Tuesday, 19 November 2019


The second Otley Town Crier Competition on September 22nd kept me quiet as I listened to the loud proclamations of the contenders that had travelled from different parts of the country. Once again, I was the judge responsible for Diction and Inflection, monitoring the monotony and drama in the delivery of each crier, and John Griffiths of Sleaford was a worthy winner. Well done to our own Bellman Terry and the Town Council for such a unique experience that tied in with Car Free Day.
   I mentioned in my last update that I was involved in Leeds/Dortmond50 (www.leedsdortmund50.com), a project celebrating the twinning of the two cities by pairing poets and writers with counterparts in Germany. I read the results of my collaboration with Thomas Kade on Chapel FM October 3rd(National Poetry Day), which celebrates waking up early on my street in Otley over the summer to discover so many of my neighbours awake, too. It was also fascinating to hear the poem translated to German by academic Harry Toye. The event can be heard again at www.chapelfem.co.uk.

   On Saturday October 5th, a group of Otley poets and I performed Town Below the Steps, our collaborative play-in-verse, at the Church House for Ilkley Literature Festival Fringe. It had been a while since we last performed it together, so we were completely overwhelmed by the attendance, which was over 50 – the venue was at full capacity! There was lots of positive feedback in the room, including one person who had never been to Otley, but said they wanted to visit after having heard Town Below the Steps. Thank you to Fringe organisers, Jess and Mel, for hosting our event.

   The third screening of the Navvies Monument film by Mark Currie took place at Otley Courthouse on Oct 19th, where I read my sestina Three Navigators, 1846 (see previous blog post) and took on hosting duties for another capacity event.
   My poetry workshops for children at Leeds City Museum on Oct 29th, celebrating the installation of their pilot whale, was attended by around 30 children throughout day. The results were truly moving, as some young poets made the connection between the whaling industry and how that drastically diminished the number of whales in the sea and the amount of floating plastic that is the new threat to the world’s largest mammal. My thanks go out to Winston Plowes for the use of his commission Whale Song Ghazal during the workshops.

   I was very honoured to read my commission for the Remembrance Sunday Service on Nov 10th at Otley Methodist Church. The poem recognised the 75th anniversary of Normandy Landings. As there were no Otley-born soldiers at Normandy, I used the military language found in books on the subject to capture a walk around Otley and how, in times of peace, we are free to do such things, with gratitude to those who fought for such freedoms. I am grateful to Town Councillor Jo Allen who said of the poem: “I felt it perfectly and beautifully expressed a wish to give thanks for peace and it was comfort to listen to.”
   A few things to look forward to: I will be appearing again at Nostell Nights for their ‘All That Glitters’ celebrations on Friday Dec 6th if you’re in the Wakefield area. You can get info from their website: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/nostell-priory-and-parkland/features/nostell-nights
   And lastly, I will be running a poetry workshop for adults at The Leeds Library Jan 18th 2020, inspired by their special collections, as part of Becky Cherriman’s ‘Speaking to The Shelves’.
   You can follow the Otley Town Poet on Twitter at @MHStoppard and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/matthew.hedleystoppard.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Spring and Summer

Dozens of baffled National Trust fans felt their way through the damp and dimly lit curved passageway in the basement of Nostell Priory on May 17th to find me waiting with a commissioned interactive poem inspired by Chippendale and mirrors. I like experimentation and this was evident in the commission, as each verse started and ended with the same word (e.g. bard/drab and post/stop) which the audience had to repeat in a whisper, adding to the eerie atmosphere in the bowels of the house . The feedback from participants was fantastic and the whole experience was unforgettable… at least for me, anyway.

I was extremely proud to part of the Navvies Memorial Anniversary early in the summer. Otley Town Council asked me to write a poem for the occasion and I decided on a sestina focusing on three people and their deaths. A video of me reading the poem made by Mark Currie was screened at the event on July 13th at Otley Parish Church and I read it in person during the second event on July 26th at Otley Courthouse. I am immensely grateful to Angie Leathley and Mark for their help in creating the poem: Angie for her research and attention to detail, and Mark for his passion for the project and his patience while filming me bumble through the poem in front of his camera. Also, to the members of Otley Poetry Gym for their editorial suggestions. I urge everyone to read the book and see the film relating to this project.

I have written my ‘neighbourhood’ poem for the Leeds/Dortmond50 project and have received a text from my German counterpart, Thomas Kade. I was inspired by the amount of activity on my street in the morning (considering Otley is such a marvellous mixture of nature and industry, old and new, locals and off-comed-uns) and how much of it relates to more universal ideas. Thomas and I are working with a student from the University of Leeds to help us translate our work and the results should be ready in September.

