The old year passeth and we bid it adieu

Right. We’re over the top now. But I bring you tidings of great joy! Last night, Jonathan Cainer told Jools Holland: ‘The world is in a pickle right now. But in 2013 it will get better.’ I felt my mood lift at that moment, and children, it has stayed lifted.

Today I went for a walk and saw this tiny pink rose, blossoming among the hips. (I also found a secret cache of wonderful, long, green grass, and even dandelions, which I picked for Frank and Chet – who fell on it like a pack of hyenas when I got home and put it in their cage. Smells of summer.)

Today is already the day for looking forward, and I have been doing that. But one last look: here are some highlights of 2012, as we leave it behind forever. It is very much a personal list…


Well, this was a bad start to the year. There was a break-up. However, during one of the worst days I memorised ‘Ode on Melancholy’ and it was good.

And I wrote a perspicacious piece on ‘Sherlock’.

And wrote the first of four features for MsLexia Magazine on how writers can use digital and social media.


Little Frank O’Hara and Little Chet Baker – I got them on Valentine’s Day! The little loves. They’re famous now.

I saw Alice Oswald recite her book Memorial, based on the Iliad, at the Southbank, with no book. Here’s a blog post written later, in May: one of my moments of the year.


Made Guinea Pig Versailles out of corrugated plastic and metal guinea pig playpen panels. Pretty damn impressive.

Longlisted for the Orwell Prize for Political Writing, ditto I think.


Wrote my long poem ‘Analogue’, to accompany an art installation by Rose Farrell, to mark the shutting off of the analogue TV signal on the 18th. It was mad crazy, I had about four days to write it, and it came out actually not bad. Richard Price has published it in his little magazine, ‘painted, spoken’.

Shortlisted for the Orwell Prize! You can still see this on my sidebar and it won’t be coming down any time soon.

Began a fortnightly course on dramatic monologue, over five sessions, at the Poetry School, which was utterly brilliant.


Um… Well, May appears to have been mostly to be about Alzheimers.

Sendak died. Not really a highlight. I can’t really remember May.

But I recorded this quote from the notebooks of the Polish poet Anna Kamienska: ‘Misfortune, personal disaster stops our inner time short. Objective time moves on—but we spin in place like straws in water.’ The notebooks are great.


The Jubilee coincided with the Stoke Newington Literary Festival, and that mad day of torrential rain, and the whole weekend was a bit surreal. It culminated here on Baroque in a post about what London is, and what it’s for.

Michelle McGrane came for an all-too-short visit from South Africa, and was fêted and made much of by all and sundry, and was still around for…

Poetry Parnassus! A week at the Southbank: one poet from every country participating in the Olympics. I thought it was going to be corporate. It turned out to be glorious beyond any anticipation. Readings, translations, discussion panels, evenings in the Poets’ Village below stairs, & under the stars… Friends made, books exchanged, languages spoken and listened to, the music of them; poetry events took new forms. I presented a Poetry Karaoke that took several forms. The Rain of Poems over Jubilee Gardens, surprisingly beautiful and moving. Kristiina Ehin from Estonia, ethereal in her fairy tale ballgown, leading a line dance. I saw Simon Armitage hula-hoop. The best of all, though, as the spirit that gradually infused the place, till by the end of the week everyone there was a little in love with it, and with each other for being part of it. Definitely the week of my year.


I saw an exhibition of beautiful and haunting photographs of the Olympic site, before it was torn down, by Homer Sykes.

I spent an awful lot of time in Abney Park Cemetery, picking huge bags full of grass and dandelions for the guinea pigs. Their favourite food, and it’s free. Foraging for the recession, like a crazy lady.

Wrote a long review of Mark Ford’s giant anthology of London poems for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Grayson Perry’s TV series on class, ‘All In the Best Possible Taste’ – still, as I write, available on 4oD. Another absolutely seminal thing.


The Olympics was strange and surprisingly interesting, in that massive surprising way. That surge of pride, in people, in London, in Britain. The way it was taken AWAY from the corporate moguls, how people desperately wanted it to be fair, to celebrate achievement and commitment, both individual and collaborative. The air of festivity was palpable even to me, the least sporting person in the universe. The government tried to take the credit for it and they were not allowed to. And the Opening Ceremony – there was a fantastic, mad, uncorporate feel to it – and a real pride in what really matters – the NHS, of course, but also the idea that Britain has good stuff to be proud of. Making things. Being creative. Mary Poppins. Apparently Jeremy Hunt fought tooth and nail to get that NHS bit taken out. This was a moment we all badly needed. Have we managed to hold onto it? Can we use that spirit to bring down ATOS?

