Fokkina McDonnell for Poetry in Aldeburgh 2022
OUR WHOLE SELVES – NEW WORK AND RECENT DEBUTS – FRIDAY 4 NOVEMBER
A large and attentive audience took its place in the refurbished Ballroom Arts complex. It was a joy
and a privilege to be able to read at Poetry in Aldeburgh with my friends. The six of us had met on
residential workshops. Then in March 2020 when the lockdown started, and Zoom became available,
we decided to meet each Saturday morning to workshop our poems. Many of these poems found
their way into new books, published this year. The weekly meetings truly provided a lifeline for me,
during that lockdown which I spent in The Netherlands. That upstairs room was the place where I
could hug the three-dimensional shapes of my friends…strengthening our connection.
AFTER DINNER SOCIAL – FRIDAY 4 NOVEMBER
‘Bees work the pollen on lavender and valerian.’ A wonderful repeating line from one of Kate
Noakes’ new poems that she read to a full house in the After Dinner Social. Striking poems about
living with asthma, the difficulty of breathing, fear of the iron lung. Kate was a warm and engaging
host to the open mic. Eleven confident poets in the first set speaking of time machines, visiting a
mother in a care home, of memories. After a short interval Kate read another set of new poems, poignant and memorable. ‘The salt wind of late summer’ provided a way into the second set of open mic poems. A varied range of subjects, delivered with authenticity - an elegy, a list poem, dramatic monologue, poems about absent
fathers, the power of a strong title ‘Poem in which my father doesn’t die young’.
My friends and I walked out into the cold and clear night, still buzzing.
LIFE AT ITS LIMITS: FOREST, CITY, EARTH, UNIVERSE – SATURDAY 6 NOVEMBER
Alison Brackenbury had agreed to step in to replace Mina Gorji who’d been unable to travel. Alison
read her introductions and poems from memory. Impressive and eloquent, sunny, and dark. The day
compared to a cat and the I as ‘tongue vibrating in its mouth’. Stewart Carswell read from his debut
collection Earthworks. He too read from memory poems about Sutton Hoo, about a Roman temple
‘shielded by the arc of water’ (the Severn). He followed this by a long poem in sections about mining,
ending his set with his Wedding Present and the advice to ‘always be within reach of a forest’. Stav
Poleg invited us ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the city’ - New York, London, scenes recorded by
the camera, close-ups, a cut. Cities containing champagne, a letter including pink Prosecco. I
particularly related to the matter of writing and reading in a foreign language. In Susannah Hart’s
closing set we stayed in the city. It was good to hear her read the prize-winning Reading the Safe-
guarding and Child Protection Policy. Susannah followed with a poem about her stepfather – turning
into a horse, into a hiding place. The final poem Song of my auntie: a joyous and poignant tribute.
AFTER DINNER POETRY PERFORMANCE WITH ARJI MANUELPILLAI, FOLLOWED BY FINISHED CREATURES SHOWCASE – SATURDAY 5 NOVEMBER
What is the number of steps that takes someone from a normal life into an act of violence? Arji
Manuelpillai talked briefly about the background to his book, Improvised Explosive Device, published
with Penned in the Margins. Arji talked about his family background in Sri Lanka, how in 1982 his
auntie’s arms were covered in boils: a physical sign of her fear at a time when the Tamil Tigers were
committing acts of violence. His experience as a poetry performer gave enormous clarity and focus
to this session. Arji played parts of his interviews with members of extremist groups which
seamlessly moved into his reading the poems. After the interval, Jan Heritage, founder, and editor of the Finished Creatures magazine, introduced her poets. Each beautifully produced issue has had a theme, Airborne for the first issue, followed by Risk, Balance, Stranger, Surface, Pressure. Each contributor read their own poem and one by another poet which they had enjoyed reading. This format ensured a sense of harmony. The question ‘Did
you find shelter in each other?’ was, thereby, answered.
MAKING THE EVERYDAY SING – WORKSHOP WITH KATHY PIMLOTT – SUNDAY 6 NOVEMBER
On a rainy Sunday all seats were taken for this workshop. Kathy reminded us that the ordinary, the
things and people we surround ourselves with have meaning. That the meaning comes from choices
we have made. She had brought with her six poems about ordinary items, such as a salad spinner
and iron. The first poem, a long list poem about dresses, also served as a warm-up, each of us
reading a line. Her verbal prompts were clear, gave us options. Everyone was soon scribbling or
clicking keys on a tablet. She had structured the 90-minute session perfectly – time to write from all
six exercises, time for a comfort break, time to share as much or as little, with a final reminder to
always start by describing the ordinary accurately, authentically, which would allow us to then move
away into something larger.
POETRY AND PHYSICS – MAGMA ISSUE 84 LAUNCH – SUNDAY 6 NOVEMBER
Susanna Hart and Stav Poleg, editors, spoke briefly about the process of working together, the
connection between physics and poetry – movement, the connection between one thing and
another thing, as in metaphor. The poems that were submitted were wide-ranging, some
humorous, some highly technical. Emmi Hughes who provided the striking cover image was in the
room with an appreciative audience. The first poem talked about the death of apples due to honey
fungus, ‘the warm earth’s untethering’. Free-diving provided the inspiration for a poem. Lucy
Allsopp, poet highlighted in Magma Selected, read her poems beautifully. There was humour too, as
in the poem A Physicist Starts a Sonnet. We heard poems about the annunciation, the language
found in language tuition books. Some of the contributors are scientists in daily life, like Ian
Buchanan. Between the two sets of poems, Lucy Sheerman gave us a fascinating insight into the
‘Moon Project’ described in Magma in detail under the title Sound Travel: Classroom to Cathedral via
the Moon. It involved audience participation, people answering questions like ‘what would you miss
on the moon, what would be the first thing you would do?
After half a century in the UK, Fokkina McDonnell now lives near The Hague, The Netherlands. Her poems have been widely anthologised, broadcast, published online and in a range of magazines in the UK, the Republic of Ireland, and the US. Her competition successes include the Sonnet Prize in the Ware Poets Competition. She has two poetry collections: Another life (Oversteps Books Ltd, 2016) and Nothing serious, nothing dangerous (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2019) and a pamphlet A Stolen Hour (Grey Hen Press, 2020). Fokkina received a Northern Writers’ Award for poetry from New Writing North in 2020 for the manuscript of Remembering / Disease. Broken Sleep Books published the collection in October 2022. On her website www.acaciapublications.co.uk, Fokkina features the work of fellow poets. She has a special interest in haiku and tanka and reviews for Presence magazine.