On Saturday October 5th, Otley dominates the programme at the Ilkley Literature Festival Fringe. I will once again be leading the cast of ‘Town Below the Steps: A Poetry Play’ (visit www.halfmoonbooks.co.uk for more details), 11.30am-12.30pm in the Church House. In addition to this, poets published by Otley-based Half Moon Books Barbara Howerska, Jane Kite and Joe Williams will also be performing throughout the day. Jane will perform her transformative epic poem, ‘Phobia and the Girl’, 3.10pm-4pm at Ilkley Arts Studio, award-winner Joe offers a witty and interactive show, including poems from his book, ‘An Otley Run’, at 4.30pm, also in the Arts Studio, and Barbara performs her own epic poem, ‘The Widow Witch’, inspired by Slavik folk tales, in the Manor House, 6.30pm-7pm.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Winter without pictures

The New Year began at breakneck speed, as I started 2019 by co-judging the inaugural East Ridings Poetry Competition, with James Nash and Wendy Pratt, which had the theme ‘My Story’. There were entries from people of all backgrounds, categories included primary- and secondary-school age, entries from prisons and a general category for anyone over 18. There were some really accomplished poems submitted (some of which made me quite jealous!), and it was lovely to see that so many people are interested in poetry. The winners were officially announced at a special ceremony in Bridlington on January 26th.

   On Tuesday February 19th I delivered three workshops for children at Leeds City Museum that tied in with their Michael Morpurgo exhibition. It was a lovely event focusing on the idea of a human taking on the traits of an animal, or “becoming the beast”. I used animals synonymous with Otley, such as the weasel, owl and kingfisher, as examples which seemed to go down well. Again, it was inspiring to see such poets writing really interesting verse – especially during the holidays!

   Some of you may recall, and contributed to, the Otley VoiceBox project, which was nearly two years ago. ‘VoiceBoxes’ (contributions boxes) were placed at certain venues around the town with a view to create a communal poem. There were some magnificent turns of phrase submitted and it took a while to bring everything together. There is a possibility that the poem will become the lyrics to a song, but I thought it only fair that contributors get to see their words put into verse after such a long time.

A heart beats in the market square,

the bells ring in the church

there's a welcome in your pintpot

enough to quench your thirst.

We're honest and historical;

a gateway to the Dales.

Born and bred, and chosen home

Otley welcomes everyone.

You can see along the riverbank

a child become a fish

she leaps just like a salmon

with otter and screaming swift.

There's slang, laughter, love and mud

in our kind and cosy town - 

space to share, space out there

a gem in the Leeds crown.

Bird, beer and cobbles,

a wonderful conundrum

by the river, never still,

under the ever-changing hill.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Autumn in eight sentences

Yes, I realise it is now winter and I'm only just summarising the previous season, so I will be a brief as I can...

Aside from the engagements I mentioned in my previous post, autumn brought three surprise in terms of my activities as Otley Town Poet. The first was a supporting slot at (the fabulous) Tom Weir's book launch on November 18th - if you haven't read his latest collection, 'Ruin', yet, I strongly recommend you get a copy from Templar press. The second was having two poems accepted by Strix magazine, which is a beautifully produced periodical featuring poetry and prose, and I read at the launch in the Victoria Hotel in Leeds on November 20th - again, I urge everyone to buy copies or subscribe. And the final surprise was being asked to return to Nostell Priory on December 7th for one more Chippendale-themed reading, this time featuring customised Christmas crackers loaded with a poem, a terrible joke and a piece of miniature furniture. Here are some photos from James Nash's launch on October 1st and my reading at the Purple Room in Ben Rhydding on November 22nd - which is a fantastic event and everyone should attend in the New Year!

There will be more readings for me in 2019 as well as a children's workshop in February, but I'll offer an update towards the end of winter... I promise. Until then, Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 19 September 2018


I think I’ve made a habit of reaching the back-end of the season before putting a blogpost together. Although the summer hasn’t involved many public readings, things have been bubbling away behind the scenes. The interactive poetry-play, ‘Carried on a Cloud of Sawdust’ at Nostell Priory on July 13th was well received and I was thrilled that all the characters were taken on by audience members over two performances. I was also able to see the incredibly versatile and very talented poet, Zodwa Nyoni perform her poem, ‘Mahogany’, at the same event. The National Trust have very kindly asked me to return to Nostell for one more performance of my Chippendale play on September 28th, if anyone is able to make it, it’d be great to see you there.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to work on a project with Forward Prize-winning poet Vahni Capildeo, who is exploring the theme of journeys and Windrush at Dewsbury Road Community Hub. I helped Vahni deliver a workshop on August 14th and the work produced by the writers attending the workshops will feature in a text exhibition in the building next year. This is part of a larger project called Collections in Verse taking place across Leeds.

