Thursday, 29 June 2017

Reflections on Branwell Bronte

Monday just gone was the bicentenary of Branwell Bronte, brother of of the famous Bronte sisters.
Those who know me, know that for most of the last two years, and for a not inconsiderable part of the years immediately preceding,  my life has been largely taken up by Branwell and his work - both his creative work, and his professional endeavours, including the years spent on the railways at Sowerby Bridge and Luddenden Foot, which formed the inspiration for my film, A Humble Station? Branwell Bronte's Calder Valley Years

Themed around Juliet Barker's acclaimed biography The Brontes, the film brings together contemporary Calder Valley artists, writers and residents to celebrate his local, and wider, legacy. I have written of the film elsewhere on this site, but suffice to say for here that its completion has been the summit of two tremendously industrious years on behalf of myself and my co-filmmaker Alan Wrigley, who filmed and edited A Humble Station?, and who wrote an original suite of majestic music for the film, as well as a beautiful song performed by Sowerby Bridge based singer and musician Amy-Rose Atkinson.  While Branwell's reputation as a heavy drinking black sheep of the family, and the tragedy of his early death, are well known, we wanted to re-focus public eyes on some of the lesser known aspects of his life, such as his poetry and paintings - and the film also centrally features railways and their significance to Branwell 


And interviews and poetry from Juliet Barker, Ann Dinsdale of The Bronte Parsonage, and artists such as actor and writer Caroline Lamb:

 and award winning poet Steve Nash, author of the Caterpillar Poetry collection The Calder Valley Codex: well as taking in interviews with other local people, such as at Luddenden's Lord Nelson, the 18th Century inn which Branwell frequented (and where he enjoyed the company of poets and musicians, taking advantage of the library which shared the premises, and was the first lending library in the Ridings area)

 ...while being, we hope, an apt tribute to the valley, its history and landscapes.

Branwell was born in Thornton, now part of Bradford, and, having launched the film in Halifax, it was here in the town of his birth that I brought it on the eve of his bicentenary.

The film was broadcast at St James Church, opposite the site of the original Bell Chapel, at which Branwell's father Patrick ministered from 1815 to 1820.


On the Branwell's bicentenary its self, we took the film to Haworth, where of course Branwell and his family lived for most of their lives.  I called in to raise a birthday drink for Branwell at his former haunt, The Black Bull:

...though I have no doubt he would have been disappointed in me for it was only a black coffee.



 The attractively patterned carpet at The Black Bull:

 And the carpet as Branwell would have known it:

Unexpectedly, at the top of a staircase in the Bull, can be found Branwell's old chair,  which - to quote poet Genevieve L Walsh in the film - "has a real shipwreck-like quality about it."

Tourists come in all shapes and sizes to Haworth:

 From the Black Bull, the Parsonage is only a short walk through the churchyard, and was a pefect location for the screening of A Humble Station? on Branwell Bronte's birthday.

 It is always a joy to visit the Parsonage, and to take a look at one of my favourites of Branwell's paintings - a copy of a picture by American painter Washington Allston, Jacob's Dream.

The original:

Branwell's version, in the Parsonage:

The Parsonage is currently host to a wonderful exhibition featuring clothes and props from Sally Wainwright's recent BBC Bronte drama To Walk Invisible, and Branwell's old room - featured in my film - is set out as it might have been when he was there.

But what was especially touching about the day, was that the Parsonage had arranged for staff and volunteers to plant a rose bush specially chosen for Branwell:

 I will be taking A Humble Station? on the road throughout summer and autumn, with our next screenings due to be listed on this site and  very soon.  A dvd will be available by the end of the year.  There are also continued activities planned here and further afield to continue the celebrations of Branwell's legacy.  But for my part, I think I will leave it for Branwell himself to have the final say, in one of my favourites of his poems.

