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Six Poets for Oxfam

Last night's Oxfam poetry benefit reading for Oxfam Unwrapped was a great success. I hosted the evening (and read three poems), and we had about 90-100 people in the shop. The poets were uniformly superb (okay some were very good and a few were excellent but I'm not telling) and in true pathetic fallacy mode, the London heat was broken by violent thunder and lightning - especially during Jamie McKendrick's and Alan Brownjohn's sets - and rain - which drummed on the large (and slightly open) skylight.

Afterwards, Alan Brownjohn, Eric Ormsby, Robyn Sarah, Patrick Chapman and other fellow poets (Leah Fritz and Alana Pryce for instance) and family and friends went out for wine and crepes, and we had a great and boisterous chat. Alan Brownjohn told me much about the legendary The Group - perhaps the key poetry workshop of the 20th century - led by Philip Hobsbaum, and which produced, among others, Peter Porter, Peter Redgrove, and Seamus Heaney - as well as Alan. I'd like to try and set up such a group myself, at some point.

I include the poet's bios, for your interest.

Patrick Chapman
Patrick Chapman was born in Ireland in 1968. His poetry books are Jazztown (1991), The New Pornography (1996) and Touchpaper Star (2004). His short story, A Ghost, won first prize in the story category of the Cinescape Genre Literary Competition in Los Angeles in 2003. He has been a finalist on two occasions in the Hennessy Literary Awards (in 1995 for poetry, and 1999 for fiction) and in the Ian St James Awards for fiction (1990). His poems appear in many anthologies and in the 100 Poets anti-war series from nthposition. Burning the Bed, his first film script, based on his own short story, was directed in 2003 by Denis McArdle and named Best Narrative Short at the 2004 Dead Center Film Festival in Oklahoma. The film has just gone on general cinema release in Ireland, along with the feature, A Lot Like Love.

Robyn Sarah
Robyn Sarah was born in New York City to Canadian parents and has lived for most of her life in Montreal. Following studies in music at the Conservatoire du Quebec, and Philosophy and English at McGill University, she taught English for 20 years at a community college. Considered one of Canada’s finest poets, she is the author of many poetry collections, including Promise of Shelter, which was shortlisted for the Hugh MacLennan Prize. Her writing has appeared in The Hudson Review, Poetry, The Threepenny Review, and elsewhere. Her story, "Accept My Story", won a National Magazine Award and was shortlisted in Best American Short Stories 1994. Her poetry appears in the new (2005) 5th edition of the Norton Anthology of Poetry.

Jamie McKendrick
Jamie McKendrick is an art critic, contributing regularly to Modern Painters, and a poet. He was awarded the Forward Prize for The Marble Fly (Oxford Poets). Poetry collections include Sky Nails and Ink Stone (both Faber and Faber). He recently edited The Faber Book of 20th Century Italian Poems.

Eric Ormsby
Eric Ormsby was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and grew up in Florida. He attended Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated summa cum laude in Oriental Studies. He attended Princeton, where he earned a doctorate in Near Eastern Studies, specializing in Islamic theology and Classical Arabic language and literature. Among other scholarly works, Ormsby is the author of Theodicy in Islamic Thought (1984). He has written five poetry collections, Bavarian Shrine and Other Poems (1990), which won a Quebec prize for the best poetry of that year, Coastlines (1992), and For a Modest God: New & Selected Poems (1997). Araby, was published with VĂ©hicule Press, Montreal, in 2001. Daybreak at the Straits and Other poems is his latest. His poems have also been published in various journals including The New Yorker, The New Republic, Paris Review, and Parnassus. Until recently Ormsby lived in Montreal, where he was a professor at McGill's Institute of Islamic Studies. His poetry appears in the new (2005) 5th edition of the Norton Anthology of Poetry.

Kate Clanchy
Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1965, Kate Clanchy was educated in Edinburgh and Oxford. She lived in London’s East End for several years, before moving to Oxford where she now works as a teacher, journalist and freelance writer. She is a regular contributor to The Guardian newspaper and teaches Creative Writing at the Arvon Foundation. She was Poet in Residence for the Red Cross in the UK as part of the Poetry Society’s Poetry Places scheme. Kate Clanchy is the author of prize-winning collections of poetry, the acclaimed Slattern (1995), which won the Forward Poetry Prize (Best First Collection), and a Somerset Maugham Award, and Samarkand (1999), which won a Scottish Arts Council Book Award. Her latest collection is Newborn (2004).

Alan Brownjohn
As a young man Alan Brownjohn was a member of The Group, a workshop run by Philip Hobsbaum, employing the principles of Practical Criticism. Other members included Peter Porter and Peter Redgrove. He was born in London and was educated at Merton College, Oxford. He worked as a schoolteacher between 1957 and 1965 and lectured at Battersea College of Education and South Bank Polytechnic until he left to become a full-time freelance writer in 1979. A regular broadcaster, reviewer and contributor to journals including the Times Literary Supplement, Encounter and the Sunday Times, Alan Brownjohn was poetry critic for the New Statesman and was Chairman of the Poetry Society between 1982 and 1988. He has also served on the Arts Council literature panel, was a Labour councillor and a candidate for Parliament. His first collection of poetry, The Railings, was published in 1961. His poetry appeared in The Penguin Modern Poets series, number 14. Other poetry books include Collected Poems 1952-1983 and The Observation Car (1990). He is also the author of three novels, as well as two books for children and a critical study of the poet Philip Larkin. His most recent collection of poetry is The Men Around Her Bed (2004).
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