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A Guernsey Double Blowing my own trumpet Planet Poetry Podcast

Learning by listening

Recently my conceptual copywriter alter ego has been roughly shaken awake and made to get on with some work for a change. After a year of freelancer’s famine, I have been scrambling to manage a weird glut of work over the last couple of months.

Not having to commute allows me the odd stolen hour to tinker with my own writing, and I notice that something has changed.

For the last year I have had what I think of as my ‘pandemic anxieties’ going off like a smoke alarm in another room while I wrote. It made concentrating very hard.

I now realise there were two alarms. The other one was ‘money anxieties’. To a certain extent, now that a few doubloons have disturbed my dusty coffers and most of my loved ones (in the UK at least) have been jabbed, the alarms are more muffled, and my ability to concentrate has noticeably improved.

I am even working on my own poems again. Doing the Planet Poetry podcast with Robin has required me to hear amazing work from poets, some of whom were new to me. It has done me the world of good to be in ‘fan’ mode, and just listen and read. The result is that some of my ossified attitudes have received a much needed rattling. I have steadily collected ah-ha! moments as Robin and I have chatted with Pascale Petit, Clare Shaw, Tess Jolly, Charlotte Gann, Jack Underwood, Mario Petrucci, Katrina Porteous, Sarah Salway, Mary Jean Chan, Rhona McAdam, Inua Ellams and Kathryn Maris in our first eleven episodes.

Although a firm believer in a poem being able to stand on its own feet (ah-hem) I am also a reader who loves to understand the context the work sprang from. Who better to learn this from than the work’s originator? One thing that has emerged from this is how hearing the tone in which a writer talks about their work reveals flashes of deep emotion, sincerity and thought. If the conversation were transcribed, much of this colour and insight would be lost.

For me the boon of encountering such accomplished writers has highlighted two all-too-familiar questions. What makes a collection? And how interesting is the story you can tell about your collection?

I don’t know if you are like me, but one of the most tiresome things in life is having to relearn the same lessons time and again. Over ten years ago, I launched A Guernsey Double with my pal Richard Fleming. We had a story to tell: the book was about the island of Guernsey seen from two perspectives. The book was, therefore, in two halves, my half was called The Boy Who Fell Upwards and was a collection of poems about a childhood and exile. While Richard’s side, The Man Who Landed, was about coming to the island to settle and shelter, having experienced The Troubles in Northern Ireland. We had a coherent story, so when we were chatting on local radio and reading at the launch, we knew what we were about. Having a two person collection was also a novelty. So lesson learned, right? Of course not. D’oh!

So relearning all this means I have cast an icy eye on the manuscript I was working on. Now I have a completely new title and focus. Also I need to get a blinking move on because, as we have all been forcibly reminded lately, life can be short. The MS needs some more poems to fill in the gaps but I feel that I have clarified my own poetic mission and that is, in itself, a big win after a year of near stasis.

Finally, as a devotee of the US comedy Frasier, I was delighted to hear it is returning. I have been a fan since it was first broadcast in the 90s, I have always harboured a secret desire to be a radio host. While our wee podcast is not quite the same thing, it certainly feels like I am living the dream sometimes and I couldn’t have done that without Robin Houghton. So here’s to your mates, and learning stuff from other people. Cheers!

Categories
A Guernsey Double Blowing my own trumpet Poetry

Guernsey is my Touchstone

Hideously busy lately but there’s always time for a quick toot on the self promotion trumpet. Another one of my endless love letters to Guernsey cropped up in the ever-interesting The Frogmore Papers last week. I am very grateful to its editor Jeremy Page. Other love letters to the island were collected in A Guernsey Double a few years ago.

Touchstone by Peter Kenny

Categories
A Guernsey Double Guernsey Guernsey Literature Poetry Richard Fleming

Richard Fleming’s magnificent poem for the BBC: La Gran’mère du Chimquière

I feel very proud of my friend Richard Fleming this week. As the best poet on Guernsey, Richard was recently approached by the BBC to write a poem for the National Poetry Day. The poem, La Gran’mère du Chimquière read by Richard, should be – must be – listened to here. Drop in at the 41 minute mark or a smidge before.