Amid the world's wide din around
I hear from far a solemn sound
that says Remember Me

I when I heard it sat amid
The bustle of a town like room
Neath skies with smoke-stained vapours hid,
By windows made to show their gloom-
The desk that held my ledger book
Beneath the thundering rattle shook
Of engines passing by
The bustle of the approaching train
Was all I hoped to rouse the brain
Or startle apathy.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Poet Interviews: 4 - Sarah L Dixon

Sarah L Dixon - The Quiet Compere

I am privileged to introduce Sarah L Dixon as Caterpillar Poetry's fifth interviewee.  I first saw Sarah reading at Sowerby Bridge's Puzzle Poets, and was honoured to participate in her Quiet Compere tour in Halifax, in 2015.  

Sarah L Dixon is based in Linthwaite, Huddersfield, and tours as The Quiet Compere.  She has been published in The Interpreter’s House, The Lake, Obsessed With Pipework, Domestic Cherry and in Half Moon OWF Press anthology in 2016 among others. Her most recent published poem is in Troubadour, a music anthology published by Picaroon. Her pamphlet, The sky is cracked will be released by Half Moon Press in November 2017. Sarah’s inspiration comes from being by water and adventures with her six-year-old, Frank.  She is still attempting to write better poetry than Frank did aged 4!  

To set the scene, Sarah explained that The answers to this interview were written in a cafe, with war-time music in the background, while eating a flapjack and drinking orange squash from a milk bottle as Lego Club goes on around me. 
What a multitude of coincidences!  In a few hours I will be preparing to host Lego Club at Gildersome Library, West Yorks, while from the adjacent community hall will reverberate the infectious sounds of a Hammond organ and the singing of 1940's songs, as the local coffee group get into full swing.  All I will need are flapjack and orange juice and I should be well on my way to becoming a better poet!

Can you give a brief description of your "poetry background", ie how you became interested in poetry as a reader and a writer? 

I loved poetry at school, but went off in a science direction and forgot it for a while until it dragged me by my ear to Philip Davenport's Arts and Health Course in creative writing  - a course for NHS colleagues subsidised by Stockport NHS Trust. When this ten weeks was over (in 2001) I had realised I had to write again. I joined Mary Bland's Writing for Pleasure group at Cheadle Library in late 2001. Around 2004 I moved to Chorlton and decided to join groups called Wordsmiths and Manky Poets hosted by copland smith (he likes lower case). These groups were terrifying to me but necessary because the reason they were terrifying was because they gave unflinching feedback and didn't just clap politely to everything. These people would tell me when my pieces were not my best or were lazy.   
I write to understand the world, to express my feelings and to communicate, sometimes to amuse (myself as play) or others with gentle humour that cannot be forced. If I try to write a humorous poem I end up being heavy-handed, but if it happens organically as part of the poem forming this can work for me.

Which poets are important to you and why?

1) Shakespeare and Rossetti - they have humour and flair and invention that are still evident upon reading today. I find if I write response poems to their work I respond in a more archaic language and style than I would usually write. I enjoy this spin on my pieces. 

2) Workshop facilitators: copland smith, Peter and Ann Sansom, Tony Side and Steven Waling all ran workshops I attended regularly and had massive influence over my topics and forms.

3) Magical and anatomical writers and poets entrance me with their craft and I particularly love Angela Readman, Joanne Key, Samir Guglani and Aoife Mannix.I chose these four as I love the way the surprise, shock and make me think in new ways. 

4) Arvon Courses - Roger, McGough, Julia Copus, Lavinia Greenlaw and Tony Walsh's Apples and Snakes Masterclass all had influence on the direction my poetry and events went. Without Roger and Julia encouraging me to find a way to sell my ideas I would not have had the nerve to start running workshops. My first ever time hosting an event was at Totleigh Barton with Alan Buckley where I performed a burlesque poem in front of Roger. I think this may in part explain my fearlessness when approaching people to part of my projects. The Quiet Compere would never have come about if I hadn't been to Tony's Masterclass on 'Promoting your work, your events. yourself' in 2013. One month after this workshop my seventeen-year career within the NHS came to an abrupt end and my mind took me back to what Tony had said about funding and I revisited a video he had played us of Neil Gaiman's 'Make good Art' speech  to graduates. I now have the book of the speech and go back to this whenever I feel I need an optimism boost.

