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.