In 2010 Richard and I released a collection of poems about Guernsey called A Guernsey Double, and in it there are a few attempts by Richard and I to nail the significance of the menhir La Gran’mère du Chimquière. However in this new poem Richard has succeeded in a way neither of us has managed before, and has created a poem of magnificent sweep and stature, that may just be the single best poem ever written about the island.

Not only is this a spellbinding, poem, but it is also a wonderful piece of radio too. A heartfelt reading by Richard capturing a charged silence and the obviously moved reaction of Guernsey’s much-loved presenter Jenny Kendall-Tobias, and fellow writer Jane Fleming, Richard’s lovely wife. Jenny is the most consistently supportive broadcaster for literature in the island, and it is fitting that she and Richard and Jane created this amazing moment of radio, one  that the whole island should be proud of.

Here are two photos of Richard. One looking relaxed, and the other, a snap the pair of us with the La Gran’mère back in 2010, with Richard looking heroic and haunted by a future muse.

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A Guernsey Double Poetry Uncategorized

The Remembering Cliffs in The Island Review

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Always nice to see a poem I wrote years ago, crop up again. Of all poems I have written  this is a firm favourite, and comes straight from the heart. I wrote it in my late 20s and it has been collected in A Guernsey Double. The photo is me a couple of years ago on a Guernsey cliff path.

See the Remembering Cliffs in The Island Review.

 

Categories
A Guernsey Double a writer's life Guernsey Guernsey Literature Photography Richard Fleming

Home is where the hurt is

JasonWilde-Lower-ResFor someone who hates flying as much as I do, I seem to travel a lot. Countries as far apart as Mexico, Chad, and Japan have seen me emerge from the plane blinking in gratitude to the sky gods for my safe arrival, and ready to explore. But when I return to Guernsey I feel I am coming home. I turn inward to reboot and take a long hard look at myself and what I’ve been up to since my last visit.

Guernsey obsesses me. I want to back people into corners and tell them everything I know about it. Being exiled from the island hurt me into writing poetry when I was in my teens. I’ve written about it ever since, including in A Guernsey Double (2010) with Richard Fleming, and more published work since then.

Last week my wife and I took my mid-20s stepchildren and their partners there for the first time. But I soon realised what I chose to show them wasn’t just the island, it was a covert way of showing them myself. I began to wonder uncomfortably if I was actually seeing Guernsey at all, instead of something scripted by my imagination and my memory. Frankly it was all getting a bit ‘me-me-me’. It made me think how my writing about the island has been received with a suspicion – above and beyond the fact it was poetry – in some quarters. For example when A Guernsey Double was published, Richard and I were welcomed more than once onto BBC Guernsey, while Guernsey Press completely ignored its publication.  I can completely understand this however. It’s a bit like how I was tempted to blah-blah about the island, and show people around ‘my’ island. I fully understand that local people must be heartily sick of folks imposing a narrative on their home.

I couldn’t help note the irony that I was tripped into this realisation by an exhibition by London based photographer  Jason Wilde, whose exhibition Guerns, was running at the museum in Candie Gardens. Jason’s photos captured candid images of local people in their own homes. There was some piercing work in the exhibition, as you can see from the lovely spotty piece above. I loved the absence of sentimentality, nostalgia and how it didn’t over-egg its subject matter. The exhibition has an admirable clarity and truth about it.

This exhibition jabbed a sensitive spot on the island. Guernsey is a small place that was once dependent on tourism and its tomato industry. Guernsey Toms were familiar to shoppers in the sixties and seventies. But when the UK joined what was then called the Common Market, Guernsey Toms were undercut by cheaper Dutch tomatoes. The industry rapidly sank, and for a while this was replaced with flower growing but that withered too. The island that once glittered with greenhouses as you flew into it, is less sparkly now.*

Since that time the financial industry has been Guernsey’s mainstay. To keep it going it has imported lots of well paid folks from the UK and beyond, which is in danger of creating a two-tier society.  The gorgeous parish  I grew up in, St Martin’s, nearby houses were full of my relatives, who were ordinary local people. But the houses have now been gentrified. Now you just have to look at the cars parked in the gravelled front gardens to see how things have changed.