5) Poets I admire for several reasons - their way of being in a room, their performance style, their words, their themes, their delivery and the way they chat with audience: Clare Shaw, Ciaran Hodgers, Rose Condo and Dave Jarman. 

6) Jo Bell  for the enthusiasm and energy she put into 52 project and all the love and community this built. A community that is still going strong today over two years after the project finished in its original form. 

 How important is the history, landscape and general environment of the area you live in, to the poetry you write?

 Good question, especially as I have only moved from Manchester suburbs to a rural valley village in Huddersfield four weeks ago. This might change my inspiration. The hills and the space and the skies certainly make me feel more open and inspired. Being by and in water has always been an inspiration ad the River Colne and Huddersfield Canal are now only five minutes from our front door. The reason I chose country close to a University town was because I love the buzz and youth and energy of a town at least partially made up of a student population.

How did you begin to get published as a poet, and how did your debut publication come about?

 Depends what counts as a debut publication. 

1) I was published in Manchester-based magazines around 2006/7 as I was too scared to submit further afield at that stage - I had poems in The Ugly Tree and Rain Dog and met some supportive and encouraging poets through the launch events.

2) I had a piece about my wedding in the style of a Post Mortem report published in Association of Clinical Pathologist News magazine. They published all kinds of medical writing and they awarded me their First Prize for Journalism in 2007 for this piece that ran over two and a half pages. A lot of my work has hints of my 17 years in NHS admin and laboratory posts. Having been a post mortem, oncology and histology secretary at different stages has lent an unflinching and  straight forward way of speaking my mind. Medical terminology sometimes comes into play without me realising and sometimes I play with it purposefully. 

3) I was very excited when poems were picked up by some of my favourite publications: The Interpreter's House, The Lake and Obsessed with Pipework.  And for the Half Moon Press Pub Anthology in book form and on a beer mat.  My most recent publication is a poem called  Morris Dancing inside and this features in the Troubadour music anthology published by Three Drops Press.

4) Half Moon Press are publishing my debut pamphlet in November 2017. My pamphlet The sky is cracked is my break-up collection (my seventeen year relationship broke down in September 2016) and I hope this series of poems while being sad has an optimism and a sense of moving on about it too.

What kinds of poetry do you like - and which, if any, do you dislike?

I like simple, striking, visual. Poetry that surprises me and shows me things I hadn't expected, reminds me of things I has forgotten or takes into experiences I have never had. I enjoy some clever internal rhyming. 

I dislike those who are wordy for the sake of being wordy. I don't mind learning and looking the occasional word up but when it becomes every other word this detracts from any enjoyment of the poem. I dislike pat rhyme and most rhyme-ended lines. Also, poems that feel like they are workshop exercises and have not developed into more than that,  Also, if a poem runs over more than three pages I lose the thread and do not have a concentration span that deals well with epics,. Most of my poems run to 20-45 seconds when read aloud. This might be because this is what I enjoy when reading poetry.

 Is there any over-riding "theme" or raison-d'etra behind your writing as a whole, or has it tended to go in different directions and areas of inspiration?

 Seventeen years in the NHS as mentioned above, music, ale, pubs,  Kwik Save and babysitting and paper-rounds  Teenage years reminiscence, water, hills, Frank (my six year old - he writes some poetry too), love, heartbreak, fantasy, the fantastical, animals. puzzles and solutions have featured a lot recently as I have negotiated months of conveyancing paper work and chasing and have spent considerable time talking to estate agents. I think that I might have a whole pamphlet about patience and impatience and resolution. 

 A few words on how you write, any routines, superstitions and such?

I do enjoy a notebook with a brightly patterned cover and a heavy or sparkly pen and I would ideally spend my time writing in cafes and pubs. 

In reality I sometimes type poems on to my phone screen in the rain, on the back of envelopes with an eyeliner. The best poems wake me up at 6am and have formed themselves over weeks and have been waiting for a time when they can wake me while Frank stays asleep and demand to be written. For this reason I try to keep paper and pen by the bed so I don't wake Frank before the word get committed to paper. More writing is done in the snatched time when Frank is colouring things in a cafe or building Lego. I did some poemathons as part of raising the profile of Quiet Compere  touring and this involved being given six random words or a photo or picture to respond to and producing something within fifteen minutes and posting this. I also took part in NapoWrimo and have completed this three times  and the 52 project brought on my writing massively and I made a lot of new friends across the country through this and being awarded Arts Council funding tot our the ten poets, ten minutes format around the UK. 

 What is next hosting wise?

I had a Quiet Compere bid rejected by the Arts Council Twice this year and am giving it a rest for 2017. I am in talks with a North East Council about making a one-off event happen and am excited to be a bursaried volunteer at Swindon Poetry Festival. Wolverhampton Literature Festival was tonnes of fun and I am looking forward to going to a festival pf poetry at The Bronte Parsonage this weekend. 
I am co-hosting an event at my new local The Sair on 4th July at 7.30pm. it is free entry and open mic spots are available to book in advance or on the night. We (Deira Johnson and I) are testing the water but hope this will be a regular event.

Photo © :
1, 2: Dominic Simpson
3: SZ
4: Sarah L Dixon
5, 6, 7: SZ
8: Andrew King


Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Next Screening of my film A Humble Station? - Thornton, 25th June 2017

Place: St James Church, Thornton, Bradford, BD13 3AB, 
Tickets £2.50 payable on door.

Second screening of A Humble Station? Branwell's Calder Valley Years - in his birth town of Thornton on the eve of Branwell's bicentenary (stay tuned for news of our Parsonage plans for that)

Great to see you in Thornton if you can make it!


A Humble Station? Branwell Brontes Calder Valley Years - Film

 My film A Humble Station? Branwell Brontes Calder Valley Years, produced by myself and Alan Wrigley as Deep Lock Productions, premiered at Halifax Central Library last Thursday, and I am delighted to report that it was seen by around 70 people.   

It was great to see so many people celebrating Branwell's Calder Valley legacy, and we were thrilled to do so with Calderdale Libraries, who generously accommodated us for "a magnificent evening," as one viewer described it.  

Actor and writer Caroline Lamb, who appears in the film, told us " I thoroughly enjoyed A Humble Station? and expect great things for it. The cinematography was astonishing and the presenting style excellent.  I thought the film was superb and I'm very glad I came to see it." 

   Caroline Lamb in A Humble Station?

 The film, which explores Branwell's years working at railway stations in the area, as well as featuring any of his poems and paintings, features interviews and readings from Bronte biographer Juliet Barker, Ann Dinsdale of the Bronte Parsonage, and many Calder Valley writers, artists and residents, including poet Steve Nash:

 Performance poet Genevieve L Walsh: 

 Artist Julia Ogden:

and was hailed by Halifax poet Ross Kightly as "A triumph!  Branwell in his rightful context - mind and heart."

Ross Kightly. 

In the film, I try to piece together an idea of Branwell's literary and artistic side, as distinct from the "black sheep" image which has dominated his reputation for so long, while assessing their legacies in the context of the contemporary Calder Valley arts scene, along the way exploring several of Branwell's old haunts, including the Lord Nelson, an 18th Century pub at Luddenden   

 and with the help of cameraman Alan, who has also written an original score for the film, shine a light on some of the beauty and hidden history of the Calder Valley

We plan to show the film next at St James Church Thornton this Sunday, and at the Bronte Parsonage on Monday - see this website for details

7pm, St James Church, BD13 3AB, Tickets £2.50 payable on door.

photos c. Alan Wrigley, except #2 & #7  - c. SZ.