A Tour Forever

We’re taking our new book A Joy Forever: a walk out with John Keats on tour.

As well as the title of our book, A Joy Forever is the name of our Keats-themed reading series in which we take a playful and social approach to the life and writing of the poet. We’ve performed at Keats House in Hampstead, the Keats Shelley House in Rome and other literary festivals round the UK, each time taking a different route through the poems, letters, biography and history. Our new show for 2022 focuses on Keats’ relationships with his friends and peers. While our secret rhyming shorthand for the show might be ‘Keats Meets’, officially, it’s … 

A Joy Forever: Keats, Wordsworth and other loaded encounters

In 1818, John Keats set out on a walking tour of the Lake District and Scotland. He called in at Wordsworth’s house, but missed him by a whisker: the elder poet was out for the day.

Keats’ missed meeting with Wordsworth is the starting point for a session of lively chat about the gatherings, get-togethers and chance encounters that kept the Romantics’ circle spinning. Expect reading and conversation, old and new poems, games and giveaways.

Our job for the summer is to read, research and select the best poems, extracts and anecdotes to tell this story. Meanwhile, here’s where you’ll be able to find us:

Keats House, London – Thursday 21 July, 7-9pm

Rydal Mount, Lake District – Saturday 13 August

Hastings Literary Festival – Sunday 18 September

Keats House, London – writing workshop, date tbc, October

Keats encountered the mysterious Isabella Jones in Bo Peep, which is what St Leonards used to be known as. Had they met each other in 1931 – date of this image – they might have had a cream tea in this charming hotel.

Health & Safety

I enjoyed my one term of school metalwork. Wielding a rasp as long as my 11 year old arm, I made a wobbly spinner, an enamelled copper pendant and a tiny tin man to balance on your outstretched finger. It’s been a long while since the teacher, Mr Russell, set up a solder-blistered portable tv in the workshop for us to watch the lifting of the Mary Rose in a morning lesson, and my metalwork skills have rusted since. Working in the Paekakariki studio polishes up memories of the wary respect necessary for operating equipment with the power to burn, crush or amputate the careless user. I listen to Matt’s health and safety chat. I approach his plate cutter with reverence. It’s a sharp and weighty machine, and one dizzy twitch on its perfectly balanced handle would leave me with no outstretched fingers whatsoever. Linda Hughes’ beautiful line illustrations for A Joy Forever have been made into individual magnesium plates, and I need to trim their edges before they can be fixed to their blocks alongside the text, ready for printing. The slightest pressure on the cutter’s blades shears ringlets of excess metal from the plates, but I complete the task with all my extremities thankfully still intact.

metal plates of illustrations reasy for printingMr Russell was married to Mrs Russell, my English teacher. I hope they’d both enjoy a book made from poems, magnesium and hot lead.

JB Feb 22

Burnt Fingers

It’s close work, letterpress. Boggling slightly, we sat hunched over a drawer of Garamond, havering over which tiny brass moulds to queue up in the chase, to reproduce our text. Don’t drop letters, they’ll never be found. Don’t pick a wrong one. Don’t put a wrong choice back in the wrong cell.

A letterpress chase with the letters 'Ode to a Nightingale' ready to cast in leadWe then moved to the Ludlow, its little bucket of hot lead quivering. You lock in the chase and pull down a lever, which makes a satisfying chock. Just like a ten-pin bowling ball returning to meet your hand, out slides the slug – your letters transformed by the Ludlow into one silvery, weighty segment. You pick it up to admire it and your fingertips smoulder. You’ve one more title from your 48-page book. Any mistake and back it goes in the pot, vanishing in the gloop.

a lead slug of the text 'Ode to a Nightingale' reversed out and ready for printingWe squeezed back to the drawer (space is tight at Paekakariki Press), freed the chase and dropped the individual letter brasses back into their individual cells. The Ludlow trembled and you sensed the contour lines of your fingertips smudging. You’re back office; beyond, Matt and Alexa exchange a word about Radio 3. From the lead pot a little smoke lifted.

MS Feb 22