As Jason Monaghan, Director of Guernsey Museums said talking about the Guerns exhibition, “The contemporary photographic archive that is being built throughout this series is invaluable and is something for both current and future generations to enjoy”. I whole heartedly agree, and would add that Jason Wilde has photographed local people at what may feel like a vulnerable and uncertain time in their history.

I have recently finished a long poem about the island, imagining it as a kind of Atlantis sunk in time. It is the culmination of a long sequence of introspective poems that goes back to my teens, but this last one feels like the end of a chapter.

I am already planning my next visit. But next time I am going to go different places, and will speak to different people. There are new stories I’d like to hear told, and Jason Wilde’s exhibition has forcibly reminded me of this.

So it’s a big well done from me to Guernsey Arts and Guernsey Museums. Brilliant stuff.

* I took the snap below last week, there are several ruins of the tomato industry still to be seen.

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Categories
A Guernsey Double a writer's life Guernsey Literature

Genius Friend

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Edward Chaney’s long-awaited book on G.B. Edwards, Genius Friend is being published and launched at the Guernsey Literary Festival today. And I’m very sad that I’m not there to see it.

G.B. Edwards wrote The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, which is by a country mile the best book written about Guernsey.  It is essentially Ebenezer’s long life story, and is the most authentic representation of life on the island from the late nineteenth century till the 1960s. It is a tour de force of storytelling.

There is a remarkable connection between author and subject here. G.B. Edwards was a friend of the author when Chaney was a young art student, and Edward was struggling to finish the novel. With Chaney’s encouragement the old writer completed the task, and left the manuscript to Chaney who, after a struggle, was able to find a publisher for it in 1981.

I was lucky enough to meet Edward Chaney through mutual friends Jane Mosse (now Fleming) and Richard Fleming in 2010. Jane has helped Chaney with research for the book. And Edward Chaney was also kind enough to write the introduction for A Guernsey Double, the book of poems by Richard Fleming and myself.

Click through here to read what Richard has written about it the publication of Genius Friend on his blog here.

I can’t wait to read Edward’s book, whose lovely title was taken from this sad portrayal of G.B. Edward’s life in The Spectator in 1982. But more I personally love this book because it ends in the sixties, when I lived as a little child on the island, and reminds me of my Grandfather and other family members. It is a kind of pre-history to a part of my own life. Most of all I empathise with the pervading feeling of sadness present in the book, written by a man in self-imposed exile from the island he loves.

Categories
A Guernsey Double Guernsey Poetry Richard Fleming

How not to annoy a poet

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Peter Kenny and Richard Fleming

In the granite cliffs of the south coast of Guernsey is a particularly beautiful spot called Icârt Point. I proposed to Lorraine my wife there two years ago, and I have known and loved the place all my life.  I have written poems about it, with two even having been set to music. When it comes my time to join the majority I quite fancy having my ashes smuggled to Icârt and tossed to the wind.

The friendly owner of the cafe at Icârt once told me he had mercury poisoning. “Success,” he said  another time, while sliding a ham sandwich at me across the counter, “is knitting your own Ferrari”. A koan I have puzzled over. Meanwhile the cafe garden had grown increasingly mazy and is full of roses and towering alien-looking echiums. Add into the scene the little tables and trays of cups and saucers, sandwiches and cakes, then it hard not to start looking about for a sleeping dormouse or a tardy white rabbit.

Where better then to meet my old friend Richard Fleming with whom I collaborated on a book called A Guernsey Double, which collected some of our poems about the island. I long stalked Richard through magazines and local island publications as he was clearly the best writer of poetry on the island (exemplified only a couple of months ago by his featuring heavily both on the island and open sections of the recent international Guernsey poetry competition).  While I’m all about the South coast of Guernsey, Richard has often written about the West. Here is one of his poems I love from A Guernsey Double about the West of the island. (Also see Strange Journey.)

