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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. In early 1820, his first book was published, from which the first poem ‘The Meeting’ was sung on the London stage, and Clare himself visited London for the first time (and had a rare old time of it too).
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 – just as happened at Drury Lane in February 1820. We wanted Clare to ‘meet’ that first musical performance of his poem, ‘The Meeting’. So in the summer of 2019 we started planning a musical stage show in response to the poet, and were awarded Arts Council England funds to do so. In late 2019 and into 2020 new poems responding to Clare were commissioned from our celebrated poet tutors; the workshop participants’ poems were edited by those poet tutors. We planned a one-off musical show for late April 2020, but alas the pandemic meant that was not to be.
In April 2021, we filmed a panel discussion of ‘The Meeting’ (poem and songs) featuring musical performances and readings by Toby Jones, below. More music and poetry from our project will follow soon, across summer and autumn of 2021.
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.
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.
Please check back here for project and stage show updates as they emerge. Simon Kövesi (August 2020).