Bower Bird

20190914_102050A request for your assistance. At the end of October, Mike Sims and I are running an Autumn themed Joy Forever event for the poetry festival people in Winchester – bookable details coming soon. Inspired by our reading of Helen Vendler’s study of Keats’ odes, we are going to build Keats a bower on stage. Vendler says that one route to the understanding of the odes is to write them out by hand, and she also talks of the bower as a natural or architectural space that Keats constructs in his poems as a place to dream, love and create. Who wouldn’t want to while away an hour in a place like that? Here are about 200 luggage labels which – when we’ve written on them all – will be transformed into the leaves of our bower. The gold labels aren’t even in the picture. Will you send us something to write on a label? We need either your favourite line from a Keats poem, or a phrase or two about what Autumn means to you. Comment here, or find me on Twitter @juliamarybird Thank you!



I Played a Game and Made a Book

paper trailThis beautiful image is by Roy Willingham RE. It’s inspired by a poem written by Mike Sims, which in turn was inspired by diagrams of the BSL fingerspelling alphabet I once gave him.

Because of the Keats readings and events we run together, Mike appears a lot in these posts. When we aren’t discussing the latest Keats House picnic plans, we often write together.

Over the last few years, to prompt a poetic conversation, we started to send each other mystery items through the post as stimuli for new poems. The pile of poems grew, and we gave them to Roy to see what he’d make of them.

What we’ve all made of them is a book. Paper Trail is a hybrid publication that’s part poetry collection, part catalogue, part instruction manual, it’s an elegant compendium of poems, images and conversation. Good for your bookshelf, good for your brain, the thinking goes.

It’s a game we’d like to share by getting the book into readers’ hands and inviting them to play too. The Kickstarter to support Paper Trail’s design and production is here.

Keats – Ruffle Your Feathers

The Eve of St Agnes 1858 by James Smetham 1821-1889‘St. Agnes’ Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was! / The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold…’ begins John Keats’ wintriest tale, ‘The Eve of St Agnes‘.

Mike Sims and my latest Joy Forever event spends a whole afternoon in the company of Madeline and Porphyro, the eloping Georgian Medieval lovers of Keats’ long poem. We’ll delve deep into its passions and peculiarities with readings, games, giveaways and cake.

The date is 20 January (St Agnes Eve’ itself), the place is Keats House in Hampstead and tickets are available here. Dodge the sleeping dragons, and come and dream your own mysterious dream.

(The nineteenth century watercolour of Madeline and Porphyro on their moonlit flit is by James Smetham, and is in the Tate collection.)

Second Place Rosette

BRITAIN-PILEI come from Gloucestershire, County of Cheeserollers, so I know what I’m talking about when it comes to Britain’s peculiar customs and rituals. So do The Emma Press – they’ve published a new anthology full of poems about ’em. Mine’s about the compulsion to fill municipal fountains with Fairy Liquid on Midsummer Eve, but there are also poems here of  maypole dancing, mehndi painting and medical prescriptions. Launched later this month, but you can buy one here.

A Curious Joy Forever

cabinet of curiosities
A classic Cabinet of Curiosities. We can’t guarantee a crocodile skull in ours.

If the sun’s out and there’s a garden to sit in, my Keatsian friend Mike Sims and I like nothing better than putting together an afternoon of readings from Keats’ poems and letters for the delight of a Romantically-inclined audience. Our fifth annual ‘A Joy Forever‘ summer event is coming up at Keats House in Hampstead on 1 July. This year, our theme is The Cabinet of Curiosity – we’ll be creating an imaginary museum of the artifacts Keats owned, thought and wrote about, and captioning them with your best loved poems and writings.

‘a little claret-wine cool out of a cellar a mile deep – with a few or a good many ratafia cakes’ were ingredients in Keats’ recipe for a good life, as he wrote in a letter to his sister Fanny. We’ll provide the equivalents, and you can buy tickets here.