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Writing can be an alarmingly fragile activity.  It’s all I ever really wanted to do, and even I was blocked for a decade and more. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to write. It wasn’t that I had nothing to say. It was something to do with confidence. i was like a horse refusing a jump (apart from the four legs, of course).

So one of the issues I’m aware of when working with other writers is how easy it is to put people off, by saying the wrong thing, or too much, or not enough. I don’t always get it right! Everyone will have something to say, even if they don’t realise it, and anyone with any sort of language has a tool for saying it, however crudely.

The issue came to mind recently. I’d been recalling a meeting with the poet R.S.Thomas (I recalled him as gaunt, grey and fierce), and that brought to mind my old friend and poetry mentor, Geoffrey Holloway, who died back in 1997. I wrote an article about Geoff, comparing him and Norman Nicholson: two poets writing in Cumbria when I was a young man, and who seemed a generation apart though they were only four years different in age. The essay is in Steve Matthews anthology Nicholson at 100 (Bookcase, Carlisle, 2014).

It was Geoff who saved me from that ‘block’. Shortly before he died I attended a celebration of his life and work, re-connecting after a gap of several years. He’d heard from mutual friends about my situation, and not quite metaphorically had me up against a wall. He talked about ‘back then’, and in the collection I bought that night, wrote ‘for Mike, and the old days in the vat bar’.

The ‘vat bar’, at Kendal’s Brewery Arts centre had, and may still for all I know, round tables and seats in each of two or three old beer vats. That was where our tiny audience had sat to hear R.S.Thomas read! That was where ‘the Brewery Poets’ met, to share their work. Your stuff, he told me, had been among the best.

You could interpret that, but I took at as I’m sure it was meant. It was the right time. Other prompts, life threatening, and life expanding, were already pushing me towards breaking the block.

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to discourage, but equally a little encouragement goes a long way. (and having written this, I find myself reading that old collection once again. – And Why Not?, Flambard 1997)

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACarlisle Bookseller and Publisher Steve Matthews has added another volume to his long list of publications about Cumbria and the Borders, it’s history, culture and people…

‘Norman Nicholson at 100, Essays and Memoirs’ brings together more than twenty pieces of writing about Cumbria’s most famous poet, and Cumberland’s second most! With contributions from those who knew him, and those who know and love his his work; analysis sits alongside speculation; memories rub shoulders with academic essays. Norman’s own voice is included too, not only in the quotations from his work, but also in the transcript of an interview undertaken by me back in the nineteen seventies, in the cosy gloom of Nicholson’s sitting room at 14 St. George’s Terrace, Millom.

The editors, Steve Matthews and poet Neil Curry also allowed me the opportunity to make a brief comparison between Nicholson and his near contemporary, Geoffrey Holloway, two poets whose similarities and differences intrigued me during the years I knew them, and have haunted me ever since.

Other contributors include poets Chris Pilling, Mary Robinson and Phil Houghton, academics like David Cooper, and Nicholson’s most recent biographer, Kathleen Jones. It’s an amazing collection of disparate opinions, avenues of approach, and areas of interest. Norman is viewed through the lenses of topography, religion, friendship, the green movement, and of course, of poetry.

I’m, of course, immensely pleased to be included among such distinguished writers, but most pleased to be able to pass on some of my own recollections of this widely admired local poet. It’s the scope and variety of what is recalled, discussed, and suggested, that makes this anthology so interesting.

It’s available from Bookcase, in Carlisle, at £10, and would, as they say, may an excellent present!

Another Cumbrian Cultural Landmark worth noting is the Caldbeck Festival of Culture, which runs from Thursday 2nd to Sunday 5th of October. Bringing together a wide range of activities and interests from choirs to cloggies, by way of poets and flash fictionistas, at various venues around the village, notably The Oddfellows public house! It’s in the bar here that Open Mike sessions for writers and musicians will be held each of the four nights (including a prize giving session for young writers who took part in the creative writing competition on the Thursday). There are poetry an d flash fiction sessions too, throughout the four days, including short fiction readings by (me as) Brindley Hallam Dennis and Marilyn Messenger, and ‘mini- workshops’ for writers led by (me as) Mike Smith on the Saturday afternoon.   check it out on:  https://www.facebook.com/Caldbeckfestival

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