Grand Rocques

When the Fat Lady sings her song
of death, her red dress billows out.
Her stage is the horizon there
beyond the sea where white birds shout
like stage-hands in the cooling air
or, lazy, simply bob along.

Her audience, this perfect night:
beach strollers, men with barbecues,
joggers, dog-walkers, laughing girls,
wet-suited boys in bright canoes,
stare as her aria unfurls
its ruby notes in dying light.

Collectively we hold our breath
to watch the Lady, red as paint
sink down, her wondrous final scene
completed in a breathless faint.
The colour now, the tangerine
of saffron robes, perhaps of death.

Richard also has a highly enjoyable blog called Bard at Bay.  Now I am getting back into the poetry world I realise that for better or worse that poets are my tribe. Back in 1984 Matt Groening (originator of The Simpsons) did  a cartoon of “Your Guide to the Modern Creative Artistic Types”. His entry for poet suggests that the way to annoy them is to “Be Another Poet”.  Not true of course, although this thought has come to me when I have met poets burdened by being a genius, the kind of burden that I as a mere poetic foot soldier could never understand. Fortunately such people are few and far between.

The poets who are my friends and who do not annoy me just by being another poet, such as Richard, are generous hearted people who happen to love reading and writing poetry. And as the eccentric cafe owner might say, long may Richard continue to knit his poetic Ferraris.

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A Guernsey Double Chiara Beebe Music

Hear ‘A Return to Sarnia’ by Chiara Beebe

Very happy to hear from Chiara Beebe who sent me a live recording made in Guernsey last August of the Guernsey Sinfonietta’s premiere of her piece ‘Return to Sarnia’. The words of which were based on a poem I wrote about the island in my early twenties – more or less the same age Chiara was when she wrote this.

This recording was made at the premiere, which was conducted by Sebastian Grand and sung by Casey-Joe Rumens. Sarnia is one of the old names for Guernsey, and Chiara’s piece culminates in a yearning phrase from Sarnia Cherie, which is Guernsey’s unofficial island anthem.

What do you think?

And PS: here’s the original poem, or how it looked when it was being driven around the island in a bus a few years ago. It also appeared in the book written with my pal Richard Fleming called A Guernsey Double.

A return

Peter Kenny & Chiara Beebe
With Chiara in Guernsey last August.

 

Categories
A Guernsey Double Chiara Beebe Guernsey Guernsey Literature Music

‘A Return to Sarnia’ has its premiere

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Peter Kenny and Chiara Beebe

Chiara Beebe’s piece A Return To Sarnia, was given its premiere by the Guernsey Sinfonietta on Wednesday 6th August in St Peter Port’s Town Church. It was conducted by Sebastian Grand, and featured an authoritative young baritone Casey-Joe Rumens.

It was spellbinding.  It made my hair stand on end. It was an amazing thing to hear something I wrote when I was 21 being so intuitively interpreted decades later, and transformed beyond my wildest expectations.

Featuring a strong cello part, trumpets, strings and voice the piece managed to combine mystery with an emotional clarity, which gave it great power. For me it was an unforgettable experience.

Just 22, I think Chiara has an intriguing future, and I am flattered that at this stage of her career she used one of my poems.

Categories
A Guernsey Double Guernsey Music

Chiara Beebe, and ‘A Return to Sarnia’

Chiara Beebe
Chiara Beebe

August 6th sees the premiere of a new piece by Chiara Beebe. She is a 22 year old composer, cellist and singer born on Guernsey, whose piece A Return to Sarnia, based on a poem by Peter Kenny, will be performed as part of Terra Nova, an evening of modern and new music, by The Guernsey Sinfonietta. 

PK: So how did you get started as a composer?

CB: Well, I only really began to consider myself a composer when I went to University – I found the way it was taught at school quite restrictive. At the University of Manchester it was taught in a completely different way that allowed me to express myself exactly as I wanted to with fewer boundaries. I was very lucky to have studied composition there with Camden Reeves who I cannot thank enough for his incredible energy and passion! I mainly enjoy writing for singers and strings (would you guess I’m a cellist and singer) because I think there is something very special about the use of words in music, but I do hope to keep writing a variety of pieces.

