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Festive reading and giving

The concerts are over – Sunday’s Lewes Singers event was a major thrill, and it was lovely and amazing to see Claire Booker there – of all my local poet friends, none has ever been interested in coming to hear beautiful choral singing, so Claire is a real one-off!

As the year closes out I’m reminding myself all the good things – as well as the music, there’s Planet Poetry which has just has just signed off for a wee break, although we’re back in January with Peter interviewing Mimi Khalvati. I’m really looking forward to it, especially as Peter and Mimi knew each other back in the day.

On the reading front, I’m strolling at quite a leisurely pace through a novel (yes I do read them sometimes!) called Drive your plow over the bones of the dead by Polish author Olga Tokarczuk. It’s quirky, and although there are a couple of (so far) unsolved murders, it’s hardly a page-turner. But however it turns out, it’s worth reading for the title alone. This book was a ‘secret Santa’ gift from my lovely friend Fiona at a recent get-together. We’ve been friends since nursery school – how precious is that?

In the post yesterday came the long-awaited new edition of The Dark Horse. The front cover somewhat dauntingly announces it’s a ‘Festschrift for Douglas Dunn – Poems, Affections and Close Readings’, teamed with ‘MacDiarmid at 100’. Despite my initial reservations I soon found myself enjoying very much the various recollections and essays about both of these (clearly eminent, but in different ways) poets. I’ve already been persuaded to order a copy of Dunn’s Elegies. And already I’ve spotted some lovely poems by Christopher Reid and Marco Fazzini, the former’s ‘Breaking or Losing’ I read to my (non-poet) husband who found it very moving. I like the way The Dark Horse is both a serious magazine and also warm and real – heavyweight contributions abound, but it’s never overly academic or esoteric.

Now, Live Canon do a huge amount for poetry. I know I’m a tad biased, as they published my pamphlet Why? And other Questions.  But even before then I was always admiring of their outreach work and their use of actors to bring live readings of classic poetry to a wider audience. During the pandemic they staged weekly readings via Zoom which attracted big audiences, with director Helen Eastman always creating such a warm and easy-going atmosphere.

As well as running regular competitions for adults, Live Canon also has an annual poetry competition for children. Considering the state of poetry in British schools (mostly non-existent, or taught to a tin-eared syllabus), opportunities such as these are crucial to help bring younger generations to a love of reading and writing poetry. Outside of the Poetry Society, I don’t know of any other organisation doing this much for children’s poetry on a national scale. You can probably guess where this is going. Live Canon are fundraising for their Children’s Poetry Competition and every little bit they can raise will help towards the costs of promoting the competition in schools, staging winners’ readings, producing the prize-winning anthology, paying judges etc. If you feel moved to give something you can so so here, where there’s more about the competition. I was also impressed with some of the comments of donors, about how it has given children the confidence to write and persevere with poetry.

So dear readers, I wish you a very Happy Christmas to you and yours, and if you can get to listen to (or better still, sing) any live carols this year I can highly recommend it! xx




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  1. Robin, it was an absolute pleasure hearing The Lewes Singers perform. Wonderful musical choices, and pitch perfect singing. Definitely my musical highlight this Christmas.

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Thank you Claire! It was so nice to see you there 🙂 Happy Christmas and all the best for 2023. Xx

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Robin Houghton 2021