I went to the Victoria Miro Gallery to see Grayson Perry’s tapestries – twice. Once with my friend Cora, down from Ireland for two days only, wonderful to see her. Based on Hogarth’s ‘Rake’s Progress’, the tapestries are ruthless and forensic, very funny, and very tender. And very, very beautiful. They really turned something around for me.

I reviewed Adventures in Form and Glyn Maxwell’s On Poetry for Charles Boyle’s issue of Poetry Review.


The Paralympics. Sponsored by ATOS, the full scale of whose oppressions, mendacity, money-wasting, contract-fiddling, life-ruining activities is just coming out in mainstream media. The government tries to make out that because the athletes can do miracles, no one need be held back. They seem to think that, eg, the woman swimmer with no arms can manage without a disability grant or paid helpers. But Good News!  George Osborne is booed as he tries to present medals, and shortly after that, so is Teresa May, and after that, so is Jeremy Hunt. The People Have Spoken.

Free Verse Poetry Book Fair, second annual, an inspiring day put together by Charles Boyle and Chrissy Williams. Glorious books and small presses, the ambitions and the beautiful stuff, and meet so many people doing great things.

Poetry School term begins, a huge relief and a brilliant new group.

Autumn of Four Poetry Junkets begins:

1. The new Wise Words Festival in Canterbury; lovely people, a great event.

2. The Kings Lynn Poetry Festival – an absolutely wonderful and exciting weekend of poetry, where I meet up with old friends and make new ones. John Hartley Williams, Ludwig Steinherr, Kristiina Ehin, Peter Scupham all stand out. Real champagne. Wonderful sky. Rob, the committee member I stayed with, made me nearly die laughing; and Tony Ellis, who runs it, is a force of nature.


3. Cheltenham, to read at Angela France’s Buzzwords series. Despite frantically critiquing student poems on the train and even after I arrived, it was another brilliant poetry weekend, with friends old and new, a fun reading, good weather, and even a great dog. Loved it.


4. Aldeburgh! Just brilliant, blogger in residence. So many wonderful poets, and wonderful moments, and no night in bed before 2am, and the sea, the sky, the marshes… Leland Bardwell, 90-year-old Irish poet, really my highlight and discovery, and – almost for that reason – the blog post I didn’t quite write. I should still do that. So much poetry, it was like a dream. Gerry Cambridge playing his harmonica in the pub. Wonderful readings and talks and books and people. David Wheatley a particular star, and John Stammers’ best reading in years, I thought. Ghassan Zaqtan. Ko Un. Its internationalism was like Parnassus all over again. The blog’s still up, so do have a look.

Obama won the election, thank Christ. That was flipping terrifying.

In November my middle kid, the Tall Blond Rock God, came home! From two whole years in America! And promptly went into his room at his dad’s. But it’s still great.

Bhi Bhiman. Just put the name into Spotify.


Okay this was a pretty grim and beset month. Glaucoma, Alzheimers, income worries – I mean panics – etc. But this is highlights, right.

I knitted all my Christmas presents, mainly out of wool I’ve had since the 80s. I did have to buy some, and also some needles. But I love knitting, it’s very calming, and I can do it mostly without looking. And everyone loved their stuff. PHEW.

Pink goose feather Christmas tree, 20″ high, off eBay at the last minute. Lights round the balcony. Tinsel on the guinea pig cage. A great Christmas playlist. The best pumpkin pie, we all agree, ever. The secret is half pumpkin and half sweet potato.

Christmas Eve Eve at my aunt’s, after a serious emergency two days before: I shopped and cooked and worked like a dog and it was a miracle and a lovely day. The actual dog, a Pomeranian, looks incredibly cute in her new red tartan dog coat.

On Christmas Eve we stayed up till 4am making Christmas stockings. You haven’t lived till you’ve seen a bunch of burly 20-year-olds sitting hunched over a tapestry needle and yards of fleece, trying out colours of pom poms and making sure their stitching is straight. It was mad, and the stockings are frankly very impressive.

And that’s it. I’m sure there’s more. There is lots to do with people. Small and large acts of friendship and kindness. Surprises. Help. People who just bring joy wherever they go. People who make things happen and are inspiring. People are the key to everything, and despite everything else there really are some wonderful generous souls around.

As we go into 2013 there’s eye surgery coming, and a serious need to get more work in, and achieve some sort of stability so I can think about writing again and just get on with life. But all is not yet lost. There are two brilliant Saturday workshops coming up, and four more features for MsLexia on e-publishing this year, and there will be more profiles for the Poetry International website, and I believe there are spaces still free in my Poetic Technique course at the Poetry School – term starts on Feb 6th…

And it’s time to make changes in other areas, but what? How? Stay with us, viewer, and see…

Previous post:

Next post: