The Norfolk Bards

Helen Ivory's guide to the poetry scene in Norwich and Norfolk

There's something about Norfolk – the coastline, the marshes, the pace of life – that seeps under the skin. It is relatively inexpensive here, which, added to the romance, is probably why it has become a byway for poets. Edwin Brock and George Barker were long-term residents and wrote of the region. Anthony Thwaite has lived here since the seventies, Peter Scupham and George Szirtes since the nineties, and Kevin Crossley-Holland has the north-Norfolk tides running in his veins.


Poetry festivals are everywhere. Wells-next-the-Sea holds a weekend festival every May. This year we were dazzled by Kit Wright and next year look forward to Michael Donaghy and Rita Ann Higgins. Cley Little Festival enjoyed performance poets The Joy of Six, while Roger Lloyd Pack (Trigger from Only Fools and Horses) will be in Salthouse in July performing Keats. Collaborative projects abound in the county, too. Most recently Creative Arts East brought together the work of nine local poets and photographers in a touring exhibition, Reflections, which profiles the landscape and people of Norfolk and Suffolk.


These are just snippets. For everything literary in this area, Literature Development Officer Lisa D'Onofrio is your first port of call. She is based at the Forum in Norwich, under the umbrella of Creative Arts East and presides over The Literature Network. This produces a quarterly newsletter and regular mailings and it is well worth getting your name on the list.


A new project in Norwich – the New Writing Partnership – begins in November steered by the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Arts Council East. An annual four-day event is planned at the Assembly Rooms consisting of high-level workshops in various genres, including poetry. Debates, panels, readings and interviews are planned featuring George Szirtes, Hugo Williams and Lavinia Greenlaw. Poets in residence Esther Morgan and John Burnside will lead the workshops. For more information, contact Katri Skala.


The live poetry scene in Norwich is bubbling with places to read, be entertained or make contacts. Café Writers meets on the second Monday of the month at 7.15pm (except August) at The Marzano Bar, in the Forum. Local poets Sarah Law, Gary Kissick and Martin Figura have read there, along with visiting writers such as Roger Garfitt. Each session has a guest reader and open mic slot. The Poetry Cubicle meets on the first Monday of the month starting at six pm at The Tea House, Wrights Road, Elm Hill. These meetings are informal and intimate platforms for local poets and musicians from the well-seasoned – Sara Wingate Gray, Lawrence Bradby and Ramona Herdman – to trembling beginners. And Open Mic meets on the last Sunday of the month at The Ten Bells pub in St Benedicts Street at 8.30pm. Also keep an eye out for events at Ottakars, Waterstones, UEA's Centre for Creative and Performing Arts and Norwich Arts Centre.


Creative writing courses ensure a constant flow of lively activity, as with all university cities. Norwich Art School's MA (Writing the Visual) and BA (Creative Writing) devised by George Szirtes and Andrea Holland have produced four Eric Gregory Award winners including Tom Warner and myself. UEA's MA also has its fair share of Gregory Award winners (Esther Morgan, Matthew Hollis). It was started by Andrew Motion but is now tutored by Denise Riley, Michèle Roberts and George Szirtes.


UEA's Continuing Education department runs introductory and advanced poetry courses and some outreach courses catering for the rural environment. I teach at Introductory and Diploma level, as do poets Sarah Law and Tom Warner. We create a relaxed atmosphere and welcome complete beginners and more advanced writers. City College and Wensum Lodge and Adult Education also offer level 1 and 2 writing and UEA is experimenting with an on-line course in poetry.


Local publications include The Rialto (Michael Mackmin) and Spiked (Thea Abbot). These are quality quarterlies, publishing both local writers and those from further afield. Pen&Inc (UEA) publishes an annual anthology, Reactions, which until recently was edited by Esther Morgan. They also publish Pretext, a bi-annual guest-edited paperback containing both poetry and prose.


It was once said that Norwich had a church for every week and a pub for every day. I don't know whether this is true any longer, but I'm certain that your poetry calendar will be well catered for.


Helen Ivory's The Double Life of Clocks is published by Bloodaxe.

Poetry News Summer 2004