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Stanza Reps & Reading at Keats House

Last Wednesday I spent a good part of the day at Keats House in London – in the afternoon meeting with around 35 or so Stanza Reps from around the country and beyond, then the evening AGM where I’d been invited to read. Even as I write that I find it slightly unreal. But it did actually happen – I know this because although part of me thinks there are some things in my life I may have invented or imagined, in this case I do actually have photos.

Keats House

Things started well. As I got to Keats House a jay flew in and landed on a bush right in front of me, which felt like a good omen. I’ve only seen a jay once before and not exactly up close. It seems just too colourful a bird to be British (and yes I know we have parakeets but they’re just arrivistes – ooh! I is that a half-rhyme?)

Paul McGrane of the Poetry Society had co-ordinated the Reps’ meeting and it was a great chance to meet up with reps I already knew such as Antony Mair (Hastings), Robert Harper (Shrewsbury), Margaret Beston (Tonbridge), Sarah Leavesley (Worcestershire) and Tessa Lang (Clapham), and others I’d never met – although many of the names were familiar.

We had short readings from some of the reps, myself included, and these were interjected through the afternoon rather than all in one go, which I thought was a great idea. There was plenty of discussion about meeting etiquette & procedure, now to put together an anthology, events and so forth. If you’re not familiar with Stanzas – they’re volunteer-run groups, under the auspices of the Poetry Society, although anyone can attend, you don’t have to be a Poetry Society member. I’m the rep for Brighton, although I live about 7 miles away in Lewes, but luckily I have a ‘loose committee’ of helpers and others who help with things like booking venues. It’s quite a lot of work, but enjoyable – even with the occasional ‘difficult’ customer.

Stanza Reps at Keats House

Hurrah for the Stanza reps and the Poetry Society! A very useful and enjoyable afternoon. With half an hour or so between the Reps’ meeting and the AGM, Robert Harper and I went off to a local cafe for a coffee and a chat about his magazine Bare Fiction. It’s a beautiful-looking book and Robert’s done an amazing job building up the readership and dealing with the avalanches of submissions he gets, PLUS running a successful competition, all in its first year.

Robin Houghton poet reading at Keats House

By the time my reading ‘slot’ came along I was nervous but itching to get up there. I’m looking a bit stiff in this photo – but at least my eyes are open! It wasn’t a huge audience, but it included incoming and outgoing trustees, all the key staff and many fine poets. Also reading were  Suzanna Fitzpatrick (who won the Hamish Canham Prize this year) and Daljit Nagra who was great fun, and whose poem about Krishna pleasuring hundreds of new brides at the same time (which is OK apparently, because he’s a god) was very funny indeed.

Suzanna Fitzpatrick, Daljit Nagra & Robin Houghton  poetry reading

It just felt like a huge privilege to be there and to have those people even give my two wee poems the time of day. And that’s not me fishing for compliments, believe it or not. I know I’m a novice poet and no number of competition successes or published poems changes that fact. I think whether I make it beyond the novice stage is entirely a matter of time and graft. But I’m learning to be patient!

During the day I even got rid of a number of pamphlets – I won’t say ‘sold’ as I left a pile on the freebies table and… well you can guess what happened!

After all the excitement I had a really lovely time unwinding in the pub with poet friend Lynne – a wise and inspirational person if ever there was one.

Then the reality of the train journey home, carriages packed to the brim with Arsenal fans and people munching smelly food – thankfully I had ‘Gravity’ to watch on my phone, which blotted out all distractions.

(Photos courtesy of Sophie at the Poetry Society)

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Robin Houghton 2021