2020 anniversary

This project had two distinct stages: stage one was the fostering of new poems from new poets across 2019 in each of our workshop strands. In stage two, we wanted to continue to draw a parallel trajectory to that experienced by Clare across 1819 and 1820, when his first book was published, from which the first poem ‘The Meeting’ was sung on the London stage.

Our project sought to promote a wide variety of critically-informed creative responses to Clare in his anniversary year, and to draw music, poetry and Clare together – peasant poet and opera music. In the summer of 2019 we began planning a musical show, and were awarded Arts Council England funds to do so. Our show was due to be performed in April 2020, but the pandemic meant that was not to be.

Our project produced three distinct outputs, all available below:

  • a video recording of a panel discussion of ‘The Meeting’ (poem and songs) featuring musical performances and readings by Toby Jones.
  • a book of new poems responding to Clare, presented alongside an essay by composer Julian Philips and an extract of our show ‘The Fallen Elm’ by Stephen Plaice.
  • an audio recording of musical compositions by Julian Philips, in dialogue with new poem and prose readings by Toby Jones. Julian’s ‘creative transcriptions’ are rewritings of tunes from Clare’s own folksong notebooks. 

We collected and edited all the poems of the workshop participants, and of their tutors – along with extracts from our pandemic-delayed stage show by composer Julian Philips and dramatist Stephen Plaice – and published them in the freely-available book, below. Paperback copies are available to buy from the John Clare Society.

Video: Poetry and Songs

Panel discussion of ‘The Meeting’ (poem and songs) featuring musical performances and readings by Toby Jones.

Book: Reading and Writing through John Clare

Edited by Simon Kövesi

Poetry editors: Sarah Corbett, John Gallas, Karen McCarthy Woolf, Clare Shaw

This book is a testament to the continuing power of the poet John Clare (1793–1864) to inspire creativity in other artists. It is the product of a project launched at Oxford Brookes University in 2019, aimed at getting Clare to places and people he’d not quite reached before, to explore how and why he remains such an inspiration to creative artists of all kinds, and to celebrate 200 years ince his first book Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery was published. Celebrated poets led John Clare poetry workshops in public libraries in four corners of England – Bradford, Manchester, London, and Peterborough – and the poems collected here are the product of those workshops. Funded by Arts Council England, the John Clare Society and Oxford Brookes University, our project and this book is a meeting of poems and poets, poems and song, poems, and performance.

The Meeting: Reading and Writing through John Clare

Songbook: Melodys of Earth & Sky: John Clare poem and song


Julian Philips


  • Toby Jones (poetry)
  • Ionel Manciu (violin)
  • Kate Romano (clarinets)

David Lefeber, Recording Engineer & Mastering

Simon Kövesi, poetry editor and consultant

Kate Romano, Producer

All tracks recorded at Stapleford Granary, Cambridge on 18-19 June 2021

The recordings here are of new musical compositions by Julian Philips - creative transcriptions of John Clare’s own folksongs (mostly his versions of staple songs in circulation throughout his early years). Clare was a keen and able violin player - a ‘decent scraper’ by his own account - who read and wrote musical notation. Julian’s creative transcriptions put the violin of Ionel Manciu in playful, sportive dialogue with the clarinets of Kate Romano (who is also producer of the whole Clare project). In further thematic, tonal conversation with these new instrumental recordings, are a selection of poems, performed by Toby Jones, and chosen by Julian and SImon Kövesi.

Project made possible by funding from Arts Council England, the John Clare Society and Oxford Brookes University.

All rights reserved. August 2021.

a. Song’s Eternity

1. The Garden Gate

b. First Love

2. Young Hussar

c. Written in a Thunderstorm July 15th 1841

3. Rhapsody The Storm

d. Edge of the orison (prose extract)

4. Morgiana in Ireland

e. The Toper’s Rant

5. Polka

f. The Mother’s Advice (poem)

6. I’ll be married on Sunday

g. How can I forget?

7. Rhapsody Black Ey’d Susan

h. Gypsies (prose extract)

8. Morgan Rattler

i. from August

9. Hornpipes