Loose Muse Winchester – Anthology

It’s a bit of cliche to say that writing is a solitary, often lonely occupation. And yet, the stereotypical banality of the phrase cannot hide the truth: most of us who write do so in semi-secret, snatching part of a lunch break on one day, forgoing several hours of sleep on another, plotting novels when we’re walking the dog, and planning poems while we shiver on the touchlines of a child’s Saturday morning sports club. There is always, it seems, something else to do that’s more worthy of one’s time. Indeed, all the secrecy and shuffling of commitments can make it easy to forget that writing is also something to be celebrated and shared.

This is not too difficult if you have a book deal or you’re a widely-read journalist – but it can seem like ascending Everest on skis if you’re anybody else. Fortunately, this is where events like Loose Muse can help.

The original Loose Muse, established by poet Agnes Meadows, is a London-based event, held at the Poetry Cafe. London’s only regular event for women writers, it still runs according to its original format: two women writers have 15-20 minutes to read from, and discuss, their work, and the rest of the time is devoted to an open mic session for audience members.

In 2015, Agnes asked poet Sue Wrinch to set up a Winchester branch of Loose Muse – and it’s thrived. Around two dozen regulars and many more occasional visitors have enjoyed readings by the likes of poets Liz Berry, Sarah Howe, Jo Bell, Helen Mort, Tania Hershman and Kim Moore, and authors Claire Fuller, Sarah Mussi and Claire Dyer.  The open mic is also always extremely popular. One of the best things about it is seeing all sorts of people grow in confidence as they share their work – poetry, flash fiction and, if time allows, the occasional short story – with the audience. It’s friendly, supportive and, if the cafe’s open, there’s even wine to help wash away any lingering nerves.

Sue has now taken Loose Muse Winchester to the next stage with the publication of an anthology featuring poems from many of those who’ve read in the open mic over the last three years. Supported by Winchester City Council, and edited by Sue and poet Abegail Morley, the anthology is a joy – and I’m very proud to have three of my favourite poems in it: In Birkenhead Park, Panthera Pardus and Moonwalk. In Birkenhead Park also features on Abegail Morley’s The Poetry Shed.

We celebrated the launch last night with champagne and readings. The anthology is available to buy from Sue at Loose Muse events. It’s also on sale at Winchester’s own independent bookstore, P&G Wells, and will be for sale at the forthcoming Winchester Poetry Festival.

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100 voices for 100 years – my story

 

When I was eight, back in the eighties, women’s suffrage barely registered on my horizon. (I’m confident it wouldn’t have been a complete unknown, thanks to an avowedly feminist mother, who had me doing a school project on the Pankhursts before I was ten…..) However, one significant event in my life – being “matched” with my first and longest-lasting penpal – was indeed eventually to tie in with what is now the 100th anniversary of (some) British women receiving the right to vote.

Some would say that even in twenty-first century Britain, we still have some way to go. The gender pay gap, only now being raised to real public visibility as a consequence of new company reporting requirements, and the #MeToo movement are just two contemporary examples. Moreover, women still lack the visibility that is accorded to men almost as a birthright. All too frequently relegated to supporting (or sexual partner) roles in Hollywood films or forcibly retired from prime time television slots when male contemporaries are not, we are apparently supposed to find solace in our literary representation by male authors and rejoice as our small daughters are showered in unicorns, rainbow and glitter.

It was to address the dual goals of marking the centenary of women’s partial enfranchisement and raising the visibility of some of today’s women and girls that Miranda, a writer and performer from Hackney, set up 100 voices for 100 years. Over 100 days, 100 women share a short story from their lives. The stories are recorded orally, and listeners can hear a new one every day. (Transcripts are also available.)

My story – A Future in Mid-Flight – is here. It’s about that early and very dear friendship. For fifteen years, my friend and I wrote to each other, growing up together through our shared words, laughing, crying, planning and hoping together – and then she was gone. She’s now been gone for longer than I knew her; soon she’ll have been gone for longer than she was alive. I still have her words, though, and they’ve spurred me on. I hope they don’t stop until I do.