe on Thursday 4 September.
Cornwall is a focal centre in the development of poetry as therapy, with a thriving local branch of Lapidus. Members include Penelope Shuttle and Ann Kelley (winner of the Costa Children’s Book Prize for The Bower Bird), and regular workshops and training events are held. Arts for Health Cornwall and Isles of Scilly organise reading schemes for patients in hospital and writing groups in primary care settings. Cornwall Library Service works with Lapidus to hold therapeutic writing groups. Prompted to Write (Fal publications, eds Zeeba Ansari and Victoria Field) documents much of this activity and has contributions by Gillie Bolton, David Hart and John Killick. The Library service also supports poetry during the Wonderful Words Festival in September this and every other year. The subscription Morrab Library also hosts occasional poetry events – Daljit Nagra and Otis Microlight, a Poetry Marathon etc.
Poetry in schools is active largely because of Kernow Education Arts Partnership (KEAP). If you’re a poet looking to work in schools, make contact with them – their website is excellent. In 2006 the Poetry Society ran a Poetry Lab to introduce the Poetry Archive to four schools in Cornwall and, currently, Truro’s Penair School is part of a pilot project organised by the Samaritans to use poetry to promote young people’s understanding of emotional health. www.bloc-online.com is produced by MA students oN the Professional Writing course at University College, Falmouth. There are rumours this site might not be around soon, so check it out!
An article on the poetry scene in Cornwall shouldn’t end without mentioning the revival in writing in Cornish. The Cornish Gorsedd has always encouraged such writing, but it is perhaps down to work by a handful of newer poets that it has reached out into the mainstream. Pol Hodge is a prolific writer and tireless proselytiser for Cornish poetry. Alan Kent has a fine reputation as a translator (his translation of the mediaeval Cornish Ordinalia was published by Francis Boutle in 2005) and editor. If you know nothing about poetry in Cornish you would do well to start with his anthology Voices from West Barbary: an anthology of Anglo-Cornish poetry 1549-1928 from Francis Boutle Publishers
Arts for Health
Cafe Frug: Bob Devereux at the Salthouse Gallery, Norway Square, St Ives on 01736 795 003
Fal Publications: email@example.com, P O Box 74, TRURO TR1 1XS
Francis Boutle Publishers: see their Cornish/Kernewek list
KEAP or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Liskeard Poetry Group: email@example.com or 01579 350 468 (Ann Murphy).
Poetry Cornwall: firstname.lastname@example.org. Palores Publications, 11a Penryn Street, REDRUTH, TR15 2SP
The Poetry Practice
Poetry Society Stanzas: North Cornwall: Helen Wood –The Indian King Poets: email@example.com. Penzance: Howard Phillips – firstname.lastname@example.org
Port Eliot Lit Fest
Salthouse Gallery, St Ives: see Cafe Frug
Scryfa: email@example.com. Scryfa Publishing, Halwinnick Cottage, Linkinhorne, CALLINGTON PL17 7NS
Tip of Your Tongue or firstname.lastname@example.org