PK: So what have you been working on lately? I understand you like music to be performed with a dash of theatre.

CB: Yes I do. My recent compositions have included a setting of selections from Dante’s Divine Comedy, which was written for eight men and solo soprano. I often use space in my pieces and in this instance I placed the singers around the hall in a circle with the soprano solo on the balcony – reflecting the journey from hell to heaven and the circles of his inferno. This was the piece for which I was awarded the Proctor-Gregg Prize and I really enjoyed creating it.

I also used theatricality in a piece for baritone solo, cello, trumpet and snare drum which used an extended metaphor of a bird as a prisoner of war. I feel that a lot can be added to music by using space as a parameter – it’s something that also makes the live performance unique and can captivate an audience.

PK: I wish I’d seen them. Do you have a particular approach to composition?

CB: I take influence from pretty much any experiences I’ve had. I play in a lot of orchestras and choirs and generally the repertoire I am playing at the time influences what I am writing. I like parts of all of the periods of musical history and think there is a lot to be learned from all of them, up to the present day – I try and listen to as many concerts of new music as I can. The music I write tends to be quite programmatic as I work best with a poem or story in mind, the tonality or nature of the music tends to come directly from the words or story and varies from piece to piece. I don’t have any special systems or method in my approach, but I normally do a lot of thinking and brainstorming, then do lots of sketches until what I want is clear in my mind. Then I’ll write it down and work from there. Compositions can always evolve and I always make sure I get second opinions and talk through it with friends, whether musical or not, to get a new perspective or clarify my ideas.

PK: So tell me more about your new piece A Return to Sarnia.

CB: Well, as you know I have used your poem A Return as the basis for this piece. I chose it because for me it evoked the feelings of coming home and feeling grounded and safe. It’s very difficult to put into words (why I don’t write the lyrics myself!) but this poem reminds me of how I feel whenever I come home to Guernsey from wherever I am. It’s such a wonderful place and I can’t help but grin every time I see it emerge through the airplane window with my Guernsey Press in hand. As you can tell I’m quite passionate about this beautiful little island I call home! With this in mind, the piece is about that journey of coming home. I have used a string orchestra, solo baritone and three trumpets – who are hidden from the view of the audience. The strings act as accompaniment to the voice, often with rising and falling dynamics reflective of the sea or the wind whereas the trumpets play in a different key at various points in the piece. Their melody is split up and in the wrong order and with each repetition it reorders itself to finally state a melody us Guerns are all familiar with…

PK: I can’t wait to hear it at the premiere. I’ve seen the score, and as far as I can tell it’s a stunning piece. And I’m really flattered that you used some of my words of course.

CB: No problem, I’m thrilled you allowed me the permission to do it. As soon as I lay my hands on A Guernsey Double I knew there would be something in it for me to use – what a fantastic collection of poetry. I have tried writing my own text before with little success so I am in complete admiration for what you do – I’ll stick to the music!

PK: So what’s next for you? I know you’ve been living in Italy for several months…

CB: I love performing and composing music but I am currently pursuing a career in the music business. Having graduated from Manchester, I have now moved to Milan where I am studying for a Masters in International Business Management. I’m absolutely loving it out there, and my Italian is getting better by the day! I’ve also kept a little blog mainly for friends and family called Chiara Alla Milanese (which also translates as ‘Chiara in breadcrumbs’ but I thought that was amusing). It is a really fun way of keeping track of what life is like in a new country. Aside from the course itself, I keep myself busy with orchestras and choirs in Milan as well as playing and receiving tutoring at the Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi and composing of course! I also currently work for Constella Ballet and Orchestra based in London, as well as for a composer of TV and film based locally and Music Connected, a social connectivity site for musicians which is in development and will be doing a six month placement with a production music company in Milan from January before I will move to London. As you can see I like to keep busy – I love all aspects of music and like to keep myself immersed in all of it!

PK: Thanks Chiara… See you at the premiere!