Caleb Parkin, Bristol's third City Poet

Local voices: Caleb Parkin, Bristol's third City Poet

The city's newest City Poet talks about his passions, Bristol and his new role

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Caleb Parkin

Caleb Parkin is a day-glo queero techno eco poet and facilitator, based in Bristol. He won second prize in the National Poetry Competition 2016, first in the Winchester Poetry Prize 2017, and various other competition shortlists. He has poems published in numerous publicationos and tutors for Poetry Society, Poetry School and First Story. In 2019, he completed an MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes through Metanoia Institute, with a dissertation focused on CWTP in museum and gallery settings. He was also awarded Arts Council DYCP funding to explore queer ecopoetry in his first collection. From October 2020, he'll be the third Bristol City Poet.

July 8th, 2020

What are your favourite things about living in Bristol?

It's the creativity, humour and friendliness that I love. People here have creative projects, are growing things, are involved in bands, salsa dancing, theatre groups, choirs, DJing, gymnastics - you name it, people are doing it. It's also a beautiful landscape with the gorge, the green spaces and a sense of space - which not many other cities have.

I like the expression 'Bristol Village', in that the city offers everything a city should - more than its size should, in many ways - but feels less overwhelming than other cities. I also appreciate that its' a city increasingly prepared to talk about and work at the social issues, inequalities and painful histories that are definitely present here, too. Those conversations need to keep happening.

Pero's Bridge, Bristol Harbourside Photo by Paul Box
Pero's Bridge, Bristol Harbourside

Can you sum up the city in a poetic one-liner?! Or if this is too tricky - a few lines?!
During National Poetry Writing Month in April, I started a poem reflecting on the journeys between places and missing those in-between moments of processing and reflection during lockdown. Bristol is such a great cityscape to move around in and there are usually so many lovely interactions to notice. The opening lines of that draft are:

I don't miss the pub,
I miss the stroll there, down the bike path,
the zigzag exit, past Greenback Cemetery
where foxes slip between missing bars,
where runners trace paths like
a network of beating veins.

How have you found lockdown in Bristol?
I guess through my work and training as a writing for wellbeing facilitator (I completed an MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes last year) I'm quite alert to self-care, and as a home-worker too. Apart from missing the city which is ten minutes away - I'm conscious we've really had it pretty easy. 

Like many people, I've had my ups and downs - but largely feel incredibly appreciative of where we live, having a little garden, that my partner and dogs and I all get on as a 'pack', and that we've managed to sustain work. I know that hasn't been the case for a lot of people and hope support is available for those that need it.

Do you have any favourite Bristol hangouts? Have they changed since lockdown?
We live between a few outdoor spaces and can get to Ridgeway Field, Eastville Park, Greenbank Cemetery and St George's within ten minutes. I like all the unexpected routes through from one space to another over this way - between Fishponds, Eastville and St George - and think having green spaces nearby is really vital to wellbeing. (Side note: I thought all the judgement of people who didn't have gardens (usually by those who do) wanting to go to parks during sunshine in lockdown was really out of order!)

St Georges Park, Bristol Photo by Angharad Paull, This Bristol Brood
St Georges Park, Bristol

On the day of my interview for the City Poet, it was gorgeous and sunny - so we'd planned a treat of cycling into town, getting a Quick Crepe from the centre, then some gelato from Swoon. While we were there, there was an installation about air quality by Extinction Rebellion, the City Hall had its Progress Pride flag up, and we went and listened in on some speeches at the raising of a flag, to commemorate the arrival of the Windrush. I had a real moment of appreciating Bristol right then - so am really thrilled to be able to celebrate the city in the City Poet role.

When they're open, I also love the Bristol Loaf and Faraway Tree on Church Road - and look forward to going to both again soon. Bristol Loaf's pastries and cakes are too divine for words.

You've recently been made Bristol's City Poet, what does this role mean to you and the city?

Yes, I'll be officially taking on the role from October. Vanessa Kisuule has done an amazing job and I'm excited (with a light seasoning of scared) to wear the City Poet hat. Marvin Rees has said that he thinks in a city, journalists should reflect the facts and that poets should reflect the soul.

For me, that'll mean trying to write on themes that really matter to the city and which I really care about, in a way people find engaging, enjoyable, beautiful and sometimes challenging. There's a lot of crossover between my own passions and things Bristol is associated with: environmentalism, performance, music, dancing, sustainability, protest, FOOD. But I'm really excited about the unexpected themes that might find my way into with the writing. We're in uncertain times, so I hope my poems can ask useful questions and open a space for discussion. I'd like to bring a little experimental energy in my approach to the role too - because now more than ever, we need innovative ideas.

I'm also hoping to create spaces where different groups from Bristol can voice their ideas, hopes, feelings and experiences. Writing and hosting groups are equal parts of my job, so I'm looking forward to meeting lots of new people and working together to amplify their voices.

Caleb Parkin, Bristol's third City Poet
Caleb Parkin, Bristol's third City Poet

What are your thoughts on Bristol's literary scene?

Bristol tends to culturally punch above its weight as a city and I think we've a really rich poetry scene here. My local night is Satellite of Love at the Greenbank (or will be). The last 'proper' in-person literary thing I was able to get to was Lyra, Bristol's poetry festival, in March and it was a really excellent programme. Increasingly, I think that the idea of 'spoken word' and 'page poetry' as two distinct areas is fading, with lots of poets in Bristol who do both really well (that's always what I'm aiming for too) - Lyra really represents that.

As a practising poet, it's been particularly great having a critique group here (and online now), where we bring poems along to develop together. It's so valuable having a community of fellow poets to share work, resources, tips, events, and spend far too long puzzling over a particular verb, or the different types of dash (seriously). I don't think people realise how much graft it can take to make a line of poetry which feels like it flows effortlessly! But I love that process. If you write and want to improve your writing, then definitely set up a critique group.

Where can people read/hear more of your poetry?
If you Google 'Caleb Parkin Poems' then various things come up! You'll also find a range of video tutorials and workshops I've made for Cheltenham Literature Festival and one for First Story lately.

Some recent publications include this poem in the Cardiff Review: https://www.cardiffreview.com/post/category/poetry/

And a lockdown poetry-film collaboration which is online here: https://poetryfilmlive.com/garden/
My website is www.couldbethemoon.co.uk and I update the blog on there with updated publications and happenings.

I'm also on Twitter @CalebParkin

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