I am delighted to have been asked to be Poet in Residence for the Wenlock Poetry Festival 2016. There’s never a bad time for such an honour, but the timing of this seems particularly appropriate, bringing together a whole number of strands in my life and writing.
I’ve lived in Much Wenlock since 1981. My wife Linda and I found it when we were looking for somewhere to live near my teaching job in Telford. It was a matter of months before we both agreed that this is where we’d stay, long after the job was finished. Thirty four years later, we see no reason to revise that judgement. Wenlock has been a great town in which to live, bring up children, walk and take photographs. It’s also been an ideal place in which to write, and my poem Location, for last year’s WPF anthology, is one of many that draws on the local area.
While I’ve been living here, the poetry scene has grown beyond recognition. I’m lucky to be a member of two excellent writing groups, Border Poets and Bridgnorth Writers’ Group. Both those have taught me a huge amount, as well as enabling me to enjoy the work of excellent writers. There is now a network of regular readings at Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Ironbridge, Wolverhampton, Kidderminster and Burton that I know of, and probably more besides. I launched Various Forms, my first full collection, at the first Wenlock Poetry Festival in 2010. I’ve been involved as performer, organiser of events or volunteer every year since. I launched Writing for Blockheads, my book about writing, just before last year’s festival, and this year look forward to launching my second main poetry collection, Five-String Banjo.
The 2016 festival has Shakespeare’s sonnets as a central theme, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve been appointed. When I was ten a student teacher at my junior school sent me off to write a sonnet. Since then I’ve written well over three hundred. Thank you, Mr Vince, for the homework that never ends. My style has developed and my subject matter has varied – but that’s the point. This is a marvellously flexible form, which can do all kinds of different things. I’ll be contributing a sonnet a week to this website, partly from my back catalogue – but also in response to current events.
Both in formal sessions and through informal contacts, I plan to share my enthusiasm for the rich potential of this and other forms. If you want to get into conversations about rhythm and metre, structure and rhyme, please feel free to approach me. I’ll be busy around the festival, but when not otherwise timetabled I’ll be based at Priory Hall – a magnificent building for which I have huge affection, since I was chair of its committee for seventeen years. That same committee continue to sustain it, while I shall swan around reading, writing and talking about poems. What could be better?
In the meantime, if you want to keep track of what I’m writing and thinking, I have a website at www.paulfranciswrites.co.uk.