Arvon Lumb Bank with Clare Pollard and Neil Rollinson

A fabulous immersion in poetry with Arvon Lumb Bank (once the home of Ted Hughes; Sylvia Plath is buried in the village graveyard). Tutors Clare Pollard and Neil Rollinson were enthusiastic, encouraging, professionally expert, critical yet kindly and available to debate poetics of any kind at all hours. Visiting reader Michael Schmidt gave us excellent material for discussion.


The course tag was “finding your subject” and we did a few exercises designed to help us in that direction, plus trying confessional, nonsense and other perhaps slightly off the beaten track types of poetry – things that took some of us out of our comfort zones and yet with some incredible results. Have to say confessional and nonsense drew a blank for me but odes … what joy! Over-egging adjectives, piling on similes – just my luscious cuppa.



Having decided that confessional is not my thing and then, the day after, discovering the sheer voluptuous joy of odes, I woke at 4.30 on the last morning thinking, Why not combine the two? And wrote a poem that rather surprised me.



Arvon courses are not cheap but you are paying for workshops, one-to-one tutorials (I was terrified – but there was no need, really no need) and inspiration from experienced professional poets and teachers plus a secluded, beautiful setting where everything is available that you might need – a fabulous library (and other bookcases all over the place; it was impossible to go up or down the back stairs without sitting on the top step for a moment to read a few poems or chose a book to borrow overnight), computers, photocopying, log fire, cosy nooks and crannies, wild woodland walks. Food (in vast quantities) is provided but you sign up as part of a team to cook one main meal – with help and a very tried-and-trusted recipe card – and wash dishes. Not onerous and part of the fun. In the kitchen to make a mid-morning workshop break cuppa there might be a pile of fresh cakes with a sign, “Eat Me”. Poetry is everywhere: bookcases stuffed with old and new; magazines by the score; photographs of poets; hand-written framed poems – Ted’s cover one wall of the dining room, where his Sweeneyesque (camel corduroy jacket, rugged stance) 1970s portrait also glowers over diners.


So yes, immersion. Fabulous. Arrived back yesterday to an emergency call out to cover at work for the remainder of the afternoon and I gather that cover may be required for a while. Fingers crossed that won’t be the case.




On Monday evening, as we all met for the first time, Neil asked us to read a poem each. I realised I was going to be last and decided that, by then, everyone would be a bit zombied so I read LinkedIn Sizzle Reel CV for a laugh. Next day, one of our exercises to take away for the afternoon was to write a found love poem based on a five-page photography dark room manual.

I did two versions (romance vs filth?); here they both are:


don’t be in a hurry
I am suggesting
if this is your first time
this all takes practice
turn off all the lights
this can be done
rock gently back and forth
reason flow and mix
a few stops
be patient
with the naked eye
all you need here



all you need here
turn off all the lights
make sure the door is closed
and locked
my friends and I
test strip
these figures
turn on
test exposure
darkroom work
cover approximately
you could use a full sheet
crank the body up
or down roughly
in other words
increase the exposure
full open
shiny side up
always begin: enlarge
adjust the knob
without squinting
continue until you have done
for hours

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6 Responses to Arvon Lumb Bank with Clare Pollard and Neil Rollinson

  1. Sounds like it was a wonderful experience and poetically productive. It’s good to be challenged out of your comfort zone.

  2. Excellent stuff, Fran, what a challenge, what an experience. I bet you wowed with your dulcet tones and fab poetry – thank you for sharing, as ever.

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