Next up I’ll be part of the judging panel at Otley’s first-ever Town Crier Competition on Sunday September 23rd. On September 30th I will appear at The Bridge Church to read a commissioned poem celebrating their stained-glass window which commemorates the end of the First World War. This is followed by a performance at Ilkley Literature Festival with the Courthouse Writers who have devised a piece entitled ‘No Cold Callers’ with fellow poet and friend James Nash on October 1st at Ilkley Playhouse. Then I will join Otley Poets to celebrate National Poetry Day on Oct 4th and support James for the launch of his new book ‘A Bench for Billie Holiday’ at The Leeds Library on October 16th alongside Di Slaney. I will return to Chesterfield Labour Club on October 27th. And I will be appearing at The Purple Room in Ben Rhydding on November 22nd. I’ve most likely missed something out, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead and try to be more organised when compiling autumn’s blogpost.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Spring (only just)

It's fair to say that Thomas Chippendale has been my main focus this season... and rightly so!
My poem, 'Thomas Carved Our Town', commissioned by Otley Town Council celebrating Otley's most famous son's 300th birthday, has appeared on many platforms. The most high profile has to be BBC Radio 4's Front Row programme on April 24th, featuring myself, competition-winning bellman Terry Ford, and Visit Otley chairman Laurence Ross. Reading the poem and discussing poetry and carpentry for the show was a highlight of my career and great promotion for the town. In addition to this, I have appeared on BBC Radio Leeds twice throughout the spring, again reading the poem and explaining the duties of being the UK's only official Town Poet. Also, both the Yorkshire Reporter and Wharfedale Observer newspapers published 'Thomas Carved Our Town', which I was extremely pleased about because one of my aims as a poet is to engage readers that might not normally seek out poetry.

Lastly, the National Trust's Nostell Priory has kindly asked me to take part in two of their Nostell Nights events. The first was May 4th and was, undoubtedly, one of the grandest venues I've ever read at. I read two sets of poems on two themes (Otley, and Poetry Vs Carpentry) over four readings. The feedback was amazing and most of the people in attendance were inspired to visit Otley to check validity of my verse! My next visit to Nostell is July 13th where I will perform an interactive poetry-play based on the Chippendale pieces at the Priory, specifically commissioned by the National Trust.

A few other engagements, closer to home, have included the Otley Town AGM on May 14th - this time I didn't subject the attendees to a game of 'poetry bingo', Otley's Great Get Together on June 17th, where I created a haiku at the Festival Sticker Art tent, and the Town Mayor's Civic Lunch on June 24th.

I am very much looking forward to judging the Town Crier Competition September 23rd alongside bellman Terry Ford, and I'm sure there will be projects in the pipeline.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018


As this season sees itself out, the Beast from the East has barged into Otley and made blank pages of our backstreets for poets and 4x4s to scribble on. Whenever we get a good layer of snowfall I always think of Robert Bridges poem 'London Snow', "hiding difference, making unevenness even". And this was key when writing a poem celebrating the tercentenary of Thomas Chippendale's birth, commissioned by Otley Town Council. This was, of course, a daunting task and also a challenging one, as furniture isn't typically a romantic or poetic subject. Nevertheless, carpentry is an honest, egalitarian trade and I conjured up a world where Chippendale is creator and protector, taking the sentiment of Bridges's poem, how differences can be made even. I don't want to say too much at this point, but there are plenty of other attractions relating to Chippendale300, which are included on the official website.

Aside from writing poems about pioneering sons of Otley, last month I was asked to read a poem for Radio 3's The Verb podcast, as part of their Christmas Special. The very talented and frustratingly youthful Laura Potts, recently selected as a BBC New Voice, invited me to interpret her poem, 'The Wise Child', which meant a trip to Salford Media City. I realised this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I was eager to oblige, but in my haste I forgot to take any pictures of the studio (or 'dead room') where I read Laura's poem and the famous soundstage (and more famous stairs with three types of surface) where they record radio plays. The experience was unforgettable and I am chuffed to appear on the same podcast as Laura, Carol Ann Duffy, Berlie Doherty and Hollie McNish - which will, no doubt, never happen again.

Then late last month I was asked to deliver a day-long poetry workshop for Year 5 and 6 pupils at Harewood Primary on the topic of WWII (you will notice in the pictures I am proudly wearing my Otley Ambassador badge). This, again, was a first for me because I had never prepared an entire day's worth of writing activities nor had I researched WWII so much since secondary school. The results of the workshop were really interesting and I was overwhelmed with the young poets' enthusiasm, especially during such a gruelling day with me.

I tried a few new formats for prompts, including what I like to call 'exploding poems' and some ice-breakers to keep the energy levels up after lunchtime. It was a really inspiring day and I'm incredibly thankful for being invited to the school.

What next? There is plenty to come and I don't want to give the game away, but I will say there will be a new 'poetry item' in celebration of the Tour de Yorkshire passing through Otley again and a little something for National Pie Week.

In the meantime, you can catch me compering A Night of Subversive Poetry at Otley Labour Rooms on St Patrick's Day, March 17th at 7.30pm. Featuring Laura Taylor, Janine Booth and my old chum Brendan McPartlan. Hopefully see you there!